by Mike Shea on 8 September 2015
The 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide has a lot of material to love. For those of us who have been playing D&D for years, decades even, we might not give it a full read-through from back to front, instead skimming it for the parts we want to use the most. Things like the magic item listings and the encounter building charts get our attention since they are tools we're very likely to need when running our games.
A lot of other fantastic material can get buried in such a large book. Today we're going to look at a few gems in this book that we may overlook if we don't pay particular attention to them. Let's have a look.
There are packs of random tables all throughout the DMG. Some of them are fantastic. Others might not see a lot of use. The Framing Events table on page 79 is one of the more useful ones. It's hard to make towns and villages memorable once we and our players have explored a few dozen of them in our lives. One of the ways to make towns interesting is context. What's actually going on at the town when the PCs arrive?
The Framing Events table gives us that context. Like every table in the DMG we can roll on it before we run our game and jot down the results, giving our brain some time to come up with interesting details. Maybe we can tie the event to the backgrounds of one or more of the PCs. we might also roll on the table right at the table and improvise the results or even ask players for some of the details outside of the bounds of their character.
This table is packed with useful ideas to push our brains into uncharted territory and turn an otherwise dead town into one that is alive and bustling with activity.
You can also watch Davae Breon Jaxon's Framing Event Youtube video to get a few more thoughts on the Framing Events table.
Page 249 of the DMG has a three-paragraph description of one of the most useful guidelines we can find in the book entitled Adjudicating Areas of Effect. D&D 5e gives us a lot of room to run combat encounters off of the grid but with fixed-distances for movement, ranges, and areas of effect it can be hard for DMs to adjudicate actions quickly and fairly. If we're running a narrative battle in which the PCs fight a number of hobgoblins and their two overlords, how can we decide how many of them fall within range of a fireball?
These guidelines give us the answer. Of course, a DM is always free to come up with a number based on the situation but sometimes it's nice for both the DM and the players to have a clear guideline. In answer to the hobgoblin situation, the answer is four.
Adjudicating Areas of Effect is pretty simple with these guidelines. Almost all areas of effect can hit a number of creatures equal to the measured distance divided by five. Cones are divided by ten instead of five and lines are divided by 30. These guidelines are simple enough to keep in our heads but we've added them to the player focused campaign sheet as well.
The numbers, however, are easy to remember. The number of targets for all effects other than cones is the size divided by 5. For cones, it's the size divided by 10.
The Carousing table on page 128 is a great way to help you draw your players into developing the story as a group. When the PCs spend some time in a town, have each of them roll on the Carousing table and then describe what happened. Build off of the story they tell and try not to steer it too far away from their ideas. If you have the time, consider developing other tables like this that might work into longer montage scenes as the PCs take long journeys such as boat trips, explorations through jungles, or exploring the depths of the underdark.
On the surface, it seems very clear how you might use the random treasure charts but we can use these tables in other ways as well. You don't always have to stick to the Treasure Hoard tables. Sometimes you just want to find a single interesting magical item found on a corpse or three items that might be for sale in a curios and relics shop. Choose one of the appropriate magic item tables and roll on that table directly instead of hoping it comes up on the all-inclusive Treasure Hoard table.
Tables A, B, C, D, and E tend to be your more common and single-use magic items while tables F, G, H, and I are your more powerful magic items. The higher the letter in those two groups, the more powerful the items. There are lots of ways to use these charts to keep the magic items in your game at the level you think appropriate for the setting while still enjoying the randomness of the items that turn up.
Nearly every magical item listed in the Dungeon Master's Guide includes a piece of accompanying artwork. Keep your DMG handy and show players the picture of the item they just got rewarded. These pictures help them think past the mere mechanics of the item they just found and really understand what it looks like in the hands of their characters.
We've mentioned a couple of tables so far but it can be handy to have a reference to all of the tables in the book. Here's a Tables of the Dungeon Master's Guide Reference Sheet ready for you to cut and tape right into the DMG itself.