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!



Developing Characters: Pre-Session Q&A


An important part of making a cohesive group of characters for a role playing game is to make sure that the players understand everyone else’s characters. Many Powered by the Apocalypse (PBtA) games like Masks and Dungeonworld have bonds or relationships to other characters that indicate not just their interactions with other players, but also their expectations for future ones. For games that don’t have this built into their structure, there are many ways to develop these same levels of connection.

The one method I’ll talk about today is useful not just for developing relationships, but also for introducing characters to an audience, like an Actual Play Podcast or Live Stream.

Pre-Session Q&A


Before you begin the recap for each session, introduce the player and character. Once they introduce themselves, ask each player a leading question about their character. Really good questions will lead the players to reveal more information about their character. This is really helpful for finding out more about characters that hasn’t come up in the game yet. Some examples include:

-        What is your character’s greatest fear?

-        What emotion is most often associated with your character, such as guilt or optimism?

-        What did your character think about (insert a recent situation)?

-        Does your character have any friends that aren’t in the group?

-        Who does your character feel most protective about?

-        What would cause your character to retire or give up?

-        What would your character’s nightmares look like?

Asking each player the same question allows everyone to get a helpful view of everyone else’s perspectives. If everyone has a similar fear, for example, that is common ground that the Game Master (GM) can use during the game. The players also know that other characters feel that way, and can look for opportunities to bring it up during role playing.

This is just one way of developing characters and relationships, what are some methods you use?


Inspiring NPCs

You can become a hero!

You can become a hero!

I’m not talking about Bardic Inspiration, but about NPCs and characters that are actually inspiring.

Most characters in our games can fall into certain archetypes; the villain, the slacker, the loner, and so on. But one figure that I don’t see often is the Inspiring Figure.

When we make connections to NPCs in the games, we tend to look for things like ‘family member’, ‘rival’, or ‘need revenge’. These help us flesh out or characters, but are often set up as goals to overcome (the rival) or potential hooks to provide motivation (my brother was kidnapped!).

The character that made me think of this is All Might from My Hero Academia. In the anime, he is the #1 hero. He’s the strongest hero in the world, but that alone doesn’t make him inspiring. Instead, he has set himself up as the Symbol of Peace in the world. Always smiling, he provides hope to the world.

"It's fine now. Why? Because I am here!"

"It's fine now. Why? Because I am here!"

Everyone knows All Might. The main characters all look up to him for different reasons, but what is most important is that we SEE him doing heroic and inspiring things. His words and actions matter, and he knows it. He is a beacon.

All Might’s presence hovers over everything in the story. That might be a bit much for a tabletop game, but the premise is still interesting. How many NPCs in games would you consider inspiring? Most everyone is there to either support the heroes, or directly oppose them.

all might 3.png

If you make an inspiring figure in your game, and want people to FELL like they are inspiring, you need to make them relatable. If your inspiring figure is a god, then they’re not connecting with people on a certain level. Part of the reason that someone is inspiring is because they enable others to think that they too can do these incredible things. Having the inspiring figure be a god or supernatural being just ends up making them separate and better than everyone else.

Adding an Inspiring Figure is easier to do during character creation or when establishing the setting, but all you need to do is ask a player “Who do you look up to”, and “Why do you look up to them”. Your answers may vary, but you’ll find that role playing a truly inspiring, genuine, and relatable person is a difficult but fulfilling challenge.


Remember, go plus ultra!

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.  



7 Ways to Use Good Drama In Your Game


Drama between the players of your gaming group can be a negative experience. But drama in your game can be a good thing. This week we’re going to talk about 7 ways to embrace “good” drama to enrich your games.

Before we can talk about “good” drama, we need to talk about what counts as “bad” drama. In general, bad drama is any decision in-or-out of character that negatively affects the enjoyment of the rest of the table.

Everyone’s goal is to have fun and enjoy the game you are playing. As a member of the game, you need to make sure that your actions aren’t depriving anyone else of having fun. Justifying your actions as “something that your character would do” doesn’t matter. Your character isn’t a real person. It only does what you decide it does, and if your decision would harm someone’s fun, then it is your responsibility to NOT do that.

What? I'm Chaotic Neutral

What? I'm Chaotic Neutral

Now, let’s talk about ways to create “good” drama.

1.       Set Expectations

The most important thing you can do is talk about your expectations, playstyle, and comfort levels before beginning the game. This is at the player level, and should be done before you talk about characters.

Once everyone is on the same page, you can talk about your characters. Build characters that have connections or each other, or establish elements of their backstory that can be woven into confrontations.

2.       What Problems Do You Want?

Currently my favorite RPG

Currently my favorite RPG

The conflict that a character faces can shape who they are. Are you a person that stays optimistic even in the face of despair? It’s easy to say that, but the character’s actions prove it to be true or false. Sometimes there is an intentional disconnect between what a CHARACTER wants, and what a PLAYER wants.

Masks does a great job of building this into their classes (playbooks). Each playbook has a type of drama or conflict that you will deal with. The Nova, for example, is very powerful but has poor control of their powers, causing collateral damage. The CHARACTER wants to avoid excessive damage, but the PLAYER has indicated they want to deal with these problems by picking the playbook. Occasionally having them cause collateral damage and deal with its repercussions is something that the PLAYER wants to deal with, even if the CHARACTER doesn’t.

3.       Interact with Players


The GM is in charge of all the NPCs that you might interact with, but great sources of drama come from two (or more!) players interacting with each other.

In order to add more to the story, you can create drama between two PCs. Maybe you have conflicting ideals. Maybe someone has unreciprocated feelings for another character. Find something that both players are ok with doing, and make drama!

The great thing about player driven drama is that it is often at the forefront of the story. Unlike an NPC, which fades from sight when not involved, the players are always there.

This is really useful for games that are played for an audience like actual play podcasts or livestreams. The audience sees this conflict, and knows that it is always there. A conflict with an NPC is put on hiatus until that NPC comes back into the picture.

4.       Act Unreasonably

"You know what? I punch him."

"You know what? I punch him."

It’s hard to do sometimes, but your character doesn’t always have to act rationally. Sometimes they’re afraid. Sometimes they’re too angry to think. Have them act in a way that creates drama with another character.

Are you the healer, and you’re angry at another character? Tell the player how you are intentionally prioritizing healing someone else first, or are healing them less than you normally would. The important thing here is that you told the PLAYER what you were doing, and thus what the drama is. If you kept it to yourself, it might have been missed, or maybe the PLAYER thought you were lashing out. And back to our original point, if not healing them would kill their character, then maybe don’t do that. Remember, the point is for everyone to have fun. If having their character die would hurt them, then it is in your power to not use that idea.

On the flip side, maybe your character is acting overly sensitive. Maybe they THINK the healer is healing them less than they should. The character can harbor the resentment, and eventually confront the healer in a dramatic fashion.

5.       Support the Narrative


Your drama doesn’t need to always be in the front. When other players have drama, act to support one of their sides. Allow yourself to be a supporting character in their story arc. Don’t make it about yourself, and take actions that either heighten the drama or allow it to continue.

6.       Make an Ultimatum

It all boils down to those romance options

It all boils down to those romance options

“It’s either me or him! Make your choice!”

The ultimatum is a great way of bringing drama to a head. Sometimes unreasonable, an ultimatum forces a decision to be made, or lines to be drawn.

An ultimatum can change the direction of the narrative. Perhaps a character decides to strike out on their own, or change their core beliefs. Embrace the new direction, and try to support it.

7.       Apologize and Forgive


If you want the characters to all continue working together, someone will probably need to apologize. Don’t wait for the other party to, because they might be waiting for the same thing. Have the character apologize, and renew their intention to work together with everyone.

On the flip side, don’t hold a grudge for too long. If another character apologizes for something, this is your chance to accept the apology and wrap up the dramatic arc. You can always look for a new source of drama later!


Player driven drama, when done right, can bring a game and its characters to life. Follow these tips, and remember to be open about your intentions to your fellow gamers. Everyone deserves to have a fun gaming experience.

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!

Cinematic Death in D&D

How can you handle a fitting, cinematic death for a PC when death can happen suddenly and randomly?

Adam Koebel posted this comment to Twitter, and it generated a lot of conversation.


Adam’s comment is specific to streaming, but it’s an interesting idea. D&D’s rules allow death to happen at any time, which works in most games. However, streamed games are for an audience, and their needs are sometimes different. Gaming groups that focus on character development and story may find that they want some more agency in their characters destinies. How can we accommodate this?

Changing the normal rules of D&D isn’t necessary, since this is something that individual tables can house rule themselves. At its core, this is about wanting more control over the shared story, so a possible solution should be narrative in nature. The fewer rules, the better.

So...this is how...I die...

So...this is how...I die...

I have a quick solution that I’ve put together, and I’d like to hear your opinions on it.

When a character would be killed, they are instead stable and unconscious at 1 hit point, but they are marked by Death. The character will meet their end soon, or be forced to retire from the adventuring group. Work with your GM privately to decide how your character will move on.

Mortal wounds are one way of handling this, but aren’t necessary. You know the character will die, so you can work on making it as heroic or fitting as you need. If don’t have anything in mind, or think the death will serve the story, you can die in the moment!

When you can specify a time of death for your character, you avoid the issue of having a player sit around and not participate in the game. A character’s death is unfortunate, and not being able to participate for an indeterminate amount of time can be frustrating. Death is set up to be a penalty, instead of another story moment.

Come back into the Light.

Come back into the Light.

Resurrection in D&D can cheapen death. Once you achieve a high enough level, the basic rules allow for death to be a revolving door. This feels good when a character you like gets to keep playing, but removes the importance of death. When you allow players to find a fitting death for their character, resurrection isn’t as necessary. With this idea, you can get rid of resurrection magic entirely.

What do you think? Do you have any ideas, or do you do something differently for your game? Let me know!

5 Ways to Play a Tank in D&D

Playing a tank is a common term in RPG video games. As a tank, your role is to protect your teammates by taking damage for them. Games like World of Warcraft have built in mechanics that force an enemy to target you. Tabletop RPGs, however, don’t have an AI. The Game Master decides what the enemies do and who they attack. How do you play a tank then?

Here are 5 ways to effectively play a tank in D&D 5th edition:

1.       High Hit Points, High AC

I'm wearing armor over my armor. That gives me twice the AC, right?

I'm wearing armor over my armor. That gives me twice the AC, right?

Most attacks from NPCs target a player’s armor class (AC), and deal 0 damage on a miss. The higher your AC is, the less likely it is that you’ll be hit by a weapon attack. Wearing heavy armor, carrying a shield, spells, and certain class abilities are ways to increase your AC. With 5th edition’s bonded accuracy, having a high AC early on is very hard for enemies to hit.

Having a large amount of hit points is critical as well. Even with a crazy high AC, you’ll still take damage. Spells, traps, and environmental effects can target your saving throws, and can deal damage even on successful saves. Having a large pool of hit points is a key component of being a successful tank. Getting reduced to 0 hit points in a couple of hits isn’t going to do you much good. For example, a monk can have a pretty high AC due to their class abilities, but they don’t get as many hit points as a fighter or barbarian. Getting hit hurts a monk a lot more than a barbarian.

2.       Mechanics


There are only a few abilities that force attacks against a target, like the compelled duel spell, but even things that grant penalties for NOT attacking you is an option. The DMG has this as an optional rule, a cool carryover from 4th edition. Marking a target grants a target disadvantage if their attack doesn’t include you as a target.

Sentinel and Polearm Master is a combination of feats that makes it very difficult for creatures to get past you. On a successful opportunity attack, you lock them in place.

Other mechanics that benefit a tank are boosts to your AC, temporary hit points, and resistance or immunity to damage. The barbarian gets resistance to the most common forms of damage while raging, effectively doubling their hit points.

3.       Positioning

Always take the high ground.

Always take the high ground.

If playing in a theater of the mind style, describe your intentions along with your actions. Take these two examples:

“I rush at the goblin and attack.”
“I rush at the goblin and attack, putting myself between Wazo the Wizard and the goblins”.

The first example only focuses on your attack, while the second shows that protection of your teammate is important to you. You haven’t done anything mechanically different, but by adding some more description you’ve established something as fact in the narrative. If the goblins want to attack the wizard, the GM knows that you’re in the way.

4.       Taunt/Intimidate

Come at me bro!

Come at me bro!

If you can’t force a target to attack you, the next best thing is to make them WANT to attack you. Make yourself impossible to be ignored. Enemy archer aiming at your cleric? Make fun of their clothing. Insult their family. Do something to focus their attention on you. Spiderman is an excellent example of this. He taunts and quips with his opponents, making them REALLY want to squash him.

Intimidation can be done in the same way, although it’s all about how you direct it. Intimidating might cause someone to be afraid of you, avoiding you and attacking someone else. As a tank, you don’t want this. You want to seem like you’re the biggest threat, the one to focus their attention on first. If you’re trying to intimidate creatures into attacking you, specify the intent, otherwise, a common assumption is that you are frightening something away.

5.       Change Tactics As Needed

A fighting style for every day of the week!

A fighting style for every day of the week!

Unlike a video game, not every enemy is going to be susceptible to the same tactic. Part of the beauty of a tabletop RPG is having enemies react in a dynamic fashion. Maybe you’re fighting a tactical general who knows to focus on the wizard and healers first. No taunting or bluffing is going to get him to change his tactics, so you’ll have to rely on positioning.

Learning how to play an effective tank will involve trial and error, and will change between games. What worked against wolves in your last game may not work against them with a new DM in a new world. You’ll need to pay attention and learn to adapt.


These are just some ways to play an effective tank in D&D. Do you play a tank or defender class? Let us know how you play in the comments!

Bonus: Let’s see how many comments we get about the word “tank” not having a place in D&D, or the idea of playing a “tank” being wrong. Bonus points if 4th edition is mentioned in a disparaging way!

5 Ways To Make Your Boss Last Longer

It’s the showdown with the boss. The heroes have beaten all the monsters, disabled all the traps, and found the key to the boss’ chamber. It’s time for the climatic showdown you’ve been waiting for!

And then the heroes all beat the boss’ initiative and nova him with their strongest abilities, killing him before he gets a chance to act.


This can be an awesome experience for the players, but can sometimes feel anticlimactic. As a GM, you want the players to succeed. A struggle is conflict, which can make the story more interesting. You don’t need the boss to be unbeatable, but you do want them to be a threat. What can you do?

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