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Big ideas and gaming outside the box.Grand DMnoreply@blogger.comBlogger178125
Updated: 2 days 15 hours ago

Save Your Game Session: DM Burnout

Wed, 06/06/2018 - 20:12
It has happened to us all. You scheduled the game weeks ago. It is finally here. You just worked a gazillion hours or were up to a million o’clock the night before. You are tired, not in the mood, but don't want to cancel the game. After all, it is super hard to get the gang together!

Everyone arrives. You catch up, since you have not interacted which each other beyond social media. Some time passes and everyone is finally ready to start. You feel a little better now, a tad more relaxed. An hour into the game you have the 1000-mile stare. You start hand waving things you should not. Monster stats become meaningless. Hell, you just want them to die and the game to end.

Someone is building dice towers. Maybe someone else is on his or her phone. There is almost definitely someone doodling. Yikes, can you salvage this? Yes, you can! Remember Dungeons & Dragons is a storytelling game. If you are tired and the game is dragging, it is time to get back to basics. Referencing character sheets and rules minutia is enough to cast a Sleep Spell on anyone.

I have been though the scenario outlined above many times. To escape the mire I developed some tools to get me back on track. The first one is a character card. On it, I have bullet points, which detail the motivations, goals, quirks, and weaknesses of each character. When things start to drag, or the scenario I prepared is not turning out great, I turn to those cards. After all this is their story, and you are just helping to direct it.

Players will immediately perk up when suddenly passed the story ball. I have to tell you, that energy at the game table is very contagious. As Dungeon Master, you should be on the lookout for when the players pass you the story ball also. That cool idea they just came up with? Go with it! Especially if you are feeling session burnout and things are bland.

Nothing is more exciting than when the players take the story in some unexpected direction. It is fun to be surprised as the Dungeon Master occasionally. That is the essence of collaborative story telling. It makes you not have to do all the heavy lifting, especially if you are having an off night.

Another technique I use when tired is intravenous coffee. OK, jokes aside I have yet another set of cards on hand. On them, I have detailed in one paragraph or less, various colorful NPCs and points of interest. These immediately create a “shiny” for the players to latch onto. Some are outlandish, like a kobold selling dyed scarfs in the middle of the dungeon, whoa…what is her story? Others are just fascinating, like the countenance of a man upon the door of a rotted cottage, his eyes almost lifelike.

When dreaming these up I have no idea where they may go. This is by design. I have even run entire game sessions this way, setting aside my original plans. They have created some of the most memorable encounters. However, most importantly they helped to get this tired Dungeon Master back on track. I hope this post inspires you with some of these ideas. In the instances where life has you failing your tired save, the game sessions are salvageable. You just need to jump-start your engine!

If these solutions don’t work for you, it may be best to end your game early and regroup at a later date. It is definitely not worth forging on if everyone is not having a good time. If you are experiencing dungeon master burnout constantly, it may be time for a break. Maybe schedule a board game night. Alternatively, switch things up and run a low crunch one shot to rekindle that game master fire.  For some it may be simple as handing over the reins to another game master for a while.

If you have any tips or tricks to bounce back from a dragging game session, please feel free to share! Just remember the challenge not unique to you. We all have been there!

Sleep Spell - Larry Elmore (1983)


Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

A Dungeons & Dragons Birthday Party

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 19:25
This past weekend I took part in amazing party for our friend’s son who was turning 9-years old. It all started last year when my wife and I offered the use of the Game Tavern for his birthday. The family lives 6-hours away, but that did not stop them making sure this epic quest occurred! Our friend Tanya has always been super crafty, with many amazing parties under her belt. Her son Brokk comes from his love of Dungeons & Dragons honestly, as I have been playing the game with his dad for decades.

Most of our friends have kids between the ages of 6 and 13; so many different activities would need planning. Tanya definitely delivered that and then some, which I will detail below. If you are planning a similar party for your own children, I hope this post serves as inspiration. This is the stuff of legends and great memories!

The party started with outside activities. Since there were many younger kids, they were ready to jump right into the fun. In addition, it was important for the older kids to get some energy out also. When it comes to D&D, the mind can only absorb what the seat can endure. This could not ring any truer with children and teens. Below are pictures of the various crafts and activities all put together for the party.
 
The character sheet shirt.
All of the children received these home made dice chests.
Each chest is guarded by a dragon. Their curled tail holds a D20!
Inside the dice chests, complete with Brokk's birthday d6s.
Outside included a bouncy joust with rings.
A refreshment tent.Bottled Water Weird was on hand!
An area for birthday presents (loot) to be placed. 
Of course there was alchemy!
The slime recipe was a big favorite with the kids!


A water balloon siege engine!



What monster to attack?
A goblin target!
A Gnoll target!
An of course an Owlbear...I missed it every time!
This station had target dummies and shield making!
Homemade pillory for photo ops!
A home made BEHOLDER Pinata!!! This was amazing.


The poor Beholder did not last many rounds against a dozen kids!
A home made MIMIC Birthday Cake!!!
This is what it looks like after taking critical damage.
A lock picking station for rogues in training.
Home made Kobold Kandy inside!
My own son is 11-years old, and a new Dungeon Master. With about a dozen game sessions under his belt, he was quick to volunteer to DM for the party. Over the past few weeks, we worked on a 3-hour dungeon together. It was linear on purpose, after all this was a party and things needed to keep moving. The star of the show of course was the birthday boy, Brokk. The story being he was attempting to recover his lost family sword from the vile dragon Acidmaw!

The adventure featured many classic monsters such as a Water Weird, Gelatinous Cube and, Piercers. Many times during the adventure, some of the adults stepped in to quietly watch the adventure unfold. It was really cool experiencing the next generation playing a session together. All I could think was, wow...wish I had parents like us when I first learned about the game in 1983!

The players were given pre-made characters complete with custom paper miniatures. They also received a Bag of Holding which contained all sorts of accouterments such as pencils, paper, etc.

The kids had a blast and were thrilled to battle a dragon. Brokk's character found his magic sword, Dragonslayer and it launched to his hand. We ordered a cool foam sword and had it waiting for that very moment. My son handed it to him and the surprise was priceless! The group eventually slayed the evil dragon, with the birthday boy landing the final blow.


The Game Tavern ready for the adventure.
The game session. Faces blurred for privacy.


If if you have any questions about some of crafted items in this post Tanya can be reached on Twitter @Tuneses. Dungeons and Dragons is such a wonderful hobby. I'm really happy that our own children all love playing it. Keep gaming and remember you're never to old to be a kid at heart!
Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Alternate Win Conditions in D&D

Tue, 05/15/2018 - 16:57
After playing D&D for nearly four decades I have developed some habits as a Dungeon Master. One of them is using alternate win conditions for battles with boss level monsters and villains. Some while back I really became numb to the concept of hit points, especially in high level play. Far to often the battles felt like the players were just chopping down a tree...with a dull axe. Before going any further, I understand that style of play still appeals to some people. I’m not saying there's anything wrong with it. I just do not prefer it any longer.

I used the chess image to the right on purpose. There are countless possible games which eventually lead to a victory in chess. With that foundation in mind, let's explore how alternate win conditions can be used in D&D.

Hit points are not cinematic. Hit points are something the players can meta game as damage is dealt. Hit points are just a piece of the puzzle for me, not the whole thing. A well placed critical hit could potentially one shot an important story boss. The rest of the players are left with dice in hand, bummed how anti-climatic the battle was. Sure, sometimes as a DM you NEED to let that happen. Especially if everyone is cheering and excited at the result. After all, you’re the casino with endless resources to throw against the players. Those are game day calls and only you can decide what is best for your group and story.

So what are alternate win conditions? Well if you’ve ever played a video game you have seen them. They are best defined as a series of tasks which must be completed BEFORE you can defeat the boss. This defeat could be directly or indirectly, the latter being my favorite. I think the best way to show this is by example:

Alternate Win Condition (Direct)

For this scenario I will detail what a boss fight typically looks like versus one updated with alternate win conditions.

Final Room A: When the PCs enter this chamber the Goblin King will be seated on his throne comprised of yellowed bone. To his left and right are two Hobgoblin Guards. He will yell out in the blackened tongue, “Destroy the interlopers!” Note: The Goblin King counts as a hobgoblin with maximum hit points. In addition, he has two attacks per round.

Final Room B: When the PCs enter this chamber the Goblin King will be seated on his throne comprised of yellowed bone. Upon seeing the PCs he will cackle evilly and vanish into wispy smoke. If the PCs advance on the throne they hear a series of clicks. Two pieces of rune covered obsidian rise from the floor on either side of the room.

These stones will summon 1d4+1 Goblin Skeletons every round until disarmed (DC15 Sleight of Hand), disenchanted (DC15 Arcana), or destroyed (DC15 Athletics check). Any summoned goblin skeletons will defend the stones if necessary, using their reaction to impose disadvantage on a PC rolls.

In addition, the Goblin King is considered ethereal while the stones remain active. A DC15 Arcana check will reveal creatures that aren't on the Ethereal Plane can't interact with him, unless they have an ability or magic that allows this. That said, his awful cackle somehow reverberates throughout the chamber. Once the stones are deactivated the cowardly Goblin King will reappear, groveling for his life.

Goblin King - Aradia Miniatures
In the above example the players have to work more as a team to defeat this boss. The Goblin King is not just a bag of Hit Points. Since the stones work as monster generators, there is still a combat aspect to the encounter. This keeps the players who enjoy that style of play happy. Finally, the Goblin King could escape to menace the players another day if you so choose. Either way, the PCs have defeated him this time!

Alternate Win Condition (Indirect)

This style of win condition works better in campaigns that are more story based. It’s usually a gradual thing as the PCs slowly chip away at the villain and foil plans. In one of my current campaigns the main villain doesn't even have stats written to a character sheet. He has carefully worked his machinations throughout the realm causing all sorts of chaos. NO, this villain is far too intelligent to risk direct confrontation! The players have been defeating his plans and lieutenants along the way. With each of their victories his power lessons and his plots and allies are exposed. That said, the constant threat of this villain hangs like a dark cloud over them. He strikes back whenever he can...but may be weakening.

I encourage you to find ways to incorporate alternate win conditions into your sessions when dealing with boss level encounters. Even though D&D finds its foundation in war games not every battle needs to be decided with hit points. I think by mixing it up once in a while you will keep the sessions fresh for your players and have them thinking of new ways to use their character abilities. Even better, occasionally a player will dream up an alternate win condition on the spot. This is the stuff of legends! Embrace it and create a story your group will talk about for years to come.

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Adventuring Gear: The Crowbar

Fri, 05/04/2018 - 18:54
The Crowbar. It’s perfect for prying open doors, removing nails, smashing glass, using the sharpened end as a chisel, or even an improvised weapon. Is there one in your adventuring pack? If not, there should be.

According to the etymology dictionary, it was once simply known as crow; so called from its "beak" or from resemblance to a crow's foot; or possibly it is from crows, from Old French cros, plural of croc "hook."

To get started let’s look at the Crowbar as presented in the current 5E rules:

Using a crowbar grants advantage to Strength Checks where the crowbar's leverage can be applied.

Obviously the use of one in some circumstances requires DM adjudication, but a crowbar is super useful. Advantage to ANY roll is kind of a big deal. Someone in your party should have one of these.

So how can we home-brew the crowbar a tad? Well for one I would house rule they do the same damage as a club, and are not really an improvised weapon. Just ask Gordon Freeman in Half-life. It seems like something most dwarves would be familiar with, especially if they come from a line of miners. A well constructed crowbar would be useful in prying apart seams or just to break rock.

I would imagine the most coveted would be an adamantine crowbar. Which is interesting since the fabled metal was recently featured in Xanathar’s Guide To Everything:

Adamantine is an ultrahard metal found in meteorites and extraordinary mineral veins. In addition to being used to craft adamantine armor, the metal is also used for weapons. Melee weapons and ammunition made of or coated with adamantine are unusually effective when used to break objects. Whenever an adamantine weapon or piece of ammunition hits an object, the hit is a critical hit. The adamantine version of a melee weapon or of ten pieces of ammunition costs 500 gp more than the normal version, whether the weapon or ammunition is made of the metal or coated with it.

An automatic critical hit against objects? Sign me up! What if the dwarves took it a step further and crafted a Spearbar? All the benefits of being a lever, chisel and a nasty piercing weapon. This would be a tool/treasure worth coveting for any dungeoneer!

Below Youtuber Chasen Tom did just that minus the adamantine...I think!


I’m a big fan of mundane equipment as it harkens back to old school D&D. Descriptive play was the thing. We made good use of every tool at our disposal as we explored the dungeon. This was more then just consulting skills and rolling dice. Rather an invitation to be a better player, a better DM and ultimately a more imaginative gamer. I invite you to read over the adventuring gear section of the Player’s Handbook, you may be surprised at what you find!

Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

Magic Item: Mind Steel Coif

Thu, 04/12/2018 - 18:19
This very rare chain coif is created by the Githyanki* in the Astral Plane. Legend holds that over the epochs they found ways to avoid the terrible mind attacks of those whom enslaved them. The coifs are crafted from Mind Steel. This priceless ore is said to be the crystallized blood of a dead celestial being. How the Githyanki are able to work it into wearable armor is the subject of debate among the arcane.

Designed by Vanessa Walilko, @KaliButterfly Mind Steel Coif

Requires Attunement

You gain the following benefits while wearing it:

  • Resistance to Psychic damage.
  • A Mind Flayer must spend one round removing the Mind Steel Coif before using its Extract Brain ability.
  • The coif also protects the wearer from the dark whispers of things unimaginable. Once per long rest you may gain advantage on a Wisdom Saving throw against an effect caused by an aberration.

You gain the following hindrances while wearing it:

  • The coif does resemble an alien Mind Flayer or a metal octopus from the briny depths. The wearer is viewed with unusual suspicion, which causes disadvantage on all Charisma based checks.
  • Finally, Aberrations will take special interest in destroying a Mind Steel Coif. Their servants may actively try to steal it, or worse be sent to dispatch the wearer. 


*For the uninitiated the Githyanki are astral sea dwellers who were once enslaved by a malevolent and cthulhu-esque race known as the Illithid or Mind Flayers. The Githyanki first appeared in the 1979 issue #12 of White Dwarf, in the "Fiend Factory" column. However, they are most famous for being depicted on the cover of the 1981 AD&D book, Fiend Folio. Interestingly, the name Githyanki was first coined by George R. R. Martin in his 1977 sci-fi novel Dying of the Light.



Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs