Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters is now available on the Dungeon Master’s Guild! Anthony Joyce and I co-led this project with amazing contributions from Anne Gregersen and Gordon McAlpin (who also did the fantastic graphic design). This supplement provides Dungeon Masters with forty short encounters to supplement their Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus campaigns. These brief scenarios enliven the City of Blood and distinguish it from other settlements along the Sword Coast, such as Waterdeep or Daggerford.
This follows the last project that I worked on with Anthony and Gordon, Baldur’s Gate: the Fall of Elturel (which you can find here). This is actually my fourth title designed to accompany the current fifth edition story line. On top of that, Anthony and I are huge fans of the Forgotten Realms. Needless to say, this project was right up our alley. Be careful in those alleys, by the way, especially in Baldur’s Gate.
Tension in Baldur’s Gate
“There’s no eliminating power in the City of Blood. It only changes hands.”
This isn’t your typical city encounters supplement. Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters introduces a new mechanic: the tension meter. With it come twenty random encounters tied to five levels of tension within Baldur’s Gate – Martial Law, Order, Status Quo, Unstable, and Pandemonium.
We wanted a way for the encounters to have meaning while also portraying the city’s unique mood. Baldur’s Gate has criminals, cults, and the brutal Flaming Fist. As the characters make decisions, they may shift power between the city’s major factions and unlock new encounters. Surprise your characters with the true villain of any D&D campaign: consequences.
I think the mechanic came out well in the end. We had some back and forth about whether dice would be involved, how wide the bands between tension levels should be, etc. In the end, we decided to honor the philosophy of 5e and keep it simple. Tables maybe will have five encounters in Baldur’s Gate; why not show them a nice sampling of the tension within the City of Blood?
The tension meter has received some good feedback, and it’s another reason I firmly believe TTRPG designers should play more board games, because that’s what inspired this idea for me.
The “Baldur’s Gate Gazeteer” in Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus is packed with useful lore and story hooks for neighborhoods in the Upper, Lower, and Outer City. We’ve taken that information and done all the heavy lifting for you by turning it into twenty location-based encounters, ready to go at your D&D table.
I won’t spoil too terribly much about the encounters, but Anne and Gordon have quite the knack for disgusting food-based encounters that make this milk-themed horror author awfully proud. There’s also a reference to a certain barber on Fleet Street somewhere in there.
I think I’m going to hang out in Hell just a little while longer. I enjoyed this supplement, and Anthony and I have at least one more idea up our sleeves for your Descent into Avernus game.
You can purchase Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters by clicking the red button below. Yes, this is one of those times where you’re encouraged to push the big red button.
A lot of exciting things have been happening, and I’m long overdue for a blog post. I can’t tell you how strange and amazing this year has been. I’ve got to catch you up on new releases, GameHole Con, and some cool stuff from Beadle & Grimm’s, where I have been officially employed!!!
So dust off that drinking horn, grab some mead, and let me tell you what new lands I’ve visited this year.
DMs Guild Releases
I’ve had a few releases since I last mentioned one on my blog. One is actually releasing tomorrow, November 11th!
Baldur’s Gate: The Fall of Elturel
Anthony Joyce and I have new release coming out tomorrow: Baldur’s Gate: The Fall of Elturel. It’s an alternative, two-hour introductory adventure to Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus. When BGDIA dropped, a lot of creators on the Twitterverse didn’t like some parts of the Baldur’s Gate portion of the campaign. In particular, this line in chapter 1 rubbed people the wrong way (emphasis mine):
“Captain Zodge won’t accept any refusal of his offer. The Flaming Fist is empowered to draft adventurers in times of emergency. He can execute them on the spot for refusing to help, though he would rather they accept.”
It’s a bit polarizing, and I can see why. If this is someone’s first time DMing – though I would recommend starting with the Essentials Kit or the recently re-released Tyranny of Dragons campaign over this one – it could set an unfortunate precedent of punishing the characters when the don’t do what the DM wants. I hope most DMs choose to work around it should the characters refuse, as this line is mostly to cement the Flaming Fist as a violent mercenary company with a militant structure. Despite this little bump, BGDIA just might be my favorite official D&D hardcover to date!
The main reason Anthony and I created Baldur’s Gate: The Fall of Elturel was to invest the characters in the inciting event of the campaign – Elturel’s sudden and horrific downfall. Don’t worry, you didn’t just read a major spoiler. Players find this out in the first 10 minutes. With some beautiful design work by Gordon McAlpin, DMs who run this introductory adventure can make Elturel’s fall more personal to the characters (and their players).
I also got to write some fun backgrounds for this project: the Flaming Fist, the Hellriders, and the Order of the Gauntlet. I tried to make it so the background features felt distinct and useful. I’m looking forward to hearing about characters with the Flaming Fist background using their feature to make arrests in Baldur’s Gate.
You can buy Baldur’s Gate: The Fall of Elturel for $5.95 by clicking the button below.
Last month, I released Step Right Up, a milk-themed carnival horror adventure. I put a lot into this twisted adventure, and I’m awfully pleased with how it turned out. I put it out in time for Halloween, but the adventure can be inserted into your campaign year-round.
This dairy disaster has a ton of fun stuff in it. In addition to countless milk puns and a few gag-worthy descriptions involving cottage cheese, there’s 10 new monsters. Most of the monsters tie into the dairy theme, such as the chuckling milk clown (art by Jack Kaiser) or the terrifying abolover.
Before the actual adventure begins, however, you’ll see some important sections. The first is about respecting boundaries with tabletop horror, which is extremely important given the genre. The next gives tips for running effective horror by using Ash Law’s Trajectory of Fear.
Evegeny M also did artwork for most of the magic items, such as this putrid plushie. My favorite, however, is definitely the clown shoes, as they allow a player to pull random items out of thin air – banana peels, seltzer water, even pies!
What really makes this adventure special is something that I tried out for the first time in Hellbound Heists (see below), which I expanded on in this adventure: the carnival in this horror adventure is completely modular. There are 14 attractions – including a sideshow with 5 variants – from which the Dungeon Master can build the perfect carnival to challenge or interest their players. With so many attractions in the adventure, you won’t get to see them all, but you can always play it again with a different set!
What’s even cooler is each attraction contains a “sweet” and “spoiled” version. During Part 1 of the adventure, the characters get to attend a completely innocent carnival, but during Part 2 – well, I won’t spoil it for you. I did all the maps in the adventure, too, which I found both personally gratifying and only a little bit pitiful.
Of course, I cannot downplay the incredible cover by Gwen Bassett (www.gwendybee.com), the three location pieces by Detoria Art, and the fantastic layout by Anna Urbanek (www.doubleproficiency.com). Seriously, it’s awesome.
Hellbound Heists is an adventure collection project led by Bryan Holmes that released in September in both print and PDF on the DMs Guild. This 280-page monster of a product features a devilish heist in each of the Nine Hells, with a focus on Tier 3 and 4 content.
This was my first collaboration on the guild, and it was an extremely positive experience. Bryan did a great job leading this project. Not only do I regularly reach out to him on discord, I’ve actually worked with some of the creators on additional projects since that have yet to be released!
My contribution to this collection was “6:66 to Mephistar,” a 17th-level train heist set in Cania, the Eighth Hell. Cania is a frigid wasteland ruled by none other than the Cold Lord himself, Mephistopheles. Most of the adventure takes place on the Canian Hellfire Limited.
The black behemoth can be customized with several different cars. My favorite? The Memory Car. It features a trio of mind flayers and a pool of memories that characters can accidentally absorb should they interact with them too aggressively. Your character may exit this car with a famous baker’s apple crumble recipe or a vivid recounting of your half-orc son’s coming of age ceremony!
Writing Tier 4 content was challenging, no doubt. But bouncing ideas off some of the best creators in the bizz made it an enjoyable challenge.
Last week I returned from GameHole Con, where I was working for a company called Beadle & Grimm’s, or B&G as all the cool kids call it. Beadle and Grimm’s makes awesome, immersive boxed sets of official D&D products that make it easy for you to run a high-quality game without all the prep work and crafting. I first saw Beadle & Grimm’s at Gen Con in 2018 and was instantly in love with their yet-to-be-released Platinum Edition of Waterdeep: Dragon Heist.
Long story short, I am now working for them! I can’t tell you how surreal it feels. Working on D&D products in any capacity was a 5-year plan for me. The owners of Beadle & Grimm’s are passionate gamers who have been playing for 20 years. They want to bring people together with these experiences, but they recognize we’ve all got busy lives. I’m lucky to be a part of their young company, and extremely grateful for this opportunity to contribute to a product that I was a believer in from day one. Not to mention the awesome team! Bill, Charlie, Jason, Jon, Matt, Mikaela, and Paul have been incredibly welcoming and supportive.
Meeting Cool Peeps
At GameHole Con, I talked with a lot of awesome creators. I felt a bit awkward at times introducing myself, but everyone was kind and accepting. Surprisingly, I didn’t get star struck or speak in tounges. I got to meet Ashley Warren, Chris Lindsay, Elisa Teague, Travis Legge, Chad Lensche, Jeff Stevens, Satine Pheonix, Shawn Merwin, Todd Kenrick, Zoltar from Sage Advice, some of our awesome booth neighbors at Wyrmwood – Mike Mearls even signed my PHB! Special shoutout to James Introcaso for being especially welcoming and helping me out when I was looking a little out of place at a party!
I got to see some beautiful snow and loved the weather. Texas has made me a little soft when it comes to the cold, but I’ve missed snow since I left Utah. I felt very appropriate dressed as Volo trudging through the snow on Halloween. Maybe we’re due for a 5e version of Volo’s Guide to the North?
Also, I got to check out Alex’s awesome Game Hole above the Free House Pub in Madison. It was insane. There was such great D&D history in that room, including Ed Greenwood’s original hand-drawn Forgotten Realms map!!!
B&G Platinum Edition: Descent into Avernus
I received my Platinum Edition of Descent into Avernus the other day from Beadle & Grimm’s. They are still going out, so if you haven’t gotten yours yet, hang in there! I did a breakdown of most of the major components in this Twitter thread, but be warned – there be spoilers ahead, matey. If you’re playing in this campaign, I’d advise you to stay away. However, it’s extremely cool and I can’t stop you, obviously.
That’s about it! And I see you’ve finished your drinking horn. Just in time.
Thanks for tuning in. Maybe we should do this more often. I’ve seen people asking about getting started on the DMs Guild on Twitter, D&D has been releasing some great Unearthed Arcana, and I’ve got some small design ideas that maybe are better suited here as a blog post instead of a small DMs Guild product of their own.
If you’d like to be notified of future releases, you can sign up for my email list, the Gjallarhorn, by clicking the button below.
Update: Devil’s Advocate is currently a MITHRAL (over 2,500 copies sold) best seller!
When I released my first Norse-themed subclass, the Oath of the Aesir, I put a post here on my website. Somehow, I forgot to do the same for Devil’s Advocate: A Guide to Infernal Contracts. It could have been all the excitement (and anxiety) I was feeling at the time of its release. Perhaps it was because the release was the week before Gen Con 2019 – more on that in a future post. Seeing as NorseDM.com functions functions as my digital portfolio… better late than never, right?
When I began writing Devil’s Advocate, I had a few goals.
1. Have a great first product for my portfolio. In my eyes, my previous two DMs Guild offerings don’t really count. Heart Hunt was a small adventure that I put on the Guild mainly because I had so much of it already typed up in OneNote; it was really just my digital notes for our annual spooky one shot. I had no idea anyone would enjoy my writing, let alone pay me for it.
Oath of the Aesir was a lot of fun to write, but it’s just a few pages. Is anyone really going to look at my portfolio and say, “Hey, this guy wrote a Norse subclass. That’s never been done before. Hire him!” Probably not. So, with my first “real” product, I wanted to come out of the gate swinging.
2. Pay livable wages. Devil’s Advocate was not cheap. It cost me $666 to produce. That’s not a joke, by the way. The total came out to $664 all-told, but I’m counting the .5mm pen I used to draw that Mephistopheles spot art. This bumps the total to a truly hellish figure.
Good art isn’t cheap. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have to adjust my budget during the project timeline. But I wasn’t about to haggle with artists or offer to pay them in “exposure” like we’ve all seen online by now. Wonderful artists like Gwen Bassett (who did the cover art) have spent countless hours honing their skills. I chose these artists because of their style and ability, and I paid them fair rates.
It’s unusual for a project of this size to have a budget above $100, let alone $600, on the DMs Guild. I’m sure some people will look at the product and think, This cost $666? I could’ve made this for half that. And honestly? I don’t blame them. I simply don’t have the skillset to do something like this alone. My art is in this book, though it’s not particularly good.
Also, I straight can’t do layout. Anna Urbanek did a wonderful job. In the future, I’d like to move away from traditional WOTC-style layouts. I’m sure that there are many talented designers just waiting to do some fantastic, original layouts, rather than simply reusing their standard template.
3. Get that electrum medal, dammit! At the time of release, I had one product with a silver medal (Heart Hunt). My philosophy with fitness is that the only person that you should compare yourself to is you. So I wanted to do a little bit better than last time.
Pick of the Week!
The day I released Devil’s Advocate, I was very anxious. Whether it was by luck or the infernal bargain I had signed with Asmodeus, there wasn’t some amazing, 200+ page POD product from an esteemed DMs Guild author releasing on the same day. Somehow, I ended up Pick of the Week on the DMs Guild Newsletter! It gave me a fantastic bump in sales.
Devil’s Advocate hit copper on its first day and silver on its second – something that took Heart Hunt over six months to do! I had a bit of impostor syndrome there for a bit. Do I deserve this? I thought. By the end of the first week, I had reached my goal of the illustrious electrum that I so craved. Then, while walking the Exhibit Hall at Gen Con 2019…
I surpassed my goal!
Look at me Mom! Gold medal! Not only did I break even, I doubled my original investment. This means that I can put these earnings towards future projects with beautiful art, original layouts, and livable wages.
What Did You Learn?
This product taught me a few things. First, I learned about managing expectations. While I started to sweat as sales were coming in, my #1 goal was to build something great for my portfolio. I felt like I did that before Devil’s Advocate ever hit the DMs Guild.
Secondly, I learned not to shy away from a bigger budget. Though I recognize that not everyone has the funds to invest into their products. I don’t have any kids, and I have a very, very supportive spouse. The original art and layout I included in Devil’s Advocate was worth every single penny, even if it had never recouped its costs.
Marketing for the DMs Guild is tough. I think my growing follower base on D&D Twitter – which has been quite the wholesome and supportive place, thankfully – helped a lot. I think the infernal contract giveaway gave the product a good boost with people who would not have otherwise stopped to examine it. Similarly, managing social media requires constant diligence. I’ve started using Hootesuite to schedule posts when I’m either asleep or busy (even though my Facebook game is trash).
Finally, this entire process was fun. Creating something from nothing is extremely rewarding. I enjoyed watching my little devilish baby go from taking its first steps to earning a gold star. I look forward to the many DMs Guild babies I will birth. May they go on to do great things.
Progressive Products on the DMs Guild
I’d like to increase representation in future products. I love the cover of Devil’s Advocate not only because of the dynamic lighting from the contract, but because it features a female devil that isn’t a succubus. She’s clothed. She has character to her. And look at that big 80’s hair! Wonderful.
I’m going to make a conscious effort to include artwork featuring diverse characters. As I discover more artists and designers, I’d like to do the same with my teams. If you are a minority creator or know one, please reach out to me via my Contact page.
What Are You Writing?
Right now, I’m finishing up a huge collaboration of Nine Hell-themed adventures lead by Bryan Holmes called Hellbound Heists. My adventure is a Tier 4 train robbery set in the 8th layer of Hell, Cania. It’s been a blast. Not only am I writing on this project, but I’ve also done a fair bit of editing. In addition, it features a few of my illustrations and a bit of B&W cartography. It’s going to be one hell of a product.
What else, what else… Oh! This month, I’ll be releasing a sorcerous origin tied to the Norns. Get those knitting needles ready. It’s time to entwine the fates!
I’m also working on one super-secret project and starting a couple of other collaborations towards the end of this month that are currently mummified (under wraps).