March 16 2017

Sly Flourish

    -

    Sly Flourish

  • VideoRunning Waterdeep Dragon Heist Chapter 1, A Friend In Need

    Waterdeep Dragon Heist is a different kind of adventure than other hardback adventures. This is a more focused adventure in two ways: it only takes characters up to level five and it takes place almost entirely within the city of Waterdeep. Thus, running this adventure is likewise different than other adventures. In this article, and additional articles in this series, we'll go over Waterdeep Dragon Heist chapter by chapter to look at some interesting ways to run it.

    For another in-depth guide to running Dragon Heist, check out the Powerscore Guide to Waterdeep Dragon Heist.

    In a previous article we've talked about setting up the Session Zero for Dragon Heist. Take a look at that if you haven't yet begun running this adventure.

    (Dwarven Forge Yawning Portal by Shad Ross)

    Fun in the Yawning Portal

    The adventure begins in the most popular public house in the Forgotten Realms, the Yawning Portal. The tavern gets its name from the huge gaping maw that leads hundreds of feet down to the bowels of Undermountain.

    So obviously we want this portal to come into play.

    As written, Dragon Heist has a nice strong start. The characters meet up with none other than Volotham Geddarm, the author and explorer. While they converse, a couple of factions get into a fight in the brawl before a nest of stirges and a troll come out of the gaping portal into the inn itself.

    This sets up a nice multi-stage fight in a cool environment. If you can get a hold of it, the fourth-edition D&D Halls of Undermountain included an awesome Yawning Portal poster map. That's not easy to get so you might instead grab a digital Yawning Portal map by Elven Tower and either print it as a poster or display it on a tablet. Otherwise you can draw it out on a dry-erase battle map.

    This battle is the first time we can see some of the factions come into play. You might change things up to reinforce one faction over another. For example, when running the summer scenario with the Cassalanters as the villains, you might have a devil come out of the pit. I chose a Merrigon devil summoned from the nine hells to protect the Cassalanters that, somehow, ended up coming out of the yawning portal and causing a fuss. It's a very hard monster for first level characters so help them out with some NPC buffs like magic weapon and some heals.

    The NPCs in the tavern are the first ones our characters will meet so give them some flavor and have them come back later on in the campaign.

    Level Them Up to Level 2

    Be nice at the end of this scene and level up your characters to level 2. It's earlier than the book dictates but first level can be a drag both in limited abilities and in limited hit points. First level characters can drop fast so get them to level two and let them enjoy themselves in the rest of the chapter.

    Using Waterdeep: City Encounters

    The minute the characters start heading out into Waterdeep, it's time to whip out our copy of Waterdeep: City Encounters. This excellent book, designed by Will Doyle and many of the DM's Guild Adepts has seventeen pages of random events taking place in the city streets, from accidentally getting hit with the contents of a chamber pot to finding a dead body flayed by the cult of Loviatar. This book is packed with awesome events you can roll on right during your game, twist to suit the situation, and drop it right into the story. You can get either the PDF or the print-on-demand softcover version so you can bring it right along with your copy of the main adventure. It's a wonderful accessory and I cannot recommend it enough.

    Adding the Fantastic to the Zhentarim Hideout

    Skipping ahead in the chapter we come to the infiltration of the Zhentarim hideout. There are a few ways we might tweak this encounter. First, it might not even BE a Zhentarim hideout. If we're running the summer Cassalanter-based game we might turn it into an old warehouse owned by the Gralhund family as a front for the Cassalanters. This ties in the whole idea of old money and old blood from previous aristocratic Cult of the Dragon worshipers who changed their allegiance to Asmodeus when Tiamat fell.

    To add to that, we can make the whole warehouse more exciting if we drop in a skeletal dragon in the center. This fallen dracolich might be a part of a fantastic collection by the Gralhunds that still exudes some horrid essence. When a creature first sees the skeletal dragon it must make a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened for 1 minute. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a creature's saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to this effect for the next 24 hours. This can add a bit of fun to the encounter.

    You'll also want to play up the kenku's mimicry. Having them repeat phrases of the characters or speak with the voices of their previous victims can be a lot of fun. You might also replace one or two of the kenkus with hired thugs. The characters can watch the thugs arguing with the kenkus who simply repeat back whatever the thugs say. The mimicry of the kenku is one of their interesting traits, don't forget about it.

    Dealing with the Watch

    After they're through dealing with the kenkus and save Raenar Neverember, it's time for the watch to burst in. From a roleplay perspective, I like to think of Sergeant Stagat, the watch commander for the dock district, like Sergeant Dignam from the Departed. 100% raw confrontation and four letter words (keep an eye on your audience in your friendly local game shop). Good times.

    This is a good chance for a verbal confrontation that the characters can't simply fight their way out of. It's also a good time to give them a copy of the Code Legal.

    Navigating the Sewers

    Once the characters move onwards, it's into the sewers they go. There's a period of time between the characters entering the sewers and actually getting to the Xanathar hideout which you can handle in a brief description or you can drop in a fun random encounter here. I threw in two ghoulish crocodiles to foreshadow some hag fun I want to throw into my Dragon Heist game. If you have some other plot thread you're going to weave in, this is a good time to foreshadow it.

    I had a bit of trouble recognizing the transition from the gazer scene to the hideout. The text mentions a ladder that goes up into a tavern but the three-way intersection continues to lead on to the hideout. Really you just want the characters to get to the hideout.

    The Xanathar guild hideout runs well as written. Have some fun roleplaying with the goblins. This doesn't have to be a pure slaughterfest.

    As an apprentice, Grum'shar is a bit weak. I gave him about 20 hit points and that worked out pretty well.

    Returning to the Yawning Portal

    With Grum'shar dead and Floon rescued, it's time to head back to the Yawning Portal and get that sweet gold Volo promised! But it appears he's a little short and instead has a property to pass along—Trollskull Manor!

    This is a great time to print out a copy of the Trollskull deed and drop it on the table! If the characters try to muscle money out of Volo, he might use the distraction of a bunch of flying snakes and a giant bat coming out of the portal to make his daring escape.

    With the deed in hand, it's time to move on to chapter 2. We'll cover chapter 2 in a future article.

    Read more »
  • VideoDM Deep Dive with Adam Koebel on Dungeon World

    Back in November 2018 I had the great pleasure to talk with Adam Koebel, a co-creator of the mind-blowing RPG Dungeon World, to talk about his game and what it meant for D&D.

    You can watch the whole interview on Youtube, watch it below, or listen to the podcast on the Don't Split the Podcast Network.

    .embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }

    The rest of this article contains notes from the show.

    Three tips from Adam Koebel on running great D&D games.

    If you're a new DM and you don't feel like D&D is telling you how to run the game—you are not alone. (some people wrote a whole book about this!)

    Turn over as much of the the mechanics to your players as you can. You don't have to know all of the rules, let the players help.

    Play other games. Try out a bunch of different games (Burning Wheel, Apocalypse World, Fiasco, Microscope, Stars Without Numbers). Your D&D game will be dramatically different once you've scoped out other games. 5e gives you a big hole to fill when it comes to running the game.

    What's Good about 5e D&D?

    The D&D Starter Set is the best starter set Wizards has ever put out.

    "Fifth edition is everyone's second-favorite version of D&D." - Sage LaTorra (according to Adam).

    5e is easy to get started and easier to master the mechanical complexity.

    Where does 5e not hit the mark?

    Inspiration sucks. It feels detatched from everything else and has the same name as another ability "bardic inspiration". In groups where everyone's running really well, no one gets inspiration. If someone is shy and someone else has an Irish accent, the accent guy gets inspiration. Your players aren't kindergarden students.

    Mike uses inspiration to reward players who choose to go into danger to move the story forward.

    Where did the principles for GMs come from in Dungeon World?

    We stole it from Apocalyse World. The principles and agendas in Dungeon World are there to steer the GM and player to the style of game that Dungeon World offers.

    Pushing characters with challenging monsters and throwing monsters at the characters to look awesome are the same thing.

    Not all systems are designed for all types of games. There's not a lot of five-foot steps in Game of Thrones.

    "Be a fan of the characters" doesn't mean they get everything they want. It might mean pummling the shit out of them and watching them come back from it.

    Your job is to put characters in rough situations and letting them come out of it.

    D&D struggles with how lethal or not lethal it should be.

    On Fronts

    All of Adam's GM prep includes fronts. They're the one part of Dungeon World that Adam would like to rewrite.

    Fronts are a great way to make the game feel like a bunch of spinning plates.

    Fronts are not for every game. Not all games work well with the anxiety of fronts: "glad you finished that one thing but two other things went to shit".

    What would happen in the world if the characters didn't show up?

    What are three RPGs in the past two years one should check out.

    Adam

    Mikes:

    What does your PC look like when you have time to play.

    Adam:

    • Feisty murder lesbians
    • Assholes (who make others look good)

    Thanks to Adam for a wonderful interview!

    Read more »
  • Revealing Secrets

    Chapter 6 of Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master focuses on defining secrets and clues in our D&D games. In many ways secrets and clues are the anchor of the 8-step game preparation process in Return and they were one of the main reasons I felt the need to write a new Lazy Dungeon Master book at all. Secrets and clues are powerful magic.

    To get us all on the same page, here's how I define a secret and clue in the book:

    Secrets and clues are single short sentences that describe a clue, a piece of the story, or a piece of the world that the characters can discover during the game. You dont know exactly how the characters will discover these clues. As such, youll want to keep these secrets and clues abstract from their place of discovery so that you can drop them into the game wherever it makes sense. This lets the game flow freely, while still allowing you to reveal important pieces of the story at any point where the characters might discover them.

    The powerful magic behind secrets and clues come from a few different key points in their design:

    1. They're short. Usually no longer than a sentence.

    2. They convey useful information to the characters, thus helping us focus their world view around what matters to them.

    3. They don't assume how they will be discovered. This makes them ideal for improvisational play.

    It's this last part, how they get discovered, that we'll talk about today.

    Ideal Tools For Exploration

    Secrets are an ideal tool for exploration, one of the three pillars of D&D gameplay. Exploration is about discovery. It's about seeking things out and finding them. It's about learning. Of the three pillars exploration is probably the least well defined. We know what combat looks like. We know what roleplaying looks like. Exploration is everything else. But how do we prepare for that? How do we run that?

    This is where secrets shine.

    Exploration can take place in many different ways. It can be studying a mosaic on a wall. It can be about figuring out the mystery of a magical sword. It can be overhearing gossip at the local bar. During the game, we don't know how things will get discovered. But we can figure out ahead of time what will get discovered and then wing it when we're running our game.

    But winging discovery might not be that easy for all DMs. This is a new technique we're talking about. Once you get it, it will click into place. Until then, here's a nudge in the right direction.

    Twenty Ways Secrets Can Be Revealed

    The following is a list of twenty ways secrets might get discovered by the characters. These aren't meant to be used directly but instead help wire your mind into considering how secrets might be discovered in your own game. Only in the context of the game will the revelation of a secret make sense.

    • A mosaic on a wall
    • A dream imposed by a magical weapon
    • A blind man's prophecy
    • The remembrance of time studying an old history book
    • A statue of a hero
    • A witness's statement
    • A rumor overheard at a bar
    • Whispers of gossip among the staff
    • A secret note from an anonymous source
    • A half-burned scroll in a fireplace
    • Carvings on an old sarcophagus
    • A vision from an ancient obelisk
    • Taunts from lizardfolk
    • Oral histories shared over a campfire
    • A battlecry
    • The last words of a dying foe
    • A message from the servants of the gods
    • Wise words from an old tutor
    • Glyphs embroidered on a magical cloak
    • A fable told to children

    Again, these are all examples just to get your mind working in the right direction. They're not meant to be used literally. Customizing how characters find secrets is how they're designed to work. Once your mind gets wired around revealing them, it becomes second nature.

    Ten Secrets Written, Five Revealed

    One of the interesting side benefits of preparing my game on Twitch each week has been being able to go back and look at how things worked out. Over the weeks, I've seen that, of the ten secrets I prepare, about five of them usually get revealed. This is perfectly fine and healthy. We don't have to expose all ten secrets every game. We reveal the ones that make sense when it makes sense to reveal them. For the rest, we can simply let them go.

    Next week, we start with a fresh list of ten secrets and do the same thing. Secrets we haven't revealed may come back to us from week to week or they might fade off into the ether from which they came.

    A Clear Example Tool for Preparing to Improvise

    When we try to run open D&D games where the players are empowered to take the direction of the game in drastically different ways, we DMs have to prepare to improvise. We need to focus our preparation on activities that help us run the game wherever the game tends to go. Designing secrets this way is a perfect example of the sort of activity we can engage in that gives us interesting details to reveal during the game without worrying how the characters will discover them. It lets the characters travel in many different paths, exploring many different things, and still learn important details of the world and the events taking place within it.

    How we reveal these secrets is the part of actual improvisation. We wait for the right moment to reveal the right secret. When it works well, it's pure magic.

    Read more »
  • Revised 5e D&D Cheat Sheet

    Back when Fantastic Locations came out we released a one-page campaign worksheet intended to help DMs focus on the characters and have a bit of a cheat sheet at the same time. It's served well but it didn't have everything I wanted in a 5e cheat sheet.

    When Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master's Kickstarter ran, we funded the creation of the Lazy DM's Workbook a book intended to help DMs improvise their games as they're playing. It's packed with charts, tables, tools, and ten maps with descriptions all designed so DMs can grab some ideas, let the dice push us in a new direction we might not have thought of on our own, and run an awesome and unique game.

    This book is the sort of accessory I always wanted (and now have) in my bag but I'm also a sucker for simplicity. Using a handful of the tables in the Lazy DM's Workbook, I put together a single-page laminated page with a 5e D&D cheat sheet on one side and blank drawing surface on another. I printed it on copper resume paper, cut it down to 8x10 so it fits more nicely in my canvas DM pouch, and laminated it so I can draw on the back of it with dry-erase marker.

    The cheat sheet includes a bunch of references I find most useful at my game. The sections include:

    • Improvised statistics for objects, traps, and hazards
    • Quick encounter building guidelines
    • Minimum targets for areas of effect
    • Task DC ladder
    • Successful attacks for large numbers of monsters
    • Lots of random names
    • Condition descriptions

    All of this fits on one side of a single sheet of paper that can be cut down to 8" x 10" and laminated for a great 5e DM accessory.

    Understanding the Monster Group Attacks and Saves Table

    Of all of these tools, the success results for large numbers of monsters is the most difficult to understand. This table is designed to make it easy to adjudicate attacks and saving throws for large groups of monsters.

    To use it for attacks, compare the AC of the target to the attack bonus of the monster to come up with a result on a d20. Then cross reference this target number with the number of attacks required for a single attack to hit. Divide the number of attacks by this monsters-per-success result to see how many hit and then multiply the damage of any one attack by the number of successful hits.

    For example, if six ogres with an attack bonus of +6 are attacking a fighter with an AC of 20, they need a 14 or better. The chart says that 3 monsters are required for a single one to hit when the target number is 14. Thus, of the six ogres, two will hit for a total of 26 damage.

    If eight thugs (each with two attacks of +4) are attacking a wizard with an AC of 18 (including shield), five attacks will hit for a total of 25 damage. Thugs, however, have pack tactics so they should be making all attacks with advantage. Instead, we'll add +4 to each attack which increases it to two attacks required for one success. Thus the wizard gets hit with eight attacks for 40 damage. Ouch!

    This chart works for saving throws as well. If a wizard casts a DC 15 fireball on six ogres with a -1 dex saving throw, it takes four ogres for one success thus only one ogre succeeds on the saving throw and the other five take full damage. If you mix this with pooling monster hit points, it is a very effective way to run a lot of monsters.

    Again, this is a tricky chart to use but, with a little practice, it's useful for running large numbers of monsters against the characters when such a large number of monsters makes sense for the story. Spend a little time trying to understand it and, when it clicks, you'll find a whole new option for mass combat in your tool kit.

    A Powerful Tool for a Lightweight DM Kit

    The smaller we keep our DM kits, the more freedom we have to run our game quickly and easily. We need not be constrained by our tools. Instead, our tools should free us to shepherd the stories that happen at the table. This simple tool, an 8x10 laminated sheet with a cheat sheet on one side and a dry-erase writing surface on the other, is intended to simplify our kit and give us the tools we need to run awesome games. I hope you find it as useful as I do.

    Read more »
  • VideoSession Zero of Waterdeep Dragon Heist

    Note, this article contains spoilers for Waterdeep Dragon Heist.

    Running a session zero for any new campaign offers many benefits. Session zeros help us and our players all get on the same page about the campaign we're about to play in. During a session zero we describe the overall theme of the campaign to the players and let the players develop their characters together around this theme. It gives players a chance to tailor their characters for the adventures ahead and bind their characters together into a group before hte game begins.

    Before the first die hits the table or the first scene of the campaign takes place, we all have an idea about the general theme of the story we're all going to experience. Session zeros are written in detail in chapter 17 of Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master.

    Moreso than other adventure, Waterdeep Dragon Heist will likely benefit from a session zero with you and your players before you actually start the adventure. In today's article we're going to look at some areas to focus on that help build the right expectations for your players and help them build characters that will have the most fun in the adventure. Let's dig in.

    An Adventure of Investigation

    Though called a "heist", Waterdeep Dragon Heist is much more of an investigatory adventure. This is more Sherlock Holmes than The Sting. Some compare it to Oceans 11, but I would say it's much more like LA Confidential or Jackie Brown.

    When this adventure begins, the heist has already taken place. The Waterdeep dragons are hidden and a handful of factions are seeking it out. There are some heist-like moments in this adventure but characters in this adventure will be spending much of their time investigating situations and talking to people.

    Setting Expectations for Waterdeep Dragon Heist

    It is thus important to tell your players that this adventure, more than most, is an adventure of urban investigation. They will seek and find clues. They will uncover mysteries. They will interview people. They will shake down criminals. They will sneak into hostile places. They will likely get into a few scrapes but combat is definitely not the focus on this adventure.

    Waterdeep Dragon Heist is a stark contrast to the previous published hardcover adventure Tomb of Annihilation.

    Thus, when managing your players' expectations, clearly reinforce the following points:

    • Waterdeep Dragon Heist is an adventure of investigation and mystery.
    • All characters should have a solid motivation to investigate mysteries with their companions in the city of Waterdeep.
    • This is an urban adventure in which you are not likely to leave the city or leave it for very long.
    • Combat takes a back seat to roleplaying and investigation.
    • All characters should have something to do in roleplay scenes.
    • All characters should have something to do in exploration and investigation scenes.
    • Key skills in this adventure include Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Investigation, Perception, Persuasion, and Stealth.

    Three Facts About Waterdeep

    To set the stage for your session zero, consider describing the big "facts" that matter for this campaign. Here are the ones I sent to my own group:

    • It's been five years since the end of the War of the Dragon Queen. Numerous villages, towns, and cities lost tremendous amounts of coin when raided by the Cult of the Dragon. Much of it was never recovered.

    • Due to his negligence and preferential treatment for Neverwinter, Lord Degault Neverember lost his seat as the Open Lord of Waterdeep to Lariel Silverhand, the current open lord of Waterdeep.

    • Crime is on the rise. Numerous criminal factions in Waterdeep appear more active, going so far as to fight one another in the streets. In response, the High Wizard of Waterdeep, Vajra "Blackstaff" Safahr, has activated her independent enforcers, Force Gray and the Gray Hands.

    Expect the Campaign to End

    Because of the nature of this adventure and its possible outcomes, it may be best to consider this a one-shot campaign in which the characters end their careers at the end of the adventure. Given the vast riches the characters might acquire, it becomes difficult to keep them hungry for further adventures and not simply buy themselves an army to solve whatever adventuring problems they have.

    If you and your players know up front that the characters in this adventure are focused exclusively on this adventure alone, it gives you more freedom to focus the story and the direction of the characters within it. It means they can have a big impact on the events that unfold without some ham-fisted reason to take away all of their potential riches if they acquire it. It also means the characters can focus on this adventure and don't need to worry about then moving off into another completely different type of campaign when you're done with this one.

    It might not be intuitively obvious, but this clear focus on a beginning and end of a small focused campaign can be a great deal of fun if its established up front.

    Character Connections

    Adventures go more smoothly when characters have clear ties to each other and to the adventure itself. Here are a number of bonds you might offer to the players when they make their characters for Waterdeep Dragon Heist. They might share a bond with another character to better connect these characters together and to the group. The "X" in the following bonds represents the other character with whom they share the bond.

    • X and I share a sibling who is a member of the Gray Hands.
    • X and I broke away from a smalltime thieves guild as children.
    • X and I fled from Luscan after being hunted by a Luscan ship captain.
    • X and I fled from our adopted family who had secretly planned to sacrifice us to Azmodeus.
    • X and I were members of the town guard.
    • X and I have a childhood friend said to now be in the Zhentarim.
    • X and I once met the famous author and explorer Volotham Geddarm.
    • X and I traveled to Waterdeep from Neverwinter.
    • X and I once got lost in the sewers.
    • X and I have an uncle who works in the City of the Dead.

    Avoid Initial Factions

    Waterdeep Dragon Heist assumes that you will be introduced to one or more factions during the course of the adventure. Thus, it works best if the characters aren't already predisposed to any particular faction before the game begins. You'll want to mention this to players if they seem eager to have a connection to an existing faction ahead of time.

    A Couple Products from the DM's Guild

    There are quite a few great products on the DM's Guild that can make our Dragon Heist game quite a bit more fun. Here are a couple recommended in a Twitter thread on the topic.

    Waterdeep City Encounters. This PDF and print-on-demand book is packed with random city encounters written around Waterdeep, a bunch of location encounters, and even a random weather generator. This product can really make Waterdeep feel alive.

    Blue Alley. A short deathtrap dungeon perfect for dropping into Chapter 2 of Dragon Heist, Blue Alley is written by MT Black, one of the most prolific and popular writers on the DM's Guild. This is a fun four-hour side quest adventure we can drop in to give players a chance to go outside the story and enjoy an interesting dungeon-in-a-city.

    A Video of Dragon Heist Session Zero

    As part of my weekly series of Lazy DM Prep videos I recorded a video specifically on the session zero for Waterdeep Dragon Heist in preparation for my own weekly game. You can watch it on Youtube or down below. Note, the Dragon Heist portion begins roughly 18 minutes in.

    .embed-container { position: relative; padding-bottom: 56.25%; height: 0; overflow: hidden; max-width: 100%; } .embed-container iframe, .embed-container object, .embed-container embed { position: absolute; top: 0; left: 0; width: 100%; height: 100%; }

    A Fun Focused Adventure

    The beauty of Waterdeep Dragon Heist is that it isn't a globe-spanning adventure against world-threatening foes. This is a small and focused story involving a missing treasure and the factions who seek it. Focus the expectations of your players on the theme of this adventure and you'll all have a wonderful time watching the story unfold at the table.

    Read more »
  • Always Be Learning

    Great DMs are always refining their craft. We are not static beings. We learn. We adapt. We don't throw away our decades of past experiences when a new idea comes along. We use those experiences as our baseline understanding about what makes this game fun for ourselves and our players. We then gather new experiences and modify our baseline based on what we see and learn.

    Putting Opinions to the Side

    The more we play D&D and run D&D games, the more we know and the more we think we know. This can actually get in the way. While our experiences are not to be discounted, they are also not walls to block us from new ideas. We might hear some crazy new idea that another DM is trying. It might sound like madness to us. It might even be madness. But it's still worth considering and evaluating with our previous experiences. It might even be worth trying at our table—and that's where we're most likely to really understand the idea. Experimenting at the table tells us much more than just pondering what might happen.

    Often, however, we're too quick to judge. We have ways that work for us and we're more likely to hang on to those ways unless something really shocks us out of our groove. It takes a LOT of evidence to push us out of our previous opinions—more than it should.

    So, as we see ideas and feel our instinct to dismiss them, give them another look. Spend some time understanding them, visualizing them, and maybe even trying them out before throwing them away.

    We don't have to completely throw away everything we've learned every time something new comes along but we're more likely to discount good ideas than to grab on to bad ones so give new ideas more weight than you might normally apply.

    Side Note: Impostor Syndrome and the Dunning Kruger Effect

    The results of the evolution of our brains has implanted many weird cognitive biases and quite a few of these can come up in our growth as dungeon masters. Two in particular pull us in different directions which can hurt our ability to grow as DMs.

    Impostor syndrome occurs when we assume that we're terrible DMs when matched up against the rest. We feel like we have no real skill or background to justify us sitting in the DMs seat. We find ourselves in this position if we compare ourselves to other DMs that we might meet or see or even if we base our assumptions on our skill around some perceived master dungeon master that our players expect us to be.

    Fear of being found out as an impostor can push us away from the DM's seat or make us overly nervous when we find ourselves in it.

    One easy way to avoid the paralysis of impostor syndrome is to remember that almost everyone feels this way. We're all just pretending to be good at what we do all the time and, most of the time, that's all we need. It's also nice to remember that, given no other evidence to the contrary, we're statistically likely to be in the middle of the pack if ranked with other DMs.

    The Dunning Kruger effect is almost the opposite of impostor syndrome. The Dunning Kruger effect occurs when we're just starting out at a particular skill and believe that we're way better at that skill than we actually are. It only comes to us later, as we get more experienced, that we realize how little we actually know. The Dunning Kruger effect is, simply, false confidence based on inexperience. We don't know enough to realize how little we really know.

    When we consider both of these, there's a nice summary we can keep in our minds as we evaluate our skills as DMs:

    We are neither as good nor as bad as we think we are.

    Running Small Experiments

    Once we've figured out what ideas we might want to actually try, we can run small experiments to see how they work at our table. The key is to try it out in an environment where we can see how something works but not leap into a big commitment if we end up not liking it.

    For example, Mike Mearls put out a playtest for a new type of initiative he calls "Greyhawk Initiative". It got a lot of reactions when it came out but many of these reactions didn't come from people who actually tried it out. Trying out a new type of initiative has a very small impact. We simply describe how it works and use it for one or two combat encounters to see what it feels like. With something like Greyhawk initiative we probably want to try it more than once to see how it works instead of just doing it for a single combat. Our first time is likely to focus on learning the system instead of actually using the system.

    We can run the same sorts of experiments for all sorts of things like adding a 13th Age style escalation die to a combat encounter, trying a new approach for skill-based exploration, or running a battle with hundreds of enemies.

    Just as we must push back our instinct to reject ideas we're not already using, we must remember that trying out an idea isn't the same as fully adopting an idea. Trying things out is cheap and can let us really see how something works instead of just basing our opinion on theory.

    The next time you see a new approach towards something in D&D, don't judge it until you've tried it.

    "Head clear. Mouth shut. See much. Say little."

    - Roland Deschain, Wolves of the Calla

    Read more »
  • Throwing Away Secrets

    I often receive questions both from readers of Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master and those watching my Lazy DM Prep videos regarding throwing away secrets from session to session. For many people, this doesn't make much sense. If we write down ten secrets and reveal only five, what do we do with the other five? If you're asking me? We throw them away. Today I'll explain why.

    Revealing Secrets

    One of the interesting side benefits of recording my game prep sessions is that I'm able to see what secrets I wrote down and then analyze what secrets came to pass in the game itself. I've generally found that, of the ten secrets I prepare for a game, about half get revealed in a session. That's perfectly acceptable to me. The whole point of having ten secrets is to make sure I have interesting bits of information to drop in when I need them. I certainly don't have to use all ten.

    So what do we do with the five that don't get used?

    Throw Them Away

    We DMs probably love our work a little too much. A few years back I posted a tweet in which I recommended that we need not write down every good idea. If it's good, a good idea will come back. Originally I stole this idea from Stephen King.

    "I never write ideas down. Because all you do when you write ideas down is kind of immortalize something that should go away. If they're bad ideas, they go away on their own."

    I got a lot of flack for that particular tip but I still stand by it.

    We don't want some big database or Excel spreadsheet of lost secrets. First, it's a pain in the ass to manage such things and, remember, we're lazy. We want to put our minds on the world and the situation, not worrying about whether some trite bit of trivia got revealed or not.

    We lazy DMs want to keep our whole system loose. This means not having a giant book worth of stuff behind us to remember. We focus on the next game. We focus on how that game is going to start. The stuff we should probably write down and remember are interesting things that go on with the characters because our players remember that stuff. The rest of the world? No one really cares. If we have to keep track of it in a big pile of secrets, its probably not that important to us either.

    So, instead of keeping track of secrets, let them go and see which ones come flying back on their own.

    Good Ideas Come Back

    The reality is that good secrets come back. You'll remember them. Each secret isn't a beautiful butterfly that flitters away on the winds while you chase it down with a net. Your good ideas will come back to you. The important secrets will stay on your lists week after week until it gets revealed. I loved the idea that Acererak's Tomb of the Nine Gods was powered by a chain from Mechanus, thus giving it the full weight of an entire realm to power his dungeon. That image is awesome to me so it stayed on my list of secrets for months until it got revealed one day.

    Your important secrets will end up back on your list and those that do not will disappear into the ether.

    It Isn't True Until It's Revealed

    Our worlds are ethereal until the character's eyes fall upon it. Our stories don't come true until they're lived through. The secrets we write down aren't facts until they get revealed during the game. One good reason to let them go is that they're simply not true yet. The world can change. You might have better ideas later. Events might shift and things go in a new direction you didn't expect. If we keep our secrets they become links in a chain that anchor us down to a world that need not be.

    The big advantage of being a lazy dungeon master is that we aren't anchored by anything. We have the tools we need to run our next game and we've loaded our heads with outstanding fiction and RPG materials so that we can build the world in front of us as it happens.

    If we keep our old secrets, we're chaining ourselves down to something that isn't yet true.

    A Powerful Source of Creativity That Need Not Stay Recorded

    Secrets are seriously powerful magic. We create single lines of fantastic fiction that can fuel entire worlds. The power of secrets is the whole reason I wrote a new lazy dungeon master book. Secrets are small, they're packed with interesting things, and they do not burden us. If we were to worry about keeping our old secrets and managing them, their simplicity and flexibility becomes lost.

    Throw away old secrets. Good ones will come back.

    Read more »
  • Converting Vault of the Dracolich to Fifth Edition D&D

    This article has been updated since the original published in April 2014.

    Back in 2013, Teos Abadia, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, and I all worked on the adventure Vault of the Dracolich. This adventure was designed as an in-store multi-table event using the D&D Next rules (the playtest that eventually became the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons). During this adventure bands of heroes infiltrate a temple of the Cult of the Dragon to recover an ancient elven staff from the dracolich, Detchroyaster.

    Vault of the Dracolich is now available on the DM's Guild in both PDF and print. While this adventure was originally intended as a multi-table single-session adventure, the components of it can be stripped, twisted, and reformed to use at your game in many different ways.

    As mentioned, we built Vault of the Dracolich around the D&D Next playtest rules and many things changed when these rules made their way into the fifth edition of D&D. In this article we'll go over how to convert Vault of the Dracolich to the fifth edition of D&D. We'll also look at how to run it for a single group of adventurers instead of many groups running it simultaneously.

    The original adventure was designed for fourth level characters. It will be particularly deadly for characters of that level. When we convert it, the adventure is probably a better challenge for characters of fifth to eighth level. The characters may have an easier time fighting less powerful monsters such as bandits, cultists, troglodytes, and lizardfolk. Still, an adult green dracolich is a tremendous challenge for any characters below twelfth level. If anyone tries to directly face Dretchroyaster, they may end up dead after a single breath weapon.

    Converting Monsters in Vault of the Dracolich

    When converting Vault of the Dracolich to fifth edition, we can start by converting the monsters in the adventure with their fifth edition equivalents. Here's a list of creatures in Vault of the Dracolich and their equivalent monsters in the Monster Manual. If no monster is listed, you can use the same monster in the Monster Manual as the one listed in the adventure.

    • Use cultists instead of dark adepts.
    • Use bandits instead of human warriors.
    • Use cult fanatics instead of dark priests.
    • For Silakul use the priest NPC stat block.
    • Use giant poisonous snakes for amphibious giant snakes in room 14.
    • Reduce the two ropers to just one in room 19.
    • The hydra in room 15 is potentially deadly for a lower level group. Give them some warning of the danger and options to escape if they need it.
    • Reduce the gargoyles in room 29 to two.
    • Use spectres instead of wraiths in room 30.
    • Reduce the number of vrocks in chamber 31 to one. This could also be a hard fight if the characters don't have magic weapons.
    • Dretchroyaster is an adult green dragon with the dracolich template and is very likely lethal if faced.
    • Dretchroyaster's simulacra are young green dragons with the dracolich template that cannot use their breath weapons.
    • In the final battle, Dretchroyaster will avoid using his breath weapon so as not to kill his priests. If he feels at all threatened, however, he will use it.

    Add Some Potions of Resistance

    Somewhere in the adventure it might help if the characters discover a trove of potions of poison resistance to give them a shot at fighting Dretchroyaster without getting their asses kicked. If you're feeling generous, you might bless them with a scroll of hero's feast that can give them immunity to his breath weapon. This gives even a lower-level group of adventurers a chance at surviving a fight against Dretchroyaster.

    Stripping the Dungeon For Parts

    Instead of running Vault of the Dracolich as a single adventure, you can instead strip it down into individual components to use in your own adventures. The dungeon in Vault of the Dracolich actually contains four smaller dungeons mashed together including a troglodyte lair, an ancient dragon's vault, a former Bhaalite temple, and an underground lake and river.

    Each of these dungeon pieces can be taken out and used on their own either as part of another adventure or as a quick area to explore. You can tie off connections if you only want to use one part of the dungeon, such as sealing off the sewer entrance from the temple's prison to the underground river. Such a conversion won't take much time.

    Your own adventure may only focus on one of the seeds in the adventure such as an item protected by the hydra, an artifact in the dragon's vault, the ancient elven spelljammer stuck in the rock, or the evil head of the local chapter of the Dragon Cult. You might keep the rest of the dungeon as is so your group has opportunities to explore other areas even if they aren't directly tied to their quest at hand.

    Chambers below the chasms and rifts found in the dungeon might lead to a series of lower levels, making the current Vault of the Dracolich only the upper-most level of a multi-level megadungeon.

    Like all published adventures, you should feel free to hack, slice, and steal any part of it to fit the adventure you're running for your own table.

    A Sandbox and Tool Kit For Your Own Adventures

    Though written for a different version of D&D, Vault of the Dracolich can still bring high adventure to your group, either as a stand-alone action-packed run against the dracolich Dretchroyaster or as a toolbox of locations you can use in your own adventure. I hope you'll give it a try.

    Read more »
  • The Deadly Shift of Tomb of Annihilation

    Warning, this article contains spoilers for Tomb of Annihilation.

    This article is one in a series of artices I wrote for running the D&D hardcover adventure Tomb of Annihilation. You can find links to all of the articles below:

    Tomb of Annihilation is a fantastic D&D adventure. It's an adventure of high fantasy in an interesting environment (the jungles of Chult). It has awesome locations to explore, cool NPCs to meet, a powerhouse villain, and the deadliest dungeon published in the fifth edition hardback D&D adventures to date.

    Tomb of Annihilation isn't without its problems. For the most part, these problems are manageable. Let's take a moment to review two of these problems.

    First, as written, the death curse (the main driver of the adventure) has too much urgency tied to it. If this urgency isn't tweaked by the DM, the best course of action the characters can take is to run as fast as they can to the Tomb of the Nine Gods to stop the curse from quickly killing off oodles of rich and powerful people all over Faerun (hmmm). Luckily, this problem is easy to deal with. We discussed a few options for managing the death curse in the Urgency of the Death Curse by using it as an urgency dial instead of a fixed countdown timer. Simply forgo the hit point loss-per-day and describe the progression of the curse in a way that better fits the pacing of the game you want at the moment. If you want the characters to feel free to explore Chult, mention that the curse is little more than a concern at the moment. A rash, really. If you want them to laser in on Omu and the tomb beneath, explain how the powerful curse has escalated.

    The second problem comes with the many NPCs that can join the characters throughout the adventure. In most cases, these NPCs are just fine but in a few they can either overshadow the characters with their raw power (I'm looking at you Artus Cimber and Dragonbait) or they can end up steering the characters too far away and waste a lot of valuable time on errands that have nothing to do with the plot. We've discussed this problem in the article Handling Tag-Along NPCs. The best solution here is to be careful when introducing these NPCs, ensuring you have an exit plan for them, or skip them all together.

    Both of those problems are easily managed. There is a third problem, however, and one not so easily fixed. When the characters actually enter the Tomb of the Nine Gods, the whole atmosphere of the adventure changes. Instead of being a character-driven narrative story of exploration and intrigue, this adventure becomes a puzzle and deathtrap killfest. That's the problem we're going to talk about today.

    The Atmospheric Shift of the Tomb of the Nine Gods

    It surprises no one that this adventure's dungeon is actually deadly. We all knew it. It says so right in the beginning and if our players are paying attention at all, they'll know it's deadly too. But we say that a lot when it comes to challenges the characters face and most of the time they can pull out of the danger and survive anyway. If you're a soft DM like me, you can probably count on one hand the number of times characters have died in your D&D games. If you're harsher, actually killing characters often, and your players don't mind, maybe this isn't a problem for you.

    For some of us though this shift is a big problem. Here at Sly Flourish we take a "character first" approach to our D&D games. It's the first step in the preparation checklist in Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master. We follow the guidelines of Dungeon World and become fans of the characters. These characters have histories. They have arcs. We love them and we love watching them go on adventures. We don't love it when they get in a black box, a friend hits a button, and they're turned into dust. Literally. Well, I didn't love it.

    Death sometimes comes to characters in our character-driven games but often it's part of their character's arc. In this dungeon, though, their arcs can come crashing down with no warning at all. Again, maybe you're cool with this. Maybe so are your players. If that's the case, you need not change a thing.

    For many of us, though, it's a big change in the style of the game and one we need to manage.

    Telling Them Isn't Enough

    We might think that telling the players how deadly the dungeon is will be enough. We think they'll be ready for their characters to die. Sometimes this is the case. Sometimes they're even upset when they don't die. Often, however, the warning isn't enough. Hearing that a dungeon is deadly and actually watching your ninth level character get disintegrated are two very different things. Seeing a character actually die will feel very different to the player. Players might even say how much they love hard D&D adventures and love the threat of death—until it actually happens. At that point none of us know what to do.

    When I ran Tomb of Annihilation and my groups got to the Tomb of the Nine Gods, I had everyone roll up secondary characters whose backgrounds had brought them to the tomb over the past century. Making them former members of the Knights of the Yellow Banner gave them a connection to other dead Banner members throughout the adventure.

    Still, this wasn't enough. Even having secondary characters doesn't mean that shock and hurt will come when a beloved character gets cut in half by a giant grinning stone skull door.

    Many players just aren't prepared for a character's death. I know I'm not.

    Solution 1: Send in the B-Team

    One way to potentially fix this problem in the adventure is to send in two separate teams of characters. The first characters aren't given the job to stop the death curse, their job is to open the Tomb of the Nine Gods. When the tomb is open, it's up to another group of dungeon delvers to go inside. The nearby wreck of the Star Goddess could be one way that a bunch of dungeon delvers have come to the tomb. The Red Wizards might also have their own group of dungeon delvers ready to go into the tomb. Even Ras Nsi might send his own Yuan-ti Pureblood characters in there as part of a team intending to stop the death curse.

    These new dungeon delvers are the expendables. Our players know they might not last and that's ok. They've only had them since the beginning of the Tomb of the Nine Gods. If the die, they die.

    Still, it can be hard to put aside characters the players love. Opening the tomb doesn't feel like the end of the adventure. They want to stay with their main character and send them into the tomb. From a story perspective, why should the characters who traveled all this way send some other poor saps into the death trap? If they're heroic at all, sacrifice is part of that heroism. That won't matter to the player when their character is crushed under a big door but it makes sense and it would be disappointing to do it any other way. Thus, switching to new characters at the tomb's door isn't a perfect solution.

    Solution 2: Build the B-Team Switch In Early

    One way to ensure your players don't get stuck on the decision to send in their main characters or switch to an alt is to wire in that choice from the beginning. Instead of giving the characters the quest to seek the source of the death curse and end it. The quest can be to seek the Tomb of Annihilation and open it. Those who send the characters into the jungle will know that the heroes who find the tomb aren't the same ones who will enter the tomb. Those who enter the tomb are better suited for tomb-delving, not jungle explorations. The main characters can become patrons of these tomb-delvers instead of the tomb delvers themselves.

    If this switch is wired in from the beginning, players will feel less like they're abandoning their characters halfway through an adventure and understand that a character switch is built into the story. They'll know their other characters will be stepping out of the spotlight.

    This too is not an ideal solution but it might be the best way to make the transition from a deep character-driven exploration adventure to a deathtrap dungeon.

    Solution 3: Shaving Off the Sharp Edges

    Here's a solution many DMs will hate: shave off the rough edges. Much of what makes the Tomb of the Nine Gods deadly are the situations where characters who drop to zero hit points are outright killed instead of simply rolling death saves and requiring a heal.

    We can likely shave off the rough edges in a few different parts of the tomb to keep the characters alive, at least a little bit more alive, than they might be otherwise. We can still run a dangerous adventure where the players must make hard choices to stay alive without the direct threat of the one-button deaths that can be found in a lot of these chambers. The four elemental chambers are known to be quite deadly but they can be a little less so if we make it easier for players to navigate the puzzels as the characters flounder about.

    Some of the more deadly rooms and traps to watch include:

    • The onyx chest in Wongo's Tomb (room 16). Consider removing the instant death from the onyx chest.
    • The elemental cells before Shagambi's Tomb (rooms 47A-D). Give plenty of clues about how to navigate the cells.
    • Belchorzh the beholder (room 44). Play him sub-optimally. He's more interested in tormenting the characters than killing them. Get rid of the instant-deaths on his finger-of-death ray and his disintegrate ray. He wants to have fun, not turn them to ash. Maybe have those spells inflict permanent injuries instead of outright deaths.
    • The gargoyle guardians (room 45). Give the characters a chance to flee from the room or lower the gargoyle's hit points. Like the beholder, play them sub-optimally.
    • Any of the "if this damage reduces a character to 0 hit points, they die" effects. Ignore that line or add a permanent injury instead.
    • The devil onslaught in the Hall of the Golden Mastodon (room 67). Put in fewer devils, lower their hit points, or play them sub-optimally. Embrace it when the characters cast save-or-suck spells on them. The deal the Erinyes offers doesn't have to kill a character outright. Instead, they could sign a contract for their soul when they die, after the threat of the tomb is defeated.

    Frankly, this is my recommended method. People just don't like to see their characters instantly killed in my games. Maybe some do, but I haven't seen them.

    Solution 4: Run As Intended and Come What May

    Finally, you can ignore all of this and run the adventure as it is. I've seen a lot of discussions from DMs who have run the Tomb of the Nine Gods and described the dramatic shift in lethality. They talked a lot about how it hurt peoples' enjoyment of the game. That was the case in the two groups I ran it for as well.

    Tomb of Annihilation is close to the best D&D hardback adventure Wizards has released. This tonal shift from fantasy exploration to deathtrap hurts it. Otherwise, this is a nearly perfect adventure. The exploration is awesome. The setting is fantastic. The story is solid. The tomb, setting aside its lethality, is incredibly well designed. This adventure hits the exact level of focus I love in published adventures. I can deal with the warts regarding the urgency of the death curse and the issues bringing in problematic NPCs but the deadly shift of the adventure can kill a lot of fun after months of play if we're not careful. That's a hard problem to get past. Hopefully this article has given you some ideas how to deal with this shift so you and your players can get the most out of this otherwise fantastic adventure.

    Read more »
  • Facing Insurmountable Foes

    In the beginning of Hoard of the Dragon Queen the characters face off against Lennithon, an adult blue dragon, when the characters are likely level 1. It doesn't take any powerful encounter building to realize this isn't a fight the characters can win.

    The same thing occurs in Tomb of Annihilation when the characters come into contact with Valindra Shadowmantle, a lich in service to Szass Tam of the Red Wizards of Thay. The characters are likely around level six at this point.

    Putting the characters in the presence of powerful villains is common in a lot of adventures, published or not. Sometimes it's fun for the characters to actually face the true villain of the adventure early on, such as meeting Strahd in the beginning of Curse of Strahd. Other times, like when Demogorgon steps out of the Dark Lake in Out of the Abyss it serves as a powerful backdrop for the plot of the adventure.

    There's a big problem with scenes like this, though: facing insurmountable foes removes player agency.

    (Cover to Volo's Guide to Monsters by Tyler Jacobson)

    When our characters face off against foes they can't beat, we've removed one of their options—combat. For some players, this is simply unfair. D&D games shouldn't pit characters against foes they can't beat. Many DMs who focus more on the story of D&D than the balance of encounters know that yes, sometimes the characters will face foes they can't beat. It depends on how things go.

    However they got there, when the characters face these foes and combat is off the table, the players might find themselves limited in the options from which they can choose. Sure, they can negotiate, but how good is the negotiation when one side can completely obliterate the other? How well has it worked out for the goblin the characters captured after slaughtering fifteen of its friends? That goblin doesn't have a lot of options to choose from.

    Neither do the characters when facing an adult blue dragon at level 1.

    So we come to an easy high-level piece of advice for situations like this: give the players options when facing insurmountable foes. If the story has worked itself into a position where the characters face an insurmountable foe, it's up to us DMs to make the options clear. It's up to us to return agency to the characters so they can actually make some meaningful choices.

    Agency Returned

    What agency we can give depends on the story, as does the encounter in the first place. Perhaps the characters have some information the villains need but do not have. Perhaps the characters know where something is that the villains must have. For example, maybe the characters know of the location of a number of puzzle cubes in Tomb of Annihilation that the villains desire.

    Perhaps the villains have a weakness the characters are aware of. For example, what if the characters know about a lich's phylactery or a vampire's coffin. Maybe they even have control of it, putting the two opposing sides on more even ground.

    We can also expand the options for the characters in a few other ways. Maybe the characters learn of a traitor in the enemy's forces that they can exploit. Maybe they learn how they can steal what they want instead of needing to negotiate for it directly. Maybe they learn that, buried deep within that ancient black obelisk, is a nalfeshnee just waiting to burst forth. Should something go terribly wrong, a good crack on the obelisk will complicate things for the villains.

    Example Character Angles

    So what sort of angles might the characters have when facing an insurmountable foe? Here are some general examples:

    • The characters have information the villain needs.
    • The characters have possession of something the villain wants.
    • The characters are aware of a traitor or weakness in the villain's forces.
    • The characters have something vital to the villain's well being.
    • The characters have a weapon that greatly threatens the villain.
    • The characters have a powerful ally that the villain fears.
    • The characters can bring the house down on top of the villain.
    • Disrupting the characters or their actions would throw the villain's own plans in disarray.
    • The villain needs the characters to perform some task that no one else is capable of doing.
    • The villain has enemies worse than the characters and need their help to defeat it.
    • The characters are able to steal what they need from the villain.
    • The villain isn't aware of the characters' presence.
    • The characters discover a weakness of their insurmountable enemy.

    If a villain is on the horizon in our games; if we think they're going to come into play and there will be a stand-off between the insurmountable villain and the characters; it helps if we lay out perhaps three angles the characters can capitalize on when that confrontation occurs.

    Bending the Story to Our Will

    When we're building out a D&D game from the story that unfolds, sometimes these situations appear and we don't have a good or easy approach to give that agency back. If we're letting scenes unfold how they unfold, we might not have any options prepared ahead of time. It might turn out, as the course of events takes place, that the characters find themselves face to face with an insurmountable foe.

    In cases like these, we have to remember that fun comes first, even before staying true to the continuity of a story. Stephen King fully expected to kill off Paul Sheldon in Misery until he realized that no one wants to read a novel only to have the main character killed off at the end. He must not have read No Country for Old Men yet (spoilers!). In any case, when it comes to our D&D game, no one will care if you stay true to the direction of the story if it's not fun for the players.

    Therefore, moments like this give us license to alter the world. This is a good time to stop for a minute and think about how we can give agency back to the players when they face an insurmountable foe. We can manipulate the world to give them an edge. We can reveal a weakness. We can reveal a nearby doomsday device. We can have the villain realize that an ally of the characters is too important to anger. This is one of those times where tweaking the reality of the story is ok because we're doing it specifically to make the game more fun. Like adding hit points to a boss monster that's dying too fast we can bend space and time for the sake of the fun of the game.

    Giving Characters Fair Warning

    If we're used to previous versions of Dungeons & Dragons, particularly third and fourth editions; we're probably used to focusing on balanced combat encounters. It is hard for us to break away from clear encounter-focused D&D adventures and letting the story take us in directions we weren't used to. As we get used to letting the story go where it goes, situations like facing an insurmountable foe can become more likely.

    As hard as it is for us to change our thought process when running fifth edition D&D games, so to might it be hard for our players. When the characters end up facing an insurmountable foe, it's up to us to telegraph the danger. We have to let them know that we don't expect they'll go toe to toe with a villain like this and kill it. They might very well die if they try. It's possible, even likely, that players will think they're getting manipulated. They'll think that it isn't fair that they're facing such powerful monsters. If there isn't a good story reason why they're facing such a foe, they might be right. The adult blue dragon in the first chapter of Hoard of the Dragon Queen felt like this to me. Why would an adult dragon need to go poke around at a village? Why not leave that to the cultists?

    When the story does support a confrontation against an insurmountable foe, we have to make it clear to the players that the foe is indeed insurmountable and also telegraph the other options available to them. If they're a combat focused group of players, we may really need to make it clear what other angles they have available. If we took combat away as an option, what was that option replaced with? If the answer is nothing, we've probably railroaded the story too much. The characters really don't have a choice other than 100% capitulation. That's not our job. Our job is always to put fun choices in front of the players.

    Read more »