A Quick Word About Patreon

I recently launched my Patreon page, and I felt it was important to a) let you know that it exists, b) tell you my thinking behind it, and where I’d like to go with it, and c) ask you to give towards it while making sure you know that I don’t expect anything from you guys at all. Anything you give is absolutely appreciated, is a complete surprise, and motivates me to work harder and harder to be worth the money you pledge. But more on that later.

Why Patreon?

I love writing for D&D. It gets me up in the morning, keeps me alive during work, and relaxes me when I get home. I am constantly running ideas through my head for new campaigns, new regions, new characters, new monsters. I want to do so much; I’m already running one online game on a weekly basis, and am recording it to put up as a podcast; I try my best to write for the blog at least once a week (something I’m failing at due to pressures from work and other projects); I will soon be running a Patreon supporters’ game on a monthly basis; I’m building a campaign world, and campaign arcs for other DMs to use, for eventual sale through private channels (since I want to be able to provide PDFs to Patreon supporters, DMs Guild is out of the question).

Eventually, I want to be running two physical D&D games, each fortnightly, alternating weeks, to help build out Talomire and playtest the setting. I want to start writing Talomire-based fiction to give the world flavour and texture. I want to hire people to write, draw, etc. I want to add YouTube videos to my content, complimenting my posts or discussing things I can’t fit into 1,500 words. Finally, I want to get some of my friends together for a irregular podcast chatting about the differing ways we prepare for games, build worlds and run adventures.

Patreon is a fantastic way for me to begin to build this venture. It allows me to reward patrons with exclusive PDFs, access to our Talomire Slack group, and even to the patrons-only game! I really want to expand this, allowing patrons to be included in adventures, help create storylines and NPCs, etc, etc. I love the concept of fans contributing to the development of the thing they love, and Patreon is the best way for me to do that.

Rewards and Goals.

At the moment I have three reward tiers:

$3+ – PDFs of every map I make, along with descriptions of the rooms, and how I plan to use them.

I plan on getting back into map-making proper, and release a new map every two weeks. Alongside this I want to include a Homebrewery-made PDF detailing each of the rooms in the same way I would for a published adventure. The idea is that DMs can use these maps and the room descriptions in their own personal campaigns as a ‘drag and drop’ feature, should they ever need them. Eventually I’d like to be able to move this to once a week (and way down the line hire someone to help with this), doubling the bang for your buck.

$5+ – PDFs of everything I release for Talomire, before they are released for general sale, as well as access to the Talomire Slack group.

This is the level I really think is going to be worth starting at in the next few months. There are a number of full length campaigns I want to detail, as well as regional supplements and homebrewed rules, all of which will be included in this deal. Previous tiers’ rewards are also included.

$10+ – Access to the patron-only, online game (limited to 5 patrons).

I’m really excited about this game, and already have two backers who want to play! It’s giving me a fantastic chance to explore new areas of the map, and begin to expand Talomire beyond the Northwilds, which is awesome.

Eventually, if I earn enough through Patreon to work on it full time, I’d love to open this up to more backers and run a second (or even a third!) game! At the moment things are fairly open, but I do plan on setting a firm time and rough length for the game, to help me plan my month out. When this happens, all patrons on this tier will be given plenty of warning, should they wish to either adjust or cancel their pledge if the game is no longer viable for them. Of course, I don’t want this to happen, so I’ll be working with you guys to make it work for everyone.

Goals.

At the moment, my goals are as follows:

  • $150/month – I plan on starting print runs of my PDFs, complete with commissioned artwork.
  • $500/month – I plan on spending more time running the blog as a business, reducing my work hours to give myself more time to develop content.
  • $1000/month – At this point I want to be working full time on the blog (subject to conversations with my wife, of course!). This would include the YouTube channel, podcasts, etc.
  • $1500/month – This is where I get really pie-in-the-sky. I would love to hire somebody to come onboard. At the moment I’m undecided on the role, but it’s a toss up between writer and DM, hopefully with an artistic streak. This is very likely to be a way off (should I be so lucky), but I feel it’s important to treat these goals seriously, and mark out the path I want to be walking down eventually.
  • $2000+/month – Here we enter the world of investing in people and products; the world of starting a business, publishing my work on scale. Again, this is in no way defined, it’s just an idea of where I want to go.

The Call To Action.

I can’t do this without you. It’s really that simple. The things I want to release and the content I want to write and record need investment of both time and money, and I want to be in a place to give both . If you enjoy my content, and want to see more of it, have a gander at my Patreon page and consider giving some money towards the dream! That said, please don’t feel that you need to. The map PDFs will still be summarised in much the same way that Aesolyn’s Halls were, and all the Talomire content will available for sale.

If you do give towards the blog, then you have my unreserved thanks and gratitude. Unless you’ve been given money by people to do what you love, you can’t know the humbling experience that it is. It makes me want to work harder, smarter and better to give you all the content you deserve. Hopefully I can do that.

My Patreon can be found here: www.patreon.com/sundaynightdm

Thank you,

Chris.

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 https://www.patreon.com/SundayNightDM and see what’s on offer.

Finally, on Monday, myself, @the.dank.dm, 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.

Cheers!

Instagram – www.Instagram.com/chris_hately
Twitter – www.Twitter.com/SundayNightDM
Facebook – www.Facebook.com/SundayNightDM

The White Fist of Torm – Part One

Now.

Time had slowed to a crawl. The night air stung at her face as she drove her celestial mount on, the heavy plates of her armour beating noisily against each other with each movement of the strange mount. But now was not the time for stealth, or uncertain action. Her face was set towards the horizon, and whatever doom lurked over it. Tyrol was there, or so the Waterdhavian guard had said. So too was Yuki, in  carriage destined for the beast’s lair.

Arveene settled into the familiar movements of the horse, the motions lulling her like a child’s song into a sombre meditation. She thought back to her childhood, to the old clerics of Red Larch and the kind years spent with them…she reflected on the sacking of the Sumber Hills, of the ruins of ancient Myth Drannor, and of the eight-winged solar Arius, terrible in his splendour, great in his mercy, and Inevitable in the telling of the doom held for her. Arveene bristled at this last memory, and the solar’s words came to her as clear as if he was whispering in her ear. The hairs on her neck bristled, and a shiver ran down her back. Settling once more Arveene closed her eyes, her steed knowing her thoughts and intentions, and slipped into her recollections. Maybe this time she would find the seed of inspiration, the key to understanding her doom. And if not, she would do what she had been taught to do all her life; protect those too weak to protect themselves, and smite those who would seek to do harm…

Then.

The Abbey at Red Larch – 13 years ago.

“Aasu-imarr, a Celestial phrase meaning ‘new-birth’, which has its roots set firmly in the draconic language. It also finds it’s way into the eastern tongue; Aasil Marai, ‘doom child'”. The old man closed his eyes sagely, nodding almost imperceptibly to himself, proud of the knowledge he had acquired over his long years. The small, blonde girl before him looked up at him, abject terror in her young face,
“Doom child?!” she wailed, “Doom child?! Abbot Diarmaid, what doom?!” She glanced hurriedly around, as if looking to bolt. Her older companion opened his eyes again and studied her. He quickly realised her confusion, and his error.
“Arveene, quiet yourself girl. I do not mean ‘doom’, as if you were to cause the end of all things. I would barter that you shan’t even end this village, never you mind this nation or world…no, no, no…’doom’ is an old world, heavy laden with meaning and subtly. It is fate, purpose. It is given by one with authority, or it is assumed as a mantle. A quest is a type of doom. Paladins of yore took their dooms from the divine soothsayers who called themselves avatars, when the world was young. Such practices have fallen away, however, so I should not worry. But, many had said the same of the Aasimar…” He looked into the small girl’s eyes, the burden of his many years weighing heavy on his tired frame. He smiled, and the girl smiled sheepishly back. “Come now, let us go to Master John and see what treats await us in the kitchens”.


Master John was bent over the blackened, iron pot when Arveene and the elderly abbot came silently into the tiny room. The air was hot and humid, and the space cramped. A decently sized table dominated the centre of the room, with racks of utensils, not to mention the overbearing fireplace and huge, iron stewing pot, scattered around the edges of the room. Raven glanced questioningly up at the abbot, who nodded slyly, gesturing with his cane to the unsuspecting master.

A moment later there was a high pitched scream, the sound of metal clattering across stone, and the hearty laugh of two young souls putting aside the burdens life had placed upon them.

The Stables Outside Waterdeep – 1 hour ago.

The armoured figure came at her again. She ignored the pressing danger and pressed her hand against the wound in Mellifluent’s side, the healing vitality spreading from the snow white gauntlet encasing it. Mellifluent gasped, her eyes snapping open. The old tiefling woman looked into Arveene’s eyes, then over her shoulder. Her mouth opened to scream a warning, only to be cut off as Arveene rolled her forcefully away, shouting a divine invocation to shield her from the blow aimed squarely at her head.

It worked. The weapon lost its way in the folds of her cloak, landing viciously on the shield affixed to her arm. She cried in pain, falling to one knee. Al, the foreman from Woodsmere, stood above her, his brutal, spiked armour glinting slightly in the moonlight, a cruel smile playing across his face. Arveene’s cry of pain morphed into a scream of primal, animalistic rage. She surged up at her foe, her warhammer, The Loyal Fury, bursting into white, ethereal flame as she swung it wide towards Al’s head. He dodged back, the swing catching his breastplate and staggering him. He caught his fall, but too late. The hammer carried its momentum and swung down again, catching Al square in the shoulder and shattering bones with the force of the blow. He fell hard to the ground, coughing blood as he felt his insides move in ways they shouldn’t.

Arveene surveyed the field. Mellifluent was caring for the cleric they had picked up on their last adventure, while Maljape and Mirabelle put their assailant out of his misery. The party was spent, injured, and desperately needed rest. Arveene sighed. Oyuki was on her way to Tyrol’s estate on her own. There was no doubt in her mind that Yuki would kill Tyrol, it was a skill of hers, but Arveene could not imagine a way in which Yuki would make it out alive. Speed was key, and information needed. She bent down, laying her hands on the exposed left shoulder of the prostrate foreman, the broken armour not so much as scratching the paint from the shining white gauntlet. Bones knit together beneath her touch, and bleeding slowed. There was nothing for it. Maljape and Mellifluent would have to remain behind to interrogate this prisoner. With any luck the rest of them could reach Yuki’s carriage before she arrived at the estate. In the worst case scenario the could provide some aid to her as she tried to escape. Once again the burden of doom laid heavy on Arveene, her white gauntlet shining in the moonlight, reflected against the plain, steel plates of her armour. So much death these past weeks…so much pain. For a moment the age old temptation to run rose it’s ugly head. To cast aside her weapons, her armour, to run far from this forsaken coast and back to the ruins of her home. To the Dales, to the broken stones of Myth Dranor…

Arveene stood, her warhammer held loosely at her side. She shook the heaviness from her, exorcising the bone-deep desire to flee, and set off back to the party, dragging the fallen figure who’s life she had so readily saved.

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.

Context

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…

Untitled

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

IMG_1579

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!

DCC Magic in 5e

Drunkens and Dragons was the first place to put me onto Dungeon Crawl Classics, in particular, the DCC RPG rulebook. This 400+ page long monster is a love letter to the feel of AD&D, and is filled with incredible art and inspired ideas. One of these ideas is its incredible, and wildly intuitive, magic system.

Whereas D&D 5e’s magic system is what Gygax himself once described as:

“a spell point system whose record keeping would warm the heart of a monomaniacal statistics lover” (AD&D Players Handbook, pg 6,

an opinion that I am, much as I love D&D spellcasting, inclined to agree with. In a world where magic is so commonplace that cantrips are thrown around like petty novelties, such as the Forgotten Realms, the spell slot system works fine. But when I’m introducing a new player to the game (which is, blessedly, fairly regularly), explaining the spell slot system is a pain in my arse.

When I’m teaching new players, the first thing I tell them is that, while the character sheet is complicated, and full of numbers and jargon (I use this incredible sheet, which is even more intimidating than the official one), as long as they know where the basics are I can simply guide them to what they need to roll. This teaches them, through experience, how to play the game. I’ve found it works wonders; players get to roll dice and have fun, with me telling them which dice to roll and where on their sheet the appropriate information is, until finally I don’t need to anymore, after a few sessions or less. The huge bloody spanner in the works is magic.

One of my friends decided he wanted to play at the last minute. It was going to be his first time playing, and I didn’t have time to build him a character. What I did have was a dwarvish bard, designed for another friend who was unable to play. We handed him the character sheet, and went from there. During the session Tim had fun, and even did some great things, but he was unfulfilled by the character. He, in truth, didn’t understand the magic system, and who can blame him? As if learning the very basics of the game wasn’t enough, while also trying to role play for the first time, and trying to be immersed in the story, he also had to learn what eight spells did, and how spell slots worked. In the end he did what so many first time spellcasters do – he spammed one spell until it worked.

DCC offers something I’ve never experienced in D&D’s spells. There is uncertainty as to what they will do, and whether they will work. This might not sound great, but it really is. In order to cast a spell you roll a d20 and add certain modifiers. You compare that result to a chart, and that tells you what happens. Each spell is different, and has effects of increasing severity as the roll result gets higher. Now break that down; rather than making the new player learn another mechanic, on top of the d20 + mod mechanic which anchors the vast majority of 5e, you simply use what you’re already teaching them. On top of that, it makes each casting something to be attained! Rather than knowing the spell works, there’s a chance it might not, and worse, a chance it can go horribly wrong. Each success ends up feeling like an achievement, and the wizard gets to feel the same exhilaration the fighter feels when his blows find their mark.

All of this is amazing, but the thing I love most about the DCC system is the feeling of mystery. When I began adapting the DCC ruleset to 5e for my Talomire setting, the first change I made was to take away completed spell sheets from the players. A player’s physical spellbook is, then, not a sheet filled with spell names, but a physical booklet, with spell names, types, and empty charts below. Each spell must be cast in order to learn exactly what it does. You know to some degree that Magic Missile fires an arcane dart at your foes but, unless you’ve rolled a 28 before, you have no idea that it can fire 1d12+2 darts, each dealing 1d8+1 force damage! Imagine that! You cast magic missile as a first level wizard, and roll a natural 20. Add your +3 Int bonus and +2 prof bonus for 25, and a d6-1 for your critical success (let’s assume +3), and now you have a 28! The four goblins you’re facing explode in a shower of sparking bolts!

There are balancing issues, obviously. My way around this is to seriously limit the number of spells a caster can use. Some players may see this as a bad thing, but to my mind it simply reinforces the idea that this knowledge is not easily come by. You have to seek it out, rather than relying on the two extra spells you gain per level, or the six you start with. And each spell, even first level spells, has the opportunity to be useful at later levels.

You can find the VERY EARLY draft for my DCC ‘conversion’ HERE. Feel free to give it a try and let me know how you feel it works. I’ll be updating it a lot over the coming days, and then more as I begin my Talomire campaign proper. Please note that the document is my attempt to create the DCC system using existing 5e concepts and mechanics, and is not a conversion per se (as a general rule, though, I replaced ‘caster level’ with proficiency, and luck with the Int modifier. There’ll be issues in there, but they should iron themselves out in the long run.

Cheers,

Chris.

My First Kill.

I have DM’d various RPG systems (mostly of my own making) since I was 15 years old. I’ve DM’d for twenty three people, and thirty two characters. In thirteen years I shepherded those players and characters deathless through dungeon, swamp and pocket dimension. That is, until the last session I ran.

PC deaths are something I think I’ve always, subconsciously, avoided. I generally, in my life, avoid conflict, and the idea of having to tell someone that the character they’ve spent time building, levelling and fighting with is gone, possibly forever, horrifies me. I bring them to the cusp, hell I don’t even mind death saves, but they always get the better of that skull-faced, chess-loving, scythe wielding reaper of souls. But this, in itself, is an issue. I knew that no matter how difficult the fight, I’d always make sure the monsters lost. I’d fudge rolls, introduce NPCs, give the players an out of some sort. Fights ceased to be threatening. Now, maybe I’m alone in this, but I find that as the DM I’m as much a party of the party as the players. I may not participate in the planning, the combat (on their side anyway), or anything practical, but i share in their highs and their lows. I feel the same rush of adrenaline when a monster crits, or when a breath weapon DC is too high for half the party. Not confronting death in D&D began to suck away the vitality and the danger, and left combat beginning to feel hollow, for myself at least.

So, a little context. The party have had six months off pirating, looting or searching for ways to resurrect their companion animals from homeless wizards in the Castle Ward of Waterdeep. The Midsummer festival rolls around and the party go, separately. In the midst of the fun the Master Illusionist of Baldur’s Gate, Dexter Halebrakt, put on an uproarious show…which was quickly replaced with screaming as mothers discovered their children were now missing. The party were given a cryptic riddle by a dying soothsayer, and found their way into the Undermountain, on their way to Skullport.

Here I introduced my first gambit; the unwinnable fight.

My players were introduced to Aragauthos (who should sound familiar to anyone who has read Ed Greenwood’s classic ‘Ruins of the Undermountain), an ancient, though malnourished, blue dragon. Held there by the Mad Mage, she believed the only two ways to escape were to dispel the magic keeping her there, or to place 72 perfect human skulls on the throne in the cavern (this, of course, was a lie to to her by the Mage himself). All my players were level 5-7 (though there were nine of them turning up regularly), and had no chance. Their only option was to talk to the dragon and attempt to help it. Thankfully they managed to do this by casting a ritual form of dispel magic, then fluking the roll, setting the ancient Aragauthos on a path of revenge which would take her straight through Waterdeep itself. Their other option? Scattering very quickly and hoping some of them made it across the cavern to the river. It really was a TPK situation in 80% of the outcomes.

But, they survived. They annoyed a number of the Skulls of Skullport, met the 14th Skull, and killed NPCs designed to be their allies by keeping the leader stuck on the first floor fighting a 10ft tall goliath paladin who decided to knock the front of the house in. Oh, and they threw a 17 year old prostitute out of a window, killing her. They bumbled their way to their destination, and here we pick up the story. There are four players in particular we are interested in; Djakka, Rinko, Maljape, and Francis Ridge (better known as Fridge).

The party, after some searching, discovered the safe house belonging to the Reforged Ring, a slave trading organisation now controlled by the Ulitharid believed to have taken the children. Fridge approached the door and inspected it for traps. Finding nothing, he stepped back as Djakka, the colossal paladin tank of the group, stepped forward. Inside the door was a small, bizarre looking creature. It looked Fridge straight in the eye, and vanished. Immediately Fridge began to feel a burning, and wispy yellow flames began to seep from his eyes and fingertips, stealing the magic from the air around him, and hurting anyone who came too close. After some worry, and even more searching, the party found themselves in a very small basement, with Djakka (being 10ft tall and wearing bulky plate armour) stuck in the trapdoor down into the room. 

In an attempt to help him, the Dragonborn demolitionist set off the explosive trap in the floor, collapsing the ceiling onto an unconscious Djakka and Rinko ( the Yuan-Ti bard). The two rolled death save after death save while the party struggled to free themselves of the rubble. The cleric healer failed to extricate herself, and only ended up collapsing more rubble onto herself. Finally, by the time anyone was out and able to help, both Djakka and Rinko were dead, crushed and suffocated by the weight of the rocks.

Now, let me land here for a moment. This last event, the cave in, took place over two sessions, with the cave in ending one session, and the beginning of death saves beginning the second. I’d forgotten that Rinko was down, and so planned the next session in my mind thinking only one person needed to be stabilised. I planned difficult DCs for getting out and freeing them, only to find out that the effort would be twice as difficult as I’d imagined. Throw a natural 1 on Rinko’s save, and some other bad rolling, and we were left with two dead players fifteen minutes into a four hour session. Thankfully, the cleric had Revivify prepared, and so the two were brought back quickly, at the cost of the cleric’s only really useful spell slots. The party brushed themselves down, and moved on. Myself, I was amazed. Poor Jagoda, the player behind Rinko, had only had her character a week, and the look she gave me as Rinko’s death began to sink in told of a real pain. It was a sad, touching moment.

At this point we’ll skip ahead a bit (this post is already 1057 words long). The party have stumbled on a large cavern, as well as Dexter Halebrakt. He has turned himself into a illusory dragon, and the party fight it. A number of players went down, and the cleric (Mercy) spent most of her time casting healing spells at players rolling death saves. 

The party stare down a dragon!


In all the confusion, at the height of the battle, the Ulitharid appeared to watch his foes’ defeat. After a number of failed encounters with the monster, and with Spellfire now cascading from him, Fridge climbed, grappled the monster, and screamed the howl of the damned into it’s face.

The scene just a Fridge begins to climb to the top of the platform.


For anyone who has not read Ed Greenwood’s first Forgotten Realms novel, here is a description of Spellfire:

The Fire That Burns
It can lay low a dragon or heal a wounded warrior.
It is the most sought-after magical power in all Faerun.

Spellfire is magic, untamed. It consumes magic, and is fuelled by it. It also, if left unchecked, consumes the wielder. Fridge was dying, and he knew it. In his scream he unleashed his Spellfire and exploded, vaporising both himself and the Ulitharid. He flung the dragon, at this point beside him, from the platform they were all standing on. The platform vanished and Fridge’s two allies, Maljape and Djakka, fell to the rocks below. Djakka was knocked unconscious again, but Maljape was not so lucky.

Mercy arrived as the smoke cleared. Nothing was left of the platform, Fridge or the Ulitharid. Maljape lay dead, his gnomish body lying crooked against the sharp stones. Worse still, Mercy was left without sufficient magic to raise the poor man back to life. Stumbling, unsure of what to do, the religious members of the group, Mercy and the newly awakened and healed Djakka, simply prayed.

As an aside, Fridge’s sacrifice is one of the most incredible moments I’ve ever DM’d. It was cinematic, heartfelt, and likely saved a good few more deaths. Now, faced with another player death, I gave the players a final out; pray that your gods look favourably upon you. I had the cleric roll a d100, and gave him a 2.5% chance (rounded up) per religious party member assisting. He rolled, and the players held their breath. In the most wonderful, and lucky, way, Maljape was brought back to life by the power of distant gods.Had the prayer failed then yes, Waterdeep lies above and magic aplenty resides there. But with a blue dragon around, the chances of resurrection would not have been high. But I’d had my first taste of player death, and I was prepared to let it stand in this instance.

So there you have it; my very first player deaths. After none in thirteen years, I had four in one night. And it’s something that, while I will never deliberately seek a PC death, I’m not afraid of any more. It created the most memorable moments of the campaign (the dead prostitute, and a 10ft tall goliath breaking through both a door and the wall of the first floor not-withstanding). So, if you’ve ever been afraid to allow a character to die because they made a silly decision, or they weren’t prepared enough, or because things simply didn’t go their way? Fear not; so long as the time feels right, and you don’t feel it’s too harsh or damages the story, roll with it.

A short treatise on world building…kinda…

World Building From The Off…

Note: I wrote this at 3am while watching Critical Role. I have no idea if this crap makes any sense. Good luck, all ye who enter…

When I started as a DM the first thing I wanted to do was build a world. Well, almost. In reality I wrote a whole set of rules based around the d20 system, THEN I built a world, but the genesis of the two were so inextricably linked that they may as well have been the same thing. My world (and rules set) were called Oracle, after the database software my dad works with. I drew up a map which to this day I am still proud of. I created history for each continent, and I decided which races lived where. For a fifteen year old with a month’s RPG experience, back in 2003, I was fairly happy.

Fast forward thirteen years and my idea of world building is both grander and more humble. As I type this I am surrounded by notes and journals detailing the customs, racial make up, fiscal system and religion of the nation of Talomire. Very loosely based on England around, and in the decades following, the Norman invasion, I want to create a world with depth, character, and history. The lesson I am learning, however, is that sometimes less is more. Take, for example, Ed Greenwood’s classic Undermountain. The first level is vast, a dungeon that, realistically, a party would never have to venture far from. Add to that levels two and three (and maybe the Wyllowwood for good measure) and you have a variety of climates, tropes, villains, traps, and so forth, to keep your players fascinated and rewarded. But while many of the rooms on each level are detailed to an astonishing degree (my personal favourite being the Cavern of the Throne, where the ancient blue dragon Aragauthos is imprisoned. She scared my party a bit!), whole swathes of the caverns are left ’empty’, and to great affect.

Less Is Sometimes More.

The Undermountain is a fantastic example of giving DMs enough material to provide flavour and plot hooks, while leaving great swathes of the cavern open for the very same DMs to build their own lore and plot hooks. This empty space allows for those crafting their stories inside the framework of the Undermountain to write their own legends, their own villains, plots and machinations. This is the fundamental part of world building, both as a writer and as a DM; your world is a framework, and needs to act as such. Just enough detail to form a cohesive, vibrant world, not so much as to cripple the creativity of players and DMs.

Starting Small.

I have run 5e adventures in two settings now, with a third on the way; Forgotten Realms, Talomire, and my first homebrew, Eloch Loria.

Eloch Loria is a grand world. With a history spanning ten millennia, nations, fiefdoms, people groups, and inter-racial attitudes and politics…writing a sourcebook is long and hard. But that didn’t grow up over night. Over the course of months the world grew from two villages, Meadowbrook and Dryntal, to a sprawling continent. It grew organically, and my players were a huge part of that. The Orc societies in the Daggercloak mountains are ENTIRELY thanks to Grom, the half-orc barbarian, and his backstory! There was space for the players to make the world their own, rather than a structure the players had to fit within. Beginning with a single village gives the space to do this, allowing both the world builder and his/her players to expand steadily outwards.

Concluding Thoughts.

I really don’t know. I’m learning how to build languages from scratch for the dwarvish and elvish communities living in Talomire. Maybe I’m not the best one to ask. I hope any of this made sense; expect future posts to be far more about what I’m working on or have beta rules for. Stick around, that’s the good stuff!