We give our recommendations for the best gifts for the TTRPG players in your life!
As TTRPG players ourselves and people who have friends that enjoy these role-playing games, we thought it fitting to write a gift guide. Whether you play D&D, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, the Lord of the Rings RPG, or indie games, there is something for everyone who enjoys rolling dice.
The Dice Dragon
It’s hard to find a TTRPG player that will turn down a new set of dice. But if they already have so many sets, what do you get them? A typical game store in town won’t be the place to go. We recommend going online to Etsy and finding dice makers. These creators have a variety of interesting, unique, and whimsical products in their shops. Some even give you the option to customize, adding personalization to your gift.
By asking some questions, you can get to know about the character your friend plays. While you don’t need to buy them a full cosplay set, there are some things you can do to let them wear their character while playing their game.
A customized t-shirt with their character name on it
A necklace with a symbol related to their character (if their character wields a war hammer have it be a war hammer)
A hat that their character wears (if they play a pirate, get them a pirate hat)
An accessory that their character wears (a pair of white gloves, a flower crown, a red scarf, steampunk goggles)
A customized dice mat or box with colors or designs related to their character
The Game Master
Most Game Master’s always have need of fun, new accessories for their games. Be mindful how big of a playing space your friend has. If they have an entire room and storage devoted to gaming, you can go big. But if they just have a re-purposed small space, give them something easy to store away.
High-quality terrain from Dwarven Forge
“Condition” rings that show if characters are currently Paralyzed, Poisoned, Charmed, etc
A set of dry erase 2D maps for a variety of locations
A Bluetooth speaker to play music through
A fun dice tower to roll large amounts of dice with
We talk about the mystery dice bags offered by MysteryDiceGoblins on Etsy.
We got our hands on three mystery dice bags from the creative Etsy shop, MysteryDiceGoblins. This shop has everything a Dungeons & Dragons fan could want, including digital battlemap tokens, themed cards for celebrations, character sheets, pins, mats, trays, jewelry, and more. We got a first-hand look at one of the products they offer, the Mystery Dice. You can order these to have specific types of dice, such as only D20s or a full set. It is a surprise what is inside, though you can let the seller know if you have a color preference.
Given how affordable these bags are, we were pleasantly surprised at how cute the packaging is. They come in branded bags that are excellent quality. They are durable and travel well. The shop is located in the United Kingdom, and despite being shipped all the way to the U.S. and taken to the beach with us, the bags were in perfect condition.
We loved all three sets we got. There was a lovely amber-colored set that caught the sunlight just right. A very pretty aqua and white set, and a detailed runic set with hard edges. They are all beautiful, high-quality dice. We already divided them up and are eager to start rolling!
As any TTRPG player knows, collecting dice is easily addicting. Even when you play on a digital map with digital character sheets, there is something about rolling physical dice that is good fun.
The excitement about mystery dice is, well, the mystery! It’s like opening a birthday present. Or seeing Amazon drop off your package. A little burst of excitement about opening up a gift for yourself.
The Mystery Dice bags and the shop itself puts other, more expensive shops to shame. The attention to detail, the high quality, and the fun makes this an excellent purchase for all DnD fans.
We give our thoughts on Inkarnate, a digital map-building software!
Inkarnate is popular in the world of online content creators. It boasts a digital map-building software with a particular focus on fantasy. You can create massive world maps, or highly detailed maps of building interiors. With various styles, effects, and features, Inkarnate continues to grow and expand every year.
Note that every map in this article was built by us in Inkarnate so you can see first-hand what an average person (and not a paid map designer) can create.
What Are the Features?
When you begin to create a new map, you already get many options to choose from. A Fantasy World Map, a Parchment World Map, a Fantasy Regional Map, a Watercolor Battlemap, and a Watercolor City Map. Of course, no matter what you choose when you actually get into the editing stage, you can do whatever you want. But this helps streamline the process if you have a particular project in mind.
After that, you can choose the size of map you want based on how many tiles it has. This can be customized to your exact dimensions. Once you enter the creation mode, the choices feel endless! Here is just an overview of what you can add:
A backdrop effect such as water, snow, tile, or lava.
The ability to shape your terrain with a variety of brushes.
“Stamps” that let you fill it in that are both 2D, 3D, or old-school map icons.
Stamps include mountains, hills, rivers, ground cracks, furniture, gravestones, lights, buildings, boats, plants, monsters, people, ruins, crops, weapons, and much more!
You can add Text and stylize it.
You can draw paths on your map.
You can add, remove, and alter grids.
You can add special overlays and effects.
Is it User-Friendly?
There is definitely a learning curve with Inkarnate. It was more difficult in the past, but it’s become much more user-friendly across the years. That being said, some patience is involved as you figure out how to fill in your map. Once you learn it, though, it feels very easy and simple.
How Much Does it Cost?
The awesome thing is Inkarnate is free! Anyone can sit down and use it. You can also pay for Inkarnate Pro which is $25 a year. Pro gives you more robust options for map creation, but most importantly it allows you commercial use of the maps you create.
Why Do I Need Inkarnate?
Almost any fantasy-fan creator can get good use from Inkarnate. We use it for maps that we publish in our books. We also use it for our own TTRPG game. If you enjoy playing digitally and don’t want to build a hands-on map, or if you just want a map to reference, Inkarnate has just what you need.
Inkarnate is a fun, fantasy-centered map creator that is perfect for TTRPG roleplayers, authors, and anyone that needs to bring their fantasy world to life. Despite the learning curve, Inkarnate really is versatile and you can easily spend hours entertaining yourself with it. And you don’t often find that with free programs!
Some may say level 18 characters in DnD are overpowered and no longer fun, but we disagree.
“My GM ended the campaign at level 10. He said that’s how most people do it because upper levels are too powerful.”
“We ended at level 14. Things get too complicated above that.”
“Does anyone actually get to tier 4? Most campaigns fizzle out before that.”
After a number of similar things being said from friends and online, we now find ourselves in the talked-about scenario. After nearly eight years of playing the same TTRPG campaign, we have level 18 characters. And this isn’t a game we just play once a month, either. We play it every week with the exception of being sick or being out of town (though we have played from a lakeshore cabin before!).
Progressing This Far in a Story
Being able to bring characters from level 1 all the way to level 18 in DnD is thrilling. You feel them grow up, get stronger, and take on bigger challenges. They change, for the better or the worse, with the story. You build relationships with NPC’s, with other party members, and you definitely get long-running rivalries with antagonists. It’s truly a joy to tell a story for eight years, and now be so close to seeing it come to a satisfying conclusion.
Level 18 Character Powers
We played in a short-term level 20 game with B. Dave Walters. He said, “Some people think you can’t challenge players at this level. I disagree.”
That certainly was the case in his game, with many of us coming close to death. And that’s been the case in ours, as well. There is no shortage of challenges. In fact, they just get bigger and more difficult. We’ve had characters go down, we’ve had spell slots run low, and we’ve had mid-battle stress deciding what to do next.
To clarify, we are heavy homebrewers. While DnD stat blocks are very useful for level 18 characters, it’s also entirely possible and simple to build your own bad guys and monsters from scratch that are up to the task.
Tips on Tier 4 Storytelling
If you find your party in tier 4, that is to say levels 16 – 20, here are some of our tips to make it less daunting.
When you’re this deep in the story, it’s not always about combat. The narrative and the characters are driving it at this point. Don’t worry so much about the biggest, baddest monster you can find.
The environment can play a huge factor in challenges for high-level DnD characters. Steep drops, crumbling ground, dangerous thunderstorms, blizzards, and more offer expanded challenges beyond just who can hit the hardest.
Keep it character-focused. Involve NPCs and antagonists frequently. Give characters situations they don’t want to just firestorm their way out of, like saving innocents.
When role-playing a high-level character, think about the weight of their power on them. How does this affect them? Are they more or less likely to use it? Do they feel heavy responsibility? Or has it made them arrogant and reckless?
Somehow, by now we thought this whole fiasco with WotC (Wizards of the Coast) would be over. But it carries on with more and more ridiculousness added each day. We are talking about this because we are active members of the TTRPG community, and until recently had a channel on Dungeon Master’s Guild. Here is what is going down.
For those just now reading up about what is going on with Dungeons and Dragons, here is the short version recap. Years ago they put out an Open Game License (OGL) that allowed third-party publishers (3PPs) to create content that used portions of the D&D system. This created a thriving TTPRG community, where home-based indie creators could build adventures, subclasses, monsters, and more for people to use in their D&D5e games. The community thrived. WotC made lots of money. Everyone was happy.
Until WotC decided they would destroy everything they’ve built over the years. And it hasn’t even taken long to do it. First came a leaked copy of a proposed new OGL 1.1 that was, basically, no longer “open”. Creators would have to pay royalties, and WotC could take content made by small ma-and-pa shops and use it for their own purposes royalty-free. There was a lot more in this new OGL, but what it boiled down to was shutting down any creator that wasn’t Wizards of the Coast. Small businesses that depended on the original OGL to pay their bills and feed their kids were now in danger of actually OWING WotC money. You know, so the C-Suite can go buy a third yacht.
While the community was in a panic about what this would mean for the little guy for nearly two weeks, WotC remained completely silent. They did not respond to the large-scale public outrage and cry for answers. That all changed with a leaked statement from an employee at WotC who kept themselves anonymous. Their statement was fairly incriminating, claiming that WotC just wanted this to blow over, that they saw the fanbase as obstacles to their profit, and that they were looking at D&D Beyond subscriptions to gauge what was profitable and what was not.
Well, the community responded quickly and decisively. So many rushed to cancel their subscriptions that the site began to have technical issues. And what many considered a saving grace in all this took the form of the company Paizo, the creators of Pathfinder. They announced they would be partnering with other major gaming companies to create a new OGL they were calling ORC (The Open RPG Creative License) that would be non-profit so no corporate greed could get involved. They also offered indie creators and 3PPs to contact them to stay up to date on the ORC so it could be rolled out in a way that was most beneficial to everyone.
So it was rather not coincidentally that WotC decided to finally, finally issue a statement the following day. The day that the OGL 1.1 was supposed to go into place.
Only, they didn’t do themselves any favors. In fact, it made the entire situation worse. The statement came through D&D Beyond, not even their official account. They claimed the OGL 1.1 was only a “draft”, that everyone was overacting, and that the words were being misconstrued. Perhaps the most damning phrase of all in this statement was a fierce claim that they were still on top.
“You’re going to hear people say that they won, and we lost because making your voices heard forced us to change our plans. Those people will only be half right. They won—and so did we.”
Wizards of the Coast truly could have saved themselves here if they had done the exact opposite of everything they did in that statement. It only worsened the anger by the community who were quick to pull apart the lies in the statement, the heavy PR tone, and lack of anything of real substance in terms of what the future held.
One would think that was as worse as things could get. But in the following days, it’s only gotten more and more shady and complicated. More leaks from inside employees warn fans of heavy D&D Beyond paywalls that WotC wants to put into place, of establishing AI Dungeon Masters, and of trying to use a survey as a platform for people to complain on and thus clear up the angry Twitter / Reddit / etc platforms. WotC denies each and every leak, although their denials keep coming surprisingly late and always behind a “face” that they choose to speak for them. Whether that’s D&D Beyond or random employees, it’s never the actual person that is making the decisions.
From an outside perspective, one would think WotC decided to wage war against its own player base. And it is losing.
Players are flocking to Pathfinder so quickly that it is sold out in local stores. Major companies like Kobold Press are leaving 5e behind and doing their own thing. Everyone from large influencers to small-time streamers are also leaving behind D&D for other TTRPG systems. Why? Because trust has been broken. Because WotC has yet to promise anything of real value, instead using PR-language to try to hide the lack of meaning behind their messages. Because they refuse to make the original OGL irrevocable, and thus people are worried they will keep trying to push the new version forward no matter how long it takes them. Because for little creators that are paying their bills, they have a guillotine hanging above their heads that WotC could drop to destroy everything they have made and take it for themselves.
Why would any creator even want to stick around in this circus?
WotC truly could have saved themselves from this nightmare if they had been upfront with their fanbase and been honest. Without any sincere apologies, without any communication directly from the source, and without any real action, the community loses more and more trust in the future of Dungeons and Dragons. Many who are now refusing to buy or support anything that Hasbro (the owners of WotC) decides to release.
So where does this leave everything in the future? What we’ll likely see is former D&D players gravitating to Pathfinder and their new ORC to create content. We are likely to see more smaller TTRPG systems get attention as people look for new games to play. And the once near-monopoly WotC held on the industry will die. And they will only have themselves to blame.
You sit at a desk in a dimly lit classroom. The windows are covered by large tapestries depicting the various studies of the arcane: divination, protection, defense, potions, and the like. The smell of old tomes, incense, and ink fills the space.”
Suddenly, the tapestries snap open bringing harsh sunlight in the room. Other students shield their eyes at the change of scenery. A burst of magic erupts from the doorway and in strides the teacher. They wear a robe of pink with blue sigils and a matching pointed hat that hangs slightly askew. “Welcome to Magical Studies I, I am your professor. Turn to page 157 and we shall begin with how to summon a simple light spell.”
Magical academies, such as the Citadel in Thread of Souls, are all the rage in fantasy, right? As authors, we love sensory details but what does it sound like within an academy? Music is a great way to get ideas and inspiration. Imagine the above scene with the following tracks playing in the background.
Magical and mysterious is Eothas. It’s soft and soothing and is great for lore drops and providing details about locations, people, and items. At the Citadel, it’s a wonderful backdrop for sweeping shots detailing the school and its three spires of law, study, and research.
The Crystal’s Shimmer and the Wind’s Revelations is a mesmerizing track for showcasing wonderful magic. It’s light and full of wonder. A great backdrop for the crystalmancers of the Citadel as they learn and teach about the eight disciplines of magic.
How May I Serve You? is an eerie discordant track for untrusting moments. Magical academies are full of many interesting people and not all of them are to be trusted. Each and every person has their own agenda. The Citadel is home to powerful mages, without giving any spoilers, not all of them are as they seem.
Bonus Dragon Prince song. I See You pairs nicely with How May I Serve You?
Mages are scholarly and Cyrus, the Scholar fits nicely for a library.
Alabastra is for those moments when the students explore the restricted section. It’s way more fun to venture into an unauthorized zone. Forbidden is just an invitation for curious mages.
My word, it’s been a busy time here at Thread of Souls land. With injuries healing and colder weather upon us, we are here with our monthly update. It’s a doozy.
Book IV Asunder ARC Readers
The fourth book in our fantasy series, Asunder, is off to our ARC readers! It’s been a wonderful time editing the book and we are excited to get it into the hands of our adventuring party. While they are reading over Asunder, we are moving on to other matters such as marketing, trailers, and social media outreach.
Just because book IV Asunder is handed off to our ARC team doesn’t mean you can’t join! If you want to become a member of the Thread of Souls adventuring party (our ARC team and other fun collaborative projects) hit us up. Comment on this post or send us an email.
Check out that new updated map as well. Coming to an updated book in the not-too-distant future.
New Covers for Books I – III
We are in the process of updating the covers for Thread of Souls. We have seen the updated covers for books I and II, Phantom Five and Ash & Thunder. Holy smokes, our editor rolled a natural 20 for both of them. The cover for Path of the Spiders is coming along as well. We can’t wait to show you the finished covers for all four books.
Thread of Souls Music
We’ve mentioned before about working with a composer on music for TOS. So far we have heard 10 tracks for the first three books. Our composer sends them to us as soon as he’s finished and each one is a fantastic surprise. So, we are going to show off one of those for you.
We still haven’t watched the Dungeons & Dragons movie trailer, but are curious about it. What has us even more interested is the announcement of two prequel books ahead of the movie: The Druid’s Call and The Road to Neverwinter. Let’s talk about what we know and what we’d like to see from them.
The Road to Neverwinter is written by Jaleigh Johnson. Little is known about it but we can deduce it will take place in the city of Neverwinter, the Jewel of the North. As huge fans of the Neverwinter MMO, we’ve spent, I was going to say countless hours exploring the city, but it’s 361.5 hours, according to Steam. That’s more than 15 days.
Needless to say, we are looking forward to The Road to Neverwinter.
The Druid’s Call, from E.K. Johnston, also has a special place in our hearts for one important reason. Talia’s first tabletop character was the Jade, a main character in our fantasy octology Thread of Souls.
The two books are exciting and they got us thinking. We’re sure they’re written like a typical story — choose a premise, characters, outline it, and write it — but we believe it be great if they were based on their own tabletop experience. Imagine if the characters in both books were played by actual people around a table like a ttrpg game.
The players all choose a character in the story and roleplay them and tell the story together. With A Druid’s Call following the main protagonist Doric, the actions and decisions her player makes shape the world and therefore the overall book.
The same be The Road to Neverwinter. While it’s unclear what the story is, the book must involve some of the characters from Honor Among Thieves. Our thoughts are on rogue Forge Fitzwilliam, as he is tied to the city.
However the books and movie are written, they’re sure to be thrilling. But as authors who turned our ongoing ttrpg campaign into fantasy books, it is definitely a fun way to write a series after playing it around a table with friends.
Playing a TTRPGis similar to an actor preparing for a role. You aren’t you at the table, you’re someone else. Taking time to think, act, and live like your character before a session is a great way to get into their mindset. One way to really get a feel for your character is to travel as they do.
Walk or Hike
Traveling could be just about anything. Think about the types of travel portrayed in games or fantasy books. One of the most prominent is long-distance walking and hiking. You could even keep it simple by going on a short walk. Walking and hiking lets you better connect with nature and the elements around you. It’s a great time to think like your character and be with yourself and thoughts. Plus, you get a feel for what it’s like to be outside like they are the majority of the time. Don’t only go out when it’s sunny. Adventuring is tough work and they don’t quit when it’s raining.
Hit the Road
Another way to get around in fantasy is using wagons or carriages. You don’t have to rent or find a carriage, just hop in a car and drive about. You could do one of two things to get in the mindset. One is to not bother with a destination. Just pick a direction and drive. The other is to know where you’re going but not use any GPS to get there. Travel by using a map or as if you were given vague directions until you reach your goal. Oftentimes, a party will be given a direction and landmark. Rarely is it ever a straight path to your goal.
All the while, be your character. What would they think of the journey? The sights? Sounds? Smells?
Spend the Night Somewhere Different
Characters are always staying at taverns, tents, or magically created homes. Another fun way to travel and get into your character’s mind is to stay somewhere new for the night. Having a different view or sleeping somewhere diverse gives you a more unique view of the world.
We’ve spent the night in a dark creepy forest once. It was definitely an experience and one we’ll never forget.
Traveling with your party or a friend at the table is highly recommended. It gives everyone a chance to bond and become their character while you’re all away. You don’t have to spend every moment as your character, but spending time here and there as them will help give you more insight into how they act in the game.
When you travel to get into the mindset of your character, focus on your senses. Everywhere you go focus on everything you can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Taverns often have a reputation for being loud, but is that always the case when you stay at a hotel? Roads aren’t always smooth and you can often feel every bump as you travel along. What does the air smell like as you walk through the park?
Traveling is always an adventure. It doesn’t have to be an epic journey from point A to point B. Sometimes taking a walk in your own house or yard is all you need to get into the mind of your character.
We received a free copy of Rescuing Lulu from Elturel to review. All opinions are our own.
For the last few weeks we’ve had an awesome time diving into a new Dungeon Master Guild adventure titled Rescuing Lulu From Elturel. Authored by Hunter Stardust, this 65-page multiple-session adventure fits nicely into other campaigns. It specifically works well with Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, Tyranny of Dragons, and, of course, Descent into Avernus. Note that this is not necessarily a standalone adventure, and works best with a group that is playing Nine Hells-related questlines.
Rescuing Lulu from Elturel centers around a character-driven plotline. The sweet NPC Lulu (from Descent into Avernus) is kidnapped by one of three villains of the DM’s choosing. The goal of these villains is to sacrifice Lulu. The PC’s must give chase, traversing to the city of Elturel, exploring the city to find clues, and ultimately rescuing her in a climactic showdown at a wedding.
What makes this quite unique and fun is that this is an Elturel before its fall into Avernus. There is a sense of an impending catastrophe among the cultists of Zariel that PC’s can encounter as the cult prepares to enter Avernus. As stated by the author:
. . . familiarize the PCs with the places and citizens of Elturel in order to deepen their experience (and shock!) when they return after the city falls into Avernus. This adventure transforms Elturel into a sandbox with twenty-five historical locations for PCs to explore.”
When it comes to exploration, this adventure can be as short or as long as you really want it to be. Players might want to speed things along in the rescue of Lulu, but other parties might get more invested in the city and its denizens. This opens up a variety of optional sidequests that end in fun chases, intense battles, and even magical weapons!
From an analytical standpoint, this adventure is very well-organized. It comes as a Word doc and has a comprehensive Table of Contents. The pages are easy to read and the entire thing is easy to navigate. There are great tips for running this adventure, even including what miniatures to look for if you so choose. There is also a good focus on roleplaying to create memorable encounters and emotionally-driven choices.