Sly Flourish

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    Sly Flourish

  • VideoRunning Hex Crawls for D&D, 5e, or Shadowdark

    This week Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is on sale for 30% off the hardcover and 50% off the PDF and eBook package! Don't miss it!


    I've been enjoying running a lot of Shadowdark RPG games recently, the prep of which you can watch on my Shadowdark Prep YouTube Videos channel. During this campaign we began the process of crawling hexes through the Gloaming, the setting from Cursed Scroll 1. It's a lot of fun but I wanted to refine the process for more easily running the hex crawl.

    There's many tools and processes for running hex crawls – and the whole topic is new to me. I wanted an easy and straightforward process for running hexes and here it is.

    While I put this together in consideration of my Shadowdark RPG, these thoughts and steps can be just as easily used in a 5e fantasy game like D&D.

    Planning a Hex Crawl

    Here's my abbreviated list of steps for planning out a hex crawl. When prepping a hex crawl determine

    • the planned destination, direction, distance, speed, and terrain covered.
    • the roles each character takes in the exploration.
    • the risk and danger of travel.
    • the weather.
    • the possibility of getting lost.
    • interesting monuments they might find along the way.
    • potential random encounters.
    • the expense of rations or other consumables.

    Let's look at each of these as steps for our hex crawl.

    Plan the Destination, Direction, Distance, Speed, and Terrain

    Where do you want to go? What direction will you take? How far is it in hexes and how much does each hex represent? What terrain does it cover? How fast are you going to go? How easy is it to get lost?

    We can offer meaningful choices here for the characters. Do they want the well-maintained road but run into gossipy or shady travelers more often or take the back paths and risk dangerous monsters?

    You can usually determine the answers to these questions once for the whole journey.

    Choose Character Roles

    What roles do the characters take during the hex crawl? I like the following three roles, each which results in a potential ability check. Multiple characters can take on a single role, granting advantage to the character with the highest ability bonus for the check.

    • Pathfinder. Intelligence (History) or Wisdom (Nature, Survival). Characters taking on this role help ensure the group stays on track and heads in the right direction. They reference maps and physical distinguishing features to ensure the characters don't lose their way. The harder the path they follow, the higher the DC will be. Traveling along a road or well-known path is an automatic success but can become dangerous if hostile creatures control the road.

    • Scout. Wisdom (Perception, Investigation). Characters taking on this role keep an eye out for nasty creatures and signs of recent activity (or activities yet to come). They're watching out for trouble.

    • Quartermaster. Wisdom (Nature, Survival). Characters taking on this role ensure the health and well-being of the party. They make sure food stays unspoiled, enough water stays on hand, everyone's staying well-fed and well-hydrated, and everyone's socks are clean.

    You can usually determine roles once for the whole journey.

    Determine Danger

    How dangerous is the path? In Shadowdark, the level of danger changes how often you roll for random encounters. You can do the same thing in your 5e games. The scout's job is to try to detect these dangers before they run right up and bite you.

    You can usually determine the overall threat once for the whole journey unless you're traversing different biomes where the threat of danger changes.

    Determine Weather

    What's the weather like? You can use a simple table-less system of rolling a die. The higher the result, the more extreme the weather.

    You could also come up with your own custom weather table for your particular region. The book Uncharted Journeys has a lot of outstanding examples of weather for different regions (as well as lots of other material related to making longer journeys across the land).

    Determine weather daily.

    Determine the Risk of Getting Lost

    If the characters are going off the beaten path, your pathfinder determines whether you get lost or not. Depending on how nit-picky you want to be about checks, you can roll on behalf of the pathfinder so players don't know how well they did. If they fail, you decide which direction they headed towards instead or roll for it.

    Determine the risk of loss once per hex.

    Choose Monuments

    If you want to fill in the hex with something interesting, you can drop in a monument flavored with lore from your campaign or world. Monuments are fantastic vehicles for secrets and clues and create a backdrop for any potential encounter the characters run into.

    Select monuments once per hex.

    Roll or Drop In Random Encounters

    For Shadowdark you roll random encounters based on the danger of the situation and the time taken for travel. On a 1 on a 1d6, the characters face an encounter. You might instead determine that an encounter fits well for the pacing of the game and drop it in. You'd want to roll for or determine the distance, potential detection of the characters, and behavior as well. An easy table-less way to do this is to roll for distance (the lower the roll, the closer they are) and motivation (the higher the roll, the more hostile they are).

    Even if the characters don't run into a random encounter, they might find indications of one – either one that already passed by or one coming soon. You can roll for two encounters and find the remains of the situation in which those two encounters clashed. Combining two encounters is a fun way to give the characters something to investigate without running an entire encounter.

    Shadowdark has random encounters right in the book. If you want some excellent 5e random encounters, check out A5e's Trials and Treasure.

    Determine random encounters once per hex. The more dangerous the terrain, the greater the chance based on your roll (1 on 1d6, 1-2 on 1d6, or 1-3 on 1d6).

    Expend Resources

    If you're tracking rations and other consumables, track expended resources daily. How many torches did it take to start a fire? How many rations did the characters need to eat to get a full rest? If you're looking to add resource management to your 5e games, Level Up Advanced 5e has a "supply" system for doing so.

    If your game is more heroic, high-fantasy with all your goodberries and create foods and drinks, you may not need to worry about it.

    Determine resources expended daily.

    Summarizing the Steps

    Here's a checklist for running our simplified hex crawl:

    1. Each journey – determine the destination, direction, distance, speed, and terrain.
    2. Each journey – have players select roles – pathfinder, scout, or quartermaster.
    3. Each journey or change in terrain – determine the overall danger level.
    4. Each day – determine weather.
    5. Each hex – determine the risk of getting lost.
    6. Each hex – choose or roll for a monument if desired.
    7. Each dangerous period – roll for or select a random encounter, signs of previous activity, or signs of activity yet to come.
    8. Each day – expend resources.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Reach and Run Awesome Campaign Conclusions and Vault of Memnon – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 32 Lazy GM Prep.

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    RPG Tips

    Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

    • Build a resilient group by having six full time players and two on call players. Run with as few as four and it takes five cancellations before you can’t run a game.
    • Build episodic campaigns like a tv serial so it doesn’t matter too much if a particular player can’t make it.
    • Keep lair-style adventures on hand for side quests and improvised sessions.
    • Describe, don’t define.
    • Keep passive perceptions in front of you. Tell players what their characters see.
    • Add healing potions to loot hoards generously.
    • Tie NPCs the characters saved to more important NPCs so the players can see the benefits of their actions.

    Related Articles

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    Buy Sly Flourish's Books

    Have a question or want to contact me? Check out Sly Flourish's Frequently Asked Questions.

    Read more »
  • VideoUsing the Lazy DM's Eight Steps At the Table

    This week Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is on sale for 30% off the hardcover and 50% off the PDF and eBook package! Don't miss it!


    Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master offers eight steps for game preparation to help GMs focus on the most valuable material one can prepare to help them improvise during their game. These steps include:

    • Review the characters
    • Create a strong start
    • Outline potential scenes
    • Define secrets and clues
    • Develop fantastic locations
    • Outline important NPCs
    • Choose relevant monsters
    • Select magic item rewards

    Not all steps make sense for all games or all GMs, of course. They hopefully help GMs focus on the critical aspects we often need to run our games.

    But how do we actually use these steps at the table? Preparing them is one thing – how they manifest during the game is something else. Return discusses this topic too – and if you're having trouble, consider giving the book another read – but it doesn't focus on how we directly use these steps to run a game.

    Prepping Dishes to Cook at the Table

    I like to use the metaphor that using the eight steps during our game is like preparing ingredients ahead of time to cook at the table – like a big hibachi dinner. We don't cook the full meal and just plop it out. We have our dishes ready to improvise the meal as we go. It's not a perfect metaphor but it may help clarify that we prepare components to piece together during the game.

    Preparing to Improvise

    Often GMs prep scenes intended to be run one after the other. Each scene has all the components it needs to run like the location, NPCs, situation, monsters, and other stuff. This style doesn't lead towards the flexibility we often need when the players make a choice we didn't expect.

    The eight steps don't help you build a procedural set of scenes run one after the other. Thus, the material you prepare doesn't fit perfectly into each scene of the game. Most of the steps give you materials you can drop in at the right time. Secrets, locations, NPCs, monsters, and treasure can come up at different times depending on how the game plays out. This lack of a clear procedural matchup between the eight steps and the scenes in the game we run can be hard to understand – but it's a feature, not a bug.

    When do you typically use these steps at the table? Let's look at each step.

    Review the Characters

    This step often doesn't come into direct play at the table. Instead, this step helps you frame the rest of your prep around the characters. Reviewing the characters puts them into your mind so you can fill in secrets, NPCs, treasure and other components with direct character hooks. It helps you focus on the most important actors in the game – the characters.

    Create a Strong Start

    This step definitely has a clear place at the table. Once everyone's sitting around the table – after you've asked the players to catch everyone up on what happened last time (or you've done it yourself) – you jump into your strong start. Something happens. What is it? What can the characters do? What do they do? Make something happen and then put choices in front of the characters fast.

    Outline potential scenes

    Scenes are a catch-all for lots of different potential elements of our prep and our game. It could be a list of the five big scenes you plan to run or it could be a nest of scenes that might happen. It could be a strong start and a big catch-all like "explore Bittermold Keep". It might be a list of scenes and then three possible options you want to drop in at the end of the session.

    Because it's a catch-all, outlining scenes could be used many different ways at the table. You might review it to know where to move to next after one scene is done. You might reference the three possible options for the next steps at the end of the game. It's mostly there to help you understand the framework of the game you're going to run – not help you run it directly.

    Define Secrets and Clues

    I often get feedback asking for better definitions on where to reveal secrets and clues but the answer really is "anywhere they make sense". During play, you may have them in your mind or in front of you in your notes. When the characters explore somewhere, discover something, talk to someone, or otherwise pick up a clue – that's the time to drop them in. Think of secrets like treasure you reward the characters for doing stuff.

    Remember, you don't have to reveal all your secrets. I typically reveal half of the ten in a session. It's totally fine to only give out a few of them. Secrets serve you. You're under no obligation to use them or reveal them. They're there to help you fill in the lore of the game when it makes sense to do so. But it's still important to have enough secrets to fill in the blanks during the game. you may only give out half of your ten secrets but you don't know which half.

    Develop Fantastic Locations

    How you develop your fantastic locations and how you use them at the table depends on the kind of adventure you're going to run. A dungeon crawl with lots of rooms means you can focus on a map and add a few one- or two-word descriptions for each room. These short prompts give you something to riff off of when you're running the game. If your session focuses on a smaller number of more detailed locations, you probably want to fill them out with names and three notable features the characters can use.

    At the table, you'll have the map in hand and use it to draw out or reveal rooms for a player-focused version of the map. Using maps at the table is its own challenge. However you use maps with your players, though, you'll still want your list of locations and notable features in front of you during the game. Use these maps and notes to help you fill out the room when the characters get there.

    Outline Important NPCs

    How you use this step depends on how much help you need when running an NPC at the table. Some GMs can get away with just a name. Other people need a list of appearances, mannerisms, goals, maybe even notable quotes they might say. I think it's worth getting better at improvising NPCs since you're likely to need to do it anyway. The most important aspect of an NPC you're going to need during prep and during play is the NPC's name. It's easy to forget names and they're really important. Write them down when they come up during your prep and write down new ones when they pop up during the game itself.

    Like locations, you can reference your list of NPCs when it's time for them to step into the scene – using any of the notes you find useful to flesh them out as you describe them. During your prep, consider what you needed to run the NPC during the game and what you ignored. Now skip the stuff you ignored.

    Choose Relevant Monsters

    You'll find a trend here. How you use your list of monsters depends on the sort of game you're going to run, but most often it's a simple list of monsters you think you might need and either links to digital stat blocks or page numbers to monster stat blocks in the books you plan to run. During your prep you might also use your list of monsters to select miniatures or prepare digital tokens. A set of generic monster tokens is a fantastic aid for improvising combat encounters.

    At the table, you decide which monsters and how many monsters make sense for the situation. Then you use your list and references to look up the stat blocks and run them at the table.

    Select Treasure

    During your prep you might outline some interesting treasure and magic items the characters might find. Write down these parcels of treasure including links or page numbers where needed.

    During the game, you decide if a situation warrants the discovery of treasure and use your list to drop in the treasure that makes sense. You can split up treasure parcels if it doesn't make sense for so much money to be in one place or to pick particular magic items that suit the situation.

    Little Dishes of Flexible Prep

    The eight steps from Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master intend to help you get your hands around the most important stuff you may need during the game. They're focused on things to help you improvise during the game. You're not planning the game when preparing them. You're not building a story. You're setting up little dishes of pre-cooked food so you can improvise the meal at the table. Each of these items, and each of the lists they contain, are intended to help you quickly reference the stuff that's hard to improvise without putting in so much detail that improvisation is hindered.

    Prepare what you need to run an awesome game.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Which Prep Steps for Which Situation and Nighthaven – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 31 Lazy GM Prep.

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    RPG Tips

    Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

    • Show pictures of NPCs.
    • Tie loot to the story of the campaign.
    • Write down improvised NPC names.
    • Note new character features when they level up.
    • The smallest dungeon can have one open path and one secret path.
    • Roll for a monster's motivation.
    • Build handouts to focus both you and your players around the oncoming story.

    Related Articles

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    Have a question or want to contact me? Check out Sly Flourish's Frequently Asked Questions.

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  • VideoHigh Value Prep

    This week Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is on sale for 30% off the hardcover and 50% off the PDF and eBook package! Don't miss it!


    "Get more out of your RPGs by preparing less."

    This is the core motto of Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master which follows with eight steps designed to help you get the most value out of your prep.

    There's a near limitless set of activities we could work on when prepping our tabletop roleplaying games. Yet all of us have limited time to focus on that prep.

    Where do we focus that time? What activities matter the most?

    The eight steps are my best take on the areas most vital for running a great game – and even all eight aren't needed for every game. See Choosing the Right Steps for a discussion about which steps help with which types of games.

    Today, though, we're going to look at the question of high value prep from a different angle. I don't know that I can help overlapping with some of the steps from Return but I'm going to do my best to take a different look at the problem.

    Where is your time best spent when prepping your RPG?

    The Characters

    Well, shit. I already failed. Reviewing the characters is clearly the first step from Return but boy howdy is it important! The characters are the focal point of the game. They matter because their players matter. No one really cares that deeply about any given NPC but characters are the players' representation in the world. They really matter.

    So what should we focus on with them?

    Their backgrounds and stories. Who are they? What do they want? Where did they come from? What matters to the players about the backgrounds of their characters? How can we know this? Ask your players. Run campfire tales. Or just ask them about their character and what matters to them. Write it down.

    Their mechanics. What do the players enjoy about their characters from a gameplay standpoint? Watch their behavior and see. What do the players get excited about using? What sort of fun mechanical effects do they enjoy? When they leveled up, what new things did they pick up? What new feats or spells or abilities did they choose? Ask them and write it down.

    Their treasure wishlist. What sort of loot are they hoping for? What types of magic items make their character complete? Write it down and think about it while prepping your session's treasure hoard.

    Character-focused secrets. Yes, another tie to one of the eight steps. When we're thinking about the characters, we can gain some efficiency by thinking about what secrets tied to that character might be revealed in the next game. Character-focused secrets are a great way to make our session richer and tie the characters closer to the game at the same time.

    The Hook

    Ok, I'm cheating a bit here too. The "Strong Start" is the second step from Return and what is a strong start if not a hook to draw the players into the adventure. But we'll take a different angle on it here. Yes, you want to grab the players and draw them into the game but you also want them to get hooked into the adventure you have planned. Focusing on a strong hook isn't a railroad. They should have choices about how they approach the situation, but you want them to at least follow loosely to whatever you had planned for an evening of adventure.

    Think about the hook. Think about where it leads. Think about how it draws them out of our real world and into our fantasy world. How can you tie the hook back to the characters?

    The Situation

    Situation-based adventures are just plain fun. Pick a location and a map. Add inhabitants. Give the characters a clear goal. Think about potential complications. Set the stage for the adventure and then let it play out at the table.

    Situation-based adventures break away from adventures focusing on a story or plot. With plot-based adventures, the story goes in one direction. Character choices have small effects but not big ones. Situations change that dynamic. You don't have any idea what the characters might plan. You might have thoughts about potential directions but nothing concrete enough to write out in an outline or build scene-by-scene.

    Setting up a situation also covers other steps from Return including the location, NPCs, monsters, and probably some secrets. In this case, though, we're munging it all together to focus on the overall situation itself.

    Spending your time thinking about the situation in your next session is time well spent. The more details you add – details not dependent on particular actions of the characters – the better.

    The Next Adventure

    When you're planning this adventure, think about what you need to put in front of the players so they can select the next adventure. I like to offer three choices for where they might go next. We often want to put these in front of the players when they're done with whatever arc of the adventure they're currently on but before they leave for the night so we know what to prep next. I talk more about this advice in Two Horizons Out. What's in front of us now and what's over the horizon? Where are things going to go next?

    What Do You Need for Your Next Game?

    What do you need in front of you when you're ready to sit down for your next game? Sit down and think about it. If you can, sit down where you plan to run your game and imagine your friends around the table (physically or virtually). Visualize that game, think about what you wish you had, and work on those ideas. Focus on what you know your players enjoy, what makes your game run smoothly and what you can put down that empowers the players to make interesting choices and show off their cool characters.

    Focus on what matters for your game.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Taking Notes During and After your TTRPG Session and The Vile Well – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 30 Lazy GM Prep.

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    RPG Tips

    Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

    • Leave blanks. Let your players fill them in with their imaginations.
    • Describe monsters, don't define monsters. A hulking behemoth covered in rough tattoos wielding an axe the size of a carriage door is far scarier than an ogre.
    • Sandwich mechanics with fiction.
    • Write down ten fictional characters you dig. Keep them handy as NPC archetypes. Change appearances and genders to keep them fresh.
    • Use a mixture of theater of the mind, abstract combat, and tactical combat. Keep all the tools in your toolbox.
    • Try using backdrop pictures in your VTT instead of grid-aligned battle maps.
    • Write down the factions of your campaign setting. Roll on this list to flavor items, monuments, encounters, NPCs, quests, or situations.

    Related Articles

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  • VideoTie Characters to Factions

    This week Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is on sale for 30% off the hardcover and 50% off the PDF and eBook package! Don't miss it!


    Tying characters to factions is a great way to connect characters to a central hub in your campaign. Building and using these realtionships in game give players a choice in how they want to approach that campaign.

    I've been running a lot of Shadowdark recently and I love it. Characters, however, die often and sometimes their quests die with them. This situation can get awkward when a group of characters enters a dungeon driven by a quest and then die off, leaving their replacement character to wonder why they ever bothered coming to this terrible place.

    Linking new characters to existing factions can avoid this problem. A faction acts as an abstraction between quests and characters. A character might be allied with a local adventurer's guild. The guild has the intention to find the cure to a terrible curse. Thus, the character tied to this faction has this quest but so does their replacement character since they both come from the same faction.

    I used a similar system in my 4th edition D&D Dark Sun campaign. Players had a choice of a stable of characters they could use for any given adventure, all coming from a guild of former gladiators. It made perfect sense when a player switched from their wizard to their fighter – they're just two different members of the same guild.

    Eberron's dragonmarked houses and the five Forgotten Realms factions described on page 21 and 22 of the 2014 Dungeon Master's Guide also work well. That whole section of the DMG has interesting advice for earning and benefitting from renown with particular factions.

    Offer a Choice of Factions

    There are a few ways to introduce factions and different reasons why you might choose one over another. You might choose a single faction the characters are all tied to as part of your campaign. That's a little forced, though. Instead, you might offer several factions and ask the players to pick one for a whole campaign. Turning the decision over to the players gives them a choice about how they want to shape their approach to the campaign.

    For example, you might offer four dragonmarked houses the characters can be tied to for an Eberron game – each with their own take on the world around them. You can tie these choices to specific alignments – the lawful good House Jorasco, the lawful neutral House Lyrandar, the chaotic good House Tharashk, and the chaotic neutral House Deneith (I'm almost certainly going to receive email and comments about getting those alignments wrong but you get the idea).

    One Faction per Character

    Another more complicated way to do it is give each character a connection to a faction of their own choosing with their own quests, hopefully overlapping with those quests from other factions and NPCs. This system can get complicated, however, and there's no guarantee that the motivation of one faction syncs perfectly with the motivations of another faction. Choose this option if the quests overlap enough that you can still get some individual flavor but the group as a whole is moving in the same direction.

    A Simple Abstraction between Characters and Quests

    Tying characters and quests to factions is a great way to ensure that quests don't get lost should characters change. It gives players a common source for quests and the agency to select which faction they want to support.

    The next time you're starting a campaign, select a handful of factions and ask players to choose one. Use that faction to drive the quests and direction of the campaign, keeping continuity should old characters depart and new ones jump in.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Character Faction Tips and The Green Knight Queen – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 29 Lazy GM Prep.

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    RPG Tips

    Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

    • Typical scenarios become unique with the lore and details you include.
    • Spread around the threat and damage in combat.
    • Keep the characters’ names in front of you.
    • Replace NPCs in published settings with NPCs important to the characters or even the characters themselves.
    • Drop in magic items that fit the characters.
    • Write down a quick summary of important events and where the session ended right after the game.
    • Keep two or three options in front of the characters.

    Related Articles

    Get More from Sly Flourish

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  • VideoAward Treasure and Magic Items in 5e

    This week Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is on sale for 30% off the hardcover and 50% off the PDF and eBook package! Don't miss it!


    Looking for a good system for managing treasure in your fantasy RPGs? Use a mixture of random treasure and hand-selected magic items that fit the characters and their players' desires based on wish lists. Roll random treasure parcels and customize which parcels to offer and what's in each parcel based on what brings the most fun to the group. It's quick, easy, and provides a high value for our game.

    How much treasure should you reward? A couple of RPG community members did great work breaking down how much treasure one can expect across a campaign. DM David did so in his article "What is the typical amount of treasure awarded in a fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign?". So did Paul Hughes and Andy Pearlman. If you want to dive deep into the math, these articles have you covered.

    Like many aspects of 5e and RPGs, I argue it's better to hang on with a loose grip and not worry too much about the math.

    How Often?

    The breakdowns linked above, and books like the 2014 Dungeon Master's Guide, and Level Up Advanced 5e's Trials and Treasure recommend offering one to three hoards per character level. That feels right to me too.

    I like to prepare one hoard, with a couple of potential permanent magic items for each session. I may not give them out, but I like to have them on hand.

    Drop in hoards when they feel right and when the opportunity arises in the story of the game.

    How Much?

    Chapter 7 of the 2014 Dungeon Master's Guide has fine tables for rolling treasure hoards. Choose the challenge rating of the biggest monster defeated or pick a CR based on the overall danger of the quest (or even just an equivalent CR to the level of the characters if you have nothing else to base it on) and roll on the appropriate tables.

    The equivalent random treasure tables in the Trials and Treasure book for Level Up Advanced 5e are better but adding all the CRs of the defeated monsters isn't as straightforward as focusing on the highest CR monster. You can half the CR values in A5e's tables and use them the same way as the DMG tables and things work fine.

    Online random treasure tools often work better than rolling lots of dice. It's fast to roll a treasure hoard using tools like Donjon's Treasure Generator, the Level Up Advanced 5e Random Treasure Generator, or the Lazy GM's Random Generator (a reward for Sly Flourish Patrons). Because it's so fast, you can roll a bunch of hoards and pick the one that best fits the situation in the game and the fun of your group. Which random magic items look cool for the current situation? Does the hoard have too many or too few consumable magic items? Keep rolling until you like what you see.

    We're not beholden to the results of such random treasure hoards. Roll again or roll on individual magic item tables to drop in specific items. Feel free to pick items directly for your characters if random rolls aren't bringing up things they want or can use. Sometimes, though, strange oddities can be used in interesting ways so it's ok to toss them into the pile.

    Add Items from Wish Lists

    Ask your players what kinds of magic items they're interested in for their character. Write this wish list down in your notes and review it when reviewing the characters for your next game (step 1 of the eight steps from Return). Then, if the time feels right, drop in an item for one of the characters, ensuring you're keeping track of who got what so no one's left out.

    Add Story and Campaign Flavor

    The "Special Features" tables on page 142 and 143 of chapter 7 in the 2014 Dungeon Master's Guide offer fantastic ways to customize magic items based on the item's creators or intended users, history, minor properties, and quirks. These tables inspired my "condition", "description", and "origin" tables on page 6 of the Lazy DM's Companion and the "origin", "condition", and "spell effects" tables on page 13 and 14 of the Lazy DM's Workbook.

    You can also build your own faction or origin table to flavor magic items based on the campaign world you're running – either homebrew or published. Here's an example of some factions of Midgard:

    1. Veles the Great Serpent
    2. Freyr and Freyja, the Twin Northern Gods
    3. Loki the Northern Trickster God
    4. Sif the Northern Sword Maiden
    5. Thor the Northern Thunderer
    6. Wotan the Northern Rune Father
    7. Khors the Crossroads Lord of the Sun
    8. Lada the Crossroad Goddess of Dawn, Love, and Mercy
    9. Perun the Crossroad God of War and Thunder
    10. Rava the Crossroad Gear Goddess
    11. Volund the Crossroad Master of Fire and Anvil
    12. Addrikah the Mother of Madness
    13. Boreas the Devouring Wind
    14. Chernobog the Black God
    15. The Goat of the Woods
    16. The Hunter, God of Relentless Pursuit, Skill, and Primal Instinct
    17. Mammon the Lord of Greed
    18. Marena the Red Goddess of Winter
    19. Vardesain the Ghoul-God of the Bottomless Maw
    20. The White Goddess of Bright Pain

    When you're playing in a campaign world, build your own faction list like the one above to flavor your own monuments, one-use magic items, weapons, and armor.

    Tie your custom magic items to your secrets and clues so your players discover more of the world around them while enjoying their new fine loot.

    The Lazy GM's Random Generator

    Sly Flourish Patrons get access to the Lazy GM's Random Generator. This tool is a generator for monuments, one-use magic items, treasure, quests, NPCs, and more. Each component can be flavored with over ten different campaign worlds and include spells from the 2014 Player's Handbook, Level Up Advanced 5e, and Kobold Press's Deep Magic books. It's a great resource to help you build fantastic situations for your games. Join the Patreon and get access right now.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Tier-Ranking D&D and RPG Campaigns and Building a Faction List .

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    RPG Tips

    Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

    • Read over your material just before running your game.
    • Give players plenty of time to build characters together at your session zero.
    • Run one scene to pull characters into the campaign at the end of your session zero.
    • Define clearly what sets your campaign apart to get players excited to play there.
    • Give players a choice of their group’s primary faction or patron. Use ranked-choice voting to determine the preferred patron.
    • Show pictures of important NPCs.
    • Build plots and conspiracies through the actions of NPCs.

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  • VideoWhat Is 5e?

    This week Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is on sale for 30% off the hardcover and 50% off the PDF and eBook package! Don't miss it!


    The term 5e defines compatibility between the products of hundreds of publishers and the 2014 version of the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game – known as 5th edition D&D.

    In early 2023, Wizards of the Coast, the current holder of the D&D brand and developer of D&D 5th edition (as well as 3rd and 4th editions) released the core rules of D&D 5e under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license in the 5.1 System Reference Document. I know it sounds boring as hell but it's super valuable and important for the whole tabletop roleplaying game hobby.

    With this release, 5e became an open platform for roleplaying games. 5e is like Linux – a platform usable by anyone to build any 5e-based RPG game or supplement they want without needing permission from or paying royalties to Wizards of the Coast.

    So now 5e means something different.

    I argue the term "5e" no longer means "the 5th edition of D&D" but now acts as a stand-alone term defining compatibility between thousands of 5e RPG products.

    For example, by early 2025 there will be at least four different core 5e systems:

    One could argue the excellent old-school-style RPG Shadowdark is actually a lightweight 5e variant (it references the 5.1 SRD in its core book). The French-produced Fateforge is another stand-alone 5e RPG. The Iskandar Player's Handbook by MT Black is a fully self-contained 5e player's guide for $4. I'm likely missing others.

    D&D is the most popular version of 5e by probably two orders of magnitude but that popularity doesn't matter for you and your own game. You can choose whatever version of 5e meets your preferences, or mix and match from all of them to build the game you want to run for your players.

    Beyond the several different core 5e systems, there are thousands of 5e compatible supplements with character options, spells, magic items, monsters, adventures, campaigns, world books, and alternate sub-systems produced over the past ten years. You can use these products to change your own version of 5e any way you wish, all built on this open 5e RPG platform.

    You can also modify 5e yourself however you wish. Homebrewing is a time-honored tradition going back 50 years.

    So what is 5e?

    5e is your system. Use the vast library of 5e products to build your own version of the game and enjoy it as you wish with your friends around the table.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Choosing the First Adventure that Works and Horned Devil Bakis – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 28 Lazy GM Prep.

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    RPG Tips

    Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

    • At the end of your campaign, ask the characters to describe where their characters are one year later. Write down and share their stories.
    • Ask players what they want and where they want their characters to go as you close out your campaign.
    • Have players build characters together at a session zero so they can build their characters off of one another.
    • Mash up multiple encounters into one big fun complicated scene.
    • Build encounters around an interesting set piece or monument to define the physical location and give players something to play off of.
    • Keep track of current and previous NPCs in a big list with a name and a few descriptive words.
    • Roll a d20 to see how the lives of off-screen NPCs have been going. The higher the roll, the better things have been going for them.

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  • VideoTwo Free and Fantastic Resources for Online TTRPG Play

    This week Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is on sale for 30% off the hardcover and 50% off the PDF and eBook package! Don't miss it!


    Here are two free resources to help you run your games online.

    Owlbear Rodeo

    Owlbear Rodeo is my favorite virtual tabletop. It's lightweight, fast, easy to use, reasonably priced (including a free tier), and system agnostic. Players don't have to create accounts to join in. You can run it on a phone. It's quick to get a map up and running with a fog of war and some default tokens. It also works for any RPG, whether it's Shadowdark, Level Up Advanced 5e, Numenera, or Blades in the Dark.

    Owlbear Rodeo switched from a more lightweight locally-hosted version 1 to a full cloud-based version 2. It can take some re-learning to make it just as fast and useful as it was in the old version but I believe it is just about as easy as it was once you get things wired right.

    I recorded a YouTube tutorial on Owlbear Rodeo for Lazy GMs intended to help people get their hands around all the features and how to use them easily during play.

    Owlbear Rodeo includes some awesome default tokens representing monsters and characters but you may want a better set of tokens to represent most monsters in fantasy roleplaying games. That's where this next resource comes in.

    Level Up Advanced 5e's Free Monster Tokens

    EN World publishing released a full set of monster tokens representing core 5e monsters from the A5e Monstrous Menagerie for free. It includes 178 tokens representing all the core monsters you're likely to find in the D&D Monster Manual or other 5e core monster books.

    They work really well when imported into Owlbear Rodeo. In order to import them most effectively, however, you'll want to do a few things:

    1. Create a new collection and import tokens into this collection so you don't flood your main collection with nearly 200 tokens. You can import the tokens all at once.
    2. If desired, set the default text of the token set to "Copy Image Name". It automatically removes file extensions so you'll get a nice token name like "Troglodyte" or "Demon, Balor" under the token. If you'd rather add the names yourself, you can skip this step.
    3. If you do decide to use token names, select the right font size. I like 36 so the name is easy to see.

    This set gives you a huge collection of tokens for monsters in Owlbear Rodeo – a collection you can use in any game you plan to run.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Choosing the Right 5e Stat Block and Myre Castle Ruins - Shadowdark Gloaming Session 27 Lazy GM Prep.

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    RPG Tips

    Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

    • Help every character shine.
    • Lean into the characters’ BS.
    • Focus on enjoying spending time with your friends.
    • Run lots of monsters sub-optimally.
    • Add flavor and story every turn in combat.
    • Set up monsters to show off character abilities.
    • Build awesome boss fights with a variety of monsters, waves of combatants, cool environmental effects, and wild terrain.

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  • VideoThe Heroic Spark

    This week Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is on sale for 30% off the hardcover and 50% off the PDF and eBook package! Don't miss it!


    Here's an easy house rule to streamline the integration of a new character into an existing group. When the new character shows up, state:

    "Looking into their eyes, you see their heroic spark – noting them as a stalwart and trustworthy fellow adventurer."

    This statement bypasses 20 minutes of narrowed-eyed suspicion, threats, and in-world paranoia as your current characters decide whether to trust this new adventurer to join their group. You, as players, all know exactly why this character suddenly showed up deep in the dungeon.

    Player characters are special. They have an actual human being behind them – one seeking to make their character the central focus of their take on the story. They're not just some disposable NPC or monster the characters happened across.

    We can clarify the heroic spark and get back into the action instead of wasting time building trust in a group when we all know how it's going to end – of course we trust them. They're the player character of Pat, whose former character got thrown off of a 150 foot deep cliff into a pool of boiling mud. We know why they're here. Let's skip the trust building. You look into this new character's eyes and can see them as a stalwart and trustworthy fellow adventurer.

    Unless everyone agrees, your game shouldn't hinge on these sorts of inter-party trust questions. If this sort of trust-building is part of the game, discuss it with your players during your session zero.

    Seeing the heroic spark also doesn't bypass the need for the character to introduce themselves, talk about their background and goals, and give the other players an understanding of who they are and what they want. That's important too.

    But let's bypass the tedium of taught bowstrings and intimidation checks and get the new character into the group.

    Show characters the heroic spark of new companions joining their group and get back to your adventures.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on What Is 5e and Marin's Hold Bloodbath – Lazy RPG Prep.

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    RPG Tips

    Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

    • Skip scenes or locations if there’s no chance to learn something interesting or useful in them.
    • Spend time building and planning your big boss encounters.
    • Clarify choices.
    • Use the opportunity at your game to step away from real life and enjoy tales of high fantasy with your friends.
    • Drop in potions or concoctions that let characters receive the equivalent of a long rest.
    • Challenge high level characters with waves of combatants — hordes of low challenge monsters, a few even-power monsters, and huge heavy hitters.
    • Let players learn about changing circumstances through the dialog of their opponents.

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  • VideoRunning Adventures – Mashups and the Undefined

    This week Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is on sale for 30% off the hardcover and 50% off the PDF and eBook package! Don't miss it!


    Over the past couple of months I've written articles defining adventure types – how we prep them, how we run them, what pitfalls we might run into, and how to mitigate those pitfalls. These articles include:

    Robin Laws's book Adventure Crucible – Building Stronger Scenarios for any RPG inspired my thoughts on this topic.

    Know the Rules then Break the Rules

    Now that we've defined adventure types, it's time to throw them away.

    You see, these adventure types often don't line up with the actual adventures we run at our table. Our adventures might span across multiple types, or they might not be defined by any adventure type at all.

    Our romp through Ironfang Keep might feel like a dungeon crawl, a heist, or an investigation. Our traversal across the ghoul city of Vandekhul might feel like travel or intrigue. Our battle against Camazotz might start as a major combat session but turn into roleplaying.

    Adventures just don't fit cleanly into any given adventure type.

    So why did you bother to read all those articles? Why did I bother to write them?

    Because understanding adventure types can still help us run awesome games.

    Actual adventures and sessions might not fit perfectly into one specific adventure type, but when we break down the elements of these adventure types, they give us a possible framework to build off of. They help us identify pitfalls and mitigation strategies for the elements of our game that do fit.

    Which Adventure Type Best Fits?

    When preparing or running our game, try to identify which adventure type or types best fit our game and use the preparation, execution framework, and tips for pitfall mitigations that make sense for the adventure you're running. Dungeon crawls, heists, defense, roleplaying, and combat situations can all come up during our campaigns or even in the middle of a session. The type tell us how we might switch modes and run that style of game.

    If we're not sure what we need when prepping our game, we can ask ourselves which adventure type best fits what we're looking at and aim our prep around that type. Sometimes finding a suitable adventure type means taking a fuzzy concept and defining it within the bounds of the adventure type. "This situation at the castle feels like both defense and intrigue – let me look at those adventure types."

    Absorb Adventure Types, Then Let Them Go

    The more proficient we are running adventures, the more we can absorb the concepts for these adventure types and then set them aside when we're running adventures outside the bounds of any one adventure type.

    Adventure types help identify different modes of play in our fantasy tabletop roleplaying games. Like many generalities, they often break down when you apply them to the actual games we run at our table.

    Yet we don't have to throw away the underlying adventure type concepts in how we prep, how we run, the pitfalls we might face, and how to mitigate those pitfalls. Those concepts hold up even if the defined shapes of an adventure type doesn't perfectly fit the adventure we run.

    Build Your Own Frameworks

    These articles offer one perspective on adventure types. Through your own experiences you might find other adventure types or choose to redefine them yourself. Your own steps for preparing, running, identifying pitfalls, and mitigating pitfalls might be far more useful to you than the advice in this series of articles. That's fine. That's awesome. Define your own adventure types. Ask yourself what you need to prep, what you need to run them, what pitfalls you often run into, and how you can mitigate those pitfalls.

    Find the adventure types that best fit your actual adventures and use the tools within to run awesome games.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Using the 8 Lazy DM Steps at the Table and Swamp King Fronk – Lazy RPG Prep.

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Talk Show Topics

    Each week I record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast) in which I talk about all things in tabletop RPGs. Here are last week's topics with time stamped links to the YouTube video:

    Patreon Questions and Answers

    Also on the Talk Show, I answer questions from Sly Flourish Patrons. Here are last week's questions and answers:

    RPG Tips

    Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

    • Give characters and players a warning when they’re facing a foe beyond their capabilities.
    • Use rolls for distance and motivation to change up random encounters.
    • Improvise connections between random encounters and the larger story through secrets and clues.
    • Build your own 5e from the sources that bring you the coolest options for your game.
    • Clarify options and choices.
    • Print maps and write down one- or two-word descriptions right on the map.
    • Build encounters, secrets, NPCs, monsters, and treasure from the characters outward.

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  • VideoRunning Combat-Focused Adventures

    This week Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master is on sale for 30% off the hardcover and 50% off the PDF and eBook package! Don't miss it!


    This article is one in a series where we look at types of adventures and examine

    • how we prepare them.
    • how we run them.
    • what pitfalls we might run into.
    • how we avoid these pitfalls.

    These articles include:

    Your own adventure types and how you run them may differ from mine. That's totally fine. There are many right ways to enjoy this game.

    Robin Laws's book Adventure Crucible – Building Stronger Scenarios for any RPG inspired my thoughts on this topic.

    For a far more in-depth look at running monsters in combat encounters, please check out Forge of Foes, our book on building and running fantastic monsters for your 5e games.

    Understanding Combat Adventures

    Good fantasy RPG sessions most often include mixtures of exploration, roleplay, and combat. Adventures or sessions focusing on only one pillar of play may bypass players' preferences for the other elements.

    But, on occasion, we find ourselves with a session focused almost exclusively on combat.

    Completely combat-focused sessions may occur when characters face a big battle at the beginning of the session and we know this battle is going to take up most of the session. Other combat-focused sessions might happen when the characters face a gauntlet of battles, one right after the other, whether they're exploring a dangerous dungeon, defending a location, or otherwise find themselves with a series of battles staged in sequence.

    Combat-focused sessions should be rare. The best sessions include scenes and situations with opportunities for roleplaying, exploration, and combat. We want situations where the characters make meaningful decisions to move the story forward.

    But combat-focused sessions do happen and thus are worth examining.

    Preparing Combat Sessions

    During prep, GMs can prepare combat sessions by

    • understanding how these combat encounters begin and where they occur.
    • deciding on a style for combat. Are you going to run it in the theater of the mind, on a combat battle mat, or run abstract combat?
    • choosing a goal for the combat encounter. Sometimes the battle isn't all about killing the monsters but achieving another outcome.
    • selecting monsters for each combat encounter. Rich combat encounters often include two or more different monster types with some synergies between them – big brutes up front and nasty ranged attackers in the back for example.
    • choosing the environment surrounding the encounter. What larger environmental effects might be in play in the combat arena?
    • selecting interesting terrain features the characters and monsters might use (see Anatomy of an Environmental Effect – Chernobog's Well)
    • planning potential shifts in the encounter. What events might change the course of the battle?
    • outlining the transitions between each combat encounter. What takes the characters from battle A to battle B to battle C?
    • building out, drawing, or preparing your battle map – either digital or physical.
    • gathering miniatures, tokens, or digital assets if you're playing online.

    Running Combat Sessions

    For 5e games and other fantasy d20 games, combat tends to be the most well-articulated and refined style of gameplay. For combat-focused sessions, GMs need only start the session and get into the first battle. Between combat encounters ensure the sinew is there to connect one battle to the next. The rest falls on the rules of combat for our chosen system.

    Depending on the complexity of the encounters, the number of characters, and their level, combat encounters may be easy or difficult to run. The higher level the characters – the more power and capability they bring to the battlefield – the trickier it can be to maintain a consistent challenge. The dials of monster difficulty can help balance such a challenge.

    When running combat, continue to draw the players into the fiction of the world. Describe the situation from the point of view of the characters. Describe what attacks and hits look like. Ask players to do the same. Reveal secrets and clues when appropriate. Include opportunities for roleplaying with NPCs and enemies before, during, and after the battle. Avoid getting lost in the mechanics of combat and remember the story going on in the world.

    Pitfalls of Combat Sessions

    Here are several potential pitfalls when running combat-focused adventures and sessions:

    • Too many hard combat encounters becomes repetitive and tiresome.
    • Combat goals aren't clear. Players don't know why they're fighting.
    • Combat focuses exclusively on the mechanics with little focus on the story or fiction.
    • Combat encounters are tactically boring.
    • Players resent encounters built to contradict their characters' capabilities.
    • Battles take too long. Players who enjoy roleplaying and exploration miss out.
    • It's easy to forget important monster mechanical details when running lots of monsters, more complicated monsters, or both.

    Mitigating Pitfalls

    GMs can help mitigate these pitfalls by

    • mixing up easy and hard encounters or waves within a single encounter. Let the characters shine while fighting weaker foes as stronger ones come on later.
    • clarifying encounter goals. Tell players how things work in the encounter so they know what they need to do.
    • continually describe what's happening in the fiction of the game. Ask players to describe their actions including attacks and killing blows.
    • include different monster types and terrain features to keep encounter tactics interesting.
    • include lightning rods – monsters intended to show off the powerful capabilities of the characters.
    • include elements of roleplaying and exploration during combat. What do the villains say? What do the characters discover about the world and situation as they fight for their lives?
    • read over monster stat blocks before play and run simpler monsters for those who don't really matter, saving mechanically crunchy monsters for bosses and lieutenants.

    An Uncommon Adventure Type

    Combat-focused sessions are best held for big battles against boss monsters. Other session types in this series of articles offer a better balance of exploration, roleplaying, and combat. Combat-focused sessions are prevalent enough, however, for us to internalize what makes them fun and what we can do to avoid common pitfalls.

    Build fantastic and intricate combat encounters and let the characters shine.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos including Build Your Own 5e and Add Black Flag's Luck to your 5e Games.

    RPG Tips

    Each week I think about what I learned in my last RPG session and write them up as RPG tips. Here are this week's tips:

    • Offer opportunities for roleplaying even in the depths of the darkest dungeons.
    • Mix up battles with several smaller foes and fewer large foes.
    • Build encounters first from the fiction. What makes sense?
    • Add motivation and distance rolls to random encounters for unique experiences.
    • Include interactive monuments in bigger battles.
    • Write down connections between the characters and the next session you’re running.
    • Single monsters are at a significant disadvantage against a group of characters. This disadvantage gets worse the higher level the characters are.

    Related Articles

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    Buy Sly Flourish's Books

    Have a question or want to contact me? Check out Sly Flourish's Frequently Asked Questions.

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