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13 October 2021

Guest Article: The Worldbuilder's Journal

A few months back, I made a guest appearance on the well-established and excellent WorldCraft Club podcast. With one of its creators, James, we discussed the impact of collaborative worldbuilding in tabletop roleplaying games, among other things. I'm excited to announce that he and the rest of the WorldCraft Club podcast members launched a Kickstarter recently called the Worldbuilder's Journal. Below is a dissection of what worldbuilding means to James and a summary of what is written in the pages of this upcoming worldbuilding supplement.

Enjoy, and take a look at the Kickstarter if it piques your interest!

Worldbuilding for DMs

By James John

Worldbuilding is a Dual Art

When you think of worldbuilding what comes to mind might be the long scrawling elven script that Tolkien created based on Finnish and Celtic languages. It could be binders full of lore and locations, cultures and races. Maybe local rumors and royal family trees. All of the details that make up a world in a fantasy setting. There’s honestly tons you can do. You could fill books before you even set a date for your party to get together and roll dice. But there’s more to Worldbuilding than well… the building part.

When an author takes the time in a written work to nod to a phenomenon and the reader is given a little picture into the world beyond the narrative, that author is said to have applied ‘good Worldbuilding’ to their story. Take for example, the Expanse novels, where the large Belter arm gestures borne from years of communicating through vacc suits where faces and hands cannot be clearly seen are included in conversation. We’re never told much about them though they are occasionally described. We mostly just get ‘an exaggerated belter shrug’. We are told it is different, that we should notice it but are not forced to understand every, or even many, facets of it. This causes us to see the story we are reading as part of a larger story world where many other stories have already taken place. After all, worldbuilding is all about the stories on the margins, the stories that are hinted at but not told in full. It’s about the potential for stories beyond what the reader can see.

This ‘checks out’ for the world and we are immersed. This is ‘good worldbuilding’ because it gives us a sense of the world. It’s two parts: James SA Corey created the content in a notebook and displayed it well in the story.

That’s our task as GMs. We are practicing worldbuilding not just in the curation of vast amounts of content stored in countless notebooks but in the ‘showing’ of that world we made. This means that the world we’re making is half written and half performance art. I propose that too often the effort on the binders outweighs the effort at the table which is really where the worldbuilding rubber meets the road.

What Your Players Need

This is really a plotting concept with some worldbuilding thrown in. I’m a big fan of building worlds by theme. What this means practically is that you establish a ‘big idea’ for your world and expand on it. It’s essentially the way your world should feel (or, for that matter, how your party should feel in that world). Once you have a sense of that it only falls to you to make your world match that feeling so the place looks consistent. Here’s how I like to do it. Make a (short) list of things your players need to know about the world. Keep it VERY short if possible, no more than 3-5 items. If you need to strike some off the list to keep it short do it in order of plot significance. An example might be ‘there is a big divide between rich and poor’. 

This is a thing you want to bring home. It’s important to the theme you’ve established which might be ‘gritty corporate dystopia’. Now take this list and add them to whatever you use to plan your games (OneNote, piece of paper, corner of napkin) and check them off as you mention them. If possible, do it three or four times for each item. An example of checking them off might be, ‘as you’re about to enter the bar you notice a vagrant sitting by the door seeking handouts, a group of sneering well-dressed bar patrons eye him with distaste as they push past you to enter the bar’. Check your box, that’s one. As the game progresses you may want to revisit this theme to drive the idea home. You may cause the party to cross paths with a homeless camp near the bar they just entered or witness the decadence of wealth in the trade district of the city.

What this practical method helps with is making sure that you drive your best and most important ideas home for your players. They know in the future what’s the norm in your world. If later in your campaign a key villain is a revolutionary balking against this broken system your party is primed to understand the conflict and see them as sympathetic. This can cause some internal conflict with characters and make some great role playing moments possible. Many GMs do this instinctively but writing down a key two or three ideas will help you to keep your eye on the ball and ensure that things aren’t missed.

Don’t be Afraid of Tropes

‘She’s psychic!? That sounds like science fiction!’

‘We live on a spaceship dear.’

Wash and Zoe, Firefly

Everyone wants to be original. It's, ironically, not a unique impulse. A trope is born when we tell a story or use a technique long enough that folks can recognize it. They’re essentially a trusty tool that everyone has grown familiar with in writing. As a result they get a bad rap. This isn’t without good reason, an overused trope can be painful to witness. Why do villains leave a timer to show the protagonist just how long they have left before the bomb goes off (to build tension with we, the audience)? Are we going to think the hero is dead due to an explosion only for them to limp into view of the camera from offscreen a few moments later (yes, and we’re going to feel so relieved when they survive for the sequel)? Ugh. Been there, done that. But that’s the point. A trope is when a technique becomes transparent to your audience. It gains self awareness. And this can be used to your advantage either in subverting them or using them as stepping stones toward grander ideas. 

You see, completely original concepts take time to unpack, time you may not have at the table. And tropes can be applied in incredibly versatile ways that allow players with a pre-encoded understanding of it to jump right in and start taking risks with the material, which is what you want. This doesn’t mean you should find yourself limited by them, there’s plenty of time to develop characters, factions, places and politics as the game progresses. Your villain might wear a black cloak and have a menacing voice to give your players the queues to work from but you can always unveil their sensitive side through the progress of the story. 

We could learn that they’re actually just very fashionable and collect awesome black capes as part of their schtick, that their disturbing voice was part of some bizarre magical accident and they only appeared to the party as a villain initially because the party’s aims were at odds with theirs. A trope is tool that plays with the expectations of your players and guiding those expectations can help you direct the world and the story effectively. They also provide the initial cues that your players can follow with some confidence before you subvert or redirect the trope. In short, tropes aren’t bad, they’re just tools and you should definitely make use of them but do so with full knowledge of what they are.

This site is an amazing resource for tropes (https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Tropes).

Invite Your Players In

Players are great at lighting everything on fire. They’re, like, really good at it. It’s become cliche to point it out and if you bemoan this many people will tell you to just stop playing and ‘write a novel!’ There’s something to it though. Players are unpredictable, they run with ideas they think are good based on their understanding of the situation. This can lead to zany outcomes as every D&D meme will attest. Here’s the deal though. Players are less likely to break your world if they understand it. Less likely to be wantonly violent toward it if they have buy in. And more likely to have buy in and understanding if they have a hand in creating it. This means that players need to stop being passive and GMs need to hold their worlds in an open hand.

This is where an understanding of your core themes and big ideas comes from. If you know what’s important you can determine what’s not. You know where to be rigid and where to be flexible. This means that if your player is an elf, and walks up to an NPC and improvises a ‘traditional elven greeting’ you roll with it. It doesn’t matter if you had something else in mind you let 'em run with it and amend your lore. Over time this kind of trust in your players leads to them feeling like they belong in this place. If you’re lucky  they’ll take more risks and your world will be better for it. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as a player turning up to a game and RPing an improvised dwarven drinking song they invented on the car ride to the session.

This will take humility on your part. You’ll have to hold parts of your world in an open hand and leave some of the details to your players but, with a good sense of your core themes and vision, you’ll know what is flexible and what isn’t.

You Only Need Facades not Whole Saloons

There’s a reason the old westerns didn’t build whole frontier towns before filming. It’s expensive, time consuming and has little real impact on the final product. Don’t build a saloon where a facade will do.

Just like the budget for filming your brain has limits. There’s only so much it can process and only so many facts it can hold. Where possible it’s okay to not add work that has limited payoff. Take the elven greeting above. If you have it in mind that elves have a unique greeting and you’re highlighting it because you need elves to stand out culturally from other races, it’s not a big deal if you don’t know how the greeting was coined. It’s only important for your story that elves are viewed as a unique race. Here you have a facade. Your players are seeing a grand cultural structure hiding an empty lot and some bare scaffolding behind it.

If your players investigate further and ask questions it’s okay to be coy or give them some flexibility to answer it themselves (player ideas are often better than your own). Whenever you’re making something for your work consider this: ‘why am I making this?’ ‘Will it enhance my story or hint at something bigger?’ If those questions are hard to answer it’s possible you’re putting in more work than payoff.

Wonder Can Only Exist Where Knowledge Doesn’t

The black tar heroin of good worldbuilding is wonder. Wonder is what happens when your brain senses stories outside of its vision. We know this because of lore wikis. Have you ever fallen in love with a mystery in a story and then looked up the lore in a wiki only to be disappointed? Me too.

The stuff at the fringes of our imagination is tons better than actually knowing something. This grants us an ENORMOUS advantage as Worldbuilders. The saloon is much cooler in your player’s head than yours. The cave holds many more mysteries than your dungeon map allows for. All this to say. Don’t tell your players things they don’t need to know. Just let ‘em wonder because wonder is powerful.

So there you have it:

Some practical tips for building an immersive and engaging world at your table. I hope you found this useful and if you did I hope you’ll take a look at the Worldbuilder’s Journal. We distilled a lot of the theory that informed this blog into its pages. It’s a gorgeous faux leather disc bound masterpiece that will give you tools to help you focus your worldbuilding where it counts. It’ll shorten the path from thinking of an incredible idea and your players getting lost in it. 

The Kickstarter has officially launched today (October 12th) and we’d love for you to join us.

30 September 2021

The Bugbears of Eldar

The physical appearance of bugbears has always fascinated me. Their powerful maw, bodies coated in fur-like hair, and oddly shaped ears. From their depictions in early monster books to their Neverwinter Nights portraits, they've intrigued. However, their place in most D&D settings bores most. They are monsters by the D&D definition of the word, foes meant to be fought and killed with little mental recourse. For my world of Eldar, I've gone ahead and rewritten how bugbears are expressed, crafting a culture spliced with my own ideas and the written cultures of another famous work. Will you be able to see which culture I reference? Let us see.

The legendary Aud Dwarven Defender Loddoul Thal defined bugbears in a sentence during the War of Everspring Forest: "Bugbears, the most honorable backstabbers there is."

Ancient immigrants from the far-flung continent of Garthuun, bugbears who reside on the supercontinent of Aelonis have lived across the land longer than most Aelonian dwarves and dragonborn. Their place in the civilized society of the common races has always been uncertain, but in recent years, it has boomed with the continent's increased interconnectedness.

While most serve in quiet, somewhat stealthy roles, less skilled bugbears have adopted other positions among settlements: butchers, militia members, dock workers, and fortune tellers. Discrimination of their kind is still common in homogenous lands like Aralia, but in diverse locales such as Ghidos, they are viewed as equals.

As a bugbear player character, it is likely you are a rogue, ranger, or cleric of some sort, though bugbear adventurers of other classes certainly exist. Bugbears from villages and towns are usually rogues: scouts, assassins, or masterminds with an eye for plotting and planning the death of a particular target or the execution of a singular mission. Those who live among the wilderness in bugbear tribes are more commonly rangers and clerics. Bugbear rangers patrol miles around their tribe's territory, warding off travelers, dangerous monsters, and collecting valuables from nature.

Clerics typically lead bugbear tribes, almost all of them a part of the Circle of the Ancients, a legendary sect formed in part by their creator, Kax Gol. These bugbears shave their bodies and tattoo depictions of the terrifying deity across their bodies and wield double-sided spears into battle. Bugbear druids always head these battles and are often slathered in blood by their end. The blood they’ve gathered is then cleaned into a great cauldron, boiled, and given to Kax Gol—payment for their beastly might in battle. They hope, eventually, these gifts will give rise to him again. Despite the violent connotations connected to Kax Gol, his tenets outline a code of honor followed by almost all bugbears. They boil down to treating those with strength and courage with respect, and paying none to those who target the weak and reek of cowardice in the face of danger.

Think about the beliefs of your bugbear character. Do they fervently follow the tenets of Kax Gol and partake in this frightening ritual slaughters and blood offerings? Or have they taken on the civility of “normal” society? A mix of both is always welcome—and a sure way to intimidate foes and potential rivals. Read more about bugbears in civilization and bugbears from the wild in the sections below.

Bugbears of Civilization

The most populous bugbear center across all Aelonis is Syroli, where the shady House Hazosi headquarters, their forces empowered by the recent emergence of the Mark of Shadow in their bloodline. Most prominent bugbears are subtle spies and saboteurs, working on behalf of powerful organizations and formidable nations. A select few specialize in assassination, with spears being their weapon of choice. Few question this oddity, for it’s known that the spear is the ancestral weapon of bugbears, dating back to their dead god Kax Gol. And while this is a known fact, many would shudder at the paganistic rituals bugbears perform in their woodland homes, far away from “polite” society.

Though the headquarters of House Hazosi rests in Syroli deep within the sector called the Daggercliffs, they have multiple enclaves scattered across Aelonis—and even a far flung outpost on distant Garthuun. The two most populous bugbear havens outside Syroli are Gol Drata in the capitol of Waalnia and Gol Mata in Ghidos. Formerly, their most populated outpost sat in the center of Klagro, but it was obliterated along with the rest of the country.

Bugbears of the Wilderness

The thickest woodlands are home to bugbear tribes who battle and bellow for their dead god, Kax Gol. Although groups are scattered across mainland Aelonis, the greatest numbers gather in the temperate forests across the Tarok Heartlands and the chilly groves in the foothills of the Scargos Peaks. In these wild lands, they fight for supremacy with other woodland denizens: elves, fey, goblins, lizardfolk, and tabaxi, among others. Famous bugbear tribes include the Blood Drinkers (the Tuat Nek, in Bugbear), the Wood Skulls (the Huri Gor), and the Summer Spears (the Lieg Kor). 

While most practice the dark blood rituals of their ancient past, some have evolved these practices to involve live subjects, usually enemies who attempted to slaughter innocents among the bugbears, including the elderly, motherfolk, and children, all in line with Kax Gol’s tenets. They believe Kax Gol will consume and spit out their vileness, transforming it for courage and power to be eaten by bugbears and others across the world. In an attempt to separate themselves from their wilder kin, bugbears who live in human, dwarf, halfling, or other diverse settlements denounce the bloody rituals of their forest kin and oft try to distance themselves as much as they can from these practices.

Thanks for reading. Until next time, farewell!

02 August 2021

The Warforged Ancestral Protector: Soulguard

Interesting character ideas constantly pop into my head, especially when reading books like Xanathar's Guide to Everything and Volo's Guide to Monsters. While perusing the former, this interesting idea stormed into my brain and won't stop stomping around, so I thought I'd share it with all of you in a quick article. Enter the Warforged Ancestral Protector, who we'll call Soulguard from now on.

This article explores Soulguard's concept and brief mechanical abilities. Enjoy!

The Concept

Most Path of the Ancestral Protector barbarians are flesh and blood individuals. They have ancestors who walked the world before them. These ancestors likely gave birth to them, whether they were mammals like humans and dwarves (in most worlds) or reptilians or cold-blooded creatures such as lizardfolk and kobolds.

Spinning that around: what if our barbarian character didn't have true forbearers? What if they were an engineered creature...like a warforged?

Say hello to Soulguard.

Soulguard is an atypical Path of Ancestral Protector barbarian. He does not channel his ancestors because he doesn't have any. Instead, he channels one of three sets of souls to power his spiritual rage:

  1. The soul of his deceased creator, who meant quite a bit to him.
  2. The souls of those he slays, who try to escape from his unearthly body.
  3. The souls of wandering spirits, who he captures and uses.

Regardless of which set Soulguard draws from for his rage, he grapples with souls swirling around or inside him.

He is an outlander, a tribal nomad now without a home. Surprisingly, he feels more comfortable with beasts than other people and he can see the souls of the fallen. Remnants of his creator's will remain in his being, and he feels he must earn glory in battle for himself and his creator. This is his primary driving force to adventure. His creator gone, his only bond is the strange vision that keeps repeating in his mind, haunting his resting periods and wild being while raging...it foreshadows an incoming disaster that he seeks to stop. He also remembers every slight against himself and his creator, and will do all he can to get revenge.

Soulguard carries a necklace made from the teeth of a dire wolf and his metallic form is painted with the visage of a great wolf as well. He wears these teeth to protect himself from spellcasters, who he is deeply frightened of.

The Mechanics

I enjoy pure builds, so Soulguard is going to be pure warforged barbarian with the outlander background. He holds all the special abilities of those two professions!

He'll begin with 12 + Constitution modifier hit points, proficiency in light armor, medium armor, shields, simple weapons, martial weapons, the banjo, Strength, Constitution, Athletics, Survival, and Perception.

In his inventory, he'll hold a maul, an explorer's pack, four javelins, a staff, a hunting trap, the teeth of a dire wolf, a set of traveler's clothes to blend in with fleshy folk, and a fur pouch containing ten gold pieces from his creator.

Soulguard speaks Common and Dwarvish.

After that, the build is simple: take Path of the Ancestral Protector at third level and continue from there, off he goes! Play Soulguard as a tanky frontliner who wields the souls of some set of people in battle. Look out for anything that increases his tankiness and Strength during the adventure. That's where Soulguard shall shine.

Warforged Barbarian, 2019 gastonicker

Actionable Advice

  • Odd combinations lead to interesting stories.
  • Let your mind flow freely while reading and nurture the ideas that hit your head.
  • Over time, these ideas will grow and become awesome characters to play or insert into your campaign.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

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

Check out my first released supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Art in Order of Appearance

  • The Last of the Warforged, 2019 captdiablo
  • Warforged Barbarian, 2019 gastonicker

26 July 2021

Learn From Epic Failure and Slog

My most recent Dungeons and Dragons game played out as follows: The characters learned three planar portals popped up around the city of Ba-Livil, they rushed to destroy one of them, fought slaadi and a beholder-kin creature, lost a party member, and ended split between two planes of existence, the Plane of Water and the Material Plane. Sounds sort of interesting and exciting, right?

WRONG!

Almost always, I emerge from my weekly D&D game with a burst of energy. Recently, the exact opposite occurred: my game ended and I felt horrible, defeated, disappointed, and in a state of disarray. I began the session with hope and excitement, but as it evolved, I gradually became more and more upset with its story and execution. It ended the opposite of how it began: hopeless and dreadful.

This is bound to happen to everyone's D&D game at some point, as pointed out in this video by Matthew Colville. Our games encounter slog. We must recover and rebound from it, mightier and more confident than before.

When dreaded slog hits our game, we must ask ourselves a simple question and explore it:

Why did slog hit my game?

In my experience, three elements contribute to summoning slog.

  1. Poor State of Mind
  2. Planned Circumstance
  3. Greatest Fears
Let's explore each in this article and explain how all three can be combated to, hopefully, defeat slog when it arrives.

Poor State of Mind

The oft repeated saying "No D&D is better than bad D&D" is true. As Dungeon Masters and hosts of the game, we must know when to postpone or cancel D&D. Sometimes, we make mistakes as I did last night and run anyway, trying to push past our poor state of mind. It can lead to the slog or epic failure I experienced.

Although I was excited for my session, I was not creative or feeling well. The group was in the midst of a massacre and a mystery was set to unfold, and I knew a few planar portals were going to pop up across the city, leading to more intrigue! However, when we actually played, I found words difficult and my mind refused to improvise to the point where I was frequently stumbling over my words.

One of my worst fears, more on that later.

Meteor Swarm, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Olivier Bernard, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Moment by moment, negativity in my mind grew and I tried to combat it. Sadly, it was fruitless. The lack of improvisation continued and annihilated my sense of pride in my world and abilities, leading to the final rounds of a combat to transform into a "he hits you, you hit him" scenario; another one of my worst fears.

If you are in a poor state of mind, do not be afraid of letting the players know and calling off the session. It's the truth: no D&D is better than bad D&D. Be up front about your poor state of mind; if the players are sensible human beings, they will understand. Allow yourself time to recover and recalibrate, you'll return all the stronger and more confident.

Planned Circumstance

Over planning may lead to poor sessions. DMs may build up a remarkable scene in their mind for weeks, only for their players to arrive at it and have it crumble beneath the grandeur the DM has built up for it. This session of slog arrived after an unplanned two week break from the campaign, which gave me plenty of time, too much time, to think about what might happen next. This is a break from the norm for me and it went disastrously, as you can tell.

The lesson is simple: both over planning and under planning may lead to terrible circumstances and slog.

Over planning might lead you force the players into a particular situation or cause you to react poorly to unexpected events. Worse, you may build up a moment in your head as I did and when the players encounter it, it might falter. Preparing the right amount, the amount you are comfortable with, is the key to avoiding this. I constructed a crafty encounter for the characters to fight: a bubbling portal, five slaadi, each unique in ability, and a second phase during which a beholder-kin called an expurgat would rise from the closed portal. It was too much preparation for me and I should've simply written "five slaadi, portal fight" and the fight would've gone better.

Eccentric Apprentice, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Campbell White, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Across the spectrum, under planning could cause you to freeze at the table or make the players wander aimlessly, unsure of what to do or chase. I'll reiterate that you must find the perfect amount of prep for you and go for it session after session. Straying from the norm works sometimes, especially if you're feeling adventurous, but for times when you're in the wrong state of mind or are fearing something great, you want to stick to what you normally do.

Overall, stick to what you know best. Find your ideal amount of preparation and let it bolster your game.

Greatest Fears

Already unlikable sessions can slip into slog if our greatest fears become reality. Someone acts like an ass to another player, the dice absolutely annihilate any player plans, or perhaps a character dies. The latter occurred in my session with no sensible way out and it compounded on the dreadful feeling inside me.

The slog grew.

Sometimes our greatest fears are unavoidable consequences of the game we play. Player death in D&D, for example, happens. But when it is coupled with slog and multiple causes of this terrible phenomenon, it becomes nearly unbearable.

Of the three causes of slog I've outlined, this is the one you can combat the most. Try to transform your greatest fears into challenges you can overcome. Make death interesting. Change how the dice may affect player plans. Shut down an assholery pursued by the players. 

Eventually, your fears may become strong weapons you can wield at the table or even use to eliminate slog set in by other factors.

Actionable Advice

  • Slog manifests in all of our games at some point. Know it will arrive eventually.
  • Slog comes in three packages for me, and maybe you too: playing while in a poor state of mind, over planning or under planning, and when our greatest fears grow before us.
  • No D&D is better than bad D&D. Do not play if you are in a poor state of mind and be up front about this fact with the players.
  • Find the perfect amount of planning for YOU. Do not prepare more or less than you need to.
  • Fight your greatest fears so that you may wield them as weapons in the future.
  • Learn what causes slog to occur in your games and actively combat it, or know when to call a session quits and how to communicate this to the players. Slog is unique to all of us.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

More RJD20

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

Check out my first released supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Art In Order of Appearance

  • Power of Persuasion, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Brian Valeza, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Meteor Swarm, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Olivier Bernard, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Eccentric Apprentice, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Campbell White, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

19 July 2021

Ask Loaded, Focused Questions

Everyone knows typical Dungeons & Dragons games unfold as the Dungeon Master weaves the world, and the players say what their characters want to do, asking questions and stating actions. The cycle restarts as the DM answers their questions and describes the epic failures and terrific successes caused by their actions.

While simple, asking questions is one of the easiest aspects you can improve upon as both a player and DM, leading to better games and more interesting worlds. The method of improvement is rudimentary: you must ask loaded, focused questions in your D&D games as a player and DM.

Most players do this well and ask questions constantly:

  • "Do I know the name of the Plane of Dreams?"
  • "Where is the nearest magic shop?"
  • "How deep is the chasm?"

All these questions have reason and purpose behind them. They are powerful. Players, keep asking them! They show you are present and interested in the goings on of the world.

Inspired, DMs should ask players more questions and ensure they are loaded, focused; honed more than those of players. Questions with these traits are useful tools.

Certainly as DMs, everything we say should forward or complicate the situation in the world. Every response should thicken intrigue, inspire hope, or invoke fear in the characters:

  • "Yes, you know the Plane of Dreams is called Dal Quor, but the cursed name of its nightmarish mirror also plagues your mind...Dar Zaal."
  • "The nearest shop is but ten minutes away, you should arrive before darkness falls!"
  • "The chasm's depths are endless, frightening chitters screech from below and the rotten smell of deep cattle flows into your nostrils: hook horrors and their prey."

But our own carefully crafted questions may accomplish more!

While we must know how to respond to careful questions well, we must also know how to ask better ones. What fun is it if only the players are asking questions?

Let's learn how to put them on the spot and improve our games and worlds because of it.

Use Questions to Build and Relieve Suspense

The first way to mold your questions involves the art of juggling tension and relief. This strategy is most useful while you sit back and watch your players plan something. You must learn when and how to interject in their conversations. Once you do, you will layer suspense atop the current situation and relieve that tension when necessary.

For example, the characters are planning a heist on a local interdimensional bank. As they imagine how they'll get past the front door, but forget a key aspect, such as the iron golem duo who guard the door, interject and ask:

"Ruaka, you remember twin iron golems guard the entrance to the bank. What is the plan for those?"

Some DMs would let their players forget about this key aspect of the situation even though the characters likely would not.

Instead of allowing the players to become frustrated upon their heist of the bank when two iron golems block their path, as the DM you can prop them up, remind them the golems exist, and build the suspense of the upcoming heist. If this hitch halts progress entirely, if they are too frightened to perform the heist with this added detail, you may interject again:

"Na, the last time you passed by the bank, you noted a peculiar orb-shaped amulet around the neck of its gnome guard captain. Perhaps that is the key to defeating or disabling the powerful iron golems?"

With that question, you relieve tension in the moment, providing the players with an opportunity to move the game forward and stop mulling over decision after decision. The heist will happen this session, instead of not happening at all or happening in a few session's time. All it needed was a bit of careful questioning on your part.

Use questions to build and relieve suspense. When the players stumble or are stuck, ask proper questions to help them progress or give them new ideas. These loaded, focused questions will drive the story forward and improve your time at the D&D table.

Werewolf Pack Leader, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Miranda Meeks, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Player Character Development Through Questions

The next method you may form your questions around relates directly to the characters. Enacted at any time during the D&D session, it is simple but effective. Sometimes, the best way to develop a character is to simply ask questions about said character, in or out of game. Ask the players to elaborate on why their character does something, call out their character as an NPC, or pose table-wide questions everyone can (and should) answer about their character.

Here are six examples:

  1. Noah, why are you not actively seeking out a cure to your deathly disease?
  2. Milandra, how does your parent's connection to Bahamut impact your life?
  3. The mysterious high elf interrgator to Luna: "Why are you in Ba-Livil? Who are you? What is your purpose?"
  4. The excitable illithid novice to Jason Urso: "What is your contribution to the Neverwild Cabal?"
  5. What's your favorite drink in this part of the world?
  6. What's the most frightening battle you've been a part of?

Each question, no matter how simple, develops the characters. Ensure they are loaded and focused, with specific goals in mind when asking them. Over time, these questions will help build the characters outlooks on the world, their personalities, and much more.

Worldbuild Via Collaboration

The final method of carving careful questions helps you construct your world alongside the players. As I've discussed in previous articles and recently on the Worldcraft Club Podcast, when playing inside a world of your own design, you must remember the world also belongs to the players. While the characters peruse it, adventuring, slaying, and growing in fame and strength, they are contributing to its legends and lore just as you are!

Take this a step further and ask them questions about the world. Have humility and show you trust the players with the world in their hands. 

Here are ten example questions you can ask the players about your setting, allowing them to craft it alongside you:

  1. What is the most famous dish in the Overard Expanse?
  2. Why do the elves of the Asgasa Forest despise the fey who live there?
  3. Who is the most feared warrior in this fighting pit?
  4. Where do the orcs of Emar receive their weapons from?
  5. How does Magmaphor keep escaping death?
  6. What monster roams the caverns below the Fellguard Hills?
  7. Why do the citizens of Ba-Livil hate the Kothians?
  8. Who helped build the Glittering Reef tavern and why are they still remembered?
  9. Where does Bahamut currently reside?
  10. How are the weapons crafted from living coral, oalisc, commonly found?

By asking loaded, focused questions to the players, you can construct a world collaboratively. As long as your questions are well-crafted, suited for your world, the responses should please you and add organic layers to your setting. Not only does this allow the players to build the setting too, it immerses and invests them in a setting that they might soon call their own. That is true collaboration, true D&D worldbuilding.

Going further, you may add a section of questions such as these to the setting primer provided to the players before a campaign or adventure's start, such as this one for my setting of Haltor. It's an excellent way for the players to wrap the world around their characters while concurrently adding bits and pieces to the established setting.

Hand of Vecna, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Irina Nordsol, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Actionable Advice

  • Asking questions is one of the most powerful and easily improvable tools at the table for players and DMs.
  • Loaded, focused questions have various uses.
  • Masterfully use thoughtful questions to build and relieve suspense or tension.
  • Constantly ask provocative questions to provide greater insight on the characters and their stories.
  • Have humility and pose powerful questions to build your world collaboratively.
  • Include a set of questions with the setting primer for your campaign or adventure.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

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.

Art in Order of Appearance

  • Instrument of the Bards, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Randy Gallegos, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Werewolf Pack Leader, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Miranda Meeks, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Hand of Vecna, Adventures in the Forgotten Realms, Irina Nordsol, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

17 July 2021

The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, the 5e Dungeons and Dragons Feywild Book

2021 is D&D 5e's busiest year in awhile, with the release of five books, including its first Feywild-themed expansion and adventure, titled The Wild Beyond the Witchlight! This expansive book will join other excellent releases this year such as Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Fizban's Treasury of Dragons, and Candlekeep Mysteries, and provide players and Dungeon Masters with a colorful addition to numerous campaigns in the form of fey and Feywild knowledge.

This article outlines what is arriving with The Wild Beyond the Witchlight, and speculates on what else might be coming inside it.

Confirmed Content for The Wild Beyond the Witchlight

  • Releases September 21, 2021
  • Primary Contributors
    • Art Director: Kate Irwin
    • Game Designer: Ari Levitch
    • Game Design Architect: Chris Perkins
    • Map Artists: Stacey Allan, Will Doyle
  • Level 1-8 Adventure Centered in the Feywild
    • This is the first adventure set entirely in the Feywild for 5e D&D.
  • Prismeer, a Domain of Delight
    • The adventure focuses around the missing archfey ruler of this Domain of Delight.
  • Poster Map of Prismeer and the Witchlight Carnival
    • There will be plenty of maps in the book, no other poster maps though.
  • Expanded Information on the Plane of Faerie, AKA the Feywild
    • Information about various domains, a few archfey, and many denizens (both native and intruders) of the Feywild.
  • The Witchlight Carnival
    • The carnival serves as a fey crossing.
    • Rife with mischievous, charming, and wild denizens.
  • Two New Races
    • Fairy - a race of tiny fey.
    • Harengon - a race of humanoid rabbits or rabbitfolk.
  • Two New Backgrounds
    • The Feylost - a background for those lost in the Feywild as a youngster.
    • The Witchlight Hand - a background for workers in the eccentric Witchlight Carnival.
  • Open-Ended Encounters
  • Classic 1980s D&D Characters
    • Warduke - an evil, strong character from the Greyhawk D&D setting.
    • Strongheart - a paladin and former friend of Warduke.
    • Kelek - an evil wizard from D&D's ancient past.
Carnival Map, Stacey Allan and Will Doyle, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Speculation

The Feywild is a splendid locale for D&D adventures, somewhere creators may let ideas flow and spectacular characters thrive. TWBTW will be the most nutty D&D 5e product yet. Especially with Chris Perkins as a writer on this project and the art seen in this video, I presume we're in for an absolutely incredible ride. 

I predict the following:

  • A slew of raucous characters, ranging from downright silly to edgy, shady, mysterious vagabonds of the fey world's twilit woods and dark glades
  • More information on the archfey, particularly the heads of the Summer Court and Gloaming Court
  • Plenty of new fey monsters, hopefully some higher challenge rating ones
  • Many new locales unique to the Feywild to inspire countless adventures
  • A couple magic items related to the Feywild, perhaps some materials unique to the plane as well
  • A host of compelling villains to draw ideas from
  • An expansion of the time travel rules currently attached to the Feywild in D&D 5e via the Dungeon Master's Guide
  • Well-crafted maps of various locations in the Feywild, done by Will Doyle and Stacey Allan
All that and more may come true, though unlikely. However, I can dream. I'm sure I'll be satisfied with whatever we get in this flashy fey book.

Displacer Beast, Kai Carpenter, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Hover for More!

As a fan of the fey, I'll be releasing a few pieces on RJD20 about them before the Wild Beyond the Witchlight hits.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

First time reading RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out my first released supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Art in Order of Appearance

All art is from the Wild Beyond the Witchlight.
  • Witchlight Owner and Jester, Robson Michel, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Carnival Map, Stacey Allan and Will Doyle, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Displacer Beast, Kai Carpenter, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

14 July 2021

Fizban's Treasury of Dragons, the Next 5e Dungeons and Dragons Book

Through the sorcery of datamining, intrepid adventurers recently discovered the next fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons book: Fizban's Treasury of Dragons. Likely a spiritual successor to the Draconomicon and similar to Volo's Guide to Monsters or Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, this upcoming supplement for D&D 5e is sure to be teeming with loads of options for players and a plethora of useful chunks and inspiration for Dungeon Masters.

It looks like this book will also be one of D&D 5e's premier forays into Dragonlance, the epic fantasy setting upon the planet of Krynn. Its title highlights Fizban, the false fool and avatar of Paladine, Krynn's incarnation of Bahamut.

This article speculates about what might be buried in the hoard of Fizban's Treasury of Dragons, and will be updated with new information once we learn more about this book of dragons!

  • 16 July 2021: Added a section with all the confirmed content at the top of this article, most of it from the leaked Amazon product page (sigh, like clockwork!).
  • 16 July 2021: Added the massive hoard of information given in the D&D Beyond video on Fizban's Treasury of Dragons.
  • 17 July 2021: Added release date.

Confirmed Content for Fizban's Treasury of Dragons

  • Releases October 19, 2021
  • Two Subclasses
    • The Drakewarden Ranger Archetype
    • The Way of the Dragon Ascendant Monk Monastic Tradition
  • Expanded and New Draconic Ancestries for Dragonborn
    • Chromatic Dragonborn
    • Metallic Dragonborn
    • Gem Dragonborn
  • Additional Spell Options
  • New Feats
  • Dragonsight
    • This new concept discusses how dragons in various worlds (the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, etc) may contact each other. It's mystical and relates to echoes of these dragons spreading from world to world.
  • Dragon-Based Adventure, Campaign, and Dungeon Creating Tools
    • Dragon Lairs, Dragon Hoards
    • Detailed Information on 20 Dragon Types
  • Presents the First World
    • The First World is supposedly a realm crafted by Tiamat and Bahamut, two of the prime dragon gods.
  • Complete Bestiary of Dragons
    • Dragon Minions
    • Gem Dragons
    • Dragon God Aspects/Avatars
    • Gem Dragons
      • Sapphire - These gem dragons enjoy working with deep gnomes, pursuing military tactics and collecting weapons of war and are not afraid of employing them.
      • Amethyst - They serve as diplomats and emissaries of peace between warring factions.
      • Crystal - These creatures are extremely friendly dragons, they despise white dragons because they lair in the same terrain as them. They also steal white dragon eggs and raise them as their own.
      • Topaz - The most aggressive type of gem dragon, they assault others on sight, are not shy in the slightest, they lair underwater and on isolated beaches.
      • Emerald - Intelligent, inquisitive, these gem dragons know much about the world, but they dislike other creatures and do all they can to stay isolated.
      • All types of gem dragons wield psionic abilities.
    • Dragon Turtles by Age
    • Great Wyrm Dragons
      • These epic versions of all the current dragons will be decked out with the mythical monster system first seen in the Mythic Oddyseys of Theros. These dragons will be significant challenges even to the most powerful characters.
  • Dozens of Beautiful New Pieces of Art
  • Backstory on Fizban the Fabulous
  • Information about the War of the Lance
Fizban's Treasury of Dragons Alternate Cover, Anato Finnstark, 2021 Wizards of the Coast

Speculation Based on Amazon Information


From the looks of the Amazon information, we will not be getting for than a set of subclasses for monks and rangers, and I think it'll only be the two playtested in 2020: the Drakewarden and the Way of the Ascendant Dragon. Although disappointing, this means the rest of the book (which is hopefully bulky) will dedicate itself to enriching draconic lore, mechanics, and uses in D&D 5e.

The newfound knowledge gives credence to similar anatomical and lore sections like in the Draconomicon of old. I'm curious about the five mystery dragons, though. There are five famous chromatics, five established metallics, and five true gem dragons, what could the final five be? Could we be exploring new chromatics like the yellow and purple dragons? Perhaps the book will dive into the lore of brown dragons and grey dragons? Or maybe FTOD will throw something new at us, unseen in prior editions, new to players old and young alike.

The tidbit about the First World is also intriguing; in many D&D worlds, dragons were the first creations to walk the Material Plane. Could this be an origin story for the Forgotten Realms, fully fleshed out? Or is it going to be a skeleton meant for homebrewers to fashion their worlds with? I suppose we'll find out more soon!

I don't believe we'll get stat blocks for Tiamat and Bahamut in FTOD anymore. Instead, we will receive information about the aspects, avatars of the gods themselves. Hopefully this provides interesting ideas for the current Tiamat stat block from Rise of Tiamat, it could definitely use bolstering.

As for the gem dragons, I expect at the very least the normal age ranges for each type: wyrmling, young, adult, and ancient. Although if WOTC follows the path of the Draconomicon, we will see additions to this range, which I am all for!

Fizban and Gunthar, Larry Elmore, The Art of Dragonlance Saga, TSR 1987

Player Options

Recently, Wizards of the Coast released a batch of dragon-related subclasses and races for folks to playtest. It's likely they'll all be in Fizban's Treasury of Dragons

In October 2020, Unearthed Arcana flew two draconic subclasses into D&D:

  • Way of the Ascendant Dragon, a monk Monastic Tradition
  • Drakewarden, a ranger Archetype

April 2021's Unearthed Arcana unleashed the following new or updated D&D races:

  • Chromatic Dragonborn
  • Metallic Dragonborn
  • Gem Dragonborn
  • Kobold
It also introduced three new feats:
  • Gift of the Chromatic Dragon
  • Gift of the Metallic Dragon
  • Gift of the Gem Dragon
Seven new spells arrived to D&D 5e, a few named after famous D&D dragons, such as the titular character of Fizban's Treasury of Dragons:
  • Icingdeath's Frost
  • Nathair's Mischief
  • Flame Stride
  • Raulothim's Psychic Lance
  • Summon Draconic Spirit
  • Fizban's Platinum Shield
  • Draconic Transformation

With feedback compiled on all these player options, it's likely all of them will appear in Fizban's Treasury of Dragons, alongside a variety of other playthings for us to enjoy. In particular, I'd love to see the following included for players:

  • Draconian race/ancestry
  • Winged kobold race
  • Wyrm Pact/Dragon Pact warlock, make a pact with an ultra powerful dragon
  • Path of the Dragon Slayer barbarian, similar to Skyrim's Dovahkiin, rage enhanced by dragons, gain powerful roars
  • Dragon Domain cleric, wield the divine might of dragons
  • Oath of the Dragon Keeper paladin, pledge yourself to an oath written by a dragon of old
  • Dragon Sage wizard, unlock the secrets of dragons and wield them
  • Dragon Rider feat
  • Roll tables that connect player backstories to dragons
  • Further rules for dragon companions and guidelines on raising/nurturing a wyrmling from hatching

As more ideas soar into my mind, I'll add them to these lists. Once an aspect is confirmed, it will be added to the section at the peak of this article!

DM Advice and Tools

We rarely receive early previews of DM advice and tools, but I've a decent idea of what we'll see in Fizban's Treasury of Dragons for DMs.

  • Dissection of Dragon Lore. Similar to the Draconomicon's in-depth look at all types of dragons, their biology, psychology, social structure, and beyond, surely FTOD will delve into the minutiae of what typical dragons are in D&D, as well as their grander role in the multiverse conflicts that scour its unlimited realms.
  • Dragon Roleplaying Advice. Akin to Volo's Guide to Monsters explanation of roleplaying hags, beholder, yuan-ti, lizardfolk, and other iconic D&D races, FTOD will certainly explain how to roleplay each variety of dragon, from blue and red to gold and silver. Although much of this information is briefly touched on in the Monster Manual, I expect exact demeanors to be explored, if not by variety, then by type (metallic, chromatic, gem).
  • Dragon Battle Advice. Dragons as they currently stand can be pushovers if the DM does not play them to their strengths. I suspect Wizards of the Coast knows this and will include a section or blurb on the proper ways to wield dragons in battles.
  • Dragon Roll Tables. Everyone loves roll tables. The roll tables included in FTOD will likely provide DMs ample opportunity to construct dragon NPCs on the fly, build dragon encounters or adventures in a few minutes, or craft dragon artifacts with ease. I'm confident a few random encounters tables will wyrm their way into the book, as well.
  • Example Dragon NPCs. One of my favorite sections of the old Draconomicon is the expansive chapter of example NPCs, one for each dragon type and age combination. That means there's a sample wyrmling gold dragon, an ancient green dragon, an adult red dragon, and so on. If this isn't present, I'll be somewhat upset.
  • Dragon-Based Rewards. In the form of new boons, enticing artifacts, and even the promise of grand favors or possible travel assistance, there is a decent shot FTOD will include a section, perhaps even a chapter, dedicated to possible rewards from draconic patrons or dragon hoards of all sizes.
  • Lore About Dragonlance. Since Fizban is the titular character of this book as Volo, Mordenkainen, and the Xanathar have been for previous D&D 5e supplements, perhaps the world of Krynn will be elaborated on, though I'm doubtful. I've not included a font of information about Krynn in this article because in Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, I believed Greyhawk would feature prominently (Tasha being an iconic Greyhawk character). I was wrong then, and I'm confident now that we'll see only tidbits of Greyhawk with FTOD.

Honestly, my most anticipated piece of this new 5e book is an overhaul of how dragons are treated in this edition. In edition's past, dragons were frightening foes to battle and confront. They could easily wipe out an entire group if they went in unprepared or haughty. Without the proper tactics, presently a dragon can quickly die in D&D 5e. I know because I've wielded dragons poorly in the past, I know my mistakes, but I also know that WOTC can insert years of advice and observing D&D 5e games into this book of dragons. Hopefully, this will prevent others from making the same mistake as me.

When slices of DM advice and tools for Fizban's Treasury of Dragons are confirmed, they'll be located at the top of this living preview.

New and Revisited Monsters

Alongside player and DM options, it's all but confirmed Fizban's Treasury of Dragons will hit with a host of new and updated dragon and dragon-related monsters.

While yes, new dragons will appear, I think old dragons will receive a makeover to ensure they're formidable foes.

Here are the monsters I believe will be/should be in the book:

  • Revamped true dragons (all chromatic and metallic), with new legendary actions and maybe even mythic actions
  • Gem dragons
    • Topaz dragon
    • Ruby dragon
    • Amethyst dragon
    • Emerald dragon
    • Sapphire dragon
    • Diamond dragon
  • Kobold variants
  • Draconian
  • Dragon rider
  • Dragon golem
  • Drake variants
  • Tiamat
  • Bahamut
  • Wyvern variants
  • Lesser dragon deities
  • Dragon-based demon prince

As monsters are confirmed, I'll add them to the group at the top.

Draconomicon Cover, Todd Lockwood, 2003 Wizards of the Coast

Hover for More!

The Draconomicon is one of my favorite books of editions past. I am ultra excited for Fizban's Treasury of Dragons to release, visit this page for all the latest updates, and know that I'll definitely review the book once it hits, elaborating and enhancing its ideas in the typical RJD20 fashion.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

First time reading RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to the RJD20 newsletter, and explore RJD20 videos on YouTube.

Check out my first released supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Art in Order of Appearance

  • Fizban's Treasury of Dragons Cover, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Fizban's Treasury of Dragons Alternate Cover, Anato Finnstark, 2021 Wizards of the Coast
  • Fizban and Gunthar, Larry Elmore, The Art of Dragonlance Saga, 1987 TSR
  • Draconomicon Cover, Todd Lockwood, 2003 Wizards of the Coast

Last update: 17 July 2021 at 10:02 a.m.

12 July 2021

Slaadi in Dungeons and Dragons Part 2: Batrachian Beasts From Beyond

Novel ideas for slaadi in our Dungeons and Dragons settings and games are seldom seen. The second piece done on slaadi on RJD20, this article strives to innovate a creature I dearly treasure in my own setting, providing ample opportunity for all of you to steal ideas and craft cooler slaadi for your D&D settings, one-shots, and campaigns. TSR and now Wizards of the Coast molded a firm foundation with slaadi, we must reinforce and build atop it.

Read on to darken your worlds with and add color to the multifarious monsters of chaos known as the slaadi.

Batrachian Beasts From Beyond


Horrifying outsiders often invade our D&D worlds. They pillage green earth, gather frightened prisoners, and spread corruption far and wide, slaughtering, not rankling. Planar denizens run rampant as villains in plenty of TTRPG systems: devils, demons, and elementals among countless others. One outsider entity in particular haunts far fewer D&D adventures than it should: slaadi.

Normally, slaadi are batrachian terrors who stalk the plane of chaos, Limbo, hopping from chunks of swirling stone into pits of churning tar. Their abilities are deadly and their minds alien, but their narrative presence lacks interest or depth. 

Why are slaadi rare foes? 

It is because they are relatively uninteresting villains, nothing greater than frog-like beasts from beyond who abhor order and inspire chaos. However, in our worlds, this need not be true.

Let's begin the slaadi's reinvention.

Alternative Slaadi Origins


Presently the origins of slaadi inspire boredom. 

Typical D&D canon recounts a time eons ago when Primus, the master of law on Mechanus, forged a magical gem called the Spawning Stone. With this artifact, he dared try and tame the unfettered madness and whirling soup of Limbo. Amidst the chaos he placed the Spawning Stone.

It allowed creatures of law, such as modrons and githzerai to build settlements amidst the Plane of Chaos, and build they did. The lawful denizens transformed many locales of Limbo into thriving communities, excavating valuable resources from the tumultuous terrain.

Alas, in unforeseen consequence, the geometric gem repurposed the absorbed chaos and created slaadi. Rapidly, slaadi rolled across Limbo and annihilated modron cities, githzerai enclaves, and any other semblance of civilization they could smell out.
The Slaad's Planar Portal, 2018 Michele Giorgi
Fortunately, we can radically alter their origins in our own realms, or re-flavor their current origin. Canon in our worlds as we've learned, is what we make it. Bolden these bipedal beasts with one of the following appalling origins, or mix and match them all.
  1. Spawn of the First Ones. Slaadi emerged from the pools of conception, leftover matter from the creation of the progenitor species. They are primordial accidents.
  2. Purposeful Horrors. A maddened archmage named Slag Distas permanently transformed a giant toad into a mixture of man and amphibian with an epic spell, then spewed it into the plane of chaos. Slaadi are its descendants and all of the batrachian beasts carry pieces of Slag Distas's insanity within them.
  3. From Past the Stars. Slaadi arrived from a starless void on the edge of the known universe. Alongside appeared a prophecy detailing the sun’s imminent doom. Tales from beyond this verse frequent slaadi lips, and those interested in what lies outside the verse oft converse with slaadi sages.
  4. Demonic God Born. The brackish demon lord Atod’grof birthed slaadi in the trenches of the Abyss after consuming a god of chaos. Sparked with a shred of the eaten god, the slaadi voyaged to the realm of chaos and claimed it as their birthright. Atod'grof still leads his froggish manifestations in this soupy realm, though the aleatory path of his spawn's future remains uncertain.
  5. The Law Bringer's Mistake. Primus placed the Spawning Stone into Limbo, but it was destroyed by the realm's unbounded insanity. Its explosion created slaadi. Ever since, Primus and his modrons have tried to fix the Law Bringer's massive mistake.
  6. The Law Bringer's Mad Genius. Primus purposely placed the Spawning Stone into Limbo, with the intent of it creating slaadi. The gems in their heads are part of an intricate plan to control these creatures and, eventually, enforce order across the verse. Only Primus and the highest ranked modron commanders know this truth.

Slag Distas


Who might this maddened archmage who made the slaadi be in your world? Let's take a look by exploring her in my D&D setting, Eldar.

As a fan of roll tables, I'm using a variety of resources to inspire the formation of Archmage Slag Distas, including the villain tables from Villain Backgrounds Volume I, the this is my life tables from Xanathar's Guide to Everything, and, due to her aberrant origins, the beholder tables from Volo's Guide to Monsters

The results, carefully carved by my hand, form the potential creator of slaadi in your world, for in my Eldar, the slaadi's origins are far more shrouded in strata of mystery and horror. 

In Eldar, she is a pillar of corrupted aberratology: the study of aberrations, and one of the creators of a despised faction.

Born to an aasimar and human parent during a time of great strife, Slag Distas used to be called Dislaga Nexaeus. Her father a commander, her mother a priest, she never stayed in one place for long, constantly moving from battlefield to battlefield, her parents unwilling to send her away to a guarded temple or isolated academy. As a result, Slag's early memories are littered with echoes of death cries, battered corpses, and thrilling shouts of victory. Her best friends were a quintet of frogs she found in a necessary swamp stop to a distant battleground. Alongside these amphibians, the road, death, and victory were all she knew.
Aasimar Warlock, 2018 Kevin Furr
Her father's lieutenants kept her trained and safe most of her early life, but her first true friend was a high elf who joined House Nexaeus with a goal in mind. An aberrationist posing as a planarologist, the high elf named Fynir Jaslogos wove strands of aberrant thinking into the young Slag alongside her lessons on the planes of existence. Limbo was a chaotic realm of great change and greater possibility, littered with batrachian beasts. Celestia was an unchanging paradise where only the good, wealthy...fortunate...resided. Most mortals, the high elf taught, could be greatened with pieces of other creatures: the mind of an aboleth, the arms of a slaad, the all-seeing eyes of a beholder. Of all the aberrations she learned of, slaadi fascinated her the most, reminding her of her frog pets she fancied as a child on the road of destruction.

Fynir's lessons shaped Slag's psychology as she grew more and more distant from her others teachers and her parents as their war path lengthened. Eventually, prodded by the high elf, she realized her greater purpose. The aasimar abandoned her family and left with Fynir, swept up as the latest novice of the Neverwild Cabal, a secretive organization of aberrationists and other scholars. All novices encouraged to pick a particular field of study or thesis project at the outset, Slag officially chose the origins of slaadi as her premier project. She changed her name to Slag Distas. She dyed her hair the five colors of her five frogs. She immersed herself in slaadi lore for decades, trying for their inception.

And the result was madness.

Slag Distas, a prodigy deliberately discovered by Fynir, could not finish her first fascination. She scavenged hidden libraries, interviewed captured slaadi, studied the opening moments of creation, observed creatures from beyond the stars, traced the path of slaadi from world to world, and concluded nothing. Fynir pleased, Slag Distas descended into madness and blamed the institution who helped her for her failures. Alongside other novices and a few higher-ranked members, Slag staged a revolt against the Neverwild Cabal, testing the organization.

The revolters sparred the loyal members of the cabal, in their flying archive in Xoriat, in their hidden library in the Astral Plane, above the undulating seas of the Plane of Water. Rapidly, the revolt was quashed but many of the revolters lived. They retreated to distant planes and remote locales, keeping in contact, plotting their next move. Concurrently, greater powers noticed this schism, contacted Slag Distas. At the end of it all alongside a figment of pure chaos, the aasimar formed a rival faction to the Neverwild Cabal called the Entropic Enclave. Forevermore, Slag Distas would lead the battle against the aberrationists, her former mentor silently smiling and plotting in the background of the Neverwild Cabal. The motives of those who study aberrations are ever in flux and clouded in the unknown and misunderstood...

Her parent's war path long ended, Slag Distas and her batrachian companions began a crusade that would continue for centuries and further contribute to the echoes of death the aasimar heard in her stormy mind.

Chaotic Slaadi Motives


As bland as slaadi canon origins are their motives. Terror? Okay. Reproduction? Understandable. Destruction? Of course. The most defined exultation of slaadi is the systematic hunting and annihilating of modrons and other minions of Primus, canonically. 

Presently, each of these motives is simple which contributes to their intended use as horrifying monsters from a weird world. However, as is the case with many villains and sentient monsters in D&D nowadays, imbuing them with glorious or terrible purpose usually enhances our games.

Like a tadpole undergoes metamorphosis and becomes a frog, slaadi motivations must change from inducing chaos to more varied goals. In the previous section, we altered and upgraded slaadi origins, the same can be done for their motives.
Limbo, Manual of the Planes, 2008 Wizards of the Coast
Here are six ideas for interesting slaadi motives.
  1. Scouring for Divinity. The vessel for the first slaad god lurks in a mortal body. Slaadi scour the world for it, spawning hundreds of their kind in the process. Roiling rumors say the slaad who spawn's the deity will become its avatar and most powerful servant.
  2. Raid to Survive. Resources grow scarce in the realm of chaos. Slaadi invade mortal lands not for blood or chaos, but survival. After eons of chaos and terror incited by slaadi, mortals find this hard to fathom.
  3. Refugee Crisis. Deadly horrors chase slaadi from their soupy world. They seek refuge in a world other than their own. The batrachian beasts hop from realm to realm, from the Plane of Fire and the Nine Hells of Baator to the Seven Heavens of Mount Celestia and the Elemental Chaos.
  4. Humble Prescience. Slaadi prophets foresee the destruction of their world and the mortal one. The batrachian beings need a new home outside this verse and are willing to ally with others to find it. Elf astrologists forecast the same fate of the verse and fight to welcome the slaadi to their realm.
  5. Destructive Variants. The arrival of a new breed of slaadi...from a different timeline...shatters the balance of already-chaotic slaadi society. Its leaders wish to destroy the latest evolution, but many have fled to the mortal world and rapidly spread. Prescient slaadi think the only one who can help them is Primus.
  6. Allies of Necessity. A powerful devil duke captures and enslaves a clutch of slaadi. They will do anything to be free of his sinister command. Yet the devil has no intentions of allowing them freedom, keen on meshing their peculiar powers with the precision and axioms of the infernal legions.

Do any of these motivations stand above the rest? Let me know in the comments below.

Variant Slaadi Abilities


Deepened with original geneses and unique motivations, our slaadi are more interesting foes to build a story around. 

Instead of chaotic creatures accidentally created by Primus who only yearn for madness and reproduction, they might be travelers from beyond the stars who arrived in your verse as harbingers of doom. 

Or they might be purposeful creations of Primus he wishes to one day wield as perplexing weapons of law, though many have been captured by a devil duke and presently become more and more infernal by the minute.

What if we went a step further and enhanced them with variant abilities? Most slaadi already possess unique abilities, from the blue slaad's Chaos Phage to the red slaad's Tadpole Injection, both inflicted via their Claw attacks, yet more abilities are never frowned upon.

The following abilities may be added to any type of slaadi your characters encounter, from the ones encountered in the Monster Manual (red, blue, green, grey, death) to the many types from old editions (black, gold, et cetera), some found in this prior article.
All Slaadi, Monster Manual, 2008 Wizards of the Coast
See the six abilities below. When your characters encounter a slaad, roll a d6. The slaad gains the ability attached to the number you rolled. Certain formidable slaad may boast two of these abilities.
  1. Tongue Wrap. As an action, the slaad’s sticky tongue is immense and can be used to Grapple a target. When a target is Grappled (escape DC 13) this way, they are Restrained and take 1d4 acid damage at the beginning of their turn.
  2. Force Chaos. With chaos energy, the slaad can radically alter the appearance of creatures, objects, and the environment around it. The slaad can cast the spells disguise self and polymorph at will, the former has unlimited uses, the latter has three per day. Both are actions.
  3. Void Leap. As an action, the slaad can teleport up to 60’ away in a burst of chaotic magic. If the slaad teleports to an occupied space, the creature in the space must make a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw. On a failure, they take 2d6 force damage.
  4. Metamorphosis. As a bonus action, the slaad can evolve to grow twice its size, gain a tail, a set of wings, and another clawed arm. All the slaad's damage rolls gain an extra damage die, it gains advantage on all Dexterity saving throws, a flying speed of 30 feet, and another claw attack. This form lasts for 1 minute and can be used once per day. Every time the slaad uses Metamorphosis, there is a 5% chance it stays in this form until it dies. Roll this result as the transformation is about to end.
  5. Slime Spit. As an action, the slaad spits a ball of gooey slime that slows and corrodes its target. The target must make a DC 14 Dexterity saving throw. On a failure, the slime wraps around their body. Their movement speed is halved and they take 3d4 points of acid damage at the beginning of their turns. The target may use an action to remove the slime from their body.
  6. Chaotic Croak. Immediately when the slaad reaches half life (is Bloodied), it lets out a great croak, drawing 1d4 other slaadi from the realm of chaos to its side. You may choose the type of slaadi summoned.
Gray, Red, and Green Slaadi, Monster Manual, 2003 Wizards of the Coast
Armed with these variant abilities, your slaadi are sure to threaten any party they face. Try them out and let me know what you think of them in the comments below.

A Slaad Villain: Scurtalag the Revived


It is fast-becoming tradition to include a villain in almost every article on RJD20. Further building upon this little legacy, meet Scurtalag the Revived, written in the style of the Yum DM's MAP (Motivation, Appearance, Personality) method, a depiction of NPC's that requires its own article.

Scurtalag the Revived (Slaad Male Chaotic Neutral; Motivation: Survival, Appearance: Abominable, Personality: Driven) is a permanently metamorphosed slaad whose close-knit clutch scattered after losing a battle against a plane-shifting dragon. 

Alongside six other slaadi, he walks the mortal world polymorphed into a human, desperately seeking a new home and a chance to avenge his slain batrachian companions, not because he cared for his aberrants, but because without them he can no longer pursue his ultimate goal of seizing control of the slaadi population in the wasted "city" of Yumdakanapla in Limbo. 

Whispers in his mind urge him to find the dragon who killed his companions, incapacitate it, and implant a tadpole into the dragon's dying body, creating the first slaad dragon. Scurtalag dismisses the voice as madness for now. But as the croons grow louder, it's possible the slaad will crumble and submit to whatever lurks inside him.
Blue and Death Slaadi, Monster Manual, 2003 Wizards of the Coast
Use the death slaad stat block from page 278 of the Monster Manual for Scurtalag, with the following edits.

  • Sturdy. Scurtalag is beefy, he starts with max death slaad hit points: 240.
  • Chaos Master. Scurtalag is an especially powerful slaad. He boasts two of the new slaadi abilities, in addition to being permanently metamorphosed: Void Leap and Slime Spit
  • Legendary Foe. Scurtalag has three Legendary Actions, one of which is taking a regular claw attack (1 action), one is Disengage (1 action), the other is Void Leap (2 actions).
  • Rebirth. Scurtalag has a second wind. When he drops to 0 hit points, he sheds his metamorphosed form and stands again as a normal death slaad with the normal stat block, slightly maddened and intent on implanting a slaad tadpole inside his dragon nemesis.

Actionable Advice

  • Amalgamated, these ideas expand slaadi in our worlds, creatures who can pose a formidable threat and help tell a wacky story. 
  • No longer are slaadi creatures with boring origins, combining a few of the ideas presented or simply expanding on one compounds on their worldly impact.
  • Gone are the days of slaadi incurring chaos and only yearning to implant mortals with their spawn, your slaadi now have motives and unique reasons to interact with the Material Plane and other realms. 
  • With their enhanced story elements as foundational pillars, our slaadi gain interesting abilities. Surely, our players will be perplexed and engaged against these interesting foes.

Implant a few of these ideas into your world the next time you run slaadi in your world, you will not regret it. Is this the last we'll see of the slaadi? Considering they are one of the primary villains of Caught in Galen, I doubt it.

Until the next encounter, stay creative!

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Check out my first released supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to @rjd20writes on Twitter or rjd20writes@gmail.com.

Art in Order of Appearance

  • Slaadi Set, The Plane Below: Secrets of the Elemental Chaos, 2009 Wizards of the Coast
  • The Slaad's Planar Portal, 2018 Michele Giorgi
  • Aasimar Warlock, 2018 Kevin Furr
  • Limbo, Manual of the Planes, 2008 Wizards of the Coast
  • All Slaadi, Monster Manual, 2008 Wizards of the Coast
  • Grey, Red, and Green Slaadi, Monster Manual, 2008 Wizards of the Coast
  • Blue and Death Slaadi, Monster Manual, 2003 Wizards of the Coast

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