Thursday, July 7, 2016

Dungeon Master - Basic Tools

One of my long time players had recently gotten super excited about DMing a D&Desque pirate campaign.  He has ideas for his own character classes and everything.  It reminds me of the young pre-teen me :)  And I suppose I have done a good job of conveying my DIY vision of this gaming thing we do, because he didn't ask "What system would be good to play out this idea I have," but just started coming up with his own rules and subsystems.

It has been really interesting for me to try and help him because there are a lot of things I didn't know how to do when I started DMing so I had to craft my own methods and tools.  Now I can share those with him and hopefully he can hit the ground running and adapt them however he wants.  I have so many tables and charts. 

It's also interesting, since I suffered a few hard drive failures over the years, trying to find these tables in editable forms.  Some of my tables apparently only exist as a hard copy in my personal DM folder or in posts on this blog.  Anyway, it has been fun and useful to try and revisit some of these old tools and revise them and pull together some of the things I've learned into one place.

First I showed him two easy ways to make maps, a Toss & Trace way to make natural caverns (which came from this post) and a Tetromino Template Dungeon for purposefully built dungeons that can still be arranged for variety (originally from this post).  For the latter we didn't do the whole stencil thing, just cut and pasted the individual rooms.  Here is a revised sheet to make that easier:

Then I gave him the run down on how I put monsters in my dungeons.  Now, this is for basic lower level dungeons and just focuses on unintelligent creatures at first.  But I think it's a handy baseline to have that you can add intelligent faction on top of.

Here is the Wandering Monster table I mention in that document (a revision of this):
There is a lot packed on there.  The idea is, if you are in a rush or learning this craft, that you can just reskin the four creature behavior types and use the default stats given.  But they are printed in light grey so you can revise them by writing over them if you want.  If your pirate cave's vermin are little albino crabs you can make their AC higher and write 14 over the default 12.

The little pips are how much that monster has to outnumber the party by before they become out-right hostile (they may stalk and do other aggressive things at lower ratios).  So, vermin would have to out number the party 4-to-1 before you roll initiative and they straight up start trying to attack.

The graph paper is so you can pre-roll creature hitpoints circle the appropriate squares and scratch them off in the heat of combat.

I told my player my dirty little secret that I will often use the rolled hitpoints for double duty, as a set encounter on the map and also as a wandering encounter if it comes up.  I figure losing a little randomness by not rerolling 18 crab hitpoints is worth the convenience I get as a DM.

The other table mentioned, What are the Monsters Doing? was from a post here, but I realized I didn't have an editable version anywhere so here it is.

I haven't quite put together the handout on treasure yet.  I'm heading back up to the mountains, maybe I can add it here when I get back.  I need to explain how much monetary treasure I place.  How many potions, rings, wands, or other magical items and share the tables I have for all those.  And I should probably try to scour my blog for spells.  I probably have at least 30 interesting spell ideas.  I'm really bad at knowing how to assign levels though.  There was a Dragon magazine article I remember about designing spells that gave some guidelines for assigning levels.  I think I'll find that, print it out and take it to the mountains with me to study.

Anyway, I've linked all but the two inmages as doc files so you can mess with them if you want.  I consider them drafts I will need to revise and maybe put together as a little booklet.  I usually annotate my map with traps and treasures so during play I only have two letter-size sheets of paper to keep track of.  It is pretty easy and streamlined, no numbered room lists or anything.  I hope this is useful for some of you.  If nothing else, I've got the files up here for me to access later :)  Stay cool, folks.


  1. It's too bad nobody's told you how great this is yet. It's been almost seven hours now. It's GREAT.

  2. Thanks so much. A lot of this is built on the great ideas of others, but some like turning monster behavior into more than an attack-or-not binary is mine, and I'm proud to share my solution to something I struggled with for ages.

  3. This was a really neat find for me who's a budding referee. Always nice to find stuff to ease the task of holding a game session!