DM Resources – Education

To kick off this short series of ‘articles’ (I shudder to use the word; it makes me feel like I’m weighed down by my almost-three years of 5e DMing experience…) on the various DM resources I use, I thought I’d tackle the topic of education and self-improvement. As the DM it is often our choices that decide whether or not our players had fun. The words we choose to describe the player’s surroundings, options and action; the monsters we choose to throw in their way; the plot twists we choose to spring upon them. Every moment we make choices that can make or break the fun your players are having.

Now while that’s all very dramatic, and not always 100% true, it should get the point across that your job is, surprise, surprise, difficult. And if your job is difficult, you’re always likely to get something wrong from time to time. That’s where these resources come in. They are designed to teach you the lessons of what must account to almost 100 years of D&D experience. Watch them, read them, absorb what you love, and put aside what you don’t.

1 – Matt Colville. Seriously, like, do I even need to say this?

Matt Colville is probably the best DM to watch online. Really. Regardless of how you feel about his DMing style, what he has to teach you in his Running the Game series is freakin’ gold. Wanna know how to control the flow of information? Here. Wanna understand the sociology of D&D? Here.

Matt has a wealth of experience, and puts it forward in such an infectiously energetic way that you immediately want to go and play the game. His videos, from the campaign diaries, to his series building a fighter in the early versions of D&D have inspired so much of what I run today. It’s incredible stuff, and I thoroughly recommend watching it from start to finish.

2 – Matt Mercer. King of the Geeks.

Yep, the other no-brainer. The obvious start point is his GM Tips series on Geek and Sundry, or Critical Role, but simply Googling his name and watching almost any video that comes up will do. Where Matt Colville has taught me the game, and how to run it, Matt Mercer has taught me the joy and the skill of roleplaying. This is his real strength, born from his career as a voice actor. His ability to drive narrative, switch between NPCs at the drop of a hat, to roleplay the good guys and the bad guys with such realism, all of this is truly inspiring to someone who has, only recently, attempted giving his NPCs accents, or even speaking in character. This literally changed my game.

All that is to say nothing of the man’s preparation. Whereas everything else on this list is specifically designed to educate, Matt Mercer is best watched and absorbed in his natural habitat; behind the screen. Seeing his prep, his ability to create new characters of the fly, his encyclopedic knowledge of Alexandria, and even the way he orders initiative, it is all a master class in DMing.

Lastly, I feel like a DM’s weaknesses are every bit as useful for teaching as their strengths. Matt’s constant use of certain words (I’m looking at you, Brackish, Energy, Entity, et al) has made me aware of how quickly someone can have their suspension of disbelief shattered at the jarring realisation that they’ve heard a word a lot in the last few minutes.

3 – Kobold Press’s Guide to Worldbuilding. 190+ pages of total genius.

This is something I literally discovered in Travelling Man Newcastle earlier today, so I don’t know a huge amount about it. What I do know is that after flicking through it and finding the essay on how to build realistic worlds that have a fantastical flair to them I needed to own it.

Truthfully, that’s about all I feel qualified to comment on, though I think you’ll be hearing more from me on it in the near future. Until then, go check it out.

4 – Drunkens & Dragons. The opposite of Matt Colville.

Hankerin Ferinale is a very different DM to the guys I usually watch. That isn’t a good reason not to give him a watch, though. Drunkens & Dragons is a much more mechanical game, where the DM screen is stripped away, where DCs are left out in the open for players to see, and where, often, big monsters’ actions are judged less by roleplay on the part of the DM, and more by predetermined reactions to certain stimuli (much like a series of If/Else statements in programming). The overall feel is more akin to a computer game in it’s mechanical fidelity than a shared narrative experience.

That said, there is so much depth and genius in here. From concepts like ‘room DCs’, where the DC for every challenge in a room is set to a specific DC, to countdowns, to creating video game-like patterns that the players can learn and use against the monster they’re fighting, there are mechanical wonders throughout these videos.

But there’s also a freedom to Hank’s game that was a breath of fresh air to me. Videos such as his Lair of Knowledge series introduced me to new rules systems, books on English landscapes and fiction that has had a lasting influence on the worlds I build. He doesn’t really play D&D. Sure, 5e is the backbone of his game, but stuff like DCC RPG, and his own Index Card RPG have made their way in, as he cobbles together all the rules he likes and just makes them work together through sheer force of will.

5 – WebDM. Thanks Andy, for this damned rabbit hole.

Again, I assume you already know about these guys, but they really are amazing. Good, long, 20 minute videos discussing a single topic, regularly things I’ve never really put much thought into. Lawful Outsiders, for example. Damn.

This one’s pretty cut and dry. They talk in depth about stuff, throw out ideas, and various ways to implement these monsters and concepts into your campaigns. They have a depth of knowledge, and they know the game incredibly well. They’ve played across a number of editions, and have all that lore to draw on. It’s amazing to sit and watch, and to learn from.

6 – Chris Perkins. The DM of all DMs.

The master himself, Chris Perkins has been writing and talking about D&D for decades. He was the lead developer on the Monster Manual, and is in charge of D&D story. The man is a creative genius. The Dungeon Master Experience is an amazing history of Chris’ home campaign, detailing his successes and failures, and how you can learn from them. Acquisitions Inc. is incredible. Until I saw Critical Role, Chris Perkins was the DM I emulated, and his various panels, games and articles are still teaching me to this day.

Honourable Mentions.

Without going into much detail, here are a few bits and bobs I think are worth investing some time into:

  • Dragontalk – The official D&D podcast (especially Lore You Should Know and Sage Advice)
  • Mike Mearls and/or Jeremy Crawford interviews
  • Well Met, Adventurers – One of my favourite fellows here on WordPress. Lovely guy. Check him out, and tell him I said hi.
  • The DMG. Really. I overlook it so much as a reference document, and ignore so much of the amazing content in there. Same goes for every other release. There’s something in every one of them.

If you have any other resources you love learning from, please comment and let me know. I wanna learn as much as I can so that I can give my players the best experience I can give them.

Quick Announcements!

Also, in other news, I recently launched my Patreon campaign. If you enjoy what I’m doing here, and want to contribute towards my time (and pick up some rewards in the process), then head over to and see what’s on offer.

Finally, on Monday, myself,, Liam Lowery and Declan Keane recorded the first episode of our Talomire podcast. I ran Baldun, Ezikiel and Ethos (respectively) through their first steps in my world, and boy did it go interestingly…I’m looking to have that online this Sunday, assuming all things go well, otherwise next Sunday (14/5). That podcast will hopefully be uploaded weekly. I have plans for a second, irregular podcast, the first episode dealing with me and two of my friends, and how we DM. Really looking forward to recording that one.

Anyway, thanks again. Feel free to follow me on my various social media accounts (links below…Instagram is bae), and drop me a line if you wanna chat.


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Prepping For Talomire: Part Two

“When last we met our heroes…”

In my last post I talked a bit about how my preparation for D&D games has changed and evolved over time. In this post I’d like to go a bit more in-depth with my latest campaign (Curse of Strahd notwithstanding), in my Talomire setting.


Best to start off with exactly what I’m preparing for. With Talomire I’m aiming to run a few campaigns, with different parties, all in the same continuity. My folder needs to reflect that, and be built in a way that makes it easier for me to do that. I want these campaigns to be open ended sandboxes as well. I have a few plot threads in my head, in terms of what is going to be happening in the world around them (what the elves in the north are doing, what is happening in the frozen tundras of the very far north, and the political manoeuvring in the south), but it’s up to the players how they want to interact, or if they want to interact, with these events.

So, my folder needs to be easy to navigate, and have enough content to satisfy my players’ desires and actions, while not requiring me to write the backstory of every single NPC in every single tiny village…thankfully there are tools that allow me to do this, such as my DM screen. I’ll go into a bit of detail on each of these, culminating in the contents of the folder itself.

1 – The DM Screen

I love DM screens. I’ve always thought that the actions of the DM should be hidden, and that a good DM can gain the trust of their players without making each and every die roll public knowledge. I feel it adds mystique to the game; a lack of knowledge that is entirely accurate, and which I feel makes role playing easier and more dramatic. That said, the official screen from WotC is in no way suited to my style of DMing. 50%-75% of the screen is given over to things I either don’t use or need, things I already know, or things I regularly homebrew anyway. I tend to run a number of campaigns anyway, in different settings, so the information I’m likely to need from session to session is different, so a static screen is unlikely to be much use to me. For ages my screen was simply something to block my notes and my rolls from my players.

A few months back I decided to build my own screen. My first mock up was built using 3mm artist’s backing board, sandwiching sheets cut from a magnetic whiteboard. Thes panels were held together using a hinge made from duct tape, and reinforced using electrical tape. It wasn’t perfect, but it meant I could use magnets to attach print outs to my screen. All of a sudden I could have party trackers, region maps, initiative orders and even magic item cards on my screen, able to be switched out at a moment’s notice.

With my MkII build I adapted the original concept slightly. Still built from 3mm backing board, I cut out sections of the inner board to expose the whiteboard inner. Now I can write on that layer, take notes or jot initiative orders, as well as change all of that information whenever I need to. IMG_1543The white boards I used also came with pens and, more importantly, clips. I currently have three attached to my screen. One is currently surplus to requirement (although I do have a couple of ideas for it), and one holds my whiteboard pen. The third, though, allows me to switch out party trackers incredibly easily. I mounted thin plastic sheeting to the clip, which is large enough for four player-tracking sheets. The plan is to have one of these clips per party.

I also built a small, magnetic shelf to put visual aides on for my players…which is by far my favourite thing about this screen right now…


The screen, eventually, is going to have five panels; one for party tracking, three with whiteboards exposed, and one similar to my original build; magnetic, but without the whiteboard exposed. The middle three are designed to be used for session specific things, with the final panel given over to rules I often forget.

2 – The Journal

Drunkens & Dragons introduced me to the concept of a DMs journal. This idea of a repository of information is literally what began Talomire. Instead of building concepts in my head, everything was thrown on paper and built on. Numerous dungeons, traps, financial and religious systems have been born in my journal, and are there now for me to call upon should I ever need them.

During sessions, my journal’s use is two-fold. It’s there for note taking, and remembering what has happened in sessions previously. It also contains ideas I haven’t fully fleshed out yet. If the players decide to travel north, they might run into the small coastal town of Falas Londé, or the ruined watchtower of Duvain Maegorod.IMG_1577


A couple of dungeons I didn’t use in my last campaign.

The journal, therefore, is something I can plot campaign progress in, as well as reference things that I hadn’t committed to PDF yet, but that might fit nicely with where the party are headed.

3 – NPC Face Cards, Weapon Cards, and Other Handouts.

I’ve played about with a number of different concepts in my previous games, regarding combat, equipment and NPCs. My first campaign was completely theatre of the mind, for example, while in Curse of Strahd, I have experimented with using Index Card RPG and 2.5d terrain, both of which work nicely, but don’t give the feel I want from Talomire.

I found a couple of great resources on Drivethru RPG, which I feel can help me as a DM in NPC and item generation, while giving the players the visual aides I’m been looking for. The NPC deck and weapon cards are fantastic. My plan is to have a bundle of both behind my screen. If the players meet an NPC I haven’t planned, I can grab one of these cards and write the character’s name on, taking notes on the back. The same applies for the weapon cards, which can be handed to the player who owns it, creating a tactile sense of ownership of these weapons, and giving even mundane weapons a sense of importance in a world where magical weapons are incredibly rare.


4 – The Folder.

I use a standard sized, two ring, lever arch file, and I don’t use pockets (with the exception of character sheets and handouts). My folder is arranged into several sections, designed to allow me to skip to the parts I need easily. Broadly, they are arranged as follows:

  1. Locations
  2. Adventures & Sidequests
  3. Random Events
  4. Stores & Equipment
  5. Spare Adventures
  6. Spare Maps & Locations
  7. NPCs
  8. Rules

Each tab will then have a number of tabs within, so I can get to exactly the right place at the right time.

My locations tab is for areas I plan on using in my game. For example, I have maps and descriptions of North Tower, Low Briar, and other areas I created. I also have a few I lifted from other sources, such as the Village of Hommlet (the intro adventure to the original Temple of Elemental Evil), and one of Dyson‘s village maps for Briarwood, an area of my own that I haven’t had time to draw yet.

Adventures and sidequests is designed for adventures I know I am either going to run, or am likely to run. Here I’ll have my notes, for ease of access. Finished adventures will likely be put somewhere else when done, but I’m not sure about that yet.

Random events are the life and soul of a sandbox game, in my opinion. They make the world feel real and dynamic, so I make sure to have a number of different encounter tables and random event tables. The Dungeon Master’s Handbook volumes one and two are great for these.

Stores and equipment is something I loved about my Forgotten Realms folder. It shows the prices and availability of equipment in different types of location, adjusted for Talomire’s economy. Rather than  gp, cp, sp, etc, Talomire uses a version of medieval England’s currency. As such, all prices are adjusted to better suit that currency and economy (meaning full plate armour now costs the equivalent of around 19,000gp).

Spare adventures are simply adventures I can pull out at any time. The players decide they want to travel west, and they discover a small town at the base of the Spine mountains. I feel they need something to do, so I grab a spare adventure and throw the plot hook their way. I’ll then move that adventure into my ‘Adventures & Sidequests’ tab, and run it from there. Spare maps and locations is pretty much the same, but is filled with maps and locations I’ve drawn from other sources (mostly Dyson, who’s maps are mostly free, and absolutely amazing).

The NPCs tab is just somewhere I can hold my NPCs, and keeps notes on them, their goals, and what they’re up to when the players aren’t around.

Finally, the rules tab is where I keep all the non-standard rules I want to use. At the moment these are the Stonghold rules, the rules for dragons in the DCCRPG, rules for magical research from DCCRPG, and (Not So) Legendary Actions.

I also have a campaign calendar and a region map in the front of the folder so that I can mark new locations for future reference, as well as make sure important dates in the life of Talomire are observed, and time can be kept properly within the world.

Closing Thoughts.

None of this is really tested in it’s current iteration, but I’m very hopeful. Please, let me know what you think, and what you like to have prepared; I love to learn from other people and steal their ideas! When I start running my campaign(s) I’ll do an update with what has worked, and what has not.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

Prepping For Talomire: Part One

Dungeon Masters prepare their campaigns and their settings in a myriad of weird and wonderful ways, and usually flit between prep methods depending on their intent, or what they feel will work best. This post is going to break down how I’ve prepped in the past and how, specifically, I’m preparing my Talomire campaign setting.

Since getting back into D&D, just over two years ago (March 30th 2015 for those interested), I’ve run a total of four campaigns:

Eloch Loria

Eloch Loria was a world I created, based on a setting I created when I was still at school. The driving concept of Eloch Loria was that the world had been created millennia before for two powerful deities to fight in. After centuries they tired of their fight and created orcs and elves to fight each other in their stead. Eventually and extra-planar creature in the form of a blind beggar approached them both, offering them a way out of their eternal conflict. He took a large part of their power, and usurped them, created humans and dwarves to spread across the lands. A final, climactic battle saw an end to this creature, leaving the world open to god-like creatures, hungry for power. Over long years the world begins to die, and we pick up within years of its demise.

The campaign saw the players discover an ancient tiefling girl in the temple of a long forgotten god. They let her go free (as well as naked, and without food). The next time they saw her she was executed by a blind beggar, who ascended to become the creature who had tricked the Old Gods out of their powers. The arc developed into one which led them around the world, finding the Old Gods and killing creatures claiming to be gods. The finale was meant to set the players against Uktar (the blind beggar) himself. In an unwinnable  battle, the party would die to a man, coming to consciousness in a throne room, outside of time and space. They see the rise of Uktar, of his deceptions and his fall from grace. They summon the young creature that became Uktar, and decide whether or not to eliminate him from existence. They, now acting as gods, remake the dying Eloch Loria in their own image. The characters they create next, entering into the second age, live in the world the players have built, and are able to worship the characters they played during the first age.

This is a long (and kinda ‘pat-my-self-on-the-back-ey) way of saying…

“Eloch Loria was a narrative driven, mostly railroaded campaign where me and my friends learned how to DM and play both the Dungeons and the Dragons!”

There. I said it.

I prepared my sessions by typing out my notes on where I thought sessions would go, including complete stat blocks from enemies. I still have the documents lying around! Generally though, I made stuff up as I went along. Since the whole campaign was homebrew, I had a better idea of what was happening in my own head that I did on paper. This approach, I feel, has coloured my preparation ever since.


I have loved the Warhammer 40,000 world since I was eight years old, so of course I ran a Fifth Edition game set in the Imperium of Man, using heavily homebrewed rules. It’s maybe the most fun I’ve ever had in D&D; I played a one off game with my best friend and his wife, and ended up playing the part of a planetary governor…flirting with my friend’s wife (with whom I am also good friends), who was trying to get information out of me.

The campaign was planned in my head, and I put a TONNE of work into handouts, character creation, and homebrew rules. The sessions were completely improvised though. Knowing the NPCs, and committing everything to memory I ran a game of intrigue and subterfuge off-the-cuff for 3-4 hours each Sunday night. IT WAS A BLAST! Rather than worrying about my notes, and plot progression, I simply gave the party orders, then asked them how they wanted to complete them. The result was incredible creativity and immersion on the players’ part, and some of the best fun I’ve ever had DMing.

Friday/Sunday Night D&D

Andy is a common factor in my D&D games. He was Varis Darkcloak, half-elven ranger, in Eloch Loria, and Krenn Attori, Imperial Interrogator and latent psyker, in Omicron-Gamma-33f. Andy found Critical Role (long after I’d seen it and ignored it…I wasn’t much of a Geek and Sundry fan at the time, so I assumed it was gonna be crap…), and waxed lyrical about it. By this point O-M-33f had petered out in the way games sadly have a tendency to do, and we were both hankering for some role playing goodness. We decided to throw open the gates and create a game where people could turn up as-and-when they wanted, enjoy a couple of sessions, and try out new characters. I stood up and DM’d, setting the game Faerûn, on the Sword Coast.

This game was big, pretty much from the off. By week four I had a party of nine people, and was running combat for a total of 15 characters (three of mine to bump up party numbers in previous weeks, and three NPCs). The setting was great though; I never knew Ed Greenwood’s world was so ridiculously in depth! My prep for these games began really simple. I had an idea to mess about with a zombie dragon, and have a pitched battle underground. I threw together some bits and bobs, stat blocks, very basic notes, stuff like that. After that my drunk tiefling friend got to try his hand at DMing (which was real cool. Soft furnishings. If you get that reference, then hello fellow Sunday night member!). The last arc I ran was the one which involved the most research, and the most prep. The idea started with the high elf quest giver in my friend’s sessions. I wanted to flesh the NPC out…so I made him a polymorph, spellcasting, adult blue dragon. I had the elf set up a number of situations to destabilise Waterdeep, culminating in an epic encounter with the stupendously powerful dragon; Kovash Vant, Demon of the Skies.

Unfortunately, as the group size rose, it became clear we were going to have to split the group. The campaign culminated in a cavern, with the party (now 11 people) fighting an illusionist masquerading as a two-headed dragon. It was epic, and was the first time a player died on my watch. It was fun. By the end of the campaign I’d discovered both the DM folder, and the DM journal. My folder had a full breakdown of Waterdeep, street by street, and a bunch of documents for equipment prices, adventure notes, NPC documents (with stat blocks and space for notes), and DM-handover documents which detailed each session and any potential plot points. It was everything I needed to run a game; I had notes on the story I wanted to tell, and the plot hooks and area maps to let the players do whatever they wanted. It was a great tool, and one I’ve loved building ever since. My journal was where my thoughts and theories were scrawled…and it’s where Talomire was born.


Talomire is a culmination of two years of DMing. My folder is growing, my DM screen is built, and the handouts and tools I’m wanting to implement are coming together. But we’re already up to nearly 1300 words, so I’ll leave my folder breakdown for tomorrow…I’ll even have photos!

Till then, cheers, and have a great day!