Curse of Strahd – Campaign Diary Session 5

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Well hello you little dungeon monsters you. It’s Slick Dungeon back again with a little campaign diary for the ultimate RPG vampire Strahd Van Zarovich.

Before I go too far, fair warning that this has spoilers for The Curse of Strahd.

You can read the first four campaign diaries here, here, here and here if you want to.

I am going to tell you how I prepared for the session, what happened in the session, and what I would change if I ran this again.

Preparation

First, of course, I read the part of the book that deals with the Tser Pool Encampment and the Vistani that live there, including Madam Eva. This section also has a key element of the campaign, which is the Tarokka reading, basically a fortune telling section, that determines where key items, allies and enemies will be during the campaign. I rehearsed this several times. I was hoping to have it memorized enough that I could do the reading without having to refer to the book but, there are 54 cards, a whole lot of text and a ton of variations on how this reading could turn out. I did end up improvising but I at least had the layout memorized and was able to still make it feel pretty special to the players (I think).

I also took a look at the reddit thread here. There is a section on the Tarokka reading and while I did end up using all the cards, there were still some useful tips in there, especially if you have played this before. I also prepared some random encounters as the session involved a bit of travel. I tend to like to have my random encounters pre-rolled so that there is less flipping of pages on my part when combat breaks out. That doesn’t mean you have to do it that way, but if you want to be a little more organized in your prep, I recommend always rolling for encounters and random treasure ahead of time.

The Fifth Session

At the start of the session, Ismark was ready to take Ireena to the town of Vallaki, where he believes the Burgomaster can shelter her. Of course, he has never met the Burgomaster himself and is pretty protective of his sister, so complications will undoubtedly arise. On the way, the party encountered three Scarecrows. They were able to handle them quite easily, although they did set a small forest fire. They put it out though. Miles Adelard is still getting his magic under control but he was able to display its power pretty well this session. Lady Elarian is growing as a fighter and although her go to move is to just attack it with a long sword, she is learning to use some of the fighter mechanics to benefit her attacks.

After the Scarecrows were dealt with, they arrived at the Tser Pool encampment. The Vistani all greeted them warmly, as if welcoming long lost family. They invited the PC’s to tell a story at the campfire. Miles told what basically amounted to the story of Orpheus, especially as told through the musical Hades Town. I thought that was great as my players are very well versed in musical theater and there are references in one way or another to Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, and Little Shop of Horrors dotted into my campaign. Some references come from the book itself, so that’s going to be pretty fun as they discover these things.

Tser Pool Encampment

Lady Elarian was much more tight lipped and Ismark and Ireena were more or less standoffish to the Vistani. At the end of the night, Madam Eva called the players into her tent.

Lady Elarian and Miles had woken up in a previous session to find the Sheperd and Anarchist cards in their possession after a dream was sent to them by Madam Eva. She first asked for them back and told them that she sent the cards because she felt they could help to free Barovia from Strahd. The players are pretty much just wanting to go home and Miles is pretty sure he can just have a rational conversation with Strahd to get out of there. Who knows, he might be right?

After a little bit of small talk and demands to know why they were there, Madam Eva did the Tarokka reading for them. I am going to spoil some locations of items here so if you happen to be a player, maybe don’t read this okay? Okay good.

Madam Eva
  1. The Tome of Strahd – This will be in the Wizard of Wines Winery. This is pretty good because 1., in Vallaki the Martikovs have visiting the winery as a ready made quest. And 2. because in the next session I have some Blight encounters ready for the players which should nicely foreshadow their enemies.
  2. The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind – This will be found in Castle Ravenloft in one of the crypts under the “Mad dog”. While this is likely to be the hardest item of the bunch for the group to find, I’m pretty thrilled with how they were left wondering who or what the mad dog is. They have a dog with them and think maybe there is some connection there (there isn’t) but otherwise they have no clue.
  3. The Sunword – This will be in Rictavio’s wagon. This is in the town of Vallaki so it’s likely to be the first item they get. Rictavio is a false identity for another character in the story, so my only concern here is when and how to reveal Rictavio’s true agenda to the players, especially once they inevitably go routing through his stuff.
  4. The ally – The good news for the players is they already have her. Their ally is Ireena. Part of me is really excited about that because they feel like they accomplished something without even trying to do anything other than help people. But the other part of me is a little disappointed because that may mean one less NPC to get to meet down the road.
  5. Strahd – They will be meeting him at the tomb of his mother. The card was the raven and the reading mentioned that so now, they think almost anything raven related could lead them to him. That’s kind of fun because there is one heck of a lot of raven imagery in this campaign.

After the reading, they said their good nights and that’s where we ended the session. Next up should be the road to Vallaki and possibly getting into town and little bit of exploring. I’m looking forward to it because I feel like the campaign can really get going from here on out.

What I would do different

For this session, there are a few things I would change. It went relatively well though, so it’s not an overly extensive list.

  1. It was hard to memorize the whole Tarokka deck. If I had it to do over again, I would have practiced a lot more, to the point where I knew what each card represented and where the treasures were hidden without having to look. That’s a lot of memorization though so I’m not sure how practical it is. I also briefly considered stacking the deck but a. I don’t think I could pull off the slight of hand and b. this is the first time I am running this campaign so really anywhere they get off to will be interesting to me.
  2. This is not so much for this session but for previous ones. Madam Eva is a pretty major deal, so I think I would talk her up more in the town of Barovia next time and make it seem like it’s really hard to get to talk to her and that only a privileged few get to. I’d want to make her almost mythical before they meet her.
  3. Now, I didn’t know that they would intersect with Rictavio, but in reality he is a legendary vampire hunter in disguise. While Ismark definitely knows a dude named Rictavio rolled into town a few months ago, I feel like I want to talk up the vampire hunter side of his personality a lot more. As written in the module, in this section the Vistani talk about the Mad Mage of Mount Baratok. This is a really cool NPC and I hope my characters meet him, but they already knew a little bit about him. If I had this to do over again, I would instead have the Vistani and the Tser Pool encampment talk about Van Richten (the vampire hunter) instead. There will be more chances for him to be spoken of, but I feel like his reputation could easily have been bolstered, had I known for sure the players would likely encounter Rictavio. I think if I ever did a stacked card reading with him as an ally, I would absolutely do that. For this time, I don’t regret doing the story of the Mad Mage, but I also wish I had the vampire hunter in there.

I’ll be back next time to tell you if the characters make it to Vallaki and if anything interesting happens along the way.

If you want to get a physical copy of Curse of Strahd for yourself, check it out below.

Cursedly Yours,

Slick Dungeon

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Kids Kill Monsters – How to Prepare to play Dungeons & Dragons with Kids Part 6

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Hi Everyone! It’s your friendly Dungeon Master, Slick Dungeon here. Today I want to talk more about how to role play with kids. In my last posts I talked about whether you should play D&D with kidswhy playing D&D was healthy for kids, I showed you who does what at the table, gave you a tour of the dice and told you to read through the simple ruleswent through the Introduction of the simple rules with you, walked you through the first section of the simple rules and talked about choosing a race and role playing a dwarf and role playing an elf. That makes today, Halfling day!

I’ll be honest here, unlike elves and dwarves and humans, there are just not a lot of examples of halflings to base your characters on. If you have read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, those are essentially your guides beyond what is available in Dungeons & Dragons. And there is a lot in common with both the Halflings in D&D and those that Tolkien created. I’ll go through what that typically means in a role playing sense but in my mind, I tend to just think of them as shorter, longer lived humans, who mostly prefer staying at home. So essentially, me when you get right down to it. These characters are pretty good for kids to role play because most kids can relate to a reluctant hero and being dismissed or ignored because they are too small to take much notice of.

One difference you do see between D&D halflings and Tolkien hobbits is that halflings in D&D can be nomadic. They still want to be at home for the most part, it’s just that home can move with them. Also, the D&D halflings are actually, shorter on average than hobbits are. They tend to be about 3 feet tall and weigh 40-50 pounds.

You might also be wondering why in D&D they are called halflings but in Lord of the Rings they are called hobbits. Let’s just say that it was a long drawn out legal issue and therefore in D&D we play as halflings but it’s totally okay if in your mind you pretty much think of them as hobbits.

Halflings tend to be cheerful and friendly. They are loyal to their friends, kind and sharing. They also tend to blend into just about any society or culture. In addition, they are good at stealth and hiding because, well, they are small and everyone underestimates them.

One of the tougher to solve riddles to me if you play a halfling is why they want to leave their homes. Sometimes it is because they are different from other halflings and don’t really belong. Others it is because they have an adventurous heart. To me the most interesting reason, though, would be that they want to protect their homes from something that threatens it. This is why Bilbo and Frodo leave their shire and it’s still a gripping narrative to latch onto even if you are a kid. It’s easy to understand how you would want to do that and how difficult it might be to set out in the first place.

If you are playing with a kid, I usually would recommend playing to the most obvious of halfling characteristics. They are curious, and love their homes, they love their family and friends, and sometimes, they want a little adventure, even if they may not be aware of it in the first place. That being said, there is no restriction against playing against type. You could play a halfling who just can’t wait to leave home, is hardly ever hungry and simply doesn’t like most people. It’s all in how you want to play it and I think halfing is one of the playable races that tends to be pretty flexible. The only problem is that like I said above, there are not tons of examples to point to. So if your kid wishes to be a halfling that is a little different, I would say have them think of a human character they like and then just give them the halfling traits.

Speaking of which, here they are.

Halfling Traits

There are a few things you get for playing a halfling

Ability Score Increase

Halflings get a Dexterity increase of 2. If you don’t want to have to do complex math with your kids, just let them know that halflings are fast and flexible. Dexterity is one of the six abilities their character will be good at.

Age

A halfling is an adult at 20 but can live to be around 200 years old. So there is a lot of life in these characters and depending on what age you play, they may have a very different outlook than a human.

Alignment

Halflings tend to be lawful good. That means they are going to follow rules and laws the majority of the time. But don’t feel like you or your kids have to stick to that. Sometimes, breaking a law, is a good act and that doesn’t make the halfling bad if it happens.

Size

Like I said above halflings are about 3 feet tall and don’t weigh a lot. They are pretty much human child size and can easily be mistaken for just that, especially on first glance. Mechanically speaking, in the game, your size is small.

Speed

Shorter legs means it’s a little harder to keep up with humans and elves. These creatures walk at a speed of 25 feet. Basically they can keep up with a party of humans and elves, but they are going to be at the back of the line.

Lucky

This is one reason any kid might choose to play a halfling. They are lucky. Who needs to be able to wield a heavy sword when you can just be lucky enough to be bending over at the right time when someone attacks you? And then lucky enough that your frying pan accidentally knocks them out. In most situations in the game, when a halfling rolls a 1, they get to reroll the die. They have to take the new number but it at least gives them a chance at something better than total failure.

Brave

They might be small but never let it be said that a halfling lacked in courage. They tend to be brave in circumstances that would leave most other people cowering. Because of this, when they have to roll to see if they are frightened, they get advantage. Don’t worry if you don’t know quite what that means yet. Basically, when something happens that could impose the “frightened” condition on a halfling, they get to roll the dice two times and take the higher number.

Halfling Nimbleness

If you are a halfling and you are up against any creature that is bigger than small, you get to move right through their space if you want to. Considering the fact that almost all monsters are at least medium size, this can be used to huge effect (pun intended) on the battlefield.

Languages

Halflings speak common and well… halfling. Halflings tend not to teach anyone other than a halfling the halfling language so that second language is only useful in pretty specific circumstances. Also, it’s generally not a language most other players take as one of their optional languages. Just be aware that there is a halfling language and halflings speak it.

Subraces

There are only two subraces for halflings in the basic rules which is kind of nice because that makes it easy to choose.

Lightfoot Halfling

This subrace of halflings is a little more spread out and just a bit more adventurous so you tend to encounter them more often. Because they are affable and friendly, and not an uncommon sight to most other creatures, they get to increase their charisma by 1. This comes in really handy when you are trying to sweet talk a dragon out of it’s treasure or trying to get the best deal from a merchant on a hunk of cheese.

In addition, these halflings are really stealthy. If there is a creature that is bigger than the halfing, they can hide behind it. And depending how intelligent it is, the halfling might even be able to hide behind the creature they are fighting. There has been more than one halfling who was able to fell an ogre because the ogre didn’t realize there was a halfling riding on its back.

Stout Halfling

Some say that these halflings have some dwarven blood in them. That might be why the special things they get are very similar to what dwarves have when it comes to resisting poison. They get to increase their constitution by 1. They also get to have advantage on saving throws against being poisoned and have resistance to poison damage. In other words, it’s pretty hard to poison these creatures.

Slick Dungeon’s Tips on Halfling Characters

Usually this spot is reserved for me telling you what I think works best for kids in playing whatever race they chose. In this case, I am instead going to give you a reading/viewing recommendation. Our model halflings pretty much come from The Hobbit in which our halfling plays the reluctant hero called to grand adventure and The Lord of the Rings in which our halfling plays the reluctant hero called to grand adventure in order to save the world. I highly recommend reading The Hobbit book to and with your kids at any age. It’s a beautifully crafted and fun story. The Lord of the Rings is extremely more complicated and for older kids is amazing. But it can be hard to wrap your head around if you don’t have the vocabulary for it. Both of these stories are essentially the hero’s quest story. Even if you have never read these stories, you’ve seen the hero’s quest. It’s what Percy Jackson does, it’s what Will in the Ranger’s Apprentice series does, and it’s what Luke Skywalker does in Star Wars. Here’s the one major difference between those series and the ones with halflings; the halflings don’t want to leave home but the others do. That’s it, it’s that simple. Now like I said, the halfling can be played a bunch of different ways so you don’t have to stick to what I recommend but if you want an iconic halfling to base a character around, choose between Bilbo and Frodo. Sam’s also great for his loyalty but there is a reason he is not the main character. He’s not called to adventure, he’s called to his friend. And for a kid, that can also be an absolutely wonderful motivation for his character to leave home. Let your kids imaginations go as far as they want for these creatures, and then just remember that they have specific halfling traits.

Thanks for reading the post. I hope you got a couple of good tips out of this and I would love to hear how your games with kids go. Feel free to let me know in the comments.

Next time I will be writing about how to be human. It’s definitely something we all need a little practice with.

Adventuringly yours,

Slick Dungeon

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever endorse products I have personally used. Thank you for your support!

Kids Kill Monsters – How to Prepare to play Dungeons & Dragons with Kids Part 5

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Hi Everyone! It’s your friendly Dungeon Master, Slick Dungeon here. Today I want to talk more about how to role play with kids. In my last posts I talked about whether you should play D&D with kidswhy playing D&D was healthy for kids, I showed you who does what at the table, gave you a tour of the dice and told you to read through the simple ruleswent through the Introduction of the simple rules with you, walked you through the first section of the simple rules and talked about choosing a race and role playing a dwarf. Today we are going to continue by talking about role playing Elves with children.

Elves are mystical and ethereal creatures in Dungeons & Dragons. They tend to be thin and just slightly under average human height. They are very long lived and can be well over 700 years old.

For a kid, those are a lot of fun traits to portray. Who doesn’t want to feel like they can live forever, be beautiful and graceful, and know more than most of the people around you? Still, this can be challenging to role play. But remember that kids are the ones driving their characters so if they want to role play the Elf they play as being younger and not knowing as much, there’s no problem with that. And if they start acting like their Elf knows everything, but you know in fact that what they are saying is silly, don’t spoil it for the kid. Let them believe their character has vast and deep knowledge if that’s how they want to play it. Don’t let your own worldview cloud what they think is deep insight. Elves also tend to be diplomatic. For most kids, that’s not an easy thing to role play but it can be done. As long as they understand that their character would be the one that is trying to smooth a situation over, they’ll be able to give it a shot.

Most elves come from woodlands and tend to be more in tune to nature than shorter lived races such as humans. The most common reason that elves take up adventuring in the first place is more or less out of boredom. They have long lives and want to see the world, so after a few centuries of hanging out with your family, you’d probably want to get out for a bit too. That doesn’t have to be why your kid’s character plays one but it’s pretty easy reason to give if they need one.

Another cool thing about elves is that they get to choose when they are adults. No one declares it for them. A lot of kids can get behind that for sure. In the basic rules they give child names and adult names for elves. This can be confusing, so make sure you know if your kid is playing an Elf who is a child or an adult.

Elf Traits

There are a few things you get for being an Elf.

Ability Score Increase

Elves get a Dexterity increase of 2. Again, if you don’t want to have to do complex math with your kids, just let them know that Elves are fast and flexible. Dexterity is one of the six abilities their character will be good at.

Age

As stated above, the ages can range hugely with elves. Typically a 100 year old elf is going to be a young adult and one who is in their 700s is getting on in age.

Alignment

Elves tend to be a little chaotic in their alignment but tend to be more on the good side. The definite exception to that is the Drow, which we will talk about when it gets to subraces below.

Size

For this I would just think slightly shorter, somewhat skinnier human. Mechanically speaking, their size is medium which can be important in game play.

Speed

The speed for elves is 30 feet which makes them pretty much the same speed as humans.

Darkvision

One of the cool things about being an elf is that you can see in dark and dim lighting. If it’s dim light to everyone else, it’s bright light to you. If it’s dark to everyone else, it’s dim to you. That effect extends out 60 feet. But when you are in darkness, you can only see shades of gray and not colors.

Keen Senses

In the rules it says that Elves have proficiency in the perception skill. The main thing to remember if you are the Dungeon Master is that elves are far more likely to notice a threat before others do.

Fey Ancestry

If you are new to D&D and you read, “You have advantage on saving throws against being charmed, and magic can’t put you to sleep.” the second half probably seems fine but the first half of that sentence may be confusing. There are some magical ways that a creature can be “charmed” which is a condition that affects the character. Basically elves are hard to sweet talk into doing anything they don’t want to do, even when someone tries to do it magically. That’s one of the advantages of being an elf,

Trance

This is honestly my favorite thing about elves in D&D. They don’t have to sleep! They basically meditate for four hours a day and they are fully rested. Between this trait and their high perception, elves make the best creatures to take watch in almost any situation. They are much more likely to detect a threat and rouse the party. That can be a ton of fun to role play.

Languages

Elves speak common and elvish. The elvish language is beautiful and melodic. This is perfect for bards to weave into song, that is, if they can get a grasp on the complex language. While it can be nice for other characters to be able to speak elvish as well, I don’t think it is as vital as having at least one character be able to read Dwarvish characters.

Subraces

There are three basic subraces for elves and I definitely have one that I prefer when it comes to kids.

Drow

There is one subrace of elves that I personally don’t recommend much for kids to play. That’s the Drow. The reason? Almost all Drow are supposed to be evil. The most famous Drow of all is Drizzt Do’Urden, ranger of the North. He has had tons of books written about him and gained the trust of most of the people who have fought by his side. But guess what? It’s really complex to play a dark elf how is just trying to break through and be good. Some kids, of course can run with this and make it work but in my experience I wouldn’t recommend this for a kid under 12 or so. If your kid just really wants to play a Drow, there is no reason you can’t have Drow be good aligned in your campaign. And again, this is just me but I think most kids want to be the hero of their story rather than the villain, which is just much easier if you don’t come from an evil group to begin with.

High Elf

These elves are a bit more knowledgeable than others and therefore they get to increase their intelligence score by 1. They are good at using the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow. In addition they get to learn a spell from the wizard cantrip list which is always fun. It can be a little complicated when you get into spellcasting so that can be a barrier for kids when there is too much to figure out. These elves also get to speak an additional language. When I picture this type of elf in my mind, the character that comes to me is always Elrond from Lord of the Rings. That’s just my take on this subclass though, it doesn’t have to be yours.

Wood Elf

Wood elves are my favorite for kids. These creatures get to increase their Wisdom score by one, they get to have proficiency with the longsword, shortsword, shortbow, and longbow, they get to add 5 feet or movement to their movement speed, and can attempt to hide even when they are only lightly obscured by foliage, heavy rain, falling snow, mist, and other natural phenomena. Which makes them exceedingly useful in any campaign that might take place with some woods or some bad weather. I love to see it when kids try to sneak up on their enemies and are successful. Plus this subrace is more in tune with nature and plenty of kids can relate to that. I just think this kind of elf is a whole lot of fun and the role play potential is huge.

Slick Dungeon’s tips on Elf characters

As always, everything I put up above is totally subject to change based on how you want to run your campaign. Elves can be a little difficult to role play since they are supposed to be aloof. Some kids interpret that as silence. I can see why too. If you watch Lord of the Rings, Legolas does a lot of standing around staring and looking graceful. He spends a lot less time chit chatting than the other characters. While that works awesome in a movie, that’s hard to pull off with kids. If you kid wants to play a talkative wood elf, there is no reason she can’t do that. If your kid wants his elf to be clumsy and a bit silly, that works too and could be really fun. I think getting some of the mechanical stuff in this class is really useful. Like I said, they make great lookouts and they are very good at stealth a lot of the time. Plus elves are generally deadly when it comes to combat. I would just make sure that your kid really wants to play one and understands, not necessarily what elves are supposed to be like according to the rules, but how they want to play an elf. Make sure it’s something you can get on board with and that won’t just turn into the role player staying silent to seem aloof.

As far as playing Elf NPC’s, that can be a little easier. You just need to make sure you understand the culture of the elves in your campaign. Are they a secluded society or do they tend to blend in with everyone? Would it be uncommon for someone to encounter elves in your campaign? If so, why? The typical trope is to play elves with English or Welsh accents but you don’t have to do that. You can have an elf who sounds like he is from New Jersey or Boston or whatever if you want to. They don’t have to have any kind of accent either, but since elves do tend to be ethereal creatures, there is usually something to make them stand out. Other than the pointy ears of course. Just decide what that is for your game and lean into it, I’m sure you and your kids will have a blast.

Thanks for reading the post. I hope you got a couple of good tips out of this and I would love to hear how your games with kids go. Feel free to let me know in the comments.

Next time I will be writing about role playing a Halfling.

Adventuringly yours,

Slick Dungeon

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever endorse products I have personally used. Thank you for your support!

Curse of Strahd – Campaign Diary Session 3

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Hi all you dungeon creatures, Slick Dungeon your friendly Dungeon Master back with more campaign diaries for the Curse of Strahd.

You can read the first two campaign diaries here and here if you want to.

I am going to tell you how I prepared for the session, what happened in the session, and what I would change if I ran this again.

And once again, warning that there are spoilers below so if you are playing Curse of Strahdwait until you finish to read this post. That goes for my players too!

Preparation

After being stranded in the lands of Barovia and defeating the “Death House”, my players were ready to see more of the area. They basically had two choices, try and go through the deadly mists (that they didn’t know yet were deadly) or head toward the village of Barovia. Guess which they ended up choosing?

I knew they would have to walk down the road so I was ready to roll on some random encounter tables and I had stat blocks handy for what they might run into. I also took a look at the reddit thread here. There is a great section on beefing up the village of Barovia since there aren’t a ton of obvious missions to do there. I also made a lot of notes on NPC’s because, there are quite a few in this book.

Finally I took a look at this video to prepare.

With that all set up, we were ready to play.

The Third Session

Right off the bat, I told the players that they were on a road and on one side was a mist and in the opposite direction there was a sign pointing toward the Village of Barovia. They were pretty freaked out by Strahd from the last session so they wanted to try to get out of there as quick as they could. Unfortunately for Lady Ellarian Brysalor and Miles Adelard just entering the mist gives you one level of exhaustion. It didn’t take them long to figure out that they were going nowhere that way. They headed towards the village, along with the dog they found in the Death House.

I rolled on the random encounter table and it came up with four wolves. I was pretty sure that they would totally kill the party if any roles went really bad so the wolves followed and kept getting closer. In addition to that there was a raven that seemed to be leading the part along, although I don’t think my players actually made the connection there. That’s fine though because the raven is actually a Wereraven and will come into play later in the game.

It took them about two in game nights to get there and the wolves did end up attacking. Miles rolled really low again so none of his spells worked (he’s a sorcerer at level 3 at this point). Luckily before the wolves totally overwhelmed them, a swarm of ravens attacked the wolves and the characters made it out of there.

A hungry wolf looking for supper

When the pair (or trio if you count the dog and yeah, my players totally count the dog) got to the gates of Barovia they were a bit weary. They knocked on the first door they saw and found a Barovian family with a sick father. Miles leaped into action to cure the father but rather than be appreciative, the people just seemed kind of hollow. This is because they don’t have souls as is written for many Barovians in the campaign book. The players thought it was a little weird that they weren’t more appreciative but didn’t think too much of it.

Gates of Barovia

They made their way over to the Blood of the Vine tavern where they met a few Vistani. Considering the experiences they have had with Vistani so far, my players are not very trusting of those people and I can’t say I blame them, what with them getting tricked into going to Barovia and all. They also met Ismark Kolyanovich, a pretty major NPC in the book. He asked the party to help him protect his sister from the vampire Strahd and so far they have an uneasy trust of him.

They explored the town a bit and made it to Bildrath’s mercantile where they met Bildrath who gave them a quest in exchange for a discount at his store. They ended up finding and fighting an Ankheg, and successfully brought the goods back. Even so, Bildrath is a real cheapskate in this book so he still tried to take advantage of the characters.

Later that day, Ismark wanted to show the players just how dangerous it was to take on Strahd. He told them he would help them find a Vistani encampment in exchange for helping him to escort his sister Ireena to the town of Vallaki where he thinks she will be safe from Strahd. Then he showed them that there was an army of ghosts that walk toward Castle Ravenloft at midnight every night. This is all that’s left of the previous adventurers that tried to take on the vampire. I think Ismark showing them that before he allowed them to agree to their mutual deal gained him a lot of trust from the party.

Ismark

At that point the players decided it was time for a good long rest but they did spend a few minutes talking to the bartender at the Tavern and to the Vistani there. The bartender is soulless and so that gave the characters a good chance to ask about what was wrong with the guy. They learned that not everyone here has a soul and in fact, there are a lot of people that don’t. The Vistani told them a little bit about what they knew about Strahd but not much. The characters also wanted to know how they could get their hands on Stanimir for bringing them here in the first place. They’re not too happy with that guy.

The next day, Ismark plans to go with Ireena to bury his father’s body. We ended our third session here so I will be back more with what happened next in later posts.

What I would do different

I think most of this session went well but there are a couple of things I would change if I ran this again.

  1. I think I would roll ahead on the encounter table prior to the session to make sure that whatever the players encounter wasn’t going to wipe out the party at the earliest levels. (I do usually do this but wanted to give it a shot the other way this time)
  2. Honestly, I am kind of tired of playing merchants who can’t stand their customers so I think I would make Bildrath less miserly the next time I played this. I know it’s kind of a common trope to have merchants that are overpriced and just don’t like that characters and while that fits well with this story, it gets old just telling players that everything is way out of their price range.
  3. I think the thing that worked best was Ismark earning the trust of the characters but I will be honest, I didn’t feel like I role played him that well. I should have read up on him a little more before the start of the session.

I’ll be back next time to tell you how it goes with the burial of the Buromaster in our next session.

If you want to get a physical copy of Curse of Strahd for yourself, check it out below.

Cursedly Yours,

Slick Dungeon

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever endorse products I have personally used. Thank you for your support!

Curse of Strahd – Campaign Diary Session 2

D&D Campaign Adventures for Tales of the Yawning Portal - Available now @ Dungeon Masters Guild

Hi Everyone, Slick Dungeon your friendly Dungeon Master back with more campaign diaries for the Curse of Strahd.

You can read the first campaign diary here if you want to.

I am going to tell you how I prepared for the session, what happened in the session, and what I would change if I ran this again.

And once again, warning that there are spoilers below so if you are playing Curse of Strahd, wait until you finish to read this post. That goes for my player too!

Preparation

My players were left stranded in Barovia on the road leading to the village and the first building they came to was a house. Outside were two children who beckoned them to come in and save their little brother from a monster in the basement. The players readily agreed but did not know they were entering the so called, “Death House.”

The Death House is a module for 1-3 level players that you can find in the appendix to Curse of Strahd. You can also get this as a free module to play as a stand alone one shot adventure here. This is a great module to do if you want a bit of a grinder haunted house for low level characters. I think it would probably be fun to run around Halloween and I would say it takes about four hours total to run so it’s not a huge session commitment.

I prepared for this part by reading the Death House section in Strahd, then I took a look at this reddit thread and used some, but not all of the changes in there.

I am kind of an over preparer so I made notes between the book and the thread and wrote an outline that I then printed out. If you do that when you run a campaign, remember not to rely solely on your notes. It’s still fine to improvise right in the middle of what you are doing and there is no predicting what your players will do. I often find myself happy to have the crutch of the notes but then only kind of glancing at them during the session.

With that all set up, we were ready to play.

The second session

Lady Ellarian and Miles Adelard have entered and explored the first floor of Durst Manor. They found a few curious items such as a book that told Miles’ life story in exact detail up to the moment he was in, with the last page saying a creature attacked and then a blood splatter at the bottom of the page. When Miles went to look behind him, there was no creature. Lady Ellarian looked into a mirror and found herself reflected back but ten years older. There was a room where some stuffed wolves moved but… only when they were not looking.

They made their way up to the second floor at which point they made their first mistake. They rushed past a suit of armor only to discover that it was animated. The suit kept trying to push them off of the balcony but they eventually defeated it. Miles did have to make some death saving throws first though. He passed them and his character is still alive.

The battle was pretty vicious but the characters got to level up as a result. They explored all the rooms and realized that the only way to go was up.

In one room they found a note written by Strahd Van Zarovich and they freaked out. It was pretty awesome because they were convinced Strahd was there and were panicked about what to do. That’s perfect in a horror setting because you always want the players to feel unbalanced and like anything could happen.

Eventually they encountered a few ghosts, ghasts and spirits and started to piece together what happened years ago at Durst manor. They story is that the father of the house had an affair with the nursemaid. The mother who was already going a little off the deep end lost it. They had been conducting rituals with a cult in tribute to Strahd in hopes of gaining his favor. One night, the mother, locked her two oldest children in their bedroom so that she, her husband and the cult could complete this ritual. But before that happened, the wife killed the nursemaid, the husband hung himself and then the wife sacrificed the baby. The ritual worked, but it didn’t call Strahd, it called a Shambling Mound instead. That creature devoured everyone who was left in the basement dungeons, including the wife. Strahd thought this whole family was pathetic and was pretty much glad to be rid of them for annoying him with their stupid rituals in the first place. Poor Rose and Thorn starve to death in their room, thinking that there is a monster in the basement, because that’s what their mother told them. In addition, they are pretty sure someone took their baby brother Walter down there. That’s why Rose and Thorn ask anyone passing by to help out.

After a few encounters with these ghosts who are in the house (all of them non-combative) and finding some keys, the party was able to unlock some secret doors that would allow them to go down into the basement dungeons. They also picked up a dog that is still following them around.

That’s where things started to get serious. They started by entering the crypts of the house. Somehow, even though I gave pretty much every clue possible they couldn’t figure out that the crypt labeled Walter Durst was for the baby. I don’t think that was my failure in this case, I just think that they missed it.

They found some treasure which was exciting for them but then promptly fell into a spiked pit trap which was also exciting but in more of an oh no we are going to die here kind of way.

While exploring the Larder they were viciously attacked by a Grick. This one knocked out Miles with ease and although he technically died in the encounter, he was brought back although he is not sure how. I do but I’m not going to spoil the surprise here because it should come into play in a later session.

The Grick was a lot tougher creature than I remembered though and it had a pretty easy time going after the adventurers.

In their next encounter they had a little more warning because Lancelot (the dog that they found) started whimpering when a hand rose out of the ground. The fought courageously against four ghouls and stood their ground.

After that they moved onto a room with a statue in it and the statue was holding an orb. Miles touched it and boom, now Strahd knows the adventurers are in town. Of course the players and PC’s don’t know that but I do.

As they delved further into the basement they realized that there were ghostly specters performing rituals over and over again. The characters were either going to have to stop the ritual or stop whatever the ritual called forth. Or I guess they could have sacrificed the dog and completed the ritual but, who wants to kill an innocent dog? So the Shambling Mound was summoned and there was a loooong battle. Miles hit it with some magic and Lady Ellarian stuck it with her longsword more times than I could count but in the end they were triumphant.

Then chaos broke loose. The house began tumbling down around them. We ran a skill challenge for them to escape before sudden death. They had to succeed on four skill checks before getting three failures. Using dexterity, stealth, acrobatics and deception, they were able to avoid various obstacles and survive.

What did they find once they got outside of the house? A gift basket from Strahd himself with four potions of healing and a thank you note for dealing the the “Death House” for him.

To say the players feel off balance would be an understatement I think. They are essentially stranded on a road that leads one way and have to basically walk into the town where they know things can’t be good.

What I would do different

Here’s what I would do different next time I run this part.

  1. I would use Lancelot more as an early warning for characters to realize combat is coming.
  2. I would give even more clues about the whole situation of what lead up to the death of the Dursts.
  3. I would probably ratchet the Grick down a bit depending on how experienced the players I am playing with are. That thing hits really hard once it has hold of you.
  4. I would find more opportunities to have Rose and Thorn show up. (By the way if you use Rose and Thorn, showing their picture just kind of makes it so the characters won’t trust them. They can actually be helpful to the characters so I hid their picture from my players.)

I’ll be back next time to tell you what happens on the road to the Village of Barovia.

f you want to get a physical copy of Curse of Strahd for yourself, check it out below.

Cursedly Yours,

Slick Dungeon

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever endorse products I have personally used. Thank you for your support!

Curse of Strahd – Campaign Diary Session 1

DriveThruRPG.com

Hey everyone out there, it’s your friendly Dungeon Master Slick here. I’ve had a lot of time to hang out with some friends lately and we decided to play a little game you may have heard of called Dungeons & Dragons. We wanted to go with Curse of Strahd since none of us had played it before. I got to be the Dungeon Master and I have two players playing. Before you ask, yes we did this while practicing social distancing. I stayed in my dungeon and they stayed in theirs and we played online. If you click the link above for Strahd, do be advised that it is for Fantasy Grounds that is an online platform you can use to play Dungeons & Dragons, not just a PDF you can download. I will also provide a link at the end of the post where you could get a physical copy of the book if you want.

A couple notes before I get into the game session here. First, if you have been reading my Kids Kill Monsters series about playing Dungeons & Dragons with kids, this post is not about that. I will get back to doing those posts soon but I really do not recommend Strahd for kids or dungeon masters new to the game because it gets a little complicated, there are dark horror elements to it, and there are so many ways this can end up going wrong. That said, if you have a kid who loves horror (I have since I was like eight years old) and you feel they are mature and sophisticated enough to take on some pretty dark stuff, have at it. Also, there will be spoilers for the module of Curse of Strahd so if you are a player who is either about to play or is currently playing this campaign, you should probably not read this. That goes double for my players! Don’t read this guys.

I’ll wait for players to exit the room and we have all Dungeon Masters or would be Dungeon Masters here.

Okay the coast is clear, DM’s read on.

In these diaries, it’s my intention to tell you what I did to prepare, how the session played out, and what I would try to change or improve the next time. I hope you’ll find the story a little bit entertaining but mostly I hope I can give some advice to anyone interested in running this campaign for themselves. I’m going to be writing these campaign diaries with the assumption that you know at least a little bit about how the game is played but if anything in here seems confusing, feel free to ask about it in the comments. So without further ado, let’s get into it.

Preparation

I’m going to give you the most obvious advice ever but, if you want to run a campaign well, one thing you have to do is… read the module. Yeah, I know, you probably know this already. In order to prepare I did just that. I read the book. After reading the book, I still had a ton of questions on how I wanted to run certain things, and how certain things worked.

If you have read this module you will know that there is this sort of Tarot card style reading using what they call a Tarokka deck. You can use regular playing cards to do this reading, as long as you have all 54 cards in the deck (jokers included). The module tells you to do this reading once on your own and once with players. I highly recommend practicing this a few times. I think I have it down, but that hasn’t been put to the test yet because my players have not gotten to the point where they would have their reading done.

Once I read the module and I felt like I had a somewhat decent handle on how it’s supposed to run, I started scouring the internet for resources. I love the Gothic horror aspect of the campaign, although I do cringe at some of the parts of the module that seem like they might lead into uncomfortable territory for players. I did find a really handy resource though and if you want to run this campaign, I think you should definitely check out this channel, and the resources on it. Lunch Break Heroes has thoroughly turned up the narration and the horror on this campaign to eleven. I linked to the whole play list of his videos for the campaign below so you might want to start with the earliest videos about adventure hooks and running the “Death House” module first.

If you would rather read through his awesome guide, you can get it here on his Curse of Strahd Reloaded reddit thread.

I took the parts that I liked from the module and from the book and added a little of my own flavor to how I thought things should go. Once I was prepped, we met to make characters.

Characters

One player decided to be Lady Ellarian Brysalor, a wood elf noble fighter with a tragic past and the huge burden of having inherited a large estate after her whole family was wiped out in a zombie attack. (My players decided to make it a zombie attack because I have zombie anxiety dreams and they thought it would be funny… so yeah there’s that.)

Also just a side note, I am not sure where the pictures I am posting below come from so if anyone knows, let me know and I will credit the source. Or if you own the image and want it removed just let me know and I will take it down.

The other player created the character of Miles Adelard a human Acolyte Sorcerer also with a tragic back story. When Miles was young, his family was killed by a cult of some kind. Later in life he was adopted by a kind hearted family. They taught him the ways of Lathander and he became a devote religious student. Sadly, his family was also attacked and killed by what may be the same cult as before.

I don’t know why my players both wanted to have their entire families dead at the beginning of this but Strahd is definitely dark enough to encompass this sort of thing.

We decided to start everyone at level one. I’m not going to put all their stats and stuff here but if you really want me to, just let me know in the comments. Since we were going to begin with level one, I had to make a couple of decisions. First, what adventure hook did I want to play and, should I run the so called, “Death House” module that is in the appendix of the book.

I decided to go with the “Mysterious Visitors” adventure hooks with a couple of the changes from the reddit thread I posted above. In this hook, basically, the characters start in Daggerford, are asked to deal with some bandits who turn out to be Vistani from Barovia (the realm that Strahd rules over) who then ask the characters to come and help them. I added in the little plot idea that Madam Eva, an important NPC that shows up later in the game has sent them some dreams that have haunted them for the past few nights.

I also decided to run the Death House module which was a little trickier because we weren’t starting in Barovia. The reason I didn’t want to start in Barovia was twofold. First, my players are quite familiar with The Sword Coast and were pretty good with starting there. Secondly, I like the idea of feeling like you pass from one realm to another, with no way out. Again taking a cue from the reddit thread above, I placed the house, rebranded Durst Manor just outside of the village of Barovia.

After all that was set, we were ready to play.

The first session

At the beginning I leaned hard into the roleplay. I wanted to set the tone and the mood early on, so I didn’t just read the boxed text that says the characters are having dinner with Lady Morwen. She’s a noble character so I thought it made sense that she would know Lady Ellarian Brysalor. Miles was accompanying her because they had in the past befriended one another when Miles was curing one of Ellarian’s townsfolk and asked for no repayment or reward. From then on, the two of them had become fast friends and often traveled together. Ellarian had some business to take care of in Daggerford and got the invite to dinner with Lady Morwen.

While at dinner, Lady Morwen made it known that there had been some trouble outside the gates of town and her guards seemed like they had potentially been the subjects of a charm spell. Naturally the players offered up their assistance immediately.

When Miles and Ellarian approached the Vistani wagons, they wanted to go in stealthily but Miles failed his stealth check badly so he fell on his face and the Vistani were well aware that the characters were traipsing around the camp.

In the book, Stanimir is supposed to be the leader of the Vistani here and tells a little story about Strahd and how he is more or less cursed and a tyrant. Then he is supposed to ask the players to come and free Strahd. I felt like that was a little too straight forward so I played Stanimir as if he was a little sketchy bur really friendly and warm. I think the book expects for the players to suddenly think these people are totally harmless even though Lady Morwen is suspicious of them. If I did this over, I think I would have just made Lady Morwen ask the characters to conduct some business on her behalf instead of cast the Vistani in a poor light right from the get-go. I did even have one player say during the story that it felt like an adventure hook. He was right of course and he’s an experienced player so I am not surprised by it, but I didn’t want it to feel quite so railroaded. I also took the advice from that reddit thread above to say that the characters could share stories with the Vistani before Stanimir did his. Miles told an excellent impromptu legend about a dragon that swooped in to save some heroes during a mighty battle. It was a really great role playing experience and was my favorite part of the session. Then Stanimir started talking about the same woman that the characters had seen in their dreams, Madam Eva. I won’t say it convinced the players to go, but it didn’t hurt.

In the module Lady Morwen basically wants the characters to leave by dawn but the characters are supposed to go with them. I felt like this part did not work at all because also in the module the Vistani in this camp agree immediately to leave at dawn anyway. So mission accomplished. Like I said above, if I ran this again I would change a bit of what Lady Morwen is asking here. Lesson learned for next time.

After a bit of back and forth, the players went back and reported to Lady Morwen what they had seen. The players were still really suspicious of Stanimir. In order to get them to sympathize a little more with the Vistani I revealed that Lady Morwen’s servant had been caught trying to steal the Vistani’s wine, so they roughed him up for that. I even had Lady Morwen go apologize to Stanimir to get them to agree to go in the wagons toward Barovia.

In the module as written, the characters travel a while with the Vistani and then the forest suddenly becomes unrecognizable as the fog creeps in around everyone. The players don’t know it but this is a plane shift. Of course, when I described it to them, the players lost it on Stanimir and got pretty mad at him. Stanimir talked them down a bit as if it was no big deal but told them that it would be a bad idea to go into the fog on their own.

In order for the Death House module to work, it made the most sense to me to have Stanimir leave the characters when they were just outside Barovia. He stops the wagons, confesses that Madam Eva has banished Stanimir and his group and that his punishment is to bring people to these lands until someone frees Barovia of Strahd. He then splits out of town in a hurry.

The rain starts to pour and it gets late. As the characters are stumbling around in the dark, they see a lantern. They make their way over to it and see a girl with her little brother. The girl tells the characters that there is a monster in their house and they are worried about their little brother. I honestly thought I would get to role play this part a little more. Rose and Thorn are the siblings here and I did find them pretty interesting in the book. But the players were just like, yep, let’s go save that kid, find the basement! Hehehe… trap sprung.

I will say that one of the really smart bits of advice in the reddit thread is to not call this part Death House. I’ve just been referring to it as Durst Manor. I think the players are aware that they are in a haunted house but they have no idea what they are really in for.

They spent the rest of the session trying to figure out how to get to the basement. In the dining room there was a magnificent feast laid out and Miles took a huge bite out of a pheasant. I had him make a DC 15 wisdom save. He rolled a 7. After a minute the food turned rotted and to what it really was and Miles is currently poisoned.

It wasn’t all bad for poor Miles though, as he did find a very serviceable crossbow in one of the cabinets. The players then figured out that there was no access to the basement from the first floor, that the front door was locked, and that the only way to go on is up.

That’s where we will be headed next time.

What I would do different

Here’s what I would do different next time I run this part.

  1. Reduce the role of Lady Morwen and her demands or start the characters right in Barovia.
  2. . Play up the dreams that Madam Eva sends more (this is straight from the reddit thread not from the Curse of Strahd module so don’t look for it there)
  3. Find a way to get a little more star time for Rose and Thorn.
  4. Make the Vistani a little less suspicious but definitely keep the storytelling around the fire.

I’m sure there are lots of other mistakes I made but I would say overall it was a really fun session. I’ll be back to tell you all how the next session goes once we have had it.

If you want to get a physical copy of Curse of Strahd for yourself, check it out below.

Cursedly yours,

Slick Dungeon

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever endorse products I have personally used. Thank you for your support!

I’m Geeking Out Over the Comic and RPG Goodness Available Today

DriveThruRPG.com

Hi everyone, Slick Dungeon here and I just saw a bunch of awesome comic and RPG stuff that you can get your hands on for relatively cheap and wanted to share these with you. I’ve listed the deals below in no particular order.

Bloodshot: Definitive Edition

Hardcore comic book fans will be well aware of this but if you don’t know, the Valiant comics universe is one of the most underrated comics universes out there. They have a huge wealth of characters and stories to choose from. One of the most beloved is Bloodshot. Today you can get the Definitive edition, which is the first 14 issues for just $12.49. It’s a great deal and if you haven’t read this, I am envious because you’re in for a great ride. It’s intended for readers 12 and up. No matter whether you think Vin Diesel is the right guy to play him, the Bloodshot comic is well worth a read.

Valiant Universe RPG: Transcendent’s Edge

Once you have read up on the Valiant Universe you might do like I do a lot of times, find yourself itching to play a game set in that universe. Well, good news! If you have $9.99 (discounted today but I’m not sure for how much longer) you can get in on the action. This book is a campaign setting for the Valiant Universe RPG. The summary of it below has me itching to play this. This is a campaign book so it won’t give you the full set of rules BUT it does give some expanded rules and characters to play around with. If you want the rules, though I have good news. It won’t cost you a penny: Valiant Universe RPG Rules

From DriveThruComics – Hidden beneath Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary is a massive, secret Project Rising Spirit facility. Powered by unknown energies, it can morph and transform itself at will to keep horrific villians, creatures, and alien entities trapped within, while allowing endless experimentation. But rumors of the facility’s existence and its most prized possession have leaked, and the Valiant Universe’s most powerful organizations—the Harbinger Foundation, the Sect, the Abettors, and many more—are taking an interest. And the world may never be the same…

Dark Astral: Chapbook for Zweihander RPG

If you play Dungeons & Dragons you may be familiar with Zweihander’s Grim & Perilous adventures. It’s still a fantasy setting but it encourages more… morally ambiguous actions than D&D tends too. It’s a really fun setting and I enjoy it as a more sophisticated game when playing with adults. This chapbook is only $9.99 (again discounted today but I am not sure for how long) and is perfect for fans of things like Dune. This is another one I am itching to play and since my buddies and I have extra time on our hands, I’ll be doing it soon. Check out their blurb below. If you need the core rule book this will run you a little more but it’s hours and hours of fun. Check it out here if you need it: Grim & Perilous Core Rule Book

From DrivethruRPG – DARK ASTRAL casts the familiar trappings of ZWEIHÄNDER Grim & Perilous RPG through the lens of Biblically-inspired science fantasy. Steeped in superstition and living in the wake of an apocalypse, Characters struggle against the dangers of unknown Eden. Humanity ekes out existence within the crashed flotilla-megalopolis of Outremer. Inspired by Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unrealized take on Dune, mixed with a healthy influence of Xenogears and gritty science fantasy, this chapbook expands your ZWEIHÄNDER game into a whole new world of grim terror. Inside, you’ll find six unique Professions, a host of technological trappings and all-new weapons, gear and mods.

Elder Scrolls Call to Arms

I think I may have saved the best for last here. If you love Skyrim or Oblivion or any of the other Elder Scrolls video games, why not expand that into tabletop war gaming with your friends? Right now for $5 you can get The Elder Scrolls Call to Arms Quests. That’s less than a latte would cost you, and you probably can’t go get a latte at the moment anyway so why not use the money for hours of fun? But, even if you don’t want to spend the money on the quests, you can still get right into this RPG for pretty much no money. You can still get the following parts of the game for absolutely nothing: Elder Scrolls Call to Arms Core Rulebook, The Elder Scrolls Call to Arms Escape from Helgen, and Elder Scrolls Call to Arms Dice Set Print N Play. The core rulebook has all the rules you need to play, Escape from Helgen is a good beginners guide and gives you some scenarios to get familiar with how to play the tabletop game and the dice set is cool if you just have regular dice to mess around with but want to fancy them up a bit.

In case you want to know more here’s the blurb from DrivethruRPG – The Elder Scrolls: Call to Arms is a tabletop wargame set against the epic, sprawling backdrop of Tamriel. From the teeming cities of Cyrodiil to the towering mountains of Skyrim, across the ash-plains of Morrowind, and through the steaming swamps of Black Marsh, you must lead your Party of bold warriors on the path to glory. In this game, you must select a mighty champion to lead your Party, surrounding them with heroes and staunch followers. Players can take on quests, unearth magical artifacts, and fight roaming monsters as they do battle against their opponent, using a combination of strength, stealth and magic to win the day. Call to Arms is a simple game to learn, but a challenge to master; your Party can be assembled in an almost endless variety of ways, each unlocking new tactics and abilities with which to test your skill as a commander and challenge your enemies.

Honestly, I don’t usually find this much awesome stuff at once for cheap so I just had to share it with all of you. I hope you found this post helpful and found something to pass the time!

Excitedly yours,

Slick Dungeon

PS: Need some dice? You can get them here: Dice Envy

DriveThruRPG.com

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever endorse products I have personally used. Thank you for your support!

Kids Kill Monsters – How to Prepare to play Dungeons & Dragons with Kids Part 2

It’s your friendly DM Slick Dungeon, back again with a few tips for preparing to play Dungeons & Dragons with kids. In my last posts I talked about whether you should play D&D with kids, why playing D&D was healthy for kids, I showed you who does what at the table, gave you a tour of the dice and told you to read through the simple rules.

Haven’t read the rules yet? No problem, we are going to start at the beginning of the rules and talk about the Introduction which includes Worlds of Adventure, a little bit about How to Play and Adventures. I’m going to pull out the key ingredients from those sections that will make gaming with kids fun and easy.

Introduction

The first sentence of the rules says, “The Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game is about storytelling in worlds of swords and sorcery.” Notice how they say it’s about storytelling? That’s the emphasis here. A lot of kids will absolutely love sword and sorcery worlds. But not all kids. We’ll get more into this later but if your kids love robots and can’t stand knights of the round table stuff, this game can still be for them. My recommendation here is that whatever your kid is most into, that’s what you want to set your world in. It’s fine if rather than barbarians running around, you have a bunch of ponies making friends with each other. (They do have a different game for that if you want but we’re not talking about that one here) The point is to have fun and tell a story. What stories do your kids love? Those are the stories they will be into. It can be a show they watch, a book they read, or something completely original that you make up based on thoughts in your own head.

The next part of the intro goes into a long description of the surroundings followed by comments made by players about what they want their characters to do. For teens and adults it’s a great description and works well to demonstrate how DM’s and players can go about playing. For kids, it’s way too much description.

Unless you have kids who are really into fine details, describing the location should be relatively brief. You want to point out any important points, especially things where their characters might do something. The clue in this is the player comments. One player wants to look at the gargoyles. The other one is trying to check out the drawbridge. As a dungeon master you probably already know the gargoyles could be more than statues waiting to attack, or whether or not the drawbridge is a trap. If you run D&D with kids and you want to describe a castle that has gargoyles and a bridge that their characters should check out, I would do it like this. “You come up on a big castle. It has a rickety old drawbridge and some creepy looking statues that look like gargoyles. What do you want to do?” That’s going to keep from overloading them with unnecessary detail while also highlighting the things they might have their characters do. And for kids, sometimes they will need more of an A or B option than the open ended what do you do? In this case you might even suggest that some things they could do are, get a closer look at the statues or the bridge. When you start out, I would go with minimalist descriptions. but if your kids get into it, you can definitely make it more as time goes by. Just test it out a bit and see what works for them.

The next part of the intro has the player characters making checks with the dice. Do give your kids the chance to role the dice often. They will likely enjoy the feel and action of rolling, but don’t make it the main focus of the game. The point is the story, so if it’s something that their character can even reasonably do, just let it work. We’ll get more into when and when not to roll dice later in this series of blog posts but my rule of thumb is, if the kid is getting kind of fidgety and could use the distraction of a dice roll, call for one. If not, keep the story going as much as possible, as long as they are contributing.

The next part of the intro talks about the difference between a player and a Dungeon Master. Other than the cool title, the main thing to know is that the DM is the describer of the situation and the decider of the rules. And that’s pretty much it. The players get to be the heroes, you get to provide the world in which they are heroes.

They go on to describe a campaign. I think the easiest comparison is in a television series. An episode of a television series would be a session of game play. That is, it’s a short bit of the story. The campaign is the entire season. And just like some shows can have more than one season, some campaigns can go on longer than others. For now. you don’t need to have a full campaign figured out. What you’ll need most in the coming weeks is a good amount of material for a session. But not yet. For right now, you just need to know the difference between the campaign and the session. So again, one session is an episode and a campaign is a season.

The next thing I want to highlight in this section is vitally important to having a good understanding of the game. “There’s no winning and losing in the Dungeons & Dragons game– at least not the way those terms are usually understood.” Okay so a few things here. Kids can get really black and white and will want to know if they, “won” almost every session. If they had fun, they won. If you had fun, and they had fun, everyone won. Yes, they can win a combat or defeat the big boss of the campaign and they might think of that as winning. If they do, that’s fine. But it’s not like Monopoly. This is cooperative storytelling, not a winner takes all game. If they lose a combat, they can also take that poorly. In that instance you will want to remind the kids that there is no real, “winning” or “losing”. You can even point them to the rule book and show them that is exactly what is printed on the page. This is one of my absolute favorite things about this game. It’s not about beating someone else, it’s about imagining yourself doing incredible things, along with a bunch of other people also imagining themselves do incredible things.

One note I have here about the section on winning and losing. It says that some characters might come to a grisly end and that maybe the rest of the adventurers can revive that character or the player can change to a new one. With kids? Don’t do that. Don’t kill their characters. If they want to change characters, that is totally fine, just figure out a way to incorporate the new character but if you take nothing else from this post, just never, ever, kill a kid’s character. It’s devastating to them. Just don’t tell them that you will never kill their character.

Worlds of Adventure

This section is cool to read but there is really only one key ingredient you need to pull out of it when playing with kids. “The worlds of the Dungeons & Dragons game exist within a vast cosmos called the multiverse… Within this multiverse are an endless variety of worlds.” Did you catch that? You can literally set your D&D world anywhere. Want it to be a fictional place where there is a weakling prince who rides a big cat and transforms himself into a powerful warrior by saying some magic words? You got it. Want your world to take place where there are glittery vampires who are obsessed with one average high school student because of the way she smells? No problem. (I might not recommend that one for kids but whatever floats your boat) Want to set your world where it’s the future and there is a robotic boy hero that flies around a modern city, helping citizens? There is plenty of room for you to do that. Now, you might need to change some of the “monsters” that are available in the simple rules, but you are completely allowed to do that. This really is why I think D&D is an awesome game for kids. There’s not a lot of limitation imposed on it.

Now if you are overwhelmed and you feel like, there is no way you can make all these adjustments and come up with your own world, don’t worry. Also, if you are thinking, but I love the classic D&D stuff, I want my kid to fight a dragon and go in a dungeon, also don’t worry. There are modules put out by Wizards of the Coast that you can use that make it pretty easy to have a story to tell with your kids. You might still need to make some adjustments but you don’t have to start from scratch.

The next part of this section just tells you how to use the rule book so I am not going to go over that. We’ll go through section by section until we have made it through all of them.

How to Play

This section has a lot of good information in it and sums things up nicely. However, it can be a little daunting for someone who has never played before, kids included. I’m going to pull out what I think is important here.

The first part that is really useful is the description of the pattern that is used in game play.

They list it like this.

  1. The DM describes the environment
  2. The players describe what they want to do
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions

They don’t add lather, rinse, repeat but they might as well have. That’s actually a really good summary of how games should go. Tell the kids where they are. Let them tell you what they want to do. Decide if they can do it. If it’s a maybe, have them roll dice. Decide if the dice rolled high enough for it to happen or not. Narrate what happens. Do it over again.

I don’t have a lot to add here because they pretty much nailed it on the first try, whether you play with kids, adults or someone in between.

They next go over the dice. I did that before so I am just going to say, if you need some dice, check out Dice Envy. They make really good dice.

Next they talk about rolling dice and adding modifiers. This may or may not work for your kid. I’ll get into how I do it later on, but if your kid can’t do addition and subtraction, can’t count past 10 or are very math averse, adding up bonuses, modifiers and penalties can be a real chore and feel like homework. This is a section you may want to minimize as much as possible, and you can still make the game work without a lot of that stuff. As you kid learns more math and understands more of the game, you can add this stuff in.

Here is their description in brief.

  1. Roll the die and add a modifier
  2. Apply circumstantial bonuses and penalties
  3. Compare the results to a target number

In terms of younger kids, you are going to roll the dice, not worry about modifiers, apply bonuses and penalties but as a DM you should be doing that, and compare the results to a target number. That target number is generally going to be what tells you if the player fails or succeeds.

The whole point is to figure out if the player does the thing they are trying to do. So, I feel like the third step here is what is really important, and why we can get away with fewer modifiers.

They then get into Difficulty Class and Armor Class but we’ll talk about those further along the rules. It’s just a way to figure out how tough something to do is.

Advantage and Disadvantage are the next topics. I think this system is great, and really good for kids. Basically, there are some situations where you will have the players roll twice instead of once. If they have advantage, they get to pick the higher number. If they have disadvantage, they have to choose the lower number. It’s also a great way to reinforce counting. This calls for doing it with a D20 but if your kid can only count to 10, I have a really easy solution. Use a D10 instead. They still have the 50/50 shot of succeeding most of the time, although I know, the D20 changes the probability mathematically (depending on the situation), but we’re talking about younger kids here. They just need to know if what they tried to do worked or failed.

The rest of this section leaves you with two rules that you really should know, even if they don’t make total sense right now. Firstly, specific rules beat general rules. I can give you an example here. Generally, players cannot fly. Specifically, if a player has a magic spell that says they can fly, that character can fly, even though others can’t.

The last rule in this section is Round Down. This is pretty straight forward but it comes up more often than you might think. If at any time, you are dividing a number and you come up with a fraction, round down, even if the fraction is greater than one half. It takes some getting used to but if you see a fraction, just round down.

Adventures

This section starts off by talking more about the whole idea of heroes adventuring in a shared story, like those in a television series as mentioned above. They talk about longer and shorter adventures. One rule I have for kids is this, the adventures are short, the heroes are long. That is you can use the same characters as many times as the kids want but keep your session short. Less is more.

Then they talk about the three pillars of adventure.

  1. Exploration
  2. Social Interaction
  3. Combat

Exploration can be really fun for kids but it can get tedious because it sometimes takes a lot of time and description. Like I said above, keep the descriptions brief and expand as needed.

Social Interaction can be really fun. It’s where you get to act as the characters that the kids are talking to. If you are able to ham it up, and be goofy, your kids will loooove this. If you don’t feel like you can do this and it’s embarrassing , that’s okay, every Dungeon Master has felt that way at one time, Matt Mercer included. It’s not strictly necessary for you to ham it up and be silly, but try it and you might find yourself getting really into it.

Combat can be tricky. You need to know what your kid is comfortable with. Some kids are just going to want smash, slash and destroy stuff. If you and your kid are okay with that, no problem go for it. If you need to tone it down, that’s something you will have to work on. There are tricks for this and I’ll get into it when we get to the combat section of the rules. But for now, just know that if you are pretty sure that your kid (or anyone who might be listening in on your session while you are playing) would be horrified to hear that he just chopped off a creature’s head and threw it’s agonized body down a well, don’t describe that. You can always make it more later as they get older.

Combat also has the most rules around it (maybe with the exception of magic) so it’s something you probably are going to need to simplify both for kids and to make yourself a little more sane.

The next section talks about Magic. This is a subject that’s a little too broad to get into here but suffice to say, there are special rules for magic and as the Dungeon Master, what you are going to need to know is what the spell should do. Most of the time the name of the spell gives a clue but not always, so we’ll go over in more depth later. And yes, your magic might actually be, the arc reactor blast that comes out of a super suited chest plate instead of what is written in the rules, but you can still use the same idea of the spells.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this post and found something or other of value out of it. I’m really excited about the next post I am going to be doing because we are going to make some characters and this is finally, finally, a step where the kids can participate!

Introductorily yours,

Slick Dungeon

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6 Role Playing Games for Kids You Can Get Right Now for Under 10 Bucks

Hi everyone. Right now there a lot of families stuck at home looking for something to do. You can play Monopoly for the millionth time, you can watch television, you can read but it’s all getting rather routine. So what’s something you can do instead? It’s an excellent time to try some kid appropriate Role Playing Games. I have listed below several that I think are great fun and great for kids.

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a comission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever endorse products I have personally used. Thank you for your support!

Hero Kids Fantasy RPG

This is a fantasy based RPG that only uses two 6 sided dice. It has simple mechanics and has heroes for both boys and girls to play. It only takes about 30-60 minutes to play so kids are not too likely to get bored. The ages are for 4-10 year olds so if you have young kids, this is a great way to get them introduced to fantasy role playing. And this includes a pre-written adventure called Basement O Rats (I love that title) to get you started right away.

All you need is the PDF version and a set of six sided dice to play. For the PDF it’s $5.99 but if you want to get the whole thing, PDF, Soft cover and Black and White book it’s discounted right now at $11.99. It’s a great investment if you have young kids.

Amazing Tales, Complete Kid’s RPG

The neat thing about this game is that if you purchase it, it comes with four sample settings to place your games in. This doesn’t come with a complete pre-written adventure though, so although it has a lot of great stuff in it, you will have to make up a story for it to work. It’s easy to learn, but requires a little bit of pre-planning before you jump right into it with your kids, so read through first. They give you story seeds to get the idea going and you can just take it from there. It’s pretty imaginative so young kids tend to like this one a lot.

Again for this all you need is one 6 sided die and the PDF. However, they do recommend using a set with one 6 sided die, one 8 sided die, one 10 sided die and one 12 sided die for the best play. You can get the PDF for $5.95. The full set is a bit more expensive at $26.45 so I would recommend getting the PDF first and see how your kids like it before you go all out on the full set.

Maze Rats

I almost want to say this one is more for parents than kids, but kids will like this too. It’s a little more complicated than the above options though, so I would say in the 9 or older range. It’s basically a condensed version of an older set of D&D rules but very easy to read through and follow along, with a bunch of great tables to roll on for characters, magic etc. This is just the rule set though, so it does not contain an adventure to play. You will need to use the rules here to make one up or buy one of the adventures for it.

This only comes in PDF from and is priced at $2.99, so buying and adventure to go with it is not too much of a blow to the wallet.

The Alchemist’s Repose

I couldn’t leave you hanging on Maze Rats when there is a really good, easy to use one page dungeon you can get to go along with it. Plus it has fungal elves, programmable robotic guardians and alchemy gone awry. Kids love that kind of stuff. (And so do I). It’s really accessible and quick to figure out, although there are lots of problems to solve and you don’t necessarily have to just do endless combat. Although that’s fun too!

This one only runs you $1.50 so definitely worth the price of admission.

Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures

The great part of this one is that you basically roll on tables to create the characters and to make up the scenario of the adventure, so there is virtually no prep work. Although, like with any game system, I definitely recommend reading it before playing with your kids. There’s a ton of supplemental stuff you can get for this game if it turns out you love it but you just need the basics and a set of gaming dice to get going on this one. Again, this is probably for kids who are at least 9 or so since there is a bit of reading required here. It’s good for older kids and adults too though, so it will last you a good long time.

This one is on the pricier side of this list but totally worth it at $7.99 This one is a zip file rather than just one PDF though, so make sure you have a way to open it before spending the money.

Deadball: Baseball with Dice

My Grandfather used to call any time with no sports on, “the void”. He was a huge baseball fan. Deadball is going to be great for any kids who love baseball and are totally bummed out by the fact that there is no spring training going on right now. Obviously, you need to know a few things about baseball for this to be any fun. If you understand basic stats like batting average and ERA. If you are a baseball fan, that’s no problem but even if you are not, you can still play this game by reading through the rules. And the rules allow you to be any team in history, made up of any players you want. Or you can roll for your own team to make this work. It does require a set of RPG dice and it has basic and more advanced rules, depending on how you want to play.

The suggested price for this is $10.00 but it is a pay what you want so you can get it for less or more. Personally, I think it’s worth the $10 but only if you are a baseball fan.

If you want to get any of these, just click on the images above. or if you want to search for your own, click on the banner below.

If you try any of these games out, I’d love to know how they went. Have any other favorites I should know about? Let me know in the comments!

Gamely yours,

Slick Dungeon

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Kids Kill Monsters – How to Prepare to play Dungeons & Dragons with Kids Part 1

Hello again, it’s me your friendly Dungeon Master, Slick Dungeon. Today I want to talk to you about how to prepare yourself to DM with kids. Don’t know what a Dungeon Master is? No idea how to play this with kids? Not to worry, I have some tips and advice for you.

A couple things before we get started. These posts will be for the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons. If you are new to the game that might not mean much to you but it’s important to know that there are different editions and that they have different rule sets. Fifth edition is especially flexible for kids because you can be a total beginner and pick it up pretty quickly. Most of the emphasis is on the narrative rather than number crunching so it’s better for kids in my opinion. Also, it’s the current edition that is out everywhere and is super popular with the masses right now.

First. let me start by saying that if you already know how to play Dungeons & Dragons and have been DMing for years, bear with me, this is going to look pretty familiar. However, I may have some tips for doing this with kids that you haven’t considered so it might be worth a read anyway. I am going to give you a few steps on how to prepare yourself. This will take some effort on your part but you can do it.

Know what Dungeons & Dragons is and is not

Dungeons & Dragons, aka DnD is a tabletop role playing game. It’s a shared narrative story where one person, the Dungeon Master, narrates the circumstances and referees how the game plays out based on a set of rules. It’s not a video game. It’s not story time (it’s a shared story where everyone participates). It’s not something every kid is going to want to do either. My first and most important bit of advice is this, never make a kid play Dungeons & Dragons if they don’t want to.

There are some adults out there who love role playing, or just want their kids to get in on this fad that all their other friends are playing. While I think most kids will love this game, given the opportunity to play it, if they are forced to when they don’t want to, they are going to walk away in frustration and no one is happy. And this is important, this includes in the middle of a session.

Nothing will frustrate a kid more than when they get bored with something and an adult forces them to carry on anyway. By that point you have lost them. And then you, as the adult are also frustrated and want to give the whole thing up, thinking that this kid is never going to be into this. That might be true. But you might just need to wait a few years after you blow it to try again. My advice? Less is more with kids. Leave them wanting a little more if you can, but don’t get upset if they decide they are done for now. Don’t take it personally and just give it some time.

Most of us who play Role Playing games understand what is called, “The Social Contract.” This is basically an agreement that everyone who is at the table to play is there because they want to be there. And that they will participate and, you know, not be jerks while playing. This is pretty easy for teens and adults to understand and if someone violates the social contract, everyone at the table knows it. With kids, especially young kids, this is different. I’ll go over how to set a social contract with kids in a later post but for now, remember this, if it doesn’t go great the first time, or the kid gets bored and leaves, you still have a good shot at bringing them back for more. If you force a kid to stay when they are over it, you are done and good luck getting that kid to come back again.

Know who does what at the table

Experienced Dungeon Masters, you know how this goes. For all you noobs out there, the people at the table are pretty straight forward. The Dungeon Master leads the game, knows the basic outline of the story and makes judgement calls based on what the characters are doing. The DM also controls the Non-player Characters (NPCs). Basically anyone the players meet that are not each other.

The rest of the people at the table are Player Characters. They get to invent and pretend to be the heroes of the story. Most kids are going to enjoy this role waaaay more than being a Dungeon Master. That’s not to say that there are not great kid DM’s out there, it’s just that most kids want to be in the action, doing the thing, rather than be the one looking up rules.

If a kid really wants to be the Dungeon Master, you might consider doing a short session with them where you basically DM together. Let them roll the dice, let them make some decisions but you are the one driving the story. If they love doing that and want to take over more from there, just help them along the way, depending on the age of the kid. The older the kid, the more likely they can handle actually being the Dungeon Master. Personally, I would say for the most part until kids are around 12, let them be the players.

Know the dice

Okay, really experienced game players are going to think this one is silly but we all had to learn this at some point. I am going to go over the dice, pictures and all just so you know what they are. You may or may not use all these dice depending on two things. 1. The age of the kid and how high they can count. and 2. What their characters are. You as the DM will probably use most of the dice at some point but there’s a couple that really are more important than others. I am going to show you the dice, lowest to highest. Basically, in the rules you will read that a situation calls for something like 2D6 + 2. What that means is that they want you to take two six sided dice, (you know like in Monopoly) and roll them. Then take the total and add 2 to it. But, kids don’t necessarily know which die is which. So here it is in pictures. Also, just a tip so pro-gamers don’t jump down your throat, the singular of dice is die. So if you are rolling 1D4, you are rolling a die, not a dice. People will call you out if you say it wrong, so teach your kids early.

D4

Top Read D4
Bottom Read D4

The above are D4’s. They are four sided dice shaped like pyramids. The tricky part about these is you can have either top read or bottom read D4’s. I gave you an example of each. Do you need to know which is which? Not really. Here’s what you need to know, can you read the number as it would be printed on a page? If so, that’s your result. This die is usually used to determine damage for the smallest weapons in the game.

D6

The D6 hardly needs an introduction. You’ve used this kind of die before in almost any normal board game that uses dice. This one is used for determining damage done by spells and weapons.

D8

The D8 can be read by seeing what number lies flat on the top. Kids will mistake this sometimes for the D4 or the D10. This die is used for determining damage, depending on the kind of weapon or spell involved.

D10

Again you read this die by seeing what number lands flat on the top. Depending on how good your kid is at counting, this might be your big die to use most often. Experienced gamers will use the D20 as the most commonly rolled die BUT if you kid can’t count that high, stop here. I’ll show you how to adjust your game to use nothing higher than a D10 in a future post. In most games this will determine damage done from specific weapons. But if your kid still needs to learn to do some counting, this is also going to operate along the lines of what the D20 die does.

D12

The D12 is mostly used for battle damage. Any barbarian in the game will LOVE this die because they use it all the time. Like the others you read it by seeing which number lands flat face up.

D20

The D20 is any table top role players favorite and most hated die. Why? Everything good or bad in the game comes down to how well this sucker rolls. Again you know what the result is by seeing the number that is flat on the top. This determines everything from who goes first in combat, if you can succeed dodging a falling rock, to dealing damage to a sworn foe. It can sometimes be used in mundane situations too, like finding out how many potions a merchant has on stock to buy. It’s the essential die in the game and it does help if your kid can count to 20. If not, we can still use the D10 for that but it’s going to take some adjustment.

Percentile Dice

Percentile dice are sometimes called for in the rules. You don’t have to have ones like the ones pictured above. In the ones above there is one, the one that has two digit figures on it that you use for the tens spot and one that only has single digits that you use for the ones spot. You can use two D10s instead as long as you know which one is going to be for the tens spot and which one for the ones spot, and don’t change them. Most often, I see these rolled on a table in preparation for the game rather than during a game but some instances can come up where you need them. To roll a 100 on these, all the numbers need to show up as 0. So if you have the kind like pictured above, it would read 00, 0 and if you use two D10s it will show 0, 0.

Know the rules

I’ve told you my first rule, don’t force a kid to play when they don’t want to. I’ve told you who is who at the table. I’ve shown you what the dice are. Now it’s time for you to do some work. You are going to have to learn some rules. But wait, those books are big! And expensive! I don’t know if I want to invest in all that before I play with my kids. To that I say, you are right, and no problem, you don’t have to buy the books. There are free online resources you can use. I am going to link them for you right here in this post. We’ll be starting with the simple rules, rather than the three core books. If you want the three core books, Dungeon Master’s Guide, The Player Handbook and The Monster Manual, more power to you. I love those books but if you are starting play with kids, simpler is better.

I expect that after you see the simplified rules you are still going to say, but Slick, that is a lot of reading! Well, yes it is. You are not wrong about that. My plan for this blog is to go through the simple rules with you to help pull out the key elements to allow you to play Dungeons & Dragons with kids. Not everything in these rules is necessary for kids (or even adults) and they can be adjusted. The rules are more of a framework or guideline for how to play rather than everything being set in stone.

When you go to the link to look at the simple rules, if you look around you will see some information about how the game is structured, how you create a character and how to run an adventure. Read as much of that as you can, even if it doesn’t make sense right now or if you think you can’t get a younger kid to understand it. For right now, we are in the prepping stages so the best thing you can do is to inform yourself but don’t tell a kid you are going to start playing tomorrow unless you are really ready to do that. Give yourself some time to absorb the information. Also, not to self promote too hard here but come back to my blog and like I said we will go through the basic rules. I’ll give tips on character creation for kids, how to adapt things so they are more simplified and even point you to some cool stuff that might make your kids more interested in playing.

Come on, Slick enough talk, give us the rules already!

Here you go! Simple Rules for Dungeons & Dragons 5e

Read those and come back to my next post where we will talk about some good guidelines about setting up a D&D world for kids.

Critically yours,

Slick Dungeon

This page contains affiliate links. If you purchase a product through one of them, I will receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). I only ever endorse products I have personally used. Thank you for your support!

P.S. Just gotta have the core books? You can get them here.

Dungeon Master’s Guide

Player’s Handbook

Monster Manual