random thought/question: if you were going to adapt dragon heist in a tal’dorei setting, what city would you set it in? Probably Emon! Tweak a few district names, and voila!
— Matthew Mercer (@matthewmercer) December 26, 2018
So can a Blood Hunter use a longbow as their weapon and use it as a crimson rite? Would the arrow have the 1d4 damage or would it fade out? @matthewmercer I’m just curious because of the wording and I’m a blood hunter in my father-in-law’s game. It is intended to be cast on bows/crossbows to carry the rite to the ammunition fired (though the rite damage fades after the hit/miss).
— Matthew Mercer (@matthewmercer) June 3, 2022
Wait sorry just to clarify, it fades after you make an attack? As in if I were to hit with a longbow with the crimson rite applied, I’d have to use my crimson rite again and reapply the damage? Meaning the ammunition fades. The rite on the weapon remains. (This is to prevent someone handing “rite enhanced” ammunition to another to fire).
— Matthew Mercer (@matthewmercer) June 3, 2022
Critical Role, and welcome to my video series
about tips and tricks for burgeoning and/or
classic GMs and DMs. Today’s topic is going to be
preparing for the unexpected, which is a large
part of the actual GMing experience.
Preparation is the key to not being prepared. I
know that sounds crazy, but you can definitely be
comfortable pulling stuff out of your ass.
You’ll be doing that a lot. The best that you
can think of alternative scenarios, or give loose
notes as to other possibilities that your players
might dive into, does help you be a little more
prepared for the crazy. Especially if you’ve had
some time with the party and with those players,
you kind of get a feel for their game style and
the type of questions they ask, the type of off
the cuff actions they take and the type of
directions they tend to veer towards. Once you
get a feel for that you can start preparing a
little bit some alternate paths from the main
story that you’ve been developing.
Even so, the players will always, always
surprise you. You’ll be caught off guard, they’ll
do things that make you go (bewildered) “okay!”
and you’ve got to roll with it. You
don’t want to deny the players their actions,
unless they’re completely ridiculous, and over the
top, and don’t fit within the world or the
setting. For the most part you want to let them go
along with their choices, as cockamaimy and weird
as they may be. Because those will make for some
of the best stories, for one, and will take you in
some of the best places as a GM that are hilarious and fun.
I get most of my fun when I’m thrown off the mark
as a dungeon master. I like the mental gymnastics
that are part of it, and the kind of back and
forth with the players, creating this unknown
future path. It’s a really exhilarating experience
for me and it’s scary at first, trust me, I
understand, but it’s really exhilarating. On
that note too, you don’t want to try and railroad
the players too much. I know you’ve built this
wonderful story that you’re working so hard to get
them through, and you will be able to keep them on
that story path for the most part. Unless they’re
completely insane. If they veer a little bit
left and right let them steer out of the way. Let
them find some weird side elements and you can
always guide them back in slowly. Don’t try
and force them on that particular path or get
frustrated if they begin to veer from your set
plan. Because that’s kind of what really makes
RPGs its own special genre of gaming aside from
other formats is you can do that it all is fluid
and it’s wonderful.
Don’t be afraid to roll with some of the stranger
player choices, because it can be
interesting. Make sure you can help justify
in the moment how it would work in that world. If
the player comes to a locked door and they’re
like, “I want to unlock it” that makes sense. If
instead they’re like “I want to see if I can get
this vial of acid to slowly dissolve parts of the
wood, then set up a barricade that can push and
focus all the energy–” and you’re like “Sure, go
for it. Give it a shot.” Let them build their
strange idea and give that– especially if it’s
very unwieldy, that very mildly slight
chance it could function. And if it succeeds,
fantastic, and explain the awesome, fantastic
success that it was. If it fails, which is more
often than not, explain the awesome, fantastic,
epic failure that it was. These are the
stories that you’ll continue to tell for a very
Just to reiterate on your preparation for the
session, parallel avenues are a really good focus,
and try and have those side pocket aspects at your
disposal just in case they veer off to the sides.
Ways to help with that, I find, keeping a list of
fantasy names nearby. That you can find online,
you can find– or sci-fi names if you’re using a
sci-fi genre game, or if you’re using a modern
game. Just having a list of names that would fit
in your world or your setting near your session
setup allows you to pull quickly if you have to
spontaneously create someone that doesn’t exist.
“Oh, you’re going to the hospital? Okay.. uh..
You run into a nurse. The nurse is named David.
Can I help you? I’m David.” It makes it feel and
gives the illusion that you know exactly what
you’re doing. And that’s part of the fun. It’s the
whole kind of Wizard of Oz element.
“Don’t look behind the curtain!”
You want to stay in control and having those
resources near you really helps with that.
Having a list of player names is really good. You
can also create a small cache of unused random
NPCs that you can flesh out a little. You can
create bartenders, you can create policemen, you
can create space bounty hunters. You can create
all sorts of characters that aren’t really part of
the story, and they’re just kind of in your box,
waiting to be pulled out in case something like
that happens. That’s a really cool thing to
have at your disposal. You’ll be very thankful
you kind of did that preparation for yourself.
Also, you can make a list of small, minor story
hooks. There’s a lot of great resources online
that you can search, or look in your resource
books for your various RPGs to find good story
hook elements. There’s lists and tables you can
roll up. Those are really cool if you have to
create an NPC to try and decide what their story
is. Dave, the nurse. You talk to him for a bit and
you find out that he’s missing his left arm, and
you ask him why, and he says, “Because it was
taken by demons!” That would be a terrible story,
but it’s a story that came out of nowhere, and now
the players are like, “We’ve gotta find Dave’s
It’s cool to have that resource at your disposal
because it makes you more comfortable with the
environment, more comfortable with the
improvisation, and makes the storytelling more
fluid. Also a cool little cache of rewards is also
good to have in case they do some weird stuff on
the side and succeed in an unplanned way. You can
have a couple of magical items, or cool laser
weapons, or some sort of bit of information about
the story that is sitting in this amorphous pile
for use in case the opportunity arises
for you to gift it to the players.
It’s cool to have those in your pocket as well.
So overall, the key of improvisation for your
games is comfort. That can come from taking
improv classes, if you have the opportunity. Those
are very helpful, even if you don’t plan to go
into performance art. The improvisational skill is
useful in all facets of life, I’ve found, and this
is very much so. As you get more
comfortable with it all these little notes, all
these little things you can do to prepare for the
unexpected are tremendously helpful in building
your fast storytelling skills and to maintain a
consistent narrative. Regardless of what the
players throw at you, which is kind of fun.
Thank you for watching, we’ll have other episodes
of this you can watch of this up on
geekandsundry.com and I’ll see you next time!
It feels strange that the release of this labor of love coincides w/ such a stressful time. I can only hope this serves as a good read & escape. pic.twitter.com/nnDml1puD2
— Matthew Mercer (@matthewmercer) March 16, 2020
with Explorer's Guide to Wildemount released, I think it's alright to share my contributions! a selection of guards from various regions, and a curious gnomish dunamancer. drawn for Wizards of the Coast, with many thanks to AD Kate Irwin #CriticalRole pic.twitter.com/arH7yVy4ma
— anna v. (@ruushes) March 17, 2020
— Andrew Mar (@andrewkmar) March 17, 2020
Made for Explorer's Guide to Wildemount.
AD: Kate Irwin
— Robson Michel (@robmichel_art) March 17, 2020
Here’s my contribution to #ExplorersGuideToWildemount
— Nikki Dawes (@nikkidawesdraws) March 17, 2020
Here's the two pieces I was able to create for the #ExplorersGuideToWildemount.
This project was the most literal dream come true. Thank you to fantastic AD Kate Irwin & always inspiring @matthewmercer! And of course all my friends who keep inspiring me #CriticalRole pic.twitter.com/H2LT3zz86i
— ️ (@GalacticJonah) March 17, 2020
I am a voice actor and the Dungeon Master
for Critical Role here at Geek and Sundry,
and today’s episode is going to
go a little deeper in the idea that
running a game is about improv
and the unexpected.
Now, running any form of roleplaying game
puts you in a position where you become
the ringmaster of possibilities!
You prepared a solid central story,
a cast of characters, a handful
of possible challenges, and some
juicy rewards for your clever players.
It isn’t until you start that adventure that
you realize how much of that plan gets jumbled,
wind-tossed, and sculpted into something
crazier and often cooler than you initially expected.
The key to providing such atmosphere
is being open to let the players take hold
of their own agency and
guide the story themselves.
While it may seem kind of scary
to follow the unknown,
you can find a level of comfort in
allowing this to happen while figuring out
how to get back on track–
or just following where the rabbit hole goes!
After you’ve worked on and
knocked out your main story thread and throughline,
I would recommend taking a little time
to loosely develop some side plots that may
lead back to the main story, possibly.
Here’s an example: your main plot involves
being hired to investigate a local lodge
of strange activities, leading the party
to a shore-side wreck-site where
the lodge turns out to be
a cult plotting a dark ritual.
Now, to the side of the story, you could develop
a brief element of a drunken fisherman
who’s trying to prove he’s not crazy for
seeing weird things at night by the ocean!
Or you could beat out a plot regarding
a private collector who’s seeking obscure things
for his collection that
are actually for this same dark ritual (chuckles).
Maybe a dancer whose lover was recently
replaced with a doppelganger who
is currently working for that same cult.
Now, these are all threads you don’t need
to fully flesh out, and they may never even
come to fruition, but even just
having them at the ready will help you
tie them in should the party deviate
too far from the main story.
Any that happen to get unused thankfully
can always be altered or recycled for future sessions.
I would also recommend developing
a number of stand-alone NPCs that
you can just have at the ready.
While they may not be important to the story,
per se, it’s always helpful to have a cache
of colorful characters that you can
just pluck out of the aether.
Maybe keep some sheets or note cards
with basic NPC information on them like
their name, their race, their sex and occupation,
any special skills they may have,
their disposition to the world at large,
their personality traits, voice type, goals, fears–
even equipment if you wish.
No need to put all these on there,
but what things you think may be
interesting and helpful to your story to pull out.
Now, even if none of these NPCs come
into play during your session,
they will still be there ready for use
for most future sessions as well,
so no time is wasted, and you’ll honestly
be thankful that you have the comfort
of these options at your disposal.
You can even keep a few stat cards
with various combat templates for
all types of common folk, just in case
a battle goes down and the party needs help,
or things go terribly, terribly wrong
and they end up killing a bunch of people that you wrote…
Because that’s what happens sometimes
in the game and you’re just like,
“All right, guys, kill them. It’s fine, they were important
at some point… But now I know,
at least, what they’ll do in combat…”
You can also create a few traps and encounters
that can be pulled and plugged into
your game at any given point in time.
Now, the traps can range from mundane
shop owners deterring burglars with falling barrels
and sleep glass to wall-mounted flamethrowers
and bladed pillars spinning through,
protecting some sort of underground vault!
That works too. Encounters that you have
prepared can be ravaging goblin packs,
a trained protector chimera of a certain location,
or even just a group of bandits that are
eliminating witnesses that happen to stumble upon their work.
Also, it helps to have a list of rewards or items
tuned to the party’s current power level that
you can quickly access. Following unexpected
story threads and directions can lead to
unexpected rewards, and you don’t want to stiff
your PCs because you didn’t really plan any loot.
You can quickly come up with
an appropriate monetary award, and equipment find,
or some sort of a social boon to
accompany an improvised PC success.
This might be a little scary, but for the moments
you really aren’t prepared for,
begin by just painting a scene.
When they enter a location you hadn’t
really considered, let your instincts inform
you of what you’d expect to find there and
describe the impact to your senses as you figure them out.
This includes sight and lighting, the smells
and sounds you would experience,
the temperature of the very air itself
are easy gateways to an immersive location,
and you can just let those details emerge naturally
as you come up with it.
Even if you aren’t sure where it’s going,
trust that, once the party beings to talk
amongst themselves, you can probably
scramble through your previous notes and
prepare to tie it to something you already have.
Please, you need to take notes!
Like, seriously, take notes–
you’re going to be so thankful you take notes.
Get a scratchpad, take notes, always notes.
Because as you make up elements of the story
and characters and spontaneous plot hooks,
you want to write it down to remind you
of the things you just made up,
or you’ll forget them in the next ten minutes.
They’ll just be gone, and the party will call
you back and be like,
“That guy we talked to 30 minutes ago,
let’s go talk to him!” and you’ll be like,
“What– I… Oh, yeah, I think his name is… Steve?”
You’ll see Steve come up a lot in my games…
It might not play out within the session right now,
but you can always flesh out those aspects
between the games and try to incorporate
them into the main plot down the road.
You’ll be very thankful that you took notes.
Anyway, I hope some of these notes and tips
have been helpful for you as a GM.
You can find more episodes of GM Tips
here at geekandsundry.com.
My name is Matthew Mercer, thank you for watching,
and I’ll see you on the Internet.
— Matthew Mercer (@matthewmercer) October 27, 2016
— Matthew Mercer (@matthewmercer) October 27, 2016
I’m DM, but I’ve watched only two episodes of CR (don’t have time to watch truly) – what new it brings to the table? Classes? Races? Or is it just a world lore / module like Ebberon is? Subclasses, spells, race variants, magical items, adventures, and creatures! 🙂
— Matthew Mercer (@matthewmercer) January 13, 2020
@Kevvinn101THIS IS A AN AUTOMATIC CAPTION TEXT from YouTube, so it’s not “perfect”.
My advice is to use it just to help people like me that are not english speaking, to understand the Video/Podcast
MATT: Hello! My name is Matthew Mercer. I’m a
voice actor and the dungeon master for Critical
Role here at Geek & Sundry, and while we may have
touched on it in the past, today’s GMing Tips is
going more in depth about the idea of customizing
your creatures and characters for encounters.
Whether you’re running a party sized larger or
smaller than the system was actually balanced for,
or you want to create your own strange new beasts,
or have veteran players who have memorized the
entire Monster Manual and you still want to
surprise them, there’s a lot of good fun to be had in
occasionally customizing the creatures you use in
your campaign. I’ll be using mostly Dungeons and
Dragons examples here, especially Fifth Edition,
but the general ideas and functions work for
pretty much any gaming system out there.
So, for smaller party sizes of one to three
players, first off, consider the party makeup. Do
they have a decent healer? Do they have a lot of
damage-dealers without a lot of defensive
capabilities? You want to make sure you don’t
create encounters or customize creatures or put
creatures in that will wipe them out immediately
without some of those usual party dynamic
abilities. But you might want to consider
adjusting some creatures to have attacks that
inflict conditions over just direct damage.
Perhaps a smuggler throws sand as an attack that
blinds a player until they clear their eyes as an
action. You could add a trip attack to some
combatants that knocks a target prone. Maybe a
direwolf has a howl that can instill the
Frightened condition on a nearby target. These are
examples of attacks that heighten the sense of
danger without directly overwhelming a small party
And if you want to add a powerful enemy for story
flavor, but it could clean up against them? Scale
down a number of statistics to bring it a little
closer to the party level. Lowering HP by a
fraction could certainly help, but the general
defenses across the board can also take a little
hit, such as a reduction of saving throws, spell
DC, and armor class. Gauge which enemies at their
level seem to give them a tough fight, and adjust
your boss foe to be comparable, if a bit nastier.
Because nastier’s always fun.
Now, attacks that can affect and lock down the
entire smaller party can lead to an unfair TPK if
you aren’t careful. Consider adjusting some of
these abilities to affect a smaller line or cone
area, or perhaps reduce the Paralysis status it
inflicts to just Restrained, if most or all can be
hit at once. Just in case.
You can even instill a story reason for the
creature’s weakened state, leaving a fear of the
healthy version to eventually come. (evil cackle)
For larger party sizes of six, seven-plus players,
adding more hit points can help, but it isn’t
always the answer. Just adding more HP to a foe
only drags out a less-than-dynamic fight if you
don’t find other ways to make the battle more
interesting for the larger scope of combatants.
Here are a few ways that you can up the ante
without dragging out the battle too much longer
than it’s intended to be.
So for larger party sizes, that usually means
fewer rounds of combat, so make sure those rounds
hurt. Consider a small bump in damage to most
creatures. If it’s a solo or small number of
villains, perhaps customize existing attacks or
adding a new one that can affect multiple PCs. A
sweeping cleave that hits all creatures adjacent
to them, or a slamming tail attack that hits
everything in a 15-foot line. An arcane ability
that summons up crushing vines from the ground in
a 20-foot radius, grappling and damaging those
caught in it. Stuff like that.
This allows your overwhelmed monster to keep up
with the onslaught of many, many combatants around
them. And with that many PCs in the field,
mobility for creatures can also be difficult.
Consider abilities that can allow it to escape or more
quickly move about without a storm of attacks of
opportunity tearing its head off. Perhaps have an
attack ability that also pushes the target back
ten feet, now allowing them to move about safely.
Or a move ability that lets them teleport or leap
30 feet without fear of retaliation.
Here’s also some fun general tweaks you could
possibly add to it as well to liven up the combat.
You can implement damage milestones for the
creature, which means when a foe gets below a
certain threshold of damage, they gain new
abilities, or transform, like some crazy video
game boss fight. They begin to regenerate or grow
a new limb, allowing additional attacks, or they
enrage and deal even more damage per hit while the
combat drags out. Abilities that can add or change
the terrain of the battlefield are also a lot of
fun. A salamander who leaves an ever-burning trail
in their path when they walk, and anyone who
crosses that previously walked path now bursts
into flame and takes damage.
You can also implement minor lair actions for
non-solo encounters. These are all experimental
ideas and mistakes will be made and you’ll learn
from them to find the real balance for the game.
That’s part of the fun of running these larger or
smaller games. I would recommend erring on the
less and then scale higher as you progress. That
might help prevent an unintentional TPK on your
party when you were in the middle of just trying
to get them in the mood.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed and learned something
from the episode. You will see me on other
episodes of GM Tips here on GeekandSundry.com.
I’ll see you guys on the internet.
What to do if I’ve accidentally established foes far too powerful, told the party they’re too powerful, and they fight anyway Emphasize that some battles must be fled from. To stay may be to die.
— Matthew Mercer (@matthewmercer) November 10, 2016