A place to share thoughts and ideas about Dungeons and Dragons
Category Archives: Reference Material
August 13, 2017Posted by on
How to be a Better Dungeon Master
Having just finished one campaign and preparing to start another one, I felt that it was time to review my weaknesses as a Dungeon Master. Thanks to an excellent post on “The Angry GM” site, and a candid review of my own DM style by Tim, a former player, I have compiled this list that I intend to re-read before and after each gaming session.
1) Pre-read enough to make the game day run smoothly.
2) Have figures set aside for upcoming encounters.
3) Have monster stats printed out for the inevitable encounter.
RUNNING THE GAME
Running a D&D game is a storytelling craft on top of die rolls, which makes the DM chair the most difficult but often most entertaining of the game.
There’s two aspects of the game to manage, the character experience, and the player experience. All the players need their characters to have their moment to shine.
Provide variety in how NPCs/monsters interact with PCs. The encounters need not always be a fight to the death.
Always appeal to the players’ sense of sight, smell, touch, taste, and sound when narrating.
Begin and end each players turn with narration.
Each turn follows a simple process.
- The GM Transitions Into the Players’ Turn
- The Player Asks a Question or Declares an Action
- The Action is Resolved
- The GM Describes and Applies the Results
- The GM Transitions Out of the Players’ Turn
After every transition you need a bit of scene setting. Even if it’s just a single sentence. In fact, that’s all it should be. At the start of every turn in combat, you should say a few words (and NO MORE) about what’s going on in the scene right now, specifically to the person whose turn it is. Even if all you do is remind the player of what just happened.
The transitions out of one turn and into another meld together. The resolution of one action sets the scene for the next.
As a GM, it’s your job to bring the combat to life. To make it feel like an emergency, like a life or death situation.
At the start of every player’s turn, you need to point out where they are and what emergency is happening right now, either to them, or right near them.
In a life-or-death battle, the proper feeling for a player is near-panic. Players should feel panicked and rushed in combat because the characters are panicked and rushed in combat. When it is a player’s turn, they need to begin speaking immediately. And if not, you need to prompt them.
“What do you do? You need to decide or you’ll lose the turn to indecision.” Assume they take the Dodge action (attacks against him have disadvantage).
A GOOD EXAMPLE
GM: Alice, four goblins are charging the party. What do you do?”
Alice: I’ll run up and hit the goblin with my mace. 15.
Alice: 6 bludgeoning damage.
GM: You charge the goblin and smash it with your mace, bringing it to a stop. It’s allies are hesitating. Bob, you’ve got an opening…
GM: The goblin leaps aside, dodging your axe. He tries to dart past you to close with Dave. You get an opportunity attack. Roll it.
GM: The goblin dodges that too and dashes forward, lunging at Dave with his shortsword. Dave, what’s your AC?
GM: Ouch. He stabs you in the side for 6 piercing damage, sending you stumbling backwards while the other two goblins draw to a stop and face Alice and Bob head on. Alice, the goblin recovers his breath from your blow and thrusts his shortsword. A crit! You take 12 damage.
Alice: Damn it! I’m really hurt!
GM: The other goblin closes with Bob as he’s trying to stop the one getting past him. But… Bob sees him coming and dodges the blow. That’s a miss.
GM: The goblins range themselves in front of Alice and Bob while a third goblin is ready to strike another blow at Dave. Carol, they seem to be ignoring you. What do you?
May 2, 2017Posted by on
What is Magic? How does it work?
I was trying to figure out how (in 4th and 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons) a character could learn all there was to know about a magic item by simply examining it for an hour. This wasn’t possible in earlier editions. You could only learn about an item by trial and error or by some magical means. It is only now coming up because I never played 4th edition, and this is the first time I have been the DM running a 5th edition game.
After a lot of research (Google is my friend) I finely came to the realization that the nature of magic has changed. To make logical sense out of it all (assuming you can apply logic to the rules of magic in a fantasy game), this is what I came up with.
Nothing below is official. It simply represents my ideas and house rules.
The Source of Magic
Behind reality as the player-characters know it, there is a sort of internal “skeleton”, over which reality exists like skin atop muscle and bone. This “skeleton” can best be envisioned as an unseen essence that pervades all parts of the multiverse, directly linking everything to every other thing. This is the source of all magic. When you cast a spell, you actually create a specific alteration in the local essence, which then causes the spell effect you wanted in the ‘real’ world. Some call this essence “Mana”. In the Forgotten Realms it is called the “Weave”. If the Weave in an area is damaged or destroyed, magic is unreliable or impossible – that’s what creates Wild Magic and Dead Magic zones in the Realms.
All the physical laws of the universe are simply reflections of the true, background laws that govern this universal essence. The average person can only perceive normal reality, but some creatures are born with the ability to sense the universal essence.
All magic-using beings share an innate ability to manipulate the essence. Likewise, almost all those “gifted” with these abilities must receive training in arcane (wizardly) or divine (clerical) magic in order to learn how to manipulate the essence with finesse.
Bards learn that words and music are not just vibrations of air, but vocalizations with power all their own. They learn to untangle and reshape the essence in harmony with their wishes and music.
Clerics and Paladins are conduits for Divine magic, the power of the gods. Divine casting is done by channeling the essence provided by their deities and forming spells out of that.
Druids and Rangers revere nature above all, and can draw essence from the land, gaining their spells and other magical powers either from the essence that flows through nature itself or from a nature deity.
Monks make careful study of the essence that flows through living bodies. Most monastic traditions call this ki.
Sorcerers learn to harness and channel their own inborn magical abilities. They gather the essence to them from force of will.
Warlocks receive their magical abilities from a pact they made with an otherworldly being. This is similar to the way gods channel essence through divine casters.
Wizards create elaborate mental structures within the mazes of their own minds, traps which funnel magical essence like a roof collects rainwater for a barrel, stored and ready to be used over the course of a day.
This magical substructure to the universe, this unseen essence, can be manipulated by users of magic. It can sometimes be concentrated and placed inside a creature or object. Examples would include casting a spell on a creature to make it resistant to fire, or creating a ring of protection. These magic infused creatures or items emit a type of magical radiation. A creature with the ability to sense the universal essence can detect this magical glow, but it is invisible to all others without some magical way to detect it.
The “Detect Magic” spell:
Magical radiation is similar to light in that it is dimmer the farther you are from it. It can pass through most objects, but is blocked from most forms of detection by 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood or dirt. For the magic radiation to be strong enough to be detected by the “detect magic” spell, you must be within 30 feet of the magic creature or item. If you sense magic in this way, you sense the presence of magic, but can’t determine in which direction, or how far away the magic item is. Anytime during the duration of the “detect magic” spell, you can take an action to see if there are any specific items or creatures within sight that you can identify as magical. You will see a faint aura around any visible creature or object in the area that bears magic. If you don’t see an aura around anything, then the magic that you sense must be out of sight. It could be one or more items or creatures that are invisible or hidden. For instance, they could be behind a door or in a box or under a secret panel in the floor. If you do not see it, you do not see the aura. This also means you cannot use this to locate invisible creatures or objects. Any aura detected can only be seen by the spellcaster. The color of the aura corresponds to the object’s school of magic. If the item has no particular school then the aura has no color. The brightness of the aura indicates the relative strength of the magic.
Unless the magic item is invisible, you can see it if it is within range but behind a transparent barrier, such as glass. You also perceive its magical aura. This includes potions that are in glass bottles. If the potion is in a container that is not see-through you will not see the aura unless you remove the cap and look directly at the potion.
If you were to touch a creature that possesses magic, you would not typically feel the magic. But if you were to hold a magic item for a few seconds (a round), you would feel the magical radiation generated by the item effecting your body and/or your mind in some way. The sensation will differ depending on the magic contained within the item. If you continue to hold the item and concentrate on it for a short rest, “At the end of the rest, the character learns the item’s properties, as well as how to use them.”
“Potions are an exception; a little taste is enough to tell the taster what the potion does.” You can’t hold a potion in your hand. The bottle isn’t magical, just the liquid it contains. You could stick your finger into it, and leave it there for an hour, but a drop on your tongue is much faster. A taste is not enough to receive the effects of the potion. If it is poison, a taste is not enough to do harm to the taster. When tasting it, the magic of the potion enters your body and instantly reveals its nature.
Magic items want you to know their properties! The magic is alive! Or, rather, it contains a life force. All life has magic flowing through it to some degree, and all magic has some degree of life flowing through it. This explains why some powerful magical items possess sentience. The item’s creator forced so much magical essence into the item that it became sentient. This also explains why magical essence tends to be attracted to living creatures (and sometimes to dead creatures). And why magic can create or destroy life.
The Identify Spell
This spell makes you more receptive to the magical essence of the item. To identify the magic in an object with this spell, you must remain in physical contact with it for at least 1 minute. “If it is a magic item or some other magic-imbued object, you learn its properties and how to use them” (That much is the same as you can get from examination alone. But with the spell you also learn) “, whether it requires attunement to use, and how many charges it has, if any. You learn whether any spells are affecting the item and what they are. If the item was created by a spell, you learn which spell created it.”
To use this spell to identify a potion still requires one minute, but you must come into physical contact with the potion, not just the bottle it is in. A drop on your tongue or on any spot on your exposed flesh is enough.
The identify spell won’t trigger a curse, but it also doesn’t tell you if an item is cursed. There is no easy way to know if an item is cursed except by trial and error. Even the legend lore spell may only hint that it may be cursed. The curse on an item may cause you to misidentify it.
April 7, 2017Posted by on
I found this online a while back. Thought I would share.
D&D Stats Explained
- 1 (–5): Morbidly weak, has significant trouble lifting own limbs
- 2-3 (–4): Needs help to stand, can be knocked over by strong breezes
- 4-5 (–3): Knocked off balance by swinging something dense
- 6-7 (–2): Difficulty pushing an object of their weight
- 8-9 (–1): Has trouble even lifting heavy objects
- 10-11 (0): Can literally pull their own weight
- 12-13 (1): Carries heavy objects for short distances
- 14-15 (2): Visibly toned, throws small objects for long distances
- 16-17 (3): Carries heavy objects with one arm
- 18-19 (4): Can break objects like wood with bare hands
- 20-21 (5): Able to out-wrestle a work animal or catch a falling person
- 22-23 (6): Can pull very heavy objects at appreciable speeds
- 24-25 (7): Pinnacle of brawn, able to out-lift several people
- 1 (–5): Barely mobile, probably significantly paralyzed
- 2-3 (–4): Incapable of moving without noticeable effort or pain
- 4-5 (–3): Visible paralysis or physical difficulty
- 6-7 (–2): Significant klutz or very slow to react
- 8-9 (–1): Somewhat slow, occasionally trips over own feet
- 10-11 (0): Capable of usually catching a small tossed object
- 12-13 (1): Able to often hit large targets
- 14-15 (2): Can catch or dodge a medium-speed surprise projectile
- 16-17 (3): Able to often hit small targets
- 18-19 (4): Light on feet, able to often hit small moving targets
- 20-21 (5): Graceful, able to flow from one action into another easily
- 22-23 (6): Very graceful, capable of dodging a number of thrown objects
- 24-25 (7): Moves like water, reacting to all situations with almost no effort
- 1 (–5): Minimal immune system, body reacts violently to anything foreign
- 2-3 (–4): Frail, suffers frequent broken bones
- 4-5 (–3): Bruises very easily, knocked out by a light punch
- 6-7 (–2): Unusually prone to disease and infection
- 8-9 (–1): Easily winded, incapable of a full day’s hard labor
- 10-11 (0): Occasionally contracts mild sicknesses
- 12-13 (1): Can take a few hits before being knocked unconscious
- 14-15 (2): Able to labor for twelve hours most days
- 16-17 (3): Easily shrugs off most illnesses
- 18-19 (4): Able to stay awake for days on end
- 20-21 (5): Very difficult to wear down, almost never feels fatigue
- 22-23 (6): Never gets sick, even to the most virulent diseases
- 24-25 (7): Tireless paragon of physical endurance
- 1 (–5): Animalistic, no longer capable of logic or reason
- 2-3 (–4): Barely able to function, very limited speech and knowledge
- 4-5 (–3): Often resorts to charades to express thoughts
- 6-7 (–2): Often misuses and mispronounces words
- 8-9 (–1): Has trouble following trains of thought, forgets most unimportant things
- 10-11 (0): Knows what they need to know to get by
- 12-13 (1): Knows a bit more than is necessary, fairly logical
- 14-15 (2): Able to do math or solve logic puzzles mentally with reasonable accuracy
- 16-17 (3): Fairly intelligent, able to understand new tasks quickly
- 18-19 (4): Very intelligent, may invent new processes or uses for knowledge
- 20-21 (5): Highly knowledgeable, probably the smartest person many people know
- 22-23 (6): Able to make Holmesian leaps of logic
- 24-25 (7): Famous as a sage and genius
- 1 (–5): Seemingly incapable of thought, barely aware
- 2-3 (–4): Rarely notices important or prominent items, people, or occurrences
- 4-5 (–3): Seemingly incapable of forethought
- 6-7 (–2): Often fails to exert common sense
- 8-9 (–1): Forgets or opts not to consider options before taking action
- 10-11 (0): Makes reasoned decisions most of the time
- 12-13 (1): Able to tell when a person is upset
- 14-15 (2): Can get hunches about a situation that doesn’t feel right
- 16-17 (3): Reads people and situations fairly well
- 18-19 (4): Often used as a source of wisdom or decider of actions
- 20-21 (5): Reads people and situations very well, almost unconsciously
- 22-23 (6): Can tell minute differences among many situations
- 24-25 (7): Nearly prescient, able to reason far beyond logic
- 1 (–5): Barely conscious, probably acts heavily autistic
- 2-3 (–4): Minimal independent thought, relies heavily on others to think instead
- 4-5 (–3): Has trouble thinking of others as people
- 6-7 (–2): Terribly reticent, uninteresting, or rude
- 8-9 (–1): Something of a bore or makes people mildly uncomfortable
- 10-11 (0): Capable of polite conversation
- 12-13 (1): Mildly interesting, knows what to say to the right people
- 14-15 (2): Interesting, knows what to say to most people
- 16-17 (3): Popular, receives greetings and conversations on the street
- 18-19 (4): Immediately likeable by many people, subject of favorable talk
- 20-21 (5): Life of the party, able to keep people entertained for hours
- 22-23 (6): Immediately likeable by almost everybody
- 24-25 (7): Renowned for wit, personality, and/or looks
March 28, 2017Posted by on
I found this on-line (I forget where). Thought I would share. [If you know who created the original, please let me know so I can credit them.]
February 20, 2017Posted by on
So What Can I see From Here?
Usually, the limit to how far characters can see will be some obstruction, such as a building, a forest, or some hills. Mist and darkness also limit vision. Sometimes, however, the characters will be on flat plains on a clear day and the only limit to their vision will be their perception and the horizon. Once something goes below the horizon, it can’t be seen. But where is the horizon?
|Height in feet||Miles away|
This table has been simplified for gaming use. On an earth-sized planet, the horizon for a six-foot tall person standing at sea level or on flat plains will be about 3 miles. This means that they can see features that are at ground level for up to three miles (depending, of course, on the quality of their vision and the size of the object). Features that are higher than ground level can be seen further.
To determine how far away you can see something, just add together all of the heights. For example, if a 6 foot man is on a 4 foot horse standing on a 30 foot hill, how close would you have to be to a 60 foot tall tower to see it? First add all the heights together 6 + 4 + 30 + 60 = 100 feet. Look at the table under “height in feet” and find 100 feet. Then look across under “miles away” to find 13 miles. So the tower could be spotted if it was no farther away than 13 miles.
You could see a 14,000 foot mountain a little more than 100 miles away.
This is good for seeing features on a map, such as lakes, forests, mountains, towns, etc. but knowing how far you can see is often not what your Player Characters need to know. Just because you can see 3 miles doesn’t mean that you can see a monster on the horizon. For that we need another table.
Perception Distance Table
|Creature – Fine||6” or less||30 ft. or less||5 ft. or less|
|Creature – Diminutive||6” – 1 ft.||30 ft. – 60 ft.||5 ft. – 10 ft.|
|Creature – Tiny||1 ft. – 2 ft.||60 ft. – 120 ft.||10 ft. – 25 ft.|
|Creature – Small||2 ft. – 4 ft.||120 ft. – 240 ft.||25 ft. – 50ft.|
|Creature – Medium||4 ft. – 8 ft.||240 ft. – 480 ft.||50 ft. – 100 ft.|
|Creature – Large||8 ft. – 16 ft.||480 ft. – 960 ft.||100 ft. – 200 ft.|
|Creature – Huge||16 ft. – 32 ft.||960 ft. – 1,920 ft.||200 ft. – 400 ft.|
|Creature – Gargantuan||32 ft. – 64 ft.||1,920 ft. – 3,840 ft.||400 ft. – 800 ft.|
|Creature – Colossal||64 ft. or more||3,840 ft. or more||800 ft. or more|
In this table “perceive” means that you can see it and may notice it with a perception check. If you do notice it you will recognize the creature type if you have seen one before. If you don’t know what type of creature it is you will be able to tell the creature’s coloration, size, shape, number of limbs, wings, etc. If the creature is moving, you will also be able to tell which direction it is traveling and about how fast.
“Identify” means that you can see details and may recognize an individual that you have met before.
Here is a simple rule of thumb that is accurate enough for gaming use:
Distance away (in feet) that you can perceive an item is its size (in feet) times 60.
Distance away (in feet) that you can identify an item is its size (in feet) times 12.
Round fractions down to the nearest 5 ft.
The item’s size is its longest dimension (height or width).
One more thing.
You can perceive a burning candle 1 1/2 mile away.
January 16, 2017Posted by on
Looking for Inspiration?
I ran across this Facebook site. Whenever you, as a DM, are trying to think of an original location for your next adventure, just browse through the photos on this “Abandoned World” site.
December 30, 2016Posted by on
Classes with Class
In 2004 and 2005 Skip Williams (co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition) put a series of articles on the Wizards website with tips on playing each of the various character types. Wizards of the Coast has moved them to their D&D Archives, but you can still find them there if you are diligent in your search.
These are an excellent reference. They were written for D&D 3.5 but even if you are running a fifth edition game you will find then a useful reference.
Here are direct links to them:
And here is a link to the 3.5 D&D Archives page:
December 13, 2016Posted by on
The Attack Action
With all of the different class features that allow multiple attacks, I am seeing a lot of confusion as to how many and what types of attacks a character can get on his turn.
“Attack” and “Attack Action” are two different things.
On your turn, you can move and take one action. A special ability, spell, or other feature of the game may allow you to also take a bonus action, and/or take a reaction. You may also interact with one object and do other simple activities. What is important here is that you can only take one action. One possible action you can take is called the Attack action. None of the other combat actions are an Attack action (Cast a Spell, Dash, Disengage, Dodge, Help, Use an object, Hide, Search, Readied action, Improvised action).
|Attack action: “With this action, you make one melee or ranged attack… Certain features, such as the Extra Attack feature of the fighter, allow you to make more than one attack with this action.” PHB, p192.|
This rule sounds fairly straight forward but combined with other rules, features, and options it can become a bit confusing. In certain situations, you make a melee or ranged attack when you Cast a Spell, take a Bonus action, or take a Reaction. In other situations when you take the Attack action you don’t make a melee or ranged attack. And, just because an action is called an “attack” doesn’t mean that you can perform that action when you use the “Attack action”.
This confusion could have been lessened a bit if the “Attack action” had a different name. Perhaps they could have called it the “Offensive action” or something. I am not going to do that here. However, it is important to know that when you read something in the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide or the Monster Manuel the wording is important. See if it says “Attack action” or just “attack”.
Partial list of things that you can do with an Attack action:
- Make a weapon attack with a melee weapon, ranged weapon, or improvised weapon. This includes drawing ammunition for use with a ranged weapon.
- Make an unarmed strike.
- Grapple a creature.
- Shove a creature.
- Two weapon fighting – When you use the Attack action to attack with a light melee weapon that you’re holding in one hand, the second attack, with a light weapon in your other hand, is a bonus action and not part of the Attack action.
- “Extra attack” – With many weapon-using classes you can gain the ability to attack multiple times, instead of just once. This feature can only be used when you take the Attack action.
- (Monks) “Flurry of Blows” can only be used (as a bonus action) after taking the Attack action.
- (Druid – while in beast form) Your weapon attacks, where the “weapon” might be a manufactured item or a natural weapon, can only be used when you take the Attack action.
- (Druid – while in beast form) If the creature has the Multiattack action, you may make the listed attacks rather than, or in place of, an Attack action.
Partial list of actions you CANNOT do as an Attack action:
- Cast a spell – even if that spell has you make a “range attack” or “melee attack” or “”spell attack”.
- Dash, disengage, dodge, help, use an object, hide, search, ready an action, or perform an improvised action.
- Make an opportunity attack. (This is done as a “reaction”)
The Attack action is not the only way you can attack. Some spell examples:
If you cast Eldritch Blast (with the Cast a Spell action), you make a ranged spell attack against a creature. This is an attack, but you’ve used the Cast a Spell action, not the Attack action to do so. As a result, abilities such as Extra Attack and Flurry of Blows won’t trigger.
If you cast Shocking Grasp (with the Cast a Spell action) you make a melee spell attack against a creature. Once again, you’ve used the Cast a Spell action, not the Attack action, so extra attack doesn’t apply.
Not all spells work that way, however. If you cast Shilleagh (as a Bonus action), you don’t immediately attack. Instead, it modifies how you attack (with the Attack action) for the duration of the spell, instead of using your Strength as the modifier for your attacks, you use your spellcasting ability score (normally Wisdom for druids).
Another wrinkle are the spells which have an ongoing effect. Vampiric Touch is one such spell – it allows you to make a melee spell attack when you cast it (with the Cast a Spell action), but the spell persists for up to a minute. Its text reads “Until the spell ends, you can make the attack again on each of your turns as an action”. Is this an Attack action? No, it isn’t. It’s a brand new type of action you get to use. Call it “Vampiric Touch action” if you like. These new actions allow you to attack, but they don’t use the Attack action. The trick to identifying them is that they read “as an action” or “use your action” to describe how they work. A few require the use of your bonus action instead.
All attacks are described in terms such as ranged spell attack or melee weapon attack. Each word means something.
“Ranged” attacks suffer disadvantage if you’re adjacent to an opponent, “melee” attacks do not. “Melee” attacks can be against any creature within your reach (generally 5 feet), while ranged attacks can be made against any creature within the stated range of the attack. In some cases, an attack form has two ranges; attacks at the longer range are made at a disadvantage.
If the wording says “melee weapon attack” you can do an unarmed strike. You add your strength modifier and your proficiency modifier (you are proficient with unarmed strikes) to your attack roll and it does damage equal to 1+ your strength modifier. But an unarmed strike is not a weapon. This means that any rule that applies to a “weapon attack” will apply to unarmed strikes but ones that apply specifically to a “weapon” do not.
“Spell” attacks use your spellcasting ability modifier, while “weapon” attacks use Strength (melee weapon) or Dexterity (ranged weapon). There are exceptions to this depending on the spell or type of weapon.
The word “attack” indicates that it is an attack roll, one of the three types of d20 roll in D&D. (The others are saving throw and ability check.) Attack rolls are different because a natural 1 is an automatic miss, while a natural 20 is an automatic hit and a critical hit. Both saving throws and ability checks don’t have special things happen on 1s or 20s.
One of the special cases is the fighter ability Action Surge. This allows you to take one additional action during your turn. If you use this to take the Attack action, you get as many attacks as you would if you took it for your first action. So, a 20th level fighter can get 8 attacks in a turn – four from the first Attack action and four from the second Attack action. You could then use your bonus action to attack with your off-hand weapon (Two-Weapon Fighting). Note that Action Surge does not give you an additional bonus action or move; only an additional action.
Another special case is the spell Haste. It allows an affected character to take an additional action each turn (not all actions are allowed). However, if you took the Attack action, you can only gain one additional attack with it – the Extra Attacks you might have don’t count.
Interestingly, this doesn’t stop you using Flurry of Blows or Two-Weapon Fighting, as both are part of bonus actions. You could use your first action to cast a spell, then your additional action from haste to make a single weapon attack with the Attack Action, then use your bonus action to make an off-hand attack with Two-Weapon Fighting since you’ve used the Attack Action during the turn.
Most of the rules and power descriptions use quite specific wording, but because the terms can be quite similar, it’s easy to get confused. “Attack action”, “As an action” and “Attack” mean three separate things, as do “When you make an attack” and “When you take the Attack action”. As long as you keep the differences in mind, you should be fine.
(Special thanks to Merric’s Musings for his April 21, 2015, post on this topic, which I have heavily plagiarized.)