Archive for the D&D 3.5e DM Content Category

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.


  • 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…?


  • 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.


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.


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


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.




Use your illusion II

Posted in D&D 3.5 e Content, D&D 3.5e DM Content with tags , , , , , , on July 24, 2010 by boccobsblog

Level 5- While the SC gives us the Illusionist means of quick travel with shadow fade, and the PHBII gives us the classic friend to foe spell allowing the illusionist to manipulate the battlefield.  A very utilitarian spell is the PHB’s shadow evocation.  Consider it like a mini-wish, yes the 20% effect with a failed will save can diminish the potency but the versatility of choosing any evocation spell is pretty handy.  The enemy is in that perfect straight line which is perfect for a lightning bolt but you don’t have that spell… you could really use a gust of wind at that moment to push the blackguard of the cliff.. you got it. 

This is how my Phantasmal Killer would appear...

Level 6- While distraction is the illusionist’s forte, mislead is the perfect combination of magics wrapped into a tight bundle.   You create an illusionary copy of yourself, while at the same time placing yourself in greater invisibility.  You could have the double perform a  variety of tasks, such as attempt diplomacy, or pretend to cast a spell (then vanish), while you place yourself in the perfect spot for further spell casting all while remaining invisible. Not to mention many enemies want to open up with their most effective attacks on a spell-caster and with this spell, they would be likely to waste it on your illusionary double.

Level 7- If you are an illusionist who can cast simulacrum you can create the army of icy copies of doom!  When you kill that mighty red dragon, why not make a half hit die copy, which is at your beck and call (Or how about half a dozen).  Or a couple of half powered doppelgangers of yourself which can buff you for combat before casting invisibility on themselves and making their way to safety.  The possibilities for this spell are really quite endless.

Level 8- Just when your DM has squashed greater invisibility antics with a bunch of see invisibility endowed enemies now comes the paramount invisibility, superior invisibility (SC). The end all be all of invisibility. It prevents detecting the character through any other weird sense, scent, tremors etc. and is not subject to the see invisible spell.   So once again, your illusionist can reign spells down upon their enemies while being completely cloaked.

"For my final plague...I cast weird!

Level 9- The top tier of magic does not present us with many options for illusion. At first glance weird seems like an aoe version of phantasmal killer, which is not too bad.. but then again not seemingly earth shattering until you look at the target area, “Any number of creatures, which cannot be more than 30 feet apart.”   When put to practical use this is a pretty frightening concept…  you know that army of 10,000 bugbears seeking to level the capital city, well now they all must make a save or die.  Imagine if cast in a city environment? How many targets can be chained 30 feet apart?  In a small dungeon, every encounter could be less than 30 feet apart and they would have to confront their greatest fear or die.  For mass slaughter, few spells do better than weird.  Meteor swarm may be flashier but then you have to worry about catching allies and collateral damage, weird is surgical. It allows the caster to choose who in the area will be subject to a horrific death on a biblical scale. 

Overall- Illusion is a school of magic that really is as useful as the player is crafty. While party members might berate the illusionist for his lack of magic firepower, the right illusion can be a party saver.  The right spell for the right situation is always a subject of circumstance. What the spells above illustrate are some illusion spells will make the illusionist much more than just a source of distraction, but a master of fear, shadow, and deception. 


Use your illusion I

Posted in D&D 3.5 e Content, D&D 3.5e DM Content with tags , , , , , , , on July 23, 2010 by boccobsblog

Illusionists, in 1st  and 2nd edition, were always the cute and cuddly spell-casters who could make the orc you were fighting grow bunny ears, and whose best option in a scrap was to disappear only to reappear when he whiffed with his puny dagger +1. No more my friends, the illusionist of third edition is the undisputed master of the shadow plane.  In this article, we will look at each spell level and the best options available for the illusionist who wants to be more than the party charlatan. In this article we will make use of the Player Handbook (3.5), the Players Handbook II, and the Spell Compendium, as each of these books has a plethora of useful new spells and are a must have for any 3.5 edition DM’s collection. 

Turn this...

Level 0- One should not overlook the usefulness of zero level spells.  While ghost sound is the only PHB option for illusion spells. However, the spell silent portal from the spell compendium could have its uses.  One could use this spell on a door that the party thief is picking, covering up the noise. Or it could be used to prevent any makeshift alarm traps on a door.  For a zero level spell, it has options, if you are looking for a change in place of your typical ghost sound

Level 1- If your illusionist can tolerate the mockery of his party( about being a leprechaun, for example)the best 1st level illusion spell is, hands down, color spray. While its uses fade for higher-level spell casters, a first level spell that has four different status effects that is pretty tough to beat.  I have seen this spell used on my party at low levels and it practically incapacitated the entire group.  In fact out of the first level offensive spells color spray is probably one of the best spells overall.  Even though it gives a save, its area of effect is a cone.

Level 2- Invisibility is the bread and butter utility spell, which has dozens of uses and most likely will be memorized by an illusionist as soon as he can access 2nd level spells, but what if I were to tell you that by casting a second level spell twice you could kill 90% of monsters of any hit die that you could encounter… because that is what phantasmal assailants (spell compendium) can do for you!  This spell inflicts attribute damage not penalties meaning with a failed save they take 8 wisdom and dexterity damage.  This in itself is useful in making the target easier to hit ( by lowering dex) and easier for your spells to take effect ( by lowering wisdom) but if a second spell is casted within the duration, that is 8 more in attribute damage.  16 wisdom or dexterity loss will incapacitate most foes and if not make them sitting ducks for future mind-breaking illusions. Keep in mind the spell does have a duration, and at the end of which the spell will have no use, but if it is casts consecutively, it could lead to a potent combination.

Into this...

Level 3- Displacement is a very useful defensive buff but let us place another potent combination into our grimoire.  Suspended silence.  Silence is always a useful spell-caster bane.  This version gives us a command word activated ability.  Imagine casting this on one of your ranger’s arrows and having him pelt the lich with them; you speak the command word basically eliminating most of his offensive capabilities. Or using a bit of subterfuge (invisibility perhaps) you cast this spell on the enemy wizard’s favorite magic item.  When combat breaks out you utter the command to leave them spell-less, they must then make the choice to discard the item or go silent.  Plus one would imagine if it were a wand or staff they would be unable to activate it because you have silenced them. 

Level 4- Greater Invisibility is the lynchpin of mages everywhere, as they cloak themselves to reign death upon their enemies with little recourse.  Yet after annoying several DMs with this tactic, eventually more and more enemies will gain the ability to see the invisible, which is when the crafty wizard implements the ever-useful greater mirror Image (PHBII).  This spell not only creates more images than the second level companion, but also makes new images over time.  This makes the wizard practically as protected from attack as invisibility, but it is much harder to counter. 


(Next time, we’ll look at level 5-9)

Content Poll

Posted in D&D 3.5 e Content, D&D 3.5e DM Content, Poll, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 19, 2010 by boccobsblog

We got some input on what systems people were interested in; and now we’d like to know what type of content you’d like to see.

How to Make Tokens for Any Game System

Posted in D&D 3.5 e Content, D&D 3.5e DM Content, D&D 4e Content, D&D 5e, D&D Fifth Edition, D&D Next, Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, The Crafty DM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2010 by boccobsblog

It is hard to match the coolness of gaming with 3D miniatures and terrain, but miniatures can get expensive. A cheaper alternative to miniatures is 2D tokens. Tokens have two major advantages over miniatures: they are much cheaper, and you can create a token to accurately match any creature in your game regardless of system or genre.  Best of all, tokens are very simple to make.

Materials List

Time and patience (seriously)                    Circular paper punch

Photo paper                                                       Chipboard

Glue stick                                                            Wax paper

Digital images

Step one

Select the images that you want to make tokens of. You can find anything you need by simply running a Google image search. I take my images directly from Wizards of the Coast. You have to search around (or click this link), to find them, but all the art from all the 3.0/3.5 books can be found free of charge. (That is one problem I have with 4th edition, most of the art galleries require a DDI subscription)

Step two

Once you have the images that you want, paste them into a Word or Publisher document. I have seen other sites mention fancy token making software and Photoshop programs, but you don’t need any of those. Simply paste your images onto a MS Word document placing them in even lines. By double clicking the image on the page, you can adjust its size, color, etc.

For some large pictures, you may want to crop the portion that you intend to use. Again, you don’t need fancy software, your computer’s Paint program will work just fine. Make sure the image is larger than the token. For example, a tiny, small, or medium token will be a one-inch circle, so make you image 1.25 – 1.5 inches to ensure you don’t lose any part of the image when you cut it.

Also, don’t bother trying to make a fancy border around your picture, they are hard to cut out and take up valuable space.

Step three

Once you have your images arranged on a Word document, you’re ready to print them out. Use a high-grade photo paper. It costs more, but the added quality is worth the cost.

Learn from my mistakes. In the past I have tried several different paper types, sticker paper (don’t cut cleanly, and the image is grainy), various cardstocks (any images will be low quality) to name a few, photo paper is your best bet.

Step four

Once your images are printed out, you’re ready to cut. (Note: the printer ink will likely still be wet on your photo paper, so be careful and allow it an hour to dry before messing with it)

Save yourself a world of trouble and purchase a circle cutter from your local scrapbook store. They come in various sizes, and you will need a 1” punch for tiny, small, and medium, a 2” for large, a 3” for huge, a 4” inch for gargantuan, and a 6” for colossal (but you will use this one so rarely you can skip it and cut out squares if you like).

By using these punches, you will save yourself a great deal of trouble and frustration. I started out with just a 1” punch and tried to cut the larger monster into squares. The end product (regardless of the tools used), was not high quality. The circle punch will give you a perfect cut every time and look amazing.

Marvy or EKsuccess brands work well

Step five

Next, you will need to glue the circle onto a sturdier material. Some sites recommend washers, but that can get costly, take up more room and weigh a ton. Just use chipboard (thin cardboard) that you can get for next to nothing at the scrapbook store where you bought your circle punch. Punch out several chipboard circles. Glue your photo paper images onto the chipboard circles with glue and you’re nearly done.  (Note: don’t try and save time by gluing the photo paper to the chipboard and then trying to punch out the images, the photo paper/chipboard combo will be too thick and you’ll get ragged cuts)

Final step

Place your tokens on a flat, hard surface, cover with a piece of wax paper, and place several heavy books on top. Leave the tokens to dry for several hours.

Boccob on Twitter

Posted in D&D 3.5e DM Content, Gaming News, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2010 by boccobsblog

Boccob is now on Twitter. That’s right, the god of magic has asked me to tell you that you can now follow him on Twitter. While he did not say so in words, Boccob hinted that if you didn’t follow him, he would gate in a Balor to your Fourth of July picnic and order the demon to devour your granny.


Spells that can help you get more from your miniatures

Posted in D&D 3.5e DM Content with tags , , , , , , on July 2, 2010 by boccobsblog

Alter Self (PHB)

The spell states that you take form of a different creature of the same type. Therefore if you only have a metallic dragon miniature, but you need a chromatic one(which cost significantly more), have your tricky dragon be under the guise of Alter Self and surprise the party, rather than simply placing a copper dragon on the table and asking your players to pretend its red.

Alter self also allows the caster to appear one size category smaller or larger. This trick will not only keep your party guessing why that medium dragon is so tough, but will allow you get more mileage out of your minis.

Enlarge/Reduce Person (PHB)

This spell functions much like the example above, but it is limited to humanoids. “Are those ogres, or enlarged orcs?”  You can justify using large and huge sized miniatures without changing the creatures CR.

Shadow Conjuration/ Greater Shadow Conjuration (PHB)

Since the Shadow Conjuration spells produce effects and monsters at a fraction of their power (20 and 40 percent respectively), they can be used at low levels to summon very intimidating forgeries. The spell states that illusions look real until the PC succeeds at a will save; that means you can slap down that Pit Fiend or dragon miniature that you otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to use until the party is a much higher level.

Simulacrum (PHB)

This spells works in much the same manner as Shadow Conjuration, but the creature created will be half the power of the original. The spell states that the monster looks just like the original, to include size. Again, this trick allows a clever spell caster (and DM); place a nasty and seemingly unstoppable monster on the table without going over the CR of the encounter. Watch your players pale when you set the Balor on the table in front of their level ten party and then revel in their surprise after he crumbles into a pile of snow and ice after the battle.


Each of these spells will allow you to pull some interesting tricks at the table and provide excellent story hooks (The “gold” dragon that has been burning down villages, for example). In addition, these spells will allow a DM to better use the minis he has rather than buying new ones for a single encounter.