The DM’s Conundrum

Hello everyone, today I am going to discuss a problem that I frequently run into, something I like to think of as “The Dm’s Conundrum.”

The Dm’s Conundrum

Basically,  the conundrum is that I am constantly getting ideas, inspiration, or excitement over a adventure/campaign idea, booklet, setting, or even gaming system, always before I am anywhere close to finishing my current campaign.Usually this entails me spending several hours reading and thinking about a theoretical situation or group, in which this adventure or story would be amazing, often when I should be planning the very real D&D sessions that are right around the corner. I get really jazzed about a certain idea, and them am less invested in the current story I am running, as I am more excited for the new shiny idea I have just had! Does this happen to anyone else?

This most recent round of Dming waffling came about while I was reading The Curse of Strahd adventure, which I had checked out from my local library. This adventure seems awesome, it is spooky, dark, Gothic, has an awesome blend of social and combat encounters, AND it has an amazing unforgettable villain. It’s the whole package!

CurseofStrahd_ProductImage

I of course  wanted to go to my friendly local game store and buy it right away; however, I guiltily looked at my Temple of Elemental Evil adventure, which my party has just entered, but not started, and realized it will be at least a year before I need more material. Resigned that I wouldn’t get to play out the amazing Gothic horror that is Castle Ravenloft I returned the adventure to the library, and went back to reading the Temple of Elemental Evil. Don’t get me wrong, I am PUMPED for the Temple; however, in the moment I was disappointed that I most likely would not get a chance for a very long time to run the Curse of Strahd.

temple of elemental evil

This brings me to my DM Conundrum. Most DMs read a lot of D&D material for inspiration and ideas. The more someone DMs the more they read if this material, and the more they think about theoretical ideas. This inevitably leads to theoretical campaigns, getting off track, and spiraling down the rabbit hole that is scanning thru your adventure collection. This would also lead to the conclusion that the more a person DMs, the more unfulfilled ideas you will have, and the more you will debate running additional games to get your favorite ideas at the game table. This inevitably leads to over commitment and failed campaigns, if over indulged, at least it has for me.

While I won’t stop looking at new material, I am going to make it a goal to read all of the Temple of Elemental Evil before looking at new adventures, that way I get excited for the adventure I am actually on. This particular adventure is quite complicated, so I think I could very much so use some time to not just read, but also map out the social connections within the adventure, as well as adapting the dungeon.

Perhaps this is just a problem I have, who knows :), but I would be interested to see if anyone else has experienced this, and if they have found solutions.

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From One Dungeon to Another

dungeonmaster

Hello everyone! Welcome to a new segment of my blog, “From One Dungeon to Another.” These articles will have me discussing a variety of my personal opinions on various D&D topics, as well as various memorable moments. The particularly cool thing about this segment is that Christina, who wrote a guest article on beginning to DM, will also be blogging about the same topic. We will include links to each other’s post within our articles, seeing the contrast between opinions and experiences should be really interesting!

Well without further explanation onto the topic…

Top 3 Playable Player Races 

I don’t get to talk (or think) much about myself as a player, so this should be fun. In no particular order here we go! Also, here is a link to Christina’s blog to hear her thoughts (this link will also be at the end of my post 🙂 )

Elves

Elves

Yup Elves! I am guessing several people are nodding in agreement, and many others are thinking BLEH Elves, really!

Well hear me out. I have always gravitated towards more dexterous, witty, and brain over brawn characters, which Elves do very well. I also really enjoyed their racial proficiency in Longbows in 3rd Edition, it made several other classes a bit more fun at lower levels.

Plus, as a huge fan of Tolkien, it is tough not to have at least somewhat of a soft spot in my heart for these people.

Finally, there is a great deal of nostalgia in this race for me, as growing up they were always my favorite to play as. While a fledgling player of 9 I imagined myself as a valiant elf lord like Glorfindel or Elrond. Into my pre-teen and teen years I identified a lot with Tanis Half-Elven, despite, or maybe because, of all his angsty whining, but since           half-elves were pretty dull player races in 3rd edition I just played an elf and thought of myself as Tanis.

Dwarves

Dwarves_-_MoF

The dour, staunch, and doughty  dwarf has really captured my imagination in the past few years. Dwarf NPCs are some of my favorite to roleplay, and they are often the race I find myself thinking about character concepts for.

A drastic change from the frail but nimble Elf, I really like how I imagine Dwarves feel as a race. They have a lot of layers which could be a blast to roleplay as. A annoyed and grouchy dwarf, which slowly reveals a kinder heard, while definitely a cliche, can create a ton of really fun moments.  I also really like the craftsmanship and devotion this race usually has, as that can provide really interesting spins on a character.

Finally, I have really begun to appreciate the value a lot of hitpoints and toughness brings to a character. Few Dwarf characters have to worry about goblin or kobold attacks nearly as much as say Elves, after all Dwarves will most likely be encased in armor and have a high Constitution score, I like that.

Honorable Mentions

Before I move into my final top 3 playable races I wanted to give two honorable mentions (Sorry Christina I cheated 🙂 ). The Halfling and Dragonborn, both of which I really enjoy. Halflings for the ability to because I have a softspot for the idea of a Hobbit and Dragonborn because I think they are awesome!

Humans

Humans1

Yup, the average, and in some peoples’ opinions boring Human, is one of my favorite races to play as. Some people may wonder, why play a Human, when you have so many other more exciting races to choose from?

Well Humans, over any other race, I think offer a depth and variety of archetypes to roleplay. We are Humans, so we know that Humans are a diverse and unique bunch. Many people will view Elf characters and Dwarf characters as usually possessing certain similar traits and interests. If you want to move away from these tropes it can be hard work, you have to establish your uniqueness to the party, often with an explanation in mind. Not for Humans!

My two favorite characers, Sir Edmund De Le Guile the obnoxious Paladin and Chamon my illiterate Favored Soul posing as a Cleric, were Humans. I think this is because when choosing Humans as a race, I at least start with a blank slate. I can explore unusual concepts and personalities without wondering why I differ from the many others of my particular race. This is not to say I don’t think other races can be used in unusual or unique ways, for my own roleplaying I just have found I can roleplay unique Humans easier.

Finally, back in 3rd Edition every race came with a negative stat penalty, not Humans. Humans were the best way to create a well rounded and balanced character with a blend of good stats, rather then one really great stat and one poor one.

Well those are my top 3 playable character races (and two honorable mentions), please take some time and check out Christina’s blog post here and find out what her top 3 are :).

 

 

 

Sunless Citadel: Reflection and Review

Greetings everyone! With my party having conquered the rigors of The Sunless Citadel I now want to reflect on this module.

General Overview:

The Sunless Citadel was originally created as an introductory adventure for D&D Third Edition, several parts of the module contained tips and tricks for DMs, as well as some nice explanation of how to run an adventure. These are really nice features for any starting DM, and don’t get in the way for experienced DMs. This adventure also converted really easily to 5e.

If you have been following my blog then you can see how my party did, as they advanced through the dungeon. One important thing to keep in mind is that I tweaked and outright changed some things to make the adventure fit my group and campaign world better, as well as make it more exciting.

Some major tweaks I did included making the Gulthias Tree come to life to attack the party. I felt like while Belak was a decent villain, he didn’t inspire the awe that a giant blood sucking tree would. I also felt like the adventure was written emphasizing the tree rather then Belak, after all the tree was creating the fruit, Belak was just studying the tree. By making the tree able to attack, I gave a better conclusion to the adventure, and created an challenging final combat.

Belak

I also swapped out a LOT of the dragon iconography, which originally filled the ruins, in place for death imagery, so that this would more clearly be the ruins of a Death’s Head Cult base. This was easy, it flowed fine, and allowed some of the monsters to make a bit more sense, like the skeletons.

Finally, I added in the cultist to the town. To see my discussion of how that session went look here: https://theroomfillswithwater.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/the-sunless-citadel-session-2/. While I think my use of the cult was a little clunky, I also think this helped the party view the town and the dungeon as connected, and had them thinking about the region as a whole.

Player Reception:

Overall I think my players had a blast. Everyone got their moments to shine. The adventure provided a nice blend of social, environmental, and combat encounters. I also think the various portions of the dungeon felt different, which kept the party engaged.

Aman’s player had actually played through this adventure before; however, thanks to my subtle tweaks he didn’t realize it, until well into the adventure, and even then he said that he didn’t know what to expect.

The players all voiced that they really liked fighting the tree at the end of the adventure, so for those of you considering running this module I strongly suggest that switch. To create the tree all I did was take the stats of an Ogre, give it the ability to attack twice with either the club attack (branch smack) or the javelin attack (needle burst). The AC and HP were the same, but the tree couldn’t move, took double fire damage, and if a creature was bleeding out on it, it healed 1D8+3 damage.

Cons:

I will start with things I thought were bland or bad in the module, that way I can end on a positive.

Twig Blights

twig_blight

I really like this creature, they are different, they are spooky, and they are good challenges for level one parties. However, with the way the adventure is written, the party will almost never fight these monsters, until they are level 2-3 and by that point they really aren’t scary at all. They fall apart versus a stiff breeze, and make Kobolds and Goblins look like heavy hitters. If I were to run this adventure again, I would seriously consider adding some unnatural grooves earlier in the dungeons, in order to have the party fight Twig Blights when they are actually a threat. Or just have most of the twig blights out in the wilderness to attack the party on the way to the citadel. Later in the adventure I would double or even consider tripling the amount of twig blights if they are all that is being encountered.

Repetition

Due to the wide range of monster groups in the Sunless Citadel, the dungeon itself is HUGE. It also has many, many repeating rooms, basically guard rooms with the same creatures, armed the same, doing the same thing. I get why they are in there, as it makes sense, but it requires some real thought to mix up how these monsters will fight the party, otherwise these encounters will become quite boring! The size of the dungeon also can be a little daunting, but I liked this as it allowed two rival tribes of humanoids to exist in one area, with it still making logical sense.

Lack of Traps

The dungeon itself had very few traps, which I find a little disappointing. I actually added a couple here and there, to reward my party for being cautious. I think traps are something that can allow dexterous characters to really shine, so if I were to do this adventure again, I think I would add a couple more tactically placed traps.

Pros:

Multiple ways to overcome Enemy Tribes

This module had a brilliant twist, in that the party could interact with, and make a deal with the Kobolds. This makes the dungeon easier for them to navigate, and could make the goblin tribe much easier to conquer. This was a really nice addition to the adventure, and sets the precedent that the party should be thinking about NPC creatures as more the bodies to kill for XP and loot. Really nice touch!

Nice Blend of Monsters

This dungeon had a very nice range of different monsters to fight. It wasn’t just Kobolds and Goblins, there were Giant Rats, Skeletons, Hobgoblins, Twig Blights, and others! This made the dungeon very fun for me to run, as there was variety. The creatures chosen also made logical sense for the setting.

There was a Dragon!

White_dragon_Wyrmling

This is a huge pro for me! Most players are fascinated with the idea of fighting a dragon, but have never actually faced them. For a game called Dungeons and Dragons the actual Dragons in the game are quite rare. This makes sense as they are rare and exotic creatures; however, anytime I have the chance to use one in an interesting and unique way I consider that a win. I also think, while the encounter with the Dragon wasn’t particularly difficult, just having it really added something to the adventure.

Perfect Amount of Treasure

Granted I tweaked when and how much treasure the party received, but not by that much. This adventure gave what I see as the ideal amount of treasure and loot. Not too much, but not so little as to be unexciting. Perhaps most importantly it only had a few opportunities where having a magical item available made sense, which works extremely well in 5e.

Conclusions:

Overall, I had a lot of fun DMing The Sunless Citadel. I think it is an ideal introductory adventure, but can also be quite rewarding and challenging for veteran players, with some subtle tweaks. While I don’t foresee myself DMing this adventure again anytime soon, I have no regrets buying it, nor choosing it to be the first adventure for my campaign. If you are looking for a starting adventure module, that is nuanced and interesting, consider giving The Sunless Citadel a try!

 

 

A New DM With Even Newer Players

Hello everyone! Today a gaming friend of mine Christina has graciously offered to write a guest article for my blog. I hope you enjoy here insights and check out her own blog, Happy Couch Panda (happycouchpanda.wordpress.com)! 

Salutations everybody! I am a friend of Jake and a fellow DM. We’re friends from PUCLpodcast.com, a Pokemon fansite/podcast, where we were both on the content creation team (you should check it out if you like Pokemon, but back to D&D). You can call me Novice DM Christina.

About a year ago, I became very intrigued by Dungeons and Dragons and have been trying to wiggle my way into the pen and paper RPG world. It was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, seeing as the tabletop community was (and still is) very scarce in my area. I was always jealous of Jake for being lucky enough to have a D&D group of his own and living in an RPG-rich world. In August and after a lot of searching, I met a few people from work who played D&D on our breaks. They were gracious enough to welcome me with open arms. Unfortunately that game has fallen to the wayside with a majority of our group still finishing school…

Christina

We have all been there Christina- Jake

So I decided to take a stab at DMing! I somehow convinced my regular tabletop gaming group into trying out D&D, and now I’m two (and a half) sessions into our campaign. Jake thought it would be a great idea to talk about my experiences of being a new DM, since that is an experience so far away from him these days.

First off, it was an incredibly daunting task. The days leading up to it, my stomach and brain were the equivalent to nervous and anxious mush. With the uprising of D&D games being broadcasted on YouTube, Twitch channels, and on podcasts, I felt some pressure to measure up to these examples. These were the things that got people into D&D, including myself. If it weren’t for things like these, I wouldn’t have had the courage to pursue trying to find a gaming group in general…

I was lucky enough to find a group of players that hasn’t watched ANY of these.

Well it’s a bittersweet kind of luck. Because my players had no idea what to expect, that alleviated a lot of pressure to create a huge elaborate storyline that would have all of these nuanced “disconnected” events that were actually very much connected and end with a huge climatic event. Or at least I don’t have to think about that until much later. I didn’t have to be a Matt Mercer (DM for Critical Role), or a Wil Wheaton (GM for TitansGrave), or a Chris Perkins (DM of Acquisitions, Inc./Story Writer for D&D)… Mainly because they didn’t know whom any of these people were. They were happy and even impressed with the simple fetch quest in a cave.

Christina 2

My group also gave me a lot of empathy because they were also learning how to play. They completely understood if I needed to look up a rule or if I didn’t have an answer right away. It was a great feeling to know if I mess up on rules (which obviously happened) I could easily apologize and move on, or take the time to look up the rule. There was a lot of patience on both sides of the DM screen.

The other side of this “luck coin” is I had to explain everything from square one. And I mean EVERYTHING. Things that seemed obvious to me, such as Initiative or Character Alignment, needed to be explained and brought back to its purpose in the game. I made the novice mistake of not having a session 0, or anything remotely close to one. We did all of the explanation, learning, and character creation right before playing our very first session. A part of me believes that my friends didn’t know exactly what they agreed to so there must have been an overwhelming amount of me just throwing information at them and talking about “game rules”, followed by the “but if you want to do something different you probably can”. So to all of my fellow new DMs: no matter what, DO A SESSION 0! It would’ve been a great chance to go through rules, ideas, character creation ideas, and even bounce backstories off each other, and as a DM it would’ve informed me on what kind of things my players would be interested in.

I was also nervous about being the first experience my friends would have with a pen and paper RPG. My main concern was, “What if I mess up so bad that my friends won’t have fun, and they won’t want to play anymore, and then I won’t have a group anymore?” That is always the risk when you share something so important and special to you with someone.

I wanted to sell this experience to my friends. I wanted so badly for my friends to enjoy the game that I spent hours on forums, listening to podcasts (I would recommend the Dungeon Master’s Block) and watching YouTube videos about tips on being a good DM (and I still ingest these things on almost a daily basis). The best piece of advice I got from everything I’ve listened/read/watched, and I’m sure Jake would agree to this as well, is start small (Too True! – Jake).

I started with one city (maybe I could’ve started with something smaller than a city) with one guild. I thought about the purpose of the guild. Okay, so they are a mercenary-esque adventuring guild, usually paid to run the more dangerous errands for people of the city and the province, but they have an emphasis on the act of helping the people instead of just doing it all for coin. So I asked my players to come up with reasons for joining the guild – essentially a reason for why they want to become adventurers. And then I made the first session into an entrance exam. I created a test that the guild would have for aspiring fledglings.

What I loved about this “test” was it was an easy way for me to add and preview a lot of mechanics of D&D into one session.  I was able to put in different traps (the classic pressure plate and pitfall), combat encounters, magic doors, an ending puzzle, and even got to show off the awesome Druid ability Wild Shape. It was tougher to put in things like social interactions into this test, but it’ll be coming in later sessions when everybody has a better grasp on the minutia of general gameplay.

Tutorial

I would say that overall, despite how overwhelming it was to have session 0 and session 1 in the same day, my first session went very well – well enough that my friends wanted to play again! They are still learning how to play the game, reading their character sheets, and the endless options open to them in an encounter. I think the biggest selling point I made for the game was when I explained, “You can do (almost) anything you want, you will just have to roll for it”. I’m looking forward to see where our campaign goes in the future.

If you want to check in with how our group is doing in our campaign, I will be posting campaign updates on my own blog: Happy Couch Panda (happycouchpanda.wordpress.com), along with my experiences playing D&D. I also write articles about things that I am reading, watching, and playing, so be sure to check those out too!

Thank you again to Jake for asking me to write an article for The Room Fills With Water! I hope that you will all see me on here again in the future!

Thanks Christina! That was awesome, I especially like the idea of a “tutorial” first adventure session, I can think of several parties I have played with that could have used that!-Jake