Category Archives: Dungeons and Dragons

DESERT JOURNEYS – GAMEPLAY

20 Things to Enliven a Desert Journey

Adventurers are intrepid types and often disappear into the wilderness in search of gold and glory. Many such adventures seem to happen in the furthest reaches of barren deserts.

Some artwork copyright Claudio Pozas, used with permission.

 

Use the table below, to breath life into adventures set in a desert. None of the happenings listed below are intended to spawn a full encounter; rather think of them as wilderness dressing designed to add realism and depth to proceedings.

  1. A lone desiccated tree emerges from the flank of a large dune standing across the party’s march. Its wide, frond-like leaves provide a modicum of shadow—and a brief respite—from the merciless sun.
  2. A smudge of black smoke stains the horizon. If the PCs investigate they discover three burning wagons along with the slashed and torn bodies of their drovers and guards scattered about the churned, bloodstained sand.
  3. Tracks—of at least a half-dozen humanoids—cross the party’s path. A PC steeped in wilderness lore can determine the creatures were trying to move single-file (perhaps to hide their numbers) and they were heavily leaden.
  4. In the valley between two dunes, the remains of a crumbling dry stone wall struggles above the sands. Its line straggles along for about 15 ft. before disappearing below the sands.
  5. A camel’s stark white bones lie amid the shifting sands.
  6. A small flock of buzzards circle the party for several hours, before losing interest and flying away.
  7. Heat rises in shimmering curtains. On the horizon, keen-eyed characters can make out what might be a small caravan trudging across the burning hot sands.
  8. A lone cloud scuds across the sky. Bizarrely it seems to be moving against the wind.
  9. A metal helmet—scorching hot to the touch—lies in the sand. Slightly further on, the party find a heavy steel shield and still later a breastplate scoured to near-blinding brightness by the wind-driven sand.
  10. In the shade of a deep valley between two towering sand dunes lies a seemingly dried up oasis surrounded by forlorn palm trees and stubborn, coarse grass. Characters digging in the dried up pool discover water several feet down.
  11. The sun reflects off something shiny on a far-off dune. The flash of light catches one of the party’s attention. Investigations (eventually) reveal a partially buried steel shield. The sigil of a local knoll tribe is crude daubed across it.
  12. Seven rocks—placed to form an arrow—point back in the direction from which the party has come. Small drifts of sand around the stones suggest they will not be visible much longer.
  13. A ripped and torn carpet lies half buried in the sand. The worn fabric is wrapped around the desiccated body of a man wearing only a loincloth. Perceptive PCs notice it seems nearly every bone in the man’s body is broken—in the same way as if he had fallen from a great height.
  14. The mouldering body of a hyena lies amid a swath of bloodstained sand. Two arrows protrude from its body and a pack of buzzards peck and tear at its flesh.
  15. A pack of hyenas trail the party. They hang back well out of bow range, waiting for someone in the group to collapse. If attacked, they retreat in search of easier prey.
  16. A sandstorm blows across the horizon. Luckily for the PCs it is not heading in their direction.
  17. The party encounters a wide “field” of cacti. Many of the prickly plants are as tall as human. In the centre of the field lies a small oasis. Because of the cacti, the oasis is relatively safe from wandering predators.
  18. The party encounters an area of particularly soft sand. Although this is not quicksand, it makes travel even harder than normal. The area is quite extensive—several miles across in fact—but diverting around it could add a day to the party’s journey.
  19. The wind and shifting sands reveal the remains of an old battle. Skeletons scoured bright white by the sands lie where they fell. Amid the carnage lies the combatants’ desiccated and rusted equipment.
  20. The party witnesses a savage storm ahead. Later—as night falls—they encounter an area of rock upland scoured free of sand. Near its peak they discover a cave containing a worn set of steps leading down into darkness…

GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing

If you enjoy the table above and like wilderness dressing, check out GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing—Endzeitgeist’s choice as the number one book of 2014! Crammed with 150 pages of information and charts designed to bring your wilderness adventures alive, GM’s Miscellany: Wilderness Dressing is an essential part of any GM’s arsenal.

THE OLD MEN TELL

Indeed…

 

DUAL AND MULTIPLE USE EQUIPMENT – ALLTHING

DUAL AND MULTIPLE USE EQUIPMENT: MUNDANE AND MAGICAL

A friend of mine and I were having a discussion last night and this morning on primitive bow-making and historical facts. She informed me that ancient men and later frontiersmen used their bow staves as primitive one stringed lyres (or musical bows) and their arrow shafts as primitive bows to play very basic music. See one reference below.

This idea only makes great sense and you can easily see how this would have led to to the development of primitive musical bows and lyres specifically for music.

Anyway this gave me both a gaming and literary idea. In gaming you would have a bow specifically designed for Bards (or that they create themselves as part of their unique gear – like a warrior who forges his own sword) that can easily serve as a modified musical instrument that would allow him to both enchant enemies and opponents and entertain or in some way heal or bless allies and companions. A magical version would then have both combat and Bardic advantages, and it is so very natural since such equipment could easily serve dual or even multiple functions (it might also serve as a 4 to 5 foot pole or as a climbing rod/tool when unbent or in stave form).

As a literary device for my novels it could serve the same basic functions but, of course, would not be described in that way. There is a Welsh bard in one of my novels who would naturally easily employ such a bow.

This is hardly the first device or weapon or piece of gear or equipment I’ve made use of for dual or multiple purposes (either in real life, games, or in literature or poetry) but it is a rather fascinating and new employment for me. Bow staves as musical instruments.

Now all of that being said what items do you use in your games or writings or even in real life as dual-use pieces of equipment or gear?

Further Reference: Work Songs, Plutarch, and the Scythians

THE LOOTISTS – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME

Excellent suggestions. I’ll return to this later on with ideas of my own I’ve used over the years, mainly as either hard to decipher clues or as misdirections.

20 Things to Loot From the Body

Adventurers are always looting the bodies of their fallen enemies. But often the NPC seems to have nothing but weapons, armour, (hopefully) a couple of magic items and a smattering of coinage.

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)

 

That’s great for PCs hunting for loot, but it sadly fails to provide any depth or verisimilitude to the experience; after all, everyone’s got bits and bobs in their pockets! Use the table below, to generate the details of minor items the fallen foes have about their person.

  1. A partially carved piece of wood that might represent a small dog…or it might not; the carving is so bad, it’s hard to tell.
  2. Three worn and bent silver coins of obviously ancient origin. The details on the coins’ faces cannot be made out, but one has a small chip missing.
  3. Two keys tied together with a short length of fraying twine.
  4. A bloodstained cloth along with a tightly wound bandage and a half-empty flask of oil.
  5. A small wooden box containing a fine white powder—snuff—that smells strongly of cinnamon.
  6. A list of names on a scrap of parchment. Only the last two have not had a line drawn through them.
  7. A much used and well-worn flint and steel along with some scraps of dried and frayed cloth all bundled together in a small, waterproof pouch.
  8. A handful of dried meat and an all but empty tiny jar of honey.
  9. An empty bone scroll tube missing both its stoppers. The bone is yellowed and obviously old.
  10. A tarnished and broken golden chain missing several links. Several of the links are very worn and the whole thing is worth no more than 10 gp—as scrap metal.
  11. A small, mud-stained book. The pages within are in better condition, although not particularly well written or illustrated. The work is an overview of a nearby kingdom and details major settlements and geographical features.
  12. Several long pieces of string all hopelessly tangled together.
  13. A dozen gold coins (seemingly). In reality, these heavy coins are of lead and have been covered with a golden wash. The job is good enough to stand a cursory glance.
  14. A whetstone, an oily rag and a small flask of oil all contained within a stained, slightly smelly belt pouch.
  15. A scrap of parchment with the message, “Midnight on the Street of Smoke.”
  16. A scrap of parchment depicting a very crude treasure map. Named features include, “Big Tree”, “Pond”, and “Bone Pile”. However, there are no other features to enable anyone to actually follow the map (or what the treasure might be).
  17. Several sheaves of parchment depicting scantily clad elven men in rather odd poses—the illustrations are surprisingly well detailed.
  18. A simple golden band—perhaps a wedding band. The engraving inside spells out “Beloved” in Dwarves runes. The ring is worth 50 gp.
  19. A pouch containing several bunches of dried herbs. Each bunch is tied with a different colour twine.
  20. Several small chunks of rock of a type found in the locality. Each of the chunks has fleck of gold embedded within that glimmers in the light—a tantalising clue (perhaps) to a nearby as yet undiscovered deposit of gold.

I Loot the Body

Are your PCs always looting the bodies of the fallen? Want more of these cool little details? Fear not—Raging Swan Press has got you covered! I Loot the Body, by Josh Vogt, is a virtually system neutral supplement designed to provide hundreds of small knickknacks to “populate” your NPC’s pouches and pockets.

THE WRITE GAME – THE FORGE

Indeed. It has been a  seminal influence on my fictional writings, but not just upon my writings. It also greatly influenced many other things I did or am still doing in life, everything from detective work to my inventions.

I also learned a great deal about things like map-reading and ambush setting by playing D&D.

 

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The playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is one of many authors to have gleaned skills from Dungeons & Dragons, now 40 years old. CreditÁngel Franco/The New York Times

When he was an immigrant boy growing up in New Jersey, the writer Junot Díaz said he felt marginalized. But that feeling was dispelled somewhat in 1981 when he was in sixth grade. He and his buddies, adventuring pals with roots in distant realms — Egypt, Ireland, Cuba and the Dominican Republic — became “totally sucked in,” he said, by a “completely radical concept: role-playing,” in the form of Dungeons & Dragons.

Playing D&D and spinning tales of heroic quests, “we welfare kids could travel,” Mr. Díaz, 45, said in an email interview, “have adventures, succeed, be powerful, triumph, fail and be in ways that would have been impossible in the larger real world.”

“For nerds like us, D&D hit like an extra horizon,” he added. The game functioned as “a sort of storytelling apprenticeship.”

Now the much-played and much-mocked Dungeons & Dragons, the first commercially available role-playing game, has turned 40. In D&D players gather around a table, not a video screen. Together they use low-tech tools like hand-drawn maps and miniature figurines to tell stories of brave and cunning protagonists such as elfish wizards and dwarfish warriors who explore dungeons and battle orcs, trolls and mind flayers. Sacks of dice and vast rule books determine the outcome of the game’s ongoing, free-form story.

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Dungeons & Dragons has influenced a shelf full of writers. CreditEthan Gilsdorf

For certain writers, especially those raised in the 1970s and ’80s, all that time spent in basements has paid off. D&D helped jump-start their creative lives. As Mr. Díaz said, “It’s been a formative narrative media for all sorts of writers.”

The league of ex-gamer writers also includes the “weird fiction” authorChina Miéville (“The City & the City”); Brent Hartinger (author of “Geography Club,” a novel about gay and bisexual teenagers); the sci-fi and young adult author Cory Doctorow; the poet and fiction writer Sherman Alexie; the comedian Stephen Colbert; George R. R. Martin, author of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series (who still enjoys role-playing games). Others who have been influenced are television and film storytellers and entertainers like Robin Williams, Matt Groening (“The Simpsons”), Dan Harmon (“Community”) and Chris Weitz (“American Pie”).

With the release of the rebooted Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set on Tuesday, and more advanced D&D rule books throughout the summer, another generation of once-and-future wordsmiths may find inspiration in the scribbled dungeon map and the secret behind Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

Mr. Díaz, who teaches writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said his first novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” was written “in honor of my gaming years.” Oscar, its protagonist, is “a role-playing-game fanatic.” Wanting to become the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien, he cranks out “10, 15, 20 pages a day” of fantasy-inspired fiction.

Though Mr. Díaz never became a fantasy writer, he attributes his literary success, in part, to his “early years profoundly embedded and invested in fantastic narratives.” From D&D, he said, he “learned a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play.”

And, he said, he was typically his group’s Dungeon Master, the game’s quasi-narrator, rules referee and fate giver.

The Dungeon Master must create a believable world with a back story, adventures the players might encounter and options for plot twists. That requires skills as varied as a theater director, researcher and psychologist — all traits integral to writing. (Mr. Díaz said his boyhood gaming group was “more like an improv group with some dice.”)

Sharyn McCrumb, 66, who writes the Ballad Novels series set in Appalachia, was similarly influenced, and in her comic novel “Bimbos of the Death Sun” D&D even helps solve a murder.

“I always, always wanted to be the Dungeon Master because that’s where the creativity lies — in thinking up places, characters and situations,” Ms. McCrumb said. “If done well, a game can be a novel in itself.”

What makes a D&D story different from novels and other narratives is its improvisational and responsive nature. Plotlines are decided as a group. As a D&D player, “you have to convince other players that your version of the story is interesting and valid,” said Jennifer Grouling, an assistant professor of English at Ball State University who studied D&D players for her book, “The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games.”

If a Dungeon Master creates “a boring world with an uninteresting plot,” she said, players can go in a completely different direction; likewise, the referee can veto the action of player. “I think D&D can help build the skills to work collaboratively and to write collaboratively,” she added. (Mr. Díaz called this the “social collaborative component” of D&D.)

Ms. Grouling also cited “a sense of control over stories” as a primary reason people like role-playing games. “D&D is completely in the imagination and the rules are flexible — you don’t have the same limitations” of fiction, or even of a programmed video game, she said. A novel is ultimately a finished thing, written, edited and published, its story set in stone. In D&D, the plot is always fluid; anything can happen.

The playwright and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, 44, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Rabbit Hole,” said D&D “harkens back to an incredibly primitive mode of storytelling,” one that was both “immersive and interactive.” The Dungeon Master resembles “the tribal storyteller who gathers everyone around the fire to tell stories about heroes and gods and monsters,” he said. “It’s a live, communal event, where anything can happen in the moment.”

Mr. Lindsay-Abaire said planning D&D adventures was “some of the very first writing that I did.” And the game taught him not just about plot but also about character development.

Playing D&D has also benefited nonfiction writers. “Serving as Dungeon Master helped me develop a knack for taking the existing elements laid out by the game and weaving them into a coherent narrative,” said Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic and author of “My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind.” “And yet you were constrained by the rules of the D&D universe, which in journalism translates into being constrained by the available, knowable facts.”

Mr. Lindsay-Abaire agreed that fictional worlds need rules. “For a story to be satisfying, an audience needs to understand how the world works,” he said. “ ‘The Hunger Games’ is a perfect example of: ‘O.K., these are the rules of this world, now go! Go play in that world.’ ”

Over and over again, Ms. Grouling said, tabletop role players in her survey compared their gaming experience to “starring in their own movies or writing their own novels.”

As for Mr. Díaz, “Once girls entered the equation in a serious way,” he said, “gaming went right out the window.” But he said he still misses D&D’s arcane pleasures and feels its legacy is still with him: “I’m not sure I would have been able to transition from reader to writer so easily if it had not been for gaming.”

THE IMPREGNABLE FORTRESS – ALLTHING

Slowly returning to blogging now that my broken wrist is mending. Just now able to type well again without pain.

 

Prepared!: The Impregnable Fortress of Dib

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The Impregnable Fortress of Dib
Cartography by Meshon Cantrill

We were traveling the old trade road up near the Blind Hills when we found it: an overturned wagon in the ditch. Evas took to the shadows, scouted ahead, and returned with strange details. The wagon had been transformed—such that it appeared to be a fierce fortress. Signs of goblin-work were apparent: broken shields reinforcing the walls, crude arrow slits cut into the driver’s bench, a makeshift flag hanging limply atop the whole affair. We left it alone, but even at a distance the smell of the odd fortress’s unfinished moat made us wretch…

The Impregnable Fortress of Dib is a location designed to offer a medium/easy challenge to four 1st- to 2nd-level characters.

The Exterior

Before you stands an unusual makeshift fortress. A large wooden wagon has been overturned a few feet from the road. An incomplete moat of sorts rings the structure; the vapors from its gelatinous contents reaching your nose even at fifty paces. The wagon has been reinforced with broken shields and scavenged planks; an unfortunate dead fox has been nailed unceremoniously atop a crude doorway. Slits and holes of various sizes have been bored and carved into the walls, and you hear wicked whispering and rustling coming from within. A flag made from cloth scraps hangs unmoving in the still air.

Dib Halfling-Chewer rules the fortress. Several months back, Dib and his cronies were ejected from a nearby goblin clan for indiscriminate wrestling. Since their expulsion from the clan, Dib and his minions have transformed a trade wagon into a dangerous roadside obstacle. The goblins retreat into the throne room when it is clear the fortress is breached. Assaulting the fortress is run as a combat encounter, with the fortress taking two actions on its initiative (+0). The fortress may:

  • Arrow Barrage. Ranged weapon attack. +4 to hit, range 80/320 ft., two targets. Hit: 5 piercing damage.
  • Spear Thrusts. Melee weapon attacks. +4 to hit, range 10 ft., two targets. Hit: 5 piercing damage.Spear thrusts have advantage against PCs attempting to lift the wagon.
  • Warmed Oil (Recharge 5–6) Spray blobs of warmed oil at all creatures within 20 ft. Each creature must make a DC 10 Dexterity saving throw or take 2 fire damage; a successful save halves the damage.

A general guide to assaulting the fortress is provided below.

Kicking in the Door. Forcing the door takes three solid kicks. Each kick uses an action and requires a DC 14 Strength (Athletics) check. Successfully kicking in the door allows the party to enter the area under the wagon (see below).

Lifting the Whole Damn Thing Up. Lifting and tipping the fortress over takes 2 rounds. Each round requires a successful DC 17 Strength (Athletics) check made by one PC. The DC of this check is reduced by one for each PC assisting. PCs involved in lifting the wagon may take no other actions that round. Failing the check on the second round results in the lifting PC(s) having to start over. Successfully lifting the wagon allows the PCs to enter the area under the wagon (see below).

Smashing a Hole. The fortress can simply be attacked with the aim of making an opening. The fortress (AC 12, HP 40) is considered defeated at zero hit points. Defeating the fortress allows the party to enter the area under the wagon.

Under the Wagon

Inside the makeshift stronghold, you find a dank and foul-smelling place. A small cauldron of rendered animal fat approaches boiling over a smoky fire. Two poorly made spears sit abandoned on the ground. A ladder suggests the wagon’s inhabitants have dug into the ground below.

Once their fortress is breached, the five goblins inside retreat into the throne room. A DC 10 Wisdom (Perception) check uncovers an oily sack with 25 sp and some shiny rocks.

The Tunnel and Throne Room

You crouch and descend into the goblin’s burrow. The tunnel, precariously carved and shored up with planking, runs straight for 30 feet before turning sharply. Peering around the corner, you see the goblin’s living quarters. A single sputtering torch illuminates the small chamber and the makeshift throne at the far end. Evil eyes blink from behind five small mounds of dirt. Suddenly, you hear the sound of bow strings being drawn…

The goblins make ranged attacks from behind half-cover until forced into melee. At the entrance to the chamber is a simple spike trap. Noticing the trap requires a Perception (Wisdom) check of 12. Disarming the trap requires a DC 12 Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) check. Failure to notice or disarm the trap causes six sharp spikes to spring out of the ground. PCs within 5 feet of the trap must make a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw or take 1d6 (4) piercing damage; a successful save halves the damage. The throne hides Dib’s treasure hoard. A DC 12 Wisdom (Perception) check reveals the seat of the throne is loose and offset. Inside the throne is a small wooden chest containing 60 sp, 15 gp, and a scrap of cloth with Dib’s fortress design notes scribbled in smudged ink.

D&D ON STEAM

D&D now on Steam, complete with dice and a Dungeon Master

Fantasy Grounds, one of the leading virtual tabletop platforms, now offers officially licensed Dungeons & Dragons content from Wizards of the Coast. Available through Steam, the software can allow players to virtually recreate the 5th edition D&D tabletop experience complete with dice rolling, 2D maps and a play experience completely controlled by a dungeon master.

Anyone who’s been playing D&D over the last decade remembers the promise of Wizard’s Virtual Table. First publicized in the back pages of 4th edition core rulebooks, it promised a fully-realized, 3D tabletop roleplaying experience. But over the lifecycle of 4th edition the vision wavered, and in 2012 the Virtual Table beta was officially cancelled.

In the meantime, a number of virtual tabletop solutions cropped up organically online, allowing players to come together from remote locations around the world and have an experience very similar to playing at a table together in the same room.

fantasy_grounds_phandelver

One of the most capable solutions is Fantasy Grounds, which has a bewildering assortment of features and flexibilities that allow game masters to create everything from homebrew games, to Pathfinder and other established tabletop systems. Add to that the officially licensed D&D modules available for download, including add-on classes and monster collections, as well as entire campaigns.

The first set of products, including the D&D Complete Core Class Pack, D&D Complete Core Monster Pack, and The Lost Mine of Phandelver went on sale last week. Polygon has spent some time checking out the content in The Lost Mine module. Believe it or not, the entire experience, page-for-page, of the physical 5th edition D&D Starter Set is represented there. Beyond that, Fantasy Ground’s modules even include annotated maps hotlinked to spawn enemies onto the grid, ready to roll initiative.

We talked to the president and owner of Fantasy Grounds, Doug Davison, who said that more products are already in the pipeline.

“We have a queue that we’re working through right now,” Davison told Polygon. “We just finished up the preliminary work on the Hoard of the Dragon Queen adventure module, and so that’s currently in review right now. We’ve already conducted our internal reviews, and now it’s out in the hands of a few folks at Wizards of the Coast. So depending on how much needs to be changed during that process, I think you’re looking at a matter of maybe weeks before that’s available.”

Greg Tito, Wizard’s communications manager, confirmed for Polygon that other campaigns, including Rise of Tiamat and the recently released Princes of the Apocalypse, are on the way for Fantasy Grounds.

It’s interesting that Wizards is partnering with a tool which, for all intents and purposes, allows users to scrape content off the internet for free and easily insert it into their games. Fantasy Grounds’ own online tutorials give step-by-step instructions on how to grab maps and art from Google Images and drop it directly into user-generated games.

But Tito says players have been doing this sort of thing for generations, so why not support a tool that lets them do it easily? Furthermore, he hopes that fans will see the value in the for-pay Fantasy Grounds modules, as they leverage the strong work that the Wizards research and development team, as well as their publishing partners, produce in the physical books.

“It goes down to everything that we’ve been excited about in this partnership withFantasy Grounds,” Tito said. “It’s just another tool to allow people to play D&D the way they want to play it.”

DMING THE LITTLE ONES – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME

One of the most fun things I've ever done with my wife and children...


A couple of months ago, a friend asked me if I’d teach him and his 6th-grade son how to play D&D. I’d been thinking for a while about playing with my own kids, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity.

After recruiting several other parent-and-kid combos, I set up a gaming night at my house, with a pool of players ranging from 2nd- to 6th-graders and their parents. Here’s how it went for me.

PREPARATIONS AND PREGENS

This might come as a shock, but not every kid wants to roll dice and slay goblins. In fact, one of those not-every-kids is none other than my own son. A couple of parents brought multiple kids, so I wasn’t surprised as things got going that my son and several of his fifth-grade friends just weren’t interested—as was also the case for a parent or two.

As a DM, it’s important to not take this personally. I told the players (kids and adults) that they were free to go play video games. What remained were two parents, a sixth-grader, a fifth-grader, an incredibly excited 2nd-grader, and my 2nd-grade daughter who just wanted to co-DM and roll the dice for me.

Because this was going to be the first time playing D&D for all the players, I wanted to run something I was familiar with so I could focus on different hooks to get them into the adventure. I opted for the Lost Mine of Phandelveradventure in the D&D Starter Set, having played it once or twice with coworkers.

Conveniently, the Starter Set also comes with a number of pregenerated characters. Though rolling up a character is great fun, I quickly realized that doing so would have taken up our whole first gaming session as I tried to help all the players create characters for the first time. It was important to get to the fun as fast as possible, and pregens are the best way to get everyone playing the game quickly.

CHARACTERS, NOT STAT BLOCKS

As the players got ready, I went over possible character choices by focusing on play styles. For example, do you want to sneak in the shadows? Hit monsters with a sword up close, or shoot arrows from a distance? Cast magic spells? I focused on what type of heroes the players wanted to be, not on how much damage each class dealt or which race had the best features.

I did a really high-level overview of combat. Here’s a d20. On your character sheet, here’s the number you add to hit the monster. If you hit, here’s what you roll for damage. Here’s the number the monster needs to hit you. Here’s your health. For everything else, I just left it for explanation if and when it came up in the game. New players—kids and adults alike—often have short attention spans that don’t want or need a math lesson or a discussion of mechanics.

ACTION HEROES

A player’s first time roleplaying can be awkward, so I quickly worked through the adventure background and right into the goblin ambush to get everyone focused on the game. Once the dice were rolling, the real fun began. The party encountered a goblin ambush that turned into a classic battle of heroic successes and humorous failures. I found that the key to keeping the players hooked was spinning good dice rolls into flavored descriptions and poor rolls into comedic moments. This made the players feel like action heroes in a movie.

For example, one of the parents decided to have a character jump from a ledge down onto a goblin below. I explained that there could be consequences for stumbling on this 20-foot jump, but the player went for it anyway—and rolled low, missing the goblin. Given a chance to land without harm, the character then failed a Dexterity save, so I got to describe how the hero plummeted to the ground and landed face-first at the goblin’s feet.

At this point, one of the kids decided to try the jumping trick to save the fallen character. This time, the roll was high and the second character crashed onto the goblin. As DM, I wanted to keep the action-hero feel going, so I told the player whose character was prone on the ground to make another Dexterity check. Another low roll, so I got to describe how the kid’s character crashed down onto the goblin, which crashed into the fallen hero—who wound up taking more damage from the ally than if the goblin had just attacked with its sword.

SHORT AND SWEET

In the end, that moment in the ambush turned out to be a pivotal point in the game, with everyone laughing and engaged in the adventure. To try to hold onto that engagement, I kept the play session short and focused. We played for about an hour and a half before pizza arrived—at which point, we lost the bulk of the players to food and video games. That was okay, though, because that was all the time it took for the night to be a huge success.

Over subsequent sessions, that first game has evolved into semi-monthly game nights that have included a Magic: The Gathering mini-tournament and a few different board games. We keep coming back to D&D, though, and I hope to write more about our games in upcoming installments of Behind the Screens.

HEROES OF HESIOD

In the past, we’ve also published a shorter version of a D&D experience: The Heroes of Hesiod. An updated version of The Heroes of Hesiod will soon be available in a forthcoming Dragon+ issue.

About the Author

Tom Olsen is a senior game designer on the Dungeons & Dragons team, focusing primarily on digital projects. Tom has worked on multiple teams and projects, including D&D Insider, Magic: The Gathering Online, and various D&D licensed games, but is most proud of his work on Lords of Waterdeep for iOS.

STARTER SET PREGENERATED CHARACTERS

ELDRITCH ARCHER – THE FORGE

5th Edition Builds: The Eldritch Archer

Original artwork by the incredible Jason Engle

The eldritch knight archetype for the 5th edition fighter can technically be used to create a version of the arcane archer, though its powers are more suitable to melee weapons than ranged. With a few tweaks, the eldritch knight can become an impressive ranged combatant, while still allowing the knight’s melee advantages.

The Eldritch Archer

Spellcasting
The spellcasting feature of the eldritch knight remains the same with the following addition. Note: These changes apply to the spellcasting class feature of all eldritch knights.

Anytime the eldritch archer is able to learn wizard spells, including those limited to theabjuration or evocation spell schools, they may instead choose one or more ranger spells from the following list. These spells are considered wizard spells.

3rd: hail of thorns, hunter’s mark
7th: cordon of arrows, pass without trace
13th: conjure barrage, lightning arrow 
19th: conjure volley, swift quiver

Weapon Bond
The weapon bond class feature remains the same. Eldritch archers commonly bond one ranged weapon and one melee weapon. Though spells with a somatic component require one hand to cast, 2-handed ranged weapons such as bows and crossbows may be held in one hand while casting a spell.

War Magic
The war magic class feature remains the same with the following addition. Note: These changes apply to the war magic class feature of all eldritch knights.

If you use your weapon bond on a ranged weapon and that weapon is in your hand, you may spend a bonus action whenever you cast a cantrip to imbue one piece of ammunition with the cantrip’s arcane power. As a part of the bonus action you may fire the piece of ammunition at any target or location within the weapon’s range. If the spell requires an attack roll, the attack is rolled normally for the ranged weapon using Strength or Dexterity as appropriate, not your spell casting ability. If the spell requires a saving throw, you must make a successful attack roll against either the target creature or the desired point of origin (use a base AC 10 if the target is a point instead of a creature) before forcing the target to make the saving throw.

Whether or not the spell requires an attack roll or a saving throw, a successful ranged attack roll deals damage from the ammunition in addition to the effects of the spell (weapon damage is dealt before applying the spell’s effects, including any associated saving throws). Should the damage be reduced to 0, such as through the monk’s Deflect Missiles class feature or similar effect, the spell’s effects are negated.

Eldritch Strike
The eldritch strike class feature remains the same.

Arcane Sniper
At 15th level, you learn to weave arcane magic around yourself in order to hide your position. After you take an attack action while hiding, you may expend one 1st level spell slot to become invisible until the beginning of your next round. You may expend a 2nd level or higher spell slot to use this ability. For each slot level above 1st, the invisibility lasts 1 additional round. Invisibility gained through use of the arcane sniper class feature is not broken by attacking or casting spells.

Improved War Magic
If you use your weapon bond on a ranged weapon and that weapon is in your hand, you may spend a bonus action whenever you cast a spell (not only a cantrip) to imbue one piece of ammunition with the spell’s arcane power. Otherwise, this feature works as the war magic class feature.

INSPIRATION – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME

Getting the Most Out of the Inspiration Mechanic

Inspiration is a way to leverage this system as a DM to reward behavior you want to see at the game table. It’s suggested in the rulebooks that the DM award inspiration for a player playing his characters flaws and negative personality traits well, but the DM can award inspiration for other reasons as well.

Inspiration is one of the more awesome innovations of fifth edition. If you’re not using it as DM, you’re missing out.

You can hear more about this topic in the companion episode of the Game Master’s Journey podcast.

How inspiration can enhance your game

You can use inspiration as a “carrot” to reward behavior and gameplay you want to see more of.

You can use inspiration as a buffer against unfriendly dice and unwanted character death. This works especially well if you use the variant rule that allows inspiration to be spent after the die roll but after the results are announced. This also works well if you use the variant allowing inspiration to be used multiple times on a roll.

Inspiration can be a great way to hedge against a TPK (total party kill). This is helpful if an encounter starts to go south due to no fault of the players—maybe you gave them an encounter that is too difficult, or maybe the players are just having a really unlucky night with the dice. In a situation like this, look for reasons to give PCs inspiration.

Don’t give out more than one inspiration per two PCs, and don’t give a PC more than two inspiration in a given game session. Allow players to learn from their mistakes. Let them suffer the consequences of bad decisions or foolish actions.

Inspiration increases player agency and gives players more of a feeling of control over what happens to their characters.

Additional guidelines for awarding inspiration

Award inspiration for outstanding background write-ups and character development at character creation. This allows a PC to begin play with inspiration, which can be very helpful to “squishy” first-level characters. This encourages players to put more thought into their character before the game starts, leading to a living, breathing character instead of just a collection of numbers on a piece of paper.

Award inspiration for in-character creations like journal entries, letters and sketches. These not only add depth to the characters, but add a lot to the immersion of the players. Make sure to judge such creations on effort and impact as opposed to talent. Not everyone is an artist. If a creation adds to the enjoyment of the players and GM, then it’s worthy of an award.

Award inspiration for anything a player or a PC does that goes above and beyond. Try to be consistent in the kinds of things you award inspiration for. However, also gradually expect more from your players as the campaign goes on. Just as a higher level character needs more xp to advance a level, you should expect more from higher level characters to earn inspiration.

Inspiration variants and optional rules

These are various ways to make inspiration more powerful and useful. Be careful using more than one of these. Some of them synergize well, but some combinations could get out of hand.

Consider using the optional rule that a PC can choose to use inspiration after the die is rolled but before the result is announced. In this variant, the PC rolls a d20. If she chooses to use inspiration, she then rolls a second d20 and takes the higher roll. This makes it easier to use inspiration without fear of “wasting” it and allows PCs to have it and use it when it really matters. This improves inspiration’s ability to buffer against bad die rolls and character death. This does make inspiration more powerful, but more importantly, it makes it more relevant.

Allow inspiration to stack with advantage. By default inspiration gives advantage, which makes it useless in when the PC already has advantage. Allowing inspiration to be used with advantage makes inspiration useful in more situations. This works best with the optional rule allowing inspiration use to be declared after the roll but before results are determined. The PC rolls with advantage as normal (rolls 2d20). If the player then chooses to use advantage, she rolls a third d20 and takes the highest of the three rolls. This makes inspiration more powerful. It’s especially useful to give an epic feel to the game or in campaigns that are very lethal and/or difficult.

Allow inspiration to be used multiple times on a roll. This requires the optional rule that inspiration can be used after the roll but before results are announced by the GM. If the player uses inspiration, but still rolls poorly, another player can give the first player his inspiration die, allowing the first player to roll another d20. This can be done as many times as the party has inspiration dice. This allows a PC to succeed at a very important roll by using all the party’s inspiration at once. This builds a sense of teamwork and camaraderie, as inspiration even more becomes a party resource as opposed to an individual PC resource. This won’t break the game because although the PC will very likely succeed at the important role, the party now has much fewer (or no) inspiration dice left to spend.

Spending inspiration allows you to automatically succeed at a death save. Or, a more powerful version, spending inspiration allows you to stabilize at 0 hit points. This is a great way to further buffer against PC death. This works great for a GM who wants a lower mortality rate and also rolls in the open (or doesn’t want to fudge rolls).

Use of inspiration during a short rest allows you to recover spell slots. You recover a number of spell levels equal to the maximum level spell you can cast divided by three. You can divide this among slots as you wish.

Example: Nikki’s character has access to sixth-level spells. She can spend her inspiration during a short rest to recover either one 2nd-level spell slot or two 1st-level spell slots.

This allows spell casters to use their spells a little more freely. Be aware that this slightly cheapens the wizard’s Arcane Recovery ability. The wizard’s ability is still better at most levels, but it becomes less unique.

Use of inspiration during a short rest allows you to recover some hit points. You can roll a number of hit dice equal to your tier.

Tier 1 is levels 1-4

Tier 2 is levels 5-10

Tier 3 is levels 11-16

Tier 4 is levels 17-20

Example: Jim’s character is a fifth level rogue with a constitution modifier of +1. He can spend his inspiration during a short rest to regain 2d8+2 hit points.

This might be a good option in a campaign with a lot of combats and few chances for long rests. This works well with the optional rule allowing multiple inspirations per PC.

Allow PCs to accumulate more than one inspiration during a session. Any inspiration in excess of one are lost at the end of the session. This makes inspiration (and any of the variants you use) much more powerful. You will want to limit the total number of inspiration the PC can accumulate. I suggest a limit equal to the PC’s tier.

Tier 1 (levels 1-4), 1 inspiration

Tier 2 (levels 5-10), 2 inspiration

Tier 3 (levels 11-16), 3 inspiration

Tier 4 (levels 17-20), 4 inspiration

Hero Points

Hero points can have many of the same advantages as inspiration, but they work differently. Hero points are overall less powerful than inspiration. If you decide to use hero points and inspiration, decide if you will allow both to be used on the same roll.

Hero point variants

Here are a couple ways to make hero points more powerful. This is especially useful if you’re using hero points as a replacement for inspiration.

Allow the hero point bonus die to scale as the Bardic Inspiration die does.

Levels 1-4, d6

Levels 5-9, d8

Levels 10-14, d10

Levels 15-20, d12

Allow more than one hero point to be spent on one roll.

D20 MODERN AND URBAN FANTASY – DESIGN OF THINGS TO COME

I’m a longtime D&D player, but I’m also a sucker for urban fantasy. With the Dungeon Master’s Guide and some tweaking, I’ve begun to use the fifth edition rules to explore the possibilities of gunplay in a modern fantasy setting.

When Wizards of the Coast released the d20 Modern roleplaying game in 2002, I was in heaven. Gnolls in crushed velvet! Ogres decked out in London Fog overcoats! Living dumpsters that ate people!

I was crazy about the Urban Arcana campaign setting in particular. The scenario was a familiar one, seemingly plucked from my own daydreams. D&D monsters and magic (called “Shadow” within the setting) are finding their way into our world. The vast majority of humankind remains largely ignorant of this development, thanks to our awesome capacity for denial. Only a small number of humans and friendly Shadowkind races can even perceive—much less combat—the threats that such an incursion brings.

I ran my Urban Arcana campaign for six years. By that point, other games had clamored for my attention, but I never forgot how interested I was in the marriage of D&D to urban fantasy. When the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was released last December, I knew without a doubt that my first homebrew setting using the new rules would be an updated take on Urban Arcana, adapting firearms and modern armor for use in an urban fantasy game.

Rules of Engagement

The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides optional rules for firearms in D&D—including modern and even futuristic weapons. However, this left me in a quandary regarding character defenses. In a typical fantasy setting, adventurers, guards, and other possible combatants are fully expected to wear armor. There are no social penalties when characters are observed in full armor while going about their business. Modern settings are a different animal in this regard.

Using the old d20 Modern Core Rulebook as a guide, and tweaking the math for fifth edition, I created armor options for my “5e Modern” campaign. Because it can be assumed that most characters operate undercover, incognito, or simply in an unobtrusive manner for at least part of the time, I made sure that those options included concealable armor. More obvious armor—whether riot armor, flak jackets, or Land Warrior milspec armor—will likely have an affect on characters’ social ability checks and their ability to move freely in your campaign. By that same token, armor might afford bonuses to Charisma (Intimidation) checks.

Modern Armor
Armor Armor Class (AC) Strength Stealth Properties Weight
Light Armor
Heavy coat 11 + Dex modifier Disadvantage 6 lb.
Leather jacket 11 + Dex modifier 4 lb.
Light undercover shirt 11 + Dex modifier DR/2 ballistic 2 lb.
Kevlar-lined coat 12 + Dex modifier DR/2 ballistic 8 lb.
Undercover vest 13 + Dex modifier DR/2 ballistic 3 lb.
Medium Armor
Concealable vest 13 + Dex modifier (max 2) DR/3 ballistic 4 lb.
Light-duty vest 14 + Dex modifier (max 3) DR/3 ballistic 8 lb.
Tactical vest 15 + Dex modifier (max 2) Str 10 Disadvantage Resistance: ballistic 10 lb.
Heavy Armor
Special response vest 15 Str 10 Disadvantage Resistance: ballistic 15 lb.
Land Warrior armor 17 Str 13 Disadvantage DR/5 ballistic/slashing 10 lb.
Forced entry unit 18 Str 13 Disadvantage Resistance: ballistic/slashing 20 lb.

As you can see from the table, many of the heavier armors grant damage reduction (DR) or resistance to several damage types, including a new damage type: ballistic damage. In game terms, ballistic damage is the type of damage that firearms inflict, and is a subset of piercing damage. This means that all ballistic damage counts as piercing damage, but not all piercing damage counts as ballistic damage. Magical effects or creature properties that grant resistance to piercing damage also apply to ballistic damage, but effects or properties reducing ballistic damage do not automatically apply to piercing damage.

(Armor in my game currently has no price because my modern ruleset uses a wealth system for characters, similar to that used in d20 Modern. Characters gain equipment based on their wealth, rather than tracking income and expenses. I won’t get into the full system here, but it might make a good topic for a later installment of Behind the Screens.)

Who Gets What?

Because of the high potential damage granted to firearms, it was also necessary to introduce a complication or condition in order to balance their use with more traditional modes of attack. In my campaign, a character proficient with a firearm does not automatically add any proficiency bonus to the attack roll. Rather, proficiency with a firearm allows a character to use a bonus action to take the aim action, which adds the character’s proficiency bonus to the attack roll. Without taking the aim action (or if a character is using a firearm without proficiency), the shooter receives only the benefit of a Dexterity bonus on the attack roll.

When it came to weapon proficiencies, I decided that several classes would enjoy proficiency with firearms, while others would have to earn their proficiency with multiclassing or by training through the use of downtime days (see the Player’s Handbook). I divided firearms into two basic classes: sidearms (for anything up to a submachine gun) and long arms (for anything up to a light machine gun.) Anything heavier—such as a heavy machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, or a flamethrower—is given special dispensation according to the in-game situation. In my own campaign, I created a feat called Heavy Weapon Specialist that allows proficiency in all modern weapons heavier than a medium machine gun wielded by an unassisted individual on foot. I also made this feat available as a fighting style for the fighter class.

Firearm Proficiencies by Class
Class Firearm Proficiency
Bard Sidearms
Barbarian Long arms
Cleric None (though possibly granted through domains such as City or War)
Druid None
Fighter Long arms and sidearms
Monk Sidearms
Paladin Long arms and sidearms
Ranger Long arms and sidearms
Rogue Long arms or sidearms (chosen at character creation)
Sorcerer None
Warlock None (though sidearms and long arms can be created through the Pact of the Blade class feature)
Wizard None (though sidearm proficiency might be granted through the School of Technomancy)

Hold up! City Domain? School of Technomancy? I’ll get into those next time!

About the Author

Daniel Helmick is a contractor attached to the Dungeons & Dragons R&D department, formerly of the D&D Insider studio at Wizards of the Coast. He has contributed numerous articles and adventures to Dungeon and Dragon magazines, as well as the Tyranny of Dragons and Elemental Evil Adventurers League programs. He’s thinking about getting a cat, but he’s torn between the names Trapspringer and Dragonbait.

GOT D&D?

 

You’ll have to go to the original post to see the accompanying video, but it is interesting to see how the Australian media views Dungeons and Dragons in relation to works of fantasy, like Game of Thrones. Weird, but interesting.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 19/01/2015

Reporter: Alison Caldwell

Dungeons and Dragons was the world’s most-popular fantasy role-playing game in the 1980s but hits like Game of Thrones have seen it experiencing a revival with a younger generation, and a warning this report contains strong language.

Transcript

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: In this internet and technology-obsessed age, it’s amazing what simpler pastimes survive.

Dungeons and Dragons, the fantasy role-playing game, was huge in the 1980’s and required little more than a pen and paper, a dice and a bit of imagination.

Now it’s undergoing something of a revival, as Alison Caldwell reports.

ALISON CALDWELL, REPORTER: In living rooms around Australia, a game of strategy and boundless imagination is keeping it’s fans up late into the night.

KIEM-AI NGUYEN, D&D GAMER: I’m not really sure what’s cool and what’s not. I don’t really keep in touch with pop culture, but I’d say it’s pretty cool.

ALISON CALDWELL: Long before Game of Thrones, Dungeons and Dragons lured players with the promise of legend and great adventure.

29-year-old Kiem-Ai Nguyen is one of a legion of new fans of the role-playing game.

KIEM-AI NGUYEN: I was always like, “Ugh, nerds! Ew! Sounds terrible! But a couple of years ago my partner roped me into it. He was like, “Oh, come on, Kiem, you’d love it. It’s a lot of fun. You talk s**t and roll a dice.”

ALISON CALDWELL: Tonight, Kiem’s party of adventurers is embarking on a whole new campaign. The last one played out for over a year.

KIEM-AI NGUYEN: I’m playing an elvin rogue. So, being a rogue, she’s really good with, like, bows and short swords. I just really love the conversation part, the actual role-playing.

ALISON CALDWELL: Michael is the dungeon master in Kiem’s game, the main storyteller and referee.

MICHAEL BARDSLEY, DUNGEON MASTER: In the course of a game, I’m doing things like controlling the non-player characters, controlling the monsters, making decisions about how things happen.

BEN MCKENZIE, GAME DESIGNER: Dungeons and Dragons is the earliest role-playing game. It’s been around since I think 1974. And a role-playing game is a game where you sit around and essentially tell a story together by playing the parts of characters and going through an adventure which is arbitrated by rules which adds an element of risk and danger that you might fail.

ALISON CALDWELL: Ben McKenzie is a game designer and a veteran D&D player.

BEN MCKENZIE: It comes out of the same sort of origins of geek culture as the very early video games. You know, guys in college who felt disenfranchised by the sort of traditional idea of masculinity making an alternate way for them to do these things that they wanted to do.

ALISON CALDWELL: Dungeon master Andy Hazel’ s group has been playing together for seven years.

ANDY HAZEL, DUNGEON MASTER: I didn’t really have a TV when I was younger so there was a lot more imagination and books going on. So, when a neighbour showed me this, I took to it straight away and then quickly converted a whole bunch of my friends at school and started writing adventures for them.

ALISON CALDWELL: Invented in the US in 1974, the board game’s appeal waned in the late ’80s with the advent of video games. Facing oblivion in the late-’90s, a new owner revamped the game, releasing new editions and a mind-boggling 20-sided dice.

ANDY HAZEL: So this is all from 1978 and it was all made by the original guy, Gary Gygax, who – he kind of – he wrote all these books and came up with them. He’s like God to many people.

ALISON CALDWELL: Andy and his group are purists. They prefer an earlier vintage.

ANDY HAZEL: I can often write huge adventures and people will just, like, turn the other direction and walk into the hills and I’ll have to improvise stuff. So, this is still much more about human contact and meeting up and having brown fizzy drinks and pizza and that sort of stuff.

ALISON CALDWELL: Fairfax columnist Clem Bastow has embraced Dungeons & Dragons.

CLEM BASTOW, D&D GAMER: My character today is called Zalga and he’s a half-ork magic user from the realm of Pomage. And he’s six foot five and he’s about 37. And I think his theme song would probably be Whitesnake’s Here I Go Again. He’s kind of just been wandering around and somehow ended up in this cabin with all these people.

ALISON CALDWELL: One reason for the revival in interest in D&D was the late-’90s cult teen drama series Freaks and Geeks. Incorporated into its final episode, Freak Daniel, played by James Franco, is ordered to hang out with geeks and play D&D as punishment. To his surprise, Daniel enjoys it.

That’s how Clem Bastow came to Dungeons & Dragons.

CLEM BASTOW: D&D in Freaks and Geeks is such a big part of those narratives. So when I found these books at the op’ shop, I just put the word out to people I thought might be interested and it turned out everybody in the email chain was interested.

ALISON CALDWELL: Once the domain of men only, today, around 10 per cent of D&D players are women.

CLEM BASTOW: Sometimes women just assume there’s not something there for them. But, I mean, we usually have a fairly even gender split. And what’s really interesting too is, you know, people don’t always play their own gender. So, right now we’ve got one woman in the campaign, but three women at the table.

KIEM-AI NGUYEN: I’m a feminist so I’m all about embracing, you know, everything. It’s becoming a fairly new thing for women to get involved in D&D. … I think we’re all so caught up in the internet world. In the end you try and look for something a little bit different, something creative. It’s kind of like a massive choose-your-own- adventure story, but there is no end to the story and that’s really cool.

LEIGH SALES: You would be surprised how many Dungeons & Dragons fans in the 7.30 office have outed themselves since we commissioned that story – or perhaps not!

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