Archive for February, 2016

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


I sit down with Rudy BassoRich Howard, and Dan Dillon to discuss the latest D&D movie news. Then Rich and Dan debate the pros and cons of multiclassing and prestige classes. This podcast was recorded on February 24, 2016.




DMs Guild Pick of the Episode: Seeking the Bored


Please rate and review The Tome Show on iTunes! It helps us a bunch!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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I love this month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme, “How Do You Inspire Your Players?” This month’s carnival is hosted by Johnn Four over at Roleplaying Tips. What a great theme he’s chosen. As game masters keeping players engaged is our number one job. If no one is having a good time, what’s the point of playing?

Here are a few tips from me to help keep your PCs engaged at the table.

Give Them What They Want

Odds are you know your players pretty well. Engage them by playing to their sensibilities and giving each player type at your table an engaging encounter at least once per session. Let the power gamer take on a pile of enemies, the actor talk to interesting NPCs, and the explorer wander some unknown cave or lost temple. Making sure you engage each player once per session in this way will keep them invested in the other parts of the game. It also makes them want to come back to the table week after week. Change up the amount of time spent on different encounters. If most of one session takes place slugging it out in the arena, maybe the next should be spent negotiating with the corrupt pit bosses to get the winning fees and other rewards the party earned.

What if you don’t know your players so well? Even if you’ve been playing together for years it never hurts to ask your players what they want. Once you know what they’re looking for make sure you’re crafting worlds and stories which they find entertaining. If no one in your group likes gothic horror but they love science fiction, maybe put away Ravenloft for some other players and grab Mike Shea’s Aeon Wave instead.

Reward Daring

I say it’s not enough to have players simply be engaged in the story. I want my players to take bold risks. Die Hard would be a pretty boring movie if John McClane simply snuck out of the building and let the authorities handle Hans Gruber. Let your PCs be heroes. Have them drive the story. When my group waffles with the decision-making, I reward the first person to take action.

Don’t get me wrong. I love it when my PCs are planning. I don’t like when they spend 30 minutes arguing about how to handle an encounter with four kobolds. Anytime a player takes a calculated risk (as opposed to doing something stupid for no reason), I reward them. Most games have some built in mechanic for rewarding cool actions like fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons’ inspiration mechanic. Of course if my players need a little bit more of a safety net to get in the game, I’m not above adding a (patent-pending) bravery bonus to a roll when a PC does something cool and risky. Those are the kinds of actions I want to encourage my players to take.

Allow for Automatic Successes

When an action is described in a particularly amazing way by a player, I have been known to grant an automatic success. This encourages my players to not only take risks, but remain engaged in the game. The more actively they listen to the story, the better they can describe their actions and get the payoff of an automatic success with a great description. I use this technique sparingly since it is a game-breaking reward.

A great example of this is in the 2012 Acquisitions, Inc. PAX game around 1:51:00. Watch as Wil Wheaton describe’s his character’s acrobatics.

Use Their Backstories

A great way to inspire the players to get involved in your story is to use the stories they create. Every great PC has a great backstory the player has put time and energy into creating. The same way you want the players to invest in your story, invest in theirs. Challenge yourself to weave at least one PC backstory into the campaign in some way each session. It doesn’t always need to be a big dramatic showdown with the villain who killed the fighter’s father every time. Maybe an old mentor shows up with some helpful information or a PC’s friend is in town and they run into each other. That sort of thing keeps the players engaged and delightfully surprised.

Call Them Out

When all else fails, feel free to call your players out. I play most of my games through Roll20 at a time after all my players have gone to work. Some work longer hours, others are fathers, and all have the distraction of a computer connected to the internet right in front of their faces. There are times when I feel I’m doing my best GM song and dance, throwing out all sorts of inspiring tidbits, and no one seems engaged. It is at those times I will remind my players to get their heads in the game with the phrase, “Now is the time for heroes.” I’m telling them, “Stop reading Facebook, and start taking action to save the world.” Don’t be afraid to let your players know you need them to be more actively engaged. A big part of what they get out of the game is what they put into it. Encourage them to give it their all and be the heroes they’ve built.

Upcoming for the Blog

I also need to announce some changes here at World Builder Blog. Over the last two years I’ve worked very hard to make sure this blog was updated twice a week with longer posts like this one every Tuesday and Thursday. Starting next week the blog will only update with these longer posts once a week on Wednesdays.

I’ve been spending so much time blogging and podcasting that it helped me get some other RPG design jobs to which I want to dedicate time. More information on those as they develop! I also want to dedicate time to putting out the Exploration Age Campaign Guide and making it the best it can be. I can only do so much in a week, but never fear. This blog will continue to update regularly, though less frequently, than it did. Thank you all so much for reading over the years. Let’s keep making awesome stuff together. You rock.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

It’s brag time. My DMs Guild products are doing well. Right now I have one Silver Best Seller, 15 New Backgrounds, and three Copper Best Sellers, 20 New Traps, 50 New Magic Items, and Catastrophic Dragons. Thanks to everyone who has downloaded these products and my others, Archons and Greater & Elder Elementals! If you’ve downloaded any of these products please leave me some feedback in the form of a review or discussion. Even just giving a product the number of stars you think it deserves without leaving a long review is very helpful.

How Good is a Best Seller?

Some of you are probably wondering, what does it even mean to be a Copper or Silver best seller? Well, I can tell you that the DMs Guild has five levels of best seller – Copper, Silver, Electrum, Gold, and Platinum. No exact numbers are given for the required sales to reach each best seller level. I am not sure why. It may be as the DMs Guild becomes more (or less) popular those numbers change because OneBookShelf wants to always have some best sellers on the list, but not so many that every single PDF becomes one so the name has no meaning. I have no proof that’s what is happening. I’m just throwing an idea out there that makes sense to my marketing brain.

UPDATE: After speaking with the amazing David Gibson, he said he believes that the best seller medals come from paid download numbers only. He has a lot of awesome products on the DMs Guild and RPGNow for cheap. They’re wonderful. Check them out. He thinks Copper is around 50 sales, Silver is around 100, Electrum is 250, Gold is 500, and Platinum is 1000. If I make it to any of those numbers, I’ll let ya know!

I know that somewhere around 370 downloads 15 New Backgrounds20 New Traps, 50 New Magic Items, and Catastrophic Dragons became Copper. Somewhere around 740 downloads 15 New Backgrounds became Silver. If 15 New Backgrounds makes it to Electrum, I’ll let you know what it took. At the time of writing this post, that PDF has 1300 downloads and there are 46 Copper, 49 Silver, 17 Electrum, 2 Gold, and 2 Platinum total best sellers on the DMs Guild.

In addition 15 New Backgrounds has been on the top 20 of the DMs Guild list since it launched on January 22, hovering mostly around the number 15 spot. I think most people would call my work on the DMs Guild a success even if the numbers are pretty modest.

Pay What You Want

I imagine one reason my products are doing well and climbing the charts is that they can be downloaded for free. In fact I know it. Look at the total numbers of downloads all my products have had. These numbers include free downloads.

Total downloads as of 5:19PM Eastern 2/22

Total downloads as of 5:19PM Eastern on 2/22

Now here’s the list with all the free downloads taken away.

Total paid downloads as of 5:19PM Eastern on 2/22.

Total paid downloads as of 5:19PM Eastern on 2/22

So you can see a big difference. In the case of 15 New Backgrounds over 1000 people have downloaded this sucker for free. I can’t even get them to leave a review. This probably isn’t a surprise to most of you. So why have I offered these products as Pay What You Want PDFs? A lot of folks might say I’m not valuing my work. I assure you that’s not it. Each product has hours of writing, design, editing, and layout associated with it which I’ve done myself. I would love to earn a little scratch from these beyond what I’ve made, which is less than $300 total.

So all of that said why would I put out all of these products as Pay What You Want?

  1. I’m keeping a promise. The DMs Guild and Open Gaming License are young, only a bit older than a month. I’ve been creating content on this blog for two years. All of the content I am offering on the DMs Guild, with the exception of Greater & Elder Elementals, were available as free PDFs on this website, some for more than a year. Why were they free? There was no OGL at the time and I wanted to make fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons content. I had no credits to my name. I needed feedback on my work from a large community and without the safety net of the OGL I wasn’t sure I could charge for something without a cease and desist. I had no idea how it all worked and no idea if my stuff was any good. I put it out there for free, listened to feedback, and promised readers of this blog that the content in the PDFs available on the Free Game Resources section of this site would always be available for free… even if I moved it somewhere else. The DMs Guild’s terms of service do not allow me to keep the crappier, less laid out, less edited, un-arted versions of the content on this site for free and better PDFs on the DMs Guild that I can charge for, so I decided Pay What You Want was the way to go.
  2. I’m trying to get noticed! You might read the above point and think, “So why post anything on the DMs Guild at all?” I won’t lie. It’d be a dream come true to do some design work with Wizards of the Coast. After it launched the D&D team made it clear when the DMs Guild launched that it was now THE way to get their attention. I wanted to get products on there quickly while the competition was light. There was a whole supply of my own design work on this site that wasn’t part of the upcoming Exploration Age Campaign Guide I could use. Again, I wanted to keep my promise to readers so I made it free. The combination of wanting to get noticed and keeping my promise to you readers really drove the decision to put products on the DMs Guild and make them available as Pay What You Want.
  3. My layout skills are whack. I have put a lot of time into these PDFs, but if I’m being honest the layout and public domain art do make them feel a little amateur. I’m not skilled in these areas and since I knew I wanted the products to remain free, I kept it free for me to produce rather than hiring an artist and a print designer to do the layout. I’d never make the money back if I hired them.

As for the future, not all my DMs Guild releases will be Pay What You Want. Anything already created for this blog which I decide to release on their site will be available as Pay What You Want for the reasons above. If I make something totally new and put it up there, I’ll probably charge for it. Looking at the modest sales numbers, the 50% profit share, and the fact that any DMs Guild product is limited to being sold only on that site, I’m not sure how many products I’ll be posting there in the future, but at least a few more may make their way there… especially if I can eventually put Eberron material up there! Don’t get me wrong, the DMs Guild is a great thing, but it’s not right for what I want to move forward with.

As many of you know from a previous blog post, I’m moving forward with my own world of Exploration Age. After that, I’d love to tackle making Enora the Bound Sky a reality.

Upcoming for the Blog

I also need to announce some changes here at World Builder Blog. Over the last two years I’ve worked very hard to make sure this blog was updated twice a week with longer posts like this one every Tuesday and Thursday. Starting next week the blog will only update with these longer posts once a week on Wednesdays.

I’ve been spending so much time blogging and podcasting that it helped me get some other RPG design jobs to which I want to dedicate time. More information on those as they develop! I also want to dedicate time to putting out the Exploration Age Campaign Guide and making it the best it can be. I can only do so much in a week, but never fear. This blog will continue to update regularly, though less frequently than it did. Thank you all so much for reading over the years. Let’s keep making awesome stuff together. You rock.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


I sit down with Chris LindsayDungeons and Dragons Product Specialist, Travis WoodallD&D Adventurers League admin, Paige LeitmanBen Heisler, and Karl Resch to discuss the D&D events at the Winter Fantasy gaming convention. This podcast was recorded on February 16, 2016.


Noble Knight pick of the episode – Legacy of the Crystal Shard



DMs Guild pick of the episode – The Temple of Shattered Minds


Please rate and review The Tome Show on iTunes! It helps a bunch.

Links:

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

I was on a recent episode of The Tome Show podcast!

I had the pleasure of discussing R.A. Salvatore‘s new novel Archmage with the one and only Jeff Greiner. We reviewed the novel, which we rather enjoyed, and then we talk with R.A Salvatore himself about this novel and what he’s got coming in the future for Drizzt and the gang! It was a blast and a dream come true to meet one of my favorite authors.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Sorry for the late post! I have been hard at work formatting my latest DMs Guild creation – 50 New Magic Items. Many of these magic items were first published here on the blog. I’ve edited and updated them, reformatted them to make them extra pretty, and thrown in a few pieces of public domain art. Check out the offerings!

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 8.56.01 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 8.56.13 AM

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 8.56.20 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 8.56.27 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 8.56.42 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 8.56.51 AM Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 8.57.12 AM

Plus there’s 100 new common weapon properties, 100 new common wondrous items, and 100 new cursed item properties! It’s all in an easy, breezy, beautiful Pay What You Want PDF.

50NewMagicItems_Introcaso_20160218_Cover

While you’re checking it out, feel free to also grab my other Pay What You Want products. Archons, Catastrophic Dragons, and Greater & Elder Elementals all update Dungeons and Dragons monsters of previous edition for fifth edition rules while 15 New Backgrounds gives you a bunch of new backgrounds as the title suggests plus a module for group backgrounds the whole party can share and a handful of new equipment including bombs! Finally 20 New Traps gives you a bunch of new and updated classics to throw at your PCs. Take a look and please feel free to download for free. This is material I pledged when I created would always be available for free and I plan to stick to that promise. I’m always open to feedback, so leave me a comment, start a discussion on a product page, or leave me a review. Honestly at this point in my RPG career a free download with a good review is worth far more to me than cash.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Over the last couple weeks on this blog I dove deep into my campaign setting, Exploration Age. First I wrote about the design principles behind the setting and then I gave you my hex crawl tips, since Exploration Age was built for that sort of adventure. Now it’s time to blog about building random encounter tables to give your hex crawls some extra awesome.

I find hex crawls call for huge varied encounter tables. The more variety you can inject into a table, the more interesting your game play will be. A lot of different encounters will keep your hex crawl from becoming a predictable grind. Pages 85 – 87 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide have some great advice for building your own random encounter tables, so I won’t rehash what’s already been written.

Check for Encounters

When my players embark on a big hex crawl, I create three different tables – a hostile encounters table, a exploration encounters table, and a story encounters table. In general I check from random encounters twice per day during a hex crawl. Once during the travel day and once when the PCs stop to take a long rest. If they take any short rests, make a lot of noise, try to take a short cut, or do anything else that might attract attention (or if I just feel like it), I’ll check more than the usual twice. Use your discretion and roll whenever you feel it is necessary. Sometimes you may just want to make a particular type of encounter happen, in that case just skip the “check for encounters” step, roll on the appropriate table, and get going.

I check for a random encounter by rolling a d20. On a roll of 1-16, no encounter occurs. On a roll of 17-18, a hostile encounter occurs, on a roll of 19 an exploration encounter occurs, and on a 20 a story encounter occurs.

If I feel too much of a particular type of encounter has occurred, I’ll change the numbers to give a new kind of encounter a greater chance of occurring. Heck, if there’s a particular encounter I really want to occur, I’ll just make it happen and won’t even roll. The point is, you can easily adjust the numbers if your group prefers a particular type of encounter over the others. I have a better chance of hostile encounters occurring more than story or exploration because those are what my group likes. Combat encounters make hex crawling dangerous fun. You can do whatever you like and change midstream to fit your game!

One of my groups is currently crawling through the blank area of The Sprawling Jungle in Verda, so I’ll be using jungle encounters as examples.

World Map of Canus

World Map of Canus

Hostile Encounter Table

For a combat encounters table, I follow the advice in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, but I make every encounter on the table a hostile encounter. It’s that simple.

The big question you have to answer… will you build your random encounter table so that each encounter falls within the easy – hard encounter difficulty rating for your party (as the Dungeon Master’s Guide suggests) or will you build a random encounter table that includes encounters difficulty ratings well above and below what the party can handle?

I know many old school gamers may prefer the latter. After all, why would The Sprawling Jungle care what level the PCs are? They might even call it realistic. If that’s what you want to do, by all means, go ahead. Just make sure your players know what they’re in for. This is not my preferred method, but if it works for your group, game on.

In my experience having a single random encounter with a challenge rating well above the party’s level end in a party wipe just stinks. I want my players to feel like the heroes of the story. How crappy would The Lord of the Rings be if the Fellowship got entirely wiped out by a group of 1d6+4 owlbears at the start of the journey? I understand it may not seem realistic, but neither do dragons, magic, or mind flayers, so I’m good with it.

Here’s an example of a hostile encounter table below for The Sprawling Jungle in Exploration Age. The encounters are tailored for a group for four level 11 PCs. Remember that a hostile encounter doesn’t have to be resolved by combat. Let the PCs tackle the encounter with diplomacy or attempt to avoid it, especially if they see the enemy before the enemy sees them.

d12 + d8 Encounter
2 1 behir
3 1d2 Tyrannosaurus rex
4 1 hydra
5 1d6+3 saber-toothed tiger
6 1d2+1 shambling mounds
7 1d2+1 trolls
8 1 orc war cheif, 2 orogs, and 1d6 orcs
9 1d2 giant apes
10 1 lizard king/queen, 1 lizardfolk shaman, and 2d6 lizardfolk
11 1d4+4 swarms of poisonous snakes
12 1 gnoll fang of Yeenoghu, 1 gnoll pack lord, and 2d6 gnolls
13 1d6+2 giant scorpions
14 1d10+6 giant spiders
15 1d6+3 mystuak-inhanbited berserkers
16 1d3 cyclopes
17 1d2+1 green hags
18 1 yuan-ti abomination, 1 yuan-ti malison, and 1d4 yuan-ti purebloods
19 1d2 morchia
20 1 adult green dragon

Exploration Encounter Table

My exploration encounters include interactions with non-hostile NPCs and locations the PCs may meet along the way. These encounters could lead to side quests, provide challenges or rewards, or give flavor to the world. As each encounter occurs, I cross it off the list. In general it isn’t very fun for a specific of exploration encounter to occur more than once. I usually keep these tables smaller since these encounters take a lot more prep than a random encounter. I add new exploration encounters between sessions to fill-in the ones I’ve crossed off the list. Checkout my example for The Sprawling Jungle below.

d6 Encounter
1 A wagon surrounded by decomposing humanoid corpses wearing rainbow colored cloaks. The wagon contains a hidden compartment (DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) to notice) which holds 4d6 x 100 doses of orange spice inside.
2 Hidden mud pit 20 feet deep with a 10-foot-square opening. DC 15 Wisdom (Perception) to notice. A creature which enters the mud pit must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be submerged 5 feet in the mud, restrained, and continue to sink at the end of its turn at a rate of 5 feet per round. Once the mud covers the creature’s head it is blinded and it begins suffocating if it requires air to live. A submerged creature can make a DC 15 Strength (Athletics) check as an action to climb 5 feet out of the pit and also not sink at the end of its turn. A nonsubmerged creature can aid a submerged creature by lending it a hand or long object (such as a branch), which gives the submerged creature advantage on its Strength (Athletics) check.
3 A grove of casgrove fruit. The fruit is worth 500 gp. Harvesting the fruit takes 2 hours. There is a 50% 3d6 mystauk with no host inhabit the grove as well.
4 A band of adventurers from the Explorers’ Guild (50%) or the Society of Seekers (50%) looking for a nearby aberrant ruin. They will pay the adventurers 50 gp for any information which could aid them in their search.
5 An aberrant ruin. Use Shuzal or roll on the aberrant ruin table.
6 The nomadic panther tribe comes through. Their chief, Bergonthal the Brave, has contracted slug snot after exploring a a cave which leads to the Underdark. If the PCs heal the cheif, the tribe’s shaman, Ferix the Wolf, reward the PCs with a charm of victorious armor.

Story Encounters Table

Story encounters are more abstract. They inject PC backstories and past campaign events into the game. A story encounter should help introduce new story elements into your campaign or move a particular story forward. When a result on the table calls for a particular PC you can randomly choose one character by rolling a die or by picking whichever PC’s story makes the most sense at the moment given the time and location of the encounter. You could also simply pick a PC who hasn’t been in the spotlight for a time.

Some of the results on the table call for a NPC to ask the players for help. If you’re stuck on what the NPC should ask for, roll on your hostile encounters table and have the NPC ask players for help defeating that enemy which is chasing the NPC, has stolen something which belongs to the NPC, or raiding a nearby settlement.

A NPC offering aid could offer their own services as an adventurer, healing spells, food, or equipment. A few potions never hurt anyone (and a few cursed potions really make the game interesting).

d6 Encounter
1 A hostile creature from a PC’s background
2 A hostile creature that got away from the PCs or has returned from the dead after they killed it
3 A friendly creature from the PC’s background asking for help with something or offering aid
4 A henchmen or assassin hired by a villain the PCs are working against come to kill the PCs or infiltrate them as a spy
5 A NPC the entire party has met before asking for help with something or offering aid
6 A NPC who knows someone the PCs know or has heard of them who needs help or is asking for aid

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


I sit down with Rudy Basso and Alex Basso to discuss the Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition SRD update to Hero Lab and the latest D&D Unearthed Arcana survey results. This podcast was recorded on February 9, 2015.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Boldly go where no one has gone before. Last Thursday my post re-introduced the basics of the Exploration Age campaign setting. In case you missed it, here’s an excerpt:

For those who need a quick refresher, Exploration Age is my campaign setting that takes place in the world of Canus. Canus is rife with political intrigue, magical technology, ancient ruins, and unexplored territory. Until the last decade the wild continent of Verda was hidden from the rest of the world. Its recent discovery has sent other nations into a land-grabbing frenzy. Adventurers are needed all over the world to scout unexplored wilds, dive into ruins for items that may help spur the creation of new technologies, and navigate the political upheaval of a complicated world. It is an enormous world, a bit larger than our own. Here are a few of the design principles I came up with while creating the world based on the preferences of my own players.

I’ve outlined numerous countries, peoples, organizations, technologies, and more on this blog. Now I’m getting ready to publish the whole dang world.

Now take a look at the rough world map.

World Map of Canus

World Map of Canus

Now as you can see, Canus has tons of blank spots. The Damned Lands, North and South Poles, Glacius, and Verda all have those big gray areas. That’s unexplored wilds of snow, jungle, marsh, mountain, desert, forest, and more. It can be whatever the GM wants to put into the world. That’s just the surface of Canus. The setting’s underground is almost entirely unexplored.

Known Underdark in Exploration Age

Known underground in Exploration Age

 

And here it is overlayed on the map of the surface of Canus

And here it is overlayed on the map of the surface of Canus

Why are these blank spots part of Exploration Age? Again I will excerpt my recent post as a reminder.

I know some of you might be saying, “Why are there blank spots on the map? If I’m paying for a campaign setting, I expect the whole thing!” That’s understandable. I assure you that Exploration Age will come with more than enough world created. You can run an entire campaign all over Canus and never need to explore an unmapped area.

The reason I included these blank areas is I always love creating my own area of a game world even when I’m playing in a published setting. Settings inspire me with a great ideas , but I the world doesn’t always have the room to add them without subtracting from what is already there. I’ve found that many other GMs do the same. We want a chance to add our own ideas to the world we play in. That is what D&D is all about. Even fifth edition lead designer Jeremy Crawford‘s personal campaign world began as Barovia. He rolled back the mists and began building up the area around the gothic setting until he had a much larger world.

That’s why this map has blank spots. So GMs who are inspired by the world to create more can easily make a piece of it their own. There’s tons of inspiration and hanging story threads within the pages of the campaign guide’s manuscript to help bring players and GMs into the unknown.

All of that being said, let’s talk about hex crawls. What are they, what challenges do they present, and how can we make them awesome?

What Is A Hex Crawl?

If you’ve ever played the classic module Isle of Dread (which was revived as part of the D&D Next playtest), you might remember this map.

It’s given to players who have to explore the island to find various points of interest during the quest. The white hexes are unexplored areas of the map. As the PCs trek the island the map is slowly filled in hex by hex. Isle of Dread is one of many adventures that use this idea for exploration.

That’s the basic idea of a hex crawl. Players explore the unexplored and map out an area. They’re usually on the hunt for a specific adventure site like an ancient temple or crossing the unknown wilderness to get to something they do know is on the other side. There are times when the PCs might be exploring for the sake of exploration… and that’s when you can run into trouble.

The Challenge with Hex Crawls

Hex crawls can be downright boring. Simply wandering through an area of blank spots hoping adventure bites you on the butt can be fun for the PCs if the area is rather small or if you have an interesting adventure site in every other hex, but most hex crawls involve large, unexplored areas with just a few interesting places spread throughout.

Wandering all over a map without direction is frustrating. Players will have the same feeling that you get when you’ve taken a wrong turn in your car and can’t figure out how to get back to the highway. Being lost can be fun for a short time but the players will quickly grow frustrated if they don’t feel like they’re accomplishing anything, especially if there isn’t more than a random encounter or two in all but 1/20th of the hexes they explore. If you can overcome this challenge, hex crawls can be a lot of fun for players as they dive into the unknown.

Hex Crawl Tips

Here are some tips to make hex crawls a great time.

Give the PCs Direction

Give the PCs some direction as they enter the unknown. Hearing that their target site is along a river, mountain range, lake bed, etc. gives them a direction to follow instead of wandering all over the map as you exhaust every encounter on your random table. You could give your PCs this information simply by saying something like, “Follow the river into the jungle and keep following it until you find the lost city!” or, “Head East from here to find the Mountains of Madness and follow them South until you find the Temple of the Crawling God.” You could instead give the players something a little more cryptic, “Go due North from here until you reach the edge of a cliff. Follow that cliff West to the Donkey’s Head. From there climb the Hill of the Crying God. Once you make it to the Valley of Hymns, seek the Lost Goblin’s Ear.”

The Blank Spot is a Short Cut

Of course the adventure site your PCs wish to find does not have to be in the unknown area. Maybe they simply need to cross an unexplored area to get to someplace they know on the other side. Right now one of my gaming groups is making their way through the middle of Verda because they seek a port on the opposite side of the continent from where they started. They have direction and are uncovering great mysteries as they head through The Sprawling Jungle. This approach allows the PCs some leeway to figure out how they want to cross the blank area. It also lets them keep exploring if they’re having a good time.

Find Clues Along the Way

Of course sometimes you want to plop your PCs in the middle of a blank area without direction… to start. For instance getting shipwrecked and finding yourself waking up on the shore of the Isle of Dread. This can be thrilling at first, but have your players get some direction quickly. Maybe they meet someone who can guide them, maybe they get some cryptic clues about where to go from an old journal, or maybe they see a landmark that’s a clear adventure site (like a golden temple atop a volcano). As the players investigate, let each interesting site direct them to at least one other site within the blank area. This makes your hex crawl feel a bit like the classic point-and-click style adventure games where one discovery leads to another and saves they players from frustration.

Tempt Them Off the Path

When your players have a clear direction, go ahead and give them a few reasons to stray from the path. Maybe they come across a person who knows the area well and points them in the direction of treasure. Maybe a NPC traveling with the party or one of the PCs gets carried off in the night by a local monster and the group decides to track down the foe. Maybe they catch a glimpse of a godly being and follow it way off the trail as it beckons to them. Maybe the path they are on becomes impassable due to flooding, avalanche, or some other natural disaster. Maybe the party is being stalked by a large pack of hungry wolves and needs to travel in an erratic way to get the doggies off their scent. Remember that part of the fun of a hex crawl is the unknown factor. Even the best laid plans should go awry.

Surprise the Players

Since the unknown is part of the fun, be sure to surprise the players. Throw a lake of lava in the middle of a glacier. Have a city of civilized ogres welcome the players with the erudite sophistication of the classiest nobles. Make lightning bugs sing lullabies as they blink at night. Let sharks roam in freshwater lakes. Make the ants extra huge and the elephants super tiny. Take something they know and completely turn it on its head. Subvert their expectations. Your players will be eager to keep exploring to see what else might blow their minds.

Have Random Encounter Tables Ready to Roll

Great random encounter tables are a key ingredient in any successful hex crawl. They’re so clutch that I should actually write another blog post just about that. So that’s what I’m going to do! Stay tuned.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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20NewTraps_Introcaso_20160208_Cover

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As I mentioned last week this blog is going to get after some hex crawl advice. Don’t worry! That’s coming. On Thursday get ready for my advice about running a hex crawl and next week we’ll talk about crafting random encounter tables.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!