Posts Tagged ‘Google’

So it probably goes without saying, but in this post I’ll be discussing trigger warnings at the game table. While I won’t go too in-depth into any one topic, there will be mention of some topics that might make people upset. Just a heads up because I love you all and don’t wish to offend.

So on Thursday of last week my latest blog post caused quite a stir on social media. It was all about how to use trigger warnings and why they’re important at the table. It seems like trigger warnings are a hugely controversial topic and I did not quite realize the reactions I’d get. Looking back I could have given some better clarification.

Before I move on with the rest of this post I just want to say to those of you who come here looking for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons resources and worldbuilding advice – have no fear. On Thursday  we’ll get back into the swing of those things with a post I’m currently writing about the lingering injuries module in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

You May Not Need Trigger Warnings

I saw A LOT of people decry the entire notion of trigger warnings and X-cards. While some folk could have been a little less flippant (and in a very few cases less graphic or bigoted) in their responses, I get it. Many people don’t want to compromise their story and have been playing in the same group for years. They already know the limits of their friends and have an open dialogue about everything in the game which comes naturally. In other words everyone is comfortable with one another. I have this kind of relationships with two groups that I’ve been GMing since college. I don’t need to give trigger warnings and they feel comfortable telling me, “Yeah, I’m uncomfortable, move on,” on the rare occasion that it happens.

I would say that if you’re GMing a game with a new group, especially if it’s in a store or at a convention and you’re covering something questionable (like sexual assault), consider giving a warning (or better yet put it in the description of the event if there’s a posting for it). It will take 30 seconds and there’s a strong likelihood the group won’t care and you can move on without changing a thing in your game. If someone says, “I’m not cool with that,” then you as the GM have a choice to make. You can change the game or let the person know you’re going to proceed as is and let them bow out. In any case doing this before a game with strangers starts will save you and your players time and anguish in the long run.

Do I Have To Give Warnings for Everything?

I got a lot of sincere questions from people asking if they were expected to give trigger warnings for everything. One trusted friend gave a great example saying some people have serious issues with food addiction and did that mean he should be giving trigger warnings before playing a game in which he as GM gave a description of a feast?

My thought is that, no, you do not have to give trigger warnings for everything. I think most people sitting down to play a game have some assumptions about the content that game. For instance in Dungeons and Dragons players expect to have at least a PG-13 level of fantasy violence where they’re slaying monsters and villainous humanoids a la The Lord of the Rings. In a Cthulhu game players can assume all of the horrors and mental instability which comes in one of the works of H. P. Lovecraft. You don’t need to give a trigger warning for every little thing, but you should give warnings for the sensitive stuff that doesn’t happen in every game session of the system and setting your group is using (like sexual assault in D&D).

Just make sure that any new players know what they’re getting into. If you don’t know the person well and they’ve never played or heard of Monsterhearts or Cthulhu, a little advanced warning is courteous and only takes 30 seconds. Again this kind of thing is perfect for conventions and public play.

The food addiction example above is trickier. That’s the kind of thing that’s unexpected at many tables, but for some people is a serious trigger. The best thing you can do is create an environment of open communication and let your players know they can bring anything to you even if it seems trivial.

You Don’t Have to Change Your Game

In response to last week’s post I saw some people say, “I tell people if they need a trigger warning not to play in my game.” Flippancy aside, this message is actually a trigger warning and it’s a fair one for private home games. If you feel the story you’re trying to tell is more important than another person’s particular sensitivity, it’s good to be upfront about that. Don’t waste their time or your own and get into a situation where a person can be hurt or made upset. Odds are if you don’t want to adjust your game for a player with a particular sensitivity or trigger, that player doesn’t want to play in your game. If you can hash that out before rolling any dice, you’re both better off for it.

I’d advise courtesy and manners while giving this message to players, since a lot of flippancy may leave you with no one to play with. Not everyone needs trigger warnings, but most people hate playing with jerks.

X-Card Abuse

A few GMs out there hadn’t heard the concept of the X-card and it made them nervous. They were worried players might abuse the card to skip through difficult combat encounters and other challenges, especially because the X-card comes with a no questions asked policy. While I’ve never heard of or experienced a player abusing an X-card in such a way, we’ve all been burned in the past by players abusing a rule to the point of ruining the game’s fun. It wouldn’t surprise me if this happened, especially if someone wanted to drive a GM crazy for choosing to use an X-card in the first place.

If you feel someone is abusing an X-card, talk to them about it. Ask them, “Hey you seem to be using the X-card a lot. Is there anything in particular that’s coming up in our games that’s making you use it?” If they don’t have a good answer, explain to them that the card is there to avoid upsetting situations, not as a cheat to get through challenges. If the abuse continues, tell the player you’re not sure that they’re the right fit for the game your playing. It doesn’t matter if they’re using a cheat or using the X-card all the time for legitimate reasons because in either case the statement is true.

Communication is Key

At the end of the day communication is key. I think people see the phrase, “trigger warning,” and it sets something off in them. Yes, that’s irony. I saw a lot of hate for trigger warnings followed by statements like, “My players and I talk through issues because we’re adults.” That’s awesome, people! If your communication is open and honest, you’re doing it right. So if your group is experienced, new, young, old, bawdy, family friendly, comfortable friends, or a group of strangers at a convention the most important thing is you have a great time gaming together.

I’m Not Trying to Ruin Your Game

I think I owe many of you an apology. When I posted about this on social media I let my inner marketing copywriter get the best of me and used the phrase, “Why you should use trigger warnings in your game.” As stated above not everyone needs them because they already have a gaming group full of friends and honest communication. I’m not here to ruin your games. If I give some advice on the blog that you don’t like, you don’t need to take it.

Sorry if you felt like I was shoving my apparently game-ruining (and according to some life-ruining) philosophies about tabletop games down your throats. Surely, that was not my intent. My intent was to provide advice for those looking for it and let people get a look into how I run games with questionable material. I’d love to hear what others do when they want to run a game with some more serious themes with groups of new people. Sound off 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!

Remember the Tarrasque Takedown? Well the goodness continues as Mike Shea DMs Joe Lastowski, Chris Dudley, Topher Kohan, Liz Theis, and me in a battle for the ages! We’re stress-testing high-level combat in the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons once again and this time we’re taking on the most powerful villain the game currently has to offer – Tiamat! Her statistics were recently revealed in the Rise of Tiamat adventure from Kobold Press.

We’ll be living streaming the game on Google+ Hangout and on YouTube. I’ll be posting characters here and we’ll release an edited version of the audio as a podcast on and have a follow-up conversation as part of The Round Table podcast I host.

It’s all going down at 8:30PM Eastern on Tuesday, December 2nd. Please pass the Google+ and Facebook events around and invite people. Also, if you use social media to talk about this, please use #TiamatTakedown. Hell yeah!

It’s on like Donkey Kong!

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

I’m a busy dude. I’ve got this blog, two podcasts, a job, a girlfriend, and awesome people in my life. All of these deserve my attention on a regular basis. Not to mention all the normal life stuff we do each day like commuting, cooking, cleaning, exercising, laundry, and more.  Some of you might have all those commitments, plus a few more like, oh I don’t know… pets or kids. So what are we to do when we also have D&D games to run?

Prep Time

Now, my life isn’t always so crazy. I often have at least some time to prepare for my D&D games, though almost always less than I would like. So how do I go about preparing for an adventure? I always start with an outline. It’s very bare bones to start but I try to at least put the following in there.

  1. A very basic idea of what might happen during the session. Sometimes this is no more than a paragraph or a few bullet points.
  2. A basic description of expected combat encounters, including number and names of creatures to be used. Descriptions start as simple as “5 orcs, 2 shamans, and a pit trap.”
  3. Names of NPCs the players will come across, their motive, and a quick distinguishing characteristic such as a club foot or funny accent to help make them memorable. This could be something like, “Famnoodle Breswick, gnome bard of Dark Whispers, wants to kill Bragonian nobles who are also slavers, has hook instead of left hand.”
  4. I jot down twists and turns I could throw into the session to make things interesting in the main storyline as it comes to me (to make this easier, use Google Drive so you can ideas on the fly). These things might include, but are not limited to, a villain having a hidden weakness or strength, a helpful NPC showing up, revealing an NPC as a double-crosser, other threats coming into play the party may not be aware of, and pieces of a character’s background coming into play. These are good for me to have in the case of the unexpected, I can whip out a PC’s long lost brother returning after decades if the players are having trouble figuring out what to do or if a story feels boring or uninteresting. It helps keep the players on their toes. Remember that not every twist needs to be a Red Wedding.

After that I go back and flesh out my outline depending on how much prep time I have. I usually start by fleshing out encounters and dungeons fully, then bullet points for any social interactions and exploration, followed by descriptive read aloud text (in the rare event that I have time for it). Of course I don’t want to over prepare.

Be An Idea Pack Rat

If I do over prepare, I find I try and steer my players too hard in the direction I prepared for, mostly because I don’t want my work to go to waste. Remember, D&D is a collaborative story, and it’s best when you let everyone have a say. If players want to go off the rails let them. Not over preparing will help with that, but when you have a cool idea you’re excited about and the time to do so, you can’t help but flesh it out. Also, sometimes you don’t over prepare, but players go to the unexpected place or so far off the rails, anything you did prepare still feels like it was for naught. Fear not! If players miss something you spent time on, save it for later. After all, when players go off the rails, its often because they’re doing something fun and unexpected, and that’s the kind of play we all want to embrace. Heck, I’d venture to say that for many people, it’s the reason they play tabletop RPGs.

While I certainly don’t think railroading adventurers is a good idea, I do think holding on to something your players missed is. Say they decided to wait outside the red dragon’s lair and fight her in the open rather than delve into her volcanic lair. Don’t throw out that graph paper or start talking to your adventurers about the cool monsters they could have fought and treasure they might have if they had “done what they were supposed to.” Save that dungeon, its secrets, and bust it out when your players take on a fire giant or clan of devils. So when you do prep something, hold onto it. It will help you in the future when you have less time to prep, and need to rely on improv.

Improv Resources

All right. Let’s get down to it. Sometimes you don’t have any time at all to prepare or sometimes players decide to zig when you were sure they’d zag. Have no fear! Improv is useful in all D&D sessions (you can’t possibly plan everything) and the more freedom you allow yourself, the more you will be comfortable giving your players.

Many of you have heard this, but the first thing to remember is saying, “Yes, and…” when a player asks if he or she can do something. Everything from, “Can we ignore the noble’s pleas to save his daughter from the vampire lord, and hunt some dragons instead?” You might say, “Yes, and you’ve heard there’s a competing band of dragon hunters in the area, who would probably have information on the closest dragon’s whereabouts.” Boom! Look at the layers of adventure you’ve just added by saying, “Yes, and…” You can always caution adventurers that if they ignore the noble his daughter might die and there could be worse consequences, but they may still choose to ignore that. Don’t worry about it. Write it down and have those consequences come back to bite them at a later date! Saying, “Yes, and…” is difficult at first, but trust me, the more you do it, the easier it becomes and the better your game will be for it.

So what else do I use to help me out in improv situations when I have no time to prepare. Check out the list of resources I use below! There’s already a lot of great fan-created resources and more out there for fifth edition D&D and having a computer or tablet will definitely make your improv life easier.

Google Drive

If you’ve been following this blog it should come as no surprise that I love Google Drive. There are two documents I use, in addition to the outline above, which help immensely when I have to improv my way through part or the entirety of a session.

  • Hooks Document This document contains all the hanging plot threads of my game. I organize them into categories, I have one for each PC, which includes threads given to me in their character’s background (my father went missing when I was a child…) and things which pop up along the way (remember last week when I snuck off on my own and robbed a dragon…). Then I have two more categories. One is for threads hanging from the game’s main story (The Brotherhood of the Moon is trying to kill all shifters) and the other is for side quests (we agreed to help the local law enforcement take out a den of orange spice dealers). If I have nothing prepared I look at the document. I might say to myself, “Oh yeah, our warforged barbarian Grolox has slavers hunting for him. Let’s have them show up at the inn.” That’s a great jumping off point for me.
  • Wiki and Recap Document I share this document with my players. One or more of them acts as a scribe for the party, listing all the characters, places, and organizations they come across and detailing the events of each session. If I don’t have anything to pull from the Hooks Document above, I’ll take a quick gander here and ask myself some fast questions. What if a defeated foe had a lover out for vengeance, or returned from the grave as an undead? Who is the real power behind The Servants? What if some new evil moved into the aberrant ruins right outside of the city where the adventurers are staying?
Official Wizards of the Coast D&D PDFs

The Players Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide are great, but when I’m improving I don’t want to spend a bunch of time flipping through books looking for the right rule, magic item, or monster. That’s why I rely on the PDFs below. Searchability is huge when you’re flying by the seat of your pants. Using the documents below, I can search for the exact heading I want, or for a specific phrase like “Challenge 10.” The best part is these PDFs are free so go get them!

Fan-Created Content

We’re only a few months into the release of fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons and there’s already a lot of fan created content out there. Here are a few things I like to keep open on the old laptop when I’m playing in case of improvisation. In fact I use these even when I’m in the planning stages for a session, because it makes life so much easier.

  • Encounter Builder – The rules for building encounters are difficult. If you’ve tried it, you know. Luckily Kobold Fight Club has made it super, duper easy with this encounter builder which also generates random encounters, tracks encounters, saves encounters, and allows you to manage encounters. It’s pretty awesome. Check it out!
  • Monsters By Challenge Rating – This isn’t one I actually have on my laptop, but I do have it taped to the back, inside cover of my Monster Manual. You can thank Mike Shea of Critical Hits for this perfectly sized monster by challenge rating index, which was missing from the book itself.
  • Monster Sorter – Of course, Ari Marmell’s monster sorter doesn’t fit into the back of your Monster Manual, but it does have the ability to be sorted in various categories including challenge rating, name, type, and more. This is a must have!
  • Spell Sorter – Similarly, Ari Marmell has come to the rescue again. Do you wish there was a list organizing spells by school of magic? Overall level? Class? Have no fear, Ari is here!
  • Merric’s Musings’ List of 5E Adventures – Tons of adventures for all levels, many free.
  • Free Game Resources on World Builder Blog – Magic itemsmonstersD&D fifth edition rules modulesbackgroundsspellsadventures, 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, share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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

I sit down with Rudy Basso, Alex Basso, Joe Lastowski, and Topher Kohan to talk about the past, present, and future of digital tools in D&D. We mention a lot of great resources in this podcast, so check them out in the links below! This podcast was recorded on May 17, 2014.

Links to resources:

Obsidian Portal




Fantasy Grounds

Google Drive

Displacer Cube

Links to personal stuff:

Topher Kohan Google+

Topher’s Obsidian Portal

Joe’s Obsidian Portal

What the Average Joe Thinks

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

So I’m taking a little diversion this post from Exploration Age to talk about the theme of this month’s RPG Blog Carnival. That theme? GM binders.

Way, way, way back in the day when I was ten and playing The Fantasy Trip I used a marble composition notebook in which I wrote every whack campaign idea I had (many of which we’re never played). This included an entire campaign based off the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun. The Man with the Golden Hand Crossbow (I was ten) was a rollicking tale and one of the first stories I ever ripped off completely. Here’s to you marble composition notebooks! May you hold young children’s campaigns, MASH games, dot-man wars, and secret crushes forever.

Behold! The secret-keeper and math-homework-tracker!

Google Drive

My gaming notes today are organized, but usually only in a way that would make sense to me. I’ll use my last campaign as an example. I ran a group of six PCs through a Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons Eberron game that lasted from levels one to thirty. The ideas for this campaign began where many today probably do – Google Drive.

A peak into my Google Drive folder for my Eberron campaign.

Why Google Drive? Well there’s a few reasons. First I work on my game in a lot of different places. At home on my laptop, on my phone in the train headed to work, and on my work computer during my lunch hour. With Drive being a cloud I can work on my home laptop, my phone, and my work computer without having to lug too much back and forth. I can easily output word docs, tables, PDFs, etc. to share with my players or print stuff out and bring it to games. Plus, 15GB is plenty of space for campaign notes.

In Google Drive I kept a bunch of different documents related to the Eberron game, but they mostly fit into these categories.

  1. Campaign Outline – A brief outline of where I think the campaign is going. This is so I can see how things are playing out, what the endgame might be, and what’s happening in the world beyond the scope of the party. I usually update thisdocument every few sessions. Here’s a look at my outline during ourepic tier of play (forgive any typos, remember, this was just for me).
    • Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 2.57.18 PM

      Eberron is badass!

  2. Open Threads – Then I also have a list of open threads (and believe me there were PLENTY in this campaign). Here’s where I list all of the unresolved issues in the campaign. Stories from side quests, character backgrounds, secret dealings, and consequences reverberating from the party’s actions all go here. I leave this open while we play and jot down notes quickly. Anything that gets resolved I highlight in red.
    • Seriously, this is just a PIECE.

      Seriously, this is just a PIECE.

  3. Weekly Quest – This is where I kept detailed information about what would (might) happen during our weekly session. Monster stats, read aloud text, traps, NPC statistics, and general adventure information would go here. Here’s another taste.
    • Again, please forgive typos.

      Again, please forgive typos.

  4. Treasure – If you’ve ever played 4th edition, you know that there’s many a magic item to give out. If a player doesn’t have the right magic items the math for attacks and defense won’t work out. In this case I awarded over 150 magic items (not counting consumables like potions). It’s a lot to track along with gold and monetary rewards so I had a separate document for that.
    • I'll assume this only makes sense to 4e DMs, but here it is.

      I’ll assume this only makes sense to 4e DMs, but here it is.

So those documents help me track what the campaign is doing and where it’s going, and a tiny bit what’s in the past. However most of the past of this campaign was tracked if a different way – via gmail.


I’ve tried using Obsidian Portal before, but unfortunately for as much as I loved it, getting my players to use it made taking a dog to the vet seem easy. Obsidian Portal and services like it are awesome, but they’re a ton of work as well and if my players aren’t into it then it’s not worth the effort.

My players do read emails. Going to a website and navigating for the answers you want requires more effort than opening and reading an email. Likewise typing an email is a lot less work than managing an Obsidian Portal account. So after each session I’d send an email with the following information – a list of the known quests and tasks they had committed to completing, a brief summary of what happened during the previous session, a list of who was wounded or diseased, a list of rewards gained during the previous session, and an updated quest wiki.

A sample of a recap email minus the wiki.

A sample of a recap email minus the wiki.

Our wiki was simple and tacked onto each email. It was divided into three categories – people, places, and organizations. Each was organized with alphabetical entries that had no more than two lines of description. I’d simply copy and paste the wiki from the previous recap email then add to it for the current email. It started small and was enormous by the end, but it was a helpful reference for the players and myself. They didn’t have to read it each week, but they knew it was there for them when they needed it. Plus, it was super easy for me.

And here's a very small piece of the wiki, but you get the idea.

And here’s a very small piece of the wiki, but you get the idea.


I’ve already sung the praises of, but this is where I kept all my maps for battle, which is super important in a Fourth Edition D&D game. I could archive maps I really loved and might use several times throughout the campaign (like the deck of the party’s airship or the temple which served as their home base).

If roll20 doesn’t turn you on, there’s a lot of other services like it. Recently I did a soon to be released podcast interview with Doug Davison of Fantasy Grounds. This product is badass and I highly recommend checking that out as well. The podcast will be released in two weeks, but until then check out their video.

The Future

Again, through my podcast, The Round Table, I recently learned about a new product for worldbuilding and campaign tracking called Realmworks. Right now this product is only available on PC, which stinks for us Mac users like me. However thanks to the podcast interview with Liz Theis (coming next week) I’ve learned Realmworks will one day be available through the web. When that day comes, I’ll be super excited to keep my GM notebook with that product. It’s full of tons of ways to make prep, worldbuilding, story-tracking, and on-the-fly note taking easy. Check out the video below to get more information about what Realmworks can do.

Until then, I’m working on outlining Exploration Age with, you guessed it, Google Drive!

A Postscript – Eberron Fiasco

Also, as a bonus in this blog post, I was going through my old notes and I found a Fiasco playset I created for Eberron. It was supposed to be used in the event I couldn’t make a session, but the players still wanted to play something. That never actually happened, but I think it a group could use this playset in a bunch of different ways. Maybe a way to kickoff a campaign or to create a story that somehow ties into an overall Eberron campaign. If you’re familiar with Eberron, the playset is meant to be set before The Mourning in the city of Making in the country of Cyre. Anyway, it’s super niche, but I thought I’d share since I never got to use it. So on the off-chance you love Eberron AND Fiasco, check it out in the link below. Let me know if you actually use it and how it goes! I’d love to know.

Eberron Fiasco – Making

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