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!
Dungeon Starter Ideas
Last edited: 10/02/2021
A wise DM once said, “you’re only as original as the obscurity of the things you steal from.”
So here’s a few ideas I stole from my brother, books, TV, other DMs, and my own campaign notes! These descriptors can be purely atmospheric, or you can use the unique circumstances to complicate things for your players!
I’ve marked the ones I’ve actually played with a ♥, in case you want to hear some specifics of how it went. I’ll be updating this list, so keep your eyes open.
♥ A translucent and fragile-looking spire made of ice, amber, glass, or crystal
The hollowed insides of an old, giant tree (dead or alive)
Above the beanstalk, up in the clouds
♥ A forgotten underground tunnel system connecting two cities
A ruined castle half-buried in snow/sand/earth/water
An abandoned mining pit
A Labyrinth, complete with a wandering monster, and a curse which breaks navigational magic
The forgotten corridor between dimensions where outsiders, stragglers, and ideas live
The bones of an ancient, colossal creature
♥ A magic library, with living books and other hazards
♥ An abandoned Frankenstein lab, or construct factory
A high-security bank, prison, etc.
♥ This dungeon seems to appear and disappear at different intervals and locations, meaning coming in (or leaving) is sometimes impossible
♥ Gravity works strangely here. You may find yourself upside-down to the rest of the world, standing on floating platforms that crumble and break in odd directions
♥ This is a pocket dimension with its own set of rules--perhaps literally using the rules of a different board game, arcade game, or rpg
♥ There is a spirit living here who represents the dungeon itself. It is ancient, enormous, eccentric, and with uncertain morality.
The place was built too small or too large for the party (Kobold made, Giant made, etc.)
♥ Magic is distorted here, and spells sometimes cause wild magic surges, or fail entirely
♥ This place has funhouse elements--slides, platforms, and silly, gamey rituals that must be overcome
These are hallowed/desecrated grounds, and as such the land has some effect on holy/unholy magic
♥ This is a malleable mirror/dream world, built by someone’s psyche
Party members swap bodies when they enter. Enjoy your new character sheet!
Local beasties have moved in and built nests
♥ A gang or cult has made this their base
The original host is long dead, but half-broken sentries still patrol...
This place was built and guarded specifically to keep THAT THING contained...i.e. monster types with specific abilities and resistances
♥ There are prisoners who must be evacuated, and monsters which are best left alone...but which are which?
♥ Haunted by ghosts
Mostly/entirely abandoned, but prickling with traps and hazards
Note: There’s no reason you can’t mash a bunch from each list together. Have your ruined castle be on the moon. Have your magical library be a shifting labyrinth. Have your mine be harvesting mana from the bones of a long-dead magical creature. It doesn’t even need to make sense--maybe these catacombs were built like a funhouse by a lich with a strange sense of humour. Get weird with it!
My brother’s wonderful holiday one-shot got me inspired to add a little confusion and whimsy into my world, and so I pass my inspiration on to you. Have fun!
want an easy portrait for your MCs?
look no further!
Use this with your face claims to have a randomly generated portrait “drawn” for them. There’s an online version but I really like the phone’s generated pics better than the online version’s.
Double extra tip. It work with characters made in the Sims.
Note from the Site:
Currently, the AI portrait generator has been trained mostly on portraits of people of European ethnicity. We're planning to expand our dataset and fix this in the future. At the time of conceptualizing this AI, authors were not certain it would turn out to work at all.
DM tips #5
Let cross table RP happen. Nothing feels quite as good as getting to rest the story and left your players interact with one another. When you don't need to worry about who's where, what machinations are happening, and you can just sit and listen, it's genuine bliss.
It also really gets the emotional investment going. Think about the awkwardness of going on a date. You calm down when the not blatantly obvious subjects come up. Not only will your players get invested in each others characters forming personal bonds and frenemies and such, but they will also feel more attached to their own character. When you have to small talk as a character, you will invent backstory you never thought of, just to give yourself something to talk about. And over not long at all, you will feel an attachment bond to your character.
[Image ID: A headshot of GM Connie from Transplanar RPG next to the words, “Professor Chang’s Tabletop Workshop: Sexy Villains.” End ID.]
What makes a D&D villain complex? Compelling? And most importantly... sexy?
Join GM @dndaddyissues TOMORROW, Saturday 9/12, at 3pm CDT on Twitch as she answers this exact question!
A little book of fun random tables by Madeline Hale I found on Amazon.
Pro-Tip for GMs: Give yourself a lil treat every time you run a game. You can have it during the session if you want, tho the best time is usually right after the session.
character backstory building questions for GMs, players, and writers in general:
who raised your character? (parents, grandparents, foster family (atypical humanoids? animals?), siblings, village)
has there been any great tragedy in your character’s life? (loss of a loved one/loved ones, fall into poverty, fall from grace, other traumatising event)
what is your character driven by? (circumstance, wealth, fame, curiosity, sense of adventure, family, revenge)
can your character keep their cool under pressure? (cries easily, stresses easily, gets angry easily, decent at keeping calm, always calm)
is your character open about their emotions? (an open book, keeps some emotions to themself, represses everything)
how easily does your character get angry, and what at? (never angry, frustrated by some things, constantly mad at something. incompetence, unkindness, unwillingness to submit to them, inconveniences)
what is your character’s opinion on other people in general? (apathetic, cynical, trusting, heavily depends on the individual)
how many friends does your character have, and do they make friends easily? (none, one, a handful, many. very difficult to make friends, tricky but manageable, average, easy)
what does your character enjoy? (viewing, performing, consuming)
[Image ID: A bike that’s been modified to have a car steering wheel instead of handlebars. The bike’s frame is labeled, “Combat rules from the PHB, DMG, MM.” The steering wheel is labeled, “My homebrew rule to use gummy bears for monsters so when you kill them you get a delicious snack.” End ID.]
Customizable RPG Consent Checklist
Not the type of thing I normally post, but I like the idea of MonteCooke’s “Consent in gaming” checklist and decided to make a Doc version that you can easily edit yourself.
(Jan 2021 EDIT: I’ve gotten a couple emails requesting permission to edit the “master copy” of this doc, so I’ve updated the link below so that you should be able to immediately save your own copy with no direct permission required and without messing with the master copy. Please let me know if it works.)
Save a copy to your drive
Google Forms version
...I also added a few things I thought were missing, and reorganized ones I thought were misplaced. It’s not as pretty as the original, but its the function that matters.
Bulbasaur is a cool dude, and a favorite of one of my players. They’re largely domesticated, and friendly, and seem to have a good sense of community. They comfort weaker Pokémon, and even have their evolutions held in a big ceremony overseen by an Venusaur. So let’s see what kind of adventures involving these loveable guys your group could get into.
1. While heading to Emerald city the players realize that the vegetable patch they’re walking through is actually a field of hundreds of Bulbasaurs sleeping in the sun. It gets worse when they realize that they’re releasing sleep powder as they nap.
2.while trying to catch some wild Pokémon the players are ambushed by a Bulbasaur! This Bulbasaur escaped from an abusive trainer, and has dedicated his life to stopping other Pokémon from suffering the same fate. He’s already assigned to a pokeball and his chlorophyll ability means he’s ready to fight again in just a few hours. How do the players convince this vengeful boy to leave them alone?
3. A well meaning but misguided Gallade has taken an interest in a player’s Ivysaur. He intends to deliver the flower on its back to his girlfriend as a token of love. He’s been practicing for a while How to cut the bud off without harming the ivysaur, and has even mastered leaf blade to prevent any serious damage. Of course none of this is comforting to the Ivysaur who will still end up maimed no matter how gently it goes.
4. Gender reveal parties are getting a little out of control. A rather wealthy family has hired your party to corral a heard of Ivysaur to the side of a hill across the region. Time to grab a few Rapidash and prepare some trail songs, it’s time for a cattle drive!
5. The players come across a nearly deserted town that’s suffering from some pretty obvious flood damage. Despite the damage the town doesn’t look that upset. There is actually an extremely delicious smell permeating the town. After a little investigation they find that it’s been raining for weeks. Two days ago the rain finally stopped and not long after that sweet scent popped up. The smell has been so good that people all over town have abandoned their duties to find the source: a Venasaur who’s very angry with all the humans bumbling into his territory.
6. A local trainer has been on a hot winning streak. The key to his victories is his Venusar. The Venusaur has a specially made Tiara embedded with multiple sun stones. This allows her to absorb sunlight at an unprecedented rate. Allowing her to use solar beam instantly and activate chlorophyll every single round.
Variants and Shinies
1.Cactus. This breed of Bulbasaur appears where water is scarce, and the temperature is high. Rather than a seed it has a cactus flower growing from its back. It replaces its photosynthesis ability with iron barbs.
Art by Stef Walker
2.pumpkin. A spooky Bulbasaur that appears only one night a year to celebrate Halloween in the pumpkin patches. It has black skin with white splotches along its body that looks like bones. When it evolves into a venusar it’s pumpkin becomes a jack o’ lantern, with a candle burning and everything. As Venusar it gains the fire typing, launching flamethrower from the pumpkin on its back.
Art by VincenzoNova on Deviantart
3.rose. This beautiful variant is very popular in the contest circuit. With a beautiful rose blooming from its back this Bulbasaur gets a bonus 2d6 to its beautiful. Of course every Rose has thorns. This Bulbasaur’s vines are covered in sharp vines, giving it a +2 DB to vine whip.
Art by Butt-Berry
25. what do you do when you feel stuck preparing for a session (ex. not sure where to take the party’s reaction to a hook and nothing’s coming to you)? how do you work through it?
Usually when I feel stuck preparing for a session I have a few options. I have the rubber ducky approach which is where I grab a person who isn’t one of my players (usually one of my siblings) and I just talk about my campaign, what happened last session, what direction I need to move the party in, the overall plot, etc. until something comes to me or they suggest something I can work with. This is also helpful because having to explain my campaign over and over again gives me a larger perspective on the game as a whole and can help clear my head of whatever little specific problem was keeping me stuck to begin with.
Another good strategy is to try to break it down into smaller parts. A few sessions ago I got really stuck planning a large adventure for my party and I had no idea how to structure all of it and how to set up the encounters, and puzzles, and political struggles of all these different characters. Then I realized we could never cover all of that in one session. Instead I came up with the basic premise, a rough idea of what I wanted to take place, and then planned as much stuff as I thought my party could handle in just one day and left the two big encounters I had planned for the next two sessions so I could focus on them one at a time (and also tweak them if my party did something crazy and unexpected). Breaking down the planning into smaller pieces like encounters and puzzles and role playing sections will help make things seem more manageable and can help me identify where exactly I’m getting stuck. If I can plan the encounter but not my big bad’s motivation then maybe I need to sit down and look at my overall plot a bit more. If it’s the other way around then maybe I need to spend some time looking at stat blocks and other fun fight inspiration. If this still isn’t helping sometimes I’ll break those pieces into even smaller pieces. If I’m making a combat encounter then I need to plan the room layout, the enemies that will be fought, maybe tweak or create stat blocks, and also plan how this fight will tie into the story. If I’m making a plot hook I need to think about my player character’s motivations, interests, but also my actual player’s interests and what would be fun for them, then how to throw out this plot hook in a natural way that ties in with everything else. This helps me identify the individual portions of my campaign planning that are tripping me up and giving me problems so I can work around them without feeling overwhelmed or frustrated.
If all else fails then I have what I call the procrastinator’s approach which is where I find some nonsense silly side quest to send the party off on to buy myself another week to work on the campaign. I have a list on my notes app of a bunch of different silly side quests I could give the party especially for in between larger story beats that require more planning. Some of these are stolen from the internet and some are basically just shitposts my friends came up with that I turned into a real encounter (like when my party fought just a fish with legs.) The good part about this strategy is that it usually acts as sort of a creativity warm up. Coming up with short, silly, fun encounters with really no limits is easy and gets my brain in the right headspace to work on the more complex and serious stuff that comes after. And who knows, maybe the silly filler will even become an integral part of the plot. My fish with legs encounter was actually foreshadowing for the final boss but I didn’t know that when I pulled it out of the blue to fill time.
Family in D&D
This topic has definitely been covered before, but I am personally against character concepts where their family was killed (with exceptions, of course). Your character having a family grounds them in the world of the game and keeps them engaged with the narrative.
If your character has a family in the game, then it allows for more character motivation, which will make the character more interesting to play. For instance, your character could be incredibly family oriented, but has been exiled from their community until they can prove themselves. Or, you could be sending a portion of gold from every encounter back to struggling family members. Alternatively, your character could have a family who mistreated them and their story is a revenge quest to destroy their family and their reputation. It will also force your DM to create NPCs for your family, and that will tie you into the narrative and show that the DM cares about your character’s connections.
If your character has real connections in the world that are indirect (outside of the party), it will make them feel more real and more connected to the narrative. Any detail about the character that fits within the setting will help the illusion that this is a place that is living and breathing despite being fictional. If the player knows the name of their character’s mother and the town she is from and a few details of their childhood in the town, the character will be able to roleplay more effectively and might even be excited for when the campaign might bring them home to visit
This should go without saying, but the DM’s opportunities with a living family are endless. I will list possible adventure hooks and concepts off the top of my head below.
The party gets a care package from the rogue’s mother.
The town where the paladin’s family lives is being attacked.
The party passes through a halfling village to visit their bard’s family.
During an encounter with the BBEG, they hold up a crystal ball that shows the homes of the party’s parents.
The party stays at a stuffy noble’s house because the fighter needs to go home for a reunion.
The cleric’s sister tracks down the party to tell them that their father is sick from a mysterious disease.
The party must choose between fighting the BBEG or leaving to save their family.
A party member’s family is working with the BBEG.
A party member has a sibling who is a slightly more successful adventurer.
A party member’s family is very worried about them and checks in magically from time to time.
A party member has to go home once a year to tell their aging father stories about their adventures.
A party member’s grandmother dies and they have to go to the funeral and attend the will reading.
Direwolves are stalking a forest nearby the small village where the rogue’s family lives and they ask the party to bring a basket of sweets through the woods to the rogue’s grandmother’s house, but something seems amiss.
Planning a contemporary Call of Cthulhu homebrew oneshot
Anyone got some tips for a beginner keeper on how to plan out a scenario?
Hey. Here’s a fun fact. If you are a tab hoarder, like myself, and you have to restart or close down your internet (or just want to clean up all your tabs).
Press CTRL + Shift + D and it’ll save all your tabs to a single file within your bookmark tabs.
Idk if I’m the last one to learn about this, or what-- but wowsers. That’s a life changer.
I've quickly whipped up a second puzzlescript game called Arcane Runes, where you turn crystals on and off to match a colourful pattern. It comes with a few quick brainteasers, so try the tutorial and give it a shot ;)
Why's this tagged for ttrpgs, I hear you asking?? well, it's designed as a GM tool. I added an in-built level editor which creates solvable puzzles every time! Once you've cracked a few runes and you understand the rules, press x four times to activate the editor.
If you want to whip up a quick, easy puzzle on the fly, and you want it to be in the exact shape of any shape (be it a unique divine symbol, a nefarious rune, or a classic dick-n'-balls) this might just be the game for you!
i love dming
On the Use of Thinbloods in your V5 Game
Or, The Secret Origin of @sorchamidnite
I've used a Thinblood as a guest star in an ongoing chronicle. I have a player who doesn't really do long-haul stories (she's very good, but she doesn't like games that turn into homework: short, committed arcs are her thing). Her character is a chaotic Gen Z gremlin, connected to the PCs' Mawla figure (as far as they're aware IC, she's his biological daughter and also his childe, only one of which is actually true), and we unleash her on the story whenever we need a session's breathing room from the Revised-style machinations that take up much of our attention, or need to be dragged down to Planet V5 for some street level problems on the Rack.
It works because a) the Thinblood is connected to something the players have put coterie dots into: they're invested in Sorcha's da, so they're invested in her, and b) because it gives the players someone who's even more baby than their characters and needs looking after. It helps that c) she has Resources, Looks and a Discipline Affinity: at the start of our chronicle the PCs had two dots in Resources between the three of them and no in-house Oblivion. There's a strong Hecata presence in the city and none of my original players were playing one, so having a friend who can clue them in to Spooky Goings On is really handy.
I think if you have a similar situation - a player who wants to commit something different to the game and doesn't necessarily care about the long haul - this kind of occasional guest character works well, and that's probably the best way to integrate a lone Thinblood (unless you've decided to pick a Merit package that lets them act like a less sycophantic ghoul, with capacity to operate in daylight: that can also be fun, but the player still needs to like doing solo scenes and the group dynamic needs to be comfortable with that).
When I was building Glasgow by Night I also seeded a few other thinblood characters (four, plus this one who became a guest PC) and a thinblood-focused plot hook or two, in case the players wanted to give an all-thinblood chronicle a try.
The specific story hooks I went for were the Bahari cult (for reasons that don't necessarily summarise well - how long are you here for conversations about the Last Daughter of Eve, Lilith bullshit, and creative interpretations of the Gehenna canon?) and the Ashe conspiracy introduced through Chicago by Night (making drugs out of vampires, which resonates with both Thin-Blood Alchemy's use of the body as crucible and the idea of thin-bloods as disposable citizens, tolerated but not valued, nobody caring if they live or die as long as they don't bring the hammer down on any real Kindred).
I think to make them work you need to either go into Alchemy or a Discipline Affinity. Not both, but certainly one or the other. This isn't so much a mechanical problem as a thematic one. According to that Achilli person (who knows what he’s on about) the supernatural powers in the players' hands are a key element: without it, Vampire is just Mad Men, horrible people doing horrible things to each other for boring reasons. It's feeding and the blood bond and Disciplines that introduce those lurid, monstrous, capital-G Gothic elements and elevate the game into passion play, and characters without those elements feel a bit... off-message, for Vampire.
One might argue that the thinblood "daywalker" who can fulfil the ghoul niche is a kind of double-negative version of this, rich and strange by their sheer contrast to other vampires, and I think if your table focuses heavily on vampires and vampire society then the thinblood can be a ray of light in the midst of all that. A touchstone with a little t - although now I want to make a Thinblood the focus of a Coterie Type, in the same way that locations or slumbering elders might be. Time to break out that Last Daughter of Eve concept again...
I'd also say it helps to "theory craft" every character in the context of a Session Zero in which you establish what the chronicle's going to be like, roughly where the arcs are going to go, what dramatic (or tactical) role everyone's going to take on. Every element of a character from Discipline spreads to Merits and Flaws to Predator Type is a potential contribution to that emergent drama. Thinbloods are no different.
In particular you want to look at what the Thinblood Merits and Flaws enable and complicate, whether they play along the same sectarian lines (good for fitting a Thinblood into a group of full Kindred) or whether they're all pulling in different ways (good for fostering conflict within a Thinblood group).
You'll also need to think about feeding. Thinbloods don't have a Predator Type, and so they don't have the raw dots in Merits, Abilities and specialities that enable easy feeding. It's harder for them to just tamp down on the Hunger, which means they're going to need help, or they're going to need their consequences managed. In either case, expect feeding to be even more significant than normal, and accidents to be more common.
Bottom line: I think a Thinblood or two can play a role in your proper Kindred chronicle if the players' interests and preferences create the right space for them. I think an all-Thinblood chronicle is interesting if you want to back away from what classical Vampire is about and really focus on Your Little Guys and how they make it night to night, with both the proper Kindred and the threat of the Second Inquisition as these looming threats they don't really understand. It would also be fun, maybe, to experiment with different paradigms for vampirism by not having any 'true' Kindred around at all - that'd be a neat way to run a lore-agnostic or post-Gehenna chronicle, although by that stage you're not so much playing Vampire: the Masquerade as using its rules to do your own thing.