The DM's Guide to DMing

Aw thanks Eldon!

I'm sorely tempted by this just for laziness in my own campaigns more than anything. But yeah, mapping software is a bit of a hard sell when I can just get off ma lazy butt and draw my own!

There's actually a pretty cool little hexmap generator mixed in with the contents of that itch.io megabungle that seems to work quite well.

pyxistyx wrote:

There's actually a pretty cool little hexmap generator mixed in with the contents of that itch.io megabungle that seems to work quite well.

Hex Kit! There are also two tile sets for it in the bundle, Spaceland and the third-party HPS Cartography Kit.

Hex Kit and CC+ are kinda the opposite ends of the spectrum of mapping software. CC+ is full-blown CAD software customized for making maps, Hex Kit is for making one kind of map quickly. Naturally, I have both and several others, too.

I wound up buying the Campaign Cartographer bundle, even though I'm not super-interested in mapmaking; while we've by and large all transitioned to a VTT world these days, there are just so many high-quality maps somebody else have already made, and I can just use those. That being said, I've been trying to put together a world map in Dungeon Painter Studio for my group's big shared West Marches world and don't really care for the interface at all, so, well, let's go for a more complex one.

Realistically speaking, not sure how much value I'll get out of it, but it's worth playing around with. A big part of it for me is it's Humble Bundle and I'm more willing to support them than other places; if I get one good map out of it and I support an organization I like, it's worth the $30 to me.

Those are some really nice looking hex maps. I was aware of Hexographer but hadn’t heard of Hex Kit.

I've been using Dungeon Painter Studio, it has its quirks but I'm used to them now.

I wanted to thank everyone for their helpful suggestions. I finally sat down and did the mind sweep I needed for my megadungeon, which allowed me to contextualize it and outline the factions. I was able to sit down and knock out a bunch of rooms in my key, and my PCs were able to go delving again after several delays.

I ended up coming up with several new creatures, including darfs who are small, humanoid creatures that eat metal. Crafting equipment is like cooking to them. I’m so looking forward to when the PCs meet them, and they eat the PCs’ money after buying something.

We had a fun moment with mimics. The party found a treasure vault, and the ranger thoroughly searched everywhere for traps except for the chests. He explicitly disclaimed even touching them. Naturally, when the sorceress tried to pick up one, she stuck to it. The player’s response was hilarious.

Player: How full of coins is the chest?
Me: It’s so full the lid won’t even shut fully.
Player: I pick up the chest to see how heavy it is.
Me: Okay, you stick to it.
Player: What.

For those running D&D 5e, I want to highlight a selection of third-party products that I thought were cool:

The first one is Ancestry and Culture and its expansion as mentioned by Pyxistyx in the last conference call episode. Great replacement for the racist and inflexible "race" mechanics in 5e.

The next is Grim Hollow. While I'm not personally a huge fan of grimdark tone, they did some really cool things in this that are worth swiping. The first, and my personal favorite, is advanced backgrounds. If you're looking to run a game where the PCs accumulate power of the societal/political variety in addition to combat puissance, give this a look. Each background has four tiers to it that PCs can advance through, accumulating holdings along the way. The book also includes supernatural transformation rules, so if your PC wants to become a lich, a lycanthrope, an angelic being or a couple of other things, there are rules for that, too. And finally, there are advanced weapons that only PCs of a certain level can access. I really like all three of these concepts.

Matthew Coville's Strongholds and Followers is probably the best-known out of this batch, but it dovetails nicely with the advanced backgrounds and adds a bunch of additional monsters to boot. Of particular note in that latter category are the angels (some of which look like old testament "benevolent cosmic horror" beings) and the weird chaos beings of the Court of All Flesh, but there are also gemstone dragons, fey, and so on.

If you're looking to expand PC options, want to support LGBTQI creators, and like a bit of humor in your games, check out the Books of Magic by Oliver Clegg. Some of the subclasses are more balanced than others, and a few could use another editing pass, but the sheer number of new options for the price is tempting and some of the material is just genius.

Speaking of expanding PC options, the Compendium of Forgotten Secrets: Awakening is probably still my favorite third-party 5e book. It's a compendium of seventeen new warlock patrons, each with two new subclasses (one for Warlock and one for another base class, which varies by patron) a custom monster for use as a familiar by Pact of the Chain warlocks, a bunch of new invocations, feats, and spells, new "races" that are actually members of one of the PHB ancestries that have been profoundly altered by the magic of one of the patrons, and lore that's so good you'll want to change your homebrew world to include it.

Also deserving of mention is Sandy Petersen's Cthulhu Mythos. I am not a huge HP Lovecraft fan, and yet the quality of the design work in here was such that I wound up upgrading to a physical copy after backing the kickstarter at the PDF level. Most of the monsters created by Lovecraft, Derleth, Campbell, et al are still pretty compelling and scary, and there's tons of material in here, including some really great new subclasses, playable mythos species (ghouls, gnorri, zoogs, etc.), some truly creepy new spells ... and art and layout so good that they make WotC stuff look subpar.

Kobold Press has two excellent monster collections out and are currently working on a third. Tome of Beasts and Creature Codex each add several hundred monsters to D&D, and there's a good variety of content, too. A lot of the fights that I've thrown my players' way that have wound up being especially memorable have included material from these books.

Jetpack7's Legendary Dragons also deserves a look. Over the years, dragons have lost a bit of their awe and majesty in D&D by being color-coded as they are. This book details a bunch of non-standard dragons with unique attributes. Some really thoughtful, interesting design. One of my favorites is a dragon that is slowly turning to stone and does most of his business via astral projection. The book also has a whole bunch of dragon-adjacent content, stats for really old chromatic and metallic dragons (bringing back the "great wyrm" age category from 3.5), airship rules(!), dragon hunting, etc.

Ultimate Bestiary: The Dreaded Accursed by Nord Games is focused on the undead, but also includes lycanthropes, animated objects, etc. One of the things I especially appreciate about this particular book is that it gives you several different stat blocks of different challenge ratings for each type of monster. You can bring liches in much earlier than usual this way (and there are three types - traditional wizard liches and ones based on druids and clerics!) and keep zombies viable much longer. The CR 13 sentient flying sword on page 227 could be the basis of an entire adventure on its own, and the sheer variety of mummified creatures reminded me on M:tG's Amonkhet block in the best way possible.

If your campaign goes north of level 10, take a look at 2CGaming's Total Party Kill Bestiary. The name is a bit tongue in cheek, though if you want something truly nasty that has a good chance of taking out at least a PC or two, the creatures that can do that are marked clearly. It's the most insanely usable monster book I have ever seen. Every single creature comes with advice for making it easier or harder based on tacts, information about which specific PC classes will have an easier or harder time with it, and specific lore with knowledge check DCs. The monsters are organized by category, and the book's appendices have a ton of well-organized and useful information. It's also worth noting that 2CGaming playtests much more extensively than most third-party publishers. I really wish all monster books were this in-depth and structured.

If you're looking for some new base classes, I cannot recommend the works of Ross Leiser and Benjamin Huffman highly enough. They both make interesting, well-balanced classes that fill in flavor gaps left by the PHB. I'm a particular fan of Ross's Accursed Class - it's my favorite third-party 5e base class and is great on both a flavor and mechanical level. Benjamin's Scholar class also gives you the option of playing an INT class that's not a wizard!

I've got more, but this seems like a good place to cut it off for now.

So I'm DMing a game tonight, and I said to myself, "hey, Owlbears are pretty iconic, but let's just say I was some Wizard who might have warped their thinking with accessing forbidden arcane energies, and they thought 'I can do better than that'," and, well . . .

Presuming the D&D Beyond link works, I give you the Bear-Owl.

Nothing better than a bear with Flyby.

MilkmanDanimal wrote:

Presuming the D&D Beyond link works, I give you the Bear-Owl.

Linkee No Workee for me. I'm logged into DNDBeyond. I don't have any purchased stuff there besides Icespire Peaks.

-BEP

Timespike wrote:

For those running D&D 5e, I want to highlight a selection of third-party products that I thought were cool:

Very informative post. Thank you.

-BEP

i backed the physical version of Petersen's Mythos book, tis a thing of terrible beauty. Running a 5e Mythos campaign is definitely on my "to do" list.

someone put together a list of every TTRPG in that recent itch bundle, sorted by type.

bepnewt wrote:
MilkmanDanimal wrote:

Presuming the D&D Beyond link works, I give you the Bear-Owl.

Linkee No Workee for me. I'm logged into DNDBeyond. I don't have any purchased stuff there besides Icespire Peaks.

-BEP

Probably doesn't have sharing enabled, by default your creations are only visible to people in your campaigns.

muttonchop wrote:
bepnewt wrote:
MilkmanDanimal wrote:

Presuming the D&D Beyond link works, I give you the Bear-Owl.

Linkee No Workee for me. I'm logged into DNDBeyond. I don't have any purchased stuff there besides Icespire Peaks.

-BEP

Probably doesn't have sharing enabled, by default your creations are only visible to people in your campaigns.

Yep, I just used a Giant Owl as the template, and, being I have the Beyond 20 extension, it embeds graphics, and that hoses up sharing. That being said, It's a giant bear with Flyby, and, tragically, I kept missing my grapple attempts, because the whole idea of it was it would be hilarious to have a bear flying by and picking you up and dropping you from a reasonably amusing height. Did drop the Druid into a creepy pond once, at least.

Really fun adventure; had the players stumble onto a merchant caravan being attacked by weird hybrid dog chickens (just reskinned Abyssal Chickens) and had Bear-Owls dashing about with a weird purplish glow in the sky, one of the merchants said his daughter had been flown away and begged the players to follow to where the purple light was conveniently strongest, and it was emanating from the bottom of a pond, where it became apparent somebody was turning a pond into a relaxing spot with log benches and such (it was on the battlemap I got off r/battlemaps, so, sure), and they'd found and broken a magic sigil, which I put an image of half of into the Roll20 journal thanks to some MS Paint magic. When Druid #2 jumped into the water as a turtle without anybody looking into it, he noticed there was nothing alive in their at all . . . except a couple reskinned Shell Sharks (or something) that were giant, monstrous catfish, and it went badly. After that, they found the little girl, brought up the glowing purple other half of a sigil from the bottom of the pond, immediately re-attached it and were teleported to a weird extraplanar Wizard tower, where some constructs came awake while noises were upstairs, and it was a giant steampunk mechanical/magical dragon (a Young Black Dragon with steam instead of acid). Tough fight, the little girl got the name of Clarabelle and she thought it was the coolest night ever, and she critted a Sleight of Hand check to steal the Bard's dagger and try to throw it at the dragon.

They took it down, found some treasure and magic, put the now-repaired sigil into the conveniently obvious spot for it, and were teleported back home, apparently a fraction of a second after they left, with a giant mage tower right behind them with no visible entrances for convenient future plot threads.

I will say that, if I have to make one Old DM suggest, don't homebrew monsters unless you have a real need to; just take existing stuff, keep the mechanics identical because they're already balanced out, and just change how they look. It surprises your players constantly, they aren't looking up stat blocks on D&D Beyond, and you don't have to do all the extra work (like I did with Bear-Owls).

MilkmanDanimal wrote:

I will say that, if I have to make one Old DM suggest, don't homebrew monsters unless you have a real need to; just take existing stuff, keep the mechanics identical because they're already balanced out, and just change how they look. It surprises your players constantly, they aren't looking up stat blocks on D&D Beyond, and you don't have to do all the extra work (like I did with Bear-Owls).

This is exactly how i'm using them in an adventure i'm putting together for an anthology. Take existing monsters, reskin them a bit, add a couple of extra thematic abilities to spice them up. Apart from anything else it saves having to take up space with unnecessary statblocks. Especially for people who are already WAY over the word count limit *innocent expression*

oh, and speaking of monsters...

IMAGE(https://smackfolio.files.wordpress.com/2020/07/img_20200705_140053628.jpg)

...Muahahahahaha.

I like to think one of my strengths as a DM is making interesting and dynamic combat encounters, but this should help me spice things up even more

I keep meaning to pick that one up; my DM Bible is pretty much The Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master. It got me to plan so much less and be a lot more improvisational, and my games are so much more fun and I do exponentially less work.

pyxistyx wrote:

i backed the physical version of Petersen's Mythos book, tis a thing of terrible beauty. Running a 5e Mythos campaign is definitely on my "to do" list.

I know they've been doing a Paizo-style "subscription campaign" of Yig Snake Granddaddy for 5e, but I generally prefer to cook up my own stuff (world building is like a third of the fun for me as a GM). I'm still kinda intrigued. I'm hoping when it's done, they'll produce some kind of "collected edition" of it and I can check it all out at once. The core book definitely got my attention.

pyxistyx wrote:

someone put together a list of every TTRPG in that recent itch bundle, sorted by type.

Huh. I missed a bunch of stuff. Definitely need to take another pass. Thanks for linking to this!

The Monsters Know What They're Doing now has a companion volume for players -- it just came out today and it's called Live to Tell the Tale.

I've been playing more than DMing lately. So I've been reading through The Monsters Know... for a while without being in a position to try out the ideas, and am excited about the player book.