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Friday, August 12, 2016

Dungeons & Dragons - Using the DMs Guild

I don't plan on making a habit of this, but today I'm going to talk about my new project on the DMs Guild. I'm going to explain how to make stuff for the DMs Guild and my thoughts on how the DMs Guild is working. Then I'll outline my adventure path.

I am starting a 5th edition adventure path. The first level adventure, The Castle of Corellon, is up now:

Those of you who have read this blog for a while know that I like to look up official D&D lore and make little collections of it. When I made my Guide to Nightmares a little over a year ago, I had a bunch of adventure ideas. I wrote them up in a file and figured one day I would run this adventure for my group or maybe make a pdf of it or something.

Rules of the DMs Guild

Now that the DMs Guild is here, you can make .pdfs like that and sell them. There's some rules you need to follow:

Settings: You can only use material from past editions that are generic, or are from the Forgotten Realms or Ravenloft. So that means you can't make content for Planescape, Dark Sun, Spelljammer, etc.

From what I understand, you're not supposed to set adventures in the planes.You can have a "quick jaunt" to the planes, but that's it.

This nightmare-centric adventure I had planned is set entirely in another plane. That means I have to wait until Planescape is allowed in the DMs Guild, and who knows when that will be.

As I wrote guides and articles for this blog, I added more and more ideas to these files. I figured maybe someday I could make a campaign or adventure path out of them. I ended up with two campaigns - one of which is in Planescape and can't be posted on the DMs Guild (for now, at least).

Orcs and Elves

The other one clicked into place when I made the guides to Corellon and Gruumsh. I had been thinking about how orcs and elves in D&D are very flat. They're iconic, they've been around forever, but they haven't gotten the spotlight and they feel kind of stale.

I saw all the cool generic material from past editions and immediately thought of a million great things you could do with it.

So I made an outline of over a dozen adventures and placed all of the awesome stuff from Dungeon magazine, Dragon magazine, 4th edition, 3rd edition (especially Sons of Gruumsh by Chris Perkins, which is Forgotten Realms and thus allowable to build on), etc.

My plan is to publish this path on the DM's Guild. I posted a bunch of guides on there and learned the basics of how everything worked.

If you are wondering what it is like to publish on the DMs Guild, here's what I can tell you.

You Will Make Money

It is the weirdest thing. You're just sitting around and your .pdf is selling. You don't make a lot of money. Most products sell for a dollar or three dollars. The DMs Guild takes half of it, you get the other half.

You don't get the money right away. You have to wait two months from the time the person paid for it. It has to clear, I guess. So you're not going to get rich quick. It will take at least two months.

Art Must be Licensed

I love D&D art. There are rules. You can't just google a cool image and slap it on your product. You either need a license agreement or you need to make it yourself. I have no idea how a license agreement is made, but I do plan on hiring artists if I make any money on this thing. I really feel like art is extremely important.

In my opinion, good art makes bad adventures feel better. Bad art ruins great adventures. Just look at the old Planescape books. The ones with DiTierlizzi art feel really awesome. The other ones, not so much. Bad art is a hurdle to overcome when reading a book.

So for now, I have to make it myself using cheap photoshop tricks and wobbly line art.

Photoshop: I've been teaching myself how to make maps in photoshop. I've used photoshop for over a decade, and once you get the hang of it you can do all sorts of cool stuff. I got an art tablet which has helped immensely.

Basically, I look at a Mike Schley map and see how he depicted something. Then I try to do my version. I don't like the way mountains look on maps when it is top-down, so for now I am depicting them from an angle. I really like how Mike puts the grid in the dungeon, but not in the stone border outside the dungeon.

Something I Hate: Microsoft Word. That was the biggest hurdle for me in this project. This thing crashed constantly. I rebooted. I reinstalled. I eventually amused myself by saving recovered copies of files that ended up with titles like: "Castle of Corellon (recovered) (recovered) (recovered) (recovered)."

Finally it got to the point where Word was crashing every five minutes. Literally! So I downloaded Libreoffice and my life was transformed. Libreoffice is free. It's a lot like Word. You can save files as if they are Word files. You can export files as a .pdf very simply, and not have to look up the weird alien process that they use for everything in Word.

With Libreoffice, I was on fire and it didn't crash once. Word is so weird. They literally designed a whole system to recover documents after a crash rather than fixing it so it doesn't crash. Obviously I'm not a tech guy, I can only speak from the layman's perspective. Maybe there's more to it than I think.

Adventure Format: As I've said over and over, I don't like the way that D&D adventures are organized. With this project, I was able to make an adventure the way that I claim to want. I made it linear. I put shorthand statblocks right in each encounter. I put a metric ton of handbook page number references throughout the whole thing.

I'm not sure if it works. Right now I am too familiar with the thing and I have no perspective.

I learned that writing an adventure is tricky, because you have to write for people other than yourself. I made some encounters that are non-standard - rooms where statues have effects going off every round, a fountain that comes to life, a magic gem that need to be dismantled like a timebomb, that kind of thing. I am worried that I wasn't able to get out of my own brain enough to make things clear to the reader.

5e Terms: I kept forgetting terminology. Old editions are so locked in to my brain that I kept finding the phrase "reflex save" in my text! And I kept forgetting to write checks like this: Strength (athletics).

For me, making stat blocks is annoying. I hate going through and typing in inconsequential things like what the monster's strength score is. In my games, I don't bother with that stuff. It slows everything down. But I am not writing this for me. I am writing this for other people who might really want to know the strength score.

Encounters: Balancing encounters is really a pain. There is a site you should definitely use: Kobold Fight Club. It does the encounter math for you and is a very good guideline. It saved me a lot of time.

Another Thing I Learned: Don't bother putting page number references in until the very end. Use the classic "page xx" as a placeholder (because adding text shifts everything around and it is really annoying).

Magic Items: I know I put too many magic items in this level one adventure. Heck, I put an artifact in there! The artifact is really more of an NPC the DM can use to guide the group throughout the path. But the other items were there partly because there is just so much cool stuff out there to use.

Using Iconic NPCs: In this path, I am using Emirikol the Chaotic a lot. Emirikol is from a classic AD&D piece of art and a classic generic 2e adventure, A Paladin in Hell. I feel really funny using him, but I just tell myself this adventure doesn't "count" so it's no big deal. I do dread statting him out, but I plan on doing it piece-by-piece.

I put a billion references to other products in this adventure, sort of like easter eggs. If you've read my blog a lot, you're going to recognize a ton of stuff.

Mialee: There was one thing I put in there that I'm not sure is OK. I made a reference to Mialee and Regdar, two 3rd edition NPCs. The default setting of 3e was Greyhawk, which is not currently allowed in the DMs Guild. I don't know if those two NPCs appeared in non-greyhawk products. I'm pretty sure at the very least their art was used in generic 3e products. I think both of them were in the Player's Handbook. But do they count as Greyhawk? I don't know.

It seems like there's plenty of leeway for things like this. The DMs Guild seems flexible, as long as you don't just literally write a blatant Greyhawk adventure in the City of Greyhawk dealing with Castle Greyhawk - that kind of thing.

So I had to sort all of my ideas. I have an outline of an entire second path for a specific setting which is currently not allowed. I am hoping by the time I am done with this path, that setting will be available.
Fonts: I had no idea fonts are such a thing. It is illegal to use most fonts without purchasing them. There's a select few that you can use on the DMs Guild. I decided just to primarily use one font: Cambria. Maybe someday I'll try to get more font-savvy, but using all those different fonts seems like a waste of time. I don't really care about fonts, they don't add much to a book to me.

Uploading: Once you've made your file, you have to make it a .pdf so you can upload it to the DMs Guild site. I found this site useful. It converts word files to .pdfs.

Making Your .PDF: I used Adobe Acrobat to assemble my .pdf. I guess you can use whatever pdf editor you want. The DMs Guild wants you to do certain things to your .pdf to optimize it and make sure it works on different platforms.

I had a very hard time finding out what needed to be done. What you need is this document.

It will walk you through the process. Basically, it goes like this:
  1. Number the Pages: Your page numbering should start on page 1, not the cover.
  2. Preflight: This only takes a second. I had it crash once or twice during this process, so make a backup before you do this.
  3. Optimize: You'll need to go through this and check all sorts of boxes. The nice thing is that once you do this a single time, those settings can be saved and you never have to click those things again.
  4. Bookmarks: Don't set bookmarks until after you've done preflight and optimization, otherwise it will mess it up. Bookmarks are very easy to set. There's just a few buttons and the whole process, to me, is very intuitive.
Posting It: OK. You've shined up your .pdf real nice. Now you get to post it! What's cool is there's no real process involved. You just need to be registered on the site as a buyer, which I bet many of you already are. The DMs Guild is an extension of DrivethruRPG, which has been around for a long time and most of us have used at some point in our gaming lives.You'll need to enter some tax info. 

Uploading: Upload your file! It's a little shaky, there seems to be a few semi-glitches. Your file will go through, but it won't go live until you click a box to "make it public." After I upload a file, I immediately go back and check it to make sure it is public and not private.

When you upload it, it might take a while for your product to appear on the site. Some of my guides showed up on the site in ten minutes. Others took an hour or an hour and a half. Just scroll down to the "newest titles" section and see if your file is there yet.

I must say, it is really fun to see your goofy file up there among all the other ones.

Pricing: There has been a lot of talk about the pricing on the DMs Guild. This may sound weird, but the prices are really low. People think they are too low, and that writers can't make any money.

The feeling I get is that if you are an established RPG maker, then maybe the DMs Guild is not going to help you. But if you are Joe Blow, this is a nice way to cut your teeth and make a little money doing what you love.

Money! What excites me about this is that D&D 5e is doing really well. Critical Role, Stranger Things and other shows are really making a lot of people try out D&D. If it gets bigger and bigger, that means there will be more people who might buy your thing on the DMs Guild site. So if you put it up now, and a year from now there's this big influx of new buyers, in theory you can have money pouring in over a very long period of time!

Pay What You Want: A lot of people put up products that are "pay what you want." You set a suggested price that ends up going up or down, depending on what people pay. The price becomes the average of what people paid.

From what I have seen from my pdfs, one out of ten people pay for a pay what you want product. How much they paid depends on the size of the document, from what I can tell. My Curse of Strahd Guide is 64 pages and makes much more than some of the other ones. Also, my older guides are not so in demand. Those old guides aren't as good (IMO) as my newer ones.

The upside of pay what you want is that a massive pile of people will download it. From what I can see, there are people who just sweep through the site every week and grab every pay what you want document for free. That means a lot of people get to see your stuff.

The downside is that you won't make as much money, I guess. A good idea seems to be to use a pay what you want product to entice someone to buy another product of yours. For example, I might make a Players Guide for my Litany of Arrows adventure path. That will be pay what you want. Hopefully, that will get people interested in the path and maybe it will help get people to buy the adventures.

Get a Dang Job: Perhaps the coolest thing of all about the DMs Guild is that the D&D staff monitors it. This is where they want to find their new talent. Writing something good on this site can lead to a feature in Dragon Plus (which they've already done for a number of creators). I would guess this could also lead to a paying gig writing an Encounters adventure. It could even lead to you working at Wizards of the Coast.

Do It: D&D players are super-creative. A lot of you have awesome ideas. Put some up there! I want to use them in my campaign! I don't think anybody can ever have enough traps or clever encounters in their stockpile.

You are allowed to draw from old products. That means that you could take something from an old, generic adventure (not set in Greyhawk, Planescape, etc) and build on it. Do cool things with it. Return to a classic dungeon or do something fun with a popular NPC. It has been stated numerous times that Wizards might take certain things from the DMs Guild and make them canon in some way.

Just remember, they have rights to the stuff you publish. If you have some really cool idea that isn't D&D-lore specific, you might want to hold onto it.

As an example of the good things that can happen on the DMs Guild, James Introcaso put some stuff up there and he ended up running an online game for Chris Perkins and the Dice, Camera, Action group. How awesome is that?

Read this article if you are thinking about posting stuff on the DMs Guild site. It is extremely insightful.

Litany of Arrows Adventure Path

So I'm going to be posting these adventures that are all linked together. The overall story is going to deal with Corellon (God of the Elves) and Gruumsh (God of the Orcs). We're going to try to resolve two storylines from old products:
  1. Gruumsh stole and hid the Misty Isle, which is where some of the first elves were born.
  2. Gruumsh is looking for his eye that Corellon cut out. If he gets that eye, he will be able to glimpse the future and he may be unstoppable.
I'll just tell you that the last adventure is about the group racing to get to the place that the Eye of Gruumsh can be destroyed while an avatar of Gruumsh pursues them.

Elves are not "Cool"? My biggest concern here initially was whether or not I could make elves "interesting" or "cool" to people who don't normally care for them. But as I went through old supplements like Races of the Wild and the 2e Elves handbook, I found myself overloaded with cool stuff.

What I learned about elves and orcs is that there is a ton of material - magic items, stories, language information (there is a whole dragon article by Sean K. Reynolds about the elf language!) and tons of NPCs - that have never been used in anything! They're just sitting there!

So really this is just me taking all those things and putting them into one story. There are literally too many unique elf magic items for me to fit in this path.

The World
I decided to set this in a generic setting. I see that a lot of people on the DMs Guild set things in the Forgotten Realms, but I'm just not a Realms guy. I don't know that much about it.

I ended up making something of a world map, where I placed all of the cities and adventure locations. I'll put it out there once it's polished. I might make a campaign guide that is pay what you want. I might even make a players guide with races and stuff.

I decided I should should focus on the adventure and nibble on that stuff on the side. When the path is completed, maybe I'll put it together in a cleaned-up, massive .pdf document.

Campaign Outline

Here's a rough outline of the planned adventures in the path:
  1. The Castle of Corellon: The group goes through a flying castle corrupted by the magic of Luthic, the orc goddess.
  2. Warpath of Gruumsh: The group needs to blow up an orc camp situated over a pool of actual blood of Gruumsh spilled during the battle with Corellon
  3. Emirikol's Ooze Dungeon: There are going to be at least three dungeons in this path created by Emirikol. This one is full of oozes. Expect a Guide to Oozes soon as I begin to prepare for it.
  4. The Orc Goddess: I'm going to set a couple of adventures in a city full of tension between half-elves and half-orcs. This one will be about an orc goddess that was mentioned very briefly in an old issue of Dragon Magazine.
  5. The Spell Cloud of Umbralinda: This adventure deals with a living spell that hovers over that half-elf/half-orc hybrid city. This cloud draws from generic 4e material and the "shard of umbralinda" monster.
  6. Queen of the Harpies: The original harpy was first an elf named Queen Emaline, mentioned in 4e and I think the 5e MM. I decided to flesh her out. She rules a settlement of harpies and others in the Wasteland of Burnt Blood, a location referenced in 4e.
  7. Emirikol's Second Dungeon: This is going to be my stab at a "tomb of horrors" style dungeon. Not a death trap, more of a funhouse in the White Plume Mountain vein.
  8. The Vale of Blood: The heroes will have to adventure through a place permanently warped by the battle between Corellon and Gruumsh. Giant-sized spirit echoes of the two gods will cause all sorts of problem for the adventurers.
  9. Survival: I am really excited about this one and I don't want to say much about it. The heroes will have to survive in a city that is being destroyed.
  10. The Polychromatic Dragon: This one is just going to be a straight quest to kill a dragon that is a combination of red and blue. As the group gets closer to the lair, dragons fly by and breathe on the heroes, cause avalanches, that kind of thing.
  11. Emirikol's Dungeon of Chaos: This dungeon is linked to the plane of Limbo, the realm of pure chaos that Emirikol studies.
  12. Journey to the Misty Isle: At last the castle is able to teleport to the lost isle of the elves. The heroes will need to figure out a way to get the island back where it belongs before Gruumsh, god of the orcs, finds out what is happening.
  13. The Banished Darkness: This one is based on a blurb in a 4e book. This cave is apparently where Lolth betrayed Corellon. The cave is really weird and drow live there. The group will go there and learn something big that is my way of continuing the meta-story and setting up whatever people want to do after the path is done.
  14. The Fist of Emirikol: Emirikol has this insane plan that will plunge the realm into a wild magic zone. There's only one thing to do: Go to Emirikol's home and kill him.
  15. The Dragon Boneyard: This location was mentioned in a 4e book. There is a creature here. It has the Eye of Gruumsh. The group needs to get it before the god of the orcs finds out about it!
  16. He Who Never Sleeps: The group has the Eye of Gruumsh. It can only be destroyed under certain conditions with certain items. The group needs to get this done before the avatar of Gruumsh finds them and does really horrible things to them.
That's the basic outline. There's about three more adventures that I may or may not use. There's one I don't want to say anything about because I am really excited about it. I actually wrote that one a year ago but I'm sure I'll have to overhaul it.


Jason Raabis said...

Congrats on your success on the DM's Guild Sean! I had a look at the comments reviewers have posted, and it looks like you're definitely on the right track! I don't like the restriction on content they impose, but I guess you have a volume of ideas and can avoid hitting those areas for some time to come. I'll be keeping tabs on your adventure path!

Anonymous said...

This is hella cool dude! I cant wait to see what you make of this adventure. In fact a friend and i have been thinking of writing up an adventure that went over well in my group, would you mind if when i finished it i could send it to you to get any critisisms and/or your blessing for it? This is my first time commenting but i have to say that your one of the people that got me into d&d.

Sean said...

Jason Raabis: Thanks! I am just sort of waiting for them to allow Planescape in the guild. I have a ton of planar stuff and Sigil ideas! I think you could write 20 Sigil adventures and not even scratch the surface of all the cool stuff there.

Anonymous: Sure! Send it to: If you put it on the guild, I'll put a link to it in this post. Thanks so much! I am very glad to hear you're into D&D now. It's such a fun way to spend time with your friends.

UE said...

Good to see your first adventure up there, I was not sure what you planned on doing after completing your guides. (although I would certainly say your best guide was the ravensloft one)

I am a Graphics Design student and have been recently dabbling in map creation and layout / design art. If you are interested I would love to have a chat before your next DMG project if you are looking for more artwork / maps.

To share what I have made so far in my quest to learn digital map making:

The two Everflame maps are the first two maps I made. I used black boundaries are because I created them for use on roll20 and dynamic lighting.
Quite a few features aren't being shown as they were designed as tokens rather than being baked into the maps themselves.

The path encounter map was my first attempt at doing something a bit more natural in appearance. I am actually quite happy with how the grass turned out, took me hours to get it right though. I should have kept my first attempts. They were hideous.

The other three maps are for Princes of the Apocalypse.
The two sidetrecks are me messing around with quick styles I could use for throw away sidetrek maps that my player group may never see. I think the coffee stain style I used for the haunted tomb ended up working better for me than the clearer vector lines I used for the bloody treasure map.

The temple of the moving stones map is again designed with roll20 in mind and has a number of tokens made for it rather than being baked in.
I wasn't a huge fan of Sean Mcdonald's maps for the adventure and found that they tended to be rather blurry and non-distinct.
This was an attempt of mine to create a nice clear map that was also very quick to produce. It took me ~3 hours to make in total, but a large amount of that was spent on creating the flagstone texture and then figuring out how I was going to be best implement it.
You may also notice that I shifted the location of the two stone dwarf doors. It was because I liked the idea of the party running directly into the statues / doors rather than being flanked by them. It creates a divide between them and the trap up ahead and stops players from seeing the "obvious hidden dwarf doors" and reduces the chance of players just skipping what I consider to be a fantastic and thematic trap.

I also dabble in miniature painting, although these are all a couple of years old at this point -laughs-

If you are interested in discussing a future collaboration of effort I will shoot you off an email.

Sean said...

UE: Wow, those maps are really good! Sure, email me at:

Anonymous said...

Your adventure path sounds great, lot of adventures though? Takes PCs from 1-?.
My group is about 3/4 of the way through Curse of Strahd and I am considering using your path for next time I DM rather than Storm Kings Thunder.
Do you have rough schedule of when you are going to do all this . . ?
Your blog is great, one of my favorites. I got hooked after your guide to Strahd got my game really rolling. Keep up the great work !

Sean said...

Anonymous: I wanted to write 2 adventures per month, but at least for this month it will probably be just one adventure. I am hoping to have Warpath of Gruumsh done on around September 16th. Right now, I am focusing on my Guide to Storm King's Thunder because the guides are the biggest thing on my site by far. I'm not sure what the final level of the Litany of Arrows adventure path will be, it might be around level 15? It's going to be a while before my path is done. I'd like to say I'll have it done in 8 months, but it could be a year. I'd say you should do Storm King for now. I really do appreciate that you are considering running it, it feels like an honor. Thank you!