Question: As game master, do you ask your players to come over and play “Dungeons and Dragons,” or do you say, let’s play “Airship Defenders of the Forgotten Realms”? In other words, does presenting a specific campaign arc, with stated objectives for character types and a plan to emulate a certain genre of adventure serve everyone better than a generic, “Let’s play D&D”? While there are certainly times it is OK to say, “Let’s play D&D,” I thought it would be worth exploring how being specific can provide a table experience that helps better meet everyone’s expectations. The...Read More
Author: Troy E. Taylor
About The Author
Troy's happiest when up to his elbows in plaster molds and craft paint, creating terrain and detailing minis for his home game. A career journalist and Werecabbages freelancer, he also claims mastery of his kettle grill, from which he serves up pizza to his wife and three children.
This summer, I went to two high school reunions. My own, dinner and drinks at a local tavern, and my wife’s, a picnic held at an old country barn. (1) I was reminded that the occasion of a reunion can serve as solid backstory to explain how an adventuring party comes together. While in real life, I don’t think any of my classmates would have jumped at a suggestion to form up ranks, designate one of us a cleric, and go then plunder the nearby coal mines. But still, in a fantasy setting, it is plausible enough. Especially since...Read More
I prefer to GM without a screen. Mostly, it’s because I like to roll in the open, as it builds trust and fosters intimacy. I like the feel of being “part of the game” — in the company of others at the table. The screen, being a barrier, works against that. And yet, of late, I’ve had need of a screen. Maybe need is too strong a word, but for the section of Rise of Tiamat I’ve been running, the screen has been handy. So what uses have compelled me to forsake my trust-building openness for that four-paneled board, at...Read More
Well, our initial look at flavor text for cues to roleplaying monsters differently generated a good response. So here are some more to utilize in your game. Good dragons gone bad Sometimes it is fun to pit the PCs against a metallic dragon. Not that they are really that much different than the chromatic ones, but the “good” dragons have noble motivations. Like overzealous paladins (except they have huge wings and devastating breath weapons), these guys aren’t so easily tricked into “looking the other way.” An obvious sort of conflict could occur if a metallic dragon and the PCs...Read More
Ahhh, summer. Time to sling the haversack over your shoulder and do some wilderness exploring. Some groups take to hex crawls with enthusiasm. Tromping across unknown territory, wind ruffling their hair, owlbears, werewolves and hill giants to slay as they cross the boundary of that little six-sided section of map. However, it’s not for everyone. Some groups find the blind meandering into another map section tedious. They don’t want to explore endless tracks of land. They want story. They want plot. They want to know where the trail leads. Fair enough. Here are three tips to make wilderness exploration more palatable...Read More
GMing for a party of first-level characters is fun. All the numbers and stats are manageable, the PCs themselves fit within snug parameters, and no matter how much hit points grace you allow, one of them is not likely to survive the session. But how do you frame an adventure that isn’t all vermin, goblins and kobolds? The players have been all through that. They probably want something different. I think taking a cue from the Robin Hood legend is a good way to go. (Yes, I’ve been inspired by my bookshelf, again. This time is was “Hood,” by...Read More
Monsters have personalities. Dragons are haughty. Goblins are sneaky. Hobbits are tricksy (or so the Stoors of the River-folk claim), and so on. I think in d20 fantasy games there is a tendency to view monsters only by their stats, by their combat capabilities. And by following those statistical qualities — playing to their strengths, as it were — the GM is defining them adequately for the task. Even so, I think there are cues to be found in the flavorful descriptions in the Monster Manuals and Bestiaries of these games and in real-life resources, too, that lets you...Read More
In school, I opted for music and film appreciation, leaving my studies of art when the crayons got put away after the third grade. My loss, because art appreciation is a wonderful spur for the imagination. Still, it’s never too late to learn. During a recent visit to the St. Louis Art Museum, I met the following characters set in canvas and carved from stone. Any NPCs for a future game? You decide. Bakkhos, the satyr, king of the feast Most satyrs establish their domain in vineyards and orchards. But Bakkhos is different. The king of the feast is...Read More
Published adventures are more abundant and accessible than ever before. The depth, range and quality of the material is as strong as ever, too. That increases the likelihood of GMs incorporating published adventures into their games. Of late, I’ve tried to streamline my process for preparing published material, whether I’m porting in an encounter from an outside source to use in the next session, or outlining several sessions from a campaign guide. These three things are what I consider my priorities when gleaning from published adventures for my table. Information transmission I really try to zero in on identifying...Read More
In a recent session of Hoard of the Dragon Queen, the players jumped on skis and whisked their way down the mountainside, pursued by the cultists’ elite ski troopers — dwarves armed with crossbows. Cue the James Bond music, please. A little DIY It was a chance to put into play the chase rules as detailed in the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide. For the DIY crowd, the d20 chart in the DMG was easily adaptable to cards, which I always prefer for chases. I think there is more immediacy to a chase when the players draw a card, read...Read More
Sometimes listening to a podcast is a little like eavesdropping on a conversation. The topic is so interesting you want to jump in and contribute. So it was when I was listening to a recent installment of “In Our Time” hosted by Melvyn Bragg for BBC4. The show regularly invites a panel of experts to have a discussion on a given subject, usually history and the humanities, but occasionally science. The episode that had me on my seat was on Beowulf, the poem about the Scandinavian champion, and later, king, who fought Grendel, its mother, then five decades later,...Read More
As I run almost exclusively in the d20 fantasy sphere of games — Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, d20 Modern — one of the tools that gets used often is a combat grid, whether it is a published or dry-erase footmat, HirstArts tiles of my construction or printed cardstock tiles. But should you use the grid for social encounters? You might think the default decision for social encounters is to never use the grid, reasoning that if the players aren’t focused on the table, then they can concentrate on roleplay. And there’s some truth to that. Certainly a majority of...Read More
Depending on the experience level of the players gathered around your game table, one thing to keep in mind is that the array of class, race and faction choices available to them can be overwhelming — paralyzing, even. Even in a standard fantasy game of elves, dwarves, humans and halflings playing wizards, fighters, clerics and thieves, new players will inevitably ask: “What’s the best choice?” It’s actually a hard question for GMs to answer. Mainly because the answer lies somewhere between the best choice for the player (elf princess? sure), the best choice for the party (well, we...Read More
Are your gaming sessions a little stale? Maybe what your table needs is a pie in the face. No, make that a mud pie. Fair warning: This advice may not work with your group. It may not even work with most groups. But maybe what you need is a bit of things you step in, go squish, and involve unwashed and unbraided hobbit feet. The appeal of gross-out humor might only be toward a slim segment of the gaming community. After all, things that make you go yuck are, by definition, inappropriate. On the other hand, for some of...Read More
So I’m watching an episode of my new favorite TV show, “The Librarians,” which is about a D&D adventuring party …. (Oh, wait, I’m sorry — it’s really about these “librarians” — who fight bad magic on the side of good with John Laroquette offering sage advice from the sidelines.) And in this episode they need to make a pentagram to ward off the magic of that nameless sorceress from Arthurian Britain (hope that isn’t too spoilery). But hey, this is the modern world! How do you make a pentagram? Well, one of the librarians, armed with blue duct...Read More
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