Sly Flourish

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    Sly Flourish

  • VideoGetting Ideas for your RPGs

    The Kickstarter for my latest book, The City of Arches, begins August 6th! Sign up to be notified on the launch of this high-fantasy city sourcebook for Lazy GMs!


    Over at the Sly Flourish Patreon I get asked where ideas for our games come from. For me, great ideas come from great fiction.

    Chapter 25 of Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master offers a list of fiction I found fueled my own GM's brain attic. It's been a few years so I extended the list with the one below.

    These books, TV shows, movies, and games are sources of fiction that spoke to me. They may not speak to you. Instead, write up and share your own list.

    Books

    • Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames
    • East of West by Jonathan Hickman
    • Fairy Tale by Stephen King
    • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
    • Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames
    • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
    • Tress of the Emerald Sea by Brandon Sanderson

    TV Shows

    • Andor
    • Book of Boba Fett
    • Castlevania
    • Dark
    • Dracula by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat
    • For All Mankind
    • Good Omens
    • Locke and Key
    • Love, Death, and Robots
    • Mandalorian
    • Midnight Mass
    • One Piece
    • Peaky Blinders
    • The Expanse
    • The Outsider
    • The Witcher

    Movies

    • American Werewolf in London
    • Avengers Infinity War & End Game
    • Blade Runner 2049
    • Clash of the Titans (the old 1981 one)
    • Color Out of Space
    • Doctor Sleep
    • Dungeons & Dragons Honor Among Thieves
    • Dune part 1 & 2 (Denis Villeneuve)
    • Eternals
    • Everything Everywhere All at Once
    • Hereditary
    • It Chapters 1 and 2
    • John Wick 1-4
    • Midsommar
    • Nope
    • Pan's Labyrinth
    • Prey
    • Snowpiercer
    • Tenet
    • The Endless
    • The Green Knight
    • The Witch
    • Thor Love and Thunder
    • Wakanda Forever

    Games

    • Baldur's Gate 3
    • Diablo 4
    • Elden Ring
    • Horizon Forbidden West
    • Remnant 2

    Other RPG Products

    The amount of material published for fantasy RPGs is tremendous and it's all useful to fire up your imagination. Borrowing ideas for your game from published RPG material is a time-honored tradition. Wolfgang Baur, lead kobold at Kobold Press, said that people stealing ideas from Midgard and bringing them into their own world was his greatest hope for the setting.

    For some excellent 5e-based products to boost your creativity, check out Notable 5e Products and Ten Notable 5e Products for 2022.

    Shaking Up Your Brain with Random Tables

    Another great tool to shake up your brain and generate some great ideas are random tables and generators. Whether it's a random monument, NPC generator, magic item, or something bigger like a whole world; random tables get your mind out of a groove and push it in a new direction.

    I built the Lazy DM's Companion with this need in mind. It offers story-based adventure ideas, each with lists of twenty options for several variables to give you all new ideas.

    It's Jaws but with a chaotic chimera awoken from a long slumber that sprays acid living in a volcanic cave protected by hags and hunted by greedy bandits.

    Raging Swan has some awesome random tables if you're looking for random tables beyond those in the Companion.

    Fill Your Mind Palace

    Generating good ideas comes from all of the sources you let into your brain and the practice of transforming them into new ideas. Our favorite RPGs let us do this transformation every week if we exercise it. Watch some great shows, play with some random tables, and draw upon your own list of awesome ideas for your game.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Excellent Short-Form 5e Adventure Publishers and Ulgar – Champion of Ramlaat – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 36 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:

    • Give two or three paths for longer journeys to adventure locations.
    • Break up travel with interesting encounters at fantastic locations.
    • Add interesting lore to typical random encounters.
    • Stage random encounters at notable locations.
    • Give the characters the latest news through town or city heralds.
    • Let the characters see the long term results of their heroic actions.
    • Give the characters a nice coffee shop they enjoy hanging out at between adventures.

    Related Articles

    Get More from Sly Flourish

    Buy Sly Flourish's Books

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

    Read more »
  • VideoBuild Your Own Vecna Campaign

    The Kickstarter for my latest book, The City of Arches, begins August 6th! Sign up to be notified on the launch of this high-fantasy city sourcebook for Lazy GMs!


    I'm not going to spend a lot of time on details but I wasn't a fan of the plot of WOTC's Vecna – Eve of Ruin adventure. Without spoiling, I'll say that the adventure hinges on one bit of deception that, when revealed, unravels the whole purpose of the rest of the adventure.

    But fear not! We can build our own Vecna adventure!

    This article contains a campaign outline you can use directly or use to inspire your own Vecna-based multiverse-spanning adventure. You can use it to refactor material from Vecna – Eve of Ruin or you can save yourself $60 and build your own Vecna-based adventure exactly the way you want it.

    Here's one potential outline for your own Vecna-based adventure.

    Vecna's Motivation

    As a mortal-become-god, Vecna continually sought the one thing he wanted most – power. Until, at the culmination of his might, he realized his folly. In his quest for power, he lost his happiest moment forever – a moment side-by-side with his partner, Kas, before the two of them began their individual quests for power. This drive for power destroyed them, sending Kas to the domain of Dread known as Torvag after his betrayal of Vecna and Vecna on his insatiable quest for godhood.

    Realizing his loss and recognizing he can never find that happiness again, Vecna seeks to undo reality. He wants to roll back the multiverse to the moment before he and Kas focused on power above all, leading to Kas's betrayal. In doing so, he will destroy everything and everyone in all worlds that followed after that one moment.

    Thus, Vecna travels to Pandemonium to conduct the ritual of unmaking and it's up to our heroes to stop him.

    Kas and the Cult of Vengeance

    In their search for power, Vecna and Kas once stood side by side. Vecna forged a powerful weapon and gifted it to Kas, the legendary Sword of Kas. None know what led to Kas's betrayal. Some say the sword itself suggested it to Kas. But it's well known that in his attempt to slay Vecna and usurp his power, Vecna lost his eye and his hand while Kas lost his life – becoming a vampire trapped in the prison world of Torvag, bound by the chains of the Dark Powers.

    Kas now believes he has escaped his prison world of Torvag not realizing the Dark Powers holding him there wanted him to escape. Along with his fanatical followers, Kas plots revenge against Vecna. He seeks the Rod of Seven Parts, spread across several worlds of the multiverse: Oerth, Athas, Krynn, Toril, Eberron, Barovia, and the Astral Sea. Kas knows only the rod, and the entity it releases, can give him the power needed to defeat Vecna. With the Rod of Seven Parts in his possession, he can call forth one of the most powerful horrors in the multiverse, Miska the Wolf Spider.

    Kas's Cult of Vengeance spreads out across these worlds seeking the pieces of the Rod of Seven Parts.

    Heroes of the Wizards Three

    Our heroes begin by infiltrating a forgotten temple deep beneath Neverwinter where they face a powerful cult of worshippers of Vecna, including a lich in his service. After the lich's defeat, the characters discover that Vecna has begun a ritual of unmaking in the plane of Pandemonium. They are contacted by three wizards – Mordenkainen, Alustriel, and Tasha.

    The wizards three know the only way to defeat Vecna is to gather the pieces of the Rod of Seven Parts which can pierce through his divinity and bring him down to his original archlich self. They are currently unaware that Kas too seeks pieces of the rod. The wizards aid the characters by discovering locations where the pieces might be found, teleporting the characters to those locations, and attempting to contact the gods for aid (which is unsuccessful – the gods simply don't believe them or the severity of the threat.)

    Quests Across the Multiverse

    The wizards offer three locations to the characters where the wizards know pieces of the rod might be kept. When the characters reach the second location, they run into members of Kas's Cult of Vengeance also seeking the pieces of the rod. The piece at the third location, the wizards discover, has already been captured by Kas's cultists. The wizards then offer the next three locations.

    After the characters return from their fourth world, the cult of Kas has recovered two pieces from two other worlds, leaving a final piece in play. At this final location, the characters face the strongest followers of Kas and attempt to recover a fifth piece.

    Final Confrontations with Kas, Miska, and Vecna

    With their own pieces in possession and knowing that Kas has the remaining two pieces, they travel to the prison realm of Miska the Wolf Spider. There they face Kas, weakened by his lack of pieces of the rod, and Miska. Should they successfully defeat the two forces, the characters receive all seven parts of the rod.

    With all seven pieces in hand, the characters assemble the rod and face Vecna himself in the center of Pandemonium. Their use of the rod makes the elder god mortal once again, though extremely powerful. If the characters succeed, the multiverse is saved. If they fail, all reality is unmade to a time thousands of years previous – the last happy moment for the archlich.

    Level Progression

    This campaign would begin at 12th level and take the characters to 20th level before they face Vecna. Adventure progression is as follows:

    • Defeat the Cult of Vecna – 13th Level
    • Recover the first piece of the rod – 14th Level
    • Recover the second piece of the rod – 15th Level
    • Recover the third piece of the rod – 16th Level
    • Recover the fourth piece of the Rod – 17th Level
    • Recover the fifth piece of the Rod – 18th Level
    • Defeat Kas – 19th Level
    • Defeat Miska – 20th Level
    • Face Vecna

    Choosing Locations

    This campaign outline lets you choose which worlds you want to offer to the characters. You can choose whatever worlds are meaningful to you and your players. This way the players can choose which ones they want to visit. Let them know that they only get to choose two of the three before the piece of the rod at the third is taken by the cult.

    You can choose one world for the final piece of the rod if you have a favorite.

    You can add your own side-quests as well. Perhaps the wizards send the characters to worlds where Kas's cult already acquired a piece in order to learn more information. The characters might also go to Kas's former prison domain of Torvag. Perhaps the characters can unravel why the Dark Powers released Kaz in the first place. Perhaps those Dark Powers seek Vecna himself to add to their terrible menagerie of villains. You can expand this campaign wherever your shared story takes you.

    Your Own Take on Classic D&D Worlds

    This outline gives you freedom to build a flexible campaign for your players based on the material you want to run and your players' choices. Choose the worlds and sites you want to visit. Choose a map, select inhabitants, add some secrets and clues, reskin some monsters, and bathe it in the lore of these classic worlds to build awesome adventures for your group.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Splitting Up Components of your Game Prep and Last Watch – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 35 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:

    • If players have a name for an NPC different from yours, go with their names.
    • Build NPCs from goals and motivations. Get into their heads and react as they would.
    • Reskin monsters often to make each one unique. A simple skeleton can be a skeletal jailer with a cage over their skulls or a blackfire skeleton that does necrotic damage instead of piercing and slashing.
    • Assume one scene for every 45 minutes of gameplay.
    • Take breaks every 90 minutes or so.
    • Leave time at the beginning and end of your game for chit-chat.
    • Add environmental effects and options that showcase the characters and their abilities.

    Related Articles

    Get More from Sly Flourish

    Buy Sly Flourish's Books

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

    Read more »
  • VideoTips for Paper Character Sheets

    The Kickstarter for my latest book, The City of Arches, begins August 6th! Sign up to be notified on the launch of this high-fantasy city sourcebook for Lazy GMs!


    Though the technology is 5,000 years old, there are new tricks we can learn to more effectively use paper character sheets in our TTRPGs. Using paper character sheets gives us a degree of flexibility and resilience we lose when relying on digital tools. Get used to using paper-based tools and find ways to make them as easy and fun as possible to use.

    Why Use Paper?

    With all of the awesome technology we have these days, why would we ever consider using paper-based character sheets? Here are some reasons:

    Flexibility. Paper character sheets don't lock you into whatever a digital tool wants you to fill in. You can write anything you want, any way you want, on your paper sheet. It fits core rules, rules published by other publishers, or your own house rules. Nothing is locked in.

    Disconnection. In our always-on digital world, sometimes it's nice to set our electronics aside and live in the moment with our friends and our physical character sheets. Even for the roughly half of surveyed DMs and players who play online, you can still enjoy using a paper-based character sheet and keep your online tools focused on communication instead of game management.

    Resilience. Paper-based sheets can last a long time – far longer than electronic records, tools, services, or devices. If you care for them, your character sheets can last your whole life. You can also take pictures of them if you want online versions.

    Independence. Removing your reliance on digital tools means you never need to worry what direction a particular digital tool takes. If you're comfortable using physical books and paper-based character sheets – nothing can change that situation. No one can remove or edit your existing physical books. If you rely on remotely managed digital tools, you must live with whatever the company running that tool wants to do with it.

    Nostalgia. There's something fun about playing these games we love the same way people played them fifty years ago. Regardless of the technological advances in that time, we can still enjoy the game the same way it was enjoyed half a century ago.

    Top Tips for Paper-Based Character Sheets

    Here are some top tips for using paper-based character sheets.

    Write Down Page Numbers. Write down page numbers of spells and class features on your sheet. Use your character sheet like a custom index of the rules in your RPG sourcebook you need to run your character.

    Use Index Cards. Use index cards to track continually changing features like hit points, damage, short rests, luck points, spell slots, and other consumables. GMs can write down magic items and their effects on index cards or print them out on small pieces of paper you can hand out to players when they're acquired. Use paper clips to keep index cards organized.

    Use Sheet Protectors and Dry-Erase Markers. Some players use sheet protectors to make their entire character sheet a dry-erasable white board. Others put pieces of packing tape or dry-erase tape over key areas of their character sheet like the hit point box.

    Use Quality Paper. Print character sheets on good quality 32 pound paper. It's more durable and feels great.

    Other Quick Tips

    Here's a selection of other quick tips from players and GMs on EN World and YouTube:

    • Write lightly with a pencil so it's easy to erase.
    • Use a kneaded eraser so you don't wear out your sheets.
    • Transfer character info over to a new character sheet when your current one gets too messy but keep your old ones.
    • Use different colored pencils or highlighters to note different features, abilities, or action types.
    • Use a pen to draw boxes for limited abilities like long rests, short rests, or spell slots. Use a pencil to mark them off so you can erase only the checks.
    • Track damage received, not hit points remaining. It's faster to add than subtract.
    • Organize actions by action type – actions, bonus actions, reactions, etc. Note action types next to abilities (Action, Bonus, Reaction, Move, etc.)
    • Make quick-reference sheets or cards to remind you of your character's primary actions during the game.
    • Draw pictures of your character. Let yourself be a kid again.
    • Enjoy the soda stains, scribbles, and other bits of wear and tear. These marks make your sheet unique in the world.

    Enjoy Your Analog Game

    Tabletop roleplaying games are so different from the digital entertainment that surrounds us. We control our games. We run our games. No one but us and our group decides what game to run or how to run it.

    Embrace pencils, papers, and books. Enjoy the game using tools humankind has used for thousands of years and keep your game flexible, resilient, and fun.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on the Two Different Games at our RPG Table and War on Nighthaven – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 34 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:

    • Know your players’ tolerance for tales of horror and gore.
    • Ask yourself what worked well in your last game. What can be improved?
    • Draw small maps on a dry-erase mat as players explore a dungeon.
    • Shake up your ideas with random tables.
    • Print and collect your favorite random tables from your most valued sources of such tables.
    • Write down notes at the end of the game you know you’ll need in your next game’s prep.
    • State clearly the goal and reward for the characters’ exploration.

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    Get More from Sly Flourish

    Buy Sly Flourish's Books

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

    Read more »
  • VideoWhat Does Your Room Look Like?

    The Kickstarter for my latest book, The City of Arches, begins August 6th! Sign up to be notified on the launch of this high-fantasy city sourcebook for Lazy GMs!


    Having your players build out parts of the world in which you play can seem daunting. The world's a big place! What if they take off in six different directions? You now have to tie these scattered ideas together and make them true.

    There are, however, a few ways to draw on our players' imaginations to build out smaller pieces of the world.

    "Describe your killing blow" is an easy way to draw players into the fiction of the game instead of thinking just about their mechanics during combat.

    "Describe an interesting physical characteristic of this enemy" gives players agency over a small part of the fiction that also helps manage combat by giving unique ways to identify enemies. See A Troll Named Handbag.

    Here's another one:

    "What does your room look like?"

    When the characters get some sort of home base, be it a room at an inn, a fancy manor, or a flying airship; give each of the characters their own spot in this home base. Then ask them "what does your room look like?"

    It's like giving the characters a chance to build out their own dorm room however they want. Do they build a nest? Do they set up a secret passage to the cargo hold below? Do they adorn it with trophies of their defeated foes? Each character's room often matches their personality. Thus, as they describe it, you learn more about the characters.

    Write It Down

    Write down your players' descriptions of their new domiciles so you can draw upon them in later sessions. Don't put these areas under threat without careful thought. Bring up scenes in their rooms and recall what they described so they remember it and they know you paid attention. When you describe it, it feels that much more real.

    Find ways to draw our players into the world – even if it's just one small detail. When you tie those things to the characters, it strengthens the whole game. Players relate better to their own characters. You relate better to their characters. Their characters bond more with each other and the world around them. The whole bond of the game gets stronger.

    Next time they're in their home base, ask your players to describe what their characters' room looks like.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on The Skull of Memnon – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 33 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:

    • End the current session after the characters have chosen a clear path for the next one.
    • Prep one scene per 45 minutes of gameplay.
    • Build scenes from fantastic locations, interesting NPCs, and intriguing secrets.
    • Try to include one battle, one roleplay scene, and some interesting exploration in a session.
    • Build secrets from the characters outwards.
    • Ask players what their characters’ dwelling is like.
    • Write down where your session ended and any major plot arcs or NPCs the characters met.

    Related Articles

    Get More from Sly Flourish

    Buy Sly Flourish's Books

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

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

    The Kickstarter for my latest book, The City of Arches, begins August 6th! Sign up to be notified on the launch of this high-fantasy city sourcebook for Lazy GMs!


    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

    Get More from Sly Flourish

    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

    The Kickstarter for my latest book, The City of Arches, begins August 6th! Sign up to be notified on the launch of this high-fantasy city sourcebook for Lazy GMs!


    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.

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  • VideoHigh Value Prep

    The Kickstarter for my latest book, The City of Arches, begins August 6th! Sign up to be notified on the launch of this high-fantasy city sourcebook for Lazy GMs!


    "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.

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  • VideoTie Characters to Factions

    The Kickstarter for my latest book, The City of Arches, begins August 6th! Sign up to be notified on the launch of this high-fantasy city sourcebook for Lazy GMs!


    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.

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  • VideoAward Treasure and Magic Items in 5e

    The Kickstarter for my latest book, The City of Arches, begins August 6th! Sign up to be notified on the launch of this high-fantasy city sourcebook for Lazy GMs!


    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?

    The Kickstarter for my latest book, The City of Arches, begins August 6th! Sign up to be notified on the launch of this high-fantasy city sourcebook for Lazy GMs!


    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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