do you have any resources or guides for worldbuilding and reimagining the feywild? not looking for adventure prompts or npcs just your thoughts on setting and how to make the feywild feel dangerous and mystical
Planescape: The Feywild
I won’t lie, the introduction if the feywild is one of the best additions to the default d&d cosmology in a while, not only from a thematic perspective, but gameplay aswell, as it allows any podunk patch of land to act as a doorway to wild adventure. That said, too often this wonderland is treated as a place where things are just wacky, without real attention paid to the narrative possibilities introducing the feywild into a story can have.
To that end, I’m going propose a few different aspects of the feywild, different visions of how things could be drawn from different mythologies and storytelling conventions:
The feywild has no geography: like the notes of a song or the lines of a play, the reality of faerie is reinterpreted with every visitation, Coloring itself based on the expectations and emotions of those exploring it. This is why a child can stumble into a mushroom ring and have themselves a whimsical romp full of talking animal friends and life lessons, whereas adults tend to find themselves ensnared by echoes of their deepest desires and why adventurers ALWAYS find something to fight. If you want to go anywhere in the feywild you don’t need a map, you need a thematic structure that will carry you to your destination: whether that be staying on a yellow brick road through a number of distractions and tribulations, or winning a game of riddles against a talking bird who’ll swear to drop you off at your destination.
The feywild is a place of stories: When a peasant family leaves out milk and performs small acts of thanks for the brownie, they are unwittingly inviting the primal energies of the feywild to fill the space they have made for it, creating a creature that had always been there, looking out for them. Likewise, when folk tell of wonderous places just beyond the edge of the map, the feywild becomes those places, taking solidity from repeated tellings of the tale and incorporating different interpretations to give themselves depth. This is not to say that the translation is perfect, as one can’t simply make up a story, tell it to an audience, and expect it to suddenly become true as it takes a powerful and engrained sort of lies, embelishment, or folktales to give shape to the otherworld. When populating your local fairy-realm or those areas near enough to it, consider what sort of stories people tell about that place, whether it be about monsters that gobble up wayward children or treasure hidden there by bandits long ago.
The feywild responds to your emotions: When your party takes a rest, ask them how they think their characters are feeling. Consider whether they are frightened or foolheardy, adventurous or avricious, and then sketch out some random encounter to spice in along the way as the realm of whimsy responds to the vibes they’re putting out. A party that’s feeling hungry may encounter a friendly fey teaparty or a dangerous lure disguised as a snack, a group that’s feeling pressed for time may hear the horn of a savage hunter stalking them, or a parable about stopping to help others can actually speed you along your own path. In this way, the fairyland is in diolog with the party’s desire to press their narrative forward, and will test or reward them according to its whim.
The feywild is everywhere: one of the underutilized aspects of having the feywild in our games is that a portal to the “shallower” areas of the otherworld can pop up anywhere overtaken by nature, allowing fey beings and other oddities to cross over in a way that creates all manner of adventure hooks. If I’m building a dungeon in the wilderness, I’m personally fond of having a mounting fey presence the deeper in you get, replacing the normal ruin dwelling hazards with troops of hobgoblins, odd enchantments, and various tricksters. For smaller dungeons, the closed off fey portal can be an adventure hook for later, encouraging them to come back when they need to delve into whimsy, whereas for the larger dungeons, a non contiguous fey realm connecting multiple points can serve as a combination of fast travel AND bonus stage. Even for non dungeon locations, consider how much fun of an adventure it’d be if someone discovered that their cellar had been replaced with a fairy’s larder, or that the vine-covered lot where neighborhood kids play during the day transforms into a vast battlefield for sprites during the night.
When most of us think of a ttrpg campaign, it’s fair to say that long-form campaigns are the prototype. Playing with the same group of players in the same world, following multiple plotlines for a very. long. time. The iconic examples of The Adventure Zone Balance, Critical Role, and Rusty Quill Gaming span out-of-game years in the making. And plenty of folks hold those up as the ideal way to play the game.
Have you ever considered...not doing that?
A short-form ttrpg game might be for you and your friends if your schedules are tight; playing a one-off, single-session game may work better when you never know when you’ll have the chance to play again. Some ttrpgs are also simply designed for shorter gameplay, with natural breaks built in where you can end a campaign.
But at times, you still want the character arc, the delight of building character relationships, and the sense of growing tension across multiple “episodes.” Or maybe you prefer the D&D or Pathfinder system and don’t want to learn to play games that have shorter timelines built in.
Enter: the mini-campaign. Spanning anywhere from five to twenty sessions, it can last as long as you and your GM want. Examples include Dimension 20′s games, as well as the Exandria Unlimited series by Critical Role.
To run a mini-campaign, all the GM needs is a few simple elements.
A contained setting.
A problem endemic to the setting.
An antagonist involved in making the problem worse or better.
A defined end-point that will occur in the near-ish future.
For the first, just come up with a specific setting as normal, then have a pretext to keep the party from leaving for too long.
A simple setting could be a single town, sizable enough that the PCs don’t know literally everyone, and the pretext could be the PCs lack the resources to pay for travel. Or they have homes and family ties in town that they don’t want to leave behind.
More complicated settings could be a snowy mountain range where the PCs are stranded after a zeppelin crash, a tropical island resort where they are on vacation, or a polar research station. The world is truly your oyster here, and the more wildly specific your setting, the more wild the storyline can become.
For the second element, a problem endemic to the setting simply means that this place has a problem that is unique in some way. If I leave the tropical resort, the problem likely will not follow me. For example, the tropical island could have issues with their power grid that lead to frequent blackouts, ruining countless vacations. It’s important to understand that the problem doesn’t have to be this major, systemic issue like speciesism or climate change.
The third element, an antagonist involved somehow, means that either the antagonist wants to deliberately make the problem worse for their own gain, or who thinks they’re solving the problem but it has extremely bad consequences in another way.
In a polar research station setting where the problem is that they’ve lost contact with the outside world, one researcher might be trying to kill their coworkers, having accidentally made contact with a chthonic being from the Fantasy Arctic. The researcher thinks they’re saving the world by preventing the group from drilling any deeper and freeing the being--but it’s only chthonic madness encouraging the violence. In reality, the survivors are the world’s best chance at keeping the entity from rising.
In our tropical resort setting, perhaps a scheming tourist is trying to take advantage of the outages to revenge himself upon his annoying in-laws, frame the PCs for the murders, and sue the resort for emotional damages.
The fourth element makes this into a mini-campaign. The story has a win condition and a lose condition, and the campaign ends with one of those two options. In the tropical resort, catching the murderous tourist and clearing the PCs’ names is the end of the story--or failing to do so, and being arrested or murdered themselves. In the polar research station, either the PCs stop the rise of a chthonic entity or they don’t. Win and Lose.
Essentially, the whole campaign has a ticking clock attached to it. Waiting too long to act means the bomb goes off. Failing means the bomb goes off. And you can’t drag the story out for too long, because one way or another, that bomb has to be dealt with.
A mini-campaign is best run at lower levels--anywhere from 3rd to 9th, in my opinion. Any higher and the PCs have too much power. Any lower and they’re functional disasters. I encourage a loose level-up structure based on milestone leveling rather than XP, since mini-campaigns don’t have the structure for several high-XP boss battles.
You can add additional plot threads and antagonists as much as you like, but keep in mind they will make your campaign longer accordingly.
Let the campaign be silly, or break out of the usual genre of swords-and-sorcery. Having a secondary genre, like a murder mystery or cosmic horror, can really make a mini-campaign stand out to your players.
You must run a session zero. This is nonnegotiable. The reason? You will need to establish the relationships between PCs before starting, or they will spend too long in the “getting to know you” phase. It’s also just more fun for your players to have established grudges, inside jokes, and so on. Additionally, since you will not be running a sandbox campaign here, you will need to be sure your PCs are buying in to the setting’s premise.
What I mean by that is, if the party is at a tropical resort, they most likely are there because they like tropical vacations (or got dragged along by someone who does). A PC who isn’t built for a world where they take tropical vacations, or who has no vested interest in enjoying their vacation, is unlikely to care about someone else ruining their vacation. Some things need to be established pre-game to make sure everyone is on the same page. I recommend you also discuss the genre: if it’s going to be a murder mystery, the players shouldn’t act like it’s a slash-and-burn total war environment, or what’s the entire point? Good players will respect the genre they’re told they’re playing in, and avoid being too genre-savvy or too genre-stupid.
the thing i love about DND is its capacity to show how ppl care for one another. this sounds very dumb, but seriously, DM’ing has shown me that more often than not, ppl actively choose to help.
i once DM’d a campaign where the PC’s were parents of middle schoolers. i wasn’t sure how much my players were going to engage with their kids at first, but just in case i made sure their children were well rounded. i gave them struggles i thought were relatable to those at the table, and then i went about planning the big fights and magical plots that i thought the players would find more exciting.
to my great surprise and joy, the players chose to help, support, and care for their fake children at every turn. if they had to choose between getting an awesome magical power and making sure their son didn’t feel insecure about his first gay crush, they would choose the kid every time. the game became about what it means to be a good parent, about what legacy we leave for those who come after. i know it was especially rewarding for those of us at the table who didn’t have that relationship with their real parents, but instead got to give that to their imaginary child.
my personal highlight of the game? when the final battle was not won through heroism and blood, but through a soccer mom offering a thirteen-year-old a hug.
systems to run and play outside of dungeons and dragons/pathfinder that are BEGINNER FRIENDLY and STORY-FOCUSED:
MASKS: A NEW GENERATION (powered by the apocalypse engine, 2d6 core resolution): Play as teenaged superheroes! Emulate the feel of a comic book or animated TV series like Young Justice, Teen Titans, etc. DEATH IS NOT A STAKE (unless you’re The Doomed): emotional trauma is instead! FAST, narratively driven combat; complex antagonists; sessions structured by “scenes” instead of encounters to encourage roleplaying and story above all else! Perfect for folks who love superhero stories, exploring adolescent angst, and colorful combat.
URBAN SHADOWS 1E (powered by the apocalypse engine, 2d6 core resolution): A political urban fantasy game about the debts you owe, and the lengths you’re willing to go to seize power in a seedy city. Think Mortal Instruments, Twilight, etc. Play as a werewolf, vampire, hunter, wizard, etc. all vying for power. A corruption mechanic encourages backstabbing and betrayal between PCs, with the hanging sword of PCs who go too far retiring as NPC threats. Perfect for evil parties and social intrigue-heavy campaigns.
QUEST (d20 core resolution): A fantasy, medieval-suited but genre-expansive system that can replace D&D pretty fluidly, and makes for an easy transition from one system to another. No stats, only features that classes can invoke at will or with a single, unmodified d20 roll. All PCs have the same health and deal the same base damage, making combat a breeze, freeing the GM up to focus on the story. A sliding scale of success from 1 to 20 instead of a binary pass/fail like D&D!
These are just a few systems I’ve either played and/or have run, and can recommend based on my personal experience. Either way, it’s worth looking into other systems to improve and expand your own GMing chops for D&D if nothing else.
Other TTRPG systems you should check out that I don’t have the time to delve into right now: Monster of the Week (PBTA like above, 2d6 core resolution, emulate the feel of an episodic monster hunting show like Supernatural, Buffy, etc.), Numenera (complex system comparable in scope to D&D), Fiasco (GMless, improv only, card based, over the top Coen Brothers movie generator), Root RPG (play as woodland creatures!), Bluebeard’s Bride (play as different aspects of the same woman surviving a murderous pirate!), Vampire: The Masquerade (play as scheming vampires fighting back your thirst!), Call of Cthulhu (classic eldritch horror TTRPG), Jiangshi: Blood in the Banquet Hall (play as a Chinese immigrant family fighting racism and hopping vampires!), Ald-Amura: Monster Care Squad (HEAL monsters instead of kill them; threat clocks advance the story); Star-Crossed (2-player, GMless, Jenga tower based game about forbidden love, PERFECT for couples), Dread (Jenga tower based horror system), City of Mist (similar to Urban Shadows — gritty modern fantasy), and more!!
Check out these systems, and recommend more in the replies!
DM-ing in person (hoorah!!) means that I get to make fun terrible minis again 😂
Behold, the dreaded ancient dragon!! White on one side and black on the other so it's multi-purpose and I can use it again (and also because I scribbled badly and filled it in to fix my mistake)
In all seriousness though - there can be pressure as a DM to have expensive minis and maps, but you can make almost everything you need with some cardboard, some pens, and some paper. I have a $15 cardboard map I've been using for over 5 years now, and some round plastic stands (that I use for cardboard minis like this) that were hand me downs. Plastic dollar store animals and Lego people work great too. Make DnD props with what you have!!
And besides - it gives you very fun and hilarious minis like these ones!!
[ID: two images of a light skinned hand holding up a square piece of cardboard with a poorly drawn dragon scribbled on it in sharpie. One side has just the outline of a dragon, making it look like a white dragon, while the other is coloured in to make it look like a black dragon. End ID.]
What advice would you give GMs who want to run Strahd as a horror-leaning campaign without including the really questionable stuff in the module? I already looked at Mandymod, but I wanted some concrete tips from someone doing it.
Thanks for the ask! This is something I definitely want to expand upon as I continue working through the module, but I’d be happy to share my thoughts and advice on changing the truly copious amount of questionable material in the raw Curse of Strahd module.
As much as we like to shitpost about Strahd in ATSBB, it’s definitely intensely horror-leaning, which I attribute to having clear boundaries and expectations set during our (several) session 0s. I read through the module and changed a ton, which is largely noted in a complicated system of stickynotes and flag tabs in the book, which I’m going to try to to condense under a readmore. Apologies in advance, I’m allergic to being concise.
*Spoilers for CoS module under the cut (safe to read for ATSBB players)
SAFETY TOOLS. You’re going to need them, even if you’re already friends with your table and even if you’ve played through campaigns without them before. There’s a lot of different kinds available and it’s gonna be your call which you want to use. Having these expectations and boundaries set before you play mitigates harm and lets you know what specific plots you’re going to need to change from the raw module. It also gives you as a DM confidence in running horror devices without worrying about hurting your friends.
The RPG Safety Toolkit was curated by Kienna Shaw and Lauren Bryant-Monk and is available for free here, and contains a ton of different tools that might work for your table. For ATSBB, we used a version of the RPG Consent List that I modified for specific concerns I had in relation to CoS and to my own horror preferences as a storyteller. This was helpful because I immediately realized that certain topics that played a heavy role in CoS were on the red list and got to edit those parts before the party ever got a chance to encounter them. We also use the Luxton technique and have Roll20 macros, which I highly recommend in lieu of physical play/pause cards for online play.
HE, STRAHD. This is a big one that I think a lot of people would disagree with especially over on the CoS reddit, but as written, Strahd himself is 1. Extremely triggering and 2. Incredibly boring. He’s this horrible and powerful psychosexual monster, sure, but he’s also…just kind of an incel if you gave him the power of a god? His entire character arc hinges on his failed attempt to woo Tatyana and it truly doesn’t get any deeper than that if you don’t get into the characterization present in the novelizations. I really recommend reading the Strahd backstory in the beginning of the module, keeping the skeleton of it, and bullshitting the rest based on what your RPG consentlist comes back with. You can write an evil, despicable, unredeemable Strahd without making him a sexual predator, which he explicitly is in the books, and you’re probably going to get a much more interesting and wellrounded villain out of it.
FANTASY RACISM. I personally play at a no-fantasy-racism table, and if you also do, you’re going to need to change a lot of Strahd’s backstory regarding Rahadin and the dusk elves. He’s portrayed as a colonizer, slaver, and genocider and even for a horror campaign, that might hit too close to home for a lot of people. If you want me to expand on how I addressed Rahadin and the dusk elves in particular, let me know! I think they are probably my largest divergence from canon and from MandyMod/Dragnacarta’s reddit guides, and I honestly haven't seen a ton of other DMs talk about it.
You’re also going to need to change the Vistani. There’s really just no getting around it–it’s fantasy racist and real-life racist, as they’re explicitly written as a stereotype of Romani people. WotC released an errata that was supposed to address this, but beyond removing the actual anti-Romani slurs, it sucked (Van Richten's Racist Tiger isn't actually racist!! He still has it though, and it still hunts Vistani. But it's because it sniffs people in league with Strahd, who just happen to be largely Vistani, but not all Vistani!!) There are plenty of Romani folks who have spoken to this point way better than I can as a white dude, so I highly recommend doing your research in that regard. Some people I've seen recommend making your Vistani more inspired by actual Romani culture, turning it into representation rather than just a mash up of racist stereotypes. Other people reccommend changing the Vistani altogether, and avoiding racist stereotype that way, which is what I ended up going with.
HARM TO WOMEN & CHILDREN. Oh my god there is so much unnecessary harm to women and kids in this book??? Even for a meatgrinder-y grimdark game, there is harm to women and children to an almost comical extent. Very genuinely, you get graphic harm and death in *every single chapter* in the book. Harm to children was a “yellow light” in my RPG consent list, so I ended up changing most of these encounters. There are some plots in which I mitigated the amount of harm (ex. Gertruda & Mad Mary in Barovia), some plots in which I made it considerably easier for the party to intervene in that harm (ex. Arabelle in the Vistani encampment), and some plots I completely got rid of. Notably, ATSBB did not run Death House nor the Dream Pastry plotline at all and honestly I don’t think this changed the story literally at all.
I’d say that those are probably the biggest points of advice/heads up I can give to a DM who wants to take out the questionable material, but I promise you, no matter how much you plan in advance to change things and mitigate harm, you’re going to have a moment where you reread a section of the module and go ‘oh *god*, why the hell is that in there?’ and you’ll get to choose what to do with that on the spot. The benefit of the module structure is that even with changes, it’s hard to write yourself into a hole you can’t get out of.
In general, I'd reccommend considering what about Strahd and Barovia you want to hone in on as points of horror, and that'll change for every group. For ATSBB, I hone in on psychological horror: feelings of isolation and otherness, the fear of losing hope, and the fear of watching yourself and your loved ones lose themselves to darkness. For other groups, a more violent or aggressive horror, or even leaning into the paranormal aspect of horror may work better. You can then use that to dial back the questionable elements and write in new elements that compliment the story you want to tell better.
I won't lie, Strahd is a daunting module to remove questionable material from, because there is just so damn much of it, but I've still found it super worth running. If there’s any plotlines in specific you’d like me to go into my edits for, let me know! I made significant edits to every plotline except for Argynvostholt, which I pretty much ran as written with some u/MandyMod flair. I’m always happy to subject you all to my thoughts as a DM. Happy vamping!
“More than a door” -- Alan Miller’s random tables for adding special details to dungeon doors, from the “Bazaar of the Bizarre” column of Dragon 41, TSR, September 1980. Some of these table entries require a little creative interpretation. Intelligent doors might open if you match alignments, speak a password, answer a riddle, or wear the robes of the cult that rules the dungeon. A door that “contains treasure” might have a secret compartment revealed if smashed, or simply have gold or silver plated fittings that are tarnished but noticeable upon inspection.
Some sources suggested doors should be found locked 1/3 of the time, and in old dungeons 1/3 might be stuck shut, with only 1/3 opening freely without effort. Many of the special table entries above assume that the party will have to physically bash open stuck or locked doors fairly often (after the thief fails to pick the lock, the lock is “thiefproof” because no parts are accessible from this side, or the wizard has no knock spells available).
The other obvious results of physically pounding on a door include the chance of breaking the door instead of forcing it open cleanly, and the loud noise that can alert nearby encounters. This is why I still always make a party roll every STR check to force a door even if the eventual success is inevitable (and I say “BOOM!” after each attempt to remind the players that they aren’t being stealthy). Extreme number results can mean the door swings open without damage, or is broken down off its hinges, or becomes stuck worse between twisted hinges, lock, and frame. The number of attempts will determine whether someone on the other side is surprised or has time to surprise the party by flipping a table for cover and leveling their crossbows at the door while sending a runner for help that might circle back around the party to close the ambush.
If you're a DM and tired of your players constantly killing important NPCs there is one easy solution. Have the stats ready at all times for every important NPC to possibly be an ancient dragon (color of your choice) in disguise. See! Problem solved!
So, you enjoy playing Dungeons and Dragons, yes? I'm sure we've all seen those YouTubers or podcast campaigns with elaborate setups, a shelf full of sourcebooks, hand-painted minis in fancy glass cases, and a designated table just for DnD with a screen inlaid. But what if you can't afford all that? What if you don't have a steady flow of income, or you can't drop 50 bucks on a sourcebook? Well, you're in luck. This is:
Dungeons and Dragons (on a budget)
For context, I'm a minor. I'm unemployed, since I live in a small town and am not old enough to get a job, and the most money I get per year is from birthdays and holidays. You might be in a similar situation, or you have rent, food, and gas to pay for and not enough money to spend on expensive amenities. Trust me, you don't need all those fancy doohickeys to enjoy a nice round of DnD. So let's rifle through my kit. To start,
My DM screen. This is the screen that came in the DnD Essentials Kit. Trust me, the Starters and Essentials Kits are worth their weight in gold. They're often cheaper than the sourcebooks and come with an incredible amount of information, and even an adventure for your party to play through. These are definitely a worthwhile investment.
Dice! I have a total of 11 sets, with a handful of individual dice. You do NOT need this many. Just one set for you, and maybe some for your players if they don't have them, that's enough. You can buy them in groups of 5 or so sets on Amazon.
Now, for the most important thing.
Notebooks! If you don't have sourcebooks, these are your next best bet. The two I use most often are those on top. In the black one is information you need to make a character or NPC, as well as a standard inventory. The History of Magic book has a summary of every spell from the sourcebooks from Cantrips to 9th level. A lot of this information can be found on the internet for free. This takes a long, long time. But if you have more time than money, these will be worth your while. The other notebooks can be used for organizing campaigns, taking notes, keeping track of combat, etc.
Now for the fun part.
Making things! The spellcards I made for my cleric, so he knows what his spells do. And those towers in the back are dice towers made of paper, tape, and cardboard. We use copy paper to track maps and initiative, we play on our grandma's kitchen table, the players' character sheets came from the essentials kit, I make smaller character sheets for prominent NPCs, and I draw pictures of NPCs and regions to help my players understand everything better. So get creative!
If you can afford sourcebooks and still have enough to survive and pay to take care of yourself and those who depend on you, they are a worthwhile investment. I'd definitely pick up the Player's Handbook to start. Xanathar's and Tasha's Cauldron are also great sourcebooks. These are all of the sourcebooks I own.
I hope you enjoyed this look through how I run my homebrew campaign, and I hope you got some useful tips! Remember, your survival and well-being is top priority. Don't buy an expensive sourcebook if you can't afford to eat without that extra 50 dollars. Survival first, comfort second, DnD third. And you don't need to buy expensive things to play. You can have just as much fun with a piece of paper and cardboard miniatures as your map.
I apologise if this ends up being really long eeek
My main tips would be:
1. Start with one country/location - most of the time it's going to be absolutely ages before your party leaves their home country so you don't need to do the whole world from day one. Additionally, if you don't build the entire world to start with, if your players want to be from a different country it gives both of you more cooperative leeway to build that character
2. When building your country generally the most important question is: how does power work in this country? what does it mean to have power?
This covers political, economic, religious, military and intellectual power.
A basic idea of how all of these function can assist in a lot of the smaller questions that come from world-building such as: what's the police force like? Do people have religious liberty? What's the main industry in your country?
3. When I'm making smaller towns, my first question is always: what is this town known for? and further, how does this effect how the town operates?
Every little town is known for something - and this can firstly, help you roleplay what being in this town is like, and secondly, gives each different location a unique feel.
For instance, my players are just about to arrive in a town that's know for being the home of wizard-researchers. My thought process on building this town was - wizard-researchers probably need/want access to contraband more than other towns (plus it's like, the DnD equivalent of a university town) therefore there is probably a strong criminal element in the town. Wizard-researchers probably build random add ons to their homes, and also experiments can go wrong often. Therefore, bits of buildings fall down often. Therefore, no one will insure any building within the city limits, and the unions won't allow their members to work within the city.
I am also helped along by the map i drew early on of the Candrian Empire (my world) because sometimes location of a city can help facilitate what it might be know for: ie. I have a town in the side of the mountain, it's probably the coal mining town.
Hopefully this helps! I'm happy to provide examples of all of this if the explanation alone isn't clear
Hey you, yes YOU, the person who has a sideblog where they reblog all their d&d content to use as a later reference.
Why the HELL aren't you tagging your shit? Why are you just tossing my stuff (and I presume other people's) into a great big pile and expecting you're going to be able to so find it weeks or months or gods help you, years later? I go hunting in the tags of my own work for validation all the time, so don’t pretend I can’t see you reblogging 3-10 of my posts in a row without a way of sorting them.
Take it from someone who’s had to hack their way through innumerable backlogs of their own making looking for one particular image/idea: you need a system, something that will let you access the content you want with the smallest amount of brain/time investment possible. This advice doesn’t only apply to tumblr, It applies to being a dungeonmaster as well, as any good idea you don’t write down is as good as lost.
So, as a public service I’m going to go through a few different methods I’ve found helpful in keeping my ideas organized, and how you can use them to improve as a storyteller.
First step Journals
See all these? These represent the last 10 or so years of bad ideas, stray thoughts, and anxious scribblings I’ve had while trying to be a better dungeonmaster. The seeds of my best campaigns and my very worst mistakes are in there, as are the fundamentals of my current novel and a hundred other projects ranging somewhere between pre-production and the cutting room floor. If I didn’t have these notebooks on hand, all those ideas would have just slipped into the aether, rather than having a way for me to reference them later. Every time I’m 50-100% through a journal, I go through it and type everything into a google doc, sorting it into dnd/non-dnd related stuff, and then further subdividing it into plot ideas, random concepts, future projects, or mechanical improvements. Every journal gets its own google doc, and from there I suddenly have a decade of ideas at my fingertips, ready to recall.
Next up, DM Binder:
This right here? This is your tome of wonders, your tome of wily wizard tricks, that ubiquitous book that DMs are always pictured with whenever they get fantasy fanart of themselves. Every beginner dungeonmater knows how handy it is to have the DMG or other rulebook on hand so you can quickly page through and address a specific ruling or look something up, but eventually you get enough of a sense of how things should work that you don’t necessarily need to do that all the time.
The instinct to have a book close at hand is a good one, you just need to upgrade the book in line with your skills. That’s where the DM binder comes in, a collection of everything you think you’d need to look up without being weighed down by all the stuff you already have on lock. Fill it with all the cool 3rd party systems you stumble across online, printouts of your own homebrew rules, and resources that help you cover for weaknesses in your natural talents.
For instance, here’s what’s in my DM binder right now:
Bulk grid paper if I need to draw something to explain it to the players
Writeups on the 3rd party XP and Talent point systems I use for levelup
Simplified encounter building rules if I need to create an encounter on the fly. Stand in monster stats.
A one page d1000 list of character traits if I need to create an NPC on the fly. along with nearly 10,000 names.
My simplified loot generation rules, along with a printout of various items that I can use to fill out a horde/magic item shop without having to go into my treasury docs (which is where I keep the good shit)
A writer’s reference guide to different terrain types and the terminology used to refer to different parts of them.
Random town/location/dungeon/quest/villain motivation lists.
Collection of homebrew/3rd systems, separated by combat/downtime/etc
Generic dungeon layouts for different terrain types in case my party stumbles into something I didn’t plan, or if I get very, very lazy.
Under the cut I’m going to go into a few more means to get organized, including a tried and true method of organizing your d&d sideblog that’ll turn your cluttered pile of notes into a solid archive.
Google drive is in invaluable tool if you’re going to be keeping notes, especially because you now have the ability to link between docs. Keep a whole folder full of ideas, and open a new subfolder for each of your campaigns.
I highly recommend having a “random brainstorming” folder per campaign, while maintaining an actual physical journal specifically for at-table campaign knowledge. That way if you need to look something up, you can page through the handy guide you’ve made for yourself, rather than having to wade through all your ideas on past or future adventures.
there’s a lot of really good d&d content out there on Drivethru rpg, r/unearthed arcana and the DMsguild, but trying to sift through all of it for one particular piece of information is going to drive you mad.
Make a D&d folder, and then a folder for every sort of thing you might want to sort: monsters, dm tools, adventures, settings, player stuff, each with as many subfolders as you think you might need. Also be sure to have a “ sorted through” folder if you’re like me and like transferring things like items or subclasses into their own docs.
Circling back to what started this post, I’d highly reccomend developing a tagging system if you want to keep a reference blog, one wiht a bit more detail than just tagging things “art” or “d&d”
When you’re looking back through old ideas, you’ll generally want to tag things in one of three ways:
Practical tags like “Mechanics” if you want to access general information on a topic
Hyper Specific tags like “Barfights” if you want to remember niche posts.
or general tags like “Aesthetic: spooky” if you want to go wide and get inspiration from a lot of different ideas at once.
Hope that helps some of you out there, even if it only saves you a little bit of time in the future, or inspires you to create some new tools for yourself.
saturday d&d tip: although d&d discourages railroading, sometimes you just need to make the party take a long rest because they’re about to walk into a boss battle with no spell slots. to compromise, consider making the guardians of these areas something the players will find deeply unsettling and creepy, such as:
Swarming Bugs With Too Many Legs
A glittery, levitating white orb with an unidentifiable magic aura
A single, faceless mannequin that eerily resembles a party member
A pair of twins about the age of seven who speak in unison
A serene, elderly woman who knits in her rocking chair, apparently oblivious to the eldritch horrors amongst which she dwells
A friendly gatekeeper who, on closer inspection, is an incredibly lifelike marionette with an unseen controller
These and other options will surely induce paranoia, discomfort, and anxiety in your players, and they are far more likely to second-guess their plan to stroll casually into the next chamber.
That is the position that all dungeon masters are in, because you love your PCs and you want them to succeed, but you know that in order for them to truly succeed, you need to try your hardest to destroy them.
—Brennan Lee Mulligan, Dimension 20 Foundry: Making Chungledown Bim (with Lou Wilson)
I recommend you do NOT raise the dc at sequential tries but instead use a failing forward description to allow the player to interact with the situation. This will allow them to change something to make the next skill check make sense. And it doesn’t have to be a one and done.
Picking a lock- A failed check happened as a GM I describe it as sticky. This will allow the player to try to clean the lock in some way to try again. I may even lower the dc.
Perception- a failed check. This one’s harder can can change based on circumstances. A busy street can be an issue when looking for someone. So maybe then player trying to get up on a box. Or maybe someone runs into them as they are looking around. But sometime there’s nothing to find meaning there is not dc to fail. But be fair with your descriptions.
This isn’t fool proof and take a lot of time and practice to develop a failing forward mind set and skill to describe it.
If you're the kind of DM who absolutely loves worldbuilding and lore but struggles to write up an actual plot*, have you considered just, not writing one?
There are lots of great prewritten adventures out there that you can plug into your setting. And I don't just mean locations. You can ask "What does this look like if the cultists serve [your hombrew evil entity] instead?" odds are the only adjustments will be flavor, and hey, you rock at flavor!
Here's a tool you can use to search adventures by environment, types of monsters, and more.
hey so i'm a newbie dm about to retry my first homebrew campaign for the second time, and while my first time around as well as my knowledge of Several D&D Pocasts and general player experience has informed how i'm dming this time around, i'd still appreciate some tips & tricks other dms (specifically those who do homebrew games) have found useful.
for clarity, i intend to focus mainly on the roleplay/puzzle-solving aspects of D&D rather than combat, and i am modifying D&D 5E and inserting my own mechanics and homebrew world just for my own sake.
literally any advice, no matter how basic it seems, is super appreciated!