Reddit GM Advice: World Building Depth, Eye of Vecna, No One Solution

Reddit GM Advice: World Building Depth, Eye of Vecna, No One Solution

Reddit Icon in front of my lovely rainbow dice from Dice Envy.

I made a list of 3 GM advice subreddits called RefAdvice.

Emiel Boven's Fun Skulls Subject Divider

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Have unanswered questions about people and factions, things that you will discover through play. These could be something they are on the knife’s edge about and could go one way or another – or a goal they are striving for.

Daydream about them without writing plot. Have conversations with them or as them in the shower but don’t lock anything down; don’t hold it too tightly (as Avery Alder said in Monsterhearts). Just ponder and consider.

Jot down 3 words that describe them. It is best if two of the descriptors conflict with one another. People are full of contradictions.

Have goals that they are pursing. When players see them again, consider how they have changed and what they have accomplished or failed to accomplish since they last met.

Digest media from a diversity of points of view.

Good luck!

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You can really have fun with this character’s perception.

Maybe sometimes they see what Vecna has seen in the past, scenes from when Vecna was a Wizard-King with a loyal knight friend named Kaz.

Sometimes they’ll see Vecna in the future, an Archlich making secret plans to destroy worlds.

Sometimes they might just see someone’s secrets, their most hidden things.

And sometimes Vecna will see them and nod, welcoming the to the fold.

Perhaps they can feel the person with the Hand, out there, moving towards them slowly.

Have fun!

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Or don’t come up with a solution. Let your players deal with that.

That way there’s no one right answer. Maybe there are several or some half-measures or some solutions that will degrade over time. Be open to solutions that deal with compromise and messiness.

Not having a solution leaves it in their court.

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Reddit GM Advice: Bloodied State, Villages, Simplicity & World-Building

Reddit GM Advice: Bloodied State, Villages, Simplicity & World-Building

Reddit Icon in front of my lovely rainbow dice from Dice Envy.

I made a list of 3 GM advice subreddits called RefAdvice.

Maybe when a creature is at half hit points they take on a tag called Bloodied and some monsters get stronger when they are Bloodied or even gain strength from their Bloodied allies.

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Find a one page dungeon and start the game right at the dungeon’s beginning.

Find a map of a ruined castle and toss some bandits in it.

An owlbear is killing local sheep…

Just keep it simple.

Good luck!

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Sometimes it is the village the players are starting in.

Sometimes it is a phrase from an old bit of notebook scribbles: “The Tiefling Dukes, in their heyday, had 13 Witch-Towers bequeathed to them by the Devil-Tyrant.”

Sometimes I hear a friend has never fought a dragon in a game and so I make a setting with a greedy dragon family using its power to rule over a countryside so he can attempt to kick those dragons in the teeth.

Sometimes I read a book or listen to a podcast about history and that pops something off.

Start where you are passionate and have energy because when you run out of said energy, you’ll want to keep going. Don’t spend energy on anything that isn’t inspirational or useful at the table.

Good luck!

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More Reddit GM Advice

More Reddit GM Advice

Reddit Icon in front of my lovely rainbow dice from Dice Envy.

I made a list of 3 GM advice subreddits called RefAdvice.

Dagger Subject Divider

Incorporate that idea of destroying something and remaking it stronger into every aspect of the world you can.

When healers give healing, have them talk about bones re-knitting stronger.

When someone dies, instead of rest in peace, have folks say something about them returning, better made in a better world.

When blessing a new building, have the priest say something about building it better next time should it fall.

Have that theme of rebuilding first and foremost in your mind when you are making the world. When you think about the lore of a city – what was on that spot BEFORE the city – how is the city a better version of that…

Good luck!

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GM: You’ve got some time before things heat up again. What do you get done in that month?

Player: I’d like to fix the fighter’s broken magical sword with that magic orchid we got from that time in that place with the thing.

GM: Cool, sounds like you have everything you need. Whose forge do you use?

Player: My brother is a smith in the city, remember? I’ll use his forge.

GM: Right! I had forgotten. Y’know, there’s no skill for making things in 5e. But you have plenty of time and space. Let’s just say you do it, yeah?

Player: Sounds good.

GM: Let’s have some role-play with you, your brother and the fighter as you finish…

  1. Establish what they want to do.
  2. Decide how to do it – rolls necessary? Anything need to be gathered?
  3. Role-play a short scene to make it real and let the moment breathe.

Hope that helps! Good luck.

Dagger Subject Divider

Don’t feel like you have to write out a beginning, middle and end. You don’t have to make a publishable product (and honestly, many published products aren’t that useful at the table in play). You have to get started.

Ask the players to make characters to deal with Astral Elves coming to the Realms with an eye towards taking over. Diplomats, spies, monarch’s agents – people who will be asked to deal with this shit.

Start with a cold war, with the Astral Elves making allies and winning people over with promises that colonizers always start with. Get some ideas for a first adventure, a minor tussle or a conflict in Cormyr as the Astral Empire try to win over the Purple Dragons.

Have fun! Good luck.

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Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated, Session 3 – The Missing Mentor

Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated, Session 3 – The Missing Mentor

After more than a month away from the game, we eased back in, looking into a cold case, their mentor is missing.

The Lamordian House of Lords debated changing penal law so that any found guilty of a felony could have their body offered to science to better our understanding of the natural laws (inspired by the Bas Lag’s books’ ReMade).

Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated

Dungeons & Dragons

Weird Science,

Crime,

& Gothic fantasy!

Ripped from the 
pages of
Van Richten’s Guide to
Ravenloft

With Art by Storn A. Cook

Viktor and Talis dig into their unfinished caseload - a missing person and a burglary.

What became of their mentor, Mathias Vimmer?

Who burgled the University's hallowed laboratories?

Who hunts the streets of Ludendorf?
Private Eye but the eye is an eye.

Started the session on Warlock Cliff, a cliff-face just outside of Ludendorf where magic doesn’t work. When I started to describe it, Jeff and Storn jumped in, offering further details – fog coming in from the sea and a lighthouse below the cliffs, throwing light through that fog – a bell on a dinghy from somewhere in the waves. Good stuff.

They spoke with their mentors nemesis, Emil Enh, a corrupt constable who was arrested and thrown onto a prison hulk. The old villain was sick, with a bone-rattling chest cough and wanted them to take him into custody so he could help them look for their old mentor, Mathias Vimmer (our Commissioner Gordon).

They got 3 cases – a murder case involving a university student, a casefile from a man named Adam, who was currently serving on a Prison Hulk for Breaking and Entering, Assault and Illegal Possession of a Firearm and a missing person case about a young woman named Elise, who had been arrested in the past for thievery and body-snatching.

There was a fun series of scenes where the crew was trying to gain access to the Inspector General’s safe, the current Inspector General didn’t know it was there. We found ourselves butting heads with D&D a bit (more on this later).

In the end, they got some important files from cases Mathias was keeping, along with a pistol and knife from the war and a picture of his ex-husband.

Ravenloft Lore Icon (raven on a skull)

Viktor tracked down Dr. Lukas Kronecker who teaches (I hesitated, not sure what subject he taught and Storn said, “Pantheons Beyond the Borders.”) Mythography, allowing me to drop some St. Ezra lore.

It turned out, the ex-husband didn’t know anything and was bereft that he didn’t know where Mathias had gone. Viktor told him that they found a picture of them together in Mathias’ safe. When he left, Viktor could hear the Mythographer crying.

Talis took the pistol and knife to a Vistani woman, who could, at this point, only say that Mathias was not anywhere in Lamordia alive and if he was dead, his spirit was not restless. She would work to look beyond the borders but that would take time and resources.

DeKalb, the Tiefling from their last case, was out of work because of things they did. He was hired by the Kranev Investigative Guild and would be an administrative aide and added muscle when needed.

D&D 5e doesn’t seem to be helping us much in our goal of playing an investigative gothic fantasy buddy crime story. We’re discussing other options.

The End, with human/bat skeleton, wings fanned out.

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The Week’s DM Academy Responses

The Week’s DM Academy Responses

Reddit Icon in front of a pic of my Dice Envy rainbow dice set.

I love making inspirational tables so I can make jobs on the fly with a roll of 3d6.

Here’s an example.

The Client Needs:

1-2) Blood

3-4) Intel

5-6) An Item

The players will take this from:

  1. Local Crime Org
  2. Warlock’s Demon’s Cult
  3. Local City Guard
  4. Local Politician
  5. Foreign Power
  6. INSERT SOMETHING REALLY STRANGE

Wild Card Table

Something strange in the mix is:

  1. A Rival Demon (or Devil)
  2. Zealous Paladins
  3. Local Adventurers making a mess
  4. Local Craft Guild
  5. Cult from the countryside
  6. Local Noble

Hope that helps!

Good luck!

Spear Subject Divider

Have you heard of the saying, “Don’t prep plots, prep situations.”

Might help. Here are a few links:

Here’s a series of links where I take something and mine the situation from it called Situation Mining:

I made a brainstorming document called Context, Cool Shit and Consequences. Hope it helps your process.

Hope those links are helpful. Good luck!

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Keeping the game moving isn’t only your responsibility. The game being fun isn’t only your responsibility.

Everyone can help to keep the game moving. Everyone needs to be helping to make the game fun.

Talk to your friends about how the arguing wasn’t fun and come up with a way together to make decisions in a way that is more fun.

Good luck! it is not all on you.

Spear Subject Divider

Don’t judge them. Ask them why they are doing that or ask what their characters are thinking but do so out of curiosity, not judging their choices.

Spear Subject Divider

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The Iron Lich Situation

The Iron Lich Situation

I spend time on the DM’s Academy Subreddit and lots of folks ask questions about how to start a game. This is very much inspired by the Situation model I learned through Burning Wheel and was also championed on the Alexandrian in his blog post, Don’t Prep Plots.

Here’s one take on it.

The skull of the Iron Lich with a dead star's light in their eye sockets. 

As created on Midjourney with the terms: skull of the iron lich in the style of raymond Swanland + ornate + highly detailed + concept art

Tell the players what the game is going to be about.

You’ve all learned that the Iron Lich is trying to take over the world with their manufacturing tombs.

Ask them to make characters who are bound to that plot.

I was the apprentice of the Iron Lich when they were mortal.

I’m a paladin who is sworn to destroy all undead.

I’m an elf ranger sent by the queen so the Iron Lich’s manufacturing tombs don’t destroy the forest.

During character creation, ask questions. Make shit up together. Write down names. The DM role is important during character creation. Help the players flesh out their characters and use this as an opportunity to flesh out the world. I am very open to learning about the world at this point and want player ideas about the part of the world where their character comes from and how the Iron Lich damaged that community. Through character creation I want to grow the antagonist and the world the antagonist threatens. There will still be plenty of blank space on the map and mysteries to learn in play.

I’m not precious about timelines or vague ideas about the Iron Lich. I don’t want to get rid of the main concept, “Industrialized Undead Wizard,” and don’t want to play in a tone that doesn’t work for me. If a player makes a Halfling named Dildo Haggus, I’m going to speak up and say that joke characters don’t fit. But as above, if my ideas about the Iron Lich said that they became a Lich three thousand years ago, I’m going to re-think that because having a wizard who was the Iron Lich’s apprentice when they were mortal is just so damned cool. If the Iron Lich being three thousand years old is key to the concept, maybe talk to the player about having a character who had been tossed outside of time in a void prison and just got out.

Once the characters are made give them a few choices that seem interesting to you. I like to do this the week before we play, so I have time to prep and daydream.

Do you all want to look into the devil-lich’s mountain lair where the Iron Necromancer became the Iron Lich or scout out the manufacturing tombs where caravans have gone missing or look into the duke’s counselor who is said to be a necromancer?

There’s no WRONG answer but sure, clocks will be ticking and things will change based on their choices. Also, maybe they have another idea or the first adventure becomes very clear during character creation. That is cool. Give yourself some time to prep but don’t over-prep.

The examples above were written quickly but looking them over, they feel like different kinds of adventures. The Devil-Lich’s Lair feels like a dungeon crawl. The Manufacturing Tombs is more stealthy and sneaky but also a bit dungeon crawlish. The duke’s counselor is very political, rooting out spies and cultists in the duke’s court. Each one would mean fleshing out a different part of the world.

Nothing about any of this is original. I don’t get an eff about originality. The game will become something original once out friends interact with all this stuff when we come together at the table.

I put together the tools I’ve worked on here in the past few years in a Medium article. If you liked this, you might like those articles too.

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Encounter Tables

Encounter Tables

Excited to see that the blog that wrote a bit about encounter tables that really changed the way I use them has updated its thoughts and techniques. I’ll be digesting that for a bit.

For some reason I switched it around and had 12 as the dragon and 2 as the wizard but the numbers work out the same.

Here are a few of the 2d6 tables I’ve made lately.

Executioner's Sword Subject Divider
Executioner's Sword Subject Divider
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Digital Dreams about Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel

Digital Dreams about Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel

I entered the following terms in Midjourney:

bright fantasy city with tiers growing around a central cyclopean diamond shard in the foreground + dark, surreal astral in the background + ornate + highly detailed + inspired by Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel

And got the following:

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Aboraz, the Striding Skull, The Tomb that Walks

Aboraz, the Striding Skull, The Tomb that Walks

Aboraz was once a fairly run-of-the-mill demilich, moldering in a tomb while their spite-filled consciousness traversed the Far Realms, looking for power through a greater understanding of corners of the planes mortal minds rarely perceive. When a powerful party of adventurers looted their lair and nearly destroyed them, Aboraz was left exposed and irate.

The desperate demilich petitioned the Lich Congress but due to petty rivalries they received very little support from their undead colleagues in the Shadowfell. Using what little resources they had left, Aboraz crafted an iron golem, custom made to carry their skull. One would think that Aboraz would command the golem to walk them to a remote location so they could continue dream-traversing through cthonic planes but they did not. Believing that the adventurers learned of Aboraz’s tomb’s location from a jealous lich, Aboraz began walking across the Outlands, taking what treasure they could until finally becoming a feared bounty hunter.

A rusty iron golem with a demilich's skull in the torso. 

TEXT: ABORAZ / THE STRIDING SKULL / THE TOMB THAT WALKS
Aboraz, the Striding Skull, the Tomb that Walks
Made with Midjourney

Aboraz takes special and hateful glee in hunting adventurers who have angered evil powers with the money to pay. They most often wait until their prey has been through a battle, scrying on them to learn of their tactics and weapons before ambushing them before they can rest. Once the Striding Skull has accrued the resources to build a new trap-filled tomb they plan on getting revenge against the lich who led the adventurers to their lair and forced them into what they see as a humiliating detour into an undignified vocation. The unique demilich will never admit that they have actually enjoyed their time as a bounty hunter, hunting heroes for coin, living by their powers and wits.

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Imbalances in the Outlands, Session 2, A Balanced Deal with a Heaping Side of Lore

Imbalance in the Outlands / Session 1: The Golden Hills

In which the Sigil 6 broker a deal between Garl Glittergold and the Elder Ring Druids while also digging up some intense lore concerning their patron, The Lady of Pain.

Who are the Sigil 6 – Trundle, Helewynn, Bugwump, Kuru, Jusko and Failed Soldier and what have they been up to?

Sigil 6 Subject Divider

    Our last session ended with the group figuring out that the Gnomish cleric there to guide them was in fact Garl Glittergold. Some genius thought to ask him about the Lady of Pain and Garl spilled.

    The God of the Gnomes hemmed and hawed. Was that me role-playing or me stalling for time? I’m honestly not sure. I’ve been daydreaming a bit about the Lady of Pain but I wasn’t sure if I had enough to satisfying this crew.

    Garl told them that whatever secrets she had, he bet that she had them buried in the Maze, her inter-dimensional prison/labyrinth where the majority of the Sigil 6 wandered for 15 years. “And what’s more, I think she wants people to know her secret. She wants someone to find out. I think she puts people there who she thinks have a shot at figuring it out.”

    Jusko asked if they had seen anything, something that might hint at what is hidden there. I asked him to tell me more about what kind of things he’s looking for and he gave me enough. They realized that an area of the Maze they had avoided had a cyclopean beast of some kind imprisoned. Then Bugwump dropped this amazing line, “Of course whatever is down there is something that can diminish her. Isn’t that obvious? We keep it imprisoned by keeping balance in the planes.”

    I asked the player to roll Arcana (knowing Bugwump has ZANY bonuses to that skill), “Wait, does Bugwump know what is down there? It kinda sounds like he does.” He did; it is the last of the living Primordials, thrown down there by the Gods during the First War, held in place by the spinning of the Planes. Now they know.

    “There is a half-dead world where the gods are dead and they worship elementals. Magic is cursed and blights the land; it is a shithole. That place might have clues about this Primordial. I’m warning you. This place makes Ravenloft look like a vacation.”

    Garl suggested that if they wanted to learn deep lore, they should talk to Callarduran Smoothhands, emissary to the Deep Gnomes. “He knows secrets.”

    Failed Soldier Legend Lore’d the Golden Acorns and realized they would grow to become Angelic Treants and their roots would hold off an apocalypse for a while when they landed and sunk their roots into a dying world.

    They brokered a deal between the Druids and Garl, despite Garl trying his damnedest to get them to slaughter them all. The druids, as it turned out, are in an recently found order created by a Tree God from the party’s past, when they stopped a god feud but left the dead world’s Tree God alive. That Tree God is vengeful and its druids go into dying worlds and save whatever they can – people, art, magic, ideas, etc.

    Garl will get first pick of treasure on any world where the angelic treants grown from his golden acorns are helpful. It is a pretty damned good deal and makes the world more complicated and interesting. LOVE it.

    Did Kuru steal an acorn? Yes, he did. Rolled to see if Garl noticed. 2. Nope, he did not notice.

    Garl warned them that the Innistrad Vampires offered him a lost knife of his, lost during an ancient war with the kobolds, if he would use his illusions to send the Sigil 6 into a trap. “They want you bad, bad enough to contact and try to bribe a god.”

    DM’s Notes: Gaming with these folks is just fun, dammit.

    Next Game: Next week we’ll either do another Imbalance or head over to Gloomwrought.

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