Archive for January, 2016

Just a quick post here to let you all know that my third published Epic Threats article, “Epic Threats: Elementals,” is currently available through EN World EN5ider. Morrus, EN World King, and his team are awesome and have been putting out great fifth edition content and they have a whole catalogue of stuff still to come. I definitely recommend you check out the work over there. My other articles, “Give Chase,” “Get Sick,” “Epic Threats: NPCs,” and “Epic Threats: Goblinoids and Orcs,” are available over there as well and ready to make chases in your game awesome. This latest article has a new and improved Wizards of the Coast style monster stat block!

I’ve been running a fifth edition game for almost a year and it’s clear to me that there aren’t enough high challenge rating monsters to provide me with the variety of combat encounters I like to have at my disposal. Yes, bounded accuracy lets me use the old standbys far after the PCs’ level is much higher than the bugbear’s CR. I just need to keep adding bugbears… but combat with a lot of baddies is slow and can become a grind. That’s not the kind of variety I’m looking for.

That’s why I submitted a series of monster articles to EN World EN5ideran online magazine which publishes content for the fifth edition of the world’s most popular tabletop roleplaying game. The first of those articles, “Epic Threats: High Level NPCs,” presents five new NPCs with challenge ratings of 11 and above to add to your game. The second, “Epic Threats: Goblinoids and Orcs,” provides five more baddies to bring into your high level games! These are (obviously) of the more goblin and orc variety. The latest and last article, “Epic Threats: Elementals,” gives you some awesome high level elementals (the Steam, Storm, Smoke, Sand, Mud, and Magma varieties).

On Tuesday I’ll be posting a companion piece to go with the article on this blog so stay tuned!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

It’s time to talk about getting down with your bad self. On Tuesday I blogged about providing humanizing motivations for your campaign’s villains. Many readers seemed to enjoy this post quite a bit! I even used it to start a 1000 humanizing villain motivations thread on EN World. Yet a few folks out there wanted to know why all villains needed a relatable motive. What’s wrong with evil for the sake of evil? To simply (or simply not) explain why a being is evil and just know that it is? The answer is – nothing.

While a relatable villain can lead to a more complex, layered story, sometimes that’s not what a gaming group is after. Sometimes you want to present a mind-warping horror so evil its motivations beyond the comprehension of the players. Those sort of creatures come straight out of Lovecraft and entire RPGs are built around them.

There can be times you just want a villain to be an engine of destruction that is out to watch the world burn. Yeah, exactly like the Joker. You won’t put a lot of work into their motivation, because you don’t need to. Their actions speak for them and say, “I’m dangerous and crazy!”

Other times you just need an enemy that’s out there doing bad stuff to give the player characters an adversary. You just don’t feel like providing a villain with a complex reason for its motivations, so you just say, “This is a greedy thief who will kill any person in the way,” or, “This dude is a bandit because banditting pays well.” It’s also fine to do this. While his backstory isn’t especially rich, Hans Gruber is one of the greatest villains of all time. He’s just in it for the money.

A villain doesn’t need to be relatable to be effective. A relatable villain does help make a complex story, but isn’t necessary to tell an epic tale of awesome. So it is with that in mind I give simpler, less relatable villains the same treatment I gave to their richer brethren in my last post and provide you with some simple motivations for evil creatures.

Simple Evil Motivations

Below are some simpler motivations for evil NPCs.

Born That Way

Dungeons and Dragons gives you plenty of creatures in the Monster Manual who are evil because it’s simply in their nature to be so. Devils, demons, werewolves, and most undead spring to mind. Many DMs would also say chromatic dragons, orcs, drow, goblinoids, and others are always evil no matter the case. Obviously it is the DMs prerogative to change any of these expectations they wish.

Examples: A demon travels to the Material Plane and captures humanoids to torture in the Abyss. A red dragon steals a noble’s daughter, ransoms her for gold, and then kills the young woman anyway. A wight feels a constant need to kill because it abhors all living creatures.

Alien Mind

Some motivations can never be understood because the creature possesses an alien intelligence. Aberrations in D&D are the perfect example. Beholders, mind flayers, nothics mentally operate on a different level than most beings. They think themselves above other creatures, but their motivations for enslaving humanoids goes beyond their intellectual superiority. We can never fully understand why they do harm to others, and their strange abilities confound even the most powerful wizards.

Examples: A mind flayer seeks to break the minds of wizards everywhere with a massive psionic ritual. A morchia leads a cult of followers to their doom by making them leap off a cliff one by one. A void dragon scours the planet for beings worthy of being consumed.

Mad

Sometimes a creature is just insane. It commits evil acts almost out of pure boredom. These nihilists can be simple whirlwinds of violence, but they can also be master schemers and manipulators willing to lay it all on the line for a perfect moment of anarchy. Creatures this crazy are beyond redemption.

Examples: A serial arsonist keeps lighting bigger fires in more populated areas. A young bard sets up nobles to fall in love and then uses enchantment spells to make them cheat on each other. A genius goblin puts kidnapped civilians into timed death traps all over a city just to see if a band of adventurers can save them all before time runs out.

Original Evil

Some evil is so ancient that it seems to have been so since time began. It is unclear whether it was always evil or if a being has been evil for so long none can remember a time it was not so (including the creature itself). No matter the case this kind of evil has become engrained in the very essence of the villain and cannot be undone. These sorts of villains are often widely known and feared.

Examples: An enormous spider lives in a canyon and torments any travelers who come too close with its psionic powers. An ancient monstrosity rises from the sea every 1000 years and demands 100 babies as tribute or it will destroy the world. A cult of drow does whatever the pages of the Book of Vile Darkness tells them to do.

Efficiency

Let’s face it, evil acts can make plans easier and more effective. Tyrants rule with fear because it gets results. People rise to the top if they ruthlessly destroy their competition. Darth Vader gets stuff done by choking people who make a mistake and showing other henchmen they could suffer the same fate.

Examples: A tyrant noble whips any peasant who does not farm their field in the way he has ordered. A hobgoblin captain keeps order within the ranks by killing those who act out and allowing those who do well to kill and pillage to their heart’s content when raiding. A human mother kills any armed person (threatening or not) who comes too close to her children in order to keep them safe.

Greed

Who doesn’t want a lot of money? It can’t solve every problem, but it definitely makes some things easier. Sometimes it pays to be bad and it’s easier to get rich quick if you’re willing to steal or murder.

Examples: A group of adventurers fight and loot any person they come across. A giant holds a prince hostage until the king pays up. A group of kenku knock over jewelry stores together.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, Gamer to Gamer, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


I sit down with Dan Dillon of the Four Horsemen. Dan has worked on numerous products for the Pathfinder RPG and fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons with Kobold Press, Zombie Sky Press, and Legendary Games. This podcast was record on January 20, 2015.


Noble Knight pick of the episode: Southlands Bestiary


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If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, The Round Table and Bonus Action, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A game like Dungeons and Dragons has loads of creatures who are evil for a supernatural or instinctual reason. Bit by a vampire or werewolf? Your alignment has shifted and you are now evil. Chromatic dragons? Born evil. Some even say orcs are simply inherently evil and there’s nothing to be done about it.

I can understand this approach to evil in a fantasy role-playing game. There’s a bit of a tradition when it comes to that idea. Dragons are evil and steal princesses and gold in many children’s storybooks because a nice dragon who never bothers anyone makes a pretty boring story. We don’t need to relate to the dragon, we just know he’s a baddy who must be stopped. Sometimes you just need evil to make an exciting story and don’t care how or why the evil came to be. It just is.

As many of us grow older we seek out more sophisticated stories with layered villains. The most compelling antagonists are the ones we can relate to on some level. The baddies who makes us think, “That could have been me…” They’re the villains who say to a hero, “We’re a lot alike,” and are actually right. I’m talking about your Darth Vaders, your Wilson Fisks, and your Purple Men. They are complicated, round characters who are more terrifying than those who are evil just because a story needs a baddy.

The sort of malice that comes out of causes or emotions we can understand is in many ways far more terrifying because your heroes can understand the villain. They can see what’s broken inside and have the realization that many people are one terrible tragedy away from becoming Norman Bates. In other words, the best evil creatures, don’t think of themselves as evil.

Reasons to be Evil

Below are a few humanizing, understandable motivations for evil NPCs.

Power

Almost all D&D villains seem to lust after power, but give your villain a reason to want total control beyond, “being in charge is great.” It isn’t always great. It’s a lot of high stress work. A motivation beyond wanting power for the sake of having it not only makes a villain relatable, it also makes sense. When an evil creature plots to seize power, it is often because they feel powerless in some way. The baddy wishes to show someone specific, a group of people, or the world at large that they are far more significant than their current lot in life suggests.

Examples: A forgotten bastard child of a monarch wants to show her royal father she is just as good as his other children, so she seizes the throne for herself with the help of an undead army she raised. An ancient dragon is incensed by the memory of a time when his kind didn’t hide in caves, so he begins destroying villages that do not swear allegiance to dragonkind. A maimed beholder told he’ll never be as powerful as the others because he’s missing some eyestalks begins murdering wizards for their magic items to make up for his disability.

Wealth

Similar to power, creatures who desire wealth and obtain it in a less-than-honest way don’t need a deeper motivation other than greed but a richer villain will have a drive beyond avarice. Wealth is very close to power because in most areas of life money is power. So just as a powerless creature may seek power by any means necessary, a villain who was once wretchedly poor make seek wealth and let nothing stand in the way.

Examples: A once rich noble has fallen on hard times and cannot feed her children so she turns to a life of crime, eventually becoming the head of a murderous thieves’ guild. A wizard keeps getting rejected from magical grant programs for his magical experiments which he believes will change the world for the better, so he begins selling orange spice. A mind flayer believes he can reconnect his ancestors’ home of the Far Realm to the rest of the multiverse if he can steal enough diamond dust to power a ritual.

Love

If you’ve played the original Ravenloft adventure, then this motivation needs no explanation. In fact if you’ve ever experience unrequited love, then this motivation needs no explanation. A good person can go bad when their heart aches, either because love isn’t returned, a lover’s heart is stolen by another, or a loved one suffers an untimely death. Remember love isn’t limited to romantic relationships. Children with absent parents, a sibling who has experienced another’s death, and more are tragedies that often results in great personal change. Many come out on the other side stronger, but some might seek retribution from the world in some way.

Examples: A necromancer who loses his family is determined to bring them back as evil wights. A woman loses her lover to the prince, and plots to kill each member of the royal family to make the prince and her ex suffer. A demon lord falls for an angel and hatches a plan to invade Mount Celestia and make her his bride.

Greater Good

Of course there are those villains who not only don’t think of themselves as evil, but see themselves as actual heroes. These villains might be the most terrifying of all, for they believe their cause is just. These baddies have an agenda and may even seek a noble outcome, but their means do not justify the end goal.

Examples: A druid seeks the end of humanity’s harm to nature, so she summons the princes of elemental evil to come cleanse the land of all human civilization. To stop a demon incursion in the Underdark, a drow wizard devises a ritual which requires a large number of surface humanoids to be sacrificed. In order to ensure the continued existence of their kind, a group of near-extinct lycanthropes plans a coordinated attack on schools to infect children with their curse.

Revenge

One of the most powerful motivators in many stories is the idea of revenge. Many heroes are motivated by this ideal, but how far a person goes and for what crimes a person seeks vengeance can tip the scales of this motivation from evil to good. If nothing can get in the way or if the sin being punished is small or unintentional, then the revenge might be bad news.

Examples: After her parents were killed when a conjurer lost control of an elemental, a young woman sets out to rid the world of wizards everywhere. A once peaceful orc king vows to murder all gnomes after a group of gnome bandits murder his queen. A dragon has a cup stolen from his hoard and razes the entire countryside in a rage.

Overlapping

If you look at the examples above you’ll see that some of the most-relatable motivations could belong under two or more of these motivational categories. For instance, “A maimed beholder is told he’ll never be as powerful as the others because he’s missing some eyestalks begins murdering wizards for their magic items to make up for his disability,” could be seen as power, wealth, and revenge. The more complex a motivation, the richer your villain’s story and the greater the emotional arc.

Tempt the PCs

While you can use the motivations above to make your villains relatable, you should also think about these motivations a way to tempt PCs into committing evil acts. If you have the kind of players who enjoy playing complex, layered characters and don’t take real world offense when another PC does something evil, then maybe try tempting a character with one of these motivations and see what happens. Odds are your players have included some pain and misery in their backstories which you can use as a powerful motivator. If the PC is tempted and commits an evil act (and the other players are cool with it), then you’ve just added a layer of complexity to your story. If the PC is tempted but doesn’t give in, then you’ve added a layer of complexity to that character that’s even subtler and more sophisticated. Maybe next time you tempt that character will give in…

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!


I sit down with Allison Rossi, Rudy Basso, and Round Table newbie Patrick Dennis to discuss the official Curse of Strahd announcement. Then it’s a bonus panel with Liz TheisRich HowardDave Gibson, and Topher Kohan dishing on the free Adventurers League adventure The Occupation of Szith Morcane available through Dragon+ and on the DMs Guild. Then it’s an interview with designers Gregory Schulze and Stone Lovecharm of Creepy Assassin about their new RPG StoryCube. This podcast was recorded on January 12 and 22, 2016.




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Hey all! So I know it’s been a long delay for the Thursday update, but things were nuts here in the DC area and apparently it takes a long time to format PDFs.

By far some of the most popular posts on this blog have been the new backgrounds I presented. Well I edited, formatted, and arted a new PDF that’s posted on the DMs Guild. You can now grab every World Builder Blog background, plus my group backgrounds, plus some new explosives, plus some new artisan’s tools in a pretty pay what you want PDF. Please take a moment to check it out and let me know what you think. I put a lot of work into that 19-pager.

Here’s to more adventures! Next week, we’re diving deep into Canus.

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If you like what you’re reading, please check out my products on the DMs Guild and podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Hey everyone! A quick note that today’s World Builder Blog update will be coming late – possibly tomorrow. Spoiler alert: I’m working on putting all the World Builder Blog backgrounds into a pay what you want PDF on the DMs Guild. I would have had it ready to go for today, but I live in the Washington, DC area and I had a pretty long, terrible commute home last night like many in the area which involved abandoning my car in the parking lot of restaurant with a very kind owner. Side note: if you live in the area, check out Pacci’s Trattoria in Forest Glen! Super excellent service.

In the meantime if you’re craving some awesome D&D action, checkout Newbie DM’s awesome elder brain. I terrified my PCs with it a while back and it was super fun.

More to come! East coasters, stay safe this weekend (and the rest of you too).

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my products on the DMs Guild and podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

I was on a recent episode of the DM Nastics podcast!

Neal Powell was kind enough to invite me onto the cast to stretch my mind muscles with some Underdark brainstorming/story exercises. This was after I was on the Dungeon Master’s Block podcast talking about all things under and dark with Mitch and Chris! Neal is an excellent host and I had such a fun time creating adventure locations with him.

If you aren’t listening to the Dungeon Master’s Block feed and you’re a DM, then you’re also missing out! Check out the awesome advice, interviews, and exercises from some of the best in the biz. Get your DM brain swole!

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my products on the DMs Guild and podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

This weekend was nuts! First I spent a lot of time recording interviews and preparing for the Round Table‘s OGL, SRD, DMs Guild, Strahd Spectacular. If you haven’t listened to it yet, check that podcast out. It’s the largest Round Table ever recorded, clocking in at just over two hours with ten guests commenting on the biggest fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons news since this iteration’s launch.

When I wasn’t working on that, I spent my time turning my fifth edition archons and catastrophic dragons into PDFs for the DMs Guild. The Archons PDF provides the lantern, hound, and trumpet varieties of the titular creature while Catastrophic Dragons converts the blizzard, earthquake, tornado, typhoon, and volcanic dragons from fourth edition D&D at every age category. That’s 20 shiny stat blocks in one PDF! If you download the PDFs please leave a rating and/or review and let me know what you think. To be honest at the moment a rating is probably more valuable to me than paying for the PDF.

As part of the terms of service, those monsters can no longer live on this site but I classified them as Pay What You Want PDFs. You can still grab them for free anytime. If you want to preview the story of those creatures before downloading, checkout their World Builder Blog entries: archon and catastrophic dragons. The PDFs are pretty nice and filled with DMs-Guild-provided and Public Domain art!

It took me a long time to get the layout for these PDFs correct. Thank goodness yesterday was a holiday or they might not have posted by today. I was using Word (rookie move, I know) and so it was a learning experience. I have plans for one more PDF going up on the DMs Guild by Thursday and then it’s back to the races of creating the Exploration Age campaign guide and providing DM tips.

If you’re looking for the products I post on the DMs Guild, there’s a few ways to find me. First I’ll put “World Builder Blog,” in all of the titles so you can search for that. Second you can find one of my products and then click my name at right under “Author” under “Product Information” to get a master list of my products. Finally to keep things simple, I will link any PDFs I post on the DMs Guild to the Free Game Resources section of this site.

That’s it for todays update. I know it’s short, but laying out and editing those PDFs and preparing the massive podcast took pretty much all my free time. Thanks so much and please check out the PDFs.

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Archons on DMs Guild

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my products on the DMs Guild and podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!


James Introcaso sits down with the largest Round Table crew ever to talk about the Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition Open Gaming License and System Reference Document and the surprising new Dungeon Masters Guild. Topher Kohan, Dave Gibson, Rich Howard, Sam Dillon, Jeff Greiner, Liz Theis of Lone Wolf Development, Shawn Merwin of Encoded Designs, and Wolfgang Baur of Kobold Press talk about the big news. Included are two interviews, one with Nolan Jones of Roll20 and another with Robert Adducci of the Adventurers League to discuss how the announcement will affect their companies. They even touch on the Ravenloft leak and the announcement that Wizards of the Coast D&D team will not be at Gen Con. This podcast was recorded on January 12, 13, and 17, 2016.