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The Zen of Awarding Experience for Roleplaying

It’s a weakness of experience based advancement in 5e D&D that it directly addresses only one of the three pillars of play, combat. This forces DMs to either ignore advancement through social interaction and exploration, or create some way to include it. Ignoring it seems a bad option for a ‘pillar’ of play and creates a sense of wasted time. Likewise, a poorly crafted experience system for these pillars messes with pacing and play balance. Therefore, a simple, clear, and consistent method for including all pillars helps diversify play without sacrificing progress. In this post, I’m going to talk about how I do that with the social interaction pillar. So this is how I award experience for roleplaying in my campaigns.
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Engaging Players with Magic Item Creation

Creating your own potions and magic items can be a satisfying element of gameplay in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. General guidelines for crafting different rarity items are provided in the core books, but many gaps exist. Specifically, the details of how to learn to craft items, and how to collect ingredients is left vague. While I don’t think crafting needs to have a fully gamified system, having some central methodologies can keep things consistent. Notably, a set of rules that create proactive options for players can enhance their engagement with the setting. While, an understandable set of guidelines for item crafting can develop character goals and drive roleplay. Taken together, players who want to craft items can use gathering rules as a fun gameplay hook.
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My Current 5e House Rules

I get questions frequently about what house rules I’m using in my own 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons game so I wanted to post them for everyone. I hope you’ll find something useful here and tag me on twitter if you have a question or want to share a rule of your own. By and large, I stay fairly houserule light. This is because I don’t think most house rules add anything to a game. More often than not, people are compensating for some cognitive disconnect but it doesn’t bring much to a group at play. So more or less, I use rules as is with the exception of the one’s I’ve listed below.
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Skill Challenges in 5e

There’s been a lot of contentious talk in my feed about building skills challenges in 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. Firstly, we need to develop a common understanding of what a skill challenge is in 5e. Secondly, we must get past the issues people have with 4th edition that make them so polarized. Thirdly, we need to focus on how different ways of resolving skills affect pace and tension. Moreover, we need to define some meaningful circumstances that let players drive the use of skills in creative ways. In these ways, we provide creative opportunities to do more than fight, and develop richer games in the process.

Cavern Elevator Trap

Captivating Traps in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons are more than just damage delivery gimmicks. A great trap communicates something about who created it, the danger you face, and engages the environment in exciting ways. This is an example of trap design that creates an environmental challenge with Progressive Failures and Rising Tension that engages character skills. I used this trap in my campaign last night to great effect and wanted to share it with the community if it’s useful for you as well.
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Safety & Consent RPG Checklist

The development of safety tools has been one of the more useful advancements in Tabletop Roleplaying Games in the modern era. At their heart, these tools help groups normalize expectations, level set, and understand the range of issues a particular gaming group might experience. Firstly, these tools help people understand if a game is the right one for them. Secondly, it helps shape the conversation and understanding of how to deal with different topics in a way that honors the experiences and context of everyone at the table.

Managing DM Anxiety

How to manage anxiety as a Dungeon Master (DM) in Dungeons and Dragons has got to be the most common question I see right after, “first time DM, any advice”. Naturally this makes sense, as being a DM sits at an intersection of a number of high anxiety pursuits. That is, it combines the difficulties of managing social groups, event planning, writing, as well as improvisation and performance. Additionally, you represent every enemy, obstacle, and challenge to a group of people who themselves may be feeling similar anxiety. Given this, it’s no wonder DMs ask for advice and find anxiety to be one of the major roadblocks to running a game.

Candlekeep Mysteries DnDBeyond Giveaway

If the OptionalRule Twitter account reaches eight hundred (800) followers by Noon EST March 15th 2021, I will give away a gift code for an electronic copy of D&D Candlekeep Mysteries on DnDBeyond! See details below for how to enter.
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Summary of 5e Alchemy Rules

These rules are a summary of the 5e Dungeons and Dragons Alchemy and potion creation rules. These revised rules for Crafting Magic Items are presented in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, modified as per the creation of expendable items. Note that those rules replace the Item Creation Rules presented in the Dungeon Masters Guide. Additionally, this summary includes modifications made for the Alchemist specialty under the Artificer class.
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Create Captivating Traps

People are stuck in a lot of bad thinking when it comes to how to use traps in 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons. Traditionally, people see traps as a way to use resources by dispensing some damage along the way. Largely, this falls flat in a 5th edition game where resting lets you recover quickly. Worse, randomly placed traps can come off as spiteful or thrown in just to annoy the players. So, if you want to make traps a more exciting part of an encounter, create traps that drive things forward rather than simple binary events.