D&D Minion - Combat Initiative and Conditions Tracker

@newbiedm recently tweeted about a great new combat initiative and conditions tracker built using Google Apps called D&D Minion. I've been wanting one of these myself so I dug right in.

When you first visit D&D Minion, the screen is pretty blank. For those who don't want to log in using a Google login, the options are pretty sparse. You can add and remove PCs and NPCs, set initiative order and conditions, pick random PCs and NPCs and roll a d20. Entering the initiative on the left reorders the entire list and right clicking under the status column allows you to set the current conditions. Great stuff all around, but not earth shattering.

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However, once you login, you can see how useful this application really is. Logged in users can create campaigns and encounters, permanently saving the PC and NPC groupings. When you sign in, the PCs for your currently active campaign will automatically appear and you can add NPCs by using the Actions > Add from encounter menu option.

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There are definitely some things about it that weren't obvious to me out of the box, such as right clicking on different areas bringing up menus. For instance, I didn't get right away that I could edit saved characters by right clicking on them. Those are little things and a quick screen cast or screen shots could help with that. I also wish it could easily work with my Dungeon Mastering Tools account.

Newham Shire Adventure Log: Time is Critical

Our band of adventurers heads back to Derby after convincing Aurora Darkmagic to come with them. Back at the Crown and Arrows, they run into Anka. In the processing of catching up, Birkalis says something that upsets Ralph and the chicken storms out. At Banna’s suggestion, the group figures it’s a good idea to go to the keep and let Lord Alric know that they have found Aurora and see if perhaps he can help them get rid of A Goblin’s body. When they approach the front door of the keep, it yells out its normal warning of “Guards! Guards!” Most of the group is used this this, although Anka has never been subjected to it before.

Although they ask mainly to speak with Lord Alric, Lady Margaret accompanies her husband. She doesn’t look too great although it’s hard to tell if it’s due to the festivities from the previous night. Anka is extremely interested in Lady Margaret’s state and she asks if she might be able to touch the pregnant woman’s stomach. Lady Margaret consents, but as Anka touches Margaret’s stomach, the lady collapses. Lord Alric asks Banna and Birkalis to assist in bringing Lady Margaret to their chambers and they quickly do so. The party makes some heal checks to see what might be ailing the poor lady, and determine that she is going into early labor. Finnan leaves on Chompers to get Cordelia and Banna looks around the chamber.

While he is inspecting a painting, Banna disappears and a human wizard appears in his place. This newcomer quickly identifies himself and while he and the rest of the party are talking and attempting to figure out what just happened, Cordelia arrives. Cordelia confirms the diagnosis of early labor and states that she has some medicine to help with this, but she has just enough for a day or two and needs Black haw to make more. The group asks if there is any place nearby where they can get some and Cordelia replies in the affirmative and shows them approximately where it is. The group quickly leaves to find this material.

On their way to the area where the Black haw grows, they stop to take a short rest. Out of nowhere, a wolf appears from behind some trees. Around the same time, a couple clouds of golden motes appears near the party. A few moments later, two panthers also appear. The group soon guesses that the wolf is no ordinary wolf, but rather a werewolf in disguise. Eventually, they are able to overpower and kill the wolf and panthers, but not before 3 of them contract moon frenzy.

Given their wearied state, the group takes a look at their map, and determines the best course is to head towards a local manor house. When they get there, they notice that it’s a pretty nice, well-kept house. They knock at the door and an Elven woman appears. They explain who they are and what has happened and ask for shelter for the night. She seems very keen on learning more about the animals that attacked the party but allows them to sleep in the guest quarters. She explains that they are in the process of moving in and that her master is not home at present as he is out hunting. The group heads up stairs to rest.

Around 5 am, the group is awoken by the sound of people downstairs. Rested, they go down to check it out. There they meet Lord Byron, master of the manor. Upon the mention of the killing of the werewolf and panthers, it’s obvious that Byron tenses a bit but he shows no other signs of being upset. There is a bit of a tense conversation between he and Finnan. In the end, he invites them back another night to go hunting.

After that, they go back to town and give the Black haw to Cordelia to make more potions for Lady Margaret, who is feeling a bit better. When they get back to the Crown & Arrows, they see Ralph there, sporting a new purple silk cloak and a dagger among other goodies. He is sitting at a table with a number of women, playing poker. It is obvious that the women aren’t doing well at the game. One of the women turns to the rest of the group and asks, “Are these the men you were telling us about?”

Cool Tools: Card Protectors, Dungeon Mastering Tools and GIMP

Card Protectors

A number of my players really love these card protectors. They cut out the cards provided as part of the character sheet from the Wizards of the Coast character generator and place them inside these protective sleeves. The colors allow them to easily distinguish between the at-will, encounter, daily and item power cards and a little scotch tape allows them to write on the protectors with pencil. Here are the colors my players tend to use and how the color code them. They use green for at-will powers, black for daily powers, red for encounter powers, and gold for item cards.

Dungeon Mastering Tools

Online DM Screen for 4e

I used this for the first time last night. Created by the great folks over at Dungeon Mastering, this set of DM tools allows you to quickly create and organize your monsters, hazards, magic items, encounters and other bits of your game. For my game, it was great having that information all in one place. In full-screen mode for the encounters, I can rearrange the stat blocks in initiative order and I didn't have to keep track of a bunch of little pieces of paper. Another really nice feature is that it's possible to copy the information from these tools into Obsidian Portal.

While I plan on using the tool in the future, there are a couple of downsides. The fullscreen mode doesn't save your changes if you have to close the browser or move to another page. It would be great if it could do that so I could have most of it set up before the game and just quickly reorder things once my players roll initiative. Additionally, it would be great if it could keep track of the monster hit points for me too. I had to grab a sheet of paper to keep track of that.


I've never been a huge fan of the GIMP, but then again I find PhotoShop pretty hard to use as well (I'm a developer not a designer). However, it's pretty hard to beat free and the map drawing tutorial on NewbieDM has me itching to try it. Besides drawing maps, GIMP can help you with a number of your graphics needs, including creating your own tokens, creating fancy handouts and tweaking old maps.

Some GIMP Tutorials

Player, Character and Party Motivations

Dungeon Mastering has a great article on how to read the minds of your players. It couldn't come at a better time for me. That same day, before I saw the post, I had sent out an email to my players asking them to come up with some character and party motivations for our current campaign and to add them to the wave I had created (if they were ok with them being public to the rest of the party). The reason was, I had a ton of interesting ideas for the story, but I wasn't sure which ones they were going to like. I even gave them an example, from the point of view of one of the npcs, Ralph.

  • Become human again by proving that I can show courage.
  • For while I'm still a chicken, obtain a rich looking cloak and other adornments so people stop thinking of me as an average chicken.
  • Get enough gold to buy a hippogriff. Chompers is nice and all, but that was one nice ride and, when I go home, I want to go home in style.

Some quick backstory, Ralph is a prince from another land who was turned into a chicken by his pregnant girlfriend's mother when he wouldn't stand up to his father. The curse will end when he finally shows some cojones. So, he's got a few long term goals and a few shorter term ones.

While this approach has worked to a degree, it hasn't necessarily given me the kind of details I really need. Most of the goals my players put down are much broader in scale and very little in the way of short term goals. Their goals help me in a grand story arc way, but not in the week to week planning.

To find the bits to help me in the week to week planning, I need to folllow Nicholas' suggestions, especially the ones involving the character sheet. When it comes down to it, the character sheet tells me what they are most interested in and they most want to come up against. A party with few area effect spells might not appreciate an army of minions quite as much. A player character with glasses that allow him to read any language might, you know, want to come across items in lots of different languages. As a result of this post, I've now asked my players to send me their character sheets as well.

In the comments of the post, one of my players mentioned that he used to use questionnaires to get some information from his players. He also pointed to a pretty good player questionnaire from Newbie DM.

In addition to character motivations, I think it's also important to know about the player and party motivations, especially the types of motivations not covered by the DMG. For instance, some players have a particular scene they eventually want to play out in a game regardless of character. Likewise, to help keep a group together and make it a little less like herding cats, it would be great if you can get your party to set up some group motivations. If you've heard the Penny Arcade/PvP podcasts, it helps that they are all part of "Acquisitions Incorporated" and so, they are trying to increase their notoriety and are able to make a fair number of role playing opportunities around the tensions of individual and group goals.

How do you determine what your players are looking for from your game?

WoW: Jace Hall pre-Wrath Blizzard Interview (w/ Felicia Day!)

This is so funny! I also like the outtake of the conversation between Jace and Felicia. The missing eye remark is probably going to make it into my game some day.

Watch on YouTube

Blogs I love: Chatty DM

Musings of the Chatty DM is a blog written by Philippe-Antoine Ménard, an extroverted gamer geek with over 25 years of game master experience. He aims to capture that feeling many get when they enter their favorite gaming shop and are enveloped by conversations from people who love to talk about the games they are in and the ones they wish they were in. He is doing a lot of cool stuff and I enjoy reading his posts on his blog and on Twitter. In addition, I can't wait to hear more about a number of new projects he has in the works. If you need further endorsement, Wil Wheaton recently gave him a big thumbs up on Twitter.

@wilw: @ChattyDM Have I told you how much I love your blog? If I haven’t: I love your blog.

Some Recent Posts

Additional Writing

GM-fu: Session Prep
In addition to the great advice on his blog, you can get even more great advice from this free booklet.

Successful session planning requires inspiration and execution. We will help with both! Learn how to foster ideas, mine tropes from TV and movies, and tailor content to your players with this workbook from the GenCon 2008 workshop. We will also explain how to take those concepts and compose your session notes by creating a development cycle and packing your notes with the essential elements.

From Here to There: A Collection of Nine Traveling Adventures

From Here to There. Because no PC should ever relax.

Published by Goodman Games, this collection is aimed at giving game masters encounters to throw at the party during their travel to or from other locations, such as dungeons. They are meant to be challenging for parties while not taking away from the overall campaign.

For Want of a Story: Rumpelstiltskin

For my current campaign, I used the story of Rumpelstiltskin as a story hook.

Brief Synopsis

For those who are not familiar with the story, it is one of the tales collected by the Brothers Grimm and can also be found in a number of other countries with the name of the main character changed. In the story, a miller wants to secure the marriage of his daughter to the king so he brags to the king that his daughter can spin straw into gold. Very interested in such a gift, the king calls for her and tells her that if she cannot spin straw to gold for three nights straight, he will execute her. Obviously, the girl is quite upset by this turn of events and begins to cry. A creature hears her cries and agrees to spin the straw to gold for her in return for payment. For the first two nights, this works well, but on the third night the girl has nothing to give for payment. The creature asks her for her first-born child and she agrees.

The king is so impressed he agrees to marry the girl. Some time later, soon after the birth of the first child, the creature appears, asking for his payment. She again cries and pleas with him, offering him her newly found wealth. After a time, the creature relents and tells her that he will allow her to keep her child if she can guess his name in three days.

Knowing she does not have much time, the queen tries everything she can to find out the name. Just before the final meeting, she is able to find out his name and fulfill the challenge.

Incorporating the Tale

I'm not sure why, but I've always enjoyed this tale. It might have something to do with picturing the scene where the queen reveals the creature's name and his subsequent melt-down. Besides my enjoyment of the tale, in many ways, it is perfect for 4e. There are at least two ways of solving the problem, finding out the creature's name or just finding the creature and killing it. The process of finding the creature's name or the creature itself is a great excuse for exploring a local town and its surrounding area. In addition, a number of skills can be used for finding out any information and the skill challenge mechanic can be employed to help frame the game.

For my game, I made a few important changes. I introduced the creature, in the form of a goblin, before the characters even met the female character, Lady Margaret. On their way in between towns, they came upon an overturned cart and a farmer desperately trying to gather his chickens. There was a comic moment where it seemed like one of the chickens was leading other chickens in creating chaos but that is a story for another time. The farmer did tell the group that the reason his cart overturned is because a goblin had ran out from the woods in front of his cart, scaring his oxen. The goblin was repeating a rhyme.

I must not say my first name
for that is the object of my game.
Then that child, I will make him mine
And bring him home to Clementime.

This introduction captures the essence of the story and my players recognized it pretty much right away. Which is great because they then knew what sort of trouble might be upsetting poor Lady Margaret.

One of the biggest changes I made, and probably most important, is I changed the creature's name. My players asked the female character, Lady Margaret, right away if she tried "Rumpelstiltskin." She replied, "Oh, so you've heard the story too." I picked a pretty silly name, A Goblin, in part because it allowed me to let slip the name pretty early, before they even met Lady Margaret. During their encounter with the spriggans, my players asked the one they kept alive if he had seen the goblin, and more importantly, if they knew his name. He replied with something along the lines of "He said he was just a goblin." It was a great who's on first moment. But the name could be anything. When I told my brother my plans, he recommended the character from Superman, Mr. Mxyzptlk.

Another great part of this story is that it might seem quite strange to a modern ear that someone would trade their child, even an unborn one, for their life. In my case, I made it even a bit more absurd. Margaret had been upset because she and her now husband, Alric, were very much in love but Alric's father wanted a "more suitable" bride for his son, preferably another member of nobility. Her reason was quite simple. Since she had already heard the story, she thought she had the answer. When it turned out she did not, she was crestfallen.

Finally, I tried to answer the question why the goblin would want a baby. This is where the Clementime in the rhyme comes into play. It turns out that Clementime is really C. C. Clementime, President of Enterprised Unlimited. The spriggans had one of her cards in their treasure.

The back of the card stated that the card should be tapped three times. Doing so turns the card into a catalog of items available from the company. One of the catalog pages has a listing for children with the detail that the company is currently out of stock on that item. [The card itself is based on a card Matt Cutts found in an old book he bought at a books sale.]

Newham Shire Adventure Log: Snakes in a Temple

When we last left our band of noble, and not so noble, adventurers, they had just defeated the evil Oni C C Clementime and her goblin assistant, A Goblin. After killing the goblin, they come downstairs and rummage through the items in the evil doers rooms. In the goblin’s room, they don’t find much beyond the stink of filth and a book, Dragons of Depravity by Friar Hyckum. In Clementime’s room, they find a locked safe. Finnan attempts to disable the safe but takes a blast of fire instead. Inside and unharmed are Clementime’s personal papers. The team grabs these and continues downstairs.

One of the first things they notice upon getting to the first floor is the female lizardfolk who was sneaking through the library with a boy before everything went crazy. Two other lizardfolk, who appear to be her parents, are chastising her, saying things like “Why would you sneak off like that, particularly with a boy you don’t know” and “We thought something terrible had happened to you.” Beyond these three, there is just a general current of uncertainty over what just happened.

The group goes outside to try to retrieve (and probably loot) the body of Clementime. When they get within 200 yards, they see a large creature who looks very much like Clementime, lift a body and sling it over its shoulder. It hears the advancing party members and disappears into thin air.

After talking to the lizardfolk some more, and receiving two more books, The Tower of Lilith and Kalthor the Dragon, the group heads back to town. They stop at the keep to tell Lord Alric and Lady Margaret the news. When they approach the door, the door again cries for the guards once it sees them. Lady Margaret is the first to respond to their request of an audience. There is a dinner party going on and even in her state, she is quite tipsy. Although the sight of the dead goblin has quite the affect on her, she is glad to know that A Goblin won’t be bothering her anymore. Lord Alric is also pleased to hear that things are probably going to be better with the Lizardfolk.

When they return to their rooms, they seem a now familiar sight. Bampfylde Moore Carew is in their room waiting for them. They go over the papers that they retrieved and show Bampfylde the portrait. He recognizes it right away as Aurora Darkmagic, the rebelious youngest daughter of Sirius Darkmagic. He states that there is a reward for her safe return. In addition to that news, the group learns from the letters that C C Clementime was part of a much larger group: her brother, Darius Clementime, ...

After meeting with Bampfylde, the group decides to take part in the festivities going on in the tavern. Through various performances, they are able to raise some gold coins and they use some of them to buy drinks for all those present.

The next day, the group decides to hunt down Aurora Darkmagic. They find the temple she’s been in without incident. When they enter, they are confronted by 2 fire snakes and 2 crushgrip constrictors. While the outcome was uncertain at times, they managed to defeat the snakes and get further into the temple. Deeper in the temple was a locked door. Through it they could hear the cries of a help from what sounded like a woman. Eventually they were persuaded to unlock the door and inside they found Aurora Darkmagic, a bit parched and a little hungry.

Cool Tools: Adopt-A-Soldier, Combat Pad, Flip-Mat Basic and Sacred Myths Legendary Puzzles

Open Design Adopt-A-Soldier Program

Yesterday was Veteran's Day here in the U.S. and while we have our veterans and soldiers on our minds, I wanted to share a really nice program with you. The Adopt-A-Soldier Program allows sponsors to purchase a Kobold Quarterly subscription for an active member of the military. The recipient will receive a four-issue subscription (pdf + print) as well as a free copy of New Gods of Mankind, from Dark Skull Studios. Role-playing games are popular among those who serve our country and I think this is a great way to show them that we care.

GameMastery Combat Pad

I already added this item to the Christmas list I sent my parents (by the way, Google Wave is pretty neat for stuff like that). The GameMastery Combat Pad is a great tool for dungeon masters as it helps easy track initiative order and notes during combat. The board itself is a wet and dry erasable board with a steel core so magnets will stick right to it. It comes with 8 player magnets (blue), 8 monster magnets (black), 4 non-player character magnets (green), and 2 each of the round arrow, turn arrow and next turn magnets. There is also a magnet booster pack available. Along with this tool, I also asked for small colored magnet markers thinking they would probably be useful for monitoring conditions and the like in addition to the magnets we use on the game table. One of the reviewers on the Paizo site showed how he used double-sided tape to attach the pad to a $2 Target picture frame so it could stand up on its own and everyone at the table can see it. He also explained that he uses magnetic tape to create personalized magnets for each of his player characters.

GameMastery Flip-Mat Basic

I've owned two of these flip-mats for a few months now and I love them. Unlike my larger battlemat, there are no worries about which markers I use or how quickly I can clean it off. I've had a map drawn on one of these for months and it came off easily. The only downsides of these versus my Chessex battlemat is that they aren't quite as big and they aren't quite as flat. However, I think their strong points more than make up for that. They fold down to 8 x 10 inches and are easily transportable. For DMs who travel to the game location, this means that the map can be drawn before you arrive and placed out on the table. A number of different marker types can be used, including dry erase, wet erase and permanent marker. In addition, I find them much easier to store than my Chessex mat.

Sacred Myths Legendary Puzzles

This is more along the lines of my Geek Toys (Or things I want to work into my game) post. This set of wooden puzzles are meant to be solved sequentially, although it's possible to solve them in any order. There will be a total of seven of them, with each of them are based around great moments in science and history. From the description, I believe hints are provided. Some players are really good at role playing or and some are good at tactics, but the game can be a bit light on ways to engage puzzle solvers. Successfully completing one of these puzzles might help unlock a big secret or plot point and hints could be obtained through skill challenges.

  1. Davinci's Secret - The Clue
    Break the codes which will help recover the Secret Scroll that is entombed within DaVinci's greatest mystery, unearthing the clues to Puzzle 2...'The Equation'.
  2. The Equation
    Establish a base by arranging the wooden puzzle pieces within the boundaries. Follow by engaging a piece of DaVinci's Secret to decipher the scientist's formulas which must precede Puzzle 3... 'Legend of the King'.
  3. 3. Legend of the King
    With fragments bestowed by 'The Equation', join the quest to liberate the legendary scroll which in turn will extricate the guide to exploring Puzzle 4...'The Enigmatic Temple'.
  4. The Enigmatic Temple
    According to "Legend", there is but one way to explore this sacred site. Sequestered within the temple walls are blueprints needed to interpret the mystic 'Pillars of Atlantis'.
  5. Pillars of Atlantis
    Divide and align these fallen pillars for guidance towards 'Carta Blanca'. Plans to rebuild are at hand, yet no part of 'The Enigmatic Temple™' can reconstruct the entity.
  6. Carta Blanca
    Map your points carefully to expose 'Carta Blanca's mysterious hidden clues as these determining details will sustain you on your final approach to uncovering the greatest mystery of all - 'Secrets of the Pyramid'.
  7. Secrets of the Pyramid
    Coming Soon

Blogs I Love: Chgowiz's Old Guy RPG Blog

This week's post actually includes two blogs, all done by the same person, Michael Shorten a.k.a. @chgowiz. Michael has been playing tabletop RPGs since 1979, when he bought the boxed Basic set. As his personal blog states, he enjoys sharing the fun of original D&D, one game at a time. In addition to his blogs, he is involved in two campaigns, writes reviews on Game Cryer, is an active user of twitter and provides a number of RPG resources on his personal blog. Besides RPGs, Michael is a former amateur stock car driver and he has served in the US Army and US Air Force. While I don't always agree with him, I always enjoy getting his point of view, especially since it tends to involve being creative and doing what seems right, not necessarily what the books say.

Recent Posts

Chicago RPG Examiner's Articles

Recent Posts

Swords & Wizardry

Michael is a big fan of the Swords & Wizardry game by Mythmere Games. As described on their website, S&W is a "retro-clone" of the original version Gary Gygax published in 1974. The makers of the game create products that support free-form roleplaying games, those where there is a light framework of rules instead of a compendium of rules that attempt to cover every situation. With its lighter rules, the goal of the game is to encourage imagination.

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

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