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How to Make 5e Dungeons and Dragons More Deadly

No, this is a characters, but remember it’s not! The players were trying to kill it’s the characters that we’re trying to kill. You know: okay, okay, yeah, yeah, yeah, right right, no, I’m with you, okay um, but we are still on for the purge, though later right, yeah yeah.

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Let’s get fatalistic with it death making making that D & D more deadly, and what does it mean for didi to be deadly lethal deadly? It’s sort of this word that often gets thrown around in terms of combat and a sort of type of game or certain type of jamming style, but the Dungeon Master’s guide, sort of defines a deadly encounter or deadly combat as being one which could be lethal, potentially Resulting in the deaths of one or more characters, there is a risk of defeat and the players will have to use.

You know good tactics and quick thinking in order to overcome the challenges. Now, personally to me that just sounds like I what I want all of my combats to be at least when I’m a player, because otherwise like what’s the point playing it out. If it’s yeah, there’s not a risk of defeat or something like that. Yes, kind of narrate it then right yeah, I mean you keep that in the RP. You know if it’s just one guy that really can’t party right right.

He could like take a swing at one person, but a lot of this is system dependent right. So we’re talking about Deenie fifth edition. In that case it’s a common thing that you see sometimes where people are saying like. I can’t challenge my party with the baseline monsters or or I have to do something to up my game, to to offer the players a fight that tests their abilities and challenges their their play.

Styles and I think for me it’s it’s often a question that I see Dungeon Master’s, ask and not a lot of players right like it’s one of the things to think about. I mean yes, players would like a challenge, but I don’t know I’ve if I’ve heard a lot of players calling for you know it to be more deadly. I know those people that love playing there go yeah. You know survival mode on hard, but that’s that’s one thing, but D & D is is a whole other.

What do you think the ratio is of like actual DMS versus actual players that want this? Well, I mean obviously there there are players out there who want a challenging and difficult fight. You know fights that require them to think and to to not just go on autopilot or spam, their biggest spell and you’ve, but not read up and try it again. Rest up and try it again: they want to have to consider the situation a lot of times.

Deadly is synonymous with tactical and complex yeah. There are players out there who want a more deadly fight or more challenging fight in their fifth edition games. But in terms of just sort of the people who are asked, it’s usually a dungeon master asking because they feel like it’s not challenging enough or it’s not deadly enough. I bring it up it’s only because it’s like this is one of those areas where you might just like.

Ask your players, hey. How do you guys feel about the fights and combats like? Did you think it was challenging? Did you not? You know that was a hard encounter by the rules of the game. Do you think it was hard? You can get a feel for what your players think versus what you think. It’s very often like as a dungeon master, you sit here. It’s like all. Your pieces die correctly, you’re constantly losing you’re constantly getting your ass kicked.

Your monsters are all over. You know a giant graveyard of of lost potential if things go right, excuse the thinking, sometimes where you might think. Like. Oh man, like cuz, I mean you have this happen to you all the time, all the time it happens to me. It’s happened to me and not just in fifth edition’. It’s happened to me in ultra lethal games like say, Warhammer yeah, where I’ll look at say. The number of enemies that were killed, like you, guys chewed through eight beast men.

I really need to make my fights harder. Moving my perspective from just behind the virtual screen and looking like oh wait: everybody’s characters are below half wounds, to bring it back to fifth edition’. It might be one where actually wow the the players escaped that no one dropped to zero. No one was hurt. You know it was a breeze, all of my enemies are toast and the comment only lasted like maybe four rounds, but if I look at their character sheets that tells a very different story: they’ve used their all their resources.

They’ve you know spell slots have been expended. Hit points have been lost, you know, potions were used. If you talk to them, they might say like no man, I’m stressed like that, was we barely got out of it if you’re thinking about, if you saw the title of article you’re, just like web DM and you’re like yeah, well I’ll, make my fights and combats In fifth edition more lethal, like I would start with having a talk with the players first, because this articles really for people who are newish to the game newish to homebrewing and modifying it, and also have players who have, even though they might be new they’re savvy Enough about the rules and learning them that you might find the base monsters are just not cutting it yeah, and the truth of the matter is, is that the monsters that came out in the same monster manual are not as robust as those that Sun came out.

In photos or Morden Condit’s same with fourth edition and it probably prior editions of D & D as well. Well I mean it is the evolution of things. Is it not? Okay, so our DMS have had talks with their players. Yes, they want to make it more deadly. Let’s go through some some different options on how that can be made possible yeah, so there’s options in the Dungeon Master’s guide to start with. These are in Chapter nine start around page 266.

They begin with healing variants. The first one would be healers kit dependency, and this is basically you know whenever you’re the character, stop for a rest, short or long. It’s been hit dice. This requires a healers kit to be used as a as a sort of an in-game justification for the spending of the hit time. Once you start tying character, abilities to equipment, you’ve now opened the door for there to be situations where they don’t have a healer’s kit or it’s been soiled and ruined.

And it’s not, you know not use or burned up, because the person who had it failed their save for a fireball. Their equipment got singed, so it makes the possibility of of getting to and get their hip points back. Excuse me, it makes the possibility of getting their hip points back up for grabs same with a lot of these, so we’re looking at slow natural healing. This would be no hip points gained on a long rest automatically that you have to use hit dice to get the hip points back.

The gritty realism rest variant. I see this one used a lot and we recommended it, for you know, emphasizing the difficulty of travel and that’s an eight-hour short rest and a week long long, rest, all of those things they they slow down. The game right, like the pacing of your game, will change if you use well all three of them, but certainly any one of them yeah and a lot of the ridicule going towards the cleric is going to evaporate before the dawn jury.

Yeah. You know when, when it comes down to like having the one person in the party who actually has a healing kit you’re, like keeping them stocked on healing, kits yeah and keeping them alive like you’re, going to start thinking about your tactics differently, you’re not going to Have those those renegades running off the Leroy Jenkins is of the world. Let’s face it, there’s so many things sure right yeah, but for the most everyone else, I think that it would lead to a more a more tactically sound game for your players, because it might cause them to think more yeah.

And if you have players who say rush into combat sand and you’re worried that you know, they’ve expressed an interest in in a more challenging fight. But you haven’t seen them display any of the quick thinking and tactics that you think might be necessary to overcome the challenges. Then you know letting them know like hey, hey guys, this thing’s going to be a little different than say the last game we play or, however, you implement the changes, you’re going to need this to heal and it’s going to take longer to heal.

So you might want to think about things more. You might want to consider your approach to things more so that you don’t like drop to zero and need to be like full healed back up. You approach things slower and maybe you don’t lose as many hit points you don’t have to use as many spells, and you can substitute tactical thinking and sort of approaching things, and it was a mindset of problem-solving instead of just like battering ram and our spell thoughts And character abilities will see us through the day yeah I kind of kind of snap out of that article game mentality of like.

Oh, these abilities will come back as soon as they read. You know, yeah. The respawn is like no, no, no you’re going to have to take it. Slow, you’re, going to take it slow and so in the pace of your campaign will slow down. If you’re using say gritty, realism, rest variant – and you know they’re not just like ret short resting for eight hours and then not doing anything after that, they press on where they still adventure and that these long rests happen.

Sort of in between you know, forays to the dungeon or something like that: it’ll slow down the pace of your game right, there’s no more time for downtime activities when they’re in that week-long rest period. Of course, you can still like do some things during a long rest, you don’t have to be sleeping. You can be reading talking. You know, socializing yeah. You can even get in a little bit of fisticuffs as long as it’s not too much of it or too exciting.

You know yeah. It would result in a different game, a game in which they have a lot of free time, and so you might find that’s an advantageous thing or that they have no idea what to do with all this time on their hands. Those are all in the healing and rest variants. There’s two in the comment section and that’s sort of injuries, which is on page 272, and this is a rule. That’s like all right any time you take a crypt any time you drop to zero or or fail death saves by five or more you’re going to roll on this table and there’s going to be a lingering injury.

That’s there you might lose an eye, it might be a hand. This would be one of those actually where I would, the dungeon master and player to sort of like work through it. D & D doesn’t really have a hit point or sorry hit location system. Does it hit point system, and so a lot of combat is just arbitrary in descriptive. You hit them here. You add them there and if you’re now, attaching penalties to certain locations where you’ve been hit, you might want just a simple.

You know hit location where it’s like take a d12 and divide it between head body, arms, legs, torso. You know that kind of thing: yeah head shoulders knees and toes yeah yeah, you know do something like that, so that it feels less arbitrary because it would suck to like be a. I don’t know someone that needs both their limbs. Someone who uses say a great weapon and have one of their limbs. You know disabled for a while when it, you know at the whim of the dungeon master role on the hit location, yeah yeah, yeah yeah, I’m going to have to reinvent the monkey grip feet.

Wield in that right will then that lot that great sword like guts right exactly what I needed yeah like some damage, would be the other one right like well, but yeah like talking about entries. That’s one thing that I love about. Warhammer, oh yeah, like the possibility that you might you could because I’m sorry, if you want this to be realistic, which is kind of what we’re talking about you know there could be a possibility, like oh ya, know, there’s a reason why you’re like seven fingers, Larry Yeah, I’m sure you know beyond just even like sort of realism in it.

I think there’s some low powered D & D that that works really well, when you use sort of like real world assumptions and realism is sort of the goal for it. But as you get up in levels of D & D, that becomes harder and harder maintain yeah, but you still want. Like a you know, you still want a dragon to be terrifying. There is a point at which a DC character can look at some very powerful and terrifying monsters and just go.

Who cares it’s going to take less than a minute to deal with this, and these options that are create a more lethal game will tap that down. A bit, and even as you get higher levels, it’s like oh well, yeah. These are. These are still scary right. It’s not going to take us a long time to recover from this at least yeah. It will give us pause and let us think about how we approach things. That’s for injuries.

Massive death is another one where it’s like. If you, if you take more than half your hit points from a single source of damage, you make a con, save and then another a separate table that has a lot of similar effects to it. But they see more like temporary, like you’re, momentarily dazed or or even worse, right, like there’s some pretty nasty effects on that team. Oh, you can get drop to zero right and you’re all the sudden again, death safe right and, if you’re, using both of the injuries in massive damaging conjunction, then that chances are that that losing more than half your hit points in a single attack, possibly a crit And you might have an injury from hattie than an injury from dropping to zero.

You see how it turns the game that the base D & D game and finishin from like oh yeah, every time I sleep, I get everything back every time I fight. I run the risk of there being permanent injuries. You know that I have to deal with. Obviously, life cleric would be a huge asset, a game like that right, most definitely and and but if you want to make that dragon seem terrifying, one crit from a dragon.

Slash or a winged Buffett and all of a sudden, your fighter got knocked across the room as it’s currently unconscious right, especially if you’re, using these in conjunction with low-level D & D yeah, because, let’s be honest, like first through third level, is plenty lethal for most Groups in fifth edition I find it perfectly lethal and have accidentally killed characters at those levels, even as I’m like trying to teach them a new game and, like you know, hey new player.

This is your second time playing we’re going to have a sample combat oops. This is Barnes dead right, you know, or at least they drop to zero. Now we had to see what the death rules or the death saving throws are like low-level D & D in conjunction with injuries and massive damage would probably be a very different game. Maybe it’s the game for you and you try it out, but those are the options that are in the Dungeon Master’s guide that are ready-made to sort of drop in your game.

Thinking through the the impact that they’ll have is one thing, but you have more tools in your DM toolbox to make the game leave for you. Oh almost definitely so yeah, let’s, let’s go through some some different ways that a Dean could think about altering their their game or the monsters yeah. So there’s some player facing things that a dungeon master can do. They could cap level right. They could just say: hey guys.

Our campaign is not going to get beyond X level. For those of you familiar with the epic six variant of third editions, it says that six level is perfect. Your characters are more than capable of portraying themselves as powerful individuals within their world clerics can heal diseases and cure the masses. Wizards. Can you know level an entire village fighters are more than a match for any average soldier or group of average soldiers at six level.

From there you still gain XP, but you don’t get any levels or benefits. The XP is used to buy feats and other things, and you can use something like that for for fifth edition that. I think the fact that fifth edition has a less unified progression to the classes and the way it’s sort of third edition was like yeah. Everybody at a certain level gets a beat and gets a thing, and even though there were dead levels and like it six level work for that fifth level, you might go from anywhere from 7th to 9th level or lower.

It really depends on your group right. Then you would cap a little another way to do. It is to cap HP. That’s the way that older editions of dungeons dungeons of dragons did it, and it was you know, after usually somewhere between 8th to 10th level. You stopped rolling for hit points and got a fixed number every level, and if you were a warrior or a fighter, you also got to add your Constitution to that, but for most classes, they’re only getting one or two hit points per level after a certain level And it really did a lot to deflate those hit point numbers which meant that the game was still deadly yeah and so your skits still do more sure.

Yeah, don’t fling an epic magic right. Your wizard still sitting over there with like 30, hit points, yo yeah right. If that, if you’re lucky, my my original DD wizard, I think at 8th level was 30-some 3233 hit points, and I was that’s a lot yeah, that’s a lot, given that I spent more than 4 levels with single digits for a while. I got some boosts and it was good, so those are two things that a dungeon master can do sort of like for the players they can also mess with death saves riot.

The common, when I see is to say all right did you drop to 0? Then you you, when you get back up, you still have that one fail that you got when you were dropped, or it might even I’ve seen some people even say like alright, you dropped once and then you were brought back, but now you drop a second time. Well, because it’s the second time you automatically start with one of those failed you’ve already been at death’s or once within the last 30 seconds right yeah, I like maybe doing it where the deaths is only refresh on a short rest or maybe a long long rest.

I, like the long rest refresh or maybe something like you know they refresh on a lesser restoration or oh yeah. What’s the restoration it should be able to because something like that because still you’re draining the resource yeah, I mean that’s the that’s sort of how you think about it and when you for sort of an aside, if you kind of shift your thinking away from only Looking at their hip points as a gauge for how difficult or challenging a fight was, and instead, like we mentioned earlier, look at their entire character, shave and see which spells were used which abilities were used.

You know of very often the reason why it looks from a diems perspective like it wasn’t, that challenging is because the players you know are still standing at the end, but from their perspective and looking at their character sheet, it’s a very different story. So I think that the death saves and capping HP and capping level first of they’re, all conversations to have with the group, but the dungeon master can do things on their side of the screen that that don’t really they don’t need that the players permission to do.

Oh helmet right and those are things like adjusting the monster stats everything’s up for grabs here, the the numbers that are in the Monster Manual usually represent the average, so it’s average hip points average damage that kind of thing. That means that you can adjust. All of that, particularly for hit points you can like double them use max to make it stand out now. Sometimes I can result in a slog.

You know having a monster with a bucket of hit points, but not much else can result in very boring combats. So you want to be careful with this adjustment. A lot of teams do this on the fly right like in the middle of combat, and they will adjust the stats of the monster because they’re like oh man, this is taking too long and we’re running out of time. You know, like heaven forbid, that the real world intrude upon the game for a second, you have to make adjustments for it or maybe you’re you’re, simply like man.

This thing is about to go down and like this creatures about to, I didn’t, expect it to die within around half, and I would like to do more. You know I wore them when I write you know, you know everyone would be disappointed if, if it ended now we’re having a lot of fun, this is a good moment for the game. If we win a couple more rounds – and maybe you describe it differently to maybe you know, you know he gets a second wind or something or an unseen Ally bolsters it or you know some.

You can smooth over a lot of these things with how you present them in the in the campaign. A monster with maximum hit points is a legendary creature, surely giant among its own kind, fearsome dragons things like that. You can look to the D & D adventures as well for a lot of these things because say, and storm Kings Thunder the adjustments that they make to the dragons for the in Liffe and Klaus.

I think those are the two names for the dragons they’re they’re. Very different monsters they take the base one and they modify them same with the Giants that are there and a lot of other ones. Almost every one of them has done that yeah be a good gauge, though that’s just hit points you can do the same with damage. If you use fixed to damage, then try rolling, random and see if that doesn’t make for a more lethal fight, we’re doing a mix like I use the fixed number +1 dice of the damage to give it a bit of a variability.

You can do a lot of things you can just basically say like yeah. Every the first attack this monster makes is always a crit like they just that’s just their big opening shot adjusting the armor class, whether by changing the equipment that the monster has or just changing the armor class. I’d be careful there just because of the way the math of fifth edition works, but an adjustment of one to two isn’t going to hurt anything that much and it might make for a more challenging encounter.

Other than that, you can add legendary actions, legendary resistance, special abilities, there’s a lot that you could add to a monster to modify it mostly we’re here to tell you that you should be doing that and it’s a fun exercise and you can turn those unique monsters Into something special of your campaign world and attach a legend to them, which is, it was always fun. Well, you can mix both parts of what’s fun about teaming the mechanical science or the narrative sciences.

Oh yeah, you got to give them some kind of signature attack. If you’re, you know certain dragon that does this one thing right right, right or say so I did this with Medusa and land between two rivers and I sort of the Medusa has a layer, that’s near a No to the elemental, plaintiff elemental earth, and so the Medusa has mastered just petrification magic period, earth magic period and they’re more like an earthbender from say avatar than they are just like.

You know the the snake-haired Gorgon petrifies people with a glance, and so you know this particular Medusa has full mastery over the petrification. Can animate the statues that she petrifies a complete command of the earth and it’s just a it’s just a Medusa with some things change some special abilities added, some spell like abilities thrown in presented she’s, a sort of majestic terrifying sort of figure of the wasteland who’s.

You know a powerful force to be reckoned with yeah now. I think one of the things about this is by tying these modifications that you make to the story of your game or whatever is going on in it. Players have a chance to disrupt it and maybe weaken the monster right. Oh yeah. Definitely I look forward to my players in Starbound, interacting with the overseer again that was a monster I wanted, but a little bit extra needs a body modification guys so he’s the overseer and give himself some beholder eyes at the end of his tentacles, oh yeah.

So you know it was fun, fun, probably more finger the Barbarian, it’s fun, one of my best being able to land a polymorph on barbarians free. Well, I was, I was really random, like I was rolling randomly for what bean would go off? Oh yeah, I wanted, you know there were forward, it was like disintegrate, polymorph and almost charm and telekinesis yeah. So it was like two of them are pretty bad: either you take them out of the fight or you you could kill them for rent.

You know some. Some red shirts got red shirted. That’s right well, but that’s a good point right, because if you are in that, if you’re in this transitionary phase, where you’re, where you go from playing like the base game, no modifications we’re all learning this to a game where we’re making it our own and part Of that is making it more challenging, then maybe you do have some red shirt NPCs who take the brunt of some of the attacks and and that’s you for a while right, like not always, but they are there to sort of show.

The party like this is what’s in store for you, here’s what we’ve chosen this guy got his arm ripped off. You know this. She got disintegrate. This guy just got to see it. That’s sort of one way of approaching it in terms of like modifying your monsters or things you can do right last little bit is just think about the action economy. One way of making things more lethal is to have your monster, have more actions or to have more of them there.

So you might even you don’t even need to modify a monster if it has a lot of minions and things like that. So considering the action kana me, I think for me: that’s literally counting up the actions on each side and looking and seeing is one of them like way out of balance, then they’re probably going to win and that’s sort of my gauge for the difficulty of a Fight one times: oh, oh definitely yeah you got it.

You got a you got ta at least get close to what they can do. Right yeah I mean, if you really want a challenge. Yeah, if you, if you have a lot more actions than they do, but if you have those actions, how does a DM user is that said, another way to think about this, oh yeah, there are things that you can do that require no changes to the game. At all, and it’s entirely about your approach to playing the monsters and and your approach to how you present combats and everything so to me, the big one here, the one that I really try to get into is playing my monster as a piece in the game.

Yeah and so like what would my monster do? How would they approach this situation? Are they just like a brutish beasts that charges headlong and attacks whatever threat, it seems the most obvious, or are they cunning and manipulative? Are they disciplined and orderly, like all of that, is going to color how I approach the game because to me role playing the monster role playing the NPC and how they would approach a combat is a big part of the challenge of it.

A lot of the monsters that that are in the Dungeon Master’s guide, if you sort of like think for a minute of you know, how would this creature exists in the world? How would it approach things? What does it know about its own abilities? Yeah? Then it you might turn some creatures that go from say. Like you know, it looks like they’re brutish. Give me an example like an ogre. Mage yeah seems like they’re, big brutish type creature.

They’ve got a big area of effect attack. They can sneak around but they’re an ogre, essentially right and you might want to think of them as like. This magical battering ram of sorts. But if you instead at the fact that there they can always be invisible and they have a host of other smell like abilities there. If you use them in a role of like a harasser of someone that that can come and go as they please in say.

A dungeon or a wilderness environment where they might find them, then that’s a different sort of encounter yeah and looking at the spell like abilities of everything. This is one of the reasons why I recommend rolling your random encounters ahead of time and even though you’re rolling them randomly – and you know using your tables or whatever you’re like I throw out that results, I don’t like it.

Whatever method you use getting a chance to read, what’s going on with the monster first before you sit down with the fight as opposed to oh, I rolled this encounter in the middle of the fight all right, let me look up the stats. What can it do? Whatever you know, if you’re using like simple monsters – maybe that’s okay, but if you’re using more complex monsters, you deserve a chance to sit down and think about how you’re going to approach things.

Well, I mean you need to know what the monster can do yeah. So you can use them in the best way possible like so if they are a fairly intelligent monster, they’re going to come at a problem like say some murder, hobo adventurers busting up in their dungeon right. I guess what now we got a dispatch, the troops right now we got a dispatch that you troops yeah, so to meet my sort of like top five strategy and tactics strategy, slash tactics because there’s difference obviously, are these right, the first one being know your enemy And that’s an approach to dungeon mastering that that treats the game world as a you know, sort of seriously.

I don’t just know what the players can do, because I’m the Dungeon Master, but my enemies can find that out. Maybe they’re spies Scouts people that are, you know, trying to get the information that they want from the party there’s magic involved. There’s the party’s reputation there’s survivors from their battles, particularly if you know you sort of go with the fact that all the monsters also make death saves and in the middle of a fight, the players rarely take the chance to just like kill a downed opponent.

So if they’ve just loot the corpses and leave, then they probably maybe left some people alive, and maybe that’s how you know their reputation precedes them it. This turn. This can turn into sort of a game which may be what you want, as the party attempts to keep their enemies from learning information about them, while they also are learning information about their enemies. To me, that’s the appeal of this sort of thing.

You can also read our article on combat as war versus combat a sport for us more approaches to this. The second one, when you’re thinking about strategies and tactics for your enemies is reserves and reserves are always useful and they should be kept out of line of sight of the rest of the party, if possible, in the wings in a separate room through a teleportation circle. Just beyond the veil of reality waiting to slip through once the moment is right, like there’s a lot of different ways, but you don’t want your reserves to be say accidentally fireballed, you know, but you do want them in the world somewhere.

You don’t want them like. In a in a fictional non space, like you know the matrix loading room before they come in there in the world somewhere, but they’re hidden. You know this is useful for many reasons: number one, because they’re out of line of sight, if you don’t need them, you can always just say they did something else, or they were too scared or there’s any number of justifications for why they might not come in Ones that fit with the overall tone of the game, you can bring them in as away an extra wave right whenever you need it and if it turns out that after the first round of combat – and you have a crazy alpha strike, because all the players went First, before you had a chance to and they opened up with all their a OE and best attacks, and it might be like oh sand in the reserves now yeah – that’s that’s just what you can do so having something a buffer, not committing all your forces at Once is something that you should probably be doing.

Readying actions would be a third, don’t forget, ready to actions, there’s a lot of conditions which you might want to use them like I’m ready in action to anyone, who’s, attempting to heal, to ranged, attack them or ready. In action to you know trigger a trap that the party might be near or something in the environments same goes for like dodge other sorts of actions, number four would be divide and conquer, and that is, if you can split the party.

The wall spells are great for this, while a force, while a firewall of stone, really wants form a barrier, because the party will brave a wall of fire if they’re, desperate and that’s right or like a pit trap. That brings them down to another level down to another level of shifting door, a sliding door, a spinning room, there’s a lot of like mechanical thing. You do it the dungeon there there you can split their priorities in that you may be part of your force threaten something that they care about and you force them to be like you know, it can’t be in two places at once.

Maybe you split the party you got to take one of the players loved ones right, they’re being held hostage back here. The fighter runs in players will resist splitting the party, but you know, if you can it’s a good way to make the game more lethal and finally, number five is mixed arms? Don’t you having just one monster type that does one thing is it makes for a less dynamic combat, gives you less options, having multiple monsters with multiple different ways to attack.

Obviously, it makes the solo fight the PCs versus one monster, not, as you know, nots frequenting. Your games, but I think you’ll, find if you include lots of different monsters with lots of different attack types that threaten the PCs on a wide range of levels, big bruisers, to engage the melee guys and ranged attackers and spell support and fast strikers. You can come in and all over the the battlefield.

That’s one way that you can challenge the party, because now they’ve got lots of different threats to think about other than that the individual monsters require a you know. Some of them require a lot of thoughts, and we can spend like the next hour talking about this particular tactic. So that’s kind of my top five, though of what I try to keep in mind when I’m running a challenging, combat any closing thoughts here, after after kind of going through this, they got the dmg options.

You know you: can you can mess with the monsters, mechanics you can mess with how they fight. You know any closing thoughts, though part of the reason why you might want a challenging combat or a comment that that is deadlier is that you want to vary the levels of tension in your game. Yeah there’s an idea that that part of the appeal of RPGs is this rise and fall. This build-up and release and that combat is one of the ways in which tint engines are released, but they’re also ways that tensions can be built right, particularly if it’s a tough combat where the outcome is unclear until the very end.

So a mix of these kinds of things is good. A mix of lethality is good old-school RPGs do this through randomness. They they let the dice determine the the variables in the mixing and then they enjoy the spontaneity of it. The fact that it’s different every time yeah, and so, if you’re not doing that right if you’re not using those random variables in the old-school style, then you have to plan out and sort of say like okay.

Well, maybe this one’s not as tough as the last one and you have a couple of like say, hard to medium fights and then you ramp it up with like a quad deadly. You know something like that: oh yeah, but it’s the mix of it it that that’s the appeal for a lot of players, not necessarily the individual level of challenge. But the fact that there are variable levels is: what’s appealing: you got ta find Kano before you can get to Goro.

You know you got a ramp up right when you’re changing things, particularly if you’re making the game more complex, which a lot of these things will do. Then it has the potential to drag things down and if you’re, finding your fights are already running long, but that people aren’t being challenged, then the only advice I have there is perhaps a different game would suit you better, and that fifth edition, just might not be Your game no big deal.

There’s plenty of games out there to try, but if you’re, in a position where you’re like yeah we’re good our pacing and combats good people are on it with with their spells. They know what dice to roll, even if they’re new, they know the game. These changes might slow things down, so you need to be prepared for that and then, as always, this is a group discussion unless you’re adjusting monster stats, which again you don’t need, advice, permission to do, even though some players will get bent out of shape about it.

The other changes and just the approach to things overall, is worth a discussion with the table because, as we always say, this is not one person’s game. It’s your group’s game and talking about it is almost always the answer. So communication is key and they don’t need to be memorizing monster stats anyway. Sure that’s metagaming, which we have two articles on head on over to patreon for our weekly podcast and so much more web DM is also on twitch with three weekly games, which we upload to web DM plays our second youtube champion: okay, sweet right! Can we go right? Do I have to take these knives on to take my knife, hands didn’t, say no

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Creating a Pantheon: Gods & Goddesses in 5e Dungeons and Dragons and TTRPG – Web DM

Do we really need to bring in creating gods there, too? The existence of a pantheon of gods and fantasy role-playing is one of those things that I find very bizarre personally, because the Pantheon’s that are created for these fantasy role-playing games very rarely resemble the pantheon like pantheon of deities that we can point to in in.

Like Earth’s own, religious history, where the gods are intimately tied to some sort of mythology or something and very closely connected with each other and there’s all these stories about them that that tied them together well, yeah I mean you, know: Athena busting out of Zeus’s head And her daughter, blinded and it’s all very interconnected, like almost like familial there’s that there’s the whole like the world is a rotting carcass and the animals and monsters and gods come out of it.

That’s sort of like Norse mythology, as I as I understand it. At least but then you get to like Dungeons and Dragons and Dungeons and Dragons derived fantasy, which dungeons of dragons has been around long enough. Now that it has both influenced other genres, like iterations of fantasy role-playing, whether it’s tabletop or article games or whatever and then has in turn been influenced by those that it influenced first off.

So it’s sort of like having a conversation with itself and I think it is eating its own tail right and I think when some things are introduced into that and they’re not examined and they’re, not reimagined, then they just get regurgitate it ad nauseam to the point Where it’s like here’s another bog-standard, fantasy pantheon, which is just a collection of micro monotheism’s that have no weight to them, there’s not a faith, that’s necessary for your character to belong to and to practice and to engage with it’s just like this is the god of Fire and the goddess of the earth, and the god of whatever in commerce and whatever, and it’s just like it’s bloodless tooth gods and I frankly am tired of them.

And so I I it’s one of those things when I, when I see a fantasy setting, and it’s got yet another fantasy Pantheon, that’s like why did you even go to the trouble of making this up yourself like it’s nothing original about it, there’s nothing different about It it’s just the same thing, I’m talking strictly in like a published adventure type. You know I’m buying a campaign setting if it’s if it’s got another fantasy Pantheon in it, it’s a mark against it.

For me cuz, it’s like right. I don’t you, don’t even need to think to create up one of these. You just do it well yeah. I mean okay uh. What’s the what’s the the god of the Sun and morning’s a new beginning yeah, you know you’re just slapping a different face and a different name right on an already known concept, and that, while that is easy to do what are some different kind of schemes that You could at least draw from right, so, if you’re looking to freshen things up, you want something different.

My suggestion would be to first look outside of the Pantheon model of divinities polytheism right. It’s a polytheism that I find very bizarre and very little connection to the historical modes that I’m familiar with, and maybe for some people who are not steeped in like ancient religion and whatever else you know that they’ve spent way too much time reading about they don’t Care, you know, and in a bog-standard by-the-book kind of pantheon.

I do this when I’m like. I don’t want to think about it like this. My the point of this world is not to go in-depth about the gods or I’m going to let them come from the bottom up, in which case I will let the players take the lead on what kind of gods there are yeah. This show is a top-down approach, type show we’re talking of world building we’re talking crafting the deep backstory of your world that will inform your campaign, and so, in that sense it’s worth taking a look at the divinities and-and-and gods and the like that you have in Your setting and asking some real questions about them.

Why am I making the choices that I’m making? Is there something about the choices that I’m making that I’m just like going off of what was there before and if I’m doing that, then doing it because you’re conscious of it not because you’re, just like replicating the same mode of the pantheon of monotheism, the collection Of monotheistic religions that the most fantasy is, you could go like full-on straight monotheism, and this is one of those that I have personally found and at both, in my experience as a dungeon master and in reading about online, that it makes a lot of people uncomfortable.

That when you say there is one god in my setting, this is it. These are the powers associated with it. These are the social structures that are associated with it. This is the religion. That’s attached to it that when you do that, you number one your if you’re not creating an expansive enough monotheism, then you might be limiting character concepts for your players. They might be resentful of that.

There’s a whole real-world angle going on over here right, where people are just you know, maybe they’re uncomfortable with real world religions, they’re not familiar with it. They don’t like it they’re, irreligious or a religious or atheist or whatever stripe of non-religious participating. They are they just don’t want to have to deal with it. Right of monotheism is one that’s something to bring up in a session zero there or even before then it’s just like hey my setting has a you know monotheistic flavor, there’s one God.

You could go the other route like dual gods: sort of man, icky and dualism, where there’s one god and then an opposing God, whether that’s light and dark creation and destruction, good evil law chaos, whatever dichotomy you’re going for that, can be one that ties nicely in With a cosmic conflict of some kind, you know I’m thinking of something like middle-earth the main deity, that’s in middlee of middle-earth, aloo, guitar and nel, cuore and worn off, and all the other sort of like dark and gellick beings and and the that’s kind of a Setting that has a monotheism right, there’s like this one God and then created all these other celestial beings to help it create the world and earth and all that other business.

So there’s celestial beings that you can appeal to that. You can interact with and whatever, but they’re not gods, they’re more powerful than mortals might as well be gods, but there’s still a ranking there. So that’s sort of a way of blending the two. If you’re doing like a dualism, maybe one of the deities is it proper deity and the other is more of like a demonic figure of some kind, lesser in power, but because they’re lesser in power, they’re, it’s easier for them to interact with the mortal world or Something we can go the opposite end of the spectrum and be like full-on animist, where, like everything, has a spirit and a godling and elemental spirit of something or other and and the role of divine classes in the game is play cating all of these spirits.

So if you have say a cleric of war, for instance, then there’s no God of war that they appeal to. But there are spirits and gods of war, maybe a god of fear or a God of discipline, or something like like that. Where they’re not like, all-powerful all-encompassing, deities, they’re more like forces that move in the world that declares a part of so those are some options that are available and the reason why I kind of bring it up – and I don’t mean to like misdirect our viewers here, Where it’s like we’re going to talk about building a Pantheon, a Pantheon you shouldn’t do we will get to building a Pantheon here in a minute, yeah yeah, but before you get to that step of laying out which gods are in your setting, it is worthwhile to Ask yourself: why am I doing this? What is the point of the divine beings in my setting? Why am I choosing a Pantheon over some of these other schemes or get other arrangements of divinities in your game like? Why is that? And if the answer is just kind of like mm-hmm, there should be gods or spells right.

That’s an opportunity for a Dungeon Master to sit with that concept a little longer and think it through and fully develop. It yeah. Thinking of some questions that we can ask ourselves for for those things, I really think that a founding myth well yeah, it’s important right. I was going to say Jim. Where do you begin? I begin at the beginning. At the beginning, in the first chapter, the founding myth is important because it sets the tone for everything in your campaign you’re starting at a cosmic level, a large scale right.

I’m a big advocate of the bottom-up approach to campaign design, where it’s like. You really just need a starting Adventure, location and stuff that’s going on there and is there go there? No! Well, then, who cares like then? Who cares but world building is a fun exercise. It helps us and, as you build a campaign from the bottom up, you can take the time in between sessions to start top down building as well and see what I mean and see where they meet and – and you know you take the elements that are mentioned In the bottom-up play and then create a top-down elements for them in between sessions, for instance, and so thinking about a founding myth is important.

Where do the planes come from who lives there and how did they get there? That’s kind of where I would start. This is the entire cosmos. Is it the Great Wheel, cosmology of outer plane transit, though you know astral, Prime ethereal inner? Is it something completely different? Are you going with like the fourth edition model of the elemental chaos and then the sort of the astral sea method? There or something completely different thinking about that is going to be important, considering the place of the multiverse and the planes, and everything is important.

Those chapters in the dmg that talk about the different planes and what happens there, our jumping-off points for this. Maybe you start combining different ones or coming up with your own altogether, moving on from that, if there are planes and if there are inhabitants to those planes, then what about the gods? What are the gods come from where they eternal yeah? Are they always present? One day decided to start creating things or do the mortal races and creation precede the gods and later on, the gods come about because of belief and faith, and even the gods there could be from a bottom up approach right and the people actually create the gods.

That’s kind of a strong theme that runs through Dungeons and Dragons. We’re, like the active faith of a bunch of people, brings power to the gods, that’s kind of a default mode for it yeah kind of bring up a point. You you you, you touched on earlier when it comes to faith and in the creation of if it’s God’s versus men like who created who huh in in D & D, such a thing in our own world with religion, is the fact of faith.

It’s it’s. The fact of you know it’s in the absence of evidence like, but in D & D, like evidences everywhere you, if you do your prayers and you cast a spell you’re a priest or a cleric. You get spells. How does that affect faith? And how does faith change because there is direct evidence? Maybe if you’re going by that baseline, where existence of the deities in Dungeons and Dragons worlds and other sort of typical traditional fantasy worlds is real and there’s evidence for it.

Because of spells, you can talk to them, you can summon their servants. You can do all these things. Then faith is less a matter of like the kind of faith that we understand it of like a devotion to a principle or an ideal or a something that we have no tangible proof of, and it is instead adherence to a stricture of rules and and a Code of conduct that is handed down from a higher order being and then faith there is less about like trust and hope, and it’s more about obedience and and conformity yeah or the faith that that what you adhere to is the right path.

I like personally like adding in that element of our their gods or their. Not that’s why I really liked ever on right, like there is no evidence of gods in everyone. There’s clerical magic, there’s divine magic, but there’s no evidence of gods, necessarily there’s enough that people are faithful. But it’s not like traditional D & D, where there’s concrete proof, yeah and even and then there there are factions within D & D who are like.

Well. Those aren’t gods, they’re, artists, well, it’ll, be an example. From my own experience, the way I decided to handle that in story valve uh-huh, religion isn’t really talked about a lot, because all these people came from all these different spheres and all kind of jumbled together and thrown together and the blender on this one planet. So you have all these people that believe in all these different concepts that are similar, but they call them by different names.

So there are shrines everywhere too, like oh, the shrine of the morning Lord or the morning, or you know new beginnings like there’s a shrine to that concept, and people go and pay homage to their God at that shrine, but other than that like people. Just it’s more of a personal thing, because I wanted to have it that way, because I really wanted the players any of the players that wanted to play a cleric or someone who would believe in a higher power to bring like.

What do you want to believe in like I want you to create that really and for you to express that? Not me informing you how you should behave right, because I think that that’s just far more interesting, I can see that sort of like player led a Pantheon creation, is something I fall back on a lot just because it really tailors what the player wants to be. Most relevant to that particular campaign. Now I’ve done ones where you know it’s monotheism with different factions and divisions within the faith within the Church of it that represent.

You know different elements and allow for different kinds of clerics. Moving on from sort of the the founding myths and all those are there, certain high-minded questions and getting down like the nitty-gritty of design yourself, there’s two main approaches right, like sort of the ways that you can look at creating a Pantheon, you can either take the Game first sort of like build a game, build a set of gods that are supported by the existing game, mechanics yeah, yeah or you can flip the script and create a set of gods.

And then, if there are no game mechanics to back it up, you create them yourself. So, looking at game mechanics for gods, how do you do that? Where you’re not just filing off Lysander and putting a new name on for your morning boy, I mean, if that’s what’s working for you right, like don’t forget to skip the first part of the article and the rant and everything you know. If what you want is the standard fantasy list, you know maybe you’re new to the game.

Yeah, maybe you’ve come from. You know a popular stream or something like that and you’re like all right. Well, they’ve got these gods and critical role or high rollers or adventure zone or whatever it is that you’re coming from you’re, not steeped in years and decades of crusty game experience that you need that newness to kind of get any more more, that dopamine rush anymore And and the new stuff is fresh: it’s not cliched, it’s not old hat, it’s not boring, then taking the existing Dungeons and Dragons domains and alignments.

That’s a good place to start, and so you can go all right either. I’m going to take the domains that exist in 5th edition, dungeon, dragons or whatever game I’m using and create gods based on those. So there’s going to be a god of war, god of light or whatever or whatever, that mischievous guy, mischievous god knowledge, etc, etc. Or maybe the alignment chart you’ve got at least one for each alignment, or maybe others, and that all the very least you have a baseline there.

That’s one way to do it and, if you’re looking for something quick, if you’re looking for something easy, if you’re looking for something that’s a low barrier of entry for your players, you don’t want to overload them with lore or you want to leave the door open For them to interject their own war, for those classes or for those players who are playing divine classes, then maybe that’s the way that you go and – and you don’t have to spend a ton of time on it.

You just give it some thought present it to the players they’re going to run with most of it, you’ll fill in the gaps there, but you’re just sort of done: you’re, assigning names and they’re moving on yeah. That’s one way of doing it and if speed is good, if you’re looking for something, that’s more traditional, that’s the way to go, but if you’re looking for something different, you want something unique.

You want something that that’s tailor-made to your setting, then you’re going to have to homebrew and you’re going to have to the gods of the setting that you need based on whatever criteria you think is appropriate and then, if there are any holes in the game, mechanics You’re going to have to create your own domain and you’re going to have to create your own game rules to fill in that gap I mean, if you need them right, like I mean it’s like, if you see it as the DM, like, oh there’s, a hole There, but if nobody’s playing a cleric that needs that right, then why worry about it right, yeah until it’s necessary and then you bring it up.

An example of this would be something like I’m looking for a game world that has a polytheism that I recognized from ro from like the ancient Mediterranean and and I’m thinking here, something that’s more along like not necessarily like the Greek city-states with their patron gods. But more like the Fertile Crescent and in that era, where it’s like there’s a and yeah they’ve got like each city has its own deity and part of warfare is like stealing that God from the city, because it’s going to steal the you know the power of That city, let’s make that fantastic, yeah and now I might have each nation or people or polity – that’s in the world – might have a god that backs them up, but those gods might not map on to the existing divine domains.

And so I might chop up to the domains and make then rearrange the abilities within them so that they fit the you know the new Pantheon that I’m creating. I might homebrew some content and say, like you know, this is the city state and there’s a goddess here that rules over it, knowledge isn’t quite working for me here. War isn’t quite working for me here, but I’m going to come up with something that that’ll work for me yeah.

This is something about being a dungeon master that when it I find personally, is the most frustrating for me as a internet, Dungeons and Dragons personality, because I look at home brewing content as you go nuts right there. Is there your no barriers here, there’s no wrong answers, there’s! No! Whatever there are things that won’t work for your table yeah, but unless it’s a catastrophic Games, chances are unbalanced.

Homebrew is not going to ruin one session of your game, and if it is the you need to take a step back and talk to your players about what’s going on why this game element is ruining it, but creating your own homebrew content is just you just Do it you don’t need my approval, you don’t need the approval of the deity designers, you just do it well, I mean, if you’re talking about like concepts for like deities that might just totally destroy a setting.

Remember that people, even in the real world when it comes to religions, have accepted some crazy. I mean to go back to the Mediterranean. There I mean the big thing about inky and in Yana, and all that is inky goes down to the tigris-euphrates and-and-and Skeets won out and that’s how you have those rivers right, as that’s literally from the the girding of his loins in the fruit of his loins. There’s a lot there’s so much like there’s like a bodily fluid.

That’s what I’m saying is like you got to go pretty far, do people go whoa, whoa, whoa yeah and it’s sort of like taking the ancient Mediterranean in the ancient ancient Mesopotamia as as sort of our our archetypes for this, because I do, I think that those Analogs in our own, real world are better suited for the type of gaming with Dungeons and Dragons is, as opposed to medieval history. I don’t know that medieval history is a good historical example to you, and ancient history is a huge period of time right, but taking those models and mapping them on that means that your Pantheon czar, local and particular and idiosyncratic – and it’s not like yeah the Lysander – That they worship over in the Northeast is the same as a little painter.

They worship in the southwest yeah. It’s like franchising right like a franchise. I’m a Donald, that’s what I mean when I say that they’re, a collection of like micro, monotheism’s and then in baseline D & D. You’ve just got these. It’s it’s like! Okay, ima! I follow this one God it’s the same everywhere I go. There’s no division! There’s! No conflict, there’s no particularity to it. It’s just is it’s easy is what it is.

Yes, it’s a low barrier to entry. I find it so uninspiring and I would much rather have a a collection of just like well. This is this city’s God, and then this god is the god of the river and maybe there’s a really powerful God that that has control over something. You know that’s very influential, but there’s a mix match and they’re all related to one another or interact with each other in some way.

A good example that I use for this, sometimes, if there’s a role-playing game that came out gosh 10 or 12 years ago, now, Artesia Adventures in the known world right. What I’m talking about it’s based on a comic book series Artesia, is cancelled and I have no idea what’s happening to it anyway. It’s one of my favorite comic book series and one of my favorite games, even though I’ve never really had a chance to run it.

The whole world is created by this founding mythology and there’s a goddess and her daughters are, you know, Sheba gets daughters and they beget offspring and their offspring begets more and eventually mortals into the picture, and some of the offspring are monsters and the interaction between the Offspring and and the mortals creates the ages of this world, and you can see as you’re reading sort of the history of this world up to the present day.

The interaction of the gods, both in intensity and like early on they’re, really intends and the gods are everywhere – mortals – are interacting with them and then over time, mortals becoming the driving factor in history and the gods receding, but the impact of those gods actions are there. I like using it – and I like, using it as an example because it’s very tightly focused all of the gods – are bound in with each other.

There’s not that many of them and everything that exists in the setting has its origin at some point with a god. Either an offspring of one of the gods or goddesses, that’s there or it was created as an interaction between like okay. Well, this demigod stole the Sun at one point and took the Sun into the underworld. So it’s just like a very well thought-out example of how to present a fantasy Pantheon that has the hallmarks of real world religion, but is is definitely fantastical and and it’s one of those things where, if you get your hands on a copy of this book or Some of the the trade paperbacks that are out there for the comic book series like understanding a bit about this fantasy Pantheon.

For me, it was like setting my brain on fire with like I was calling my god here are all the things you can do. The thing that gets me about a lot of fantasy Pantheon’s is that it because they’re imported from our own history, they carry artifacts with them that I’m not sure it’s like. Would these gods have grown up naturally, in this fantasy environment? Here like it seems like that, there are other types of gods that would come about as opposed to ones that came about in our own real world right, like the big one that I’m thinking of the big example of this, for me, is real or the Lord Of Light from Song of Ice and Fire, this is a god that is harsh.

What it wants is a little murky right. What are we doing other than obedience yeah? It seems that what it wants, obey obey and deny your other gods right, deny the Seven deny or others etc. But the message that that that phrase, the night is dark and full of terrors to me describes every Dungeons and Dragons world that exists. The night is dark and there’s a monster manual, full of terrifying creatures, many of which have dark vision interactive at night like.

Why is there not a god or a deity of some kind, particularly if you have gods that are overarching that are present from region to region that have a consistent and non localized presence? Why wouldn’t you have a guy? That’s basically like yeah. I fight monsters. I’m here to fight monsters, I will keep you safe from monsters. I am here to you know, to fight all of the things that go bump in the night.

Yeah burn it away with my purifying light burn it away with my purifying light or our allies in shadow that we use. You know to fight the enemies of darkness, know that kind of because, as we know, there would be no shadow without life, there wouldn’t be right and that’s what makes it interesting. That’s what makes as a faith, makes it interesting and go from one dimensional and adds depth and complexity to it.

The Dungeons & Dragons world seems to me, like there’s all these little gods of each race right, there’s the orc gods and the nolo gods and the goblin gods and the whatever. What if you took all those monster manual, all the monsters in the monster mountain you you ignore the lore, that’s that’s already in there and you rewrite that monster manual to be like these are the offspring of deities. Right, like all of these monsters in here, come from somewhere someone birth to them or created them or brought them to life.

You could create a pantheon in which you create an intricate web that incorporates the mantra manual and your gods, and now it’s like you don’t just go say: fight and Griffin and Griffin is the offspring of this particular deity. That controls this particular thing and harming a Griffin will analog out uses is historical, Tiamat, yeah, a creature or goddess that that sort of is, is angry at the mortals who slay her her children and Abzu.

Her husband, I believe, is like slain like Gilgamesh. Maybe it’s been a while, since I’ve read the Epic of Gilgamesh, but there’s just this kind of like the sense that Tia montt is was fine until a bunch of mortals started messing with her yard, getting their yard, making a bunch of noise coming up in her Business sort of their nap right and then it awakens the chaos dragon right. That is to you, mom.

So that’s another kind of thing, and so, when you’re, looking at your campaign world, you know you’ve made this thing. You’ve got this all laid out. You’ve got your countries and your whatever and when it comes to looking at the gods of your setting, are the gods that are suggested in The Player’s Handbook working for my setting mm-hmm. If they do great, if they don’t making ones up that are integrated and fit within your campaign, setting is a very satisfying experience and then you can present that information to players, and it makes them feel like the campaign world – is much more alive and and and Realized yeah and I mean – and you know everybody typically has like gods, but like aren’t there other ways to kind of express that divine power, like I mean they’re, like hero gods like a Warhammer, even mortals that kind of rise up to the right hood or just Different kinds of like divine power that manifests that maybe it’s not a straight-up God yeah with a with a place waiting for you when you died right right with a home in the outer Plains, yeah Celestials, as intervenors yeah, I feel like a heroes and hero cults – Are one and these would be sort of like in D & D terms, these would be like epic level characters, who’ve transcended mortal limits, but are not yet gods, but maybe a really high level warrior in your campaign world that died a long time ago.

Has a cult following of people that are devoted to them that that take the practice. Is that this that this warrior wrote down or or their exploits and like form a cult based around? And it’s not quite religious, but it’s definitely not just like a fan club. Maybe there are mystery religions in which the adherents have to under grow certain. You know secret initiation, rites and understand secret knowledge about the world.

In order to be inducted into these into these mysteries, there are demigods and gods of cities. You know a god of a river or a mountain or forest little dog Ling’s, that are powerful spirits, that they didn’t have at a location or a place, or something like that. Those are all ways of interjecting, a vibrant world, of the divine into your campaign. Without having to resort to you know, zeus not knock off zeus up and knock off mount olympus.

You know not doing anything interesting, the divine community of your game as something more than just that bog standard, fantasy pantheon means that first off your tailoring it to the campaign world deepening your own campaign setting and when the players finally interact with something like that. You have something that’s fleshed out, that’s different than new. You might be showing them something new that they haven’t seen before, letting them interact with something different and you’ll create moments in your campaign where, before your players might look like, i’m not really care about.

What’s going on with this church or temple or whatever, by having something different and making it weird and unusual and and fitting with your game and not just taking the standard, that’s there you create an opportunity to make a really memorable element of your setting. Come to life and and presenting it to your players and saying like here’s, something different, i’m offering up as a way to you know, do something different with your character or help me create something new for the world that we’re playing in right.

In the book of revelations here for you gods, how does it all end? What do you I mean? What what’s that? What’s the you got a founding myth, you should have a apocalypse myth, certainly like a founding myth having these other things about how the world is going to end, how the guys would participate in that. What are the role of mortals in that end of the world? Is it a conflagration that ends in Oblivion, or is it a change of cycle a period of turmoil before the new thing happens? Is it prophesied? Is it something that the players can stop or or influence in some way? I think it’s just as enriching to to talk to think about like the end of your world, of your campaigns world and the role that the gods play in it as it is the beginning of the world and how the gods, God creates dinosaurs.

God destroys dinosaurs, God creates man, man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs. Women inherit the earth.

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Player Driven Campaign Creation in 5e Dungeons & Dragons and TTRPG- Web DM

Jim Davis. You ever noticed your DM a little drunk on power and maybe needs a designated driver to take the campaign home. Well guess what we’re talking player, driven campaigns here on web DM player, driven campaigns? Why do you want to put the players first as a DM? What’s the benefit to me, the benefit of a player driven campaigns is bringing the rest of the table in and it’s less about, like poor Dungeon Master doesn’t have any input.

They don’t get to have any say in how their campaigns going. The players are just going to dictate the way everything happens with the setting. Oh woe is me all of the great wonderful imagine of things that Dungeon Master’s get to do. I don’t get to do it. There are games that are like that, where, where world creation and world building are collaborative and group based and and there are even some games, that everyone’s a GM basically yeah – we’re not really talking about those right here.

We’re talking about making your traditional sort of mainstream fantasy and and whatever other games, that you’re playing more player focused and using certain techniques to bring the characters front and center into the campaign and to make sure that the decisions that the players are making are centered. In that campaign and that the dungeon master, our game, master referee or whatever you want to call them, is not like subtly, nudging and and moving the campaign towards some predetermined end, but is instead letting the campaign breathe and and go where it goes as it goes.

Introducing new things into it to keep it going and keep it moving and and sort of keep it vibrant, but the players and their decisions and the characters and their their backgrounds and personalities and goals are the both of the motivator. The driving force behind the campaign and and sort of the center of it right, the opposite of this style, would be we’re playing through the diems novel. It’s the straight-up railroad, although to be fair, a hyper focused campaign with characters that gel together that they they have a goal in mind that they want they pursue it without.

You know a lot of tangents or getting distracted and they communicate that clearly to the DM. The end result of it looks remarkably similar to a railroaded campaign, write it. The end product looks as though it’s it’s. You know that they were always doing the thing that I am one of them to do, and but if they will only bought the ticket for each leg of that journey, sure maybe that’s what they’re all like forcing people on a railroad right.

They want to walk across the country and you go no, no. You need to stay back on the tracks right guys, stay back on the strikes. That is true, you know and linear play, which is a less. You know derogatory way of saying railroad. Interrogatories right, listen, incendiary way is built, the country we’re talking more of the you know. What are we going to do with the campaign? Let me let the players.

Okay, take the take the initiative here and and lead what some ways that a DM can keep the players in the driving seat and keep their hands like on the wheel natural one of the big things to me and – and I experienced this as I will like Prepare a campaign is I’ll, get to a point where I’m like. I cannot do any more prep for this campaign until I know who the players are, we need something here. We need to know who are the actors that are going to be in this right? Who are the characters? What do they want where their goals, what are their backgrounds, if I’m over here, creating like an intrigue heavy urban campaign with light, combat and lots of politics and and messing about in the criminal underworld? And things like that and and my players are over here – going like man we’re psyched to play these like mighty feud warriors who are going to do battle against their enemies, then that’s a mismatch there and and I’m wasting my efforts in preparing a campaign based on, Like intrigue and politics, and and backbiting and scheming, and things like that, when I’ve got a group of players who are itching for a game of kick down the door D & D or vice versa, right, maybe they’re really feeling like.

I want to play this thief to the best ability climb the ranks of the Thieves Guild talking to the players before the game starts before there’s even a session zero, and just like communicating this information to them. Many DMS do this right, like they’re like oh hey, this is the kind of campaign I’m thinking about running like what do you guys think? Are you interested you know what what about the next time we play is this campaign I can run.

This is the a good time to start asking specific questions of your players and ask them like what is it about your character and it’s connection to the game world that that player enjoys? What are the things in the players or sorry. The characters background that the dungeon master can use for play that they can mine and look and see like okay. Well, wait a second. This looks like something that you could spin a whole adventure out of, or this thing right here is like it happened in the characters background, but but who else was involved with it? Maybe we can bring these elements to the floor later on and and what you have is as you’re reading, through the backgrounds of your of your of the characters where you start taking notes like this thing seems like a secret that’ll come out later, or this thing Seems like something that we could tease out later into an adventure.

Maybe you know a secret from the characters past that they don’t want discovered or an event that happened to them, that that that’s going to come back later, they think is resolved, but instead it’s going to come back later. Sometimes you see these elements refer to as knives and as I’m not sure where that exactly comes from, but I’ve had a couple of DMS use that technique now and I kind of like it right.

You’re you’re, asking the player character. Your ass on the player like show us what your characters got. What are the things in the backstory that we could potentially use in the campaign or that’s potentially there? Now you don’t have to necessarily do that. You could just like ask for a regular player background, and then you find those themselves. You know you find the things in it that you can use, or you can like just straight-up ask a player hey when you show me your character sheet, that you include some kind of list or description or something about the things in your characters, background.

That would be interesting to include in the game those kind of different approaches to to just getting that information. Well, then, you get to take that information and basically seed the campaign with all of that info. Exactly exactly right. So let’s say you’ve got a map of your area of play and you’re, starting with you know, sort of a locality. You know maybe there’s a town or a village. There’s a couple of adventure sites nearby, maybe a full-on dungeon or bandits.

You’ve got your encounter tables and all these other kind things it’s now time to take those elements, and hopefully you have left room for the characters in in your prep. You haven’t detailed everything out to such a degree that there’s no room for the player characters to enter into your world and start changing things up. There needs to be a moment where the DM and the player sit down together and go okay.

What’s, in your character, background right? Well, this in my world, these things work like XYZ. Do any of those things sound interesting to you, or do you think they’re relevant to your character background, it’s a back and forth and maybe there’s a little bit of compromise where the dungeon master goes like well, I know it doesn’t have to be this way. That was just sort of my initial thought if you’re a character or if you have an a different idea, or you want something different for your character that we can find a place for that in the world.

Let’s take, for instance, like you’ve got some sort of character that belongs to an organization or something like that, maybe like a wizard’s guild or monastery or a fighters dueling Club or something right like what you have is is a an opportunity for the burst off of The player character to influence the world and they can say like alright, we didn’t know that there was going to be a fencing school in this location.

But we’ve got a you know: a fighter who’s like all about dueling, and there should be someone here that that fighter can latch on to in a sympathetic, NPC a source of potential quests, a source of interest for that fighter. Who can then go to the fencing school and feel like? Well? Maybe I want to join up. Maybe I want to become an instructor. Are there any jobs or anything that needs to be done there like? Maybe they want to take it over and you’ve got kind of a whoosh of martial arts sort of like the outside instructor, comes in challenging the master to combat and takes over and that spawns a whole sort of vendetta and and so the cycles of violence.

They just continue those cycles of violence. This is where you take a look at your map and you go. Is there anywhere on here that can be connected to the player characters background? Is there anything in the player characters background that I need to be sure to include in this player, and then you go do that with the with your NPCs? Are there any NPCs here who might be a good fit for something that happened in one of the PCs background? If it’s like a local going to ruler or something like that, then that’s a good place to do it.

Maybe a mentor of some kind, that’s in their background or an enemy. Those NPCs have a place in your world, and you you owe it to yourself and to the player to like really take a look and see like okay can i? How can I work this into the campaign world? How can I embed this NPC in that campaign, world and and like have it be a part of it, but it’s there for the player to interact with as they choose player, might completely ignore these things and do something completely different.

I know I have made characters where I was like. Oh man, this is the backstory. It’s going to be this and that and the minute we start playing. I forget all that and then I’m playing the character as they exist right now, and it’s not about what? What I came up with for backstory or anything can’t move forward. Looking over your shoulder, Jim Davis, just kind of soldier looking backwards, is actually kind of good advice, we’ll run into something: that’s kinda, what we mean when we say seed, your sandbox or your location or your setting or whatever it is with your player, character, backgrounds.

We’re talking about matching locations matching NPCs. Is there something in the PC background that jumps out at you and goes like who I can make an adventure out of this then like? Let’s, let’s do that like like put that in there and and work through the players? Stumbling across it or that becoming an active element of play, you know as the game unfolds well, sometimes that can actually, instead of just seating, an adventure like you said with the fighting school thing like if it’s the traditional, like, oh my my master, my whatever was Killed that can be like the whole source of a campaign that can focus your campaign and, like this character, their whole goal is to get to the end and kill that guy right and it just so happens the rest of the party like oh yeah, that’s the Guy, that’s the baron, that’s subject like suppressing this land and we need to take him out anyway right right if you’re, creating a dynamic campaign world where things change and things develop, and your NPCs have plots and motivations and goals that are going on in the background And you’ve created like a timeline for your campaign, that’s like: if the players do nothing XYZ events will happen.

If you have something like that in mind, maybe it’s an actual like timeline for your campaign. Maybe it’s just a general idea of what’s going to happen, then you start kind of creating these moving elements. The person who slew the fighters master at the fight school is now the baron. Well, that’s a problem right because you can’t just walk in and kill the Baron yeah, that’s going to be bad news, and so you now you’ve spawned this whole other thing.

Well, what if the Baron is also has a tie to the background of another player character. You’re looking for connections that you can potentially make and it’s a skill that you’ll have to develop as a dungeon master. This is this not how I used to run games. This is something that I’ve learned to do really over the last few years is really kind of focus in and make players the the center of a game.

First off I hated reading big wall character backgrounds. It was difficult to get to the game. Ax balem owns in a multi-page handwritten gym. I had an opus he’s going to write it when you use des sins, and I know – and it’s one of those things right. I always kept my every my that’s very true. My stance was, I’m just not going to read them like write them all you want not. I don’t feel like reading a bunch of stuff.

For me, that was a reaction to character backgrounds. I was getting at the table where it seemed like the most important things that had happened to that character had already happened, yeah that the most adventure that they were ever going to have had been written into that character background, and to me that signaled, a breach Of trust that the players who were playing these characters didn’t trust that cool awesome, amazing things would happen in their campaign, and so they felt the need to write this into the play to the character’s backstory instead of just saying like yeah.

Well, you know maybe some exciting things have happened to my character, but the best is yet to come and let’s figure out, what’s going to happen through play, and so I really focused then on making sure that in the moments of play there were interesting things for The characters to do now I try to do that as well as tie in what they’ve given me for the backstory to create the elements of play that we’re going to use.

Let’s use an example right running Warhammer yeah right now on on encounter RP, their twitch blog. We got a Wednesday game. You know I have a mini sandbox that I have packed to the gills with heretics and witches and mutant and chaos and all sorts of things for a witch hunter to salivate over and want to fight. And then it’s then we get the five player characters. The witch hunter – and you know its followers and it’s now time to look through the backgrounds of each one of those player, characters and go alright.

Alero is an elven, you know it’s a high wood, elf, Ranger type from you know: who’s had this tragic backstory with a hag or a Crone of some kind that that caused Alero Pruitt’s character to to sort of commit this atrocity. I already knew that there were going to be witches and hags and sort of like chaos, sorcerers and the like in my campaign. Well now one of them has to be Alero switch because otherwise, what’s the point of Pruett telling me that there’s a witch in his characters background when he’s with a witch hunter, you said I’m saying like there was a time whenever I would read a background like That and I would go like why you can’t tell me to put a witch in my game like there, whereas I’m thinking when I wrote it on like over a bunch of witch hunters.

This is perfect right. So now I look at something like that and I go oh well. This is perfect, like it makes sense, and – and I try to do this – you know a lot now where, where it’s like, if there’s something in a PC background, let’s like bring it to the center of the game – let’s put this in there, and this works really Well for very short, focused campaigns, but it also works well for like longer running ones as well.

Let’s talk about choice and how real those choices are because, like you said you know, sometimes demons don’t want to be forced to do anything in their game, determined by the players. Things like that. But what we’re talking about here? Players, if they’re in the driver’s seat and they’re going to be directing, where we’re going right, yeah and so when they make choices, to go places and to do the things in the world that you that the DM has set down like.

How do you ensure that that actually matters there’s a school of dungeon master, ring and game, a stirring in general that that you’ll see sometimes refer to as illusionism and this school prizes, the illusion of choice, the illusion of a living breathing world that reacts to player Decisions and prizes the illusion of all of these things and they use techniques diems, who sort of like this style and like this kind of play, use a lot of techniques with what we might call a quantum encounter.

There’s something something was prepared. An encounter was prepared, but it floats around the map. It’s not nailed down yet the reason why I personally really dislike this style of play is you illustrated by like you’ve, come to a t-intersection in the dungeon. You can go one way or another. If you look at for clues as to what’s in either direction, you realize that to the left there seemed to be clues, suggesting one type of monster or enemy, and so instead you go towards the right and the dungeon master goes and looks goes well.

You know I put that encounter. I was thinking it might be to the left or something like that, but they decided to go against it, the others I’m just going to move it, I’m just going to move that encounter right. The everyone knows that the bandits attack people that take the left fork in the road. The players take. The right fork in the road bandits attack them anyway, it’s at any time where, regardless of what the players say or do, regardless of the decisions they make and the choices that they that they they make or the past that they follow.

If the dungeon master goes, this thing is happening, no matter what that is an element of illusionism. Let me take a step and say there are some times when that technique is useful. I use it all the time in one shots, because you’ve got two to three hours to play, maybe a little bit more you’re trying to deliver a certain experience to to to make sure that the game is is whatever it is, particularly if you’re like doing a Focused one-shot or something like that right, you know, but you want a beginning, a middle and a beginning.

In a million you want a satisfying session of Dungeons and Dragons. Then you use different techniques here, but in regular play in a long-term campaign play overuse of illusionism and and for players like myself. Any whiff of it immediately takes me out, and I know I’m not the only one. I’ve talked to other players who are like this and other people who they do not like in the sense that when they make a decision in game, the dungeon master is just kind of humoring them and whatever the dungeon master wants is going to happen.

They’re just shuffling things behind they’re, just shuffling things behind the scenes moving around and counters, saying like oh, that NPC was always there. I understand the temptation to do this right. It’s sometimes difficult with a group of players who really keep you on your toes. It’s hard to stay one step ahead of them and so keeping things vague and loose and what’s there what’s not, can lead to these moments where you go like well, I’m just going to at the table.

Whatever the players come up with, I’m just going to immediately react to it. It’s going to be like a counter towards it, or this encounter that I’ve prepared it’s going to happen, no matter what we’re going to get to that, because that’s what I’ve prepared! That kind of illusionism that kind of forcing an encounter, it really does damage to the bonds of trust between player and game master if they find out, and if it’s not something that the party was like.

Okay with to begin with, you know well, there’s also a few other things that diems have been known to do and we’ve discussed them before and other shows it’s worth mentioning here again, but like fudging, yeah but dying young. Maybe it’s because you are so focused on the players getting to where they want to go you’re going to fudge just to help them along I’m young easy. Is that even okay, I don’t like that.

You know here’s the thing. Would you accept it from a player? Would you accept the player going like one man? I that’s thirteen looks like an 18 to me. I have to hit you know, I’m ready to hit right now, I’m just going to fudge this dice a little too good to get the outcome that I want. You wouldn’t accept it from players. We would call that cheating yeah with those kinds of players whether it’s like Oh fell on the floor fell on the crack of a book.

It’s a die whatever. It is whatever coded language they use to give themselves. Another role or ordinate get me the first hole that they had. We, you know we don’t like it as Dungeon Master’s when players do that. Well, why would we accept it from ourselves, even if you’re using a screen like let’s say, you’re using a screen, you want to keep your notes secret. You don’t roll on the open because you’re one of those DMS likes just roll random dice in order to make the players think a lot of things are going on legitimate technique, but guys the fake bro.

I don’t overuse it, but it is a legitimate thing. You’re, like you’re gaslighting, the PC anyway, the fudge, the altering of dice, is one of those things where. Why are you rolling in the first place, if you feel the need to fudge, but to me, there’s something else going on that leads you to believe. Like the outcome that I just got with this die, roll was unwanted. Then why did you roll the die in the first place? Yeah, and if it’s something like I don’t want to kill the players right now.

If the dice are just been going against them all night and and what should have been a standard just like walk in the park, combat has got them on the ropes and and you’re running the risk of like a TPK or something like that. Even in those situations, it’s tough for me to say, like oh yeah, you should like pull your punches there and like not have them. You know, be mercilessly slaughtered first off if you’re playing a modern, mainstream RPG, the likelihood of that happening is very low right.

You really got to like go after like really deadly hard combats in a row or some kind of monster. That’s going to like drop a bunch of AoE damage on you or something to like get to that point. So taking that thought and like flipping it. What about altering an encounter like once your PCs roll up in a room? And you get your thought? Oh, this is going to be badass in one round. They just bucket of steamroller for all them in one round and then there’s like a unplanned wave.

That comes in that’s another thing that I’m just not a fan of a style of gaming. That kind of like we’re going to adapt and and and change this scene. You know change the encounter in the middle of the scene or something like that. It’s one of those tools where it’s like there’s nothing necessarily wrong with it. I have really never seen it used in a way that makes the game more fun. Like I, you know, there’s a lot of times when the players like just like waste and encounter yeah right just like utterly waste yeah.

Well, they just hit the perfect, spells and attack excite order and just take a freaking enemy down and to me it’s like well sometimes like that. Just feels good, sometimes yeah, hey, we did it right, yeah. You know yeah, and I think it’s one of those things where, if that’s what’s happened, if you know first of it’s a one-off thing, give it to your party if it keeps happening, and you sense that your players are getting bored because you know the encounters that You’re, throwing at them are not engaging and not not fun or not whatever.

It is that you, the players, want out of any counter. That’s a behind-the-scenes thing, it’s time to up your game in terms of like making sure the encounter is challenging for the party. If that’s what they’re, looking for and including like very dinna me types and looking at the tactics that they use and and and altering your own, the way you play the the monsters themselves, those are things to get you a better encounter, but the the occasional like Man, the party really just curb-stomp these these enemies, that’s perfectly fine and in those situations like fudging the dice so that it’s a more challenging encounter first up, I there’s someone will know that one of the players particularly have veteran players or something like that.

They’ll know all right this place that we’ve said it many times. Please don’t fudge dice. We like rolling in the open. We like letting the dice fall where they may, because they tell their own story when it comes to campaigns. Adventures for the DM here. Yeah, PC driven campaigns right can that coincide with what has become kind of the bog standard of fantasy RPG, which is like Avengers type world-saving like the big, the big dam quest, the big dam question yeah.

Does that work like I? I think it can, but it is difficult and there are countervailing factors that that that push dm’s into into what I see as bad practices, a lot of, but not all of them, of the like Wizards of the coast modules that they put out for themselves. Follow this model, you don’t have to play them this way. You can chop them up and use them a lot of different ways, but if you run them kind of, as is, there is a a big threat that requires the party to be higher level to deal with right somewhere north of 10th to 15th level.

From the beginning, the party is going to be dealing with enemies related to this threat and working their way up a food chain and there’s usually a sense of just like the players are the only ones dealing with this world shaking reality altering campaign, changing kind of Threat, there’s a lot of reasons why I’m not fond of that model, but mostly it’s ones where an implication of a narrative structure to the kind of the Grand Campaign sort of a rising action.

The climax of falling action and all those sorts of narrative beats that you know are the hallmark of really good fiction, and – and you know you might might make for a really good story to just like read or even just kind of talk about. They don’t necessarily mesh well with the random nature of RPGs, where you’re kind of here, at least I’m kind of here and – and I think one of the strengths of RPGs – is being surprised that those emergent elements of play that you can’t account for that.

You don’t know, what’s going to happen, you’re you yourself as a dungeon master, will be surprised, but if you’re running this campaign, that requires, like all the players, are on board they’re all unified in this goal. To like stop the big, bad and save the world, and if one of them dies then that’s that can put a hiccup in in the campaign if all of them die that can you know bring the campaign to a complete halt.

If you know, none of them want to do something like that, they all want to pursue other things. They want to go off here and do some downtime activities and they want to do side quests. I think this is like the most common one where it’s like. There’s a sense of urgency to the campaign the soul monger is killing, is killing everyone. Who’s ever been resurrected, the Tia mots going to return or the demon princes or out of the abyss and and attacking everything like.

We must do something now and that doesn’t leave a lot of room for the madcap zany adventures that I find almost all of my like favorite role, playing and Dungeons and Dragons stories are a lot there are comes from just like. We were just messing around and this happened and they opened a portal before we had to clean up this mess, or we were just like we’re poking around this dungeon and found this thing and yeah.

So many things that happen just by happenstance and randomness and chance and dumb luck and and and the weird alchemy that is, you, know, playing the game and letting things emerge from it. That’s going to alter it and something to support that argument. The knocks against the Marvel movie universe and how you can’t have any kind of personal like like Jane, never shows up for Thor and everything he’s too busy saving the world all the time you can’t fit in, like all that, you know personal backstory right right exactly Unless you’ve got a party, that’s like all of them have created backstories that tie into the grand campaign, and you know, you’ve been doing a lot of behind-the-scenes metagame work before the campaign starts to like make sure it merges and meshes that’s a situation where you can, But if you’ve just got like some players, who made some characters and they’re just kind of there to play – and they want a meander and Wonder and do all these things and you keep probably pushing them along for the Grand Campaign – you’re fudging roles, you’re altering encounters, On-The-Fly, you start negating player decisions yeah, and this is one of those things that once a player decides to do something in the dungeon master decides.

I don’t like that. That’s not going to happen and they don’t take a moment to just say: hey player, what you’re doing right now. Is it really it I’m having trouble making it work for my campaign? Can we talk about it if they try to like subtly alter the course of the game, some of the most epic meltdowns at a table? That’s it have resulted from that kind of like attempting to manage the players yeah right.

Well, I mean you’re you’re subverting the player agency in the game. Therefore, there’s no reason for the player to be there to be there right exactly and and if it’s just like running through the dungeon master story, it’s not it’s not a fun engaging way to play. There is a place for dungeon master creativity. There is a place for the dungeon master to interject their own opinions, their own ideas into it.

This is not about completely ceding the field to the players, and you are just the mere passive you know entity at the table. It is about making sure everyone gets a chance to collaborate, and everyone has a chance to have their portion of the narrative that’s being created at the table through play as an element of that, and not just like. Oh, it’s, the dungeon master and the players are left to kind of scramble for some way to connect to the setting and world and then find relevance and meaning in it.

It’s the dungeon master, going like here’s a par baked setting. Let’s get your characters in the mix, finish it off and play we’re going to hit the ground running and some of the most amazing gaming I’ve had has come from this style of game of player. Centered effing, a man deafening I’m like well, and what I love about the sword now is they have enough albums that now I could just keep listening to them and not get tired of them.

Yeah yeah because I’ve even gone back and listening to listen to high country again, and it’s still, my least favorite, but there’s still a lot of fun songs on there like I get what they’re trying to do, they want to do a more mellow, chill rock album And they have every right to do that, yeah lad that they did know. I begrudge artists at all who want to do something different now that it’s like you know, squeeze every amounts of imagination out of your brain and put it up on a article.

It’s just like I’m going to do whatever is exciting. For me, you guys can go deal with it. Yeah there’ll be a article there’ll be another. Album yeah there’ll be another article, another album so yeah yeah, but goddamn use future. So good yeah we were listening to apocryphon while

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