Embrace the Playground

In the April 13th episode of Dragon Talk, the official Dungeons & Dragons podcast, Mike Mearls gives some of the best Dungeon Mastering advice ever. The discussion is about the differences between adventure design concepts over the editions and how that has change from AD&D to 5th edition. He’s asked what advice he would give for Dungeon Masters who are picking up Tales from the Yawning Portal and want to run it for their group. Here’s what he said:

“Embrace the idea that these are environments that you are supposed to change and modify in reaction to what your group does. I think some people read this style of adventure and they look at it and they just don’t like it at all. Its like its just a room with monsters and another room with monsters and  so on. But what they miss…what I think makes these adventures fun, is that this as a Dungeon Master is your playground.

Part of is what you have to bring to the table is that performance element of really playing the role of the monsters and being as creative as the players can be. So rather than just say you see two orcs standing in the room and you fight them and they sit there and wait for you or whatever, do the thing like have the orcs run away. Have them try to plan an ambush and things like that. Don’t fall into the trap of running each room one after the other because I can guarantee if you do that – run the text strictly as written and don’t bring any creativity to it – you’re going to be bored because that’s not Dungeon Mastering. That’s just “I’m moderating a game” – I may as well be playing a video game.”

That last line rings so true with what Dungeon Mastering is all about. As the Dungeon Master, you don’t moderate the game. You bring it to life. You give the monsters, NPCs and areas life. You are what brings those things to the characters not as static events or individuals. You are what brings those things to life in a way that affects the PCs and their goals.

I love video games. I’ve been playing them since the Atari 2600 first hit the shelves and I’ve dumped enough quarters into arcade machines to finance a second home and a spare car. Having said that, video games have their place in storytelling. They do this by describing the characters, places and monsters you meet in ways that look, sound and feel (via that wonderful Rumble feature) like things you can identify with and remember. Before playing the new Mass Effect game, you had no idea what the characters and their stories would be like but once you started playing how they were introduced, how they spoke, acted and reacted began to give you memories of who or what they are. Take that concept and apply it improvisationally as you run your games. Change encounters as you play. Don’t make NPCs static or follow a specified course of action if you feel its not a good scenario for the game at hand. Don’t be afraid to change things, as these NPCs, monsters and areas are your tools to use as you see fit.

I’m currently running a group through the Sunless Citadel. This isn’t my first time running the adventure but this time through is radically different from my previous games. I’ve created 3 factions for the players (goblins, kobolds and the evil druid) and soon they’re going to have to make a decision which one or ones they are most loyal to. The others will then either become their enemy or pay fealty to the party if they feel the party is more powerful than they are. None of this is in the published adventure as I made it up on the fly as a reaction to the party wanting to just rush onwards through the dungeon. I saw that they needed a reason to fight and explore. By the time we’re done, I have no idea which faction they’ll choose but its going to be fun seeing them have to give up the other two.

Gygax said it best when he said the secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don’t need any rules. This is the key to having fun both as a Dungeon Master as well as for a successful Dungeons & Dragons game – as the DM you let the dungeon & monsters be your tools to having fun with the game and the group, and in no way are you limited to what the rules say, what the adventure text says, or what other people think you should do with your game. You aren’t a moderator of text – You are the Dungeon Master!

Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures – Initial Impressions


Today I stopped by my Friendly Local Game Store and picked up 3 blister packs of the new unpainted miniatures for Dungeons & Dragons from Wiz Kids. Nolzur’s Marvelous Miniatures are a brand new line of iconic monsters and heroes from Dungeons & Dragons lore. The name of the miniature line comes from the magic item “Nolzur’s Marvelous Pigments”. I picked up 3 packs:

Kobolds – Each had different weapons, with 1 wielding a shortsword, another with a bow and the third carrying some sort of 2 handed spear or polearm.

Gnolls. Both were wielding 2 handed axes:

and Mind Flayers, 1 of which was holding a staff:

All 3 blisters retailed for $3.99 and included bases for each miniature.

I am very impressed with all 3 releases. One of the nice features for these miniatures was that the entire line is pre-primed with Vallejo primer:

The size of the miniatures is surprising considering the amount of detail on the sculpts. I have yet to see this level of detail in an unpainted plastic miniature.

U.S. Penny included for size comparison. The bases that came with the Kobolds are the smaller size whereas the Gnolls and Mind Flayers had the larger bases included.

Each blister comes with bases that are of great quality but a bit thin in comparison to most standard bases. The bases are solid and lack the usual lip that most plastic bases have. I have yet to paint or glue any of these miniatures to the bases but I think this is going to be a “good thing” in that their thickness and solid construction will give the miniature less chance to fall over, a common problem with plastic miniatures on the slotta bases that are not completely solid in construction.

The only con I could find with the miniatures was that they did still have mold lines on them. This is standard fare for all cast miniatures but do remember to reapply primer to any areas that you remove mold lines from.

You can see the mold lines on the Gnoll’s right arm and the head of its axe.

I’ll post more pictures once I paint a few of these but for now I am very impressed and look forward to using these miniatures in one of my games soon!

D&D Beyond – Initial Thoughts

Wizards of the Coast and Curse gaming recently announced their new project, D&D Beyond.

From the official page:

“We are excited to announce development of D&D Beyond, an official digital toolset for use with the Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition rules. We have partnered with Curse to take D&D players beyond pen and paper, providing a rules compendium, character builder, digital character sheets, and more—all populated with official D&D content. D&D Beyond aims to make game management easier for both players and Dungeon Masters by providing high-quality tools available on any device, empowering beginners and veterans alike!

Today was the first day of the open beta and so far the basic rules compendium rules material is available for use. I’ve played with it for a few minutes now and here’s my initial thoughts:

  1. The search function is very good. Very, very good in fact. Wildcards aren’t necessary as the search function returns any results containing your search parameter. As shown in the screenshot, when I searched for “Goblin”, it returned both “Goblin” and “Hobgoblin”. That was really nice as I often forget to use wildcards when searching and that can lead to me missing related information.
  2. Sorting works extremely well for search results.
  3. Filters are great for when you need a monster for a particular challenge rating, size or environment. I was able to quickly make a list of Arctic monsters then sort them by challenge rating. This will be extremely helpful for when you need to make an encounter quickly.
  4. Item results being color coded based on rarity is a direct port from World of Warcraft and a fantastic move! I’m an ex-WoW player so I admit bias here but it was nice to quickly see how rare an item is when I was searching for random items.
  5. The Compendium is excellent but sorely lacking a search feature.

That’s all for now. More as I use the program over the coming weeks. Overall this looks to be a fantastic tool for players and DMs alike. If the mobile apps work as well as the web version, this is going to be an incredible resource for the game!