D&D inspiration

Being a DM is hard. Players interact with the game world, and you create that world. Without you, there is no game. That’s a lot of pressure!

Prepping for a session can take a lot of out of you creatively, especially if you are already tired from work and life stuff. Sometimes you need a bit of DM inspiration. This article is a series of signposts for where to go when you’re running out of steam.

There is nothing new under the sun, and every story ever written owes something to the ones that came before it. If a story were truly original, it would probably seem wacky and incoherent to us: we would have no frames of reference to make sense of it. So: steal!

Films

Fantasy or not, here are some of my go-to films for inspiration. (Note: the 2000 Dungeons & Dragons film is not included.)

  • J J Abrams (2009) Star Trek
  • Tim Burton (1999) Sleepy Hollow
  • John Carpenter (1982) The Thing
  • Don Chaffey (1963) Jason and the Argonauts
  • Francis Ford Coppola (1992) Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  • Desmond Davis (1981) Clash of the Titans
  • Jim Henson and Frank Oz (1982) The Dark Crystal
  • Gordon Hessler (1973) The Golden Voyage of Sinbad
  • Ron Howard (1988) Willow
  • Peter Jackson (2001–2003) The Lord of the Rings
  • Irvin Kershner (1980) The Empire Strikes Back
  • Akira Kurosawa (1954) Seven Samurai
  • Ang Lee (2000) Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • George Miller (2015) Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Stephen Norrington (1998) Blade
  • Kevin Reynolds (1991) Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
  • Ridley Scott (1982) Blade Runner
  • Steven Sommers (1999) The Mummy
  • Steven Spielberg (1981) Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Gore Verbinski (2003) Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
  • Sam Wanamaker (1977) Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger

TV series

A shorter list for some reason, but all highly recommended:

  • Steve Barron (1998) Merlin
  • Benioff and Weiss (2011–2019) Game of Thrones
  • The Duffer Brothers (2016–) Stranger Things
  • Warren Ellis (2017–) Castlevania
  • Gene Roddenberry (1987–1994) Star Trek: The Next Generation

Video games

For many D&D players, this may be our number one source of inspiration for D&D. So, what would I recommend? (Follow the links for articles by me about using these games in D&D.)

  • Baldur’s Gate (1998)
  • The Borderlands series (2009–)
  • Darkest Dungeon (2016)
  • Diablo II (2000)
  • The Elder Scrolls series, including Morrowind (2002), Oblivion (2006),and Skyrim (2011)
  • Far Cry 3 (2012)
  • Final Fantasy VII (1997)
  • Grim Fandango (1998)
  • Might and Magic VI: The Mandate of Heaven (1998)
  • Neverwinter Nights (2002)
  • Pillars of Eternity (2015)
  • Shadow of the Colossus (2006)
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2018)
  • The Last of Us (2013)
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (2015)

(I’m conscious there are probably lots of gaps here. Feel free to suggest others in the comments!)

Books

Did you know that there is a reading list at the back of the 5th edition Player’s Handbook, and another in the Dungeon Master’s Guide?

Anyway, shameful admission: I don’t read much fantasy. This may be controversial, but a lot of the ‘genre fiction’ I’ve read just wasn’t very good, and some of the fantasy novels I enjoyed in my early teens make me cringe when I reread them now (eg, Terry Brooks, David Eddings).

First, fiction. The list that follows is a fairly eclectic collection of literature which continues to inspire me in my games, even if some of it is not really ‘fantasy’ at all.

  • Beowulf (I love the 1999 Heaney translation)
  • Emily Brontë (1847) Wuthering Heights
  • Raymond Chandler (1939) The Big Sleep
  • Thomas Malory (1485) Le Morte d’Arthur
  • Edgar Allan Poe: ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ (1839), ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ (1843)
  • Terry Pratchett (1983–2015) the Discworld series
  • J K Rowling (1997–2007) the Harry Potter series
  • William Shakespeare: Henry V (1599), Macbeth (1606), The Tempest (1610)
  • Mary Shelley (1818) Frankenstein
  • Bram Stoker (1897) Dracula
  • J R R Tolkien: The Hobbit (1937), The Lord of the Rings (1954–1955), and Tales from the Perilous Realm (1997)
  • H G Wells (1895) The Time Machine
  • John Wyndham (1955) The Chrysalids and (1951) The Day of the Triffids

And a selection of non-fiction. While I’ve only picked out one or two books for each author, everything they write is worth reading.

  • James D’Amato (2019) The Ultimate RPG Gameplay Guide
  • Keith Ammann (2020) Live to Tell the Tale
  • Matt Colville (2018) Strongholds and Followers
  • David M Ewalt (2013) Of Dice and Men
  • Robin D Laws: Hamlet’s Hit Points (2010) and Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering (2002)
  • Sean K Reynolds (2017) Kobold Guide to Gamemastering
  • Sean K Reynolds and Shanna Germain (2019) Consent in Gaming
  • Michael Shea (2018) Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master
  • Blake Snyder (2005) Save the Cat!

Websites

I’m always on the lookout for great new D&D blogs, so if there are any I have missed from here inadvertently, let me know! (Have I mentioned you can also subscribe to Scroll for Initiative here?)

Using these lists

I hope you enjoy going through these lists for your own D&D inspiration. In closing, here’s my guide to stealing:

  1. Steal characters. There’s nothing wrong with lifting a character and adding them to your game somehow! You can always change the gender or ancestry to make them less obvious. (And you would be in good company doing so. Indiana Jones was greatly inspired by James Bond, and Uncharted’s Nathan Drake is clearly modelled on Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft.)
  2. Steal plots. Strip the story back to its bare bones and use it as a skeleton for your own advetures. Again, no shame in this. Star Wars is clearly inspired by The Hidden Fortress, and The Magnificent Seven is a Western retelling of Seven Samurai.
  3. Steal settings. If you love Hogwarts or King’s Landing or Gondor, no one’s going to come running after you if you adapt it into your games.
  4. Mash ups. Star Wars is basically World War II in space with samurai. Borderlands is kind of like a mash-up of Diablo, Halo, and Mad Max. Pick three elements and smash them together to see what happens.

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EXCLUSIVE: New products for 2021

Happy April Fool’s!

D&D fans are always on the lookout for ways to spend their hard-earned cash. Now, in a world exclusive, Scroll for Initiative can reveal that the following D&D products are confirmed for autumn 2021. Merch, merch, merch!

Spelljammer: Adventures in Wild Space

The final frontier. May the Force be with you.
– Elminster

Finally, after years of hints, Spelljammer IS confirmed. The much beloved campaign setting was long overdue for a 5e reboot, and fans of the original sourcebooks will not be disappointed.

We can reveal that the new sourcebook willl contain:

  • Revised rules for ship combat, including heavy weapons, ramming, and hexcrawls between spheres
  • Two new playable races: the giff and the neogi
  • Four new subclasses
  • Stats for at least four new monsters, including comet steeds, radiant dragons, giant space hamsters, and more
  • A short introductory adventure: Lost Mine of Phandelver . . . in Space!
  • A 3D poster map

It is expected that the next few hardback adventures will focus on Wild Space. However, following in the tradition of 5th edition Forgotten Realms adventures, only ten percent of the Wild Space setting will actually appear.

An alternative cover design containing real space dust will be revealed next month on my YouTube channel (I just need to set it up first). Stay tuned!

Curse of Strahd: Kill Strahd Yet Again

Following the success of 2016’s Curse of Strahd and last year’s Curse of Strahd Revamped, fans will be delighted to learn that the next published adventure will be Kill Strahd Yet Again. Plot details are scant at this stage, but it’s rumoured that this $50 adventure will take adventurers back to Barovia to find that Strahd has once again . . . ah, you know the rest.

47th anniversary dragon and dice

To celebrate nearly 50 years since the original Dungeons & Dragons game was published, we can expect to see a new amethyst dice set, expected to retail for just $400. The dice set will come with a custom dice box and dice tray combo and an exclusive sticker set. There are also plans to release an amethyst dragon made of real plastic, which will be snapped up by collectors for the price of just $90!

Lifesize Tiamat model

Fans were delighted to learn this week that an official update of the Tiamat miniature is in the works: the biggest D&D mini yet. It’s expected to retail for under $400. What is yet to be revealed, however, is the lifesize Tiamat model, constructed at 1:1 scale. D&D fans with a spare garage/aircraft hangar will be able to house this magnificent mini biggie for just $24,000.

Player’s Handbook: Neckbeard Edition

D&D is as popular as it has ever been, and there’s no desire for a new edition any time soon. However, for some of the game’s oldest fans, D&D isn’t what it used to be, so a special edition Player’s Handbook is now in the works for December 2021.

If you’re a sexist and a racist uncomfortable with the concept of diversity, you will be pleased to see a return to the male pronoun throughout, and almost all the humans depicted in the artwork will be white men (because D&D IS EUROPEAN MEDIEVAL FANTASY GODDAMNIT!!!!1!). Some women females will be shown, but they will be depicted exclusively in boob plate and chainmail bikinis. Orcs will be back to their always-evil, pig-faced selves.

In terms of rule changes, Armour Class is likely to be replaced by THAC0, fighters will be renamed ‘fighting men’, and the grapple rules of 3rd edition will return with all their tactical crunch (get your flowcharts ready). Female characters will start with lower Strength scores, bards will be a complex multiclass option, and best of all, the rulebook will return to 9-point Futura. We can’t wait.

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Epic D&D Christmas Gift Guide

Wizards of the Coast

Now that it’s December, it’s time to start thinking about the Midwinter Feast! This post is a list of present ideas for all the D&D players in our lives. Enjoy.

Before we start, though, a disclaimer: there are no affiliate links here, nor am I being paid in any way to endorse these products. Also, where possible, please support your Friendly Local Game Store. 2020 has been a horrendous year for the high street, and we don’t need to add any more gold pieces to the hoard of Archduke Beeelzebezos. If you’re in the UK, may I put in a good word for the wonderful Thirsty Meeples? They are brilliant people, and when I lived in Oxford I went to their board game café as often as I could. Now is the time to support folks like them.

I considered sorting this list into price categories but couldn’t decide on dollars or pounds. As such, the gifts generally get more expensive as you go down the list, but there may be exceptions!

Dice and related accessories

Top of the list! Everyone loves dice. Even if you’re playing online due to the pandemic, it’s nice to have something to interact with which isn’t on a screen. There’s a huge range of colours and materials available, so you should be able to get something a bit special without breaking the bank. Etsy is a great place to go.

For those who have stumbled upon this blog and don’t know what they’re looking for, the classic dice set consists of seven dice: a d20, a d12, two d10s (one with 10, 20, 30, etc, for percentages), a d8, a d6, and a d4. I’m increasingly seeing sets with two d20s, as 5th edition often asks players to roll two at the same time, and some streamers might want to have an oversized d20 that can be seen better on camera. Other players might want to have a bunch of extra d6s – for sneak attacks, fireballs, or rolling ability scores – or a few extra d8s (for divine smite). There are even some cute little ‘healing potion’ kits that come with all the d4s you need to treat your wounds! (Just don’t step on them: d4s hurt.)

As well as the dice themselves, consider dice trays and towers (for rolling dice) and dice pouches or boxes (for storing them). There are some fun options here like dice pouches shaped like mimics and owlbears, but also some seriously classy products made by companies like Wyrmwood Gaming. Shop around.

Stationery

OC][ART] I did a DM Notebook with map of Sword Coast : DnD

Reddit (@rtakehara)

Wizards of the Coast like to push The Merch™ (D&D T-shirts, D&D hoodies, D&D socks, D&D beanies), but I personally think a lot of D&D players would get more enjoyment out of a humble notebook.

We all have our preferences. Some like hardcover, some like leather; some prefer wide lines, some prefer narrow; some want little jotters, some want big A4 pads. If you’re buying for a DM who uses their notebook for mapping, you might want to look for a notebook with squares, dots, isometric grids, or even hexes. Here, again, Etsy is a great place to shop around. I’m also a big fan of the notebooks from Leuchtturm1917 and Clairefontaine.

Then there’s other stationery! A campaign binder, a calligraphy set or a nice fountain pen, some parchment paper, bespoke character sheets, an attractive storage box . . . it might seem prosaic, but many DMs would love this stuff, especially if they are creative. For map-makers, check out Dyson’s article on the drawing of maps. A set of supermarket biros is a crap present, but a set of fineliners with nice isometric paper is thoughtful and will be appreciated.

Miniatures

For many of us, 2020 has not been a good year for in-person D&D games. Does that mean we don’t love minis any more? Er, NO!

Whether you’re looking for monsters or player characters, I highly recommend the WizKids unpainted range. They are reasonably priced, come pre-primed (a huge time-saver), and the selection on offer is impressive, as you can see here: https://wizkids.com/upm They also offer a range of pre-painted minis, but I don’t think the quality is as good for the price. Other good minis for D&D include Reaper and Gale Force Nine, but my go-to is WizKids.

Then there’s custom minis. HeroForge is unquestionably the market leader. They’re very special (and if you’re ordering outside the US, be aware that import taxes can make them a bit expensive), and the quality is outstanding. The ever growing range of options available is just amazing. They have recently launched full-colour minis (currently only on offer to Kickstarter backers), and you even have the option of downloading your models for use on Tabletop Simulator. Be prepared to spend ours tinkering with your designs. I recommend the premium plastic material.

If you’re looking to get started with mini-painting, then I recommend the following: four brushes (a large brush, a drybrush, a size-zero detail brush, and a size-two Winsor and Newton Series 7 brush for everything else), some brush cleaner and preserver, some spray-on primer (if your minis aren’t pre-primed), and a selection of Vallejo game colour paints. I am a huge fan of RealmSmith’s mini-painting tutorials, and his white dragon one is an excellent place to start. Everything else is either cheap or you have it already: a good lamp, an old mug for water, some paper towels, and an old T-shirt to protect your desk. Larger minis like dragons might seem intimidating, but I personally find them much more fun to paint.

Game aids

Now we start getting into some of the really nerdy stuff.

It might seem a bit basic, but a dry-erase flipmat is an absolute godsend for people playing at the table. (Seriously, Sly Flourish has a whole article on this.) There are various options available, but try to make sure it’s something that lies flat. Bonus points if you get something with a hex-grid on the reverse. If youre in the UK, Blackwell’s is currently selling the Pathfinder flipmat for £6.62 with free delivery.

Another very useful product is condition rings. These are plastic rings in different colours which you can throw over miniatures to show that a character is stunned, poisoned, unconscious, or what have you. Totally unnecessary, perhaps, but fun. Etsy is your best bit for these (eg, these ones pictured above).

Then there are combat risers. (Combat what now? I had been playing D&D for nearly two decades before I first encountered these online.) If you’re more into ‘theatre of the mind’ combat, you may want to give these a pass, but if you like to be quite particular about movement on a five-foot grid, and you run a lot of aerial combat, then these are for you!

Finally, if you want to splash out, you might want to look at terrain and terrain tiles. Dwarven Forge is king here, and it is beautiful stuff, but import fees can make it prohibitive if you’re in the UK. WarLock tiles are new and popular, and if you’re in the UK, you might want to check out some independent terrain-makers like DMB Games.

Introductions to D&D

OK, this list is meant to be for people who are already playing D&D, but I couldn’t put together a list of D&D gifts without the D&D Starter Set. Launched back in 2014, this box has everything you need to start playing, including dice, character sheets, a rulebook, and what is still widely regarded as one of the best official adventures in 5th edition so far: Lost Mine of Phandelver. Last year’s update, the D&D Essentials Kit, is also very good, but I have to say, the adventure (Dragon of Icespire Peak) is a little disappointing by comparison. If you can choose one or the other, go with the Starter Set.

D&D rulebooks and supplements

Buying actual books can be tricky, for two reasons. Firstly, you don’t know what books they have already. Secondly, you don’t know whether they want the book on D&D Beyond, as a physical hard copy, or on some other platform like Fantasy Grounds or Roll20.

If you are going to buy a book, my advice would be Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, or Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. These are the books that actually ‘expand the game’ in some way. Tasha’s is the newest and the one that your D&D-playing friend is least likely to own already. Many of these books have alternative covers which some players like to collect.

Then there are adventures. This is even trickier territory. For what it’s worth, my hot pick would be Tomb of Annihilation, Curse of Strahd, Ghosts of Saltmarsh, or Waterdeep: Dragon Heist. These adventures are quite different from each other, though, and they might not be every group’s cup of tea. Rime of the Frostmaiden was only released a few months ago, and I haven’t had the chance to read through or play it yet.

For really special editions, check out Beadle & Grimm’s store here.

Other RPGs

Sacrilige! Except, of course, not really. It’s well worth dipping your toe into other systems, and you may even find that you prefer them to D&D! Buying books from other systems can also be a safer bet than buying D&D adventures or supplements.

A list:

Books about roleplaying

There are also some fantastic books about roleplaying out there. I recommend Hamlet’s Hitpoints and Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering by Robin Laws, Of Dice and Men by David Ewalt, and literally anything by Keith Ammann (product links on his home page), Matt Colville, James D’Amato, or Mike Shea (Sly Flourish – again, his products are linked down the side of the home page).

Tech stuff

This is outside my realm of expertise, but for many players in 2020, playing D&D means playing online, so good-quality devices are vital. Specifically, this might mean a professional-standard microphone (Blue’s Yeti is well regarded, as is the ModMic), good headphones (start with companies like Sennheiser, Audio-Technica, and Beyerdynamic) an external webcam (eg, the Logitech Brio), and, for DMs, perhaps a tripod (eg, this one), as they may wish to point the camera at the game board to show off their minis and terrain. Full disclaimer, though: this stuff is expensive, and I am not an expert, so please research futher!

Another bit of tech to consider: a 3D printer. For people who love minis and want to make their own, this could be a generous and much appreciated gift. The Monoprice Mini v2 gets a lot of thumbs up online.

Commissions

Possibly the most unique and personalized gift of all, a commission could be a framed drawing of a character or the whole party, a specially printed map (try Etsy), or even – yes – a cake! (And no, it is not a lie).

Artists and clients is a great place to start for artwork, as are subreddits like r/artcommissions and r/hungryartists. Or, you know, if you’re Sofia Vergara, get Jeff Easley to paint your husband’s favourite D&D character. We can all dream. The cake pictured above was commissioned for me by my fiancée (#keeper) at The Cake Shop in Oxford’s wonderful Covered Market. My fiancée definitely rolled a natural 20 with that one.

Did I miss anything? Leave a suggestion in the comments!

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