Greatest Hits 2013: Zombies: Breathing Life into an Overused Undead

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 31, 2013

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2013. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

This article was the final entry of our A to Z Blogger Challenge in April and it’s the final entry of our 2013 Greatest Hits. Nothing says “The End” like Zombies.

Zombies are still some of the most popular creatures in pop culture and mass media entertainment. The Walking Dead – both the TV show on AMC and the comic book – are still going strong and generating huge dollars. The Zombie obsession phenomenon seems to be as difficult to kill as actual Zombies.

In D&D Zombies are good monsters to throw at unsuspecting PCs regardless of their level. Zombies can be level 1 minions or epic level marauders. The beauty of Zombies is that they’re such a straight forward archetype. The problem is that they get repetitive and boring, hence the purpose of the original article.

Since writing this article I’ve tried to come up with new ways to make Zombies fresh and original and I’ve struggled. There seems to be only so much you can do with them before they stop being Zombies and start being something else. So if you find that you’ve hit that rut in your game my advice is to focus on making them scary. Don’t worry so much about the mechanics; try to make an impression on the players.

In a recent 4e game I used a bunch of Zombie minions. They fell easily enough with a single hit. However, on the Zombie’s next turn a roll of 16-20 on a d20 meant the Zombie got back up. This is a standard 4e mechanic. My tweak was to forego the first roll and have ALL the Zombies get back up the first time. They then rolled the 16-20 to see if they’d get up a second time.

The players, most of whom had faced Zombies before, were not expecting this and it made the encounter a lot scarier. Where they’d originally been content to fight, they were now seriously contemplating if they should run. A simple adjustment made a huge impact on the encounter. So if you want to use Zombies in your game and you feel they’ve become tiresome, try making small adjustments to increase the fear factor.

From April 30, 2013, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Zombies: Breathing Life into an Overused Undead.

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While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2013. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

So what do nerds do for fun? The Big Bang Theory has done a pretty good job of showing the guys indulging in all sorts of nerdy hobbies from video games, to sci-fi movie marathons, to cosplay, to board gamers, to Dungeons & Dragons. The hobbies may get the occasional cheap laugh because of the mainstream audience’s unfamiliarity with them, but for the most part they’re all shown in a fairly positive light.

The Big Bang Theory has been good for nerd hobbies and nerds in general. The show is one of the most popular on TV right now and it’s exposing the masses to all sorts of things they’d never herd of or seen before.

It’s no secret in my office that I’m a huge nerd, and my co-workers will often ask me about things they see on episodes of The Big Bang Theory. I haven’t been able to get any of my colleagues to game with me yet, but the curiosity factor is encouraging. They see the characters on TV having fun doing something they’ve never heard of and think that perhaps they’d have fun if they tried it.

I’m particularly encouraged when I see The Big Bang Theory cast playing D&D. When they play on the show their games tend to focus on a good mixture of exploration, solving puzzles, and general role-playing. They don’t seem to engage in combat or even roll dice that often but honestly that would be boring to show on TV so I understand why we don’t see that very often.

In my opinion, the most important aspect of the D&D games we’ve seen on The Big Bang Theory is that they’re always having fun. This is the best endorsement the game can get and I’m glad we keep seeing the gang play D&D in prime time. If this episode’s popularity was any indication then I expect we’ll see them playing more D&D in upcoming episodes.

From May 10, 2013, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: The Big Bang Theory D&D Episode – A Gamer’s Perspective.

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Greatest Hits 2013: Your Character’s Psychological Profile

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 29, 2013

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2013. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

Some would argue that personality is not something you can stat out on a character sheet; each character’s personality derives from the player running that character. I’d agree, but I’d also add that if you can quantify certain elements of a character personality that may help some players develop a unique personality for each character they play.

In D&D the only real measuring stick for personality seems to be alignment. Yet so few players and DM care about playing to a PCs alignment that it becomes an irrelevant statistic and is often left blank (in my experience).

In the article I talk about how most of my characters end up having a personality that’s an awful lot like mine. It’s easy to make new characters, but it’s a lot more difficult to create new personalities with each. If you participate in public play you might have a whole stable of character by the end of just one year. When 4e first came out I had at last a dozen LFR character and three or four PCs for my various home campaigns. Mechanically each was a different race and class, but as I played them the majority of these PCs behaved, acted and spoke just like me.

Creating a psychological profile for a character can give players that quantifiable measure they need to “get into character.” Knowing how cruel or loyal or selfish your PC is compared to other PCs can really help you develop a frame of reference by which to play your character.

From February 6, 2013, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Your Character’s Psychological Profile.

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Greatest Hits 2013: Stereotypical Gamers – Debunking the Myths

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 28, 2013

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2013. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

Not too long ago I read the fantastic book Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt. It’s the story of Dungeons & Dragons and the people who play it. Ewalt explores D&D from the game’s origins through its rise to cultural prominence, and its ripple effect on popular culture today. This book is great for gamers and non-gamers who are curious about D&D and RPGs.

Originally I was going to dedicate an entire post to reviewing this book, but I realized that singing its praises in the new intro to the Stereotypes article was a better way to go. In the book Ewalt gets back into gaming after a lengthy hiatus. He has a lot of preconceptions about the gaming community and holds many of the stereotypes we discus in the article below to be true. The book does a great job of providing a fair look at gamers and role-playing games as a whole and by the end Ewalt has debunked many of the myths.

As a hardcore gamer I found this book especially enlightening. I had no idea of how D&D came into being nor did I realize how influential it was in the creation of just about every other RPG that followed it. I easily identified with Ewalt as he explored D&D through the ages, seeing myself in many of his experiences. If you haven’t read Of Dice and Men, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy. No serious gamers should be without their own copy. In my opinion this book is as vital to your RPG shelf as the PHB and DMG.

Order Of Dice and Men on Amazon.com.

From April 22, 2013, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Stereotypical Gamers – Debunking the Myths.

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Greatest Hits 2013: Back to School Tips for Gamers

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 27, 2013

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2013. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

When I wrote this article I put a back to school spin on it. But rereading it I realize that the advice contained within is applicable pretty much year round. If you’re a gaming nerd or just a gaming enthusiast you should do your part to share your love of games with others.

The challenge I’ve found when trying to get new people into gaming is where to start. Most people hear “board games” and think of Monopoly or Scrabble. This is a reasonable response based on their limited gaming frame of reference, and it presents you with a great opportunity to show them just how far board games have come in the years since those classics were invented.

When I talk games with the uninitiated I usually begin by asking them what kind of games they enjoy. If they say they don’t know I present them with some of the gateway games that I love. Games like Ticket to Ride, Settlers of Catan and Forbidden Island. These games are relatively simple and easy to learn. But even explaining what these games are like can scare away a new gamer. I’ve found that to really get someone hooked you need to sit them down and play with them.

When bringing new gamers into the fold simplicity is key. Cooperative games are also very helpful as they encourage cooperation rather than an adversarial approach. Games like Catan and Forbidden Island don’t use a traditional game board which often blows people away as you begin setting things up. Today’s board games are sophisticated, inventive, and usually a lot of fun. These aren’t your parents’ games, but your parents may still enjoy them.

Just remember that your enthusiasm will be encouraging and contagious when you teach games to new people. However, keep the first few games light hearted and simple. Don’t necessarily introduce all the optional advance rules. Purposely make a bad move or two if they’ll demonstrate an important mechanic. Don’t throw the game, but make sure the new players are getting it, having fun, and have a chance of success.

If you got new games for Christmas and you’re going back to school next week, become a gaming ambassador this semester. Find new people with whom you can share the great hobby of board games. And if they’re really keen, then start to talk to them about RPGs and things a little bit more advanced than Monopoly.

From September 3, 2013, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Back to School Tips for Gamers.

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Greatest Hits 2013: 6 Ws of Character Creation

by Wimwick (Neil Ellis) on December 26, 2013

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2013. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

It was a welcome treat to have Wimwick contribute a few articles in April when we were doing the A to Z Blogging Challenge. This article for the letter “W” really came at the right time. As more and more people participated in the D&D Next play testing we saw a lot of new characters during public play. If we were lucky, players took 2 or 3 of the Ws into account when making characters. But it was rare that they ever took all 6 into account.

Regardless of what edition you’re playing or even what RPG you’re playing, this article provides players with great points for developing a really interesting a well rounded character. By defining your PC as more than a race & class you’re bound to have even more fun playing him.

Wimwick’s suggestion to add the extra W for weapon was an especially good point. A Lot of players pick the weapon that does the most damage and don’t take “coolness” into account. They forget that the kind of weapon you wield says as much about your character as the other 5 Ws.

After you answer the 6 Ws, be sure to incorporate those details into the game as you play. These are the things that make your character unique so be sure to share those details. Make the character memorable for the entire table and not just for you. Encourage other players to put the same kind of thought into their own PCs, and if they need help getting started you can point them back to this article.

From April 26, 2013, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: 6 Ws of Character Creation.

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Merry Christmas

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 25, 2013

The Dungeon’s Master team wishes all of our readers a safe and happy holiday season.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who visited Dungeon’s Master during the last year. Your continued support by visiting our site regularly and commenting often has helped make us successful. We hope you continue to visit during 2014 and we’ll keep providing relevant and interesting content.

As we move closer to the official releases of D&D Next in 2014 we will keep trying to provide content that is relevant to any edition of D&D. If there’s a particular topic you’d like use to cover or weigh in on, please let us know. Also, we’re always looking for guest bloggers so if you’ve got something to say about D&D that you want to share with other games, contact us and we’ll see about giving you a shot.

If you’re still looking for a great gift to give yourself or someone in your gaming group, we have a suggestion that’s in everyone’s price range. Give the gift of 4e D&D content directly into your inbox weekdays throughout 2014 by subscribing to the Dungeon’s Master RSS feed.


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Greatest Hits 2013: Should the DM Use a Screen?

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 24, 2013

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2013. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

It could be argued that the question “Should the DM use a screen?” is becoming less relevant in today’s digital world. At my home game the last two DMs kept all of their notes – including maps, monsters, and the module itself – exclusively on their digital devices. DMs don’t have to decide if they’ll use a screen or not, they now have to decide if they’re using a digital device or not. And if the answer is yes the original question is moot.

Using a digital device gives the DM all the secrecy of a screen without erecting a physical barrier between him and the players. The notes and references on the DM’s side of the screen are unnecessary as the DM can search for anything he doesn’t know off the top of his head with a few keystrokes.

Players who were once inspired by the fantastic artwork on the players’ side of the screen may now see dozens of images of monsters, NPCs, and locations in one session as the DM calls them up on his tablet. And with each new game the images will keep changing, unlike a static screen that eventually gets tiresome to look at.

If a DM with a digital device decides to use a digital dice roller he’ll eliminate any need for a screen at all. None of the DMs I play with use a digital dice roller; we all still roll the polyhedral dice on the table. Since we’re all roll in the open DMs this isn’t an issue.

As more DMs and players embrace emerging technologies and use them as part of their table top gaming experiences some of the gaming traditions and conventions will disappear, like the debate on whether or not to use a screen. But as long as people still play RPGs at the table there will be some who keep it old school. Use the screen or not, it’s up to you. Just be sure your decision makes sense for you and your group.

From June 19, 2013, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Should the DM Use a Screen?

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Greatest Hits 2013: 6 Tips for Making Potions Fun Again

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 23, 2013

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2013. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

All of the points I included in the original article deal with unidentified potions and the random things that may happen when a PC drinks one.

In tip 3. Mundane Identification I commented that I try to keep certain aspects of potions consistent so that players can learn what details will help them indentify new potions. This doesn’t mean that every healing potion should be blue and bubbly, but if that’s how you choose to describe them in your campaign world, try to keep it consistent. Regrettably I couldn’t find my master list from back in the day, but it’s easy enough to create your own. When PCs find potions be sure to describe the concoction by color, consistency, smell, and even taste.

Some generous DMs may allow a PC to take a very small sip to try and identify a potion. It won’t instill the potions effects upon the PC but it may reveal a familiar taste that will help them identify it. Of course if it’s poison then the PC will be subjected to the harmful effects. I used to do this but I found that I ended up including way more poison in the loot than seemed appropriate.

I’m going to take this opportunity to add one more tip for making potions fun again: 7. Mixing Potions. Sometimes PC will acquire potions that they can’t identify or just don’t feel are very useful. In 4e potions scale by tier so a paragon level party may find they have little use for some of the heroic tier potions. Clever players may decide to mix multiple potions together hoping that it will either create a new, better potions or just cause something fun and interesting to happen. I like this idea a lot and on the few occasions when this has happened I’ve rewarded the player’s ingenuity and imagination. Let the rule of cool guide your hand.

From July 2, 2013, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: 6 Tips for Making Potions Fun Again.

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Greatest Hits 2013: Making Healing Easier in D&D Next

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on December 22, 2013

While the Dungeon’s Master team enjoys some well-deserved vacation time, we’re breaking out the greatest hits and shining a spotlight on a few of our favourite articles from 2013. We’ve searched for hidden gems that our newer readers might have missed and our long-time readers will enjoy reading again. Enjoy a second look at these greatest hits from Dungeon’s Master.

Obviously there have been some changes to D&D Next since I wrote this article back in July. As was pointed out in the comments of the original article, there are healing powers at higher levels that do allow the Cleric to provide healing from a distance. But this article is more than a critique on a few powers in a beta version of D&D Next.

The reason I chose to include this article in the Greatest Hits this year was because I think players going from older editions of D&D (including 4e) to D&D Next need to realize that healing magic is special. In D&D Next it’s not as plentiful or commonplace as it was in 4e. Fewer classes can heal wounded PCs and there’s no Second Wind or other mechanic that allows everyone to just heal them self. The lesson here is that tactics must change as the rules change.

Too many players believe that they should run headlong into combat and throw consequences to the wind. They’ve played other version of D&D where the healer will swoop in, heal them, and keep them on their feet. Since that’s less likely to happen in D&D Next while the battle’s still raging on, using smart tactics is more important than ever before.

Players need to be more keenly aware of how many hit points their character has and how likely they are to lose them given each round the circumstances. In D&D Next there are fewer hit points per character per level (than 4e, anyway) which makes every fight life threatening. So as long as healing require an up close and personal interaction with a Cleric PCs should stay near the healer or make sure he can get to them easily.

From July 24, 2013, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: Making Healing Easier in D&D Next.

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