3 Steps to Turn Published Adventures into a Campaign

As I mentioned last week, I am running an “office” game of Tales of the Yawning Portal. These are some really great adventures, but what they are not is a campaign. These are adventures that for all tense and purposes have nothing to do with each other except that one starts at a level where the previous left off. Beyond that, there is no connective story, no common set of NPCs to help make everything work together, nothing. It is exactly like running a campaign from a bunch of pre-published modules that you pulled off the shelf. So if you want to run a campaign with these kinds of modules, here’s what you have to do.

1) Make an NPC or Item Significant

The best example I can think of from this happening in fiction is the Ring from The Hobbit / The Lord of the Rings books. In The Hobbit book (not the movies), the ring was little more than a ring of invisibility. It wasn’t anything special. Then came The Lord of the Rings and that same ring now has a back story, one that will spell the end of the world as they knew it if it fell into the wrong hands. That is what you should do when running a campaign using pre-published adventures.

So what did I make significant? Well, I choose an NPC that they just rescued and an item they destroyed. Other than saving the NPC, their characters had no interaction with her. This particular Macguffin could just as easily have been a puppy. Because of spoilerific reasons to the first adventure that NPC was perfect to make significant. Not only that, the big bad of the first adventure used an item that the PCs ultimately destroyed. That item is perfect to be made important to the larger campaign.

2) Add in the Connection

This step is relatively small, but is critical. This, in The Lord of the Rings is where Gandalf found Bilbo’s behavior suspicious, went and researched the ring, and came back to tell Frodo what he found. Last week in my campaign, I had one of two NPCs that the PCs just rescued just up and died suddenly. So now the players have a reason to go on another adventure. What is that adventure? It is to follow the spread of the item encountered in the first adventure into adventure two. Like I said, the characters destroyed the item in the first adventure, but I added in that they found a note saying that another of that thing is elsewhere, and from examination of the body of the NPC, her fate appears tied to that item. That is the connection to the next adventure.

So what was my total work on making the connection: I wrote a note they found, and I added what amounted to a paragraph of box text. It was not hard at all. You might be thinking that that connection is not much. Let me point you to the TV show Supernatural. In the pilot episode, one of the brothers find’s his dad’s journal with some numbers in it. They figured that was a location and maybe dad would be there. Was he? No, but it got them from adventure 1 to adventure 2. Not only that, it established that finding dad as a connection between what would otherwise be random episodes in that first season. And that is what you are doing in this step: adding in those numbers in the journal or giving that ring a backstory. Those are not much either, but it is enough to get the PCs to go off on another adventure.

3) Make a Few Small Changes to the Adventure

Now I have to add in the impact of that connection to the existing adventure. How much does that change the adventure? Surprisingly little. Whenever they encounter an NPC that I already picked out, I have to add in the item. That’s it. From there, it is their call. Do they destroy the item again or do they bring it back? I can guess which way they are going to go, but I will wait for them to make that call and at that point I will adjust the reasons why they are going to adventure 3 accordingly.

Did you catch that important detail? “… the reasons why they are going…” not “… where they are going…” The latter requires changing the module from one to another; the former requires you to change the connection (see above) to the module you already have picked out. If I had said, “they must bring back the item,” some will balk feeling that it should be destroyed, and the reverse would also be true. By leaving the decision up to them, they feel like their decisions matter to the overall campaign. However, it does not impact what further adventures will be, only the motivation behind those adventures. And I can still run the adventure that I want to run, no matter what they decide.

So to recap, what changes am I making to the next adventure: adding in an item from a previous adventure to the next one and adding a connection to the following adventure based on the PCs actions. That’s it. This is not difficult and you can do this as well.

The perfect place to start is with our Deadly Delve adventures. Download our 5e, 13th Age, and Pathfinder adventures at the JBE Shop today so you can make your own campaign.

5e: Blightrat

More than anything, I am a monster designer. Give me a terrifying looking image and I will hand you back a full stat block and description to terrify your players and their characters with. This is something I love doing. Having been caught up with so much lately, I haven’t had the time to create the monsters that I enjoy. So now I am taking a few moments out of my take and converting over a high level monster we created for Pathfinder and making it for 5e. We hope you have as much fun with this monster in your game as I had making it. Just a reminder, this hasn’t been edited by my editors so it is not at our published level of awesome yet (because JBE’s editors make everything even more awesome).

Help us give you more monsters in our blog by downloading JBE’s 5e books at the JBE Shop.

Blightrat

Huge monstrosity, neutral evil
Armor Class 18 (natural armor)
Hit Points 189 (18d12 + 72)
Speed 50 ft., burrow 50 ft. climb 50 ft.
STR 18 (+4) DEX 17 (+3) CON 19 (+4)
INT 9 (–1) WIS 15 (+2) CHA 16 (+3)
Saving Throws Cha +8, Con +9
Skills Athletics +9, Perception +7
Damage Immunities acid, poison
Condition Immunities poisoned
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 17
Languages understands Deep Speech but cannot speak
Challenge 15 (13,000 XP)

Actions

Multiattack. The blightrat makes three melee attacks: one bite and two claw.
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 17 (3d8 + 4) slashing damage. The target must succeed a DC 18 Constitution saving throw or become poisoned and take 21 (6d6) poison damage. The poisoned condition lasts until the disease is cured; clumps of hair fall out of the target until cured. Every 24 hours that elapses the target must repeat the saving throw, reducing its hit point maximum by 21 (4d6) on a failure. The disease is cured on a successful saving throw. The target died if the disease reduces its hit point maximum to 0. This reduction to the target’s hit point maximum last until the disease is cured.
Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 22 (4d8 + 4) slashing damage.
Diseased Spit (Recharge 5–6). The blightrat unleashes a torrent of saliva and disease in a 30-foot line. Each creature in that line must make a DC 18 Dexterity saving throw, taking 27 (6d8) acid damage and 18 (4d8) poison damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one.
Even the drow know to stay away from a blightrat and the region where a full pox of these creatures nest. A blightrat is a nightmare for those that are prone to disease and value their hair, such as duergars and other dwarves, who think twice before facing a blightrat.
Highly aggressive and fiercely territorial, a blightrat will attack any creature that enters its territory unless the creature comes bearing tribute. Leaving a token of goodwill, such as moldy cheese or a mound of maggot-filled, spoiled meat about the size of a Medium creature, at the edge of the blightrat’s territory will often appease the creature. Blightrats also value gemstones and magic items, which they add to their hoards. Providing such gifts earns favor with a blightrat, paving the way for negotiations with it.
A blightrat stands 11 feet tall when on its hind legs and weighs about 3,000 pounds.

3 Reasons to Run Published Adventures

For the JBE “office” game, I run Tales of the Yawning Portal for the group. I mean, I can’t run anything that we ourselves published because we know each adventure so well. And honestly, who can pass up a collection of classic adventures. Last week, we finished up the first adventure, the Sunless Citadel, and it reminded me why I love running published adventures these days.

A little background: I use to never run published adventures. The first campaign I GMed was Exalted 1e. There was exactly 1 adventure for that entire edition. Not only that, I was able to make the campaign based in what characters the players made. I was 30 before I ran my first published adventure, and I don’t see myself going back to that anytime soon.

So if you create your own campaign, here are some reasons why you might want to consider checking out published adventures.

1) They Save Time

Oh my goodness do published adventures save time. The last campaign I ran that I created myself, I ran it on a Sunday, and I spent my entire Saturday prepping for it. I’d stat out every possible NPC they’d meet, even if it was only for a quick conversation because “you never knew what the PC’s were going to do.” I wrote mounds and mounds of read aloud text I never used. I’d read over source books in case they went off in some other direction I had not planned for or looking for some awesome treasure for them to get their hands on or … The list goes on.

When did I start prepping last week’s session? 20 minutes before we started. I don’t recommend doing that, but I was running late and work ate into my prep time. That right there is one of the biggest reasons why I use published adventures these days: because I no longer have the time to create an adventure for a specific group. The thing was, I still ran a good game. It would have been better if I had spent even an hour on it, but for such a short prep time, it was good.

Having said that, I still made the game unique. I rewrote the entire beginning. I added NPCs to the town. I created my own twists and turns. All of these modifications did take time—more than last week’s 20 min prep—but far less than the full day each session use to require. On the whole, I can run a great game at a fraction of the time required.

2) More Focused Characters

As any GM knows, players can do anything at any time. That is one of the things that make running a campaign so difficult—you have to be prepared for anything at any time. When I created my own campaign, I designed the adventures around the characters. Yet when I run a published campaign, the players make their characters around the adventures. Who is reacting to whom is reversed.

Think if it like this, if you let the players make whatever they want from any available source book, they will make characters that have little if anything to do with each other. Give them some direction and they will make characters around those ideas. Tell them you are running a specific campaign and they will make characters that fit that specific theme.

By giving them direction, you are channelling their creativity not hindering it, and you will get far less of the “the PCs can go any direction” that I talked about in the point above. A group where the players make characters without direction can result in an out of place character: three heroes, and a thief that wants nothing but violence and money, as an example. Then as the GM it is your job to figure a way to make them work together. Instead if you tell the players you are running a campaign where isolated villages are being attacked and you’re helping them, like in our adventures Deadly Delves: Along Came a Spider and Rescue from Trykaven (available for Pathfinder and 5e), then the players will all be thinking about how the character they want to play fits in the adventure.

3) You’re Creating a Shared Experience

By running a published adventure, you are giving your fellow gamers an experience that they can talk about with their fellow gamers that other gamers can bond over. Look at it another way: adventures are stories. One crafted for a specific group is the campfire story while the published adventure is the novel or movie. How many times have each of us bonded with someone we just met while talking about a Marvel movie? The campfire stories, the only way I have found to bond with someone about that is to repeat that same story; bumping into someone that knows that exact same story has yet to happen for me.

So when we go to conventions, having played a published adventure is giving us something in common with someone we never met before. That is another opportunity to make friends and play new campaigns.

So do you prefer to run your own campaigns or do you run published adventures? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Looking for some awesome adventure? Our Deadly Delves line of adventures provides you with game sessions that your players will remember. On top of that, they are designed for busy GMs like you and me. Download our 5e, 13th Age, and Pathfinder adventures at the JBE Shop today.

5e: Amazing Archetypes for Fighters

Weapon Masters and Martial Champions

Other adventurers sometimes consider fighters to be nothing more than dumb brutes—prove them wrong with this supplement! Build a fighter with enough new tricks to make your rogue jealous, and employ tactics no barbarian can comprehend. Mix magic with your martial prowess, and become a knight of wits.

Inside the 16 pages of Book of Heroes: Heroic Fighter Archetypes, you will find:

  • The Pact-Bound Sword, who deals with an otherworldly patron in exchange for warlock-like powers
  • The Shieldbearer, who deflects mighty blows with a shield and wields it like a weapon
  • The Tainted Soul, whose knowledge of their fate in the afterlife drives them to oppose evil at any cost
  • And many more!

Be the Hero You’ve Always Known You Are With These Awesome Character Options Today.

Download Book of Heroes: Heroic Fighter Archetypes today at the JBE Shop, DriveThruRPG, Paizo, and soon the Open Gaming Store.

Announcing the Book of Heroes

Today JBE is announcing we are consolidating all of our player-focused lines into the Book of Heroes. This goes for DnD 5e, Pathfinder, and 13th Age. So all future Book of Heroic Races, Book of Magic, Book of Feats, Book of the Faithful, 13 Class Options, and several other lines we created will all be in this line. This is something we should have done from the beginning, and I only recently understood just how important it is. So I thought I would share with you our reasoning and hope you will check out our titles.

1) It Makes It Easier for You to Recognize

This is easily the biggest reason. From now on, you will know that any book of ours labeled Book of Heroes, you will know it is designed for players. From there, all you have to do is look at the subheading to see if it is right for you. Makes life easy.

2) It’s Less Confusing

Previously we had put Arcanist, Warlock and Witch class options, dragon themed-archetypes, and spellcaster feats in the Book of Magic, Cleric subdomains, feats, and artifacts under the Book of the Faithful, and some magic items and Cavalier class options under no heading at all. Where exactly the line was on these was not well planned out and was downright confusing. By consolidating all of these and others under the heading of the Book of Heroes, it all makes sense.

3) It Gives Us More Freedom

Lastly, we have the freedom to combine different ideas. Take the Book of Magic: Dragon Spells and Archetypes as an example. In addition to the spells, we included archetypes and class options for the Occultist, Shaman, and Wizard classes. You’ll notice there is no dragon rider archetype for the Cavalier, dragon hunter for the Ranger, or a scaled warrior for the fighter. Those ideas were cut because they did not fit under the heading of Book of Magic very well. From here, we are no longer held back by the label we put on the product. From here out, you should enjoy seeing our products covering a wider range of topics. Now we are freed up to include new archetypes and class options as well as magic items designed to work with those new class options and spells to make better use of these archetypes. Plus we can consolidate them all under one title to give you more print books for your shelves.

I should point out that Shadowsfall will still be separate but that is because it is its own setting and not designed for use with any setting, like the Book of Heroes line is.

Check out all of our Pathfinder, D&D 5e, and 13th Age products at the JBE Shop. Order and download them today.

Poll: Where Do You Buy Your Pathfinder Compatible, 5e Compatible, and 13th Age Compatible Books and PDFs From?

Today we would like to ask you where you buy your books from, be they print or PDF. Please note, we are only asking about Pathfinder Compatible (so not Paizo’s books), 5e Compatible (so nothing from Wizards nor from the DMs Guild), and 13th Age Compatible (so not Pelgrane’s books). Vote for your top 3 answers. If you don’t see where you purchase your books and PDFs from, please let us know in the comments below.

Sorry Traveller, we would include you in this poll, but the license allows for only one place for Traveller MGT2e books to be sold at DriveThruRPG.

Thank you in advance.

5e: Updating the Awesome

Yesterday, we rereleased Deadly Delves: Along Came a Spider in PDF for Fifth Edition. The original was our first adventure we released for 5e and I think it deserves a mention as to why. The answer will give you a better picture as to who we are, the way we approach game design, and where we are going from here.

First some history. When we first released Along Came a Spider, there was no OGL or DMs Guild for 5e. If you were releasing products for 5e, you did so hoping you wouldn’t get into legal trouble with WotC. You had to be sure you were right, legally speaking. You had to know what you were doing or that might be the last thing you published. If you remember, the playtest lasted two years and it look another two years for the 5e SRD to be released. Add to that their slow release schedule. While it helped them sell books, it meant that if you didn’t want either of the adventures they released that year, you had no other options. So it was in that environment we decided to go ahead and publish for 5e without a net, so to speak.

Along Came a Spider was designed to be both a Pathfinder release as well as a 5e release. It was written by Joel Flank–a freelancer I trusted as being excellent with Pathfinder and like me and some of my editing crew switched to 5e during the playtest. We loved the new game and wanted to be apart of it right away. Heck, our adventure Rescue from Tyrkaven was written during the playtest and was converted to Pathfinder when some license wasn’t released for it right away, but that is a take for a different day.

When it came to making it a 5e module, we had a number of hurdles about which we had to make tough decisions. Everything from the monster stat blocks to the use of advantage and disadvantage had to be discussed. Ultimately, we decided to go with a Pathfinder-inspired monster stat block since we were using the Pathfinder OGL as our base. Doing so, however, meant that our monster stats did not look like 5e stat blocks. While not a big deal as all the stats were 5e stats and not Pathfinder, it was a barrier to using our module effortlessly. A core philosophy in our modules and any other GM-related products we create is to make the GM’s job easier. We decided that the benefit of a GM having the option of another module to choose from outweighed any barrier of having the monster stat blocks and similar legal hoops we jumped through to make this safe. When we decided to redo this module, fixing the monster stat blocks and similar barriers was at the to of our to-do list.

Then there is the issue of layout. The original version of Along Came a Spider appears almost identical our Pathfinder version. Having run far more Pathfinder modules than 5e modules at that point, I was quite use to having monster stat blocks right in the text and did not like having to flip to the back of the book for all the monsters. Since that time, we have heard from many 5e fans that said they prefer having their monsters in the back. Since those early days, I’ve run more 5e modules and I must say I like having all the monster together when I am running a module from a PDF because it means I can print out the monsters and not have to print out the adventure along with it.

There is one other major difference in this version over the original: a third map. Our budget for modules back in those days was pretty low. We had just enough for only two maps. We decided the maps should cover what we felt were the most critical and visually appealing fights. Ultimately, we decided to not have a map for the final few fights since they were in caves, figuring a cave map is pretty easy to come up with. All the reviews and comments we received concerning Along Came a Spider mentioned the lack of a final map and I knew that if we ever revisited Thai adventure, this would be one of the things we addressed. I am happy to report, those final fights have a map that we can be proud of that will inspire GMs and players in these final moments.

Download Deadly Delves: Along Came a Spider today at the JBE Shop, DriveThruRPG, Paizo, and the Open Gaming Store.

5e/Pathfinder: The Pit of Eternal Torture

Last year, I shared my thoughts on an alternate take on the planes of law and chaotic evil. I always intended to get back and describe the rest if the planes, but I got distracted and never finished. Well, I thought I would take a few moments and jot down my thoughts on the lawful evil plane, or as I like to call it, the Pit of Eternal Torture.

Let me just state that I am doing this because I feel that angels, demons, and devils shouldn’t be in a fantasy realm. I prefer facing something without the real world mythology bleeding in. This way I can flavor it as best fits the story as well as experiencing the joy of creating something new. And when it comes to kytons, there’s lots of room to create.

Kytons, also called chain devils in some versions, believing in giving pain and not just oppressing the damned in their charge. They believe in following the rules and that rule breakers are to be savagely and severely punished. If you are healed, it is only so you can continue working for them. Kytons do not just take pleasure from pain but from the resistance of the mind’s resistances crumbling. They do not only want to beat their followers (also known as charges), but to break them as well.

When a kyton is done with you, you should not be able to see a world outside of them.

People that willingly submit to a kyton’s will have many reasons: they offer strength in troubling times, they make the world seem simple by categorizing everything as good and bad (which their charges understand as pain free and painful), and they demonize anyone and anything that is not for them. To those that see the world as dangerous, siding with such a powerful force seems attractive.

In reality, the kytons make the world a far more dangerous place. However, their followers do not see that infact they are helping to make the world more dangerous. By excluding anyone that disagrees with them, it is easy for the kytons to manipulate their charges into working to cause the very dangers that the kytons say they can save people from. This way, the kytons claws are clean while they sow pain and oppression into the world.

Kytons work in darkness. The light of truth can undo their work. It is for this reason that kytons prefer a dark world. Every kyton works to spread darkness throughout the world. So when their charges can see nothing except the kytons as the solution to their problems, this bother literally and figuratively the case.

Be sure to follow the JBE blog for more on my take on the planes and those that dwell within. Maybe next time I’ll write about one of the good ones.

Shop after the JBE Shop during the Black Friday/ Cyber Monday sale where you can grab all of our Pathfinder PDFs for 75% off.

5 Questions Every Bard Should Be Able to Answer

“Why did you think going into the dungeon and singing at the monsters was a good idea?” Let’s just agree that the idea of going into a deadly location armed with a tune is silly concept, at least at first glance. Yet, no one will hear of the hero’s exploits unless someone that is skilled at retelling the tale of heroic is there to witness them. In so doing, they have to know how to stand their ground and meet dangers head on. So it makes sense that they would use what they are best at to full effect.

To help you flesh out your character, we have 5 questions for you that you, as the player of the bard should be able to answer through your character’s eyes. If you prefer to play a fighter, cleric, or monk, we have 5 questions for them as well. So lets begin.

1) How Long Have You Been Training?

Anyone can move to music. Anyone can pick up an instrument, blow on it or pluck a string, and make noise. Anyone read words on a page while changing pitch. These, however, are not the product of years of training, dedication, and long hard work. That is what you have done. Day in and day out you played your lute until it comes to you as easily as breathing. You strengthening certain muscles while hammering your dulcimer, carrying your tuba, lifting your trombone again, and again, and again. Imagine what it was like, being a child on stage performing your dance routine and years later still performing. Not only are you good, you are captivating, enthralling, mesmerizing, inspiring. Your performances are quite literally magical. What were those long days like? Did you enjoy them or were they downright torture? This is actually the perfect intro to the next question…

2) Why Did You Start Training and Keep Training?

First off, why did you start? Did it seem like fun? Did you try it out and liked it? Were you forced by your parents for some village or clan festival? Trying it is one thing; continuing it is another. Children are notorious for trying something and stopping the moment it gets hard. So why did you stick to it? Did you tell your parents you wanted the instrument, they got it for you, you were unhappy when it got hard and your parents made you continue after they spent the money for it? Did they tell you how proud they were of you for doing so? Were you determined to earn someone’s approval by playing hard? Were you trying to emulate the local performer? What made you keep going when it was hard?

3) How Did You Learn a Bit of Everything?

Bards may not be experts in any one area, but they are darn good at just about everything. They may not be front line fighters but they know how to use a number of weapons well. They may not have the spell breadth of a wizard, but they do have a solid number of spells. Their skill selection is diverse. How are you so well educated, so much of a jack of all trades? Did you get sent to college or did you go to the school of hard knocks? Was far more expected of you than most others or were you naturally gifted at learning anything you were shown once. How are you so good at everything?

4) What Drives You To Be Better?

While this answer should always be, “To be better than I was yesterday,” what fun is there in that? If anything this is a great end point for your character—coming to a point where you are in competition with no one but yourself—but not a good starting point. This is a point of professional conflict with your character. Are you trying to be better than someone you consider your equal, that started around the same time as you, but got all the recognition that you feel you deserve? Perhaps you want to be just like your hero, the one person that got you into performing in the first place. Maybe you have this idealized version of yourself and you are forever striving for it but never attaining it. Over the course of the campaign, you should come to terms that you are only in competition with yourself, and talk to your GM about wanting to explore this in the campaign. Maybe your rival or hero can play a part in the campaign and your character can find a kind of peace when they finally see the truth of the situation. This will make your character engaging long after the campaign is over.

5) What “epicness” does your current group of companions present?

If you are going to tell the tale, sing the songs, perform the scene of the exploits of your character and their adventures, their deeds should be worthy of tales, songs, and plays. Maybe they haven’t done anything yet, but you see the spark inside them. What is it that makes you believe in them, and how does being with them make you believe in yourself more?

Sharem is our signature transman samsaran bard. He remembers himself playing instruments and telling tales in previous incarnations and started playing to connect with his former lives. That is what kept him practicing year after year growing up. Today he is more of an actor than a musician. He makes his performances showy, using his whip whenever possible to swing over the audience. He uses similar showmanship when in the dungeon as well. By keeping the monsters’ attention on himself, his companions can take them down with ease.

Sharem and his fellow adventurers are on the cover of the adventure Deadly Delves: The Gilded Gauntlet. Download this Pathfinder book today using coupon code “holiday2017” to get 30% off this and everything else at the JBE Shop now through January 31, 2018.

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