Dragongrin: A Dark Fantasy Campaign Setting (A Primer)

Dragongrin: A Dark Fantasy Campaign Setting (A Primer)

Tabletop Terrors


FEBRUARY 28, 2017


Dragongrin: A Dismal Overview

Evil reigns in the realm of Dragongrin. The Dismembered Lord extends his reach, heroes die beneath his steel, and the free lands kneel before his shadow. And though the dark forces rule largely unopposed – there are whispers of those who seek to do the impossible in Dragongrin – and attempt to rise as heroes.

The dark fantasy campaign setting of Dragongrin is located in Arbitron, the official shared-universe of Absolute Tabletop. Arbitron’s known realms are Dragongrin, Enchea, and Erenoth, which are all orbited by three moons (whose names vary depending on the realm you’re in). These realms are separated by a volatile arcane maelstrom known as the Bleak, making travel between them difficult and oftentimes deadly.

Cheating Death in Dragongrin: 11 Grisly Truths

  • Lightfall was the death of hope. In Dragongrin, evil reigns. The forces of good were decimated by the forces of darkness, falling to the military might of the Dismembered Lord in a series of catastrophic events known as Lightfall. The hand of the Dismembered Lord extends over the realm even today, and the shadow of his empire spreads like a sickness from the region of Grinn, threatening to snuff out any light that remains.
  • Being a hero will get you killed. Heroes are not welcome, as they bring unwanted attention and retribution from the forces of darkness. They fight a battle most consider already lost. By and large, the common people of Grinn do not welcome heroes readily, for they have witnessed the draconian punishments of the Dismembered Lord firsthand. Those who choose to take action against the evils of the land often do so alone. Many are quick to meet their own deaths – or worse. Those resilient enough to persist may catch the attention of one of the few revolutionary organizations that operate in insubordination of the Dismembered Lord – the Copper Jackals, the Peacemakers, or the Undying Light, to name a few.
  • Amidst the shadows, a Copper Sun rises. Points of dim sanctuary persist in a land of long, gnarled shadows – the greatest of which is the Copper Sun, a city that floats high above the terrors of the land. It is the capital city of the region of Innes, and though ransacked and cast earthbound during Lightfall, it is being rebuilt in secret. Having achieved flight again, the Copper Sun has risen to become a beacon of hope – though its light in the surrounding regions grows dimmer by the day. If you wander beyond the Copper Sun, you’re subject to either the feral law of the land, or the martial law of Grinn.
  • Imminence is the most powerful force that exists, yet is nearly impossible to wield. In Dragongrin, there are three primary sources of magic: arcane, divine, and Imminence. Imminence is a pre-creation energy source of endless potential and raw primeval power. It is a formless, shapeless force from which all creation was birthed eons ago. Its secrets were long lost to history until recently. Now unearthed, its volatile and untamable power holds limitless potential to those who can withstand it. From Imminence comes light, comes darkness, comes good, comes evil, comes everything in between. From Imminence comes all. Those who know of Imminence rightly fear it, and those rare few who command it can become unstoppable.
  • The Bleak is a festering magical maelstrom, and the source of arcane power. In many realms, the font from which arcane magic flows is ethereal and mysterious, but in Dragongrin, it is a physical force of nature that mars the land endlessly. Chaotic and volatile, it is an untamable, unforgiving maelstrom that transforms (or obliterates) everything it touches. The arcane energy that makes up the Bleak is believed to be the direct result of a laceration in Imminence itself, bleeding the Bleak onto the material plane from a great planar wound, eons old. The Bleak is more active and tangible in Dragongrin than most realms. Mostly prominent above the oceans of the realm, it commonly brings its unpredictable and destructive tempests to the landmasses of the realm in the form of Bleakstorms and Bleakrifts.
  • Eons ago, the world was shaped by a bloody supernatural war. The old stories speak of two godlike, opposing forces that shaped the world: the mighty, inspired Titans, and the potent, elemental Primordials. These immense and powerful beings are said to have emerged from Imminence itself, likely as manifestations of its strongest energies: creation and chaos. As polar opposites, the constructive Titans and the nihilistic Primordials clashed immediately and eternally – their brutal conflict resulting in the First War. No one knows exactly how this bloody “Godwar” ended, but neither race presently exists in the realms, though their advanced technologies and geological effects are evident, even today.
  • Relics of the past shape the present. Dragongrin is dotted with inexplicable wonders, traceable to a cryptic, ancient past. Be they geographic wonders such as the ancient caverns of Svir Below and the mechanical labyrinth known as Deepvault, or technological marvels such as the fusion of magic and technology called Archanics or the animated steel repositories of information known as the Tomehearts  – in Dragongrin, the wondrous past can often exist alongside the mundane in the land.
  • Dragongrin is a graveyard of dragons. The word grin is Titanspeak for “graveyard,” and the superstitious histories of the land have taken root, even in its name. The realm formerly known as Arthunvale is now more commonly called Dragongrin. Legends posit that the central landmass is the final resting place of the scattered and defeated ancient dragons, annihilated in the First War, with the northernmost region of Üldane made toxic and unlivable because of the concentration of long-buried dragon carcasses.
  • Dragongrin is the birthplace of the mighty Typhons. The dragons are said to have been formed by the Primordials to enact chaos in the First War. The Titans responded to this threat with perhaps their greatest creation: the mighty Typhons. The Typhons were cunning, powerful, and benevolent creatures, rivaling the wyrms and even the primordials in their abilities. Besting the dragons in the final battle of the First War, no one knows exactly what happened to these powerful creatures, though they have been absent from the realms for centuries. The Typhons are now creatures of myth and legend – but the common folk of Dragongrin still watch the skies, praying for the day that they might return to save them.
  • As the Bleak festers, the space between planes grows restless. Like any untreated wound, there are ghastly consequences of the Bleak endlessly seeping into the material plane. Darker, more eternal evils that slumber between the fabric of the realms are beginning to stir, and forces that have not been reckoned with for millennia are slowly turning their immortal gazes to this fissure into the material planes.
  • The existence of the gods is unproven. No mortal knows if the gods truly exist, though many in Dragongrin wield power that they believe is divine. Many temples and churches existed and thrived before Lightfall, though they’re now much fewer in number, presumably because of the high risk that comes with proclaiming one’s self as a beacon of faith. Though there is no empirical evidence proving or disproving the existence of deities in Dragongrin, those who believe in the gods tend to do so vehemently, while naysayers posit that anything “divine” can easily be explained by the technology of the Titans, or even simple magic. One thing is certain, however: no matter what one may believe, there are holy warriors in the realm, and though they are few, they are irrefutably drawing their power from something.

What is a Grin in this realm?

Published Books

Explore the realm of Dragongrin with our digital and physical RPG books here. We have books on traps, races, a super-dungeon (and its surrounding culture), and brand new paramilitary character classes.


Rooftop Chase Scene

Rooftop Chase Scene



OCTOBER 6, 2017


My homegroup uses miniatures and terrain for the majority of our gaming. We enjoy the tactile immersion and strategic thinking it brings to combat. And, for me, it harkens back to my days as a kid, playing with action figures and the amazing playsets that you could purchase – sadly, always separately. And once I discovered the realm of cardboard and foam terrain wizardry on YouTube, I knew that I wanted to try my hand at it. And I was already preparing to take the reins of my table for a longterm Oriental Adventures campaign set in my homebrew world or Rostfin.

One of the first set pieces that I wanted for White Lotus, Black Jade was a rooftop chase – the party scrambling across the clay-tiled slopes of a grand cityscape, in pursuit of a horde of masked ninja. It is a staple of wuxia films and legends, and I thought it would be an interesting collection of terrain to create.

I had seen crafters use cardboard for corrugated tin roofs and walls before, so I was pretty sure this would work out before I even started. However, one of the biggest issues with the build was the steepness of the sloped rooftops – a miniature wouldn’t stand a chance of… well, standing on them if I made them exactly as they appear in real life. So, instead, I flattened them out and settled on having layers represent the change in elevation (as well as to help sort out a rough “grid” for judging distance).

Starting with single-layered cardboard, I peeled the paper off of one side, and glued them down in a variety of shapes and sizes in order to cover the entire tabletop with roofs – long thin walls, large buildings, small pagodas, a building with an open courtyard, etc. I even built a separate guard tower in 3D, because I played on having a surprise tucked away there for the players to interact with.

There are a few things that I would do differently, if I was to tackle this project again, but overall I was very happy with the way they turned out.

Throughout the chase, when the party reached the edge of what was represented, we just shifted the rooftops still involved to the other end of the table and out the removed pieces back down into a different arrangement ahead of the chase.

As for running the actual chase itself, I took some inspiration from the Chase Deck put out by Paizo and created a d20 table (seen below) that everyone would roll on at the end of every turn. The result of this roll would then apply to whomever came after them in the initiative order – friend or foe.

I then allowed everyone the ability to take the Dash action as a bonus action (with rogues being able to reduce that to a free action by using the Cunning Action feature). Each character could do this for a number of turns equal to 3 plus their Constitution modifier, before they would begin taking levels of exhaustion.

In the end, this encounter was incredibly fun and was worth every hour spent on making these rooftop pieces. It was something that I had never seen done before at the table, so it proved to be unique and memorable. Even now, about a year later, I still think about how well it worked out… and get a big, stupid grin on my face.

Roll Obstacle Option 1 Fail 1 Option 2 Fail 2
1 A Guard Shoots resolved as 1 attack (+4 to hit; 1d8+2 piercing damage)
2 Loose/Wet Tiles Acro @14 prone Ath @16 prone
3 Paper Lanterns CON @14 1d4 fire damage Perc @ 10 lose quarry
4 Particulates CON @12 blind Natu @ 8 blind
5 Townsfolk Throw Stuff resolved as 4 attacks (+1 to hit; 1d4+1 bludgeoning damage)
6 Loose Vegetables/Rocks Acro @14 10′ diff. terrain Insig @10 10′ diff. terrain
7 Coming Through STR @10 10′ diff. terrain Hist @14 10′ diff. terrain
8 Gust of Wind STR @14 moved (1d3)x5 ft. Natu @10 moved (1d3)x5 ft.
9 Clothesline Perc @12 lose quarry Acro @16 entangled
10 Weak Spot Acro @16 fall thru; speed 0 Ath @12 fall thru; speed 0
11-20 No obstacle n/a n/a n/a n/a

Jeremy “Erasmas” Lilley

Find me on YouTube, on the channel The Erasmas Expeditions!


70-Year-Olds Play D&D for the First Time (and Love it)

70-Year-Olds Play D&D for the First Time (and Love it)


Sean is 26 years old, and he runs a game of D&D for people in their 70’s – who just started playing. Read their story below.


(With a bonus interview with the players themselves at the end of the article.)


From left to right: Maureen the Human Fighter, Margiella the High Elf Wizard, Darrak the Dwarven Cleric, Kangaroo the Human Fighter, and Jeffro the Halfling Rogue

Tabletop Terrors: So Sean – your players seem to be a bit more “seasoned” than most—what’s the median age of your players not including you?


Sean: Well it’s a good thing I’m not included here because I would certainly bring down the age a bit, being 26. My grandma is 72, my grandpa is 71, and I’m not exactly sure how old their neighbors are (and I feel like I might lose a couple players if I ask!) but they are in their early-to-mid 60s. We also picked up my mom once she heard about the fun everyone else was having. She’s 51 so that puts our median age at about 63.


It seems like you’re having an absolute blast – what made you decide to try to get these wonderful folks to play D&D?


Honestly they were the ones that pushed for it. I was down at my grandparent’s shore house a few weeks ago relaxing and drawing some maps for another group’s campaign. My grandma asked about what I was doing, and I explained that it was for D&D. She said, “Oh we’d like to play, we love games!”


I actually tried to talk her out of it at first, thinking it would be a waste of time because there was no way that my grandparents would ever be interested in playing D&D. But they pushed the issue and invited me over for dinner, telling me to bring everything I would need for them to play.


I think if I was the one that pushed it on them rather than having them be the driving force behind playing, they never would have gotten into it.


What rules system are you using?


We’re playing Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition with a little homebrew here and there (mostly because when I don’t know a rule I just try to make something up that sounds fair and then stick with it rather than spend 10 minutes searching through the rulebook).


Are you running pre-made adventures, or making up your own stories? Similarly, are you using pre-generated characters, or did everyone roll their own up?


I’m running them through the 5e starter set campaign, Lost Mines of Phandelver. I may throw in some of my own sidequests here and there if I think of anything they may be interested, but for the most part we’ll probably just stick with LMoP. They’re using the pre-gen characters that come with the starter set, but only for the stats and abilities. I had them decide what their characters’ personalities were like, what drives them to go off and adventure, and what flaws their characters may have that could be problematic. I think they did a great job coming up with their backstories and I also think that by letting them decide on their backgrounds, it helped to get them more invested in the story.


Is everyone using your books and dice, or have any of the players made the leap into buying their own adventuring gear?


For now everyone is using my books and dice. I have enough dice for everyone to have their own set while we play, and I give them the starter set rulebook to use so they can look up their own spells or check on rules that they have questions about. Meanwhile I have the Player’s Handbook on my side of the screen. The plan is for us to play pretty consistently, at least for the next few months. I personally don’t mind them using my stuff for as long as they want, but I could see them wanting to get their own gear as they get more into it.


What has surprised you the most about this endeavor?


I would say I’m most surprised by my grandpa and how he has taken to the game. Out of everyone that’s playing, he is the one that I least expected to get really into his character. He’s a tough guy who has certainly done his share of manual labor, but he’s playing a sneaky, Halfling rogue named Jeffro. He’s really dived in headfirst and has even texted me to talk about his character’s backstory in between sessions.


What has been the most challenging thing that you’ve come up against while trying to play with this group? How did you overcome them?


I think at the end of the day, this group provides a lot of the same challenges that any group of first time players would provide. It’s a balance of simplifying the game in a way that they can learn the rules as they go while still not losing the depth that makes D&D so great.


Right now I think the biggest challenge I’m dealing with is just going to be getting them all on the same page. They are thinking of themselves as individuals – all of them are the heroes of their own story – and that’s not totally a bad thing because it’s helped them get into character. At some point though, they’re going to need to really work together to overcome some tougher challenges. I think they will, though. They’re all smart people, and part of learning the game is learning how your character can synergize with the rest of the group (in terms of decision-making and also in the use of abilities in combat).


The other challenge is going to be finding ways to motivate them in ways other than gold. So far their first question to NPCs asking for favors has been, “how much will you pay us?” Gold is a great motivator, especially for new players, but my hope is that the intrigue of the story starts to cause them to make decisions based off of a desire for information more than for coin. That’s not totally on them though; if I do a good job as DM, that change should happen naturally.


What has been the most rewarding thing?


The most rewarding thing for me as a DM is always just to see my players have fun. That’s true of any group, and even moreso with a group that I didn’t expect to really get into the game the way my grandparents did. I am fortunate to have a really good relationship with them, and being able to share something with them that brings me as much joy as D&D does is awesome.


In general, it’s just really cool being able to play D&D with them. Most people my age who spend time with their grandparents probably have to compromise a bit when it comes to activities. Mine have fortunately always been cooler than the stereotype of what people think of when it comes to older relatives, but this definitely makes Tuesday dinners at their house a lot more interesting.


Here’s the DM himself, Sean




We were able to ask a few of the players their thoughts on D&D. We posed the same three questions to all of them:


1.) What surprised you the most about playing D&D?

2.) What did you find the most challenging?

3.) What is your favorite thing about D&D?



Maureen the Human Fighter’s Answers


  1. What surprised me most was even though the names are unusual, I found it easy to follow.


  1. The most challenging thing was following my team when I wanted to take a different path.


  1. My favorite thing is how everyone embraces their characters and fits into their roles.


Margiella the High Elf Wizard’s Answers


  1. I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed the adventure. I was not sure when we first started but it challenges your thought process and makes your brain think of strategies to win.


  1. The most challenging thing is deciding how to fight the enemy and what is the best weapon to use.


  1. My most favorite thing about D & D is that you can play with others as a team and work together to make decisions. We played last night and had a lot of laughs on the adventure. It was obvious that some of our decisions went badly, but we all still laughed about it. This is a game that can bring together people of all ages to have a great time. My grandson is the host and in his twenties, so it is especially enjoyable for me to be able to have that time with him at this point in our lives. I can’t wait for our next game.


Jeffro the Halfling Rogue’s Answers


  1. The biggest surprise to me was the intricacy of how the game plays out and how your

choices help to move the game along.


  1.  The most challenging thing is as a new player it’s getting familiar with my character and what he is capable of doing.


  1.  The thing I enjoy most the molding of my character to what I feel he is supposed to be like.



If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the the Tabletop Terrors: RPG Inspiration YouTube channel. You can also support this site by going to Absolute Tabletop and purchasing one of our books.


Need some inspiration? Check out our bulleted eNewsletter 5 Crit Friday.


Send feedback to @tabletopterrors on Twitter or email us using the form below.


Gygax vs. Arenson – Who Invented Dungeons & Dragons?

Gygax vs. Arneson – Who Invented Dungeons & Dragons?

Who really invented roleplaying games? New information has come to light.

Hear how an internet argument turned into a feature length film, Secrets of Blackmoor.


This is an interview with the directors of Secrets Of Blackmoor, which is a controversial look at the alleged true origins of the tabletop roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons.

Watch a sneak peek trailer for the film at the end of this article.

Secrets of Blackmoor: First off. Thanks for doing this interview with us Nathan.


Nathan: You’re very welcome. I appreciate you taking time out of post-production to chat. How would you describe this movie?


Secrets of Blackmoor: It’s the story of a bunch of college kids in Minnesota in the sixties and seventies. All these kids are war gamers. Somehow they stumble onto an old game manuscript from after the civil war. They try it out and immediately discover that the rules aren’t working for them, so they make up their own rules to fix what they think is broken. In time they develop a unique play style that is all their own. Their ideas evolve into a game called Dungeons & Dragons, by Gary Gygax and David Arneson.

There, you don’t even need to go see the movie now.


Nathan: So along the same train of thought, how did you stumble into this project? What inspired it?


Secrets of Blackmoor: Henceforth, the filmmakers shall answer all your questions thusly: When the Owl Bear guzzles a moth finger’s eyebrow.


It’s embarrassing to admit that the whole thing began as an argument online. How’s that for stupid? Can we go back to the previous answer now?


Nathan: As much as I love owlbears, let’s stick to your embarrassing story.


Secrets of Blackmoor: Both of us were gamers when we were teens. Neither of us had been in touch with the gaming community for a long time. We weren’t aware of the whole Gygaxians vs Arnesonians drama; to us, D&D is Gary Gygax and David Arneson, because that’s what it says on the little white box.


One of us wandered into a gaming discussion online, and made the biggest mistake you can make on a public forum — he brought up Dave Arneson. The discussion immediately exploded into a flame war. People were even calling him dirty names.


All this rage is really interesting and this makes you ask questions. Why do people hate someone that they don’t even know? What are all these people scared of?


That argument brought us to the attention of someone who knew Dave Arneson, Kevin McColl. He put us in contact with the guys who run The Come Back Inn blog, Havard and Raphael.


That kind of sums it up, it was all an accident that can be attributed to an internet flame war, and a chance meeting with someone who actually knew Dave.


And then of course we made the really dumb mistake of revealing that we are filmmakers.


It’s just an accident. We like to blame Kevin. Damn you Kevin!!!

Nathan: So now you’ve got the catalyst for your subject. Why did you decide to do a movie about Dave Arneson and not Gary Gygax?


Secrets of Blackmoor: Gary Gygax is the star of Dungeons & Dragons. His story is out there already. It is an easy story to tell.


Dave Arneson is a mystery. That makes him more compelling. It’s like mapping a dungeon; what’s behind the door? It just draws you in, and you want to find out more about him.


Nathan: Having seen portions of a number of the interviews you’ve done, and the supporting documents and artifacts you used to tell the story, you’ve clearly taken the task of telling Dave’s story seriously. What made you want to tell the story of these gamers with such great care and detail?


Secrets of Blackmoor: We’re not sure about care and detail. We’re mostly just faking our way through it.


Nathan: C’mon now! I’m not buying it.


Secrets of Blackmoor: Ok, Kevin had Dave’s address book. So we picked up the phone, and cold called all these people who were somehow involved with Dave, either through business, or as friends.


Neither of us has done a feature length documentary, so it was a learning process. There was a lot of kick yourself in the pants, and make things happen. Sometimes you wake up and your day can seem daunting, so all you can do is say to yourself, “I am going to make one really important phone call today, or I am going to review those notes today.” It’s always just baby steps. Before you know it, you’ve been working on a project for years and all those little baby steps add up to something massive.


Sorry, we’re going off subject huh?

Nathan: Like any project worth doing, it should seem daunting; and I agree that baby steps are the key. But let’s get back to the phone calls. What was that like?

Secrets of Blackmoor: Our first cold call was to David Wesely. Put yourself in our shoes, you’re a gamer and you are calling the inventor of role playing games; who also happens to be one of Dave Arneson’s best friends.


You feel really small, your heart is pounding, and your mouth goes dry.


That’s what it was like.


And then it turned out that Wesely was more than pleased to talk with us, although he probably didn’t think we were really going to make a movie. We’re pretty sure he thought we were just gamer fan boys scoring bragging points with our friends.


Nathan: Yea, I can imagine he’s had his share of that from the conventions he’s visited, although he just loves to talk. It’s a Minnesotan thing I think (that’s where I’m from too). So what was next?


Secrets of Blackmoor: After 6 months of doing research on the internet and harassing people all over the country, we decided that our next step was to go to Minnesota and shoot interviews. Up to this point we weren’t sure we would even do a movie.


Once we got there, we tried really hard to keep a bubble of indifferent objectivity going. We were trying to act how we thought journalists should act.


It didn’t take long for that whole plan to fall apart. If you sit with David Wesely and chat about everything under the sun, you just end up liking him so much that you can’t be distant observers anymore. The same goes for all the other people from that group of gamers. They are all very wonderful and kind people, and you get to know them and they get to know you.

Nathan: I’ve also had the privilege of gaming with a number of those gents and they do quickly make their way into your heart. Do you think these positive interactions changed the movie?


Secrets of Blackmoor: Completely, the gamers forced us to change how we did it.


After the journalist act failed, we didn’t have any barriers between us, we even gamed together. These are our friends. We care about them. You can tell that by watching the interviews.


When you watch the trailer, their eyes are smiling, you can’t fake that.


Nathan: Could you tell me more about the people you interviewed? Was there a theme that you discovered during the interview process?


Secrets of Blackmoor: At this point, we’ve sat with many of the original war gamers from the core group. We want to keep the names of some of the people secret for now. We love secrets.


The really big themes are pretty easy to define. There is a pathology in the evolution of these games, and it’s been lying in plain sight for decades; only a few people seem to have noticed. That would be the main theme, but there are also other themes.


Nathan: Did these themes help you make the film?


Secrets of Blackmoor: When you make a film, knowing what the story is going to be about isn’t good enough. You need to establish a process for your inquiry. We began with overarching questions.


Is the popular mythology about these games going to stand up to the documents and interviews we conduct? How are these two things different?


It’s the differences that matter.


Nathan: Did you discover some “myths” that needed to be dealt with?


Secrets of Blackmoor: It really comes down to these:


  • Gary Gygax invented role playing games when he created Dungeons and Dragons.


  • David Wesely was the originator of the role playing concept with Braunstein.


  • Dave Arneson and his Blackmoor game had nothing to do with the invention of Dungeons and Dragons.


Those are the core statements that drive the whole movie. It’s almost a logic puzzle.


Nathan: Gamers get into near religious wars over these statements!


Secrets of Blackmoor: Yeah, these are sort of boring circular arguments, but you end up with a lot of these types of assertions that you want to test. You also have to ask yourself the inverse of every premise, or you can end up blinding yourself. Sometimes the popular mythology in these stories reveals something that isn’t necessarily a binary answer.


Nathan: What do you mean by non binary answers,could you say more about that?


Secrets of Blackmoor: Here is a good example:

Are the individuals who created these games the most important element for this process?


We found that the players are just as important as the game designers in creating a game. This is not a yes/no result. It points to synergy. It’s creator multiplied by players.


Sure, there are people within the group who create the ideas for role playing games, yet it really takes the entire group to preserve that knowledge and make it flourish. There are several places in their history where someone invented something and it didn’t work. In fact, this really is a story of games that didn’t work; otherwise they wouldn’t have needed to keep changing them.


With every game they did, it’s the same story. Everyone in the group is willing to try it, and after it’s discovered that it did not work, they make suggestions that produce more refined attempts with the idea; so there are feedback loops in how the group functions as an organism.


When you examine the Twin Cities gamers as a whole, they are what we call an “incubator” in contemporary terms. In their case it is spontaneous and intuitive. They “incubated” ideas as an organic process within their group. You see it in the way each of their games is produced; Wesely’s game Braunstein has the same development process as Arneson’s Blackmoor game does, the same goes for every design that came out of that group of gamers.


Maybe this isn’t a theme, but a mechanism. What we see are patterns in how the group is solving problems.


We hope we aren’t being too wonky with that answer. It’s really hard to talk about what these guys do in layman language. The amount of study they did in game theory and history is expansive; so when you try to explain what is going on with them, you end up talking about behaviorism and cognition. That is what makes this so compelling for us, and has kept us focused on this project.

Nathan: What surprised you the most in the making of this documentary?


Secrets of Blackmoor: We’ve been working on this project for several years now. Perhaps the hardest thing to comprehend at first, is that although RPG’s germinate with this bunch of players, none of them seems to have a vocabulary to describe what they have done. They all use coded gamer babble; it doesn’t explain a thing, it’s useless in a movie.


At the same time, we’ve both been gaming since the 70’s, and we never could explain what a role playing game is to anyone either. Go ask a friend to explain to you what a role playing game is — they can’t do it!


This was a problem for us as film makers. We needed to explain what these games are through our interviews. The guys weren’t doing a good job of it at all. They can talk about war game rules and concepts, but role playing is a complete mystery to them. It was frustrating. Then we got this odd thought: we decided to focus on what their wives were saying. We went back and reviewed their interviews, and that’s when we got a break through in our research.


Go watch the trailer, and you’ll see Gail Gaylord say, “There was so much make-believe; that was the best part.” No guy is going admit that he plays hours upon hours of make-believe; us male gamers have collectively expunged that phrase from our brains, it isn’t macho enough.


We will add that Rob Kuntz does talk about children’s games; he is seeing that connection. He is an exception, but he is also a very lateral thinker; which makes him fun to be around, by the way.


Back to the dude-ness problem. Both directors on this film are men. Our approach is limited by that filter. We’ve now added an editor to our crew. Our editor is a woman. It wasn’t planned that we would use a woman editor; she was just the best fit for our team. She is showing us important elements that we seem to have missed, and she isn’t a gamer.


To answer your original question: The ladies didn’t have any preconceptions about what was going on, so their insight into the story is different; that was what blew our minds.


You can expect to see several of the ladies in the film.

Nathan: Did you know Dave Arneson? If yes: What do you remember about him, and what do you hope people will remember about him? If no: How would you describe him and the legacy he left behind?


Secrets of Blackmoor: We never met Dave.


Ooph! That’s kind of a tough question. Would you want someone to sum you up as a person in just a couple sentences?


We only know Dave through his friends. We can infer a lot about Dave from knowing them. Dave is one of the good ones.


As far as his legacy is concerned. His legacy is still under attack, so it is actively being obfuscated and denied. How long has it taken for people to know who Nikola Tesla is?


Nathan: So how do you start to tackle that controversy? Where does the truth lie in relation to the rhetoric that’s out there today?


Secrets of Blackmoor: If you really listen to people you can find out a lot about how things were within gaming circles back then.  


When we were with Rob Kuntz, we brought up Bill Hoyt in conversation. Rob’s face lit up. He was in shock, “You talked to Bill? I haven’t seen him in ages, he’s always fun to hang around with. How’s he doing?” Bill and Rob lived in different states back then, but they knew each other via gaming. It shows you how connected all the original people are, from back before Dungeons & Dragons even exists; so it’s tough to be harsh on Gary, even if we are doing a film on Arneson. All of these guys are part of this little community of gamers and are part of this story.


Before things go bad between them, Dave and Gary are thick as thieves, they are constantly talking on the phone; people need to remember that.


If you do a lot of interviews you get a sense for when you are just talking, and when a deep truth is coming from someone’s heart. We’re paraphrasing, but here is nice quote from the movie, “All we want, is for people to know that these two brilliant men came together, and created something wonderful for all of us to enjoy.”

Nathan: Can you tell me more about when we will be seeing the full-length film, and how can people learn more?

Secrets of Blackmoor:

See a sneak peek trailer for the film here:


D&D Evil? These Guys Don’t Look Like Satanists…

D&D Evil? These Guys Don’t Look Like Satanists…



AUGUST 27, 2017


“You guys don’t look like Satanists…”

How did a kid raised in a conservative Christian home end up playing Dungeons & Dragons with three men who were there when the game was a set of house-rules?

Nathan (top), David (left), Stephen (center), and Pete (right)

It was the month of my birthday, and I had only one wish – I wanted to play Dungeons & Dragons with living legends.

I had been gaming at the home of Major (Retired) David A. Wesely for a few weeks now, and an opening in “what should we play next time?” appeared. I shamelessly made my plea.

“How about another Naval Thunder scenario? Italians vs. Brits again?” said one of the group members.

“Nah, we’ve done that the last two weeks,” said another.

“What about En Garde? I made copies of the 70’s rules for everyone and I’d be happy to run it!” I chimed in.

“I really don’t care for that game. It’s a dinosaur of an RPG. The mechanics are too stiff,” yet one more voice added.

“How about some D&D?”

David Wesely holding his original Dungeons & Dragons brown box.

The last suggestion was made by Pete M. Gaylord, and accompanied by a mischievous raising of his bushy eyebrows from behind his wire rimmed glasses. Pete was a former Marine on a vessel in Cuba during the 1960’s missile crisis. He was also the first mage in a fantasy roleplaying game. Ever.

I didn’t hesitate to jump on the chance to lay out my case.

“You know guys, next week is my birthday, and I would have bragging rights for a lifetime if I got the chance to play some D&D with you all.”

Without much more conversation, everyone agreed, and I was beyond ecstatic when the consensus was to play a game of D&D the next time we met.

Pete, Stephen the Rock, and David were all around when what is today known as “Dungeons & Dragons” was more simply known as a set of house-rules played on a ping-pong table called “Blackmoor.”

Picture of Pete holding up his signed copy of Dave Arneson’s Blackmoor, with personalized signature.

As game night drew closer, I decided to dress for such a historic occasion (at least for me). Stephen the Rock is known for often arriving well dressed, with a bow-tie, vest, and jacket. He is the definition of a gentleman-gamer. I decided to try and emulate his example. I found a vest, jacket, slacks, dress shoes, and bow-tie with a dragon and D20 print on it.

David (left), Stephen (center), and Pete (right)

Character sheets made their way around the table. Townsfolk were questioned. Swords were drawn. Dungeons were delved. And my birthday wish, granted.

As the evening of adventure drew to a close, it was clear that this was one of the best birthday gifts I could have ever asked for. And as these three from the original group of roleplaying pioneers sat together

I jokingly commented: “You guys don’t look like satanists.”

Laughter erupted and feigned mischievous looks were made by some. When things calmed down a little, Stephen the Rock reflected on an old memory.

He said, “You know, I remember being at a convention years ago and a mom came up to me and said to me ‘Isn’t this game demonic?’ I told her, ‘No ma’am. This is a game for intelligent men and women. It teaches them problem solving skills, it uses their imaginations, and is a healthy social activity.’

She told me, ‘Well, okay then,’ and walked away.”

Picture of Dave’s “D&D” cardboard box, holding the original D&D brown box.

It was clear to me also, that everything I had been told as a child about this game was wrong. These men who were there when it was all just a set of house rules played in basements in the Twin Cities were of the highest intelligence, manners, courtesy, and friendliness. And they had remained this way for close to 50 years or more.

If being like these fine men meant being wrongfully labeled as “evil” or “satanic” by misinformed individuals and groups, I would be humbled to be lumped into the same marching order in a 10ft wide by 10ft high corridor. “Always march forward. Keep pressing forward,” Stephen the Rock’s halfling-thief Ullan put it.


Geek & Sundry Features Tabletop Terrors

Geek & Sundry Features Tabletop Terrors


James and I thought someone was playing a joke on us.


Surely someone photoshopped our thumbnail into the Geek & Sundry article that Matt Click shared in our Facebook Chat. “Hardey har har,” I said out loud to myself – until I clicked on the link. Turns out, it wasn’t a gag.


Jim Moreno of Geek & Sundry included Tabletop Terrors in his How to Learn How to Play Dungeons and Dragons the Easy Way.


“In this short video, Tim and James tell you everything required to learn to play D&D. With their jovial and very relatable manner, they share the core basics of play, backed up with fantasy and real-world examples and scenarios that I easily follow along with.”


                                                                                                          – Jim Moreno

                                                                                                         Geek & Sundry


I’ve heard that Rule #1 of being noticed is to play it cool, and don’t gush. But I also know that for James and me, Rule #0 is to just be genuine, and this was one of the coolest things to happen to us all year – so we’re going to gush a little. Thanks again, Jim, and to all of you amazing people who care about what our big mouths have to say.


May Your Dice Roll High,


// Tim


Fate’s Gavel – A Real, Metal D20 Mace

Join us as we interview Sam, a super cool guy who used welding and metalworking to forge a real-life, d20 mace that he so lovingly named Fate’s Gavel.

Question 1: So Sam, where did you learn to make weapons? That’s not something you pick up as an elective in college…

Sam: I wouldn’t say I formally learned how to make weapons. This is the only instance I can think of where I made something that could be considered a weapon. I’m passionate about welding/metalworking, and have an active imagination. Those two things go very well together.

Question 2: Do you make combat grade weapons as well, or do you specialize in the awesome aesthetics you achieve?

Hmm. I’d be lying if I said I knew what is required for something like this to be deemed combat grade. I understand when it comes to blade working, with heat treating/tempering etc, but that doesn’t apply here.

I can say that these d20 maced could certainly destroy even the toughest of watermelons and pumpkins! So if you’re battling a pumpkin then yes, they are combat grade. I am welder by trade, and they are welded to a high standard. I back purged the insides with argon for full fusion on all the joints.

Question 3: So how in the world did you get the idea to make a d20 mace?

The idea came from somebody asking how much I would charge to make them one. They bailed, but I eventually decided I really needed to make one anyway.

I posted an unfinished product to reddit, and it blew up! I had a number of people interested in buying one, so I decided to make a batch of 10 for my etsy store. I plan on making different handles for them to sell separately, like a flail and a staff.

Question 4: Okay, so can you walk us through the process of making a d20 mace – in layman’s terms?

Alright, there are quite a few steps to this. Here goes!

Step 1: I made my life easier and had a bunch of 3.5″ equal triangles laser cut. I was cutting them by hand, but even half a degree off will ruin the whole shape. It sucked. The laser cut triangles are accurate to .004″!

Step 2: Tack weld a 1/2″ nut to each of the 20 triangles for equal weight. This also makes it roll better. A hole is drilled through one of them for the handle. [Editor’s Note: We love the fact that Sam was concerned about how well this metal d20 would roll. A true gamer.]

Step 3: I tack them all into shape. With help of the 137.2° jig I made.

Step 4: I hook up the back purge system and purge the inside with argon gas. Then I fuse weld all the seems. The purge will create a nice weld all the way through, making the entire shape one piece.

Step 5: Clean it up! I use an air grinder with red scotch Brite pads. Then switch to blue Scotch Brite for final clean up.

Step 6: Etching. I apply vinyl number stencils, leaving the only exposed steel as the numbers. Put them in a salt water bath, get out the battery charger and hook up the positive to the d20, and negative to a piece of steel submerged in the bath. Then run it on 12 volts/10amps for around 7 minutes. It’s probably overkill from what I’ve read about the process, but it creates a really nice, deep etch.

Step 7: The handle. Cut a piece of 1-1/4″ oak, stain and clear coat. I weld 1/2″ threaded rod to a washer, and the washer to a piece of steel pipe. Drill a 3/16″ hole through the pipe and wood, and hammer in a steel pin. I then clean it up on the lathe. For the pommel cap I do the same thing, minus the threaded rod, and instead bolt it through the bottom.


Step 8: Celebrate!!

And there you have it. Special thanks to Sam for taking time out of his busy production schedule to answer our questions and show those steps in detial.

If you’re interested in getting your very own d20 mace (or any of the other incredible pieces that he crafts by hand), support Sam at his Etsy store here!

Sam would also love to hear from you if you have any ideas regarding a custom order. He really enjoys making people’s ideas reality, and he’d love to hear from you. Click here to send him an introductory email!

If you enjoyed this article, you might enjoy the the Tabletop Terrors: RPG Inspiration YouTube channel – we’d love to have you as a YouTube subscriber.

You can also support this site by going to Absolute Tabletop and purchasing one of our tabletop RPG splatbooks/supplements.

Need some inspiration? Check out our bulleted eNewsletter 5 Crit Friday.

Send feedback to us using the email form below.


Unlocking the Mystery of DND5E Challenge Ratings

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a couple of people message me who were having some issues with Challenge Rating (CR) in 5th edition. The thing that was frustrating them was they were forgetting that CR has taken on a slightly different identity in 5th Edition.

In D&D 5e, a monster’s Challenge Rating simply means “you must be at least this tall to fight this monster fairly”. In other words, if you have a group of characters lower than the monsters CR, then things could get messy quickly.

You CAN (and should) use the CR number if you’re looking to build a straightforward combat encounter where 4 characters (whose level matches the monster’s challenge rating) will be fighting that monster by itself, working together.

So how do you build encounters that aren’t that straightforward? Well, you spend an XP budget. The XP value of the monsters is like a price to use them in an encounter, and that’s truly what you need to be looking at to know if your encounter is balanced.

So let’s build an Encounter, and I’ll show you how the CR and XP work together to create balance.

Here’s a quick rundown on how you can spend your XP budget that we talked about above.

Step 1 – In spending our XP budget, we need to decide the encounter’s difficulty level. In the Dungeon Masters Guide (DMG) the options we have are “Easy”, “Medium”, “Hard” and “Deadly” (you could almost think of those as “Cheap” “Average” “Overpriced” or “Expensive” if you want to stick to budgetary terms). For the sake of this example, I’d like to use some Level 3 characters, and build a Hard (Overpriced) encounter for them.

Step 2 – How do we know how much XP we have to spend on this encounter? What’s our budget? You find this out by simply referring to a table in the DMG called the “Encounter Difficulty XP per Character” table. This is your price guide, and it tells you what you can spend. Since we’re building a Hard (or Overpriced) encounter, the table tells us that we get 225 XP to spend per character for what we’re trying to do. This means that our Total XP Budget for building this encounter is 900 XP, since we have 4 players (225 XP each).

Step 3 – There are some things that can make the cost increase as you’re spending your XP budget. Adding multiple monsters is one such upcharge. I’m not going to sugar coat it… adding monsters gets expensive fast. If you want to add multiple monsters, it can be tricky, but follow me here, and I’ll show you how to do it. The first thing you need to do is see how much of an upcharge adding more monsters is going to be. Simlarly to how we found out our initial budget, we’re going to referring to another table. This second table is called the “Encounter XP Multipliers” table. On that table, find the number of monsters you want to add to your encounter, and it will give you a multiplier. Once you have this multiplier, you go back to your Total XP Budget from Step 2, and divide it by this number. (So since our Total XP Budget was 900 XP, that is the number we would divide by the number we got off of the “Encounter XP Multipliers” table).


Clear as mud?


For example: Let’s say I want to use 3 to 6 monsters for this particular encounter I’m building. When I look at the “Encounter XP Multipliers” table, it tells me I need to divide my Total XP Budget of 900 XP by 2. This gives me my new budget. So instead of having the original 900 XP to spend, I now have 450 XP instead. Sure it’s a cut in budget, but now I can use multiple monsters (between 3 and 6, to be exact). Hopefully that all made sense. It’s pretty simple once you get the hang of it.


Step 4 – Hey remember the Challenge Rating from before? The one that started this entire conversation? Well here’s where that REALLY comes into play. Now that I can choose 3 to 6 monsters whose XP value is no more than 450 XP combined, I need to be sure not to choose any monsters whose Challenge Rating is greater than 3. Why? Because the party is made up of four 3rd Level adventurers.

OH! And here’s something really important: even though you’ve divided your Total XP Budget to create the encounter with multiple monsters, dropping it to 450 XP, your players still get credit for the full amount of the Total XP Budget you started with—so in this case, your players would still get 900 XP, not 450 XP.


Hopefully that all makes sense, and clears things up. It’s a pretty basic system once you get the hang of it, but it can be REALLY tricky at first. = )


May your dice roll high,


// Tim


Breaking Immersion? Laser Pointer Villain Eyes

I just watched Rob’s video over at Performance Check (be sure to subscribe– he’s a handsome, witty Brit whose advice drips with delicious charisma and a genuine good nature).

In the video, he mentions something that he calls Reality Crash — essentially, the effect that anachronisms have on the level of immersion in a tabletop roleplaying session.

This is something that James and I have discussed at length (and James just admits to doing often). So here’s the big question: does this help a game, or hurt it?

Sometimes the best way to describe something is to use an immediate, shared frame of reference. I had the pleasure to play in Rob’s Lorekeeper game, so I experienced the description that he’s talking about in his video first hand. (Check out the first session of the Lorekeepers here.)

In Rob’s video, he mentions that the villain’s eye scans our intrepid adventurers, hitting our retinas like a laser pointer. And do you know what? I knew exactly what he meant, and imagined it immediately. There was arguably no quicker way to get me there mentally. So in this case, it was spot on.

So what is an evolution of anachronisms?

We live in a modern time, with plenty of slang dialect. Playing D&D gets us in the mindset of being far flung fantasy adventurers, but sometimes, we just don’t have their exact turns of phrase or vocabulary. So if someone uses a modern phrase to describe something that their character is doing — I just go along with the spirit of what they’re trying to say.

For instance, if the caravan they are guarding is rolling through a dangerous part of the countryside, your player might say “Tell the driver to roll up the windows and lock the doors…” now obviously this is a modern phrase, but I’ve seen that it works best if you just take the spirit of what the player is saying and let it affect the game (Chris Perkins is the master of this).  Having the caravan driver ‘be on the lookout’ based on what your players mentioned makes gameplay more fluid.

If done too often however, all of these things can turn a reasonable session into a bog of wasted time and meme slinging, so for my taste I try to keep it cordoned off to an every-once-in-a-while thing.

“I find myself pulling out anachronistic analogies from time to time. It’s not immersion breaking for me within reason” says Matt Click from A Fistful of Dice in the comments of Rob’s video. “I think it’s the opposite. Helping players understand a particular sight or sensation through analogies like this is never a bad thing.”

We tend to agree.  But what do you think? Do anachronisms break immersion, or create a solid frame of reference in a game?



February Blog Carnival Wrap-Up

February Blog Carnival Wrap-Up

Tabletop Terrors


MARCH 1, 2017


Our month of hosting the RPG Blog Carnival has come to end, and it was fantastic.  There were a ton of fantastic contributions.

The topic was rethinking encounters, including rethinking encounter mechanics, making encounters more memorable, and more.

Be sure you check out these amazing contributions to the RPG Blog Carnival:

Jeff at the RPG Circus hit on the topic of encountering house rules.


Mark from Inspiration Strikes did a great piece on thinking of encounters as scenes, giving some excellent examples.


Clark Timmins did a wonderful piece with an insightful history on how encounters have evolved over the years since their birth.


Johnn Four did a great article with an encounter building recipe that you don’t want to miss.


Vance from Leicester’s Ramble created an inventive encounter using a Wikiipedia article (and provides a great lesson on acting when inspiration strikes).


Eli Kurtz did a fantastic article using the exact method that we laid out, and created an immersive encounter over at Mythic Gazetteer.


Another inspiring contribution from Mark at Inspiration Strikes, who makes scene exits an important part of encounters.


Johnn Fourr also did a stellar article on how to make encounters more intense.


Phil from Tales of a GM did an invaluable article on building improvised encounters that is a must read.


Gonzalo of Codex Anathema whipped up a fantastic article on re-engineering encounters and making them more memorable.


Vance from Leicester’s Ramble also put together a useful matrix for tracking multiple groups in an encounter.


And finally, Phil from Tales of a GM did a wonderful follow-up to his improvised encounter piece discussing the ‘where’ and ‘when’ of encounters, and why it matters.


And, if you missed it, check out our article, about getting encounter ideas immediately. http://tabletopterrors.com/dd-encounter-creation-get-ideas-immediately/

Thanks again for all of the support, and please comment below with any insights you might have after reading any of these magnificent articles.

Until next time, may your dice roll high.