Dungeon Masterclass Part 3

When I was a young and inexperienced Dungeon Master, I once ran the criminally underappreciated Night of the Walking Dead. In that adventure, there’s an insane NPC who is supposed to follow the party around, occasionally spouting jumbled up sentences, which serve as a clue to the unfolding plot. Unfortunately, when my players first met him, they assumed he was attempting to cast some sort of dark ritual and instantly killed him.

I couldn’t use any of the other NPCs, because they all had their own part to play, and I couldn’t just make a new one up, as I’d already established certain other plot elements that meant this guy had to be the one. So I was forced to repeatedly bring him back as a ghost to ramble at the players in order to keep the story on track. It was clunky, and while the guys who played it with me now remember it with comedic fondness, as an inexperienced DM I was basically shitting my pants the entire time. Ultimately, it was a stressful experience for me.

It’s likely that your first adventures as a DM will be published ones. The fantastic Starter Set, which comes packaged with The Lost Mines of Phandelver, is a great introduction to 5th edition D&D. However, you’re eventually going to see the limitations posed by them, much like I did. You’ll soon realise that the obvious solution to your players killing key NPCs is for you to have total power to decide who is and who is not a key NPC, at a moment’s notice. It’s at this point that you’re going to try and create a homebrew adventure.

A what?

So, before we kick this off, I feel it’s important to say that every DM will have their own idea of what makes a successful adventure. My way of thinking is certainly not universal, but it will hopefully give you the tools to forge your own path.

There are a number of elements of an adventure that I won’t be covering in this guide. In fact, it’s fair to say that everything about D&D can, in some way, be tied to adventure design. Dungeons, stat blocks, loot distribution, religious pantheons. The list could go on forever. And while these are all important elements of the big, cheesy pizza that is D&D, they’re also very large subjects that would require an entire article of their own. For this reason, I’ll be focusing on what I feel are the two most important elements of creating a compelling RPG narrative.

The main ingredients

There are, in my opinion, two things that are key to creating a successful homebrew setting – locations and NPCs.

Location, location, location

Locations and the flavour text that comes with them are extremely important. At the end of the day, if we aren’t trying to suspend our players’ disbelief and fully immerse them in our world, then we might as well just play Monopoly or something. It can be extremely difficult to come up with compelling descriptions of locations on the fly, and they’re never quite as good as the ones you write up in advance, so every room/area in my homebrew comes with a little bit of descriptive flair.

This doesn’t have to be a wall of text, in fact, a sentence or two is preferable. After all, brevity is the soul of wit and the imagination of your players will fill in the gaps if you allow it to. So stick to short, simple explanations and always remember that you’re describing what they can sense. Touch, smell, sound and sight are what you need to consider. Something like the following is more than adequate.

The interior of the mausoleum is cramped and dark, its slick stones drip with dank water and the smell of rot and mildew permeates the air.

In just 26 words, we’ve given our players an absolute treasure trove of information. They know there’s no light source and that space is limited – both important tactical considerations should a fight break out. There’s water in the mausoleum. Is it coming from outside, or is there some internal source that’s causing it? There’s a scent of rot in here. Is it from the buried bodies inside, or something else?

These are the kinds of questions that your players will be asking themselves and, if they’re decent dungeoneers, they’ll probably ask you as well. Such questions will lead to dice rolls – nature checks for the kind of rot they can smell, history checks to discover who might be buried here etc. Rolls lead to roleplaying opportunities, which ultimately creates a compelling and involved narrative.

You can even take this process and apply it to those aforementioned rolls. Perhaps you’d like to have a pre-written line about the history of the mausoleum and the family buried within, or a particularly gross bit of fluff about ‘rotting meat’, hinting at the undead horrors awaiting our heroes further down the path. This is by no means crucial, but every bit of descriptive text you prepare is another opportunity to draw your players deeper into the world. Ultimately, by giving them info to work with, we craft opportunities for the game to transcend its mechanical nature and become an altogether more intellectually involved experience.

Making friends

NPCs are the bread and butter of a world that feels real. If flavour text gives us the opportunity to anchor our players to the physicality of our world, then NPCs are an opportunity to make them emotionally connect with it.

I recently ran an adventure in my own grimdark horror setting where the players were tasked with tracking down a shaman. This guy was using some bad juju to create a hallucinogenic drug, which he was then distributing throughout the city. When the players finally caught up with him, he pointed out that what he was doing actually helped ease people’s tensions, and that the line between recreational drugs and antidepressants was a very fine one.

The players ended up agreeing with him, and instead of the spell-slinging, epic final battle that I’d planned for, they wound up recruiting him into their organisation as an ally. This bit of unexpected narrative awesomeness happened because I wrote down four sentences about the shaman before running the adventure. You can call these sentences whatever you like, but the Player’s Handbook likes to roll with ‘personality, ideal, bond and flaw’.

Let’s create an NPC

Meet Dunmir Forkbeard – Dwarf – Male – Master of the Thieves’ Guild
  • Personality: Jovial, polite, but has no time for fools.
  • Ideal: Nobody should be entitled to more wealth than they can spend.
  • Bond: A threat to any member of my guild is a threat to me.
  • Flaw: Quick to temper at any perceived accusation of immorality.

As you can see, by noting down a handful of attitudes, we’ve created a nuanced character who you can roleplay on the fly. Pretty much any question, statement, or request can generally be covered by making a note of these four characteristics.

For example, we know that Dunmir is, at least on the surface, a pretty nice guy. He’s polite, and will likely offer the players a seat and a drink, asking what he can do to be of service. Perhaps the party’s lawful-good paladin will show scorn towards the den of thieves that Dunmir manages, to which Dunmir will likely react poorly, given his somewhat quick temper. Maybe the master thief will engage the party in a bit of politically-charged philosophical debate, expressing his somewhat left-of-centre ideas about the redistribution of wealth, perhaps leading the players to offer their own views and develop their characters further.

You don’t need to think long and hard about every NPC in your homebrew. In this example, Dunmir is an important character in our unfolding narrative. The local blacksmith, however,  doesn’t require an extensively developed backstory with an arsenal of insecurities and secret motivations. He’s just there to sell swords and armour. But there will be certain key individuals that your players could have deep conversations with and those guys are what will ultimately breathe life into your world.

The reason I’ve focused on these two elements of the huge ensemble that makes up a successful homebrew is because they are the ones that will give your players the opportunity to be a part of your world. Drawing out a dungeon map, making a note of your monster’s stats, and deciding what treasure to hand out is all very important, but they’re ultimately mechanical concerns. Having an organic world, full of places and people that feel natural, is what’s going to turn your game of D&D into the kind of epic campaign that you hear about in the war stories of veteran players.


Dungeon Masterclass Part 2

When aspiring dungeon masters come to me for advice, they often end up telling me a variation of the following story.

“My players are enjoying my campaign, and they really like the plot and characters I’ve created. But every time they get into a fight, it really breaks the flow of play and ends up being drawn-out and boring.”

This is something that, as Dungeon Masters, we all experience at some point. Particularly at lower levels, the options for enemy combatants are often limited to gangs of goblins, kobolds, or some other generic, low-level antagonist. The solution I hear from most DMs is something along the lines of ‘run less combat encounters’. Respectfully, that’s a bullshit response. It would be nice if Dungeons & Dragons, the game that almost everyone is introduced to the hobby via, was a great balance of role-playing and fighting, but it just isn’t. While there are many great RPGs out there, such as ‘Call of Cthulhu’ or ‘Vampire: the Masquerade’, which are entirely about storytelling and atmosphere, D&D is not one of them. Few other systems have such a huge number of rules governing combat. Put simply, D&D is a combat-oriented game and most sessions will involve at least a couple of scraps.

The issue lies, not with the number or frequency of fights in your session, but with the way they are often perceived by both players and DMs. When a fight breaks out, we transition from a free-flowing, narrative-driven, verbal style of play, to a turn-based, mechanics-driven, rigid style of play. It’s jarring, kinda like those old Final Fantasy style JRPGs, where the overworld map fades away and we’re presented with a battle screen.

But here’s the thing, the fact that you’ve cleared all the crap off the table so you can stretch out your map and ready your minis, doesn’t mean you have to abandon the narrative elements that were present a moment ago. With a miniscule amount of prep, you can give a fight a sense of character and narrative charm that will leave your players feeling entertained and, with a little luck, like absolute badasses. So, with that in mind, let’s build a combat encounter together.

Your money or your life?

Here’s a classic 1st level D&D encounter. The players are travelling through the city streets at night when they find themselves in a dangerous part of town. They’re set upon by a small gang of bandits who aren’t interested in negotiation. Their demands are simple. “Hand over all of your money and equipment, or die.” The players don’t fancy being naked, and the bandits won’t listen to reason, so a fight breaks out.

As it stands, this is an incredibly boring fight. Four identical enemies, all just waiting to be chipped down to zero hit points. But here’s the thing, with about two minutes of preparation, this dull, mechanical experience can become a story in itself. The key to all of this is right there on the stat block.

In fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, every monster and NPC has a dice value next to its hit points. I very rarely see DMs using these, which is a shame, because they can inspire you to create cool characters on the fly. Let’s roll some dice!

For each bandit I rolled 2D8 and added 2. They now all have different amounts of HP and we can begin to imagine how that might influence, not only their strategic attitudes, but also their personalities. It doesn’t make much sense to me that a group of guys with such varied thresholds for punishment would all have the same physical attributes, so let’s switch them around a bit.

I’ve decided that our weakling is going to be the gang’s resident sneaky guy and that beefcake will be the gang’s brutish leader. Weakling’s DEX goes up by two so I offset it by nerfing his STR by the same amount. I want beefcake to be able to handle more than his underlings, so I simply buff up his STR. We can already see characters forming here. There’s no way two guys with such differing attributes would be identically armed, so let’s play with their equipment.

Our weakling now has a couple of tricks up his sleeve. I’ve given him two daggers, making him capable of dealing a significant amount of damage, providing he can get into position without taking any himself. His slightly higher DEX has also increased his AC to 13, giving him a fighting chance. As for the beefcake, his AC has also been boosted by an upgrade to studded leather armour. Furthermore, we’ve given him a warhammer, slightly increasing his damage-dealing potential. He’ll now provide a challenge for the party’s most heavily armoured member, who’ll need to protect any squishy casters from him.

Now let’s turn our attention to Average Joe and Jim. While it would be perfectly fine to leave them as they are (after all, they’ve barely changed as it is), we’d be missing a great opportunity for diversity if we did.

So far, all of the enemies have had a damage increase, so I’ve decided that average Joe is a new member of the gang and hasn’t had the chance to get a decent weapon yet. He’s just carrying a lump of wood, which he uses to club people. This balances things out, but it also distinguishes him as less of a risk to the players. At 9 HP, Average Jim has slightly below the default 11 for a bandit, so he’s going to be the gang’s resident artillery expert. I’ve taken away his scimitar, leaving him with just a basic shiv (I used the standard dagger stats, but shiv sounds cooler.) Jim will only use the shiv if he has to though. He prefers to stay away from melee and fire his crossbow at enemies.

After what amounts to no more than two minutes’ preparation, we now have a nuanced and diverse gang of ruffians to throw at the players. Lets go over them.

Our assassin carries two daggers and prefers to engage party members who are distracted by his allies. Failing that, he will go for whoever is least heavily armoured, hoping to take them down before they have a chance to strike back.

The new recruit is nervous, poorly equipped, and prone to fleeing. He can see that he’s no match for the party and doesn’t want to die on the streets for the sake of a few gold coins. If he’s reduced to half health, or if the leader falls, he uses the disengage action and flees the fight. He’s also susceptible to intimidation attempts.

The crossbow-wielding bandit will use his movement to remain at ranged attack length from the party, firing a crossbow bolt at whoever he perceives to be the most likely to close the gap. If that happens, he pulls out his shiv and tries to dispose of his assailant as quickly as possible.

The leader of the gang charges immediately and engages whoever seems to be the most defensively capable member of the party. He hopes that by taking down a heavily armoured fighter or paladin, he can keep up the morale of his fellow gang members and scare the party into surrendering. He is too arrogant and stupid to flee, even when death is a certainty.

Tell them to go fluff it

As you can see, we now have a charming little band of brutes for the party to face off against. We could go even further, changing their race, skills, languages and other elements, and you should absolutely do that if you have the time/desire. But it certainly isn’t necessary, as the player’s imagination can fill in the blanks. All that’s left is to come up with a sentence or two describing them, enabling your players to gain an insight into what their strengths are. Something like the following.

As you near the end of the alleyway, four thugs step out of the shadows ahead of you. Their leader, a hulking man of at least six-and-a-half feet, brandishes a warhammer before setting his eyes directly at yours. “Hand over your equipment and gold” he demands, “or you’ll not be leaving this alley”. Behind him stand three others. One of them, a weed of a man in a filthy cloak, holds a cruel dagger in each hand and wears a sadistic smile on his lips. Next to him, a young lad, perhaps sixteen or seventeen years of age, nervously fingers a makeshift club. Finally, leaning against one of the walls is a fourth mugger. He taps a battered old crossbow against the brickwork, seemingly nonchalant to the whole affair.

This bit of fluff is key to the whole setup. While we’ve certainly crafted an aesthetically diverse group of bandits, we want those visual differences to inspire a tactical approach from the players. When your group tells war stories about their experiences in your world, they probably aren’t going to remember the individual names of the enemies they’ve slain, but they will reminisce about the time that they took out a dual-wielding assassin when he was inches away from ripping the wizard to shreds, or the Warhammer-swinging thug that just wouldn’t go down, no matter how many arrows they stuck in him.

Always remember, Dungeons & Dragons isn’t about winning, it’s about telling a story together. While you, as the dungeon master, are certainly the catalyst for that narrative, your players can and should be responsible for it as well. Never is this more apparent than in combat, where the creativity, assumptions and actions of the players will ultimately decide exactly how that chapter of the story is told.

Up next: Building an Adventure – A short guide to brewing at home


What are good beginner board games?

Our beginner game tips:

  • Carcassonne: Transport yourself to the old, medieval, hilltop town of Carcassonne, in this tile and worker placement game, that is an all-time classic.
  • Splendor: Take on the role of gem merchants, battling through the renaissance to mine raw materials, transform them into precious stones and then sell to the rich and affluent. 
  • Sushi Go: In this fast-paced card game, the goal is to grab the best combination of sushi dishes, drawing a card each round, sets offer the biggest point rewards but you aren’t the only diner.
  • Spyfall: In this hit social deduction game, it’s a race for the one hidden spy to work out where in the world they are, before the players who know the details flush them out asking questions around the table.
  • King of Tokyo: A press-your-luck game where you play mutant monsters, gigantic robots and other monstrous creatures, rampaging the city and vying for position as the one and only King of Tokyo.
  • DIXIT: Winner of the 2010 Spiel des Jahres award (Family Game of the Year), this party game is all about using your imagination and your skills of interpretation. 


This classic see’s players selecting a face-down tile from the centre of the table, and placing it to continue the landscape already forming. While you have some freedom there is the one key rule in Carcassonne. Roads must continue roads, castles must continue castles; you cannot cut off a feature. Then comes the key decision, do you place a meeple on one of the available features on that tile, securing sweet victory points, or do you keep hold of your meeples and await another placement opportunity that may yield more points?

This dilemma is what keeps people coming back to the game, you can choose to focus on your own score, or be a little more Machiavellian instead sabotaging peoples attempts to build longer rivers and sweeping castles.

With its simple yet rich game mechanics and eighty-four tiles that can be configured into numerous combinations, Carcassonne appeals to beginners and veteran gamers alike.

  • Player Count: 2-5
  • Time: 30-45
  • Minutes Age: 8+


Splendor is a game of chip-collecting and card development. Players are merchants of the Renaissance trying to buy gem mines, means of transportation, shops—all in order to acquire the most prestige points. If you’re wealthy enough, you might even receive a visit from a noble at some point, which of course will further increase your prestige.

On your turn, you may collect gem tokens, or buy and build a card, or reserve one card probably ruining someones well-laid plans in the process. If you collect chips, you take either three different kinds of chips or two chips of the same kind. If you buy a card, you pay its price in chips and add it to your playing area. To reserve a card—in order to make sure you get it, or, why not, your opponents don’t get it—you place it in front of you face down for later building; this costs you a turn, but you also get gold in the form of a joker chip, which you can use as any gem.

All of the cards you buy increase your wealth as they give you a permanent gem bonus for later buys; some of the cards also give you prestige points. In order to win the game, you must reach 15 prestige points before your opponents do.

  • Player Count: 2-4
  • Time: 30-45
  • Minutes Age: 10+

Sushi Go

Good things come in small packages, in this battle for sushi supremacy everyone is looking for their perfect meal deal. This ain’t no all-you-can-eat buffet though, instead, while you are handed a host of tasty treats, you can only take one each turn, so grab what you can from the card-based conveyor belt and see what’s been left for you by your friends. Early on in the game, your choice doesn’t matter too much, but as the food starts to run out watch as your so-called friends stab you in the back for the last dumpling. 

It’s simple to play and has a friendly art style that makes this the perfect Sushi starter to get people into playing board games.

  • Player Count: 2-5
  • Time: 15-20
  • Minutes Age: 8+


Your mission should you choose to accept it…Well, you don’t really know what your mission is in Spyfall, by the time you’ve picked up your card you’re already in way over your head and the clocks ticking.

At the start of each round, players receive a secret card informing them of the group’s location. Except for one player, who receives the SPY card instead of the location. The Spy doesn’t know where they are, but wins the round if they can figure it out before they blow their cover!

Players then start asking each other questions during the intense 8-minute rounds.

Non-Spy players want to ask questions and give answers that prove to the other players that they know where they are. But watch out! If your questions and answers are too specific, the Spy will easily guess the location and win, so you need to practice a bit of subtlety. But if your questions and answers are too generic, you might be accused of being the Spy. The Spy will also sometimes be asked questions (just like any other player would) and have to come up with questions of his own, without knowing anything about where he is! If you listened carefully to the other players, you’ll be able to come up with a plausible question or answer… hopefully.

With a sequel that bumps the player count and a number of spin-offs including a DC version, Spyfall is a great game for larger groups.

  • Player Count: 3-8
  • Time: 30-45
  • Minutes Age: 12+

King of Tokyo

King of Tokyo see’s you inhabit a giant monster and become the last creature standing in the city.

Each turn you will take the pleasingly chunky dice and roll away. If you aren’t happy with the results you can re-roll, Yahtzee style, as many dice as you like. After a maximum of three rolls, you are stuck with your results and will use them to attack other players, heal yourself, gain energy to buy power cards or earn victory points.

The dice faces themselves show the numbers 1-3, a lightning bolt, a heart, and a claw. Claws are used to attack, hearts to heal and lightning bolts gain energy. Numbers can be exchanged for victory points but only if you have at least three of the same number at the end of your rolls.

Power cards are purchased with energy cubes and let you ‘break’ the rules of the games in some way. For example, one card lets you roll extra dice, another lets you leave Tokyo without taking damage and so on.

The trick is to take control of Tokyo at the right time. In Tokyo, your attacks hit all the other players, but all the other player’s attacks hit you and you cannot heal! The other snag is the only way you can leave Tokyo is after another player attacks you, the upside is that player must replace you in Tokyo. This means choosing when to attack is incredibly important and rolling an unwanted claw on your last re-roll can be devastating!

  • Player Count: 2-6
  • Time: 30-45
  • Age: 8+


This hugely popular party game that’s all about using your imagination and your skills of interpretation.

In this storytelling title, it’s every person for themselves – either the first to 30 points, or whoever has the most points when the deck runs out.

Dixit comes with 84 unique cards, each with wonderful, vivid and sometimes quite surreal artwork on them. Players start with a hand of six cards, and one player will start as the ‘Storyteller’. They will pick one of their cards and describe it in a sentence. This can be as wild, bland, creative or imaginative as they please. Then everyone will discreetly pick a card from their hand that they think best matches that sentence. All cards are shuffled and revealed face-up. Then players have to secretly vote using tokens (which are simultaneously flipped) on which card they think belongs to the Storyteller.

If everyone picks the Storyteller’s card (or if no one guessed right), then everyone scores two points, except the Storyteller. If only some people guessed correctly, then they and the Storyteller score three points. If others pick your own card when you are not the Storyteller, you alone score 1 point per vote for your card. (You are not allowed to vote for your own card!).

Therefore, it quickly becomes a case of the Storyteller having to balance proceedings – if they’re too vague in their descriptions, they risk alienating everyone from guessing their card. But at the same time, they cannot make it too obvious, because then everyone will know it and they’ll score nothing! At the end of each turn, everyone receives a new card to their hand, and then the next player becomes the Storyteller.

In some ways, Dixit is less of a board game and more of a fun activity you can experience with friends or family.

  • Player Count: 3-6
  • Time: 30 Minutes
  • Age: 8+

Play on?

So that’s our list of starter board games, whether you like things on board based, with bluffing or beating monsters to a pulp there’s something in this six-pack to help get you started in the world of games.
If you think we’ve missed something drop a comment on the video or reach out online to let us know.


Alternatives to Cards Against Humanity

However, that careful trepidation into going obscene is actually a descent into who can be the most offensive. It’s at that point that you stop playing a game that is charming and it becomes a competition in vulgarity.

It’s also, and I’m sorry to break it to you. Not a very good game. Objectively, it requires barely any strategy and simply playing the top card of the deck alongside your own entries will see the deck of cards picking up points as quickly as any human player. It’s a punchline generator but how much of that joke have you truly participated in?

Apples to Apples

If you like dem apples

Look, I don’t want to include Apples to Apples here but I’d be completely remiss to leave it out. It’s the game Cards Against Humanity is based and is, therefore, the most obvious replacement. The gameplay is exactly the same as players take turns being a judge and trying to make the best match. The judge picks a winner and that player gets a point.

Because of the more family-friendly theme this game works perfectly for younger players you might have in your group. It also plays four to ten people so scales well enough that it fits into our good alternative to Cards Against Humanity. Probably not for everyone though so we’ll move on.


If you fancy Dixit its here

Dixit is an absolutely beautiful game full of oversized cards each depicting a unique and ambiguous image. On your turn you say something about your chosen card, it can be a sound, a sentence, a word, a sonnet, pretty much anything you want to say about it. Then each player submits their own card secretly into a stack that is shuffled and then revealed. The game is then to guess which card the original player chose. 

The scoring has an interesting element because if everyone guesses your card or no one guesses your card you gain zero points. Instead, if there’s a situation between those two you gain three points and anyone else’s card got a guess gains one point. The game continues until the deck is empty and the winner is the player with the most points.

Dixit doesn’t scale to as many players as Cards Against Humanity , only playing for three to six players but it allows you to flex your creativity and deduction skills. Over the past few years, Dixit has been surpassed by Mysterium, a similar style of game that adds a layer of complexity to the game, which while welcome adds a level of thinking that perhaps pushes it beyond this category of alternatives.

Cash N Guns

Want to spend some cash? Its here

Cash N Guns is another older game that may have fallen out of favour that you should give another look to. Gameplay is very different to Cards Against Humanity, however, it really ticks the boxes that allow for more players and most importantly, lots of shouting at your friends.

The game sees you play the role of a gangster after a successful heist. Now you just have to split the loot up. Shouldn’t be too hard right? Aside from the fact you’re all armed and your greed demands you walk away with the lions share.

The main mechanic is bluffing your way out of trouble. You can defend your cash grab with your foam gun. Unfortunately, you’ve spent half a round during the heist, with only three bullets and some duds, can you manage to convince your colleagues to back out of the fight to avoid being shot?

It’s a silly game for four to eight players and lasts around 30 minutes but the silliness and volume of the game can truly escalate in that time.


Fancy your own copy? Its here

In recent years, Codenames would easily sit in this spot as a fun team game that sits well in the six to eight-player category. But Decrypto changed it up, levelling out the difficulty and allowing the laughs to be shared with the entire team rather than sitting on the edge of the table, alone with only your inner monologue as your companion.

You see in Decrypto, you split into teams and have four secret words that the other team is trying to guess. Each turn, one player on the team gets a secret code with three numbers relating to those words. That player on the team then has to give one-word clues to allude to the code. Before your own team can guess though, the other team has a chance and if they are successful they gain a point. First to two correct guesses wins. However, part of the beauty of the game is that if your team fails to guess correctly you gain an incorrect token. Similarly, if you fail twice, you lose the game.

So there’s a tightrope of trying to be discreet enough that the other team can’t guess your clue but still manage to get your team (who a reminder, can see the original words) to understand you.

It requires a lot more thought than the other games in this list but manages to be absolutely hilarious and games are very quick allowing for mixing up the teams and just one more game.

Say Anything

Obligatory Shopping Link Here

Finally, in my list of alternatives, we arrive at Say Anything. A fun party game that just unleashes your own in-jokes, wit and intelligence in a game where you are the brains behind the answers and therefore deserves the praise for your funny quips, retorts and remarks.

The game plays for three to eight and on each turn a different play poses a question. It’s then up to the other players to answer that question secretly on a mini dry-erase board. Then in turn each player reveals their answer (hopefully to much hilarity). Then, the question-poser (probably not the official term) secretly selects their favourite answer. The other players bid on the winner. They have two tokens allowing them to spread their bets or go all in. The favourite answer is then revealed and points are dished out.

This game is pure fun. It allows you to say anything (sorrynotsorry) in response to a varied set of questions and that freedom of expression is what makes it surpass the punchline generator of Cards Against Humanity. 


There’s more games you could look to; Spyfall, Exploding Kittens, Wits and Wagers, Resistance Avalon and more but the main point is, there are fun alternatives to play. These alternatives will not only let you avoid the murky and quite frankly tired jokes you’ve made before but give you a sense of accomplishment for the great jokes, the great plays and the great times you have playing with your friends.


Boardgame Lingo

What is a Kallax?

You may not know its name but if you’ve visited a gaming bar, friends flat or IKEA you know it’s cube-shaped face, is it really the best board game shelf solution created, not a chance, *but* is it the cheapest, most effective and readily available – 100% yes.

What is a Mulligan?

No matter how finely tuned the card game, the second you begin shuffling and drawing hands, the gods of gaming can decide to strike you down with a set of identical cards or worse, trash. To avoid this fate, most games will allow you the chance to discard this cursed first hand and try again so you have a fairer shot at winning.

Why would you Tap a card in gaming?

Nothing to do with contactless payments, to Tap is the way you interact with a card to show it’s used in some way. This could be as simple as touching the card like in traditional card games or in Magic the Gathering, it’s the act of turning a card sideways. 

Tapping helps show all players what’s been used or is available.

What does Spiel des Jahres mean on a board game box?

You’ll see this mentioned on a host of great board games, like the Oscars are to film, this German “Game of the Year” award is the highest praise. If something has won the Spiel Des Jahres, you can be pretty confident it’s a great game.

Why do people keep mentioning Board Game Geek?

They aren’t calling you a nerd, Board Game Geek has become the biggest site for board games boasting over 300k visitors a day, you can find reviews, images and message forums covering everything and anything game related. Their ever-changing top lists are a great place to see what’s currently ranked the best title among the most dedicated players.

What does CCG have to do with cards?

CCG is short for Collectible Card Game, these are designed with the function of destroying your wallet, cards will keep being released and you buy additional packs hoping to get the rare ones that complete a set, decimate your rivals or can make you rich.
Pokémon is the granddaddy of them all.

What does LCG have to do with card games?

Living Card Game is actually a phrase owned by Fantasy Flight Games, but like “Google that” it’s become adopted by the board game masses. LCG’s are great in that they remove random cards and instead packs are released in batches. Like any subscription service if you keep picking up the new packs you can tap into a world of gameplay possibilities, once you stop buying new sets, or the game finishes, things become more limited.

What is DnD?

DnD is the all-conquering Dungeons and Dragons, a game where you create a character and interact with a fantasy world through dice rolls. This is all controlled by a Dungeon Master who will be crafting the story from books, guides or just from their own imagination.

What’s an RPG?

Role-Playing Games is a broad term for any game that sees you create a character and play out a role, so you’ll be acting and behaving in that way. If people are sitting with sheets of A4 paper, rolling dice and acting, you can be pretty sure it’s an RPG they are playing. Different games tweak the system of rolling dice and role-play, so if Fantasy isn’t your thing you can be a hacker in Cyberpunk or a force wielding Jedi in Star Wars Force And Destiny. 

What are Meeple?

A shortened version for “My People” coined by Alison Hansel during a play session of Carcassonne. Meeple are player pieces that can represent countless things in board games.

What is King Making?

While you might not win every game, you may be in a position to pick the winner. Kingmaking is the moment you make a choice that determines who will win the game, so that may be leaving a card for them to collect next turn, choosing to leave a space free or a more blatant act of war like turning on an ally.

What is Quarterbacking in a game?

Co-op games task you to work together but in some, there’s a higher risk of one person taking over, think back seat driving, quarterbacking is a term for when someone is taking too much of a lead and calling all the shots. “Cool so on your turn you do this” some games are more at risk of this than others but unless the quarterback is saving you from failing the game, you do you.

What is Drafting in games?

While we’d be the experts on all things draught when it comes to beer, in board games drafting will see you taking something and passing the rest on. No matter the game you’ll be weighing up, what you need, what you can grab and potentially how much you can annoy your friends taking their choice first instead.

What is a Tableau?

Tableau is mixing the French for picture and the English for table, Tableau in board games refers to the collection of items you’ve assembled in front of you in the hope of victory, usually these games see you playing together but apart then comparing scores at the end.

What does Engine have to do with tabletop gaming?

Your Engine is referring to the way you’re competing in the game. You will start small and build from there, in the same way its namesake works, some will be ruthlessly efficient and others a little slower and plod along. The trick is to pick components in the game that work well together.

What is Dex/Dexterity in board gaming?

Dex is short for Dexterity and in a roleplaying game relates to how well you will perform a task with your hands. Dexterity games will test these skills, so every time you try to throw rubbish in the bin from distance, that’s a Dex check

What is a Deck in games?

If you’ve got a pile of cards face-down that you are taking from, you’ve got yourself a deck. How that deck works changes depending on the game, so you may add to it as a game goes on or enter & finish with the same set.

What is Analysis Paralysis?

If you’ve ever stared blankly at a take-away menu, wondering what to choose, that’s Analysis Paralysis. In gaming, this would be when you’re faced with a bunch of different possibilities & you’re unsure which to pick. If it helps with the food dilemma, I’d always pick 67!

Why would I burn in a board game?

To burn* in a board game is to sacrifice something (usually a card) in exchange for something else happening. While burning helps with the now, it can sometimes hurt you in the long term as whatever is burnt will likely be lost forever.

*Unless advised by the game instructions never set fire to game components.


Budget Magic

Here, we’ll take you through a few different formats and give you the low-down on where you can save pennies while still remaining competitive, with a budget of around £50-70 as a guideline, and avoiding formats like Pioneer and Modern where the price of competitive decks are considerably out of budget.


Standard is the default format for a lot of new players – it only uses the last 4-8 card sets that are legal for the format, and thus rotates a lot of cards out of the format once a year. Out of many formats, it’s also often the cheapest – cards being new on the market and sold in current sets mean you’re not hunting for an old, hard-to-find copy of a certain card on the secondary market, which helps keep the cost down.

To minimize costs, we recommend starting with one of Wizards of the Coast’s own Challenger Decks. These are reasonably priced (the exact price depends on where you buy it) pre-built decks based on some of the most competitive designs in the format. They’re not quite as powerful as the designs they’re based on, to balance cost vs. contents, but one of them is an absolute powerhouse with a relatively affordable upgrade path: mono red.

Mono red means it only uses red mana and colorless spells, so you’ll never need to seriously upgrade the mana base. As an archetype, it is an extremely fast and aggressive deck that aims to kill the opponent before they’ve had time to blink. The design is simple as a result, and almost every core card is in the box – you could easily take this to a Friday Night Magic tournament and clean up because its design is so reliable.


Pauper is a format that, as its name suggests, operates on the idea of low cost – no card in your deck can be above common in rarity. What does this mean? A load of variety and choice where tactics are favoured over raw power, and an affordable collection of cards to choose from.

This means if you want to try out multicolour decks that do everything from sneakily control the battlefield to deploying giant stompy monsters, you’re in luck! The meta (the current landscape of the game, competitively) contains a ton of affordable decks – jump into the format with this helpful video.


Commander is a little different to most Magic, in that you have a commander – a legendary (unique) named character whose identity, from their abilities to the mana colors used to summon them and use said abilities, define the colors of cards you can include in your whopping 99-card deck. Every card must be unique (with some exceptions, and your basic land cards), and games are often played in groups of 3-4 rather than a 1v1 format.

All these cards, all that power, and a card legality that goes back to the beginning of Magic means that some of these decks cost thousands of dollars. But your saving grace comes in the form of deck designers like Commander’s Quarters, who will present you with countless fun and competitive decks that sync nicely to your budget.

If you do put together a Commander deck, and find a group of friends to play with, it’s also important to make sure the power level of everyone’s decks will match up so your budget creation doesn’t leave you DOA with your friends playing the rest of the game. Not sure how to approach that conversation? This article is a great starting point.

Digital Magic

If you’re some distance from your nearest Magic spot, or like many of us, avoiding in-person gatherings during COVID-19, then have no fear – digital Magic is here! The go-to for many new players is Magic the Gathering: Arena, a PC digitization of the Standard format (and a fair few others besides) that is free to download and play – and comes with ten starter decks. Earning new cards is simple (and still free), and most tournament events are accessible via currency that isn’t tied to your wallet.

There’s also Magic the Gathering: Online, or MTGO for short. Also digital, but it comes with an actual real-money marketplace, and the ability to play every major Magic format from throughout the game’s history. You can even cheaply rent expensive decks to try them out before you commit to buying the cards – great for the money-savvy player on a budget.

Shuffle Up and Play

No matter whether you start with Standard, Commander or even formats beyond it like Limited, Modern, Pioneer, Legacy and more, the best thing to do is sit down, shuffle up and play. You’ll soon get a feel for what decks you like and dislike, and the secondary card market means trading your own physical (or on MTGO, digital) cards in to change decks is perfectly possible at many local game stores. We look forward to seeing you on the battlefield!


How to play D&D online

Desperately trying to figure out how? Well, we’re here to answer the question once and for all – even though explaining how to play DnD online isn’t easy.

Since most guides clock in at 3000+ words, you’re probably only seconds away from being distracted by another tab. So, how can we get you from this article to playing Dungeons & Dragons as quickly as possible?

Out the window goes the buyer’s guide for webcams and headsets – you probably already have a phone or computer, or you wouldn’t be able to read this. There’s plenty of online campaign-building platforms to select from depending on your online campaign needs, but we won’t focus on these here. We’re very proud of our super short guide letting you know the best way you can experience DnD online as a starter in just five short words…

What’s the best way to play DnD online as a beginner? 

Get Divinity: Original Sin 2

You don’t need to gather a party of friends to play Divinity: Original Sin 2. It sure is fun with others, but the experience is still strong when you’re playing by yourself.

Let’s get something clear: Divinity: Original Sin 2 is not a licenced Dungeons & Dragons game. It’s not set in the D&D universe, and even though you will see similarities in every aspect of the game, there will be some differences, too. But, arguably, these differences help translate the world of D&D into a digital product. Plus, Wizards of the Coast trusted DOS2’s developer Larian with Baldur’s Gate 3. That’s gotta mean something.

When has Reddit ever been wrong…

So, just how closely do the two link up? Back when Larian demonstrated the Game Master Mode to media before launch, they cut a deal which allowed them to show the mode off with The Lost Mine of Phandelver, the same campaign that graces the DnD starter set. We know when you say “Game Master”, Larian, you mean “Dungeon Master”. We’re onto you.

If you are coming at this from a total novice perspective, Divinity: Original Sin 2 is the perfect starting point. Its already done the hard part of crafting a gripping story. You can play the story mode by yourself, play it with others (including a couch co-op), use the Game Master Mode to create your own campaigns or join stories crafted by others. It’s your choice if you’d rather safely explore the pre-written, or push the boundaries of the Game Master Mode. You can safely bring in any role-playing newbies and know the game will tackle the hard parts of teaching you the ropes and the tropes of an RPG.

Here’s what makes DOS2 pretty great: it costs about £20, but you can often find it on sale. If you live with a fellow RPG enthusiast, you can both enjoy a 60 hour campaign together for the measly price of £10 each – roughly two pints in a pub. If you want to play with friends online, you will have to convince them to shell out £20 each, but you don’t necessarily have to gather four friends, as you can each control more than one character.

“Wait, wasn’t this supposed to be about D&D?”

Alright then, if you like D&D so much, let me paint you a picture. You’re an online user, browsing the web in the search of the best online D&D tips. Now, you have to face a choice: would you like to run the game, or to play?

Playing DnD online?

Roll20 will become your Holy Grail, with a handy search tool that lets you seek out games that are suitable for starters. The only caveat here is some will ask for a fee to cover the game running time, which is still a pretty sweet deal given that they’re crafting a campaign & guiding you through it.

One word of warning, the built-in voice and video functions aren’t the most stable so expect whoever is running the game to be linking you to a different chat option. On the plus side Zoom, Google Hangout or Microsoft Teams all let you join from a link without having to set things up.

Like any game, it will live and die based on the people playing so don’t be too put off if your initial campaign isn’t the best.

Running Dnd online?

The simplest and the best advice we can give you for testing your DnD campaign running skills is to have a group call with your players and go from there.

Sure, virtual 3D dice sure look great, as do virtual environments, plugins, avatars, digital character sheets and more, but communication truly is key. If what you are looking to do is develop as a group of beginners, it is the most important tool for online play.

While it’s not the most exciting advice, pick up a Dungeons & Dragons Starter set, crafted by the experts at Wizards of the Coast who’ve been doing this since 1974. It’s built to give you all you need to play the game. It’s even slightly cheaper than a copy of Divinity: Original Sin 2.  

Pick up your copy then split the character sheets amongst your group. All you need is a way to make notes. A set of dice is definitely nice to have, but Google has you covered for any dice-roling needs.

It really is as simple as the Starter Set and a group call. One of the benefits of this minimal set up is there’s a whole lot less that can go wrong and players have less to fiddle with so *hopefully* will remain more engaged in your storytelling.

See what works for you and which parts of the game running you want to enhance. If the players find it tough to imagine locations, Roll20 and tilemaps might be right for you. If they really enjoy the character building element of the game, run your first full session with the newly updated Character Builder app.

Let’s face it: if you’re over the age of 18, the hassle of getting four (or more) people on the same call at the same time can be the biggest threat to any Dungeons & Dragons campaign. If you want to see if DnD is right for you, it’s best to keep it simple in the beginning. The starter set is great, as there’s nothing big to learn or read before playing, and for the DM everything is nicely scripted and easily understandable.

If everyone in your party is as eager to learn as you, hit up the more detailed guides. If you’ve caught the bug watching streams, seeing Dungeon & Dragons in movies and TV, just settling down and playing with as few barriers to entry as possible is what RPGs are all about.

And trust me on the Divinity Original Sin 2 part!

Jimmy Dance, self-appointed expert.

Dungeon Masterclass Part 1

No eight-year-old dreams of being a recording studio engineer. When we break out those nostalgic tales of childhood fantasy, they’re stories of singing in front 200,000 people at Glastonbury, or ripping up and down a guitar’s fretboard at Download Festival. The science of recording audio is perceived, by those outside the field, as dry, unexciting and mechanical. It’s a necessity that is respected because it allows other people to achieve glory, but let’s be honest, it’s barely thought about by the average music listener.

It’s my experience that many newbie DMs, seeing the need for a conduit of some kind, view their task as though they’re about to record a band’s album. They’ve got a group together who all want to play, but none of them are confident enough to be the DM, so they begrudgingly volunteer. To many first-timers, the Dungeon Master provides instruments, microphones, and a practice space, then they sit back and watch the players jam together. I’m here to tell you that as a DM, you are anything but a roadie. You are, in fact, the beating heart of the band. You write the songs, sing the lyrics, and choose the timbre. Then the players get to smash out face-melting guitar solos over the top of your work.

To that end, welcome to Dungeon Masterclass, a series of articles aimed at beginner and intermediate DMs in the fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons. In this series, I’ll be going over what I feel are the key ingredients to brewing up a successful campaign. But most importantly, I’ll be pointing out how and why DMing is the most fun role at the table.

I’d like to begin with a story.

Not too long ago, I was running a campaign for my regular group. The central premise was simple. An alliance of nasty things – hobgoblins, ogres, orcs and the like, were sweeping through a secluded vale, destroying towns and murdering farmers. The players were tasked with slowing their advance long enough to allow the human populace to mount some kind of defence. This led to a series of guerilla-style attacks on outposts and scout parties, along with desperate evacuations of villages and townships.

It was during one such egress that the players heard banging coming from inside an empty tavern. They entered to find a group of four bandits looting the place, seemingly taking advantage of the local misery to make a few cheap gains for themselves. Their leader promptly told the players to get lost. This was their side of the street. The players could rob the other side if they wished. It was then that I uttered a line that forever changed the way this campaign ran.

“Careful Chent” says one of the looters. “I think these might be the guys everyone’s talking about.”

Chent was just a throwaway, generic bad guy. The players were meant to beat the tar out of him, in exchange for a little XP,  before moving on with their mission. The expected scrap did occur, and our heroes swiftly dealt with the gang, but they decided to knock Chent unconscious, rather than kill him, so that he might face justice at the hands of the local sheriff. For a bit of flavour, I ruled that the knockout blow sliced off his hand, causing Chent to pass out from the pain. It sounded cool at the time. The players, being good-natured guys, bandaged his wound and stayed with him until he regained consciousness.

I now had to invent a basic personality for Chent, as the players were about to interact with him. I decided that he would be cocky, but honest. That he would see the abandoned tavern as a genuine waste of perishable resources. Someone would steal it anyway, so why leave it for the advancing goblin army? After all, he hated the war that had been forced upon his countrymen as much as the players did. I tried to imagine myself as Chent. Desperate, scared, in need of a guarantee that he can pay for food and shelter at whatever city he and his friends were about to be unwanted refugees in.

When he came around, I played this character to the best of my ability and that’s when something unexpected happened – the players felt sorry for him. They quickly forgave him, even expressing a sense of guilt for injuring him and killing his friends. Perhaps they had been too hasty in their judgement. Maybe Chent was doing them a favour by removing this food and wine from the inevitable clutches of the approaching horde.

Chent became a full-on member of the party from that point onwards, travelling with the players, offering comic relief in moments of dire gloom. Always hungry for loot, wine and women, his often sardonic commentary on the events of the campaign gave me endless opportunities to steer the players in directions that I wanted them to go. The fact that he only had one hand led to constant banter, where he’d often demand a bigger share of the loot as recompense. Eventually, he got an engineer to graft a crossbow onto his stump and he became a badass, swashbuckling rogue. When he fell during the campaign’s final battle, the players ignored their own wellbeing and, as the temple crumbled around them, stopped to heal him, ultimately rescuing Chent from certain death.

I’m telling you this story because it highlights two things. First of all, it’s a shining example of why being the DM is such a rewarding experience. I created a character, in a handful of seconds, that caused a group of friends to feel a whole range of emotions. I caused these people to question their judgement and to make reparations in accordance with their new perspective. Perhaps even more amazing is that I created a major sidekick who is now an established part of our world’s narrative. As a player, this is something that you’ll never get to experience.

Secondly, this illustrates precisely what I see as the disconnect between the accepted perception of the Dungeon Master and what the true essence of DMing really is. We often think of running the game as an exercise in preparation. The DM spends hours writing notes, learning rules, and planning for every recourse. He does this because he needs to have every eventuality planned out, just in case the players decide to explore them.

Not only is this unrealistic, but by entering into D&D with the mindset that your players can and should follow your plans, you’re guaranteeing that you won’t get to experience some of your most awesome moments as a DM. To return to our band jamming analogy, while you absolutely get to decide the genre, key, tempo and many other things about the song you’ll be playing together, it’s still a jam session. Your drummer may just slip into a reggae beat that you, as well as everyone else at the table, will have to roll with.

Your job as DM is not to keep the players picking out the same riffs over the course of an entire campaign. It’s to provide opportunities for them to surprise you with literally anything else. Ultimately, this game is an exercise in creativity and improvisation. The best games of Dungeons and Dragons are the ones where everyone walks away feeling as though they contributed to the creation of something wholly different to that which each individual at the table had expected.

Ultimately, this idea boils down to one simple fact, which us DMs must always keep in the backs of our minds. The relationship between player and Dungeon Master is a symbiotic one. While you are responsible for everyone else at the table having fun, never forget that they are also responsible for your fun. You’ve likely noticed that I’ve leaned heavily on the band analogy. That’s because I’ve spent much of my life performing music in front of crowds. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in that time, it’s that as long as the band is having a blast, the audience will also have a good time. I’ve seen ensembles that can barely play their instruments but are able to utterly captivate an audience because they were goofy, charming and obviously loving every minute of it. I’ve also seen Axel Rose booed off stage, despite having some of the world’s finest session musicians behind him because he was very vocally not enjoying the show. It’s fun to see someone having fun. So please, have fun!

Up next time: The Inevitable Scrap – How to build fun and memorable combat encounters


DnD Buyers Guide

Maybe you’ve played a few games, or maybe you’ve got your first game coming up. Either way, I’ve got a long long list of gadgets, gizmos and great websites for you!

Two notes:

  1. These are all things for D&D 5e, although some of them are applicable across other games. 
  2. I would always suggest playing a game before investing loads of money, and playing a few times if you don’t *love* the first game. I know a few people who don’t love me as a DM but love D&D, and that’s okay, but I also know people who spent £100 before realising they actually want to play Warhammer. You can also try the free online rules before dropping the money on the books There are loads of places across the UK to try out D&D, so check online for your local place!

For everyone

The most valuable resource I can offer anyone ever is an online character builder. The books are great, and if you love pen & paper and making it yourself, I’m not suggesting stop, but there has been many a session saved by having your character sheet in the cloud. 

Option 1: My personal favourite site is It allows you to import homebrew content really easily and it allows you to share your character sheets with your DM. On top of this, there’s 0 cost – the best cost! It’s got a super easy guided process if you are creating your first characters. It also allows you to share your character with your DM if you’re all using the same sheet, and they can add them all into a party (share the URL by clicking www once you’ve shared your sheet and your DM can click add to party)

Option 2: If you’re wanting something with all the expansion books easily available, is the only choice. With all books loaded in, it’s an easy and simple choice but the price point is not to be sniffed at – buying the books costs RRP of the book price – so just the player’s guide & Xanathar’s guide will set you back £50 or so, and that is only a digital copy. The advantage is that if your DM buys all of them & the subscription, then all your party can access them!

The second most interesting item I suggest is to always have some cute D&D loot. I have these cute little lip balms and this lovely ring.

Both of them allow me to show off my subtle D&D-nerdy-ness at any time. The ring gives me the ability to always roll a d20 – i keep it on my keys. The lip balm is a lovely little conversation starter that also deals with my chapped lips after a long 8 hour gaming session.

For the dungeon master

Every single dungeon master has that one time when the players go “oh and what’s through this door” and open a door that you hadn’t planned for. Part of the joy of DM’ing is ad-libbing what is behind the door and hoping your players don’t cotton on to the fact you’re making it up as you go along. But what happens when they start to ask about what it looks like, or want to start combat and you’re a map-based DM (rather than a theater of the mind DM). 

Dungeon Tiles Reincarnated are exactly what you need at this point 

If you make me pick between dice and these tiles, I’ll always pick the tiles as I love a good combat field to give my players a real sense of the room they are in. Players can always be represented by a leftover d4 or a bottlecap, but the maps really give players a sense of the room. Each pack, Dungeon, Wilderness and City, all contain 16 A4 sheets which can be mixed & matched to give your players an idea of the room. From big almost A4 maps of a tavern, to a mish-mash of 2×4 pieces, you can make almost any situation your players might be in.
I personally own all 3, and have them stored in plastic wallets by size – 1×1 gridded squares to 3×3’s in a little fishing tackle box, and larger pieces in a clear wallet ready to go at any time.

GameTee’s Coin of Life & Death 

This is very much a situational piece, but I love having one of these. A beautiful brass coin for saving throws. If your players are dying and have no buffs, taking their dice out of their hand and handing them this coin can make this moment more tense. I tend to hand players this coin on their final saving throw, when they’re caught between life and death. Thrice I have handed it to a player on a darkened evening, sitting there with tears in their eyes, hoping that their character is not lost this time and twice it has allowed the player to return as the same character the next session. And in the time it did not, the moment was made more solem by the rattle of the coin hitting the table as it fell on the side of no return.

For the player

So you’ve played a few times? And you’ve decided to be a wizard for some reason (I mean, sorcerer and Warlock are right there! You could’ve sold your soul to satan or be rolling on random-tables but sure, wizard is fun too). The best investment for you (or any of your fellow magic users) is the D&D 5e Spellbook Cards. Now hear me out – I know some people despise them – but they are so useful if you wish to take your character between DM’s. My wizards use them often to help select spells after a long rest, and my sorcerer carries them to shuffle during some wild magic bursts. If I wish to pack light, I can fit them, and my character sheet, and some dice into a nice A6 bag, ready to play whenever the time suits. I’ve handed them to my DM to save them having to pass a huge book. I’ve put them into little A6 folio as a true wizards spellbook!

Either way, they are incredibly useful. They come in Arcana (Wizards, Warlocks and Sorcerers), as well as Bard, Cleric, Druid, Paladin, Ranger and Martial Powers & Races. There’s also an expansion for Xanathar and Elemental spells. 

There’s something important that players forget sometimes which is that note taking can be vital. The DM will likely have a massive tome of notes and plans, and sometimes it’s really useful to have made notes (obviously not every game is the same etc). 

The BEST notetaking books are the ones that are multipurpose. I have one similar to this, which stores my character sheet in the ziplock bag. It’s a godsend as I can just chuck my character sheet in whatever bag I’m taking to the event and boom – I have a notebook built-in. Need to know what happened last session? Perfect!
Everyone’s notetaking will be different (For example, often, mine is non-existent whilst I let someone else make the notes) but I’d also suggest adding the following things to whatever notebook you choose. 

  • Sticky Notes: They’re useful to pass secrets on. I’ve got a pad in 4 colours stuck to the first page so i can always grab one when i need it. 
  • Little tokens: I have a BUNCH of these in my wallet-book – they’re perfect for when I’ve forgotten my mini and just need a token. I’ve got some nice ones leftover from D&D 4e, but you can also just print one out and tape it to a bit of cardboard. 
  • A spare blank character sheet. Y’know how at the start I mentioned how there’s always a time you forget your character sheet? Well a plain blank one is a great way to deal with that – just keep it in the book at all times and if everything goes wrong, just grab your phone, and copy it from the webapp!
  • A £5 note. This is just my personal preference and probably pointless after the end of the world but it’s always good to have a bit of cash to chuck at whomever buys the pizza. 
  • A paper coaster from your favourite bar. When you’re playing in a bar, there’s often enough. When you’re at someones house, less so. Always keep one on you to protect your favourite table!
  • Little packet of paracetamol/Usb charging cable/any other essentials you may need. In like my second D&D session, I ended up getting an awful headache, but someone at the event had a small packet of paracetamol and I was able to stay till the end! My D&D book goes with me wherever I go so it’s always good to have everything I could possibly need with me. 

This is obviously not an “everything” list – I could mention Roll20, Fantasy grounds or Astral for playing on, all the places to get beautiful dice from, Hero forge for printing mini’s… but hopefully it’s given you a taste of things to pick up, ready for when in-person gaming can happen again!


Exploring Cyberpunk

Don’t expect this to be an old-fashioned dungeon crawler. If the storyteller wants to make the setting so hard-edged that it cuts, then cyberpunk delivers with dystopian wastelands, self-dismemberment and overwhelming technological idolatry.

Here are some major differences that Cyberpunk offers up, compared to your classic RPG experience.

Your adventure is to survive

“Imagine A World Where . . .”

Most fantasy games are about exploring the ruins of a fallen empire. If you’re playing DnD, then your hero grows as they rediscover that lost power.

Today, you live in a modern empire. In Cyberpunk, these empires are falling apart around you in real-time. Ever wonder what happened before a post-apocalyptic movie? This is it.

You won’t be gathering your party at a tavern and strike out for an old castle. There are no dragons to slay and dungeons to spelunk in for treasure. Instead, you will find that living in the future city has costs. What is important is that you aren’t another wage slave like the millions of others. You’re a fighter, and you will take on anything this city has to throw at you.

Guns… Lots of guns

“I’ll give ya a war you won’t believe”

You wouldn’t bring a knife to a gunfight today, and that won’t change 50 years from now. Cyberpunk captures that reality offering you a futuristic array for your potential arsenal. (Ok there’s also melee options so if you really want you could take a knife to a gunfight but I’d suggest at least a Katana)

No matter what kind of character you play, you would be right to come packing. If you’re really into firearms, then you’ll enjoy perusing a large selection – whether it be a classic revolver or a cutting-edge laser rifle.

As a result, playing Cyberpunk means combat isn’t about sword and board. You don’t need to move a tiny figurine around a dungeon sketched on grid paper. Shootouts are dynamic and dangerous. Who walks away may be decided by your element of surprise and a roll of the dice. Expect action from the moment you draw your gun.

Man is the real monster

Or should that be machine?

Did a wizard do it? No. What you are facing are the products of man’s hubris taken to the ultimate end. Don’t expect to fight ghouls, these are mutants who were once human but had to live in toxic waste. That isn’t a demon, that is a cybernetically augmented soldier. And yes, the ghost is in the machine.

Your battles will be against those that society has failed. The richest and the poorest are divided by a total culture war. It doesn’t matter if your enemy is a street gang or an elite security firm. They have sunk their claws into the meat of the city.

Your most dangerous enemies will be the ones who pretend to be your friends. The stakes are high so expect to be double-crossed. Or will you be the one pulling off the con?

All the modern conveniences

“Cyberpunk is all about the drive for power”

Don’t worry about riding a horse or finding parchment. In this world, you will be up to your cybernetic eyeballs with all the same tech that you rely on every day.

However, expect a “Dark Mirror” style twist. You don’t have a cell phone, you have a handheld Agent with software that’s trying to stop casual hackers. You can drive a car but expect far more Mad Max-style action than on your usual commute.

Beyond it all, there is cyberware. Welcome to the dawn of post-humans. Your body is only limited by what you can afford – or steal.

Your skin can be harder than steel. Your reflexes can be enhanced so fast that ordinary people cannot even see you move. Never lose your phone again – implant it in your skull. Does that sound a little scary? That kind of horror is a lot of the fun of Cyberpunk.

Hacking is the new dungeon crawl

Cyberpunk envisions a future where computer security is a deadly game. Firewalls are so advanced that they cannot be hacked by computers alone. To invade a network, you must use the most advanced cybernetics to attack with your very own brain.

This is called Netrunning. If you are one of the elite few who takes the risks, then you will see the virtual world. It works like this: Upon detecting a wireless network, you will see its structure overlaid on your vision. Its defenses appear as monsters known as ICE. Your weapons are the programs that evade or destroy the ICE. Once you’re in, you’re committed. If you’re exposed then the ICE will burn your neurons and leave you a corpse.

The clock is ticking: Soon guards will be alerted, virtual and real. Can you uncover the digital secrets and escape with your mind intact?

Keep cool by putting points in your Cool stat

“Fashion Is Action . . .”

Chivalry is dead. But in the dark future, there are still methods of persuasion that don’t require violence. In Cyberpunk, there is a word that sums up a character’s ability to bring others to their side. This is your personal style, your undeniable inner strength, and a measure of how much others want to be like you. In homage to the timelessness of Cyberpunk itself, the slang used for this is simply your “cool”.

Cool is literally a character stat in Cyberpunk. It’s not just about staying frosty in a firefight. This is a universal scale that is shared by heroes, anti-heroes, and every badass in between.

There is the cool of an ex-special forces operator that strikes fear just by walking in the room. There is the cool of a protest singer where every performance sparks a revolution. You are dangerous and everyone knows it. The more “cool” you have, the more you exude the authority that comes naturally while leading from the front.

Consider what your character wears. You will do well to wear timeless urban gear like dark vests or trenchcoats. Or put on your branded clothes, the bolder the better. Any punk stuff is perfect. Chains, spikes and brightly coloured wigs all add to your attitude. Consider iconic characters like Shōtarō Kaneda, Trinity or Uma Thurman’s “The Bride”.

There is no magic…

Science fiction is the art of predicting the future. If that’s your jam, then Cyberpunk is a deep slice of potential. The past is long dead. Say goodbye to old myths and legends. The fight is for the future.

But I do want to leave you with one more option. If you do want your futuristic RPG to have a little magic you should also consider the one game that is almost as iconic as Cyberpunk, and that is Shadowrun. It also is a dark and dystopian future. But half of Shadowrun is about the most impossible thing: Magic.

Yes, it’s 2050 and elves are hacking computers while dragons fly space shuttles to the moon. You can be anything in Shadowrun. But just like Cyberpunk, most of all you are free – because only “runners” like you dare to live outside the merciless corporations and the roving gangs.

If you have friends who enjoy fantasy settings then this may pull them into cyberpunk. They can play their half-orc and a rocket launcher too. Think about it! There’s also an excellent digital version if you prefer to try your RPG’s without having to learn the players guide here

Go explore the city

So that’s a few starter tips to help you know what to expect from Cyberpunk, if that’s got you tempted, you can pick up Cyberpunk Red which acts as a prequel to the game here.