Sunday, 26 July 2015

Dungeon Master: Foreshadowing and Hints

Foreshadowing is an extremely common element in the fantasy genre at large. At the same time, information can be extremely valuable to the players. Some creatures in particular are much harder to fight if the party is not prepared for them. From ancient prophecies to captured enemies, there are many different ways to give such knowledge to the players. I hope to present multiple examples of how this can be achieved as well as bring up some issues associated with them. I will do so by mentioning large concepts that are present any time that information is given to the player and how they are important. I'm just going to say right here that as always, finding the right balance for the group is important.


When players are given information can play a very important role. If information is provided too early, the players may forget that they were even told something important and if it is too close to the task that requires it, the players are more likely to connect the dots. Depending on the task being attacked, the situation the players are in and the actions of the players, any length of time could be valid. However, there are also times where it will be impossible to obtain certain information. If the players are actively looking for information about one kingdom attack another and there are currently no plans to do so, it stands to reason that there won't be any documents for such a thing in the general's quarters (still technically possible if there is a backup plan).


Can the information be trusted? Obviously, if every bit of information the Dungeon Master gives the players from a town drunk is incorrect, they won't trust a single thing the drunk says. At the same time, if every word one of the gods says is true, they will believe every bit of information that is told to them by that god. Most people in the world are probably less reliable than a god but know at least something that is true. If the players are being told a story by an NPC, it stands to reason that some of the details or elements might be wrong even if most of it is true. Finding a good balance for the reliability of information that players receive will then play a massive role in both the players' ability to tackle problems as well as building the world in general.


Who here has ever read a confusing prophecy? In such a case the meaning of the information is usually known just prior to when the characters need it or after they've already solved the problem. Seeing my players infer information based on context is a good thing. However, sometimes the information players receive will be far more obvious. It's generally hard to misinterpret a villager telling you, “Yeah, there's a cave over there. I pick mushrooms by it all the time.” At some point, being too far into one extreme can be extremely annoying. No one wants to get a cryptic prophecy when trying to ask a guard if there are any weapon shops in a city (excluding some joke games, of course). As always, finding the right balance for the group is the key.


How specific the information the players receive will also play a role in how they approach a problem and shape events. If the players are told that the magic thingy lies in this 50km square, their actions will be completely different than if I told them exactly the building, room and nook it was hidden in. This is a difficult section to fully explain since there are many different elements that make it up. If the party is looking for a particular person, we could know exactly where they are, exactly why they are there, why they are still there, where they were before, what their favourite weapons are and much more. Each one of those sections could be addressed differently (maybe we have no idea where they came from or what they are doing, but were able to track them down to a city via rumors).


  • Prophecies (can be ancient prophecies about soon to occur events, ancient prophecies about events centuries away or fresh prophecies about either)
  • Sounds in a dungeon (hearing the flapping of wings beyond a door gives the players certain information)
  • Town gossip
  • Recruited spy
  • Captured enemy (the higher the rank, the juicier the information)
  • Old book studying the same item you are now studying
  • Corpse stuck in a trap giving you the hint that there is a trap
  • Smell coming from an empty room
  • Erie feeling (necrotic magic in particular may give sensations when close)
  • Heat (especially when adjacent room is on fire)

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Dungeon Master: Binding Creatures to Terrain

There are many different ways of going about creating new monsters for players to encounter. We can, of course, create monsters from scratch. This method has the benefit of allowing the creation of brand new, completely original monsters. Sometimes, however, what we want instead is to create a slightly different monster than what is currently in the monster manual. The difference can't be too minor in this case (wow, one extra charisma. I'm so scared), but have the potential to completely change the way the monster works. Today I hope to discuss how to do so by linking monsters to the terrain.

Why Bother?

Over the course of mythology and D&D, there have been many monsters that are bound to certain terrain. Obvious examples are water monsters such as a kraken (though a kraken that can walk onto shore gives me an idea...). Typically there are many stories of undead ghosts in particular being linked to a certain building, area, date, time of day or object. By closely relating a monster to some kind of terrain or other factor (items can be used as well), it allows and creates a bunch of new ways to approach the monster. Usually at least one of these ways allows the total avoidance of the monster if the players are clever enough to figure it out. Personally, I consider this a plus since I don't want every encounter between monsters and players ending in fighting to the death and I have been lucky enough to have a group that feels the same way.

There are a few logistical reasons as well. If we already have a bunch of monsters, we can easily create more variants of a monster by creating a link to the terrain. It can be as simple as applying a template to link a monster to the terrain. However, I would suggest a little more care to be taken to make it a truly unique experience for the players. It is still less work to do it this way than to make a creature from scratch and the creatures that result are already balanced by the monster manual.

Example: Smoke Spirits

When you have to kill something, killing it with fire is usually a good way to go. However, like any kind of killing, you run the risk of having your enemies come back for round 2 as an undead husk out for revenge. It's just something that happens as an adventurer (though it may happen more often with the some Dungeon Masters). In this way, fire is no different.

When a creature or person is killed by fire, it is possible for the spirit of the being to remain and seek revenge on the living. In some cases, they may also seek the possession of a new body to regain what they have lost. These beings, however, are firmly trapped in the smoke close to the place where they died. Usually, a fire spontaneously starts and the creatures attack from the smoke that is created. To protect themselves, adventurers need only to avoid the smoke (any spell that moves the air, such as thunderwave, can also move the smoke away and even put out the fire that caused the smoke).

The source of the smoke (the fire) can also return after the creatures in the smoke have been slain, bringing back the creatures that lurk in the smoke. In such a case the being is usually a more powerful spirit and blessing the grounds or another event may be required to permanently stop this phenomenon.

Easy Examples: Shadow (simply restrict to the smoke in the area)

Variant 1: Add 1d6 damage from choking on the smoke on a hit.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Creature: Javelin Soldier

Often times I find myself looking for more challenges to throw towards my players. Sometimes, this challenge comes in the form of combat. Maybe it's the fact that I never got over that Roman era campaign I was a part of, but I often find myself making use of javelin wielding fighters with heavy armor. Below I give an example of one such fighter for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition.


This type of fighter typically holds their javelins in the same hand as their shield, allowing easy access to their weapons. When met in close quarters, unless out of javelins, they will prefer to continue fighting with the javelin as if it was a spear (this allows them to throw it as a range weapon if necessary). Only when they are completely out of javelins will they draw their swords for combat. Due to their range ability and high Armor Class, they can be very deadly for a 1st level party.


The most obvious example of the type of fighter created here is of the heavily armored roman soldier with their multiple javelins. Because of the wide use of javelins across history, they are far from the only ones that fit this archetype. This kind of fighter is easily used in just about any situation and can make sense in just about any appearance. The type of armor and side arm can also be changed quite easily (changing the side arm to a higher damage one handed weapon will give a reason for this kind of troop to draw that weapon in close combat instead of a javelin, though a javelin still gives a range option without losing actions to change weapons), but changing the armor type will also change the difficulty they pose to the player characters.

5th Edition Stats

Hit points 12
Armor Class 18 (Chain mail & Shield)

STR 16  (+3)
CON 15 (+2)
DEX 14 (+2)
INT 10 (+0)
WIS 10 (+0)
CHA 10 (+0)


  • +5 Javelin (30/120) x4
  • +5 Short sword (melee)

Proficiency (+2)

  • Athletics
  • Perception
  • Survival
  • Insight/Animal Handling (pick one)

Fighting Style: Defense (+1 to Armor Class), Protection or Dueling from the fighter class (see basic rules).

Variant 1: The rules above assume human was used. 1 feat can be added to add further challenge (recommended).

Variant 2: Change race from human to any other by removing 1 from two abilities (STR & CON or STR & DEX recommended). Then apply new race as listed in the rules.

Variant 3: You can use the basic rules to level these fighters to a higher level. This is usually done for officers or more highly skilled members.

Variant 4: Changing the armor type will change the Armor Class and make the situation easier or harder for the player party.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Creature: Shadow Hand

There exists many an adventurer who claims to have encountered beasts of different sorts. Sorting fact from fiction in these cases is quite a difficult task and made even more so by the innovations in magic research. Animated statues in particular have given me trouble in the past. However, with that said, it does appear that I have observed something that I cannot explain away so easily.

I have come across quite a few different forms of shadow creatures I have called “Shadow Hands”. As the name suggests, they are hands formed of shadow. The first time I came across one was in an underground cavern. At the time it caused nothing but a minor inconvenience since all it did was grab and hold my leg. It did however hold on tightly enough to prevent my movement. I was quickly able to disperse it with a simple spell and continue on.

It seems that there are multiple different types as I had a nastier experience later on. The area I found this particular specimen was in what appeared to be the crypts of an old temple. Based upon my research the temple itself must have been destroyed about 300 years before my arrival. While I was exploring the relatively small area I once again I failed to notice the Shadow Hand until it got hold of my foot. Once again I dispersed it but this time I noticed a sensation in my foot after taking a step. After examining my foot I noticed a dark hand print and felt considerably worse than when I entered. It took me about a day or so to recover afterwards.

After my two experiences I tried to do more research and was able to deduce that there is a great amount of diversity within these creatures. Some forms will disperse after getting sunlight cast upon them. Others will still retain their form but become considerably fainter and weaker. I also feel that I was quite lucky in my first two encounters as it is far more common to come across these things in groups. I will be recording all of my notes below. What concerns me most is why are they trying to grab someone? Are they trying to drag me down or are they trying to pull themselves up?

Example provided for 5th edition D&D based on the “Shadow” creature. For stats, refer to the Monster Manual entry (preferred) or the Princes of the Apocalypse supplement as only differences are noted here.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Stats

Shadow Hand
Small Undead, Chaotic Evil

Challenge 0 (10XP)

Hit points 1 (1d6 – 3)
Armor Class 12

Differences from Shadow

  • Replace attack with a grapple action using regular grapple rules.
  • In sunlight, the Shadow Hand dissipates and dies.
  • The Shadow Hand can try to hide in the shadow cast by a creature by entering its square and attempting the “Hide” action.

Variant 1a: Attack does 1d6 + 2 necrotic damage and reduced strength as described under “Shadow”.

Variant 1b: Attack is the same as “Shadow”.

Variant 2a: Use the rules presented for “Shadow” to determine result of being in sunlight.

Variant 3: If the Shadow Hand is able to kill a living creature it can use the life force it drained to pull itself into this world (optionally, roll a D20 with 11 or above meaning the shadow will pull itself into the world). Replace the Shadow Hand with a Shadow.

Variant 4: Increase hit points to 1d6 (3).