3 Rules for Creating Compelling Fantasy Religions

Whether you are creating your own setting or just adding your own flare to an existing setting, creating your own fantasy religions can be fun for both you and your players. The gods and their religions is a way to emphasize something important in your campaign. Learning more about the god of stealth is important when fighting the thieves’ guild; discovering a particular blacksmith is a follower of the deity of war equipment may tip off the players to the NPC being more than they appear.

So how can you go about making your own, without shamelessly ripping off real world religions? Before I answer that, I wholeheartedly endorce “borrowing heavily” from mythology. Some exceptional tales are there and are a classic for a reason. Pick up a book on them, read and borrow.

But if you still feel you need to create a religion from whole cloth, I have three rules for you to follow.

1) Pick a Theme and Run With It

Start with a core concept that is going to be important enough that it could draw followers. Clearly define it in 1-3 words: war, art, thieving, servants, farming, birds, a particular celestial body, and crafting are but a few examples. Now take that core concept and let your mind wander on what else is related to that theme. Servants work hard all day long for little reward. Who else does that? Employees. So this moves beyond a Noble’s servants and incorporates the baker’s lowly assistant, the dock workers, the one that cooks for to the caravan guards, and so on. So this deity is not a good of servants, but a god to the downtrodden. When the downtrodden are about to be beaten by their master’s for some minor mistake (or because the master is in the mood), they call upon their deity and the deity shows them some place to hide, perhaps even helping them to plan for such eventualities. So this deity is also a god of forethought and hiding places. Now this deity is both fun and more fleshed out than just “servants.”

2) Add in Something Unexpected … And DON’T Explain it.

Players will latch in to that oddity and think about that far longer than anything else, trying to figure out how they work together? Why does the deity of understanding, reason, and time have a groundhog as their spirit animal? Sure it makes total sense if you’ve seen the movie Groundhog Day, but if you hadn’t, how long would you try puzzling that one through. More importantly, what crazy ideas would you come up with trying to make that one work.

The most important part of this step is to limit it to one or two things. Anything more and the theme to your carefully thought out deity starts to look like a collection of random ideas rolled up together. This is definitely a less-is-more situation. Take the deity of servants from the previous step. What if we make them associated with purple flowers? Or instead its sacred animal is a particular breed of goldfish? Maybe followers should always turn their glass or bowl of water counterclockwise three times before taking their first drink for the day. Obviously, there is a perfectly logical explanation for whatever oddity is chosen, but leaving such reasons said unspoken both adds an heir of mystery and makes the world feel more lived in. Besides, it is entirely possible no one knows why such oddity is the case. It could have been lost to time over the last 1,000+ years. Maybe the deity never felt the need to explain such oddities to their followers. Heck you could make the answer explainable should someone ask, but they have to ask someone in world so they can give an in-world explanation. No matter what it is, treat it as ordinary as a Catholic priest putting a wafer into your mouth saying that it is from the body of someone that died about two thousand years ago and you should eat that dead person’s flesh.

3) Describe How Mundane Followers Interact With Their Faith

In my experience, this more than anything else is forgotten by game designers and GMs when describing religions. While the religion is focused around the deity/deities, the followers are no less important. Without followers, gods lose power. Terry Pratchett described this relationship perfectly in his book Small Gods. The great god Om said several times throughout the book, “Smite you with lightning bolts!” when he got angry at someone, yet nothing happened until he gained a single follower. Even then, he got hit with the equivalent of static electricity. When many people believed in him, he swelled with power.

Mind you, that book was really about how the people in the church of Om had no faith and simply did the ceremony without knowing the reasons why. However, a religion without some type of regular way for the followers to participate in is a religion that is going to lose followers. How many books are forgotten after their author dies? Sure some classics are remembered, like Mary Shelley’s The Modern Prometheus is well remembered, but Percy Shelly is not nearly as well remembered despite the fact he was an established author when his wife created Dr Frankenstein and his monster. Same idea.

So yes, any religion needs a consistent way for the followers to interact with their faith. All of these should interact with stuff we decided above. Prayers at select times or for certain reasons. Eating / not eating certain foods on certain days. Regular community gatherings with preferred offerings. Ceremonies to mark important events in the religion as well as the lives of the followers. Perhaps the god of servants has a ceremony marking someone’s promotion. Similarly, prayers for enough energy and strength to make it through a hard day’s work comes at dawn while prayers of protection against an angry master’s wrath can come at any time. Compare that with a god of intellect and arcane study: prayers to that deity should be before sitting down at a desk to do some heavy reading and study. That same deity probably talks about the evils of eating excessive carbs as they will make one drowsy before a long night of study by candlelight.

I hope these tips help you create compelling religions in your game. Be sure to check out all of JBE’s Pathfinder 1e, D&D 5e, 13th Age, and Traveller at the JBE Shop.

3 Rules for Plot Lines in a Long Term Campaign

This blog post is my latest in my 3 Rules series. Check out the others here.

During COVID-19, I’ve been running two D&D 5e games over Fantasy Grounds: one is for my daughter and her cousins, the other is for my wife and a group of adults. Through it all, I have a number of rules that help me tie plot lines together, even when weaving several different modules into a single campaign. These are not exclusive to Dungeons and Dragons or even fantasy games. These work no matter what your game.

1) Don’t Define Everything

When I started off the adult campaign, I had two PCs deliver messages to various NPCs. While the idea for them was to simply get them to go to the location I wanted them, I had absolutely no idea what was in those notes. I’m glad they didn’t look because I would have had to make it up on the spot. In my younger days as a GM, I would have had those notes detailed out; when the PCs didn’t look at them, that would have been work saved for a different day at best or at worst forgotten about when I needed it or simply no longer relevant.

Fast forward several sessions, I needed a way to get the PCs to investigate some orcs as I was transitioning from the Lost Mines of Phandelver to the Forge of Fury from Tales of the Yawning Portal. To help with this, I created a secret love affair between the one of those NPCs sending the note and its recipient, saying their love child (now an adult) that they sent away was coming to visit, and that their child was now missing so the recipient asked the adventurers to find the missing person. That got them to the orcs and worked great, until …

2) Turn Dropped Plot Threads into Plot Hooks

… Until the players got distracted and left that plot thread by the wayside. Part of this was my fault; I failed to leave them enough clues to lead them to their target. By the time I realized this, they were literally heading in the wrong direction to save this person.

In my younger days as a GM, I would have made it impossible for them to proceed until they turned back and saved the person. As a more mature GM, I know to turn this into an opportunity. I left the players an old journal from someone long dead, hoping that some superweapon never gets repaired and turned on again, citing a hope about how one born under a certain sign with various rare characteristics (that just happens to match the missing person) is never born. When they read the note I could hear them all collectively swallow hard, as they realized that the plot line they missed suddenly became very important.

And that is now the catalyst for the new adventure.

3) Leave Some Threads Unresolved

One of my characters in my adult game is seeking the sword of their fallen family member. So I gave him the detail that one vaguely like it was reportedly in a dragon’s treasure pile. Tonight they defeated the dragon, and it wasn’t his family’s sword but one similar. I did that so I could deal with the sword at a future point in time, but leave it for now as we transition from the Forge of Fury to the Tomb of Annihilation. The players raised the questions of why these swords are popping up, and are they being targeted. All of those are perfect to work into a future adventure down the line when the Tomb of Annihilation is in the rear view mirror. But for now, I left that plot thread unresolved. Picking it up later will help it make a more continuous story while still having different chapters within.

Get adventures for your Pathfinder or D&D campaign today at the JBE Shop. You can also find our books at DriveThruRPG, the Open Gaming Store, and Paizo.com.

Skyrim, Witcher, and Tabletop RPGs

It’s 2 in the morning and I just brought peace to Skyrim by killing Ulfric Stormcloak, again. I haven’t played it much lately. For the past several months I’ve played Witcher 3 in my off hours. Both are first person computer RPGs but they are two sides of the same coin. The similarities and differences between them are long, varied, and discussed in much more detail elsewhere. For this blog post, I just want to focus on how you can use their styles in your tabletop RPGs.

It’s funny, I know. Tabletop RPGs spawned computer games, so what is there for tabletop RPGs to learn from their computer brethren? Plenty. Computer games sell much better than tabletop so it is easier for word to spread about which games are better than others. If you asked 100 tabletop gamers to name the best campaign published in the last 30 years by any RPG company other than Wizards of the Coast, Paizo Publishing, or TSR, you’ll be at a loss for a consensus. Hell, you’ll be lucky to have 100 answers. Even if you include the major companies, finding a clear winning campaign is going to be difficult. Reason being: it takes 1-2 years to go from levels 1-20 and most groups don’t last that long. But people play the same computer game year after year. So what can we learn from computer games?

1) Get It Online

With COVID-19 raging and people playing via Roll20, Fantasy Grounds, and other VTT platforms, people are playing more online. So making it easier for them to game together is something we can all take from this. I expect this change in the way we game to last long term, even beyond when “things return to normal” because it is easier for everyone to meet on their computers than to go to someone’s house game, and then go back home. It’s like going to your computer to be the Dragonborn or the Witcher, except here you can be anyone you want. So publishers should make it a regular habit to make sellable products for online gaming.

2) Adventure Pacing

This is something both publishers and home GM’s can learn. It is the pacing of the campaigns in Skyrim and Witcher 3 that I feel make them sell so well. Both have two major and interconnected plots (Skyrim: win the civil war, and kill the head dragon; Witcher 3: stop the Wyld Hunt and find Ciri), but those plots are not a single story. They are each a hundred little stories bringing you to the final story. The Bloody Baron found Ciri and will only tell you the information if you do this other job for him. The Skyrim civil war starts off properly with retrieving a crown before the other side does. This breaks the campaign up into a number of more manageable pieces.

Between each of those pieces, you can do any number of side quests. This let’s you do something different and keeps the game from becoming overly serious. One the reasons I believe that many role playing games fizzle out is that the plot becomes overly dark and heavy. Sure, time becomes difficult to find, schedules change, etc, but if something brings joy to your life, you make the time for it. If it becomes overly dark and bleak, it runs the risk ones sapping all the joy, and it turns into an obligation, one that can be easily removed.

So learn from computer RPGs and build in side quests. These should be different, fun, and not necessarily have anything to do with the main plot. Consider saving the orphanage’s puppy or returning the owlbear egg to the nest before mama owlbear comes hunting it down. On a more serious note, try escort someone to their family tomb to put their recently deceased grandmother her predetermined plot, at the very bottom of the tomb, and a necromancer previously broke in started making undead. Or retrieve the bones of an old adventurer from their tomb they had fallen in, letting both the living and the dead to find peace. Give them a treasure map or a tip about some lost magical items. No matter what, the payoff should be swift. By payoff, it can be gold or items, but what it really should be is both a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of having done good. People play role playing games to feel like heroes; let them be exactly that, both in the big campaign and to the individuals in smaller ways.

3) Pickup and Playable

This one is small but it makes a world of difference: include pregen characters with any adventure you’re publishing over a VTT. In Witcher 3, you’re playing Geralt of Rivia; the entire game is built around you being him. While I’d appreciate it if you could pick from a number of witchers, you can start playing right away. In Skyrim, the guard asks who you are and as the meme goes, you stand there for ten minutes while your face, gender, body type, and race keep shifting, horrifying the poor guard.

That is the difference between including pregen characters and not. If a GM is running your adventure during an online conversation, they’re going to have to make those pregens themselves, adding a barrier to them running your adventure at all. Remember, running a published module is supposed to make the GM’s job easier; including pregen characters is another thing to do just that.

Jon Brazer Enterprises’ Store at Fantasy Grounds is far from extensive, but we are working to improve it. See everything we have there and download something helpful to your game today. While you’re at it, check our our full catalog of Pathfinder 1e, D&D 5e, 13th Age, and Traveller products at the JBE Shop and grab yourself some awesome stuff today.

5e: Baby Owlbear

I’ve been kind of AWOL lately from blog posts and promotions. The reason is, I have been focusing on a D&D 5e game I am running for my daughter and her cousins over Fantasy Grounds and other game I have with my wife and others, also over Fantasy Grounds. It is that first game I want to talk about right now. For most of them, then is their first chance at playing a long D&D campaign. So I am introducing them to a number of tropes, including the infamous owlbear. Since they’re level 4 and an owlbear is a challenge 3, I wanted to give them something a bit more to the encounter than just the one. So I created a baby owlbear, something for the big one to protect. I don’t have it planned for any book in the near future but I am sure it will be used at some point and I thought I would share it with you now. Enjoy.

Baby Owlbears

Medium monstrosity, unaligned


Armor Class 12 (natural armor)
Hit Points 39 (6d8 + 12)
Speed 30 ft.


STR 16 (+3) DEX 14 (+2) CON 15 (+2)
INT 2 (–4) WIS 12 (+1) CHA 9 (–1)


Skills Deception +1, Perception +3
Senses darkvision 30 ft., passive Perception 13
Languages
Challenge 2 (450 XP)


Adorable. The baby owlbear does not appear threatening until it attacks. It has advantage on Charisma (Deception) checks when attempting to determine if it is a threat.
Keen Sight and Smell. The baby owlbear has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight or smell.

Actions


Multiattack. The baby owlbear makes two attacks: one with its beak and one with its claws.
Beak. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one creature. Hit: 7 (1d8+3) piercing damage.
Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +5 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 10 (2d6 + 3) slashing damage.

5e: What is Your Favorite Fifth Edition Class?

What Fifth Edition class is your favorite? We all have a class we love more than the rest, sorry other classes. It is not like I’m asking what’s your favorite cookie. (The correct answer is, “The one in my hand.”) Pick your favorite class and see how others answer by voting in the poll below.

Be sure to stop by DriveThruRPG, the Open Gaming Store, and JonBrazer.com and download our Fifth Edition supplements for your game.

5e: 5 Reasons Why Rangers are Freaking Awesome

Screen Rant recently posted their list of 5 Most Bad Ass Classes (& the 5 Weakest) D&D Classes. While I completely agree with the 5 best list, I have to argue with the weak list, especially with the bottom of the list: the Ranger. Yes, I’ve heard this time and again from many people, many of whom have never played a ranger before, only read the class, felt they were weak, and decided to pass.

As someone that enjoys the ranger, I can say that those that read the class and pass frequently overlook half the class: the spells. This is what makes the class earn its bad ass status. Let me share with you the 5 spells (6 actually) that no ranger should be without (and yes, I am sticking to the core book for these spells).

1. Hunter’s Mark

From 2nd level on, there shouldn’t be a ranger that doesn’t have hunter’s mark. Cast as a bonus action, this spell let’s the ranger add 1d6 damage to all attacks against a single target. When the target dies, the ranger can switch it to a new target. And this lasts for an hour. So it gets extra damage like sneak attack but doesn’t require the ranger to set it up (needing to have a friend be in melee or have the target be at a disadvantage). You go from room to room in a dungeon quickly and it will only require one casting. That is a boatload of extra damage for a single first level spell. Even better, using a 3rd or 4th level spell slot lets you have this spell for 8 hours. Now you don’t have a to move through a dungeon quickly. You can maintain this through a short rest while the warlock is getting their spells back. As a 5th level version, it lasts 24 hours. So you cast it as soon as you wake up and you still have it active on when you are on guard duty that night. That is a pretty sweet spell.

2. Ensnaring Strike

Another 1st level spell, ensnaring strike is a valuable ranger spell. You cast the spell as a bonus action and the next time you hit a creature (note: not necessarily your next attack, you can miss and the spell is still active) the target is restrained. That is a single target out of the fight until you want to deal with them. Sure there’s a Strength saving throw involved, but let’s see the enemy wizard make that.

3. Hail of Thorns/Conjure Barrage

I am lumping these two spells together because they are very similar. In my mind, these are the ranger’s fireball. For hail of thorns, you fire an arrow (dealing the arrow’s normal damage) and then the target and all target’s within 5 feet have to make Dexterity saves against 1d10 piercing damage (half on a successful save). Sure the radius is small and the damage is small compared to fireball, but you can cast it at 2nd level as compared to the wizard’s 5th level.
The higher-level version of hail of thorns is conjure barrage. As a 3rd level spell you can do a freaking 60-foot cone of thrown weapons or ammunition. Start your combat off with conjure barrage when they’re all clumped together and you can deal 3d8 damage to all your enemies. Less damage than a fireball but that is a freaking 60-foot cone. Plus, you can change up the damage type. Going up against several oozes and skeletons, pull out a light hammer and this spell deals bludgeoning damage. Have a handaxe to deal slashing damage.

4. Cordon of Arrows

Have an extra guard at night. You place some arrows in the ground and cast cordon of arrows. The spell watches for 8 solid hours. When someone other than the party enters the protected area, an arrow flies up and attacks. No Perception checks. It ignores invisibility or any number of other things that can trip players up.

5. Swift Quiver

Now for the 5th level spell we’ve all been waiting for: the machine gun archer spell. Swift quiver lets you use your bonus action for two (yes, two) bow shots. Combine that with the class extra attack and that is four bow attacks per round, three levels before the fighter can. Have a GM that makes you count your arrows? Well swift quiver just produces arrows for those two bonus attacks each round. So yea, for the next minute, you just fire again and again.

In my opinion, rangers are a resource management version of the fighter. Fighter’s choose when to use their action surge or second wind; rangers choose when to cast their spells which level to cast them, what am I using my bonus action for (moving the hunter’s mark to a new target or getting two extra attacks with swift quiver), and even which kind of damage do I want this spell to do. Rangers are a bad ass class.

Download all of Jon Brazer Enterprises’ Fifth Edition material at DriveThruRPG, the Open Gaming Store, and JonBrazer.com.

5e: Path of the Pyrorager

It has been a while since we talked much about Fifth Edition. This is a game we at the “office” love and enjoy regularly. We have several 5e projects in the works, but we’re not ready to talk about them further at this time.

What we do want to talk about is the Book of Heroes: Fearless Barbarian Paths. We released this one at the end of last year, but did not talk about it nearly as much as we would have liked. We did share with you the Path of the Giant and the Path of the War Avatar. Today I would like to share with you my personal favorite of the supplement: Path of the Pyrorager.

We shared with you a very early version of this barbarian path back in 2017, but we decided on a number of improvements to it. This is a chance for you to see how our products can change during the development process. We hope you enjoy this barbarian path in your 5e game.

Download Book of Heroes: Fearless Barbarian Paths today at the JBE Shop today. You can also find it at DriveThruRPG and the Open Gaming Store.

Path of the Pyrorager

While some barbarians describe themselves as burning with anger, the pyrorager literally catches on fire when they fly into a frenzy. Some pyroragers claim they descend from an ancient red dragon. Many scholars doubt the validity of that claim, but only voice such doubts when they are well out of earshot of any pyroragers.

Burning Fury

When you choose this path at 3rd level, your arms and weapons erupt into flames when you rage. Your melee weapon attacks deal an extra 1d6 points of fire damage when raging. This damage counts as magical for the purpose of overcoming resistance and immunity to nonmagical attacks and damage. This damage increases to 2d6 at 6th level, 3d6 at 10th level, and 4d6 at 14th level. This damage does not stack with spells or weapons that deal additional fire damage, such as a flame tongue weapon. When your rage ends, you suffer one level of exhaustion (as described in Appendix A of the PHB).

Fire Speaker

Also at 3rd level, you become proficient with the Ignan language.

Flame Body

Starting at 6th level, fire runs through your veins, granting you resistance to fire damage. At 14th level, you are immune to fire damage and are resistant to cold damage.

Fiery Allies

Upon reaching 10th level, you gain advantage on all Charisma checks when conversing with elementals that speak Ignan.

Fire Breath

Beginning at 14th level, you gain the ability to vomit forth flames. All creatures in a 30-foot line take 3d6 points of fire damage on a failed Dexterity save (DC equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier). A successful save reduces this damage by half. Once used, you cannot use this ability again until you complete a short or long rest.

Treat Yourself After the Holidays Sale

Didn’t get what you wanted for Christmas? Trying to figure out if you got more ugly sweaters or socks? Another “World’s Greatest” mug just not doing it for you this year? We at JBE understand and figure it is time you give yourself a little Christmas present. Whether you play Pathfinder 1e, D&D 5e, 13th Age, or 1e Mongoose Traveller, we have RPG PDFs just for you at 25% off their regular price at the JBE Shop.

Head over to the JBE Shop now to get all the races, class options, spells, magic items, adventures, monsters and more for your game. Any PDF that we have to download that is normally $2 or more, you can grab right now for 25% off. That is an awesome deal that you should not pass up.

This lasts only until the new year so grab these deals now. Head over the JBE Shop today.

Running an Epic Con Game: Adventure Preparation

If you want to run a game at a convention, you want it to be epic and for people to remember both you and your game. Much of that has to do with what you do before you get to the table as much as what you do during the game. Previously, we talked about how you make pregen characters and set up the character sheets. Today we are looking at preparation for your adventure.

1) Decide What to Show Off

When you are running a game, the most important thing is showing how is this game different. If you are running what would otherwise be a Pathfinder and D&D adventure just in a different system, the gamers leaving the table will think they might as well have been playing one of those games. You need to show them what is different with this game to make them want to give up their regular game and play the game you are running.

Take Traveller for example. Unlike D&D/Pathfinder, the combat and skills are the same system and skills can switch their “attributes” depending on the situation so any introduction convention game should show these off. So firing a gun uses See Dex and the Gun Combat skill. However, if a player wants to perform a ballistics test on the weapon, that would use Intellect or Education. So I would make sure to show off how those skills can switch attributes. If your game lets magic users cast unlimited spells but have to make a roll, make the adventure that requires magical solution.

This does not have to be exclusively about system. Setting is just as important a difference to communicate. If your game makes dragons far more approachable and not be a bag of fire-breathing hit points, show that off in your game. If your setting has a major city made of giant mushrooms and pixies are in charge of construction, show that off. D&D and Pathfinder tend to take themselves seriously so an adventure and setting that was more light-hearted would be a welcome change. Show that off.

And with that we move to our second point.

2) Aim to Use 75% Of the Time

If you have a two-hour time slot, make a 90-minute adventures. Four hours? Make a three-hour adventure? If you run over your time, players are going to be unhappy with you and remember your game in a negative light. Players will be players and will screw around. Good. They should. If they do, that means they are enjoying your game. But that uses time you would otherwise use for your game. Leave time for them for sheer enjoyment. 75% is a good aim. If you finish with an hour to spare, they have extra time to wander the dealer’s hall; they won’t be upset. They will be unhappy if you are cutting into their lunch break or missing the start of their next game. Build in time for that.

My final point involves the adventure itself.

3) Structure a 4 Act Adventure

When you make a four-hour adventure, divide the adventure into four parts:

  1. Character Evaluation / Introduction
  2. The Hook
  3. The Twist
  4. The Finale

Character evaluation begins the moment you and a player get to the table. The players present get to start looking at the character sheets right away and pick what they want to play. Reward the early arrivers with being able to get the character they want.

Introduction is where you tell the players what the adventure is. This is when the wounded guard stumbles into the tavern reporting that the prince is taken before dying. Here is where the players get the mission before the message self destructs. Try to keep this part to no more than half hour.

Second part is the hook. Here is where the players go, “This is fun!” Show off what makes this game fun. The twist is pure plot, where something is revealed or discovered. These two parts should take 30 minutes to an hour in a typical four-hour game.

One of these two sections should be combat. The other should be problem solving. If both of these are problem solving, the players will get tired and worn out. If both are combat, it will be a slog and get to be boring. Making each different keeps them interesting and lively.

The final section is the climax. The finale should be a surprise to you let alone everyone else at the table. Sure you should have an idea of how it goes, but players should be allowed to do whatever they want. If the big bad is guarding a MacGuffin and you figure they are going to fight the big bad in a climatic battle and they instead decide to sneak past and steal it, don’t put unreasonable impediments in their way; let them do it their way. Forcing them to do it your way will make them think their choices have no impact on the game, and it will spoil their fun. Let them do what they want.

If you are looking for an excellent adventure to run for a convention game for Pathfinder or D&D 5e, grab yourself the adventure Deadly Delves: Along Came a Spider. Download now at the JonBrazer.com, DriveThruRPG, and the Open Gaming Store.

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