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3 Wise DMs is a podcast for dungeon masters (for Dungeons & Dragons) and game masters (any other RPG) with problems. And when we say problems, we don’t mean the kind of things you find answers for in the gamebooks. Think of it as a gaming philosophy show with a strong emphasis on applied knowledge. We all want to be great DMs, so what do we do to try to get there?
 
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Can you teach your wife, girlfriend, best friend, family member or anyone you love to play your favorite RPG? It’s a risky proposition, as listener Dave points out in this week’s listener question: He wants to teach his wife to play D&D, and she’s agreed to give it a try, but he’s afraid that “if she doesn’t enjoy that first session, she will never…
 
At D&D Celebration, Wizards of the Coast held a Future of D&D panel discussion with Ray Winninger, Liz Schuh, Jeremy Crawford, and Chris Perkins about new products and changes coming to D&D 5E over the next year and beyond. Among the topics discussed were changes to the way monsters will be presented, balanced, rebalanced around Mordenkainen Presen…
 
DMing is all about bringing your ideas to the table, but some ideas reach beyond the story and dialogue to change the way the game is played. Today, 3 Wise DMs open a Pandora’s Box of DMing ideas and inspiration for D&D 5E. From campaign setting ideas to new weapon rules, combat formations, vampire and dragon age categories, and more, in this episo…
 
Patrons and punishments have been a part of D&D since 1st Edition’s paladins had to toe the line or get busted down to fighter status by an angry deity. But with so many classes drawing their powers from gods, devils and monsters in 5e — and not really getting any better deal than the wizard who studied, sorcerer who was born with it, barbarian who…
 
How do you bring your campaign world to life? It’s a question lots of DMs and GMs ask from a lot of different angles. We’re all looking for ways to make sure our players have fun, but also have new experiences in the game that make it feel more like characters living out a story and less like tabletop Diablo. Some of our best questions come from ou…
 
No DM’s plan survives contact with the players. Between remembering the story you’re trying to tell, the details you had to improvise, and the players’ actions (which may or may not have made sense), it can be hard to keep the details straight in your RPG campaign. How can you plan out the important stuff, capture improv details before you forget t…
 
When you take your RPG campaign to the high seas (or under the seas, outer space or anywhere else they need a ship to survive), all bets are off. Sure, you could run it like any land-based campaign using the ship for fast travel, but is that really what a ship-based campaign is all about? Or are they about ship-to-ship combat, unlimited freedom, an…
 
Dragons are to D&D what Jerry West is to the NBA: The Logo. They’re the monsters so iconic that they’re literally part of the name. No other fantasy property has done as much or gained as much from its dragons. So, when you decide to put a dragon in your campaign, you know it has to be special. But how do you make sure it hits the right notes for y…
 
Sometimes you want to change the game up completely, even if it’s just for the night. Maybe you want to have a night of gambling games, a carnival with an archery contest, a little football, or, like DM Dave’s Barovia, a werewolf wrestling match to put the WWE to shame! When you have that urge, how do you make that happen? The 3 Wise DMs call them …
 
DMs have some crazy ideas. And deep down, there’s nothing most of us want to do more than unleash those ideas on our unsuspecting players. The party is rolling along a totally normal campaign in a non-descript fantasy world, and suddenly, you’ve dropped a giant, soul-eating, boon-granting, Lovecraftian spaghetti monster into the center of it with a…
 
Most DMs come to a point in their campaigns where they want to run The Big Battle. We’re not talking the players vs. a few Balors, but a real war: Storming the beaches of a fantasy Normandy, the Siege of Winterfell, the Battle of Pelennor Fields from Lord of the Rings. But when you go to set the battle up, you realize just how clunky mass combat is…
 
Lots of DMs draw inspiration from their favorite movies. But adapting a movie to your game isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Can you really use D&D, where the PCs are super-powered, to create Jurassic Park, where most of the characters are lunch? How do you capture the magic of Lord of the Rings in a way your players can actually play through with…
 
Sometimes the best stories play out after defeat, but to get to them, bad guys need to occasionally survive the fight. It’s not always so easy to recognize when it’s time to pull back and have the monsters or villains run away or surrender to the PCs, and it can be even harder to get the party to accept the surrender after it’s offered. When should…
 
Combat is such a central part of D&D 5E, but it’s also a part of the game that can take forever! And not all players are down for a 4-hour fight every game session. What can the DM do to keep the fights fun for everyone, even if some players in the party want fast combat and others want to take their time and enjoy the tactics? How do you make sure…
 
Whether you’re playing a book Dungeons & Dragons campaign or just have big plans for a couple uglies in the Monster Manual, there’s a level window where your PCs will have a good, balanced encounter with those threats. But what do you do when the party isn’t in that window? Maybe through the course of their adventures, the PCs have explored everyth…
 
Dungeons & Dragons gives most DMs a good idea of how to start running high fantasy games, but where do you go from there? Or if you started with another genre of role-playing game, like horror, how do you make a high fantasy game feel alive? What mechanics, details and dungeon master tricks (or GM tricks) can you use to make your players feel what’…
 
From The Avengers to The Snyder Cut and Arrow to Wanda Vision, superheroes have conquered entertainment. Are you ready for them to clean up the streets of your game group, too? That’s exactly what’s been happening at the 3 Wise DMs’ game table, as our little experimentation with TSR’s Marvel Superhero RPG (MSH RPG) from 1984 has ballooned into a 3-…
 
How much time should you spend prepping for individual game sessions? When should you improv and when should you plan more ahead of time? How can you keep rules lawyers and house rules under control? This episode marks one year of recording 3 Wise DMs and some of the most intensive gaming of our lives. We’ve had as many as 5 campaigns running acros…
 
The 3 Wise DMs have only just started to get back together for some in-person gaming, but none of the online RPGs we’ve talked about has yet made it back to the dinner table. Can they be saved? Do the Wise DMs even want to bring them back in-person? Are the players on board? Even if everyone wants to go back to playing live, what challenges do they…
 
It takes more than just a Wise DM to make a great roleplaying game campaign. No matter how thoroughly you plan or brilliantly you improv, the DM (or GM, judge, storyteller, or whatever the system you’re playing calls it) is only one person in a group of 2 to 10 or more people making this thing happen. When push comes to shove, the players are the o…
 
Dungeons & Dragons used to have cursed treasure that would suddenly cause big changes in player characters — like the Helm of Opposite Alignment and the Girdle of Opposite Gender. These were transformations that could ruin a character for some players, so we see less of that in most RPGs today, but they can still be powerful tools for the DM and pl…
 
Of all the roles the DM takes on, none is more important than bringing new players into the hobby. DM a game, and your player has fun for a night. Teach someone to play, and they may have fun for the rest of their lives (or think you’re a gigantic weirdo — it’s a win either way). DMing new players has its own rewards and challenges. On the one hand…
 
It’s the Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG)! The font from which all the pain in your campaign should spring. … So, how do you make sure that NPC is epic and inspires your PCs to true desperation like Darth Vader and not a sniveling mama’s boy like Joss Whedon’s Steppenwolf? It can be a fine line to walk. You need to make the villain powerful, intimidating, a…
 
“Alignment doesn’t matter!” We’ve heard it all over the place, but alignment has been a part of D&D — and most RPGs in some form — for decades. And it’s been played differently through every edition. Is it worth your time? Does it make things worse instead of better? Does it have any benefits players today are overlooking? Once upon a time, violati…
 
For the first time ever, we brought the whole team together to recap DM Tony’s very highly customized version of Storm King’s Thunder. Hear what all 5 players and Tony thought of the game and what they have to say about the CRAZY MAGIC ITEMS in it, his changes to the campaign, fitting in their backstories, and more! Along the way, we talk about fig…
 
When is a book module not a book module? When the DM throws in birthday games, a modifiable Spelljammer airship, legendary weapons tied to every character’s backstory, and more deviations from the standard campaign than we could count. That’s how DM Tony made Storm King’s Thunder his own. We just wrapped this epic campaign at level 11 after 16 sess…
 
Do your players feel into the campaign setting you’re running, or is it just generic D&D world #124 to them? What can you do to bring that world more to life and make it feel unique to you and your players? What makes a D&D session feel like more than just a glorified board game? With about a half dozen campaigns running between the 3 of us, making…
 
Party balance: It’s the most important thing every new campaign needs, right? Maybe not. Is there anything a party really NEEDS to have? Can your players survive without a healer? Or a thief? Or a meat shield warrior? Will they still have a good time? In general, we’re big fans of letting each player play whatever they want to play and working out …
 
The biggest variable in any TTRPG campaign isn’t the dice, the monsters, or even the unbalanced psyche of an exasperated DM. It’s the players themselves and the party dynamic they create both in the game with their characters and around the table as the people they are. How do you want the party in your campaign to work? Are you OK with a little ro…
 
The ultimate BBEG for any tabletop RPG is the calendar. And judging by the vast gallery of memes about this topic, that villain is nigh unbeatable. Whether our schedules are hard to align or players have important things that come up or someone in your group is just flakey, every DM has to deal with some level of absenteeism. It’s always a little b…
 
One of the old, unwritten rules of most TTRPGs is “Never Split the Party!” We tease our players with the risks and watch things go haywire when they don’t listen. But is splitting the party actually so bad? Can you play “Character Karaoke” and make sure everyone still has fun? In truth, though, we usually try not to split the party up as DMs. After…
 
Every campaign gets to level 1, but how many make it to level 20? How do you challenge players who wield actual cosmic power? Is it fun to be kings, queens, warlords and arch-mages — and take on the responsibilities that may come with those titles? How does the DM/GM make epic-level enemies feel challenging and satisfying to defeat? How do you brin…
 
Downtime: It’s when we play, when we sleep and when we record podcasts. Everyone needs some downtime, right? … Maybe. Do you actually give your player characters downtime? Or do you keep them slaloming down the plot with barely a weekend to get their equipment sharpened? What do you let the PCs attempt when they do get a weekend off? Is it taverns …
 
You studied the RPG books. You recruited the players. You started a New Game. Every week (or weeks or month) you get everyone together and run them through a world you control! … What if you don’t like it? What do you do when you find yourself running a TTRPG game you don’t enjoy? The DM is a player, too. If you’re not having fun, there’s no game. …
 
No matter how much we say it’s the DM’s world, the players know the game too. They have access to all the books, all the lore, even all the monster stats! Sometimes that’s a big help. Other times, it can be a problem for the campaign you want to run. Have you ever had players who actively spoil what all the monsters do? Or players who think they kn…
 
Characters bring a story to life, and that goes double for your TTRPG campaign. The best of your NPCs will become legends, most of the rest won’t be any more memorable than the thousands of monsters your players slay along the way. But how do you bring those NPCs to life in a way your players will engage with, trust and remember? Does the DM make a…
 
At some point, every DM sees their party get lost in the woods … or the weeds … or the brothels … Whatever the specific distraction, it’s easy to get caught up in the session-to-session filler content and see the game grind to a slog of travel encounters or petty larcenies or extended haggling sessions that bore everyone at the table. How do you ge…
 
RPG tables tend to grow. Once you get the game going and people are having fun, they start talking about that fun, and new players come in quickly. The only problem is, most TTRPGs are optimized to run with 3 to 5 players (plus the DM), and DM gets tougher are you expand to 6, 8 even 10 players. Throughout our DMing careers, we’ve run a lot of larg…
 
What drew you into role-playing games? Was it the movies, TV, myths and legends you experienced as a kid? Was it video games? Was it the first time you picked up a gaming book and fell into the world? Once you got into the games, what shaped the stories you tell and worlds you build? Where do your characters come from? Where do your mechanical part…
 
There comes a time when the dice cease to sparkle, when the monster loses its luster, when the DM screen becomes a prison, and all that is left is a DMs love for their players … Those little campaign-ruining jerks! Or not — maybe your players are victims of your burnout just as much as you are. Every TTRPG campaign is different, but one thing never…
 
Every DM needs to run their first game, and you don’t need a Ph.D. to do it! If you’re new to the system, and especially if everyone is new to the system, how much do you really need to know to start a game? Do you need to read all the rulebooks cover to cover? No. Do you need to design a minimum of 6 dungeon levels and populate it with monsters li…
 
In March of 2020, we were getting ready to record our first episode of this podcast. We all got together in our planned recording space and cut the trailer. … Then COVID happened, and that entire plan went into the garbage along with concerts, vacations and sending kids to school. But as the year went on and we figured out online gaming and recordi…
 
Older players who look at the D&D 5E rogue would be forgiven for thinking traps aren’t in the game anymore. In fact, throughout the 5E Players Handbook, traps are given less attention than in previous editions. But that doesn’t make them any less important to the game, or any less tricky for the DM to get right. D&D Traps require the DM to walk a f…
 
A few weeks ago, a listener reached out and asked how we manage players with special circumstances. She was DMing for her brother, who’s on the autism spectrum, and hit a trigger that made him feel like his character was ruined. And even though she’s a therapist, that reaction surprised her. None of the 3 Wise DMs have DMed a player diagnosed with …
 
It’s one of the hardest things for any DM to handle: What do you do when the way you see the game and the way the players see the game is no longer in sync? You describe something as super dangerous, and a PC runs up to give it a hug — then the players get angry when it attacks them. Or the players come up with a plan, but when they try to execute …
 
WotC as a company has long used errata as a way to keep its competitive games, like Magic: The Gathering, working as intended. But just several years into D&D 5E, they’re still releasing new errata that impact books printed years ago that have been used at tables for years since. Some of it just clarifies rules interactions in a helpful way, but ot…
 
There’s a myth that “old-school” Dungeons & Dragons was mostly a minis game. That may have been the case in the very earliest days, but throughout 1st and 2nd Edition, we played without minis and maps. Our game happened entirely in “The Theater of the Mind.” And, in many ways, it was a different experience from the maps-and-minis style of game most…
 
The dice never lie, but they don’t tell great stories, either. (We mean, they’re dice, they don’t even talk!) So how much of your game do you want to leave up to the dice? When should you roll them and why? What kind of game are you teaching your players to play? Can rolling the dice even discourage role-playing? In this episode of 3 Wise DMs, Thor…
 
How do you feel about a player who wants to play a famous fictional character in your game, like Drizzt, Riddick or Gandalf? Do you let them or ask them to come up with something more original? How much do you adjust the game world or homebrew mechanics to support it? That’s a question one of our listeners recently asked on the website, and Thorin,…
 
How do you create your own RPG campaign from scratch? Do you build a railroad straight through the story, or an open world for the players to explore in their own way at their own pace? Or do you do what DM Dave does, and try to split the difference between a tight story and an open world without getting lost along the way? In this episode, Thorin,…
 
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