Article Archive

Hoard of the Dragon Queen Episode 3: Dragon Hatchery

27 October 2014: In case you missed it, we're writing tips and tricks for each of the chapters of Hoard of the Dragon Queen, the first official D&D 5th Edition adventure. You can read up on previous chapters here: ...

Tracking Abstract Combat

20 October 2014: We've talked previously about running narrative combat with D&D 5th Edition but we can often get stuck when trying to understand exactly how we can do so. Sometimes running combat completely in th ...

Hoard of the Dragon Queen: Raider's Camp

13 October 2014: This is the second part in an ongoing series of articles to help us make the most out of the first published 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons adventure Hoard of the Dragon Queen. To catch up you can r ...

Making the Most of the Monster Manual

6 October 2014: Of all of the aids we DMs require, none is more valuable than the monster manual. The time required to develop the mechanical crunch of these monsters is staggering and it's a huge load off of our pla ...

What Are Hit Points?

29 September 2014: For as long as we've had hit points as a mechanic, debates have raged about what exactly these hit points represent. Do they represent actual injury? Do they represent the overall flow of a battle's e ...

Put PCs First

22 September 2014: When you're sitting down to prepare your game, keep a list of the PCs, their backgrounds, and their motivations in front of you. Great RPGs thrive on the goals and motivations of the PCs. While we GMs ...

D&D 5e Gotchas

15 September 2014: At Gencon 2014 the Wizards of the Coast R&D team discussed tricks to the Dungeons and Draogns 5th Edition rules that DMs and players might forget at their (or the poor monsters') peril. Many of us ...

Hoard of the Dragon Queen: Greenest in Flames

11 September 2014: Hoard of the Dragon Queen: Greenest in Flames Taking the spot as the first officially published Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition adventure (excluding Lost Mines of Phandelver included in the the Dunge ...

Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set: Running Phandelver

8 September 2014: The Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set includes an adventure that exemplifies the pace and attitude of the 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons. As the introductory adventure to D&D 5e, ...

Dungeons of Fate: Tomb of Horrors

2 September 2014: At Gencon 2014 James Grummell and I hosted a pickup game of Dungeons of Fate based in the Tomb of Horrors and designed as a multi-table event. Like Vault of the Dracolich we wanted this multi-table ev ...

Facilitating Empowered Investigation

25 August 2014: When people sit down to play Dungeons and Dragons, they want to feel empowered. Players want to feel a sense of discovery and a sense that they can influence the world. They want to feel like their de ...

Running Narrative Combat

18 August 2014: For many of us who have spent a great deal of time running gridded combat with tabletop tactical maps and miniatures, the very concept of running battles without any visual representation can be quite ...

How to Protect Your Villains

11 August 2014: Note: this article has been updated from the original published 5 April 2010. From a storytelling angle, we GMs love our big bad evil guys (BBEGs). These villains drive the ire of our players and move ...

13th Age Session Review: There Will Be Dragons

7 August 2014: Experience Points The monster leveling system on page 253 of the 13th Age book lets you asymmetrically tune monsters around the capabilities of your specific set of PCs to keep the challenge up. Hig ...

Gaming Convention Survival Guide

4 August 2014: Note: This article has been updated from its original 28 March 2011 edition just in time for us to use it to prepare for Gencon 2014. Gaming conventions are our pilgrimages to nerd mecca. They let us ...

13th Age Session Review: The Moonwreck Underworld

31 July 2014: Experience Points People used and appreciated the averaging of dice for high level 13th Age play. For every pair of dice removed, add 1 + the max on one die. For example, 9d8+15 becomes 3d8+42. Us ...

A D&D 4th Edition DM's Guide to 5th Edition

28 July 2014: Some 5e Quick Tips for the 4e DM This is a rather lengthy article so here's a quick summary of tips for 4e DMs who plan to run D&D 5th Edition. Instead of using primarily gridded tactical combat, ...

Clue Cards

21 July 2014: We lazy dungeon masters are always looking for simple tips and tricks to make our game easier to organize and more fun for ourselves and our players. In a past article, we've talked about sharing secr ...

13th Age Session Review: The Pyramid of Set

17 July 2014: The following article describes the recent experiences in our home 13th Age game based on the area of Moonwreck. We'll start with a few useful tips in case you want to skip most of the story focus. Ex ...

Pillars of Preparation

14 July 2014: The D&D 5th Edition Starter Set and Basic Rules PDF describe the three pillars of gameplay that make up D&D: exploration, interaction, and combat. While these define well the main spheres of t ...

13th Age Icon Roll Benefits

7 July 2014: Though icon rolls are one of the most unique factors in 13th Age, it isn't always the clearest rule to implement. The 13th Age core book describes the use of icon rolls for guiding the story, giving o ...

Rewarding Loot with Icon Rolls

29 June 2014: Icon rolls are one of the hallmarks of 13th Age. By tying PCs to powerful political forces in the gameworld and rolling to see which of those forces might be active at the beginning of every game sess ...

Five Facts About Moonwreck

23 June 2014: The Lazy Dungeon Master discusses a different way to articulate your campaign world to your PCs. Instead of inundating them with hundreds of pages of background, you can focus your campaign down to a ...

Three Cool Story Ideas to Avoid

16 June 2014: Note: This article has been rewritten since the original published May 2010. Sometimes we have some really great ideas for our D&D game. We write them faithfully in our fancy Moleskine notebooks. ...

Designing Fantastic Locations

9 June 2014: There are as many ways to design a D&D adventure as there are DMs to run them. Whether you run an adventure as written or improvise everything right at the table, we must always develop and descri ...

Random Name Generator

2 June 2014: Coming up with good fantasy names is one of the harder tricks for the Lazy Dungeon Master. The following script generates a set of hundreds of random names from more than a thousand first names and a ...

Tools of the Lazy Dungeon Master

26 May 2014: This article has been updated from the original written on 6 September 2011 Refine your game preparation on the elements most important to your game and you'll have a game that's easier to run and mor ...

Reskinning Monsters

19 May 2014: Note: This article updates the original published 5 November 2012. You're about to learn a lazy dungeon master technique that can save you thousands of hours in game preparation time and lets the stor ...

Random Trap Generator

12 May 2014: This page randomly generates a list of 100 trap sets. Each trap set includes two traps with two elemental effects tied to a single trigger. Lazy DMs can use these traps as inspiration or roll 1d100 an ...

Dungeons of Fate

5 May 2014: Fantasy dungeon delving house rules for Fate Accelerated by Michael E. Shea. Download the PDF of Dungeons of Fate. Originally posted on 10 December 2013. Character Creation Begin the game by naming yo ...

Using Vault of the Dracolich

28 April 2014: Back in 2013, Teos Abadia, Scott Fitzgerald Gray, and I all worked on the D&D Next adventure Vault of the Dracolich. This adventure fueled an in-store multi-table event in wich bands of adventurer ...

Sharing Secrets

21 April 2014: When we think about the components that make up an adventure and a campaign, a bunch of things come to mind. Interesting NPCs, fantastic adventure locations, fun combat encounters, mysteries, and puzz ...

Random Mundane Magic Item Generator

14 April 2014: This page provides a randomly generated list of one hundred single-use mundane magical items for the fantasy roleplaying game of choice. You can reload this page or click the "reroll" link to generate ...

Three Plus Infinite Choices

7 April 2014: Note: this article has been updated from the original written in February 2013 Debates rage between those who prefer sandbox games and those run "on-the-rails". In sandbox gaming, PCs explore regions ...

Let Them Be

31 March 2014: Everyone comes to the D&D game with different expectations and desires. Though divergent, none of these desires are wrong. D&D is a game that brings friends together to have fun. That is the c ...

Offer Real Choices

24 March 2014: Note: This article has been updated since the original published on 10 May 2010 "With the Kobold prince slain and his bodyguards broken across the floor, you find yourself with two choices: the left d ...

Dwarven Forge Tips

17 March 2014: Note: This article has been updated since the original September 2009 version In early 2013, Dwarven Forge ran a Kickstarter for newly designed "Dwarvenite" game tiles. These simple, beautiful, useful ...

Converting Adventures

10 March 2014: With the birth of D&D Classics, we now have access to hundreds of old-school D&D adventures published over the past thirty years. And that's just D&D adventures. There are hundreds of adve ...

The Best Paizo Flip Mats

3 March 2014: Pre-published fantasy battle maps are an indispensable aid for the Lazy Dungeon Master. While Wizards of the Coast slowed down on publishing encounter maps, Paizo continues to publish excellent high-q ...

Altars of Power

24 February 2014: If you've played any action RPG recently, like Diablo 3 or Path of Exile, you're quite familiar with the idea of altars of power. These strange bits of terrain invoke all sorts of interesting new abil ...

A Life of Dungeons and Dragons

18 February 2014: A woman named Bronnie Ware wrote an article based on her work in palliative care on the top five regrets of the dying. These regrets included the following: I wish I'd had the courage to live a life ...

Mistakes Were Made

17 February 2014: DM: "A figure appears from the heatwaves of the desert ahead. He approaches, keeping his cowl across his mouth to avoid the burning sand. You recognize him as a member of the Asarat nomads, tribes who ...

Limiting 13th Age Icons for Short Campaigns

10 February 2014: The long transition between D&D 4th Edition and D&D Next has given rise to a number of independent roleplaying games such as Fate Core, Dungeon World, Numenera, and 13th Age. Many consider 13t ...

Aeon Wave

3 February 2014: Last year I ran my first successful Kickstarter for Aeon Wave. Aeon Wave is a cyberpunk themed adventure scenario for Fate Core with artwork by by Kurt Komoda, editing by Amanda Valentine, and graphic ...

Lazy Trap Generator

27 January 2014: Being creative is hard. The creative load is hard enough that, many times, our minds will trick us into spending time on anything anywhere to avoid having to really buckle down and create shit. The li ...

Experiences Running a Level 1 to 30 4th Edition D&D Campaign

20 January 2014: Note, this article was originally published on Critical Hits on 29 November 2010 and is reprinted here with permission. When reading it, consider the context of the time. D&D Next hadn't been anno ...

Playtesting Your Stories

13 January 2014: Note: This article has been updated from the original, written on 20 December 2010. When Valve software developed Portal and Portal 2, they extensively playtested everything about the game, including ...

I, Dungeon

6 January 2014: There's a lot to love in 13th Age and we've talked about it before in our interview with Rob Heinsoo our 4e Player's Guide to 13th Age, and a 13th Age review over on Critical Hits. Beyond all of the i ...

Quests for Villains

30 December 2013: Note: This article has been updated since the original published on 15 February 2010. "You sent them to their death," said Akti the Ice Lich. Arantham turned to him. "They knew it. We all know the sta ...

The Problem with Extending Critical Hits

23 December 2013: Extending critical hits may not seem like a big deal but the results can unbalance an entire game system. Extending critical hits turns a random bit of fun into a character-building strategy that ends ...

Improving Pacing

16 December 2013: The artist dungeon master has many skills he or she must constantly and continually improve. Improvisational skills, an acceptable level of knowledge of the rules, an ability to listen and balance scr ...

2013 RPG Buyer's Guide

2 December 2013: It's the perfect time of year to dig deep and give the gifts of RPGs to your friends and family. Instead, maybe you want to get something special for yourself and now's a good time. While everyone els ...

Four RPGs To Watch

25 November 2013: Here in the Sly Flourish labs we've primarily focused on 4th edition D&D over the years. With the release of the D&D Next playtest, our teams of scientists have branched out into not just Next ...

Flash Forward

18 November 2013: We've talked before, at length, about the joys and troubles of organic storytelling. For a quick summary, by focusing a story on the motivations and actions of our player characters and non-playing ch ...

13th Age with Rob Heinsoo

12 November 2013: I recently had the opportunity to spend 90 minutes talking to Rob Heinsoo about how to run 13th Age games. You can watch the entire interview on Youtube. Take a look! Here are some highlights! The Ic ...

Getting Your Players' Attention Back

4 November 2013: Note: This article updates the original written in 31 August 2009. Mobile computing brings a whole new level of distraction into our world and it's become a big debate for us game masters. Do we ban t ...

Leaving Blanks

28 October 2013: If you want to see an example of an adventure written for a new age, read the adventure "Blood and Lightning" in the 13th Age core book. Here's an adventure with no central story thread, no clear enem ...

Breaking Endings

21 October 2013: Disclaimer and Warning: This next post is part D&D article and part review of the final episode of Breaking Bad entitled "Felina". It's going to contain major spoilers about the show. If you haven ...

Running Ravenloft for Halloween

15 October 2013: Note: This article has been updated since its original version published in 13 November 2012. Published in 1983, the classic D&D adventure I6 Ravenloft, was ranked in 2004 by Dungeon magazine as t ...

Transporting 13th Age's Escalation Die

30 September 2013: We live in a renaissance for tabletop RPGs. The net, social media, and crowdfunding has birth to some fantastic systems including Dungeon World, Fate Core, and 13th Age. 13th Age, a self-proclaimed lo ...

Three Ways to use Music in your Game

23 September 2013: This article has been updated from the original published on 26 April 2010 When writing the script for his films, Quinten Tarantino likes to sit in his music room spinning 78s of his favorite yet forg ...

A New Method for NPCs

16 September 2013: In the 1940s and 50s, a new style of acting revolutionized the craft. Dubbed "the method", this new style taught actors to delve into the true emotions of their characters rather than simply focusing ...

Getting Ideas for D&D

9 September 2013: Note: This article has been updated from the original published 4 May 2009. In his excellent book, On Writing, Stephen King discusses the most common question he receives when he's talking to his fans ...

Empowering Player-Driven Storytelling

2 September 2013: In a recent D&D Next playtest video, Mike Mearls ran the D&D R&D team through the classic adventure Slave Pits of Undercity. At one point, after a spectacular explosion, Mike turns to Jame ...

Developing Your DM Brain Attic

26 August 2013: "I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, ...

Dnd Tip Tweet Archive

19 August 2013: Last Updated 21 July 2014 Twitter's Twitter archive feature makes it much easier to download and process our entire twitter postings. The Sly Flourish Twitter feed now has over 1,500 #dnd tips. Using ...

GM Walk-Away Kit

12 August 2013: Note, this article updates the original February 2012 version. When we GMs are off to a gaming convention, it can be pretty tough to bring only what we need and avoid filling a U-Haul with every sourc ...

Lazy Traps

29 July 2013: A listener to the monthly podcast Behind the DM Screen asked about the best way to incorporate traps and puzzles into a Lazy DM sort of philosophy. Puzzles are a tough nut to crack when it comes to la ...

Build Worlds, Not Stories

22 July 2013: Note: This article has been rewritten from the original 8 June 2009 version. The strength of a great D&D game comes from the game's evolving story. This isn't a story you sit down and write a week ...

Living Dungeons

15 July 2013: In one of the most popular D&D adventures of all time, Tomb of Horrors, Gary Gygax described summoned demons and imps who would travel through the dungeon and periodically reset all the traps for ...

Complications, Mastery, and Flow

8 July 2013: Late in 2012 and early 2013 I had the great pleasure to work on Vault of the Dracolich with Scott Fitzgerald Gray and Teos Abadia. I had also discussed Teos's work on the Ashes of Athas living campaig ...

Lazy Game Prep Through Handouts

1 July 2013: In the excellent game Bioshock Infinite, the game's writers build a fantastic story and detailed world through the use of voxophones. These steampunk walkman-style record players give you tidbits of i ...

Poster Map Visual Index

24 June 2013: Note: This article has been updated from the original published on 3 October 2011. The published poster map is one of the greatest tools of the lazy dungeon master. It gives lazy DMs a large, high qua ...

The Best D&D 4e Encounter Tricks

17 June 2013: We are certainly late in the lifespan of Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition yet many still play this refined combat-focused version of the game. Quite a few of us have spent a great deal of time learnin ...

Sly Flourish's Running Epic Tier D&D Games

10 June 2013: First published February 2011 Two Years Later It's been over two years since the release of Running Epic Tier games. More DMs are running epic-level 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons games with all ...

Lazy DM Cheat Sheet Text

3 June 2013: Last week I posted a Lazy DM Cheat Sheet in PDF suitable for printing on two sides of a sheet of paper. Today I'm releasing the text of those lists on this page so you can print, modify, and use them ...

Faster Than the Other Guy

28 May 2013: There's an old joke about the key to running away from an angry bear. You don't have to be fast, you just have to be faster than the other guy. As dungeon masters, we always have to be one step ahead ...

The Lazy Dungeon Master Cheat Sheet

20 May 2013: Improvisation skills are critical to the path of the Lazy Dungeon Master. Only those who can build adventures, characters, and encounters quickly on their feet can hope to run a great game with little ...

Relax

13 May 2013: If there is any one single of D&D dungeon mastering advice I can give, it all comes down to one simple word. Relax. If we consider our worst games, how often were those games thwarted by our own f ...

Running White Plume Mountain

6 May 2013: Wizards of the Coast recently released a collector's edition of four of the most memorable 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Modules in a package called the Dungeons of Dread. These adventures ...

Miniature Painting Resources

29 April 2013: With the recent shipping of the incredible Reaper Bones miniature kickstarter rewards, its time to learn how to paint some minis or freshen up our skills. In short article, we're going to offer a list ...

1d20 Shades of Grey

22 April 2013: One of the things that makes Dungeon World unique among D&D off-shoots is the inclusion of a core mechanic with partial successes. Instead of a mechanic with only either success or failure, such a ...

Three Villains from Deadwood

15 April 2013: The HBO series Deadwood is one of the greatest examples of organic storytelling. There's no central plotline or story to Deadwood. This isn't Battlestar Galactica or Lost which pretends to have a stor ...

Tentacles of Terror: Creating Cryonax

8 April 2013: In March of 2013 I had the honor of writing up a Dragon Magazine article on Cryonax, the Elemental Prince of Ice (DDI Subscription Required). After writing articles and statistics for both Yan-C-Bin ...

Dwarven Forge Game Tiles Kickstarter for the Lazy Dungeon Master

1 April 2013: This past week Stefan Pokorny, the creator of Dwarven Forge, announced the Dwarven Forge Game Tile Kickstarter. In short, for $170, you'll get two to three sets worth of painted Dwarven Forge pieces l ...

Using Published Adventures

25 March 2013: Published adventures are a blessing and a curse. Our purchases or subscriptions gives us access to high quality, professionally developed material we couldn't make on our own. That said, published adv ...

Isle of Dread for the Lazy Dungeon Master

18 March 2013: Originally written in 1981, the Isle of Dread is a classic and memorable open-ended adventure. Wizards of the Coast recently included an updated Isle of Dread adventure in their current D&D Next p ...

Dungeon World Fronts in D&D

11 March 2013: "Dungeon World's concept of fronts improved my D&D games immeasurably." - Mike Mearls The power of the internet and the independent backing movement of Kickstarter has led us to a host of new an ...

All About Ashes of Athas with Teos Abadia

5 March 2013: On Friday, 1 March, had the opportunity to spend an hour with D&D freelancer and organized play veteran Teos Abadia to discuss his stewardship of the Ashes of Athas living campaign. In this video ...

Building Your Own Lair Assault

25 February 2013: The Lair Assault organized play program brought a more competitive form to our traditional D&D 4th Edition games. Lair Assaults put PCs into challenging and focused scenarios, giving them a main g ...

Building a Home Base

11 February 2013: Every group of adventurers needs a place to hang their hats when they're finished with their exploits for the week. A good home base should make the PCs, and your players, feel comfortable and relaxed ...

Ever-present Villains

4 February 2013: It's tough to keep outstanding villains in the minds of our players. We tend to bring them only physically and in the direct position to be killed before anyone ever gets to really know them. There ar ...

The 4e Elite Villain Template

28 January 2013: For five years of D&D 4th edition we've suffered with watching our boss villains get stun-locked in a corner and smacked up like a nerd in dodge ball (yes, I sympathize with the nerds in this meta ...

Tools of the Lazy Dungeon Master Video

22 January 2013: "When art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine." - Pablo Picasso The Lazy Dungeon Master ...

Using Curse of Undeath in your 4e Game

14 January 2013: In November 2012 I received a review copy of the fourth Dungeon Command miniature skirmish faction pack, Curse of Undeath. Like Heart of Cormyr, Sting of Lolth, and Tyranny of Goblins; Curse of Undeat ...

3x5 Card Campaign Design

7 January 2013: In another of his fantastic article entitled Humpty Dumpty Conundrum, Wizards of the Coast producer and professional dungeon master, Chris Perkins, discusses his use and review of his one page adventu ...

Three Motivations for Your Villains

31 December 2012: Note: This article has been updated from the original version posted 29 June 2009. Motivation is the key to great characters and few things ruin a good character like a poor motivations. Poor villains ...

You Are Not Prepared

24 December 2012: Every Wednesday evening I have a panic attack. It happens at the same time every week, in the exact same place, on my way out of my office building to the parking garage at about 5:30 pm. At that exac ...

Paizo Face Cards for the Lazy Dungeon Master

17 December 2012: A good lazy dungeon master always seeks out the tools to help run games on the fly. Being lazy doesn't mean being unprepared; it means having the right aids on hand to give us the most flexibility to ...

Leave Things Unfinished

10 December 2012: Sometimes the best stories are the ones in our heads. Sometimes the best stories are the ones in the heads of our players. We shouldn't fear leaving our stories unfinished. We shouldn't worry about l ...

Announcing The Lazy Dungeon Master

3 December 2012: On 1 December 2012, I released my latest Dungeons and Dragons advice book, The Lazy Dungeon Master. This book brings together the experiences of many dungeon masters who found that the less structure ...

Common Dungeon Master Mistakes

26 November 2012: It's often better to be positive than negative when writing advice for dungeon masters. Sometimes, however, it is worth looking at the bad so we can better understand the good. Today we're going to lo ...

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Buyer's Guide

19 November 2012: While we pay much attention to the D&D Next Playtest there has never been a better time to dig into the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons. After four years, we have the most polished 4e products ...

Tips for Running the D&D Next Playtest

29 October 2012: In May of 2012, Wizards of the Coast released the open playtest of the next version of Dungeons and Dragons, currently coined D&D Next. Over the past few months, WOTC has updated the playtest pack ...

Five Tips for New Dungeon Masters

22 October 2012: Note: this article updates the two original Tips for New Dungeon Masters articles dated 27 September 2010 and 12 October 2009. Running an Dungeons and Dragons game can be an intimidating experience fo ...

Using Tyranny of Goblins in Your 4e Game

15 October 2012: This past week I received a review copy of the Dungeon Command: Tyranny of Goblins skirmish pack. Instead of discussing or reviewing it as a skirmish product, I plan to discuss how you can use this pa ...

4e Game Session Checklist

8 October 2012: Note: This article updates the original dated 13 April 2009. In Sly Flourish's Dungeon Master Tips I describe a checklist for preparing your 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons games. Today we're going t ...

Reusing Poster Maps

1 October 2012: I'm a huge fan of poster maps as a simple aid for Dungeons and Dragons encounters. In short, they're cheap, easy to set up, and portable. A good portfolio of poster maps can carry your games for many ...

Character Building Sessions

24 September 2012: Focusing on the goals of the PCs and our players might be the most beneficial activity we can perform when building our adventure or mini-campaign. D&D veterans like Teos Abadia spend up to an hou ...

Finding Players

17 September 2012: Of all the difficulties facing your D&D game, the greatest will always be finding and keeping a great group of players. Some groups have managed to stay together living through adventures for deca ...

Designing the Sword Collector

10 September 2012: In July 2012, Wizards of the Coast published my D&D Insider adventure The Sword Collector. This short adventure includes a double-length encounter focused on the mushroom pool map included in the ...

Dungeon Command Tiles for Improvised Encounters

4 September 2012: With the latest Dungeons and Dragons miniatures game, Dungeon Command, Wizards of the Coast gave us a new set of inter-locking dungeon tiles we can use in our regular D&D games. These tiles give u ...

Zone-Wide Environmental Effects

27 August 2012: We DMs are always looking for new ways to shake up our encounters. Breaking down our encounters, we find the following components: Monsters: The beasts the PCs fight in a battle. The environment: The ...

Tips for Gardmore Abbey

20 August 2012: The thrice-Ennie-nominated super-adventure Madness of Gardmore Abbey contains a wonderful sandbox adventure four 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons characters. Running an adventure of this scale, howeve ...

D&D Miniatures Buyer's Guide

6 August 2012: This article updates the original "Four Tips for Buying D&D Miniatures" published 25 May 2009. Much has changed in the past three years since the writing of that article. Changes in global economi ...

On Far Realm Fiends

30 July 2012: A couple of months ago, Wizards of the Coast published Far Realm Fiends, an article that fills out the list of monsters at the high epic-tier. The article includes some high-level far realm beasts, a ...

Drawing Players Into the Game

23 July 2012: Before we begin, I would like to ask for your help. I have the distinct pleasure and honor of being nominated for an Ennie award this year. If you enjoy this article and the others like it, I would gr ...

Tying PCs to Published Adventures

16 July 2012: A while back on Twitter, HeverOfMarikest asked about best ways to tie PCs to published adventures. While published adventures give us a great deal of pre-built encounters, a hand-full of NPCs, some go ...

Easier Initiative Cards

9 July 2012: Back at the Dungeons and Dragons Experience in February of this year, I learned a new way to handle initiative tracking perfect for the lazy dungeon master. I learned it from organized play tzar and p ...

Writing Great Flash Fiction

25 June 2012: Flash fiction, small focused stories running usually less than three hundred words, have a great place in Dungeons and Dragons. Whether used as pieces of read-aloud text, adventure summaries, or email ...

Jenga D&D Puzzles

18 June 2012: While skill rolls represent the majority of non-combat challenges in D&D, they aren't particularly exciting. Because of this, many DMs have learned how to incorporate mini-games into their adventu ...

Using D&D Next's "Advantage" In Your 4e Game

11 June 2012: One of the more interesting mechanics from the D&D Next playtest is the handling of "advantage" and "disadvantage". In short, when a creature has advantage, that creature may roll twice on an atta ...

NPCs for the Caves of Chaos D&D Next Playtest

4 June 2012: In late May 2012, Wizards of the Coast released the first D&D Next playtest including a short adventure, the Caves of Chaos, built on the original 1st edition Keep of the Borderlands adventure. Th ...

D&D Next Caves of Chaos Character Relationships

28 May 2012: On 24 May, Wizards of the Coast released the first playtest of D&D Next, the next iteration of Dungeons and Dragons. This playtest includes five pre-generated characters, a basic set of the rules, ...

Steve Townshend on Dungeons and Dragons Improvisation

21 May 2012: Recently on D&D Insider, Chris Perkins wrote an excellent article called Triple Threat discussing the importance of improvisation in D&D. When I read the article, the first person to come to m ...

Dungeon Master Survey Results

14 May 2012: Back in late April I created a survey to assess Dungeon Master game preparation habits. I received 804 responses from DMs running many different variants of D&D over many different periods of time ...

Running Mini Campaigns

7 May 2012: Back in 2008, Phil "The Chatty DM" Menard wrote the article Afterschool Tropes Special: The Campaign as a British TV Series that changed how I run D&D. A long campaign can fizzle out for many reas ...

The Campaign Folio

1 May 2012: In her excellent book on the process of art, the Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp discusses her use of banker boxes as a way to store all the junk she collects when working on a creative project. During th ...

The Mastermind Puzzle

23 April 2012: Good puzzles are a great way to keep your games fresh and interesting from week to week. A good set of puzzles on hand helps you stay away from simple and continual skill checks. As puzzle games go, t ...

Steve Townshend on Adventure Design

16 April 2012: In mid March 2012, I had the opportunity to spend an hour discussing adventure design with D&D freelancer Steve Townshend, author of Madness at Gardmore Abbey, the Monster Vault 2, the Monster Man ...

Battle Map Comparisons

9 April 2012: Note: This article has been updated from the original article posted 3 August 2009. Today is a glorious day to run D&D games. Long gone are the days of yellowed graph paper as the only option for ...

Player Driven Stories

2 April 2012: Video game bad boy, David Jaffe, recently spoke out against games that force-feed you the story of the writers and directors instead of building a game that lets the player build their own story. For ...

Patience

26 March 2012: A recent twitter conversation discussed the top virtues of good dungeon masters. One particular trait continued to come up and it was one that struck a particular chord with me: patience. I'm not a pa ...

4e Damage Dice Calculator

19 March 2012: While the DM cheat sheet works very well for giving you a nice generic dice damage expression at any level and with a variety of situations, sometimes you want a little more control over the dice you ...

Keep Things Moving

12 March 2012: Nothing can suck the joy out of a game faster than a lack of action. We DMs love our story. We love the worlds we create and the depth of our characters and our villains. We want to explore them, we w ...

Character Driven Dungeons and Dragons

5 March 2012: Recently DM to the superstars, Chris Perkins, wrote an excellent article, the Storytelling King, on his tips for building character-focused games using the ideas of Stephen King from his book On Writi ...

Gloomwrought House Rules

27 February 2012: I recently finished running a level 8 to 13 mini-campaign based on the Shadowfell, Gloomwrought and Beyond accessory and the Heroes of Shadow sourcebook. I used a few interesting house rules to keep t ...

Inception Skill Challenge

20 February 2012: Inception isn't a movie you might get right away. On the surface, it's a great thriller and a solid science fiction movie. At its core, however, it is simply a heist movie. Think of it like Ocean's El ...

Fiasco-Style Relationships

13 February 2012: There are few games more different from D&D than the story-focused RPG Fiasco. In Fiasco, a group of players determine backgrounds, relationships, actions, successes, and failures through cooperat ...

Tile Tools: Toolbox Liner and Acrylic Sheets

30 January 2012: Overall, I'm not a big fan of dungeon tiles. Dollar for dollar, I find poster maps to be the best quality encounter accessory we can get. That said, poster maps don't include the flexibility we often ...

Monster Group Bosses

23 January 2012: Boss monsters need help. We've discussed the problem and potential solutions before but it's worth returning to the topic again. Boss monsters; whether they be elites, normals, or solos; all act like ...

Building a Modular 4e Game

17 January 2012: There's been a lot of talk and speculation about the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons, particularly in WOTC's attempt to build a more modular form of D&D. Of course, we'll all be keeping an eye ...

Getting the Most from the Book of Vile Darkness

9 January 2012: This month, Wizards of the Coast released Robert J. Schwalb's Book of Vile Darkness supplement for 4th edition D&D. Today we're going to look at how to squeeze the most use out of this product for ...

Default Feats

3 January 2012: From time to time you might be called upon to build characters for other players. Whether it's for a one-shot game, a convention game, a guest player, or a player who simply cannot be bothered to main ...

Sandbox Gaming Podcast with Erik Scott De Bie

27 December 2011: Last month I had the excellent opportunity to spend an hour talking with Erik Scott De Bie, fantasy author and freelance game designer for Wizards of the Coast. Erik worked on Shadowfell: Gloomwrought ...

Abyssal Plague Environmental Effects

19 December 2011: This past week, Wizards of the Coast published my second Abyssal Plague article, Abyssal Plague Epic Threats (DDI Subscription required). This article contains four epic-tier Abyssal Plague monsters i ...

2011 Poster Map Buyer's Guide

12 December 2011: The Battle Map Comparisons article on this site continues to be a popular draw. We all love our encounter maps and there's a lot of potential options available. The more we use these options, the more ...

Building Great Traps

5 December 2011: Good traps are hard to find. Using the rules as written, you might expend a monsters-worth of experience from your encounter experience budget and have the whole party avoid the trap completely. Today ...

Heroic Tier Boss: Aspect of Graz'zt

28 November 2011: Last week I discussed the advantages of a level 1 to 10 campaign but one thing such a campaign lacks is the feeling of facing truly powerful and devastating enemies. The Neverwinter Campaign Sourceboo ...

The Sweet Spot of 4th Edition

21 November 2011: As much as we love 4th edition D&D, the design begins to break down as levels increase. The scaling power of PCs makes it harder and harder for 4e dungeon masters to build challenging encounters. ...

Inherent Bonuses and Random Loot

14 November 2011: In October 2011, Monte Cook wrote a Legends and Lore article entitled Magic and Mystery that discussed some of the problems with the magic item system of 4th edition. It's an article worth reading, bu ...

Dave Chalker on Epic D&D

7 November 2011: Recently Dave "The Game" Chalker, my friend and editor of the Ennie-award-winning gaming blog, Critical Hits spent an hour talking about the conclusion of his epic-tier campaign. As you can imagine, D ...

Auto-damage Effects

30 October 2011: We DMs have a lot of things to balance when building encounters. We want mechanics that are fun for our players and fun for us. We want mechanics that keep the threat of a battle high. We want mechani ...

Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium Random Loot Tables

24 October 2011: Introduced in the earliest days of D&D, random loot tables have been woefully lacking in 4th edition. With a lot of excellent updated items in the Dungeon Master's Kit and Mordenkainen's Magnifice ...

Dungeon Effects

17 October 2011: Wizards's latest Organized Play program, Lair Assault: Forge of the Dawn Titan, includes an interesting twist: dungeon-wide effects. This single-encounter adventure includes dungeon-wide effects that ...

Increase Epic Aura Damage

10 October 2011: While most math in 4th edition scales linearly, player power scales on an increasingly steep curve. While monster damage increases by about 1 point every level, player healing increases even faster. W ...

Introducing DnDTweets.com

26 September 2011: You're a busy person. You have a regular game to prepare, a family to pay attention to, and a full time job. You don't have time to surf Twitter every ten minutes looking for D&D news. Yet there's ...

Skill Challenges with Quinn Murphy

19 September 2011: Back in mid August I had a chance to talk to Quinn Murphy, the lead writer for the website At Will. Quinn has spent significant time thinking about and designing skill challenges, one of the more chal ...

Randomly Selected Character Themes

12 September 2011: Introduced in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting, character themes add a new layer of mechanics and story to your players' PCs. While typically players would choose a theme to fit their character, today we ...

Three Powers for Solos to Shake Status Effects

29 August 2011: Solos need help. A while back I wrote about the economy of actions and the devastation that limiting those actions can have on a powerful solo monster. In short, a daze, stun, or dominate against a so ...

Reduce Table Transactions

22 August 2011: Running a smooth game requires a lot of management at the table. There are a few easy tricks, however, to keep things running smooth. A good DM, for example, learns how to manage the flow of informati ...

D&D Essential Conversations with Kato Katonian

15 August 2011: After Gencon 2011 I had a chance to have a conversation with the internet’s Kato Katonian about D&D Essentials, D&D 4e design improvements over time, 4e’s broken bits, and limiting ...

Alternate Weapon Breakage Variants

8 August 2011: In practice, Dark Sun's weapon breakage rules don't really work that well. While the concept helps define the world of Athas, it's a mess when used in practice. I won't spend a lot of time talking abo ...

Three Tips for Running a Level 30 Encounter

1 August 2011: Running an epic-tier game is challenging enough, but running a level 30 game is something else entirely. Today, we’re going to look at three tips for running a level 30 encounter that keep the g ...

Dissection of a Plague Demon

25 July 2011: Last week my third DDI article, Creature Incarnations: Abyssal Plague Demons, was published on the D&D Insider website. Today we’re going to take some time to put these beasts out on the sla ...

Making Stun and Dominate Not Suck

18 July 2011: Stuns and dominates are no fun. They aren’t fun for the players and they aren’t fun for the dungeon master. They steal away the most precious of resources: actions, and leave everyone invo ...

Chris Sims and Mike Shea on Encounter Design Podcast

11 July 2011: A couple of weeks ago, over on the Critical Hits podcast, I had the opportunity to talk to Chris Sims, freelance game designer, former WOTC designer and editor, and fellow writer over at Critical Hits ...

Encounter Optimization: Monster Mix

4 July 2011: Today we begin a new series of articles entitled “Encounter Optimization”. The intent of this series is to explore ways to build encounters that provide a fun fast challenge for D&D 4t ...

Interview on the Id DM: Ego Check

27 June 2011: Michael, (the Id DM on Twitter) of The Id DM blog just posted an interview with me called The Ego Check: Mike Shea of Sly Flourish. I try to avoid bringing my ego too much into the site here. I'm far ...

Calculating Monster Damage

20 June 2011: Since the Monster Manual 3, monster damage has changed drastically. Charts like that found in the most recent Dungeon Master’s Screen, the update to the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and my own ...

Monster Makeover: the Demilich

13 June 2011: Last Friday, my second Monster Makeover article, the Demilich, was published on D&D Insider. This was a particularly difficult monster to make over, given the importance of the soul drain and the ...

Four More Skill Challenge Worksheets

6 June 2011: A few weeks ago I talked about Skill Challenge Worksheets, a way to add a more mechanical and gamey feel to the abstract concepts of skill challenges. Today I'm putting up four additional skill challe ...

Terrain Effects and Terrain Props Podcast

30 May 2011: Randall Walker, @deadorcs on Twitter and writer at Initiative or What, spent some time with me discussing terrain effects and terrain props in our D&D games at the Critical Hits podcast. You can l ...

Monster Optimization: Pimp My Kalarel

23 May 2011: Each version of D&D has a different key villain in my mind when I think about it. For me, 4th edition’s key villain is Kalarel, the Scion of Orcus that first appeared in Keep on the Shadowfe ...

Power Creep in 4e Podcast

16 May 2011: Back in the beginning of May I had a chance to talk with Matt James, published WOTC author and webmaster of Loremaster on Power Creep in 4th Edition. We talked a lot about the issues surrounding the g ...

The Skill Challenge Worksheet

9 May 2011: Different players have different opinions on skill challenges. Some love the chance to interact in the world while others see them as a speed bump between battles. For this latter category, we can try ...

Get Your Players To Say "Done"

2 May 2011: We're all looking for tips and tricks to get our game to run smoother. We've tried changing how we build encounters. We've talked about how to limit PCs. We've talked about table tricks to speed thing ...

Interview with Dave Chalker on "The Out"

28 April 2011: Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Dave "The Game" Chalker, editor of Critical Hits on "The Out". Dave wrote about this method to build unique, dynamic, and speedy combats in his article ...

Scaling Solo Monsters

25 April 2011: A reader on Twitter asked about scaling solos the other day so today we're going to take a quick look at what you can do to scale solo monsters up from one level to another. To begin, read Chris Perki ...

Monster Makeover: Shademaw the Ancient Black Dragon

22 April 2011: Yesterday Wizards of the Coast published my first of hopefully a series of Monster Makeover articles entitled Monster Makeover: Shademaw the Ancient Black Dragon. The intent of this article is to buil ...

Monster Optimization: The Beholder

18 April 2011: In case you haven't heard, the Monster Vault is the definitive source for 4th edition monsters. With two years of updated mechanics since the release of the 4e Monster Manual, the creatures in the Vau ...

Gamma World Adventure: The Dark Freighter

11 April 2011: The following short Gamma World adventure was inspired by this award winning zombie safehouse design and a conversation between Tracy of SarahDarkmagic.com and myself. I originally designed it as a sh ...

Avoiding the Early Out

4 April 2011: Dave Chalker's "Out" is one of the best advanced DMing techniques you can pick up. It keeps encounters unique and interesting, keeps your game focused on your story, and keeps your battles short and t ...

D&D Challenge Adventure: Gravemyst

21 March 2011: This year at PAX East, Wizards of the Coast sponsored the second Dungeon Master's Challenge. Dungeon masters were to come to PAX East prepared to run a level 8 adventure for a group of unknown players ...

Three Examples for Ending a Battle Early

14 March 2011: You've heard me talk a lot about Dave the Game's "Out". Though a bit of an advanced trick, once you get your head around building "outs" into your encounters, they will run smooth and fast and every o ...

Adding Skill Challenges, Knowledge Checks, and Puzzles to 4e Encounters

7 March 2011: A while back I talked about how to get back your players' attention. In it I briefly describe holding a player's attention by keeping them busy at the table bu running your table like a three-ring cir ...

Building Simple Skill Challenges

28 February 2011: In D&D 4th edition there are few areas less clear than how to run great skill challenges. Some groups love them, some hate them. Some DM's have no problem with them, some feel like they're steerin ...

Designing 30 Minute Skirmishes in 4e

21 February 2011: Long battles are a big common complaint of D&D 4th edition. Most encounters can take an hour to 90 minutes with very few taking any less than 45 minutes. There are lots of things you can do to spe ...

Dave Chalker and Mike Shea on Paragon D&D

14 February 2011: Today we have a recorded discussion between Dave "The Game" Chalker of Critical Hits and myself on his recent completion of a paragon tier campaign. In this recording, you'll hear about Dave's game, h ...

A New DM's Guide to Keeping Things Simple

7 February 2011: I recently received a note from a reader what a likely common delemma for new DMs. Today we'll look at his note and discuss potential solutions for simplifying his game and getting things on track for ...

Limiting 4e Source Material

24 January 2011: It's been two and a half years since the release of Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition. For the past 30 months Wizards has released dozens of sourcebooks and hundreds of Dungeon and Dragon magazine arti ...

Extreme Reskinning: Young White Dragon into Cyborg Assassin

17 January 2011: One of the greatest strengths in 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons is the ability to re-skin one monster into another. I don't know if we had this ability in previous versions but, for some reason, the ...

The 5x5 Method for Antagonists

10 January 2011: I'm a huge fan of Dave Chalker's 5x5 method for campaign design. If you don't know about it, go read his primer on the topic and come on back. The 5x5 method lets you build an open world for your play ...

2011 D&D Gaming Goals

3 January 2011: It's nice to hit the reset button on life every so often. A new year gives us this chance. We can start fresh, with new goals and new plans to get us where we want to go. This is no different in our c ...

The Best of Sly Flourish

27 December 2010: With over 130 articles over the past couple of years, it's easy to lose some of the most useful Sly Flourish posts in the general noise of the site. Below you'll find my favorite ten Sly Flourish arti ...

Five Reasons to Love Gamma World

13 December 2010: Unless you've been living inside of an empty can of beans, you've heard all about Gamma World, the recent 4e-based post apocalypticdds RPG released this past fall. Players most certainly love this gam ...

Interviewing Potential Players

6 December 2010: The hardest part of running a great D&D game is finding a great group. Getting five people together who all have the same drive for D&D that you do is a daunting challenge. Even harder than fi ...

Pimp My Orcus

29 November 2010: Of all of the creatures in the monster manual 1 most worthy of an update, none needs it more than Orcus, the Prince of Undeath himself. Since the beginning of D&D 4th Edition, there have been thre ...

Guest Article: Artifacts are for the Dungeon Master

25 November 2010: Note: The following is a guest article by our very own Jeff Greiner, host of the Tome Show and creator of Temporary Hit Points. I want to thank Jeff for letting me crash his podcast so many times and ...

Understanding the Economy of Actions

22 November 2010: We're going to get a little gamey in today's article, putting on our lab coats and drawing equations out on a chalk board. Today we're going to talk about the economy of actions in D&D 4e and how ...

Building a glowing crystal prop video

18 November 2010: Here's a video I recently shot on building a scintillating portal prop. ...

Five Reasons to Love Auras

15 November 2010: Most of the articles on this site have taken a broad look at ways to make your monsters challenging and fun. Today, howver, we're going to dig deeper into one particular attribute found most often on ...

Writing Awesome Read-Aloud Text

8 November 2010: Not all of us can improv like Robin Williams. We can't spout off Tolkeinesque descriptions of fantastic locations while our friends stare at us with a half a slice of pizza in their hands. We may unde ...

Monster Optimization: Pimp my Tarrasque

1 November 2010: Few monsters invoke such emotional responses from old-school D&D gamers like the Tarrasque. A beast of wanton destruction, a destroyer of worlds, and unique among the cosmos; the Tarrasque should ...

Five Inspirations for Gamma World

25 October 2010: With the recent release of Gamma World, dungeon masters all across the world are shifting their perspectives to think up new adventures in a bizarre new world where multiple realities crash together i ...

Monster Knowledge Cards

18 October 2010: After a certain point in a battle, we can grow weary of constantly comparing attack rolls to the monster's defenses. At this point anyone who was paying attention would likely know the defenses of the ...

Making Awesome Dungeons

11 October 2010: So twitter is all a twitter (cough) with conversations for and against dungeons. I fall on the pro-dungeon side myself. I see dungeons as a staple in fantasy roleplaying games and Dungeons and Dragons ...

The Eight Most Useful Lords of Madness Minis

4 October 2010: Wizards of the Coast recently released the Lords of Madness Dungeons and Dragons Miniatures set. It's been a while since we've had a new minis set and this set is clearly designed to give you lots of ...

Dungeon Tile Master Set Video Tips

30 September 2010: Earlier today I recorded a video of a review and tips for the D&D Essentials Dungeon Tile Master Set. You can watch the video below. ...

Four Things Every Solo Monster Should Have

20 September 2010: Building the perfect solo creature is a good mix of art and science. We want a solo creature to really threaten a party. We want them to act as the giant creature that wets a thousand suits of armor. ...

Monster Optimization: Rebuilding the Lich

13 September 2010: Liches are my favorite monster in D&D. They are ancient beyond imagination and twisted by black magics older than any living mage could even begin to understand. They've forgotten more lore than m ...

Effort-based Experience Rewards

6 September 2010: In his blog, In the Eye of the Beholder, D&D producer Greg Bilsland states that experience points are a good way for a newer dungeon master to build battles and award PCs for their efforts. In thi ...

Defining Skills: Arcane, Nature, Divine

30 August 2010: Update: OK, this probably wasn't a great idea. There appears to be a lot of overlap between my ideas for how to use these skills and actual rituals. I'd still like to find a way to make skills more sp ...

Three Encounter-Changing Effects

23 August 2010: It's hard to come up with a unique encounter week after week. We DMs have to constantly seek new ways to make each battle different from all of the others. Creatures can help to a point but their mech ...

Monster Optimization: Pimp My Ghoul King

16 August 2010: Running tough high epic-tier battles is hard to do. The combination of feats, powers, and items possessed by our PCs push them well beyond their equivalent effectiveness at lower levels. Yet to keep s ...

Epic-Tier Pitfalls

9 August 2010: I recently read an excellent post on Enworld that described one DM's experience running two epic-tier campaigns. I've recently been at the tail end of an ongoing 1 to 30 campaign, with a group of PCs ...

Run your game like D&D Encounters

2 August 2010: Wizards of the Coast has been supporting a new style of play they call D&D Encounters. Players get together at their friendly local game shop each Wednesday and run through a single big encounter. ...

Gencon 2010 Schedule and DM Kit

31 July 2010: So I'm heading to Gencon next week for my favorite four days of gaming! I'll be seeing the other RPG bloggers, checking out WOTC's new stuff, talking to their designers and developers, and rolling a h ...

Monster Optimization: Solo Githyanki Psionist

26 July 2010: In a recent epic-level game, my party was soon to come up against a Chaos Ship full of Githyanki pirates. I wanted a strong leader for these pirates, someone they would fear and someone who could stee ...

Status Effect Alternatives

19 July 2010: There's been a lot of talk about status effects. If you've played a game above level five or so, you've seen the grind that can come from a deluge of status effects. Being stunned or dazed (save ends) ...

Monster Optimization: Vampires

12 July 2010: Vampires are a staple monster in nearly every Dungeons and Dragons campaign. They invoke a common sense of mystery and dread, something we would almost love to be and certainly love to kill. Today we' ...

DM Tips book released

9 July 2010: This week I released Sly Flourish's Dungeon Master Tips, an e-book focused on giving you useful tips to help you prepare and run awesome 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons games. You can learn all about ...

Three D&D Tips from Breaking Bad

5 July 2010: Breaking Bad is one of the greatest television dramas in the past twenty years. With an amazing depth of character, great writing, and wonderful cinematography, Breaking Bad makes us wince but never l ...

Dwarven Forge Buyer's Guide

28 June 2010: If you're a continuing reader of the site or you've visited my Flickr album of D&D pics, you'll notice I'm a big fan of Dwarven Forge. I wrote about these heavy resin-based 3D dungeon props in my ...

Desert of Athas Dungeon Tiles, Environmental Effects and Terrain Powers

21 June 2010: With the recent release of the Desert of Athas D&D Dungeon Tiles, we now have many options for desert environments of all types. It is up to us to turn these environments into exciting, dynamic ar ...

DM Advice: Contention At The Table

14 June 2010: We're going to try something a little different with this article today. I received a note from Youseph Tanha, a writer for Stargazer's World that I thought would be of interest to a lot of Dungeon Ma ...

Three Tips to Prepare for the Monster Manual 3

7 June 2010: Back in mid-May I had the opportunity to ask Greg Bilsland some questions about the Monster Manual 3. You can find the full text of that interview over at my Critical hits article: Monster Manual 3 In ...

Skill Challenges for Combat Groups

24 May 2010: Some groups love role playing. They love weaving detailed intricate stories among themselves. They love thinking how their character would think. They love sitting back, closing their eyes, and imagin ...

Monster Optimization: Pimp My Beholder

17 May 2010: There's few creatures as iconic in Dungeons and Dragons as the Beholder. A ball of intellect and destruction, beholders should always bring terror to those who find themselves facing one. A party that ...

Making Terrain Fun

3 May 2010: Often, perhaps too often, we DM's focus on building terrain as a challenge to PCs. In later levels in D&D 4th Edition, it can become hard to keep the challenge and threat high for our PCs and terr ...

Monster Optimization: Grells and Quicklings

19 April 2010: We're back for another episode of Monster Optimization where we twist the screws a little harder and send those fancy pants Monks and Seekers back to their safe little points of light. Today we're goi ...

Three Monster Powers to Speed Up Combat

12 April 2010: Speeding up combat is a constant desire for a lot of DMs. Most experienced DMs have come up with a variety of tips to keep things fast. Some recommend focusing monsters around Skirmishers and Artiller ...

Three D&D Tips we can learn from Farmville

1 April 2010: For the past two years, Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition has suffered through constant bombardments that it is "Too WoW Like". This has become the flag of the angry old-school gamer whose eyes glow re ...

Monster Optimization: Immoliths and Inferno Bats

29 March 2010: It's time for another Monster Optimization! This time we're going to dive into the middle of the paragon tier with the Immolith and Inferno Bats. These beasts are both level 15 which would make them a ...

Harrowing Halls Terrain Effects

22 March 2010: With the Harrowing Halls dungeon tile set, Wizards gives us some fun and excellent 3d terrain to spruce up our encounter settings. When designing an encounter, however, it is always worth spending the ...

On Environmental Powers

15 March 2010: The Dungeon Master's Guide 2 is likely the best D&D 4e book published for Dungeon Masters. One of the great additions to this book, and to the 4e system in general, is the concept of "environmenta ...

Pimp My Mindflayer

12 March 2010: Note: This article was originally published by me on the Wizards D&D Community site on 11 March 2010. There is a certain class of creatures we hold to a higher standard than the others. While kobo ...

DM Tips Video: Building a Portal Prop

8 March 2010: Here's a short three minute video on how to build cool props for your D&D game. In it, I discuss building a light-up portal for some nasty beast to enter from a foul world. Here's a pic of the po ...

Losing Control

1 March 2010: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Combat Challenge. There's a very good e-book on Lulu that describes the attitudes and philosophies of the 0e D&D Dungeon Master called "A Quick Primer fo ...

DM Tips Seminar Podcast

25 February 2010: Earlier this month, at SynDCon, I had the privilege of running a Dungeon Master Tips seminar with my friends Dave "The Game" Chalker and Matt James. We discussed preparation aids and tools one could u ...

Monster Optimization: Anatomy of a Dracolich

22 February 2010: In one of my recent games, our level 22 party traversed the twisted mountains of madness in northern Death's Reach. There they faced a beast of great power and ancient dark magic - the Dracolich Ashen ...

DM Table Tip Video: The Portable Dungeon Master Kit

13 February 2010: Here's a short video showing off the gear I brought with me to SynDCOn today. It's intended to show all of the bits of stuff one might need to run a game on the road. Enjoy! ...

DM Table Tips Episode 1

8 February 2010: This is the first of a series of short videos focusing on Dungeons and Draogns 4th Edition table tips. In this episode we're going to look at using black t-shirts as a fog of war, pipe cleaners for ar ...

Three D&D Tips I Learned From Dragon Age

1 February 2010: Quite a few D&D players and DMs have been all about the Dragon Age these past couple of months. While not a perfect game, it shows just how far computer and console RPGs can go. There's a lot to l ...

Monster Optimization: Foulspawn Mangler + Foulspawn Seer

25 January 2010: In previous Monster Optimizations we've looked at the Bodaks and Wights, Shadow Dragons, and Ghouls and Deathlocks. In Today's Monster Optimzation we're going into the high heroic tier with a nasty co ...

Sly Flourish on the Tome Show 124

23 January 2010: I had the wonderful opportunity to join Jeff Greiner (aka, @Squach) on the Tome Show 124, released last night. Jeff and I talk in detail about the Foulspawn Seer / Foulspawn Mangler monster optimizati ...

Powerhouse Dragons

18 January 2010: Dragons are the absolute staple monster in Dungeons and Dragons (hell, it's even in the name). 4th Edition did a great job of breaking these beasts out from the rest of the pack with the concept of "s ...

James Bond Adventure Design

11 January 2010: One of my favorite holiday traditions is watching as much James Bond as I can over Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year, while watching the new Casino Royale, I was thinking about how each action sce ...

Monster Optimization: Ghouls and Deathlock Wights

4 January 2010: Since posting my first Monster Optimization article on wraiths, I've had a lot of requests for some optimizations at the heroic tier. Today we're going to set up an optimized encounter at around level ...

Evernote for Dungeon Masters

28 December 2009: I am a huge fan of Twyla Tharp's book, The Creative Habit, and I've written before about the "idea box" for Dungeons and Dragons. In my spare time I am always looking for new and interesting ways to c ...

Giving 4e an Old School Feel

21 December 2009: 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons has a clear focus on "encounters". Each encounter usually (not always) consists of a setting, like a big room, with a bunch of creatures carefully calculated out to me ...

Monster Optimization: Shadow Dragons

14 December 2009: Most monster optimizations require a careful combination of monsters to bring about truly devastating effects. Today, however, we're going to look at a single creature whose power is quite remarkable ...

Ten Ways to Challenge Powerful Parties

7 December 2009: If you've been reading other Sly Flourish articles, you might have seen a common thread - challenging players. In my experience, as D&D 4e PCs get up into the paragon tier and above, it becomes ha ...

Scaling 4th Edition for Six Players

30 November 2009: We'd all like to have a perfect set of five players every time we play D&D but in the age of constant busyness, it can be harder and harder to achieve. One way to get close is to build a pool of p ...

Magic Gems for Item Reward Flexability

23 November 2009: One of the bits I often toss to the side when planning out a series of adventures or even a campaign is loot. With the vast array of possible loot available in 4e and the picky tastes of my players, I ...

Monster Optimization: Mind Flayer + Umber Hulk

16 November 2009: Welcome to another edition of Monster Optimization. Like last time, in our look at Bodaks and Wights, we will find a particularly lethal combination of monsters to challenge the toughest party. I want ...

Creative Uses for Minions

9 November 2009: We all love minions (or we should) but sometimes, particularly at paragon and above, it can be hard to find a good use for them. We might throw sixteen minions instead of four but the result is the sa ...

Dungeons and Dragons 4e: Hard Mode

2 November 2009: 4th Edition player characters are a stout bunch. With thousands of magical items and thousands of possible powers, there is an incredible array of possibilities for PCs. If your players are particular ...

Monster Optimization: Wights + Bodaks

26 October 2009: Welcome to the first article in our new series: Monster Optimization. Players might have all of those fancy character optimization forums and wikis with seventeen rulebooks worth of ways for their pal ...

Ration Tracking System

19 October 2009: Back in August, at Gencon, I had more than a couple of really excellent and informative conversations with Quinn from At Will. Like a lot of folks, Quinn has an amazing amount of passion for the game ...

How to Handle Player Resistances

5 October 2009: Recently, during my paragon-tier campaign, player resistances have come into much greater effect than I expected. In running a battle of Fay Lingerers from the Monster Manual 2, it became clear that t ...

Tips for Running Paragon

21 September 2009: With the 4th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons out for a year now, some groups have breeched into the Paragon tier. This month we will see the release of the second Dungeon Master's Guide with a focus o ...

Three Acting Tips for D&D

14 September 2009: During the "meet the press" event at Gencon 2009 I had the opportunity to pick the brain of David Nett, a professional actor and creator of Gold: The Series. During our conversation, I asked him for t ...

Running Solos the Monster Manual 2 Way

7 September 2009: During the Wizards of the Coast Epic-Level seminar at the 2009 Gencon, the group discussed the differences between Monster Manual 1 and Monster Manual 2 creatures. One of the members of the audience a ...

Four Tips for Running Solo Creatures

24 August 2009: One of the great improvements of D&D 4th Edition over previous editions is the inclusion of minion, elite, and solo creatures. Finally we have a mechanic for powerful bodyguards and that single bi ...

Four Tips for Character Development

17 August 2009: With the refinement of combat in 4th edition, it is easy to forget what separated D&D from the tabletop wargame from which it evolved. Character. Today we will discuss four tips for helping your p ...

Four Principles for House Rules

10 August 2009: Our ability to modify the game we play, to customize it around the desires of our players and our own desires as well. The desire to tinker with systems is what drove us to run our own games in the fi ...

Four Questions with Robin Laws

27 July 2009: Recently I had the great opportunity of asking Robin Laws four questions about running 4th Edition D&D games. Robin is the author and co-author of many roleplaying game books including the D&D ...

Four Tips for King of the Trollhaunt Warrens

20 July 2009: Our intrepid adventurers, just escaped from the vile Pyramid of Shadows, find themselves traveling south into the realm of the Trollhaunt where they might help save a city from the clutches of a vile ...

Four Tips From Robin's Laws

13 July 2009: It wasn't until a few months ago that I learned about the little book written by Robin Laws, the prolific game designer of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, known as "Robin's Laws to Good Game Mastering". Thi ...

Four Skill Challenge Tips

6 July 2009: Skill challenges are mysterious business. While D&D 4th edition gives us the most refined combat system in over thirty years, the skill challenge system clearly has room for improvement. Unlike th ...

Three New Ways to use the Monster Manual 2

22 June 2009: With the recent release of the Monster Manual 2, Wizards of the Coast added a much needed variety of new creatures to off-set the wide variety of new PC classes, races, powers, and abilities released ...

Tome Show: Monster Manual 2

16 June 2009: Last week I had the great pleasure of joining Phil from ChattyDM and Quinn from At Will as guests on Jeff Greiner's The Tome Show discussing the Monster Manual 2. I'll be posting a longer article disc ...

Three Tips for the Pyramid of Shadows

15 June 2009: Note: This article contains spoilers for Pyramid of Shadows. If you plan on playing in this adventure, skip this article. With Pyramid of Shadows, Mike Mearls and James Wyatt have re-created the Gygax ...

4e One Year Later Tome Show Podcast

10 June 2009: Last week I was one of a handful of guest bloggers who had the opportunity to discuss the past and future of D&D 4th Edition with James Wyatt and Chris Perkins of Wizards of the Coast on The Tome ...

Skill Challenge Tips in Tome Show Podcast

4 June 2009: A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking with Jeff Greiner on The Tome Show (subscribe with iTunes), a podcast dedicated to 4e Dungeon and Dragons. In the episode we had two topics: buil ...

Four Ways To Get Your Imagination Back

1 June 2009: Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition is a rules-heavy game. Only a year old, we have dozens of books with thousands of pages of new powers, items, feats, and monsters. We have a combat system refined over ...

Three Tips for Thunderspire Labyrinth

18 May 2009: Kalarel has been defeated and the dark portal has closed, at least for now. Not all the kidnapped slaves of Winterhaven have been recovered, however, and their tracks lead into the Thunderspire Labyri ...

Tips For Running One-Shot Games

11 May 2009: Dungeons and Dragons is a game meant to be played week by week over a long period of time. Sometimes, however, we just want to play some quick D&D with some friends. Maybe we have a group that onl ...

Three Tips for Keep on the Shadowfell

27 April 2009: Update: Wizards recently released Keep on the Shadowfell and the 4e Quick Start Rules for free on their website. The tips below can help make this excellent free adventure even more fun. Though nearly ...

Three Cheap 4e Game Aids

20 April 2009: We all know the primary needs for a good D&D game. Books, dice, pencils, miniatures, a battle mat, these are all either required or very helpful in playing D&D 4th Edition. There are, however, ...

D&D Dungeon Tile Tips

5 April 2009: With the recent release of Dungeon Delve and the strong push to table top combat in D&D 4th Edition, D&D Dungeon Tiles are becoming more and more important in people's games. While the truly i ...

Build a Twyla Tharp Style Campaign Box

29 March 2009: I've spent the past couple of months reading Twyla Tharp's book, The Creative Habit. Over the past couple of weeks, as I finished the book, it dawned on me how many of these habits - habits formed by ...

Dungeon Delve Review

20 March 2009: The minute I heard about the Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Delve product, I knew it was the product for me. While I have a nice weekly D&D game with five to six players and four hours of play time, ...

Start Here

18 March 2009: This site has a single focus: to build the better Dungeons and Dragons dungeon master. These articles are written by Mike Shea, a gamer and writer hailing from Vienna, Virginia. Along with these artic ...

Pyramid of Shadows Adventure Review

7 February 2009: This review is intended for Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Masters. It will contain spoilers. If you plan on playing through this adventure, stop now and go read some Penny Arcade instead. Pyramid of ...

Manual of the Planes Review

1 January 2009: After my happiness with the Draconomicon, I looked forward quite a bit to the Manual of the Planes. Who doesn't want to read about the powerful and dangerous outer worlds? Who doesn't want to find out ...

Draconomicon Review

1 January 2009: What would Christmas be without a fine tome filled with horrors buried in the deepest darkest depths of the known worlds? Pretty lame, if you ask me. Lucky for me, I was the proud receiver of Draconom ...

Dwarven Forge Caverns Review

28 December 2008: Every time I open a new box of Dwarven Forge dungeon tiles I am always surprised how much I love them. All concerns about the price, all concerns about the "investment", all concerns that my money wou ...

Dwarven Forge 3D Dungeon Terrain

5 August 2008: You know you're beginning to fall too hard into D&D when $100 a set for 3-D dungeon pieces seems reasonable. You really know you've hit heroin-levels of addiction when you look in your dining room ...

Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Review

3 July 2008: Dungeons and Dragons has been a staple in my nerd pedigree since I was 16 years old. I've played on and off since high school, playing D&D 2nd edition and D&D 3.5. For most of this time I was ...

Initial D&D 4th Edition Thoughts: D&D Experience February 2008

28 February 2008: Note: This article was originally published on Tumblr back in 2008. I'm archiving it on Sly Flourish for historical preservation. After a cold ride on the Metro, a cold walk back home, and a warm Kore ...