James Haeck

Editor of EN5ider magazine, Designer, Freelancer

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It’s been a while!

This blog has been pretty quiet lately, huh? Let me talk about what I’ve been working on in the meantime.

I’m freelancing for Kobold Press! I was the winner of their 2015 Lethal Lairs contest, a design contest in which I created a flip mat-scale map turnover and designed an entire encounter around it. This is one of my favorite pieces of bite-sized game design, and you should look at it if you’re interested in seeing my work! My 5e design work with Kobold Press continued with Gem Dragons of Faerûn and on other projects I can’t talk about right now.

I’m still editor for EN World EN5ider. We just celebrated our first year of producing 5e-compatible RPG content back in March! This is the publication that Russ Morrissey and I basically created from the ground up together, and it’s what allowed me to get my professional start in game design. It’s incredibly dear to me.

I published

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Adapting Princes of the Apocalypse to Tymor

Header_PotA_1.jpgTymor is a sword and sorcery world I created for my currently-running Tyranny of Dragons campaign. Instead of the kitchen-sink fantasy of the Forgotten Realms, I wanted to set the story of Tiamat’s return in a world inspired by Conan, Fallout, and Lord of the Rings. Tymor is a barbaric world that has just emerged from the Dragonwinter—an apocalyptic ice age caused by the ashes of Tiamat’s devastation—imbuing her return with a special horror.

But Tyranny of Dragons isn’t my focus anymore. Princes of the Apocalypse is the big man on campus now, and it’s blown me away. I plan to run it this summer for a new group of players, and the Tymor setting excites me enough to continue using it. The difficulty is that its lore is built completely around dragons and their tyranny, not Elemental Evil. How do I adapt my world to a completely different sort of adventure?

Advance the timeline. Four

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Spellcasters are too damn complicated

NPC spellcasters are, at least. I’m having a blast playing a dwarf abjurer in one of my 5th edition games, but I hate using casters as a Dungeon Master. They just have too many options.

Magic-users are renowned for their versatility. They wield a huge arsenal of spells, and can voluntarily change their class features just by taking a snooze. Unsurprisingly, this level of tactical flexibility is very attractive to veteran players. Adventurers never sit still. They explore sunken temples, flying castles, and everything in between. The adaptable adventurer is almost always more powerful than one whose abilities are set in stone.

An NPC with this level of versatility is a chore to DM. Unless your spell-casting monster is a major villain, they probably won’t ever need to adapt to new situations. They’ll probably only around for one encounter. Paizo Publishing warns their Pathfinder

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The Adventurer’s League calls for Writers!

The toughest part of my job as EN5ider magazine’s editor is having to turn down so much great content. Thanks to the overwhelming response from the EN World community (and the online RPG community at large), I’ve had my hands full trying to determine what articles and what writers are best for EN5ider at this moment in time, especially since we can only publish so many articles each month.

Which unfortunately means I’ve had to turn away a lot of great writers.

I have a guess why—because the bulk of the submissions I’ve received have been for adventures. Most people in the online RPG community are GMs or DMs or Storytellers, so they’re very used to creating adventures for their home groups. Many have ten, twenty, even thirty (dare I say forty?) years of experience creating adventures for their players at home.

And a lot of these adventures are great. All the same, I can only

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Moving Forward

I’ve entered 2015 very strongly. About a week ago, I was hired as the editor for EN World’s EN5ider magazine, a fifth edition-compatible e-zine. I’m incredibly excited to be a part of the EN5ider team, and I can’t wait to see this publication grow into something truly amazing.

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Almost three months ago I posted that I was creating a fifth edition-compatible adventure. Tentatively titled The Temple of Shattered Minds, it was all I focused on for the first six weeks after posting. I’m proud of the progress I’ve made and everything I’ve learned from working on it—even putting the words on paper has been an illuminating first look into the world of freelancing.

The reason I put Temple on hold was because I entered into Paizo’s annual RPG Superstar contest, which was my second look into the freelance business. The round 1 winners (“Top 32”) were announced about an hour ago, and

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I’m Going on an Adventure!

This blog has been gathering dust for the past few weeks, but not for lack of caring. Instead, I’m very proud to announce my latest project: I’m writing an unofficial adventure module for 5th edition D&D games! It’s tentatively titled The Temple of Shattered Minds.

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As a gamer, a writer, and an actor, I love to lavish detail on characters. I find character-driven stories to be much more personal and engaging than event-driven ones. Unfortunately, I’ve found that most D&D adventures, like the recently-published Hoard of the Dragon Queen, are of the latter variety. I want to prove that “story gaming” can exist outside the context of rules-light games like Spirit of the Century and narrative, GM-less games like Fiasco. That’s a worthy goal already, but I want to push that belief even farther. I believe that a story-driven gaming experience can be created even within the context of an

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Previously, on Dungeons & Dragons…

In my last post, I talked about what I learned from D&D developers Rodney Thompson, Greg Bilsland, and Chris Perkins over labor day weekend at [PAX Prime](prime.paxsite.com). Their panel, Art of the Dungeon Master, was a chance for me to learn about how the industry’s preeminent DMs run their games.

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Now, almost two weeks later, I’ve left home and returned to my regular gaming group at school. After a summer away, I think I could actually see the memories of last semester’s games dripping out of my players’ ears. I posted regular campaign journals last year, but I didn’t expect all my players to read through my summaries as classes kick into gear and homework starts to pile up. I desperately needed a fast, lightweight way to refresh my players’ collective memories and smoothly segue into the first session of the semester. My solution to this week’s problem blossomed from a seed

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Why not fight everything?

I had the opportunity this weekend to briefly speak with three of Dungeons and Dragons’ lead designers: Rodney Thompson, Greg Bilsland, and the most inspiring DM I’ve ever met, Chris Perkins. Their panel, “Art of the Dungeon Master,” an annual panel at PAX Prime was a window into minds of three of the world’s most avid D&D players.

Being a Dungeon Master is not an easy job; on top of the requisite dedication to the game and camaraderie with your players that every DM needs, a truly great game master needs to have a mind for math, a deep understanding of how the game works, an almost preternatural ability to read their players, great improvisational instincts, and the ability to love playing no matter what happens. Being good at making funny voices helps, too. Though I’ve never had the chance to play at Chris Perkins’ table, it’s clear from the live games he’s DMed that he has honed all

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Your campaign should be The Hobbit, not Lord of the Rings

Seamus Young of the Twenty Sided blog said it first: Lord of the Rings would make a terrible D&D campaign. But let’s talk about The Hobbit.

I first began playing D&D because of two webcomics: Seamus Young’s iconic DM of the Rings and Rich Burlew’s Order of the Stick. I have yet to read a webcomic that surpasses either. The former, a comedy about an epic saga gone wrong. The latter, a comedy that became an epic saga. Their influence overcame every obstacle in my way: the game’s time demands, its lingering social stigma, and even the then-high cost of entry meant little to me. My friends had the books, I had the desire, and we went boldly onwards towards adventure.
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Right out of the gates, I had a basic idea of when D&D is fun and when it’s not. Were Order of the Stick a record of a real game, and Rich Burlew its DM, not its author, it would still be a wild success. Why? Because his

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How to introduce new players to D&D (and keep them!)

Dungeons and Dragons fans everywhere are buzzing with excitement for the new edition of the world’s best-known RPG. With that in mind, I think it’s only fitting that the Mindflayer blog’s inaugural post shares my experiences with bringing new players to the table, and keeping them around for campaigns to come!

Before I go any further, I want to clarify that I mostly discuss Dungeons and Dragons on this blog. Other media, like films, video games, and other RPGs will also feature prominently, and while my opinions in this post can apply to any campaign-based RPG, my writing has a clear D&D focus.

New players are exciting. They are proof that someone, somewhere, will always want to tell stories and roll dice. I want new players to fall in love with the game, which is a blessing and a curse. Trying to ensure that a new player likes your game is stressful, because your creative soul is on

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