Archive for the D&D 3.5e DM Content Category

Monte Cook’s Dungeon a Day

Posted in D&D 3.5, D&D 3.5e DM Content, Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, Product Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2011 by boccobsblog

New 3.5e / Pathfinder Game Content

Whenever a new edition of a game system comes out you will have some holdouts that refuse to move on (myself being one of them). Perhaps they like the rules for the previous edition, maybe they’ve just invested too much time and money, or maybe they are just nostalgic. Whatever the reasons for not moving on, these players soon find themselves without new content which can be a serious bummer.

Well for those of you that still play 3.5e there are still options available to you. One such option is Dungeonaday.com. This site is written by gaming legend, Monte Cook. Cook was instrumental in the creation of third edition and co-authored the player’s handbook (among other titles).

As the name implies, Dungeon a Day adds new content daily to include new monsters, spells, items, feats, artifacts, etc. The site also offers quests, player handouts, and maps penned by Ed Bourelle.

It should be noted that Dungeon a Day comes complete with a Pathfinder version as well. And even if you’ve left d20, 4e DMs as well as GM’s of any fantasy system will find useful ideas and maps on the site.

The site does require a subscription, but the rates are very reasonable given the amount of content you get. ($9 for a month, $24 for four months, or 81 for an entire year) If you consider what you spend on game books and quests, it is not a bad deal.

Check it out.

Dungeon a Day Website

Example Map

Dungeon Excerpt

UPDATE: It would seem that this website no longer exists.

Memorable Magic Weapons

Posted in D&D 3.5e DM Content with tags , , , , , , , , on March 21, 2011 by boccobsblog

Player: What’s in the chest?

DM: You find a +1 staff.

Player *yawns* ok, next room…

In this week’s article we will detail, step by step, how to create memorable magic weapons that players will want to keep throughout the campaign.

For this article I owe a debt to Charles Rodgers, whose Dragon Magazine #180 article, “Not Another Magic Sword”, from 1992 has always stuck with me.

Select weapon

This may seem like a no brainer, but often DM’s will dream up some epic weapon to place in their campaign and never give pause to what weapons their players actually use. It is anticlimactic when your fighter triumphs after a series of grueling quests to find the sword of legend to be a longsword when he’s spent all his feats to specialize in the greatsword.

Select material

What is the weapon made of? Is there a material that fits the weapon’s theme or history better than regular wood or steel? The idea is to create a weapon so unique and interesting that your player will wield it throughout the campaign.

Possible Materials:

  • Baatorian Green Steel (A&EG p13)
  • Gehennan Morghuth-Iron (A&EG p14)
  • Starmetal (CArc p141)
  • Pandemonic Silver (CWar p136)
  • Thinaun(CWar p136)
  • Dwarvencraft Quality (RoS p159)
  • Blue Ice (Frost p80)
  • Aurorum (BoED p38)
  • Frystalline (BoED p38)
  • Serren (BoED p38)
  • Solarian True-Steel (BoED p38)
  • Adamantine (DMG p283)
  • Darkwood (DMG p283)
  • Iron, Cold (DMG p284)
  • Silver, Alchemical (DMG p284)
  • Mithril (DMG p284)

Powers

One thing I have learned as a DM, what I think is cool, isn’t always what the players think is cool. When you custom-make a weapon, have the player in mind. Ask yourself what would fit with the player’s concept. For example: if the weapon has the bane property, is it for a creature that the ranger has as a favored enemy?

Note: if you’ve exhausted the powers in your DMG be sure to check out the magic Item Compendium or DMG2 for new options.

Flavor

What can you add to the weapon to make it unique while not drastically changing its cost or power level? Flavor is anything that adds to the coolness factor of a weapon without any serious in-game benefits. These elements are what will make the weapon memorable. Examples:

  • screams when it delivers a death-blow or critical hit
  • smells of brimstone or another distinct scent
  • vibrates or hums when polished
  • whispers something in a forgotten tongue when unsheathed
  • moves during the night, nothing drastic, but the weapon is in a different place than the pc placed it before going to sleep (though still close to the PC).

Note: see signature traits in DMGII p229 for more ideas.

Description

What does the sword look like? Can you find a picture that matches your idea of the weapon? If you have any artistic ability, draw the weapon on a piece of sketchbook paper.  This is where the Rodgers article really shined; he detailed each piece of the sword making sure to talk about the rare materials used. He drew a mental picture of the blade, hand-guard, handle, pommel, etc.

History

Adding a history to a weapon will deepen its role-play value while not increasing it power level. In addition, if you make the weapon a bit of mystery, it will provide further quest possibilities, and allow character with bardic, or traditional knowledge skills to flex some RP muscle and use a skill often times overlooked.

Name

This one could be up to the PC, but if you have a player that shies away from role-play, you may want to name the weapon for them. Possibilities:

  • Carved into a wooden weapon
  • Runes on the blade
  • A sage, cleric, or arcanist recognizes the weapon and knows its name (think Elrond in The Hobbit when he recognizes the Foe Hammer and the Goblin Cleaver)
  • Perhaps the weapon whispers its name the first time the PC picks it up.
  • Maybe the former wielder tells the PC prior to death. This provides an interesting role-playing angle if the PC gets the weapon after slaying an enemy (as they normally do). Perhaps the dying orc king takes the barbarian pc’s hand and wraps it around the hilt of his magic great ax and whispers the name in orcish or broken common as a gesture that the player is worthy of wielding it. While this idea really only works for honorable villains, it is still a cool option.

Increasing Power Over Time

I feel that it adds something significant to a PC’s experience if they keep the same weapon over time. Of course, this idea won’t apply to all players, and you as the DM will be able to judge that for yourself, but as a whole, having a weapon that grows in power with the pc helps to enrich the storytelling process.  Not to mention, you’ve put all this work into creating an awesome item, you don’t want your player to sell it off when he reaches the next level. This idea is common among fantasy literature, heroes don’t trade in their signature weapon, so why should your players?

Possible routes for increasing power:

  • Legacy Weapon (Weapons of Legacy)
  • Legendary Weapon (Unearthed Arcana p162)
  • Item Familiar (Unearthed Arcana p170 )
  • Bonded Item (DMGII p231 )
  • Ancestral Relic (Book of Exalted Deeds p39)
  • Forgo treasure on an adventure and have the player’s deity or a potent caster empower the weapon

Player: What’s in the chest?

DM:  You find an ornately fashioned, darkwood staff roughly five feet long. The shaft has images of orcs fleeing a flaming village. The head of the staff is carved in the likeness of a ruby-eyed red dragon that snarls and breathes a gout of illusory flame as you remove it from the chest. Draconic runes just below the dragon carving spell out what you assume to be a name.

Player: Nice!

D&D Props

Posted in D&D 3.5e DM Content, D&D 4e Content, D&D 5e, D&D Fifth Edition, D&D Next, Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2011 by boccobsblog
D&D Prop

Warner Bros. Props Department

Here is a list of possible props for use with your D&D, Savage Worlds, Pathfinder, World of Darkness or any fantasy setting.

Beggar’s cup – put a few coins in to make noise, extend the cup to a player (form them to place a coin in), and tilt it so they can see a message folded up inside

Scrolls – Spells printed on parchment and sealed with wax and a seal or a ribbon

Sand timer/ hour-glass – I have always wanted to place a massive hourglass on the timer and announce that the players have one hour to exit the dungeon

Coins – Chocolate coins, foreign coins, or if you really want to shine: Campaign Coins

Lock Picks – Maybe the players didn’t know the NPC was a rogue in disguise until they search his room

Jewelry – I found awesome junk rings and brooches at the Good Will store for next to nothing (unless you count the weird looks from the lady at the counter or the hours of mocking from my wife)

Rocks or Geodes – Tumbled rocks can be purchased at a craft store for cheap. Maybe the work as keys or a spell focus

Compass – Maybe it points to treasure, or the last owner’s killer

Weapons – Every geek has a sword or a mace from the flea market or the Ren faire. Just don’t get all hopped up on Mountain Dew and start swinging it at folks

Sealed Letters – Card shops and specialty store carry fancy envelopes and stationary fit to write an invite to Castle Ravenloft on. Maybe find someone who can knows calligraphy to write the letter for you

Leather pouches – place several small coins, picks, props, notes, red herrings, in there and let the players figure it all out

Game board – I think we’ve all used a chess puzzle at one point or another

Cards – Skip a combat encounter and play a few hands of Three Dragon Ante with your players in their favorite tavern and give them xp for role-playing. Maybe use poker chips or campaign coins

Tarot cards – Read your players fortune and drop hints about upcoming adventures or let the cards write the next adventure for you

Runes – Take flat rocks and paint strange symbols on them. Make custom runes from clay, Sculpey, or Fimo. Place a codex in the dungeon to decode them

Keys – Buy some old skeleton at a junk shop or antique store. Use a fine tip Sharpie or a knife point to make cryptic markings on them

Books – Take an old book from the used bookstore or antique shop and hollow it out, or underline certain words that make a different message

Spell book, journal, – Take a blank book and fill it with dark symbols, runes, sketches, bits of information, lies, misdirection, distress, burn, waterlog the text to make it look ancient. Check out sites on Mythos Tomes to get ideas and inspiration

Puzzle Lock – One year at Gen Con, I went through a True Dungeon Session and we had to pick a lock, rather than rolling dice, the DM had an actual puzzle lock that we had to figure out. There are several degrees of locks available on the web, some are quite challenging

Old bottles – add water, a drop of food color, a cork and you got a potion.

Wooden Puzzle– I found some wooden puzzles at Mejiers for five dollars. My players kept finding small wooden pieces, and finally a strangely shaped lock. (note: you may want to build in a secondary path or make the locked room not essential to the adventure so things don’t grind to a halt if the players can’t figure out the puzzle.)

Puzzle Box– Hide maps, secrets, deeds, etc. in a false bottom

Wand/ Staff – Take a stick from your yard, sand off the bark with coarse grit sandpaper, then smooth with a fine grit. Add a “crystal” to the tip by gluing on a piece of rock salt or quartz. If you really want to get detailed, you could add runes with a knife or a wood burning tool

Figurine – A small glass or wooden animal could serve as a figurine of wondrous power.

Globe – Find an old globe at a yard sale, junk shop or Craigslist and repaint it with your game world map.

Gems – Take plastic or glass ‘gems’ from a craft store like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby and use them as gems, or Ioun stones

Hit those junk, antique, and resale shops, as well as the Ren faire and find a prop for your game. If you’re willing to sculpt a story around the object, anything can serve as a great prop.

 

How Teaching Helps Me Be A Better DM

Posted in D&D 3.5e DM Content, D&D 4e Content, D&D 5e, D&D Fifth Edition, D&D Next, Dungeons and Dragons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2011 by boccobsblog

When I’m not writing blog posts or running games, I work as an English instructor at my local community college. The longer I teach, the more I see my teacher-side creeping into my game table, and I think this is actually a good thing. Several of the strategies I use in the classroom have actually provided more enjoyment and an all-around better game (at least in my opinion).

Give your players homework

I find giving my players some small task to do during downtime creates a richer role-playing experience and helps to foster better-developed characters. I always offer some reward as an incentive, usually in the way of XP, but you could offer gold, items, or possibly agree to indulge the play in a side quest or goal.

Examples:

  • Write a summary of the night’s adventure
  • Write a back story for their character
  • Detail the contents of their backpack (a braid of his wife’s hair, the flint his father carried, etc). This one really helps create back story and depth.
  • Map the dungeon or countryside
  • Create a code by which the character lives (I’ve found the easiest way is to make a list of things the player will never do, harm a child, steal from the poor, etc. It helps to define their alignment for them.)
  • Detail a fear or phobia the character has and why
  • Write a brief summary of what your character’s goals are
  • Create a family tree
  • Ask bards to write a poem or a story

Give handouts

As a teacher I like my students to have something tangible they can look at after class and think about we’ve worked on. The same holds true for the game table; as a PC and a DM I enjoy these handouts immensely, especially maps. This may seem weird (but I’m sure I’m not alone on this), but I enjoy looking at maps of the game world and trying to imagine what secrets reside on those hexes, what adventures are waiting for me.

Note: I think handouts differ from props slightly. We’ll cover props in a different article. Where did I put my foam sword…?

Examples:

  • Maps (hand-drawn is fine by me)
  • Fiction from the game world (Pepper these in with the treasure, they will add depth, explain back-story or world history without bogging down the session. The Elder Scrolls series of video games does this seamlessly.)
  • Letters (use a font that resembles hand writing, and don’t be afraid to spill something on it or burn the edges, it’s a bit junior high, but so what it adds flavor. Download a rune font or elvish script.)
  • NPC Portraits (use the archive here, print them out on card stock or photo paper— 4.25×5.5 so you can fit four to a page.)
  • Menus (What’s for dinner at the local tavern?)
  • Treasure Maps (Use these a unique treasure that sets you up for a side quest, don’t level scale either, a treasure hunt should be rough, and have a huge payout)
  • Wanted Posters (makes for great side quests, again don’t level scale, let the gold piece value of the reward and the list of crimes give the players an indication of the difficulty)
  • Scrolls (print of the spell’s effect, maybe print it on parchment-style paper. Seal it with wax if you want to go from handout to prop. This idea also serves to save time during combat. Your player doesn’t have to stop and look up the spell in question. Find obscure spells or spells your player won’t normally take)
  • Newspaper (ok this may seem silly, but in the right setting, Sigil, Sharn, etc it might make perfect sense.)

Make time to plan your class

Students (and players) can tell when you’ve thrown a game together at the last second. It really hurts the game experience because it puts your players closer to reality, while the purpose of role-playing is to immerse yourself in a secondary world and lose yourself for a few hours. One thing that I find that helps with campaign planning is to keep a log of all the happening in the night’s adventure. Keep a list of people and places that players interact with. You will be amazed at how many adventure hooks the players will create for you. (The guy they picked a fight with at the tavern, the person whose pocket they picked, the loved ones of the monster or npc they killed. Etc) While occasionally it is fun to play a session on the fly, more often than not you’ll want a series of possibilities open, and unless you run a pre-planned world, you’ll need to sit down and prep. (Note: We ran an article a while back that provided prep-time reducing handouts for the DM, a list of NPC names by race, and a list of treasures by encounter level. Both can be found here.)

Give course evaluations

Evaluations, when given in a thoughtful, honest manner, can make you a better teacher. If my students didn’t care for a certain text or film, I generally choose something different the next time I teach the course. The great thing about teaching at the college level is that every sixteen weeks I get to try things differently.

The same approach holds true at the table. Ask your players for honest feedback. Ask your players what they like and write to that. I have some players for example, that could really do without combat, while I can’t remove all they action from the game, and I always try to put some level of mental challenge or puzzle in for that player when they’re present. Sometimes DMs write for themselves rather than for their players. Don’t be afraid to ask your players what they like and dislike about your game. It may be awkward at first, but it will lead to a more enjoyable experience.

-Andy

20 free 3.5e monsters

Posted in D&D 3.5e DM Content with tags , , , , , , , , on August 9, 2010 by boccobsblog

Do you want some new monsters but don’t want to pay for additional monster manuals? Well the following are monsters from the D&D 3.5 archive and posted here for use in your game.

Alkilith (Tanar’ri), Myrmyxicus (Tanar’ri),Fey Touched Template  (Fiend Folio)

Effigy, Gravorg, Mountain Giant (MM II)

Ambush Drake, Boneclaw, Dracotaur, Grisgol, Summoning Ooze, Wood Woad  (MM III)

Black Rock Triskelion, Defacer, Dwarf Ancestor, Bluespawn Godslayer (MM IV)

Arcadian Avenger, Dragons of the Great Game, Verdant Reaver  (MM V)

Shunned (Drow of the Underdark)

The 3.5 archives are full of valuable information and though it is more difficult to find since 4th edition, it is still there if you’re willing to hunt around for it.

-Andy

Tired of the base classes? Here’s 34 other options

Posted in D&D 3.5 e Content, D&D 3.5e DM Content with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 6, 2010 by boccobsblog

Are you ready for a new challenge? Are you ready to step away from the base classes in the Player’s Handbook? Well many gamers don’t realize that there are several 20-level classes available to 3.5 players. The following is a list of 34, 20-level classes from the D&D 3.5 canon listed by the book they are found in.

Complete Adventurer

Ninja- stealthy assassin with ki powers

Scout- focuses on stealth and movement

Spellthief- a mage/thief that steals spells from other casters

Complete Arcane

Warlock- dark caster with unlimited eldritch blasts

Warmage- armored spellcaster

Wu Jen- elemental caster with unique spells

Complete Divine

Favored Soul- spontaneous divine caster (think divine sorcerer)

Shugenja- elemental divine caster

Spirit Shaman- spiritual nature healer

Complete Psionic

Ardent- versatile manifester

Divine Mind- divine manifester

Lurk- psionic assassin

Complete Warrior

Hexblade- blends curses and swordplay

Samurai- honor bound warrior

Swashbuckler- fighter that focuses on speed and skill

Dragon Magic

Dragonfire Adept- Draconic caster with breath weapon, similar to Dragon Shaman

Dungeonscape

Factoum- a true jack of all trades

Heroes of Horror

Archivist-erudite divine caster that exploits monsters through knowledge

Dread Necromancer-master of undeath on the road to lichdom

Magic of Incarnum

Incarnate- caster that embodies his alignment

Soulborn- blends incarnum and martial combat

Totemist- calls on the souls of nature

Miniatures Handbook

Healer- a specialist in curative magic

Marshal- a born leader and commander

Player’s Handbook II

Beguiler-master of lies and deception

Duskblade-fighter mage class without multiclassing

Dragon Shaman-dragon worshiper with a breath weapon

Knight- mounted warrior

Tome of Battle- The Book of Nine Swords

Crusader- holy warriors

Swordsage-blade wizards

Warblade-master of martial combat

Tome of Magic

Binder- summons powerful beings and bargains with them for power

Shadowcaster-masters of the power of darkness

Truenamer- uses the power of Truespeak

While Wizard’s may no longer be publishing books for the 3.5 edition, there is enough existing content out there to keep us gaming for several hundred lifetimes. (Classes from the Player’s Handbook and Expanded Psionics Handbook were not listed.)

Did I forgot any canonical 20-level classes? If so, post them in the comments section.

Two handouts that should make your life easier

Posted in D&D 3.5 e Content, D&D 3.5e DM Content, D&D 4e Content, The Crafty DM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2010 by boccobsblog

GM screens can be useful tools. They are covered in somewhat useful information, and you can use them to shield your rolls and your miniatures. That said, there are some things that a GM’s screen doesn’t cover. Have you ever been in a game where this happens? :

DM: The blacksmith, a grimy dwarf with a long scar on his face, smiles as he hands you the newly forged sword.

Player: Cool, what’s his name?

DM: Um… (looking around the room), Table…Tablemen…yeah…his name is Tablemen.

Player: Did you just look at the table and name him Tablemen?

DM: Um…roll initiative.

Sound familiar? How about this one?

DM: With a flourish of your sword, you slay the last orc in chamber. What would you like to do?

Player: We search the orcs and the chamber for treasure.

DM: Um… (scrambles for a DMG)…you find something, I’ll roll it later.

Player: But, we could find something that would be useful in the rest of the dungeon.

DM: Fine. (Game comes to a halt for the next ten minutes and any momentum is lost)

These are scenarios that I have encountered multiple times, both as a player and as a GM. In an attempt to prevent scenes like these from happening in the future I have created two handouts that should help. The first is a sheet of names for each of the standard fantasy races(26 names per gender, per race). The second is a list of treasure in order of challenge rating (three entries per CR, 1st-20th).

These handouts aren’t meant to be used during the planning phase of your adventure (you would go through the treasure and names quickly), instead reserve them for those instances when your players ask you the name of an NPC you didn’t deem important enough to warrant a name, and for those time when your players wander into an encounter you didn’t expect (and therefore didn’t roll treasure for).

I hope you find them useful. Print them out, paper clip them inside your GM screen, and never be caught off guard again.

Names

Treasure

-Andy