Weekly Roleplay Warm Up

Do you like the content I create? Consider buying me a coffee or purchasing one of my DMs Guild supplements. Every cent puts me one step closer to making TTRPGs my full-time job.

Each week, I sit down with five wonderful players (and sometimes a guest player) for our weekly game of D&D. After recapping the events of the last session, we do a roleplay warm up: a question that each player must answer on behalf of their characters. They can do this in character, or they can simply answer the question in their own words.

Roleplay warm ups have made a huge difference at our table. We love to explore our characters, bringing them to life through social encounters, challenges, and decisions. Though we’re not actors by trade, these questions help us to “get into character.” They prompt us to think of our characters as real people. What are their hopes and dreams? Do they have a favorite food? What do they do when they aren’t adventuring?

At the end of it (usually around 5-10 minutes max), the players choose someone to receive inspiration for their answer. I try to frame the question for any given week around the session I’ve prepared or its major themes. For example, if the characters were heading to Candlekeep, I might ask them something like, “If you were an author, what would be the title of your first book?”

Improvisation is hard. It takes practice, vulnerability, and a willingness to fail. Regardless of the size of your table’s audience—it’s okay if it’s just you and your players—you might benefit from adding a roleplay warm up before each session.

Roleplay Warm Ups

Below, you’ll find a running list of roleplay warm up questions that I’ve asked on Twitter (@justicearman). Please feel free to use them in your games.

  • In your character’s opinion, what quality should EVERY adventurer have?
  • What would your character say to the party with their dying breath?
  • What’s one errand your character has to take care of the next time they’re in town?
  • What is the best meal your character has ever eaten?
  • You’re at the Tipsy Lobster, a tavern in giant glass bottle that hugs a rocky shore-cliff. A spunky halfling in a blue doublet arrives to take your order. What do you tell them?
  • What is the best gift your character has ever received?
  • What is one title your character has earned that makes them proud?
  • What is your character’s retirement plan?
  • Your character stands at the front gate of Candlekeep, the Castle of Tomes. However, you can’t get in until you provide the monks with a rare book or piece of writing. What did you bring?
  • With which school of magic does your character most identify?
  • What is your character’s favorite thing about adventuring?
  • For what would your character sell their soul?
  • What did your character last dream about?
  • What is one thing your character prefers to do alone? (don’t be gross please)
  • What is one thing your character has changed their mind about?
  • When is the last time your character was cold to someone else?
  • When is the last time your character failed?
  • Does your character see the mug as half empty or half full? Also, what’s in the mug?
  • Is your character a clean person or a messy person?
  • What does your character do on their day off?
  • How would the other party members describe your character?
  • What song would your character sing at karaoke night?
  • What is your character’s pet peeve?
  • If your character had a warning label, what would it say?
  • What is one of your character’s fondest memories?
  • What is one rule your character never breaks?
  • A new adventurer approaches your character, asking them for wisdom. What lesson does your character impart to the young adventurer?
  • Describe one of your character’s childhood friends.
  • If your character could ask an all-knowing entity one question, what would it be?
  • If your character was an animal, which one would they be?
  • Where was your character educated? If they didn’t have a formal education, how were they taught?
  • What is one secret the rest of the party doesn’t know about your character?
  • When was the last time your character said, “I love you,” if ever?
  • What is your character’s catch phrase?
  • When’s the last time your character has used a set of tools?
  • What deity does your character worship? How do they show their devotion?
  • Tell me about one trinket your character possesses.
  • What is one thing your character admires about someone else in the party?
  • How does your character relax after a hard day’s work?
  • What does your character see when they look in the mirror?
  • If your character was an author, what would be the title of their first book?
  • Describe your character’s personal hell.
  • What’s one thing that always makes your character smile?
  • What is one way that someone can earn your character’s trust?
  • What is one thing your character has seen or done that no one would ever believe?
  • What is one goal your character hopes to accomplish in the next year?
  • What is something your character does every morning?
  • What does your character look like when they get angry?
  • What is one sacrifice your character has made?
  • Describe your character’s aesthetic in one word.
  • Your character is given a magic hourglass. With it, they can change one decision they made in the past year. Which one do they pick?
  • What’s one thing your character does when no one is around?
  • How would you describe your character’s fashion style?
  • What is one way that your character shows they care about someone else?
  • What is something your character doesn’t have enough of?
  • If your character was a drink, what would they be and why?
  • How can someone new earn your character’s trust?
  • If your character were to start a business, what would it be? What would make it special?
  • What is one thing your character has seen or done that no one would ever believe?

Like this article? Consider supporting me by buying one of my products on the DMs Guild, such as Darkhold: Secrets of the Zhentarim or Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, consider picking up an alternative introductory adventure to the campaign, Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contractsor Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters.

You can also follow me on Twitter at @justicearman or sign up for my email list, the Gjallarhorn, for exclusive updates, playtest opportunities, and discounts.

Justice’s Guide to the DMs Guild

Do you like the content I create? Consider buying me a coffee or purchasing one of my DMs Guild supplements. Every cent puts me one step closer to making TTRPGs my full-time job.

Every once and awhile, I receive a notification from an aspiring game designer asking for advice. The tabletop community is brimming with avid game masters, players, and worldbuilders eager to share their creations. With a few DMs Guild best sellers to my name, folks often ask me about publishing on the DMs Guild.

These questions are always humbling—after all, I still consider myself an aspiring game designer at heart! Not long ago, I was firing off applications to Wizards of the Coast for any job I could get. “Maybe if I can nab a janitor position,” I thought, “I could tack an adventure on a bulletin board near Chris Perkins’ office, a la the chalkboard scene in Good Will Hunting.” I could have benefited from some entry-level advice for sure.

Over the past few years, the DMs Guild has blossomed from a budding platform into an active community, home to some of the best third party content that D&D 5th Edition has to offer. Currently, the DMs Guild is the only platform where you can directly benefit from the sale of original content featuring official D&D properties such as the Forgotten Realms, Strahd Von Zarovich, or Acererak’s mad shredding skillz. On top of that, the DMs Guild Adepts program includes some of the best and brightest D&D creators in the industry, and brand manager Lysa Penrose has put in countless hours working to make the Guild a more inclusive, positive, and welcoming space.

Throughout my time on the Guild (that’s what the cool kids call it), I’ve learned many valuable TTRPG lessons. Some of them came easily, taught to me by friends, mentors, and generous peers, while others were the products of hard work or failure. I’m a big proponent of paying things forward, so I’ve created this article as a sort of landing page for new creators.


Before I begin, I wanted to list a few helpful resources.

Getting Started on the DMs Guild. This article by James Introcaso helped me when I first dipped my toes into the waters of the Guild, and I’m sure it will help you. James is the creator of Roll20’s Burn Bryte, Managing Editor at MCDM, and credited on several official D&D hardcovers. “Getting Started on the DMs Guild” breaks down the major beats of the creative process, from concept to a published product. Be sure to read James’ article if you need an overview of the TTRPG writing process.

Getting Started on the DMs Guild. Yes, this article has the same name as the one above! But this one is a more support-driven article written by the folks at DMs Guild and OBS. Think of it as a checklist to review at least once before you begin your project. Review it again before you go to publish—the last thing you want is your product taken down on release day because you forgot the DMs Guild Logo!

D&D House Style Guides. These free resources, written by members of the Dungeons & Dragons creative team, are designed to help you write content that’s in-line with official D&D standards. Though there are some slight formatting variations between official publications, these resources are absolutely essential if you want to emulate D&D 5th Edition style in your work. I highly recommend you familiarize yourself with these resources. While it’s okay to deviate from them, DMs Guild customers expect some degree of consistency. If your work is drastically different from what they’ve come to expect in 5th Edition, your audience may struggle to incorporate it in their games.

RPG Writer Workshop. This digital academy was created by Ashley Warren, a TTRPG titan whose credits include Hekna!, Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden and the critically acclaimed Uncaged Anthology series. In addition to the very popular Write Your First Adventure course, the RPG Writer Workshop has a poppin’ Discord channel where you can connect and learn with other creators.

Becoming a D&D Designer. I was on this panel with D&D heroes Celeste Conowich, Lysa Penrose, and Ashley Warren for D&D Celebration 2020. I can testify that I would have personally benefited from this panel early on! You’ll see some of its information echoed in the article below.

First, Write the Thing

So, you’ve got an idea, and you want to publish it on the DMs Guild. That’s great! Your creations deserve to see the light of day. The first step is to write the thing.

This article isn’t about writing—I’m assuming you can handle that part! What makes writing “good” is subjective, but my writing has improved from following insightful creators like Teos Abadia, M.T. Black, James Haeck, Sly Flourish, Hannah Rose, and Shawn Merwin. I’ve also learned a lot by working with my partner in crime, Anthony Joyce, on several projects. Ultimately, your writing style is impacted by the subject matter of your supplement, your personal preferences, and the audience for which you’re writing.

General DMs Guild Writing Tips

Okay, so I lied. I can’t just throw you into the deep end like that! Here are a few quick tips for writing your first DMs Guild Supplement.

  • A Bigger Audience. Writing for the DMs Guild is not the same as writing for your home game. Cast a wide net that gives Dungeon Masters and players the tools to approach a scenario in a variety of ways. Don’t tell stories. Give tools.
  • Collaborate. Unless your project is small, I highly recommend working with at least one other writer. The experience will make both of you better creators. You’ll think of things that other collaborators don’t and vice versa, and the idea generation phase—which might just be my favorite part—is a lot better when you can pitch your ideas with someone else before they hit the page.
  • Hire an Editor. You think finding a typo in your Tweet is bad? How about discovering twenty of them a week after you’ve released!

The Three Pillars of DMs Guild Supplements

Just like a D&D session, you can break down any given DMs Guild project into three categories.

  • Writing & Editing
  • Artwork
  • Graphic Design

Let’s talk about editing first.


Remember when I said hire an editor? I wasn’t joking. Editors are like blacksmiths, removing impurities from your writing and giving your words the cutting edge that lets the pen rival the sword. Even if you’re just writing for fun, I strongly recommend that you hire an editor. They are well worth the investment.

There are three types of editing:

  • Proofreading. The most basic form of editing. A proofreader reviews a document and identifies mistakes such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting.
  • Copyediting. A copyeditor analyzes a document in terms of grammar, spelling, flow, and syntax. In addition to correcting errors and inconsistencies, a copyeditor may recommend slight changes to improve a sentence or paragraph. On the DMs Guild, this may also involve them reviewing your work for adherence to the D&D House Style Guide.
  • Developmental Editing. A developmental editor reviews your project as a whole. They look at the big picture, examining your work in terms of structure, style, content, pacing, and/or value. Think of a developmental editor as a sculptor, reshaping your work to be more in line with your vision.

The Cost of Editing

Prices vary between editors, but services are generally priced based on the degree of involvement. Proofreading is relatively inexpensive (I’ve seen anywhere from 1-3 cents per word for the DMs Guild) when compared to copyediting (3-6 cents per word), while developmental editing can rival rates for consulting or sensitivity reading (10 cents or higher). The longer your project is, the more you need to budget for editing. As a brief disclaimer, industry-standard rates are often higher than on the DMs Guild.


You’re probably going to need some artwork, even if it’s just for the cover page! Tables, bullets, and other design elements can help break up a wall of text, but including a striking piece of artwork every few pages keeps readers from getting fatigued.

You don’t have to commission a single piece of artwork for your DMs Guild supplements. If you’re willing to do some legwork, you can source art without breaking the bank or underpaying artists. Here are some tips for cutting the costs on art assets:

  • D&D Creator Resources. Unless you’re a DMs Guild Adept, you can’t replicate official art in your products. However, the DMs Guild does contain a few collections of artwork in their DMs Guild Creator Resources, which you can find on the Logo and Artwork Questions page. You should also just give this page a review in general. It’s all good stuff. There are some great pieces in the Creator Resources, but you’re going to have to do a little hunting; last I checked, the pieces didn’t have any established naming convention.
  • Stock Art. There are several artists on the DriveThruRPG who publish stock art at a highly discounted rate compared to industry standard. Here’s a link to the stock art page. The trade-off is that other creators can also access this license, and other products are likely to have the same piece you bought within their pages or maybe even on the cover. Don’t let that dissuade you, though. Industry-standard covers can run you anywhere from $300-1,000 depending on the individual artist and their rates.
  • Game Assets. Some companies market to app developers, bundling assets aimed at fantasy-themed smartphone games. Preparing to write some magic items? Look at game asset websites like Rexxard. They make tons of assets for books, monsters, spells, and potions that you can drop into your project for just a few bucks. And of course, whenever possible, you can always write your content around the artwork you have.
  • Licensing Art. I’ve seen a few very successful products on the DMs Guild utilize licensed art. An artist may work on a piece for practice, pleasure, or another project with non-exclusive rights to their work. If it fits, you can always reach out to the artist—politely and professionally—and inquire whether any pieces are available for a one-time license for your supplement. Pick a few candidates from their portfolio and have them ready when you reach out. Some artists’ rates may depend on the piece you’re licensing, or they might offer bundle pricing if you license multiple pieces.

If you do decide to commission artwork for your products, my recommendation is to start with the cover and go from there. Especially around official D&D releases, the DMs Guild is flooded with new content, and a stand-out cover can help set your product apart from the rest. You don’t have to commission a full-page cover, either. A half-page cover with good graphic design, like I had for the Mithral-best-selling Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contracts, works just as well!


Once you’ve got everything ready to go—your work has been written, playtested, and edited, and your artwork has been chosen—it’s time to go to layout. Finding a good layout artist who’s available can be a challenge, so be on the lookout for designers early on.

Layout artists vary in pricing, depending on their experience, rates, and the complexity of your project. A layout artist may charge anywhere from $5-10 a page or more for DMs Guild work, possibly including a flat project fee. Some prefer to work for a royalty share, asking for 5-10% of a project’s sales revenues. Again, industry-standard rates for layout and/or graphic design may exceed those listed in this article.

Can’t find or afford a layout artist/graphic designer? Here are a few ways you can do it yourself.

  • GM Binder and NaturalCrit’s Homebrewery let you format your products based on a simple, predetermined style. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but once you understand each interface’s capabilities and associated dialogue, it’s smooth sailing. My very first title, Heart Hunt, used one of these programs.
  • What if I told you that you could lay your entire product out in Microsoft Word? Well, you can! It’s a bit of a pain, but you can plug in page assets and artwork, export them to PDFs, and even include familiar page textures as image backgrounds. You might not know it, but there are several best-selling DMs Guild projects whose layouts were done in Microsoft Word.

    A good friend of mine and talented editor, Laura Hirsbrunner, created a Simple 5E Template for Microsoft Word to make such layouts a breeze. Yes, there are instructions.

The Final Stretch

Your project is finally complete. You wrote the thing, then an editor revised your words. You sourced artwork, and gave that to a layout artist. Congratulations! You’ve earned a short rest. After that, it’s time to finish strong.

Pricing Your Product

A lot of creators struggle when it comes to pricing their work. Please don’t work for free. The more free and underpriced products there are on the market, the less creators get paid. Worse, consumers start to expect them as the norm, passing up on otherwise spectacular products in favor of underpriced alternatives. Help us legitimize the tabletop industry by promoting fair pay.

Price Per Page

Joe Raso recently put together a price breakdown of the Top 100 products on the DMs Guild for 2020, comparing his results to a similar analysis from the previous year. Looking at Joe’s data, products with 100 pages or less sit around 15-20 cents per page in terms of price, increasing above that when you have less than 30 pages. Based on this, you could price your 50-page supplement anywhere between $7.50-10 or more. If your supplement small—I’m talking 10 pages or less—the data is less reliable, but I’d recommend charging anywhere between $1-5.

The past year has taught us that the DMs Guild can sustain higher prices without having to justify them with hundreds of pages of content. With new TTRPG books dropping every day, there’s a growing market for compact, high-quality supplements. Take Heavyarms’ Armorer’s Handbook, for example, a fantastic Adamantine-best-selling product. It has a price point of $9.95, but just 28 pages of content! If you’ve read the supplement, however, you know that it’s worth every penny.

Benchmark Pricing

You can also price your supplement based on similar products on the market. When looking for a benchmark product, consider your supplement in terms of production value, genre, type (such as adventures, magic item supplements, variant rules, etc.), page count, and audience size. Try to refine your search to supplements released in the last year.

Budget-Based Pricing

You can also price your project based on your budget. Assuming you’re the only contributor receiving royalties, you’ll get 50% of every sale. How many sales are you predicting? What price point do you need to offer to break even? For example, if you spent $50 on your supplement, and you price it at $5, you’ll need 20 sales to break even. After that, it’s all profit!

Publishing to the DMs Guild

The Resources links above include instructions on preparing your title for publishing. At minimum, make sure your project checks the following boxes:

  • You either own, licensed, or have obtained permission to use all of the content in your title, and you’ve credited creators wherever appropriate for any work contained therein. This includes both artwork and writing.
  • You’ve stuck the DMs Guild logo from the Logo and Artwork Content page on your cover and in the thumbnail, and no other branding logos are on your cover.
  • Your content uses the D&D 5th Edition ruleset. 
  • You’re using approved settings (if applicable, setting neutral is okay), such as the Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Ravenloft, or Ravnica. Reminder: You cannot publish your own settings on the DMs Guild. Check out the DriveThruRPG for that.
  • You’ve included the legal text found here on your credits page: Ownership and License (OGL) Questions page
  • You have read and understand the DMs Guild Community Content Agreement.

If you’ve got all that, publish that thang! Then, it’s time to tell the world about your title.

Marketing & Advertising

Once you’ve got a finished product in your hands—or at least something to generate hype prior to release day—it’s time to advertise it. This is arguably one of the most important yet ambiguous aspects of any TTRPG project. Every day, beautiful products go unnoticed simply because customers don’t know they exist.

Here are a few tips for marketing and advertising your supplement.

  • Write Out Your Unique Selling Proposition. Ew, you got business in my TTRPGs! Don’t worry. A unique selling proposition (USP) is a just fancy marketing term that answers the question, “What makes your product special, and why should your customers care about it?” Understanding this will help you when posting about your product.
  • Create An Attractive Product Page. Tell potential customers what they’re getting in your supplement. Keep it focused and concise.
  • Know Your Audience. Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit all have different kinds of D&D audiences. The more your post matches the “vibe” associated with each platform, the more likely it is to gain traction.
  • Keep Promoting. Your product will continue to gain sales after any release day buzz has died down, albeit at a slower pace.
  • Pay It Forward. No one wants to follow an ad account. Early on, someone told me that for every self promotion post, there should be 2-5 where you’re offering original content, insights, or engaging with other creators. TTRPGs are a team sport! Celebrate other creators—you might just work with them one day!

Manage Your Expectations

My last recommendation is to manage your expectations. Most products on the DMs Guild don’t sell more than a handful of copies in their first week, let alone the first couple of months. Unless you have an established audience elsewhere, your first project will probably fall in line with that trend. Rest assured, you’re not alone.

Everyone has an underperforming project eventually, and it stings every time. What matters is that you keep creating.

My first two projects, Heart Hunt and Oath of the Aesir, didn’t sell very many copies. It wasn’t until my third project, Devil’s Advocate, that I really felt like I found my stride. Even if you have a stand-out project, there’s no guarantee that you’ll maintain that trend—in fact, you almost certainly won’t. Three months after releasing Devil’s Advocate, I put out my milk-themed carnival horror adventure, Step Right Up. Guess what? It still hasn’t broken even!

There’s a saying in the DMs Guild community that most supplements have a “long tail.” Regardless of where your product peaks when you release it, you’ll still sell a copy or two every so often. It might not seem like much at first—a sale every week or two, maybe a couple in one week and none in others. But over time, you’ll notice that those sales add up. As you keep creating, that single sale in your first week suddenly becomes sixty sales in your first year, and you’re the proud new recipient of a copper bestseller metal.  

We all fail sometimes, but with each setback comes new knowledge and opportunity. Failure hasn’t stopped me from creating—it won’t stop you, either.

Like this article? Consider supporting me by buying one of my products on the DMs Guild, such as Darkhold: Secrets of the Zhentarim or Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, consider picking up an alternative introductory adventure to the campaign, Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contractsor Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters.

You can also follow me on Twitter at @justicearman or sign up for my email list, the Gjallarhorn, for exclusive updates, playtest opportunities, and discounts.

5 Things I Love About Quest

Check out the definitive guide to Candlekeep in 5th Edition D&D, Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. Featuring design and consultation by creator of the Forgotten Realms, Ed Greenwood, this supplement is packed with lore, new player options, and the first-ever map of the library fortress! If you liked that supplement, you’ll LOVE what we have coming next month, so be sure to sign up for my newsletter to get notified when that drops!

Recently, I learned about a new tabletop RPG (TTRPG) called Quest, which Dicebreaker toted as having “a good shot at becoming the definitive RPG for first-time players.” After watching Dicebreaker’s short video on the system (which you can find here or at the end of this article), I decided to order a copy and examine it for myself.

I gotta say, I like it a lot.

In this article, I’m going to share 5 things I love about Quest RPG with you. Before we get started, I want you to know the following:

  • This is not an endorsement of Quest over D&D or any other TTRPGs. I encourage you to find the TTRPG that works best for you and your players, one that brings you unequivocal joy with every session.
  • I won’t mention things that I don’t like about Quest. That’s just not my style.
  • I’m not an expert on Quest. If I get something wrong, I apologize.
  • Quest RPG did not ask me to write this article, nor am I being paid to do so.

The Artwork

The first thing that roped me in about Quest was the artwork. I’m a huge fan of Adventure time and Tales from Alethrion, both for their exaggerated cartoon art style and their whimsical yet thought-provoking method of storytelling. (If you’ve never watched “The Reward,” I just linked it. Go watch it, I’ll wait.) The artwork in Quest reminded me of my favorite cartoons while also maintaining its own sense of style.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fantasy painting. Our house is covered with them. But I’ve always been drawn to styles of art that are different, such as singers who maybe aren’t as technically proficient as others but who have memorable qualities to their voices. The art in this book scratches that same itch for me, while also conveying the epic and fantastical scope of adventuring with good friends. Oh, and it’s beautiful.

It’s also worth mentioning that the art in Quest is both inclusive and empowering. I especially love the artwork for the Naturalist role (depicted above), whose wonderful bird tattoos extend along their prosthetic arm. As a related aside, the community guidelines are also quite nice.

The Presentation

Quest is a book that holds your hand and takes you on a tour. It reminds me of the wholesome tutorial in the video game Little Big Planet, where the friendly narrator (Stephen Fry) engages with the player as they learn the controls at their own pace—while having a bit of lighthearted fun along the way.

From the very first page of the book, which states “This is a special place,” you feel like you’re on a learning journey. The table of contents is split into sections with commentary telling you what you’re going to learn in each grouping, and the book is presented logically without burdening you with too much information on any given page. I found myself thinking, If this rule works this way, I wonder about that rule, only to discover it in the following section. Font and layout vary from page to page, providing you with simple, direct information without any extra fluff. Once Quest has taught you a rule or conveyed its point, the book lets you have some space to ponder and chew on the information before continuing.

Backstories contain familiar elements of an ideal and a flaw, but the way that they are presented to the player is especially friendly to new folks. It’s sort of like mad libs meets D&D, and it works. You don’t need to write a 5-page backstory to get playing, and there are no races to choose. You just fill out the Character Profile, and you’re ready to go in that regard. They’re available as separate files on the website, too, so you can print off as many as you need and get rolling.

It’s Elegant

You can call Quest simple. In many ways, it is. But it’s simple in all the right places, which makes it elegant.

You get twelve items that reasonably fit in a backpack. Want to carry more? Drop one. Firing a ranged weapon? You’ll need one slot for your ranged weapon—be it a bow, laser rifle, or supercharged t-shirt cannon—and another slot for ammunition. But don’t worry about tracking all that ammunition. You have enough, it just takes up space.

In fact, don’t worry about keeping up with money and balancing an economy. Most things are free. Want something fancy? You’re going to have to trade for it. If you like tracking resources, this probably isn’t your game. However, if you are like me and don’t jump for joy every time a player asks how much a magic item costs, you’ll probably appreciate Quest’s bartering economy.

Because the rules in Quest are so light, there’s a bit more freedom to the group as a whole. Having just played Burn Bryte last night, I gotta say I like the freedom that comes with making skills versatile or even removing them entirely. There have been a lot of moments in other TTRPGs where my players will look down at their character sheets to try to find something—anything—that they can do. Often times, they’ll rule out the things they aren’t good at, which is natural in a system with skills and modifiers. When success depends on how good you are at a thing, you tend to focus on what you do best.

In Quest, there are no modifiers. You simply say what you want to do, and you do it, just like other TTRPGs. However, when you try to persuade someone, there’s no Diplomacy or Persuasion check. You just roll the d20 and use the following outcomes:

  • 20 — Triumph: you automatically succeed, and might find fortune.
  • 11-19 — Success: you do the thing without a negative outcome.
  • 6-10 — Touch Choice: you do the thing, but the Guide gives you two setbacks that you must then choose from.
  • 2-5 — Failure: you do not do the thing, and you might have a negative outcome.
  • 1 — Catastrophe: you automatically fail, and something bad happens.

This means that the probability of success for any check that doesn’t use a special ability stays the same for each character throughout your campaign. Some people will like this, others will not. Personally, I think it’s neat and helps keep the game moving, especially if math isn’t your best friend.

It’s Interesting

Quest isn’t a watered-down version of your favorite TTRPG. While some aspects may seem familiar, there are several that feel entirely new—and refreshing.

For example, the game lifts some of the responsibility of controlling pace off of the Guide (the game master), particularly when it comes to player advancement. At the end of each session, each character gets Adventure Points (APs), a finite resource which the players can accumulate to use abilities with an AP cost. A fighter might use 1 or 2 APs at a time, utilizing them for minor maneuvers. Alternatively, the wizard might save their APs for a clutch moment, surprising everyone at the table by wielding mighty magic in an epic display. There’s no limit to how many APs a character can accumulate, so players can decide their ideal reservoir of points for themselves throughout the campaign.

Character advancement works similarly. There are multiple learning paths in each roles, similar to skill trees in a common theme. They must be taken sequentially, but you can borrow from any of the paths. You might go all in on the Invoker’s Invocation path take a vow (similar to a paladin oath), or you might pick the Shield ability from the Wards path and a couple abilities from the Wrath path. At the end of each session, you’ll get a new ability, so it’s possible to get all the abilities in a role—if your campaign runs long enough. There are also legendary abilities, which only the Guide specifies when a character can get. These are things like the wizard’s ability to create dimensional portals, or recruiting an army of small animals to aid you and your companions as a ranger!

It’s Easy to Teach

Most important of all, Quest is easy to teach. It feels like a great way to introduce a new player to TTRPGs. There are, of course, easier TTRPGs to teach new folks, and there are certainly more complicated ones, but Quest feels like a nice balance of rules with common sense, which makes them easier to remember.

A player might ask, “Can I hit the creature with my sword?” If you’re in reach, you can hit it where you stand. If you’re nearby, you can travel to it on your turn and make a melee attack. If you’re in range, you can make a ranged attack, but not a melee one. And if you’re too far—well, I think you get my point.

If you or someone you know has never played a TTRPG before, and that’s not enough to warrant a deeper look, there’s also:

  • A single die.
  • No modifiers.
  • No money.
  • No skills.
  • No multiclassing.

If you’d like to give quest a deeper look, there are some basic rules on the Quest website. If you’re a writer like me, you’ll be pleased to know that they recently announced an open creator’s license.

I hope you enjoyed this quick look at a great new TTRPG! I can’t wait to play some in-person with my friends when the pandemic finally slows down. You can watch Dicebreaker’s short video on Quest below.

Like this article? Consider supporting me by buying one of my products on the DMs Guild, such as Darkhold: Secrets of the Zhentarim or Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, consider picking up an alternative introductory adventure to the campaign, Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contractsor Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters.

You can also follow me on Twitter at @justicearman or sign up for my email list, the Gjallarhorn, for exclusive updates, playtest opportunities, and discounts.

Sorcerous Origin: Thread of the Norns

We recently released the definitive guide to Candlekeep in 5th Edition D&D, Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. Featuring design and consultation by creator of the Forgotten Realms, Ed Greenwood, this supplement is packed with lore, new player options, and the first-ever map of the library fortress!

If you didn’t already know, I’m a huge fan of Norse mythology. I love the most recent God of War game, Neil Gaiman’s masterful reimaginings of the classic myths, and am looking forward to playing the Fate of the Norns RPG when I get some free time—it uses runes instead of dice! I ran a homebrew Norse-themed campaign that lasted about two years in which Loki was the overarching villain. My players still maintain the occasional suspicion that one of my good-hearted NPCs is just another illusion of the trickster god. In fact, my old domain name and twitter handle was actually Norse DM. I changed this over time as 1) I’m actually Middle Eastern, and 2) I’ve written far more about devils than I ever did vikings.

When I got my start on the DMs Guild, my first subclass was the Oath of the Aesir paladin. I released it in June of 2019. My original hope was to do a trio of subclasses, including a cosmic monk tied to Yggdrasil, the World Tree, but my attention was called to other pursuits. Recently, I was going through my old files and found a Norse-mythology-inspired sorcerer subclass that I made months ago.

I’ve been fortunate enough over the past year to stay busy in a constant stream of TTRPG work. so take this free subclass as a thank you. Let me know what you think in the comments!

Sorcerous Origin: Thread of the Norns

Magic has been woven into your lineage by the Norns, a coven of prophetic hags residing beneath the roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Maybe a Norn chose you to avert or bring about an apocalyptic event. Perhaps one of your ancestors drank from Urðarbrunnr, the well beneath the World Tree. Regardless of the origin, Norn magic empowers you to manipulate fate itself. 

The Norns

In Norse mythology, the three named Norns— Urd, Verdandi, and Skuld—control the fate of all beings, including the gods. These ancient hags spin threads of destiny within their halls, weaving the past, present, and future into existence as if it were a great tapestry. Interestingly, the Poetic Edda mentions the existence of many lesser Norns. Some acolytes claim that a Norn is present at every birth, entwining the child’s life with fortune or failure. Thus, any hag that focuses her time on prophecy or fate may be deemed a Norn.

Norn Sorcerer Quirks

At your option, you can pick from or roll on the Norn Quirks table to create an interesting personality trait for your character.

Norn Quirks

1I am in possession of a cryptic prophecy from which I constantly extrapolate meaning.
2I knit excessively and often create garments for people I meet throughout my adventures.
3When my companions or I attempt a difficult feat, I attempt to read the threads of fate, commenting on the likelihood of success or failure.
4I have a trinket which I stroke when reciting strange omens.
5Some say I resemble an old crone when I laugh.
6I believe I’ve foreseen my own death. Until that time comes, I’ll live every day to its fullest.

Norns of the Realms
While the Forgotten Realms contain more outward references to Norse mythology, such as Thrym and Surtr in the giant pantheon, allusions to the Norns are more subtle. Volo’s Guide to Monsters offers three thematic alternatives to hag coven spells, one of which is linked to prophecy and includes fate-altering spells like bane and bless. A trio of stone giants resides in the underground library of Gravenhollow in Out of the Abyss. Ulthar, Urmas, and Ustova are Keepers of the Past, Present, and Future, respectively. If you know what to look for, you’ll find evidence of the Norns woven into other tales.

Nails of the Norns

Beginning at 1st level, your connection with destiny gives you a tactical edge in combat. Whenever you roll initiative, you may add or subtract your Charisma modifier from your result.

Norn Magic

The thread of the Norns connects you to fate-altering magic. You gain one of two spells at the listed sorcerer level in the Norn Spells table, representing the two sides of fate. These spells don’t count against the number of sorcerer spells you know, but you cannot replace them later.

Norn Spells

Sorcerer LevelSpell Choice
1stbane or bless
3rdaugury or ray of enfeeblement
5thcrusader’s mantle or speak with dead
7thdeath ward or blight
9thcontact other plane or dream

Entwine the Fates

Starting at 6th level, you can create a tapestry from raw magic that lets you shape the future. 

As an action, you weave a glowing tapestry onto the battlefield. You choose the shape and color of the tapestry when it appears, though it always originates from you (see the Tapestry Shapes By Level table). If you move to another space after creating the tapestry, it remains in its original shape, orientation, and location for 1 minute, or until you dismiss it as a Bonus Action. 

Your tapestry grants you two the following two abilities:

  • Favor. Whenever a friendly creature within your tapestry must make a saving throw, you can use your reaction to spend 2 sorcery points to give it advantage on the roll. You can grant this benefit to multiple creatures at once, but you must spend 2 sorcery points for each creature.
  • Fall. As a bonus action, you can spend 3 sorcery points to force a creature within your tapestry to make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failure, choose one type of damage. Until the start of your next turn, you and your allies ignore resistance to damage of the chosen type for that creature. Creatures with immunity to the chosen damage type instead have resistance to it until the start of your next turn. You can target multiple creatures at once with this ability, but you must spend 3 sorcery points for each creature.

Once you have woven your tapestry, you cannot do so again until you have finished a short or long rest.

The range of your tapestry increases at 14th level, as shown in the Tapestry Shapes By Level table.

Tapestry Shapes By Level

Sorcerer LevelConeCubeLine
6th30 ft15 ft10 ft x 60 ft
14th60 ft25 ft10 ft x 120 ft

Thread of Gold

At 14th level, your Norn ancestry tethers you to the weave of magic that permeates all things. You gain advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Judgement of the Norns

When you reach 18th level, your connection to the Norns allows you to cement a creature in destiny or doom. 

Destiny. As an action, choose a creature within 30 feet of you and expend 1 to 10 sorcery points. The creature regains 1d8 hit points per sorcery point spent.

Doom. As an action, choose a creature within 30 feet of you and expend 1 to 10 sorcery points. The creature must make a Constitution saving throw, taking 2d8 necrotic damage per sorcery point spent on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.

Like this article? Consider supporting me by buying one of my products on the DMs Guild, such as Darkhold: Secrets of the Zhentarim or Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, consider picking up an alternative introductory adventure to the campaign, Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contractsor Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters.

You can also follow me on Twitter at @justicearman or sign up for my email list, the Gjallarhorn, for exclusive updates, playtest opportunities, and discounts.

Can I Get a Redo?

We just released the definitive guide to Candlekeep in 5th Edition D&D, Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. Featuring design and consultation by creator of the Forgotten Realms, Ed Greenwood, this supplement is packed with lore, new player options, and the first-ever map of the library fortress!

In my day job, I manage three departments, one of which is a pool that supports several clinics when they are short-staffed with per-need associates. A lot of the folks in my pool go from per-need to full-time rather quickly, so I’m essentially always conducting interviews. Last year, I interviewed a woman who left me with a piece of simple yet profound advice that I would integrate in both my marriage and my D&D games.

The interviewee—we will call her Darcy— had worked at a local children’s home that helps youth through difficult times with foster care, residential programs, and other services. Not surprisingly, many of these children have endured hardship, processing it in their own way. Working at this facility requires patience, empathy, and dedication. As Darcy spoke to me about her experiences working there, she mentioned a phrase that stuck with me: “Can I get a redo?”

What’s a Redo?

When one of the kids in the program made a mistake, said something hurtful, or even just had the wrong tone, Darcy would ask them if they would like a redo. She didn’t pass judgement or threaten punishment, but rather sought to understand and offer the person grace. Often, the child would stop, process for a moment, and repeat the statement either in a more respectful manner, or one where their thoughts and feelings were conveyed more clearly.

Over time, Darcy said that children would ask her if they could have redos. They’d say something they regretted, and they’d say, “Miss, can I please have a redo?” Of course, Darcy would oblige them, happy that they are practicing self-awareness and kindness.

The night after I interviewed Darcy, I told my wife Samantha about redos, and we’ve since implemented them in our relationship. Every once and a while, I’ll see on her face that my words didn’t quite come out how they should have and ask for a redo. Sammy smiles and tells me I can try again, and she doesn’t fault me for the previous statement. I do the same for her when she’s having an off day. It’s been a great tool for us in our relationship to recognize and forgive each other for those slights, while painting over them with more wholesome statements.

But you don’t come here for relationship advice! You come here for tabletop roleplaying game content, right? So how do you use this in your games? It’s pretty simple, actually.

Redos in D&D

A redo at the game table is basically an instant retcon. If you’re not familiar with the term, to retcon is to change or remove something that happened in the past, i.e., to say “That never happened.” For a redo, the player and Dungeon Master agree with one another to hit the rewind button and take another shot at collaborative storytelling during a session. After all, roleplaying games involve a lot of improvisation, and improv is hard. Even talented actors flub a line every now and then. Unlike other mediums, you and your DM have the power to control the narrative. There’s no need to record every spoken word in stone.

Even Jim Darkmagic knows the importance of a good redo. Check out the gift of gab spell from Acquisitions Incorporated, which lets you basically erase the past 6 seconds of any conversation your character has with an NPC:

Reasons for redos are numerous, but they have their roots in the most critical aspect of the game: having fun! Here are a few scenarios where you might need a redo:

  • You’re at a pivotal moment for your character, but you didn’t know it was coming⁠. Perhaps it’s a sudden reunion with a long-lost friend, or your character is parleying with their arch nemesis as the dungeon crumbles around you. In the excitement, you’re at a loss for words and blurt out something you now find embarrassing. “Can I get a redo?”
  • You’re the DM. Tonight, on top of everything else, you’re playing an intelligent negotiator. You forget a critical piece of information when offering a laughable retort. “Can I get a redo?”
  • There’s miscommunication between the DM and the player. Your character responds to some misinterpreted signals, and you end up offending an important NPC. “Can I get a redo?”

Video games have quicksaves, why can’t your D&D game? My philosophy is to stick to the rules 90% of the time, but bend or change them when they’re preventing a player from having fun. You picked a cantrip that you haven’t used in any of our sessions, and you want to change it? Swap it out. I think we could all use could allow a little wiggle room here and there, so long as no one’s taking advantage of you or your DM at your table.

Redos vs. Retcons

There have been plenty of moments in my campaigns where I’ve had to adjust something that happened over the course of a session which I didn’t have a chance to redo. These times require a more formal announcement and some reaffirming come session time to make sure that everyone is on the same page, especially if it’s something the characters have relied on for more than one session.

A few times, it’s been something in the background I forgot to mention that I’ve slipped into the weekly recap to affirm information for foreshadowing. Other times, it’s more significant, so I’ll send a message in the group chat stating, “Hey friends, it looks like that war happened more recently than I realized. The two elves in the party could have actually been in it, so I’ll need to follow up with them individually. Sound good?” Then everyone digitally nods unless they have questions, we put it in the recap, and we move on.

Redos Outside of Roleplay

Redos are easier to integrate into social encounters as the guidelines are more relaxed. You might make a few checks during roleplay, or you may have an entire conversation without ever rolling a d20. In combat, however, the rules are much more explicit, and tactical decisions have consequences—sometimes ones we do not like.

My recommendation in combat is to extend a redo to a player so long as 1) it’s their turn and 2) they haven’t rolled any dice. Otherwise, you begin to take the teeth out of encounters and step on other characters’ toes. If a player can change their mind after rolling a natural 1, there’s an explicit mechanical benefit. Thankfully, the Player’s Handbook contains a multitude of ways to allow for combat redos within the bounds of the rules, such as Halfling Luck, Bardic Inspiration, or a fighter’s Indomitable ability.

Do you agree with me, or do I need a redo on this article? Let me know in the comments!

Like this article? Consider supporting me by buying one of my products on the DMs Guild, such as Darkhold: Secrets of the Zhentarim or Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, consider picking up an alternative introductory adventure to the campaign, Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contractsor Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters.

You can also follow me on Twitter at @justicearman or sign up for my email list, the Gjallarhorn, for exclusive updates, playtest opportunities, and discounts.

Running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus – Rewriting the Elfsong Tavern

This article contains spoilers for chapter 1 of Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus.

Last week, we began our Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus campaign, kicking it off with Baldur’s Gate: The Fall of Elturel, an alternative introductory adventure I co-wrote with Anthony Joyce. That adventure personalizes the campaign’s inciting event: the fall of the holy city of Elturel. It also introduces three new background options—members of the Flaming Fist, Hellriders, and the Order of the Gauntlet—that tie the characters more heavily to the campaign. You can read those in my free Session 0 Campaign Companion for Descent into Avernus.

Anthony and I changed a lot about the first session of the campaign, but I found I wasn’t quite ready for the characters to go straight to the bathhouse. I’m a big fan of foreshadowing, and I didn’t want to pass up the chance to use the awesome map of the Elfsong Tavern contained in my Platinum Edition of the adventure by Beadle & Grimm’s. (B&G is currently selling a Silver Edition of the adventure right now, which includes this awesome map on canvas paper!)

There’s nothing wrong with the way the “With Friends Like These” encounter in the Elfsong plays out in the official adventure. Tarina has information, and just like everything else in Baldur’s Gate, it has a price. She’s on the run from an old pirate crew that she may have stolen from, so she asks the characters to hang around a while and beat up some pirate bandits in exchange for the down low. Not a bad way to get acquainted with kind of rough-and-tumble folk that call the City of Blood’s docks home.

This encounter is meant to do three things:

  • Give the characters a moral quandary
  • Portray the disorganized Flaming Fist as a violent organization that doesn’t always have the best interests of its citizens at heart
  • Introduce them to both the brutality and humanity of members in the Cult of the Dead Three
  • Use this awesome version of “The Song of Elturel” by Keith McCollough

The Adventuring Party

Before I detail the encounter, I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to the characters, as their affiliations made this encounter even more personal.

  • Luri, a half-elf Flaming Fist and former Hellrider. Luri is sister to Alex. The pair became Hellriders after they survived the reveal of the High Rider as a vampire lord in 1444 DR.
  • Alex, a half-elf Flaming Fist and former Hellrider. Alex is brother to Luri. The two left the Hellriders after their dark secret.
  • Milt, a half-orc forge cleric of Torm and member of the Order of the Gauntlet.
  • Lil’ Bit, a faceless gnome artificer whose persona is a luchadora named La Rama.
  • Cassandra, an aasimar fighter and current Hellrider. Cassandra snuck into the city along with her warhorse, Bug.

The encounter, “The Song of My People,” is below.

The Song of My People

In this encounter, Tarina isn’t concerned that her former pirate crew from the Uncivil Servant are in the city; in fact, they’re probably miles away. Instead, Tarina’s made a living for herself by acting as an informant for various power groups in the city. She has an array of badges under her heavy waistcoat—Flaming Fist ranks, the badge of the Watch, the Guild, and even minor identifiers of the Cult of the Dead Three. Ultimately, Tarina is only loyal to herself. She knows the city like the back of her hand, and always chooses to meet the characters at the Elfsong to avoid any crossover between her connections.

If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: the Fall of Elturel, you can have the dragon cultist mention an informant in the city who has more info on the bathhouse. It’s probably unwise for characters to rush into the bathhouse when entering the city, but they should always have that option.

If you’re running the adventure as written, you shouldn’t have any problems. Captain Zodge asks the characters to go meet with Tarina or they’ll get a good floggin’. And Flaming Fists love themselves a good floggin’.

The Alexandrian » 2020 » March

The Elfsong Tavern

When the characters enter the Elfsong, read or paraphrase the following:

Sullen-eyed patrons dot the Elfsong’s spacious taproom. Gruff sailors, hardened criminals, and grizzled citizensall armed with swords, clubs, and daggers—take a brief moment to size you up, almost in unison, before returning to mugs of ale and stout glasses of hard liquor.

A muscular, sunburned woman laughs in a corner booth as she rakes in a pile of coins from a game of Baldur’s Bones. A frustrated half-orc slaps his dice off the table, which clatter to the floor, grumbling, “Ye’ve bled me dry!” as he leaves the game.

Seated among the patrons is a table of three Cultists of the Dead Three (a fist of bane, necromite of Myrkul, and a night blade of Bhaal). Without their ceremonial garb, however, they draw no more suspicion than any of the other patrons. They look like a group of friends enjoying a drink.

The Informant

The woman in the corner booth is Tarina, the informant. Characters can make a DC 12 Intelligence (History) check to know the following information about Tarina. Any Flaming Fists in the party have advantage on this check. Alternatively, you could have Captain Zodge give them the information.

  • Tarina is an informant for the Flaming Fist, as well as a few other organizations within Baldur’s Gate
  • She is a former pirate of the Uncivil Serpent, captained by Murosko Sessprin
  • She’s in good standing with Nine-Fingers Keene, leader of the Guild, from which she gets occasional work

What Tarina Knows

Tarina invites the characters to play a game of Baldur’s Bones as she talks with them (see chapter 1 of Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus). Like everything within Baldur’s Gate, Tarina’s services come at a price. The informant charges 1 gp for each piece of information, tantalizing those who gripe about the cost with, “What a shame! I was just getting to the juicy part.” A character can attempt to coerce Tarina to spill the beans with a successful DC 16 (Charisma) Intimidation check. On a failure, Tarina doubles her price.

Similarly, Tarina buys interesting information off of the characters for the same amount. Those who give her valuable insights regarding the inner workings of the Flaming Fists, the fall of Elturel, or other relevant groups are rewarded with 1 gp.

Tarina gives the characters the following information, so long as they make it worth her while:

  • The Cult of the Dead Three is storing treasure at the Bathhouse several blocks northwest of the Elfsong Tavern.
  • The bathhouse is bigger than it looks.
  • The purchase is a distant one, but the bathhouse is owned by the Vanthampur family: Mortlock, Amrik, Thurstwell, and Duke Vanthampur herself showed up on the paperwork. Tarina thinks it’s operated by them, but she’s not sure.
  • Rumor has it there’s something being stored at the bathhouse that doesn’t belong to the Vanthampurs. It’s got the Cult of the Dragon all in a tizzy, and some of them are here in the city looking for it, including a high-ranking black half-dragon named Rezmir.

The Bard

As the characters finish up their discussion with Tarina—which may or may not have been interrupted by the Elfsong at some point—a young bard (halfling male commoner) begins to play “The Song of Elturel.” The bard is a refugee from Elturgard named Olos. A character who succeeds on a DC 11 Intelligence (Investigation) check can tell from the poor condition of Olos’ clothing that he is a refugee. As Olos begins to play the introduction, a Flaming Fist manip and two fists (a veteran and two thugs) enter the Elfsong Tavern and order a couple of drinks.

The Song of Elturel
To give this scene weight, I recommend playing the Keith McCollouch version of this song. You can even provide your players with the lyrics and grant inspiration to any character who sings along. Cutting the song short when the fists interrupt can add further gravity to the scene.

Disturbing the Peace

It takes the three Flaming Fists a while to realize the song that Olos is playing, but upon the mention of the Hellriders, the manip spits out their drink and commands the bard to stop. Angry at the way the refugees have been received in the City of Blood, Olos plays and sings more forcefully. In response, one of the Flaming Fists uses their club to teach the bard a lesson. If the characters do nothing to intervene at this point, read or paraphrase the following text:

As the bard’s song grows more forceful, the commanding fist smashes the bard’s fretting hand in a violent display of force. The bard cries out in pain, his fingers broken and the neck of his Oud shattered by the blow. “That oughtta teach you to obey the Flaming Fist. You’re not in Elturgard anymore, little singer!”

If the characters intervene, the Flaming Fists defend themselves fiercely, shouting that they will place the characters under arrest for their betrayal. If any of the characters display a Flaming Fist badge openly, the manips threaten to demote the character, spitting, “You’ll answer to Captain Zodge for this!” The Flaming Fists do not kill any of the characters, but rather aim to knock them unconscious and place them under arrest.

Elfsong Employees. Unless one of the employees was harmed in the struggle, the Elfsong crew doesn’t get involved. The tavern’s two bouncers protect the tavern staff, not its patrons.

Undercover Cultists. Roll initiative for the three cultists of the Dead Three. If the characters intervene, the cultists join them during the second round of combat, seizing the chaos. If not, the cultists allow the beating to continue for a few seconds, then enter the fray. The cultists make sure that neither of the oppressive fists make it out alive, slitting their throats and rejoicing in the bloodshed.

Cultist of the Dead Three Voice Lines
The following phrases may help to inspire your roleplay.
“Bathe in Bhaal’s flowing river! The Dead Three will not be silenced by your mortal corruption, Flaming Fist pigs!”
“Thank you for standing up to those mindless goons. They’ve ruined our city.”
“Blood will be spilled. There’s no question of that. Let it matter this time”


The Flaming Fists and cultists of the Dead Three fight until one of the two groups is dead. Regardless of who won the struggle, the Elfsong Tavern employees speedily cleans up the floor and dispose of the bodies via the Lower City’s corpse cart service.

Friend of the Cult. If the characters intervened, the cultists are friendly towards them and thank them for “doing the right thing.” The group’s leader, a Willing Whip Banite and butcher named Gary, cheerfully hands them the following letter and invites them to join the Cult of Dead Three. If the cultists were killed, the characters can find the letter on Gary’s corpse.

Characters can meet with Gary for a complimentary brunch. Even if they decide not to join the cult, they may be able to learn helpful information about the Dead Three and its operations within the city, including the stolen Cult of the Dragon treasure underneath the bathhouse. Characters could also use it as an opportunity to infiltrate the cult.

Flaming Fists. If the Flaming Fists were successful but the characters intervened, the fists turn the characters over to Captain Zodge. They’re held in a Lower City prison cell awaiting further punishment.

Concluding the Encounter

The characters proceed to the bathhouse (see “The Dungeon of the Dead Three” in chapter 1 of Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus).

Like this article? Consider supporting me by buying one of my products on the DMs Guild, such as Darkhold: Secrets of the Zhentarim or Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, consider picking up an alternative introductory adventure to the campaign, Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contractsor Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters.

You can also follow me on Twitter at @justicearman or sign up for my email list, the Gjallarhorn, for exclusive updates, playtest opportunities, and discounts.

Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus – Session Zero Companion

We just released the definitive guide to Candlekeep in 5th Edition D&D, Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. Featuring design and consultation by creator of the Forgotten Realms, Ed Greenwood, this supplement is packed with lore, new player options, and the first-ever map of the library fortress!

As the shelter in place restrictions slowly start to loosen up here in Texas, I’m gearing up to run our next campaign. Thankfully, we finished Waterdeep: Dragon Heist just before the pandemic began, but I’ve been itching to break out my Platinum Edition of Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus by Beadle and Grimm’s for a few months now.

If you didn’t get a chance to get this amazing box, B&G is actually offering a Silver Edition for less than half the cost, and everything is 10% off for Nurses’ Week starting on Wednesday, May 7th, with another 10% of all proceeds going to the Feeding America charity. See what’s in the box using the video below.

With all the writing I’ve been doing, I actually felt like I was slacking during my Waterdeep: Dragon Heist campaign. Luckily, my players didn’t feel that way. However, I’ve written a lot of content for Descent into Avernus, so I’m confident I can do this one justice. That said, I’d like to start the campaign off on the right foot. I’ll be running the alternative introductory adventure The Fall of Elturel that Anthony Joyce and I released a few months ago. For that supplement, I wrote three new backgrounds, including one for the Hellriders that lets you commandeer a warhorse.

Session Zero Companion

While doing my campaign research, I came across a Player’s Guide for Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus that included helpful information about the city. Most of it appears to have been summarized from the adventure text, but I cannot for the life of me find the original source of it, so I’ve decided to build off of the information there and write a Session 0 guide for my own players. (If you do happen to know where the guide came from, please let me know so I can contact the original creator and credit them here.)

This document is freely available and created in accordance with the Wizard’s of the Coast Fan Content Policy. Much of the information came from Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus and the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. In this Session Zero document, you’ll find:

  • A spoiler-free adventure set up
  • Baldur’s Gate lore, including government, city districts, and quick facts
  • Mechanics-free descriptions of the backgrounds in the Baldur’s Gate Gazetteer
  • Elturgard lore, including the Companion, the Hellriders, and quick facts
  • Three new background options (created by me), each including ranks for advancement
  • A brief introduction to Dark Secrets

You can download the companion using the button below.

Like this article? Consider supporting me by buying one of my products on the DMs Guild, such as Darkhold: Secrets of the Zhentarim or Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, consider picking up an alternative introductory adventure to the campaign, Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contractsor Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters.

You can also follow me on Twitter at @justicearman or sign up for my email list, the Gjallarhorn, for exclusive updates, playtest opportunities, and discounts.

Writing Tabletop Prophecies

Towards the end of 2018, my home game was wrapping up Storm King’s Thunder when I noticed a precipice before me. My players were in love with their characters, and they wanted to go the distance. They wanted their characters to reach epic levels and, as a result, tell appropriately epic stories. To battle waves of giants without NPC assistance. To wield legendary magic items with names and history from adventurers’ past. To travel beyond the material plane in defense of the entire realms.

This was uncharted territory for me as a Dungeon Master. I was going to have to write and run a high-level game, rather than spice up the existing framework in a published adventure.

During a few weeks of real-world downtime between sessions, I solicited feedback from my players with a Campaign Refresher survey. I analyzed the results of the survey while stringing together a campaign outline spanning levels 12-20. The final confrontation would pit the characters against the ancient kraken Slarkathrel in the depths of the elemental plane of water!

A week later, I trashed that outline and started a new one. Why? Well, thanks to the survey, I finally knew what my players wanted. They liked the elements of the campaign that I’d added. They enjoyed the Norse mythology I’d mixed in, and they enjoyed one of the side villains in particular: Cantu, the Pale Sorcerer, a goliath trying to unite the tribes of the Frozenfar. Most importantly, they wanted to have choices, and they wanted those choices to matter.

In an effort to give weight to the choices they’d made, I flipped back through my notes, thinking about the consequences of their actions (or inaction).

  • What changed while the characters were off fighting the BBEG from Storm King’s Thunder?
  • What happened to towns that the characters saved after they left? What about the ones that they ignored?
  • How would the fire giant kingdom respond to characters killing a member of the royal family?
  • Where was Cantu, and how much had he achieved after nearly three months without the character’s heroic interruptions?

It all started coming together. I knew what Cantu had accomplished. I decided how King Snurre Ironbelly would react in the Hall of the Fire Giants. I filled my notes with possible dramatic scenes. However, without a book to guide me, I wanted something constant to keep the party from going off the rails, something they could reference as the campaign unfolded before them.

I decided to write a prophecy.

Are Prophecies Railroading?

Before we talk about prophecies, we should talk about railroading. In movies and television, prophecies are often depicted as a pre-determined pathway of events that will befall a character. I think of the three hags (aka the Fates) in Disney’s Hercules, predicting the alignment of the planets “in precisely eighteen years’ time.” All of the events come to pass, including Hades’ failure when Hercules intervenes. How do you work this into the table without railroading?

Fates: What's the Matter with Everything? | Disney hercules ...

It’s no surprise that some players grimace at the thought of a prophecy driving their campaign. In some stories, prophecies are quite literally set in stone. This is in direct conflict with the underlying philosophy of TTRPGs. We want to have choices, and we want those choices to matter. Wouldn’t this be a bad fantasy trope to implement in tabletop RPGs?

You’re Probably Already Railroading Your Players

While I certainly believe that some group out there is doing it, I have never seen a completely improvisational campaign. To some extent, every D&D campaign is on rails, and there’s nothing wrong with that. When I sit down to prepare for a session, I’m making assumptions about future events, trying to anticipate the characters’ actions and frame possible events around them. The tracks might diverge, or the players may get off at one stop and board an entirely different train, but I’m always planning.

Published adventures have rails. Session outlines have rails. My campaigns certainly have rails. In fact, when I made an attempt to provide a completely sandbox game, my players told me they didn’t like it as much because they weren’t sure what to do — there was too much choice!

Good Railroading

Dungeon Masters must strike a balance between narrative and agency. On the one hand, a game that is entirely plot-driven deprives players of agency. On the other hand, putting all of narrative on the players can lead to aimless wandering in an endless sandbox. With devoted and creative players, the latter could be rewarding (if you like this, you might check out the collaborative storytelling system in the Apocalypse World RPG), but every table is different. Ultimately, your game depends on the experience desired by your players.

I believe that Chris Perkins, the lead adventure designer for D&D, said it best in his “The Invisible Railroad” article for his DM Experience column at Wizards of the Coast:

Although I think it’s possible to run a campaign that is 100 percent driven by the players, I’m not the kind of Dungeon Master who can relinquish narrative control to the point where I’m simply reacting to the players’ desires and “winging it” week after week. I like coming up with adventure ideas and stringing them together to form a cohesive arc that unfolds over multiple levels. When I plan out an adventure, I usually have a good idea where, when, and how it will end—assuming the heroes don’t get sidetracked or TPK’ed en route. I like to call it my invisible railroad.

– Chris Perkins, The DM Experience (9/22/2011)

The goal of the invisible railroad is not to assert control over players. It’s to guide them to moments you’ve worked to make more rewarding than those imagined on the fly. Dungeon Masters create NPCs with secret connections who might betray the PCs in a future session. We try to line up pivotal moments of the campaign in fantastic locations rather than having the villain stabbed in the back while on a grocery run. We place the legendary item in the most interesting room of the dungeon instead of in the grasp of a skeleton near the entrance. We steer the players back to point B because we hope that it will be fun and memorable than the alternative.

Bad Railroading

Bad railroading confines player choice without subtlety. The players are in a story-train on a set of tracks built by the DM, who’s planned all the stops with no possible change in course. There are few options, if any, and if a player takes an alternative route, there is no satisfying reward. Everything is designed to funnel back into some overarching plot determined by the DM. The players lose agency, their actions have little impact, and the game feels meaningless. It’s like handing you the second Wii-mote in Super Mario Galaxy while your older sibling plays as Mario. Sure, you can collect star bits, but you’re not really doing anything. The feature mostly there to entertain younger children. (I’m sorry to any adults who enjoy collecting star bits with the second Wii-mote.)

Writing Good Prophecies

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about how write a great prophecy. I’ll show you the prophecy I wrote for my last campaign, and then I’ll offer some tips to keep in mind when writing your own.

The Prophecy of Everlasting Ice was inspired by 1) the frost giant plot in Storm King’s Thunder and 2) the one-hundred-year winter preceding Ragnarok in Norse mythology known as Fimbulwinter. I split the prophecy in two halves of a frost giant tapestry.

The Prophecy of Everlasting Ice
If the Ordning is shattered, a King of Ice rises from a lowly tribe. The Isenkong duels the highest Jarl for Thrym’s Favor. As frost dampens flame, Surtur chooses his champion.

On the last day of winter, branches part unscathed. The Heart of the First Flame is pierced by its own sword, sealing the buds of spring with Everlasting Ice. Only warriors endure the winter; those without thick hides perish.

The second half of the prophecy, which was inscribed in glowing blue runes on the petrified hide of a great whale, was given to the main Tier 3 villain, the Isenkong (“Ice King” in giant). This allowed some flexibility if I needed to end up changing something later (shhh, don’t tell my players), but also made for an dramatic reveal when the characters would find it in the lair of the Isenkong, where they discovered that the charismatic frost giant was none other than their old friend Cantu, the Pale Sorcerer – but that’s a story for another time.

Leave Prophecies Open to Interpretation

The best prophecies can be interpreted differently from different viewpoints. They refer to individuals through symbolism or titles. They never give hard dates. Your villain may look at the prophecy and see themselves as the savior it speaks of. This makes your puzzle more exciting. Characters can look for it as meaning, or try to interpret omens as fulfilling certain aspects of its words. One of my players actually printed out the prophecy and kept it on the front of her binder. The party would stop and ask each other if something was fulfilling the prophecy from time to time.

My prophecy was tied to awesome moments I wanted to happen when I was planning the campaign, but ultimately they shook out differently than I thought. I drew an image on the second half of the prophecy that depicted five silhouettes – the same number as party members – fighting the Isenkong. One of them was glowing in flame. Who was that person? When I planned, I hoped that it would be one of the characters. I thought it was going to be the party barbarian, Kav, who was Cantu’s brother, or perhaps maybe the cleric, Bertha. It ended up being the hafling bard! Keeping the prophecy open to interpretation allowed it to be flexible and tell stories with my players, not for them.

At any point, I was prepared to have the players alter the prophecy. The prophecy was the Cantu’s weakness. He clung to it as inspiration. To him, he could not fail for fate was on his side. Every time it looked like Cantu was going to fail, he grew desperate and made mistakes. During Tier 4, the characters showed Cantu that he was wrong about the prophecy. Not only did it break his spirit, it caused him to become a powerful ally against an even greater threat.

The Draconic Prophecy section in Eberron: Rising from the Last War (check out Beadle & Grimm’s Gold Edition here) has some fantastic advice for spinning cryptic prophecies into fantastic adventures. For examples of prophecies in the Forgotten Realms, you can look to the Prophecies of the seer Alaundo, immortalized in the Endless Chant of Candlekeep. (I just might have something coming out related to this soon.)

Surprise Players With New Information

Giving players new information later can give clarity to the prophecy — or turn their world upside down! In my example, I split the prophecy in two. When they received the first half, the events were already in place. Cantu had risen to the Isenkong. But when they ventured into his lair in the Blue Mountain, they discovered the other half of the prophecy, none of which had come to pass. They had a significant chance to alter the course of history. There were thirty days left until the last day of winter.

New information reminds your characters of the prophecy and helps them see it in a new light. It also allows you to add new developments or reconcile something that didn’t quite translate the way you’d hoped at the table. In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the party learns in Wan Shi Tong’s library that they will have an opportunity to stop the fire lord based on the darkest day in fire nation history.

Avatar: The Last Airbender - "The Library" Flashback Review - IGN

Here are some other ways that you can reveal new information about your prophecy:

  • Part of the prophecy is in another language
  • The prophecy is a key to a larger event
  • There is a missing piece of the prophecy — a smudge, a torn page, or an alteration made by the antagonist
  • The characters learn the prophecy was written by a faithless narrator
  • The prophecy is a fake, and the characters are unknowingly carrying out the villain’s scheme for them

Give Prophecies Proper Attention

In the words of Ron Swanson, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” If you choose to give your characters a prophecy, you need to spend time on it. Your players are likely more clever than you give them credit! You don’t want your players to be able to connect the dots right off the bat. They’re going to pore over it, talk about it with each other, and reference it hopefully multiple times over future sessions.

Don’t treat your prophecy like a puzzle. You don’t want it to be something you can “figure out” without key events or details to give it shape. It’s best to structure your prophecy with at least one or two details that the characters don’t know, be they NPCs, locations, events, or something else.

Consider accompanying your prophecy with physical props, designs, or drawings. I provided my players with a handout of the prophecy with burned edges and drawings. That Christmas, one of my players gave me a dice box she made for Secret Santa; it had the prophecy wood-burned into the lid!

Running Good Prophecies

Writing a good prophecy is only half the battle. You have to run it well at the table, too! Just as you gave it proper attention during synthesis, you want to do so at the table.

Remind Players of the Prophecy Often

Writing a good prophecy is only half the battle. You have to run it well at the table, too! Just as you gave it proper attention during synthesis, you want to do so at the table.

Have wise NPCs question the characters about the prophecy. Maybe the prophecy is whispered among stone giants deep in the Underdark, or has become so widespread that it is a common children’s story in a kingdom. Foreshadow events with symbolism. If your prophecy speaks of birds, perhaps the characters see flocks circling them during important moments.

Throw in a Catalyst

You can also add a catalyst to your prophecy. This is someone or something that accelerates the prophecy’s events, bringing them to the forefront of the story. You might consider incorporating a catalyst after a major side quest or character arc to get the characters back “on track.”

A catalyst could be someone who wants the prophecy to happen. Maybe they benefit from its completion, but bear no ties to the villain. Perhaps the catalyst is someone who wants to obstruct the prophecy, but in some way they inadvertently accomplish one of its tenants. The catalyst could also be an event, such the solar eclipse deadline imposed on Aang and his companions in Avatar: the Last Airbender.

Prophecies can have a place in tabletop roleplaying games, but we have to be careful as game masters that plot doesn’t eclipse player agency. Whether this article has inspired you to include a prophecy in your campaign, I hope you’ve found my advice valuable.

Like this article? Consider supporting me by buying one of my products on the DMs Guild, such as Darkhold: Secrets of the Zhentarim or Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, consider picking up an alternative introductory adventure to the campaign, Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contractsor Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters.

You can also follow me on Twitter at @justicearman or sign up for my email list, the Gjallarhorn, for exclusive updates, playtest opportunities, and discounts.

Variant Rule: Quiet Casting

During our last campaign, the party received a scroll penned by a god. It detailed a list of four components – all on different planes – that could be combined in a ritual spell to create an artifact known as the phoenix elixir, a liquid capable of resurrecting a dead god. Due to the potential ramifications, the divine scribe scrambled the letters on the scroll with an ever-changing script that was impervious to the strongest of divination spells to read its contents. Even the great wizard Mordenkainen only knew of one such method to translate the scroll: an ancient codex created by a god of knowledge named Kvasir.

The codex’s last known location was at the top of an enormous tower library in Ysgard. (Technically, the codex was destroyed and would be cleverly reconstructed using the plucked eye of one of Kvasir’s immortal librarians who was able to see into the past, but that’s another story.)

The party at this point was 18th level, and they knew this wasn’t going to be a cakewalk. Kvasir was no longer around, but many of his sworn agents were. (If you’re familiar with Norse mythology, which was a big part of this campaign, you’ll know that the god Kvasir was killed and turned into the Mead of Poetry.) His had a host of constructs, giants, and angels guarding what was essentially ruined city of knowledge surrounded by a dedicated mythal. There was even a Valkyrie-inspired planetar who was just itching for a fight after centuries of guarding the near-impenetrable fortress.

I used this awesome Cloudspire Ruins map by Venatus Maps to represent Kvasir’s library city. Venatus has a ton of maps available on their Patreon that are just as good as this one. You should consider becoming a patron if you use digital maps or run a lot of homebrew.

Cloud Spire Ruins

Eventually, the party made it inside the library, which, like all libraries, included its own specific set of rules. One of these was stressed above all others by the modron in the entrance foyer:

Please be quiet while in the library.

As the party entered the first room of the library, an aged wizard sat at one of the reading tables. With a beard nearly five feet in length, this mage had certainly been here a long time. Excited to have human contact once more, he leapt to his feet and exclaimed in joy at the characters, only to promptly cover his mouth in horror at violating the principle rule of Kvasir’s library.

Image result for mouth of sauron

Protruding from some one of the floating bookcases was the carving of an aged woman. She appeared almost as a wooden lich, similar to the mouth of Sauron from the Lord of the Rings. She raised one finger to her lips, shushing the mage while pointing towards him with her other hand. A ray of green light sprung from her index finger, and in an instant, the mage was but a pile of dust. These were the librarians.

With that, the session ended, and I let the party I’d be sending them some alternative rules on sneaking within the library. Naturally, one of the party members wanted to know if they were restricted to spells that didn’t have verbal components. Realizing that this could be an opportunity to give structure to sneaking mages in the future, I whipped up the following variant rule.

Disclaimer: Stealth Sequences and Minions
Note that this rule loses its potency in later levels unless you institute minion rules from 4th Edition D&D. Matt Colville has a great video on minions which really opened my eyes to their potential in 5th Edition. Many players ask about stealth-killing guards when sneaking, but only the rogue has enough gusto to make this a reality at later levels unless the enemies are significantly weaker than your party’s casters. When someone only has one hit point, or even a small number of hit points, these Quiet Casting rules really shine.

Variant Rule: Quiet Casting

Sometimes, a caster will want to cast a spell with a verbal component while sneaking up on a foe without attracting the attention of nearby enemies. Whisper casting provides a trade-off for a shorter range in exchange for lower volume during stealth sequences that involve one or more casters.

Assumption: Normal Spells are Spoken from Your Heart’s Fire
In Disney Pixar’s Onward, Barley Lightfoot tells his brother that in order for a spell to work, it must be spoken confidently and with a richness and power to one’s voice. Barley calls this “speaking from your heart’s fire.” We’re going to assume that this is the requirement for spells with verbal components in Dungeons and Dragons, i.e., normal spells are spoken loudly and with gusto, drawing the attention of enemies in the same way shouting would.

Thankfully the majority of spells in D&D 5th Edition are divisible by three. There are a few exceptions, such as touch spells, some cube spells, and spells with long ranges (locate object, dimension door). This makes our job quite easy, so long as you’re okay with a little bit of quick math. With this variant rule, there are three ways to cast a spell:

Image result for onward heart's fire

Speak From Your Heart’s Fire

A spell spoken from your heart’s fire maintains the spell’s normal range but is treated as a shout. This attracts the attention of most enemies in the area as if you were yelling at your foe as a distraction. The exact range is up to your DM and may be subject to an Intelligence (Investigation) or Wisdom (Insight or Perception) check. Your ray of frost spell may take out that orc guard 60 feet away, but his friends are on the way.


A murmured spell has two-thirds its normal range. A murmer is less likely to attract unwanted attention. Continuing with our ray of frost example, the spell now has a range of 40 feet, rather than 60 feet, but it’s less of a risk. Your other party members may be able to take out the other orc guard nearby before she has a chance to act. The ones on the other side of the clearing aren’t going to hear you cast the spell.


A whispered spell has one-third its normal range. However, unlike a murmer or shout, a whispered spell can only be heard by enemies in close proximity, i.e., the same small room, guarding the same door, or engaged with one another in an activity. Now our ray of frost is just 20 feet, but just as stealthy as an assassin’s blade (or at least pretty close).

Shortcomings of this Variant Rule

This rule unfortunately doesn’t work for every spell, as there are a few spells that either don’t quite fit the bill due to range or because they have some obviously recognizable effect (such as the booming sound of thunderwave or shatter). In addition, the exact proximity for detection is intentionally vague to prevent bogging down the pace of your game. After all, it wouldn’t be D&D if the DM didn’t have to do a bit of adjudicating!

Some quick suggestions:

  • Spells with a range of touch must always be shouted and cannot use Quiet Casting rules
  • Spells with 10-foot range become 5-foot range when murmured and touch when spoken
  • Sorcerers with the Subtle spell trait can treat all their spells as spoken from the heart without suffering a detection penalty
  • Dimension door’s ranges follow this range 500 feet > 300 feet > 150 feet
  • Any spell with a range longer than 500 feet cannot be cast using these rules
  • Everything else, you’re going to have to eyeball it!

Like this article? Consider supporting me by buying one of my products on the DMs Guild, such as my milk-themed carnival adventure, Step Right Up, Darkhold: Secrets of the Zhentarim or Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, consider picking up an alternative introductory adventure to the campaign, Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contractsor Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters.

You can also follow me on Twitter at @justicearman or sign up for my email list, the Gjallarhorn, for exclusive updates, playtest opportunities, and discounts.

Getting Feedback from Your Players

In late 2018, my weekly D&D group was just finishing up our Storm King’s Thunder campaign, for which I was the Dungeon Master. Over the course of the campaign, I’d learned a lot about being a DM and had worked hard to improve classic GMing skills such as improvisation, descriptive narration, and familiarity with the system. It was clear to me that the players at my table absolutely loved their characters, and they universally expressed a desire to tell epic-level stories. They wanted to go the distance, all the way to level 20! And who could blame them? Many of us (myself included) like to fantasize about a 20th-level version of our characters.

If there was any group of players in my life for which such a feat was possible, it was this one. After all, how many D&D tables are privileged to have regular attendance from each player, effective communication, and – to toot my own horn – a Dungeon Master who’s straight up obsessed with the game and making sure each player has fun? My D&D players are a collective unicorn when it comes to finding a solid gaming group, and I wasn’t about to let them down.

With few Tier 3 campaigns available at the time (Dungeon of the Mad Mage wouldn’t be announced until the following Spring), I knew that I’d have to write most of it myself. No worries. As a divination wizard IRL, I had been planting plot seeds and foreshadowing possible adventures for a couple of months. That said, I needed to check in with my players and make sure I was on the right track.

The Campaign Refresher

Knowing I had a long road ahead of me and much, much more to learn as a DM (spells like teleport and scrying would become regular occurrences), I set out to collect feedback from my players via a short survey of 10 questions. This campaign refresher was designed to:

  • Determine what parts of my prep were most worth my time based on player enjoyment
  • Learn what style of play and narrative my players desired
  • Analyze key areas of our D&D sessions, such as combat difficulty and pacing
  • See what moments, NPCs, and villains resonated with my players from the previous campaign and why
Image: One of the questions from the original survey about various elements of a D&D session.

I broke that survey down in a thread on Twitter, but I’ve since revamped the survey for 1) my own players and 2) to share with others. You can see what the new campaign refresher is like by taking the survey using the button below. Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone your answers.

In this blog post, I’ll provide a breakdown of my latest campaign refresher (the one accessible via the button above), explaining why I’ve decided to include certain questions as well as suggestions for how you could improve or customize it for your own campaign. At the end of this post, you can request a copy my campaign refresher, either to give to your own players or to edit the survey to better suit your table.

Other Forms of Feedback
In addition to electronic surveys, there are some less formal ways to solicit feedback from your players, such as:
– A regular post-session handout with no more than five questions
– Weekly 1:1 check-ins with each player through text, GroupMe, etc.
– Open time before or after session to talk about the campaign, ask questions, and comment on what did and didn’t work (also a great time to do some healthy snacking)

Section 1: General Refresher

I’ve divided my survey into three distinct sections, the first of which is a general refresher designed to remind the Dungeon Master of player preferences when preparing for session. Mainly, I want DMs to be able to weed out elements that their players dislike or want to avoid. This way, the DM can focus their efforts on aspects that will give them the most bang for their buck in terms of prep.

Typically, I like to use a 5-point Likert scale for these, with 1 being something a player would like to remove or does not have fun during, 3 being indifferent, i.e., “Keep it the same,” and 5 being something they love and would enjoy more of.

The Three Pillars

The survey starts with the three pillars of D&D. If you’ve never heard of these before, I’m glad I get to share them with you! Exploration is sometimes referred to as the forgotten pillar, but that’s mainly because it’s a slightly more amorphous compared to the other two. We all recognize when we’re in combat or role-playing, but we don’t traditionally think of the small choices in between as “exploring,” even though they probably are.

This is a high-level view of your players preferences. From a DM standpoint, it’s probably not going to lead to any epiphanies, but if half of the party says they hate social interaction, you should consider less dialogue and more dungeon crawls.

Common Elements

Common elements are where the survey starts getting good, in my opinion. This is a great question that you can customize with common elements from your D&D sessions. I, for example, enjoy writing and acting out villainous monologues (you should hear my evil laugh). The last time I ran this survey, my players said they loved them – my monologues even came up as a free-text answer later! However, some players hate monologues and gleefully interrupt the Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) with an axe to the face.

I could still probably clean up this question. I mean, what players don’t love props? I may be biased since I work for Beadle & Grimm’s.

Other things you could include in this section:

  • Unearthed Arcana, house rules, or other variant options
  • Strongholds or businesses
  • Images of NPCs or enemies that you painstakingly cut out each week and tape onto your DM screen

Adventure Styles

I got a lot of these adventure styles from the available adventure tags on the DMs Guild when you post a new product. You’re only allowed to select three on the DMs Guild, which made classifying my milk-themed carnival horror adventure a bit difficult at the time. Thankfully, there’s no such restriction here. Fire away!

The type of adventure has a huge effect on individual sessions and player enjoyment. I would have said before that my players enjoy any adventure, but after seeing them squirm during Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, I’ve realized they can only spend so much time in the city before it begins to feel oppressive and constraining. That said, I did learn that they quite liked the mystery and investigation portions of that and previous adventures we’ve run, so there’s sure to be some element of that in future campaigns.

Styles of Play

Styles of play, like the three pillars, are more to get rid of the universally disliked options, rather than providing a helpful analysis of those your players enjoy. I can already tell you from looking at this question (which was not on my original survey from 2018) that my players don’t like Resource Management or Heavy Social Interaction enough to select those boxes. In fact, they will probably only select Gritty Realism and Comedic, but my players have surprised me before!

Narrative Style

Some players don’t like open choice when it comes to narrative style. Mine fall into that boat. Every player wants their choices to matter, but I’ve found that my players get choice paralysis when their are too many options (another lesson learned from Waterdeep: Dragon Heist). I’ve found most players fall in the middle at Malleable, but some, like my wife Samantha, “just want to be part of our D&D movie.”

Side Quests

Many published adventures have multiple side quests, sometimes in each chapter. While some are relatively short, mine tend to run adjacent to the main plot and slowly develop over time. An individual side quest may take three or more in-game months and have five mini quests within it! If there’s too many irons in the fire, however, some players feel overwhelmed.

During our Storm King’s Thunder campaign, I introduced the party barbarian’s brother, Cantu. Cantu was a goliath sorcerer who sought to unite all of the northern tribes against the nations who had driven them into the Frozenfar and defiled their burial mounds. After two Cantu-themed side quests and given the urgency of the main quest, the players instead chose to pursue the main quest, leaving Cantu to develop his plans in peace. I got to ask myself, “How would Cantu’s plans proceed uninterrupted?” and as a result, the Pale Sorcerer played a pivotal role in the plot of our epic-level campaign.

Character-Driven Quests

Character-driven quests can be extremely rewarding given the play style of your table. While I hesitate to make this comparison, given that none of us are professional actors, our group functions similarly to Critical Role, in that our campaigns are heavily influenced by the characters and their individual arcs. Often times, they are tied heavily into the main quest, such that by the end of our 20-level campaign, it felt entirely personal. This style of play requires players to let other characters have the spotlight, sometimes for an extended period of time, and go on quests for which their character may not entirely relate. It’s not for everyone, but we very much enjoy it.

If all but one player answers positively to this question, you might consider talking to that player about it, keeping arcs short, or developing something special for their character that makes the time worth the wait.

Section 2: Campaign Refresher

You could give this section of the survey to your players every 5-10 sessions or after a major adventure. The true campaign refresher is basically a pulse check on combat and memorable moments. I tend to focus more heavily on combat (see below), but you could expand upon other important facets of your sessions.

If I wanted to make this survey longer or more thorough, I would probably add comparable sections on the other two pillars, as well as some general questions to look for common pitfalls of DMing, such as a problem player not being addressed.

Combat Difficulty & Frequency

Combat is a big part of our D&D games, so I ask a lot of questions about it. So much of the Player’s Handbook is devoted to combat, whether it’s through character abilities or battle magic. The designers of 5th Edition obviously thought combat was an important part of the game, so I want to give it proper attention and make sure that my players are enjoying it. At the same time, remember that even good combat can grow stale if it’s too frequent.

Other Combat Questions

Like I said, I wanted to know a lot about combat. A big part of what makes combat feel “fun” for me as a player is getting to use my abilities. One of these prompts, “I feel my abilities are being canceled out or subverted,” is a check on myself to ensure I’m not hindering that fun. While I never want to intentionally stifle a player’s abilities, I do like to challenge my players. There’s a fine line between challenging a player and negating a character’s capabilities. If the party monk suddenly finds themselves fighting only constructs after landing one too many stunning strikes, they’re going to think it’s your doing, even if you’re running Temple of the Stone Golems.

Memorable Villains, NPCs, and Moments

This one is relatively straightforward, but I wanted to know what resonated with my players. “What’s going right in the stories we’re telling together?” If an NPC or villain that I put a lot of work into doesn’t make the cut, why didn’t they, and is such an NPC worth that kind of investment the next time around? In addition, this is a chance for the players to reminisce about your games and validate the hard work of their DM.

These questions are open-ended, so it’s up to my players exactly how much use I’ll get out of them. Take the answers with a grain of salt, though. Even though your awesome NPC that was critical to the story doesn’t get a mention, that doesn’t mean they didn’t make an impact or that your hard work wasn’t necessary. It might just mean you did an especially good job at role-playing that eccentric gnome shopkeep, Fiddlesticks.

Section 3: Character Refresher

This last section is all about the player character. Platforms like this survey encourage players to ground themselves every once and a while. D&D brain may have set in over time, or a player may have forgotten their character’s roots. These questions prompt each player to think about their character and motivations. I’m a firm believer that the DM should take time to think about each character when prepping for a session, working in opportunities for them to shine, moral quandaries, or elements from their past – or perhaps their future. These answers hopefully will make that process easier.

Character Goals

In my opinion, a campaign can only hold about 10 major NPCs, i.e., individuals who the characters will see multiple times and who play a pivotal role in the overall story. Beyond that, I think you can probably have 20-30 lesser NPCs, i.e., those who play a minor role but are otherwise memorable, such as shopkeeps, town leaders, or a villain’s second in command. When writing adventures, or building stories off of existing adventures, consider working in at least one NPC with which each character can “bond,” whether that takes the form of a bitter rivalry, apprenticeship, or duty to protect.

The other question, “What’s something you want your character to do in this campaign?” is totally in the player’s court. I recommend watching James Haeck talk about the Heroic Chronicle from the upcoming official setting guide, Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount, for inspiration on making these “prophecies” happen in your games.

Magic Items

Lastly, selecting magic items rewards is such a critical part of prepping for a D&D session (though not every session) that it made it into the eight steps of Sly Flourish’s Lazy Dungeon Master checklist. Not surprisingly, it gets its own slot here in my survey, as I like to select and/or create magic items specifically tailored to the desires of both the players and their characters.

Where Can I Get a Copy of This Survey?

Understandably, many people have requested this survey from me! However, some people on the internet like to ruin things for others, and I haven’t discovered a way to make the Google Form survey both copy-able and free from everyone having edit access. (If you know of a way, please let me know.)

Make a Copy. Thanks to Maximilian (@maximilianhart_) for the tip on this one. You can make a copy of this Campaign Refresher Survey directly using this link. Please reach out to me if there are any issues with the survey.

Did this article help you? Consider supporting me by buying one of my products on the DMs Guild, such as my milk-themed carnival adventure, Step Right Up, Darkhold: Secrets of the Zhentarim or Elminster’s Candlekeep Companion. If you’re running Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, consider picking up an alternative introductory adventure to the campaign, Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contractsor Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters.

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