Creating content for tabletop roleplaying games like fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, or creating an entire RPG itself, brings enormous joy. You might homebrew stuff for your home game, make products for an online marketplace like the Dungeon Masters Guild or your own website, or launch crowdfunding campaigns to produce books, accessories and boutique items. Creating content aims to enhance enjoyment for players at the gaming table. But even after your material is complete, the job doesn’t end there. Dungeon Masters and entrepreneurial content creators always gotta be hustling. At the table we aim to engage players and hook them on what you’re bringing. When it comes to commerce, raising awareness is the name of the game. In either case, you’re selling what you’ve got to the audience. For this week’s D&D community spotlight, two products came across my desk by way of creators out there hustling, something I admire.
D&D community content
Lamp’s Light Sanitarium creator Matt Corley and Infamous Adversaries presenter Benjamin Huffman both do two things I appreciate. They both create content I enjoy for 5E D&D and both creators do a healthy amount of self-promotion. And why not? Creating great content and products is challenging, and I’m 100% behind creators raising awareness and hyping up their own work. It’s really encouraging in general to see how active the D&D community is on social media sharing whatever it is they create. The DM’s Guild provides a platform for so many people to express their creativity and share their ideas with the D&D community, and it’s awesome to see players and creators themselves sharing their work so regularly. Keep it up, creators!
Lamp’s Light Sanitarium and Infamous Adversaries are also both representative of my favorite sort of 5E D&D content — stuff I can pick apart or use in chunks for my own games. They’re both robust books too. Lamp’s Light Sanitarium is about 200 pages and Infamous Adversaries is 124 pages. Lamp’s Light began as a Kickstarter launched on Halloween 2018. It was a 2019 ENNIE Nominee for best cartography, and these days has a home over at DriveThru RPG with PDF, soft cover and hard cover options. Matt created a special discount for Nerdarchy readers too! This link should give anyone who uses it an additional $2.50 off the current price, which at the moment is discounted for $15.49 for the PDF. You can check it out here.
Infamous Adversaries was just recently released on DMs Guild, and features over a dozen creators original takes on classic D&D monsters. Each entry comes with adventure hooks, tips for roleplaying the creature and special rewards for heroes like magic items, spells and allies. In addition, Benjamin is writing a series called Infamous Esoterica on the Sterling Vermin website with enhanced content for Infamous Adversaries. I’ve been chatting with Benjamin for a couple of weeks and didn’t even realize he was the person behind Sterling Vermin until this morning. I’ve been reading that blog and adding content from there in my games for a couple of years now, so this was a neat circumstance. You can check out Infamous Adversaries here.
What’s inside for 5E D&D
I can tell you with a high degree of certainty I’ll be using stuff from Infamous Adversaries in my games. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for me as a Dungeon Master using published material like adventures is when I can’t tell what motivates the antagonist. Improvising combat and exploration encounters, handling NPC interactions and keeping the story moving forward don’t trip me up like a villain without an understandable goal. Sometimes even when clearly stated, it can be difficult for me to wrap my head around how a villain’s goal intersects with the adventurers or drives the story forward.
One of the things I like the most about Infamous Adversaries is the succinct entry for each of the 40 creatures inside. In addition to a stat block, each entry includes a brief chunk of text for a hook, the creature’s next moves, their tactics and traits, and special rewards for overcoming each one. This is awesome. I tend to run a lot of one shots, and ongoing campaigns tend to comprise short adventure arcs with an emergent story. This is the kind of book I can pick up, flip to a page and run a D&D session with maybe 30 minutes of prep time to read over the entry and consider how to customize or adapt it for the players.
As I flip through the pages, I’m also seeing lots of other details I like. A particular cocktrice with a name and story attached, organizations, creatures with lair and legendary actions and things like this add even more value for me. Another way I enjoy running games and worldbuilding campaign settings is piecemeal, incorporating things I like from other published work when I use it in a game. So if I used the Leechking for a D&D game, I’d probably add the town of Ylaphron mentioned in the entry to my setting. The book doesn’t include a detailed gazetteer for the town or anything, it’s just the sort of little details that make a product like this appealing to me. It reminds me of the way I played D&D as a kid. We got the module of the week, the adventure says we’re in the kingdom of whatever for the adventure and we ran with it. These days, I mark on the world map any new places the party visits, so Ylaphron would find a place on the map and maybe the party will visit again someday. Even if not, I’ll know for the future the town had trouble with the leechking until a group of adventurers came through.
Infamous Adversaries looks great for DMs who are looking for some inspiration to create your own experiences without an entire campaign or even adventure with everything spelled out for you. Take a creature from here, find a map on Pinterest or elsewhere that looks like a cool environment for an encounter with the creature and you’re good to go. Or maybe one of the new spells or magic items intrigues you, and finds its way into your game. Books like this are re-usable resources with just enough tantalizing content to inspire all sorts of adventures, which is why they’re my favorite. Check out Infamous Adversaries here.
Lamp’s Light Sanitarium
There’s a lot going on within these pages. Considerably more than I anticipated if I’m honest, and all in a good way. The original Kickstarter page describes it as “a horror campaign setting for the 5th edition of world’s most famous roleplaying game.” To be frank I thought it was mostly a longform adventure, and normally I don’t get too excited about campaign settings. But then Matt sent me a copy and I discovered it’s much bigger in both size and scope.
This substantial book for me fills a space in my 5E D&D pantheon I didn’t know I wanted. A lot of D&D books sit on my digital and physical bookshelves, and I draw from all of them at one time or another. But there’s a handful of staples and Lamp’s Light Sanitarium found a place among them. Because to me this book isn’t so much a campaign setting as a guide to exploring a dark corner of your own existing world (or other setting your games take place within).
Flipping through the pages it’s clear Matt and the team of creators thoughtfully approached the project from several angles. Right up front the introduction explains the mature subject matter explored inside, and includes real world resources for people to find help in their own real lives who might be dealing with their own mental health issues.
Horror informs the subject matter in Lamp’s Light Sanitarium, typically not a strong suit for me or a genre I gravitate towards in games, but the evocative art reminds me of the black and white Ravenloft supplements of second edition AD&D so I stuck with the material. The tips for portraying horror contain solid general tips for Game Masters too, and it’s always nice to see reminders like this in text. I’ve been running D&D games for decades and I think any GM would say there’s a lot going on during a game and afterwards you’ll have those “I should have done that different!” moments.
There’s a few pages for adapting the context of D&D stuff for this setting. Lamp’s Light presents a sort of horror by gaslight ambiance and fantastical elements give way to Victorian era sensibilities. Flavorful stuff, but I skimmed this part because if I’m honest I’ll drop this content right in my fantasy setting and tweak it to my taste. I’m an unabashed D&D fantasy nerd, sorry not sorry. In this dark corner of my campaign setting, Tesla (the OG one) technology works for whatever reason and doesn’t spread beyond the sanitarium grounds. In fact in the section on using the content in other settings, the part about making it a Ravenloft Domain of Dread sold me on the whole book right then and there. (Except I’ll use it in my own campaign world as an ambiguous place to pull characters into for horror one shots and stuff.)
A big chunk of the book describes the sanitarium in great detail, along with excellent maps. This description includes historical information about the place both in a factual resource way and through journal entries along with keyed info on all the rooms and areas. I love this sort of stuff. Knowing enough about where the characters adventures take place is a big part of running a game for me. I’ll almost certainly make stuff up in the moment too, but for me imagining what being in the space would be like and then painting a picture of these places with the players is a big draw. The size of the sanitarium and all the rooms means adventurers can visit here many times and still discover new things on return trips.
I also see quite a few random tables all throughout the book, and this makes me happy.
By the time I get to the adventures and the remainder of the book I’m already thinking about using this setting and material in my home games. Quite a few adventures and story hooks wait within these pages, and again I’m excited to explore this material over time. On one spooky visit, adventurers might encounter Baby Jayne. Another time they make the trip to consult with an NPC they met previously, but get caught up in a random encounter.
Appendices make up a hefty portion of the book. A very in-depth system and exploration of sanity rules makes perfect sense in a book like this. Again considering how I’d use Lamp’s Light Sanitarium in my games, I think it would be interesting to only apply these rules in the location. Then adventurers who were familiar with the place would feel an added level of trepidation if they needed to go there. They’d have to deal with a different, peculiar kind of dangerous challenge and I think it would make the place even more ominous and threatening in a way. They might even have to make regular trips there for therapy sessions to work through these issues.
The book includes an appendix of new items, which of course I’m going to steal for games, and persons of interest (i.e. monsters). The first one in there is the Staff Alienist, winning me over right off the bat. I love that book by Caleb Carr, the television series was great and it’s just a cool sounding word in general. And don’t let Matt fool you in the introduction — there’s plenty of weird, fantastical or supernatural elements inside to appease a fantasy nerd like me. The supernatural elements aren’t in your face like a traditional D&D game, but there’s all sorts of macabre and creepy entities lurking about.
For an extra fun surprise at the end, specialty character sheets on yellow legal pad paper put a wonderful ribbon on this book.
Two for the bookshelf
Safe to say, both Infamous Adversaries and Lamp’s Light Sanitarium won me over. Cobbling together a campaign setting adventure by adventure became my go-to method in the last few years and discovering books like these two make awesome resources for the process.
I could grab Infamous Adversaries, find a villainous creature and weave their story right into a game. The unique rewards and bits of attached lore reveal a new facet of the setting together with the players, and that makes for the ideal game session to me.
With Lamp’s Light Sanitarium I’ve got a self-contained dark corner to add to my campaign setting for anytime I want to dip a toe into the horror genre. I feel like so much of the place could remain mysterious to players for years and years of real time and game time. Even on return visits things might have changed, or even more creepy, nothing has changed at all…
Check out Infamous Adversaries on the DMs Guild here.
Check out Lamp’s Light Sanitarium on DriveThru RPG here. (this link includes the discount)