Here’s the Chant: jungle giants, combat systems and failing forward

One Wednesdays I normally post a roundup of content related to Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games. Here’s this week’s roundup:

For Players or DMs:

For Players:

  • ‘Player Notekeeping’ Marauding Owlbear – looks at why it’s important to keep notes as a player, and what things are good to make a record of

For DMs:

forest giant

  • ‘Frontier 5e’ Tribality – introducing a non-magical American West historical setting
  • ‘A Slew of Ones’ Kobold Press – some suggestion about how to save the game when players keep rolling critical failures
  • ‘Using Intellectual Property’ Gnome Stew – some suggestions for running games using settings from TV shows, films, novels, et cetera
  • ‘Player-awarded XP’ Dwarves in a Trenchcoat – looks at a few ways of letting players divide up experience points
  • ‘Puritans and their Weird Names’ History of Nothing – provides a list of historical Puritan names, which could be useful for non-player characters of a certain variety

For anyone who wants to reflect more deeply on D&D and other RPGs:

Content I’ve published this week:

Sigil, the City of Doors, in D&D 5e

On Thursday night last week I ran a 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Adventure using the Planescape setting for the second time. During the first adventure, the players didn’t arrive in Sigil, the City of Doors, until right at the end of the adventure, so I didn’t need a lot prepared. This time, however, the adventure was set almost entirely in Sigil. If the adventure had played out differently, we might not have actually left Sigil. I think this time I felt much more stretched, because Sigil is quite complex. Here’s a list of things I’d like to remember next time I run an adventure in Sigil:

  1. Get familiar with the the Cant, berk! Characters from Sigil use a very distinctive dialect of urban slang called the Cant. Having non-player character use this vocabulary really helps get across the feel of the city. I was able to slip in a bit of Cant, but would like to be more familiar before running another adventure in Sigil.
  2. Use lots of random encounters. I prepared a short table of random encounters that I could use while the adventurers were travelling between locations in the city. I used this once, early in the adventure. I wish I’d used it a couple more times, in order to give the sense that there are crowds of people everywhere and that there’s always stuff going on in the street.
  3. Get clear on how day and night works. Since the city is on the inside of a giant ring, it’s artificially lit. I needed to look into more detail about how this works.
  4. Get a good idea of where things are in relation to each other. The adventure only took part in one ward of Sigil (the Hive Ward), so I didn’t need to have a precise idea of where the Hive was in relation to other parts of the city, but I think it would have been helpful to have a map handy.
  5. Prepare some incidental NPCs – during the adventure I needed a few incidental non-player characters, because players asked who was around in the street, or because they decided to go and knock on the doors of neighbouring hovels. I managed to make stuff up okay on the fly, but it probably would have been helpful to have some prepared.

That said, there were also some things I was pretty happy about:

  1. Factions were an important part of the story. The adventurers came into conflict with representatives of three of Sigil’s factions, and I think the players got the idea of what those factions were on about.
  2. As I said, I had to make up some incidental nonplayer characters on the fly and they worked well. I mentioned that some of the adventurers decided to go knocking on doors in the Hive Ward. One of the people they met was a rather zealous worshipper of the god Pelor, and one of his co-religionists became important in the story later on – something I hadn’t expected.
  3. I was able to turn around a mistake to advance the plot. At one stage an adventurer asked if another character seemed to be telling the truth, and I said they did, when I should have said they didn’t. The adventurer who asked the question then wondered about whether the other character thought they were telling the truth but were mistaken. I ended up going with that, and their mistake gave the adventurers an opportunity to bargain for a solution to their quest.
  4. I was able to use my mistake to advance the setting. A lot of the early travel around the city went on across the rooves of buildings, so later on when I wanted a rival character to ambush the adventurers, I described him jumping out from behind a chimney. However, most of the adventurers were under the impression that they were now travelling at street level – so what was a chimney doing in the street? I was able to think quickly and said that there was a chimney coming up out of the pavement, suggesting that the houses and streets of the Hive Ward are simply build over the top of previous buildings. I decided to repeat this idea when some of the adventurers went door-knocking, by having a chimney coming out of the floor inside the house, making the occupants unhealthy.
  5. Using my dungeon master’s screen to show who the important non-player characters were. I attached my drawings of the main non-player characters to my screen, to remind the adventurers of who I wanted them to keep in mind. I also included Tony DiTerlizzi’s illustration of the Lady of Pain, in order to remind the players of her tyrannical power over the city – which nevertheless brings a certain level of stability.

I’m running another Planescape adventure this week, but I’m planning that this time we’ll spend more time on the Outer Planes again, but I’m also looking forward to running more adventures in Sigil.


Death in D&D

I’ve been thinking about death in Dungeons & Dragons, partly because of a funeral I went to a little while ago. My understanding is that the person whose funeral we were attending shouldn’t have died. He wasn’t very old. There’s a suspect being tried in relation to the death later in the year. So you would be able to understand, there was a lot of grief.

Reflecting on the funeral got me thinking, How is it that we can sometimes approach death so blithely in a game? Normally what you do is just write up another character sheet and continue the adventure with a new character. If you put a lot of work and time into the character you’d proabbly be annoyed, but that’s it. I wonder if there are any ways that we could remind ourselves of the gravity of death when we play?


These are a few ideas I had:

  • We could suggest that surviving adventurers attempt to return the dead to their relatives. This would probably mean having to face the anger and grief of bereaved loved ones.
  • We could roleplay a funeral for the deceased character.
  • We could have each surviving character make a speech about the deceased.
  • We could roleplay a wake after the funeral where the characters speculate about what happens to the souls of the dead.
  • We could allow the death of an adventurer to direct the future path of the story, by having the surviving characters drawn into a quest for restribution.

One of the reasons I’ve been thinking about this is because of Henri Nouwen’s ideas about the illusion of immortality. He believed that our society often tries to avoid recognising the transience of life. Just like attending a funeral should help us to come to terms with our own mortality (as well as expressing our grief for the dead), roleplaying could give us opportunities to reflect on our own mortality. (Not everyone’s game needs to do that – but the opportunity is there.)

Can you think of any other ways to make death carry weight in the game?

Running Planescape in D&D 5e


Illustration by Tony DiTerlizzi

As I mentioned yesterday in my post about OneNote, I’ve been reading Planescape content and taking note of stuff I’d like to use in adventures. I’m hesitant to start a campaign unless I know that there are players enough who are interested in persisting with a campaign. I also want to make sure I’m confident that I have a handle on the setting. So during the week I ran a short Planescape one-shot using 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons rules. (Planescape material was originally published in 2nd Edition.)

I chose an adventure for low level characters, ‘To Baator and Back’, from the book Well of the Worlds. I didn’t find that it was a lot of trouble to run the adventure in 5th Edition. Most of the monsters I needed were in the 5th Edition Monster Manual, and I was able to find homebrew stats online for the mosnters that weren’t. I had to work out some details for the environmental hazards (eg. random fireballs and rivers of blood) on the plane of Baator. Neither of these hazards are really ‘traps’, but I was able to use the trap table on page 121 of the Dungeons Master’s Guide to make sure the difficulty and damage of the hazards was approrpriate for low-level characters.

I also found it was relatively easy to get into the feel of the setting. While I enjoy playing games set in the Forgotten Realms, I haven’t felt as well equipped to improvise on the fly when I’m running the game. My hunch is that I may have found my favored setting. I’m planning to run some more one-shots over the next couple of weeks, and then consider starting a campaign.

OneNote for D&D

For a while I’ve been looking for a decent digital tool to organise notes for Dungeons & Dragons adventures. I’ve tried Evernote, Obsidian Portal and Scabard, but none of them have really clicked. (Actually, they’ve all seemed pretty unwieldy.) I think I’ve now found the right tool, and it isn’t the one I was expecting.

A couple of years ago when I returned to using PCs, I found that Windows was now coming with a program called OneNote, which it desperately wanted me to adopt, but failed to explain why I would want to. A couple of months ago I stumbled on this reddit thread, which includes a number of people explaining how useful they’ve found OneNote as a tool for organising D&D notes.

So I tried it out (I now have it on my tablet, PC and phone) and started adding interesting content I found that I might use in D&D Planescape adventures. Last night I used it to run an adventure for the first time and I found it very helpful. It’s very easy to the the coloured tabs to create sections for locations, non-player characters, monsters, spells and then fill each of those sections with the items you need. (I moved some of the items I knew I would need to the top of the list in their sections, so they’d be easy to find.) I found it pretty easy to move between different items I needed in the filing system. By splitting the screen in could have the 2nd Edition module I was using alongside my own notes (including 5th Edition substitute stats).

The one thing I would say against OneNote is that in the tablet version of the app that I’m using it is hard to connect different notes with hyperlinks. I need to spend some time at my PC interlinking a whole lot of the notes, and if I do that it’ll make navigation easier again. (There may be a way to do this on my tablet, but if there is I can’t work it out.)

Here’s the Chant: 5E Spelljammer, Filipino/a monsters and Monty Python options

Since I’ve been reading more content on Dungeons & Dragons and roleplaying games in general, I thought I’d start doing a roundup of what of what I think is worth looking at:


Illustration: Gerald Brom

For players:

For DMs:

For anyone wanting to reflect more deeply:

My recent content:

Svirfneblin

On Sundays I’m normally posting some illustrations I’ve made to use in roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons. This time folks on Twitter voted for svirfneblin (deep gnomes), so here are some svirfneblin from Out of the Abyss: (a svirfneblin mage, a svirfneblin priest and a svirfneblin ghost):


Svirfneblin are gnomes who live deep under the earth, in search of precious gems. Deep gnomes have to be resilient because their love for gems calls them to live in such a harsh environment. They have a reputation for being very serious and hard-working. Even so, in the midst of the darkness and confinement of the earth, the svirfneblin find ways to celebrate and recreate.

My experience has been that when you’re working in a difficult environment it’s really important to be able to find ways to recreate an celebrate. Can you find things to celebrate in the midst of difficulty?


Need your own character or monster illustrated? Send me an email.

IMG_2310

Twitter D&D needs planning too

A while ago I started a kind of collaborative D&D adventure on Twitter. Initially I was saying that it was really easy to run. I was saying that because there’s just a little bit happening each day I don’t need to be doing much planning.

However, what I’ve found after a while is that over time it does need more planning. As time went on and the whole thing started to loose it’s immediate novelty, it started to become harder to stay motivated, and as soon as things got busy (with intense periods of study and work) it dropped off. (I probably should have seen that there was a busy time coming up and planned for a break.)

I wondered how much easier it would be if I actually did some planning for the adventure. On Sunday I wrote up a short plan for where I thought the adventure could go during the week, using some of Sly Flourish’s suggestions from The Lazy Dungeon Master. I wrote just a few notes on where the adventurers were starting off this session, three directions they might head in, what three important non-player characters were up to, and what I expected would happen next. Having this clear but basic plan made it much easier for me to post something form the adventure almost every day this week. This weekend I’ll update it so that I’ve got some clear possibilities for next week.

Here’s the Chant: the problem of evil, Innistrad, oral history…

Since I started getting more active on Twitter again, I’ve been reading more content on Dungeons & Dragons, and on roleplaying games in general. So I thought I might start doing a roundup of what of what I think is worth looking at.

Ash Zealot, Eric Descamps, Wizards of the Coast, 2012

For players:

For DMs:

For anyone wanting to reflect more deeply:

There seems to be a lot this week looking at the problem of evil.

Australian megafauna for D&D

On Sundays I normally post illustrations I’ve made to use in Dungeons & Dragons games. The last two weeks I’ve tried out asking folks on Twitter to vote on what I should draw.


This week I’ve drawn some extinct Australian megafauna, and I’ll include some suggestions about stats.

Diprotodon This was a giant relative of wombats and koalas. I’d use the stats for a brown bear.


Palorchestes This was a marsupial tapir. I’d use the stats for a giant badger.


Thylaceo carnifex This was a marsupial lion. I’d use the stats for a panther.


Quinkana This was a giant, terrestrial crocodile. I’d use the stats for a giant crocodile, with some simple modifications. I’d remove the 50 foot swim speed, but I’d make it’s land speed 50 feet. I’d also remove it’s ‘Hold Breath’ ability.


Quinkana is named after quinkin –  spirits from Aboriginal stories. I think there’s a lot of Aboriginal stories that would be interesting to use in D&D. I know there are discussions of this online, but I think there are problems with people who aren’t Aboriginal doing this. (I’ll see if I can post a bit about that later.)