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Making Combat Encounters More Than Filler

A lot of game masters when running games use combat encounters as filler between giving you story. I have played a lot of games where an encounter was used just to change the pace of the game and give the players something to do to pass the time. It can feel like being railroaded sometimes when this is the case too.

Most encounters should have a meaning or purpose. Do this to...

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Returning From Hiatus of Six Months

It has been a very busy past 6 months. I have changed jobs multiple times to end up where I am now. Where I am now is where I have wanted to be for a very long time. Around September things really began to come together for me. Was offered a job in management at a company I once worked for in the city I wanted to be in. You may be curious what this has to do with RPG's. The new job, house, and location will help me take my RPG hobby to the next level.

Working in management keeps me busy. Currently working a lot of hours but the job has helped provide 2 gaming groups for me. I wasn't even in my new house yet and people were asking to come over and play D&D Fifth Edition. We played 1 session with a couples group and it was great. I think both groups are going to be a lot of fun.

When we bought our new house I knew it was perfect for gaming. I have a craft room in the basement which I need to set up still. It will be perfect for painting miniatures and terrain. The basement is completely finished and even has a bathroom about 8 feet away from our gaming table! In our previous house we had to use our dining room table to play at and I had some stuff down in the basement and other stuff up stairs in my office. The convenience the new house provides is amazing. Look for me to show it off in a future YouTube Video.

This location is fantastic too. My kids will be in one of the absolute best schools in the state. We are also within 30 minutes of multiple good gaming stores. I work 4 minutes from home. All of this makes it easier for me.

When I took some time off originally I didn't think I would be away until February. This time away has helped me refocus on some very important things in my life. It has also given me the itch to play again. My project of writing out my personal world information has come back too. While originally I had plans to have it done by November I lost 3 months on it. So now my goal is to have it done by the end of April. While I probably won't be releasing the same amount of content as before I hope you will still enjoy the work I put in for you.

Last Minute Prepping

Here it is Wednesday and I am supposed to run a game on Friday night. This post will be my thought process and my prep notes for Fridays session because I haven't prepped it yet. I have some ideas for what I would like to do though.

Step 1: Where did we leave off?

The players had just walked into the base of the Cult of the Dragon and witnessed a negotiation between the Necromancer (Leader of the Black Hand Army) and some Half-Dragons leading the Cult of the Dragon. The players found out that these two factions are 2 pillars of the 8 Pillars of Death. Once the players found this out they left by way of the Valley of Endless Caves. They fought a Manticore in one cave and two Owl Bears in another. They then camped as the Cult of the Dragon marched through the valley. The players seemed interested in exploring more caves though instead of chasing after the Cult of the Dragon.

Step 2: Where might the players go?

I think there are three strong options here. They may follow the Cult of the Dragon or as they began to talk about go to the Dwarven City to warn them and possibly get reinforcements. They might continue to explore the Valley of Endless Caves.

Step 3: Random encounters for each of the choices.

If the players stick around the caves I have some potential Orc raids as random encounters. If the players follow the cult I have some random wildlife encounters of either spiders, or wolves attacking. If they go up to the Dwarven City they will be ambushed by bandits.

Step 4: Prepping the different scenarios.

Scenario 1 - Exploring the Valley of Endless Caves

So for this I am going to keep it simple. I have some cave modules that I can plug in as any of the caves I want. I will use some of those to reduce the amount of prep needed here. I can also just pick monsters I would like to use and craft caves on the spot to reflect how those monsters may live adding in interesting terrain that can be used for or against the players. Stalagmites that could fall at random. Blood bugs (Stirges) are a favorite to use too.

The players will be expecting some interesting treasure by doing these so maybe I will throw them a bone. So far most treasure has been martial character heavy. So time to throw in some things for our magic users. Possible items Pearl of Power, Deck of Illusions, Wizards Staff, Magical Necklace (increases spell DCs), Bracers of Defense (Our Wizard and Sorcerer don't wear armor and everyone else is heavy armor wearing).

Scenario 2 - Following the Cult of the Dragon

If they follow the Cult of the Dragon they will lose the trail. Being a day behind will make it tough especially when the storm begins. The players will enter a swampy area with dark storm clouds constantly hovering overhead. The road they are on will have rune symbols that get brighter as they walk along it. If the players look off to the sides of the road in the distance they will see bright lights. Those are Will-O-Wisps and they won't approach the road due to the warding on the road but if the players go out and attack they will enclose on the players. Players would be smart to avoid them at all costs. Eventually traveling on the road the Wisps will disappear and the rune symbols will fade. The players will enter a really bad swamp though with Bullywugs which the players have fought before, but these ones worship the 3 Hags of the swamp.

Scenario 3 - Going to the Dwarven City

Doing this will lead to what I envision being a fun encounter with a Red Dragon. Yes, a Red Dragon! When the players arrive the gates will be opened and as they walk in the guards will freak out when they see the Large Red Dragon flying in about to douse them with flames. The players will join in to defend the city for a bit and eventually the Dragon will flee. During the battle or after the players will notice that a lot of the Dwarves Armor and Weapons look to be made of the highest quality imaginable. A DC15 check will uncover that it was forged with Dragons Fire. The players can investigate and hear rumors of a Red Dragon being held hostage deep under the city.

Those are the 3 things I have so far. There is still a lot of improv left but the ideas are down in writing now. There is still some flavor to add before the game on Friday but now I have a clear idea of what MIGHT happen. Would love to hear your feedback. Not bad for just writing this up in about 45 minutes.

So if you have any ideas to add to this or fun ways to make this even better feel free to toss me some of your ideas.

RPG Prep Road Block

I have been trying to prep for my Saturday home game of Dungeons and Dragons for awhile. I've had ideas but felt stumped which is a frequent problem in this campaign for some reason. Been analyzing why it seems so difficult for me and I can't quite put my finder on it. A lot of sessions I have had to improv because I couldn't come up with anything ahead of time I felt would be good. So tonight in a chat on G+ Hangouts that was posted by Chepe in the Tabletop RPG One Shot Group I asked people for feedback. Some of the potential reasons for my road block that were suggested were as follows...

  1. Maybe I haven't made my story personal enough to the characters.
  2. Maybe I give too much info at times.
  3. Maybe I should focus on the little things more.
  4. Maybe I should invest more into individual NPC's and let those interactions drive where the players take the story.

So I began to think about if my story has been personal enough for the characters. It clearly isn't. The story of the campaign is about a Long Forgotten God who has his body parts scattered around. There are rumors that he can be brought back to life. The players also know he may have suffered split personality disorder which also explains him being a Cleric and a Wizard. The players have stated it doesn't make sense that they would want to bring him back to life yet they have retrieved some of the body parts. There is a personal side quest I tried to get the players involved in but they didn't seem very interested in that either. Maybe this campaign is lacking that personal touch and I need to give them that.

If I am going to add some personal inspiration to the game there are many ways I can do this. Bring character family members into the mix. Get some background info from the players about their characters. Ask their characters in game why they adventure and what their characters life goals are.

Is it possible I info dump at times? Sure this is possible but I think the real problem with this is I can be quite vague or general about it. If I am going to info dump I should give them more info right? Give them the bits that will make it fun or interesting. Not just the info outright. Maybe make it a plot hook to go retrieve something.

I've played some great games that focused on the little things and I don't do this much in this game on purpose. Sometimes going on a quest to clear an area of bandits or goblins is just what the party needs. This can be a fun session and give some ok loot. It might not advance a story but it can lead to some fun interactions with an NPC as you build up a relationship between PCs and NPCs.

There is a great website by Johnn Four called Roleplaying Tips. You can go to the site and subscribe to his newsletter. Some of the things he recommends is always introducing a new NPC or two in a session as well as a plot hook or two a session. When he talks about the NPCs all NPCs should have a secret, and a descriptive trait. These NPCs should provide plot hooks for future games or the current one. NPCs can be the lifeblood of a campaign so focusing on them is a great way to get players invested in the story.

Some campaigns write themselves and prep is easy. Others for some reason or another seem more difficult. This group is awesome and I love my players. They are great people that I always look forward to getting together with so I want to provide the best experience possible for them. I want to thank Philip Posey of Maps & Dragons, Mike the Piper, and "Lumi Jo" Joseph Becker for helping me come up with some interesting ideas for my game Saturday.

Have you experienced RPG Prep Road Block? How did you overcome it? Where do you usually get caught up in prep? If you found this helpful be sure to leave a comment and share it with your RPG friends.

Inspiration From Easter

***This is not a post about religion. ***

The story of Jesus is that he was sentenced to death on the cross and then rose from the dead 3 days later. This was to signify the forgiveness of our sins. Thinking about this has made me wonder how this could be used in an RPG today.

While thinking about this I was considering how I would implement this into an NPC for a fantasy RPG. They would need to be a polarizing figure with many very dedicated friends/followers. Maybe they are a Cleric or Priest but they could really be any class as long as they have many people who believe in their cause. 

A huge Government or Faction would need to oppose this cause. At first it shouldn't be much of an issue but as the NPC gains influence it should become more and more of a problem. Eventually this will need to blow up. The NPC will need to be caught and imprisoned or sentenced to death. 

Make the imprisonment or death sentence a huge event. This will get the importance of this NPC across in your game. His followers could try to help him escape but maybe this NPC refuses and thinks it is his destiny to carry this out.

After death he could ascend to being a diety in your campaign. Maybe he just comes back from the dead by resurrection spell which depending on your games could be a common occurrence. If it is common though this may not be as impactful as you would want. Personally I like the idea of this person becoming a diety.

Obviously you could change the story at any point however you want. The character could be battling for freeing slaves, or equal rights for a certain race for example. Maybe he wasn't sentenced to death and was murdered instead by an assassin. This story could be modified to be a really fun background story over a large campaign.

I would love to hear how you have used holidays or stories from the bible for inspiration in your Tabletop RPGs. Feel free to leave a comment in the comments below.

D&D Princes of the Apocalypse or Temple of Elemental Evil Pre-Release Thoughts

Being someone who has never experienced the classic Temple of Elemental Evil this is something I am pretty interested in. Now I won't know much about any references to the classic and if there is any overlap it won't be a spoiler for me either which is nice. Due to word of mouth though I have heard the original ToEE is great and worth trying out. If this version lives up to my expectations by what I have heard it, will be fantastic and well worth the $49.95 retail.

When Hoard of the Dragon Queen, and Rise of Tiamat came out I will admit I was apprehensive about picking them up. I heard about typos, and some story issues with HotDQ but once I actually picked it up and thumbed through it my mind changed quickly. Since that time I have purchased it and have used it for ideas in some of my current games to great effect. It has helped provide me with some great moments in my campaigns. That is what I am expecting out of the Princes of the Apocalypse.

Princes of the Apocalypse is going to be set up for levels 1 - 15 and will have extra content for the online MMORPG which is free to play. That is also expected to be on XBox Live here soon. The book will include a new race, spells, and other great things to use with Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition. Personally the digital content for the MMO doesn't do much for me but if the book is going to provide as much in the way of ideas for my games that I expect then it will be worth every penny.

Princes of the Apocalypse (D&D Accessory)
$34.33
By Wizards RPG Team

Everyone who knows me realizes that I am full on 100% behind Wizards of the Coast and Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition. This edition of the game has really made me into a huge fan unlike any other edition of D&D. Never would I have thought that I would be so excited about a WotC game like I am about 5e. While they have had some mistakes here and there I do think that it would be hard for them to have done much better with this edition of the worlds greatest role-playing game in my opinion.

Now as I said above I am not sure what to expect from the Princes of the Apocalypse compared to Temple of Elemental Evil. I am open to hearing your thoughts on the old class Temple of Elemental Evil below but also your thoughts on the new Princes of the Apocalypse. Let me know by commenting here and when I pick this up I will be sure to share my thoughts about it.

Your FLGS is expected to be charging $49.95 for this book but you can help support my Blog, and YouTube Channel by purchasing the book through my Amazon Affiliation Link above. Purchasing this book for between $34.33 at the time of this post is as simple as clicking that link and ordering it. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Once I pick this up I will probably be running it through the Tabletop RPG One Shot Group on Facebook which can be found here

Do You Use A DM Screen For Dungeons and Dragons?

Last night at Dungeons and Dragons Encounters I had a player bring the new Fifth Edition DM Screen which I was able to use. That thing is absolutely beautiful! Feels very durable and I felt as though it had some very useful information on it. Too many times a DM Screen is packed with information you will never use or beyond the 1st or 2nd time you won't ever use again. I loved the low profile of it allowing me to see over the screen.

Recently in video responses on YouTube many people have discussed their own thoughts on using DM Screens or not. I am surprised at how many people choose not to use any. For me I find them useful because I like to have all my miniatures hidden behind the screen especially the bigger encounters.

Having the screen also allows me to keep my notes and maps hidden from the players. Players eyes will wander down and look in a lot of cases which can ruin some surprises. One of the greatest things about this hobby is the randomness and surprises of the game. Isn't that why we use dice?

Speaking of dice I have seen a lot of people mention rolling in the open. When you roll dice in the open there is no denying that the players around the table begin to meta game. They will start figuring out the to hit bonus of the monster and things like that. I sometimes roll in the open and have noticed this happens all of the time. When I run D&D Encounters the players there seem to do it a lot more than my other groups. While that is fine I can't imagine as a player it would be fun knowing these things.

Speaking of the 5e screen the things I would have liked to see on it would be XP for Leveling. The CR/XP by offense and defense of monsters from the DMG. Also quick rules on how to make an encounter with modifiers based on # of enemies and such. This would have helped with being able to run the game on the fly but it is still a very good screen.

The highlights of the screen for me are the conditions because those will be used pretty frequently. I like the name generator, NPC generators, and random things on the far right section of the screen like random events.

If you run games primarily online there is no need to use a screen but if you run games in person I highly recommend it for the reasons above. I will be picking up my own 5e screen very soon because it is really well done I think. Even though I feel they could have added more to really make it great this screen is one I could see myself using for other games even. The system neutral things are the main reason for that.

Hope you liked this post. Please check out and follow me on my YouTube Channel, Twitter, Facebook, and G+.

Your DM Feels Worn Out? Then He Is Inspired Again!

Player's Handbook (Dungeons & Dragons)
$29.95
By Wizards RPG Team

This sort of describes how I was feeling this past week. I was a little worn out and wanted a break from running and playing Tabletop RPG's. You see I run a game at home, a game for my wifes family that changes locations, D&D Encounters, and one shots online every once in awhile. Seems like getting burned out would happen frequently for me but it doesn't.

This past week at Encounters I was really not feeling it. Had one player who kept dropping being the only guy to rush into combat as a Barbarian. Seeing his frustration and the fact I was tired I know I brought the energy level of the group down. Hate feeling guilty about it but it is the reality of it. I didn't bring my "A game" this week. It didn't help that I was feeling under the weather. Luckily I have two weeks off from this and I plan on returning better than ever. 

A couple weeks before this I ran the game for family and was feeling worn out then too. That group sometimes makes me stress out a little due to their arguing over treasure, tactics, and one player who blatantly rushes in usually. Not sure how to gauge their interest level either. Feels like 1 of the players doesn't really care about the game and is only playing to hang out with the group. Another player gets really stressed out if they get hit and if anyone is low on HP. To me it is just a game and shouldn't be something that causes stress at all. Should be fun for everyone and it shouldn't at times feel like a chore. This group has gotten better with each session and I really hope it continues to get better. Just not sure if I could handle it falling back into the constant bickering and drama at the table.

Then there is the group I ran for last night which always comes out to my house to play. It consists of my friend Nate (WASD20 on YouTube), Dustin and his fiance Nicole, my wife, and we welcomes a new player last night Steven. Going into the session I was a little nervous about bringing a new player into the group. This is normal for me because you never know how it will throw off the balance of the group. Will they be a disruptive player? Will they be an awesome player? Well he came over and was very open to talking to and getting to know everyone. He handled himself well. There were times when I think he wasn't sure how I handled something but he went with it. Also coming from Pathfinder to 5e there were some questions that he had which is to be expected.

So playing with my at home group last night truly rejuvenated me! Got me excited to run games again. The new guy fit in well I think and the rest of the group has been getting along great for some time now. On top of that the players brought the game back into focus for me without me having to push them on the rails and that is a good thing because I try not to railroad anything. Going into the session I was worried my hooks were weak (they are to be honest) but now I feel like the campaign has its vision again. The players look to go after the big plot hook in the next session with the Temple of Elementals and I couldn't be happier right now.

What is this blog truly about? I think it is about the fact that when you have a good group of players they can breathe life into your gaming when you feel worn out. Good groups in general can make for good gaming. That energy will carry on to other games and sometimes can pick those games up as well. So go out and find a good group for you!

House Rules for Dungeons and Dragons

Lately with the release of the new Dungeon Master's Guide it seems like the talk of house rules has come up a lot more. Personally I do try to run my games by the book but some games are more fun with some minor changes here and there. For instance Lloyd of the Tabletop RPG One Shot group on Facebook began asking about initiative the other day. This has started a whole conversation about this and how other games handle it. 5e even has some variant rules for it in the DMG.

Some things I have thought about house ruling personally are critical hits and critical fails. We have talked about creating our own tables for our games to help with this in future games. If I do this you better believe I will have them up for download here on the website too. What sort of things would be on this? Well I would probably have things like max damage is dealt on a critical hit. Other things might be disadvantage for that enemy in the next round. Obviously this is using 5e's system too. Then critical fails could be things like slipping and hurting self. Could also break your weapon on a critical fail.

Some other common things to house rule are things like downtime activities. Personally I will always allow my players to learn more skills if that is how they choose to spend their downtime. I am also only going to allow multi-classing based on backstories before a game, and downtime studies.

I try to make it possible for my players to make the concept they want. If I have to bend some rules for that then so be it sometimes. If I feel like the concept is just for power gaming reasons and them taking advantage of how flexible I am though I will not allow it. Sometimes I just won't allow things based on principle alone.

There are a lot of things that can be house ruled to make a game more fun. So with this blog post I would love to hear more about your thoughts on house rules. Leave a comment below please.

When Did Gaming Become About The System?

Recently had a discussion with a guy who was citing the "rules as written" or RAW as people refer to it these days. Now luckily this kid isn't one of my players at my table but he was showing signs of a stage 3 rules lawyer. This got me thinking when did the power leave the hands of a dungeon master and become all about what is written in a book? Why can't people function if something isn't spelled out clearly in the book for them?

I have a tendency to point rules out for people running games if they seem to be unsure of something. It has got a group calling me a rules lawyer before but I am ultimately ok with whatever the person running the game says. I do have an issue when players at the table cite the incorrect ruling as how a book is written but I think they knew that. It was clearly a joke because now they have me running our campaign of Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition. So what is it about people that they feel it is ok to argue with a person running the game?

Then I was speaking to my friend sr2joker about this mentality and it made me think when did players begin doing this? Is it a new concept? I've heard people blame 3.0/3.5 for putting so many rules into the game that are clearly spelled out. Is that when people became so tied to the books and what they say? Please let me know your thoughts on this?

Almost every day I see people consulting forums with questions that could easily be ruled on in game and also that are clearly written in the books. Then everyone fights over who is going to answer the question to show who is the all knowing. I have offered to help people on forums and quickly had those people jump all over it and tell me I didn't know what I was talking about unless I cited all page numbers that say it. That happened today and then finally someone cited a specific thing because my mentioning of the book saying it is up to the DM for other things not mentioned. I even ran the debate by other people and they all thought that even though the book didn't spell things out specifically that it should be up to the DM.

Sorry that this blog post sort of became me complaining but I do truly want these questions answered because I don't understand the mentality. There are a lot of great things in the gaming community but this isn't good for it. We are lucky to have amazing people in the Tabletop RPG One Shot group on Facebook because nobody acts like this from my experience. Hope we can continue to spread the joy that actual gaming does. Seems like the more people talk about games and don't play them the more drama takes place.

Thanks,

Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition Dungeon Master Guide PREVIEW Downtime

Wizards of the Coast supplied this preview of the Other Downtime page in the new DMG set to release on December 9, 2014.

Wizards of the Coast supplied this preview of the Other Downtime page in the new DMG set to release on December 9, 2014.

Wizards of the Coast has been giving us previews of the books before released and this time they gave us a preview of the Dungeon Master Guide with an excerpt of Downtime Activities. It is only one page but on it you can get a glimpse into building a stronghold, carousing, and the intro to crafting a magic item.

The first thing covered under Other Downtime Activities is Building a Stronghold. Personally I have never had an opportunity in a game to build a stronghold or even have players that chose to build a stronghold. It has always been interesting to me as a DM because it would open up all new types of sessions. Some of the things you can buy are extremely expensive and I am not sure how the players would come up with all of that money. Either way I am glad this was included and I am looking forward to one day either doing this as a player or having a player do this in one of my games.

Then there is the Carousing section which is actually quite favorable it seems. You have a 60% chance of making a profit from the random table. The premise behind the carousing section is your player partakes in parties, gambling, and/or heavy drinking. Once again though this section offers the DM good seeds for campaigns. Not sure if anyone in my current campaigns would be willing to try out a carousing type of character. Still though this is pretty good.

What would a Dungeon Master Guide be without Crafting a Magic Item rules? We only get a short glimpse into the intro but it does remind everyone that it is up to the DM what is and isn’t allowed. Players will need to get approval for their crafting of magic items. That is how it should be though. One problem I have always had with magic items is if everyone can craft them then they become common. What fun is it if magic items are common? Personally not a fan of magic items on every corner. It makes them not magical for me. Still glad they give us these rules even if I won’t be using these and will only let a player use them sparingly.

There you have it the Dungeon Master Guide Downtime excerpt covered in my personal opinion. Really excited to get this book. Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition is shaping up to be my favorite game to run and play. As someone who runs the game frequently this is a must have for me. If you run a lot of D&D5e then you should consider picking it up too. Remember on Amazon you can get it for a huge discount at $30 so click the Amazon link and order yours today.

Running a One Shot Tips

As the creator of the Tabletop RPG One Shot group on Facebook people have come to me about how to run a proper One Shot. Well first of all there is no correct way to have fun. If the One Shot is fun then you did it right. A One Shot is not much different than a normal night of gaming. With a One Shot though you do want to try and give the players a little bit of everything for the game. Let the players do a little RP, Roll some Dice, and test out the various mechanics for the game. The last thing I recommend trying to do is give the players a conclusion at the end.

Let the players RP. Personally at the start of a session I try to let the players feel each other out and RP together. This usually gets at least one of them to step up and lead the path I have noticed. Then the other players tend to follow the lead when it comes to RP and get more comfortable. If you sense that nobody is stepping up and RPing then move the show along. You just might have a group that isn't as RP heavy as another group might be.

Let the players roll some dice. Give the players some random checks or dice rolls related to the game and system. Sometimes the thing to help players come out of their shell is having them roll dice. In some instances it can refocus a player that isn't paying much attention. It can wake the group up and make them start thinking more. Making it related to the system gives the players some insight into how the mechanics work for the game being played too.

Give the players a conclusion. This one I try to do because leaving a cliff hanger on a One Shot can be agonizing for some. In the Tabletop RPG One Shot group many games have led to campaigns because they didn't have a conclusion. This isn't a bad thing at all but if your goal is to run a One Shot then I suggest giving the group a satisfying conclusion.

Hope you enjoyed these tips for running a One Shot. If you are interested in running or playing in a Tabletop RPG One Shot head on over to the Tabletop RPG One Shot group on Facebook and join today. Once you join, there are over 400 members willing to play and run almost anything. Great group of guys over there.