Season 3, Episode 9

We know it's been almost four years. We know that 2016 was horrible. We know that the world is a different, scarier place. But Chad and William just so happened to be in the same place at the same time for a couple days, and whaddya know... when two DM's really love eachother, sometimes they make a podcast.

We have received dozens of emails collected over the years, about campaigns that were starting but now probably finished, kids that were born that are now in college, questions that needed answering that by now have probably already been answered. So these emails arrived to our podcast slower than they would have if they'd just be mails.

But these choice, hand-selected emails are new to the podcast, and so with the same fervor, research, jokes, and microphone, we sat down to record the answers to these exemplary questions.

First off, huge thank yous to two listeners who really stepped up their game for this episode's cold open, "The Great Return." ExemplarymDM fan and professional Canadian Trombonist (or a Trombonist Canadian?) Aaron Good wrote it unprompted and emailed it to us back in 2015. Professional voice actor Joshua Bentley recently recorded all three parts. We have been in a state of humble blown-awayism since Aaron emailed the script to us back in November 2015, and we never lost the hope of one day using it.

This is that day.

Then, there was the fade in of our familiar podcast intro from the Diablo String Orchestra, and we were off, back to our old shtick as if there had been no multi-year gap at all. I'm not joking - it felt like we were in our podcasting groove and cadence almost immediately. Perhaps it's like bike-riding.

After welcoming ourselves back from our three or four year - sure, let's call it a - sabbatical, we discussed the "s3e9 that might have been" - a poorly-recorded, incomplete audio attempt that just didn't come out right and wasn't up to par. Our bad. Then we discussed DND5e briefly, which was just coming out the last time we recorded (sheesh). We talked about streaming and live recording of D&D and the explosion of live play content that since our last episode (and probably before too) has exploded in popularity, including Acquisitions Incorporated by Penny ArcadeCritical Role by Geek & Sundry, and Rooster Teeth's Heroes and Halfwits. We talked about the new revenue model of D&D Beyond, which is probably something we don't realize we wanted all along. Then William snuck in a favorite Hasan Minhaj joke from the 2017 WHPA dinner, fairly topical with all the soon-to-be-forgotten hubbub about the 2018 WHPA dinner.

Then we got to the best choice meats of an inbox full of emails. So. Many. Emails. Our listeners had some great questions, many of which deserved a podcast hour all to their own. Keep them coming, people, you're the best.

1. Christine asked about strategies for dealing with a player who can't make it to a campaign session.
A good start to our very small gap between this episode and the last. We’ll also assume that in the past three and a half years, given our extensive podcast back catalog’s guidance and wicked smaht twitter timeline, you have both attended and missed campaign sessions and learned from other DM’s. While this sucks, and sometimes it’s better to run a vignette or just play Jackbox games rather than trying to shoehorn a PC out of the action, a good DM should consider strategies for making do without a player behind a character for a night.

Exemplary ideas for dealing with absent players:
  1. One of the PCs guards camp or headquarters with loot/hostage/captured enemy. Having a camp or headquarters built into your campaign can make this even easier.
  2. One of the PCs holds the rope while the others descend, will catch up later
  3. One of the PCs got an urgent message/raven/owl/divine message/notion, and went ahead to the next big city to set up shop there
  4. One of the PCs was "disappeared" on their watch. There’s signs of a struggle at camp, and tracks to follow…
  5. One of the PCs wasn’t in their room at the Inn in the morning. There’s empty bottles, a tussled mattress, the scent of exotic perfume, and just the faintest arcane sense of brimstone…
  6. Don’t worry if the players don’t catch up that night. Perhaps in the next session, if the party hadn’t caught up to your plan to delay the PC, the PC arrives just in the nick of time, or mid-combat, or on the other side of a locked gate.
2. Andy said, "I'm genuinely glad you guys are putting out more material."

In which he congratulates us for making new content in 2014, and then we acknowledge him in 2018. How bittersweet.

3. Joe emailed us to tell Chad his British accent was harsh.

Do not encourage Chad's accents, rainbow or potatoingly.

4. James emailed us to talk about limiting out-of-character conversation in combat. 

Make sure if you’re going to put a real-life, real-time timer on the players, you do it with the best of intentions - with warning, with a slow ramp up, and use it when the players will probably agree with you that we’re talking too much. Don't foist it upon a party that is having a great time overall.

5. Ethan emailed us, "Top of the morning to ye gentleman. "

Again, we ask that you not encourage Chad's accents.
- Management.

Ethan then asked "how to really get my players more involved?"

We’ve recommended as a DM always trying to create content to maximize your players’ interests,  and also to have a veteran ally at the table with you. Given time, your players will grow, but maybe not exactly how you thought. That's ok. It is still on them to be responsible for interacting and being proactive of course, still on them to have fun and to share in the storytelling and world building, but good on you for being patient.

Ethan then did the math, and said that (prior to now) we had averaged one episode every 2.2083 months. 


6. Alexander emailed to say he has a bad habit of railroading and needs help world-building.

He also said we're more entertaining and helpful than This American Life, which we think is an insane statement.

World-build based on story. Again, you’re trying not to railroad here, you’re planning. There’s a difference. Railroading takes place at the table, and often because of a lack of planning. Planning takes place before each campaign session. The more planning you do, the less you’ll feel the need to railroad. The more planning, the more prepared you’ll feel to empower the players with agency in your world.

There's also a time for a young DM to be told and admit if they are being railroady - if something has become "the DM's Show" - and working to introduce agency takes planning and prep plus lots of improvisation.

But you should have a general idea of major plot points, locations, and destinations. Build around them. And then snowflake off of those key environs. So you know that they will start some place. Build a bunch of stuff there, build NPCs, side adventures and diversions, conflicts, more NPC’s, neat environmental effects and locals, even more NPC’s, and all the while, try to weave in the backstories of your characters. This requires you know the characters, do any one of a million surveys out there to get them to do some worldbuilding in their character. Then, move on to the next major plot locations. This may be inside a city, outside a city, or another city.

Sometimes for Chad its easier to go top down - capturing the enthusiasm of the macro level and world building and what the players have in mind. Write up big ideas and rules of the world, like cities and demographics. Then throw something together with a first encounter. Eventually get an idea of a grander plot but start in media res with an encounter and see what the players in their first play hours grab on to. In this way, the first few sessions - especially session 0 - are sandbox.

The more planning, the less you'll feel you need to railroad. And I don't mean planning further down a single linear path/timeline, but rather, planning for the broad choices your players may have. Plan to give your players agency, a wider set of planning as opposed to a narrower/deeper set of planning. Try to avoid building an order of events, hold that only for the broadest campaign plot points.

Alexander then asked, "what is your favorite kind of bad guy/villain? Any good examples?"

Oh do we.

Favorite villains:
  1. Eric Killmonger from the Black Panther movie. Haven’t read these or many other comics, so we don’t have a lot of loyalty, but the best part of the Killmonger character in Black Panther movie is that for a lot of what he says, you kindof agree. The best villain doesn’t have to be the smartest, constant escape-artist frustration to the PCs, may be a great villain can be someone you kinda hate to have to kill. Maybe, like Killmonger, your villain wants the same goals, but has different methods.
  2. Ozymandias from Watchmen isn’t similar in most ways but is similar in this - to ensure peace and cooperation, he’s willing to use perverse, cataclysmic methods to achieve the same goals the heroes want.
  3. On the other hand, villains like Cthulhu or Zombie Hoardes or fantasy versions of Hitler’s Nazis in the first half of the 20th century are cartoonishly evil. Maybe your campaign can use that, or your players will dig that good vs evil. That kind of stuff can work. But also don’t be afraid of more complex villains.
  4. Consider that everyone thinks that they're the "good guy". 
  5. If you're looking for complexity, most evil characters are trying to take care of a tribe or a narrow group of people, at the expense of everyone else in the world. We all care about our love ones and family members, but if you do that to the exclusion of the rest of the world, that's evil. 
  6. Maybe the villain is a past or present employer for the party, or just an unscrupulous businessman. What makes a villainous businessman a good enemy is that you know their motivations, and maybe how to use them, and that’s deeper still than just pure evil. Think Niska from Firefly, or Italian mobsters from Goodfellas or the Godfather, or the corporate man Burke from Aliens played by Paul Reiser, Daniel Day Lewis’ Plainview in the movie There Will Be Blood, or Ebeneezer Scrooge, or - and you we couldn’t not say this now - yes, Donald Trump, America's current kleptocrat. A villain who’s willing to lie, cheat, and steal to further their own gains or their family’s - now that is a formidable king, or duke, or wizard, or warlord, or president for your fantasy campaign.
  7. Again - the best villains aren’t the ones that outsmart the PC’s in combat. They aren’t the villains with the most tricks and traps and counters and foils and deceptions and clever escapes. Mostly, those type of villains seem railroady. Try to make a villain that is great because of their motives, not great because of how frustrating a party of PC’s becomes in combat.
Alexander also wanted to share this post about an absolutely atrocious session of 3.5. Here: http://www.reddit.com/r/rpg/comments/2oa9bg/dd_35_i_had_the_absolute_worst_session_ever_last/

That is quite a horror story. Also want to point out that GM’s misogyny. We need to do better guys.

7.  Sal wrote in to talk about vignettes.

Sal gave the players first-level commoners to play and flee a town. Depending on what happened, the heroes will have to - in the next campaign session - rescue the commoners, or learn their fate. Awesome use of vignette! William used a vignette once to have the players act as Drow assassins, each with their own weapons and specialties, to sneak into a encampment and murder Chad’s wife(’s character)!

With vignettes you can be a bit more railroady and extremely emotionally manipulative, because they’re throwaway characters! Be sure you use vignettes sparingly - people spend a lot of time building their characters and want to play them, so don't take away their character sheets too often. Also be careful about expecting your PC's to act on player knowledge - knowledge the players learned during a vignette.

8. Kliquidk wrote in one of our livestreamed DND sessions on a Sunday morning in January 2015: "I have a post it note that says see, hear, feel, taste, smell, intuition on my monitor to remind me to be descriptive"

Nice! One of our earlier podcasts talked about engaging all 5 senses in storytelling and in DM description. Of course, in DND there are also other senses characters have. Spideysenses of danger, or divine senses of foreboding, or an arcane tingling just outside of sensory perception, or in the case of Divination wizards, a premonition or cryptic feeling that the Cubs are about to win the world series, for example. This is a basic principle of storytelling in any medium.

It could also be more tangible - including literal messages carried by supernatural messengers.

If characters don't have a sixth sense, consider creating one that would make sense for them to have, or to give a character a special connection to the world or to a plot point. It can't be game-breakingly powerful, but enough to further a story.

9. Andrew wrote in to recommend an Exemplary Local Game Store, and to heap hatred on Topeka.

Andrew called us "a robust vat", and it was a compliment.

We admit our Topeka hatred was pretty much a ruse for ratings. From what we understand, in the last three and a half years, both Kansas City and Topeka have both continued to exist, but their terrible Andrew-fueled blood feud of hatred continues.

10. Ben wrote into confirm a well-known objective fact that Mike n Ikes are the ultimate candy.


Ben then proposes a plan to roofie Chad with Mike N Ikes and makes a classic Zero Wing reference.

11. Sarah wrote in to recommend an Exemplary Local Game Store as well.

Thanks Sarah, a badass nerd from the Four One Five! (We looked it up after the show.)

12. Zac first satiated our egos (for they hunger) then asked some great questions. "What techniques you guys use when your generating ideas?"

To fill our "robust vat", Zac suggests "lubrication for the cogs of minds".

Chad prefers free association, using online writing prompts and other inspirations to start ideation for campaigns and encounters, even using writing prompts from different genres. (And yeah, we love Jackbox games.) And of course, fiction of all genres can inspire, not just fantasy.

Images of course are great, including landscapes, inspiration from deviantart, etc. Try taking a picture of a character and trying to describe every single facet of them, from the origin of their scars, the direction they're looking, expanding upon the visual context by filling in blanks.

Playing the game and talking about the game also gives us ideas. We’ve also been inspired with so many good ideas by listeners, friends, and by playing in other campaigns.  

As for creating maps, sure! Why not. (We think we know what mind maps is. Maybe not) We find that creating a map also creates a lot of blank space, which helps me be inventive in adding NPC’s.

Remember, don’t just create places and shops and cliffs and volcanoes and bridges of deathly doom, create people. 

  • What’s the most interesting part of the Bridge of Deathly Doom in Monty Python and Holy Grail
  • What’s the most interest part about the castle Anthrax, or the Castle Aaargh? 
  • What’s the most interesting part of the forest?

Zac then presciently asked, in 2015, how to run a dark theocracy campaign, you know, like the one that began in 2016.

Great job helping your kids face down a fascist theocracy back in 2015. Really helped prepare them for November 2016 and beyond, bravo.

Theocrats want to control shit. The control of things in the most private of places helps to control people in the most public of places.

  • They want to control the bedroom, your closet, your medical cabinet, your uterus. 
  • They try to proscribe what goes on inside the village huts, in the tavern rooms, behind the bar. 
  • What are the laws about what and cannot be worn or eaten? 
  • What unpure things cannot be said, what pure things must be said? 
  • What are the crimes that a villager may inform on another villager for? 
  • What rites and rituals must all true villagers obey and perform?
  • Theocrats rule by exclusion, by declaring a special flock, by claiming some special destiny or exclusivity over morality. What sort of peoples and races are excluded from the theocrat’s promises of salvation? 
Third and lastly question, Zac asked how to overcome being introduced to the game in a very mechanical, battle driven, dungeon delving way. 

We’ll assume that in the past three and a half years, given our extensive podcast back catalog’s guidance and our sacrificial imprimatur sanctified praise jeebus angelic twitter timeline, you and your table have grown as roleplayers.
  • You might have accomplished this by rewarding and incentivizing diplomatic solutions. Perhaps by having court in front of a king with a ton of armed guards around and there’s no way the party would ever start a fight. But that’s a little on the nose, PC's might not reliably be just scared away from a fight.
  • Or perhaps you incentivized their peaceful, diplomatic role playing ways with reprieve from what might have turned out to be certain death. Or perhaps they would have been awarded with significant loot after securing peace and calm in a villager hobo brawl. Or perhaps they unknowingly respected the peace of the sacred forest, and were rewarded for their discretion with a sweet forest animal pet. Perhaps they are sent on a quest to return some prisoners… alive. No reward if they’re dead. 
  • Encourage them to explore diplomacy-first character concepts or utility character class like utiliwarlocks, utilibards or utiliwizards, encourage them to grow or force feed them spells for utility, diplomacy, and environmental affects. 
  • Or guilt the players into a talk first, murder second pattern, by having them accidentally burn down a building, which on the second floor housed orphans. They’re not real orphans at all. Fuck em. Or have the players have the chance of attack ambushing the wrong caravan if they don't have a talk first, murder second approach.
  • Or perhaps, like we’ve said before, you invited a constructive, enthusiastic, positive ally to the table to help the party adapt to diplomacy and non-murdery roleplaying. All these would work. 
13. Jarrett wrote in fresh into his young DM career, first to satiate our egos (they hunger still) and then to complain about our podcast RSS feed, which doesn't have older episodes in it.

Unfortunately I think some RSS feeds truncate episodes beyond a certain age. Our podcast started up a preposterous 8 years ago, the first episode on April 12, 2010. Wow. Best we can do is provide the manual download links. Sorry about that. :( Our shit is in many other ways not together, this is just one more. You should come to expect this sort of shoddy workmanship from your favorite podcasts. Lowering expectations one podcast at a time, since 2010.

On that topic, any recommendations for superior podcast/blog platforms with an easy migration path from blogspot?

14. Nathanael, a brand new DM (back in 2016 anyway), feeds our egos more (our unquenchable hunger rises), and wrote a couple of long emails with great question topics for discussion.

So what if you've only been doing this for six months! You’re perfectly capable of being a versatile, agile, mobile, hostile DM in your first year or two. What’s important is that you learn, be open to feedback, and most importantly, play under other DM’s. Even DM’s you don’t like. 

Look, just like our parents, we pick and choose what we want to mirror in our own lives. My Dad wasn’t fantastic with kids, I want to be better at that. But he also had the work ethic of a goddamn horse, I like that. He wasn’t so great with new things, I want to be better at accepting change and new things. He was despite had quite a bit of technical expertise, I like that, I want to be like that too. Do the same with other DM’s you see, you’ll be adding to your repertoire in no time. And furthermore, even me, and I’ve been DM’ing since I was 14, I still now in my late 30s pick up new stuff I want to emulate.

Try also running an out-of-the-box campaign if you're used to homebrew, you'll learn from the story, the structure, the elements, the diversity of encounters, etc. (Practice hole-filling.) You may hate the way the module does some stuff - well, don't use that stuff in your future homebrew.

Nathanael then asks, "What are some of the most common noob DM mistakes?"
  1. Helping your players hook up with each other.
  2. Not being interested in your player’s character backgrounds.
  3. Having a villain that can’t be allowed to die.
  4. Having a lack of Mike N Ikes at the table (Please sponsor us Mike N Ikes!) 
  5. Failing to do enough prepwork or failing to pause mid-game to prep
  6. Playing favorites with players, unless they’re kids.
  7. Being too railroady
  8. Making players roll for mundane things that they should just succeed on
  9. Not understanding the rules (on a macro and micro scale; ruleset and world)
  10. Taking things personally; being competitive w/ players
  11. Punishing players in character for things done out of character
Nathanael then asks, "One of the members of our groups has ADD what is the best approach to DMing a group with a person(s) who have troubling focusing?"

So, this is a separate problem for a bigger podcast, but to be totally fair to you as a DM, unless you are a trained 2e educator or psychotherapist, this isn’t necessarily something that is entirely on you as the DM to deal with. What we have here should help benefit every table, everyone, with how you structure and present your material. If you find your table fairly unstructured, try increasing the structure even if your table is full of neurotypical players. Chad’s wife happens to be a clinical psychologist who deals with this stuff on a day to day basis who has helped us prepare the following bits.
  • Minimize distractions at the table. Have is a smaller number of players at your table (less than 5), a rule against phones and electronic toys/devices at the table. Allowing this player to be up and around the table but maybe not at their seat would be needed. Make sure you have communicated expectations around getting up from the table, seeking out other distractions, etc. All DM’s have to watch for this.
  • Everyone is going to have less patience for a DM's monologue than a DM will have patience for his/her monologue. If you think your monologue has gone on a little long, and you have a sense in the back of your head that you might be losing them - they're probably there ahead of you. All DM’s should watch for this. 
  • A person with ADD might rapid fire ideas to solve a puzzle or combat strategy without pausing to implement them or get anyone’s feedback, you’ll need to try and queue behaviors up, put one on pause while the others are executed by the party. Otherwise, someone with ADD might inadvertently dominate the players’ process of idea generation or brainstorming, so you’ll need to make sure to watch for this. All DM’s have to watch for this. 
  • A leader will tend to present themselves and their ideas more, that's okay. There's a difference between someone leading, and someone saturating the party with rapid-fire ideas. A leader may help you filter ideas - make sure they're not icing anyone out of the ideation process. All DM’s have to watch for this. 
  • Try to deliver your DM narrative/exposition via smaller chunks that are more experiential, and less lecture-format. Question and answer sessions would be better. Anything that might maybe kinda be considered boring to a neurotypical player is definitely going to be that way for someone with ADD, so try to break that up and limit that. Experiental description would be describing a scene through the senses of individual characters. A wizard notices these arcane features, a rogue sees coded thieves' cant on a wall, as opposed to saying, "You all notice marks on a wall." All DM’s should try this. 
  • Make sure to overemphasize things that the players must know. Don't be afraid to repeat yourself. If they're important, mention that important item three or four times if you're trying to communicate a critical piece of description/narrative. All DM’s have to watch for this. 
  • Build in some breaks for players to get up and move, grab a drink. Schedule biobreaks if you have to. At work, we schedule bio-breaks every hour at least for everyone to take care of whatever they need to take care of. Structure around these breaks, including a timer and clear expectations, would work best. All DM's should do this!
  • Try having soft, low-volume background music because some research indicates that for ADHD, that background stimulation of the brain would help keep their attention at a higher level than they would typically. We know this is far from ground breaking idea or technology for D&D, but specifically for players with ADHD, this could be helpful. All DM's could try this!  
Continuing, Nathanael asks, What are things a absolutely DM has to prepare and or be ready for?
  • NPCs. Use them, bring them back, have them progress along with the characters, have them turn good/evil, kill them, bring em back, etc. Have plans for them. A villager on the road becomes the mayor of the town by the end of the campaign, allowing the world to change along with the player characters. If you don't have any prepared, at least have a method for preparing them. Perhaps quickly generate them using DonJon random generator for NPC's and all sorts of things, or other similar sites.  Have resources at the ready for monsters, for easy maps, descriptions.
  • If your planning fails to predict where the players go, either adapt by modification your planned content, or tell the players to take a break while you prep for 10-15 minutes. Give yourself permission to take those minutes to come up with anything you might need in the moment. You don't have to admit if you were caught off guard, you can call for a break any time.
    • For the players - don't laugh/congratulate yourself on breaking the meta, or tease the DM about not being prepared. That's being a dick! 
  • Know the grand scheme, but not necessarily the order in which the grand scheme happens. If they have to go to points A B and C, and the players go to them in order B C and A, you need to transparently shift that around, make the players believe they’re doing it in a perfectly fine order. Feel free to not have a grand scheme in mind for a single session. Maybe you have just a world and a creature, and the players will take it from there. Maybe you’re just playing a pure sandbox, but you want make sure there’s something happening in the world. The sandbox can't be just static, you need events.
  • William tends to prep more, Chad tends to sandbox more. Both work. But both require prep at the long-term and before-session time frames (eventually).
  • Campaign session 0 is important for collaborative world-building and plot-building with the players. Get a sense for what the players are interested in, a few different hooks, and see which ones the players really take to. Sometimes Chad won’t have a grand scheme until session 3 4 or 5. Until then, he’ll set up a town, an encounter, and see what they latch onto, and start building a rising action from there. 
  • If you have a villain in mind and they meet early on, if you put that villain on the board, you should be prepared for that villain to die! Don't make a villain memorable because they cheat their way out out of combat, make one that's vulnerable and real. 
  • So it can really vary from DM to DM, but you still need to prep that town, that encounter, and the basic context and rules of your world.
Nathanael then makes some objectively false and provably fake suggestions that Mike n Ikes are just "par for the course chewy candy", which they are not. 

Also fuck Topeka (but we don't really mean that).

(However, the Westboro Baptist Church is indeed pure evil, a seething cesspool of bile, but there’s an amazing story and a TED Talk by Megan Phelps-Roper, a young woman who was raised in the Westboro Baptist Church and engaged in hatred online on twitter for the church, but she escaped and is now totally separated from that place and her family. And that has nothing to do with DND, but is just a nice story.)

Incorrect, slanderous statements about Mike N Ikes aside, the next question from Nathanael was familiar. "What are some ways to help bigger groups go quicker and how can I make their ability to develop their character easier on them?"

We've covered this topic a lot with DND4e to be fair. But seems ripe enough to talk a bit about it now.

So, 6 is right at maximum. It’s not a comfortable maximum either, it’s stretching the boundaries. So be fair to admit this. As far as making combat faster:

  1. Try standing up and driving the initiative order verbally and with cadence. 
  2. Ask the players, and have your players ask the other players, to make sure they’re paying attention during combat and ready to go. 
  3. Part of this is solved by having frequent gaming sessions - we know this is difficult. Players will be more familiar with their characters, and won’t have to research abilities or spells. If you go months between sessions, players will have to re-learn and re-remember their characters, and this will slow things down for sure.
  4. Part of that is just having players who know the system, know their PC's, and pay attention. I wouldn’t go so far as to be punitive, skipping turns and such, like James mentioned earlier, because folks will take that personally, but if most everyone else at the table is “getting it”, the tempo should be contagious, especially if it’s done in a positive, supported, enthusiastic way.
  5. Try to help the characters understand the limits of their out-of-character communication. They can’t realistically be having battle tactics conversations in the middle of battle without roleplaying just how short and succinct their communications are. They can’t realistically be having complex troubleshooting conversations while the boulder is rolling down at them.
  6. Early on, make sure you invest time to teach your players how to do things in the game engine - show them how their initiative and combat roll and damage is calculated - that way they don’t have to keep coming back to you or others for game engine questions. 
  7. Make sure if they are brand new to roleplaying, they know that basically whenever you ask them to roll for it, you mean a d20. Basic stuff like that really accelerates. In the immediate, it might slow everything down, but in the long term, players will get a grasp of the rules and things will move more quickly.
  8. Also, encourage them to build theirs characters with the book - not with an app. Building the characters with the app is fast but it really steals them of their ability to start absorbing the vocabulary and rules of the game engine. If they did build their character with an app or a website, just to get started, maybe next time they level up, encourage them to actually sit down with the books.

Then, Nathanael had an issue with some players rolling ridiculously overpowered characters, except for his wife, who didn't.

Yep, it’s against the DM’s creedo to play favorites. But there’s almost certainly going to be ways for you to maximize her abilities. Whatever she’s good at skill wise, test that. In combat, maybe feed her some loot for her weapon type, but not her exclusively.

Try to dump her sweet loot that is specifically plot-driven, important stuff, or maybe even temporary loot, as a way to boost her up. Try not to give her special treatment, try to give everyone special treatment. If she’s a spellcaster, try giving her access to additional spells or, maybe via some magical trinkets, extra spell slots or recharges. Again, everyone in the party should be growing their character, including with sweet sweet loots. Help everyone shine.

As for the character generation process itself, I’m in favor of the standard stack or array of ability scores (for DND5e anyway). It is not really in the spirit of things to roll a character up at home and then walk in with 3 18’s. Riiiiight. If anyone did that intentionally, that’s kinda BS, but it may be too late in the campaign (especially 3.5 years later!) to ask for a leveling or correction to that sort of thing. Regardless of the character generation method, try to make sure all your characters used the same process. You as the DM have the right to dictate the character generation process, including how the dice were rolled, what source material and genres they have access to, etc.

Overpowered PC's are only as overpowered as the enemies you throw at them. Be sure you know your rules, but then make sure to challenge them in combat. Work the combat so that maybe your OP characters get split into mano-a-mano combats, or separated/abducted somehow to have them face monsters worth of their rigged stats. Make sure to vary mobs of monster including enemy spellcasters and artillery to challenge the team to work together, and to use an array of variable tactics.

If you're stuck with overpowered characters, work the combat, split the overpowered characters, vary mobs of monsters to challenge the team to work together and use an array of variable tactics. 

Moral of the Podcast: Kids are the Worst

Gadgets The Podcast For Use This Very Night:

Encounter: Dragon's Escape Room

Also how about an encounter with a dragon that doesn’t involve combat, because there’s literally no way you could win, but rather is an exercise in parlay, or diplomacy, or persuasion about how. Perhaps also the dragon doesn’t have an interest in eating the players, but rather being entertained by them, and sets up a series of deadly traps or puzzles.

This could be a non-combat encounter based around an escape room. Escape rooms are definitely something that IRL are very popular now. You could use locks or keys or physical aspects at the table, escape room style, that includes word puzzles, hidden pattern puzzles, image difference recognition, word play.

This kind of at-the-table physicality could be a nice break from the grind of combat or from the players having to listen a lot - now the players are guiding. You could give them hints or breaks or clues or changes in difficulty based on their characters’ talents, but to be fair, the players really are solving these puzzles.

Tee shirt(kindof): To mix things up a bit, it’s a bumper sticker. Like clothes for your car’s butt. It captures today’s antagonistic hypermasculine violent American moment but adds the requisite amount of geekery.

Adventure Hook: Trail of the Signature Weapon

People or animals or beasts murdered by a signature weapon. Perhaps, for example, a three-bladed sword. And then later, someone you thought was an ally reveals their three-bladed sword, perhaps at a knighting or coronation ceremony.

There's debate, but three-bladed weapons or bayonets with a triangular cross section aren’t actually illegal according to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. A lot of people think they are, and that’s because the wounds they create cannot be easily stitched and they last for a long time after the battle, perhaps years, and can easily become infected. Remember without modern medicine, wounds from battle were often fatal later on after infection.

Character Concept: The Refugee Royal

This character’s royal blood set them and their family up for disaster. The young royal inherited a faraway throne in their prime but was quickly deposed by a violent coup d'é·tat, which left most of the royal family murdered at the hands of a dickbag uncle or cousin or something like that. Escaping to a faraway land whe re no one will know their face, their fame, or their tragedy, the young king or queen managed to rescue some who were dear to them. Two small royal children, a niece and a nephew. Fearing that their revolutionary enemies would one day find them, one child has been placed in the apprenticeship of the city avener, to safely scoop horse shit in obscurity, and the other anonymously placed in an orphanage nearby, and watched over regularly.

Being taken in as a day laborer, the young royal’s hunger for meaning, for means, and for revenge eats away at them, and the call for adventure is too much to resist. To whom would the royal risk revealing their secrets? What adventures would they accept? Who’s authority would they deem worthy of their service? And to what ends would the royal be willing to go?

Magical Item of the Podcast: Periapt of Wild Magic
A periapt is like a amulet or pendant set into jewelry, perhaps in any format that seems appropriate, like a crown or necklace or bracelet or broach or pterodactyl. The player has an opportunity to roll on a wild magic table for something to happen and it occurs voluntarily or involuntarily in a time of crisis.
  • Perhaps the wearer doesn’t actually know they’re wearing a Periapt of Wild Magic, thinking it was just pretty. 
  • Perhaps the party witnesses an NPC wear and experience this. 
  • Perhaps the effects are mild or entertaining when used voluntarily, but rampant and violent when the wearer is in crisis.
Player Tip: Don’t be a dick by… Allowing for and planning for character change.

Make sure you character is not static, and can grow and change. How many great coming-of-age works permeate modern fiction in all genres and mediums, or a great story defined by its character arc?

Breakfast Club, Catcher in the Rye, A Clockwork Orange, Ichigo from Bleach, Light in Deathnote (who goes from protagonist to antagonist), Ender’s Game, Luke or Anakin in Star Wars, Goonies, Island of the Blue Dolphins, A Wrinkle in Time, Hatchet, The Color Purple, Lord of the Flies, Fight Club, the movie Now and Then, Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, Jungle Book, Homer’s Odyssey, Harry Potter, the main character in any Dragon Age game or really the story arc in any video game where you level up.

How many times has Clint Eastwood’s character changed to come out of retirement to be the hero of the movie?

4: Unforgiven (cowboy thing), Space Cowboys (space cowboy thing) Gran Torino (detroit cowboy thing), Blood Work (cop cowboy? we didn't see it.)

But there are a lot of characters who come out of retirement to go on an adventure, a la Bilbo Baggins. For example: Deckard in Blade Runner, Nite Owl in Watchmen, Miles Teg in Heretics of Dune, Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, Korben Dallas in the 5th Element, Hugh Jackman in Swordfish, Memphis Raines in Gone in 60 Seconds, Rocky Balboa again and again, most everyone in Ocean’s 11, Mel Gibson in The Patriot, the satyr Phil from Disney’s Hercules, Brett Favre and Michael Jordan IRL, and in the most recent Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker.

DM Tip: Understand and plan for your party’s vagility. 

That’s right, vagility: the degree to which an organism can or does move within their environment. I learned this while listening to one of my other favorite podcasts, The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe. It shares a root with agility, movement, of course, and also with vague, which of course means wandering, uncertain, or meandering. Or vagabond, or vagrant.

Vagility is the opposite of sessile, which means fixed in one place, not moving. Deer, lions, rats, bees, wolves, for example are all high vagile creatures who move around their environment. Sessile creatures like barnacles, sponges, and corals do not move - they stay in one place generally.  Some organisms, like jellyfish, are only sessile as in a larval stage before becoming more vagile. #SurpriseExemplaryBiology

So, which will your party be? Think about this.
  • Will they have a headquarters? A castle to rest and store their goodies, like in Pillars of Eternity? A base where they store absent PC’s and  loot and get new jobs? Perhaps they'll spend a considerable amount of time at their keep, training, engaging in diplomacy and intrigue, crafting, preparing for a siege, or maybe just ruling as kings. 
  • Or will they be at the other extreme, where they are ceaselessly grinding thru tunnels without a proper bed, a loot crate to call their own, or pictures of the spouse and kids on the mantle?
Consider discussing this sort of thing with the party at the beginning of a campaign and also again in the middle of the campaign, as base-building could be a part of the game your players may or may not be interested in. At higher levels, they could have a stronghold to make them more sessile, or, a caravan or some magical transportation device which makes them even more vagile. You could build a campaign that is based in a home base area with lots of intrigue and diplomacy and roleplaying that is mostly in the same geography. Perhaps with attained wealth/power the characters won't want to roll around in dungeons.


While promising not to promise any timeline for another podcast, Chad then promised something by way of the minor announcement of a the work on a sequel to our book, The Exemplary Tome of Gadgets, available on Amazon worldwide. But we're not going to make the mistake of promising anything. 

Once again big thanks to the Diablo String OrchestraThe KoboldsMississippi Bones, our listener Chuck for the intro to the gadgets of the podcast jam, and mega-fan Joshua Bentley for many voice-overs (@voiceofthebigjb), who you can find at SoundCloud.com/TheBigJB.  


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