by Mike Shea on 8 January 2018
Whatever else was going on in the rest of the world, 2017 was a wonderful year for our wonderful hobby. We here at Sly Flourish continued to try our best to help DMs run the best D&D games they could.
In today's article we're going to take a look back over 2017 here at Sly Flourish; looking at what articles received the most visits, which ones I am most proud of, and which tips seemed to resonate with the most DMs.
This year I published Sly Flourish's Fantastic Adventures, a book of ten short 5e adventures for characters of levels 1 to 5. These short adventures go hand-in-hand with the 2016 release of Sly Flourish's Fantastic Locations.
Following in the philosophy of the Lazy Dungeon Master these two books aim to do the heavy lifting for your D&D games with the full intent that you're going to customize them to fit your own game.
(art by Jack Kaiser)
Below are the ten articles most visited by those who came to Sly Flourish over the year. I offered my own commentary on these articles given their popularity and what has happened since their release.
Building Encounters in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. This was the number one hit on the site over 2017 and I think it was an important one earlier in the year. Two major changed occurred since this article came out. First, Xanathar's Guide now includes much improved encounter building guidelines that I highly recommend. Second, my own philosophy has changed towards build encounters and now focuses on choosing the number of monsters that fits the story.
What I Learned Running D&D 5e from Level 1 to 20. A good article that shares my experiences running D&D all the way from level 1 to 20 during my Hoard of the Dragon Queen campaign. Since then I've run six other campaigns from level 1 up to level 12 to 16 and my views keep evolving. Overall the article still holds many of my views although I've been changing quite a bit towards a more story and situation-focused game instead of a pre-planned adventure.
Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set: Running Phandelver. Lost Mine of Phandelver remains my favorite D&D published adventure. I think it holds up remarkably well as a starter adventure and I still enjoy running it. Lost Mines is the model for the adventures I wrote in Fantastic Adventures and I hope we'll see another product like this in the future. I expect people hit this article who haven't run Phandelver before so it serves its purpose well.
Hoard of the Dragon Queen, Greenist in Flames. Though nearly three years old at this point, people still run Hoard of the Dragon Queen and this article and its subsequent articles aim to help DMs run those adventures as smoothly as possible.
Guide to to Narrative "Theater of the Mind" Combat. I spend a tremendous amount of time and energy thinking about and talking about "theater of the mind" combat. This article has gone through dozens of revisions and best articulates some ground-rules for narrative combat I hope can serve more than just my own table. I'm glad to see how popular it is.
Running Curse of Strahd. Curse of Strahd is my favorite hardback published D&D adventure. I ran it from cover to cover for two groups over 2016 and loved how both campaigns ran. It also serves well as a Halloween one-shot adventure. This article starts off a series of articles that aim to help DMs run this epic gothic adventure.
Tools for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. A list of the most popular tools to help us run our D&D 5e games. Most of these came from the results of the 2016 DM survey but a handful are ones I personally use. It's a handy list to investigate and bookmark. I expect all DMs have a list like this somewhere.
Tools of the Lazy Dungeon Master. Another list of tools; this one mostly made up of table aids that help us run smooth games.
Instant NPCs for Fifth Edition D&D. We often find ourselves improvising NPCs, enough that I often wonder whether it's worth preparing NPCs at all. This article gives us some tips for improvising NPCs, both mechanically and within the story, that fits the philosophy of the lazy dungeon master.
Running Death House. Though this fits with the article on how to run Curse of Strahd, Death House is an awesome stand-alone adventure as well and it's free to download. An excellent haunted house D&D adventure with creepy ghosts, a twisted story, and the remnants of an evil cult in the cellars; Death House has it all.
D&D 5e Numbers to Keep In Your Head. This article gives us a basic list of number ranges we can keep in our heads to improve our ability to improvise. Any time we need to come up with a DC, we can simply ask "what is the difficulty on a range of 10 to 20" and set the DC. A monster's CR is roughly equivalent to a character's level / 3. Inflict 6 (1d10) damage per challenge rating of a damaging effect. Keeping these numbers in mind makes it easy to come up with challenge right at the table.
So those were the articles most visited on the site but I have my own list of favorite articles I wrote over 2017. Of the 54 articles and 50,000 words I wrote on Sly Flourish over 2017, These are the articles I am most proud of.
Three Years of D&D 5e with Mike Mearls. Being able to interview Mike Mearls was its own great pleasure but the amount of interesting conversations and advice in this episode makes it well worth the listen. Mike talks candidly about the changes happening in D&D as it moves from the heavy tactical wargame of 4e into the story-based game that's captivating people on Twitch. This isn't an easy shift for many people and I find it fascinating to watch and ponder.
Letter to a New Dungeon Master. This originally came from a letter that a friend of a friend asked me to write to her son. I think it captures a great deal that I've learned and gleaned from dozens of surveys and thousands of conversations on Facebook and Twitter with D&D dungeon masters. I think this article best captures the high level advice I'd give to any dungeon master.
Choose Monsters Based on the Story. This begins to grasp my new thoughts on how we build and prepare our D&D games. In my opinion, building balanced encounters not only doesn't work but makes our games too stale if it did. Instead we can build situations and choose the right number of the right monsters for the situation and watch how the characters navigate it. This is a big shift in how we might think about our D&D games.
Building Great D&D Characters. I rarely offer advice to players but in this case I made an exception. Building characters that interface with all of the aspects of the game (not just optimizing around combat) can lead to a more fun experience for everyone around the table. Above all, build characters that have a clear motivation to adventure with the rest of the group.
Letting Go of Defined Encounters. This article is another look at how we can let go of defining our encounters by type (exploration, NPC roleplaying, or combat) and instead build situations and let the characters navigate them. This one, choosing monsters based on the story, and the interview with Mike Mearls all dig into this philosophy which I think can be a big change in how we look at D&D.
Over the year I tweeted 370 "#dnd tips" (yeah, I don't know where those extra five came from either). Below are the top twenty most retweeted #dnd tips I posted along with the number of times they were retweeted.
During 2018 we'll continue to look at how we run our D&D games, how they're changing, and how we can make the most with what we're given. Let's pack our bags, grab our swords, and head off into the great unknown.