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[Let's Read] 5e DMG

JoanieSappho

Not drunk enough for this
Validated User
#1
So, I have been given a reason to read this in-depth, rather than simply use it to look things up as needed, and I've also recently been quietly reading the other Let's Reads going on/that have happened. As far as I can tell, the Dungeon Master's Guide doesn't usually get looked at too much - the only one I could find was the 1st edition one - so I figured I might as well combine the two. Take a good long look at this book, and write up my thoughts as we go along. Some bits might be short, and others will probably involve long, rambling tangents as they give me ideas.
Getting ideas is why this book was pushed at me, after all.

So, let's begin. 320 pages including the index, so a fair bit to work with. Frist, though, we get the Introduction section.
The Introduction is, for the most part, what you'd expect if you've played D&D for a while; a brief explanation of what a Dungeon Master is, how it involves varying levels of being an inventor, writer, storyteller, actor, improvisor and referee, and that the rules are meant to help the game, rather than put everything into tiny inflexible boxes.. Basically, it says "don't get hung up on the rules, just have fun."
Then we get the description of the book itself and, although it's been a while, it's rather different than the previous DMGs I've read, which were mostly about rules. This one is split into three parts - the first about deciding what kind of adventure you want to run, the second helps you create the adventures, and the third is the part with the actual rules in it.
Or, as the book puts it;
Part 1: Master of Worlds. The setting is more than just a backdrop. It should be something the characters are part of, and that's part of the characters. Part 1 is about keeping it consistent and determining the details of the world, and how that world should interact with the players and vice versa.
Part 2: Master of Adventures. This is vaguely familiar to parts of the 3.5e DMG that I can remember, although in that book this stuff filled a chapter or two, rather than a third of the book, and was mostly focussed on the treasure and random encounter tables. Part 2 is about NPC creation, the basic elements of adventure creation, between-adventure stuff, magic items, treasure and rewards, and the differences between adventuring in the wilderness/underground/etc.
Part 3: Master of Rules. The bit actually about the rules, and how they don't cover everything and you should feel fine making stuff up to fit whatever weirdness your group thinks up on the fly, although a bunch of optional rules are included here, such as miniature use, chase scenes, madnessand the creation of new races, monsters and character backgrounds.
That last bit looks interesting - adapting settings to 5e, or creating new 5e settings would almost definitely need new, more setting-appropriate backgrounds.

The last part is something I consider pretty basic about D&D, although, admittedly, I tend to leave it for online stuff - Know Your Players. (Online, I pretty much have to go for 'Get to Know Your Players', which makes sense. The game is definitely better if the players and DM get along with each other and don't accidentally/deliberately offend each other all the time. This bit of the introduction basically boils down to advice on how to engage players who favour certain playstyles. Stuff like giving monsters clues for the more investigative-minded players to have fun with, including puzzles for problem-solving players, and providing quantifiable rewards to non-combat encounters for optimizing players.

So, the Introduction is, for a 6-page section, surprisingly dense with interesting things, although most of what I find interesting about it is how it seems to be presenting this book as a way to make/adjust you own setting and how to fudge the rules to fit your party. Something rather looser than what I remember the previous DMGs to be like, which I like. More of a shift to 'how to make this work for whatever craziness you come up with' rather than 'here's the extra rules and mentions of other products if you want non-generic settings'.
Next time, Part 1, Chapter 1: A World of Your Own.
 

JoanieSappho

Not drunk enough for this
Validated User
#3
So, I went and got my 3.5e DMG, since I noticed I was mentally comparing what I could remember of it to the 5e book, and ... yeah, there's definitely a shift in focus here. Chapter 1 of the 3.5e DMG? 'Using The Rules', starting off with such stuff as movement rules, bonus types, combat rules ...
And in 5e the first chapter is;
A World of Your Own.

This starts with a brief explanation of the basic core examples of the usual D&D setting - there are actual gods giving people power and advancing their own agendas, there's untamed, unexplored wilderness all over the place, the world is ancient with long-forgotten civilizations leaving ruins for people to explore, magic exists and a rather odd assumption;
Conflict Shapes the World's History
.

Well ... yes. That's rather true of actual history, too. I find it interesting that they felt the need to list that.
Immediately after listing those assumptions, the DMG encourages you to mess with them. Consider removing the history, or making it so the world is new, with its first great civilizations rising aound - or because of - your players. Maybe have the world be charted, mapped and known, like the five nations of Eberron, or make monsters rare and terrifying things like Ravenloft.
By this point in 3.5e you'd be looking at maneuverabilty categories and statistics. Here it's the start of how to build a setting. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, I just find the differences interesting. Next up, after determining your game world's basic assumptions are the gods of your world, whether they have a loose pantheon, like the typical D&D world with the 4e deity list given as an example of such a pantheon.

The book then goes into the alternatives, instead of (or in addition to) the loose, polytheistic pantheon usually used. The examples given are interesting. You have tight pantheonns where instead of each deity more or less doing their own thing, there is essentially a single religion with a group of deities - the example given being the Norse deities. Or, and I find this option's inclusion interesting; mystery cults. Instead of a formal, somewhat distant relationship between deity and worshipper, the mystery cult is far more intimate and cloesly tied to the specific deity, requiring the worshipper to symbolically reenact the myths and histories of their deity. This option is already giving me a bunch of interesting ideas for clerics although one thing to note that the book doesn't mention is that this sort of religion, in addition to being somewhat secretive in-setting would also need a lot more attention to the deities than usual. After all, you need to come up with the myths and histories your players would be following. On the other hand, that sort of detail can make a setting feel much more alive and real. (On the gripping hand, certain players would simply not really care about it and all that effort would accomplish little.)
Monotheism is next up, which is not that common a choice for D&D, although the book does come up with a few ideas to explain why clerics can specialise in different domains by suggesting that each of those domains are granted by different aspects of the deity, or by lesser divine spirits/saints/etc.
Dualism is mentioned next, although this essentially boils down to 'pick two opposing concepts, give one half the domains and the rest to the other'. The conflict or balance between the two deities is the main thing here with mortals expected to take sides and polarising the world into 'us v them'.

Next, we have the book's first proofreading fail, although I probably can't talk, since I expect I've made mistakes already. Animism is referenced as essentially the same as a tight pantheon, but with lots and lots of little deities instead of a few major ones, with the followers of the religion offering prayers to whatever spirit is appropriate, although they may also favour one in particular.
To quote the book verbatim; "An animistic religion very tolerant."

The final option presented here is that of forces and philosophies. Instead of the paladin or cleric gaining their powers from a deity, they actually draw from their conviction in a certain philosophy. Druids are mentioned here, drawing on a natural philosophy rather than an ancient nature god, while paladins might devote themselves to the concept of justice or chivalry. Of course, if the setting also includes actual deities, the two aren't incompatible, although some philosophies might state that godhood can be attained by mortals. And might actually be correct.

Following on is the next section; humanoids and the gods. You've made your deities, now consider how they influence the various races.
I'm not sure I like the immediate claim that humans in D&D "exhibit a far wider range of beliefs and institutions than other races do." And how humans, typically lacking a specific god of their own, can convert easier to a religion while dwarven religion, for example, is set in stone - dwarves in the Forgotten Realms worship Moradin. They might worship others as well, but Moradin-worship is practically built in to the race.
With that in mind, the book says, consider the role of gods in your world and their ties to the different races. And the races that aren't tied to a god/gods. Are they ignored and lesser, or a wildcard deciding factor between opposing pantheons.
While the former doesn't appeal to me and makes me suspicious of Yondalla's removal in certain settings, the latter option could have potential.

The next topic covered is not exactly covered in a good way. Mapping your campaign.
While suggesting various scales to use with hex paper makes sense and is a good idea, the rest of it feels too gamey for me (the scales, incidentally, are 1 hex = 1 mile, 1 hex = 6 miles, and 1 hex = 60, to cover a day's travel/kingdom/continent on a single page.)
Past that, the book then states that settlements exist to facilitate the story, and the imprtance of it determines the detail you need to put into it.
Personally, 1st edition Warhammer Fantasy beats this. As presented here, you're essenially encouraged to only have or think about settlements where your characters are likely to need them with impossibly long, empty roads between them, and to only give them the barest of descriptions. Unless your players settle down to use it as a base, in which case start adding details and features as appropriate.
Now, I don't think you need a five page writeup on every little village, but creating towns spontaneously because the party needs to sell gear or take a rest doesn't feel that good to me.
However, the other half of this part is more interesting, giving ideas for what the government of that settlement or the kingdom ruling it might have, even including a table to randomly determine this. Twenty options are listed, from autocracy to theocracy, with options such as satrapies, kleptocracies, magocracies and gerontocracies suggested. This part, at least, makes you think about how your settlement fits into the rest of the world.
We're still in chapter 1, and the next topic up is coinage, and regional coins worth more than just 1 cp/sp/gp, with examples give from the Forgotten Realms and Eberron, as well as suggesting bars for large-scale transactions. While coins worth 30 gp are an interesting idea, I don't think I've ever actually seen them in use. The bars, on the other hand, might be an idea worth using. Languages are covered briefly, with the suggestion of maybe using regional, rather than racial languages, and restricting literacy to certain types of character. Interesting, although not an unusual idea. The section on magic is mostly the same, bringing up the idea of restricting magic by either law or by parts of it simply not existing (can't bring back the dead since it doesn't work. No Charm Person, because it's illegal!)

Renown and organizations are a touch more interesting, although we've seen this sort of thing in Pathfinder and other system. Basically, track points based on how much you help/hinder a group and get benefits based on that score. More interestingly is the idea of using that system with deities, if the setting has more active gods. That's definitely an idea that could work in some games.

Carrying on to the advice on how to create a campaign, I see that I'm thinking of the process almost entirely backwards compared to the book. Instead of creating a setting and letting the players loose in it, the book encourages you to start small. Create a settlement, local region, starting adventure and backgrounds, then build off of what happens in the games.
While this game world is definitely more tailored towards your players, I can't help but feel that you could easily wind up writing yourself into corners and paradoxes like this.
On the other hand, it would be interesting to see the game world develop from a town and its local area, and it's not like this process hasn't worked for settings in the past.

Next time; the other half of chapter one. Campaign events, flavours of fantasy, play style, tiers of play and random plot tables.
 

JoanieSappho

Not drunk enough for this
Validated User
#6
It is, isn't it?

Whole reason I'm looking at this book is that my brother wanted a hand/second set of eyes on the setting he's building, and he mentioned that this book was rather good at giving ideas for that sort of thing.
Which, admittedly, it is. On the other hand, he's working outside-in, while the DMG says to let your game world build up from the inside out.
I wonder how well it would work if I took what we had nailed down, which is essentially a six-region area with three countries and three unclaimed/monster-filled areas and actually did what the DMG suggested.
 
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JoanieSappho

Not drunk enough for this
Validated User
#7
So, putting the idea of starting up a 5e game on the backburner for now, back to the DMG.

Now we're on to campaign events - of which there should be three, one in the beginning, middle and end of the campaign. Major ones, anyone. Little ones can happen whenever, but the big events should be kept for the biggest, most important moments of the campaign.
So, good advice.
Then we get the first round of random tables! While, of course, you an plan out the major events, attempting to justify a randomly generated event can give you unexpected inspiration, or unforseen possibilities. Which makes sense. After all, that's why randomly generated characters can be fun. You have no idea what you're getting, but making it fit can be fun.
Now, I've decided I'll be rolling on most, if not all, the random tables. So, here we go with the world-shaking events list.
First, a straight 1d10 roll for what sort of event is shaping your game world and campaign.
My roll is an 8. The table lists off the rise of a leader/era, the fall of the same, disaster, invasion/assault, rebellion, extinction/depletion, a new organization, a discovery, a prophecy and myth and legend - which is basically 'roll 1d8 on the world-shaking table and magnify your result to rediculous levels'. Instead of Extinction being the death of a noble family or a dwarven clan, it'd be something like "90% of all elves die."
Big, serious problems. Each result on the table leads to another random roll, with the exception of prophecy, which just tells you to come up with a prophecy, along with attached omens, one of which may be entirely wrong.
My roll of 8 would be Discovery, and that goes to another 1d10 roll. On the second table, we get a 7 - otherworldly object (Planar portal, alien spacecraft, etc) Then you're encouraged to think of who would benefit from the discovery, who would be harmed by it, what sort of side effects/repercussions come with it (and who gets to ignore those side effects), and who wants to control the discovery.
So, interesting stuff.

Next is a little section on timekeeping. What sort of calendar, lunar cycle, etc, and if there's any time-based events, like magic going weird on the full moon, or a ghostly castle appearing on the second new moon of the year, and so forth
Play styles are mentioned next, and basically boil down to hack and slash, immersive storytelling or something inbetween, with the DM encouraged to think about how they want to run things.
Tiers of play is a pretty standard summary of what player characters are like at various levels; 1-4 they're local heroes with the fate of a village or town depending on them, at 5-10 they're heroes of the realm, with larer areas eing saved by their actions and, maybe, coming up against the youngest of dragons. At 11-16 they're masters of the realm. They're picking up rare magic items, gathering enough power to found guilds and temples, taking on apprentices and students. And at 17-20, they're master's of the world, affecting entire countries with their actions and drawing extraplanar attention.
Over the page we get the rules for starting at higher levels, split into starting gear for low magic campaigns, standard and high magic settings. The gold amounts are the same, but a level 17+ character in a low magic game would only start with two uncommon magic items - while a level 11 character in a standard campaign would have have the same number of magic items on hand. (And a level 17+ high magic character would have 3 uncommon magic items, 2 rare and one very rare.)

Then we're on to descriptions of the various flavours of fantasy you might use in your games, starting off with the expected - heroic fantasy, sword and sorcery and epic fantasy, and then moving on to some more unusual ideas, like Mythic Fantasy, based more on things like the labours of Hercules, or the Oddyssey, dark fantasy like Ravenloft, political intrigue or mystery games, swashbuckling adventures, war stories, and wuxia-inspired fantasy
I find the wuxia part to be both interesting and slightly amusing, mostly because of how it encourages you to simply reskinn and rename existing things to fit - you don't need new rules most of the time, it says, just call it something else. Samurai don't need to be a new class - just a paladin with a slightly rewritten Oath of Devotion. Ninjas are Way of the Shadow monks. Instead of teleporting short distances, your character makes a high flying leap over there, and weapons are simply renamed to fit the genre better.
And of course, you can always cross the streams.
Yes, that has become a common enough saying it's in the DMG.
And, finally, that is chapter 1. Next; Chapter 2: Creating a Multiverse.
This may take a while, although I do like the large, full-page image here, of a rather scruffy dwarf, young elf and majestically mustachioed wizard hiding under a bridge while modrons cross it.

... and then I note that 5e modrons, at least monodrones, really look like Minions.
You know the ones I mean.
 
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thewoozle

Registered User
Validated User
#9
that's one of the things that I think made 5th edition really stand out. instead of just making a new edition, they sat down and used the 1-4 ed stuff and noted what they liked from the other editions. That seems to have carried through to art and layout too.
 

MacBalance

Registered User
Validated User
#10
It's more the other way around, I think. The design is drawn from 2e.
...Which was an upgrade to the 1e Monster Manual II versions that tended to be a bit plainer on the low end (the *drones) and more 'organic' on the high end (the *tons).

I like the 'adventurers hiding from Modrons' art. Used it as my cell phone lock screen since they released it as a MM preview months ago.
 
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