Tyger Tyger Burning Bright

Jean-Baptiste Oudry - Leopard (1741)

I am continuing to prepare for a pulpy tropical jungle adventure for my group.  Previously, I posted my low-level primates (CR 1/8 to CR 1) that my characters will interact with, as well as, give my Druids & Rangers possible new beasts to wild shape and conjure.  This time around I am posting my series of Big Cats ranging from CR 1/2 to CR1.

This is also the second part that I am contributing to the to Worldbuilderblog’s RPG Carnival Event hosted by James Introcaso throughout December. The theme is “Homebrew Holidy Gifts.”

For reference, the D&D 5E Monster Manual provides for 3 general big cats: Lion (MM 331), Panther (MM 333), and Tiger (MM 339).  There is also a prehistoric Saber-Toothed Tiger (MM 337).

Creating Big Cats

When designing these beasts, I wanted to have a few common traits that most big cats have in nature. Not all big cats behave the same though.  Some roar and hunt in packs, but others stalk and ambush its quarry alone.

For skills, almost all of these big cast are highly perceptive, as well as stealthy.  I did not feel the need to provide extra perception such as Keen Hearing or Smell, unless noted.

Note: Each image can be clicked for larger version.  Thanks










Lion (Revised)

Lion (Revised)





Tiger (Revised)

Tiger (Revised)


Finally, not only one of the best poems written on animals, but one of the greatest poems ever written.

The Tyger


Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,

Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


Art Credits:

The layout format is from Reddit user Smyris.
Cheetah: Mark Dumont / Creative Commons & Ernest Ingersoll / Public Domain
Cougar: Cloudtail / Creative Commons
Jaguar: Hamish Irvine / Creative Commons
Lion: Wesley Bruwer / Creative Commons
Leopard:  Arno Meintjes / Creative Commons & Messias Cavalcante / GNU Free Documentation License
Tiger: Jurgen / Creative Commons
Posted in Bestiary, Worldbuilding | Tagged

Wild Shape & Conjure Animals

Theodore Gericault - Head of Lioness (1820s)

Admittedly, this is of lesser value than my other posts since it is a custom house rule in our game group.  I will preface that I do not like to reduce (nerf), either actual or perceived, a player’s ability to play per the rules of the game.  However, I enforce this particular one in my game world, unless a player presents compelling story that meshes with the setting. I understand this is an “old chestnut”, but this is just how my group and I developed it during Session Zero, before any affected classes were created.

Wild Shape & Conjure Animals House Rule

According to the D&D Player’s Handbook, Druid’s (starting at 2nd Level) can “use their action to magically assume the shape of a Beast that they have seen before.” Similarly, Druid & Ranger spellcasters are able to summon Beasts using the Conjure Animals spell (Level 3), but do not have a “previously seen” restriction.  Both of these may create table friction between DMs and Players regarding the existence and/or witnessing of particular Beasts in the campaign world.

Ultimately, Wild Shape and Conjure Animals should marry flavor and story with the situational statistical bonuses that they bring.

The Beast Must Exist

Just because it lives in the Monster Manual or Dungeon Master Guide, does not mean it lives in the game world.  However, it is my responsibility, as DM, to let my players who want to play Druids what creatures are available for them to shift into during character creation.

The Beast Must Be Seen

Of course, wild shaping into a Beast makes a broad assumption that a druid has witnessed that particular Beast before. How long?  Who knows.  Do they need to have a personal and intimate relationship with that Beast? Who knows.  Can a druid have read about a Saber-toothed Tigers in a book, thereby “seeing” it?  Who knows.  Can I have divined it in a vision? Who knows.  These should be addressed in Session Zero, if it seems like it should be.

Our House Rule

  • Druids and Rangers roll for how many Beasts they know at the campaign start.  Typically it is 2d6 worth of Beasts.  There may be compelling story reasons why a character knows more or less, but this has been working for my group.
  • Druids must have spent at least one hour studying a particular Beast in its natural habitat to be considered proficient enough to wild shape into it.  The same applies to Druids and Rangers using the Conjure Animal spell.  That covers both Beast’s existence and seen for us.
  • Studying Beasts can/should be used as Downtime Activity.  I make roll tables of certain ecologies where common and rare Beasts roam, so my Druids and Rangers can wander off and watch nature in their free time.
  • Finally, no, my players cannot just “visit a zoo” or befriend a nobleman to peek at his aristocratic menagerie of exotic beasts.

Wild Shape Table

Here is a list of all the published Beasts from the Dungeon Master’s Basic Rules v3 in a table format.  I provide all players with this table.  The column headers are straightforward, but the column marked “?” is to mark whether or not the Beast may be used in the campaign world.

Here is a link to the table in PDF: Druid Wild Shape Table

Wild Shapes 1

Wild Shapes 2


Posted in Bestiary, Character Creation, Houserules, Worldbuilding | Tagged , , ,

Hey, Hey We’re the Monkeys (and Apes)

David Teniers the Younger - Monkeys in a Kitchen (1645)

In preparation for a pulpy tropical jungle adventure I am building for my players, as well as, contributing to Worldbuilderblog’s RPG Carnival Event, I am creating a series of low-level primate beasts for the characters to interact with or wild shape into.  Many thanks to James Introcaso for hosting the Carnival Event for December.

For reference, the D&D 5E Monster Manual provides for 3 general primates: Ape (MM 317), Baboon (MM 328), and Giant Ape (MM 323), two of which a Druid can shift into. Also, the small notes found on the beast profiles below are NPCs from a “lost” party.  This previous party has lost contact with the mission patrons, which is disturbing news. The PCs have been hired to locate and assist the original party, or continue the mission outright if tragedy occurred.


Creating Primates

When designing these beasts, I wanted to have a few common traits that most primates have in nature. Primates have pack traits, language abilities, alerting signals, and of course, climbing abilities.

For skills and attacks, I wanted to specifically divide Monkeys from Apes.  Monkeys are generally more dexterous than strong, and wise enough to enhance their senses.  Monkeys bite, not intending to rend flesh and kill, but rather to furiously puncture and disorient in hopes of scaring off threats from their territory.

Apes are bigger, stronger, and have larger brains than monkeys.  Their attacks leverage their strength to punch, smash, and throw.  Apes are just as happy to kill threats as they are to scare them off. They also have limited abilities to create and use situational tools. These beast do not conform 100% to their real-world analogs, but pretty close.

Note: Each image can be clicked for larger version.  Thanks


Howler Monkey (Monkey)

Anatomy: This monkey can run about 3 feet in height and 20 pounds.  Their long prehensile tail is used for picking fruit and nuts from trees and for stabilizing their movement through tall canopies.  They grasp branches with at least two hands or one hand and their tail, usually at at all times.

Ecology: Howlers are almost exclusively in heavily deciduous rainforests, eating fruit, nuts, and leaves.  They rarely leave the safety of high tree canopies except from danger or water shortages.

Behavior: Most howlers are found in smaller groups (10-15).  There is very little in-fighting in Howler societies.  Males will make calls and alerts daily at dusk and dawn, much like a rooster in chicken societies.  These may be the loudest animals in the wild.

Howler Monkey


Anatomy: This smaller monkey can run about 2 feet in height and 20 pounds.  They do have a very long tails, although not prehensile.

Ecology: Macaques tend to live in lowland rainforests, shrublands, river and coastal forests. They live in both lowland trees and on the ground. They eat plants and insects.

Behavior: Macaques live in a matriarchal order, with many more females than males. Males leave groups when they reach puberty.  The groupings of these monkeys tend to be quite large.  Both the group and individual elder members covet items such as food, shelters, or trinkets.  It has been observed that Macaque can use simple tools.



Anatomy: This large monkey can run about 3 feet in height and muscular 70 pounds in males with fantastic coloration, while females smaller and less showy. They do not have a prehensile tails.  Mandrills have very large canine teeth for killing small prey, as well as defense.

Ecology: Mandrills live exclusively in forest-river systems, in and around rainforests and wetlands. They live mainly on the ground, but will occasionally live in trees. They eat plants, insects, small reptiles, large rats, and turtles.

Behavior: Mandrills live in large groups called matriarchal hordes, averaging in the hundreds.  Their groups are so large, they can be the size of a small town.  Males leave at adulthood, and only return during mating.


Baboon (Monkey) (Revised)

DM Tip:  This is a revised version to that published in the Monster Manual to give it more detailed traits and to differentiate it from other monkeys.

Anatomy: This smaller monkey can run about 3 feet in height and 50 muscular pounds. They do not have a prehensile tail.  Baboons have a dog-like muzzle and very sharp and strong canine teeth.

Ecology: Baboons tend to live in arid grasslands,  woodlands, and low elevation mountain areas. They live in both trees and on the ground.  They eat plants, insects, fish, birds, other monkeys, and small deer.

Behavior: These monkeys are ground-dwelling inhabiting open woodlands and hills.  They live in troops of 100-200 animals.  Baboons, especially males, are very aggressive to outsiders of their troops.

Baboon (Revised)

Chimpanzee (Ape)

Anatomy: This ape averages about 4 feet in height and 150 pounds.  Its very powerful arms which are longer than its legs.  It also has the largest brain, leading it as the smartest of all apes and monkeys.  Chimps have no tails.

Ecology: Chimps live in tropical forests, swamp forests, and open woodlands.  They build elaborate arboreal nests to live and sleep in. They eat mainly fruit, plants, and honey, but will also eat insects and even other primates.

Behavior: Chimpanzees live in large community groups of 25-50, made up of both many males and females.  Chimps make and use tools.  They are ground nest builders.



Gibbon (Ape)

Anatomy: This smaller ape averages 2 feet in height and 15 pounds.  They have no tails. Despite their smaller stature, Gibbons are extraordinarily fast propelling themselves from branch-to-branch and tree-to-tree using locomotion (brachiation).  They can achieve over 30 mph moving through trees.  Gibbons also have sharp teeth for defense.

Ecology: Gibbons primarily live in jungle forests and rainforests.  They are almost exclusively arboreal, preferring tall canopy trees to live. They eat mostly fruit and plants, but also insects and bird eggs.

Behavior: Gibbons do not make nests, unlike other apes.  They tend to remain in smaller units.  They are very territorial, and will alarm to all creatures their displeasure if trespassed upon.



Gorilla (Ape)

DM Tip:  In the Monster Manual, there is a generic Ape listed.  I am assuming it is referring to a Gorilla generally. This version is more detailed.

Anatomy: Gorillas are about 6 feet tall and can weigh over 500 pounds.  They have large powerful canine teeth and extraordinary arm strength.

Ecology: Gorilla’s natural habitats include topical and subtropical forests, although they can be found in dense river forests, swamp forests, and marsh forests.  A few can even be found in mountain forests.  They eat fruit, plants, and insects.

Behavior: Gorillas construct ground nests, unlike Chimpanzees and Orangutans. Much like Chimps, they can make and use tools.  Troops of Gorillas are relatively small and tend to have a single “Silverback” leader.  Silverbacks make all decisions for the troops.



Anatomy: Orangutans generally reach 5 feet tall and weigh 250 pounds.  They have a redish-brown hair versus the dark black hair of Chimps or Gorillas.  They have very long and strong arms.

Ecology: These apes are exclusively found in tropical rainforests, but are found occasionally in swamp forests and grassland forests. They eat plants and fruit, but also honey, eggs, and insects.

Behavior: Orangutans are exclusively arboreal.  They have above average intelligence of the apes, probably second to only the Chimps.  They can construct and use tools, and build nests in trees.  These are usually solitary apes, but will habitate with others.



Art Credits:

The layout format is from Reddit user Smyris.
Baboon (Revised): Hugo van Tilborg / Creative Commons
Chimpanzee: User:Colin / Creative Commons
Gibbon: Ettore Balocchi / Creative Commons
Gorilla: Mario Pineda / Creative Commons
Howler Monkey:  Francesco Veronesi / Creative Commons
Mandrill: Joop Reuvecamp / Creative Commons & Didier Descouens / Creative Commons
Macaque: Brian Hoffman / Creative Commons
Orangutan: Scott Rotzoll / Creative Commons
Posted in Bestiary, Worldbuilding | Tagged

My Player’s DM Screen

Adriaen Brouwer - Feeling (1635)

So, I realized sometime upon the early release of D&D 5th Edition, I really don’t like DM screens. No scratch that… I hate them. We all know screens are artificial walls between you (the DM) and your players. That has been stated countless times, I know.

Sure, DM screens can let you fudge attack and damage rolls when “needed”, as double and triple-crits can and do happen. You can make certain hidden skill rolls for players, if you are into that sort of thing. Screens have the famous inner facing sides of instant reference and roll tables at a glance.  Even your players usually have slightly motivational pictures on the outward facing sides as game prompts.

Well mea culpa friends. Truth be told, I haven’t rolled from behind a screen for quite a long time.  I have always rolled out in the open from the left side of a screen, being left-handed and all.  I never pulled punches rolling dice.  It is part of the social contract between me and my players. My players know I will not hesitate to kill their characters if the dice roll that way, but their deaths will always be an important part of the story. My players want honesty over story convenience.

No, the real reason I am casting DM screens away is this current version of D&D. 5th Edition is so much more simplified and empowering, that I just don’t need all that table data staring at me any longer.  My players never cared about the artwork after the first session.  I never roll anything for my players… ever.

I will admit, I do miss an occasional specialized roll table.  But now I just include that in my session outline.  It just works for me.

I have mentioned in the past that I provide a character binder to each player that includes not only their character sheets, but a “Rules Reference”.  Much of the information on the players rule’s reference is similar to what is on a DM screen.  In a way, I have delegated all that DM information to the players.

Here is what my Player’s Rules Reference contains:

Reference - Players Rules Reference Page 1Reference - Players Rules Reference Page 2 Reference - Players Rules Reference Page 3Reference - Players Rules Reference Page 4 Reference - Players Rules Reference Page 5Reference - Players Rules Reference Page 6

Posted in Player Resources | Tagged

Character Item Slots & Inventory Tracking (Yuck!)

Wayne Reynolds

Ugh.  Encumbrance rules.

As a DM, I don’t want them.  As a Player, I don’t want them. But for every gaming group I run a homebrewed world in, I always ask my players how they want to handle it.  And at my tables, democracy usually rules the rules.

In fact, it goes something like this during Session Zero: “Okay, now how do we want to deal with tracking weight, encumbrance, and ammo.  Personally, I do not want to assign weights to everything.” Most of the time, players don’t want to deal with any of it.  I probably would not even bother asking proactively, but since it is printed in the 5th Ed Player’s Handbook, I feel I should address it.

The only time I get concerned about what players carry, are reserved for extraordinary circumstances.  For example, the party kills a slew of well-armored gnolls.  They take the time to strip the defeated, and now want to carry 10 suits of chainmail armor to sell in town or smelt them into ingots.  I ask players to describe how they accomplish that the task.  Instead of bookkeeping, turn it into descriptive story, with potential complications in the future.

Ask players how their characters are staying organized.  How will they wield their weapons or cast spells if their hands are full?  I love players willing to doff their shield (dropping their AC) to carry crap.  When it is relevant, a DM has options: CON saves leading to Exhaustion, hands being occupied carrying crap versus weapons, possible Perception Disadvantage if items are blocking their vision.

My Current Group

That leads me to my current group of players.  My group is split with players who either played a lot of 4th Edition and video games such as Skyrim, WoW, and Dragon Age, while the rest are older tabletop players, having skipped 3rd and 4th Editions of D&D.  It was agreed that tracking encumbrance and ammo would be desired, but could be revisited if it became either bothersome due to bookkeeping or work on my part.  I have a great group and want to accommodate the best I can.

We did talk a bit about how RPG video games have the paperdoll concept showing item “slots” where certain items were allocated.  I proposed a single-sheet where players could potential item slot items that are equipped or normally equipped.

Pdf copy -> Character Item Slot & Backpack Inventory (pdf)


Character Item Slot Sheet

Player Item Slot Inventory

For all other items, they are stored in a series of packs, bags, and pouches.  I asked my longtime group what they felt was an ideal amount of packs and such, and this is what we went with: a central backpack, 4 large bags, 3 belt pouches, and 3 items that can be strapped onto the whole pack arrangement. When characters are normally created they automatically receive this arrangement.

Players have been limiting themselves to a single item per line item.   So far so good, and the players seem happy with the sheet.


Character Backpack Inventory Sheet

Player Item Backpack Inventory

I print this sheet out and put copies in player binders.

Posted in Player Resources | Tagged ,

Session Zero Part 10: Group Template

David Teniers the Younger - The King Drinks (1690)

Everything is going great.  All of the players have come together and created characters, where there were none.  They have tied their characters to your setting.  Everyone participated, contributed, and (hopefully) had a good time doing it.  It can seem lengthy, but that is what Session Zero is all about.

But, alas, we are not done yet.  This is the final post of the series, where we transition from crafting the characters, to how the characters know each other and where they work.

I must admit something.  I have no interest in running games where the characters do not have a relationship together, let alone having never met.  I have spent years crafting opening scenarios where I either trap the players into a scene (“prisoners on a wagon”) to the no one knows anyone (“you meet in a tavern”), and of course everything in between.

No, I make the players tell me how they know each and every party member.  Not just one either.  All of them.  Many times I establish a business or organization (current day) where they all work, then make them determine how they got there.

I do recommend that you, the DM, be flexible to what they want, and listen very closely.


Section 1: Where You Work

For this campaign (the Lost Mine of Phandelver from D&D 5th Edition Starter Box set), rather than the recommended hook where the adventurers are “on their way” to delivering goods for a patron as contractors, I fleshed out the patron’s business, and made our characters employees of it.

To that end, I had the players answer the following questions about their job with the boss, Gundren Rockseeker.  I want to know how long characters have been working with Rockseeker, and are under contract for how many more months.  I also have them get a steady paycheck from Rockseeker, of which cover the “Modest Lifestyle” expenses, but also to guarantee extra coin for their efforts.  To reflect my economy, I show what other jobs pay.  For more fun, I state their contract entitles them to a death benefit (in the unlikely event of course), they can roll for the amount and declare where it should be given.

Another detail I like to find out in this section is about looting bodies.  This is a perfect time for players to figure out about who will loot, how it is split, and who may not care about that sort of thing.

DM Tip:  I had my players make 2 characters each.  That way I could have two teams, just in case of total-party-kills.  If a single player would die, they could be sent to catch up with the original party.

Group Worksheet 1

This final section is how each character knows each other before working for their employer.  Players can pick or roll (in pairs) until every relationship is decided.

Group Worksheet 2

I know this is quite a journey, but once your players go through answering all the questions together, rolling for all their starting gold, and finding out how everyone knows each other, you may not ever have players bring characters made in isolation again.

Posted in Character Creation, Session Zero | Tagged , ,

Session Zero Part 9: Life-Altering Conflicts, Final Thoughts, and Names

David Teniers the Younger - A Smoker Leaning on a Table (1643) miniAs we begin the wrap up character creation, we get to a seminal moment in our character’s life.  We have been building to the idea there was a life-altering event that changed everything.

Section 16: Word Associations

In this section, I really want the players to just sit back, and think like their character. Yes, nothing is more tropey or silly than saying “I say a word, you say the first thing that comes to your mind, as the character.”  But, I find the silliness pays off (plus I offer 20 gold for the effort).

Below, sorted by race, are a small collection of random-ish words that I want players to just say the first thing they think of.  From there, I have the players pick the three most important words they came up with that relate to the character.

The idea here is to have the player’s themselves connect-the-biggest-dot to their character’s past.  The words are just prompts to get them there.

DM Tip:  Since your players can clearly read the words they are about to associate, I scramble them as I read them.  Once I say a word, I record it for them, so they can just concentrate.  This is an abstract exercise, you may need to guide them a bit.

16 - Word Associations

Section 17: Life-Altering Conflict

Now that the three words from Section 16 are determined, they get plugged into Section 17 to build a major conflict in the character’s past.  Have the player decide which word could represent a Conflict, Ideal or Bond, and the People it may have affected.

This is an abstract process, but no more so than a roll table.  If a player already has a Life-Altering Conflict in mind, have them discard the Word Association method, and plug in their ideas instead.

What we are looking for here is to add maybe one or two more ideals, bonds, traits, or flaws.  Remind them THIS event is a turning point in their lives.

17 - Life-Altering Conflict

Section 18: Final Thoughts

If players do not have a good visual picture of their character yet, referencing a character from a movie, tv show, or even the another real person.  To aid, I often recap the physical appearance we crafted earlier.  I have had players pull inspiration from just about anything.

This is also a great time for the table (DM included) to ask a last, single question about a particular character.  Each player at my table participates.  This usually picks up any loose ends.

Finally, I have a player write down on the questionnaire one final secret that only the player and DM know.

18 - Final Thoughts

Section 19: Name & Signature

Okay, this last section is where we finally name our characters. Then lastly, I have each player sign the questionnaire as the character.  This last thing is admittedly goofy, but in almost every campaign I force players to have their characters sign some sort of contracts or agreements formally.  It is just a final point.

19 - Signature

Character Naming tables are here:

Character Creation - Names Table1Character Creation - Names Table2Character Creation - Names Table3Character Creation - Names Table4

Now, the world has a few new very fleshed out characters!

Next time, we wrap up our questionnaire as the players decide how they know each other and where they work.

Posted in Character Creation, Session Zero | Tagged ,