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25 September 2018

Group Size, Enjoyment, and D&D


Different dungeon masters have different tolerances. Some can handle ten, fifteen, or even twenty players at a time; others have a maximum of two or three players. Recently, I discovered what my limit was, and had to take a few unfortunate measures to remedy the problem. ‘Twas necessary. Since performing this surgery on one of my Dungeons and Dragons groups, my enjoyment of that particular campaign has gone up immensely. I no longer dread playing with that group, thinking, "I am the one solely responsible for keeping each and every one of my players entertained for four to six hours." Now, I can focus on making each player feel special, among other things.

Regardless of my limits, from my personal experience and conversations with others, there’s a couple of boons from playing with large groups. But truly, small groups reign supreme. This week, we’re exploring group size and how it affects our enjoyment of D&D.

By the end of today’s article, I hope you walk away with a good idea of how to handle a big & rowdy group, why a small group is better for pleasant play, and how enjoyment based on group size is utterly subjective. Let's roll.

Large and In Charge


From experience: Big groups are rowdy, allow little time for character moments, and usually rife with disagreements. Unless everyone at the table works well together and have meshing personalities, the former statement is nearly always true. However, you can stabilize a larger group using a few different strategies. Be warned: Some of these strategies upset certain players if they’re used. Yet, if you want to ensure the table remains the same size, utilizing one, a few, or even all of the tenets described below will help you accomplish that.
  1. Turn Timers: Encourage players to know what their characters will be doing on their turn in combat. If players take too long on their turn, begin to use a turn timer with a limit of 30 seconds to 1 minute. When folks spend 10-15 minutes deciding what they’ll be doing on their turn, there’s a problem.
  2. The Talking Wand: If your group is experiencing issues with people speaking over one another, enstate ‘The Talking Wand.’ While the Wand is in play, only the person holding it may speak or converse with NPCs. This gives everyone (hopefully) a chance to speak and lets everyone hear what the person speaking is saying. If no one can hear what the wizard is telling the angry rakshasa, it will negatively impact everyone’s experience.
  3. Decision Democracy: When players have fierce disagreements over which course of action their characters should take and it leads to constant party splits, enforce democracy. If an important decision must be made by the party, hold a vote. The party must go with the majority’s decision; those who refuse can leave the group. For D&D to work, there cannot be constant party splits. Half the group can’t travel to the orc encampment while half decide to sail the longship across the river.
From what I’ve ascertained, the key to running a successful, sizable group is to use the aforementioned strategies, make sure everyone is on the same page, and, most importantly, to be able to take lead as the dungeon master. If you want to get anywhere during D&D with an enormous group, you’ll need to be able to drive the story forward. Players will get off topic, they’ll play on their phones, and they’ll have side conversations; this can put a dampening on the entire night if it goes too far. Sometimes, I see it as a domino effect. One player will whip out their phone, another will wander off into the night, a third will begin to talk to another player, and on goes the chain. Thus, another responsibility of the dungeon master (or an astute player) is keeping everyone engaged. This, arguably, is the most important part of D&D: Keeping players engaged. With giant groups it’s hard, with smaller groups, it’s easier. This is a huge topic itself, so we won’t be delving into its rich and profitable mines today, but know this: Keeping many people entertained, especially in a turn-based game, requires the dungeon master to think up new and interesting ways to keep everyone’s eyes on the table. For example, during battle, constantly use effects that affect an entire area, ensuring everyone gets to roll before/after their turn. The earth splits, belching out thick dust! Flames burst from the fire elementals inner being! Waves crash onto the stone platform from the surrounding sea!

If everyone at the table is engaged, you’re doing what you’re supposed to; and, I stoutly believe, it is much more difficult with a large group. Some people may be up to the challenge and the stress involved; others won't.

Small but Steady


Little groups are intimate, let characters develop, and progress at a more satisfying rate than large groups. I may be somewhat biased since my experiences with larger groups have been mostly negative, but from speaking to a bunch of other dungeon masters, I think my thoughts are generally correct. The argument for playing as a small group can be made with a few, simple points. The most important of these is play-time; while playing with a small group of players, everyone gets many more changes to roleplay, roll dice, and interact with each other and the dungeon master. This leads to everyone being far more engaged in not only the gameplay, but the story as well. Building on this, more time to play as their character gives their character more depth and development.

When playing with little groups, ensure your story isn’t completely based on a plot of your own design. Instead, it should be built around the player characters. Their background and actions should have a substantial impact on how the tale unfolds. With a tiny group, basing plot elements on parts personal to each, individual character is far easier for both the dungeon master and the players.

Enjoyment


Group size and enjoyment levels during D&D are completely subjective. Some folks enjoy sneaking through a kobold’s lair, arguing geopolitics with wealthy aristocrats, or sailing across the Elemental Plane of Water with colossal groups of six to fifteen people. Others savor exploring the ruins of an elven village, explaining simple economics to a hill giant, or assaulting the infamous City of Brass on the Elemental Plane of Fire with more intimate groups of two to five players. I’d argue that this game that we love to play, Dungeons and Dragons, is vastly more fun with smaller groups. These parties allow everyone to speak & play more, on top of giving more time for their character to evolve. But you might not agree, and that’s fine!

If you’re on the other end, let me know why, I’d love to read other folks’ perspectives.

In Summary


Large and small D&D groups have a variety of varying characteristics. I hope today’s article helped you outline a few:
  1. Large groups are usually rowdy, difficult to plan with, and rarely progress through the story or campaign at a reasonable pace. To make them work, you’ll need to enstate rules.
  2. Small groups are intimate, progress at whatever pace the group prefers, and allow everyone to participate.
  3. Every dungeon master has a different tolerance for group size; some can live and thrive with groups of fifteen people, some can’t. Don’t go above your limit, and don’t stress yourself out attempting to please fifteen people in a game meant for four to six.
Until the next article, 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.

10 September 2018

Building and Preparing


Dungeons and Dragons can be a full-time hobby. Sure, most of us spend the majority of our time playing the game with our friends and acquaintances, building the story, world, and characters in real-time, but there are others who arrived at this amazing pastime for a different reason. They didn’t pick-up D&D to simply prepare and play; they started playing D&D because they sought to create a world. I’m one of those folks.

Alas, I’ve learned that those two aspects of dungeon mastering correlate greatly. Building a world helps you prep for a D&D campaign and preparing for D&D helps you build a world. How, exactly? Well, in a few hundred words, you’re going to completely understand why.

Having a Foundation


Most dungeon masters, at the very least, have a vague understanding of the world they’re playing in. If you’re exploring a premade setting like the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, or Dark Sun, you have plenty of material to build upon this understanding. However, when you’re utilizing a world of your own design, you usually have much more to do. Once you learn and read about a published setting, or create a skeleton for your own world, you’ll have much less to prepare for. There’s no need to have a list of deities handy if you already have them in your head, or are perfectly fine with creating one for your world on the spot. The land to the west doesn’t need to be left unnamed and unknown if it comes up during the session, instead, you’ll already know what it is! Reading about the published setting you’re using before play or building up your own world before your first session makes preparing and improvising much easier. It also has the added benefit of giving your players a sense of realism and immersion. If they ask what the population makeup of the city they’re exploring is, and you shoot back an answer, they’ll be impressed.

At this point, I know you’re thinking: But how can I prepare for everything? Do I have to read every tome about the world of Krynn or the starscape of Spelljammer? Must I know where the commoners get their food and what the climate was like in this region 100 years ago? Well, well, well...that’s where understanding how and what to prep comes in.

Learn to Understand, Learn to Prepare


More experienced dungeon masters abide by a simple rule of D&D: Even the best-laid plans of dungeon masters don’t survive contact with players. Unfortunately for those who like to control various aspects of the game, this means that you can’t prepare for every possibility. During play, events are going to unfold in untold ways, battles are going to be won by underdogs, and items are going to go unfound. However, once you understand this and you understand your players, preparation and worldbuilding become much easier. Emphasis on that second half of the previous sentence: You must learn how your players operate. It will make your life much easier. Once you understand how they play, what decisions they’ll likely make, where they’ll probably go, building locales, NPCs, and items become way easier. When you know a captive scenario that the last session ended with will likely end with the PCs surrendering, you’ll probably need to flesh out their captors’ personalities, the area they’re being taken to, and various methods of escape. If the opposite is true and you think the session will start with a fight, create a fantastical battleground and tactics for the enemy.

To use a real-life example, in my elemental desert (Enoach) campaign, my party is dead set on controlling the now-defunct temple of a storm deity. However, the town’s officials seek to reclaim the temple because it’s the largest stone structure inside the town’s walls. The last session ended with a declaration to make this temple their own, so I plan on next session beginning with an emergency hearing held by the town’s leading council. I’ve created a few previously unseen personalities, a special location for this hearing to take place, and a few awesome scenarios that can happen. I am 95% sure they’ll go to this hearing, but, if I’m incorrect, that’s fine; I’m quick on my feet.

In Summary


I hope you took away a few important lessons from today’s article. In particular:
  1. Preparing for D&D and improvisation during the game is far easier if you have a firm foundation of the world you’re playing in.
  2. If you know what to prep, you know what to build.
  3. Learn what kind of players are within your group. It will help you flesh out your world and hone your campaign to make it the best it can possibly be.
Until the next article, 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.

04 September 2018

Sources of Inspiration


It’s Thursday night. My surroundings are serene: A lovely lamp emits a faint glow over my paper and pencil, calming, old music plays in the background, and my kitten, Kaya, sleeps beside me, feet in the air, eyes heavy and closed. I’ve sat down to build my world, Aelonis, an ancient landscape rooted in magic, rife with wilderness, and teeming with adventure in dungeon, urban, and rural environs. However, my mind is aching after an arduous day of work; I need a source of inspiration, a helpful key to unlock the thoughts deep within my mind. Luckily for me, inspiration is found everywhere.
___________

Where do we get inspiration for our Dungeons and Dragons games, campaigns, and worlds? The answer is obvious: Everywhere.

This week, we’ll be discussing the best places to gain inspiration for D&D. Of the myriad of places where we can find it, we’ll take a gander at the top three: D&D sourcebooks, works of art, and our world’s history.

Let’s roll.

Ideas From D&D Sourcebooks


If you’re feeling uninspired, pick up a D&D sourcebook. Within these tomes written specifically for our favorite roleplaying game, you’ll find plot hooks, characters, pieces of art, and more. Generally, there are a few different types of books created by Wizards of the Coast and other third party content creators; with each, you’ll need a different mindset when poring for ideas.


Adventure modules are books rife with story and character ideas. Content from these can easily be pillaged and repurposed for your own campaign. It doesn’t matter if a specific character, location, or monster is located in the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, or Eberron; that thing can exist in your world as well! Take Waterdeep, the City of Splendors - it’s fantastic - a fleshed out city with tons of opportunities for fun and excitement in D&D. What makes it impossible to put in your world, my world, or anyone else’s world? Nothing. Read about the city, do a bit more research, and plop it onto a coast in your world. The same goes for any character, monster, or plot. Are you in love with the Lord of Blades from Eberron? Steal him and make him yours! You can do this with anything unless you’re publishing it and selling it as a product. However, if it’s only being used at your home table, pillage away.

Player resources are full of lore, mechanical inspiration, and art. When considering these, you’ll usually need to use the mechanics, art, and lore as a baseline and then build on it. For example, in the Player’s Handbook, the barbarian class is flavorful and interesting, but it’s simply a diving board. From it, you can pursue a plethora of topics: Barbarian tribes, a specific barbarian hero, a legendary weapon wielded by a barbarian, or even creating barbaric monsters. One of my favorite journeys to embark on is crafting unique monsters for my PCs to fight using character classes. Human barbarians are swell, but troll, giant, and dragon barbarians are wicked.

Dungeon master resources are filled with ideas aimed toward the dungeon master: Monster concepts, plot hooks, colorful history, and more. Since these are already tailored for those creating worlds, how to use them is self-explanatory.

Inspiration Oozes from Works of Art


Pieces of art not directly related to D&D are rich with inspiration for this RPG.

Oftentimes, ideas spring from the pages of fantasy and sci-fi works. Whether it’s the evocative and awesome-sounding names of places like Lothlorien and Dol Guldur (Lord of the Rings), to convoluted plots like the backstabbing, political, and epic story of A Song of Ice and Fire, you’re sure to gain at least a point of inspiration from these books.

Staring at beautiful or horrid drawings or paintings can also stir feelings and thoughts inside you. Search Google, pick up a book, or even visit a museum to accomplish this, but be sure to take notes. Writing down what you’re thinking is key to remembering it.

Music also oozes inspiration. Listening to soundtracks from Lord of the Rings, Neverwinter Nights, and Baldur’s Gate inspire me constantly. Video game music works especially well because they are meant to fade into the background while you focus on another task. Usually, they do less storytelling than movie music.


Other works of art include video games, movies, television, and plays; from all of them, you can garner a sizable amount of content to use in your games. But, alas, they’re not the sources with the most abundant of information...

Become Enlightened by Our World’s History


As dungeon masters, players, and creators, our largest source of inspiration is Earth’s history. We absorb everything from this wonderful planet, from entire cultures and scientific facts to larger-than-life legends and fantastical places. Not convinced that these aspects of our world can be used in our fantasy lands? Allow me to change your mindset.

Some cultures are absolutely perfect for D&D campaigns; take the Aztecs, for example. This culture of South Americans were exotic and brutal. From the massive temples and floating cities they built to their vicious high priests who sacrificed thousands of innocents and criminals atop altars, their culture oozes ideas. The legendary city of Tenochtitlan can easily be remastered as the heartland of a jungle civilization of tabaxi, yuan-ti, or lizardfolk and the Aztec’s vile religion can be transformed into the tenants of a demonic cult.

The Aztecs are only one example. Pull from Norse mythology when creating lore for your northern regions; use pictures of amazing landscapes in China and India to describe exotic locales in your own world; base a vicious conqueror in your campaign on Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great; rework real-world science and call it magic in your own world.

Our world has no limit of awesome to steal. Utilize it.

In Summary


The inspiration for our D&D games can be found everywhere. When I prepare for a session or am building my world and my creativity is lacking, I search through a variety of sources to gain inspiration. You should, too. Remember:
  1. D&D sourcebooks - both old and new - contain a wealth of D&D specific inspiration, and they were written by experts of dungeon, story, and world building.
  2. From The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire to the illustrations of Frank Frazetta and the plethora of other art found online, pieces of written and drawn art are excellent sources of inspiration for your D&D world and campaigns.
  3. The history of our world is rich, engaging, and, best of all, plentiful. Use the greatest resource at your disposal, Earth, to create your world and story.
Until next time, fare thee well!

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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