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Author: Mike Gould

Nerdarchy > Articles posted by Mike Gould
5E D&D magic items yuan-ti nightmare speaker

Play Your Next 5E D&D Game With Immersive Magic Items

A refrain from fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters I have seen in public forums and other social media is this: “How do I make magic items more exciting?” There are two approaches to this I’d like to share, regarding the rarity and special nature of magic items in 5E D&D.


Dungeon Master Tips for Single Player 5E D&D

There have been recent discussions on a few platforms about the trials and tribulations of running fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons for a single player or two. The concerns are always the same. “How do I set up encounters? How do I challenge them without killing the player characters?” And so on. Low population games tend to have the same solutions. It’s usually the same refrain — less combat and more exploration and social interaction. To be fair this is a viable option but it is by no means the only one. Furthermore it is not necessary to add the dreaded Dungeon Master Player Character. Adding NPCs to the mix is a plan but it risks stealing the spotlight from the players and their characters. What follows are a few suggestions for 5E D&D to add party depth without losing focus on player fun. These options are all potentially NPCs the DM sort of runs but all have player character involvement.

Worldbuilding through Language in 5E D&D

Worldbuilding is a passion for many fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters and many players. Part of what drives this passion is a desire to make a place, a nation, a people or a culture feel alive and turns things like the simple concept of an orc or goblin that player characters sweep aside with swords and spells into cultures deserving of a deeper look. One deeper look to make the world feel more alive is the concept of culture and language to help define a people. Some cultures have a deep understanding of a written language, and others a verbal tradition. They may have customs and beliefs different from ours, but plausible within their own environment. How a people communicate can define how they behave. Their collective understanding of themselves and the world abroad defines itself through language.

Exhaustion Saving Throws in 5E D&D

There is one rule in most roleplaying games that is especially true in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. There’s a check or saving throw for everything. Does a character want to jump across the chasm? Athletics check, please. Does a character want to avoid falling over a cliff? Dexterity saving throw, please. This applies to special abilities or spells characters or monsters may have as well. in 5E D&D conditions generated by these spells or abilities have ability checks or saving throws attached to them.

Mashing Up Milestone XP and Inspiration in 5E D&D

It’s a fact of life — there isn’t an tabletop roleplaying game out there someone, somewhere hasn’t tweaked in one way or another. Opinions and perspectives are multitude. The value of these outlooks varies, and their worth only truly judged in a public forum through playtesting. To this end, I would like to offer a few fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons house rules regarding milestone XP and inspiration that have existed at my table for a few years now, with the same expectation other Dungeon Masters further tinker with them to suit their own needs. This is only logical; not every rule fits ever table.

D&D encounters

Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #50 – “The Sculptor”

Out of the Box introduction

There’s a song my wife and I hold dear that describes seeing someone differently all of a sudden despite seeing them a thousand times before. This sort of event is all too real. The moment of realization where the one viewing, reading, listening, or interacting with a person, place, song or book in a completely new and surprising way can be a huge flash of creativity. Have you heard a song in a completely new way because the context in which you heard it changed? It’s likely.

Out of the Box D&D Encounter, Series 2, #49 – “Sting of Life”

Out of the Box introduction

I have been remiss in one aspect. I have failed to reveal a villain that has played a role in some of the homebrewed creatures featured in the Out of the Box series. This villain has been mentioned in The Broker, and will be featured in re-writes of The Passenger, Smells Fishy and others. The reasoning for this is clear, and it’s something that happens at more than my table.

Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #48 – “It’s Raining….Men?”

Out of the Box introduction

Terrain, planning and paranoia can play havoc with a Dungeon Master’s plans. Introducing an encounter becomes an adversarial game of justifying how an encounter could occur while any number of spells, class or racial abilities or magic items render surprise all but impossible. However, there’s always a way.

Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #47 – “The Stray”

Out of the Box introduction

If there is one thing consistent with nearly every campaign I have played or Dungeon Mastered, at least one player will try to turn something (if not a lot of things) into either mounts or companions. There seems to be a little of “the collector” in all of us, but in these players the collection of creatures or things is king. It can be hard to either justify or facilitate such players, as their choices may be neither logical nor timely. Circumstance and choice often work against these players. Even worse, some groups always have the player who seeks to stir the pot and sabotages such efforts.

Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #46 – “Your Deal”

Out of the Box introduction

Player characters have tool proficiencies they never use. That’s a fact. I cannot remember the last time any character used a gaming set at my table, either when I was a player or a Dungeon Master. Outside of bards, I cannot remember another character using a musical instrument. Therefore, let’s create a circumstance where at least the gaming set comes into play.

Out of the Box D&D encounters undead

Out of the Box D&D Encounters, series 2, #45 “For Whom the Bell Tolls”

Out of the Box introduction

Different players have different playstyles. this can be a challenge for a Dungeon Master who might be attempting to engage conflicting styles of play at the same time. Failure to do so can lead to player disengagement and boredom. It’s always a risk and tends to be on the mind of many DMs. Therefore this encounter will combine two aspects of the roleplaying game experience. The intention behind this is to get all of the players cooperating in some degree.

Out of the Box D&D encounters flying fish

Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #44 – “Airquarium”

 Out of the Box introduction

There are two occasions when a Dungeon Master might wish to make an encounter something other than an obvious combat encounter. The characters may be wounded or otherwise diminished to the point where combat is a lethal risk. Or, the party of adventurers may be so averse to combat as to wish to avoid such at any cost. The latter can be prevalent when running a game for younger players.

Out of the Box D&D

Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #43 – “The Broker”

Out of the Box introduction

Whereas I believe that this idea is not totally new, I think it bears recognition with some context. Many Game Masters do not have a problem coming up with an end villain, but side quest minor bosses or recurring bad guys can be a challenge. These lesser characters tend to suck up the air of a campaign, as they spend more time in roleplaying moments and interact more often with characters in the trenches of the campaign. These “under bosses” spend more time early in a character arc interfering with the success of the party. Because of that, they are more important overall in the development of the style of each character, because they are there at the start. These lesser villains set the stage, foil early plans, and can reoccur even later in the campaign. These villains will continually factor into the game world unless thwarted in a meaningful way. They may even become allies if the circumstances or price is right. “The enemy of my enemy,” if you will.
Out of the Box D&D

Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #42 – “Empty Chair”

Out of the Box introduction

I cannot speak for others, but I grew up with a lot of superstitions. My mother was very superstitious, but I cannot say if it was a factor of her generation, age, culture, or what have you. All I know is that I inherited many of these superstitions, and it may have lead to my own world view. Some of them I inherited were forgotten until unlocked by an action, word, or reference. One such occurrence recently unlocked this forgotten lore.

Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #41 – “Down the Well”

Out of the Box introduction

Inspiration can be the single greatest challenge for Dungeon Masters new and old. Without it we fall into that funk where we draw a blank on how to proceed, or lose our energy in proceeding forward. The loss of inspiration can lead to the death of any campaign, and it’s something to watch for.
Thankfully, many DMs can find inspiration in almost any source. I have personally used music to great effect to create NPC storylines, and enhance visual imagery in descriptions. It’s important to note I have only played music in two encounters total, and do not use it like some as a background effect. Instead, it inspires creation ahead of time.
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