DMG Review: Save the Environment

There are three biggies when it comes to adventure locales: the dungeon, the wilderness, and the city. Chapter 5 helps the DM bring them to the table for 5th ed.

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This is another chapter which, to be fair, has been done to death across more than the various D&D editions. It’s a staple of articles, blogs, and every other GM toolbox publication out there. But, what we get here is good, succinct and crucially, relevant.

The dungeon section gets stuck straight into tables to roll on or seek inspiration from. They include, location (including exotic), creator (including sub tables for cults and religious groups, alignments, and class), purpose and history. Then some advice for inhabitants and playing off factions.

It’s finished off with a run down of fixtures, fittings and hazards, which is a bit dull really. Sometimes this DMG does this, it zooms in on some sections (rules for doors) but stays vague and loose on others. I think this is a preference thing rather than a focus thing. But for me it means skimming a few bits to be honest. Also, not much on stocking the thing at this point, and for me, the monsters can have an effect on the design so probably bear that in mind. And being really picky, the sample map doesn’t make me want to explore it, and that’s a rare feat indeed.

Wilderness. Rather than head directly to nuts and bolts we get a couple of essays on travel-as-montage and an hour-by-hour approach. It’s a good read. After that it’s back to the tables to stock your maps. They include: monuments and weird locales, as well as brief discussions on lairs, ruins, strongholds and settlements.

And then the ghosts of previous editions rise with the inclusion of detail for details sake with weather tables for temp, precipitation and wind. Ok, it doesn’t take up much room, but really? The wilderness hazards are more like it, because I can see them getting players interested. More so than “rolls… Yeah it’s light rain today, a few degrees warmer than is usual for this time of year”

Now, back in the day, each of those environments merited entire hardback volumes all to themselves. I say merited, I never personally got much use out of them. What’s presented here is a call back to that, but it’s brief, to the point, and easily skipped if you like. I’ll take that.

Settlements. Again, a classic subject with city books and town guides galore. This DMG hits the randomiser button again for settlements themselves, and the buildings as well as the random encounters you could have within them. It’s all fine, and I rolled up a couple of samples, and they got the grey matter firing. As with the other sections, this doesn’t work as a read, but it does work as a tool to be used. I like that. This stuff is designed to see DMs get dice and note paper out and actually start doing the thing that DMs should be doing, creating. It’s something that I’ve slacked off on in recent years, but this book really encourages it.

There’s some more stuff in the chapter. Brief looks at under/sea and airborne locales, and then traps. Traps? Here? Yep. You can tell the age and or edition of choice of a person by their approach to traps. From the early days of Grimtooth, to the 4e approach of them as a combat component. This book rolls them into the environment chapter on the basis that they are part of the scenery I guess. There’s no hint of xp for defeating them, which is a change. We get eight examples, which is perhaps a little mean, but they act as templates for your own flavour as well. Still, seems a little cursory.

Only a couple of chapters to go in the Mastering the Adventure section now, and I can see how the individual chapters all hinge off of one another. I’m learning as I read (and after 35 years behind the screen I didn’t know I’d still be learning) and I’m keen to read more so I can pull all the threads together. Even now, I reckon I’ve got enough to create my own world and campaign, and that’s quite a big deal.

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DMG Reviewed: N to the P to the C

“By their actions, villains provide job security for heroes.”

Chapter 4 fills in a couple of blanks from the Adventure Design chapter, specifically, making your NPCs. Mind, this is all still words more than numbers, we get further directions to Chapter 9 to fill out the maths. Right now, it’s table time again, along with some basic stuff on followers, hirelings et al. None of that is in any great rules depth, it seems these things are best left to the table if they want complexity (or more likely, in a future setting book designed around Leadership. That would be my guess). Of note, the idea of having different levels in the party crops up as an aside again. This is a change. Never really seen it happen in real life, but I’m not against the idea.

Let’s roll on some tables to get a detailed NPC then.

Appearance 7, missing teeth
Abilities. High, 1, Strength (add a descriptor, like brawny). Low, 6, Charisma (erm… Boring as a descriptor)
Talent, 19, skilled dancer
Mannerism, 4, slurs their words (as per missing teeth I guess?)
Interactions, 4, rude
Useful Knowledge, left to DM (pull this from your adventure design notes perhaps?)
Ideal, choice of six charts, dependent on alignment. I’ll go with Chaotic, 6, whimsy.
Bond, 7, protective of a sentimental keepsake
Flaw/secret, shameful or scandalous history

Ok, that’s loads to work on. I’m thinking about an exotic dancer/wrestler from the wrong side of the tracks, possibly the goblinoid side. Imagine a Mata Hari type character, but with broken tusks. Or something.

What I do like about this is that in fewer than five minutes I’ve got a character with more oomph than many a PC I’ve encountered! I’d need to roll up a few more, but I can already see a pretty interesting set of characters, possibly a weird new party coming from this.

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Next, villains. These are given a massive table to roll on, as befits their importance to the adventure.

Scheme, wealth, marry into it.
Method, torture, the rack
Weakness, falls when an ancient enemy forgives it’s past actions

Ok, so the table might be massive, but the results are fairly pithy. Add this onto the top of your NPC results and you’ve got your main antagonist. Yeah, that works. And I think this rounds out the adventure design quite nicely actually. If anything I’d like longer tables as I’m not sure how much I’d get from these in the long term. But for now, they do a bang up job of getting something down on paper.

Last thing, there’s a bit of crunch in the Villainous Class Options, which include the Death Domain for nasty clerics, and the Oathbreaker option for (anti) Paladins. DM gets the baddies, players get to suck it up.

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DMG Review: Chapter 3 Creating Adventures

I’ve always leaned quite heavily on the module for my adventures. I know that creating my own stuff is an area of my DMing that I’m quite weak on, despite it being commonly held to be “one of the greatest rewards” of DMing. I often just don’t know where to start, and I get all wound up on the formatting and literally lose the plot. 4e was a real help for me in that regard. It’s encounter based design paradigm really got me over a hump in adventure design. It felt like one of those Lego sets where you start off building the picture on the front, but can then start to modify it, or strip it back and custom build it. The real genius of 4e was in giving the DM a massive stack of game Lego bricks and instructions for how to put them together. It’s detractors would say the pictures on the front of the metaphorical boxes weren’t the right ones, but what can you do? Can’t please everyone, though Lord knows 5e tries.

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Fifth ed goes back to making adventure design as much art as science, and really emphasises the word “story” whenever it can. This is the kind of advice that so many folk will skip right past. That’s cool if you are the sort of DM who can dream up scenarios with no bother, but even if that is you, I’d still advise reading though this. Here’s the elements of adventure list:

A credible threat
Familiar tropes with clever twists
A clear focus on the present
Heroes who matter
Something for all player types
Surprises
Useful maps

There’s good short advice for each of these elements. It’s not an obvious list, but it does make sense. Next up is the types of adventures with Location Based getting the first of many inspirational tables. Let’s roll to give you a flavour:

Goals
Dungeon Goal. 7. Find information needed for a special purpose.
Wilderness Goal. 16. Pursue fleeing foes.
Other Goals. 11. Interfere with the operation of a business.
(I guess you would pick one specific goal, or mix them up for a longer scenario. These ones point to a Slaver type affair?)

Important NPCs
Villain. 10. Humanoid cultist
Allies. 8. Raving lunatic.
Patrons. 15. Old friend.
(That ally is a nice touch! Not sure what it means yet, but food for thought)

Location details
(All covered in another chapter. Boo.)

Introduction
1. While travelling in the wilderness, the characters fall into a sinkhole that opens beneath their feet, dropping them into the adventure location
(I think I’ve seen that before? Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan?)

Climax
12. The adventurers must discover the main villains secret weakness before they can hope to defeat that villain.
(Memo to self, bear this in mind when pulling the Monster Manual later. Already thinking: vampire)

Plan Encounters
(Tba)

Not bad! Looking through these lists it’s clear to see that there are little nods to classic modules of the past, as well as new (to me) little ideas to act as springboards for the imagination. With the rolls I made above, yeah, I could make a nice little adventure out of that.

Then it’s on to Event Based adventures, which are acknowledged as slightly more tricky to plot out. There’s a couple more tables here, concentrating on a villain and their overall goal. Then there’s discussion of specific types of scenario with Mysteries, and Intrigue called out. Finally this section is wrapped up with Framing Events. Let’s roll!

62. Migration of monsters.
(Nice. I like the Koru Behemoths from 13th Age)

And complications, twists and side quests. Phew. That’s going to get you a side of A4 covered in good notes in no time at all. For some games (Dungeon World?) that might be all you have to write. For the rest of us though, the chapter then delves into the nuts and bolts of building encounters.

Page 82 is going to get heavy use at my table, as it’s where the combat budgets are set. It’s not complex, but neither is it foolproof like the 4e version was. The big difference is a return to single monsters as the default combat encounter. 4e loved the cantina band approach, and that’s still possible, but adds in multipliers to XP tables. There’s also explicit guidelines to the ‘adventuring day’ that 4e really hammered home. Here it’s a bit looser, but the structure is available to help everyone stay on message.

And finally, a couple of pages on building Random Encounters tables. These were conspicuously absent in 4e, as everything in that game was tooled to precise tolerances. With the return to vague story ideals, this section uses the old Wandering Monsters trope as a world building device. Yeah ok, I guess. Not for me, but I don’t begrudge it being there.

Overall. A good chapter, full of interesting tables that really help you get past the blank page syndrome. After that it’s all a bit looser, and not massively newbie friendly (perhaps a sample adventure would help here). The sole crunch comes from the XP/encounter stuff and that looks… Ok. With a couple of areas still to be fully explored in later chapters, I’ll leave this chapter on probation for a bit.

Back soon.

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DMG Chapter 2: Creating a Multiverse

What do you mean ‘creating a multiverse’? Usually, this is created for us, and sits above the material world like a bigger, better, more adventurous version of the setting we have to come up with from scratch.

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I love the planes as expressed throughout D&Ds history. They are really fleshed out by now, with their own setting best exemplified in 2nd eds Planescape. I’ve always found it odd that campaigns are expected to be made up from scratch (or bought off the shelf) but that the planes are the ultimate destination, and that one DMs planes will be much like another’s. At the same time as all bets are off as far as fantastic locations are concerned, the big story becomes more straight jacketed by its supplements.

Until now. Just as in Chapter 1, it’s now the default for a DM/group to make decisions about their multiverse. Plenty of examples here, including wheels, trees and axis, and others. The planes are described briefly, but they’re all here, in a gazetteer format. Each location has a quick optional rule to help enforce its otherworldliness, and the logistics of travel and survival are addressed. Basically, you get a mini Manual of the Planes inserted into your DMG.

I love it. None of it is particularly new, but it’s all to hand and distilled into its most gameable and easy to digest chunks. The book is at pains to note the sheer optionality of the work. Pick and choose as you feel, and when you feel. You won’t be ‘wrong’. Sure, it doesn’t go into massive detail, but it doesn’t need to. If you like what you see here, then the older sourcebooks will fill in the gaps, and they’re on D&D Classics on pdf.

That’s the end of part one of the new DMG. If you follow it to the letter, you’ve just created your setting, including the multiverse it sits in. Not bad for 68 pages.

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DMG5: Chapter One reviewed

This is my jam. The Players Handbook is all very well, and the MM was of interest to me, but the Dungeon Masters Guide? That’s me, thank you.

The playtest for Next went on a long while, and it really concentrated on the player facing part of the game. Fair enough. But even the DMs bits were retreads of classic modules and placeholders at best. For my side of the screen, this is the book that really gives me a clue as to whether or not the edition change will work for me.

There have been loads of previews available online. I’ve ignored them all like a football fan with his hands over his ears saying ‘nah nah nah’ when the radio issues live results spoilers. I want to read it in my own time, in the right order, with a cup of tea and a biscuit and no distractions. It arrived today.

It’s divided into three big sections, the first called Masters of the World. Chapter One is A World of Your Own.

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Another owl. 5e loves owls.

The fourth edition DMG was quite brilliant at showing a DM how to assemble and run a 4e game. This book takes a more generalist approach. It starts by running down all the various flavours and types of fantasy elements the DM can pull upon in order to make their own setting. In fact, it’s a great primer for the novelist, let alone the DM. It makes for an educational read, and an inspiring one too. It draws from myth, both in our world and in the accrued legacy of all the years of D&D writing, in order to illuminate the possibilities for the world builder. It’s a fun read.

It’s not procedural though. There’s loads of questions asked, and some examples provided. It relies on a DM using their imagination and bootstrapping their fiction skills onto a page of notes. Where 4e held your hand, this one gives you a seminar and then a friendly shove.

The default assumptions are a bit more generic than in 4e, and it’s suggested they be a lot more malleable too. I love that the text references blaster guns, the Old West, Greek myth, Thor and Greyhawk all in the same section. Specifically the chapter addresses: Gods and religion (I actually learned something in this bit. It’s cool); mapping; settlements; commerce and currency; languages; factions (with rules. Loose rules, but they’re there); magic; campaigns (with loads of cool event tables to set your world moving); play styles; tiers; and fantasy flavours. Woah.

And there’s not a prescriptive piece in there, it’s all advice, with pros and cons proffered. Sit and read this with a note book beside you, you’ll have 20 campaigns vying for your attention within an hour.

It’s almost as if they wrote a Guide, for Dungeon Masters. Great start.

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Painting up Island of Blood

It’s been absolutely ages since I got stuck into a serious painting sesh. Day off today, and an assembled bunch of Clanrats, so let’s go!

I’ve decided to not try to win any prizes with these. I will make more effort with front ranks, and characters, but these are very much back rankers. It’s not always easy, sometimes I really want to correct a small mistake, or paint a tongue or eye, but it would be wasted effort.

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Here they are after some base coating. Start with a decent spray of black undercoat. Then I drybrushed Bestial Brown all over each model. Wet brushing really, as I want to use the brown for so many things on the model. I use a pretty large brush for this. It’s a flat half inch one. Seriously, I always go a size bigger than I think I need to. It really speeds things up.

Then another layer of dry rushing, this one English Uniform from Vallejo. Any lighter brown would do, or mix it up if you want differentiation. I decided to get the clothing to do the work of making them all look individual. I selected a darkish red, a camo green, a khaki, another brown variant and black. I picked up a few models at random and did all of those in my chosen colour.

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Tea break.

Then another wet brush of Chainmail on all the metal bits. Easy. Still not trying to be careful here. The tails were done in dwarf flesh, and while that was wet I mixed a bit of that into the English Uniform I’d previously used and whipped the brush across the rat faces and knuckles, just as a quick highlight. Bone for teeth and shield symbols. All base coated.

Then, a dark brown ink wash all over. You could use the Army Painter dip, but GW Devlan Mud works for me.

And that’s it. About six hours total including assembly. Just two command groups and some movement trays to do and I have two regiments done.

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Island of Blood, and Awesome.

Spent a very happy evening wielding a pair of clippers and putting together the Warhammer Starter Set, Island of Blood.

OMG have things come on since I last got stuck into a GW box set (back in the nineties)! The plastics are jaw droppingly cool, and they snap together. The High Elves look best, but the Skaven ain’t slouches either. The models are simply brilliant, and worth the price of entry on their own (£60).

Let’s have some pics, and my iPad camera doesn’t do this set justice. At all.

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