Archive for the ‘Design, Mechanics & Efficiencies’ Category

D&D Video Gems: Free Speech, Music & That One Rule

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Door Monster’s brilliant D&D: Free Speech includes combat chatter, (in)appropriate music from everybody’s favorite party member…

…And the ONE rule no one EVER wants to look up in the history of D&D or Pathfinder!

(I’ve suffered over and joked about the latter for years now, even in 5e – and I know you have too!  I laughed out loud at that part – enjoy!)


Cinematic Combat: How to Move on from the Battle Grid

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

Did you know battle grids, battle maps, tiles and minis are optional in D&D 5th edition?

That’s right, D&D has no assumed battle grid.  For lots of players transitioning from 4e to 5e, it may come as a surprise.  It has to some of my players who “got use to” the minis and maps that 4e essentially required due to 4e’s over-the-top combat complexity, duration and focus.

D&D’s balance of combat and storytelling is finally back in 5th edition, so you don’t need maps and minis anymore.  In my group, with this year’s brand new Eberron campaign, I committed to using a mix of grid maps, tiles, minis, graph paper, basic sketches and pure narrative combat in an attempt to move away from the battle grid.


Cinematic Combat: Presentation & Narration

Friday, March 31st, 2017

Three sessions into DMing our new D&D 5e Eberron campaign, awesome cinematic combat remains one of my greatest goals.

What’s amazing is how much there is to consider.  At the highest level, excellent presentation and narration of the action is critical.

So how do you get there?  More on this in future updates, but for now, here are some things to ask yourself and think about for any heavily cinematic-style D&D campaign you might run: (more…)

D&D Unearthed Arcana: Playtest Now!

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

One of the best parts of D&D Next was our ability – as passionate players, DMs and fans – to contribute to the shaping of the final D&D 5e game.

And one of the most underrated (or perhaps unknown?) parts of D&D 5e right now is its Unearthed Arcana article and survey series – where playtesting for any potential 5e rules expansion continues to this day.

(Side note: I love how careful the designers are being with any official rules expansion.  They’ve said they don’t want to overwhelm anyone, especially the DM, and risk the awful rules bloat and power creep so common in past editions.  So plenty of caution and playtesting – by all of us – makes sense.  Quality over quantity?  Yes, please!)

The many new class archetypes alone in Unearthed Arcana will win most D&D gamers over, and a survey accompanies each of these playtest options so you – as the players and DMs running the characters and campaigns – can tell the D&D designers what works ok, what you love and what you hate!

So if you’ve missed Unearthed Arcana since its dawn in February 2015, check it out now!  While the proposed new class archetypes are arguably the most exciting content (and most frequent in recent months), you’ll find new rules and ideas for mass combat, feats, quicker characters, the Underdark, Eberron and much more.

New bard colleges?  Weapon-master monks?  The cleric domains of Grave and Forge?  Oaths of Conquest or Treachery – yes, Treachery! – for paladins?  How about some beloved classics like the Arcane Archer, Knight or Samurai?  (Oriental Adventures fans, I know you’re out there!)  They’re all here for us to playtest – right now!

So find something you’d like to try in your games, talk to your DM, test drive it a while, and send in your feedback through its matching Unearthed Arcana survey.

Help shape the future of 5e!

D&D Rules Expansion: Pros & Cons

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

Favicon-jpgNever has D&D felt so elegant and complete “out of the box.”

The number of character concepts alone the D&D 5e PHB covers compared to its PHB predecessors is astounding.  Somehow, the core D&D rulebooks in 5e – the PHB, DMG and MM – along with several rich and inspired “super-adventures” are holding up and keeping this game strong and seamless since summer of 2014.  That’s nearly two years of tremendous D&D!

But what about more?  More rules options?  An official rules expansion?  It’s a question some veteran D&D gamers – used to the onslaught of supplemental rulebooks from previous editions – and even some of many, many new D&D players are asking.

On one hand, I understand wanting a few more options if that’s all you know from previous editions.  On the other, I don’t feel this urgency to add more rules to a game that is running so elegantly at every level of play, smoothly balancing story and game better than any edition in the last d20 years!  While the the PHB, DMG and MM can’t possibly cover 5-10 years of rules and material from previous editions, we’re still incredibly fortunate how much the 5e core rulebooks do cover.

I know our playgroup recently had a passionate discussion about the pros and cons of rules expansion – has yours?

While new and more choices might be nice for the existing minor content gaps (for example, more feats, though they’re optional anyway; and more classic monsters – my beloved girallon, where are you?!), the big consideration that keeps me on the conservative end of rules expansion is game complexity – something that impacts DMs directly.  Which means it impacts everyone and every D&D session!

As you may have seen in my Faster Combat course and ebook, I’m all about smooth gameplay for players and DMs, and I’m especially for not overburdening the DM.  Why add more game balance elements to manage, rule on and worry about?  The DM has enough to do!

And this is the crux of this brief article from the D&D’s Unearthed Arcana survey series.  Ever wonder why, what to consider, and what the real pros and cons are to rule expansion?  If you haven’t started thinking about these questions yet before pounding the table one way or the other, you will after learning more about it here.

P.S. Miss Faster Combat?  An exciting Faster Combat announcement is coming soon!

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Rewarding Tremendous Play: Moments of Greatness vs. Inspiration

Sunday, May 31st, 2015

Favicon-jpgD&D Encounters - Starter SetRemember D&D 4e: Top 12 Ways to Stop Sounding So Damn Metagamey?  Of course you do!  Fortunately for us, D&D 5e is not gamey at all compared to its immediate predecessor.

But it’s hard to forget how gamey D&D was not too long ago – the rules were many, rigid, and often lifeless.  Quite simply, the rules use to get in the way of the story.  Adventures often felt like exercises in dice rolling and finding every  mathematical advantage around every corner.  Who among us didn’t often forget why our characters were doing what they were doing as another grueling crunch-fest-filled hour dragged by?

Thankfully that’s all changed in 5e!  Beautiful edition, recalling the wonder and balance of the classic storytelling and gaming experience that truly is the heart of D&D.  I love it!  And so does everyone who plays it, novice or veteran.  Just check ratings, reviews and sales and it’s obvious D&D 5th edition is phenomenal.

(Note: To be clear, D&D 5e’s astounding quality and “soul” means we’re mostly reduced to nitpicking a few minor rules – like in this article – rather than criticizing massive chunks of the game like in last edition.  What a relief!  So with this understanding clear, let’s get to the point of this piece.)

However, there is one awkwardly placed section in the PHB that recalled some recent gamey-ness.  The “Inspiration” rule may have been well-intended, but it doesn’t quite feel right.


To the War Table!

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Favicon-jpgInquisition_war_room_conceptOne of the more innovative and engrossing additions to the RPG video game genre is the War Table in Dragon Age: Inquisition. In short, your war council of advisors helps identify, lead and complete missions using markers on a sprawling world map.

The war table adds a strategic, higher level RPG element to the classic first-person RPG missions you take on with your character and small party of adventurers.  Which member of your council leads a specific effort matters as far as results and rewards, as they have different personalities, methods and contacts.

Some efforts are brief and simple (e.g. gathering raw materials), while others are complex and lengthy, involving political alliances, underground contacts or long investigations of people or locales.  The War Table adds more stories to your story, in short, as you coordinate the efforts of others across the world.

Having just completed this tremendous game, the richness of the War Table reminds us to make sure “the world turns” while the PC party goes on its own adventures – or as they participate in or even lead their own war.  There are always more missions, more quests, and more stakes – connected to and beyond the PCs’ desires and reach.  And, through the War Table, a reminder that you have close friends and allies who will help you pursue greater, even global interests.

And having just caught up on the latest season of Vikings, here’s to your inner circles being less like those and more like Dragon Age!

DMG Wishes: 5 Things to Look For

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

Favicon-jpgDnD_DMGSoon the D&D 5th edition core rules will be complete and ours for the creative taking!  The D&D 5th edition Dungeon Master’s Guide will finally slay shelves and be in our hands in less than ten days.

There are a few particular things I can’t wait to investigate… or devour!  Here are five things I’ll be searching its hallowed pages for immediately:

  • Critical Hit Alternative Rules. It’s no secret I love impactful critical hits in my D&D.  Who wants critical hits that don’t… feel critical?  Crits that aren’t scary, that disappoint?  The 5e critical hit is flawed in that you can actually end up with less than a normal strike’s maximum damage, which I find to be no less than ridiculous.  Surely, there’s other options to consider, like a few of those during playtest?  I personally enjoyed the “max your damage and then roll one more die” critical hit from playtest.  But I can do even better!  See my Stop Rolling Your Bonus Crit Dice article for cooler, deadlier crit options for your D&D game.


Game Night: Play More One-Shots

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Favicon-jpgDnD_MonsterManualWant something completely different on game night?  Your game night doesn’t have to be the usual, weekly full campaign.

Want to keep D&D, Dragon Age or whatever RPGs you play exciting and easy to jump into, week after week?  Game type variety is what you need!

Full Campaigns: The Bad and the Ugly

There are two big drawbacks to always playing full campaigns.  First, full campaigns can feel overwhelming and long.  Going from levels 1-20 or 1-30 can really feel like a slog for some players – and GMs!  If the pace of XP and level gain isn’t right, you risk never experiencing the whole game – even if you play for a few real-life years!


What the Hell are You?! – Monster Knowledge Remastered in 5 Questions

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Favicon-jpgdead in thay 2How much monster culture, history, strengths and weaknesses should be divulged to the player characters?  What’s common knowledge, what’s within reach and what’s impossible to unearth?

Player characters’ degree of monster knowledge has always been a touchy subject throughout D&D’s editions as it directly impacts the atmosphere of the adventures, the pace of the game session and the ability of characters to more soundly and quickly triumph over monsters, in and out of combat.

While 4e moved towards a more skill-specific and encyclopedic approach, the D&D Next playtest materials have covered the entire spectrum on monster knowledge.  By the final playtest packet, the rules were quiet on the subject, if not more organic.

“What do we know about this monster?”  It seems a question best left to DMs to answer based on their campaign world and play style preferences.  With D&D 5e’s modular complexity, that may just be the best solution.

But is there a best approach?  What are the pros and cons?  Here are five key questions to consider when deciding how to handle monster knowledge checks in your games.  We start by channeling Leonine Roar’s all-time most popular article in question #1: