1e to 4e: Bringing wandering monsters back into D&D


Random monster encounters played an important role in character advancement in early editions of D&D and in many video RPGs, as this assortment of random monsters for Nintendo’s Dragon Warrior game illustrates. Image copyright strategywiki.org.

While perusing some old .pdfs of legacy edition Dungeons & Dragons modules, I was struck by how common random monster encounter tables were in the old adventures, and was reminded of the prominence of random encounters in the rules themselves. The first edition (1e) Dungeon Master’s Guide had an entire appendix devoted to such encounters, and the 1e Monster Manual II included an index that grouped creatures from three monster volumes by terrain and encounter frequency, to make generating one’s own encounter tables easier.

I was also struck by how such tables are absent in every fourth edition (4e) product I’ve thus far seen.

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Villains can learn a lot from Murphy’s Combat Laws


Most people are familiar with the humorous concept of Murphy’s Law: if something can go wrong, it will. And while this adage may not be mathematically possible, it holds true often enough for dozens of derivative “laws” particular to various industries or situations.

Of particular use to the dungeon master (DM) in this regard is this listing of Murphy’s Law of Combat Operations, containing more than 100 humorous observations about the not-so-humorous activity of actual warfare. Although most of the sayings presented there relate exclusively to modern warfare, several could be applied to how a Dungeons & Dragons villain might deploy his troops in combat encounters.

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Let Slip the Dogs of War, Part III


Chinese military theorist Sun Tzu was a leading proponent of today's maxim.

This posting is the third in a three-part series which explores how a Dungeon Master (DM) can apply accepted axioms of war to enhance the structure and mastering of combat encounters in a Dungeons & Dragons game. These axioms, and the historical examples used to illustrate them, are drawn from the writings of military historian Bevin Alexander, such as those found in Rules of War.

If he or she hasn’t done so already, the Gentle Reader may consider reading Part I and Part II.

While not every monster in a D&D game will be familiar with all of the tactics described in this series, those who are intelligent or have intelligent leadership will certainly employ them if the need arises.

Thus far in this series, we’ve examined the tactics of striking at enemy weaknesses, defending, then attacking, and occupying the central position. This installment of the series will focus upon Operating on the Line of Least Expectation and Least Resistance. Continue reading

Let Slip the Dogs of War, Part II


This posting is the second in a three-part series which explores how a Dungeon Master (DM) can apply accepted axioms of war to enhance the structure and mastering of combat encounters in a Dungeons & Dragons game. These axioms, and the historical examples used to illustrate them, are drawn from the writings of military historian Bevin Alexander, such as those found in Rules of War.

The first post in this series can be found here.

While not every monster in a D&D game will be familiar with all of the tactics described in this series, those who are intelligent or have intelligent leadership will certainly employ them if the need arises.

The first part of this series descibed the tactic of striking at enemy weaknesses; this part will discuss the maxims of defending, then attacking and occupying the central position.

Defend, Then Attack

Typically, attacking forces believe themselves to be stronger than defenders, and defenders generally consider themselves weaker than attackers (if the defenders perceived themselves to be strong enough, they would attack, or so goes conventional wisdom). This maxim surfaces when a commander chooses to defend, even though he is strong enough to attack.

The maxim is employed when a commander is aware that he has a better weapon or tactical system than his foe. The superior weapon or tactic would enable his troops to defend so well that the attack would certainly fail, thereby demoralizing and/or scattering the attacking force and enabling the defending commander to immediately counterattack while the enemy is disorganized. Continue reading

Let Slip the Dogs of War, Part I


Combat encounters hold extraordinary potential for generating excitement in a Dungeons and Dragons game. Unfortunately, many in-game combats degenerate into dice-rolling exercises, with little or no tactical planning on either side. Ultimately, one side or the other wins a war of hit point attrition, after which a victorious party proceeds to the next encounter or fallen heroes are replaced with new characters.

Practical application of accepted axioms of war can greatly enhance the structure and mastering of combat encounters. When these maxims are applied to encounter design, the Dungeon Master (DM) can expect two results: unique combat challenges for the player characters, and encouragement for the players to begin thinking in tactical terms.

 The military axioms to be outlined in this three-part series are drawn from military historian Bevin Alexander’s Rules of War. While not every game monster will be familiar with all of the tactics described below, those who are intelligent or have intelligent leadership will certainly employ them if the need arises.

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Level up your creativity with an ‘imaginary bank account’


Daydreamer

Keeping an "imaginary bank account" for RPG inspiration can aid your adventure preparation.

Most Dungeon Masters (DMs) seek to develop exciting, engaging Dungeons & Dragons adventures filled with vivid descriptions and evoking the complete range of human emotion. Doing so is no easy task, especially if a DM has limited preparation time.

One way to increase the creative output of your adventure planning sessions is assembling an “idea file” where fragments of adventure ideas and game elements can be piled between formal planning sessions. Such a file works rather like a bank account for your imagination, where you can deposit or withdraw inspiration as necessary.

Although inspiration isn’t something that can be manufactured for this purpose, many DMs have “dungeoneering on the brain,” where concepts and ideas not even related to the fantasy genre can inspire game-related elements. It is that condition which, when harnessed and directed into an imaginary bank account, can greatly increase the level of originality and creativity in a D&D campaign. Continue reading