One of my favorite parts about magic in fiction is all the extra accoutrements that go with it. Complicated hand gestures, mysterious and rare materials, and powerful incantations fill out a rich world of wonder. While D&D 5e has gone to significant lengths to put fun and creative material components in the rules, those verbal components have been left up to each player’s imaginations. Most of the time, however, that fun part of the game gets quickly glossed over.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I have a habit of tweeting out Biblical verbal components for the many and various spells of Dungeons & Dragons 5e. Over the last couple years, I’ve tweeted thousands of Bible verses matched up with hundreds of different spells. Last year I published that collection of Biblical Verbal Components over on DMsGuild.com. This supplement offers options for what to say when you need some verbal spell components for the over 500 officially published spells in D&D 5e!
Since I first published that collection, new spells have been added to the game in Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. I’ve been working on updates recently and am proud to announce Biblical Verbal Components 2.0! All the new spells have been added and some of the old ones changed to match the errata. There’s new artwork as well to help inspire your imagination as you play.
I’ve also dropped the price on this collection of over 50 pages of supplemental content. Now it’s just $5. Every penny of profit goes to help people in need through an emergency needs fund. This fund helped meet over $2,500 of need in 2020.
One of the things that never scares me as a Dungeon Master is whether or not I’ll be able to challenge my players.
A lot of people worry about this. As a DM you don’t want the game to be too easy and of no consequence. You also don’t want it to be an adversarial and impossible grind that punishes player characters just for existing. You need to find just the right balance of challenge.
I’ve got lots of little tricks that I’ve learned along the way, but the one that has been the most freeing for me has been this little rule: “Your character only stays dead if you want them to.”
I unabashedly embrace resurrection in my games. I always provide a way back from the dead, and one that doesn’t take up too much table time, though it might provide an opportunity for other characters to make a sacrifice for their fallen ally. In a current campaign one player made a deal with an evil NPC to raise their comrade from the dead, while another had an opportunity to offer up one of their own bones for the sake of a resurrection.
Embracing resurrection in your TTRPG also teaches an important faith lesson: Death is not the end of our story. God overcame death, so that we could do the same. Death need not be feared.
Without being afraid of killing the PCs at my table, I embrace things like putting monsters in front of players that hit like a dump truck and knock them out, rolling dice in the open and letting them fall where they lie, putting giant mobs of monsters in front of them, making them figure out how to actually overcome difficult challenges or even come back from the dead.
I’ve knocked out and killed plenty of characters in my games, but there’s always that rule “Your character only stays dead if you want them to.” This rule has created deep and meaningful story moments as the players get the opportunity to role play with grief and loss, emotions that we often shun. It’s beneficial for us to experience these grittier emotions, especially if we can do so in a relatively safe way. A bit of grit is a good thing. The grit gives our stories and our lives definition.
Character death also has a game mechanics benefit. It gives players an opportunity to respec their PCs, or say goodbye and build a whole new character if they like. I find that a lot of times they’re ready for some kind of change. It’s an opportunity for the player to consider their character and if their story is complete just yet.
And if you TPK the party of heroes? Well it’s the same rule. They stay dead only if the players want them to. Mostly a TPK is just an opportunity to up the stakes a bit. Fail forward and raise them up in a hairy situation with an opportunity to overcome defeat.
You can’t learn to rise if you never get the chance to fall.
Just a quick post to share a DM tool I’ve really enjoyed over the last year.
I’ve tried keeping track of time in previous campaigns, and I always fall off the wagon pretty quick. I found this little tool from olddungeonmaster.com and have been using it over a year now on my current campaign and I LOVE it!
It’s well designed and simple enough to do what I need without getting in the way. It’s quick and efficient and I love being able to shade in the little boxes. There’s tons of space for adding notes about anything else I deem to be relevant.
DM Tool for Tracking Time Download your free copy here. I have tried several different ways to keep track of time in a dungeon. Years ago I even wrote a “Time Tender” software program. I was thinking of getting a toy clock, or a broken clock that I could turn the hands on. Thinking of […]
Keeping track of time has improved my game in all sorts of ways. On the big scale it’s helped me track moon cycles, npc contracts, and town festivals. On a smaller scale it has added a much more satisfying way to answer the player’s inevitable questions of, “What time is it?” with more than hand-wavy-timey-wimey-ness.
My son Edan was born with a rare genetic disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, but thanks to Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, he’s receiving life saving treatment! I’ve pledged to play games and raise funds for sick kids at Gillette, kids like my son!
Here’s how it works
Extra Life is a fundraising and gaming marathon to support Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
I’m joining thousands of gamers and will be dedicating time to play games and get donations from friends like YOU!
100% of the donations go to my local children’s hospital. TOGETHER we will make a difference for sick kids!
Your donation is tax-deductible and will make miracles happen for families who desperately need them. You can click the “Donate” button at the top of this page to make a safe and easy online donation.
And you can play with me!
On Saturday, August 29th, from 12:30pm-4pm Central Time, I’ll be running an online D&D one-shot called “For the Good of the Few”. With your donation of $20, you can get a seat at the table and join the game!
Here are some details about the game:
Adventure Synopsis: “For the Good of the Few” is a Level 4 D&D adventure set in the town of Brinsdale. A month ago, a deadly plague hit the population of the town. Since then, many people have passed and more still lay dying. The King’s royal army has arrived and have encamped surrounding the town, enforcing a strict quarantine. In the center of Brinsdale, Baron Lord Waylier has locked himself inside the walls of his keep and refuses to offer aid. The local church is completely unable to keep pace with the outbreak, and some of those who still hold strength to stand are beginning to plot rebellion.
You can build your own level 4 character or use a provided pregenerated character.
Google Meet and Roll20 will be used to run the game.
One of the questions I often get is, “How can I incorporate Christianity into my game?”
Including real-world religion in a fantasy RPG like Dungeons & Dragons has its own set of risks and rewards. For the moment though, I’m going to leave off going into those for future posts and instead get right down to practical suggestions.
First of all, there’s lots of ways to go about mixing Christianity (or any real-world religion) into your play. It’s not so much an on-off switch as it is a dial you can adjust to suit your own stylistic preferences. Here are four different settings for that dial.
Setting 1: In the Bible.
The first way to incorporate faith into your game would be to run a game directly inspired by the Bible. Have the players pick Bible characters to base their PCs on, put the PCs directly into the events of a major Bible story, or do both! You can either plop them right into a Bible story.
One of my favorite stories to play out is the Sons of Sceva from Acts 19. A bunch of stuffed-shirts getting in over their heads and getting possessed. Have the PCs just happen to be in Ephesus while that is going on, then play that out! What do they do with the possessed folks? Are they strong enough to defeat the demons?
There’s a lot of places in Scripture like this that make for good campaign hooks. And there’s lots of great people described in the Bible who would make really interesting characters to explore as a PC.
Setting 2: Out of the Bible
The second approach is a lot like the first, with just a minor change. In this approach, you still take inspiration for the characters or the adventure from Scripture, but then you reskin them and plop them into whatever D&D world you want.
For example, take the Gerasene demoniac from Mark 5. Now here’s a character rich with possibilities. A possessed strong-man hanging out in a graveyard has D&D encounter written all over it. You can put that graveyard wherever you want.
Another approach that’s similar to this is to change some other aspect of an otherwise clearly Biblical story. Maybe that small change needs to be fixed and the story set right to avoid some major trouble. For instance what if Goliath had been wearing a fancy helmet that covered his forehead and the boy’s sling stone just bounced off? Or what if there hadn’t been a ram in the bush when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac?
Setting 3: The Narnia Route – Strong Allegory
You could also go the Narnia route and play a game that’s strongly allegorical. I call it the Narnia route because this is how CS Lewis approached fantasy. You make the heroes and the enemies stand for something specific. The evil sorcereress isn’t just an evil sorcereress, but the very thinly veiled incarnations of the devil. The lion isn’t just a lion, but an obvious stand-in for Jesus.
You can play a lot with allegory. Take an evil, maybe one of the seven deadly sins for example, and make the enemies a physical representation of that vice. That hill giant isn’t just a hill giant, but the embodiment of gluttony, for example.
Setting 4: The Tolkien Route – ideals and themes
The final way to think about how to incorporate Christianity into your game is to go the Tolkien route. This is what we see in The Lord of the Rings. The story happens in the fantasy setting, and the themes and ideals of the Christian faith are major players in the story, but religion as such is often left off-screen.
In this method you resist the temptation to go for direct Biblical allegory but see the ideals and themes of Christian faith as universal truths that are at play in any environment.
Repentance. Redemption. Love. Humility. Truth. Friendship. Kindness. Trust. Self-sacrifice. Endurance in the face of suffering. These ideals are some of those that color the faith of Jesus. Meaning, these are things not about Jesus, but the ways of living that Jesus valued and tried to teach to others.
On reskinning game mechanics:
Though the standard religious lore of Dungeons & Dragons involves a pantheon of various deities spread across a multiverse of fairly well-defined planes of existence, there’s not much in the mechanics of Dungeons & Dragons that gets lost if you want to strip all that out. The game itself is lore-agnostic, and nothing is lost if the lore of your game looks a little different. The Dungeon Master’s Guide specifically gives you permission to tell your stories in whatever world you want, including with whatever conceptions of deity and supernatural forces you want.
Concerning player characters:
You can substitute almost anything for the “power source” of more fantastical and magical powers pretty simply. I’ve used lots of different versions of this in my games.
For example, in games that I’ve run that are set in the world of Biblical events, I’ve reskinned many of the D&D classes and made God the power source for everything. Different classes access God in different ways, with the various class flavors coming from how people emphasize different aspects of God. I emphasized these changes by reskinning some of the character classes with new names.
Here is the class list as I present it to my players for creating characters in a game world with a more Biblical lore.
Fighter – a trained warrior. A master of martial combat, skilled with a variety of weapons and armor.
Zealot (Barbarian) – an emotional warrior. A fierce warrior who fights with their emotions and can enter a battle rage.
Paladin – a holy warrior. A holy warrior bound to a sacred oath.
Ranger – a wilderness warrior who is a bruiser with a few special tricks. A warrior who uses martial prowess and natural forces to combat threats on the edges of civilization.
Rogue – a daring and sly opponent. A scoundrel who uses stealth and trickery to overcome obstacles.
Fighter – a precision sharpshooter. A master of martial combat, skilled with a variety of weapons and armor.
Monk – a martial artist. A master of martial arts, harnessing the power of the body in pursuit of spiritual perfection.
Ranger – a wilderness warrior who is light on the feet with a few special tricks. A warrior who uses martial prowess and natural forces to combat threats on the edges of civilization.
Scribe (Wizard) – accesses great power through academic study. A scholar who wields supernatural power that is capable of manipulating the structures of reality.
Artificer – accesses power through an understanding of the connections between the physical and the metaphysical. A master of unlocking hidden power in everyday objects, artificers are supreme inventors.
Cleric – accesses great power through prayer to God. A priestly champion who wields divine force in service of a higher power.
Druid – accesses great power through becoming one with the natural world. A priest of the old faith, wielding the powers of nature—moonlight and plant growth, fire and lightning—and adopting animal forms.
Bard – accesses great power through personality and creativity
Paladin – accesses great power through willpower and spiritual disciplines. A holy warrior bound to a sacred oath.
Chosen (Sorcerer) – accesses great power through natural ability. A blessed individual who draws on inherent ability to do supernatural things.
Prophet (Warlock) – accesses great power through supernatural relationships and bargains. A charismatic agent of God who wields power through a supernatural agreement.
One last thing before I wrap this post up. I recently created a tool that will help you add a more Biblical flavor to your D&D games called Biblical Verbal Components. It’s a collection of Bible verses that you can use as the verbal components for any of the officially published spells in D&D 5th Edition. It has components for over 500 spells, which means over 1100 different Bible verses mapped to match the unique effects of each spell. It’s available over on the DMs Guild, and proceeds from the sale of Biblical Verbal Components will go to directly supporting those in need through our local Emergency Needs Fund.
A group of people sit down around a table, eyeing one other warily. Each has come in search of adventure and will spend the next few hours finding it, or will leave with regret. Few talk, unsure of what to say to these strange new companions. It’s an introvert’s nightmare. And I, dear reader, am an introvert.
Games played through Dungeons & Dragons Organized Play, also known as the D&D Adventurers League, often begin in this dubious fashion. They take place at game stores, gaming conventions, and other public spaces – united in that initial awkward moment.
Thank God there is a game to play. Eventually the Dungeon Master calls the table together, you get to introduce your character, and you’re off and running with fantastic companions like Crouton the Human Barbarian and Daryush the Aasimar Bard. The awkwardness of those first 15 minutes is behind you, eclipsed by this new world of wonder that’s being created together at the table. Thank God there is a game to play; it almost makes that initial awkward moment disappear.
A great rpg like D&D can cover for a multitude of social sins. It builds community and friendships. But in my experience, at an organized play game those friendships are often felt more by the characters than they are by the actual players. Your character may have saved the life of another character at the table, but 4 hours can pass and you can leave the table without even learning the name of the person playing that character.
Now there is a lot that I love about organized play. I love that I can drop in and out of a game according to my life’s hectic schedule. I love that I can take my character to a multitude of different tables and play them with a multitude of different companions. I love my experience as a DM, where I don’t have to manage other people’s schedules and have weeks where we can’t play because schedules didn’t line up. Instead I just announce that I’m running a table and every week it is full.
But those first 15 minutes… woof!
I love home games too. I recently finished DMing two simultaneous 3 1/2 year campaigns in a shared world. It was a blast. If that awkward initial situation was happening at a home game, it’s probably right at the very beginning of the campaign. In that case we could do a Session 0. A Session 0 is a time for you to get together as people, introduce new faces, and talk about what you hope to get out of the game. You can build your characters together, co-create the world, and importantly get to know your fellow players as people. A Session 0 is an awesome thing, lots of peoplehave written aboutwhy and how to have them, but for Organized Play games the idea of a Session 0 is completely useless. There’s not enough time!
But there is 15 minutes. You might not build a lifelong friendship in that time, but you can at least start to build a sense of person-to-person community.
As a Pastor, one of my jobs is to facilitate community building, sometimes in these same tiny windows of time. As a Dungeon Master, I’ve been bringing those community creation skills to my Adventurers League games in something I call The First 15, and I think every Adventurers League DM should implement it, because that awkward initial moment? I don’t worry about those anymore.
THE FIRST 15
As the Dungeon Master, your first task is to welcome your players to the table. This is your table, and only you can share its hospitality. Make the first move and at least say, “Hello,” to each person as they arrive.
When your players are all there, invite them to go around the table and introduce themselves. Here’s where it gets important! As people introduce themselves, have them share their name and pronouns, their character’s name and the standard race/class/etc. AND ONE MORE THING.
In addition to simple hospitality, this one more thing is the crux of the whole First 15. It must be one more thing about the player, not the character. A simple icebreaker question can give the entire game session a different feel, and leave a much better impression in people’s minds when it’s over. Here is a list of great questions you can ask that will pull out that one more thing.
What are you excited about today/ tonight?
What is one thing you need to have a great game session?
What fear do you have as we begin this game?
On a scale of 1-10, where is your energy level right now?
What are you hoping for in this game?
What is one expectation you would like to set for the entire table?
What has been the best part of your day so far?
What is your favorite/least favorite thing about your character?
Besides your own PC, who is your favorite fictional character?
What is your favorite movie/book/tv show?
What power or ability does your character have that you wish you had in reed life?
What is your most prized personal possession?
What color best fits your personality?
What is your favorite pillar of play (Combat/Exploration/Role Play) and which pillar would you most like to improve your play in?
Asking even a single question about the person behind the PC lets people know that they matter. A question like one of these can uncover otherwise hidden expectations, anxieties, or dreams. Having a space, however brief, to share these things before starting to play can make the whole gameplay experience better. People might hear something that helps them remember someone’s name or interests.
It’s far from rocket science, but instituting the First 15 in your game is a simple first step to an even better game.
We’ve been hard at work honing and preparing some really amazing learning sessions for this year’s Pastors & Dragons continuing education retreat. Each session will dial in on a particular aspect of the correlations between adventure, imagination, and spirit.
Self-Reflection through the Player Character
We’ll engage in the character creation process while asking, “How do we bring ourselves to the characters we imagine?” Whether as a reflection, an exaggeration, or challenge to grow, the characters we play on the tabletop are an opportunity to reflect on who we are, what we fear, and who we want to become.
In D&D you join a party of adventurers to explore fantastic and often dangerous locations. But what happens when you take that method of collective exploration and apply it elsewhere? We’ll engage our imaginations in collectively exploring the foundational stories of our faiths and our lives.
From DM Prep to Ministry Preparedness
What are some best practices for preparing to run a D&D adventure? What can the prep work we do for tabletop adventures teach us as we do the prep work for ministry? Whether it’s pastoral care, small group leadership, meeting facilitation, or presiding at worship – a bit of the right kind of prep can really pay off in a great experience for everyone.
More than Meets the Eye
How can Dungeons & Dragons strengthen our empathy muscles? We’ll open our eyes to the complexities of our real life stories. Then we’ll spend some time practicing using stories to help us enter into the experiences of others.
Fandoms: A Model for the Future Church
How can fandom help us better embody God’s unfolding story? Geek communities provide a fascinating new lens for how we can understand our faith communities. Cultures of imagination meet cultures of spirit and share a lot more than might be expected.
It’s been just over a month since I put up the rules to Diamonds & Dragons, a dungeon crawling card game that my wife and I have gotten into playing.
We still really love the game, for the simplicity, the surprise, and the light layer of story that makes for an interesting card game to play when we have a spare 10 minutes.
When I first posted the rules, we mainly played with one person as a dealer and the other as the adventuring party. But since I’ve been working on a way for us both to play, and I’m happy to say that I’ve found something pretty good.
Here are the updated rules for Diamonds & Dragons, with the additional rules for playing with 2 players. It’s a great little game and I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!
I’m working on refining the ruleset for better use with Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop roleplaying games. In the meantime, here’s an extra page that can help you start to adapt this game for TTRPGS.
In Dungeons & Dragons the characters wield enormous power. That’s part of the fun of the game: trying to blow stuff up with an arcane fireball, healing a wounded party member with a divine prayer, tapping into your primal passions with a barbaric rage, or becoming one with the night with an out of this world stealth roll. Each class, even most subclasses, find their abilities flavored by what sort of power they access and how they access it.
Ancestors, Reckless Abandon, Anger, Storms, Beast Spirits, Religious Fervor
Gods of Magic, Life, Death, Creation, The Grave, Knowledge, Light, Nature, Tempest, Trickery, and War
The Natural World
Physical Strength & Skill
Inner Strength, The Four Elements, Shadows, Sunlight
A Personal Code and Devotion
Mastery of Relationships with Beasts for Friendship or Destruction
Disregard of the Rules, Knowledge of the Weaknesses of Others
Inborn Power from Divinity, Dragons, Shadows, Storms, or Chaos
Pact with Someone or Something Powerful
Knowledge, Study, and Understanding
These are just broad brushstrokes of the different sorts of power that can be wielded by Player Characters in D&D. They flavor the roleplay of the game and flavor the mechanics. A great way to change how a character is played is to just think about where they get their power and how they access that power. It’s also a great way to homebrew new class options, just take a standard class and change the traditional power source. How about a Druid that draws power through their relationship with machines? Or a Barbarian who rages for the sake of justice for the oppressed? Or a Warlock who makes a pact with their subconscious? Or a Cleric who serves the god of wealth?
In considering the power sources of the characters in our RPGs, I think our eyes have the potential to be opened to real life sources of power, ability, and strength. The world abounds with power. We are surrounded by it every day. Power comes from a lot of different places, and it is used for a lot of different purposes. Where we draw power and how we use power have a lot of impact on how we live our lives and the effect we have on the lives of others around us. Clarifying the sources of power that we use in our lies and identifying both our pathways to them and how we use them can be helpful for personal growth and for avoiding some major pitfalls.
Recently, as I was engaging in my own personal study, I ran across descriptions of some real life power sources for a life of faith and devotion to God. The descriptions came from the writings of Simeon the New Theologian who was alive and doing his thing exactly 1000 years ago. Simeon talks about three paths by which a soul can be lifted. Each path is a different way of paying attention and a different way of accessing spiritual power.
The first way I call the Way of the Gut. The bowels are the ancient seat of human emotion and passion. When the ancient Greeks and Hebrews got fired up about something, or were so touched by something that it had an immediate emotional impact on them, they had a gut reaction. When they were moved by something, they were literally saying they were having a bowel movement. No matter where you think of emotion having a home in your body, accessing power from the passions is something we see a lot. People get spun up into an emotional fervor and then all of that energy and power is directed towards something. At best, that something is directing the power of affection and emotion and love towards God. At worst? Well, wars have been fought over less.
The second way is the Way of the Mind. The mind, as you might expect, is the place for rational conscious thought. Power in the Way of the Mind comes from analyzing, studying, examining, learning, and understanding. As a way of lifting the soul, the rational mind can delve into the mysteries of God and faith and develop systems and structures of understanding. This is the power we see wielded by theologians and religious scholars. Of course, the power of the mind can also be applied towards all manner of things.
Then there’s the third way, the Way of the Heart. Here’s where Simeon the New Theologian sees the most profound pathway to spiritual power. The heart here isn’t the emotional organ that we commonly think of it as today (that role was already covered by the gut). Instead, the heart here is understood as a spiritual organ. It’s the location of our spirits perhaps, the location of our unconscious subconscious selves. It’s where all of our secret prejudices lie (that’s what Jesus says anyway in Matthew 15:19). It’s also where we love. I don’t mean the flighty sort of love that’s idealized in Rom-Coms, but the deep real love that’s about realizing that lover and beloved are parts of the same whole. The Way of the Heart is accessed through contemplation, and being open to God in a mystical way. It is truly a still more excellent way.
These three pathways are just a few real life resources for human power and ability. Each has a home within the body, each could be understood as a sort of “inner power”, each can be seen as a pathway to accessing the spiritual power of God (who is the source of anything and everything that is truly power),and yet each is very very different. I haven’t even touched on how power comes from sources beyond our bodies, but it most certainly does. Although, if you’re out of touch with your own power it’s doubtful how well or how fruitfully you can access sources of power beyond yourself. Without being able to access inner power, interactions with outside powers like wealth, fame, technology, and even relationships with others are more likely to turn demonic (in that they control you and reduce your capacity to live more fully into yourself) or idolatrous (in that they require sacrifices of yourself without granting much at all in return).
Great power isn’t something that just exists inside the world of a tabletop RPG. Each person has the capacity to wield enormous power to affect and alter the course of the world. As Galadriel says in the movies, “Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.” How we access and use that power can change the way our stories (in game and real life) are told?
In the last few months I’ve started playing a great little game with my wife that we call Diamonds & Dragons. It’s a roguelike solitaire card game where you try to escape a dungeon full of monsters. Along the way you find weapons, drink potions, and kill monsters. The best part of all is that it’s played with a standard 54-card deck of playing cards, Jokers included.
I was looking for a game like this after I heard Sersa Victory talking on the podcast Tabletop Babble about a minigame they developed for escaping megadungeons after the party has delved deeply. Sure, the GM could handwave the whole thing and you’re out, but where’s the fun or the challenge in that? Wouldn’t monsters fill in behind the party? The other option would be to slog back through all the rooms you just went through, but that’s a long slog. What Victory developed was a simple minigame using a deck of cards, where the cards represented the rooms in the dungeon between wherever the players were and the exit.
The only problem? Those rules aren’t written down anywhere. I asked.
So I went on a bit of a wild unicorn chase to see if I couldn’t find something that would approximate this megadungeon minigame that I had imagined in my mind. It would need to be simple, straightforward, quick, and challenging but rewarding for skilled players.
After a bit of looking I foundBattle of Cards on the Android app store. By Alexander Petcoglo, Battle of Cards plays just how I imagined this minigame should. Petcoglo developed it as an altered version of the games Scoundrel, designed by Zach Gabe and Kurt Bieg, and Donsol, designed by John Eternal and developed by Hundred Rabbits. My wife and I tweaked it to play with a physical deck of cards rather than an app, and Diamonds & Dragons was born.
Diamonds & Dragons is our new favorite game to play together. I play the Dealer for her while she breastfeeds our newborn son. We’ve been playing non-stop for three months now and the game is still just as good.
I’ve compiled our rules for Diamonds & Dragons, along with a sample game to teach you how to play. There’s also rules for turning it into that sought after megadungeon minigame that I went looking for months ago.
Check it out and let me know what you think. It might just be your new favorite game.