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.

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.

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.

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