How to Play Call of Cthulhu Part 2 – Creating an Investigator

Cthulhu Rises

Introduction

Hello everyone, Slick Dungeon here. Last time I gave you a brief introduction on getting started with the horror themed tabletop role playing game Call of Cthulhu. If you missed that post check it out right here.

In this post we’ll go over how to make an investigator for the game in five steps. There will be a little bit of math involved but most of the steps are fairly understandable. I’ll also give you a guided tour of the character sheet and go over a couple of alternate methods people use for creating their characters.

In order to go through the process of character creation we’ll also need to define a few terms on the way. A lot of them are self-explanatory but we’ll go through everything so you have a thorough understanding of what each term and step means.

I’ll also provide you with some links and resources to help you get started with your own character. We’ll start by defining exactly what an Investigator is and what that means in Call of Cthulhu.

What is an Investigator?

In most contexts the word Investigator brings to mind the image of a sleuthing detective such as Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot trying to find the answer to a mystery. Maybe it makes you think of a police procedural show such as CSI or Wallender. While these types of characters can inhabit the world of Call of Cthulhu, Investigators are not limited to police and detectives.

Investigators come from a huge variety of backgrounds. They have different personalities and occupations, hopes, interests and dreams. In short, people from all walks of life can be an Investigator in Call of Cthulhu.

What ties all these people together in this game is that they have seen or will soon see a peek into the unknown. They have pierced the veil of our ordered world and can see there is something lurking in the background. And while they may not understand exactly what that is, they know it’s malevolent and hungry. The difference between a normal person and an Investigator is that they know the truth and plan to do something about it.

In game terms an Investigator is a character a player controls in a scenario. The scenario can be run by a Keeper of Arcane Lore (Keeper for short) or if you are playing a solo adventure the narration of the adventure acts as your Keeper. Since our Investigators are characters I may use these terms interchangeably at times.

Because you’ll be spending a long time inhabiting this character, whether you are playing alone or with a group, you’ll want to take a good amount of time thinking about who your character is, what kinds of things they have experienced, and how they might behave in a number of different circumstances.

Some people love to have a really well thought out character before they put anything on a page and others like to be informed of who their character is as they play along. Either way there are some basic things you’ll need to know about your Investigator.

What You need Before you Start

Before we even get started with making our Investigators you are going to need a few things. My first recommendation is that you grab some scratch paper and a pencil with an eraser. You’re also going to need some six sided dice. (That’s the kind you find in a Monopoly game) I would suggest you get at least 3 of those but you may want to grab as many as six of them. You should also have a percentile die and a 10 sided die. If you don’t have a percentile die you can use two 10 sided dice just make sure you are consistent with which one is the tens place and which one is the ones place.

If you are like me and are occasionally mathematically challenged a calculator can be good to have on hand as well.

If you have all of those things the next thing you will want is a character sheet to fill out.

The character Sheet

Whether you are playing the classic version of the game set in the 1920’s, a modern game set in today’s era or in the dark ages or wild west you are going to need a character sheet. This series of posts is concentrating on playing the classic version but for the most part the steps of character creation are the same.

You may be wondering how to get a character sheet. There are a few ways to do that and your preferred method may depend on how you are playing. If you are playing strictly online a great resource is The Dhole’s House. You can sign up for free and save Investigators online. They also have resources for handouts, older versions of the game, and allow you to use several different methods for creating your character. If you are playing with a group, be sure to clear it with your Keeper before using any alternate methods of character creation.

If you are playing face to face with pen and paper there are two great resources you can use. I like to use the sheets you can find on drivethrurpg.com. They don’t cost anything and they cover most versions of the game you are likely to play. Plus that website has lots of other supplements you can get for playing whether you are a player or the Keeper.

Finally, you can go directly to the source of the game and get character sheets for all of the versions of the game at Chaosium.com.

The best thing about all of these sheets is that you can use the auto-calc function on these which helps with some of the math here.

Step 1: Generate Characteristics

Our Investigators are characters so what we are going to start with is finding out what characteristics make them up.

Call of Cthulhu has a set of rules defined by dice rolls and numbers on your character sheet. Every Investigator has a set of eight characteristics, with numbers associated with them, which create the foundation of the character. Let’s take a quick look at each one.

Upper Portion of a 1920’s Classic Era Investigator Sheet

Up above you can see there are spots to put an Investigator’s name, Birthplace, Pronoun, Occupation, Residence and Age. While these are generally self-explanatory, hold off on entering Occupation or Age at this point. If you have a name, birthplace, residence and pronoun picked out feel free to fill those in now. And if you have a nifty portrait you’d like to use for your character feel free to put that up there in the corner.

What we need to look at in depth here are the eight characteristics. We’ll go over what they are and how to determine them. Now is the time you are going to want to pull out your scratch paper, pencil and dice.

STRENGTH – STR

STR stands for Strength and is just what it sounds like. It’s how strong you are. It will help determine things like how much your Investigator can lift, if they have the strength to hold on to the side of a building and how much damage they do in hand-to-hand combat. If your Investigator is at 0 Strength they are an invalid, unable to get out of bed.

Roll 3d6 (three six sided dice) and multiply the result by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under strength.

CONSTITUTION – CON

CON stands for Constitution. This represents how hale and hearty you are. It’s your overall health and factors into things like resisting poison or surviving an attack. If your Investigator is at 0 Constitution they are dead.

Roll 3d6 and multiply the result by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under constitution.

DEXTERITY – DEX

DEX stands for Dexterity. This determines how quick, nimble, and flexible an Investigator is. This is used to find out things like if your Investigator can outrun an opponent, dodge out of the way of a falling object, or accomplish some delicate task that takes a lot of coordination. This number also determines who goes first in combat. If your Investigator is at 0 Dexterity they are uncoordinated and unable to perform physical tasks.

Roll 3d6 and multiply the result by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under dexterity.

INTELLIGENCE – INT

INT stands for Intelligence. Intelligence is what it sounds like. It’s how well your Investigator learns, remembers things, analyzes situations etc. This number is also important for a couple other reasons. It determines your number of Personal Interest points (we’ll get into those later in this post) and is used for both Idea rolls and Intelligence rolls during the game. We’ll get into those in a later post. If your Investigator is at 0 Intelligence all they can do is babble and drool.

Roll 2d6 and add 6 and multiply by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under intelligence.

SIZE – SIZ

SIZ stands for Size. This averages your height and weight into a single number. This is how big your Investigator is and is used to check if you can do things like squeeze into a tunnel or see over a fence. This number also helps determine your Hit Points and damage bonus and build. If your Investigator has 0 Size they have disappeared into nothingness.

Roll 2d6 and add 6 and multiply by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under SIZ.

POWER – POW

POW stands for Power. Power is your force of will. This should not be confused with strength which is a physical feature. POW also helps to determine what your sanity is in the beginning and if you have any magic points. We won’t get too much into detail on either of those in this post but we’ll talk about them in future posts. This is one category where if you lose points in POW it’s unlikely you will get them back in the game. If your Investigator has 0 POW they walk around in a zombie-like state without purpose.

Roll 3d6 and multiply by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under POW.

APPEARANCE – APP

APP stands for Appearance. Appearance is what it sounds like in that your physical appearance is a factor here. But it also includes your personality. In some games this would be called Charisma. In other words someone could have a hideous scar but be enough of a charmer that they still have a high number in APP. This number is mostly useful in social encounters. If your Investigator has 0 APP they are not only terribly ugly on the outside, they are also an incredibly unlikeable person.

Roll 3d6 and multiply by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under Appearance.

EDUCATION – EDU

EDU stands for Education. Education again is much what it sounds like. It’s the formal schooling your Investigator has undergone. It is also the formal and factual knowledge an Investigator has. This means your Investigator could possibly have no formal education but have enough self-learning to still have a high EDU. However, this is different than Intelligence so try not to mix these up. If you have EDU of 60 your Investigator has graduated High School. 70 would mean at least some college and 80 or over would be graduate level. EDU also helps determine Occupational skill points. We’ll get into those later in this post. This is also used for the Own Language skill which we’ll go over in a later post. Finally, EDU is used when making Know rolls which we’ll talk about in a later post. If your Investigator is at 0 EDU it would mean they were like a newborn baby or someone waking from a coma without much memory.

Roll 2d6+6 and multiply by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under Education.

LUCK

I realize this doesn’t come next on the character sheet but we’re going to do Luck first because there is less math here than in some of the other attributes. Luck is important in this game and can sometimes get you out of serious scrapes. You’ll want to roll high here. We’ll get more into how luck is used in a later post.

Roll 3d6 and multiply by 5. Write that number on your scratch paper under Luck

AGE

Age is how old your Investigator is. No surprises there. However, unlike some games, age actually makes a difference in your other attributes. Most of the reason for the scratch paper is due to the fact that what age you choose for your Investigator influences several other numbers. You can play an Investigator aged anywhere from 15 – 90 years old. There’s a huge variety of physical and mental differences in this age range so the game has laid out some rules for age. You may want to look at how this changes your Investigator before you decide on their age. The breakdown is below.

15-19: If you choose this age range, deduct 5 points among STR and SIZ. The way the rulebook reads this can seem confusing. What you are doing here is deducting a total of 5 points from STR and SIZ. This means you could deduct 2 from STR and 3 from SIZ if you want or 4 from STR and 1 from SIZ. As long as it adds up to a total of 5 points deducted from those categories you should be good here. Once you have done that, roll twice to generate a Luck score (see above) and use the higher score. This will now be your luck score.

20-39: If you choose this age range you are going to make an Improvement check for EDU. To do this, you are going to roll your percentile die. This means if you have a D100 and a D10 go ahead and roll them at the same time. If you have two d10’s roll both of those but remember which one is the tens place and which one is the ones place. If your result is greater than what your EDU currently shows you get to roll 1d10 and add that number to your EDU. This is your new EDU score. If your result is lower than your current EDU score the number does not change. For example, if my Investigator had an EDU of 40 and on my Improvement check I got a 50 I would then roll 1d10. If I got a 4 on that roll, my EDU is now 44. On the other hand if I rolled a 30 in my Improvement check, my EDU remains at 40. One final note is that EDU cannot exceed 99.

40-49: If you choose this age range you are going to do a few things. First you are going to make two Improvement checks for EDU (described above). Follow the same steps both times. If you are successful both times your EDU improves each time. If you are unsuccessful both times your EDU remains exactly the same. If you have one success you improve it by the result of that success. Whatever results you end up with is your new EDU score. Next you are going to deduct five points from among STR, CON, or DEX. Again this is a total of 5 so you can decide how you split it up as long as it is a total of 5 points deducted. Next deduct 5 points from APP. What can I say, the world belongs to young people and the rest of us are just living in it.

50-59: If you choose this age range you are going to make three Improvement checks for EDU. This is described above. Use the same steps three times and record your new EDU score. If you have three failures, apparently you didn’t pay much attention in school. Next you are going to deduct ten points from among STR, CON, or DEX. Again this is a total of 10 so you can decide how you split it up as long as it is a total of 10 points deducted. You will then need to reduce your APP by 10. The wrinkles are starting to show.

60-69: If you choose this age range you are going to make four Improvement checks for EDU. This is described above. Use the same steps four times and record your new EDU score. I hope you didn’t fail all of these checks but if you did maybe you should have spent more time reading and less time listening to that new-fangled radio. Next you are going to deduct twenty points from among STR, CON, or DEX. Again this is a total of 20 so you can decide how you split it up as long as it is a total of 20 points deducted. You will then need to reduce your APP by 15. You’re getting into the “get off of my lawn” phase of your life.

70-79: If you choose this age range you are going to make four Improvement checks for EDU. This is described above. Use the same steps four times and record your new EDU score. If you failed all four of those checks I guess you really can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Next you are going to deduct forty points from among STR, CON, or DEX. Again this is a total of 40 so you can decide how you split it up as long as it is a total of 40 points deducted. You will then need to reduce your APP by 20. Looks like people are a bit concerned for your health and start to wonder if you should, “be checked into the home” at this point in your life.

80-89: If you choose this age range you are going to make four Improvement checks for EDU. This is described above. Use the same steps four times and record your new EDU score. If you failed all those checks you’ve been too busy with life to learn from books so who needs it anyway? Next you are going to deduct eighty points from among STR, CON, or DEX. Again this is a total of 80 so you can decide how you split it up as long as it is a total of 80 points deducted. The body is still holding up but it’s not what it used to be. You will then need to reduce your APP by 25. Sure, you may not be the hot date you once were but at least you’re still around.

For any ages outside of these ranges you’re going to need to consult with your Keeper. I suppose there could be a 99 year old Investigator but this life is hard so it might be time to think about retirement.

One word to add here is that although you do get some penalties for being in the higher age range categories that does not mean an older person makes a poor Investigator. Not everything is physical in this game and being highly educated can come in very handy especially when you need to research something about a monster you have heard is roaming around town. I would say the majority of people play in the age ranges of 20-49 but it’s really up to you and how you see your Investigator so go with what feels right to you.

Once you have decided what your Age is write that on your character sheet.

At this point it’s safe to start writing numbers into your character sheet. Take your final totals for the eight characteristics we went through and put those in now. You’ll see that there is also a spot for half and fifth results of those numbers. For the moment feel free to leave those blank as I’ll have a handy little cheat sheet for you from the rulebook below.

HIT POINTS

Hit points, like in most tabletop role playing games, is how much health you have. You can gain or lose these points depending on what happens in the game. Typically in Call of Cthulhu you are much more likely to lose Hit Points than gain them. In general it’s better to have more hit points but the cosmic horrors coming for you can crush a large man as easily as small one so be warned.

Add your CON and SIZ together then divide the total by 10. Round down any fractions. Write the total in the Hit Points section of the character sheet.

SANITY

For just a moment we are going to skip over Magic Points. In the Sanity box write your POW score. You’ll see that there is a spot for Starting, Current, and Insane. Your POW score goes in the Starting section. We’ll talk about the ways you lose Sanity and potentially go insane in another post.

MAGIC POINTS

Your Magic Points equal one fifth of your POW. If you want to do the math and fill that in now go ahead. Otherwise you can take a look at the cheat sheet from the rulebook below. Your Magic Points go in the spot that says Maximum.

HALF AND FIFTH VALUES

To determine your Half and Fifth values do the following. For half values divide the percentage value by two rounding down and add that in the half box for each characteristic. For fifth values divide the percentage value by five rounding down and enter that into the fifth box for each characteristic.

I’ve found this chart in the Keeper’s Rulebook to be invaluable in figuring this out.

Handy chart for calculating half and fifth values

Of course if you are using an online character sheet with auto-calc you don’t have to worry about this at all as the math is done for you.

Congratulations, your top portion should now be filled out. But before we move onto the next step I want to bring your attention to another section of the character sheet.

Somewhere on your character sheet you should see the fields for Move, Build, Dodge and Damage Bonus. Let’s determine those scores now.

MOVE

MOVE is the distance your Investigator can move in one round. This usually comes into play during combat or chase scenes. There is a formula for determining Move.

If your STR and DEX are both less than SIZ your move is 7.

If either your STR or DEX is equal to or greater than SIZ or if all three are equal your move is 8.

If your STR and DEX are both greater than SIZ your move is 9.

There are some penalties to move based on Age.

If your Investigator is in their 40’s take 1 point away from move.

If your Investigator is in their 50’s take 2 points away from move.

If your Investigator is in their 60’s take 3 points away from move.

If your Investigator is in their 70’s take 4 points away from move.

If your Investigator is in their 80’s take 5 points away from move.

Write your MOVE score on your character sheet.

BUILD AND DAMAGE BONUS

BUILD AND DAMAGE BONUS relate to how much damage your Investigator can do in combat in relation to their size. The Keeper’s Rulebook has a little chart for us to use here.

Build and damage bonus chart from the Keeper’s Rulebook

Use the chart above to fill in your Build and Damage Bonus on your character sheet.

DODGE

DODGE is just what it sounds like. It’s your ability to move out of the way when you are about to be hit with something. The baseline of your DODGE score is half of your DEX score. However, you may want to leave this blank for the moment as you can user Personal Skill points to increase this number if you choose to do so. We’ll talk more about Personal Skill points later in this post.

Whew! After all that work, Step 1 is complete. It’s time to move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Determine Occupation

Your Investigator is going to have something they do as a day job. There is a really wide range of occupations to choose from available in this game. There are far too many for me to list out and go through in this post. However, if you have the Keeper’s Rulebook or the quickstart guide you should be able to find occupations listed there. The Investigator’s Handbook has the most extensive listing of occupations so you may want to look there if you have it.

You’re going to want to choose one occupation. It’s best if you can find an occupation that you think suits your character. For example, a 70 year old is not likely to be an Acrobat. Also, a 15 year old is unlikely to be an Antiquarian. I’m not saying there are no cases where this is possible, it just would be less likely to fit a character. For the purposes of this post I am going to select an occupation for an Investigator I might make and show you how we use it. It should also be noted this is how an Investigator makes their living but it doesn’t necessarily mean they have a job in the traditional sense. For example, criminal is an occupation you can choose but it’s not like your Investigator is going to write that on their tax form. There are also many occupations here that do conform to a normal job. For example, doctor of medicine is an actual occupation and one your Investigator can have.

When I think about what occupation to give my Investigators I usually have a few factors in mind. First, I want the occupation to suit my character’s personality. If I have an Investigator who is a strict rule follower, criminal is not going to be a good occupation for him. Second, there are bonuses associated with each occupation you can find in your source material. There may be some occupations that might not make sense for the campaign I am in even if they suit my character and give good bonuses. For example, if I am playing in a 1920’s era campaign where my very intelligent Investigator is looking into the unknown I would not want to choose the Hacker occupation even though it would give several good bonuses. Finally, if I am playing with a group of people I would probably not want to choose the exact same occupation as someone else in my group. While you could have two Police Detectives in your group it might be more beneficial to have on person be a Police Detective who has contact with law enforcement while another player is an Antiquarian who is very knowledgeable with research.

For my example I am going to say I am creating an Investigator named Bob Wilkes. He’s in his early 20’s and is connected to the mob. He’s had a revelation after he went to toss someone in the Boston Harbor and saw something he can’t quite explain come up out of the water as he did it. He’s still a tough guy but he’s trying to make some amends. That doesn’t mean he won’t use his mafia connections to his advantage, however.

To me, the occupation that makes the most sense for Bob is Criminal. Listed below is the description of that occupation from the Keeper’s Rulebook.

CRIMINAL—one interpersonal skill (Charm, Fast Talk, Intimidate, or Persuade), Psychology, Spot Hidden, Stealth, plus four specialisms from the following: Appraise, Disguise, Fighting, Firearms, Locksmith, Mechanical Repair, and Sleight of Hand.

Credit Rating: 5–65
Occupation Skill Points: EDU × 2 + either DEX × 2 or STR × 2

I’ll make note of what some of these things mean as we move into Step 3. Once you have chosen your Investigator’s occupation you are ready for Step 3.

Step 3: Decide Skills and Allocate Skill Points

On your character sheet you should see a list of skills that looks something like below.

List of Skills on the Investigator Sheet

You will see check boxes next to the skills. For the moment leave those blank. Those will be used during game sessions but not during character creation.

OCCUPATIONAL SKILLS

Next, you should see in the occupation you selected a list of skills you can choose from, a credit rating range, and a formula which tells you how to calculate how many occupation skill points you have.

In my example I get a few skills to choose from for an Interpersonal Skill. My choices are Charm, Fast Talk, Intimidate or Persuade. I decide I want Bob to be a bit of a tough guy so I choose Intimidate and I write that on my scratch paper.

Next, I get to write down Psychology, Spot Hidden and Stealth.

For the next group of skills I have to choose four out of the seven skills considered “specialisms”. I can choose from Appraise, Disguise, Fighting, Firearms, Locksmith, Mechanical Repair, and Sleight of Hand.

I decide Bob is a bit of a scrappy fighter who knows how to get up to no good when he wants to. I choose Fighting, Firearms, Locksmith and Sleight of Hand.

For the most part Skills are what they sound like so usually you can choose what fits with your idea of your character.

There are a few things to note here. One, no skill can start at above 75. You may be able to increase that skill during play but you can’t start any skill that high.

Additionally, no character can add points to the Cthulhu Mythos skill. The game assumes your character hasn’t really been exposed to this, even if, as in the case of my character, they have seen something strange in the past.

Next I will calculate my total Skill Points I can spend. To do this I use the formula given by the occupation. In my case it is EDU × 2 + either DEX × 2 or STR × 2.

Here are the stats I rolled up for Bob so far.

Bob Wilkes Characteristics

As you can see Bob’s EDU is 65. His STR and DEX are both 70. So what I do to determine my points is EDU = 65 x2 = 130. DEX = 70 x 2 = 140. 130 + 140 = 270. This gives me 270 points to split up among the eight skills I have based on my occupation. I can allocate those numbers however I want as long as no skill goes over 75.

We’ll get more into what each skill is for and why you may want to increase those in a later post. For now, just split those in the way that seems most reasonable for your character. For example, if I wanted Bob to be really good at getting into locked places, I might put a little more into his Locksmith skill than I do in his fighting skill.

Before you actually write in your totals on your character sheet you may want to write them down on your scratch paper. For one, this allows you to think about how you may want to balance your character, but also you’ll need to choose some Personal Skill points as well.

PERSONAL SKILLS

People are made up of more than just their professions. They also have hobbies and interests and things they just happen to know about. Your Investigator gets to allocate points for these types of interests as well. These points can, in fact, go into the same skills you used for your Occupation if you so choose. But again, you can’t start any skill over 75 and you can’t use Cthulhu Mythos as a personal skill.

To determine how many Personal Skill points you get, simply multiply INT by 2. For Bob, his INT is 40 so he gets 80 points to use.

At this point, go ahead and fill in all of your skill values for Occupation and Personal Interest skills. Again, if you are using the auto-calc sheet, the half and fifth values will be calculated for you, otherwise you can use the handy chart above.

You may be wondering how these skills numbers are used in play. We’ll talk about this in a future post but for now just know if you have a higher number in a skill, you are more likely to succeed when making a check during the game.

WEAPONS AND FIREARM SKILLS

Just a quick word about weapons and firearms skills. Your occupation may or may not have given you the option to choose a particular type of firearm skill. Even if it doesn’t you can still choose to spend personal or occupation skill points in these categories. However, you’ll probably want to speak with your Keeper to make sure any particular kind of weapon is appropriate for your campaign. If your occupation didn’t give you a firearm specialization, you get to choose what that is. For example, for my Investigator Bob, I decided he would be more likely to have a handgun than a rifle so that’s where I put my points for firearms.

CREDIT RATING

There can be a huge range of Credit Ratings in this game. Investigators can be penniless drifters to swanky debutantes. The more points you have in your Credit Rating, the more comfortable a lifestyle your Investigator leads. Bob has a range of 5-65 for his credit rating. This is because a Criminal could be a small time, street-hustling thief all the way up to the leader of an organized crime family.

You’ll want to decide how much you want to put into your Credit Rating based on who your character is and what they might be doing in life. Bob is still fairly young and not likely to be on the highest end of his CR so I decide he’ll live within an Average Credit Rating. For the 1920’s this is from CR 10-49. I give him enough points to have a CR of 30. To find out exactly what your CR is, you can look in the Keeper’s Rulebook on page 47 for a table that will show you what assets and cash your character has.

For Bob, with CR 30 his cash equals CR x 2 so he has $60 on hand. His assets are CR x 50 so his total asset worth is $1,500. And his spending level for an Average CR is $10. This means Bob can get by with spending roughly $10 a day and he is unlikely to go broke. How closely this is monitored will depend on your Keeper and how they wish to track money in your campaign. In most of the games I have played in, money was not a huge factor unless there was some significant financial component within the campaign. For example, it can be hard to stay at a luxury hotel to spy on a nefarious gentleman if you happen to be a penniless drifter. There are probably ways to do it but paying for a room next to the gentleman is unlikely.

Once you have your skill points allocated you are ready to move on to the next step.

step 4: Creating a Backstory

This is my favorite part of character creation. You’ve probably already thought a little bit about your character just from choosing an occupation, allocating skill points, and thinking about what kind of scenario you might be in. Here in step four is where you flesh out the background of the character and give them a bit of life.

This is also the step where I can give you the least relevant advice. Each Investigator is an individual and who they are is truly up to you.

On your Investigator sheet you will see a few different sections under background. The ones to think about first are Personal Description, Ideology/Beliefs, Significant People, Meaningful Locations, Treasured Possessions, and Traits.

These are categories that both inform who the Investigator is as well as ties them into the world they live in.

The best advice I can give you on any of these categories is to try to be as specific and personal as you can. You may know your investigator has a son. In that case, think about who the son is, what their name is, and how they act toward your Investigator. Is the son resentful of an absent father or does he play baseball with his pops every Saturday and want to be just like him? As you can see there is a huge variety you can choose and it’s what helps to make the game interesting.

The six categories listed above are the most important to your Investigator. The reason for this is these are the people, places, and things that can tie your Investigator to the mundane world. This is how your Investigator maintains their sanity. These personal connections can save an Investigator from madness. Alternately, the loss of some of these things may drive your Investigator to madness on an accelerated scale.

The Keeper’s Rulebook has a few random tables you can roll on for each of these categories as well if you are stuck for ideas.

Just to make sure we know what each of these categories means I will list a quick description of what they are.

Personal Description

This is what your character looks like. I always think it’s fun to come up with a description first and then see if I can find an old stock photo that fits what I have in my mind. You can do this any way you like. Just make sure to have some kind of description here.

Ideology/Beliefs

This is how your character thinks about the world. Do they answer to a higher power? Are they analytical and precise? Perhaps they live for money and will do whatever they can to get more.

Significant People

Who is important to your Investigator? This can be a friend, lover, colleague, neighbor, child, parent or any person that just has a strong connection to the Investigator. Think about who this person is for your Investigator and maybe a little bit about how their relationship is now. This doesn’t even necessarily have to be someone they are currently in regular contact with. An ex-spouse could be a significant person even if it’s been decades since the Investigator last saw them. Or maybe they have a sister who they hang out with all the time and this is the person they feel closest to. Make it your own.

Meaningful Locations

I think this one is obvious but it’s any place that is extremely significant to your Investigator. This could be where they live or work. It could be a place where a significant event happened to them. It could even be a place they want to go to but haven’t yet they feel a strong connection to. If your Investigator loves everything French and wants with every fiber of their being to visit Paris for the first time ever, this can be a meaningful location to them. It can be really fun to have locations that are in your campaign be significant to your Investigator. Of course to do this you’ll need to have an idea from your Keeper where your campaign may take your party.

Treasured Possessions

Does your character have a lucky rabbit’s foot? A set of loaded dice? A locket with a picture of someone important in it? Maybe they own a car they spend every free hour working on and putting their soul into. These would all be treasured possessions. Whatever it is that is important to your Investigator should go in this category. Sometimes having this possession with them can bring them back from the brink of insanity as they think about the world.

Traits

I don’t know how other people decide their Investigator’s traits but the way I look at this is how would someone else describe the Investigator. Would everyone in the room see your Investigator as menacing? Generous? A talented musician? A bad dancer? Whatever the case is be as specific as you can but also try to make it recognizable to other people. Your Investigator’s traits are probably something other Investigators are going to notice.

Key Background Connection

Once you have all of the six categories listed above written out, it’s time to choose your Key Background Connection. There is one entry out of these six that is the most significant to your Investigator. This is the one thing your Investigator feels they can never lose. This can be a place, person, possession, ideal or belief. Whatever it is go ahead and underline or highlight it on your sheet because this connection is extra special.

In games of Call of Cthulhu your Keeper can sometimes take away connections your Investigator has. Your Investigator might lose their Treasured Possession for example. Or perhaps a Significant Person dies in the course of the game. However, your Key Connection cannot be taken away without the Keeper allowing you to make a dice roll of some kind to save it. The way I like to think about this Key Connection is this is the one thing your Investigator simply can’t lose without becoming a broken individual. If they lose this, they lose everything. And, if it does happen that your Investigator loses their Key Connection permanently they may lose their sanity for good. So choose wisely.

Other Backstory Categories

You’ll notice we have not yet talked about Injuries & Scars, Phobias & Manias, Arcane Tomes & Spells, or Encounters with Strange Entities.

While your Investigator may start the scenario with a few scars or a fear of spiders, there is also the possibility they may end up gaining some of these things during game play. If you put anything in these categories do discuss this with your Keeper first. The Keeper will likely be fine with your Investigator having a scar across their cheek but may not be okay with your Keeper having Arcane Tomes & Spells or one of the other categories above. We’ll talk more about these things in a future post.

Additional Details

If you haven’t already filled out the sections for Birthplace, Gender, Name and added a Picture, now is the time to do so.

After that it’s on to step five!

Step 5: Equip The Investigator

Your Investigator may or may not have stuff at the time of creation. The better your Credit Rating, the more likely you do have stuff. You don’t usually have to keep a super detailed itemized list of what your Investigator owns but if they have anything significant like a car or a weapon you’ll probably want to write that down. It’s also possible your Keeper will let you purchase a number of items for your Investigator depending on the scenario. In the Keeper’s Rulebook there are equipment lists on pages 396-400 and a weapons table on pages 401-405. Take a look at these lists and tables before deciding how to fully equip your character.

That’s really all there is to this step. It’s a pretty easy one but it can be fun to figure out what your Investigator might have and why. Just remember having a pistol is not going to help a lot when the Old Ones awaken and decide to destroy the planet.

Alternate Investigator Creation Methods

The process I described above is the most common way of coming up with an Investigator but there are a few other ways you can do it. While I am not going to give an in-depth explanation of each of these I will describe what they are briefly.

Start Over Method

Sometimes you just roll terribly and you end up with an Investigator who has very low scores. Some Keepers will allow you to re-roll everything if you end up with three or more characteristics under 50.

Modifying Low Rolls Method

This is somewhat similar to start over. In this case, if you have three or more rolls lower than 10 you can roll an additional 1D6 and share the extra points among the lowest roles before multiplying by five.

Choosing Where to Place Rolled Characteristics

For this method you roll for your characteristics but you don’t assign them to each characteristic specifically at first. You would roll five rolls of 3D6 and three rolls of 2D6+6. Multiply each of these eight results by 5. Then you just decide where to put the numbers. This is a fairly common method and a lot of Keepers allow this but be sure to ask first before doing it.

Point Buy Method

I recommend this for more experienced players than beginners. This is because beginners will not always know the best place to put their points. For this method, you start with 460 points you put anywhere you want in the eight characteristics as long as it is within the 15-90 range. It is always recommended that INT and SIZ have a minimum value of 40. Of course if you speak with your Keeper there may be exceptions to this.

Once you are a more seasoned player this is a common method of creating an Investigator and can save some time in the character creation phase.

Quick Fire Method

This one gets a little technical and I don’t recommend it for new players. Basically you get an allotment of values to place in your characteristics and do a kind of accelerated version of everything I listed in the basic method. If you have an experienced Keeper who can help you with this method it may be worth doing. You won’t have any extremely low numbers with this method but you also won’t be rolling exceptionally well either. You will have a well balanced Investigator but it does limit a little of the fun you might have while making your character. If you want to use this method be sure to ask your Keeper first. If you are a Keeper using this method, you can find detailed instructions for it on page 48 of the Keeper’s Rulebook.

Heights of Human Potential

You’re not likely to use this for your first game but I’ll just make a note of it here. While you normally cannot have a skill exceed 90 with this method you can add up to 9 more points to reach maximum potential in a skill. This isn’t exactly an alternate method, more like an optional rule, and it can be used with any method of character creation. I’ve never played in a game where this was allowed but if you play often enough you may come across this. Rules for it are on page 48 of the Keeper’s Rulebook.

Optional Rule: A Cap on Starting Skills

This is technically an optional rule and not a creation method. But, most Keepers will use this rule. This caps your starting skills at 75. The idea behind this is to make sure nothing your Investigators are facing will be too easy for them. After all, if there is no challenge, there is no fun in playing a game. Unlike the Heights of Human Potential rule, this is one I would recommend new Keepers and players use. If you don’t use it, there is still the chance of failure on your rolls because you will sometimes have to roll the half or fifth values. And if you ever roll a 100 that’s always a failure. This is an optional rule I like but that doesn’t mean you have to use it at your table.

In Conclusion

By now you should have a complete Investigator sheet which will allow you to play in a scenario for Call of Cthulhu. I realize it can seem like a lot to go through but if you go one step at a time you’ll get there. One of the best bits of advice I can give you about doing this is to play with someone who has played before and have them go through it with you. There is a fair amount of pre-work that goes into playing. For a player, the bulk of this is in creating their character. The Keeper has a much bigger job as they need to prepare for the entire scenario or campaign. The Keeper should also take a close look at all of the player’s Investigator sheets to make sure everything makes sense and fits within the parameters of the campaign.

While we’ve done a bit of the pre-work here, we have not yet gotten into gameplay. Before we get entirely into how a play session works we’ll touch on it briefly in the next post. Next time I will be taking a deep dive into Skills. I’ll tell you what they are and how they are used in a game session.

If you have made an Investigator for Call of Cthulhu before I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

And if you would like more free content about role playing games, consider signing up for my newsletter below.

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How to Play Call of Cthulhu Part 1 – Getting Started

Cthulhu is calling

Introduction

Hello everyone, it’s Slick Dungeon here. Over the past couple of years I have posted on this blog about my love of role playing games and I have mentioned Call of Cthulhu as one of the games I play several times.

I thought for those who are unfamiliar with this game and how it works I could do a series of posts to help you get started. I’ve seen lots of articles like this but they all seem to assume you’ve at least played role playing games before and sometimes that you’ve played this role playing game before.

These posts will be for those who are interested in playing the horror themed tabletop role playing game but are newcomers to it. I’ll be starting with the basics and give you a rundown of more of the nitty gritty rules in future posts.

If you’ve ever considered playing this game but might be on the fence, let me be your guide and you can decide if it is right for you. Also, let me know if you find this useful or have any feedback for me so I can tailor these entries towards those most interested.

Just in case you have never heard of this game and have no idea what a tabletop role playing is, let me lay it out for you.

A tabletop role playing game is a shared narrative between a group of people. Typically it involves one person taking on the role of a Game Master (in Call of Cthulhu referred to as a Keeper) who guides the group through the story. Not only does this individual control the monsters and other villains who populate the game, they play all of the non-player characters as well. If you were to think of this in video game terms, it’s like being the writer of the game or the developer of the game. Only, unlike video games, the Keeper can actually adapt the story to what the players are doing in real time. The Keeper is also the final arbiter of the rules deciding what does and does not succeed in challenging situations. This usually takes a fair amount of preparation as well as a lot of improvising on the part of the Keeper to pull off well. But it can be a very rewarding experience.

The rest of the people playing are characters. Their characters are who play through the game. In video game terms this would be your avatar. Only, unlike video games, you won’t hit any walls you can’t go past or things the computer just doesn’t allow you to do. You can try to do anything. You may not succeed but in almost all cases you can try. In Call of Cthulhu these characters are called Investigators.

Telling a shared narrative where many of the outcomes are determined by a random number generator in the form of dice is a unique experience and can be seriously rewarding. If you find a like minded group of people to do this with, you will be in for life-long memories. I recommend giving it a try at least once in your life.

If you want to play a game like this which is horror themed, Call of Cthulhu is out and out one of the best games there is to play. I’ll give you a quick overview of it below and provide you with some resources so you can get started with your very own campaign if you decide you want to try it.

The Cthulhu Mythos

Call of Cthulhu is all about Lovecraftian cosmic horror. Cosmic horror is otherworldly, immense, and unknowable. It’s the strange haze in the sky that seems to be making everyone who sees it sick. It’s the unseen bump in the night ready to grab you with its slimy, flesh rotten fingers. It’s the creatures from the depths of the ocean you never knew existed reaching over the side of the railing on your boat before you can do anything about it. It’s alien gods come to toy with humanity in unknown ways for unknown reasons. It’s your sanity slipping away as you finally come face to face with what the universe truly holds.

While there were some instances of cosmic horror prior to H.P. Lovecraft, he was the first one to create a whole mythos around these types of stories. You see some of the same characters, creatures and settings in different stories of his, creating a shared universe.

You don’t need to know a lot about cosmic horror, or H.P. Lovecraft’s work to play this game. There are some who would argue the game is even better when you don’t know about these things because you’re more likely to be surprised by what you are confronting.

In my opinion it can go either way. I have read several Lovecraft stories and other cosmic horror stories and I find knowing these stories does not take away the fun I have playing this game. I also know some people who play this game and have never read Lovecraft but still have a great time playing.

More important than knowing what cosmic horror is would be understanding what you’re comfortable playing with in a horror game. Call of Cthulhu is generally considered to be equivalent to a PG-13 rating as far as horror goes. I don’t know about you but I have seen some disturbing things in PG-13 movies I might not be comfortable role playing so knowing your limits is good before you get into this game.

In a future post I’ll have some advice on how to know your limits and if you are the Keeper, know how to stick to the limits of the group so everyone has a good time.

While the broad theme here is cosmic horror, there are all kinds of scenarios, time periods and different ways to play this game so you won’t necessarily be fighting against some horrific alien god. It just depends on what your group wants out of the game.

The Cthulhu mythos was invented by H.P. Lovecraft but tons of other writers have added to and re-interpreted these stories. So, while the mythos is the basis of the game, it’s not the only aspect of it out there. Don’t let the theme of cosmic horror limit your fun. Just know it is a horror game with horror elements so make sure you can handle that before you start.

H.P. Lovecraft

H.P. Lovecraft was an America pulp fiction writer in the 1920’s. He wrote stories such as The Dunwitch Horror, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, At the Mountains of Madness, and of course, The Call of Cthulhu. His stories sparked a legion of horror fans imaginations although he didn’t get much credit at the time. Notable authors from Stephen King to Clive Barker, Neil Gaiman and Matt Ruff were all inspired by his works in one way or another.

While it would be nice if we could believe all H.P. Lovecraft gave us were scary stories that are fun to read in the night, we have to address the racist in the room. Lovecraft, as a person, was a bigoted, xenophobic, racist person who wrote some truly awful things. If you don’t want to play this game on the basis of that alone, I cannot blame you. You would be justified in that decision.

However, one thing to keep in mind here is that the game is not the same as the man. Lovecraft did not come up with the role playing game and the makers of this game have repeatedly acknowledged the racism Lovecraft showed in his life. Even the Lovecraft Society who tries to keep his stories alive in the public disavows all of the racist history of the man.

I think one of the best shows to take on who Lovecraft was and show how his creations could be used while not ignoring his racism has to be Lovecraft Country. It’s a great show, full of cosmic horror and you can watch it on HBO Max. Do be warned though it’s graphic and violent and very bloody.

While some people might say you should read a lot of Lovecraft before playing this game, my recommendation would be just to read cosmic horror written by any author you enjoy. One I can recommend is Gunmetal Gods written by Zamil Akhtar. You absolutely do not have to have read H.P. Lovecraft to know what cosmic horror is.

All of this is just to say that while Lovecraft’s works clearly inspired this game, you do not have to agree with his view of the world to enjoy it. This is a diverse game that can be enjoyed by a diverse audience whether or not you know anything about H.P. Lovecraft. And in fact some of the best cosmic horror is set in Lovecraft’s mythos but written by diverse voices with interesting things to say about what might be found out there.

What You Need to Play

There are several ways to play Call of Cthulhu and as I mentioned there are versions of the game that are set in different time periods, some that are more action oriented, and even games you can play where you don’t need anything but yourself, a pencil, and a scenario to follow along with. For the purposes of these posts I am going to focus on the traditional version of Call of Cthulhu which usually takes place in the 1920’s in America. I should also mention this is for the 7th edition of the game which is the most current edition.

I’m going to list out everything you need to get started so let’s get right into it. You only need 4 things to get started.

1. Rules

To play this version of the game there are some things you need. First and foremost you need the rules. The quickstart rules are free on drivthrurpg.com or you can get them on the Chaosium website but you may have to pay for them there. Quickstart rules are the bare minimum of what you need to play but there are other books you can purchase if you know you are going to really get into this game.

You can also get the Keeper’s Rulebook and the Investigator’s Handbook. These are both available as PDF’s on drivethrurpg.com or if you want hardcover books you can get them at the Chaosium website.

Just to make it clear, you don’t need to buy either the Keeper’s Rulebook or Investigator’s Handbook in order to start playing. They’re nice to have and they are great books but test out the quickstart rules prior to paying for any hardcover or PDF books.

If you know already you plan to play this game longterm you will want the Keeper’s Rulebook. The Investigator’s Handbook adds a lot of value for players but it is not required to play the game. For that book I would recommend one person in your group have it and it be shared around with people at the table.

2. Dice

This game involves dice roles so you need some dice in order to play. While any standard set of gaming dice which includes a d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20 and percentile die will do, for this game the most important dice are the d10 and percentile dice. A d10 is a ten sided die with numbers 0-9 on it. The percentile die is also a ten sided die but it usually has the tens places on it so 00-90. If you don’t have a percentile die you can simply use two d10’s as long as you are always consistent with which one is the ones place and which one is the tens place.

Another secret here is that while the set of 7 gaming dice will do, you actually do not need a d12 because Call of Cthulhu does not actually use that die for anything. If you play other role playing games it can be good to have though so I’d go for the set of seven dice.

3. Pencils and paper

You’ll need something to write with and to write on. Most likely you are going to want character sheets for your investigators. This is another free resource you can get on Drivethrurpg.com. You’ll probably want some extra paper as well just to jot down notes of what is happening during the session. It may not seem significant in the moment but if you end up playing long term this can be key to remembering what happened previously.

As far as what to write with I recommend pencils with erasers but if you want to live on the edge and use a pen, you do you.

4. People

You are going to need at least one person to play Call of Cthulhu. And by one person, I mean yourself. You can actually find several single player scenarios for this game if you don’t have other people to play with. I recommend starting with Alone Against the Flames. It not only has a compelling story, it also teaches you how to play and fill out the character sheet. If you are going to be the Keeper, I recommend playing this at least once on your own before playing with a group. And if you like it, there are several follow ups which are equally as fun but you will have to pay for those.

If you want to play with friends you can have as few as one other person to up to 4 other people play. Beyond that the groups can get a bit unwieldy to manage and with more people it does become harder to convey a horror feel. Some of the most intense games can be 1 on 1 where you just have a Keeper and an Investigator.

So find some likeminded people who are into role playing games and horror and you will be ready to get started. But, I have one more tip for you before you start. There is one great way to start with this game and while it isn’t completely free, it’s very reasonably priced.

The Starter Set

As far as everything I talked about that you need to start this game, there is one way I think is the best way to get going. You get the most bang for your buck with the starter set. If you already have dice then your best bet is getting it on drivethrurpg. And right now you can get it for $4.19. That’s a very good price to pay for hours of role playing. That will only get you the PDF’s however. If you want the full set with everything you see below get it on the Chaosium website. That will run you a little more at $24.99 but it’s cheaper than buying any of the hardcover books.

Call of Chtulhu Starter Set

This set is my favorite way to get new players involved in this game and it’s tons of fun. I’ve never regretted spending on this set and if you take nothing else from this post, this is my number one top recommendation of how to get started. Just find some friends and buy the starter set and you will be able to get going.

In Conclusion

Hopefully this post helped you to know where to start with playing Call of Cthulhu. As for whether or not this game is for you, that’s for you to decide. But if you do decide to play and want a more in-depth look at the game, keep your eye on this space as I walk us through the game.

Next time, I’ll take a much closer look at the character sheets and show you how to create an Investigator to play in your own scenario at home. In the meantime, if you’ve played this game, I’d love to hear how it went for you and what some of your top tips are for playing. Feel free to let me know in the comments.

And if you would like more free content about role playing games, consider signing up for my newsletter below.

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Top 5 YouTube Channels for Dungeon Masters

Hello dungeon crawlers, it’s Slick Dungeon here. I know how daunting it can be to be a Dungeon Master (or Game Master for any tabletop role playing game). Fortunately, the internet is full of helpful resources. Personally, I find YouTube to be one of the best resources when I sit down to plan a game. I’m going to give you five YouTube channels I think are extremely useful for various reasons. I’ll let you know what they are and why I like them. These are not in a particular order because they all serve a different purpose.

5. Don’t Stop Thinking

Don’t Stop Thinking has a great How to Play series

The Don’t Stop Thinking channel on YouTube is fun and informative. There is a fantastic series on how to play Dungeons & Dragons that breaks down the rules into simple and digestible videos. Plus, they are animated and the host has a great sense of humor so the videos are very entertaining as well. A lot of times when I have new players who are intimidated by the big books of rules I refer them to this channel. It might take a few viewings but you’ll get a great sense of how the game is played if you watch.

4. Dungeon Dudes

Dungeon Dudes is great at going in depth on rules, giving tips to Dungeon Masters, has great guides for players, and has a really fun live play game called Dungeons of Drakenheim

If you want to go a little more in depth on the rules, Dungeon Dudes has you covered. They have a huge backlog of videos where they share their best advice for Dungeon Master and Players. They always have an interesting and lively discussion and to top all of that off, you can watch them play in their own campaign to see how they put their own advice into practice. These videos do tend to be a little on the longer side, usually around 30 minutes but they are all well worth a view. If you are a player, they have tons of advice on how to optimize your characters, get more out of combat, and just generally be better at the game.

3. LUnch Break Heroes

Lunch Break Heroes is fantastic at fleshing out a story so you have a better idea of how to run a campaign as a Dungeon Master

If you are anything like me, you like using the pre-written modules in 5th edition. The trouble is, as comprehensive as those are, they don’t always flesh out the full story. Lunch Break Heroes is great at taking these modules and rounding them out in a way to make the module feel fully realized. It also saves a ton of time on preparation if you watch these. So far there are playlists for Curse of Strahd, Rime of the Frostmaiden, and Lost Mines of Phandelver, all of which are incredibly helpful. You may not end up using all of these ideas but you’ll definitely pick up a few.

2. AJ Pickett

AJ Pickett dives as deep as you can go into monster and environment lore. Great for a bit of background flavor when you need it

Sometimes you want a deeper, richer, history of a creature you are using or the part of the world you are creating. AJ Pickett has you covered in this department. He has fantastic videos that dive as deep into the lore as you can imagine. After watching his videos you’ll know why a creature is there, what it wants, and where it came from. This can be immensely useful for a Dungeon Master who needs to have something to say when her players succeed on a history check.

1. Mathew Colville

Mathew Colville is great to watch for philosophy of the game

Mathew Colville also has a series of videos about how to run the game but his are a little different. I wouldn’t say these come in bite sized and digestible videos. Matt does tend to talk a lot and at a fast pace. I’m not saying that’s bad, in fact I find it quite entertaining, but it can be a little hard to follow. However, what Matt brings that other channels do not is his philosophy of the game. He has thought for years about how to run Dungeons & Dragons and what different influences have had on the game throughout the years. Anytime I watch one of his videos I find myself thinking about what he said and usually it helps to shape my own attitude to the game.

There are literally hundreds of YouTube channels I could list here all about Dungeons & Dragons but these five are the ones I tend to turn to the most often. If you know of a great D&D channel let me know in the comments. And, if you want more tips like these, subscribe to my newsletter.

Adventuringly yours,

Slick Dungeon

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Arcadia Issue #4 From MCDM – Review

Arcadia Issue #4 from MCDM

Hello dungeon creatures and crawlers, it’s me Slick Dungeon. I know I’m a lot of issues behind here but I finally bought the fourth issue of Arcadia put out by Matt Colville’s MCDM productions.

I love this magazine because it’s full of amazing art, has great, useful articles for your at home games, and is written by some of the most gifted creators in the TTRPG community. Each issue has so far delivered. They are a good deal at $12 a piece right now but if you buy the bundle of the first three issues it’s $18 so I would highly recommend going with that. You can buy your copies here. Just a note that I am not associated with MCDM so I’m just recommending buying this because I think it’s good, not for any other reason.

I took a look at all the articles and want to give you my hot takes so far. If you don’t know what Arcadia is and you want to learn more about it before reading about issue #4 you can start at the beginning and check out my post for issue #1 here.

Also, if you want to go even further in depth about issue #4 you can see the Q&A with the creators below.

Arcadia Issue 4 Q&A

The Artwork

If I was told I could only give you one single reason to check out Arcadia, my choice would be easy. It’s the artwork. Even if you read every single word of the issue and can’t find a single thing to use in your game (which is really unlikely) there is a piece of artwork here to inspire you. It’s consistently high quality and in fact, I think it at times outdoes the artwork in the official Wizards of the Coast materials. If you don’t believe me, just take one look at this cover.

Issue #4 cover of Arcadia. Artwork by Grace Cheung

I don’t know who this guy is or what his story is before reading the issue but I know I want to use him in my campaign.

Letter From the Editor

Typically, I haven’t really mentioned this section in my past reviews but they mention something here that I think is worth highlighting. They mention due to a Patreon survey they will be concentrating less on fully packaged adventures because most of the people reading the magazine want new creatures, items, etc. so they can use them in worlds they are creating. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I hope they don’t decide to completely drop adventures because I personally find them really useful. I love when I find an adventure which can take a session or two to drop in my campaign. It helps me save in preparation time and to me that’s invaluable. The rest of the letter is just what you would expect but there’s a couple of jokes in there that might make you chuckle.

Swimming Through Sand to Sea

One of the more innovative things in the first issue of Arcadia was a new set of rules to use for mounts. It gave us some new creatures and items to use for those who were tired of using standard mounts such as horses. In this article, Willy Abeel, is back to provide us with creature to mount for those hard to reach places such as dungeons or underwater.

As far as the magic items go here, several of them are neat and fun, but you’ll want to really think through whether you want to grant these to your players. Some of these items mimic some pretty good spells so use caution. Pretty much all of the items do allow mounts to go to places they normally can’t though and that can be really useful for players. No one wants to leave their trusty mount behind just because it can’t swim or fly.

As far as new mounts go, there are options for Axolottle, which is a type of salamander, Chuul, Bulette, and Purple Worm. While all of these will depend on the situation of your party and your gaming table, I love the idea of having and unusual mount. I particularly like the Chuul and Bulette mounts. But again, if you are the Dungeon Master, take caution before giving your part any of these. Some of these creatures are pretty strong and a huge asset to any party. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, I’m just saying be sure you really want to.

My favorite thing in this article is the Omnimounts. These are enormous creatures who can traverse continents, or even planes of existence, with ease. The example given is of a giant Purple Worm that wants to travel long distances. The twist is, if the party rides this mount and doesn’t travel far enough for its taste, it takes payment by swallowing the riders whole.

I wish there was a lot more to the Omnimounts and it sounds like there may be an article in future issues but otherwise I’d say this article is about equal to the mounts article in the first issue. Since we’ve seen this one before, more or less, I’m giving it a B.

Guild Adept PDFs - Available exclusively @ Dungeon Masters Guild

The Chained Library

The Chained Library is a location housing powerful tomes of knowledge. If this is reminding you of Candlekeep, you would not be wrong. However, in this library, no one is allowed to read the books, not even the librarians because they are too dangerous. The idea here is that there are certain books out in the world full of danger, even if used with good intentions. There are NPC agents of the Chained Library described here who work both within and outside of the library.

There are also several magic items and books described in this article mostly having to do with trying to suppress dangerous knowledge. It’s clear if the player characters were to get their hands on one of these books, there would be a high cost to pay for whatever advantage they might get from it.

While I like the idea of the library as a location, I really like the idea of the NPCs from the library trying to get a book from the party. I think I may insert some of this into my Curse of Strahd campaign as I think it works well with a magic item from that campaign. The artwork for the library and for the “Eyeless Guardians” is really cool and I’m definitely inserting those into my campaign.

There’s also a nice little map if you do decide to use this as a location in your campaign. In addition they give several adventure hooks in case you do want to get your players here.

While I do think the location is neat, I can’t say it’s totally original, just because we already have a cool and interesting library in 5th edition at Candlekeep but it’s still a fun little place. If there wasn’t a Candlekeep I would give this one an A but because it’s slightly less than original I’m giving it a B+

On the Road Encounters

This article offers five encounters meant to be used for lower level players traveling from one point to another. You can increase the challenge rating by swapping out monsters if your players are up to around 8th level but beyond that these would just be a minor distraction no matter who you fiddle with it.

The first encounter involves a group of Kobolds who took over a toll bridge and guardhouse. It’s a fairly standard encounter but there are a couple of unique things about the leader of the Kobolds.

The second encounter has the players defending a group of merchants from a bandit attack. This sounds fairly straightforward and possibly even dull, however, it’s not. This encounter really encourages players to do something they don’t always think of. Prepare for the fight and make traps to stop their enemies. I think these kinds of encounters can be really fun and if done well, show players that out and out melee combat is not always the right option.

The third of these encounters involves a moral quandary. The party comes upon a duel between a noble and a peasant where the peasant is severely outmatched by the noble. The party can do the right thing and help the peasant out but if they do, there’s a good chance they will be in deep trouble in the future. There is also a sidebar with a couple of nice twists on the situation that I like.

The fourth encounter is a bait and switch encounter where four people come out of the woods claiming to be hostages. In reality they are Bandits and lead the party into an ambush. This is one of those encounters that can work well but if the players get suspicious it can just turn into a melee ordeal. There’s nothing wrong with that, just know going in that it’s possible for it to end up that way.

The final encounter is more of an NPC. He’s a cartographer who is painting on the side of the road when the characters come upon him. He is secretly on a mission to find the treasure of a dragon and is looking for warriors to assist him. For this one, I see two ways to play it. First, you could have the characters for once, meet a relatively calm and normal NPC to make your world feel more full and vibrant. It’s good sometimes to see things that don’t actually affect the party in any real way happen to provide a sense that the world still moves without them. Secondly, you could use this character as a gateway into a much larger and longer campaign. If you do that, I would suggest using this encounter first out of all the encounters and lead the characters from there.

While I really like the idea of the second encounter most, I don’t think there is enough new here to make this a great article. It’s got some good ideas and again has some great art but I feel like we’ve seen variations of all of these encounters over and over again. Still, everyone is going to need these kinds of encounters to keep a game going so I’m not saying not to use them.

For this one I am giving it a C.

If you’ve enjoyed this review and want to help out this blog, consider subscribing to my newsletter. If you want to find cool D&D resources and support this blog click on one of the DM’s Guild banners.

Adventuringly yours,

Slick Dungeon

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Top 5 Tabletop RPG’s to play in 2022

You probably don’t need this many dice to play but it can’t hurt

Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon, here and I wanted to talk about the top 5 roleplaying games I think you should play this year. Just a note, this list is designed for people who are newer to role playing games so if you are an experienced player or game master there’s a chance you already play several of these games. But you never know, maybe you’ll find something here you haven’t seen before!

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

Without any further ado let’s get on with the list!

5. Call of Cthulhu: 7th Edition

Call of Cthulhu Starter Set

After Dungeons & Dragons, Call of Cthulhu is my favorite role playing game of all time. Unlike the sword and sorcery of D&D this game starts its characters from a realistic place. Sure, you will end up fighting cosmic monsters, weird things from beyond the grave, and the unknowable fathoms of human evil but your characters are fundamentally fragile. In this game, a bullet is more than enough to kill your character. It’s usually best to avoid combat whenever possible but if you do get into combat, it’s usually a lot of fun. While this is a horror game, the horror level tends to be a roughly PG-13 vibe although as Keeper you can increase or decrease the intensity however you want. The rules system is pretty easy to learn although it does take some time to get used to. However, my main reason for putting this game on the list here besides all of that is the phenomenal starter set you can get for this game. In the set you get character sheets, dice, introductory rules and a couple of scenarios. You get all of this for $5.99 but right now on Drivethrurpg.com you can get it for just $4.49. And one thing to mention is that the scenario Alone Against the Flames which comes in the box, is a solo campaign. This means if you’re on the fence about whether your group will enjoy it or not you can play through a whole scenario (which also does a great job of teaching you the rules) by yourself to see if it’s something you are into. The price is really good here for what amounts to hours of fun. If you want to get the set and help out this blog click the image above or click right here to order your own set!

4. Tiny Dungeon: Second Edition

Tiny Dungeon: Second Edition

Tiny Dungeon is minimalist fantasy role play and when the game designers say that, they mean it. You can literally fit everything you need for your characters on a 3×5 index card. You only need d6 (the typical dice you find in most board games) and two people to get started. It is recommended you have one game master and three adventurers but you can do this game one on one and have a great time. If you have younger kids this can be a gateway into other role playing games as they get older. Also, if you have always wanted to play a role playing game but were intimidated by all the fancy books, little set pieces, and number of dice you see on a table, this is the perfect antidote to that problem. It’s fast to learn and fun to play. For this game there is not a starter set but it’s straight forward enough all you really need to start is in the PDF you can get on Drivethrurpg.com. That version retails for $17.99 but it’s on sale for $11.69 right now. But if you get are like me, you like to have your hands on a physical book. I’d recommend going with the PDF + Softcover black and white book option. This is usually $42.99 but you can get it today for $28.25. Again, if you want to help out this blog you can but through the image above or click here.

3. Traveller

Traveller Core Rulebook

A top 5 list of tabletop rpg’s would not be complete without at least one space game. There are licensed games for Star Wars, Star Trek, and Alien just to name a few. I thought about putting one of those on this list but I think Traveller is great because it does not fall into our preconceived notions of those franchises. You get to have your own version of space in your head as you play. This book walks you through the rules, how to create characters, and basically everything you need to create an adventure to go explore the galaxy. Be forewarned, much like Dungeons & Dragons, there are a million books out there you can get so if you do start Traveller and enjoy it, you can end up getting in deep fast. If you are into space travel games this one is a great choice and it’s been around for a long time so it’s easy to find other people who have been playing a long time who can give you advice about running the game. Usually this book sells for $30.00 but you can get a mild discount today with a price of $25.50. Get your copy at the image above or by clicking here.

2. Worlds Without Number

Worlds Without Number by Kevin Crawford

In my mind Kevin Crawford is one of the most outstanding game designers out there. He has an excellent space rpg called Stars Without Number. It’s an expansive game with pretty clear rules and it was a definite hit in the tabletop rpg world. Now he has set his mind to sword and sorcery fantasy with Worlds Without Number. It’s fully compatible with its predecessor but you do not have to play that game for Worlds Without Number to be enjoyable. I would say this game is a little more gritty than D&D but it sort of takes the best parts of the OSR rules system and allows the great narrative of the 5th edition rule set of Dungeons & Dragons. The rules are unique to this game but if you have played D&D of any version you’ll catch on very quickly. It’s got a very sandbox feel, meaning you can make any kind of adventures you want to without feeling restricted by an adventure module of some kind. The best part of this, however, is that you can start this game for nothing. The free set of rules is quite comprehensive and does give you everything you need to get started. If you’re not sure if this game is for you, you can get the free version. Just scroll down on the description when you click the link in the image or click here. If you already know you like sword and sorcery role playing games, I do recommend you get the PDF which you can get for $16.99 today by clicking here.

1. Dungeons & Dragons: 5th Edition

Dungeons & Dragons Photo Credit: Wizards of the Coast

Dungeons & Dragons is the undisputed king of all role playing games. It’s the most popular, it’s hitting the cultural zeitgeist harder than ever before, and it’s easy to find in pretty much any book store, hobby shop, or toy store you go into. While not everyone in the world loves the game, and there is valid debate as to which edition is the most fun to play, I think the best version of this game ever is the 5th edition. It’s extremely flexible, it’s hours upon hours upon hour upon hours of fun. It can be full of humor, drama, horror, and lifelong memories. It’s understandable if you are intimidated by the sheer volume of what is out there but that’s part of why this game is so great. There are any number of resources at your fingertips. And while there are a million books for D&D 5th edition (not to mention miniatures, maps, and other supporting materials) you do not have to buy a single one of them to start playing. I always recommend new players simply go to the Dungeons & Dragons website and download the Basic Rules. The website will try to get you to buy the starter sets and essentials kits and stuff like that. Don’t start there. Take a look at the basic rules and give them a read through. If they are something you are into, get a group of friends together, play a game and decide if you want to commit to any more before you spend a dime. One thing you may need to pay for is a set of gaming dice but honestly, if you are okay just using an app on a phone, you don’t even need those. Also, if you happen to have kids who want to play this game but you’re not sure how to begin, check out my series on playing D&D with kids called Kids Kill Monsters. Honestly, I can’t recommend this game enough.

Well, that’s the list. What games are you looking forward to playing in the coming year? If you have any good recommendations drop them in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

Adventuringly yours,

Slick Dungeon

Kids Kill Monsters – How to Prepare to play Dungeons & Dragons with Kids Part 15

D&D Campaign Adventures for Mythic Odysseys of Theros - Available now @ Dungeon Masters Guild

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 youwalked you through the first section of the simple rules and talked about choosing a race and role playing a dwarfrole playing an elfrole playing a halflingrole playing a humanrole playing a dragon bornrole playing a gnomerole playing a half-elfrole playing a half-orcrole playing a Tiefling. and talked about Class. I also showed you how to play as a Barbarian Today we are going to talk about playing as a Bard.

That’s right, get your lutes out, do a few warm up vocal exercises, and get ready for people to toss coins and rotten tomatoes at you because we are talking about Bards. Bards are often the butt of a joke in movies, books, and video games but in Dungeons & Dragons bards are multitalented jacks of all trades who not only support the party they play along with but who can literally kill monsters with the power of their words.

Playing a bard can be a ton of fun and while they do often fall into stereotypes, they don’t have to. There are a few unique challenges for kids who may want to play a Bard and I will get into those later in the post. If a kid is interested in a character who has musical talent, loves to act, or just simply enjoys telling a wonderful tale while her compatriots sit by the fire, a Bard is the way to go.

Bards are often considered a support class in Dungeons & Dragons, meaning their primary role is to help the party gain some benefits and advantages when making skill checks or in combat. However, Bards can be fierce on their own. This all depends on what type of spells they use and what College they gain skills from.

One thing to remember in Dungeons & Dragons is that there is a vibration to the magic in the world. Bards, whether they sing, play an instrument, or simply tell a good story are tapping into these vibrations with their words and can channel this energy into usable magic.

I’ve seen a lot of Bards based on actual celebrities and that can be really fun. As adults, a lot of players use Bards to be, let’s just say overly flirtatious. Those may not be great examples for kids to play. When a kid plays a Bard I think it’s usually best for them to think of what would inspire them to go out into the world to spread music, stories, or other entertainment into the world. This usually gives a good touch point to play a Bard.

Unfortunately, in a lot of media Bards do get a bad rap and it’s kind of hard to point to a great example of a good Bard. But if you think about someone like Orpheus from Greek myth that would be a great starting point. His words and music were enough to influence the gods. Theoretically a Bard can become that impressive. Also, if your group does like to be silly and one of your players loves to be the center of that silliness, well, you can’t go wrong with a Bard in that situation.

Alright, without further ado, let’s get into what it means to play a Bard.

Creating a Bard

When you first play Dungeons & Dragons with kids and the basic rules tell you what to use for a quick build I would say it’s probably best to start there. It’s the least amount of poring over and trying to figure out stats you can do and since this part was written by the game designers you tend to get a fairly balanced class out of it. The one place you might change is in the suggested backgrounds. I feel like the backgrounds are more a role playing choice than a mechanic (although they have that too) and thus should be left up to the kid playing. Also, for those who don’t know, when I talk about “mechanics” I just mean how the rules operate, usually with some number crunching involved.

What do the basic rules suggest we do with our bard?

For this class the rules recommend putting your highest ability score in Charisma, followed by Dexterity. These are great choices because a Bard has to have high Charisma in order to cast spells and they usually want the spotlight anyway. Dexterity is good for two reasons. First, if your party is using a Bard to give buffs to other players you want that to happen early in the round and Dexterity is what helps determine who goes first. Secondly, the weapons Bards will be proficient in are mostly Dexterity based weapons so again you want this number to be high.

The basic rules next recommend the Entertainer background. In a later series of posts I will go more into each background but I will say that Entertainer can be a great choice for a Bard but it is not the only choice. A Bard could come from a noble establishment and have the Noble background. Perhaps they became titled simply because of how well they entertained some Lord or other. Another good background might be Sage and the Bard could be spreading the knowledge they gain through tales they tell of the cosmos. Criminal is another good background for Bards. What easier way to hide one’s habit of pickpocketing than to be the one person in the room who is supposed to have coins in their pockets? All these backgrounds and more are possibilities so just choose something interesting for the kid to play. Make sure she relates to it well enough for it to be fun.

The basic rules also recommend taking the following spells. Dancing Lights and Vicious Mockery as cantrips and the following spells at first level – Charm Person, Detect Magic, Healing Word, and Thunderwave.

This is the first class I have gone into that relies on magic. I’ll get around to a more in depth post about how magic works in the future but for now the spells above are all solid choices for a Bard and I would go with those if you have not played D&D before. Since we do mention them here I will give a quick description of what each of these spells does but we’ll leave the mechanics for later.

But before I get into that let’s talk about what a cantrip is and what a leveled spell is. For a lot of magical casters in Dungeons & Dragons they use what are called spell slots and leveled spells.

The exception to this is what are called cantrips. Basically, a character can cast a cantrip whenever they want. They don’t run out of this magic and they can do it over and over with no penalty just for casting it. (Although if you cast the spell bonfire in a dark room and suddenly a swarm of goblins sees you, well, that’s your fault)

Every other type of spell is leveled and typically uses a spell slot. The spell slot is the number of spells you can cast per day. As characters level up, they earn more of these slots. The spells themselves have a level as well. So for example, you can have two 2nd level spell slots but know three 1st level spells. In this case you can cast a 1st level spell at 2nd level, increasing it’s power.

I know that’s still a little confusing and we will get more into it down the line but for now the best way to know about a spell is to just learn what it does. So let’s take a look at these recommended spells.

Cantrips:

Dancing Lights – This spell allows you to create four separate lights that look like torches, orbs or lanterns. You can also combine these lights to make a vaguely humanoid shape. This spell is great when you need to see but it’s also an amazing distraction when needed.

Vicious Mockery – This is one of my favorite spells in the entire game. This spell allows a Bard to insult a creature, whether they can understand the words or not, and causes that creature to take psychic damage and have disadvantage on its next attack roll. It’s a case of words can actually hurt you. For a good number of players this spell is the whole reason they play a Bard in the first place.

It can be great fun to use this spell and I have seen a lot of players come up with actual insults that do some damage to creatures. As adults there’s no real issue with doing that and it’s super fun seeing how clever the Bard can be with an insult.

With this spell there is a bit of caution I have to give when playing with younger kids. It’s a lot of fun to have a kid get to make silly insults at a monster they are fighting and have that monster take some damage. But sometimes kids who are playing together might use this spell on a player character. Some kids have no problem with this and feel like they are in on the joke. But other kids can’t separate themselves being insulted from their character being insulted. So when I play this with kids, I allow them to come up with insults (silly not mean ones) directed towards any monster they fight. But if they want to cast the spell at another player character, I tell them they should just say they cast the spell but not go into insults. This doesn’t have to be your rule but I do advise caution on how you handle this particular spell with kids.

1st level spells:

Charm Person: This one is a lot like what it sounds like. This spell, if it succeeds, makes the target (who must be a humanoid) charmed by the spellcaster. This doesn’t mean they will do anything at all that the Bard says but the target will be more friendly towards the spellcaster. Once the spell ends, the same target knows it was charmed so if the spell goes away, there well could be trouble. This spell also ends if the target is attacked by the party. It’s best to try Charm Person before the Barbarian goes into rage mode and accidentally knocks the target out of the spell.

Detect Magic: This is another spell that does what it sounds like. It can identify if magic is in the area. There are definite limitations to it as it can’t tell you more than that magic is present and what school of magic it might be. This is great for doing things like identifying that traps are present but it’s still up to the players to figure out how to disarm it.

Healing Word: This is one of the most important spells if your Bard is there to support the party. It allows creatures to regain hit points which can be essential in a combat. If you play a Bard I definitely recommend taking this spell and using it often.

Thunderwave: Other than Vicious Mockery the spells listed above are all either to distract an enemy or help heal. Of course a Bard needs at least one attack spell and Thunderwave is a great choice. It is again a lot like it sounds. It sends a wave of thunderous force in the direction the caster sends it and does thunder damage. It of course comes with a thunderous sound and can push unsecured objects 10 feet back. There’s nothing like seeing a friendly, happy Bard suddenly ring out with thunder and knock enemies to the floor.

A final note about magic here. These are not the only spells you can choose but they are a great starting list for this class. Before you or any kids you play with make final decisions be sure to take a look at the rules and make sure these are the spells they want. I also have sometimes had a kid playing who wanted to change spells mid-game. I usually allow this between sessions but not during a session. If a spell doesn’t work the way a kid expects it can be frustrating to be stuck with it. They can at higher levels change these when they level up anyway. Just make sure the replacement spell is of a similar level to the original spell.

Class Features

Hit dice: Bards get to use a d8 when figuring out their hit points and hit dice. This is pretty typical for spell casting classes and if rolled well can be a considerable amount of health. For your hit dice you get 1d8 per bard level.

Hit points: At first level it’s 1d8 + your constitution modifier. For every level after that you get 1d8 (or 5 if you are using averages) + your Constitution modifier per bard level after 1st.

Just a quick note here because I know this was confusing to me when I learned to play. What is the difference between hit dice and hit points? Hit dice you get to roll when you take a short rest. These will be however many d8s you roll per level. You get to add the number you roll to your hit points if you have taken any damage. Your hit points are how many points of health you have. The easiest analogy is probably a health bar in a video game. If that number gets down to zero or below, you are likely in trouble. When you roll your hit dice you get to refill that bar. And just like in a video game, you can’t exceed the maximum of your health even if you roll higher than that number.

Proficiencies: These are basically things you are good at. A bard has several proficiencies to begin with.

Armor: Light Armor. Bards are not known to be warriors capable of wearing heavy armor and wielding heavy weapons. Rather they are quick and light on their feet so the only armor they are proficient in to begin with is light armor.

Weapons: Bards are good with Simple weapons, hand crossbows, longswords, rapiers, and shortswords. These are all light, easy to use weapons perfect for a Bard to carry.

Tools: Bards get to have three musical instruments of their choice. This makes a lot of sense because these instruments can literally channel magic.

Saving Throws: Dexterity, Charisma. Saving throws are when you might befall an attack or damage of some kind. If the check for that attack or damage calls for dexterity or charisma you are going to be glad you are a bard.

Skills: Choose any three. Bards are basically good at almost anything they put their minds to so getting to choose any three is a nice, wide selection. You’ll probably want to tailor the choices to what the campaign will be most dealing with so try to choose skills that will work well in multiple situations.

Equipment:

You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:

  • (a) a rapier, (b) a longsword, or (c) any simple weapon
  • (a) a diplomat’s pack or (b) an entertainer’s pack
  • (a) a lute or (b) any other musical instrument
  • Leather armor and a dagger

A lot of the items here are useful for a Bard but the musical instrument is often the most useful.

Spellcasting: The basic rules say this about the Bard’s spellcasting ability. “You have learned to untangle and reshape the fabric of reality in harmony with your wishes and music. Your spells are part of your vast repertoire, magic that you can tune to different situations.” In other words the music of a Bard is literally magical and can reshape reality. Pretty cool right?

Cantrips: We talked about these a little bit above but at the start a Bard gets to take two cantrips from the Bard spell list. There are several to choose from so take a look at the rules to decide what is best for the character.

Spell Slots: We’ll go further in depth on spell slots in a future post. Just know there is a table in the basic rules that tells you how many spells and of what level a Bard can have. This changes as they progress through the levels of the game and earn more spells as they go on.

Spells Known of 1st Level and Higher: To start out with a Bard gets four 1st level spells from the Bard spell list. This again increases according to the table in the simple rules.

Spellcasting Ability: Charisma is your spellcasting ability for your bard spells. This is why you want to put your highest ability score into Charisma. It increases the magic potential of the character and makes attack, defense, and healing spells all work better.

We’ll get more into this when we take a deep dive into spellcasting but for now just know more Charisma is good for Bards.

Spell Save DC: In this case DC stands for Difficulty Class. Basically it means how hard it is to do something. A spell save DC is how you defend against magic used against you. For a Bard the way they get that number is 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier. Again, the higher your Charisma, the better. In this case a Bard might cast a spell that forces a creature to make a spell save. In that case the bard uses the formula listed above to know how hard it is for that creature to make that saving throw.

Spell Attack Modifier: This formula is a bit easier to understand. There are several spells that are “attack” spells. It’s very similar to how a Barbarian or fighter might know if their weapon does damage to a creature. The only difference is that in this case it is a magical attack. To know this number a Bard uses this formula 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier. Again you can see that Charisma is vital for a Bard. The better the Charisma, the stronger the spell attack.

Ritual Casting: You can cast any bard spell you know as a ritual if that spell has the ritual tag. This one takes a little bit of explanation. There are certain spells that have what is called a “ritual tag”. This means that rather than using a spell slot, if you have the time and components to do it, you can cast the spell as a ritual. The reason to do this is that it does not cost you a spell slot. The drawback is that it takes time. So, if a Bard wants to Detect Magic in a huge empty room and can take ten minutes to do it, they can take the time to detect magic. Of course, if a pack of goblins come in and interrupt that ritual, the spell is not going to work and the Bard is going to be distracted.

Spell Casting Focus: You can use a musical instrument as a spellcasting focus for your bard spells. We’ll get more into spell casting focuses in a post about spellcasting. Just know that this is why you want to have several instruments as a Bard. You can basically channel magic through it and if you use a spell casting focus, you don’t have to use the material components in spells. This is fantastic and a great benefit to being a Bard.

Bardic Inspiration: Bards are great at inspiring others around them to do better. To fully understand how good this is we need to take a look at what the rules say. From the rules:

“You can inspire others through stirring words or music. To do so, you use a bonus action on your turn to choose one creature other than yourself within 60 feet of you who can hear you. That creature gains one Bardic Inspiration die, a d6.

Once within the next 10 minutes, the creature can roll the die and add the number rolled to one ability check, attack roll, or saving throw it makes. The creature can wait until after it rolls the d20 before deciding to use the Bardic Inspiration die, but must decide before the DM says whether the roll succeeds or fails. Once the Bardic Inspiration die is rolled, it is lost. A creature can have only one Bardic Inspiration die at a time.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Charisma modifier (a minimum of once). You regain any expended uses when you finish a long rest.”

Basically, a Bard gets to allow another player to do better on a roll they make. This is hugely beneficial and makes Bards one of the most essential party members. This also increases as Bards gain levels.

Jack of All Trades: There is a little bit of math to this one but the point is that Bards are good at almost anything they try to do. The feature says, “Starting at 2nd level, you can add half your proficiency bonus, rounded down, to any ability check you make that doesn’t already include your proficiency bonus.” This sounds a bit wonky but it means Bards are much more likely to succeed on ability checks of any type than any other class.

Song of Rest: This one is pretty straightforward. It helps the party gain more health when you rest.

Beginning at 2nd level, you can use soothing music or oration to help revitalize your wounded allies during a short rest. If you or any friendly creatures who can hear your performance regain hit points at the end of the short rest by spending one or more Hit Dice, each of those creatures regains an extra 1d6 hit points.

Again, this increases with the Bard’s level.

Bard College: We’ll talk a little bit more about this further in the post. But at 3rd level a Bard gets to choose a College that will add to their features. In the basic rules they list two colleges you can choose from, the College of Lore or the College of Valor. Oddly, in the Basic Rules it says they have a description of both but at least in the version on D&D Beyond, they actually don’t list the College of Valor. Don’t worry though, I have you covered and we’ll go into it below.

Expertise: Bards only get better at what they do so this feature is awesome.

At 3rd level, choose two of your skill proficiencies. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make that uses either of the chosen proficiencies.

You also get to choose another two at 10th level.

Ability Score Improvement:

When you reach 4th level, and again at 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level, you can increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or you can increase two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can’t increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.

Meh. You get to increase some numbers on your stats here which is cool and all but not that nifty as far as role playing goes. We’ll go way more in depth on Ability Scores in a later post.

Font of Inspiration: This one is super helpful to buff the party when needed.

Beginning when you reach 5th level, you regain all of your expended uses of Bardic Inspiration when you finish a short or long rest.

This is really useful and simply put helps the party to attack better and stay alive longer.

Counter Charm: This is another feature that buffs the party as a whole and can come in very handy.

At 6th level, you gain the ability to use musical notes or words of power to disrupt mind-influencing effects. As an action, you can start a performance that lasts until the end of your next turn. During that time, you and any friendly creatures within 30 feet of you have advantage on saving throws against being frightened or charmed. A creature must be able to hear you to gain this benefit. The performance ends early if you are incapacitated or silenced or if you voluntarily end it (no action required).

Magical Secrets: This basically allows you to get more spells. The really neat thing about Bards though is that they can choose spells that are from any spellcasting class. They can take wizard, druid, sorcerer etc. spells if they want to. No other class really gets this so take advantage of it if you are a Bard.

By 10th level, you have plundered magical knowledge from a wide spectrum of disciplines. Choose two spells from any classes, including this one. A spell you choose must be of a level you can cast, as shown on the Bard table, or a cantrip.

The chosen spells count as bard spells for you and are included in the number in the Spells Known column of the Bard table.

You get to do this again at 14th and 18th level.

Superior Inspiration: This is way better than it sounds but you have to be at the highest level of the game to gain it.

At 20th level, when you roll initiative and have no uses of Bardic Inspiration left, you regain one use.

This can literally be the difference between a party living and getting completely wiped out.

Bard Colleges: Bards form loose associations, which they call colleges, to facilitate their gatherings and preserve their traditions. This is where they gain a bunch of great features as a class. You’ll want to consider carefully before deciding what College to use though.

College of Lore: Bards who ascribe to the College of Lore know something about everything. They are astute observers and pick up knowledge with ease. These are the people who are willing to tell the truth no matter the risk and no matter what noble it might offend.

Bonus Proficiencies: Again going with the theme of Bards being good at whatever they want to learn when you join the College of Lore at 3rd level, you gain proficiency with three skills of your choice. This sounds simple but it’s really effective at making the Bard a character who can be reliable in almost any situation.

Cutting Words: This is basically a de-buff against any opponents you may be facing. The text from the simple rules sounds complicated but that is the basics of what it means. Here’s the simple rules actual text:

“Also at 3rd level, you learn how to use your wit to distract, confuse, and otherwise sap the confidence and competence of others. When a creature that you can see within 60 feet of you makes an attack roll, an ability check, or a damage roll, you can use your reaction to expend one of your uses of Bardic Inspiration, rolling a Bardic Inspiration die and subtracting the number rolled from the creature’s roll. You can choose to use this feature after the creature makes its roll, but before the DM determines whether the attack roll or ability check succeeds or fails, or before the creature deals its damage. The creature is immune if it can’t hear you or if it’s immune to being charmed.”

Rather than making your party good at something, this allows the Bard to make someone else bad at something.

Additional Magical Secrets: This one is really simple. You get two more spells. You can never have enough spells as a Bard. There are some restrictions as it must be a spell you can actually cast at your level or be a cantrip. But it can be from any class which gives the Bard access to tons of spell possibilities. The exact text from simple rules is below.

“At 6th level, you learn two spells of your choice from any class. A spell you choose must be of a level you can cast, as shown on the Bard table, or a cantrip. The chosen spells count as bard spells for you but don’t count against the number of bard spells you know.”

Peerless Skill: Again, Bards really are good at everything as long as they put their mind to it. No ability shows that quite like peerless skill. Here’s what it says:

“Starting at 14th level, when you make an ability check, you can expend one use of Bardic Inspiration. Roll a Bardic Inspiration die and add the number rolled to your ability check. You can choose to do so after you roll the die for the ability check, but before the DM tells you whether you succeed or fail.”

The long and short of it is that Bardic Inspiration die is a way to make something you are trying to do a lot more likely to happen.

College of Valor: Bards in the College of Valor might be closer to the type of Bards you see in books and movies. They go around telling the tales of what has happened in the past. They also seek out significant events of the day so they can be there to record the tale and spread the word of what happened. They are a bit more likely to engage in close combat so the bonuses reflect that.

Bonus Proficiencies: In the player handbook it says, “When you join the College of Valor at 3rd level, you gain proficiency with medium armor, shields, and martial weapons.”

This is significant because it expands what weapons and armor a Bard can use by a large margin. These Bards can be dangerous and deadly even as they entertain.

Combat Inspiration: For this bonus the Player’s Handbook says, “Also at 3rd level, you learn to inspire others in battle. A creature that has a Bardic Inspiration die from you can roll that die and add the number rolled to a weapon damage roll it just made. Alternatively, when an attack roll is made against the creature, it can use its reaction to roll the Bardic Inspiration die and add the number rolled to its AC against that attack, after seeing the roll but before knowing whether it hits or misses.”

This benefits anyone in the same party as the Bard and overall makes the whole group more dangerous and deadly. They also can use it for defense which allows the party to live longer.

Extra Attack: This is exactly what it sounds like. You get to attack twice when you normally get to attack once. You get this at 6th level. Here’s what the Player’s Handbook says, “Starting at 6th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.”

Battle Magic: Imagine not only being able to cast a spell but to do that and then follow it up with a vicious weapon attack. Well, that’s exactly what Bards in the College of Valor get to do.

From the Player’s Handbook, “At 14th level, you have mastered the art of weaving spellcasting and weapon use into a single harmonious act. When you use your action to cast a bard spell, you can make one weapon attack as a bonus action.”

This makes these Bards extremely effective in combat in a variety of ways. They are not only good spellcasters, these Bards are good fighters.

Slick Dungeon’s Tips on Playing Bards: There are tons of roleplaying opportunities for kids to play Bards. They can be a lot of fun and tend to be good at what they do. However, there are many ways to play a Bard and they can be funny, full of song, reflective and into history or poetry. One thing most Bards tend to have in common is that they enjoy the spotlight. Some kids may not be comfortable playing in this way. Alternatively it can be great for a kid to use their character to show an aspect of themselves they may not show normally. Like any class make sure any kid you are playing with really wants to play the class. This type of character can often end up on the sidelines helping others during combat. This is great for kids who don’t necessarily want to get up close and personal with the creature attacking them. However, if a kid is really into being the center of attention during combat, a Bard may not be the best choice.

Still, all Bards, like all kids are individuals and there is no wrong way to roleplay them. This class is great fun to play but it also comes with some complexity as it is a spellcasting class. Not only that, Bards have special rules to their spellcasting so they can seem pretty complex. It helps if the Dungeon Master really knows how spells and Bards work the first time a kid plays this class. If you are new to the game I wouldn’t tell a kid you are DM’ing for not to play a Bard if they want to. I would just say, make sure you have really read and understood how they work and let the kid know you are going to learn a bit about it together.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. Thanks so much for reading to the end if you are still here with me. Next time we are going to talk about the class that can literally channel divinity as we dive into Clerics.

Adventuringly yours,

Slick Dungeon

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

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Dungeon Master Tool Review – Strahd Gives Me Goosebumps

Happy Halloween Eve dungeon crawlers! It’s me Slick Dungeon and I am back to review another Dungeon Master tool useful for running horror campaigns with kids. In my last post I reviewed Ravenloft Gives Me Goosebumps which is a handy primer for running spooky campaigns with kids ages 8-12. But what if you want to run the most popular and famous gothic horror campaign Dungeons & Dragons has ever made but don’t know how to adapt that for kids?

Well, I have good news for you. There is Strahd Gives Me Goosebunmps by Thomas Kolar. He and his wife clearly think deeply about horror, kids, and horror gaming with kids. If you know of the D&D adventure Curse of Strahd you may know that it is a particularly bleak and depressing place to end up which can be tons of fun for an adult audience but might be too much for kids. There’s also a bit of rampant child murder and other questionable topics for kids in that campaign.

This handy primer takes on the most questionable chapters of Curse of Strahd and tells you how to make a few tweaks that make this adventure much more suitable to kids.

I will say that the general advice given for playing a horror scenario with kids is very similar to what is in Ravenloft Gives Me Goosebumps but it’s still solid advice. This is worth the price of the supplement which is on sale right now for only $.60 because there is some advice specific to Curse of Strahd. Also, this probably goes without saying but this supplement is only useful if you have Curse of Strahd and want to run it with kids.

So, if you like to do what I do on Halloween, which is running Curse of Strahd and want to involve some kids in the action, this is the perfect supplement for you. Get it today so you can play it tomorrow!

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Dungeon Master Tool Review – Ravenloft Gives Me Goosebumps: Genres of Horror

Hey everyone, Slick Dungeon here. It’s Halloween weekend time and you know what that means! Time to play some spooky D&D.

If you have kids and you like to play Dungeons & Dragons and you want to do something that has a bit of horror flavor, I have the tool for you. It’s called Ravenloft Gives Me Goosebumps: Genres of Horror and at the moment you can get it for just $.60!

In the recent book Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft there was a fantastic section called Genres of Horror where the authors went through virtually every type of horror imaginable with tips and suggestions on how to run each genre as a D&D campaign. Not all of their ideas were suitable for children but this supplement fixes that nicely.

Thomas and Raachel Kolar have come up with an excellent guide with lots of brilliant advice for how to run horror genres for kids 8-12. It first gives some general advice on gaming with kids which, honestly, is good advice for any gaming table. Some of the tips include having a session zero, discussing what topics to stay away from with horror etc. There is also kid specific advice about who should be the focus of the story and what the villains should or shouldn’t be doing. I think we can all agree that horror can be fun but no one wants to genuinely scare a child so much that it is a traumatic event for them.

After the general advice the authors go through each genre of horror giving a run down of what the genre is and ways it might work for kids. For example Body Horror for adults tends to be full of guts and gore and could be disturbing for children but if we adapt that to be more of a gross out, icky goo but not necessarily blood kind of scenario, this could work for kids. Think along the lines of some of the Goosebumps stories.

The genres they talk about are Body Horror, Cosmic Horror, Dark Fantasy, Folk Horror, Ghost Stories, Gothic Horror, Disaster Horror, Occult Investigation, Psychological Horror and Slasher Horror. All of these genres can work for kids but not all kids are going to like all of these horror genres so again, having that discussion prior to playing is hugely important. I found the take here on Cosmic Horror for kids especially insightful but all of the advice here is solid in this supplement.

The best part of this tool is that the authors clearly understand horror for kids and provide concrete examples of stories you probably know and can easily adapt to make a good horror campaign for kids. It covers everything from Scooby-Doo to Coraline and also has some gems you may not have heard of but are great reads or views.

There is a fantastic recommended reading list at the end and that alone is probably worth the cost of this supplement.

If you want to get a copy click on the image above or get yours right here – Ravenloft Gives Me Goosebumps: Genres of Horror!

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

Top 5 Horror One Shots for Dungeons & Dragons

Guild Adept PDFs - Available exclusively @ Dungeon Masters Guild

Hey all, Slick Dungeon here. I hate long intros to top 5 lists so we’ll get right into it. These are my five favorite horror one shots for Dungeons & Dragons.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

5. The House of Lament from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft

Spirit Board from House of Lament

The House of Lament is a highly customizable haunted house adventure made for a party of 4-6 1st level characters who will advance to 3rd level by the end. The idea is pretty simple here, there is a house that is not at rest. The party will be lead there by whatever adventure hook you want to come up with (if you decide to do a longer campaign in Ravenloft you’ll definitely want to incorporate the mists somehow). Once the part is there they will meet some friendly NPC’s who are trying to figure out why the house is haunted and want to shut it down. I won’t go into too much detail for fear of spoilers but the players get to conduct a few seances with the help of a spirit board that leads them to clues about why the house is haunted. For the DM there are several scenarios this can take so you may want to pick which spirits are haunting the house ahead of time. The goal is for the players to go through the house and help or in some cases defeat the spirits and put the house back at rest. Whether or not you turn this into a longer campaign is up to you. Right now you can only find this adventure in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. I have a full review of that book here and I highly recommend picking it up. Also handy are these handouts you can find on the Dungeon Master’s Guild Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft: The House of Lament DM Resources Pack and Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft: House of Lament Props & Handouts. Because it’s so customizable it can be a bit difficult to run for a newer Dungeon Master so be sure to read through before playing.

4. The Haunt

The Haunt

The Haunt is another haunted manor style campaign. It can definitely be run in about 3-4 hours or less, depending on how many obstacles you put in your players way. It’s made for a party of 4th-5th level characters. There are several good scares in here and some unique monsters to fight. The first one you can adapt to play with kids if your kids are okay with somewhat scary happenings but be forewarned that the sequels get pretty dark pretty fast. If you are into that sort of thing there is a great special hardcover edition you can get for $54.95 but I would still recommend starting with the first one and seeing how you like it. The original The Haunt is on the DM’s Guild for just $6.95. There’s a very well thought out back story and reason for the strange events in the adventure and when I played this with my gaming group they were all in on the frights.

3. Death House

Death House One Shot Adventure

Death House is a one shot adventure that was printed in Curse of Strahd but also was released online for free. You can download it right from the image above at the cost of nothing. While there are some issues with it, this does work great as an introduction to Curse of Strahd but I think it’s more fun to run as a stand alone adventure as a horror one shot on a dark Halloween night. This is yet another haunted house adventure. It’s for first level characters who could go up to level three by the end. It’s got a great moody introduction with a couple of very memorable kids involved. The back story is pretty twisted but you could definitely make a few adjustments and run this with kids. My party really liked the exploration aspects of this one because there is a lot to find in the house. When I ran it this only took 2-3 hours but your results will vary.

2. Tomb of Horrors

Tomb of Horrors

Full of deadly traps and vicious monsters, Tomb of Horrors has long been considered one of the most difficult adventures for players, even skilled and experienced ones. Gary Gygax wrote the original module because he felt players were feeling too sure of themselves surviving an adventure and pulled this out to warp their perceptions. The most current version (the one you can use for 5e) can be found as a standalone adventure on D&D Beyond or you can purchase the book of collected adventures Tales From the Yawning Portal and find it there. Personally, I like getting the book because there are several other fun adventures adapted from older editions included but you do you. This is a pretty complex dungeon with lots of tricks to figure out so it can be a challenge to players. But if you love survival horror, this is an excellent adventure to play. There are a variety of monsters here and there are tons of traps so starting around 14th level is probably a good idea for your party but if you want to make it really nasty you could start at lower levels.

1. Curse of Strahd

That’s right, you can play this entire campaign as a one-shot adventure. It takes a fair amount of tweaks and adjustments ahead of time but it’s doable. It’s definitely a longer game sessions but Curse of Strahd is a blast to play in a single evening. It’s also easier to keep the mood going for just one night rather than multiple nights. There is great article on D&D Beyond that tells you exactly how to do this. You do have to have the campaign book obviously and you’ll need the Tarokka deck, whether you print that yourself or just buy a deck. A one hour timer is also very helpful. This adventure still remains the best example of gothic horror you can find in Dungeons & Dragons and that makes it extremely well suited to an evening of horrific fun on a dark Halloween night.

Do you have any favorite horror one shots you’ve run? Let me know it the comments and Happy Halloween month!

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon

Learn to Play Call of Cthulhu by Yourself for Free

Alone Against the Flame

Hey horror rpg fanatics, Slick Dungeon here and I want to tell you how you can learn to play Call of Cthulhu 7th edition for free, on your own time, with nothing to bother you except the terror of your own imagination.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

Last week I named in my Top 5 Horror Tabletop Roleplaying Games post Call of Cthulhu as the number one horror RPG. I realize I haven’t talked much about this game on my blog but I have played and enjoyed it quite a lot.

However, one of my favorite ways to play this game is not with a gaming group at all but inside on a dark and dreary night with low lighting all by lonesome. I find this increases the scare factor considerably and luckily Chaosium has published several scenarios (what you would think of as an adventure or one-shot in D&D) where you don’t need a GM. You pretty much just need some dice, some paper, and something to write with.

While there are some options to purchase items in this post, if you just get the Alone Against the Flames and Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick Start Rules PDF’s you don’t have to pay anything to learn to play this game. I recommend starting there before getting your wallet out for anything else. Of course, if you’re like me you may be hooked and want to buy some further scenarios and rulebooks.

The way I learned to play the 7th edition of this game was with a scenario called Alone Against the Flames. To play the scenario you will need the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick Start Rules. You can get the PDF of both of these for $0. If you’re willing to spend just a bit of cash you can get a softcover edition of both of these books for $11 and $10 respectively. If you decide to pay the higher price, be sure to select the option that gives you both the PDF and the softcover. When you select the softcover you get the PDF for free so take advantage of that.

Personally, I recommend the softcover for Alone Against the Flames just because it’s easier to write in a book than on printed out pages that fly all over the place. I think it’s less essential for the rules but it can be nice to have a book to flip through.

Alright so what exactly is this scenario and why should you play it? That’s an excellent question I have asked myself. Here’s the answer. This scenario is set in the 1920’s in America, the classic setting for most of the CoC scenarios. This gives you a good feel for the tone of the game and the encroaching cosmic horror you will be facing off against.

In many ways it is like a choose your own adventure book but at the same time you will be building a character and learning how the rules of the game operate. Truth be told, as much as I love Dungeons & Dragons, I wish they had something like this. It can be hard to learn a new rule system in front of people so having an adventure (or scenario in this case) you can play to get a feel of both story and mechanics is extremely valuable.

I don’t want to give away spoilers for the scenario here but suffice it to say your character will end up somewhere that is not friendly and things are not at all what they seem.

I definitely recommend playing this alone because it just makes it more fun. It’s pretty easy to scare yourself but when you play with someone else there isn’t the same amount of terror you can feel. However, if you really want to play this with someone else, you definitely can. One of you would need to be the Keeper (Game Master) and the other the player. The scenario will still walk both of you through the rules and gives a great intro story.

Watch out for the ancient ones

If you do play this there are also some great follow up scenarios, although you are going to have to pay for those. To play them you would need the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Keeper’s Rulebook. You can also get this on drivethrurpg as a PDF but it’s going to cost you $27.95. If you’d rather have a hardcover you’ll need to go to the game publisher Chaosium’s website where you can get it for a heftier $54.95. While it’s costlier I do recommend the hardcover for this since it’s a book you’ll likely reuse.

The follow up scenarios are Alone Against the Dark another solo scenario which takes you to the year 1931 where you will travel from New York City to Greece, Egypt, Germany, and Antarctica. It’s guaranteed dangerous, meaning the scenario is going to be more challenging than Alone Against the Flames but if you have played that scenario, you’ll have a much better idea of how to survive this one. You can get this one for $6.95. Then there is Alone Against the Frost for $9.99 but this one can be used with the starter set if you have that. Here you go into the Canadian Northwest Territories in the 1920’s. this time they give you a character to play rather than one to create. Finally there is Alone Agains the Tide for $6.95 which can also be used with the starter set. In this one you take on the role of an investigator traveling to a remote lakeside town where strange things are happening. This one has a pre-generated character but you could also use one you have made yourself. All of these are pretty fun scenarios to play by yourself or with one friend. All of them are also good introductions to how to play the game. If you play all of these you’ll definitely understand how it works and maybe you’ll be inspired to play a live game with others or even become a Keeper.

My recommendation is to play at that time of night when you hear bumps and creaks at home and think, “what was that noise?” and answer, “It could be anything.” It makes it a lot more terrifying.

Horrifically yours,

Slick Dungeon