Ideas for Resolving Epic Issues Quickly

Because of the nature of Epic Gaming, the players have more control then the DM. My job is to just referee the scenarios and decide what the enemies are doing. Basically, I am no more powerful then the PCs. There is also way too many decisions to make in moving the games forward. This is going to be an epic battle that is much bigger than even the forces of the PC heroes. I have to think of a way to move armies around the world, and resolve hundreds of combat scenarios that we don’t have time to actually play.


This is an important question, and my wife came up with an excellent way to go about resolving it. She suggested playing short, non-combat council sessions where the PCs play the roles of the power brokers in the realm. It is during these discussions where the actions of nations are decided. Who is aiding who? Who is holding back for fear of retaliation? These short, dice-less sessions will last only as long as they have to, and whatever is decided at these sessions stands.


I know that mass combat is going to have to be dealt with, but it is too slow of a process to resolve all of the different battles taking place. I am leaning towards the RISK method of play to quickly determine the conflicts which take place else where.  

I’ll have to create a board, and figure out a rough estimate of how much world time is taken per turn. I may also modify how the RISK combats are decided. That sounds reasonable; this stuff can even be resolved after the War Council Sessions.

So far, even though it hasn’t been play-tested, I am happy with these theories. I think that it would be exciting for a player to actually play a character that he has always heard about, but never gets to meet because I am such a stingy DM. It is also a decent way to get lots of help from everyone; the responsibility on the DMs shoulders during epic games is particularly harsh, and I have never seen a game go very fast without co-DMs. I remember hearing tales of two Dungeon Masters going at once, both with their own tables of PCs and sending notes back in forth between them. This kind of stuff can get pretty crazy! While I have a large gaming group, I still don’t have enough players to run duel games, so I just have to get inventive about things.
Do you have any ideas? Have you ever used the board game RISK to decide combat in your games? Do you see any holes in my theory? I will tell you that I have very mature Players, many who are great DMs in their own right, and I have faith that they will play the NPCs successfully. Is this a game that you yourself would enjoy playing? I haven’t decided if I want to sit on the council, or just watch and take notes. What would you do?

Short History of the Orcs of the Realms

I have decided to go forward with the Rise of the Orc campaign. I had wanted to do something with Orcs for a very long time, and the more I think about it, the more I wonder what will happen.  I have lots of decisions to make, but I have made some already. I had thought about running this as a Greyhawk campaign, but my wife made many points on why it should be Forgotten Realms, chief being that it is a more complete setting, which means that I’ll have less to worry about. Another good reason is that my players prefer the Realms, if I need any help figuring out what a nation would do, I could find an opinion worthy of debate from several well-informed sources; not to mention that I have just started getting into the realms, and I think that this would be a great way to make this map mine.

My first phase of beginning the writing process is to gather up some history. Orcs are major villains in the D&D worlds, so this history will be longer than normal. I am going to use information that I find online, but mostly just stick with the 2nd Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting Boxset.


We buy a setting for many reasons, and one of them is to have an established history and timeline. Sometimes it is preferred to write around existing ideas because it stimulates creativity, but once in a while it gets in the way completely. You feel that your idea is better then the ideas of the good people at TSR, and not only are they more to your liking, but the two theories are completely incompatible with one another.

The Realms has an unacceptable amount of baggage that goes along with it. There are experts out there that specialize in all-things Forgotten Realms. Books, adventures, modules; it is overwhelming! A DM wants to make a popular realm recognizable to his players, but changes are inevitable. I think that when it comes to history, much like our own, it often depends on the person who is writing it down. If something gets in the way of a good story, we can say that that myth was incorrect and be done with it. Who knows, maybe Elminster never existed, but is a collection of deeds completed by many different mages whose real names are unknown. Perhaps Drizzt is just the concoction of bard’s tales, the real Dark Elf being nothing but a drunken light elf who never bathed. On our own plane of existence, they say that you never want to meet your heroes. Legends should stay Legends, as the truth is typically heartbreaking.


That said, I’ve started to do my research and found that according to the timeline, Orcs were introduced by some Orc Gate. Who knows, they probably wrote a book about it as there are some brief details about what happened. Even if they have a book, I am not interested in that story. I hate origins; they are often stupid, as I find this one to be. I suppose that the writers of the realms wanted something different then normal, but in this case, with what I want the orcs to be, I want normal. Normal is good! Normal is a great formula and formulas are there for a reason. Case in point, ORCS DID NOT COME FROM AN ORCGATE!

Orcish myth dictates that they are older then the elves, it was they that came first and led a peaceful life until the Elves came and took away their homeland. They were pushed far to the east, and there they constructed the orcish city of Orcgate, a massive kingdom where orcs were united and watched as humans arrived and built great cities around them, but always giving Orcgate a wide birth, until the Nation of Thay consumed their land. For many years the Orcs of Orcgate accepted this, thinking that they could get along with their neighbors, however this was, of course impossible.

War was unavoidable once Mulhorand and Thay enslaved the peaceful orcs, who at that time were farmers and herders. An orc named Jarthin (keeper of the plow) who lived in the outskirts of the Orcish Territory was able to escape the slavers and warned the king at that time to make an attack, but the king would not listen. Jarthin watched as his people died or were taken away, until he could take no more.

Jarthin gathered Orcs who were willing to fight, and they set out to defend their land, inciting the rage of both Mulhorand and Thay resulting in a great slaughter. The Orcish King, believing that if he could capture Jarthin and turn him over to the enemy, would end the carnage, but once Jarthin was captured by his own people, a change had taken place in the community. The passive farmers and herdsmen of the past were all slain or enslaved, leaving the strong and the angry behind to gnash their teeth at the incompetence of their leader. The arrest of Jarthin incited a coup, the King and his followers were mobbed, their heads forming a great pyre symbolizing the coronation of their new King. Jarthin became known hence, as Gruumsh. Gruumsh ordered all tools of labor to be melted down and recast as arms. Arms which were used to repulse the armies of Mulhorand (who quickly changed their policies), as well as Thay (who did not), and once finally repulsed from Orcgate Territory, a new change came over the Orc.


Led by Gruumsh, Orcgate forged weapons from tools that they had melted down. The time of peace was over. Once prepared, Gruumsh’s Forces marched into Thay, resulting in a war which lasted three years. Thay, knowing that defeat was ensured, parleyed with the Orcs of Orcgate, presenting to Gruumsh the Sword of Grimmshawr, and claiming to join the Orcish Cause.

The Sword of Grimmshawr, black and evil, possessed desires and needs of its own. Thay, believing the blade to be cursed, delivered it into the hands of Gruumsh as a trick. Through the Sword of Grimmshawr, they could enslave the Orcs, and manipulate them to into attacking Mulhorand. This part of their plot worked, the object of Orcish Aggression was redirected to Mulhorand. 

-1171: Gruumsh Slays a God

Armed with The Sword of Grimmshawr, the blade unknowingly under the control of Thay, Gruumsh exploited every weakness that Mulhorand had, taking a city whose name and location has been lost to time, the men of Mulhorand summoned forth the god Re, to protect them from blood thirsty orcs. Re himself appeared, leading a holy army against the nightmare horde which they themselves had helped create. But alas, Re’s powers were not enough; his blessed army was utterly destroyed, the bodies of the slain were defiled, and Re’s influence chased back to his temple to cower in fear.

Gruumsh, unimpressed with the powers of the Mulhorand, walked into the gods temple and with the Sword of Grimmshawr, slew him to the horror of the priests who now found themselves powerless. This strike also alerted Gruumsh to the trickery of Thay, the sword, drenched in the life-blood of the divine escaped the insanity placed upon it and, breaking the powerful magic which bound the sword to the will of Thay.

Gruumsh, slayer of gods, drank from the river of the divine blood of Re the Fallen, which flowed from the temple. He, now of the divine, gained the secrets of the gods. Plucking his eye from his skull, he filled a tanker with his own blood and instructed his followers to drink of it, and in doing so they learned the many secrets of war, and of rage, and of steel! Gruumsh sacrificed his body, his immortal spirit enlightening all of his kind. Gruumsh’s eldest son, now the King, and barer of Grimmshawr, withdrew from defeated Mulhorand and returned to Thay to exact their punishment up the wizards.

-1069 Orcs in Thay defeated

The mental war over Grimmshawr was intense. Grimmshawr understanding the dangers to its self desired Bahgtru, son of Gruumsh, to flee that land; however the will of Bahgtru resisted; his sights were on taking Thay, on enslaving the evil wizards, and keeping their mighty kingdom for themselves. Bahgtru underestimated the powers of the wizard, every day their will over the sword became stronger and stronger, until the Sword of Grimmshawr could resist no more. Bahgtru, on the verge of taking the capital, suddenly discovered that Grimmshawr would cut no more; His powerful blows passing through the enemy as harmlessly as if he wielded the breeze. Bahgtru was surrounded, and his host could only watch as the powerful wizards of Thay slowly cut him down with nothing but daggers. The army, their leader slain in such a manner, turned to leave, but were cut off by the evil power of the wizards, it is unknown what happened to this them. Those that escaped the mayhem were so terrified that they spoke not of the horror that befell them that day. All that is known is that they left the land of Thay, instructing their children’s children’s children never to return. And thus it has always been.


Sometimes, there is just way to much history out there! Facts that aren’t all that important to your adventure on hand, but stuff that you want to partially keep as the known history for your campaign. In dealing with the Orcs of the Vast, I know that much work has been done on this time period, but again, I don’t want all of it. I want a quick summary of things that I want to remember, and add a bit to it to make it my own. In this case, getting overly picky about back-story would be foolish. Why look up information for some obscure fact during play when I can just make it up on game day?

What I want to stay true to is the Core Booklets from the Campaign Boxset which I have. All of the fluff that came afterwards is considered, by me, to be an unnecessary intrusion by game designers that created some timeline that I’m not interested in staying true to. I’ll use the influence if I must, but if it gets in the way of my own creativity then it is gone.

c. -700 The Vastar of the Orcs in the Vast

The most powerful Orcish nation in modern history was Vastar, created by orcs who successfully fled east from Thay. This was a successful transitional period for the race, though they were no longer unified, as this was when many tribes formed over disputes of power, religion, and land.

The Elven nation of Yiraphon to the south, was avoided and their attention was focused on pushing the goblins either out of the lands, or, once they discovered ore in the mountains, into the mines as slaves. The greatest mine being Mt. Grimmerfang, became, what historians would call, an Orcish Capital, as the weapons and materials coming out of the mines were used to supply the other tribes. The strongest and wisest Orcs who controlled this mining community were always renamed King Grimmerfang, leading many to call whoever the king was, Grimmerfang the Undying.

A holy site was also discovered in what is now known as the Flooded Forest: The Spirit of Gruumsh appeared before a tribe of orcs who were given his instructions for the Cult of Gruumsh, and also given the names of all of the gods of the Orc. This tribe constructed the Temple of Gruumsh; all priests are believed to be descended from this tribe, now called the Cultists.  The Cultists rivaled the powers of Grimmerfang, and together, yet apart they directed the major activities of the Orcs who called their nation Vastar.

All was not well, fore the Temple of Gruumsh was too close to the Elven community of Yiraphon, and after many generations of Orc, the elves finally discovered the location of the temple and sacked it, killing the powerful leaders, and the rest dispersed among the tribes. This act set off the second Elven Conflict: the orc, unified in anger, took the city of Yiraphon, massacring the Elves who were unaware of their numbers. Those elves who survived were forced into the Dales to join their kin, and Yiraphon was considered lost to them as the Orc continued their attacks, keeping the Lords of Elven Court too occupied to mount a solid attack to retake the land lost from Vastar.

King Grimmerfang, preferring the Cult to be dispersed as it granted him more power, ordered the City of Yiraphon to be settled, and instead of Temples to the gods, they were only granted shrines within the city.


Hearing of the wealth of the mines, the dwarf Tuir led strategic strikes against Grimmerfang, killing the king for all time, Tuir took the mines, and Vaspar fell as a whole. Scattered to the wilderness, with no king, the orcish power structure fell apart, and Tuir was named The Deep King.

Tuir’s Kingdom was far from peaceful. The Vasper Orcs, now under the command of an orc named Vispertongue, formed an unlikely alliance with the Goblins, together through patience and determination, were able to rout the Dwarven Nation. King Tuir was slain during the battle of Deepfires at Vispertongue, ending the long reign of the Dwarf and returning the land to Orcish Control. The goblins were thought to be part of the orc nation, but failure to take land from the humans who had began to move into the territory under the protection of the dwarves, as well as the untrustworthiness of the goblin, resulted in the end of their alliance.

Vispertongue was too aggressive, taking territory that he could not hope to defend, the humans, with elvish support from Beluar were able to defeat Vispertongue, ending his reign and forcing the orc further north into direct conflict with Goblin forces. The humans of the Vast so far have been able to hold fast against the orc, who are currently without a powerful leader. Elven influence has permanently left the violent region to the humans who now call this their homeland.  While the orcs of Vasar don’t believe that the territory is lost, the most powerful orc lords have abandoned it completely.


The Vaspar Orcs were not the only survivors of Thay, many ran north to escape into this cold hard environment. Their numbers grew not as fast as those of Vaspar, but these orcs, their numbers constantly being thinned by the environment and hostel creatures of the north, grew more powerful then their southern kind as only the strong could survive such climate.

The Northern Stock has always been less divided than those of Vaspar. Their numbers, unknowingly swelling, made themselves known when it 1235 they unleashed their full might upon the North, taking the city of Waterdeep as their capital, and pushing much of the Realms into a short dark age which lasted 6 years, until the North finally was able to push back when a noble woman was captured and killed. The incited North attacked with such venom and speed that the orcs were not prepared for such viciousness. The Northern Orc is now believed to be extinct, not a one of them was allowed to live, however some of them inevitably were able to slip though, and find a hidden existence either back into the northern wilderness, or finding acceptance and glory among the Vaspar orcs.

While physically stronger and more long lived, these orcs have become rather timid as far as orcs are concerned, and have no desire to seek vengeance for the genocide which took place.


There have been other orc attacks and continuation of orcish myths and legends continue, however no further modern records of any worth are known at this time.

An ancient text was reported to be found in Myth Drannor, which was written long ago during the age of elves, but once again is lost. It reportedly spoke of the most extensive and destructive war in the history of the Realms. A war millions of years before even the founding of Mezro, between Orc and Elf that was so massive and destructive that it shaped the world as we know it today. This was a time where powerful magics existed far beyond the amazing powers of even ancient Nitheril. This text, it is believed, spoke of how the elf was able to push the equally powerful orc out of the land, but alas, this text is gone, providing just bare hints and theories of what happened. It is believed that it was at this time that the orc was stripped of his humanity, if you will, to become the hyper-aggressive monster that he is today. The orc may had given something up in this war, believing that it would help them defeat the elves, perhaps by magic which twisted and reformed them physically?

Dwarves also have a brief description of an orc war which mirrors that of the elves, which took place below ground. From the texts and stories that they would share with us, they stated that the Orc possessed magic which they no longer have. Again, this war was won at a severe cost, as it can easily be traced back to the decline of the Dwarven Race.


That gives me enough to work with to make some educated decisions, I can always add too these four later, or even subtract from them if something comes up, as even my histories are far from complete to me.

Rise of the Orcs!

I think that a lot of Dungeon Masters, when they are designing their games, tend to ignore 1HD monsters, and dismiss them as weak. I know from reading lots of posts through the years that goblins seem to be the most popular monster for 1st level Characters, which, is also one of the most complained about. The goblinoid race is (or probably is) the most populous race in the fantasy worlds, second only to men. Elves have generally taken off, or segregated themselves to small parts of your map; dwarves are a doomed race that’s numbers are dwindling yearly, and Halflings and gnomes have little interest in over populating the world.

Goblinoids, as a race, are disjointed. They have a very odd social structure and constantly push each other down and hold each other back. Stripping the game away and looking at the Tolkien influence, it appears that the game has replaced orcs with goblins. My question is: Where does the Orc fit into our D&D worlds? Can we have a war that is reminiscent of The War of the Ring? Well, of course the answer is YES! And if we did that, it would be an even bigger nightmare then goblinoids could ever be.

I think that people don’t properly represent the orc, its population may outnumber the goblinoids, as this is a chief rival, yet because of their misleading entry in the Monstrous Manual, they get skipped over. They are definitely out there, quietly waiting their turns for conquest, and if a DM is looking for a giant bomb to drop on their milieu, they have no further to look then the seemingly lowly orc.

1Hit Die Wonders?

The Monstrous Manual is misleading. The quick stats have them as pathetic until you notice a few things that are different, the numbers of the tribe a listed as 30-300, this is just warriors, all specialized in their weapons. The second thing is that they are Lawful, this means that they fight as a unit and can use complex formations. The third, they are smart! Then you get down to the descriptions and you find out that these creatures are just as complex as any town that your adventurers could visit. The 30-300 doesn’t represent the more experienced ones, these are added later.

Where does the Orc fit into our world?

These creatures are legend. The earth has scars from a great war which took place long ago when the elves removed them from the ancient world, well now many of the elves have gone away, else segregated themselves to small communities which are far from the glory of the elder days. While the elf grew fewer, the orc grew. They now outnumber their chief rivals of lore, their biggest competitors now are goblinoids and men. What is to stop them now from taking back what they believe to be wrongfully taken from them? Men! I dare say that this would be a worthy scenario to entertain.

The Rise of Gruumsh

While the goblinoid races are held back by a bizarre and complex social structure which breeds infighting, the orc does not have this limitation. True, the race is divided into tribes currently, but the only thing that keeps them back is the debates between the army and the religion.  If an orcish hero could manage to pull these two different factions together, he could easily attract not just many tribes, but entire nations, perhaps, once word has spread of the orc’s greatness, the entire race.

With loyal numbers in the tens of thousands, the weapons of the warlords, and the blessings of the priests, they could take an entire nation, and unlike the goblin hordes, there would be no infighting to eat away at the orc nation from within, in fact it would be the opposite; orcs from all over our maps would hear what has been done, and march vast distances to be a part of it.

The former masters turned to slaves, fresh food, superior metal to craft their arms, and true power. Once this new kingdom stabilizes, their next conquest would be one of vengeance! Vengeance against the Elves! Vengeance against the Dwarves! The Age of the Orc is upon us!

Sorry, I went a little Gruumsh-like there.


The bugbear is a formidable tactician, but their numbers are small. Orog orcs, are much more intelligent than the goblinoid bugbears, and of superior numbers. They also don’t enslave their own kind! Orogs don’t bully their underlings, they bring them wealth and glory, and in turn are treated with respect, and honor!

The orc is an expert at war. They know how to construct and use siege engines. They aren’t above using any tactic at their disposal, no matter how dirty and cheap. Rules of warfare are for cowards and the weak. They are steady fighters that are more then capable of seeing what can be gained from a battle, and are not above intense labor themselves. This is a perfect storm. These things were not designed to be placed on a Random Encounter Table; they don’t just randomly walk around in easy to pick apart groups. These creatures were designed for the purpose of mass warfare, particularly to harass an adventurer’s stronghold. They have no interest in the affairs of anyone, their sole drive is land! I say we see what happens when they try and take it!

Further Reading:

Writing For Yourself

Module addiction. It can happen to anyone! It starts with running Isle of Dread with your friends, and before you know it, your wife catches you at 3 a.m. with Web of Illusion, playing with yourself. It is then that it finally sinks in, you’ve hit rock bottom.

It’s not too late! Anybody can heal from module addiction! You just have to have faith in your abilities and learn how to best manage your time, and then you too will be freed from the money hungry slavers at Wizards of the Coast.

Okay, all kidding aside, modules do serve a purpose; the most important is that they offer a shared experience with everyone in the gaming community. Players who’ve never met before can discuss the Tomb of Horrors. They also serve as teaching points for DMs, and offer maps and ideas that one can drop into their own campaign. We all run them from time to time, but to be honest, I myself spend more time fixing them than I do writing my own stuff!

Not sold yet? Well here is a more startling fact: Groups are more likely to stay together when the DM writes his own stuff.

The most common DM whine about writing is “I don’t have time!” Well, I’m telling you, it takes less time to write then you think. Maybe you tried writing before and found it too time consuming. Maybe that is because you wrote another module! That is why it took so long! We are going to get away from over preparing and recognize over writing as the sin that it is! But how?
We are going to slow everything down. We are going to do just as much as we have to, and no more.


They have to be. Modules are expressing ideas that aren’t yours. They are also forcing decisions upon you and your players, if you get frustrated because you put so much work into writing a story, only to feel that the players are screwing it up, then you have to understand one of the great Taos of the game, WE CAN’T CONTROL PEOPLE! We can’t write them in, we can only control ourselves (and our monsters). Once we get that into our heads (and it does take time), we can simplify what we are doing.


When we write in general terms, it creates an environment that reacts to what your players are doing instead of the other way around. Instead of having a goblin cooking in a kitchen for all time, like some robot that does nothing until a player opens the door, we can move him around the dungeon, to investigate and make his own decisions. We can do all of this on Gameday. All we need to know is that he is usually there.
Instead of being a control freak, we are going to let our games flow naturally. If we want the party to interact with NPCs, write up a quick list of names with what they do, and a section for what the villagers know. If you want an NPC to know something special, or purposefully misdirect the party, you can write how they’ll try and do just that. DONE!!!! We want to write down stuff that we don’t want to have to come up with on gameday, and that is it.


We aren’t going to be writing entire stories in one shot. When we plan too far ahead we are unintentionally setting limitations on ourselves and our players. We are going to keep things general and let the complete story flow naturally through loosely written scenarios that are designed to accomplish the goals that we set.

What do we think that we can get done? What do we want to do on gameday? Do we want to focus on action, role-playing, puzzle solving, or what? Instead of rushing our players from one scenario to the next, we are going to be slowing them down. If you feel that the pace of the game demands it, you can still have an action scene or two during days you focus on role-play, if we keep the game flow smooth and the PCs involved we are doing it right. We aren’t writing what happens, the players are. We just dangle carrots and answer their questions in mysterious ways that when they ask the right one, only brings about a different set of questions.

Once we have a major goal (something that once accomplished moves the story along), it is nice to know where you are going with this session. We want to know something, but only major details. We also have to make room for failure. We shouldn’t stop that from happening either. Now I’m not talking about TOTAL PARTY KILL! There are little failures that would, under module guidelines, create a major setback. We can anticipate some calamities, such as getting themselves arrested, failing to save an important NPC before they can give them their clue, failures happen, and should happen! That is what makes this game so damned fun!

The less we plan, the more the players get too. They find it more satisfying to purchase a map of a thieves guild, look at it and they can sit there and plan how to get in or out. While they are doing it, listen to them, and figure out how you NPCs will react. We are going to get better ideas from them, then we will when we’re sitting all by ourselves with a keyboard.


We do want to know a thing or two about the antagonists plan. With the thieves guild above, they are going to have a standard protocol. They know that undesirables are going to find their way in, and they’ll have a system set up which eliminates them quickly and efficiently. If the PC’s try the direct approach, and just walk into the front door, making demands like they own the place, they are going to set off a horrible and deadly chain of events. We need to know what these events are and make sure that they are deadly.

We write important characters, be them antagonists or victims. We can also, once we get going, collect a database. Thinking up names on demand is tough, and can lead to a confusing continuity error later. While initially time consuming, if we write fun characters onto a note-card we can use them again at any time and typically nobody will notice.

I love zombie films! They are a good example of doing only what you need to do. Makeup people don’t give all of the extras awesome make-ups, they just give a few; these are heroes and all of the others are back ground. Write your heroes well, and have just general ideas for people who aren’t. That will also keep gameday fun for you. While we need to know the personality of the hero NPCs, we don’t need to know the personality of the Sword Smith, so we can generate it randomly by using the DMG.


Restrictions are necessary, your players know this, but restrictions shouldn’t restrict the story. Restrictions are set by what we are willing to prep for. I like to have things on maps sometimes that I’ll develop later, instead of doing it now, I’ll put a locked door that will only open with a specific key, which the characters will have once I’m ready to develop that area. I’ll be honest with the players about it if they just won’t let the door alone, but for the most part, my restrictions make sense. They serve the story. A restriction usually isn’t, “No, you can’t go there.” Typically it is set by the story itself: A boat at sea is a perfect example. We will have stuff to do on the ship, but nobody is leaving the ship. I can use the restriction to my purposes by putting a killer on the ship. Everybody is contained.

A word of warning, the more restricted a scenario, the more you’ll have to write. If you’ve only got a few NPCs to interact with, you need to know these guys really well, and let them have their own goals which may or may not jive well with the goals of the party.

That is okay! We aren’t wasting our time creating NPCs that the PC is going to ask a question to, and then move on. We are going to need specifics, but we need to know WHEN we need them and why we need them. The more likely the odds of the PC interacting with it, the more we should write.


While most of the information in our game scenarios will be generalized, there are things that we will want to be very specific. Key objects, key people, and key places; these are things that we want to be clearly defined so that we can manage them quickly and effectively come gameday.


Do we need a map? Sure, we may want one, but do we really need one? If we do, this is extra work. Do we need a battlemap? I NEVER go to that unless I really have to. Not that it takes more work, but because my group and I use them so rarely we don’t have those mechanics down yet, and I know as soon as I figure out that I’ve no other choice but to use one, that this is going to slow everything down to a crawl; thus, I have the battlemap represent the smallest area necessary to run the scenario, preferably one room, or a short stretch of road. But I digress, if we need a map, we want it to only be as big as we need it to be.

I also recycle! I never throw maps away. Not ever! Don’t feel like drawing some dungeon up that day? Fine! Go look through your collection of modules, or your stack of old maps and re-key the things. As long as we don’t use Castle Ravenloft for every castle that the PCs go into, then they won’t notice. 

When writing your key, let your creativity flow. Don’t just tell the story that your PCs are telling, think about what this place is used for, is there a secondary story that we can tell here?  We DON’T want huge description boxes! We just need to write reminders for what we are thinking, such as, “Hall has sculpture of Tempus on a pedestal. Door to area 6 is locked (-15% to pick).” The statue tells us about who lives, or once lived here, and the doorlock is a stat that we don’t want to look up. If a character asks if there are any pictures on the walls, we can answer that on gameday.  Don’t do more then you have to. None of that huge half page fluff about some shrine in the house that serves no purpose to the story, just writing a Shrine to Tempus is good enough, chances are the players are going to ignore it anyway and move on. It isn’t hard to come up with specifics that just handle fluff on the fly, who knows, maybe they will move the story into a direction that you never anticipated? That is always fun!

A word of warning in regards to fluff. A player can really ruin your day by collecting all of this stuff. If you have a chalice worth 50gp on the Shrine, you best know about it before hand! Thankfully we have encumbrance rules, and always remember that too much swag makes lots of noise when being quiet is important. Not to say that some player characters aren’t above having a garage sale outside of the Temple of Despair, but I’m sure that you can handle that situation when you get too it. If something is worth money, put it there intentionally and make note of it in your key.  


Before we go too far into the key, we want to know what lives here. If it is a monster, we need to know everything about it. We like using new monsters, or at least monsters new to us. If you are worried about challenge level and killing your party, AD&D has a fast and easy guide to its monsters. Add up all of the hit dice of the party: for instance, If you’ve got 7 players playing first level characters, they can fight one 7HD monster. They may not come out unscathed! This is the ultimate challenge for them, but I love to do it.

Know your monster! Some monsters will require the dungeon to be built around them. How did this thing get here? Can we tell a secondary story here? What clues would it leave behind? Why did it lair where it is? Is that the best place for it, or is there another spot that might be even better? Is there a defensive advantage to it being there? Is there a defensive disadvantage that it doesn’t know about which might allow a character to kill it with one well-placed hit to the environment? It is okay to put a monster that severely over matches the party, as long as we give them a way to win.

With powerful monsters, we also have treasure to consider.


The Monstrous Manual does most of our work for us; like I said above, we want to be specific about treasure. We can generate treasure randomly, which can lead to interesting story possibilities, such as finding an art object worth 9,000gp in a cave out in the middle of nowhere, we’ll want to explain that, we’ll want to name this object and decide how nice we want to be by making the object easy or hard to transport, if we are going to make it easy, then there should be a reason for letting the characters have that much gold, maybe it will cover most of the cost of a magic item they saw in a shop, or, there is always property; whatever it is, when you’re dealing with large chunks of money that is easy to transport, you’ll also need to come up with a couple of ideas to get that money back from them, and even then we won’t tell them how much an item is worth until they can get it appraised, if they have a trusted source. There are lots of evil tricks we can use.

(Ceremonial Wizards Robe: 9000gp/ Can trade it in village for Field Plate, sell at Neverwinter only)

Now, naturally we won’t want to forget this, and we also don’t want the PC to know its exact value, so we’ll have to keep a note of this for later.

Magic Treasure should also be precise: Weapons and armor should all have names, and like objects worth money, we should know precisely where they are at, and have a short little story to go along with the object, just to make it cool. Players will think that you’re a genius, when you only spent a few seconds on the thing. This item will be cool to the player who gets it, and deserves as much work as we can put in to it to make it special. We also don’t want to forget about it, we want to make it important to the ongoing story. If the blade glows when orcs are around, but you never have them fight orcs, then it is kind of pointless that they have it, thus, you may not want to choose a magic item randomly, unless you are willing to live with the consequences.


I am old-school and still use a notebook and folder as my main tools on gameday. In my binder I am going to collect all of my general stats in one place. Use a formula that you like and have memorized for speed, don’t forget to include general NPC stats, for major NPCs I will stat them on notecards, but this way I can quickly look up a fact without having to grab the MM or writing it down elsewhere. When I do place a monster, I just write down the monsters name and hit points on the key itself (or if I want him to float around, on the master monster list). We are only doing this work once, and that saves time!


I don’t know about your group, but we are adults with jobs and responsibilities (ugh), so our playtime is also limited. When we first started, we thought nothing of playing this game for days and days at a time (we didn’t have money to do much else), but now that just isn’t the case. Game time is precious! Random Encounters, while exciting back in the day, are shied away from today. Not to say that I don’t run them from time to time! Let’s just say that they aren’t as random as they used to be.
These things are kind of an after-thought to me. I have spoken to my group, and made the case that since our time is precious, I wanted to handle travel, and prep this before hand, and we all agreed that it wouldn’t change the game that much.

Now this isn’t to say that I am going to force the players to go where I want them to go, we usually make any big decisions about our next location at the end of the adventure session, but for short trips out of the area, then I will pick the path and add it to the adventure. I then check for random encounters before the players even sit down at the table. I don’t often use Random Encounter Tables as they are an enormous waste of time, but I do pick what the encounter is, and I limit them so that we don’t get 8 encounters on a three day trip, we only get one or two. I pick the monster, and either I work it into my story, or it is just a case of wrong place, wrong time.

Now, if I do get to feeling ornery, and bored because I want to do prep but I’m already done, then I will set up small encounters on a 1d6. Again, they aren’t random at all! Just very short scenarios that take very little time away from the main adventure.

I still don’t want travel to seem boring, so for every day,I’ll come up with some fluff off the top of my head on game day to make a scene or two stand out.

In dungeons, I don’t like Random Encounters either, but they are easier to stat. If I do end up using them, then I’ll just use a d6, and unless it is a 1 it is a random patrol (if the dungeon is big enough for that kind of thing), else a monster that is unique to that list, which is already stated and I know what it will do when it meets the party.

I don’t like saving Encounter Tables. I saw that they were included in the Greyhawk setting, and I know that many DMs on-line are looking for them, but I find them to be tedious, unbalanced, and unnecessary.


Sometimes you just have to do it. When monsters harass NPCs, we need to figure out if we need to have our stats reflect this or not. If a scenario is timed, we will want to know, ahead of time, what is going on. Or sometimes, if a PC doesn’t start in the room to set off the scenario, and we don’t know when they are going to chose to go in, we might want to figure out how many minutes they can wait until it is too late to save that NPC or group of NPCs. Much of the time, we can do this really quickly on gameday, but sometimes, if too much is going on, we don’t want to sit there and play with ourselves in front of others. Add it to your prep.


Once we get all of that out of the way, and our notes reflect the stuff that will save us time on gameday, we can go through and roughly figure out XP for if all goes well, also if you are going to need to look something up during play, write down the page number and the book you’ll want. This isn’t a waste of time at all! We want to be prepared, but we still want to have fun playing too.

At the end of the night, once all of the smoke has cleared, and the adventures have gone back to their normal every day lives, sit down and reflect on what you’ve done. Could something be better? Where did you stumble? Players are going to take advantage of you, how could you had handled that better so that it doesn’t happen again. Did we over prepare an element? Did we under prepare an element?

We are writing our own adventures! That is something to be proud of! No other party will be doing what you are doing, you will find your own style, and you are telling a story WITH your players, not about them. Now the only question is . . . what next?


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