3 Wise DMs 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

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We 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

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    Does D&D 5E Need Character Levels? Radical (Heretical?) Ideas About D&D Advancement

    1:37:50

    Leveling up! It’s synonymous with D&D and one of the game’s biggest contributions to gaming culture. The very idea of gaining a level has become a staple of RPG video games, board games, and even most (but not all, as we’ll discuss) Tabletop Roleplaying Games. But is it the best way to handle character advancement in D&D 5th Edition? Dael Kingsmill of the MonarchsFactory YouTube channel has some different ideas. In a recent video, she even suggested that D&D shouldn’t use levels! Our knee-jerk reaction was to pass out the torches and pitchforks, but maybe she’s on to something. A lot of RPGs handle leveling in different ways, and we play a couple (TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes RPG and Call of Cthulhu, to name two) that don’t use leveling at all. Maybe it’s not so crazy to consider swapping levels out of D&D for the kind of open XP-buy system Dael suggests? Also, this is our first podcast recorded in-person as the guys finally get together in 3WD headquarters: Our game room. (We apologize for the extra echoes and room sounds.) Together with about two gallons of coffee, Thorin, Tony and Dave break down Dael’s suggestions and talk about how different games and older D&D editions handled leveling, player agency in PC advancement, leveling beyond 20 and more! Don’t miss it. 2:00 Dael Kingsmill says D&D shouldn’t use character levels. Is that a crazy idea? 4:00 Do D&D classes have 20 levels worth of good level-up stuff? 8:00 Using XP as a currency to buy character powers (much like the TSR Marvel Super Heroes RPG) 13:00 How to grind: Looking at how different systems handle leveling up, including past D&D editions 18:00 Are levels hard for new players to understand? 23:00 DM emotional blackmail and a little bit about our Christmas games 25:00 Is D&D inherently a level-up game? 27:00 “I got a rock” - Should we offer a way to pass up your class level ability for a feat or some other type of flexibility? 34:00 What we like and don’t like about how D&D 5E handles leveling, and how you could improve it 43:00 Does more flexibility make your character decisions less meaningful? 51:00 Character convergence: Unlimited customization can lead to a smaller number of builds actually being played 55:00 How can we add more options and player agency to leveling up? 64:00 Leveling beyond level 20 and how to challenge players once they get there 91:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
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    How to DM PC Builds and Abilities That Piss You Off

    1:16:58

    In any TTRPG, but perhaps especially D&D 5E, the DM runs the world and the players run their characters, who are built within the rules of the game. You should let players build the characters they want to play, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it! It’s OK to have a TTRPG PC build that pisses you off. Whether it’s because they’re unkillable, unhittable, undetectable, unsurvivable, or, like our listener question this week, they passively perceive absolutely frickin’ everything! This may mean you have to change your game or not use pieces you wanted to use — like big dumb monster fights against casters with Banish. (“Which is BULL$#!7!” – DM Thorin.) But you can adjust both your own DMing and the player expectations of how their showcase abilities work in the game. In this episode, Thorin, Tony and Dave talk about how to handle builds that piss you off or at least challenge you as a DM. Along the way, they talk about builds, abilities and spells they’ve struggled with and how you can handle the situation without ruining the game for yourself or any of your players. 2:00: Extreme passives: A listener asks how to handle a D&D 5E PC with extremely high passive perception and investigation who expects all the secrets to be revealed automatically 6:00 Respect is a 2-way street: Just like the DM wants to run the world they built, the players want to play the characters they created 10:00 How we handle passive perception, use stats and dice rolls, and the problem with dice rolls 16:00 Is it unfair for a player to build a character so good in one area they automatically succeed? 21:00 The Observant Problem: Creating challenges and obstacles for builds that see all the secrets 26:00 DMing Sherlock Holmes: How do you reign the player in but make sure they’re still having fun? 32:00 Player builds and abilities that piss us off — and why Banishment is a really poorly designed spell 45:00 Moon Druids, Barbarians, and dealing with ridiculous damage absorption 55:00 Challenging control and stealth character builds in D&D 5E 64:00 “If we’re not encouraging clever ideas at the table, then what are we doing as DMs?” Adapting your DMing style to fit the character builds at your table 69:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
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    How Hard Is Too Hard for Your RPG Campaign and Players?

    1:28:05

    Balance can be the trickiest thing to strike in any RPG campaign. On the one hand, the DM is running monsters and villains who are literally plotting the PC’s destruction. If their plans aren’t good or their combat abilities aren’t challenging, like DM Tony says, it’s like playing the game on baby mode. A game that’s not challenging is unrewarding. On the other, a game that gets too hard can frustrate your players right out of wanting to play it. So where is the balance? How hard is too hard for your style of game and your players? In this episode, Thorin, Tony and Dave go deep on what makes things hard. They talk frankly about their own troubles keeping things balanced and times their players were just about ready to turn their vorpal blades on the DM and mutiny. Along the way, we get into the difference between difficult “hard” and time-consuming “hard” (both of which can derail a game), why it’s never just about numbers, and the one thing that really tells you if your encounters have gotten too hard. 2:00 Is it too hard or too long? 11:00 Managing time and difficulty for large groups (7+ players) – should there be less combat? 15:00 How D&D 5E makes this harder by favoring multimonster fights 21:00 How hard is too hard? Learning from our COS Strahd fight and super-powered Santas 29:00 When is a more powerful big bad hounding the players too much? 36:00 Fights that’ve been too hard: When NPCs and homebrew goes wrong 45:00 How players may read hard encounters 56:00 When players get frustrated … and is that a reasonable way to judge your game? 65:00 How much can you frustrate your players before they don’t want to play? 69:00 Why the book Strahd isn’t a fun fight, even if he is technically balanced and challenging 75:00 No number can tell you how hard is too hard, but your players will 81:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
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    Characters Over Combat: What We Learned From Gaming in 2021

    1:18:22

    Happy New Year! It’s a new year for new games or just continuing the ones you already love. But before we look forward to 2022, it’s important to look back at what we learned from gaming in 2021. Between playing and running about 6 different campaigns throughout the year, not to mention talking about all of it here on 3 Wise DMs, we learned a lot. From speeding up combat to the importance of good characters, especially PCs, the way we play and DM keeps evolving. In this episode, Thorin, Tony and Dave talk about everything they learned throughout 2021, how it’s changed the way they play, and what they’re planning for 2022. 2:00 2021: A year in 3 Wise DMs gaming 5:00 Tony hints at some upcoming post-level-20 house rules for D&D 5E 11:00 Is it better to push characters into epic-level, beyond-20 play or start new characters? 17:00 Why don’t 5E’s published adventures support high-level play? 23:00 How do you keep the tension and interest up to continue playing after you complete a book adventure? 26:00 Moments we remember from gaming in 2021: Epic-powered one-shots Teaching people who are totally new to gaming Completing classic book modules Alien technology Making new characters 30:00 Cross-overs and shared DM universes 35:00 Running a totally different, combat-light, character-focused RPG in Call of Cthulhu 43:00 Time management: The tension between letting players figure things out and do their own things, D&D combat, and slowing the game down 50:00 Confronting the time-twisting horror of maps! 54:00 Time management and large games (6 players and up … plus pets) 56:00 Is D&D 5E just another big, clunky combat system? 59:00 Making combat more epic and less time-consuming 63:00 What did we learn in 2021? Tony’s trying to limit plot complexity Dave’s trying to learn to balance Tony’s storytelling with Thorin’s improv Creating your own world vs running a book module Thorin’s still trying to speed up sessions and combat 69:00 Final thoughts and the games we’re looking forward to in 2022 Support this podcast
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    What to do With a Bored D&D Player? A DM’s Dilemma

    1:10:12

    What if you have your D&D campaign going, the players are having a good time … except one of them, who’s bored? Maybe they’re bored with their character or combat or the way things are going, and now figuring out a way to pick things up a notch for this player falls to you. Do you let them revamp or replace their character? Do you make combat more difficult? Making things more complicated, if the other players are having fun, is adjusting for the bored player going to ruin it for the rest of them? That’s the question Larry H. brought to us in a message to 3 Wise DMs. In this episode, Thorin, Tony and Dave talk about their experience with bored players, sometimes being the bored players, and the things they do to try to accommodate players who aren’t having fun in the game with their characters. They even get into some extreme character tinkering, like the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or “Rockwell,” a character who could wake up as any of three characters every the morning. 2:00 A listener question from Larry H.: 2 players are having fun, but one player is bored, is it OK to let them revamp their character? 4:00 Who’s fault is it if the player’s bored with their character: the player or DM? 10:00 Those “Oh Shit!” moments: Putting combat-optimized PCs in more challenging situations 15:00 Combat shouldn’t always be the best option 18:00 What makes a character interesting to play and for how long? 20:00 When and how should you let players revamp their character or bring a new one to the table? 25:00 How do you avoid party awkwardness when you swap out or change a PC? 34:00 How far is too far? Do you allow retroactive multiclassing, for example? 41:00 Red flags that could mean the change is disrupting your group 45:00 More extreme ways to spice up characters and make things … more interesting 56:00 Tips to make combat more challenging for a min-maxer 63:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
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    The Curse of Strahd Postmortem: Our Players Talk About What They Thought of D&D 5E’s Barovia, the Things They Loved, and a Few Things They Didn’t

    1:43:44

    You hear The 3 Wise DMs talk about our games all the time, but what do our players really think? In this episode, we have 6 of the 7 players from Curse of Strahd on to get honest with DM Dave about what they thought of his campaign! Along the way, we get into whether you should leave your Tarokka reading random, The Death House, what it was like playing in a low-magic setting, slow leveling, the Amber Temple and much more! If you want the real scoop on how our game of Curse of Strahd went, and how we interact, this is the episode to watch. Hear not only about the adventure but about also how Thorin, Tony and Dave handle their players … and what their players think of that. 2:00 Introducing the players and their characters 12:00 “An experiment in self-inflicted multiple personality disorder” — remembering background and stories across multiple campaigns running at once 15:00 DMing to support your players and the things they’re afraid might happen in the game 24:00 Worldbuilding in Barovia by adding to the Torag mythology 26:00 Party balance in combat and role play 29:00 Our most memorable moments from Curse of Strahd 34:00 Bringing the Universal Monsters into Barovia 40:00 Saving the children in Old Bonegrinder 43:00 The Blinsky void 48:00 Saving Ireena entirely by accident 56:00 Where’s the lore? Why the adventure only lightly tapped Strahd’s motivations and background 59:00 What we didn’t love about playing Curse of Strahd 64:00 The problem with slow leveling and low magic items in a monthly game 68:00 Are vampires tough enough? Keeping CR levels in line with party power 72:00 How DM Dave dealt with forced alignment changes and lycanthropy 80:00 A few more nitpicks 86:00 Should you trust the Tarokka deck to a truly random reading? 90:00 Where we could have explored more and what DM Dave would do different running CoS again 95:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
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    Strahd, Dead and Loving It? The 3 Wise DM’s Review of D&D 5E’s Curse of Strahd and DM Dave’s Campaign Through Ravenloft

    1:11:26

    Ding dong, Strahd is dead! He was thrown down from a pillar and we smashed his head! And with that epic victory, the 3 Wise DMs are finally able to talk about their review of D&D 5E’s Curse of Strahd, including their thoughts on what worked, why and the adjustments DM Dave made. It was a big group with 6 players, and Dave managed to connect each of them to the events in Ravenloft in some way. He talks with Thorin and Tony about how that worked, how the players and DM interacted to make the game what it was, and how he handled a group that pretty much refused to take Strahd seriously. 2:00 Strahd goes DOWN! The end of DM Dave’s Curse of Strahd campaign 5:00 The PCs and running a “serious” dark gothic campaign with characters who don’t take it that seriously 14:00 Tarokka Deck readings and how faith in randomness worked out 16:00 What brought us to Ravenloft and what DM Dave wanted to accomplish with it 18:00 Comparing 5E Curse of Strahd with previous editions of Ravenloft 21:00 The final battle and Dave’s version of Lord Strahd 26:00 Why Dave loved running this campaign and whether he accomplished his goals 29:00 Things Dave tweaked to make Ravenloft his own 35:00 How we set up the final battle in Castle Ravenloft 38:00 What is Strahd doing: Why he just didn’t kill everyone and why Dave played down the Ireena story 45:00 How Dave tied each player character into stories in Ravenloft 54:00 Story points where the party’s decisions caught the DM by surprise 58:00 One potentially triggering issue to run by players before Curse of Strahd: Violence against children 62:00 Final thoughts Support this podcast
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    All Eyes on the Game: 12 Tips to Keep Your RPG Players Involved and Focused on Playing

    1:15:23

    It’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
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    Motivating Your Players: How to Get Your TTRPG Player Characters to Take the Hook and Get On With the Adventure

    1:17:29

    We’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
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    It Takes a Village: 19 Tips for Building Towns and Cities for Your RPG Campaigns

    51:31

    What 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

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