Adapting “In Search of the Dungeon Master” Dungeons and Dragons Cartoon Episode for a D&D Campaign

In 2005 and 2014 I adapted episodes of the 1983 TV series for my gaming group. I’ll tell you how…

If you want an overview of adapting the series check this blog entry – keep in mind that was written for 3rd edition D&D.

Where to start? First, get familiar with the episode


Have your players create human characters that are children from Earth. They could be from the ’80s or they could be from modern times. In the cartoon the ages ranged from 9 to 15, so that’s probably a good range to choose from.

Each kid should have a phobia. For example, fear of crowds, fear of fire, fear of drowning, fear of growing old, fear of germs, fear of thunder and lightning. This will be important if you want to run them through the Quest of the Skeleton Warrior episode.

WHAT ABOUT MOTIVATION?
In the tv show, the kids were motivated to get back home. They found the monsters of the Realm to be scary and weird, whereas your players will look forward to slaying evil dragons etc. Check with your players if getting home is a good ‘final quest’ for them, or, if not, figure out what is actively moving them through the story.

NO MURDER HOBOS PLEASE
Stress to your players before the first session that all the kids are friends (and/or relatives) who care about each other (even if they may not admit it, like Eric). Decide what your tolerance for ‘lone wolf’ characters are and stress that to the group. Also, while I personally don’t use alignment, I recommend all the PCs be Good for purposes of motivation. In the cartoon the kids defeat, but do not kill, many monsters. Usually they fend off foes and one side or the other runs away. Will your campaign be similar? Will your kids slay some orcs and take their weapons and armor?

THE WEAPONS OF POWER
Work with each player to come up with a Weapon of Power. You know the ones from the cartoon, and if you watch the episode The Dragon’s Graveyard you will see some additional ideas. Here are ideas from my players:

A wand that had a random effect (we put together a table of 20 effects, similar to presto’s hat, they were not all particularly helpful and sometimes they were very unhelpful like duplicating a foe).
A musical instrument that could cast certain spells.
A lump of clay that the character could sculpt into something that would animate.
A horn which projected a cone of force and sonic affects.

Other ideas – maybe an amputee who gets a magic gauntlet to go on her missing arm?
A mirrored shield or weapon which can temporarily blind foes and perhaps scry?
A cloak that can transform the wearer into a woodland creature?

As dungeon Master, you will have to think carefully about the implications of each Weapon of Power and how they could be used to circumvent certain challenges or even entire scenes important to the plot.

ANIMAL COMPANION – YES OR NO?
We all remember Uni from the cartoon, and usually not with fondness. But if you want a creature in the party this can be memorable and help with player motivation. Remember Freddy the dog from the episode The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow? When you want the players to go somewhere, having the beloved pet run in that direction helps.

On the other hand, one of my players wanted to play a baby owl bear and I allowed it. However, be mindful about how restrictive playing an animal can be in terms of verbal communication and general role-playing.

STARTING THE ADVENTURE!

The first time you have a session, run the actual opening intro scene from the cartoon — they go through the amusement park ride, emerge in their new garb, and encounter Dungeon Master who gives them them their weapons, and are attacked by Tiamat and Venger.

KID GLOVES

Probably you will want to start everyone off with Inspiration or some kind of cheat dice so they can get out of impossible situations and don’t die from random bad rolls. Dying from stupid decisions is fine. But this first encounter, which seems ridiculous, sets the tone that sometimes they will have to run away. They are after all just kids and not seasoned warriors. Also, don’t play Tiamat and Venger smart. Tiamat is indestructible but is easily avoided and baited. She is ponderous and takes her time. Venger has powerful magic but prefers to just make threats and monologue about how great he is, how foolish and weak Dungeon Master is, and how the kids are doomed to fail. Play the villains creatively, not efficiently.

Please take a look at my blog entry at the beginner’s guide to the D&D cartoon. This will show you which episodes I believe are friendly to game adaptation.

SCENE 1: THE FOREST WITH KNOW TREES

The narrative begins as the group wanders through the woods. Dungeon Master has told them “you will find a clue to the way home in the forest with no trees.” On cue, they encounter a talking tree which introduces itself as a “know tree.”

Before it gives the clue for the characters to go home, it worriedly reports that Dungeon Master is in great danger, and reverts back to a normal tree. Optionally a character who has a good Perception score could hear some combat coming from some distance away. At any point they are attacked by bullywugs! Have one or more PCs see Warduke as he disappears into the woods, just as a preview to who the villain is that they will encounter later.

SCENE 2: MOUNTAINOUS CHASM
After the battle, or if things are looking grim, a sprite flies to the group and tries to enlist their help to rescue Dungeon Master. The pixie leads them into a mountainous area and along a cliff ledge, but there is a gap in the ledge that the characters must cross. If they can’t work out a way by themselves, or if a failed check leads to someone falling, have lammasu come and help them across, as in the cartoon.

SCENE 3: CAVE OF THE EARTH ELEMENTAL
The pixie leads them into a scary cave with lava rivers inside and they are attacked by an earth elemental, and subsequently, orcs. If you want to keep the characters from escaping, you can have the earth elemental collapse the entrance through which they came. The orcs take the weapons and enslave the kids in the Slave Mines of Daramorn (this will be tricky, players dislike having their agency taken away).

SCENE 4: SLAVE MINES OF DARAMORN
It’s ok to split the party at this point if only some kids are captured. The kids meet enslaved dwarfs who explain that this was their (silver?) mine before the orcs took over. They offer to help the kids rescue DM if the kids help the dwarfs escape the mine. As an option, introduce random tremors throughout these scenes, maybe even some lava leaks – this might inspire the players to come up with their plan.

A dwarf (let’s give him a name – Balzad) tells the kids that Dungeon Master is just on the other side of a mine wall. The PCs should have an opportunity to reclaim their weapons and get through the wall of the mine into the chamber where DM is held by Warduke. Before they can rescue Dungeon Master, Venger shows up. This is the climactic battle with Venger, Warduke and the bullywugs. The The key to surviving this encounter is to free dungeon master from the magic of Warduke’s ice sword.

You can find Warduke’s game stats online, but they usually give him a flaming sword. Don’t use that – give him the ice sword which freezes whoever it hits. And can shatter the magic ice it makes!

DM turns Venger’s evil magic against him and Venger explodes! DM warns the children that he’ll soon regain his form and they must flee the mines as the intermittent tremors are now shaking the place apart. And don’t forget the dwarves! In the chaos of the quakes, the baddies are scattered and that’s the end! Huzzah!

DENOUEMENT: WHAT ABOUT THAT KNOW TREE?

This is one of the few episodes of the cartoon where the kids don’t find a portal home. Why can’t the PCs go back to the Know Tree and get their clue now? No reason I can think of. This was a plot thread left dangling in the cartoon. If this bothers you, you can edit out the tree encounter altogether, or think up some clue to give the PCs that will take them on their next journey.

Next episode will be Prison Without Walls

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Battle mats used

Battle with Tiamat

bullywug fight – Paizo swamp flipmat

lava cavern earth elemental fight

slave mines

final battle

Just for fun, here are the stats for my players when I ran the game:

MC, age 10 (Khodi),
HP 10, STR 9 DEX 17 CON 11 INT 13 WIS 14 CHA 15
SKILL: Stealth, Perception, Sleight of Hand, Performance, Athletics, Search
Phobia of crowds
Weapon of Power: Whip

GILBERT, age 12 (Gibby)
HP 12 STR 9 DEX 11 CON 13 INT 15 WIS 14 CHA 17
SKILLS: Performance, Sleight of Hand, Insight, Perception
Pyrophobic
Weapon of Power: Horn (short burst = cone of force (save vs STR), long blow = cone of sonic damage (1d6 dmg, save vs CON or temporary deafness), melody = drowsiness (save vs. CON)

MADISON, age 12 (Louise)
HP 10 STR 13 DEX 15 CON 11 INT 17 WIS 9 CHA 14
SKILLS: Acrobatics, Performance, Intimidate, Deception
Phobia: doctors
Weapon of Power: Clay

LORI, age 12 (Toni)
HP 11 STR 11 DEX 17 CON 13 INT 14 WIS 9 CHA 15
SKILLS: Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, Stealth, Deception, Perception, +______
Phobia of drowning
Weapon: Boots

MARTY, age 10 (Carl)
HP 13 STR 15 DEX 13 CON 17 INT 11 WIS 9 CHA 14
SKILLS: Deception, Intimidate, Athletics, Stealth
Phobia: growing old
Weapon: Crossbow (Bolt of Piercing 1d10+1; Bolt of Fire 1d6 + save vs DEX or catch on fire; Bolt of Poison save vs CON or be sickened; Bolt of Tether 100′)

BENNY, age 11 (Mike)
HP 12 STR 13 DEX 14 CON 15 INT 17 WIS 11 CHA 9
SKILLS: Search, Acrobatics, Athletics, History
Phobia: germs
Weapon: Staff of Random Weirdness

OWLBEAR, age 1 (Tomoko)
HP 12 STR 14 DEX 11 CON 14 INT 7 WIS 12 CHA 12
full attack: 2 claws + 1 bite (+2 to hit and 1d4+2 dmg each attack)
Fear of thunder and lightning (brontophobia)

100 NPC Names Your Players Will Remember (Probably) – Part Two: Actor Names

For part one, see https://torenatkinson.com/2023/09/07/100-npc-names-your-players-will-remember-probably-part-one-car-names/

One issue I’ve noticed both as a player and DM is that names of non-player characters get lost in the mix, sometimes because they are too banal or otherwise forgettable. If you as a DM want your players to remember that important NPC’s name, I’m here to help you pick one!

My friend Tony on facebook said “As a GM I am not a fan of celebrity or joke names in serious games as it breaks immersion for me.” and I get that. I’m not putting names like Bogart and Pacino on this list because I think they might be TOO ripe for caricatures. One way to mitigate this concern is to swap gender, for example: Theron the dwarf priest; Lugosi the tabaxi handmaid. Another trick is to use old-timey celeb names for groups of younger players, and names of hot new tiktokkers for groups of old grognards. The players might have heard these names peripherally, but can’t connect them with an individual. So hopefully they will remember the names without a preconceived association – if that is your wish.

The idea here is using familiar names as a ‘hook’ to jog player memory. You, the GM, control the NPCs personality and looks. There may even be a few names on this list that resonate with you but you can’t place them without googling!

Anouk
Arkin
Bela (a baron?)
Bo (alt: Beau)
Bronson
Chavalier (a chancellor or chamberlain?)
Claude (alt: Klod)
Cobb
Crispin
Cybill
Damon (definitely NOT a tiefling, heh heh)
De Havilland
Dench (a deputy?)
Diaz (a duchess or duke?)
Eckhart
Elba
Firestone
Forest (a priest? Father Forest, or Forrest)
Furlong
Goldie
Guillaume (gee-yohm)
Gwyneth (a traditional Welsh name for happiness)
Hagen
Harrison
Herzog (sounds like an orc or bugbear to me)
Hoagy
Humphrey
Irrfan
Izzard (…the lizard wizard?)
Jada
Jaffe (alt: Jaffey)
Joaquin
Karloff
Keitel
Khan
Kiefer
Kingsley
Klaus
Krige (alt: Kreeg)
Kruger
Kubrick
Lakshmi
Lancaster
Langella
Lansbury (a legate? Legate Lansbury?)
Lithgow (lord or lady?)
Lugosi
Lundgren (a lieutenant?)
Mads
Mervyn
Mifune (a magistrate?)
Monaghan (a marquis?)
Morgan
Nimoy
Novak
Odenkirk
Ogden
Omar
Orlando
Orson
Palance
Patel (Prince Patel?)
Pfeiffer (Fifer)
Quan
Quinn
Radcliff
Radner
Rama
Rathbone
Ratzenberger
Red
Richter
Rockwell
Rogen (alt: Rogan)
Rutger
Sandoval
Sarsgaard
Savalas
Scarlett
Seacrest (the notorious)
Sigourney
Simu
Skelton
Slezak
Sloane
Stormare
Sutherland (alt: Southerland)
Swinton
Takashi
Talia
Tallulah
Tautou
Theron
Tremayne
Uma
Viggo (a vassal, no doubt)
Vincent
Voight (alt: Voyt)
Warwick
Winkler
Wolfard
Yaphet
Yul
Zane

YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY… 500 Post-Apocalyptic Place Names https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/370354/500-PostApocalyptic-Place-Names

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Jarm, orc cleric $65

100 NPC Names Your Players Will Remember (Probably) – Part One: Car Names

One issue I’ve noticed both as a player and DM is that names of non-player characters get lost in the mix, sometimes because they are too banal or otherwise forgettable. If you as a DM want your players to remember that important NPC’s name, I’m here to help you pick one!

You probably won’t recognize some of these names as cars, but I assure you, I’ve done my research, all the way back to 1889. This is one part of a larger series. Note: if you run a serious campaign where jokes are frowned upon, this list is not for you!

Acura – maybe put the emphasis on the second syllable
Ajax – also a figure in Greek mythology
Alfa Romeo
Altima
Argo – also the ship from Jason and the Argonauts!
Astra -literally means a star
Audi
Austin
Bendix
Bentley
Bolt
Borgward – possibly an orc name?
Buckeye – also a tree!
Bugatti – some people told me to not include this one but it just sounds too great.
Camaro
Carhartt
Cayenne – also a spice!
Citroen
Cricket
Cutlass
Cyklon
Daihatsu
Dingfelder
Dudly Bug
Durango
Edge – probably a rogue or some guy who thinks he’s cool.
Elantra
Elgin – sounds like a scholar to me
Envista
Ferrari
Fiat
Ford
Forester
Grout
Gurgel
Gurley
Gutbrod – another orc name? Or a dwarf?
Harley
Heinkel
Huracan
Impreza
Jetta
Kermath
Kia
Kukushka
LeRoy (accent on the second syllable, HATES being called LEE-roy)
Levante
Lexus
Lincoln
Lockheed
Lux
Malibu
Maserati
Maverick
Maxima
Mercedes
Metris
Murano
Nautilus
Niro
Omikron
Otto
Packard
Passat
Peugeot
Pieper – pronounced ‘peeper’ if you like
Piggins – a plump halfling?
Porsche
Portofino
Primus Priamus Prius
Protos
Renault
Rickenbacker
Riker
Roma
Rover
Royce
Saab
Savana
Scion
Sienna / Sierra
Sirocco – also a Mediterranean wind!
Solidor
Solterra (literally ‘sun earth’)
Sonata
Sorento
Spark
Spaulding
Sprinter
Stinger
Studebaker
Talbot
Telluride
Tiguan
Trax
Urus
Wartburg
Wendax
Wingle
Yugo
Zender

YOU MAY ALSO ENJOY… 500 Post-Apocalyptic Place Names

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/370354/500-PostApocalyptic-Place-Names

Like my content? Send me a dollar through Patreon

All my DM Tips are tagged on my blog, just click on DM Tips

All the Resources in One Place: How to Be A Better DM (5 Principles):

  1. Communicate often with your players. Do this both as a group and one-on-one. Converse with them, not to them. Tell them what your expectations are of your players and ask what they expect out of their DM. If you see conflicts, address them. Understand that what works for some of your players may not work for others, and you may have to make some hard choices to play the game you want to play. But above all – communicate.

    TOREN’S TIP: You are the game referee, but you are not your player’s conflict mediator outside of the game. Set healthy boundaries. Seth Skorkowsky has an excellent video on his channel about this.

2. People these days talk a lot about ‘Session Zero’ – this is basically a subset of point 1. It could be in person or it could be virtual, or even just an email. It’s a communication of what the tone, gaming style, rules restrictions, setting, and everything else about your game will be, including what you will allow and what you won’t allow. This happens before the first adventuring session and it’s a great time to find out what your players are comfortable with (remembering that many of your friends have deep traumas that you might now know about including sexual assault, death of close relatives at young age, etc.).

Is alcohol allowed at the table? How about cell phones? Will characters level up via XP or milestones? What’s the balance between crunchy combat and roleplay-heavy social encounters?

TOREN’S TIP: Ask each character to have a connection or bond to any 1 or 2 other player characters (the fighter and I escaped the slave mines together; I follow the cleric’s god and look to her for advice; the druid is my adopted sister!)

There are lots of articles and youtube videos about what you should cover in a session zero. Here is a good one:

https://slyflourish.com/running_session_zeros.html

3. Watch your Group Size.
It’s legendarily difficult to find a good, stable gaming group (congrats if you have one) and there are different philosophies as to the perfect size. You can absolutely have a game with 1 player and 1 DM. Typically the magic number is 4 players and 1 DM. With smaller groups, you risk having to cancel the entire session if 1 or 2 players has to cancel, whereas if you have a larger group of 5 or more, the danger becomes when everyone shows up and you get very little done in the session because there is more time used up between players’ turns. It really depends the reliability of your players so all I can say is good luck!

4a. Set reasonable standards for yourself. Everyone wants to be the greatest DM/GM in the world, and many feel like podcasters and youtuber like Matt Mercer are the gold standard to aspire to. Keep in mind these are professional actors and what you are watching are performances for a medium, rather than a casual gaming group of friends. Look to them for inspiration and ideas, but remember you will never be Matt Mercer, and you shouldn’t. Just be a good you.

4b. Don’t burn yourself out! I find preparing for my RPG sessions very therapeutic, but manage your expectations. The players will inevitably thwart or avoid many of your lovingly crafted encounters, so just try to roll with it (pun). Also, find a balance for how often you play. Most people try to have a weekly game, but if that seems to be too much for you, adjust the schedule. See if anyone in your group is interested in running a separate game (even a different system) and you can alternate weeks as a GM and a player. Also, consider the idea of a co-DM, if you have a friend that you have a good relationship to work with, having two DMs can ‘share the load’ as Samwise Gamgee once said.

5. Is Everyone Having Fun? If they are, then you are doing it right! This might be the most important tip, perhaps tied with #1. And if you are not having fun. Ask yourself why and what you might want to change.

MORE RESOURCES:

https://theangrygm.com/tag/gming-basically/

Voice Acting Tips for Game Masters From An Actual Voice Actor

Don’t eat the lead miniatures

Hi! I’m Toren Atkinson! In addition to being a Dungeon Master and an illustrator for D&D and other RPGs, I’m also a professional voice actor! I’ve done voices for video games, cartoons and commercials.

While voice acting is not necessary to be a good DM (or player), I think we can all agree it adds a lot to keep characters lively and memorable. But I’ve heard a lot of people say that they just can’t do voices. And to that I say – you can! And I’m here to help!

UPDATE! This post has inspired a video which you can watch here:

Let me tell you my secret: If you’re like me, you’ve got a notebook that you bring with you to your gaming sessions. In my own notebook – on the last page (the back inside cover, in fact) – I have a list of character voices that I am comfortable with (I’ve included it below). Every time I need a new non-player character to interact with the players, I flip to that page and pick a voice that’s suitable, and when I’m not in the thick of roleplay, I’ll remember to make a note beside that voice as to which character it belongs to, so that if the players come across that NPC again, I can refer to the list and keep things consistent. Some of the voices are impressions of celebrities or existing film & TV characters, while others use broad accents or my own repertoire of character voices.

“But Toren,” you say, “I’m not a professional voice actor. I can’t do impressions or accents!”

There are a lot of ways to provide vocal character without doing accents or impressions. Let’s say you’ve got an English noble character, but you can’t do a British accent to save your life! Well, you can try to simply use refined, proper diction. It helps if you literally look down your nose at your players while doing so. Conversely, for a lowlife dock monkey, slurring your words and talking in slang, with every second word a profanity can absolutely get a great character across (for added fun, they don’t have to be offensive or modern curse words)

You can change your cadence – maybe someone speaks super quickly with run-on-sentences, with eyes darting and face twitching. Or, they speak robotically with the same emphasis of every syllable. Or portray the always bored and/or “too cool for school” cynic – who speaks in slowly and monotone, like Daria or the teacher from Ferric Bueller’s Day Off (“Bueller…Bueller…Bueller…”). Perhaps an old shell-shocked veteran speaks softly while staring into the middle distance. Another character speaks only in whispers, but they do so with wild enthusiasm. You can whisper, can’t you? Meanwhile there’s that guy who doesn’t have an ‘inside voice,’ always talking to you as if you’re on the other side of the street. And how about the character who is chronically constipated, with the strain coming through in their voice?

An old voice actors trick is to actually change your voice by physically interacting with your face, whether it be holding your nose, pulling your cheek out with a finger, or whathaveyou.

Don’t overstay your welcome.

For throwaway NPCs a strident or grating voice can be amusing and memorable, but for main NPCs that the players will see over and over, I recommend not going over the top. Nobody wants to hear your Gilbert Gottfried or Elmo impression for 3 hours.

It needs to be said: avoid offensive caricatures. My rule is if a player of a minority was at my table (let’s say a South Asian) and I did a stereotypical caricature of that minority (Apu, for example), would I feel weird? If the answer is yes – don’t do it. This goes for sexual preference and those with any kind of disability as well. Your mileage may vary.

And as always, be mindful of others within earshot of your game. After overusing ‘shouty guy’ in your friends living room you may find you no longer have a place to play.

This is the list that I use. I hope that it will inspire you to try something new next session!

Stereotypical Brooklyn guy
Stereotypical Canadian guy, eh? (McKenzie Brothers)
Stereotypical Scandinavian
Stereotypical Russian
Stereotypical Australian/Steve Irwin/Bruce
Stereotypical Italian/Mario
Yarrrr stereotypical pirate voice
Edward G Robinson
James Mason
Alec Guinness
Wolfman Jack
Sir Ian McKellan
David Attenborough
Dracula (Bela Lugosi)
Tim Curry
Tom Waits/Nick Nolte
Jason Statham/Ray Winstone
Christopher Lloyd
Tracy Morgan
Billy Connolly
Inigo Montoya
Charlton Heston
Lennie from Mice and Men (“I will call him George”) AKA Patrick Star
Bane
Emperor Palpatine
Dustin Hoffman
Ricardo Montalban
Christopher Walken
Christoff Walz
Kennedy/Mayor Quimby
Morgan Freeman
Jay Baruschel
Jerry Lewis/Professor Frink
Marlon Brando
Beavis/Butthead
Montgomery Burns
Transatlantic accent
Elvis
Watto (Star Wars)
Ed Wynn (Mad Hatter/Mayor McCheese)
Brian Blessed/John Rhys-Davies
Jesse Ventura
Bob Dylan
Kermit the Frog
Hagrid (Harry Potter)
Chris Rock
Wallace Shawn
Jack Nicholson
Clint Eastwood
Sean Bean
Korg (Taika Waititi)
Harvey Fierstein
Drunken Dudley Moore
Thurston Howell the 3rd
Samuel L Jackson
Cobra Commander
William Shatner/Zap Brannigan
Gomer Pyle
Will Arnett
Grimlock (Transformers)
Jimmy Stewart
Maude Flanders/Fargo
Alice Glick/Maude Frickert/Old Lady
Monty Python old British lady
Teen with Cracking Voice
Fat Albert
Hank Hill
Boomhauer (King of the Hill)
Al Pacino
Owen Wilson
Jack Sparrow
Michael Caine
Aku/Mako
Robin Leach
Hippie surfer dude
Caesar with lisp (Life of Brian)
Ozzy Osbourne
Comic Book Guy (Simpsons)
Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel (Simpsons)
Doctor Girlfriend (Venture Bros)
Red Skull
Agent Smith/Hugo Weaving
Alan Rickman
Ahnold
Raphael (Sarcastic clerk from The Simpsons)
Humphrey Bogart
Tony Clifton
Peter Lorre
Jack Palance
Marvin the Martian
Lumpy Space Princess (Adventure Time)
Southern Belle/Tree Trunks (Adventure Time)
Mayor of Townsville (Powerpuff Girls)
Werner Herzog

Toren's Dull & Obvious Tips on Naming Characters for Roleplaying Games (Fantasy or Otherwise)

In my many aeons of running and playing roleplaying games like D&D, Call of Cthulhu, Spaceship Zero and Ruin Nation, I’ve witnessed and experienced firsthand the trauma and heartbreak of coming up with a name for a character. As a GM and a player, it’s important for me to choose names that are (1) memorable, (2) easy to say, and (3) add to the enjoyment of the game. Having the name evoke a feeling or idea that supports what the character is or does is an added bonus.

Things to avoid

Antirule #1: Overly long, or complicated names (it’s okay to have a long full name for the character’s last will and a concise first name or nickname that the other players will use);

Antirule #2: Names that nobody but you are going to remember. Tolkein was infamous for this (Amandil, Adanel, Alatariel, Arvegil, and Anfauglir you say? Got it);

Antirule #3: Racism! Just don’t do it.

Antirule #4: Names that other players are going to twist in a way that infuriates you (unless you’re okay with that);

Antirule #5: Random name generators. These are SO DULL. Although, they could be a good starting point if you have absolutely no idea. In which case, just keep reading;

Remember, there are always exceptions. Sometimes you want a character’s name to rhyme with penis, because that character is a dick.

Put a twist on it!

One starting point is to take an average or well known name and put a twist on it to make it unique. This could be a mundane Western name and zazzing it up (Sarah becomes Sarahi, Christopher becomes Christopheles, Jack becomes Grimjack or Jackalak) or taking a famous character from fiction or mythology and tweaking it (Prometheus becomes Brometheus, Prothemeus or even Antimetheus – although this last one is breaking antirule #1). This can have the advantage of being easy-to-remember for other players (most people are familiar with Red Sonja, so they shouldn’t forget Gold Sonja’s name, especially if your gaming miniature is wearing gold armour).

“On the nose”
Name your character after her physical attributes (Scar; One-Eye; Slouchy, Meatface) or skills (Cookie, Bowyer, Cardsharper, Windjammer).

Translations

This is like the above, using a descriptor as a character name, but to make it a little more exotic you might plug the adjective into a translator and see what comes up. For example, if you want to have a fire wizard, plugging ‘fire’ into google translate comes up with fuego, incendio, zjarr (Albanian), fajro, masunog (Filipino) and Brandstelle (German).

Alliteration Adds Amemorability

Think about it: Peter Parker. Bilbo Baggins. Doctor Doom. J Jonah Jameson. ‘Nuff said!

Add an Epithet

Fortran the Black; Hogmeal Wundersniff the Elder; Richard the Duckhearted; Kilwich the Sunderer; Bob the Great. Udon Haddock the Third.

Here are some more jumping off points…

Place names.

Think Indiana Jones, Hanna Montana and Carmen Sandiego, but better. Load google maps, pick a spot on the planet, zoom in and look at some of the place names. I just zoomed into northern Pakistan and in less than 3 minutes found Mingora, Battagram and Sukai Sar, all of which I’m now going to use, so hands off!

Food, spices and drugs

Think about your favourite (or most hated) foodstuffs. It’s especially fun to name siblings or groups of characters after specific related consumables. For example, you could have in your favourite tavern three halfling serving wenches named Fennel, Anise and Caraway – these are all ingredients in a popular tea blend. A court of nobles could all be named after fancy cheeses (Lord Camembert; Earl Roquefort; Tyrolean Grey; Cherise Chevre; Casu Marzu; Sir Hedwig Havarti) or a trio of hirelings could be dishes you’d find in an Indian restaurant (Palak Paneer, Malai Kofta, Aloo Ghobi).

Gems & Precious Metals.

Amber, Sapphire, Ruby, and Jade are always popular, but there are many other less well known gemstones and minerals such as Alabaster, Beryl, Bismuth, Borax (sounds like a dwarf to me), Cadmium, Celestine, Corundum, Coltan…and I’ve only gone through A-C.

Plants & Animals (and parts thereof)

Got a druid, shaman or ranger? How about Talon, Fangfoot or Greywing to start with? Mammals and birds are a common go-to (Flynn Falconhelm, Nighthawk Emberblade, Tyr Bloodfox, Ursa Windsinger – notice how I dipped into the Latin name for bear) but let us not forget fish, reptiles, and our invertebrate friends! Marlin Smelt, Octus Snakeblade, Coral Greentooth, Snails McPhee, Dargh Brittlestar, and Tarantalus Rex come to mind. For a more feminine angle, flowers and plants work great: Greta Greenleaf, Forsythia Hollyhock, Ivy Monkshood, Lily Snapdragon, Belladonna Nightshade, Fern Azalea are all easy pulls.

Colours

I wouldn’t even mention this, except for the following: Fuchsia, Azure, Cerulean, Sienna, Taupe, Teal, Mauve, Carmine, Celadon, Cerise, Chartreuse, Vermillion, Cinnabar, Magenta, Drab, Ecru, Glaucous, Tawny, Fulvous and of course Aurometalsaurus. See also epithets above.

Thanks to Jay H, Andrew B, and all the other nerds on Facebook for your help!

How to DM – The Long (Old) Post

Being a Dungeon Master takes a lot of skills. First off, everyone expects you to know the rules. If you’re lucky (and I often am), one of the players I DM will know a specific rule, so I don’t have to spend 5 minutes looking up the “trip” rules, for example. Keeping all the players waiting while you look up rules is a no-no. The rules in D&D are pretty intimidating if you’re not Adrian or Jon. These are smart, smart guys who can read something once and absorb it for all time. I, for starters, don’t take the time to read through the rulebook (historically, I’ve spent more time creating my own rules than poring through someone else’s) so that’s a point against me right there. If I arbitrarily decide that a rule works this way or that way on the spot, is that going to skew the balance of an encounter?

More importantly is being consistent with the rules. If, for example, I decide on impulse that a certain spell or game mechanic works a specific way (whether or not it’s in line with the actual rules), the players will expect it to work the same way next time. If it doesn’t, the suspension of disbelief is in danger of being compromised.

As a DM – you have to give everyone their fair share of showtime. It’s kind of like being the director of a play. If you give too much time to one character/player, the other players may not have as much fun. It’s really easy to favour (give more attention to) one player over another, if one player is boisterous and forthcoming while the other is shy and quiet. Especially in my situation now, where I am DMing a group that is not as experienced as I usually game with, this can be a challenge. I don’t want anyone to lose interest because they’re not getting the coaching that they need to understand the ins and outs of just what is going on, what is possible and what is not possible, rules-wise or situationally. D&D combat can essentially be a strategy game, and the more you know the rules the better your strategy can be. When the opportunities arise, I introduce the special moves like flanking, grappling and bullrushing, one at a time, to the group.

Control of the table is another issue. Whenever you game with a group of people who get along really well – which thankfully is 95% of the time with me – it’s easy for people just to crack jokes and basically socialize at the table. That’s a lot of fun and there is usually nothing wrong with it – but it can get out of hand. Especially with larger groups, certain players will go off on tangents that may include the whole group or just a couple of players, which can be distracting as a whole. This was a huge issue when I was playing with Chris Woods, Warren and Bob back in Chilliwack. We would just bullshit for at least an hour before we even started gaming, and including our many, many, many tangents could cut an evening of D&D in half. If everyone is fine with this, it’s no problem. But if you want to accomplish a certain something in a session and you’ve got a limited amount of time to do it, socializing can cripple your chances to do that, and you find yourself having to call a game at an inopportune time (like the middle of combat). If people stop paying attention, you find yourself wasting others’ time describing the same things over and over again. If someone doesn’t pick up on a vital piece of information because he wasn’t listening, it can cost their character his life, and that leads to serious pouting. One of the most often heard paraphrases at a gaming table is “well if I had known this then my character would never have done that!”

Crafting a tale is a whole ‘nother kettle of piranha. I DM for 2 different D&D campaigns – in one “Adventurer’s Guild” campaign each adventure has absolutely nothing to do with the next except that each is in the Freeport area and involves many of the same characters from episode to episode. The girl group I run on Wednesdays, on the other fist, is part of a long campaign that I have plotted out. This requires me to take the players on an epic journey from point A to B to Z, and I have to know where I’m going ahead of time. I’m not writing each chapter myself – I’m stringing a series of published adventures together with a common thread, and this in itself is a task. I have to adapt the individual themes of the scenarios into a cohesive campaign. I have to introduce a setup for each payoff. I have to introduce foreshadowing. I have to know the parts that each player character (PC) and non-player character (NPC) will play.

At the same time I’m giving the characters direction with my various plot points, I shouldn’t make my players feel that I am marching them down a corridor with no exits. The players have to be able to make choices that will affect the story. If a player has no control over his destiny, where is the fun? So as a DM I have to be prepared that the players will make decisions that could quite possibly derail my story. I have to try to anticipate their actions–based on the player’s attitudes and the character’s motivations–that I can adapt the story so it doesn’t fall apart. And if I fail to anticipate, which happens from time to time, then I have to be prepared to make stuff up on the fly, and it’s best if the players can’t tell what’s improvised and what’s pre-planned. If they can tell, that’s one more botched suspension of disbelief, as they acknowledge the man behind the curtain.

There are many other things to consider: Am I not giving them enough rewards (Experience & treasure)? Are the magical items I’m providing going to bite me in the ass when the PCs use them? Will they destroy the challenges I set against them too easily, or will I accidentally pit them against a monster or trap they can’t possibly beat? Am I balancing out the combat-to-plot ratio properly?

Are the NPCs I create memorable? Are they characters? Do they have their own personality? Right now there’s an NPC called Wainscotting (an NPC name I use in most of my campaigns) tagging along with the group, and he’s said all of three sentences to the group. In that tiny amount of interaction with the group the players have come to their own conclusions about Wainscotting. Michelle doesn’t trust him. Marlo thinks he’s not pulling his weight with the group. Really, I’ve been building his personality as we go along (but for the players who may be reading this – that’s not to say that everything about his presence is an “accident”), and I’m quite happy with the way things have turned out. I guess I’ve never had a problem creating characters with personality (maybe it’s the actor/impressionist in me) – in the Freeport campaign I had to play two dozen different characters for Sea Lord Drac’s fancy dress ball. It was a challenge, but from playing the head of the wizard’s guild (Alec Guinness) to Drac himself (Christopher Walken) it was also very gratifying to see the players have fun interacting with the NPCs.

I’m a little worried that I haven’t planned enough; that my lack of reading ahead will make the transitions between adventures too rough. But right now, I think the biggest problem with my current group is “dead air.” This happens to some extent in every campaign, but because most of my players are new and inexperienced, if I’m not telling them that something is happening, there is a tendency to avoid decision-making. I guess this is better than a lot of arguing. I don’t want to lead the players around by the nose so I am giving them plenty of breathing room to get accustomed to the game and to one another, and I’m sure as the group plays more and gets comfortable, these awkward silences will shorten and disappear.

That all said – I think this campaign is going pretty well. I think last night’s session was one of the most fun and memorable for everyone: they finally found some treasure, got the opportunity to soundly bash some monsters (in this case skeletons), and found and rescued the guy they’ve been looking for for 5 sessions. Now for phase two: Mwoo-hahahaha!

APPENDIX: Toren’s Secrets of GMing.

I love to keep my players in suspense and keep them guessing. Poker face is key. There is nothing more blatant than going through an entire adventure and glossing over every room saying “you search the room and find nothing” and then getting to a final room and when a player searches you ask them “where are you searching, exactly?” It’s obvious that the room contains something hidden, and the players will keep trying to search the room until they find it. I approach every room and every area as though it had everything the PCs could possibly find: traps; monsters; treasure; damsels in distress; whatever. It may seem a little pedantic and time-consuming, but I think constantly asking the question “who is turning the handle on the door” when somebody says “we go into the next room” simply adds a bit of realism to the encounter (or non-encounter, as the case may be). Randomly rolling huge numbers of dice behind the screen serves a similar purpose – the players should never become complacent that nothing bad could possibly happen while the DM is sitting back with his head resting on his hand.

A final word about NPCs. Non-Player Characters are, to me, a fantastic tool. Apart from all the usual entertainment factors, they provide a mouth through which information (true or false) can be provided. If you need to impress upon (i.e. – warn) a group that a situation is extremely dangerous – you can kill off a beloved NPC to hammer home the point – I find this provides a slap of realism to PCs who become complacent that their characters are immortal. Although I am usually loathe to use them this way, NPCs can be the DM’s deus ex machina: if something needs to be done to advance the plot and the PCs aren’t doing it – you the DM can take control of the situation if need be without a blatant hand of god coming out of the clouds to set things right. It’s a good thing Wainscotting was around last night or Deanna’s brand new character might have been nourishing a growing Grey Ooze instead of healing up in the temple of Dorl Tavyani. Not that that was the only way out, but it just so happened that all the other characters nearby couldn’t win a grapple check with all the grace of Terak on their side.