Tracking Combat in Lords of the Earth

Combat stats and initiative tracker for Lords of the Earth

So, when I do the graphic design for an adventure — the format or layout on printed pages — I’m willing to experiment. The DM’s Guild provides a low-risk environment to do that.  

So, for the upcoming Lords of the Earth, I decided I would try out a different way to provide information to make running combat encounters as simple as possible for a DM.

For a layout I used a three-column grid, devoting the first two columns to the basic text of the adventure. The third column I would use for information important to running the adjacent encounter — be it a suggestion for skill checks, a bit of lore, or in most instances, a combat tracker with initiative table.

Now, this approach isn’t entirely new, but it has rarely been done on the DM’s Guild and I’m fairly certain I haven’t seen it in any Wizards of the Coast products for fifth edition. It was probably done to best effect in the Gwendolyn F.M. Kestrel introductory adventure for the 3.5 edition Scourge of the Howling Horde. Along with a full stat block for every encounter, it included a hit point tracker.

I was also mindful of the abbreviated stat blocks that Paizo included in its products. It is usually the name of the monster, its type and XP, hit points, and any special tactics the creature might employ.

My offering was something that incorporated a little bit of both approaches. Monster name and description by type, as well as armor class, attack bonus, damage for its primary attack and hit points.

How individual DMs track initiative is a very idiosyncratic thing; everyone’s approach is somewhat different. When I ran the adventure, I discovered that I was using the margin column to make my initiative list. So, why not format one and include it as an optional tool?

3.5 hit point tracker from Scourge of the Howling Horde

If you, as a DM prefer something else — index character cards, magnetic tracker, hanging tags from the DM screen or clothespin signpost tracker — by all means, keep using it. But if you are a scratch pad tracker like me, this might come in handy.  

As with many of these tools, they work best at the lowest

Paizo-style abbreviated stat block

levels of the game. As the monsters gain abilities and combats augment more spellcasting along with melee and ranged attacks, such little charts prove insufficient. The time comes when there is no substitute for having the Monster Manual propped open to the right page.

Village of Leilon, a free preview of Lords of the Earth, is available at the DM’s Guild. 


Mapping Leilon

Village of Leilon, my free preview for the upcoming adventure Lords of the Earth, is out today (June 6, 1018) on the DM’s Guild.

One of the elements of the design was creating the DM’s map of the town, this place along the High Road trade route connecting Neverwinter and Waterdeep in Forgotten Realms’ Sword Coast. I had to keep in mind this was a town with a history, formerly a booming town thanks to nearby mines. It was then abandoned because of a wicked wizard tower, now it has been reformed and trying to re-establish itself with pioneers from Neverwinter. The town would be a mix of old and new.

For the purpose of the adventure, all I need is a meeting place — such as a tavern — where the player characters can be contracted by the commander of the reformed Lances of Leilon to investigate the strange goings-on.

But to make Leilon come alive as a hometown base the PCs could return to in efforts to resupply, investigate rumors, become a contributor to the community, it would have to be fleshed out. To that end, I determined the map needed these things:

  1. Account for notable roads that research into previous mentions of the town in older Dungeons and Dragons products revealed: High Road, Mudflat Road, the Mining Road East.
  2. Ruins of the tower.
  3. Caravan market. My answer to having fewer shops. Caravans whose wagons sold randomly determined things from stalls.
  4. Older buildings on the High Road that catered to travelers, such as taverns and provisioners.
  5. Existing structures that were repurposed to renovated, such as the mining company headquarters, the former temple of Lathander and now claimed by Oghma, farms on the outskirts and the Lances headquarters.
  6. New businesses, such as the covered farmer’s market.
  7. A residential section, mostly cottages.

When it came time to put pencil to paper and sketch out the town with those various elements, I also wanted it to feel organic. At this point, I relied on google maps. I found maps for a couple of villages in the north of England, overlaid them, and made an amalgamated map based on them, sans the Treso stores, of course.  I filled in some of the blank spaces with trees and I had a serviceable village that fit the needs of the story, and if DMs were inclined, a whole campaign.


We’re going to Leilon

Lords of the Earth, my next adventure for Dungeon Master’s Guild, comes out July 13.

I’ve dusted off one of my favorite adversaries of the fifth edition era, the Cult of the Black Earth. They’re such a gritty bunch.

It’s designed for play at Level 2, but the encounters are adjustable for Levels 1-6.

Free preview

This Friday, July 6, I’ll post a free preview of the adventure, Village of Leilon.

Leilon — a mining town on the The High Road trading route — serves as a starting point for the adventure. In this preview I fleshed out the settlement so it can serve as a home base for the player characters, a place from which a DM can spin out other adventures.

Why Leilon?

So when I designed the adventure, I started to look for locales in the Forgotten Realms’ Sword Coast I could place it.

My parameters:

1) Somewhere other than the Dessarin Valley — the setting for Princes of the Apocalypse. But it should be in an adjacent region so a DM could tie the two together if they wished.

2) A genuine spot on a map. I didn’t want to make up a place, I wanted it anchored with existing Sword Coast lore, which gives it more utility.

3) Sufficiently underdeveloped. A mention in a 5E book is OK. But if it had a treatment of the sort Goldenfields and Triboar received in Storm King’s Thunder, that would be too much.  I wanted to put my own spin on the place.

Leilon fit the bill. Not only was it a spot on the map, it was a spot on the very first map of the fifth-edition era — the Sword Coast North detailed in Lost Mine of Phandelver from the Starter Set. Subsequently, Leilon has received a paragraph description in Storm King’s Thunder. In that entry the designers gave the town a fresh start from the canon of previous editions. They smashed the burdensome wizard’s tower,  put the town firmly within Neverwinter’s orbit, and thus, Lord Neverember’s protection.  It was a story I could build upon.

High Road hub

Leilon is almost the midpoint between Waterdeep and Neverwinter, a good location for storytelling. Every caravan and every cavalry patrol brings a new story to town, a new problem for adventurers to solve. It’s a great device; it kept “Gunsmoke” on TV and radio for decades and served the science-fiction genre well in the Star Trek spinoff “Deep Space Nine.” But instead of Marshal Dillon or Commander Sisko, my “sheriff” is Shadra Elsendre, human female captain of the reformed Lances of Leilon.

The trading component is key. My version of Leilon has a market square, where the visiting merchants can set up shop while they rest up for the remainder of their journey.  It also means I don’t have to provide every sort possible shop in the town itself — the market can supply it. A few d20 rolls on the shop chart in Chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide provides a current roster of what’s being sold at the market stalls. It’s another bit of Leilon’s every-changing landscape, keeping things interesting and lively.

To satisfy exploration adventures, there’s plenty of wilderness in the vicinity, from the Mere of the Dead Men in the south to the rugged Sword Coast mountains to the east. A vast expanse of wilderness — prairie and light woodlands —  lies to the northeast. And being near the coast invites all sorts of seafarers and pirates to Leilon’s doorstep.

Did I mention that it will be free?

So, yes, that’s the best part. Leilon will be free. Download and enjoy.