This is the second part of a three-part review of the Fifth Edition Dungeon Master’s guide. For the first installment click here.
If the first part of the Dungeon Master’s Guide (DMG), Master of Worlds, was all about explaining the default assumptions of Dungeons & Dragons and how to break them, Master of Adventures is D&D’s secret sauce. It shows in the artwork: the first page is the tarrasque tearing up a city, the second is a battle with Baba Yaga’s hut. It’s like they wrote this section just for me!
This is also the section with a million charts. After a brief discussion of types of adventures, we get table after table of goals, villains, allies, introductions, and even an adventure climax. If you recall the Flavors of Fantasy section from the first part (heroic fantasy, sword and sorcery, epic fantasy, mythic fantasy, dark fantasy, intrigue, mystery, swashbuckling, war, and wuxia), this section addresses some of those: the location-based adventure, the event-based adventure, mysteries, and intrigue.
This is also the nitty gritty of balancing encounters with XP thresholds by character level, divided into easy, medium, hard, and deadly. DMs use the XP Thresholds by Character Level chart to determine each character’s easy/medium/hard/deadly XP threshold by level. These are then added up to create the party’s XP Threshold. The DM then adds up the total XP of the monsters (modified by a monster number multiplier) and compares this to the party’s XP Threshold to determine where the encounter difficulty. All this is bound by the Adventuring Day XP chart, which indicates how much XP per day per character a group can earn. Challenge Ratings have much less importance in this model, only providing a guideline for when a monster is too easy or too hard. I haven’t used this new system yet, but I can see how it might be easier for DMs to calculate since it uses a common “currency” between players and monsters — XP. I’ll be curious to see how well it works in practice.
The next section addresses random encounters (they occur on an 18 or higher d20 roll), but don’t expect much here. There’s a sample Sylvan Forest encounter table and later Urban and Undersea encounters, but that’s it.
The fourth chapter of this part addresses non-player characters (WOTC insists on not using hyphens, which drives me nuts, so it’s actually “nonplayer characters”). Lots of tables here to generate personalities, a shout out to the Second Edition DMG. There’s also a section on NPC party members, including low-level followers and other dungeon fodder like henchmen and hirelings. This is where the Loyalty rule (AKA morale) comes into play, on a scale of 0 to 20 bounded by half the highest Charisma score of the adventuring party. There’s also a section on villainous traits and class options like the death domain (death cultist) and the paladin oathbreaker (the antipaladin).
The fifth chapter covers adventuring environments ranging from dungeons to urban encounters the various wilderness climates. This section has a lot fewer rules than Third Edition did when it comes to adjudicating wilderness challenges. It does cover traps, which I shared in a sneak preview previously. There are several examples, but not nearly as many as earlier editions. Speaking of which: the cover features the demi-lich Acererak, the original sphere of annihilation trap is depicted in all its glory on page 73, the sphere of annihilation trap is listed on page 123, and the picture of talisman of the sphere is shaped like the engraved mouth to the original trap. Somebody REALLY likes The Tomb of Horrors.
The Between Adventures chapter covers maintenance, magic item crafting, running a business, sowing rumors, and my personal favorite: the random Carousing table! That’s right, you too can blow your money on women and wine only to end up jailed for 1d4 days!
The seventh chapter covers treasure, which means more tables. In addition to the required random hoard generators there are fun rolls for scroll mishaps and potion mixing, random special features like quirks and history, and did I mention the massive amount of tables? There is no dividing up weapons and armor, wands and shields — it’s all alphabetically listed (dwarven plate is under “d”) and there are no costs for these items. Players are not expected to buy magic in this iteration of D&D.
What’s amazing is that the majority of the magic items are illustrated, and each tells a story of how it works by its appearance alone. The artwork is so good that it demands a card for every magic item, which is undoubtedly forthcoming. Nolzur’s marvelous pigments (p. 145), the belt of storm giant strength (p. 149), bag of devouring (p. 153), and dust of sneezing and choking (p. 167) really come to life in these illustrations and that’s not including the rings, staves, rods, and wands. There’s also rules on sentient magic items, artifacts, and a new addition — other rewards. These rewards include blessings, charms, letters of recommendation, medals, parcels of land, special favors, special rights, strongholds, titles, and training. It’s a great way to think about treasure in a different way.
Finally, this part concludes with epic boons. You’ll recall the mention of epic rules in part 1; 20th level characters are awarded for every 30,000 XP the character earns above 355,000. Epic characters don’t advance, they essentially gain superpowers: hitting when they miss, gaining proficiency in all skills, immunity to fire damage…it’s a one-page list of cool stuff that’s not game breaking but awfully powerful.
You can preorder the Dungeon Master’s Guide at Amazon. Next up? Part 3: Master of Rules. Tune in tomorrow for part three!
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