Hipsters & Dragons

Because roleplaying is social, creative, fun… and kinda cool!

Author: duncan (Page 1 of 5)

How To Run a Chase in 5e D&D…. Step by Step Rules!

Is it just me, or do chases not really work in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons?

Mapping a chase out as an extension of combat quickly turns into a farce, as either the fleeing party is faster and the pursuer has zero chance of catching up, or the pursuer is the same speed or faster, leading to them wearing down their quarry with a tedious series of opportunity attacks.

Sometimes it’s better to run…. (Artwork by Grosnez).

The Dungeon Master’s Guide attempts to come to the rescue (p.252), and while it does introduce some fun “chase complications”, it forgets to give us any mechanics to determine the chase’s outcome, other than a) waiting for one side to drop dead of exhaustion or b) having the quarry make a successful Stealth contest to hide, and thereby escape. Which would be fine, but (as the authors themselves state) the quarry can only do when they are out of sight… and how they gain enough ground to get out of sight is not covered. 🤔

Shall we have a go at fixing this mess!?

Hell, why not…

Running a Chase: Hipster’s Rules Variant

In my revised rules, I’m going to run chases as a series of contests between participants. A success for the quarry over any given pursuer represents putting one level of separation (henceforth know as ‘gaps’) between the two of them. A success for a pursuer means the quarry is not able to open up any distance between them, while a success by 5 means that the pursuer actually closes 1 gap on the quarry.

[Note: depending on how testing goes, it may that the the quarry should have to win by 5 to open up a gap. A draw being a contest in which neither party is able to win by 5].

Here is a crib sheet for how to run this variant:

1) Establish that a chase has started.

A chase starts when a creature uses both its move action and the dash action to flee, and at least one other creature decides to pursue it, using both their move and the dash action in an attempt to keep up (in order to be on an even footing, it should do so before the start of the fleeing party’s next turn). When that happens the pursuer triggers a chase contest, and both the quarry and the pursuer roll. Any further pursuers also partake in the contest, following initiative order, comparing their roll to the quarry’s original roll.

2) Establish the appropriate skill for the contest

As the DM, determine which skill you want to use as the base of the chase contest. I suggest Strength (Athletics) for a chase taking place in relatively open terrain, like a field or hilltop, or Dexterity (Acrobatics) for a chase in obstacle-rich terrain, such as dense forest or winding/crowded city streets.

(If you don’t want to punish NPCs and monsters who don’t tend to have as many proficiencies as PCs you could opt for a straight Strength / Dexterity contest. And if you want something between Strength and Dexterity you could opt for a crossover skills check… Dexterity (Athletics), for example).

3) Establish each creature’s chase modifier

We need to reflect the fact that some creatures are faster than others, and some – like rogues with their cunning action ability – have added mobility. We can do this by applying additional “chase modifiers” to the contest.

For every 5 feet of movement above 30 feet a creature has add +4 to their chase contest modifier, for every 5 feet less, use a -4 modifier. (In other words a creature with a speed of 40 feet adds +8 to their chase contest, while a creature with 25 feet speed has a -4 modifier).

Creatures who use an ability, such as the rogue’s cunning action, to take the dash action twice in one round, gain advantage on their chase contest roll.

4) Determine the success of any pursuers

Determine if a pursuer loses 1 gap, maintains distance, or closes 1 gap on the quarry, by comparing their rolls to that of the quarry.

Any pursuer that ends their turn with zero gaps between them and the quarry may take an Attack action directed at the quarry (hint: they may want to select grapple in a bid to end the chase).

As with the rules in the DMG, we are doing away with opportunity attacks once the chase is underway, so if the quarry is still alive, and not grappled, it may continue running away without provoking further attacks.

5) Escaping / Ending the Chase

When the chase begins, as the DM, determine how many gaps the quarry must open up between itself and its closest pursuer to escape and finish the chase. I would suggest between 3 or 4 gaps for an urban chase, or 4 or 5 for a more open chase.

As an option you could give the quarry a chance to end the chase 1 gap earlier than the gaps required to outrun the pursuers, by contesting a Dexterity (Stealth) check against the Wisdom (Perception) of any pursuers. On a success they have outfoxed their hunters, finding a hiding place, or slipping away under cover. On a failure, as the DM, you will have to decide if the quarry is now cornered or in a position to dart off and start the chase again.

You can run, and you can hide… (Artwork by Czepeku).

Those 5 steps should give you a solid outline of a useable chase mechanic.

A few more things to bear in mind…

More Chase Mechanics…

6) Measuring Distances / Variable Starting Points

One gap is not meant to represent an exact distance, but, when you need to, you can consider a gap as around 30 feet. That means when a creature starts 60 feet away from an adversary which turns and flees, the chase starts with 2 gaps between the quarry and its pursuer, even before the first contest is rolled.

In the scenario when one creature flees in combat, and is pursued by not only the creature it was fighting, but by a second creature who was slightly further away on the combat grid, then the second creature suffers a -2 modifier for every 5 feet it was away from the quarry (before the quarry fled) on its initial chase contest. Obviously if it was 30 feet away simply start with 1 gap between them, before the first contest begins. (If it was 40 feet, start with 1 gap and a -4 modifier on the first contest roll).

Optional Rule: If someone wants to chase and still use their action (to cast a spell etc.), then you can let them automatically lose 1 gap on the quarry and roll the usual contest to potentially lose a second. In this case remove the chance of closing one gap, even if they roll 5 above the quarry in the chase contest.

Someone that uses neither their move, nor their action to dash, automatically loses 2 gaps on the quarry. (This might occur if someone chooses to do something first before entering the chase).

7) Consider Introducing Exhaustion

I wouldn’t bother introducing exhaustion checks within chases to begin with, as they will slow the whole scene down further, which is about the last thing you want during a high speed chase. But once you’ve got a good handle on these mechanics, I think there’s some realism and merit to the rules in the DMG (p.252).

To summarise: a creature can use the dash action in a successive numbers of rounds a number of times equal to 3 plus their Constitution modifier. After that they must make a DC 10 Constitution check or suffer one level of exhaustion. (Exhaustion levels gained during the chase can be removed by a simple short rest).

8) Obstacles / Complications

Navigating obstacles is baked into this chase rules variant system, in that success and or failure in the chase contest rolls is effectively about how well or badly a creature deals with things like low hanging branches, tree roots, divots, ditches, or in an urban chase, crowds, carriages, tight corners, piles of detritus etc…

However there’s nothing to stop you adding in the flavourful chase complications from the DMG (p.254), once you’ve got the basic mechanics running smoothly. Just use common sense to adjust the result for this system. If the quarry slips and falls prone for example, every pursuer might gain 1 gap automatically (if they themselves do not fall prey to the same obstacle!).

Another way you could handle obstacles or changing scenery in a chase would be to switch the skill used for the contest for one round. For example, if you’ve been using Dexterity (Acrobatics) to contest a chase through the narrow back allies of Waterdeep, you could switch to Strength (Athletics) when the chase opens out onto a long stretch of main road. This is also a bit quicker than consulting a table, which can slow things down.

Narrating A Chase

It’s all too easy for a potentially breathtaking chase in Dungeons & Dragons to turn into a slog of tedious dice rolls, whether you’re using my system, or the RAW (Rules As Written).

A die roll to establish or close a gap, without any descriptive context, is yawn-inspiringly dry and dull. A die roll to determine how deftly a PC manages to leap over falling barrels and then skirt around a sharp corner is immersive and fun.

In other words, the success of a chase scene in D&D is more down to how you describe it than the mechanics, so give yourself plenty of permission to improvise and have fun.

Bring the players in on it too, by describing the scenery of the chase but having them narrate how their character navigates the stacked chicken coops, tumbling barrels of oil, panicky flock of sheep etc., using their dice roll to narrate the appropriate amount of success.

So there you go! I’m looking forward to giving these a go in my next Dragon Heist session (until now I’ve been a bit lost in chase situations, so this is my concerted attempt to fix that!)… let me know how you get on with them in the comments section if you choose to try them out.

I’m going to leave you with probably the best foot chase in cinematic history for a bit of inspiration…

6 Alternatives To Starting An Adventure in a Tavern

It’s arguably Dungeon & Dragon’s biggest cliché… a group of misfits who had never before laid eyes on one another are suddenly galvanised by a tavern encounter to go forth and save the world together. And while most D&D players are more than happy to humour this convention as a means of facilitating gameplay, “you all meet in a tavern” is not the most exciting way to kick off a new campaign and to generate player excitement, given how commonplace it is. And so I thought it might be a good idea to study the alternatives.

10,000 XP if you rescue the princess! (Artwork by Another Wanderer).

Before we can do that however, we first have to consider why the tavern is the de facto starting point for 95% of fantasy quests, and what role it plays in kicking off the adventure.

The latter point is rather easier to answer, so let’s start with that. The tavern is where the adventurers receive their call to action. It’s where they meet a hooded stranger, hear a rumour, are handed a treasure map, foil an assassination, read a “wanted dead or alive” sign, or are hired by a travelling merchant.

The tavern is where the adventurers receive their call to action.

But why does this call to action always happen in a tavern? Firstly, because taverns are meeting points. In any medieval-inspired settlement, they would be the main social centres, and the hub of news and gossip, making them a natural place for the players to come into contact with interesting NPCs.

They are also places where strangers pass through, interrupting everyday life with their ‘otherness’, possibly bringing disturbing news from the north, introducing a powerful (cursed) magic item for sale, giving a cryptic clue to a lost faraway treasure, or revealing a scandalous secret in their dying breaths. (Strangers and ‘otherness’ are an oft-used device, used by storytellers, from ancient times to present, to spark interesting events that deviate from the mundane).

Importantly, a tavern is a place where any of the PCs at your table might feasibly find themselves, no matter what their back story. Few players create PCs that have stable homes in a prosperous and safe merchant town. Most are outcasts, vagrants, rogues, (lone) rangers, wanderers. It might be hard to find a location where a diverse crew of PCs, who most likely have not interlinked their back stories (even though I recommend they should… see below!), might find themselves, given their unique motivations and personalities. Itinerant souls always need a pillow to lay their head at the end of the day, however, so any overtly adventurous adventurer has cause to be found in the village tavern. Meanwhile, even stay-put city-dwelling PCs may enjoy a flagon of wine at the end of the day: who would begrudge the studious acolyte a swift half after a hard session at the library? While a wood-dwelling druid might pop into a tavern common room for a herbal tea and the local news of wandering monsters.

Anyone fancy a quiet pint? (Artwork by Scott Murphy for Wizards of the Coast).

So now that we know why the tavern is the go-to starting point for D&D adventures… because it’s a believable place for almost any newly-created PC to find themselves (whatever their back story), with rich potential for receiving calls to action via interactions with NPCs… we can start to think about how to mix it up and present new scenarios.

1. The Main Square

One “like for like” replacement for the tavern – maybe the only one – is a village, town or city’s main square. The centre of any medieval settlement, the main square was where traders came to sell their goods at market, and it would be full of merchants, nobles, peasants, travellers, bards and other entertainers. It was also the place where politicians delivered speeches and town criers announced news from neighbouring settlements, and would play host to fairs, tournaments, street theatre, parades and other spectacles. It may also have served as a place of executions, and a gathering point during any uprisings and civil unrest.

The medieval town square of Hallstatt in Austria

In other words these market squares were places ripe with adventure, so your PCs will hardly need an excuse to be hanging out here, and you, as the DM, will have plenty of scope to deliver the call to action that kickstarts your adventure. Whether it’s a creepy soothsayer grabbing a PC with their spindly arm and prophesying a gruesome event, militant clerics arresting a respected civilian for heresy, or a straight forward “heroes wanted” announcement bawled aloud by a noble’s steward, the possibilities are close to endless.

2. Other Urban Locations

After a town’s taverns and market square, there are a few other places which, while not quite as open-ended, could be considered as a potential starting point for a D&D adventure. The docks of a seaside town are a lively meeting point for sailors, gossip mongers, soldiers, custom officers, drunks, merchants, travellers and strange cargo. Pious PCs might be found in a temple (hint: injured fighters tend to develop new found piety, as do poisoned rogues), scholarly parties might have a reason to be in a library, and those with official business might be found in a town hall. A bridge is always an exciting place for a fight to break out.

Obviously larger cities have more potential for creative starting points than small villages, but in this example I want you to think of public spaces that are accessible to the PCs without any pre-conditions. You, or they, might still have to work on why they’d be there (at the same time).

3. The Event

One of my favourite ways to start an adventure is not at a geographical location per se, but at a social ‘location’, i.e. at an event. You hardly need to come up with an excuse for why PCs would be attending a festival, fair or tournament, and after that anything can happen. A princess throws a PC a flower (that has a secret message wrapped around its stem), a wealthy noble is poisoned, a fight breaks out between pro and anti-monarchists, a patron sees potential in the party (after they foil a thief, or win a tournament prize) that will help them achieve their aims, a valuable item goes missing from the town’s treasure vault and the travelling circus are blamed. Again the possibilities stretch a long way for this one.

I just came to admire the lanterns! (Artwork by Unodu).

Some potential events you could use as starting points would be.

i. Festival (be sure to use some real life inspiration for what that might entail… parades, costumes, religious ceremonies, music, drinking, dancing are a good start)
ii. Travelling carnival or circus
iii. (Trade) fair or exposition
iv. Tournament or sporting event
v. Royal wedding
vi. Costume or masked ball
vii. Funeral (for a statesperson or hero)
viii. Speech (announcing a controversial new law)
ix. Execution
x. Uprising or riot

Any of these would lend your world a lot of flavour and make the start of your adventure more memorable than most.

4. The Mission Debriefing Room

Worried your PCs won’t bite on your hook (i.e. your call to action)? Well fast forward the adventure just a jot, and make the decision for them. In this scenario, before your players have even made their PCs, it’s best to tell them clearly to “make a character who would be interested in going on a quest for… (loot, honour, revenge, adventure etc.)” and you start the adventure with them receiving their orders from whoever has recruited them for this mission (more on this concept here). Maybe the PCs are members of the Gray Hands, in which case the starting point is Blackstaff Towers in Waterdeep, where Vajra lays out their mission objectives. In general the ‘geographical location’ might be any office, meeting room, reception chamber etc. or other private space (including in the back room, or private section, of a tavern!) where their patron or superior officer can confidentially pass on the assignment.

5. In Media Res

In fact, now that we’ve liberated ourselves from roleplaying the PCs receiving their call to action, we can fast forward the adventure even further if we so choose. One scenario that has come up a few occasions in my years as a player is that, as a party, we’ve already accepted an assignment to guard a merchant caravan (which of course is attacked, cue the opening scene). But others could be yet more daring. The PCs have been entrusted to deliver a magic item from out of a bloody siege that is in full flow, or they need to escape from a collapsing castle pronto, or they are already swimming towards an island jail to free a political prisoner. There’s a reason however why this option is rarely used, and that’s because there’s a D&D convention that says the PCs should make all their character decisions, including, importantly, the original acceptance of any quest (hence the tavern!).

…for a one shot you should definitely be thinking about this option to maximise your time playing the real crux of the quest…

However, I will repeat the point I made about having the players make a PC who would specifically be interested in the type of adventure, as a DM, you’re planning to run. And while for a long running campaign it’s nice to be traditional and start at the very beginning of an adventure, for a one shot you should definitely be thinking about this option to maximise your time playing the real crux of the quest, and not bother muddling through the awkward formalities.

6. The Prison

A classic – even if it also borders on cliché! Starting an adventure in a prison provides a compelling shared motivation for the PCs that has been the start of many great adventures, and the catalyst to many adventuring parties getting together to save the multiverse. Spice things up by having them hooded, bound, gagged, drugged, interrogated, you name it!

Pssssst! Wanna get outta here, bro? (Artwork by Kleyos).

Hopefully this article has inspired you to think outside the box for your next adventure as a DM, but before I go, I just want to touch on a couple more things related to this topic.

Firstly…

Get The Players To Interweave Their Back Stories

One thing you can do that can either remove your reliance on the tavern as a starting location, or at least reduce the amount of awkward introductions and “hey strangers, wouldn’t it be swell if we teamed up to save the world”-style roleplaying interactions is ask the players to interweave their PCs’ back stories. If for example the party are part of the Emerald Enclave then it makes sense that they would all be a winter solstice party in the woods (when zombies attack!), so you can get rid of the tavern scene. If two PCs are related, and are two more are close friends, then the leap in logic to make them team up to go on a quest is that much smaller and less incredulous. Not only this but asking the players to think how their PCs might know each other will lead to better and deeper back stories that you, as the DM, can tap into, and will also make the players care more than just the skin of their own PC… leading to a better gaming experience for all.

Secondly, if you do decide to stick with the classic tavern formula, here’s how to do it well:

Make the Tavern (Scene) Memorable…

Confession time! The last two campaigns of my D&D group both started in taverns, and the last was DM’ed by yours truly. Both however proved to be successful first sessions. My friend Juan started his take on the Dragonlance campaign with us hiding from the rain in a tavern built into the branches of a towering tree. He first gave us a chance to indulge in some fun improvised roleplaying with NPCs (several of whom had valuable information for us), before having a dragon burst through the ceiling. That’s quite an epic start at level 1! Obviously we were forced to flee, as kobold and dragon forces stormed the settlement, making for an extremely tense and scary first session.

I’m currently running Dragon Heist and I modified the opening scenario of the Yawning Portal tavern to include elements from the PCs back stories (hint: my supplement Waterdeep Background Hooks might help you do the same!), and I pimped up the bar room scuffle into a more intriguing assassination attempt on Davil Starsong that plays into the story’s main narrative (meanwhile I got rid of the troll attack, which doesn’t serve much purpose except as a teaser for Dungeon of the Mad Mage, which we’re unlikely to play. Although I did describe adventurers descending into the well, to help build an atmospheric locale).

In both cases action-packed events got us off to memorable starts – events which forced PCs to work together to deal with a threat, thus forming their adventuring party – plus the taverns themselves were distinct locations, with bold features that the players can easily picture in their minds.

In other words, there’s nothing wrong with starting in the tavern, but aim for a compelling action scene in a unique locale, that galvanises the party into co-operating. Sprinkle in roleplaying opportunities that are relevant to the campaign and by the time it’s ready you should have successfully baked the best version of this classic D&D recipe.

Tavern Supplements on DMs Guild

I actually love the romanticism of hanging out in taverns in D&D, even if I do champion the idea of starting your adventure somewhere else if possible. Taverns are not just for the beginnings of quests; they can provide unique locales for any number of key scenes at any point along the campaign trail. For some time I’ve been meaning to write a compendium of original pubs, inns and hostelries, but guess what… someone has beaten me to it!

You can buy the current number 1 bestseller Taverns, Inns and Taprooms on the Dungeon Master’s Guild.

Further Reading

For a bit more of fast and furious inspiration for alternative campaign starts try this list by Dangermouse, or this one by Dndspeak.

For a deeper understanding of campaign starts, Angry GM raises some interesting points here, in a rather wordy, but worthwhile, post.

Call Lightning is Really Boring… Here’s How To Fix It!

My second ever 5e character was a tempest cleric called Jaxx Storm. Safely floating to shore in a barrel as a baby, after his boat was shipwrecked, he believed himself to be the son of Shaundakul, and had an attitude to match his (self-declared) demi-god status. I had a lot of fun playing him, as he was pretty versatile. I could switch between being pretty handy in melee (I enjoyed knocking people over with my shield – using Shieldmaster feat – and then smashing them with my morning star) and casting utility spells, and I never tired of unleashing wrath of the storm (p.62, Player’s Handbook) on my opponents.

However, as I played through levels 1-4, what I was really looking forward to was reaching 5th level and getting my hands on call lightning. When that happened my PC became a lot more powerful, as I had expected, but sadly he also became a lot less fun to play…

Call Lightning

3rd level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes

A storm cloud appears in the shape of a cylinder that is 10 feet tall with a 60-foot radius, centered on a point you can see 100 feet directly above you. The spell fails if you can’t see a point in the air where the storm cloud could appear (for example, if you are in a room that can’t accommodate the cloud).

When you cast the spell, choose a point you can see within range. A bolt of lightning flashes down from the cloud to that point. Each creature within 5 feet of that point must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 3d10 lightning damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. On each of your turns until the spell ends, you can use your action to call down lightning in this way again, targeting the same point or a different one.

If you are outdoors in stormy conditions when you cast this spell, the spell gives you control over the existing storm instead of creating a new one. Under such conditions, the spell’s damage increases by 1d10.

At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher level, the damage increases by 1d10 for each slot level above 3rd.

Bring the storm!

Looks Great… So What’s The Problem?

The problem with this spell is that a) it’s too good – it does significantly more damage than a cleric’s melee attacks and other spell options at 5th level, and b) it goes on forever. The result was that I ended up using call lightning every time we entered a major combat. And so, instead of getting involved in the fight, I just hung around at the back of the battle doing the same thing every turn… another 3d10 damage. This, it turns out, is really f*cking boring!

Given that you could theoretically keep on casting call lightning for 100 turns of combat, hitting maybe two foes on average, you could potentially end up doing around 600 x d10 (3300) hit points of damage using just one third level spell slot. In practice this is rarely going to happen, but a cleric of the tempest or a druid taking cover behind a battlement could swing a long battle single-handedly with just this one spell, making it ridiculously overpowered in certain circumstances.

That’s another reason why I’m tempted to tinker with this one…

Hipster’s Fix

How can we solve these issues neatly, without nerfing the spell? My suggestion is that after initially casting the spell and calling down your first bolt, at the start of each subsequent turn you must roll a d6. On a 5 or 6, the storm cloud you have conjured has recharged and you can unleash another bolt on your foes. On a 1-4 it keeps brewing, meaning you can’t use it this turn – however for each turn the storm brews you can add an extra d10 damage when you next are able to call down a bolt.

This adds a really fun random twist to proceedings. In two out of three rounds you’ll have to find something else to do, maybe joining melee or casting another (non concentration) spell. But when the 5 or 6 turns up the fun factor of bringing down another lightning bolt returns… especially fun if it has charged up to 4, 5, 6 or god knows how many d10s of damage.

By both reducing the number of times it can be used, and by increasing the likelihood of the caster losing concentration (as they won’t want to spend their time taking cover and doing nothing on the rounds it doesn’t recharge), this fix also balances the spell quite nicely, I believe.

Sadly Jaxx Storm is in retirement right now, so please get back to me if you have a chance to implement this fix in your game… just leave a comment below!

For more spell discussions check out these posts on why hypnotic pattern is too good, why fireball is so much better than lightning bolt, and dealing with banishment. There’s usually some good reader comments as well.

The Lion & The Blades, by Weston Prestage

The DMs Guild is the resource that keeps on giving and I never fail to be astonished by the creativity and industry of the many many contributors enlarging the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse. Expanded monster manuals, epic compendiums of NPC statblocks, planar guides, warlock handbooks, and my own guide to magic weapons (get a free sample here!), there’s so much rich material to add to your game.

For all the handbooks, player options, and new lore, for my money there’s nothing quite as romantic as an adventure, especially when it takes you back – Stranger Things-style – to a pre-digital world of kids riding their BMXes through the rain to clatter dice together during the school holidays. And so, without further ado, let me give over the reins to Weston Prestage, whose adventure, The Lion and the Blades, is steeped in 2nd edition nostalgia…

Tell us about your adventure, The Lion and the Blades…

It’s a city / dock / sewer adventure for a 1st level party. Taking place over one intense speed run with no breaks or hit point boosting power naps. It starts a group off like being shot from a cannon into the intensity of what D&D always was for me. Hot, fast and often brutal… grim meat hook realities… lying in wait for bad choices and bad rolls… and the rewards of REAL emotion at your success or failures.

I made this adventure when I was 14, and it was written in the twisted yet simplistic style of the mind of a 14-year-old Dungeon Master who ran a group of four to six players in a small town in rural New Zealand in the year 1991. I have brought it up to 5e standards without losing the old school 2nd edition – mostly made up as you go along, out of total imagination and written in the back of your math book in class, feel.

The Lion and the Blades is a “Linear” Adventure to a degree… the players are not wandering about mission-less, paralyzed by sandy boxy free choice.

Buy The Lion & The Blades on the DMs Guild

Why did you write it?

Back in the early days, I always had a hard time starting off adventurers on their first few levels, as most of what was available back in the early 90s was high level stuff or pretty dull, orc and goblins in rooms or caves in the hills stuff… I wanted to start guys off with a bang… and so I would make adventures where a powerful NPC mentored them… kind of.

I had big goals that my games and adventures were always going to be amazing. That the players will be faced with challenge after challenge and it will possibly be too much for them, mentally. My adventures have been known to cause grown men to lie down on the floor and refuse to get up until the mad merry go round stops. Others enjoy the carnie roller-coaster feel of my adventures. When, back in 91, the guys showed up at my house after riding in the rain for an hour – they needed something to bring them back to life. My adventures did just that.

How about a little taster then?

Knowing how much players love swimming their characters through freezing cold water toward adventure I made sure to include this:

The party comes to a large pipe with sea sounds and sea smells from the seashore issuing from it – a salty and refreshing change from the slimy sewers. Leon asks if someone would scout stoutly ahead to make sure the coast is clear. He also says that if anyone has anything that water would ruin, to leave it here as now they will be swimming aways.

After 20 feet of crawling, the pipe ends underneath a wharf. Leon jumps out and starts swimming strongly through the cold dark salty seawater, towards a huge and terrifying, Black and Blue painted Galleon, bristling with gun hatches (if you run a gunpowder game) and vicious barnacles. This is the Black and Blue Lass. The wooden pillars that support the wharf are spaced 20 feet apart and the players must swim through the freezing water with attendant penalties from the cold. Bad swimmers can swim/ from wharf pillar to wharf pillar clutching and sputtering at each of these, on the way to the galleon…

Who the hell are you by the way?

I’ve been playing since January 1985… I met a kid called Ben, who introduced me to a game called Tunnels and Trolls.

Ben and I played this game a lot over that summer in a sweltering little caravan…with my characters Rambo I, II and III.

My foolish and reckless play style got me killed often but undaunted I made my own dungeon and killed other people’s characters.

When I was 11, I could finally understand the Red Box I got for Xmas when I was 10. Then a teenager sold me all his 1st ed books at the same time 2nd ed came out. By 13 I’m playing a twisted house ruled out of control bastard mix of all of the above and did so until 16. Every weekend and holiday… A good 20 hours a week + 15 hours creating adventures with my gaming group of 6 players.

I resisted 3.0 – 3.5 all the way until I was 26 when I was up in a cabin in the wilds of Canada hanging with some hippies and one day one of them said “The way you speak… You sound like a Dungeon Master… I made the outrageous claim that I was not only a 47th level Dungeon master, but one of the top 10 on the planet…and the only difference between myself and Dungeon Masters …. is that I am a Dungeon Master.

He produced a 3.0 players handbook and some battered dice and the twisted hippies forced me to read the book cover to cover and kept me as a captive in a cabin for 26 straight days while I took them on an immense campaign 1st level to 17th – all adventures run from memory …seamlessly and flawlessly.

I have taken breaks now and then to work and get things done, but when I get rolling on playing its fully immersed.

Now Im 42 – I have a “D and D room” in my house and every book worth having since 1977– EVERY Dungeon magazine, Every Dragon Magazine, and my poor 7 year old son starts every second sentence with “In D & D…”

I kept playing right into the unplayable mass of piddling plusses and minuses that pathfinder became before almost going into a brain dead coma from it all… then 5e liberated me like a firebird from the sooty nightmare realm of min maxed optimized builds and pictures of cartoony monsters wielding giant weapons.

If someone had told me as a child that I would spend countless hours over the next 35 years scribbling into notebooks, rolling dice, making funny voices and would go without food, sleep and even destroy perfectly good relationships with perfectly proportioned women all for the thrill of helping others follow me through a glowing green portal into an imaginary world populated with fairies, elves and gremlins I would have grabbed them by the arm and said…

“THERE’S A” PORTAL????!!!!!”

And what else have you written?

I have written about 20 other adventures, a number I converted to 3.5 and were very popular on old D&D websites back in the day. They are almost all insanely epic in scope 40+ hours each – not the stuff for beer and pretzels play… but more like group of 14 year olds living in a remote area fodder. In their original note form, each adventure filled 3-4 school notebooks. One is almost 400 pages long. If I had the strength … I would convert them to 5e for DMs guild.

I can send people the 3.5 PDFs if anyone is interested.

And just for fun…

What’s your current PC?

I have never really played in anyone’s game before, I’ve always DMed… what I do is make up insane NPCs and kind of play them along with the players… like Glambrax. A demented mullet wearing alcoholic human afflicted with dwarfism. He is numb from years of self-abuse and wild with rage at his own existence. When not trying to win prizefights, he lives in a barrel in the slums and sells roasted rats and a crude beer fermented from acorns.

Both rats and acorns being gathered for him by street urchins he has befriended.

What’s your favorite character class?

Dwarven Rogue. Tough and rough, low Charisma, low dex, high strength and constitution, chops through chests instead of picking them, crowbars traps apart instead of disarming them and screams at people instead of persuading them…

What’s your favorite monster?

Twisted NPCs… it could be a deranged fisherman… a crazed orphan Elf or a human with dwarfism that has racially appropriated the Duergar race. The kookier and more intense the better.

What’s your favorite official D&D adventure?

The UK Series… they are all amazing, but the shining gem is When a Star Falls. I love massive wilderness adventures that have many plots and twists going on at once.

You can get in touch with me, Weston Prestage, via email: agentfestaskull@gmail.com

Buy The Lion & The Blades on the DMs Guild

Rage Against The Mainstream: The Ultimate 5e Barbarian Guide

So you’re thinking of playing a barbarian in your forthcoming 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign? A commendable choice. This is one of 5e’s most powerful and fun classes, with a tonne of cool options and builds – especially if you go down the Path of the Totem Warrior.

A strong mechanical base aside, the class allows for fantastic roleplaying flavour that that goes way beyond the stereotypical beer-drinking, brainless brawler most gamers end up playing (sorry Grog, too predictable!).

In this guide, I’m going to look at a few ways to optimise a barbarian build for maximum effectiveness. And more importantly, I’m going to look at ways we can create a three-dimensional character that rages against the mainstream interpretation of this class…

Article Content Menu

The Barbarian’s Role in the Party

Ta(n)king it

Barbarians play two roles in most 5th edition D&D parties. Firstly they are excellent “tanks” that occupy enemy monsters and soak up hits that would kill puny wizards and rogues. They are the only class to get a d12 for their hit dice and their rage feature (the class’s defining ability) gives them resistance to bludgeoning, piercing and slashing damage. In other words, they can soak up A LOT of damage. The bad news is that they can’t rage while wearing heavy armour, and so they tend to have weak AC, meaning you are going to get hit A LOT. Still, you have little to fear from being on the front line, and with some canny optimisations you will often be killing your foes before they even have a chance to take a swing at you.

Giving it out

Aside from taking it, barbarians are the best damage dealers amongst the martial and non-caster classes in my experience (not counting the Paladin, and their spell-slot charged divine smite ability). Barbarians get a damage bonus to melee attacks when they rage, and their 2nd level reckless attack ability pairs brilliantly with the (somewhat overpowered) Great Weapon Master feat to reliably dish out deadly blows. Reckless attack also improves the number of critical hits you roll, which pairs with their brutal critical feature that kicks in at 9th level (and improves at 13th and 17th level).

Personally, I love being on the front line in combat, instead of pussy-footing around at the back, and if you like being in the maelstrom of battle you’ll enjoy playing a barbarian. The class’s tactic of trading mighty blows with their opponents in a fast and furious contest to see who is toughest and strongest is far more fun, IMHO, than wrapping yourself up in plate armour and a shield and slogging foes into slow submission with a one-handed weapon. Yawn! If you feel the same, keep reading…

Barbarian Build

Let’s look at how to optimise a powerful barbarian, that performs its role to great effect.

Best Race Options

A great barbarian is built around high Strength and Constitution, so naturally any race that gives us a starting boost in those stats is a favourable choice.

The dwarf beserker is a bit of a fantasy cliche by now, but if you can’t resist a +2 in Str and Con, I won’t judge you for playing a mountain dwarf.

The half orc is a perfect fit, with a +2 to Str and +1 to Con, plus the Menacing, Relentless Endurance and Savage Attack abilities, while their complicated heritage can be something you utilise in your character realisation. Did they grow up with humans or with orcs? Do they try to contain their orcish rage, or embrace it?

If you’re planning on a playing a goliath (from the new player races in Volo’s Guide to Monsters), chances are you’re planning on playing a goliath barbarian. Similar to the half orc, you get a +2 to Str and +1 to Con, and the skills Natural Athlete, Stone’s Endurance and Powerful Build are great complements to the class. Lore-wise and their tough tribal society is a perfect fit for the stereotypical Vikings-style barbarian… we will flesh out tribes further along in this article.

However, my favourite race for a barbarian is definitely human. This not only gives me a chance to dip into real-world history for direct inspiration (more on that later), but if I select the feat variant I can choose a feat like Dual Wielder, Great Weapon Master or Savage Attacker straight from the off… you also gain proficiency in one skill of your choice.

As outside shouts, a lizardfolk barbarian could be quite interesting, you could draw inspiration from Warhammer’s elven wardancers to make a wood elf barbarian, or you could possibly try a conflicted half elf barbarian, who might act an ambassador between their savage tribes and more civilised societies.

Best Stat Block

Using the standard stat block, I would build my human barbarian (using feat variant) like this…

Strength: 16 (15+1)
Dexterity: 14 (13+1)
Constitution: 14
Intelligence: 8
Wisdom: 12
Charisma: 10

Strength is obviously the barbarian’s key stat, while Constitution gives us both extra hit points and extra AC (thanks to “Unarmoured Defense”)… you may even want to consider swapping it with Strength! A half decent Dexterity is pretty essential for someone who doesn’t wear armour, while a lot of barbarian-flavoured skills (nature, survival, animal handling, perception) rely on Wisdom.

As you can see Intelligence and Charisma are my dump stats, but that doesn’t mean you have to pander to the old stereotypes in your interpretation of this class. A low intelligence in D&D terms simply means you are not well versed in history, religion and arcana. You are no academic, but it doesn’t mean you’re as thick as two short planks. A low to middling Charisma makes sense for a character whose savagery make make them magnetic to some and repulsive to others.

For my feat I would take Dual Wielder or Great Weapon Master, dependent on my weapons of choice. Let’s look at the options.

Weapons

Fighting With a Two-handed Weapon

I really hate having only one attack, even at low levels, but if I combine a greatsword with Great Weapon Master and use my Reckless Attack feature (from 2nd level), I can already put up some numbers. In total, I can do 2d6 +3 strength, +2 rage, +10 (GWM) = 22 damage per hit, and the advantage from Reckless Attack should help offset the -5 penalty, at least against creatures with low ACs. If 22 hp is enough to kill someone, I get a bonus attack and the chance to do another 22 hp.

Fighting With Two Weapons

Alternatively I can go with the Dual Wielder feat and utilise two weapons (longsword and battleaxe!), doing 1d8 +3 strength, +2 rage with my first attack and +1d8 +2 rage with my second = total 16 damage on average when I hit with both. Aside from getting my rage damage bonus twice (hopefully!), the advantages here are I won’t be using Great Weapon Master and incurring a -5 penalty, so I’ll be hitting more often. Also, as I will be less reliant on using Reckless Attack, I will also get hit less often, as enemies won’t be attacking me with advantage so frequently. Plus I get +1 AC from the Dual Wielder feat. I might need to pick up a level of fighter later to get the Two-Weapon Fighting style, so I can add my Strength modifier to my second weapon attack.

Overall the mega damage of the first option is maybe too much to resist. Certainly when my to hit modifiers improve enough and I get a second attack, then the two-handed weapon approach will be notably more deadly.

It might be that you want to have a main fighting style, such as using a greatsword paired with Great Weapon Master, but still have a shield and battleaxe for when you need to be a little more conservative.

Primal Path

The biggest decision you have to make when playing a barbarian is which Primal Path to take at 3rd level. I’m going to rate each of them out of 5 for Power and Roleplaying Flavour.

1. Path of the Beserker (Player’s Handbook)

“The Path of a Beserker is a path of untrammeled fury, slick with blood. As you enter the beserker’s rage, you thrill in the chaos of battle, heedless of your own health or well-being.”

This path is built around getting extra attacks, but comes at a huge price. Your core ability Frenzy means you use a bonus action each turn while you rage to make an extra attack, however at the end of the rage you suffer one level of exhaustion, a condition which requires a long rest to get rid of, with very few workarounds. To be honest, as this is the most bland interpretation of a barbarian out there, I’m glad it’s the one that got nerfed, as however handy an extra attack might be, I don’t want to spend the rest of the day getting disadvantage on all my skills checks – this is your fastest path to a very one dimensional character. Tip: if you are desperate to play anger personified and want to unnerf this path, instead of making the level of exhaustion automatic you could ask your DM to allow you to make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw at the end of a frenzied rage (or DC 8, but with +2 for every round you frenzied) only gaining the level of exhaustion on a failure.

Power: 2/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 2/5

2. Path of the Totem Warrior (Player’s Handbook)

“The Path of the Totem Warrior is a spiritual journey, as the barbarian accepts a spirit animal as guide, protector and inspiration. In battle, your totem spirit fills you with supernatural might…”

When you choose this path you face another choice… which animal to choose as your spirit guide: bear, eagle or wolf (Player’s Handbook), or elk or tiger (Sword Coast Adventurers Guide). Each offers unique and flavoursome abilities at 3rd, 6th and 14th level, although in terms of power it’s hard to look past the bear and the wolf. The former grants resistance to all damage types (except psychic)… and it’s fun to picture yourself emerging from the flames and ashes of a fireball, singed but not stirred, to the dismay of an enemy caster. Choosing the wolf totem makes your barbarian the ultimate team player, granting advantage to your allies when they attack hostile creatures within 5 feet of you. Meanwhile, the eagle and elk offer incredible manoeuvrability and the tiger some added athleticism.

The flavour for this primal path is unbeatable. “At your option, you also gain minor physical attributes that are reminiscent of your totem spirit. For example, if you have a bear totem spirit, you might be unusually hairy and thick-skinned, or if your totem is the eagle, your eyes turn bright yellow.” Very cool, but you could take it further and have the totem spirit influence, not just your character’s physical traits, but their behaviour too. Those that follow the path of the wolf might constantly be sniffing the air, chewing on a bone, peeing on trees and looking after their pack. They might let rip with an almighty howl whenever they enter a rage.

When I created my Totem of the Leopard supplement (check it out on the DM’s Guild!) I came up with a table of eight behavioural traits that a barbarian who communes with a leopard (or black panther) spirit animal might have. Hopefully you agree with me in thinking that you could have a lot of extra fun on the table by using these ideas to flesh out your PC’s character.

d8 – Leopard Totem Personality Traits
1. I am nocturnal
2. I only eat meat
3. I prefer to sleep in a tree than a bed
4. I am an antisocial loner
5. I snarl when I’m angry
6. I observe my enemy closely before I attack
7. I am scared of fire and lightning
8. I hate water (even though I can swim just fine!)

For my Totem of the Lion supplement, the same table looks like this:

d8 – Lion Totem Personality Traits
1. I take great pride in my appearance
2. It is only right that the strong rule the weak
3. I am naturally superior to others
4. I never hide my displeasure
5. I protect my pride
6. …so they should prepare my supper, while I take a nap
7. I am scared of fire and lightning
8. My powerful demeanour masks my insecurities

By taking any of the official WOTC totem animals, one of my big cat totems (cheetah, jaguar and a revised tiger totem coming soon!), or even a new totem of your own making, you can really go to town here on customising your barbarian’s abilities and personality.

Power: 5/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 5/5

3. Path of the Battlerager (Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide)

“Battleragers are dwarf followers of the gods of war… they specialize in wearing bulky spiked armor and throwing themselves into combat, striking with their body itself.”

Not quite my style, but kind of fun, your core ability is Battelrager Armor which allows you to make a 1d4 + Str + Rage bonus attack every round you rage in as a bonus action. That’s pretty damn good, as are your 6th and 10th level abilities. All are combat abilities however, and there’s not too much to grab hold of flavour-wise… I did find a bit more info here. The ritualistic singing and boar riding are nice touches you could utilise.

Power: 4/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 2/5

4. Path of the Ancestral Guardian (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)

“Barbarians who draw on their ancestral guardians can better fight to protect their tribes and their allies.”

The 3rd level feature of this class, Ancestral Protectors, is similar to the Path of the Totem Warrior’s (Bear) 14th level ability, in that it effectively forces your foes to attack you and not your allies. However, that makes a lot more sense for a 14th level barbarian with over a 100 hit points than for a 3rd one, who, party tank or not, doesn’t want to have to soak up every last hit. The Spirit Shield ability of 6th level is much more useful.

“Barbarians who follow this path cover themselves in elaborate tattoos that celebrate their ancestors’ deeds. These tattoos tell sagas of victories against terrible monsters and other fearsome rivals.” There is some great roleplaying and backstory potential here, but I can’t help feel it would be more fun if, somehow, you could call on the spirits of specific ancestors to help you perform specific tasks. A homebrew version of this path tailored for your character could work better, where you could invoke the spirits of Grandfather A, Uncle B, and Great Great Great Grandfather C a limited amount of times per day.

Power: 2/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 4/5

5. Path of the Storm Herald (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)

“When in a fury, a barbarian of this path taps into the force of nature to create powerful magical effects.”

Effectively “elemental barbarians”, this path is further delineated into Desert (fire), Sea (water/lightning) and Tundra (cold). Each has a “stormy, magical aura” that extends 10 feet in radius when raging, either injuring everyone (desert), injuring one person of your choice (sea) or bolstering your allies (tundra). I quite like the flavour of this path, especially the sea aura, which best lives up to the name ‘storm herald’. However, it seems a lot less powerful than the Path of the Totem Warrior for example, and when you’re regularly dealing out 20+ hp with your sword or greataxe are you going to get that excited about doing a d6 lightning damage, halved on a save? Also it seems counterintuitive that you can change the environmental effect when you level up.

Power: 3/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 3/5

6. Path of the Zealot (Xanathar’s Guide to Everything)

“Some deities inspire their followers to pitch themselves into a ferocious battle fury. These barbarians are zealots… in general, the gods who inspire zealots are deities of combat, destruction and violence. Not all are evil, but few are good.”

We’re into real murderhobo territory here, and this class is based around a) doing even more damage and b) being almost impossible to kill permanently. I have to say, I don’t like this option much at all… the 14th level rage beyond death is problematic, and I find paladins annoying enough as they are, without needing to introduce a barbarian / paladin hybrid. While you could potentially make an interesting character out of this path, by investigating the religious aspect (“your soul is marked for endless battle”), I can’t help feel this class is going to pander to the worst instincts of the worst types of player. (As a side note, for DMs out there dealing with this class, and the issue of death not meaning much at higher levels in general, one of the best house rules we’ve introduced on our table is that coming back from zero hit points gains you two levels of exhaustion, and coming back from the dead costs you -2 on your Constitution. Death is at least mildly scary again).

Power: 5/5
Roleplaying Flavour: 2/5

Roleplaying A Barbarian

Drawing from History

The word barbarian comes from the ancient Greek word barbaros. To the Greeks, any non-Greeks made a “bar-bar” sound whenever they spoke, and so barbaros came to mean a savage outsider, who spoke an uncivilised and primitive language. The Romans adopted the same word, using it to describe the fierce peoples such as the Germanics, Celts, Gauls, Berbers and Huns, ie. the peoples they fought as their empire expanded.

Meanwhile the idea of a warrior who goes into a rage to become more fearsome in battle derives from the Old Norse word ber-serkr. Etymologists are divided on whether ber-sekr meant bear-shirted – ie. these fighters wore bear pelts, deriving their power from the strength of their bear spirit animals – or bare-chested, as these warriors displayed their courage by going into battle without armour.

Both these words give us ample ideas to work with already, and the rich real-world history that feeds our notion of barbarians means for me the human is my favourite choice of race. Reading into the backgrounds of the Vikings, the Celts, the Gauls, will give you scores of ideas of how you could roleplay a really well-defined barbarian, and even bring new mechanics to the table as well.

And let’s not forget non-European cultures that can feed into the barbarian class. The obvious example to me would be the Mongols, but there’s also the native Americans, the Mayans, the Aztecs and their jaguar warriors, the Aborigines and the myriad of African tribal cultures, such as the Zulus, the Maasai and the San Bushmen.

Drawing from Pop Culture

If dusting off the history books for inspiration doesn’t appeal, you probably have already stored in your head any number of second hand source material from pop culture that you can bring to your Dungeons & Dragons games.

From Ragnar’s Vikings and their human sacrifices, tattoos and prescient visions, to the horse-heart eating and blood magic antics of the Dothraki, barbaric inspiration is everywhere in the realm of pop culture and fantasy fiction, often filtered down from historic reality.

Bobby, He-Man, Conan, Red Sonja, Shaka, Hercules and Wolverine are all barbarians that you can be inspired by. But hat tip to the queen, or should I say ‘warrior princess’ of all barbarians… Xena!

Creating Your Tribe

A barbarian’s tribe is what defines their culture, including their upbringing, their values and beliefs and their behavioural habits. A well-constructed tribe will provide a seriously rich source of roleplaying flavour for your barbarian PC.

When creating your tribe think about the following…

1. Tribal Terrain

Where does your tribe hail from? A tribe’s terrain will do a lot to determine what they wear, what they eat, what type of homes they construct, what animals (and monsters) they come into contact with, and various other behaviour. Obviously a tribe that lives in the mountains or desert will find it hard to farm crops, possibly depending on trade for wheat and corn. A nomadic tribe meanwhile might bridge two different terrain types (and definitely won’t farm).

2. Religion & Festivals

Tribes folk tend to be religious and extremely superstitious. Does your tribe worship ancient forgotten Gods, not found elsewhere in the classic D&D pantheons? Perhaps they worship the sun or moon. Or do they worship the dead and the spirits of their ancestors? Maybe they worship nature, the elements and / or animal spirits. Or they could even worship a mysterious energy they feel in the world, a bit like The Force in Star Wars (or the Weave in the Forgotten Realms setting).

How is this religion manifested? Through daily prayers and offerings? Through sacrifices, and extravagant rituals? Through holidays and festivals, marked by natural rhythms, like summer and winter solstices, or the migrations of birds and beasts…. or even the awakening of terrifying monsters!

There’s a whole list of how peoples like the Vikings, the Slavs and the Sioux celebrated the summer solstice for example here, with practices like jumping over bonfires and setting wreaths of flowers down rivers.

Remember, festivals were often accompanied by feasting, orgies, spectacles, and tests of bravery and skill. The latter might include archery, wrestling, racing, drinking contests or jumping over bulls backs naked.

Finally you might want to consider if your tribe has sacred places, such as mountain tops, lakes, waterfalls, caves or even ancient monuments like Stonehenge.

3. Tribal Rites of Passage

A tribe’s culture is perhaps most sharply defined by its rites of passage. Here are the typical rites of virtually every human culture.

i. Birth

What happens when a new child is born? Are they dipped in ice water, to steel their constitution? Are they baptised into the tribe’s faith, in order to cleanse them of the devil and offer them entry into an afterlife.

ii. Coming of Age

Nearly every tribe has a ritual that marks a child’s passage into adulthood, although it might not be the same for boys and girls (see Gender Roles below). Real world examples you can use to inspire you would be cow-jumping, killing a lion (this rite of the Maasai helped inspired part of my Totem of the Lion title… check it out on the DM’s Guild!), or donning gloves filled with bullet ants, the insect with the world’s most painful bite.

iii. Marriage

From bangles that ward away evil spirits, to fathers spitting on the brides for luck, there are plenty of weird marriage traditions that survive to this day around the world. Here is a long list that might inspire you.

iv. Death

Every man or woman’s final rite of passage, your tribe should have a distinctive way of marking death. Is the corpse’s body washed, painted or purified? Is it disembowelled, drained of blood, or are stones put over its eyes, a gold piece left in its mouth? Are the dead buried or cremated, or thrown out to sea. If buried, are they buried alone, with their sword, with their possessions, or even with their husband or wife, or servants, that may be killed / sacrificed as part of the death rites. Is the burial accompanied by songs, lamenting, dances or speeches about their bravery and achievements in battle. Once buried, is the grave marked with a mound, tombstone or some other distinctive structure? Again, there is plenty of great inspiration to be found from history. One great, somewhat disgusting fictional detail from the book Dune, was that the Fremen, being residents of such a harsh, dry planet, sucked the moisture from their kinsmen, after death, as a means of preserving life.

4. Power Structures

Who is the leader of your tribe, and how is their leadership decided? Is it a council of elders, who select their own rank? Is it the strongest warrior, who is always liable to be challenged by a hot-headed youth? Is there a king, whose eldest son will inherit his throne. Or perhaps the tribe is matriarchal, and the burden of leadership falls to the eldest woman in the tribe.

Does the tribe have a caste system of sorts, of higher ranking members and lower ones, determined by their prowess in battle, age or lineage. How is that social system marked. Ammianus Marcellinus writes of the Agathyrsi, that they: “dye both their bodies and their hair of a blue colour, the lower classes using spots few in number and small—the nobles broad spots, close and thick, and of a deeper hue.”

5. Tribal Law

Most societies have rules against murdering one another, or stealing from one another, but you can bring your tribe to life by creating some rules that seem counterintuitive to modern society. For example, it might be perfectly acceptable to steal another’s husband or wife, if you can remove them at night from their marital home without a drop of blood shed. Or it might be normal practice to cut the tongue out of anyone who told you a lie. Meanwhile, if you have been defeated in battle, you must shave your head and you are forbidden to take part in any religious ritual or festival until you have won a great victory to atone for your failure. Obviously think of something that will work in the game. A good ritual might be that if someone spare’s your life in battle you become their slave, however in the context of the game that could mean you’re responsible for a tedious (for everyone else) amount of NPCs, or you have to give up your own PC because they are now the slave of some NPC.

6. Tribal Customs

You can have a lot of fun with tribal greetings alone. Rubbing the nose of the foreign princess with your own, or spitting in the face of a diplomat for good luck, should bring plenty of mirth to the table, as might peeing in the threshold of any door you pass through, or dancing in progressively smaller circles around anyone you would like to mate with.

For some real world inspiration check out this list of weird tribal customs and traditions.

7. Gender Roles

Men and women could have very different roles in your tribe. With the caveat of not offending anyone at your table, you might consider if women perform a more ‘traditional’ function of child-bearing and rearing, or if they also hunt and fight in battle. Maybe women are considered sacred and act at seers and priestesses, or maybe they are despised and feared, and therefore repressed by the male counterparts. Perhaps it is women who hold the power in your tribe, consigning the menfolk to virtual slavery from birth.

8. Tribal Dress

Make your barbarian PC stand out visually by leaning on the cultural heritage of tribal folklore. Crazy headdresses, splendid animal (and monster) pelts, bright war paint, intricate tattoos, and jewellery made of feathers, beads, bones and precious stones. Certain rituals might demand tribes folk wear savage, scary masks for the occasion.

9. Tribal Warriors

In some tribes every member is a warrior, in others warriors occupy a special social caste, often with their own set of rituals and privileges.

10. Battle Rituals

Going into battle can almost be seen as a rite of passage. As participants in a fantasy roleplaying game we often treat battle as a fun strategical challenge, throwing our PCs into the fray with glee, often as instigators of deadly encounters. That helps us forget the intensity and fear of going into battle, and the rituals that might accompany it. Fighting is part of any barbarians way of life, but typically they need to psyche themselves (and each other) up for the occasion, utilising warpaint, war cries, tribal drums and dances to buoy themselves and intimidate their foes. Before battle, in order to fight bravely, they need to make peace with the idea they might die – anticipating a hero’s place in the afterlife.

Other battle rituals involve what a barbarian might do to their vanquished foes, which typically might include killing them, torturing or humiliating them in a ritualistic way, taking prisoners as slaves, or even eating them. There’s also the question of what they do with their own dead, possibly bringing them back on their shields to their homeland to be buried.

11. Savage Can Still be Sophisticated

One last point I want to make about realising your barbarian, is that not every barbarian tribe needs to be a bunch of bloodthirsty cannibals that thrive solely on battle. It’s unlikely your tribe is full of literary academics, but it might have a rich tradition of oral poetry and story telling, it might have the ancient wisdom of gurus, seers and shamans passed through the ages, it might seek to bring order to cruder, more violent neighbouring tribes, and open trade routes with major cities. Consider the example of Genghis Khan who united tribes across the vast steppes of Asia, opened the Silk Road trading path, promoted religious tolerance throughout his Empire and preached equality before the law.

More Resources

There are plenty of links throughout this article that will take you to more information. For a more academic read, Herodotus’ Histories introduces the reader to hundreds of tribes and their practices, pretty much all of which are now erased by time.

This video is also pretty cool…

As is this one… which features some great character concepts:

New Animal Totem Paths

And if like me you are attracted to the Path of the Totem Warrior barbarians, and building a tribe around them, then you might enjoy my Totem of the Leopard and Totem of the Lion titles. Both books have had super positive reviews so far, and with not only totem powers, but also powerful new totem-specific feats to choose from and flavoursome magic items, you’re half way to creating an unforgettable barbarian PC when you invest a couple of dollars in either of these…

Your Thoughts?

What are your experiences playing a barbarian in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons? Please share your optimisation secrets, your flavoursome back stories, your victories, your frustrations and any historic or fictional inspiration you drew from below in the comments section…

Free Fantasy Music by Michael Ghelfi

With the world building, adventure planning, NPC creating and rules revising us DMs have to do, it’s hardly a surprise that music and ambient sounds are often hurriedly sourced as an after thought, or else overlooked completely. However, more than a Dungeon Master’s lovingly-prepared scene description, a well-chosen soundtrack can capture the mood of a scene, and help lift the curtain on the theatre of the mind, fully immersing us in the story.

Recently I had a chat with talented composer Michael Ghelfi, who has created a diverse music portfolio of ambient and background sounds that you incorporate into your D&D games and made them available for free on Youtube.

From campfires at dusk, to raging battles (complete with cavalry charges), he’s covered many of the classic scenarios that unfold during any compelling fantasy RPG session…

Here’s what happened when we talked music and Dungeons & Dragons in general…

Why is sound important to you in D&D?

Imagine a world where the only sounds you would hear are voices, nothing else. Would you find it enjoyable? How would you qualify that world? Since it’s actually impossible to add sounds to each of our D&D actions, we have to find workarounds, and music and ambiences are the best options. Sound is incredibly efficient to help us imagine places. As an experienced DM, I never write a single sentence without listening to some carefully chosen music or ambience, sometimes both at the same time.

What is your musical background and what do you aim to achieve with your audio creations?

I’m a self-taught fantasy and orchestral music composer, and I use my knowledge to create very high quality ambient tracks for RPGs, with a focus on D&D (since it’s my favorite). I started creating unique ambiences because I never found satisfying ones on the Internet for my D&D sessions. So, since I have the knowledge and the material to make them, I created them myself!

Now I have around 80 different ambience tracks and I’m creating and uploading a new one every two days. I won’t stop before I reach 200 different tracks at least… so stay tuned because this is a fast growing project! Oh, and they are all free.

For those more interested in music, I have also composed more than 160 different songs in ~20 genres. Sometimes I use both music and sound effects at the same time at my tables, for example for a tavern scene.

How can people access your music/sounds?

Youtube is the best option, everything is uploaded on it in loops of 1 hour.

You can also download them on my Bandcamp page as 30-minutes loops.

Getting them on Bandcamp doesn’t give you any premium advantage or whatever, it’s just an option I gave to people who want to support the artist and have the sounds on their computer.

Also to stay tuned to Facebook, Patreon and Twitter.

And just for fun…

What is your current PC?

I have to admit something: I’m not a player, I’m only a DM. I had a few characters when I began but they are either forgotten or dead. My players never DM because they tend to compare their adventures with mine (which is a mistake, don’t compare, play for fun), and since I put a LOT of effort and passion in what I do… they end up waiting on me to organize another session!

So instead of speaking about my favorite PC, I will speak about my favorite NPC, which was called “Azmija”. She was a fortune teller with two personalities fighting each other. One personality wanted the players to banish the other half, and the other half wanted to destroy the players who were the only real threat to her (in the game that was more complex than that but you got it).

Your favourite character class?

The Mageblade. What is this? It’s a homebrew class I created, used by some of my players. To make it simple, it’s a melee class with a few non-aggressive spells and highly randomized effects on attacks (both positive and negative to the player and his entourage). It blends very well in the game, and I’m quite proud of my work.

Your favourite monster?

I will chose a non-homebrew content this time. I will mention the Ghost. It’s indeed a low-CR monster, but it’s definitely useful against those min-max players who tend to focus on DEX/STR/CST and have very low other characteristics. Also ghosts are an infinite source of roleplay opportunities.

Your favourite official D&D adventure?

Lost Mines of Phandelver. I started playing D&D on this scenario, so it will ever have a special place in my heart.

Your favourite unofficial D&D adventure?

“Archipelago of the Sun”. It’s a 400 pages campaign I’m writing, featuring a whole new language with its own script, grammar and vocabulary. Players have to translate it to uncover the final plot of the story. The campaign will be edited and published this year, along a 200 pages book of additional rules (including the Mageblade and five other classes) and a ton of 30 pages scenarios.

Your D&D alter ego?

Archmage Demetrian. It’s an archmage specialized in teleportation, alchemy and illusions. It’s also my writer name. I include him in my campaigns as a secondary protagonist, like Quentin Tarantino does with himself in his movies. Quentin plays in them, but he’s nearly useless or just very secondary.

In my campaigns, I made it clear that Demetrian wasn’t important, so they don’t bother investigating about him, they just buy potions to him and ask for teleportation. Sometimes my players wonder if he’s not in fact the big bad guy of the stories. SPOILER: He’s not. He makes potions.

Thanks so much for your attention, and don’t hesitate to contact me to speak about music, D&D, worldbuilding or linguistics!

Are You A Good D&D Player?

My Dungeon Master recently shared an interesting video with me by Taking20, in which the presenter Cody, shares his thoughts on what make a great – and not-so-great – Dungeons & Dragons player.

He categorises players into tiers, and gives the qualities that he feels define each tier.

Partly because I’m more of a word man than a video junkie (i.e. I wanted to see his points in a form that I could easily refer back to), and partly because some members of my group were too lazy busy to watch a 20 minute video they could benefit from, I decided to make a list of Cody’s tier system for quick and easy consumption.

There are a number of great takeaways from the video, and – just as the author intended – it is a very useful barometer to measure your own play style by, whether you’re fairly new to the game or a decades-old veteran of the art.

Tier 0 – Disruptive Player

Cody’s Definition: These players destroy campaigns and break up groups, because people don’t enjoy playing with them.

Traits:

  • They argue with DM’s rulings
  • They don’t pay attention in combat (they’re on their phone)
  • They hog every situation, try to fulfil every role on the table
  • They may over-roleplay mundane moments (eg. buying some rope), thereby slowing the game narrative to a crawl
  • They are unprepared, and don’t know their character’s abilities
  • They ‘pout’, ie. sulk when things don’t go their way

Tier 1 – Beginners

Cody’s Definition: These are the newcomers learning the game. You should be able to leave this tier quickly.

Traits:

  • Don’t know the rules
  • Need constant help

Cody is quick to point out that everyone has a right to occupy this tier as a beginner, but you should be heading out of it after just three or so sessions, provided you’re not planning to be disruptive tier 0 persona.

(NB. Cody’s maths get a bit wonky here, as he goes straight from Tier 1 to Tier 3. I’ve taken the liberty of correcting him).

Tier 2 – Average Player

Cody’s Definition: This is basically Cody’s minimum expectations of a non-beginner player.

Traits:

  • Has a solid understanding of the rules
  • Take notes when the DM introduces a new PC
  • Show up to first session with readymade character, with ideas for a backstory, personality and character motivation
  • They understand their class mechanics (“if you don’t understand your class mechanics by the third session you’ve slid down into a disruptive player” says Cody, who brooks no bullshit!!!).
  • Have an understanding of the setting / campaign world
  • Understand the basics of roleplay, make choices based on their character
  • Manage to hold back from metagaming around 50% of the time (ie. don’t offer advice when they’re unconscious, etc.).

Tier 3 – Good Player

Cody’s Definition: Cody defines a good D&D player by the following traits…

Traits:

  • Know how to involve others in the game (and can do it in character)
  • Recognise party roles, allow everyone their moment in the spotlight
  • Recognise story hooks that the DM lays out, and follow up on them
  • Don’t create annoying motivational issues for their PC that threaten the advancement of the story
  • Understand how to roleplay, and can truly avoid metagaming, acting according to their character knowledge etc.
  • Know how to accept character death

Tier 4 – Great Players

Cody’s Definition: Beyond good, these traits make a great player…

Traits:

  • Have mastered the art of improv, can go with the DM’s flow and invent new story details on the spot that add to the story
  • They can read the table, and help move the game along when necessary
  • Can make player vs. player conflict fun, without escalating it and derailing the session

Tier 5 – Extraordinary Players

Cody’s Definition: You are ready to star in Critical Role!

Traits:

  • They are fully immersed in their character (without losing sight of the above points)
  • May have mastered voice acting (or may not)
  • Know what their character would do in certain situations
  • Have defining vocabulary and catchphrases
  • Constantly try to improve as players

Anyway I think it’s a really interesting tier system, and quite an exacting set of standards to hold oneself up to.

Here is the video if you want to check it out. For more on gaming etiquette check my twin posts on traits of annoying D&D players and qualities of great D&D players, where I look at some of these issues from a slightly different angle.

Great Weapon Master Feat… OP’ed or not?

There are three feats that the vast majority of Dungeon Masters consider broken, according to this survey by Think DM.

One of them is Lucky, the only feat to get banned on my table and one which I discussed previously on this blog (and which in turn generated scores of conflicting comments, with many people rushing to its defense. I’ll let you read their reasons yourselves). Another is Sharp Shooter, which perhaps I’ll talk about another time. The third, and today’s topic, is Great Weapon Master.

It’s an interesting feat for sure… the Player’s Handbook states:

Great Weapon Master

You’ve learned to put the weight of a weapon to your advantage, letting its momentum empower your strikes. You gain the following benefits:

  • On your turn, when you score a critical hit with a melee weapon or reduce a creature to 0 hit points with one, you can make one melee weapon attack as a bonus action.
  • Before you make a melee attack with a heavy weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack hits, you add +10 to the attack’s damage.

The concept is simple. You’re a big brave brute who has sacrificed a shield (and an ability modifier to take this feat), in order to do maximum possible damage with each swing of your blade.

The first of the two benefits raises few eyebrows… critical hits are pretty rare after all, as is reducing a creature to zero hit points.

The second benefit is where the controversy comes in. An additional 10 damage is massive. If you consider a greatsword does on average 7 damage, it’s kind of crazy that there’s a feat that allows you to do another 143% of that damage as part of the same attack. Everything hinges on that -5 modifier… but in a game of low ACs and high bonuses to hit, not to mention various potential ways to get advantage on your attacks, is that enough of a penalty to justify that huge damage haul?

Ready to do serious damage…

Some Maths…

I’m not going to go super nerdy on this one… this is Hipsters & Dragons remember! I’ve got some art house movies to watch with a locally brewed IPA later tonight (ok, the next episode of Vikings, with some cheap Spanish wine…), but let’s do some simplified sums. I’m doing this on the fly… in other words I haven’t drawn a definitive conclusion about the feat myself yet. Plus the maths might be shoddy, so stay sharp.

Taking a 5th level fighter as an example, let’s see how much damage he does using this feat in three rounds of combat against an opponent with AC 15, versus how much he does without using it. Let’s say he’s got 18 Strength, and a +1 sword by now. His name is Ted.

For simplicity sake I will discount how critical hits effect the maths, and assume there is no advantage on these rolls for now.

Without the feat (5th level fighter)

Ted has a to hit bonus of +8, meaning he needs a 7 to hit AC 15 (70% chance). He does 2d6 +5 damage per hit (12) and has 6 attacks in three rounds. Therefore he does 0.7 x 12 x 6 = 50.4 damage in total.

With the feat (5th level fighter)

With his -5 penalty, Ted now has only a +3 bonus, meaning he needs a 12 to hit (45%). He does 2d6 + 15 damage per hit (22) times the 6 attacks. Therefore he does 0.45 x 22 x 6 = 59.4 damage total.

Hmmmm, it’s not too strong. Just 9 hit points difference, and if you chose to increase your Strength by 2, instead of choosing this feat, you would have dealt an extra 4.5 hit points in those six attacks. That said, I feel that the damage outputs should be closer, if not even. With outputs like this it just means you will opt to use the power nearly every time, and reliably come out on top…

Anyway let’s run the same example with a 10th level fighter, and assume this time that Ted has advantage on his attack rolls for one of the three rounds. Being 10th level, Ted now has a +2 sword.

Without the feat (10th level fighter)

Ted has to a hit bonus of +10, meaning he needs a 5 to hit AC 15 (80% chance), with advantage 96% chance. He does 2d6 + 6 (13) per hit. So in two rounds he does 0.8 x 13 x 4 = 41.6, and in the final round 0.96 x 13 x 2 = 24.96. So a grand total = 66.56 damage

With the feat (10th level fighter)

With his -5 penalty, Ted now has a hit bonus of +5, meaning he needs a 10 to hit AC 15 (55% chance), and with advantage (79.75%). He does 2d6 +16 (23) per hit. So in two rounds he does 0.55 x 23 x 4 = 50.6, and in the final round 0.7975 x 23 x 2 = 36.685. So a grand total = 87.285 damage.

Ok now I’m beginning to see what people are complaining about. That’s pretty big gains over just three rounds. This feat is definitely going to start unbalancing the game at higher levels, especially if it’s being paired with other skills like the barbarian’s reckless attack feature to get advantage more frequently.

In general I like the concept… take a risk, and get a reward… I probably wouldn’t go far to say the feat is broken, but with 5th edition’s low AC monsters and its frequently employed advantage mechanic, the risk / reward dynamic doesn’t feel quite right, and it does come over as overpowered.

Hipster’s Fix

The first part of the feat works just fine in my experience, and is especially fun when mopping up low level mooks in a fight. I am happy to leave that well alone. As for the second part, here are my suggestions…

Option 1

The simplest way to fix the problematic part of this feat would be to keep the same risk, but reduce the reward. In general the flat 10 extra damage doesn’t sit well with me. It’s too dull, and too guaranteed, and it doesn’t scale on a critical (annoying from a player’s perspective!). So I would simply substitute the +10, for 2d6 extra damage, which is a) more fun and b) a bit less powerful, ie. more balanced.

When you bear in mind that most characters using Great Weapon Master feat will also have selected the Greater Weapon Fighting Style that allows you to reroll 1s and 2s, then the average damage is actually 8.33 (not 7), so only slightly nerfed from 10. Especially as between 5 and 10% of the time (ie. when you get critical hits) you will be doing 16.67, which will bring the average up some more.

Option 2

Another way of approaching a fix, would be to say, you can only land these killer +10 blows when you have advantage on the attack roll. Only when you’ve snuck up on your opponent unseen, or they’re rolling about prone on the floor, do you have the time to put your full force into the blow and have any hope of hitting. This means you don’t get to use it so often, but when you do, it tends to pay off big.

Option 3

A third idea I had would be to simply say… whenever you have advantage on a melee attack roll with a heavy weapon you deal an extra 1d6 damage. No penalty to hit. Simple and situational, this saves on any maths and also indecision that sometimes accompanies this feat (“shall I take the penalty or not? Erm, err.”) which can eat up valuable game time.

Option 4

Just thought of a fourth option. You could make dealing the extra damage reliant on a using a bonus action as well. This seems to have some logic… such a powerful blow might take a little extra time to work up to, as you adjust your stance and wind up for the kill. This is perhaps the best way to keep GWM on the table as written, but preventing it from getting out of hand, as it would limit its use to once per turn. This same solution works well for limiting the burst damage of divine smite. Hmmm, it does however screw with the first part of the feat, whereby you get to make a free melee attack as a bonus action, if you kill / crit a creature. You could however give extra attack as a free action on those occasions.

There you go! How have you got on with Great Weapon Master feat on your table? Have you come up with a fix that works for you? Please comment below, and feel free to pull me up on my tired, probably incorrect maths, obvious things I forgot to take into consideration and anything else. Just keep it polite, as you normally do.

Oh by the way, did you check these 5e magic weapons I homebrewed? They are free for use in your game.

Killer Kobolds, by Tony Petrecca

One of the most well-known and well-loved adventures on the DMs Guild is Killer Kobolds, an adventure that pits your players against wave after devious wave of the eponymous little critters.

Who better to introduce the best seller than the author himself!?

Dear Tony…

Tell us about your book, Killer Kobolds…

The Kobolds of Crag Canyon have kidnapped the children of the pleasant village of Thornyfoot, and it’s up to the heroes to charge in and save the day. Killer Kobolds is a fast paced 5th Edition D&D adventure meant to provide an unforgettable challenge for characters from levels 8-12.

With its simple, straightforward premise, Killer Kobolds quite purposefully sidesteps any and all moral quandaries in order to provide hours of thrilling, high octane, action packed fun.

Looking for Die Hard meets Aliens meets John Wick meets Thunder Road in a D&D session? Well then, have I got the Kobolds for you. Killer Kobolds! Action just levelled UP!

You can buy Killer Kobolds on the DMs Guild for $4.95.

Why did you write it?

The scenario that would eventually become Killer Kobolds grew naturally from my long running home game. My players, having recently taken possession of a small keep guarding a mountain pass, had the opportunity to negotiate with a couple of kobold traders from a nearby canyon enclave. Goliath Barbarian Eglath couldn’t bring himself to believe that the kobolds were negotiating in good faith, thus he opened negotiations with his great club, launching a war.

Knowing full well things were going to get ugly quick, the party set out to kobold territory to take the battle to the little beasties. What ensued was an ever-escalating series of action scenes featuring a vast array of kobold kin harassing the party from all angles using a wide and constantly changing variety of tactics, building ultimately to a thrilling showdown with a big bad kobold ally. The gameplay was filled with foolhardy charges, desperate retreats, harrowing escapes, and a crescendo of action whose final resolution brought about cheers and applause at the table.

When it was done our table agreed that it was some of the most entertaining D&D any of us had been involved in. I realized that the Killer Kobolds could be readily extracted from their original campaign and turned into a stand-alone, drop anywhere action adventure with a simple plot hook change, and I set about making that happen, so I could share the fun with the rest of the world.

How about a little taster then?

Killer Kobolds is NOT Tomb of Horrors. It is not meant to be a TPK waiting to happen. Like any great action movie, I want the characters to find themselves breathless, brutalized, and proudly victorious scene after scene, but I don’t want them slaughtered. Thus, the adventure has simple guidelines in place to help the DM modulate the action, allowing the adventure to continue its pace, which should be a gradual crescendo of action all building to the shocking BBEG reveal at the end.

Like any great action movie, Killer Kobolds contains several set piece scenes that play out as exciting, fluid, dynamic battles. Similarly, like any great action movie, Killer Kobolds has its share of memorable enemies the heroes must overcome, from the brilliant cover girl Levexi the kobold sniper, through flying kobold war priests, to a surprise big bad evil that, when revealed, should inspire jaws to drop.

One such enemy that never fails to infuriate in play is the kobold sorcerer Rerecross. Rerecross uses his skills to hit and run, frustrating the PCs as they give chase through a gauntlet that includes several traps and a collapsing bridge guarded by Kobold Commandos and Kobold Air Cavalry.

He manages to inspire the chase thusly:

Rerecross, prepped and ready to defend the ritual in the best kobold manner he knows how, is at the western door of area 1, using it for three-quarters cover. He will toss a fireball at the party and then retreat, closing the door behind him. He takes a position at the bolthole (2) and readies another fireball to throw into area 1 should its door be opened by anyone but a kobold….

….Rerecross knows the layout well and will target the fireball for maximum effect – centering it on the square that is fifteen feet behind the open door. If the party pursues he’ll retreat, using the dash action, a misty step or dimension door if necessary, to get past area 3, across the bridge, and into area 4. From that vantage he’ll take three quarters cover, peaking around a corner to harass with ranged spells while the kobold squads and air cavalry engage in area 3.

… Rerecross, in area 4, will continue to harass from cover until he gets somebody’s attention, at which point he will retreat to the middle of area 5. He hopes an eager pursuer, split from the party, will somehow cross the collapsed bridge and come at him solo. But solo or not, once pursued he retreats to the middle of area five, behind the Catapult of Doom, hoping to draw his pursuers through two brutal trap areas.

It works like a charm, every time I run it. Inevitably at this point a brave Paladin, brash Fighter or enraged Barbarian tears off in pursuit… first setting off The Four Pillars of Destruction, and then turning to find Rerecross beckon from the middle of a large open room, a sly grin upon his face, as his pursuer triggers The Catapult of Doom and finds themselves hurled over the grinning kobold’s head to smash against the opposite wall.

Oh sure, cautious, careful adventurers might notice and avoid the traps,“but who treads carefully when in hot pursuit of an infuriating kobold sorcerer?”

Who the hell are you by the way?

Well, I’m a 50-year-old Indianapolis resident, Purdue grad, husband, dad, dude with a day job, DEVO fan, and a DM – not necessarily in that order. I got introduced to D&D sometime last century when a friend of mine sent me In Search of the Unknown in a place called Quasqueton and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I’ve always been a fan of creating my own scenarios in any game I’ve played, thus jumping into DMing seemed a natural fit. I’ve got an amazing table of friends, many of whom have been gaming together since early childhood, and I love devising new and creative ways to entertain them. Alas, we’re all parents with day jobs and such, thus we can’t game as often as we used to, though we do our best to play for a couple hours at least once a week.

And what else have you written?

My first forays into publication were Journey Through the Center of the Underdark 1 & 2, companion pieces to Out of the Abyss. They were remarkably well received and went on to become platinum best sellers. Eventually I compiled the two into one convenient bundle available here.

After completing Killer Kobolds I wanted to turn my attention towards something more emotionally complex, an adventure where investigators, explorers, and role players would have their day in the sun, while still providing fans of combat with their dice rolling opportunities. Inspired in no small part by Dean Spencer’s amazing cover art, Hunted was born. Folks can take a look at Hunted here.

I’ve also had the opportunity to contribute to several other DMsGuild projects, most notably Jeff C Steven’s Savage Encounter’s series. I’m particularly proud of the work Jeff, Shawn Merwin, and I did on The Mines of Chult.

You can find all of the above, and plenty more I’ve gotten to contribute to on my DMs Guild page.

And just for fun…

What’s your current PC?

Wendilisa Delirious – Tiefling Bard.

What’s your favourite character class?

I’m a clutz in real life, so I’m drawn to dex builds in my RPGs. I love my bards, rogues, swashbucklers, and dex based fighters. Stout halfling barbarian, anyone?

What’s your favourite monster?

You have to ask? Kobolds of course. I’ve loved em since the first time I read about Tucker’s.

What’s your favourite official D&D adventure?

Of all time? 3rd Edition’s Red Hand of Doom gets high marks from me. For 5th Edition I’ve got a big soft spot for Out of the Abyss.

What’s your favourite unofficial D&D adventure?

Oh no, there are way too many outstanding adventures from amazingly talented authors on the DMsGuild to pick just one. I do keep a reasonably up to date collection of many of my favorites, with reviews, here.

What’s your D&D alter ego?

Oh, the player in me would love to be my OG original AD&D bard Sprite Silverlocks, or perhaps my current tiefling Wendilisa. The DM in me likes to think he’s the Arch Mage Accertep or the Silver Dragon Zephrym. But at this point, realistically I’m the retired adventurer, safely running the inn with his wife and daughter, happy to sit by the fire swapping tales of glory with those who’ll listen.

Thanks Tony, was great getting to know you. How can we stay in touch on the interwebs?

Well on the Facebooks I’ve got an Author’s page, @DMTonyPetrecca, and my personal Facebook presence where I play Tony Petrecca. On the Twitters I’m @TonyPetrecca and, finally, I’ve got a Google+ presence where, I know, this’ll be a big surprise, I’m Tony Petrecca.

Tavern Brawl Builder, by Jean Lorber

Time to introduce my readers to another great writer from the DMs Guild, and let him tell us about his best-selling book, The Tavern Brawl Builder, the perfect guide to planning an old-fashioned punch up in a pub…

Take it away Jean…

Tell us about your book, Tavern Brawl Builder…

‘Tavern Brawl Builder’ is a 26-page supplement that details unique taverns, colorful NPCs and brawl encounters, all wrapped up with new mechanics for making brawls quicker and more fun! Specifically, there are 10 taverns, 10 brawl encounters and 10 complications. Pick one of each and you’ve got 1,000 unique brawls!

Why did you write it?

Since taverns are a staple of fantasy adventuring, I wanted to re-invigorate the cliché of the tavern brawl. I wanted to go beyond: “Drunk dwarves start arguing and a fight breaks out”. So I created story-filled, brawl encounters triggered by events both mundane (e.g. a jilted bride seeks retribution) and fantastic (e.g. an enchanter spreads his emotions to other patrons). These brawls have a reason for beginning and encourage the PCs to pick a side and get invested in the outcome.

But tavern brawls are pretty different from most D&D encounters: non-lethal attacks and improvised weapons should be common and there are a large number of combatants in an enclosed space. It’s a lot to keep track of with the 5e rules-as-written. So, I came up with new mechanics, focused on making a brawl simpler to run and keeping the dice in the players’ hands. Throw in a table of random tavern objects to use as weapons, and you’ve got the ingredients for a bang-up throw-down. Sooner or later, someone is going to get the fully-feathered dead goose…

You can buy The Tavern Brawl Builder on the DMs Guild for $3.95.

How about a little taster then?

Here’s the set-up to one of the brawl encounters:

Grandpa really wanted a drink

The animated skeleton of a long-dead local warrior appears and causes an uproar. To set the scene, read or paraphrase the following:

The tavern door creaks open and a skeleton dressed in adventurer’s garb slowly walks in. It slaps a coin purse on the bar and seems to be waiting expectantly. It takes a beer from the nervous barkeep and quaffs the entire pint enthusiastically. Every drop runs straight down its tunic, but afterwards it opens its mouth in what might be a long, satisfied belch. The tavern looks on in utter silence until one drunk patron breaks it: “The undead are among us!!” he wails.

The skeleton (MM) belongs to Ruud Stoneburner, a former (in every sense of the word) adventurer. By some magic or residual willpower, his skeleton has returned to deliver a message to his descendants. But he has to survive a brawl first.

Some patrons decide to rid themselves of this perceived threat. When you’re ready to begin the brawl, read or paraphrase the following:

After minutes of muttering and heated conversations, the bubble of tension bursts: half the tavern starts yelling “kill it!” and reaches for weapons. But one young man cautiously approaches the skeleton. He points to a decorative pin fastening the skeleton’s cape. “Gr- grandfather?” The skeleton nods, then turns to the barkeep and signals for a writing implement.

This interaction doesn’t stop a vicious melee from breaking out, with half the tavern-goers seeking to destroy the skeleton and the other half protecting their old, old acquaintance.

Who the hell are you by the way?

My name is Jean Lorber, and I’m just a long-time fan of D&D. I remember playing in the 1980’s as a kid, but I clearly didn’t grasp the rules because I had a level 52 wizard…

I started playing again only a few years ago, when my son showed an interest. After buying a few old books, the nostalgia-bomb detonated, and we started playing regularly with another family. It was a great bonding experience, and that was where I discovered my love of DMing. Making up adventures for my tabletop soon led to making up adventures and supplements for the DMs Guild.

The Guild community has been great, by the way, and I owe a lot to support from folks, including Jeff Stevens, Tony Petrecca, Chris Bissette, Teos Abadia and uber-mensch Shawn Merwin.

And what else have you written?

I’m working on my first proper adventure (‘Last March of the Tyrant Wyrm’), but the other titles I’ve completed for the Guild are: ‘Volo’s Lost Encounters’, ‘Unstuck Encounters’ and ‘Unstuck Encounters 2”. I’ve also contributed to a number of collections on the Guild. Here’s my DMs Guild page.

And just for fun…

What’s your current PC?

A half-elf paladin, the overzealous standard bearer of his regiment. He’ll give his life for the Empire because it’s surely working on behalf of all its citizens…right?

What’s your favourite character class?

Wizard. Because in my normal life, I don’t get to break the laws of Newtonian physics.

What’s your favourite monster?

Kobolds. They can range from naughty to homicidal, and I love designing traps.

What’s your favourite official D&D adventure?

As a kid, I loved all the basic D&D modules like ‘the Lost City’. As an “adult”, I’ve only ever played homebrew. But I’ve read all the official 5e adventures, and my favorite is ‘Out of the Abyss’. The Underdark is huge and totally foreign, and I like the range of weird settings and encounters. The interior art by Richard Whitters is also a big selling point.

Thanks Jean, was great getting to know you. How can we stay in touch on the interwebs?

You can find me on twitter: @jlorber4

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