The following resources are useful to dungeon and game masters of all types. Many of these are system agnostic and can be used for Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, Worlds Without Number, Dungeons & Dragons, and many more. If there are more that you think should be on the list, let me know.
The number one resource that has had the most positive impact on my game sessions is the Sly Flourish blog. He has been writing articles on running great games since the fourth edition. The books ‘Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master’ and the ‘Lazy DM’s Companion’ are among the best at teaching the skills needed to run fun, exciting sessions. The best part? This information can be applied to other game systems besides Dungeons & Dragons. The 8 Steps of the Lazy DM include going over the characters, having a strong start, outlining potential scenes, listing any secrets and clues the PCs can learn, creating fantastic locations, defining important NPCs, picking any monsters, and choosing any rewards or magic items. None of those steps include dice, rule systems, or world settings and can be used in a variety of systems like Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, 13th AGE, Worlds Without Number, etc.
Many adventure books have been released by Sly Flourish, and “Ruins of the Grendleroot” is the most useful supplement for 5th Edition Dungeon Masters. On the sales page for Grendleroot is a link to a pdf containing twelve pre-generated characters, one for each core class, that include details for levels 1 – 5. There are certain checkboxes that are labeled with the level that they come into play. These character sheets are great for players of any skill level and there are even spell descriptions included. If you are teaching new players the game, I recommend using these character sheets for your first set of adventures. You can even use the adventures in Ruins of the Grendleroot or you can change any character information to suit your campaign.
Lastly, I have switched out my official DM screen for the Lazy D&D Cheat Sheet, which contains much of the same information but on one side of a sheet of regular printer paper. It has ability skill pairs, setting DCs, and conditions in addition to a bonus table of names and some handy combat homebrew rules. I keep the cheat sheet in my GM folder and it goes with me to every session. I’ve even referenced it as a player! Along with the weekly blog articles, and the twitch/youtube Q&A’s and Session Prep for one of his weekly games, there is an amazing discord channel full of wonderful game masters willing to share their knowledge with you.
Check out the Lazy Dungeon Master at slyflourish.com.
The first place I look for battle maps is Dyson’s Dodecahedron. They have been uploading maps to their blog since 2009, creating an extensive back catalog. They have also had their maps featured in official book releases (Fizban’s Treasury of Dragons). I use an updated version of their first “One Page Dungeon Contest” entry for introducing players to the game and it works well. When I am prepping for a session I scroll through the map page and pick the first one that fits. The map doesn’t need to be perfect because players won’t see it. I often make adjustments or abstract the map to suit my needs for the session. The hallways can be tunnels, the rooms can be as big as needed, and any details can be changed to suit your needs for your table. To find a map faster, you can also type a few keywords into the search bar. About two dozen other adventures have also been released for free and are worth checking out. There is also a page containing all the maps that have a free commercial license; all you need to do is attribute the artist. There are posts weekly, however often I see updates multiple times per week.
Check out Dyson’s Dodecahedron here.
Prolific writer and game developer Justin Alexander has created an award-winning blog. He posts reviews, tips, campaign journals, and even whole remixes of published adventures. This guy is a treasure trove of information and his blog has been running since 2005. One of his best articles is called ‘Jaquaying the Dungeon’ and should be required reading for anyone looking to create dungeon maps. The article is based on the work of Jennell Jaquays, who is known for the adventures The Caverns of Thracia and Keep on the Shadowfell. He was able to boil down her methods for creating dynamic and elaborate environments to the following techniques: multiple entrances, loops, multiple level connections, discontinuous level connections, secret & unusual paths, divided levels, nested dungeons, and minor elevation shifts. You don’t have to use all of these all the time, but including a few in each dungeon will create a special experience for each group that delves in. Other amazing articles from Alexander include the Three Clue Rule and Don’t Prep Plots.
Check out The Alexandrian here.
When I’m looking to make my own dungeon maps for a session or adventure, Dungeon Scrawl is my go-to program. Dungeon Scrawl is a simple old-school battle map maker. There are a handful of styles to choose from as well as the ability to use layers. They added a group of images from creators like Daniel F. Walthall and Angry Golem Games. You are also able to save a file of the dungeon letting you work on it later. Exporting as an image is also available. I have been using Dungeon Scrawl for my own #Dungeon23 project. Another feature is being able to import maps from popular generators like Watabou’s 1PDG and donjon.bin.sh allowing you to change their style or make your own edits.
Check out Dungeon Scrawl here.
If you need a random generator for your next session, the donjon is sure to have it. There are name generators, world generators, dungeon map generators, calendar, adventure, and quest generators for D&D 5e and also 4e, AD&D, Pathfinder, and Sci-Fi. My favorite is the treasure generator. There are options for different CR levels as well as to include random salvage like trinkets and personal items. For session planning I’ll copy a few of the ‘Individual Treasure with Items’ in the CR range I expect encounters to be in my session notes. Now when the players say I loot the body; I refer to this list and cross off any that I use. It’s also great for coming up with treasure for a horde, quest, or adventure. This website is one of the best when it comes to assisting with session prep.
Check out donjon here.
Raging Swan Press
Looking to add detail and get the creative spark going? Look no further than Raging Swan Press. The supplements available are easy to use and detailed. There are resources here for 5e, OSR, and Pathfinder, but they could be used for many other fantasy tabletop role-playing games. Each pdf available comes in dual formats (print & screen) making it easy to use on your phone as it is printed on paper. If the GM’s Miscellany doesn’t get you then The Dread Thingonomicon will. It’s a 476-page resource full of system-neutral-themed lists, flavourful NPCs, and fantastic locations. If you are a dungeon or game master, this is one book you should have on your shelf.
Check out Raging Swan Press here.
The best search engine for battle maps is Lost Atlas. More than 5,000 maps are indexed on the site and are available for free. They even host premium battle maps for sale if you want to pay for extra features or support independent creators. It’s amazing the level of quality maps that are available. You’ll find maps from artists like Dungeon Mapster, DnDavid, 2-Minute Tabletop, and even Cze and Peku. If you need a VTT map for your next game session, Lost Atlas is a good place to start.
Check out Lost Altas here.
Setting the mood with music and atmosphere is a great way to keep players immersed in the game session. That’s where tabletop audio comes in. They have over 300 of what they call ambiances, which are 10-minute segments of an audio environment. They can be looped or made into a playlist that you can share with friends. These range from Tavern Celebration to Myconid Colony all the way to Cyberpunk City and are great for any game system. In fact, not only do tabletop and board gamers use the site but writers, coders, artists, graphic designers, teachers, house cleaners, lucid dreamers, and even gym rats have emailed in saying they use it.
Another site feature is the SoundPad which contains over 1000 sounds in pre-made groups or you can create your own custom sound pads. If you feel like supporting the award-winning website, their Patreon membership grants you access to alternate versions of the tracks.
Up the level of your next session with Tabletop Audio here.
Printable Heroes has a sheer volume of options available. There are paper minis for monsters, PCs, NPCs, animals, and even map props like trees, walls, and rocks. You can even sort by what sourcebook or adventure the creature is from. New entries are added regularly and if you subscribe to their Patreon you get even more options like alternate colors and VTT tokens.
One thing to note about the paper minis is that there is some assembly required. I recommend practicing with some cheap paper before using nice photo paper. It took me a couple tries to get the minis looking good before I was happy using them in a session. Be sure to check out the youtube video with a basic tutorial on making your own paper minis. If you would rather save time and effort, there are different sets of premium plastic minis of the same art for purchase over at Geek Tank Games.
Check out Printable Heroes here.
Fantasy Name Generators
This website is your one-stop shop when you need to come up with a name for almost anything. There are over 1400 name generators ranging from D&D, Pathfinder, and Shadowrun all the way to Doctor Who, Marvel, and World of Warcraft. There are also description generators for weapons, armor, characters, places, and much more. Also available are generators for towns, solar systems, and even flags. I have used the calendar creator to make a custom calendar for my homebrew world. If all of that doesn’t get you, they have also partnered with Eden Reforestation Projects to plant trees to offset the resources the websites use.
Check out Fantasy Name Generators here.
The Monsters Know What They’re Doing
The Monsters Know is an award-winning blog from Keith Ammann detailing combat tactics and strategies for creatures in Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition. This is the best source when using a monster in combat or as an NPC for the first time. Between reading the entry in the monster manual and the entry on The Monsters Know, you can provide a challenging encounter for your players.
Not only does Keith have a blog, but he has also published four books on the subject. Two books, The Monsters Know What They’re Doing and MOAR! Monsters Know What They’re Doing, go into detail about creatures found in the Monster Manual, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. For those looking to get creative with dungeons and strongholds, How to Defend Your Lair is all about security strategies that can be applied to many situations in most tabletop games. For those on the other side of the screen, Live to Tell the Tale is all about combat tactics for player characters.
Check out The Monsters Know What They Are Doing here.
Newsletter from M.T. Black
The best newsletter in the industry comes from M.T. Black who is regarded as one of the most successful indie creators. I recommend The Anatomy of Adventure for those wanting to learn more about adventure design.
Each newsletter includes a list of ‘ten cool D&D things” he thinks are worth sharing. There are amazing articles in there every week from creators across the internet. Links range from popular blog posts to all the way to Reddit threads. Some recent gems include 100 Goblin Tribes from DnDSpeak, creating dynamic factions in a dungeon from Dump Stat Adventures, and a great tip from Reddit on how to make combat more interesting. Much of the info is D&D-focused, but some of it can be used in many other tabletop role-playing games.
Sign up for M.T. Blacks Newsletter here.
All of these resources have been instrumental in my growth as a dungeon master. Take a look at them and let me know in the comments something new you discovered.
I have no affiliation, paid or otherwise, with any of these products or companies.
3 thoughts on “Essential Resources You Need to Know About (for any game system)”
Lots of good information here.
thank you, i really appreciate it