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Storytelling in D&D: Making Potions of Lemonade

Last week I looked at the recent D&D Adventurers League article “State of Mulmaster”, which revealed that the casting of unsanctioned arcane magic within the city of Mulmaster would be punished harshly. The comments on my blog and elsewhere on the Interwebz were (generally) thoughtful and helpful in creating a dialogue to explain the various effects of the ruling and minimize the problems that the ruling might cause at the table.

Many of the commenters here, and commenter “Buttons” in particular, provided advice for dealing with the ruling. I wanted to highlight some of those here, and add my own, as a way of helping DMs and players who are wary of the ruling continue to enjoy D&D Adventurer’s League play:

  • DMs should read the article carefully and understand both the spirit and the letter of the rules held therein. The spirit of the rules, I contend, is not to punish any characters, arcane or otherwise. The rules are there to create an interesting and dynamic setting that can differentiate one adventure (and one storyline season) from another.
  • The rules against arcane casting do not apply outside of the city of Mulmaster. DMs should not be going out of their ways to “catch a caster in the act” unless the rules specifically cover the situation.
  • Educate players who may not have read the article or who don’t understand the rules that the article addresses. If you are about to DM an Expedition adventure where there is a chance that arcane magic might be used and there will likely be witnesses, be sure to instruct the players with arcane casters about their options before the game begins.
  • When characters are about to take an action that might have severe consequences, the DM should explain those potential consequences beforehand clearly and unambiguously. If a player decides to cast an arcane spell in front of witnesses with a Deception check to mask the casting, explain what the DC is and what the likely consequences of a failed check will be.
  • As a player, keep the overall story in mind. The Cloaks are a force in Mulmaster for a reason, and the populace despises arcane casters for a reason. Those reasons are bigger than your individual character. Whether your character supports the status quo or wants to be an agent for change in Mulmaster, the story is the story.
  • As a player, keep your table’s story in mind. Yes, your character might be a Cloak, and she might see another PC casting spells illegally. Rather than just turning in that PC, think of a cool way to keep the story and the game moving forward. “I believe I can convince Thaumatos the Wild of the error in his ways. I am going to talk to him during our adventure together, explaining the history of our city and why unregulated magic is an evil. Surely by the end of our time together, I can convince him.” This adds some nice roleplaying to the game, doesn’t bog down the adventure in the middle of it, and let the story play out, with the consequences taking place at the end of the session if necessary.
  • As a DM, be a fan of the characters and their parts in the story of the game. That doesn’t mean their actions should not have natural consequences. Just work to understand how they want their story—within the confines of the setting—to proceed. Work with them to make that story happen in a way that does not conflict with the setting or the rules, or most importantly, the stories that the rest of the players want to tell.

Thanks to everyone who has taken part in this conversation, regardless of your opinion or outlook. The nature of organized play campaigns like D&D Expeditions leads to people sometimes being unhappy about a setting quirk, a campaign-specific rule, or some other aspects. It is not wrong or even unusual to feel that. It is important to remember, however, that it is part of the nature of the proverbial beast. This Mulmaster issue is just one of the first in what will undoubtedly in a long line of issues. I hope people can continue to enjoy the ride.

Shawn Merwin

Shawn Merwin

Shawn's professional design and editing work in the roleplaying game industry has spanned 20 years and over 4 million words of content. His Dungeons & Dragons work has ranged from 3rd to 5th edition, showing up in sourcebooks, adventures, articles, and Organized Play administration. He has been a driving force in several Organized Play programs, and has written material for Wizards of the Coast (Dungeon Delve, Assault on Nightwyrm Fortress, Halls of Undermountain), Pelgrane Press (Dracula Dossier), Modiphius Entertainment (Star Trek Adventures), Baldman Games (as Content Manager), Kobold Press (Creature Codex, Book of Lairs), and countless others. Find his adventures here: https://www.dmsguild.com/browse.php?keywords=Shawn+Merwin&affiliate_id=465726

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