29 November 2022

The Back-Up Plan, D&D Edition

When I learned we had to cancel/postpone our next D&D session, I was initially crushed. Presently, I only get the chance to Dungeon Master every two weeks, and I'd been ready for this session for a while. Even the last time we were scheduled to play, I had to cancel! The woeful joy of being the parent of a beautiful baby girl.

When last we left the companions of Caught in Galen, they had teleported inside the fleshy interior of an extraplanar prison, upkept by a timid giff scribe who served the prison's slaadi creator. Sadly, this giff was experiencing a form of Stockholm Syndrome, having been in service of the slaadi named Nailen for untold centuries. The party were doing an okay job of trying to break him from this horrendous, endless bout of servitude, but a certain someone's not-so-nice demeanor was directly causing the poor giff to wish for Nailen's return all the swifter...

Anyway, the companions were in a potentially dusty situation: three beholders had engaged them and were prepared to disintegrate yet another player character (one of the players has lost at least two characters to disintegration rays before). Rays of green energy were blasting the outer shell of this living chunk of a settlement and the party were ready to engage. They thought.

Alas, all of this would have to wait for another stretch of time.

Would the companions survive the three beholders?

Would they succeed in helping the poor giff escape his maniacal slaadi master Nailen?

Would they actually try to use the four, torn pages of the Book of Vile Darkness they'd just found?

Maybe, maybe, and I truly hope not!

I know, I know, you probably think we just canceled and will pick up again in good time. But that's not the case! Just because we weren't playing one campaign didn't mean we couldn't dive back into another!

I call it: the Back-Up Plan, D&D Edition.

Sure, the usual group couldn't gather 'round the table and likely bash in some beholder eyestalks, so we stepped into another adventure I had a firm enough grasp on. One of the players of the other campaign ended up coming, my wife wanted to play, and with those two and my little daughter around the table, we picked up a new tale. There ended up being much less combat and a lot more talking, especially with the cutthroat kobold named Reekdar they ended up meeting, but fun was still had.

This back-up session wasn't what I had planned on DMing that night, but it scratched that itch. It served its purpose well. It only happened, though, because I was moderately prepared.

Always be prepared. Have something on the backburner. Be ready to improvise.

Life happens. Sometimes people need to cancel D&D. 

They get sick. Work comes up. Children are unwell or just plain angry. In any of those cases, try to commit to a back-up plan. Sometimes, that planned D&D session is the biggest source of respite and rejuvenation in someone's week. Don't take it away. Instead, build something new, have it ready.

Really, you only need a few essentials to get a good session going:

  • At least one player and their character
  • An enticing plot hook
  • A few encounter ideas
  • A gripping finale

I'll admit I wasn't entirely ready to pick-up that other campaign. I hadn't thought about the world in quite some time, hadn't even familiarized myself with those characters or people or plots. Luckily, I write a lot of my notes down and had a good foundation to quickly build a session on. Plus, I love improvisation! With my notes and a few minutes of thought, I was able to pull together the following:

  • A party of two (one historic PC and a new one)
  • A demon guards a holy sword below an abandoned mine, a cleric's deity commanded her to recover it
  • A stealth mission through a kobold encampment, an interaction with a cutthroat kobold shaman, exploration of the ruined temple that runs into the abandoned mine, and a confrontation with the demon
  • It turns out the only object keeping the demon below the surface was the holy sword he was forced to guard. He was sending omens to the cleric as his deity to bait him to the ruined temple. With the sword taken by the party, the demon is free to roam and terrorize the world once more

Regardless of any of that, I pushed myself to run it because I knew it'd be fun. It'd still be a good D&D session; maybe not a great one, definitely not a bad one, but a good one.

Simply "good" D&D is better than no D&D.

The next time life happens and you're about to cancel D&D for the day/week/month/year/decade, take a moment and think:

Is this someone's respite?

Does this help someone rejuvenate?

Do I have something ready to go?

Am I prepared to improvise?

If you're able to answer yes to any of those questions, think twice before sending the official cancellation text. You might just make your own or one of your player's days by deciding not to cancel and go forward with something unexpected instead.

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22 November 2022

D&D Monsters Inspired by the Monk Class

Masters of the martial arts, separation of the body and the mind, impossible feats of dexterity, and channeling the raw energy of the mortal form, monks make excellent candidates to create compelling D&D monsters with. Although the books and online resources we use contain endless amounts of beasties to populate our games, if we're eager to craft our own using just the Player's Handbook, the Monster Manual, and our minds, this strategy of crossing monsters and player character classes works wonders, easily.

Just off the top of my head, here are a few instant monk cross monster combos.

A storm giant Way of the Four Elements monk who masters her craft atop a floating mountain, eager for challengers to dissuade her pure concentration.

A kobold Way of the Open Hand monk who wanders a vast desert endlessly, assisting those in need and battering those who refuse to show compassion to the weak...this includes the player characters.

A vampire Way of Shadow monk who mastered the martial arts in life but took to the shadowy side of the profession in death. He secretly runs a monastery that harbors his deadly secret...and grooms more sharp-toothed spawn.

A copper dragon Way of the Drunken Master monk who hoards not gold or secrets or magic items, but the greatest brew around, some of which corrupts and causes her to commit drunken rampages. Much of this alcohol enhances her powers and would help the heartiest of adventurers...as long as they can stomach it.

Do they excite you?

If the answer is yes, the rest of this articles explains easy ways to make a massive difference in the monsters you create for your D&D games. Read on, fellow Dungeon Master, to be amazed and enlightened.

Take a Monster

What you'll need first is a monster base.

Gaze into your world: think about what monsters would make sense as monks. Then, create a brief list of twelve.

For my own world of Eldar, here are twelve creatures who would make sense as monks.

  1. Kobold
  2. Gnoll
  3. Drow/dark elf
  4. Urson/bearfolk
  5. Girallon
  6. Efreeti
  7. Stone giant
  8. Vampire
  9. Storm giant
  10. Gold dragon
  11. Solar
  12. Empyrean

As great as curating a list that makes sense for your world, sometimes it's great to subvert expectations. Not always, such as in formerly excellent television shows, but in the right cases, such as your D&D table, it's a fun concept.

Think: what creatures WOULD NOT make great monks? Generally:

  • Ogre
  • Zombie
  • Dire wolf
  • Xorn

Any of these four monsters would make terrible monks, conceptually. If you think a kobold, gnoll, or efreeti monk is too generic, try to make something work with one of the four above beasts!

Choose a Subclass

The next step requires you to form a set of subclasses you can affix to your particular monster base. These can be canon subclasses or ones you've made up for your monsters! After all, you'll be using preexisting mechanics as a simple starting point or piece of inspiration.

For monks, specifically:

  1. Way of the Open Palm
  2. Way of the Four Elements
  3. Way of Shadow
  4. Way of the Drunken Master
  5. Way of Mercy
  6. Way of the Ascendant Dragon
  7. Way of the Astral Self
  8. Way of the Kensei
  9. Way of the Sun Soul
  10. Way of the Long Death
  11. Way of the Twilight Sky
  12. Way of the Infernal Ascendant

That's a solid set of homebrew and base game subclasses. With a subclass in hand, it's time to move on.

Meld the Monster and Subclass Together

With our two lists built out, it's time to insert one of creativity's best friends: randomness.

Take two d12's and roll them. The first result determines the monster, the second picks out the subclass. Once you have both together, inspect the monster and the theme, abilities, and cool skills provided by the subclass. Ponder how they could meld together as one to create a compelling combat, social, or exploration encounter.

For example, say I roll two d12's and receive a seven and a four. The result is a stone giant Way of the Drunken Master.

Instantly, I'm rocked with inspiration: typical stone giants are contemplative and solitary, masters of crafting the natural earth and stone around them. Perhaps this stone giant is an outcast, a loner who turned to drinking to cope with some extreme lost. However, instead of annihilating his ability to carve, it enhanced it. This enhancement caused other stone giants, meditative and sober, to cast out the drunken stone giant. Yet, in his banishment, he found comfort with other kinds, trading masterful carvings and craftings for more and more powerful drink.

And that's just basic story/social possibilities!

Taking a look at the Way of the Drunken Master's initial edit to the Monk's Flurry of Blows ability, it completely revamps the monster's combat style. Drunkenly, the stone giant can weave in and out of combat every time he uses Flurry of Blows, gaining the benefits of the Disengage action with the use of this bonus action. Imagine the stone giant plowing through an enemy combatant then rushing up a nearby rock, not provoking any attacks of opportunity!

Exploration additions thanks to this melding are fun and simple. Carved creations inspired by an enlightening drunken stupor, elevating alcohol to almost religious levels of importance. Earth-inspired drinks brewed by the stone giant, using all natural ingredients found in the adventure area. Nine Hells, perhaps the stone giant even runs an entire brewery, now that's a unique locale for a quest!

Easy to Make, Exciting to Run

That wasn't too bad, right?

When you're lacking inspiration, take a monster, take a class, and mash them together. The results might surprise you and are easy to make but exciting to run.

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28 August 2022

One D&D Will Be Huge for D&D

By the end of 2024, the Dungeons & Dragons community should have a set of three new rulebooks: the One D&D core set. It's likely the Player's Handbook shall hit first, followed by an updated Monster Manual similar to Monsters of the Multiverse, with the set concluding in the release of a new-DM focused Dungeon Master's Guide, headed up by Christopher Perkins.

Finally, Wizards of the Coast claim to be satisfied with the state of D&D. One D&D shall be the "last" iteration of the game system, at least for a substantial amount of time, completely compatible with all the fifth edition D&D rule set.

In-depth, though, what is One D&D and what does it mean for our favorite hobby and pastime?

Well, this is what you'll find here: another take on what this new-but-not-new iteration on Dungeons & Dragons means for the future of the world's greatest roleplaying game, from someone who has loved playing the game for the last fifteen years.

What One D&D Strives to Accomplish

Essentially, Wizards of the Coast is attempting to accomplish three things with One D&D. All of them are positive overall but some can be troublesome if analyzed carefully.

Let's look at the facts first.

  1. Establish a Wizards of the Coast virtual tabletop.
  2. Cement One D&D at the D&D edition of the future.
  3. Welcome as many new players into the hobby as possible.

One D&D will arrive with a virtual tabletop (abbreviated VTT) created by Wizards of the Coast. Developed inside of an actual game engine, the tabletop will allow players the full real tabletop experience online and augmented. Miniatures and terrain will be highly customizable. Tools inside the VTT will allow Dungeon Masters to curate a truly immersive environment for their players, mimicking the greatest tilesets of Dwarven Forge and the like. This will be the first official Wizards of the Coast VTT for D&D and with most D&D players meeting via the internet, it's likely they'll constantly iterate and push this new product.

Wizards of the Coast are pleased with the current state of D&D. After about nine years of fifth edition D&D / D&D Next, they've settled on a system the majority of the population are enjoying and constantly brings in new players. One D&D is a new edition of D&D even if they aren't pitching it as that. Essentially, it's a new edition of D&D built with all the updates and iterations to 5E D&D over the years, in the same vein as Tasha's Cauldron of Everything and Monsters of the Multiverse. Where it's different is its end goal: WOTC would like One D&D to the ultimate version of D&D. There will be no sixth edition or seventh or eighth edition D&D, just One D&D. One D&D's core rules will be out by the end of 2024, with an endless stream of products to follow.

The past few years were a plight for most the world and a boon for D&D. With the rise of streaming, online play, and the perceived simplicity of fifth edition D&D, more people are playing the game now than ever before. WOTC, and all of us, really, seek to greaten these numbers. One D&D will streamline the core rules, eliminate unneeded complexity, add in highly requested rules alterations, and cater at least some of its base material, like the Dungeon Master's Guide, to new players. Hopefully, this will assist in welcoming even more new people to D&D, especially new Dungeon Masters.

Luckily, Wizards of the Coast are not doing this alone. One D&D will be extensively play-tested and built with community feedback in mind. You can even participate in its current iteration, as of August 28, 2022, right here! All feedback is valuable, I encourage you to read through the rule changes, try some out, and give WOTC all the critiques and kudos you can think up.

Microtransactions in D&D

The biggest piece to fear about One D&D is the virtual tabletop. More and more D&D players are hosting their games on the web, using webcams, mics, and pure imagination to tell fantastical stories in the worlds of swords and sorcery. Wizards of the Coast obviously sees the desire for an official virtual tabletop and with that, the possibility to heavily monetize their own VTT with microtransactions (also called MTX).

More and more game developers, usually video game developers, are moving away from the buy-to-play model and transforming their games into live services. In some cases, this is welcome and not too predatory. In others, it seeps into the fabric of the game and changes it for the worse, irreparably. I'm not too worried about the monetization for those who play in-person on a physical tabletop, but for those who take it online, there might be some problems.

Imagine this scenario: One D&D releases. You buy the core rule books, you have them. If you're a physical player, you're good. However, if you're playing online and would like to use the virtual tabletop, you also need access to the virtual tabletop. This might be a one-time purchase or a subscription model (monthly or annually). So you either buy the VTT access or subscribe to it, all good there. Then, you realize there's an arsenal of extra pieces you can purchase: the 20 unique orc models cost $5.99. The red dragon set (wyrmling through ancient) costs $1.99. The crypt dungeon tileset looks amazing and the ambience rocks, it costs another $2.99, but the complete dungeon collection which includes the crypt, temple, cavern, sewer, Underdark, ruin, and castle tilesets is only $9.99!

Be mindful, this is all speculation, but it's my greatest fear about One D&D.

I do not fault WOTC for desiring a slice of the MTX-pie, it's a huge area where they can make money. However, it brings tabletop D&D quite close to the video game realm, when I hoped it would stay on the outskirts for the foreseeable future.

Other than that, One D&D looks great. I'm sure there might be a few rules I don't agree with or don't want to implement at my table, but that's why D&D as a whole is great: it's malleable.

A United System and Novel Mechanics

The idea of all future books being compatible with each other is a splendid one, albeit quite optimistic. Even D&D 5e's own books are difficult to compare and piece together on their own; they require a bit of tinkering and game knowledge to work alongside each other well. While this idea has always existed, if WOTC are actively trying to ensure every book can stand beside the last, I'm excited and hopeful.

I'm someone who owns many books of editions past. Oftentimes, I lift ideas and even material from those books and adapt them to my D&D fifth edition games. It works, but sometimes it's janky. If WOTC is dedicated to harmonizing their future content, it'll be great for DMs and players of the far-flung future, giving them a wealth of easy-to-access and adjust content for their games.

In addition to this, the revamp of the core rules looks quite promising. Creating a character seems to be more involved, with a larger focus on the background of the character rather than their race. Counter, though, some of the new racial ideas look amazing, such as the dwarf tremor sense feature. What a novel idea! I'm looking forward to most of these changes to the mechanics, and I'll be excited to playtest them for the next year or so in anticipation of their real release.

One D&D Will Change the Game

One D&D will be huge for D&D. Wizards of the Coast are not selling it as a new edition of D&D, but the fact is it's even bigger than that: it's an attempt to forever unite D&D into a single game system. Sure, it will be patched and updated with new books and ideas, but it'll "forever" remain One D&D.

We're about to enter a new era of Dungeons & Dragons. 

Are you ready?

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23 August 2022

How to Return to Your D&D Game After a Break

Extended breaks are commonplace in many Dungeons & Dragons groups. Mine are no exception. But what should you prepare for as a Dungeon Master or a Player after a long absence from the game and world of your D&D campaign? Well, as I'm about to return to my homebrew world of Eldar after a lengthy hiatus due to the birth of my daughter, this topic constantly bounces around my mind.

It's a tricky topic, really, and is unique for every group out there. However, after a few musings during my morning runs, I think I've nailed down exactly what every Dungeon Master and Player needs to think about.

If you're about to return to a D&D game after a long hiatus or are about to take one, this is the article for you.

Read on for some vital advice about how to keep your D&D game alive after or before a long break.

Gather Your Party

Wrangling everyone together is usually the most difficult part of planning a D&D session or campaign, and that's true when returning to the latter as well! Fortunately, you should have a firm relationship established with each of the players and, with a bit of communication on your part about why a break occurred in the first place, gathering everyone shouldn't be too difficult.

Start with a message. Let everyone know that you're ready to return to the D&D table. If you'd like to be transparent, give a bit more information on why the break happened and why you're good to go and play again. Most people, especially your fellow friends and players, shall appreciate it.

Connect with people, Talk back and forth. Get back into the swing of D&D-esque communication: little quips back and forth, reminiscing about past adventures, and battling the all too powerful calendar beast.

Once you're all in communication again, schedule your first game back. Let everyone know how excited you are to begin again and move to the new section...unless you'd like to commit to a bit of extra work/fun.

A Short Piece of Fantastical Fiction

Writers among you Dungeon Masters out there, take this reintroduction to your campaign and world as an opportunity to grab the attention of your players. Take a few hours to write a succinct piece of fiction about the campaign. Grant the players a snapshot of the villain. Briefly recap the story as it currently stands. Don't impose on their characters or play the characters, elevate them and show your players why they're important to the current story and the state of the world.

If you're interested, here are two examples I've written: The Great Unraveling Begins and New Blood.

Don't go overboard. Keep it concise. Keep it interesting. Keep it optional. Write it for fun and as an optional reintroduction to the campaign.

Start Broad, Then Zoom In

With a date set to begin your campaign again, it's time to begin prepping. This first session should focus on a few core goals: snapshotting the current arc of the campaign, highlighting each of the characters, and hyper focusing on a singular force of malice.

Let's explore the first two ideas and save the villain for last.

Prepare a complete recap, but don't spend the first ten minutes of the session recapping the game as it stands. Instead, integrate it into the actual story.

Begin with a brief reintroduction the world and story. Outline its tenets in 30 seconds or less and then leap right into the narrative, asking yourself a set of three specific questions to prepare:

  • Where are the characters?
  • What are they doing?
  • Why are they doing it?

Armed with those three questions, you should be able to set the scene and immediately leap into the action. Carve out this opening sequence for your players. In general, do they all enjoy wild combat encounters or flamboyant social interactions? Discovering new locations or sparring with a massive monster? Whatever they enjoy most, open the return session with it.

Ideally, with this clean, clear opening, you'll also unite them against someone old or someone new, an aspect to channel their rage against and help bolster their victories...

Give the Players Someone to Hate

Now everyone's altogether again, unite them against a common enemy quickly, whether they're a new villain, current foe, or recurring baddie. Ideally, you should include this individual in your clear and concise opening sequence.

In your prep, define this character. 

Who are they? Why do they care about the characters? Why should the characters care about them?

Additionally, tie some intrigue or mystery to the character, something the characters and players can latch onto for the session or the next few sessions to come. This baddie will be your conduit to drive the story forward and unite the party again.

It's a great way to ensure everyone is ready to return to the table consistently, all in the name of adventure and eliminating their new favorite villain.

Breaks Aren't an Issue

Breaks are common in D&D campaigns. When you return, you should have a clear plan to go about this return.

Give your return to the table some time to think about. Ensure you and your players have an excellent return session. Succinctly, break down your plan into three parts:

  1. Gather your party once again. Ensure everyone is able to attend and that you and them are prepared.
  2. Start with a broad shot, then zoom in. Keep your recap of the world and story brief. Instead, focus on the characters, what they're doing, and what drives them forward. Begin with what your players love most about D&D.
  3. Give the players and characters someone to hate. Tie this villain to the characters, flesh them out fully, and plop a mystery atop them. Use this baddie as a conduit to unite the party entirely.

Hopefully, each of these ideas will help your group and campaign flourish in the many moments to come.

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