A Dash of Flavor Text: D&D Umami

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Tabletop gaming is a lot like cooking: there are different flavors you can utilize to make your dish tasty and unique. Not every flavor is going to be used in every recipe, because that would be disgusting, but you can punch up a few to make a recipe go from good to great. Of course, not everyone likes the same thing–as they say different strokes for different folks (or, a better alternative, different games for different dames), but they’re all tools at your DM Disposal.

We have covered so many basic DnD components in this little blog column here on LSQ, from creative character building to stellar setting creation. Now that we all have a general understanding of what it takes to make a DnD campaign, we can move on to the really fun stuff. That’s right, I’m talking about the creme de la creme: the special little ornaments that make a game memorable, that set it apart in your mind from all the rest. These are the campaigns that come to the forefront mind when you think about how much you love this game, the ones that overwrite all of the boring or dull ones you’ve been begrudgingly a part of. It truly is the little things in life, and DnD life is no exception!

As we go more in-depth, there are sadly less specifics I can share with you. This is where we start deviating from the Dungeon Master’s Guide and start really making the game your own. Although DnD is the most popular and well-known tabletop game, there are dozens to choose from, and many use DnD simply as a gateway drug to more freestyle gaming titles. Unlike expensive board games, sometimes all tabletop games require is a pencil and an idea, making them pretty accessible to anyone who wants to try it out. (That being said, you will probably find yourself spending money on it anyway. They don’t make dice bags this big because people need all those dice).

Without further ado, here are a few flavors that stepped campaigns I was a part of (either as a player or DM) up a notch.

Add Spice to Combat 

It’s so easy, especially for newer players, to get bored with combat quickly. This is especially true with physical attackers, whose characters can get into a rut with repeatedly swinging their club/axe/pointy-stabby weapon around. There can be a few reasons for this, but to force your players to think more creatively, you’ll have to give them a place to start. Set your expectations. Make sure they keep it focused on the storytelling, using the dice as a tool rather than a crystal ball. Tell them to think first and act second, to picture it cinematically. What would be cool or interesting to watch if this campaign was a movie? Whether the end result is comical or devastating is for the dice to decide, but the initial plan for action is on the player.

Confiscate Ingredients

Just like in Alton Brown’s diabolical show, Cutthroat Kitchen, put limitations in play to narrow the scope of the player’s actions. How cool would a battle be where the floor is lava, literally, socandy pack lot they can’t set foot on the ground? What tools can you give them to make this battle possible? How will he make that tomato sauce taste good without any garlic? (spoilers: he can’t). Taking options away and making them work with a smaller purview could call for some pretty creative problem solving!

Consider the Senses

Experts say you “eat with your eyes first,” and they’re not wrong! It’s not just about how the dish tastes, but it also has to look appetizing. Although writers say to use all the five senses when writing, it’s easy to forget a couple along the way. In DnD, it might be easiest to describe things visually, but what does it feel like? Does the air smell funny? I stumbled upon this table on “adding set dressing” on Reddit that works for some last-minute inspiration to get those writer juices flowing. Try rolling a die and just seeing where it lands! Having to incorporate a quality that might not have easily fit prior is a good opportunity for you to add something unexpected to the scene!

Incorporate a Side Dish

Who doesn’t love a good side quest? Having a main goal for the party is essential to any DnD campaign, but sprinkling in other opportunities for NPC interaction, reward-seeking, and miscellaneous events can keep players on their toes. One time, I had the town my players were staying in be the host of a community fishing tournament. It was just a one-off line said by an NPC to create a colorful environment, but every player was immediately intrigued by this idea and they all wanted to participate. Naturally, it turned into a 20-30 minute detour, but it was a lot of spontaneous fun!. Naturally, I had to make up a bunch of information on the fly, but it was worth it. Don’t be afraid to add details that might not “mean anything” to the main quest, for there is always a side quest just waiting to be explored!

These are only a few suggestions of the many, many things you could do to season your campaign, so to speak. All this talk about food is making me hungry. Whose turn was it to bring the snacks this week?

Until next time, players. Let the good dice roll! ⚀⚁⚂