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

Dungeons and Dragons Cartoon (1983-1985) – THE ESSENTIALS – Part 1 (Season 1)

In which I suggest only the absolute essentials for someone who might be curious about the show but not want to invest in the whole series. There are 27 episodes in total, and I’m going to suggest six, which together come to about the length of a feature film.

What are my criteria? Well written, not overly goofy, portrays the D&D game world reasonably authentically, and has heart.

Click here for Season 2
Click here for Season 3

A Marvel/TSR co-production, developed by the legendary Mark Evanier. Mark has a fun blog entry on how it all got started
https://www.newsfromme.com/pov/col145-2/

The conceit of the show, explained in the opening credits, is that six American kids are transported to a realm of sword and sorcery via a carnival ride. There they are assigned AD&D classes (ranger, barbarian, thief, cavalier, magician, acrobat) and magical “Weapons of Power” by a Yoda-like character called “Dungeon Master.” Ol’ DM basically tortures them with riddles and teases them with quests that promise to lead them back to the good ol’ US. Naturally, they never escape the realm of D&D.

Oh, and because it’s the 80’s, the mandatory cutesy mascot is in this case a baby unicorn “Uni” voiced, of course, by Frank Welker. Peter “Optimus Prime” Cullen is the voice of the recurring bad guy, Venger, who we learn secrets about in later episodes.

The score is excellent, and shares some tracks with the contemporary Marvel Spider-Man and Hulk series. The animation also at times transcends typical Saturday morning fare, with some clear “money shot” sequences, such as when a castle crumbles into a volcano and Venger’s immortal spirit towers over the heroes.

As a Dungeon Master myself, I’ll be looking at this series with my DM hat on. Are some episodes D&D adventure-adaptation friendly? Could it be a playable scenario to run with your home group? I have adapted some episodes, which I detail at length in old 2005 blog entries here and here https://torenatkinson.com/2005/04/16/part-2-campaign-adaptation/

There are 13 episodes in season 1

  1. THE NIGHT OF NO TOMORROW

Essential? It’s fine but you can skip it.
Game adaptation friendly? No, too much of the plot is dependent on particular decisions a group probably won’t make.
AD&D Monsters: Tiamat, plus wyverns that breathe fire.

Presto the nerdy magician is tricked into releasing a swarm of dragons that plagued the town of Helix 100 years ago. The kids defeat Tiamat twice because she is very dumb.

Watch my commentary as a storyboard artist, voice actor, and DM:

2. THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

Essential? No. As much a fan as I am of beholders, they don’t really do the monster justice, and the episode drags somewhat.
Game adaptation friendly? I can’t see how the kids could survive this in normal play, so I say no.
AD&D Monsters: beholder, giant scorpion, blue dragon. Original monsters: giant snail people, hyena-like creatures.

The kids get mixed up with a cowardly knight, Sir John. DM leads the kids to a portal home, guarded by a beholder. The beholder disappointingly only shoots lasers or energy tentacles from its eyes. Venger shows up to kill John and the kids forego the way home in favor of saving John.

Notes: Frank Welker voices Sir John. My video commentary is here:

3. THE HALL OF BONES

Lolth demon queen of spiders

Essential? Yes, I recommend this episode.
Game adaptation friendly? I think you could do it, but it relies on the PCs trusting Hector, which may not happen.
AD&D Monsters: Tiamat, shadow demon, troll, orcs, misc townsfolk including a bugbear and lizard man or troglodyte? Lolth demon queen of spiders! Original monsters: “simian bats”

The kids’ weapons run out of magic and must be recharged at a tomb called the Hall of Bones. Hector the pantsless halfling guides them.

Notes: Frank Welker does the “don’t stop!” background voice and Hector the Halfling

4. VALLEY OF THE UNICORNS

Ponder the orb

Essential? Yes, the new villain Kelek is cool.
Game adaptation friendly? If your group doesn’t have a unicorn buddy, probably not.
AD&D Monsters: (dire) wolves; unicorns

Kelek the bad wizard wants to collect unicorn horns from the few remaining specimens. Uni learns she can teleport, although this seldom comes up in future episodes. Watch my analysis here:

5. IN SEARCH OF THE DUNGEON MASTER

Essential? It’s a run of the mill plot, but has some charm. Still, you can skip it.
Game adaptation friendly? Yes, I did it successfully. For the ‘how to’ CLICK HERE
AD&D Monsters: sprite, zombie, bullywugs, lamassu, earth elemental, orcs, giant snapping turtle, shadow demon. Original monster: giant snail, “Know Tree”

The mercenary Warduke captures DM to sell to Venger. In the quest to rescue him, the kids are captured and thrown in slave mines where they meet a dwarf who talks like Yoda.

Warduke was given an action figure, and years later was statted up in Dragon Magazine and given an official miniature

This was the only episode I could find on VHS back in the day

6. BEAUTY AND THE BOGBEAST

Essential? This is a decent character episode for Eric, so watch it if you like his character, otherwise you can skip.
Game adaptation friendly? Possibly but I haven’t tried it.
AD&D Monsters: giant metal golem, ogre mage. Original monsters: bog beasts

DM leads the kids to a portal home that opens once a year for 60 seconds, but Eric is transformed into a croaking “bog beast” by a magic flower. In order to break the spell they must seek out more bog beasts who are threatened by Kawamung the ogre mage. The kids actually make it home, but return to the realm to restore Eric’s form.

7. THE PRISON WITHOUT WALLS

A stone golem?

Essential?  It’s pretty good, but I wouldn’t say it’s mandatory.
Game adaptation friendly? Maybe, but the riddles are fairly obvious, and it requires a character to work a magic spell so probably one of the PCs should be a spellcaster.
AD&D Monsters:: shadow demon, orcs, violet fungus, shambling mound, zombies, animated statues or stone golem, 

DM tells the kids that a gnome wizard trapped in ‘a prison without walls’ can help them get home, but first they must release him and free his people from Venger’s enslavement. 

8. SERVANT OF EVIL

Essential? Yes. I think this ep is emblematic of the show, showcases character, has heart, and portrays the quality of D&D.
Game adaptation friendly?
Yes, and I’ve run it successfully! 
AD&D Monsters: lizard men, a giant, xill. Original monsters: unidentified land tadpoles, lavender serpentine prisoner, lava hydra (possibly just a spell)

With the exception of birthday boy Bobby, Venger captures all the kids, takes their weapons and puts them in the Prison of Agony. DM gives Bobby a magic amulet, and sends him to rescue his friends, which he does with the help of the fighter Strongheart and the kind-hearted giant who serves as gatekeeper

Notes: Strongheart was one of the characters in the D&D action figure line

9. QUEST OF THE SKELETON WARRIOR

Essential? No. It’s got good qualities but is annoying in places.
Game adaptation friendly? Not easily – the PCs are separated and subjected to their phobias, which can be tricky to run. 
AD&D Monsters: Grimlocks, swamp hags, giant eagle AKA war bird. 

A powerful artifact called the Circle of Power lies within the Lost Tower (of the Celestial Knights), and DM says it can get the kids home. Dekkion, the last Celestial Knight (presently cursed by Venger), admits the kids into the tower where their worst fears of the kids are manifest.

10. THE GARDEN OF ZINN

Ridiculous
Ridiculous

Essential? No
Game adaptation friendly? I say no.
AD&D Monsters: baby green dragon (?), phantom stalkers, bloodworm, choke creeper (?)

Bobby is poisoned during a monster fight and the only cure comes from the garden of an evil queen. The queen needs to wed a king to avoid losing her throne, and the successful applicant must survive the Trial of the Worm. The kids find an ally in the monstrous Sorlarz who has his own secret past.

11. THE BOX

Essential? A neat inventive concept but if you’re pressed for time it’s okay to skip.
Game adaptation friendly? Yes I think so but I haven’t tried.
AD&D Monsters: bullywugs, shadow demon, Tiamat, giant wasps

The kids must take the sorceress Zandora’s magical chest to Skull Mountain at noon and open it to find a way home. The kids actually do get home but Venger comes through as well and threatens to destroy Earth so they return.

12. THE LOST CHILDREN

Essential? This ep stands out from the rest because of the space stuff, which is cool. If you’re a Spelljammer fan you might check this out. Otherwise ok to skip
Game adaptation friendly? Yes I think so!
AD&D Monsters: shadow demon, orcs, lizard men, possibly a grimlock. Original monsters: some cloaked one-eyed humanoids and the creatures they ride

DM informs the kid about a ship and a group of kids from another planet, who they find and befriend. They must all rescue the groups elder and spaceship, held in Venger’s castle.

13. P-R-E-S-T-O SPELLS DISASTER

Essential? Definitely not
AD&D Monsters: stegosaurus, orcs, a xill, a three-headed giant/firbolg? a giant and 2 gold dragons.
Game adaptation friendly?  Possibly

One of Presto’s spells backfires and sends the other kids to the house of a hairy giant, who torments his new playthings with his pet ‘slime beast’ Willy. He’s also been stealing eggs from a gold dragon’s nest.

SUMMARY: THE 3 ESSENTIALS FROM THIS SEASON:
1. Hall of Bones

2. Valley of the Unicorns

3. Servant of Evil

Go to Season 2 here! https://torenatkinson.com/2023/04/13/dungeons-and-dragons-cartoon-the-essentials-part-2-season-2/

20 Minute Monsters – Week 2: C is for Carrion Crawler

It’s my goal to draw 26 monsters from the original D&D Monster Manual, each with a 20 minute time limit. I have recorded my twitch livestream which you can find here: https://www.twitch.tv/torenatkinson

Hey, betcha didn’t know I have a Patreon? Support the stuff you love! https://www.patreon.com/torenatkinson

Want to buy some original art from me? https://torenatkinson.com/artwork/original-art-for-sale/

Also my social medias:
INSTAGRAM https://www.instagram.com/torenatkinsonartist/
TUMBLR https://www.tumblr.com/torenatkinsonartist

20 Minute Monster Drawing Series Has Begun!

It’s my goal to draw 26 monsters from the original D&D Monster Manual, each with a 20 minute time limit. I have recorded my twitch livestream which you can find here: https://www.twitch.tv/torenatkinson

Hey, betcha didn’t know I have a Patreon? Support the stuff you love! https://www.patreon.com/torenatkinson

Want to buy some original art from me? https://torenatkinson.com/artwork/original-art-for-sale/

Also my social medias:
INSTAGRAM https://www.instagram.com/torenatkinsonartist/
TUMBLR https://www.tumblr.com/torenatkinsonartist

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!