TTRPGs Need Deep Character Customization

By RJ on 29 January 2023.

I love being able to customize my character in games of all sorts. In tabletop roleplaying games, I love the freedom to describe my minotaur blackguard as a hulking, eight-foot-five-inches tall, grizzled beast of snow-white fur and curled blood-red horns. In video games such as Path of Exile, I enjoy the ability to create a build unlike any other, worming my way through a seemingly limitless skill tree while collecting terrific and terrible pieces of gear. In virtual reality games like Beat Saber, it's great I'm able to choose what I want to play when I want to play it without any bindings on my arms or blocks in my path.

It's also important the choices we as players make about our characters matter. What our characters say to the vampire queen should have an effect. What magic items our characters wield should turn the tides of the battle or play a key role in the story. How we build our characters, mechanically, or what we choose to be, should be important. These choices shouldn't be meaningless.

Presently, Orrery is built on three fundamental design pillars, which I promise are not mere buzzwords: deep character customization, simply powerful rules, and improvisational freedom. Each interweaves with the next.

My in-development tabletop roleplaying game absorbs elements from various systems, tabletop and not. In some cases, directly, unedited. The rest of the swiped mechanics and ideas? Altered for the better. A few examples include Path of Exile's skill tree, Pathfinder 2E's action point system, and 5E's addition of advantage and disadvantage.

Altogether, every element aims to support each design pillar.

Let's begin this series of articles discussing Orrery's design with an inspection of the first design pillar: deep character customization.

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Player Characters are the Heart of Every Game

The player characters are indisputably the most vital part of any successful game system. If character design isn't appealing to a wide audience, the game won't be enjoyable. It will fail.

Orrery's character creation and constant customization help build compelling characters for everyone.

In Orrery, players choose a definitive ancestry, an inspiring background, and a unique path through the Orrery for their character. During play, each aspect evolves, and new mechanics take hold, like artifacts and boons. However, it all begins with character creation.

The Importance of Ancestry in Orrery

Character ancestry in Orrery determines a character's appearance and provides typical points of origin in the world. While exceptions and oddities exist, Orrery provides plenty of inspiration for players with typical descriptions.

In addition, every ancestry provides a powerful passive and/or active ability to a character.

While not as strict as other games, Orrery places emphasis on your character's chosen ancestry, unlike the current iteration of 5E.

The human ancestry includes +3 to all ability scores, while the halfling ancestry grants a strong ability to fight the Feared condition, an optional dinosaur companion, and +2 to Constitution. Both also detail typical regions and settlements frequented by each, a brief history of the ancestry in the setting, and what they typically look like.

Orrery's section on ancestry stresses that while appearance and point of origin may vary greatly from individual to individual, ancestral bonuses and abilities do not. When a player chooses an ancestry for their character, it means more than appearance. It affects their character for the rest of its life in the game and world.

Choosing a character's ancestry is an important choice, not meaningless or pure flavor.

Setting Up the Board with Background in Orrery

Backgrounds in Orrery are cloud-piercing mountains of inspiration. They are also hyper-focused on setting up a character's place in the world, what their initial goals are, and how they are connected to the other characters in the group.

There are oodles of roll tables. Plus, each background gives out a slightly randomized set of items, so no two Soldiers or Merchants ever start off with identical inventories.

This game's backgrounds address a major problem I see in other games with similar backstory creation systems. It also tries to help those who love crafting their character's own history but forget to connect it to the story at hand.

Each background includes a snippet of inspiration about a character's former profession, interesting traits they might have as a result, a good reason why they are adventuring now, and a couple sample goals. None of the roll tables or snippets need to be used verbatim, though they can be. Instead, players can use them to set the board their character once played on and the board they will play on in the future.

In order, the pieces of a background in Orrery are:

  • The background itself
  • Quirks
  • Core Beliefs
  • Ties
  • Motivations
  • One background-specific aspect
  • Equipment and bonuses

For example, the Sailor background in Orrery inspires the player to think about their character's final voyage as a sailor. Where did they go? What happened? Why was this their final voyage? Is this what caused them to pursue life as an adventurer?

In addition, it provides information on what sailors typically do in the game's setting, sample personality traits, and randomized equipment all characters with a Sailor background can roll to obtain before the real game begins.

Crafting a Unique Class with the Orrery

Once a character's ancestry is chosen and their background outlined, they begin their journey through the vast Orrery, the RPG's namesake.

The Orrery is a skill tree. Presently, every character paths through the same Orrery, but that may change in future iterations of the game. Passive nodes called orbs grant minor passive bonuses to characters, while passive and active nodes called keystones grant characters powerful, varied abilities. They define a character. Other nodes do exist, but we will explore them at a later date.

Depending on a character's path in the Orrery, they can be a warrior who wades into battle and defends the weak, a raging berserker who hits little but whose hits deal massive damage, or a fighter who can home in on their foes and annihilate them with perfect focus. Eventually, a character could merge all three of these playstyles, becoming the pinnacle of their domain in the setting. They might even rush toward a certain keystone and then look for a portal node, which can take them to a completely different area of the Orrery. A warrior-centric character might portal into the magic-user sphere, or a gunslinger path character may portal into the divine sphere of the Orrery. The possibilities are numerous.

Here are a few keystones found across the Orrery:

Ancestral Bonds

Keystone Type: Active

Description: The spirits of your ancestors connect you to another when you rage. You gain 6 health points and +1 armor class. When you enter Rage, you may pool your health points with one other creature. All damage dealt to either you or the creature affects the pool. Once it hits zero, you both suffer the effects of hitting zero. This effect ends when combat ends or you choose to end it with an action point.

Explosive Surprise

Keystone Type: Active

Description: Not all bullets merely pierce. On a hit with a gunpowder weapon, using an additional action point causes your damage to spread to all creatures within 5’ of your target.

Mighty Blows

Keystone Type: Active, Passive

Description: Your rage strengthens your weapon like nothing else. While raging, you critically hit on rolls of 19 and 20. In addition, you can use 2 action points to turn a non-critical hit into a critical hit a number of times equal to your level per rest.

Steady Aim

Keystone Type: Active

Description: Sometimes staying still is superior. If you elect to use zero movement during your turn, you gain +2 on attack and damage rolls during that turn.

Wrath Deified

Keystone Type: Active

Description: You wield the destructive might of your deity in the palm of your hand. Once per rest, you enter a Deified state using an action point. While in this state, you gain +4 to attack and damage rolls, flying movement of 20 feet, and you may maximize damage dealt by one of your spells once per round. This state ends if you choose to end it, 1-minute passes, or you drop to 0 health points.

Your sneak peek ends here.

This dynamic system allows players to craft a unique class. While simple at first, clever players can take advantage of various keystones and orbs to create wildly powerful and peculiar builds. It's vital that although this is the essence of Orrery and needs to be approachable, it remains deep enough to draw players in session after session and character after character.

Ongoing Character Customization

Character customization doesn't end with ancestry, background, and their Orrery path. Throughout the game, a character will find incredible artifactspotent boons, and develop their story far more than their initial background tale.

A few magic items, the essentials, are common, but all other items are artifact-level in strength. They grant awesome passive bonuses, gripping active abilities, and even concepts that entirely change the way a character plays.

Here is an example of an artifact in Orrery:

Enzoul, the Love Eater

Shortsword, artifact, attunes itself to he or she who wields it. Only death or great magic can separate Enzoul and its wielder.

This hauntingly dark blade is immaterial, able to transform into a sword of biting black mist at-will. Its last wielder, Casto the Butcher, passed it unwillingly onto Mia Stark. Where was the Love Eater previously? Perhaps it shall reveal that eventually. Perhaps it shall not. What is certain is what the entity within the dark blade seeks: consuming love and life.

While wielding and attuned to this shortsword, you gain the following benefits:

  • You can stow the blade at-will within your body. You may also draw it at-will.
  • You deal 1d4 necrotic damage on all hits with this shortsword and heal for the amount of necrotic damage dealt.
  • You gain the artifact keystone Relentless.


Keystone Type: Passive

Description: Not mere magic nor lack of foes can sate Enzoul. Once per rest, if you were to be Paralyzed by a spell or effect, you automatically succeed. Separately, when you kill a creature in combat, you may automatically attack another creature within 5 feet freely.

Enzoul, the Love Eater, obscures its full potential. Who knows what other powers this longsword hides?

Separate from artifacts, boons are blessings from iconic patrons and the most powerful creatures in existence. They act like keystones on the Orrery but tie back into the story and world at hand. Each game should have a unique set of boons and each World Master should attempt to make them relate to the adventure or campaign.

Aside from mechanical and flavorful customization, every character in Orrery should tell and participate in a tale or legend of some sort. The story is at the forefront of the system, all mechanics feed back into it. Combat, the Orrery, artifacts, and all else seek to ease the World Master's and players' troubles with weaving stories with mechanics. At the end of a session, adventure, or campaign in Orrery, everyone around the physical or virtual table should emerge with a lasting memory of great times with good friends, built by a game that helped and did not hinder the final tale.

In Summary

A third of Orrery's three game design pillars is deep character customization, one of the most vital pieces of tabletop roleplaying games. Remember:

  • Ancestry is an important choice in Orrery. It defines character appearance, typical points of origin, and provides a set of interesting passive and active abilities for use in the game. Players should be encouraged to try out various ancestries as they play. Each should sculpt their experience in the game and world.
  • Backgrounds in Orrery provide a path to what's on the horizon: an easy way to connect a character to the world, set up a few goals, and place them with the other characters. More than anything, this should shape the beginning of a character's story and set them up for a rich quest of fun, adventure, and danger.
  • The Orrery allows a player to form a unique class and a character to be unlike anyone else in the game or world. A character's path through the Orrery shapes their present and future in the game mechanically and narratively, and it's always shifting. Luckily, it can be simple and straightforward, or as deep as the ocean.
  • Beyond ancestry, background, and the Orrery are numerous other aspects of character customization: fascinating artifacts, plot-relevant boons, the ability to shape a legend that will last a lifetime in and out of the game, and much more.

If you enjoyed this week's post, check out last week's article in which I explored how to start a successful RPG campaign.

Also, yesterday I released the first video in quite some time on the RJD20 YouTube channel. Give it a watch now!

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The OGL Fiasco is Over, Presently

By RJ on 27 January 2023.

After about three weeks of absolute chaos in the broader tabletop roleplaying game and Dungeons & Dragons community, today Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro backed down. Forevermore, the existing open game license will be applicable to all current and past D&D content. Everything in the D&D SRD is published under Creative Commons, there's no more pursuit of a vicious virtual tabletop policy, and there's no need for third-party publishers to fear...for now.

While plenty of damage was done to Wizards of the Coast and D&D, it worked out for the community. Tens of thousands of D&D players are looking into other tabletop roleplaying games and systems, hundreds of third-party publishers united against a greater foe, and I even began to design my own RPG!

After their complete reversal on the OGL and establishment of its future protection, I shall support Wizards of the Coast and broader D&D products in the future as long as the quality is there. Our protest worked, they responded, and we won.

It's good to win sometimes. It feels good to force a billion-dollar company to change.

For the first time since this debacle began, I'm positively shocked and looking forward to the future of D&D. Even if I dislike the current course of the system, I'd still like to be able to try and play it in good conscience. I can now.

Good work, TTRPG community, good work.

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The Next Orrery Playtest Document is Out: Goblins!

By RJ on 27 January 2023.

The latest Orrery public playtest document just hit the RJD20 Patreon. This time, we are building on the foundation of the core rules, character creation, and combat essentials with the drop of fourteen unique goblin monsters. Collectively, this is the goblin pack.

In Orrery, monsters in the eventual Monster Book will be split up into packs. These packs will contain a wide variety of this specific type of monster to use in your Orrery campaigns. Ideally, they might even inspire you to wield monsters in exciting ways in other TTRPGs, too! Plenty of the information within, whether it's lore, creature names, or abilities are system agnostic. 

Aside from packs, there will also be individual monsters like phoenixes or basilisks. Kobolds, orcs, giants, and the focus of this playtest, goblins, though? They'll all have packs!

The goblins are waiting for you. Become a Rat and support RJD20 for at least $1 per month to get access to the goblin monster pack and the core Orrery rules. Next week, I'm aiming to release a few solo monsters. Two to three weeks from now, we'll have the second iteration of the core Orrery rules. 

Regardless, new Orrery content and more will drop every Friday on Patreon.

All support is welcome.

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Here's to greatening your game and world: cheers!

How to Start a Successful TTRPG Campaign

By RJ on 22 January 2023. 

The day is finally here. You're beginning a new tabletop roleplaying game campaign. It might be your first Dungeons & Dragons session. It might be Pathfinder. Thirteenth Age? Call of Cthulu? Perhaps something incredibly niche and in development...? Nonetheless, you and your friends have agreed to play and are about to make your characters, altogether. You might be the World Master; you might be one of the players. 

There are a few things you can do to ensure you hit the ground running in the first session of your new favorite RPG campaign.

  • Set a consistent schedule that every player agrees to.
  • Craft compelling characters and know them well.
  • Hop quickly into the story and world, with everyone contributing.

I'm here and ready to ensure your D&D or general TTRPG campaign's first session and everything thereafter is an uncontested success. Let's explore each of the pillars supporting that fundamental assertion, shall we?

Join RJD20's Patreon Community

Before we delve into today's article, I would like to highlight RJD20's Patreon. As I work on my upcoming tabletop roleplaying game, Orrery, I'm showcasing all progress to my patrons.

If you would like exclusive access to playtest material for Orrery, in-depth updates on the project, and insight into all else RJD20, please consider becoming and patron and joining our great community. You can support this site, all upcoming supplements, and Orrery for $1 a month. Come on, you want to be a Rat, don't you? 

Already, I've received excellent feedback from my patrons and the collaboration shall continue. Come pitch in!

Scheduling Your TTRPG Sessions

Before anyone gets too comfortable in their chair at the table or computer desk, you need to bring up the schedule for the campaign. As always, there are many options. Everyone needs to be aware of them and agree to a set time and date.

Here are the best ways to set a schedule:

  • Weekly on a recurring day.
  • Every other week on a certain day.
  • Monthly on a recurring day.
  • Every other month on a certain day.
  • The second Tuesday of the month.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, here are a few ways to not set up a successful RPG campaign:

  • Whenever everyone's available.
  • When it feels right.
  • One a year during the summer solstice.
  • Whenever.
  • Every day.

Each one of those options can easily lead to a campaign dying before it really hits its stride or prevent anyone from really enjoying it at all.

Character Creation & Study is Vital

Alright, the schedule is set and it's time to create the characters. What's the best way to ensure the success of the campaign, you might ask... 

Crafting compelling characters, hands down, is one of the best.

As opposed to each player staying isolated and building their character in the silence and safety of their own home, I'd recommend the entire party meeting to make their characters. This way, everyone can collaborate on the party composition if they'd like, or simply talk together as they make their character secretly.

Every player should spend a good chunk of time on their character, if not on their background, then on current motivations and future goals.

Outlined below is a short list of good tabletop roleplaying game character traits:

  • The character stands out among commoners.
  • The character is connected to the world in some manner.
  • The character has flaws, needs, and desires.
  • The character relates to one of the other characters in the party, indirectly or directly.
  • The character has a reason to adventure or be present in the story. 
  • They have goals long-term and short-term.

Almost as important as the character being ready is the player being ready. There are few things worse than a player not understanding their character's abilities. Before the first session, if you're a player, make sure you read through your character's various actions, special abilities, and racial traits. Know and understand them. Your character is what you're initially bringing to the table, and you will be portraying them. Be an expert on them

Don't disrespect the time of others by not understanding how many attacks your fifth-level fighter gets, what your magic user's spell save might be, or whether or not your druid can transform into a grizzly bear. Read and comprehend it before session one, please. Everyone will appreciate it. Everyone. Including me, and I'm not likely there!

Quick Hooks into the Story are Essential

The campaign is scheduled out, the characters are living and breathing, and now it's time for the campaign to truly begin: adventure awaits! What now?

It's all up to the World Master to ensure success, right? After all, they're running the world, pulling the characters together, writing out plot hooks, and trying to grip every player as best they can.


The entire party needs to work together at the start of the campaign to get the ball rolling. It's not just the job of the World Master to weave together a compelling story. It's the duty of every player at the table. Sure, the World Master shall open the game and present the world to the group, but once everyone is in, their characters interacting, each player needs to make an effort to form bonds and mutual drive.

Potential players, please take note of the following concepts:

  • Avoid being edgy and in the shadows. Get out of the corner and speak with the other characters, don't brood or hide from them.
  • Refrain from acting hostile unless other players are good with beginning the game this way. Hostility to start the story usually doesn't work and can quickly derail the campaign.
  • Once the initial meet and greet is over and an obvious plot hook is flung your way, bite into it if it's interesting! The World Master isn't merely throwing out nasty food, they're placing what they believe to be cool events your way.

Not every game begins with a simple meet and greet, but these three concepts embodied by the players can easily be adjusted for any start.

Dungeon Masters, Game Masters, Lore Keepers, World's how to begin your TTRPG or D&D campaign's opening session. Once everyone is at the table, characters prepared, players wide-eyed and ready-to-go, start talking.

You could begin the group apart, each member somewhere in a rustic tavern. You might thrust them into an unbridled action sequence, yelping kobolds chasing after the party as they speed down mine carts in a dark mineshaft. Heavens above, you could just drop them in front of the abandoned watchtower, pirate goblins partying inside, and give them the prompt: "Vile goblins inhabit this once great watchtower, innocents trapped in its dungeons. It's your job to save them." 

However you begin the campaign, ooze confidence, and know the difficult set-up is complete. Everyone is there and ready to play as a group. What comes after is pure fun, as long as you've lain a solid foundation.

Whether the RPG campaign begins mid-battle with a horde of goblins on a mountainside, on a stormy sea, or in the bowels of the putrid Abyss, keep these concepts in mind and remember everyone is at the table or desk to play a game, have fun, and maybe tell a kickass and compelling story. Rarely do great campaigns begin with two characters sulking in the shadows of a dark room, another three duking it out over a dice game, and a final one speaking with the planned patron and watching the madness unfold.

Try your best to start the story quickly and in the best way possible. Altogether, it's hard to fail.

In Summary

Whether you are a Player or World Master, you can help ensure your RPG campaign starts in the absolute best manner possible. Remember:

  • Sync everyone's schedules and set a consistent time to play the campaign.
  • Spend enough time on the characters to guarantee they're interesting and fun to play. Understand how their mechanics operate in the game, at least.
  • Rapidly bring everyone into the world and story with awesome but simple plot hooks. It's not only the World Master's job to ensure this happens; every player should aim to assist.

If you enjoyed this week's article, check out last week's post about the tabletop roleplaying game I'm creating: Orrery. It's based on my favorite RPGs and video games, especially D&D and Path of Exile.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please send all inquiries to or leave a comment below.

The First Orrery Playtest is Live!

By RJ on 20 January 2023. 

It's here: the first public playtest of my upcoming tabletop roleplaying game, Orrery, is live. 

Inside the first playtest document linger the following game concepts:

  • Core game mechanics and ideas (action points, escalation die, no skills/classes, et cetera).
  • Character creation.
  • Five, fully fleshed out ancestries.
  • Four, in-progress backgrounds.
  • A deep dive into the Orrery itself.
  • Dozens of Orrery keystones.
  • The item system.
  • Three powerful artifacts.
  • Three spell lists (Arcane, Divine, Primal).
  • The swing of combat and action/action points.
  • Various ailments and conditions.
  • The rules on death.

In total, it's 23-pages, not including the extra Prime Orrery sheet.

I'm looking for any and all feedback.

If you would like to test out the system, get a feel for its style, and provide feedback, head on over to the RJD20 Patreon. For $1 per month, you can receive complete access to all Orrery playtest materials: the core book, the Prime Orrery, and the Orrery Bestiary.

Next Friday, I'll be releasing the first full Monster Pack: goblins. In Orrery, many monsters are split into packs, giving a variety of foes to pit against the characters. For example, in the goblin pack, there are grunts, bruisers, commandos, swashbucklers, gorgers, and more! The final Orrery Bestiary will include dozens of packs in addition to solo monsters like the basilisk, dragons, and the phoenix.

The next version of Orrery will likely drop in a month's time, around February 20th. In addition to cleaning up the current rules, it will introduce two new ancestries, fully-fledged backgrounds, a sample Orrery adventure, and a few other secrets.

If you would like to learn more about Orrery before committing to supporting it on Patreon, check out this page about the game or this article announcing its creation. Succinctly, it's a mix of Dungeons & Dragons, Path of Exile, and a few other tabletop roleplaying games I think have compelling mechanics. They're all mixed together with one of my homegrown settings, Golgifell!

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Here's to greatening your game and world: cheers!

I'm Making an RPG: Orrery

By RJ on 16 January 2023. 

After over a decade of almost purely playing Dungeons & Dragons with minor leaps into other tabletop roleplaying systems, I'm making the switch. Not to any other established game or system like Pathfinder 2E or Savage Worlds, but into a development foray of my own. 

I'm crafting a tabletop roleplaying game called Orrery RPG.

Essentially, it's the best of D&D and a few other games, tabletop and not, woven together to form a compelling whole. Deep character customization, the freedom for World Masters and players to improvise, and a ruleset that ensures everyone at the table can maintain excitement and interest in and outside of structured encounters like battles.

While this is partially in response to the direction Wizards of the Coast is driving the game, it has been a long time coming, especially with the latest OGL nonsense.

In this article, I'd like to explore why I've grown distant and disillusioned with Dungeons & Dragons in general, what Orrery seeks to be, and what my plans are with the system and its development.

Let's begin.

D&D Needs to be Hacked

I hack D&D all the time. Fifth edition D&D is a customizable system, as evidenced by:

  • The myriad products out there editing it.
  • The ability to completely alter the game rules at the table.
  • Its ease of access to all.

For add-ons to 5E, check out the DMs Guild, venture to DriveThruRPG, or just meander through the bios of content creators from Matthew Mercer and Matthew Colville to little creatives like me. Thousands of creators have edited and added to the rules of D&D, contributing homebrew rules, daring new monsters, and compelling plots to the pool of content. These people are the lifeblood of 5E.

I know many readers may think this was added after the entire OGL debacle began, but this was drafted and ready to go on December 20, 2022. That's because it's true...D&D is successful because it has an amazing community of creators and players who love it, or used to love it, very dearly.

As for making up ideas on the fly, just play some 5E and you'll discover what I mean instantly. For the most part, you can change a rule to fit the situation at your table. However, this becomes a problem for those who want something concrete. It's not there in many situations and needs to be ruled by each table. 

This appears in a slightly different manner when it comes to the mechanics of each class, especially martials. Players are responsible for weaving their own interesting abilities or moves, it's not innate in the system. What's the difference between a warhammer and longsword? Besides the damage type and appearance, practically nothing! What is a fighter going to do at level three compared to level seventeen? Attack, attack, attack, and attack. Really, 5E is very hackable because it needs to be hacked.

The end result of the two above points leads to 5E allowing many folks to play and enjoy it. I like that, but it also lends itself to building boredom over time.

However, nearly nothing lasts forever. My desire to play 5E has faded. This primarily stems from me finally being able to play in multiple campaigns for a consistent, extended period of time. On the other side of the screen, I've realized the weaknesses of Dungeons & Dragons, at least in its fifth edition. I'll likely still play 5E, but most of my sessions are moving to my new system to playtest it. The first two happened in the past two weeks and went great.

Succinctly: WOTC is moving the game in a new direction, using lots of double speak and changing the core rules and licensing for the worse.

Why I'm Making Orrery

I'm making Orrery as a love letter to my favorite games of the era (D&D, Pathfinder 2E, Path of Exile, 13th Age, etc), spliced with elements of each me and my players deeply enjoy. I hope all of you will, too.

Simply, Orrery's fundamental tenets are:

  • Deep character and World Master customization.
  • Simple and powerful rules.
  • Improvisational freedom.

Some of its core ideas include:

  • Orrery uses a skill tree, it's classless.
  • Skills are abstract.
  • It's d20-based.
  • Combat is dynamic, deadly, and fast-paced.
  • Magic items are extremely powerful, nearly character-defining, but scarce.
  • Monsters are designed for World Masters to use as is, though they can be edited. World Masters need not do a ton of work to actually challenge players and their characters.
  • Martials and magic users both have awesome actions at all levels.
  • It uses an escalation die in battles, conversations, and delves.
  • It comes wrapped in a setting but can be used in any homegrown world.
  • Ancestry matters. It's not a meaningless choice.
  • Backgrounds are goal focused.
  • Each type of spell-caster has a unique spell list.

For the time being, I'm focused on developing Orrery. Once version 1.0 is ready to go, you'll all be the first to know and the rules will be available. I'm staying cagey as I think this is an unexplored and potentially popular niche in the current RPG landscape. Orrery could be huge.

How You Can Playtest Orrery

As I'm developing and playtesting Orrery, you can too! If you become a patron on RJD20's Patreon, you'll immediately get access to all the playtest PDFs, including the current Orrery Bestiary, so you can play as a World Master or player.

It's not too pretty. There are sections broken. You can likely hack apart the game and create a wildly powerful character. That's what I would like you to do. Give it a try! You can support me for $1 a month and get complete access to the future of Orrery.

Halfway through 2023 is the projected release date for the system. We'll see what happens. I'm going to get plenty of playtesting done.

Want More RPG Tips & Tales from RJD20?

As always, thanks for reading. Please send all inquiries to or leave a comment below.

Do We Want One D&D?

By RJ on 9 January 2023. 

Since writing this article, more has become clear about Wizards of the Coast's intentions with One D&D, monetization, and updated terms with D&D content creators. The rest of this prewritten article explores this, but essentially: refrain from financially supporting Wizards of the Coast. Make your voice heard with money.

Now, onward to the article.

Do We Want One D&D?

As time trudges ever onward and the sixth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, dubbed One D&D, approaches, I've pondered more and more about the necessity of this forever-revamp. Besides Wizards of the Coast, who really desires it?

Generally, the D&D folks who play 5E D&D seemed satisfied with the state of the hobby until WOTC began prepping for One D&D's arrival.

There's a surprising number of people who run older editions as well. The largest group is likely the OSR players. They use a plethora of systems, but all revolve around original or slightly updated D&D.

In the online circles I frequent, not many folks see a need or hold a want for this new ruleset. Again, I've read more opinions of confused, disinterested, or even jaded folk on Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter than people excited for One D&D. Even the One D&D subreddit doesn't seem lively.

At home, the updates puzzle people. Some plan on sticking with 5E D&D. Others already moved to Pathfinder 2E. A few recently became players of the game and are worried everything they purchased and learned will soon become obsolete. Their worry is warranted.

I'm a wanderer myself. Initially, One D&D shocked and excited me. 

Interesting racial abilities? Excellent.

More customization options? Great!

An extremely open development cycle? Lovely.

All appeared positive, but as time has passed, I've grown more skeptical of WOTC's intentions and the system itself.

I'm cautiously pessimistic about One D&D presently.

It's no secret as to why. WOTC has done more than enough to douse my fiery excitement:

  • Driving home the need to monetize D&D for all.
  • Forcing massive mechanical changes.
  • Forcing massive core lore changes or removals.
  • Committing the sin of double speak.

The rest of this article explores each, beginning with the most frightening of all: D&D microtransactions and the unlimited possibilities these will bring.

One D&D and Microtransactions

It's true: the D&D brand and system don't make as much money as they could.

Wizards of the Coast is on the record stating that about 20% of all D&D players are Dungeon Masters. They purchase the most content by far. Non-DM players may pick up one of the player-focused rulebooks like the Player's Handbook, Xanathar's Guide to Everything, or Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, but it's very unlikely they'll buy more.

With a switch to focusing on a virtual experience, this shifts in more ways than one for players and DMs.

There will still be rulebooks, I'm sure, hardcover and PDF, but there will be shiny layers on top. Players will be able to purchase miniatures and cosmetics for them to be used on the virtual tabletop. Perhaps they'll even be able to purchase spell packs that revamp the spell effects. Have you ever wanted an explosion of ice to replace your fireball? How about a big nova of acid? WOTC might sell it. Cosmetics won't be everything a player can get, quite likely. WOTC may venture into selling tiny rules supplements for a low price: new fighter subclasses, a set of new items, a brand-new race or even a slight update or addition to a current one.

Then there's possible further monetization of Dungeon Masters, who usually spend quite a bit already. If everything is built for a virtual tabletop, then the DM will likely need to purchase items to enhance their game. WOTC might sell entire tilesets of cursed crypts, forbidden woods, grave troughs, and dry seas. They could put up monster packs for sale that include virtual miniatures, cool stat block integrations, and ways to manipulate the creatures that wouldn't be possible without buying the pack. Would you like to easily edit a stat block? Here you go, that functionality comes with a monster pack! But worst of all, I think DMs might be subject to a monthly subscription to even access the virtual tabletop. 

Microtransactions and subscriptions, the unholy duo of gaming, especially in the tabletop landscape.

Truly, there's no way to avoid their unceremonious arrival. I also play video games like Path of Exile and Guild Wars 2 and microtransactions make both games a huge sum of money. WOTC would like a slice of the microtransaction pie with One D&D, and I'm certain they'll get it from a certain section of the community.

Others, though, will move on, continue to build their own content, and ignore WOTC's monetization of Dungeons & Dragons.

The Mechanics of One D&D

Initially, I was intrigued by the mechanical updates in the testing phase for One D&D. Not anymore.

The changes are so drastic and untrue to the core of D&D that I've decided to build my own tabletop roleplaying game. If the latest iteration of D&D, something I've always leaped on, isn't something I desire or recognize, why continue following WOTC?

Understand this, though: everything is a playtest right now, nothing is set in stone. I may not like the mechanical changes and additions, but WOTC has not said anything on whether or not they're staying. Now, I'm sure certain aspects are solidified such as the split of classes into four groups (Martial, Mage, Versatile, and Divine), but others like always succeeding on the roll of a 20 and failing on the roll of a 1 are up in the air.

Regardless, between these vast changes and the new language and stance on the lifelong lore established in D&D, you're better off making your own game or finding one that suits your preferences.

Updating or Removing Core D&D Lore

I've read a decent number of articles, blog posts, and threads in addition to about ten videos debating WOTC's current plans for D&D's problematic terms and lore.

It's a large, touchy topic with plenty of intricacies, I understand that. Some pieces of D&D and its world can be removed as the game evolves, of course, but with the constant erratas of the current 5E books, I'm frightened of what might happen with One D&D and the perpetually online nature of the system.

What happens when a few people get upset over a concerning character? Will WOTC remove them from the official product?

Will WOTC defend their vile villains and inane plots? Or will they bend to those offended over them?

How will they react if a group of people claim a particular monster is problematic, then the movement gains steam online? Will they stay or be slain?

All arrows point toward WOTC bending and not defending their game. One idea I point toward is adding the word typical to all monster alignments or changing their alignment entirely in their latest products. Those who use monster books should know each stat block is already of a typical monster, say a red dragon, orc, or flumph, not the red dragon, orc, or flumph. People were quite upset that stat blocks seemed to deem all orcs as evil, even though that's clearly not the case in many settings, including the default D&D setting. Ultimately, it's up to the worldbuilder to form the factions and creatures of their own world: if their orcs are typically evil, that's fine. If their halflings are typically evil, great. If their drow are typically good, sweet! There's no need to be outraged over almost anything in an official WOTC product, but here we are.

If any outrage exists, it grows, WOTC sees it, and it gets changed. This will mount ten times with One D&D, especially if the products exist primarily online.

WOTC and Double Speak

Saying one thing and doing another is a sin committed by many, especially the most powerful in our society. This includes Wizards of the Coast and their parent company, Hasbro.

During the writing of this article, the entire D&D and RPG community imploded due to the leaked release of WOTC's revised open gaming license (OGL) for One D&D and beyond.

For those unaware, the OGL essentially allowed creators to write and sell content for D&D without the need to pay WOTC royalties. It gave people freedom to use ideas like Armor Class and Ability Scores and the quintessential delving into a dungeon to fight a red dragon as a scenario without fear of WOTC coming after them, as the former stewards of D&D, TSR, did so commonly, people often joked that their company's acronym stood for "They Sue Regularly".

With the revised OGL, WOTC and Hasbro seek to disallow creators from making content without the need to pay royalties to the caretakers of the D&D brand by establishing a new, more strict set of rules for One D&D and attempting to nullify the old OGL that has been in place for over two decades.

This all comes after an article released on D&D Beyond by WOTC stating that any change to the OGL only sought to foster D&D creators, prevent corporations from abusing the brand, and create a community more open than ever. This was false, if the leak is true.

Pure double speak.

You can read the leaked OGL and more about it in this Gizmodo article.

In Summary

I'm no longer excited for One D&D. In fact, I've grown quite pessimistic about the next version of D&D. Time to create my own systems and try out other games, methinks. Remember:

  • One D&D will have microtransactions. Do you support this?
  • D&D's core mechanics are likely changing greatly. Change is fine, but how drastic can the changes be before the game is unrecognizable?
  • D&D's lore can be reformed by the community, WOTC bends to anger online. Are you okay with constant errata to books and products?
  • WOTC's and Hasbro's double speak is ridiculous. I won't be patronizing WOTC presently, will you?

Quite the downer article, but it needed to be written. Research for yourself, look around, watch some videos, and think. Do you want One D&D? I don't.

If you enjoyed this article, check out last week's post on keeping your RPG group alive and well.

Here's to greatening your game and world: cheers!

Want More RPG Tips & Tales from RJD20?

As always, thanks for reading. Please send all inquiries to or leave a comment below.

How to Destroy a D&D Party

By RJ on 2 January 2023. 

Dungeons & Dragons parties are surprisingly fragile. Despite thousands of groups across the world gathering for countless weeks, months, and years to slay monsters, dazzle unsuspecting NPCs, and explore mysterious realms, many tables fall apart rather easily. How? Well, there are plenty of reasons why D&D groups fail and split. 

To avoid this happening to your table, we're going to explore each major cause for destruction in this article. Altogether, they are:

  • Poor Scheduling
  • Lack of Unity
  • No Clear Direction
  • Problem Players

Please do note, many of the catalysts for dissolving groups emerge in successful ones. As a matter of fact, my own groups are susceptible to a few of these at times, but we're still going strong. As you'll read in a moment, many of these D&D group pitfalls can be avoided or resolved with direct communication. Unfortunately, it's a skill many people lack or are frightened to wield.

Not us. Today, we're going to learn or improve on this vital skill.

Poor Scheduling and Dedication

Regardless of how good your D&D group is, it has encountered scheduling difficulties at some point in its life. We all know and understand.

Usually, the group works together to set an initial date with the DM at the helm. Let's say everyone picks a Tuesday to play a few weeks out. The DM prepares for the session: they build a few encounters, practice a wild voice, and ensure there's a good set of areas to explore. Some, if not all, of the players are excited to play and all looks good.

Alas: something arises for one of the players. Jason pipes up in the group chat and says something popped up, and he can no longer make it. Everyone else chimes in and lets him know it's alright and the DM lets everyone know they'll still play.

The group ends up meeting and playing. They have a blast. A vile hag steals away one of the party's loved ones (a fat hamster) and prepares to use the tiny beastie in a ritual. It's gripping. It's interesting. It's silly.

However, at the end of the session, no date is set. Regardless, the group bubbles in their chat.

"We're gonna save Patchie!" Yelena exclaims.

"Only if the hag plays her cards wrong. We're basically, like, done for. Maybe if Jason comes, we can do it, but I don't know..." Ronald says.

"Yeah, I should be able to! When are we playing next?" Jason responds.

"I can do next Thursday." Yelena responds.

"I can't." quickly replies both Jason and Ronald.

"How about Friday night?" says Isla.

"Nope!" Ziq finally enters the conversation.

"Well, when then?" responds Yelena.

The conversation goes silent. Quietly, Jason is upset that he missed the session and doesn't even want to play now. Everyone else cannot seem to pin down a date, as other things come up. Ronald plays board games with his friends a lot. Yelena and Ziq hit the club a few times a month. Isla really wants to play but doesn't want to force the issue.

No one makes the game a priority. No one tries to truly schedule the next session. Despite a fun first session of D&D, the group dies, destroyed by itself.

You might be cringing right now. You also might remember this happening to one of your old groups. Maybe it's happening presently.

How can you avoid your group dying due to a lack of scheduling and priority?

The answer is twofold and simple: you set up a consistent D&D schedule and make the game a priority. Simple yes, but this is revolutionary for some.

The best way to play D&D is with a consistent schedule. It doesn't matter if you're playing once a week, once a month, or every three months, you need to lock down a regular time to play. Do this at the beginning of the adventure or campaign, working with every player to come up with the best time and cadence to play D&D.

While you set up a schedule, you also communicate a key aspect of D&D and the social contract: the game is a priority, and the players should make they make it one. Everyone is gathering to play, yes, a fantasy game, but it shouldn't be trumped by other areas of life. Sure, someone might get sick or have an important event come up, but people shouldn't cancel because they want to go get drinks, go to the park, or just chill at their house that night. They committed to a time and place to play D&D: they should stick to it. If it's not a priority for them, they should not play. 

Canceling, especially the day of is reserved for situations wherein it's simply not possible to play. That's it. Those happen. That's okay.

Stress this at the beginning of the game and it shouldn't be a problem for the rest of the run. Let everyone know that this is important if not vital for the life of the D&D group.

Without a consistent schedule and the promise that D&D is a priority for everyone, the players are much more likely to destroy the game. With a set time to play and a mutual understanding that it's important, the game is more likely to flourish and finish in a strong manner.

Lack of Unity

In the real world, people drift apart if their interests differ, and they don't make an effort to communicate and come together. The same happens in a D&D group. Of course, many times this is an unintentional pursuit. However, it can quickly become sinister and a catalyst for a D&D table's destruction.

Everyone in the party should want to adventure together, both in-game and out-of-game. They should be united in this desire: happy to play and happy to adventure. If there's nothing uniting them, the wound can fester.

This can be tackled from both a real-world and fictional point of view.

In the real world, ensure you make an effort to be a friend to each other. D&D time might be when you see each other and play D&D, but on other days, check in with each other. 

  • Send a simple text, and start a conversation.
  • Offer to hop into voice chat and discuss life, the game, and all else.
  • Play a video game together, cooperative or competitive. 
  • Venture outdoors to a restaurant or park. 

Working on your out-of-game relationship with each of your party members will ensure the group remains strong interpersonally.

In the game world, make sure every character is on the same team. Interparty conflict is always fine and encouraged if everyone is on board, but at the end of the day, each member of the party should be in pursuit of the same endgame: defeating the ancient red dragon who dominates the nearby kingdom; delving into the Abyss to save a stolen holy relic; making a quick coin off slaying bandits.

At all times, there should be a clear goal that unites the party.

While people may point at the DM as the only one who can ensure this, that's far from true. I've seen multiple groups struggle to unite in-game despite the DM throwing out plot hook after plot hook that would unite them. One character wants to delve into the dragon's lair. Another wants to go east to find a lost monastery. Someone else needs this artifact from the den of a mastermind thief. Up until this point, though, the campaign was based on taking out the red dragon.

In this case: who was in the wrong? I'm a huge proponent of players doing whatever they'd like, going wherever they'd like to go. However, if character motivations suddenly swing outside the norm and clash with the other characters in the group, that's a problem. It can lead to the game stalling out and if not addressed, the party becoming segmented and even jaded.

In-game solutions are what you should go for first. If you're a player and you notice another player's goals have shifted dramatically and suddenly, question it in-game. Make a moment out of it. Perhaps it'll lead to some interesting dialogue and reasoning from the other characters. The same goes if you're a Dungeon Master in this situation: throw a challenge the suddenly dissenting player's way immediately. Don't allow their desire to "leave" the group mount. See what's up in the world.

If in-game solutions don't lead to interesting discussions or resolve the issue, take it out-of-game and address it quickly. Talk to the player one-on-one and see what's up. Ask them why they've suddenly changed what they want to do in the game. Hear them out. If their opinion makes sense or is compelling and not "I just want to" or "it's what my character would do" then perhaps take it to the group. Maybe it warrants a change in direction for the adventure or campaign.

Together and even apart, disunity in the real world and in the game world can destroy a group. Watch out for it and address it when it happens. Don't let it fester and turn the group's motives against each other.

No Clear Style, Genre, or Theme

Some people enjoy playing in a sandbox-style D&D campaign. However, to a lot of folks, this leads to confusion, slog, and a general distaste for the game. There is a reason modules and adventures are popular products and DMs enjoy running them: it's because their players enjoy playing them.

The same is true for a variety of people who enjoy certain genres and not others. Some people adore horror games filled with terrifying monsters, blood-soaked chambers, and unholy artifacts. Other folks love comedic games rife with stupid names, impossible plots, and gag funhouse dungeons.

Themes are important to a campaign as well, though they're usually less evident than certain styles of play or game genres. Ideas like justice, chaos, order, friendship, and destruction. They aren't front and center, but they can permeate almost every piece of a campaign.

All of these relate to player expectations. If any of these things shift constantly, are areas players are not interested in or seem to dominate the campaign, it can lead to the party's destruction. For the most part, the DM is responsible for this beyond the beginning of the campaign. Before it begins, however, it's vital that everyone sits down and sets expectations.

Essentially, you want to run a consistent campaign and create something everyone is interested in. This can be done

  • Run a session zero to set expectations.
  • Adopt a clear style of play.
  • Focus on one or two genres at a time, switching up rarely.
  • Pick six or so themes and insert them into everything across the campaign; look for what your players and you enjoy.

First up: call it a session zero. Call it a conversation about D&D. Whatever its name, it should happen. It's too important not to do this to ensure the survival of the group. I've already written an article on session zeros, though it is from a while ago, I agree with nearly all I wrote then. Essentially, in this session zero, you want to establish expectations.

Set up which style of play the campaign will be. Is it a sandbox, or is it more on the rails? Are you playing a West Marches game or a game with a set group of players? Is it episodic or a continual story that builds week on week or month on month? Is the game going to be serious or silly?

Discuss which genres people enjoy and which they don't, so there's a set group of areas to explore when the game begins and ages. Is silliness okay? How about horror? Westerns? Classic fantasy? Heroic fantasy? Epics? Steampunk? Talk about it all and maybe implement some of the strategies discussed in my article on session zeros.

Next, skip the themes and keep those private. Pay attention to your players and what they enjoy, then insert those various themes into your game.

However, to end the session zero, establish a clear schedule, the importance of the game, and discuss what is completely off-limits. How violent can combat be? Is slavery a bad aspect to include in the world? Is romance good-to-go, or to be avoided?

With that, session zero is all set and we can move to the game itself. How can you stay in the proper style, with the right genres, and pick and play on the best themes?

It all comes down to practice and experience.

In your preparation, think about each of them as you plan. For my Bannerless campaign, it's a pure sandbox focused on building up a faction in the wilderness. The genre is low fantasy with flairs of pulp adventure. The themes? Exploration, politics, and demons (both real are imaginary). As I prepare for the campaign, I think about each.

Everything is centered around both player choice and the faction-building aspect.

The world stays low fantasy, with sparing magic and powerful monsters. The scenes are epic, though, and every encounter is memorable. Most monsters are unexpected, too, as the world is unique. For example, cyclopes are magic-hungry giants who were experimented on during ancient times. Now, they need the very few magical items and people in the world to eat and survive.

The themes sit with me, too. The characters explore different, mysterious portions of the land, from deep, tainted temples to twilight woodland realms of evil fey. They run a budding faction, so the other power players in the region are competing with or trying to work with them. It's an exciting balance. The "primary" villain is a demon alongside demons within each of the characters. That's the focus of every session, in and out. New themes may come and go, but those three are core to the Bannerless.

During the game, too, don't be afraid to reinforce these ideas with the players. They're a part of the campaign creation as well!

Problem Players

Nothing can destroy a D&D party faster than a problem player...or multiple problem players. Of course, it's usually the most difficult issue to solve for many groups and people and we've all run into it.

I've had trouble with this in the past and handled it poorly. However, as I've grown, I'm much more confident and comfortable handling problem players. It all comes down to communication and addressing the problem as soon as possible. As with everything else, don't let it fester.

Here are some examples of problem player behavior:

  • Interrupting other players during their turn.
  • Speaking for other players in the game or acting as the unelected party leader.
  • Forcing other players to follow what they want to do.
  • Taking magic items without question or throwing a fit if they don't get what they want.
  • Multitasking during the game (on their phone doing non-D&D things, leaving the table constantly, zoning out, etc).
  • Making every encounter about themself.
  • Showing up late to the session constantly.

This, though, is something to deal with out of the game. Don't try to handle it inside the game world. If you do, you essentially become a problem player yourself.

Instead, speak with the problem player about their behavior. If it happens during the session, nicely correct their behavior. If it continues, speak with them one-on-one after the session. If you're straight with them and they'd like to continue playing at the table, they should want to work on the issues erupting at the table. Truly, the hardest part is understanding you can address these problems at hand. 

You're all there to play D&D, have a great time, and build a compelling game and world. You cannot do that if someone is actively inhibiting the fun. You have the power to address it. Go for it, be the bigger person.

In Summary

Your D&D party can dissolve quickly if any of the topics discussed above are allowed to fester. Remember:

  • Play on a consistent basis and ensure D&D is a priority for all the players. Don't wait until you're deep into the campaign to set this up, make sure it's known from the beginning. Consistent D&D is the best kind of D&D.
  • Work with your fellow party members, not against them. Intraparty conflict is totally fine, but if it clearly hinders the state of the game, knock it off. Especially in cases when players debate for an extended period of time someone, usually the DM, needs to step in and move the game forward.
  • Clearly state the type of game you'd like to play or run. Discuss your likes and dislikes, as well as what is completely off-limits. You don't want Billy the Barbarian arriving to session one of your high fantasy-style campaigns.
  • Address problem players immediately. Don't allow them to fester and ruin the game for everyone.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this article, check out last week's post in which I discussed, satirically, how multitasking during D&D is easy and improves the experience.

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Want More RPG Tips & Tales from RJD20?

As always, thanks for reading. Please send all inquiries to or leave a comment below.