Roll on your own time

For a dungeon master, tabletop games are really a hobby in two parts: preparing the game and running the game. It’s fine to prefer one over the other, and we all get short on prep time when life gets in the way. I’d like to suggest that one of the parts of a published adventure you should prepare is getting rid of any random encounter table rolls you have to do during the game.

Roll them before the game for infinitely better results, always.

I’m running Maze of the Blue Medusa at the moment, and there’s a great deal of prep that has to go into it. I’d only recommend running this adventure to the most dedicated of DMs; there are hundreds of rooms each with their own ploy, either a kind of trap or a piece of the story for the players to put together. I spend a few hours before the game to look around the potential rooms but even then, the randomness of the player choices makes anticipating their moves difficult. During the game, there’s a great deal of time where I’ve needed to tell my players to talk amongst themselves whilst I flick to the right page.

There’s not much to be done about this – other than study the book more.

There is another area of the game which slows things down though; random tables. The Maze is not a safe place, and random encounters are supposed to happen whenever the characters make too much of a disturbance or when they let their guards down. The book suggests an excessive “every twenty minutes”. These random encounters are to be rolled on a table – the table changes depending on where in the maze they are.

I’ve come to the conclusion that these tables should never be rolled on in the middle of a game. These tables aren’t unique to MotBM. You’ll find them in most published adventures. Random loot tables are less time consuming, but they also have a similar missed opportunity.

Instead, roll on these tables during your prep time. This is where fudging the dice roll can really come into its own. This buys you time during the game because you don’t need to scramble for the next battlemap or spend three minutes looking up creatures in the monster manual. More interestingly though, you can think of the story of the fight.

Nearly always your players are looking for more information about their current quest, and any smart group keeps back one of the combatants for questioning. Just give them the right person for the information they need.

In The Blue Medusa, there are a large number of potential encounters. There are half a dozen mummies, for instance, each with their own goals in the maze. Throwing those out during my game at the moment wouldn’t do anything but confuse the players. Their logic, most likely, would be that the DM is offering this NPC who’s carrying a history golem, and so it must have something to do with the quest at hand. Almost always, these random encounters don’t push the story forwards. The just distract.

Dragons who want not for gold

I was in need of a person who’s obsessed with high valuable items and making a … hoard of them, if you will. But these items are not simple mountains of gold or gems just to sit on all day. These are unique items. Items with a wonderful story behind them. Rarely crudely stolen but aquired. It’s not a collection of stolen items, but work has gone into them to get them.

This is why I came up with the idea for the Onyx Dragon.

This lawful dragon might always endevour to come by an item justly, but sometimes their obsession gets the better of them. They find an excuse – a lie to themselves – to bend their moral code. If someone else steals it and gives it to me, then that’s probably good enough…

These mental gymnastics are an onyx dragon’s main weapon, which it can easily force on others too. Weakening their will and casting doubt. An onyx dragon may never need to fight to need hold of their stash – with enough time the theif will talk themselves out of trying in the first place.

Redcap Iron Boots

Redcaps are fun for just wild violence. Bonus: if the fight you’ve thrown your gang into isn’t cutting the mustard, you can just have Redcaps appear. They show up where ever horrid, blood swathed scenes of terror have happened.

Lets jump to the part where they say “I’d like to loot the corpse!” though.

Redcap Iron Boots
Magic footwear, which grow and shrink in size for their new owner. They’re eager to be worn.

The boots are very heavy, adding at least 50lb to the weight of the wearer. Stealth checks are made with disadvantage. Swimming is difficult whilst wearing these boots.

Attunement: whilst wearing them, leave your feet in a bucket of water for the duration of a short rest. They’ll get properly snug then. If you move towards an enemy and use the last of your movement to get to them (ie. you have zero movement left when you reach them), you can just fudging kick ’em real hard.

The target must succeed on a DC 14 Dexterity saving throw or take 3d10 + STR bludgeoning damage and be knocked backwards 5 feet prone. If the target succeeds, you take 1d10 piercing damage as the boots drain their blood lust from you instead.

Cursed: the boots do not want to be removed. You take 3d10 piercing damage to attempt to remove them. Removing them requires a DC 11 Strength save.

Prescience

I couldn’t sleep and was thinking if there was a skill this doesn’t fit into the ordinary 5e skill list. There are lots of skills which don’t appear on the character sheet, but most of them fall into one that is already there. Juggling is probably performance, diving is athletics. I was thinking of skills which don’t appear.

Prescience is one. We know that this is a skill because it’s something that wizards can learn, and it’s not something that sorcerers gain innately. There are many ways wizards learn their skills, and it doesn’t have to be through schooling. Even barbarians can pick up some magic, accidentally. Why couldn’t your Fighter have found a note book as a kid in a box of pornography, abandoned in a bush somewhere. Nestled in the marginalia of the sensual artwork were notes on how to hone the skill of fortune telling.

Prescience

Your Wisdom (Prescience) check allows you to attempt to understand the future, not through deduction but through divination. Your method of prescience may differ from another’s; it could include understanding tea leaves, meditation for some time, or maybe even glimpses of what lies beyond, coming unbidden and uncontrollably.

Peering through time is not entirely understood, and even those most dedicated to the art have been known to be unreliable. Your Dungeon Master may tell you of a cryptic omen or exactly what a foe will do next. They may chose to let you see miles away from where you rest or only meters around you.

So now that skill exists, there’s a few things to think about. The first is proficiencies. Obviously, this isn’t mentioned in any of the normal routes of gaining that tick on your skill list, like backgrounds. Ideally, this might be something the players can learn over the course of the game (using downtime) or give it them during a session zero – maybe swapping one of their normal proficiencies.

The other issue to tackle is that not everyone has access to this ability. You could instead make this into a tool, like the brewing tool kit. You need the crystal ball (worth at least 200 gold pieces) before you can even make use of the skill, for instance.

I prefer to keep it like a normal skill though; everyone can try it but some people don’t have a very high modifier. In fact, instead of the base modifier being 0 (plus zero on your d20), the base modifier could be -10. At first level, proficiency in prescience gives you -8 to the dice roll. The likelihood of hitting the DC to get decent information is low, and probably relies on getting a natural twenty. This makes the skill less useful until later levels.

Rolling 5 or less reveals nothing of the future. Less than 10 gives incredibly vague feelings. More than that gives gradually clearer images. It’s still, of course, totally down how the DM wants to deal with it, and what information (useful or not) they want to give out.

Of course, you could keep the default modifier at 0, but have the DC be set in the 20s or high teens each time.

From Giant Slayer to Hoard of the Dragon Queen

Back in the day I ran a game for my work collegeues. We started with Giantslayer as a tester, to show of what D&D is to a group of people who had never even heard of a role play game before. Once we were done with the adventure, a few people wanted to carry on and so I began Hoard of the Dragon Queen (which I ultimately abandoned as being too linear, but regret that now).

Here are my notes for the sessions (these ended up being a couple of sessions worth of notes) between the two campaigns.

I quite like these notes. My aim was to have a page-per-scene. All the character names I needed, where I needed them. Any thing I’d likely have to look up – creature stats or NPC objectives. The notes are also fairly reusable and easily updateable once the characters kill someone I didn’t expect them to.