I’m trying something that is a little different and for some reason, I’m anxious about it. I’m composing this in a dedicated writing app (Scrivener), before posting to the site. So if you’re reading this, it means that I’ve made it that far! In fact, I generated enough content for two distinct posts!


In 2014, I circled back around to running D&D style games after a 17 year exploration of the World of Darkness/White-Wolf and Medieval reenactment. By then I was a little burnt out from the horrors that live at the edge of your vision, and I needed a change. This lead to several years of running back to back, published material in both Pathfinder and then later 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.

The tail end of 2014 was spent with a focus on the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path (written for Pathfinder). While we all seemed to love the material, as time ran on, the Pathfinder rule-set proved to be overly cumbersome.


2015 was the year that I started to run Princes of the Apocalypse with a group that we converted over from Pathfinder. It was also the year that our son was born, and that saw a lot of change in our gaming group. While it wasn’t a complete flop, I found myself to be more than a little jaded as we ended that game.


2016 brought our group around to the Tyranny of Dragons storyline. As a DM, this was the storyline that reignited my love for D&D and sold me on returning to the D&D fold. The rules were light enough to be taught without a ton or debate and arguing. The storyline was familiar and compelling, and the level of tips and support that could be found on the net surpassed anything that I saw in my White-Wolf days. Yes, there were some problems that occurred within the party of players toward the end, but it was less than we had seen in my prior game.


2017 brought the players back to Ravenloft in the form of the Curse of Strahd. Out of all of my gaming experiences in the past five years, this one best fit the opening line from a Tale of Two Cities “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Player feedback was all over the place, but generally at the extremes of love and hate. A third of the players elected to leave the game around the 40-50% mark, as the content and theme wasn’t what they wished to play. I ran it as a grim, and at times, nearly hopeless setting. On some twisted level, I consider the ability to capture this feeling to be a milestone level achievement. The players ‘felt’ the despair of their characters. The felt that they had little agency (the ability to affect the story or setting), and that weighed on their characters. The pyrrhic victory over Strahd, where one character assumed his mantel as the Dark Lord of Barovia cause one of the players to yell “This is Bullshit!” yet it clearly showed that the situation could be changed.

While I have some pride in the way that the Curse of Strahd played out, I did consider there to be some ‘lessons learned’ from the player departures near the midway point. While the majority of the players, and myself, understood that the theme of that game was to be fairly dark and heavy, where that fit into other’s perspectives wasn’t clear enough. Likewise, the degree of (perceived) player agency is highly subjective and varies considerably from one player to another. So much so, this game caused a 20+ year gaming veteran to recuse himself (in part due to a lack of agency in the game), but that saw a wallflower role-player step up and take a vocal pseudo-leadership role in the party as they felt that their character could make the difference in Barovia.

In parallel to the Curse of Strahd, I began to look into creating a ‘homebrew’ setting. Homebrew is the new and catchy term used to refer to a rule or setting that you’ve made or modified instead of the settings that are published by the big companies. This was in part due to a roleplaying series on youtube by Matt Colville (or as my wife calls him ‘The guy who talks too fast’), and in part due to the above issues that I saw unfolding in the Curse of Strahd.

To get to the point where I was seriously considering my own setting, I needed a retrospective look onto what I most fondly remembered from my earliest days of running D&D in the 90’s. I took that and I framed it within the context of “What can I make that would be fun enough that it’s worth that much effort over using a published game?”. That was a tough question to answer because as a DM you can (and are encouraged) to change as much or as little of published material as you would like. After considerable navel gazing and contemplation I finally admitted why I needed to try my own setting (again). As a DM, I am both a completionist and a worldbuilder. I compulsively must know what is over every hill, and what is behind every door in the games that I run. Those answer needs to be rationale, and fit within the context of the situation.

I also saw how it could help my address future issues with the level of agency that the players felt in my games. For right or wrong, I felt that to lessen the despair of the Curse of Strahd would be a disservice to those who were enjoying the game. I felt that The Lost Marches would be different, not because they would strictly speaking be more friendly, but because the world was less of a railroad (a path or track that brings you in a specific direction with little or no deviation) and more of an open sandbox (an open area where you can build what you want).

A friend who recently dipped his toe into DMing asked me “Where do you find the time to run so many games?”, because it is a serious investment of energy. At times I spend more time setting up a session than we do playing it. I feel that quality DMing is more of a commitment today than in prior years. The bar is set even higher now due to the availability of quality content that you can find on-line, professionally rendered maps, and virtual tabletops with lighting effects. If you buy into it, it’s a far cry from the days of a black and white hex map.

2018 (sort of?)

To bring this back to my intended point, this is the background to why my next post will be reviewing some of the goals and interests that my Lost Marches players have recently provided me as feedback. The characters within The Lost Marches have crossed into the infamous level 6. They are now solidly into the second tier of D&D play, that of Heroes of the Realm. They have the raw power needed to influence events on a regional level, in a sandbox world.

The Lost Marches – Downtime

5E has a built-in system for dealing with activities that the characters focus on between adventurers. While I agree with much of it, here are a few tweaks that I prefer (and will use as House Rules). This may be updated with more details, as there are a large number of downtime activities in the PHB, DMG and Xanathars guide.

Learning Languages or Tool Proficiencies

  • Normally this would take 250 days of effort, with a cost of 1GP per day (this is aside from your normal cost of living). – PHB pg 187
  • My take is that it is 120 days of effort (assuming a full day of focused work and suitable location), with a cost of 1GP per day, or half that cost if the instructor is another PC.
  • Looking to do it faster?
    • In the case of languages, if your instructor natively speaks the language and you are immersed in that culture (EG: Learning Elven from an Elf while living in an elven city, or Dwarven from a Dwarf while living in a Dwarven Fortress) without break the total number of days of effort is only 90.
    • In the case of Tool Proficiencies, if you immerse yourself in that trade (such as working in a Brewery every day for months without more than a one day break), you likewise reduce the total number of days of effort to 90.

Mystics in The Lost Marches

When I designed my Lost Marches game, I limited the races and classes present as character options. As the game unfolds further options may be presented, and one of these is the Mystic. Within our game, the characters found a Crystal on the body of a Psionically powered foe, thereby unlocking a form of Psionics for the characters.

Unlocked by attuning to the Crystal: the Mystic’s Order of the Awakened. Further, all Talents could be learnt and the following Disciplines could be learnt:

  • Precognition
  • Psychic Assault
  • Psychic Disruption
  • Psychic Inquisition
  • Psychic Phantoms
  • Telepathic Contact

For details on Mystics, you can check here:

5e Sages

In prior editions of D&D, visiting a Sage for information was an economical way to attain answers that the party needed. The other main option was to build a character who was focused on studying a given field and forfeiting their utility as an adventurer. Since that was a shitty choice, the local Sage usually saw a lot of the PCs.

5E has done a lot to empower the characters without sacrificing their ability to actually be adventurers! None the less, I’ve found a need to reintroduce the Sage as an NPC role.

Much of this is a direct translation into D&D 5E from the AD&D 2nd Edition Dungeon Masters Guide (1989). I’ve left the math a little complex, as these are not numbers that the PCs will be calculating or needing to worry about. This is purely a look behind the DM screen.

  • Question is:
    • General …..0 (0)
    • Specific ….. -2 (-2)
    • Exacting …..-2 and Requires a Library (-4)
  • Library is:
    • The Capital Library  …..Advantage (N/A)
    • Complete …..0 (0)
    • Partial …..Disadvantage (-2)
    • Non-existent …..-2 and Disadvantage (-4)
  • Rushed reduces the research time by one level  …..-4
  • Research Times
    • General …..1d6 hours
    • Specific  …..1d6 days
    • Exacting …..3d10 days
  • Cost (vary but as a guideline)
    • General ….10GP an hour
    • Specific …..100GP a day
    • Exacting …..250GP a day


A Lost Marches Teaser

I’m using the holiday break to make some headway into future sessions. Such as this little tidbit from a hoard:

You can clearly see, atop the pile of silver and gold coins, the following prominent items.

  • A pair of thick leather, high cuffed gauntlets, studded with well-worn bronze rivets.
  • Boots made of supple leather from a Stag. Each has been dyed differently in woodland tones.
  • A pile of armour pieces crafted from a dark grey metal. Beneath the scars of prior battles, you can see that each plate is embossed with a motif that causes some dread in you.
  • Two luminous crystal vials. The contents of each slowly pulse, casting the soft light of stars on a clear night, one red and one yellow.

Dark Sun Rules Update v.3

Updates on Feb 1st are noted by being bold and underlined in red.
Updates on Dec 21st are noted by being bold and underlined.
While this is mainly for the players of my upcoming Dark Sun game, a few of you may find a couple of tidbits in here.
As you know, the Dark Sun player’s book is subject to some revision (largely being based on the Unearthed Arcana rules). A final version of many of the subclasses was released yesterday in “Xanathar’s Guide to Everything”!
In addition, Matthew Mercer’s “Tal’Dorei Campaign Setting” came out a month or so ago, and I’ve pulled some content from it.
So consider this an update citizens of Athas!

Races and Classes

No Changes from version 2.5 of the Dark Sun Players Guide

New Feats

  •  Dwarven Fortitude (XGtE pg 74)
    • Prerequisite: Dwarf, Mul or Half-giant
    • You have the blood of heroes flowing through your veins. You gain the following benefits:
      • Increase your Constitution score by l, to a maximum of 20.
      • Whenever you take the Dodge action in combat, you can spend one Hit Die to heal yourself. Roll the die, add your Constitution modifier, and regain a number of hit points equal to the total (minimum of 1).
  • Prodigy (XGtE pg 75)
    • Prerequisite: Half-elf or Human
    • You have a knack for learning new things. You gain the following benefits:
      • You gain one skill proficiency of your choice, one tool proficiency of your choice, and fluency in one language of your choice.
      • Choose one skill in which you have proficiency. You gain expertise with that skill, which means your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability check you make with it. The skill you choose must be one that isn’t already benefiting from a feature, such as Expertise, that doubles your proficiency bonus.
  • Dual-focused (TDCS pg 108)
    • Prerequisite: The ability to cast at least one spell Countless hours have been spent training your mind to maintain focus on concurrent incantations, taxing as the process may be.
      • If you attempt to cast a spell that requires concentration while already concentrating on an existing spell, you can maintain concentration on both spells simultaneously. You must spend a standard action each subsequent round on maintaining this concentration or lose concentration for both spells.
      • At the end of each turn where you have two spells you are concentrating on, you must make a Constitution saving throw (DC equals 10 + the number of complete rounds you’ve been concentrating on two spells). On a failure, you lose concentration for both spells. You can drop concentration on one of your spells during your turn as a free action to avoid this saving throw.
        • Any time you would be forced to make a Constitution saving throw to maintain concentration due to taking damage, the DC equals 10 + both spells’ levels combined, or half the damage you take,  whichever number is higher. On a failure, you lose concentration on both spells.
  • Spelldriver (TDCS pg 109)
    • Prerequisite: Character level 8th or higher
      • Through intense focus, training, and dedication, you’ve harnessed the techniques of rapid spellcasting. You are no longer limited to only one non-cantrip spell per turn. However, should you cast two or more spells in a single turn, only one of them can be of 3rd level or higher.
  • Thrown Arms Master (TDCS pg 109)
    • You’ve honed your ability to lob weaponry into the fray, including weapons not meant for ranged combat. You gain the following benefits:
      • Increase your Strength or Dexterity score by 1, to a maximum of 20.
      • Simple and martial melee weapons without the thrown property can be treated as if they have the thrown property. One-handed weapons have a range of 20/60, while two-handed weapons have a range of 15/30.
      • Weapons that naturally have the thrown property increase their range by +20/+40.
      • When you miss with a thrown weapon attack using a light weapon, the weapon immediately boomerangs back into your grasp.

Rules Clarifications

These clarifications will apply to the Dark Sun game only.

  • Characters begin at 2nd level with Maximum Hit Dice.
  • Each player builds a Character Tree composed of three characters.
    • Every time the active character goes up a level of experience, the player may also advance one of his inactive characters one level. The inactive character chosen must be of a lower level than the active character. Adjust the experience point total on that inactive characters sheet to the minimum number for the new level attained.
    • Replacement characters must be a different class and race than the lost character. They also start one level below the lowest level character that you have, at the time of the character death, but never weaker than 3rd level. Replacement characters do not roll for hit points, they receive maximum hit dice. 
    • Items and equipment cannot be freely traded between characters in your tree, nor does a replacement character ‘inherit’ a dead character’s gear. 
  • Attack rolls need to equal or exceed the AC in order to hit. Ties do not go to the defender.
  • If math/calculation results in a fraction, always round down.
  • A character can’t spend any Hit Dice after finishing a short or long rest until someone expends one use of a healer’s kit to bandage and treat the character’s wounds.
  • When you finish a long rest during which you slept in medium or heavy armour, you regain only one-quarter of your spent Hit Dice (minimum of one die). If you have any levels of exhaustion, the rest doesn’t reduce your
    exhaustion level.
  • Temporary hit points aren’t cumulative. If you have temporary hit points and receive more of them, you don’t add them together, unless a game feature says you can. Instead, you decide which temporary hit points to keep.
  • Drinking a Potion is now a bonus action.
  • Administering a Potion to a downed character is an action.
  • The spell Revivify is removed from Dark Sun.
  • Dropping to zero hit points applies one level of cumulative exhaustion to your character. 
  • Flanking grants a +2 to the attack roll instead of Advantage.
  • The spell Vigor is added to Dark Sun.
  • Vigor
    • 1st-level Necromancy
    • Classes: Cleric, Druid
    • Casting time: 1 action
    • Concentration: Yes
    • Range: Touch
    • Duration: Up to 1 minute
    • Target: one person
    • A creature of your choice that you can see within range regains hit points equal to 1 + your spellcasting ability modifier each round. This spell has no effect on Undead or constructs.
    • At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the Healing increases by 1 for each slot level above 1st.
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