Impossible Situations are Great

The most recently finished arc of my campaign pitted my players and their characters against multiple impossible situations. Each scenario was highly successful. They raised the stakes, challenged both players and PC's, deeply impacted the story, and grew the lore of my world and the PC's connection to it. DM's who balance encounters via the Dungeon Master's Guide tenets will rarely commit this action, and I think their games will suffer. Why? Impossible situations are great.

Miraculously, my group of level six adventurers defeated a crazed ancient gold dragon. Of course, they didn't do it alone. Alongside allies they won over: a small circle of powerful druids, an airship armed with elemental and infernal power, and an archdevil inhabiting a white dragon wyrmling's body, they survived.

Against all odds, my disparate party of level seven companions overcame the horrors of an Unholy Avenger of Orcus. This was possible due to expert planning and a terribly risky and sacrificial maneuver: all but one member of the group delved below to free a trapped elder emerald dragon, while the one left behind distracted the single-minded entity of death and gluttony.

In both situations, they were plausible given the events that led to them. And they were likely impossible to win in scenarios. However, the party were victorious in both, victorious, but not without some semblance of defeat.

The gold dragon's corpse was taken by an archdevil, as was the poor white dragon wyrmling. They'll probably show up later.

The Unholy Avenger may have been defeated, but the elder emerald dragon slaughtered all life in his realm, both allies and enemies of the party, and started a process of renewal that required the party to depart at once.

The costs mattered to the group, but didn't deter their enjoyment of the epic events or slow down their progress in the story. They could have ran. They could have tried a different idea. But, in the end, their plan worked and they were thrilled. 

The moment the gold dragon shattered and icy chunks vanished to the Hells, vocal chords were tested. 

When the group emerged from beneath the swamp to see their emerald dragon ally strangling a horde of undead and a gargantuan black dragon skeleton, they were floored.

My world is filled to the brim with high magic and formidable beings. At every opportunity, I strive to make my players epic characters in a grand realm, and when they're intertwined in these impossible encounters, I almost always succeed.

Even if I commonly succeed, failure is a possible outcome in an impossible situation. Remember that. Know if you're about to pit your fifth level group against an epic level slaad, death and defeat is one of the likely outcomes.

However, if they succeed and emerge from this impossible situation victorious, that victory will be all the sweeter. And they'll search for wilder and more epic situations.

When they do, continue to innovate, continue to create, and continue to deliver excellent and exhilarating encounters to your players.

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Break the Rules with Magic Items

Fellow dungeoneer or Dungeon Master, why do you and your players enjoy Dungeons & Dragons? Is it the shared story-telling experience? How about the thrill of defeating a megalomaniacal lich hells-bent on continental domination (or death)? Perhaps it's the complexity of the rules or the relaxed gameplay they allow? Maybe you all just enjoy being together. Personally, I enjoy D&D because of the snap shot moments it allows; those special seconds when your players' faces illuminate with joy, contort in terror, or scrunch in victory. I also enjoy it because of the freedom intrinsic in the game. I break the rules all the time and love doing it.

I do it most often with magic items and it's great.

If you haven't, try to make some magic items of your own. Use the previously existing items as guidelines and let your mind go wild. Explore new possibilities. Craft something unique. Don't be afraid to make it overpowered or underpowered. If the item evokes something inside you and you think it'll do the same in your players, go for it!

Let me show you a few examples of "broken" magic items I've dropped into my campaign, Caught in Galen. They might be strong. They might be weak. Regardless, I think they'll garner some enjoyment at the table.

Broken Magic Items

Leather of Evernight
Armor (leather), very rare (requires attunement)

This suit of leather armor is black like a starless night and includes a hood, cloak, and gloves.

While you wear this armor, you gain +1 Armor Class and the ability to teleport up to 10’ away as a bonus action, as long as you start and end in darkness.

Point of Klavangra
Weapon (dagger), rare (requires attunement)

This dagger is forged from silver, its blade waves, and its hilt is a screaming gnome.

You gain +1 to attack and damage rolls made with this weapon. In addition, the dagger can stay a single target spell inside it. After a successful attack roll, as a reaction, you may trigger the spell inside the dagger. To place a spell inside the dagger, the caster must expend 2 spell slots instead of one.

The Forgotten Foil
Weapon (rapier), very rare (requires attunement)

This slightly curved rapier of shimmering silver extends from a petal-shaped golden pommel, a dark hilt hidden beneath it.
  • +1 to hit and damage
  • During long rests, soothing voices sing a forgotten song in Sylvan. Every ally within 30’ of the foil gains 2d10 temporary HP for 1 hour.
  • Soothing One's Song. 1/long rest, imbue the rapier with fey magic. On a hit, you can force a humanoid target to make a DC 16 Intelligence Saving Throw. On a failure, they fall asleep and lose all memories for 1d4 hours.
The Harmonious Spire
Weapon (staff), very rare (requires attunement)

A perfectly balanced orb of red and blue sits atop this long, white staff carved from ivory, pale light glowing from it.
  • -1 to melee/ranged attack rolls, +1 to spell attack rolls.
  • +2 Intelligence, -2 Constitution
  • +1 AC, -10 Movement Speed

Go For It

Are you inspired? Excellent. Are you angry? That's okay. We all play D&D in a different way; my D&D tends to be balanced on astronomical magic level. My world is rife with powerful artifacts and creatures; the PCs aren't the only ones with access to these game-changing relics.

If you feel creatively-stifled when you glance over the list of magic items included in fifth edition, try your hand at making your own. Break the rules with these magic items. Trust me, you'll enjoy it.

More RJD20

First time reading RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to my weekly newsletter, and join the discussion in the comments below.

Consider picking up my first supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I on the Dungeon Masters Guild. It helps fund D&D supplements of the future.

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Provide any feedback or inquiries to @RJD20Writes on Twitter or via email.

Let's Catch Up With Caught in Galen: Sessions 21-40

It’s been awhile since an article has hit RJD20, but I’ve not halted playing Dungeons & Dragons one bit. Work is taxing, life after it must be relaxing, and so I only enter the archives of RJD20 when I can safely juggle the exhaustion of work and the thrilling task of writing. As you can likely tell, I was recently able to walk into the archives. Before we get back to other D&D topics like why this game is such a thrill and how it can fuse connections between absolutely anyone, let’s catch up with my favorite D&D campaign I’ve run thus far: Caught in Galen.

Rapid Fire Rundown

If you'd like to see a breakdown of the campaign in a concise manner, look over the Caught in Galen Campaign Compendium. Otherwise, continue below!

Session 21: The Submerged Path

The companions reunited with Argus, battled a spider roper, socialized with kuo-toa, and discovered the site of dark elf cannibalization. The combat encounter was the primary part of this session, as well as the development of the kuo-toa and their religion as it related to Ignis and his Bahamut connection. Alongside the kuo-toa, the party were finally making substantial ground through the twisting caverns of the Jungle of Pipes.

Session 22: Foe to Friend

The companions solved a dark fire puzzle, fought umber hulks, conferred with an unlikely ally, and planned for an assault on Tairox Landing or Varmin. I deeply enjoyed the puzzle in this session, as did the players. I ripped it from an MMORPG called Dungeons & Dragons Online in which it appeared in a raid called the Shroud. It translated well to the tabletop environment, though the stakes while solving it could have been higher. Jason Urso, one of the PCs was able to finally encounter one of his vile uncles (before the campaign began they left him for dead and supposedly did something to his father). Still, Tairox Landing and the endgame of the Jungle of Pipes loomed.

Session 23: Steamy Subterfuge

The companions journeyed across the Subterrane and forged two alliances, realized a truth about Tairox Landing, and rendezvoused in Haadgadza. The two alliances were with the survivors of a beholder hive and spider-riding drow who despised not only the nearby inhabitants of Tairox Landing, but the other possible allies of the party (duergar). An epic realization occurred in this session: the group realized the enemy faction called the Verdant Skull was grinding down beholder eyes inside of a steam volcano to shroud their settlement in a cloud of antimagic, hindering spell-casters and obscuring it from all divination. When the characters/players figured it out, I took a mental snap shot of the table; it was glorious.

Session 24: In Dreams

Jason, Ghost, Luna, and Ignis entered Dal Quor, found a flumph friend named Brioche, witnessed the Wailing, fought slaadi, and saw Varmin's rise. Thankfully, this session was jam-packed with incredible moments, so it was the perfect lead into the mega session. I had one of my good friends guest star as a flumph bard, I was able to showcase one of the most horrifying moments in my world’s recent history (The Wailing), and the characters interacted with two major characters...unknowingly...for the first time.

Session 25 (Mega Session): The Truth, Unveiled 

At last, Varmin was killed, the Barrier broken, Calastis defeated, the Entropic Enclave discovered, and the truth, unveiled. By far, this was the longest D&D session I’ve ever run. It lasted 13 hours and not a moment was dull, a truth I’m proud to espouse. I thought it’d be difficult to hold my players’ attention for that long, but because we mesh so well, because they’re all entranced with the story and their characters, it was a breeze. In the campaign, they breached Tairox Landing, discovered that the Barrier surrounding Galen was actually the result of a captured Archmagus Calastis Starcloak casting worldshift to teleport the entire city to Dal Quor, the Plane of Dreams. Together, they sadly executed the puppeted wizard and witnessed two members of the Entropic Enclave—an organization of aberrations and aberrationists—escape. So much more happened, but I’m trying to be as concise as I can!

Session 26: Exodus

Back in Galen, the party split across Vorici's Rest and the Den District to pursue various odds and ends. This began a trio of one-on-one sessions that are detailed below. Lots of roleplaying, lots of character development across the board.

Session 27: Through the Flood

Jason broke into Amal's house, had a deep conversation with a gazer, and journeyed to and back from Giolla via griffon chariot. Subterfuge and discussions of the planes of existence dominated this session. My favorite!

Session 28: Iced Over

Ghost opened an account with House Vibius, discovered the slaughter of the Hidhuntre Clan, and reforged his estranged father in ice and blood. Who doesn't love banking and father-son action in D&D?

Session 29: Meetings in the Dark

Ignis made up with Rea, rendezvoused with Tillin and Shishotile, witnessed Nala become a divine soul, and spent the night with his love. Romance and shady business; it was a good time.

Session 30: Heroes of Below

The party related their experiences in the Faded Ember Inn, met with Lady Gwenine Coris, and spread across Galen in search of assistance. Caught in Galen’s thirtieth session easily contained one of my favorite social interactions in the campaign thus far: a tense dialogue between the cold lady of a powerful house and the party. Hint after hint (since session 8) pointed at her being more than met the eye, and the party thought they’d figured her out. They hadn’t in this session, but in the next her secret was revealed.

Session 31: Poison is Coming

Virtue and his crew struck a deal with the group, Lady Gwenine's secret was revealed, Avalanche hatched, and the party plotted their next steps. Lady Gwenine’s secret was discovered: she was a green dragon from Koth in disguise, ruthlessly restructuring her house and its position in the city. Another snap shot moment when the players figured it out, absolutely stellar. Also, the party obtained a white dragon wyrmling!

Session 32: Goodbye, Galen

The group bid farewell to their friends in Galen, negotiated a deal with Lady Coris, and finally said goodbye to Galen aboard the Bloody Mist. After about 40 sessions (including session 0’s and the prologue), the party left Galen this session.

Session 33: Aetherhawks

The party battled a vengeful minotaur and his crew, navigated a fierce storm, learned more about each other, and arrived in Iorgal's Vale. Finally, we had a battle in the sky that included 4 airships, a clumsy hill giant, and a mysterious minotaur.

Session 34: Emerald and Gold

The party surprisingly allied with Scalanis, met a pleasant hill giant, and encountered an ancient soulforged druid. This session saw me successfully trick the party into working with a vile villain to save Hermione, Luna’s (one of the PC’s) dear friend. They also encountered a character thousands of years old that was freed by the PC’s of a previous campaign of mine. Snap shot moment!

Session 35: Against a Dragon

The party convened with Lacai, spoke with the other druids, battled Tarnakan, and witnessed Iorgal's frozen descent from the sky. Who doesn't love to see an archdevil-powered airship shoot a gargantuan, maddened gold dragon from the sky? I'd say that's a wonderful session closer...

Session 36: A Chance at Victory

The party slew Iorgal beside a host of allies and restored Shanxiong to the mortal world. With the help of multiple powerful druids, an archdevil, and an elder emerald dragon, the party managed to slay a crazed ancient gold dragon—at level 6. Little did they know, the true challenge related to the poor gold dragon awaited ahead.

Session 37: Saviours

The party faced a messenger of the Accursed Archive, rescued two typhons, entered Iorgal's lair, and battled an enormous demon. The beginning of a dungeon delve and a rescue mission, in addition to a glimpse into Jason Urso’s dark past. Great session.

Session 38: Iorgal's Legacy

The party slaughtered Basgord, forged new allies, finally found Hermione, and fought deadly devils deep within Iorgal's lair. I made one of my players cry this session AND managed to end it on a perfect cliffhanger, pitting them face to face with the villain they allied with prior: Scalanis. My players’ ingenuity also saved them here, they were against an unwinnable battle, but they achieved the impossible.

Session 39: An Inferno of Lies

The party finally executed Scalanis, accidentally created a manifestation of Orcus, and forged a plan to banish it from the Emerald Forest. This session concluded the arc of Luna (as it related to Scalanis) and launched a completely new story into the campaign with the creation of an Unholy Avenger.

Session 40: The Unholy Avenger

The party delved into Iorgal's lair while Jason became a new man and altogether, they freed Shanxiong and witnessed the renewal of his realm. Another absolutely excellent session: Jason Urso sacrificed himself, carrying the blood of Orcus and distracting the Unholy Avenger while his companions dug deep below swamp to release the elder emerald dragon Shanxiong. Multiple snap shot scenes in this session—truly! The companions emerging from beneath the swamp and Iorgal’s lair to see the emerald dragon, actually the entire forest, tearing apart the shambling undead horde of the Unholy Avenger; Jason Urso being brought back to life, emerging from a pool of his own blood; the group realizing their prisoner had escaped during the chaos. All great moments, lots of action, and a perfect lead in to a likely calm session 41.

Up Next

That’s where we are with Caught in Galen. Session 41 is this Tuesday and is titled “Looting the Lair”. I think it’ll be a calm session of roleplay and advancement. But it’s D&D—who knows?

Until the next encounter, farewell!

First time reading RJD20? Begin here, subscribe to my weekly newsletter, and join the discussion in the comments below.

Consider picking up my first supplement, Villain Backgrounds Volume I on the Dungeon Masters Guild. It helps fund D&D supplements of the future.

Check out the sidebar to discover any other realms in which RJD20 exists.

Provide any feedback or inquiries to @RJD20Writes on Twitter or via email.