Archive for the ‘General’ Category

It’s a new year! Here’s hoping it brings you gaming goodness.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and running games in Exploration Age since this blog started. I feel I have enough material to publish a book, but it need a lot of work – editing, layout, development, and it’d be great to get some playtesting feedback. The book will most-likely be a massive endeavor unlike any I’ve taken on. I’ve never even created a print product on my own!

To that end, I’ve decided to switch my focus for a while to a smaller world so that I can get my feet wet. Exploration Age will not go away. I’ll still be playing games in that wonderful world, but it may be some time before consumers get their mitts on it. So with that in mind, I want to focus on the smaller, but evocative world of Enora the Bound Sky.

What is Enora?

I’ve already written about this world in two different posts, One-Hour Worldbuilding and 5 Campaign Worlds for Your Next D&D Game. If you want a quick summary, read on below!

Six floating cities hover above the darkness of Enora in Bound Sky. Once a prosperous nation, Enora was home to humans, elves, halflings, gnomes, and dragonborn. The country was run by the Dordune, a council of mage governors, each acting as the leader of one of Enora’s thirteen major cities. Beneath Enora’s surface, the nation’s dwarf and tiefling allies lived happily in the kingdom of Drakefire. Except for the occasional marauding gnoll pack or angry dragon, all was well in Enora. Any threats which appeared were dealt with swiftly and efficiently by the Dordune.

Fifty years ago Governor Kira Vae, an elf wizard, was nearing the end of her long life. Some say fear of death gripped the governor, others say it was an unsatiated lust for power. Whatever the reason, Vae transformed herself into a lich. The transformation warped her mind, seeding a dark hatred of all life in her heart. The lich declared herself Empress of Enora. Empress Vae turned the citizens of her city, Cambor, into an undead army. The rest of Enora tried to stand against the threat, but so sudden and severe did the undead strike that seven of Enora’s cities fell to Vae.

Every victory added more soldiers to her undead ranks. Messengers were sent to Drakefire, asking for military against the undead legions, but the underground kingdom was already over run by Vae’s minions. Any survivors from Drakefire had already fled even deeper underground by the time the messengers arrived.

As the armies of Empress Vae closed around Enora’s six remaining cities, the Dordune made a decision to enact a powerful ritual which raised the cities and their people into the sky away from Vae and her undead. Away from a fight they knew they could not win. As the cities rose, Vae swore to eradicate the rest of Enora’s living. She is eternal as is her hate for all people who defy her.

Now the six floating cities of Deldoroth find themselves safe from Empress Vae’s undead, but they have their own troubles. With limited land to produce resources, the six cities have begun treating each other more like separate countries than one cooperative nation. The Dordune have disbanded and each governor acts as a city’s monarch. As competition for food, water, and shelter grows each day, many less fortunate turn to a life of crime or legal savagery to survive. Airships transporting goods from one city to another are wary of pirates, and many make a killing or die trying in the cities’ gladiatorial arenas (which were introduced by the governors to help control population growth).

Beneath Deldoroth, dead Enora can no longer be seen. Thick layers of black clouds hang between the floating cities and the surface. The undead built massive stoves and constantly pipe ash into the sky to blot out the sun they hate so much. Sometimes at night the victorious howls of the undead can be heard through the blackness by the people of Deldoroth. It is an unsettling reminder that Enora is no longer their home and what drove them out long ago still hungers for them.

The situation underground is no better. Resources are scarce in Redwind, the last remaining city of Drakefire. Plenty of unsavory beasts that burrow made their way underground when the undead took the surface. Everyday the hoard bangs on Redwind’s doors and it is only a matter of time before they break through and devour the residents… if disease or starvation doesn’t take them first.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 12.24.28 PM

This map of Enora before the fall made on Roll20 using Russ Hapke‘s Old World Style Maps

So in the coming weeks, prepare to hear more about the world of Enora. In the meantime, may I present for your consideration…. the dwiefling PC race. This is in its rough stages, so take a look and let me know what you think!


In the crowded city of Redwind, some dwarves and tieflings have married, producing dwiefling offspring. Dwieflings walk in multiple worlds like other mixed races, but because they grow up in a densely packed city from which there is no escape, they cannot run from odd looks, name-calling, and occasional violent reactions. Though most know taking on a dwiefling mano a mano is a dangerous idea, since they have the toughness of dwarves, the suspicious nature of tieflings, and the self-reliant values of both parents. They are versatile and dangerous adventurers who dare to wander the unsafe halls of Drakefire’s fallen cities. The boldest dwieflings make trips to the surface to scout for more resources and spy on the undead legions of Empress Vae.

Devilish Dwarves

Dwieflings have the basic body structure of dwarves, but stand a bit taller. They are just about 5 feet tall, stout, and compact, weighing 200 to 300 pounds. Many share the blunt tongue of their dwarf ancestors as well. Yet there is no hiding the infernal blood of this race. They have the horns and pupil-less eyes of a tiefling, though they lack a tail. Their skin is often purple, red, brown, or black. Perhaps the most unique feature of dwieflings is complete hairlessness. They do not have a single follicle on their heads, faces, or bodies, including eyebrows.

Reliable and Short-Tempered

A life as outcasts in a city they cannot leave makes dwieflings suspicious of everyone they interact with at first. Most people find them closed off, or even cold. A dwiefling’s trust is difficult to gain, but once it is won, there is no greater ally. They place great importance on the bonds shared with their few close friends, and fiercely defend those allies with a passionate tenacity. Those closest to a dwiefling can even engage their friend in a reasoned debated, something that many fear to attempt with good reason.

The temper of dwieflings is legendary. Most carry an innate anger and explode with words, fists, or spells when provoked, particularly when their heritage is mocked. This causes many closet racists to just give a passing dwiefling a funny look, while other bigots ignite that infamous temper to start a fight for amusement. The latter often regret this decision, since the sturdy dwieflings rarely lose.

Outcast Artists In Crowded Tunnels

Because dwieflings and their parents are often shunned by others in Redwind, most try to keep to themselves. They lurk in dark corners or small alleys, pursuing artistic crafting hobbies, reading ancient lore, or practicing with steel or magic. Dwieflings sometimes pursue these self-taught skills to the point of obsession and become experts in these crafts, though no one else may know it.

Dwiefling Names

Dwieflings usually have a dwarf or tiefling name, given to them by one of their parents.

Dwiefling Traits

Your dwiefling character has the following racial traits.

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength, Constitution, and Intelligence scores each increase by 1.

Age. Dwieflings mature more slowly than humans and are considered adults at around age 25. They can live for 150 years.

Alignment. Dwieflings tend to trust in themselves and are very loyal to the few friends they make. They often favor a neutral alignment.

Size. Dwieflings stand about 5 feet tall and weigh around 250 pounds. Your size is Medium.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.

Darkvision. Your infernal heritage and dwarf blood grant you superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.

Expanded Knowledge. You gain proficiency in one set of artisan’s tools or melee weapon of your choice or one of the following skills: Arcana, History, Nature, or Religion.

Hellish Bind. When a creature hits you with an attack that deals damage, you can use your reaction to force that creature to make a Wisdom saving throw as your pain imparts psychic visions of torture to it. The DC for this saving throw equals 8 + your Constitution modifier + your proficiency bonus. On a failure, the creature is stunned until the end of its next turn. After you use Hellish Bind, you cannot use it again until you finish a long rest.

Menacing. You gain proficiency in the Intimidation skill.

Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common, Dwarvish, and Infernal.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, 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!

If you’ve been following my podcast on The Tome Show Network, The Round Table, then odds are you already know some pieces of the news I’m going to share. Rudy Basso and I have started a new gaming podcast network called Don’t Split the Podcast Network. Look for the launch in January 2017.


Leaving The Tome Show

In order to pursue this new venture, something had to give. Rudy and I will no longer host any podcasts on The Tome Show. Our departure from the network is a very amicable one. I consider Jeff Greiner, owner and creator of The Tome Show, a great human being and friend. He gave me the opportunity to create a new podcast on his network with a huge built-in subscriber base he had grown over years. This is not to be overlooked or taken for granted. Jeff is a positive force in the industry. He doesn’t shy away from tough subjects and celebrates all things games with a genuine love for fun. Rudy and I do not leave the network lightly. We give Jeff and the entire Tome Show crew our thanks, our love, and our high-fives as we exit. (And just because we won’t be hosting any shows doesn’t mean we won’t be back to visit and give our two cents on one of their podcasts!)

While Rudy’s podcast, D&D V&G is wrapping up, the ones I hosted will still be on the network. The host of Gamer to Gamer is currently uncertain, but I know Jeff has some plans in the works, including possibly hosting the monthly podcast himself!

If you don’t already know, then I’m happy as a kobold in a cave to tell you that Topher Kohan will be taking over the hosting duties of The Round Table. Topher and I have been friends for years and no one is more tapped into what’s happening in the world of Dungeons and Dragons than he. Topher has written for CNN’s Geek Out! Blog, got an exclusive look at fifth edition before the public playtest, and served as the South East Regional Coordinator for the D&D Adventurers League. We are cohosting two podcasts together before I go, both of which have already been recorded. I can honestly say that Topher is far more qualified for the job of hosting The Round Table than I ever was. In addition to being a D&D expert, Topher is a great friend, amazing host, and a gamer that you should be ecstatic to spend hours listening to. I know I am.

The Future: Don’t Split the Podcast Network


I’m leaving The Tome Show, but I’ll be starting right up with a new podcast. The overlap is so seamless, you won’t miss my dolcet tones at all. On January 2, 2017 I’ll cohost my final Round Table and the first full episode of my new show, Table Top Babble, will premiere. The first one is a doozy too. It’s a big, fat, juicy interview with none other than Mike Mearls, one of the lead designers of fifth edition D&D. I was so excited to sit down with Mike and pick his brain about everything from upcoming Unearthed Arcana to the D&D movie. Table Top Babble will have a new episode each week that features advice, reviews, interviews, and more from industry experts and panelists about all your favorite RPGs. You can start subscribing if you’re on iTunes or Stitcher and listen to a quick episode 0. Here’s the RSS feed. Google Play coming soon!


Of course, my new show isn’t the only new one on the network. Have Spellbook, Will Travel will be brought under the Don’t Split the Podcast umbrella. If you haven’t been listening to the scripted comedy podcast based on our D&D games, now is a perfect time to catch up. The story is really heating up and turning into something special. Our voice actors are talented, the editing is superb, and if you like me, I do some writing and acting on it. This is truly a brilliant podcast from the mind of Rudy Basso.


Speaking of my good buddy, Rudy and his brother Alex will be launching a new video game podcast in 2017 called Game O’Clock. Game O’Clock is both retrospective and modern examination of video games. Every month, the lifelong gamers and brothers focus on a specific genre and spend a week each looking at its history, highlights/lowlights, their personal favorites within it, and the game they wish someone would make. They’ll always be joined by a knowledgable guest and friend to round out the discussion and bring a unique perspective.

This is the start of something special and exciting that’s been in the works for a long time. I’m excited to share it with you and there is at least one more podcast to reveal in the coming week!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, 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!

Thala pushed back with all her might against the gnoll berserker, but the gnome rogue might as well have thrown herself against a wall made of dragons. She would end up in the bottom of the magic-tinged purple river behind her. The mage was unsure of the spells within the water, but the resident monsters were trying to push her and her companions into it, so a bath would probably not be pleasant. “Whatever it is, it’s better than being devoured by gnolls,” she thought as she  fell backwards into the icy embrace.

Yet as soon as Thala submerged, she began to rocket back out of the water and beyond into the air. She could fly! The dripping wet gnome giggled. The stupid gnoll had just given her a huge advantage by pushing her into the magic river. “Hey everyone!” she cried to her embattled friends as she knocked an arrow twenty feet in the air. “Take a dip and get some wings like me!”

Hagus would not be outdone by his little friend. The elf fighter grinned as he dove head first into the water… and promptly turned into a pig.

I love traps and hazards that have the chance of bestowing a benefit to players. You can get great, surprising moments like the one above, and you get to watch your players ask themselves if the risk is worth the reward. They can even use such environmental effects as a last-ditch effort to try to save their hides. “We’re going to die! Our only shot is to push that gnoll berserker into the river and pray he turns into a pig. Let’s hope he doesn’t get the power of flight instead!”

The earlier examples involve a stream that can make a person fly or polymorphs them into a pig at random, but there’s tons of fun examples out there. In this post I’d like to discuss the types of risk/reward environmental effects I use most often and provide some examples. Hopefully it’ll spawn some ideas for you to use in your own games and give you some crunchy pieces to steal. These environmental effects are both naughty and nice!

Save to Win!

One of the simplest ways to create a risk/reward environmental effect is to assign a save DC to its effects. If a save is successful, the character gets a boon. If the save is a failure, the character is harmed in some way.

The characters enter a room with a fountain statue of a vampire spewing blood in 10-foot-radius blood pool. Any other creature that drinks from, enters, or starts its turn in the blood pool must succeed on a DC 17 Constitution saving throw. Creatures who fail gain one level of exhaustion. Creatures who succeed gain 20 temporary hit points.

You can even assign levels of success and failure to an effect. Maybe if a creature fails the save by 5 or more, they suffer two levels of exhaustion and if they exceed the save DC by 5 or more they get an extra 20 temporary hit points.

These types of hazards are perfect for a simple, binary result, but be aware this is an easier system to game. In the example above characters with high Constitution scores may decide a little dip is worth the risk while others may avoid it once you call for that particular save.

If you want to see you players struggle with the choice like, “Should I bathe in that blood fountain?” make sure the risk is worth the reward. 20 temporary hit points are a big reward, but a level of exhaustion is just as, if not more crippling. If the 20 temporary hit points were put against instant death, the characters might be shocked to see the first PC die, but the rest will have a very easy choice in front of them and choose not to bathe. That’s fine if you play in a game where the risk of random, instant death is enjoyed by the players and aren’t looking for them to struggle with whether or not they should try the hazard for themselves.

Get Random!

Who doesn’t love a good random table? You can assign a random effect for a hazard, make some naughty, some nice and then let the dice decide. For harmful effects, you may still want to assign a save, so a characters isn’t automatically turned petrified for rolling around in magic mud that gave a companion the benefit of stoneskin spell.

The characters enter a room with an altar to a goddess of chaos. Creatures who touch the altar are subject to an effect randomly chosen on the Chaos Altar Effects table. Once a creature interacts with the altar, it cannot be subject to another effect from the altar for 24 hours.

The stone altar has AC 17, 27 hit points, and is immune to poison and psychic damage. If the altar is destroyed, any effects it created immediately end.

Chaos Altar Effects

d6 Effect
1 The creature must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. On a failure it is blinded for 4 hours. On a success it is deafened for 4 hours.
2 The creature must make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw. On a failure it suffers a random form of long-term madness. On a success it suffers a random form of short-term madness.
3 The creature must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw as a bolt of lightning flies out of the altar toward it. On a failure it takes 28 (8d6) lightning damage. On a success it takes only half damage.
4 The creature can see invisible creatures and objects for 4 hours.
5 The creature gains a burrow speed of 20 feet for 1 hour. If the creature already has a burrow speed, it is increased by 20 feet for the same duration.
6 The creature gains the benefit of the stoneskin spell for 1 hour.

In the specific case of this altar, you might decide that appeasing the chaos goddess is more likely to give a person a better result. In that case you could add: Creatures who pray to the goddess before touching the altar are given two different effects at random and pick one effect.

Just like with a binary effect, balance is important here if you want the players to struggle with the choice of interacting with the hazard but you have a more ways to achieve that balance. First you can simply have tempting rewards that seem worthy of the risks, just like you would with a binary choice.

Another option is to increase the number of variables, making it impossible for players to determine what they’ll get through trial and error. Don’t feel like you need to put 100 options on a table. Charts with 10 or more options achieve this with flying colors for most groups.

The final option would be to have a table with more instances of one type of consequence with less impactful effects and less of the other type with more impactful effects. Sure four out of six of the options are bad, but the other two are really tempting, or vice versa.


Maybe there can be too much of a good thing. Certain effects can punish players for their greed. The first taste of meal can be delicious and healing, but beyond that first bite, there are consequences.

The characters enter come across a 20-foot radius lake as they make their way through the Nine Hells. The first time a creature drinks from the water in the pool as an action, it regains 15 hit points. Devils receive the same effect on subsequent drinks from the pool. Other creatures that take subsequent drinks from the pool must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. Creatures who fail take 22 (4d10) poison damage and are poisoned for 1 hour. Creatures who succeed take half damage and are not poisoned.

This type of hazard should be used sparingly since it will seem like an unfair trick to some players. Make sure there’s some clue that there could be harmful effects from whatever it is the characters are near. The example above takes place in the Nine Hells, which should be enough of a warning sign in itself to not drink the water. If you’re characters aren’t in the Nine Hells, a dead body, a mind-controlled (or out-of-control) creature, or a petrified creature nearby is a good way to give characters a warning of what’s to come. They just have to pick up on it!


A hazard could have magic effects that only benefit or harm certain races, classes, alignments, etc. Maybe the wizard who crafted a potion of invulnerability really hates sorcerers, so for that class it functions as a potion of poison. Maybe a dragon created a special incense that when inhaled enhances breath weapon of dragon and dragonborn, but rapidly ages any other creature.

The characters come across a closet-sized room in an orc stronghold that has walls covered in Orc runes that spell out prayers to Gruumsh. A creature that is not an elf that enters and reads the prayers aloud gains a +5 bonus to melee weapon damage rolls for 1 hour. An elf who does this make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw, taking 22 (4d10) damage and becoming blinded for 1 hour on a failure, or taking only half damage on a success.

You could also make this effect much narrower if you say only orcs and half-orcs get the beneficial effects and everyone else is subject to the terrible effect. Again, use these sparingly, and make sure you change-up which characters get punished when you do use such a method.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, 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!

How is everyone! Just a quick update this week about the release of my second ever D&D Adventurers League adventure! While this update is short, the adventure represents WEEKS of work and 30 pages of content.

Tales of Good & Evil

My second D&D Adventurers League adventure, Tales of Good & Evil, is available on the DMs Guild now. This bad boy was put out by Baldman Games and is part of their CORE series that is overseen by the great Shawn Merwin! Get a description below. Awesome maps by Jay Africa!

As the City of a Thousand Forges perseveres in the face of threats both internal and external, the effects of the planar portal continue to make everyone uneasy. When unusual individuals are drawn to the city because of the portal’s power, heroes are asked to keep the peace and ferret out anyone intending to bring harm to Melvaunt. A D&D Adventurers League adventure set in Melvaunt. A four-hour adventure for 1st – 4th level characters


If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, 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!

Let’s talk about an Archduke of the Nine Hells! Both of my Exploration Age games that started during the launch of fifth edition are wrapping up. One campaign has a single session remaining! The entire story culminates in a battle with Bel, the former Archduke of Avernus, the first layer of the Nine Hells. (Note, if you’re unfamiliar with Bel, he’s mentioned briefly in the Nine Hells section of the Dungeon Master’s Guide on page 65 and in the old third edition source book Fiendish Codex II: Tyrants of the Nine Hells).

In my campaign the player characters formed an alliance of necessity with Bel. They had common enemies. Bel gave the characters the power to take out some very formidable aberrations in exchange for helping to reinstall him as the Archduke of Avernus. It turns out the characters were being used by the crafty devil to take out his rivals. Now all they are all that stands in the way of Bel turning their home plane into a brand new hellscape.

Since I needed to stat out this legendary fiend for my party to take on, I thought I’d share the mechanics with all of you! Take a look. You can grab Bel’s stats in the free PDF linked below and in the Free Game Resources page of this site. (Note: My version of Bel is extra powerful. He’s the campaign’s ultimate villain and he’s gained a lot of power thanks to the adventurers. I estimate his normal Challenge Rating would be somewhere in the low to mid 20s. Reducing his hit points, damage output, and AC and then replacing his Limited Magic Immunity with Magic Resistance is an easy way to make that adjustment.)

Bel: Not Your Average Pit Fiend

Image from the Forgotten Realms Wiki.

Image from the Forgotten Realms Wiki.


Bel is no ordinary pit fiend. The ground shakes and all but the strongest archdevils are cowed when the legendary general walks by.

Asmodeus Above All. Bel is the former and present general and adviser of Zariel, the current ruler of Avernus by decree of Asmodeus. During Zariel’s first reign, Bel served his mistress loyally, until she plotted to overthrow Asmodeus. Bel betrayed Zariel in order to please his greater master Asmodeus. As a reward for his loyalty, Bel became the Archduke of Avernus when Zariel was overthrown. Overtime Zariel proved her loyalty to Asmodeus once again and Bel fell from the dark god’s favor. Zariel once again ruled Avernus and Bel was demoted. This was the will of Asmodeus, and though the decision was a slap in the face to Bel, he respects the hierarchy of the Nine Hells above all. It is an insult to serve Zariel, who delights in keeping Bel as an advisor, but he will not go against the word of Asmodeus.

Coveter of Power. Though Bel will not directly oppose or betray Asmodeus, he still desires his old station as Archduke of Avernus. To this end Bel seeks creatures who operate outside of the hierarchy of the Nine Hells. Bel’s plots are layered and complex. The strange bedfellows he makes are often unwitting adventurers who don’t realize the true consequences of their actions until it is too late. Bel seeks Zariel overthrown again, this time permanently, or a way to coerce Asmodeus.

Dangerous Deceiver. Bel is an engaging liar. He forges perfectly worded contracts that have deceived ancient gold wyrms into handing over their souls. The devil can look into the soul of any person and tell them exactly what they want to hear in order to get his desired reaction.

Brilliant General. For centuries Bel has been leading armies of devils in Avernus, the first line of defense against the Nine Hell’s incoming threats, namely demons from the Abyss. He has been fighting the Blood War for as long as he can remember and the fact that he has survived and thrived in this environment is a testament to his strategic mind and the loyalty of his troops.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, 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 Thanksgiving today in the United States, so this is going to be a quick post. On this holiday we think about the people in our lives that we’re grateful to know. For me that includes a ton of gamer friends. With the holidays coming up, I’m giving you a few gift ideas for one of your most important gamer friends: your Dungeon Master.

DMs deserves our love, because not only do they have the mammoth task of running the game, they also spend more hours outside the game preparing it, often serve as the organizers and schedulers of games, and usually drop the most coin on gaming products. Here’s how you can appreciate them.

Gifts that Cost Cash

If you’ve got some change to spare, these goodies will make your DM smile… and possibly overlook the next time your PC takes a critical hit!

Gifts that Cost Time

Maybe your philosophy is “Spend more time than money on those you love.” It’s a good one! If that’s the case, here’s some gifts that will fill your DM’s heart with cheer.

  • Create A Game Calendar. Get together with your gaming group and plan a year’s worth of sessions. Put it all onto a calendar you buy or create and you’ve got one of the best gifts a DM could ask for! You can even give this gift digitally. Make sure you ask your DM for their schedule before locking down dates.
  • Run A Game. Many DMs rarely get to play. Offer to run a one-shot for you DM so that they get to have fun in a new way. You’ll gain a new appreciate for what they do.
  • Write A Recap. If you’re in the middle of a long campaign, on your own or with the rest of your group, write a recap of the narrative so far and give it to your DM. Each person in the group could take a few “chapters” of the campaign and write it from their character’s perspective for extra fun. You could post the whole thing on Obsidian Portal to really give your DM a special treat.
  • Find Great Free Products. There are tons of free products out there. Print them out and hand them to your DM. Of course, I recommend you start on the Free Game Resources section of this site (why not try my one-shot adventure Happy Holidays), but you can find tons of free and pay what you want goodies on the DMs Guild. Be sure to leave a review of a product and/or shout it out on social media if you’re grabbing it for free, to help spread the designer’s good work.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, 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!

I know top [INSERT NUMBER HERE] lists have saturated the internet, but let’s face it – we love them. It’s fun to read a few ideas that can give your mind advice or inspiration in bite-sized chunks. This is especially true when it comes to tabletop RPGs!

What would be more appropriate for this blog than a list of five campaign world ideas for D&D? Below are short blurbs on each world to get your brain juices flowing and a few adventure ideas (because a world ain’t worth playing in if it doesn’t have adventure).

1. Avorta, World of Diamonds

Diamonds (an important component in any spell that returns a creature to life) are an adventurer’s best friend in any D&D world. Avorta was once rich with them. Thanks to this fruitful crop many noble families were rich, powerful, and bored. The boredom ended when the nobles became thrill-seekers unafraid of death, thanks to the seemingly endless supplies of diamonds. They engaged in all sorts of reckless activity: hunting powerful creatures both good and evil and sometimes dying just to see what falling 10,000 feet or being completely immolated felt like. The demand for diamonds increased and over-mining began.

The first way to restrict the consumption of diamonds: cut off the poor class, who are mostly the miners themselves. It is illegal for any person who wasn’t of noble blood to own a diamond. Peasants are outlawed from being bards, clerics, druids, paladins, and from pursuing any other path that could allow them to learn to cast spells that rejuvenate.

These new laws barely delayed the inevitable. Some mines have already dried up and those that are left are waning. The noble families are now at war with each other over these remaining mines, sending peasants into battles to fight for them, all the while stockpiling diamonds as the threat of death of death increases.

Adventure Ideas
  • The characters work as mercenaries to the highest bidding noble family. They capture enemy diamond mines, become deep cover spies, and keep the peasants in line.
  • The characters are rich nobles who seek thrills and fight their own battles in the war.
  • The party works is part of an organization lead by druids that wants to end all mining in Avorta as it pillages the earth. They raid and shutdown mines, convince peasants they can get jobs in other industries, and try to get the nobles to see the impact of their actions.
  • The party is a group of peasant rebels, who go against the noble class to take the diamond mines for the people of Avorta. They rally other peasants, topple noble regimes, and make alliances with monsters who are tired of being hunted for sport.

2. Fidala, the Disappearing Land

Fidala is a flat world and a black abyss has begun eating away at its edges. The darkness moves in from all sides of the map. Each morning it is a bit closer to swallowing up the world. No one is sure why this is happening, but creatures and objects that enter the abyss are never seen or heard from again.

The panic surrounding the darkness swallowing the world is great. People on the outskirts of the world flee toward its center as do all of the unsavory monsters in the land. As civilized humanoids watch their resources disappear, they have to battle an incursion of beings from gnats to dragons. The crowded center of the world is only becoming more so with disease and poverty amongst refugees running rampant.

Some governments at the center of the world have closed their borders and refuse to take refugees. As such some of the displaced people have banded together to form a desperate mob that is at war with these nations. All the while, the abyss takes a bit more of Fidala each day…

Adventure Ideas
  • The characters have to battle against monsters and angry mobs who want the center of Fidala for themselves.
  • The characters must discover what’s creating the abyss.
  • The characters must search the rest of the multiverse for a suitable home for the millions of beings in Fidala.
  • The characters must escort large groups of refugees safely to the center of the map.
  • The characters must quell riots and disease in crowded places.
  • The characters must convince governments to open their borders to end lives and stop violence.

3. Enora, the Bound Sky

I’ve already written a post about my world of Enora. The idea is that years ago, a kingdom of prosperous humanoids was beset by a lich necromancer with an army of undead. Dwarves and tieflings retreated underground into a massive city and locked themselves behind heavy doors. The rest of the humanoids called upon the magic of powerful wizards to raise their cities into the sky. Those cities that weren’t raised into the sky were overrun. That was fifty years ago.

Since that time, the armies of undead built huge, smog spewing furnaces that put clouds of soot into the sky to block out the sun. None of the floating cities can see through this smoke layer and do not know what remains of their old surface world. That’s just the start of the problems in the sky. Lack of land and resources have led many souls to pursue life as sky pirates, robbing airship merchants to take what they want. All the while people worry the undead below could be amassing to take over the sky.

The situation underground is no better. Resources are scarce in the crowded city and plenty of other unsavory beasts that burrow made their way underground when the undead took the surface. Everyday the hoard bangs on the doors and it is only a matter of time before they break through and devour the residents… if disease or starvation doesn’t take them first.

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 12.24.28 PM

This map of Enora before the fall made on Roll20 using Russ Hapke‘s Old World Style Maps

Adventure Ideas
  • The characters are from the floating cities and asked to go on expeditions to the surface to discover what’s happening with the undead, search for survivors of a crashed airship, or find resources that can be brought back.
  • The characters are sky pirates who plan airship raids and robberies.
  • The characters are working as spies to infiltrate the sky pirates and bring them down from the inside.
  • The characters live in the underground city and must go out into the tunnels of the world to find resources and defend the doors from hoards of undead.
  • Check this post for a whole campaign arc.

4. Onvale, Land of Strangers

Jonvale seems like an idyllic fantasy world, but there’s one problem. Doppelgangers are plotting to take over the world and already closer than most people know. The creatures once had a peaceful colony underground, but Onvale’s Empress Malticum burned the city down in order to get to the precious adamantine veins beneath. Decades later, the doppelgangers return for their revenge by taking over all of Onvale. They pose as peasants and noble alike, fooling even those closest to their victims.

The rumors of doppelgangers taking over are whispered everywhere, but no one is sure what’s true and what’s not. Who can the adventurers trust with such creatures about?

Adventure Ideas
  • The characters must identify any doppelgangers in the population through spying and interrogation.
  • One of the characters is captured and replaced with a doppelganger, but the others don’t know it.
  • The characters must search the abandoned city of the doppelgangers for clues about where they are hiding now.
  • This world could also work with an incursion of mystauk.

5. Zaltus, the Prison Plane

Zaltus is a harsh world of extreme terrains – deserts, swamps, tundra, and jungles. Predatory beasts roam the plane, but they are not the most dangerous villains Zaltus has to offer. The plane is easy to enter, but nearly impossible to leave. Planar travel spells do not work in Zaltus. As such, other worlds in the multiverse use Zaltus as a prison. The truly dangerous criminals and the folks who others need to be forgotten wind up here. They do have free reign of this world, harsh as it is. It is a place of dangerous anarchy from which there is no escape.

Some criminals have banded together to form gangs, build hideouts, and even form cities. Others wander the wilds alone, content to murder or rob anything they come across. There are good folk in Zaltus who were wrongly accused, plotting against tyrannical governments, or locked up because it was politically convenient. Many search for a way out of Zaltus, but none have succeeded… yet!

Adventure Ideas
  • The characters are wrongfully imprisoned on Zaltus and must escape.
  • The characters must travel to Zaltus to free another prisoner, item, or piece of information and be at a specific location at a specific date and time to catch a portal back home.
  • The characters are imprisoned in Zaltus and must survive by any means.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, 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!

Friends, it is time to show off another fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons background I created. This one has been rolling around in my head for awhile, and I thought it was time to share it with the rest of you.

You may know my cursed background (available in the Pay What You Want PDF 15 New Backgrounds on the DMs Guild #ShamelessPlug). In this background, the character suffered a horrible magic curse that haunted them throughout their pre-campaign life. Now I’m happy to show off the blessed background, in which the character has the expectation of greatness thrust upon its shoulders due to some prophetic happening. This background lives in this post and is available as a PDF in the link below and on the Free Game Resources section of this site.

PDF: Blessed


Some sign or prophecy has foretold your greatness. The excitement surrounding your soon-to-be-legendary story has spread throughout your home, but you have yet to actually prove you are worthy of your reputation. There are those who accept your prophesied fate as future fact. Others are skeptics, anxious to see you fail as proof that most mystical readings are mumbo jumbo. Some folks might be jealous of you while other desperate people pressure you to be the chosen one they need. You can determine how you became blessed by using the Prophetic Signs table.

Prophetic Signs


Prophetic Sign


You were born during a rare astrological or lunar event.


Your mother was blessed by an important priest or mage while pregnant with you.


A specific birthmark on your skin is a sign of your greatness to come.


An ancient scroll, tablet, or other writing foretold your greatness.


As a child you miraculously defeated an ancient evil and people took this as a sign of greatness to come.


An important person in the community claims to have a dream that showed you are destined for greatness.

Skill Proficiencies: History and Intimidation or Persuasion

Languages: One exotic language and one other language of your choice

Starting Equipment: A set of common clothes, a piece of parchment with the prophecy that pertains to you, a signal whistle, a journal, pen, bottle of ink, and a belt pouch with 5 gp.

Feature: Blessed Guidance

When you are truly stumped and in need of guidance, there is a voice, wind, light, or other force that occasionally guides you. You can ask for this force to aid you when you are at a loss for what to do next and the DM decides if and how this force aids you. It often works in a vague, mysterious way (e.g. speaking in riddles, rustling a key chain on a guard’s belt, etc.) and does not perform any actions for you, but rather provides a hint about some course of action you could take.

Suggested Characteristics

You have an enormous burden of expectation to shoulder. Do you believe in your own greatness or are you worried that the truth is you are just another nobody? In either case, you might strive to prove your doubters (and possibly yourself) wrong by achieving every heroic deed possible. Of course you might be terrified of your fate, running with all haste from what you fear could be true, and simply living your adventuring life as a mercenary who cares only for friends and money.

d8 Personality Traits
1 When others boast, I must top them with my own achievements.
2 This chosen one speaks in the third person.
3 I don’t want to be recognized, so I use a myriad of fake names.
4 I feel out of place and figdety when others don’t fawn all over me.
5 I can’t help but take on a challenge.
6 I don’t take “no” for an answer.
7 I have a personal mantra that I repeat in stressful situations.
8 Nothing I achieve is ever good enough for me.


d6 Ideals
1 Strength. Everything accomplishment must be more impressive than my last. (Neutral)
2 Protection. My greatness will be used to protect the defenseless. (Good)
3 Order. I am meant to bring law to the lawless. (Lawful)
4 Tyranny. Only those destined to rule, like me, should have power. (Evil)
5 Freedom. Everyone should be free to live their life. (Chaotic)
6 Community. I do everything I can for the people that believe in me. (Neutral)


d6 Bonds
1 I cannot shake the memory of the first time someone called me a fraud.
2 My destiny is intertwined with that of a prophesied evil-doer.
3 I am meant for greatness, but I am prophesied to kill a loved one in order to achieve it.
4 My hometown is the place where I am most revered and most jeered.
5 I have a mentor who always challenged me to rely on myself and not a prophecy to be great.
6 A trinket from home reminds me where I came from and who I am fighting for.


d6 Flaws
1 I was born to be better than everyone else and I am.
2 I’ll take money over trust any day.
3 Praise me and I’ll do anything for you.
4 I brag about my greatness just to take others to bed.
5 I do not ask others about themselves or make newcomers feel welcome.
6 I treat my opinions as fact.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, 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!

I could not be happier! My very first D&D Adventurers League adventure, DDAL05-05 A Dish Best Served Cold, is now available for purchase on the DMs Guild! Here’s a quick description of the module:

Stagwick’s long-standing peace with giant-kind is threatened as a patrol of Blood Riders spark a feud with a local tribe of giants.

With word of strange activity coming from the Ice Spires, Good King Hartwick can’t be too careful.

Can you quench the giants’ thirst for revenge?

A Two-Hour Adventure for 5th-10th Level Characters

This two-hour adventure represents many hours of work on my end and countless hours from others. The Adventurers League Admins are incredible at what they do and the adventure would not be where it is without the amazing feedback from playtesters.

Speaking of playtesting, an encounter was removed from the adventure for time during the playtesting feedback phase. These adventures need to fit to time for conventions and game stores, but if you’re playing it at home and want to throw another encounter into the mix, here’s how!


And while you’re at it, pick up Travis Woodall’s awesome Deluxe Digital Map Pack for the adventure!

Added Encounter for DDAL05-05: A Dish Best Served Cold (SPOILERS AHEAD)

1. Add the following text to the “General Features” section of “Part 2. Abandoned Camp.”

Terrain. Eight-inch deep snow covers the ground. Medium and smaller creatures who move more than half their speed must succeed on a DC 13 Dexterity saving throw or fall prone at the end of their turn, suffering the debris-covered ground.

Climate and Weather. Snow falls rapidly from the sky, whipping around in all directions as the wind howls. Wisdom (Perception) checks that involve vision or hearing and ranged attacks against targets more than 30 feet away are made at disadvantage.

2. Add the following text after the read aloud text in “Part 2. Abandoned Camp.”

The abominable yeti that Scövja and Burleigh were hunting is hiding in this area. The smell of the bodies signaled an easy meal to the creature. More corpses were once on the ground here, but the yeti ate those. A successful DC 15 Wisdom (Survival) check determines there were once more corpses in the snow.

The monster hid by the tent when it heard the characters approaching, lying down to look like an enormous snowdrift. A successful Wisdom (Perception) check against the yeti’s Dexterity (Stealth) check spots the creature. If a character approaches within 40 feet of the yeti, the monster stands and attacks. The yeti fights until it is reduced to 30 hit points, then flees.

3. Add the following sidebar to “Part 2. Abandoned Camp.”

Adjusting the Encounter

Here are recommendations for adjusting this combat encounter. These are not cumulative.

  • Very weak party: Replace the abominable yeti with three yetis
  • Weak party: Replace the abominable yeti with two young remorhazes
  • Strong party: Replace the abominable yeti with a remorhaz
  • Very strong party: Add one yeti

Let Me Know What You Think!

If you buy the adventure, let me know what you think. Leave a rating on the DMs Guild and please help spread the word if you enjoy it!

That’s it for this week. This post was months in the making!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, 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!

This is an interview I conducted with Rob Schwalb of Schwalb Entertainment as part of the AetherCon V Convention Program.


JI: Recently on the Talking Tabletop podcast you said that you always pay freelancers who work for you at the top of the industry’s pay scale. Why is it important to you that designers be compensated in this way and what lesson do you hope consumers and other small game companies take from this example?

RS: I clawed my way into the RPG design business the hard way, selling words for as little as two cents a word and there are still two large published projects I wrote but never saw a dime in compensation. RPG design and writing rates haven’t changed in the 15 years I’ve been working in the field and most companies still pay between four cents or less per word. Here’s the thing. We make products for a very niche market. If we want great product, cool ideas, and more from the brightest minds in the business, publishers have to pony up for the talent. I hope, in some small way, to nudge the publishers toward improving their rates, even if this means raising the prices of products by a modest amount to compensate. Of course, being the publisher and lead designer for my small company means I shoulder most of the writing largely to keep costs under control. Not every company can do this and I understand and so it’s a knot I’m not sure will ever get untied.

JI: Shadow of the Demon Lord is a wonderfully elegant game that’s easy to learn and play, but also provides players endless options when building characters. How did you crack the code of simple gameplay and limitless options?

RS: Hey thanks! During design, I strove to please two groups of people so I could bring them to the same table and have a great experience. The first group included the casual players, people with an interest in the hobby, but are neither willing nor interested in spending an hour making ten decisions to create a character. Furthermore, they don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the campaign or what mechanical choice they’re going to make next. Hell, they probably can’t commit to a weekly or even bimonthly game.

I also focused on invested players, people who live and breathe tabletop RPGs, who delight in making characters and tinkering with the game. These folks, especially those who come from traditional tabletop RPGs, expect to be able to make meaningful and interesting choices in character development and during game play. They have an idea about what kind of character they want to play and they expect the game to deliver the options they need to realize that character in play.

The casual audience’s needs kept my crunchy impulse in check, and let me focus on delivering those things that would keep both kinds of players at the same table. The result was a trim, flexible game engine that could adapt to a variety of circumstances and is easy to learn and master. The mechanical options, which, as you point out, are many, live inside of bigger decision points. Invested players still have lots to choose from, but they choose big packages rather than spend their time making decisions about the small things that, in my experience, don’t really matter much at all.

Rather than carve up these widgets into smaller buckets, I delivered them in big packages called paths. You choose three paths over the life of the campaign, which lets the character adapt and grow as the story progresses, while bundling interesting things together to completely bypass decision paralysis when a player is faced with combining mechanical elements from eight or more different sources. So at the start of the campaign, characters are quite simple and easy to make. Each adventure completed grows the character’s complexity from the widgets gained from previous or new big decision points. However, the player has the time to master those widgets and see how they work in play during the adventure, so that by the time the adventure ends, the player is ready to learn something new.


JI: How did you manage to get so many quality products shipped in so little time and why is it important for you to be so prolific?

RS: As of this writing, the game has only been out 14 months and I just released the 100th title. I’ve always been prolific when it comes to game design, even if it costs me free time, sanity, happiness, and my liver. The reason for pushing hard on SotDL is that my wee company is fighting for a place in a crowded field. Offering options and expansions to the core that cover a variety of subjects reinforces to customers that the game is alive and well, supported, and offering new and exciting expansions to the core. Delivering these expansions in bite-sized pieces lets people keep up with the game each week for less than it costs to buy a cup of coffee.

JI: I follow you on social media. I’ve never seen a setting that so well represents the designer’s personality, fears, and sense of humor as Shadow of the Demon Lord. How do you tap into something so personal while writing and how do you make those feelings accessible?

It’s probably bad to say this, but I am terrible at work-life balance. I wanted this game to reflect my tastes and sensibilities and I drew from all the things I love about the hobby, all my fears and disappointments, frustrations and blinding hatred that the business, games, and everything else awakens inside of me. My head is a garden in which anxiety, stress, depression, doubt, and so many other terrible things grow. So, I guess, the game is a harvest of those horrors growing there.

JI: What do you think separates Shadow of the Demon Lord from other RPGs?

RS: I was very pragmatic about the design. We’re busy people, maybe busier now than ever before. We have responsibilities. We have competing interests. We live complex and difficult lives. Who the hell has three years to invest in a campaign? Who can make all the game sessions making up the adventure? Heck, I sure can’t. SotDL drags the best part of the campaign—the world-ending, world-shaking event—to the fore. A campaign asks players to commit to some number of adventures no greater than eleven. And, each adventure is a self-contained contained story, ideally playable in a single sitting, so if you can’t make the next session, it’s no big deal. SotDL a game for adults busy doing adult things but who still want to climb out of their lives for a few hours and kill a few demons with their friends over beers and pizza.

JI: There are more than 25 adventures out for Shadow of the Demon Lord. What are some of your favorites and why?

RS: You know, all of the adventures we’ve released hold a special place in my dark heart since most of them represent a designer’s interpretation of my game. Some are linear, some are not. Some are simple, while others are quite complex. We have disgusting adventures, moral dilemmas, and tragedies. Of the adventures I did not write, some of my favorites include The Apple of Her Eye by Steve Kenson. I’ve run this one several times and it almost always ends in a “feel bad” way. A Measure of Faith by Steve Townsend is also great fun as it has a strong and interesting story, while also leveraging the rampant, widespread madness. TS Luikart’s Beware the Tides of Karshoon was a ton of fun since it was like going back to the WFRP days. Finally, I really dug Cam Banks’ The Gorgon’s Tears as it delivered an interesting mystery with interesting consequences.

Of the ones I’ve written, The Curious Case of Farmer Ham (see Tales of the Demon Lord) was one of the first I wrote for the game and thus has a special place in my heart. My Father Left Forever, inside Terrible Beauty, takes a good long look at what it means to be enslaved by a faerie.

JI: What’s do you think consumers should do to help change the way RPG industry professionals are compensated?

RS: If I knew the answer to this question, I would hope to be working less and making more than I do. It’s a sinkhole from which I’m not sure we can escape. I think the trouble is that some folks don’t place value on the product. I mean, it’s not like there’s a shortage of playable RPGs, right? But, where I stumble is when I think about console games. One might give you 20-40 hours of steady enjoyment and people are willing to shell out $60 to play it. A tabletop RPG could provide countless hours of enjoyment for everyone at the table, yet $50 is considered high. It’s true that a tabletop RPG takes less capital and time to create than does a video game, but a tabletop RPG and supplements are made from a smaller pool of people who work the same kinds of hours, who have to master a broad range of design skills, and get a modest return, if they’re lucky, on their investment. This all said, I’m not sure seeking and fighting for fair compensation in the tabletop world is anything more than tilting at windmills and thus I focus on paying fair rates and producing on top notch products in the hopes of inspiring others to do the same.

JI: The Schwalb Entertainment website and online shop appear to be built to handle more product lines than just Shadow of the Demon Lord. Can you give us a hint about what’s to come?

We have some fun things coming next year, all driven by Kickstarter campaigns, though the next batch of products will be further expansions on Shadow of the Demon Lord, though with a far saner release schedule. We’re going to be bringing Freeport to the world the Demon Lord, plus produce a delicious bestiary, a book on magic, and rules for playing legendary characters, though who move beyond the group to become movers and shakers in the world. While working on these, I will starting design on a new game powered by the Demon Lord that I hope to reveal in 2018. Fun stuff coming, so stay tuned!

Check out more great interviews like this one by grabbing your copy of the AetherCon V Convention Program being released Nov/1/2016 here:

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, 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!