Articles By Author - Steve Winter

Howling Tower: Cardtography and Multi-Level Dungeons

Multi-Level Dungeons We’ve covered the basics of how to lay out the cards, how to connect the cards, and how to decide what each card represents in a simple dungeon. In this installment, we look at ways to create a more involved, multi-level complex. If we’re talking about a dungeon (and for the time being, we are), then all that’s needed is a way to locate some stairs or ramps down to the next level. The simple and obvious...

Howling Tower: Cardtography, a Simple Dungeon

A Simple Dungeon The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate why playing cards are such a potent choice for generating our environment. We didn’t choose cards as our randomizers because they’re somewhat room-shaped. That’s a happy coincidence. The real reason is because they have information embedded on them, and we can use that information in all sorts of useful ways. A playing card has two obvious bits of information: suit (clubs, diamonds,...

Howling Tower: Cardtography

Cardtography: The Basics Since the introduction of computer RPGs, randomly generated dungeons are everywhere. Software developers prefer to call them procedurally generated rather than random because they aren’t truly random; they’re created according to a rigid procedure. Developing a procedure that spits out satisfying dungeons is a popular problem among programmers, and the web is full of fascinating blog posts about the many...

Howling Tower: Monster Stats, Part 5

This installment is about deconstructing dragons. The Monster Manual contains 20 chromatic dragons, 20 metallic dragons, 1 shadow dragon, and 1 undead dragon. The Tome of Monsters and the Southlands Bestiary introduce several more. With all those stat blocks spread over three books, you’d expect to find plenty of variety—and you’d be right. But even with all that variety, streams of predictability flow through every* dragon stat...

Howling Tower: Monster Stats, Part 4

This installment, you get a break from graphs and formulas—though not entirely. In honor of Thanksgiving, I had to include some pie charts. Instead of plotting trends, however, this time we count how often certain concepts occur throughout the Monster Manual, to help you get a handle on whether they’re common, uncommon, or rare. Before diving in, understand that the Monster Manual contains 312 monster stat blocks in the main section, 96 animal...

Howling Tower: Monster Stats, Part 3

In part 1 and part 2 of this series, we looked at ability scores and hit points. In this installment, we look at damage output for official fifth edition monsters. First, a note about how I calculated damage output (average damage per round, or DPR). This topic is covered in a good amount of detail in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, but even with detailed guidelines, it’s not always a straightforward task. The general rule is to calculate the...

Monster Philosophy

We’ve been very pleased with the positive reaction to the Tome of Beasts previews, even—maybe even especially—when readers point out places where we’ve added numbers incorrectly or overlooked a modifier. In a few cases, however, readers have called out features as errors that we don’t consider errors at all. Instead, they’re cases where our philosophy about monster design differs a bit from the principles that run through the Monster Manual....

Howling Tower: Monster Stats, Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at ability scores and established a few useful rules for assigning them to monsters of your own design. In this part, we look at Hit Dice and hit points as they relate to challenge rating and extract a few lessons about monster defenses. Hit Dice In the earliest editions of D&D, Hit Dice (HD) were a direct measure of a monster’s toughness. If you knew how many HD a monster had, you knew a third of everything you...

Howling Tower: Monster Stats

In the year since fifth edition came out, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time deconstructing its monsters and putting them back together again. The lessons I’ve learned have been invaluable when developing new creatures for third-party monster collections such as Fifth Edition Foes from Necromancer Games and Southlands Bestiary and Tome of Beasts from Kobold Press. These lessons would be equally useful to everyone who wants to create...

Howling Tower: Rules Are Your Frenemy

This is the final installment in a series of six articles for players hoping to get the best possible experience from their time around the RPG table. Roleplaying game rules are wonderful things. I’ve spent decades pulling them apart, refining and polishing every piece, and putting them back together so they purr and growl like a Jaguar V-12. The comparison to an engine is not random — like oversized engines, too many RPGs have more horsepower...

Howling Tower: Expect Things to Go Wrong

(This is the fifth installment in a series of articles for players hoping to get the best possible experience from their time around the RPG table.) “Adventures, in retrospect, are pieces of extremely bad luck that missed a fatal ending.” ―Lawrence Griswold, Tombs, Travel and Trouble It’s a shame that Lawrence Griswold isn’t better known these days. He was a real-life Indiana Jones, a Harvard-educated anthropologist and archaeologist who spent...

Howling Tower: Dive Into the Unknown

This is the fourth installment in a series of articles for players hoping to get the best possible experience from their time around the RPG table.   “… Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive―it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it?” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables In...

Howling Tower: A Need for Speed

“Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action comes, stop thinking and go in.” ―Napoléon Bonaparte A combat turn in most RPGs represents 5 to 10 seconds. If you spend much more time than that deciding what to do on your turn, you’re wasting time. That doesn’t mean your turn can’t take more than 10 seconds. It means you should answer the basic question, “what am I going to do this turn?,” in 10 seconds or less. Figuring out specifically...

Howling Tower: It’s All About Teamwork

A group of RPG characters is like a U. S. Army Green Beret team or a Navy SEAL team. Every member of the squad has a specialty, and for the group to succeed, everyone needs to be on the job. That means cooperating with teammates and sticking to the plan when the world, in the guise of the GM, throws its full weight against the heroes and tries to cast them down in defeat. The story (the adventure) has a villain, and he wants to win. His goal is...

Howling Tower: So You’re a Noob

Welcome to the end of the Howling Tower hiatus—thanks for coming! The Tower has been silent for too long. During the past year, I’ve been so occupied with huge writing projects that no time or energy was left over for small ones. Lots of good things came out of the past year — Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat for Kobold Press, and a trio of Fifth Edition books published by Necromancer Games: Fifth Edition Foes, Lost...

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