Tag Archives: D&D

D&D Rules of Engagement (5e)

When I DM D&D, combat should be interesting, challenging, relevant and drive the story forward without being tedious and boring.

I want my players to jump into the right fights, for the right reasons, without too much hesitation.

I want my players to avoid unnecessary fights and fear the dangers of combat.

Flight and avoiding combat entirely is sometimes a necessary choice for the players to survive.

As a DM I need to be consistent and fair. Enemies must not be much more dangerous than they appear, at least not without a way out. Enemies that appear to be more powerful than the players are deadly enemies and will capture or kill the player characters.

If my players are actively seeking clues to whether they should engage in combat or not, I shall give them clear and helpful information.

Rests: I will usually apply the gritty rules for rests: 1 night for a short rest, 1 week for a long rest. I will occationally grant faster rests.


I like the fast resting rules (1 night for a long rest, 1 hour for a short rest) because it keeps the story going forward.

However, I have now learnt that the resting rules can be (ab)used to engaging into unnecessary combat not caring too much about injuries, rather than finding non-combat solutions. I have also learnt that player characters in D&D 5e are quite powerful and having the characters always rested means I have to make opponents consistently more powerful and combat takes longer time.

I expect a typical session to take 4-5 hours, the characters start rested and there should be 3-5 combats. About 1-2 rests should often be enough.

The purpose of this is to make D&D combat interesting, challenging, relevant and drive the story forward without being tedious and boring.

On D&D Wilderness and Civilizations

D&D campaigns take place in a world (of the Material Plane in the D&D multiverse). According to DMG (p9) the world is probably:

  • overseen by gods
  • ancient
  • shaped by conflicts
  • magical
  • untamed

In our own world (the earth), man had spread to all continents 10 000 years ago. 1000 years ago I would not call our world untamed. Obviously parts of Americas and Siberia were mostly untamed (and Antarctica still is). Even if technology had stayed at D&D-level with time fewer and fewer parts had been wild and untouched. On earth man spread first (to all continents), then civilizations came and often fell.

Questions about a D&D World

Why, in a D&D world, where people have magic and supportive deities, and the history of advanced civilizations is longer (that is how I interpret ancient) than on earth, are large parts of the world untamed? What makes

  • civilizations less likely to grow large
  • wilderness resist being inhabited and controlled
  • civilizations remain small (city-state-like), old, and yet advanced
  • technology not advance beyond medieval level (not my focus, but it is obviously a bonus to answer this one too)

Answers about the D&D world

I can come up with some possible answers

1. The gods want it this way: a deity spawned a culture somewhere, and in that place that people will prevail, but the further away they go the weaker they become, and as they reach the territories of other deities their expansion will eventually halt. But this leaves us with the usual god-problems:

  • why do the gods want it this way?
  • if the gods peacefully agree, how comes their followers dont?

2. Evil and Chaos: earth has no orcs or dragons to hold human civilization back. D&D has. But this leaves us with more questions:

  • why do not lawful civilizations eventually eliminate chaotic tribes or races (who clearly have less capability to organized defense), as arguably happened on earth?
  • why does not good defeat evil , or the other way around, after millennias of conflicts?

3. The world is too hostile: mountains, deserts, forests, seas are simply too hard to conquer, and it can defend itself from the wheel of civilization. Further questions are:

  • can powerful neutral creatures can be part of this?
  • can chaotic evil creatures can be part of this?
  • can good, mostly chaotic, creatures be part of this too?
    (elves defending the forests voilently against lawful good people)

4. Nature is barren and scarce of resources, simply not worth conquering. This seems quite plausible, but then my D&D world should be barren, with occational oases suitable for civilizations.

5. Abundance locally, people contempt: no need to spread. This makes little sense with humans but for elves and halflings it is quite natural.

How can it prevail?

So why is a country, some monsters or a people not destroyed by its neighbours, or the good or evil that oppose it? Lets make some thought experiments.

I huge forest is not being chopped down by the country of men, because it is guarded by elves and other ancient creatures who are truly contempt there.

Red dragons in a mountain range are not hunted down by the peoples of the lands around them, because the mountains are too unaccessible, and the dragons are careful not to hunt too voilently among men.

Dwarves live in a habitate of their own that only creatures of the underworld compete with, so Dwarves and Men (or elves) pose limited threat to each other, although they benefit from trade.

Halflings can have a little nation perhaps in a corner of a reasonably friendly civilization. Trade benefits everyone, the halflings are not a threat, and their country is not on a strategic crossroads or resource.

Some militaristic nations can coexist if natural borders are making invasion hard.

Some people can live in secluded barren places where it makes little sense for larger civilizations or evil forces to invade and destroy them.

Some people can be protected by their deity in their home territory.

Orcs (or similar evil creatures) can populate large areas of quite barren land. They are not quite organised enough to defeat civilizations in richer lands, but raising an army to destroy them is simply not worth it or possible.

Mountains, deserts, treacherous sea waters and swamps can hide ruins of old civilizations or very odd civilizations, if they are far from tracks and trade routes.

A type of landscape (mountains, islands, steppes) may be suitable to a particular nation or civilization, that is not very interested or capable of expanding into other regions.

A huge barren wilderness can simply not sustain a dense high civilization. So it can be populated by wild animals, outlaws, smaller tribes (perhaps in an oasis) and chaotic creatures that don’t tend to organize themselves in larger societies anyway.

A civilization may have consumed or destroyed a naturally rich environment, leaving itself in a harscher but balanced state.

Drawing a different map

Most D&D maps show land and sea, mountains, hills, forests, sometimes deserts, major rivers, names of nations and towns/cities. That is obviously not everything. I used to play a collectible card game, METW, where regions (in Middle Earth) were classified as

  • Freedomains
  • Borderlands
  • Wilderness
  • Shadowlands
  • Darkdomains

This makes sense also in D&D. Who rules the country and what can be expected there?

Freedomains would be lands probably controlled by the playable races (or other good creatures). Crimes are not left unpunished and justice is not arbitrary. Evil creatures take a huge risk entering into freedomains the borders are probably patrolled. Obviously covert evil can lurk in freedomains. Also, everyone is not free and rich. There may be limited slavery and discriminating structures. In D&D terms these lands are Lawful Good.

Borderlands are mostly inhabited by the same people as a freedomain, but things are rougher. There may be raids or conflicts with people och creatures of neigbouring regions. Justice may be arbitrary, up to the local chief, or mostly absent. This land would be Chaotic Good.

Wilderness is land that is mostly not inhabited, cultivated and controlled. It is probably unsuitable for larger settlements. You may find both good or evil, or nothing in Wilderness. This land would be Neutral.

Shadowlands are dangerous places dominated by evil and absence of law and order. Bands of raiders and bandits, or clans of orcs or goblins may dominate. The alignment of the land is Chaotic Evil.

Darkdomains are lands of tyranny and slavery. They are controlled by evil necromancers, vampires, orc lords, red dragons, evil clergy or other cruel dictators. There may be covert resistance and opposition, or not. This is Lawful Evil lands.

Obviously every political aspect of a country can not be described in terms of free vs dark.

In the METW game there are also holds (towns or similar) of the same types:

  • Freeholds
  • Borderholds
  • Shadowholds
  • Darkholds

All can be found in wilderness. You can expect to find Freeholds in Freedomains, and so on. But there are of course other options, for example:

A freehold can be a stronghold of good in dangerous or hostile lands.

A borderhold can be a particularly troublesome part of a freedomain nation, or simply a place close to dangerous borders. Or an unusually civilised place in shadowlands.

A shadowhold can be a nest of bandits in borderland, or in darkdomains (where it would be an unusually free and open place).

A darkhold can be found in lands where organised evil has not been defeated.


In D&D there are nine alignments and any land will be colored by the people or creatures that live there (if any). There will be conflicts between different lands, particularly of different alignments. These conflicts are also the source of adventures and intrigues.

Just as it makes sense to know where the forests and mountains are, it makes sense to have a clue about the different regions and their alignments and relationships. Ultimately it is about understanding the balances and imbalances, and being able to explain why one land or ruler does not dominate everything around it.

D&D Single Combat House Rules

This is a draft of thoughts. Everything is subject to change.

The basic assumption in D&D combat is that the fighters want to kill each other as quickly as possible. Each attack is meant to cause maximum damage and the sooner the enemy is dead the better.

There are situations when this is not quite true. I have in mind single combat governed by rules (the rules might be that the first fighter to leave the fight zone loses, that the fight ends at first blood, or similar).

Another aspect of this is that such a fight, using standard rules, would perhaps be very quick. However from a storytelling perspective it could be desirable with a long fight to allow for side events, drama, hope and despair and betting.

Also, even if two fighters want to kill each other, they may (perhaps for no other reason than tactical and self preservation) not want to rush it.

These house rules apply to situations when two champions, in single combat, want to compete in fighting or compare their fighting skills.

House rules for Combat Threat Levels

I propose house rules (for D&D 5e, but I don’t see why they could not work with other systems) with 4 different threat levels of combat:

  1. Display (trying to impress, reading your enemy)
  2. Competetive (trying to win, following set rules)
  3. Aggressive (trying to cause injury, not quite a controlled fight)
  4. Deadly (trying to cause death, the standard D&D rules)

Combat Sets

The way these rules work is that an entire single combat is divided into sets (using the tennis term for lack of a better). Each set is resolved at an agreed threat level (1-4) and is expected to take a few rounds (standard rules). Between the sets other roleplaying can take place with other characters. There may or may not be breaks of no fighting between the sets in the fight.

Typically the threat level is raised as the single combat goes on. However, just as nobody can be forced to fight at all, nobody can be forced to fight at a particular threat level. If one champion goes for Deadly, then Deadly it is.

A common criteria for ending such single combat could be first blood (an outcome at Competitive level). The DM could decide that such single combat will start with a set at Display level. Then things get serious with a set at Competetive level. If the loser does not accept to lose he may raise the stakes to Aggressive level (if context allows).

Anyway, a single combat could go on for any number of sets, at any set level (less than 4), that makes sense given the story and the context. Five rounds of display combat and a jury deciding winner is possible. Two gladiators fighting set after set at aggressive is also possible.

Rules for one Set

These rules obviously do not apply to Deadly combat.

Set Points: Each champion starts every set with Set Points equal to his current Hit Points. For hi-level champions, the DM may decided that 1/2 or 1/4 Set Points are used (to make the set shorter). During the set, damage is dealt in set points instead of hit points.

Initiative: Each set starts with a new initiative roll. The loser of the last set has disadvantage. The champion with initiative in the last set has advantage. A champion surrendering a set automatically loses initiative for the next set.

A combat set: Fighting follows the normal rules, except all damage is dealt as set points, not hit points. A set is lost when a champion reaches 0 set points. I champion can also choose to surrender a set, in his turn as his only action, after he just lost set points.

Domination points for winning a set

The winner of a set receives domination points equal to the threat level (1-3). If an impartial jury or spectator would decide the winner, the champion who has won the most domination points (regardless if they are spent) wins the fight.

A domination point can be spent later in the single combat, giving advantage to one of your own rolls, or disadvantage to one roll of your enemy.

Surrendering a set

Surrendering a set is about getting out before you openly lose a set (which has more severe consequences). The penalties follow per threat level:

  1. Lose 1d4-3 HP
  2. Lose 1d4-2 HP
  3. Lose 1d4 HP

Losing a set

The loser of a set rolls below based on threat level (reroll if not applicable):

  1. Lose 1 HP and roll 1d8
    1. Reroll for Threat Level 2 (lose no more HP)
    2. Almost fell, knee in ground
    3. Lost position, almost stepped out of fight zone
    4. Weapon mishandling (hit ground or similar)
    5. Clearly hit by attack
    6. Cought off guard
    7. Damage to clothes or similar
    8. Inbalanced after being attacked
  2. Lose 1d4 HP and roll 1d12
    1. Reroll for Threat Level 3 (lose no more HP)
    2. Laying on the ground, pruned
    3. Partly/shortly broke the boundaries of the fight zone
    4. Disarmed
    5. Piece of armor removed (-1d2 AC until refitted)
    6. Grappled, possibly on knees
    7. Outmaneuvered in humiliating way (+1 domination to opponent)
    8. and over: Hit and bleeding (Lose 1d4 HP if already Hit and bleeding)
  3. Lose 1d8 HP and roll 1d12
    1. Roll once for Lingering Injury
    2. Unconcious for 1d6 rounds, disadvantage for entire next set
    3. Weapon broken (if magical or superior just badly disarmed)
    4. Armor broken (-1d4 AC until repaired)
    5. Grappled and disarmed on the ground
    6. Blade to neck, or similar
    7. Far out of fight zone
    8. and over: Massively bleeding, gory (Lose 1d8 HP if already Massively bleeding)

The circumstances surrounding the single combat decide if the fight is over or not. The intention of these rules is that the loser of one set should be allowed to compose himself shortly before the fight goes on.


Obviously a PC or NPC may decide in the middle of such a single combat fight set to attempt to harm or kill the enemy. D&D is after all a RPG so it cant just be against the rules. Such PC or NPC can take one single Escallation action in his turn, which starts a new set at the new desired level. The opponent wins initiative automatically and gets 1 domination point.

Magic, poison and other effects

These rules are intended for normal fights. A sword +1 or an armor +1 can work just normally. But something like a flaming sword that cause extra fire damage may not be allowed. And these rules are clearly not written with magic missile in mind. If in doubt, don’t use these rules.

D&D House rules for 0HP, injury and death

Draft: consider the below a draft, I may make changes after more game testing or feedback.

In Dungeons & Dragons (5e) the sensible way to understand HP damage is as scratches, concussion and exhaustion. It is all healed after a long rest. However if you reach 0HP you fall unconsious, and then you will live or die within 3-5 turns (30 seconds).

First I want to say that I appreciate D&D and its simple and forgiving approach to damage. I also appreciate that 0HP does not mean immediate death. That said, I think there could be a little more going on between 1HP (fully fighting) and 0HP (high risk to die in 3-5 rounds).

These house rules make use of

  • Hit Dice (PHB p186)
  • Death Saving Throws (PHB p197)
    (but modify roll with CON, and other effects than 3+3 check boxes)
  • Lingering Injuries (DMG p272)
  • Exhaustion (PHB p291)
  • Negative Hit Points (not in the standard rules) means character is unconscious.

When a character reaches 0 HP she becomes unconscious and unstable. That activates the house rules.

Death Saving Throws

Death Saving Throws are made until the character is conscious (although they just decide recovery rate for a stable character). Roll d20+CON. Success is 10 or higher.

While the character has Hit Dice available, spend one Hit Dice and roll a Death Saving Throw every round. On success, recover HP for the Hit Dice as if spent during a short rest.

While the character has no Hit Dice, roll a Death Saving Throw after every minute (or 1d12+5 rounds). On failure, get one Exhaustion. On success recover one HP. If the modified result was at least 20, recover one more HP. A natural 1 gives two Exhaustion and a natural 20 gives one more HP (a total 3 HP is possible on a natural 20).


A character is stabilized:

  • When standing at at least 1HP
  • When treated with Wisdom (Medicine) DC 10 for a minute
  • By any magic healing effect

Recovering Consciousness

A stable Character recovers consciousness when she reaches 1HP. While unconscious, roll Death Saving Throws every round/minute as above, but receive no Exhaustion on failure.

A character that recovers from such unconsciousness is incapacitated for the next round and has disadvantage on everything until after a short rest.

For practical purposes, a stable unconscious character with zero Hit Dice can after the equivalent of a short rest have 1d4 HP and no disadvantage.

If taking further damage while unconscious and stable character is again unstable.

Risking Lingering Injury

When a character is reduced to 0 or less HP, she has the option to immediately

  • spend one Hit Dice, and
  • remaining conscious (not incapacitated and no disadvantage) if at least 1 HP, and
  • roll once on the Lingering Injury table.

This can be seen as a bold final move that the fighting character makes to stay in battle even if it means injury.

Harsch conditions

Falling unconscious, being abandoned in bad conditions (a desert or the winter), perhaps lacking food, water and opportunity to rest and care for the wounds can obviously jeoperdize survival and recovery, at DMs discretion.


The reason and logic behind these D&D house rules is that in reality, creatures who suffer trauma and become unconsious rarely die within 30 seconds (5 rounds). It is also hard to imagine an ally doing first aid within 30 seconds. The original rules of D&D 5e are very beneficial to large groups of characters with magical healers among them (esp Healing Word, which immediately heals at a distance). However, they make it very dangerous for a member of a smaller group without healers to become unconcious.

So, these rules make it less deadly to reach 0HP. But it also hurts more to become unconsious and you are not back on your feet fighting in a few rounds.

Ultimately D&D is not about killing the player characters, but about story telling and adventures. These rules are there to replace death with something more interesting, without making damage, injury or death much less scary.


As is mentioned in the core rules, most enemies simply die at 0HP. These rules can be used for important NPCs and player characters.

On D&D

D&D is a simple and fast game. I don’t want to intruduce rules that feel like they rather belong in another game. Everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler. I have tried to make it simple but perhaps I can do better.

These rules are not to be used very often. But when the characters of my players are a little spread out, and one of them reaches -1 HP, I just don’t want her to die.

Dungeon Builder Review

I used to be a Dungeon Master back in the 20th century. Now I picked it up again and the Internet gives so many new opportunities. I found a program called Dungeon Builder that is used to draw isomorphic dungeon maps. I gave it a try and I created the below dungeon in a few hours. It takes some effort and some practice.

I have not got the paid version yet. The free version allows you to make small maps. You can’t load them (but you can save), and you cant export (to image formats), but you can make screenshots (obviously) so that is what I have done.

As you can see I made several smaller maps that can be visited sequentially, which was actually quite practical. I printed them all and handed them out to the players as the adventure progressed.

The story behind my map is that there is a prisoner to resque in the dungeons below a town and castle, and the way to get to the dungeons is via the sewers and an old abandoned mine. Luckily for me, I could even include a rust monster that hade feasted of the old rail tracks.

Sewer Entrance
Deep Mine
End of Mine Line
Under Castle Well
Castle Crypt

My conclusion is that Dungeon Builder is a tool that any Dungeon Master should have. And quite surely I will get the paid full version as soon as I have a more advanced need.

Cultures in D&D

Imagine an ancient magic wild sparsely populated D&D world with no civilizations. Plant some seeds of familiar cultures like egyptians, vikings, saxons, babylonians as well as elvish, dwarvish. Imagine these cultures grow in your D&D soil, easily bringing rich and familiar civilizations to your D&D world.


When playing D&D you need some kind of world. If you purchase adventures that already take place in a published world then so is it.

But if you craft your own campaign you also need to pick or craft a world. I see three obvious options:

  1. You pick an existing world (like Forgotten Realms or Dark Sun)
  2. You create your own world (top down)
  3. You start very small, a town and a dungeon, and build from there

I think, as DM I like to have things connected and on a foundation, but the players dont care about that. However, the players have expectations, and as a DM I it is my challange to surprise them without disappointing or confusing them (to meet and exceed their expectations).

I think DM and players can agree that there should be a simple description of the world that everyone can understand and agree on.

What comes with D&D

D&D actually comes with a world. It has no name or map, but it is an untamed ancient magical world, overseen by gods, of good vs evil, with monsters and medieval technology (DMG 5e, page 9). It does not have to be, but if your world is different you should probably tell your players first (or find another rules system).

It is not the Earth, it is not the Earth plus mythology, it is not Hyboria (the world of Conan, on Earth), and it is not Middle Earth (of Tolkien), or any other world. But it borrows from all these, and other worlds. I love this world!

There are references to Druids, The Great Old One, Samurais (in Xanathars Guide to Everything), Hell (nine of them), Mithral (why not Mithril?) and so on.

When it comes to monsters there are those with very specific origin like Kraken, Minataurs, Mumies, Unicorns and Yeti, but also original D&D creations like Beholders and Rust Monsters (I am not an expert).

Xanathars guide to Everything contains almost 20 pages just listing names from different cultures, mostly from Earth. PHB contains listings of Gods of several pantheons from Earth.

So from the beginning, D&D comes with hooks to many different earth cultures and fictional worlds. Just as every fictional world, every fantasy novel or movie, and any board game or computer game.

The name of an NPC matters: Okkuch, Sintraniel or Grolf makes a difference. What if I give them family names like MacWaldin, von Snorrhauff or Angurelius? It matters, for many different obvious reasons. And NPC#32 does not work.

What I ask myself as a DM all the time is: what can I pull into my campaign from things I and my players know to make it more colorful and easy to understand to my players, and not confuse or disappoint them?

Actually, what can I pull from the core rules, and my players accept it? The local criminals are lead by a Beholder? A Flumph anywhere? Truly good dragons? The kings men are all Eldritch knights? A Portal to Hell? Feywild and Shadowfell? Half-orcs being citizens? Dragonborns and Tieflings?

Everyone has an image of the D&D world they play in in their head. It is not a clean slate. It is a mess. And it is personal.

And then I started thinking about culture…

Using existing cultures

I am not talking about a real historical setting, not about a magical variant (like Ars Magica), not about a commonly known fictional world (like Hyboria, Middle earth, or the world of Game of Thrones): I am just talking about cultures that I and my players know something about.

The Ancient Greek culture. The idea of it immediately gives estetics, architecture, weapons, clothes, traditions, values and ideas, politics, government, a pantheon (already in PHB), monsters (already in Monsters Manual) and how things are named. The same is true for many more cultures (on earth, or fictional if you want, although ancient Greece may be particularly influential and well known).

It is common in movies, litterature and computer games to use existing cultures quite liberally. It is not that common to invent a new world (and when done, it is usually very inspired by earth).

I can kind of understand that huge ambitious projects like the commercially available D&D worlds name their own cultures. But it makes Forgotten Realms very confusing – hard to learn and use – to me.

Planting culture seeds in D&D soil

Imagine a D&D world; ancient, magical, untamed, wild, sparsely populated and brutal. Place a seed of a known civilization there, like ancient Greece (in this particular case it is quite plausible, because there are known gods that may have guided people). Let some time pass. Imagine the result.

Think “the computer game Civilization, on a D&D planet”. Multiple civilizations, as well as fantasy cultures of elves, gnomes, dwarves and others. You can of course add your own cultures.

I don’t see any need to detail a big world, describe its history, all the cultures/civilizations and their relationships. I just feel that this is a very simple story that anyone can understand. And it works for quite colorful storytelling. You can at any moment introduce a samurai, a crusader, raiding vikings, or spartan warriors just like that. This works for movies and computer games, it should work for D&D too.

The god is Zeus, the monster is a Minataur, the capital is Athens, the temples are of marble and they like debate and wine. Zeus and the Minataur are already in the core rule books. Zeus is a god, who can look after your world too, and to the people worshipping Zeus it is natural to call their capital Athens. Their lore is superior to anything in Forgotten Realm: rich, colorful, original, consistent, accessible, well known.

Would your players accept it? Why not?

A Map

I don’t see any point in mapping the entire world or picking all civilistions. Just keep track of what you have introduced (as in a game of Civilization). Beyond the war of fog can be anything.

I imagine you can use the map of the earth if you like, or not.

Duck Test Argument

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck. Nobody would believe that the Common language in D&D is the same as English (or any other language on Earth). Isay: if it looks like a viking, it fights like a viking, and it smells like a viking, it is probably a viking.

Simplicity Argument

Einstein said Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler. My point is that you as a DM and your players have limited time and resources to put into your D&D game. It is probably a waste of time to put effort into making up cultures that nobody easily can relate to, when in fact you are anyway mostly making poor confusing inconsistent shadow copies of amazing original cultures.

Original Lore

It really makes more sense to me to read about ancient Greece, Babylon, the Vikings or ancient Egypt – gaining real knowledge useful outside D&D – rather than trying to make sense of the mess of Forgotten Realms (and someone just telling me that Icewind Dale is “like the vikings of Forgotten Realms”).

Draw the Line

Obviously every fantasy culture is more (often) or less (rarely) inspired by cultures on earth. This is one of my points: if we want a viking culture why not just call it viking (we are anyway borrowing weapons, naming people and places, using estetics, architecture, customs and so on.

My idea is that what should be left on earth is

  • Historical people
  • Historical events, especially between cultures

What you need to adapt or think about is

  • Relationships to other cultures, conflicts
  • Technology (since it is a D&D world and this culture exists side by side with other earlier or later cultures)
  • Magic

What you can use, right away, to avoid confusion and make everthing clear

  • Names of places
  • Hope people are named
  • Architecture
  • Weapons
  • Clothing
  • Art
  • Customs
  • Ethics
  • Politics
  • Values

If you want to change many of those things, maybe you should invent your own culture!

Making sense of Forgotten Realms

A little while ago I wrote DM lost in Forgotten Realms. I have been thinking a bit more, and I even talked to my players (who thankfully are not into Forgotten Realms lore).

There are some problems with Forgotten Realms (or Faerûn, the continent where most things happen):

  1. It is very much a mix of everything (Kitchen Sink Setting), which makes it a place of little character (although, there are nice spots in Faerûn the big picture is confusing and/or makes little sense).
  2. There is very much magic, and many magic-users.
  3. There are very many deities, and they are rather active.
  4. Faerûn feels overloaded.
  5. The extreme events of Time of Troubles, Spellplague and Second Sundering are all very recent.
  6. Some people complain there are too many high-level NPCs.
  7. It is confusing with different source material for 2e/3e, 4e, 5e when things dramatically change.
  8. Do I want half-orcs to be common, and dragonborns and tieflings?

The good thing is that if you want some type of place to run your campaign, it is very likely that such a place exists in Faerûn. The bad thing is that when you start looking around (or just back a little in time) it probably gets very twisted compared to your expectations, like:

  • city of undead run by 60 liches
  • island is run by a vampire
  • another island is populated by lycantropes

This is not far away in Mordor. You find it most everywhere. You may argue that Forgotten Realms is big, and I can change what I don’t like… and that is what I intend to do.

The Dark Ages

This is just my idea of turning Forgotten Realms into something we like better in my group. I am just drawing out the primary ideas.

After Time of Troubles, Spellplague and Second Sundering things did not calm down. Instead both Good and Evil tried to dominate and the deities kept being active.

16th century was a century of war, death, fire and destruction throughout Faerûn, and in the end of it some major players were beginning to get enough of it, among them Lord Ao (the overgod). Lord Ao established some new principles and managed to have them enforced.

  1. The people(s) and beast(s) of Faerûn shall have Faerûn as their world, just as the deities have their worlds (planes).
  2. Silvanus (Oak Father – neutral god of nature), who did not participate in the century of war while much of Faerûn was burnt, is alone set to guard Faerûn, being neutral.
  3. Faerûn shall be dominated by wilderness.

The other deities mostly accepted. They were wounded, tired of war, imprisoned or not achieving their goals on Faerûn or elsewhere.

17th century, was a century of unusually little magic in Faerûn as many spellcasters were dead after the wars and the deites (including Mystra, deity of magic) were quite absent. Instead hard working mortals formed city states or smaller countries than had been seen before. Rangers started roaming the growing wilderness in the name of Silvanus, and druids settled around the lands.

18th century was the end of the Dark Ages of Faerûn. The newly born Faerûn is a beautiful wild mysterious place with scattered villages and towns inhabited by hardy, brave people.


Spellcasters are found across the lands. The old deities are rediscovered, as is arcane magic. Attitudes to magic vary, from hostile to friendly, and often curious.

Good and Evil

Lawful ambitious mortals are aspiring to form new empires in the present power vacuum, both good and evil, but the lands remain mostly wild and chaotic. Among the good there is some appreciation for the beauty, the wilderness and the relative peace under neutral Silvanus. The evil on the other hand see much potential and quite little resistance.

Recovery of civilization

The (low magic, nature oriented, somewhat) Moonshae Isles fell less into chaos than other lands. You find the isles not too different from what they were bofore Time of Troubles. Lycantropes, vampires have faded and Kazgoroth has not been seen in long, remaining the symbol of evil on the isles.

The heartlands (the Sword Coast to Cormanthor) saw great destruction and devastating wars during 16th century. However the cities of the heartlands were not all completely destroyed, some remained and some has been rebuilt. The heartlands is where hard working mortals have gathered to build new nations.

In the northwest, the coastal areas were not so damaged by the wars, and some settlements of good people remain.

The rest of Faerûn, the north, the east and the south, are very wild lands. There are of course settlements of good people, but nature dominates and evil is more common.

The truly far away lands (east of the deserts, south of Shaar) can be an enirely different story.

Using Resources

I shall be able to use most maps, and all lore is valid, just history. I shall also be able to cherry pick stuff (places, NPCs, adventures) from 2e-5e and just import it into my setting (without my group of players having any reason to complain).

The year is 1772 DR, and I think it will be great fun!

Everything should be simple…

Einstein said: “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”. I guess that could apply to my campaign world as well. Why would I not want a simple story and feeling that captures my campaign?

On the other hand I understand that for WotC, Forgotten Realms is complicated because they have very many different requirements on it (not the least to fit all current and past adventures and novels).

So maybe Forgotten Realms is good for WotC, but I can actually do better for myself.

Much ado about Nothing?

You may be well read about Forgotten Realms and think: “But that is how forgotten realms already is: mostly wilderness, mostly citystates, no dominant nations. You just got rid of interesting places and lore because you didn’t understand it, and you may regret that down the road when Tethyr och Calimshan would have been ideal for your ideas.”

And you may actually be right about that!

Dungeon Master lost in Forgotten Realms

This post could also have been called:

  • Forgotten Realms suck!
  • I hate Forgotten Realms
  • When and where should i set my Forgotten Realms campaign?

First, if you are new to D&D, starting with 5e, buying adventures, you will be alright! Everything is taken care of for you, just go with the flow.


I played D&D 30 years ago. About 25 years ago I played AD&D 2e in Forgotten Realms. Now I am picking up D&D again, this time 5e, and I still have my Forgotten Realms 2e stuff. I create my own campaign and my own adventures so I just thought I needed to pick a date (year) and a place in Forgotten Realms and get started. Well, the internet is an amazing resource for a Dungeon Master, but the confusion is also so much bigger!

Why use Forgotten Realms at all?

I own some content for Forgotten Realms, maps and books. That is better than nothing (at least I want to think so). Drawing maps take time. And inventing deities is not my piece of cake. However, I realised that not even maps or deities are constant in Forgotten Realms, and I was confused.

The Short Version

Wizards of the Coast (who makes D&D), want the world (Forgotten Realms) to match the rules of their game. Fair enough! So when the rules change, the world changes, quite dramatically (!).

Dates of the Campaing Books/Sets for each [A]D&D version (I just copied this from somewhere, the important thing right now is not the details):

  • AD&D 1e: 1358.
  • AD&D 2e: 1368 (after Time of Troubles 1358)
  • D&D 3e: 1372
  • D&D 4e: 1479 (after Spellplague 1385)
  • D&D 5e: 1491 (after Second Sundering 1480)

These events (Time of Troubles, Spellplague, Second Sundering) are not minor or ordinary events. Thy are the kind of earth-shattering events that I’d prefer to have 2000-3000 years back (like the First Sundering).

I am not an expert (not even a novice) on Forgotten Realms Lore, but the idea here is that major changes and events happened in Forgotten Realms to match the rules of 2e, 4e and 5e. And, to simplify things a little, 5e mostly reset things to 2e (and the Spellplague was a mistake).

An example of a rules-change is the race Dragonborn, introduced in 4e and “justified” via the events of Spellplague. WotC could have pretended Dragonsborns always existed and that they were just never mentioned and there were never any rules for them. But WotC choose to create an event that explained why there were Dragonborns in 4e, but not before (and many other things).

How to get a grasp of the Lore?

I recommend the youtube series Forgotten Realms Lore by Jorphdan. Watch the first 20 episodes (!) and you will feel a lot more comfortable about a lot of things!

When to set a 5e campaign

Here are some options I came up with for when to set a 5e campaign in Forgotten Realms

  1. In the 2e-3e-era, like 1368-1375. If you dont have 2e-3e resources this probably makes little sense. And you will need to deal with cases where the rules don’t match the Lore (are there Dragonborns, and where do they come from)?
  2. In 1491 as is intended. The possible problem is that you have 100+ years of history that is very confusing and complex. Your PCs and NPCSs will have so many weird (recent) memories. This is not optimal with 2e Forgotten Realms resources.
  3. In 1491 as intended, pretending the Spellplague and the Sundering never happened. Both 2e,3e and 5e resources should be quite useful, as long as you have a basic understanding of what you are leaving out.
  4. Later, like 1550-1600, when the Second Sundering has faded from recent memory and things have stabilized (if you like that, as a DM). This is not optimal with any official Forgotten Realms resources.
  5. Any other time that you find particularly interesting!
  6. Use Alternative Forgotten Realms, for a more low level setting.
  7. Just use the maps, and cherry-pick only things that you specifically need.
  8. I am choosing to make a few hundred years of Dark Age first.

I was thinking to choose (1), since I have 2e resources. But it is not very easy either, becuase for example the article on Moonshae in the Wiki says: “This article is incomplete.It is missing 1e and 2e information, including a whole sourcebook worth of pre-Spellplague lore.


Forgotten Realms is a double edged resource. And the events from 1350 to 1480 (just before 5e takes place) are extreme enough that it would be better if they were serveral thousand years apart, and several thousand years ago.

Still, I think the Youtube videos I linked to help to get you onboard, and if you make a few decisions that work for your campaing, you should be quite fine. Remember that there is nothing wrong in changing whatever you want!

Buying Dungeons & Dragons?

I used to play a lot of roleplaying games, that was 20 years ago. I just decided to start it again, and I realised there are so many options of Dungeons and Dragons that I was not aware of.

I will sammarize what I would have wanted to know when I decided to start over.

These are different versions of Dungeons & Dragons that you may have, find used or consider buying:

  • D&D 5e (5th edition)
    • Starter Set
    • Good old books (Core Rulebook Gift Set)
    • Digital edition
  • D&D 4e
  • D&D 3e => D&D 3.5 => Pathfinder (D&D 3.75)
  • Advanced D&D 2e
  • Advanced D&D
  • D&D

To be clear, to play casually, occationally, with a few friends or your children, any version will work! If you have what is needed to play (usually Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manual, or a starter set) you can have great fun for many hours!

If you and your friends/family are new to roleplaying and D&D, I guess getting the Starter Set is excellent!

However, it may be more complicated. I have the original D&D, and AD&D 2e that we played very much. And then I bought 3.0, which I never played. To play casually with a small group of friends, I ended up buying the 5e Core Rulebook Gift Set. So there are two questions to ask

  1. Why did I not get a digital verson?
  2. Why, if all versions are fine for casual play, did I not use one of the three versions I already owned?

D&D 5e Digital Version

The answer to the first question is that I was not aware of it (the digital version on dndbeyond.com, and perhaps other sites/services), I am old and stupid enough to make the mistake of not even considering that a digital option was available. I don’t regret getting the physical Gift Box. But I think it is good to be aware of the digital option.

DNDBeyond offers the core books for about USD 30 each in a digital version (marginally cheaper than a print). You can then add a Master subscription for USD 6/month. As DM, create a Campaign: Your players can now sign up for free, join your campaign and they can create their Characters online. You can print, share, level up and the entire thing is very nice. DNDBeyond is available for free, but if you dont pay

  • USD 30 for Players Handbook, you cant use many Feats, Backgrounds (and possibly other things) from Players Handbook. And its not like you can just easily type it in yourself, it is really missing in dropdowns.
  • USD 6/month, your players will need their own DNDBeyond digital edition of Players Handook.

It is fine not to use DNDBeyond! But it is not quite fine that your players start using it, and they like it (first), but then there is major confusion. It is not quite fine to pay for the game twice, if that was not what you wanted to do in the first place.

The background is that DNDBeyond is not Wizards of the Coast (who makes D&D), it is another company, who licenses stuff from WotC. So you don’t get a voucher or a code or anthing with your books. I wish I knew this before I got the books!

Good Old Versions

I realised that as a DM I will spend many hours preparing sessions with my players. And playing together is quality time with friends and it should be good. I simply decided that 5e was the best version of D&D, and that I can afford it.

When it comes to the old rejected versions, I found that:

D&D (first edition, red/blue boxes) is a very old game with some aspects I really did not like when giving it a second thought. Halflings can only progress to level 8, end of it. And the basic (1-3) and expert (4-14) was not particularly practical when starting over. My stuff was in bad shape too. And the books where not beautifully illustrated as later editions.

AD&D 2nd edition is an excellent game, but for some reason, after many years, I bought third edition. One thing that is not good with 2nd edition (and older) is that spellcasters are very weak in the beginning (like 1 spell per day). See my list below of things I like with 5e. It is arguably a more refined and well-designed game than 2e.

D&D 3rd edition received bad feedback and was quite soon updated to 3.5, which was a bugfix. I own no Dungeon Master Screen and when I looked for one online it was (almost) half the price of the entire 5.0 giftbox. It really fealt a bit awkward to start buying stuff for (the hated) 3.0. The good thing with 3.0/3.5 was that it was quite complex, detailed and allowed for customization. This was also its downfall: too much customization lead to too much imbalance (I have read). If I owned the Dungeon Masters Screen of 3.0, I might actually just have sticked with it, and never learnt or bothered about why it sucked. I think if you want a very epic campaign (much magic, powerful Characters) and you like complexity (a step towards Rolemaster), 3e (or 4e/Pathfinder) is perhaps the best for you.

A&D 4e and Pathfinder are games I did not own, so it made no sense to buy them instead of 5e.

D&D 5e

To me it seems D&D 5e is a good balance between AD&D 2e and D&D 3/3.5.

  • I like that spellcasters have Cantrips and more spells from the beginning (compared to 2e)
  • I like the idea of simple/martial weapons, and small, medium, light, versatile, finesse weapons, and I understand why this was made less complex than in 3.5
  • I like the advantage/disadvantage concept
  • I like that all spells are written for “any class”, and that just the spell lists are different (so the spells are effecively reused)
  • I like the way sorcerors, wizards and warlocks adminstrate their spells differently, and that players can choose “their style”
  • I like that armors and weapons are not so “forbidden” for the wrong class (proficiency is smart)
  • I like that saving throws are simplified to be based on ability (not the arbitrary poison, petrification and so on in older versions)
  • I like that all classes level equally fast (at the same XP levels)
  • I like backgrounds and feats (missing in 2e, and too much in 3e)
  • I like that skills are simpified – and made more relevant – compared to 2e (and that the list is short)
  • The concept with Short and Long rests, and that many things depend on it, is very smart (although, you can argue whether they should be longer, but that is easily up to you as DM)

My players like 5e too! And they like DNDBeyond. Perhaps we will pay to use it one day. But I guess… as DM I have unlimited power when it comes to the world, monsters, NPCs and even the rules. But when it comes to DNDBeyond – I have no power there.

Method to assign abilities in D&D

A key part or creating a character in any roleplaying game is to roll (buy or assign) abilities (or stats, or whatever they are called). In D&D there are 6 of them, and the basic idea is that you roll 3d6 for each and get 6 values in the range [3,18].

Abilities follow the Character forever so they do matter. Even if you are not into Character optimization, it is often more fun if your Character does not suck and if there is a level field.


There are different ways to roll 3d6 in a way that it gives decent results. D&D 5e suggests rolling 4 dice ignoring the worst (and it is a good method). The problem with rolling is that given any method there are better and worse outcomes. And there are outcomes that are more or less suitable for a given class (or type of Character). In the end, if the player is not happy he may just decide to start over, and nobody wants unhappy players before the game even starts.

Buying / assigning

In order to avoid endless rerolls, and that some Characters genuinely and forever are better or worse from day 1, there are many ways to buy/assign stats. D&D 5e suggests two methods, both allowing abilities in the range [8,15]. To me, that is a bit dull.

I have seen other games or methods where characters end up with 18,18,18,5,3,3 and such stats. That is quite ridiculous.

Proposed Method

I suggest you assign values from a given standard range, and then apply “buffs” to them (5, or at your DMs choice).

Standard value   7    9   11   12   14   16
Modifier        -2   -1    0   +1   +2   +3
Buff            ---- +2 ----   ----- +1 ------

What this means is that 1 buff (of 5) can raise the one of the low values (7,9,11) two steps, which gives it a better modifier. However, to get a better modifier with one of the higher values you need two buffs. Also, getting 18 is possible, but only for one single ability.

I think it is reasonable that Characters can have som bad abilities and some strong abilities, and this enables modifiers from -2 to +4.

Compared averages

Different methods have different averages.

   3d6                     10.5
   4d6 (ignore worst)      12.2
   2d6+6                   13.0
   D&D 5e standard range   12.0
   Proposed Method        ~12.7  (12.5 with 4 buffs)