Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Combat Expansion

Not your ordinary, every day duel
I've been watching a lot of Dice, Camera, Action lately. It goes without saying that it's a great show - the players are amazing and the DM is Chris Perkins, a masterful storyteller (oh and he also writes the official D&D modules).

One thing I noticed is that Chris tends to run these long, expansive combats that cover large amounts of terrain, feature dozens of combatants (not all of them enemies of the players), and take a long time to play through.

Though I prefer shorter combats (or at least more efficient ones), I do like the "mass combat" feeling for epic battles and uncertain struggles. But this involves making small adjustments on the fly to guide the combat to an appropriate difficulty. If you know the players still have to defeat the Dragon King, they shouldn't be totally exhausted after fighting a horde of minions.

So, let's talk about ways to make combat harder or easier in the middle of a combat!

Pump It Up: Making Combat Harder


In the middle of a combat, you find that your puny little monsters are falling left and right. That's no good - this is their only combat today, and hey, these cultists are supposed to be dangerous! Time to give your monsters an upgrade.

DRAGON. D-R-A-G-ow! Stop that!
The easiest way to make a combat harder is to add more hit points to the monster side. More hit points means the monsters are alive longer, which means they get those extra attacks in on the players. Here's some easy ways to do this:
  1. Have a monster drink a healing potion or use healing magic. The players do it, why shouldn't you?
    • Remember that drinking healing potions is an action. For quicker healing, try Healing Word.
    • A basic healing potion will only keep a monster alive through one more attack. Try Greater or Superior potions!
    • If you use this method, make sure to include the potions as loot after the combat.
  2. Have some new monsters join the fray! It's still more hit points, just in new bodies!
    • If you can include different kinds of monsters, you could add minions or masters of the original combatants to change to enemy's tactical dynamic
  3. Have a bigger, beefier version of a monster join the combat. This is a time-honored fantasy tradition.
    • Monsters in the Manual usually use their average hit points. Just bump that up to the maximum!
    • Orcs normally have 15 (2d8+6) hit points. But the big beefy boy that just rolled in has the full 22!
    • Make sure you don't use this on a monster you've already described. The players will feel the difference in HP and need to have some way for it to make sense in-world.
  4. Are these cultists of a death god? Servants of the Raven Queen? Heralds of an Angel? Well, then they don't just die! Get some resurrection magic going and bring them back for round two!
    • The basic spell for this is Revivify. It's only 3rd level, so most evil clerics should have it prepared.

If you can't easily add hit points, then there are ways to subtract hit points from the players to get a similar effect. This is a little trickier to do, since a lot of these methods will feel unfair to the players.

Here's a simple rule to follow: If you're adding something to the world to hurt the players, it's unfair. If you're using something that's already in the world to hurt the players, it's fair game!

With that in mind, here's some ways to bring the pain.
  1. Give a monster a magic sword or wand
    • Again, try to pick a monster that hasn't had a chance to do much yet, so them using the item feels justified.
    • Or, make the monster seem like they are using this item out of desperation!
    • If you use this method, make sure to include the magic item as loot after the combat!
  2. Trigger a trap or terrain effect that damages the players
    • This must have been previously established in the combat setting. Otherwise, your players will assume you're just trying to kill them, instead of challenge them.
    • Example: Random rocks falling from the ceiling is bad. A goblin pushing a stone pillar onto the players? Perfectly fine.
    • You can make this even more fair if some monsters are affected as well
  3. Trigger a terrain effect that divides the players
    • Players rely on combat roles to work as a party
    • Once the wizard is facing enemies without a fighter's protection, things get more complicated
    • Think about the Darth Maul fight in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Once Obi-Wan was behind a laser door, the fight tilted in Maul's favor.
  4. Add a condition, disadvantage, or penalty
    • Doesn't affect hit points, but does allow the monsters to deal more damage!

Finally, if none of these methods are really working, there's one last cop out:

Let it go.

So they killed your cultists in a single round? Well, how many Fireball spells can the wizard really cast today? D&D is a game of resource attrition, and your combat reduced the amount of resources your players had available. In that sense, it was a success!

So, instead of making a single combat more difficult... just add another one between them and their goal. Until they reach it, the players don't know it's coming. Play the long con. You are the DM, you have the power.

Now that we're done with that...

Slow Your Roll: Making Combat Easier


No fear here!
On the flip side of things, you might suddenly realize that these back-alley thugs are about to execute your players, and you only started your adventure 5 minutes ago! It's not their fault - the dice have been rolling terribly. You have to figure out how to ease up a bit, but you can't just say these bloodthirsty killers aren't bloodthirsty killers!

Well, we have similar methods here. Let's start with changing around hit points.
  1. Hurt the monsters with a trap, terrain effect, or by dividing them up
    • Again, try to use something already established in the setting
    • You can also play this as a "divine intervention" moment if you have religious characters
    • The key here is: take out some of the bad guys for the players, so they take less attacks through the remainder of the fight
  2. Have allies show up
    • Just like reinforcements, this adds hit points to the player's side
    • Make sure your monsters direct some attacks at the allies, to take the heat off of the PCs.
  3. Slight monster adjustments
    • If there's a monster you haven't described well, bring it up as "the sickly one" and lower its hit points. Like the opposite of "the beefy one".
    • If a monster is a few hit points away from death, just let the thing die
  4. Heal the players
    • Could be anything from a God's intervention to finding a healing potion on the ground
    • Don't use this too often - players need to feel like they control their own hit points

For making combat easier, there's another method that is extremely useful: non-combat solutions!
  1. The monsters run away
    • It's can't be due to the players, though
    • Maybe a new, bigger monster just showed up?
  2. The monsters are taking hostages
    • Thus, even a "Total Party Kill" becomes just a stepping stone to the next scene: escaping capture!
  3. The monsters stop combat for some reason
    • They could be interesting in negotiating, now that they have the upper hand
    • Perhaps the monster is guarding treasure, or its eggs, or something, only attacks creatures within a certain distance
  4. Run!
    • Obviously, sneaking away in combat is very difficult, but possible
    • I like to use a home-brewed retreat rule
    • This might lead to a chase scene, which requires its own rules, but is less dangerous to hit points than combat

Here's my retreat rule:
Retreat. On your turn, you can use your action to call a retreat. Each ally that can hear you may immediately use their reaction (if available) to move up to their speed away from hostile monsters in combat. This movement provokes opportunity attacks. Creatures that are incapacitated or have a speed of 0 feet cannot take this reaction.

This simply allows me to set up a chase scene where the party is already at least 30 feet away from their pursuers. If you decided to do a chase in initiative, there's this weird game of catch-up where some party members keep getting attacked because they moved after the monsters did.

Again, if none of these methods are really working, there is another cop out method you can go for.

Stop the game, admit you messed up, and start the combat over with less monsters.

This is really difficult for some people to do. There's a feeling that D&D is supposed to be "dangerous", and the DM is supposed to have mastered the game before the players sit down to play.

But D&D isn't supposed to be dangerous. It's supposed to be fun.

And if your players are getting slaughtered by goblins, that might not be their idea of fun. So stop the game, admit you messed up, and start the combat over with less monsters. I promise they will be okay with it.

Building Narrative Combats


The ultimate goal of D&D is to tell the story of the characters. Whether it's an epic, world-saving story or just the tale of a few dungeon delvers out to make some gold and kill some gobbos, the narrative is the key thread that ties the game together.

Combat is an important part of that thread. In fact, if you don't want a combat-driven game, you're better off going for something other than D&D. D&D is about Dungeons and Dragons. Exploration and combat. It's the backbone of the game.

In the same way that you can build a compelling narrative, you can build a compelling combat. A lot of DMs complain that "Boss Fights" in 5e don't feel epic enough. That's because they aren't treating them like epic confrontations. If you just plop a dragon in front of the players, it's not going to feel much different than a ton of goblins with a similar challenge rating. Unless you make your combats feel unique, they will all feel the same. Stats and abilities can only take you so far.

So when you're setting up that epic dragon combat, think of it like a movie's action scene. First, they have to fortify their position.
Then, they fight off some minions.
Reinforcements! A bigger bad guy is coming! He's nasty.
Uh oh, looks like a PC nearly died... and we're not even to the dragon yet. Hm.
Things are looking bad. Let's change the enemy dynamic a bit. They aren't the dragon's minions, they're his slaves, and they know better than to get in his way!
Here he comes...
Looks like one player sounding the retreat to save his allies - epic!
And that's how you make a fight feel like a story.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Old News: A Sheetload of Monsters

And proud of it.
Once again, life has gotten in the way of D&D. Not that that's a bad thing. Go outside once in a while!

To make up for it, here's a little pet project I've been working on for the past year. It's a google spreadsheet with every official monster printed for D&D 5e, plus a couple books worth of third-party monsters.

Check out the second sheet for abbreviations and sources! If you want to edit it for your own use, you'll have to download it.

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1_nqWMRankudpcLMDNEO1wzbCletKPwbwisAAc3KIF0A/edit?usp=sharing

In other news, this is officially the 200th post on this blog. Hooray! I didn't realize it would be so short...

Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Creature Loot: Volo's Guide E, F & G



Today on Creature Loot: monsters that players will ask you if they can play
Another Friday, another delve into Volo's Guide for some sweet monster loot. You can find the full index of creature loot here, and the entire Monster Manual in PDF form here.

Firenewt Warrior (1/2) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Tattered Scimitar
  • 1 Tattered Chain Shirt
  • 1 Tattered Shield
  • 1 Firenewt Fire Gland: As an action, a creature can squeeze the Fire Gland through a torch or other open flame. The liquid inside ignites as it passes through the flame, targeting a creature within 10 feet of the gland. The target must make a DC 11 Dexterity saving throw, taking 9 (2d8) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. This property can be used once before the Fire Gland dries up.

Giant Strider (1) - monstrosity (nature)
  • 1 Giant Strider Fire Sac: As an action, a creature can light the Fire Sac with a torch or other open flame, and throw it at a point within 60 feet. When it hit the ground, the sac bursts, spreading fire within a 10-foot radius. Each creature in the area must make a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw, taking 14 (4d6) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. The fire spreads around corners, and it ignites flammable objects in the area that aren't being worn or carried. Using the Fire Sac in this way destroys it.

Firenewt Warlock of Imix (1) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Tattered Morningstar
  • 1 Firenewt Fire Gland: As an action, a creature can squeeze the Fire Gland through a torch or other open flame. The liquid inside ignites as it passes through the flame, targeting a creature within 10 feet of the gland. The target must make a DC 11 Dexterity saving throw, taking 9 (2d8) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. This property can be used once before the Fire Gland dries up.
  • 1 Staff of Imix: Requires attunement. The staff has 3 charges. A creature attuned to the staff can use it as an Arcane Focus, and can expend 1 charge to cast Burning Hands (Save DC 12) from the staff. The staff regains 1d4-1 charges each day at dawn. Curse. While a creature is attuned to the staff, they must make a DC 12 Charisma saving throw at the end of each long rest and when they expend a charge from the staff. This saving throw is rolled with disadvantage if made due to a charge being expended. On a failed save, an Aspect of Imix (using the stats of a Fire Elemental) appears to the attuned creature, offering fiery power in exchange for servitude. If he is turned down, he becomes an enemy of the creature for the rest of their mortal life. If his offer is accepted, the character's next level must be a level in the Warlock Class, using the Fiend Patron subclass.

Flail Snail (3) - elemental (arcana)
  • 1 Flail Snail Shell: No immediate use. Can be mastercrafted (smith's tools) into 3 Antimagic Shields. The Shields are under the effect of an Antimagic Shell spell for 30 days. Once the time passes, they become mundane shields, though they can be further mastercrafted by a spellcaster (abjuration) into a beautiful Spellguard Shield. Can also be mastercrafted (weaver's tools) into a Robe of Scintillating Colors.
  • 1d6-1 Flail Snail Eyestalks: Acts as a mace. Three of these can be carefully crafted (smith's tools) into a magic Flail +1.
  • 1d4 Shards of Hardened Flail Snail Slime: Highly valuable, glass-like substance. A shard can be sold for 100gp.

Froghemoth (10) - monstrosity (nature)
  • 1 Froghemoth Hide: Acts as a blanket. Can be carefully crafted (smith's tools) into Studded Leather Armor or Scale Mail that requires attunement. An attuned creature gains resistance to fire and lightning damage, but if the creature takes lightning damage, it acts as if under the effects of a Slow spell until the end of its next turn.
  • 2d2 Froghemoth Tentacles: Acts as a whip that deals 1d8 damage on a hit and has the heavy property.
  • 1 Froghemoth Tongue: Acts as a whip with a range of 30 feet. On a hit, the target is grappled and must make a DC 18 strength saving throw. On a failed save, the attacker can choose to pull the target into an unoccupied space within 5 feet of them.
  • 3 Froghemoth Eyes: No Immediate use. Can be crafted (alchemist's supplies) into a Potion of Darkvision (grants Darkvision out to 60 feet for 1 hour).
  • 1 Froghemoth Stomach: Acts as a tent that is immune to acid damage. Can be carefully crafted (leatherworker's tools) into a cloak that grants resistance to acid damage to a creature wearing it.
  • 2d4 Vials of Froghemoth Slime: Acts as Oil of Slipperiness

Giants

Dual-wielding shields?! Players will want that.
Cloud Giant Smiling One (11) - giant (survival)
  • 1 Tattered Morningstar: 2 times the size of a normal morningstar and 8 times the weight.
  • 1 Pouch of Gold: Contains 2d6 x 100 GP.
  • 1 Set of Fine Robes: Worth 1,000 GP.
  • 2d4 Giant’s Toes: No immediate use. Sought as trophies by hunters and heroes, and can be sold for a good price to collectors or admirers.
  • 1 Cloud Giant Heart: No immediate use. Can be carefully crafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Cloud Giant Strength.
  • 1 Smiling Giant Mask: Requires attunement. An attuned creature can use the mask to cast Disguise Self at will. They can also use an action to cast Polymorph, targeting themselves only. Once the spell has been cast, the mask cannot cast Polymorph again until the next dawn.
  • 1 Holy Symbol of Memnor: Can be used as a Holy Symbol by clerics of Memnor. Cloud Giants who see a creature bearing this object are less trusting of the creature, giving it disadvantage on Charisma checks made to influence the giant.

Fire Giant Dreadnought (14) - giant (survival)
  • 4d4 Items in a Giant's Bag.
  • 2 Sets of Smith’s Tools: 2 times the size and 8 times the weight of a normal set.
  • 1 Set of Fire Giant Plate Armor: Acts as 8 sets of Tattered Plate Armor.
  • 2d4 Giant’s Toes: No immediate use. Sought as trophies by hunters and heroes, and can be sold for a good price to collectors or admirers.
  • 1 Fire Giant Heart: No immediate use. Can be carefully crafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Fire Giant Strength.
  • 2 Spiked Giant Shields: 2 times the size and 8 times the weight of a normal shield. A creature with a Strength Score of 20 or higher can wield the shield with two hands. In addition to the normal benefits of a shield, the creature can use their action to make a single special melee attack. On a hit, the shield deals 2d6 bludgeoning damage, 1d6 piercing damage, and 1d6 fire damage. If the creature has the Extra Attack feature, they cannot benefit from it while attacking with the shield in this way.
  • 1 Pair of Fire Giant Greaves: 2 times the size and 8 times the weight of a normal set. Together, the pair can be mastercrafted (smith's tools) into a set of Plate Armor that requires attunement, and grants resistance to fire damage.
  • 1 Fire Giant Dreadnought Helm: 2 times the size and 8 times the weight of a normal helm. Can be mastercrafted (smith's tools) into a set of Plate Armor that requires attunement, and grants resistance to fire damage.

Frost Giant Everlasting One (12) - giant (survival)
  • 1 Tattered Greataxe: 2 times the size of a normal greataxe and 8 times the weight.
  • 2d4 Tattered Armor Pieces: The DM selects various pieces of armor, weapons, or (for higher rank Frost Giants) dragon bones that make up the Giant’s armor.
  • 2d4 Giant’s Toes: No immediate use. Sought as trophies by hunters and heroes, and can be sold for a good price to collectors or admirers.
  • 1 Frost Giant Heart: No immediate use. Can be carefully crafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Frost Giant Strength.
  • 1d4-1 (minimum 1) Frost Giant Heads: While a head or item crafted from a head is held, the bearer has advantage on Charisma checks made to influence Frost Giants, and disadvantage on Charisma checks made to influence Trolls. A head can be carefully crafted (leatherworker's tools) into a helm or shield that requires attunement. An attuned creature gains +1 to AC (if the item is a shield, this is in addition to the normal +2). Curse. While attuned, the creature is ravenously hungry. Each day in the wilderness, they must consume four times the normal amount of rations to stay alive. Each day in a town requires 2 GP to support their eating habits. If they go one day without meeting this requirement, they immediately gain one level of exhaustion and begin starving (PHB pg. 185).
  • 3d4 Hunks of Troll Meat: Can be consumed as rations. When eaten, the user must succeed on a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or become poisoned for 8 hours. If a creature eats two half-chunks instead of one full chunk, the remainder of the two chunks regrows into two full chunks in 24 hours. This property doesn’t work (and the Constitution saving throw isn’t required) if the meat is cooked or cured.

Mouth of Grolantor (6) - giant (survival)
  • 1d4 Items in a Giant's Bag.
  • 1d4 Giant’s Toes: No immediate use. Sought as trophies by hunters and heroes, and can be sold for a good price to collectors or admirers.
  • 1 Hill Giant Heart: No immediate use. Can be carefully crafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Hill Giant Strength.
  • 1 Stomach of Grolantor: No immediate effect. Can be carefully crafted by a spellcaster (transmutation) into a Bag of Holding.

Stone Giant Dreamwalker (10) - giant (survival)
  • 1 Tattered Greatclub: 2 times the size of a normal greatclub and 8 times the weight.
  • 1d4 Artistic Stones: Worth 100 GP each due to the intricate sculpture.
  • 2d4 Giant’s Toes: No immediate use. Sought as trophies by hunters and heroes, and can be sold for a good price to collectors or admirers.
  • 1 Stone Giant Heart: No immediate use. Can be carefully crafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Stone Giant Strength.
  • 1 Hand of the Dreamwalker: Difficult to handle, must be carried within a stone container or by a stone creature. When the hand touches a non-stone creature or object, it begins to turn to stone. The radius of objects turned to stone increases by 5 feet each round up to a maximum radius of 30 feet. A creature within the area of stone at the start of its turn is affected by a Flesh to Stone (Save DC 17) spell. However, the creature cannot end the spell by successful saving throws as long as they are within the radius of stone. Objects and creatures that aren't in physical contact with the hand or stone created by the hand are immune to these effects. After the hand has been in one place for 1 hour, it and the area around it become nonmagical stone.
  • 2 Eyes of the Dreamwalker: No immediate use. Can be carefully crafted by a spellcaster (Enchantment) into Eyes of Charming. 

Storm Giant Quintessent (16) - giant (survival)
  • 4d4 Items in a Giant's Bag.
  • 1 Pouch of Gold: Contains 4d6 x 100 GP.
  • 1 Set of Fine Robes: Worth 1,000 GP.
  • 1 Set of Storm Giant Scale Mail: Acts as 27 sets of Tattered Scale Mail.
  • 1d10 Beard Hairs of the Storm Giant: Can be used as the material component to any spell causing lightning or thunder damage. 5 of these can be mastercrafted (evocation) by a spellcaster into a Wand of Lightning Bolts.
  • 1 Prophetic Totem: Appears to be a Crystal Ball, Mirror, or some other item used to seek omens and prophecies. Can be used as an arcane focus for Divination spells, and negates the need for material components costing up to 1,000 GP.
  • 2d4 Giant’s Toes: No immediate use. Sought as trophies by hunters and heroes, and can be sold for a good price to collectors or admirers.
  • 1 Storm Giant Heart: No immediate use. Can be carefully crafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Storm Giant Strength.
  • 1 Lightning Sword: Acts as a Flame Tongue greatsword that deals lightning damage instead of fire damage.
  • 2 Motes of Elemental Air: Appears as a tiny puff of cloud. If held in the hand and blown upon, casts Fog Cloud centered on the mote. Can be used as the material component of a Commune spell to contact a deity in the Elemental Plane of Air. Using either of these abilities destroys the mote.

  • 1 Heart of Wind: Identical to a Mote of Elemental Air, and can be used for the same purposes. In addition to its other properties, it can be mastercrafted (evocation) by a spellcaster into a portal to the Elemental Plane of Air. The portal is stationary in the location it is crafted.


http://desertdruidcrafts.tumblr.com/
Storm Giant + Storm Sorcerer = players will figure out how to make it work
Girallon (4) - monstrosity (nature)
  • 1 Girallon Hide: Acts as a trophy for hunters and trappers. Can be carefully crafted (leatherworker's tools) into two thick coats that grant resistance to cold damage when worn. In extreme heat (DMG pg. 110), a creature wearing the coat rolls Constitution saving throws to avoid exhaustion with disadvantage.
  • 2d4 Girallon Fangs: Acts as a dagger.
  • 1d4 Girallon Hands: No immediate use. Can be carefully crafted (smith's tools) into a grappling hook.

Gnolls

Flind (9) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Tattered Set of Chain Mail
  • 1 Heavy Skull of Madness: No immediate use. Can be crafted (smith's tools) into a magical flail. A creature hit by the flail must make a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the creature must make a melee attack against a random target within its reach on its next turn. If it has no targets within its reach even after moving, it loses its action on that turn.
  • 1 Heavy Skull of Pain: No immediate use. Can be crafted (smith's tools) into a magical flail. A creature hit by the flail takes an additional 18 (4d8) psychic damage.
  • 1 Heavy Skull of Paralysis: No immediate use. Can be crafted (smith's tools) into a magical flail. A creature hit by the flail must succeed on a DC 16 Constitution saving throw or be paralyzed until the end of its next turn.
  • 1d4 Gnawed Trinkets: Roll on the Trinket table. Any item found is chewed up and useless.
  • 2 Days of Rations
  • 2d4 Demonic Jewelry: No immediate use. Can be crafted (transmutation) by a spellcaster into valuable materials that can replace 10GP worth of material components in a conjuration spell.
  • 1 Demon Heart: While holding the heart, it can be used to cast Plane Shift as a ritual. Only the creature holding the heart may shift. This consumes the heart. When the spell is cast, roll 1d20. On a 1, the bearer is shifted to Yeenoghu’s layer in the Abyss instead of the intended destination.
  • 1 Flind Skull: Within 10 feet of the skull, creatures have advantage on Charisma (Intimidation) checks and disadvantage on all other Charisma checks. The skull can be attuned to. An attuned creature gains the benefit of a Sanctuary spell (DC 14) when a Gnoll attempts to harm it. A Gnoll that passes its saving throw is immune to this effect for 24 hours.

Gnoll Flesh Gnawer (1) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Tattered Shortsword
  • 1 Tattered Set of Studded Leather Armor
  • 1d4 Gnawed Trinkets: Roll on the Trinket table. Any item found is chewed up and useless.
  • 2 Days of Rations

Gnoll Hunter (1/2) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Tattered Spear
  • 1 Tattered Longbow
  • 1 Tattered Set of Leather Armor
  • 1d4 Gnawed Trinkets: Roll on the Trinket table. Any item found is chewed up and useless.

Gnoll Witherling (1/4) - undead (religion)
  • 1 Tattered Club
  • 2d4 Demonic Jewelry: No immediate use. Can be crafted (transmutation) by a spellcaster into valuable materials that can replace 10GP worth of material components in a conjuration spell.

Need I say more...?
Grung (1/4) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Tattered Dagger
  • 1 Vial of Grung Poison: Loses potency 1 minute after being exposed to air. Can be smeared on an object. A creature that touches the poison with their exposed skin must make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, the creature is poisoned for 1 minute, and can repeat its saving throw on its turn to end the effect if it is no longer in contact with the poison.

Grung Elite Warrior (2) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Tattered Dagger
  • 1 Tattered Shortbow
  • 1 Vial of Grung Poison: Loses potency 1 minute after being exposed to air. Can be smeared on an object. A creature that touches the poison with their exposed skin must make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, the creature is poisoned for 1 minute, and can repeat its saving throw on its turn to end the effect if it is no longer in contact with the poison.
  • 1 Grung Warrior Head: No immediate use. Can be carefully crafted (leatherworker's tools) into a horn that makes a mesmerizing chirring noise. Each non-Grung humanoid and beast within 15 feet of the horn when it is blown and that can hear the horn must succeed on a DC 12 Wisdom saving throw or be stunned until the end of their next turn.

Grung Wilding (1) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Tattered Dagger
  • 1 Tattered Shortbow
  • 1 Vial of Grung Poison: Loses potency 1 minute after being exposed to air. Can be smeared on an object. A creature that touches the poison with their exposed skin must make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, the creature is poisoned for 1 minute, and can repeat its saving throw on its turn to end the effect if it is no longer in contact with the poison.
  • 1 Druidic Focus

Guard Drake (2) - dragon (nature)
  • 2d10 Dragon Scales: No immediate use. 25 of these can be mastercrafted (smith's tools) into a shield that grants resistance to the type of damage related to the Guard Drake's color while in use. 


By the way, if your players really won't shut up about their inability to play monster races, just send them here. Then, laugh as they choose to play a woefully underpowered race. Anyway, next time, a whole bunch of letters!

https://isvoc.deviantart.com/art/Kirin-206541236
Magical horses!


Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

How I Do Alignment

https://feliciacano.deviantart.com/art/Avatar-of-Justice-for-Talisman-184117976
It's all about balance
So, Alignment.

No matter what some DMs might say, if you're playing in a D&D setting you can't ignore it. The entire multiverse revolves around it, after all. Also, every player has seen the grid. They know the alignment of their favorite movie characters. They want to define their own characters by it. You can't take it away.

The least you can do it make it more interesting.

I've talked about this before. Most people see Good as annoying Boy Scouts and Evil as something the villains do. Lawful characters are stick-in-the-mud weirdos, and Chaotic characters are cool dudes who do what they want.

Which is why most parties tend to gravitate towards Chaotic Neutral. By those definitions, what choice is there? The players need agency, and they have to get their hands dirty sometimes. If you stick to those limited definitions, that's really the only way you can go.

However, even then, there's not really a good way to assign alignments to PCs. Players don't really consider alignment when they make decisions. The definitions of alignment don't mesh well with player agency and people have a hard time defining if an action is "lawful" or "good".

Also, characters are supposed to change over time. If characters are stuck to a single alignment, how do they grow? Can they ever change their outlook? And even if your players are really talented role-players and the last two reasons don't apply, there's the issue of the afterlife. A Lawful Good character could end up in one of three different Outer Planes. Who decides that? Which one? Why?

So, here's my basic rules for alignment:
  1. Mortals don't have a set alignment, immortals do (related to their Godhood)
  2. However, mortals do have a philosophy that helps them inform their actions and understand the world
    • This is the alignment written on the character sheet. It's more like a statement of intent that a solid rule system
  3. That philosophy can change over the course of a mortal's life
    • And it changes whether or not the alignment on the sheet changes
  4. At the end of a mortal's life, The Raven Queen judges their soul and assigns them to an Outer Plane based on the dominant philosophy they embodied

The Raven Queen judges souls based on two topics: how selfless you are, and how respectful you are. These correspond to morality (good vs evil) and society (law vs chaos).


https://twitter.com/advocatingavian?lang=en
R-E-S-P-E-C-T
But it's not enough to simply judge a person's intent. The person's worldview is also in question. A villain who breaks the rules because they believe everyone else does is a very different person than a villain who breaks the rules to take advantage of those who don't.

This ends up creating a 4-by-4 grid, using the following elements:
  • Lawful (obeys laws and believes others do too)
  • Disciplined (obeys laws but thinks others don't)
  • Delinquent (breaks laws but thinks others don't)
  • Chaotic (breaks laws and believes everybody does)

  • Good (helps people and believes others do too)
  • Magnanimous (helps people but thinks others don't)
  • Covetous (doesn't help others but thinks others do)
  • Evil (doesn't help others and believes nobody does)

There are also creatures who are unaligned on one axis or another.
  • A creature with Intelligence of 3 or less lacks the capacity to understand laws, and cannot accept or reject them
  • A creature with Wisdom of 3 or less lacks the capacity to understand morality, and is unable to help or hinder other creatures, only focusing on its own survival

These elements are then combined into the following 21 categories. Remember, these categories are esoteric and difficult to follow exactly for mortals. Rather, they will adopt one of the philosophies below.

Lawful Good (LG)
  • Follows rules and helps people. Believes most people do the same.
  • Souls deemed Lawful Good by the Raven Queen are sent to the Seven Heavens of Mount Celestia.
  • "If society didn't work, if people didn't look after each other, we'd have died out long ago. But it's up to each of us to carry that tradition."

Lawful Magnanimous (LMa)
  • Follows rules and helps people. Believes most people play by the rules but don't always help other people.
  • Souls deemed Lawful Magnanimous by the Raven Queen are sent to the Peaceable Kingdom of Arcadia.
  • "If men were celestials, we would have no need for government. However, since that is not the case, we must work to make our society as just as possible, to prevent men from abusing the system."

Lawful Covetous (LCo)
  • Follows rules but bends them for their own benefit. Believes most people play by the rules and help each other.
  • Souls deemed Lawful Covetous by the Raven Queen are sent to the Infinite Battlefields of Acheron.
  • "The world is full of simple-minded people, who do what they're told and smile like lambs lead to slaughter. It's child's play to milk them for all they're worth, and the best part is, it's not even illegal!"

Lawful Evil (LE)
  • Follows rules but bends them for their own benefit. Believes most people do the same.
  • Souls deemed Lawful Evil by the Raven Queen are sent to The Nine Hells of Baator.
  • "Nowadays, you can get away with murder if you say you're being mind-controlled or it was self-defense. Don't look so shocked! Everybody does it!"

Disciplined Good (DiG)
  • Follows rules and helps people. Believes most people try to help but don't always obey society's rules to do so.
  • Souls deemed Disciplined Good by the Raven Queen are sent to the Blessed Fields of Elysium.
  • "My training has brought out the best in me as a person. I know that not everyone has the drive to master what I have mastered, but I believe that the spark of potential lies within us all."

Disciplined Magnanimous (DiMa)
  • Follows rules and helps people. Believes most people don't do either.
  • Souls deemed Disciplined Magnanimous by the Raven Queen are sent to the Twin Paradises of Bytopia.
  • "Society is failing. People kill each other, rob each other blind, leave each other dying in the streets. I have to rise above that. Even if nobody else will."

Disciplined Covetous (DiCo)
  • Follows rules but bends them for their own benefit. Believes most people try to help but don't always obey society's rules to do so.
  • Souls deemed Disciplined Covetous by the Raven Queen are sent to the Bleak Eternity of Gehenna.
  • "Every person you meet on the street will wave hello to you, or help you carry a heavy package. But they've all got their dark secrets, things they can't admit they've done. At least I'm honest about what I've done. My conscience is clean."

Disciplined Evil (DiE)
  • Follows rules but bends them for their own benefit. Believes most people break rules and hurt each other.
  • Souls deemed Disciplined Evil by the Raven Queen are sent to the Gray Waste of Hades.
  • "People are idiots. Why bother breaking the law to get what you want, when you can just learn the laws and work around them? If you're going to rob and kill someone, at least make it so you won't have to face the judge!"

Delinquent Good (DeG)
  • Breaks the rules to help people. Believes most people play by the rules and help each other.
  • Souls deemed Disciplined Good by the Raven Queen are sent to the Blessed Fields of Elysium.
  • "I believe people want to do what's right. But sometimes, the law of the land gets in the way. That's where I come in."

Delinquent Magnanimous (DeMa)
  • Breaks the rules to help people. Believes most people play by the rules but don't always help other people.
  • Souls deemed Disciplined Magnanimous by the Raven Queen are sent to the Wilderness of The Beastlands.
  • "The government is corrupt. They get away with murder while placing the blame on the destitute and downtrodden. If I'm going to do what's right, I have to wash my hands of all their tarnished laws."

Delinquent Covetous (DeCo)
  • Ignores the rules and doesn't help others. Believes most people do the opposite.
  • Souls deemed Disciplined Covetous by the Raven Queen are sent to the Tarterian Depths of Carceri.
  • "Morals? Laws? Those are for the dumb sheep that mill about the city streets. I do what I want, and don't worry too much about who gets in my way."

Delinquent Evil (DeE)
  • Ignores the rules and doesn't help others. Believes most people play by the rules but don't always help other people.
  • Souls deemed Delinquent Evil by the Raven Queen are sent to the Grey Waste of Hades.
  • "In the end, everybody is just looking out for themselves. The difference is, most people are too afraid of Johnny Law to do anything about it. Not me!"

Chaotic Good (CG)
  • Breaks the rules to help people. Believes most people do the same.
  • Souls deemed Chaotic Good by the Raven Queen are sent to the Olympian Glades of Arborea.
  • "When people are up against the wire, they're going to do what's right, whether or not the law says it's allowed. It's happened in every revolution in history."

Chaotic Magnanimous (CMa)
  • Breaks the rules to help people. Believes most people break rules and hurt each other.
  • Souls deemed Chaotic Magnanimous by the Raven Queen are sent to the Heroic Domains of Ysgard.
  • "There's just no good left in the world. The poor steal from the rich, the rich steal from the poor. I do my part to make it better, but I'm not just fighting against evil men. I'm fighting the whole system."

Chaotic Covetous (CCo)
  • Ignores the rules and doesn't help others. Believes most people try to help but don't always obey society's rules to do so.
  • Souls deemed Chaotic Covetous by the Raven Queen are sent to the Windswept Depths of Pandemonium.
  • "Most people are too kind for their own good. That's why they get taken advantage of. There's a sucker born every minute, and I'm not about to miss my chance at them!"

Chaotic Evil (CE)
  • Ignores the rules and doesn't help others. Believes most people do the same.
  • Souls deemed Chaotic Evil by the Raven Queen are sent to the Infinite Layers of The Abyss.
  • "Look carefully. Just below the surface of civility, people are animals. They are wolves, who will tear each other's throats out if given the chance. All I'm doing is behaving how everyone wishes they could."

Unaligned Good (UG)
  • Helps others. Lacks the capacity to understand rules.
  • Requires Intelligence of 3 or less.
  • Souls deemed Unaligned Good by the Raven Queen are sent to Elysium or are returned to Beory for reincarnation.
  • "Woof"

Unaligned Evil (UE)
  • Doesn't help others. Lacks the capacity to understand rules.
  • Requires Intelligence of 3 or less.
  • Souls deemed Unaligned Evil by the Raven Queen are sent to Hades or are returned to Beory for reincarnation.
  • "Meow"

Lawful Unaligned (LU)
  • Follows the rules. Only understands survival, not morality.
  • Requires Wisdom of 3 or less.
  • Souls deemed Lawful Unaligned by the Raven Queen are sent to Mechanus or are returned to Beory for reincarnation.
  • "Your account has been locked due to repeated failed password attempts."

Chaotic Unaligned (CU)
  • Breaks the rules. Only understands survival, not morality.
  • Requires Wisdom of 3 or less.
  • Souls deemed Chaotic Unaligned by the Raven Queen are sent to Limbo or are returned to Beory for reincarnation.
  • "I'm a bacteria"

Unaligned (U)
  • Lacks the capacity to understand rules. Only understands survival, not morality.
  • Requires Wisdom and Intelligence of 3 or less.
  • Souls deemed Unaligned by the Raven Queen are returned to Beory for reincarnation.
  • "Fungus Fungus Fungus"

Each plane is inhabited by many Gods. The Gods gain power from the souls that go to their plane. Thus, a God's dogma is crafted to make these philosophies sound desirable.

And the thing is, all of these philosophies could make a decent player character. Because none of them preclude someone working with a team of adventurers. A player can be Chaotic Evil if they don't take it as a license to kill their fellow party members.

Then, the Raven Queen can judge.
Where will your soul languish for the rest of eternity? YOU DECIDE!
Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Old News: Racial Traits, the PDF

https://rpggeek.com/rpgitem/98990/black-fire-pass
One of the first pieces of art ever posted on this blog...
So, I didn't have a D&D session this weekend. I've been gearing up for my wedding next month, and there's going to be a few weeks without a Monday Recap for a bit.

But since I still want to put out content, I've decided to start putting up some of my recent efforts on Homebrewery. Homebrewery is an awesome tool that lets you make PDFs that appear similar to the official WotC documents. Since the Creature Loot PDF, people have been clamoring for me to put together easy-to-access PDFs of my articles.

Well, here's the first one! It's a recap to the racial traits articles that I posted over a year ago. Feels like forever!

http://homebrewery.naturalcrit.com/share/BybkjliPUG

Thanks for reading! Recap articles return maybe next week!

Friday, February 9, 2018

Creature Loot: Volo's Guide D

https://loneanimator.deviantart.com/art/Escape-From-Innsmouth-705584997
For all your eldritch horror needs
Once again, into the breach! You can find the full index of creature loot here, and the entire Monster Manual in PDF form here.



Darkling (1/2) - fey (religion)
Note: The Darkling's Death Flash destroys almost all items that would be harvested from it.
  • 1 Tattered Dagger

Darkling Elder (2) - fey (religion)
Note: The Darkling Elder's Death Burn destroys almost all items that would be harvested from it.
  • 1 Tattered Shortsword

Deep Scion (3) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Tattered Battleaxe
  • 2 NPC Items: When the Deep Scion dies, its body reverts to that of another NPC. The DM selects two items from an existing NPC, which can be found on the body.
  • Token of the Deep: a small shell, underwater plant, or fish skeleton found in the pockets of the Deep Scion's body. Can be carefully crafted (jeweler's tools) into an amulet that requires attunement. While attuned, a creature can breathe underwater, and has a swim speed equal to their walking speed. Curse. At dawn, the creature attuned to the amulet must succeed on a DC 13 Wisdom saving throw or be compelled to swim to the creature that created the Deep Scion as if under the effects of a Suggestion spell. If the journey takes longer than 8 hours, the creature may attempt the saving throw again to end the effect after 8 hours.

Demons

Babau (4) - fiend (religion)
  • 1 Tattered Spear
  • 1 Vial of Foul Ichor: No immediate use. Can be mastercrafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a potion of poison immunity. When consumed, grants immunity to poison damage and the poisoned condition for 1 hour, and heals any poisons currently affecting the creature.
  • 1 Demon Heart: While holding the heart, it can be used to cast Plane Shift as a ritual. Only the creature holding the heart may shift. This consumes the heart. When the spell is cast, roll 1d20. On a 1, the bearer is shifted to Graz'zt's layer of the Abyss instead of the intended destination.
  • 1d4 Vials of Blood of Graz'zt: No immediate use. Can be carefully crafted (alchemist's supplies) into a Poison of Graz'zt. The poison is a powder that can be dispersed into an adjacent 5-foot cube as an action. A creature in the space of the powder must succeed on a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or take 3d6 poison damage and use its reaction, if available, to move as far as its speed allows away from the powder and the creature dispersing it. On a successful save, the creature takes half as much damage and doesn't have to move away.
  • 1d2 Babau Eyes: A creature holding an eye can use their action to destroy the eye and cast Ray of Enfeeblement.

Maw Demon (1) - fiend (religion)
  • 1 Vial of Foul Ichor: No immediate use. Can be mastercrafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a potion of poison immunity. When consumed, grants immunity to poison damage and the poisoned condition for 1 hour, and heals any poisons currently affecting the creature.
Bad puppy! No!

Shoosuva (8) - fiend (religion)
  • 1 Vial of Foul Ichor: No immediate use. Can be mastercrafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a potion of poison immunity. When consumed, grants immunity to poison damage and the poisoned condition for 1 hour, and heals any poisons currently affecting the creature.
  • 1 Demon Heart: While holding the heart, it can be used to cast Plane Shift as a ritual. Only the creature holding the heart may shift. This consumes the heart. When the spell is cast, roll 1d20. On a 1, the bearer is shifted to Yeenoghu's layer of the Abyss instead of the intended destination.
  • 1 Vial of Shoosuva Poison: You can use the poison in this vial to coat one slashing or piercing weapon or a piece of ammunition. Applying the poison takes an action. A creature hit by the poisoned weapon or ammunition must make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 minute. While poisoned, the target is also paralyzed. The poisoned creature can repeat the saving throw on each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success.
  • 1d4 Demonic Jewelry: No immediate use. Can be crafted by a spellcaster (Transmutation) into valuable materials that can replace 10GP worth of material components in a conjuration spell.
  • 1d4 Gnawed Trinkets: Roll on the Trinket table. Any item found is chewed up and useless.
  • 1 Shoosuva Tail: Acts as a whip. On a hit, a creature must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution saving throw or take 10 (3d6) poison damage, taking half the damage on a success. Once the whip has dealt poison damage three times, it loses this property.
  • 1 Shoosuva Hide: acts as a cloak that requires attunement. While attuned, a creature gains resistance to cold damage and immunity to the frightened condition.
  • 1d8 Shoosuva Teeth: 20 teeth act as a bag of caltrops. Can be carefully crafted (jeweler's tools) into dice that roll better if coated in blood (granting advantage on checks made to determine the outcome of the dice).

Devourer (13) - fiend (religion)
  • 2 Vials of Foul Ichor: No immediate use. Can be mastercrafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a potion of poison immunity. When consumed, grants immunity to poison damage and the poisoned condition for 1 hour, and heals any poisons currently affecting the creature.
  • 1 Demon Heart: While holding the heart, it can be used to cast Plane Shift as a ritual. Only the creature holding the heart may shift. This consumes the heart. When the spell is cast, roll 1d20. On a 1, the bearer is shifted to Orcus' layer of the Abyss instead of the intended destination.
  • 1 Cultists’ Sigil: The signature sigil of a demonic cult. By using the sigil to cast a ritual spell over the course of a number of hours equal to the demon's CR, the particular demon who was holding the sigil can be summoned. The demon will be hostile upon arrival and must be magically contained in order to be bargained with.
  • 2d4 Devourer Claws: Acts as a dagger. On a hit, a target takes 3 (1d6) necrotic damage.
  • 1d8 Devourer Teeth: 20 teeth act as a bag of caltrops. Can be carefully crafted (jeweler's tools) into dice.
  • 3 Devourer Ribs: Can replace the material components needed for a Magic Jar spell. If you choose to possess a creature while under the effects of the spell, the creature makes their saving throw with disadvantage.
  • 1 Devourer Skull: Can be used to cast Soul Cage (XGE pg. 165). The skull is destroyed when the spell ends.
  • 2 Devourer Eyes: No immediate use. Can be carefully crafted (jeweler's tools) into an amulet that requires attunement. An attuned creature is able to detect living creatures within 30 feet by seeing the color of their soul. They can detect souls through barriers, but no thicker than 2 feet of rock, 2 inches of metal, or a thin sheet of lead. The attuned creature can still be surprised, but living creatures cannot attempt to hide from the attuned creature within 30 feet of the attuned creature.

Dinosaurs


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2LzqfJwZ9o
SO MAJESTIC
Brontosaurus (5) - beast (nature)
  • 3 Dinosaur Hide: Acts as a blanket. Can be carefully crafted (leatherworker’s tools) into the equivalent of studded leather armor or a chain shirt.
  • 1 Brontosaurus Heart: No immediate use. Can be carefully crafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Bronotsaurus Strength (equivalent to Hill Giant Strength).
  • 1 Brontosaurus Skull: No immediate use. Can be mastercrafted (smith’s tools) into the equivalent of Half Plate armor that grants +2 on Charisma (Intimidation) checks.

Deinonychus (1) - beast (nature)
  • 1d6 Dinosaur Claw: Acts as a sickle. Can be crafted (smith’s tools) into a handaxe.

Dimetredon (1/4) - beast (nature)
  • 1 Dinosaur Hide: Acts as a blanket. Can be carefully crafted (leatherworker’s tools) into the equivalent of studded leather armor or a chain shirt.

Hadrosaurus (1/4) - beast (nature)
  • 1 Dinosaur Hide: Acts as a blanket. Can be carefully crafted (leatherworker’s tools) into the equivalent of studded leather armor or a chain shirt.

Quetzalcoatalus (2) - beast (nature)
  • 2 Quetzalcoatlus Wings: No immediate use. Can be carefully crafted (leatherworker’s tools) into hide armor or leather armor.

Stegosaurus (4) - beast (nature)
  • 2 Dinosaur Hide: Acts as a blanket. Can be carefully crafted (leatherworker’s tools) into the equivalent of studded leather armor or a chain shirt.
  • 2d4 Dinosaur Fins: Acts as a shield. Can be mastercrafted (smith's tools) into Half-plate or plate armor.

Velociraptor (1/4) - beast (nature)
  • 1 Dinosaur Claw: Acts as a sickle. Can be crafted (smith’s tools) into a handaxe.

Draegloth (7) - fiend (religion)
  • 2 Vials of Foul Ichor: No immediate use. Can be mastercrafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a potion of poison immunity. When consumed, grants immunity to poison damage and the poisoned condition for 1 hour, and heals any poisons currently affecting the creature.
  • 1 Cultists’ Sigil: The signature sigil of a demonic cult. By using the sigil to cast a ritual spell over the course of a number of hours equal to the demon's CR, the particular demon who was holding the sigil can be summoned. The demon will be hostile upon arrival and must be magically contained in order to be bargained with.
  • 1 Demon Heart: While holding the heart, it can be used to cast Plane Shift as a ritual. Only the creature holding the heart may shift. This consumes the heart. When the spell is cast, roll 1d20. On a 1, the bearer is shifted to Lolth's layer of the Abyss instead of the intended destination.
  • 2d4 Draegloth Claws: Acts as a handaxe. Can be carefully crafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a  Poison of Confusion (when consumed, casts confusion on the creature).
  • 1d2 Eyes of the Draegloth: A creature holding an eye can use their action to destroy the eye and cast Darkness, centered on itself.
Another one down. Next week, back to multiple letters!
Rhyming monsters are best
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Building Backgrounds and Builds

JUST A SMALL TOWN GIRL
Recently, one of my players asked me to write an article on how a character's background affects their build. I was thinking about it, and realized that reading and knowing a character's background has some real value to the Dungeon Master as well. Not just from a story perspective - mechanically, too!

This article won't be about the story aspects of a background. Honestly, if you want to play a particular background, they are all good. Make a solid character.

If you are looking to munchkin this stuff, or don't care about your background, these suggestions might be helpful. I'm going to go through a few mechanical considerations, and then get to the good DM-relevant stuff after that.

Proficiencies


So, the main mechanical consideration for a background is the proficiencies that come with it. There are two topics to cover here: Skills and Tools.

For skills, there are two that are always useful: Perception and Stealth. That's because these skills are used to get the jump on encounters. See traps before they spring! Surprise enemies! Avoid enemies! Don't be the clanky one that brings the party down! Good stuff.

For Perception, there are surprisingly few options that grant the skill. Sailor is the only one in the Player's Handbook that does, and from the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, Faction Agent and Far Traveler can grant it. Most characters will be able to get Perception from their class skills, but if you are a Cleric, Monk, Paladin, Sorcerer, Warlock, or Wizard, you might consider taking one of these backgrounds or creating a custom background that includes Perception.

For Stealth, we have the Criminal and Urchin, or the Urban Bounty Hunter from the SCAG. This is also a tricky situation, since only Bards, Monks, Rangers, and Rogues can get Stealth from their classes. You'll definitely want to consider taking a stealth proficiency, especially if you'll be moving in heavy armor (with disadvantage).

As for other Skill Proficiencies, that depends on what sort of campaign you are playing. Talk to your DM before the game and see what kind of challenges you will be facing.
  • For Hexcrawls, Survival, Nature, and Animal Handling are useful
  • For Political games, Insight and any Charisma skill is useful
  • In an Low Magic Setting, the Medicine skill is indispensable
  • In a High Magic Setting, Arcana is very useful

Who knew that years of butcher experience would lead to an expertise in killing monsters?
Next up is Tool Proficiencies. This would normally be a fluff category as well, but since Xanathar's Guide came out, tools actually have great mechanical benefits. Make sure to check with your DM to see if you can use tools in these ways.

Here are my favorites among the tools listed in Xanathar's Guide:
  • Alchemist's Supplies: make acid and fire. Neutralize acid. Identify poison without magic. Good stuff.
  • Cobbler's Tools: What? Yes. Make hidden compartments in your shoes. So many good uses. Allows your party to travel further, too!
  • Cook's Utensils: Another surprising one. Buff your allies' hit dice! Spot poison/impurities in food! Nice.
  • Land/Water Vehicles: "While piloting a vehicle, you can apply your proficiency bonus to the vehicle's AC and saving throws." Score another point for the Sailor background!
  • Smith's Tools/Tinker's Tools: great for cleaning up after an encounter with a Rust Monster or Grey Ooze. Plus, with enough time, it can be used to craft custom gear!
  • Thieves' Tools: The ability to pick locks and disable traps was already good, but now you can MAKE YOUR OWN TRAPS. Holy schmow. Even if you aren't a rogue, this could be useful.

A lot of these benefits are great even if only one character in your party can do them. One player handing out Vials of Acid for everyone to use is all you need. If another character already has a particular tool covered, consider selecting a different one.

Other Stuff


Class: Monk. Background: Monk.
In addition to your proficiencies, backgrounds come with some items and languages.

Languages are mostly campaign-situational, so we can't discuss them in general. Talk to your DM and ask if there are any particular languages you should pick up. That said, the Sage, the Anthropologist (from Tomb of Annihilation), and the Haunted One (from Curse of Strahd) have better access to languages, so use those if you need many languages or obscure languages in your campaign.

The items listed are generally useless, sadly. Even the highest GP background (noble) will only let you survive a day and a half at a noble-level lifestyle, or two weeks at an average lifestyle. It's better to not focus on the items for your build. Unless you really want a pet mouse (Urchin).

And as far as personality traits go, it's generally best to work with your DM on all of them. I've had plenty of players who pick their flaw or bond without knowing anything about the campaign, and then are surprised or disappointed when they can't use it at all.

Background Features (and DM stuff)


The last thing to look for in a background is your Background Feature. This is the part of your background that lets you interact with the world in a different way.

These are meant to give you an advantage in certain social situations, build bonds with the NPCs or the world, or help you discover quests more easily. This lines up fairly well to the "Three Pillars of Play" in the DMG: Social Interaction, Exploration, and Combat. Admittedly, the Background Features don't give you direct combat advantages, but they can certainly help your character find combat more easily.

When selecting your Background, consider which of these three elements of D&D you are most interested in. Then, use your background to give yourself an advantage in that area.
  • "I want to make local contacts and not have to worry about paying for room and board."
    • Acolyte, Entertainer, Gladiator, Folk Hero, Guild Artisan, Noble, Soldier, City Watch (SCAG), Clan Crafter (SCAG), Faction Agent (SCAG), Knight of the Order (SCAG), Mercenary Veteran (SCAG), Uthgardt Tribe Member (SCAG), Waterdhavian Noble (SCAG), Haunted One (Curse of Strahd)
  • "I want to have an interesting effect or advantage in certain social situations."
    • Charlatan, Folk Hero, Noble, Pirate, Far Traveler (SCAG), Cult of the Dragon Infiltrator (Hoard of the Dragon Queen), Anthropologist (Tomb of Annihilation)
  • "I want NPC allies that can help me fight monsters!"
    • Folk Hero, Knight, Haunted One (Curse of Strahd)
  • "I want to explore the world without having to worry about the details."
    • Outlander, Sailor, Urchin, Uthgardt Tribe Member (SCAG), Deep Delver (Out of the Abyss)
  • "I want to find information and gather quests without trouble."
    • Criminal, Guild Artisan, Sage, City Watch (SCAG), Cloistered Scholar (SCAG), Courtier (SCAG), Urban Bounty Hunter (SCAG), Dragon Scholar (Hoard of the Dragon Queen), Underdark Experience (Out of the Abyss)
  • "I want a personal plot thread for my character!"
    • Hermit, Faction Agent (SCAG), Inheritor (SCAG)

By carefully selecting your Background Feature, you can work with your DM and shape your game in the way you like.

The obvious choice
Dungeon Masters: take careful note of the Background features your players choose. They may not be consciously signalling the shape of the game they wish to play, but they will definitely use these features at every opportunity. If you have a player who can gather information, that means your game needs to have:
  1. Opportunities to gather information
  2. Fewer challenges related to gathering that information

I've had multiple sessions where my players have used a single ability to negate hours of work on a particular challenge. If your players have these abilities, don't be afraid to let them be used! But on the flip side, don't build any large challenges around the situations those abilities negate. If you start your game off with "the goal of the session is to get enough gold to afford to live", the Entertainer in the group will just perform their way out of the game.

Interestingly, you can see what sort of things the designers saw as extraneous: most parties will be able to ignore tasks like looking for room and board, hunting down information, and certain aspects of travel. It almost makes you wonder how much they thought about Exploration and Social Interaction as pillars of the game, as opposed to just making D&D into a combat engine...

Anyway, with this guide you can see which background you should take based on what sort of game you'd like to play, and why 90% of your players will be choosing the Sailor background. You're welcome.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Monday Recap: The Edgelord Returneth

https://feimo.deviantart.com/art/Dynasty-declining-73476077
Try not to cut yourself on that edge
We were going to do another installment of Chaos Quest this weekend, but a few players fell through and I didn't want to finish up the Skyfortress without them. So, I decided to put together a quick one-shot story.

My goal for the game was to prep as little as possible. Aside from helping the players make their characters (which also helped expedite the gaming process), I used random generators and my knowledge of the existing characters and factions within the City of Garton. I also used a good amount of classic fantasy tropes. Don't knock it if it works!

As for the inspiration for the game, instead of going my usual route and ripping off a book or movie, I just asked the players what they wanted to do. One of them posted a neat idea, and we were off!

Monday Recap: The Edgelord Returneth


Cast of Characters
Jon: Dungeon Master
Megan: Gemma Ashton, Human Rogue, talks a lot, designs clothes, hopes to dress royalty someday
Shannon: Ryn Darkiron, Human Bard, in a band, hair color changes daily, down with the man!
Quinn: Chaz Greymoon, Human Barbarian, unaccomplished junkie, stole his dad's axe for kicks
Makayla: Karen Iona, Human Wizard, quiet and awkward, fascinated with magic, follows the rules

We begin our story with these four teenagers working at Uncle Piebald's Magic Boutique. Gemma, who had a mind for numbers from all the measurements she took, worked as a clerk and bookkeeper for Piebald, who took too many warhammer blows to the head during his adventuring days to keep track of things. He did have a hobby of making potions and magic scrolls, which Karen assisted with and helped him test.

Ryn was in charge of the till, and helped customers find magic curios in between drumming her fingers on every available surface. Chaz, more of a shelf stocker, moved heavy objects when he wasn't sneaking into the nearby hidden alleyway to take a hit of his latest intoxicant.

They all had their own reasons for working with Uncle Piebald, and the old dwarf liked them all to varying degrees. That day, after a morning of helping customers and tracking a shipment of a pair of Boots of Levitation, Piebald announced that he wanted the four to clear the shop's basement of rats while he took lunch. After a chorus of groans from the employees, they got to work.

In the basement, they found some storage shelves as well as Piebald's living quarters. Also, plenty of rats scurrying about. Chaz split one in two with his axe, accidentally hitting some shelving on the way. Karen, annoyed, used her Mending spell to fix it up. Ryn kept trying to befriend a rat, but they kept running away from her.


https://wolfewolf.deviantart.com/art/powder-warehouse-basement-sketch-330973105
Good old bread and butter tropey fantasy tropes
Eventually, the group found the hole where the rats were coming from and sealed it with a glass bottle. Suddenly, they heard a crash of glass from upstairs!

Rushing back up, they found Piebald's display case had been busted open, and two strong magic items had been stolen: a Bag of Devouring, and an oaken staff that had contained the soul of a powerful wizard. The front door was swinging slightly ajar.

Leaving Chaz to watch the shop, the girls burst out into the street. Karen spotted a hooded figure with a staff on their back, and raced after the mysterious thief. Meanwhile, Ryn and Gemma found the nearest city guard and reported the incident. Chaz locked up the shop and went around back to get high.

After a harrowing chase, Karen finally caught up to the thief, just in time to catch a glimpse of her face before she disappeared down a sewer grate. The city guards caught up with them, and refused to let the kids go down into the dangerous sewer system. Instead, they went back to Piebald's shop for questioning.

When Uncle Piebald returned from lunch (just as Chaz was about to be questioned by the guards), he stopped the interviews and asked what had happened. After a brief explanation, he took the city guards outside to talk for a moment. Karen was sure they would all be in deep trouble. Gemma knew the theft was going to be a blow to the store but was trying to cheer everyone up. Ryn and Chaz were just annoyed their breaks were cut short.

Piebald returned, and announced that nobody was in trouble. In fact, he had told the guards not to worry about it. Instead, he wanted the four teens to band together and go on an adventure to get the Staff back! The Bag he wasn't worried about. He got a little misty-eyed, thinking about his very first adventure, and how his company had come together to help a person in need.

The group gathered together and pooled their knowledge. According to the guards, the thief was probably a member of the Garton Thieves' Guild. The kids wouldn't be able to navigate the city's labyrinthine sewers to find the Guild's Undercity hideout, so the next best route would be to figure out who the Guild was selling the staff to.

To get started, Chaz went to his dealer and Ryn went to her less-scrupulous fans to see if they had any connections to a staff. Gemma and Karen stopped by at the local chapter of the Mage's Guild, to see if they might know anything about the staff or who would buy stolen magical items.

Collectively, they had no luck at all. Chaz and Ryn both ran into dead ends, and the Mage's Guild merchant turned out to be a big jerk who had a beef with Piebald. Dejected, and the day nearly over, Karen turned in for the night. The others decided to go to the local City Guard chapter and see if they could get any help.


http://taratjah.tumblr.com/post/159047014165/rhysand-its-been-so-long
It begins
They entered the chambers of Guard Leader, and Knight of Garlancia, Kaim’ango. The candles flickered. Their hearts raced. There he stood, his pale half-elven features starkly lit by moonlight, contrasting his deeply black robes. He hastily covered a note on his desk – a missive from an unrequited lover, perhaps?

They pleaded with him, begged for aid, and despite the pain his heart had long endured, he could not say no. The passionate rage within him welled up, and he threw his wineglass into the fireplace. Drawing a delicate envelope from a small table, he handed it to the young adventurers. With a dark look in his eyes, he wished them well. Then, like it had been naught but a dream, they left.

Back in the hallway, they stood, befuddled by what had just happened. Chaz swore there hadn't been a fireplace when they had entered, or a wine glass, for that matter. Ryn had been captivated by the strange and overtly dramatic enchantment that seemed to be surrounding the mysterious Guard Leader. Gemma was already planning a less-drab outfit for him.

(Kaim'ango is a popular minor character from my last big campaign, who was knighted alongside the players at the end of the quest. His entire character is just being as edgy as possible. I picked up the idea somewhere on the internet as a way to discourage players from making mopey edgelord characters of their own. So far, so good.)

However, he had given them an important clue: a list of names that the City Guard suspected were part of Black Market dealings in the area, some of them confirmed. That jerk of a Mage's Guild Merchant was also on the list.

The next day, they decided to investigate the confirmed names on the list. Gemma and Karen went back to the Mage's Guild, and although they didn't have much luck with finding any information, they did inform the Guild that their merchant was on the City Guard's short list. Also, Karen asked if she might be able to join the Guild at some point, and she was encouraged to apply after her apprenticeship.

Meanwhile, Chaz and Ryn went to The Angry Tavern to look for a confirmed black market fence named Wulfa. The Angry Tavern lived up to its name, with several fights having broken out despite it still being midmorning. Chaz sidled up to the bar and less-than-discretely asked the bartender if they were selling any illegal drugs.

Instead of drugs, he got a well-placed elbow to the face. The bartender then went to the back room, dragged a struggling man out through the bar floor, and tossed him unceremoniously into the street. After a few introductions, Ryn and Chaz realized this must be Wulfa, or Wolfie, as he preferred to be called.

They spoke to Wolfie in a safe location, and learned that the staff had indeed gone up on the market. The Thieves' Guild was planning on selling it to an organization known as The Black Hand, who had established channels of getting contraband in and out of the city. The sale was supposed to go down later that day, between the Guild and a man named Eckbert who was in with the Black Hand.

The group reunited, and discussed the best plan of action. They decided that they should probably get the help of the City Guard to catch Eckbert and retrieve the staff. They made their way back to the local Guard outpost.


https://heise.deviantart.com/art/Night-color-44201923
We meet again
There, they once again walked the moonlit corridors of the outpost to find Sir Kaim’ango, as alone as he always was, perched upon his balcony overlooking the lush valley below. As they encroached upon his solitude, he turned to them. Again, an impassioned plea! Though no mere flight of fancy this time, the young heroes had discovered a true foe upon which they had set their hearts. Perhaps their anger was too cruel for those so young, but there was no denying it. The fire within them could not be quenched.

Chaz kept clutching his head and shouting things like "How the hell is there an entire valley in the middle of Garton city?" and "It's the middle of the day, why is it suddenly night? It's not even a full moon tonight!" Gemma offered her newly-made cloak to the Guard Captain, who took it with dramatic flair. Karen, having not seen this spectacle before, was entranced by the magic and wasn't sure what sort of powerful magic this might be.

Sir Kaim’ango, pain still in his heart, lead the young heroes into his elegant ballroom. There, he strode to an ornate display case, lifting the lid with a practiced but pained motion. Inside, a long, thin rapier lay upon a velvet cushion. His eyes darkened once again. “Such passion must be met with equal force.” He lifted the elegant blade. “This was granted to me by my last – perhaps my truest – love…” with deep pain in his heart, he strapped the blade to his waist and turned to his young wards. “Let us go. We cannot let this moment pass by…”

Ryn caught a glance of a note tacked inside the rapier's display case. It read:
"I don't really need this anymore. Or want it. So I guess you can have it. - No love, Faelynn"

They followed the Guard Leader out of the outpost (which, from the outside, could have never fit a balcony or ballroom, much less a valley...) and began to head towards The Black Battleaxe, a tavern where Eckbert was supposed to be.

As they approached the tavern, the Guard Leader looked back at them.

Choral music swelled. “Stay here… It will be dangerous inside. If you see someone come running out, please! Do not throw yourselves onto the spears of fate! But if you are able to stop them… do not hesitate.” With that, Sir Kaim’ango turned and strode into the tavern to meet his dark destiny.


http://xric7.cgsociety.org/
Most guard uniforms are sleeveless tunics. His is just sleeves.
Chaz was freaking out about where the music was coming from. Ryn, on the other hand, seemed pleased to discover she could harmonize with it.

Suddenly, the door burst open, and two thugs rushed out of the tavern! One of them had an oaken staff on his back. The group leapt into action!

Karen and Ryn began to hurl spells at the thugs. One of them drew his mace and rushed forward to engage them, while the other one (holding the staff) made to get away. Chaz wasn't about to let that happen, and took a hit of a powerful stimulant before rushing towards the fleeing criminal.

Gemma ducked into the battle and stabbed one of the thugs with her sewing knife before chucking a book of manners at his crotch. Karen threw a Magic Missile spell at the fleeing thug, while Ryn used her sling to pelt him with stones. Chaz ran up and took a mighty swing with his axe, barely seeing anything through his drug-induced haze.

The music grew louder. One of the ruffians fell to his knees. He looked at his ally, deep pain and horror etched across his face. “Don’t die here! Get away! I love you!” he shouted.

He shook his head. "Wait, what am I saying?" That was all he could think, however, before Gemma thrust her sewing knife into his back, causing him to pass out from pain.

Meanwhile, Chaz had worn down the other thug, and he was barely standing. Ryn appeared, and spoke a cutting insult that forced the ruffian to pass out from mere heartbreak.

Their foes slain, they rested now. Sir Kaim’ango approached them, dragging the body of the villain Eckbert. He sheathed his blood-soaked, seven-foot-long rapier, and spoke to the young heroes: “Your work here is done. Take your prize. But do not forget this pain in your heart. It is a sign of the cruelty of this horrible world.”

One of them, a young lass known as Karen, approached the melancholy knight. She asked a difficult question: if she could study and become as pained and tortured as Sir Kaim’ango. He looked upon her hopeful face, a wave of sadness gripping his heart. “My path is one of deep pain and unrelenting sorrow. Are you sure that you would sacrifice yourself upon such a journey?” Her eyes never wavered as she spoke yes. Ah, the foolishness of youth. He took her hand. “Then let us go into the night, and perhaps we shall be less alone, if for but a moment.” He lifted her upon his black stallion, and they rode towards the treeline. Towards their fates.

As they left, Chaz screamed at everything that was wrong with what just happened.

It had been a successful day.


https://michaeljlarson.deviantart.com/art/DarksideStraxus-Commission-The-Edgy-Alliance-621645662
Edgy Characters unite
This quest didn't involve a lot of monster slaying or dungeon delving, but my players all said they had a great time with it. I think it's very important to mix levity and challenge when making games. If everything is gritty and grimdark, you'll find people get exhausted or frustrated quite quickly.

But perhaps this is just my DM'ing style. I did do a bunch of comedy improv in college!

Thanks for reading!