Derek Ruiz – or Derek von Zarovich as he’s widely known to fans on the internet – is an 2017 Ennie Award nominee for best website. A year ago he was an English teacher. With the flip of a coin, he launched Elven Tower and now “maps” his way forward to continued success as a content creator for D&D and other RPGs. In August, Elven Tower celebrates its one year anniversary. Along with his Ennie Award nomination, Ruiz won the One Page Dungeon contest earlier in 2017 with his entry “Where are the Villagers?”
“I had this idea. I’m going to do something with the internet – start a website or something. I had two options, because this is going to be out of love. This is going to be something that I enjoy. Either it was going to be something about D&D, or it was going to be about science. Believe it or not I just flipped a coin, and I said okay, this is going to be about D&D.” – Derek Ruiz
Our first time combining three videos to create our podcast in our DMG deep dive.
Disease in Dungeons and Dragons 5e from the 5th Edition Dungeon Masters Guide
5E Dungeons and Dragons Disease in the 5th Edition Dungeon Masters Guide It’s time to delve back into the DMG.
This time we are talking disease. Diseases in the 5th edition dungeons and dragons dungeon masters guide are great as plot a device for your players.
Whether they are racing against the clock to cure disease spreading through the kingdom or maybe they’ve been infected and only have days to find a cure before they succumb this is a great way to add suspense your tabletop RPG.
This is a short section in the DMG, but reading it sparked a ton of ideas for adventures in my own campaign. Feel free to join the conversation and tell us what you think of disease in 5e D&D.
D&D Tricks to Befuddle Your Players Straight Out of the Dungeons and Dragons 5e DMG
D&D Tricks to Befuddle Your Players Straight Out of the 5e Dungeons and Dragons DMG
Nerdarchy continues to break down the 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide. This time we are looking at D&D tricks.
This section of the DMG is less than three quarters of a page yet there are so many seeds for creating or enhancing an adventure. Just looking at these gave us ideas for unique encounters, dungeons, adventures, and even character concepts.
It also has that old school AD&D feel to it. You really need to comb through the sections of the 5e DMG carefully or you may just miss the golden nuggets contained within.
Hazards of the 5e Dungeon Masters Guide| Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Dungeon Masters Guide
Hazards of the 5e Dungeon Masters Guide| 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide
Another jaunt into the D&D 5E dungeon masters guide this time to take a look at hazards. Hazards in the DMG are those threats that are sitting right there out in the open. The question is do you recognize them before it’s to late?
Whether it’s some harmless mold or a patch of quick sand does your adventurers have the knowledge or experience to recognize the danger. Hazards is another great little section of the DMG.
It gives you interesting ways challenge player characters in the game without using monsters or traps. It’s a place where any of the players at the table can shine by coming up with an interesting solution to the hazard at hand. Feel free to tell us about your experiences with hazards from the DMG or one’s you or your Dungeon Master has made up.
We continue with our deep dive into the 5e DMG. This is another double sized episode. Many of the Dungeon Master’s Guide videos we did were broken down into smaller vids. We would really drill down on the content.
Non Player Characters or NPC’s in the 5th Edition Dungeon Masters Guide
Non Player Characters in the 5th Edition Dungeon Masters Guide
Nerdarchy discusses NPC’s in 5e D&D from the DMG. This an excellent section in the dungeon master’s guide describing eight different types of non-player characters and their roles in a role-playing world.
Even how a NPC can move through various roles through out an adventuring parties careers. There also some great non player character creation tables for creating fast npc’s on the fly. All valuable for any kind of RPG.
Poison in D&D More Talk From the 5th Edition Dungeon Masters Guide
Poison in D&D More Talk From the 5th Edition Dungeon Masters Guide
Nerdarchy gathers to talk about poison in the newest edition of dungeons and dragons. We take look at the 5E poison list in the DMG.
Followed by a discussion about all of the different poisons in the game so far. What talk about poison would be complete without mentioning the poisoner’s kit and the crafting and harvesting of poison.
Also if you are in the market to buy poison we talk about the prices listed in the dungeon master’s guide as well. Also each of the Nerdarchist give their favorite poison as well.
Hey, guys, Professor Bill of Comic Book University and I’m going to explain Mr. Cyber, the main bad guy in the Marvel Super Heroes Roleplaying Game (FASERIP) I’m running every Monday for the Nerdarchists. Mr. Cyber is, well, me.
That’s right, Professor Bill is the ultimate evil in the Nerdarchy game. How did he get there? What did he do to gain his powers? Why is he so evil? Let’s read.
Where he’s from
Professor Bill was doing what every nerd was doing on that Thursday afternoon; he was watching the Nerdarchy live chat as Nerdarchist Dave was talking to one of his nerdy guests. The conversation is going one way and the chat is going another; just a typical live chat.
Dave says, something to the effect of, “We’re going to need to petition Professor Bill of Comic Book University to run a Marvel FASERIP game for us.”
Attending a game convention is not new territory for me. Fresh off of Origins 2017 in Columbus, Ohio, the gaming juice runs at an all-time high and I’m pumped to plow forward with gusto on as a fan of tabletop roleplaying games as well as a savvy up-and-coming Nerdarchy aide-de-camp.
My first game convention was, coincidentally, Origins Game Fair back in the early 90s when civilization was at its peak. I’ll never forget inadvertently joining a world championship tournament of Diplomacy, having never played the game. For about an hour I had my opponents thinking I was some kind of savant, making bewildering moves they’d never seen. Then they realized my cluelessness and my stint as a global leader quickly ended. Continue reading Origins 2017 – game convention from a new perspective
In an effort to combine the Nerdarchy YouTube channel and the website articles, I am drawing inspiration directly from this ArmorClass10.com-sponsored video. The subject at hand is gaming superstitions. To begin with let’s define the concept, shall we? Superstition is defined as “a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or practice based on such belief.” With that in mind, let’s delve into a few I have seen, heard of, or been told about. Continue reading Gaming Superstitions
Here we go again. I like top tens. They have a certain charm to them. Being a gamer, I get to see a lot of roles played by an amazing variety of people such as yourself. I know that they can be good, bad, or just plain hilarious. Can you think of the various role players you have seen at your table? I am sure if you think hard enough, something your great mind is highly capable of doing, you can match up at least a few of those listed below with your table. In no particular order, here is the repeated role player types I have seen. Some of these I like, and some I do not. Though I would love to hear your opinions and stories on such. Continue reading Top Ten Gaming Stereotypical Roleplayers
Following on the heels of Satine Phoenix‘s appearance on the Nerdarchy live chat, Nerdarchy is going on an adventure! Nerdarchists Dave and Ted and Nate the Nerdarch were invited out to Los Angeles to appear on Geek and Sundry’s GM Tips, with filming scheduled for July 29, 2017.
But Nerdarchy needs your help.
Nerdarchy needs your help is a very special GoFundMe campaign that’s live right now. By clicking the link you can contribute to the campaign to help get the crew out to LA for Geek and Sundry’s GM Tips with Satine Phoenix. In keeping with Nerdarchy’s mission of “for nerds, by nerds,” this clarion call goes out to nerds everywhere to support this campaign to help get the team out to LA.
In the first 24 hours, the campaign was able to raise 10 percent of the goal and with continued support and exposure we are confident that this quest will be successfully completed. This trio of nerds with a passion for roleplaying games and other nerdy things is ready to level up!
Nerdarchy is very proud of what we’ve built over the past three years. We’re ready to take things to the next level in the journey as we grow and expand. This LA trip represents a big step forward. Rest assured we will always strive to pour all our energy and passion into creating the best content we can for the Nerdarchy community.
Nerdarchy’s LA adventure connects with Geek and Sundry
Because of this unexpected and amazing opportunity, the costs for the trip fall outside of Nerdarchy’s budget. With your generous assistance Dave, Ted and Nate can make the trip from the Garden State of New Jersey out to LA to talk nerdy with Satine Phoenix on her show. A fantastic opportunity for the crew, this step forward offers an incredible chance for continued growth and expanded reach for Nerdarchy.
With Nerdarchy’s vibrant and awesome fans always in mind, the crew plans to schedule additional events in the LA area. Meet-and-greets, signings and even live gaming events at the legendary Meltdown Comics are all on the table – along with ways to share these spectacular moments with fans, subscribers, supporters and patrons across the globe.
Keep up-to-date with Nerdarchy everywhere online for updates and developments on this LA adventure, as well as the usual great daily content. This includes YouTube live chats weekdays at noon EST with nerd culture innovators and creators, live game play, GM 911 answers, gaming reviews and previews and more.
What this means and how you can help
Nerdarchy understands that our wonderful fans all over the world might not be able to donate. But you can still contribute to the campaign by sharing the link on social media or any nerdy sites or forums you might be a part of and help our awesome community keep growing.
Everyone involved with Nerdarchy, from your favorite on-screen personalities, website staff writers and other behind-the-scenes nerds is really excited about this extraordinary opportunity. In addition to the appearance on GM Tips, this trip is a chance for Nerdarchy to interact in-person with some of the primary movers and shakers in the nerd culture media, network and form new relationships within the nerdy community and gain valuable insights that will help Nerdarchy keep growing.
To learn more about Nerdarchy, explore the website, subscribe to Nerdarchy on YouTube, follow us on Facebook and Twitter and become a patron through our Patreon. Nerdarchy works hard to bring you exciting new content everyday and to create new, exciting ways to interact with fans through live chats, online games and more.
Tabletop roleplaying games afford players amazing opportunities. Through the characters and worlds we imagine at the gaming table, we create adventures and stories filled with heroism, villainy, danger, humor, drama, action and intrigue. Through game play we surprise ourselves through improvisation and collaboration, letting our shared stories twist and turn and carry us along. Through our characters’ actions, we affect the imaginary world and have an impact.
We invest something of ourselves into our characters. Players might portray characters who are exaggerated or ideal versions of themselves, or one aspect of themselves. Conversely, they can explore personalities, philosophies or lifestyles vastly different than their own. In a similar way, GMs create and run adventures that satisfy (sometimes intangible) goals and interests, populating the game environment with people, places and things – and monsters! – that appeal to those goals. Continue reading What you can learn from your RPG characters
I was sitting there wracking my brain on what to write about, as I have several ideas that all want to come out. Suddenly it occurred to me, there on my shelf is the answer, staring me in the face. I have a collection of video games from various systems and genres. To this end, I am going to create a list of things from outside table top I would like to see made into tabletop gaming systems. In no particular order, let’s jump in and have at it, shall we? Continue reading Video Games I Want To See Come To The Table Top
“Vice may triumph for a time, crime may flaunt its victories in the face of honest toilers, but in the end the law will follow the wrong-doer to a bitter fate, and dishonor and punishment will be the portion of those who sin.”
― Allan Pinkerton
Security, at its basic concept, is the effort and mindset to keep those people and things one cares about safe. It is a goal I have dedicated over a decade of my life to as my “day job” is that of a security officer. In fact, on this day I continued my training with a defensive tactics, baton, handcuffs, and OC spray refresher course. This brings me to the very point I wish to convey with this article. Security is not the complacent thing that is portrayed in Hollywood and video games. In fact, in my time I have found that most security officers fit into one of very few categories that will be discussed later in this article. None the less, this is the first of what I feel will be many articles on security in gaming. Continue reading Security and Gaming: Advice From An Expert
Without a GM to run the tabletop RPG, whether it’s Dungeons & Dragons or whatever game your group is playing, the party’s continuing adventures will be put on hold. But what if one or more of the players can’t make it to your next session? Or perhaps your group attendance changes all the time, with a different configuration of your core group showing up intermittently to go on quests. The demands of daily life don’t have to deter the rest of the group from meeting for a gaming session. In fact, you can use these situations to your advantage to instill varying degrees of drama and play styles for your campaign.
Classic D&D adventuring style
The simplest method for running your game with an irregular party makeup takes a page from the earliest days of D&D’s playbook. Shifting the focus away from a grand narrative, the characters instead are adventurers for adventure’s sake. While it is no doubt engaging for characters to have vested interests in the reasons and outcomes for their quests, there’s something to be said for starting a session with the characters at the dungeon entrance and the question put forth from the GM: “What do you do?”
Early D&D modules like “In Search of the Unknown” gave DM’s brief backgrounds on whatever dungeon was contained therein, and the PCs motivations for being there, which were nearly always the same – there’s treasure inside! The notion of connected quests that carried parties from 1st to 20th level wasn’t an assumed part of the game. Instead, the DM created dungeons (or used published modules), players showed up with their characters and delved into the depths. Certainly it behooved a group to include a balanced mix of characters to tackle all the various tricks, traps, puzzles and monsters, but if three players showed up all with fighter characters to test their mettle, then that’s how the session went.
Even playing this way, over time players and DMs developed character arcs and longer plots in their imaginations, and elements in later adventures hearkened back to earlier exploits. The difference with this style is that the party is not necessarily considered the stars of an epic tale. Players certainly became attached to their characters, but it wasn’t going to derail a long narrative if (when) those characters died. The characters existed for the sole purpose of surviving dungeons.
If your group is just starting up, consider taking your game in this direction. Take a dungeon, set the characters at the entrance and go from there. While Wizards of the Coast has strayed away from the model of publishing adventures in this manner, there’s nothing wrong with using their long campaign adventures, cutting out all the narrative elements and just using the dungeons. For example, the Oozing Temple in Out of the Abyss can easily make for a one-shot adventure. Handwaving the lost in the Underdark set-up, simply tell your players they were exploring some underground tunnels, a cave-in cuts off the passage they were in but opens up a new tunnel.
The upcoming release of Tales from the Yawning Portal, as I understand it, looks to capture the spirit of this sort of adventure with a series of independent dungeons. My guess is they’ll be presented in a progressively more difficult order, so a campaign of sorts takes place as adventurers tackle each dungeon in succession.
Similarly, there is a great product from Kobold Press called “The Book of Lairs” filled with small dungeons featuring signature monsters that can be run the same way. I’ve used several of them with my own group, which is run in sandbox style, and with some personalization they’ve been extremely useful.
Take a note from TV
Episodic series with ensemble casts are terrific examples of how to run RPGs with an intermittent group of core characters. In this approach, the players who show up for a session are basically the stars of that adventure. I’m far from the first person to cite the fantastic “Firefly” program as an example of this style of play. (A particularly great example, too, considering my group is playing in the Spelljammer setting.) Essentially, take any program with a larger cast and think about how different episodes focus on different configurations of the characters. Even primetime sitcoms fluctuate which characters are featured in each episode.
The absent PCs simply aren’t part of the session when the players aren’t there. Perhaps they are off taking care of personal business or on another adventure of their own. Even in a campaign with a long narrative, this doesn’t need to negatively affect the plot. On the contrary, it can serve to strengthen it by giving the PCs who are present a more powerful connection to that session’s particular circumstances. The GM can weave elements specific to the present characters into the adventure, making the scenario more meaningful for them and giving players the sense their characters are important parts of the story. Conversely, adding details pertinent to the absent players can strengthen the bonds between both party members, who can add their own dramatic elements to the narrative by becoming a part of their companions’ personal tales even when they weren’t present themselves.
After enough sessions, there’s great potential for unexpected arcs to emerge that can culminate in a “season finale” session when all of your players can attend. Along the way, the characters have accumulated hints and details from their individual levels of involvement that can come to light and create excitement for the whole group. Players in one session might have uncovered clues that help solve a mystery other players are still in the dark about, for instance.
Monster hunters extraordinaire
As a GM that loves all the incredible monsters, creatures and critters, a style of game where the players are contract monster hunters is a ton of fun. This is also a great option for groups that tend to have short sessions and that enjoy combat more than exploration or social encounters.
Instead of a narrative reason or even a large dungeon to explore, the characters are all professional monster hunters working for a guild. The most basic way to run a game like this is to choose a monster, explain that the characters have tracked it down, and let them fight it. Whichever players showed up to the session are the hunters who took the contract.
Characters in this sort of game are simpler to create, as well. In a game focused so heavily on combat, the need for more diverse skill sets is reduced. Along these same lines, it gives all of the characters an equal chance to shine, if they’re all created primarily to be combatants.
If you need to make the encounter longer, the character might have to navigate the monster’s territory a bit first. This can provide some opportunities for skill use beyond combat capabilities. They might have to do some tracking, avoid some hazards along the way and plan for a stealthy approach to ambush the monster. Perhaps the GM can allow some skill checks for things like Arcana, History, Nature or Religion to dole out some hints about the subject of their hunt.
Another benefit to this sort of group is that it’s very easy to trade GM duties on a regular basis, or even not have a traditional GM at all! Your group could go round robin, with a different player choosing which monster the group hunts each session, with that player taking point on the encounter set-up and any quirks to the particular hunt. They can handle running the monster, and their character can either be absent from the contract or they can participate as well – assuming everyone agrees and there’s no favoritism towards their character in the fight.
Adventuring from a home base
This aspect of a game group can be applied to any sort of play style to help explain character absences. In a West Marches-style game, for example, characters are based in a singular town that is explicitly safe from outside dangers. There is never any adventure in the town, and the quests take place in ever-expanding regions beyond the town that the characters explore. If a player isn’t present at a session, their character simply stays in town that day.
Likewise, in my Spelljammer game, the party has their own ship that accommodates a fairly large crew of 22. They don’t have a full complement by a damn site, but at this point there are enough PCs and NPC crewpeople to allow lots of variety for “away teams” for their adventures. Depending on the players who show up, the group decides who they’ll take with them when they leave the ship, and the rest of the character remain on board. One of my players whose character is an artificer gunsmith has only been to a single session, and yet his character has grown into a vital crew member, acting as the ship’s engineer. Whenever the ship takes damage – a frequent occurrence – he works on repairs or assists whoever the party hires to patch it up. An NPC wizard ally is the default helmsman. Their first official hire (the impound lot attendant who helped them basically steal their ship back) has evolved into a reliable brawler and cargo manager. Another player who comes to most sessions has become the ship’s navigator, so it makes sense that he stays on board sometimes to make sure the beloved ship continues to run smoothly.
Perhaps the characters are all part of a special task force for a noble or secretive group, and specific strike teams are assembled for whatever the session’s mission might be. This is an excellent way to explain missing PCs as well – their skills weren’t needed for the quest. If they show up the next session, mid-adventure, they could have been dispatched by the party’s employer or patron to help ensure the group’s success.
But what about … ?
A group with intermittent attendance can lead to some issues, but these don’t need to throw a monkey wrench into your sessions.
The most obvious situation is a disparity in PC level. If you’ve got players who show up every time, players who show up most of the time and players who barely ever show up, there’s a good chance the characters will all be different levels. The simplest way to address this situation is “so what?” There’s no reason different level characters can’t adventure together. The Dungeon Master’s Guide has a wealth of information on tailoring content based on mathematically determining the optimal encounters for any party makeup, if you like to get down and dirty with technical details like that. Or you can just allow the lower-level characters to accompany their higher-level allies into what for them is more dangerous situations. Sure, they’ll have to play it a bit safer, but (especially with D&D 5E’s bounded accuracy) lower-level PCs can certainly contribute to the party’s success.
Another way to address level disparity is through milestone leveling instead of the standard experience point thresholds, which is my preferred method. Going this route means you can easily adjust the challenges faced by the party without a lot of mechanical trouble. If they encounter a monster that turns out to be much more difficult than you anticipated (looking at you, gibbering mouther) the GM can reduce the creature’s power without worrying about breaking any experience point standards. After a few sessions, or when the GM feels it is appropriate, the characters can all gain a level. I like to hold off on leveling until I notice my players have explored whatever new options they received from the last time they leveled up. That way, they can get a good feel for how the character works and make more thoughtful choices when new options are presented. Plus, it makes it more exciting since they never really know when they’ll gain a level.
If your group has built trust between the GM and players, and amongst the players themselves, absent PCs can be played by one of the other players, or the GM can control them sort of like an NPC ally. In my group, I have a decent grasp on what the characters are like, their personalities and how they approach situations, and absent players trust me to run their characters appropriately when they can’t make it to a session. Granted, those characters tend to fade into the background a bit since I want the present players to feel like they have more control of their circumstances, but it’s a fun exercise to get to know the characters better by having them act in ways I think their players would.
Likewise, present players can run characters for absentees. This requires a level of trust as well, perhaps to a greater degree, so absent players don’t feel like their characters will become cannon fodder, human shields or guinea pigs for the rest of the party. Absent players can give some notes to whomever is going to run their character that help guide their actions. For example, our party cleric tends to rely on debuff spells primarily, with emergency healing when needed. He is not a front-line combatant and strongly believes discretion is the better part of valor. Those few simple notes give everyone a good idea how the character would act and react in any given situation.
If your last session ended mid-adventure, and your next session picks up with different players in attendance, there are ways around that, too. The most convenient way is hand-waving the situation and picking up where you left off with the character either there or not. Granted, it breaks immersion, but that feeling fades quickly enough once you start playing.
If the player was absent last time, but present now, the party could discover their character as a prisoner of whatever foe they’re facing, joining the party after a rescue. Or their absence last time could be explained as a personal task that resulted in crossing paths with the party now. In a fantasy or science fiction setting, there’s any number of extraordinary ways for people to arrive or disappear anywhere: teleportation mishaps, weird radiation pulses, wormholes, planar rifts and so on.
For players who were present last time but missing now, basically the same options apply but in reverse. Hand-waving them away is again the blunt-force option. The character could have been taken prisoner, perhaps during a rest when they were the only one on watch. Or you can employ strange circumstances that cause them to disappear, potentially leading the story in unusual directions no one had conceived.
Another option for groups is to take a break from the core campaign and try something else. Maybe one of the other players has an idea for a campaign they’d like to start, with new characters. The group could try out a one-shot adventure with different characters, or even an entirely new game. Use the opportunity to play test homebrew content and see how it works. If the group doesn’t want the absent player to miss out on the narrative, explore a side story to your campaign’s main arc instead.
At the end of the day, dealing with changing player groups is far from an insurmountable task. In many ways, having an intermittently changing group of players provides opportunities for new styles of play, new stories to tell, new directions for characters to explore or possibly whole new games to enjoy. Instead of canceling a session completely because one or more players can’t make it, get together whenever you can and see what happens. You might discover there’s more to your gaming table than you imagined.
Next week, we’ll take a break from the usual column focus and instead I’ll delve into a terrific project I’m involved with along with other Nerdarchy writers – a collaborative adventure we’re creating together to present for free in honor of International Tabletop Day 2017. The experience so far has been terrific, and we’re all super excited about not only giving people a great adventure to play but also running it at our own tables. Keep your eyes out for continued information about the adventure, stop back here in two weeks for more tips on keeping your gaming habit alive and, of course, stay nerdy!
“Find the Queen, win a prize! Ten dollars to seek the lady in red, twenty and you can guess three instead!” the man I seek states before I can even introduce myself, his grey eyes piercing in their intensity as he gauges my interest and gullibility. A Ravnos through and through, he follows his own path, and from what I can see from his long brown leather coat and weathered jeans, it has been a long path indeed.