Gameplay: DM Improvisation

As time permits, I like to answer interesting questions posed by my Patreon supporters. Often those questions are tied to Eberron, but sometimes there’s a more general topic. Case in point…

As a world builder myself and a long time improviser, making things up on the fly to adapt to situations is the environment I *live* for and it’s made my storytelling in this game really step up. I’m writing more than I’ve ever written before in order to keep up with my players story as well as be a few steps ahead. While I know it can be a matter of taste, which do you like to do more as a DM; prepare for the most likely situations but expect the unexpected or completely roll with the punches because you’re so familiar with the world you’ve created?

I love the collaborative element of TTRPGs. I may know all the secrets and where the action will go, but I love that I don’t know which hooks the adventurers will latch onto. I have an adventure that I’ve run almost sixty times, and it’s still fun for me to run again because there’s always something that comes up in each session that I’ve never seen before. I love to see players come up with creative solutions to problems, and I’m always going to encourage that, because that’s what makes it interesting for me; if they followed an entirely predictable path, if I knew exactly how the story was going to end, it wouldn’t be that interesting to run it twice, let alone sixty times.

With that said, fun fact: I’ve never published that adventure I’ve run sixty times, because I’ve never written it down in such a way that anyone else could run it. The adventure is set in the city of Graywall, which I know like the back of my hand. The adventurers are trying to locate a fugitive. Because I know the city so well, I don’t have to have every option written down. If the adventurers say “We want to talk to a Brelish expatriate” or “Who sells refined dragonshards in bulk?” I know the answers to those questions, and I can freestyle a quick encounter with the Tharashk shard salesman. However, I also have a few anchor points that I know the adventure will hit. Whatever path they take to get there, I know the adventurers will have to deal with at least two of three specific people/places… and I know where the fugitive is and what they will find when they get there. So I have those four scenes prepared ahead of time—with statistics for the combat encounters, traps and treasures, and the like. But I never know which three of these four scenes I’ll use in a particular run of the game.

The same thing is true when I’m running my Patreon campaign on Threshold. In session 2, the adventurers were investigating the disappearance of local kobolds. I knew where they would end up—that they’d need to investigate the farmstead of Kaine Agran, and that doing so would lead them to a sinister chamber of skulls hidden in the mountains. I had both of those scenes plotted out, complete with statistics for the threats they would face. But I didn’t know how they would GET to the farmstead. And case in point, when I ran the adventure twice, one group of players focused on dealing with the Brelish veterans in town, while the other group centered their investigation on the kobold community. But I knew that both of those were options, and I knew that I could improvise a scene in either direction—because I had an established cast on NPCs in each location and generally knew how they could help.

Meanwhile, the fourth Threshold session—the first hour of which is available here—was set at a festival. I had five specific scenes planned at the festival—Kobolds dancing around a fruit idol; a tiefling missionary approaches one of the characters; an illusionary shooting gallery; a baking contest; and an unexpected confrontation at the final feast. But I didn’t know which of these would catch the players’ interest or how long each might take; they could have just shurgged and walked by the fruity kobolds, or they could join in the ceremony (which they did). So I had a handful of established NPCs there at the festival I was prepared to deploy. The adventurers could have been approached by the priest who was organizing the festival, or caught up in a drunken brawl; I knew I could fill space if I needed to. And taking the shooting gallery—the structure was that the PC wandslinger had to face five illusionary opponents. I had each of the other players describe one of these illusionary opponents—so even though it was a scene revolving around a single PC, each player got to be involved—and then when it got to the fifth opponent I revealed it to be an ambush by a gang of halfling hitmen (a combat which then involved everyone). The main point is that I’d planned how the scene would end—I had stats for the squad of halfling hitmen—but I didn’t know what the players would come up with for the four first targets, and it was fun for me to see what they thought up.

So MY preferred style is to work within an area that has some flexibility, with a number of concrete scenes or locations that drive the story and that I know will be involved: I know that sooner or later the adventurers will get to the Chamber of Skulls, or they will get to the confrontation at the final feast. But I’m prepared for them to take an unexpected path to reach that point, because I know the cast and locations around them and I can improvise secondary scenes. This doesn’t work with every story; if I’m doing a serious dungeon crawl where resources are limited and the players’ choice of which rooms to explore matters, I’m going to carefully map it out ahead of time. If the adventurers are going to a new location where I don’t have a well-established supporting cast to fall back on, I’ll plan things more carefully. But I personally like the middle ground—not planning every detail or leaving everything to chance, but building an adventure around a few scenes I know will occur, with flexibility to improvise around them.

How do you handle times when the players bring about a situation that you really ought to know how to handle, but in the heat of the moment can’t imagine what to do next?

I try not to be caught in this situation. While I don’t plan for every contingency, I do prepare notes ahead of time and think about characters and locations that might turn up—for example, the idea that a drunken brawl at the festival would be a simple way to fill a hole if the players moved too swiftly through the content I’d prepared. But while I do my best, it’s impossible to prepare for every contingency. Sometimes a player asks a question you just don’t know the answer to—”This is a textile factory, right? Are they doing mule spinning or ring spinning?“—while other times you may just have had a long day and find yourself out of ideas. When I do find myself in that situation, my standard approach is ask the players for the answer. First of all, in the case of the person asking about an obscure subject, given that they asked the question they probably know what they WANT the answer to be. I don’t know the difference between mule spinning and ring spinning, but THEY do, an d this gives them an opportunity to educate the group and the answer that they think makes sense. And beyond this, at the end of the day, it’s a collaborative story. Perhaps the players are in a stagecoach and it gets blown off a bridge, and you suddenly realize you have no idea how they’re going to survive. Turn it to them: How are you going to survive this? Depending on the situation, this could be a metagame discussion, where you freeze the action and talk to the PLAYERS—”How do we get out of this mess?” On the other hand, I could also present it as a simple skill check to players. “You’re going to take 50 points of damage when the coach strikes the bottom of the ravine. What do you do to survive this?” I’d evaluate their answer and either have them make a skill check (reducing the damage taken by the result of the skill check, or perhaps by double the result for a great idea) or assign an arbitrary value to an interesting, non-skill based idea. The main point is that ideally, what everyone in the group wants is a satisfying story; there’s nothing wrong with occasionally asking the players to fill in the blanks. Looking back to the textile question, I could go research textile factories to find out a good answer—but if the player already has that expertise and knows what the smart answer would be, why not use that expertise?

If you have questions about this approach or want to share how YOU do things, add your comments below! Thanks as always to my Patreon supporters for making these articles possible.

My Summer Streams!

Currently I’m taking part in two live-play streams of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. The two campaigns are very different; one you can watch, the other you can potentially participate in! Here’s the story.

THRESHOLD

Threshold is an Eberron campaign I’m running as DM. It’s set in a small town that lies between Droaam and Breland, the setting of my upcoming Frontiers of Eberron sourcebook, and I’m using the plots and places I’m creating for that sourcebook in the campaign. Threshold is tied to my Patreon. The story is ongoing and it involves a consistent cast of ten player characters, but each session only involves five of those characters—and the players change each session, being drawn from among the patrons. Those patrons who don’t get a seat at the table still have a chance to influence the story through polls and discussion on the Threshold Discord. Patrons have access to both audio and video recordings of the sessions, but I’m not sharing these with the general public. However, if you want a sense of what Threshold is all about, I’ve just posted a one-hour excerpt from a recent session. I love how Threshold has evolved through the collaboration of the patrons, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next! So if you join my Patreon (at the Threshold tier) you get access both to the past episodes, the campaign website, the Threshold Discord, and the chance to play in a future session… As well as helping to support the articles I post on this site!

FUGUE STATE

In addition to running games, I occasionally like to play games with my friends. Back in 2020 I started playing in a weekly online campaign with a few of my friends in Portland—Colin Meloy and Chris Funk of the Decemberists, Charlie Chu from Oni Press, and Patti King from the Shins. Conveniently, Charlie—the only one of that line-up who isn’t a musician—is the one playing the bard. DM Han Duong is running us through Rime of the Frostmaiden, and after thirty sessions we thought “Hey, why don’t we let other folks watch?” Fugue State happens from 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM Pacific Time every Wednesday, on the Twogether Studios Twitch channel. We’re also working to raise money for local charities; this month we’re raising funds for the Black Resilience Fund. So it remains to be seen if we’ll save the eight remaining towns of Icewind Dale (seven if you leave out Targos, which is a garbage town for garbage people), but we can do a little good regardless. I’m only a player in Fugue State—it’s not set in Eberron and I’m just along for the ride—but if you want to take a peek at the game I’m playing in, drop by!

THE ZONECAST SUMMER

The final stream I want to mention isn’t a D&D stream at all, and I’m not actually a regular! However, Twogether Studios is sponsoring the ZoneCast, a livestream in which Gnomedic and guests play my game The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance! The ZoneCast will be happening throughout the summer on the Twogether Studios channel, every Tuesday at 6 PM Pacific Time! So if you’d like to see what TAZ:BoB is all about and possibly win some fabulous prizes, check that out!

Q&A

In Threshold, players take control of pre-existing characters. Do you feel that players get into character easily or do they struggle at times? I’ve had guest players take the role of pre-established NPCs before, and it didn’t always mesh well.

So far it’s gone great, and I really enjoy seeing what each new player brings to their character. When players apply to play in a session, they request a specific character; it’s not random, and people know what they’re getting into. The campaign website has detailed backgrounds of each character and their past exploits. And this includes a section of roleplaying notes; the image below is from Rolan Harn, the former Sentinel Marshal.

Think of these as expanded Bonds and Flaws. A player doesn’t HAVE to abide by these restrictions, but if they play these up they may receive Inspiration or gain advantage on an action; conversely, if they go against the character’s nature, they may suffer disadvantage or other penalties. So an oathbreaking, cruel Rolan will effectively have very bad luck—whereas if you play up Rolan’s honesty and integrity, you’ll have a better chance of success.

That’s all for now! I hope to see you at a future stream!

What’s going on in Threshold?

Art by Carolina Cesario

It’s the 14th of Lharvion, and it’s too damn hot. Today is Bounty’s Blessing, the feast of Arawai; there’s a farmer’s market in the square, and a baking competition to see if anyone can make something palatable using “sand fruit”, a local succulent that is anything but succulent. In the cliffs above town, a group of adventurers have found ruins filled with petrified goblins, a dead but perfectly preserved Gatekeeper, and an altar dedicated to the mysterious Still Lord. Who is the Still Lord? Are their cultists hidden in Threshold? And can anyone actually make a satisfying sand fruit fritter?

I’m currently working on Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold, a sourcebook that explores the region between Breland and Droaam; I discuss it further in this interview. In Threshold, there’s a party of gnolls loitering at the Gold Dragon Inn while they wait for the lightning rail. Three-Widow Jane’s facing Rusty in a showdown at high noon. But there’s powers at work that overshadow such mundane concerns. Who is the Still Lord? What is the secret history of the region, and how does it threaten the future?

Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold is going to be a large book—comparable to Exploring Eberron—and won’t be out until later this year. I’m enjoying the chance to take a deeper dive into a piece of the setting, a region that’s not as well known as Sharn or Stormreach; I also love any chance to work with Droaam, as the nation of monsters is one of my favorite pieces of Eberron. While the book itself won’t be out for months to come, I’m currently running a campaign set in Threshold online—and my Patreon supporters have an opportunity to watch the campaign and potentially, to play in it. My Patreon has a Threshold tier. In addition to the Inner Circle benefits, this grants the following things.

  • Threshold patrons have access to all previous sessions of the campaign.
  • I run one session each month. The characters and the stories are persistent, but the players change each month and are drawn from the patrons. Patreon doesn’t allow me to select players randomly, but each session I post a creative challenge—challenging would-be players to add a detail to a character or to the town—and the winners play in the upcoming session. i change the recording time with each session so that sooner or later people will have a chance to play regardless of their time zone.
  • Patrons can participate in polls that help establish details about the characters, the story, and the town—so even if you don’t get a chance to play, you have an opportunity to shape the story. The ten player characters used in the campaign were developed through a series of these polls.
  • Patrons have access to the Threshold channels on the Eberron Discord server, and I drop by when I can to talk about the campaign and all things Eberron. Currently I’m trying an experiment: an ongoing story running in a Threshold channel, where Patrons can choose the path that events take.

Collaborative storytelling is my favorite aspect of TTRPGs. While I there’s only a few seats at the table in each session, this experiment allows me to collaborate with patrons even if they don’t get to roll dice in the session. I enjoy the characters we’ve created and it’s fun to see how different players interpret those characters—and it’s always fun for me to meet new people. So I can’t promise that you’ll get to play at the table if you become a Threshold patron, but you will have an opportunity to affect the story and to see the sessions (which currently aren’t available to the public), and you just might end up at the table! The next episode will be recorded on Friday, May 28th and the casting challenge is open until noon Pacific time on Tuesday the 25th.

Post any questions about Frontiers of Eberron or Threshold below! Otherwise, you can find more information at my Patreon. And the

Threshold: Casting Session 2

Art by Carolina Cesario

In 2009 I traveled around the world, going from place to place and running an Eberron session for everyone I stayed with. One of the things I loved about that was getting meet and play with a vast range of different people. Thanks to the pandemic, travel isn’t in the cards for the forseeable future. So at the end of last year I started working on something else: an online campaign for my Patreon supporters. This is an ongoing campaign that is based in the town of Threshold and that uses a roster of ten established player characters… but each session, da different set of players will play those characters. In between sessions, all of my patrons will have a chance to shape the town and the story through polls and other activities—so even people who don’t have a chance to play will be a part of the campaign.

In the winter of 2020 I worked with my patrons to build our roster of characters. I’ve set up a campaign site where patrons can review the characters and the ongoing progress of the campaign, as well as adding session logs and other notes. In January I ran the first session of Threshold, and patrons have access to the video of that session. Now I’m getting ready for the second session, and I’m doing the casting call. If you might like to play in that session, read on!

Briar the Greensinger, by Julio Azevedo

My original idea was that I would randomly select the players for each session from my pool of patrons. However, Patreon has strict rules that prevent any such randomized benefits. However, they do allow contests. So first I polled supporters to choose the time for the session—I’ll be running each session at a different time, to ensure that all patrons have an opportunity to participate, regardless of their time zone. This next session is going to be at 10 AM – 2 PM Pacific Time, February 21st. Today I opened up the contest. As I said, Threshold uses a roster of ten player characters:

  • Bel, the Smith (Beasthide shifter, Beast barbarian, folk hero)
  • Briar, the Greensinger (Changeling, Dreams druid, entertainer)
  • Deven, the Tailor (Goblin, Mastermind rogue, spy)
  • Ja’taarka, the Good Boy (Worg, Gloom Stalker ranger, soldier)
  • Rolan Harn, the Marshal (Deneith human, Battle Master fighter, soldier)
  • Sora, the Stonespeaker (Sivis gnome, Scribe wizard, sage)
  • Tari, the Flame (Kalashtar, Divine Soul sorcerer, urchin)
  • Three-Widow Jane, the Wandslinger (Khoravar, Genie warlock, criminal)
  • Ink, the Scholar (Ruinbound dwarf, Alchemist artificer, sage)
  • Vael, the Mystery (Valenar elf, Glory paladin, folk hero)

For this session, the challenge is to choose a character you want to play and to describe their connection to another character. If I chose your answer, that becomes part of the developing canon. So last session we established that the scholar Ink had gone on a disastrous date with Three-Widow Jane, that Rolan had danced with Sora at a grand ball in Sharn, and that one of Deven’s teenage daughters is a student at Ink’s schoolhouse. So regardless of what happens in the actual adventure, the characters and the story will continue to evolve.

Now, I’ve used that challenge for these first two sessions because it’s a good way to build a strong foundation for these shared characters. But I will use different challenges in the future. Perhaps one session I’ll have people draw a sketch of the character they want to play, or to present me with an Eberron-themed limerick. I want to make sure that everyone has a chance to play, regardless of their time zone or talents. With only five players each session, that may take a while… but even those who don’t play still get to help shape the story. And again, the video and audio of the session are shared with patrons, so everyone gets to follow along with the story.

If this sounds interesting to you, go to my Patreon and support at the Threshold level; the most recent Threshold post includes the specific details of the challenge and the link to the campaign website, where you can learn more about the established characters. The current challenge runs until noon on Wednesday the 17th, and I’ll be running the session on the 21st. I’m going to run at least one session a month; if there’s sufficient interest and support, I might be able to accelerate that.

Briar the Greensinger, by Julio Azevedo

While the campaign is only just beginning, I’ve really enjoyed the process of creating the town and the adventurers. As is suggested by the image at the top, this is a campaign that blends fantasy with elements of the Western genre, something I’ve previously explored in Q’barra. Threshold is set on the opposite side Khorvaire, on the border between Breland and the rising nation of Droaam. It’s a town where a worg can duel an agent of a dragonmarked house, where the ever-expanding lightning rail brings prosperity and unexpected dangers. Beyond the campaign, I’m currently developing this sub-setting in a sourcebook for the DM’s Guild, Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold; so this is a chance to get a sneak peek at what lies ahead!

Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you in Threshold!

Threshold Begins

Art by Carolina Cesario

The Five Nations never expected Droaam to last. A nation of monsters? Medusas and harpies working with trolls and ogres? Surely they’ll turn on each other. It’s only a matter of time. A decade later, Droaam stands stronger than ever. Dragonmarked houses and independent traders smell opportunity. But some are afraid to invest too heavily in Droaam itself. After the bloody incident at Kundarak’s outpost in Graywall, many houses are looking for a foothold on the Brelish side of the border… And that foothold is Threshold.

A small mining town on the edge of the Graywall mountains, Threshold was devastated by raids during the Last War. In the last decade a number of forces have converged to rebuild and expand the town. Followers of the Three Faces of Coin believe in unhindered trade, and have an interest in creating a haven for smugglers. Count Thavius ir’Blis has allowed a group of Cyran refugees to settle in this corner of his domain, while also granting a stake in Threshold to the Brelish soldiers that served him faithfully during the Last War. House Orien has brought the lightning rail to Threshold… the last stop as it considers expanding into Droaam. But Threshold was never a large town. There are still secrets in and below the mountains that the townsfolk have yet to discover. And Droaam may be a source of opportunities, but it unquestionably holds deadly threats. Threshold fell during the Last War. Will this new incarnation thrive, or is it a disaster waiting to happen?

Art by Julio Azevedo

Threshold and the region around it are the subject of the sourcebook I’m currently working on—Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold. It’s also the setting of an online campaign I’m running for my Patreon supporters. This is an experiment: while I may livestream it in the future, to begin with I’ll just be recording it and sharing the episodes with supporters. Rather than having a set cast of players, there’s a set roster of characters, but each session I’ll recruit a new set of players from my Patreon supporters. Before each session, I’ll pose a creative challenge (as the rules governing Patreon prevent it simply being a random determination); I’ll use this to choose the players for the session. Once someone plays in a session they can’t be chosen again for the next few sessions. I’m sure this process will evolve; I see the first three sessions as an experiment. But the point is that we’re creating an ongoing story about a set of shared characters, and every patron has a chance to participate. Even people who don’t get to play will be able to shape the story. Over the last two months, supporters have helped to create our roster of characters, and every month I’ll be posing a few polls that will help to shape the story and the town. Here’s the cast of characters that emerged from this process; the image above is Julio Azevedo’s interpretation of Ja’taarka, a worg ranger.

  • Bel, the Smith (Beasthide shifter, Beast barbarian, folk hero)
  • Briar, the Greensinger (Changeling, Dreams druid, entertainer)
  • Deven, the Tailor (Goblin, Mastermind rogue, spy)
  • Ja’taarka, the Good Boy (Worg, Dark Stalker ranger, soldier)
  • Rolan Harn, the Marshal (Deneith human, Battle Master fighter, soldier)
  • Sora, the Stonespeaker (Sivis gnome, Scribe wizard, entertainer)
  • Tari, the Flame (Kalashtar, Divine Soul sorcerer, urchin)
  • Three-Widow Jane, the Wandslinger (Khoravar, Genie warlock, smuggler)
  • Ink, the Scholar (Ruinbound dwarf, Alchemist artificer, sage)
  • Vael, the Mystery (Valenar elf, Glory paladin, folk hero)

I’ll be running the first https://beachyspharmacy.com/ Threshold game at 1 PM Pacific Standard Time on January 23rd. I’ve just posed the challenge to determine the first set of players on Patreon, and it will run until Sunday, January 17th. If you have questions you can ask them here, or find out more in the Threshold posts on Patreon! I’m looking forward to getting the campaign underway.

Frontiers of Eberron

Art by Carolina Cesario

Happy holidays! Here’s the latest news from KB Presents.

2020 has been a wild ride for KB Presents and we’re excited for things to come!

In July, we released Exploring Eberron, a 247-page book that gave Eberron creator and designer Keith Baker the freedom to write about topics he never had the opportunity before. As extensive as the book is, there is so much more to explore! While working on Exploring Eberron, we were also looking towards the future. An outline for a new book, codenamed FOES, was discussed. In August, we began development work on a project codenamed Fool’s Gold—a PDF product that was planned as the next release. Thomas Bourdon worked on the cover and development began in earnest.

However, inspiration is tricky and you never know when it might strike!

The first idea was Eberron Confidential—a book of character secrets inspired by Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden that inserted itself into the production cycle. It launched in November 2020 and is now our second Eberron product on digital shelves. 

The second idea was Threshold. For years, Keith has run Eberron campaigns set in the jungles of Q’barra. Fans have expressed great interest in this fantasy western approach. In September, we began development on an adventure, codenamed Hunger, that drew on the same principles—but set on the actual western frontier border between Breland and Droaam. Hunger is intended as an ideal starter campaign for new players to the setting. As Project: Hunger grew, Keith decided to run an online campaign in this region, focusing on the town of Threshold. The game will be played with a shifting cast of players drawn from his Patreon supporters. While Project: Hunger is not the focus of this announcement, more information will be forthcoming in 2021.

Which brings us to the announcement! We are proud to reveal Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold, a sourcebook that will provide everything you need to run your own campaign and adventures in the exciting Breland-Droaam border region. In addition to a full chapter focused on the town of Threshold and its denizens, this book will contain expanded locations, power groups, adventures hooks, and monsters that can be found on the frontier, along with a host of character options. It will be available both in PDF and print when it is launched on Dungeon Masters Guild in 2021!

Frontiers of Eberron: Threshold (Project: FRAG) is designed by Keith Baker, supported by the talents of Will Brolley, Laura Hirsbrunner, and Wayne Chang, along with an expanded group of playtesters. In the coming months, we will continue to tease and preview as we always have. You can even get a sneak peek at Threshold by joining Keith’s Patreon.

What about Project: Fool’s Gold? It’s still in development and on the production slate. In fact, we have significantly expanded the scope of Project: Fool’s Gold—now Project: Fool’s Platinum—and it’s scheduled for an early 2022 release.

There are exciting times ahead! Stay tuned and we’ll see you on the frontier!

Threshold: Characters, Continued

Art by Julio Azvedo

Last month I announced plans to run an online Eberron campaign set in Threshold, a town on the edge of Breland and Droaam. In October, I worked with my Patreon supporters to establish important details about the town. The dominant faith is the Three Faces of Coin, a variant of the Sovereign Host focused on commerce and industry (both legal and otherwise). There’s an undercurrent of interest in the Cazhaak worship of the Dark Six, driven by the kobold community on the edge of town. Other significant segments of the population include Brelish veterans who fought for the local lord during the war, Cyran refugees granted safe haven in this backwater, and a few goblin families from Sharn.

With this completed, we’re now developing the Characters. Each session will have a different group of players, chosen from among the patrons. The players will choose their characters for the session from a roster of ten shared characters—and we’re currently establishing defining those ten characters. Three have been fully developed.

  • The Marshal is a Battle Master fighter with the Mark of Sentinel; a battle-scarred Sentinel Marshal from the oldest family in House Deneith, he was excoriated after they killed a war criminal who would otherwise have gone free. Now he wants to make a difference on the frontier.
  • The Smith is a beasthide shifter and a blacksmith from Cyre. She doesn’t remember anything that happened in 992 YK, but since then she’s found that her natural strength and shifter abilities have been enhanced in strange ways—giving her the powers of a Way of the Beast Barbarian. While she’s using these gifts to help protect the Cyran refugees and has become a local folk hero, the Smith mainly wants to work at the smithy she’s established with her partner, the Cannith tinker who built their prosthetic leg. The Smith and the Tinker are pictured above, as envisioned by Julio Azvedo.
  • The Greensinger is a druid of the Circle of Dreams; while they typically appear to be an elf, they’re actually a changeling. They grew up in Thelanis, in the realm of an archfey known as Fortune’s Fool, and this has led to an optimistic outlook; now, they seek to help the people of Threshold establish a relationship with the local fey. The Greensinger is a skilled storyteller and singer; they know many magical songs (spells), including a song that holds tremendous power—but singing it might kill them.

The Smith and the Marshal came from a poll selecting “The Muscle.” Currently we are finishing up “The Faith” with a poll that establishes details about The Flame, a kalashtar orphan who receives visions from the Silver Flame. We still have six characters to go, covering the Knowledge, the Cunning, and the Unexpected. Below you can see a screenshot of the poll for the Flame, which is going on for another day…

What I like about this process is that even though I’m presenting ideas, I don’t know how these characters will turn out. The question of whether the Flame is Last of their Line or Not Kalashtar will have a major impact on their long term story arc. Because I’m running this campaign for a hundred potential players instead of five, it’s a different process than creating characters with people around a table, but I’m enjoying seeing these characters come together. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that these “Facts” play the same role as the secrets I present in my latest DM’s Guild book, Eberron Confidential…. In fact, Last of their Line is taken directly from that book!

I expect the first actual Threshold game session to be at the end of the month, given that there’s still six characters to develop. If you’d like to be a part of that process, go to my Patreon and check it out!

Thanks also to Threshold supporter Asura, who created the following image to lobby for the Flame in the last poll!

Threshold: Session Zero Continues

Art by Carolina Cesario

Earlier this month I revealed my plan to run an online Eberron campaign for my Patreon supporters. The campaign will use a set of pregenerated characters, but the players for each session will be determined by a challenge posed to supporters.

Currently I’m involved in Session Zero: the same process I’d use to lay the groundwork of a campaign at the table, but drawn out and resolved by polling supporters. Through this process, we’ve established a number of important details. Threshold is a town on the edge of Breland, the last outpost of civilization before you reach Graywall. It is in the domain of Count ir’Blis, and a core group of settlers are Brelish veterans who served ir’Blis during the Last War. However, the town has become a haven for devotees of a Sovereign Host sect known as the Three Faces of Coin—a faith devoted to facilitating trade and profit, whether through legitimate commerce or shadier paths. Their efforts helped draw House Orien to the town, and Orien has brought in a local kobold clan to help with labor; this has also brought the Cazhaak faith—an alternate interpretation of the Dark Six—to Threshold. Recently, ir’Blis has allowed a large contingent of Cyran refugees to settle in the town, and they’ve been joined by a few goblin families from Sharn. So there’s a mix of people in Threshold, and lots of potential for conflict and intrigue.

The supporters decided that the adventurers were working for the town itself—that each character has a tie to Threshold and a stake in its prosperity. The next step in this session zero is to define the characters themselves. Through polls, we’re going to define a total of ten characters that will form the recurring cast of player characters; this will ensure that every player will have some options in deciding who to play. We’re starting with a poll that chooses the basic concepts for two characters; the next poll will add details and determine their classes and subclasses.

So, currently we are selecting two characters that I’m defining as The Muscle. Here’s the concepts people are choosing from:

  • The Sheriff is a warforged juggernaut who served under Count ir’Blis during the Last War, and they have ties to the Brelish veterans who make up part of the population. Along with the Steward, the Sheriff represents the interests of ir’Blis and is tasked to maintain order in Threshold. The next round of questions will determine if the Sheriff is a grim realist, or if they are driven by faith or idealism. 
  • The Marshal is a dragonmarked former Sentinel Marshal of House Deneith. They’re no longer part of the house, and rumors swirl as to whether they were excoriated for wrongdoing or severed ties of their own accord. Either way, they believe in justice and they’re determined to make a difference in Threshold.
  • The Smith is a Cyran shifter just trying to make an honest living. They’ve opened a general store with their partner, a Cannith tinker. They don’t like to talk about what they did during the war, but they can swing a hammer and you won’t like them when they’re angry. They’re respected within the community of Cyran refugees within the town, and pursue the interests of their people. 
  • The Hunter is a Tharashk half-orc and licensed bounty hunter. They’ve been working the frontier for a decade, and know their way around Droaam and the wilds. Their first interest is profit, and they have ties to the Three Faces of War… but thanks to their time in Droaam, they’ve also adopted some of the beliefs of the Cazhaak faith. 

All of these characters will be part of Threshold. The question is which ones will be player characters, and which ones will be NPCs with their own secrets and goals. Will the Sheriff be a player character responsible for maintaining order—or will the Sheriff be an NPC the adventurers will have to deal with if they cause trouble?

Part of what I love about the Session Zero process is seeing how the story evolves through collaboration. I have my own ideas for the story, but things will definitely change depending on which of the characters are selected and the decisions made in the next round of questions. If you’d like to be a part of this process—and to potentially join in the game—join the Threshold tier of my Patreon!

My Current Projects…

Art by Júlio Azevedo

While I’m proud of Exploring Eberron, there’s a lot of Eberron left to explore and KB Presents is working on a number of different projects. We’ve already teased a project codenamed Fool’s Gold. This is something that is still in development, but over the last month I had two new ideas that have taken precedence. The first of these is Threshold, an online Eberron campaign that I’m developing and playing with my Patreon supporters. I’m excited about this, and once I had the idea I wanted to get started on it immediately. I’m still going through the Session Zero on Patreon and working out some details about the town, and I’ll be running the first adventure in November.

In addition to Threshold, I had another “Hmmm” moment—an idea that I loved and wanted to create right away. We initially called this project Skeleton, but I can tell you now that the actual name is Eberron Confidential. I’m not going to say too much about it just yet, but I’ll tell you that it’s short, it’s fun, and it’s something both players and DMs can enjoy. It’s currently in editing, and I think it will be available as a PDF on the DM’s Guild by around November 10th. While this pushed Fool’s Gold, that work isn’t lost; I have two major DM’s Guild Eberron releases planned for 2021.

Of course, Eberron is only part of my professional life! I also create games with my company Twogether Studios. After long complications due to COVID-19, we finally have our games back in stock, including Illimat and my RPG Phoenix: Dawn Command. In addition, we’ve developed a collaborative storytelling game based on The Adventure Zone with the McElroy family, and we’ll be releasing it soon! You can get on the release mailing list here, or you can watch us play it with the McElroys and other friends on our Twitch channel!

If you have any questions about Threshold or The Adventure Zone: Bureau of Balance, post them below! As for Eberron Confidential, I’ll be sharing more details once it’s through editing!

Threshold: Session Zero

In November I’m going to start running an online Eberron campaign set in Threshold, a border town that lies on the edge of Breland and Droaam. Between then and now, I’m going to go through the same process I would in running any campaign: working with the players to establish the cast of characters and important elements of the story and campaign setting. The players are my Patreon supporters, and it’s on Patreon that I’ll hold the polls that determine the ANSWERS to the questions I’m raising. But I thought I’d post this first piece here, for anyone who’s interested in my process.

As we begin this story, we know one thing about it: it’s set in Threshold, a newly founded town in the western edge of Breland. We’re in the shadow of Droaam, and there’s the ever-present threat of raids. But there’s byeshk and Dhakaani ruins in the mountains. There’s merchants and diplomats happy to have a final mug of Brelish ale before crossing into the land of monsters. Dragonmarked houses are considering investments; House Orien is here, working on the western rail. It’s rough, it’s dangerous, but it’s a fountain of opportunities.

The question is: what are we doing here? We know where this story is set, but what kind of story is it? Are our adventurers here to protect the town? Are we dreaming of the treasures that could be hidden in forgotten ruins? Are we soldiers in the service of the Brelish crown, or are we reporters here to cover the story of western expansion? In practical terms, what I’m looking for here is a group patron. I want the adventurers in this story to know one another and to have a reason to be here—to identify if this is a war story, a tale of exploration and adventure, or something else entirely. Choosing a group patron will help me plan my initial adventures, and it also helps to provide basic guidelines for the characters. If the adventurers are a squad of the Westwind Raiders, they need to feel like a unit of soldiers; while if they’re a team of reporters for the Sharn Inquisitive, they’ll want a very different set of skills and abilities.

So here’s the patrons I’m putting on the table.

  • Threshold Itself. The adventurers are all people who have a stake in the town. The cleric is the town preacher. The paladin or fighter is the sheriff. The artificer or wizard is here to study the ruins, but may also be doubling as the local schoolteacher. As a party working for Threshold itself, the adventurers don’t have a boss—but they are united by their shared investment in the town and its future, and will be working together to protect it from threats—whether those threats are minotaur raiders or the overreaching greed of House Orien.
  • The Westwind Riders. Before Droaam, the Westwind Riders were an elite unit that patrolled western Breland, protecting settlers from the dangerous creatures that dwelt in the Barrens. The last of the Westwind Riders were slain by the Daughters of Sora Kell in the battle that established Droaam. Now Count ir’Blis, Shield of the Graywall, has appointed a new corps of Westwind Riders to protect the people of his domain. As Westwind Riders, the adventurers are an elite military unit sworn to protect Brelish citizens from any dangers they may face. A Westwind campaign will be focused on action, as the adventurers are constantly responding to new threats; but it may be that there are dangers that are best dealt with diplomatically, rather than with spells or steel.
  • Professional Adventurers. There are many wonders hidden in the Graywall mountains. Dhakaani ruins are merely the beginning; stories hint at portals to demiplanes and relics dating back to the Age of Demons. There’s a fortune waiting for those prepared to venture into the depths and wrest it from ghosts and monsters. With this story, the adventurers are adventurers—professional dungeon-delvers. Should this path be chosen, the next question will be if the adventurers are associated with the virtuous Clifftop Adventurer’s Guild, or the more infamous Deathsgate Guild.
  • The Sharn Inquisitive. There’s something in Threshold more valuable than gold, and that’s the story. In Threshold itself you have the saga of Brelish settlers seeking their fortune in a dangerous land and of dragonmarked ambition. But it also stands on the edge of Droaam, and that’s a realm with many unanswered questions. How secure is the rule of the Daughters of Sora Kell? Is Droaam on the verge of collapse, or is it stronger than ever? Is the border stable, or could war break out at any time? With this patron, the adventurers are a team of reporters working for the Sharn Inquisitive, and they’re here to find the truth. This campaign would have a strong focus on social interaction and intrigue, with characters needing to have skills that help to get to the truth. But uncovering that truth will be a dangerous job…
  • Mysterious Visions. Strange visions have drawn a diverse group of people to Threshold. These people have nothing in common, save for these cryptic revelations and the knowledge that there is something they have to do. What is the force that has brought them together, and what is the task that only they can complete? The adventurers in this scenario would be very diverse in their backgrounds; part of the campaign would be trying to figure out why they were chosen and who their immortal patron actually is.

These are just a few of the possible themes for a campaign in Threshold. Adventurers could be working for the Boromar Clan of Sharn, establishing an outpost for this criminal syndicate and seeking to punish Droaam for the actions of Daask. They could be agents of the Twelve, sent to represent the interests of the Dragonmarked Houses. They could be spies seeking to infiltrate Droaam. But the five campaign ideas I’ve mentioned are ones that I feel comfortable running… so these are the five that I’m presenting to my players.

if you want to help make this decision and help as I continue to develop the campaign and the characters, join the Threshold tier on my Patreon. If not, hopefully this was an interesting peek at my process as a DM!