DM Diary: Short-cuts and fast play

So it happened, we played another game of DnD.

***Spoliers if you have yet to play The Mines of Phandelver***

Its been a slow affair. Everyone in the game has things going on and stuff happening but with dedication we might finally finish The Mines of Phandelver. In order to achieve that goal I talked about streamlining the game in my last entry. And thats exactly what I did. The problem with the campaign from our point of view lied in its open world aspect. Unfortunately planning out all eventualities is something my brain cannot handle. In this game I streamlined the process in order to allow me to focus on one thing and keep the game moving at a fast pace.

Our merry band of adventurers where off this time to see a Druid named Reidoth in an old ruined town by the name of Thunder Tree.

Before this i gave the Group an option to heal up and re-stock on supplies. Instead of making them act it out i just had them pay a 5 gold upkeep cost. This is another way to try and keep the game progressing faster.

Thunder Tree has allot of small houses and shops to explore; all of which have been abandoned. The map for Thunder Tree is also very much non-directional, meaning that the players can do whatever they wish and miss out bits completely. This raises the issue of giving the players to many options and not a focused objective.

I redesigned the village to be more linear. Took out half the options and made the whole thing one quest. This allows me to preempt the parties action easier and allow me to spend more time planing out things they will likely do. Before it was a case of covering everything just incase they do something; and I ain’t got time for that.

On entering the village the group meet Reidoth. He asks what the adventures are looking for and they reply by asking if he knows the location of Cragmaw Castle. He replies yes; and is willing to hand over the information if the group can accomplish one task for him. kill the dragon occupying the tower on top of the hill.

Yep we are fighting a dragon in a tower, pretty original.

Before this the party investigates the abandoned buildings in the village. They kill a few spider and collect some loot. In order to reduce the time spent discussing the loot and who gets what i introduced a new system where they can sell the loot to the DM instantly at a marked down cost and split the money evenly.

This idea of a “quick-sell” allows the adventures to avoid long conversations about selling items or keeping track of the stuff they need to sell. All they need to do is keep track of the money. For more weighty goods; like diamonds, emeralds, trinkets etc the group can choose to keep them and barter with a tradesman in town. But for things like silver rings and old swords they can sell instantly.

The adventurers then entered the tower to fight the dragon. This was probably the group first real fight were they could actually loose. It started off with an acrobatics check to see if they could avoid the dragons fire. For some this worked, others it did not work so well.

We have slowly moved away from the grid system and now describe and act out what we wish to do with everyone coming to an agreement of the state of the fight as we go through it. This is fine but i still feel the state of the fighting in the game is a bit stale. Choosing to move ‘x’ and then do action ‘y’. In the future im going to make my enemies do unpredictable things and move more. At the same time give the player freedom to do more in their turn. They have the option to use a major and a miner action, which i think could be utilised better.

I also want more enemies with lower health; and larger enemies to have more turns per fight. This way more stuff can happen and it adds another level of difficulty to the game.

So next game I will be introducing more enemies, who do more. But also give the players more freedom.



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DM Diary: Once more in to the mine

Our little Dungeons and Dragons group got together again this weekend for another action packed adventure. We are still pushing forward with The Mines of Phandelver and managed to flush out the Redbrand Bandit leaving the town safe for now against the local chavs. I like to think of Phandelver as a nicer Luton, you know since the murder rate is probably lower.

In this game we had some fun with animal masks and hand signalled role play. We have never taken DnD too seriously, after all we are here for fun not to read the rules in silence and sacrifice goats to the dice god.

After learning about the location of the Redbrand brothers hideout from the farmers son Carp, our adventurers took their pain-train over to the sleeping giants tap house to see if they could gather any more information from the regulars. This cause of action led to a fight between some lingering Redbrand. After a little scuffle and some head crushing the group learned more information about the local annoyance.

This scenario played out well, we stepped away from the grid system and acted out the scenario in our heads.

This scenario played out well, we stepped away from the grid system and acted out the scenario in our heads. It wasn’t completely void of a pen and paper, some loose diagrams where drawn about where everyone was but nothing to formal. This lead to the group engaging more with their imagination leading to a much more intresting encounter than your standard grid based battle.

With all this information the group decided to take the secret entrance into the hideout and see if they could convince the locals that they were the newest members of the Redbrand after stealing the clothes off the men they had just beaten.


After a few encounters they where left having to convince 3 Redbrand they where part of the crew and the bard convinced them that he was the entertainment. The other members not in disguise had to convince them that they where in-fact the a band accompanying the bard – allot of charisma checks in coming.

This lead to a “The Voice” scenario and although they managed to convince WILLIAM that they were part of his cyber revolution things soon became unraveled. After a few failed charisma checks our merry group of singers became the butchers of Redbrand manor. Although the law abiding members of the group decided to spare some of the younger Redbrand members in exchange for information, this did not hold up with the more morally challenged and so some necks where left open after other members of the group had left.

Its become obvious now that the team is split on its morals and this will likely become a bigger theme later on when instead of it becoming something done out of sight the options will be laid bare in front of them.

The general theme of our encounters so far had been loose, based on what we all accepted as the situation and so ideas flowed and fights ended quickly. We did however act out the final fight with the mage running the Redbrand which unfortunately worked out to be less epic. None of my spell where particularly powerful and at no point did the party feel under any strain. It also didn’t help that I had 6 players rolling an action before a spell could be used. Future boss fights will need to be faster passed and make the party feel like they are in very real danger, unfortunately the end of this dungeon kinda failed.

Despite smashing our way through the Brotherhoods hideout we found ourselves at another pause. I managed to outline what the group has been up to and what the group needs to do in the future and hopefully will lead the game into a more linear experience in the next episode. This will require some skewing of the campaign content, although I will be taking away some sandbox aspect of the game and narrowing the options this is what was expressed to me by the players – more a straight line, than a squiggle.

This idea of narrowing the options is good for me as a DM. My main problems lye in remembering all the details of each individual encounter and with the option for the players to go anywhere or do anything my ability to be prepared for the encounter goes out the window. Unless I sit down and religiously read through the whole campaign until I know everything about everyone and I can channel Carp in away that makes the players believe that i am an adolescent troublemaker.


So why is everyone wearing an animal mask?. Well in order to bring some more hilarity to a game full of infanticide I decided to bring in a new game mechanic.

Rules are as follows:

  • Role a natural 1 – Pick a mask to wear for 5 mins
  • Role a natural 20 – Pick someone to wear a mask for 5 mins

…..its just a giant shit storm of arm waving

When your in the mask you cannot speak instead you have to action out what you want your character to do through the timeless are of mime. This leads to all sort of fun and opens up a giant can of “WTF is going on”. If you manage to get more than one mask in play; well its just a giant shit storm of arm waving.

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Things you quickly pick up being a new DM

Another Sunday, another month and another game of DnD.

Our little group of novice DnD players are busy killing and pillaging every NPC they can find, along with sweet talking and killing anyone which looks like they might hold something of value. Not to mention all the skin eating… so much skin eating. Its not normal and that’s why planing for these things is proving more and more challenging. So “winging” it seems to be a better strategy.

You have no idea what your walking into

Im not talking about the players, they seem happy falling into all sorts of situations and coming up with some rather unique plans to solve what seems to be a straight forward situation. I have to admit I’m impressed, which makes it even more difficult to DM a game.

How do you plan for 5 people imaginations?

Its a bit like herding ducks on drugs, with morning-stars. Some go where you want and some dress up as the opposite sex and try to “brute force” charisma role their way into an enemy compound. It’s allot of fun but difficult to plan, I mean how do you plan for 5 people imaginations. Simply put you can’t. Saying no isn’t productive and should mostly be avoided.

People coming up with random shit and wanting to do it is part of the game and doesn’t always fit into your beloved dungeon plan. So when it comes to planning: notes and ideas are best loosely worked out, then on the day use your imagination and a few charts to help you best judge how to handle the situation.


Sometimes your party is eager to get hold of the latest orc bustin longsword and forgets what they are actually here todo. Gentle reminders work at first but sometimes you have to be blunt: “You are trying to do this, maybe you should ask around town about how best to achieve this”.

When you need to get the game back on track try not to limit the options. What this means is taking the players ideas and joining them back up to the intended goal. This requires you to stay one step ahead of your adventuring mob and the out come of what they want to do should in someway bring them back to the main quest.

Keep the game going

If your party is taking too long to get something done, solve the problem for them and move on as quickly as possible. Having the players re-enact an EU discussion on immigration over a small issue is both boring and time consuming. So just end it, kill it, move on.

What can I plan?

Plan out the goals, plan out the location, plan out key NPC and of cause plan out all the hows, whys and what nots of the scenario. Why are you hear, what are you going to accomplish, why can’t I just murder this guy straight-up and steal the quest reward, then go on a bloody murder spree where I collect NPC ears.

We are currently working our way through Lost Mine of Phandelver. It’s a fun little adventure which is showing us the basics of how the game works and how to guide a group through. Unfortunately its not really holding up against my players imagination and general dis-regard for human decency, so I’ve had to take a new approach of using the game as a loose guide to try and direct everyone to the end result.

Will see how it all works out over the next few months, but this way of playing is proving both challenging and fun.

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Getting the basics right, a scrubs intro to DnD

It takes time to learn something new and DnD in no exception. One of the main issues we had with the game is the lack of direction on some pretty important starting questions. In this article I’ll be covering some of the key rules which confused us slightly.

These rules in general threw us off for about 20 mins but if your looking to go in with no confusion its worthy reading material.

Critical Hits and Fail roles (natural 1/20): Even if something is certain a player should always role a D20 to see if they fail. Critical hits are easy to figure out if you role a 20 you have a guaranteed hit. The issue we had was what exactly is the bonus? at first we thought it was weapon damage times two:

In this example weapon damage is 1d6, so rolling that gives us a 3, so 6. However what you really do is role two 2D6 and ad them together. We where also unsure about the modifier, but after some rummaging you just add them on as normal.

Modifiers when rolling damage: Modifiers are also used for more than adding to your d20 role. They also get added to the damage dice. In our above example we had a weapon with 1d6 of damage, our strength modifier is 2. So its 1d6 + 2.

Flanking: Having a good old grid fight in DnD 4e was a confusing afair, you had lots of different options open to you. Which also includes flanking. This is removed in 5e, in this version rogues have an option to make a stealth attack which has similar properties, if an enemy is engaged with another player a rogue has Advantage (see below).

Passive Wisdom (Perception): This was something we picked up pretty easily, however i can see how it can be a bit confusing. Passive wisdom is something you character is always doing, they are always on the look out for traps, ambushes and general things that seem out of place. An example of a passive wisdom check is as follows: A DM request a wisdom check to pass a trap, if a character is actively looking out for traps, then this is boosted up to a standard wisdom check (1d20 + (wisdom mod +proficiency bonus).

In general Passive Wisdom is 10 + (wisdom mod + proficiency bonus).

(All these brackets are confusing as shit)

Saving throws: These are normally used to avoid poison, falling rocks, arrows etc. Saving throws are announced by a DM. So in order to avoid being poisoned you might have to role a 16 against your constitution, so 1d20 + const mod.

Advantage and Disadvantage: In his scenario a player roles 2d20. If you are rolling for advantage you take the higher number, if your rolling a disadvantage you take the lower number. Still a little unsure about when this mechanic comes into play, at this point in time its mainly skill based.

This is just a handful of rules we figured out after about 30mins of play. Any correction or advice is much appreciated in the comments below.

Any further confusion will be resolved and this list will get updated.

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The Cheat Sheet to Character Design

Our little Smashface Family kicked off a new D&D 5e campaign this weekend just gone (6th Feb). We’ve been discussing it for a while, but at the beginning of the year we started sorting out dates and  I had to actually think about pulling my character together.

Now ever since I can remember my online/gaming/rpg persona is a redheaded tall woman by the name of “Sai Rei”. If you have seen any reference to this name in forums or on FF14 then chances are that is me. I loved identifying with a strong, powerful yet slim and attractive woman (don’t all women everywhere?) who had a fucking big gun.

But this time I decided to switch it up. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to play as but it I wasn’t sure how to flesh out my ideas – do I figure out the full background and squeeze the stats to fit, or do I decide how I want to play the game and then make the person match? Or is it completely a 50/50 approach?

Our band of merry adventurers took a variety of approaches to character creation (some writing their backgrounds at the table during the big introduction), and I thought I would share a little bit about mine (because I was actually ridiculously proud of my dwarven fighter).

So, as I said before I had a *vague* idea of what I wanted. I still love to hack and slash (I just don’t enjoy fighting from the back) so I knew I was going to be either a fighter or a barbarian, and I knew that I was going to play a female dwarf. But a picture began to fill in the more I thought about it, and I decided that for me at least, the best way to flesh out this character was to think about her in terms of personality and background, and then the stats could be moulded to fit.

This was by far the most fun I have had with a character for a long time. I saw this kind and motherly figure in my head and just knew that was what I wanted to play. For those that have read Terry Pratchett I basically wanted a Nanny Ogg warrior. I saw her waddling round the countryside with pockets stuffed full of rock cakes (that could be used as rocks), her hammer strapped to her back and the medieval equivalent of a photo wallet crammed with illustrations of her many children.

Think this, but less witchy…


Dwarf Picture
Like this! (Original by AnekaShu)

The background and history for my motherly dwarven warrior was fairly easy to pull together. I googled some Dwarven names and picked some out I liked, I even went so far as to google basic Dwarvish to create a name for her Warhammer (no judgement people). What I found hard was the last part – making the stats fit.

If any of you readers have gone to the trouble of filling out a character sheet for D&D you will realise it is not the easiest of endeavours. So many numbers to roll and boxes to fill it – I genuinely found it hard to keep track of what stat affected what bonus and as a result needed ticking in which box. During our initial game our group was still arguing over the finer points on calculating successes for various skill checks or attack rolls.

Normally when playing a character I try to keep my stats fairly balanced. This time I decided to be more creative, and I think having a fully fleshed out character beforehand game be some additional confidence to do so. In the end I made her a full fighter – strong, dexterous yet not at all bright. I gave her some charisma (she did manage to have 8 children afterall), and put some points into wisdom (raising children means you know when they are up to no good and you learn when someone is trying to lie to you.) Therefore the skills I picked were Athletics and Insight (at 284 she’s bound to have gotten insight into something!)

My main focus when pulling these stats together was to create someone I wanted to actually *play* rather than someone that would be useful to the group. To be honest my impression of D&D is that if you enjoy playing a character and put your effort into playing them properly, the DM should reward that and as a result you will help your group.

So after this experience what would my advice me to anyone creating a character from scratch?

  • Pull together a couple of key points you think would be fun to play. I picked motherly, wise, warrior
  • Have a fun side note to flesh out the character – mine was a terrible cook, and will literally go talk to any Bard to see if they have news of her children
  • Don’t worry about the stats until the end – if you have a good idea what type of person you are playing, you will have a good base to figure out which skills fit them best and will give you the most to work with

Most of all – HAVE FUN WITH IT. If you enjoy the process, you will create a fully thought out and interesting character. Seeing a person in your head helps you bring them to life, helping you bring them to the table. Don’t worry about what your group needs or what someone else wants you to play, a good DM will tailor a campaign to fit your needs. So enjoy yourself!

What characters do you like to play? Let us know in the comments below!

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