You find yourself standing on top of a great wall made of ancient stone. It is slightly damp and a generous amount of moss has found a home in all the cracks. A gust of wind goes by and you feel slightly chilly, you should have brought a jacket. Wait, how did you even get here? Where is this?
You look over one side of the wall and see an ocean of grey clouds. Are you in the sky? You feel dizzy and grab the edge to keep your balance. You look up to make sure the sky is still there. It is, the ocean of clouds above you is exactly the same as the ocean of clouds beyond the wall; thick, grey and silent. You look to the horizon and you can see nothing but clouds and mist. You strain your eye but cannot see where the sky stops and the ocean begins. Suddenly a voice startles you.
“Pretty disorienting, isn’t it?”
You spin around and are relieved to see your best friend in the whole world, Travis! He has a cheerful glint is his eye and a spring in his step as he walks over to you. Also, has he been working out? Because, damn, he is looking ripped. You become keenly aware of how handsome and awesome he is.
“I call it Mist World™! It’s my new D&D campaign setting. Let me show you around!”
It’s the best idea you have ever heard in your entire life, you are totally pumped and you share an enthusiastic high five with Travis. You listen intently as he points out towards the sea of cloudy mist.
“That out there is the mist. It’s an evil magical curse that has been covering the world for one hundred years. It has strange magical properties and warps the mind of anyone who stays in it for too long. Also there are tons of crazy ass monsters down there.”
A muffled gurgley roar rumbles from below, as if on cue: “GGRRWAAAAGHGHGHGHLABAAAA!”
Wait… You think. Is there ground down there?
“Oh yeah, definitely. We will go exploring down there later and you can see for yourself. For now you can throw that rock you have in your hand over the edge. You know, for perspective.”
Puzzled, you look down at your hand to see a pleasantly smooth river rock in the palm of your hand. Did you have it the whole time?
“Go on, throw it!”
You reach back and throw it with all your might. It silently arcs through the air and is swallowed by the grey. An uncomfortably long moment passes before you hear the soft thus of a rock hitting the earth.
“Yep. See? Solid ground. There is a whole world of mystery to be discovered by traveling through the mist, but first I want to show you THIS!”
Travis turns around and raises his arms to praise the sprawling settlement protected by the wall. The infinite void of mist was so mesmerizing that you hadn’t noticed before.
“It’s called Karaoke village.”
… What? Karaoke? Like, when you sing at a bar karaoke? Really? You think to yourself.
“Yes, really! My name is Travis and I do what I want. When you create a world, you can name it.”
Fair enough. You think. Wait, did he read my mind?
“Come this way! I’ll show you the market place!”
Travis grabs you by the wrist and drags you towards a flight of stone stairs that leads down to the village. When you get to the bottom you stand in front of a pair of massive steel reinforced wooden doors that lead to the outside world. A path leads from them down the hill to a small market place. There are about a dozen stands arranged in a big half circle with a stage in the middle. A band is setting up classical looking sting and wind instruments. There are several other people looking just a busy fussing around their stands and putting their wares on display.
“They are getting ready for the monthly market. It’s kind of a big deal for the people around here. Karaoke village is a boring place and they don’t get that much excitement.”
Sounds like this place needs some cool adventurers to shake things up! You think.
“That’s the spirit! Come on, let’s go see what they have for sale.”
Together you walk down the hill to get closer and you immediately notice how obnoxiously bright everyone’s clothing is. A fat bald man is wearing a bright reddish purple outfit. Seriously, shirt pants and shoes, he looks like a giant beet. You see an old lady with a mop of curly grey hair on her head clashing with the rainbow shirt and bright blue pants she is wearing. Everyone you look at makes your retinas feel stressed out.
“It’s always overcast here, nobody has seen the sky or the sun in a generation. Everything is grey and dull, they need the colors to stay sane. Trust me, you will feel the same way after you grow up here!”
You begin the imagine the backstory of a character growing up here. You think about how bored they would be, how hungry they would be for excitement and adventure. You look around, everyone in the market is either a human or human-looking with pointy ears. Maybe you could play a half-elf… You even start to ponder what weapon you would like to use before Travis interrupts you.
“They call the lady in the rainbow shirt Grandma. She has been around for, like, a hundred years. Let’s go see what she has to say!”
You saunter over to her counter to see that it is covered in giant delicious grapes. Grapes the size of your fist, with taught purple skin. They are fresh picked and still have morning dew still beaded on their surface. You can’t help yourself and you pick one up and sink your teeth into it. Juicy grapeness fills your mouth and you gain the freshest hit point you have ever recovered.
“Do you like them?” Asks Grandma.
You furiously nod your agreement as you take another bite.
“I call them Grandma’s Good Grapes™. The secret to growing them is love, and alliteration. I have been growing and perfecting my grape vines for fifty years!”
Travis pokes you in the ribs: “Because she’s old. Did you catch that part?” You pretend to ignore him and hide your mild irritation as Grandma continues.
“Why, that’s about the last time the sun came out actually. Yes, that was quite a day indeed! It lasted for almost an entire day too, some people got sunburned for the first time in their lives. I had to explain to them what it was! It was a good thing that I grow aloe plants too. You look a little young to remember that day, though. Here, have a cookie.”
Grandma produces a tray of freshly baked sugar cookies from under the table. You greedily grab a handful while she smiles. You decide Grandma is pretty bad-ass.
Just then you hear the long blast of a horn. There is a watch tower built into the walls be the doors. Why didn’t you notice it before? Someone on the top shouts down: “Open the gates!” Two young men clad in animal skin leather armor and wielding hunting spears pull against just one of the giant heavy doors. They strain to open it just far enough for a person to walk through. A single file line of their comrades returning from the hunt pour through.
Six young men and women rush in, they look shaken and some of them are bleeding. A seventh comes through the door, a huge woman clad in platemail armor. She has a sigil on her breastplate: an angry owl carrying an anvil. SHe holds a giant greatsword with one hand and she has the bloody unconscious body one more hunter slung over her other shoulder. She commands with a booming voice:
“CLOSE THE GATES!”
Her order is quickly obeyed and the heavy gate is pushed shut. She kneels and flops her cargo onto the ground. The hunters crowd around her and some people from the market run up to help and they obscure your view. You’re not sure, but it looked like the person she was carrying was bleeding from their neck.
“That big gal is Hope.” Says Travis. “Her ancestors were knights before the mist came. That owl on her chest is the sigil of her house, apparently. Nobody really remembers what it stands for. A group of brave adventurers may discover the truth of it’s meaning someday, though.”
You would be intrigued by the mystery if you weren’t so concerned for the dying young hunter up the hill. There is a commotion around her, Hope is shouting orders and a pair of uninjured young men fetch a stretcher. They load up the unconscious body and hustle in your direction. They quickly pass by and you get a glimpse of the young woman. She is wearing leather armor similar to the others, but it looks burned and it has several holes in it. She has pointy ears and freckles. Her hair is dyed green and it is braided into ponytail. Her neck has a makeshift bandage on it but it is already bright red and soaked all the way though with blood. Her face is pale and her eyes look dead.
They rush past you down the road and disappear behind a building. You wonder what her name is, and if she has a chance to survive.
“You know, I didn’t even give her a name.” Says Travis. “She might be ok though, maybe. They are taking her to Melora’s Longhouse™. Melora is the town’s patron deity, she is the goddess of like, nature and the ocean and stuff. Or something like that. Yep.”
Do you even know about your own world? You think at Travis. And what about that young woman? Did she die?! You monster!
Travis holds up his hands. “Whoa, whoa! Chill out. Let’s go find out what happened to her then if you’re that worried about it. It will give me a chance to show you some more stuff!”
Slightly perturbed, you walk with Travis down the path through town. You see several houses, some of them have children chasing each-other and play-fighting with sticks. There are people tending gardens and hanging laundry up to dry. Travis points out the blacksmith shop and the town’s main well. You pass a large field that has several people tending plants and trees, as well as some people just sitting around on benches.
“Those are the Grey Gardens™, it is where they grow most of the food for the village. People like to come and look at the colorful fruit. Because, you know, all the grey.”
You keep walking until you reach the longhouse, on top of a rocky cliff. You can’t see it, but you can hear the gentle rushing sound of the sea and waves crashing on rock. A stiff breeze comes up and makes you shiver, you really should have brought that jacket. The longhouse doesn’t look like much from the outside, just a long building made out of logs. You see smoke rising from a hole in the roof and you presume there is a warm fire inside. Travis generously opens the door for you, but before you step inside something catches your eye.
In some boulders near the cliff’s edge there is a door, fitted perfectly into the side of a massive rock. The doorway is only a little more than half you height, it looks like a little house. It reminds you of the houses the hobbits live in from Lord of the Rings, but you are acutely aware of how it is just different enough to keep Travis from getting sued. He notices your curiosity.
“That’s where Gimble the Gnome lives. He has all sorts of useful trinkets and magical items that he gets… from somewhere. When you adventure here you might find out where! Look, I don’t have time to show you EVERYTHING today. Come on, let’s check out the longhouse!”
You step inside and see that it is all one giant room. The first part where you entered looks to be an infirmary, there are beds with the sick and wounded lined up against the walls. A few people wearing acolyte robes are rushing about, tending to the injured hunters. Farther down you see a fire trench dug into the floor down the middle of the room. It is filled with pleasantly warm burning logs and coals. Several spits and pots are set up, you get a faint whiff of several delicious meats and stews being prepared. At the very far end there are many benches set up facing the wall. There is a giant sculpture of a sea shell mounted on the wall.
“That’s where they gather to worship Melora and give her offerings. Look, here comes the high priestess now!”
A tall slender woman with a fair complexion and pointy ears walks closer. She is wearing beautiful flowing white and blue robes. You notice that they are stained with blood, you look behind her to see the young green haired hunter from before. She lays dead from her wounds. The priestess announces to the room that her wounds were too great, and that her spirit is now in the next plane. The room is filled with tears and sunken hearts. You choke up too, and admit that you were hoping she would be ok. What kind of a horrible person would create a world like this? Your fists tighten and you glare at Travis.
“Cool, huh? Her name is Amena.”
I thought she didn’t have a name! What are you trying to pull here!
“What? No! The priestess, the priestess in named Amena. What were you thinking?”
The dead girl, you dumbass!
“Oh. Hey, if characters didn’t die, then the danger wouldn’t be real, right? Don’t worry about it, she was just an NPC. I got lot’s more of those.”
Anger wells up in your heart. This will not stand! You reach for your d20 to roll initiative:
“Whoa whoa whoa! Alright, fine. If you want her to be alive so bad, why don’t you roll her up as a player character? Give her a backstory and, you know, a name. I may allow her to survive her wounds if you meet me half way. I can’t do EVERYTHING around here!”
You are intrigued by the suggestion, but still hang on to your d20. Your mind spins with ideas and possibilities for a new character. You are rudely interrupted, however, by Travis shoving you forward.
“Never mind that right now! Look over there, I want you to hear this.”
The injured hunters kneel in a circle around Amena. She holds up her hands and magical blue energy begins to swell and swirl around her. You sense she is casting a healing spell, but she is holding back for some reason. Then the hunters speak in unison:
“This is my promise to the goddess Melora; I vow to protect the wild places of the world from destruction and overuse. I vow to atone for my ancestors sins and bring balance back to civilization. I vow to hunt and destroy the abominations of the mist to prove my courage and worthiness. I do not fear the savagery of the wild, I do not fear death. I will live in harmony with this world and I vow to earn your forgiveness so that you may disperse the mist with your divine wind.”
Amena seems satisfied and responds to them. “Then receive this gift from Melora, may it keep you strong.” She releases her spell and a golden healing light washes over them. Their wounds magically heal and some color returns to their faces. They thank her for her blessing.
“Did you catch all that?” Says Travis. “They believe the mist is divine punishment for civilization growing too large. If you travel outside the walls you will find miles and miles of ruined buildings and streets. It’s been overgrown by nature and horrible mist monsters, though. Anyway, their belief is how they reconcile living in a world like this. Gotta have hope!”
Travis puts his hand on his hips, clearly proud of the world he has created.
“Come with me, I have one more thing to show you!” Travis snaps his fingers and you find yourself instantly teleported outside the walls, standing in the thick of the mist. You are surprised by the sudden oppressive humidity and thickness of the air. You cough and hack. You try to calmly pace your breathing, but the mist stings your eyes and you can’t seem to catch your breath.
“Oh yeah, sorry. Here.” Travis produces a small magical glowing gem from his pocket and places it in the palm of your hand. It is refreshingly cool to the touch and you feel it’s magical energy create a field of force around you. The mist is pushed back about ten feet all around you in a perfect circle. You can breath clearly again.
“Yep, this world has all kinds of cool magical stuff hidden in it. Why, I bet Karaoke Village has something like this hidden away, somewhere. Perhaps one day soon a group of brave adventurers may discover it and walk the very path we are walking right now. Come on!”
Travis walks off boldly into the mist and you follow him. He leads you over uneven cobblestone streets, ruined by a hundred years of tree roots and weeds. There are half-collapsed buildings everywhere. You see cracked stone monuments to people you don’t recognize and you even come across a couple of skeletons lying in the gutter.
As you walk your movement is contested more and more by increasingly thick overgrowth. You find yourself wading through waist high grass as more and more structures pass by. Travis leads you on a confusing and convoluted path, you have passed so much you aren’t sure you could find your way back. You hope Travis knows where he is going as he confidently leads you deeper and deeper into the urban jungle.
A few minutes pass and the urban jungle starts to look more like a regular jungle. You enter a straight up forest with giant trees. They have trunks that are as thick as a car, and you can’t see the tops of them thanks to the mist. Huge clumps of hanging moss are all around you and the ground has turned to sticks and rotting foliage.
“Shit, I thought it was over here…”
Is he lost? How do you get lost in your own world?!
“Hey, this is complicated, ok! I created a lot of stuff, just give me a second to look at my notes.”
Travis magically produces a notebook from somewhere and beings to flip through pages. He promptly drops it and papers scatter on the ground. Some of them blow away along with a slight breeze.
“Damnit! Hold on… get back here!”
Travis fumbles about trying to gather his pages and you sigh to yourself. This tour has gone on for a long time, you are starting to get hungry. You wander around for moment and inspect the bark of the nearest tree, for lack of something better to do while you wait. Heck. You think to yourself. Heck. Heeeck. Heeeeeeeeckssss……
You feel a whisper in your mind, a whisper that isn’t in your own voice. Where is that coming from? You look around, but you feel light headed. You trip on a tree root and fall onto the muddy forest floor. You feel a bulky presence walk forward to stand over you. You look up.
Before you stands a massive stag. It has thick fur and stands as tall as a horse. It has a full impressive set of antlers that have grown in the shape of a pentagram. It locks eyes with you and your body turns to jelly. It’s eyes are mesmerizing, you hear a soft buzzing and a wave of darkness washes over you.
It is so beautiful, you couldn’t ever possible bring yourself to harm it. Your body is paralyzed anyway, and you watch helplessly as it rears back. It lifts it’s front hooves above your skull, ready to trample you.
A rock hits it in the face.
It stumbles back and shakes its head. The spell is broken and you feel a surge of adrenaline take you. You jump back to your feet and reach for your weapon… oh wait, you don’t have one. Travis runs up behind you.
“Damnit Hexdeer! Not now! Get the fuck out of here!”
He waves his arms at it as he runs toward it. The hexdeer digs in its feet and lowers its head, pointing his antlers forward. It strafes back and forth with Travis as he tries to scare it away.
“God damnit! I said get out of here, Shoo!”
Travis jumps up and down and stomps his feet. The hexdeer jumps in the air, kicking his legs behind him. He suddenly gallops off, but makes eye contact with you one last time as he disappears into the forest.
Travis dusts himself off and walks up to you. “Sorry, that wasn’t supposed to happen… yet. That was a hexdeer. It’s got arcane powers, and casts hexes! Get it?”
You roll your eyes. It was cool until he described it.
“Anyway, I found where i was trying to go. It’s right over here, come on!”
Together you walk through a bit more forest and come upon a huge clearing with an even bigger castle. The mist has gotten thicker and you can barely see it.
“Sorry, hold on.” Travis waves his hands around and the mist clears up a bit. You see the towers of the castle stand as tall as the trees, and it has a massive pair of stone wings! They are outstretched, like the castle is about to jump into the sky and take off, or like it is a bird trying to look threatening. It reminds you of the wings on the angry owl sigil you saw on Hope’s breastplate.
“Cool, huh? Why would you build a castle with wings? How was the world different one hundred years ago? What was the point? The mystery!”
You admit it is pretty intriguing.
“See the mist coming out of it?”
Travis points to the drawbridge and you notice a slow steady fog pouring out of the mouth of the castle. Is the mist coming from here? Is it possible to get rid of the mist if you do something in that castle?
“I bet so, but you will have to play in my world to find out. Hey, thanks for taking the time to take a look at Mist World™ with me. I appreciate your time, I had better let you get back to browsing Facebook.”
Travis looks over his shoulder and you hear another faint buzzing sound.
“Damnit hexdeer, come back later!” Travis’s face goes pale. “Oh, no! Ok, it’s time to go. Here come the knife hornets.”
You turn around as the buzzing grows deafeningly louder. You see a swarm of human sized wasps with giant stingers and angry faces. Each one of them holds six freshly sharpened knives, one for each leg. One of them screams at you: “DIE MAMMAL!” The swarm descends.
“Shit shit shit shit shit!” Travis waves his arms around wildly and the story suddenly ends.
You find yourself back sitting in front of your device, casually browsing the internet. Your imagination tingles and you can’t wait to show up to the first session and create your character. You already have an idea of the first thing you will do…
I recently had the privilege of touring the national world war II history museum with my dad. His dad (my grandfather) was a bomber pilot in the pacific theater, and I have tons of old war stories to share with you today!
Firstly, I was super excited to get to see a B-25 Mitchel, which is the plane my grandfather flew in the war. They had one restored and hanging from the ceiling in a big hangar, and you could walk up a catwalk to get close.
Apparently there were two models during the war. At the beginning these bad boys were equipped with eight machine guns in the front with two more on each side. (If you look at the nose you can see the barrels sticking out.) After all those got shot up, our guys received a second model that had some of the machine guns in the nose replaced with a cannon! There was only the first kind in the museum, but my grandad flew the one that had the cannon on it for most of his missions.
He was a fighter pilot when the war started, but they needed more bomber pilots so that’s what he ended up doing. Apparently he didn’t want to do it because he didn’t want to be responsible for the lives of his crew, which makes sense to me. If you are a fighter pilot and you make a mistake, it’s just you that dies. If he made a mistake, he would also take his crew down with him.
We got to listen to the testimonial of another bomber pilot, which was interesting and awesome. He was talking about how dependable the B-25 was and told a story about how it once got him home even after he had an engine shot out. It was a fun story because the same thing happened to grandad, he once had to fly all the way back to the base after an antiaircraft gun shot out his right engine.
My grandad survived the entire war but he died in a tornado before I was born. I never got the chance to meet him, but I had a fun time imagining that the testimonials we heard were really my grandad telling me war stories from beyond the grave. My favorite story about him was the time he did a loop in the clouds to get behind a fighter that was following him. He blew it up with the cannon he had, which he apparently never fired unless he had to because it shook the plane so violently.
One last cool story about my grandad, he was in the battle of Leyte Gulf:
Leyte Gulf is a famous naval battle that America won despite being desperately outmatched and outnumbered. My grandad’s job was to bomb Japanese infrastructure to support the marines landing on the beach. He had to fly in between the Japanese and American ships shooting at each other, dodging shells and antiaircraft fire the whole way.
Of course, the entire museum wasn’t about my grandpa. We spent a full day looking at exhibits and we didn’t even see everything! Here are a couple of pics of my old man enjoying some presentations about the Philippines:
While we were in New Orleans, we took the chance to visit the french quarter and walk down Bourbon Street. We heard music, got to eat some great food and we had a few drinks at the bars. It was a really good time.
The ride back to Kansas wasn’t nearly as fun, the road can be long and unforgiving. Most places we stopped we dirty and unfriendly, with the one exception of PJ’s freakin’ coffee in McComb Mississippi!
It was the only place outside of New Orleans where someone actually smiled at me. Thanks PJ’s!
My dad doesn’t do the internets, so my mom will probably have to tell him, but I just want to thank him for being awesome, and I want him to know that I have a truly excellent time. Thanks dad!
P.S. Here are some bonus weapons!
This was the same gun that would have been issued to my grandad in the war———–>
(according to Dad, he always carried two, with an extra clip)
That’s a flamethrower that American troops used to burn things (and people) in the Pacific:
This is a freakin’ katana! It was taken off of a dead Japanese officer and donated to the museum:
I am pleased to tell you that I am back, blessing your computer with my creative presence! I am leaving the product reviews behind, and I now focused on writing books and hilarious short stories. It was a long and hard roller coaster writing product reviews, but Nick and I decided to stick with our own creative projects.
However I want to thank you for sticking with us through everything, I want to give you a free copy of my book! Just put in your email to subscribe to my newsletter, and you get a link to download your own pdf of The Friendly Game Master. You can even unsubscribe right away, you know, if you are a jerk.
It teaches you everything you need to know to start DMing (running D&D games) and the dude who wrote it is pretty cool. I am working furiously on my next book, ‘Nadia the Nefarious Necromancer’ a fantasy fiction novel about becoming a hero by rejecting destiny. It’s gona be awesome!
I am going to post about twice a week, keeping you up to date with adventures in my life and also giving out free writing samples here and there, with updates on my projects. Speaking of adventures, this week I am going on a road trip to Louisiana with dad! I will be sure to show you guys the best pictures. If you can think of somewhere I need to visit, let me know soon.
In the mean time, I hope this fathers day picture of my dad and I, along with the yard he works very hard to keep green, will tide you animals over.
I hope your life is going awesome, feel free to drop me a line and tell me about it. Have an excellent day!
The internet is really, really great! For *ahem* D&D!
Books are a rockin’ tool to build campaigns, set up “oh no” lists, and help fine-tune a campaign overall. But it’s 2018, people. We have more options than just books!
This is the Age of Information! The Age of Technology! Why not use history’s biggest source of information to our advantage when planning our epic D&D campaigns? Of course, the internet is a vast place… and much of it is a sprawling wasteland of vines, memes, and twisted anime. What are some good places to look to find the sweet, sweet information we need? Well, I’ve comprised a list of some of my personal favorites that I use to run my current game!
Donjon Generator: Look, if you’ve googled “D&D generators” you’ve probably ended up at this site at some point. This site has a great wealth of generators available! Need a dungeon on the fly? Create one with a few settings, and easily export it to an online game on Roll20! There’s also encounter generators, NPC generators, loot generators, EXP calculators…. a lot of great information is available with just a few clicks! It’s an excellent starting point with a lot of great tools to use!
DM Tools: A quick, easy-to-use site that instantly gives you the bare-bones that you need to run a quick one-off game. I like to use this for quick business names, unimportant NPC names, fast buildings if my players decide to investigate, and to generate some pickpocket loot for my more nefarious players.
NPC Generator: A great generator for usable NPCs! Quickly come up with an NPC on the fly with names, descriptions, traits, and stats. On the left you can customize some settings to come up with a more specific NPC for your campaign. It even has a plot hook to have them help the party if you’re caught in a desperate moment! A really great overall tool that, while not being fully comprehensive, gives you a great set of tools to come up with slightly more fleshed-out NPCs.
Dungeon Painter Studio Free: I’ve mentioned this product in a past newsletter, but you can try it for free at the site and make some fair-looking maps which print and export easily! There’s a good number of map tools available on the free version, so it’s worth checking out if you’re if you need some decent maps quick!
Roll 20: Not only is this site excellent for running an online session (I’ve been using it since 2013), it also houses a ton of information and the forums are a great place to grab ideas and information! Less of a generator and more of a guide and information resource.
… All of these sites have proven invaluable to me in planning my campaigns. It can be a little tricky picking and choosing what I like to use each site for, but in time you’ll come up with your own system. In no time at all, you’ll be rocking some radical campaigns that impress your players!
Until next time, happy gaming!
For tips and resources like these in your email every week, sign up for the Friendly GM Newsletter!
Hello my fiends,
How have you been this past two weeks? Because I have been crushed under an avalanche of work and doom from every angle of life. I have fallen behind on all three of my jobs and my dog got sick. But let me tell you, and I so happy and grateful for my girlfriend. She has been a beam of sunlight and happiness burning a searing hole into clouds of gloom hanging over my life.
The other day I was commenting that I never really get to PLAY D&D, because I am always the DM. She has been reading our newsletter and she surprised me by creating her own D&D adventure, just for me! She even surprised me by buying a stack of those clear dungeon tiles we were talking about a while back.
She got a few sheets of cheap felt from a craft store, cut them up and placed them under the tiles to make terrain! Those are my aluminum dice by the way. Metal dice are waaaay better than plastic dice when you learn about them.
That is a giant sea turtle that gave me magical items. I named him Obama. Thanks Obama!
Life has been a little rough lately but I am grateful for you, my dear subscriber friend, and for D&D. I get off of work for the summer (One of my jobs is teaching) so I will have some more time for it, I am looking forward to that. I hope that your day has been made a little brighter too, and I encourage you to support the newsletter by buying some sweet D&D loot from those links up there!
Hey everybody! Today we are here to talk about something that helps all aspiring GMs: tables!
No, not that kind of table.
We’ve all been there before. From time to time, we all fumble to come up with ideas on the fly, or even to come up with anything period. There are times where having some content on-the-ready will come in handier than you’d ever realize. I like to keep tables and charts handy to quickly put together business names, NPCs, loot, encounters… a variety of things to pull out at a moment’s notice, or if I’m running short on time while planning.
But not everybody has the time, know-how, or experience to throw together something like that. Lucky for you, there’s a great resource to find:
Don’t worry, it’s not actually a collection of stories about tables.
This baby here has 84 pages chock-full of useful content for GMs to use! Need to shave some time? Grab some random loot from the tables in the book rather than going through the painstaking process of rolling an entire loot table for the session. Grabbing some quick ideas or inspiration from some tables is perfectly fine! You’ll find a way to put your own spin on everything, and nobody is going to know the difference–it’s all about having fun at the table!
When planning a game, I have a bunch of different sites that I use to help generate backup loot, business names, NPC names, etc. It can be a pain finding good sites that work for you, and it’s also time consuming piecing together what you need from different sources to piece together what you need to run a game. Having one rockin’ consolidated list to grab all your ideas from will save a lot of time in the short and long term, not to mention it can just be plain easier.
Let’s say you have everything prepared–or at least, you think you have everything prepared. But then you get hit with questions you haven’t prepared for. The players have reached a small settlement–let’s say, Forest Glen–and they’ve retired to the inn for the night. The ever-curious Rogue asks what the name of the inn is, and what kind of food their specials are. None of this is in your notes; the town is planned out, and the story is fleshed-out but not every detail has been addressed. How do you handle this situation if you aren’t good at coming up with information on-the-fly?
Me? I’m pretty awful about putting a lot of thought into smaller details, so I use premade lists as a crutch. Nobody can plan for every single occasion, so having extra information to draw on will save your life (as a GM). I’ve mentioned before that the imagination is like a muscle to train, and this is a perfect tool to use! Today, you may have to look up a bunch of stuff to have sufficient backup material. But, in time, you will gain the experience you need to plan out everything that you know your players will look into!
So whether it’s helping shave time off planning or giving yourself more tools to use when the party derails your campaign, this book is a great starting point full of awesome tables and useful information!
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Let me share with you the way that I create dungeons. I read a lot of articles and forums about this, and I like to take notes from other GM’s when I am fortunate enough to witness another game or talk to them about it. If you ask any GM “How do YOU create dungeons!?” you are in for a very long story, because everyone has their own creative process and their own opinions.
I try my best to boil it all down to what’s most important. Once you get started with something cool, it is easy and fun to get carried away with all kinds of details, but that doesn’t necessarily help anyone else. I encourage you to compile your own creative process that works for you. That being said, I hope this helps you on your journey!
It’s daaaaangerous to go alone, take this!
1. Make what you want / what your players want
Every good GM I have talked to or read about mention this as the most important thing, and I agree. Look inside your heart and your players hearts (with an xray machine) and ask what they want. That can be a kind of hard question to answer honestly, so my advice is to start with the kinds of video games and books you and your group like and blatantly rip them off. Usually players are so dumb they won’t pick up that you stole the basic idea, but even if they do, who cares! It’s what they think is fun and that’s the point.
Example: One of my most awesome campaigns was a blatant rip off of Final Fantasy IX. My group was a bunch of RPG nerds (myself included). They were a traveling group of thieves disguised as a performance group, and they kidnapped a princess during a play (exactly the way Final Fantasy IX starts). They escaped on their airship but crashed into an evil forest, which was the first dungeon they had to escape (again, just like the video game). What was amazing to me is that nobody caught on, and I KNEW that half the people at the table had played FF9, but my own little personalized spin was enough to disguise it. I got way more examples (I’ve ripped off Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Zelda, Skyrim and other Final Fantasies) but I think you get the point, and I don’t want this to be too long.
A. Player Types
Some more golden advice that I get from every good GM that I read about to consider player types. Player types is a whooooole subject, but the idea is if you know what kind of player you have, you know what to give them in a dungeon so they have fun. Robin’s Laws of Good game Mastery has one of the best player type breakdowns I have ever read, there is also a short page one page breakdown at the beginning of the 4th and 5th edition DM guides, and I also write about them extensively in MY book, The Friendly Game Master. (You buy! Make Travis rich!)
B. Monsters, Traps and Treasure
The hardest part of the creative process is the beginning when you have a blank piece of paper in front of you. Like I mentioned in my example, a great way to get started is to blatantly rip off something else. Not because you aren’t creative and can’t come up with something by yourself, but because you just need somewhere to start. A great way to get started on a dungeon is to go get a healthy handful of monsters, traps and treasures from the source books that you think you might use. Even if you don’t end up using them all, having the monsters and such ready gives you a place to start and ideas for what kind of challenges you can start to build around what you know is already there.
The main goal in this step is to answer the questions that your players will probably ask. Hopefully Step 1 gave you some sort of core idea to start with, so now it is time to build a narrative by answering a ton of questions:
– Why was this dungeon built?
– Why hasn’t this place been discovered / raided yet?
– Who / What lives here?
– Who / What lived here before?
– Did something happen to make this place change?
– What are monsters doing here?
– Why is there treasure here?
You could come up with tons more questions, I encourage you to think about what kind of details matter to you and would matter to your players.
A. Tell the story as they move through the dungeon
This basically amounts to answering the above questions with details and exposition in the rooms they explore on the way to the boss / end.
Example: As the players explore a dungeon, they find that there are many plants that are overgrown and some have even been turned into hostile monsters. Deeper in the dungeons giant tree roots block paths and have grown through walls, creating obstacles for the players. When they reach the final room, they find a group of dead druids around a magic circle with evidence of a plant growth spell gone horribly wrong.
Example: The players sneak into a cave that is the known hideout of a notorious group of poachers, whom they have been given a quest to eliminate. As they explore the cave they find live traps and animal size cages, but with people inside instead of animals! When they get to the end they discover that the group of poaches actually catch people to feed to their boss, who is a vampire.
3. Make connections between everything and polish
The best way to make everything feel tied together… is to tie everything together! Once you have your core ideas out of the way here is my personal list of housekeeping things to put the finishing touches on a dungeon.
– Give monster groups competing goals
This is basically to have an answer when your players wonder what the monsters are doing there, and it gives the different kinds of monsters a reason to work together or a reason to fight each other. This explains their behavior and gives clever players a chance to…
– Find ways for the players to get past the monsters without fighting them.
For example, a group of goblins use kobolds as slave labor to dig up ore in a mine. The kobolds and the goblins fight together against any hostile players that come in with swords swinging, but with some clever negotiation and/or charisma a player could convince the kobolds to turn against their goblin masters.
– Give all the monsters a basic battle strategy.
Read the monsters stat block (to be familiar with it anyway) but also put them in a situation to use their abilities the most effectively. Many low level monsters like goblins and wolves have features like “pack tactics,” so it makes sense to put them in a small horde so they benefit from being next to each other. You should also think about battle tactics like putting archers up on high ledges. Healers and magic users should be protected by bigger tougher “tank” monsters, or have cover to hide behind.
– Give all the monsters a strategy for when they are losing.
Sometimes players die, but most of the time they win. There are basically four things a monster can do when it becomes clear they are going to lose the battle, and it makes things interesting to switch up your players expectations. They can:
* Fight to the bitter end, and die
* Surrender and beg for mercy
* Try to escape
* Try to change the tide of battle by doing something crazy
That last one is the most interesting. Perhaps a goblin sets off an explosive that makes the cave collapse, making a bunch of rocks fall on players and goblins alike. Maybe a half dead orc goes crazy with rage and drops his shield to wield two axes, ignoring his defense to focus only on attack. As a last resort, a losing mage casts a spell to fill the room with lava, forcing everyone to flee
– Give the loot (especially magic weapons) to the monsters!
If I were a monster, and I were guarding a +3 broad sword in a treasure chest from adventurers, I would take that sword for myself and try to kill the adventurers with it! This is good for several reasons: It shows the players what the magical item does, so they don’t have to read about it or have waste time having it appraised (which means you don’t have to explain it to them.)
– Put interesting and useful features in the terrain
As a finishing touch, you want to create details about the physical location that help to tell the story of the dungeon, and to make fighting more interesting. For example, in that dungeon overgrown with plants there could be “grab grass” that grabs the players feet and holds onto them while they walk though a open area, where archers are waiting to ambush them. That does two things at once, it shows the players that this place is overgrown with crazy plants, and it makes the battle more intense because they are stuck out in the open while they are showered with arrows.
That’s what I got! I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. In fact, I hope you find a fuckin’… god damned… golden jewel with magical powers! … Just like laying on the ground. Wouldn’t that be sweet?
Faces filled with joy and cheer
What a magical time of year
It’s Tae Kwon Do testing day!
Baerman breaking boards with hands
his wife cheering in the stands
Hip hip hooray it’s testing day!
Threaten Kellie with a knife
Travis sees end of his life
Soon you will be on the ground
And the crowd will be astound
Travis kicking stacks of boards
Training to fight orcish hoards
Holy sh*t dude it’s testing daaaaaaaaaaay!
Kicking stacks of boards for days
Traditional testing day
Trav and Nick bracing wood
You would punch this if you could
What a super festive day
Let’s kick Nick in the head
That guy really wants him dead
Not enough hit his face too
Only total death will do
Punching Nick into a chair
Let’s knock him down over there
“Why God why?!” on testing day
As you may recall, I got a new board game!: Photosynthesis
What? You don’t remember? I wrote a whole thing about it! … Well, let me help you remember. It’s a game about friggin’ trees! I have had the opportunity to play it several times now, a played some games with my girlfriend, and some with a group of friends. One of my friends was particularly excited because he is a forestry nerd. (I didn’t really know forest nerdery was a thing either, but I suppose I just never thought about it.)
You see, I live up in Humboldt county in California, which is famous for growing weed and having redwoods. My friend has his own forestry degree and a home business making compost from trees or something. He showed it to me one time, we drove around in the forest for like hours before he showed me his giant dump trucks and conveyor belt mulching machine of death, which he had parked in the middle of nowhere in the redwoods. He may actually just be disposing of bodies out there for the mob, but the point is, this guy loves his trees.
When we played our first game he kept telling us about what species of tree we had and why it made sense that the higher quality soil was in the middle of the board. Like, it wasn’t part of the game, he just wanted to tell us about it. He was so excited I can say that this game has the tree nerd stamp of approval!
What I loved was how easy it was to start playing. It took longer to put together the cardboard trees than it did to read the rules. (The artwork on those trees is BEAUTIFUL by the way, every piece of this game has little hidden eater egg of art on it.) I read the rules, since I am the kind of guy that does that, and after playing the first round together everybody understood how the game worked. Very intuitive.
It’s like chess, it’s easy to learn how to play but you have think ahead if you want to win. Each round the sun moves around the board (for a different season) and your trees cast shadows in the same direction. You get sunlight points (money) for your trees that get sun, but you miss out when your trees are in the shade. You have to plan ahead to try and shade out your opponents trees while trying to outfox them by planting your seeds where there will be sun in a couple seasons. Its one of those games where right after you play it, you already know how you could have played it better, and it makes you want to play again.
Thankfully it takes a little less than an hour to play. This would be a great game to play with your friends who are a little less nerdy, or resistant to the world of fantasy and hobby gaming. You could lure them into your web of deceit with the gorgeous artwork that is all over this game, and before you know it they are playing D&D with you.
“They can’t prove it, they’re friggin’ tees!”
Happy weekend, all! Pity it’s back to the grind tomorrow.
Nick here, to talk about the sweet character I rolled for a friend’s campaign. You might recall that I have a player named Damon in Thicker than Wine. He is currently running a game of his own on Roll20, and invited me to join!
I inquired about the party composition (Ranger, Monk, Fighter) and made some decisions about what would help best compliment the party. After a bit of consideration, I opted to play a Druid. I’d never played one before, and figured it’d be a great time to learn about the class. I mean, it’s all about meditation, talking to trees, and turning into bears and shit, right?
Truth be told, I just wanted to run around as a bear for as long as possible.
… Boy, was in for a lesson. I did a lot of research about elves (first time playing a full-bloodied one!) and druids. I’m no expert by all means–but I did try to incorporate a bit of lore from the Elven backstory, from his experience as a Druid, and worked in some additional information from the setting of the campaign.
And so Varis Eleneth, the Druid, was born. I did a complete six-page backstory for Varis, detailing every last portion of his character. I chose the “Spy” background, so I worked in a part of his life spent as a spy. He was supposed to be an experienced adventurer, as this campaign starts at level 5, so I worked in a lot of adventure. I decided very early on that I wanted Varis to be a family man, so I made sure to incorporate that into his character story as well!
But who is Varis? At a basic level, I took some inspiration from some of my favorite characters: Kenshin Himura from Rurouni Kenshin and Maes Hughes from Fullmetal Alchemist. What better source material than your favorite characters?
Varis is an easy-going spirit, a peaceful man hailing from the Elven village of Sol’kehn who enjoys his time in nature (and wine… ohhhhh wine). He can be a bit of a joker at times, as he likes to make people laugh. He enjoys discussions, and is often seen communing with nature and spirits, but this friendly soul will talk to any of the common folk.
Of course, as he has become a father within the last 30-odd years Varis mostly just brags about his family: his strong-as-hell wife Redell and his daughter Tanye.
My daughter is already so amazing! Why, she has already bested many of the young Rangers in our home! She’s going to be just like her mother… beautiful, powerful, and resilient!
Now that’s not to say Varis is just some nice guy who likes everybody. Another big part of his personality is that he has the uncanny ability to go from carefree “dad joke” guy to serious badass at a moment’s notice. Also, being alive for 250+ years gives somebody a fair amount of experiences to draw from.
As an adventurer, he fought many evil forces that seek to harm innocents and destroy nature. One such enemy–a powerful sorcerer named Kaine–attempted a reverse invocation to absorb the powers of the god Myrkul. While they won that day, Varis knew Kaine would return one day to exact his revenge.
Varis also holds a disdain for the courts and nobility. He fought in the Great War, and became jaded by all of the death and suffering that he saw. He was commanded by the Council of Faer to use his Wild Shape and magical abilities to sneak into enemy camps and gather intel. He quickly became an asset due to his rare Druidic talents, but when Redell was injured one fateful day he ended up deserting his country, returning to his home of Sol’keihn within the Al’Teau Woods where he and Redell were raised.
This a very basic outline of the backstory I wrote for Varis. Each bit of this story tried to capture one aspect of the build I used. Varis has a variety of Wild Shapes (bear, giant toad, horse, mouse, cat, dire wolf) to use in a lot of occasion. I considered what kind of spells would best benefit the party as well.
I chose to be a Circle of the Moon Druid to augment my Wild Shape ability so that I could turn into stronger monsters than I’d regularly be able to. This allowed me to do a really versatile build: I could deal a fair amount of damage, tank, and still use my available magic to buff, heal, and support the party! I researched other builds (like Circle of the Land) that are really awesome for controlling the battlefield, and provide more support. But after a ton of consideration, I thought it would be more fun to support and wreck sh*t as a freaking bear.
Wild Shape provides a lot of utility with me being highly tanky due to the temporary HP. For example, I can shapeshift into a Dire Wolf to get 37 HP. So long as I don’t drop into negatives, this is literally bonus HP I get. I can take 36 damage, shift back as an Action, then use a Bonus Action to shift back and get another 37 HP. And I get Wild Shape uses back after a short rest, so this makes Varis a very effective tank for the group. You also maintain Concentration during a Wild Shape, so I can place a strong buff on an ally and Wild Shape to go in and wreck some bad guys.
Goodberry was a serious sleeper-hit of a spell for me. I’d never given it much consideration until I thought about more practical uses. 10 berries can effectively give 10 HP per cast for 24 hours. At a safe place before departure, you can expend all spell slots to give a bunch of berries, do a long rest to replenish your spells, and still have 16 hours to use available healing. This saved a lot of money on potions in the short-and-long term, and can also sustain the party for that day!
I packed his Repertoire with other spells like Poison Spray for standard damage, Guidance for support, Cure Wounds to heal, Detect Magic for utility, Conjure Animals for utility, Protection from Energy to support, and Druidcraft for some fun flavor.
All in all it was a lot of fun building Varis, and I’m excited for the first campaign to see him in action. It was also a great learning experience, as I now know far more about druids than I ever did before. What’s your favorite class to roll?
Until next time, happy gaming!