Sly Flourish

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    Sly Flourish

  • VideoRunning Combat-Focused Adventures

    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.

    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?

    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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  • VideoRunning Roleplay and Intrigue Adventures

    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.

    Understanding Roleplay and Intrigue Adventures

    In adventures focused on roleplaying and intrigue, the characters primarily talk to NPCs to accomplish goals or learn information. Intrigue adventures often overlap with Investigations and Mysteries with less of a focus on location-based clues and expanding the goals beyond uncovering mysteries.

    Example goals in roleplay and intrigue adventures might include

    • convincing royalty to commit military forces in a war.
    • exposing treachery in a royal court.
    • saving the life of a condemned prisoner.
    • pitting two enemies against one another.
    • learning the location of a secret treasure vault.
    • getting permission to enter a closed city.
    • asking priests to hand over a powerful artifact.

    Roleplay and intrigue adventures are often built around a set of linear or networked scenes. In these scenes, the characters talk to one or more NPCs learning something or attaining a goal that leads them to the next scene.

    Preparing Roleplay and Intrigue Adventures

    During preparation for roleplay and intrigue adventures, GMs can focus on

    • clarifying the goal of the adventure.
    • fleshing out the backgrounds of notable NPCs.
    • finding artwork they can show to players for each notable NPC.
    • writing down what NPCs know and what they want.
    • defining secrets and clues the characters might uncover when talking to NPCs.
    • adding other adventure elements as needed from the eight steps.

    Running Roleplay and Intrigue Adventures

    Roleplay and intrigue adventures can begin with a strong start to bring the players into the game, clarify the goals of the adventure, set the stage, and let the players begin interacting with NPCs.

    During play, the GM thinks as the NPCs would think given their backgrounds and goals as they interact with the players. As the conversation goes on, the GM may decide how NPCs react based on what the players say or they may have players roll ability checks if there's a meaningful chance for failure that doesn't end the adventure in a brick wall.

    GMs can use ability checks to determine how easily or how difficult it is to acquire information from an NPC or shift the NPCs attitude without shutting off entire paths if the adventure on a single bad check.

    Other elements from typical adventures may come up in these sessions including exploring locations or getting into a fight, even if the overall focus is on talking to NPCs.

    Pitfalls of Roleplay and Intrigue Adventures

    Roleplay and intrigue adventures might suffer from the following pitfalls:

    • Players don't understand what they're doing or why.
    • Too many roleplay scenes in a row can bore action-focused players.
    • The characters blow important rolls or engage in the wrong approach and shut off critical paths for the story.
    • Players don't understand how best to engage the NPCs.
    • Characters have better social skills than their players have or vice versa.

    Avoiding Pitfalls

    GMs can avoid or mitigate these pitfalls by

    • Clarifying the characters' goals regularly.
    • Including other action-focused scenes in the adventure such as combat encounters or location exploration.
    • Ensuring the whole story doesn't get shut down on bad rolls or poor approaches and instead leads the story down a different, potentially harder, but still interesting path.
    • Use the result of a roll as a scale of how well or poorly something went instead of a hard success or failure. See 1d20 Shades of Gray.
    • Offer suggestions to players who have a hard time understanding how to engage with characters. Don't let them make foolish mistakes their characters would know better than to make. Show them opportunities their characters would recognize.
    • Use a high-charisma character's charisma as a baseline, recognizing that their character might be better at negotiating than the player is.
    • Use a charismatic player's approach as a baseline even if their character has a lousy charisma. Don't always call for a roll.

    A Common Sub-Adventure Type

    Roleplay and intrigue adventures might often slide into or be shuffled into other larger adventures. As one of the core pillars of roleplaying games, roleplay and intrigue scenes appear often throughout campaigns and can drive the story forward as much, or more so, than other adventure types.

    Clarifying the goal, building rich reactive NPCs, creating interesting paths forward regardless of the outcome, and delivering the other elements of gameplay can make roleplay and intrigue adventures as exciting as the most explosive combat encounters.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Running Evil Cities and 175 Free Tokens for Owlbear Rodeo.

    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:

    • Challenge high level characters by attacking several points — AC, saves, death saves, exhaustion, hit points, cumulative -1 penalties, and so on.
    • Build big arenas for big boss battles with interesting terrain and layers of monsters.
    • Offer weapon enchantment gemstones any character can affix to a weapon or armor to make it magical.
    • Let the characters glimpse their final villains. Make villains and boss monsters ever present.
    • With six regular players and two on-call players, five people have to cancel before you can’t get four to the table for a game.
    • Print maps, pen in one- or two-word room descriptions, and make a list of potential inhabitants.
    • Roll up treasure horde parcels and jot them down in your notes. Distribute them when it makes sense.

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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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  • VideoRunning Defense Adventures

    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.

    Understanding Defense Adventures

    In defense adventures, the characters defend a location and its inhabitants from invaders, bandits, or monsters. This adventure type is structured similar to infiltrations and heists in that players spend significant time planning for the attack before the attack itself. I often refer to defense adventures as Seven Samurai adventures because of how well the model of Akira Kurosawa's classic samurai movie fits as a fantasy RPG adventure.

    The typical scenario for a defense adventure includes:

    • The characters are recruited by townsfolk (or someone similar) to defend a location.
    • The characters plan and prepare the location and inhabitants for the coming attack.
    • The attack begins with the invasion of a large enemy force.
    • The characters focus on their part of the attack while NPCs defend their locations off-camera. Things might change, forcing the characters to move around.
    • There's an aftermath.

    Defense adventures don't have to follow this model perfectly but this scenario is a common approach.

    Preparing a Defense Adventure

    GMs can prepare for a defense-style adventure by

    • defining the theme. Who are the attackers? Who are the defenders? What's the location like? What themes or flavor can we wrap around the adventure?
    • finding or creating a suitable location for the defense and ensuring it has the right characteristics for a good defensible position.
    • further defining the "villagers". Who asks the characters to defend them? What's their secret?
    • preparing a menu of options the characters can choose to prepare the defense including training NPCs, fortifying defenses, spying on the attackers, preparing weapons or spells, or engaging in other activities to aid in the defense.
    • outlining the villains. Who are they? Who leads them? Where do they come from? Where are they located before the attack? How many are there? How will they attack?
    • preparing the remaining eight steps as needed.

    Running a Defense Adventure

    Like a heist adventure, the players plan their defense during the first half of the adventure. Give players time to plan their defense, talk to NPCs, scout the villains, and engage in other activities to prepare for the attack. Improvise ability checks to see how well their defenses hold up.

    When the attack begins, focus the spotlight on the characters and their part of the battle. Describe the results of the larger battle based on the defenses the characters put up and how well they did on their checks but keep the spotlight focused on the characters.

    Pitfalls of Defense Adventures

    Defense adventures might suffer one or more of the following pitfalls.

    • The characters' defenses don't come into play – they wasted their time.
    • The characters' defenses are so good there's no threat from the villains.
    • The players don't know how to prepare the location. They don't understand how they should defend the location.
    • The location is too hard to defend. It's too wide open with no good choke points or defensible positions.
    • The characters split up instead of staying together making it harder to run the whole adventure.

    Avoiding Pitfalls

    GMs can avoid or mitigate these pitfalls by

    • ensuring the characters' defenses come into play by improvising the descriptions of the villains' attacks.
    • ensure there's enough variance to the attack of the villains to still make it a threat even with a very solid defense.
    • ensuring there's a clear list of options the characters can choose from to build up the location's defenses.
    • during prep, ensuring the location has clear defensible positions and choke points like ravines, rivers, swamplands, walls, towers, and other defensible positions.
    • Push players to keep their characters together during the fight so you don't have to run split battles all over the location.

    A Fantastic Situation for Heroic Tales

    Defense-based adventures stand as an excellent adventure style to give the players agency to shape their own story. It's a perfect example of situation-based adventures in which the GM sets up the situation and the characters navigate it. GMs and players play the situation out together, building a story at the table neither side could have guessed before it began.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos including a Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands Deep Dive and 5e Travel Systems.

    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 players the option to avoid monsters if desired.
    • Test future boss fights with similar but reskinned interim battles.
    • Think about the hooks between each character and elements from the next session.
    • Give big monsters a way to threaten back-line characters.
    • Give characters a painful option to break out of effects that take away their actions.
    • Mix and match 5e elements from several published sourcebooks.
    • Bathe your dungeon crawl in interesting lore.

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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 »
  • VideoRunning Missions and Quest Chains

    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.

    This series of articles includes:

    Your own categorization of adventure types and how to 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.

    Understanding Missions and Quest Chains

    In mission-based adventures the characters accomplish several goals across a series of scenes. The scenes may be linear or run in a network where players choose different paths leading to different future missions.

    Often mission-based adventures take several sessions, perhaps an entire campaign, to complete. Each leg of the mission might be its own adventure.

    Each mission or quest of the quest chain might be small – like killing a fire giant boss at a burned out watchtower, acquiring one of several needed items, or getting information from the shady vendor in the Lower Reaches. In a series of wartime missions, the characters accomplish specific missions while war rages around them.

    Missions might also be built so the characters attempt to accomplish tasks before the bad guys, or the characters face a rival group attempting to complete the same or parallel quests. This competition results in an ever-changing situation as both groups follow their chains of quests.

    Some example missions include:

    • Collecting three keys (out of 5) to open the vault of Ibraxus.
    • Destroying the four sub-lieutenants of King Lucan the vampire lord.
    • Disabling the four obelisks to prevent the opening of the doorway of the Black Cathedral.
    • Conducting four missions to thwart the hobgoblin armies of Lord Krash.
    • Recovering four powerful artifacts required to defeat Orcus, Lord of Undeath.

    Preparing Mission-based Adventures

    GMs may prepare for mission-based adventures by

    • determining the overall goal of the mission or quest chain.
    • building an outline or tree for the quests in the chain.
    • filling out the adventure details of the next quest or mission in the chain with the eight steps such as locations, NPCs, monsters, and treasure.
    • outlining which quests might follow the next one.
    • determine the path and progress of rival groups following these same quests if any.

    Running Missions

    When running mission-based adventures or campaigns, the GM should

    • clarify the goals of the overall quest chain.
    • clarify the paths the characters can take and choices they can make when conducting their missions.
    • run the current mission or quest as its own typical RPG scene or adventure.
    • offer the choices for the next possible quests in the chain.

    Mission or Quest Chain Pitfalls

    When running mission-based or quest-chain adventures, GMs might encounter the following pitfalls:

    • The choices aren't clear. Players don't know which mission to follow next.
    • Players forget why they're following these quests.
    • The mission paths don't offer meaningful choices. Characters just follow the steps in a predetermined order.
    • Large chains of missions can be thwarted when only one mission is accomplished (see all or nothing collection quests).

    Avoiding Pitfalls

    GMs can avoid these pitfalls by

    • regularly clarifying the goal of the mission or quest chain.
    • clarifying the options the characters can take and ensuring each option is meaningful.
    • not running too many missions.
    • ensuring each leg of the quest chain shows clear progress towards the goal.
    • ensuring the success of a single mission doesn't thwart the large plans of the villains or characters by using the three of five keys quest model.

    A Common Adventure Style

    Mission-based adventures are one of the most common styles of adventures. Hopefully these guidelines help you keep your mission-based adventures on track with meaningful choices, clear options, and dynamic situations.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

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    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 players the results in the world of the choices they made.
    • Show players how powerful their characters have become.
    • Throw in lots of low CR monsters to fireball or turn or otherwise blow away.
    • Always lean towards putting meaningful choices in front of the players.
    • Clarify goals selected by the characters often -- at least once per session.
    • Bring old NPCs back and show how they’ve changed.
    • Mix your adventure types. Dungeon crawls, heists, and intrigue all work together into a unique mashup of an adventure.

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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 »
  • VideoRunning Overland Exploration and Travel Adventures

    This article is one in a series where we look at particular adventure types and examine

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

    This series of articles includes:

    Each article describes one angle on these adventure types. Your own approach may differ and 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.


    A quick note – the Lazy DM's Companion, my book of RPG tools, guidelines, and adventure generators, is on sale for 50% off the PDF and 20% off the softcover and PDF package!

    The sale ends 21 March so pick it up today at:

    https://shop.slyflourish.com/products/the-lazy-dms-companion


    Understanding Travel Adventures

    For the sake of this article, overland exploration and travel adventures follow the characters as they travel from one place to another, usually over significant distances across the surface of the world.

    Sometimes the characters know clearly where they're headed. Other times they might only be following vague rumors. The paths they follow might be well known or something they discover as they go.

    Travel adventures might be run as hex crawls, pointcrawls, or linear paths of connected locations. They could be a quick journey during a single game or run over several sessions.

    Resources for Travel

    Your chosen RPG might include material for running travel scenes. Two books offer excellent guidance and systems for running travel adventures for 5e games: Uncharted Journeys by Cubicle 7 and Trials and Treasure for Level Up Advanced 5e by EN World publishing. Uncharted Journeys offers a solid system for travel and a huge range of potential encounters. Trials and Treasure includes excellent random encounter tables, character roles, weather options for various climates, and more. If you choose only one book, start with Trials and Treasure.

    Preparing Travel Adventures

    Preparing for an overland exploration or travel adventure might include

    • defining the starting point, the destination, the distance, and the path.
    • understanding how you plan on running the journey – point crawls, hex crawls, a linear series of encounters, or a single encounter during the journey.
    • defining potential paths.
    • preparing a list of roles and activities the characters engage in during travel.
    • preparing a random weather table.
    • writing down potential encounter locations along the journey for each node in the pointcrawl or within one or more of the hexes along the journey.
    • preparing a list of encounters – random, fixed, or a mix of both.
    • writing down secrets and clues, NPCs, or treasure the characters might discover along the journey.

    Running Travel Adventures

    Like dungeon crawls, travel adventures can follow a particular model of gameplay. This procedure includes

    • clarifying the starting point and destination for the journey.
    • asking each player to select a role for the journey – scout, pathfinder, quartermaster, etc. Characters might instead choose to aid someone else.
    • roll on a weather table each day to determine what weather the characters deal with that day.
    • expend daily resources such as food and water.
    • have the characters roll ability checks based on their role. A scout may notice creatures before the creatures notice the characters. A pathfinder may stay on course or get lost. A quartermaster may give the characters temporary hit points or lose resources.
    • roll for monuments or other notable features as they travel or use one of your predetermined locations.
    • roll for random encounters. Even if they don't encounter something, you might roll to see what came by recently or what might be coming. You might roll twice and mix two encounters together.
    • move on to the next day.

    Pitfalls for Travel Adventures

    Here are some common pitfalls for travel adventures:

    • Too much time is spent on travel when the real story is happening at the destination.
    • Too many downward beats or hard encounters – it feels like a slog.
    • Travel feels like a needless chore or time-wasting filler.
    • Travel doesn't offer meaningful choices or actions.

    Avoiding Travel Pitfalls

    Here are some ways to keep travel on track.

    • Drop in relevant secrets and clues the characters discover during their journey to tell them about the world, its inhabitants, and elements of the larger story.
    • Include interesting monuments to solidify specific locations and encounters and act as catalysts for secrets and clues.
    • Include roleplay and exploration scenes, not just combat encounters.
    • Run some easy encounters the characters can resolve many different ways.
    • Let characters get the drop on monsters and give them the choice to fight them or not.
    • If travel isn't interesting or challenging, shorten it or skip it completely and get to the more important scenes the players care about.

    A Bridge Between Other Adventures

    Travel adventures are often a bridge between one part of the story and the next part. With careful planning and execution, travel can offer stories just as interesting as other types of adventures.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted YouTube videos with Thoughts on Obsidian for TTRPG Prep and the Lazy DM's Companion Sale.

    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:

    • Challenge high-level characters by attacking several vectors: AC, various saves, area attacks, advantageous terrain, flippable environmental effects, and so on.
    • Benchmark encounters with the Lazy Encounter Benchmark: A battle may be deadly if the sum total of monster CRs is 1/4 the total of character levels; or half of character levels if they're 5th level or above.
    • Tweak the Lazy Encounter Benchmark based on what you know of the characters. Really powerful? Pretend there is one additional character of the party's level.
    • Warn players when they're going to enter a long fight. Change the fight midway and keep up the story to make long battles interesting.
    • Include switchable terrain that works against the characters at first and for them later on. For example, an unholy effigy gives evil creatures advantage but gives characters advantage when turned into a holy effigy.
    • Level characters after significant accomplishments in the story.
    • Damage is the biggest threat a monster offers that doesn't take agency away from the characters. Want a bigger threat? Do more damage.

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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 »
  • VideoRunning Investigations and Mysteries

    This article is one in a series where we look at particular adventure types – how to prepare them, how to run them, what pitfalls we might run into, and how we can overcome these pitfalls.

    This series of articles includes:

    These articles describe one approach for these adventure types and your own style may differ. 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.

    Understanding Investigations and Mysteries

    In investigation and mysteries, one or more previous events have occurred which have led to the current situation. The characters spend their time in the adventure learning what happened and potentially changing the course of future events based on what they find. During investigations, the characters talk to people, explore locations, uncover clues, and face those foes who seek to thwart them.

    Mysteries are difficult to run because, unlike narrative fiction, we don't know where the characters are going to go, what they're going to investigate, or what clues they might pick up. They could identify the key villain in the first scene or pursue tangents away from the clues you expect them to follow. Both of these situations need to be accounted for in your prep and play.

    Preparing Investigations and Mysteries

    These steps can help you prepare to run an investigation or mystery:

    • Develop the starting situation. What happened? Who did what? What is the timeline of previous events?
    • Develop your strong start. How and when do the characters get involved in the situation? What hooks them into the mystery?
    • Develop a list of NPCs the characters can talk to. Who are they? What was their involvement in the situation? What do they want? What are their goals? Avoid introducing the main villain too early if you're trying to keep them a secret.
    • Develop locations the characters can investigate. Where can they go? How can they uncover the clues they eventually need? What happened at these locations?
    • Develop a list of secrets and clues. Keep them abstract from their place of discovery so you can drop in these clues when it makes sense based on the investigation undertaken by the characters. In investigations and mysteries, you may need more than ten.
    • Write down monsters and treasure for the more traditional adventure elements.

    Running an Investigation or Mystery

    The following list provides a structure around running investigations and mysteries:

    • Use your strong start and sink in the hook so the characters, and their players, want to dig in and figure out what's going on.
    • Introduce NPCs helpful to the characters who can give them a push in the right direction.
    • As the characters investigate, drop in clues that lead the characters to other locations, meeting other NPCs, and discovering more clues and so on.
    • Throughout the adventure, expose clues until the players can piece together the whole scenario.
    • Add henchmen or other hostiles to add some combat as desired.
    • When the time is right, drop in your villain and have a big confrontation.

    Common Pitfalls for Investigations and Mysteries

    Investigation and mysteries may sometimes include the following pitfalls. During prep and play, keep these pitfalls in mind so you can avoid them and run a fun evolving game.

    • There's only one way to find the right clues and the characters don't follow it.
    • The characters discover the villain or source of the mystery too early.
    • The characters never discover the villain or figure out the mystery.
    • The GM leads the players on too much – making it clear the players didn't figure it out but had the results spoon-fed to them.
    • The pacing gets tiresome. Players who want to crack some skulls end up bored.
    • The mystery is too complex. Players can't figure out all the important details.

    Avoiding Pitfalls

    Consider the following ways to avoid the pitfalls listed above.

    • Keep the clues needed to uncover the mystery abstract from their location of discovery. Drop in clues along the path the characters take during the investigation.
    • Don't introduce the villain too early. Keep them a blank spot in the story until it's time for their revelation.
    • Provide the right amount of information for the players to be able to piece together the puzzle themselves. Don't spell it out for them.
    • Clarify that the characters are the ones discovering information and piecing it together – not you the GM.
    • Have multiple ways to uncover the truth. Don't let discovery of the mystery hinge on a single element the characters might miss.
    • Include combat and skirmishes to keep combat-focused players interested.
    • Keep in mind that players only grasp about half of what you reveal. Keep mysteries simple enough that players can actually piece them together.

    Build Situations, Not Mystery Novels

    A key to running a good investigation and mystery is not to assume you know how the players will discover the truth. Build and set up the situation during prep and let the characters follow their own path to their ultimate discovery.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    The Lazy DM's Companion is currently on sale for 50% off the PDF and 20% off the PDF and softcover version! If you don't have this book, now is a fantastic time to pick it up! The Lazy DM's Companion includes tools, tables, and tips for running awesome fantasy D20 games. Grab it today!

    Last Week's Lazy RPG Newsletter

    I had a cold last week and didn't record an episode of the Lazy RPG Talk Show (also available as a podcast). Instead, I wrote a text-version of the talk show in the Lazy RPG Newsletter for 3 March 2024 with news, tips, and Patreon questions and answers.

    I did post a YouTube video on Using Paper Character Sheets.

    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:

    • Name villains and sentient opponents. Make each one unique.
    • Have players identify monsters with interesting physical characteristics.
    • Add an interesting usable environmental object or effect into significant combat encounters.
    • Tie clues, treasure, and MacGuffins to the backgrounds, knowledge, and history of the characters.
    • Reveal the world through the eyes of the characters.
    • Ask each character what they think about from their past and their current larger goals during short or long rests.
    • Show the characters the results of their actions in the world.

    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 Infiltration and Heist Adventures

    This article is one in a series where we look at particular adventure types and identify how to prepare them, how to run them, what pitfalls we might run into, and how we can overcome these pitfalls.

    This whole series of articles will include:

    This article is only one way to run infiltration-style adventures and even the categorization may go against your own views. 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 heavily inspired my thoughts on this topic.

    Understanding Infiltration Adventures

    In infiltration adventures, the characters often have significant information about their goal, the location in which they must accomplish the goal, and knowledge of the inhabitants of the location. Heists are a common form of infiltration adventure but many infiltrations involve doing something other than stealing something.

    Infiltration adventures differ from dungeon crawls because the characters often know more about the location they're infiltrating and spend more time planning their approach. Goals for infiltration adventures can vary, even if how we prepare and run them remains mostly the same. These goals include:

    • Stealing something
    • Kidnapping someone
    • Rescuing someone
    • Hunting down a bad guy
    • Performing a magic ritual
    • Disrupting a magic ritual
    • Uncovering war plans
    • Recovering blackmail evidence
    • Uncovering evidence of a plot
    • Planting evidence

    Preparing Infiltration Adventures

    Preparing infiltration adventures focuses on the following activities:

    • Clarifying the goal and ensuring it's something important enough that the characters are willing to risk their lives for it.
    • Choosing a map. Unlike dungeon crawls, there's a good chance we'll give a copy of this map to the players.
    • Filling in the location with details. I like printing out a Dyson map and writing a couple of words per room or area right on the page.
    • Listing out inhabitants and understanding their behaviors. What are they doing when the characters aren't there? Unlike dungeon crawls, inhabitants of a location in an infiltration adventure are often more mobile.
    • Listing potential complications. What unknown events might shake things up? Make a list of a handful to either choose from or roll on during the infiltration.
    • Ensuring there are multiple paths to achieve the goal. Do they sneak in an upper window? Pretend to be servants? Delve in through the sewers below?

    With that material in hand, we're ready to run our infiltration adventure.

    Running Infiltration Adventures

    Infiltration adventures often break down into the following phases:

    • Planning. Unlike other adventures, players spend a lot of time planning their infiltration.
    • Choosing roles. What jobs are each of the characters taking on the infiltration? Is someone acting as the "face" character? Is someone the muscle? Is someone sneaking around and spying on things from a higher floor?
    • Execution. This is where the real adventure begins. The characters start doing the things they planned.
    • Flashbacks. A concept taken from Blades in the Dark gives players an opportunity to flash back earlier in the story to set something up or acquire something they need. Inspiration or luck may be a good mechanic to allow for adjustments or additions to the party's plan.
    • Complications. Things never go according to plan. What changes? What complications do you throw in from your list of potential complications? Or do you roll it? Complications don't always have to go against the characters.
    • The climax. What happens when the characters achieve their goal? What happens if they fail or partially succeed?
    • The escape. How do the characters get out afterwards?

    Infiltration Adventure Pitfalls

    Infiltration adventures might go wrong for the following reasons:

    • Players spend too long planning.
    • The plans go out the window too early.
    • The characters aggro the entire location, making the job impossible to complete.
    • A single bad check affects too much of the outcome.
    • Too many complications disrupt the whole plan.
    • The changing situation makes it too hard to adjudicate.

    Pitfall Mitigation

    What can we do to help ensure these pitfalls don't crud up our fun session?

    • Arbitrate conversations and get the players to a consensus so the game can move forward. Ensure the players you're not pushing them down one path or leading them to utter destruction.
    • Keep a balance on consistency and chaos. Some things should go to plan, some things should go haywire. Don't disrupt or destroy the whole plan too early.
    • Use Blades-style "clocks" to escalate tension based on failed checks rather than everything going bad all at once.
    • Give leeway in choosing when adversaries become aware of the characters. It should take multiple failed attempts before the characters are discovered and it shouldn't chain out to every adversary in the whole location.

    A Framework for Countless Adventures

    The infiltration style adventure is a popular and flexible model we can use for many different adventures. Change the goal, the location, and the situation and you have something fresh every time yet still have a consistent framework around which to build your adventure.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on High Value Prep and The Marrow Fiend – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 23 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:

    • Write your own map key on a printed map.
    • For dungeons, focus on one or two word descriptions for each chamber. Save longer descriptions for complicated set-piece chambers.
    • Build your own binder with your favorite reference pages in it.
    • Stuck for an idea? Write down ten and pick the best one.
    • Need inspiration? Take a walk and let your mind wander.
    • Find a suite of tools for your prep that you love and you'll be drawn to use it.
    • Put dialog-friendly NPCs in the deepest dungeons – talking statues, paintings, magic items, or ghosts. Everyone wants a friend!

    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 »
  • VideoLazy RPG Newsletter – 3 March 2024

    A nasty cold knocked me on my ass so instead of a YouTube and Podcast recording of the Lazy RPG Talk Show, I'm going to deliver the same info to you in beloved HTML!

    New Maps Features on D&D Beyond

    Wizards of the Coast released a video of new D&D Beyond Maps features. They've updated a lot since the last time I played around with it – token naming and re-naming, a spectator view, a drawing tool, and a pointer. I spent some time on Twitch mucking around with the new features and I like it a lot. WOTC is definitely taking a lighter-weight Owlbear Rodeo approach which I appreciate. I'd love to see them let people upload custom tokens and add text-based notes to the map. It's far more functional now than it was a couple of months ago.

    For those running WOTC adventures with WOTC character options, it's a great tool.

    It's interesting that WOTC / Hasbro chose to hedge their bets by investing in both a lightweight 2d map-based VTT and a heavy-weight expensive 3d VTT. I'll bet the former is more popular than the latter.

    Marilith Preview for the Tales of the Valiant Monster Vault

    Kobold Press released a preview of the Tales of the Valiant Monster Vault Marilith and I think it looks awesome. It hits hard, has a simple stat block, and still has interesting crunchy features befitting this high-power demon. I'm eager to see the Tales of the Valiant Monster Vault. It's going to be wild to have four different core monster books by this time next year: the 2014 D&D Monster Manual, the 2024 D&D Monster Manual, the Tales of the Valiant Monster Vault, and the Level Up Advanced 5e Monstrous Menagerie. We have lots of core monsters to choose from and no limitation on which monsters we decide to use at our tables.

    Bob World Builder on GM Regrets

    Bob World Builder has an awesome YouTube Video on GM Regrets. I don't think it's useful to fixate on our regrets but we can learn a lot by listening to the regrets of others. I don't have many GM regrets. I'm happy with how things turned out in my TTRPG life. I do regret not playing OD&D in the early 80s with my oldest friend Scott – a friend I've had for almost half a century. I talked to him yesterday about it and we both had a laugh. We both barely remember the time anyways.

    Dread Laironomicon

    Raging Swan released the Dread Laironomicon, a tome standing side-by-side with the Dread Thingonomicon to fill in the details of one hundred lairs from the Cultists' Hidden Fane to a Roper's Cave. Each lair includes seven lists of ten details to fill in such lairs. This book is an excellent source of inspiration for filling in the details of a location during prep – making such places come alive. If you're a fan of the excellent works of Raging Swan Press, you will not be disappointed. My only complaint is a lack of higher-focus lists of chambers in such lairs but the major and minor features lists largely fill in that need. I received a review copy of the Dread Laironomicon for this spotlight.

    Dune on Humble Bundle

    Humble Bundle currently offers a 17 book digital package for Modiphius's Dune RPG for $18. Such bundles are a great way to dive into an RPG for a low cost. I don't intend to run it but after awaiting Dune part 2 and re-reading the original Dune books, it's great fun to delve into the artwork and read the lore behind the RPG. If you love Dune and want a taste of the RPG, this is a great deal.

    Being Good Stewards of the Hobby

    Based on an excellent conversation with Graham Ward on Mastering Dungeons, I was inspired to consider what we can do to be good stewards of the TTRPG hobby. I asked folks across several platforms and got many excellent responses which I'll put together into a longer article. For a quick preview, here are some things I think we can all do to be great stewards of the TTRPG hobby:

    • Embrace the diversity of our hobby, both in the games we play and the people playing them.
    • Learn from everyone, whether they are new to the hobby or a grizzled veteran.
    • Welcome new players. Teach them how to play and learn from their experiences.
    • Focus on the fun we can have at the table with our friends.
    • Support peoples' love for their chosen systems, even if those systems aren't for you.
    • Avoid gatekeeping with jargon, how one came to the hobby, the games one chooses to play, or how long one has played games.
    • Share our love of the hobby openly.

    Simple Online Combat Tracking with a Text Editor

    I've been playing a mix of online and in-person games recently and return to the simple text editor as a great way to track combat when playing online. Using Notepad or whatever text editor you prefer you can track initiative, positioning in theater of the mind combat, damage done to creatures, and more.

    Here's a quick example of the text I had for a battle I ran last night:

        23 Chartreuse
        12 Crimson Lotus 71 > Chartreuse 
        12 Blackguard Wight 10 > Voxi
        12 Blackguard Wight 49 > Helm
        7 Voxi
        7 Zaffre In the Back
        6 Helm 
        5 Radon
        3 Eldrox
    

    The above has the characters and creatures in initiative order. The left-hand numbers are their initiative roll. The right-hand numbers are the damage done to the creature. The angle brackets indicate that a monster is adjacent to a particular character. You can type status effects, multiple adjacent characters, or any other notes next to a creature's name to keep track.

    Using text editors for combat tracking is fast, easy, cheap, and independent of RPG system or digital tools. I love it.

    Page 12 of the Lazy DM's Companion has more tricks for tracking theater of the mind combat in a text editor that differs from the above but both can give you ideas how to easily track combat in a text editor.

    Patreon Questions

    Every month, Patrons of Sly Flourish can ask any question in a special monthly Q&A. I answer every RPG-related question each Friday morning. Here are some highlights for this week. Please note these questions have been edited for length.

    Announcing a Villain's Plans and Progress

    From Jason. I was curious how you balance multiple story arcs throughout a campaign. The villain in our campaign, who is progressing his own plans, is coming to a point where some of those plans will come to fruition. I'm struggling with "announcing" those plans when the PC's are in the middle of another story arc. I'm worried that may seem railroad-like if I throw a hook out there that they will feel inclined to investigate and move off of what they are currently on. My goal with the villain's plans was to keep him going in the background, and thus in the PC's consciousness, instead of having everything happen at the very end.

    Sometimes we get stuck between revealing interesting information and such information ending up as an adventure hook. It's important to clarify to the players that not all information is actionable. Such information isn't something they can or should feel pressure to do something about right now.

    Secrets and clues can help characters learn about the escalation of villainous quests without immediately changing their current direction to chase them down. If characters choose to chase down such a situation, and have the opportunity to do so, perhaps that's the way the story should go. Otherwise, make it clear to players when they receive information about an escalating villainous quest that they can't necessarily do anything about it right now. Tell, don't show.

    Published Adventures Don't Require Less Work

    From William J. What do you think of the amount of work published adventures expect the DM to do? I'm normally a homebrew campaign kind of guy, but recently picked up a Wotc published adventure (shattered obelisk). The idea being that I was paying a professional writer to do most of the "prep" for me so with very little notice, I could almost just pick the book up and play. However I have been left rather disappointed. Am I being unrealistic with my "pay to prep less" expectation?

    It's a misconception that published adventures require less work. That's certainly not the case and, sometimes, they take more work than a homebrewed adventure because you have to internalize a published adventure in a way a homebrew adventure is already internalized. Almost always, they require different kind of work – more of a focus on reading, absorption, and modification instead of thinking things up from scratch.

    We shouldn't buy published adventures expecting them to be easier to run. Instead, we should buy them for the depth and quality of material we can't create ourselves. Stories, backgrounds, artwork, maps – these are components of good adventures we simply can't create at the same quality of a published adventure.

    I think it actually works better to build homebrew adventures in published settings for the best of both worlds. A published setting gives you a great depth of lore and quality of materials along with the flexibility of building the adventure you want in that world.

    Letting Non-Magic Users Use Relics

    From Robert. Any house rules for letting non magic users use magic items/relics? If one of my non spell casting PCs picks up a relic, I’d like them to have a solid chance of it actually working (at least the same chance a magic user would have) and the existing rules for say, scrolls, don’t really cut it.

    I don't expect a single-use magical relic to be limited to magic users. Relics should be identifiable and usable by anyone who picks them up. That's what makes them fun. Let players know what a relic does and let any character use them.

    Adding CR to Published Adventures

    From Ryan. I find for me one of the minor speed bumps that prevent me from improvising a monster is if I’m adapting a published module. If it says “4 skeletons”, I have to look up the skeleton stat block to see what the CR is to figure out what I’d replace it with or what the FoF baseline is that I’d swap in for an easier time stat line to run with just some flavour or a single monster power. I think for me the missing piece would be if an adventure said “4 skeletons (CR 1/4)”. Thoughts? Maybe when I first read an adventure I should just mark up all the CRs.

    That's a great idea and something I'll consider for future adventures of my own. You can use the "monster stats by CR table" in Forge of Foes to benchmark any monster in any adventure against the "example 5e monsters". The intention of that column is to help you identify a monster's CR by comparing it to those examples. Is it less or more powerful than an elemental? What about a frost giant? Understanding what sorts of monsters have which CRs is a great way to use that table to build monsters you need as you use them.

    Introducing Cursed Magic Items Without Removing Player Agency

    From Garry. One of the players has just picked up a magic item which while useful, is cursed. If he attunes to it, it will slowly turn him evil and lure him towards the BBEG and his cult of monstrous followers. While this is good, the original text explicitly explains that the previous user (high level cleric) went mad and killed all his followers with everyone turning to wraiths. That player tends to dominate the direction play by force of personality from time to time, but he is usually very fair minded. I'm reluctant to have the whole curse thing in case he runs wild with it to the detriment of the game. Should I just change the properties of the item? Any advice?

    Yeah, change the properties. My absolute favorite "cursed" magic items are intelligent items that continually make offers to the characters in exchange for information or power. The best cursed items are those the players know are cursed and still use them anyway.

    You're right to be concerned about taking agency away from the player. Don't do it. Instead, let them know the sword is cursed and have it steer them with continual offers, dancing that dangerous line. It's great fun. A smart magic weapon knows how to manipulate its user and the whole thing is much more fun when everyone is in on it. Of course, "pause for a minute" to make sure everyone's still having a good time.

    Introducing Rivals Who Aren't Instantly Killed

    From R. Scott W. I want to introduce a rival team into the mix since my PCs are so competitive. How do I keep the party from killing off the rivals so that they can have a long term impact on the game?

    Let the characters, and the players, know about these rivals without having them get within sword-swinging distance. If you put the rivals and the characters in the same room together, swords and spells may fly. Instead, what if the characters hear about and see the results of these rivals without getting close to them. Maybe they meet them in a bar sometime if you think it isn't going to end up in bloodshed. Eventually things might come to blows but even more fun is when those rivals end up becoming allies instead.

    Another Great Week for TTRPGs!

    Thank you for digging into this week's tabletop RPG news! Sorry I couldn't do it on a video but hopefully this newsletter gave you the taste you desire. See you next week and keep on rolling those 20s!

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  • VideoRunning Dungeon Crawls

    This article is one in a series where we look at particular adventure types – how to prepare them, how to run them, what pitfalls we might run into, and how we might overcome these pitfalls.

    The adventure types in this series include:

    • Dungeon crawls
    • Infiltration
    • Investigation
    • Missions
    • Travel
    • Defense
    • Intrigue

    This article focuses on one approach for running dungeon crawls and your own preferences may differ. That's totally fine. There are many right ways to prepare, run, and enjoy our games.

    Robin Laws's book Adventure Crucible — Building Stronger Scenarios for any RPG heavily inspired this article.

    Understanding Dungeon Crawls

    In dungeon crawls, characters travel room-by-room through a relatively unknown maze-like location to accomplish one or more goals. Such dungeons can include crypts, caves, caverns, castle ruins, derelict ships, ruined towers, planar nodes, old temples, and other room-and-hall-based locations.

    Preparing Dungeon Crawls

    Consider the following steps when preparing a dungeon crawl:

    • Choose a map (I love dysonlogos maps.)
    • Fill in location details – just a word or two per room. You can handwrite these notes right on a printed copy of the map.
    • Write down potential traps and hazards.
    • If using a published adventure, read over the rooms in the dungeon from the adventure.
    • Write a clear goal to reinforce with your players. The goal should be important enough to offset the danger of going into the dungeon.
    • Write out ten secrets and clues the characters might find in the dungeon. You don't have to set these clues in specific locations. Drop them in when it makes sense for the characters to learn them.
    • List out potential monsters. Some monsters may be location specific but many might be wandering around.
    • List out potential NPCs. They might reside in one room or wander around.
    • List out treasure the characters might find. Feel free to place this treasure wherever it makes sense.

    Running Dungeon Crawls

    At the beginning, perhaps as part of a strong start, make sure to state or reinforce the goal. Why are the characters going into the dungeon? Why is it worth risking their lives?

    When the characters are in the dungeon, set up how the dungeon crawl works by asking the following questions:

    • Who's up front and who's in the back?
    • What sort of lighting do the characters have?
    • Who's keeping an eye out for monsters?
    • Who's checking for traps, hazards, and secret doors? How are they checking?
    • What paths do the characters want to take when they come to forks in the dungeon?

    As the characters explore, dungeon inhabitants might move and react to the characters activities or the GM might roll for random encounters to shake things up.

    Dungeon Crawl Pitfalls

    The following common pitfalls can suck the fun out of a dungeon crawl. Be aware of them and account for them in your prep and play.

    • Too many downward beats.
    • A boring or overly complicated dungeon design.
    • Too many hard battles.
    • No clear goal or reason to go into the dungeon.
    • No place to rest after expending all the characters' resources.
    • Few opportunities to roleplay.
    • No real choice or useful information when picking a path.
    • The monsters always surprise the characters.

    Offsetting Dungeon Crawl Pitfalls

    Try the following ideas to offset potential pitfalls.

    • Fill out exploration of a dungeon with secrets and clues.
    • Include upward beats like finding secret passages or getting the drop on unsuspecting foes.
    • Include safe places for a short or long rest.
    • Select maps with engaging dungeon designs including loopbacks, secret passages, multiple paths, and asymmetric designs.
    • Ensure there's useful information to inform the characters' choices.
    • Include non-hostile NPCs with whom the characters can roleplay.
    • Mix easy and challenging battles that make sense for the situation, not just those tuned for the characters' level.

    The Most Common Adventure Type

    Dungeon crawls are one of the most common adventure types, going back to the origins of D&D 50 years ago. With the tools above, we can use a common structure for preparation, gameplay, and avoiding pitfalls to run an awesome game for our friends.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Awarding Treasure in 5e and Roots of the Marrow Tree – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 22 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 each monster type one cool unique defining ability.
    • Draw quick maps to orient players during a dungeon crawl.
    • Ask one player to act as the cartographer.
    • Ask one player to manage initiative.
    • Ask one or more players to be the official note taker. Ask them to share their notes with the group.
    • Include a friendly NPC the characters can talk to.
    • Run a mix of easy and challenging encounters.

    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 Advantage and Disadvantage in 5e

    "Advantage" and "disadvantage" are fantastic improvisational tools for 5e GMs. They give you incentives and discouragements to steer things towards the fun. Always remember that you have the ability to assign advantage and disadvantage in your toolbox to make the game more fun.

    Many situations in the game already apply advantage or disadvantage. Being invisible or being unable to see applies such effects. Attacking someone within 5 feet who is prone gives you advantage while shooting at them from range gives you disadvantage.

    Setting DCs and Offering Advantage or Disadvantage

    It's important to understand when to raise or lower a DC and when to use advantage and disadvantage. Here's my lazy rule of thumb: You set a DC for a given situation regardless of the character performing the action. Breaking down a door might be a DC 18 but it's a DC 18 for anyone. The DC doesn't change based on who's doing it.

    Advantage and disadvantage can change depending on who's performing the action. A circus performer might have a better chance at calming down an owlbear who used to work at the circus. Not only do they use their Wisdom bonus and add their proficiency with Animal Handling but their own special background makes them particularly good at this one specific thing. You might decide that their past experiences grants them advantage.

    DCs are fixed based on the situation – advantage and disadvantage are circumstantial to the characters performing the action.

    Advantageous Situations

    There are many other places we can offer advantage. Here are a few:

    Terrain features. High ground might give characters advantage against targets down below. Fighting in a big mud pit might provide disadvantage.

    Cinematic Action. Performing a fantastic acrobatic feat might provide advantage if you make the right check (see "Cinematic Advantage" for details).

    Superior knowledge. A character's background, upbringing, species, or some other part of their history might grant them advantage on particular ability checks alongside their skill proficiency.

    Incentives for Dangerous Choices. We can use advantage to incentivize players to draw characters into danger. Often we'd do this through inspiration, giving them inspiration for being willing to accept a risk they might not otherwise take but we might also offer direct advantage in the situation. Hugging the door isn't enough to get a great view of the arcane pillar but if they get right on top of it, they'd have advantage on the check.

    For superior roleplaying. Often we hear about the situation in which a player does an amazing job roleplaying a situation but rolls a 2 on their Charisma (Persuasion) check. We can offer a player advantage if they do a particularly great job attempting to convince the viceroy of their need to speak to the queen. If a player does an amazing job roleplaying, maybe they automatically succeed.

    Encouraging Teamwork. Lean in on characters helping one another by providing the character with the best overall bonus advantage as one or more other characters use the "help" action (see chapter 9 of the Player's Handbook) to help them succeed. Don't look for ways to stop two characters working on a problem – leap at the chance.

    Steering Away with Disadvantage

    We probably want to invoke disadvantage less often than we offer advantage. For every ten times we offer advantage, we may invoke disadvantage once. We can use disadvantage to steer characters away from things that clearly wouldn't work and we can declare it ahead of time. If a character is attempting something clearly too difficult, we might give it a high DC and disadvantage.

    Often we invoke disadvantage with the expectation that the character simply changes their mind. That's totally fine.

    Your GM's Helper

    Advantage and disadvantage are powerful and easy tools to shift the direction of the game. Give them freely and use them to steer the game towards the most fun.

    More Sly Flourish Stuff

    Last week I posted a couple of YouTube videos on Last Minute RPG Prep and Journey to the Marrow Tree – Shadowdark Gloaming Session 21 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:

    • Watch out for the long monologue. Get to character decisions quickly.
    • Let players customize improvised home bases.
    • Make it clear when social chatter has stopped and the game has begun.
    • Clarify the need for player consensus on in-world conflicts.
    • Use table tools and notebooks you love to connect you to the joy of the game.
    • Have an easy way to take notes during the game.
    • A weird trans-dimensional home base is a great way to bring in irregular characters.

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