Aug 27, 2015

Best of Friends in the Dungeon

I recent saw the following article about frogs and spiders

Tiny frogs and giant spiders: the best of friends

It seems in some environments, the two will develop symbiotic relationships where the frogs control the threats against the spider's eggs and the spider provides protection to the frog from other predators as well as food remains for the frog.

It got me thinking that in dungeon design, I've often limited monster pairings, like goblins and ogres, kobolds and dragons, based on intelligent monsters that can communicate and knowingly set up a social contract based on mutual benefit.

As observed, theses mutual relationships can develop among a variety of animals, from pilot fish and sharks, to certain birds and crocodiles.

How can you use this in your game? Well, first, it allows you to explain why certain animals are in such close proximity without one having wiped out the other, an issue often cited as a problem of poor dungeon design. Second, it offers a way to allows knowledgeable PCs to be able to anticipate threats. For instance, if the party is in a swampy area and comes across the plover birds, the druid or ranger might be able to make a Survival roll to know that these birds, especially in large numbers, possibly indicate that crocs are nearby, allowing the party a chance to do something, set traps/alarms, or spend extra time watching the waters to prevent one or more from sneaking up.

Either way, it can be a fun way to add a bit more detail into your world and your dungeons.

Jul 21, 2015

Getting Some Inspiration!

Awhile ago, I noted that at D&D Adventure League tables that I ran, few of the players had never had DMs who used the new Inspiration mechanic from 5th Edition.

Worse, in games I played as a player, none of the DMs used the mechanic, which I think is great way to help encourage roleplaying at any D&D table (from AL to home games).

To try and turn the tide, I wrote a little article about it for the D&D Adventure League website, which you can check out here:

I hope you check it out and feel free to leave any feedback (good or bad) on the official website (You can leave feedback here, but more people will probably see your comments there).

Jun 5, 2015

Looking for a Brothel? Right Over Here

Recently during my weekly D&D game, I had my players tracking an NPC in a city with the purpose of abducting and getting information out of him about a greater villain they sought. The only known location the NPC could be found was a local brothel he frequented on a regular schedule.

Since I didn't have any brothel maps in my collection, it was off to the Internet. I thought this was going to be a fruitless search, when what to my wandering eyes should appear? An article on a former brothel for sale, complete with a floor plan of the building.


Since I wasn't planning on combat in the brothel, I didn't bother to make a battle map out of the floor plan, but I did have it on hand for reference as the PCs scouted out the interior of the building, as they checked out this room or that.

Anything on the map that was modern, I just changed to some other type of room, or left the door locked.

In case you need such a building in your own game (for whatever reason), here's the link to the article and map. Be warned, while I wouldn't consider the article NSFW, others might.

(Article on the building)

(Link to the floorplan)

May 7, 2015

Rise of the Minotaurs (in 5e)

If you're a Dragonlance fan, and a Dungeons and Dragons 5E fan, you'll definitely want to take a look at the recent Unearthed Arcana article on the Wizard's site.

This new article series on the site presents unofficial rules, or rules in development for the game. This recent article goes by the unassuming title of "Waterborne Adventures", but for the Dragonlance fan should be "Rise of the Minotaur" since the article presents, for the first time, rules for minotaur PCs. In addition to the minotaur race, it also includes a Mariner fighting style, along with some goodies for rogues and sorcerers.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the article were the sidebars where the designers gave their behind the scenes commentary about what they were accomplishing, and how to apply the same principles to other race or monster modifications.

Since its only a 5 page article, it's a quick read, and well worth the time, Dragonlance fan or not.

Apr 30, 2015

The Lego / D&D Project: Part 3

In our previous two project posts, we looked at building chairs and tables (and benches). In this part, we'll build on the previous two articles and look at ways we can dress up those tables with a bit more detail to really help bring a scene to life.

And the best part is, Lego has already done most of the work for you.

Let's get started...

Imagine the PCs come in to a bar/inn and look around. You can set up a couple of tables, each with something on the table to hint at what the NPCs are up to and maybe how the PCs might approach them.

If the NPCs are drinking out of mugs or goblets

then the PCs might want to buy the next round.

But if the NPCs are playing cards (and winning or loosing money)

then the PCs might want to join the game.

If there's a big feast going on, complete with various meats and breads, laid out on nice dinnerware,

then those might the kind of people willing to hire the PCs.

And lastly, you can use various Lego pieces to flesh out any room, from adding pots and cauldrons

to books, quills, and ink jars.

The options for using Lego to help dress up your game really are only limited by your imagination.

And what if you don't have a good imagination? Let's look at ways around that next time.

Mar 26, 2015

DM Tools: Cites of Mystery

Last post, I talked about rediscovering an older 2nd edition product, and how, after re-reading it, found it's almost as useful today as it was back then. After that realization, I decided to go back and dig up the companion product to Dungeons of Mystery, Cities of Mystery and give it a second look.

Cities of Mystery actually came out before Dungeons of Mystery, but I didn't buy this when it first came out, so these reviews are actually in purchase order, not release order. Turns out Cities is, like Dungeons, almost as useful now as before. Of the 64 pages of content, the only useless material is the few monster stats the book provides in the City Adventures section, and that's only because they are in 2e format. The other 99.8% of the book is just as relevant today.

Like Dungeons, this book provides a top down look at cities, from such broad ranged topics as where to locate them, to what types of governments and rulers run the city. This is great if you have no idea in mind, just look through the pages and let your inspiration wander. If you have some details already in mind, the next level of book gives you a bit more detail, what types of historical events affected the city and what type of defenses does the city have -- from nothing all the way up to city walls, friendly monsters, and air patrols.

For even more detail, it offers ideas on handling taxes, special events, and kinds of work the PCs can find in town. One of the most useful sections I found were the handful of charts to quickly roll up and detail what shops are in the city, are its wares high quality, and what's the demeanor of the owner. These can easily be used at the table for existing towns that might need a bit more fleshing out, when the PCs end up staying longer than you planned.

Lastly the book offers a sample city (but it's not really that impressive), and a collection of adventure outlines. You'll still need to do some considerable work to flesh them out, including making interior maps for the building they visit. All of the adventures (not surprisingly) take place in the city and make use of one of the major draws of the product, the maps and fold up buildings. And if those few adventures aren't enough, the very last page includes a dozen more adventure seeds, each one a single paragraph that can easily be worked up in to a single game session.

As for the street maps and fold-up buildings, they (since they came out before Dungeons of Mystery) set the standard that didn't deviate in the follow up product. The maps are all modular, and the buildings mostly different versions of square and rectangular spaces.

But there are a number of difference that make the fold-ups better in some ways and worse in others. First off, all the buildings have roofs. so they hold their shape and are easily recognizable. There's a good variety of building shapes and design styles, from a stone structure to something more like a peasant home.

The buildings also have some noticeable downsides. Most are too small. A simple 10' x 15' building only has six 5' squares. Depending on how many PCs are in your party, some may be waiting outside if you go in to talk to a shop keeper. Secondly, the buildings have no internal details, so you can't remove a roof and play out an indoor fight. These are probably better for outdoor city scenes where the PCs may be chasing someone who ducks behind a building and seemingly disappears, or is just trying to lure the PCs into an ambush by the thieves' guild members perched on the building roofs.

One last thing to mention. If you look at the product, you'll notice the Forgotten Realms logo clearly above the product name. There is NO specific Forgotten Realms content in this book. Even the sample city, Sauter, is generic with no FR hooks in it's history or description. In fact the sequel product, Dungeons of Mystery (which just had the generic 2E logo), had more FR content, since one of the adventures was FR specific (but one was also DL specific, so the generic label was warranted).

As for Cities having the FR logo, I'm sure some marketing guy came along and said "If it's labeled FR, it'll sell more copies."

That bit of marketing aside, I whole heatedly recommend this product. It's overall more useful since the fold-ups are better than those in Dungeons, and the city content is useful in many different ways. Of course, if you don't run city based adventures often, the value of this product diminishes greatly.

Sadly, neither Cities nor Dungeons are available on D&D, so you'll need to check second hand resellers for a copy of either book.

Mar 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday - Dungeons of Mystery and the Pinwheel of Death

I was going through some old gaming materials, part of my 2e collect, and came across the remains of this little gem: Dungeons of Mystery.

This was one of a number of products that came out in the second edition days to help facilitate using miniatures in your game. This set focused on dungeons (not surprisingly) and provided a number of dungeon themed maps that could be flipped and turned and pieced together in different ways to make each time you used the maps unique.

The product, a skinny boxset,  typical of many other similar 2e releases, also included fold-up cardboard rooms that you could use to build out a dungeon lair. The set did come with a variety of room sizes, and a few other flourishes, like stairs and an alter set up for key encounters. Also there were "doors" that you could attach to the fold-up walls anywhere to show where the door would be for a given room.

I remember building out some, or maybe even all, of the "rooms", but these were really nothing more than 1 in high squares in various dimensions, and all with the same bland stone pattern. To build out a dungeon, you were supposed to use paperclips to attach rooms together. So, for instance, you would attach a 20x20 fold-up with a 10x30 fold-up, and add the door piece to show there was an opening between the two. For me, the biggest issues were how bland the walls looked, leaving all the rooms generic and uninspiring, and the fact that none of the rooms held their true shape. None of the corners were 90 degrees and all of the walls bowed out in the middle. In the end I chucked the cardboard but saved the rest and I'm glad I did.

The book that comes with the product is a great find. It covers a lot of area for DMs to think about with regard to their own dungeon creations, such as what was the structure originally, who's there now, how the ecology of the lair inhabitants "level out". Each topic in the book gave me plenty to think about and new ideas that I want to incorporate in my next dungeon build.

The book runs about 64 pages, with just under half of the book being a system-agnostic essay on dungeons. The remainder of the book is filled out with instructions on the fold-ups, and three scenarios using the fold-ups and maps. It should be noted that all the adventures are second edition, and if you have a good working knowledge of 2e, you can easily convert them to 5e.

Lastly, the boxset also comes with what I call the Pinwheel of Death. Aligning any of the monsters by matching color (green, blue, yellow) gives you any instant snapshot of who in in your dungeon, from the boss monsters, the minions, and the vermin. You use this as a way of quickly generating a dungeon on the fly, or to just give you an idea or two in the planning stages.

So, in finale, Dungeons of Mystery, turns out to be a great product, and one that I'm moving from my 2e back pile to my ongoing reference/inspiration books on my 5e bookshelf. Check it out and you may end up doing the same thing.