Thursday, September 14, 2017

Three DM Lifehacks You Should Consider

After sitting behind the DM screen for many years you learn a few things. As a Dungeon Master, I’m always on the lookout for cheap, but effective ways to improve the tabletop experience. Listed below are three DM Lifehacks I think will benefit you, but obviously every group is different. If you have any hacks of your own please feel free to share them in the comments section.

Clothespin
Since the early 1980s I have seen countless attempts at initiative trackers. I personally have used everything from a dry erase board, legal pad, 3x5cards, and even designated a player to do it. There have even been apps developed for it and recent crowd funding projects. But nothing has done a better job than the simple old clothespin. You can buy them in bulk from the dollar store and then all you need is a few sharpies. They can be clipped right to your DM screen and are in plain few of everyone in the room. If you don’t use a DM screen they can be attached to just about anything else on the table. I have seen people use everything from a metal paper towel stand, to a upside down box lid. So, you also want to speed up combat? Think about clothespins for visible initiative tracking.

 

Pizza Box Stand
They come with your pizza order to keep the cheese and topping from sticking to the box. Showing elevation from flying or levitation has always been a challenge with miniatures. Most gaming groups order pizza anyway, and you get these free elevation stands! In my current Sword & Planet campaign we are using them to represent hover skiffs. I have seen another DM mentioning the use of narrow straws on the tripod legs to raise them even higher. If you’re using a battle map it’s easy just to write elevations next to the stands as well. They also have various uses for spells such as Spider Climb, or even Floating Disc. The limit really is your imagination when it comes to little hacks such as this. Certainly, as a quick reference they make for an easy table visual that comes with a delicious treat!


Dark Inspiration Dice
I first mentioned these in my Death House post last year when originally dreamed up. I have always been in favor of bennies (slang for benefits) in my D&D games. With the introduction of Inspiration as a mechanic in 5E I wanted to take it a step further. With Dark Inspiration, there is a pool of six-sided dice prominently displayed in the middle of the game table. At any time, a player may use this resource to increase an attack roll, skill check, or saving throw. The catch? The player also hands the DM one of the dice, who can use it anyway they see fit as the adventure progresses. For those of you starting Tomb of Annihilation, this is a perfect mechanic to add more danger and suspense to the lands of Chult! In terms of creation, I used some old board game D6s and splattered them with reddish-brown acrylic paint. The blood represents the overall danger of using this power…as it will backfire on you eventually!

 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Tomb of Annihilation: Cinema Treasure Inspiration

Ta Prohm Temples of Angkor
With Tomb of Annihilation being released, many adventurers will be braving the dangers of Chult. For the uninitiated, Chult is part of the Forgotten Realms setting. It’s a land of savage monsters, poisonous flora and fauna, and trackless jungles. As a setting, jungles have long been a favorite to explore by authors. Just to name a few inspirational ones:

Arthur Conan Doyle: The Lost World (1912)
Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Land That Time Forgot (1918)
Michael Crichton: Congo (1980)

The jungle is a perfect backdrop for a Dungeons & Dragons adventure. Under the great canopy there is little light, everything is mysterious, the heat and humidity oppressive, danger lurks in the shadows, and the unknown is ubiquitous. In terms of taking the players (and their characters) out of their comfort zone, a jungle setting certainly delivers.

Over the years there have been plenty of cinema experiences also that used the jungle. Below I have picked three with fun treasure inspiration for your Tomb of Annihilation campaign. After all, what would a jungle based adventure be without ancient ruins, deadly traps, and legendary treasures!

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Can you hear the theme song yet? When you think of jungle adventurers, Indiana Jones is right at the top. The Golden Idol and the resulting consequences of looting it remain one of favorite cinema moments. The idol is a believed to be based on the Aztec goddess, Tlazolteotl. Her domains were interesting and  covered purification, fertility, and filth. That said, this sounds like something perfect for a place such as Chult. Perhaps the idol can cure or minimize disease, but at great cost. Maybe there is a nasty curse associated with the idol? Replicas are available online from many different vendors and makes for a great table prop.

Romancing the Stone (1984)

In this story, the adventurers are seeking a massive emerald named El Corazón ("The Heart"). The map and gemstone are perfect examples of easy table props. Players love handouts and a crystal gem such as this can be purchased at your local craft store. Gemstones are usually associated with fantastical treasure hunts, which are perfect for a Dungeons & Dragons game. Something like El Corazón would almost definitely come with curse, but also may be the key to something. In the very least the temptation of unearthing a massive gemstone makes for a wonderful side quest in the jungles of Chult.

Jumanji (1995)

How fitting, a movie about a boy who is trapped in a board game! One of the things I always thought was cool were the actual Jumanji game pieces. The four animal shaped tokens include an elephant, crocodile, rhinoceros, and monkey. I think these would make perfect Figurines of Wondrous Power! The characters could find an old copy of Jumanji, or alternatively some other Chultan game during their travels. For added coolness replicas of the figurines are available online to use as game props.

In closing remember there is inspiration all around you. With a published adventure such as the Tomb of Annihilation, one of the best things you can do is make it your own. Borrow, steal, and use material from other sources liberally. The insertion of favorite moments from cinema and story makes for memorable Easter eggs at the game table. If your group is the type that appreciates inside jokes and nostalgic moments, got for it! Besides what DM does not want to unleash a giant boulder trap on the PCs? Pro Tip: Use a D100 and knock over the miniatures for added effect!

Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: DM's Screen Reincarnated/Tomb of Annihilation Dice

I have been using a Dungeon Master’s screen since 1983 and have more iterations then I can count. One of the big disappointments with 5E has been the lack of a useful screen offering. Because of this most DMs have just created their own DIY solution, which still really is the best option. That being said, the Dungeon Master's Screen Reincarnated is a step in the right direction.
 
The outside of the four-panel screen depicts an ancient red dragon by artist Tyler Jacobson. I would not have purchased the product if it were covered in Forgotten Realms locations or NPC heroes. The dragon is iconic and screams Dungeons & Dragons. This was a perfect selection by whoever was responsible for picking the artwork for this product.

Moving along, the most important part is the information behind the screen. Wizard’s FINALLY has given us a modern screen with useful reference material for the 5E Dungeon Master. Below are pictures of all four interior panels:





As you can see from above, the designers did a good job of populating these screens. I think the reference material they picked is commonly looked up by most groups. Also of note about this screen is the sturdy construction and landscape design. The latter is particularly nice since the screen does not tower over the table and obscure your view. So, would I recommend this product? Yes. I think this is a useful for tool for Dungeon Masters of all seasons.

I also purchased the Tomb of Annihilation dice accessory. Just to be clear, I only purchased this for the tin box. The Green Devil face from the Tomb of Horrors is one of my favorite pieces of D&D imagery. The box is cool, but I was a bit disappointed in the product overall. The images of the tin and dice in the marketing material is a bit different. The tin is very green and the dice appear to have sharper edges, like Gamescience dice. Instead the dice are rounded, seem a tad smaller then a normal set, and are a flat green color. Would I recommend this product? Only if you really want the box because the dice are certainly underwhelming.