Monday, February 12, 2024

Dnd Character Journal live on Kickstarter!

Hello awesome Dnd people! I'm excited to announce that my next project is now live on Kickstarter!

Dnd Character Journal is a mobile companion app for 5e players to engage with their characters (and the larger world) during games and even between sessions. There are downtime activity mini games, areas to take notes, and prompts to help develop your character.

If you're interested in learning more or being part of the campaign, you can check out the project on Kickstarter:

There are also early-bird rewards for all of you who have followed and supported my work, so be sure to visit the campaign page and share it with anyone who might be interested.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Next project: Dnd Character Journal

I'm thrilled to announce my next project: Dnd Character Journal! This is a mobile companion app for 5e players to engage with their characters (and the larger world) during games and even between sessions. There are downtime activity mini games, areas to take notes, and prompts to help develop your character.

If you're interested in hearing more, you can sign up to be notified when the Kickstarter launches:

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Challenges as opportunities for clever play

I’ve written a lot about different ways to place traps and challenges in front of the party. But I think the advice can be distilled into a single mantra: we shouldn’t place obstacles just to wear down the characters or their resources. Instead, we should see them as an opportunity to encourage clever play.

Over the decades and editions, Dnd has shifted from a gritty, deadly dungeon-delving game to character-driven heroic fantasy. In light of this shift, it makes sense to reexamine how we think about challenges within our dungeons:

  • Are we excited when players find clever solutions, or are we disappointed when the characters emerge unscathed?
  • Are we predetermining what the solution must be, or are we allowing players a fair chance to come up with their own ideas? (Not to say we have to allow every crazy idea to work.)
  • Are we including objects to interact with and environmental factors that enable players to come up with these clever solutions?
  • Are we providing visual clues for traps to encourage and enable clever play?
  • Are we incorporating environmental challenges that allow for clever solutions?

Thinking about obstacles this way helps reinforce a cooperate play style: it’s the characters vs. the environment, not the characters vs. the DM. As DMs, we should be fans of the characters give them the opportunity to be heroes (if the dice allow!)

Friday, October 13, 2023

Players want to do things, not experience things

Railroading becomes an occupational hazard when DMing or playing in a large published campaign. If you’re lucky, the campaign will offer choices– which quest to complete first, which faction to ally with. But these choices still eventually lead to the same conclusion. They have to, or else the campaign book wouldn’t be able to have any conclusion at all.

The result, however, is that the players are essentially acting out a choose-your-own-adventure book without much ability to forge their own path. How can the campaign remain fun and engaging when the conclusion is already written?

This gets to my larger point of why I’m generally not a fan of big published campaigns: players want to do things, not experience things. They don’t want to just experience someone else’s pre-written story. 

Here are a few ways you can put this into practice:

  • The plot shouldn’t happen at the PCs or around them. The characters and their choices should be the ones driving the direction of the story.
  • In lieu of a large published campaign plot, consider steering the story towards the random things the players latch onto. There’s an excellent blog article explaining this process in more detail, and I believe it’s one of the best ways we can make our sessions fun for our players.
  • Victory in combat encounters shouldn’t be a given. Again, we want to avoid predetermined outcomes. Make sure combat encounters advance the story in interesting ways regardless of who wins.
  • Locations and dungeon rooms should have fun and interesting things for the characters to interact with (things to do!). Flowery descriptions and deep lore should be in service to the characters, not an end to themselves.
Let me know of any other ways you put this idea into practice!

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Plan for failure to allow for actual stakes

If the campaign story requires that the party win every fight, it can be tempting to hold back punches to ensure the party survives. But what’s the point of playing the game if you already know what will happen?

In order to allow for the possibility of failure, we need combats that are not fights to the death. Introducing different stakes to combat encounters helps keep them exciting and memorable.

For example:

  • The players are trying to stop cultists from completing a ritual which progresses each turn they maintain concentration.
  • Members of a Thieves’ Guild are trying to escape with an artifact they stole.

In these scenarios, the enemies have other objectives other than just killing the party, so it’s not the end of the world if the enemies succeed. It takes the story in a different and interesting direction. As a DM, you can give both sides a legitimate chance and see how it turns out. Success is only meaningful if there is chance of failure.

What other encounters or stakes have you used to great effect?

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Finding VTT Maps

Maps are a great way to build immersion and help a location feel memorable. Thankfully, there are tons of free resources out there for battlemaps. 

Lost atlas:

This site has an index of over 5,000 battle maps and is incredibly useful for searching for a specific type of map. You can search for keywords, filter by environment, etc. Generally I’ve found the results to be a lot better than Google images.

Other useful map collection sites:

Map making communities:

There are many awesome map making programs such as Dungeondraft, Wonderdraft, and Inkarnate. Equally awesome are the communities surrounding the software. People who love making maps will post their creations for others to enjoy. Although the map quality can vary, there are always new maps being posted and the backlog is enormous. 

There are a few subreddits and Discord servers where people post their creations:

Patreon previews:

Many map makers on Patreon will post some free maps so that people can see what kind of work they do.

Let me know if there are other places you go to for maps!

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Treating low-CR creatures as traps

As your party advances in level, certain monsters no longer pose much of a threat. If a combat encounter would be so lopsided that the enemies have no chance of winning, should you roll initiative and run a full battle?

Imagine a level 10 party facing the following monsters: 

  • A skeleton lying near a treasure chest
  • A dust mephit springing out of a desk
  • A violet fungus lashing out at anyone who enters a cave

These types of encounters make sense for the situation, and shouldn’t go away just because the party leveled up. With these types of low-risk encounters, instead of running a full combat, you can treat the monster like a trap. Tell the player what their character would see or hear, let them narrate how they would handle the situation, and then have them make the appropriate roll. 

For example:

  • If the character would try to jump out of the way or raise their shield, have them make a Dex save. 
  • If the character would try to kill the creature before it attacks them, have the character make an attack roll.
If the character makes their roll, they are able to avoid any damage. Otherwise, the monster lands an attack before being destroyed by the high level party. 

This has several advantages:

  • You can include creatures that make sense for the environment and situation without slowing the game down.
  • The players feel powerful when they can swiftly handle threats that previously required a full combat.
  • There is still a chance the character suffers minor damage from the “trap,” encouraging the party to proceed cautiously and thoughtfully.