Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

This is a guest post from Geoffrey Winn, host of the amazing Appendix N podcast on The Tome Show network. Geoff was on a recent episode of my podcast, The Round Table, where we chatted about what it would take to create a Middle-earth campaign setting for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. That conversation inspired this series of posts here on World Builder Blog.


Part I: Introduction & The Region of Eriador

Hey folks. After my talk with James on the D&D Round Table about the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons/ Middle-earth gaming products from Cubicle 7, I realized there was a lot more I wanted to talk about. I’m a huge fan of both Dungeons & Dragons and Middle-earth, and the question of how to run a D&D game in my favorite fictional setting has long been on my mind.

In this blog, I will focus on general ideas for adapting your favorite role-playing game, whatever that happens to be, for Middle-earth, and vice versa. I’m going to largely stay away from talking about game mechanics. Trying to create a role-playing game that is faithful to the source material while also being fun to play is a huge challenge, and not one I particularly want to tackle at the moment. Instead I want to talk about how you can take games that you already know how to play, already know how to design adventures for, and set them in Middle-earth.

As I said on the podcast, Dungeons & Dragons is a game where you go into dungeons, kill monsters, and take their stuff. It’s even been advertised by the game designers as such. Middle-earth lacks a lot of the variety of monsters, magic and magical items that are typical to Dungeons & Dragons. Unfortunately, when you take a lot of the magic and monsters out of Dungeons & Dragons, you just lose a lot of the game.

There’s basically two approaches to this problem: you can change the world of Middle-earth so that it’s more like Dungeons & Dragons; or you can change the game of Dungeons & Dragons so that it’s more like Middle-earth. The latter is more difficult and requires fiddling with game mechanics, so I’m going to save that topic for a later post. For the first few posts in this blog, I am going to assume you simply want to play Dungeons & Dragons (or Pathfinder or 13th Age or Savage Worlds) the way you’ve always played it, but set your game in Middle-earth.

When planning your campaign, you’ll want to think about where and when your campaign will take place. Middle-earth can be broken up into three distinct geographical areas, each of which can yield up different flavors of game. These areas are Eriador, Wilderland (also called Rhovanion), and Gondor. For my first post, I am going to talk all about Eriador, where all our adventures begin.

Eriador: This is the area west of the Misty Mountains. It literally means “empty land,” and by the time of The Lord of the Rings, this is a pretty accurate name. Most of the people were killed or driven out of Eriador after the Witch-King destroyed Arnor, the North Kingdom.

Eriador includes the Shire, Bree, Rivendell, the Grey Havens, and the Blue Mountains. What’s more, all of these are connected by a major road that runs straight across the region. This gives you an opportunity to include Men, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits in your campaign.

Early Third Age: Early in the Third Age, most of the region is controlled by the Men of Arnor, the North Kingdom of the Dúnedain. The society of Arnor should resemble that of Gondor. The capital was a city called Annúminas, and it probably looked a lot like Minas Tirith, except it was built on a lake. The Dúnedain are brave, powerful Men who bring light to the darkness and civilization to the wilderness. They are staunch opponents of Sauron and Sauron’s minions. However, evil forces did not begin to taint the region until after Arnor had broken up into three separate kingdoms, which I’ll talk about below. The time of Arnor was therefore relatively peaceful, and any conflicts would largely be the invention of the GM. The most notable thing about Arnor was that its kings were descendents Isildur, the man who defeated Sauron at the end of the Second Age. Isildur never returned to Arnor to rule, but was instead slain by orcs on the road home.

Middle Third Age: After the death of its tenth king, Arnor was split between the king’s three sons. Three new kingdoms emerged – Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur. Arthedain can basically be seen as “the good guys,” the people most closely aligned with the vision of the original Dúnedain kingdom. The capital of Arthedain is Fornost, a fortress that sits north of Bree. Rhudaur quickly degenerated into a society of dark sorcery and barbarism. Cardolan, which contained the village of Bree within its borders, was somewhere in the middle. It was populated by decent, hardy folk just trying to survive. The Witch-King of Angmar looms as a threat over everything. Over a period of roughly 1000 years, the Witch-King conquered and destroyed all three of these kingdoms.

In a campaign during this time, PCs can be brave knights and allies of Arthedain and Cardolan, defending the land from evil plots out of Rhudaur and Angmar. Although the land is doomed, people can still be saved and knowledge and magic can be preserved for future generations. Perhaps in your campaign, you allow the PCs to actually defeat the Witch-King, significantly altering the history of the North.

Late Third Age: After the fall of Arthedain, the region becomes much different. The Witch-King’s victory was short-lived. The year after the Witch-King took Fornost and drove off the last of Arthedain’s kings, a combined force of Elves and Men of Gondor arrived. They utterly destroyed Angmar and drove the Witch-King out of the North. All that was left was a wilderness full of ruins, populated by scattered civilizations with tenuous connections to one another. The descendents of Isildur survived to become the Chieftains of the Rangers. This time period most closely resembles a typical campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons.

As stated at the beginning, we have a string of small civilizations connected by a road that mostly travels through wilderness. Dwarves travel along this road from the Blue Mountains to the Misty Mountains, bringing trade goods and news. There is also the Greenway, a road that runs north to south and crosses the Great East Road just outside of Bree. This makes Bree the ideal starting point for any campaign, a place where Dwarves, Hobbits and Rangers can meet.

The Rangers make an ideal support organization for your campaign. They are unquestionably the “good guys,” patrolling the wilderness, saving people from monsters, and taking no credit for their actions. Their main goal is to preserve the ruins of the old kingdoms, knowing that one day a king will return and restore prosperity to the region. In a campaign that takes place in this time period, the PCs are either Rangers themselves or work for the Rangers. Alternatively, the PCs could simply be treasure hunters who care nothing for history, which would make the Rangers an enemy.

The area is rife with dungeons that can be explored for treasure. The Barrow-downs and the Old Forest are iconic locations from The Lord of the Rings that players will instantly recognize. There are also the abandoned cities of Annúminas and Fornost. Perhaps descendents of the evil hill-men of Rhudaur still survive, hatching devilish plots in remote locations. During the long war with Angmar, the Witch-King probably sent many minions into the region who could have built dungeons in hidden locations. Those dungeons are still there, and either they are still inhabited or they are long abandoned, but they are definitely full of danger and treasure. Angmar, of course, is likely full of abandoned fortresses containing dark magic items and weapons of war that bad guys might want to claim for themselves. Finally, the PCs could be sent into the Mines of Moria or the goblin caves of the Misty Mountains for any number of reasons, likely to find death at the hands of orcs, Gollum, or the Balrog.

Far to the south of this region are a few areas that deserve special mention. They are rather obscure locations, far removed from the major events of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. This makes them exciting locations to use in a campaign, because the GM and players are free to make up whatever they want.

The first of these is the town of Tharbad. This town lies far to the south of Bree, along a road that once connected Arnor and Gondor when both were prosperous kingdoms. When Arnor was destroyed and Gondor became less and less influential in the world at large, Tharbad was largely abandoned. In The Lord of the Rings, we hear a report from Boromir, who passed through the town on the way to the Council of Elrond, that nothing remains of the town except a crumbling bridge over a river.

In your campaign, Tharbad does not have to be abandoned. It could be home to brave, hardy Men, similar to the Men of Bree or Lake-town, trying to eke out a living in a harsh wilderness. It could be a den of thieves and brigands. It could be a stronghold or orcs or an evil wizard, someone as powerful as Saruman, who could be a threat to the peaceful people of the North if not stopped. Tharbad makes a great alternative starting point for your campaign if you want a darker game, or if you simply want to be closer to other areas like Rohan, Isengard, Moria and Gondor.

The other location I want to talk about is Vinyalondë, also called Lond Daer or Lond Daer Enedh. Vinyalondë was a port haven established by Tar-Aldarion, the sixth king of Númenor, in his younger days as a prince. The tale of Aldarion and his wife Erendis is told in Unfinished Tales, and I recommend you read it if you’re at all curious about Númenor and life in the Second Age of Middle-earth. For our purposes, however, Vinyalondë is simply a great adventure location. Númenor was a powerful empire of Men in the Second Age, and at one time they had explored the whole world. The ruins of Vinyalondë could contain just about anything, from lost magical treasures to horrible monsters that have been locked away. These ruins can be reached from Tharbad by sailing down the river. If the PCs are interested in a sea adventure, they can establish Vinyalondë as their home base, from which they could sail to the Grey Havens, Gondor, Umbar, or even more exotic locations.

So there you have it, my overview of the region of Eriador. Hopefully you’re already buzzing with campaign ideas. If you’re interested in any of the locations that I talked about and want to learn more, I highly recommend making your way over to It’s the most comprehensive Tolkien Wiki I have found, and it’s always my first stop when I’m doing research for a project.

In future posts, I will talk about Wilderland, the Gondor region, and locations that don’t fit neatly into any of these regions. But what else would you like me to talk about? What questions can I answer? I’m interested to see what problems others have had trying to set a campaign in Middle-earth. Thank you for reading my words, and thank you to James for giving me a place to post them.

Part II: Wilderland

Part III: Gondor, Rohan, & Mordor

Part IV: Other Places, Other Times

Part V: The Lords of Middle-earth

Part VI: The Mannish Races

Listen to Geoffrey Winn discuss the literature that influenced the creation of D&D every month on the Appendix N podcast on The Tome Show network!

Deck the halls with Santa’s minions! On Tuesday I showed you my 5e version of Santa. Well now I’d like to introduce you to some of his staff. Why? Because I’m thinking I should put out a mini holiday-themed D&D adventure as a present to all. To do that, I’m going to need some unique creatures.

I know you’re saying, “But James, some of these critters are good aligned… why would my party fight them?” More on that to come in future blog posts, my friends.

I should also mention that this blog post is part of this month’s RPG Blog Carnival, which is being hosted right here on this very blog for all of December. The theme is “Homebrew Holiday Gifts.” I’m asking bloggers everywhere to share their RPG creations for their favorite systems with me. At the end of the month I’ll make a list linking all participating blog posts so everyone can checkout the fine homebrew creations in one place.

Winter Elves

Winter elves, more commonly known as Santa’s elves, are a smaller than their more common cousins and have a strong work ethic and crafty minds. Their festive dress, positive attitudes, and infectious smiles fill everyone around them with cheer.

Jolly Laborers. Winter elves live to make gifts that cheer up others. Their generous spirit keeps them singing joyous songs and laboring throughout the day knowing their work will reward the kind of heart. They are loyal to Santa above all.

Guardians in Outrageous Outfits. The dress of the Winter elves are patterned stockings, colorful tunics, pointed hats, and curly toed shoes. While their size and outfits may make them seem silly, make no mistake. These elves have fast hands and powerful magic that can lay enemies flat in moments.

Winter Elf

Small humanoid (elf), lawful good

Armor Class 14

Hit Points  81 (18d6 + 18)

Speed 30 ft.

8 (-1) 19 (+4) 12 (+1) 14 (+2) 16 (+3) 18 (+4)

Saving Throws  Dex +7, Wis +6

Damage Resistances cold

Condition Immunities exhaustion

Skills Perception +6, Performance +7

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive perception 16

Languages Common, Elvish

Challenge 7 (2,900 XP)

Ice Weapons. The elf’s weapon attacks deal an extra 1d8 cold damage (already factored into its attacks) and count as magical.

Fey Ancestry. Magic cannot put the elf to sleep.

Magic Resistance. The elf has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Master Artisan. The elf is proficient with all artisan’s tools. Its proficiency bonus is +3.

Nimble Movement. The elf can take the Dash or Disengage action as a bonus action on each of its turns.

Spellcasting. The elf’s spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 15, +7 to hit with spell attacks). It can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components.

At will: invisibilitymage handmendingmisty step

3/day: charm person, hold person, sanctuarysleet storm

1/day: cone of coldpolymorph


Multiattack. The elf makes two attacks.

Light Hammer. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d4 + 4) bludgeoning damage and 4 (1d8) cold damage.

Hot Cocoa Flask. Every elf carries an enchanted flask of hot cocoa which stays piping hot. As an action the elf commands this flask to shoot a line of cocoa 60 feet long and 5 feet wide. Each creature in the line must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 21 (8d6) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. The elf cannot use this ability from the same flask again until it completes a long rest.

Animated Toys

Santa has created guardian constructs out of his most requested gifts to defend his home. These toys appear to be the real thing but super-sized so they look like the toys of a giant rather than a humanoid.

Surprising Protectors. Santa’s animated toys serve as decoration most of the time. They are well-crafted, gorgeous pieces of art. It is only when they descend upon an intruder or join Santa in one of his battles outside the North Pole that their true strength is realized. Intruders and evil-doers often don’t learn this lesson until the toys are upon them, tearing limb from limb.

Giant Doll

Medium construct, unaligned

Armor Class 14 (natural armor)

Hit Points  136 (16d8 + 64)

Speed 30 ft.

18 (+4) 10 (+0) 18 (+4) 7 (-2) 8 (-1) 3 (-4)

Damage Immunities poison

Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive perception 9

Languages understands all languages, but can’t speak

Challenge 7 (2,900 XP)

Critical Hit Immunity. Critical hits become normal hits against the doll.

Magic Weapons. The doll’s weapon attacks count as magical.


Multiattack. The doll makes two attacks.

Slam.  Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 15 (2d10 + 4) bludgeoning damage.

Wanting Wail. The doll screams. Each hostile creature within 30 who can hear the doll must make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw. Creatures who fail take 18 (4d8) psychic damage and move their speed toward the doll, incurring opportunity attacks as normal. Creatures who fail take half damage.

Giant Teddy Bear

Large construct, unaligned

Armor Class 17 (natural armor)

Hit Points  178 (17d10 + 85)

Speed 30 ft.

22 (+6) 10 (+0) 20 (+5) 7 (-2) 10 (+0) 3 (-4)

Damage Immunities poison; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons

Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive perception 10

Languages understands all languages, but can’t speak

Challenge 10 (5,900 XP)

Critical Hit Immunity. Critical hits become normal hits against the bear.

Magic Weapons. The bear’s weapon attacks count as magical.


Multiattack. The bear makes one bite and one slam attack.

Bite.  Melee Weapon Attack: +10 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 25 (3d10 + 6) piercing damage.

Slam.  Melee Weapon Attack: +10 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 19 (3d8 + 6) bludgeoning damage. If the target is a creature, it is grappled (escape DC 18). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained, and the bear cannot slam another target.

Bear Hug. The bear attempts to crush a creature it is grappling against its body. The creature must make a DC 18 Strength saving throw. On a failed save the creature takes 33 (6d10) bludgeoning damage and the bear makes a bite attack against the target.

Giant Toy Soldier

Medium construct, unaligned

Armor Class 18 (natural armor)

Hit Points 110 (13d8 + 52)

Speed 30 ft.

12 (+1) 20 (+5) 18 (+4) 7 (-2) 10 (+0) 3 (-4)

Damage Immunities poison

Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive perception 10

Languages understands all languages, but can’t speak

Challenge 8 (3,900 XP)

Magic Weapons. The toy soldier’s weapon attacks count as magical.

Overwind. At the start of each of the toy soldier’s turns roll a d20. On a 20, the soldier gets two actions this turn. On a 1, the soldier is incapacitated until the start of its next turn.

Quick Reload. The toy soldier ignores the reload property of any weapon with which it is proficient.


Multiattack. The toy soldier makes three attacks.

Musket.  Ranged Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, range 40/120 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (1d12 + 5) piercing damage.

Rapier.  Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (1d8 + 5) piercing damage.

Hot Chocolate Elementals

The Elemental Plane of Sweets is home to more than the giant ice cream bunny. Amongst the tropical marshmallow isles, hot chocolate elementals swim through sugary seas. Santa has summoned and bound some of these beings to his service. They guard his workshop with a cocoa-soaked fury.

Hot Chocolate Elemental

Large elemental, neutral

Armor Class 15

Hit Points 90 (12d10 + 24)

Speed  40 ft., swim 60 ft.

14 (+2) 20 (+5) 14 (+2) 6 (-2) 10 (+0) 8 (-1)

Damage Resistances fire; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons

Damage Immunities poison

Condition Immunities exhaustion, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained, unconscious

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive perception 10

Languages Cocoan

Challenge 5 (1,800 XP)

Hot Cocoa Form. The elemental can squeeze through a space as narrow as 1 inch without squeezing. A creature that touches the elemental or hits it with a melee attack while within 5 feet of it takes 5 (1d10) fire damage. In addition, the elemental can enter a hostile creature’s space and stop there. The first time it enters a creature’s space on a turn, that creature takes 5 (1d10) fire damage.


Multiattack. The elemental makes two attacks.

Touch.  Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d6 + 5) fire damage.

Hurl Marshmallow.  Ranged Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, range 30/120 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (1d8 + 5) fire damage and if the target is Large or smaller, it is restrained as the marshmallow envelops its body. A creature restrained this way can use its action to make a DC 13 Strength check to free itself from the marshmallow and become unstrained. Dealing 10 damage to the marshmallow (AC 10) destroys it and frees the creature.

Mrs. Claus

No Team Santa would be complete without his Big Red Oneness’ lovely wife. Mrs. Claus is a celestial, just like her jolly husband. She too defends the good people and supports her husband’s labors. Theirs is a true partnership, with each member of the couple respecting and cherishing the other.

Mrs. Claus

Medium celestial, neutral good

Armor Class 20 (natural armor)

Hit Points 180 (24d8 + 72)

Speed 30 ft., fly 60 ft.

14 (+2) 14 (+2) 16 (+3) 18 (+4) 20 (+5) 22 (+6)

Saving Throws  Dex +8, Con +9, Wis +11

Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons

Damage Immunities cold

Condition Immunities exhaustion, petrified

Skills Perception +11, Persuasion +12

Senses blindsight 60 ft., darkvision 120 ft., passive perception 21

Languages all

Challenge 17 (18,000 XP)

Discorporation. When Mrs. Claus drops to 0 hit points or dies, her body is destroyed, but her essence travels back to Santa’s domain in the North Pole, and she is unable to take physical form for a time.

Magic Resistance. Mrs. Claus has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Spellcasting. Mrs. Claus’ spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 20, +12 to hit with spell attacks). She can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components.

At will: blessinvisibilitymagic circlemagic missile, sanctuary

3/day: cone of cold, dispel magichealhold monster, polymorphsleet storm

1/day: teleport, true polymorph


Multiattack. Mrs. Claus makes two attacks.

Radiant Touch.  Melee Spell Attack: +12 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 22 (3d10 + 6) radiant damage and the target must succeed on a DC 20 Constitution saving throw or become blinded until the end of Mrs. Claus’ next turn.

Chill Beam. Ranged Spell Attack: +12 to hit, range 120 ft., one target. Hit: 27 (6d8) cold damage and the creature must make a DC 20 Constitution saving throw. A creature who fails this saving throw can take only a move or an action on its next turn, but not both.


Stern Look. Mrs. Claus causes an attack that would hit her to miss.


Would you like these baddies in a PDF along with all the other fifth edition D&D creatures I’ve designed? Grab them below.

Winter Elf

Giant Doll

Giant Teddy Bear

Giant Toy Soldier

Hot Chocolate Elemental

Mrs Claus

Santa Claus

All Monsters

If you don’t want to grab them now, but decide you want the PDFs at a future date, head on over to the Free Game Resources section of this site where the documents will live along with magic items, backgroundsD&D fifth edition rules modulesspellsadventures, and more created by yours truly.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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

In this episode Sam Dillon and I take you through the process of leveling up a character in fifth edition D&D.

Sam’s Blog

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, The Round Table and Gamer to Gamer, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Liberal Advantage

Posted: April 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

I want my players to take risks. Games are always more fun when the fighter wants to climb up the dragon’s back and hack it to pieces as it flies through the air instead of just shooting a longbow at the beast from a safe distance. Yet many players take the latter option and play it safe.

I understand their desire for safety. A lot of time and energy is poured into making and maintaining their characters. From the first session many of my players give their creations pages of backstory and the character already represents hours of precious work. In their minds that character dying could make all that work worthless (though it doesn’t, but that’s another post). Most players already have an endgame in mind for their character which more often involves the phrase “raised to godhood,” rather than, “pooped out by a dragon.”

So how does one encourage players to take risks? Fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons introduced the advantage and inspiration mechanics for just this kind of thing.

Why roll one d20 when you could roll two?


Advantage and Inspiration

The following excerpts are from the free fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons Basic Rules.

Advantage and Disadvantage

Sometimes an ability check, attack roll, or saving throw is modified by special situations called advantage and disadvantage. Advantage reflects the positive circumstances surrounding a d20 roll, while disadvantage reflects the opposite. When you have either advantage or disadvantage, you roll a second d20 when you make the roll. Use the higher of the two rolls


Your DM can choose to give you inspiration for a variety of reasons. Typically, DMs award it when you play out your personality traits, give in to the drawbacks presented by a flaw or bond, and otherwise portray your character in a compelling way. Your DM will tell you how you can earn inspiration in the game.

You either have inspiration or you don’t—you can’t stockpile multiple “inspirations” for later use.

If you have inspiration, you can expend it when you make an attack roll, saving throw, or ability check. Spending your inspiration gives you advantage on that roll.

So granting advantage on a PC’s ability, attack, or saving throw roll or giving a PC inspiration gives a bit of a security net in an extra d20 that encourages that player to take a risk. Some good examples of when to grant advantage and inspiration are in the Basic Rules and Player’s Handbook, but there are other plenty of other opportunities for DMs to grant these gifts.

When I Give Advantage

Be consistent and fair in your dolling out of advantage. If one player gets advantage for giving a great description, make sure another player gets advantage in similar circumstances. Once your players catch on to when you grant advantage, they’ll feel a little more secure in taking risks.

I will grant advantage if…

  • …a player provides a good reason. We’ve all heard from the player who constantly asks, “Can I get advantage on this attack?” My response to this question is, “Why?” If the player gives me a compelling reason (like I know this enemy fears spiders and I’ve got a tarantula on my shoulder or the dagger I’m attacking this monster with was hidden in my sleeve until I made the attack) I’ll go ahead and give the advantage. The player doesn’t have to ask. If I can see a good reason to grant advantage on a check (like the monster you’re trying to intimidate just watched you murder its ally) I’ll go ahead and give it.
  • …a player gives a great description of its action. When a player describes an action in a way that really moves me or paints a great picture, I’ll grant that action’s roll advantage. If the bard gives a speech to gain a king’s support against orc invaders and that speech moves me, that PC has advantage on the Charisma (Persuasion) check. If the rogue describes diving behind an overturned table by kicking off the chest of a foe and it makes my heart pound, that PC has advantage on the Dexterity saving throw against an enemy fireball. Not only does this encourage your PCs to take risks, but they build the story with their actions beyond rolling dice.
  • …the action is tied directly to the PC’s background. If a character with the criminal background risks life and limb by intimidating the master of the thieve’s guild based on the PC’s past reputation, that Charisma (Intimidation) check has advantage. These actions need to be deeply tied to the specific PC’s background in order to fly with me (for instance a character with the soldier background doesn’t get advantage on every attack).

When I Give Inspiration

When awarding inspiration, remember the same rules as granting advantage apply. Be consistent and fair in your inspiration giving and your players will soon be taking more risks.

I will grant inspiration if…

  • …a player role-plays well. This is why inspiration was created. If players have an exceptional role-playing experience which gives me some good laughs, cries, or other feels, the PCs involved are given inspiration.
  • …a player takes a big risk. If a player takes a big risk (like the aforementioned climbing onto the back of the dragon), I’ll grant that player advantage BEFORE rolling for the risky action. That way the player can choose to use inspiration to gain advantage on the risky action.
  • …a players does a stupid thing in character. Sometimes a PC makes a decision the player knows isn’t the best choice, but is in keeping with the character created. A greedy PC might go opening chests before checking for traps and a prideful PC might attempt to beat up the much larger half-orc at the bar for name-calling. My one criteria for these stupid actions is that in order for the player to gain advantage the action must only put that player’s character at risk. I don’t need my PCs stabbing each other to gain inspiration.
  • …players ask for themselves. Inspiration is a new mechanic. Sometimes I forget about it! So I told my players if they think they are deserving of it, they can ask for it. If they ask and meet any of the prerequisites above, I’ll let them have it. This idea was taken from Mike Shea of
  • …players ask for others. Just like I forget about inspiration, my players might forget to ask. That’s why anyone can ask for anyone else at my table, because at any given moment someone will remember it’s a thing we should be using.

When I Grant Automatic Success

Of course there are rare times an automatic success is called for. Again consistency and fairness are called for here and I only grant automatic successes on ability checks, not attack rolls or saving throws. When players see there are ways to immediately succeed, they may take all kinds of risks to get that automatic success.

I will grant an automatic success if…

  • …a player has a trump card. PCs looking to strike a pact with the corrupt mayor automatically succeed if they bring a large enough bribe. The barbarian looking to intimidate the white dragon automatically succeeds by dropping the dragon’s mother’s head at the beast’s feet. The rogue opening a door doesn’t need to pick the lock when a key is on hand. These are the kinds of trump cards which grant automatic success. Note all involve risks to acquire. The mayor’s bribe  requires the PCs to earn gold in some way, the white dragon intimidation involves slaying a larger dragon, and the rogue must steal the key before opening the door.
  • …a player provides a five-star description of an action. I mean really, really stellar. I don’t need to be moved to tears, but I should come close. If a description is just great, it gets the player advantage. It needs to be a perfect description for me to grant automatic success. These kinds of descriptions happen once a session or less in my games.
  • …a player must succeed or the action is boring. This method doesn’t really inspire taking big risks, but if the player must succeed on the check to move the story along (like learning the location of a nearby dungeon) or if the action is boring and there’s no outside source of pressure (like having all the time in the world to climb a knotted rope), the player automatically succeeds.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Dungeon Brawls!

Posted: March 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

I know the title of this post sounds like it should be the name of my high school metal band‘s album but I’m writing about one my favorite formats for dungeon crawls.

The History of the Dungeon Brawl

Dungeon brawls were first incorporated into my game when I was DMing a campaign using the D&D Next Playtest rules and The Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle published adventure. The adventure itself isn’t awesome (it’s a little too railroady for my taste), but there are a lot of interesting ideas, NPCs, dungeons, and encounters one can easily adapt.

I was running Part Three of the adventure, “Ironaxe Halls,” the majority of which is a three-level dungeon crawl. The first level of the dungeon has 48 baddies… and absolutely no doors between any of the rooms. No doors on the first floor of the dungeon?!? Why?!? Check out the excerpt from the adventure below.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 12.16.46 PM

So the party of 5 PCs backed by some allied elf NPCs went in swords swinging and magic blazing. All out chaos ensued. Fireballs were hurled, greataxes were swung, and healing spells were depleted. It was glorious. Instead of several small fights in tiny rooms, waves of enemies came out of different hallways at different times as the PCs constantly shifted and repositioned themselves to meet their foes. At the end the PCs were exhausted, but accomplished.

I’ve since adopted this style of gameplay for other encounters which I (oh so cleverly) refer to as dungeon brawls.

What Makes A Dungeon Brawl?

So do dungeon brawls only happen in mines without doors? No! The fact that a door can dampen the clash of steel on steel or the explosion of magic thunder so much that it could never be heard is frankly ridiculous.

Dungeon brawls don’t always have to be in dark, dank areas. They could take place in a necromancer’s tower, the mansion of a tyrannical noble, or the castle grounds of an evil warlord. I draw inspiration for dungeon brawls from action movies like Commando or Dredd. In a nutshell a dungeon brawl consists of a few heroes teaming up against a whole compound full of baddies. Here’s how I go about creating mine.

  1. Create a 5 – 12 room dungeon, complex, or level of a structure.
  2. Prepare 3 – 5 encounters that average medium difficulty. If you build a hard encounter, that’s ok, but make one of your other encounters easy to balance it out. Even if your dungeon is mostly populated by one type of monster, mix things up a little. Goblins, for instance, might have warriors, assassins, shamans, and worg riders in their ranks. You’ll also want to be sure to have at least one oh shit monster, that is to say a monster that is larger, smarter, or has some special attack (like a beholder’s eye rays) that players aren’t expecting. Ya know, the kind of monster that makes your players say…
  3. Place one encounter’s worth of monsters in the room you think players are most likely to enter first, or at least the first room they’ll enter which has some baddies.
  4. Spread the rest of your monsters throughout the dungeon as you see fit. They might be on guard duty, sleeping, eating, gambling, training, etc. Whatever makes the most sense.

Running A Dungeon Brawl

Your dungeon brawl begins when the first loud, all-out battle is going down. The rest of the complex is alerted by the noise and know it’s time to throw down. Quick note: remember a dungeon brawl is multiple encounters tied together so they work best if your PCs are at full strength.

Adding Waves

Take these steps to run a successful dungeon brawl.

  1. As part of your prep, separate your monsters into waves. Waves are usually an encounter’s worth of monsters who will all appear on the battlefield at one time. Mark your minis or make note of which creatures are in which wave. To keep things simple you could have each wave made up of one create type, but if you have the time, mix it up and spread out creatures of one type across various waves.
  2. Roll initiative for each wave involved in the brawl, even the ones which cannot be seen.
  3. On its turn decide if a wave enters the fray. Unless you’re using an online game table that has a fog of war function like, you probably won’t be able to keep track of precise monster movement. So how do you know when it’s time to add another wave? As a general rule, if there are less enemy combatants than there are active PCs, add a new wave. Use your best judgement. If the PCs are struggling, don’t add another wave of its a hard encounter. Wait for an ray or medium to roll around.
  4. Be prepared to adjust. I admit this method is pretty swingy. Be prepared to hold a few monsters back if the PCs are really getting their butts handed to them or add a few creatures if you feel the combat is too easy or going too fast.
Encourage PCs to Move

Dungeon brawls can be great fun in one room, but they’re even better if the PCs have a reason to move. Each new room can changes the dynamics of combat with varying hazards, choke points, terrain, sizes, and opportunities to gain cover and hide. A new room can break up the monotony of a long combat.

The only problem is that many players have a dungeon crawl mentality of clearing one room at a time. You’ll need to adjust that if you want them running through rooms battling it out. There’s a few ways to tackle this.

The first is to simply talk to your players before the dungeon brawl and let them know they’ll need to make a mental shift in order to get the most out of the encounter. While this method is simplest it’s the least interesting and takes away player agency. Plus if you have a PC die during the dungeon brawl because he ran off into another room and got stabbed, now you’re partly to blame.

A more enticing way of getting your players to move their characters around the dungeon is to have monsters use ranged attacks from other rooms. There’s only one way the great weapon fighter can hit the goblin mage who keeps ducking behind full cover after blasting everyone with a fireball.

Another method you could use makes for the most daring and exciting of dungeon brawls, and only requires a little more planning on your part. Give the players a timed objective. For instance a devastating ritual to crash a flying city nears completion or the Brotherhood of the Moon plans to turn the dean of The Arcane College into a werewolf at midnight tonight are great objectives for the PCs to stop. Remember a round of combat is only six seconds long. Unless your dungeon is huge the timed objectives should have limits of five minutes or less. Alternatively the PCs could not know their exact time limit but be given the impression that if they don’t keep moving a massive army of devil-aberrant hybrids is going to rise out of the ground.

The Oh Shit Monster

This oh shit monster is inspired by every action movie ever. The heroes think they’ve won the day, and are catching their breath when a creature unlike anything they’ve ever faced suddenly shows up. In dungeon brawls, one of your waves should include an oh shit monster. Savor the moment this creature shows up and revel in your description of its power. Get the players good and scared when this baddy shows up, preferably at a moment the PCs are close to thinking their job is almost done. Think cave troll in The Fellowship of the Ring movie.

“Oh shit.” – Gandalf

Improvised Weapons

Because a dungeon brawl is actually multiple encounters strung together the combat has the potential to drag on and feel like a tiresome slog. In order to keep things fresh you should have a bunch of different monsters and a reason for PCs to travel through different rooms in the dungeon. Finally, adding some fun environmental props will really take things to the next level.

When building a complex for a dungeon brawl, I like to think about the environmental props that populate some of my favorite video games. Video games high on action are most fun when you can shoot barrels full of oil to make them explode, throw baddies off ledges to their doom, and stealth attack an enemy below by jumping down on them from a gargoyle. Stock dungeon rooms with interesting objects, even if you don’t have ideas on how they could be used as weapons. I promise your players will find a way to turn anything into an instrument of destruction. When they ask if they can tip the deranged wizard’s tank of piranhas onto the flesh golem, for the love of all that is holy say yes. Let the effects be just as devastating if not better than the PC using its action to attack. Even if damage isn’t dealt by an improvised attack, think about conditions it might impose on a target, like dumping a barrel of glue onto a kobold shaman. If your PCs see their ingenuity pays off and soon they’ll be trying all kinds of high action antics!

Batman in a classic dungeon brawl.

Why Dungeon Brawls?

Dungeon brawls are a fun way to clear out a level of a dungeon without the traditional time sucks of listening at every door and searching every 10 feet for a trap. It’s not meant to replace every good, old-fashioned dungeon crawl, but it’s a nice change of pace, especially when you need to save some time. They’re a challenge, but done well they’re also extremely rewarding. If you give it a shot, please let me know what you think in the comments below.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Thank you. That is what I have to say first and foremost. In the past few months, World Builder Blog and The Round Table Podcast have grown steadily and surely. Your feedback, support, eyes, and ears are more appreciated than you know. So thank you all for making updating this blog and recording a weekly podcast worth it.

Fix it with a Submarine

All right, onto the goods. Last week I wrote about creating adventure sites in RPGs. Well take a quick look at this adventure site I’ve included in the Exploration Age Campaign Guide.

The Deepest Light. There is a deep ocean trench just off the coast of ReJong that sparkles with radiant light. Thousands of small, star-shaped crystals line the ocean floor which can only be reached by deep submersible. These star crystals explode when thrown, dealing 4d6 radiant damage to everyone in a 20 foot radius. A successful DC 14 dexterity saving throw means the target only takes half damage. Harvesting the crystals is dangerous work however, since a group of sahaugin call the canyon home and don’t take kindly to the invasion of others.

Not bad, I mean there’s danger, but also a good reason for venturing into the site, so the risk-reward balance is there. There’s just one little problem…

Eventually, I realized (and so have you, probably) that there was no convenient way for a few PCs to get to the bottom of the ocean, let alone a mining operation. My first reaction was to move the adventure site to deep in The Underdark or a volcano, but I already have a few adventure sites in those locations in Exploration Age and I wanted this to be a unique underwater experience.

Then I remember that Exploration Age is a world of mechs, firearms, airships, bombs, and more. Why not throw in a submarine? I know some of you are already rolling your eyes and I’m preparing to hear about it in the comments section from Joe Lastowski for a while (who is a great dude and who’s feedback I appreciate), but I gotta go with what my gut says is going to provide some awesome adventure – and that’s a submafrigginrine.

A submarine also allows for further exploration of the world of Canus, which is unsurprisingly a theme of Exploration Age. An underwater adventure into an uncharted area of the deep is my kind of adventure.

The Dragornborn Built It

I know, you want the submarine to be built by gnomes. Well, a gnomish submarine makes those of you old enough to remember Warcraft II think of this…

Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness Gnomish Submarine

While it wouldn’t be entirely out of the question for Canus’ gnomes to pull off a similar feat, in my mind it makes more sense in Canus for the dragonborn, who live on a collection of islands and love the water, to have created the submarine. Also, since it was invented primarily as a means of exploration and transportation and while it can defend itself, it does not shoot torpedoes (but it does shoot magic). How else is the dragonborn submarine different from it’s Warcraft counterpart? Take a look at the excerpt below from the Exploration Age Campaign Guide.

The Crustaceans

What began as a simple underwater mining and exploration vessel has change naval warfare on Canus. Dragonborn inventors were curious about what might lie in the depths of the ocean, and so they took years to create the world’s fist submersible vessel. Their discoveries were endless once they had their vehicle in the water – never before seen creatures and plant life. The most important of their discoveries were the gems in The Deepest Light.

Once the precious stones were discovered in the dangerous depths, the rush to mine them became tied to the purpose and spurred the invention of more submarines. The dragonborn outfitted the vessel with two arms to aid in the mining – one arm ending in a large drill, the other in a large two-pronged claw, thus giving the submersible its name, the Crab. Both drill and claw still exist on the vessel today and can be used in mining and combat.

As the Crab began to face dangers in the deep, its drill and claw proved to be ineffective against foes who might attack from a distance and so four pressurized spear guns and bulky armor were added to the vessel. These guns are placed on the fore, aft, starboard, and port sides of the submarine which required a larger body to make room for gunners. The submarine’s hull became larger in the models which have these spearguns and as such is known as the Lobster.

During The Fourth Great War, a final feature was added to some of the submersibles so they might be used in battle. An arcane cannon was affixed to the tops of these vessels and could be used only when the submarines surfaced. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but it did allow Marrial to sneak up on their enemies. These War Lobsters were outfitted with even heavier armor and painted black so they were hard to find in the sea at night after they had surfaced. During the war some of Marrial’s inventors sold submarines to other nations, since Marrial’s lax laws did not require them to keep the submarines exclusive to Marrial’s navy.

There are rumors that some dragonborn inventors are currently working on a special arcane cannon that can fire force shot below the surface of the water, but these rumors have not been proven.

Submarine HP AC Speed Size Right Arm Left Arm Price Special Attacks
Crab 120 16 30 ft. Large Drill Claw 30,000 gp None
Lobster 200 18 40 ft. Huge Drill Claw 80,000 gp Spearguns
War Lobster 350 20 40 ft. Huge Claw Claw 150,000 gp Rend, Spearguns, Arcane Cannon

Sinking. Once a vessel is reduced to 0 Hit Points, it ceases to function and sinks at a rate of 30 feet per round until it reaches the sea floor.

Obliteration. If a submarine’s Hit Points are reduced to negative its max HP, the submarine is obliterated and crew and cargo find themselves in the deep.

Repairs. A damaged submarine cannot have its Hit Points restored the way a creature can, since it is an object. In general, ship repairs cost 10 gp per 1 HP restored and take a number of hours to complete equal to the number of Hit Points restored.

Crab. The smallest of the submersibles, the Crab is mainly a mining and research vessel. A creature proficient in vehicles (water) can pilot the submarine using its move to move the vessel. The pilot can also use its action to make one attack with the Crab’s claw or the drill. In addition to the pilot, the submarine can hold three other Medium or Small creatures.

  • Claw. Melee weapon attack. +5 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d8 + 3) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 13). The Crab can only grapple on creature at a time. While the Crab has a creature grappled, it may only use its claw attack against that creature as it continues to crush it.
  • Drill. Melee weapon attack. +5 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 16 (3d8 + 3) piercing damage.

Lobster. The Lobster is a larger, better armored submersible. A creature proficient in vehicles (water) can pilot the submarine using its move to move the vessel. The pilot can also use its action to make one attack with the Lobster’s claw or the drill. Four other creatures can work the spearguns located on the fore, aft, starboard, and port sides of vessel. In addition to the pilot and four gunners, the submarine can hold four other Medium or Small creatures.

  • Claw. Melee weapon attack. +6 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 15 (2d10 + 4) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 14). The Lobster can only grapple on creature at a time. While the Lobster has a creature grappled, it may only use its claw attack against that creature as it continues to crush it.
  • Drill. Melee weapon attack. +6 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 20 (3d10 + 4) piercing damage.
  • Spearguns. Spearguns are attached to the vessel and can swivel. To attack, a creature must make a ranged attack roll and can add its proficiency bonus if it has proficiency with heavy crossbows. Spearguns deal 1d12 piercing damage, and have the ammunition (range 100/400), loading, and two-handed properties.

War Lobster. When it comes to dealing damage beneath the waves, nothing comes close to the heavy-armored War Lobster. It is designed strictly for battle and sports two over-sized claws. A creature proficient in vehicles (water) can pilot the submarine using its move to move the vessel. The pilot can also use its action to make one attack with one of the claws. Four other creatures can work the spear guns located on the fore, aft, starboard, and port sides of vessel. In addition to the pilot and four gunners, the submarine can hold four other Medium or Small creatures. While surfaced, a team can also work the arcane cannon atop the vessel.

  • Claw. Melee weapon attack. +7 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 21 (3d10 + 5) bludgeoning damage, and the target is grappled (escape DC 15). The War Lobster may only grapple one creature at a time with each claw.
  • Rend. This attack requires the War Lobster to be grappling a creature with one claw and have no creature in the grip of its other. The War Lobster makes two attacks against the grappled creature with both claws.
  • Spearguns. Spearguns are attached to the vessel and can swivel. To attack, a creature must make a ranged attack roll and can add its proficiency bonus if it has proficiency with heavy crossbows. Spearguns deal 1d12 piercing damage, and have the ammunition (range 100/400), loading, and two-handed properties.
  • Arcane Cannon. While surfaced, the arcane cannon can be fired, per its mechanics.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcast on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Round Table 7 is up!

Posted: March 4, 2014 in Uncategorized

The next Round Table Podcast is up here. We discuss rules updates to D&D Next and the sorcerer in D&D Next in articles covered by Mike Mearls.

The Round Table has players of various backgrounds discussing the latest D&D news. If you like it, you should check out all the other great content on The Tome Show.

As always you can reach me by leaving a comment or following me on Twitter.

Special thanks to our panel – Joe Lastowski, Rudy Basso, and Andrew Kane.

Round Table 6 is up!

Posted: February 21, 2014 in Uncategorized

The next Round Table Podcast is up here. In this podcast I sit down with some new panelists (and old friends) who have just finished their second ever session with D&D Next. We get to hear how these oldhat D&D players feel about the new edition.

Also, during the conversation (towards the end), we reference a chart about advantage and disadvantage one of the panelist made. Check out the mathematical genius of Andrew Timmes.

Nerdin' out to the max!

Check it out. Debate! Discuss! Which is more interesting? Which is better for play?

If you’re digging on the blog or podcast, please share it around, leave me a comment, or follow me on Twitter. Keep on rolling!