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Gaming Guide: Magic Items

Dividing treasure

Some magic items, especially magic armor and weapons, can be cursed. You won’t discover the cursed nature until you attempt to use the item, weapon or armor in actual combat (simply holding it or trying it on won’t reveal the curse). You may potentially be able to pay a high-level magic user or cleric to investigate the item.

Some magic items, such as wands, have a finite number of uses (called charges). You can’t learn how many charges are loaded into the item without paying a high-level magic user or cleric to inspect the item.

Gaming Guide: Equipment

Oil can be one of the most versatile items you can carry.

You must rest one round per hour, and one day every 7, or suffer penalties.

Running out of food or water can kill you. Running out of torches or lantern oil is really inconvenient and makes getting out of a dungeon very dangerous, even if you have party members with infravision.

Every party should have at least one 50-foot rope amongst their combined equipment.

Not every character must carry the same gear. Consider the gear the party needs as a whole and distribute it in a logical manner.

Iron spikes and a mallet or hammer can be very useful and versatile. They can be used to wedge a door shut (or open), secure a rope, or even to create pegs on a wall or other vertical surface to facilitate scaling up, down or across that surface. (Hint: You can toss a few iron spikes to distract a rust monster.)

Gaming Guide: Exploration & Smart Adventuring

Adventuring party

You will very rarely find what is hidden if you don’t tell the DM that you are searching for it.

If the DM says you don’t find a trap or secret door, that doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a trap or secret door there.

Draw a map as you explore a dungeon. It doesn’t have to be specifically accurate, but must be able to lead you back out to the surface to safety.

Over-arguing about things in the dungeon draws the attention of wandering monsters. Wandering monsters sap your resources (hit points, spells, arrows, etc.) and rarely have any treasure.

Being able to creatively and constructively solve problems with efficient solutions is the greatest skill a player can have, and is far more valuable than anything carried or specified on a character sheet.

The DM often drops hints about things of value, but not everything they say is significant or a clue.

Explore and investigate your surroundings. Put things in context with other bits of information to discern what is important.

The character with the highest charisma score should conduct all negotiations with NPCs on the party’s behalf.

Most henchman won’t consider going on an adventure-for-hire with you until you buy them a drink.

Some difficult physical tasks that require great strength, such as opening a stuck door or lifting a porcullis, can only be accomplished through the combined effort of two (or more) characters.

Mirrors require a light source to work, and infravision does not apply. In fact, it is not possible to read in the dark or discern colors using infravision alone.

A torch or other heat source will prevent infravision from working when near that heat source.

If you are using a torch or lantern, any creature with infravision will likely see you long before you see them.

You naturally heal 1d3 hit points for every full day of rest (not just 8 hours of sleep).

You can become lost (and not realize it) when traveling outdoors unless you are following a known road or trail, or following a skilled guide.

Any character can search for room traps, like covered pits, etc., but only thieves can search for treasure traps. The DM rolls for success, not the player (just because the DM says no trap is found doesn’t mean there isn’t still a trap present).

Gaming Guide: Experience & Treasure

Dividing treasure

In a typical old-school adventure, roughly 75% of your character’s earned experience points will come from the acquisition of treasure, not from killing monsters (5e and newer editions have a completely different ratio). If you can find a way to obtain the dragon’s horde without actually fighting the dragon, you’ll go far in this world. NOTE: Magical treasure like wands, rings, and magical weapons and armor don’t earn you experience points because their value is in their use. If you sell these items, however, you will probably earn experience points as if they were treasure (coins, gems, jewelry, etc.)

Treasure doesn’t matter or count toward experience if you don’t get it back to town or a safe place.

Jewelry, gems and magic items are worth more and weigh less than coins.

Every 10 coins weigh one pound regardless of metal type (copper, silver, gold, etc.)

Death is usually final. It’s better to pick your battles, conserve your resources (especially hit points) or run away to fight again another day. However, sometimes bold action is what’s called for. Smart players consider the circumstances and know what gives them the best odds to accomplish their goals while surviving the experience. (Dead characters don’t earn experience points.)

Gaming Guide: Combat

Here is some advice and guidance to D&D players and Dungeon Masters for more effective, efficient and enjoyable combat.

Not all combat must end in the destruction of your foe in order to gain experience points. Especially for low-level characters with few hit points, combat is very risky and even the smallest monster can kill you.

Consider other ways around a confrontation, including parley, stealth, and bribes. If combat ensues and you decide to flee, remember that many monsters will halt pursuit for shiny things, a few coins dropped on the ground, or food. If you find a clever way to end combat or avoid it altogether, you may be awarded partial or full experience points by the DM as if you had killed the monster(s) outright.

In combat, positioning and movement matters. Don’t just think about the location of your own character.

Think about how your position impacts the effectiveness and limitations of the rest of your party.

Use terrain and obstacles to your advantage, especially during ranged combat.

Pick up used arrows after a combat. You may need them later.

Spell casters must remain still and be able to speak in order to cast their spells.

When the party encounters a monster, it is possible for both sides to be surprised. If only one side is surprised, the other side gets a free round to act before initiative is rolled.

Pay attention to the order of combat and think ahead. Be ready when it’s your turn to act to make the overall encounter smooth and efficient.

The enemy of your enemy may be your friend. Sometimes you can motivate intelligent (or hungry, etc.) monsters to attack each other instead of attacking you.

People and Role-playing Games

Adventuring party in corridor
Adventuring party in corridor

I have been running D&D games at my local library since October of last year (2023). Since that time various players have come and gone. Most have only played a few times prior to joining the group, or they played a fair bit but long ago.

Of those players that have participated once or twice and then left the group, all but one did so without giving a reason why. The one player who gave a reason stated they felt the old-school rules we were following made it far too likely for their character to die. Based on that feedback and the input of the players that stayed, we adjusted our table rules to address it (with a death save based on CON score).

As a Dungeon Master, if I were running a story-driven game, it would be very frustrating to have players come and go like that. Not knowing what the party makeup would be from one session to the next would wreak havoc on my planned campaign. Considering I’m using a more sandbox style approach, where the players decide what they want to do and where they want to go, it’s been a lot easier to handle the shifting party.

Throughout this process, it has been interesting to see the different dynamics and motivations for each player. Some joined the group because they’d dabbled in 5th edition but wanted to give old-school play a try. Others had played 5e and found it lacking for various reasons. Others have only played 1980s or even 1970s rules and never tried the latest editions.

Dungeon Masters are there to serve the players, not the other way around.

Each player has their own motivation of why they show up to a game, and each player has their own play style and preferred reason to stay. For example, some really like role-playing their character and get a lot of enjoyment when interacting with NPCs in town. They’ll get into character and delve into the nuance of negotiating with a jewelry merchant, the innkeeper, or Captain of the Guard.

Other players like the tactical strategy of planning a raid on an orc lair and leave their interaction with a vendor back at town to single sentences. “Do you want to buy this battle axe I took from a dead orc chieftain or not?”

There is a bit of advice on YouTube that DMs should cover the bases and ensure every game session has something to suit the diverse motivations and desires of all possible player types. I don’t think this is bad advice but I do feel it’s difficult to accomplish in each session. Rather, I prefer to have one session devoted to the tactical combat and strategy, while another is focused more on the role-playing aspects of the game.

As an author, I’ve learned the value of capturing my reader’s attention and holding it fast with intense action, then giving them a breather chapter where not much happens — or nothing dangerous, anyway. Filmmakers have learned this maxim decades ago. Like most pop songs, there’s a particular pattern and rhythm that people unconsciously expect. I think a D&D campaign can follow an ideal rhythm, too.

Ultimately, though, a good Dungeon Master isn’t a songwriter or artist or author, where their work is an expression of themselves and their audience can either like it or not. Instead, I think a Dungeon Master is a facilitator. They learn the desires of the players at their table and dynamically create an experience that suits them best.

The DM may tailor their game in a particular way for the players around their table, but as players come and go what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. Flexibility and the ability to read the room is an important soft skill for the DM as they strive to make the experience as fun as possible. They are there to serve the players, not the other way around.

Going Old School

I recently started a D&D group at my local library. I am the Dungeon Master for a collection of individuals who have either never played D&D before or were only briefly exposed to it. One played “back in the day” (early 1980s) and has just a smattering of recent experience. Only two of these players know each other, otherwise they are all strangers.

Many of these players responded to printed flyers I posted around town on corkboard bulletin boards in local coffee shops and grocery stores. One responded to a free ad I posted on craigslist.

What’s really cool about this group, however, is that we’re going old school. We’ll be playing Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy, published by Necrotic Gnome. This is essentially a mashup of the late 1970s 1st edition AD&D and early 1980s Basic/Expert rules published by TSR.

We’ve held our first Session 0. The format of the evening was in three parts.

First, we discussed how D&D works and how it’s played. We covered some broad level rules and debated between following the Basic rules, which are based on the early 1980s Basic boxed set (“Moldvay Basic” as it’s commonly called), or the Advanced rules. The group voted to go with the Advanced rules, primarily so they had access to a broader range of classes and races.

We did decide, however, not to follow “race as class” — you’re a dwarven fighter or elven magic-user, rather than just a “dwarf” or just an “elf.”

Furthermore, the group decided to follow the rules as written (RAW) as much as possible, with only a few minor exceptions.

Here are the table rules we’ve decided on so far:

  • Natural 20’s cause double damage; natural 1’s cause a deleterious effect. This applies to monsters as well as characters.
  • No race-as-class (mentioned above).
  • No drow player-characters.
  • No multi-class characters.

Second, we spent some time rolling up characters. This took the bulk of the evening because the process was brand new to the players and we had only one copy of the Old-School Essentials Player’s Tome (Advanced).

Stats were generated by each player rolling 3d6 six times, then arranging those numbers in the desired order based on the class they preferred. (I ruled that if the average of their six stats was less than 12, they could re-roll all six stats again.) Point buys were then implemented to raise prime requisites. Finally, we went around the table setting secondary stats like bonuses and then bought some basic equipment, etc.

Last, we spent a half hour going through a mini-combat where the party encountered three hobgoblins in a room. Only one character took damage before all three monsters were dispatched.

The players quickly picked up on the need to balance risk and reward and even started to think about combat tactics, playing to their characters’ strengths and weaknesses.

Session 1, the first day of actual game play, will take place a week later, with the ongoing play schedule set to every-other week.

So far the group has been enthused and excited about the process and prospects of some great old-school roll-playing action. I am, too.

I began playing D&D back in 1980 with the purchase of the Moldvay “purple box” Basic Set, and subsequent purchases of the original three 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons core rule books (Dungeon Masters Guide, Players Handbook, and Monster Manual). I’ve been a Dungeon Master 95% of the time since then.

It is great to not only get back to playing AD&D-slash-Basic/Expert rules, but to have the opportunity to teach a group of people the joys of Dungeons & Dragons essentially from scratch.

Thoughts on D&D Play Mechanics

Dungeons & Dragons

I’ve been a D&D Dungeon Master since 1980. In that time, my play style and table rules have evolved. Here are my thoughts on some of the more contentious ones.

Initiative (side, individual, roll every round)

Rules for how to handle initiative have evolved since the first editions of D&D back in the 1970s. The Basic rules (Moldvay) stated that each side in a combat encounter rolled for initiative and that order held for the rest of the combat.

Some folks roll initiative for each monster and each character, holding that order throughout the encounter.

Yet another variation is to re-roll for initiative, either for each side or for each individual, every round.

This presents four variations, and there are situations where each makes the most sense. I don’t subscribe to the idea that one variation is so superior to the other three that it must be used at all times and at all tables.

Just like every rule in the books, whichever edition you choose to play, the group can choose which they like best.

My previous preference was to use individual initiative so that the strengths and weaknesses of each monster or character can play a part. I kept that order throughout the combat. I’m now a fan of side initiative as it keeps things simpler and goes faster.


Historically I have never used morale checks in my games as a DM, nor have any of the DM’s I’ve played under. On rare occasions, the DM would make a judgement call and say something like, “The rest of the kobolds, after seeing the majority of their group slaughtered before their eyes, drop their weapons and surrender, throwing themselves at the party’s mercy.”

After reading over old-school rules, specifically the Basic and 1st edition AD&D rules, I think that checking for morale makes a lot of sense based on the typical morale scores of monsters as specified in the various texts, and at prescribed moments in the combat such as when a group of monsters lose their leader or more than half of their number have been slain.


As with morale, I have never used encumbrance rules when DMing in the past. It’s one of those things that makes a lot of sense from a plausibility and realism standpoint, but I’ve felt that tracking encumbrance is a tedious pain in the arse.

I’m still on the fence about whether or not I’ll use it at my table.


Historically, I have ruled that a character becomes unconscious at 0 hit points, and loses 1 hit point her round until they receive healing (not just first aid as specified in 5th edition rules), and dies if they reach -10. Of course, if a player has a few hit points above zero and receives damage that takes them below -10 all at once, they’re dead.

5th edition, in my opinion, makes it far too easy to stay alive. The concept of death saves feels a bit gratuitous in favor of keeping characters kicking. I don’t subscribe to that model nor have I ever used it when DMing 5th edition games.

Conversely, the original Basic rules specified that when a character reaches 0 hit points, they’re dead. Period. I’m okay with that as long as the table is okay with it. It makes players more cautious in their actions, and I think that serves the game. I think it gives more emotional weight to the stakes.

One additional note I have about death is that when resurrected, a character loses 1 point from their Constitution score, and cannot be resurrected any more times than their original CON score.

Critical Hits and Misses

I have always ruled that a natural 1 on a d20 attack roll meant automatic failure regardless of bonuses. Along with that natural 1, I’ve typically specified that something awkward or unfortunate occurred, such as tripping or dropping their weapon. I have also ruled that a natural 20 on an attack roll always hits and does double damage; this is calculated by rolling the damage dice twice, adding them up, and then adding any bonuses to that sum.

I haven’t always handled natural 1’s or monster attack rolls in the same manner, however. They were an automatic miss but didn’t have any deleterious effect. Natural 20s were automatic hits and did double damage, of course.

Some tables I’ve played at, however, didn’t consider natural 1s or natural 20s as anything special. They were a result from a d20 roll just like any other.

On further reflection, I think a solid table rule should be that if the player characters suffer negative effects on natural 1’s and get double damage on natural 20’s, monsters and NPCs should, too.

Identifying magic items

Thinking back to all the games I’ve DM’d in the past, I realize that I have been a bit too generous to players when they discovered magic items. I’d simply say something like, “The chest contains 500 electrum pieces, 800 silver pieces, a +1 dagger, and a Wand of Fireballs.”

As previously stated about encumbrance, I never worried about how the party could carry their loot, either.

I never made the characters go through hoops to identify the magic items or their properties, unless the weapon was cursed, at which point I’d inform them that what they thought was a +1 sword was actually a -1 Backstabber. Oops.

After careful thought, I have changed my ways. Potions must be sipped to get hints about their purpose. Other magic items or weapons must be used to determine their purpose and function, otherwise the players must hire expert help at high cost to get the skinny on what that wand really does.

I’m also of the mind that the player would have no way of knowing how many charges a Wand of Fireballs has until it runs out. I’d keep track in my own notes.

Fudging rolls

I have fudged many rolls as a DM, especially in recent years. Because I have historically been a “story” dungeon master, focusing on a great story that fit a cohesive theme, bad dice rolls could detour a party in a direction I didn’t want them to go.

This DMing style is also called “railroading” and I’ve since given that up to being an almost 100% sandbox-type dungeon master. This has enabled me to make other changes, too, specifically allowing the fates of the dice rolls to fall where they may.

There are still rolls I don’t let the party see, such as Hearing Noise or Move Silently checks, but I no longer fudge rolls.

Player activity reflects character activity

One of the new rules my groups and I have agreed to implement is the mandate that if a group of players are arguing loudly about something, their characters are, too. Wandering monsters become much more likely to show up under those conditions. (I’ll often warn the players that their real-world argument will soon bleed into the game if they don’t resolve it and move on.)

Also in recent years I have banned the consultation of Monster Manuals during game play. I may look up a monster’s stat as part of my DM duties, but the players don’t get to.

Consulting the Player’s Handbook during play is a bit different, though. Spell casters need to be able to have full understanding of their spells to make good choices for their characters, but having the PHB handy during play can lead to min-maxing (making choices to optimize rolls, stats, and results that don’t necessarily coincide with sound role-playing).

So, I have come up with the table rule that if the player wants to consult a book during play (other than the Monster Manual), their character is setting down their pack or Bag of Holding, rummaging around inside to find it, and spending time thumbing through pages to find what they’re looking for. This wastes the party’s time and obviously can’t be done while on the move or during combat, else there will be consequences in-game.

Monster reaction rolls

As with morale, I never used monster reaction rolls until recently. I like letting the dice make some more decisions for me as I’ve already got enough on my plate. Letting the dice decide a monster’s reaction at the start of an encounter also lends itself to the sandbox style of play. The dice can take the party in whole new directions and rolling for monster reactions is one way that can happen. I even let the party see the dice roll.

I also use reaction rolls for NPC encounters, too, although I still role-play NPCs as I think a good DM should.

Tracking resources

Like encumbrance, tracking rations, water, rest, and consumables like torches, lantern oil and arrows is a realistic thing to do but is a bit of a pain. There are many DMs on YouTube and social media who have shared their methods and tools (checklists, basically) to make tracking these consumable resources easier.

On the one hand, tracking consumables seems like a tedious mechanic. But, I have found — and my players have, too — that this adds to the atmosphere and even the strategy of the game’s role-playing aspects (up to a point). If the party wants to explore deeper in the dungeon but won’t have enough torches to see their way back to the surface, they must leave now and return another day better prepared. The same goes for healing and spell availability, so tracking consumables like torches and food isn’t really any different if you think about it.

An additional tip is to assign these tracking duties to an honorable and honest player in the party. Delegate it for the win.

Disclosing monster stats

I’ve disclosed monster hit points and armor class in the past, but no more. Now, “the manticore isn’t even bloodied” when it’s above 50% of it’s hit points, and “the beast has blood on its limbs and is showing signs of fatigue” when it gets down to around 25% of remaining damage. When it’s nearly dead, I’ll say something like, “The manticore has many visible wounds, is breathing hard, and seems to be close to death.”

A monster’s armor class is never disclosed but the party can often do the math to glean the target number after several hits or misses in their attack rolls.

Sometimes a successful hit according to the d20 still doesn’t hit or doesn’t do the full damage due to the monster having some kind of immunity or resistance. The party figures this out over time, but unless they are already familiar with the monster’s characteristics, it’s not immediately obvious.

This brings up another point about monsters. I used to say, “You walk into the room and see a manticore…” Now, I describe the way the monster looks and let the party figure out what it is. Unless it’s a group of orcs or kobolds, something everyone already knows and could easily identify; in that case I just say, “You see a group of around a dozen orcs staring at you from across the room.”

Sandbox: Multiple players

I’ve really come to enjoy the sandbox style of DMing. I’ve always been a story-driven “railroad” kind of DM in the past and it’s still my nature to design campaigns in the story-centric way. I’ll leave it to you to research on your own the difference between sandbox and railroad styles of D&D gaming.

[NOTE: I prefer the term “story-driven” play style over “railroad”; I’m using the latter term here as it seems to be the currently fashionable way of describing that campaign style.]

One aspect of traditional sandbox D&D games that fascinates me is the idea of one or two DMs running a campaign with a collection of up to 50 different players participating — yes, 50! A play session is scheduled and the players that show up get to play, regardless of the make-up of the party from previous sessions.

The DM must keep track of what happens in their sandbox milieu, which monsters are slain and treasure recovered, etc. The players go about their business and if today’s group happens to wander into a dungeon that was cleared out by another group of players the week before, they find bodies of slain monsters (or characters!) being eaten by rats and opened chests devoid of treasure.

I think this method of play has a lot of advantages but it puts a bit of a burden on the DM (or DM’s) to accurately and thoroughly track what transpires during each session.

Railroading: aka The Story-Driven Campaign Style

As mentioned previously, I’ve historically been a railroad or ‘story-driven’ DM. I would create detailed settings with elaborate notes about what is were, what’s happening behind the scenes, and carefully choreographed encounters designed to ensure my plot unfolds like a brilliantly written story.

This has been fun and well-appreciated throughout my DM career, but one particular event in a particular campaign a few years ago made me realize the potential pitfalls with running a railroad campaign.

I had things carefully and thoughtfully planned out, but the party made a choice — with full knowledge of the consequences — that completely derailed the campaign’s planned trajectory. It ended the entire campaign halfway through and some players even left the game entirely.

I was not only frustrated, I was furious. This took place roughly halfway through a rather long and thoroughly planned campaign, which meant that 50% of my hard work just got flushed down the drain — and the party did it by choice, knowing this would be the result.

They didn’t do this specifically in rebellion to my play style. They explained their rationale, and it had nothing to do with whether it was a sandbox or railroad type of campaign.

Ultimately, they wanted to maintain their sense of agency even though it ended the campaign’s plot. I’ve since learned to value player agency far more than I ever used to.

But, if this had been a sandbox style game, it wouldn’t have mattered. The party’s choice would have been handled just like any other and play would have continued, just in a new and equally valid direction.

When this happened, I had never heard of the sandbox style of game play. I’ve since grown to love and embrace sandboxed games and, thinking back, recognize just how powerful and useful it would have been in that situation.

I still could have had my “grand plan” in place, ready for the players to discover. But it would have been designed in a way where that discovery wasn’t a requirement. It was simply there, ready to be found. I have also learned I don’t need to prepare things to nearly the same degree of detail as before.

I have calculated that in my story-style DMing days, I spent an average of 15-20 hours of preparation for every hour of actual game play. I loved every minute of it, but that’s not sustainable. Sandboxing still allows me an adequate amount of creative time to come up with settings and the beasts and traps and tricks and other fun things that inhabit it — something I enjoy doing — but I spend less than half the amount of time doing it. And the players are having a great time with all the sense of agency they could ever want.

Fantasy Adventure Ideas and Inspiration

Fantasy adventurers

Sometimes Dungeon Masters need a little inspiration when creating one-shot sessions, or even multi-session campaigns. There are classic tropes and their variations that can be relied upon for ideas, they just need a new twist to make them interesting.

Other times you want something truly unique. Taking ideas from other sources and spinning them on their heads can help.

Here are some ideas to help spark your creativity. You can use these directly, modify them slightly to suit your tastes and the party’s situation, or make a 90 degree turn and go somewhere entirely new. It’s up to you!

Rescue! One of the most common and old-school themes in fantasy adventuring is the rescue. The king’s daughter has been captured by foul enemies. The party is hired to infiltrate the baddie’s lair, find the princess, and get her out alive.

Twist: One of the party’s own has been captured and their comrades must rescue them.

Exploration. Some ruins have been discovered and the party explores it, either for their own effort to seek treasure, or because they’ve been hired by a powerful NPC to survey and map the situation. The location is where your creativity can really shine; make it someplace unusual, such as a mysterious keep or monastery that appears overnight, or a large abandoned ship that has washed ashore.

Twist: The party must explore a location with a time limit, because a prophecy or some other clue indicates it will disappear at a particular time in the near future.

Escape. One of the most exciting, challenging — and common — adventure ideas entails the party finding themselves held captive without weapons or armor deep inside an unknown dungeon. They must escape their bounds, find their gear, and escape. The reason for their capture can be any number of things: they passed out at an inn and woke up in shackles (perhaps they were shanghaied and found themselves bound on board a pirate ship); they were infiltrating a Big Bad Evil Guy’s lair and were captured, etc.

Twist: An NPC in their party betrayed them and handed them over to the party’s enemy. Not only must they escape capture, but they also seek revenge against their betrayer.

Destruction of Evil. This may be the most common adventure trope yet, the destruction of an evil altar or temple. Don’t sell the idea short; it is used so often because of its versatility and applicability to the fantasy genre. The source of evil can have any number of variations, such as a competing religious sect or a group of monsters that must be destroyed or driven out of an area. If it’s a place to be destroyed, it can be a variety of things, such as an altar, an entire temple, or a single artifact. The thing to be destroyed can, of course, be a person or particular monster.

Twist: For a longer, more challenging campaign, the evil can be a Thieves or Assassins guild that must be infiltrated from within. To put a spin on the more classic idea, the party must identify the source or location of evil first before they attempt to destroy it — or the source of evil keeps moving (a temple that magically changes location every week, etc.)

There be Dragons! Dragons are arguably the most iconic monster in fantasy adventure games. Ridding a village of a marauding dragon is a tried and true adventure hook. But don’t be afraid to throw some new angle on it. Perhaps the dragon is actually of good ilk but has been possessed by a demon. Does the party kill the dragon outright, or try to exorcise its evil host thus saving the dragon’s life (who doesn’t want a grateful dragon on their side)? Sometimes the party must subdue or capture a dragon, but what if their intent is to retrieve dragon eggs or younglings without engaging the parent in combat (who would most likely wipe them out if confronted directly)?

Twist: In one campaign, my party emerged from a short adventure inside an evil temple to discover a green dragon and a black dragon of relatively equal strength fighting each other in the air above them. I allowed the party to take on the two dragons and role-play the battle. Once that dragon duel was resolved and only one dragon remained, the party then had to fight the wounded and weakened beast that remained (as their main characters). Another idea is for the party to discover a dragon in a compromising position, such as a wyrm in chains or weakened because of a prior battle. Another variation is for the party to meet an intelligent, speaking dragon and convince it to do something against its nature.

Gather Ye Weapons. Like the Marvel Universe story line, the party must gather a particular set of artifacts, each with its own set of challenges, to create a new weapon that is used to counter some Big Bad Evil. A complication you can add to this is some evil person or group is also seeking the artifacts, motivating the party to act quickly to get them first. The classic AD&D module, White Plume Mountain, is a great example of this adventure type.

Twist: The party must replace a heavily guarded item or weapon with a fake without being detected. Or, the party is hired by a powerful NPC to retrieve an item, but along the way they discover their benefactor intends to use the item for evil, so they find a way to thwart the NPC instead.

Out There Ideas

These ideas deviate dramatically from the common tropes and themes listed above. One of the best things about fantasy table-top role-playing games — or any genre, really — is the fun is limited only by your imagination. Sometimes it’s fun to let your imagination run wild.

Some of these ideas are straightforward, while others are truly ‘out there.’

Infection. The party has been infected by a curse that will turn them into vampires within a fixed number of days. They must retrieve a magic item or reagent used for a potion to effect a cure.

Post-Death. The party has been slain and they find themselves in the land of the dead. Magic works very differently, or not at all, and many other things are turned on their heads. They must achieve some goal in order to return themselves to the living.

The Circus. The party has been captured by a low-level demon and placed in a zoo or circus on one of the planes of the Abyss. They must escape and return to the prime material plane.

Run Away! By chance, the party finds themselves face to face with a group of monsters in the wilderness that is substantially more powerful than themselves. They must flee enemy territory and survive long enough to cross a border or land feature such as a river or mountain range without being killed or captured.

Another Body. Because of a freak magical accident, the party finds themselves inhabiting the bodies of hobgoblin soldiers in a war party’s camp preparing to attack a nearby keep. The party learns a powerful human cleric inside the keep has the ability to exorcise them and restore them to their original bodies. They must reach the cleric, explain their true identities, and convince the priest to help them before they all get killed in the attack.

What type of D&D gamer are you?

1st Edition Players Handbook
1st Edition Players Handbook

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons has been around since the late 1970s (with previous forerunning versions dating back to the early 70s). I began playing in the spring of 1980. In fact, the very first game I ever played was on a camping trip in May 1980, right as Mt. St. Helens was erupting just 60 miles to the north. I was playing a dwarven fighter with an axe, and there was an orc standing in my way.

Thinking back to the decades I’ve been playing the game, I’ve met a lot of wonderful people with whom I’ve had the joy of sharing a gaming table. Over time, I’ve recognized there can be certain characteristics common among some players, so I am making a lighthearted and humorous attempt at describing them.

What type of D&D gamer are you?

The Highlander

“There can be only one!” Stuck on a particular version of D&D (1e, 2nd edition, 5e, etc.) and absolutely refuses to play any other edition. Probably more common with earlier editions than newer ones.

The Grognard

It’s gotta be old school 1st edition or nothing at all. A variation of The Highlander in that they are particular to just one edition, but that edition must be old. There’s a 99% chance the Grognard is a middle-aged white guy with a beard who first played D&D in middle school somewhere between 1978 and 1981.

The Collector

They’re more about the stuff than the game, and have rows and rows of sagging bookshelves to prove it. If it exists, it is their quest to possess it. They’ll own three different copies of The Village of Hommlet, at least two of which are in plastic, but have never actually run the module as a DM or played it as a player.

The Pan-gamer

They’ll play any RPG regardless of brand, genre, or style. They approach The Collector status in that they’ll be the first to purchase core rule books for every game that comes out the day it hits the market, but unlike a Collector, for them it’s more about the acquisition than the possession (once they get it, they move onto the next squirrel, I mean game, that comes out).

The Poser

They talk about gaming and are quick to refer to themselves as a gamer in their copious posts to social media. They wear all the coolest branded t-shirts and hoodies and have lots of pristine-looking D&D merch stylishly placed and overtly visible on the LED-lit shelving behind them in their numerous YouTube videos. But could they tell you the difference between a 1st edition and 5th edition dragon? Not if their life depended on it.

The Funkmaster

They love the game, every book and folio they own is legitimately and genuinely dog-eared and worn down, their dice have been rolled more times than Jenna Jameson, and they can quote rules and stats and game errata like a walking encyclopedia, but the one thing they possess more than anything else is body odor that would give a starving gnoll the dry heaves.

There are no doubt other gamer types, and some folks are blends of several. Over all, despite these tongue-in-cheek and well-meaning classifications, D&D gamers can be some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, some of whom can become life-long friends.