The Yarning Portal mazzmatazz's blog

Sorry I've been away so long!

Whew, sorry about that! I was feeling bad for a lot longer than I'd hoped, but things are certainly improving now.

The faster internet has been installed for some time now, and the stream quality I am now getting is excellent. Now I just need to find time to fit in my DM Tutorial streams - I've already scheduled a regular crafting stream on Monday nights which I call "Stitch and Twitch".

I've also been trying to keep myself occupied by keeping up with the creating, and made some really cool things, including a hat for Chris Perkins and a doll of Holly Conrad's DCA character Strix. I'm eternally grateful that I get to speak to some absolutely amazing people on a daily basis because of D&D. It really has changed my life.

PLUS! I've been interviewed on a couple of podcasts recently, talking about being a DM and sharing little bits of advice. Check me out on Lysa Chen's Behold Her podcast, as well as Insight Check!

Anyway, thank you for bearing with me not updating the blog during this time, and I'll get working on that streamed tutorial for building a town within the next week ... I need one for my campaign anyway so that's a perfect opportunity to share the process with you all!

Keep critting those d20s!


Apologies, a delay

I'm very aware I haven't made a blog post this week. I wanted to post a tutorial every Thursday, and this week I truly intended to continue my Homebrew - Starting Small series. Unfortunately, a few things got in the way.

I wanted to do a livestream in tandem with the post. That can't happen at the moment because there's been a delay on upgrading my internet. I just found out that I have to wait until the end of the month. That's a real kicker, because I the streamed tutorial was something I really wanted to do.

I also have had a really bad couple weeks with my depression. I could feel it gnawing at my psyche for some time, and last week it finally got to the point where I couldn't distract myself or deny it any longer. I had to just admit defeat, accept that it was here, and let it happen. I've been riding it out since, and taking it easy on myself. That meant I've had to put a few things on hold, and this blog happened to be one of those things.

So I'm probably going to keep the blog on hold a little longer. It takes one thing off the plate and gives me a bit less pressure. Once I get my internet upgrade, I can look at planning a streaming schedule and linking posts in with that. I'm really excited to show everyone how I do things, and discuss it with you all. I am always learning too, and I'm sure there are some great ideas and suggestions out there that I've not come across yet that you can share with me too.

I hope you can all bear with me whilst I adjust and prioritize things shortly, and I honestly cannot wait to get this upgrade and get streaming on a more regular basis. The internet should be ready in time for my next live game with the Slay Belles, on the 3rd Feb! Keep an eye on my Twitter for more information!

In the meantime, keep rolling those 20s!


DM Tutorials - DCs And How To Make Them More Interesting

I will return to the homebrew world building post next week - I'm getting my internet upgraded so that I can stream at a better rate, and I'd like to stream the next part as well as write about it! So this week I'm going to look at another part of the game; difficulty checks.

A Difficulty Check (DC) is one of the basic components of any D&D session. The rogue wants to pick that lock? Dexterity check with Thieves’ Tools. The ranger is trying to forage for some food? Survival check. The DM determines how difficult that task is going to be, some dice are rolled, and then the players succeed or fail. That’s the most straightforward way of looking at it. There’s a lot more you can do with DCs however.

One of the most common things you may hear is ‘failing forward’. I didn’t even know what this meant in a D&D context when I first heard it said, so I had to go and read up on it, and then I learned I was doing this already without even realising!

The simplest way of using a DC is as already mentioned. You set a difficulty as per the rules, the player rolls, you say yay or nay depending on the outcome. Failing forward however, means that regardless of the outcome, the story still moves forwards. For example, that rogue picking a lock rolled a fail? Perhaps it just takes longer to pick the lock and they have less time to carry out their task, or a patrol gets closer and they have to be more quiet? Perhaps they didn’t check the door was already unlocked and so the door swings open as they push their lockpick in?

If you want a good example of failing forward in movies, I once heard Han Solo in the first Star Wars movie used to demonstrate it. He failed on a lot of stuff (got Greedo to pull his gun on him, failed to persuade stormtroopers on the death star) but still moved the plot along and succeeded when he needed to (shooting Greedo and coming to Luke's aid).

I recently published an adventure for the first time, and something that has been commented on was my table for perception checks, which could be considered failing forward. Depending on the roll result, more things are noticed, but something is noticed regardless of the roll.


I don't do critical success, it's not RAW, and there are situations where it's not really feasible that automatic success happens. I also don’t really do critical failure unless I can think of something amusing that doesn’t cause detriment to the PCs. Going back to the rogue lockpicking example, a rogue in my home game recently rolled a nat 1 on that check. So, I told him he broke his favourite lockpick. It didn’t adversely affect the movement of the story (he could have tried again, but in the end the barbarian smashed the door open in frustration) and it didn’t adversely affect the PC directly (he had other lockpicks, also he found the parts and got another PC to cast mending to repair it) but it gave everyone a chuckle at the table, and it made it feel more real, as everyone who uses a set of tools for a job has their favourite ones (I’m looking at my crochet hook collection and feeling this right now)

Another thing I do, is to use unexpected skills, because to me it gets dull asking people to roll perception or investigation all the time, and it allows the lesser used skills to get some love. It also prevents minmaxing (something I don’t personally enjoy at my table, as I feel the best stories come from characters with flaws) as my players aren’t building their characters around a great passive perception score. One of my pet peeves as a DM is people making an assumption about what I am going to ask them to roll and rolling it, without waiting to hear what I am going to ask. I don't always ask for what a player expects! So, for example, the aforementioned rogue that I play with wanted to check a door for traps. I had him roll performance, and as he checked, he hummed a song he remembered the bard singing… and something behind the door started humming along...

Sometimes I ask my players to choose the skill they would like to use and justify it. That’s how I ended up with a wizard using an acrobatics check to find a mushroom once. He stood on his head and contemplated what it was like to be a mushroom. He failed, but it made everyone laugh and as you can see, it was memorable (for me at least). I like doing this in skill challenges. Skill challenges are 4th edition mechanics, but haven’t really found their way into 5th edition. Basically it is where you have a task that needs undertaking, and you have to succeed a certain amount of times before you build up too many failures, and failing has consequences. Here are some examples of skill challenges to give you an idea of how they work - perhaps you could modify them for your games.

As you can see, there are a lot of ways to use DCs more creatively to bring life to your sessions. I hope this has sparked your imagination to find ways to use DCs more creatively!


DM Tutorials - Creating a Homebrew World, Part 1 - Starting Small

Premade adventures are great, but the large campaign books can be daunting. However, making up your own world can also be a pretty daunting prospect. Where do you start? I mean, you need at least one culture, religions, a magic system, cities, continents, world maps…

Guess what. You don’t. You really don’t. The DMG even says “start small” on page 25. When your PCs are levels 1-5, they are local heroes, only really known in the area they are from. Think about MMORPG starter areas - they are designed with similar principles in mind, they are self contained areas to get characters to a certain level without too much difficulty and with a small storyline. So you only really need that starter town to get stuck into your campaign and get the ball rolling.

There are advantages and disadvantages to creating a small starter area vs mapping out a whole world. Making a whole world upfront is a lot of work but it means you have a concrete vision of how cultures interact, how the map works, how religion and magic work. Making small chunks as you go can make your world vaguer and more nebulous, but it also means you can shape your world to match your campaign as you go along. Another advantage of starting small is that that if your campaign fizzles out, you haven’t wasted a lot of time building a big, complex world for it to be wasted.

This doesn’t mean to say that if you have a great idea for a pantheon of gods, a whole culture of dog-headed Anubisath Egyptian-like peoples, or a magic system drawn from nature, then you should forget about that - don’t. Incorporate that in, but you don’t necessarily need to overwhelm players with these levels of detail at the outset. It could flavour other areas, perhaps their starter town has trade links to the Anubisath types so there are strange trinkets around, or there are temples to various gods from your big pantheon. Little touches like that help you to make your world seem bigger even if you haven’t gotten most of the details nailed down.

Bearing these points in mind, I started my homebrew with two towns (one for each group) and a vague idea of what the long term plot was. I drew a small map of each town. I created a bunch of NPCs. I didn’t know where they were within the world, but as we went on, I placed them near a city which both groups visited. I didn’t even have a name for the world to start with, and 6 months in, I still don’t really have much of a world map outside of that small area. It grows as our need for areas to explore grows.

So, what are the most basic things you need for a starter area in a sandbox style homebrew? I usually begin with the amenities and a bulletin board with tasks on. A simple, basic village will usually have an inn, probably a blacksmith and general store (with limited supplies), housing, surrounding farms, and probably some sort of worship space for the religion in the area. This informs the NPCs I’ll make, so to run these amenities there will be the innkeeper, perhaps an assistant like a barmaid, a blacksmith, store clerk, a few farmers, villagers and clerics or other religious persons. There may also be some sort of town elder, marshal, or representative of the noble who owns the wider area, (depending on your hierarchy). I then think about how these people look and act, but I’ll talk more about creating NPCs in another article.

The bulletin board will provide tasks for your adventurers, and is my favourite part to create, and it gives a really free feel to questing as the players can choose which quest they want to pursue first. I have a PSD file which is a wooden board with nails in, and a folder of parchment textures. I think of quests, or use online generators to come up with ideas, then type them up so they become notes pinned on the board. I add in notices such as fees for posting, upcoming festivals or events, or things for sale, to make it feel more like a noticeboard and to add interest. It then becomes a handout for my players to browse.


In the next part, we'll look at how to fill the board up with some simple quests, and how you can fill out other features of your town!

Happy gaming!


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