Too Much of a Good Thing: Success and Magic Items

Instead of helping people get to know D&D creatures and their lore, this week we will discuss something completely different: magic items and player success. So very often, these two things go hand in hand. The players accomplish a task (saving a village, killing a monster, etc.), and not only enjoy the victory, they are compensated materially. Sometimes, the goal itself is the attainment of a magic item. The discussions in which I have participated tend to agree that groups questing for items for each other is a good way to provide story for everyone, while linking it to an item. The warlock wants a spellblade that once belonged to a fallen paladin in order to forge a stronger link with her patron and power her magic with the broken oaths. Sounds like a good, terrible quest for everyone.

Get to Know the Scarecrow

Welcome to Fall. The time of year where we lament that it is still too warm for this time of year and yearn for cold weather, only to complain when the weather is actually cold. The time of year where bonfires, raking the yard, and drinking to excess in the name of team loyalty rule the day. It’s also the time of monsters, honoring the dead, giving thanks, pilgrimages, and the harvest. While Halloween gets most of the focus, with growing interest in Day of the Dead and All Saints’ Day, I’ve always felt a strong pull to the mythos surrounding the harvest. There is just something about the lore and superstitions associated with the harvest that stirs my creative juices. So let’s kick off the season with a look at a seasonal staple, the scarecrow. If you’ve missed the previous creatures I’ve covered, you can find them below.

Azer | Kenku | Giants | Scarecrow

Burden of Knowledge Design

One of the common usages of “burden of knowledge” is describing a situation where you need in-depth exposure (often first-hand) to understand something. For you to perform something to the highest levels, others have to also attain a high level of mastery. Conversely, your mastery might be so thorough that no one can successfully compete against you. The knowledge base is so deep, or so well hidden, that there is never a really equal playing field.  There are many possible barriers to entry, but system mastery isn’t easily overcome. This is especially problematic when you are talking about things that are attempting to be easily accessible, as cooperative and competitive games often attempt to be. Let’s look at a timeless game—chess.

The Age of Retiarius

I had something else planned for this week, but then I read the July round of rules answers  in Sage Advice. One of the questions was about the net, and if attacks with the net were always made with disadvantage. The answer was the net was specifically designed so a net attack was always made with disadvantage, without an intervening factor, like a special feature, advantage to offset through something like faerie fire, or the net itself is special. Unfortunately, neither barbarian or fighter seems to have a special feature to offset this penalty in the core materials. Alas, it is up to all kind folk to make an impassioned defense of the retiarius, the net-fighter.

Five Essential Lessons for New DMs in D&D

Since the release of 5th Edition, I’ve run into many DMs trying their hand at D&D for the very first time. Some of these folks are coming to the table with previous experience in Pathfinder, Star Wars, Gurps, etc., but others are as green as it gets. With that in mind, I’d like to welcome the new DMs to the wonderful world created and maintained by Gygax, Greenwood, Salvatore, Elmore, Hickman, Weis, Easley, Perkins, and many, many more. I’d also like to impart some of my hard earned knowledge from 20 years as both a player and a DM with five essential do’s and don’ts that can easily make or break an adventure. Keep in mind that a lot of my advice is geared toward DMs running their own original homebrew material and not all of it may apply to pre-generated adventures.

5 D&D Campaigns Inspired By Reality Television

I’m thinking about the Bachelor, Hell’s Kitchen, and So You Think You Can Dance!


Okay, I’m really not but I must admit that there’s something about the idea of combining dancing with arcane spells that makes me a bit curious. (Haste, Blur, and Mirror Image come to mind.)

However, being a bit more serious, I have conjured up five reality shows currently on television that would make excellent foundations for some very interesting D&D campaigns. These shows, with some obvious modifications to make them fit better with fantasy, have everything players are looking for in an adventure. Many of them are dramatic, suspenseful, insightful, sometimes dangerous, and often provide a great deal if insight into the human condition. And while I’m sure that they are not everyone’s cup of tea, they may provide the perfect backdrop for some groups willing to branch out and do a little experimenting.

Putting The Fun in Funeral – 8 Weird Ways To Die In D&D

Death in D&D can range from the mundane to the downright strange. Maybe your character goes down to something as simple as a club to the head or maybe they get a sword in the guts. Or maybe they breathe their last staring down a deadly dungeon trap or a magnificent fireball spell. These are all pretty standard ways to go, and many of the characters I have played and died as, or have killed off as a DM, have been in these fashions. But these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the hundreds of way to die in D&D.

7 Legendary Items of the Real World

In roleplaying, we often spend a lot of time talking about or going after legendary items. This is also true of fantasy (the one ring), science fiction (kyber crystals), comics (the infinity gauntlet), and anime (the dragon balls). Characters often seek them out, adventures often hint about them, and sometimes dungeons and bosses have one. For a character to own a legendary item is really for them to be carrying around a piece of history. These sorts of items should not come along everyday and when they do, they come with a great deal of both power and responsibility.

Legendary items can vary greatly depending on the type of roleplaying game you are engaged in or the character that you are playing. Usually, legendary items are either a part of the back story of the world in which you are playing or they have an individual story of their own which is provided by your source material. Creating your own legendary item is also a fun option but keep in mind that a balance must be kept between giving your player something useful and giving them something that makes them way too over powered.

Tribal Knowledge: Sculpting a Boss Fight

I’m taking a week off from the history of the Ranger class to talk about encounter design, an under-appreciated art within the broader work of game-running. Tabletop games, like video games, have long had a concept of a “boss fight,” a climactic end to an adventure or series of adventures. Starting from that similar position, though, video games have done far more creative things with the concept, while tabletop games have scarcely advanced beyond what MMO players would call “tank & spank.” There are exceptions, and I’ll be noting the ones I can think of, but in general I’m interested in expanding the range of options people consider when they design climactic encounters.