Dealing with Imposter Syndrome as a Dungeon Master

Kung Fu Panda

Imposter syndrome can be described as doubting one’s self. I have heard many artists and professionals dealing with this phenomenon, including many game masters who sit behind the screen and wonder if they are doing their best, or even if they are worth the game.

In this blog, I have a few ideas to address imposter syndrome and help game masters move through it and onto the reward

First idea: imposter syndrome comes and goes in waves. I hope you can relate to this. Sometime you feel on top of the world in success and for some reason, another time you will be crippled with doubt wondering why you even try. Imposter syndrome is not something to be cured inside of you, but rather a storm to be weathered outside of you. Rather than doubting yourself, consider that the conflict of doubt originates from outside of you. In the same way, I wouldn’t blame you for getting wet while walking in the rain. The rain of doubt falls on the most amazing game masters as well as … you. If you start thinking of doubt as an outside source, then you will not blame yourself when you weather through this storm of imposter syndrome. And like the weather, this too, shall pass.

Second idea: imposter syndrome is just that – a syndrome. We don’t know why or where it comes from so we call it a symptom of something else. May I propose that at the moment you experience doubt, that you are on the precipice of something great? Remember as game masters, we design monsters before the treasure. The reward always follows the battle. In every struggle, there is victory. Doubt stands there to cripple you, but in reality, it’s only standing in front of the spark of reward. When you start to realize that reward always follows battle, you will find yourself actually getting excited the moment that doubt arrives in your mind. Roll initiative.

Third idea: don’t forget to look for the reward. Imposter syndrome, self doubt, anxiety, shame, and other monsters do not naturally grow within you and their goal is to cripple you as an artist, as a creator, as a game master. You will weather the storm, you will slay the dragon, but you may fail to look for the treasure after this storm of doubt.

Example: I love the movie Kung Fu Panda. If you haven’t seen it, it is a great lesson in dealing with imposter syndrome. Though he comes from lowly state, Po practices, serves and cares for his team. But suffers from one problem – self doubt. Along the quest to the treasure, Po had practiced with diligence, served with humility and cared with love for his team. By the end of the movie (spoilers!), Po, discovers that his own self is the treasure which he sought. He learned his generous presence already satisfied the team. After his doubt was weathered, he then took ahold of his skills and defeated the enemy with ease.

As a gamemaster, you are the reward. For the game, for the story, and for your players. After you have done all of your work, service and shown care for your players, the only thing that can really defeat you is doubt. And believe me, it will try.

So, to you game master, I see how you have practiced the rules, you have poured over pages of story and graciously set aside the time and energy to bring fun to those around your table. And notice this: they keep coming back for more fun. You are doing it right. The only weapon that can take you down now is doubt. Weather the storm, slay the dragon and be the reward.

May your story continue!

Visual Game Session Preparation

While there are many ways to prepare your tabletop roleplaying games as a dungeon master, I have found that after writing 4 pages of storyline, I would get bogged down with a forest of information during the game. I decided to give myself limits by keeping everything on one sheet and discovered that if I used more visual models, I could reference the material quickly and trigger my mind into action.

Here are the opening steps for a seamless session while playing Dungeons and Dragons. First, read the introduction to describe the setting. This sets the stage for the players upon which to act.

Bonus tip! Before the session, have 1 player prepare an opening scene by give a monologue introduction (a prayer, journal entry, letter to home, dream, or even a song. This brings the players into building the stage of the setting.

Session Challenge: For the sake of keeping the table’s story intact, describe out loud to yourself the challenge presented for the session. Here, I state that the war machine is inoperable, requires repair in order for the sojourners to safely arrive at their destination given their limited time and resources. By taking time to describe the challenge, I do my part as a dungeon master to keep the tension in the game, providing happy players and meaningful choices.

Without further blathering, see below are 4 examples of a visual session preparation involving a social interaction, an exploration, a skill challenge and a combat encounter. The balloons are there as quick glance references to trigger your memory on your preparation. The dungeon master can one by one visit the scenes by either inviting the sojourner to participate or challenge them to overcome. If a conflict arises, feel free to increase the stakes in the game by advancing to an encounter. If this happens, the sojourner may lose or gain something from the encounter. Otherwise, the scene simply unfolds and great roleplay is enjoyed by all.

Enjoy!

I don’t write out details here, because I already know what an Iron Forest is, the bubble simply reminds me to bring it into the story somewhere.
Go through each of the bubbles one at a time to cut from scene to scene giving the players a meaningful session and one that is filled with action, romance, and excitement.
The bubbles help keep you on track!
Place whatever you want to remember in the bubbles.

Imagine how satisfied you will be when, at the end of your session, you can check off each of those bubbles, one by one! This method is easy to read, easy to store and will help you make sure you don’t leave anything out of your session that you prepared.

May your story continue!

Running a Feywild Adventure without Combat

In the 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons Wild Beyond the Witchlight, the book recommends that this module can be run without engaging in combat resulting in bloodshed. I’ve heard on the world wide web that this has caused a little stir since most of D&D’s history, character features and plots involve mostly combat.
May I suggest that yes, you can run any D&D game without ever engaging in combat, but you cannot play any game without risk and reward. Every story must have conflict (read more about that here in An Easy to Use Method for Storytelling)

Pay attention now, how you can modify the rules to play a non-combat game that still involves risk and reward.

Inform your players of the following changes in the game mechanics.

  • Charisma modifier plus 10 will equal the new Armor Class.
  • Hit points will stay the same based on Constitution.
  • Fey Touch Points

As usual, encounters will begin non hostile unless a player character engages in hostility. Instead of drawing a weapon, this can include the following and can be done on purpose, or by accident.

  • Insulting someone
  • Declining an invitation
  • Failing to acknowledge someone important
  • Body noises
  • Interrupting

While not engaging in bloodshed combat, have the players roll initiative as soon as the hostile action occurs. Keep in mind that this may only occur when the players perform the hostility. Give them a chance to recover their insult during initiative to resolve the encounter. The NPC who is insulted will perform the following actions to provide risk.

  • Sleep Forever
  • Banishment into a Mushroom
  • Fear into Paralyzation
  • Charm into Hilarity
  • Transform into a Toad

To make an attack, the NPC will make a Charisma check with proficiency. The DC will equal the PC’s new armor class based on charisma. If the check is successful, the NPC will roll 1d8 + charisma modifier of dice multiplied by the average party level. The PC will take damage according to that number. If the PC drops to zero, the NPC will use one of the five choices above to permanently retire the PC into the fey wild.

What do the PCs do for initiative then?

During initiative, the PCs will use their features, spells, and proficiencies to repair the situation, or flee. The DC for resolving the encounter equals the Charisma modifier plus 10 of the NPC hostile and must succeed a number of times equal to the party number total minus 1 PC. So, in a party of 5, 4 successful checks would need to be made to abate the insult.

The party dines with a large butterfly discussing politics. Unaware, the barbarian lets out a belch, insulting the host. The host is insulted and decides to frighten the PC. Roll initiative. Each PC including the barbarian takes a turn to resolve or flee the encounter. If this is successful before the host acts, the encounter and threat is resolved. If the host takes a turn, they roll a charisma check, and if successful against the barbarian’s new charisma based armor class, then the host rolls damage. The party level is 3, so the host rolls 3d8+charisma. If the host reduces the barbarian to zero hit points, the barbarian suffers 1 fey touched point and takes frightened condition. If any PC takes 3 points of fey touched, the PC is retired as a permanent wanderer of the fey wild. If the barbarian is not reduced to 0 HP, repeat initiative until the encounter is resolved.

The risk of course, is retiring the PC. The reward can be described as reconciliation. If the PCs resolve the encounter, have them gain a magic item, piece of advice, and of course, a friendship with this NPC that was once insulted.

Warning!

This is not playtest material, an requires some improvisation on the dungeon master’s part. Use with caution. Use with Creativity!

And if you see a wandering soul in the land of dreams and fairies, take heed their warnings.

May your story continue!

How to Run Tomb of Annhilation for Children

How to Run Tomb of Annihilation Dungeons and Dragons Adventure for Children

Introduction

Tomb of Annihilation is so difficult, quite often in the adventure, the text suggests on how to include new characters in the most likely case that one or more characters die. This is especially true in the end adventure, within Acerak’s tomb.

Nevertheless, besides the meat-grinding playground that the temple is, this adventure provides an amazing setting for jungle adventures.

I plan to show how you can customize Tomb of Annihilation for your kids tabletop roleplaying games. May your story continue.

Running Games for Children

There are tons of “how to DM for kids’ ‘ videos and articles, but the best single piece of advice I can give you is this: The best way to DM for kids is to DM for your kids. Remember that for children, love is spelled T-I-M-E. It doesn’t really matter the techniques so long as you show up as a loving family member or friend and tell a great story. I know this because my kids were my first players and they watched me struggle through my first games and they didn’t care, so long as dad played with them and gave them attention. With that being said, here are a few tips I have for running the game for kids!

I have found that character death doesn’t matter to children so much as character failure. It may come as a surprise, but if a player’s character dies, they simply scratch up a new one, but if that character fails, that’s when the tears start to form. So, be more attentive to “failure” of tasks in game. Anything from falling off a horse, to breaking a sword. Be careful when describing failure and remember to empower the player by allowing them to partake in the description of the failure.

Another point, remember that pets and things mean more to kids than their characters do. Each of my kids take on some animal companion. My advice is to not risk the player’s losing their pet or pet item (sometimes kids will adopt a thing as a pet instead of a cute fluffy animal). Instead of drawing up stats for this creature, simply have them run in the background for flavor text only. Bring the pet into the interactions and descriptions, but when conflict occurs, wave your hand over any damage the pet would incur. I would leave it up to your discretion on whether or not to put the pet’s life in jeopardy to further the plot. For example, if the player wakes up and discovers their pet is gone, please believe me, they will move heaven and hell to find that creature before the hour is up. This can be useful, but use with caution. Avoid overdoing it and make each interaction meaningful by bringing the relationship to the forefront of the plot.

Another point to remember is that kids love to collect items. They love crafting and building and this in of itself can be the point of playing the game. The main plot in ToA is to shut down the Soulmonger, an item. Along the way, they can gather a collection of powerful items, build robots, adopt animals along the way to aid them in accomplishing their goal. Able to collect and store items propels interest in the game.

The Adventure Overview

So, now that we have those tips out of the way, let’s look at the adventure.

A long time ago, an ancient kingdom made the chief god, Omu mad. So Omu left the people and they were adopted by 9 trickster gods who led the people into destruction. An evil lich named Acerak saw that he could take part in this destruction so he built a giant battery called the soulmonger. This battery sucked up any soul when someone died and has been working for the last 20 days. This means that no one has been able to pass onto into the afterlife but have been stuck in the soulmonger battery, charging up for Acerakt to selfishly keep all the soul power for himself, so he can live forever.

Simple!

Surefire Story Hooks

So now that the main plot is expressed, I would accomplish this in the hearing of the players for the first session. The best way to make sure they stick with the mission is to tie their characters into the person, places and things of the adventure.

Persons

Acerak – while I wouldn’t tie in the players to this villain, I want them to oppose everything he stands for. Acererak is selfish, takes, is greedy and will taunt the players.

Syndra Sylvane – make sure that each player has some connection with her. She is described as a wizard, but what I would do is learn your player’s classes and decide Syndra is one of their mentors. If your player picks a fighter, then she is a fighter. If your player picks a druid, then she is a druid. That way, she acts as a mentor to the younger adventurer and the hook is firmly set to finish off the story. She is sick from the soul curse, having died once in battle and then raised. So the soul monger’s effects eat away at her, prompting a call to action.

Liara Portyr – Liara works with Syndra and hires a flaming fist member to accompany the mission. Tie in one of the characters into the Flaming Fist and give them a glorious cause to protect Chult. Again, this doesn’t have to be class specific, only find out what class the player takes and adapt it to the Flaming Fist. Clerics, Fighters, Rogues, and Paladins work easily into this faction.

Sewn Sisters – built into the final battleground, this group of hags could somehow be related to the characters. The character on a previous mission acquired a skeleton key that they can use in the tomb to unlock the skeleton gate. Having this item will ensure the player sees the adventure though to the end. For some trickster reason, one of the hags visited the player and gifted them with the key in exchange for helping the hag cross a busy road. The player was told to visit Syndra and “do what she tells you!”

Guide – consider choosing an appropriate guide for the players that sits in Syndra’s office. Along with that guide is another player character who is commissioned to ensure the mission is successful. Kids often will enjoy guides like Shago, River Mist (keep the guide down to one person) and Eku (especially if he reveals his true identity as a couatl). Tie in one of the characters as an assistant to this guide. 

Places

While the book has the adventure beginning in Chult, there are many other places this story can kick off. Jahaka Anchorage could start off the players in a pirate adventure and learn of the death curse from a pirate captain. While pirates are usually evil, children enjoy twisting tropes with elements of purity. So, there can be a kind hearted pirate that “robs from the rich and gives to the poor” and wants to see Chult restored. In this adventure thread, consider having most if not all of the player characters of Omu or Chultan descent.

Another place to begin the adventure is Camp Vengeance with Niles Breakbone. While fighting off undead, the Flaming Fist could learn of the death curse and the party be sent to find the soulmonger and destroy it once and for all. 

As long as you tie in the people into the characters and clearly state the mission to destroy the soulmonger, you are guaranteed to have a good time.

Things

The SoulMonger is by far the easiest item to link the characters in the adventure, but it is a villain that needs to be destroyed. Consider having each of the players desire to obtain one of the powerful items within the Tomb at the end of the adventure. This ensures they always have a personal goal to reach along with saving the world.

Staff of the Forgotten One – good for wizards, sorcerers, warlocks or anyone who knows them. Currently in Acerak’s possession, so it should be difficult to obtain. 

Ring of Winter – consider hiding this in the Tomb giving every a desire to search for it.

Relics of the Past – page 189

Consider assigning each player to desire one of these rare items. Possible motivations for searching for them include restoring family honor, impressing a god, returning it to it’s rightful owner, delivering a people from an outstanding debt, forgiveness from a rival.

There you have it! Use these persons, places and things to tie in the players into the adventure.

Great job!

Game Play Suggestions

Now that you have established clear motivations and connections for the players, they can begin the adventure. Remember that when playing an rpg with children, most sessions will last between 45 minutes to just over an hour. If you do play for more than an hour, include a break during that time.

During the break, have the kids go to the bathroom, go into another room to get a snack or play outside. The break lasts 10-15 minutes and then you can resume the game.

While I wouldn’t play games with my kids for more than 2 hours, I would recommend a 15 minute break every hour.

If you are playing rpgs with children and you plan to occupy their time for more than 2 hours, consider having the kids perform a craft to space out the game time. Between sessions, they can build maps, paint terrain, build miniatures out of clay, draw pictures of their sessions, update their character sheets, read books or play actively outside. 

Recipe

You can brew your very own healing potions with this recipe

  • Clear seltzer water
  • Juice – various colors
  • Mix the ingredients 3:1 ratio
  • Place them in bottles with stoppers or simply juice cups and serve

Inventory

The adventures in Chult provide plenty of outdoor survival. Assign one of the players an inventory log by which they can keep track of supplies, rations and water. Some children will enjoy this greatly and enjoy planning for their travels. You can use paper and pencil to help the player keep track of supplies.

Players enjoy the rule of cool, but children absolutely love their ideas coming to life. As you progress through conflict within the story, consider using dice rolls and DC’s for resolutions, but allow the children to describe the results. For example, if the DC is 10 and the player rolls a 2, state that this idea doesn’t work, so why not? Rather than describing an outright failure, consider describing a complication instead. So that means a low dice roll would not stop the game, but rather complicate the success. Then look to the player to describe the outcome. This can occur with your help, of course. Now, you can pull in the other players to “notice” the complication and generate their ideas on how to resolve it.

Using the Rule of Cool

The Rule of Cool can be applied to boost morale at the table. If you notice the players waning in energy, rather than relying on the dice to decide success, allow the players to go around the table and describe their contributions to resolving a situation.

For example, if their canoe springs a leak, have each player describe their contribution to fixing the problem. They might decide to pull over the boat and camp, repair it using an interesting supply, or completely scrap the boat and hitch a ride on that hippopotamus they befriended. 

Use the rule of cool to bypass risky dice rolls and keep the story moving.

My own Adventure Outline

On page 7, the book describes the adventure as a “ticking” clock. Part of the fun of Chult is the expiration, and while there is threat of all of the world absorbed into the soul monger, I would not use time as a pressure. Instead, lay out the adventure in a way that allows for the players to explore each module in a linear fashion. Here is how our story progressed.

  • We began in Chult, had a dinosaur race, received the quest, a random urban encounter, a shopping trip and plotted a course to Camp Righteous
  • We travelled down the river, had 2 random encounters and 3 campsites. During these 5 encounters, the players discovered wildlife such as plants and animals as well as hints of the Omu people.
  • Arriving in Camp Righteous, the players then discovered Camp Vengeance and were guided to go to Camp Vengeance.
  • Arriving in Camp Vengeance, they met Niles Breakbone the players discovered Vorn and the Biting Ant Tribe
  • Arriving in the Biting Ant Tribe, the players discovered Nanny PuPu (hilarious name) and Mbala.
  • Now the players have had encounters with interesting wildlife and hints at the Omu ruins via conversations with explorers, the hag, and old stone work showing the history of Omu.

They returned to Camp Vengeance with Vorn, satisfied the goblin tribe with a relic from the hag, defeated the hag and freed her flesh golem, and leveled up their characters. I plan to have them explore the jungle, searching for Omu until they reach a level appropriate for the forgotten city. I will then keep the story confined to the city until they discover the tomb of the nine gods. After they reach a certain level, they will gain enough information to enter the tomb with surety of the location of the soul monger. They will navigate the challenges of the tomb until the final showdown with Acerak.

That is as far as the game play has progressed, stay tuned for more!

Death and Difficulty in D&D

Killing in D&D can be morally conflicting. When playing arcade games, minions have no story, and therefore are not personable, but the power of TTRPGs is that even a goblin can have a backstory and if that’s true, then has a personality, soul and destiny and who are you to quench that spirit?

That’s the beauty of RPGs, so what I propose with combat and killing in the game, here are some tips when playing with children.

  1. Realize it’s just a game and sometimes it’s fun to blast the bad guys
  2. Allow for silly ends for villains (embarrassment is worse than death).
  3. Allow for off screen death (falling down a hole, blasted in fire, underwater).
  4. Clearly state the villains as those who kill, steal and destroy and therefore need to be stopped.
  5. While some children will go to great lengths to describe gore, you are still the DM. Gently announce to everyone (not singling one out) that we won’t be describing evisceration, beheadings, organ removal, torture, dismemberment…etc. You know which kid I am talking about and you have a good read at the tolerance for violence children have.
  6. Have the villains be monsters rather than humanoid.
  7. Have the villains be predators in the wild, or undead that have no hope.
  8. Be careful with the Yuan Ti themes of morphing, cannibalisms, sacrifice and sadism. Generally, I would say the yuan ti all be abominations and bloodthirsty, but never appearing human. Don’t delve into the morality of transitioning from one species to the next, but keep it simple. They are evil snake monsters that want to rule the world. 
  9. Acererak is selfish and takes all of the cupcakes for himself. While the concept of soul might be heavy for some, children I have found treat it simply, like part of their body and therefore precious but not mysterious. Children understand selfishness and this theme can help them identify themes of selfish acts from themselves, with the hope of maturing to selflessness.
  10. 9 trickster gods can be an easy segway into personality concepts such as the enneagram. For more conceptual children, this can provide a healthy role play of personality virtue and vices.
  11. Reiterate that Omu fell because of greed and will be saved through generosity.
  12. To keep things simple, have the players identify NPCs as either greedy or generous.

Death

When a player dies and that might happen, describe the characters soul as now trapped in the soul monger. This will ensure the party continues on the adventure to now “save their friends from eternal prison”.  I have had more of my kids’ characters die in the game rather than adults that I have played with. With that being said, children assume there will be some level of sacrifice required of their characters. If death is to be the end, allow them to make it meaningful, and drive home the theme of greed vs generosity. RPGs are great ways to influence morals, and display character traits as living people in the game. Children can do this splendidly and will often sacrifice their character for the good of the party. If a player’s character is at risk for death, do not allow the death to be the result of a stupid accidennt or worse, a player failure. Let them drive the narrative and navigate the risk assessment of losing a character. Unlike life, with RPGs we often have an ample amount of time to consider our options. Allow a pause to discuss the outcome of the story as you talk about it around the table. Then you can get back to the game.

Collecting Items

To achieve the reward, the players must collect skeleton keys and puzzle cubes. Space these items out appropriately throughout the adventure. Consider starting the adventure by giving the players one of each and directing them to the last known location of each. ToA is a great adventure for a scavenger hunt leading all the way into the final battle in chapter 5 Tomb of the 9 gods.

Gore

Tomb of Annihilation can be a graphic resource for harsh violence. When playing with children, simply substitute any violence or gore with gross. Boogers, Slime, and Puke are great descriptors to engage child players. Children can be grossed out, but not frightened of creatures with multiple appendages, or appendages in the wrong location, such as a flesh golem with a giant hand for a head, or a chattering skeleton hopping on 1 leg.

Puzzles

Throughout the adventure and well into the Tomb of the 9 gods, puzzles are a major part of the adventure. Children may or may not enjoy the puzzles depending on their personality. Puzzles can be incredibly frustrating if this is the only way to solve the encounter. The same can be said for social interactions for shyer and more reserved children. The main point is to include more than one possible solution in any encounter, whether it be combat, social or puzzle.

A possible idea for puzzle solutions is to have a real life puzzle placed before the players that they must solve together before their characters can press on to the next part of the adventure. This can be a jigsaw puzzle, a hangman riddle, a game of jenga, a color by number painting, a game of tic tac toe, a memory concentration game of cards, or even a simple math problem.

Clearly, the puzzle should be age appropriate and in the case you have a wide range of ages within the party, use the puzzle to divert attention to one or two children of the same age group and state to the other players to provide support alone in the puzzle encounter. Allow the players to roll for hints if they get stuck with 10-20 being a success and 1-9 being a success, but with some sort of setback.

Setbacks can include a monster arriving, poison gas or water filling the room, one of the characters falling asleep, or a trap encasing one of the characters. Keep with the method of low dice rolls providing complications, not determining success.

Increasing Difficulty and Adding Encounters

To further complicate the adventures, the characters develop sickness, dehydration, and injuries. My kids love their characters coming down with sickness and injury and this is a great way to incorporate humor into the game…I’m looking at you dysentery.

Spend as much time as you want going through the locales of Chult. Remember that unless the players have access to your master map, you can place the encounters anywhere on the island. Firefinger statue, the Heart of Ubtao and even Jahaka Anchorage can occur at any time, anyplace in the adventure. My advice is to prepare the top 3 encounters and place them close by.

To keep the player on track, have each encounter end with a conversation with the NPC or some discovery that reminds the children of the SoulMonger’s threat. Another great way to reiterate the adventure is to have a friendly NPC ask the players about their adventure so far. Have the players tell their characters’ story around a campfire, while holed up in a mine, or waiting in a prison cell.

My own History with my Children Players

I have run Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat for my 3 children ages 5-9. My 7 and 9 year old provided most of the gameplay, but my 5 year old chimed in with social interactions (seriously, she is a genius when it comes to negotiations). Regarding combat, damage dice and clever use of spells, I relied on my other two children. I have to say that even by level 16 in stopping the summoning, I didn’t pull any punches regarding monster AC, HP and overall battle tactics. I’m mostly a storytelling DM and don’t like to have TPKs that don’t serve a story. In fact, I don’t like anything to be an accident in my games. With that being said, I’m impressed that my kids successfully ran through the entire adventure and did a great job!

Now with them being ages 7-11, Tomb of Annihilation provides a great challenge! To highlight my knowledge of my own children’s interests, here are some things I notice.

Play Styles

My 11 year old son enjoys leveling up his character, gaining access to feats and spells, and performing well in combat. With social interaction, he cuts to the quest and does a great job keeping up with the party’s inventory. I allow him to provide a lot of guidance to his younger sisters in order to optimize the party, as long as he roleplays the interactions. I also allow him to play his youngest sister’s character sheet in combat. He also has been the only child to completely read through the player’s handbook and monster manual. He’s memorized most of the 5e spells statistics, class abilities and feats.

My 10 year old daughter enjoys leveling up her character, gathering pets, collecting items, and heavy amounts of exploration. Her game would be enjoyed if she simply got to explore rich locations and make discoveries. She enjoys combat strictly from a simple point of view, and does not like to use spellcasters in battle. Even as a bard now, she only wields a rapier in battle. She will cast spells outside of combat and has to be reminded of bardic inspiration, and song of rest. She fidgets quite a bit in game, so I usually allow her to play with clay, draw, or even look through a light book during game.

My 7 year old daughter does not level up her character, but leaves it to me, or her siblings. She enjoys heavy amounts of social interaction in game, memorizing the NPCs names and motives, is incredibly immersed in worldbuilding and sure to bring the players back into the plot. For most of the game, she plays with clay, draws, and speaks (in perfect character) her sentiments. When called upon for descriptions, she excels since her linguistic style is higher than the older two. She also has been the only child of mine to show interest in being a dungeon master.

Right now, they play a balanced party of a dwarven warlock, human bard, and githzerai cleric. These characters were all randomly generated and I had them select the sheets for themselves. I was surprised that they have enjoyed the game as much as they do, even without creating their own race and class. My son loves oozes so his patron is the Lord of Slime, but to override him making a pact with a demon lord, we decided that his warlock discovered a “leak” in power and has been making good use of it without the patron noticing (yet). My daughter loves animals, particularly birds as of now, so her parakeet sits on her shoulder as her spellcasting instrument. The bird sings and casts spells. This feature keeps her engaged with her character. My youngest daughter plays the cleric of the God of Life. As a githyanki who left her homeworld, she now serves the Life God and Flaming Fist. She also has two mice, a white and black one that live in her armor, representing good and evil, light and darkness, her idea, not mine.

Conclusion

This is a general overview of How to Run Tomb of Annihilation for Kids! Stay tuned for more details into each chapter on how to make a memorable storytime with your children. And as always, sojourner, may your story continue.

The Theme for the Game is…Why themes deepen the meaning of your roleplaying games

A theme is a literary tool used to convey to the reader the deeper meaning of the story beyond just the story told. In classical music, the musicians play the theme as a memorable piece right at the beginning of the song in order to establish the overall idea of the piece of music. In pop music, a theme is the melody lick that everyone recognizes as the song is beginning.

Roleplaying games, like Dungeons and Dragons (I play 5th edition), are played over not 3 minutes like a pop song, or even 100 minutes, like a classical piece. Some campaigns last anywhere from a 2 hour one shot to 10 years of friends gathering around the table.

So, how then would you deepen the meaning of your roleplaying games with themes? Here is how i think you can!

The first thing you can do

Besides setting up great encounters (I view them as recipes for adventure), you may want decide sometime during your campaign an overall idea that you want your players to take away from each game. Some themes that I think work well with roleplaying games include the following:

  • no matter how bad it gets, good always wins
  • light vs dark
  • hope for a new dawn
  • confronting the evil within
  • the horizon always holds adventure and fun

Do a quick search for “literary themes” and find websites like this one!

The above themes are melodies that you want your players to take away from each game, but besides overtly stating the theme at the beginning and ending of each game (nothing wrong with that!) you can associate icons to the themes.

For example in light vs dark, the theme explores the competing forces of light and dark and whether they correlate to good and evil, respectively. The dungeon master asks each of the players to describe a feature of their character that they would like to highlight to embody a theme. The dungeon master then makes the effort to bring up those features all throughout important moments in the campaign. Also, the dungeon master uses similar features in the descriptions of the worlds to convey the theme in the moment of the story.

Player’s responsibility: Ted chooses a dwarven fighter that features a warhammer to exemplfy his stubborn resolve to hold out the light even in darkest of times. You had better believe a thematic dungeon master will make sure to bring up that warhammer at key times in the adventure

Where to place the theme:

the beginning as the war hammer glistens in the morning light

the middle as the war hammer soiled with dirt and blood

the climax as the war hammer, still clutched in the frozen grip of the fighter fallen, dying in the shadows

the resolution as the war hammer erupts in burning blue light charactering the fighters successful death save

One time I had a player who chose red ale as their feature. All throughout the campaign, the theme was ‘making the world a better place than how you found it” and along the way, that mug of red ale at level 3 turned into a tavern selling red ale by level 10! Every time I wanted to highlight that theme, I brought red ale in the scene to make an example of “making the world a better place.”

If you feel like your adventure is just a random set of encounters, a theme will help tie up your encounters to give that deeper meaning you are looking for. Dare I say, it will feel more than a game, it will feel like a story.

The second thing you can do

in developing a theme in your games is to decorate your monsters with that theme.

In the light vs dark theme, every monster, especially the main ones, should have a feature that holds up the antithesis of your chosen theme.

Color them in shadows, black holes and secretive whispers. Let them be orcs, but with hollow eyes and blindsight. Let them be dragons, but able to shift silently in shadows, able to cast pass without a trace on their minions. Let your monsters drive home the threat if the players fail to accomplish their mission.

To use a more funny example, each monster who fought against the Red Ale crew somehow featured really poor quality beer. The villain, with all of their crimes committed, also sold nasty beverages that furthered the resolve of the heroes to get out there and make a difference!

This is a simple technique to choose one theme for your campaign and then connect it to each of your player’s features for their character. Then go ahead and choose 3 other features in your world to exemplify your theme. Bring the features up as often as possible to play your theme and enjoy!

May your story continue!

Recipe for Exploration Encounters in Dungeons and Dragons
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Team Building and Storytelling with Dungeons and Dragons – a dungeon master challenge

Dungeons and Dragons is a Team Game of Collaborative Storytelling

I encountered this question on @twitter the other day and wanted to write my response. In my opinion, challenge ratings in ttrpgs have nothing to do with the monster, but rather the play styles of those at the table.

First of all, great follow up as a DM for “talking to the player first”. This increases the flow of communication both ways.

For a refresher, let’s make up 4 play styles regarding combat

  • Problem Solvers – clever, prepared and calculated
  • Dice Rollers – loves to roll tons of dice and do tons of damage
  • Partyfacers – in it for the monologues and catch phrases
  • Plotfinders – wants to know “why” combat

With combat, I try to vary the reasons for combat to occur.

  • Monsters attack and we must kill them to survive – great for dice rollers!
  • Evil cultists attack, but some of them give clues they may be turned – great for partyfacers!
  • Predatory creatures in a lair with area effects, traps and environmental hazards – great for problem solvers!
  • A portal opens to another realm and out walks a deranged old wizard ready for combat – turns out he reveals a mystery right before dropping unconcious – great for plotfinders!

Starting out with that package deal for each table I recognize that individual challenges will arise as varied as the beautiful people bringing those challenges. So what if your player is off searching (for what???) during combat instead of laying down the damage, healing and support?

First off, I would have the DC of the search be at least higher than the monsters AC. This is because it’s hard to find something when blood and fire are spewing all around. Secondly, I would not have the item revealed until the end of combat. The player might “find” something but it will be as non descript as possible until combat is resolved. “You find a necklace.” That’s it. Thirdly, I would make it a hell of a challenge to get to the item. I’m thinking Indiana Jones reaching for a holy grail, in a crevice of rock WHILE goblins are stabbing into the player. Combat comes to you, because you FOUND the shiny item! Congratulations!

A lot can happen only 120 feet away given ranged attacks. From what I know of predatory wildlife, they like to gang up on loners, wounded and the young, so bring that element of world building into the combat.

The other consequence of leaving the group is that your player story is PAUSED during combat. You step away from the main scenes, then you are off scene and we will get back to you after this situation is resolved.

It’s ok to directly confront a player who seems to be dragging the game down. Whether they are combating during exploration, or exploring during combat, both are wrong time/wrong place. D&D is certainly a collaborative storytelling game requiring a hive mind of teamwork. When you have a “rogue” player who plays … well, a thieving rogue, the flow of the gameplay is thrown and believe me, everyone feels it. As the DM, it’s ok to say, “hello, for the sake of the gameplay, I would like you to contribute to the overall team goal. There is always a time to run away, but make sure the team is on board before doing so.

Dungeons and Dragons game highlights stories of the magic that happens when we work together. Read more on Sharing the Spotlight!

At the end of the day, I would attempt to find a way for the player’s actions to directly affect the outcome, even if it’s a poor outcome. Dungeon Masters connect the dots of player’s actions into the larger story.

Holding Space as a Dungeon Master

When beginning as a hospice nurse, I read Holding Space by Heather Plett. My experience in hospice care exposed me to her work, and I wrote about it here. I hope you enjoy these Eight tips from Holding Space, a blog initially written by Heather Plett, in regards to what she learned while watching her mother’s hospice nurse. I believe that a good dungeon master uses the same techniques in playing games and telling stories around the table.

1 – Give players permission to trust their own intuition

New players sometimes ask “what do I do now?” and the dungeon master smiles returning the question, “what do you want to do?” Players can freeze haven been given this much power, and often need the DM to continue gently asking great questions that prompt the player to act. It can be tempting to fill the space with words, DM, but if you continue to plow through the game to avoid awkward pauses, you will miss out on the player’s insight. Make room for the players to generate their own intuitive thoughts in the story, and that means, in the beginning, they will be unsure. When they stare at you blankly, give them one detail about the scene to evoke their imagination and then ask them a great question.

2 – Give players only as much information as they can handle

This is great advice specifically for younger players, but applicable for adults as well. Most of the times, we can handle only 3 details about any scene. Since D&D is collaborative storytelling game of imagination, the DM is responsible for describing the truth about the world in which the players act. So, it’s up to the DM to hand the information to the players. In my games, I strongly encourage players to ask great questions. However, at the end of the day, many descriptions are missed because our brain only identifies information that we are used to seeing. Otherwise, it files it away in “Miscellaneous Dark Closet of Unknown Information” and it gets lost. So, it’s important, especially during high pressure times in the game, to hand the players simple details of information that they can latch onto in order to act in the story.

3 – Don’t take their power away

Wow! This is a highlight for Dungeons and Dragons. The entire game is played because player agency is a factor in the process. The dungeon master describes the situation, and the players take in the detail, and then act. After the actions are complete, the dungeon master describes the outcome. Without the players having the autonomy to act on their own accord, the dungeon master would just be playing by themselves, controlling the minion players to do what they desire.

4 – Keep your own ego out of it

Hey you, yes, you my friend! Would you like to mature into an adult that understands you can work hard on a project, have others reconstruct it to something entirely different that what you envisioned, all the while keeping your ego from getting it’s feelings hurt? Would you like to do some serious ego work and ascend the limiting belief that you ARE your work? You should become a dungeon master! Seriously, though, if your ego is constantly a second dungeon master at the table, you will always defer to caring for it, rather than your players. Your ego wants validation and attention all the while, you have actually people at the table playing this game with you. Not your ego. No one cares about your egos need for self inflation, so it’s ok to practice the disciple of ego-removal and give it a time out while you play. Because, seriously, this is the way to maturity. Become a dungeon master and keep your ego out of it. Players success and failures are not the result of your gaming or storytelling. Look at number 3, they have agency, unless you have hoarded all of it on your side of the table to protect your ego. See how this all connects? Please stop staring at your ego in a mirror after every game wondering if YOU did a good job. They wouldn’t come back if you were terrible. Let that be enough and quit feeding your ego attention. Time to grow!

5 – Help them feel safe enough to fail

An ego-drive DM will keep their players from experiencing failure. They are scared of people leaving if they lose the game. Most of the time, failure in D&D is not death or a TPK, but rather benign examples in the game (often tied to the players own ego). Examples include

  • caring for animals
  • negotiating with a noble
  • resisting a saving throw
  • being able to bend the rules for the sake of a good backstory

Please, DM, hear me, if you do not allow for failure, you will not allow for success. You will be the own cause of bottlenecking your campaign into a series of safe, comfortable sessions with no risk involved. Your game will stagnant and your players become bored.

6 – Give guidance through humility and thoughtfulness

I think that in response to the “tough love” dungeon master style of the older editions, some 5th edition DMs take their hands off the wheel and with enormous amounts of kindness tell the players they can do anything they want. While generous on the surface, and most likely with good intention, the DM plays to guide the players in the right direction. As a DM, you have already prepared a great adventure! While not taking away HOW the players do it, you are still there to show them why they NEED to save the world. Guide them through friendly NPCs, bonds to the player’s backstories and voices from the gods. If that doesn’t work, have a player meeting after the game and ask a great question.

  • Where do you see this adventure going?

Since you began with listening, they will most likely listen to you when you say, “ok, I have this adventure prepared involving giants, not dragons, and I’m wondering how you can direct your actions towards this plot?” Allow your players to accommodate what you have planned, in the same way you accommodate their backstories and preparation.

7 – Create a container for complex emotions

In many games you may run, the only emotion is joy. People gather together to roll dice and have fun. And 90% of the time, good times will be had. But life happens. Oftentimes, we bring our pain, sadness, anger and worry to the table and take it out on NPCS, plotlines, or even other players, and of course, the DM. I tend to expect people to behave like the complex emotional and dynamically thoughtful individuals that they are, and while most of the time, they leave their baggage at the door, it can easily sneak up at the table. When that happens, let it. You don’t have to fix any emotional outburst, change the game, or break up the party. Most of the time, emotion simply needs acknowledged and validated without any decisions made. After the outburst, they will thank you for just letting them vent, and may even feel embarrassed. My point is that if you are doing your table right, people will eventually feel comfortable enough to express complex emotions. After the emotions is expressed, the game can move on with everyone more solidly connected and grateful to play.

8 – Allow them to make different decisions than you would

Call this the bedrock of great game mastering. That’s it. As a worldbuilder, game designing, NPC voice, villain actor, and magic item granter, you most certainly have on the tip of your tongue, the answer. Remember to provide challenges, invitations, but not solutions. The players arrive to the table because they want to solve the puzzle, convince the lady, defeat the villain. While you can provide guidance (see number 4), you must allow the players to make different decisions. Together with your storytelling and their storytelling, you will craft together a fun game and dynamic tale that will keep your spirits alive through life itself.

Using Dungeons and Dragons as a Homeschooling Supplement

Asking Great Questions

How to Use Invitation and Challenge

Recipe for Exploration Encounters in Dungeons and Dragons
Recipe for Crafting Exploration Encounters in Dungeons and Dragons I love to …
Happy New Year from Jonathan
Welcome Sojourners! Enjoy this end of the year update! I have a …

Lifetimes of Fun

We made the decision to homeschool back in 2017, simultaneously the same year we started playing Dungeons and Dragons. Believe it or not, I had never really heard of the game except for a few whispers back in the 80s between the evils of Halloween and video games. Much to my surprise, Dungeons and Dragons, a tabletop roleplaying game providing a means to tell stories.

Storytelling is something we have done since the dawn of time. Myths and legends, history and tales, all in oral form around the campfire, in lecture halls and eventually scribed upon parchments. Eventually, we filmed movies on the big screen.

I believe a revolution is occurring; one where we show our dissatisfaction with the current content of entertainment and desire to simply create our own. Read more about which one you think you are here, Consumer or Creator?

When we started incorporating Dungeons and Dragons into our homeschooling curriculum, I watched as my children read more, solved math with ease, and picked up writing their own stories at night before bed. In short, it enriched our education and curriculum, read more on that here! All things any parent wants to see. As a dad of 3, I have my very own adventuring party right there to play with anytime! I hope it stays that way for many stories to come.

Three Steps to Take to include Dungeons and Dragons in your Life

  1. Purchase the Starter Set
  2. Sign up for my personal coaching for players and dungeon masters
  3. Gather together 3-6 of your friends and family and schedule a game night!

Bring back the old ways, when we used to sit around the table and face each other. Rolling dice, keeping notes and having fun with each other. It’s no surprise that tabletop roleplaying games have resurged, and now is the time to bring everyone together and tell a story.

May your story continue

Welcome Sojourner

This is your call to adventure

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The Bookish and the Brave – 18 – Stars on the Ceiling Sojourners Awake!

Welcome to Season 6 of Sojourners Awake! Von – Level 4 Monk Way of the Kensai Sterling – Level 4 Druid Circle of the Stars Hawkins Level 4 Fighter Battle Master We play Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition with an emphasis on storytelling Visit TableTop Audio for background music and ambiance. Visit Sojourners Awake for more Dungeon Master Tips on how to tell stories around your table.  Visit Sojourners Awake on Gumroad to invest in your craft as a game master. May your story continue!
  1. The Bookish and the Brave – 18 – Stars on the Ceiling
  2. The Bookish and Brave – 17 – The Sons of War
  3. No production today. Enjoy these thoughts and feelings from Jonathan
  4. The Fairy and the Free – 15 – The Basilisk Hunt and the Hut
  5. The Fairy and the Free – 14 – The Cloud Forest

Recipe for a Chase Scene in Dungeons and Dragons

Recipe for a Chase Sequence

I watched a scene in Casino Royale and asked myself, what is the recipe for a satisfying chase scene? Tabletop Roleplaying Games are not known for their action packed, intense speed, but I still think there are ways to increase the dynamics in any scene in your game. Here is a recipe I made, and hope you enjoy!

Hunter: the one pursuing the quarry

Quarry: the one chased by the hunter

In preparation, divide the scene into 5 turns of the chase. Success occurs when the hunter obtains the quarry and failure occurs when the quarry escapes the hunter. Success or failure is determined by the table master by the fifth turn and not sooner. The goal is to have the quarry and hunter run in 5 turns to create tension and release.

Pro Tip: Include as many dimensions as possible (height, weight, depth, time, space)

Rules:

The hunter cannot catch the quarry by simply succeeding on movement. They must interact with the setting and succeed upon a skill check. Do not give advantage until the final turn.. The turns increase in difficulty, 10, 15, 18, 20, 22, 25. Upon a successful die roll, the player moves forward in their pursuit as described. Upon a failure, the player moves forward in pursuit, but at a cost and the table master rolls upon the mishap table. This ensures the chase does not grind to a premature halt due to a dice roll.

turn 1

As the table master, establish the setting, distance between hunter and quarry, and describe 3 interesting features of the setting.

Players may then take their turns in initiative order, and describe how to maneuver through the environment to obtain success. 

turn 2

Table Master: restate the setting, making sure to include any changes in the setting due to the previous turns (continue this step throughout the chase).

Players: take their turns in initiative order.

At the end of turn 2, have one explosion occur and make an attempt to weave this from the player’s actions. 

Explosion examples: a crowd erupts into an angry mob, a fireball, a car drives off the bridge, earthquake: any of these will work as long as they make sense in the setting. The goal is not to create false action, but rather to impose a loud dynamic to alter the plans and give the players a new feature to interact. Again, make an attempt to have the players cause the explosion if possible.

turn 3

Table Master: Establish the alignment of the quarry by giving them NPC interactions

Upon intersection, consider running combat. This helps break up any stale motion by giving an enjoyable social interaction moment. During time of banter, consider leaving the initiative order to give a more free form conversational style between hunter and quarry. By the end of the interaction, the players should learn something about the NPC that creates tension in the chase, or further validates the chase.

Players: take turns in initiative order, and allow for more free form order while conversing with the NPC. 

turn 4

Table Master: Upon the beginning of the 4th turn, introduce a setback for the pursuit. This could look like the quarry/hunter having to strip their armor to continue the chase, or split the party momentarily to avoid burdening a creaky bridge, or it could be leaving behind the party’s favored NPC due to the danger that awaits. At this point, pull out all stops on the tension and prepare for the outcome upon turn 5.

Players: take turn in initiative order.

turn 5

Tablemaster: stay silent during this round until the players make their final move.

Players: describe attempts to finally achieve success either by obtaining the quarry or escaping the hunter. 

Table Master: allow for rolls if needed, having increased the difficulty, at this point, give advantage. Describe the final outcome with a closing statement. Whether success or failure, the description should include a highlight of the player’s actions. Think of yourself as a bard in that respect, you are embellishing the feats of heroism, no matter how the chase ends. However, it ends, make it glorious!

Note to the Table Master: this 5 turn chase sequence was designed by watching chase sequences in movies and developing a framework. Sometimes, in RPGs, the players will incur an action that warrants a sudden halt to the “plans” of the table master. This is where you use judgement to decide if the scene should come to a close. The 5 turn chase sequence is simply a place to start, but it is still decided upon by the table master and the table whether or not to close the scene. Chases that drone on or end early are both disappointing. Make the magic happen.