Posts Tagged ‘worldbuilding’

The following playtest material (the Exemplar class by Mike Myler) appears in Book of Celestial Heroes, a part of the Book of Exalted Darkness Kickstarter. Unlike BoED the supplement this appears in is for the D&D 5E players and GMs that dig on the holy decopunk utopian world of Askis but aren’t that keen to playing evil adventurers. There are builds for Simon Belmont (from Castlevania) and King Arthur of Camelot (really a very silly place) to illustrate some exemplars at work over on Mike’s website. All of the illustrations below are by the principal artist for the project, the talented artist Indi Martin.

(Note from James: I’m a part of this amazing Kickstarter too! I’m making magic items!)

Leaping to the stage, Daedrus looked out at the discontent villagers and raised his voice above the din of the angry crowd. “Hear me, good townsfolk,” he bellowed, gesturing toward the bound nobleman, the disheveled man’s fine clothes marred by bits of rotted fruit and his arms held fast by trustworthy Terrea. She nodded to him, squeezing the villain’s wrists to make the deposed ruler wince. “Lord Balcroft’s duplicity has wounded you, but surely, are you not better than he?” A stronger quiet overtook the mob as all turned their faces to the hero, unsure of the violence they were so bent upon. “Ask yourselves—will you be known for this foul man and the act of killing him, or rather as a town that overcame corruption and has grown all the stronger for it?” His voice practically dripping with honey, he asked the calmed citizenry before him one last question: “To where would you wish to take your family and raise your children?”

Whoever her father truly was, Apollyta reckoned, he either had a strange sense of humor or a consistent desire to see her dead. Remembering the tricks she used when last a dragon tried to burn her to death, she quickly gulps a breath of air before the fire heats it then rolls with the blast of flame and into cover behind a weathered pillar, barely scorched as the enormous creature slithers the rest of its body into the antechamber. Summoning a touch of her divine power, Apollyta slams into the stone with the very strength of the gods driven through her shoulder—the ancient rock cracks and falls, crashing down into the dragon and winning her a scream of enraged pain as the monster retreats hesitantly, fearful that its prey may not be as weak she first seemed.

Nami put her shoulder into her shield, depending on it to save her life for the thousandth time and trusting in its magic to ward away the ogre’s club. The force of the creature’s blow makes her stumble backwards and nearly breaks her arm, but the magic in her treasured relic holds before unleashing a brilliant flash that blinds the monster. Unslinging the enchanted shield from her arm Nami throws it with all the strength she can muster, sending the metal hurtling through the air and into her giant assailant’s face before it bounces back to her arm, affixing itself with magic. As a half dozen of the ogre’s teeth bounce onto the ground she raises her scimitar high and calls out to her innate connection to the weapon, empowering it with her spirit and lunging forward, the power shimmering from her blade inciting fear in her enemy’s eyes as she moves in to make the killing blow!

Hunching at the entrance of the cave, Fethgar followed the corrupted beast’s trail of blood with his greataxe in both hands, the blade wavering just a foot above the ground. The half-orc thinks of the meal he spiced with sceletium and tamanu oil as the stench of the creature’s lair nearly overwhelms him, the herbs raising a fire in his blood that only deepens his resolve to slay the wretched monster. Stepping softly around a corner Fethgar sees his quarry once more, the wounds he inflicted at the beginning of the chase still fresh. It growls angrily at the sight of him and the hero returns the same, his eye flashing a deep crimson that makes the gash on the slathering thing’s torso flare with red energy as it springs forward, teeth gnashing at the air!

Where others succeed by blade or spell the exemplar forges ahead with an adventurous heart, implacable will, and a hell of a lot of good luck on their side. Many a mage or warrior distinguishes themselves with heroic deeds and grand triumphs but an exemplar defines their own path, weaving it with those of others touched by greatness or fate and relying on an abundant spirit that refuses to yield no matter what challenges lay ahead. The merit of these iconic champions is that they are not measured by their victories—it is their character that inspires the myths and legends left in their wake.

Abundant Spirit

An exemplar is born destined for greatness not by fate but by the nature of their soul, imbued with a potent lifeforce  that drives them to constantly search for ways to make the world a better place. This impulse frequently brings exemplars into the mouth of danger but it is there where they shine brightest, inspiring their allies and performing truly great deeds when the need is most dire by drawing upon the same thing that brings violence into their lives. Even when utterly destroyed by the foulest of magics the powerful spirits of these champions live on long after their death, the stories of their trials and triumphs passed down in epic poems or ballads that withstand the ravages of time.

Courageous Heart

One thing that can always be expected of exemplars is that they will do what they believe is to be good and right. Though this often makes them predictable such meritorious behavior quickly emboldens reputations for being reliable and trustworthy. This is not to say that an exemplar is necessarily brash or foolish (many employ brilliant tactics or exceptional cunning) but the urge to undo evil runs strong in them and true malevolence must be met with bravery and perseverance—whether tomorrow or after years of careful preparation.

Creating an Exemplar

The first thing to decide when making an exemplar is how they are distinctive—are they aloof and mysterious, spoken of reverently in whispers by tavern candlelight? Perhaps they were thrown into the throes of destiny after discovering a relic in the wilderness, something that has emboldened them with confidence and daring? Maybe your hero is bound to greatness by blood, their divine ancestry weighing heavy on their shoulders, or the inspirational qualities of your character drew you to protecting those who look upon you so fondly? Regardless of how the world looks upon them, what triumphs and deeds have they achieved so far?

While the archetypal focus of your exemplar is important, the hero’s nature as an exceptional specimen of their kind is not to be ignored. A halfling exemplar’s incredible bravery is rewarded with good fortune, half-orc exemplars push themselves back from the brink of death with tremendous strength, a dwarf exemplar has an iron stomach and can weather countless blows, and so on. How does being a model of excellence among their kin influence the way your hero perceives the world? Do they embrace their gifts with humility? Has their destiny-bound soul brought tragedy to their life or the lives of those they care for?

Alignment. Exemplars must be of good alignment. An exemplar whose alignment becomes anything other than chaotic good, lawful good, or neutral good cannot level in this class again until their alignment changes back to good.


As an exemplar, you gain the following class features.

Hit Points

Hit Dice: 1d10 per exemplar level.

Hit Points at 1st Level: 10 + your Constitution modifier.

Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d10 (or 6) + your Constitution modifier per exemplar level after 1st.


Armor: Light armor, medium armor, shields

Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons

Tools: None

Saving Throws: Charisma and any ability score of your choice.

Skills: Choose any three skills.


You begin play with the following equipment, in addition to any gear acquired through your background.

  • (a) chain shirt or (b) studded leather
  • (a) a martial weapon and a shield or (b) a greatsword
  • (a) a light crossbow and 20 bolts or (b) a longbow and 20 arrows
  • (a) a dungeoneer’s pack or (b) an explorer’s pack

Table: The Exemplar

Level Proficiency Effort Points Features
1st +2 Fighting Style, Heroic Archetype
2nd +2 2 Heroic Archetype, Heroic Effort
3rd +2 2 Bravery, Friendly Reputation
4th +2 3 Ability Score Increase
5th +3 3 Extra Attack, Heroic Archetype
6th +3 3 Lesser Paragon
7th +3 4 Rally
8th +3 4 Ability Score Increase
9th +4 5 Courageous
10th +4 5 Heroic Archetype
11th +4 5 Extra Attack (2)
12th +4 6 Ability Score Increase
13th +5 6 Greater Paragon
14th +5 7 Never Stay Down
15th +5 7 Heroic Archetype
16th +5 7 Ability Score Increase
17th +6 8 Battle Hardened
18th +6 8 Instinctual Reflexes
19th +6 9 Ability Score Increase
20th +6 9 Supreme Paragon

Multiclassing Prerequisite: Charisma 13

Proficiencies Gained: Light armor, shields, simple weapons, martial weapons, and either medium armor or one skill of your choice

Heroic Archetype

At 1st level, you determine the fundamental nature of the destiny that lay before you: Enchanted Warrior, Epic Hero, People’s Champion, or Slayer, all detailed at the end of the class description. Your choice grants you features at 1st level and again at 5th, 10th, and 15th level.

Fighting Style

You adopt a particular style of fighting as your specialty. Choose one of the following options. You can’t take a Fighting Style option more than once, even if you later get to choose again.


You gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls you make with ranged weapons.


You can use Dexterity instead of Strength for the attack and damage rolls of your unarmed strikes, and you can roll a d4 in place of the normal damage of your unarmed strike. When you reach 11th level in this class, you deal an additional 1d4 damage with your unarmed strike.


While you are wearing armor, you gain a +1 bonus to AC.


When you are wielding a melee weapon in one hand and no other weapons, you gain a +2 bonus to damage rolls with that weapon.

Great Weapon Fighting

When you roll a 1 or 2 on a damage die for an attack you make with a melee weapon that you are wielding with two hands, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll, even if the new roll is a 1 or a 2. The weapon must have the two-handed or versatile property for you to gain this benefit.


When a creature you can see attacks a target other than you that is within 5 feet of you, you can use your reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll. You must be wielding a shield.

Two-Weapon Fighting

When you engage in two-weapon fighting, you can add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack.

Heroic Effort

Beginning at 2nd level, you learn how to reach deep into yourself to draw upon your abundant spirit, performing impossible tasks that defy belief. This reservoir of power is represented by a number of Effort points. Your exemplar level determines the number of points you have, as shown in the Effort Points column of Table: The Exemplar. You can spend these points to fuel various effort features. You start knowing four such features: Hero’s Ire, Heroic Stand, Implacable Resolve, and Stroke of Luck. You learn an additional heroic effort feature from your heroic archetype. When you spend an effort point, it is unavailable until you finish a short or long rest, at the end of which your spirit replenishes. Some of your effort features may require your target to make a saving throw to resist the feature’s effects. The saving throw for these features is 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier.

Hero’s Ire

As a bonus action, you can spend 2 effort points and choose a creature that you can see. For the next minute you gain a bonus to attack rolls and weapon damage rolls equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum 1) when attacking that creature.

Heroic Stand

You can spend 1 effort point to take the Dodge action as a bonus action on your turn.

Implacable Resolve

As a reaction, you can spend 2 effort points to gain a number of temporary hit points equal to your exemplar level. These temporary hit points last until the beginning of your next turn.

Stroke of Luck

As a reaction, you can spend 2 effort points to reroll an attack roll or saving throw. You must choose to use this feature before the results of the attack roll or saving throw are revealed.


Also at 3rd level, your heart is bolstered by the glory of your accomplishments and an insatiable desire to overcome whatever stands in your way. You gain advantage on saving throws against fear.

Friendly Reputation

Starting at 3rd level, your uplifting reputation is well-known and earns you some small acts of kindness. You gain the following benefits.

  • When you reach an inn or tavern, you may make a DC 8 Charisma check to see if your reputation precedes you. On a success you are given free lodging, drink, and food. The GM may decide that no check to be recognized is required because someone who works in the establishment knows you already or has seen you recently.
  • You may convince merchants to sell you goods for a more modest price. If you succeed on a DC 12 Charisma check to be recognized, you gain advantage on an ability check to determine the final price of an item that costs 50 gp or less. You may exploit your reputation to persuade merchants this way a number of times equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum 1). Expended uses recharge after a long rest.

Ability Score Improvement

When you reach 4th level, and again at 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level, you can increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or you can increase two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can’t increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.

Extra Attack

Beginning at 5th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn. The number of attacks increases to three when you reach 11th level in this class.

Lesser Paragon

Starting at 6th level, you begin to unlock your truest self and embody the best parts of your ancestry. Others of your kind often look up to you, granting you a +1 bonus on Charisma ability checks when dealing with other members of your race. You gain one of the following benefits:

Human. You gain proficiency in two skills and a tool kits. You may choose a second tool kit to replace one of your new skill proficiencies.

Dwarf. Your darkvision increases to 200 feet.

Elf. You gain advantage on Perception and Stealth checks.

Halfling. You can spend your bonus action to Dash or Disengage.

Half-Elf. Choose two of your skill proficiencies, or one of your skill proficiencies and your proficiency with a tool kit. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses either of the chosen proficiencies.

Half-Orc. You regain the use of Relentless Endurance after finishing a short rest.

Gnome. You gain advantage on all Intelligence ability saving throws and tool checks, and you are able to perfectly recall any memory of an event you experienced within the past year.

Aasimar. You gain immunity to radiant damage.

Dragonborn. You can use your Breath Weapon feature twice between rests.

Tiefling. You are able to see through magical darkness. In addition, you gain advantage on saving throws to resist the blinded condition.


Beginning at 7th level, you can bellow forth a shout of resolve from the core of your being that inspires your compatriots to never give up. By spending an action yelling, you bolster the health of a number of creatures equal to your proficiency bonus. Each creature gains a number of temporary hit points equal to your exemplar level.

You may also choose an additional number of creatures equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum 1) for a secondary effect so long as each is at 0 hit points or has died within the last minute. A creature at 0 hit points gains advantage on its Death saving throws. Recently deceased creatures reroll their most recent Death saving throw with advantage (though any additional Death saving throws that result are made normally).

Creatures must be within 60 feet of you and must be able to hear or see you to benefit from this feature. Once you use this feature, you must finish a long rest before you can use it again. You can use this feature twice between long rests starting at 14th level, and three times between long rests at 20th level.


At 9th level, you cannot be cowed and the very sight of you lifts the spirits of others. You gain immunity to the frightened condition and allies able to see you gain advantage on saving throws against fear.

Greater Paragon

At 13th level, your excellence achieves new heights as you become even more iconic among your species. You gain one of the following benefits:

Human. Choose one ability score and increase it by 2. Alternatively, you may choose two ability scores and increase both by 1. Your maximum for the chosen ability score (or ability scores) increases to 22.

Dwarf. You gain immunity to poison damage and the poisoned condition.

Elf. You gain immunity to the charmed condition.

Halfling. Once per minute, your Lucky feature activates on a roll of 2.

Half-Elf. When a creature targets you with a spell that causes the charmed condition, it makes a Charisma saving throw (DC 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier) or becomes confused (as the spell) for a number of rounds equal to Charisma modifier (minimum 1).

Half-Orc. When you score a critical hit with a melee weapon attack, you may choose to reroll one of the weapon’s damage dice, using the highest result.

Gnome. You can nimbly dodge out of the way of certain area effects, such as a red dragon’s fiery breath or an ice storm spell. When you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, you instead take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, and only half damage if you fail.

Aasimar. You gain immunity to necrotic damage.

Dragonborn. You gain immunity to the damage type associated with your draconic ancestry.

Tiefling. You gain immunity to fire damage.

Never Stay Down

Starting at 14th level, you refuse to give up even when your body desperately wants to shut down. You gain advantage on Death saving throws.

Battle Hardened

At 17th level, you have weathered so many blows that your body has toughened considerably, reducing the effectiveness of certain attacks. You gain resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage.

Instinctual Reflexes

At 18th level, your life of daring has honed you, making jumping to action something you do almost without thought. When you roll an initiative check, you may choose to treat your roll as a natural 20. Once you use this feature, you cannot do so again until you finish a short rest.

Supreme Paragon

When you reach 20th level, you become truly legendary among your people and your exploits are bound to become the stuff of myth.

Human. You can add half your proficiency bonus to any ability check or saving throw you make that doesn’t already include your proficiency bonus. For checks that already include your proficiency bonus you gain a +2 bonus.

Dwarf. Your Constitution score increases by 4. Your maximum for that score is now 24. Creatures are at disadvantage when attempting to move you with attacks or spells. In addition, you have advantage on checks and saving throws to resist being moved.

Elf. Your speed increases by 15 feet, your jump distances are doubled, and creatures have disadvantage on opportunity attacks made against you.

Halfling. Your Dexterity score increases by 4. Your maximum Dexterity score is now 24. In addition, you do not treat movement through other creatures squares as difficult terrain.

Half-Elf. Increase two ability scores by 2. Your maximum for these ability scores increases to 22.

Half-Orc. Your Strength score increases by 4. Your maximum for that score is now 24. In addition, if you have at least half of your total hit dice remaining you may expend them as a reaction to use Relentless Endurance after the feature run out of uses.

Gnome. Your Intelligence score increases by 4. Your maximum for that score is now 24. In addition, you gain a bonus to AC equal to half your Intelligence modifier.

Aasimar. By spending 1 effort point as an action, you grow a set of angelic wings. Your wings grant you a fly speed of 50 feet and remain for 1 hour. As long as you are airborne, you gain a +2 bonus to attack and damage.

Dragonborn. Your Charisma score increases by 4. Your maximum for that score is now 24. In addition, you add your Charisma modifier to the damage of your Breath Weapon (minimum 1).

Tiefling. You may cast haste and dimension door using your Infernal Legacy feature. In addition, you regain your uses of the Infernal Legacy feature on a short rest.

Enchanted Warrior (Heroic Archetype)

The spirit of an exemplar sometimes gravitates to a legendary weapon or piece of armor, their lifeforce unlocking the relic’s power to carry them from obscurity and into the halls of greatness. Bolstered to achieve the impossible by the enchanted items unique to them, long after their demise the artifacts of these heroes are enshrined by those they championed to be looked upon by generations to come with the same reverence of a religion’s first holy tome.

Enchanted Item

When you choose this archetype at 1st level, you find or are gifted an item with a special connection to you. Choose one of the following: a light armor, a medium armor, a shield, or a weapon. While wearing or wielding your enchanted item you gain benefits from this heroic archetype, but in the possession of any other creature your enchanted item is a mundane piece of equipment.

Armor or Shield. You gain a +1 bonus to two saving throws of your choice.

Weapon. When you take the attack action on your turn, you gain a +1 bonus to the attack roll.

Draw Power

Starting at 2nd level, you can spend 1 effort point to empower your enchanted item.

Armor or Shield. When you are hit by a spell attack or weapon attack, you may choose to reduce the amount of damage the attack deals by your Charisma modifier (minimum 1).

Weapon. After successfully hitting a creature, you may choose to deal an additional amount of damage equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum 1).

Unlock Power

At 5th level, you begin to unlock the true power of the item connected to your soul. Your enchanted item gains an enchantment pool with a number of enchantment points equal to half your proficiency bonus. These enchantment points are spent on the enchantments below; unless otherwise noted, each enchantment costs 1 enchantment point.The benefits of your enchanted item cannot be changed until you gain a new exemplar level. Whenever you or the GM rolls to randomly determine a magic item you receive from a quest or treasure hoard, if it would be the same type of item as your enchanted item (weapon, armor, or shield) you may choose to reroll the result. An enchantment can only be chosen once per Enchanted Item.

Enchanted Armor. Your enchanted armor grants a magical bonus to AC equal to half your proficiency bonus, rounded down.

  • Blinding. When you are struck by a critical hit from a melee weapon attack you may spend 1 effort point to cause your armor to flash with dazzlingly bright light, forcing your attacker to make a Dexterity saving throw. On a failure, your attacker is blinded for a number of rounds equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum 1).
  • Deafening. When you are struck by a critical hit from a melee or ranged weapon attack you may spend 1 effort point to cause your armor to crack like booming thunder, forcing creatures within 10 feet per exemplar level to make a Constitution saving throw. On a failure, a creature is deafened for 1 minute. As this feature is activated you can choose a number of creatures equal to 1 + your Charisma modifier (minimum 1) to automatically succeed their saving throws against it.
  • Holy. While wearing your enchanted armor, you cannot be charmed, frightened, or possessed by aberrations, fiends, and undead.
  • Reciprocating. When you are hit by a melee weapon attack, you may spend 1 effort point as a reaction to make a melee attack against your attacker.
  • Shadowed. Your armor grants advantage on Stealth checks. If your armor causes you to have disadvantage on Stealth checks, it no longer causes you to have disadvantage.
  • Tempered. Your armor has a number of fortification charges equal to half your Charisma modifier (minimum 1). When you are struck by a critical hit your armor removes a fortification charge, changing the critical hit into a regular hit. When there are no more fortification charges, this feature of your armor ceases to function. You regain all expended fortification charges when you finish a long rest.

Enchanted Shield. Your enchanted shield grants a magical bonus to AC equal to half your proficiency bonus, rounded down.

  • Blinding or Deafening. As above.
  • Catching (2 points). When you are successfully hit by a ranged weapon attack or spell attack and wearing your enchanted shield, you can spend your reaction to negate the attack.
  • Edged (must have weaponized). Your enchanted shield grants a magical bonus to attack and damage equal to 1/3 your proficiency bonus.
  • Sacred. You can spend your bonus action to force an evil creature that can see your enchanted shield to make a Charisma saving throw. If the saving throw fails, until the start of your next turn the creature makes attacks against you with disadvantage.
    Unless surprised, a creature can avert its eyes to avoid the saving throw with its reaction. If the creature does so, it can’t see you until the start of your next turn. If the creature looks at you in the meantime, you may spend your reaction to cause it to immediately make the saving throw.
  • Throwing (must have weaponized). Your enchanted shield has the thrown property with a normal range of 20 feet and a long range of 60 feet. Immediately after you throw your enchanted shield, regardless of whether or not you hit, it flies back to your hand and re-equips itself.
  • Weaponized. Your enchanted shield is a martial weapon that deals 1d6 bludgeoning or slashing damage (chosen when this enchantment is chosen) on a successful hit.

Enchanted Weapon. Your enchanted weapon grants a magical bonus to attack and damage equal to half your proficiency bonus, rounded down.

  • Elemental (2 points). Choose one of the following types of energy: acid, cold, fire, lightning, poison, psychic, or thunder. Your enchanted weapon deals an additional 1d6 damage of that energy type. This damage multiplies on a critical hit.
  • Forceful. When striking a creature or object that is immune to bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage, the creature treats their immunity as resistance instead. By selecting this effect a second time, your weapon ignores a creature’s immunity or resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage (even magical weapon damage).
  • Graceful. The first time you attack with your enchanted weapon on each of your turns, you can transfer some or all of your weapon’s magical bonus to attack and damage to your Armor Class instead. For instance, you could reduce your magical bonus on attack and damage rolls by 1, and gain a +1 bonus to AC. If you possess two enchantment weapons, you must reduce both weapons’ magical bonus to attack and damage (this does not double your bonus to AC).
  • Holy. Your enchanted weapon deals an additional 1d8 radiant damage against creatures of evil alignment. This damage multiplies on a critical hit.
  • Lethal. When you score a critical hit with your enchanted weapon, your total bonus to damage is doubled.
  • Sharp. When attacking a target wearing armor, you receive an additional +2 bonus to the attack roll.

Arm and Armament

At 10th level, you acquire a second Enchanted Item with its own enchantment pool. If you already have an enchanted weapon, you gain an enchanted armor or enchanted shield. If you already have an enchanted armor or enchanted shield, you gain an enchanted weapon. Alternatively, you may choose a second enchanted weapon but only if it has the Light property.

Combined Essence

Starting at 15th level, when you finish a long rest and don your Enchanted Items, each gains 1 additional enchantment point you can immediately spend on an enchantment. When you reach 20th level in this class, each gains 2 enchantment points instead. Whatever enchantments you choose immediately cease to function when one of your Enchanted Items leaves your possession or whenever you next finish a long rest.

Epic Hero (Heroic Archetype)

When a god chooses to mate with a mortal the divinity of their offspring does not always immediately present itself. For some of these demigods the true power of their gifts must be earned, either through redemption at the feet of their parent’s rivals or a set of epic trials. Of all the various types of exemplars these are the most likely to achieve a place in a culture’s mythology, living on for millennia as the protagonists of fables and archeological musings.

Signature Attribute

When you choose this archetype at 1st level, select one ability score. You gain a +2 bonus on ability checks with that ability score.

Mythic Touch

At 2nd level, you can spend 1 effort point as a bonus action to gain advantage on an ability check using your Signature Attribute as a touch of your divinity beguiles the senses of others or passes through you to grant physical power.

Uncanny Resilience

At 5th level, your guile, incredible timing, luck, or impressive hardiness protects you from the elements. You gain resistance to two of the following: acid, cold, fire, lightning, psychic, or thunder.

Signature Attribute

At 10th level, you choose a second ability score to be a Signature Attribute.

Epic Resilience

Beginning at 15th level, when you make Death saving throws you do not die until you have 4 failures and you treat a roll of 19 as if it were a 20.

People’s Champion (Heroic Archetype)

Often seen as the most mundane of exemplars, people’s champions become truly beloved by common folk and live more vividly in the minds of those they defend than any of their peers. Whether roving about the land in search of wrongs to right or answering the calls for aid from villages that seek them out, the people’s champion and their unfailingly loyal ally distinguish themselves not just with their achievements, but also the flair and panache with which they win the hearts and minds of their fellows.


When you choose this archetype at 1st level, you gain proficiency with two skills and one tool kit.

With Style

At 2nd level, you develop a knack for performing crucial tasks with finesse when the stakes are high. Choose four skills you are proficient with. You can spend 1 effort point as a bonus action to gain advantage on an ability check that uses one of these skills. You may choose a tool kit to substitute for one of these skills.

Loyal Aide

At 5th level, you gain the services of a devoted and loyal squire. Your squire may have small differences (like a different height, weight, race, gender, or disposition) but otherwise has the same statistics you did at half your current level, beginning play with attribute modifiers equal to half your positive bonuses, rounded down (so if you have a Strength of 18 and Constitution of 15, your squire begins with a Strength of 14 and Constitution of 12), or 10. When you reach 8th level in this class, and 11th, 14th, 17th, and 20th level, your squire gains a level (taking the same character options that you did, except that it does not gain starting equipment, this feature, or a background). At the time you gain this feature your squire trusts you implicitly and performs tasks you give them so long as you do not request anything illegal, suicidal, or in opposition to your alignment. The GM may decide that certain orders you give require a Charisma check against DC 8 + the companion’s level + the companion’s proficiency bonus. If your squire dies, you must wait one month before recruiting a new squire. Though they do not accrue levels as quickly as a PC, your squire counts as a PC for determining XP rewards.

Slick Escape

Beginning at 10th level, you’ve had so many close calls in a fight that you naturally step and flow through combat without hesitation. Your movement never provokes opportunity attacks. In addition, you can stand up from prone as a free action on your turn.

Sterling Renown

At 15th level, your exploits are the talk of taverns all over the region and you are practically a living folk hero. You gain the following benefits:

  • You have advantage on all Charisma-based ability checks with commoners, guards, and street merchants.
  • You are always able to find a safe and clandestine place in which to acquire food and secure shelter free of charge (even if you are a wanted criminal).
  • When you are tracking someone, common folk reveal to you as much as they would to a trusted friend. If you are tracking another exemplar, the information is revealed so long as your exemplar level is higher than your quarry’s.
  • You are able to easily arrange for meetings with local rulers as well as distant empresses and kings.

Slayer (Heroic Archetype)

For some exemplars there is no greater evil than the corruption that spreads from monsters preying on the innocent and weak. These adventurers hunt down villainous creatures, traveling across the world in search of their quarry with admirable resolve. Unlike other exemplars, slayers often retain an air of mystery to protect those close to them and infuriate their more intelligent nemeses—vampires, liches, and other horrors endowed with as much brilliance as supernatural power. Once one of these abominations has come within the exemplar’s notice, however, it is only a matter of time before the slayer (or one of their descendants) enacts a righteous kill.

Hunter of Monsters

When you choose this archetype at 1st level, choose a type of hunted monster: aberrations, beasts, dragons, fey, fiends, giants, monstrosities, oozes, or undead. You have advantage on Wisdom (Survival) checks to track hunted monsters, as well as on Intelligence checks to recall information about them. You choose one additional hunted monster at 5th, 10th, and 15th level. As you gain levels, your choices should reflect the types of monsters you have encountered on your adventures.

Slayer’s Mark

At 2nd level, you can spend 1 effort point as a bonus action to mark a creature you are able to see. This creature must be of the same type as your hunted monster. You gain a +1d6 bonus to attack and damage rolls made against a creature you have marked. A mark remains for 1 minute. You can maintain a number of marked creatures equal to your proficiency bonus.

Holistic Resilience

Beginning at 5th level, you learn what herbs and spices are needed in your diet to maximize your body’s natural defenses. You have advantage on saving throws made to resist abilities and spells from your hunted monsters. In addition, you learn how to make holy water.

Potent Strikes

At 10th level, your Slayer’s Mark increases in potency, changing from a +1d6 bonus to a +1d8 bonus. In addition, you gain the following two Heroic Feature options:

  • Honed Strike. You may spend 1 effort point after successfully hitting a creature you have marked to add double your Charisma modifier to your bonus damage for that attack (minimum +2).
  • Zealous Strike. You may spend 2 effort points immediately after killing one of your hunted monsters to make a weapon attack against a creature within your reach (or range if you are wielding a ranged weapon).

Supernatural Resistance

Starting at 15th level, you gain resistance to necrotic damage. You are immune to necrotic damage that would permanently lower your hit points and when a creature attempts to inflict permanent hit point damage to you, it takes 6d4 radiant damage.

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!

Hey I just wanted to let you know I’m contributing to Mike Myler’s Book of Exalted Darkness which you can back on Kickstarter right now!

At the beginning of the year I unveiled my plan to make Enora my first fully published world.

With that world comes new monsters, races, subclasses, and more. I’m now adding a druid circle to the flying world – the Circle of the Sky.

Note that what is below is considered playtest material. Please let me know what you think!

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rick Hershey / Fat Goblin Games

Circle of the Sky

The Circle of the Sky is made up of guardians and warriors who wield the power of lightning and thunder to destroy their enemies from above. These protectors watch from the trees, mountains, and sky, preferring to ambush their prey as a falcon does a mouse. The circles meet at high places, like the peaks of mountains or tops of trees, to exchange reports about the movements of marauding monsters, such as gnolls or orcs, and plan coordinated attacks. Circle of the Sky druids are vigilant and suffer none who would destroy nature for personal gain.

Bonus Cantrip

When you choose this circle at 2nd level, you learn the hurl lightning cantrip.

Cushion of Air

Starting at 2nd level, you can cast the feather fall spell on only yourself without needing to expend any spell slots or material components. You must finish a short rest before you can use this feature again.

Circle Spells

Your mystical connection to the sky infuses you with the ability to cast certain spells. At 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th level you gain access to druid circle spells connected to the sky as indicated on the Circle of the Sky Spells table.

Once you gain access to a circle spell, you always have it prepared, and it doesn’t count against the number of spells you can prepare each day. If you gain access to a spell that doesn’t appear on the druid spell list, the spell is nonetheless a druid spell for you.

Circle of the Sky Spells

Druid Level Spells
3rd gust of wind, shatter
5th lightning bolt, fly
7th freedom of movement, greater invisibility
9th cloudkill, telekinesis
Embrace of the Gray Sky

Starting at 6th level, you can add your Wisdom modifier to any spell you cast that deals lightning or thunder damage. In addition, when you make an attack in a beast shape while using Wild Shape, that attack deals an extra 1d6 thunder damage.

Limitless Heights

When you reach 10th level, you can cast the levitate spell on yourself at will without expending any spell slots or material components, and you are resistant to thunder and lightning damage.

Skyborn Champion

At 14th level, you can expend two uses of wild shape to transform into an air elemental.

In addition, you can use your action to give yourself and a number of creatures within 30 feet of you that you can see a fly speed equal to their walking speed for 1 hour. Once you use this feature, you cannot use it again until you finish a long rest.

New Spell: Hurl Lightning

Of course for this new class, we need a new cantrip. Hurl lightning is described below and can be added to any druid’s spell list at the DM’s discretion.

Hurl Lightning

Evocation cantrip

Casting Time: 1 action

Range: 90 feet

Components: V, S

Duration: Instantaneous

You throw a small bolt of lightning at a creature or object within range. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. You have advantage on the attack roll if the target is wearing metal armor or made of metal. On a hit, the target takes 1d6 lightning damage.

The spell’s damage increased by 1d6 when you reach 5th level (2d6), 11th level (3d6), and 17th level (4d6).

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!

Hey I just wanted to let you know I’m contributing to Mike Myler’s Book of Exalted Darkness which you can back on Kickstarter right now!

At the beginning of the year I unveiled my plan to make Enora my first fully published world.

With that world comes new monsters, races, subclasses, and more. I’m now adding a paladin oath to the undead world – restoration.

Note that what is below is considered playtest material. Please let me know what you think!

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rick Hershey / Fat Goblin Games

Oath of Restoration

The Oath of Restoration binds paladins to the task of rebuilding what once was. Sometimes called rebuilders or restorers, these paladins nurture civilizations, clear monsters from ruins, heal scarred lands, help refugees reclaim their homes, and mend the wounds of the injured. Unlike paladins who swear an Oath of Vengeance, restoration paladins focus on the work of bringing back what is lost rather than making the guilty pay.

Tenets of Restoration

The wording of the tenets of restoration vary from paladin to paladin, but all share the same ideals about rebuilding, nurturing, and protecting others.

Stop Wanton Destruction. Those who destroy for the sake of themselves must be stopped at all costs.

Reclaim Homes. It is never too late to help another reclaim a lost homeland.

Anything Can Be Rebuilt. With enough time, will, and determination, any place, relationship, or life can be reforged.

Civilization for All. Any creature that desires shelter, education, good health, and the trappings of society should have access to such and be accepted.

Rebuild Hope. Optimism is key in inspiring yourself and others to uphold reclaim what once was.

Oath of Restoration Spells
Paladin Level Spells
3rd sanctuary, shield
5th lesser restoration, spike growth
9th beacon of hope, plant growth
13th aura of life, fabricate
17th greater restoration, mass cure wounds
Channel Divinity

When you take this oath at 3rd level, you gain the following two Channel Divinity options.

Greater Mending. As an action you touch a broken object, such as a cracked wagon wheel, two halves of a shield, a torn tapestry, or a leaking dam wall. As long as the break or tear is no larger than 3 feet in any dimension, you mend it, leaving no trace of the former damage. If the item you repair is a magic item, you restore magic to such an object. If the item you repair is a construct, you can repair it, but you cannot restore its magic.

Restore the Fallen. As an action choose one living creature reduced to 0 hit points that you can see within 30 feet of you. That creature regains one-third its hit points (rounded down).

Improved Lay on Hands

Starting at 7th level, with your Lay on Hands healing pool, you can restore a number of hit points equal to your paladin level x 10, and you can use this pool to restore hit points to objects.

At 18th level, you can expend 100 hit points from your healing pool to return a creature to life that has died within the last minute. That creature returns to life with 1 hit point. This feature can’t return to life a creature that has died of old age, nor can it restore any missing body parts.

Mutual Destruction

Starting at 15th level, you can rebuke your attackers with holy light. When a creature within 5 feet of you that you can see hits you with an attack, you can use your reaction to cause that creature to make a Dexterity saving throw. This saving throw DC equals your paladin spell save DC. On a failed save, that creature takes 2d6 radiant damage.

Aura of Durability

At 20th level, as an action, you can emanate an aura of strength and determination. For 1 minute, you and your allies within 30 feet of you have resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons and have advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects. Once you use this feature, you can’t use it again until you finish a long rest.

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!

At the beginning of the year I unveiled my plan to make Enora my first fully published world.

With that world comes new monsters, races, subclasses, and more. I’m now adding a sorcerous origin to the undead world – lichtouched.

Note that what is below is considered playtest material. Please let me know what you think!

Publisher’s Choice Quality Stock Art © Rick Hershey / Fat Goblin Games


Your innate magic comes from some place of dark energy. Your parents may have been cursed by a powerful undead spellcaster. You could have visited a plane of negative energy. Perhaps you were even once an undead creature yourself. The reason you attuned to necromantic magic may never be clear, but what is obvious is that you can wield this power as easily as any lich.

Withering Grasp

When you choose this origin at 1st level, you gain the chill touch cantrip if you don’t already know it. In addition, when you cast and deal damage with chill touch, add your Charisma modifier to the damage roll of the spell.

Flesh of the Dead

Starting at 1st level, your flesh takes on a dull gray or stark white appearance. You are resistant to necrotic damage and have advantage on saving throws against effects that reduce your hit point maximum.

Consume Soul

Starting at 6th level, when a creature you can see dies, you can use your reaction to consume its soul. You regain 2 sorcery points and the creature’s soul is destroyed as a result. You can use this feature twice. You regain any expended uses when you finish a long rest.

Blood of the Dead

Starting at 14th level, you are immune to disease and poison. In addition, whenever deal necrotic damage to a creature with a spell you cast, that creature cannot regain hit points until the start of your next turn.

Undead Being

Beginning at 18th level, you can channel necrotic energy to become ghostly. As an action, you spend 5 sorcery points to draw on this power. For 1 minute or until you lose concentration (as if you were concentrating on a spell), you gain a fly speed equal to your walking speed and you can move through other creatures and objects as if they were difficult terrain. You take 1d10 force damage if you end your turn inside an object. While in this form, you are resistant to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons as well as acid, fire, lightning, and thunder damage.

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!

A new episode of Table Top Babble is now available!

James Introcaso sits down with Karl Resch and Quinn Wilson of Swallows of the South to discuss incorporating player input in your games.

Subscribe on iTunesGoogle Play, or Stitcher. Grab our RSS feed.

Follow Table Top Babble on Facebook or Twitter.

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’m going to write a post that is self-indulgent. I guess that’s true about every post on this blog in one way or another, but this blog post is going to be a story in which I am the central character, which is a little unusual for this site. Usually it’s some crazy monster, magic item, piece of advice, or game mechanic that takes center stage. If you hadn’t guessed from the title, this post will tell you how I became a somewhat, kinda, sorta, maybe, known creator in the world of tabletop roleplaying games.

I’m writing this post because several people have asked me how I “made it” in the industry. To be honest, I’m not sure I have “made it” at least by the modern definition. I’ve got a full-time gig outside the industry as a TV commercial writer/producer (which I really love). That being said, I do get paid to work on some pretty great projects in the industry and I am doing more in this space than I dared to dream, so in some ways I guess I have “made it” in this industry. At least made it further than I expected.

Still I thought sharing my story might be helpful for anyone out there interested in a freelance RPG design career, but I will say that my path is unique and involves a lot of luck, so I’m not sure it can be replicated. I was inspired to share thanks in part to the requests I got, but also by a recent episode of the Down with D&D podcast in which designers and podcasters Shawn Merwin and Chris Sniezak shared their own stories. Definitely check out the episode because they have great stories and a lot of amazing advice.

The Tome Show

In Fall of 2013 I was listening to a lot of podcasts and playing tons of D&D with my friends on Roll20. The D&D Next playtest was in full swing and I devoured every piece of D&D news I could find. One of my favorite programs was the News Desk on The Tome Show, but it only came out once a month. I searched for other D&D news podcasts, but most were actual plays, none with D&D news. I remember telling my then-girlfriend, now-wife, Bonnie, that I wanted to listen to a weekly show that covered the latest D&D news in-depth. I told her there was no show out there like it (that I knew of) and Bonnie said, “Why don’t you make it?”

What did I have to lose by giving it a shot? I already knew how to edit audio… but I didn’t know how to book guests, build an audience, or even submit a podcast feed to iTunes. At the time I was listening to backlogs of the now-defunct D&D advice podcast Critical Hits hosted by Mike Shea of Sly Flourish. At the end of each podcast he gave our his contact information, including email, and encouraged folks with questions to reach out. I emailed Mike, thanking him for his awesome contributions to the community and asked for advice on starting a podcast. I soon realized how gracious he truly was. The man gave me 600 words of free advice and told me if I wanted more I should contact Jeff Greiner, the creator and owner of the aforementioned Tome Show podcast.

Already a subscriber to Jeff’s show, I eagerly went to him for advice next. Jeff asked me to pitch him my idea and without even knowing it was coming he offered me a chance to do my show on the Tome Show’s feed, immediately hitting a large audience of subscribers! I admit, this is some pure, amazing luck. Thus my first public RPG-related creation was born: The Round Table podcast. Special thanks to Rudy Basso, Alex Basso, Greg Blair, and Vegas Lancaster for making those first several episodes with me and encouraging me to keep making the show in those first weeks. Extra special thanks to Sam Dillon for actually getting all those episodes on the air. After several months of consistent output, Jeff told me (after I asked a few times) that he trusted me enough to revive the Gamer to Gamer franchise on the network and I started interviewing professionals in the industry. (Shoutout to my first interviewee on that show, Wolfgang Baur!)


  • Listen to your partner.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to people for advice.
  • Be gracious and grateful. People remember how you treat them. Also everyone deserves to be treated like a human.
  • Seize opportunities when luck offers them.
  • Be consistent with you work and don’t be afraid to ask for more after you’ve proven yourself.

The Blog

I was three episodes into The Round Table and seeing thousands of people listening to the show when I decided I should probably use the podcast as a platform to promote something I always wanted to do, but had been too lazy to start – a blog about homebrew design. I had a lot of time on my hands, since Bonnie was on a two-week business trip, so rather than play video games every night (which was my normal MO when she was gone before the blog and podcast), I used the time to create this site. I made a commitment to write two articles a week. To keep myself accountable, I started shouting the site out on the podcast, knowing that I would need to keep it stocked with content if people were going to show up.

The blog’s audience growth was slow, but steady. I started with less than 10 views a day, but as I kept updating it consistently and shouting out new posts to various social media groups and message boards, the views crept up. Now on days when I don’t post something new, I get about 500 hits in a day, but it took me three years to get here.


  • Sometimes you need to put video games and Netflix aside to work on rewarding, fun, creative projects.
  • The best way to build and audience is put out consistent, well-crafted content that you enjoy making.
  • Hold yourself accountable for getting your own projects done. No one else will.

The Work

So how did I finally get paid for some game design? Well my first jobs came from EN5ider and Johnn Four‘s Roleplaying Tips and they came about quite differently.

I had a year of blogging and podcasting under my belt when I saw EN5ider was just starting up. I saw a post on EN World calling for article submissions, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I had been rejected before by Dungeon and Dragon magazines and by the Adventurers League, but I didn’t let that discourage me. Editor James Haeck accepted of my pitch! Give Chase was born… after careful outlining, planning, proof-reading and revising, and revising again once I got notes from James. I made sure to hit each deadline and to listen to the editor’s feedback, incorporating it into the article, rather than rejecting what was said. James and I worked well together and I’ve written a few more articles for EN5ider since then.

Roleplaying Tips came about in a much different way. World Builder Blog was a regular contributor to the monthly RPG Blog Carnival and through that Johnn noticed my work, he reached out to me and asked if I would write an article for his newsletter that gave worldbuilding lessons. I’d be paid for the work and I could repost it here on the blog. That’s a great deal, so of course I said yes. Johnn and I have worked together on a few projects since, including a massive adventure that should be coming soon!

It was about another year before I got to do work for more people. In that time the DMs Guild launched. I already had a heaping helping of fifth edition content on this blog, so I put some of that into PDFs (without having ever done layout). The reputation I had built for myself on the blog and podcast helped get my products some buzz and a few became best-sellers. That’s when things really started to pick up.

The Adventurers League asked me to write an adventure for them and Shawn Merwin asked me to write another for Baldman Games. Roll20’s owners (who I met after applying for their game master job, which I did not get but did give me a chance to make connections with these very cool people) asked me to create their introductory fifth edition adventure, The Master’s Vault. Since then I’ve worked on a few other projects, but those are going to stay secret for now. Many of them are people I have met at conventions.

You know the rest of the tale. I’ve continued to create and since left the Tome Show to create my own podcast network with Rudy Basso. What’s in store for the future? Only time shall tell!


  • Keep submitting to open calls. Rejection happens! That’s ok. Don’t take it personally and keep pitching.
  • Be an active part of the community.
  • Write, revise, proofread, and hit your deadlines. People will want to work with you again.
  • Create, create, create for yourself before someone asks you to do it for them. You’ll learn your craft and build a library of content to show off or even sell.
  • Go to conventions. Meet your heroes, ask them for advice. This industry is smaller than you think and people are super approachable and awesome.

Luck and Hard Work

I clearly owe a lot of people many thanks. I could not have made it to even where I am today without them. My timing worked out and I was very lucky, but I also created some of my own luck by working hard. Hopefully this story helps some of you out there!

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 will likely be no surprise for any of you to learn I was in an improv troupe in college.

Me being hilarious (clearly) with my pal Vegas Lancaster back in 2008.

I know many of us Game Masters heard or read the old piece of advice to say, “Yes, and…” when a player throws out an idea as a way to build story cooperatively. That advice is often immediately followed up or preceded by the person telling you that this idea is a basic rule of improv comedy.

Why not apply improv comedy advice to RPGs? It makes sense. D&D is basically improv fantasy. Dread is basically improv horror. Night’s Black Agents is basically improv super spies vs vampires. And so on. It’s all collaborative storytelling.

The “Yes and…” technique is a handy piece of advice that I employ in my games (to a point, but that’s another post). It got me thinking, “Are there other improv comedy techniques or tips we can steal for our games?” Yes. A lot.

Today I want to share one mnemonic I learned in improv that helps establish scenes and brings NPCs to life. It helps when I need to create an NPC on the spot and breathes pizzaz into any generic shopkeeper or street urchin. It helps give named NPC 41 in a published adventure a personality and backstory without panic. It keeps you calm when the players zig and you expected them to zag. All you need to do is think, “LARCH.” That’s Location, Action, Relationship, Characterization, and History.


When it comes to meeting an NPC, the first thing you should establish is their location. Where an NPC meet the player characters says a lot about that NPC. For instance, if the characters get an invitation to meet the NPC for a meal, do they dine in the common room of a run down tavern, the private club room of an upscale establishment, or the NPC’s home (which could be a home-cooked meal in a shack or a feast prepared by servants in a mansion)? Do they meet for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or afternoon tea? If the characters meet the NPC on the street, is a shadowy alley, paved main street, or trail in the wilderness? All of these details say quite a bit about the NPC by showing the characters where they feel most comfortable. Before you get into describing the NPC, describe their location.


NPCs do not stand around and wait for the characters to approach them. They’re busy people! The evil cult leader is in performing a sacrificial ritual or reading an ancient tome or taking a nap when the characters roll up to her hidden swamp cave. A busy noble asks the characters to join him in his carriage as he rides from one appointment to the next. An urchin begs passersby for copper pieces as she shares rumors with the characters. A scientist browses through some album covers in a record shop as she casually passes the player characters her secret formula. Actions speak louder than words and clue the players into each NPC’s personality. By deciding what actions your NPCs are taking when they meet with PCs, it helps you as the GM settle into that particular character as well.


NPCs should know other people and places in the world beyond the player characters. During conversations with the PCs they should mention friends, acquaintances, enemies, rivals, family, celebrities, favorite dining establishments, inns to avoid, and more.It is most fun to connect new NPCs to people and places already known by the characters. If the adventurers are referred to the NPC A by NPC B, NPC A should mention NPC B’s name and how they feel about that person.

You start to fill out your world with new connections and interesting relationships and plots when you do this. If NPC C hates NPC B who is friends with NPC A, then odds are NPC C also hates NPC A… but maybe not! (Wouldn’t that be interesting?) Forming these relationships helps establish an NPCs character by connecting them to the world and simultaneously builds out your world. It also helps the characters get an idea of who your NPCs are beyond their presented self. If the kindly grandma hates the noble paladin, someone is probably not what they seem.


Personality and mannerisms are two important components to your NPC. When you’re making a new NPC write down an adjective and an character archetype and play to those ideas (e.g. Upstanding Criminal, Cowardly Clerk, Noble Henchmen, Loyal Politician, Mad Scientist). These words should have no strict interpretation. You are the only one who will ever see them. You decide what they mean. For instance “Mad Scientist” could mean an inventor who is angry, or a crazy supervillain with no post-graduate degree of any kind. By writing two words down next to the NPC’s name, you’ll remember more details about the character the next time they cross paths with the PCs.

If you need to create an NPC on the fly, choose or roll on the table below. If you want to take things a step further, use the tables in my NPC mannerisms post.

d20 Adjective d20 Noun
1 Noble 1 Sodlier
2 Sleazy 2 Criminal
3 Reluctant 3 Henchman
4 Pious 4 Scientist
5 Cowardly 5 Politician
6 Stoic 6 Youth
7 Mad 7 Hermit
8 Exhausted 8 Spy
9 Worldly 9 Artist
10 Powerful 10 Scholar
11 Polite 11 Clerk
12 Rude 12 Urchin
13 Excitable 13 Devotee
14 Competitive 14 Outsider
15 Broken 15 Merchant
16 Optimistic 16 Parent
17 Bored 17 Laborer
18 Curious 18 Hunter
19 Cursed 19 Liar
20 Lonely 20 Leader


Your NPCs didn’t just suddenly appear in the world. They have been living in it their entire life (probably). What accomplishments do they still talk about that exist in the world at present? How do they feel about big world-shaking events of the past, or even smaller events, like what the PCs did on their last quest? NPCs should have feelings about events that transpired before they met the characters and should have an impact of their own (no matter how small) on the world. If the merchant up and leaves town because the PCs threatened him, how does the rest of the community react to see their favorite bait and tackle shop close its doors after 20 years because some hooligans scared Mr. Potter? Just like relationships, when you create history, you’re defining your NPC and worldbuilding at the same time.

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!

A few weeks ago I was running a game in my homebrew setting Exploration Age. The characters were on a beach slinging ranged attacks at an approaching metal warship full of anarchist dragonborn. That’s when Vegas Lancaster, who plays Ichabod Dragonsblood, drow bard, asked, “Hey can I cast heat metal on the warship?”

I laughed. “I don’t think the spell can heat up a warship.”

Vegas shot back, “Well it says, ‘Choose a manufactured metal object, such as a metal weapon or a suit of heavy or medium metal armor, that you can see within range. You cause the object to glow red-hot.’ No real parameters on the object otherwise.”

I’m sure this was one of those moments where rules as written clashed with rules as intended. The Dungeons and Dragons default assumption is that most boats, buildings, and other large objects aren’t made of metal so this would never come up. I didn’t realize I’d break the game with my (admittedly ridiculous) battleship.

Since there were plenty of other enormous metal objects in the party’s future, I didn’t want to say yes outright. I also didn’t want to kill a player’s cool idea, so I said, “You can heat the entire ship… if you use an 8th level spell slot.” Vegas agreed and the dragonborn fried.

That got me thinking about how spells could be used with higher level spell slots to do things beyond their normal description and the “at higher levels” description. I came up with a rough system below. Let me know what you think! I’m definitely still playing with it.

Using Higher Level Spell Slots

When it comes to using higher level spell slots in creative ways, there are two things I’m keeping in mind:

  1. I don’t want to step on the sorcerer’s toes. Metamagic is one of the sorcerer’s biggest class features. I’m not going to try to replicate what exclusively belongs to that class.
  2. Warlocks are use higher level spell slots to cast lower level spells. Pact Magic means a high-level warlock is always using 5th level spell slots to cast spells. While this won’t have too great an impact, since the intent is for warlocks to be able to cast a few powerful spells between short rests, I am still going to keep an eye on this, particularly as it pertains to spells that don’t already have an “at higher level” effect.
Increase Area of Effect

Spells that have an area of effect which is a cone, cube, cylinder, line, or sphere, and already contain an “at higher levels” effect in their description are eligible for this spell slot upgrade, which is used in place of the current “at higher levels” effect. The spell’s area of effect dimensions are doubled when the spell is cast using a spell slot two levels higher than the spell’s initial casting slot.

Eschew Materials

Spells that have a material component for which there is no cost listed are eligible for this spell slot upgrade, which is used in place of any current “at higher levels” effect. The material component is not required to cast the spell if the spell is cast using a spell slot one level higher than the spell’s initial casting slot.

Change Save

Spells that require a saving throw are eligible for this spell slot upgrade, which is used in place of any current “at higher levels” effect. If the spell requires a Constitution, Dexterity, or Wisdom saving throw, you can change the save to be one of the others in that list if the spell is cast using a spell slot two levels higher than the spell’s initial slot. If the spell requires a Strength, Intelligence, or Charisma saving throw, you can change the save to be any other save if the spell is cast using a spell slot two levels higher than the spell’s initial slot. You must describe how your spell has changed to require this new save.

Change Damage Type

Spells that deal damage are eligible for this spell slot upgrade, which is used in place of any current “at higher levels” effect. You can change the damage type of the spell to any other damage type if the spell is cast using a spell slot two levels higher than the spell’s initial slot.

Increase Effect

At the DM’s discretion, you can increase the effect of a spell to make it more potent. You propose how you’d like to use the spell. For instance you might say, “I’d to target a creature with and Intelligence score of less than 4 with Tasha’s hideous laughter,” or, “I want to block both undead and fiends with my magic circle.” The DM then determines if this action is possible and if so, what level spell slot should be used to create the desired effect.

To decide which slot should be used, DM’s should first ask, “Does this new effect come close to the effect of another spell?” If the answer is yes, then the spell slot required should be that comparable’s spell’s level plus two. For instance, if a character wants to shape a fireball spell into a 60-foot-cone, that’s an area similar to the 5th-level cone of cold spell, so the DM might tell the character this is possible using a 7th-level slot.

If the desired effect isn’t similar to any spell that already exists, then think about the scale sliding in powers of two. If the change is rather minor, it should cost a spell slot two levels higher than the initial casting. If it is a major change, it should cost four levels higher than the initial casting. If the change completely redefines what the spell can do, it should cost six levels higher than the initial casting. DMs should let the player know this is an experimental process and that rulings may change.

In all cases the spell should gain no other benefits from the higher level casting than what the player and DM agree upon.

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Session 0 is a term applied to a game session before a long campaign where the game master and characters come together to cocreate the world and character backstories. Having a session 0 is fun for many people, but others prefer to jump right in and start playing. I’m here to tell you there’s a way to get the best of both worlds. Simply put your session 0 in the middle of your campaign.

Why Put Your Origin Stories After Your Pilot Episode

Before I start a long RPG campaign, I usually like to get backstories from my players about their characters and have a world ready to go. That method is not for every game master and it’s not for every player. Some people, when forced to write a backstory or create a world, come up with bland and generic ideas that aren’t nearly as interesting than as if they had jumped right in and started playing. The give and take of improvisational storytelling with others spawns amazing ideas about a character’s background a single mind may have never come up with on its own.

For many players and game masters, the fun is in letting the story grow organically. “Oh are there house-sized spiders in this dungeon? Well that’s going to be interesting because I just decided Martha the PC is an arachnophobe!” is a split second decision made by a player that has just turned a normal dungeon crawl an interesting quest of character development. The player may not have thought to come up with that detail when writing a backstory and may not have wanted to add that detail because in Martha’s prewritten backstory she’s already afraid of caribou, waterfalls, and snakes (and one more fear would just be unseemly for a hero). Meanwhile the GM is using their spider dungeon because it was in the description of the pre-created world and now has to figure out a way to get caribou, waterfalls, or snakes into the dungeon to get the same development for Martha the PC. Letting the story form organically allows for some amazing, on-the-spot character development and story moments.

Yet there’s fun to be had in a session 0. We love to tell origin stories! Some of the most-remembered and loved episodes of television are the flashback episodes where we see how the gang of friends or heroes met. So do exactly that. Flashback. After your group has established characters, a world, and story, then go back and have your session 0. Here’s why.

Jumping Right In Allows The Party To Start As A Team

When you jump right into the game with assumption that you’ll flashback to an origin, the party has a reason to start working together. Maybe they don’t know why that is yet, but that’s fine as long as they work together. The reason for doing so will be discovered by all of you along the way if you have confidence in the storytelling abilities of the group. Sometimes an origin session can feel like wrangling cats as you try to bring together individuals with different backstories and motivations. Now when you play out your flashback origin session after characters and stories have been established, the players will feel more motivation to bring everyone together themselves, since coming together is an inevitability.

Better Incorporation of Backstories

The backstories of your characters become better incorporated into the campaign’s overall story if you wait for one to organically appear. If the GM is building the world as the story demands it instead of arriving with one fully fabricated, the overall story of the world can also adapt to fit choices the character makes. It’s an amazing give and take when you jump right in.

How To Run a Session 0 After Your Campaign Has Already Begun

If you decide to go this route with a longer campaign, here’s my tips.

Use Another System

It can feel strange to go backwards in the same system with the same characters. “Just what spells did Bob the sorcerer have at level 1?” A lot of systems have a level 0 character approach you can try, but these characters are usually very squishy and you want some survivability since, presumably, everyone lives through the flashback.

My advice is to use another system. Go for mechanics you’ve always wanted to try to keep it rules light, since you’ll probably only be using it for a session or two. For example: Dungeon World makes a great flashback sessions for games like D&D and Pathfinder. (Thanks for the hint Griffin McElroy of The Adventure Zone!) FATE is another great system that can be adapted to any genre. Both systems allow for heartier starting characters as well, which is a great thing since again, the characters are probably going to make it through the session alive.

A flashback session is a great time to explore a new rules system, since the players are already comfortable with the characters they’re playing and the GM is already comfortable with the world. That means you’ll have less on your mind as you try to tackle the new rules before you.

Give The Characters A Reason To Come Together

Now that you know the characters well, you can find a great reason to bring them together for their first adventure. You can use the relationships the characters have built within the cannon of your story and have a better idea of what matters to them. Plus the players know the characters come together eventually anyway, so they’ll work with the reasons you provide to build a great origin story.

Tie It Into Your Campaign’s Main Story

Now that you know where you’re campaign’s overall story is headed (or at least have an idea), tie your flashback session into that story. Drop hints of what’s to come and let your players bask in their character’s young ignorance. You’ll have a blast!

More Gaming, Less Talk

Many session 0s are chatty, with not a lot of action as people discuss what characters should do and how the world should be. When you do a flashback session, there’s plenty of chatting, but it’s all in character and there’s a lot more gaming action. So get to it!

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 playing RPGs as long as I have (22 years!), then you know keeping combat fresh ain’t easy especially when you’re playing with the same players for a good portion of that time. How can we continue to surprise, delight, scare, and challenge our players who have seen all our tricks a thousand times over?

This week I’ve had the privilege of recording a few Table Top Babble podcasts with successful designers like Mike Shea, M.T. Black, Tony Petrecca, and Jeff Stevens and I asked them this question. These people have written some of my favorite combat encounters ever so I couldn’t let the opportunity slip by.

They all had a common idea about spicing up combat. Encounters share common elements that can be changed to create a challenging and unique battle with minimal effort. Think of each of these variable elements as having a dial that you can turn to make every brawl distinct.

I’m going to breakdown each of these elements below to show how you can use them to make an encounter legendary. You only need to crank two or three of these to make a memorable battle. If you try to play with too many elements at once, combat can get bogged down in the details as players wait for their turns.


Visibility has an enormous impact on combat. Take a look at all the beautiful creatures with darkvision, blindsight, termorsense, and more. Those abilities really mean something and can give players or monsters a leg up in a battle that’s shrouded in darkness (magical or mundane), fog, or illusion magic. Foes who are fully aware of their surroundings might toy with enemies who struggle to get bearings.

Tips For Playing With Visibility:
  • Don’t make it frustrating. Let the players get creative and counteract the fact that they can’t see in creative ways, like creating clouds of flour to reveal invisible enemies or using the momentary light of a fireball spell to get a quick look at the area.
  • If you’re playing on a virtual table use available dynamic lighting features.
  • If you’re playing in person, consider running this particular encounter in the theater of the mind style. Using minis allows players with blind characters to see the position of other creatures and terrain so it ruins shrouded visuals.


The landscape of an encounter can really change the way it is played. A few bits of interesting terrain will create better combat and storytelling in your games even if you aren’t sure how it will all come into play. Let the players surprise you! It’s not up to the DM to figure out how every brazier and tree can be a part of combat.

Tips For Playing With Terrain:
  • Let players get creative. In fifth edition D&D advantage and disadvantage make improv easy by taking a lot of math out of the equation. If a character wants to try to fell a tree onto an ogre, let them try! Even if a task is nigh impossible, failure is a more interesting than saying no. Once your players realize the world is theirs to get creative in, you can lay out the terrain that makes sense in a location and let them decide how to use it.
  • Terrain goes beyond the natural. Stairs, horse-drawn carts, and a ruined half-wall all count as terrain. Don’t just think about the natural world!
  • Smart creatures lair in terrain that favors them. A room where a beholder sleeps might be spherical so the aberration can take advantage of its ability to fly and use eye beams on enemies as they slide to the floor. A white dragon’s lair could be covered in slippery ice that also allows the beast to walk upside down on the ceiling!
  • While grids can make interacting with terrain easy, you can still rock terrain in a theater of the mind encounter. Simply write out some major terrain features on a piece of paper or index card and display it so the players know what they’re working with and against.


Space defines the area where your encounter takes place. Is it a cramped dungeon hall with enemies attacking from either side? Is it an open forest sniper battle with hundreds of yards between enemies? Is it a battle that occurs as the combatants fall through the sky? All three are very different experiences. Cramped spaces make a battle feel desperate and wide open spaces make an encounter epic.

Tips For Playing With Space:
  • Don’t forget the third dimension. Remember that creatures with flying speeds take advantage of height all the time (as do creatures that can’t fly). Adding height to your encounter makes it far more interesting, realistic, and memorable.
  • You can add motion to your battle. Some of the most memorable action sequences in movies take place on the road, in the sky, or on a body of water. Your space can move if it’s a fight on rafts down river rapids or a chase across busy city rooftops.
  • If you go wide, remember to fill in the terrain. You don’t want your combatants to spend the first three rounds of combat simply moving into range of one another.

Hazards and Traps

A great trap or hazard can make a battle memorable all on its own. The floor slowly falling out of a room, a pendulum scythe, or an enchanted tapestry can add delicious layers of complexity to an encounter. If play with this element, be sure you don’t turn up too many other dials, since tracking these things can be a lot of work.

Tips For Playing With Hazards and Traps:
  • Roll initiative for most hazards and traps. That way you remember to use them. (To make it extra unpredictable, roll initiative for the trap at the start of each round.)
  • Let players defeat hazards and traps creatively… or at least let them try!
  • Most monsters are aware of the hazards and traps in their lairs and know how to avoid them.
  • Have a list of simple hazards handy for those random encounters.

Customize Monsters

There’s so many ways to customize monsters that this could be its own series of blog posts. A recent tweet from M.T. Black shows us just 20 of those options:

Reskin monsters, add abilities (using pg. 280 and 281 of the DMG), give them spells, resistances, immunities, and vulnerabilities, and change damage types to create exciting beasties that don’t do what the players thought.

Tips For Customizing Monsters:
  • Don’t worry too much about exact math. If you add a spell or ability that requires a DC, remember that fifth edition D&D’s bounded accuracy system means DC 10 is always easy, 15 is always moderate, and 20 is always hard. Let those numbers be your guide when give a monster a feature that requires a saving throw. If you need an attack bonus for an ability, just pull it from one of the creature’s other attacks.
  • If you want a tough monster, boost those hit points. This is a great way to make a tougher version of a monster without having to adjust anything else.
  • To make things really easy on yourself, just reskin monsters. Want a fire-breathing orc that can fly? Use a fire dragon wyrmling stat block.


Perhaps the largest thing you can do to make combat interesting is change the goal of the encounter. Too often are our battles each side rolling d20s until the other is wiped off the face of the earth. Change the game. If the odds are overwhelming against the PCs but all they need to do is grab a magic sword, stop a dark ritual, or save a prince, the encounter becomes more thrilling. You can read more about this idea in this blog post.

Tips For Playing With Goals:
  • Think about the goal of the monsters. What do they do to ensure they can complete the dark ritual or grab the magic sword before the PCs?
  • How do the monsters react if the characters achieve their goal? Do they flee? Pursue? Explode?
  • Ask yourself, “Which monsters in this encounter will sacrifice everything to stop the characters from achieving this goal?”
  • Don’t be afraid to throw more than one goal into a truly climactic encounter.

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!