Tabletop RGP: How DMs can use Dreams as a Tool

Broken Age gameplay || Broken Age is a point-and-click adventure game developed and published by Double Fine.

Dreams are over-used in fiction, but reconsidered, they present Game Masters (GM) with a powerful narrative tool for tabletop roleplaying game sessions. Whether it’s about adding flavour to combat by ditching your usual fully-awake scenario, or trying to find an organic way to provide your party with that crucial piece of information you forgot to mention last time, dreams are where it’s at 👾

Dreams as (self-)discovery

Just like flashbacks and jumps in time, dreams are another means through which players can discover themselves, and each other. Here they have the opportunity to roleplay and explore game mechanics uninterrupted by their travelling companions, not to mention the whole world around them.

On the flipside, onlookers can delve into each others’ backstories with a bit of meta-game spying, changing the nature of a dream to that of an overheard conversation. Instead of always relying on the awkward “so what’s your quest, adventurer”, others snoop on your subconscious during your back-and-forth with the GM, which also makes for an interesting challenge later on. What do I do with the meta-game information I have gained as a player, and can it shape my roleplaying without completely informing my character’s choices?

Backstories and meta-gaming

  • Exploration of emotional and psychological elements of character backstories
  • Creative approach to self-discovery and discovery of the other
  • DM-sanctioned space for meta-gaming and breaking the third wall
  • Uninterrupted and sincere roleplay
  • Tool to shape and enhance Player Character (PC) roleplaying

Communicating with the powers above

Dreams are also a medium through which players may communicate with higher powers, much like a séance. Perhaps it’s the first time a player meets their character’s God, or maybe they aren’t religious at all but looking for an excuse to be put on a path of devotion. In some cases, it can work as a space for higher powers to offer second chances; an extra piece of lore with a successful History or Religion check.

Whatever the reason for the apparition, it can often be awkward for a player to directly interact with a being of a much higher status, such as a God or Deity. This was especially the case when I played a low level Cleric of Light with the Acolyte Background, clueless as to how I would casually chit-chat with Apollo. Likewise, many Dungeon Masters (DM), first-time and advanced, feel the pressure of bringing such an awesome event and figure to life. Roleplaying the dynamics of this scenario is difficult as it’s not an interaction humans can simulate and practice in real life. Instead, DMs can use imagery, whispers, and symbology in dreams to represent that which is beyond the material plane.

Religion & Spirituality

  • Ethereal portal facilitating bilateral communication for Paladins, Clerics, Warlocks, and the devout
  • Tool for DMs who prefer to describe and not embody the religious and spiritual
  • Free Commune and Augury for DMs who like to spoil their players
  • Discovery of and introduction to faith for the (soon-to-be) devout
  • Divine foreshadowing and foresight
  • Second chances at succeeding important checks

Combat re-imagined

Combat is so riddled with epic music and big sword swings; we sometimes forget the finer narrative happenings that turn into an initiative roll. Re-imagining combat as something that slowly creeps up on players in their most vulnerable state often makes for a kickass game. Just remember to include such a scenario in your consent form to make sure your party is comfortable with being psychologically invaded. It’s not a given!

  • Dream-realm combat is a good alternative to ambush or surprise rounds
  • The immaterial, unknown, and óneiros redefines horror and fear
  • Control or manipulate player agency as an in-combat scare tactic
  • Conversely, provide a safe training ground to test combat on low-level PCs

Fiddling with RAW

When you’re asleep or fighting half-asleep, some Rules As Written or expectations can be ignored or outright countered. Dreams are a good place to, once in a blue moon, disregard the official rulebooks (the Player’s Handbook, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual). Though many DMs invent their own homebrew rules, you’ll typically want to be consistent so you can offer your players some sort of base to hold onto. Every now and then, you can throw that out of the window.

  • Armour or no armour? Do your players sleep with their spellcasting focus? Does it matter? You can make the call
  • All spellcasting is currently impossible, and only cantrips and unarmed strikes will do in this ethereal realm
  • Invent monsters that can bypass certain mechanics, or thrive in the dream realm
  • Tweak monsters to fit your scenario; for example, a variant of an awakened shrub can now call prey from their beds to its location on a failed Wisdom Saving Throw, and force them to be assimilated

Breaking away from your usual setting

You could be located anywhere in your fictional world, homebrew or not, during any season, and swap settings at a whim. This can be done by way of magic regardless of dreams, but it’s useful for the party to hold on to some sense of cohesiveness, and space and time are major contributing factors to sense of direction and understanding. Dreams temporarily suppress this cohesiveness, and make for a fun one-night-only setting.

  • The party is no longer constrained to your desert city as they wonder your fictitious astral planes
  • Dreams are a fun way for players to explore different landscapes earlier on in the game, as travel takes time and teleporting is reserved for later levels
  • If you don’t have time to plan a separate one-shot, but you’re looking to spice up your setting, try a dream
  • You can playtest settings on PCs and determine whether or not they gravitate towards them in-game; perhaps your next campaign should be set in space?

No strings attached narration

Too often do good DMs have to prepare the consequences of the fun things they plan. Maybe all you had intended was for a nice looking vase with flowers to be part of the scenery, a narrative detail and nothing more, something to add colour to the story. But you forgot about the Druid who was raised in an antiques warehouse, or the elf with the book detailing every flower in this universe. Now your porcelain needs a backstory. But not always! The subconscious is at your service, because a dream vase doesn’t need context.

  • Descriptions don’t require on-the-spot backstories for a fluke Natural 20 roll
  • If someone breaks a really important royal vase in a dream, you don’t have to start a war between two nations
  • Storytelling no longer calls for (complete) accountability
  • Odd happenings do not have to be clarified later on, and not everything is fatalistic
  • Go completely off script, because anything goes

Creep out your players 😙 (sorry!)

We are at our most vulnerable when we are asleep. Of course, seasoned players know by now to bunker down with an Alarm spell on, or in a Hut or Tower with weapons nearby, but sometimes it’s not enough. That’s not to say that you should freak your players out to the point of no return, where their characters are afraid to go to bed and will always have an uncomfortable night in their 16 base AC chainmail. But, perhaps it forces them to be prudent, and rethink their strategies when assessing their environment.

Who should they trust, and how should they set up camp, when even the dreamspace is compromised. Because who knows what is lurking beyond the conscious mind…

Session 0: Planning your first D&D Game

The Dungeon Master’s Guide, D&D Spellbook Cards Cleric, Condition Rings and Dice | Flo | Basic Snitch

New Year, New Dungeons and Dragons Campaign? Perhaps you’re not quite there yet and hosting a one-shot or two is more up your alley. Whatever the motive, planning the first game of any adventure can seem daunting. Luckily, the core event of your session is pre-determined; the heroes have to meet. All you need now are a place, plot, and some people – the definition of a manageable workload. Except, your wizard rolls a Nat 20 Intelligence Check, figures out that her father is her brother, pulls out some bat guano and pulverises your starter BBEG for 96 points of fire damage. Holy shit, sick and rad indeed, but… now what?

Here are some suggestions on how to maximise your chances of running a smooth and interesting first Dungeons and Dragons game.

Playtest or Kick-off

Typically, a session 0 and session 1 of Dungeons and Dragons differ in structure and level of preparedness. Session 0s can act as improvisational games where adventurers playtest class and race combinations, try out roleplay accents that they are unsure of, or metagame and ask questions that might otherwise disturb the natural flow of the session. On the other hand, nothing says that a session 0 cannot or should not be the actual kick-off of your campaign or two-shot. You might well feel more comfortable with a pre-written set of intrigues. What matters above all is transparency between Dungeon Master (DM) and players. Talk to your party about what they expect of a first game – this includes addressing triggers and consent – and being honest with them about the kind of adventure you’re looking to run.

Set the mood

Determining the type of game you’re hosting includes setting the appropriate tone and mood. Whether you tend to rely entirely on theatre of the mind, or have a proclivity for fully-fledged battle maps, D&D is always about immersion. Even diehard metagamers rely on a constant commitment to breaking character. To that effect, there are ways in which a game can be made to feel like quasi-VR madness, where everyone is an actor in the universe woven collectively by DM and players.

Narrative

  • Adopt the mindset of becoming your Non-Player Characters (NPCs)
  • Adjust your tone of voice to fit the mood of narrative descriptions
  • Consider register and mood; for example, formal RP English for a Victorian Era setting
  • Consider word choice and mood; “deep dark pit” is serious, and “big-ass hole” is comedic
  • Make use of silences and pauses to heighten suspense and punctuate important information
  • Rely on fast-paced narrative for (pre-)combat, urgency traps, and timed missions
  • Practice accents, timbre, pitch, tone, pace, and linguistic quirks
  • Study sound effects and try to incorporate them into your narrative

Audio-visual

  • For the hearing and seeing community, audio-visual stimuli can be a crucial step to achieving immersion
  • Make use of tabletop audio programmes or cherry-pick your own music and ambience playlist
  • Platforms such as Watch2Gether, or bots like Groovy on Discord, facilitate autoplay and looping
  • Free battle maps, ideal for combat, can be made on Inkarnate, as well as other platforms
  • Online whiteboards like AWW Board provide a backdrop for your session for maps, NPCs, and minis
“The Haven Inn, Calinthia” Battle Map | Inkarnate | Flo | Basic Snitch

First encounters

The mood has been set and the main event is certain: forming a party of people who trust each other enough to venture out on deadly quests together. Though the topic is simple enough, allowing for players to become a cohesive unit organically without engaging in illusionism or railroading is a big question mark DMs often grapple with.

With only two or three players at your table or on your screen, the possibilities of planning a narrative-only session 0 that allows for players to find each other naturally are endless. The story can jump from player to player until they find each other, or follow a linear timeline. The goal will almost always be to end up in the same location with a mission that is, to some degree, shared. Having some plot elements that tie characters together beforehand is helpful, and will have them wanting to work together, either out of empathy, sympathy, or necessity. Although this might give the narrative a “chosen ones” feel, injecting this into the larger picture early on means less railroading overall.

Flashbacks not railroads

Due to the tedious nature of meeting sans Deus Ex Machina and how time consuming it can be, Dungeon Masters who have more than a couple of players might lean towards preparing a session 0 that relies heavily on railroading the players into meeting up at a tavern, palace, shop, or battlefield. Upon arrival, five or more strangers are suddenly thrust into the same situation and must all find time to quickly develop a connection.

Though railroading players in a session 0 is, in my opinion, entirely acceptable and sometimes even necessary for sheer practicality, there are ways of avoiding this. Instead of having players travel to the same location in real time, give them a chance to delve into their past. They could all start off in the same location, together in a room for example, and are in each other’s company already for reasons that will soon be revealed. Cue a series of flashbacks that allow them to snoop on each other, so to speak, and catch a glimpse of what other characters are like without engaging in unreasonably deep and meaningful conversations on day one.

A flashback is also a useful tool for DMs as it provides them with a steerable narrative that is limited; as we are in the past, not much can be changed about where the players find themselves now and what their quest is. However, players can impact the “how”, and some choices or rolls might affect the future, i.e., the present. In tandem with this impact, players are able to develop their characters and roleplay what kind of backstory they intend to embody.

Of course, a more light-hearted approach that handles relationships with humour could erase the need to care about meeting organically, or about bonding as companions altogether. The vibe of your game might just be listen here you piece of shit gnome, I don’t give a hoot about your problems, but you’re coming with me, and that’s hilariously okay too.

The Tavern Trope

First encounters inevitably beg the question of where the party will meet. If you’re a seasoned Dungeon Master, you’ll probably want to show your players something unique, and discount the idea of a medieval tavern entirely. That said, if you’re dealing with a bunch of first-timers, The Tavern™ often fulfils novice player TTRPG expectations, and denying them this so-called rite of passage could be a disservice to their entry into D&D.

The answer to this conundrum is simple enough – ask your players about the fantasy worlds or locations they are interested in. Of course, DMs should take their own preferences into account too – never put forward a proposal that doesn’t speak to you, and always be honest with your table, lest you be unexpectedly stuck for five years in a K-Pop-themed campaign set in outer space. Come to think of it, that sounds kind of interesting…

Nat 20s, Nat 1s, and Flukes

For DMs that prefer to be overprepared like myself, it’s often hard to come to terms with the improvisational nature of D&D, and the very real possibility of having to deal with many unforeseeable events determined by dice rolls alone, or unanticipated Player Character (PC) choices.

Strokes of luck

Beyond making sure you aren’t too set in the story you have in mind, there are techniques you can use to deal with the unplanned, or the improbable. For example, a PC might roll a Nat 20 Intelligence Check on a piece of lore you were hoping would remain a mystery for half of the campaign. This is a stroke of good luck that has the potential to warp any DM’s plans, and yet the best way to avoid feeling defeated is by 1) understanding from the get-go that anything you prepare can be subject to a Nat 20 or a Nat 1, 2) recognising that this is a moment of utter satisfaction for the player and reward them with the answer. After all, there will be other obscure mysteries to come.

Narrating improbabilities

Other times, Nat 20s and Nat 1s have less to do with taking the DM by surprise, and more to do with managing a situation that seems improbable, or virtually impossible. Dungeon Masters and D&D players Brennan Lee Mulligan and Lou Wilson discuss such tactics in detail in Dimension 20’s Adventuring Academy episode Creating Rounded Characters. Other than the by now well-known “yes and” rule of improv that seems to fix any situation, unlikely events can be narrated in ways that make them seem more probable. Here are some examples from my own campaigns and one-shots (hosted and played):

  • Half-elf Cleric rolls a Nat 20 on dragging an unconscious polymorphed Firbolg Monk (bear) out of a pit
  • Kenku Rogue rolls a Nat 1 Dex Check on tinkering with a lock in a Silverymoon library
  • Warforged Druid with proficiency in Perception rolls a Nat 1 Perception Check on seeing a house, twice
  • Halfling Wizard rolls a Nat 20 Strength Check on pulling a 6ft Warforged Druid out of a village well
  • Fire Goliath Barbarian rolls a Nat 20 on an Acrobatics Check to jump over a dozen fragile tavern stools
  • Fire Goliath Barbarian rolls a Nat 1 on a melee attack roll, inside a closed tavern against one enemy

All of these situations seem unlikely, and can be difficult to justify on the spot; however, adapting your perspective to favour each PC’s individual qualities and flaws can help. The Half-elf Cleric was suddenly inspired by God, the Kenku Rogue hasn’t slept for 2 days, the Warforged Druid is lost deep in thought, the Halfling Wizard cleverly repositions her companion so that they may use their own Strength to get out of the well, and the Fire Goliath Barbarian is so strong that his momentum pushes him forward, somersaulting over all the old furniture, unfortunately causing him to mistime the swing of his axe.

Balanced encounters

Fluke rolls can also be tackled with balanced encounters. Preparing beforehand that X amount of enemies at level Y will storm a tavern if the BBEG drops below 50% HP before a specified time can often solve PCs being accidentally overpowered (OP). Balancing also makes combat fairer and more interesting.

Though some might interpret this type of balancing as a form of railroading, relying on logic is enough to support this method; how many times has a superhero or supervillain prepped some backup in the event that they should meet their demise? You know, the whole “If I’m not back in 10 minutes, send in the tanks.” You get the gist.

Remote D&D

Despite all of these pointers, the 2020+ covid-19 pandemic has led to a decrease in IRL gameplay, and a huge shift towards remote Dungeons and Dragons. As Ari would say, when all is said and done, virtual D&D sessions could end up being your biggest challenge yet; your internet might let you down, and awkward silences can stack like Jenga blocks.

Tech mishaps and solutions

  • Computers crash; prepare to temporarily join Discord (or the platform you use) via phone if possible
  • For cuts in PC audio, the DM can switch to narrative describing scenery, or move on to other players
  • Any general technical difficulties with a short waiting time can be solved with a water or food break
  • If a single player’s internet connection drops for a long time, narrate the character’s sudden departure
  • Discord flops happen; try a temporary switch to Skype, Zoom or Google Meets
  • Digital dice page won’t load? Siri rolls polyhedral dice too! Or ask a fellow player to determine your fate
  • Frozen or broken battle maps might be your cue to go off-script and engage in theatre of the mind combat
  • Silences, they’re unavoidable. Call for a break, load some cricket noises, further describe the scene
  • Mistimed music can be humorous; AC/DC combat music on at a romantic date? Narrate the stage bard’s strange take on what a candlelit dinner ambience means. Her manager will be having a word with her…

Rule #1 – Have fun

Although the DM is in charge of gameplay prep and keeping an overview of the direction of each session – especially the first session – the point of TTRPG is ultimately to have fun. In the end, it doesn’t matter how many Nat 1s you roll or how far you stray from the intended path. All that matters is that you’re having a great time at the table, be it a material, or virtual one.

Dungeons & Dragons: Tips for Beginners and Their DM

Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch

Happy Halloween! You’ve put on your costume, and finally come to the realisation that what you’re doing is in effect LARPing and cosplaying for treats. In fact, you might even have given in to the nouvelle vague hype surrounding tabletop roleplaying games – perhaps even Dungeons and Dragons specifically!

Alas, you find yourself overwhelmed by the rules, classes, and races. Where to begin? Here are some tried and tested tips and tricks for new players who are being guided by an intermediate level Dungeon Master!

Be clear about your expectations

MasterSarcasm | https://imgur.com/gallery/PMj3uKK

There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a year-long medieval role-play-heavy campaign when you thought you were going to space. Before joining a group, define what exactly it is you’re interested in when it comes to tabletop roleplaying games. Would your ideal gameplay include a lot of combat? Are you expecting everyone to dress up as their character? Do you want music and scenery to add to the immersion, or is detailed narration enough? Talk to your Dungeon Master about your wishes, and conversely, recognise that they might not be able to meet all of your expectations. Of course, this goes both ways; find out how much is expected of you as a player, and ask yourself how much time and effort you are willing to invest in D&D.

Expectations also extend to your level of comfort. Ask your DM whether they plan on providing players with a consent form. It’s a shame to join a group only to realise later on that the story includes scenarios that are traumatic or uncomfortable for you to be put in. This may happen regardless of a consent form, but the DM should try their best to plan ahead. If you are aware of any specific triggers and feel comfortable talking about them to your DM, do so early on, before you start playing.

Agree on edition and core rulebooks

Although most people these days play 5th edition D&D, new players should confirm with their DM what edition they’ll be playing, as it will constitute a good prompt for Game Masters to tell their participants what information will be applicable to gameplay. A lot of blogs or guides online contain content from 3.5e or 4e that is no longer applicable to 5e games, and beginners might have trouble distinguishing which information is valid to them.

Though the game might rely heavily on the Player’s Handbook (PHB), there are other rulebooks that players might already have investigated, keen to incorporate them into their experience of D&D. Have you just discovered Unearthed Arcana? Check with your DM if they’ll allow for it to be included in their world!

Find out what templates you’ll use

With D&D Beyond’s detailed, and by now standardised, character creation template, it’s easy to be assumptive when it comes to what ‘forms’ your DM will require you to fill out; however, there are often easier, simplified versions of character sheets that can be better suited to beginners.

Snippet of homemade template | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch

D&D Beyond’s character sheet fills in a lot of information automatically, which is a lifesaver for experienced players who want to save time and already know what perks come with what class and race. Beginners might be more likely to oversee this information, and could benefit from writing it down themselves, or discussing it with their DM to write it down together.

Start off easy or be prepared to conduct research

You certainly shouldn’t feel forced to play a human fighter with no feats, but if you plan on picking a tricky combination, say, a half-changeling wild magic sorcerer multi-classing as a wizard, you’ll have to conduct some research. Perhaps the most baffling aspect of D&D is its immense corpus of choices upon options upon possibilities. If you’re shocked by the amount of playable races on the web that don’t feature in the Player’s Handbook, then you’ll be flabbergasted at the sight of the long online lists of backgrounds at your disposal.

List of available Backgrounds in D&D 5e | dandwiki.com/5e_Backgrounds

Having so many options can be exciting, but it can also be overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to ask your DM for recommendations; they should be prepared to dissect your character, and be able to come up with a selection of possible classes, races, and backgrounds for you to peruse in your own time.

Consider playing a one-shot

There’s truly no better way to familiarise yourself with the game mechanics of D&D than playing the game itself. It’s very difficult to sit down with a beginner to explain all the variable rules, let alone be able to cover everything in one call.

If your DM doesn’t have time to prepare a preliminary one-shot on top of the one-shot or campaign they already have set up for your party, ask them about the option of hosting a session zero, or a quick run through of an improvised game. Essentially, you’ll be able to test run ability checks and in-combat turns – no strings attached.

Write your backstory in First Person

When a new player of mine recently got back to me with their backstory in first person, I was taken aback and impressed to discover just how much I was able to hear the character’s voice. Often, and certainly in my case, I see a lot of third person narratives, which admittedly can feel very detached. Writing in first person really brings the character to life, and even more so if you choose to incorporate dialect-specific words. For role-play enthusiasts, this further helps players prepare for what they intend to sound and act like when in character.

Know your character to the best of your ability

As a DM, there’s nothing more respectful and helpful than when a player has tried their utmost best to know everything they can about their character. When you have done research on your class, race, and background, and you are adamant about understanding your weapon attacks, spells, and abilities, the game runs smoother for everyone.

If you intend on playing a light-hearted improvised game just for the laugh of it, then showing up unprepared can of course add to the humour of the night. But be sure you’ve understood the tone of the gameplay correctly, as a lack of research and preparedness can be a big sign of disrespect or disinterest to Dungeon Masters that have spent weeks, months, or even years combing through your character to make sure they have a fulfilling time in a fully-fledged fantasy world.

What can you do as a Dungeon Master for new players?

Consent Form

I cannot recommend consent forms enough. The original form was created for the TTRPG Safety Toolkit and is adapted from the RPG Consent Checklist that appears in the Consent in Gaming supplement by Sean K. Reynolds and Shanna Germain, published by Monte Cook Games. The adapted version that I based my adapted version on can be found here.

Consent forms can seem off-putting at first, as there’s a lot of wild stuff on there, but it’s important that you and your players are comfortable at all times (except of course in moments where you have expressly agreed to feeling uncomfortable). Be sure to explain the spotlight method to your players, and convey that ‘enthusiastic consent’ does not denote support of the gruesome things mentioned in the form, but rather denotes an undeniable certainty that the player agrees for these topics to come up in-game. For players that aren’t sure, advise them to always tick yellow.

Dungeon Masters should remember that consent can fluctuate; what might have been all right for a player last week might no longer be. It is your job as a DM to check in with your players, and they should be provided with a safe space in which they can tell you that something feels off.

Questionnaire

Questionnaires are all about exploring and managing the expectations of your players, and finding out how much they already know about D&D or RPG. They are also useful when it comes to worldbuilding and plot expectations. Though most beginners might tend towards being interested in a medieval world that is mostly optimistic in tone, your players might surprise you with their answers.

Snippet of RPG Questionnaire | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch

Questionnaires can help you find out what some participants find essential to have a good D&D game.

Snippet of RPG Questionnaire | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch

And they are extremely useful as an extension to the consent form, for example on the topic of perma-death, of which the emotional side effects are often misunderstood, downplayed, or outrightly mocked.

Snippet of RPG Questionnaire | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch

All in all, questionnaires are always a good idea, and pre-existing templates can be found online for DMs who are stretched for time!

Help Sheets

With so many rules, coupled simultaneously with a huge lack of specific guidelines, it can be useful to have something to refer to that is more condensed than the Player’s Handbook. I had a hard time finding help sheets online that were all-inclusive; 1) colour-coded 2) succinct 3) extensive (includes actions, movement, conditions, environmental effects).

Snippet of Actions in Combat Help Sheet | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch
Snippet of Movement Help Sheet| Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch
Snippet of Conditions Help Sheet | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch
Snippet of Environmental Effects Help Sheet | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch

If you plan on being a part-time, long-term Dungeon Master, consider creating your own help sheets, or adapting yours from a pre-existing template. Players will be able to refer to them in-game when you are caught in narration or Non-Player Character (NPC) role-play, and they might just spare you a lot of questions.

Colour-coding and/or semiology

D&D Beyond’s pre-made character templates aren’t very eye-grabbing, which is important when learning rules quickly; when you’re playing D&D, your eyes have to gravitate towards specific information, which is even more important when engaged in combat. This is particularly useful when playing remotely. Don’t know what AC and HP are, or where on your sheet they are located? With colour-coding, your DM will be able to refer to them easily, and you’ll be able to spot them immediately.

Snippet of Adapted Character Sheet | Flo | Basic Snitch | @thebasicsnitch

Of course, it’s the DMs job to make sure everybody is included to an equal degree. Remember to check with your group that all players are able to see colours the same way; if you have a colourblind player, consider semiology instead, and rely on symbols that stand out and can easily be used as visual references. If you have visually impaired players, you will be partly responsible for coming up with a solution that facilitates learning D&D comfortably and quickly.

In-depth Character Creation Discussion

Last but not least, if you’re a high-commitment group, then you owe it to your players to put aside an hour to discuss their character with them. They might have specific backstory questions that will surface in a one-to-one discussion, or be curious about customising something with you. It’s a fun experience that is rewarding to both parties, and will help Dungeon Masters engage in coherent and rich world-building, where characters are tied into the world itself, and where their actions and choices have an impact.

So, what are you waiting for? Halloween is the perfect time to embark on a spooktacular adventure!

Why Into the Mother Lands should be in your Top 10 RPG Shows

If you’ve been looking to add another tabletop series to your list of weekly binges, Twitch-funded Into the Mother Lands premiered Sunday October 4, and it’s all a sci-fi nerd could wish for.

Into the Mother Lands airs 4pm PT/6pm CT/7pm ET/12am BT/1am CET on Twitch @cypheroftyr

Our adventure begins on Musalia in the far future, where our heroes must quickly learn how to put aside their differences in order to accomplish a vital, life-saving mission.

Created by Non-Profit I Need Diverse Games founder and activist Tanya DePass, this actual play stars DePass herself as Invicta (Hyaenole Blade Keeper), professional role-player and singer Krystina Arielle as Cyla-9-1-9 (Mansegene Bio Priest), Space and Sci-fi wiz DeejayKnight as Ikemba (Musalian Bio Priest), full-time professional role-player and Magic: The Gathering streamer Michael Sinclair II as Ilay (Misajai Light Bringer), and long-time actor, music director, and narrative designer Eugenio Vargas as the party’s Game Master/Storyteller.

1. Into the Mother Lands is a crucial all-BIPOC addition to our core list of RPG shows

Into the Mother Lands is a sci-fi odyssey spearheaded and developed by a remarkable team of veteran POC designers and professional role-players, with a cast and crew line up that is hard to top. Made up of activists who are all equal parts vocal educators and TTRPG enthusiasts, every cast and crew member stands out as deeply passionate about inclusive RPG and extremely experienced in the field.

RPG shows with an all-POC production and cast are absolutely necessary to highlight and support in TTRPG, with the majority of existing positive media focus tending towards predominantly white, male-dominated gameplay, despite the long list of fantastic non-white professional role-players that have made a name for themselves in the games community.

The sheer fact that BIPOC are lumped together under one acronym, and that the choice of an all-POC cast and crew at times generates confusion or animosity amongst fans of other RPG shows, only further strengthens the profound need to normalise and uplift such a production.

2. A crew that rivals the ages

The list of hard-working, creative, and dedicated professionals involved in this actual play speaks for itself. Lead developer B. Dave Walters is a critically acclaimed role-player and writer, and creator of WotC streaming show Darkened Wish. To many, he is also Baron Victor Temple on Vampire the Masquerade: LA by Night, and more recently, Marcid the Typhoon on Dimension 20’s Pirates of Leviathan.

Walters’ team consists of award-winning developer, game designer, artist, and university professor Sharang Biswas, independent digital and tabletop game designer, voice actor, cosplayer, streamer, and writer Gabe Hicks, actress, livestreamer, content creator, and experienced Game Master Jasmine “ThatBronzeGirl” Bhullar, and Rivals of Waterdeep cast member, artist, and D&D 5e content writer and community manager LaTia Jacquise.

Into the Mother Lands’ lead artist Vanessa “PleasantlyTwstd” B is a Charity Success Manager at Tiltify, part-time charity streamer on Twitch, freelancer, and Black and LGBTQIAP2+ activist with a passion for character creation. The show’s cover artist Will “Black Oni” Wiggins III is a Twitch partner, content creator, and artist focused on action RPG who has had his designs presented to US Congress. Stream producer Leoni, whose own TTRPG is one of Twitch’s fastest-growing streaming channels, has over a decade’s worth of experience in marketing, both in- and outside the gaming industry.

With such a long list of accomplishments, it’s hard to imagine a crew that would be better suited to the project of creating a top tier sci-fi RPG show.

Read more about the cast and crew: https://cypheroftyr.com/into-the-mother-lands-a-new-sci-fi-odyssey/

3. Female leads and intersectionality are essential to women in RPG

Not only is the cast and crew talented and experienced in equal measure, but the story set up in this actual play allows viewers to experience what it’s like to have two non-white powerful female leads absolutely ace the Bechdel test; an occurrence that is sadly still too rare in TTRPG, let alone in web series and film in general.

To name only a few examples, the show features DePass’ Invicta setting the boundaries for in how far a stranger is allowed to set foot in her quarters on day one, and has Arielle’s Cyla 9-1-9 weaponise her braids, a testament to the power of hair and what it can mean to and for women. Let’s not forget “It’s captain, Cyla 9-1-9″, an affirmation too many women are familiar with.

4. A new role-playing system coupled with a community-conscious Game Master

Storyteller and Game Master Eugenio Vargas ‘DM JazzyHands’ explains the rules of the game, based on Cortex Prime’s role-playing system | Twitch

After years of my being primarily focused on Dungeons and Dragons, the show’s choice to build their game off the Cortex role-playing system’s framework came as a nice surprise, as the option for the show to be yet “Another D&D Show” was very much there.

Though the system will surely take some time to get used to for those who aren’t already nose deep in research, the rules seem relatively simple, and far less complex than those followed in Dungeons and Dragons.

The cast and crew have made a point to be helpful when it comes to Cortex, putting themselves in educator positions; GM Vargas takes his time as he shows the viewers on-screen how the system works, with lead developer Walters by his side to raid the Twitch chat with some much-needed insight on game mechanics – especially useful to community members who rely on imperfect auto-captions.

5. Rich world-building and lore

One of the most exciting aspects of Into the Mother Lands is the prospect of a whole new level of sci-fi world-building, set to rival any RPG show that relies on Lord of the Rings level lore.

Players can choose from a range of cultures that occupy Musalia; from direct descendants of Emperor Musa himself, to descendants of one of Musalia’s original alien cultures. They can also choose to be a mix, and play as a blend of human and alien technologies.

Our sci-fi odyssey comes complete with a pronunciation manual and world guide, published by Hicks, further intensifying the hype around Mother Lands lore. Language-lovers can only hope that a fully fledged dictionary will one day be on the cards.

6. A slower pace with higher antagonism

Those used to the fast pace of pre-recorded and edited D&D shows such as Dimension 20 might be surprised to experience an RPG with an environment that seems to rely on a slower pace, and greater levels of adversary. Although high in fantasy, role-play in Mother Lands is in many ways closer to real-life interaction and behaviour than many RPG shows. For who in their right mind would ever hop on board an aircraft with an overly excited elephant man and a bunch of antagonistic strangers without a shadow of a doubt?

With multiple pauses generated by characters who might seem lower in positive energy than your typical RPG party, the noticeable change in pace and mood can feel eerie or awkward at first; but, if you take a second to think about it, this feel perfectly befits the setting and situation the Player Characters find themselves in. Needless to say, the mood and pace of a newly launched show with only a few episodes released are also subject to change.

7. More interactivity in a tight-knit Discord & Twitch RPG community

Hopes are high when it comes to Mother Lands making an even bigger name for itself in the RPG world, and it’s clear that the community wishes for the success of this venture. In the meantime, the 900 or so regular viewers are having a hell of a time interacting with each other, and the cast and crew, on both Discord and Twitch – an experience not usually possible to this degree once a show reaches unfathomable numbers.

If you’re keen to shout out your favourite role-player in a livestream, or post some silly gifs in the Discord for fellow Motherfans (we’re still working on a name) to enjoy, I can guarantee laughter and appreciation coming for you in all directions.

8. As privy to comedy and community jokes as any other RPG

Into the Mother Land’s is a live show where cast and crew can interact directly with fans | Twitch

Yes there is antagonism, yes we probably have to save the entire galaxy, but we are having fun, we are enjoying positive reinforcement. The stream is already riddled with inside jokes, ranging from discussions on how precious NPC Bertrand is, to vocalising our approval of Cyla’s #BBE Big Braid Energy. Luckily, we’re early into the series and there’s time to catch up to be in-the-know. Soon, you too will be asking yourself: Is It Sunday Yet?

The next episode of Into the Mother Lands drops this Sunday on twitch.tv/cypheroftyr at 4pm PT/6pm CT/7pm ET/12am BT/1am CET.

Update 21/10/2020: An unverifiable paragraph was removed from this article in consultation with the crew.

Dimension 20 proves that remote D&D is both watchable and thrilling

After releasing the fourth episode of its sixth Side Quest entitled Pirates of Leviathan, Dimension 20 has made clear that playing Dungeons and Dragons remotely is not the confused and disorganised mess some tabletop fans had perhaps feared it would be.

Pirates of Leviathan | Dimension 20 | Dropout

With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, many in-person tabletop roleplaying enthusiasts, professionals, and hobbyist home gamers found themselves obliged to go on an initial hiatus before implementing social distancing measures. Others decided to play remotely for the first time ever.

When the trailer for Dimension 20’s remote D&D series Pirates of Leviathan was released, many ttrpg community members expressed their worry about whether the virtually played game would be able to run as smoothly as it usually does on set. The overarching concern seemed to be that such a series wouldn’t live up to an in-person, professionally produced actual play Dungeons and Dragons game.

The Geekiary had first admitted they were “a little leery of how our new Side Quest cast was going to handle the virtual game table”. In fact, some Dimension 20 fans revealed that not only had the pirate setting not (initially) appealed to them, but the lack of production, sets, and miniatures would make the series unwatchable.

Strong opinions and disheartened regular viewers expressed their doubts on Dimension 20’s SubReddit; “I think this is the first season D20 has done that I will skip entirely.”

But the apprehension some Dimension 20 fans had expressed towards a remote game, and the fear that disorganisation, cuts in internet connection, and lack of engagement would prevail, has been overthrown entirely. Instead, viewers have been met with a vivacious, incredibly professional, and extremely engaged cast who are committed to showing that virtual D&D is not only watchable, but also very entertaining.

Why is Pirates of Leviathan a D&Digital success?

The cast of Pirates of Leviathan laugh together in a comedic scene | Dimension 20 | Dropout

Of course, that is not to say that all remote play is watchable and deserving of being a D&D series, with many people experiencing or having initially experienced technical issues or lack of enthusiasm from players and DM alike. That said, in-person games can also fail to meet the criteria for becoming a professional D&D series. If you’re on the fence about whether or not to watch a remote D&D game, or whether to watch a game at all, here are some great examples of why Pirates of Leviathan might subvert any negative expectations you might have of virtually payed Dungeons and Dragons.

Theatre of the mind is not synonymous with visually uninspiring

What many viewers enjoy when watching an in-person tabletop roleplaying game are the interactions and banter between the cast. Players react to each other’s physical cues and emotions, either reciprocating or not. Not only does this interaction strengthen in-game bonding, but in the case of Dimension 20, it can be wildly comedic. Alongside these visuals are the incredible sets and miniatures often used for the purpose of combat; however, arranging for this remotely can be challenging when also filming a show, and all combat so far in Pirates of Leviathan has relied heavily on theatre of the mind. No sets, no minis.

That said, the cast has made an incredible effort – seamlessly, might I add – to be visually inspiring to its viewers. Filming several episodes in one day has awarded some continuity to the character’s outfits, which includes Myrtle the Bitch’s stunning makeup and Barbarella ‘Bob’ Sasparilla Gainglynn’s breathtaking dress.

The cast’s commitment to being present audio-visually is unequivocally there, and is mirrored by body language; have a look at how Aabria Iyengar has Myrtle’s death stares pierce through others even as she remains silent, how Matt Mercer has Jack Brakkow tilt his head and hunch his back to make apparent his self-perceived inferiority, or how Krystina Arielle expresses emotion through Bob, by laughing, pouting, crying, and singing. Carlos Luna’s Cheese has eyes that sparkle when he speaks, and a voice that quivers at the sight of danger. Marisha Ray’s Sunny Biscotto flaps about her aarakocra wings in panic and excitement, and shows reverence to her goddess by way of voice acting. Marcid the Typhoon’s threats will send a lawful neutral kind of shiver down your spine, contrasting with his deeply just and almost selfless acts.

It’s also worth saying that maps are not entirely absent from the show, and that Dungeon Master Brennan Lee Mulligan does an incredible job at describing scenery and sets so that the usual distances and ranges of D&D combat don’t matter as much to gameplay. But do expect a roleplay heavy series.

Top notch production

Some of the initial concern in regards to this series revolved around a potential lack of production, or conversely, an ‘overly produced’ feel. Luckily, Dropout’s crew has really hit the nail on the head in terms of performing delicate editorial work, and we have David Kerns (Producer), Orion Black (Creative/Sensitivity Consultant), Tyler Schuelke (Editor), and Victor Rosas II (Illustrator) to thank for a huge part of the end product. Ultimately, the crew are in large part responsible for setting the much loved editorial tone of D20.

Other than all the unseen work that goes into Dimension 20, Pirates of Leviathan includes the show’s usual sound effects; always appreciated in on-set games, and now a crucial part of production to add to the immersive experience of watching a remote game. All of Dimension 20’s character art and stats also appear on screen. As an added bonus, initiative rolls figure below the players as extra visual aid, facilitating theatre of the mind combat scenes.

The cast has also mentioned the use of a Skype chat private to them which made it easier to produce and come up with certain ideas and tonal suggestions on the fly without disrupting gameplay. The availability of such a chat naturally also made it easier for players to interact with each other regardless of their ability to communicate ideas in person.

A unique audio-visual D&D experience

Overall, the editing of the series is something to commend, as it manages to capture the tone of each cut scene and tidbit of emotion; dramatic pauses cue and follow intense back and forths, and music will at times cut out briefly as a comedic highlight. Krystina Arielle’s Bob regularly goes into song, which perfectly befits her singer-songwriter status as the Goddess of the Gold Gardens of Leviathan, and Brennan Lee Mulligan also graced the audience with a brief DM sea shanty, a rare sight to behold in D&D shows, but much appreciated (a nod to Dashilla’s song in Critical Role). Fingers crossed this turns into a musical by the end of the show with Marcid in the lead.

***SPOILER ALERT EPISODE 1 and 4***:

Roleplay heavy with bold choices and high stakes contains one spoiler in regards to Marcid in Episode 1.

All right, I’m in. But what about the famed Rick Perry minis and sets? contains one spoiler for a non-player character in Episode 4 of Pirates of Leviathan.

Roleplay heavy with bold choices and high stakes

To make up for the lack of in-person interactions, and simply because, Player Characters in Pirates of Leviathan are making some very bold choices, (*spoiler alert*), such as when Marcid picks up future ally Cheese to literally use his child body as a shield. If that is not the raddest and baddest thing you have ever seen within a ttrpg party, then I don’t know what is. Though at times very humorous and lighthearted, the series grants the D20 community with the tone of rivalry and tension that Escape From The Bloodkeep never gave to TPK fantasy-hungry viewers.

Bob, left, played by Krystina Arielle, has an emotional moment with her father, played by Dungeon Master Brennan Lee Mulligan, right, in Episode 4 of Pirates of Leviathan | Dimension 20 | Dropout

Roleplay is also heavy in Pirates of Leviathan, with many instances of characters being expressedly overjoyed, anxious, nostalgic, sad, and even drunk!

All right, I’m in. But what about the famed Rick Perry sets and minis?

It’s true, let the record show that Rick Perry’s mind has not equipped this series with his cool miniatures and out-of-this-world sets. It’s no doubt that any D&D series would be vastly improved with the insight and creativity of Dimension 20’s Art Director, a sentiment very much expressed on Dropout’s Discord; however, a remote show might not have done justice to this kind of gameplay. (*spoiler alert*) Of course, we all hope that our plea for a mini of a T-Rex in a tricorn hat will someday be heard. Rick Perry, we’re counting on you. Until then, sit back and enjoy.

Episode 5 of Pirates of Leviathan airs this Wednesday at 7PM EST, 4PM PST, 1AM CET.

Calling All Gamers! Critical Role Launches Non-profit Organisation

Critical Role has just launched its new non-profit organisation, Critical Role Foundation, calling on all gamers to take action and donate to various causes at criticalrolefoundation.org.

On Thursday, Critical Role released a short animated video on their YouTube channel detailing the launch of Critical Role Foundation (CRF). This launch comes after Critical Role’s many successful years as a Dungeons and Dragons-focused company, show, and much-loved ttrpg community. What was once a small D&D game run and played by a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors is now an independent media company housing arguably the most popular weekly D&D show, with an average of 15K viewers and 600K subscribers. Their increasing popularity within the ttrpg world, and their loyal and diverse fanbase, makes the decision to launch a non-profit all the more important.

Introducing Critical Role Foundation! / Critical Role / Animation by OffStudios.

CRF partners with other non-profit organisations to organise fundraising campaigns in support of various charitable causes. Their current fundraiser asks for donations to revive the Native Youth & Culture Fund for two nonprofits located at Zuni Pueblo and Cochiti Pueblo.

With several long-running shows on YouTube and Twitch, live shows (pre-pandemic), a merch store in the US, UK, and Australia, as well as a soon-to-be released Animated Series, it made sense for Critical Role to continue on its upward path and add a non-profit foundation to its list of accomplished goals.

Critical Role also announced in the caption of their launch video that “10% of every donation, across every campaign, goes toward an emergency relief fund giving CRF the ability to provide donations in the event of a natural disaster or other instance that requires immediate humanitarian aid“. With 2020 having been an inexplicably tragic year; the company’s choice to set aside a portion of donations for an emergency relief fund is crucial. It comes in the wake of the 2020 California Wildfires, an hour or so away from Los Angeles where the cast and crew of Critical Role are based, and the worldwide devastation of the coronavirus pandemic. This year also saw earthquakes in Turkey and the Caribbean, the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer, the mass deadly explosion in Beirut, the Australian bushfires, floods in Jakarta, bloody riots in Delhi, and the ongoing perpetuation of injustices across the board.

Of course; it’s not the first time the cast and crew of Critical Role have used their platform and growth to encourage their overwhelmingly supportive community to donate to good causes. The company has raised money for Red Nose Day, OutRight International, OSD, and Pablove. Critical Role is also an ongoing supporter of 82LA; “a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.”

Head on over to Critical Role Foundation to donate. Keen on supporting but unable to donate? Please help the ttrpg community spread the word, at no cost.

TTRPG: 10 Alternatives to Combat in D&D and RPG

Quarrels, combat, battles, and even wars, are often a necessary part of tabletop roleplaying games, and most players wouldn’t have it any other way! But there might be times when there is too much at stake to risk a fight, or you realise mid-combat that your opponents are completely out of your league. If you’re up two against one level 300 aboleth, you should probably bounce. But, if you find yourself in a more manageable situation, then here are some tips and tricks on what to do before engaging.

1. If possible, talk it out reasonably

It might seem obvious, but players tend to forget all about the option to persuade or dissuade when they feel threatened. Ignore the heat and panic, and take a moment to reflect on whether the opponent might be someone an adventurer could bargain with. If the enemy understands you and has yet to attack, some DMs often leave room for a skill check to even out the odds. Particularly designed for Charisma-based classes, such as the Bard, Sorcerer, and Warlock, this alternative befits the Cleric and Paladin too. At level 5, a Bard with 20 Charisma, and expertise in Persuasion, has +11 to their roll; a high chance of weaselling themselves out of a situation. Add in some extra convincing role-play, and you might be rolling with advantage! Here is a list of persuasive phrases for a few verge-of-combat scenarios:

Win them over by appealing to nationalism

– I can’t help but notice the embroidery on your cape, a fellow Athkatlan. What do you say we put our differences aside for the night? Too much blood has been shed on our soil already.

By invoking race

– From one tiefling to another, I feel how irrevocably misunderstood we have come to be. But we can change this misconception, we can show them we are different, that we can be reasoned with.

By relying on gender

– Long has it been since I have crossed paths with a woman fending for herself in the wild. It is admirable indeed, and no easy walk of life, I should know. Perhaps you would make an exception for a travelling sister in need.

By drawing on shared experiences

– My good man, if you are indeed also a soldier as your comrade claims, then you know well that too many battles have been fought in vain. Many of our men met their end too soon, and we need not fall with them.

By calling on religion

– Let us honour our faith in the Moonmaiden, be it Selûne, or Sehanine as you know her by. She who opposes Darkness and champions Good beseeches us to spread her wisdom, not to fight amongst ourselves.

By bringing up values and family

– I cannot help but notice the great resemblance between you and young Merrowynn here. I, too, am a father, and I should wish to one day see my family again, just as you should wish to keep fighting alongside yours.

Invoking pity, for example by relying heavily on emotions

– Prithee sire, I am but a lowly wanderer, an adventurer with no great ambitions and no money to her name. I have nothing of worth to offer you, and I implore you to spare me. Life is the only boon that was given to me.

Invoking knowledge, and mentioning undeniable facts

– A fight in broad daylight is a suicide mission. Needless to say, you will alert the Dynasty’s national guard, and in times of war, marauding and assassinating without good cause is punishable by death. Your loot will do you no good dead. We can waste away our coin, or we can settle this peacefully.

Calling on logic, and suggesting a mutually beneficial option

– Our party is home to an incredible guide who knows the elemental plane like the back of their hand, and an extremely adept healer. We could be of aid; our Genasi Ranger tells me you are not native to these regions.

The doomsday argument

– Listen, we all know that beyond the Great Forest lies the Empire, an Empire favoured by none. Fight as we may, if we do not join forces to take down the entity that oppresses us, there shall be no tomorrow for us to see. There shall be no freedom to relish. I beseech you all to consider a truce.

2. Flattery will get you far

@jointeamalpha

Your first thought might be that flattery is limited to flirting and seduction, and typically restricted to Bards. Throw that out of the window! If you think outside of the box, then this combat-stopper is a well-rounded option, regardless of class, gender, and sex. Try these before resorting to a fist fight:

Proficient in History? Bring attention to fame or noteworthiness

– Lady Darkblade, First of Her Name, Mistress of the Forgotten Forest, Empress of the Highlands; your name carries across continents. Even my lowborn ears have heard of your unmatched accomplishments.

The classic and timeless “rumour has it”

– Rumour has it that this one over here knocked out two Giants in one punch. I doubt he wants to see time wasted on a group of wandering Snow Elves and Firbolgs. There are greater foes beyond these lands.

Flattery of the mind, especially good for wizards

– Such a powerful, and all-knowing Master of the Arts such as yourself would probably see it ill-fit to engage in combat with a party devoid of any academic and experiential training. Though, perhaps we will be in luck if the lack of challenge bores you to death.

Alright sure, seduction works too

– Sir Quixington, may I have a word, perhaps in private? May I call you Maxwell? How kind of you, Max. To be perfectly frank, duelling with such a handsome and strong man such as yourself would be wasting the more sensorial experience I had imagined upon first seeing you. I have been travelling these lands and never have I seen such an attractive… priest.

Well, trying it with an evil priest is a bit far-fetched, but it sure is a roll with disadvantage that I’d like to see! At least you can say you tried.

3. Call on your background or rank

The least appreciated and called upon advantage is probably the one given to players by their background. This alternative is so personal to PC backstories that examples of dialogue might not be fit to illustrate the point. Have a look at your background Feature; if you’re a traveller, your party may be able to pass through favoured terrain undetected by natural means, or if you’re a Navy SEAL (it’s a thing), maybe you can invoke your rank as Commander Lieutenant of the FrostGuard Garrison. Those with military ranks can usually command the respect of their subordinates, and this might extend itself to avoiding a kerfuffle.

4. Trade, or lend your services

This method of doing your opponent a favour as a means of escape is the one least used by my own party. Approaching level 8, we have sadly only just come to the realisation that perhaps we should be doing odd jobs for gold. Travelling rivals might give you a break upon offering to take care of something that has been a huge pain in their side for a while. For example:

Trading inventory

– Instead of killing us all for the platinum shield, rather time-consuming and messy if you ask me, and not a guaranteed win to be honest, we’ll trade it to you for your emerald dagger.

There is strength in numbers

– Well if you’re planning on storming the Castle of Silverymoon, you’ll need more than just four men. How about this, we’ll help you retrieve your stolen artefact, and you’ll let us go our merry way. What say you?

A fresh pair of eyes and ears on unfamiliar territory

– Our party is new to the city, and our business is our own, but we have time to spare at nightfall. Give us no trouble and we’ll see to being your eyes and ears for the fortnight.

Call on your particular skillset

– There need be no haste in this matter; we may be able to strike a deal. I have a highly trained Dwarf Artificer who makes bombs the size of a horse, and a Gnome Wizard-Assassin that can kill your greatest enemy whilst disguised as a Walrus. Solid plan? All in favour, say aye.

5. Offer up a zone of truth

A quick reminder that all your Persuasion checks might be to no avail at all if your opponents disbelieve your party and your worth alive. When in doubt, or when certain of failure, a party Bard, Cleric, or Paladin could offer up a zone of truth as proof of sincerity – immediately, or in a mere matter of hours.

6. Homebrew your bargaining chip: aka lies, lies, lies.

A funner alternative to persuasion when faced with adversity is of course going full chaotic liar. If you’re a Lawful Good Paladin playing on the safe and honest side, then this one might not be for you, but it can undoubtably lead to some hilarious acting. Do be wary, however, of how off the cuff deception checks might lead to absurdity, in which case your DM could have you roll with disadvantage, or severely (and justifiably) increase the DC. Nevertheless, here are some fun ways in which a D&D party can lie :

Disguise self

– I’m awfully sorry I can’t be of help, my liege, I haven’t seen any Dark Elves around here. As you can see, I am a proud Wood Elf myself and great worshipper of the city’s main patron, our Lord and Saviour, Holy Father, Totally My God Lathander.

Feign ignorance and redirect

– Hmmm, a treasure chest, a treasure chest. I think I saw a couple of feral Dwarven swordsmen with eyepatches and pink beards dragging a big old chest in this opposite direction here. In fact, now that I think, I do remember, there was the Emperor’s seal on it, and I did find it rather odd. But my wife Biglie always tells me to mind my own business, and so I do.

Feign allyship

– Oh my good friend, my dearest ally, my sweet long lost companion! I have not seen you in decades gone by. Oh how you have changed, and I too it seems, so much so that you have mistaken me for an intruder! Oh, how I long to embrace you once again, lay down your weapons, and let us share a drink in honour of finding each other once more!

Feign superiority

– I am, in fact, the sovereign ruler of the Mountain of High Tides, and it is actually you who is tress-passing. Another step, and my hoard of angry but very fair Goliaths will seize you and take you to my Torture Chambers of Treason. The choice is yours.

Fake news

– Ah, I believe we are caught up in a great misunderstanding. We are not here to abduct the Pope, we are actually conducting an inspection of the grounds of this monastery by order of the King. Official business, all monasteries must be inspected and be up to code.

7. Cause a distraction

@Shadedown

Within the subcategory of deception you’ll find distractions, ranging anywhere from a “Look, over there!”, to a carefully laid out plan comprised of illusions and trickery. Much like player backgrounds, distractions are often specific to context. Look around and assess your environment; is there anything that can be knocked over so as to create a sound? Are there any animals that could cause a raucous? Are the fabrics available to you flammable? Would it be safe for you to make a drunken scene? With so many options, PCs are truly spoiled for choice, and any good-spirited DM will entertain a fun diversion or two per session!

8. Consider situationally nifty spells

So often do players rely on spells in-combat that we tend to forget situationally useful cantrips or ritual spells that could end up saving the day. There are some very powerful high level spells that have great out-of-combat uses as well. Here is a Situationally Useful Spell List (not all inclusive) that might get you out of having to lose hit points:

Paralyse your enemy: Hold Person, Stunning Strike.

Escape: Arcane Gate, Astral Projection, Demiplane, Dimension Door, Expeditious Retreat, Far Step, Gate, Knock, Misty Step, Plane Shift, Teleportation Circle, Thunder Step, Transport via Plants, Tree Stride, Word of Recall.

Escape through or over difficult terrain: Control Water, Enlarge/Reduce, Feather Fall, Fly, Freedom of Movement, Gaseous Form, Mold Earth, Move Earth, Polymorph, Shape Water, Spider Climb, Stone Shape, Water Walk, Wind Walk.

Incapacitate or inconvenience your enemy: Antimagic Field, Counterspell, Entangle, Magic Circle, Silence, Sleep.

Dissuade from combat: Animal Friendship, Calm Emotions, Cause Fear, Charm Monster, Charm Person, Command, Compulsion, Dominate Monster, Dominate Person, Fast Friends, Fear, Mass Suggestion, Modify Memory, Suggestion.

Hide and protect: Blink, Etherealness, Greater Invisibility, Invisibility, Leomund’s Tiny Hut, Magic Circle, Meld Into Stone, Mislead, Nondetection, Pass Without Trace, Rope Trick, Seeming.

Remove the enemy: Banishment, Banishing Smite, Polymorph.

Communicate: Comprehend Languages, Message, Telepathy, Tongues.

Avoid or intercept the enemy: Aid, Alarm, Commune, Detect Evil and Good, Detect Thoughts, Divination, Find The Path, Find Traps, Scrying, See Invisibility, True Seeing.

9. Drop reason, rely on intimidation

@jointeamalpha

So you’ve tried playing nice, and it looks like your opponent doesn’t have an announce of sympathy in their body. Persuasion checks can be tough if you’re up against the big bad, or anyone who lies somewhere on the truly evil alignment spectrum. Puff up your chest, it’s time to intimidate:

Trigger Warning for this subcategory: violence and graphic description.

Out of your league

– Listen up you puny little knave, we are a party of five ferocious fighters who have seen war and death beyond what you could ever conceive of. I can assure you that if you pick a fight with us, you won’t live to regret it.

A friend of mine

– I can see how you would think that we don’t pose a threat to you, that we are easily provoked. It’s funny, really, how appearances can deceive. Curious, really. I wouldn’t like for you to meet the tip of the poisoned blades that my invisible allies, scattered around this city in the shadows and always watching, have pointed on you as we speak. Think twice next time.

Get out the gore

– Out of my way, I said, or I will rip your entire existence to shred, starting with your heart, which I will gladly and without hesitation force feed to the last man standing on your team.

Display of brute force

– As you can see, Morlasch, standing behind me here, is rending asunder an entire wall made of pure lava. He is immune to fire, and mercy. Imagine what he could do to a tiny face. Fascinating.

10. Run… Hide… Or just fight!

When push comes to shove, you might’n’t have a choice. When desired, engaging in combat is one of the best and most satisfying bits of partaking in any tabletop roleplaying game. After all, you spent good time preparing your moves and/or spells, and your diligent Dungeon Master has no doubt spent even more time preparing a world with intense encounters and riveting combat. So good luck adventurers! May you always face Vampires with a silver tongue, and if they refuse to concede, well, switch to the silver arrow instead.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla trailer featuring female lead released late amidst Ubisoft sexual misconduct scandal

 Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will include the option to select a female protagonist | Ubisoft.

Two weeks ago, Ubisoft released a new Assassin’s Creed Valhalla trailer, focusing this time on the female version of its protagonist. This release comes late; three months after the first official trailer featuring male Eivor.

Preceded by Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, published two years ago, this much anticipated chapter of the AC series promises to explore an interesting alternative History to the 873 AD Viking Invasion of Britain. The game follows main character Eivor, a Viking raider caught between the Brotherhood of Assassins and the Templar Order. Instead of giving players the option to switch between two different characters, Ubisoft has opted to keep the same character, with the possibility of switching their gender.

The promotional clip mirrors the stark contrast between peaceful innocence and bloody fights displayed in the original cinematic trailer published three months ago; Viking children spar with their families, whilst the British condemn their barbarian lifestyle. As the voiceover brands them as “heartless” and “godless”, a glimpse of Eivor allowing civilians to escape mid-battle flashes across the screen.

Until now, promotion of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla has primarily focused on the male protagonist, with trailers and art of female Eivor being hard to come by. However, a Bloomberg Report published last month revealed that AC game developers had initially suggested focusing on female Eivor, but that the proposal had been shot down by executives. Likewise, when the game devs had entertained the idea of making Kassandra the only playable character in the Valhalla precursor Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Ubisoft’s claim that “women don’t sell” had the protagonist’s brother Alexios steal the spotlight for the main role.

 Ubisoft has been criticised for its lack of gender representation, focusing on male protagonists | Ubisoft.

Since the publication of this controversial statement, as well as dozens of reports of toxic work culture that were made public last month, many accused of hindering gender representation at Ubisoft have ‘left’ their positions, including former Chief Creative Officer Serge Hascoët, who, according to a Ubisoft press release, resigned amid allegations of sexual assault and misconduct.

Bloomberg also reported that former creative director Maxime Béland resigned from Ubisoft after having been placed on administrative leave due to allegations of inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment.

Earlier this month, Business Insider confirmed that influential Ubisoft executive and VP of editorial and creative services, Tommy François, was fired due to allegations of sexual harassment.

Just last Friday, Bloomberg reported that AC Valhalla’s former Creative Director Ashraf Ismail was fired following an investigation. Ismail had reportedly lied about his marital status so that he could further a romantic relationship with a fan.

For now, Ubisoft has yet to prove it can maintain a non-toxic, harassment-free, safe work environment, and the company has yet to publish an Assassin’s Creed game with a female lead only, despite AC advisor Thierry Noël assuring PCGamesN that “women and men are equally formidable in battle.”

For those intending to invest in AC’s upcoming instalment, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is set to drop November 17 on Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, Xbox One, Stadia, and next generation consoles Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X.

Yar! Dimension 20’s Pirates of Leviathan trailer released

Pirates of Leviathan premieres September 16 | Dimension 20

Dropout TV’s tabletop comedy show Dimension 20 just dropped the trailer for their sixth Side Quest, which finished filming last month. Taking place after the events of Fantasy High: Sophomore Year, this adventure is set in the pirate city of Leviathan, aka the Jewel of the Celestine Sea. This Side Quest stars Carlos Luna as Cheese, Krystina Arielle as Barbarella “Bob” Sasparilla Gainglynn, Aabria Iyengar as Myrtle the Bitch, B. Dave Walters as Marcid the Typhoon, Marisha Ray as Sunny Biscotto, Matthew Mercer as Jack Brakkow, and Brennan Lee Mulligan as the returning Dungeon Master.

Pirates of Leviathan’s trailer reveals the entire city to be in grave danger | Dimension 20

What do we know about Leviathan?

Leviathan is a pirate city in the Celestine Sea made of shipwrecks that have been strung together to form an island that inhabits roughly 1.5 million people (yikes, that’s a lot of NPCs, good luck Brennan Lee Mulligan). This location has already featured in Dimension 20 LIVE; if you have yet to watch this D&D live show, skip to the next sub-chapter to avoid spoilers.

Detailed map of Leviathan, illustrated by Mark Ledgerwood | Dimension 20

Well-known locations in the Leviathan include Maelstrom’s Maw, a supply shop of sorts where ships are dismantled and looted for their materials. It is run by warforged bosun Jamina Joy, who has the delicate job of keeping the city afloat. Jamina has already made appearances in Episode 5 through 8 of Dimension 20 LIVE.

Leviathan is also house to the Four Castles, a violent part of town where citizens will gladly take each other out for half a shilling, or control of the street’s block. Close to the Four Castles lies the cursed Sternwood forest, plagued by beasts, monsters, distorted trees, and human remains.

Further South, Cannon Court has used shipwrecks and hulls to form a large dwarven-style subterranean neighbourhood full of dwarves and gnomes. In contrast, Galleyard is a lovely area that includes The Gold Gardens (notable NPC Garthy O’Brien‘s house of debauchery), and forms the nexus of the city. With a reportedly New Orleans type architecture, the city centre is bustling with diverse peoples.

Connected to the city’s mosque by way of dagger, Gibbety Square is adorned with the head of a former pirate king, put on display by Fabian Seacaster‘s father Bill Seacaster. It includes a sign that reads “No kings for a captain.” Near Gibbety Square lies Aftward, home to a tower of prison blocks neatly named the Row and the Ruction. Atop Aftward stands Crow’s Keep, housing the Compass Points Library and the Ramble (a place for elder pirates to engage in decision-making).

Lastly, Poop City is, you guessed it, the name deemed worthy of the wealthiest and most luxurious neighbourhood in Leviathan. Why not!

Read more about Leviathan’s neighbourhoods on Fandom

Pirates of Leviathan’s Intrigue: An entire city at stake

The trailer is peppered with clues that offer some insight in terms of location, plot, and player characters. Those unfamiliar with the island of Leviathan know it now as a “behemoth of shipwrecks”, and the “Jewel of the Sea”, perhaps foreshadowing the location’s innate dichotomy: a monstrous creature, and yet a precious treasure.

At the start of the clip, an NPC ominously utters the words “Take her body to the Sternwood with the others”, possibly implying that a female NPC has either died, or that her body is somehow affected or cursed. “The others” suggests that there are several, if not many, people in Leviathan who have lost their lives or have been met with some terrible fate; rough enough to have them be dragged to Sternwood, a place apparently adequate for storing bodies. Eerie.

Our Intrepid Heroes, here Buccaneer Buddies, have been informed that “all of Leviathan is in a heaping helping of trouble.” Such a sinister statement surely supposes that the torments bedevilling the city are greater than a squabble limited to a singular NPC or set of NPCs. The combination of bodies being taken to a cursed forest and the omen that all of Leviathan is somehow affected might indicate that something larger is at stake. This begs the question – who, or what, is determined to take down an entire city? And why? If the name is any hint, perhaps a sea serpent, but knowing the DM’s background in philosophy, it’s likely a nod to Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan in which the author proposes absolute sovereignty as a necessary evil. That’s not to say the two Leviathans are mutually exclusive. Absolute sea serpent sovereign end boss? Yes please!

Player Characters in Pirates of Leviathan

The trailer also sheds light on the kind of PCs and party mix viewers can expect, and how they might complement each other, or clash. Heads up – some class, race, and level spoilers ahead in this subchapter! According to Fandom, all PCs are level 5 residents of Leviathan. No one is a newcomer!

Barbarella “Bob” Sasparilla Gainglynn, played by Denver by Night’s Krystina Arielle is an Aasimar multi-classing as a Level 3 College of Lore Bard, and Level 2 City Domain Cleric (Unearthed Arcana). Bob’s chirpy voice and good-natured spirit come through in the trailer: “Sometimes you just need a little diplomacy”. A nice, and perhaps unassuming, Bard-Cleric, Bob seems to be the antithesis of typical pirate life.

Cheese, played by Roll 20’s Carlos Luna, is a Forest Gnome School of Necromancy Wizard. Though he might have a fighter side viewers have yet to witness, the trailer has him pinned down as the party’s nervous adventurer in touch with his emotions. “Oh god,” and “I cry all the time” set the tone for this PC. Then again, being a life-reaping necromancer does warrant constant crying.

Jack Brakkow, played by Critical Role’s Matthew Mercer, is a Ratfolk Path of Ancestral Guardian Barbarian. The trailer portrays Jack as a bit rough around the edges, and maybe a bit of a loner: “Sorry child, I don’t have friends.” He is also heard shouting quite aggressively “You bastard – I can’t afford a new wall!”, suggesting that damage was done to his property, and that he isn’t financially in a position to repair it. Yar – this PC could be in it for the coin!

Marcid the Typhoon, played by Dungeons & Dragons’ B. Dave Walters, is a Bugbear Gloomstalker. Perhaps diplomatic in nature like Bob, Marcid seems partial to some negotiation: “We can talk it out, mate.” As a Gloomstalker, it might be safe to assume that he is a careful character, in the know when it comes to the darkest of places in Leviathan. His warning “Loose lips sink ships” might be a reference to his experience overhearing conversations. Beware!

Myrtle the Bitch, played by Saving Throw’s Aabria Iyengar, is a Merfolk Tempest Domain Cleric. Myrtle’s profile is a whirlwind of mystery that is to die for. Her Fandom description reveals that she “sinks ships to appease her god”, and that her favourite colour is “Blood”. In Dimension 20’s trailer, an NPC (perhaps her god) addresses her with “You’ve sent many souls down to my hungry mouth”. This same person or creature, one could suppose, also responds to her with “Quite worth the spells…”. Is there an actual Leviathan in Leviathan? Is Myrtle a warlock? Only time will tell.

Sunny Biscotto, played by Critical Role’s Marisha Ray, is an Aarakocra Oath of Devotion Paladin. Although Sunny didn’t say too much in the trailer, her “Whoah wait!” could be a quick nod at a Paladin’s usual pre-conflict behaviour: use your words, not your fists! Or wings. As an Oath of Devotion Paladin, Sunny would typically be bound to the highest of ideals, virtue, and order, and it’ll be interesting to see how she gets along with PCs such as Myrtle, Marcid, and Jack.

Of course, it would be a sin not to mention that the experienced (guest) cast and crew of Dimension 20 always manage to circumvent the usual stereotypes, tropes, shallow motivations, and black-and-white character choices. If Pirates of Leviathan is anything like the rest of D20’s Quests, then its PCs are sure to be multilayered, emotionally complex, and lots of fun.

Dimension 20’s Pirates of Leviathan premieres September 16 on Dropout TV.

TTRPG: The illusion of choice in Dungeons and Dragons

Created in the mid 70s and currently resurfacing as a popular fantasy tabletop role playing game, Dungeons and Dragons is an open world pencil-paper-and-dice game that lets your imagination run wild. But how limitless should the world be, and where do Dungeon Masters draw the line?

I recently stumbled across an archived thread in the r/DnD subreddit on the topic of railroading versus illusion of choice. Both forms of deception offer TTRPG players two or more options, with all or several of them resulting in the same outcome. The crossroads example is classically drawn on to illustrate this strategy; the party has the option to go left or right, but both paths lead back to the dungeon. If they decide on neither, the dungeon inevitably comes to them.

Is there a difference between illusion of choice and railroading?

Illusion of choice and railroading seem to be distinct in that they connote different intentions. The former is likely to occur when Dungeon Masters are ill-prepared for a twist in narrative or action, and are obliged to quickly improvise. Sometimes the only option is to put the party back on track, whatever the costs. The opposite hypothetical also warrants some attention; being overly prepared can come at a price. As a DM, I have hundreds of options laid out for my players with each choice and outcome promising to be unique and significant. Regardless of gameplay style, I know beforehand that it’s downright impossible to prepare for every scenario. When taken by surprise, I eventually come up with an improvised solution, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t relied on illusionism once or twice.

Similarly, railroading is a deliberate manoeuvre used to force player characters back into whatever situation the DM had intended them to be in. It leaves little room for any meaningful choices at all, and is largely more transparent than illusionism. Constant and reoccurring railroading might well be a sign of an inexperienced DM, or in the worst of cases, an uncooperative DM.

So aren’t illusion of choice and railroading, in essence, cut from the same cloth? Dungeon Solvers are of the opinion that illusionism is indeed “a form of railroading where the players can make a decision, but their choice has no effect on the game’s direction.” Illusionism is then an umbrella term that encompasses railroading. In either case, using deception too often risks affecting the level of trust between DM and PCS, and impinging on player morale.

A careful balance between deception and trust

Of course, every player’s ideal DMing style is entirely subjective, and might even depend on the edition of DnD the participants are acquainted with. Many 3e enthusiasts enjoy the idea of being pitted against their DM in a Battle Royale style massacre where no one can be trusted, and in this sense, maybe illusionism matters less, as they are essentially fighting against the DM as well.

This dynamic has evolved in 5e, and many feel that trust between the DM and the Player Character is absolutely essential for a good campaign. This relationship makes it harder to know when and if you should deceive your PCs. Are you confident that your PCs rely on you, and trust you to be helpful and honest? Avoiding illusionism as much as possible might be the best solution.

Illusionism is the easy way out

From the DM’s perspective, illusionism might just be a blessing in disguise. Presenting irrelevant choices to your party can sometimes be exactly the breather you need.

Some of the benefits of illusionism

  1. There is no longer a need to prepare as many outcomes as possible if you are not well-versed in improvisation.
  2. It can take pressure off of DMing and allow for narrative or descriptive development. Release those quirky NPC one-liners.
  3. Worldbuilding immediately becomes a lot easier; there are a limited amount of places you can and will end up.
  4. Generally speaking, it saves hours of preparation time.
  5. It’s a wonderful tactic for lighthearted, action-packed, non-RPG-heavy one shots.

At the end of the day, one could argue that what matters most is the DM’s ability to cover up these illusions and make them seem like meaningful choices. That said, the sheer thought of denying agency to the players is enough to cause distrust. Personally, I need to be able to trust my DM not to deceive me more than what is strictly necessary. In turn, players are honest about their rolls, their stats, the amount of spell slots they have left, whether they have already burned their reaction.

Video games are restrictive; TTRPG should be limitless

It’s worth emphasising that Dungeons and Dragons is unique exactly because it operates on an open world model in which literally anything can happen. These realms thrive on a plethora of meaningful choices, and if DMs choose to railroad their characters to the point of enforcing a singular set of paths, then PCs might as well play a video game.

Unlike DnD, video games are exclusive, and, prohibitively expensive (not only due to the price of the game, but also that of the console, monitor, controller, reliable internet connection…). They depend on restricted choices, be it by way of fixed quests, or the reductive binary male vs female avatar selection. Heck, Ubisoft didn’t even provide us with gender options.

DnD is about inclusivity, which should extend itself to meaningful decisions beyond choosing a class and race. Escapism seems less valuable if it’s only to perform in yet another closed off universe. Or what do I know, a one shot with an all-male human fighter cast collectively called Arno could admittedly be entertaining.

How to avoid railroading

A rough draft

In order to avoid being ill-prepared for a session, always plan out a rough draft of a few possible options. Instead of meticulously sketched out dialogue and encounter scenes, write up a page per NPC and opponents with their possible reactions, one-liners, loot, and the information they can supply the party with. If this suits your style, continue with a page per location complete with loot, traps, and monsters. Stick to bullet points!

Creative solutions

Instead of defecting to your original plan, come up with a series of creative solutions that have been pre-planned before the session and that you can fall back on when you’re in a rut. Perhaps you operate in a world where there are evil creatures spawning from set of locations (forests, towns, cities, mountains). If a radically different outcome or path is pursued and they find themselves near a spawn location, roll a d6 and choose from a list of homebrew (or existing) monsters. The inclusion of a closing combat leaves room for the modifications next game’s prep will now undergo. This allows you to be the kind of DM that won’t render player choices meaningless, but delay them enough to give you time to adjust accordingly.

Redirect with clues

Your players might be derailing themselves from your main plot because there aren’t enough clues per session to peak their curiosity and redirect it back to the larger picture. Alternatively, you might have too many clues and pieces of information, giving them an overwhelmingly unapproachable air. Simplify your hints without taking away from their mystery, and allow for ways in which the dots can be connected.

Improvise

Easier said than done, the key to smooth flowing narrative and storytelling is to match your players’ level of improvisation. Are they responding differently to a dilemma than you had expected? Perhaps you had assumed they would save a child from a burning building, but instead they ran. Huzza! A perfect backstory for your new villain; a vengeful, burn-ridden baby warlock of a fiend patron. Creepy.

Is illusionism ever acceptable?

All that said, sometimes the DM is, ironically, left without a choice. Fortunately, non-toxic ways of dabbling in illusionism do exist. For example, if your party is having fun advancing in a particular quest but are way off track, nudging them in the right direction shouldn’t be frowned upon. See it as a help action that is in their best interest rather than your own. By no means is this participating in toxic railroading where the outcome is always the same no matter what the players choose to do. If you put in the work, it’s likely that participants will instinctively feel the difference between a forced path, and an intelligent choice that aligns with their quest. Despite the modicum of extra DM prep it might imply, there really is nothing better than imbuing your players with genuine curiosity, and newfound purpose.