3 Wise DMs is a podcast for dungeon masters (for Dungeons & Dragons) and game masters (any other RPG) with problems. And when we say problems, we don’t mean the kind of things you find answers for in the gamebooks. Think of it as a gaming philosophy show with a strong emphasis on applied knowledge. We all want to be great DMs, so what do we do to try to get there?
All Eyes on the Game: 12 Tips to Keep Your RPG Players Involved and Focused on Playing
1:15:23It’s a problem as old as roleplaying: You have a few players who are engaged, paying attention and driving the story, and other players who may be shy, or not interested in what’s going on today. The result is that half your table may not be involved in what’s going on. A few weeks ago, DM Tony posted his article with 6 Tips to Get Everyone at the Game Table More Involved. That’s the tip of the iceberg for this essential DMing topic. On the show today, Thorin, Tony and Dave will dig into what causes players to disengage, how to bring their attention back to the table, and the tricks they use to keep everyone involved in the game. 2:00 Why do players check out at the table (or your online gaming platform) in the first place? 6:00 Hook ‘em right off the bat: Why DM Dave starts the game by asking each PC “what’s your character doing?” 10:00 Using initiative to make sure everyone gets a chance to participate even outside of combat 14:00 Don’t be afraid to call on players who haven’t spoken up to tell you what they’re doing 17:00 Call on everyone in every scene: Don’t assume shy/wallflower players don’t want to be more involved — they may not be seeing the opportunity, and that’s on the DM to facilitate 20:00 Recognize different types of role players: Non-actor role players may not want to engage as much in speaking in-character, but often they do want to come up with creative ideas and actions 23:00 The lesson of Tropic Thunder: D&D is a game of individuals, make sure each player is enjoying the game and getting to do what they want their character to do 27:00 Tactical engagement: Can you run a big heist caper in your D&D game? Who leads? 36:00 Tactics of engagement: Skill challenges and other tools we use to get everyone in the party involved at the same time 42:00 Using character backstories to keep players engaged (and why DM Thorin is a little cautious about them) 52:00 How DM Tony teased a PC’s flaw to get the other players interested in that character 59:00 Tempting the party into doing more exploration and discovery 64:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
Motivating Your Players: How to Get Your TTRPG Player Characters to Take the Hook and Get On With the Adventure
1:17:29We’re all at the gaming table for an adventure, right? But what about when your players don’t take the bait? Maybe they’re not interested in the mysterious disappearances in town? Or you’ve built a full dungeon in “The Mysterious Cave,” but they’re not going anywhere near it? What do you do when the player characters just aren’t vibing with the adventure hooks you’ve put in the water? In this episode, Thorin, Tony and Dave talk about what they’ve seen undercut PC motivation, how they get it back, and motivational tricks to use at lower and higher levels in your game (because the motivation challenge is different as the tiers advance). 1:00 PC inspiration: how do you motivate your players and their PCs to “DO THE THING!” 3:00 Justin Alexander reopens the debate about Storm King’s Thunder character motivations 6:00 Why Tony’s PCs will all take any quest 9:00 Where’s the fear? 11:00 Learning the truth can be a powerful motivation, but only in the right games 14:00 “I have a job to do” – Self-motivated PCs and the power of money 20:00 Does your campaign have enough cool things to buy to keep the PCs motivated by money? 24:00 Things PCs can spend money on as they level up 27:00 Story hooks are like gifts: If you pay attention to what your players are saying and joking about, you’ll have a good idea of what adventure hooks to give them. 34:00 How Session 0 helps you tune in to individual character motivations and set expectations for group goals 38:00 Don’t take motivation for granted in later levels 40:00 The problem with relying on the big story to motivate your higher level players (i.e., The Red Dead Redemption 2 problem) 43:00 Focus more on the story of the characters than the story of the adventures they’re in 45:00 Even high-level players are often motivated by getting epic loot and powers 46:00 Be ready to challenge high-level NPCs, even if they seem overpowered 49:00 What it looks like when motivation gets muddled later in the game. 55:00 Turning up the heat: The sublime motivation of imminent death or worse 62:00 Tricks for keeping your players motivated 71:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
It Takes a Village: 19 Tips for Building Towns and Cities for Your RPG Campaigns
51:31What do you need to make a town or city for your RPG campaign? A place for your PCs to hang their hats and rest their weary feet? Stores and taverns for them to unload their loot and pick up new quests? How about an economy and some way the town makes money? Who runs it and how do they keep the peace? Who tries to intervene when the party gets up to PC shenanigans? What about surprises? Is that beggar actually a shapeshifted silver dragon? Is there a secret wizard school operating out of a simple library? Are kobold tinkerers secretly keeping everything running in steam tunnels and sewers beneath the street? We have warned you not to get caught up in building towns and cities before, but this time a listener asked what needs to be in them when you have to do it. Thorin, Tony and Dave came up with 19 tips to help you do it in pretty much any RPG. 2:00 A listener question: What do you need to have in your town or city when you build your own? 3:00 Town Tip 1: DM Tony’s big warning: Don’t overwhelm your players with dozens of quests and NPC backstory details at once 6:00 Town Tip 2: Understand how towns and cities are different 8:00 Town Tip 3: Are your players going to look in every house and steal every treasure box, or are they more story-focused? That determines how much detail to put in 9:00 Town Tips 4-7: The 4 things every town needs based on DM Thorin’s City of Greyhawk campaign How does the town survive economically? (Farming? Local mines? Trading hub?) Who runs it and how do they police it? (Who tries to arrest the PCs when they cause trouble?) Shops, lodging, services and taverns (Who do the players interact with?) Secrets and surprises (A good town has layers, like an Ogre.) 15:00 Town Tip 8: Kitbashing! How DM Dave turned Against the Cult of the Reptile Gods into Slavers Bay 17:00 Town Tip 9: There needs to be attachment to the town, or the PCs won’t care what happens in it (or, just throw a lot of money at them) 19:00 Town Tip 10: Don’t be afraid to embellish a location to make it more interesting or fantastical 23:00 Town Tip 11: Not every important location needs to appear in the first few adventures — 10 Forward doesn’t appear in Star Trek TNG until the second season 25:00 Town Tip 12: If you make your own town, you get to put in the things that you want to play with 27:00 Town Tip 13: Know what needs to be in your town to set it up for the first adventure 30:00 Town Tip 14: Don’t hand them 100 quest hooks when they come into town (although, a beggar selling a map to the secrets of the city could be fun) 31:00 Town Tip 15: The town that begins your campaign start the whole story, and that’s more important than a town they’re passing through in the middle of the campaign 32:00 Town Tip 16: Let the players have a hand in building out the town by expanding on the things they show investment in (and how DM Tony’s player became the caretaker of a bunch of kobolds) 37:00 Town Tip 17: A town is a collection of the people in it 38:00 Town Tip 18: Don’t make the town so interconnected that the players have no room to work 39:00 Town Tip 19: How tough do you make the guards? It depends 45:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
D&D 5E for Old Fogeys: What Old-School DMs Like Us Should Know About How this Edition Compares to Earlier Versions of Dungeons & Dragons
1:11:16We all started DMing RPGs a long time ago. In the case of Thorin and Tony, we held on to older editions long after new ones were released (stretching 1E material into 2E and flat refusing to move to 3E later on). But Dungeons & Dragon 5E has been around for 10 years now and is bigger than any edition has ever been in terms of sales, player base and media exposure. WotC recently announced that they’ll be releasing an update for 5E in 2024, not a replacement, and the edition itself shows no signs of slowing down. We like it quite a lot, even if there are things we miss from older editions. Now, even old-school RPG players who haven’t played a new edition in decades are wondering what they’d need to know to run 5E. Players like Jeff, who emailed us and said, “After 40-ish years, my daughter and son-in-law got me back into RPGs with 5E and I have been playing for the last 2 years or so. In all this time, I have never been a DM/GM.” And he had a few questions about running 5E that we do our best to answer in the podcast. In this episode, Thorin, Tony and Dave talk about how DMing 5E is different from older editions of D&D, how the culture around playing it has changed, and what every old-school D&D DM should know about running the system if they haven’t played it yet. 2:00 A reader question: What do you need to know as an older gamer getting in D&D 5E? 4:00 How does 5E use ability scores and skills compared to older editions 10:00 Sword & sorcery roleplaying (old-school D&D) vs. heroic roleplaying (5E) 15:00 5E skills vs. 2E proficiencies 18:00 D&D 2E overbearing shenanigans that you can’t use in D&D 5E (and some other shenanigans we’ve seen) 25:00 Really high skill bonuses, impossible feats, and how not to be a dick DM in D&D 5E 34:00 Other things old-school DMs should be prepared for in 5E: • Limited magic resistance • Hit dice used for healing during short rests • Long rests healing everything • Positive numbers are good now (a change from 2E and earlier) 38:00 Is D&D 5E more cooperative with the players than earlier D&D systems? 42:00 DMing in a more emotionally intelligent time 45:00 Was classic D&D’s difficulty fun or good for the game? 48:00 Is it too hard to kill players in 5E? 50:00 5E magic is more constrained in terms of world-altering power, but wizards are more balanced with other classes now 53:00 D&D 5E spells, abilities, actions, etc., do what they say and nothing more 55:00 The redeployment of alignment and “evil” in D&D 5E mechanics 59:00 5E and class balance 64:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
Horror Gaming for Halloween: How We Squeeze Scares Out of Players Around the RPG Table
1:12:18It’s the scary season around our gaming tables, and that brings up one of the age-old questions about DMing: Can you reasonably expect to scare adult roleplaying gamers? Maybe, maybe not. But what you can definitely do is remove the illusion that they’re in control. Undermine that false comfort that their characters will be OK. Whether you’re threatening their hit points, sanity or character attachments, if you can shake the players’ sense of security, then you can scare them — and that’s what Halloween gaming is all about. In this episode, Thorin, Tony and Dave talk about the things they’ve done to try to bring some terror to their tables and times they’ve felt the fear for their own characters’ lives and worse. 1:00 Can you expect to scare adult players at the RPG table, or is this a lost cause? 2:00 DM Dave’s Curse of Strahd Dinner … in full costume with a DM’s assistant playing butler and running NPCs 7:00 Give the players something to be afraid of: Unbalance the threat level, attack character sanity and get them out of their comfort zones 10:00 Upgrading Castle Ravenloft to make the final showdown with Strahd deadlier and scarier 14:00 The PCs must be vulnerable: Why super characters undermine horror gaming 17:00 It’s a long campaign: Don’t be afraid to let the players laugh and have some fun in your horror game, it just makes things scarier when the tension ratchets back up 24:00 Attachments are key to RPG horror: NPC allies and friends give the players something to lose 27:00 Pirates of the Caribbean is not a horror movie — atmosphere and threat build terror, not zombies, skeletons and undead pirates 29:00 Let the characters feel comfortable behind the armor and weapons they have, then introduce a threat that cannot be handled that way 33:00 Horror gaming is unfair, and you need players who are willing to go with that without complaining 37:00 Is a deathtrap like Tomb of Horrors really horror gaming or just a hardcore puzzle? 50:00 Keep power creep on your side 54:00 Some of the most horrifying games we’ve been in 59:00 The one mechanic you cannot allow in your game if you want to maintain a horror vibe 65:00 Final thoughts on horror gaming for Halloween Support this podcast
Teaching Your Wife to Play RPGs: How to Bring a Non-Gamer — and Perhaps Shy or Unmotivated Player — Into the Game You Love Without Making Them Hate It
1:07:56Can you teach your wife, girlfriend, best friend, family member or anyone you love to play your favorite RPG? It’s a risky proposition, as listener Dave points out in this week’s listener question: He wants to teach his wife to play D&D, and she’s agreed to give it a try, but he’s afraid that “if she doesn’t enjoy that first session, she will never come back to the table.” The thing is, we’ve all been there. Whether it’s a girlfriend, wife, best friend, brother … at some point, you want to share the games you love with the people you love, and you probably feel a lot of pressure to make them love it. The deck may even be stacked against you because these players may not come in dedicated to making it work. They may be shy, reluctant, or just less motivated to play RPGs than you are. What can you do to give them the best chance to become players? In this episode, Thorin, Tony and Dave talk about their experiences — both successes and failures — in bringing non-gamers into RPGs and what they’ve learned about giving them the best chance to love it. 2:00 I hate myself for loving you: Why it’s a struggle to get the people you love to play the game you love 10:00 Where to begin: Where are their common points of reference for an RPG experience 14:00 How much should you simplify the game and explain as you play? 17:00 Getting to the bottom of the kind of character they’d really like to play 19:00 Connecting with characters outside of the fantasy genre: Meet Sifa the Dazzler, a barbarian halfling based on the mom from The Goldbergs 25:00 Hurdles to roleplaying and how not to scare off your would-be players 28:00 Teaching roleplaying first, rules second 31:00 Make character creation part of the adventure and get through one adventure that’s fun 33:00 Is building characters the best place to start new players, or do you risk losing them in the weeds? 38:00 Should you bother with alignment and new players? 41:00 How do you keep new players from feeling embarrassed about roleplaying? 47:00 What we want to accomplish in a new player’s first game 58:00 Make sure you have the right table for this new player 59:00 Final thoughts and what you can learn from DMing for non-gamers Support this podcast
WotC Changing D&D 5E Monsters and More – Are These the Updates the Game Needs?
1:14:04At D&D Celebration, Wizards of the Coast held a Future of D&D panel discussion with Ray Winninger, Liz Schuh, Jeremy Crawford, and Chris Perkins about new products and changes coming to D&D 5E over the next year and beyond. Among the topics discussed were changes to the way monsters will be presented, balanced, rebalanced around Mordenkainen Presents: Monsters of the Multiverse as well as some hints about how settings will be presented in the future. One of the big points of emphasis is to make the game simpler for the DM to run, especially when you’re using lots of monsters and trying to remember what they all do in the heat of battle. Are these the right changes to make? Thorin, Tony and Dave break down what we heard (or at least what we think the hints mean) and how it could impact the way we DM. Along the way we talk about monster design, PC-NPC balance, what we struggle with at the table, and changes we’d like to see to D&D 5E. 1:00 Changes to monsters, stat blocks, alignment, and more 2:00 Making alignments “typical” 5:00 Rereleasing classic setting “guides” rather than comprehensive box sets 13:00 Monsters of the Multiverse monster overhaul 19:00 The war priest your players can’t play: Pros and cons of making NPCs more like monsters and less like PCs 35:00 What we think of the new monster stat block layout (and a lot about dragons) 48:00 Missing the Monstrous Compendium and 2E’s design philosophy 54:00 Final Thoughts and some changes we’d like to see in 5E 64:00 Post-script: Which edition is easier to teach, 2E or 5E? Support this podcast
29 DM Ideas for Spicing Up D&D 5E: New Twists for Campaigns, Combat, Equipment, Magic and More!
1:31:53DMing is all about bringing your ideas to the table, but some ideas reach beyond the story and dialogue to change the way the game is played. Today, 3 Wise DMs open a Pandora’s Box of DMing ideas and inspiration for D&D 5E. From campaign setting ideas to new weapon rules, combat formations, vampire and dragon age categories, and more, in this episode, Thorin, Tony and Dave pitch the craziest D&D house rules and setting features they’d love to play with in the future. 1:00 Campaign ideas 1. Dark Sun for 5E: Could you resurrect the survival desert setting full of slavery and cannibalism? 2. Spelljammer space travel for 5E (Note: we recorded before WotC revealed it’s happening) 3. Planescape for 5E: Plane shifting between different, wacky worlds and dimensions 4. Call of Cthulhu in Ravenloft with PCs like Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker 5. Celts vs. powerful nature spirits vs. Romans in a pseudo-historical setting with limited NPC magic 6. A prehistoric game with more intense magic and active gods, but low-level technology 7. Clerics vs. Wizards: A world where arcane magic has been branded heretical 8. Do you need to limit PC class selection in worlds with low magic or low technology? 25:00 Mechanical ideas for combat and encounters 9. Technologically low and high-quality swords with non-magical +/- bonuses 10. Injury rules and not recovering all your health after long rests 11. Weapon wear and breakage 12. An aside on Viking sword and shield usage 13. Capping hit points at a lower level 14. Combat formations: shield walls, pike hedges, etc. 15. New weapon properties and action: long reach, weapon grapples 16. Called-shot attacks (Aim for the eyes!) 17. Weapons that give an AC bonus 18. Improving the shield bonus, but making it something you can lose 19. Heirloom weapons that get progressive bonuses/powers as the player advances in tiers 62:00 Magic and magic item ideas 20. Expanding spell concentration (perhaps by allowing a familiar or item to hold concentration on one of your spells) 21. Creating unique spells 22. Places of power where players can cast unique spells 23. Rare spell components that boost the spells cast with them 24. Rebalancing charges 71:00 Monster ideas 25. The bag man and other Candy Man type horror monsters 26. Giving dragons wider age categories and introducing mightier Great Wyrms 27. The Corpse Flower garden 28. Expanding vampire power levels and roles 29. Spirts of the Land 82:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
Patrons, Powers and Punishments in D&D 5E: So Many Classes Get Their Powers From a Higher Power … But at What Price?
1:11:59Patrons and punishments have been a part of D&D since 1st Edition’s paladins had to toe the line or get busted down to fighter status by an angry deity. But with so many classes drawing their powers from gods, devils and monsters in 5e — and not really getting any better deal than the wizard who studied, sorcerer who was born with it, barbarian who’s too angry to die, or the bard who just has to rock out with his glockenspiel out — how can the DM handle these patron relationships in a way that feels cool but doesn’t become unfair compared to the other classes? In this episode, Thorin, Tony and Dave talk about how they’ve played with patrons in past editions and how they treat them now in 5E — including mistakes they’ve made, tricks they’ve used, and the redemption stories that came about as characters tried to get back in a higher being’s good graces. 2:00 A Reader Question: How do you DM patrons that gift powers to PCs? 3:00 How much control does the patron have over the character, especially when comparing older editions to what players and the game expect today? 5:00 In the Name of Fun: How WotC closed the power delta that justified stripping powers from some classes for roleplay 7:00 Handling patron/deity behavior violations with roleplay and adventure fodder 11:00 What does the patron get from the PC’s service? 19:00 “I just want to play an infernal pact warlock; I don’t want a deal with a devil!” When players are not down with patron play 24:00 Are warlock, cleric, or paladin powers worth the risk when other classes get theirs for free? 31:00 What is the best way to take powers away if the character transgresses? 39:00 Redemption arcs: How our Curse of Strahd characters overcame their fall in the Amber Temple 43:00 The punishment has to fit the crime: How does a fallen character redeem themselves? 54:00 How do you create a patron for a character that wants to multiclass into a patronage mid-game 64:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
RPG Weather, Puzzles and Ritual Challenges: 3 Ways to Make Your Campaign World More Immersive
1:08:17How do you bring your campaign world to life? It’s a question lots of DMs and GMs ask from a lot of different angles. We’re all looking for ways to make sure our players have fun, but also have new experiences in the game that make it feel more like characters living out a story and less like tabletop Diablo. Some of our best questions come from our listeners. That is once again the case this week as Thorin, Tony and Dave dig into three messages asking about different ways to make your RPG world a bit less hack-n-slash and a bit more immersive with interesting puzzles, rituals, and weather mechanics. 2:00 Listener question 1: Puzzles — the good, the bad, the ugly … and how we blew up Esmerelda’s wagon in Barovia 4:00 Puzzles and riddles: What we try to do, not to do, and how we involve the whole party 10:00 The puzzles the party ignored in Curse of Strahd’s Wizard Tower 12:00 The pros and cons of riddles 14:00 Should puzzles use character skills/talents or force players to rely on their personal knowledge? 20:00 How we design puzzles: If it’s difficult for you to explain, it’s probably too difficult for your players to solve 22:00 Puzzle ideas from Indiana Jones, The Fifth Element and The Lord of the Rings 26:00 The encounter mix: Where and when we use traps and puzzles 29:00 Listener question 2: Making rituals more immersive with tasks and skill challenges 39:00 If you made the players jump through a lot of hoops to do a ritual, don’t let bad rolls ruin it 42:00 It’s no fun to die (or have the story turn bad) due to bad luck 47:00 Listener question 3: How do you make weather a more impactful element in the game? 53:00 Ways we’ve used weather in different campaign settings, including Storm King’s Thunder, Curse of Strahd and Rime of the Frost Maiden 56:00 How much game time do you want to spend (waste?) dealing with the weather? 61:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast