How to be a Dungeon Master

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You have friends. You have dice. You have miniatures. You have Dungeon Crate.

(If you don’t have Dungeon Crate, come on.)

But someone needs to run this game.

After much consideration, the group has named you as its Dungeon Master. Congratulations! It’s a big honor. But now you’re also realizing that it’s a little bit of work.

Don’t panic. It’s not that hard. Maybe you’ve seen Critical Role and think all DMs do crazy voices. (They don’t.) Maybe you think a Dungeon Master knows every rule. (Trust us, they don’t.) Maybe you think it’s your responsibility to make sure everyone has fun. (It isn’t.)

Your job is a simple one. First, you tell the story. Second, you are the judge. Third, you play the monsters. So, you get to tell the players what’s going on. When they roll dice, you tell them whether they’re successful or not. Last of all, it’s your job to challenge them by playing the bad guys. (And playing the bad guys is really, really fun.)

Gather your materials. For starters, you’ll need the game rules, some dice, an adventure, and some pencils and paper. That’s really it. You can get more involved with rulebooks and miniatures and all kinds of other accessories (did we mention Dungeon Crate?), but you can start your first game with the basics.

An adventure? Do I have to make everything up? No, you do not. If you’re into that sort of thing, you can build a campaign world, craft an epic adventure, and send your players into it. But there are loads of pre-written, tested, and fun adventures of all different flavors out there waiting for you. You can buy a big, epic hardcover book or get a small, short adventure. Whatever you like, really.

What should I have prepared? At a minimum, read through the portion of the adventure your group will play next. If it’s the first game, be sure to read the introductory pages, too. It’ll help you know what to expect when you’re at the game table and how things might unfold.

How much improv is involved? Depends on your play style. It’s totally OK to play things straight out of the book. It’s also OK to make things up as you go along. Just do what makes you comfortable.

What if I don’t know a rule? That’s fine! Most DMs don’t know every rule. We like to handle it one of a few ways: Simply say, “Pause. I have to look up that rule really quick.” Or, if you think you know the rule, go ahead and make a quick ruling at the table now and look up the exact text at the next break. You could also task one of the other players to look it up for you.

You don’t always have to be the Dungeon Master. If you don’t want to be the one always running games, your group can rotate. You can do that every few sessions or every time you finish a small adventure or whatever is comfortable for your table.

You’re going to do great. We believe in you.

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What are the most popular fantasy RPGs?

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We have this habit of calling all RPGs by a single name: Dungeons & Dragons.

There’s good reason for it. It’s the biggest and the one that started them all. Even the next biggest game, Pathfinder, is an off-shoot of a past edition of D&D.

But not all fantasy RPGs are created equal.

There are lots of different games with different systems. Whether you’re looking to try a new flavor of tabletop games or simply wanting to branch out and find a rules system that fits your playing style, we can help.

To help you get started in your quest, we consulted the top lists on DriveThruRPG, Amazon, and Roll20 to identify the most popular games out there.

Dungeons & Dragons: The mother of them all is still immensely popular. The game’s 5th edition is its latest, and it’s popular for a few reasons. The rules allow for multiple styles of gameplay whether they’re battle-heavy, roleplay-focused, or rules-light. It combines favorite aspects of previous editions, and its hardcover adventure books take delight in referencing popular old D&D adventures.

Pathfinder: This one’s an off-shoot of D&D’s 3.5 edition and has been published continuously for more than 15 years. Therefore, Pathfinder has an immense number of rules, character classes, variants, and adventures from which to choose. If there’s a character type you want to try, Pathfinder has it. If there’s an adventure flavor you want to take for a spin, Pathfinder has it. It’s grown so much that Pathfinder is currently working on a 2nd edition.

Adventures in Middle-Earth: This uses D&D’s 5th edition as its basis for rules, but the game offers so much more in terms of flavor, new rules, and play style. If you adore J.R.R. Tolkien’s world and all the hobbits and orcs and wizards contained therein, you’ll dig this game. It’s all about epic journeys and world-changing battles. Playing it makes you feel like you’re in one of the books or movies.

Dungeon World: If you like old-school RPGs, this might be the game for you. It has that old-school feel but with modern, updated rules. The classes and basic things about the game are very similar to D&D, but you roll d6s instead of a d20. The results of your roll can mean success, success with a slight problem, or trouble. That makes the game fun and adaptable.

World of Darkness: If you love horror, this could be your new favorite. World of Darkness is the catch-all for the RPG settings Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension, and others. It’s full of supernatural wonder and scary monsters.

Legend of the Five Rings: Based on feudal Japan, the empire of Rokugan is full of mythical beasts and loads of magic. The game uses 10-sided dice exclusively and is dangerous. Characters are known to be killed if they’re not careful. A new edition of the game was released in 2018.

Song of Swords: Calling itself a “realistic” swords and sorcery RPG, this game is focused on combat. That makes it fun for anyone who wants weapons and armor based on historical fact. It’s also considered low-fantasy, so not everyone is running around slinging spells. It was funded on Kickstarter and released in 2018.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: The RPG version of the popular wargame, Warhammer, this one is high fantasy and filled with doom and darkness and secret cults and mutants and rat-people. A brand-new edition was released in 2018.

Amazing Tales: Do you have kids? Then you can finally game with them. This is a rules-light game focused on having fun with your children in any setting (fantasy, pirates, space!) that they might like. It starts by taking you through creating a new character with your kid and then leading them on fun adventures.

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How to adapt your favorite saga into an RPG campaign

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You love a series.

You love it so much that you just have to play-set in that world. But if there’s no official Harry Potter, Legend of Zelda, or Shanara RPG, what do you do?

It’s not quite as easy as picking up a One Ring hardcover campaign or downloading an official Pathfinder adventure, but if you’re dying to play a D&D game that follows your favorite series, story, or saga, here are a few steps to follow.

Characters

Start by identifying the villain. Create or adapt monster stats for the big bad guy, and then figure out what the villain and its minions are plotting. This can give ideas on how the adventurers might try to thwart them.

Identify monsters in the Monster Manual that are like those in the series. Create adventures and encounters based around them.

Cast your NPCs. Make sure you have outside characters ready for when the players encounter them. It should be easy to identify them from the original saga.

Build Your Adventure Inside the Series

Go ahead and adapt adventures straight from the source material. Borrow descriptions from the book. Use maps taken from the video game. Structure fights the same way they played out in the original story.

Strip the story down to its main plot points and build your adventure and its encounters around each one. Turn those plot points into situations in which the adventurers will find themselves, and it will help immensely.

Making your RPG sessions feel like a particular world is more than just a few plot points and city names. Introduce notable NPCs. Stat out artifacts and important magic items. Pull words straight from the original story.

Adapt a solo series to fit a group. RPGs are best played with a group of adventurers, so figure out how things in the Legend of Zelda, for example, would be different if there was a group of warriors rather than just one. That might mean new challenges and puzzles or beefed up combat encounters.

Remix

Feel free to stray a little. Especially if your players are familiar with the source material, change things up a little bit to keep it fresh. Because the story can always change based on how the adventurers react, be ready to adapt and take things in a new direction.

Modify certain things about the game to fit the series. The easiest things to alter include changing the names of spells and monsters to fit the world. Adapt the story’s places: kingdoms, cities, locales, taverns. The more fleshed out they are, the more it will feel like the source material.

Cut out parts that aren’t useful or helpful. Every little detail of your favorite series does not need to be in the game. In fact, it may bog things down. Go ahead and cut out anything that doesn’t fit or that slows down the pace too much. 

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How to use every item in January's Dungeon Crate

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This crate is the start of something big.

 January’s edition of Dungeon Crate is epic, the sort of thing that’s perfect to kick off the wild ride ahead.

 This crate contains the first installment in our new adventure series, The God Shard Trilogy. It’s also packed with maps, miniatures, coins, terrain pieces, and more.

 Let’s see what amazing loot we’ll be dropping into your Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Dungeon World, or whatever games that might grace your table.

The God Shard: Descent into Darkness

Designed for 5th edition, this adventure is the kickoff of a new trilogy. (Where can you get the second and third installments? From Dungeon Crate, of course!) Floyd Cocklin and Kevin Coffey crafted something special for this one. Use it for your next game night. Use the all-new monsters in the back of the adventure. OR save it for when your current adventure winds down and you need something new.

Fold-Out Poster Map

The God Shard: Descent into Darkness largely takes place inside the sprawling Bleakwood Stronghold. It wouldn’t be a dungeon crawl without, well, a dungeon to wander through. This premium map from Dungeon Doodles is detailed and designed to be a keeper. You can use it anytime you need an underground dungeon.

Blood Moon Coin

Use it as a d2. Use it to decide fights between the Paladin and the Warlock. Use it as the secret symbol of a society of werewolves. Use it as an inspiration token. Use it as currency. No matter how you use this copper coin from Shire Post Mint, you’ll surely notice how freaking cool it looks.

Campfire Terrain

Every time the party decides to camp for the night, you can bust out this little acrylic terrain. The pieces easily snap together and — voila — instant campfire! It’s a great one to bring with you whenever the adventure requires camping outdoors. Gamecrafters did a great job making this cool terrain piece.

Bandit Bully Miniature

While ugly, this little enemy is actually a beautiful sculpt. Wielding a giant sword, clenched fist and a menacing look, this model from Reaper Miniatures is ready to assume the role of bad guy in any of your campaigns. Slap some paint on this baddie to make him look even more fierce!

Coffin and Corpse Miniatures

This is a fun one. Any time you need a crypt, vampire’s lair, or tomb scene, drop this miniature in there. Best of all, a corpse (or is it a zombie lying in wait) sits beneath the coffin’s heavy lid. Maybe something will jump out when the adventurers try to open the lid.

Map Tile Card

Collect them all! The back of every insert in Dungeon Crate this year will combine to form an entire underground cavern map. This tile is the first in the series, and we can’t wait to see when they’re all assembled.

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Keep up with everything we’re doing. Find and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and watch us play games on Twitch. Listen to our free DnD5e and Dungeon Crate podcasts. You can also score some sweet loot if you check out our online store.

How to start a villainous D&D campaign

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Playing the bad guy can be fun.

But why is it the GM that gets to have all that fun to themselves?

An evil Dungeons & Dragons campaign is a way to flip the script and explore a different side of this RPG. But with malevolent motivations, things can quickly go awry.

You can avoid the party imploding or the evil characters going on a horrific murder spree with a few tips.

And we here at Dungeon Crate just happen to have some.

Give them a good antagonist. They could be hunting down good NPCs and monsters, working to please a dark god or attempting to plunge the world into darkness. But they don’t have to be put up against other good characters only. There could be a bigger, badder, evil-er villain they seek to unseat.

The characters need something to bring them together. Serving the greater good is what usually brings together a regular party, but you’ll need something stronger to keep them working together. A strong antagonist, a load of gold, or the threat of violence if they don’t pull a job could all work.

Give them goals. Just because they’re bad doesn’t mean they need to turn the murderhobo dial up to 11. Give them attainable goals that they can achieve without killing everyone in their path.

They don’t have to be straight-up villainous. Perhaps they’re mercenaries pulling jobs for a bigger evil organization. Maybe they’re rogues hatching heists for the local thieves’ guild. They can still be heroic. Evil characters can be more about self-interest than the pursuit of wickedness itself. Maybe they simply care about themselves more than the greater good.

Decide on limits. Just because players have evil PCs doesn’t mean your campaign should allow them to kill and burn and pillage everything. Decide on what you’re comfortable with and inform the players what you expect.

Watch out for chaotic evil. That alignment just wants to destroy everything. By definition, they don’t work well in groups. Perhaps warn players against picking that character.

Encourage the players to make allies. Just because they’re all baddies doesn’t mean they’ll all fight each other. Think of the party like those cheesy reality show casts where people with differing goals make alliances to help each other out and further their personal goals.

Make sure you have a way to resolve player conflicts. Dastardly characters can, uh, find ways to get on each other’s nerves especially when their diabolical plots intersect. Having predetermined ways to work things out could help keep temperatures down.

Flip the usual quest structure. If a regular campaign is about helping rid a city of hobgoblin warbands, an evil campaign could involve using hobgoblins to occupy a city while the party steals its treasure. And like a regular campaign uses NPC helpers, so can an evil campaign. Just sub in something like a malevolent dragon rather than a kindly, helpful wizard.

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How to resolve fights at the game table

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Role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons are collaborative.

The players work together to create a story, battle monsters, and enjoy epic adventure.

It all works great. Until it doesn't.

Sometimes, players get in fights with players (or their characters fight each other), and that’s never good for the group, the game or the campaign.

So how to resolve it when things come to head? We can help.

Ask yourself if it’s a one-time thing or a persistent problem. Sometimes the lawful good paladin gets annoyed with the chaotic neutral rogue, and they fight. It happens. That’s not as big of a deal as a player who consistently makes antagonistic characters or another who always causes trouble.

If characters are about to come to blows, help find a rational way to work it out. Maybe they actually fight, but should it be lethal damage? To the death? Or would it be better to create some other kind of competition? It might be more fun for the characters to see how many orcs each one can kill in the next dungeon or something like that. They don’t necessarily have to fight each other.

If two characters are always bickering, find a way to fix it. That may involve asking the players to calm it down or to step outside of the game for a second and figure out their differences.

Roll new characters. Maybe the two characters who always seem to butt heads need to be replaced. One of them could roll a new character. It could even be a similar character class with a different alignment or backstory.

Take a break. During a long session, it’s always good to step away from the table for a minute. And if things in your weekly or long-running game are coming to a head, maybe you take a week off and let everyone cool down.

Is it one player always causing the problem? Time to take that person aside and address the issue. We all seem to know a guy who specializes in antagonizing other players. That can be funny or entertaining from time to time. If it’s becoming disruptive, approach the player outside of the game and ask them to knock it off or at least tone it down.

Can’t resolve the conflict? Ask that person to leave the game. This is a last resort, but if one player’s actions consistently bother the other players, disrupt the game, or cause trouble, maybe it’s best for everyone if they don’t play in that campaign any more.

Start a new campaign. Maybe this D&D campaign has too much baggage. This is the nuclear option, but a fresh start with a new story and characters could save your friendship and enjoyment of the game.

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Keep up with everything we’re doing. Find and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and watch us play games on Twitch. Listen to our free DnD5e and Dungeon Crate podcasts. You can also score some sweet loot if you check out our online store.

How to use common D&D spells in a creative way

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Most spells in D&D and other RPGs have a pretty straightforward use.

Cast Fireball and watch your enemies try to dance out of the way of its hot, roaring flames. Magic Missile lets you see bolts of force crash into bad guys. Cast Knock and watch that locked door click open.

Maybe it’s time to branch out. Think about casting spells in unusual ways and using their effects to cause all kinds of havoc.

Speak with Animals: Lets you comprehend and verbally communicate with beasts. A lot of times, you can get nearby animals to tell you details about who’s passed by or the features of a dungeon. You can also ask them for a favor. Convincing them to overrun a nearby orc camp, cause a distraction, or lead you out of the wilderness (many animals have an innate sense of direction) are also good uses.

Create Water: Creates up to 10 gallons of water or causes it to rain in a 30-foot cube. Drop the water on a slope, causing a miniature waterfall. Follow it with an ice/cold spell to make a frozen puddle. Ask your GM if you can drop that water inside a red dragon’s mouth and extinguish its breath weapon.

Prestidigitation: Create a small effect, object, or condition such as a puff of smoke, a simple trinket, a sound, or an illusory image. Shake it up by using this spell to flavor plain rations and make them taste delicious. You could also create a fire no matter the conditions or make keys to get yourself out of a cage.

Fear: Creates a phantasmal image of a creature’s worst fears. Typically, you use this to frighten a monster and make them run away. But with its Wisdom save, you could use it on a nearby group of low-Wisdom monsters or animals, forcing them to cause chaos around your target.

Wall of Stone: Creates a wall of stone between you and a monster. Good to wall off some unknown force, but it also has an AC of 15 and 30 HP, so holding it as a Ready action means you can throw it up just as a dragon lets off its breath weapon or a big bad minotaur comes charging your way.

Darkness: Creates magical darkness that not even darkvision can see through. Interestingly, you can cast it on an object or an item in addition to a place, so you can use it to hide an object of interest. You could also follow it by casting Devil’s Sight to let you cut through the darkness and let none of your enemies see you coming.

Find Familiar: An animal familiar appears within 10 feet of you. Interestingly, the spell does not say you have to see where the familiar is summoned, so you can have it show up on the other side of a wall, inside a building, or outside of a locked jail cell. You also communicate with it telepathically, letting you tell it to unlock a door, steal an item, or discover more information before dismissing it into the ether.

Thaumaturgy: Create a menacing effect for a minute or so, like loud noises, trembling ground, or brighter flames. Though typically used as part of an intimidation check, you can have some fun with that one. Cause a fire to flare in an enemy’s face. Drop a thunderclap in their ear. Slam a door shut when a foe tries to walk through it.

Polymorph: Turn any creature into another creature. Use it to turn the big bad into something easy to kill. It relies on a Wisdom saving throw, so a not-so-smart creature is your best target. It’s not as easy as smashing a giant demon you just turned into a chicken -- creatures revert to their original forms when reduced to 0 hit points. But everyone in the party can prepare extra spells and attacks as reactions for the moment the chicken turns back into a demon.

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Keep up with everything Dungeon Crate is doing. Find and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and watch us play games on Twitch. Listen to our free DnD5e and Dungeon Crate podcasts. You can also score some sweet loot if you check out our online store.