DMing for one player

A couple of weeks back @DungeonMasterSc tweeted a question about the minimum number of players dungeon masters need not to cancel a Dungeons & Dragons session. My response was ‘two’, and I added that I’d normally give them a non-player character to help them out.

I was challenged by @spaceseeker19’s response, so tonight when I just had one player, we played anyway. I’d been preparing the first few adventures from In Volo’s Wake, which features monsters from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and there were a few opportunities to support our one player character (a dulcimer-playing human bard) with some NPCs. She was able to do okay on her own in the first adventure, but in the second adventure she really depended on some connections she’d made with non-player characters to save some dwarf children from gnolls. While the game lacked the inter-player dynamics, it was still worth doing, and the main non-player character (Eric the ‘hobby-adventurer’) proved fairly entertaining.

Here’s the Chant: will-o’-wisps, ankhegs and cave halflings

For players or DMs:

For DMs:

For anyone wanting to reflect more deeply on game themes:

Content I’ve published recently:

Goofy descends into Hell: My first experience of Open Legend

Last Sunday I played using the Open Legend system for the first time. Our dungeonmaster has been keen to run a Planescape adventure about breaking out of the prison-plane of Carceri, but hasn’t been finding that Dungeons & Dragons rules promote roleplay or collaboration as much as she’d like.

Having a look at the rules, what I like is that character creation is very flexible. Rather than offering classes and races for a specific kind of setting, there are a whole lot of basic character attributes that can be used in different ways. You could use the ‘Alternate Form’ feat to make a lycanthropic character or a shapeshifting druid. You could use the ‘Companion’ feat to represent a character’s hired bodyguard or an animal companion or a sibling who tags along for adventures. So it’s very modular, very flexible. Because there’s no detailed flavour tied to the attributes, you can use them for a whole bunch of genres and settings, or for a mashup of genres and settings. That meant we were able to have an adventuring party consisting of a halfling, an orc and an anthropomorphic cartoon dog.

I think the downside of the openness and flexibility is that the game can depend a lot on the ability of the players to get their character across. In our adventure, I was playing a psionic orc and another player was a shady halfling. The third player, when he was told he could play as anything or anyone, said, ‘I’ll be Goofy.’ I think that was actually really helpful because we know who he is and what he’s like, and we get how cartoon slapstick works. He was able to get the character concept across easily by having Goofy walk up imaginary stairs or elongate his arms in order to catch falling adventurers. I think my psionic orc and the sinister halfling were less clear, so it was harder to get into the swing of things.

Back to the positive: another thing that makes Open Legend stand out if the way that dice ‘explode’. If you roll a die, whether it’s a d4 or a d20, maximum rolls are repeated and added. So If you had to roll a d20 and a 1d6 and rolled a 20 and a 3, you’d expect to get a score of 23. But because you rolled a 20 on the d20, you would roll the d20 again and add the result to the 23. If you rolled another 20, it would explode again. The same thing would happen with the d6 if you had rolled a 6 – you’d roll it again and add the result to your score. This means that you can end up with some really high scores and results, and it means the game really lends itself to characters every now and then managing ridiculous, epic achievements.

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If you want to check out Open Legend, the rules are available for free on their website. You can also try out their free, play-to-learn adventure, ‘A Star Once Fallen’ or support their Kickstarter campaign to publish their Amaurea’s Dawn adventure setting.

A cheeky response to #DungeonDrawingDudes

I’ve been enjoying the #DungeonDrawingDudes challenge this month, but I felt unhappy about today’s challenge, which is a ‘dwarf bum’. I know a lot of people who’ve been homeless, including some of my close friends. Someone calls someone a bum when they are being disrespectful. Someone calls themselves a bum when they feel bad about themselves. I felt that the language being used in today’s challenge was disrespectful, and while it is a small and perhaps petty thing to argue about language used, I felt a need to make a cheeky response: 

#DungeonDrawingDudes: Week 3

For the last three weeks, I’ve been participating in the #DungeonDrawingDudes challenge. For each day in July, there’s a suggested Dungeons & Dragons creature to draw. If you have a look on Instagram, you can see what everyone’s contributed. I’ve put my contributions here, and you’re welcome to use them in your games if you like them.

This week I got a bit behind on the challenges because I was also working on miniatures for the penguin RPG I ran on Thursday and illustrations for an original roleplaying game a friend has been writing. So I did a lot of catching up today, and really enjoyed today’s challenges. I like running city-based adventures, so I enjoyed drawing the first of a number of urban creatures:

Wizard busker:

wizard busker

Tiefling street-performer:

tiefling street performer

Goblin cut-purse:

goblin cutpurse

I also appreciated the vegepygmy challenge, because it meant I read about a monster that I wasn’t familiar with, and it turned out to be fairly interesting. (They basically start off as a brown mould that could infect an adventurer.)

vegepygmy chief

Another monster that I hadn’t read much about, and appreciated the opportunity reflect on was the redcap, which I’ve already written about here.

I also enjoyed drawing the troll messhall cook, because I like drawing ‘monsters’ in incongruous ways that challenge us to think about them differently.

troll messhall cook

Redcaps and violence

On Monday, as part of the #DungeonDrawingDudes challenge, I drew a redcap, which looks kind of like a warped garden gnome.


I came across this video from Nerdarchy, about redcaps, and I think they make a good observation about redcaps’ relationship with violence. Redcaps appear at the location of a murder, if the murder occurs in a place where the regular world and the Feywild overlap. (A bit like the concept of thin space in Celtic spirituality.) Someone who knows what they’re doing might be able to summon redcaps as minions, but the risk is that they will just kill the summoner. They might follow the person who summons them. But if they do it will only be as long as their master provides more opportunities to kill. If their master doesn’t give them more opportunities to kill, they will kill their master. It seems to me that this monster speaks to us about the tendency of violence to keep generating more violence. Just recently one of our government ministers has been suggesting that our country should become a major arms manufacturer, but that we would only sell weapons to appropriate countries. It seems unrealisitc to think that in the chaos of war, we would be able to control who ends up with our weapons or how they are used.

Valley of Eternity: The Hunt

Valley of Eternity is a tabletop roleplaying game about existentiaslist penguins. I had my first attempt at running it tonight at Games Lab. Players make penguin characters who have set themselves apart by standing up the the many predators that prey on penguins – skuas, seals, orca. Or they may make an antipenguin character – a penguin who has completely rejected the norms of respectable penguin society and embraced the evil power of the glacier. It’s expected that most penguin heroes will either die, become antipenguins or at least be rejected by their community because of how they’re changed.

It was a lot of fun in its absurdity. We had a lot more combat than our group usually does. It may have also been really unbalanced, or we may not have been using the abilities correctly, so I’m going to have to go back and check the rules before playing again. We ended up with two of our original player characters being killed, and the survivor being rejected by his community because he had become like the skuas he had gone to fight.

Here are some illustrations I did to use as miniatures in tonight’s game. (We used all of them except the squid.)

D&D Beyond and outraged fans

The official launch date and pricings for D&D Beyond have been announced. The platform will be ready on August 15, and you can find the rest of the details here. There’s already a lot of fans complaining about being ‘forced’ to buy all of their books again. No-one who has all the books in print or on other digital platforms has to adopt this platform. I expect it will be a really convenient way for new people (who might not want print copies) to get into the game. In fact, I’d consider not buying any more print copies if this works well.

Subterranean fey and paranoia

On Sundays I’ve normally been posting some illustrations that can be used in tabletop roleplayng games like Dungeons & Dragons. Last week I asked what kind of fey creatures folks would like me to draw, and subterranean fey were chosen. So here are a couple of subterranean fey.

A korred:

A meenlock:

While I was drawing these, I was most interested by the meenlock. I hadn’t taken a lot of interest in them before, but I had a bit of a read about them in the original Fiend Folio and the more recent Volo’s Guide to Monsters. Meenlocks have an ability to promote paranoia in other creatures, by overwhelming them with fearful messages, to the point where they are actually transformed into meenlocks themselves.

This description reminded me of an experience I had on Facebook earlier in the year. I made a fake alt right profile for myself and joined some alt right groups. I started adding people I found in those groups as friends on this fake account. I found that my newsfeed was pretty quickly filled with vary fearful content (a lot of which seemed like fake news) and it was pretty easy to get sucked in and overwhelmed by the fearful messages. (I’m pretty sure I could have a similar experience if I made a fake extreme left account.) That experience called me to question the impact that my Facebook use was having on my mindset and curb my use.

Starting at higher levels in D&D

last night I got to play a Planescape game as a player character for the first time. (My second time should be Sunday, but we’ll be trying out the Open Legend system rather than using Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition.) We were playing an adventure from Tales from the Infinite Staircase, and we started with 4th level characters. I played as a bugbear mystic (using playtest rules for mystics), which was a lot of fun.

I did find however, that starting off at level four made it harder for me to have my head around all of my character’s abilities. I need to keep that in mind for when I run adventures myself. Last time I ran an adventure (a few weeks ago) we were starting at a higher level, and one player who’d never played before found it hard to get their head around all the things they could do at that level. I think it’s a good reason to start new players at 1st level, even if they’re playing alongside other players with higher level characters. It’s easier to learn your character’s abilities if you start off with just a few and gradually gain more.