I used to hate gin. The smell, the taste...I just didn't know what to do with it.
But the more I learn, the more I can at least come to appreciate gin's palette. Maybe I was just blind to it before, but there's a secret citrus-y quality to the taste of gin, and at the behest of a certain client, I was inspired to *try* and pair it with something appropriate.
Apparently VERMOUTH goes well with Gin. Huh. Two of my hates. Go well together. Who knew?
...A lot of the bartending community, actually, I'm just biased against ingredients I rarely use, but AFTER this mix and the feedback it received, I may have just opened the door to venture into other pairings with my black cat of an alcohol.
Try this mix out for a refreshing adult summer drink, and if you're down to be little surprised by how beautiful things can pair. In retrospect, the pairing is obvious, and I'm happy to announce that after simply smelling the two in close proximity, my practice is paying off.
Again, this one ain't complicated.
3-4 oz Gin
2 oz Sweet Vermouth
2-4 dashes Aromatic Bitters
Stir and pour over some classy ice, then fill the glass with Ginger Beer or Ginger Ale.
A classy gentleman's drink of ginger. Enjoy.
See you at the table.
Although Adamus, Ian, and I are usually talking about tabletop games in DM Shower Thoughts, the RPG genre is much bigger than that. From Final Fantasy to World of Warcraft, RPGs have taken a lot of different forms and their genre-defining elements are used in a variety of spaces. Heck, even just the element of collecting quantifiable experience points is something that can be found when training for corporate jobs unrelated to gaming.
Because of how many RPGs handle these various elements, the perception of various tropes can creep into our understanding of specific systems. Sure, in many RPG videogames (like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy), having a dedicated healer to cast Life and Cure spells is fundamental to the party’s composition. The same can’t be said for Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons because the proportion of Hit Points that can be regained per action is much lower. This is a really small example that makes a huge impact on gameplay.
Let’s dive into this for just a moment before getting to the meat and potatoes of this topic. In many JRPGs, many boss monsters can one-hit KO party members, leaving them in a state of incapacitation. It’s therefore the healer’s job to cast a spell to bring them back up, sometimes even fully restoring their health as they do so. There isn’t a similar ability in 5e. Even a 1st level Cure Wounds spell only heals 1d8 + spellcasting modifier hit points, meaning on average (with optimized standard array ability scores) the possibility for hit points regained ranges from 4 to 12. Most videogame RPGs don’t offer that range of possibility, and is one of the fundamental differences between tabletop games and videogames.
As such, although there are plenty of similarities between these two mediums and their expression of the genre, there are some differences to recognize. The most glaring difference is the need to pivot roles in 5e. Just because you built a healer doesn’t mean there aren’t times to shift into a control role, and if you built your character to deal damage but the enemy is immune to all of your attacks, then you may find yourself fulfilling support. It’s just how the dice roll sometimes.
However, after all is said and done, a choice you make as a D&D player in combat really can be broadly categorized as belonging to one of four roles (and there is overlap). Those roles are DPR (Damage per Round), Tank, Support, and Control. And, although you can optimize your character to best perform in one of these roles, there will be times where the best decision is to instead fulfill another role your character isn’t designed for (which we’ll touch on later).
Know Your Role
Now, the reason there’s value in categorizing these roles is to clarify the decisions you're making as well as identify gaps in the party’s performance. Oftentimes, I find that when a party underperforms in combat, it means that somehow the flow of these four roles has been disrupted, either because a party member has been incapacitated or the best person for the role is not fulfilling it (which usually stems from someone unwilling to pivot into a role their character is not built for). That being said, the best combats I’ve participated in have had a combination of understanding with these four roles, as well as having characters built to fulfill them. To understand how to identify characters built for them, here are some characteristics:
+ Damage Per Round Maximizes the amount of damage they inflict on a single target. Also values a higher attack roll bonus and rare / changing damage types.
+ Tank Draws attention and potential damage away from other party members. Values a high Armor Class, Hit Point maximum, damage resistance, and damage reduction.
+ Support Strengthens and heals allies. Usually a spellcaster, although there are some non-casting features that fulfill this role (like a Mastermind Rogue’s Master of Tactics feature).
+ Control Weakens enemies and influences their behavior. Area of effect spells, like fireball tend to fall in this category because not only can it wipe out many smaller enemies earlier in the fight, “smart” enemies will avoid certain positional patterns to avoid falling into an area that encourages its use.
And, like I said, there will be some overlap. For example, the druid’s entangle spell creates an area of difficult terrain which can hamper an enemy’s movement (which falls under Control). However, if an enemy gets restrained by the spell, the druid's allies have Advantage on attack rolls against them (Support).
Certain classes will also fulfill these roles more obviously than others. A Barbarian’s high hit points and resistance-granting Rage ability make it a great Tank, and a Rogue’s sneak attack make it great for DPR. I've also found that players get frustrated when a character class doesn’t perform well in a role the player expects it to (like when a Cleric isn't the best Healer option).
Now let’s dive a little deeper into the roles and find character classes that fit them.
Damage Per Round
This is a short-hand term Adamus and I use with each other to describe when a player is trying to deal the most amount of damage that they can. It comes from the MMO term DPS (Damage per Second), but because 5e is played in rounds instead of real-time, you get Damage Per Round.
Now, this can also be the hardest role to categorize because it’s by far the broadest. Most characters can deal some kind of damage to an enemy, and there will be times where it’s more efficient to just attack the darn thing instead of create a cockamamie scheme that probably won’t work. However, there are some statistics to consider when optimizing a character for DPR.
First is the attack roll bonus. It doesn’t matter how much damage you can do if you can’t hit the target’s AC. Usually, this is as easy as investing in the ability score that governs your attack rolls. This same ability score will usually also help you lean into your secondary role, but we'll talk more about that later.
Second is selecting features that contribute to the amount of damage you can deal. For Fighting Styles, this is usually Dueling or Great Weapon Fighter. For Warlocks, it’s the Agonizing Blast invocation. For Rogues, it’s just investing in more rogue levels to progress your Sneak Attack.
The third factor is damage type. You either want a damage type that’s rarely resisted to or two damage types you can switch between. For example, eldritch blast is such an effective cantrip because almost nothing in 5e resists force damage (unless you homebrew something), and its damage die is also pretty high. Another example might be picking up Elemental Adept as a caster, meaning that if you love your fire spells, you can ignore resistance a creature may have to fire damage. In baseline 5e, as a weapons class, most creatures aren’t resistant to magical bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage, so if you can find a magic weapon you’re usually good for the rest of the campaign (unless your DM homebrews something to make you ineffective).
And that’s pretty much it for DPR. Like I said earlier, most classes have some kind of DPR option, but that doesn’t mean every class is optimized for DPR. It’s great that a Bard can Vicious Mockery (Psychic is one of those damage types that’s rarely resisted to). However, the 1d4 damage is pitiful, even at low levels, and pales in comparison to a Divine Smite or Sneak Attack. That doesn’t mean the Bard shouldn’t try to deal damage; it just means that they aren’t the “DPR” character of the party.
Tanks are much easier to build to. Invest in Constitution to get higher hit points, find some armor or features that grant you damage resistance, and do what you need to in order to invest in Armor Class. I’m a sucker for Unarmored Defense. It’s easy to maintain, can often be stronger than Plate Mail, and it can’t be destroyed by rust monsters.
With all that being said, viable options for tanking are much fewer than DPR. Barbarians are excellent tanks because of their Rage ability, and their Unarmored Defense keeps their AC competitive. Most of their subclasses also have ways to get more bang for your buck when you Rage, sometimes dealing damage and sometimes increasing the amount of resistances you have. Paladins are also excellent tanks because of their heavy armor proficiency, and because at 6th level their Aura of Protection grants them bonuses to their Saving Throws. Either way, both classes get great durability for relatively little action-investment.
Now, some critics of the term “tanking” in 5e compare the function of tanks to MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, where such characters have abilities that program bigger threats to target them, relieving pressure from a less durable ally. There are some abilities like this in 5e, but because enemies are controlled by a human (the DM) rather than programming, the DM can always choose to target a less survivable ally.
This doesn’t mean that building a tank doesn’t have value. In D&D, tanking refers to a character’s survivability, and I’ve seen some ridiculous stunts in my time with 5e. I’ve seen a Barbarian swim through lava, a Barbarian/Rogue multi-class shrug off 100+ points of damage because of stacking resistance with evasion, and a well built sorlock take a meteor swarm to the face and maintain concentration (that was my Sorlock). Accounting for RAW and math, these things can happen, and even if you can keep one ally up by the end of the fight, they can run around and use healing potions to keep incapacitated allies alive.
This is also why oftentimes the best support characters also invest in their survivability. A Druid’s Wild Shape is a great tanking feature, and many Clerics have a heavy armor proficiency that lets them avoid damage and heal their allies. Healing does no good if the healer is down, so many forward thinking players build their healers accordingly.
Speaking of Support, I’m of the belief that this is the most difficult role to play effectively in combat, and is why many players avoid it. It can be a thankless job, and your impact on the party isn’t always immediately felt. A well timed bless spell can be the difference between an attack hitting and missing, and that attack finishing a dangerous enemy or giving them another turn to use legendary actions and wipe the team. There are also many overlaps with Control, so we’ll work to clarify which is which.
Support is defined as “buffing” your allies and healing. A “buff” is any spell that makes them better at their job, or strengthens them in any way. For example, the bless spell allows those it targets to add a d4 to attack rolls and saving throws, making them slightly more accurate and more survivable. If we look back at the entangle example earlier, if a character can restrain an enemy, it allows attacks against that enemy to have advantage, meaning that rogues get Sneak Attack and everyone is more likely to get a critical hit.
Healing is a much more nuanced topic. Healing and damage are not created equal in 5e, and it’s always more efficient to prevent damage than to try and heal damage taken. Let’s go back to our example of cure wounds. For a 1st level spell slot, cure wounds heals between 4 and 12 hit points with an average 1st level character. With a 1st level spell slot using inflict wounds (the same resource expended), the spell deals 3d10 damage on a hit, with a yield of between 3 and 30 damage. The ceilings aren’t even comparable.
What makes healing so difficult is the required sense of timing on the player’s part. An ill-timed healing word or cure wounds could have no effect at all, especially if the enemy is a real bruiser. Say you see an ally get hit for 15 points of damage. You cast healing word as a bonus action, healing 5 points of that damage. Then the next round they get hit for another 15 points, and get knocked unconscious. That healing word you casted was wasted.
That being said, let’s look at a counterexample. You see an ally get hit with 15 points of damage and fall unconscious. They make a death saving throw, and unfortunately roll a Natural 1, meaning they have two failures. By casting your healing word at range, the failures are negated, and the ally needs to get knocked to 0 before being in danger again. You probably just saved that character’s life.
Like tanking, there are few characters that can dedicate themselves to Support, although there are plenty of smaller features that allow an ally to support as a secondary role. Bards, Clerics, and Druids have a plethora of buffing and healing spells, with the Bard’s defining class feature (Bardic Inspiration) being one of the most efficient buffs especially at low levels. However, the aforementioned Master of Tactics feature from Mastermind Rogue and Aura of Protection from Paladin also are great support features.
Control characters look at combat differently than the other three. Rather than seeing exchanges as dealing and healing damage, control players view combat as a series of choices and possible outcomes, and work to remove choices from their opponent. While Support is about strengthening allies and allowing them to be better versions of themselves, Control is about hampering the effectiveness of their enemies.
Is there a major bruiser in the enemy team that’s being a pain? Hold Monster can remove them from the fight. Is the real threat the group of goblins shooting at us from that ledge? Fireball can take them all down at once. Control is about figuring out the enemy’s strengths and using that strength against them. Like Support, what makes Control difficult is that it’s a mindset more than a set of obvious mechanics.
Some classes are easier to use control strategies than others. The Wizard’s sheer amount of spell access allows it to be an excellent controller, because it can cast the right spell for the right situation. The Druid spell list is similar, in which many of its best support spells also hamper the enemy’s effectiveness (again, just look at entangle).
However, that doesn’t mean that to be a Control character, you need area of effect abilities or spellcasting to play this role. If you’re playing a Tank, and you manage to distract an enemy from hurting your less survivable allies, you’re influencing their behavior and removed a choice, leaving their effectiveness up to the luck of the dice. That’s a Control role even though it’s outside of the game’s mechanics.
Oftentimes, when I design my set-piece encounters, I try to have my enemies not only have a mechanical weakness (like a low stat or some kind of damage vulnerability), but also some kind of personality flaw the party can take advantage of through role-playing. Sometimes that flaw is aggravated through taunting, empathy, or targeting one of their possessions. However, it’s a way to allow any player to assume the control role if they’re clever enough to figure it out.
Primary and Secondary Roles
Now, after identifying the four roles, the hidden fifth role is that of pivoting. Fifth Edition has classically rewarded characters that are built to specialization rather than versatility. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for adapting to circumstance.
Let’s say you build a powerful melee weapons character, but you end up in a combat where there’s a ravine or pool of lava separating you and your target. You may have to play a different role in that combat than you’d like to.
To prevent circumstances where you’re only viable option is “I take the Dodge action” and don’t participate, I usually advise my players to think through a Primary and a Secondary role their character can play as. This can be as simple as “I have a melee character but I keep a crossbow on me” to “I play support but I can pivot to control as the need arises”. This also doesn’t mean to devalue the specialization this edition rewards.
Let’s look at a character I built, Kurama, as an example. Kurama, a higher level Druid, was built in order to cast healing spirit and thorn whip. However, in a well constructed party like Knight Owls, healing spirit isn’t always the most appropriate. Oftentimes, healing is covered by other characters. This means that if enough other people are willing to play Support, I’m freed to pivot to Control in order to maximize our party’s effectiveness. I can’t tell you how awesome it is to hit a big bad with contagion, or pull an enemy with thorn whip so the paladin can smite it. Also, there have been times I’ve been known to deal damage. It’s laughable that I've finished multiple big bads with a 1st level ice knife just because everyone else did such a good job of covering us that I as the Druid was left to just damage deal. These things happen, and the memories made are cherished.
Hopefully you’ve found some value from this perspective of play, and if you choose a less optimized style of play, you’re doing so intentionally. That’s the whole point of this: clarify your decisions so when you make it, you do so with intention.
Study Hard, Play Hard.
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Today we'll be taking a spin on the Moscow Mule to give you a nice, refreshing drink to add to your 4th of July celebrations, no matter where you are!
This drink utilizes a brighter flavor than the classic mule, so we're switching out the standard base of vodka for MEAD. Unleash that inner viking and grab some Semi-Sweet or Dry Mead, a small bottle of sweet Lime Juice, a can of Ginger Ale, and some Aromatic Bitters.
4 oz Mead
2 oz Lime Juice
8-10 dashes of Aromatic Bitters
Fill the rest with Ginger Ale and enjoy!
What you'll get is a bright, refreshing drink with a little acid and soda.
Not my usual, but a pleasant diversion.
If you're looking for something neat and different and fresh, maybe try this one out.
And, as always, Game (and drink) Responsibly.
See you at the table.
So Gray Owls Team 2 (dubbed Team Bug) recently had their Chapter 18 session...and it was a little weird.
First, some build up.
For those uninitiated, Gray Owls is a dark fantasy electric-punk D&D campaign that I've been running professionally for about 3 years now. It is a game of secrets, shadows, and danger. The magical weave is broken, and magic is wild again. Throughout all the intrigue, however, there is always the looming threat in the North. Hordes of swarming beasts from the shattered Shadowfell (yep, obliterated) called The Brood. After 14 Chapters of huge groups parties and split goals, it became apparent to run two smaller groups instead. A group to fight "the bugs," (Team Bug, the main subject of this post) and another to rebuild the Worldtree, and deal with threats within the city (Team Tree).
Chapter 15, the first mission on their own, was some of the best D&D I've run, and it was dark, gritty monster action. And in a campaign where the majority of threats have been the machinations of other people (monsters in different ways), this was a welcome change of pace. Chapters 16 and 17 had some huge story thread reveals and plot hole filling, permanently adjusting the trajectory of this group. The focus shifted from "killing the bugs", to reaping vengeance upon the "grand orchestrator" behind it all, probably preventing future cataclysm and saving more lives.
But Chapter 18 felt...halted. In the grand scheme of things, we didn't DO a lot. There was a fair amount of little reveals, setups, unexpected twists (but minor on the action), and then they met a guy. Now, I really, really dislike looking at sessions like this, because it skips over any sense of depth while you're in the moment and tends to discount the little things that can really add up. HOWEVER, what it did reveal was a lack of momentum. You can have sessions where not a lot happened, but there was enough momentum/release/satisfaction that it FELT like you accomplished a lot...because you did!
Social development is still development, and combat and exploration still play a role. In truth, though, it doesn't matter which pillar you're in; each can be momentous and satisfying in its own way, which, in turn, also means that each can lose momentum. This was a curious case of achieving a set out goal...and then not knowing what to do next. Now, I try to get homework from players about what they're planning for next time so I can better align to their story, but I admit to missing that beat this time around. And, upon really thinking about it, I used to ask this question with the players in this team before, and would get minimal response or direction...so I stopped. When, in actuality, this was the BEST time to bring it up. We're approaching the end game, and though that final set piece is ready to go, GETTING THERE isn't. I THOUGHT that we were aware of more of our available resources, that we had built up momentum and expectations, but in reality...I'm exhausted. I'm overwhelmed with trying to build a satisfying experience, barely sleeping, trying to balance my life and my liberties and my activism and my creativity, all while believing in my soul that I'm just letting everyone down.
This seeming lack of direction, my exhaustion with running games, a missing player, and then, to top it all off, new perceptions from long-time players about the tone of the campaign and its direction...threw me right off. Even though folks report to having a good time, I was not pleased with myself. I've run better sessions, and I was sub-par to my own standards, pushing a combat when I felt I was losing them - even though it wasn't quite appropriate. But there's so much more to consider here beyond beating myself up.
Taking A Step Further Back
The perceptions of one or two players won't paint the whole truth, and can change game to game.
Many of us are creatures of generalization, a failing in our culture. Some players with this chip could have 19 sessions of great interplay, storytelling, and voiced extensive satisfaction...then have a difficult time at session 20, and color their entire perception of the game. They'll boast that they never enjoyed themselves, it was ALWAYS terrible, they never get the spotlight. ...Then return for session 21, see how 20 fit into it all, and now 21 - and the entire campaign, of course - is brilliant again and they're satisfied.
Some players view their story instant by instant, while others see it as an evolving thread. The former gets the most they can out of each session, while the latter views the full campaign with a patient lens. Every player can enter either state over the course of a campaign, sometimes instant to instant if they're introspective enough. Neither is good or bad, they're just paradigms, and often we don't see the external influences in our play - a bad week, a rough night, something that was said that's affecting us in big ways. We'd like to say we keep our playing separated, but humans are complicated, and sometimes the lines blur.
And I can be my own worst enemy. This post alone has taken some time, and while writing these words I have just reinstated my meditation regimen with a dose of primal therapy, and I feel a lot better than when I started this draft a week ago. My point is that time plays a factor here, and those that have freed themselves to think and change benefit from its existence. I needed time to process an experience with clarity and patience so I would stop beating myself up about it. It's alright to take a moment. It's alright to step back. And it's definitely alright to consider the other sides, even if you end up keeping your original belief.
In moving through this and moving forward, there was a lot to unpack.
We're Building Toward Something
...not just tying up loose ends.
Everyone is moving simultaneously. These aren't video game NPCs. These are faction leaders, detectives, bounty hunters...all with their own goals and schemes. If the players are moving, they're moving too.
The lack of information plays a role, too. The players don't know everything, nor should they, but they need to know enough to act. And what they know and choose to act on can be completely different. The players decide through their questions and actions what is important to focus on. This doesn't mean the other content stops moving, it just doesn't need to be broadcast.
There was a point in each team where the focus shifted away from reacting to dangers and proactively, as a group, making their own plans. A new surge of purpose; utilizing resources, information gathered, and connections they've built up to make much more informed decisions. That change in agency fundamentally changes the course of a campaign, and can act as a release of tension - the point when the characters rise above or past the restrictions of lower class or lower levels. They clarified what they needed to fight for.
This was Chapter 12 for the Gray Owls. After 11 chapters of keeping secrets and distrusting one another, we had a whole 8-hour session of satisfying role-playing and putting everything on the table, identifying a target - a clear villain to crush - and coming together as a team. Discussing with many of my players, this became the theoretical beginning of Phase II in the grand story. Which shifts the tone naturally. But there may be other factors that push the lens in unexpected ways.
We all remember the first "Iron Man," but it can be hard to look at that film now without the grand timeline of the remaining MCU. And I'm no Marvel storyteller, but many DMs try to interweave and setup hooks with satisfying payoffs, only possible after their players experience the initial setup. What I'm getting at here is that the story is not over. Each session, or Chapter in this case, is a singular event - yes - but it is ALSO one piece of a much larger thread. The same way that our Chapters 3 and 8 - on their own, arguably two of my weakest sessions - only gained traction and value when sewn into the fabrics of Chapters 4 and 9, and beyond. And unlike a film, with pre-written dialogue and directions, the players and DM heavily influence the trajectory of this story.
We must also consider the immediacy of this timeline. Gray Owls functions differently than my broader audience Knight Owls. The latter takes place over a year of time, with episodes often weeks apart in game time, while the former...picks up immediately where they left off, give or take a few hours. Meeting monthly makes the timeline feel a little wonky, (something I address below in the last section) but it's valuable to recognize that all of these crazy events are taking place over the course of a month so far. Meaning, the impressions of certain organizations, big players in the mix, sweeping counter moves by factions seizing power...are all very quick and decisive. This isn't normal. Before was normal, we are now in the Aftermath. Which also means, undoubtedly, there will be a response to this chaos to help restore order...because that's how governments work.
The information of their actions and consequences may paint a curious picture when compared to the expanded lens of the DM, too. I might see dark machinations brewing, but if the player lens doesn't look for it, it doesn't exist. Lately I've been practicing being more liberal in dripping content to players during sessions, predominantly through the Whisper Function on Roll20 - both as an engagement and as a reward for their perceptions. These additional records aid the players in piecing together the cloaks and daggers, but there's much more that can be done.
Owning The Change
As I reflect on Gray Owls, there's a lot to commend. The world built, the course of the players and their characters, the freeing of deep roleplaying, and the overall tone - dark and dangerous. But something happened along the way, and I'd be remised if I didn't reflect on these observations and think critically on how they may have manifested. The following comments or questions have come from players as they have observed the campaign as a whole.
"Is magic broken or not?"
This one irks me a bit. Yes. It has been demonstrated as such; many spells do not behave as intended, some in cataclysmic ways - this fact has never changed. This discourages magic usage, AND, depending on your socio-economic class, can get you taken by the Vertigo Caste (the world's secret police). This was demonstrated in Chapter 1.
HOWEVER, and this is where trajectory and party composition plays a role, some players haven't seen much of those consequences. In Chapter 2, the party traded two characters out (one would return later, and the cast would continue to rotate, complicating matters and perspectives) for two characters from the noble houses that rule the city. As established and discussed in Session 0, the rich have access to magic in ways the rest of the city doesn't, and we got to witness the immensely wide gap between the noble houses and the lower terraces of Stormwrack. For the urchins and wanted of the group, this was a safe haven for the first time in their lives, and would become a huge motivator in maintaining that sanction and safety. In fact, an entire session was devoted to changing their "ownership" from one member of the house to another, so that they could stay for a few more days. This "headquarters", though, was not my original intention. Gray Owls was supposed to feel grittier - scraping by on the will of their wits and cut of their blade (reinforcement for campaign 2). But this became a main focus from the party. Something sought after enough that it shifted the campaign's focus. ...But that doesn't mean that magic isn't still a problem for everyone else.
In fact, on numerous occasions, the party has witnessed the consequences of casting magic in the open, even if the players failed to take note of it. Characters they've interacted with are now missing. In fact, people continue to disappear every day. Just because the players are in their high towers, safe from that scrutiny, doesn't mean it isn't still happening. But again, the player lens is the view of the campaign. I can TELL them it's happening, or I can SHOW them.
Lesson For Self: More Show, Less Tell.
Next to ponder - how to show if they aren't looking. ;)
"Just how bad is the Brood anyway?"
In the first campaign of Gray Owls, dubbed Book 1, there has been the looming threat of The Brood in the North. With all the cloak and dagger politics of the main city, we only hear about these devastating creatures through trickling news reels and shreds of propaganda here and there. It is known among most people that these "bug-like" creatures move in accordance with a Queen, and are very difficult to kill - for this reason, the city produces through one of its noble houses an elite line of nigh-immortal warrior shapeshifters called Broodhunters. These hunters come from the Ironwood Family, one of the ruling families of the high court and people with little tolerance for the BS found among other nobles - it wins them respect from the people.
The Brood were intended to be mysterious. In fact, there was a chance early campaign that we would never have encountered them. But then a player made a character from the North - so now there's a vendetta arc - and in maintaining that noble protection, they aligned themselves with the Ironwoods almost without question. Soon, more and more decisions became influenced by that looming threat, until the invariable beginning of Phase III with the party splitting up core objectives. One stays in the city, and the other heads North to fight the Brood.
What we discover, though, is two-fold.
1) The Brood is coordinated, making moves as strike points, not occupations. They aren't behaving like a swarm suddenly. Someone is controlling them. Most recently revealed: one of the three airship captains of the city is calling them somehow, becoming the Orchestrator of not only that player-character's tribe nearly getting wiped out, but responsible for hundreds if not thousands of other deaths.
2) The other creatures of the North have been corrupted by the Brood's presence. Though not under the same control, a rising "infection" in the North continues to spread from even the shadows of a Brood.
This second fact - by the way - has only been hinted at. It was something I forgot about until I consolidated my notes and went back to the cave for deep prep. That affliction might have further cemented the danger of the Brood, even if they're being manipulated. That's an oops for me.
"Choices used to have tragic consequences."
I would argue that they still do. I have been trying to strike a better balance between appropriate danger to power level, erring on the side of danger *most* of the time. However, Team Bug's players try to be monster slaying heroes - which isn't really what the campaign was built for initially - and I DO want to give them some measure of that success. And harder choices are coming...we're just in a low point. This is also where we have to consider player lens and DM lens - I know what's coming and how certain choices have sent ripples in terrible, delicious directions. The players won't see that immediately - nor should they. Yet, I can still think on and plan for ways to show this still to be true. To show glimpses of it through the player POV.
The other variable to consider is the other Team in the city. A common sentiment among the players - happily, by the way - is that although they are high level, they don't always feel as powerful as their character sheet says. This was a consistent tone. You might know some cool spells and have great hit points, but you may still lack the resources of your enemy. Your level and features can be potentially powerful, but you also need to gather information and plan your attack. Play smarter, not harder.
Somewhere along the way, that vulnerability left Team Bug. The moment they left the intimacy of the city, something shifted in the dynamic. They stopped being in danger, and started becoming superheroes. And, to them, their choices stopped mattering. In a way, they lost their sense of mortality. I will seek to get it back.
"The structure of the session has changed."
I agree. And that's on me. The mission doesn't seem clear anymore, despite everything put in place. Chapter to Chapter, session to session, I've had a much harder time keeping everything straight, even with my notes sitting under my nose. The pressure of it all became too much, and I started making missteps in preparation and presentation. This is where I see the most introspective growth and planning moving forward. I am thankful for the observations surrounding this point in particular, and welcome the focus it brings to the table.
And these observations shouldn't be taken as a twisting of the knife.
I'm pretty damn good at what I do, which means anything voiced at this point is actually minor in the long haul, AND if I can pivot and correct THOSE, how much more elevated will all of this be? But in exploring this path, I "unearthed" something painful. If you'll entertain me the tangent, I'd like to share a perspective with you.
Abundance Over Scarcity
It isn't something I talk about much, but my greatest fear is theft. I've had credit card numbers stolen, bank accounts hacked, and my car broken into. I make sure to be as safe as possible when web browsing and using my information. And still it's happened. Multiple times. It's almost like a running joke now.
Every time it happened it was smaller, but it didn't hurt any less. And when you try to live your life honestly and do right by others, it hurts so much to know that to someone else...you're just a credit card number. The kind of person that thinks that way...I have very extreme responses to. They hurt me in deep, personal ways that I can only begin to describe and it would be silly of me not to acknowledge that I still seek vengeance and justice over those wrongs, only to be told that the "crime is too small to pursue." That if I ever met one of these garbage humans that robbed me of my livelihood and thought it was no big deal...I want to hurt them. I want them to understand the pain that they put me through and how they invaded my life; shattered my sense of self security. I know that's a visceral reaction. And I know it pales in comparison to the events and perspectives of today, but it does not invalidate how wrong this act was, and how unsatisfying that lack of justice was. My pain didn't matter. That invasion of my soul wasn't valid. And that erosion of humanity wasn't important enough to seek retribution.
Last Christmas was the first year where something like that hadn't happened, and it was a bittersweet feeling. Like somehow that curse had finally skipped me, at least temporarily, but it has been such a stain that now it just looms. Forever in the background. So that in my moments of weakness, when I am in a state less than my best, I can have challenging "knee-jerk" reactions to certain stimuli - like other GMs finding success where I struggled. It is rooted in fear, and stoked by envy.
I am not a perfect human.
And though I do a decent job of mitigating those defense mechanisms before they come out in real life, they are still there and I still deal with them. It is getting better, and I've thought more and more about why. There are really two ways I can approach a few recent events. Through Scarcity and Fear - a belief that we are all competing in our various lanes, threads, and niches for the same acclamation and clientele, there only being room for one at the top of this pedestal. OR. Through Abundance and Community - recognition that we all benefit from the accomplishments and accolades of each other in our individual and shared threads, and that their successes augment our own. There is plenty of room for all of us to lead, follow, create, and thrive.
For some real life examples:
Seeing a fellow GM record sessions and rewrite them as stories, and receive wonderful accolades for that.
Scarcity: Well, I did that with the Knight Owls archive and people complained about "required reading"! How come when he does it, it's the best thing ever?
Abundance: I have my style and he has his. We're both growing and learning from each other's journeys. Everyone has a different presentation, and maybe I can learn something from his success to help breathe new life into my own Adventure Archive. Good for him, and both still have value.
Opening up the GM's Corner to include other perspectives.
Scarcity: It's my blog and I want my content to be featured! What if they become more popular than me? What if they produce more than me when I get really busy?
Abundance: It is still my blog, and it's always been our mission to continue to grow through other perspectives. A rising tide lifts all ships. And how beautiful would it be if for every voice we raise up, another player comes to love this game and the value it can add to their lives. This is a yes/and, and it can only make the site and its mission stronger.
Receiving kind, constructive feedback for your cool campaign.
Scarcity: I ruined the game for them and I don't know how to recover...
Abundance: Every session we run is a rep. Instead think on how you can pivot to make the next one better, because there will be a next one. Also, taking space to recharge is not giving up; you haven't failed anyone, you're just growing.
And I still feel those pangs of protective guards rising up around the things I built or pioneered in my little circles, but part of our development as human beings is to become awake to those elements, and open yourself to the hard work of self-improvement. It is one thing to acknowledge our lack of skill in an area and do nothing about it - or at worse, look for collective affirmation in our ineptitude - and to pursue consistent growth. ESPECIALLY in our current social and economic climate, a Growth Mindset will be the key skill every human must cultivate entering the new age.
A partially finished map of the Ionian Shadowfell, Illcrest Region - Adamus Drake
Taking July To Revisit Phase III, and Prepare The Next Campaign
I'm taking my space for the month of July on running big games. I've been running games almost non-stop for 3 years now. I need some time to get my head right, and, to take a page from one of my fellow GMs, to "go back in the cave." I want to do my deep prep in these worlds I've built, instead of feeling like I MUST keep going or everything will fall apart.
And when I return, we'll have the best close to a campaign yet and a fine start to the next.
To aid in this, I want to produce a few items. These will help EVERYONE in immersion, memory, agency, and direction. They'll also help me tremendously in my development as a GM as I upgrade my consistency, world-building, and custom content (I keep pretty good books for myself, but I need to expand what my players have access to).
And in case it wasn't clear, this is for every campaign moving forward. That's the goal, and I need time to go deep.
A GLOSSARY OF PLACES, PEOPLE, AND TERMS
It keeps coming up in conversation. A glossary helps more than a summary. The players need to know who's who between and during play, and an active document that has this available to everyone at every session is a "no duh" to me for a cloak and dagger campaign. I have one for myself every session, it's just wicked messy. It's actually painful that it's taken me this long to compile what I have. Time to clean it all up, and get back to basics. I can add and subtract things from the "living document" as players discover things - which is also neat - and that way there's no worry of revealing secrets too early. This has the added bonus of never requiring notes; there are still players that do that and love it, and still will, but in this case redundancy is fine. And! If I misspoke or messed up a term, I can fix that in the running doc. It ensures that everyone has the same access to information, and removes our initial resistance to immersion.
CHAPTERS AS STORIES or CHAPTERS AS RECAP
This one I'm on the fence about, because our shift to Roll20 changed how we consumed and ran the campaign for both groups. Some form of recap, either as fiction or summary, is definitely needed, but I need to experiment with what is going to be A) Efficient and B) Creatively freeing. Before quarantine mode, I recorded the audio of my various games for study and internal consistency, and when I did that I would AT LEAST try to recap Knight Owls sessions here and there. However, the process was insane. I'd have to comb through meticulously 6-9 hours of audio every time, and it just wasn't conducive to a consistent workflow. If I follow it like a fiction, it might be freeing enough to provide a more energizing experience for myself, my readers, and my players, both current and future.
I have gone all-in on a map-making software subscription and am designing professional maps for ALL of my campaigns. It's a blast. Again, how nice would it be if you actually knew WHERE you were beyond a few sketches.
For a time there, I was producing 1-3 short stories a month. Then it became 0-1. Then 1 every two months. I had originally planned for 60 entries by Chapter 19, and I'm sitting at 30 at the moment.
Writing the fiction grounds the world in my own head. Remember how I mentioned that the NPCs are always moving? That's the fiction sometimes. Other times, it's just lore; stories and news written by other creatures in the setting. It allows me to shift focus momentarily elsewhere as an act of immersion, and it's fun for me! So I'm going to go have some fun, and help set the stage for a climactic close for those reading along with the snippets. :)
And looking at some of these, I can already see some other GMs shaking their head going "why didn't you have these at the start?" And to that I meet you with:
Scarcity: ...Mean things to tell myself about missed opportunities...
Abundance: Players have consistently returned to my table for the last five years for a good reason. I am good at what I do. And now I'll be even better.
See you at the table.
Get ready to rock.
PS: Feywild and Shadowfell campaigns will continue through July, but on a more limited schedule.
Pugmire, and its accompanying setting, The Monarchies of Mau, are vibrant tabletop settings where you get to take on the roles of anthropomorphic dogs and cats going on quests and adventure. Want to be a Pomeranian Barbarian? You got it! An adorable Pug Pugilist? Sure thing! It's...super cute, but not everything is fluffy and cuddly.
See, the world of Pugmire and its sister kingdoms rest in a world without humans. It's our world, but with a very different future. We're all dead.
That's right. This is a post-apocalyptic scenario. Ruins of our modern cities dot the landscape and echoes of our technology become great relics of the past to be uncovered by those left behind. There are only a few animals that "Man" uplifted before their mysterious demise, leaving the rest to either remain beasts of burden or swell to gigantic size and danger. Dogs, cats, rats, mice, lizards, birds, and badgers all claim the enlightened states of language, skill, and commerce. There's even a religion in this! For the noble Dogs of Pugmire, they follow the Code Of Man.
There Are Layers To This
Again, even with the obvious pulls toward dog punnery, there is great depth below these tenets. This is a world of secrets and great mystery. It is the Dogs's belief that The Master uplifted them for a reason; maybe to discover the truth about their end, or ensure their return, and not to betray one another as you do so.
There is a dark evil in the land of Pugmire and the lands beyond it known only as The Unseen - invisible demons and corruption that plague the ruins of Man and forbidden realms that encircle the planet. No matter their allegiances, all creatures must be protected against The Unseen and the nightmares they spin...
Let's Make A Good Dog
On the surface, Pugmire borrows heavily from 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. You can clearly see the influence from the public SRD and basic rules. But it's much more than D&D with Dogs.
Knowledge of how D&D functions will get you through the mechanics just fine, though. D20 system, modifiers, 3 death saves, advantage and disadvantage, spell casting, even rage!
But let's map out what we'll need.
FIRST - CALCULATE ABILITY SCORES
You can roll using any technique you would normally use to generate attributes in 5th Edition D&D, so for our benefit today, we will err on the side of even playing fields and use a Heroic Array. For those uninitiated, that comes out as: 17, 15, 14, 13, 11, 9.
SECOND - CHOOSE A CALLING
This is what the game counts as a "class," for those looking for transferable terms. There aren't the same plethora of options here as with D&D, but once you take into account that this game banks hard toward exploration and social interaction over number-crunchy combat (there's still combat, mind you, but we'll get there), you begin to recognize the goal of this game. It's about story-telling and immersion. Most of the rules end at Level 10 (not 20; you can keep going, and there have been supplements to expand this, but "leveling" in the traditional sense isn't the target here).
So let's break down our options.
Artisans (Wizards) - sages and scholars, these are the protectors of knowledge and the arcane. They are one of two callings with access to magic. Stamina (Hit Points) = 6 + Con modifier, and they count Charisma and Intelligence as their primary abilities. Simple Weapons, Light Armor, and (choose 1) Encouragement or Focus Magic.
Guardians (Fighters/Knight) - elite warriors with a code, strong and stalwart. Stamina = 10 + Con, and they value Charisma and Strength. Simple Weapons, Martial Weapons, Light-Medium-Heavy Armor, Shields, and (choose 1) Fighting Style or Inspiring Word.
Hunters (Rangers) - intelligent trackers and woodsmen, Hunters are quick and perceptive. Stamina = 10 + Con, and they use Dexterity and Wisdom. Simple and Martial Weapons, Light-Medium Armor, Shields, and (choose 1) Archery or Natural Explorer.
Ratters (Rogues) - swashbucklers, thieves, and stealthy specialists. Stamina = 8 + Con, and they use Constitution and Dexterity. Simple Weapons, Light Armor, and (choose 1) Precise Attack or Second Wind.
Shepherds (Clerics) - divine casters who live the Code of Man. Stamina = 8 + Con, and you better assume they're using Wisdom and Intelligence. Simple Weapons, Light-Medium Armor, Shields, and (choose 1) Good Memory or Prayers to Man (magic).
Strays (Barbarians) - just as the nomadic tribes of D&D do not mean stupid or savage, a Stray can be articulate and intelligent. The defining characteristic is its separation from the civilized society of the kingdom. Stamina = 12 + Con, and we're rocking Strength and Constitution. Simple-Martial Weapons, Light Armor, Shields, and (choose 1) Rage or Unarmored Defense.
THIRD - CHOOSE A BREED
This is the game's version of Race, but you're not tied to a high level of specificity here. You'll gain an ability score bonus (usually a +2 somewhere) and a Trick (a special ability indicative of the Breed). As the game progresses, you'll pick up new Tricks, but your Breed grants your first one. I'll give you each Breed, some examples of dog Families (the specific type of dog), the Ability Score Bonus, and the name of your First Trick.
Note about about Family Names: The exact dog that you are is your "family". So, Yosha Pug's family is "Pug", and that's also her last name.
Companions | Chihuahua, Pomeranian, Pug, Shihtzu.
First Trick: Puppy Dog Eyes (advantage on Charisma checks to make friends or be polite)
Fettles | Bulldog, Dalmation, Doberman, Mastiff.
First Trick: Hardy Constitution (add 1d4 to all Constitution Saving Throws)
Herders | Canaan, Collie, Sheepdog.
First Trick: Keen Observer (advantage on all checks involving hearing, sight, or smell)
Pointers | Bloodhound, Labrador, Rat-Terrier.
First Trick: Voracious Learner (advantage on Intelligence checks to remember read knowledge)
Runners | Borzoi, Greyhound, Whippet.
First Trick: Speedy Runner (advantage on skill checks to run or chase; also increase walking speed to 35 feet, and all-fours running to 50)
Workers | Akita, Husky, Malamute, Salish.
First Trick: Brute Strength (advantage on Strength checks to pull, push, or lift)
+1 to any two ability scores
First Trick: pick one from any other Breed.
Backgrounds and Gear
A dog's background details what he did before becoming a hero. It awards two skills they are Proficient in (so they get to add that sweet Proficiency Bonus to rolls for it), a Rucksack of equipment that fits into the background, and a Background Trick. In this blog, I'll give you the name of your possible backgrounds, their skills, and the name of their Trick
Note about skills and custom backgrounds: If you don't like any of the listed Backgrounds here, you can always make a Custom Background by picking two skills to be proficient in, and selecting one of the Background Tricks found on page 79 in the core rulebook. All of the available skills are:
STRENGTH - Intimidation
DEXTERITY - Balance, Sneak, Steal
CONSTITUTION - Traverse (like athletics)
INTELLIGENCE - Know (Arcana, Culture, History, Nature, Religion)
WISDOM - Handle Animal, Heal, Notice, Search, Sense Motive, Survive
CHARISMA - Bluff, Perform, Persuade
Skills: Know Religion, Sense Motive
Trick: Acolyte Of Man
Skills: Handle Animal, Survive
Trick: Folk Hero
Skills: Bluff, Sneak
Trick: Friend In Low Places
Skills: Know Nature, Survive
Trick: Respected By Strays
Skills: Bluff, Sense Motive
Trick: Odds and Ends
Skills: Know History, Persuade
Trick: Good Breeding
Skills: Know Arcana, Know History
Trick: Nearby Expert
Skills: Intimidate, Traverse
Trick: Rank Has Its Privileges
The contents of your Rucksack denote your starting equipment.
Learning New Tricks
A dog's Calling and Breed each have First Tricks, but every level a dog can choose a new Trick as part of their improvement or refine one, if it has that option.
Defense, Initiative, and Speed
Without armor = 10 + Dexterity Modifier
Light Armor = 11 + Dexterity Modifier (padded armor, leather, or studded leather)
Medium Armor = 13 + Dexterity Modifier with Disadvantage on Dexterity skill checks (hide, chain shirt, scale mail, half plate)
Heavy Armor = 16, with Disadvantage on Dexterity skill checks and movement is reduced by 5 feet (ring mail, chain mail, splint mail, and plate mail)
Shields = +2 Defense when out.
+ Dexterity OR Intelligence modifier (Adamus House Rule)
Most dogs move at a speed of 30 feet. If they drop to all fours to run, that speed is 40 feet.
You should have your:
Ability Scores distributed, with modifiers (as per D&D)
Your Calling, Two Skills, and its First Tricks (some give a choice between two, so make that choice)
Your Breed and its First Trick
A Background, Two Skills, a Rucksack of equipment, and another Trick
Your Proficiency Bonus (+2, and increases by 1 at 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th levels (to a maximum of +6)
Spells, if you have a Trick for magic.
Now all you need is a name and a backstory, and you'll have the bestest puppy in the land.
In case it wasn't obvious, this post does not replace the core rulebook. There's a lot I'm leaving out, and if you have the chance to score the book from Onyx Path Publishing, I highly recommend it.
See you at the table.
Something To Unwind With
Some days are rough, some nights are tough, and sometimes you just need a little sweet and smooth to take the edge off.
Let's try a "cool" hot chocolate with a boozy twist.
Measurements for this will be less measurement and more pour time (like in spoken seconds, but no "Mississippi", got me?)
First, boil up some hot water and make yourself a "dense" hot chocolate in a mug. Dense means I'm only filling the mug a quarter and stirring in the mix. I then pour in two splashes of 2% milk, and stir. Now the second pours:
2 seconds your favorite Chocolate Wine
4 seconds white chocolate liqueur
4-5 seconds milk chocolate liqueur
Stir and place in the fridge for a few minutes
Once you take it out you're good to go, but if you're feeling cute, put some whipped cream on top and snuggle up with a short stack of cookies and your favorite show, and enjoy your cheat night.
On rough days, my wife will contact me on her way out of work and I know just what to prepare. We're simple people when it comes to flavor palettes, and low ingredient count serves us well, both for effect and digestion.
On your next rough day, try this out.
Walk in, drop your stuff, and down a shot of straight Cinnamon Whiskey (Fireball will do just fine).
Then take a saunter around the house and mix yourself a lovely Disaronno and Coke. The Cinnamon Whiskey will mix well with the smooth amaretto and peppery Coca-Cola.
And that's all for now from the Moonriver.
Don't forget to love each other, and please enjoy responsibly.
So I’ll be very open that I’m not used to the whole blogging thing. This is usually Adamus’s territory, but given that I’ve lost my voice at the time of this writing (and I have SUCH opinions on things), I figured I’d try reaching out in a new way.
For this inaugural blog post, I figured I’d talk about my philosophy on building characters. See, I build characters to exact opposite of most people. A lot of players read a character class's description, decide which story they like, then build. I instead cherry pick which features and traits will satisfy the experience I want to have from a game mechanics perspective, crafting the character's story with the function of the game's rules in mind. Sometimes this can be accomplished in a single character class's leveling progression, but more often than not this method requires multi-classing. But first, let's dissect my methods, and why I believe the best Dungeons & Dragons storytelling follows the intimate understanding of game mechanics rather than preceding it.
The Marriage Of Story And Mechanics
Now most people recognize that Dungeons and Dragons is less of a game and more of a storytelling vehicle that shapes the narrative through game mechanics (the agreed upon rules of how player choices affect and change the values of the game state). Often, the characteristic that attracts people to Dungeons and Dragons and other tabletop role-playing games is the limitless possibility of what can happen at the table. Through a unique alchemy of imagination, creativity, strategy, and luck, we sit down together to form memories and experiences that stick with us through our lives. As is our mission at DM Shower Thoughts, we’re playing together to discover our best selves through gaming and having tremendous fun along the way.
However, despite the storytelling possibilities, game mechanics are still constitute the foundation that keep Dungeons and Dragons anchored as a game rather than as a free form storytelling workshop. Without the structure of rules and mechanics, the louder voices outshout the shyer, and new players may not know how they can and can't contribute. Game mechanics help with these problems in two ways. First, the game often has players take turns, so everyone gets a say in the action. Second, the game has discrete options players can rely on if they feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of possible choices. D&D’s mechanics offer reliable options, while still being flexible enough to reward creativity. As for story, D&D (and other TTRPGs) grant us the space to tell the stories of ourselves we secretly want to tell. And while it may be part power fantasy, it’s also our yearning to discover who we really are when our society’s rules and norms aren’t limiting us and we’re given autonomy in an imaginary space. This is also where things can get dicey (pun intended). Unlike other board games, like Monopoly and Risk where a player’s choices are finite and objective, a Dungeon Master is the ultimate referee of the rules as well as the primary narrator. The objective is fundamentally different (telling a story versus defeating other players through strategy and luck), and the mechanics of the game can be changed to fulfill the storytelling tone that the players want.
Unfortunately, sometimes you get the opposite effect. You see, with each rules entry of the Player’s Handbook, there is also a story or lore explanation to that rule’s inclusion. For example, a Barbarian’s Rage is noted as being innate primal fury and a Cleric’s magic is said to be the product of a Deity.
However, instead of flavor text being a creative ignition of imagination and wonder, a close-minded DM or player can read story text as the only possible explanations for a rule’s inclusion. Even worse, and probably more common, a RAW (rules as written) DM limits the mechanics of a class to compromise its storytelling potential. Because of this, if a player only selects a class based on that class’s story, they may actually discount another leveling option that would tell that story better.
Example 1: The Fighter
Oftentimes, a newer player coming to Dungeons and Dragons has the perception that the game is unnecessarily complicated and the rules are overwhelming and difficult to master. To many RPG veterans that have played a variety of rules systems and editions of D&D, the opinion is often the opposite, and they believe that 5th edition is too simple. I’ve found the truth to be somewhere in the middle.
To compensate for a new player’s fear of causing some kind of detriment to a well-established play group’s flow, often a DM will suggest the Fighter class to a new player. The suggestion is usually well intentioned. Because a Fighter is a fairly survivable class with limited rules to remember, a new player can learn about different dice, weapons, and 5th edition’s action economy without having to memorize spells and situational effects. However, most fighter players resign themselves to saying “I roll to attack”, and every once in a while “I use an action surge and attack again”, rather than feeling engaged with the dynamic interactions in the game’s story.
To me, this is where the problem arises. The Fighter story in 5th edition is intentionally generic to allow the player to create the character’s story. Is your fighter a brave knight in chainmail looking to uphold justice for the weak? Are they a grizzled monster slayer that believes playing fair is a poor strategic move? Are they a bandit, a master archer, a gladiator or something else entirely? All of these examples are fighters, and although their stories are wildly different, their mechanics tend to be similar.
This problem is compounded with a lack of competitive performance from the Fighter’s features. From my experience both playing a Fighter and DMing for others playing Fighters, I’ve found that through class features alone, Fighters are usually outclassed by other characters that are built to the same role. Did you build a fighter to be a bruiser that can take some punishment? The party barbarian can deal and take more damage. Do you want a clever archer with unmatched accuracy? A well-built rogue can do more damage with the same weapon, and a well built ranger can match that accuracy while also casting healing spirit on the side. Looking to be a clever controller that uses tactics and maneuvers to outthink the enemy? Just try and compete with a dedicated Druid or Wizard.
And because clever player-DM teams can re-flavor story elements to any mechanics, the same story can be told through multiple classes, but the impact on the game state is only determined by mechanics. So without magic items to compensate, a fighter really doesn’t get their own story. If you build a fighter, you’re probably looking to tell the story of a character that’s good at fighting, and when someone else always fights better than you, you tend to ask yourself if your character matters.
Example 2: The Warlock
Let’s now look at a class with the opposite problem – the Warlock. The Warlock story is one as old as mythology, where a mortal seeking power (either maliciously or due to some need) strikes a bargain with some higher power in order to fulfill their goal. Most warlock players I’ve met have gone for the Faustian myth, where the character’s patron is operating against the interest of the player character. After all, if they had the player’s back, they might as well be a cleric.
Now the Faustian deal is an interesting angle to explore, especially for a deep dive into a character’s psychology and back story. However, like the fighter, the warlock can be a frustrating class to play because of its mechanics. Unlike other spellcasters in 5th edition, Warlocks usually only have two spell slots per fight, which severely limits their options in combat. Sure they have the most powerful cantrip in the game (eldritch blast) which can be enhanced through invocations, but the warlock isn’t given as many turn by turn options as other casters (like druid and wizard).
Now I’ve been a warlock player, and I’ve felt this conflict personally. I’ve loved playing through the dynamic relationship between Player Character and Patron, but the game’s mechanics were always lacking. So, why can’t I, say for instance, play a Druid but have the story of the warlock? For some DMs, the answer is “because the book says that Warlocks are the pact ones. It’s the warlock story.”
To which, I retort, “Why can’t my Pact manifest as druid powers?”
And as one would expect by now, I often let my players create characters like that. However, to many readers, the story of a game rule and its mechanics are married. My suggestion is to divorce them. Once you can see how mechanics resolve in play, the story description returns to being energetic ignition rather than the boundaries of what this rule HAS to be, and that’s where a lot of fun can happen.
How I Build Characters
Like I said in the introduction, I build characters by thinking through the mechanical experience I want to have with them. This includes thinking through their action economy (what my choices will look like turn by turn) as well as how I want to design their strengths and flaws into their mechanics.
As a case study, let’s look at Solomon Blackedge, the character I portray in both Cloudsinger and Adamus’s custom world of Gray Owls. The story of Solomon was inspired by that of Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher from the book and videogame series of the same name (now also on Netflix). Although I didn’t want to BE Geralt, I was interested in portraying a character like him along with some of his abilities and style. This included:
Now, no single class in 5e can encompass all of these traits. One can argue, “Go Eldritch Knight! They get access to lots of equipment and magic!”
Having tried to go that route (and see my complaints about Fighter up above), it also didn’t serve my character’s story the way it theoretically should have. First, I had proficiency in Nature and Survival (ability to track and know about monsters). Second, being a Fighter meant I should be able to fight. Third, dampened emotions make him speak his mind and make him hard to get along with. I at least got used to the third one, which was in my control as a role-player.
Again, the problem I ran into was performance. I rarely succeeded on my skills of choice (Nature and Survival) due to dice luck, meaning that my Witcher character couldn’t actually succeed at the things he was designed to. Second, he almost never hit during a fight, and even when he did, because of nonmagical damage resistant enemies, he never did damage. Third, an eldritch knight is far more committed to casting than I actually wanted, and included many magical abilities I didn’t want my character to have.
So how do I reconcile this? Well, Solomon’s current build in Gray Owls is 12 levels of Scout Rogue, 3 levels of Open Hand Monk, and 2 levels of War Wizard. How does this play? Incredibly well. Same story premise, very different mechanical performance.
Unlike the Eldritch Knight, Solomon almost always succeeds on Nature and Survival checks because of the Scout’s expertise in those skills. Not that I’m afraid of failure or having flaws, but always failing is just as boring as always succeeding. Not only that, but he has skills he’s designed to fail at, like persuasion and athletics. Combine that with the Rogue’s reliable talent, and now he truly is a seasoned expert as his chosen craft. Objective #1 complete.
How about fighting? Well, even though Solomon isn’t a criminal (he’s a monster slayer), the rogue’s features fit his fighting style well. Once you discard the rogue’s story as that of an outlaw and see it as that of a dexterous warrior, sneak attack and cunning action produce an engaging tactical experience in combat. Solomon isn’t meant to get hit and tough it out. He’s meant to hit a crucial target for maximum effectiveness and deftly reposition so he’s harder to pin down. As for Armor Class? That’s where Monk comes in. Monk or Rogue alone wouldn’t really perform as well, but together, with a little bit of a Monk’s unarmored defense and a Rogue’s sneak attack, he’s a force to be reckoned with. And now, the story of Solomon being a deadly fighter with the story of being an expert tracker is now fulfilled.
But what about the magic? Well, Eldritch Knight has way too much magic. And what’s the function of this magic anyways? For me playing as Geralt in the Witcher games and seeing how he fights in the Netflix show, it comes down to minor magic gusts and quick shield spells. That, and Arcane Deflection is one heck of a feature, especially since its “balance point” is that you can only cast a cantrip on the next turn after you use it. No problem; I’m not going to be casting many cantrips when I sneak attack like a Fireball.
So as clunky as the build looks on paper, and how it borrows from class features with classes that may not have to do with each other, together the dissonant pieces form a cohesive custom story I want to tell. It’s not to say there also aren’t clever stories I can tell with single classes, but it does mean if I want them to perform a certain way I have to be open to multi-classing.
Dungeons and Dragons as a storytelling vehicle is unique in that the rules offer excellent creative leverage to tell powerful, long lasting stories. However, the problem arises when we build our characters using suggestions and absolutes. I came to my character building method because of my disappointment that my first character didn’t perform the way he was designed. And if any of you readers take anything away from this, it’s that how mechanics resolve dictate the story, and if you want to tell a specific story, you need to know which mechanics are going to allow you to tell that story in the context of the game’s system. So every time I hear someone say that “Optimizing takes away from role playing”, all I can think of is the storytelling limitations that frame puts on the collective experience at the table.
As a Dungeon Master, it’s taught me to offer my players choices as they build, to remind them that they don’t have to build to their preconceived notions unless they want to. Want to build a support nature caster? You can do that through druid, but have you considered nature cleric or archfey warlock? Druid probably works best, but know those options are out there.
Hopefully this has had some value, if anything else than to clarify why you build characters the way you do. That way, when you do it, you’re doing so out of choice rather than habit.
Study Hard, Play Hard.
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This shall be a rare post.
Normally this is a gaming blog, but occasionally I've got life stuff to talk about and this has been on my mind in these uncertain times. So here goes something.
Yes. I am so far away from the stock moguls of this universe and the next. I am not a broker, I'm barely a trader, and I am certainly not an entity that possesses the enormous capital required to swell my own ranks in a successful portfolio on the grand stage.
...Which, I think, makes me more qualified to talk about this.
I'm not rich. Far from it.
Meaning, if you're reading this, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. :)
Jumping into stocks and bonds and putting money away, especially in TINY increments - just scrimping and saving literal change at a time - is hard. You'll try to educate yourself here and there, and though you might pick up a few hints and tricks, a lot of the advice I read first involved investing numbers that there was no way I could achieve in the time frame they suggested.
It still boggles my mind to think that people would just have $10K to throw around, like it was no big deal. Maybe, some day, I could get to that point...but I'm in the wrong career and I'd have to be REALLY lucky.
But my focus here isn't to get rich, it's to have something left over, and that's going to be very important moving forward.
I don't want to devote 90% of my day to stocks...I actually have fun things to do. This needs to be easy, and I want it to work better than a savings account with terrible interest.
What I Use and Why
I've always had a good "math brain." I like crunching numbers, budgeting, and messing around with theoretical quantities. It's helped me in game design, in money management, and now, it serves me in assessing the level of Control vs Peace Of Mind that I want when I put money away for the future.
I utilize (currently) four "assets", in addition to a savings account. I say currently, because I'm testing one out for a year. If I don't like it, I get to withdraw and re-invest into one of the remaining three. I didn't start things this way. I added each new pursuit as I discovered the shortcomings of my previous pursuits, and experienced the truth of some of their main draws, and then clarified their real power. ... That was super vague. Let's get into it.
I like Acorns.com. At the time I joined up, it was my first and only foray into stocks and bonds, and it's all automated. This has certain benefits, with some revealing detriments that are only bad if you're like me and you want more "control." The main idea here is "as long as you have at least $5, you can start investing," and that mission remains true beginning to end. The minimum deposit is $5; you can automate this or not from a funding source, and there are one-time deposit options.
1) Set deposit with a funding source; as long as that source is healthy, then you're consistently putting money away in general stocks.
2) You select 1 of 5 options for a portfolio, based on your level of risk and your time frame. Got a while and not a lot to deposit each time? Go Conservative. It'll grow.
3) Adjusting your deposits, portfolio, and other details is super easy and clear. The UI makes you feel sunny and confident.
4) Low subscription fee of $1-3. As long as you're putting in at least $5 a month, even if they take $3, you're still coming out with more in the account. The arguments against this product about diminishing returns have little weight, because you have to deposit at least $5 (that's the minimum), so you'll always come out with more, and most folks will set it at $10-25 per month to start themselves off, so that gap gets bigger fast. And you're paying for the convenience, with a minuscule fee.
5) There's an Acorns Later option for building up retirement (which is lovely).
1) Round-Ups, the main advertising draw, are, in my experience and execution, a complete joke. But not a deal breaker (in fact, a lot of these robo-traders have this feature; I go into detail about my qualms with it below in a separate section).
2) You don't choose what stocks you're investing in. You want to invest in Amazon specifically? Not going to happen. But maybe that's okay for you.
My main draw: Acorns.com is a "set it and forget it" investment tool. You're not meant to watch this account like a hawk each day; check it once a week maybe - make adjustments when you want. Be sure to set your budget clearly, and if you have extra cash to put away, you have a one-time investment option. I don't recommend the Round-Up option, but again, that was never my draw in the first place.
If Acorns is the set it and forget it, Robinhood is the hawk. Now, originally, I was thinking about using E-Trade, but I'm just not a fan. They're too big and I don't trust them. Robinhood's mobile option is lovely, and it's intuitive and easy to set things up. Their website is amazing. I enjoy how easy it is to organize my portfolio almost like a professional, whether I want to look at things by price, gain, loss, etc.
The interface is also quite transparent. You know precisely how many shares are in what and where, how much they're worth, how much of your portfolio they make up, and your total return or loss over the lifespan of owning the share.
1) FRACTIONAL SHARES - this is HUGE. Most people I would wager simply don't have the capital needed to invest in many of the big companies (like Amazon or Apple). Fractional Shares are, well, fractions. You can choose to put a $1 into Apple, giving you a fraction of a share. Slowly work up to owning half a share, or whatever you like. It lowers the barrier of entry for new investors, and was my big selling point for this asset. It also allows you, if you're like me, to better budget or "wipe" your buying power if you have a few bucks left over that would normally just sit there (put that extra in your target stock and keep building toward the next complete share).
2) Full control over what I'm investing in and how much (exactly what I wanted when I jumped into this).
3) Easy to get started. Transparent and clear.
4) Just for joining, they award you a free share in a random stock, so you have something to work with right away. This stock can be anywhere from $1 - $500. It's a free gamble, and it feels neat to get something (even if you decide to sell it later!).
1) You have full control, so you have to take full responsibility. You might be thinking, "well, duh," but this is where personal research and education will start to show its value. You need to look up the stocks you want to invest in... thankfully, a quick search on terms will take care of most - but YOU have to do it. And if you're wrong, you might end up losing some money. I don't know if this is a "true" con and not more of a reality check.
2) Transfers to get buying power are fast at first, during a grace period, but if you want your cash right away you'll have to sign up for Robinhood Gold, which has a monthly fee. Annoying, considering they give you a taste right away without telling you it's temporary...but it's still a small fee.
My main draw: I truly appreciate knowing exactly where every cent is going. I have supreme control over what goes where, and when. Want to invest in Disney? You can! That's what I wanted all along! ...may not have been the best choice, but at least I had the choice! And it feels SO GREAT to do your research, act on it, and then reap your rewards (even if those rewards are lessons for next time). I'm just grateful for the opportunity to jump in and try.
There's a lot of learning involved in this, and by giving myself a (VERY) limited monthly budget, I know I've always got some buying power available to me - ESPECIALLY with Fractional Shares - and appreciate having access to all of the resources I would need to know what the heck I'm doing. Real success needs experience, but I'm gaining that, and it's a lot of fun to cultivate my portfolio on MY TERMS.
Stash Investments I put here because I can best describe it as the "bridge" between Acorns and Robinhood.
Where Acorns has little say, and Robinhood has all the say, Stash splits down the middle.
Yes, you can invest in individual companies OR in cultivated "mixes" from the program's robo-advisor. They get cool catchy names and nice Dividend spreads, they're (mostly) informative about which companies or funds are included in the mix, and they're pretty up front about what you're getting without having to use a lot of jargon. This approach, I think, has a benefit and a small detriment.
It's beneficial because it feels more accessible. Language and terms are simplified so you get enough information so you can make a decision, but you have to dig to know everything going in. It requires a level of trust in the company that they know what they're doing with each mix. BUT, if you don't trust that, you can always invest in individual companies anyway, they just don't recommend it as readily. Stash is intended for complete beginners.
1) Mixes feel safe without feeling flat. You have a lot of say in what kinds of companies you buy stock in, and, just like Robinhood, if you don't like it, you can sell the mix and get some cash to invest elsewhere.
2) You set up your portfolio of mixes, companies, whatever as a monthly schedule with deposits of varying set amounts into each stock or stock pool. This is a more specific "Set It and Forget It." It can be exciting to check it out and see where you want to make any adjustments, or leave it alone and let it grow. Like an "upgraded Acorns."
3) Though it's not explicit, Stash also uses fractional shares, hence why the Mixes work. Better for your budget plan.
1) Customer Support... I ran into an issue with scheduled deposits into my Cash Flow. The interface for scheduling this isn't as transparent as it needs to be. It's better to clarify and be redundant than be vague when you're dealing with someone's money. I get it; english can be hard sometimes. So I contacted customer support. And then I contacted them again. And again. And again. ...To this day, 6 months later, no one has responded to my question. I ended up solving the problem myself, and once I was more careful with the interface, everything was hunky dorey. ...But seriously? No one? It boggles my mind. ---Now, they have a pretty extensive FAQ section, but nothing surrounding my issue AT ALL, so when I reached out to a person and got NOTHING, I nearly withdrew everything on the spot. I hope it's gotten better, but I don't know.
2) In case you haven't guessed, this is the one on trial. Trust goes a long way in this gig, and that initial experience of being ignored with my problem did not help. They've got another 6 months; we'll see. There's a lot of potential in the rest of the service, so I'm being optimistic.
My main draw: Though the initial reception was lukewarm, Stash has grown on me. I like knowing where my money is going, but I don't have to shift it around or watch it like a hawk. It takes less spell slots to maintain this portfolio, and I like that I could draft a few companies and mixes, and then walk away and trust that I'm putting away a set amount every month that will work for me.
A Word On Dividends (Imma drop some math on you)
The term Dividend is what drew me to the Stock Market in the first place.
In very simple terms, a Dividend is a payout from a company to an investor; you get a certain percentage yield per share that you own, which is cash. It's income for owning the stock. Yields are represented by a value, often with a decimal, but it translates directly to a percentage. So, if you see something with a "0.8", it is literally "0.8%", not 80%. That also means, for that specific example, that a single share of $10 will yield $0.08. I know, that's not a lot, but that's PER SHARE. So if you have 100 shares, your yield becomes $8. 1000 shares, $80. 10K? $800.
Some dividend yields look REALLY HIGH. Like 75% kind of high. So for even a $1 share, you'd get $0.75. Start multiplying, and this starts getting intense. 100 shares becomes $75, 10,000 becomes $7500. But it's not that simple. These are common among REITs, which are Real Estate stocks. They have high volatility, and IF they pay out, it's real nice, but it's never a guarantee. So, from experience, let me drop some knowledge.
Dividends come in many levels, but a safe yield is considered around 2-4%, sometimes 5%. I know that sounds boring, especially with the above example, but if you're going toward consistent dividends like me (because I want this to be passive money that is working FOR me), then sticking to about 3-5% will help get you there. The reason is that companies don't HAVE to pay out Dividends. If they don't pay their investors too often, though, they're in deep trouble and risk losing their capital all together. But the payout happens if the company decides they can afford to do it - and 80% is a lot harder to justify consistently than 5%. That's why Hasbro (HAS) is fantastic, by the way. They've stayed at a consistent 4.5%, even through the pandemic, and have a long history of paying consistent dividends to their backers. I highly recommend them, even if only for a fraction of a share.
Now, even after all of my research and lessons on this topic... I still have shares in certain companies with high yields. I have redistributed and restructured my portfolio to have more shares in that 3-5% range for stability, but I admit there's something very exciting about seeing that high percentage. The real reason, though, that I've kept a few of these...is trust. Despite those alarming high yields, there have been a few companies that have consistently paid me those high dividends - much to my surprise. There are still others that keep cancelling, despite having comparatively lower yields and higher profit (businesses are weird).
But if a company is paying out their Dividends to me, even if it's just a couple cents to start, it begins to build "trust fund" for me. I keep a personal log of the companies that follow through with their promises - and I'll share my current top 5 and why I like em so much!
1) Hasbro (HAS) - approx. $75 /share, at 4.5% Dividend (payout quarterly)
2) Washington Prime Group (WPG) - approx. $1 /share, at roughly 50% Dividend Yield (payout quarterly)
3) Coca-Cola (KO) - approx. $50 /share, at 3.5% Dividend (payout quarterly)
4) Alpine Global (AWP) - approx. $5 /share, at 10% Dividend (payout MONTHLY so far)
5) Tie between two similars: Western Assets (WEA + HIO) $13 + $5 /share, at 5.5% + 8% Dividend (payout Monthly so far)
And when, realistically, you're only supposed to focus on 30 stocks max...I went a little overboard with 65. Oooooooops.
I've scaled back! I promise!
The best option here is the least complicated. They're bonds. Plain and simple.
Worthy is a bond and loan service that supports small businesses, so you feel good about yourself. Plus, each bond is liquid (so you can just withdraw it whenever you want), but last three years before they close it and open up a new stack. Each stack earns 5% DAILY INTEREST. I'm not joking. It's so freaking baller.
Why do I think that's so amazing? Because I'VE EXPERIENCED TERRIBLE INTEREST IN SAVINGS ACCOUNTS. It's tragic.
So this way I can set an easy monthly schedule, and watch the interest roll in. It's compounded interest, too, so every cent you earn from interest counts toward the total amount, so that number gets bigger, which gets more interest, which then gets bigger... You get the idea. I hope. :)
1) Simple and clean. Buy bonds. Get great interest.
2) Withdraw whenever you want, even if the 3 years aren't up.
3) Safe and secure.
1?) The cash you put in takes 4-6 days to clear usually. I don't think this is a big problem, because it's definitively a security measure.
My Main Draw: out of these 4 assets, Worthy is my favorite. It's simple and straightforward with the most consistent returns. And it kicks the crud out of most standard savings accounts. Easy choice.
A Word About "Round-Ups"
The primary marketing strategy with 3/4 of these companies is using a "round-up" mechanic to augment your investments. How they say it works is that you link a card to your account and it tracks your purchases, "rounding" them up to the nearest dollar. The difference from the rounding is then set aside into a separate pool. Once that pool reaches $5, it is automatically deposited into your account.
Now, upon originally seeing this as a main draw, especially considering the frequency at which each company pushes this agenda, I tried it out. The way I imagined it would work would be the following scenario:
I purchase a coffee for $1.62 on my credit card.
My card is actually charged $2.00, and that $0.38 is put into a separate pool.
I make other purchases here and there, and my card is charged the "rounded up" amounts, siphoning the difference into the pool.
I did this for a little while, excited and totally cool with the idea that I would be seeing "whole values" on my credit expenditures and that my balance would have had some incremental gain. Upon checking both of these things... Neither was true.
In reality, this is actually what happens.
I purchase a coffee for $1.62 on my credit card.
My card is actually charged $1.62, and that $0.38 is just a number, put on a list in my account.
I make other purchases here and there, and more arbitrary "differences" are put on that list.
I then must sign in to my account and go through that list, checking box after box of these "differences" until I crest at least $5. That amount of money is then withdrawn not from my credit card, but from my funding source. To which, I ask, why didn't I just deposit an extra $5 as a One-Time deposit?
The Round-Up system uses the rounded differences as arbitrary values to collect in a list that you must then pick and choose which ones to "use" to add up to $5. Like a game. A really dumb, boring game that adds extra work to something I could more easily automate using the features I already have.
Hmm. Maybe others enjoy it, but it seemed so pointless once I experienced it. So, though they'll recommend that you sync a card every time you login, in my experience it's worthless. The way it is presented and worded gives the impression that the extra deposit comes from your credit card...but it doesn't. You're just collecting numbers so can do a "bonus" deposit...which you can do anyway, and do better by setting a budget and a schedule. Duh.
So. As with most little upstarts, there's a great referral perk program. If any of these seem valuable to you, I highly recommend jumping in through a referral. It's a nice bonus for the one giving and the new recruit.
Acorns gives an extra $5 when you sign up. You get 5, I get 5 if you click here.
Robinhood gives free stock to me and you - here ya go, friend!
Stash gives each of us $20 to invest in stuff, if you're down.
Worthy gives each of us a free bond (they're $10 bonds).
Thank you for jumping on to my weird life math lesson.
Puppies and kitties with swords and sorcery are next (Mau!)
See you at the table.
Foreword: Apprentice Ian has been hard at work developing a successful Curse of Strahd campaign...between two groups. Now, it would always work out that one group (meeting monthly) would take place before the other (meeting weekly), allowing the DM to take the lessons learned from the first group and apply them with great success with the second. This is the lesson of practice and learning from the feedback you receive through play to make satisfying encounters. His main struggle here is trying to re-apply the successful lessons from the second group to the first, so that both tables have satisfying sessions.
Originally Transcribed on 5/12/20
As a new DM, one of my greatest goals is to create an engaging and satisfying story for both myself and my Players to enjoy. In my eyes, the ultimate goal of a game like Dungeons & Dragons is to have fun with your friends. And so, when a social encounter I’ve set up falls a little flat, for either of us, it feels disappointing. Now, it’s important to take this with a grain of salt - even the most experienced DMs will go through this, and it’s not the end of the campaign just because your goblin merchant doesn’t quite harmonize with the Party. These things happen.
But it’s not what this entry is about.
I am in a fortunate position as a new DM: I am able to take what is essentially the same encounter, and present it to two groups, one after the other. Because of this, I am able to learn from any missteps I make, and enhance the things that went well. However, I want to take even the lessons I learn from the second chance, and apply them to the future scenarios I set up for the first group. And so, I have found myself asking a few questions.
What are the goals of my PCs, and of the Party in general? This is important to understand, because each session should feel as though the Party has in some way furthered their goals in the campaign. Whether this means defeating an ancient dragon, removing a political figure from power, or seeking revenge against a Big Bad Guy, the encounter must somehow relate to that goal.
What are the goals of my NPCs, and what knowledge do they hold? When I begin to plan my encounter, one of the top things in my mind is to create an interesting NPC with depth of character. This means that the character will have their own motives, which may not be aligned with the Party’s. The answer to this question which shapes the dynamic of the conversation, and determines whether the NPC can be considered antagonistic or protagonistic in the eyes of the Party.
Finally, how do I best reward the Party for their time invested in the encounter? This is honestly one of the things that concerns me most. An encounter that does not have a significant impact on the Party is meaningless, and a waste of time. The Party members are making an investment each time they interact with an NPC, so it’s important that they feel like it changed their perception of the world, helped them further their goals, or fleshed out the setting overall. For example, learning the location of a magical artifact, understanding the motives of a powerful enemy, or making a crucial ally who will provide safe harbor from the city guard.
These are not all of the questions one could ask when creating a rewarding and satisfying encounter, but they are effective at enhancing a DM’s creative faculties. They touch on key points that will bring your interactions to life - even when improvising the lines. I am confident that this lesson will prove invaluable in all of my campaigns, and I hope it will help you as well.
Good luck on your journeys.
Foreword: Every person trying their hand at running a tabletop scenario runs into the realm of creative bursts, circumstantial rulings, and an overall desire to put spins on the game world. Though these moments are what breathe life into the table for me, they blossom from a strong understanding of the core rules first. I'll often tell my music students, "Walk with me now, so you can run later." Learn the rules, so you can bend and break them later at appropriate times, and it's amazing how freeing it can be to just...master the rules of the game first. Your players will also be stronger moving from table to table, and the more tables they can be equipped for, the better. :)
Originally Transcribed on 5/5/2020
Besides the official material printed in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual, there are veritable terabytes of information out there in the shape of online forums and posts discussing helpful tips to becoming an effective DM. Immersing oneself into the vast expanse of resources, tools and video-blogs can often be overwhelming, however, and so I find myself forced to turn away from the immense forest that is D&D and start with a single, tall oak tree: the Rules As Written.
Many people come into Dungeons & Dragons with a sense of inspiration and wonder, excited to be able to tell any story they want in this unique game. All campaigns have the goal of creating a satisfying story for both Players and DM. However, it can be easy to let this unbridled creativity get away from us during play. This is why it is important for new DM’s to mediate and regulate the mechanics of the story through the Rules as Written in order to bring out the best in their Players.
This is especially true for a table with new Players. I run a home campaign in the Tyranny of Dragons setting, and four of my five Players have no experience with D&D whatsoever. If I were to introduce special homebrew rules, such as drinking a Healing Potion as a bonus action, then I would be setting them up for confusion should they eventually crack open the Player’s Handbook to learn more. Or, if a Player has already done their homework before attending the session, the confusion could bog down gameplay and change the dynamic between Player and DM.
Generally speaking, one can look at the game of D&D as a blank canvas, and the Rules as Written as the pencil. When learning to paint, you must first learn to draw, and so you use the pencil to learn the essentials: lining, shading, perspective, and more. Once this has been mastered, you begin to introduce new elements to the game to increase satisfaction and fun. When starting out as a new DM, there are so many other lessons to learn - it’s unnecessary to worry about homebrew at this stage. But don’t worry, there will be plenty of time to discuss that in a later entry.
Good luck on your journeys.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, and aspiring fiction author.
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