Are you up for the challenge?

Going to PAX East? Looking to show off your adventure design prowess? If so, Wizards of the Coast is giving you a great opportunity to show the world just how much better than Christopher Perkins you really are. At 7 pm on the Saturday night of PAX, WoTC will be holding a DM tournament of sorts. Participating DMs are asked to create an adventure, using Underdark source material, for five 6th-level characters. The expectation is that the adventure will last for about 5 hours and encompass 3-5 combat encounters. However, DMs are encouraged to add other elements to their game to increase role play opportunities and to develop a mini story. In addition to bringing their adventure, DMs should bring everything they need to run the game, such as maps, tokens, minis, tiles, etc. Players and their characters will be provided. DMs will be rated by their players so keep that in mind when deciding whether or not to go for the TPK. People who would rather play than DM can show up 10 minutes before the scheduled time or sign up beforehand by emailing the organizer, Willi Burger at RPGAMarshal@aol.com.

I don't think I'm anywhere near the level I would need to be in order to enter this contest. I am tempted to write up an adventure anyway and pass it out to friends or submit it to NewbieDM's downloadable delves. However, I will definitely be there Saturday night, and would love to meet as many of you all as I can.

Wizards D&D Name Generator

Wizards of the Coast released their D&D Character Name Generator. So far, it seems pretty neat, allowing the user to adjust the name guidelines on a wide variety of settings and providing not only first and last names, but also nicknames. When I first got to the page, I received the following name:

You can save the names generated as well as link to names created. Following the link appears to show you the criteria used to generate the name, although the drop-down menus for first letters of the first and last name are off by one. The tool also automatically saves the last 20 names it generates for you.

The number of options is pretty nice. Beyond specifying letters for the first and last names, you can choose gender, race, class, character's background, societal class and renown. The last is mostly tied to the level tiers. I can see this being useful to DMs and players alike.

Notes from the Table: Treed! Edition

This past week I really didn't have the time to create the well-thought out, challenging encounter that my players deserved. So I looked through adventures from Dungeon magazine and found a great side trek that I could easily fit into my campaign called Treed!. Without giving spoilers, I would like to mention a few things about the adventure. First, my players really enjoyed it and they had a lot fun with it. There is enough of an element of danger with the monster choices to keep the heart rate up and, if my dice didn't decide they were too tired to bring their A game, potentially to kill a PC or two.

However, it's a bit of a tricky encounter to run. There are four different monster types to run, terrain features and a leash. It probably wouldn't be so hard to run with more time to plan and prepare, but for a weeknight game during a busy two weeks, I had some problems keeping things straight. That is more a fault of me than the adventure itself, but it bears noting. Also, if I ran it again, I would use something physical to represent the leash. It was too difficult to remember that it was there and to use it effectively.

Overall, I'm really glad I ran it and it really can be an easy mini adventure to fit into just about any campaign. Time to plan for next week.

The DM's Lament: There Just Isn't Enough Time

My new job is kicking my rear end. During my first week on the job, a huge, high priority job got added to the tech team's plate. While I'm really enjoying it, the work has me a little outside my wheelhouse. As a result, I don't have a ton of time to prep for this week's game and I found myself browsing through the RPG adventure database in search of some adventure ideas to steal. Figuring that there are a few other DM's out there in a similar position, I thought I would share some of my ideas on how to plan in a hurry.

If you have some time, don't limit yourself only to adventures in your system and setting.

Converting an adventure from one system to another can take a lot less time than developing one from scratch. With 4e's simplified encounter design, the combat portion of the game can be a lot easier to create and modify.

Feel free to steal bits and pieces instead of the entire adventure.

Maybe you really love to design your encounter groups, but hate drawing maps. Or maybe you want to populate your town with engaging NPCs but don't feel like figuring out what trades they should have or what to name them. Or maybe you came across a great encounter in an adventure but the rest of the adventure doesn't fit with your world. Regardless of the reason why using the whole adventure doesn't make sense, grab the bits that grab you and make them your own.

Build off of a Trope

We use tropes a fair bit because people know how to react to them. Emphasize a full moon, and your players are likely to look for a werewolf. They are not only useful in setting player expectations, but they can help you get through a session with a little less planning than normal since you are also likely to be comfortable with the story you're telling. You can find some tropes on TVTropes.org.

For a few weeks, at least, design your game in bits.

Dave Chalker had a great post about this on the Critical-Hits website. He was designing the second chapter of his campaign and wanted to give some overall structure to it without going into too much detail. His solution was to create 5 major quests and, for each quest, create a list of 5 things that must be done to complete the quest.

Hope these ideas help get your brain going. In the meantime, I found a side-track to use and need to add it to my combat manager.

Blogs I Love: Spend a Healing Stirge

There might not be a ton of entries in the Spend a Healing Stirge blog, but the entries are full of great tips, especially for DMs. The author is especially interested in bringing music to the table, with tips on how to incorporate it and, just as importantly, provides some recommendations on music to use. In addition, there are a number of sensible, buy-from-your-local-store DM tips, such as using non-stick kitchen rubber mats to keep dungeon tiles in place and using pipe cleaners to mark figures.

Recent Posts

Product Review: Azagar's Book of Rituals

About 7 months after the release of D&D 4th edition, Goodman Games announced an open call for ritual submissions. After receiving over a thousand entries, they compiled over 300 of them into Azagar's Book of Rituals. The book is narrated by a hobgoblin general, the afore-mentioned Azagar. Each chapter begins with him trying to explain the type of rituals found in that chapter along with a funny story about how one of the rituals saved him at some point in his travels.

The book is organized into 9 chapters, each with a different type of ritual. Each chapter has a list of rituals across all ranges of play, from heroic to epic. The ritual information is organized just like the rituals in official Wizards of the Coast products, with level, time, duration, component cost, market price and key skill(s). The majority of the rituals are tied to Arcana with most of the rest being tied to Nature or Religion and a smattering of Heal.

Types of rituals

Binding Rituals (30)
Like warding rituals, these rituals offer some protection, but generally by keeping things from doing things or going places.
Creation Rituals (37)
These rituals allow the caster to create something, sometimes out of thin air.
Deception Rituals (29)
Generally, these rituals create illusions to help fool even the most perceptive and insightful friend or foe.
Divination Rituals (24)
Information is the name of the game. These rituals help the caster determine everything from what's happened to what's happening to what might happen.
Exploration Rituals (91)
More of a generic category, these rituals don't easily fit in any of the 8 other categories. However, that doesn't mean that they are any less useful.
Restoration Rituals (18)
Often utilizing divine magic, restoration rituals seek to help with everything from disease to bringing back the dead.
Scrying Rituals (17)
Like divination rituals, these rituals are all about information gathering, in particular, how to gather intelligence remotely.
Travel Rituals (28)
Sometimes, getting there is half the battle. These rituals aim at making transit time shorter, or at least more comfortable.
Warding Rituals (27)
Want to protect a place or an object? Or maybe you want to keep certain creatures from getting in or make certain types of magic less effective. Then warding rituals are what you need.

Sample Ritual

There are many rituals that are more useful, but this is a particularly amusing example.

Brownberry's Annoying Companion
You set the sigil and when it goes off, the target is going to wish it had exploded and killed him. The screaming ball never stops, never rests, and haunts the unfortunate subject until the end of time.
Level: 8 Component Cost: 250gp
Category: Warding Market Price: 680 gp
Time: 10 minutes Key Skill: Arcana
Duration: Special

You place a magical mark upon a lock, latch, or any object the target can interact with. When the target touches the object, the mark vanishes and is replaced with a floating flesh-colored ball the size of a fist. Although it appears solid, the ball has no actual physical presence. The ball rises to the shoulder of the target, a mouth appears over the ball, and it begins screaming annoyingly in the target's ear. Every minute, the scream pauses for one round -- the ball gives the illusion of taking a deep breath -- and starts up again. Your arcana check determines how long the annoying companion lasts.

Arcana Check Result Duration
19 or lower 6 hours
20-29 12 hours
30-39 18 hours
40 or higher 24 hours

Anyone plagued by an annoying companion suffers a -5 penalty to all Charisma-based skill rolls, a -2 penalty to Perception checks, and cannot take extended rests. In addition, the target automatically fails all Stealth checks and cannot surprise opponents. The ritual can be dismissed by you or by any arcane caster that studies the orb for 10 minutes and then beats your Arcana check with his. You may replace the scream with loud laughter, moaning, or other noises generated by other parts of the body. The mouth cannot form words.

Product Information

Rules Set: 4E (GSL).
Contributing Writers: Tavis Allison, Cedric Atizado, Jobe Bittman, Jeb Boyt, Aaron Brosman, David Caffee, Jarrod Camiré, Steven A. Cook, Patrice Crespy, Joseph D’Amico, Chris Dias, David Dolph, Douglas R. Edmundson, Alan Z. Eisinger, Raymond G. Falgui, W. Daniel Fichtel, John R. Flemming, Joshua Gervais, David Gibson, Rob Green, David M. Guyll, Lee Hammock, Matthew Hannum, Matthew J. Hanson, Morgan Hardy, A. G. Edward Haskell, Isaac Hicks, Dwight Hulse, Matthew Kaiser, Charles W. Kiley III, Chris Kümmel, Phillip Larwood, Matthew Lawrence, Hannah Lipsky, Lizard Lizard, Chris Longhurst, Lucas Mackay, Hal Maclean, Paul Matthews, Dan McAllister, Derek Meurer, Nick Miller, Scott Moore, Tim Rose, Aeryn “Blackdirge” Rudel, Mark Steinmann, Harley Stroh, Stefen Styrsky, Chris Tandlmayer, Greg Tito, Chris Torrence, Austin Watkins, James Whitman, Doug Wideburg, Robert Clayton Wyatt, Jr.
Cover Artist: James Ryman
Interior Artists: David Griffith, Doug Kovacs, Hunter McFalls, Jesse Mohn, Matt Morrow, Chad Sergesketter, Mike Wilson
Graphic Designer: Erik Nowak
Editors: Dwight Hulse, Aeryn “Blackdirge” Rudel, Harley Stroh
Publisher: Joseph Goodman

Other Reviews

More Information

Goodman Games released two pre-release pdfs: one with the introduction, table of contents and the binding chapter and another of indices organizing the rituals by name, level, category, and key skill. The book can be purchased from RPGNow (as PDF), Paizo (PDF and print), and Amazon (print). I purchased my copy from my local gaming store.

Announcing the RPG Adventures Database

Being a GM can be hard. Games can take a lot of time to plan, especially if you are designing foes and encounters from scratch, drawing your own maps and creating all your own NPCs. At least, those are some of the problems I run into when planning my own game. Pre-written adventures are great, but not every group is keen on them and it seems like finding suitable ones is half the battle. With that in mind, I started an adventure database to help me in my planning and I wanted to share what I've created with the rest of you.

The database is still in its infancy, with about 175 modules spanning from early D&D to today. Since I run a 4e game, it's heavily populated by D&D modules in general and 4e in specific. Since my hope is to continue to grow this into a much larger resource, I thought I should outline my initial goals and how people might be able to help.

Initial Goals

  • Add as many adventures as possible with title, level information, author, publisher, system and published setting.
  • Figure out a system for keeping up with new adventures as they are released.
  • Work with the community to determine what additional information is desired and how to collect and add that information in a way that helps both people using the content (e.g. GMs) and the people producing the content (e.g. authors, graphic artists, developers and publishers).

How You Can Help

  • Game Masters and Players: Use the adventure database. Let me know what's wrong, what's missing and what can be better. Let your friends know about it. And, most importantly, if you find it useful, let me know. It takes a fair bit of work to add in this data and it would be nice to know if further development would be useful to others.
  • Publishers: Let me know how much information you are comfortable with sharing. Ideally, I would love to tag each adventure with additional information such as location, maps included, monster types, level of magic, etc. This sort of information will be of great use to your audience without giving away the store.
  • Authors: I'm creating a page for each author which will list their works, but which would also ideally include a bio, a pic, links and social media tools like a twitter handle. If you could send me information you would like to have included, that would be great.
  • Retailers: Tell me you exist. I want to add links to a number of places where people can purchase these adventures. If you don't have an affiliate program, don't worry. This is about giving the customer choice.

To Infinity and Beyond

My goal is to help game masters pinpoint adventures that contain information they can use in their current campaign. This information could be a complete module, a map, an NPC or adventure hook, a skill challenge or the like. Thus, one of my near-term goals is to increase the types of information available about the adventures. However, I'll need help to do this. Over the next few weeks, I'm hoping to figure out the best way to make it possible for interested community members to enter data. Since I want this data to be easily searched along a number of facets, a wiki is probably not the best way to go. Also, until we have enough people who can help monitor for spam, completely open editing will probably pull too much of my time away from more important things such as feature development.

Finally, just a quick note about affiliate programs. Yes, some of my links have affiliate codes in them. The site takes money and time to put together and run. So far, all of the money I've made from this site has gone on to purchase more gaming supplies and pay for the cost of the server. I don't see that changing any time in the near future as there are lots of cool books and tools out there.

Blogs I Love: Sly Flourish

Just by itself, the Sly Flourish blog would be considered a great resource for those 4e DMs out there. Written by Mike Shea, the posts are concise, well-written and accompanied by excellent pictures. The monster optimization series alone is a great resource. Not only does it give DMs monster combos to place into their own campaigns where appropriate, but he explains what it is about the combo that makes it awesome, effectively providing a learn-by-example tutorial on encounter design. It definitely makes you look forward to Mondays.

Recent Posts

If you need your fix more than once a week, fear not, Mike gives out great ideas throughout the week through Twitter. Followers of the @SlyFlourish twitter account are treated to small nuggets of DMing and story telling wisdom.

Recent Twitter D&D Tips

  • Cross-train your RPG reading with King's "On Writing", Tharps "Creative Habit", and Edwards' "Drawing on the Right Side o/t Brain"
  • Try out a Stephen King style and foretell coming events: "That was the last time you saw your home town before it burned."
  • When using published adventures, don't be afraid to replace NPCs with those already known and loved (or hated) by your PCs.
  • Give your players a lot of different quests, each with a well-designed quest card so they can keep track of them.
  • Does a PC have a big moment coming? Try using a music playlist based on that PC selected by that player.

In addition to the blog and twitter account, Mike created a really nice 4e blog aggregation site, 4eBlogs.com.

Herding Cats: What to do When A Player Misses

Between season premieres, sporting events, family, and just plain life events, getting the crew together every week can be a bit like herding cats. What is a gaming group, and in particular a DM, to do?

Run an Episodic Campaign

The best defense is a good offense. If you can get your players back to home base at the end of most sessions, it becomes a lot easier to figure out a reason why a missing player's character is not around for a particular adventure. I'm running our current campaign a bit like this. While I've found it a lot easier to plan and change the story line to fit what my players want by running it this way, I definitely feel a bit like I'm writing for a sitcom. I have about 2 hours to present the conflict, have my players come up with their solution for resolving it, and then, actually resolve the conflict, all while tying the story to the parts that came before and setting up the story lines to come. A standard combat encounter takes about a hour of that time, so we generally are limited to 1 - 1.5 encounters during that time period. In addition, since my players often don't know that they can't make it until the last minute, it's hard to spotlight characters since I risk the important character not making it for the session. But these are not insurmountable problems and an episodic campaign handles them much better than campaigns with longer story arcs and lots of overland adventures.

Fill in Character Back Story

Often, character back stories and down time get glossed over in the course of regular game play. The characters might spend a few months in between major adventures but what they did during that time never gets discussed. Or players might have written pages of back story that never gets used in game. When a full group of players is available, it doesn't make as much sense to spotlight players to the degree necessary to bring this out. However, if you are down to two or three players, it makes perfect sense.

Run the Character Anyway

It's always possible to just have another player, or the DM run the character. I'm not sure how much I would really recommend this one unless it's absolutely necessary. Many players don't feel comfortable running another person's character, in part because they are afraid of being blamed if the character dies and also because, at least in 4e, characters are so complex, it can be really hard to keep them straight. Chris Heard had the idea of "stunt doubles" or people who can't commit to being a regular party member but who can come to occasional games and run the character of a missing player or the monsters if everyone shows up.

If having a player run two PCs is asking too much and no stunt doubles are around, another option is to have the DM or a player run the character as an NPC or companion character. Again, Chris is the source of both of these ideas. The nice thing about running the character this way is that the reduced power choices makes the character a lot easier to run, but you still have all the benefits of having the character present, particularly for the story line. For instance, you might not want to go to the mage's tower without your wizard or trudge through an ancient ruin without your party's history major.

These are some of the options I've heard of, do you have any suggestions?

The Motto is "Never Split the Party" for a Reason

One of my players has a great blog about his experiences and thoughts regarding D&D and recently he wrote an entry about something that happened in one of our sessions. Due to how the session evolved, he felt that his character would do something completely different from the rest of the party. Basically, they were accompanying the king and queen back to their capital city and it was clear that the king's chief advisor was not quite right. Mike's character, Skamos, as someone who is generally leery of all authority, understandably wanted to follow around the advisor, but the rest of the party (and to some degree, the story) wanted to be in another location. This left me with a hard dilemma. He could go off and do what he wanted, realistically meaning he could be out of the game for the rest of the session at least. Alternatively, I could find a way to get him to the rest of the action. Since I want everyone at my table to have fun, I did the latter. Someone wearing a cloak just like the character he was following and of the same height and build left the inn where the king and queen were staying and traveled to the tavern where the rest of the group was hanging out, having a few drinks and flirting with the locals. I felt terrible doing it, but at least everyone was together right?

Unfortunately, it turns out it was just the beginning of the story just not flowing in the way I had hoped. The character also didn't feel like sharing in the libations. Completely understandable, since well, they were adulterated with goodnight tincture, but that wasn't something the characters would have known. This meant that when they went outside to get some fresh air, his character was the only one standing while the rest of them passed out. And when the bad guys who were there to kidnap them asked him to give up his weapons, he refused to do so. Which left me with the choices of attempting to (and probably actually) killing his character, leaving him behind or having the NPCs allow him to go with them with his weapons. In the end, I chose the last option, but I just felt like a complete failure at this point. As a person playing the game, I know that none of the other players want to sit out a session. Also, I really try to not railroad my players and had their characters all decided to call it a night and never go out drinking, I would have come up with a completely different story. But I was having a really hard time figuring out what to do when only some wanted to go in a particular direction.

Days, well really a few weeks later, I know that the failure wasn't completely my fault. Sure, there are things I could have done better. Having a better understanding of the motivations of my players' characters would definitely help. Finding other ways to get the unsuspecting PC unconscious would help too. But in the end, the burden isn't the DM's alone. Just like the NPCs can't always act the way they "naturally" would, PCs need to have the same flexibility. Otherwise, it can be a bit not fun and, at that point, why keep playing? And if a player is particularly adamant about not going with the rest of the group, as much as it might hurt to do it, it might be better to let them go. I do like his idea of letting the other players play the other NPCs in the fight, although I would be concerned that they might be a little easy on him since they might need him later.

All that said, I think there are times when the party could be split. Ameron on the Dungeon's Master has a great article about how splitting the party worked really well in a game he was in. And having a Leverage-style game would be really cool now and then. However, unless it's one of those times, please do you DM a small favor and don't split the party.

Send feedback using the contact form or through twitter, @sarahdarkmagic.

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