When D&D is the wrong tool for the job

There are times when the Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) game isn’t the most effective tool for the job, even when the job is creating a backstory for a D&D adventure or campaign.

While working on a few non-player character (NPC) anecdotes to add flavor to my next D&D campaign, I was presented with something of a conundrum. I wanted to retell a story of a skirmish-level battle, but most of the participants weren’t standard D&D heroes with classes, levels and powers as explained in the rules. Instead, the protagonists were town watchmen, some militiamen, a guard captain and a fighter with a bit of ecclesiastical training, all people whose abilities are outshined by even a first level D&D character. Without wanting to reduce the combat to a meaningless tussle between minion-type monsters or to draw up a battle story from scratch, I resorted to an infrequently used weapon in my D&D arsenal: a different game system. Continue reading


More fantasy inspiration from real sites

The famous Hanging Temple is a feat of ancient engineering - and great inspiration for a potential D&D setting.

Creating awe-inspiring, fantastic locations for a Dungeons & Dragons game is a challenge placed before every dungeon master (DM). Fortunately, there are real sites that press upon the boundaries of fantasy which can inspire DMs.

During the months that passed since writing this first post on the topic – a post describing the Crystal Cave of the Giants, Bannerman’s Castle, The Barringer Crater and Centralia, Pennsylvania – this writer has learned of three more sites which, with modification, could make ideal settings for a D&D adventure.

The Hanging Temple of Xuankongsi

Construction of this remarkable edifice began in the Sixth Century, in the Chinese province of Shanxi. Also called the Temple in the Air and the Temple in the Void, the structure was built a third of the way up a nearly sheer cliff, roughly 75 meters above ground. Construction began with a massive excavation into the cliffside, large enough to house 40 rooms and six main halls. The subterranean portion of the complex is positioned behind a massive wooden facade extending well into the open air, supported by horizontal beams from within the excavation, wooden pillars from below and the cantilevered weight of the facade itself. Continue reading

Level up your creativity with an ‘imaginary bank account’


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

Need a jump-start on adventure writing? Start with a legend

Yesterday’s post at the RPG Athenaeum delved into the topic of creating Dungeons & Dragons adventures or campaigns around in-game prophecies. Of course, prophecies are not the only way a dungeon master (DM) can use campaign lore to draw heroes into adventure; a similar technique involves using the use of legends, on a local or global scope, as adventure hooks.

Although they often don’t carry as much dramatic weight as prophecies, legends can create a colorful background for a D&D adventure, with the added advantage that, unlike prophecies, player actions can’t oppose or invalidate legends, unless the DM so chooses. In addition, the use of legends establishes a level of expectation in the players’ minds about what is to come. Even a false legend can heighten drama and suspense in an adventure if it involves something truly dreadful.

This posting will explore two approaches to creating legends for a D&D game, labeled “story first” and “result first” for ease of reference. A list of ways through which legends from either approach can lead to adventure will follow explanations and examples of the approaches. Continue reading

Drawing fantasy inspiration from real sites

One way dungeon master (DMs) can make their game worlds unique is through placement of fantastic features. Unfortunately, doing so creates two challenges: first, to complete the creative gymnasitcs necessary for conceiving such locations in the first place, and second, to describe these other-worldly locations in such terms that the players won’t have to complete a major feat of imagination to picture those places, let alone navigate characters through them. Fortunately, there are real sites that press upon the boundaries of fantasy which can inspire DMs, some of which will be briefly described in this post.

The Crystal Cave of the Giants

fantloccrystalcaveThe Crystal Cave of the Giants in Southern Mexico is one such site. Essentially a giant geode discovered adjacent to a mine harvesting silver, zinc and lead ore and located about 1,000 feet (300 m) below the surface, this cave system has an average temperature of 150 degrees Fahrenheit (66 degrees Celsius) with humidity of 100 percent – it is literally filled with water vapor, condensing upon the giant crystals.  Humans can retain the ability to function for six to 10 minutes in this environment. Continue reading