Scope, Worldbuilding, and the DMs Guild

I see a lot of folks new to the Guild coming in with Big Ideas ™ about their worldbuilding project. Those Big Ideas are almost 100% likely not appropriate for the Guild

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New Releases!

Holy crap is there a lot of new stuff to report. 

I had a bunch of things come together at once over the past few weeks, which means there’s new stuff for you to check out! Click the images to go to the product. 

Wyvernseeker Rock is a short adventure for Travis Legge’s gritty OSR fantasy setting Odysseys & Overlords. Good old-fashioned exploration of ruins in a wilderness. What could go wrong?

Speaking of OSR, here’s a 5e adventure I released a few days ago. The Cult & the Tribe is specifically designed to have an OSR look and feel, but still be fully compliant with the D&D 5e rules.

It’s been a long time coming, but Volume C of the Encyclopaedia is out! (In case you didn’t know, the Encyclopaedia Formulae Arcana is my attempt to take every single spell from previous editions of D&D and update it for 5e.)  This volume took a while because it’s got nearly 400 spells in it. That’s a ton of content, right? 

Finally, there’s this:

Blood, Salt, and Bones is a supplement to support your Saltmarsh campaign. It’s got a ton of content. Click the link for the full list of what you get. It’s a lot. And it’s on sale! 

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Selling on DMs Guild – Pros and Cons

 

I’ve been selling 5e work on the Guild since pretty much the beginning. I’ve experienced some small success on the platform. In that process, I’ve seen a lot of flap out there about selling your content on the Guild. Some of it is kind of true. Some of it is false. Some of it is absurd. This is an attempt to address some common misconceptions.
 
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Railroading – WTF?

I see a lot of sound and fury about railroading on various internet fora. Trouble is, I think almost all of it is bullshit.

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Want to give me some help?

I’ve been resisting the idea of Patreon and Ko-fi for months, but I’ve finally bitten the bullet and made accounts.

Here’s my Patreon, and here’s my Ko-fi.

Love you guys! Thanks for your support!

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Thanks for your support!

Thanks to your awesome support, Skill Challenges has become a Platinum best-seller at the DMs Guild!

I never thought my little ditty on how to bring a cool 4e mechanic into a 5e game would resonate with so many people.

I’m honored and humbled.

Thank you!

 

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Black Flame Zealot – a 5e Rogue Subclass

In Thay, the Red Wizards rule with an iron fist.

And yet, though the Red Wizards would never admit it, there are those they fear, those they can’t control.

Meet the Black Flame Zealot, a Rogue subclass! Inspired by and adapted from the 3.5e prestige class in Unapproachable East, the Black Flame Zealot blends the stealth, subterfuge, and damage output of the Rogue with the divine magical support of the Cleric to make new and flavorful characters for your Forgotten Realms campaign.

The Black Flame Zealot is mechanically balanced to match the Arcane Trickster rogue subclass, so you can be assured that this subclass won’t unbalance your party.

This is just a tiny part of a much larger project coming later this summer. Stay tuned!

You can get it here for less than a dollar!

Also coming soon: A tutorial on how I update things from previous editions of D&D to 5th edition. It’s both easier and harder than it sounds.

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Random Encounters Are Dumb.

Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s unpack that, shall we?

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Adventure Review – The Dreaded Tunnels of Ruxabar

There’s a lot to like in this adventure. (Click the image to be taken to the product page at the DMs Guild in a new tab. Yes, my affiliate number is on it, so I get a tiny kickback if you buy it.)

It’s your bog-standard “out and down” dungeon crawl, which some folks might yawn over, but there’s a really cool premise I found quite interesting, and there’s plenty in the adventure to keep your players on their toes. It manages to cover two of the pillars of play very well. Slayers will have plenty to kill. Explorers will find plenty of areas in which to poke and prod. Roleplayers won’t find as much joy, but that’s the nature of an out-and-down dungeon crawl, so I can’t fault the writing team for that.

The dungeon itself is as dangerous as many I’ve seen. It’s not as lethal as Tomb of Horrors, but Tomb of Horrors isn’t really a good dungeon. There are too many ways to just die in ToH, with player choices and character competency having no meaning. The Dreaded Tunnels, like all good dungeons, is accommodating of player agency. If a PC dies in The Dreaded Tunnels, it’s their own damn fault. There are plenty of ways for PCs to get dead in this adventure, but they’re all due to choices players make (and die rolls, of course). I stand firmly behind that. 

There are new and interesting monsters, plenty of loot, new and unique magic, and compelling NPCs.

Much of the art appears to be custom-sourced, and it’s executed to a very high standard. 

The map is an excellent, high-resolution PNG that can easily be slotted into your favorite VTT. The adventure also comes with a custom token pack for your VTT game, which is a pleasant surprise.

The layout is fairly well-executed. The text is laid out in a serif font, which I prefer, and I found it clear and easy to read. There are some problems with the fully-justified layout, like last lines of paragraphs spread across the entire line. These are pretty damning errors for a product which credits a graphic designer and layout artist, and could use a fix in an update.

The text is where my trouble with this adventure begins. For all the pretty, for all the maps and tokens, for all the ingenuity of the premise, it’s just…well, there’s no easy way to put this, so I’m just going to say it: It’s just poorly written.

There are grammatical errors, there’s shotgun punctuation, there’s apparently random capitalization. Those are objective fact. There’s way too much flavor text, which I admit is entirely subjective.

That’s one thing. I can get beyond that to a certain extent, especially if the premise of the work is good, like it is here. But the writing in this adventure is so bad it gets in the way. It especially gets in the way of easily DMing the adventure.

5e mechanical text looks a certain way. Take a poison needle trap, for instance. Here’s the Tier 1 example from my favorite online SRD:

A poisoned needle is hidden within a treasure chest’s lock. Opening the chest without the proper key causes the needle to spring out, delivering a dose of poison.

When the trap is triggered, the needle extends 3 inches straight out from the lock. A creature within range takes 1 piercing damage and 11 (2d10) poison damage, and must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 hour.

A successful DC 20 Intelligence (Investigation) check allows a character to deduce the trap’s presence from alterations made to the lock to accommodate the needle. A successful DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools disarms the trap, removing the needle from the lock. Unsuccessfully attempting to pick the lock triggers the trap.

Here’s how the writers of The Dreaded Tunnels did it:

The chest is trapped with a poisoned needle, requiring a DC 14 Investigation check for the players to spot it. Once identified, DC 14 Sleight of hand check to disarm. If unsuccessful, when opened, the target takes 1d4 poison damage. The lock requires a DC 12 thieves tools check to unlock, or DC 15 Strength to break it with a crowbar or similar tool.

It’s like the writers never really took on board how 5e mechanical text is supposed to flow. It’s like they’ve never designed a 5e adventure. Hell, it’s like they’ve never read a 5e adventure, because mechanical description is uniform throughout Wizards publications, including AL adventures.

The DCs are wrong for Tier 2 characters, which is the stated design tier. It doesn’t take too strict an eye to notice these checks are too easy for Tier 1 characters. Some of the checks are wrong. All of the skill checks in this example either fail to list the relevant ability or, if it includes the ability, fails to tell you what to do with the ability. In other words, the text includes none of the adjudicating shorthand official Wizards 5e (and quality 3rd-party) adventure material has made you come to expect.

This is not an isolated incident. This is the standard throughout the adventure.

Elsewhere, there are mechanical things mixed in with the flavor text, like this:

If you decide to go on your left, you notice that the room is filled with nothing else than an unbearable stench that makes your insides turn. Make a constitution saving throw (DC 12) against puking. At the end of the room you finally notice what generates this horrendous smell.

This is supposed to be a room description. Reciting a player choice which should have been established before beginning to read, then giving the room description, then calling for a saving throw (formatted incorrectly), then removing player agency by assuming the PCs went further into the room, in the process contradicting the first bit of room description, is just…wow.

Again, this is not an isolated incident.

Summary

Practically speaking, if you’re an experienced 5e DM, you’re going to need to really dig in to the 2 out of 5 text to ensure you know precisely what the designers are trying to achieve. Spending the time to do that will likely mean that this adventure will take more time to prep than simply designing your own adventure from the ground up (and needing to spend any time at all to prep a canned adventure other than read it once or twice means 1 out of 5 convenience) . But if you’re prepared to do that, you’ll get a cracking 5 out of 5 concept. Additionally, if you run online, you get a lot of 5 out of 5 assets.

I can’t in good conscience give more than 3 out of 5 stars for this adventure. Submitted to a thorough editing and a top-down rewrite can bring it to 5/5. If that happens, I’ll revise this review or add a comment to it.

Again, click the image to be taken to the product page at the DMs Guild in a new tab. Yes, my affiliate number is on it, so I get a tiny kickback if you buy it.

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New Location and NEW STUFF!

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here, friends. But it’s for a very good reason — I’ve moved!

We’ve gone and moved ourselves, our doggos, and our businesses from the USA to the Netherlands. We left at the tail end of November 2018, and we’ve been settling in to our new digs in the village of Eersel in the south of the country. We love it here.

Due to the stresses of moving, I haven’t had much chance to write new stuff for the DMs Guild. I’ve mostly been editing other people’s stuff (look for a post about those soon!).

But I have released a few things.

First is Guildbook of the Watchful Order, a supplement for your Waterdeep: Dragon Heist game.

The book details a new faction, as well as a bunch of new spells, a new background, and a feat.

Second, and most important relative to my lack of output, is the first volume of my magnum opus: Encyclopaedia Formulae Arcana.

The Encyclopaedia is my attempt to track down Every. Single. Spell. from previous editions of D&D, from 1st Edition AD&D to D&D 3.x, and update it for the 5th Edition rules.

I’ve just released Volume A, which contains more than 125 spells.

Future volumes will be released through the course of 2019 (and probably 2020!).

If you subscribe to my email newsletter, you’ll get a notification whenever I release something new. Click the link at left or the link in the menu above to sign up.

As always, if you have anything you think I should know, leave a comment or send me an email! I’m always keen to hear from you — especially if you know of a spell I’ve missed in the Encyclopaedia!

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