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This is an interview I conducted with BJ Hensley of Playground Adventures as part of the AetherCon V Convention Program.


JI: I love any product that introduces kids to RPGs. What makes Playground Adventures’ modules uniquely suited towards younger gamers?

BH: PGA’s adventures are created beginning to end with children in mind! We include rewards for good moral decisions, puzzles geared toward learning, and explanations that make it easy for children to get into the game. Many of our adventures also include small aids like recommendations for “brain break” times or even hands on projects that keep little hands busy as they wait their turns.

JI: A lot of the Playground Adventures have hands on components that allow kids to do puzzles and science experiments. What are some of your favorite examples of this and where do the ideas come from?

BH: That would be our Fun & Facts line. These are made specifically for children to learn important educational facts as they play. My favorite adventure that we have available to the public at this time is For the Hive! It’s a fun adventure all about bees. The PCs get to shrink down to the size of a bee and venture forth to save the queen! I love the bee facts spread throughout the adventure. It’s fantastic that children can learn about the very real hardships facing the bees in our own world today.

The ideas come from our own children, teachers, schools, and our various developers. We have a pile of requests from teachers for example, that we are wading through to help various after school and in school programs.

JI: Why is it important to you personally that kids play RPGs?

BH: RPGs have a limitless ability to teach us things. They make a wonderful interactive classroom for problem solving, arithmetic, reading, writing, creative thought, social skills, and more. I have spent many years working with both my own children as well as others. One thing that has always stood out to me is how easily kids learn when the education is a side effect of a game they love. Very specifically, these games speak to children who otherwise struggle to learn, who struggle to focus, sit still, or just aren’t quite adept at social niceties.

I have seen children who hated math happily adding and subtracting to account for the mechanical nature of the game. Those who shun novels are somehow more easily inspired to read the rulebooks or campaign settings lying around the house (and every now and again develop a love for novels in the process). I’ve used RPGs to teach social skills to my own and other autistic children. Tabletop roleplaying games make learning fun! They are fantastic tools for teaching, togetherness, and providing safe after school activities for children. It is very important to me that other children benefit from these opportunities as much as my own and local children have.

JI: Beyond the obvious, what are some good tips when writing an adventure for kids?

BH: I believe the three most important factors beyond the obvious ones such as avoiding adult themes are:

Brain breaks: I am a huge fan of brain breaks, everyone has a limit to how much they can absorb before their brain gets tired and begins to wander off. For the small ones this time frame is pretty short. I love adventures that keep that in mind. Whether it’s a timeout for a themed snack (yes some of our adventures have recipes in them!) or a pause while everyone acts out a silly song or meme, these breaks where the table gets up and moves around a bit are important. It gives them time to be less intense and brings them back to the table ready to focus.

Hands on items: Children do well with hands on projects. Including items such as puzzles, craft projects, or even just a coloring sheet for everyone to make use of as they wait their turn can make the whole experience better for everyone.

Good moral choices: Sure, a lot of people love hack and slash (and there is nothing wrong with that) but remember small children are still learning what is right and wrong, and these games are a perfect opportunity to reinforce good moral choices. Allow for options that go beyond kill the monster, loot the stuff. Allow for the salvation of a creature, the ability to make friends with those they wouldn’t normally befriend, alternative problem solving, and then reward those choices with new items or higher experience and praise them for finding creative solutions.

JI: I’ve heard a lot of all adult gaming groups also love to play through the Playground Adventures modules. Why do you think that is?

BH: They do! I suspect there are two reasons. First, many of us are just as in need of lighter themes as the young ones are. It’s surprisingly refreshing to play a not-so-serious game or better yet play from the perspective of a child. Children can do things outside the normal constraints, think outside the box, because they don’t have predefined imaginations. They think of something and see no reason why they shouldn’t be able to do it, and so they try. They don’t care if they look silly and they don’t think, “Oh that won’t work.”

Also, some of our adventures are a bit like beloved fairy tales and they can be played in the lighter tones, as they are written, or surprisingly dark ones with a few minor alterations. Pixies on Parade is a perfect example of this!

JI: What are some of your favorite Playground Adventures’ modules and why?

BH: Pixies on Parade is one of my absolute favorites. It’s a fairy tale adventure with amusing and fun side treks but it has a dark side as well. That adventure can be geared to teach children good choices, have fun, and use their imagination with imagination magic but it isn’t all fluffy bunnies. In fact, some of the dark sides if given a more serious tone are perfect for adults. For example, I find the baby teeth section to be just creepy, and the nightmare king could easily scare some adults if you choose to spin it in a darker tone. (Note: James also finds the baby teeth section WONDERFULLY creepy.)

I’m also quite fond of the Wonderland adventure path. It’s perfect for teaching new gamers the ins and outs of the game and offers some fantastic hands on adventuring. Chapter one is actually an adventure board game!

JI: What’s next for Playground Adventures?

BH: We are always working on a dozen or so items but our newest line is 12 & up! We just launched Creature Components, our first book in the 12 & up line, that allows you to make stronger spells and items by adding creature components to the mix. It received 5 stars and pretty much every recommendation available and we couldn’t be happier about it!

For the younger crowd we will be releasing a guide book soon with a plethora of options for little gamers, such as classes, magic items, spells, feats, and more. Keep an eye out for Toolkits and Toyboxes (some assembly required)!

JI: Finally, as a person in the gaming industry who works with many companies and gets tons of new players into the game, what can publishers do to make the community feel welcoming and inclusive of all people?

BH: I think the simplest answer is to make content that is inclusive of all people. People want to see themselves in their games. Keep that in mind when you create. Listen to your fan base, and where you can, make adjustments to accommodate them. I personally always try to be kind and remember that I too was once new to the game.

Check out more great interviews like this one by grabbing your copy of the AetherCon V Convention Program being released Nov/1/2016 here:

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, 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!

One of my Exploration Age campaigns is coming to an end… and a new one is about to start! My friend Andrew Kane is DMing us through a campaign based in Exploration Age’s South Pole. The story deals with a cult he created that’s devoted to The Lingering Havoc. Badass! I finally get to step into the role of player which will give me time to focus on publishing the Exploration Age Campaign Guide and allow me to be engaged with the game in a new way. It’s been more than six years since I was a player in a sustained D&D campaign!

As our current campaign ends, Andrew has asked us to submit character backstories so he can begin working those details into the story of the campaign. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me to discuss what makes a great character backstories. Here’s a few tips followed by character’s backstory as an example!

Ask the DM

Before you put any work into creating a character’s backstory, ask the person running the game if there are any parameters. Are the character options (like races and classes) restricted? What sort of world are you playing in? A jolly halfling rogue with a passion for lemon cakes and celebrity gossip isn’t something you’d find in a post-apocalyptic setting. Once you have that information from your DM, give them a quick description of your character. It doesn’t have to be more than a sentence or two. Mine was something like, “My character is a half-elf bard who travels the world searching for ancient troves of lost knowledge. He loves discovering new or forgotten ideas and is particularly interested in necromancy and magic that can extend a person’s life.” This got the approval from Andrew. (Side note: I figured having a knowledgable character would help me roleplay since we’re playing in a campaign setting I created.)

Use What the DM Gave Ya!

Once you know about the world your character inhabits, think about how you can tie your character into the setting. As a DM I find it a lot easier to work a character’s backstory into the game if they already have some connection to the story I’m trying to tell. In my case, I picked a character that has an interest in necromancy because Andrew has told us his campaign is centered around a cult of The Lingering Havoc (which is a massive pile of bodies with one mind). This makes it much easier to draw my PC and other elements of his backstory into the campaign. For instance, if my PC is in The South Pole looking for The Lingering Havoc and an old enemy shows up with an axe to grind, it makes sense that the enemy would know to find him there, since my character has a known interest in necromancy.

Just how did I know The Lingering Havoc and South Pole are playing a big part in this campaign? Why the DM told us of course! In fact he sent us an awesome map and campaign primer. Check out both below!

The South Pole: A Primer

Reminder: All the dark gray spots are unexplored terrain. This map made using Hexographer.

All the dark gray hexes are unexplored terrain. This map made using Hexographer.

Closed Point of View

It’s best to use either first person or limited third person points of view (as opposed to omniscient) when writing a character backstory. This allows for the DM to harvest your story for hooks and adventure ideas more easily than if you provide every detail.

Consider this example. Your PC is fighting their nemesis and mortally wounds the enemy before the baddy gets away. An omniscient narrator might then inform us that the nemesis drank a potion of healing and swore to get vengeance on the PC someday. That’s a good hook, but wouldn’t it be more interesting if you as a player don’t know the outcome and leave it to the DM? Then the possibilities are endless. Maybe the nemesis was healed, or maybe with their dying breath the enemy swore an oath of vengeance to a dark god is now an undead revenant stalking the land! Or maybe the nemesis’ much worse sibling or parent found the body and is coming after the PC. Maybe law enforcement found the body and the PC is wanted for murder and doesn’t know it! Maybe the PC is wanted for murder because the body was found AND the nemesis rose as a vengeful wraith (a double surprise). Heck, the DM could tie this thread into another PC’s backstory or the main story! Maybe your nemesis is now a henchmen of the campaign’s main villain! As you can see, a closed point of view allows for more interest storytelling possibilities.

You might consider getting creative and writing your PC’s backstory from another character’s point of view. Maybe a spouse, lover, best friend, parent, or bard tells the tale. Whatever you do, keep the point of view closed so the DM can have a little fun.

Dangle A Few Threads

Leave a few plot threads hanging for your DM to pull on and weave into the story. Your character’s story is just beginning. If all your problems are taken care of at the start of the adventure, then there’s nothing from your backstory to work into the campaign. There’s many possible open threads! Maybe your character agreed to take over the thieves’ guild once an ailing parent/guild leader dies. Maybe someone stole a family heirloom. Maybe your PC wants to learn more about magic so they can return to their farming village to end a years-long drought. Don’t go overboard here. Your DM has other characters and their own story they’re trying to tell. One to three open threads should be enough.

Stick To The Basics And Defining Events

Don’t feel like you need to describe every detail of your character’s life. Answer the basics. Where are they from? Who is close to them? How did they get their talent for fighting, magic, roguing, rangering, etc?

After you answer those questions, you need only describe the defining events in your character’s life. What events made them the person they are today? In fifth edition D&D you might look to your personality traits, bond, ideal, and flaw and ask “When did my character develop these?” Put those moments into words and use those events to leave your dangling threads. That way when your past comes back at you during a game, it’ll be even more meaningful.

Secrets Are Fun

It helps your party members if they know a bit of your backstory, but keep a secret or two for just you and the DM. The secret should be something important that your PC wouldn’t readily share, even with the other party members. Maybe your character is secretly royalty, was once part of a demonic cult, has a secret love child, or accidentally murdered someone. Many of these secrets are shameful to characters, but there’s other reasons a person could keep a secret.

Maybe your PC keeps a public figure’s shameful secret in order to extort them for money. Maybe your PC keeps ties to certain friend or family a secret so enemies don’t exploit loved ones. Maybe they have to keep a relationship a secret because if their father finds out, they’ll lose their inheritance. There’s tons of reasons to keep secrets out there! Give your character a good one… and don’t be surprised when the secret becomes exposed!

Heroes Are Good, Chosen Ones Not So Much

Your character should have some fantastic deeds or moments in their backstory. The first time they cast a spell. The first monster they vanquished. Though remember that this PC is meant to be a part of a group of heroes that is stronger together. You’re character should not be the only person on earth who can slay a world-consuming monster. Not only will it be sad for the world when your PC is killed by a kobold at level 1, it also takes too much importance away from the other characters!

We Knew Each Other Before This

It’s always a good idea to tie your backstory into at least one other PC’s backstory. This makes it easier on the DM to bring people together. Plus it gives you another character you already trust and care about! You might even consider sharing any secrets in your backstory with them.

A Word on Length

When it comes to character backstories, I don’t care much about length as a DM. I’ll read one paragraph (or a list of bullet points) and I’ll read a 30+ page history. Check with your DM before you write a novel. They may not have the time to read it all while they’re worldbuilding and living life, no matter how well it’s written.

Example Backstory: Ramus Verbosa

The link below is the example backstory for my PC, Ramus Verbosa. I’m keeping it in a link since it’s got secrets and I don’t want my fellow players (who sometimes read this blog) to get any spoilers. Happy writing friends!

Ramus Verbosa Backstory

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, 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!

A new behind-the-scenes episode of the podcast Rudy Basso and I make, Have Spellbook, Will Travel, is up on the show’s site!



It’s Alex Basso!  Younger brother of Rudy Basso, and the go-to “omg I need a voice NOW” guy!  Take a listen and learn about Alex’s love for fourth edition, how to be THE BEST at D&D, and a two-pronged fraternal attack on 4E’s weird Essentials rules.

This week’s Levels Question was submitted by Ally Burnham.  Thanks Ally! Tweet your own Levels Question of the Week at us or #levelsq on Twitter! 

Send your mailbag questions via the Contact page.


If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, like World Builder Blog on Facebook, 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!

A new episode of the podcast Rudy Basso and I make, Have Spellbook, Will Travel, is up on the show’s site!


Behold!  The oft-mentioned “Night at the X-Mansion” or “Bottle Episode” episode!  Enjoy some character development as our adventurers take a much needed break to drink, cook, and… date?!

If you’ve enjoyed listening to the show, do us a big ol’ favor and write a review on ouriTunes page, or just tell a friend about it.

Tweet your Levels Question of the Week at us or #levelsq on Twitter!  

Send your mailbag questions via the Contact page.  We want to hear from you!

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!

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

I sit down with Liz TheisDave GibsonJames Haeck, and Chris Sniezak to compare, contrast, and review the Dungeons and Dragons actual play series Dice, Camera, ActionForce Grey: Giant Hunters, and Acquisitions Incorporated: The Series. Then it’s an interview with game designer Chris Harris to discuss his rune magic chapter of Kobold Press‘ Deep Magic for fifth edition. This podcast was recorded on July 3 and 24, 2016.

Please rate and review The Tome Show on iTunes. It takes 30 seconds and helps us a bunch!


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!

Just a quick note to let you know that tomorrow (Wednesday 6/29) I’ll be doing a live Google Hangout with Brian Fitzpatrick to talk about designing RPGs. Check out the event! Hope to see you there as we talk Dungeons and Dragons and more!

Also if you want to see me at Gen Con, I’ll be moderating the Digital Future of D&D 5th Edition panel with tons of awesome people. Syrinscape, Lone Wolf Development, Mesa Mundi, Smiteworks, and DriveThruRPG will all be there so come check us out!

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!

I was on a recent episode of the Dungeon Master’s Block DM-Nastics podcast! Thanks, Neal Powell!


Welcome back to DM-Nastics – the gym for Dungeon Masters to work out their minds! 
Content: We build a guild, but what kind?
In the gym: DM Neal and DM James Introcaso 
Intro & Outro Music in this episode is Rock Instrumental Music №20 (creative commons) by DigitalSh0ck is licensed under a Creative Common License. 
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!

My Tarokka deck needs something to do.

It’s not that I don’t love the purchase. It’s a wonderful item with a lot of great art. Worth every penny. But I feel like I can make it worth more.

As I mentioned in my one-shot Strahd post, I’m not currently playing Curse of Strahd. Even if I were, I’d want to make expanded use of the Tarokka deck. It’s great for readings, but wouldn’t it be awesome if it could be used for random encounters, treasure tables, and more? It totally can.

Tarokkas and Random Tables

Whether you’re playing Curse of Strahd or not, you can draw cards from your Tarokka deck instead of rolling dice on a random table for encounters, treasure, and more. I’ve made it super easy for you and myself by writing out the numbers on a table below.

I’m aware that other than the d6 column, these cards don’t perfectly correspond to the same probability as a throw of an actual die. If this were a saving throw, ability check, attack or damage roll, I wouldn’t allow it. For a DM’s random table this is close enough. It’s as good as it’s going to get without adding extra cards to the deck!

Making players draw these cards themselves for treasure and encounters is especially fun. It adds a moment of drama at the table as you whip out the cards and ask them to draw. Psychologically it also shifts the onus of the result on the player as the others watch, hoping for a good result.

Check out the table below, or grab it in the link below as a PDF or from the Free Game Resources section of this site.

Tarokka Deck as Dice

Tarokka Deck as DiceA Little Preview

This post is actually a little preview of an upcoming DMs Guild product I’m working on. It’s a recurring encounter for Curse of Strahd that involves a magic Tarokka deck. To learn more about this side trek, you’ll have to wait for next week and watch my game with Chris Perkins during…


If you haven’t heard about Roll20CON yet, the info is below!

The free, online-only celebration of the Roll20 Community will take place on June 3rd, 2016 for just 24 hours – but you can start preparing, listing, and joining games now! From 12AM – 11:59PM Pacific time, there will be games galore played on my favorite virtual table. You’ll want to join in the action and get to try some of the Plus and Pro subscription features for free. That’s right. Dynamic Lighting (and tons of other awesome features) will be free during Roll20CON.

During the convention, some of your favorite streamers, publishers, podcasters, and I will be live on Twitch helping raise money for Cybersmile, the international non-profit supporting victims of cyberbullying.

If you haven’t seen the schedule for Roll20CON check it out below. You’ll notice I’m running two games during the 24-hour live stream with some of the biggest names in Dungeons and Dragons including my good friend Rudy Basso of the Tome Show’s D&D V&G podcast and Have Spellbook, Will Travel, Nadja Otikor of Misscliks D&D Prophecy, Greg Bilsland of Wizards of the Coast and member of the Dungeons and Dragons team, and, oh yeah, Chris Freakin’ Perkins, a Wizards of the Coast D&D employee who needs no introduction.

Needless to say I am thrilled about this and nervous. I’d love your support and love on game day. So if you’re around at 5AM or 2PM Pacific time on June 3, 2016, check out Twitch and watch us play D&D!


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!

This is a guest post from Geoffrey Winn, host of the amazing Appendix N podcast on The Tome Show network. Geoff was on a recent episode of my podcast, The Round Table, where we chatted about what it would take to create a Middle-earth campaign setting for fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons. That conversation inspired this series of posts here on World Builder Blog.


Part I: Introduction & The Region of Eriador

Hey folks. After my talk with James on the D&D Round Table about the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons/ Middle-earth gaming products from Cubicle 7, I realized there was a lot more I wanted to talk about. I’m a huge fan of both Dungeons & Dragons and Middle-earth, and the question of how to run a D&D game in my favorite fictional setting has long been on my mind.

In this blog, I will focus on general ideas for adapting your favorite role-playing game, whatever that happens to be, for Middle-earth, and vice versa. I’m going to largely stay away from talking about game mechanics. Trying to create a role-playing game that is faithful to the source material while also being fun to play is a huge challenge, and not one I particularly want to tackle at the moment. Instead I want to talk about how you can take games that you already know how to play, already know how to design adventures for, and set them in Middle-earth.

As I said on the podcast, Dungeons & Dragons is a game where you go into dungeons, kill monsters, and take their stuff. It’s even been advertised by the game designers as such. Middle-earth lacks a lot of the variety of monsters, magic and magical items that are typical to Dungeons & Dragons. Unfortunately, when you take a lot of the magic and monsters out of Dungeons & Dragons, you just lose a lot of the game.

There’s basically two approaches to this problem: you can change the world of Middle-earth so that it’s more like Dungeons & Dragons; or you can change the game of Dungeons & Dragons so that it’s more like Middle-earth. The latter is more difficult and requires fiddling with game mechanics, so I’m going to save that topic for a later post. For the first few posts in this blog, I am going to assume you simply want to play Dungeons & Dragons (or Pathfinder or 13th Age or Savage Worlds) the way you’ve always played it, but set your game in Middle-earth.

When planning your campaign, you’ll want to think about where and when your campaign will take place. Middle-earth can be broken up into three distinct geographical areas, each of which can yield up different flavors of game. These areas are Eriador, Wilderland (also called Rhovanion), and Gondor. For my first post, I am going to talk all about Eriador, where all our adventures begin.

Eriador: This is the area west of the Misty Mountains. It literally means “empty land,” and by the time of The Lord of the Rings, this is a pretty accurate name. Most of the people were killed or driven out of Eriador after the Witch-King destroyed Arnor, the North Kingdom.

Eriador includes the Shire, Bree, Rivendell, the Grey Havens, and the Blue Mountains. What’s more, all of these are connected by a major road that runs straight across the region. This gives you an opportunity to include Men, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits in your campaign.

Early Third Age: Early in the Third Age, most of the region is controlled by the Men of Arnor, the North Kingdom of the Dúnedain. The society of Arnor should resemble that of Gondor. The capital was a city called Annúminas, and it probably looked a lot like Minas Tirith, except it was built on a lake. The Dúnedain are brave, powerful Men who bring light to the darkness and civilization to the wilderness. They are staunch opponents of Sauron and Sauron’s minions. However, evil forces did not begin to taint the region until after Arnor had broken up into three separate kingdoms, which I’ll talk about below. The time of Arnor was therefore relatively peaceful, and any conflicts would largely be the invention of the GM. The most notable thing about Arnor was that its kings were descendents Isildur, the man who defeated Sauron at the end of the Second Age. Isildur never returned to Arnor to rule, but was instead slain by orcs on the road home.

Middle Third Age: After the death of its tenth king, Arnor was split between the king’s three sons. Three new kingdoms emerged – Arthedain, Cardolan and Rhudaur. Arthedain can basically be seen as “the good guys,” the people most closely aligned with the vision of the original Dúnedain kingdom. The capital of Arthedain is Fornost, a fortress that sits north of Bree. Rhudaur quickly degenerated into a society of dark sorcery and barbarism. Cardolan, which contained the village of Bree within its borders, was somewhere in the middle. It was populated by decent, hardy folk just trying to survive. The Witch-King of Angmar looms as a threat over everything. Over a period of roughly 1000 years, the Witch-King conquered and destroyed all three of these kingdoms.

In a campaign during this time, PCs can be brave knights and allies of Arthedain and Cardolan, defending the land from evil plots out of Rhudaur and Angmar. Although the land is doomed, people can still be saved and knowledge and magic can be preserved for future generations. Perhaps in your campaign, you allow the PCs to actually defeat the Witch-King, significantly altering the history of the North.

Late Third Age: After the fall of Arthedain, the region becomes much different. The Witch-King’s victory was short-lived. The year after the Witch-King took Fornost and drove off the last of Arthedain’s kings, a combined force of Elves and Men of Gondor arrived. They utterly destroyed Angmar and drove the Witch-King out of the North. All that was left was a wilderness full of ruins, populated by scattered civilizations with tenuous connections to one another. The descendents of Isildur survived to become the Chieftains of the Rangers. This time period most closely resembles a typical campaign setting for Dungeons & Dragons.

As stated at the beginning, we have a string of small civilizations connected by a road that mostly travels through wilderness. Dwarves travel along this road from the Blue Mountains to the Misty Mountains, bringing trade goods and news. There is also the Greenway, a road that runs north to south and crosses the Great East Road just outside of Bree. This makes Bree the ideal starting point for any campaign, a place where Dwarves, Hobbits and Rangers can meet.

The Rangers make an ideal support organization for your campaign. They are unquestionably the “good guys,” patrolling the wilderness, saving people from monsters, and taking no credit for their actions. Their main goal is to preserve the ruins of the old kingdoms, knowing that one day a king will return and restore prosperity to the region. In a campaign that takes place in this time period, the PCs are either Rangers themselves or work for the Rangers. Alternatively, the PCs could simply be treasure hunters who care nothing for history, which would make the Rangers an enemy.

The area is rife with dungeons that can be explored for treasure. The Barrow-downs and the Old Forest are iconic locations from The Lord of the Rings that players will instantly recognize. There are also the abandoned cities of Annúminas and Fornost. Perhaps descendents of the evil hill-men of Rhudaur still survive, hatching devilish plots in remote locations. During the long war with Angmar, the Witch-King probably sent many minions into the region who could have built dungeons in hidden locations. Those dungeons are still there, and either they are still inhabited or they are long abandoned, but they are definitely full of danger and treasure. Angmar, of course, is likely full of abandoned fortresses containing dark magic items and weapons of war that bad guys might want to claim for themselves. Finally, the PCs could be sent into the Mines of Moria or the goblin caves of the Misty Mountains for any number of reasons, likely to find death at the hands of orcs, Gollum, or the Balrog.

Far to the south of this region are a few areas that deserve special mention. They are rather obscure locations, far removed from the major events of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. This makes them exciting locations to use in a campaign, because the GM and players are free to make up whatever they want.

The first of these is the town of Tharbad. This town lies far to the south of Bree, along a road that once connected Arnor and Gondor when both were prosperous kingdoms. When Arnor was destroyed and Gondor became less and less influential in the world at large, Tharbad was largely abandoned. In The Lord of the Rings, we hear a report from Boromir, who passed through the town on the way to the Council of Elrond, that nothing remains of the town except a crumbling bridge over a river.

In your campaign, Tharbad does not have to be abandoned. It could be home to brave, hardy Men, similar to the Men of Bree or Lake-town, trying to eke out a living in a harsh wilderness. It could be a den of thieves and brigands. It could be a stronghold or orcs or an evil wizard, someone as powerful as Saruman, who could be a threat to the peaceful people of the North if not stopped. Tharbad makes a great alternative starting point for your campaign if you want a darker game, or if you simply want to be closer to other areas like Rohan, Isengard, Moria and Gondor.

The other location I want to talk about is Vinyalondë, also called Lond Daer or Lond Daer Enedh. Vinyalondë was a port haven established by Tar-Aldarion, the sixth king of Númenor, in his younger days as a prince. The tale of Aldarion and his wife Erendis is told in Unfinished Tales, and I recommend you read it if you’re at all curious about Númenor and life in the Second Age of Middle-earth. For our purposes, however, Vinyalondë is simply a great adventure location. Númenor was a powerful empire of Men in the Second Age, and at one time they had explored the whole world. The ruins of Vinyalondë could contain just about anything, from lost magical treasures to horrible monsters that have been locked away. These ruins can be reached from Tharbad by sailing down the river. If the PCs are interested in a sea adventure, they can establish Vinyalondë as their home base, from which they could sail to the Grey Havens, Gondor, Umbar, or even more exotic locations.

So there you have it, my overview of the region of Eriador. Hopefully you’re already buzzing with campaign ideas. If you’re interested in any of the locations that I talked about and want to learn more, I highly recommend making your way over to It’s the most comprehensive Tolkien Wiki I have found, and it’s always my first stop when I’m doing research for a project.

In future posts, I will talk about Wilderland, the Gondor region, and locations that don’t fit neatly into any of these regions. But what else would you like me to talk about? What questions can I answer? I’m interested to see what problems others have had trying to set a campaign in Middle-earth. Thank you for reading my words, and thank you to James for giving me a place to post them.

Part II: Wilderland

Part III: Gondor, Rohan, & Mordor

Part IV: Other Places, Other Times

Part V: The Lords of Middle-earth

Part VI: The Mannish Races

Listen to Geoffrey Winn discuss the literature that influenced the creation of D&D every month on the Appendix N podcast on The Tome Show network!

Deck the halls with Santa’s minions! On Tuesday I showed you my 5e version of Santa. Well now I’d like to introduce you to some of his staff. Why? Because I’m thinking I should put out a mini holiday-themed D&D adventure as a present to all. To do that, I’m going to need some unique creatures.

I know you’re saying, “But James, some of these critters are good aligned… why would my party fight them?” More on that to come in future blog posts, my friends.

I should also mention that this blog post is part of this month’s RPG Blog Carnival, which is being hosted right here on this very blog for all of December. The theme is “Homebrew Holiday Gifts.” I’m asking bloggers everywhere to share their RPG creations for their favorite systems with me. At the end of the month I’ll make a list linking all participating blog posts so everyone can checkout the fine homebrew creations in one place.

Winter Elves

Winter elves, more commonly known as Santa’s elves, are a smaller than their more common cousins and have a strong work ethic and crafty minds. Their festive dress, positive attitudes, and infectious smiles fill everyone around them with cheer.

Jolly Laborers. Winter elves live to make gifts that cheer up others. Their generous spirit keeps them singing joyous songs and laboring throughout the day knowing their work will reward the kind of heart. They are loyal to Santa above all.

Guardians in Outrageous Outfits. The dress of the Winter elves are patterned stockings, colorful tunics, pointed hats, and curly toed shoes. While their size and outfits may make them seem silly, make no mistake. These elves have fast hands and powerful magic that can lay enemies flat in moments.

Winter Elf

Small humanoid (elf), lawful good

Armor Class 14

Hit Points  81 (18d6 + 18)

Speed 30 ft.

8 (-1) 19 (+4) 12 (+1) 14 (+2) 16 (+3) 18 (+4)

Saving Throws  Dex +7, Wis +6

Damage Resistances cold

Condition Immunities exhaustion

Skills Perception +6, Performance +7

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive perception 16

Languages Common, Elvish

Challenge 7 (2,900 XP)

Ice Weapons. The elf’s weapon attacks deal an extra 1d8 cold damage (already factored into its attacks) and count as magical.

Fey Ancestry. Magic cannot put the elf to sleep.

Magic Resistance. The elf has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Master Artisan. The elf is proficient with all artisan’s tools. Its proficiency bonus is +3.

Nimble Movement. The elf can take the Dash or Disengage action as a bonus action on each of its turns.

Spellcasting. The elf’s spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 15, +7 to hit with spell attacks). It can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components.

At will: invisibilitymage handmendingmisty step

3/day: charm person, hold person, sanctuarysleet storm

1/day: cone of coldpolymorph


Multiattack. The elf makes two attacks.

Light Hammer. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 20/60 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d4 + 4) bludgeoning damage and 4 (1d8) cold damage.

Hot Cocoa Flask. Every elf carries an enchanted flask of hot cocoa which stays piping hot. As an action the elf commands this flask to shoot a line of cocoa 60 feet long and 5 feet wide. Each creature in the line must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 21 (8d6) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. The elf cannot use this ability from the same flask again until it completes a long rest.

Animated Toys

Santa has created guardian constructs out of his most requested gifts to defend his home. These toys appear to be the real thing but super-sized so they look like the toys of a giant rather than a humanoid.

Surprising Protectors. Santa’s animated toys serve as decoration most of the time. They are well-crafted, gorgeous pieces of art. It is only when they descend upon an intruder or join Santa in one of his battles outside the North Pole that their true strength is realized. Intruders and evil-doers often don’t learn this lesson until the toys are upon them, tearing limb from limb.

Giant Doll

Medium construct, unaligned

Armor Class 14 (natural armor)

Hit Points  136 (16d8 + 64)

Speed 30 ft.

18 (+4) 10 (+0) 18 (+4) 7 (-2) 8 (-1) 3 (-4)

Damage Immunities poison

Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive perception 9

Languages understands all languages, but can’t speak

Challenge 7 (2,900 XP)

Critical Hit Immunity. Critical hits become normal hits against the doll.

Magic Weapons. The doll’s weapon attacks count as magical.


Multiattack. The doll makes two attacks.

Slam.  Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 15 (2d10 + 4) bludgeoning damage.

Wanting Wail. The doll screams. Each hostile creature within 30 who can hear the doll must make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw. Creatures who fail take 18 (4d8) psychic damage and move their speed toward the doll, incurring opportunity attacks as normal. Creatures who fail take half damage.

Giant Teddy Bear

Large construct, unaligned

Armor Class 17 (natural armor)

Hit Points  178 (17d10 + 85)

Speed 30 ft.

22 (+6) 10 (+0) 20 (+5) 7 (-2) 10 (+0) 3 (-4)

Damage Immunities poison; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons

Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive perception 10

Languages understands all languages, but can’t speak

Challenge 10 (5,900 XP)

Critical Hit Immunity. Critical hits become normal hits against the bear.

Magic Weapons. The bear’s weapon attacks count as magical.


Multiattack. The bear makes one bite and one slam attack.

Bite.  Melee Weapon Attack: +10 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 25 (3d10 + 6) piercing damage.

Slam.  Melee Weapon Attack: +10 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 19 (3d8 + 6) bludgeoning damage. If the target is a creature, it is grappled (escape DC 18). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained, and the bear cannot slam another target.

Bear Hug. The bear attempts to crush a creature it is grappling against its body. The creature must make a DC 18 Strength saving throw. On a failed save the creature takes 33 (6d10) bludgeoning damage and the bear makes a bite attack against the target.

Giant Toy Soldier

Medium construct, unaligned

Armor Class 18 (natural armor)

Hit Points 110 (13d8 + 52)

Speed 30 ft.

12 (+1) 20 (+5) 18 (+4) 7 (-2) 10 (+0) 3 (-4)

Damage Immunities poison

Condition Immunities charmed, exhaustion, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive perception 10

Languages understands all languages, but can’t speak

Challenge 8 (3,900 XP)

Magic Weapons. The toy soldier’s weapon attacks count as magical.

Overwind. At the start of each of the toy soldier’s turns roll a d20. On a 20, the soldier gets two actions this turn. On a 1, the soldier is incapacitated until the start of its next turn.

Quick Reload. The toy soldier ignores the reload property of any weapon with which it is proficient.


Multiattack. The toy soldier makes three attacks.

Musket.  Ranged Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, range 40/120 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (1d12 + 5) piercing damage.

Rapier.  Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (1d8 + 5) piercing damage.

Hot Chocolate Elementals

The Elemental Plane of Sweets is home to more than the giant ice cream bunny. Amongst the tropical marshmallow isles, hot chocolate elementals swim through sugary seas. Santa has summoned and bound some of these beings to his service. They guard his workshop with a cocoa-soaked fury.

Hot Chocolate Elemental

Large elemental, neutral

Armor Class 15

Hit Points 90 (12d10 + 24)

Speed  40 ft., swim 60 ft.

14 (+2) 20 (+5) 14 (+2) 6 (-2) 10 (+0) 8 (-1)

Damage Resistances fire; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons

Damage Immunities poison

Condition Immunities exhaustion, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained, unconscious

Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive perception 10

Languages Cocoan

Challenge 5 (1,800 XP)

Hot Cocoa Form. The elemental can squeeze through a space as narrow as 1 inch without squeezing. A creature that touches the elemental or hits it with a melee attack while within 5 feet of it takes 5 (1d10) fire damage. In addition, the elemental can enter a hostile creature’s space and stop there. The first time it enters a creature’s space on a turn, that creature takes 5 (1d10) fire damage.


Multiattack. The elemental makes two attacks.

Touch.  Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d6 + 5) fire damage.

Hurl Marshmallow.  Ranged Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, range 30/120 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (1d8 + 5) fire damage and if the target is Large or smaller, it is restrained as the marshmallow envelops its body. A creature restrained this way can use its action to make a DC 13 Strength check to free itself from the marshmallow and become unstrained. Dealing 10 damage to the marshmallow (AC 10) destroys it and frees the creature.

Mrs. Claus

No Team Santa would be complete without his Big Red Oneness’ lovely wife. Mrs. Claus is a celestial, just like her jolly husband. She too defends the good people and supports her husband’s labors. Theirs is a true partnership, with each member of the couple respecting and cherishing the other.

Mrs. Claus

Medium celestial, neutral good

Armor Class 20 (natural armor)

Hit Points 180 (24d8 + 72)

Speed 30 ft., fly 60 ft.

14 (+2) 14 (+2) 16 (+3) 18 (+4) 20 (+5) 22 (+6)

Saving Throws  Dex +8, Con +9, Wis +11

Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from nonmagical weapons

Damage Immunities cold

Condition Immunities exhaustion, petrified

Skills Perception +11, Persuasion +12

Senses blindsight 60 ft., darkvision 120 ft., passive perception 21

Languages all

Challenge 17 (18,000 XP)

Discorporation. When Mrs. Claus drops to 0 hit points or dies, her body is destroyed, but her essence travels back to Santa’s domain in the North Pole, and she is unable to take physical form for a time.

Magic Resistance. Mrs. Claus has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Spellcasting. Mrs. Claus’ spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 20, +12 to hit with spell attacks). She can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components.

At will: blessinvisibilitymagic circlemagic missile, sanctuary

3/day: cone of cold, dispel magichealhold monster, polymorphsleet storm

1/day: teleport, true polymorph


Multiattack. Mrs. Claus makes two attacks.

Radiant Touch.  Melee Spell Attack: +12 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 22 (3d10 + 6) radiant damage and the target must succeed on a DC 20 Constitution saving throw or become blinded until the end of Mrs. Claus’ next turn.

Chill Beam. Ranged Spell Attack: +12 to hit, range 120 ft., one target. Hit: 27 (6d8) cold damage and the creature must make a DC 20 Constitution saving throw. A creature who fails this saving throw can take only a move or an action on its next turn, but not both.


Stern Look. Mrs. Claus causes an attack that would hit her to miss.


Would you like these baddies in a PDF along with all the other fifth edition D&D creatures I’ve designed? Grab them below.

Winter Elf

Giant Doll

Giant Teddy Bear

Giant Toy Soldier

Hot Chocolate Elemental

Mrs Claus

Santa Claus

All Monsters

If you don’t want to grab them now, but decide you want the PDFs at a future date, head on over to the Free Game Resources section of this site where the documents will live along with magic items, backgroundsD&D fifth edition rules modulesspellsadventures, and more created by yours truly.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my 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!