Warm Handaxe.

The axe also comes with a bit of personality. First, it has been known to cause random items to burst into flames. It will allow itself to be left outside of libraries, manor houses, and art galleries.

The pyroclastic origins of this item are the subject of much speculation in taverns where adventurers gather.

For use with Dungeon Crawl Classics and similar D20 system RPGs.

This Fiery Handaxe is often the bane of forests and wooden buildings. Its very presence in an area of dry wood or grass could be the start of conflagration. The axe is tame as long as it remains in its special sheath. However, in the hands of a bonded (attuned) user, it is capable of defeating large numbers of enemies in a single fight.

This +1, (+3 vs Corporeal Undead and Trolls) Hand/Throwing Axe deals an extra 1d4 Fire damage on a successful hit. A successful hit will ignite the target for 1d4 Fire damage per turn for 1d3 turns unless extinguished. It also has a 15% chance to ignite nearby flammable objects on contact.

When not in use, the owner may speak a command word to put the axe out so it may be stored. When lifted from its sheath, another command word ignites it again.

The axe has four minor powers that it will reveal to its bonded (attuned) owner.

  • When ignited, it acts as a torch.
  • When sheathed it keeps the owner warm and dry down to -10 degrees Fahrenheit as if they were standing near a campfire.
  • Returns to the user with a command word when unsheathed (as a Free Action.)
  • Can be used to start any campfire or other small fire magically even if the wood or other suitable material is wet. Also suitable for candles and torches.

The axe also has a special power:
Once per turn command, the axe can be hurled toward and enemy as it turns into a miniature fireball that travels in a straight line and strikes one target unerringly dealing 3d8 damage + 1d4 burning for 1d3 rounds. The target may make a Reflex (Dex or Spell) Save at DC 12 for half damage and no burning effect. The little fireball travels up to 60 feet before returning automatically. If used in this manner, the axe returns to the wielder red hot, doing 1d4 Heat damage when caught. It stays red hot for 1d3 rounds. The owner can refuse to catch it until it cools.

This special power may only be used 3 times per day (long rest.)

The axe also comes with a bit of personality. First, it has been known to cause random items to burst into flames. It will allow itself to be left outside of libraries, manor houses, and art galleries.

Second, while it has never spoken it does seem to be listening to its owner’s conversations If it doesn’t like what it is being told to do, it might not ignite or grant use of its powers. On the other hand, it is aggressive- almost zealous anger toward corporeal undead and trolls.

Last, it absolutely hates being wet. It is best cleaned with oil and a cloth before and after use as long as there is no water. It may refuse to function as a weapon in torrential rain, underwater, or heavy snow. It will always keep the owner warm and dry, however.

it is speculated that there may be a companion piece of some sort to this item. It might be a cold pick or another fiery axe of some kind. The blacksmith that forged the axe may even still be alive somewhere in a northern climate.

Wizards of the Coast Wants More Money.

Apparently, the nice people that run the corporate end of Dungeons & Dragons see all of us as walking dollar signs. $$$ Allow me to speculate on what might be coming in 2024.

A December 9th articles says Dungeons & Dragons, “…is really under-monetized.

This is the link to the article on Comicbook.com. You can find similar coverage elsewhere. I’m not going to rehash the entire article here, but I want to comment on one thing I think a lot of RolePlaying Game pundits are missing. (*Spoiler Alert: I am NOT going to say “Oh, just play Old School Renaissance.”)
Here’s the link to the article:

WotC wants/needs to make more money for parent company, Hasbro.

This may come as a shock to some, but WotC is Hasbro’s property. Dungeons & Dragons, as much as we all truly love it, is no different to Hasbro than Hungry Hungry Hippos or Acquire. They won’t give a second thought about dropping it like a hot rock if it stops making the kind of money they want to see coming in. That’s the underlying foundation of what this meeting with Hasbro and the article is really about. This was WotC basically trying to wow the Hasbro stockholders.

The recent dip in Hasbro stock prices was largely pinned on Magic: the Gathering and D&D sales declines. If I had stock in Hasbro, I would be nervous, too. Long time gamers have seen what we thought were perfectly healthy companies in the industry fall apart seemingly overnight. D&D isn’t being threatened with extinction yet.

If WotC doesn’t show that they can produce? D&D could be gone. Or WotC could be downsized. Or D&D could get handed off to Renegade Games, the other Hasbro RPG company. By the end of Fiscal Year 2024, D&D could look a lot different and I don’t just mean the edition changes.

The other thing I think we’re overlooking.

I understand what they’re doing with the four quadrant brand. They want us drinking from our Taco Bell promotional D&D cups, wearing the latest shirt with a beholder on it, while watching the new Forgotten Realms TV show before we hop online and play the RPG or whatever Baldur’s Gate MMO video game that just came out. It’s nothing new, really. Look at what they have done in the past with My Little Pony, for example.

It’s good that they want to make money. As much as I chastise them about their practices, I get that WotC employees have families to feed. I’d want to make my brand, my company’s game the hottest thing on the market too if I was getting paid by WotC.

But here’s the thing we’re overlooking: WotC is wanting to put all the money in their own pockets. They don’t want to hand money off to game distributors, game stores, third party Virtual TableTop licenses, websites such as DriveThruRPG, and Amazon. Odd for a game that is played mostly in person, but they’re looking to change that.

They have specifically said that Dungeon Masters are 20% of their profits. They aren’t worried about us DMs and the rabid fanbase that buys every book and boxed set without question. They want more “players” spending money on D&D products. They seem to be disregarding the DM: the person that puts the session together.

Look at what they don’t seem to be concerned with.

They’re not worried about basic things like, the game itself. I really got the impression they’re solely concerned with the brand. They want to blow D&D up into a fad. While we’re headed into see the newest D&D movie, let’s pick up our D&D scented toilet paper.

The game? There’s a roleplaying game? Ohh you must mean the video game. Or their VTT/video game that uses the Unreal Engine. Have you seen latest the Elf Sorceress skin in the shop? She’s cool, but her back bling is pretty mopey. (*That’s what microtransactions look like in Fortnite, btw.)

WotC seems less concerned about the actual RPG than they are about getting money flowing in from merchandise, video games, and movies. This also means they could give a rip less about what goes into the actual RPG. All avenues lead to their (subscription) website which will be D&D Beyond with a different name. I suspect the Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual might be buried behind some sort of paywall and the print copies with seem novel because of the canon rules changes online. (*That’s just speculation, though.) They want players especially to be coming back for more.

What they’re not addressing speaks volumes.

The other thing WotC seems to be dodging the issue of the Open Game License. I realize they wouldn’t mention it to stockholders, but I think it’s becoming more and more obvious. They don’t intend to have an OGL for the next edition. The current (5E down to 3E) will still remain. One D&D will likely not if I have to guess.

I really get the impression that they’re aiming to have no one outside of WotC and their licensees to be making D&D content and selling it. They will literally control everything and all funnels flow straight to them. They want players spending money on officially licensed D&D products, not the DMs Guild or a third party site. Just my take, though. Nowhere in the discussion of quadrants did we hear anything about fan based products.

Basically, if you want to make D&D content, it’s going to be like the pre-OGL days of T$R. You can make new D&D content for free and distribute it privately. If you want to do things for older editions the OGL will still be valid and sellable, but it won’t be useful for the One D&D and all of its digital hoo-ha.

I’m not trying to dis WotC. I mean, yay D&D. Right? We still love the game. It’s what the folx at WotC are counting on. We’re all walking dollar signs to them.

One last thought before I go.

Has WotC stopped to consider the people that run their RPG? No, not the writers. Have they thought about Dungeon Masters? If we’re a solid game-buying crowd and they begin neglecting us in favor of other avenues of income? They think there’s a DM shortage now, just wait.

They also don’t seem to be concerned about game content, which is odd. They can only promote the equivalent of a Christmas ornament for so long before the fans realize the thing is hollow. If there’s no content and fewer DMs driving that content, what are they thinking is going to happen?

I guess if we thought the AI art craze was bad we’re really going to sh🦆t bricks when the AI DM craze takes off. Don’t think they’ll do it? They want more players spending money. D&D is becoming a virtual tabletop experience using the Unreal Engine. There’s already supposedly a DM shortage. I dunno. What if?

The AIs could be trawling the Internet looking for me.

Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you. If I suddenly turn up missing, we’ll know my theory about AI DMs hit too close to home. (LOL!)

This Can’t Be Real

Yes, I’d rather be running a game or writing one. Sure, who wouldn’t like a big ol’ salary and an office. That’s what we’re told is the dream in capitalist society at a very young age. It’s just not my particular jam. But this job is supposed to be “Head of Creative (Dungeons & Dragons.)” For cryin out loud, the last three words in that title say it all. Creative. Dungeons & Dragons. That’s my dream.

This job would be a dream come true for someone.

I’m still not 100% certain this isn’t a hoax or some kind of ruse to get people hyped up about One D&D. Something seems terribly off to me about this. My other thought is that they’ve probably already made their selection, but had to post the position publicly as some sort of McCorporate legal formality.

It’s been suggested by a former WotC employee that the public posting is just a formality and that the post is already filled. As a former employee of a big, scummy company myself, I’ve seen this type of behavior already. I feel it’s somewhat sickening. Why torment potential job seekers in this manner? It borders on cruel, even sadistic.

Here’s a link to the full posting:


The posting describes a lot about the job, and some of what they’re planning for One D&D.

I’m fortunate in that I’m a small blog, of no real consequence to Wizards of the Coast or Hasbro. I doubt they’ll notice a tiny mite like me nipping at the heels of the McCorporate mega giant that they are. It’d be just short of a miracle if I hear back on the application I sent. I’m sure I’m one of hundreds, if not thousands of would-be applicants.

I wonder if they even blinked before they deleted my application. I mean, tell me they didn’t already have this filled. And what tabletop gamer in his/her/their right mind wouldn’t want this job? Here: put together One D&D and possibly a bunch of stuff to go with it.

The last bullet point on the list makes me crazy above all the rest. I’m sure every Old Grognard in the gaming community probably thought much the same. Tell me you’re discriminating based on age without actually discriminating based on age.

“Grow and evolve our IP to attract new audiences, including younger demographics…

Maybe my grasp of McCorporate speak is rusty, but that sounds a lot like they don’t want anyone over the age of 35 in charge of this thing. I’ll be curious to see who they had picked out for this thing. I’m sure it’ll be a fresh young face, right? Maybe I’m old and going a bit daffy with age, but I really don’t feel like I’d be a good fit.

That line about “Create a team and IP that is rich, diverse and constantly evolving…” made me laugh, too. In other words, they don’t just want the same old white guys doing the same old medieval European stuff we’ve been doing for the last almost 50 years. Which is great, but in terms of a hiring qualification? WotC was an Equal Opportunity Employer last I checked.

It’s the Internet, I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.

But wait, there’s more:

If the job description wasn’t nauseating enough, you should see what they want for qualifications. Dear God, they practically want someone ready to step in as head of Hasbro, much less D&D. You know what they say about the Internet- If it sounds too good to be true, it is. This is a fabulous example:

The thing I find most incredulous about this whole list of requirements is that they want qualifications that none of the original founders of T$R could have possibly possessed. It almost sounds like they want a PhD in Business and 10+ years in charge of a Fortune 500 company and oh, have you maybe heard of Dungeons & Dragons 5E. (*Notice not a word about prior editions.)

It sounds to me as if WotC doesn’t want anyone they haven’t already groomed for this position within their own ranks. Disgusting, if you ask me. McCorporate favoritism or even nepotism at its most nauseating. It’s almost as if the “Creative” part of the job is the furthest thing from their minds.

If this is what WotC wants for their company, that’s on them. It’s their call to make, sure. What I find most disturbing about everything in this job listing is what it says for the game. To me it sounds like screw anyone who isn’t totally up-to-date with their corporate mindset, culture, and part of the new generation of D&D. (*Again I say tell me you’re discriminating on basis of age without telling me you’re discriminating on basis of age.)

Damnit. It’s about the game. The GAME of D&D.

I’m passionate about TTRPGs in general and D&D as well. I eat, sleep, breathe, and write about gaming every day. Every. Day. I make no pretensions about being qualified for any position at WotC, much less this one that’s posted.

Do I really want to see D&D go down the path it’s currently on? Hell naw! Basically, they’re telling us they want something that looks vaguely like D&D only completely integrated as a phone app, social media platform, website, and PC game (*possibly console, too.)

They might be willing to put out rulebooks? Maybe? But fear not, they’ll only sell the physical books and electronic copies through their exclusive website. One D&D is starting to sound a lot less like D&D all the time. (Just my nutty take, though.)

IF there’s an up side to any of this, it sounds like someone might finally give us a new setting for the first time in decades. Maybe, just maybe someone will finally abandon Forgotten Realms as the main D&D setting. Wouldn’t it be fabulous if they put out something completely new? Bring exploration back to the game.

Parting shots of a defeated old guy.

I understand now, probably more than ever, why so many older avid roleplayers are shying away from D&D than ever before. I am starting to understand the amassing heaps of criticism and negative banter about Wizards of the Coast and D&D in particular. This job posting, with all it indicates about the company’s attitude, is part of what makes me want to go back to retro clones and other editions of the D&D game. Or just go back to focusing in gaming, period.

I’m a tabletop gamer first and a businessman last. (*Or not at all business anything.) Sure, who wouldn’t love to be at the reigns of the next rendition of D&D? Seriously. How many of us dreamed for years of filling the shoes of Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, or Ed Greenwood? (*I’d even say Monte Cook, Sean Reynolds, or any other noteworthy T$R/D&D alumni.)

Yes, I’d rather be running a game or writing one. Sure, who wouldn’t like a big ol’ salary and an office. That’s what we’re told is the dream in capitalist society at a very young age. It’s just not my particular jam. But this job is supposed to be “Head of Creative (Dungeons & Dragons.)” For cryin out loud, the last three words in that title say it all. Creative. Dungeons & Dragons. That’s my dream.

That was my dream, anyway. I’m working on coming up with a slightly newer improved dream for myself. I’m always going to be a TTRPG guy for however long I’m still on the Earth in this adorable, loveable, physical form.

I hope whoever gets the big title at WotC does right by it. I’d be low key impressed if I heard back from WotC on my application, but I’m not holding my breath. It’s really a neat idea for a job, no matter how far-fetched.

I’m still working on that million dollar idea. I’m still innovating and creating here. Maybe I’ll hit Gygaxian status someday.

Thanks for stopping by. Have a good week. Good luck if you applied at WotC for anything.

More Culture/Subculture Clash in D&D.

I’m going to try to break this down and get into why inclusivity is important in the Dungeons & Dragons fan community and the larger tabletop RPG community as a whole. Bigotry needs to stop. Gatekeeping needs to stop.

How did I not see this coming?

Of course Wizards of the Coast announcing the change of “Races” to “Species” in One D&D has caused an absolute uproar among the Old Grognards and edgelords in the #ttrpgcommunity. Why not? It’s one more thing to freak out about. We couldn’t possibly have a nice, calm, quiet, pleasant holiday season without some kind of major uproar in the gaming community. Could we?

This is me.

It’s a little hard for me to chime in on this given I’m a.) older; b.) White; c.) presumed cishet since I have 4 kids; d.) presumed conservative; and e.) presumed Christian (*Because I’m a white guy in Iowa. You’d think we non-Christian liberals would have all fled the state by now.) I find it makes it a little hard to chime in when the TableTop RolePlaying Game Old School Revival/Renaissance/Re-whatever subculture starts popping off of the latest changes in Dungeons & Dragons.

News Flash: Wizards of the Coast owns Dungeons & Dragons.
Let that sink in for a moment. It’s well known fact. It’s their game. It’s their intellectual property.

WotC is free to do as they please with their intellectual property. We can cry all day about the changes. It’s not going to matter.

We can change anything we want at our own tables. There are no D&D nomenclature police that will come to your house and tell you how to run your game. Use whatever terms you like at home with your group. WotC does not care what you do at home in your basement with your group. WotC changes official rules, terms, names, etc. You never have to use them in your own private gaming group if you don’t want to.

It was inevitable that changing “Races” to “Species” would cause an uproar in the D&D and RPG communities.

I think it took all of seconds for people to go barking mad about the changes. We got to hear the litany of:

You can’t tell me how to run my game.
I’m just going to play older editions.
Stupid woke kids and their stupid woke game.
It’s not even D&D any more.
Everything since Third Edition is just garbage.
Liberals are ruining the game.
If you can’t handle it, you should make your own game.
Just play Pathfinder.

It makes me laugh because these kinds of comments come from roughly the same bunch of people every stinkin time. You see it on social media, YouTube, blogs, and in comments on other peoples’ posts too.

There’s been some positive feedback.

I have seen some constructive comments aimed at WotC by people who mean well for the game. Whether WotC is listening might be another story for later. Overall, the D&D fans seem to be of the consensus that “species” is okay, but origin, ancestry, or legacy might sound better.

Really it doesn’t matter what they end up calling it. As long as we know elf from human from beholderkin, who cares? WotC and a large part of the D&D fan base have all agreed that the term “race” had to go. We have too many issues involving race in the real world just among humans.

Some Sociological/Anthropological perspective.

I’ll put up a more detailed table somewhere down the road, but here’s how I kinda break it down:

The tabletop RPG community as a whole is a culture unto itself. We all recognize the common trappings, items, language, common customs, smaller social groupings within the whole, and so forth. Right?

From there we get circles within circles that make a standard Venn diagram look like someone was testing a bingo dauber. It gets a little complicated quickly.

Let’s take what I call the D&D subculture as a large grouping underneath the TTRPG community. There are still a LOT of people still within this group. D&D turns 50 years old soon. At this stage, anyone who participates in or identifies with any edition of D&D or its various retro clones can still be considered a part of the D&D fan community.

So far nothing exclusive or cliquish has come up. It’s till a fairly large group that you could find at a convention, on social media, or even on a Saturday at the friendly local game store. We all love RPGs. We all like or have at least played D&D. Then from there it starts getting tricky.

(*I don’t have definitive numbers nor have I done any kind of official study on this subject, so please be kind.)

More on this tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by. I promise there’s more to unpack on this topic.

Where 5E of the World’s Most Famous RPG Loses Me. Part 3.

I’m not doing anything to try to get hired by WotC. Not sure I’d take that job if it were offered. Yes, they need input from one of us “Old Grogs” as we’re called online these days. Someone needs to provide WotC with feedback that’s not focused on the younger, new player demographic. They don’t seem too interested.

This article is not part of an open letter to Wizards of the Coast, but for my own peace of mind.

WARNING: Long rant ahead. Sorry. Big topic to cover.

I honestly hope someone at Wizards of the Coast at least noticed the previous two articles. While I’m not 100% sure they did, I honestly did intend to give some feedback. I guess we’ll see what happens.

I know I’ve said a lot about D&D 5E and One D&D. The game has gravitated away from some of its roots and pillars. I’ve seen a lot of cases as a Dungeon Master where the game is not longer oriented toward exploring the wilds; searching out vast underground complexes; battling monsters; and bringing home big piles of loot.

Instead, what we seem to be getting (officially) is a lot of really deep; overly dramatic; intense emotional; statistically advantaged characters. It’s like going to acting class with dice. There’s so little DM crunch and challenging involvement that it’s like going to a movie with my DM screen in front of me. It’s not quite the game that it used to be.

I wanted to make it clear to WotC that I’m not doing this for my own personal gain.

I’ve been running D&D and other RolePlaying Games for 40+ years. I was born in 1972. Coincidentally, so was D&D. I wish I could have gotten involved sooner, but <confused elementary school kid noises.> Still, I’ve seen a lot of gameplay. I’ve spent a long time behind the DM Screen. I’ve also been forehead deep in other RPGs that wouldn’t even exist were it not for original D&D.

I’m not doing anything to try to get hired by WotC. Not sure I’d take that job if it were offered. Yes, they need input from one of us “Old Grogs” as we’re called online these days. Someone needs to provide WotC with feedback that’s not focused on the younger, new player demographic. They don’t seem too interested.

Furthermore, I don’t think you could pay me enough to hang with all of the “big corporate teams” in all of their meetings. The feedback they’re supposedly getting from fans right now? To me it looks like they’re just seeking a bunch of head nods and hand waves on their new ideas. If I had to bet, the thing is already in the can, ready to go.

We know I don’t do corporate anything. I probably wouldn’t touch Paizo, Wizkids, Fantasy Flight, Catalyst, or any number of other fairly large RPG/Wargaming producers either. I just don’t like the mentality. I get that all businesses want to make money. Their growth is good, but it’s not in my value set the way it is in corporate <gag!> culture.

My last job was at a Fortune 500 company. Unfortunately, not as a writer. But the mentality of the people in charge made me physically and mentally ill. Still to this day I absolutely refuse to put myself in that type of situation ever again. I’m not joking when I say I have PTSD over that sh*te.

Disclaimer: Statements expressed in this article are strictly my opinion. If you disagree or have a different opinion, that’s okay. I’m not an expert on everything. I’m not always right. I’m just writing from my experience as I know it. Your mileage may vary.

Their (WotC’s) new One D&D approach is to supposedly integrate all editions, emphasis on 5E.

Let’s be clear about race, age, etc. I don’t honestly care who they get to provide feedback from a more Old School Renaissance approach. OSR is based on original D&D whether WotC likes it or not. Some of us (Old Gamers) really love those fast and loose older rules sets.

5E just doesn’t have the same feel to it that older editions had. Death does not lurk around every corner for the characters. Everyone seems to want to be all Critical Role Actual Play podcast. That’s great if that’s what you’re into. (Again, MY opinion.)

5E/Critical Role has been wonderful for introducing new players to the hobby. That’s really wonderful. (No sarcasm intended.) I think the innovations in the hobby over the last 10 years or so have been amazing. Virtual TableTop games, video conferencing, and cell phone apps are great. 2020, the year best left unnamed, gave us a greater sense of internet gameplay. Cool.

Here is where one of my biggest concerns about One D&D comes in.

IF/F (If and only iF) everything D&D goes virtual and all distribution of physical product goes strictly through their website, as has been suggested numerous times by WotC, Friendly Local Game Stores are going to evaporate. IF/F VTT D&D using the Unreal Engine becomes the preferred method of gameplay because the books, character avatars, dice, and everything else goes virtual- in-person gameplay is going to dry up. Conventions are going to dry up. WotC does not care.

Hooray for profits. Remember all of those little game shops that ran events and put you (WotC) on the map? No? It shows. I wish Hasbro cared more. All they’re seeing is the bottom line and not the people or the game. Someone is sitting in their office right now thinking, “Yeah. But think of all those profits.”

I think it’s pretty sad, but what do I know? I’m just a guy with a blog. I’m just a guy who liked D&D up until August 2022.

I have one last article in this series that I want to discuss. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you!

Game World Creation Journal Revised

And I have a TON of ideas. Heck, I’ve got ideas for getting more ideas. Creativity fountain for days. I have that in spades, hexagons, even. Heh heh… makin up my own card suits. See?

I won’t lie. I start a lot of projects. I don’t necessarily finish them. I get sidetracked rather easily. Okay, more like derailed. No promises on this one, but it’s a set of ideas that’s been brewing for ages now.

And I have a TON of ideas. Heck, I’ve got ideas for getting more ideas. Creativity fountain for days. I have that in spades, hexagons, even. Heh heh… makin up my own card suits. See?

My latest venture, among others, is creating my own Dungeon Crawl Classics Campaign world. I have some challenges to overcome. I also have a ton of cool stuff I want to do, probably more than I can fit into one book or even one world. I get really excited because they’re all things I’ve wanted to do for years and years.

I have all these cool plans for kingdoms. Challenge: Mapping. I’m building it as open sandbox for now. I’m having my own little group of characters explore random hexes as we go. The cities, settlements, and kingdoms will be there when they’re discovered.

I have all these neat ideas for various race/culture combos. Challenge: Fitting everything on a map and still having characters discover them. Races have been controversial as of late. Do we even call them races any more? This is mostly an OSR issue. Maybe it’s time to borrow a page from Pathfinder 2e and D&D 5E?

I want to add a bunch of game mechanics including new classes, spells, deities. Challenge: Players are going to freak out. Possibly in a good way, but still. Am I literally trying to reinvent the wheel here? Maybe. It’s like Advanced Dungeon Crawl Classics or something.

Classes are one of my favorite things to tinker with. Challenge: How will players and Judges react to certain traditional classes and items being tossed out? I want to bring some old school D&D rules in. How’s that going to go over? Moreover what’s already been done before. DCC has a long and rich history.

I think world design and campaign design should break certain rules and go outside the guidelines. Creativity isn’t about stressing over who’s getting offended today. Maybe coming up with new ways of NOT stressing the audience out, sure.

So my plan here is to simply start the damn thing and see it all the way through. It may take me 20 years and be published after my death, but hey- we’ll get there. More to come as I develop it. Prepare to be freaked out, possibly.

Originally, I was going to do this with D&D 5E, but… where’s that edition going to be one year from now? I think I’m backing off of 5E until the dust settles a bit. Let’s be honest, that particular market is getting oversaturated anyway.

Thanks for stopping by. There’s a lot more coming. I appreciate you!

5E Artifact

**WARNING** DMs hand this out at your own risk. While it has been tested, it is quite powerful and may unbalance a lower level game. My players obtained one at great peril to their characters.

Arcanum Oculus Mons

Monocle cap of identification.

This leather skullcap covers the left eye of the wearer with a ruby eyepiece. While it looks somewhat awkward, this device serves several useful functions to those wishing to identify magic items.

Read Magic- At will.
Comprehend Languages- (Written Only) at will.
Darkvision 30’- At will.
Detect Evil- At Will.
Identify- 3x/day as per 10th level Wizard

In addition to the above abilities, the cap grants the following magical equipment bonuses:
+4 Arcana.
+4 Investigation
+4 Perception

Link to the OGL

Compatible with other fantasy roleplaying games with some adaptation.

Retainers: The Forgotten.

Now, what we tend to forget mid-dungeon is that Lil Jimmy (thusly named because of his small stature, not age) probably has a family that would miss him and his 3 copper per week income. The family goat just died recently and they sent Jim out to try to earn enough to buy seed for next year’s bean crop. But, on paper he’s listed as Torchbearer Jim: AC 11, +0 Init, 3hp, +0 Saves, Club: 1d6 dmg.

Sounds like it could almost be an RPG in and of itself.

Game Masters/Dungeon Master tend to hate them because they’re one more name to come up with and one more stat block to keep track-of. Players tend to use and abuse them for all sorts of things. While I try to make them as entertaining and endearing as possible, let’s just say most adventuring parties tend to either forget them, or use them as fodder.

Some players forget they’re even available, preferring to haul their lucre home on their own backs. But more often than not, a wagonload of loot and everyday comfort items can bog down. It’s a little hard to fight in a dungeon while dragging a chest full of loot, carrying a torch in one hand and firing a crossbow with the other two…oops. Not many three and four armed characters out there. (*Thri-Kreen not withstanding.) At some point, the group must realize they’re going to have to hire some help.

Personality: a guide to NPC retainer survival.

Sure, Lil Jimmy the torchbearer only has one tiny line of stats. He’s armed with, uh, the torch. He’s had little to no training as a fighter and tends to trip over his own boots in the dark. He hasn’t found any deathtraps yet because he’s still with the group. Super useful for carrying the torch. That’s about it.

Now, what we tend to forget mid-dungeon is that Lil Jimmy (thusly named because of his small stature, not age) probably has a family that would miss him and his 3 copper per week income. The family goat just died recently and they sent Jim out to try to earn enough to buy seed for next year’s bean crop. But, on paper he’s listed as Torchbearer Jim: AC 11, +0 Init, 3hp, +0 Saves, Club: 1d6 dmg.

Maybe Lil Jimmy the torchbearer is a really nice guy. Kinda meager. Missing a few teeth so he talks with a lisp. He’s mostly human, but grandma always said there was a gnome far up the family tree. All of Jim’s extended family lives under one roof. Great grandma’s lumbago keeps her bedridden, so Jim’s 3 coppers often go for apothecary expenses. Sharecropping hasn’t paid so well lately, so the family is pretty far in debt to the landlords.

My aim here was to illustrate the more the characters get to know their trusted, loyal retainers, the less likely they are to have one walk into a room full of traps to act as a damage sponge. Every job, including adventuring, has its set of employer-employee relationships. Most worthy employers at least try to know a little bit about their employees.

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What? They ran off with the loot in the middle of the night again?

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Another thing that might keep an adventurer-retainer relationship healthy is that the retainers know when the group sleeps. There is very little to keep a number of disgruntled retainers from just wandering off in the middle of the night, possibly with the party’s gold and magic items. Those are just the scrupulous retainers. 3cp/week to haul around a veritable mountain of gold, magic, and misc objects d’art? You don’t have to be a noble to see that’s a really screwed up deal.

Yes, the adventurers might think they’re paying a fair wage. They have to do all the scary, heroic things to get the loot. Then again, porters and torchbearers might be risking all down in the dungeon right alongside the “brave heroes.” A bit of wage negotiation might be in order at that point.

Some games might include 0-level retainers/hirelings/henchmen as backup characters.

Dungeon Crawl Classics and other OSR games might allow for 0-level characters to be retainers in the event one or more party members happens to die mid-dungeon. The player may then treat the retainer as a character that freshly passed onto Level 1 and keep the action going.

Ed the cart driver suddenly becomes Ed the Wizard. Billy the torchbearer suddenly takes up the thiefly arts. Bob the dwarf cook suddenly becomes Bob the Dwarf Adventurer. Seems a bit unlikely in places, but perfectly logical in others.

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Retainers were automatic in some fantasy RPGs.

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We used to laugh in Warhammer FRPG when a new class automatically retained followers. The same was true of D&D back in the day. The question was always, “Who are these guys, and why should we care?” Sometimes characters would become landowners and need someone to watch the place while they were off dungeoneering. Enter the NPCs.

Well, obviously, Alfred the famous Warrior was worthy of a retinue of like-minded knights who want to travel with him. Fredo the Cleric had people who flocked to hear him speak, and Sunny the Thief had an entire guild of street urchins. Made total sense except for where did these people come from and why were they stalking our characters? The DM always had fun coming up with ways for these characters to obtain followers and why.

Some unscrupulous PCs would get their retainers killed and fake sympathy. One of my Warhammer players actually had his character start killing his off one by one. It was pretty grim, but it did settle the problem of people wanting to work for him ever again. That was a pretty, um…. murder hobo campaign, though.

Later editions of various rulesets made retainers optional or just not a thing, thankfully. It saved the GM/DM time in coming up with names, descriptions, etc. It was a lot less paperwork all around. Nowadays, if characters want to attract followers/retainers, cool. It can be a good roleplaying device and characters in some fantasy games these days don’t explore or crawl about in dungeons as much.

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All things said, I think it can be a good lesson, especially for younger players.

Treat people nicely (in game) and they’ll want to work for you. Please treat people with kindness and understanding, regardless. In a game, it’s just nice to reinforce positive values. That, and it’s better than having Bob the Former Dwarf Cook having to be triple encumbered carrying a mountain of loot home on his back.

Thanks for stopping by. You’re awesome. I appreciate you!

I’m grateful for you!

AD&D But the “A” is Not What You Think Part 3.

Strangely enough, my favorite edition for monsters thus far has actually been 3E/3.5 Officially there were almost a dozen dedicated monster books plus endless third party sourcebooks. There were three Tome of Horrors variants from Necromancer Games (Now part of Frog God Games.) There was also a revival of Grimtooth’s Traps, but that’s another discussion.

Now, onto Monsters:

Strangely enough, my favorite edition for monsters thus far has actually been 3E/3.5 Officially there were almost a dozen dedicated monster books plus endless third party sourcebooks. There were three Tome of Horrors variants from Necromancer Games (Now part of Frog God Games.) There was also a revival of Grimtooth’s Traps, but that’s another discussion.

The other thing that made 3.5E amazing in terms of monsters is Templates. They kinda did it for 5E, but it never caught on the way it did in Third. I used templates on top of each other and on all of the freaky variant monsters from third party sourcebooks. It was wonderful throwing things out that literally no one had any idea what it was.

Disclaimer: No one edition of D&D is better or worse than any other. Suggestions for the Amalgam Edition are MY opinions! Please feel free to disagree. It’s all hypothetical anyway.

A little bit about Stat Blocks.
From the D&D Rules Cyclopedia c/0 Wizards of the Coast.

I created a LOT of monsters for AD&D2E. I enjoy coming up with new monsters in general. 2E gave us blank monster pages! Back in the pen and paper era, this was fantastic! It might sound dumb now, but back then it was like T$R gave us license to populate our own world.

The binders for 2E were kind of the devil, btw. Also, waiting for new binder pages to come out was kinda the pits. I still have most of mine, but I did the dance of joy when the MM came out in hardcover format.

I also like the Basic, B/X, or BECMI stat blocks. They were short, concise, and super useful. If all I ever need is AC, attacks, damage, special abilities, size and movement, I can look up all the other stuff as needed. I don’t really need their full stats including Cha if it’s probably never going to come up anyway.

I know some of the younger folx reading this are thinking, "He's at it again.-Old guy stuff." But here's the kicker: Every edition has something to offer! I feel simpler is better in many cases! 
Even 4E has something to offer the Amalgam Stat Blocks.
My 4E MM falls open to Oni. That’s probably because it was my favorite creature back then.

I miss the way 4E spelled out a creature’s attacks. In some ways, it added complexity. In many ways, it simplified the game. The D6 recharge ability on a lot of the special attacks was especially nice. I know 5E lists it on some creatures, but I think they could have gone further with it.

Again, I know this seems counter intuitive. It does add to the Stat Block, but it simplifies the DM’s life somewhat. The fewer books I have to have open at the table, the better. My books are full of bookmarks on a given day, anyway. If the creature has spellcasting, I’d rather just have the one or two things it’s likely going to cast in combat handy with a recharge score than have to dig into the PHB and look for all of the nuances of Charm Person, for example.

Also, to mix things even further on the Stat Blocks, I liked the presentation offered in prior editions of how the creature’s attacks should play out. 4E gives us the type, damage, etc but the details of how many and in what order got lost down below. I would rather see it up front. Small thing, I know. But telling me, the DM that the creature will either use claw/claw/bite OR Breath Weapon OR Spell helps a lot.

Some day down the road, I may have to draw up a creature the way I’m describing it so everyone can see what I’m talking about. It’s a lot simpler than it sounds. I like being able to write (pencil and paper) down the creature stats before combat so I can more easily track what they’re doing on the map and in my head so I don’t have to have ALL of my various books open. Trust me, when you make a Feral, Venomous, Sabretooth Wyvern it starts getting a little freaky.

Art sells game books.

AD&D 2E. I want to hug it.

Again, every edition of D&D has things it does well and maybe not so well. Pretty much EVERY edition has some artwork that’s worth keeping. For example- Ogres. The 5E Ogre is almost perfect for the creature, IMO. The 4E Oni were more menacing and intelligent looking. 3E/3.5 had the nice notebook style lines in the background. 2E had a lot of nice color art, especially the 2.5 books. 1E AD&D had the uncensored art that was NSFW in places which was daring and edgy at the time. Basic had a lot of art that just plain got the point across. I like the black and white pen drawings.

The opposite is also true. Take the Displacer Beast as an example. It went from looking almost cartoony (1E AD&D) to pretty much cute and cuddly, to scary, and now terrifying (as it should be.) Regardless, endearing art that brings us closer to the game and enhances the fantasy experience sells books.

I’d rather do this before a game than during.

Thanks for stopping by today. More on the way. I appreciate you!

Non Player Characters: Everyone’s Best Friends.

Otherwise, their NPC druid becomes disposable. Sanji the loveable pack bearer runs off in the night with a bag of magic items and is never seen again. They let poor Jamir walk down the hallway and find all the traps for them. (Grim, I know.)

One of my favorite keys to a good adventure for many, many years has been memorable Non Player Characters that stick with the party.

Some of my favorite NPCs were introduced sometime around the first few sessions. I try to make them endearing enough (or healers) that the group will want them to stick around. Some rely on cuteness. (Cute goes a long way around here.) Others rely on a shtick like roguish charm or comedy relief.

I often go out of my way to obtain or read copies of various GM guides and how-to-GM literature. I watch Roll 4 Initiative as well as How To Be A Great GM on YouTube when I can. Back in my day before we had the World Wide Interwebs, we read a lot of books on the subject. Johnn Four’s NPC Essentials. (Available on Johnn’s website or DriveThruRPG.) There also used to be this neat thing in print called “Dragon Magazine” that many of us read for articles on good DM skills, including NPC development.

Having a solid stable of NPCs can be a real game changer.

Sometimes you just have to try.

If you’re a new DM/GM, please don’t panic! I can rely on a massive heap of characters, lists of NPCs, and a long history of running games. You don’t have to! It’s okay. There are so many tools at your disposal for creating NPC names, generating random personality traits, and even background generators out there. They’re easy to find and sometimes built into the various VTT platforms if you’re using one.

You don’t have to have a heap of combat statistics and skills listed for every character. If they’re going to get in a fight pick one or two things they might be good at and have them do it. Sometimes that might be hiding under the nearest tree or rock until the end of the fight.

Contrary to what some actual play podcasts would have you believe, you don’t have to be a trained voice actor or a master of improv. You’re fine as long as the group knows which character is speaking. It won’t hurt to try different tones of voice and rates of speech. A little experimentation won’t hurt. But if your group is cool, you don’t have to. As long as everyone is comfortable with it, you can do a lot of things at the gaming table or not, depending on your preference.

NPCs are an incredible role-playing tool on so many levels.

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Sometimes interactions with NPCs can make or break a campaign. NPCs are so useful for sparking conversations, getting the group back on track, lightening up the mood, or dropping subtle yet valuable clues or hints. Sometimes NPCs remain a topic of discussion long after the session has ended. (I’m enough of a method actor that I’ve had to drop into an NPC from something I ran and then go through all kinds of crazy stuff in character. It’s a hoot.)

NPCs are also helpful if the group is arguing amongst themselves and have come to a stalemate on a decision they have to make. A well-respected, stable NPC can sometimes settle the argument by making a neutral third suggestion the group didn’t consider, suggest a compromise, or tip the balance and get the group moving again. Other NPCs traveling with the group might be a source of quests. Or sometimes they put themselves in harm’s way and need to be rescued.

It all hinges on how much the NPC has endeared themselves to the players. Otherwise, their NPC druid becomes disposable. Sanji the loveable pack bearer runs off in the night with a bag of magic items and is never seen again. They let poor Jamir walk down the hallway and find all the traps for them. (Grim, I know.) The barmaid that is secretly a princess fails to convince the group to go to the next town to confront the bandit king.

All the advice books and articles aside, sometimes you just have to play through these things.

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I’m taking one of the worst pieces of advice I’ve ever heard and turning it into a good practice. You can write down all kinds of information, history and stats on your NPCs. You can have all kind of plot hooks and diabolical plans made for the Warlock NPC to introduce. But if you can’t earn the party’s trust after the first encounter or two, does it do you any good?

Likewise, you can have a completely innocuous goblin randomly sitting in the corner of the tavern with nothing much more than a description and that’s the one the group latches onto and tries to get acquainted with. My point with this is: you have to know your group.

Quick fix for the above examples? Switch the plot hooks, some of the history, etc from the Warlock over to the seemingly harmless goblin “farmer.” OR have the goblin be the Warlock’s henchman. The group will never know what went on behind the scenes. OR have the goblin farmer be completely harmless, give her a name, and have the group meet her every time she comes to town.

If the group sees the plot wagon coming, some players will go out of their way to derail it. I’ve had this happen a couple of times when it was obvious the NPC was going to be with the party for a while. The sad part was both times the hapless, helpless NPC really was as innocent and cute as she seemed. The group just took their vanquished foes’ disdain as her being some kind of threat.

Once you build up a series of personality traits in your mind, it’s easier to drop a random NPC into any situation. I keep a list of names handy and then cross them off or make a note of who I used them for. It also makes for good roleplaying to know what kinds of characters are likely to build report with the PCs and who/what they’ll likely avoid if possible.

Sometimes it’s also fun to give the group something they need in an NPC package they don’t necessarily want.

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Opposites sometimes attract and other times annoy. But what if the group really needs something like gold to rez a friend or the unending favor of the Lord of Waterdeep? Suddenly that pain in the butt might be the group’s favorite character they love to hate.

Likewise, the really loving, caring, devoted cleric of the group might look a lot less friendly when they find out her father is known as the Butcher Baron of Barlow (not for his meat cutting skills.) NPC entanglements are so much fun to play out. They can be a wonderful diversion from the main plot for a session or two.

Good things can come to an end.

The amount of effort you put into an NPC can sometimes be exceptionally rewarding. However, one piece of advice I’ve always thought highly of stated, “don’t be afraid to kill a beloved NPC.” That “NPC” stamp on their forehead might mean a lot of things, but unkillable sure isn’t one of them.

Sometimes people leave from our lives in the real world, too. Not because of death necessarily. Sometimes an NPC outlives their usefulness. NPC’s are people too, so to speak. They fall in love and get married. They decide to pursue other career options. Sometimes they get tired of hauling loot around for the party and run off in the middle of the night with everything.

The heel turn.

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Poor Sir Allen.

Which brings me to another point. Many of us have had an experience at some point where an NPC turned out to be the diametric opposite in alignment and abilities. That innocent, sweet young elven lady that always followed the party’s druid around turns out to be a disguised succubus. Jamir the porter who was rescued from a dungeon several adventures back is actually a doppelganger. Oh, and that kindly old merchant on the corner is the head of the local assassin’s guild. Sorry.

The players have mixed reactions all over the table. Usually it’s raucous laughter. Some get a little miffed at the GM/DM. Some are a bit sad that their favorite NPC just can’t possibly be so evil. Sometimes there’s even hideous regret depending on the relationship between the character and the turncoat NPC.

Much like pro wrestling, where the term comes from, a heel turn can be a lot of fun. But please don’t overuse it! The first one is a hoot. But then the players are going to trust the NPCs a lot less for a while going forward. And every time someone starts getting interested in an NPC, there’s going to be the inevitable retelling of, “Remember the time Sanji ran off with all of our magical loot in the middle of the night?” Or, “Remember when Sir Allen’s girlfriend turned out to be a succubus?”

Be ready to write!

One last tip I like to give to any writer, especially GMs/DMs, is be ready to write down inspiration when it strikes. Carry a notebook, pad of paper, and a pen or pencil pretty much everywhere you go. That way when you meet someone who inspires you or if sudden inspiration hits during a movie, you can write it down. I once wrote down an NPC idea on a restaurant napkin with the waitress’ pen. (Luckily it wasn’t about her.)

As I mentioned above, it doesn’t have to be a full stat block, background, and everything else. Don’t write about a character’s lightning shaped birthmark if no one is ever going to see it. A first name, maybe gender, 3-6 personality traits and the reason the character is significant is all you really need. You can usually fill in the rest later.

Another NPC generation method I’ve employed in the past is to let the group create 1-3 characters for use as NPCs. Sometimes you get real gold. Other times you get real, uh what’s the opposite of gold? BUT if life gives you turds, plant flowers in them. (Okay, that was gross but better than making turd-ade.) You can always rework and reword the worst of a bad batch of NPCs into something useful.

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Wow! we covered a lot of ground today. Would you believe there may be a Part 2 to this article? I had so much fun discussing this topic.

Thanks for stopping by. Please give yourself a pat on the back if you made it this far. Thank you! See you tomorrow.

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