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18 April 2018

Devils, Demons, and The Bloodiest War


The next release from Wizards of the Coast is rapidly approaching. Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, a book all about the various, long-standing conflicts of the Dungeons and Dragons multiverse, looks to be a fantastic addition to fifth edition and it’s arriving on May 18, 2018, in game stores. Over the last few months, we’ve had spouts of information come out about the book, including the names of the six chapters within.

Leading up to the book’s release, I’ll be going over the six chapters, discussing the history behind each of them, and speculating about what new tales could be within!

This week, I’m looking at the Blood War.

Since the inception of the multiverse, law has fought against chaos. This battle has taken many forms, but none are as brutal and longstanding as the conflict between devils and demons. Known by all as the Blood War, this awesome piece of the D&D multiverse has an extended history, a ton of possible uses, and will be the expanded upon in the first chapter of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes!

A Summarization


The Blood War is a conflict as old as time itself, spawned from the utter vitriol and hatred between devils and demons, fiends of diametrically opposed alignments. Though the war is retold in many different ways throughout many different worlds, the story generally goes like this:

The first battles between law and chaos are remembered by few, but all understand that the Blood War stemmed from these initial wars. The war pits the inhabitants of Hell against the denizens of the Abyss. The former are devils, masters of law, manipulation, and might, while the latter are demons, creatures of chaos, madness, and inccessance. Both factions are fiends and inherently evil entities.

Unfortunately for the fiends involved, neither side has been able to vanquish the other, resulting in a stalemate. Fortunately for the rest of the multiverse, there is still no end in sight, for if the devils were to win, everything would be enveloped in orderly evil, and if the demons were to be victorious, all order would vanish and only madness and evil would remain.

This ‘endless’ war isn’t just arbitrarily without end for the sake of everlasting conflict and plot hooks. Instead, it’s a stalemate for a few, excellent reasons. 


First, the two sides counter each other far too well. The devils have fewer combatants but are more organized, proficient in combat, and understanding of war in general. Yet, there are so many demons that they devils are unable to wipe them out. As one demon dies, two more take its place, forevermore. Second, the demons of the Abyss are constantly fighting with each other. While archdevils plot in secret, waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike with minimal risk and backlash, demon princes attack their enemies without hesitation and care. Most of the time, it seems demons care more about gaining more territory in the infinite Abyss than slaying their mortal enemies. Last, some profit from the Blood War, such as a few archdevils in Hell and the yugoloths. They look to gain far more if the war were to continue indefinitely than if it ended swiftly with one side winning, and their actions or lack thereof proves this.

To summarize: The Blood War is an ancient conflict between demons and devils without an end in sight.

That’s cool and all, but how can we use the Blood War in our D&D games?

Using the Blood War as a Player


In most worlds, conflicts from other planes of existence spill onto the Prime Material Plane. The Blood War is no exception. If what you’ve read today sounded compelling, and you’d like to incorporate this bloody battle into your character in some way, you’re in luck!

  • A tiefling deserter of the Blood War, you’ve managed to escape to the Prime Material Plane with your life intact. However, your soul is still bound to your devil overlord, and she’s never let a deserter go unpunished.
  • Centuries ago, your ancestors made a pact with an ice devil to serve in the Blood War for tremendous power. You are the first of your line in three-hundred years to be free of this burden, but your family’s history has been shaped by it.
  • You discovered a relic of the Blood War a few years ago. While you know its origins, you’re sure its meaningless and forgotten...until demons begin to assault your dreams.

Using the Blood War as a Dungeon Master


Without the Blood War, there are still a plethora of ways to use demons and devils. However, with it, your fiends can have a deep history, a current and interesting situation, and a reason to seek the aid of adventurers. Looking for some plot hooks involving the Blood War? Look no further!
  • A pit fiend gifts an adventuring group an explosive weapon of immense power, on the condition that they infiltrate Demogorgon’s lair and use the weapon to cause the lair’s collapse. Will the party carry out the bargain, or betray the devil?
  • Demon cultists believe the key to winning the Blood War is hidden within the blood of the monarch’s youngest child. Are they right?
  • The god of justice decides the time has come for the Blood War to end and sends his angelic legions into the fiendish realms. Will he succeed? At what cost?

What’s Upcoming?


So, I’ve discussed the Blood War’s current history, and various uses for it as a player or a dungeon master, but what might we see in Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes about this extraplanar melee? 


I hope to see a plethora of the combatants in the Blood War, from archdevils to demon princes (both of which are confirmed), as well as new demons, devils, and yugoloths. In addition, I hope they ‘update’ the Blood War’s status, meaning, I hope they throw a wrench into the mix. Perhaps Lolth has found a way to end the war or infiltrate Hell, or Asmodeus is prepared to assault the Abyss with all his strength. Finally, I’m really wishing that they’ll include various tables of plot hooks, villains, and character traits involving the Blood War. The tables they’ve included in their recent books are fantastic and ooze inspiration, and I’m really hoping for more in this book.

Next week, we’ll be talking about ELVES.

I’ll see you all then!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

11 April 2018

Starting a Story


Every Dungeons and Dragons adventure or campaign has a beginning.

Once the characters are created, the world’s established, and everyone has their drinks beside them, ‘tis time to begin. The table is strangely silent and everyone looks expectantly to the dungeon master. The onus is on them to kick off the adventure.

With the tremendous amount of new players and dungeon masters entering the hobby, this begs the question: How does the dungeon master begin the premiere session of a new story correctly?

Today, I’ll be discussing how to do exactly this, and how the onus is not entirely on the dungeon master but split between them and the players. Of course, my method of starting a campaign off right might not be the perfect strategy, but it’s worked well for me thus far!

The Opening Scene 


The absolute beginning of a new story should start with an enrapturing scene. The goal here is to catch the attention of the group, immerse them into the world, and give them enough to build a personal moment with.

There is a myriad of ways to start a D&D game: In the confines of a well-lit and raucous tavern, aboard an air or sea vessel voyaging toward an explorable destination, chained up against a musty dungeon wall, or rolling down a mountainside in a partially-demolished and completely unlead wagon. All of them are fantastic ways to begin, although some may require more planning to make unique and interesting.


Beginning in a neutral location, somewhere scenic, calm, and rife with possible situations, is ideal, although the chaotic location described above will work. Starting somewhere serene will give the player characters a place to initially flesh out their personalities, appearance, and relationships to one another, while opening up the game during a crazy encounter leads to making an exciting action scene. 

In truth, it depends on the dungeon master’s group and what they’re interested in. Do what sounds fun and evocative!

Dramatis Personae


Now that the stage is set, it’s time to toss the narrative to the players. During this period, the dungeon master should only act as a catalyst to get each player to speak about their character. This is essential. The story will, if woven correctly, be about the player characters. By the end of this section, everyone should have a basic idea of the core cast. Bounce from player to player, asking them to describe their character’s appearance, demeanor, and what they’re doing at this very moment. If possible, the dungeon master should incorporate something about the previous PC while moving to the next.

For example:


Player 1: I’m Tinix, an orange-furred and calm tabaxi. Right now, I’m smoking a bone pipe with my clawed feet kicked up on a nearby crate.

Dungeon Master: As Tinix smokes her pipe, its smoke wafts into the nostrils of your character, Player 2.

Player 2: Kybur, a black-brown scaled, fierce dragonborn inhales deeply as the smoke enters his being, and turns to Tinix…”Where’d you get that strand?”

Again, ensure everyone is able to make an impression and introduce their character. Once that’s done, the time has come for conflict.

A Conflict Comes


After everyone has had the chance to interact, the dungeon master must toss a conflict into the mix. This forces the players to think together strategically for the first time, and allows everyone to play their characters in a hostile (combat or roleplay) encounter. With this encounter, try not to drive a wedge between the PCs. Instead, present a situation where they’d all likely team up for a common goal. This avoids complications in the very first encounter of a campaign.

Sample encounters are goblin attacks, thug muggings, wolf pack assault, bargaining their way into a prestigious tavern, or sneaking through the trap-filled sewers. Keep the first situation simple but interesting.

In Summary


The beginning of a story is important. It’s how you grab everyone’s attention and when the player characters are introduced. Ensuring both of those tasks are accomplished is vital to a successful start to a campaign or adventure. Remember:
  1. Begin with an interesting and evocative scene.
  2. Ensure all the player characters are introduced.
  3. Throw in a conflict to establish everyone’s role/demeanor in combat or roleplay encounters.
That’s all for today, folks. I have finals coming up so the articles may be a tad shorter than usual. Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy them!

Until next time, farewell!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

02 April 2018

Toying With Trinkets


Items and artifacts often drive the fantastical stories we create while playing Dungeons and Dragons. These objects are powerful and have existed for the majority of D&D’s lifespan.

Examples include The Hand and Eye of Vecna, a pair of body parts from one of the most powerful undead beings to ever stalk the cosmos of D&D, or The Wand of Orcus, an obsidian, skull-tipped rod created by the Blood Lord himself to cement his power over the entirety of the Abyss.

However, items so grand and well-known are not the only objects that can contribute to a campaign’s narrative. Sometimes, tiny and seemingly inconsequential items can shed light on a character’s past, act as a catalyst for their current situation, or provide a new path for their future, or the future of their group as a whole.

These items are called trinkets.

Introduced in the fifth edition of D&D with a one-hundred entry roll table in the Player's Handbook, trinkets are weird but interesting knick-knacks that player characters can possess when the campaign or adventure begins: A mummified goblin hand, its fingers still curved inward, a tiny, ebony statue of a raven, or a vial of an unknown beast’s blood are all possible trinkets.

Today, I will be discussing how a trinket can be more than an item in a PC’s inventory, how dungeon masters and players can incorporate trinkets into the overarching narrative, and why dungeon masters should construct trinket tables personalized to the setting of the campaign.

‘Tis time to toy with trinkets, folks.

A Trinket’s Task


Every player character should start with a trinket.

To find a trinket for your character, do one of the following:
  1. Locate the trinket table in the Player’s Handbook (pg. 160-161) and either pick a trinket or roll a d100.
  2. Ask your dungeon master if they have a personalized trinket table you can roll on (more on this later).
  3. Ask your dungeon master if you can create your own trinket.
Once you have your character’s trinket, let your mind go wild and talk to your dungeon master about the object. Specifically, make the trinket’s story interesting and connected to your character. By the end of this process, your character should have an interesting item that you can use during play to add depth to your PC, and your dungeon master can utilize it in the campaign’s story.

Let me guide you through the process using one of the trinkets I described above: The tiny, ebony raven statue.

The Player


Say I have rolled on the trinket table provided by my dungeon master, and I get the tiny, ebony raven statue.

Immediately, I think about its origins. How did my character come to be in possession of this trinket? There is a myriad of possibilities: I was gifted the statue by my mentor before he passed on, or I found it while swimming in the river that runs past my town. Perhaps my brother smelted it before he went missing, or maybe I made it myself. Personally, I find option two most interesting: I found this strange trinket in the river while swimming.

Now, I ponder about the statue’s relationship with my character. Do they carry it with them everywhere, either on a chain around their neck or is it tucked away in the deepest recesses of their backpack? What if they often forget about its existence, but the trinket always appears in places it should not, like at the top of their bag, or inside their waterskin? This should be a quirk of the trinket; make it interesting, and make sure it would be something that can be shown during the campaign. I like the idea of my character being obsessed with the statue, so I’ll have them carry it around their neck on a chain.

Finally, I cement what my character thinks about the trinket Is it important to them? Do they associate the statue with luck, chance, or something more sinister? Perhaps they started having nightmares a few days after picking up the statue, but can’t seem to get rid of it. Or maybe they have had a stream of extremely amazing luck ever since they found the statue. I'm going with idea number two: My character has been having great luck since the statue has been in their possession.

Now, I have an interesting trinket: A small, ebony statue of a raven that my character found while swimming in a river near their town. Since finding it, they’ve been obsessive about keeping it safe and close by, so they bought a chain from the local jeweler designed especially for the statue. In addition, they’ve had amazing luck since wearing it, and they most definitely attribute it to the statue. Is this tiny trinket more than it seems? Is this luck random? What happens if the trinket disappears? Well...

Now that I am finished thinking about the trinket from the player’s point of view, let me switch to the viewpoint of the dungeon master. This is where the fun begins.

The Dungeon Master


I am now the dungeon master, and my player’s character has the raven statue described above as their trinket. I should be thinking: What can I do to make the item more interesting, a part of the story, and a consequential part of the campaign?

Immediately, my mind is bursting with ideas. I’ll go with the first one I have.

The ebony raven statue was the property of an old wizard that lives upstream from the PC's town. A few decades ago, hobgoblins assaulted the area, and toppled his tower, causing it and everything within to tumble into the river. The wizard survived and the hobgoblins were eventually repelled, but most of the wizard’s belongings were lost to the running water of the river, including the magical raven statue. This statue contained the spirit of an avatar of the goddess of chance, a raven that could be summoned to protect and aid her summoner. However, as months turned into years which turned into decades, and the statue slowly made its way downstream, the object lost its magic and connection to the avatar. However, now in the hands of a would-be adventurer once again, the statue’s magic is beginning to return. How long will this process take? No one knows; perhaps the spirit will return at the most opportune moment, or maybe it completely faded years ago.

Once you start, the story practically writes itself, and now you have a huge variety of plot hooks stemming directly from this trinket that relate to the player’s character! This is fantastic since most great stories revolve not around ‘the story’ but ‘the characters.’

For example, what if the original owner of the statue, the wizard, runs into the party during their adventures? Maybe he is perfectly fine with the PC having the item, and is willing to help restore its faded magic, or perhaps he desperately wants it back. It’s also possible that more of his artifacts were lost in the river, and can possibly be found! More quests! More plots hooks! More possibilities!

That’s the essence of trinkets. They are little objects that can massively contribute to the story. Use them as such, fellow players and dungeon masters.

You won’t regret doing so, my friends.

Building Unique Trinkets


While the trinket tables of the current fifth editions books are interesting and valuable, they are not personalized, and they are not tailored to your campaign setting. Thus, I absolutely love creating trinkets unique to my world, and I advise all dungeon masters around the world to do the same.

Making a unique trinket table is extremely simple and fun to do, and creating them especially for your setting can be quite rewarding.

The table does not need to be lengthy, the trinkets don’t need to be amazingly detailed - simply make them fit the aesthetic of your world or the setting your group will be adventuring in. If they’re delving into a terrifying jungle, flavor the trinkets to be tribal totems and natural. Exploring an ancient and desolate wasteland? Create trinkets that are simple relics of the civilizations that ruled the desert eons ago.

The trinket table for my Cursed Jungles of Yatar campaign.

Flavorful trinkets can go a long way, and they’re a blast to design!

In Summary


Toying with trinkets and making them a core part of your character as well as their story can greatly enhance your campaign as a whole.

Remember:
  1. Players, you need to think about why your trinket is important to your character, and it needs to have ‘screen time’ during play. Make sure your character pulls it out, mentions it, or does something with the trinket to establish that it’s more than an object.
  2. Dungeon masters, weave the trinkets of your group into the story! Delve into them for plot hooks, and ensure that their trinkets are consequential pieces of the narrative, not little knick-knacks that only exist to fill up their backpacks.
  3. Creating trinket tables tailored to your campaign can be an exciting exercise that will help immerse you and your players into the world.
That’s all for today, folks.

This was an incredibly interesting and fun article to write, and I hope you all, players and dungeon masters, take this advice to your tables. Trinkets can be boring, or they can become a larger part of the story you’re telling - perhaps akin to the artifacts discussed at the beginning of this piece if your dungeon master is insane.

Until next time, farewell!

Eager for more RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out Villain Backgrounds Volume I, a supplement that crafts compelling villains.

Please send inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

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