Thursday, February 21, 2013

Erratic Posting Schedule

Greetings all,

Just wanted to let you know that the posting schedule on the blog is (hopefully) going to be:

Campaign Update on Monday or Tuesday (for weeks when the campaign is run - every other week)
Becoming a DM/GM on Wednesday
Ask the DM on Thursday (assuming there are questions to use - need your help with this one - keep sending/posting questions!)

I'm also going to be doing another blog of just random geeky things, it'll be my random thoughts on geek news, reviews of some of my favorite things (comics, games, books, movies, etc) and basically anything else that comes to mind... Feel free to check that out as well! (

Remember to drop your questions and comments below or via email

Until Next Time,

Your Humble DM,


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Ask the DM (2/14/13)

Welcome to the first session of "Ask the DM"

We'll be answering your questions from the comments and from email!

Question 1:

I have a question regarding the "always say 'you can try'" point you explained at the start of the post. In my previous campaign, the PC's arrived at a village where the 'mayor' was long-absent, without the knowledge of the people. When they decided to search for him they first went to his mansion, and after receiving no response broke in, only to find it abandoned and dilapidated, though still full of belongings. And so, they proceeded to raid the mansion, in search of magical items.

So, how do I react to this? I had not at all thought of this, and found it quite creative, albeit amoral, and so I let it pass giving them a few magical items. In hindsight, maybe I shouldn't, since it felt like an extremely cheap way of acquiring them, and some of the items I gave were a bit out-of-context for a mayor (although he wasn't exactly ordinary).
Should I reward their idea and let them have their items, give them another challenge before letting them find the equipment (in which case, what challenge?), or just deny it outright?

Personally, this is why I say "you can try". In this situation, can they search the Mayor's house for magic items? Sure they can, that doesn't mean he had any. If it doesn't make sense for the Mayor to have any magic items, then the heroes don't have to find any.

Another way to handle this, now that you've given them items they found in his house, is to make it part of the story. Why did the mayor of a small village have powerful magic items in his home? Was he in with some organization? Why did he leave them if he left of his own accord?

By having them find things that don't belong, you have a way to perhaps pull them into a larger plot or story...

Don't be afraid in the future when they search something like this to say "you find mundane items, but nothing really exciting". Just remember, allowing them to attempt something doesn't mean it has to be a success, they can search and not find things.

Question 2:

Death becoming a VERY easily overcome obstacle only a few levels into the game, how can I make it an actual considerable consequence, without completely removing the raise dead ritual and company?
I suppose my question is how can I make life or death consequential for the players?

There are a couple of options here. One is to have players lose a level or lose experience from dying and resurrecting. Losing experience you worked for is not fun and generally players will avoid it.

Another option is to make the components for the resurrection spells very hard to find. Perhaps the local religious group holds a monopoly on the market so they can charge exorbitant prices for resurrections (this should be beyond what the characters can afford)

Yet another option is to have the soul of the character not be there when the others try to resurrect him, perhaps they have been resurrected by some bad guy and have to be rescued, or perhaps they are trapped in the underworld by some evil thing...

Another fun option I've seen is to have death/resurrection take a mental toll on the characters. Every time they die and resurrect, the DM assigns them some sort of mental problem. Perhaps they now have multiple personalities, or perhaps they have some other crazy condition... Imagine how traumatizing it could be to die and be brought back... perhaps the PC didn't like what they saw...

Question 3:

Concerning DM-run characters:
The last adventure I ran was for a small group of only 3 PC's, which soon became 2. Not wishing to make combat encounters too small, I decided to make a character for me to run, having read a bit on the subject, and deeming 2 characters per player a bad idea.

I made an actual PC-type character, with a character sheet and all, with all the powers, equipment, etc. I was very careful, however, as to make the character as unnoticeable as possible:
Albain was a human shielding cleric, with essencially nothing but support abilities, making him very easy to run. Also, he was much less noticeable in combat, dealing very little damage, but filling in the much-needed leader role (and very well, for that matter; his healing word restored the bloodied value of the party's striker). 

I was able to make much more interesting encounters, with a larger exp budget, all the while leaving the PC's in the limelight. Albain spoke very little, only when the PC's were stuck or silent, and usually only made perception and diplomacy checks, as demanded by the other characters.
He was however, still a somewhat complex character, at least compared to NPC's, and took some effort to manage. Also, his minimal contributions might have been a bad thing in some ways, since the party size felt like only 2; maybe I could have milked this character a bit more.

I am now starting a new campaign, with players unfamiliar with roleplaying games. Is this the best choice in this situation? Would an NPC be better, contributing a bit more and possibly acting as an an walking "quest hub", or is the very discrete and easy-to-part-with cleric the way to go?

This is a tough question. Most people are pretty split on the idea of the DM having a "member" of the group. I've found that having an NPC be part of the group can be a blessing and a curse. You want to make sure that NPC (or PC if you choose to run a full PC) is not becoming the star of the group and you don't want your PCs constantly looking to them for the "right answer".

There are a couple ways to do this, one of my favorites is to have the "scared healer" approach. If your group needs a healer, you can make an NPC healer who is perhaps afraid to fight. He will always suggest the least violent or dangerous course of action if asked and will try to shy away from fighting. If you give them some personality, this NPC can become a quirky and beloved member of the group.

It is possible to run a full DM PC, but I would recommend treading lightly, and I wouldn't recommend it for new DMs, you already have a lot to keep track of without having to worry about a full character as well...

That's all for today,  a special thanks to Lucas for the great questions...

Post below or email me ( with any questions you might have or topics you'd like to see discussed!

Until next time,

Your Humble DM,

Quick PS - For those who haven't tried it, I'm absolutely hooked on Fire Emblem: Awakening - great game, check it out if you get a chance!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Becoming a DM/GM (Part 6)

Today on Becoming a DM/GM, we're going to talk player character death.

Let me get this out of the way quickly... YOUR PCs WILL DIE

Unless you take drastic steps otherwise, your PCs will find ways to get themselves killed...

I know I've used this quote on the blog before and it still rings true here...
“The worthy GM never purposely kills players' PCs, He presents opportunities for the rash and unthinking players to do that all on their own.”
-Gary Gygax

You will never have to try to kill your PCs, they will do a great job of finding creative and exciting ways to get themselves killed all on their own.

There are a few options when it comes to dealing with PC death...

1.) Don't allow PCs to die...

This is... BY FAR... the worst option. I would highly recommend against this option ever being used.

This option will completely suck the fun and excitement out of your game faster than you can say "god mode".

There's nothing more boring than trying to play a game where your character can't possibly die. Think about the last time you played a game with "god mode" on... how fast did you get bored? It's fun being invincible for a short time, but eventually you run out of things to do and get bored and move on.

I will say, there are times I will give the PCs an "extra chance" to save themselves, or will adjust an encounter on the fly if I made it too difficult. I will not however, save the PCs from dying to a bad choice, or even to crappy die rolls. If those happen, they happen, there are other ways to deal with PC death that are much better...

2.) Allow the player to reroll a new character (if they don't want to play the old one anymore)

If I am faced with this situation, I will usually allow them to reroll at the same level as the party is currently, and give them magic items and gold roughly equivalent to what the rest of the party has. Some DMs will start new characters a level or so behind to make sure people aren't just constantly dying/rerolling. Personally, I don't mind if people decide they want to reroll to a different character (I don't ever like "forcing" my players to play a character they don't enjoy, it's no fun for anyone...)

This solution works well, but you will notice that players will tend to become attached to their characters, meaning they may not want to start over... in which case, there is another option...

3.) Bring the character back in some story related fashion

I feel this is really the best option if your player doesn't want to roll a new character. There are multiple ways this can be done, one is to have the party go about getting the character resurrected, including having one of the PCs do it (if they have one that can do so).

Some other options are to have the PCs go on a quest to "save" their friend.

A great example of this is the PAX 2010 Game - the group goes to Hell to rescue Wil Wheaton's character who died.

Not much else to say on this topic...

Comment below with your ideas/ways of handling PC death!

Also, comment below or email with questions - we'll be doing "Ask the DM" tomorrow!

Until Next Time,

Your Humble DM,


Saturday, February 9, 2013

"Ask the DM"

Greetings all!

Sorry about the lack of a post yesterday, unfortunately life got in the way a bit...

Look for a new "Becoming a DM/GM" post on Monday.

Also, I'd like to start up a new section here on the DMs Journey, but I need your help!

I'd like to start an "ask the DM" section... 

Do you have a problem you need help with? Have your PCs completely run off the rails and run amok in your world? Do you have a rules question or need help designing an encounter?

Drop me an email at with your questions and see them addressed right here on the blog!

I look forward to your questions and concerns!

Until Next Time,

Your Humble DM,


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Becoming a DM/GM (part 5)

Today's Becoming a DM/GM will be just some general tips and tricks that help you as you DM whether it's your first game or you're a seasoned pro.

1.) Always say "yes, but" or "you can try" when a player asks "can I..."

This is a piece of advice that's thrown around quite often and it's with good reason. Your goal as DM is to encourage your players to roleplay and think creatively, and this rule helps with that a great deal. Telling a player no generally shuts down this kind of thinking instead of promoting it. 

This doesn't mean that you let your players run roughshod over you and do whatever they want, but it means that if they have an idea that it outside the box, as long as they are willing/able to overcome your handicaps associated with the idea, they can do it. 

So if a player decides they want to have a pet dragon, or wants to design their own class, or wants to try something outlandish "I'd like to convince the King to give his throne to me because I'm the long lost relative of an ancient King" If they can overcome the penalties/setback associated with that choice, or live with the consequences if they fail, then let them try it...

Along with this is the idea that I've spoken of before, allowing automatic successes on a natural 20 and automatic failure on a natural 1. Players may try to abuse this idea by trying outlandish things hoping to roll a natural 20, but this is easily overcome. Make the "punishment" or "bad stuff" associated with failure match the difficulty/outlandishness of the action. So using the earlier example, if they try to convince the King and fail, perhaps the King has them thrown in prison or executed for impersonating royalty. 

Using this rule has led to some very interesting situations in my campaigns. I had one player who was playing a Barbarian and the group was fighting a pack of dire wolves. He decided he wanted to try intimidating one of them into "surrendering". He succeeds with a 20, so not only does said wolf surrender, but he has a new companion. 

Also, I never have a problem with players wanting to change or add "cosmetic" things to their characters. I had one player who wanted a pet spider to follow him around. It couldn't/wouldn't attack and gave no real advantages for the most part (he used it in creative ways once in a while). 
If you have a player who wants to have his fireballs be green instead of red, or who wants their lightning bolt to be black instead of white... let them have it. It'll have no real impact on the game and it lets the player do something to "personalize" their character. 

2.) You are not the players enemy and you don't win anything for killing off all the player characters... in fact you lose when you do...

This is something that many DMs, new and old, seem to forget. Your goal is not to kill the PCs, your goal is to tell a story with the PCs, and if they all die, the story ends. 

You will be playing the monsters against the heroes, and it is your job to challenge the heroes. This does mean that sometimes they will get themselves killed. Players are notorious for doing dumb or careless things that get their characters killed. You don't need to actually do anything to make this happen, it will happen naturally as you play. You don't want to be engineering things just to kill a PC, let them get themselves killed instead.

This is not to say that your monsters and NPCs shouldn't fight intelligently or that they shouldn't employ tactics and strategies against the PCs... it does mean, however, that you should  not be designing a world just to kill your players. Design a world that is interesting and let your players loose in it...

3.) If you want your players to do something more often, reward them for doing so...

Do you want your players to RP more? Give them extra XP when they find a way to solve a problem via RP instead of just hacking their way through it. 

Want them to try figuring out a creative solution to a puzzle or problem? Perhaps that creative solution means that the bad guy is more willing to negotiate with them, and offers them a ton of gold and magic items for letting him live... 

If you want your players to use more creative means to solve problems, reward this. If you want them to RP more, reward them for doing so, if you want them to fight more (rare, but it could happen) then reward them better for fighting. Whatever the case, make sure they are aware that they are receiving an "extra" reward for what they did, this will cement the idea that it's a good behavior and it will hopefully click for them that they should continue that behavior. 

4.) Don't argue rules at the table, make a judgement and make a note of it so you can revisit it at a better time...

We've all played with rules lawyers... We've all been wrong at the table on how a certain rule or ability works...

Arguing rules at the table tends to bring the game to a screeching halt. Instead of arguing the rules at the table in the middle of playing, you should be making a judgement as the DM, and the table will abide by that judgement. Later, during a break or after the session, you can always revisit that rule/judgement and fix the ruling for the future.

If you have a player who wants to argue the rule, make a judgement and they can look up the rule while it's not their turn, you can always fix it a couple rounds later if necessary. But you don't want to completely stop everything while you page through a book, it's BORING...

Hand-in-hand with this rule is...

5.) At the table, your word is law, make sure your players realize and respect this, also make sure you don't abuse this power...

As the DM, you are making the world and the rules. Your word is law, no matter what the books say. 

Do you want your NPC to be able to wave his hand and transform into a dragon? Then do it... Even if there's not necessarily a rule for it, make one up, but make sure you are consistent with these rules. If you make a ruling on something, make sure that ruling stands for everyone until you have the chance to all agree to "fixing" it later. 

You don't want to make arbitrary judgments, but you want to be able to change the rules as necessary. The rules as written are a great framework, but your job is to bend, manipulate and change those rules as you see fit to tell a compelling story. In my opinion (and that of many of the best DMs I've seen) story trumps rules every time. 

6.) Talk to your players...

This seems like a "duh" tip, but you'd be surprised how many new DMs don't think to do this...

Usually, when I start a group, especially one with players I haven't DMd for before, I like to ask the players what they want to see or fight. They like zombies and want to fight undead? Cool. They like battles with big, epic monsters like dragons and tarrasques? Ok. Do they maybe like to wade into combat against tons of minions and hack their way through? Easy enough.

Try to give your players what they want, but with your own twists on it. 

Don't be afraid to outright ask your players what they like or want and tailor the campaign to their wants... Remember, it's their story, you're just helping them tell it. 

7.) Don't be afraid to reskin things...

Don't be afraid to change the flavor of anything. Do you want your PCs to encounter a goblin brute, but only have the zombie brute available? Change the damage and resistances a bit and you can easily use the stats interchangeably.

Changing the flavor of a monster or NPC can make a huge difference and can save you a ton of time.

8.) Your "bad guys" need a motivation...

All good villains have a motivation of some sort. They have a reason why they do what they do, even the crazy ones. 

The Joker is a great example of a crazy one, but even he has a motivation for what he does, he doesn't just do things randomly, he does them to prove a point. It doesn't matter that the point itself is flawed or crazy, to him it makes sense. 

When you look at the best villains in film and books, they all have some overarching motivation that they are trying to accomplish. Voldemort wanted to rid the world of non-magical people and wanted to become more powerful. (Revenge worked its way in as well in his hatred of Harry Potter). Darth Vader and the Emperor wanted to rule the Galaxy. Sauron wanted to rule the world. They all had a motivation of some sort.

When you design a villain for your PCs to encounter, come up with some grand goal that villain is trying to accomplish. Are they trying to eradicate magic from the world? Are they trying to build an empire? Are they trying to become the most powerful necromancer there is? Are they trying to become a god? 

Make sure the things that villain does work towards that goal. It doesn't have to be apparently right away how those actions work towards the goal (and it can be better if it's not at all apparent until later) but they should have some reason for happening in concert with the ultimate goal of the villain.

and on that note...

9.) The PCs should have a motivation as well...

This goes doubly so for evil PCs (if you allow them), but all of the PCs should have some motivation. 

Not just for the current adventure, but also some ultimate goal. Perhaps they want to become a warlord, perhaps they want to be the greatest assassin the world has ever seen, perhaps they want to create a new form of magic, or their own spells through years of study. 

Whatever that end motivation is, the PCs should be moving towards that motivation with things they do. It doesn't have to be a specific goal, it can be something as vague as "I'd like to spread the teachings of my god", but they should have some goal or motivation to work towards. This can also change as their character progresses.

For evil characters, I try to head off the "I'm going to be a jerk randomly because my alignment says evil." If you want to play evil that's fine, but you can't just be a jerk for no reason. If you're doing something evil, it should be to further your eventual goal. 

One way I try to stem off the "random jerk acts" from evil characters is to punish those acts harshly when they are just random, instead of working towards the character's goal. 

"Oh, you decided to randomly kill that barmaid for no reason? Well, she was actually a rather important person and her friends are none too happy about it and are sending hit squads to take out you and your companions."

Also, if you choose to do this, make sure the party knows that they're having a tougher time because of what that character did... they will help to keep the character in check themselves...

10.) Your players will upset or avoid your carefully laid plans... expect this and be able to adapt...

A nearly universal rule of DMing is that your players will always find some way to upset or bypass your carefully laid plans. The rule of thumb seems to be... the more time you put into planning that encounter or dungeon, the higher chance they'll find some way to completely avoid it... 

Be ready to improvise, sometimes that improvisation will put them back on the path you have prepared, other times you'll be improvising a whole new path, either way, your players will always find new and interesting ways to surprise you.

Did you plan for them to fight a dragon at the end of the current dungeon, and they decide to try and negotiate with it instead? Let them, either find some way for the dragon to decide to attack via negotiation, or allow them to actually negotiate their way out of it, perhaps said dragon can even become a "patron" of the PCs, giving them quests to do for him in exchange for rewards...

I hope these tips help you out in your journey as a DM... do you think I forgot some important tip? Tell me below!

Until Next Time, 

Your Humble DM,

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Some favorite things of mine...

Today's post is going to be a rather short one, just a few of my favorite D&D related links...


Chris Perkins DM Commentary: This is Chris Perkins commentary about the game he ran for the writers/talent behind Robot Chicken. He gives a ton of insight into how he runs his games and you will learn a lot from this guy...

The PAX live Penny Arcade/PVP/Wil Wheaton games:

I can't say enough about these, you won't really learn as much, but they are great entertainment - I think they're hilarious and entertaining

Gamers: Dorkness Rising This is the 2nd in the "Gamers" series, and I think the best of the two... Here's a link to the first part of the first Gamers as well - check them out for a laugh!


Order of the Stick: The art style is all stick figures, but the story and jokes are great... definitely enjoyed (and still enjoying) this one...

DM of the Rings: This one isn't still going, but it's worth going back to read. It's basically the idea of what might happen if a DM were to run the Lord of the Rings as a typical D&D game - not only is the comic great, but his comments to go along with the panels are good.

Looking for Group: Roughly D&D based comic - quite funny... worth the read

Table Titans: Fairly new comic from Scott Kurtz - quite funny!


A Song of Ice and Fire (link to the first 4 books): The only bad thing I can really say about these books is that George RR Martin has been taking a long time to finish the series... There's also a successful HBO show as well... These are completely worth the time to read!

Sword of Truth (link to first 3 books): I really like this series, I started reading it while it was still coming out, and really grew to like it. The later books in the series get a little dicey, but his most recent addition "The Mother Confessor" is a great addition to the series. 

Wheel of Time (link to first book): I actually just got into this series, I'm currently working my way through the 2nd book and really loving the series... the final book in the series was just released recently: "A Memory of Light"...


"Nerd Poker: Dungeons and Dragons with Brian Posehn and Friends" Is an excellent D&D podcast, it's quite entertaining and you'll get a good laugh (fair warning, they are quite loose with the rules so if you're a rules stickler you might not be as into it)

"Critical Hit": Another podcast of a group playing D&D - worth the listen - a LOT of back episodes so it's quite an undertaking

What are some of your favorite fantasy/D&D links and media? Share below!

Until next time

Your Humble DM,

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Becoming a DM/GM (part 4)

Today's topic on Becoming a DM/GM is party balance.

This topic is something that comes up often when players are deciding what character they want to play. Some DMs will require that their party have some sort of balance or follow the basic "holy trinity" (tank/healer/DPS)

Personally, I would rather have my players play whatever class/race/kind of character they want. I find that when players are forced into a role like tanking or healing that they don't really want to do, they end up not having fun and quitting...

As the DM, there are multiple ways to adjust for a party that is missing a piece or is not balanced.

1.) Design

You can design encounters based around the lack of a certain archetype. This is easier for some things that might be missing and a bit harder for others. For instance, the lack of a rogue or any character with thievery skills can be compensated for by giving traps and locked doors a solution that doesn't require thievery. Perhaps you use traps that can be disarmed through the use of the arcana skill, as well as thievery. Perhaps the players can break down the locked door (not exactly stealthy, perhaps they have to fight a group of guards that respond to the noise)

Designing around not having a healer or tank is more difficult but still quite possible. 

For a healer, perhaps you make things like healing potions and "charged" items of healing more plentiful. Perhaps the group gets items like a wand or belt "of healing" with so many charges, or perhaps they receive plenty of healing potions...

The other design option for not having a healer is to make the game feel more "real" in the sense that getting into a fight is a dangerous thing and doesn't happen as often. 

Working around the lack of a tank can be difficult as well, and I honestly haven't found a solid way to deal with this from an encounter design perspective aside from just making the encounters easier...

2.) Running a Dungeon Master Player Character (DMPC)

This is a pretty hefty subject. While this can be used to help balance the party, it can also be a slippery slope to a really bad gaming experience for everyone.

The biggest downfall or temptation here is to make your DMPC the star of the show and to make them more powerful than the other characters are. This is a terrible thing. Your players should be the stars of this show and they should be the ones driving the action. Your job as DM is to make the world unfold before them and let them tell a story in that world, not to just tell a story to the players where the DM is just talking to himself. 

Some DMs run a PC in every group they run, others will never run a PC or even play in a group where the DM is running one. 

So while this can be a solution, I recommend you use it with caution and sparingly. 

3.) Putting an NPC (or a string of them) into the party to fill the gap

This is, in my opinion, the best option presented. You can fill party gaps fairly easily using an NPC, and it's a much better solution than using an running an actual character as the DM. 

There are a couple of ways to make sure that the players won't lose the spotlight or use the NPC you give them as a crutch. 

For example, perhaps in a party with no healer, the king sending them out to do his bidding offers a healer from his court to go along. This healer is part of an ancient sect that takes a solemn vow of silence and pacifism, going so far as to not even defend himself if attacked. Perhaps he gives them a healer who is great when it comes to healing, but is an enormous wuss. He will always recommend the course of action that shows the least risk if asked, and will try to avoid fighting at all costs.

For a tank type character, think perhaps a character like Ser Ilyn Payne from the "A Song of Ice and Fire" series. Great with weapons, but had his tongue cut out and can no longer speak or perhaps a half-orc who doesn't have the ability to speak beyond a few words but can understand what's being said. Another option here would be a character similar to Chewbacca - he can understand everything but speaks a different language that can only be understood by one (or none) of the party members. 

These are some of the options you can take when trying to fix a party that is not balanced. 

PS - currently reading Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" Series - if you haven't checked it out yet - pick it up! It's an excellent series and completely worth the read!!