Lizardfolk: Alien and Familiar

The day was sultry, if it was daytime. For a long period of time, we’d been trudging through the dense Komodo Forest, searching for the Hidden Shrine of Timikta, yet there were no signs of the shrine of its reptilian caretakers. The normal signs of lizardfolk presence were gone: crude tools scattered about, crocodiles peering from the dirty water, and constant hissing. Had they disappeared since Pearl’s last visit? Did something chase them away? Or, possibly the scariest prospect, did they know we were coming? I didn’t understand lizardfolk; I’d never encountered one in the wild, I’d only heard tales and spoke with survivors about their markings. If I had done more research, I would have known then that my final prospect was true; and thusly saved the lives of Pearl, Corrin, and Jeremiah. I’ll never step into those accursed reptilians’ disguised trap again.

More dungeon masters (and players) should use and play lizardfolk. These scaly creatures are alien but familiar; most of the time, their society is strange to any of the PCs exploring their territory or delving into their lairs, but the players themselves are familiar with the concept of “the lizard person.” This makes them perfect villains to pit against your group.

In this installment of Musing Over Monsters, we’re diving into the swamps and bogs rife with the reptilian lizardfolk. Within, their history, uses, homebrew capabilities, and even a short encounter with them awaits. Let’s roll.

Lizardfolk History

The concept of a humanoid lizard dates back to the original novels of the creator of Conan the Barbarian, Robert E. Howard. He called them serpent men, creatures with reptilian heads, scaly hide, and the bodies of humans. This quickly evolved from simple, fictional tales into the real world, and lizard men became the centerpiece of many conspiracy theories. From there, the race found its way to the world of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, in the first, true supplement to the game: Greyhawk. Thereafter, the monster appeared in every premier Monster Manual, either as lizard men or lizardfolk.

Across these books, there’s a wide variety of “canon” lizardfolk. 1E introduced the lizard king, an incredibly evil and more intelligent relative of the lizard man. While 2E merely introduced setting specific varieties of lizardfolk (Darksun, Dragonlance, Spelljammer) and 3E reprinted the same old lizardfolk, 3.5E gave D&D players plenty of reptilians to fight. Blackscale lizardfolk were much larger lizardfolk with deep, black scales and affinity for acid and barbarism, while poisondusk lizardfolk were tinier lizardfolk who relied on poison and their chameleon-like appearance and abilities. And finally, the darktalon lizardfolk were added, lizardfolk who loved to kill and were alchemically fused with black dragon blood. Let’s move away, though, from these different varieties and speak about “base lizardfolk.”

Much of their lore has remained unchanged through the editions. They are cold-blooded, tribal reptilians who resemble lizardly humans. Their scales range from green to brown, officially, but I love to scale my lizardfolk with rich blues and vibrant oranges. Their demeanor is alien; they don’t feel or think like regular creatures. Instead, they simply look at things in black, factual terms: The example often used is that a human is scared of a troll because it is dangerous, but a lizardfolk simply understands that a troll is dangerous, and will fight if it think it can win, or run if it thinks it can’t. This can lead to lizardfolk being malicious and simple villains, but we’ll talk about that later. In earlier editions, their societies, tribes, were usually headed by a male, strong lizardfolk who had shamans advise him, but rarely lead. Simply put: The strongest lizardfolk ruled the tribe. Fifth edition changed this to shamans leading the tribes, and, sometimes powerful lizardfolk blessed by Sess’inek, a “reptilian demon lord who seeks to corrupt and control the lizardfolk.” Lizardfolk are fond of utilizing traps, ambushes, and amphibian warfare when risking combat with other creatures. They are truly neutral creatures, mostly staying to themselves, hurting only those who enter their territory, and keeping promises to the people they’ve allied with. However, it is important to note that lizardfolk absolutely love the taste of humanoid flesh, which just might outweigh their dedication to their alliances in times of strife.

All of these aspects offer great uses for Dungeon Masters, and, I suppose, for players as well.

Lizardfolk Uses

From fanatical cultists and cold killers to outcast warriors and quiet wizards, lizardfolk can be used as both as a tool of Dungeon Masters and players. First, let’s peer into how a DM can utilize them.

Primarily, I’d skin them as villains of some sort. Their demeanor of not having feelings can lead them to be great assassins or hired thugs meant to do something unthinkable to normal beings. I’m talking about dark stuff that I need not go into here, but you get my point. On top of that, they’re great wilderness encounters for dreary swamps and dense forests; lizardfolk are knowledgeable of the land, make convincing traps, and are smart enough to use the environment to their advantage. A group of conniving lizardfolk could lead a traveling party to the lair of a pair of giant crocodiles, create an enormous “quicksand” trap directly in their path, or even disguise themselves with the foliage and lay in wait. Typical lizardfolk lairs also make for amazing dungeon crawls: The ruins of a long-sunken temple in a gloomy bog, twisting and turning underwater caverns with pockets of air, or a hut-village built atop the only solid-ground in an enormous swath of swampland. Switching gears to individual lizardfolk villains or big bad evil guys: Their innate motivation to protect their people first, stay in their territory second, and travel outside third might have to be switched around. Sure, you could make a powerful lizardfolk king or queen that only troubles the party when they travel through their territory, but you’d better make that piece of swamp or forest integral to the campaign, or the party won’t go there often. To truly make a great lizardfolk villain, their ambitions have to be outside their own realm. Here are a few ideas for lizardfolk antagonists:

  1. Local Threat: Four “courageous” villagers went on a hunt in the nearby swamp and came out with a monstrous crocodile corpse. This was the pet of the local lizardfolk chieftain, who’s determined to avenge his deceased hunting companion by killing the most valuable hunter in the village.
  2. Regional Threat: A legendary archfey cyclops called the Beast Queen enthralled a lizardfolk tribe when one of her blessed fey crocodiles consumed the tribe’s lizard king and brought him to the Feywild. The lizard king became a warlock of the Beast Queen on one condition: He commands his tribe to conquer the entire forest realm for her, and then construct a portal to the Feywild.
  3. National Threat: A massive, accursed bog outside the bounds of a human nation houses dozens of lizardfolk tribes that have always kept each other busy with infighting and conflict. However, this changes and the nation is threatened when an adult green dragon named Galaphyss unites the tribes under one banner for one purpose: To drown the human nation into the great bog.
  4. Planar Threat: The daughter of the reptilian demon lord, Sess’inek, is born on the Material Plane. Her only goal is to see her father walk the swamps, bogs, and marshes of her home plane, and she’ll stop at nothing to see it through. She has the powers of a demon, the mind of a demon, and the passion of a demon, but the body of a typical lizardfolk. How quickly can she mass the knowledge and necessary materials to summon her father?
Onto friendly lizardfolk, like allies and player characters. Lizardfolk allies can make for fantastic guides through difficult-to-navigate terrain, strange and quippy friends, and even stone-cold killers that are fighting with the party for the “right” reason. Remember, lizardfolk keep promises made, and will fight alongside those who have their best interests in mind; alas, as soon as those two propositions become false, the lizardfolk will most likely leave the party’s side. Lizardfolk player characters can be interesting to play. Usually, lizardfolk are unable to communicate effectively with other peoples because of their inability to feel “human” emotions. However, over time, perhaps your lizardfolk PC can develop these emotions and come to care for his compatriots; it’d be a compelling arc. Or, he could only be alongside the party to further his own gains, whether they’re malign or benign.

Lizardfolk in Aphesus

Quick plug: In addition to my Musing Over Monsters series, I’m writing another series called The Worldforge. These articles go over the creation of a setting from the beginning and I’m using my own world, Aphesus, as an example. To add more depth to my world, and perhaps give you inspiration for your own, let’s give Aphesus’ lizardfolk a dash of flavor.

I’ll admit this straight away: Lots of the peoples in my world are based on real-world civilizations and cultures with a twist. The lizardfolk of Aphesus are based on the Inca civilization, which was a South American people the ruled over a large swath of land on either side of the Andean Mountains. For my lizardfolk, I use Inca names and twists on Inca myths for my lizardfolk’s own myths and, at times, true stories. Doing this leads to easily finding names for lizardfolk villages, villains, and gods. On top of this, the scales of my lizardfolk can be any color from the rainbow, from blue and yellow to green and violet; why limit them to only being green to brown? I’ve also decided to incorporate a few different varieties, like dart lizardfolk and giash lizardfolk. Dart lizardfolk are incredibly tiny, two to three feet tall, look like chameleons, have the inherent camouflage ability of chameleons, and usually live in tropical rainforests. Giash lizardfolk are huge and aquatic. On average, a giash lizardfolk is 11 feet tall and lives at the bottom of the sea of ocean near a coast. I’ll probably add more varieties as Aphesus grows, but this is more than enough for now. To close out my version of lizardfolk, they believe that when the dragons killed their deities, they reincarnated into lizardfolk in the Mortal World. This is true - but the deities are scattered across the world and some are in hiding for fear of punishment from the dragons. However, this leads to a variety of hijinks and lies inside lizardfolk culture. A powerful lizardfolk warlock, druid, or warrior might rise up and claim he or she is Awkawchak reincarnated...when that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

In Summary

Lizardfolk are interesting, easy-to-use monsters that have existed to the creation of D&D. Remember:
  1. The first lizardfolk appeared in D&D’s premier edition and have appeared in every edition since. They became a playable race in AD&D 1E.
  2. Lizardfolk can serve as capable villains and powerful player characters or allies. Their unique demeanor and view of life give those portraying the reptilians plenty to work with.
  3. Basing lizardfolk culture on real-world cultures with a twist can make for a compelling, special version of the creature in your setting. Don’t be afraid to make different subraces or strands of the creature. Go wild!
I hope you enjoyed the article! Next week, we’re returning to the Worldforge to discuss building a pantheon for your setting.

Until then, 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.

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Building a Dungeon's Relevant History

It’s Wednesday night. The Aphesus I group is about to sail south toward a cove filled with pearls - and the living dead. At the moment, that’s all they know about it because that’s what their patron, a minotaur captain named Harak, told them. However, as they delve deeper and deeper into the dungeon, they discover more. The undead they’re encountering are huge, 10 feet in size and sport odd, dark blue skin; runes dot the walls, unreadable by anyone in the party; the passages inside are tall and wide; moss-covered, marble statues lay collapsed on the ground, most of a beautiful, lithe woman with a necklace of pearls. As they continue, they find another statue of a huge human holding hands with this same woman; clasped in their molded hands is a giant pearl with a five-pointed star inscribed on it. What could this mean?

That’s a lot, you might be saying. You’re right, but it’s all relevant and adds a ton of depth to the dungeon and its eventual end. Dungeons should be rife with secrets and plenty of clues to those secrets, stuff to give curious players something to look forward and latch on to besides combat. Remember: The three pillars of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS are Combat, Roleplaying, and Exploration, and all good dungeons should contain all three of those elements.

In this installment of Legendary Lessons, we’re learning how to create relevant history for dungeons; this history will not only give your dungeon depth, but tons for your group to discover while they’re within. Let’s roll.

A Pillar of History

Okay - you’re creating a dungeon. Think about something that you think is compelling: Death, devils, love, volcanoes, water, animals, whatever. This is the pillar of your dungeon’s history; everything will be built on it. Take the dungeon in this article’s intro as an example; it’s called Cursed Pearl Cove…

Around 90 years before the party delves into it, a frost giant druid and a female human merchant ran off to the cove. The giant made it a paradise filled with vibrant vegetation, warm springs, lovely animals, and places to store her favorite gems: Pearls. They had many children who learned their father’s ways and lived inside this paradise, thriving. However, the human lady eventually passed as did her half-giant children (who have sped up lives in my setting), leaving the frost giant alone. The cove grew cold and icy, the vegetation rotted, and the giant turned to dark magic. In an attempt to resurrect his love and children, he performed a ritual to raise them that involved necromancy. It failed but he raised them - as mindless undead. Unable to slay his own family, he locked himself away in the depths of the cove. Now, he waits for his family’s undeath to miraculously end, unable to end his life or theirs by his own hand.

The huge undead skeletons and zombies? Half-giants. The runes? Druidic glyphs written in Giant. The large passages? For the giants to move through. The moss and strange, rotting vegetation? Druidic magic gone awry. The pearls? The favorite item of the frost giant druid’s wife. The marble statues? Representations of his wife. Everything in Cursed Pearl Cove stems from the main history I chose for the dungeon: Love. The giant made the cove because of love. He tried to resurrect his family because of love. He locks himself away, unable to kill or flee, because of love.

Decide what your pillar of history is, then write a few sentences about it. Here are a couple example pillars:
  1. Devils: A bone devil has created a shrine to Asmodeus in the ruins of a former temple of Tyr. Lizardfolk tribes nearby have taken interest in the devil’s renovation of the site.
  2. Planar: A grand mountain that shifts between the planes appears near a powerful city. What lurks within comes from all the different planes of the multiverse.
  3. Sand: A hunting group of thri-kreen discovered a collapsed tower beneath the sands of a windy desert. They’re not the only ones using it as a home.
  4. Pain: Lord Aver’s dungeon is infamous for spitting out prisoners who never disobey his orders again. Your friend was wrongfully taken and Lord Aver won’t release him.
Afterward, connect your pillar to some or all of the encounters in your dungeon, from combat to exploration.

For example, the skeletons and zombies in Cursed Pearl Cove are half-giant because of the relationship between the frost giant and human. This gives them additional hit points, stronger attacks, and, because of their druidic heritage, the ability to fling icy balls and walk on water. On top of the half-giant undead, the frost giant had a giant octopus that also passed on and became undead. It haunts the stone landing at the end of the inlet leading to the cavern portion of the cove. There! My dungeon’s combat encounters are more interesting thanks to the relevant history I established using the pillar of “love.” 

Moving to an exploration encounter, the ruined and overgrown statues throughout the cove are fashioned after his wife, himself and her, of their children. They point to their love and her love of pearls - something that comes in during a puzzle deeper in the dungeon. Groups who don’t explore a tad or don’t pay attention to the ambient description of the dungeon will certainly have difficulty later on. As for a roleplaying encounter based on love, the obvious is the ultimate confrontation with the frost giant druid in the depths of Cursed Pearl Cove. How will he react to the news that the party killed his undead family? Will he attack them? Will he muster the courage or power? My party will find out eventually.

Take notice: All of the “history” I created for my dungeon will be relevant to the group when they delve into it. Sure, I might have in my mind how the couple fell in love, the names of their children, and where the wife’s family on the surface is now, but that’s not exactly relevant to the dungeon; perhaps it’ll come into play while portraying the giants, perhaps not. The history you make for your dungeon should be relevant. If it’s a big dungeon, write more! If it’s tiny, write a sentence or two. In both cases, ensure it’s relevant to the moment, to the here and now adventures of the party.

In Summary

Dungeons should have a history, but all of it should be relevant to the moment. To ensure this:
  1. Use a single pillar to build your dungeon’s history (devils, humans, gold, lava, etc).
  2. Connect this pillar of history to a few, some, or all of your dungeon’s encounters.
  3. Trim information that’s not relevant to the group.
I hope you enjoyed this piece! Next week, we’re returning to Musing Over Monsters to dissect an iconic monster both in D&D and the real world: Lizardfolk.

Until then, 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

Tenets of D&D Settings

The worlds of the grand DUNGEONS & DUNGEONS multiverse are vast and diverse. One might be spherical in shape, cursed by an apocalyptic deity, and barely populated on the surface. Another could be rife with powerful wizards, gods that walk upon the physical world, and a world-spanning conflict between good and evil. Your setting might be small, contained to a single continent where orcs manipulating blood magic preside over a tired population of humans, dwarves, and elves who can’t decipher what magic is or how to use it. On the other end of the spectrum, my world could entail an enormous continent with hundreds of islands that surround it, on which magic is prominent, the old gods are dead, and monsters lurk in every forest, valley, and river.

These core pillars of your D&D setting are something I call “tenets,” and today we will be establishing the tenets of our D&D settings together.

But before we do, there’s something rather titanic I’d like to briefly discuss: Tomorrow, not today, sadly, marks one year of and everything it spawned. Over the last year, we’ve discussed charming beginners with our wonderful hobby, designing epic, evolving encounters, playing monstrous player characters, the awe-inspiring uses of aboleths, and much more. 38 articles about D&D were published, about 119,000 people have visited the site, and the top two articles were Aboleths: Deities of the Deep (10,183 views) and Holding a Successful Session Zero (8,789 views). To many folks, this might be insignificant, but to me, the amazing comments and number of views I’ve received floor me. When I started to publish articles on January 12, 2018, I never predicted that I’d get this much reception, this much love, and this much support. Thank you all for an amazing year; here’s to everything else to come. Cheers!

Alright - the joyous tears have subsided. Let’s return to talking about the tenets of D&D settings. This is the premiere installment of the Worldforge series, in which we’ll slowly build an entire D&D setting together. In the beginning, I’ll be following the 5E Dungeon Master’s Guide; eventually, we’ll branch off from that book.

The setting I will be making is called Aphesus. Wrack your mind, search the web, and imagine what your setting will be called. Then, move on to the next section; it’s time to forge a world.

Gods, Magic, and Monsters

When first designing your world, you might have a clear picture of what you want it to be. Perhaps a broken setting with little magic and an abundance of death and danger or a world purely comprised of water and a few islands and ships sound interesting to you. That’s good! You should have a basic idea of the setting you want to build and play in before you begin; it gives you a baseline when outlining the tenets of it. My world, Aphesus’, main idea is that dragons, a creature long thought extinct, returned to the world, latched their claws into it, and took over the setting. That’s all you need to start: A sentence of description that evokes an idea or image in your mind’s eye. If you’re having trouble coming up with a setting concept, here are a few examples:
  1. A world covered in eternal darkness where undead are dominant.
  2. An archipelago where all magic is strictly forbidden.
  3. A realm locked in a state of constant war between a nation of warforged and the nation that initially created them.
  4. A continent that’s completely unexplored but inhabited by wicked, wild creatures and native people who don’t take kindly to visitors.
  5. A moon where those who don’t deserve the pleasures or plagues that the typical afterlife brings live.
  6. A world split in two by a god’s weapon that is connected by two heavily-guarded and sacred bridges.
Okay - you’ve come up with your setting’s name and basic premise. Now, it’s time to build on to that by adding tenets. These are the core pillars of your setting: Aspects that are mostly unchanging and true throughout the place. The 5E DMG suggests that a few of these tenets should be related to your setting’s view of gods, magic, and monsters. ‘Tis time to ask some questions.

The Gods & Goddesses

Are the gods real? If no, how do clerics gain their divine power? If yes, do they walk the world alongside mortals, or do they live in planar realms? Do people worship them? How far do they go in interactions with mortals? Gods are incredibly important in D&D, mostly because they are the source of a player character class’ abilities, but also because they can be the source of a plethora of plot hooks. Priests of Talmora are seizing children in the streets because their goddess said a terrible curse lurks in one of them. A cult of Asmodeus begins sacrificing clerics of a specific religion to appease their devilish deity. An entire nation based on the laws of Torm’s teachings goes to war against a neighboring city-state after they violate Torm’s moral code. On top of plot hooks, gods also contribute greatly to the cosmology and origins of your world; they shape the planes that surround the Material Plane and, perhaps, helped create your setting in the beginning. Whether or not gods exist is the first question you should ask yourself about your setting. We’ll get to creating and fleshing them out later.

In Aphesus, the majority of the old gods were slain by the dragons when they reappeared. Some escaped to distant, planar reaches like the depths of the Infinite Abyss and the High Heavens, and others now hide on the Material Plane. Incredibly powerful dragons usurped most of the dead deities’ power, and now serve as the “true gods” of Aphesus, while the old gods who survived are called the “damned deities.”

On Magic

The next question to ask yourself is, “How magical is my setting?” Is it low-magic? If so, this means spellcasters are scarce, maybe even outlawed, magic items are few in number but extremely powerful, and day-to-day folk are terrified of even the most mundane magical spells. Is it high-magic? This leads to magical artifacts being found throughout the world, perhaps airships are a common method of transport, and wizards walk openly on the streets escorted by iron golem guards. Of course, there’s a middle ground, but you want to think about how prominent magic is in your world. This means a lot for your players: If someone decides to play a wizard and wizards are hunted in your setting, they’ll most likely want to know that before the campaign begins.

In Aphesus, magic is used in all societies: Tribal civilizations use blood and nature magic to enhance their connection to the wilderness, grand empires use evocation magic to overpower foes in wartime and magical artifacts and items like enchanted swords and elemental airships to greaten their empire, and almost everyone’s life is touched by basic forms of magic, whether it be mystical creatures like owlbears and gargoyles or consequences of magic like everlasting torches and warforged warriors. I’d say Aphesus is a high-magic setting.

Wilderness and Monsters

Finally, you should decide how prevalent wilderness and, in turn, monsters are in your setting. Is civilization more common than wilderness? If civilization is abundant, then most of the land is probably covered in pastures, settlements, and huge cities. Most of your adventures will take place in an urban environment or some dungeon within it. That also means when your group travels outside the bounds of civilization, it’s truly special. Another question is: Are monsters almost always found in the wild? If your group steps outside of the town’s walls, will they be assaulted by wild animals, orc tribes, owlbears, dragons, lizardfolk, or worse? Are encounters in the wild rare and deadly? Think about this.

In Aphesus, wilderness is far more prevalent than civilization. Sure, there’s the draconic empire of Koth, a few countries, and city-states, towns, and villages scattered throughout the vast wilds, but wilderness, in my view, is far more interesting than civilization. Snow-capped mountains littered with ancient, monastic ruins of frost giant seers, endless plains ruled by centaurs, sheltered, haunted woodland bogs skittering with large lizardfolk - the possibilities are endless and more intriguing than a surplus of civilization. Wilderness is greater than civilization in most cases when it comes to D&D play.

In Summary

For your D&D setting, you need to outline its core tenets, or foundational pillars. I suggest you start by asking yourself three questions:
  1. Are the gods real?
  2. How is magic used and perceived?
  3. How prevalent are the wilds and the monsters within?
Answer those, and you’re well on your way to building your own D&D setting. In the next installment of the Worldforge, we will delve into creating a personalized pantheon for your world.

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

New Horizons and Powerful Weather

Happy 2019, folks! 2018 was a fantastic, arduous year for me: I started a blog (this one), married my middle-school sweetheart and love of my life, moved out of my parent’s home, obtained a job writing for my local government, survived two semesters of college, and dungeon mastered three DUNGEONS & DRAGONS campaigns. And so, the new year begins; I’m looking forward to all the good and bad that comes with another year in this world.

As for this site,, weekly content will be starting up again beginning today with a Legendary Lessons article. In addition to Legendary Lessons, Musing Over Monsters will be returning and a new series, the Worldforge, will be debuting next week. Therefore, I’ll be hitting all the bases: Player and Dungeon Master tips with Legendary Lessons, classic monster discussion and ideas with Musing Over Monsters, and building a concrete but everchanging fantasy world with The Worldforge. I’ve almost been writing on this blog for a year, and I dearly thank all of my readers for inspiring me to continue. You’re all amazing.

Without further ado, let’s once again delve into personalized D&D advice with this week’s addition to Legendary Lessons.

There are a plethora of ways to describe a scene in a tabletop roleplaying game: Mentioning the people populating the area, the objects that compose it, or the aroma that wafts through it. One great method I’ve discovered is to utilize the scene’s weather. Weather is universal; people are familiar with it and always talk about it. Thus, when you use it to add to a scene, weather conjures a variety of emotions, thoughts, and images in everyone’s minds. This makes weather an excellent tool to craft encounters and fantastic locations around.

Weather and Encounters

Adding weather to an encounter can completely alter it and give your players plenty of new options to perform risque and epic maneuvers with their characters. Last week, my new group battled a flight of giant eagles, a pack of jaguars, and a massive rhino on the streets of a coastal town. The fight occurred during nighttime, which already made the fight dark and gritty. I added to this by willing a storm to hit at the same time.

The giant eagles soared through the air, their wings buffeting against the powerful wind. Every so often, lightning would flash and illuminate their huge silhouettes. The birds took the battle to the PCs and attempted to snatch them from the cradle of the ground; one failed and was brought to the mud, where the beast’s wings became muddled and heavy. Another succeeded and brought a raging ranger up into, soaking her with rainwater and threatening to drop her into the mud below. Meanwhile, jaguars assaulted the wall, using the natural darkness and confusion of a rainstorm to their advantage. They dodged in and out of sight and outmaneuvered the lowly guards of the gate. The rhino slid through the mud during the battle, leading to a miraculous killing blow from atop the wall’s rampart.

A lot of this encounter’s flavor was taken from the weather. Large waves battered against the docks and armored soldiers charged through newly-formed puddles. Normally dirty streets turned into combatants that favored both the PCs and their enemies. Strikes of lightning upped the tension and allowed me to foreshadow what came with the storm. Best of all, when the PCs awakened in the morning and left the inn and tavern, I described the streets not only as scarred from the battle but as filled with puddles and runs. The atmosphere outside was dark and dreary, a seaside town now recovering from not only a major attack but a powerful storm. This seemingly minor decision to set the encounter during a storm allowed me and my players to build an awesome scene, and even cooler moments in the days afterward. Townsfolk will refer to the party as, “Them defenders who fought off beasts during the storm!” Everyone will always be able to place it. In addition to giving more elements to build a story at the moment, the storm will give me and my players lots of potential for use in the sessions to come.

Here are a few different encounters that incorporate the weather into them:
  1. A violent sandstorm makes combat with six thri-kreen hunters even more deadly and disorienting as pellets of sand whip around the battlefield, blinding combatants and even knocking them over.
  2. A volcano erupts as adventurers attempt to flee the lava mountain’s residents: Vicious orcs. Chunks of molten lava rain down upon the jungle that serves as an escape route for the party as pillars of ash block out the sun.
  3. The sun beats down on an urban street as four adventurers assault a regal wagon that carries a vampire lord from his infiltrated castle.
  4. A terrible thunderstorm shakes the mountains while six adventurers combat a flight of wyverns atop a sheer cliff. Lightning strikes the ground, rain creates unstable rocks, and the constant pelting of raindrops seeks to wear down the combatants.
Need more? If you think you’ll run out of types of weather to throw at your group, have no fear! Check out this table of 12 weather ideas:

Sunny skies
Cloudy skies
Acid rain
Elemental storm

Take these simple weather concepts to the next level. What if a blizzard hits a tropical archipelago? Why is fire, stone, and ice raining down upon a great plain? How does the party react to an earthquake interrupting their delve into a cursed dungeon? Weather, or, I suppose, environmental catastrophes like earthquakes, can create lots of opportunities for fun, easy, and relatable moments. We’ve all accidentally stepped into a puddle of mud, perhaps just not during a life and death battle with a furious red dragon. But, if you want to make weather more fantastical, maybe there's a brutal snowstorm in the middle of an otherwise tranquil desert oasis.

As a brief aside, pairing certain locations with different types of weather works quite well, too. Entering a wizard’s tower atop a hill overlooking a great lake is a compelling scene, but entering a wizard’s tower somehow still standing atop a hill overlooking wavy lake as a vicious lightning storm dances across the sky is, objectively, more compelling. That’s the thing about the weather: As the Dungeon Master, you can add a single line of narration to a paragraph and make the entire scene more familiar and interesting, or you can build upon that single line and allow your players to craft the scenario around the subject using the weather as a conduit. It’s great and simple!

In Summary

Dungeon Masters can steal many aspects from the real world to add to their scenes, including the weather.
  1. Weather is a simple way to add another layer to your encounters.
  2. Weather is a familiar subject that easily allows your players to build upon a scene.
  3. In a single line, you can easily illuminate an entire scene when describing the weather.
Next week, we’re beginning our worldbuilding journey with the first article in the Worldforge series.

Until then, farewell!

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

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