DM Tip: The Trouble With Treasure/ An Alternate Wealth System
If you’re a player or dungeonmaster who’s at all interested in game design you might’ve noticed D&D’s treasure and economy systems suck. You also might have noticed even if you’re not interested in game design, because the longer you play d&d the more it becomes glaringly obvious that the game doesn’t actually HAVE a treasure and economy system despite pretending otherwise. This is a major problem given that seeking riches is one of the default adventuring motivations, and largely stems from the fact that back in ye-olden days gold was directly related to experience points, so wealth accrued exponentially in line with the increasing cost of levelling up. This is why magic items cost to damn much despite being not only a staple of the genre but absolutely necessary to the long-term viability of certain classes (as I discuss here in my post about gear as class features).
After being cut lose however, nothing was really DONE with gold in d&d from a gameplay perspective: Treasure generation largely fell to dm discretion or random tables, and the useful things a party could buy steadily shrunk to the point where characters could be stuck with their starting equipment for an entire campaign. “Too much gold and nothing to spend it on” became one of the major criticisms of d&d 5e, but only touched on the problem that without something worthwhile to spend treasure on the party has less and less reason to venture into the dangerous unknown, take dodgy contracts, or perform any of a half dozen other plot beats that make up traditional adventuring.
The system likewise breaks down once you pass a certain threshold of wealth, or once you try to model larger economic activities: divvying up a lockbox full of dungeon plunder to reequip your heroes before launching out on the next mission works great for the first couple of levels, but completely falls apart when you're dealing common enough story tropes such as running a business, transporting cargo as merchants, or caring for the estates around a castle.
What I propose is splitting d&d’s economy into two halves: Wealth, which represents the piles of GP and other coins the party carries with them, and Resources, more abstract points which chart how plugged in the party is to local systems of production, trade, and patronage.
If you’d like an explanation of how these systems work, and how they can improve your game like they improved mine, I’ll explain both of these mechanics in detail below the cut, as well as subsystems that let your party open businesses, operate estates, build castles, and make a living as merchants.
Wealth: I wanted to limit the amount of money my players kept with them without instituting an encumbrance system that might drag things down. Instead I wanted to rely on a more “common sense” method of tracking wealth, and get them thinking about their stores of gold as a physical object rather than a nebulous point pool they can dip into.
Conveniently, every character starts play with a coin pouch, which can hold up to 300gp (about 6 pounds). I use this as a “soft cap” for how much money a character can be expected to be carrying around with them, not including jewellery or small valuables like gems.
Theoretically a person could have more than one coin pouch, carry their wealth around with them in a chest (15,000gp) or a cartoon sack with a dollar sign on it (1500gp), but this becomes increasingly cumbersome and provides a greater and greater chance that the party will be targeted by thieves. I don’t need to add any more mechanical crunch to this factor, I just inform the party “ hey, you look like you’re carrying a lot of money, better be careful going forward” and plan my encounters accordingly.
Instituting this cap likewise prevents gold from losing all meaning once the party is high enough level to have found their second or third treasure hoard. Sure, they might be living it up in an aristocratic lifestyle back home, but when it comes to set out into the wilderness they suddenly have to think of GP as a resource along with spellslots and hitdie. Getting robbed, forced to give bribes, or simply losing their coin pouch suddenly becomes an actual threat to them regardless of level.
Resources: The party has a pool refereed to as resources, representing their holdings, relationships with patrons, and personal enterprise. The party’s total resources are pooled, and are represented on a scale from 1-50.
Every week, provided they have contract with their economic network, each member of the party party receives earnings equal to 12.5 gp x (the party’s total resources) representing them drawing a living from the connections they’ve already made (working a trade, doing odd jobs, getting payouts from investments)
In order to obtain a new level of wealth, the party must either invest 500gp per point of wealth they which to obtain into a new or ongoing business project (either their own, or that of a trusted contact). Alternatively, the party can get their resource pool boosted by forming agreements with tradesfolk or wealthy patrons, who may grant the party such agreements out of friendship or as part of a reward for doing quests. Resources are recorded with a number beside them, representing how much of the party’s total resource pool they represent. This is so that if something happens to jeopardize that resource, the party knows exactly how much of their earnings are up in the air.
For example, a party that saves a merchant captain from pirates early on in their adventures might be rewarded with a share of her ship’s takings, gaining 1 point of resources. In the future, they may pour some of their adventuring loot into her business, increasing their total amount of holdings with her to 6, and their weekly payout to 75gp. If that captain and her ship were then lost in a storm, those resources would be frozen, halting the party’s payouts and encouraging them to discover just what it was happened to their friend as the base of a new adventurehook.
Buying against Resources: D&D is weird in that it prices magic items, ships and castles like they can be bought off the rack, when in any pre-industrial society most “new” things would have to be constructed from scratch with labours and artisans paid a steady amount over months or years until the thing was complete and then delivering it directly into the hands of the one who commissioned them. Sure a weaponsmith or apothecary would likely have a storeroom full of items to sell to clients walking in off the street, but shipyards aren't spending years churning out galleys to leave them waiting for a buyer like a used car lot.
Because plenty of games involve at least a section where a party might establish a fortress, fix up a ruined estate, or commission a magical artifact, it helps to have a guideline: Find the base price of the item, chop it in half if the party or one of their business contacts can source the resources (or if they’re fixing something that’s broken) Next they need to pay for labour, “reserving” points out of their own resource pool to hire on workers and supplementary materials, divide the item’s price by (500x the number of resource points the party is willing to spend) to find how many months it’ll take for the item to be finished. Note that during this time, the party’s effective resource score is reduced by the amount they’ve reserved. This makes it possible for a mid level party to start refurbishing their dream castle early, rather than having it simply poof into existence once they’re too high level to really get use out of it.
Ongoing Services: Rather than worry about keeping track of hirelings, or a number of other factors, I let my party reserve points off their resource pool indefinitly to retain the services of NPCs. Each “holding” the party has (buisness, ship, estate) likewise requires one resource kept in reservation for general maintenance, unless the party want to take a month off and maintain it themselves.
A party that owned a tavern then might reserve one resource to maintain their establishment , another to pay for the staff, and begin to think about hiring on some guards for a third as something is causing fights to break out more frequently.
Another party which owned a pirate ship, they’d reserve one resource to maintain the ship, another to pay the crew, and a third to bribe the harbormaster who looks the other way when they bring unsanctioned goods into harbor. After hearing about their big score however, their corrupt contact asks for yet another resource worth of bribes, potentially stretching the party’s resources a bit thin.
Using Resources to be a merchant: If pirates come up often in this post it’s because I drove myself half mad several years ago trying to run a skyship campaign, and the logistics of hullspace v supplies v the staggering price of trade goods v market demand drove me up the wall. I lacked a simple system that would let my party FEEL like they were high-risk traders without having to slow the game down with accounting. Here’s my Alternative: there’s a special type of resource called “goods” connected to caravans and trade vessels, which can be expanded like any other. At the end of every month who’s ever in charge of that venture (Player or npc) makes a mercantilism roll ( possibly charisma, possibly wisdom, + some relevant proficiency) for each of those goods based against a DC set by the dm regarding how good trade is doing in that region. If it’s a success, the markets are flowing, and the goods rating goes up by 1. If it’s a failure, they go nowhere, as no profit is made. If they fail by 10 or more, those goods loose one point due to bad investment, and if they succeed by 10 or more, the goods double. When the party receives their payment, they can chose to cash out for 500gp per point of good, possibly then reinvesting in the venture.
Hey traditional TTRPG game designers. Hey, you. Yeah you. Look at me.
Stop including mechanics that remove player engagement.
What do I mean by this? I mean shit like stunning effects that prevent a character from taking actions and therefore remove a player's ability to continue to participate, abilities that knock out a player character and therefore remove the player from participating in a fight, effects that instantly kill a character (therefore removing a player from participating), and literally any other effect you can think of that ends in the player no longer playing.
Trad designers, our artform is dependent on player participation. People enjoy maximalist, crunchy, tactical games because they're fun to engage with. What's the point of having all these rules if you're going to include things that stop your players from using them??
You're gonna say "oh, but only D&D does this" - no it fucking does not. These rules are everywhere. They're even in Blades in the Dark. Stop it.
Here are some cool alternatives. I'm trying to present these as open ended as possible:
Force a choice between two actions
You can't attack this enemy, but you can attack another, make a movement action, or any other non-attack action
Present a hard bargain
Attacking this enemy means you choose between taking a certain amount of damage or accepting emotional attachment to them, causing issues later.
Present high risk and high reward
Attacking this enemy means incurring extra damage against you if you hit, but if you succeed, you gain a stat boost for the rest of the fight.
Consider stakes other than character death
In many instances this will require rules reconfiguring, but that's a topic for another post. Besides that, remember that if someone's character gets instantly killed in the first round, that player must then sit on their hands for the rest of the session.
Yeah I know "let them play an NPC" is often a "solution" to this problem, but why do that when you could just implement a rule that lets other PCs get the downed character back to the fight - like in Borderlands or Left4Dead (or Gears of War or Vermintide, or...)
Consider how much more exciting that is, and how much energy won't be lost by someone having to literally sit out while all their friends have fun. Furthermore, players make much more interesting and risky decisions when they aren't at risk of losing their blorbo.
The point is to play. Nothing else. Stop shooting yourself in the foot with your own rules.
Here's a shoutout to DragnaCarta's Challenge Ratings 2.0, because it's an incredibly quick and easy 5e encounter balancing tool.
I'm using it, and I'm finding it a lot more predictable and accurate than the current DMG encounter builder - and it deserves a lot more love. The basic guide is excellent, and it's backed up with a full length academic style paper. Bananas. Go have a look!
that other post did some numbers, huh. well here is some advice for the GMs out there.
communicate obstacles and consequences.
a common trap i see lots of GMs fall into, and me more than most, is the idea that mystery and secrecy brings drama. oh you want to jump this chasm? well try and see what might happen nyehehehhe!
it’s terrible, and stop that. conflict resolution in most tabletop rpgs is a game of chance, usually in the form of a dice roll. a good player-facing conflict is a clear if -> then | else statement. drama comes from knowing what’s at stake and understanding the challenge, and overtly telling your player that jumping the chasm is DC 21 creates tension that is then resolved during the success/failure. if you don’t set the bar for the player, they have no reference point for how well they did, and thus the tension being resolved is much lower.
this includes enemy hit bonuses and AC. we have these abstract numbers to in a simple fashion model the natural ability, skill, and gear the creature possesses. the characters within the fiction can tell that another character is very skilled by the way they wield their rapier, but us telling the story can’t see that, so we say that it has +9 to hit.
further, by announcing the stakes of a conflict you also paint a narrative picture. if the chasm is over lava, you may state that failure will not necessarily mean death, but might cause impairment. it is also a good tool for table cohesiveness. if you have already communicated that failure in crossing the bottomless pit chasm will mean death, the player will have accepted those terms when their character falls to their death. it feels unfair - and is unfun - if you as a gm just sprung “well, you’re dead now” from what feels like nowhere.
to further illustrate what i mean, consider the game blackjack. the tension comes from knowing that you need to approach - but not exceed 21. each additional hit makes your heart beat just an increment faster... just one more hit and! shit. 22... imagine if that number was hidden, or random. you would have no clue what was going on, and would seemingly win or lose at the dealer’s whim. overtime you could of course intuit what the target number is, but suddenly the dealer announces that the target has changed. and what if you were just sat down at the table by a friend, and no one told you you were playing for money - suddenly the dealer just takes your cash from you. that’d fucking suck.
tl;dr - proclaim the DC, as well as the consequence of failure, before resolving a conflict to create tension and fun
A big thing that a lot of DMs struggle with is wanting your tabletop games to be just like the Adventure Zone or Critical Role or Dimension 20. Because those shows are performances for an audience of thousands of people they are fundamentally different to you just playing ttrpgs with your friends. Your games aren't a performance, you don't have to make your games so that every single person in the world can enjoy them (so long as all your players are having fun of course). You're allowed to use tropes and tell bad stories, this is for you to have fun with your friends!
Hello! I'm hoping for some advice. Whenever I present my D&D group w/ plot problems (ex. water source has been infected, we need to clean it/make an antidote) the PCs often turn to NPCs to ask what to do. The NPCs always have a solution, maybe some reagents to get, a skill challenge, etc, since I don't want my PCs stuck/at a loss. But I worry the game's getting to be too MMO fetch-quest: get task, do task, repeat. Any advice on how to build in more decisions without leaving them directionless?
You've got a few options here.
First of all, you could straight up stop having helpful NPCs for a little while and see how they react. Maybe the party goes somewhere where no one knows them, and folks are wary of strangers. Maybe NPCs who would normally be helpful are suddenly disappearing for some reason (juicy conspiracy). Maybe they just can't find anyone who knows the relevant information. There are any number of ways you can make it happen.
If they really do require some prompting, try giving them options that could work, but are mutually exclusive. That way, they at least have to make a decision.
Another thing you might try is giving them some "down time" between plot important missions and see what happens. If they happen to pursue something of their own initiative, that could give you a hint as to what they are interested in. You might be able to expand it into a sidequest or fully integrate it into your plot.
If you find that they just don't really do things without prompting, it's possible that they are uninterested in the collaborative story aspect of D&D and prefer simply to play it as a tactical combat sim. If that's something you'd be okay with running, then you can simply transition to planning more for that.
If, however, it's really affecting your enjoyment of the game, it might be worth talking with them about your desire to run a more complex story with creative problem solving. If they lack the skills/experience, you can all work on improving that together. But if they lack the interest, well, at least you'll know it.
I wish you luck!
5e Encounter Design with Material Components
This is a rewrite of an old blog post from a few years ago.
In D&D 5e, you have three major components to spellcasting: verbal, somatic, and material. For the most part, these components really only exist to dictate when you can or can't cast a spell. If you're trying to be silent, you can't cast a spell with a verbal component. If your hands are bound, you can't use somatic components.
Material components are a little unique in that they're typically specified. Sending requires a piece of copper wire, and mending requires two lode stones. But unless a component has a cost (like revivify's 300 gp diamonds), you can basically assume your character has it in their components pouch or uses their spellcasting focus. Because of that, it’s easy for material components to be relegated to flavor and then…forgotten.
But there are some cool and interesting ways for DMs and Players both to incorporate material components into their decision-making and encounter design. Under the cut:
The Components of a Magical Investigation
Spells like detect magic and identify are really good for determining if magic is currently in play, but what about when you want your players to learn about spells that have already been cast? Or spells that have yet to be cast?
Example: a party is investigating the mass disappearance of townsfolk from their homes. There seems to be no sign of struggle. What could be causing this?
A character who succeeds on an Investigation check might find pools of sand or a pile of rose petals in the locations where the disappeared were last seen. What do sand and rose petals have in common? They’re both a material component for the sleep spell! So the kidnapper may have been putting their victims to sleep before taking them.
These clues add more flavor to your investigation. And they can feel rewarding for players who study their spell books and are familiar with the spells they cast.
It’s probably not a good idea to lock game-advancing information behind a riddle like this. Characters should be able to deduce this a different way, maybe with an Arcana check or by asking an NPC.
Nobody wants to memorize all of the material components for spells, and flipping through your spell book to find the answer takes time away from the game.
You can also use this trick to warn characters of spells an enemy is capable of casting. Imagine characters sneaking through a villain’s lair and finding the powdered iron he uses to cast antimagic field. They have the option to swipe it or destroy it before he gets the chance!
An Unarmed Spellcaster is Still Dangerous
It’s a classic scenario: the characters are stripped of their weapons, or they must give them up in order to proceed. They could be at a fancy party or trapped inside an enemy jail cell. The person doing the confiscating is wise— they took the spellcaster’s arcane focus, too!
While there are plenty of spells you can cast without a material component, consider for a moment that a lot of non-cost material components are household items or found on clothing. Wall of water requires… a drop of water. Major image requires a bit of fleece, which one might be wearing. Ice storm requires a pinch of dust and a few drops of water. Provided the druid had ice storm prepared, and she was being given water in her dusty jail cell, she could cast the spell whenever she needed.
As a player, make sure you have a spell or two prepared that you could find the materials for in a pinch! Or, if you find yourself without your focus or component pouch, steer the situation so that you can find the components you need.
As a DM, give your players something to work with during “no weapons” scenes. Perhaps at a party, fancy glasses that break easily (cloud of daggers – a sliver of glass). Maybe a lovely floral arrangement (flame blade – a leaf of sumac).
The Bottom Line
The specifics of material components is one more thing you have to remember. And if you’re not into that kind of information overload, that’s okay! But I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of incorporating material components into my D&D storytelling, bit by bit.
You might have noticed this in my adventure in Issue 1 of MCDM’s ARCADIA. In it, a character mixes up the spells sending and mending and ends up producing the material components required for the former (a thin copper wire) instead of the latter (two lodestones).
Just as the Monster Manual gives DMs a lot of great flavor to spark their next encounter, so too can spells cast from seemingly mundane material components. Consider:
A cleric without her holy symbol, grasping at the imagery of a rival god in order to defend herself (spirit guardians – a holy symbol, not necessarily your own)
A food fight gone horribly wrong (slow – a drop of molasses and grease – a bit of pork rind or butter)
A wizard challenging the party to a duel in a grove on a hot summer night (fire shield – a bit of phosphorus or fireflies)
If you're the kind of DM who absolutely loves worldbuilding and lore but struggles to write up an actual plot*, have you considered just, not writing one?
There are lots of great prewritten adventures out there that you can plug into your setting. And I don't just mean locations. You can ask "What does this look like if the cultists serve [your hombrew evil entity] instead?" odds are the only adjustments will be flavor, and hey, you rock at flavor!
Here's a tool you can use to search adventures by environment, types of monsters, and more.
dnd and improv
a dm’s worst fear is the pcs taking the plot where you don’t want it to go, or where you haven’t planned it to go. the instinct to “railroad” (force players onto a certain path) is strong but one of the worst things you can do - dnd is about the players’ story and choices, and taking this away from them negates the fun of the game.
improv is scary, but it doesn’t have to be! because of this i decided to put together this short guide on how best to deal with improv in your games.
leave space in your plot
the easiest way to deal with something is, naturally, prevention. if you’re terrified of having to deal with improv in your game, make sure the plot you write has space for things to develop and change in your game. if you want to set your party off on a quest out of town but are worried they won’t take the bait, set up multiple pathways to this outcome - say you want the pcs to go out of town to catch some bandits: you could introduce an npc whose relative has been taken by the bandits, or a guardsman who is putting up wanted posters for the bandits, or even a girl who says her dog ran off right to where the bandits are camping. this way, if your party refuse to speak to that Very Important npc you still have other options to advance the plot.
in my very first campaign, i needed the party to go a guard’s house to start a quest. in order to push this but not railroad, i created two stems the pc could take: upon entering town, they would see two npcs they could wish to help out, each who would eventually lead them to that house. they weren’t very detailed, just barebones in case i needed to use them. if they didn’t approach either of the npcs, i had a planned encounter where the guard stepped into town and gave a big speech and explicitly called upon the party for help. this allowed the plot to still develop even when it wasn’t going according to plan.
when things don’t go the way you planned, take advantage of the new opportunities you are presented with. if your pcs are spending more time with a random npc than a plot-relevant npc, tie the random one into your story - maybe they are the next victim of x’s master plan, or they happen to know information that will help the party. if the party goes a different way than you want them to, move around events and adjust them according to setting - the preacher they were going to meet in the town square to give them a prophecy now turns into a drunkard in a tavern who tells the party all the gossip he hears.
in the campaign i’m playing right now, our party ended up killing an npc and setting fire to his hut. his companion, in her grief, set off lightning strikes that scorched our hometown and killed everyone in it. when talking to the dm, i found out she never planned for that npc to die - the scorching was planned, but she had originally wanted a band of humans to come and set fire to the town while we were at the npc’s hut. but, once we killed the guy, she saw an opportunity and took it: she followed the exact same plot, but adjusted details to tie it into our choices.
speed up plot where necessary
if you’re in a situation where you have nothing for the pcs to do, speeding up your plot is a good way to ensure your party is never bored and always have something to do. for example, if a player decides to search an npc’s house and you have nothing planned for that, pull a revelation/piece of information you planned to explain later down the line and use it here. you want to reward your players for taking initative and being active, so make sure their choices don’t result in nothing. if they have decided to eavesdrop on a conversation because they thought the npcs were suspicion, use this as an opportunity to advance the plot - perhaps down the line you were going to unveil one of those as a traitor: do it now! perhaps you were going to involve them in the plot in a few sessions: do it now!
you will, of course, have to then rearrange your plot to account for these moved details, but it ensures you are not struggling to come out with a brand new thing for your players to do/experience.
- plan multiple pathways so you have more than one way to lead the party into the plot
- take opportunities that arise from the player’s actions to introduce new elements to the plot
- reveal plot elements early if you are afraid of improv’d scenes getting too stale/boring
i hope this guide helped y’all!
So, I mostly just need some advice. I want to introduce stuff like the combat wheelchair into campaigns I run and play in, but some players say it’s “unrealistic” for stuff like that to be in a campaign because “why wouldn’t you just get greater restoration or regenerate casted on you or something”. I know that’s a bunch of bull crap, but I’m not sure what to say to convince them.
Heavy Topics: Disability in Fantasy
I'm going to start this off with saying that people with a lot more education and experience than me have written quite a lot about the inclusion of disabilities in d&d, and I encourage you to seek out their testimonials.
Next, you don't need to convince anybody about introducing things in your campaigns, especially when that introduction is specifically to highlight inclusion and diversity . They're YOUR campaigns, and people that cry "realism" when it comes to matters of inclusion are almost always covering up for their own prejudice.
Now what I can do with expert efficiency is address the bullshit claims that people try to use to support their prejudice, how it doesn't line up with the mechanics of the game, and how it doesn't line up with good storytelling.
TLDR: Disability is a fact of life, and so it is a fact of stories. In trying to brush it aside by saying " oh magic could fix everything" we also brush aside the lived experiences of millions of people, equally deserving as seeing themselves as characters in the fantasy epics we tell. Purely form a storytelling and world building perspective, it's also far more interesting to see how people adapt to challenges then it is to make those challenges simply not exist or be easily fixed by author fiat.
First lets talk over the mechanical issue: In vanilla d&d there's no way to restore lost limbs short of the regeneration spell, which is 7th level and thus requires a 14th level character to cast. 14th level characters are thin on the ground, meaning that your average person would have to undertake an arduous journey to find such a caster willing to perform this working , to say nothing of finding one willing to perform the service for any payment a commoner could provide.
Likewise, regeneration specifies that it's SEVERED limbs that are restored: rules as written it doesn't fix neurological damage, birth defects, or congenial traits. As someone who's needed glasses from youth onwards, I find it hilarious that a flimsy pair of lenses can fix what high level divine magic ( possibly even the wish spell) cannot, but that's more a matter of the designers thinking more about the lives of adventurers than the worldbuilding implicit in their rules.
Turning to 3rd party material and homebrew, we enter into some very interesting territory. There's much back and forth about magic that "fixes" disability outright and where I fall on the discussion tends to land on the idea that said magic lets the character overcome many of the hurdles of their impediment but doesn't negate it completely. Here's some pop culture examples:
Toph from ATLA is always go be the go to for disability representation in media: She's blind, but uses her earthbending powers to be able to sense vibrations in contact with the ground allowing her to "see". In a badly written show, this would totally negate Toph's disability, but thankfully ATLA is written by people who know what they're doing so instead Toph's blindness provides just as many novel drawbacks as it does advantages. Toph can detect things happening on the other side of walls and doors, but is vulnerable to projectiles that don't touch the ground. She can sense if people are lying, but can't read printed text. Force her onto a small, isolated platform or into water and you cut off her ability to see just as much as a fully sighted character in pitch black darkness.
Edward Elric from fullmetal Alchemist is missing an arm and a leg, and uses a pair of integrated robotic "automail" prosthesis which seem to give him all the functionality of a regular set of limbs. That said, any utility the automail provides is matched with whole host of downsides, ranging from their lack of touch, their weight causing discomfort, and the expense of having them in the first place. What's most pressing is that these limbs are mechanical and prone to malfunciton from overuse, requiring Edward to see a specific technician to get them fixed. When they break ( which is often) or simply require refitting, Edward needs to travel days or weeks out of his way and then suffer through a painful process of reattachment in order to get the use of his limbs back.
Professor Xavier from the Xmen is paraplegic, but in many depictions has some kind of hoverchair that lets him go out into the field and navigate difficult terrain without the aid of others or other mobility devices. While certainly an upgrade over a totally mundane wheelchair it again doesn't completely compensate for his inability to walk or his vulnerability should the chair be damaged or taken away from him.
With these examples in mind, we can look at how different 3rd party resources can model various forms of accommodation, giving characters with disabilities the utility they need to go out adventuring, without removing their disability in the first place.
The "combat wheelchair" is a great example of this, giving characters unique options while at the same time making them atleast partially reliant on a somewhat cumbersome object. In terms of logistics, it's not much different than having a centaur in the party and the fact that most dungeons aren't wheelchair accessible just means the party has to do maybe one or two more platforming problem solving challenges.
In my own time running steampunk games I’ve usually instituted a “misfire” rule onto most technology, including the ubiquitous mechanical limbs. A natural 1 using that limb means that the limb is suffering a malfunction, and until the malfunction is fixed, another natural 1 will break it. It’s an easy way to get across that these marvellous contraptions aren't perfect yet.
Now lets talk storytelling:
Upfront I'm going to say that I don't consider myself disabled,I have some mental health hurdles that I have to navigate on the regular, but my body works at a solid 6/10 most days.
I think there’s a lot potential in examining disability in stories, and not just in the “overcoming adversity” inspiration porn sort of way. The loss of a limb can represent a sacrifice and the toll of war, prejudice against disfigurement can drive a character down a dark path, sometimes there’s no greater thematic reasoning behind it and a character is living with disability because that’s a thing regular people live with. What I will say is that disability introduces vulnerability, a theme that power fantasy games like d&d don’t often deal with as their centeral arc is about characters getting stronger and stronger and stronger until they can challenge the gods.
Vulnerability runs counter to that desire for strength, but it makes a better story because what a character does with vulnerability makes them a more interesting character: Do they rely on others? Close themselves off? Come to terms with their weakness or strive to overcome it? These are all fascinating questions that you wouldn’t get to ask with a character that was 100% able bodied, well adjusted, and socially accepted.
It’s not a stretch to say that people who have regressive political views are terrified of vulnerability. that’s why the right-wing chuds are so vehemently opposed to the idea that someone with a disability could be a hero. To them, adversity is all about the superior overcoming the inferior, and the thought of someone with weakness or disadvantages, someone they consider “inferior” triumphing against someone stronger is a direct challenge to their place inside their own worldview.
Finally I’m going to leave you with something relating to vulnerability to consider from my own campaigns:
In my home games when someone fails their death saving throws, I generally don’t kill them, killing them cuts the narrative short and I want to see how things play out. Instead I give them an offer: do they pass on into death, or do they let me take something from them? 90% of the time they chose the latter option and I make things interesting. What happens to the master archer who can’t string a bow anymore, or the fame hungry bard who’s scars distract from their performance? What price will the wizard pay to regain the use of her eyes? Forcing players to confront these questions takes a lot of tact, and a lot of trust, but always yields better stories but given enough time to develop.
“More than a door” -- Alan Miller’s random tables for adding special details to dungeon doors, from the “Bazaar of the Bizarre” column of Dragon 41, TSR, September 1980. Some of these table entries require a little creative interpretation. Intelligent doors might open if you match alignments, speak a password, answer a riddle, or wear the robes of the cult that rules the dungeon. A door that “contains treasure” might have a secret compartment revealed if smashed, or simply have gold or silver plated fittings that are tarnished but noticeable upon inspection.
Some sources suggested doors should be found locked 1/3 of the time, and in old dungeons 1/3 might be stuck shut, with only 1/3 opening freely without effort. Many of the special table entries above assume that the party will have to physically bash open stuck or locked doors fairly often (after the thief fails to pick the lock, the lock is “thiefproof” because no parts are accessible from this side, or the wizard has no knock spells available).
The other obvious results of physically pounding on a door include the chance of breaking the door instead of forcing it open cleanly, and the loud noise that can alert nearby encounters. This is why I still always make a party roll every STR check to force a door even if the eventual success is inevitable (and I say “BOOM!” after each attempt to remind the players that they aren’t being stealthy). Extreme number results can mean the door swings open without damage, or is broken down off its hinges, or becomes stuck worse between twisted hinges, lock, and frame. The number of attempts will determine whether someone on the other side is surprised or has time to surprise the party by flipping a table for cover and leveling their crossbows at the door while sending a runner for help that might circle back around the party to close the ambush.
Players love to roll dice. If your TTRPG uses dice, players wanna roll them!
Now, lots of games will tell you not to call for rolls when there wouldn't be an interesting outcome for success or failure - and this is good advice. Generally, do not do this.
An interesting outcome for success or failure rests entirely on you, the person facilitating the game. You make those calls whenever someone picks up their dice and says "Can I make a Notice check?"
If you're good at thinking on your feet, you can seed in possible outcomes you hadn't prepared. Maybe there IS another clue here, or a hidden passageway, or something else that might be interesting. Maybe succeeding will introduce a plot important NPC. Maybe failure dictates the same outcome, just with that character approaching with hostility or tension instead of friendliness.
So when someone asks "Can I roll...?" give a moment's thought to what you can introduce on success or failure. You must consider both, especially in games like D&D that use a single die for its randomization. Even outside of that, it's worthwhile to cover all your bases. Then, follow through.
If you aren't great at thinking on your feet, there's an easy solution. Ask the player what they think the possible outcome might be. Ask what they're looking for. Ask what they're worried about. Take whatever answers they provide and consider what that means if they succeed or fail. Players usually have something in mind when they ask. There's nothing bad about asking what that is. Depending on the tone of your game, either give them what they're asking for, or take it and twist it - making it Worse or So Much More Than They Were Expecting.
With this, you can always allow more rolling in your game. You don't have to tell players no.
Annihilation (2018) by Garland is a must see for aspiring and veteran DM’s alike. Based on a novel of the same name by VanderMeer, the film tells the story of a crew of female scientists tasked with entering a mysterious expanding zone called ‘the Shimmer’, which mutates and distorts everything in its path. Within the Shimmer, the characters are forced to confront gestalt distortions of animals and, more importantly, aspects of their own self-destructive nature—or what Freud would call Todestrieb. What is particularly unsettling about the tale is the lack of intention or purpose behind this happening—it simply exists. As Lovecraft and other bards of his caliber have discovered, it is a lack of comprehension and the inability to coherently integrate what we experienced that truly terrifies us. The Shimmer is the proximity of the elder gods, the hunger of Juiblex and the emotional numbness of Bloom’s Nightcrawler all rolled into one. In the absence of an Archimedean point, the mind frantically turns to itself, hoping to find a compass, but it only finds a mirror. To be fair, I don’t think it’s easy to replicate the horrifying cosmic undertones of this film, but if you can, your players are in for a real treat...
hey, i'm a newbie dm and i need some tips
hey so i'm a newbie dm about to retry my first homebrew campaign for the second time, and while my first time around as well as my knowledge of Several D&D Pocasts and general player experience has informed how i'm dming this time around, i'd still appreciate some tips & tricks other dms (specifically those who do homebrew games) have found useful.
for clarity, i intend to focus mainly on the roleplay/puzzle-solving aspects of D&D rather than combat, and i am modifying D&D 5E and inserting my own mechanics and homebrew world just for my own sake.
literally any advice, no matter how basic it seems, is super appreciated!
Taking and Making Space as a Player in a TTRPG
A member of my discord expressed concern that they didn't know how to ensure they weren't talking too much at the table. I shared how I mentally gauge when to speak up, and the response was interesting! I've pasted my initial advice below:
I like to follow a pattern. Whenever the dm asks an open ended question or audibly pauses for a reaction and no one else answers, I do one of these three in order
1. My character answers. This is you taking up space. You're allowed to do that up until someone else interjects, at which point you are then in a two+ person conversation and just let it flow
2. If you did step 1 last time, you punt to another character. Aim for the ones who haven't said much recently, or who interjects the least. Ask them, in character, what to do, or otherwise direct it to be their decision on how to respond. Expect the same to happen back to you, and roll with whatever comes out.
3. If you've done 1 and 2 OR someone else has taken the initiative, stay quiet unless the scenario is directly tied to your characters backstory or current motivations. If that is the case, then interject by yes-and'ing whatever the other character said.
If you've completed all 3 steps rotate back to step one.
I have a similar process for directing attention at players when I dm. You might notice if you've listened to my game streams, how sometimes the consequence/result of one players action gets described from the viewpoint and perspective of a completely different character. Step 2, direct it at another character. Only its an invitation to respond to a conclusion instead of the start of a direct question