5 Ways Inviting a Substitute Dungeon Master Can Be Awesome

The first time a player asked me to allow them to run a micro-module in the middle of my 6-month campaign, my mind rebelled at the notion.

Stupid players. They wants it. They wants me to hand over my campaign. My love. My…precious.

But after some crying, a little blood, and a lot of counseling, I gave over my campaign for a single session while I test-drove a character concept that had been rattling around in my brain. 95% of the games I’m in, I’m the DM. But damn it felt good to let a substitute take over for a session. Continue reading “5 Ways Inviting a Substitute Dungeon Master Can Be Awesome”


5 Essential Traits of a Pants-Ruining Monster

Once in a while we need to frighten the players. A house on a haunted hill. A monster in the closet. A sewer full of horrors. The next campaign calls for major creeps. But the problem with players (nay, media consumers) is that they’ve seen it all before. Most horror movies on Netflix have stranger monsters than the Monster’s Manual. Even your average non-horror RPG game, like Fallout or Skyrim, contain thrills that make old slasher flicks look like Anna Karenina.

How do I scare my players? How do I legitimately freak them out? How do I make their pulse pound after a lifetime of slaying vampires, goblins, and trolls? Continue reading “5 Essential Traits of a Pants-Ruining Monster”

Life After Death (In D&D)

Somewhere in the world today, a tabletop player got his or her favorite character killed. The chasm was too wide to jump. The gelatinous cube wasn’t edible. The dragon wasn’t really sleeping. The Orcs apparently take offense to making ‘Handle Animal’ attempts on them. For whatever reason the player is no longer the owner of a proud, courageous denizen of middle earth, but an arrow-riddled corpse and whatever equipment the party is willing to pass on to their new character.

Character death is usually dealt with like a child’s backstroke goldfish. Unceremoniously discarded, and replaced before anyone feels any real loss. Players are quick to throw up their hands Continue reading “Life After Death (In D&D)”

Making ‘The Gaunt’

It’s never a good sign when you find the dungeon master watching Silent Hill with a notepad in his lap. Yet this is how the story of The Gaunt began– by observing the terrifying, the cringe-inducing, and the flesh-crawling moments of one of the grittiest horror films from the last decade. My notes, and thoughts, went something like this:

Horror is most effective when it’s something that can’t be controlled, killed, or turned aside. When horror is a force of nature it becomes more like a nightmare than a bad zombie movie. If it can be stopped with good detective work (The Ring) trapped by arbitrary rules (Dracula) or killed because of a grammatical error (Lord of the Nazgul) then it’s not really horror. It’s a scary monster, like everything else we fight in Dungeons and Dragons. Continue reading “Making ‘The Gaunt’”

Free Will and Traitors in D&D

You lovingly crafted the end-dungeon boss encounter, carefully balancing his stats. You painted a miniature of his hideous drooling face, and spent hours at the table leading up to the climactic battle between the party and Sneery Evilton, mayor of Dicksberg. You even wrote some canned dialogue for him to recite to the party. Some pithy villainous barbs, like;

“We’re not so different, you and I.”


“Join me or die.”

And it’s at this moment, as the players clutch their d20’s in preparation to dispatch one of several Big Bads sprinkled throughout your game, this happens…

“Sure, I’ll join. What do I get in return?”

That’s right. One of the players has agreed to fall in line with the villain’s plans Continue reading “Free Will and Traitors in D&D”

D&D Prop – The Mad Grimoire (A How-To Guide)


In mythology, fantasy, or D&D, the allure of forbidden knowledge is rife with possibility. Tell someone they can’t look inside the box or push the mysterious red button, and they’re on it like stink on rice. Well, here’s an easy way to port that nagging curiosity into your game while simultaneously tricking your players into absorbing some world lore: The Mad Grimoire

Continue reading “D&D Prop – The Mad Grimoire (A How-To Guide)”

How Tabletop Games Ruined Magic Swords

Last week I sat in for a session at my local game shop, and I noticed something weird. Magic swords, as a plot device, have become utterly useless. In brief, here were the events that played out:

  • The players arrive at a dungeon, seeking an ancient artifact.
  • The dungeon master lovingly describes the magic sword, its history, and why it was entombed.
  • The players solve the puzzle, loot the sword, and leave the dungeon.
  • Players go back to town and have the sword identified (beyond its special name) and find that its stat bonus is not as high as they expected.
  • The players sell the sword at the general store.

Continue reading “How Tabletop Games Ruined Magic Swords”

5 Tip For Writing Sympathetic NPCs

Player sympathy in tabletop gaming is like a quick DMV line. Theoretically it’s happened somewhere, to someone. But not to me. Out there, among the thousands of gaming groups, a player has refused to bludgeon an unguarded merchant over his countertop of shiny baubles. Somewhere the pleas of an orphan in the street weren’t met with suspicious purse-clutching. In someone’s game– maybe even your game, dear reader– a damsel was saved because it was the right thing to do, without anybody rolling a Charisma check for a “happy ending.”

Those are not in my games. Continue reading “5 Tip For Writing Sympathetic NPCs”

A GM’s Guide to Practical Looting

Let’s face it: your players are thieves. Sure, they may wait until after they murder someone to take their shit, but take their shit they will, and afterwards they’ll complain that the shit they took was barely worth the effort to commit those murders. Worse yet, players have a tendency to view any loot they acquire like prepaid debit cards. Each with it’s own gp value and easily stored in a backpack or bag of holding Continue reading “A GM’s Guide to Practical Looting”

The Bargain Box (Of Magic Rings)

Years ago I had the good fortune to meet an incredible young DM. And as social rejects often do, we swapped war stories. Of course, I suck, so for the life of me I can not remember his name. But I do remember his excellent summary of one of his campaigns.

Near the beginning of his campaign the low-level PCs paid a visit to a small magic store where they happened to notice a small box of silver rings “on sale”. When one of the party asked the shopkeeper about it he informed them that these were practice pieces made by the local elvish wizard apprentices. Enchanted, but flawed– Continue reading “The Bargain Box (Of Magic Rings)”