Thursday, April 12, 2018

D&D 5e: There's No School Like Old School

Artist: Bill Willingham
A recent post on Facebook got me thinking about Old School play again, and how Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition can be adapted to imitate the feel of older editions.

The gist of the post was that a DM had his players roll 3d6 in order to determine their character's ability scores and the now 5th level Rogue was concerned about his exceptionally low hit points (which they are also rolling for) due to a low Constitution and some bad die rolls.

Of course, there was a combination of "Your DM sucks!" and "This is old school... Suck it up and have fun with it." responses, which all somewhat miss the point because Session 0 should have set the expectations for that game...

But I digress... because that's not what this post is about. It's about B/X-5.

You see, a couple years back I had actually started to compile a list of rules for an 5th Edition compatible "old school" game based upon the D&D 5th Edition System Reference Document (SRD5). But, you know how life can sometimes get in the way of shit you want to do.

Anyway, after seeing this post, I took some of the pieces of my original idea and crafted a document for anyone who wants to try their own version of Old School 5th Edition. You can view the Google document here.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Episode 7: Humor, Mass Combat, Foreshadowing - Running Storm King's Thunder

In Episode 7 of Running Storm King's Thunder, I discuss humor at the table, the good and the bad, and what can be done if it is getting out of hand. Also, how to involve PCs in a mass combat (or run it "off screen"). Lastly, I talk a bit about my player's progress to Grud Haug and how it has given me some challenges in game.

(2:20) Humor vs. Disruptive Humor at the table
(4:00) Setting expectations with Session 0
(6:15) Talking to disruptive players about the tone
(8:00) Does the DM want a heavy tone and the players wants something lighter?
(12:00) Stop passive-aggressive bullying “humor” 
(16:35) Using DM humor to set a different tone for a scene
(16:55) Meta Humor in Storm King’s Thunder
(18:30) Heartbreak Old Tower
(21:00) Mass Combat options
(23:45) Building a PC encounter while running the mass combat “off stage”
(25:00) Focusing on the character actions in a “narrative” mass combat
(27:45) Setting up a set-piece encounter as a part of a mass battle
(31:10) Creating tension in a mass combat by ratcheting up the encounter challenge
(35:00) Using NPCs as a buffer against a TPK in a dangerous battle
(38:00) Foreshadowing important NPCs (redux)
(43:00) Player Motivation prior to the Eye
(43:45) Assault on Grudd Haug
(49:31) Giving the players “the objective”
(56:00) Sewer pieces I’m 3D printing for an upcoming session

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Episode 6: Metagaming and Memorable NPCs - Running Storm King's Thunder

In episode 6, I briefly recap recent blog posts. I go into a little more detail on my recent DMing failure related to meta-gaming. Give advice on ways to set up important NPCs in Storm King's Thunder in advance of their appearance in the book as written, and tips to make NPCs stand out in the players' minds.

(02:45) GM 101 Blog Series 
(04:28) Giving Love To Other Small Publishers
(09:52) Don’t Make My Metagame Mistake
(11:05) As a good player, don’t spoil it for others!
(12:45) Players shouldn’t need to metagame to succeed in the game.
(14:45) Mistake 1: Scouting Grudd Haug
     (19:03) Mistake 2: Sneaking into Grudd Haug
     (19:30) What I should have done.
(27:42) Making NPCs memorable
(27:42) Challenges making NPC memorable in SKT
(29:30) Better utilizing major NPCs like Zephyros and Harshnag
(31:32) Improve the hooks by introducing or foreshadowing the NPCs earlier
(42:35) Use NPC letters of introduction
(44:25) NPCs On the Fly
     (44:25) Have a list of game world or culturally appropriate names ready.
(50:20) Make short notes on accent and personality
(54:10) Pick a couple quirks or affectations to make the NPCs stick in the player’s minds
(56:30) Go against type, subvert expectations
(59:35) Transitioning from Starter Set (Lost Mines)

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Don't Forget the Little People

Goodman Games, Troll Lord Games, Kobold Press
Trolls, Kobolds, and Good Men are worthy of your attention.
♫ YouTube streams killed the RPG star... ♫

Matt Colville has made over $1 Million on his Kickstarter and well on his way to $1.5 M… That’s great. I’m not jealous. Really, I’m not… (ok, maybe just a bit).

I’ve been lucky enough to have a moderately successful blog that nets me just about enough advertising to buy 1 hardback book every 6 months or so. I’m reasonably pleased with my mild “success”, but I’m not trying to make a living in RPGs. Many others are (or at least supplementing their income).

This is a little reminder that there are a lot of creators out there working hard for the love of the game. Some have Patreons, some have Kickstarters, and some are full time game designers who really deserve your attention as well because they have amazing products. I’d like to highlight a few of them who have helped my game out.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

GM 101: Don't Sweat the Meta (too much)

Artist: Jim Holloway (Dragon #88)
So even after 40 years in gaming, I made a huge mistake in DMing last week’s session.

You see, I have this blind spot when it comes to metagaming.

I like the world to be mysterious. I want the characters (and therefore the players) to know only what they should know in the game. I want the mechanics to fade into the background as much as possible, so the “reality” of the situation is pure from a story perspective.

But sometimes I let that desire to have a metagame-free session get in the way of the what's best at the table.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Episode 5: Chapter 3 and Side Treks - Running Storm King's Thunder

In episode 5, I recap the blog posts on Sandboxes, Railroads, and Social Contracts. I also dive a little deeper on Chapter 3 and side treks to give your players options during the more sandbox portion of the adventure. Spoilers start after minute 30.

(3:24) Sandboxes and Railroads
(10:30) Adding player agency to published adventures like Storm King’s Thunder
(18:00) Adjusting published material to the actions of the players
(21:00) The Social Contract and what it means for your table
(26:45) How Session 0 defines the Social Contract
(30:10) SKT - How to get the most out of Chapter 3
(31:00) Strategies to tease plot threads and side quests
    (33:25) Grouping encounters by their regional locations or their quests trees
    (35:00) Example - tying together regional plot hooks around the Evermoors
    (41:45) Grouping Chapter 3 encounters by their quest trees
    (43:00) Grouping Chapter 3 encounters make them the “best” with rumors
(44:55) Using rumors to get the PCs onto a plot thread
(48:05) Using shelved “random” encounters or side treks to improv as needed
(51:30) Random encounters don’t have to be about combat
(54:00) Examples of encounters to drop in
    (54:20) Womford Bat and Death in the Cornfields (
    (55:50) Dungeon #144 and the Evermoors
    (56:25) Fire Giant Dig Site
    (57:40) Pick out Barbarians to highlight
    (59:12) Drow encounter in the Dwarf fortress
    (1:01:30) Adventurer's League "Bad Fruul" adventures
    (1:02:45) Blagthokus the Cloud Giant (HotDQ)
    (1:03:45) Cloud Giant's Bargain
    (1:05:35) Frost Giants raiding the coastal towns

Thursday, February 8, 2018

GM 101: What is the social contract?

D&D characters arguing
So in my recent posts about “Railroading” and “Session 0”, I’ve talked a lot about expectations at the table, and how it is important for everyone to want the same (or at least similar) things out of the game to make sure everyone is having fun.  Implied in that statement is an idea that has gone around gaming circles for many years -- the “social contract”.

What is the social contract?

The idea of the social contract is that there is an unspoken agreement at the table that everyone is there to have fun and no one player or GM should act in such a way as to harm the fun of another player.

Basically, as Wil Wheaton put it, “Don’t be a d!ck.”

That’s the summary version, but there is a little more elaboration related to RPGs. We all play D&D (and similar games) as an escape from the day to day stresses. We have enough problems and personal conflict in the real world to have to come to a game only to face the same personal conflicts or stresses we’d like to put aside on a Friday or Saturday night. If it’s not fun, people will quit the game.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

GM 101: Railroads and Sandboxes and Agency, Oh My!

A lot (and I mean a LOT) of digital ink has been spilled over the topics of railroading, sandbox play, and player agency in games like Dungeons & Dragons… but often a new GM comes into these conversations not fully understanding what that actually means for their own game.  Well, I’m going to try to break it down for someone who is newer the the GM chair.

First, we need to define terms in the conversation, because depending upon your point of view, the terms themselves may already loaded with bias.

Player Agency - This is the ability for a player to have meaning choices in the game world. This is portrayed as freedom from pre-destination. Freedom from an "illusion of choice" where a particular path is forced upon the players by will of the game master. In other words, if the player selects path A, it will be different than if they had selected path B. The two paths can end up in the same place, but they must be meaningfully different (I’ll try to explain that more in a bit).

Railroad - This term is generally used for when the GM is guiding the players along a path upon which the players cannot diverge (i.e. - you can’t turn a train off its tracks. The players lose the ability to affect the plot (and therefore, player agency) , because a pre-defined course or story has already been set. This is usually used as a pejorative. However, there are times where rails are useful as a GM tool (I’ll also get to that in a minute), as long at the players understand and agree why they are there.

Sandbox - This term is used when the GM presents a “open world” scenario where the players have the most freedom to move in any direction, follow any adventure hook presented, or abandon said hooks at any time for something else that captures their interest. There are few constraints to the players actions. Sandbox games supposedly offer the most player agency, but even a sandbox game can turn into a railroad, or can suffer from other issues that remove player agency.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Episode 4: Goldenfields and Triboar - Running Storm King's Thunder

In Episode 4, I get around to the Goldenfield and Triboar encounters. There's a lot to unpack in this episode. No major spoilers until after minute 20. Topics listed below the video.

(2:00) Streamlining the session to not waste gaming time
(9:02) Legacy Weapons (
(16:25) Tips for running large combats scenarios
(22:40) Using the area maps as a pseudo battle map

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Episode 3: Player Visuals, Maps and Handouts - Running Storm King's Thunder

Apologies for the rough end edit. The video was interrupted by my feverish 3 year old, so I had dad duties. I will get back to Goldenfields and Triboar in the next video, which I will try to release ahead of schedule.

In this episode:
(3:06) Finding miniatures in the clearance toy aisle or online
 Diana figure (
 Aquaman figure (
(8:22) Cheap gridded wrapping paper
(9:07) Mapping large encounter areas like Grudd Haug
(13:15) Todd McFarlane figures from Ebay
(18:03) Player visuals / NPC portraits
(20:40) Pathfinder NPC face cards (
(26:45) Player maps
(33:00) Don't hide your town's locations/features from the players

Monday, January 22, 2018

D&D/OSR: Legacy Weapons in D&D

Illustration by Daniel Ljunggren
(c) Wizards of the Coast
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with magic items. As a DM, I’ve always wanted magic items to be a rare and cherished item in a character’s inventory. The challenge is that, as characters level up, that +1 Longsword becomes less useful and will be discarded for the next powerful “plus” that comes along, no matter how fancy a name you might give it.

Because I do not want to have to churn new magic items through the party every few levels (supposed to be rare, right?), I’ve had to come up with ways to keep existing items in the player’s inventory fresh. In this regard, I’ve stolen come up with ideas to improve magic weapon: Enchantment (rune/gem) Slots and Legacy Weapons.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Episode 2: Session 0, Miniatures, Terrain - Running Storm King's Thunder

In Episode 2, I speak more generally about improving your game in the first half hour (no spoilers). Storm King Thunder specific tips come in the second half hour (mild spoilers).

(1:40) Importance of Session 0 (follow-up on the blog post from the other day).
(15:00) Using Assault of the Giants board game miniatures (
(20:12) Simple ways to use crafting to improve encounters
(22:20) Paper crafting as a simple way to create 3D elements (more on papercraft here)
(28:00) Leveling in D&D 5e and Storm King’s Thunder
(32:15) Putting the brakes on leveling for Nightstone and bridges to the next chapters
(33:45) Alternate utilization of Zephyros and Harshnag… and other throw-away NPCs
(38:50) Extending the mid-tier levels prior to getting into the main SKT story
(41:25) Finding other adventures that can tie into the SKT story arc
               (43:05) D&D 5th Edition Adventures by Level
               (44:15) Death in the Cornfields
               (49:15) Mustering at Morach Tor (Dungeon #144)
               (N/A) Kraken’s Gamble

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

GM 101: Why is Session Zero Important?

I often see the question “What is Session Zero?” on social media… or if they haven’t heard of “Session 0” before, one might see a complaint like “I wanted a wilderness-savvy ranger traveling between settlements and exploring the frontier, but everything in our campaign is in this giant capital city. I never get to use my character’s [insert favored class abilities here] and feel less than useful in the game… What can I do?”

[ UPDATE: I also talk a big more about Session 0 in my video blog here: ]


Session 0 is about setting expectations. It provides a way for the GM to outline what the campaign is about, give a rough sketch of setting details, what races, classes or other options are available (or if any do not exist or have some caveat) and any other details pertinent to to the players prior to character creation.

It also serves as a place to come to an agreement about the game. Remember that D&D and similar RPGs are a shared storytelling experience. It is not wholly up to the GM to dictate everything about the game, unless the players are fine with being passive about the game world particulars.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Episode 1: Nightstone and Chapter 3 - Running Storm King's Thunder

I started out my blog posts on Storm King’s Thunder as a series of articles, but there is just so much to talk about, it’s just much quicker to do some extemporaneous videos instead of writing it all out (ain’t nobody got time for that). I have a lot to say, and video seems to be the better medium... So this is kind of a video reboot of the SKT series. This first episode focuses on the introductory chapters of Storm King’s Thunder and tips for starting out. Forgive me if I meander a bit. Episode 2 will be much tighter (30 minutes) with more of a scripted outline.

In this episode, I discuss:
  • Tom Lommel’s Disorganized Play videos (1:30)
  • Getting a handle on the sprawling Chapter 3 hooks and scenarios. (3:20)
  • Using a Google Doc (or other note software) to mine ideas out of Chapter 3. (8:00)
  • Write a one-sheet summary or encounter packet for upcoming encounters. (12:00)
  • Coming up with better introductory hooks than the weak ones in the book. (13:00)
  • The perils of using Storm King’s Thunder outside of the Forgotten Realms. (16:50)
  • Stealing other’s ideas. (19:00)
  • Teasing the broader story and mystery to the players. (19:40)
  • Tying the Nightstone attack back into the larger plot. (22:00)
  • Buffing Nightstone for higher level parties. (23:30)
  • Making set piece encounters more interesting with 3D visuals. (29:00)
  • Dollar store deals on gaming paper. (31:00)
  • More on 3D visuals and crafting. (34:20)
  • Teasing an upcoming video on the adventure in Dungeon #144. (38:00)
Some images of my 3D set ups using papercraft, styrofoam, Dwarven Forge, or even Lego.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

D&D Miniatures: New Plastics from Hero Forge

Hero Forge, the miniature 3D printing service, has again updated their plastic offerings. Aside from the somewhat pricey metals, they now offer “Plastic” and “Premium Plastic”. Premium Plastic, which I wrote about previously, used to named Gray Plastic when it was first introduced (replacing Ultra Detail). What used to be Strong Plastic (Nylon) is no longer offered. It was not particularly good, as the texture was too rough to take paint well. The newest offering, replacing Strong Plastic is just called Plastic.

Full disclosure: Hero Forge offered me a figure to test out without any expectation that I’d write a review. They were looking for feedback for their new material, but were open to any post I’d like to make about it.

First off, I have to say the figure creator has a lot of new options. There are more two-handed weapon poses, more weapons, more outfits, more headgear and more skin options. Many of the items from my character creation wish list I identified in my last post have been addressed. They could probably add a few more pose variants, but that’s a nit pick. I’m even more impressed with the character rendering options than before. Bravo, Hero Forge.

So how does Plastic compare with Premium Plastic?

The Plastic option costs $19.99 while the Premium option costs $29.99. The new Plastic option appears (I’m assuming here) to use Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) while the Premium option uses Stereolithography printing.  Stereolithography allows for a much finer detail as the layers are much thinner.

Halfling Sorceress printed with the Plastic option
Halfling Sorceress printed with the Plastic option
The detail on the Plastic model is better than their prior offerings. The quality is much better than the old “Strong Plastic”, and probably equivalent to the “Ultra Detail” they used to offer. However, you can still see the banding created by the FDM process.

This means there will be a little bit of challenge hiding this texture when the model is painted. This is not generally a major problem if you prime and paint, but can become apparent on broad or flat surfaces like a cape or shield. A slightly thicker layer of paint should help with this, but if you use washes to shade, the wash may follow the contours left by the printing process, rather than the figure detail. Priming is a must.

Secondarily, some fine details will be lost. In the above picture, you see an up-close view of the standard Plastic offering. I added a black wash to allow for better pictures. Keep in mind that the wash over-emphasizes the print layers.

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