3 Wise DMs podcast

29 DM Ideas for Spicing Up D&D 5E: New Twists for Campaigns, Combat, Equipment, Magic and More!

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DMing 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

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    WotC Changing D&D 5E Monsters and More – Are These the Updates the Game Needs?

    1:14:04

    At 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
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    29 DM Ideas for Spicing Up D&D 5E: New Twists for Campaigns, Combat, Equipment, Magic and More!

    1:31:53

    DMing 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
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    Patrons, Powers and Punishments in D&D 5E: So Many Classes Get Their Powers From a Higher Power … But at What Price?

    1:11:59

    Patrons 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
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    RPG Weather, Puzzles and Ritual Challenges: 3 Ways to Make Your Campaign World More Immersive

    1:08:17

    How 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
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    Keeping Your Story Straight: How We Manage All the DM Details of Our RPG Campaigns

    1:21:14

    No DM’s plan survives contact with the players. Between remembering the story you’re trying to tell, the details you had to improvise, and the players’ actions (which may or may not have made sense), it can be hard to keep the details straight in your RPG campaign. How can you plan out the important stuff, capture improv details before you forget them, and make sure you remember it the same way week to week? Thorin, Tony and Dave each have their own tricks for keeping their stories straight. This episode digs into those as well as handling perception when players don’t remember the game the same way you do. 2:00 How do you keep your story straight as a DM? 5:00 If you can’t keep your story straight, your players definitely can’t: Session prep and Google Docs 9:00 The power of owing a favor … and making sure you, the DM, remember to call them in 14:00 DM Thorin’s tricks to keep details straight when improving without a prep doc 17:00 Control the session synopsis to influence what players remember and keep them moving forward 24:00 How not to lose player interest in the details and your game 27:00 DM Dave’s lasting misunderstandings in Barovia: The nagging ghost of Baby Walter Unintended Tarroka deck meanings Handling players who latch onto the wrong details so hard that they become part of the story — even if you don’t want them to 39:00 How these choices impact the tone of the game 41:00 The black dragon fiasco and the kind of details DMs can’t forget 49:00 How DM Tony kept Storm King’s Thunder straight with a ton of homebrew material 56:00 Plot holes are just potholes: If the game’s going well, you can keep driving forward 63:00 The real story lives in our heads 66:00 Sometimes the DM understands their story so well that we don’t appreciate how easy it is for the players to get lost 73:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
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    I’m on a Boat! Running Sea-Faring, Space-Faring and Other Ship-Based RPG Campaigns

    57:13

    When you take your RPG campaign to the high seas (or under the seas, outer space or anywhere else they need a ship to survive), all bets are off. Sure, you could run it like any land-based campaign using the ship for fast travel, but is that really what a ship-based campaign is all about? Or are they about ship-to-ship combat, unlimited freedom, and unimaginable treasure? The lure of the sea is about more than hopping from adventure to adventure. The captain is king of the vessel, whether that captain is one of your PCs or the guy enslaving them as shanghaied deckhands. So, what can you do to play up what’s different about nautical campaigns, make sure your players are happy on the high seas, and come up with cool new ideas to keep them adventuring? That’s what listener Eric asked when he sent us a note with the message “Yo, ho, a pirate’s life for me.” Here’s what Thorin, Tony and Dave think nautical gaming is all about and how they bring it to life for their players. 2:00 Ship-based campaigns we’ve run and what we did with them 4:00 What elements make a ship-based campaign different from normal land-based games? 10:00 A ship is freedom … or a hostage situation 14:00 There has to be a reason you get on the boat — extreme freedom, extreme danger, extreme opportunities, etc. — because it would be easier to just stay on land 17:00 Don’t be afraid to let the party off the boat to have land adventures 19:00 An aside about loving Spelljammer 22:00 What do you do if your players aren’t that into a ship-based game? 24:00 The ship should be like a floating lair 29:00 Terrors of the deep: What to challenge your players with in a nautical campaign 40:00 Answering Eric’s question: How would we build a nautical pirate campaign from level 1? Contracts, letters of mark, and real pirate missions 47:00 Nautical campaigns don’t necessarily have to be pirates, they can be explorers, traders, treasure hunters, etc. 50:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
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    Dragons: Why We Love Them and How We Run Them

    1:08:01

    Dragons are to D&D what Jerry West is to the NBA: The Logo. They’re the monsters so iconic that they’re literally part of the name. No other fantasy property has done as much or gained as much from its dragons. So, when you decide to put a dragon in your campaign, you know it has to be special. But how do you make sure it hits the right notes for your players? Fortunately, dragons are some of Thorin’s, Tony’s, and Dave’s favorite creatures. How do you make dragons feel epic? How do you make sure their hoards are the stuff of legends? Should you use really them in every campaign? In this episode, we break down everything we’ve learned about running dragons over the years and take you through how we turn them into adventures, not just encounters. 2:00 Dragon archetypes from pop culture 5:00 The D&D dragon colors each play differently to encompass those pop-culture types and more 8:00 Dragons in D&D should be special creatures: They’re a whole adventure, not just one encounter 11:00 Your dragon is hundreds or thousands of years old … What’s it done with its time? 14:00 How to make your dragon feel epic 21:00 How to build a dragon fight 27:00 The dragon’s hoard should be as epic as the dragon fight itself 39:00 Make sure you know how to use your dragon’s abilities, including legendary and lair actions 41:00 How to measure your treasure to leave room for cooler stuff later 48:00 Dragons and spellcasting: Do you add Wizard/Sorcerer levels to your dragons? 53:00 Dragons in our other games: Curse of Strahd and the Marvel SHRPG 57:00 Final thoughts 63:00 PS: Should you use dragons in every campaign? Support this podcast
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    How to Bring WrestleMania to Barovia: DM Dave’s Curse of Strahd Goes WAY Off Book With a Homebrew Wrestling PPV

    1:06:34

    Sometimes you want to change the game up completely, even if it’s just for the night. Maybe you want to have a night of gambling games, a carnival with an archery contest, a little football, or, like DM Dave’s Barovia, a werewolf wrestling match to put the WWE to shame! When you have that urge, how do you make that happen? The 3 Wise DMs call them minigames, and in this episode, they’ll use Dave’s wrestling escapades to break down how to make these sessions fun for everyone. Thorin, Tony and Dave have talked about homebrew and crazy ideas before, but in this episode, they’re breaking down a fresh game with a look at how it came to be, how it felt to play in, and what you can take away for your own crazy minigame sessions. 1:00 Bringing WrestleMania to Barovia: How to develop a D&D session where you essentially play a different homebrew minigame 3:00 5E’s wrestling isn’t interesting, so to support Hawk Morgan, DM Tony’s wrestling character, DM Dave have to invent a more cinematic wrestling system 8:00 Does a Hulk Hogan clone fit in Curse of Strahd? Here’s how Dave handled it 13:00 Where, when and how to pay off on a 1-on-1 wrestling match for Hawk yet still involve the rest of the party 22:00 The role of humor in horror games 24:00 Building the wrestling system and how it played out (see this week’s website article at 3wisedms.com for the whole system) 34:00 The lumberjack match rules that let the rest of the party get involved, but not too involved 44:00 The party stuck with the wrestling schtick even after they broke the rules and it went full combat 49:00 Did this save a boring werewolf side quest? 55:00 Advice for executing your own “minigame” sessions 64:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
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    Strange D&D Homebrew: Knowing When, Where and How to Make Your RPG Campaign Weird Without Losing Your Players

    1:16:44

    DMs have some crazy ideas. And deep down, there’s nothing most of us want to do more than unleash those ideas on our unsuspecting players. The party is rolling along a totally normal campaign in a non-descript fantasy world, and suddenly, you’ve dropped a giant, soul-eating, boon-granting, Lovecraftian spaghetti monster into the center of it with a cult that’s depopulating the world to wake it up. Or, through your Wizard’s misfiring experimentations, you’ve bonded him to a Venom-like symbiote bodysuit. Or, SURPRISE, your wizard now has the body of a larval mage, composed of 10,000s of undead bugs! (If we’re being honest, a lot of this does seem to happen to the wizards.) These strange homebrew ideas can be the coolest and most memorable part of the campaign, but they’re also risky. Will your player throw a fit after their corporeal form is replaced with a pile of insects? The quit risk is high. The trick is knowing when, where and how to get weird and bring out the strange homebrew, and often that comes from your narrative and how the players have been engaging with it. What makes sense in the story? If you can get the players to go along with that, you can have fun with all sorts of crazy homebrew ideas. And that’s exactly what Thorin, Tony and Dave have done (repeatedly, often to each other). Here’s how they use narrative-driven homebrew to make their games unique, memorable, and more fun for everyone. 2:00 A listener question: How do you decide where, what and when to homebrew? 3:00 Narrative-driven homebrew: When the players and the story call for something … Strange 5:00 The origins of Ghatanothoa in Woodstock Wanderers: How the big, weird god monster grew organically from solving mysteries DM Thorin’s setting created 11:00 Baiting players into choosing the big character changes, from the Ring of Winters in Storm King’s Thunder to the Amber Temple Dark Gifts in Curse of Strahd 14:00 Homebrewing systems: Wrestling and combat rules we’ve played with 17:00 Balance and power-creep: Why we’re hesitant to homebrew classes 22:00 The set-up and seduction that led to the moment DM Tony’s wizard Cassidus became a pile of undead bugs, and how the “modification” was designed for him and Erasmus’s Storm Giant Wish 36:00 Campaign flavor, resistances and setting the right bar for immunity 40:00 Tougher Vampires: An example of on-the-fly homebrew to fit the narrative 44:00 The D&D Venom Symbiote: Another example of narrative-driven homebrew on the fly 50:00 Why create a new class out of whole cloth instead of changing the flavor of an existing one? 57:00 Steal smart: A lot of the best homebrew repurposes pieces from existing material 61:00 What if other players want to get into these homebrew goodies, too? 69:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
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    When DMs Go to War: How to Run Mass Combat in D&D (and similar RPGs) and Not Bore Your Players

    57:38

    Most DMs come to a point in their campaigns where they want to run The Big Battle. We’re not talking the players vs. a few Balors, but a real war: Storming the beaches of a fantasy Normandy, the Siege of Winterfell, the Battle of Pelennor Fields from Lord of the Rings. But when you go to set the battle up, you realize just how clunky mass combat is in D&D and most RPGs. The problem is, most RPGs are skirmish-level games, especially D&D. That means they run well with up to about 20 characters in a battle. Beyond that, things slow down and there aren’t good ways to simulate the battle. So, you wind up having to homebrew or adapt some kind of mass combat ruleset, but these don’t always work out, either. Most mass combat expansions for D&D, for example, are basically fantasy wargames, and your players may not be up for D&D night turning into Warhammer 1100 AD. A reader question inspired us to take it on: What do you do when you want your players to fight 300 zombies? In this episode, Thorin, Tony and Dave answer that and more as they break down what happens when DMs go to war. 1:00 A reader question: How would you handle a battle with 300 zombies? 2:00 Why mass combat is and always has been clunky in D&D 6:00 Mass combat is basically opposed to what any edition of D&D is designed to do 9:00 3 basic ways to handle mass combat: • Skill challenge • Dynasty Warriors • War games 13:00 D&D mass combat rules releases of the past (were still clunky) 14:00 What makes a combat “mass”? A dozen characters? Hundreds? Thousands? 17:00 5E How D&D characters change the way wars are fought 19:00 Slipping on dead bodies, siege engines, Oliphaunts! How mass combat and the chaos of war should change how D&D characters are fought 22:00 How do you keep running the big battle from slowing downplay for the PCs? 25:00 Can you put your players in charge of an army? It depends on the party 28:00 Can the enemy soldiers harm your PCs, or is it mud farmers vs. invincible knights? 30:00 How do you simulate what happens to the rest of the armies that aren’t around the PCs? 34:00 An ad-hoc system for running mass combats that impacts each player and shouldn’t bog down 37:00 Morale and victory conditions: Showing how PC actions impact the battle 41:00 How we would handle a battle with 300 zombies: It depends on our players 50:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast

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