Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Idiots Fighting Things

No. Just No.
There comes a point in every DM's career where the players look at you and ask "But why can't we hack through the wall?"

This article is about a system to let players do their best in that regard.

Weapon Durability


Now, I'm not advocating for a system where a sword slowly becomes less useful from normal combat. In fact, based on the way "Hit Points" are gained in 5e, it wouldn't even make sense.

You see, "Hit Points" aren't indicative of how much blood you can lose before you keel over. It's about the stamina you use before you take a serious wound in a fight. That's why a level 20 fighter can have 200 HP and still be human - they're just really good at using their stamina to avoid taking hits.

So I'm going to put this rule right here at the front:


Unfortunately, stamina does not equal strength
Normal Use Rule: if a character has proficiency with a weapon, it does not take damage when the character uses an attack action. If the character has proficiency in the shield or armor they are using, their equipment does not take damage when they are targeted by an attack.

This reflects the character's ability to use their weapon and armor properly - they don't purposefully jab a sword into armor plating or steel shields, they use momentum and skill to avoid hurting their defenses. It's much like how a skilled chef avoids cutting bone while carving meat, in order to keep their knifes sharp.

So, this system is for unusual situations. Fortunately, we can take a list from the DMG (pg. 246-247) and expand it. I never liked the idea that a stationary object had "AC", so I'm altering the system to allow for common sense.

Types of Hardness
  • Cloth/paper/rope (Fragile)
  • Crystal/glass/ice (Fragile if thin, Resilient if thick)
  • Wood/bone (Resilient)
  • Stone (Resilient)
  • Iron/steel (Resilient)
  • Mithral (Resilient+)
  • Adamantine (Resilient+)
At least one of these swords is responsible for the death of a small child in an orange hoodie
Calculating HP for Objects

Fragile: one hit die worth of HP (based on size)
  • Tiny:1d4
  • Small: 1d6
  • Medium: 1d8
  • Large: 1d10

Resilient: add an additional hit die for each size above minuscule (die based on size)
  • Tiny: 2d4
  • Small: 3d6
  • Medium: 4d8
  • Large: 5d10

Resilient+: as above, but include Damage Threshold (DMG pg. 119). Basically, unless an attack deals at least as much damage as the Threshold, it doesn't deal any damage to the object.
  • Mithral: DT 5
  • Adamantine: DT 10
These all seem to be pretty norma... Starknife?
So let's take a few examples from the PHB:
  • A Dart is a tiny item that is fragile, giving it 2 (1d4) HP
  • A wooden Club is a tiny item that is resilient, giving it 5 (2d4) HP
  • A Flail is a small item that is resilient, giving it 10 (3d6) HP
  • A Mithral Greatsword is a medium item that is resilient+, giving it 18 (4d8) HP and a Damage Threshold of 5
Most weapons are considered tiny or small. A weapon with the "heavy" property is considered medium for determining its hit points.

So, what happens when these weapons hit a stone wall? An adamantine door? A pane of glass?

Dealing Damage


fakerabbit.deviantart.com
The only acceptable answer is "a lot"
If a weapon is more resilient than the thing it hits, it takes no damage, and deals damage to the item normally. So a wooden staff can shatter thin glass. A Mithral Dagger can cut through a steel lock. However, note that this wouldn't apply to a steel axe cutting through wood - they are both resilient.

If the weapon is equally resilient to the thing it is attacking, it takes no damage but suffers aesthetic scrapes and dents. It deals half damage to the object, and may need to be sharpened or repaired afterwards. Here is where we can see a steel axe cutting through wood, or a pickaxe carving into stone. It's going to take some time, but it can be done.

If the weapon is less resilient than the thing it is attacking, it deals no damage to the object, and takes damage equal to the amount it would have dealt. Note that this is counted BEFORE damage thresholds. So the Flail from above wouldn't put a nick in an Adamantine door, and if it deals at least 10 damage, it's going to break against it.

Remember that if the players really do want to hack through a stone wall, it should count as a medium resilient object for every 5 feet they tunnel through. So they'll have to deal 20 damage every 5 feet if they are using a iron pickaxe. And eventually, the pickaxe is going to need to be sharpened.

Other Weapon Ideas


Your players, after you tell them how cool adamantine is
This could be its own article, but I'm putting it here because it's really not much content.

Weapon qualities:
  • Fine: on a crit, any extra dice rolled deal max damage
  • Shoddy: the weapon breaks when a 1 is rolled on damage die
  • Reinforced: counts as one category harder when dealing damage to targets

This means a wooden club isn't as good as a banded wooden club, since the banded club can actually deal damage to steel objects.

Costs (adjustments from PHB prices)
  • Reinforced Iron/Steel: +5 GP
  • Reinforced Mithral: +100 GP
  • Reinforced Adamantine: +500 GP
  • Fine: weapon price x10
  • Shoddy: weapon price /2
Also your players. Particularly fighters. They really can't pass up a decent blade.
Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Monday Recap: The Silver Seekers

We didn't have a single party member taller than 5ft
This recap is actually for a game that happened about a week ago, rather than this past weekend. Now that my weekly game is moving to a bi-weekly schedule, I'll probably be spacing out my recaps more, rather than bunching them up all on one day. That means more recaps and less Old News. I think that's a positive thing.

Monday Recap: The Silver Seekers


Cast of Characters
Jon: Dungeon Master
Matt: Grombal Ironbreaker, Dwarf Cleric of Moradin, unintelligible until he's plastered
Will: Brindal Ironbreaker, Dwarf Knight, wants to restore the clan's honor, translates for Grombal
Makayla: Veriin Iidaglar, Genasi Eldritch Knight, half-gnome master of earth magic
Bria: Ruby, Gnome Wizard, habitual liar, may or may not have a sick grandma she needs gold for
Tom: Magdal Steelmane, Kobold Ranger, actually a dwarf cursed to look like a Kobold
Shannon: Kesmek MacGwyver, Gnome Alchemist, has a potion for every occasion

Far from Garlancia, on the far shores of the continent of Eiselon, beyond even the borders of Ashlen, across the Flowing Gulf, lies the continent of Strofeuwin. To any who have sailed treacherous waters to reach this place, it may seem a barren and inhospitable place. Dragons, Dinosaurs, Giants, and all manner of horrible creatures walk the rugged landscape, fighting, eating, dying, and making the land abnormally dangerous for any race that attempts to settle here.

However, that isn't to say there's nothing on Strofeuwin worth exploring. In fact, there's plenty - if you look in the right place. That is, if you look underground.

Beneath the blasted and besieged landscape, the races of dwarves, gnomes, and their enemies have made their own civilization, with caverns and tunnels stretching deep and far. The network of Dwarfholds, Orcholds, Gnomish cities, Drow dens, Kobold nests, Duergar Forges, Goblin Warrens, and hundreds of varieties of monster lairs extends across the continent and as deep as their collective mining prowess will allow.


jjpeabody.deviantart.com
They'll guard the walls till the silver tarnishes.
There are many Dwarfholds, large and small, but perhaps the most relaxed of the lot is Silverhame, ruled by King Hognar Silverstone. Here, anyone is welcome, from respectable Dwarven Nobility to unscrupulous Drow traders. Order is kept by a large organization known as the Silver Seekers, a royally-funded mercenary group that is as welcoming as its city - and quite popular, as King Silverstone has plenty of gold to line their pockets.

The Silver Seekers had been summoned by the King to complete a new contract. The group of Seekers answered the call, meeting King Silverstone in his royal halls. Being a generally relaxed King, Hognar Silverstone was playing dice and making bets with a group of Dwarven women. He greeted the Seekers on their arrival, though he had completely forgotten why they were summoned.

After a gentle reminder, King Silverstone told them the job that needed done. A mine that had dug deeper than any other below the city had uncovered a strange tunnel with a couple things coming out of it. The first unusual thing was a howling wind that seemed to drive the miners mad. The second was an outpouring of Bugbears, which was unusual for the area.

The group agreed on a price and terms for the contract, and travelled to the Temple of Moradin. The Priestess of the temple, Oridiwynn Lavafoot, blessed the group for their journey, and they were off!

Upon delving the mine and reaching the mysterious tunnel, the group was immediately beset by Bugbears. Grombal and Brindal ran up, hoping to block off the attackers from their allies. However, they quickly discovered that these Bugbears were even more unusual than expected - since they exploded the moment they were hit by a weapon!

Once the group knew that they were basically fighting meat balloons, Ruby and Veriin used their area effect spells to finish off the Bugbears quickly. They ventured cautiously down into the tunnel that had been opened.

Not quite bear, definitely not bug - but certainly as annoying as one
After winding their way through the tunnels for a bit, trying to find the source of the wind and Bugbears, they came across a murky river winding through a small cavern. Grombal dared Brindal to drink it, but the group decided to let Kesmek use Identify before they messed with it.

They were lucky she did, as Kesmek revealed that the river would have cast a Feeblemind effect on anyone touching it. Brindal rolled some boulders into the river so they could cross it, and then hurled Magdal over the river to finish the "bridge".

The party crossed the rocks with ease. Grombal nearly slipped and fell in, but Ruby made a quick save with a Ray of Frost, making a tiny patch of ice for him to rebalance on. Meanwhile, Magdal found the greatest concentration of Bugbear tracks, and the group pressed onward.

They ran into a small squad of Bugbears in a cave, and were surprised to find these ones didn't explode! Though they dispatched the vile creatures quickly, they were at a loss as to what made the bugbears from the mining tunnel less resilient.

Magdal continued tracking the bugbears, even as the howling wind was beginning to wear down the group. Finally, the reached a large cavern, with a huge black iron fortress in the center. Iron spikes, towers, and torches jutted at every angle from the structure, thought it was still a long way off.

Ruby, in a flash of inspiration, realized what was going on. They had, at some point, travelled through a portal to the Outer Plane of Pandemonium. The river had been the Styx, the howling wind was a feature of the land, and the fortress belonged to the God of Bugbears, Hruggek. The bugbears had exploded because they had left Pandemonium, but here they fought with their full strength.

The group fought off some Bugbear sentries, which proved much tougher than the other Bugbears they had encountered, and fled back to the mining tunnel. They had what they came for: the source of the wind and the Bugbears.

And that was quite enough of that for one day
When they told King Silverstone about what they had found, the King congratulated them and paid them for a job well done. He gave them leave the rest of the day, with a cryptic warning that their services might be soon needed again.

The call came the next morning, after the party had gotten a night's rest. The King had created a funnel to pit the Silver Seekers against the Bugbears, drawing them out of Pandemonium. He hoped to draw out the God of the Bugbears, Hruggek, and capture the monster with the help of the church.

The Silver Seekers, not just the party but the whole company, stood ready to fight the hoard of Bugbears. They struck their shields, weapons, or the ground, as a declaration of intent towards the lurking monstrosities.

And so they came. Waves of Bugbears, more than had ever been seen before, pouring from the tunnels below. The Silver Seekers took up their defensive positions, having been ordered to hold the line until the Clerics of the church of Moradin had successfully captured Hruggek.

The group clashed with the wave of Bugbears. Grombal and Brindal joined Veriin to form the front line, while Magdal, Kesmek, and Ruby peppered the monsters with spells, arrows, and vials of harmful potions.

For a good while, the group held their ground, even better than many of the other Silver Seekers. Around them, Seekers were fighting and falling, as the mass of Bugbears only became thicker, and the ground was coated with more exploded Bugbear. Grombal and Ruby began using their more powerful spells, allowing Ruby to cut down scores of Bugbears at once, and Grombal to wade among the enemy unharmed.

http://jeffdee.deviantart.com/art/Hruggek-330711869
Yeah, he's really just a big Bugbear. A really big Bugbear.

However, the tide of Bugbears seemed to be unending. Moreover, the God of Bugbears himself, Hruggek the Destroyer, had appeared on the battlefield and was wrecking large swaths of Seekers. One way or another, the party realized that the fight would soon be over.

Forced by sheer numbers to pull back, Veriin unleashed a powerful spell, turning the earth around her into jagged rubble and broken footholds. She and the rest of the group pulled back from the melee, just as the towering form of Hruggek reached them.

Carelessly brushing aside his own servants, the God strode forth, prepared to bring down his gargantuan maul and end their lives as easily as he had done so for so many other Seekers. Just as his blow was about to land, however, the clerics completed their spell, trapping Hruggek in a pillar of pure white light. His blows railed harmlessly against the barrier, though his frustrated screams could still be heard clearly.

Those Seekers that remained celebrated their victory and mourned their fallen. The king paid each of them a hefty sum, and told them they could keep the high-quality armor they had been outfitted with.

As for what the King planned to do with a captured God, he had certain... ideas.


dmitrij.artstation.com
And most of them involve parties
We stopped there. I wanted this game to introduce a new setting for the world of Ahneria, and I think it did that spectacularly. In particular, I also liked that we set up some bigger plot threads that I can come back to later.

Also, I didn't really get a chance to mention this in the story, but I decided that there's massive gold inflation in Strofeuwin - I just told my players to multiply everything by 100. So their rewards were also bumped up by the same margin. However, so too were all the things they could purchase. A simple Short Sword would cost 1,000 gold! I don't see my other campaigns ever coming to Strofeuwin to spend their money!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Monsters on a Role: Controllers

www.cuded.com/2013/04/concept-art-by-dusan-markovic/
Tentacles are a highly underrated method of maintaining control
We're nearing the end of our series on monster roles. After this article, all that's left is Leaders, which will kind of play into a conversation about boss monsters in general. But for today, we'll talk about the Controller, one of the most interesting and complex monster roles.

Controllers


What makes a good controller? Well, that's tricky. A controller is a monster that disrupts a PC's plans. But what are those plans? How do we build a monster that stops a group's strategy when the PCs can do anything?

Well, they can do anything, but they usually do certain things that we can anticipate.

As I've been saying in this series, a group of characters usually follows a particular combat pattern. The fighters and tanks run up to the front lines. The casters and bards stay back. The rogues and monks try to find advantageous positions. And they usually find those positions in the first couple rounds of combat, after which they don't move much.

Then, more fairly predictable things happen. The fighters attack. The casters cast. The rogues backstab. The barbarian rages. The cleric buffs. Et cetera, et cetera.

So when you build a controller, you can make a few different kinds.

A simple type of controller is the Movement Controller. Basically, these guys are the most effective in the first couple rounds of combat. While characters are moving around, these monsters destroy the player's ability to follow the pattern they want to.

These can come in a few different varieties. A Movement Controller could freeze a fighter before they get to the front line. Or, they could pull a caster to the front lines. Maybe they have an ability that forces movement, and they use it to push the party's rogue right into the clutches of a Brute monster.

A suplex is acceptable
Another type of movement control is zone control. There are a lot of effects like this, mostly in the domain of Druids and Clerics. Basically, make a certain area bad to stand in, and you force the players to change their strategy. This could be anything from some extra damage to a condition like poison or petrification.

Now, zone control also comes in different flavors, based on who it needs to be affecting. The Spike Growth spell, which deals damage on movement, won't do anything against fighters or casters. But it will certainly lock down a rogue who was going to use their Cunning Action to Disengage with your monster. An area of Darkness can nullify the efforts of casters, but if you place it around fighters or rogues, you'll only succeed in hamstringing your own brutes. Be selective in your application of these effects!

A more complex type of controller is an Action Controller. These types of monsters have effects that trigger when a player character performs a certain type of combat action. You could have a lightning-fast knight that deals opportunity attacks to anyone that takes an attack action within 5 feet of him. You could have a section of the room that shocks anyone taking a reaction. Perhaps those who take a Help action near the Altar of Selfishness take damage. Or maybe you can only take attack, dash, and hide actions in the Domain of the Feral God

Again, these are obviously going to target different classes differently. Rogues and fighters love their bonus actions, while only casters would take the Cast a Spell action. Again, think about the effect you want and how it will impact your group.

Delicious wizard flesh
Finally, we can have Class Controllers, a specialized type of Action Controller. This is a controller purely designed to take down a specific class. There aren't many examples of these in the vanilla Monster Manual, but check out the Chelicerae (Tome of Beasts pg. 54). A monster with Magic resistance, spellcasting, and the ability to drain a caster's spell slots? That's a class controller.

Other Class Controllers would target certain abilities. A Pacifist Golem might prevent barbarians from raging near it. A creature made of liquid blasphemy might prevent the Channel Divinity ability.

For Class Controllers, it's important to know what classes are in your group, and how the player will react to one of their abilities being removed. Will it be a challenge, or a cheap shot? One way to avoid pulling the rug out from under their feet is to make sure the players have the chance to research the monster beforehand and know their abilities will be compromised. Then, it becomes an interesting combat puzzle, instead of a sucker punch.

So, with all these different types of controllers, with so many different abilities, how the heck do we make one?

Let's start with a basic mechanic, since this will likely be a single trait or spell we add to the monster (via innate spellcasting or the like). We begin by asking ourselves some questions about the effect of the trait, and determine its CR impact along the way.

First off, ask who the trait will affect. You can't answer this question without knowing the composition of your party. If you make an ability that targets wizards, and half your party is wizards, then that's going to be a powerful ability.

I've got my eye on you
Next, estimate how much damage the ability will deal over the course of three rounds. Again, this is affected by what the ability is and who it's targeting. If the trait prevents damage of a particular type (for example, by removing attacks or spellcasting), estimate how much of the monster's HP will be saved by the ability. This will effectively increase the monster's HP by that amount.

If the trait prevents movement or pushes combatants far enough away from the monster that they miss a round of fighting, this will generally save 1/4th of the monster's HP, unless the characters are 11th level or higher. This is because of the abilities and spells available to characters at certain levels. At higher levels, character movement is generally overshadowed by damage output at both close and ranged distances.

If a trait pulls a PC into combat (like a monster using Vine Whip to pull a caster into a fight), the effect on HP and damage is negligible.

Finally, we'll need to determine if this trait stems from the monster's Mental abilities or its Physical abilities. You'll see why this is important in a moment. For example, a gargoyle that can cast Fog Cloud would use its mental abilities, but a gargoyle that breathes thick smoke with the same effect as Fog Cloud would use its physical abilities.

So now, let's determine the CR impact based on our equations, then write the ability.
  • Damage Increase/decrease per Round / 12 = Increase/decrease in CR 
  • Effective HP increase/decrease / 30 = Increase/decrease in CR

From here, applying the formulas is fairly simple. A few notes:
  1. If the trait affects more than one creature, double the effective damage/HP adjustment.
  2. If the trait creates a zone that can be moved away from, treat its effect as if it only lasts one round
  3. If the trait has a minimal effect on a combat (for example, preventing Channel Divinity effects) because the characters can work around it, the CR impact is negligible

As for writing the ability, there is so much variety in monster types and controller types that I can't tell you how to make something that's a good fit for your monster. But I can tell you a couple things about writing abilities and traits in D&D.

When you have an effect that hits the players like this, you have to decide if you want the effect to be avoidable. About 95% of the time, the effect should be avoidable. That means the players get a saving throw to avoid the potential effect.

How do you calculate the DC for a saving throw on a monster trait? Well, remember how we decided whether the ability would be Physical or Mental? Now that comes into play.

Fog: an adventurer's best friend
You likely already know how to calculate a save DC for a player character. 8 + proficiency bonus + relevant ability modifier. And it probably won't surprise you that monsters use the same proficiency bonuses as PCs. But what ability should we use?

Well, that's pretty straightforward. For Physical traits, we use Constitution. For Mental traits, we use Charisma. So the gargoyle that could breathe a Fog Cloud would use Constitution, and the gargoyle that could cast Fog Cloud innately would use Charisma.

There are two exceptions to this rule. First, grappling/constricting/etc always uses Strength. Second if a monster has class levels in a spellcasting class, they use the ability modifier of that class instead (Clerics use Wis, Wizards use Int, etc).

So now we know who to make our save DC, but for nearly every ability, we could make a Physical version and a Mental version. Which one should we use?

Here's why this matters. If we made a gargoyle with a Charisma-based ability, that ability would be pretty weak compared to the Gargoyle's attacks. The save DC would be a measly 8.

You want to try to keep the save DC in line with the monster's CR. This means you want the final DC to be within a couple points of the monster's attack bonus + 9. The gargoyle's attack bonus is + 4, and a Con-based ability would have a DC of 13 for the gargoyle, so it works out much nicer to have the ability be Physical in nature.

With all of that in mind, let's end the article with a couple Kobolds, eh? Kobolds are excellent candidates for controllers for a few reasons. First off, they die easily, meaning they are more effective when they can toy with the players before they snuff it. Second, they have a reputation as trap builders, which lends itself to a good thematic type of controller.

We'll do three: a movement controller, an action controller, and a class controller.

Our movement controller can be the good ol' "Kobold with a Lasso". This won't have an impact on CR since we'd basically be dragging casters and rogues into fighting territory with the Kobold hoard, but let's still figure out how this trait will function.

While in the lasso, make a DC 20 Charisma saving throw or be forced to tell the truth
Since this is a grapple check, the save DC will be based on strength. So, it will be DC 8. But we could include a version of pack tactics in the trait to reflect the Kobolds working together. Finally, we need to determine what ability a target would use to avoid this. I'd say dexterity, to dodge out of the way.

So here's our trait, which would go under "Actions" on the stat block. Again, there's no CR effect.
Lasso. The kobold targets one creature within 30 feet with a thrown lasso. The target must succeed on a DC 8 Dexterity saving throw, rolling with disadvantage if the kobold has an ally within 5 feet of itself. On a failed save, the target is pulled up to 30 feet towards the kobold in a straight line.

Now, let's do an action controller! I like the idea that kobolds build traps that fit on them, often to their own detriment. We'll focus on melee attacks for control.

Basically, this kobold is covered in sacs of pus it gathered from another monster and tied all over itself. If you hit it from within 5 feet, it will splash on you and deal some acid damage.

Now, we don't want to make this Kobold too dangerous, so let's try to make him a CR 1/4. That means the most damage per round we can increase (to raise his CR by 1/8) is 1.5 damage. That's a CR increase of 1/8 multiplied by 12 (the amount of damage it would take to increase the CR by 1).

But once the players realize this, the kobold probably won't get hit again. So, we can say it really only happens for 1 round. That means we can up the damage of the single attack to 4.5, since it will be divided by 3 rounds. Conveniently, the average roll on a d8 is 4.5.

Note that we're making this damage unavoidable. To make this work, the DM will have to make sure the players know this Kobold is covered in sacs of fluid. To emphasize that, let's make this Kobold a little more weighed down that their companions.

With that in mind, here's our ability. The CR of this kobold would be 1/4.
Pus Sac Armor. When the Kobold is hit by a melee attack from a creature within 5 feet, the creature takes 4 (1d8) acid damage. The Kobold has disadvantage on Dexterity saving throws.

Finally, let's do a class controller. I've always pictured Kobolds and dragons as inseparable, so let's target a Dragon Sorcerer. Since this one is kind of specific, let's make this monster a Kobold shaman.

Don't mess with my dragon-god!
Remember, the key to making a good class controller is to make it a combat challenge, not kick a player out of a combat. How can we make things more challenging for a spellcaster?

Well, sorcerers focus on damaging spells, and dragon sorcerers usually focus on a single element as well. So we could say that this kobold shaman creates a zone where, when a spell of that element is cast, the caster takes a certain amount of damage. It could be a set amount, or it could be proportional to the spell cast.

Since this is a major part of a sorcerer's build, let's make this effect avoidable. The DC would only be 9, an easy DC to hit, so we'd also not want the damage to be too great. This should be a hampering ability, not a save-or-die ability, and the sorcerer's d6 hit die is already pretty flimsy. To offset that low DC, we'll make this a wisdom save, which sorcerers lack.

As for the CR effect, let's assume this will affect the sorcerer for one round, and we don't want to increase the kobold's CR beyond 1/4. Again, we have about 4.5 damage to work with, but we can say that the damage will (usually) be less than that based on the proportional nature of the trait.

Here's what I'm talking about:
Servant of Dragonfire. When a creature within 30 feet and hostile to the kobold casts a spell that deals fire damage, the creature must succeed on a DC 9 Wisdom saving throw or take 2 (1d4) fire damage per spell level of the spell cast, or 1 fire damage if the spell was a cantrip. This damage ignores fire resistance.

So, after the first volley of sorcerer attacks, which will probably include Burning Hands or Scorching Ray, the dragon sorcerer will realize their powers are being targeted. After that, they can use some spells they don't normally use, or weigh their more powerful spells against the damage they would take for casting them.

That's all for the Controller. There weren't as many concrete examples in this article, but hopefully you now have the tools to make some cool controllers for your game. This is one of my favorite ways to spice up combat!

Too spicy! WAY TOO SPICY!!
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Moody NPCs

l3onnie.deviantart.com
Pictured: meat bags full of gold
When you travel the realms, introducing NPCs to your players, it's often important to nail the first impression. It's about establishing a moment: this is the face of the NPC. That's true whether you're introducing a farmer, a king, an organization of NPCs, or even a genius loci (such as an enchanted forest or a giant dude you can walk around inside).

This is important because more than likely, the NPC has a purpose. A shopkeeper is always going to put business first. An organization might be interested in recruitment and want to show the PCs what they are about. A quest-giver is there to give a quest.

But after the first one or two meetings, the PCs should learn more about the NPC. That's how to keep the game from feeling like a machine. You aren't just going to see Bartleby the Tavern Keeper for a drink, you're also catching up with him on his recent family troubles and listening to another story (different than the last) about how he lost his leg.

Now, for some NPCs, this isn't particularly feasible. A visit to the King for a quest is usually going to be just that. However, in my games, I try to flesh out a little bit more of an NPC every time the group meets them. This can be done even if the task is mundane or the NPC is relatively minor.

I'm not suggesting that you have to come up with a backstory, family, and favorite color for every NPC. Although, if your group is interacting with an NPC or organization regularly, you should. I'd say after the second meeting with an NPC, you can usually tell how major their role in the story will be. Adjust accordingly.


martinpazromero.deviantart.com
Wanna hear about my gangrene? No?
But even on the second meeting, you should have some idea of four things about an NPC:
  1. Their personality, how they act while accomplishing their goals
  2. Their ideal, some concept they hold valuable (usually relates to their alignment)
  3. A person, place, or object they have formed a strong bond with
  4. A flaw that prevents them from living their ideals, or reaching their goals

If you're playing 5th edition, you likely recognize these aspects of a character as the same ones listed on the front of the 5e character sheet. I really like these as a basis for building a character because they are flexible enough to allow the character to have multiple goals and motivations without having to rewrite them every time.

What this means is that you can have an NPC react based on these traits at the same time they are fulfilling their role as an NPC. A shopkeeper can display their ideal of greed and their flaw of buying rare items no matter what the price, while they still function as a shopkeep. If a blacksmith's daughter has been kidnapped by goblins, there's your bond right there. This man cares about his family.


There must be more than this provincial life...
So, I made up some tables. The first set gives a standard personality, ideal, bond, and flaw for each NPC listed in the Monster Manual. That's pretty straightforward.

The second table is where the real magic happens.

See, after you've had your first meeting, you'll need to flesh out the NPC a little more. And by using their traits, you can create a memorable scene that still accomplishes the NPC's story purpose. All you need to do is find a reason the NPC would display one of their traits.

This can be accomplished by giving the NPC a mood when they are met. Not only are they here to give a quest, but something else happened in their life - something unrelated. And they are in a particular mood because of it.

After all, nobody is the same emotion all the time. Or maybe they are. That would be a good personality trait or flaw!

NPC Basic Traits

"This is my happy face"
Remember, these are for random NPCs that your players decide to talk to out of nowhere. If they keep coming back, you may want to flesh some of these out.

Acolyte:
  • Personality: I try to embody the beliefs of my temple, and feel that doing so is a lifetime's work.
  • Ideal: Faith. I believe in the teachings of my temple, trusting that my Deity will guide my way.
  • Bond: The temple I work in is very precious to me.
  • Flaw: I am quick to trust the word of my temple, sometimes over common sense.

Archmage:
  • Personality: I'm used to being the smartest person in the room, no matter who I'm speaking to.
  • Ideal: Magic. Through the power of the arcane, mortals can transcend their limited reach.
  • Bond: I've had my spellbook for countless years, I'd sooner lose my soul that see it destroyed.
  • Flaw: My curiosity has gotten me into trouble more times than I can count.

Assassin:
  • Personality: I've learned the hard way to keep my mouth shut as much as possible.
  • Ideal: Stoicism. I don't let myself be concerned by the horrible things I've done.
  • Bond: I need all the money I can get, for a purpose I don't tell my employers.
  • Flaw: It's rare for me to find someone I can bring myself to trust.

Bandit:
  • Personality: It's nothing personal, robbing people is just a job.
  • Ideal: Dignity. I would never steal from someone who didn't have as much as I do.
  • Bond: I need money, badly. I don't like to talk about why.
  • Flaw: I'm quick to anger and can get in over my head sometimes.

Bandit Captain:
  • Personality: I've got a sharp tongue from years of keeping fools in line.
  • Ideal: Freedom. I won't be bossed around, especially by do-gooders.
  • Bond: My bandit crew has their problems, but they've become like a family to me.
  • Flaw: I can't resist the promise of a big score.

Berserker:
  • Personality: I'm protective of those who I care about, to the point of ferocity.
  • Ideal: Might. Only the strong can keep themselves alive.
  • Bond: My community is the only group of people I can really trust.
  • Flaw: Violence is my answer to almost any challenge.


Dang adventurers, always up on my lawn
Commoner:
  • Personality: I'm generally happy with my lot in life, though I can't help but wish for more sometimes.
  • Ideal: People. The people around me are more important to me than any one ideal.
  • Bond: My family and friends are very dear to me.
  • Flaw: It's hard not to worry about the big things happening in the world, and sometimes it affects my work or relationships.

Cultist:
  • Personality: I hide my true loyalties with lies in order to stay out of trouble.
  • Ideal: Faith. The world is harsh and unforgiving, but our cult and its ideals will survive.
  • Bond: My cult taught me the truth about the world, I won't abandon them.
  • Flaw: I'm convinced that my order is being hunted, and I see enemies wherever I go.

Cult Fanatic:
  • Personality: My word is no different than the word of the cult's patron, and I expect people to heed it.
  • Ideal: Power. By my devotion, I will gain the ability to direct my life how I please.
  • Bond: The cult's dogma will not be broken as long as I am around.
  • Flaw: I rarely trust anyone, especially my peers and subordinates.

Druid:
  • Personality: Nature is the best teacher, if people would only listen.
  • Ideal: Nature. The natural order provides all the guidance we need.
  • Bond: The area that I live in knows me as well as I know it, I would never let anything happen to it.
  • Flaw: It's hard for me to trust those from cities and civilizations, even when they have good intentions.

Gladiator:
  • Personality: I love being the center of attention, in and out of the ring.
  • Ideal: Infamy. I love hearing my name chanted as I make a kill.
  • Bond: The ring where I trained has a special place in my heart.
  • Flaw: I'll do anything to win fame and renown.

Guard:
  • Personality: I picked up a crude sense of humor from the barracks.
  • Ideal: Responsibility. It's my duty to serve my employer's authority.
  • Bond: I fight for the people who would otherwise be defenseless.
  • Flaw: I obey my employer's authority, even if it causes misery.

Knight:
  • Personality: I'm always polite and respectful.
  • Ideal: Greater Good. I believe that the strong must serve the weak.
  • Bond: My honor is my life.
  • Flaw: I hate to admit my way of thinking might be wrong.


"I've just had the worst day. Let me tell you..."
Mage:
  • Personality: I love reading, and am always studying the next spell.
  • Ideal: Knowledge. Through learning, we gain the power to influence the world.
  • Bond: My master is a great wizard beyond compare, and I trust his word and research.
  • Flaw: I'd do anything to get my hands on a rare book or scroll.

Noble:
  • Personality: I make it apparent to everyone I meet that I am well trained and bred from better stock.
  • Ideal: Family. Blood runs thicker than water.
  • Bond: Nothing is more important than ensuring my family's wealth and security.
  • Flaw: My family has a few shameful secrets, and I dare not tell anyone about them.

Priest:
  • Personality: I have a verse for every situation, and I do my best to heed their advice as well.
  • Ideal: Piety. Through fervent belief, my God will guide my life to its ideal path.
  • Bond: My flock of followers is more dear to me than all else in the world.
  • Flaw: I am quick to place trust in those who practice devotion to my God.

Scout:
  • Personality: I've seen a lot of good friends die out there. It's hard for me to make new ones.
  • Ideal: Independence. No good came from folks telling other folks what to do.
  • Bond: I map the world carefully. My notes are worth the world to me.
  • Flaw: If you can't hold your own on the field, I can't put any trust in you.

Spy:
  • Personality: I meticulously plan my next move, including what happens if it fails.
  • Ideal: Secrecy. Information is more valuable than gold, unless everyone finds out about it.
  • Bond: I'd rather die than betray my employers by revealing what I know.
  • Flaw: I don't make friends. In my line of work, I can't afford to.

Thug:
  • Personality: Don't mess with me. I know when people mess with me, and I don't like it.
  • Ideal: Greed. I'll do anything for money, you name it.
  • Bond: I need money to pay for something important to me. It's none of your business.
  • Flaw: I hate to admit it, but I'd murder my buddy if the price was right.

Tribal Warrior:
  • Personality: We do what we must to survive. Laws and manners have no place in the wild.
  • Ideal: Greater Good. Each member must help support the tribe.
  • Bond: It is my duty to provide for the rest of the tribe.
  • Flaw: I am cold and ruthless to those outside my community.

Veteran:
  • Personality: I have a thousand war stories, one for every situation.
  • Ideal: Live and Let Live. I don't think there's any ideal worth dying for.
  • Bond: I still remember all the names and faces in my old platoon.
  • Flaw: Some of my stories involve me doing awful things out of necessity. I'd rather not share those.

Moods Based On Traits 



No mood is good mood
Rolling for the mood: roll 1d4 twice

1. Happiness
  1. Another person recently complimented the NPC's personality.
  2. A recent event seemed to confirm the importance of the NPC's ideal.
  3. The NPC recently gained more of/saw an improvement in the thing they are bonded to.
  4. A goal of the NPC was recently achieved, and they know they were able to do so despite their flaw.
2. Sadness
  1. Another person recently made a nasty comment on the NPC's personality.
  2. A recent event seemed to deny the importance of the NPC's ideal.
  3. The NPC recently lost some of/saw a decline in the thing they are bonded to.
  4. A goal of the NPC was recently failed, and they know their flaw played into the failure.
3. Anger
  1. The NPC just finished talking to someone whose personality clashed with theirs and they had an argument.
  2. A person the NPC knows has recently been successful, despite their denial of the importance of the NPC's ideal.
  3. The thing the NPC is bonded to was recently stolen, desecrated, or injured in some way, and the NPC doesn't understand who would do such a thing.
  4. A goal of the NPC was recently failed, and they know their flaw was the sole reason for its failure.
4. Fear
  1. The NPC is worried that the way they act is the real reason they are failing one of their goals.
  2. Recent events have caused the NPC to believe their ideal is under attack by another group of people.
  3. Someone or something has recently threatened the thing the NPC is bonded to.
  4. The NPC is beginning to suspect they will never overcome their flaw and it will lead to their death or downfall.

Some of these are going to lead to your players investigating the reason for the NPC's moods. I say: great! Your players are now invested in your story.

So use these, let them write some of the story for you, and let your players get to know your NPCs. It will literally bring your game to life.

Just waiting for some adventurers to come along and make this place less dull
Thanks for reading!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Monday Recap: Any Port in a Storm

Every setting needs to have at least one "Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy"
We actually had a chance to play this week, and the game went very well. I think this group much prefers to explore and role-play, though combat is fun with creative players.

Also, this session we decided to start playing every other week, as opposed to weekly. Hopefully this will give me some more time to run more one-shot adventures with my players, or some time to work on my other projects. The music articles for No Mercy are still on their way!

Storm King's Thunder: Any Port in a Storm


Cast of Characters
Jon: Dungeon Master
Megan: Cecelia Sondheim, human bard, a Harper hoping for a bright future!
Cody: Rolen Dundragon, half-elf Warlock of the Archfey, a scoundrel with a heart of gold
Cait: Mialee Galanodel, elf ranger, from a distant land and doesn't have personal space boundaries
Shannon: Kye Bosunen, human Purple Dragon Knight, carries a big sword and his honor

When we last left our heroes, they were still traveling along the Northern Means towards Luskan. They had spent quite some time on the road, and were eager for a hot bath, a warm bed, and a good night's sleep.

Also, they wanted to be in Luskan within the next few days, since the big spring festival, Greengrass, was coming up. The holiday (kind of a combination of Easter and Valentine's Day) had something for everyone: the youngsters collected flowers and sweets, the elders prayed for a good season of crops, and the young adults spent their time on romantic trysts. Needless to say, it was Mialee's favorite holiday.

The group traveled on, seeing other travelling traders and wanderers for the first time since they left the cold tundra of Icewind Dale. For the most part, their journey was quiet, although they were shocked to see over a dozen Frost Giants swimming past them in the somewhat-distant ocean.

So close to sweet, sweet civilization
When they finally reached Luskan that evening, everyone was excited, for different reasons. Kye, having never explored the city, and having come from a shipbuilding family, was eager to see the "City of Sails" and learn all he could about the culture here. Rolen and Cecelia knew that Luskan was a bit of a dump, however, and were just excited to find an inn and rest. Mialee was excited to meet new people and make out with them.

After getting past the gate guard, the party got their first look at the city. Standing on the Upstream Bridge and looking down at the port and docks, they saw all sorts of ships, people, and islands, with a variety of landmarks they could explore.

However, standing out among the urban landscape was a huge plume of smoke rising from the docks. It looked like a massive ship was burning in the harbor... a giant-sized ship! The characters rushed to the docks to check it out.

When they reached the shore, they were surprised to find they weren't allowed to get on the docks at all. Two members of a local "Ship" (which is one of a number of factions within Luskan) were guarding the dock. Rolen tried to pull a fast one on them by claiming to be from a different Ship, but they quickly learned that there were only five Ships in Luskan, none of which Rolen and the gang appeared to belong to.

They also learned that the massive burning ship had belonged to Frost Giants, likely the ones they had seen swimming earlier that day. The Giants had tried attacking the city, demanding to see Artus Cimber, but a group of mages from the Arcane Brotherhood (the local chapter of wizards) had lit the ship ablaze in a hail of Fireball spells.

Now, the mages had retreated to the Hostower of the Arcane, and each of the five Ships were preparing to loot the vessel before any other commoners were allowed on board. Dejected ,the group departed, but not before asking for a good inn/tavern to stay the night in.

They made their way to the Fancy Flight, a classy establishment with a strange enchantment on the floor: everyone in the tavern floated just a couple inches from the ground. The place was full of strange folk, and the group got to work with drinking and socializing.


https://www.artstation.com/artist/sanmingsanri
As you can imagine, I'm getting quite good at improvising tavern scenes for D&D games
Kye and Cecelia made friends with a large group of Dwarves, including a dwarf who was part of the Mirabar Shield, a local faction of the Mirabaran Dwarves in Luskan. Though drunk, he introduced himself as Drugar Coldsteel and gave Kye a poorly-drawn note that would get him into the Dwarves' inner-city complex. Cecelia flirted with a young Dwarf named Shim, and didn't learn much practical information but still had a good time.

Mialee managed to make out with a member of one of the Ships, Ship Baram, which controlled the fishing industry in Luskan. They all wore blue sashes, and were the second-largest Ship in the city. However, Mialee was quickly bored and joined Rolen at the bar for a round of her favorite drink: glitter shots!

Rolen, meanwhile, was trying to get the attention of a group of robed bar goers with odd haircuts and head tattoos. After learning they drank a strange mix of water and rat livers, he ordered them a round, which they appreciated. However, instead of drinking along with them, Rolen poured his own out in favor of drinking with Mialee.

The group stayed in the room sat the Fancy Flight, and were overjoyed to get good sleep and decent food. Rolen decided to tie their newly-discovered frozen Kobold friend to a rocking chair, so if he woke up he wouldn't escape or kill them in their sleep.

The next morning, the group decided to go their separate ways around the city and explore. Rolen and Cecelia stayed in the room, hoping the Kobold would wake up. Kye went to the Mirabar Shield and sold some Giant heads he had been collecting. Mialee decided to go around the city sprinkling glitter on the flowers that were being collected in preparation for Greengrass.


https://crowtez.tumblr.com/
The Kobold, but with a New Yorker accent
Cecelia discovered that the kobold's book was full of magical lullabies, which she could use to cast the Sleep spell. She and Rolen eagerly waited for the Kobold to wake up.

They didn't have to wait long. The kobold, who introduced himself as Kyroon, told them all about his book, his voice-enhancing magic item (basically a megaphone), and his dream of putting the biggest monsters in the world to sleep. Rolen dubbed him "Rooney" and convinced him to join the group.

Kye, having made his way to the Shield and sold his Giant heads, was looking to buy some plate armor. He also took along a rock filled with precious ores that they had found in a Giant's bag. A kindly old dwarf told Kye that the rock was quite valuable, worth 900 gold, but was also cursed and the dwarf wouldn't have any part of it. Kye was shocked, and began to worry that the curse might have already spread to him.

Meanwhile, Mialee found a young boy who asked her if she was a fairy. She told him she wasn't, and he said he was hoping that she would be a "good fairy" so she could come and tell the "bad fairies" to bring his younger brother back home. Mialee immediately told the boy she would help, since she found him to be adorable, and couldn't bring herself to say no.

A plot with evil fairies?!?
We stopped there for the week. It felt good to be back in a city, with lots of things and people for the players to interact with and explore. The group dynamic really changes once they aren't just running from combat to combat,

Sadly, next week won't have a Storm King's Thunder update, as we move to a bi-weekly schedule. However, I did run a pretty cool one-shot this past Sunday, so expect a report on that for next week's Monday Recap.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Monsters on a Role: Lurkers

Talk about an unbalanced encounter!
Next up in our series examining the roles monsters can play on the battlefield, we have the lurker. This one is going to have a good bit of setup, but the payoff is amazing. Last week, we discussed a "roguish" type of monster, the Skirmisher, but we really only covered half the rogue. The skirmisher is all about getting through the PC's front line and dealing damage to their squishy types.

The other half of the rogue is the sneaky kind. And that's what we'll discuss for the Lurker.

Lurkers


Lurkers have a slew of modifications that are going to require an understanding of CR adjustment, Trait creation, and combat design. You can now see why I've been discussing that in previous articles, because it's been leading up to this guy (and even more next week).

Lurkers have the following traits:
  • Low HP
  • The ability to boost defenses for a round (including stealth)
  • The ability to boost attack bonus and damage for a round after their defensive round
Now, that sounds like a lot, but there are actually quite a few lurkers in the MM already. We can use them as inspiration.


rayph.deviantart.com
ExcuseMeHaveYouHeardTheGoodWord?
First off, the easy part. We already discussed the impact of lowering HP as opposed to raising it, and the same applies here. The formula again:
Effective HP increase/decrease / 30 = Increase/decrease in CR
Lowering the monster's HP gives us some wiggle room to increase the CR back up to full, but it also does something important to the flow of combat.

The idea behind a lurker is that, for one round, they are both untouchable and horribly deadly, the embodiment of a trap going off on the battlefield. Before that round, we want them to be hidden or well-defended, but after, they need to die quickly.

This is a monster that is going to change the flow of combat. Suddenly, the fighter is down to under half their hit points. Suddenly, the wizard is unconscious. Now the support team needs to act, or the strategy needs to change.

But after that crucial moment, we want our monster to go away. Why? Because if the monster pulls off another round like that, you risk decimating the PC's strategy instead of changing it. The group needs to be challenged, not obliterated.

So, lowering the monster's HP not only solves our combat dilemma, but allows the players to take revenge for the killer blow in mid-combat. It adds to strategy and narrative.

Now that the HP of our Lurker is sufficiently lowered, how do we get that CR back up? Let's talk traits. We'll need two: one defensive and one offensive.

Defensive Traits

It believes if it can't see you, you can't see it
When looking at defensive traits, we are looking for something that will allow the Lurker to get into attack range safely. After they are within range, this trait should go away.

The classic Lurker tactic isn't even a trait: They simply hide. While hidden, they give disadvantage to any attacks made against them. From the trait "Nimble Escape" (DMG pg. 281) we can see that hiding every round is the same as an AC boost of 4. Remember our AC formula:
  • If CR is above 1, AC increase/decrease / 4 = Increase/decrease in CR
  • If CR is less than 1, AC increase/decrease /8 = Increase/decrease in CR
So this will increase CR by 1 at high levels or by 1/2 at lower levels.

Now, a quick aside: If Nimble Escape increases CR by 1/2 (at least!), then how are goblins CR 1/4?

Well, the designers didn't expect the goblins to be hiding every round. In fact, very few DMs will have monsters hide once they are in combat. Thus, the lower CR. But our Lurker is different. We want them to be engaged with the enemy while hiding, and that effect will matter.

The next good defensive traits aren't even really considered defensive: False Appearance and Aggressive.


ianjacobson.artstation.com/projects/rAzd2
"The mimic uses its Fist spell"
How are these good for Lurkers? Simply put, they allow a creature to be not considered a target until the round they deal damage. Then, either by running in or revealing themselves, they surprise the PCs and deal their damage. There are some fun variations on this as well: dive-bombing fliers, using foggy terrain, enemies hiding in crates, etc.

Does this have an effect on CR? We know that Aggressive has a minimal effect, and False Appearance (DMG pg. 280) has no effect. Why?

I think it's because the designers assumed that any creature with a False Appearance or Aggressive would use it in the first rounds of combat, then it'd be over. The suit of armor is alive, the stalagmite is a roper, etc etc. So what do we need to adjust for our Lurker, who will be waiting a few rounds before engaging?

Actually, nothing. Think of it this way: the creature is essentially a reinforcement. When a creature is added to a combat in later rounds, we don't adjust the CR of the encounter. Now, whether or now we should is another technical debate, but I believe that latecomers should get the full benefit of their CR. So even though our lurker is hiding a few rounds, we are basically saying that they will die in round 3 instead of round 1.

This is another reason why the low HP is important: it keeps the combat length reasonable, even when an additional foe is added halfway through.


Perfect for when your players won't leave the tavern
Now, there's a few more ways that a Lurker can act defensively. If running into range or hiding isn't possible, then we need something to protect the Lurker while they get into position for their attack. There are tons of possibilities here, so I'll name a few:
  • Blur (PBH pg. 219)
  • The Dodge action (PHB pg. 192)
  • Blink (PHB pg. 219)
  • Ethereal Jaunt from the Phase Spider (MM pg. 334)
  • Invisibility (PHB pg. 254)
  • Shield (PHB pg. 275)
  • Stoneskin (PHB pg. 278)
  • The Flail Snail's Shell Defense (VGtM pg. 144)
  • The Doppelganger's Shapechanger (MM pg. 82)
Essentially, anything that provides a round of increased AC, Damage resistance, disappearance, or disadvantage for a round. These abilities in some form are actually very common in the MM, which is why I said earlier that there are lots of good Lurkers in the game already.

The CR effects of each of these abilities is fairly easy to calculate, now that we've laid the groundwork for defensive adjustments. Just remember: disadvantage is the same as +4 AC, entering combat late has no CR ramifications, and apply the CR to AC modification formula above.

I do want to talk about damage resistances quickly before we get into the offensive traits. Damage resistance is another area where CR effect changes at higher levels, as the party picks up more weapons and different spells. Stoneskin would be impenetrable to a low-level party, but a high-level party would laugh it off.

So, to apply damage resistance, we adjust the Effective HP the monster has and plug it into our HP formula (above). The table changes if the damage is simply a resistance or a full immunity.


So, using the formula, the Stoneskin spell has the following effect on CR:
  • CR 1-4: CR increases by the creature's HP / 30
  • CR 5-10: CR increases by the creature's HP / 60
  • CR 11-16: CR increases by the creature's HP / 120
  • CR 17+: No effect
If you're savvy, you can see how this will effect low-CR monster in a big way, possibly pushing them into higher CR categories. And yes, that means the formula will change again.

Offensive Traits


He's just trying to save him from that garish helmet
Now, for offensive traits, we have two goals: to increase attack bonus and damage for a single round.

Many of these traits function offensively the same way that the defensive traits work. For example, advantage grants +4 attack bonus. But we haven't discussed a formula for attack bonus yet! Well, here it is:
  • If CR is above 1, Attack bonus increase/decrease / 4 = Increase/decrease in CR
  • If CR is less than 1, Attack bonus increase/decrease /8 = Increase/decrease in CR
That should look pretty familiar.

Our offensive traits for increasing attack bonus are pretty straightforward now. Find an ability that increases attack bonus, figure in the CR adjustment, and move along. I think advantage on the attack is the easiest way to go, but don't discount giving cool accuracy-boosting abilities to monsters, like the War Priest's Guided Strike (VGtM pg. 218).

Now comes the trickier part: we need to add some damage to this single round. Now it seems like we can just use our damage formula, but there's something else I want to address.
Damage Increase/decrease per Round / 12 = Increase/decrease in CR

This formula is built on the idea that the damage done each round is consistent. That won't be the case with our Lurker. According to the DMG (pg. 278), if the damage done each round is inconsistent, we need to take the average damage of three rounds and use that instead.

So if we gave our Lurker a poisoned or magical weapon, we'd account for the full amount of increased damage. But we don't necessarily want to give the Lurker a special magic weapon, since that means the damage could be used in subsequent rounds, which would be bad. We want a one-shot big hit.

I'm "sneaking"!
Instead, let's look at ways to increase a single round of damage: spells, sneak attacks, and the Pounce ability (DMG pg. 281).

Note that I'm avoiding the Surprise Attack feature. That's only because it has to activate on the first round of combat, which isn't when our Lurker will be most effective.

So for each of those abilities, the DMG tells us to increase the damage output for a single round by the amount listed in the trait. Then, we take the average of the three rounds.

I think you can start to see why this is a big deal. When we calculate the amount of damage our lurker can deal, we have to use a modified formula. This allows us to give a lot more damage with a lot less CR impact.
Damage Increase/decrease of offensive ability / 36 = Increase/decrease in CR

So we could add a sneak attack or pounce trait that deals 36 (8d8) damage, and only increase the CR by 1. That's like giving a monster the ability to cast Blight!

Of course, it's only for one round, which is why it works. But with that in mind, we can start looking at damage in a new way.


I'd take the dodge action
That was a big article. Let's finish off by building a couple Lurkers! I'm using kobolds of course, and keeping one mundane and one magical.

For our mundane lurker, let's go with Kobold-In-A-Box! How did he get in the box? Easy - the crate is actually covering a tunnel, and when combat started he crawled up under the crate, ready to burst out. So he'll be in position by round 3, which is his defensive ability - he won't be targeted until that crate busts open.

We can also give him an ability that grants advantage on attacks when he leaps out from hiding: Ambusher! We'll just adjust the ability so it works on non-surprised creatures. Finally, let's give him Sneak Attack as well, and add a hefty 7 (2d6) damage to that strike.

Finally, let's drop him to 1 HP. That way, after his single attack, the party can wipe him out and get back to fighting.

So by my calculations, all of that bumps his CR up to just under 1, which I would round up to 1. That actually feels right - a sudden 11 damage would add a lot of danger to a level 1 or 2 party, but above that he'd be more of the game-changing threat we could expect. Do your own math and see if you can get to the number I got!

For our magic kobold, let's create a stronger variety of lurker. First off, we'll use Blur to defend. That's +4 AC. Then, let's go full-out and say this Kobold is a Warlock of an Eldritch Being, and can cast Blight. Since at that level, 5 HP is really nothing, we don't have to adjust the HP to make this beastie killable in one hit.

So how do we make Blight have a higher attack bonus? Well, we can give disadvantage on the save. Here's a hint: I'm treating it exactly the same as an increase in attack bonus. We'll cover that more next week.

So in the end, I have a CR calculation of 2 1/8, which I'll round down to 2. That's a pretty hefty little Kobold!

Hopefully these monster roles are giving you ways to keep your combats interesting. I wouldn't recommend pitting the Kobold-In-A-Box against a group of level 1 PCs the way you would do with a similar CR 1 creature. Rather, the Lurker adds something to a bigger, higher-level combat, and keeps it from becoming stagnant.

Perfectly reasonable!
Next week, we'll be talking about the Controller, which is an amazing to make your combats dynamic and interesting.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fly, my Minions!

The pay's alright, but the random chokings are terrible
This week I want to cover a topic related to the Monster Roles we've been going over. This isn't a particular role, and in fact can be combined with any other role. Usually they can come in flavors such as soldiers and skirmishers, creatures willing to dish out some damage and get off the field. However, I find they are best thought of as not monsters at all.

I like to think of them as terrain.

Minions


Can literally be whatever you want them to bee
Making a minion is very easy. All it requires is a few rules and adjustments that can be applied to any creature.
  1. The monster's HP becomes 1.
  2. If the monster would take damage as a result of passing a saving throw, it takes no damage instead.
  3. If the monster would take damage from an attack or spell that deals damage on a miss, it takes no damage instead.
  4. Treat 4 minions as a single monster with regards to CR calculations.

First off, we've reduced the monster's HP to 1. Essentially, we want this thing to go down in one hit, no matter what that "hit" is. This also means that, in general, our monster is going to only get one attack against the party. But that's okay - minions are supposed to go down easy! And we don't really want them to be the focus.

You might be able to see why I think of minions as terrain, now. Specifically, damaging terrain. If a PC runs across a patch of razorvine, or flies too low over a magma lake, what happens? They take some damage, and their movement is likely hindered.

Well, the same thing happens when you put a wall of minions between your players and the boss monster you devised. The players have to stop and fight the minions, taking some damage in the process.

This brings us to the second and third part of the conversion: minions don't take damage on "misses" and Saving Throw failures. Why? Because otherwise, a fireball would blow a huge hole in our terrain, every single time! The minions are there specifically to prevent movement towards the boss monster while dealing a bit of damage. If the wizard gets lucky on initiative, there goes your fight.


snow-valkyrie.deviantart.com
Nothing a well-placed Meteor Swarm can't handle!
And that leads us to the last point of conversion. When calculating the CR, we treat a squad of 4 minions as a single creature. Note that I didn't say "divide the CR by 4". That's because having a lot of monsters on the field changes the CR multiplier on DMG pg. 82. If you are making a deadly encounter, and you suddenly have a x4 multiplier on the total CR of your monsters, you're going to run out of CR for the boss pretty quickly!

But the question then arises: why 4? Well, I've touched on this a couple times, but the designers of D&D very clearly expected a single combat to last 3 rounds. You calculate monster damage by dividing by 3, you assume a spellcaster casts their 3 most damaging spells, etc. So why does the minion count as 1/4th of a monster, if it is only going to deal its damage once and then die?

Well, that's because a large portion of your minions are going to die before they ever see combat. Between AoE spells and multiattacking melee PCs, the players can dish out a lot more minion-killing damage than you have minions.

So, to compensate for that, we assume the following:
  • Out of your minion horde, about a quarter will die before they get into attack range
  • After that, each minion will get about 1 attack before they go down.

So basically, don't get too attached.

Running Lots of Baddies

Next, let's talk about the in-session adjustments. Unless you only need a few minions on the field, you could potentially be busting out a LOT of minis. Are you going to roll initiative for each one of them, and have them move and attack individually?

For the love of Pelor and Lathander, please, no.

Fortunately, the DMG provides a better way for this to be handled on page 250. To paraphrase, you calculate the d20 roll needed to hit the PC, then work out how many minions need to surround the PC to get a hit in. They offer this fine chart:

So, if a group of Orc minions (+5 to hit) surround a fighter with AC 19, they would need to roll a 14 in order to hit. Which means every group 3 Orcs would score a single hit.

Now, the DMG notes that this system ignores the possibility of a critical hit in favor of easier play. I think that's perfect for minions, however. Mowing through a mountain of Orcs is supposed to feel good, not make the players worry that a stray battleaxe with lop their hand off.

In order to make this work, I'd suggest that you treat the minions like a lair action (See? Get it? Terrain!) and have them all move on initiative count 20. Then, resolve their attacks based on positioning.

Do note that this method does lend itself to some VERY interesting boss tactics, as well.
  • A boss that can cast a Bless spell on their minions can essentially grant a +2 to hit
  • A boss that can give their minions advantage can essentially grant a +4 to hit
  • A boss that can lower AC can give their minions more hits per round

Bosses


Remember to give the minions personality. Or lack thereof.
So you've got a fine squad of minions, ready to steamroll your opponent. But what about the boss they are protecting?

Well, to be honest, you don't really need a boss. If you want the players to just fall down a chute and land in a big pile of zombies, that's your game and you can do what you like. But since minions are essentially just terrain, it's good to have an additional focus for the players to try and get to.

4th Edition has these other types of monsters that are called "Elite" and "Solo" monsters, which are designed to make a normal monster tougher. They can still be any type of role, but they have more actions and better stats than a normal monster of their type. Sound familiar? That's right. I'm linking this article to you. AGAIN. GO READ IT.

The cool thing about using paragon monsters as bosses is that you can give them extra turns to support their minions. We'll talk about the "Leader" role eventually, but Spellcasters in particular can be effective bosses when they can attack and support their minions. Have you ever had a Priest cast Bless in combat? What about a Mage casting Ice Storm or Suggestion? I bet you haven't, because they usually die before they get a chance to.

As I said, we'll talk more about this later. But for now, go read that Angry GM article and make some paragon bosses.



Nope.
That's all I really have to say on minions. They are a good way to make a combat feel more epic, give fragile bosses some much-needed support, and change the way your players approach movement in combat. Overall, pretty dang sweet.

Thanks for reading!