13 Tips for Running D&D For Your Parents

 I think they’re having fun?

I think they’re having fun?

Last week I ran a D&D game for my parents. They’ve heard me talk about D&D for years, but this was their first time actually playing it. We had a great time with the game, and I came away with a few thoughts.

Because this was their first time playing a tabletop RPG, most of the suggestions for running a game for first-time players still apply. However, because the hope was to play with them again, I made a few other changes to improve their experience.

I had a few hours to play with my parents, which is part of the reason I went with some of these decisions. If you have a shorter time-frame, you might want to change some of these so that you can get into the actual game faster.

Here are 13 tips for running a D&D (or any RPG) game with your parental figures! (or any first-time player really)

Side Note: D&D and tabletop RPGs were never banned in my house, and there were never any issues with them growing up. This advice is for playing D&D with parental figures who are willing and open to playing. I am not covering any suggestions for playing with parental figures that are unwilling to play or believe the game is bad or evil. That’s a whole separate topic.

1.       Don’t Explain Everything At Once

 My Strength is 10 Why don’t I add +10 to the roll instead of 0?

My Strength is 10 Why don’t I add +10 to the roll instead of 0?

D&D 5e is not the simplest RPG system to understand, and trying to explain everything can be overwhelming to a first time player.

Explain mechanics when the player does something to trigger them. If a player wants to attack a goblin, that’s a great time to explain how to handle an attack roll. If they hit, then explain how damage works.

By holding back explanations until they’re necessary, you give the player a better feeling of freedom. First time players often believe they can only do things that are on their sheet. By withholding explanations until needed, they are free to attempt things that they may not have originally tried.

This also can flow into learning about other mechanics. For example, a fighter wearing heavy armor might try to sneak. Now you can explain what disadvantage is, and why it applies to their Dexterity (Stealth) roll! Suddenly they’ve been introduced to the advantage/disadvantage system, and might remember it later.

2.       Give them only the dice they need

 Which one is the d8 again?

Which one is the d8 again?

Knowing the difference between different dice types (d4, d6, d20, etc) can be difficult when they’re all new to you. D&D uses a ton of different dice, and knowing which one to use in which circumstance becomes confusing.

Give your player just the minimum number of dice they need, don’t give them a full set. Tie the dice to the mechanic that uses it. For example, if someone uses a greataxe, give them a d12 and say this is for their weapon.

Associating dice with specific things makes it easier to know the correct dice to use. Eventually the players will begin to default to using the d20 for most things, and know which dice is associated with their weapon.

3.       Go Through Character Generation

Normally, for a one shot game, I would use pre-generated character sheets. However, my parents were coming into this blind, not knowing what the dice were or even how a RPG works. Because of this, I decided to actually walk them through the character creation process.

There are a few benefits to doing this. For starters, they can get introduced to game concepts like race, class, and ability scores slowly instead of all at once. It also gives them a sense of ownership of their characters. This is a character that THEY created, from THEIR choices. They decided aspects of the character, so they naturally feel more comfortable with the character.

4.       Roll Stats

I normally use point-buy, but for a complete beginner, rolling for stats is better.

Stats were the first dice my parents rolled in the game, and it got them used to rolling dice and adding numbers together. Rolling stats for dice is easier to add and calculate than figuring out point buy.

Consider allowing rerolls for low stats. You don’t want players to feel frustrated by failures in the game due to low stats.

Plus, your players might get exposure to the feelings that go along with high or low rolls. (My dad got an 18 for one of his stats. My mom was jealous)

5.       Don’t Explain Every Option. Stick With Names and Summary

Player characters have a lot of options for their characters in 5e. Going through the abilities and bonuses of each race, class, and background would take way too much time for beginners who likely don’t understand what any of it means anyway.

For races, give the name and show a picture, if possible. Maybe a sentence about what they are or what they do.

For classes, just give the name and explain what their general role is.

For backgrounds, just the name should suffice.

Spells are complicated, and I would recommend picking a few spells for them and letting them pick the rest based on the name. If you know the mechanics of the spell might be misleading based on the name (for example, faerie fire does not contain actual fire), explain what the spell does in general terms. Otherwise, explain how the spell works when they decide to use it.

New players are going to pick whatever sounds the coolest or resonates with them. Let them pick based on the limited information, and then explain what they get. You might get some cool combinations.

For example, my dad naturally picked a Goliath Barbarian named Herculdes (not Hercules) and my mom picked a High Elf Bard named Bardicus E.

6.       Start at 1st Level

In D&D, characters gain complexity as they gain levels. Level 1 characters are simplest to handle, so start your players there.

If you play for long enough, the new abilities they gain will build upon their existing ones. Starting at 1st level lets them gain an understanding of the basic rules for their class, and then slowly build up to more complicated features as time goes on.

7.       Their Fear is Doing the Wrong Thing


The fear of messing up or being wrong isn’t limited to tabletop RPGs, but it definitely is a common fear among new players.

First time players sometimes worry about doing the wrong thing, or not playing right. The act of role playing a character or doing a voice makes people feel vulnerable, and therefore concerned about doing it wrong.

Know that this is likely in the mind of your players, and try to mitigate it.

The Game Master tip of “say yes” is more important to new players. Let them get away with things you wouldn’t let other people get away with. Introduce success and failing forward. Every time they are allowed to do something, their understanding of what can be done in an RPG grows.

Introduce failure gingerly. Explain options. Are they doing something dangerous? Let them know potential outcomes. Give them choices, with pros and cons in each option.

Side Note: I had a great time running the game for my parents, but they still apologized for ‘not being good at the game’. They had a great time, but still felt like they weren’t doing things correctly.

8.       Ask for their Reason to Adventure

 The world’s doomed if I don’t is a pretty good reason.

The world’s doomed if I don’t is a pretty good reason.

The most important thing to ask players is why their character is adventurer.

Being an adventurer is dangerous, and anyone could make a decent living doing almost anything else. There has to be a reason why their character has decided to take this dangerous job. Figuring that out is a very important step.

Like we mentioned in number 7, your players are probably afraid of messing up or doing something wrong. With this mentality, they are likely to avoid dangerous situations and miss all of the plot hooks you’ve set for them. Have them understand that their job requires doing dangerous (and heroic!) things and you’ll have an easier time running the game.

9.       Give Direction

 Which way is adventure?

Which way is adventure?

A group of random people meeting in a bar is generally a bad way to start a game, and it’s particularly bad with first time players.

Don’t have them look for a job. Tell them what the job they’ve already been hired to do is.

One of the big draws of tabletop RPGs is the fact that you can do ANYTHING. On the flip side, this freedom can be crippling. Without direction, new players can feel overwhelmed and flounder. This is often why new groups of players get in bar fights or thrown into jail. They didn’t have a strong sense of direction. Provide them with clear guidance, and they can begin to experiment and understand the game in a more focused style.

Side note: I set my parents on the road, and the first thing they wanted to do was grab a drink at the bar. First time players getting into trouble at a tavern is so ingrained in new players that they literally turned around to grab a drink. Obviously they got in trouble, but I was able to get them back on the road quickly.

10.   Make NPCs with Distinctive Features

 Purple tattoo stands out. Oh yea, plus the space hamster.

Purple tattoo stands out. Oh yea, plus the space hamster.

One of my problems with Storm Kings Thunder, and a lot of adventures in the Forgotten Realms, is names. They are often needlessly complicated and similar sounding.

Don’t use complicated names or naming conventions (unless the complicated nature is a major point, like a dragon being named Traxtanisthorilamida “just call me Trax.”) Names are hard to remember unless distinctive, and new players are already learning a lot of things.

Titles and positions are easier to remember. “The Green Warden”, “Captain”, “The King” are likely what your players will remember.

Give your NPCs distinctive features. This is a good tip in general for any players, but having a specific feature or tick to latch onto helps your players remember them.

Side Note: I introduced 2 NPCs to the players. One was a dwarf with white hair, white clothes, and a cane with a yellow gemstone at the top. The other wore heavy black armor. My parents never remembered their names, but could recall their appearances or key features (white/black colors) easily.

11.   Give Them Something Familiar

 Welcome to Jur- er…, Phandelver!

Welcome to Jur- er…, Phandelver!

Some typical fantasy settings can throw a lot of information at players. Town names, countries, deities, and factions are all part of a setting, and very few of them actually matter to new players.

Stick with the basics, and give yourself the freedom to build out as your players explore.

It is also helpful to give your players something familiar. Do they all like Harry Potter? Set the game at a magic school or have a magic school be part of the town. Are they fans of a TV show? Introduce NPCs that are characters from the show.

Putting familiar things in the game puts new players at ease. They already know these places/people, so they already have a level of understanding of how they work.

When we’ve been playing RPGs for long enough, we’ve built up a huge base of common, familiar knowledge. Calling something a goblin, orc, or bugbear might immediately conjure certain images, but a new player likely had no idea what a bugbear is. Describe with familiar senses or associate it with creatures they may already know.

Side Note: I’m making the game for my parents inspired by Jurassic Park. They both know the movie, and felt clever when they realized that I was describing dinosaurs. They know how dinosaurs work, so they will feel more comfortable interacting with those creatures.

12.   Hand Waive the Rules

One problem with 1st level characters is that they’re VERY vulnerable. A small group of goblins, especially with surprise, could wipe them out! That’s no fun for a first-time player.

Hand wave encounters. Use them as practice for subtracting hit points and rolling damage. Let your players feel like competent heroes, instead of squishy commoners.

I handled goblins as having 5 hit points, +2 to hit, and doing 1d4 damage. I likely wouldn’t be able to seriously hurt anyone, and the goblins would go down in 1 hit. They learned how to handle damage, hit points, and ACs without fearing character death.

13.   Be Energetic and Excited

When running a game for first time players, they are getting a lot of their cues from you. If you are energetic and excited, they will feel that way as well. If they see you doing voices and moving around, they will feel more comfortable doing so themselves.

Lead by example. Embody the style of play you want them to use, and they will hopefully begin to emulate it.

Side Note. My dad quickly started getting into a speech pattern for his barbarian, speaking in simpler sentences and lowering his voice. It was great to see him experiment!



These are 13 tips on how to run D&D for your parental figures, or any first-time player! Have you run a game for your parental figures? How did it work? Let me know!



Coin Zombies



Zombies are slow. How do you make it easier for them to eat the brains of still-moving creatures? You make the prey WANT to come near the zombie!

Taken directly from 13th Age, the coin zombies prey on the greed of other creatures by compelling them to come closer.

Throw these baddies at your players for a fun variation on the zombie. I'll bet they see how much money they can get from them!

If you liked this, be sure to check out 13th Age, it's full of fun ideas like this!

coin zombies.jpg

The Chessmen

Chess is a familiar game to many people. Even if you don't know how to play, probably know there are pieces like the knight or the queen.

A group of enemies based around chess pieces make a great group of enemies. You have a group of enemies that all work together as a unit, and their visual appearance and mechanics reinforce their chess-game roles.

You could have a tinkerer or wizard called "The Grandmaster" who has created robotic servants and guardians. These Chessmen work great for a short arc, but watch out for the queen!


Enjoy the Chessmen!

D&D Tip: Let Your Players Award Inspiration


Inspiration is a nice new feature in D&D 5e, similar to action points or hero points from other games. The GM can award a character inspiration for good roleplaying, and they can spend it to gain advantage on a roll.

What if I told you there’s a better way to use inspiration?

Here’s the secret:

Let the players give it to each other.

Shocking, I know

Here are some of the problems with the basic rules of inspiration; it’s completely subjective. As a GM, I’ve forgotten to give it out because of all the other things on my plate. And what if I don’t catch something cool that a player did that deserves inspiration?

A much better way of handling inspiration is to allow your players to award it to each other. This takes the burden off of the GM, and allows players to directly reward each other for doing good things. With more people that can give out inspiration, you’re more likely to have it.

I’ll address concerns about players ‘gaming the system’: Inspiration isn’t that great. You can’t stockpile inspiration, and it only gives advantage on a roll, which means that failure is still a very real option. Plus, players tend to hold onto it for a significant roll, so they’re not using it all the time.

 You can't do this with inspiration

You can't do this with inspiration

Ultimately, having a lot of inspiration at your table is a good thing. It’s a reward for doing something good, so you want people to use it as much as they can. The more that the players use inspiration, the more often they can do things to earn it back, which leads to more character development and roleplaying.

My current D&D game uses this rule, and it works wonderfully. It’s a very each change to implement and your players will love it.

Try it out for a few sessions, and see if you notice any changes!

**Side Note: If you don’t already have coins or tokens for inspiration, consider using them with this rule. Having something the players can hand to each other feels rewarding, and visually reminds you of something that you can cash in for a bonus.  



1d10 Monster Traits


Running a combat in D&D can be difficult. Making a group of monsters interesting or unique requires effort planning, especially if there are duplicates of them.

 One simple way to make unique, interesting monsters is to give them simple traits. Traits can be added to any monster, and can change the way they traditionally act. Goblins might be cowardly, but a goblin with the tank trait might jump right into battle. A wolf with the avenger trait howls angrily when a member of the pack is killed, and becomes more dangerous.

Below are 10 sample traits that you can quickly add to any monster or NPC. If you want to spice up an encounter, roll a d10 for one of the monsters and describe how they look or act differently with this trait. A suit of animated armor with the assassin trait might be painted black and be made of lighter material.

Enjoy these 10 monster traits!






Deal an additional die of damage with all attacks


Glass Cannon

Reduce hit points by half. Deal double the amount of damage with attacks



Allied creatures within 60 feet of the commander get a 1d4 bonus to attack rolls and saving throws



Has the maximum number of hit points instead of average



Can take the Disengage, Dash, or Hide actions as a bonus action



Gains proficiency in Dexterity (Stealth). Gains Sneak Attack with a number of d6 equal to the monster’s proficiency bonus



When the monster is reduced to half of its hit points or fewer, it flees



When the creature’s allies die, it gets stronger. It gains a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls for each ally that is defeated



A minion creature has 1 hit point and deals half of its normal damage. If a monster has this trait, there should be 2 identical copies of it.



Any enemy that starts its turn within 5 feet of this creature takes xd6 damage, where x=the creature’s proficiency modifier

4 Ways To Handle Passive Perception


There has been some talk about the role of Passive Perception in D&D 5e recently. As with all things D&D, there are lots of opinions and preferences based on personal style and interpretation. In addition to chiming in with my thoughts, I wanted to collect some of the different ways I’ve seen Passive Perception handled, and talk about the effects of using these methods.

Before we start, let’s talk about what Passive Perception is.

 Sorry, the DC to spot the trap was 82.

Sorry, the DC to spot the trap was 82.

Passive checks in D&D 5e are a special type of ability check that doesn’t require a roll. It can represent the average result of taking your time on a task (taking 10/20 from earlier editions), or when the GM wants to determine success/failure without having someone roll dice.

Passive Perception is specifically mentioned in regards to hiding, which is an action you can take. It determines if you notice a creature attempting to hide.

Aside from the general rules for passive checks and the specific Passive Perception rules with hiding, there’s not a lot of guidance on how to use it, which can be both a good and bad thing. Passive Perception can speed up certain elements of play, but can also make knowing what information to share with a player difficult.

Here are 4 ways to use Passive Perception, and how they affect your game.


1.       Stealth Only

 13th Age's Prince of Shadows

13th Age's Prince of Shadows

Passive Perception only happens specifically with noticing hidden creatures, it has no effect or use on hidden objects. In order to find a trap, you need to make active checks and rolls. If you don’t actively look for a trap, you won’t find it.

The benefits of this method are tied to the benefits of Passive Perception in general. You don’t need to make extra dice rolls for stealth, and you don’t have to unintentionally put a player on edge by asking them to make a Perception check out of the blue.

This can initially make detecting traps harder, as a player has to be on guard and actively look for something. However, this can slow down the game if the players become worried about the presence of traps. If they need to take action to look for traps, you might run into a situation where they declare they’re looking for traps in every room and encounter.

2.       Clues

dnd clue.jpg

Clue based Passive Perception turns finding traps and hidden objects into a bit of a skill challenge. Your Passive Perception will tell you a simple fact, or give a simple clue to the true nature of whatever is nearby. For example, a long hallway is filled with flame traps. Your passive perception might tell you that there are scorch marks on the floor. From that point on, you are now active, and are trying to solve it with active rolls and role playing.

This method can get rid of the ‘surprise’ factor of traps, as many Passive Perception scores are high enough to notice something. However, disabling or overcoming traps feels better to players than being surprised by one.

A good way to handle clues from Passive Perception is to roll them into the description of a room or hallway. Mention the long hallway’s stonework, the moss growing on it, and the scorch marks all at the same time. This can help conceal the fact that they were specifically given a clue due to their Passive Perception, and relies on natural response and problem-solving to proceed.

3.       Sherlock Sense

 It's elementary...

It's elementary...

This is the most powerful way to handle Passive Perception for a player. Your Passive Perception gives you the most amount of information possible, usually specifying where the trap trigger/pressure plate is. In essence, you are telling your players WHAT the problem is and WHERE the solution is.

With Sherlock sense, most traps are handled quickly and easily. It might still require an ability check to disable or bypass the trap, but the process is streamlined.

Traps are rarely a threat with this mode, unless the DC to spot it is higher than a player’s Passive Perception. Players do not have to worry about searching for traps as much, and might see them as a minor hindrance. This can speed up the exploration phase of the game, giving more time to other elements.

4.       Minimum Roll

 How did I NOT see the zombie T-Rex?

How did I NOT see the zombie T-Rex?

This isn’t part of the Rules As Written (RAW), but I’ve seen some discussion about using Passive Perception as a minimum for your Perception. If you would roll lower than your Passive Perception, you use it instead.

Keep in mind, this isn’t how Passive Perception was meant to be used. It also steps on the toes of a high level rogue ability, Reliable Talent.

I wouldn’t recommend using this option. I’ve seen it come up when trying to explain how you can achieve a worse result than if you weren’t actively trying.

It’s important to remember that D&D and its mechanics aren’t trying to mirror or mimic reality. Your Passive Perception isn’t the worst that you can do at the task. It’s a useful mechanic for abstracting and getting rid of extra dice rolls at the table.

 You're having fun wrong!

You're having fun wrong!

There are certainly many other ways that you can handle Passive Perception. Remember, rule 0 is having fun, and whatever your table likes best is the right answer. Even if it’s #4.


Do you have another method for handling Passive Perception that doesn’t fall into one of these categories? Let me know!

Pokemon D&D 5e: Johto Pokedex

Johto Pokedex


The Johto pokedex for D&D 5e is now here!

I hope you enjoy the all of the pokemon from the Gold and Silver games, which were my favorite!

I applied more of my monster creation knowledge to these pokemon, but beware! They haven't been tested in the field yet. There may be some unintentional imbalances, so just look them over before you use them in your 5th edition D&D game. I also tried to cover a wide variety of CRs for the pokemon, so don't expect them to be as strong or weak as they were in the games!

I also made these stat blocks a different way than the Kanto pokedex, so if you see something wrong, let me know and I can easily fix it! You can give me a shout on twitter @pirategonzalez.

Thanks for checking the pokemon out! If you enjoyed this, please consider checking out my Kickstarter for 5e, the Archive of Magic Items! It's a collection of 350+ unique, interesting items for your 5e game.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All!

(You can download a consolidated PDF of the pokedex here.)

Kickstarter is Live: The Archive of Magic Items!

It's finally here! The project I've been working on for literally years, the Archive of Magic Items!

I've put together a book of over 350 unique, interesting magic items for D&D 5e (it's closer to 400, but I'm keeping it conservative).

I've also included some new features in the book, such as:

  • Unique ways to attune to items
  • Suggestions for using an item at a higher or lower level
  • Magitech!

Check it out! There's a ton of really cool stuff in here, and I'll be releasing previews throughout the month. Tell your friends about it!

But really, please tell them. I need your help with the word of mouth!

Check out the Kickstarter here, and stay tuned for more updates!


Tell me about your favorite magic items that aren't in 5e!

Domain of Smash Bros


Did you hear the good news? Smash Bros is coming to the Nintendo Switch, and I can't wait to play it.

The announcement trailer was surprisingly intense. The squid kids from Splatoon find themselves in a dark landscape illuminated only by the fiery light of the Smash Bros symbol, and the silhouettes of the fighters.

The Smash Bros symbol had an almost supernatural feel to it. It seemed like a holy symbol of sorts.

The idea of a supernatural being that selects the best fighters across the universe fits right into D&D. I created a brand new domain for Clerics, the Domain of Smash Battles, with that in mind. Check it out!

Homebrewery Link: https://homebrewery.naturalcrit.com/share/HyWF3UH4tz

Domain of Smash Battles-page-001.jpg



Johto Pokedex 5E

Johto Pokedex


The Johto pokedex for 5E will be coming soon!

Ages ago I created the Kanto pokedex, a book containing the stats of the original 151 pokemon for D&D 5e.

After the success of the Kanto pokedex, I’d received inquiries about doing a johto pokedex. At the time, I wasn’t able to do a new pokedex. The time commitment was too large, and I wanted to work on some other projects first (cough cough, Archive of Magic Items).

Well, it has now been long enough, and the Johto pokedex is almost ready to debut!

I’m excited about this version, because I’ve learned a lot about monster creation since the original Kanto pokedex. Many of the pokemon I stated were very powerful or imbalanced. I’ve applied what I’ve learned since then, and you should see a more balanced array of pokemon. Don’t get me wrong, there are still going to be some outliers, but since I’m not going to playtest each pokemon, we’ll have to live with that. Feel free to let me know if you see anything significant though!

Here are some previews from the pokedex! If you’re interested in when the full pokedex releases, follow me for updates!

Click here if you want to see the Kanto pokedex.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All!