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The Side Shot Adventure

Not the One Shot, but the Side Shot...

For several years now as part of my ongoing campaign I sometimes run what I call a Side Shot Adventure.

During a Side Shot, the players make up new characters and then I run an adventure that is happening simultaneously that their regular characters are doing other stuff (like resting). The adventure happens far enough away that the two parties never bump into each other.

Below are a few examples of how I have done this:

The Orc Marauders - One of the PCs got separated from the main party and captured by orcs. As a cleric his abilities were valuable, so the orcs kept him alive and protected him. Each player except the cleric made an orc character and then played them accordingly, following a mission given to them by an orc high priest. The cleric PC later saw his old friends on a ship on a large river and escaped by swimming out to the ship.

The Obliteration Stone - The PCs were all thieves or assassins with various different skills (trapper, boxman, pickpocket, conman, etc) and tasked with stealing an Obliteration Stone from a Xarsian Temple in the city of Iztark, taking it to the Ivory Tower in the same city - where the multiclass priest/thief would then sacrifice a virgin to the Obliteration Stone to activate it... what resulted was the equivalent of a nuclear bomb going off and destroying most of the city. The regular PCs then witnessed the explosion and destruction of the city from a distance out in the desert - and later helped out a group of refugees fleeing from the destroyed city.

The Council of High Mages - For this one I ran the opening quest from one of the Vecna modules. During the opening of the module, the PCs play famous wizards (Mordenkainen, Evard, Otiluke, etc) who awake from a nightmare about an old tomb, call a council meeting, and then decide to investigate the old tomb. After getting past a few monsters and traps, they all get party wiped by Vecna who has some insane chronomancy skills and uses Haste and Time Stop to kill the entire party. The purpose of the opening is to scare the players into realizing that Vecna is super powerful and needs to be treated with respect, because if a party of powerful wizards couldn't fight him, then what chance does a lower level party have? For my purposes I changed the names of all the wizards and Vecna to other names, and I really only needed the opening as the rest of the module I am planning to use millenia later when the archlich has become more established. (My campaign spans multiple time periods. That way when I reintroduce the archlich, the players will go: "Oh, that guy... the one who party wiped us and escaped!")

The Dragonslayers - At one point the regular characters ran into a dragon that was too powerful for them and ran away. Fortunately a group of powerful dragonslayers heard about the dragon attacking the fishing village and came to slay it. Each player made a higher level character with specific skills useful for killing a dragon.

Note - While I did not think of it at the time, future DMs could in theory use the Larry Elmore painting (shown on the right) for the basis of a side shot game. Make 5 characters that match those in the painting.

Conclusions

Side Shot Adventures are useful in my opinion because they fill out a narrative and make for an useful storytelling device. Major events can be accomplished by other characters, but the players are still involved in the action. Background stories of PCs being captured and what happens to them can also be fleshed out, and sometimes a Side Shot Adventure can even be used to hint at a future adventure that is much further away.

For those people who love Star Wars, the film Rogue One is effectively a Side Shot Adventure.

Thoughts on this? Have you ever used a Side Shot Adventure or something similar in your campaign? Leave your comments below.

The Cliffside Campaign World

20 years ago I ran a one shot game I refer to as "Cliffside".

Everything in the world (that the PCs knew of) lived on the Great Cliff, which spanned from the ocean below and disappeared into the sky. If they travelled too high up they ran into lots of monsters and air that was difficult to breath.

Every character got Mountaineering and Rope Use as bonus skills. This was to help them to climb and stay alive.

People and monsters lived in caves and ledges on the side of the Great Cliff. Whole villages of humanoids would live either inside the caves or on large ledges.

Trees and plants grew out of the side of the cliff, and birds were the most common animals. Monkeys, mountain goats, squirrels and similar fauna who were adept at climbing were also common.

During the first game session of what I was hoping to be a longer game, the party wiped. Not because of the monsters I threw at them - which were easy. It was because players didn't take the whole falling damage thing seriously. They started jumping from place to place, taking falling damage so that they wouldn't have to climb down via a rope.

So while I had envisaged swashbuckling style combat of people fighting while in swinging ropes, what happened was...

"I have 6 hp left. I am going to jump down 30 feet so I can fight that kobold."

And splat.

And it happened multiple times. Seriously. They just didn't take falling damage seriously.

They also had missile weapons and rocks they could have dropped on the kobolds. But nope, jumping down and taking 3d6 damage seemed like a good idea to them.

I still think Cliffside is a great idea for a campaign. But you need to give the players a serious talking to about the real risks of falling damage.

At higher levels they would get access to Levitate, Fly and eventually flying mounts, but at low levels they need to be using ropes and taking falling damage seriously.

I was going to add gliders at some point when the party encountered a Gnome village. There were also mechanics for sliding down ropes faster using either a device or bare hands (if using bare hands they would take 1 hp damage from rope burn).

So they had many options but chose not to use them.

:(

PS. There is also a number of arguments for scaling falling damage. I haven't really had that problem however as even higher level games, my games are balanced very well and they still take a lot of damage under the normal rules if they don't take falling damage seriously.

Maybe in some games (the kind where the average PC has a really high Con and lots of hit points) this might be a problem, but in my games PCs get killed by falling sometimes... And it is their own fault for not using a rope, backup safety rope, taking the stairs, etc.

Haven't had any party wipes since that incident 20 years ago, but I have come close. (Ask my Friday Night players about their trip to the Ice Nymph's Mountain and they will tell you how several PCs died, and the last man standing had to drag their bodies back from the mountain... Slippery + Falling Damage + Monsters on Higher Ground = Near Party Wipe.)

Dungeon Mastery for D&D, Facebook Group

In my quest to help Dungeon Masters to develop their DMing skills, I have started a Facebook group titled Dungeon Mastery for D&D.

The group's purpose is to share ideas, DMing tips, etc. If you would like to join it is at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1825105327729019/

Feel free to invite your friends who are also DMs.


Rogue Cleric Cat

Rogue Clerics are very versatile.

Star Wars Gingerbread

The following Millennium Falcon was created by my friends Adam and Amanda, inspired by Star Wars of course.



So it got me thinking... What other Gingerbread Star Wars things have people made?

And what I found is that this is really quite a popular thing for people to do...
















Oh and Merry Xmas and May the Force be with you!

The Best Dungeon Magazine Adventure Modules

According to various sources the following are the best adventure modules published in Dungeon Magazine. What I have done here is amalgamated multiple lists made by other people and organizations (issue 116 list, issue 150 list, Joshua Goudreau's list, W.E.Ray's list) and then created a master list organized by Issue #.

If you have your own favourites, add your own list to the comments section further below.

✮ appeared in one list.
✮✮ appeared in two lists.
✮✮✮ appeared in three lists.


1: Into the Fire (AD&D) ✮✮
37: The Mud Sorcerer’s Tomb (AD&D 2E) ✮✮
10: Threshold of Evil (AD&D) ✮
18: Chadranther’s Bane (AD&D 2E) ✮
19: House of Cards (AD&D 2E) ✮✮
24: Thunder Under Needlespire (AD&D 2E) ✮✮
25: A Rose for Talakara (AD&D 2E) ✮
29: Ex Libris (AD&D 2E) ✮
33: Siege of Kratys Freehold (AD&D 2E) ✮
35: Twilight's Last Gleaming (AD&D 2E) ✮
37/138: The Mud Sorcerer’s Tomb (AD&D 2E) ✮✮
41: Old Man Katan and the (Incredible Marching) Mushroom Band (AD&D 2E) ✮
42: The Lady of the Mists (AD&D 2E) ✮✮
55: Umbra (AD&D 2E) ✮
59: Seeking Bloodsilver (AD&D 2E) ✮
61: Nightswarm (AD&D 2E) ✮
62: Dragon's Delve (AD&D 2E) ✮
63: Hunt for a Hierophant (AD&D 2E) ✮
64: Last Dance (AD&D 2E) ✮
65: The Ice Tyrant (AD&D 2E) ✮
69: Slave Vats of the Yuan Ti (AD&D 2E) ✮
70: Kingdom of Ghouls (AD&D 2E) ✮✮✮
70: Kingdom of Ghouls (AD&D 2E) ✮✮✮
73: Eye of Myrkul, Mere of Dead Men part 5 (AD&D 2E) ✮
74: Preemptive Strike (AD&D 2E) ✮
75: The Forgotten Man (AD&D 2E) ✮✮
78: Lear, Giant King (AD&D 2E) ✮
84: The Harrowing (D&D 3E) ✮✮
92: Interlopers of Ruun Khazai (D&D 3E) ✮
95: Porphyry House Horror (D&D 3E) ✮✮
97: Life’s Bazaar, Shackled City part 1 (D&D 3E) ✮
100: The Lich-Queen’s Beloved (D&D 3.5) ✮
100: Beast of Burden (D&D 3.5) ✮✮
102: Zenith Trajectory (D&D 3.5) ✮
106: Tammeraut's Fate (D&D 3.5) ✮
111: Lords of Oblivion, Shackled City part 7 (D&D 3.5) ✮
112: Maure Castle (D&D 3.5) ✮✮✮
117: Touch of the Abyss, Istivin part 1 (D&D 3.5) ✮✮
121: The Styes (D&D 3.5) ✮✮✮
121: Fiend's Embrace (D&D 3.5) ✮
112: Maure Castle (D&D 3.5) ✮✮✮
122: Root of Evil (D&D 3.5) ✮
124: The Whispering Cairn, Age of Worms part 1 (D&D 3.5) ✮
131: The Prince of Redhand, Age of Worms part 8 (D&D 3.5) ✮
132: Library of Last Resort, Age of Worms part 9 (D&D 3.5) ✮
134: Into the Wormcrawl Fissure, Age of Worms part 11 (D&D 3.5) ✮
134: And Madness Follows (D&D 3.5) ✮
135: Dawn of a New Age, Age of Worms part 12 (D&D 3.5) ✮
139: There is No Honor, Savage Tide part 1 (D&D 3.5) ✮
140: Heart of Hellfire Mountain (D&D 3.5) ✮
156: Last Breaths of Ashenport (D&D 4E) ✮

Notes

Issue 150 was the last issue produced by WotC and Dungeon Magazine was sold to Paizo Publishing (Polyhedron Magazine, etc). The quality of the writing in Dungeon Magazine went down dramatically after that and it is small surprise only one of the adventures made it into anyone's list of "best adventures". Many people also boycotted 4th edition - and to some extent some people also now boycott 5th edition, despite it being a vast improvement over 4th - not because 5th edition is bad or sub par, simply because some gamers have moved on to Pathfinder and other games, or they have gone retro and are now playing 1st, 2nd and 3rd edition (or OSRIC) because those are the classics.

Paizo also shortened the magazine to approx. 70 pages instead of 80 to 90 pages that was typical of Dungeon Magazines under WotC. (If you go back further in history, under TSR, the magazine was close to 60 to 70 pages - but the quality of the writing was so much better back then and graphics was kept to a minimum, whereas now the magazine relies more on advertising, graphics and artwork to fill pages.)

All of the older Dungeon Magazines can be downloaded in PDF format for free from https://dnd.rem.uz/Dungeon%20Magazine/

121: The Styes (D&D 3.5) ✮✮✮

Modules Vs Homebrew Campaigns



DM Notes

I am currently running two campaigns.

#1. Monday Night Modules, with a splash of homebrew. 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, set in the Forgotten Realms

#2. Friday Night Homebrew, with a splash of modules. 2nd Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, set in the world of Korovia / Aoerth.

As a DM it is difficult to say which one I enjoy running more. The Friday game definitely has required a lot more work, and there is pride going into that work and it is nice to see the game is so successful after 17 years of running the same campaign world (see Korovia.com for more details).

But on the other hand the Monday game is so easy and requires comparatively little work. I read the module(s), I add things to the story to spice it up a bit, and then I more or less sit back and watch what happens - occasionally rolling dice for monsters attacking or traps going off... And reading the description of rooms when people enter a room.

I have been DMing for over 20 years now, but it wasn't until last year that I started using modules once in awhile. I had been wanting to try using modules for years, but I usually avoided them because I enjoyed the personal touch of making / expanding my own homebrew campaign - the aforementioned Korovia which I have been running for 17 years.

One of the interesting things I have been doing is taking 1st and 2nd edition modules, and then adapting them to 5th edition. This is actually surprisingly easy to do. I basically just went through the module and marked down the page numbers of any monsters from the Monster Manual, this way I knew which page to turn to.

* In the event that I did not have a suitable miniature for a particular monster I also replaced that monster with a monster that I did have a miniature for.

Take for example the Owlbear from the cave just outside the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar. I did not have an Owlbear miniature so I simply replaced it with a Dire Bear instead, which I did have the miniature for. Minor adjustments for hit points, and voila, done. A balanced encounter.

Some modules also leave a lot of room for DMs to add their own things. For example in the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar half of the rooms in the first level of the dungeon are left empty and up to the DM to decide what to put in there. Therefore using the map I marked numbers on the various rooms and made a list of numbered room entries.

For those DMs who want those rooms filled in and don't want to do the work, here are my DM notes for the rooms in question. Assign them as you see fit.

THE HAUNTED HALLS, NON-MODULE ROOMS ON LEVEL ONE

A - The Guest Bedroom - Cobwebs clutter this once well decorated guest bedroom comes with its own small privy with a door on the west wall. Sadly many of the decorations have fallen to pieces and are worthless, but perhaps there is something of value within the wreckage of this room. The bed has partially collapsed and dark skittering things move underneath it. (There is a hole under the bed leading to a den of grey widowmaker spiders. If disturbed, they will swarm out and begin biting the nearest people with their deadly poison. If the room is searched thoroughly, they find hidden under a pile of rubbish a tarnished silver goblet that has a ruby embedded in the stem. If cleaned and polished, the goblet is worth 1200 gp.)

B - The Locked Door - This door is locked and barred from the outside, suggesting that something dangerous dwells within. The lock looks new and recently installed. A tiny flap on the bottom of the door can be swung open, suggesting it is for food or something else. Behind the door you hear a shuffling noise which suddenly stops. If unlocked the party finds a man dressed in rough spun robes, filthy and dirty - but with a handsome face and powerfully built. The room is sparse, and although decorative is in disrepair and appears to have been used more recently as a room for prisoners. (Within the room is Ulzmark, F2, CN, S18, D12, C15, I10, W11, C14, hp 19. Prefers to use bastardsword. Pretends to be honourable, but is secretly a thief. He will steal something of value at the first opportunity.)

C - Cultist Room I - Two cots lie against the south wall. A small shrine to the death god Myrkul, on the west wall, made up of skulls of various creatures and humanoids. A gold bowl of blood lies before the shrine. (The bowl is worth 10 gp.) Depending on the time of day, the two cultists who sleep here are either asleep, or wide awake and praying to Myrkul. If alerted due to loud noises they will have taken up ambush positions. (Level 1 thieves wearing robes, 6 hp.)

D - Cultist Room II - Two cots lie against the north wall. Shrine to Myrkul on the west is made of ivory and old skulls, smeared with dried blood. There are strange scratch marks on the wall near the shrine, looks like it is from axes. (Secret door, emanates magic. Requires a password to open. Within is a dusty cobwebbed corridor with a chest at the far end. Any person entering the corridor triggers invisible skull runes on the floor, which causes the person to suffer 2d8 necrotic damage, save for half. / The two cultists in this room follow the same rules as C.)

E - The Cannibal's Kitchen - A long room filled with tables and at one end sits a stew pot. The smell of something tasty comes from within. The room is cluttered with dirty wooden bowls and spoons. A heavy butcher knife lies on the table nearest the stew pot, next to it is a platter of rotting meat. (If PCs inspect more closely, they realize the meat is human flesh. As is the meat in the stew pot.)

F - Temple of Myrkul - A bone altar in the centre of this chamber covered with bloody skulls is clearly a shrine to Myrkul, the god of murder and the Lord of Bones. The walls of the room are stained with old dried blood and bits of gore. The room stinks of murder and death. (If the party smashes the altar they find a secret compartment within the altar that hides a skull-shaped coffer containing 73 gold pieces.)

G - High Priest's Chambers - This chamber is well decorated and orderly, as if recently cleaned. Books line a bookshelf on the north wall and cover a variety of topics including: Advanced Blood Sacrifices - Volume II, Confessions of a Murderer (clearly a fictional work despite the name), Unicorn Horns and their Usages, a journal containing murder fetish poetry, and a sketchbook filled with elegantly done charcoal sketches of cadavers. In a basket in the NE corner is a collection of various skulls. Near the west wall is a well made oak bed with a combination of grey cotton and black silk sheets. A chest in the SW corner contains a collection of black robes, belts and footwear. A small table sits against the south wall, with an inkwell and stylus, but nothing else of note.

H - Sacrificial Chamber - A large stone slab dominates this room, carved in the shape of a skull. Old dried blood is pooled on top of the stone, the crevices of the stone creating the shape of a skull dedicated to Myrkul, the Lord of Bones. (Smashing the stone slab takes a great deal of time and noise. Check to see if any nearby baddies are alerted.)

I - The Howling Corridors - Strange sounds emanate from the walls in this area of the Haunted Halls. You are not certain whether they come from a magical source, an undead source hiding within the walls, or both. You have the distinct impression you are being watched.

J - The Angry Wraith - This chamber is filled with grey dust. The room smells ancient and musty. A 'Howling Wraith' gathers from dust and attacks the party. (Characters killed by the wraith also become Howling Wraiths - same stats as normal wraiths, but descriptive wise they should be depicted as making horrible howling sounds which may or may not cause PCs to run away in terror depending on roleplaying decisions.)

K - The Dead Elves - A group of dead elves lies in this chamber, cut to pieces by an unknown predator. The marks on their bodies suggest a large predator. A bear perhaps. They died recently and their bodies have been looted already of anything of value.

L - The Undead Bear Pen - This undead beast can be commanded by the priests of Myrkul. They only let it out when they have an use for it. See MM.

M - Secret Chamber of Nieilor - (This well decorated chamber can only be accessed via a secret door, which in turn can only be opened by saying a magical phrase. A Knock spell can open it, if the caster can figure out what part of the wall to cast it on. Within the chamber is a small collection of books, an iron bound chest, a skull statuette with a smaller skull inside it, another smaller skull side inside that one, and a tiny vial of black liquid inside the smallest of the skulls: Black Wyvern Poison, Con save vs death. 2d8 damage on a successful save.)

N - The Chamber of Corpses - The corpses of multiple adventurers line the walls of this room, their bodies appear to have been picked clean of any valuables. The stench is overwhelming as many of the corpses are rotting. (Amidst the piles of corpses is a Carrion Crawler, currently sleeping. See MM.)

O - Sitting Room / Lounge - Ancient sofas, rotted and falling apart line the walls of this room. A small table holds a dented copper oil lamp covered with green tarnish. (A secret cache is under one of the sofas, but has long since been emptied.)

P - The Laboratory - This 30 x 20 foot room is sparsely decorated with ancient banners, elaborately carved desks and chairs, and the tables holds a selection of equipment for potion making. If the pieces are gathered together there is approx. 50 gp worth of alchemist supplies, although much of it is damaged and in need of 10 gp worth of repairs. (One of the desks has a secret drawer containing two green potions that if smelled have the scent of frogs: Two Potions of Jumping.) The room also contains numerous burnt out candles, a silver candelabra worth 10 gp, and a parchment showing a recipe for a Potion of Hill Giant Strength: 1 hill giant heart, 2 ogre fangs, 3 cyclops eyes. Grind the fangs into dust, roll the the cyclops eyes together like dough, sprinkle the fang dust on the eyes while continuing to roll them together, wrap the doughy concoction around the hill giant heart and then boil for 144 hours. The end potion should be a dark brownish red and thick like syrup. There is a note in the corner of the recipe, stating that "Potion is poisonous to trolls if drank. Do not feed to trolls."

Q - The Shaft - A crude tunnel is cut through the rock here, ending in a rough cut 10 x 10 foot chamber with what looks like a well in the middle. A deep shaft goes down into darkness, with a tiny glimmer of light part way down. It appears to be a candle. The shaft detects of magic. (Anyone climbing down towards the candle must surpass multiple magical traps: They must make a Str save or lose their grip on a slippery patch, a Dexterity save or lose their footing, and a Con save or become exhausted. These are magical effects. Should they reach the candle, it is revealed to be made of a strange wax that burns extremely slowly, but provides light equal to a normal candle. Arcane runes on the rocks nearby suggest that this location has some sort of magical importance, but it is unclear why.)

R - Chamber of Lost Love - This room once belonged to a woman judging by the ornate quality of the bed and furnishings, a large silver mirror, various clothes scattered about the room in a range of decay and rot. She evidently enjoyed the fancier things in life. (If anyone touches the mirror, a lavender Spectre of a woman emerges from a cabinet wearing fine jewelry and a purple silk dress. She screams "Stay away from my mirror!" and attacks anyone near her. Spectre, MM page 279. In her cabinet, inside the ruins of a purple silk dress is a pocket holding a silver necklace with a 100 gp amethyst on it.)

S - Storage Room - Most of the barrels in this room have been smashed into pieces. One barrel remains, sitting pristine in the corner and looking unusually clean. (It detects of magic if checked. Inside is pickled relish. On the underside of the barrel lid is an explosive rune of a smiling face.)

T - Storage Room - A storage room containing many empty barrels. One of the barrels contains a colony of sleeping rats. If the barrels are disturbed, they swarm out of the barrel and attack the nearest intruder. Use 3 rats per PC. MM page 335. These rats also carry a disease, those infected develop "Rage Fever". When threatened, people with rage fever gain a +1 to hit, but suffer -2 to their AC. Otherwise the symptoms include headaches, back pain, and lethargy.

U - Storage Room - Empty shelves line this room. In one corner is a large old painting covered with dust, with a solid gold frame (50 gp). The painting is a portrait of a man carrying a magical sword. (It does not detect of magic thanks to an Undetection spell, but does carry a curse so that anyone touching the painting has Disavantage on attack rolls for 1 hour.)

V - Storage Room - This room has 8 barrels with lids on them. You smell the scent of pickled relish in the air. (Six barrels contain water, two contain pickled relish. There are no traps however. This room contains nothing of interest.)

W - Smithy - Most of the tools, weapons and armour in this ancient smithy are covered with a lair of rust and mold. Water drips in the NE corner. The corpse of a dead dwarf lays in the NW corner, chained to the wall. He appears to have died from starvation, and only recently. When the party inspects the corpse, a flesh coloured slime moves off his skeleton, latching on to the person touching the corpse. (Don't use a MM slime. This slime behaves like a Green Slime, but can disguise itself as creatures it has consumed.)

X - Ore Refinery - The room is filled with barrels of old rusty implements and a large stone kiln crucible, meant for smelting. There isn't enough wood or coal however to make it work. (If the PCs search the room thoroughly they will find an old rusty sword with an emerald in the hilt worth 1000 gp. The sword itself is junk, but the emerald can be pried out easily.)

Y - The Library, this chamber holds an ancient library with musty tomes that have mostly rotted away. Damp mold covers some of the books, which includes a variety of topics from recipes, history tomes, travel journals, diaries, maps, scrolls, letters and more. In the south east corner is a 20 x 20 foot alcove containing 6 large wooden chests bound with iron. (Six mimics, waiting to ambush intruders. MM page 220. Lesser mimics have 1 HD, 10hp each. Careful searching of the mimics yields 23 gp, 8 sp and 1 amethyst worth 100 gp.)

Z - These chambers are barred and contain old rotting straw and a feed trough, as if it was once used as a kennel. Now a handful of zombies roam inside the chamber. (Outside the chambers are wall sconces for torches also serve as levers for opening the secret doors.)

Ne1 - This is the abode of a necromancer, judging by the scattered parchments, diagrams, skulls, bones, and the stink of old dried blood and worse. On a table in the center of the room lies 4 decapitated human heads, in various stages of rot. Next to the heads is a cleric scroll of Speak with Dead, held in place by two chunks of black obsidian (worth 10 gp each). Other features of the room include a box full of 9 candles, a broken skull being used as a candle holder, a wooden bed with a dirty old bedroll, a wooden bucket with a lid - inside is blood, shit and piss. The necromancer, a priest of Myrkul the god of death, who lives in this room is alert and has a passive perception of 17. If alerted he moves quietly towards the zombies and releases them, using command undead to steer them towards the PCs, then he casts two glyphs of warding in two locations, before moving to support the zombies. If injured, he runs away to alert the other necromancers. C5, 29hp, AC14 or 18, wears black robes and carries a triangle shield with the white skull of Myrkul on it. He also wears a bleached white skull as his holy symbol. Spells: Glyph of Warding x2, Silence, Hold Person x2, Protection from Good, Shield of Faith, Bane, Bless. (In the corner of the room is a loose stone, underneath is hidden a small sack containing 8 obsidians, worth 10 gp each, and 6 gp.)

Ne2 - This is the abode of a young necromancer acolyte of Myrkul, judging by the disarray and the crude drawings of scantily clad women in lewd positions with skeletons. If the PCs are quiet, they can enter his room while he is sleeping. If they are loud (passive perception 13) then he might be wakened - because he is sleeping he has Disadvantage on the roll. He can also be awakened by his master from Ne1. C1, 9 hp, AC10. Spells: Bane, Bless. Other features of the room: Broken bed, dirty and stained bedroll, a crude painting of a woman being beheaded, a small selection of paintbrushes and black and white oil paints.

Ne3 - This is the chamber of a female necromancer (wizard), a spellbook lies open on the table next to a small cage. Inside the cage is an animated zombie badger. It snarls at you and attempts to break open its cage. See MM page 318. The wizard appears to not be home right now. Other features of the room include: Wooden bed and clean bed roll, the room itself is surprisingly clean, a tin chamber pot sits on a small table next to the bed. A bowl of dried fruit sits on a book shelf next to the following tomes: "A Beginners Guide to Taxodermy", "Waterfalls of Cormyr", "The Legend of Rivior the Bandit Prince". (She is searching for a waterfalls where she believes an important treasure was buried by Rivior. The one book has several notes in the margins pertaining to the treasure. The waterfalls book has Xs marked to each of the waterfalls she has already searched.

Ne4 - This is the home of an venerable blind necromancer (wizard). His eyes were cut out decades ago so he could acquire the ability to be able to permanently speak with dead. He poses no threat, but might be useful for information. Beneath his bed is a large flat chest covered with strange runes and three well-fashioned locks on it. (Inside the chest are 3 clay pots containing potions. Smashing the chest open also breaks the clay pots and ruins the potions.) You don't spot a key. Various cooking implements and foodstuffs are in the room, in addition to his divining abilities he serves as the cook for the necromancers. He has a spellbook, but it is very old and the ink has faded.

Ne4b - A Stinking Privy. This place is filthy. (Above the door is a loose stone where a silver key is hidden.)

Now you may have noticed two things:

1. This is only Level One of the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar. Ed Greenwood designed the module to be expandable by people using it, with many more levels below - and several different ways of reaching the lower levels of the dungeon. However, as indicated by a magic mouth on the entrance of one such route, the party is not ready to journey further below and that door will not open until they achieve a required level (as determined by the DM).

2. There are a number of items I have added to the rooms which are possible adventure hooks beyond Eveningstar. For example Ne3 contains two books which should lead the party to explore various waterfalls and the regions near those waterfalls, in search of a grand treasure that was hidden by Rivior the Bandit Prince.

Near the village of Gray Oaks there is also a legend of an unicorn that lives near a waterfall that flows into the Tearflow River - the "Waterfalls of Cormyr" book might be useful in more ways than one.

When possible I am setting up the various adventure hooks of the Monday Night Modules so that they go to specific modules or Dungeon magazine adventures set in the Forgotten Realms, this way I don't have to do as much work for that campaign and can focus my creative talents on the Friday Night Homebrew game.

I should note one last thing...

  • The Monday Night Modules game only happens once every two or three weeks, organized so it never falls on a holiday.
  • The Friday Night Homebrew game is every Friday, except holidays.

This means that I can relax on Monday nights in-between sessions and do other things, but I still get the Friday game to look forward to every week. Thus even though I am running two campaigns I never feel like I am overburdened and stressed - and won't burn out due to the added pressure of running two campaigns.

Since one of them is mostly modules it makes it so much more relaxing. I made the mistake years ago of trying to run additional games on Mondays and I would end up burning out.

Dungeon Magazine Adventures in the Forgotten Realms

Below is a list of adventures set in the Forgotten Realms published in Dungeon Magazines, between issues 1 and 150.

I have ranked the adventures by their minimum recommend character levels. I have also marked the five part series Mere of Dead Men in blue. You know, because we love sea monsters. :)

  • Elminster’s Back Door, by Ed Greenwood for any levels — Dungeon #30
  • Below Vulture Point, by Jeff Fairbourne for levels 0-1 — Dungeon #39
  • Thirds of Purloined Vellum, by Graham Robert Scott for level 1 — Dungeon #88
  • The Raiders of Galath’s Roost, by Skip Williams for level 1 — Dungeon #87
  • Within the Circle, by Sam Brown for level 1 — Dungeon #130
  • Euphoria Horrors, by Alan Grimes for levels 1-2 — Dungeon #34
  • …And A Dozen Eggs, by Randy Maxwell for levels 1-3 — Dungeon #30
  • The Inheritance, by Paul Culotta for levels 1-3 — Dungeon #26
  • Irongard, by Ed Greenwood for levels 1-3 — Dungeon #18
  • Into the Nest of Vipers, by Matthew G. Adkins for levels 1-3 — Dungeon #75
  • The Beast Within, by Paul Hamilton Beattie, Jr for levels 1-3 — Dungeon #65
  • A Wizard’s Fate, by Christopher Perkins for levels 1-3 — Dungeon #37
  • Welcome to the Krypthome, by Samuel Heath for levels 1-3 — Dungeon #52
  • The Frothing Miscreant, by Robert A. Van Buskirk for levels 2-4 — Dungeon #80
  • Masqueraider, by Randy Maxwell for levels 2-5 — Dungeon #14
  • Slave Vats of the Yuan-Ti (Mere of Dead Men Part I), by Jason Kuhl for levels 3-5 — Dungeon #69
  • Witches’ Brew, by Steve Johnson for levels 3-5 — Dungeon #67
  • Ssscaly Thingsss (Mere of Dead Men Part II), by Kent Urtman for levels 3-6 — Dungeon #70
  • The Serpent’s Tooth, by Nigel D. Findley for levels 3-6 — Dungeon #19
  • The Oracle at Sumbar, by Paul Culotta for levels 3-6 — Dungeon #48
  • The Muster of Morach Tor, by Russell Brown for level 4 — Dungeon #144
  • Huzza’s Goblin O’War, by Paul Culotta for levels 4-6 — Dungeon #63
  • The Glass House, by Wolfgang Baur for levels 4-6 — Dungeon #15
  • Nymph’s Reward, by Jeffery L. Fairbourn for levels 4-6 — Dungeon #29
  • Dreadful Vestiges (Mere of Dead Men Part III), by Steve Johnson for levels 4-7 — Dungeon #71
  • Visitors from Above, by Shonn Everett for levels 4-8 — Dungeon #28
  • On Wings of Darkness, by Craig Barrett for levels 4-8 — Dungeon #34
  • Forest of Blood, by Wil Upchurch for level 5 — Dungeon #103
  • Mistress on the Mere (Mere of Dead Men Part IV), by Paul Culotta for levels 5-7 — Dungeon #72
  • Grimjaws, by Jennifer Tittle Stack for levels 5-7 — Dungeon #62
  • Sleep of Ages, by Eric L. Boyd for levels 5-8 — Dungeon #69
  • Ex Libris, by Randy Maxwell for levels 5-8 — Dungeon #29
  • Training Ground, by Rick Maffei for levels 5-8 — Dungeon #67
  • The Door From Everywhere, by Roger E. Moore for level 6 — Dungeon #88
  • Eye of Myrkul (Mere of Dead Men Part V), by Eric L. Boyd for levels 6-8 — Dungeon #73
  • Grotto of the Queen, by Paul & Shari Culotta for levels 6-9 — Dungeon #64
  • Operation Manta Ray, by Paul Culotta for levels 6-9 — Dungeon #66
  • The Pipes of Doom, by Kristofer Wade for levels 6-10 — Dungeon #28
  • The Chasm Bridge, by Desmond R. Varady for level 7 — Dungeon #101
  • Tears for Twilight Hollow, by A. L. McCoy, C. Perkins for level 7 — Dungeon #90
  • Steelheart, by Paul Culotta for levels 7-9 — Dungeon #53
  • The Ship of Night, by Wolfgang Baur for levels 7-9 — Dungeon #20
  • A Question of Balance, by Nigel D. Findley for levels 7-12 — Dungeon #14
  • Storm Season, by Paul Culotta for levels 7-12 — Dungeon #61
  • Woe to Mistledale, by Skip Williams for level 8 — Dungeon #100
  • ‘Til Death Do Us Part, by J. Mark Bicking for levels 8-10 — Dungeon #29
  • Into the Silver Realm, by Steve Kurtz for levels 8-12 — Dungeon #43
  • A Blight on the Land, by Richard Green for levels 8-12 — Dungeon #38
  • Requiem of the Shadow Serpent, by Anson Caralya for level 9 — Dungeon #139
  • Practical Magic, by Jason Nelson for level 9 — Dungeon #113
  • House of Cards, by Randy Maxwell for levels 9-12 — Dungeon #19
  • Twisted Night, by Stefan Happ for level 10 — Dungeon #149
  • The Akriloth, by Matthew G. Adkins for levels 10-12 — Dungeon #79
  • Spiral of Manzessine, by David Noonan for level 11 — Dungeon #94
  • Dungeon of the Crypt, by Eric L. Boyd for level 13 — Dungeon #127
  • Blood of Malar, by Eric L. Boyd for level 13 — Dungeon #126
  • Prison of the Firebringer, by Richard Baker for level 13 — Dungeon #101
  • Secrets of the Arch Wood, by Skip Williams for levels 13-20 — Dungeon #121
  • The Fireplace Level, by Eric L. Boyd for level 14 — Dungeon #128
  • Man Forever, by Jason Nelson-Brown for level 15 — Dungeon #137
  • The Harrowing, by Monte Cook for level 15 — Dungeon #84
  • The Twisted Run, by Wil Upchurch for level 17 — Dungeon #129


5 DM Tips for Running a D&D Module

Rookie Dungeon Masters often make the mistake of running a module and doing lots of things they should not be doing.

#1. Mod the Module!

It is meant to be modified. What you are given may not suit your setting, the atmosphere of your game, or even your group of players. You may need to add more action, add some sub-plots to make it more interesting, or even rewrite whole sections of the module to bring it up to snuff.

While you might think that modules are meant to be played as is, with zero changes, even the people who wrote the module are probably frequently changing it to suit their needs.

For some groups the DM might have to give them extra reasons (more gold, the lure of a mysterious magical item, etc) because maybe the party really doesn't want to go to Tornado Island...


#2. Read and Reread the Module.

You should be well prepared and know everything in the module - NPC names, the overall plot, etc - and be well-versed in any special circumstances that show up in the module. This way you don't run into any surprises along the way that throw a wrench into your game.

#3. Familiarize yourself with all Monsters mentioned in the Module.

So for example if there is a mummy in the module you should read the Monster Manual and see if it fits your adventurers. Maybe a mummy lord would be more challenging? Or a mummy with a special ability.

You might even decide to change some of the monsters being used, perhaps using a Shadow instead of a Mummy, mostly because you have a Shadow miniature and don't have a Mummy miniature.


#4. Make a Larger Version Map.

Mostly I find this very handy. I find that players get a better sense of what is happening if they also know WHERE they are. The little maps that come with modules are often 8 by 12 inches and might suit the DM's needs, but unless you are photocopying it then it doesn't really suit the needs of players.

Plus bigger maps can also be drawn on, things added to, and the party can do this cooperatively - so it becomes a group map. For added flair you can also "age the map" by staining it a little bit with watered down tea.

#5. Create Side Quests specifically for the Module.

This essentially is to give the PCs something else to do. They can explore a side dungeon that wasn't included in the original module, a cave that they found in the woods, side plots involving minor NPCs, etc. You can also create sequels and little plots to get rid of any plot holes, tie up loose ends, etc.

If wracking your brain for ideas for side plots, check out old Dungeon Magazines. Some of them had little "Side Trek" adventures in them that are basically one or two pages that you can just slot in to your module for added interest.

BONUS

Get rid of any potential for campaign ruining powerful items. A magical sword that is too powerful. An artifact that grants unlimited wishes. Such things should be destroyed, stolen, cursed, etc.

For example, if the party somehow gained ownership of a flying fortress by the end of the module, that fortress should be crashed into the side of a mountain almost immediately.


Dungeons and Dragons - Player Caps in Crowded Games vs What To Do When Very Few Show Up

I really should make this part of the Dungeon Master Tips posts I have been writing of late. However I felt that since this topic was a big one that this post deserves to be by itself and given the appropriate amount of attention.

Overcrowding and Player Caps

When playing Dungeons and Dragons sometimes it will happen that a game becomes overcrowded. eg. 12 players plus the DM is super overcrowded.

Speaking for myself I think the largest group I ever DMed was 10 people + myself. So that was very overcrowded in my opinion... which implies that not all DMs agree on what is the ideal number of players.

Some DMs like large groups, some prefer smaller groups. 4 to 6 players + DM is considered to be a normal group size.

11 or more players = Super Overcrowded.
9 to 10 players = Very Overcrowded.
7 to 8 players = Overcrowded. (I am personally comfortable running a group this size, because I have extensive past experience doing so.)
  • For the above three categories, the DM will need to keep a tight rein on the players in order to encourage them to stay focus on the game and not get distracted by pop culture discussions. Too many off-topic discussions is a cue for the DM to throw a kobold, fireball or ambush at the party.
  • Larger numbers of people require a DM to be more charismatic and really flex their storytelling skills. It is a good time to crack out the voice acting skills and really do a good job of it so that players are not talking amongst themselves, playing on their cellphone and ignoring the game, etc.
  • Set up a routine for players communicating with the DM so they don't all try to talk at once. I prefer a roundtable situation where I usually start on the left and go around the table to the right deal with any actions that the party is doing, in order. If they have no action they can simply "Pass".
  • Make sure no players are being left out. If they are not doing something, give them something to do by dropping a clue, a hint, a draft for a secret door, etc.
  • Make sure everyone can hear you and paying attention. This means louder players who talk too much (eg. while the DM is talking) might need to learn how to be quieter so that everyone can hear what is happening. 
  • Use maps and figurines to the attention of your players. While using figurines and miniatures might be more optional with smaller groups, with larger groups things can get confusing and you really rather NEED the miniatures to keep things organized.
  • More enemies. If using a module you will need to scale encounters to make them more challenging for larger groups. This can be done by increasing HD, increasing the number of baddies, or both. Be careful you don't throw anything too big at them.
  • You will note that many of the tips above are things the DM should be doing anyway, but larger groups will stretch the limits of how well DMs can do such skills and keep everyone happy. Some players will find large groups discouraging or "not fun enough" because they have less individual time to shine.
  • Depending on your skills as a DM (and the availability of chairs) you may decide to set a player cap. I recently added a player cap of 9 to my Monday Night Campaign - mostly because 9 people is quite a squeeze around the table we are using. In the future I might even lower the cap depending on the issues of seating, but I decided I wanted to challenge myself as a DM by embracing larger groups.
  • Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson (the creators of Dungeons and Dragons) in the early years of developing the game had a group of 20 players and co-DMed the large numbers by placing them in two separate groups, and then used a large map of Castle Greyhawk on the basement wall. When a particular room was done they would go to the map and mark off an X to indicate that room had already been done. Plus there were many different levels of the dungeon (17 levels I believe?) so the chances were extra reduced. This way each DM didn't have to worry about players doing the same room twice, and the two separate groups could explore the huge dungeon simultaneously without accidentally bumping into each other. (Below are two maps from Castle Greyhawk.)


4 to 6 players = Considered Ideal by many DMs.
  • Normal DMing tips apply, but many of the tips listed above would still be handy.
  • If the DM is not doing a good job with only 4 players they really need to brush up on their DMing skills.
  • Some DMs may feel that 6 players is actually too much for them to handle. I would argue they need to work on their skills and need to practice DMing larger groups until they get used to it. This is a process that should be g r a d u a l l y.
2 to 3 players = Poor Turnout, but team usually gets more done faster.
  • This is actually quite ideal for someone who is new to DMing and doesn't necessarily know what they are doing. Smaller groups are quieter, easier to keep the group focused, etc.
  • Smaller enemy sizes. Because the group is smaller you need to scale the size of the enemy groups.
  • Having a smaller group allows you give players a lot of individual attention. This is a good opportunity to have them really roleplay their characters and the smaller group dynamic means they should be less shy about doing so.
  • If you are disappointed by a low turnout of players, don't let your players see it. Instead see this as an opportunity to finally do that *thing* the party didn't finish doing or exploring and have been curious about, a chance to run a short side quest, to do character development, to introduce the PCs to a new NPC henchman or hireling, etc.
  • Be prepared to get a lot more done than you are expecting. Hopefully you make a habit of being well prepared.
  • It never hurts to have multiple ideas (or rumours) for possible side quests for PCs to explore. I like using rumour mill charts where I can roll dice and then the PC learns a new rumour from the baker, the butcher, or the undertaker...
1 player + DM = No Group Dynamic

Essentially is the DM running a solo adventure for the player. There are published modules designed for that and I have experimented and ran solo adventures for players in the past - usually as a way of teaching new players how to play.

Solo play forces the player to think on their own and solve problems themselves, as opposed to the group dynamic of solving problems as a team. Thus when designing a solo adventure I recommend putting in specific challenges are designed for their character. More problem solving for wizards, more traps/climbing for thieves, and more combat/physical challenges for warriors. For clerics you need to design the adventure to have a few undead (for Turn Undead), a NPC to heal, and a baddie to kill - and you should use the narrative in away that works with the cleric's chosen god. A good cleric will want to be doing good deeds. A druid will want to be saving the forest or creatures of the forest.

If you are not sure how to design an adventure for a solo player you can also try using a module instead and after running a few modules you will have a better idea of how best to do it.

Examples of Solo Modules
  • Lathan's Gold (Any)
  • Ghost of Lion Castle (Any)
  • Thunderdelve Mountain (Dwarf Solo Adventure)
  • Mystery of the Snow Pearls (Elf Solo Adventure)
  • Midnight on Dagger Alley (Wizard Solo Adventure)
  • Blizzard Pass (Thief Solo Adventure, invisible ink, can be run by the player or by a DM)
  • Maze of the Riddling Minotaur (Thief Solo Adventure, also with invisible ink)
Old issues of Dungeon Magazine also regularly had solo adventures in them.


Critiquing Amateur Fantasy Authors

"If a person cannot take positive criticism then they cannot take any kind of criticism, not even self-criticism. Thus they will keep making the same kinds of mistakes and never improve because even coincidental improvements will only be temporary until their next series of mistakes."

A few years back a friend of mine who is also a writer but lacks any formal training asked me to read one of her fantasy stories and send her some feedback for how she could improve it.

I did so. And because I never half ass such a request, I gave her a long list of positive criticism in point form so it was easier to understand and digest.

Nor was I the only person she asked for feedback. Most people however either politely said nothing or said "I like it." without explaining what aspects they liked.

I said what I liked, what I didn't like, and I explained why I liked or didn't like the various things. I went into the necessary detail she would need to make improvements.

However she didn't like the criticism, even though any experienced writer would have found such criticism to be extremely helpful. A non experienced writer however... one who is unused to any kind of criticism, sees such criticism as an attack on their skills and gets offended / defensive easily.

In some cases extremely easily.

After that incident years went by and the big pieces of advice I gave her during that period was...

Learn how to write in a formal setting (creative writing class).
Go to Creative Writing Workshops to practice skills.
Use Spellcheck and Grammar Check.
Write every day. Preferably 1000+ words per day if you can find the time.
Familiarize yourself with various writing genres and tropes.
Write short stories to hone your skills.
Learn how to take positive feedback and improve based on feedback.
Read books that are very well written.

Which is all good advice. None of which she apparently took.

Years went by. She stopped hanging out with our circle of friends. Then one day she posted a new short story (the beginning of something possibly bigger) on Facebook and asked her friends for feedback.

I was the only person who gave proper feedback and positive criticism. FYI, clicking "Like" is not feedback. Clicking Like could simply mean the person glanced at it and never read it. I actually read it and provided appropriate feedback.

This time however she didn't even respond. I didn't hear anything from her and she certainly was not socializing with the group of friends. It took me months to realize she had unfriended me on Facebook.

That was how little her ability to take positive criticism was. She wanted feedback evidently, but any kind of criticism - even positive criticism - could not be handled by her sensitive psyche and lack of experience at receiving criticism.

Speaking for myself I have been on the receiving end of both. I once pissed off a group of Robert E. Howard fans who went out of their way to mock a short story I wrote about Conan (the Barbarian). They were essentially upset that someone had written a Conan short story and was selling it on Amazon Kindle (and selling like hot cakes). Since Robert E. Howard died over 75 years ago nobody owned the copyright any more and literally anyone can now write and sell Conan books and short stories. However the fans didn't like it. They didn't even bother to read what I had written (which was a homage to Howard in Howard's writing style) and instead posted all manner of horribly negative reviews on a story they never even read.

So yeah. That is some pretty negative criticism. Fortunately I knew just how to respond. I ignored all the negative criticism and focused on the positive criticism which was written by people who actually read the story.

Having written and published numerous novels, short stories and anthologies I had encountered many other examples of positive criticism. I certainly knew how to tell the two apart.

I should also note that I have also taken part in poetry readings (with feedback from other poets) and studied painting/sculpture/photography at the university level. Here is what I have learned:

Poets are really eloquent and good at giving positive criticism.
Painters mostly talk about their feelings but are similarly good at giving positive criticism.
Sculptors are surprisingly shy and quiet.
Photographers are perfectionist assholes and super catty.

Ergo. For the best positive criticism, find a friend who is a poet and ask them to critique your work. If that cannot be found, find a painter.

Ideally you should be looking for a fellow writer. Preferably one who writes in the same genre as you are writing. Eg. Fantasy or Sci Fi. Maybe even offer to exchange drafts of things you have written and thus exchange criticism.

Tips for Writing Positive Criticism

Focus on what things you like and don't like.
Explain why you like or don't like certain things.
Pointform and headings are handy for separating the above two.
Be detailed but concise.
Be nice about it. Don't write negative things.
Don't worry about spelling or grammar. Just kindly remind them to use Spellcheck and possibly a grammar style guide.
Provide suggestions for how they might improve the writing or plot.

And lastly... if you know the person is the sensitive type who cannot take the criticism then perhaps you should learn from my mistake and don't give them any advice at all.

Yes, this means they will never improve their skills because of their stubborn unwillingness to take advice or accept criticism (cough cough, like Donald Trump). But hey at least you won't lose a friend over it because some people just cannot handle any kind of criticism.

Something similar to this happened recently during a Dungeons and Dragons game. The DM running it was horribly bad at DMing. So horribly bad... I wanted to tell him off for being such a horrid DM. However he was one of those super sensitive types who freak out about any kind of criticism. Having learned from the previous incident above I opted to simply not tell him anything and then vowed to never play in any game with him ever again.

Xmas Gift Idea for D&D Player

I am very tempted to get this for my sister for xmas. This totally suits several of her D&D characters.



10 Tips for Dungeon Masters - Part II

If you have already read my previous post 10 Tips for Dungeon Masters - Part I then you know where this is going. If you have not, well then maybe you should read that one first. Huzzah!


1. Don't Railroad the PCs. Drop Clues instead.

Instead if you have a quest you are hoping them to go, let them do their side adventure or whatever it is they are doing... but drop a clue during that adventure that leads them back to your big important quest. The clue could be a map. A mysterious magical item. A strange letter or note or symbol. A history book about the dungeon you want them to explore. Etc.

This way players never feel they are being forced to go on your big grand adventure. Instead the clues dropped will make them curious.

"Gee. I wonder what are in those Haunted Halls north of Eveningstar. This old book says there is a lot of treasure in there and a magic sword that is handy for killing both lizardmen and dragons."

2. Use Modules once in awhile.

Honestly, if you are an inexperienced DM you should probably just stick to modules until you've gained more experience. The advantages of modules are many and the disadvantages are mitigated by the fact that if you don't like something in a particular module, fine, just change it. You don't have to do everything in the module.

Even experienced DMs should use modules once in awhile to open their eyes to new ways of creating a dungeon, new ways adventures can be designed, and even just funny traps... see The Tomb of Horrors if you want to see some really funny ones.

If you are a new DM I recommend running "The Haunted Halls of Eveningstar", a classic D&D dungeon crawl. Even experienced DMs should run this quest as it is a true classic worth playing.



3. When in doubt, stick to the Core Books

You don't need to use all the books and materials that are available on the internet. Especially anything that is broken in terms of power levels. If you are inexperienced DM you should probably stick to the 3 core books. This way you know everything you are going to run into and don't have to deal with adjudicating strange spells that might not be balanced, players wanting bizarre magical items that might be overpowered, etc.

Even experienced DMs will restrict their players to the core books, just to keep it simple. Or perhaps only allow one non-core book for the sake of flavour.

4. Mysteries of the Unknown motivate PC curiousity.

It never hurts to have some mystery or a mysterious object in the game. A good riddle perhaps about the hiding place of some treasure.

For example in my own campaigns I don't let PCs know what magicals items do when they find them. That is what the spell Identify is for. Too many DMs ruin all the mystery of newfound magical items by spilling their beans on their powers right away. Let PCs try to figure out what they are...

5. Magical Item Descriptions.

Take your time describing magical items. It should never just be a Longsword +1. Describe it. What symbols are on it? Does it have a name on the blade? Is there anything special about it? It is made of silver, cold forged iron, adamantium, mythral, ornichalcum or some special metal? A silver longsword +1 named "Silverlight" is so much more interesting and special than a pathetic longsword +1.

I also recommend customizing magical items. Silverlight for example might have the ability to cast Light at caster level 12 once/day for example when its name is said. And maybe it even has a undiscovered power the party doesn't know about. Like maybe it glows when werewolves are nearby and does bonus damage against lycanthropes.

The sword also probably has a history. There might be books about it. Ancient tales about a hero who was the bane of werewolves and similar beasts. The next time the PCs are in a library or raiding a wizard's private den perhaps they will find a book titled "Silverlight : The Sword of Angus Werewolfbane".



6. Ask Players What they Want to Accomplish.

I love it when a DM does this. I have done it numerous times myself with great success, often employing a questionaire with a variety of possible quests, different possible enemies, different places they might want to visit or explore, etc. And of course a fill in the blank area for what the players would most like to do and accomplish.

Once I have this I can then weave together 90% of the things people wanted and craft adventures that suit both the themes and flavour of the campaign, while fulfulling most of the desires that players are requesting.

The most popular requests become part of a main quest, and the less popular ones are mixed together for side quests.

And the silly requests (like asking for space orcs, aka Scro) get ignored.

7. Try to avoid saying No...

And use "Yes but..." instead. This is an improv technique. The idea here is that when PCs ask for something or say that they are going to do something, don't respond with a no. Instead say "Yes but..." and then explain why that might be a bad idea or why it probably won't work, or even why that might unbalance.

An excellent example of this in action is when PCs get a Wish spell, a wish granting genie, or a Ring of Three Wishes, etc. A Wish spell can be used to potentially ruin the game and bring it to a sudden end. The DM will want to avoid this and thus will want to avoid any Wish that ends up unbalancing the game. There is also the metagaming issue. For example if a PC wishes for a nuclear weapon, assuming this is a medieval fantasy world how do they know what that is that they would be asking for it?

Wise players will usually know when to not push their luck with Wishes, knowing that a Wish can easily ruin games, but also knowing that if their Wish is not worded properly that the DM may find a way to twist their words.

eg. Wishing to be immortal might turn the PC into a vampire, and the player might want to avoid that.

Thus it is a good time to mention "Yes, but what if you end up a vampire or something similar..."

Or perhaps they become immortal in a manner similar to Dorian Gray, with his enchanted painting...

8. Know When to Compromise, but Also When to Maintain Balance.

During several 5th edition games I have run people have requested to play Dragonborn. Except I personally find Dragonborn to be unrealistic in a medieval setting. The local peasants would probably attack and kill any dragon-like creature on sight. Same thing goes with a variety of monsters, half-demons, etc. Killed on sight by peasants with pitchforks.

However I have sometimes compromised with a player by allowing them to play "Dragonkin" or "Dragonblood" individuals, which look and behave exactly like humans, but have certain dragon abilities because an ancestor of theirs was a dragon. Same abilities, human appearance. Like the mutant Mariner from "Waterworld", whose only distinguishing feature is the gills behind his ears.

9. Reserve the Right to Change the Rules, and Your Mind.

Sometimes you will come across a rule that doesn't make sense. At which point every DM has the right to change the rules and add "House Rules".

You also have the right to later change your mind and replace the old house rule with a New and Improved House Rule.

This came up years ago when I was running a 1st edition campaign and we came to the issue of Opposed Strength Checks. Opposed Strength Checks are tricky in that edition because you want to roll low normally when doing a Strength check. And the standard thing most DMs (to my knowledge) did was that the lowest roll won. But what if there is a tie? What if the weakest person fails to roll beneath their Strength, but still manages to win on a technicality because the stronger person rolled a 20 and auto-fails?

Eventually I scrapped that system for the following:

Both players roll 1d20 and then ADD their Strength to the total rolled. Ties go to the defender. Much

10. Reward Players for Not Metagaming and Roleplaying Instead.

The best reward is XP. Let me explain why, and the reasoning is two-fold.

When a situation arises (inevitably) players will sometimes be tempted to metagame (using out of game knowledge) to solve a problem or somehow get an unfair advantage.

Depending on the nature of the metagaming, DMs may even decide to not allow the metagaming action. Or to penalize the PC for attempting it.

But when a player does not metagame, and then actively works to avoid metagaming and instead roleplays their character's personality and alignment, then they deserve a XP reward for good roleplaying.

In general DMs should make an effort to reward good roleplaying, with the knowledge that not all players roleplay in the same ways - the player then knows they should continue such actions, knowing they get rewarded for it. This then encourages other players in the group to focus on roleplaying too, thus they will be rewarded for quality roleplaying too.

WANT EVEN MORE TIPS?

I have more. Lots more in fact. But I set myself a limit of 10 for each of these posts. You can subscribe to Nerdovore or bookmark the page to come back sometime. I have made a note to endeavour to write a Part III to this post in the future.

See also my previous post titled "Bad Dungeon Masters" to get a better idea of what DMs should NOT be doing.


10 Tips for Dungeon Masters - Part I

As an experienced Dungeon Master for D&D I have been running games for over 20 years now. My current campaign world "Korovia" has been running successfully since 1999, with various versions of it over the years. At present I am exploring different points in the Korovia Timeline, which leads to historical events that helps to fill out the timeline.

From November 2010 to August 2016 I ran a Stone Age / Bronze Age Cusp campaign dubbed "Ancient Tales of Korovia" which featured the "Heroes of Olde", the Korovian equivalent of Hercules, Atalanta, etc. At present we have fast forwarded several millennia, to a time period which is essentially the "Dark Ages of Korovia"... which has more of a Ravenloft feel to it.

Anyway, enough about that. Those are just my credentials (and it ignores that time I won Best DM at a D&D Competition).

Here are 10 Tips for Dungeon Masters

#1. Prepare for Every Session.

You are there to a specific job and I believe in having a strong work ethic. You should therefore be coming up with adventure hooks, adventure ideas, designing dungeons to explore, villains/monsters to encounter, important NPCs that the party might meet more multiple times. You should have many of these details designed and worked out in advance so that you are prepared and ready to run the game and don't have invent everything on the fly.

#2. Expect the Unexpected, Learn How to Adlib

Assuming you did #1, you should now expect the party to ignore some of the things you did to prepare and do something completely unexpected. In which case you need to learn how to make up things on the fly. I generally follow the KISS approach. Keep It Simple Stupid.

For example a few months ago the party met a fence where they could sell stolen goods for a portion of their value, and also buy stolen goods for half their normal value. However I had neglected to give the fence a name. Following the KISS approach I named him "Honest Ned", which was a play on both Eddard Stark from Game of Thrones, and also Honest Ed Mirvish (a Toronto personality known for his "Honest Ed's Department Store" on Bloor Street). The name was easy to remember and now PCs whenever they want to buy or sell something stolen they make a trip to Honest Ned's.

#3. Don't Waste Time on Things Not Important to the Plot or Flavour of the Game

WHO
WHAT
WHERE
WHEN
WHY
and HOW

Those are the six things DMs should be worried about describing, especially if they are important to the plot or flavour of the game. Describe important NPCs, do not bother describing every beggar on the street unless they happen to be an important beggar. eg. The Beggar King deserves attention.

Describe monsters the first time they are encountered. Do not describe every orc you meet. Important orcs are the exception.

Describe locations in detail only if they are somehow important to the plot. Otherwise keep it brief.

If there are historical details you need to give the players as background flavour, set the mood and do so. Don't half-ass it and assume the players read the *Introduction to your World* (see further below), sometimes you will need to reiterate the details so you get the flavour and historical details embedded in the minds of your players.

Describe how things work sometimes. This could be as complex as some special magical device or artifact, or it could be as simple as describing how the headsman chops off the heads of convicted criminals who are doomed to execution. How you should only be taking the time to do these things if it is important to the flavour of the scene or to the plot.

#4. Invest in a Few Miniatures and a Playing Mat

While miniatures are not mandatory to run a D&D game, they do help when people need to visualize what they are doing, where their characters are, where the baddies are, etc. There are cheap alternatives like tokens. Wooden blocks are also handy for trees, columns, architecture, etc.

Having a vinyl Playing Mat with squares on it (or Hex grid if you prefer) is also extremely handy when running miniatures, but you can also use large 1-inch easel graph paper from Staples which can be purchased in a large pad of 50 sheets, 24" x 36". ($18.96 CDN according to Staples.ca.) In my case I use both the vinyl playing mats and the easel graph paper. The graph paper is great for making large scale maps, for dungeons you are planning reuse again and again, taverns you plan to revisit, etc. This way you only have to draw things on the paper once, add lots of minute details, and then you can reuse it again and again.

See also my past post about Painting Miniatures.

#5. Write an Introduction to your World

If this is your own campaign world you are using then you should write and then read an introduction to the world that players are going to running their characters in. The introduction should contain several elements:

  • A visual description of the landscape, possibly including atmospheric conditions.
  • A variety of historical references so PCs are familiar with recent / important historical events.
  • A list of any current political tensions that the PCs should also be aware of, if any.
  • And... Flavour Text to set the Tone. This is to get your players visualizing what the world looks and feels like, thus setting a tone for your campaign world.

The Introduction should be approx. half a page to possibly two pages long, which you should print out and give a copy to each player. The Introduction might also include a map or two and a list of gods.

#6. Maps and Cosmology of the Gods

You should make a map of your game world and also a 2nd larger map of the local area the PCs are currently in. This is both handy to have and adds flavour. The easel graph paper mentioned above is very handy for large scale map-making.

If not using a standard list of gods then you should make up a list of gods by creating a Cosmology. Eg. I use the Korovia Cosmology in my Friday campaign. Once you have this it will allow PCs to pick and choose which god(s) they worship, which is important for clerics, but also handy for other classes as well.

Record of Lodoss War is definitely worth watching.
#7. Find Good Sources of Inspiration and Write them Down

It is okay to be inspired by other sources. You need to get your ideas for plots somewhere. Here are a few that are quite good with respect to fantasy plots:

  • Conan (Book Series by Robert E. Howard)
  • Dragonlance (Book Series)
    Forgotten Realms (Book Series)
  • Game of Thrones (HBO TV show or the book series "A Song of Ice and Fire")
  • Inuyasha (Japanese Anime) 
  • Mythology (Book by Edith Hamilton)
  • Record of Lodoss War (Japanese Anime)
  • Slayers (Japanese Anime)
  • Sword Art Online I and II (Japanese Anime)
  • The Hobbit / The Lord of the Rings (Tolkien books or Peter Jackson films, both are good)

Inspiration is all around you. You should explore different avenues for inspiration and then WRITE THEM DOWN. I recommend keeping a campaign journal that you write down ideas in. Ideas for plots, characters, locations, everything.

#8. Play in other people's campaigns...

Look for good experienced DMs and play in their campaigns. Look at what they are doing right, try to figure out what they are doing wrong or what could be done better, and then try to emulate / improve upon what you have learned from their skills.

This includes trying other editions. Don't limit yourself to playing X edition of D&D. Play 1st edition, play 2nd edition, play 3rd, 4th (even though I boycotted it I still tried it first), play 5th. Play Pathfinder too.

By playing multiple editions of D&D you will become familiar with many different ways of playing the game and gain a deeper understanding of how to run games regardless of which set of rules you are using.

#9. Keep it Fun for Everyone

This means making sure the following things happen:
  • Everyone gets to play and has roughly equal time to play. Don't play favourites.
  • Everything is fair. For both PCs and NPCs the rules should be applied the same regardless of who it is.
  • Make sure both female and male players are treated equally.
  • Don't discriminate against players for whatever reasons.
  • Don't date your players. This just creates a potentially bad situation and it should be avoided if possible. (Exceptions: You are married, in a long term relationship.)
  • Try to have only one person speaking at once. It becomes chaotic and unhappiness results if too many people are speaking at the same time, wanting the DM's attention. I use a round table system for answering player questions, starting on one side of the table and going around in a circle.
  • If a character is unconscious or killed, ask if they would like to roleplay a henchmen, hireling or even a baddie until they have a character up and running.

#10. Read the Core Books Again and Again

On a regular basis, often while simultaneously designing dungeons and plots, you should be reading the Player's Handbook, the Dungeon Masters Guide and the Monster Manual regularly. By reading the books regularly you will become an expert at all the rules (cough cough, rules lawyer) and thus be better equiped to adjudicate the rules. If you don't know the rules then you have no business running a D&D game. A DM should have a strong understanding of the rules and should not need to be checking books / looking rules all the time, as such things waste game time.

MORE TIPS

I have more. Many more in fact. But I set myself a limit of 10 when I sat down to write this. You can subscribe to Nerdovore or bookmark the page to come back sometime. I have made a note to endeavour to write a Part II to this post in the future.

See also my previous post titled "Bad Dungeon Masters" to get a better idea of what DMs should NOT be doing.

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