Tag Archives: DMAcademy

My table is happy, and is almost turning away players; critique our house rules via /r/DMAcademy

My table is happy, and is almost turning away players; critique our house rules

I've been playing since the first Basic D&D, and I've experienced most of the terrible situations in the 'problem' threads first-hand. (I'm big enough to admit that when I was younger, sometimes I was 'that guy'.)

But, now, my current group is a dream.

  • Two dedicated DMs, running two persistent campaigns
  • 15 active players between us, and almost having to turn away new ones
  • Several of our players are now DMing their own groups separately
  • It's persisted for two years and is still going strong
  • It's survived a full turnover in players and even a DM hand-off of an in-progress campaign

Factor in that we're all adults with full-time careers, and many of us have families. I think we're doing extremely well.

— — — —

I can credit some of it to the 'Gaming Group Charter' we have. It's a document that us DMs wrote, and we share it with every prospective player. If they like what they see here, we've prevented about 90% of the problems we typically see.

It's not the only document, but the others are campaign-specific. For example, in my game I give players a guide to new character creation that gets them oriented in the setting and gives me a back story that has useful plot hooks. (That's for another post.)

I'd like to share this for new DMs, as a model and a starting point. I'm definitely open to critique or suggestions, if you have them.

— — — —

Our Gaming Group Charter

We’re nice

  • Players at all levels of tabletop role playing game (RPG) experience are welcome here
    • We range from ‘old school’ to ‘brand new to D&D’
  • Having a good time is first and foremost
    • Think of this as ‘no-stakes poker with funny voices’ and you have the idea
  • We don’t enforce a rigid participation schedule
    • We’re all adults, it’s explicitly built to allow people to come and go as life allows

We all contribute

  • We have a pool of players who all contribute to making the group work
    • We take turns hosting, bringing potluck, chipping in to shared expenses, etc.

We’re character-centric and story-driven

  • Create a character that will be fun for you – and the rest of the table
    • Build a fully-realized person – we can figure out the mechanics later
    • Be an adventurer who wants to be part of team that can rely upon each other
  • Your backstory will have an impact
    • You want to be from a line of Elven Sky Pirates? Ask the DM if it will work
    • If it does, we now have Elven Sky Pirates, and plots will involve them

Our games are ‘Heroic Fantasy’

  • We embrace the ‘Rule of Cool’
    • Rules can and will be bent to enable results that are awesome and entertaining
    • So, try heroic stuff, our default answer is ‘yes, and?’
  • We value good roleplay over good rolls
    • It’s not about winning at all costs, or beating the game – rejecting the optimal game choice to keep true to the character is encouraged and rewarded
  • We prefer new-school cinematic drama to old-school wargaming
    • We generally ignore logistics like arrow breakage, detailed encumbrance, lifestyle costs, foraging, etc. unless it enhances a specific adventure
  • We run fundamentally good campaigns
    • D&D is morally gray enough without players let their id run rampant
    • Leave true evil to the DMs (it’s a perk of the job)

How we operate

  • Each DM runs a different 5th Edition D&D campaign setting
    • We also highly encourage players to run their own 1-shots from time to time
    • We welcome other games – just take the initiative and offer to run one!
  • We play Saturdays or Sundays, from 12 noon to 6 pm
    • We try to play every 2-3 weeks in each campaign, but it can vary
    • We take winter holiday and summer vacation breaks – about 6 weeks each
  • We set up sessions as we can, based on who can show up
    • We play when we have 3-5 players available
    • If enough people can show up, we have a game – if not, we reschedule
    • DMs figure out how to narrate PCs coming and going whenever necessary
  • We take turns hosting
    • Players bring food and drinks, with enough to share (DMs & hosts optional)
    • We help clean up after sessions so it’s not a burden on hosts
  • We coordinate and communicate using our own Slack
    • #general – is for overall group information
    • #sessions – where we schedule upcoming game days
    • #hosts – holds contact info and addresses of where we play
    • etc.
  • We use D&D Beyond to manage our characters
    • Player characters are grouped together into different campaigns
    • When you join you will get access to most D&D sourcebooks

Inviting a new player

  • Talk to a DM about them, we’ll see if we have room
    • The answer is usually ‘yes’
  • Share this document with them
    • If they like what they see, that’s 90% of it
  • Set up lunch or fika with you and a DM to meet, greet, and ask/answer questions
    • The DMs will take it from there!

— — — —

I look forward to any feedback or suggestions!


What tools you absolutely couldn’t live without when DMing? via /r/DMAcademy

What tools you absolutely couldn’t live without when DMing?

I am researching tools that make it easier/faster to DM. I've done it in the past with nothing but a notebook and a pencil, but I kind of want to speed things up a bit.

Any tool is welcome, digital or physical.

Submitted September 05, 2018 at 09:30AM by rullocom
via reddit http://j.mp/2wKKvT8

Paper Minis for Lost Mine of Phandelver via /r/DMAcademy

Paper Minis for Lost Mine of Phandelver

Fairly new DM here. A while ago I tried running a campaign I was writing myself, and it failed completely. I had zero experience, had no idea what I was doing, and was completely unprepared. I tried again, this time with Lost Mine of Phandelver (which is fantastic), and it's going great! The one problem I ran into was minis. I knew I wanted some sort of representation of the battlefield, but really couldn't drop a bunch of money. So I just did some googling, found some images I liked, and through them together. I figured I'd share it here and some strategies to make sure the minis come out well.


I just printed them onto regular printer paper, cut them out with an exacto knife, and laminated them with non-thermal laminating sheets. I then cut them out of the laminating sheets and used binder clips as stands. I mostly put this together so new DMs would have all the minis they'd need for the the first two parts of the story.

If anyone has any pointers on how to improve these let me know!


How I Write Adventures, A Short Explanatory Guide via /r/DMAcademy

How I Write Adventures, A Short Explanatory Guide

Hey fellow DM's! I've been roleplaying on and off for about 20 years and the majority of my time has been as a GM. I follow a basic outline when I'm writing a campaign and I think maybe it would be helpful to others. I'm not saying that this is perfect or the best or anything like that, but it works for me. So, I'm sharing it. If it helps someone, then great!

Lay the Foundation Before the first session have your players come up with some detail on their character backstory. 3 paragraphs describing the general tone and experiences of the characters youth and early life are good. Details about life changing events are important. Finally, the most important part for me is that I want the player to describe the personality, occupation and location of at least 3 other people important to that characters backstory.

Example: Roger the Rogue has a detailed backstory and in that backstory he says that his drunken father (currently in prison for petty thievery in Wayside City), his Guild Master (currently running a thieving empire from the back of a pawn shop in Wayside City) and Lady Jane, a tough as nails ex-lover who betrayed him after a big heist in Wayside City.

How to Make the Outline: Develop the Plots

You should develop at least 2 Plots, I like to go with 3.

Plot A: Higher stakes plot, the consequences matter on a scale larger than the players Plot B: Smaller stakes than plot A, but not trivial Plot C: Trivial in the grand scheme of things. 

Every plot should be connected to at least one of the other plots by either a person, event, or consequence.

Each plot is essentially a “problem” the players must resolve. It can be something bad that might happen, or something bad that did happen which must be corrected, or something bad that already happened and is about to happen again. The problem can be a person, event, item, etc.

Each plot should have an element of mystery, either in how to fix the problem, how to find the location of the problem, how to find the time of the problem, how to prevent the problem.

Most plots should have a time-sensitive element in order to add tension.

Each plot should contain at least 1 plot twist. Several are nice. Plot twists are usually created because the bad guy(s) are smart enough to anticipate the heroes and create a deception, though random circumstances can create twists as well.

As each plot is resolved, sow the seeds for a replacement plot. For example, if the characters are working on Plot A, plant seeds for the replacement Plot A.

Each Plot should contain at least 1 NPC that provides comedic relief.

Each Plot should contain at least 1 connection to a backstory on at least one character.

Each Plot should contain a reward for the characters if they resolve it.

Each Plot should contain very subtle clues to the Plot Twist.

Each plot should have at least 1 dramatic moment.

Sanity Check, to make sure every problem can actually be solved. If there are a very limited number of ways to solve the problem then make sure you know exactly how that works and build in clues so the players can find it out. Always know the Who, What, When, Why and How the Problem is supposed to work or was done by the bad guys.

As you go, create a new entry in the files for any new person or place the characters will come across.

Example Plot A: The princess of Kingdom Awesome has been kidnapped.

  • Quest Giver(s): Royalty, Sign-posts, etc

  • Backstory Connection: Player A has a cousin who is accused of being a kidnapper

  • Mysteries: Where was the princess taken? Who took her? Why?

  • Connection to other Plots: The only person who knows the location of Princess is Underworld Boss X. He won’t reveal it unless the problem of Plot B is handled.

  • Time Sensitive Aspect: A note was found saying that the Princess will be killed in 3 days if money is not paid.

  • Plot Twist: The Princess was not kidnapped, she ran away from an arranged marriage.

  • Plot Twist: Player A’s cousin is the secret lover of the Princess.

  • Dramatic Moment: Player A’s cousin will join the party midway through the adventure and will die prior to finding the Princess.

  • Dramatic Moment: The Princess will break down crying when she discovers what happened to Player A’s cousin.

  • Clues to Twist: The Arranged Marriage Prince talks about how much he wants his betrothed back, but won’t go himself, he will instead send his “best man” to help.

  • Clues to Twist: When they find Player A’s cousin, he will have handkerchief of the Princess on him, which was given before they parted company from each other.

  • Seeds for future Plot A: Best Man is carrying a vial of poison, which will eventually be the same poison used in an attempted assassination of the Princess.

  • Reward: The King will grant them each an item of powerful magic if they get the Princess safely returned.

Recreate the Crime

In this example, the Princess fakes being kidnapped. So take a little time to walk-through the details about how that happened. Focus on the motivations of the people involved, the items, spells, and other resources they would need to pull it off. Look at the situation from the perspective of everyone involved and add in "personal touches" for each person. How would each character have prepared for this event? Harvest this thought-process for "clues" when you write the story.

Now Write the Basic Story

Now you have the "nuts and bolts" of 2 or 3 stories plotted out. Sit down and sketch out, in paragraph form, an initial introduction to the campaign. A narrative about the town or the current location of the group. Focus on mood, texture and sensory words.

Now create some bullet point lists of scenes and likely locations that characters might come across. Perhaps the scene with King where he tells the players of the problem. As you go prepare a separate sheet for every new location and character that the plot involves.

Keep the details very light on every character until you are certain that the players will be interacting with that character. Once you are certain that the characters will meet an NPC or end up in a specific place then flesh out the deep details (motivation, quirks, physical description, backstory and ways to roleplay the character).

Sketch out 2 or more conflicts for each plot. Many of the conflicts will be battles, so ask yourself what kind of monsters or bad guys are employed by the BBEG. Use early battles to warm the player up to the harder battles that will come later. Use few minions and simpler tactics. If realistic have some minions escape or act as scouts to report tactics back to the BBEG. Later battles get more minions with more complex tactics. Make a note of pages in the Monster Manual where the minions and BBEG is located. Or print off a sheet and have it ready to go.

Example Beginning Narrative:

  • You start off in The Dingy Tavern, a wretched hive of scum and villainy. The air smells like a sickening mixture of sweat, saltwater and fried fish. The tables and floor are mostly clean, but the waitress looks haggard from long hours of work…..

Example Initial Write-Up of a minor character

  • Waitress: Medium height, brown hair, tired, tough, cynical. Scar on left cheek. Hates being questioned about local gossip and is long past caring about a tip. However, is quick with service and is very street-smart. Has a few daggers tucked away on her person. Knows how to use them.

Example Initial Write-Up of minor location

  • The Dingy Tavern: The first tavern frequented by sailors coming into port, it is known for a rough crowd and international gossip. It is owned by the Thieves Guild and the upper levels are used for conducting Thieves Guild business.

Final Note As you get closer to the end of the Plot, start thinking about consequences. Don't guide the players to any specific outcome, but whatever happens they should have to reap the consequences, good and bad. Make sure to moderate the consequences based on the scale of the events.

If you are running a continual campaign then you need to periodically add new Plots as they get resolved. You should always have between 1 and 3 of them going. Don't be afraid to take it in whatever direction the players lead you.

*Edit: Spelling Correction


How I Organize My Campaigns, A Short Explanatory Guide via /r/DMAcademy

How I Organize My Campaigns, A Short Explanatory Guide

Hey fellow DM's! Yesterday I posted how I write adventures, and I was really surprised at the great responses I got back, so I figure I'll try again.

Link to yesterday's post: https://www.reddit.com/r/DMAcademy/comments/83zl5y/how_i_write_adventures_a_short_explanatory_guide/

Just as before, if you don't find my organizational structure helpful, then feel free to keep doing whatever you are doing. I'm just trying to help anyone who might feel lost and is looking for a way to start out.

This Guide is an explanation of how I keep myself organized as a DM. It is an attempt to answer this question: How do I keep track of everything and get the feeling that I really am "prepared" to start playing sessions?

DMing can be alot of work! Lot's of people want to think that they are such creative geniuses that they can get away with making up everything on the fly, and truly, some people can. But, to be honest, for the majority of people this ends up in very chaotic and unsatisfactory stories with large plot-holes. How you avoid this is organized preparation!

Organizational Guide

Whenever I make a new campaign I organize it into folders. Many years ago this stuff was literally tabs inside a 3 ring binder, however, I now use Google Doc's to do it.

Top Level Folder: Name of Campaign


  • Setting
  • Plots
  • People
  • Places
  • Items
  • Handouts
  • Session Notes

Now lets take each of those folders and I will discuss what I put inside that helps me prepare.


This folder contains documents of the following nature:

  • Maps

  • Custom Rules

  • Any tweaks that make my world different from a standard roleplaying fantasy world.

  • What Pantheon is Used and How Involved They Are in Mortal Affairs

I can't really provide any good advice on map-making. Frankly, I am terrible at it. I drew my basic continent and empire maps years and years ago by hand and I just muddle through it. I try not to make my players use maps very often because I find that I am weak at it. Nevertheless, I have them on hand in this folder.

Regarding Pantheons, I recommend just adopting a standard one and going with it. It's alot of work try and create your own, and it rarely fits well with new systems as they come out. Over the years I have come to believe that it works best to have your Setting filled with many pantheons. Not only can different cultures worship different gods, but having different cultures worship different pantheons offers a great variety. I've had Pathfinder Gods, D&D Gods and plenty of other pantheons all occupying the same setting for many years and it generally worked out for me.


Developing these is what my previous post (linked above) was about. See that post for in-depth details. I recommend giving every plot a name. Example: The Convoluted Kidnapping

  • First start with the Outline I described, making sure to fill out all the bullet points. This gives you the points you need to hit when writing the plot (Clues, Dramatic Moments, Etc)

  • Do a walk-through of the key moments in the plots, switching perspectives to account for motivations and details each NPC would add to it. What are the necessary resources? How did the NPC get them? How did the buld-up to that moment leave clues in the world about what was about to happen?

  • Review the mechanics of the game involved for those key moments. What ingredients are involved? What level is required to cast any spells? What feats are required to pull off a specific maneuver if it is required?

  • Write out an Overview that lays out the basic problem. Below is 1 Example of a Plot A. You probably will also want to develop a Plot B, and connect it in at some point.


Through many years of close cooperation with the creatures of Fey and a deep connection with Nature, the Druids of the world arranged for a special being to be born. Inhabiting the body of a mortal, this being has a soul tied to Nature like no other creature, and wherever it goes it can bring growth to Life and revitalize ravaged land. Quickly learning how beneficial and fragile this creature was, the Druids of the Northern Groves worked out a deal with the Druids of the Southern Groves. Currently the creature is born into the form of a little human girl who is named Alice. For the Druids, Alice is to be protected, hidden, and twice a year as Spring approaches one hemisphere she is to be escorted to that hemisphere so that forests, woodland, and agriculture could be assisted. This year, as many years in the past, was to be no different. However, something will go wrong. The Unseelie fairy have decided to kill the creature and trap its soul. Fairies of all types are known for trickery, misdirection, illusion, shapeshifting, and enchantment. As the players progress they will be presented with mysteries, backstabbing, and deception.

  • Now that you have the overview, lay out the plan of the key players:


Initial Scene:

The Northern Druids are escorting Alice to the Southern Hemisphere. For a portion of their journey they will follow a road roughly parallel to the Great River (name?). Towards the end of one of the nights in their journey they will stop at the town of Riverbend. Their they will take rooms under false names. This is where the Players will start out. They are in town, also staying at the same Inn. Just before daylight the Unseelie will strike. They have shapeshifted into the forms of humans and will lead a band of hired and tricked humans to attack the Druids, by lying to the humans and claiming that the girl is kidnapped. The Players will all wake up from their sleep to the sounds of a fight in the Inn and make it to the scene just as one Druid manages to slip away with Alice and most of the hired/tricked humans lay dead on the floor. Eight Druids also lay dead on the floor. Some of the shapeshifted-to-human Unseelie Fairies are still alive and they attempt to convince the Players that the girl is kidnapped. One of the tricked humans is someone who connects into the backstory of a player, he is injured and cannot go on, but he asks the player to please help recover the girl and complete his mission (Dramatic Moment). The shapeshifted Unseelie begs the Players and offer rewards if necessary to "please, please help! She is so alone and her parents are desperate." If the players seem unwilling, have the Unseelie act courageous and say, "Well, I must do what I must do! That girl needs me and I will get her back to her parents! Then they will limp out of the Inn to try and follow.

Meanwhile, the Druid has taken the form of a Horse and the child is clutching to the back of the horse as it gallops down the road. (Check mechanics of this spell, etc). The Druid will leave no tracks (even as a horse) but the Unseelie Shapeshifter can follow through a Locate Creature spell.

Try to have two Unseelie Shapeshifting Fairies going with the group. Give them names. One will be the "boss" and the other will be the "comic relief". The boss is serious and cunning and a briliant actor who will try to act like steadfast savior trying to rescue the child. The "comic relief" will pretend to be the brother of the "boss". He is a fairy who is not quite as familiar with human customs and will frequently be slightly confused at human vernacular terms and make idiotic assumptions about relationships within the group. Ultimately the comic relief is still "evil" but he is more of a "minion-type evil". (Put their character sheets in the People folder, as described below).

Subsequent Scenes:


As the players chase down Alice with they will find that wild animals have been ordered to attack pursuers. Set up at least 1 different fights with a couple of different animals that don't normally work together (See Clue in outline)


As the players continue to chase down Alice they will unknowingly stumble into a trap set up by a Leprechaun designed to delay them for as long as possible. The Leprechaun will stay invisible, and towards noon (when the Sun is straight up) while the Players are traveling through a set of tall trees the Leprechaun will very subtly use illusion to "bend" the road to a direction other going South. The Leprechaun will still keep the sounds of the River and the smell of the water going, so the Players, if they notice, may become confused. If they notice and orient properly the illusion is silently dropped and the Leprechaun attempts to trick them into walking off of a natural small cliff (again with illusion, non-lethal fall). If/when both illusions fail the Leprechaun will show himself and declare that he has lost a gold coin and if someone brings his coin back to him he will grant them a wish. He cannot do this, but sometimes humans fall for it, and there is no coin. Finally, if all else fails he will invite the party to have lunch with him. He will do everything he can to keep them talking for as long as possible. The lunch is real and the food is good. He does not know anything about Alice or what the Druids are doing, he just knows he was asked by the Druid to slow pursuers down. He will not reveal anything about the Druid unless forced to.


The Players come across the body of two dead Grimstalkers. There is blood on the ground, leading South, that doesn't appear to be Grimstalker blood. If the Players figure out that the Unseelie Shapeshifter (still disguised as human) is a bad guy he will flee into the forest, shapeshift back to a fairy when hidden and fly away invisibly. It's possible that the Players may choose to abandon the whole mission right here, and they are free to do so, but you can also remind them that the little girls only escort appears to be terribly injured.

Conflict (Plot Twist):

Eventually the single Druid tires. When the Players catch up it will be in the middle of a battle. The Druid will Shapeshifted into a wild animal and will be fighting (insert number) of Grimstalkers and (insert number) of Quicklings. If the Players try to fight the Druid the Unseelie Shapeshifter will stay as a human and join in. If the Players fight alongside the Druid the Unseelie Shapeshifter will stand back and cast spells or fire arrows.

More Plans:

The goal of the Unseelie Fairy is to capture Alice and take her into a deep dark tunnel where The Unseelie Queen plans to ritualistically sacrifice Alice and trap her soul in a Gem of Everlasting Ice. Once inside the Everlasting Ice Gem her soul can be tortured and changed to make it into a creature of evil fey, and one who will bring death to Life, instead of the opposite. If at any point the Unseelie Fairy captures Alice he will try to execute this plan (Dramatic Moment/Plot Twist?).

If the players save the Druid and protect Alice they will then be subsequently periodically attacked by evil fey until they get her to the Southern Grove.

  • The players may find ways to skip or get around any or all of these scenes. If it makes sense, don't rob them of it. Let them do it. Depending on what system you are playing you will need to next do the following things:

  • You can't plan for everything, but you will need to now review each of these scenes and work out spells and game mechanics. You want to be familiar with all the spells likely to be involved. Fill in small details like the name of the river, the name of the Inn.

  • As the players work through these scenes in-game, when you get close to the end of the plot start sowing seeds of a future plot.

Future Plot Example:

As Alice is just about to reach the Southern Grove one of the original Druids calls out from the road behind the party. He is still injured, but he has somewhat recovered from the attack back at the Inn. He is happy to see Alice still alive. In reality he is another shapeshifted unseelie fairy, and he is attempting to infiltrate the Southern Grove, for the next plot to retrieve Alice.


The Druids should bestow a gift of nature upon each member of the party.


What did the party do? Did Alice make it to the Southern Grove? If so, it will be a good Spring in the South. If not, it may be a tough one. The Druids will be happy with the group, BUT, now the group knows about their Grove, which is supposed to be hidden. How will the Druids react to this?


Create a four or five short descriptions of NPC's that the players might interact with at the Inn (see my previous post for an example of short descriptions). Give them names unless you are good at coming up with those on the fly.

If you decide to do an in-depth description of each person give them their own Google Doc sheet (usually no need for in-depth stats, but some basic attack and defense stats are helpful).

Annotate on another Google Doc sheet the Monster Manual Book and Page for the following creatures:

  • Unseelie Fairies
  • Grimstalkers
  • Quicklings
  • Wild Animals
  • Leprechaun

If any of these creatures are customized I recommend saving a copy and putting it in the People folder for future reference.


  • Prepare a Terrain Layout for each scene. Note where it is in the world. If you feel comfortable creating terrain layouts on the fly then this can be skipped if you are short on time. At minimum make a note about approximately where this is happening in the world (Continent? Nearest town? Distance to other notable places).


  • Are there any magic items on the Unseelie Fairies or the Grimstalkers? If so, create a page in Google Docs describing these items and if they are taken directly from a book then note the book and the page. If they are customized then copy the entry into a new Google Doc sheet and modify it accordingly.

  • Will the Druids of the Southern Grove hand out any rewards to group if they save the day? Document it here.


  • Find some pictures of the monsters or animals the Players might encounter and print them out. I use images.google.com

  • Keep a player "cheat sheet" where any named person or named location gets a short one-sentence description to remind players what/who it is. Update this and hand it out periodically.

Session Notes

Stop periodically and jot down notes as you go. After every session fill in those notes a little more in-depth. Make guesses about where the group is going and what they are thinking so you can better prepare future scenes.

When players are totally engaged make a note about what is happening. This is the stuff they like. Make sure to keep doing it. When the players are bored and distracted then they are signalling that this isn't the stuff they like. Try to do less of it.