Weekly Roleplay Warm Up

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Murmur

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.

Whisper

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.

Watch Your Back in Baldur’s Gate: City Encounters

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.

Neighborhood Encounters

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.

What’s Cooking?

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.


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.

Using Unearthed Arcana at Your D&D Table

Back in 1985, when Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was in its prime, TSR released Unearthed Arcana, a collection of supplemental rules written by Gary Gygax. It contained new races, classes, and previously published material from sources such as Dragon Magazine. The book included the first hardcover iteration of the barbarian as a class (originally detailed in Dragon #63), details on using subraces such as the drow and deep gnome (now staples of D&D 5e), and some new spells. It was unfortunately met with criticism due to its editing, binding, and some of the content within, such as the comeliness attribute. Gary intended to incorporate much of the optional content into a second edition for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules, but Unearthed Arcana is the last TSR hardcover to bear his name on its cover.

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They actually reprinted the original Unearthed Arcana in a premium edition in 2013. It’s the only hardcover version to incorporate errata published in Dragon Magazine after its 1985 release.

Unearthed Arcana Today

Today, Unearthed Arcana (UA) is alive and well in 5th Edition D&D, though there’s no hardcover book. Instead, it takes the form of a series of articles published by Wizards of the Coast containing PDFs with new subclasses, races, or rules for D&D 5e. These articles stay true to the original Unearthed Arcana by introducing variant options for players and Dungeon Masters who want to customize their games.

Why Should I Use Unearthed Arcana?

There’s been a lot of great Unearthed Arcana coming out lately. We’ve had astral monks, a huge supplement on class feature variants, and most recently, psionics! If that’s not enough to convince you to check it out, here are a few additional reasons:

It’s Free

You can technically play D&D 5e using just the standard ruleset. If you’re strapped for cash but still want some new options, these playtest options slot right into the existing 5e rules without requiring access to any other published books.

You Can Shape the Future of D&D

After each Unearthed Arcana release, Wizards of the Coast puts up a survey where you can rate the options that were presented. The most recent survey is for Class Feature Variants. You can complete it here. That page also details the new psionic subclasses for the fighter, rogue, and wizard. Who doesn’t want to make their fighter the equivalent of fantasy Darth Vader?

This could be your fighter. All you need is a red sun blade, and an asthmatic respirator mask courtesy of your party’s artificer.


D&D 5th Edition has seen multiple years of double-digit growth and is arguably more popular than ever. The lead designers for 5th Edition have attributed much of its success to the extensive playtesting conducted before its release. Bummed that you didn’t get to participate in the 5e playtest? Jump in now! That’s basically what Unearthed Arcana is!

Previously released Unearthed Arcana has already made its way into published books. Designers at WOTC take survey responses seriously and use them to gauge popularity, reception, and perceived balance. Based on survey feedback, they may rework UA options over multiple iterations, repackage abilities into new classes or spells, or even scrap poorly-rated options altogether.

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, for example, was heavily influenced by Unearthed Arcana content. The Gloomstalker, Storm Sorcerer, Samurai, Drunken Fist, and many more options in that book all started with an article from Wizards of the Coast. I remember reading about the ceremony spell in UA back when it was first proposed. There was even an UA druid subclass that became a spell, guardian of nature!

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Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is packed with new options for D&D 5th Edition. It introduced multiple new subclasses, common magic items, and variant rules such as expanded downtime.

Ever looked at an official subclass and saw something you didn’t like? Chances are you had an opportunity to voice your opinion to its designer. So, what are you waiting for? Get playtesting, and let your voice be heard!

It’s a Peek Behind the Curtain

If you’re an aspiring designer like me, you won’t regret following Unearthed Arcana. Jeremy Crawford is often talking with Todd Kenrick at D&D Beyond about the options and the philosophy behind them. Here he is talking about the massive Class Feature Variants UA that dropped recently. It’s a great opportunity to learn from lead designers like Jeremy, get new ideas, or study UA that earns multiple iterations (I’m looking at you, Revised Ranger). Plus, Todd and his guests are a delight to listen to due to their passion and humor.

Incorporating Unearthed Arcana into Your Games

So, I succeeded on my Charisma (Persuasion) check, and you’re thinking about testing some Unearthed Arcana in an upcoming session. Awesome. Start by communicating with your DM and/or players that you want to use these experimental options.

Here are a few ways to work these playtest options into your games.

One-Shot Adventures

One-shots are a great opportunity to feel out some new options. Especially with the holidays coming up, many of us have the chance to game with some new people – family who have never played D&D, friends you’ve not seen in a while, or a kind stranger at an unfamiliar gaming store. Alternatively, many D&D groups put games on hold due to low attendance around the holiday season. Who says you can’t still play D&D with a group of three, or even a one-on-one session? If you’re having trouble finding a group, try advertising your one-shot at your local game store or joining an online game through Roll20.

A one-shot is also a good chance for the DM to get a much-needed break. In addition, a player interested in DMing can take on the mantle in a low-pressure environment – aside from the usual stress of DMing – without committing to an entire campaign. Here’s a GM Tips video from Geek and Sundry where Matt Mercer talks about writing one-shots!

If you’re having trouble writing a one-shot, there are many great short adventures on the Dungeon Master’s Guild worthy of your table. Seriously, the quality in the Top 100 products has skyrocketed over the past year. Head over to the Guild, grab a Tier 1 or 2 one-shot, and roll up some new, no-strings-attached UA characters for single session of gaming! If you’re primarily playtesting subclasses, it’s best to find an adventure that doesn’t lean too heavily on any one pillar of play. If possible, give the subclass a chance to shine in combat, exploration, and social interaction.

Take Notes. As you play, consider taking notes on the Unearthed Arcana class, spell, or ruleset. What worked? What made you feel epic? What fell flat? How did other players feel about your character? These will be useful later when filling out the survey.

Encounters

For those more interested in combat or just short on time, you can test most Unearthed Arcana using a quick series of encounters. Perhaps each player brings an UA character and an encounter with certain parameters, almost like the X-Men training in the Danger Room. You could take turns DMing a few scenarios, such as a trio of fire giants in a desert temple or a long, trapped hallway.

Remember, there is a “N/A” option on the surveys, so if you didn’t get a chance to try out an ability, you don’t have to rate it. This is a good way to test multiple UA options, but it’s probably not as fun as a dedicated session for most players.

Campaigns

Sometimes, an Unearthed Arcana option grabs you from the moment you read it. You’re ready for the long haul and want to play it every night for the foreseeable future.

Great! Talk to your DM. Have them read the class and tell them that you’d like to give it a proper try. Keep in mind, there’s likely to be some back and forth with your DM as you level up within the class; you or your DM may feel something is unbalanced and want to tweak it as you go.

If you choose to incorporate Unearthed Arcana into a campaign, remember that the surveys only last a few weeks! After you’ve had a couple sessions with the new rules, don’t forget to go back and fill out the survey before it’s too late. In addition, check in from time to time. The rules may have been updated based on previous survey responses.

Where Can I Find Unearthed Arcana?

There may never be another Unearthed Arcana hardcover, but the spirit of the original book is alive and well in 5th Edition. I think people weren’t ready for Gary Gygax’s variant rules in 1985. Sure, there might have been some obscure ones (did we really need a Thief-Acrobat?), but they were always meant to be optional. Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like most D&D players today are willing to tinker, house-rule, and experiment. Perhaps it’s due to the variety of available TTRPGs or the renaissance of new board games, many of which bring unique and brilliant mechanics. Either way, I think Gary would be proud.

You can find current and past Unearthed Arcana here.


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.