Articles By Author - Steve Winter

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...

The Rise of Tiamat: A DM’s and Player’s Overview

Ideally, players and Dungeon Masters (DMs) who sit down to tackle The Rise of Tiamat will already have played Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Rise is a continuation of Hoard’s story about the Cult of the Dragon, but they are very different adventures in style. Hoard of the Dragon Queen is a big, sprawling adventure that spreads across hundreds of miles of territory and encompasses several distinct styles of play, from the short commando...

Tiamat Tuesdays: So You’re Running Tyranny of Dragons . . .

Tyranny of Dragons is an immense, sprawling adventure filled with epic encounters, plot twists, and numerous NPCs with their own agendas. Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat allow (some might say demand) Dungeon Masters to really stretch their wings and put their creativity to the test. Things start out straightforward enough in Hoard of the Dragon Queen, as you’d expect in a low-level adventure, but by halfway through, the Dungeon...

Tiamat Tuesdays: Closing In On the Cult

As I hinted in the installment of Tiamat Tuesday on July 8, episodes 5–8 of Hoard of the Dragon Queen are more open-ended than episodes 1–4. The second half of the adventure isn’t a sandbox; characters still have a mystery to unravel and an evil plot to stop. They will, however, face dilemmas that have no by-the-book solutions. The usual methods for shutting down an evil cult won’t work against the Cult of the Dragon. There is no single high...

Tiamat Tuesdays: Tiers of Tiamat

For the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game, the story told in Tyranny of Dragons is spread across two separate adventure products: Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat. Hoard begins with fledgling, level 1 characters and follows them to level 7 or 8. Rise picks up right where Hoard leaves off and continues on to level 14 or 15. But while these form one continuous story, they are very, very different adventures, and...

Tiamat Tuesdays: Maintaining Focus

Tyranny of Dragons is nothing if not epic. It starts out fairly small, as a tale of unknown raiders attacking towns and caravans along the Sword Coast for loot and ransom. Before it’s done, those raiders will be rounding up prisoners to sacrifice in their dark rituals, dragons will gather in numbers not seen for generations, and every political and military force on the Sword Coast will need to unite against the threat if they hope to stave off...

Kobold Guide to Magic: How Do You Arrest a Wizard?

The Kobold Guide to Magic is written by a star-studded cast of designers and authors. Here’s an excerpt from Steve Winter’s essay about magic and the rule of law, asking: “How do you imprison and try a spellcaster?”. Pre-order the Kobold Guide to Magic at the Kobold Store! It all depends on how your magic works. If casting a spell requires uttering incantations and weaving mystical motions with the hands (like Dr. Strange),...

Howling Tower: Paying Dues

Guilds were a notable feature of urban life in medieval cities. If you were a craftsman of any type in Europe during the Middle Ages, you almost certainly belonged to a guild. Guilds show up in fantasy RPGs and campaign settings, too; every city has a thieves’ guild and a wizards’ guild. It’s mostly lip service, though, because those guilds seldom do anything other than issue vague threats (thieves’ guild) or accidentally blast their guildhalls...

Howling Tower: Saying No

In recent years, the philosophy of “yes, but” has become a hot ticket for GMs. Let me assure you, this was not always the case. I’m reminded a bit of the way philosophies come into and out of fashion in business management (are you a one-minute manager in search of excellence?). If that sounds dismissive, it’s not meant to be. There’s a lot to be said in favor of “yes, but.” As GM philosophies go, it’s better than...

Howling Tower: The Elevator Pitch

When designing a world as a setting for replaying and storytelling, condensing your concept down to an elevator pitch is a great exercise. Not that you’re likely to corner a venture capitalist and a Hollywood producer in an elevator and pump them to invest money in your idea, but because you are going to corner friends, players, and readers and ask them to invest something even more precious than cash in your creation—their leisure time....

Howling Tower: World of Wonder

Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you that I’m definitely not a reactionary type. I consider myself to be progressive about most things. But in some regards, I’m an unapologetic originalist. I almost always prefer the first recording of a song to the cover version, the original version of a movie to the remake, authentic ethnic food to an anglicized, family restaurant dish, and charcoal over propane. Knowing that, it should come as no...

Howling Tower: Lure of the Unknown

“The unknown” has a hypnotic lure. If you’re anything like me, then you started exploring the dark recesses of the closet the moment you were old enough to switch on a flashlight. After the closet came the basement, the attic, the garage, neighbors’ yards, the woods down the hill, and eventually the storm drains that carry runoff hundreds of yards beneath the streets through pitch black, echoing concrete pipes the perfect size for a 10-year-old...

Howling Tower: A Terrible Place to Visit

How often have you heard the phrase, “It’s a great place to visit but I’d hate to live there?” When designing a fictional world, you’re actually aiming for the opposite reaction: “It’s a terrible place to visit, but I’d love to live there.” Your world is a terrible place to visit because it’s falling apart at the seams. It might be threatened with conquest by a godlike necromancer and his undead legions; it could be undergoing some sort of...

Howling Tower: Apocalypse or Post-Apocalypse?

All my favorite RPG settings are either apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic. Yours probably are, too. Is that a surprise? Take a moment to think about it. The most obvious footprint of the apocalypse is the ruins it left behind. When was the last time you saw an RPG campaign map that didn’t have a symbol for ruins in its key? Somewhere in the Gazetteer there will be a discussion of the empires that rose and fell in the centuries leading up to...

Howling Tower: Question #1

Worldbuilding is about telling stories. Storytelling and worldbuilding flow from the same spring. When no one knew what lay on the far side of the hills or across the wide river, any story about those places was set in an imaginary land that could be as fanciful as the storyteller cared to make it. (“Snakes there have two heads, fish speak in riddles, and the people walk on their hands! I have seen these things, and I tell you they are true!”)...

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