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‘DM Tips’ Articles

Locust Swarm

For the first D&D 4e campaign I ran, I created the following monster. A locust swarm. As far as I can remember, I never used it, though. It was just part of a random encounter table. Yes, I still used random encounter tables that days…

It would be a pity if the locust swarm would never be used and just gather dust in my drawer. So here it is:

Here is the stat block in text form:

Locust Swarm, Level 2 Soldier
Medium natural beast (swarm), XP 125

HP 38; Bloodied 19, Initiative +7
AC 18; Fortitude 15, Reflex 17, Will 13, Perception +7
Speed 2, fly 7, Darkvision
Swarm attack aura 1; Enemies, that start their turn adjacent to a locust swarm, take 5 damage.
Immune fear; Resist half damage from melee and ranged attacks; Vulnerable 5 against close and area attacks

Standard Actions

m Swarm of Bites * At-Will
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +8 vs. AC
Hit: 1d10 + 4 damage, and the target is dazed and marked until the end of its next turn.

Minor Actions

Splitting swarm * At-Will (only usable while the swarm has at least 10 HP)
Place another Locust Swarm adjacent to the original swarm. Both swarms now have half the HP the original swarm had. The new swarm takes its inititaive right after the original swarm.

Str 15 (+3), Dex 19 (+5), Wis 10 (+1)
Con 14 (+3), Int 2 (-3), Cha 6 (-1)

Alignment Unaligned, Languages -

Locust image by Pietro Izzo published under a Creative Commons license. Stat block created with power2ool.

Giant Wasp

For the first D&D 4e campaign I ran, I created the following monster. A giant wasp. In that campaign, the wasps only appeared once in a dungeon, where one wasp was buried beneath a collapsed ceiling and the others were hovering around and quite aggressive after the “attack” by the ceiling.

But it would be a waste of effort if the Giant Wasps would be used only once. So here are their stats. If you find them useful, feel free to incorporate them into your campaign.

Here is the stat block in text form:

Giant Wasp, Level 3 Skirmisher
Large natural beast, XP 150

HP 48; Bloodied 24, Initiative +6
AC 18; Fortitude 17, Reflex 15, Will 13, Perception +9
Speed 4, fly 10 (hover)

Standard Actions

m Bite * At-Will
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +8 vs. AC
Hit: 1d8+4 damage.

M Sting (poison) * Recharge [4] [5] [6]
A Giant Wasp can shift up to 4 squares before delivering its sting.
Attack: Melee 1 (one creature); +6 vs. Reflex
Hit: 1d8+6 damage, plus ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends).
Failed save: The target also gets a -2 penalty to AC and Reflex (save ends all).

Str 18 (+5), Dex 12 (+2), Wis 13 (+2)
Con 14 (+3), Int 2 (-3), Cha 11 (+1)

Alignment Unaligned, Languages -

Wasp foto by Awesome Joolie published under a Creative Commons License.
Stat block created with power2ool.


You probably already escaped from prison several times. At least a D&D character you played did.

But have you ever tried to get into jail instead of out of it? I haven’t. So here are some ideas.


First of all, why would you want to break in? Here are four reasons to do this. If you come up with more, please tell the world in a comment.

The first and probably most obvious reason is that there is someone in jail, and you want to help him escape.

A second and similar reason might be that there is some item that you want to retrieve. An item that some prisoner carries with him, or maybe even an item that is hidden somewhere in a cell.

Maybe a prisoner has some information that you need, or he can help you in some other way with your errands.

Or you just want do hide. And what is a better place to hide than prison?


Now that you know, why you need to get in, the question is how to do this. Here are some ideas. (Of course, not all ways to get in work with all reasons to get in…) Again, if you know more ways, tell us.

The easiest way to get into prison is to commit a crime, of course. But this is not as simple as it might sound. If you steal something of low value compared to your wealth, the guards might question the reasons for your theft. If you kill an innocent man, your reputation will be severely damaged. So you would have to find just the right level of crime to do this.

Another way is to bribe the prison guards. That’s easy, but the guards will know what you did.

If you have time, you can try to get a job in prison, as a guard or in the kitchen.

Maybe someone already escaped this prison through a tunnel, and this tunnel still exists. Of course, the tunnel has been closed, but only from the prison side. The other side is well hidden, but still open. So you’d only have to dig a little bit…

Maybe you can manage to exchange prisoners with yourself.

If it is possible to visit the prisoners, maybe not all of you leave afterwards. Maybe you manage to have some of you locked in.

If you have ever tried to do something like this, or have any other comments, please tell me. :)

Prison cell image published under a Creative Commons license by Jon Dawson.


During the game, your players will have to make many choices. Should they take the left path or the right? Sometimes, the consequences of a choice will be quite clear. But even if they are not, the players still don’t know what would have happened if they had taken the other path.

How can you show them?

Here are some ideas for the case when your players really have to choose between left and right at some crossroads, between two different paths to their goal.

Something might happen on the other path, which can be perceived from the players’ point of view. Maybe there’s an explosion. Or suddenly all animals flee from the other path, and the players suddenly find themselves in a herd of deer.

The other path itself may even be visible from the path the players have chosen. This could be the case in the mountains, where the players can choose between a way over the mountains and a way through the valley. And from there, they can see what ever they would have encountered in the other way.

What else could you do to show the players what would have happened?

Image: Footpath crossroads, Aconbury Woods (Roger Cornfoot) / CC BY-SA 2.0


Do you want to create new monsters or tweak existing ones without having to do all the math?
Do you want to print stat blocks of your creations or of published monsters for easy reference during your gaming session?

Or do you want to create an electronic character sheet with all your powers and all the information you need?
An electronic character sheet that lets you easily mark powers as used, and that lets you regain your powers after a short or extended rest automatically?
An electronic sheet that also includes a dice roller?

For this and probably much more, there is Power2ool. And: it’s free! If you want to use published monsters or powers without typing them in by yourself, then you need an active DDI subscription, though.

It is a really great tool! It’s a web app, so you don’t have to install anything. You only need a Flash plugin for your browser. The only drawback I found so far is that it doesn’t really work on mobile devices, because you need the shift key and the space bar to edit things and to switch between workspaces.

Have a look at these videos, which give you a first impression, what you can do with the tool. They are more than half a year old, so probably some things have changed by now. (News and changes are published on this website and on twitter.

Power2ool prototype from double wumpus on Vimeo.

Power2ool: The Space Browser from double wumpus on Vimeo.

Power2ool: Automatic Stats for Monsters from double wumpus on Vimeo.

Bubble monsters

It is time for another article inspired by a page of #76 of Dungeon magazine. I started this series in May with “Cold as ice”, and continued two weeks later with “Infinite monsters”.

Page one of the magazine contains the second half of the ad for the video game Jade Cocoon. The first half of that ad gave me the idea for the previous article in this series.

On that page, there are several monsters in bubbles, hovering (just like on this picture). What do you think about letting your players face monsters floating in bubbles that protect them from melee and ranged attacks, while the monsters still can attack the players from within?

Here is a template you can apply to any medium or smaller existing creature that is not a minion or a solo creature. You can find more information about templates in the Dungeon Master’s Guide 2.

Bubble monster; Elite Artillery
XP Elite
Hit Points +8 per level + Constitution score
Saving Throws +2
Action Points 1

The bubble protects the monster and enhances its powers. As long as the bubble exists (see Destroying the bubble), the following changes are applied.

  • Movement: The monster’s usual movement is replaced by 1, fly 6 (hover).
  • Immunity: The monster is immune to melee and ranged attacks (but see Destroying the bubble).
  • Senses: The monster gains all-around vision.
  • Melee powers: All melee powers become ranged powers with a range of 10.
  • Close powers: All close powers become area powers. A close burst [number] becomes an area burst [number] within 10. A close blast [number] becomes an area blast [number/2] within 10.
  • Bounce: The monster gains the Bounce power described below.
  • Resistances: Choose two damage types. The monster gains resistance 5 to both. This resistance increases to 10 at level 11 and to 15 at 21.

Bounce (standard; at-will)
You can charge an enemy and make the following attack in place of the melee basic attack (the +1 bonus for charging already is included in the attack).
Level + 5 vs. Reflex; 1d8 + Intelligence or Dexterity and you knock the target prone
Level 11: 2d8 + Intelligence or Dexterity
Level 21: 3d8 + Intelligence or Dexterity
Effect: After your attack, you may shift half of the number of squares you charged.

Destroying the bubble
The bubble has hit points equal to one quarter of the monster’s HP and the same defenses. It is immune against area attacks and has vulnerability 5 against melee and ranged attacks. If the bubble is reduced to 0 hit points, the bubble disappears. Without the bubble, the monster loses all of the benefits listed above. If the monster cannot fly anymore, it falls slowly and lands on the ground without taking damage.

What do you think about this template? Have you any suggestions, why these monsters come in bubbles?

Picture by tali bamba under a CC license.


Today, when I went to work, I realized that escalators would make an interesting element of a dungeon.

You might use them to surprise your players. Imagine they spot a pressure plate at the foot of stairs. When they examine it, they will soon learn that it activates the stairs, which in fact are an escalator.

Moving stairs could also be an interesting part of a fight. Do you have any ideas or suggestions how this might work? Then feel free to post them in the comments.

Escalator symbol by AIGA.


The other day, I read about people who let snakes bite them in order to get high. Now what about using this idea in D&D? What I have in mind is treating them like magical items with the daily power to bite you or someone else. I’m not sure yet what positive effect this bit should have. But it certainly should also bear some risk, just like the real snakebite.

Photo by licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

A flowery source for NPC names

If you are looking for an NPC name, go to your town’s botanical garden. The scientific names of plants are a never-ending source of ideas for names. You can search the web for those scientific names as well, of course.

Look, e.g., at Wikipedia’s page about Cichorieae, which is some tribe of plants. There, you find dozens of possible names:

  • Faberia
  • Mycelis
  • Nabalus
  • Tolpis

and many more.

(Those are all different kinds of daisies, by the way.)

The image is licensed by Kristian Peters under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

The 5×5 Method

In case you haven’t heard about or haven’t tried the 5×5 method yet, you should absolutely have a look at it. It is a great way to plan an adventure or an entire campaign within no time, while giving the players choices that matter. Check out the 5×5 method compendium on Critical Hits.