Q&A: 'Dragons & Things' GM James Rodehaver talks about his new adventure series for Dungeon Crate


Every month in Dungeon Crate, there’s an adventure.

We’re excited that three crates will include a trilogy of adventures from our friend James Rodehaver, the GM for the RPG stream “Dragons and Things,” created a new trilogy for Dungeon Crate.

“The Phoenix Initiative” is a trilogy of adventures centered around the eccentric artificer Anders Von Horning. It includes “The Mystery of the Mechanized Manor,” May’s upcoming “Friends in Low Places” and June’s adventure, “Rescue the Dead.”

We caught up with Jim to talk about his ideas for the trilogy, Dragons and Things and how much fun he’s had writing The Phoenix Initiative.

Dungeon Crate: Where'd you derive the idea for this trilogy?

James Rodehaver: This idea started with Anders Von Horning. I'm not really a huge steampunk guy, but for tabletop games I really like the alchemist and artificer types for villains. I love the idea of mad science fused with magic being a driving force behind the adventure. I was also listening to a podcast about the Winchester Mansion and that particular story fascinated me. I really wanted to do an adventure set in that type of old-timey, eccentric millionaire's mansion. From there, the rest of the Von Hornings started to take shape, and I knew that I wanted to give them that backbiting, petty, greedy flair, really set them against each other with the PCs acting as these disposable pawns in their eyes.

DC: Did you have fun writing it?

JR: I had a lot of fun writing this series. I was originally approached to write just a single installment, but once I got to the end of that first adventure, “The Mystery of the Mechanized Manor,” my mind just kept going. I was thinking of what I'd throw at my players next if I were running this adventure, and so I wrote it out and asked Wayne if he wanted to print a trilogy. Luckily, he said yes, and so I got to keep writing. If I'm being honest, I could keep rolling with this Von Horning arc for many more months. I kind of hope that someday I get to revisit it.

DC: Has any of your “Dragons and Things” experience translated to these adventures?

JR: “Dragons and Things” influences a lot of what I do with gaming now in the sense that it has been going for three years now and I've grown a lot as a GM because of that. My players, like a lot of players, always keep me on my toes, and they taught me to write a great structure for an adventure but leave room for their choices. That's why the trilogy features a lot of different victory conditions and different rewards based on what the players choose to do. I didn't want to make any one victory condition a clearly better choice than the others, and I really tried to balance the rewards for each so that the players could have a unique experience without feeling cheated. It's something I've had to learn to do at my own table because I got tired of running into those "what if the players just blow all this up?" roadblocks that we all run into.

DC: Without giving too much away, what happens in the final adventure?

JR: The final adventure is a little sad in my opinion. We finally get to see the Von Hornings for what they are, and we get to understand the consequences of Anders Von Horning's megalomania. They are a really messed up family, and even though I kind of hate them, I also pity them for what they became.

DC: How'd you bring the adventures together? Did you have an overarching story in mind?

JR: I didn't originally have much beyond the first installment planned out until I got to the end of it. Once I'd written it and submitted it, the following two installments came to me right away. I knew I wanted to pursue Anders' story, and I knew how his project, The Phoenix Initiative, had ultimately unfolded. From that point it was just connecting the dots.

DC: Any advice for GMs running your adventures?  

JR: I think the key to running my adventures is to run them your way. When I'm writing, I start to get very hung up on different ways the PCs can solve a situation, or how an NPC might react to a myriad of choices the PCs make. Unfortunately, I have a word limit. This means that I know my writing doesn't cover all the crazy possibilities a party of adventurers or a crafty GM can bring to the table. While I'm very proud of the story that came out of this, and I hope GMs enjoy it enough to want to run it, I also know that there are so many other ways these adventures can be played. I would encourage GMs to view these adventures as a framework to build their own story with their players.

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