Monday, August 20, 2018

Old News: Valley of the Lords Combat Dashboard

Just the right place to find some monsters to slay...
And we're back, with the next installment of my Valley of the Lords setup! Honestly, most of the other stuff in my spreadsheet is just lists, so it's not too interesting to look at. Plus, if I show off too many lists, I might start to reveal spoiler-y details about my worldbuilding process.

I will be doing on last article on this, since this weekend we're having my first guest-star DM in the Valley. I'll go over the document I'm sending her, which includes the relevant information on the Valley for her particular quest. Since she won't have full access to the campaign notes, it won't be nearly as free-reigns as my usual sessions are.

Anyway, on to the content!

Valley of the Lords: Combat Dashboard


Last week I discussed the concept of a Dashboard - it's basically a DM screen but you can change parts of it and it references data in real time. It's replaced nearly all of the notes I would normally take, and it's made my session run much more smoothly.

One thing I've done in previous campaigns is include a monster stat reference table and an initiative tracker. The excel sheet could randomly generate initiative based on the PC's modifiers and abilities, do so for any enemies they were fighting, and give me a quick list with little hassle. I really like the system, especially for my story-based games where any time we spend on combat is time taken away from plot and character development.

As you can see, typing in a monster's name pulls up the stats and abilities for that monster. This set of monsters is from my 5th-edition conversion of Broodmother Skyfortress I used in Chaos Quest. I included the amount of monsters that would be present based on the die rolls in the module.

Over on the side, the "Copy/Paste from here" columns are the randomly generated values that represent the basic initiative. Unfortunately, any time the sheet updates (i.e. whenever I type in a value), those initiative scores are re-rolled. So I needed to copy them from the randomly-generated section into a usable space. Hence, I made a pre-built space where I could place the random values and track HP without worrying about the order changing constantly.

In Valley of the Lords, I decided not to use this system for a few reasons. First, since the Valley is focused on exploration and combat, having the players roll their own initiative gives the proper gravity to each encounter. Second, though it's not visible here, I do have to type in the stats and abilities for every monster I use for excel to reference it properly. The valley is so vast that I'd basically be making a database of every monster in the manual. And I definitely don't have time to do that.... or at least I don't have time to convert what I have done. Yet.

Instead, I've been tracking things on good old-fashioned pencil-and-paper. I do initiative, HP, and a few other notes that relate to the exploration stuff. It's pretty old-school, but the more I do it the quicker I get at it.

So, what is on the Valley's Combat Dashboard?

Not too much, it turns out.

Since I'm running the bulk of the combat out of a notebook, I use the combat dashboard to assist me in setting up and tearing down encounters on the fly. I have a list of basic stats for monsters you might find in the valley, including their information from my loot articles. That makes one less PDF I have to dig through.

I've also begun the process of applying gold prices to the items in the loot table, as you can see. I'm continually adjusting these, so don't expect a huge PDF of Creature Loot pricing any time soon. Since gold is a hugely valuable resource in my game, collecting and selling these monster parts has become something of a necessity for the explorers in the valley.

The last part of the Dashboard is my own personal version of Kobold Fight Club, a fantastic resource for quick encounter building. I've set up a simplified version using some reference tables here, so I can throw together multi-monster encounters on the fly. Generally, I can throw together a few encounters in about 30 seconds, while the players are gearing up for exploration.

The final part of the puzzle, of course, is the stats of the monsters. Like I said before, I don't have the time to convert the entire monster manual into excel stat blocks. Instead, I've been using stats straight out of the book, with a phone app to quickly reference spells that I'm not familiar with. Again, kind of old-school, but I've found it gets quicker with time. My players tend to strategize enough for me to have plenty of time to get things together at the table.

And that's really it! Not too complicated, but it provides me with everything I need to run encounters on the fly. If I had the ability to plan out individual encounters, I would definitely use the Dashboard with individual stats and character data. But since the characters in the Valley are constantly jumping in and out of games, deciding where they want to go on the fly, and exploring such a vast space, I'm sticking to a simpler interface for now.

Hopefully it translates well when someone else is using it! We'll find out this coming weekend.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 17, 2018

Creature Loot: Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes - The Rest of the D's

Evil or charming? Why not both?
We're on the home stretch of the D's! All that's left are the Drow and Duergar. Nasty bunch, really.

As usual, don't forget to check out the index, get the PDFs of the previous creature loot articles, and let me know if you see any items that have typos or could be improved!

Drow

Drow Arachnomancer (13) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Set of Drow Studded Leather: Becomes tattered when exposed to sunlight. After 8 hours in sunlight, it rusts away to nothing.
  • 2d4 Vials of Drow Poison: Can be applied to a weapon or piece of ammunition as an action. A creature hit by the poisoned weapon or ammunition must make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 hour. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the target is also unconscious while poisoned in this way. The target wakes up if it takes damage or if another creature takes an action to shake it awake.
  • 1d4 Healing Potions
  • 1 Arcane Focus (decays in sunlight)
  • 2d4 Books (useless, decay in sunlight)
  • 1 Tome of Lolth: Requires attunement. The attuned creature can use a bonus action to magically Polymorph into a giant spider, as if it had cast the spell upon itself. Once used, this ability cannot be used again until the next dawn. Curse. While a creature is attuned to the amulet, they must make a DC 15 Charisma saving throw at the end of each long rest and when they use the amulet's ability. This saving throw is rolled with disadvantage if made due to the amulet's ability. On a failed save, a vision of Lolth (an illusion without stats) appears to the attuned creature, offering demonic power in exchange for servitude. If she is turned down, Lolth becomes an enemy of the creature for the rest of their mortal life. If her offer is accepted, the character's next level must be a level in the Warlock Class, using the Fiend Patron subclass.
  • 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 The Demonwebs of Lolth in the Abyss instead of the intended destination.
  • 1 Devoted Amulet of Lolth: Signifies a Drow's position in their society. High-ranking Drow wear them proudly, and fakes are difficult to manufacture and easy to spot due to the rare Black Pearls set into the real ones. Worth 500 gp and grants advantage on Charisma checks made to integrate into the upper echelons of Drow society.
  • 1 Set of Holy Robes of Lolth: Becomes tattered when exposed to sunlight. After 8 hours in sunlight, fades away to nothing. Wearing these marks a creature as one of Lolth's favored, and grants the creature the right to own slaves in Drow society. Creatures who own slaves that do not wear these robes are singled out for suspicion by Drow sentries.
  • 2 Hands of the Arachnomancer: Acts as an improvised melee weapon. On a hit, the target takes 28 poison damage, then the hand loses this ability and becomes a mundane Drow hand.

Drow Favored Consort (18) - humanoid (survival)
  • 2 Drow Scimitars: Becomes tattered when exposed to sunlight. After 8 hours in sunlight, it rusts away to nothing.
  • 1 Drow Hand Crossbow: Becomes tattered when exposed to sunlight. After 8 hours in sunlight, it rusts away to nothing.
  • 2d4 Vials of Drow Poison: Can be applied to a weapon or piece of ammunition as an action. A creature hit by the poisoned weapon or ammunition must make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 hour. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the target is also unconscious while poisoned in this way. The target wakes up if it takes damage or if another creature takes an action to shake it awake.
  • 3d4 Healing Potions
  • 1 Arcane Focus (decays in sunlight)
  • 1 Spellbook
  • 2 Flasks of Alchemist's Fire
  • 2d4 Books (useless, decay in sunlight)
  • 1 Devoted Amulet of Lolth: Signifies a Drow's position in their society. High-ranking Drow wear them proudly, and fakes are difficult to manufacture and easy to spot due to the rare Black Pearls set into the real ones. Worth 500 gp and grants advantage on Charisma checks made to integrate into the upper echelons of Drow society.
  • 1d4 Skill Books: Contain knowledge concerning a certain skill and topic that the Consort was interested in. For example: History (Drow Houses). Using the book for 5 minutes is equivalent on rolling a 15 on the related skill
  • 1 Book of Secrets: Contains highly classified information about the house the consort serves, written from the consort's perspective. The consort could have been using this information as insurance against the house, or as part of a plot to overthrow someone in the house. In the right hands, it is invaluable.
  • 1 Keepsake: A trinket or letter revealing the Consort's true ambitions or reason for their work

Drow House Captain (9) - humanoid (survival)
  • 2 Drow Scimitars: Becomes tattered when exposed to sunlight. After 8 hours in sunlight, it rusts away to nothing.
  • 1 Drow Hand Crossbow: Becomes tattered when exposed to sunlight. After 8 hours in sunlight, it rusts away to nothing.
  • 1 Drow Whip: Becomes tattered when exposed to sunlight. After 8 hours in sunlight, it rusts away to nothing.
  • 1d4 Vials of Drow Poison: Can be applied to a weapon or piece of ammunition as an action. A creature hit by the poisoned weapon or ammunition must make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 hour. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the target is also unconscious while poisoned in this way. The target wakes up if it takes damage or if another creature takes an action to shake it awake.
  • 1 Set of Drow Chain Mail: Becomes tattered when exposed to sunlight. After 8 hours in sunlight, it rusts away to nothing.
  • 1 House Crest: Displays the symbol of a wealthy Drow household who this Drow served, and grants advantage on Charisma (Deception) checks made to convince others the holder of the crest is associated with the Drow household.
  • 1d2 Warrior's Marks: A scrap of skin with a tattoo on it that can be used to prove the identity of the foe.
  • 1 Keepsake: A trinket or letter revealing the House Captain's true ambitions or reason for their work

Drow Inquisitor (14) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Death Lance: Acts as a lance that deals an additional 2d8 necrotic damage on a hit. The target's hit point maximum is reduced by an amount equal to the necrotic damage it takes. This reduction lasts until the target finishes a long rest. The target dies if its hit point maximum is reduced to 0.
  • 1 Drow Breastplate: Becomes tattered when exposed to sunlight. After 8 hours in sunlight, it rusts away to nothing.
  • 3d4 Vials of Drow Poison: Can be applied to a weapon or piece of ammunition as an action. A creature hit by the poisoned weapon or ammunition must make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 hour. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the target is also unconscious while poisoned in this way. The target wakes up if it takes damage or if another creature takes an action to shake it awake.
  • 1 Devoted Amulet of Lolth: Signifies a Drow's position in their society. High-ranking Drow wear them proudly, and fakes are difficult to manufacture and easy to spot due to the rare Black Pearls set into the real ones. Worth 500 gp and grants advantage on Charisma checks made to integrate into the upper echelons of Drow society.
  • 2 Sets of Holy Robes of Lolth: Becomes tattered when exposed to sunlight. After 8 hours in sunlight, fades away to nothing. Wearing these marks a creature as one of Lolth's favored, and grants the creature the right to own slaves in Drow society. Creatures who own slaves that do not wear these robes are singled out for suspicion by Drow sentries.
  • 1 Holy Symbol of Lolth
  • 1 Spellcasting Component Pouch (based on spells listed)
  • 3d4 Trophies of Torture: The DM can choose loot from other NPCs for each trophy, or simply use trinkets. Most trophies will be of little value to anyone aside from the Inquisitor, but might be used to determine who the Inquisitor's victims were.
  • 1 House Crest: Displays the symbol of a wealthy Drow household who this Drow served, and grants advantage on Charisma (Deception) checks made to convince others the holder of the crest is associated with the Drow household.

Yo mamma so evil she ruthlessly enforces slavery and hierarchy at all levels of society 
Drow Matron Mother (20) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Set of Drow Half Plate Armor: Becomes tattered when exposed to sunlight. After 8 hours in sunlight, it rusts away to nothing.
  • 1 Demon Staff: Acts as a magic quarterstaff that deals an additional 4d6 psychic damage on a hit and requires attunement. on a hit, a target must succeed on a DC 19 Wisdom saving throw or become frightened of the attuned creature for 1 minute. The frightened target can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. The attuned creature can use its action to magically summon a yochlol. The yochlol appears in an unoccupied space within 60 feet of its summoner, acts as an ally of its summoner, and can't summon other demons. It remains for 10 minutes, until it or its summoner dies, or until its summoner dismisses it as an action. The attuned creature can use a bonus action to bestow the  Spider Queen's blessing on one ally they can see within 30 feet of her. The ally takes 2d6 psychic damage but has advantage on the next attack roll it makes until the end of its next turn. Curse. While a creature is attuned to the staff, they must make a DC 19 Charisma saving throw at the end of each long rest and when they use the staff to summon a yochlol or bestow the Spider Queen's blessing. This saving throw is rolled with disadvantage if made due to the staff's abilities. On a failed save, a vision of Lolth (an illusion without stats) appears to the attuned creature, offering demonic power in exchange for servitude. If she is turned down, Lolth casts Inflict Wounds (+11 to hit) at 3rd level targeting the attuned creature, then vanishes. If her offer is accepted, the character's next level must be a level in the Cleric Class, using the Trickery Domain subclass.
  • 1 Tentacle Rod: DMG pg. 208
  • 3d4 Vials of Drow Poison: Can be applied to a weapon or piece of ammunition as an action. A creature hit by the poisoned weapon or ammunition must make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 hour. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the target is also unconscious while poisoned in this way. The target wakes up if it takes damage or if another creature takes an action to shake it awake.
  • 1 House Crest: Displays the symbol of a wealthy Drow household who this Drow served, and grants advantage on Charisma (Deception) checks made to convince others the holder of the crest is associated with the Drow household.
  • 1 Devoted Amulet of Lolth: Signifies a Drow's position in their society. High-ranking Drow wear them proudly, and fakes are difficult to manufacture and easy to spot due to the rare Black Pearls set into the real ones. Worth 500 gp and grants advantage on Charisma checks made to integrate into the upper echelons of Drow society.
  • 2 Sets of Holy Robes of Lolth: Becomes tattered when exposed to sunlight. After 8 hours in sunlight, fades away to nothing. Wearing these marks a creature as one of Lolth's favored, and grants the creature the right to own slaves in Drow society. Creatures who own slaves that do not wear these robes are singled out for suspicion by Drow sentries.
  • 1 Holy Symbol of Lolth
  • 1 Spellcasting Component Pouch: Contains a 100 gp glass eye, a 250 gp forked metal rod attuned to Lolth's Demonwebs plane, an 1000 gp reliquary holding a sacred relic of Lolth, a 5000 gp diamond, and various other spellcasting components.
  • 2 Keepsakes: A trinket or letter revealing the Matron Mother's true ambitions or reason for their work
  • 1 Book of Secrets: Contains highly classified information about the house the matron serves, written from the matron's perspective. The consort could have been using this information as insurance against rebellion, or as part of a plot to overthrow someone in the house. In the right hands, it is invaluable.
  • 2d4 Exquisite Jewelry: Necklaces, earrings, or rings. Each is worth at least 1,000 GP.
  • 1 Tiara of the Matron Mother: Signifies the highest ranking of the Drow. The Matron Mothers are well-known throughout Drow society, and anyone who holds the crown and doesn't appear to be a Matron Mother immediately draws the hostility of any Drow they encounter. A creature disguised as a Matron Mother without a Tiara has disadvantage on Charisma checks made to deceive Drow of their identity. If a creature appears exactly the same as a Matron Mother and is wearing the Tiara, they gain advantage on all Charisma checks made towards Drow.
  • 1d4 Drow Tribute: These trinkets and baubles are gifts to the Matron Mother. Each is worth at least 5,000 gp, and they might include rare gems or magic items.
  • 1 Seal of the Matron Mother: Corresponds to a particular Retriever controlled by the Matron Mother's house. The Seal can be activated by a Drow wearing the Tiara of the Matron Mother by speaking a secret word, usually found in the Matron Mother's Book of Secrets. The Retriever will follow any order related to retrieving an item or creature located in the Abyss. If the Retriever is sent to the lair of a Demon Lord or if it runs into a powerful demon on its journey (25% chance), it does not return and the seal becomes nonmagical. Otherwise, the Retriever returns with the item or creature in 1d4 weeks.

Drow Shadowblade (11) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Set of Drow Studded Leather: Becomes tattered when exposed to sunlight. After 8 hours in sunlight, it rusts away to nothing.
  • 1 Shadow Sword Hilt: Requires attunement. An attuned creature can cast Shadow Blade (XGtE pg. 164) as 2nd level. Once the spell has been cast three times, it can't be cast again until the next dawn. Curse. The attuned creature is possessed by a Shadow Demon. Only a Banishment spell or similar magic can end this attunement. The attuned creature has disadvantage on attack rolls, as well as Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on sight, while it or the object it is attacking or perceiving is in sunlight.
  • 1 Drow Hand Crossbow: Becomes tattered when exposed to sunlight. After 8 hours in sunlight, it rusts away to nothing.
  • 2d4 Vials of Drow Poison: Can be applied to a weapon or piece of ammunition as an action. A creature hit by the poisoned weapon or ammunition must make a DC 13 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 hour. If the saving throw fails by 5 or more, the target is also unconscious while poisoned in this way. The target wakes up if it takes damage or if another creature takes an action to shake it awake.
  • 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.
  • 2d4 Shadow Claws: Acts as a dagger +1 that deals psychic damage instead of piercing damage. The dagger is destroyed when exposed to sunlight.
  • 1 Vial of Ectoplasm: No immediate use. Can be crafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Invisibility or an Oil of Etherealness.
  • 1d2 Warrior's Marks: A scrap of skin with a tattoo on it that can be used to prove the identity of the foe.
  • 1 Keepsake: A trinket or letter revealing the Shadowblade's true ambitions or reason for their work

Duergar

#1 Nasty Boye
Duergar Despot (12) - humanoid (survival)
  • 2 Duergar Despot's Iron Fist: Acts as an iron gauntlet, allowing a creature wearing the gauntlet to make unarmed strikes that deal 1d8 bludgeoning damage. The creature must be proficient in heavy armor to use the gauntlet in this way. If the target is Large or smaller, it must succeed on a Strength saving throw (the DC for which is the gauntlet wearer's Strength modifier + their proficiency bonus + 8) or be knocked up to 10 feet away in a straight line. The target then takes 1d6 bludgeoning damage.
  • 2 Duergar Despot's Stomping Foot: Acts as an iron boot, allowing a creature wearing the gauntlet to make unarmed strikes that deal 1d8 bludgeoning damage. The creature must be proficient in heavy armor to use the boot in this way. A prone target takes an additional 1d8 bludgeoning damage on a hit.
  • 1 Flame Jet: A creature holding the Jet can activate it using an action. The Jet spews flames in a line 100 feet long and 5 feet wide. Each creature in the line must make a DC 16 Dexterity saving throw, taking 18 (4d8) fire damage on a failed save, or half as much on a successful one. The Jet then loses this ability.
  • 1 Duergar Despot's Outer Shell: Acts as +3 Plate Armor that only fits dwarves. While worn, a creature's dexterity score is reduced to 5, and they make Constitution and Strength checks with disadvantage.
  • 1 Duergar Despot Engine: The Engine has AC 10 and 50 hit points. If a creature deals at least 10 psychic damage to the Engine with a single spell or attack, the Engine starts. Each creature within 5 feet of the engine takes 14 (4d6) psychic damage. If the attack reduces the Engine to 0 hit points, the effect does not trigger and the engine becomes non-functional.
  • 1d8 Duergar Fingers: No immediate use. Acts as a trophy among Underdark hunters and adventurers.
  • 1 Duergar Head: Marks the holder as an enemy of the Duergar. Can be carefully crafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Growth, or mastercrafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Invisibility.
  • 1 Duergar Despot's Helm: A creature with an Intelligence score of 15 or higher can use the helm to ease the burden of metal armor by attuning to the helm. An attuned creature gains proficiency in heavy armor while their Intelligence score remains 15 or higher.
  • 2d4 Slave Shackles

Duergar Hammerer (2) - construct (arcana)
  • 1 Excavation Claw: Acts as a handaxe that deals double damage to objects and structures.
  • 1 Siege Hammer: Acts as a maul that deals double damage to objects and structures.
  • 1d8 Duergar Fingers: No immediate use. Acts as a trophy among Underdark hunters and adventurers.

Duergar Kavalrachni (2) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Set of Tattered Scale Mail
  • 1 Tattered Shield
  • 1 Tattered War Pick
  • 1 Tattered Heavy Crossbow
  • 1d8 Duergar Fingers: No immediate use. Acts as a trophy among Underdark hunters and adventurers.
  • 1 Duergar Head: Marks the holder as an enemy of the Duergar. Can be carefully crafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Growth, or mastercrafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Invisibility.

Duergar Mind Master (2) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Set of Tattered Leather Armor
  • 1 Mind-Poison Dagger: Acts as a dagger that deals an additional 1d6 psychic damage on a hit. 
  • 1d8 Duergar Fingers: No immediate use. Acts as a trophy among Underdark hunters and adventurers.

Duergar Screamer (3) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Tattered Drill: Acts as a lance that deals double damage to objects and structures.
  • 1d8 Duergar Fingers: No immediate use. Acts as a trophy among Underdark hunters and adventurers.
  • 1 Duergar Screamer Head: Marks the holder as an enemy of the Duergar. The Head has AC 10 and 5 hit points. If a creature deals at least 3 lightning damage to the Head with a single spell or attack, the Head convulses and screams. Each creature within 5 feet of the engine must succeed on a DC 11 Strength saving throw or take 7 (2d6) thunder damage and be knocked prone. If the attack reduces the Head to 0 hit points, the effect does not trigger and the Head becomes non-functional.

Duergar Soulblade (1) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Set of Tattered Leather Armor
  • 1 Duergar Soulblade Head: Marks the holder as an enemy of the Duergar. The Head has AC 10 and 5 hit points. If a creature deals at least 3 lightning damage to the Head with a single spell or attack, the Head manifests a soulblade and attacks a random target within 5 feet of the head. The attack has +5 to hit and deals 6 (1d6+3) force damage on a hit. If the lightning damage reduces the Head to 0 hit points, the effect does not trigger and the Head becomes non-functional.

The Mo-rock is not a phase, mom!
Duergar Stone Guard (2) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Set of Tattered Chain Mail
  • 1 Tattered Shield
  • 1 Duergar King's Knife: Acts as a shortsword. Denotes the wielder as a member of the Stone Guard, granting advantage on Charisma checks made to convince others the wielder is a member of the organization.
  • 1d4 Javelins
  • 1d8 Duergar Fingers: No immediate use. Acts as a trophy among Underdark hunters and adventurers.
  • 1 Duergar Head: Marks the holder as an enemy of the Duergar. Can be carefully crafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Growth, or mastercrafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Invisibility.

Duergar Warlord (6) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Set of Tattered Plate Armor
  • 1 Tattered Shield
  • 1 Psychic-Attuned Hammer: Acts as a warhammer that deals an additional 1d10 spychic damage on a hit.
  • 1d4 Javelins
  • 1d8 Duergar Fingers: No immediate use. Acts as a trophy among Underdark hunters and adventurers.
  • 1 Duergar Head: Marks the holder as an enemy of the Duergar. Can be carefully crafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Growth, or mastercrafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Invisibility.
  • 1 Duergar Warlord's Crown: A creature that looks like a Duergar and is wearing the crown has advantage on Charisma checks made to influence Duergar. The creature can use their action to issue a Duergar call to action, allowing up to 3 allied Duergar within 120 feet of them to use each of their reactions to make one weapon attack. Once used three times, the crown can't be used this way again until the next dawn.
  • 1d4 Slave Shackles
  • 1 Duergar Warlord's Scepter: Requires attunement. An attuned creature can use their action to mentally assist an ally they can see. The ally takes 1d6 psychic damage, and can roll a d6 and add the number to any d20 roll they are making on their turn. A creature immune to psychic damage cannot benefit from this effect.

Duergar Xarrorn (2) - humanoid (survival)
  • 1 Set of Tattered Plate Armor
  • 1 Fire Lance: Acts as a lance that deals an additional 1d6 fire damage on a hit. A creature can discharge the lance's fire reserves to cast Burning Hands (Save DC 12) from the lance. Once the spell is cast, the lance becomes a mundane lance until a vial of Alchemist's Fire is emptied into it.
  • 1d8 Duergar Fingers: No immediate use. Acts as a trophy among Underdark hunters and adventurers.
  • 1 Duergar Head: Marks the holder as an enemy of the Duergar. Can be carefully crafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Growth, or mastercrafted (alchemist’s supplies) into a Potion of Invisibility.

And that's it! The end of the D's! I swear, every time I do one of these series the D's always drag on. Next week, we'll go back to doing more than just one letter. Okay, it's only two letters, but it's something!
I wasn't aware how into orange I was until I read this book
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Innate Magic People Part 8

This week's artist is Panji Andrian. He's relatively new and does some photo-manipulation stuff that's really good. Keep an eye on him!
In Ahneria, nearly everyone can cast a little bit of magic, but some people can cast full-on spells. I decided it would be fun to detail out a set of NPCs based on the first level spells. As I said in the previous article, these are people who are somewhat common, but might have gained notoriety or fame based on their abilities.

These NPCs form an ongoing set of articlesThis is the eighth in this series, and the beginning of the sixth level spells. At this point, the power of these NPCs can shape the cities and countries around them. One of these people might be the reason for an entire campaign's worth of intrigue, combat, or exploration.

Onóra Ní Slatara
Spell: Telekinesis (PHB pg. 280)
Not everyone in the noble courts of Artaire approves of Queen Onóra Ní Slatara’s rule. She rose to power quickly on the backs of the populace, claiming to be an emissary of the Gods. There had already been a lot of discontent among the common folk, and she became a figurehead of the fight against corruption within the government. Her penchant for performing miracles, lifting objects with her mind, and literally crushing her opposition stirred the fires of the hearts of the people. By the time she demanded rulership, nobody was interested in stopping her.

But since then, strange things have started happening in Artaire. Plagues, rashes, droughts, famines and deaths that even Queen Onóra couldn’t be responsible for. She tried to take credit for them at first, claiming it was her will that was punishing the people for their wickedness, but soon her own lands became affected by these punishing phenomena. Now, another revolution is brewing, one that claims Queen Onóra’s power was never holy in the first place. The Gods have truly been upset and the people are seeking revenge for being taken advantage of.

Marius Léon
Spell: Teleportation Circle (PHB pg. 282)
Over the course of his long life, Marius Léon completely changed the face of the city of Shingali. Once a small, bustling, concentrated trading port, the city has expanded greatly over the past half-century. Marius began installing public teleportation hubs to connect the disparate parts of the city together in his youth, when his power was discovered. People could suddenly cross the entire city distance in an instant, and the land around the port began to expand as it became easier and easier for people to reach different parts of the area. They even expanded to nearby islands, since boat travel became completely unnecessary. Marius, for his service, has received a lifetime of accolades, awards, and comfort.

However, this past week, a massive Antimagic Field appeared within one of the island teleportation hubs set up by Marius. Nobody is sure what wizard is behind this attack, but it has left an entire burg of the city in the dark and unable to travel. With no real docks or ports on the island, several rescue ships have already crashed against its rocky shore in rescue attempts. Even worse, several people have been reported missing after they entered the teleportation circles at the same moment the antimagic field hit. They might be trapped in another plane, unable to move, escape, or even remain alive. Marius has grown old and can’t dare the voyage to the island to repair the hub. The city is crying out for help in the wake of this terrible disaster.

Milo the Mad
Spell: Transmute Rock (XGtE pg. 169)
It began when several shipments from the city of Caucao didn’t show up at their neighboring settlements. After several days, envoys were sent to investigate, only to find the entire city was gone. In its place was a sinkhole of epic proportions, filled with fresh mud and crushed stone. A dredging crew was issued, and several thousand bodies were extracted from the pit. It was considered the greatest disaster to ever befall the country of Caraco, and nobody could explain why it had happened. Geologists and wizards scratched their heads - no common magister would have been able to produce such a spell.

However, their queries were in vain, as the culprit revealed themselves despite the mystery surrounding the event. A written threat from “Milo the Mad” came to the Lord of the City of Malna, a city situated on a cliff-side and commonly visited by airship. Milo the Mad claimed that unless thousands of gold pieces were brought to a distant location, Malna would meet the same fate as Caucao. The people have begun to panic, packing up their ships and taking flight, but Elettra Peretti, the Lord of the City, has a plan in mind: catch Milo the Mad in the act, with her team of powerful wizards and fighters in tow. Those who still remain in Malna are placing their faith in the Lord of the City. That, or they have no means of escape and have resigned themselves to their fates.

Zinlee “Barkstalker” Olawenys
Spell: Tree Stride (PHB pg. 283)
For weeks, Zinlee Olawenys has been untouchable. An assassin in the wooded elven city of Miridís, she was able to escape from any situation by diving into one of the many nearby trees. Though she came from a distant land, the environmentally-conscious elves had provided a perfect web for her to catch flies in. Contracts flooded in, and she built a solid foundation of underworld contacts and hideouts. Nobody could catch her, and the killings became a drawn out and tragic part of the city’s history.

The High Council had no idea how to end the charade, short of cutting down every tree in the city. But recently, a wise woman came up with a suggestion: if they could get close to her, with the proper spell they could transport her to a stone room where her powers would be useless. The Council gathered their best spellcasters and set out to complete the mission. However, Zinlee seemed to have advance knowledge of the plan and has remained just out of reach. The city is running out of ideas and is looking for help.

We meet again... for the last time!
Etienne Osmont
Spell: Wall of Force (PHB pg. 285)
The spiderlands were long considered uninhabitable by humanoids. All sorts of giant insects gathered and bred there, but the worst were the spiders. They grew to monstrous size, and some even gained the ability to hide within the Ethereal Plane. Anyone who passed into the region was considered dead, for they never returned. That is, until an adventuring party known as The Bold Eagles decided to clean out the area once and for all. They slaughtered every arachnid and insect they could find, driving the beasts back into the tunnels of the underdark. They even brought a young druid that could create Ethereal barriers to combat the strange magic spiders that tried to flee into another plane of existence.

They returned victorious, but without the druid. His name is Etienne Osmont, and he has remained there since, holding his barrier tight to prevent the spiders from escaping. People have begun to reclaim the land, as the many dead creatures in the area have made the earth especially fertile there. They attend to Etienne’s needs, and recently a small town has sprung up to help provide for the man who keeps them safe. He is getting on in years, and has begun searching for a solution to keep the spiders at bay once he is gone. The villagers are helping as much as they can, as their livelihoods now depend on finding a solution to their very icky problem.

Lisabe “Lightbuilder” Le Masson
Spell: Wall of Light (XGtE pg. 170)
Lisabe Le Masson is known as the Lightbuilder, an architect that can capture pure light and build it into a solid structure. Over the course of her life, she has changed the face of the city of Marinue. Walls, ceilings, windows, and more are now built of her solid light, offering a warm glow to the city that cannot be seen anywhere else. People travel for miles to bathe in the city’s sunlight, marvel at the moonlight spires, or even take a walk across the sunset bridge. The rulers of the city have kept Lisabe happy and rich for her years.

However, the latest ruler, Queen Aveline, is not so kind to the architect. She wishes for great labyrinths to be built of blinding light, forcing her enemies to walk blindly through the maze until they die. This upsets Lisabe greatly, but she doesn’t have the political clout to go against the Queen. So, she has been secretly adding back doors and shortcuts to the labyrinths, allowing the prisoners an easier time getting out. So far, the Queen hasn’t noticed, but is becoming increasingly irked by the ease with which her prisoners are escaping. She’s begun lashing out against her other ministers, and nobody is happy about that.

Efia Twum
Spell: Wall of Stone (PHB pg. 287)
A long time ago, a woman named Efia Twum crossed the land of Vlalga. Where she walked, walls of stone sprouted unbidden from the earth, forming all manner of designs and shapes. Now, she is known only as The Wanderer, but everyone knows of the Infinite City of Vlalga. Building upon building, all created from The Wanderer’s path. There’s no real governing body to the Infinite City, just factions that control large swathes of it. Every time someone thinks they’ve found the end of it all, a new stretch is discovered beyond a mountain pass or into a tunnel underground. The Wanderer spared no space on her journey.

You can find all types in the Infinite City, including dangerous and hostile races that use it as an encampment. A war has broken out in the city between an Orcish tribe and a human stronghold, and their urban battles have left many civilians injured. A nearby elven sanctuary is looking to put a stop to the fighting, but most people realize that will require rooting out the orcish attackers. So far, nobody has stepped up to do such a thing.

Briec Zephan
Spell: Wrath of Nature (XGtE pg. 171)
When he was born, people assumed Briec Zephan was some sort of fey spirit that had snuck in and changed places with the real child. Natural plants and rock formations sprang up wherever the child went, and the family home began to resemble a garden. When the vines grew so long and vicious that they stole the child away, nobody was surprised, and the parents sadly accepted that their offspring belonged to nature more than he did to them. Briec, with only a locket to signify his name and heritage, grew up among the trees, which tended to his needs, killing food and providing fresh water for him. He grew up not knowing how to speak, but understanding the languages of nature, and fearing those humans who ventured into the forest.

Over the next decade of his life, rumors began to spread far and wide about the dangers of the forest he grew up in, known as Chirod Woods. People started disappearing, and mothers forbade their children from playing at the wooded borders. Briec became known as the vengeful spirit of the forest, and the edges of the woods crept closer to civilization each month. The king fears a confrontation, but has no idea how to stage a war against a forest. Logging efforts simply don’t keep up with the wild growth of the vegetation. People have begun to flee in fear.

You can tell a character is a rebel against society by their skill with a bow
Vasia Plaidamir
Spell: Arcane Gate (PHB pg. 214)
She is known as the archer who bends fate to her will. No target eludes her arrows, and no amount of armor or cover is enough to hide you. If she knows where you are, you are dead. Her arrows move too quickly for the eye to follow, they seem to curve around walls and loop back on themselves before striking, and they can penetrate the tiniest chink in any armor. If her foe can see, her arrows pierce his eyes. Her name is Vasia Plaidamir, and her mastery of the bow has made her the greatest warrior in the Ravensbane Clan, defending their ancestral grounds from all intruders. Those who witness her skill and live swear she fires with an unnatural grace and divine aim.

Only Vasia knows that her arrows fly through invisible portals that she can place anywhere she can see. The strength of her shots is due to the fact that her arrows only fly a short distance before striking their target. Her legendary aim is thanks to her ability to position the portals as she pleases. It pains her to receive accolades for her skills, when she simply uses her magic to surpass every other archer in the clan. To her, the guilt of an undeserved award is worth the feeling of being relied on to keep her family safe. At least, for now.

Evrard Durand
Spell: Blade Barrier (PHB pg. 218)
Since his birth, nobody was able to touch Evrard Durand. As they reached towards him, their hands were sliced up by whirling blades of magical energy. He was immediately ostracized and feared, sent  to a magical detention camp to let wizard deal with the issue. However, they were unable to disperse the magic around the child, and he grew up assuming that people simply didn’t care about him. His loneliness slowly morphed into resent, and one night he forced his way out of the camp and slaughtered his captors simply by touching them. The rush of power and lack of consequences that night changed him forever.

Since then, he has travelled the land, killing those who stand in his way. His first follower was a man just as angry and spiteful as he was, but soon more came. His killings became a force of social movement against the oppressive society that held the common folk down. And the more he killed, the more he was pursued, the more he became a dark champion of the underbelly of society. Now, he has arrived at the city of Farhelm, with his army of followers in tow. They plan to overtake the city, and the local militia may not be enough to stop them.

Rovari Extreme
Spell: Bones of the Earth (XGtE pg. 150)
From a young age, the orphan girl Rovari was left on the fringes of society, without anyone to care for her. She never knew her parents, and begged for any scrap of food she could get. She became weaker and weaker, slowly inching towards death. However, on the day she thought would be her last, she was found out by Malzer Extreme, a tiefling who hated society and how outcasts were treated. He raised Rovari to despise all humans and civilizations, teaching her to fear and hate those who gathered in large towns and cities. They could harm her and only tell her lies, they were better off buried in the soil. Rovari grew into a hateful young woman, aiding Malzer on his missions to disrupt and destroy society.

They spent years attacking small towns and the outskirts of cities, gaining some notoriety as outlaws. But one day, everything changed. Malzer was killed during a mission to stop a supply train to the city of Jakuth, and Rovari went into a rage, causing massive stone pillars to erupt from the earth around her. She didn’t stop until she had destroyed every building and killing everyone in the city. Once the dust cleared, she took a vow and made it her life’s ambition to demolish all settlements she comes across for the sake of Malzer, her teacher and savior. She now travels the continent of Jodrea, her giant pillars destroying cities, creating new plateaus and changing the landscape so no one could easily inhabit what she leaves behind.

Xiang Tian
Spell: Chain Lightning (PHB pg. 221)
Xiang Tian has an affinity for lighting and storms, ever since he was struck by lightning as a child. The incident occurred when he was climbing on the roof of his family’s shipping house during a storm. Tian was struck by a bolt of lightning, but instead of dying he redirected the lightning to a nearby tree, destroying it in a blaze of blue fire. His family runs a well-known ship trading business, and his mother Wei thought her son’s unusual power could be used to help redirect lightning from the fleet on extended travels. They could even use his power to remove rivals from the shipping business! Tian was quickly trained in the ways of a sailor and sent out on a voyage.

Tian quickly realized that he was not meant to be a sailor. His stomach couldn’t handle the churning waves, and he spent most of the trip sick below the decks. However, when the first storm hit, he was sent up to the crow’s nest and told to protect the mast. Despite being sick, tired, and miserable all night, he managed to redirect a few blasts of lightning. This small amount of success was met with heaps of praise from his family, and he was immediately sent back out on another voyage. Tian couldn’t bring himself to fight his familial expectations, especially after he was run ragged from his illness and fever. He is looking to escape, but the Xiang Shipping Company is preparing to dominate their competitors.

Astrid Fiske
Spell: Circle of Death (PHB pg. 221)
Rumors have been traveling around the Nitron countryside for over a month now, after three villages have been decimated by some demon or evil creature. Now Grites’ Hallow, the largest town in the Tchilmoore province, has met a similar fate. All that remains of Grites’ Hallow is an extremely large patch of decaying ground where a town once was, remains of dilapidated corpses, and ramshackle buildings that could be toppled with a feather’s breeze. Anything of value was completely rusted, decayed, or simply demolished.

Little do the worried residents of Nitron know that an unusual-looking young woman is the root of the desecration. Astrid Fiske, a travelling albino fortune teller, and gets decent business by convincing people her unusual coloring is a blessing by Vyius, the Seer himself. She gathers all the business she can, but before long people begin to suspect her predictions are not so accurate. Then, when they confront her to demand their money back, she unleashes a terrible wave of necrotic power that completely erases the town and its inhabitants. Not only does this get rid of any evidence that her fortunes are false, she gets to keep the gold she has already stashed in her carriage outside of town. This is all happening under the watchful and panicky eyes of the Nitron council, who are starting to think it might be a good idea to investigate these incidents further to quell the rumors.

Chesfaere Cobis
Spell: Conjure Fey (PHB pg. 226)
Since their birth, Chesfaere Cobis has always had fey near them. They started as friends and playmates, but as the young Drow grew older, they became companions and protectors. The other members of House Cobis, stringent worshipers of Lolth and her demons, were unnerved by the constant presence of fey in their midst. When Chesfaere was old enough, the Cobis family sent Chesfaere away to the surface. Though they were in a new place, and without their family, Chesfaere had lost none of their Drow ambition. They sought out and became the servant of Synderne, an extremely ferocious overlord who saw the potential in Chesfaere. She had them train Yeth hounds for her, powerful shock troops to hunt down her enemies.

Chesfaere learned much of ruling  and conquest from their new master. But Unbeknownst to her, Chesfaere planned a coup to overthrow their overlord with the help of the Yeth hounds they had been training. They used their other fey friends to do spying and reconnaissance, waiting for the perfect time to strike. Soon, the time came. Synderne was killed in her slumber, and with the help of illusory get magic Chesfaere assumed her place. Now, the Drow leads the massive Armies of Dread, and plans to gain the favor of the Queen of Darkness and Air in order to spread their influence to the entire world.

Inispira Sorrow
Spell: Contingency (PHB pg. 227)
Her entire life, the tiefling wanderer Inispira Sorrow has never known hardship. By some strange power, she always has just the right magic she needs to avoid any danger and solve any problem she might encounter. If she needs an item, one appears from thin air. If she is attacked, her assailants suffer all sorts of strange maladies. She can heal wounds at a word, protect those around her if they require protection, and even uncovered an assassination plot against the royal family of Ezjur when she discovered strange and evil magic in the palace and removed it with her abilities.

This is what brought her to the attention of the Kirouac family, the ruling family of Ezjur. They want to reward Inispira for her bravery and quick thinking, but she has a tiny problem. Despite having spent her life helping people and fighting monsters, she is at heart a loner who is absolutely terrified of standing up in front of the entire court of Ezjur. She knows her powers could easily allow her to sneak away, but she is trying to be gracious and accept her accolades. She’s just not sure what sort of life fame and glory will bring her.

Do you need something? Perhaps... some murder?
Jowan Treworgy
Spell: Create Homunculus (XGtE pg. 152)
Jowan Treworgy is the patriarch of a vicious and terrible family of conquerors. However, “family” is not the best term for his progeny, as he doesn't sire them - he created them, as homunculi from dirt and mandrake root. His personal servant, Falte, was made twenty years ago as one of his many sons, and has guarded him faithfully ever since. Jowan’s monsters (as the commonfolk know them) appear like somewhat deformed humans, and the most notorious of them all is his daughter Solstice. She lead a massive military campaign on the kingdom of Bonus, conquering it in her father's name. Now a few years after the fall of the ruling powers, Solstice commands the massive expanse of the kingdom, and Jowan is becoming suspicious of her true intent.

Her armies have stayed put, not pressing deeper into the continent or oppressing the citizenry. Most might see this as a blessing, but Jowan sees it as pure insubordination. His letters, chock full of horrific instructions, are being ignored. He fears the worst - a man whose only interaction in life being one of complete dominance is now afraid of a servant disobeying. The path from Wathe to Vinis is treacherous, now doubly so that Solstice holds the throne. He is preparing his own army to march on the capital and deliver his personal brand of justice.

Shyla Payne
Spell: Create Undead (PHB pg. 229)
Legend says that long ago, ancient priestesses mummified kings and queens of the Kolim lands in the name of the god Vaa. According to the stories of her culture, these kings and queens would rise again when Vaa called on them to renew the world and return it into the hands of the gods. For generations, the practice was carried on by the succession of high priestesses, until there was born a child so powerful in magic that she could defy death itself. The lands of Kolim, however, were amidst a terrible besiegement by the Farnassian Empire, and the people were dying out. This ancient priestess, known as Isistet, entombed herself as a guardian alongside the kings and queens of old, to rise again when summoned by her god, Vaa.

This legend has been passed down through generations in the kingdom of Kolim for a thousand years, and no one thought much of it, other than it being a story with which to frighten children. But recently, explorers in the ancient ruins of the area have seen the mummified remains of kings and queens, as well as their entire households, began to rise out of the desert. The people of Kolim are extremely frightened by these events, hoping someone will come and prevent the god Vaa from retaking their homeland. Meanwhile, Isistet, now calling herself Shyla Payne, has returned and disguised herself as a common wanderer.

Kylon
Spell: Disintegrate (PHB pg. 233)
The day the Saidmu Empire fell started out like any other, until a hooded figure was denied entrance into the council chamber. The guards stopped a person in a cloak, stating that he was not allowed to enter the council chamber as a meeting was in session. The cloaked figure, now known as Kylon, laid his hand on the guard’s chest and watched with a smirk as the guard disintegrated into dust, with barely any time for a scream. The people in the square who saw this spectacle panicked and ran away from the hooded man, as guards either chose to attempt to fight or fled from the figure. However, there was no stopping him. After Kylon destroyed the council members, he made a decree that he was now the ruler of the Saidmu Empire, and anyone who wanted to contest him could.

It has been 7 years since Kylon’s oppressive reign began, and there is little hope left in the people living in the Saidmu Empire. He rules through extortion and threat of death, and the nation bows regretfully to his power. The strongest holdout against this tyrant is manned by the Sai resistance, who are praying for someone to help them return their once peaceful Empire to how it was before the fear of Kylon reigned over them.

Jozelle Nyad
Spell: Drawmij's Instant Summons (PHB pg. 235)
Long ago, a secret magical weapon known as the Guardian’s Amulet was sealed in the dungeon of a great castle with no windows and no doors, and magical energy surrounding it as to form an impenetrable barrier. The amulet was sealed by Jozelle Nyad, who had the sole ability to summon the weapon if the world was in great peril. The Emperor of the surrounding country, Niyazi Kyprou, heard of this artifact and its keeper, and realized she could prove instrumental to the Empire’s safety. He assigned her as a royal retainer to keep her close, under the guise of allowing her the position to truly determine if the world was in need of the Guardian’s Amulet.

42 years passed, and the Emperor finally died a peaceful death. His daughter, Empress Philippa Kyprou, took control of the Empire, which was seen as a sign of weakness and uncertainty to the neighboring countries. They have been attacking the borders of the country, and Philippa has been begging Jozelle to release the amulet and save her people. Jozelle, however, knows the artifact is still safe, and refuses to summon it unless the fate of the world is truly threatened. People are dying in the countryside, and the nobility has turned to infighting. The fate of the country is unclear.

Maelia Gavros
Spell: Druid Grove (XGtE pg. 154)
The people of Kichamore island had long feared the power of the volcano that lay in the center of their home. For decades, they left a young girl on the mountain to die, a sacrifice to hold back the wrath of the ancient mountain. Maelia Gavros was one such girl, abandoned by the priests  at the edge of the forest to be killed by starvation or the monsters living on the mountain. However, they never suspected Maelia was blessed by the nature gods. She survived, with druid trees who helped her do everything, learn how to walk and eat, how to gather food and hunt and grow. She forsook the tribe that had sacrificed her, and learned the ways of a warrior of nature.

When the woods started to grow at an incredible rate, the people of Kichamore investigated and found the small girl was still alive. They needed her to die to be a proper sacrifice, but the druid trees protected her with all their might. The villagers could not harm her. Some saw this as a sign the girl was not to be a sacrifice, and began killing their children to appease the gods. Others fought back with axes and machetes, but the forest grew too quickly to be cleared. Before long, the entire island was lush with forests, beasts, and flowers. But only one human remained.

Children with magic - it there anything more terrifying?
Azariah Kairatov
Spell: Eyebite (PHB pg. 238)
Everyone knows of Azariah Kairatov, the undefeated Champion for the Empress Sailia of Albisi. Since his introduction into the royal fighting arena, the rules surrounding magic have been relaxed to accommodate his powerful abilities. Many consider his methods to be cheating, using his magic to harm his opponents or to put them out of commission. However, his statuesque looks earned the attention and favor of the Empress, and thus he is never penalized for his actions. Empress Sailia loves him for his victories, and many believe their relationship extends beyond the boundary of ruler and servant.

However, war has begun to brew on Albasi’s southern border. The country of Pelavia is gearing up for an invasion, and by law the Empress’s champion is considered a general in the Albasian army. Sailia has already bent the rules for her lover, but this time she can’t stop Azariah’s duties. Azariah, accustomed to a life of comfort, plans to do as little as possible, but the courts are pressuring him to take up the mantle of leadership. This might be an opportunity for him to regain his reputation in the eyes of the people.

Berkut Shamir
Spell: Find the Path (PHB pg. 240)
Berkut Shamir has taken many years of his life to create a profitable trading and transport company, carrying weapons to mercenaries, rare plants to be studied, or food to remote villages. Whatever might need moved, The Shami Traders can move it, and without question. Berkut’s secret to his success is always knowing the shortest path his caravans should go, and using a central planning hub to map every single caravan. However, the shortest path is not always the safest.

Berkut is always looking for good, strong people to help guard the caravans. This is especially true for a special weapons order from the eastern country of Tarigua, which are highly dangerous and illegal in many provinces. Not only that, the path requires the caravan to go through the Wrathebite Swamp. This is always a tricky path, since the road is quite rough and unfinished. He needs hands, and quickly.

Octavia Dávalos
Spell: Flesh to Stone (PHB pg. 243)
The Emperor Umberto Botín has always loved the prisoner statues that Octavia Dávalos makes for him. He delights in seeing the horrified expressions captured in the stone, and always compliments his executioner on her excellent work. Once a beggar in a nearby city, he was discovered by one of the Emperor’s guards who recognized her talent and cruelty, and was brought into the Emperors’ service shortly thereafter.

However, the people have begun to fight back against the Emperor’s cruelty. Someone has been removing or curing the statues that Octavia has been making of the prisoners, allowing them to escape the museum-like dungeons they are kept in. Emperor Umberto is slowly becoming enraged with Octavia, demanding her magic be reinstated. She needs help finding the escaped statues, so the Emperor does not have her executed or worse.

Again, please check out this excellent artist!
Hiram Semple
Spell: Forbiddance (PHB pg. 243)
The city of Malzon is considered lost by most of the world, but in truth, it has simply been under siege for the last 70 years. It’s all thanks to Hiram Semple, a man who used his magic to protect the city from the wrath of King Oberon of the Fey. No human dares set foot beyond the city’s borders, but while they remain inside they are safe from the encroaching feywild. The fey and their monstrous minions stalk the edges of the city, waiting for the day they can unleash their wrath upon the people of Malzon. So far, the people of the city have only survived thanks to the power of magical food and supplies provided by the Wizard’s Council.

But Hiram is getting old, and the city is on edge. They worry the border will fall without his presence, and the siege will come to a violent end. Though the people have always wondered why Oberon chose to declare war upon them, they are rushing to find answers as Hiram’s age progresses. The militia they have formed will simply not be enough to save them.

Verity “Barrier” Rouse
Spell: Globe of Invulnerability (PHB pg. 245)
The country of Altina and the Cormoti tribes have been fighting for a few weeks, and before that Altina was fighting with the province of Povia over their northern border. These skirmishes were brought on by a series of well-timed assassinations, pitting the nations against each other and draining them of their resources. However, it fills Verity “Barrier” Rouse’s pockets, who controls the major arms dealers operating in Altina. She is skilled at antagonizing already tense governments into battling each other, and has lined her pockets with riches thanks to the international struggle.

Thanks to her extensive bodyguard and natural magical barrier, Verity saw herself as invincible. However, a renegade archwizard managed to overcome her powers and teleported her away to the Outer Plane of Law, Mechanus. There, she is being judged for her chaotic and lying nature, leaving a power gap in the underworld of Altina. Sadly, this has made the fighting turn inwards, causing even more death and destruction.

Next week, we continue the march through the sixth-level spells!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Old News: Valley of the Lords Exploration Dashboard

There are no dinosaurs in the valley.
Another week, another session of Valley of the Lords. We actually had two this week because the players wanted to go ransack an orc camp. What's this? Player-initiated session planning? Am I a real DM now? Is this West Marches?

Anyway, it was a lot of fun going through two sessions in a week. We had harrowing encounters, clever strategies, and lots of Firbolgs. Or as I call them, convenient wilderness NPCs. I'd definitely do it again, though running games on a weeknight can be difficult to schedule.

So, for this week, I thought I'd go into my setup for actually running exploration in the system I created.

Valley of the Lords: Exploration Dashboard


Dashboards aren't just the thing you have in your car to tell you your speed and mileage. That idea has been co-opted by businesses to describe any data layout that allows you to get a broad picture in a single, simple view.

This idea has carried over to D&D in the form of the DM's Screen. It's a handy place where the DM can keep notes on obscure rules, initiative, quest and character information, and common issues. My problem is that after a while, it's easy to memorize the information that comes on the DM's Screen, and it's much better to have a dashboard that relates to the specific adventure you are running.

So, when it comes to building a dashboard, I like using Excel (of course) to bring all of the data I need into one sheet for my convenience. It saves loads of time at the table, when you don't have to dig through a book for everything.

Here's an example from the sheet I put together for the end of Dragonborn Quest.

As you can see, I have the area map, a list of locations, a description of the visual appearance and contents of the room (including the passages elsewhere), and sidebars for the goals of my antagonists.

This makes it incredibly easy to run anything in the area. All I have to do is copy-paste the room's name, and simple formulas call up the data for me. The map also adjusts to center on the area of the room, which is a neat trick involving vlookups and conditional formatting.

For Valley of the Lords, I don't need individual mapped rooms or long descriptions. Instead, when the players are exploring, I need to know what creatures are living in an area, the properties of that specific hex, and what discoveries are going to be found there. So, I made this dashboard:

With this setup, I can use the map of the valley to ask the players where they want to go, and input the hex number into the upper-left-most box. When I do, the sheet grabs the properties of the hex from a data sheet elsewhere in the document. That includes things like the supply cost and hex status, but also the full list of discoveries and encounters in that hex. It also grabs the short description of each adventuring site from another list.

Separate from that data is the date tracker. I simply have to input the number of the month and year, and a calendar table gives me a listing of any events and weather happening on that day. The weather is somewhat randomly generated, as in I generate it randomly but then assign it to a particular day. That way, I have an almanac of when the weather was good or bad, and if we set up a game where two expeditions run concurrently (as was the case this week), the weather is consistent between the two.

The date tracker also lists the beginning and end of any expeditions the players have gone on. I tend to name them after the ranger or leader character of the group, or some acronym otherwise. This also allows me to somewhat track who was in what hex when, so groups might bump into tracks of other expeditions.

Finally, I have a list of things I need to remind myself when I get new players. It's handy to have the list so I don't have to memorize the things I need to say to fresh faces. Obviously, this is the most similar thing to a DM screen you'll see on this page. It never changes, but that's fine by me. A good dashboard can contain some reference materials.

When it comes to exploring the valley, I use this dashboard to call up all the information in a hex when the players enter it. I can then give them the HP and gold cost of the hex, describe any monsters they see, and determine if they locate any adventuring sites. It's been a fun challenge to make up the signs or tracks of particular monsters without the PCs actually fighting them.

There might possibly be were-troll-ogre-beasts in the valley.
This technique has definitely made my games easy to run, and I highly recommend it to DMs everywhere. Now I just need to set up macro links to turn on certain soundtrack files when certain scenes happen... perhaps someday!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Failed Magic Items: Dungeon Master's Guide Part 10 (M)

Even Xanathar himself might think twice about cataloging these.

Greetings! Will here with another Failed Magic Items article. This time, the "M" items!

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Mace of Disruptions
Weapon (mace), rare (requires attunement)

This sentient mace speaks in a very loud and annoying voice at the most inopportune times. While you are wielding it in combat, you must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw before every attack roll. On a failure, the mace disrupts your train of thought with a loud and often trivial interjection, which then imposes disadvantage on the attack.

Mace of Biting
Weapon (mace), rare

This mace sports a sharp-toothed mouth on its head that constantly opens and closes with terrifying speed. Upon stowing this weapon, the mace sinks its teeth into the closest body part it can find, dealing 2d6 Piercing damage. Using an action, you can make a DC 10 Strength check to pry its jaws open and free yourself from it. Failing this check will cause it to clamp down harder, dealing an additional 1d6 Piercing damage and raising the check's DC by 1.

Additionally, a successful attack made with this weapon deals an additional 2d6 Piercing damage and exposes the target to the above effect.

Mace of Terriers
Weapon (mace), rare (requires attunement)

This magic weapon has 3 charges. While holding it, you can use an action and expend 1 charge to release a terrier from its confines. The animal is very cute and friendly but is otherwise useless in most situations.

The mace regains 1d3 expended charges daily at dawn.

Mantle of Spell Vulnerability
"Wondrous" item, rare (requires attunement)

You have disadvantage on saving throws against spells while you wear this cloak.

Manual of Bodily Harm
"Wondrous" item, very rare

This book contains ill-advised health and diet "tips", and its words are charged with magic. The moment you open this book, the information contained within floods into your mind and your Constitution score decreases by 2, as does your maximum for that score. The manual then loses its magic, but regains it in a century. This effect can be counteracted by reading the Manual of Bodily Health.

Manual of Gainful Eating
"Wondrous" item, very rare

This book describes ways to eat more food more quickly without regard to your personal health, and its words are charged with magic. The moment you open this book, the information contained within floods into your mind and your Strength score decreases by 2, as does your maximum for that score. Additionally, your speed decreases by 5 feet and your weight increases by 50 pounds. The manual then loses its magic, but regains it in a century. This effect can be counteracted by reading the Manual of Gainful Exercise.

Manual of "Golems"
"Wondrous" item, very rare

This tome contains information and incantations necessary to make a golem. However, the manual is very poorly written, possibly by someone who is ignorant of its subject matter, and upon spending a day and 1,000gp, you create a horrific amalgamation of stone, steel and flesh that could technically be considered a golem, but is too poorly constructed to be of any use. The book is then consumed in eldritch flames.

The "golem" cannot speak but its eyes constantly beg for death, any attempt to "fix" it only results in further failure, and you receive a -5 penalty to Charisma ability checks for every day you don't put the poor thing out of its misery.

Manual of Slowness and Inaction
"Wondrous" item, very rare

This book contains all the best tips for being lazy and procrastinating, and its words are charged with magic. The moment you open this book, the information contained within floods into your mind and your Dexterity score decreases by 2, as does your maximum for that score. The manual then loses its magic, but regains it in a century. This effect can be counteracted by reading the Manual of Quickness of Action.

Marvelous Pig Mints
"Wondrous" item, very rare

Usually found inside a small wooden or metal box (DM's choice), these small tablets instantly freshen the breath of any susine creature for 1d4 days. Inversely, it makes the breath of any non-susine creature reek of moldy potatoes, imparting a -2 penalty to Charisma ability checks for 1d4 days.

Medallion of Subconscious Thoughts

"Wondrous" item, uncommon (requires attunement)

The medallion has 3 charges. While wearing it, you can use an action and expend 1 charge to cast the Detect Thoughts spell (save DC 13) from it. However this particular use of the spell only allows you to detect the target's most perverse subconscious thoughts and upon hearing them you must make a DC 13 Charisma saving throw. Upon a failure you take 2d4 Psychic damage.

The medallion regains 1d3 expended charges daily at dawn.

Mirror of Life Sapping
"Wondrous" item, very rare

This alluring silver mirror is near-flawless in its construction and appearance. Upon gazing at it you must make a DC 20 Wisdom saving throw. If you succeed, you are immune to the mirror's effects for 1d4 days. Upon a failure, you are unable to look away as it slowly deals 2d6 Necrotic damage to you every minute. You may repeat this saving throw at beginning of each of these minutes. Additionally, the damage taken decreases your maximum HP by the same amount until your next long rest. If the mirror drops your HP to zero, you instantly die and your soul is trapped in the mirror, making resurrection impossible.

A Remove Curse spell can release your soul from the mirror.

Myth Armor

Armor (medium or heavy, but not hide), uncommon

You are the only one who believes this armor exists. Any attempt to convince others of its existence is met with failure and sometimes you even doubt it yourself.

It imparts no benefits or effects aside from the lively debate it sometimes inspires.

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All for now, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

When D&D Isn't About Fighting

You can't even have an innocent debate about keys without a gosh darn ooze trying to eat your face off
Recently, I've been running fairly combat-heavy games. But that's because the players are venturing forth into the deep wilderness and fighting the wildlife and lowlifes they find there. But can you run a D&D game without combat? D&D, after all, is a system that hinges on its combat engine.

Well, of course you can. But the question becomes: how do you make it interesting? How do you raise the stakes? How do you keep it consistent with the rest of the campaign? You don't want to switch from playing D&D to playing Risk for a session just because the PCs are commanding armies.

Well, it becomes a lot easier when you think of your game in terms of conflicts, not combats.

But before we dig into that, let's talk about how we can use D&D's primary strategic mechanic to ensure our non-combat game is consistent with the rules of the system. I'm not talking about the d20 mechanic, I'm talking about resource management.

New Management


D&D is a game of resource management. You keep track of your hit points, spell slots, hit dice, gold, how many times you've used your Wild Shape, how many Lay On Hands points you have, your Ki points, your Sorcery points, etc. When they run out, there are consequences: you might die, or you lose access to more powerful features or abilities. Thus, a good D&D player uses as little of their resources as possible in a particular combat.

This might smack of meta-gaming, but think about a real adventurer climbing through a desolate dungeon. You don't want to take a grievous wound from a goblin, because the treasure is still at the end of the dungeon. You'd use your wits and abilities to avoid taking damage and using too much of your limited supplies and abilities.

Also, as many DMs have figured out, the stakes are raised when those resources begin to dwindle. A character at low HP begins to panic, with the consequences of death saving throws looming. A wizard or cleric that is low on spell slots will do their best to save them for an epic moment. These are the moments that make D&D feel triumphant, since the system is providing a challenge, a consequence for failure, and reward (experience points or victory) for overcoming it.

So, what are some resources we manage in D&D, and how does the game utilize them?

The most obvious is Hit Points. This is an encounter-level resource, meaning it should only really be managed within the confines of a specific encounter. Thanks to hit dice, healing potions, and healing magic, most characters will enter an encounter with a full complement of hit points. Due to the exponential growth of damage over level in D&D 5e, if a character is lacking hit points at the start of  a combat encounter they are making themselves fairly vulnerable, especially at low levels.

The next obvious thing that characters manage is Spell Slots. Any spellcaster knows they only have so many of these in a single adventuring day, and they must carefully decide which spells will be used at which times. Because these carry from encounter to encounter, these are considered session-level resources. Normally, a session takes place over the course of a single adventuring day, meaning a character must except their spell slots to last 3-5 encounters. This makes it a more long-term resource, and the DM can expect their players to have already expended a few slots by the time a final day's encounter is reached.

Class Features can be considered encounter-level or session-level resources depending on how often they are regained. A Fighter's Action Surge can easily be used every other encounter, but their Indomitable feature can only be used once a day. It's important to know how often your abilities refresh, as some of them (such as a Barbarian's Rage or a Sorcerer's Sorcery Points) can be quickly depleted and leave a character helpless in later battles.

Another session-level resource is Hit Dice, but it's noteworthy that hit dice are dependent on hit point management. A character who is wise with their hit points will find they have plenty of hit points, whereas those who rush in blindly will end up using all of their hit dice on their first short rest.

These are all the primary resources directly related to combat, but there are other, less used resources that can be affected. Supplies that can't be regained until the party returns to a shop can be an session-level resource. Some monsters can drain Ability Scores or add Levels of Exhaustion, which for the most part can only be healed on a long rest. Some Oozes can target a Weapon or Armor, degrading or destroying it and forcing a character to use a different one. These are all considered session-level resources, and impose a longer penalty on a party.

Dividing magic items among a party, however, is a manufactured scarcity
Finally, the game has one primary campaign-level resource. Gold is collected and carried over between sessions, and can be saved to purchase items, magic items, or other expensive things. Taking gold from a party does nothing to lessen their combat potential, but it does penalize their progress towards purchasing an item they might desire.

You can tell D&D is a combat-oriented game, as only two of these resources (gold and supplies) have no combat effect if they are used up. And even that isn't entirely true: fighter that can buy magic weapons or wizards that cast costly spells still need gold to ensure their combat output remains up to speed with their allies. The system is set up to ensure combat is a central part of the game.

So, if we're going to build a non-combat encounter, we can't use these resources in a traditional sense. But if we stray from these resources, we risk decoupling D&D from the things that make it D&D.

The solution, of course, is to think differently about each of these resources!

  • Instead of thinking about HP, focus on the HP maximum. A rotting effect might reduce HP maximum by a certain amount, with 0 being the point of death.
  • Spells that aren't used in combat often have a ritual component that allows a spellcaster to avoid using up a precious slot outside of battle. So challenges that deplete spell slots have to focus on spells like Knock, Charm Person, or Protection from Evil and Good, which will drain the spellcaster's slots.
  • Hit Dice can be used as "Session HP" when you want each character to start with the same amount of hit points. Losing a duel in a noble court might cost 3 hit dice, without requiring a full combat to be played out.
  • Exhaustion and Ability Scores are great if you want to simulate a slowly degrading situation like a curse or starvation. Ability scores are good if you want those who are smarter or hardier to have an advantage, exhaustion is great if everyone has the same chances of survival.

The other resources, like supplies, rations, and gold, can easily be adapted to non-combat situations. 

The most important thing to remember in a non-combat scenario is this: there must be a scarcity. If you have a druid casting Goodberry, there's no way you could run a starvation game. If Ability Scores heal with a long rest, you must ensure that your conflict needs to be resolved within a single day. This will allow the players to manage their resources, just like in combat. By making smart decisions and managing risk, the players can make it to the end of your challenge with their characters intact.

Now that we have this baseline for presenting non-combat challenges, let's look at different types of conflicts and how they could be used without fighting!

Non-Combat Conflicts


"I roll to seduce"
As I mentioned earlier, to build a good combat-less game, you need to stop thinking of combats and start thinking of conflicts. This means dealing in conflict resolution and goal-setting.

First, you need to know what your PCs want. This should be baked into character creation, or informed by the story. Most groups perk up at the promise of gold or magic items (both campaign-level resources). However, you might have a paladin who wants to be righteous, a wizard jumping at the chance to explore an ancient ruin, or a barbarian who will do anything for a swig of rum. It's up to you to know what your characters are seeking, both individually and as a group.

Once you know what they are looking for, start asking why. You can do this while the characters are being created, or in-game through a curious bartender or patron. What are they saving up gold for? Do they want a specific magic item? Is the paladin seeking someone's approval? Is the wizard writing a book they hope to sell? Is the barbarian drinking away some past pain?

Once you know these reasons, you can start to see their end goals: buying that orphanage, obtaining a sacred tome in the name of their God, etc. And you can create conflicts by putting something in the way of that goal. The bigger the thing in the way, the more game time you can generate from it.

Obviously, a lot of these conflicts can be resolved by killing the thing in the way of their goal. But when you create conflicts, it's very easy to see how you can create things that combat just won't solve.You're not limited to whatever's in the monster manual. The world is suddenly at your disposal, and you're truly thinking like a storyteller.

So, let's go over some classic conflicts and how we can make them into non-combat encounters. These represent what "thing" is standing between a character and their goal. And remember: a non-combat session is just a session made up of non-combat encounters, strung together.

Man vs Self

This is where a character's flaws or personality gets in the way of their goal. If you have a particularly theatrical player, they will likely have worked something like this into their character. But, you can use this even with more mechanically-minded players. Just make sure you work out a way for them to manage it strategically, and it becomes a fun challenge instead of a penalty.

  • A barbarian drinks to forget the slaughter of his tribe. On any given day, he gains one level of exhaustion until he becomes drunk, after which he functions normally. How much alcohol is needed is based on his constitution score, and purchasing the drink can be an expensive endeavor.
  • A tiefling must cast Disguise Self on herself each day while moving about a particular city. With a good disguise kit roll, she can get around this, but otherwise she suffers a spell slot penalty.
  • A bloodthirsty rogue needs to sate his lust for murder or he might lose control of himself. Any time he spares an enemy, he loses 1d4 points from his hit point maximum from stabbing himself. If his hit point maximum reaches 0, instead of dying, he enters a mindless killing spree. The reduction heals on a long rest, and "enemies" include those who oppose his goals socially.

It's difficult to build a full-party encounter with Man vs Self conflicts. Instead, this might be something that affects a single character over the course of the game.

Man vs Man

When most people think of non-combat games, they think of social encounters like these. You meet with nobles, talk to them, and you don't fight. But there are a couple problems with this. The first is how to keep the players from initiating combat themselves. The second is how to tie this into resource management.

To prevent combat from breaking out, you need one of two things: distance or power. If the mob boss is behind a Wall of Force or in another city, you can't just kill them. And if the queen is surrounded by guards or is a great warrior herself, you probably don't want to pick a fight. Some groups might need a thrashing in order to get their murderous urges under control, but for the most part you can appeal to the players themselves to avoid combat. Telling the fighter that his combat instincts are screaming not to fight is at least a step in the right direction.

The second problem is more interesting. How do you tie resources to social encounters? Here are some examples:

  • The nobility is naturally opposed to dirty adventurers. You'll need to spend gold to even gain an audience, and spend more if you want to meet with them again. Money talks.
  • A mob boss won't be persuaded by normal means. Spending spell slots on enchantment magic is necessary to win her favor.
  • A kind noble has lent the characters some magic weapons from his treasury. If he is talked down to or disrespected, he can easily take them back.
  • An adventurer isn't used to the life of the courts. Certain encounters "cost" a certain amount of Charisma, and once you've spent an amount equal to your charisma score, you need to break off and drink for the night.

This type of conflict is fairly easy to write, and there are a lot of resources online that can help you out. But make sure to tie the party's resources to the outcome, or there isn't really a point to having an encounter about it. If the party has nothing to lose, they will simply keep trying until they succeed.

Man vs Society

Discrimination: uncool in any reality
This conflict comes from placing laws, norms, or institutions between a character and their goals. You're not just fighting a person - you're battling the rules of a society. This isn't just something that happens in cities, as tribal societies often have rules in place to restrict of prohibit certain behaviors.

These types of conflicts can help define a session or campaign that takes place in one of these societies. For example, a city where civilians aren't allowed to carry weapons will make any session in that city less combat-driven. The real meat of the conflict, however, occurs when the characters have a goal that is directly opposed by the society.

  • The characters find a valuable drug that is illegal in the city they are in. They want to sell it, but if they are caught with it on them they will certainly go to jail.
  • A cleric has been cursed, and must consume human flesh to survive. Cannibalism is forbidden in polite society, so they must undertake a quest to obtain their meal before they starve.
  • Tribal law dictates that if a rule is to be challenged, the shaman must hear a case for and against it. The PCs wish to alter the tribe's rules, and must abide by the debate if they wish to do so.

This conflict is great for hampering the entire party with a condition for a session, which sets up more interesting smaller conflicts at the encounter level. In particular, it's a good way to establish a precedent for lack of combat, as any city might have a "no fighting" rule. It's an excellent way to set up a stealth mission.

Man vs Nature

This is likely the second-most common non-combat scenario DMs think of. Nature offers plenty of obstacles between a character and their goal: distance, temperature, storms, lack of food and water, and exhaustion, not to mention the wild beasts that might also get in their way. This also covers some conflicts that might be mistaken for Man vs Self. Starvation is fighting against your natural need for food, not a flaw or personality trait that prevents you from reaching your goals.

Thus, anything that might qualify as a "survival game" falls into this category. There's some rules in the DMG and Player's Handbook about this, and you'll notice they focus on gaining levels of exhaustion as a resource. It's kind of a "negative resource" because you get more of it and you don't want it, but that's semantics. The real goal here is to directly connect that resource to the character's actions.

Most of these challenges end up being passive. You stayed out in the hot sun too long, roll for heatstroke. It's much better to set up a system where the players are making a strategic choice and not simply dying bit by bit.

  • Parties can go thin on their rations but become more susceptible to heatstroke while in a desert. The choice has pros and cons, and each character might need to take a different option.
  • The group can map between different routes, some more treacherous but shorter, others longer and safer. A path might also have an increased chance to become lost.
  • A group might need to spend spell slots on Control Weather or other protective spells to venture through treacherous terrain.

Another good method (which I use) is to "simulate" combat via loss of hit dice or hit points. Assuming a dangerous combat happened can allow the players to recognize the danger of an area without slogging through battle after battle. D&D combat tends to slow down the game, and non-combat sessions can pack more in by hand-waving it.


Man vs Technology/Magic

Man vs. Technology isn't really about fighting robots. Most sci-fi robots are just metaphors for particularities of human existence, anyway. Man vs. Technology is about being opposed by the march of progress, the limits of things like medicine or science, or even a character's own understanding of technology.

Obviously, Magic acts as a surrogate for technology in many D&D settings. You can have a character struggle against the limits of their spells, try to fight the rules of magic in your setting, and oppose magical disasters or social movements. Of course, it's easy to see how to translate real-world conflicts into magical settings. A tribe's shamanistic magic could run into the cosmopolitan wizardry of the big city. A hospital that uses life-saving magic could be threatened by an Antimagic Field. A low-level cleric could strive to earn enough favor with their God to bring back a lost love.

But don't forget that technology still exists in Medieval settings. An army with siege weapons will destroy one without them. In the real world, the transition from copper to iron weapons was such a big deal that it lead to the Greeks and Romans conquering most of the known world. You can use these conflicts for a single character, though it might be better to make these campaign-level conflicts.

Because of the overarching nature of this conflict, and the natural progression of power and gold in D&D, it's relatively easy to build a character that fits this conflict and strives to reach their goal. Just pick a spell or class feature and make it the goal.

  • A druid must face a medusa in combat. But first, she must train her powers so she can transform into a giant scorpion and fight using blindsight.
  • The barbarians of the Eagle Totem Tribe must attain the gift of flight via training and meditation before they can reach the sacred altar of their Gods.
  • A wizard seeks enough knowledge of magic to live forever. Surely a Wish spell would grant such a gift.
  • A monk who has only ever used her fists to fight arrives in the big city. She needs to find work and save gold up to purchase daggers and swords, to improve her fighting style.

D&D is naturally suited to growing more powerful. This can directly relate to growth in magical power, or correlate to an increase in gold and therefore better weaponry and armor.


Man vs Fate/Supernatural

"... I roll to seduce"
In the real world, it's difficult to verify the existence of "fate" or the supernatural. But in D&D, the Gods can directly interfere with the mortal world, and can choose a mortal for a specific purpose. And much like the robots from above, most Gods are simply metaphors for certain aspects of humanity. So, really a conflict about the Gods can go anywhere. If a God causes a storm, treat it like Man vs. Nature. If a God causes a War, it's basically Man vs. Man.

This conflict is specifically about fighting against forces of the multiverse that don't talk back, that don't come down out of the sky and explain themselves. And some Gods do prefer to work in more secretive ways. Corellon Larethian from the latest Wizards of the Coast book is a great example: elves aren't sure if they've earned enough favor to be reborn in their outer plane paradise until it happens. They simply must try to live in a way they think is consistent with Corellon's teachings. If things go poorly, they have to assume it's punishment. If things go well, they assume they are doing well by their God.

Gods in D&D can be played as mysterious and impartial, or very active. There's a lot of variation between DMs and campaigns and the Gods themselves. However, Gods aren't the best place to put a Supernatural conflict.

Man vs Fate/Supernatural can essentially be boiled down to a motivated mystery. A character doesn't know what their future might be exactly, but they are fighting against the fate that is expected of them. Or, a character isn't sure of the source of a supernatural phenomena and must explain it to move forward. Here are some good character-conflict examples.

  • A character has visions of a future calamity and must try to stop them.
  • A warlock has an imp familiar that is constantly pushing them towards evil acts
  • A cleric must discover the source of spirits haunting a house and put them to rest

This conflict is tough to fit into a single encounter, but it's great for session or campaign-level conflicts.

Bringing it All Together


Man vs. His terrible sense of direction
So, how can we use these types of conflicts to make a non-combat encounter? Here's my process.
  1. What is the character's motivation?
  2. What is the character's goal?
  3. What is in the character's way?
  4. How does the character remove the obstacle?

This process can work for any type of conflict, not just non-combat ones. And the process is exactly the same at the encounter, session, and campaign level. You'll just have slightly different answers at each stage. 

Let's walk through a scenario for building an adventure. At a campaign level:
  1. Joe the Fighter is adventuring for gold
  2. Joe wants to raise enough money to build an orphanage in his hometown
  3. Joe grew up an orphan himself and doesn't have much money
  4. Joe was hired by an adventuring guild, which promised to pay him for his skills

Classic example of Man vs. Society. Why can't Joe just have the gold he needs? Because the rules of society are in the way. Now, we can break it down to the session level.
  1. Joe the Fighter is adventuring for gold
  2. Joe can get gold by killing the bandit leader at Stabbing Pass, at the request of the adventuring guild
  3. The bandit leader is pretty strong, and he has a bunch of bandits working for him
  4. Joe is a skilled fighter and can kill bandits to get to the bandit leader

So now we have Man vs. Man at the session level. Then, within that session, we can string together a series of encounters:
  1. Joe the Fighter is adventuring for gold
  2. Joe can get gold by killing the bandit leader at Stabbing Pass, at the request of the adventuring guild
  3. A pack of wolves has begun to hunt Joe, preventing him from making it to Stabbing Pass safely
  4. Joe is a skilled fighter and can kill the wolves before he is eaten

And voila. We have an encounter. Joe has motivation, we have a good conflict (Man vs. Nature), and Joe has a way to resolve it. But what if we wanted to run a non-combat session? Well, we can't change the campaign motivation. If you want to run an entire non-combat campaign, there are systems with much better resources (such as reputation and honor) built into the system and not tacked on in the DMG. This is D&D, so most of your games are going to be combat-oriented. But for a single session, we can mix things up and provide a non-combat challenge.
  1. Joe the Fighter is adventuring for gold
  2. Joe can get more gold by getting a promotion in the adventuring guild
  3. The leader's council in the guild says Joe is too unrefined to take a higher position and become a representative of the guild.
  4. Joe must gain a better reputation among the townsfolk to get the promotion

Here we have a Man vs. Society conflict. Joe's social standing as a dirty adventuring fighter is working against him. Using this as our basic outline, we can build a series of non-combat encounters.

  1. Joe the Fighter is adventuring for gold
  2. Joe can get more gold by getting a promotion in the adventuring guild
  3. Joe must earn a good reputation among the townsfolk to gain the promotion
  4. Joe is strong and can help Mrs. Wilson carry her produce to market

Now, you can use the Man vs. Man conflicts to make this interesting. Will Mrs. Wilson accept Joe's help? Is Joe strong enough to carry the produce? Will Joe survive the old ladies flirting with him in the market? Remember, we need to deplete a resource to make this interesting, so perhaps too much social interaction causes Joe to be exhausted, limiting what he can do that day. And with the promotion ceremony only three days away, Joe has to hurry and become popular or he'll have to wait until next year to get a promotion.

And that's how I think about all conflicts, not just non-combat ones. Thinking about the character's motivations and the source of the conflict allows you to create rich encounters. Don't just place Goblins in the PCs' path. Why are the PCs there? Why are the Goblins there? If they are warlike and hate humans, that's Man vs. Man - their prejudice drives their actions. If they are animalistic and hungry, that's Man vs. Nature. If they are being driven by a mysterious curse or disease, that's Man vs. the Supernatural.


Now, go forth and make quality encounters!

An entire non-combat article and no mention of traps. That's gotta be a record. 
Thanks for reading!