Friday, March 29, 2019

A not so comprehensive list of DM essentials

Over the last few years I've devoured as much info as possible to try and find the solutions to common DM problems. Scouring, reddit, books and blogs and video content. The following supplies are listed because they are something that I've used every session after making them / purchasing them. I mainly DM 5e because that is what my players enjoy the most. I hope this helps you find something new that will help you run you game smoother or add new flair.

The basic tools

The Very first thing you will want before you go down the DM rabbit hole is to read the Lazy Dungeon Master from The Slyflourish Blog. This is an utterly fantastic work and should be something that is a part of the 5e DMG guide. You would do yourself a great disservice if you play or DM games and never read this. You can get both PDF's and or print copies.

Return of The Lazy Dungeon Master
The Workbook
The original book, The Lazy Dungeon Master

I've already mentioned this in a previous blog post here but it goes without saying that this is the main book I use to draft my ideas for game sessions. Unlike online solutions, forcing myself to put pen to paper greatly focuses what you are going to do in the next session. It also is small enough to fit behind your DM screen and you won't have to lug around a laptop or tablet.

Code and Quill Notebook
G2 pens in black and red
Mechanical Pencils

The best deal for getting into 5e specifically if you don't care about the starter set is to get the boxed set that has all three core books and the new version of the DM screen. The newer DM screen is much more usable than the first printing and this box set has all the errata from the last 5 years into print.

If you aren't going to just use theater of the mind picking up a battlemat and some wet erase pens is a must. A few tips on using the mat. 1 roll it out the night before if it is the first time using it and flatten it out. 2. Keep folks from putting their drinks or snacks on the table. 3. Keep some glass cleaner like windex on hand as well as a rag to wipe it down after each use.

Chessex Battlemat
Staedtler water based pens

One tip I received awhile back was to have something physical to give players especially for inspiration. If you are running any type of fantasy based game I found these coins from Norse Foundry to be the best of the bunch. They have a good heft and presence during the session. Norse Foundry has a great site as well with a ton of other choices if that one doesn't float your boat.

Index cards. For sure the most versatile item at the table. It is something you might have laying around the house if you are a student or have kids. They can be found literally everywhere and I highly suggest you use them. There are a few ways you can use them to speed up play and cut down on page flipping physical or digital.

The first of these is a basic initiative tracker. Each player and the DM gets a card. On the side that faces players write out their character name, and for you just put DM. On the back include their real name, the character name, AC, race/class, and passive wisdom perception score.

You can also use them for monster cards, especially if you are rolling on a wandering monster table this can give you a quick and easy reference instead of flipping back and forth in the book. If you have purchased any of the gale force nine spell cards you can paper clip them to each monster, further cutting down the time needed.

The last way I found to be really useful was an NPC cheat sheet. Columns in this order, name, occupation, distinguishing feature, motivation. Keep it to one word. Number each row and roll the appropriate dice or pick from a list. To help you remember draw a line from one row to another hitting each column.

Despite all these physical tools it is good to have some digital ones as well. The ones that I've used the most are the following.

1. Google Drive - I know there are alternatives but this is my go to for uploading and tracking my growing collection of PDF's.

2. The Tiny Scanner App. If you have anything you have written or drawn in your code and quill notebook you can use this app to scan it and produce a PDF very quickly.

3. Homebrewery Natural Crit. A fantastic site that allows you to use HTML and CSS to make your content int he same style as the 5e aesthetic.  I've used this primarily for player handouts to make them look better.


BEWARE! Once you go down the miniature path your transition to full neck beard will be complete. I was lucky enough to be encouraged by my wife to actually start painting minis. I can tell you that even just painting one for each session really made the players excited to see how my own talent progressed but also what type of cool character this person was.

There are several cheaper options I've seen online. Using old cheap magic cards and cutting or punching them out, free papercraft minis printed on cardstock from resources online. One of the cheap options I've used to make some cheap tokens is to take old bottlecaps and painters tape. Draw a chevron on the tape to indicate the front and back of the mini. Just make sure you wash them first. Nothing worse than beer/soda funk!

The easy way to get started in mini painting my opinion is to buy the Reaper learn to paint bones kit. Reaper makes minis with a type of plastic that can be dropped and manhandled at the table and don't break. Some people don't like the sculpts and they aren't the "official" Whiz Kid minis. But the build quality is far superior. They also run several kickstarters if you want to buy in bulk. Their site has a great selection, go check it out. If that doesn't float your boat and you want more detailed resin models, check out ebay for warhammer model lots. You can glue together several models (kit bashing) and make your own unique allies and enemies.

Don't worry too much about brush selection when you first start. Everyone's minis are hot trash when they first paint. Use the brushes in the starter set above and if you blow through them Citadel or these Army Painter guys will work just fine.

Ok so you've got the brushes and paints and some minis. But now you need to hold them in some way so you don't smear the paint. The quick and dirty way is to use an old cork from a wine bottle or pill bottle and dump some sticky tack on top. Anything that you can hold it with, even a piece of scrapwood is fine. If you want a fancy handle I would go with the Citadel brand. I've used it many times and it has worked out great. Just beware if you have a Heroforge mini you can end up bending the square plastic bases due to the pressure of the springs.

There are tons of tutorials online and a quick browse of the many youtube channels will give you a glut of information. The two I've found to be the most helpful and easy to digest are

Tabletop Minions and, Miniac

Also, Sam Lenz has a great style and laid back attitude that makes his online tutorials on Tabletop Minions easy to follow. You can also check out his blog here.

Audio ambiance

Previous blog post here has you covered.


If you need some inspiration / audio or video content to nerd out on I'd suggest the following channels and sites.

Web DM, two dudes talking about D&D, rules and classes, lore and more.
Gauntlet RPG podcast, great reviews of mostly OSR style modules and ways to run games from two veterans.
WASD 20 for rules help and map making

Thanks for reading! Comment below if you have any suggestions on things to add to this list.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Easy rules for making D&D 5e deadlier and more fun

So you've been playing fifth edition for awhile now but it still seems rather bland. After more than 5 sessions you'll start to realize that the monsters as they are in the monster manual lack a bit of punch and heft. That's not to say that you should make them impossible to beat and kill your players outright (as if that makes you a good DM, pro tip it doesn't). But you need the monsters to have a bit more oompf. The monsters aren't here to kill the players (most of the time), they are just out here trying to live their best life while a bunch of robbers and thieves are kicking down their proverbial doors trying to murder them.

Here are some simple rules to make the combat a bit harder but not too difficult.

Simple rules for your session.

First off combat can take a bit too long so;

3 Combat encounters per 4 hours of play max
All of these should be close to hard or deadly. (see kobold fightclub)
All of them should be resolved somehow via non combat, (deception,persuasion,environment)

Simple rules for monsters

Remember that your Monsters in the Monster Manual are average and not exceptional versions of that monster. Create some variety in the HP as needed. Use these to increase their chance of hitting and putting some danger into your scenario. You don't have to use all of them at once by the way.

AC increase by +1
HP cut it in half, round down
Attack to hit bonus x2
Damage dice chain up one level and remove bonus damage (be wary of this)
All creatures have  at least one recolored spells as abilities.
Become a bit more verbose in describing the player and monster actions.

Optional rules for players

Both inspiration and death saves are eliminated. Replaced by a luck score. Each character gets 1 luck at level 1, +1 luck at level 5 and 1 additional each 5 levels. Max of 5. Awarded by DM discretion for completion of a session or doing epic shit, being funny etc. Players burn this luck to come back from the dead DC 10 or higher for 1 hp or roll DC 15 for 1/2 hp. They can also use this to re-roll natural 1's or gain advantage. This gives the players a bit more power over their fate in the game. If things are getting too deadly start doling out more luck in the session.

Monster Example

Let's use the goblin as an example of how to use these rules.

Here is the normal Goblin stat block.

Let's change that up a bit, new values are;

AC of 16
HP of 4
Scimitar and Shortbow are now +8 to hit and do 1 D8 raw damage.

Let's give our friend at least one basic cantrip and recolor it as an ability. We'll use Vicious Mockery

Lets call it Goblin Slur and only allow them to use it once per day. Having combat open up with goblins cursing you and goading you into a fight is a bit more memorable than clubbing an HP bag to death.

Hopefully you find this helpful in making your monsters and combat a bit more memorable and deadly.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

An adventure in a OSR Dystopian Paw Patrol Universe

The Setup

In the dark and very near future.....a genetic experiment gone wrong.....leads to the rise of a new breed of weapon. These weapons, once just household pets have now been morphed into a super race of wolf pup hybrid creatures. The oldest batch of these genetic experiments lies in Adventure Bay. They are beholden to their Master known as "Ryder," but not for long....

For the DM

Dark and twisted dystopian paw patrol using B/X rules. Without very many exceptions. See below.

B/X Rules Free

For Players

You are here to choose one of the pups as your starting character. Each has their own abilities but their motivations are your own.

Starting Treasure = None
Everyone speaks the same language in this universe. All creatures and humans can understand the common tongue.

Character Sheet Link Any B/X character sheet will do.

There are no class restrictions for these characters. Choose any class but add the additional abilities as additional skills that can be used once per day / long rest.
  • Marshall is a dalmatian. He serves as a firefighter and paramedic dog. His vehicle is a fire engine, which transforms into an ambulance.
    • Special Abilities
      • Fire Engine = A 5ft. wide by 20ft. line of water (cold/ice) 2d6 damage
      • Ambulance = 1d8 healing within a 30ft. radius
  • Rubble is an English bulldog. He serves as a construction dog. His vehicle is a bulldozer.
    • Special Abilities
      • Bulldozer = Roll 3 HD take the highest number to "grapple" and bulldoze your opponent.
      • Crane = Works the same as mage hand 5e link.
  • Chase is a German Shepherd. He serves as a police and spy dog. His vehicle is a cruiser.
    • Special Abilities
      • Net Gun = Restrain an opponent at range 30ft.
      • Police Cruiser = Restrain an opponent within touching distance.
  • Rocky is a grey-and-white mongrel of an unspecified breed. He serves as a recycling dog. His vehicle is a recycling truck, which can also transform into a salvage tugboat.
    • Special Abilities
      • Recycle Truck = Any deceased enemy can be recycled into treasure of the DM's discretion.
      • Tugboat = Works as any water based vehicle that works for 24hrs.
  • Zuma is a chocolate Labrador retriever. He serves as an aquatic rescue pup. His vehicle is a hovercraft, which can also convert into a submarine.
    • Special Abilities
      • Hovercraft = Triple your movement speed for 10 minutes.
      • Submarine = Works as any water based vehicle that works for 24hrs
  • Skye is a cockapoo. She serves as an aviator. Her vehicle is a helicopter, and she has wings built into her backpack.
    • Special Abilities
      • Helicopter = Carry 3 other creatures of the same size 120ft.
      • Jetpack = Teleport to any range within 120ft.

Nottable NPCS

  • Ryder is the human leader of the PAW Patrol. He is a ten-year-old boy who holds dominion over the pups and commands them against their will.
  • Mayor Goodway is the overdramatic but friendly mayor of Adventure Bay. She owns a pet chicken named Chickaletta, which she keeps in her purse. She shares a rivalry with Mayor Humdinger of the neighboring town Foggy Bottom. She is unwittingly party to the domination of Adventure Bay by her secret partner Ryder.
  • Chickaletta is the mayor's pet chicken. She is not quick-witted or observant and often unintentionally causes trouble for herself and Mayor Goodway. She is also a lich of unfathomable power and should not be underestimated.
  • Cap'n Turbot is the town sea captain. He can be asked for aid in many quests and treats the PC's as friends.
  • Francois Turbot is Cap'n Turbot's cousin and sidekick, who lives with him in the Seal Island lighthouse. He is very self-centered and loves to show off, but also cares deeply about animals. Francois works as a zoologist, artist, and nature photographer. He has a thick French accent and often uses French phrases in place of English words. This is all a cover as he is a secret agent for the town of Foggy Bottom.
  • Wally is Cap'n Turbot's pet walrus, who lives in the waters surrounding Seal Island. He has a wife named Walinda and an unnamed baby child. Although he cannot talk, Ryder and Cap'n Turbot can understand Wally when he communicates by barking and moving his flippers. Wally has a taste for both human and animal flesh.
  • Mayor Humdinger is the mayor of a neighboring town called Foggy Bottom. He is Mayor Goodway's rival who spends most of his time devising unfair schemes to make his town seem better than Adventure Bay. He lives in a cave and leads a team of troublesome cats called the Kitten Catastrophe Crew. The mayor is actually a lich.
  • The Kitten Catastrophe Crew is Mayor Humdinger's group of kittens who closely resemble the six original PAW Patrol pups. Each one is equipped with a uniform and a tool pack that mirror a particular pup's outfits and abilities.
  • Katie is a girl Ryder's age. She runs Adventure Bay's pet clinic and owns a cat named Cali. Katie is actually an illusion and will slowly drive Ryder mad.
  • Mr. Porter is a grocer in Adventure Bay. The players can buy rations and equipment here.
  • Alex Porter is Mr. Porter's young grandson.
  • Farmer Yumi and Farmer Al are two married farmers who live near Adventure Bay. They own a barn and have several animals, such as a pair of pigs and a cow. They live in constant fear about paying tribute each year to ryder
  • Jake is the owner of a ski resort near Adventure Bay. The resort is overrun with undead
  • Sid Swashbuckle is a greedy pirate who steals almost everything he sees. He is constantly trying to lead the party astray and towards their imminent death.
  • Arrby is a dachshund pup and sidekick to Sid, whom he is eager to please.


  1. Overthrow Ryder, his reign of terror must end. Siege and destroy his tower.
  2. Kidnap chickaletta; This foul beast must be slain to please our lord Ryder
  3. Steal pirate gold; Sid Swashbuckle is dodging taxes. Extract his wealth  to appease Adventure Bay's Citizens.
  4. rob the town
  5. Break up the marriage of Yumi and Al. Their coupling is an affront to Ryder's glory.
  6. Katie at the pet clinic is actually part of an underground cat resistance you must crush.
  7. Hunt down Mayor Humdinger in his cave and exterminate the Kitten Catastrophe Crew.
  8. Sacrifice a towns person on the altar of Ryder.
  9. The Porter's are hiding food to sell on the black market. Punish the profiteers.
  10. Convince Arrby to turn on Sid.


  1. Puppy food that doesn't spoil (if eaten does 1d8 damage)
  2. A wand that turn 1d4 pups into humans with dog faces.
  3. A vest of explosives that deals 3d12 fire damage.
  4. A radio that only plays death metal
  5. A bloody apron that glows green.
  6. The body of a towns person that appears eaten from the inside out
  7. 70 feet of Nylon rope
  8. 4 Grenades, 4d12 explosive damage
  9. A cache of Assault Rifles with dog names etched on them
  10. 6 Powered Gliders in pristine condition
  11. A doll that comes to life when her string is pulled and makes a meow sound
  12. A pair of water wings

D10 Locations in town

  1. The Porter Grocery Store, "Porter's Pit Stop."
  2. The Pier
  3. The Park
  4. The Fire Station
  5. An abandoned House
  6. The Police Station
  7. The School
  8. Town Hall
  9. The Ice cream shop
  10. The Beach

D10 Wandering Monsters (Renamed)

  1. 3x Bandit (Sid's Vicious Band)
  2. 6x Green Slime (Jellyfish)
  3. 2x Driver Ant (Feral Dogs)
  4. Bucaneer (Wally or Francois) 
  5. 2x Hawk (Hawk)
  6. 5x Skeleton (Cursed Towns person)
  7. 7x Trader (Regular towns folk)
  8. 2x Minotaur (Ryder's Death Guard)
  9. Sea Snake (Sea Snake)
  10. 8x Medium (Ryder Cultist)
  11. Thoul (Ryder's Soul Guardian)
  12. Wraith (Ghost Dog)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Getting Started in 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons

First off, for most new players D&D Fifth Edition (5E) is the gateway drug to this hobby. The system borders along the lines of complexity and crunch (extra math) and a rules light narrative focus. Let's go over the simplest and cheapest way to get started. We'll also go over the second easiest way to get into the hobby.

So what do you actually need?

Not much......

1. Some ruled paper (or scrap paper for notes)
2. Pencils (or pens, anything lying around)
3. The Basic D&D rules from Wizards of the Coast
4. Character Sheets
5. A dice rolling app on your phone (there are tons out there, I've used D20 calculator)
6. Access to the 5E system reference documentation
7. 3-5 willing friends with imaginations that bring food and drinks.
8. An adventure for your group.

So what to do with all this newfound power? You've read the rules, even looked at a character sheet or two, maybe even made one. Don't worry about getting everything right.

Instead, let's make a very plain standard adventure. Yes it is boring and will be a bit linear but let your imagination get crazy with it a bit later. Start simple, start small. We'll just use this example to get started.

Let's make the following;

5 Non player characters
4 Monsters / Encounters
1 Trap
1 Starting location
1 Dungeon with 7 rooms
Some cool treasure

There are a plethora of tools out there to generate all of the above on the fly. One of the best is Donjon's Tools. Let's use that generator to populate some of the items above.

5 Non player characters

  1. Comghi: Male Elf Thief, Good. Comghi has thin silver hair and narrow hazel eyes, and a magical mark on his arm. He wears leather armor and wields a short sword and darts. Comghi has black snake named Brane.
  2. Here: Female Human Scholar, Good. Here has curly blonde hair and light gray eyes. She wears fine clothing and a silver holy symbol. Here was magically imprisoned for a hundred years.
  3. Dane: Male Human Illusionist, Neutral. Dane has a round face, with auburn hair and gray eyes. He wears brass robes and wields a quarterstaff and dagger. Dane is impossibly lucky.
  4. Cuny: Male Elf Fighter, Evil. Cuny has a long face, with black hair and light brown eyes. He wears banded mail and wields a military fork. Cuny has an animal companion, a badger named Foiriu.
  5. Eadrith: Male Human Fighter, Evil. Eadrith is wretched in appearance, with white hair and gray eyes. He wears splint mail and wields a warhammer and dagger. Eadrith suffers an acute fear of darkness.

4 Monsters / Encounters

  1. 3 Bandits. 
  2. 1 Half Ogre
  3. 6 Rats
  4. 2 Ghouls


  1. A shallow pool of acid covers the floor.

Starting location

  1. Agbarfell: Population 830, primarily dwarf, some gnome. Most of the buildings are constructed from massive stone blocks. It is governed by a noble aristocrat, the dwarf lady Arngugg.

Dungeon with 7 rooms

Using Donjons 5E generator you can quickly generate a layout and either print or sketch it.

Some cool treasure

Money is great but items are much more memorable for the players. Using the weird magic item generator should give you some great ideas.

Now that you have each piece plop the NPC's in the starting location like an Inn or Tavern (yes I know). Have one of them crash through the door to interrupt the evening and either die or ask for help. Go tot he Dungeon, kill some foes, get some cool loot. Use these tools as a building block for your future adventures. Or just write your own!

The second easiest way to start

1. Some ruled paper (or scrap paper for notes)
2. Pencils (or pens, anything lying around)
3. The D&D Starter Set
3. A dice rolling app on your phone (there are tons out there, I've used D20 calculator)
4. 3-5 willing friends with imaginations that bring food and drinks.
5. Optional physical dice

The adventure that comes with the starter set is actually one of the best for 5E and a great hook for beginning adventurers. There is enough in there for around 4, 4 hour sessions. More than enough for beginners.

Go out and go forth on an adventure!

Saturday, March 9, 2019

The best notebook for DM's

I've been using this Code and Quill notebook for two years now and found this to be the easiest way to keep notes on my session. On the first half of the page are some very subtle dots that allow for easy dungeon creation. On the second is an easy place to write down your descriptions or random tables.

If you are looking for an easy way to keep track of your session and minimal prep check out the link below. (Full disclosure it is an affiliate link).

G2 pens

Audio resources for Dungeon Masters

One of the easiest ways to add ambiance in your game is through audio. I've collected a few resources that may be of use to you in your games. This is by no means an exhaustive list but they are resources which I found more helpful than a random youtube list of battle music from videogames.

The easiest all around solution

Tabletop audio is simply the best, and it is free. Consider joining their Patreon as it is hands down the best web player out there and now has a sound pad included.

The best paid solution

Syrinscape is the official D&D music service right now. It uses the unity 3d engine as the base of it's power. The interface both on mobile and web and quite honestly as a stand alone application is rather clunky. Not outright terrible, but for a premium service they could really use a new UX. It is a great value for money as the soundpacks can be downloaded for free or an expanded group of them with an ongoing subscription.

The best soundboard

Phanary is an easy and quick searchable soundboard that has some music as well. I found it super quick to make a custom sound environment with next to no hiccups.

Honorable mentions

Ambient Mixer, these two soundcloud accounts and Bezoing's curated spotify list are also great resources.

Open all these up in some tabs and play around with your own custom mixes for your next session. If you have any other suggestions please comment below.