Archive for March, 2009

Build a Twyla Tharp Style Campaign Box

March 29, 2009

I’ve spent the past couple of months reading Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit. Over the past couple of weeks, as I finished the book, it dawned on me how many of these habits – habits formed by a woman who produces and directs dances and shows on Broadway – could improve dungeon mastering.

For example, one of her more popular concepts, is Twyla’s Box. For every project she begins, she takes out a cardboard banker’s box, writes the name of the project on the box, and begins to fill it with all of the materials she’ll need for that project. To begin, she takes out a 3×5 note card, and writes her goal or key concept for her project on it, and throws it in the box. As the box fills and the project moves forward, she often refers to this card to see if she is on course.

Given the strange things we might use in a good Dungeons and Dragons campaign, this box metaphor need not be a metaphor at all. Why not take one of these $2 bankers boxes and turn it into your Dungeons and Dragons campaign box? Consider all of the things you might throw into it. Props, maps, hand-drawn notes, 3×5 cards filled with NPC personalities, lists of random names and backgrounds, miniatures for the campaign, parts of D&D Insider articles, hand-written skill challenge ideas, maybe even some music or sound effects files on a USB drive.

Probably a lot of us save our campaign information on our computers. I have a folder for each campaign I have ran that I fill with clip art, story outlines, NPC descriptions, customized baddies, villain descriptions, and any other adventure stuff I need. With D&D being mainly a physical game, though, a campaign box makes a lot more sense. Why not print all that material and jam it in the campaign box?

This isn’t the only tip applicable to Twyla Tharp’s book. There are many others I will likely write about in the future. If you’re looking to branch out and think of Dungeon Mastering more as a creative discipline, you could do a lot worse than buying her book and giving it a read. I highly recommend it.

So there’s your Sly Flourish tip of the week. Buy a $2 bankers box at your local Staples and turn it into your very own campaign box.


Dungeon Delve Review

March 20, 2009

The minute I heard about the Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Delve product, I knew it was the product for me. While I have a nice weekly D&D game with five to six players and four hours of play time, a campaign where the PCs have just reached level 11, I always wanted something else too. I wanted a fast game, playable with fewer players in a shorter amount of time that focused on the most refined aspect of 4e, the combat system. I wanted something close to a D&D Miniatures skirmish game but with at least a little background story and a typical party of adventurers battling monsters of the depths.

I had the opportunity to play the Wizards and RPGA dungeon delves at the D&D Experience and at Gencon the past few years and I was hooked. It’s like speed chess for D&D. This book turns those fun fast battles into a product and it does so very well.

Let me start by stating what this product is not. This product doesn’t contain full length D&D adventures as we’re used to seeing them. Given the high number of adventures published in print and on D&D Insider, there is no lack for full length adventures with all of the background, skill challenges, and roleplay opportunities we’ve come to expect from D&D. In Dungeon Delve, there are few skill challenges and few stories outside of the seed to get the party into a battle. If you’re expecting a book full of full-length adventures, this isn’t the place to look.

Each of the scenarios in Dungeon Delve takes up six pages, with three encounter areas, a story seed, some expansion opportunities, and flavor text. There’s one delve for each level in the game, with encounters ranging from Kobolds to a red dragon and a pair of balors.

Each of the delves focuses on one or two sets of D&D dungeon tiles and clearly states which tiles you need. This is the first product I’ve seen from Wizards that directly uses the tiles as part of the adventure and it’s about damn time. It’s bothered me for years that the maps in the adventures published by Wizards of the Coast never fit their own dungeon tiles and often don’t fit the minis they use.

The tile problem is fixed in Dungeon Delve but the miniature problem still exists. There are many scenarios that have monsters currently not released as D&D miniatures. In other delves, the encounter uses multiple rare minis in a single battle. Who would be willing to pay the $80 for a pair of huge red dragons? In future products like this, I would hope that Wizards keeps their own miniature line in consideration along with the rarity of the mini. No encounter should require more than one rare miniature.

So where exactly does the Dungeon Delve fit into your game? One way is to pull out a delve when your regular group goes off the beaten path. Perhaps they find an old abandoned wizard tower when they’re exploring the big swamp. Perhaps you just want to step away from your massive campaign for a quick romp through a cursed sewer. Like the encounters found in Draconomicon and Open Grave, these quick three-room dungeons can fit into a regular campaign pretty easily.

Another way to use it is for one-shot adventures. With the Character Builder now online, its easy to whip up five quick pre-gen PCs and let your party try out some new classes. Maybe some of your old buddies are in town and want to roll some 20s without worrying about an entire adventure. Does your group want to try out those cool new Diva Avengers some night? Whip them up and run them through a delve!

A third way is to play the Delve a bit more competitively. This is how I’ve seen it at Gencon and D&D Experience. The DM isn’t your enemy, but he or she isn’t your friend either. This makes it a bit more like a D&D Miniatures skirmish game, but with a story line still intact.

Because the Delve is really a set of thirty mini-adventures, it lends itself very well to a PDF version. This way one can print out the six pages one needs rather than lugging the whole book around. Still, the quality of the print makes it hard to pass up the book itself.

For this reason, I’d very much like to see Delves as a standard for Dungeon magazine online. I’m not very likely to break up my campaign to play a full Dungeon-published adventure, but for a quick three-encounter delve? I’d download it and play it in a second. This style of adventure could really take D&D insider into the right direction.

Dungeon Delve fits a particular niche in Wizards Dungeons and Dragons 4e lineup. It isn’t an adventure and it isn’t a sourcebook. It is a toolbox of encounters designed to help dungeon masters quickly throw three rooms full of baddies at your friendly neighborhood players. For the amount of content you get, Dungeon Delve is worth every penny.


  • 30 delves, one for each level, with 90 total encounters for $20 from Amazon.
  • A tool box of mini-adventures to drop into your existing campaign.
  • Uses D&D Dungeon Tiles for every map.
  • Effective use of terrain in nearly every encounter.
  • Table-friendly tips, flavor text, and seeds to get your PCs into the action.


  • Overuse of rare D&D Miniatures.

  • Often uses the out-of-print “Halls of the Giant Kings” D&D Dungeon Tile set.
  • No competitive rules included – just general guidelines.
  • No pre-gen or quick-gen character generation rules.

Final words

An excellent deep tool box of encounters and scenarios to fit into many places into your game. Buy it.