Friday, March 31, 2017

Delving into the Tomb of Horrors: An Empty Throne

Screw this, I'm out - most players by now
Welcome back to Delving into the Tomb of Horrors. Today I'll be analyzing chapter 6, "Tomb of Acererak Level", and covering areas 25-29.

Tomb of Horrors: Tomb of Acererak Level

25. Throne Room

This entire article will actually just cover the traps in this single area. Areas 26-29 are rooms adjacent to the Throne Room, so it makes sense to look at all of them as a whole.

These combined rooms form the largest single "area" in the dungeon. As we'll see, this is essentially another test of all of the lessons the dungeon has taught the players. However, at this point there's no holding back. With plenty of instant death traps, unfair combats, and traps with little to no setup, here is where Gary really flexes his player-killing prowess. But it isn't just random death traps, as we shall see.
Keeping it spooky in 1975
But enough exposition, let's dig into this room. It's important to note that the door to the room has closed with no way to reopen it.

First, we have the pillars and devil faces. As I said about a month ago, these devil faces are not spheres of annihilation, but rather teleporters. If the players were told (perhaps, by more modern modules) that these faces contain spheres of annihilation, they will definitely do everything in their power to stop their companions from entering the mouths.

Of course, knowing that they are teleporters is also good for frightening the players. Either way, this trap is easily prevented by two spells the PCs should have ingrained into their fingers by now: detect magic and dispel magic. But the important thing to notice here is that the levitation effect and the breeze have no save. This gives the idea that anyone touching the pillars will be helpless unless they happen to have those spells readied.

Next we have the gem, which is another test of your player's experience in the dungeon. Wish-granting magic in a lich's tomb that regularly resets itself? This is a hard one to defend as a good trap, even if it very much lines up with the tone and theming of the dungeon.

The gem is a cool idea and all, but for this area it feels very on-the-nose. But, it was placed here for a reason, as you will see in just a moment.
Totally trustworthy
The last scene in this area is the throne itself, which is really more of a puzzle than a trap. I don't think that any competent player would wander into an evil throne room and put the crown on, but the solution to open the secret passage here is so esoteric that players might be frustrated into trying such a maneuver.

We already saw something like this in the Hall of Spheres. This is a little more devious, however. There's no way forward here unless the players mess around with the throne and scepter, and unlike the previous area, the poem found at the start of the dungeon gives no hints on how to solve the puzzle.

This brings me back to the gem. This area is one of desperation, and I imagine after a while at least one player would be willing to risk the obvious wish-granting magic the gem offers. This could cause some heated debate at the table.

Overall, everything in this area has been leading toward desperation and hopelessness. And this theme only continues.

26. Electric Blue
Guess who's back...
A small area, but finding nothing behind an obviously magical door reinforces the theme of hopelessness. I could imagine my players searching this closet three or four times over.

27. Swords and Shields

This room is another unique challenge that fits in with the theming of the area. As we will see in the next section, the swords and shields are here to prevent someone from exiting the Chamber of Hopelessness. However, they are powerful foes in their own right.
Possibly the only dragon in this dungeon
The mechanics here aren't individually important, but the point of it is: if a single PC enters this chamber, they are in for a deadly fight, and the odds only get worse as more and more enter. This room is not meant to be crossed. Even the spells to destroy the weapons are mostly high-level, meaning there's no chance that all of them could be affected at this point in the tomb.

This, combined with the fact that PCs wouldn't know that this area and area 28 are connected, will probably lead to them ignoring this room. At least, until they have exhausted the possibilities in the throne room.

28. Chamber of Hopelessness

Here is the ultimate example of the theme of this area. This chamber is meant to be the final resting place of any PC who ends up in the blue devil's mouth. The epithet is telling:
You who dared to violate my tomb now pay the price. Stay here and die slowly of starvation, or open and enter the door to the south, where certain quick death awaits. Whichever you choose, know that I, Acererak the Eternal, watch and scoff at your puny effort and enjoy your death throes.
Nothing but us bones here!

On top of that, Gary is kind enough to throw a potion of diminution in there, which according to AD&D rules won't get you small enough to escape through the snake holes.

I think this is the best example of theming in the whole dungeon, because at this point Acererak has created this entire area to focus on desperation and hopelessness. So, why bother simply killing PCs when you can trap them in a room to starve to death? Or for that matter, when you can pervert their wishes, or turn them into foul-smelling powder. The point is this: every part of your dungeon's traps and encounters can fit with your theme.

29. Mummy Chamber

This door appears similar to the Electric Blue door before, but contains a mummy. This creature is a strong foe, but not unbeatable. The worst part about it is its fire resistance (when mummies are normally vulnerable to fire) and the haste spell cast upon it.

This is a weaker expression of the theme of this area, but it is essentially another dead end. The players get no hints about how to escape this area.
Go cry to your mummy!
Overall, this area is a good example of how every single part of a dungeon can flow along with them theme of the dungeon. But if your theme is something like "Dragons" or "Magic Traps" you will quickly create a dungeon that doesn't offer much variety to your players.

Better themes fit with adventuring tropes and are esoteric enough to be applied in many ways. This area's theme was hopelessness. The players were forced to consider bad options to try to escape. And many of those options ended up leading to even worse problems.

But what about a dungeon with the theme of "Bravery"? What about "Deception", "Sacrifice", or "Glory"?
Here's a relevant picture to make up for that last caption. I'm sorry.
These themes could create whole campaigns, since there are so many ways a DM could create tests of those ideas, traps based on them, or challenges that require them.

And in the end, theming also helps set the tone of your game. There's a reason the "deadliest dungeon" in D&D chose hopelessness for a theme.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Pre-Campaign Prep: Boardgames, not bored gamers

A Dungeon Master prepares
Carrying on the idea I started up in my first Pre-Campaign Prep article, I want to explore the idea of using different systems to create challenge in D&D, without really using D&D rules.

To paraphrase the idea from the previous article, a boardgame is the simplest way to see how a particular set of rules translates into a player experience. When you can relate that experience to a different kind of real-world situation, you have the potential to use an existing ruleset to create choice and tension within the game.

Many board games have themes, which informs their design choices. In Monopoly, you can buy and sell property because it's a game about Real Estate. In Chess, you capture pieces because it is a war game. And in D&D, you get a massive combat system because the game is about fighting against monsters and evil creatures.

But when you aren't fighting a foe that is about equal to the power level of the party, the combat system of D&D tends to fall apart. That's why we can use other games to create systems that replicate non-fighting decisions, or situations where the fighting would be unfairly easy or difficult.

How to Use This Guide
Want to play a game?
Now, I'm not suggesting that you should whip out the Monopoly board in your D&D session. Your players came here to play D&D. Pulling out a different game breaks an implied contract for your session.

But remember, rules create a play experience. You don't have to use all of the rules of another game, but taking some of them and repurposing the rules to mesh with D&D rules can give you that play experience without changing the game.

Here are some ways to meld the game rules of another game into D&D:
  • If the game has a random element (dice, card draws, etc) replace it with a d20 roll on a preset table
  • If players have life totals, stats, or resources, replace them with D&D numbers: HP, skills, gold, etc.
  • If the game uses a game board, either convert it to 5 inch squares, hexes, or find a way to remove the elements of the rules that require a board
  • If the game requires turns or rounds, decide if it is compatible with initiative
Obviously, this will change based on the situation and the game. But with those guidelines in mind, let's explore the type of player experience given by different types of games.

War Games

Talk about uneven distribution of craftsmanship
These types of games are the oldest in the book. They are used to simulate war as a method of expressing tactics without losing lives, which in medieval times was a great opportunity. Nowadays, these games aren't as directly applicable as they once were, but can still be used to create a situation where two armies fight for control of an area.
  • Chess: two equal sized armies, units of unequal power and importance, no change in power of different areas, emphasis on planning and threat
  • Battleship: two equal sized armies, working with limited information, reducing options based on known information
  • Stratego: two equal sized armies, units of unequal power and importance, no change in power of different areas, working with limited information, emphasis on discovery and tracking losses
  • Risk: multiple armies of different sizes, units of approximately equal power, areas of unequal power and importance, heavy emphasis on positioning
  • Warhammer: two or more armies of approximately equal power, units of unequal power, focus on strategic positioning and utilizing unit abilities
D&D itself was once a War Game, so these rules are the easiest to implement into a game. NPC units can easily become chess pieces, a war in fog or darkness can borrow ideas from battleship, or a large-scale fight can take ideas from Risk and Warhammer.

Resource Gathering Games

I swear to Pharoh if you lay down another road this friendship is over
This is a relatively newer form of game, within the last century or so. The goal is not to defeat your opponent by removing their resources, but by having more resources (usually victory points) than them. This can lead to a lot of interesting situations that create new player experiences.
  • Monopoly: use a given resource (money) to leverage areas of the board (properties) against your opponents
  • Settlers of Catan: use a random resource (goods) to leverage areas of the board (hexes) against your opponents
  • 7 Wonders/Dominion: gather resources, the choice of which denies that resource to your opponents, the resources themselves don't impact much of the game until the very end
  • Poker: the quality of the resources is varied (by card suit/number), and their impact on the game is dependant on the total set of resources rather than just having the most of something
These games are usually still every player for themselves, so it works best if the players have multiple "foes" to work against. Otherwise, you'll have to only use high-level concepts instead of specific rules.

Path Games
I don't remember there being lightning in Chess...
Though these games are generally seen as children's games, they can be valuable in learning about making travel games interesting. Just looking at the board gives ideas about how to reward and punish players during travel.

The other important point in these games is that there is a finish line with a timer: you must reach it before someone else does. That element of urgency should not be forgotten.
  • Chutes and Ladders: The simplest of these types of games, rewards are moving ahead and punishments are falling behind
  • Candyland: introduces a few more challenges, also, a different choice: you can take one of two paths, each with its own dangers
  • Life: not only does this game have multiple paths and potential setbacks, but it introduces an extra element: You only win if you've gathered enough of a resource by the end
  • Sorry: encourages inter-player combat while keeping the goal of reaching a finish line
  • Quelf/Trivial Pursuit: Every space on the board requires a challenge with its own reward or punishment.
Honestly, if someone came up with a deck of wilderness encounters that read like the Quelf card deck, I'd buy it immediately.

Guessing Games
How many images of weird chess landscapes are on the internet?
This covers a broad array, but the best part of these games is that usually there is a single person who knows the information and the other players don't. This translates pretty well into a DM vs players situation.
  • Hide and Seek: the basis for every stealth check in D&D. Try using rules variants to mix things up
  • Clue: part of this game is that the killer doesn't know they did it until the end. That's not as great in D&D, but limiting resources and clues is awesome.
  • Pictionary/Charades/20 Questions: fairly straightforward. Giving the players 20 questions for a major interrogation would be a good way to use this.
  • Mastermind: Uses limited resources and truthful confirmation to allow guessing. Might be good for a long-term mystery
These can be tricky to implement, but they can make a mystery game more tense and interesting.

Social Games

A lot.
These games can probably be put directly into a D&D session with few changes.
  • Apples to Apples/Card Against Humanity: use it as a series of one-upper stories, maybe to spread a rumor
  • Never Have I Ever: instant scene where the characters get to learn about each other
  • Werewolf/Mafia: good for a one-shot, or a game where the players have to deal with doppelgangers
  • Spin the Bottle: I don't recommend it

Other Games

Rule #75: Don't tell the players that you're gambling with their lives
A lot of games are what are called "solved" games or "perfect" games. Interestingly, these games are usually the least usable for D&D implementation.

A solved game has a single ideal strategy. Tic Tac Toe is the most common example, but many games have ideal strategies, or close enough that someone who knows the game can always defeat someone who doesn't.
  • Checkers
  • Uno
  • Connect Four
  • Chopsticks (a finger game)
  • Small boards of Go and Reversi
In this instance, the real challenge of the game is learning how to play. Once you have that down, it just becomes an exercise in performing the ideal strategy.

We want to create and use rulesets that give the player choice in D&D. There needs to be multiple viable choices that can easily lead to victory or defeat. That's another reason why you shouldn't just whip out the Monopoly board during your session.

In the end, no board game is quite like D&D, and it's good to keep that in mind, even as you pilfer parts of rulesets to use for your games.
Or you could just quit D&D and play the best game of all time
Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Monday Recap: Dungeon Politics

We had another session of Maze of the Blue Medusa this weekend. Unfortunately it doesn't look like it's going to be a weekly thing, since the next couple weeks are no good for most of the group.

However, I'm honestly not worried, since I had to do nearly zero preparation for this session. Since I've worked out my basic conversion rules for 5th edition, and the module is so well written and masterfully organized, I was able to run for 5 hours this weekend on literally zero hours of prep.

It was awesome.

Edit: This series was written before allegations about the authors of this module were released. To respect the players of the game, as well as the brilliant writing of Patrick Stuart, I've decided to keep these posts up. However, all links and art have been removed. Thank you for understanding.

This story is part 2 of a series. The campaign was completed.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 |

Maze of the Blue Medusa: Dungeon Politics

Cast of Characters
Jon: Dungeon Master
Megan: Aniria Lightningblood, Firbolg Tempest Cleric, accidentally destroyed her home, now an adventurer
Makayla: Coria Kelvardil, Moon Druid Elf, traveling the world and cataloguing all the animals she can find
Jackie: Derrik Evanwood, Human Bardbarian, punch things, woo women, deal with alcoholism
Tom: Alan Resnik, Human Phoenyx Sorcerer, secretly a noble with a bad family, trying his best not to burn the place down

When we last left our heroes, they were following a jeweled hummingbird through the maze in search of artwork to bring to a dragon, Lady Crucem Capilli. They had just pulled the swords from the back of an old man who was begging them to kill him. They finished searching the goo piles of the gaseous knights that had attacked them, and found a grotesque little mummified hand holding an eyeball and attached to a snake's body, which Alan poked and then they left alone.

The group began to feel a wave of unspeakable melancholy wash over them, and for the next several minutes, at least one of them was very depressed. Derrik drank a lot.

The hummingbird lead them over rope bridges (with some treasure down below) and into a room where a strange creature who looked like the an ogre-shaped shell was quietly rocking a baby to sleep. It told the party to be quiet, and they moved on. Making their way across some weird and fantastic stairs, they discovered a small room that seemed to resemble the cloakroom of a fancy party or restaurant.

There, a mechanical peacock told them that all of them (with the exception of Alan) were quite under dressed for the wedding that was about to take place. Coria, having transformed into a cat, was also exempt from the severely classist insults directed at Aniria and Derrik. However, the peacock, whose name was Zacchaeus Wybrow, told Alan to take some food for his journey and come back any time.

The group asked Zacchaeus if he knew where any of the God-sisters were. He said he wasn't sure about Charity and Zamia, but Chronia was in the entrance halls if they just kept heading North.

The melancholy had lifted, but the jeweled hummingbird had flew off in the meantime. The group decided to head back to the rope bridges and explore a room to the North. Inside, they found a very odd scene: A chess set was trying to mentally command a four foot long caterpillar/snake creature to vomit up the chess pieces it had eaten.

After finally wrestling the cater-snake to submission while fighting the mind control of the chess pieces, the group convince the creature to vomit up the pieces it had eaten. They took a liking to the strange cater-snake, whose name they learned was Gibba Gognata. Gibba promised he'd behave if the group gave him some petrified flesh to eat. He also gave them a scroll of Flesh to Stone, in exchange for the group not telling his mother (the Medusa!!) about the whole incident.

The group was just about to leave and find some stone for Gibba to eat when a voice cried out "Unhand that reptile!" A lizardman sorcerer and his mammal thralls had entered the room, and began to attack. While Alan and Derrik dealt with the mammals, Aniria ran headlong towards the lizardman.

Coria decided to use Thunderwave to knock the lizardman off the rope bridge behind him, and try to destroy the magical control orb he was using to command the mammal slaves. It worked, and he dropped the orb off the bridge, but only a few seconds later the lizardman cast a spell that undid the damage to himself and the orb. Aniria was quite angry, and pushed him off the bridge before he could cast another spell. The fall didn't kill him, but the landing did.

As Derrik finished off the last mammal, the group suddenly found themselves unable to move their feet. They craned their necks to see behind them, and saw a strange moon-headed man wearing a weird monocle-like eyepiece. The mummified hand snake was with him, as was an armored, twitching giant ferret. He told them they weren't supposed to be here in the dungeon, and asked them questions. While they were in his light, they couldn't lie.

He used his strange monocle on Alan, who was forced to reveal his last name was not Resnik but Xanthudides. The moon man, who Gibba called Mr. Zooth, was seemingly impressed. He told them he was going to send them away, and they were to look for his two lost sons, Anole and Anolis. If he met up with the group again and they hadn't found his sons, he would be forced to capture the party and bring them straight to the Medusa.

He squinted at them and suddenly they were gone. As they disappeared, Derrik saw the jeweled hummingbird appear again, sucking out the bone marrow of one of the dead mammals.

When they reappeared, they were in a totally different place in the dungeon and Gibba was no longer with them. Aniria, who had taken a liking to the childish creature, was very disheartened.

Coria continued to chart her map, poking her head into various rooms to get a sense of where they were. They found a room with a bunch of finger bones wearing wedding rings on a table, a room with a body outline made of swords, a chained-up vampire, a magically dark room, and a literal knot in space time.

They also found a small puppet show, which they decided to sit and watch. Surprisingly, they were undisturbed, and they managed to avoid the harmful spells that the puppet show kept casting on them to enhance the mood.

The puppets told a story about a country of lizardmen ruled by a tyrannical leviathan. They begged the medusa to help, and she battled the leviathan and freed the lizardmen. Then, they all sank to the bottom of the ocean. Nobody really liked the play.

The group carried onward, but suddenly heard a noise in a hallway up ahead. They ducked behind a wall, and saw a group of humans in bird masks, squawking and strutting like they were actually birds. They were all headed up a pillar made of petrified bodies, to a door on the upper balcony of a room. The group decided to go the other way.

They passed by a stone relief of a stormy sea, and a room that contained a box of suicide notes next to a tightly sealed glass tank with a rope in it. They found a closet with a bunch of frozen-in-time adventurers, and some stone steps. Coria urged the group to keep pressing south, as they might still find Chronia's room if they kept searching.

The group passed by a strange creature: a time elemental, a monster who moved like a lava lamp with multicolored sand flowing through it. It told them that the Medusa had trapped it here, ever since the frozen-in-time adventurers had brought it in as a bounty. It couldn't corrupt its pure gold chains, nor could it use its powers, for then one of the adventurers would escape its time hold.

The group felt bad about having not helped the chained-up vampire from earlier, and this time elemental, Fulvious, seemed much nicer. Aniria broke its chains and the creature thanked them before disappearing. The group heard an angry shout from the closet and bolted towards the next door, locking it behind them.

They ended up in a room with a huge shifting sculpture in it, which was moving and rocking violently. The group edged carefully around the room, but Aniria and Derrik were both touched by the strange object, which caused their magic to become "echoed" - it would repeat itself in an unpredictable manner when cast.

The group tried a door on the side of the room, but it ended up locked. However, they heard a voice on the other side. The party asked if there was yet another trapped creature in the dungeon, and the person laughed and replied that she wasn't trapped at all. In fact, she was exited to talk to people from outside the dungeon! She unlocked the door and moved back.

The party entered a monstrous room that looked like it had once been filled with art and decor, but all of it had rotten away with time. Standing in the center was the source of the voice: a young woman, naked except of gold and amber jewelry. She asked the group their names, and was also surprised to hear Alan was a member of house Xanthudides.

She introduced herself as Chronia Torn. The group was extremely happy, they had made their way back to the entrance halls! Chronia was eager to hear their stories, but asked them how much time they had - everything around her aged about a year every hour.

The group agreed to take a rest in this room, where they should be safe, and Chronia suppressed her powers as much as she could, meaning over the course of an hour they would only age 6 months. Alan, only 19, was excited at the prospect of growing up.

Chronia introduced them to her pet, Fracture-of-the-Bone, a strange beast that drank her blood and regrew from it's own cracked, dead body. It looked like an emaciated dog that had been shattered and rebuilt poorly, it moved with twitching and spastic strides, and it burbled baby-talk. Chronia found it adorable for some reason.

Derrik was completely smitten with Chronia (as he was with most women), and when she asked for some light music he immediately obliged. Aniria and Coria began chatting with the God-sister, asking her about the dungeon and telling her about their adventures in it.

The party told Chronia they were here, in part, because Ashen Chanterelle had told them the three sisters needed rescuing. Chronia told them Ashen was one of her servants, and although her heart was in the right place, no rescuing was needed. Charity and Zamia were both in the places they wanted to be in, and Chronia enjoyed the art and surprises from the Maze and the Medusa.

Chronia was shocked to hear that Lady Crucem Capilli was planning to burn down the maze, and suggested the medusa should know about it. Unfortunately, the medusa had stopped responding to Chronia's letters some time ago. She suggested the group bring the dragon lady artwork until a plan could be formulated.

Coria got more information for her map: she learned that there were three liches in the dungeon, the Laughing Lich (in the Reptile Archives), the Loving Lich (brooding over her sister Zamia in the Gardens), and the Lying Lich (who Chronia didn't have a location for). She learned that the only way to the Reptile Archives was through the Art Gallery, and she learned that Zacchaeus' wedding had actually happened a long time ago, and that's where all the dead creatures were.

Chronia also asked them to get her some silk clothing, she had heard there was a method for making imperishable clothing in the Reptile Archives. She said she would trade a Tear of Time for such a thing, which was one of her magical tears that could undo any event from a person's past when they swallowed it. All the characters immediately thought of things they would change.

Meanwhile, Alan was investigating Fracture-of-the-Bone. The creature seemed to want to drink his blood, and Alan obliged a little nibble. The beast only got a small bite in, but Alan felt his hand tingling as if he had been poisoned. He decided not to let the creature have another bite.

Near the end of their rest, Chronia asked the group where they planned to go next. Derrik complained that they wanted to find a way out of the godforsaken maze, and Chronia suggested they go see Lady Nine-Bones. She gave them directions out of her room to get to Lady Nine-Bones, and an amber crafted letter stating that the group had her permission to be in the maze.

The echoes had faded from Aniria and Derrik's magic, and the group was rested up. Unsure about the letter and if it would help them face Torgos Zooth, the moon man, or convince the Medusa they were supposed to be there, the party headed out to see Lady Nine-Bones.

We got through a lot of rooms this week. It was nice having more time, and we did actually spend about an hour in Chronia's Room. I'm excited for Lady Nine-Bones and what's going to happen next!

If the group continues exploring at this pace, I'm hoping we'll have about 8 or 9 more sessions of the Maze. That would be perfect for this campaign!

Thanks for reading!

Monday Recap: Defenders of Icewind Dale
This game happens here
We had another short game this week, but a lot happened! I'm beginning to really appreciate the travel system, it makes the wilderness a thing to explore and engage with. The games after this will involve a lot of travel, and it feels good to have a dynamic system for the players to interact with, rather than me just rolling a single random encounter and then telling them they made it to wherever they wanted to go.

This story is part 9 of a series. This campaign was discontinued.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13 | Part 14 | Part 15 | Part 16 | Part 17 |

Storm King's Thunder: Defenders of Icewind Dale

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

When we had last left our heroes, some drama had taken hold of the party. Kye had (unwittingly) revealed his feelings for Rolen, and Rolen had turned him down. The characters had all gotten drunk at Kelvin's Comfort, their favorite tavern in Bryn Shander, and as usual ended up sleeping all over town.

After Duvessa Shane had gathered the lot of them, she told them she had a job for them. Duvessa had called a meeting of all the Speakers of the Ten Towns, of which Bryn Shander was the biggest. Half of them had already arrived, but the more distant Speakers had gathered in another town called Easthaven. It was a day away, and Duvessa asked the party to escort the Speakers to Bryn Shander.

Denneth Waylan: hates the cold. Lives in a cold place.
The group left early, making it to Easthaven without any encounters or delays. Easthaven's speaker, Denneth Waylan, had requested them directly, and as it was already after sunset, the group went to the Visiting Dignitaries House.

There, they were treated to excellent accommodations and libations. Denneth proved to be a very haughty man, but he was quickly swayed by the group when they presented a letter given to them by Duvessa. The House was outfitted with a bar, and the party split up to mingle with various Speakers and their guards.

Cecelia met a spunky old lady named Edgra Durmoot, Speaker of Dougan's Hole and a political ally of Duvessa. They chatted into the night. Meanwhile, Mialee spent her time reading a mysterious book she had found in her pack that hadn't been there until that morning. It was, of course, an instruction manual on improving intimacy.

Rolen swooped in to save a female guard from a portly man hitting on her, and the man turned out to be another town Speaker. He quickly picked up on what Rolen was doing, and took his leave gracefully. Kye gravitated to the other side of the room, away from Rolen, and tried to diffuse an argument between two Speakers from rival fishing towns.

For this session, I gave Kye a temporary ability: Heartbroken. Whenever Rolen was in sight, Kye would roll all his mental checks and saves with disadvantage, but Kye would get advantage if Rolen was out of sight. This didn't affect the game too much, but ended up making some great role-playing moments for social situations such as these. Also, I made sure the players were on board beforehand, so they were interested in the interaction and neither of them saw it as a "punishment".

The heroes retired to their various bunks, and in the morning the entire band of Speakers, squires, guards, and adventurers was ready to head out. Rolen was upset that he didn't have time to do any fishing on the lake near Easthaven, but the group needed to make it back to Bryn Shander or risk traveling at night.

It just wants to hug you! With its mouth.
Along the way, they were ambushed by Crag Cats! Having already fought some of these on their way to Ironmaster, the group quickly dispatched the beasts, finishing them off before the rest of their companions were harmed. They arrived safely back at Bryn Shander, and Duvessa was very pleased. She gave them a Potion of Greater Healing for their trouble.

The group split up for the evening, Mialee opting to continue to read her book and Kye heading to sleep, while Cecelia and Rolen went for drinks with the Speakers and their guards. Rolen ended up in the stables again, and Cecelia passed out in the snow and was taken in by Garn Blackiron's sister.

The next morning, the group met up at Kelvin's Comfort for some lunch, and Beldora joined them. She had a secret mission for Cecelia to carry out, and it could result in her gaining some good credibility with the Harpers.

Rendaril, the owner of the biggest supply shop in town, had made a public accusation that Ogden Flamebeard, proprietor of Kelvin's Comfort, had been making his signature Firebrandy by simply rebottling cheap liquor and selling it at a high price.

Beldora knew Rendaril was a shrewd businessman and wouldn't make such an accusation without proof, but she also knew that Ogden was a beloved citizen and his Firebrandy was famous through Icewind Dale, so the accusation alone likely wouldn't cause Kelvin's Comfort to lose any business. So the question was: why would Rendaril make the accusation at all? Beldora asked Cecelia to sneak into Rendaril's shop that night and find out.

During the day, Kye met a member of the Lord's Alliance who had posted up a bounty poster: the North had put a bounty on Giant Heads after the attacks on Nightstone , Bryn Shander, and some townsnear the Greypeak mountains. The man, whose name was Martyl, was quite condescending and challenged Kye to a duel. Kye easily bested him, and the nearby commoners chuckled at the spectacle.
The thievery value of Mage Hand is highly underrated
After dark, the group made their way to Rendaril's Emporium. Cecelia cast Silence on the group to mask their movement, and Rolen cleverly used a window and his Mage Hand to unlock the door. They began to set to work, carefully searching through Rendaril's papers.

Cecelia found a leather case with vials inside it, marked with a skull. She gave it to Rolen to identify with his new ritual, Detect Poison and Disease. Mialee found the combination to Rendaril's safe left on a scrap of paper from Rendaril's assistant. They opened the safe and found papers proving that Ogden really was using cheap liquor, but no evidence of Rendaril's plans.

Cecelia made sure everything was put back properly where it had been left, except the poison, which Rolen had identified as a powerful sleeping poison called Torpor. The group pocketed that and took it to Beldora the next day.

Beldora was pleased to hear that the mission had gone so well. She suspected that Rendaril was going to try to poison some of Ogden's supply, which would seal the deal and run him out of business. However, with the poison gone, Rendaril couldn't carry out his plan and would know he was being watched. Sure enough, Rendaril withdrew his accusation later that day.

The group was getting restless in the small Town of Bryn Shander, and they went to Duvessa to let her know that they were leaving. Duvessa was sad to see them go, but she agreed that the town was getting back on its feet. They hadn't had a Giant attack in several days, the dwarf patrols had established themselves, and the townspeople were more confident and ready to get back to normal life.

Duvessa also started taking combat lessons at the party's insistence... so far so good!
Duvessa gave them one final gift: a letter to her aunt in Waterdeep. The party could use it to gain free ship passage along any part of the Sword Coast. Beldora also gave her wishes goodbye, she had been asked to continue to monitor Frost Giant activity in the Ten Towns. She gave Cecelia a small, ticking package, with the instructions to take it to Thwip Ironbottom in the next town south, Hundlestone, and to NOT open it. Cecelia was very nervous about it.

Duvessa also let them know that if they were hitting Hundlestone and Waterdeep, the quickest way would be down the coast. However, the group decided to take a more scenic route and visit Mirabar, Triboar, and Red Larch (in part because there is a statue of their old characters in Red Larch now!

As the party took their leave, many townsfolk gathered around to wish them off. Mialee and Rolen said goodbye to their various intimate friends, while Cecelia and Kye wished Beldora good luck and packed their things onto a cart the Ten-Towners had prepared for the group.

As the town wished them off, the heroes began their journey through the North! Mialee, having finally finished her book, tranced in the wagon. She had figured out something important about her personal quest: The Oracle who could give her incredible intimate powers was located in the Nether mountains. Though they wouldn't pass through on their current journey, Mialee hoped she could someday make it to the Nether regions.

This week, I also learned who Cody is basing his character on. Suddenly, it all makes sense.
We stopped there this week. I'm very excited that the players wanted to explore more of the North instead of taking the quick route down the coast. I'm interested in making all the different cities, seeing which ones they just pass through, which ones they get involved with (like Bryn Shander) and how the travel works in the long-term. I think it will be really fun!

Plus, if you have read the module, you know that one of the cities on their journey will have the whole "player-controlled NPCs during a giant attack" type deal. I'm going to try to make every town full of cool NPCs so the group won't know when a giant attack will hit until it's too late!

Last note: we won't be playing next week because Cait is studying for her grad school finals. She was also studying during our game this week, which is why Mialee was just reading a book for a couple days. Good luck Cait!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Delving into the Tomb of Horrors: Instant Death

Back in my day, we just rolled up a new character and didn't complain!
Welcome back to Delving into the Tomb of Horrors. Today I'll be analyzing chapter 6, "Tomb of Acererak Level", and covering areas 20-24.

Tomb of Horrors: Tomb of Acererak Level

Well, boys and girls, this is the proverbial "it". On the entrance level Gary taught the players how to explore the Tomb with little danger. In the False Crypt level we tested those ideas and expanded the threat level a bit.

But now we are at the bottom level, the Tomb of Acererak himself, where any slip-up can result in lethal levels of damage, instant death, or worse. In fact, four of the first five areas are just that: incredibly deadly traps with little to no way to avoid them.
Won't happen in this dungeon

But is that really true?

Again, I still think there are lessons to be learned here. These traps require careful thought, thorough investigation, and utmost caution. But they aren't unbeatable.

20. Deadly Spikes

Here we see yet another example of Gary turning dungeon crawling conventions (which existed even in 1975!) on their head. Moving across the bottom of the pit seems to be the best method of travel, but even those poking ahead with a 10 ft pole will be affected by the spikes triggered at the end of the pit.
Use vertical stripes to make your dungeon appear slimmer!

Fortunately, this trap isn't terribly deadly, despite the name. Characters will take about 17 damage on average, even with a THAC0 of 10. I think this trap is another indicator of the change in difficulty, much like the door leading out of the laboratory.

The players are essentially getting a second warning that the traditional method of using their first idea on a trap won't work. This idea is a new one in the dungeon so far, but suffice to say it will affect every single trap in the rest of the dungeon.

21. Agitation

Here's where we get our first encounter with an instant death trap. If the players rip or burn these tapestries, they could be subjected to massive damage, or even death in three rounds. Let's go back to the trap breakdown from a couple weeks ago to see exactly how a trap of this difficulty is set up.

The Setup: We get two clues the tapestries are trapped. First, the read-aloud text says that while the room appears looted, the tapestries are untouched. Second, those who open the trunks and release the asps could observe that the snakes don't flee anywhere near the tapestries.

"Looted" in a dungeon that resets itself...
This isn't much to go on, and many groups could be told these facts and still be surprised by the tapestries. However, as Gary said, this is a "thinking person's" Dungeon. The rule from before remains that deadlier traps need more setup to be effective.

The Betrayal: This deadlier trap has a more complex betrayal. First, the PCs need to figure out the agitation mechanism. With the treasure to be found, the combat with the snakes, and searching the room, it is entirely reasonable that the PCs will be in motion most of the time they are here. But with a room-wide effect, it usually will cause the PCs to stop and wait, which will clue them into how the agitator works.

Alternatively, the PCs could be paranoid and burn the tapestries, setting up the second betrayal with the brown mold.

The Chance: Since this is a deadly trap, there's less of a chance to avoid the effect here. The brown mold in particular is nasty, not allowing any save for the damage it causes. The green slime is slightly better, because though a person caught in it only has three rounds to escape, most groups could easily deal 50 damage to the slime within that time.

Overall, this trap is difficult and could cause death, but it is still fairly easy compared to later traps.

22. Siren's Cavern

This area starts with little setup, but instead hampers the players and offers them the potential for a reprieve from that setback.
Hellooooooooooo hearse!

The PCs are likely to trigger the siren's song from outside the room, and at least one PC will fail both saves required to cause them to "become idiots". This could be considered comparable to a feeblemind spell in later editions.

Fortunately, the Siren herself can easily be obtained as an ally and undo this effect. But Gary is once again playing with the tropes of dungeon exploration.

There are two sacks of treasure here, and touching either one causes the siren (and the other sack) to disappear. It would be all too common for a group's rogue to tell the others to talk to the siren while they inspected the treasure.

This is a highly complex setup and betrayal. The sack that radiates magic is perfectly safe, except that it makes the siren disappear. The nonmagical sack could very well contain wool and be worthless, and also causes the Siren to disappear.

It's interesting to note that the text says the siren and the sack disappear forever. I believe this means that Gary intended this to be a one-time challenge. Additionally, if the players cause the Siren to vanish, they will have to get their idiot friends up to "breathe clean air under the warm sun", which means many of the traps would be reset. However, this trap wouldn't be, if Gary's instructions are followed exactly.

Again, this area is meant to challenge the group's ability to comprehend situations, not just their dungeon-barrelling prowess.

23. Secrets and Swords

This area is fairly simple. It just reinforces the idea of not giving up after your first attempt to inspect something.

Keep your eyes peeled!
I think it's important to have small areas like this that reinforce the theme of the dungeon. It doesn't have to be anything wild or crazy, just a single door or a room that says to your players: "Don't forget where you are."

And even though this area doesn't have any danger, if the players don't follow the lessons taught in this dungeon, they will have to face...

23. Sleeping Juggernaut

Possibly the most directly unfair area of the entire dungeon. Let's break it down.

Is... are you crying...?

The Setup: Hardly any. We get this clue: "The double doors in this area are unusual in that they swing open in either direction. When they open, they fit into depressions made for them in the corridor walls."

So, the players get a mild hint that likely won't make sense until it's too late. Then they get hit with the betrayal.

The Betrayal: There's little chance that all the PCs will be far enough away to avoid the sleep gas, which has no save. "Elves and those who hold their breath are not affected" which would be few and far between in any given party.

Then the juggernaut comes and crushes sleeping PCs, no save.

The Chance: There's only one way to avoid this trap: at least one elf in your party, who can wake the others up, then pure luck that the juggernaut doesn't crush you before then.

This trap seems to break the rule we established before, where deadly traps have more extensive setups. But I don't really see this as a trap.

Instead, I think it is a punishment for ignoring the lessons of the dungeon while the PCs passed through area 23. This might be a little harsh for modern groups, but the idea of an area that punishes those who don't follow the themes of the dungeon is completely usable.

In a modern game, though, I would recommend not making the punishment so deadly.
Sure, my friend's an idiot and the Siren who could fix him disappeared, but hey, free spell scrolls!
Next week, we'll travel into the largest area in the dungeon, and one that is chock-full of traps of extreme deadliness.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Powering Up: Greater Feats

Get your Greek on
This post is going to be a lot less rambling philosophy that most of my others. A few weeks ago I posted an article about creating Demigods, and I wanted to follow up with an idea I had there: empowered feats as the sign of a demigod.

I think I might hit on this topic one more time, perhaps to talk about class-specific feature enhancements that could reflect a godly level of power within the confines of each standard class. This would be a wizard getting a bonus directly from the god of magic, or a fighter getting a blessing directly from the god of war. I think there could be a neat feature that could reflect that.

Anyway, really, this article isn't going to be me rambling. I promise. In fact, since we already know the premise, let's just get on with it.

Greater Feats

Aegis (based on Shield Master): Attacks rarely strike you, you move a shield in the way with supernatural speed.
  • If you take the Attack action on your turn, you can use a bonus action to try to attack or shove a creature within 5 feet of you with your shield. The attack deals 1d6 bludgeoning damage.
  • If you aren’t incapacitated, you can add your shield’s AC bonus to any Dexterity saving throw you make against a spell or other harmful effect that targets only you.
  • If you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, you can use your reaction to take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, interposing your shield between yourself and the source of the effect.
  • You may take a reaction on every turn of combat to use the above ability.
Bladelord (based on Weapon Master): You have mastered every weapon in the world, and can best those with years of training.
  • Increase your Strength or Dexterity score by 2, to a maximum of 22.
  • You gain proficiency with all simple and martial weapons.
  • While wielding a weapon, you deal +2 damage of that weapon's type.
Bloodthirsty (based on Savage Attacker): You can barely contain yourself when you enter combat, craving the blood of your foes with unnatural hunger.
  • Once per turn, you may deal maximum damage instead of rolling damage dice.
Bonded Mount (based on Mounted Combatant): You connect immediately with your riding mounts, acting as one.
  • You have advantage on melee attack rolls against any unmounted creature that is smaller than your mount.
  • You can force an attack targeted at your mount to target you instead.
  • If your mount is subjected to an effect that allows it to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, it instead takes no damage if it succeeds on the saving throw, and only half damage if it fails.
  • While mounted, you gain all the senses of your mount and can communicate simple ideas telepathically with your mount.
  • If your mount has a swimming speed, you gain the ability to breathe underwater while mounted.
  • If your mount has a burrowing or climbing speed, you can remain mounted while it moves in this way without making a check.
Deadeye (based on Sharpshooter): You have gained supernatural accuracy with ranged weapons.
  • Attacking at long range doesn't impose disadvantage on your ranged weapon attack rolls.
  • Your ranged weapon attacks ignore half cover and three-quarters cover.
  • You ignore the loading property of weapons you are proficient in.
  • Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn't impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls.
  • Before you make an attack with a ranged weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a - 5 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack hits, you add +15 to the attack’s damage.

Always look forward to greatness!
Elemental Master (based on Elemental Adept): You are as an avatar of the elements, destroying those who would stand against your might.
  • When you gain this feat, choose one of the following damage types: acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder
  • Spells you cast ignore resistance to damage of the chosen type, and treat immunity to the chosen type as resistance.
  • When you roll damage for a spell you cast that deals damage of that type, you may treat any 1 or 2 on a damage die as a 3.
  • You may select this feat multiple times, but you must chose a different damage type each time.
Farspell Lord (based on Spell Sniper): Nothing escapes your magical grasp, no matter where they hide.
  • When you cast a spell that requires you to make an attack roll, the spell’s range is doubled.
  • Your ranged spell attacks ignore half cover and three-quarters cover.
  • When you cast a spell that requires an enemy to make a saving throw, the spell’s area of effect is doubled by it's largest dimension.
  • Creatures don't gain the benefits of half cover and three-quarters cover when making Dexterity saving throws against your spells.
Fortune (based on Lucky): Everything seems to go your way, no matter how bad the situation might be.
  • When you roll a 1 on an attack, ability check, or saving throw, you may reroll the die. You must keep the new result.
  • If an attack roll made against you scores a critical hit, you may use your reaction to force your opponent to reroll the die.
  • Whenever you find treasure or loot a group of defeated enemies, you find an additional amount of gold pieces equal to your level.
Flawless (based on Resilient): You have the mind and body of a god, and you rarely make a mistake.
  • Choose three ability scores. Each one is increased by 1, to a maximum of 22.
  • You gain proficiency in all saving throws.
Great Weapon Lord (based on Great Weapon Master): Monstrous blades are toys in your hands, flying between foes with ease.
  • While wielding a heavy or two-handed weapon, you may use a bonus action on your turn to make one melee weapon attack.
  • Before you make a melee attack with a heavy or two-handed weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack hits, you add +15 to the attack’s damage.

Let's make some big things happen.
Divine Eminence (based on Inspiring Leader): Your words embolden the hearts of men, allowing them to fight for your cause with greater prowess.
  • You may spend 10 minutes speaking to your companions, shoring up their resolve to fight. When you do so, choose up to 100 creatures (which can include yourself) within 120 feet of you who can see or hear you and who can understand you. They gain the following benefits:
  • Temporary hit points equal to twice your level + twice your Charisma modifier
  • Advantage on a type of creature or race of humanoid of your choosing for one hour.
  • A creature can't benefit from this effect again until it has finished a short or long rest.
Doctor (based on Healer): Your understanding of medicine seems to supernaturally surpass common knowledge.
  • You gain proficiency in the medicine skill. When you make a medicine check to diagnose or stabilize a creature, you may double your proficiency bonus for the check.
  • When you use a healer's kit to stabilize a dying creature, that creature also regains 1d6 + 4 hit points, plus additional hit points equal to the creature's level.
  • As an action, you can spend one use of a healer's kit to tend to a creature and restore 4d6 + 10 hit points to it, plus additional hit points equal to twice its level. The creature can't regain hit points from this feat again until it finishes a short or long rest.
Immovable (based on Sentinel): Your ability to hold a single point on ground in combat is unparalled.
  • When you hit a creature with an opportunity attack, the creature's speed becomes 0 for the rest of the turn.
  • Creatures within 5 feet of you provoke opportunity attacks from you even if they take the Disengage action before leaving your reach.
  • When a creature within 5 feet of you makes an attack against a target other than you, you can use your reaction to make a melee weapon attack against the attacking creature.
  • If an effect would force you to move, you can use your reaction to reduce the distance by 15 feet.
  • You may take a reaction on every turn of combat to use the above abilities.
Impervious (based on Tough): You take blows without thought, with no effect on your body or skill.
  • Your hit point maximum doubles when you take this feat.
  • Whenever you gain a level after, your hit point maximum increases by twice as much as it normally would have.
Iron Fist (based on Tavern Brawler): You are unmatched with your bare hands, punching through any opponent.
  • Increase your Strength or Constitution score by 2, to a maximum of 22.
  • You are proficient with unarmed strikes.
  • Your unarmed strike uses a 1d8 for damage.
  • You deal double damage to objects.
Iron Grip (based on Grappler): You are an unparalled grappler, immovable once you have control of your opponent.
  • You have advantage on attack rolls and grapple checks against a creature you are grappling.
  • You can use your action to perform a perfect pin on your opponent. To do so, make another grapple check. If you succeed, the creature is restrained until the grapple ends.
  • While you have a creature in a perfect pin, you may use a bonus action to tighten your grip on the creature. To do so, make another grapple check. If you succeed, the creature takes bludgeoning damage equal to 1d6 + your Strength modifier.
Iron Wall (based on Heavy Armor Master): Your skill with armor is uncanny, you seem to move with grace unheard of for someone so encumbered.
  • Increase your Strength score by 2, to a maximum of 22.
  • You gain proficiency with heavy armor.
  • While you are wearing heavy armor, you gain resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage from non-magical weapons.
Lightning (based on Mobile): You move with unnatural speed and agility.
  • Your speed increases by 20 feet.
  • You ignore difficult terrain.
  • When you use the Dash action, you don't provoke opportunity attacks from creatures.
  • When you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, you instead take no damage if you succeed on the saving throw, and only half damage if you fail.
Mage Bane (based on Mage Slayer): You have an innate sense for magic used against you, reacting reflexively against those who wield it.
  • When a creature casts a spell targeting you, you may use your reaction to make an attack against that creature before the spell's effects take place.
  • When you damage a creature that is concentrating on a spell, that creature's saving throw to maintain is equal to the full amount of damage you dealt, or 10, whichever is greater.
  • You have advantage on saving throw against spells.

They must be GREATER!
Magic Prodigy (based on Magic Initiate): You have been blessed with arcane knowledge, instantly gaining the skills of those with years of training.
  • Choose a class: Bard, cleric, druid, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard. You learn two cantrips of your choice from that class's spell list.
  • Choose two 1st-level spells and one 2nd-level spell from the same list. You learn those spells and cast them at their lowest level. Once you cast each spell, you must finish a long rest before you can cast that spell again.
  • Your spellcasting ability can be Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma.
Martial Lord (based on Martial Adept): You have gained knowledge of martial techniques, which you can perform with uncanny ability.
  • You learn four maneuvers of your choice from among those available to the Battle Master archetype in the fighter class. If a maneuver you use requires your target to make a saving throw to resist the maneuver’s effects, the saving throw DC equals 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Strength or Dexterity modifier (your choice).
  • If you already have superiority dice, you gain two more; otherwise, you have two superiority die, which is a d8. This die is used to fuel your maneuvers. A superiority die is expended when you use it. You regain your expended superiority dice when you finish a short or long rest.
Master Duelist (based on Defensive Duelist): Your reflexes have surpassed normal human ability, even when surrounded by foes.
  • You may take a reaction on every turn of combat.
  • When you are wielding a finesse weapon with which you are proficient and another creature hits you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction to add your proficiency bonus to your AC for that attack, potentially causing the attack to miss you.
Master of Rites (based on ritual caster): You have learned the secrets of controlling ritual magic from the very fabric of the mutliverse.
  • You learn two 1st-level spells and one 2nd-level spell of your choice. The spells may be from any class, but the spells you choose must have the ritual tag.
  • Your spellcasting ability for these spells can be Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma.
  • If you come across a ritual spell in written form, you may learn it. The spell’s level can be no higher than your level.
  • You may cast a ritual spell in one minute instead of ten minutes. You cannot use this feature again until you finish a long rest.
Mimic (based on Actor): You can uncannily assume the mannerisms of those around you, absorbing them instantly.
  • Increase your Charisma score by 2, to a maximum of 22.
  • When you roll a Charisma (Deception) or Charisma (Performance) check to pass yourself off as another person, you may treat a roll of 9 or lower as a 10.
  • You can mimic the speech of another person or the sounds made by other creatures. You must have heard the person speaking, or heard the creature make the sound, for at least 1 round. A successful Wisdom (Insight) check contested by your Charisma (Deception) check allows a listener to determine that the effect is faked.
Perfect Armor (based on Medium Armor Master): You use the armor of mortals with ease, only the heaviest of armors could hamper you.
  • Increase your Strength or Dexterity score by 2, to a maximum of 22.
  • You gain proficiency with medium armor and shields.
  • Wearing medium armor doesn't impose disadvantage on your Dexterity (Stealth) checks.
  • When you wear medium armor, you may add the full value of your Dexterity modifier to your AC.
Perfect Memory (based on Keen Mind): You never forget a thing, and can track details with supernatural precision.
  • Increase your Intelligence score by 2, to a maximum of 22.
  • You can't get lost.
  • You always know the number of hours left before the next sunrise or sunset.
  • If you are a wizard, you do not need to use a spellbook. You may prepare a number of extra spells each day equal to half your level, rounded down.
  • You can accurately recall anything you have seen or heard within the past year.
Polearm Lord (based on Polearm Master): You control long weapons as if they were a part of your own body.
  • When you take the Attack action and attack with only a glaive, halberd, or quarterstaff, you can use a bonus action to make a melee attack with the opposite end of the weapon. The weapon’s damage die for this attack is equal to the damage die of the weapon, and the attack deals bludgeoning damage.
  • While you are wielding a glaive, halberd, pike, or quarterstaff, other creatures provoke an opportunity attack from you when they enter your reach.
  • You may take a reaction on every turn of combat to use the above ability.
Precognition (based on Alert): You have a knack for sensing danger that borders on supernatural.
  • You gain a +10 bonus to initiative.
  • You can't be surprised, even if you are unconscious when a combat begins.
  • When a creature attempts to attack you while hiding from you, it is instead surprised and you learn of its position.

But, like... a SUPER Grappler
Shade (based on Skulker): You can disappear at will, seemingly vanishing in front of the eyes of enemies.
  • When you take a hide action, you may become invisible until the end of your turn, automatically succeeding on your Dexterity (Stealth) check until you reappear.
  • When you are hidden from a creature and miss it with a weapon attack, making the attack doesn't reveal your position.
  • If you are hidden and make a melee attack against a target within 5 feet of you, a hit automatically becomes a critical hit.
  • Dim light doesn't impose disadvantage on your Wisdom (Perception) checks relying on sight.
Third Eye (based on Observant): You are hyper-aware of your surroundings, no detail escapes your notice.
  • Increase your Intelligence or Wisdom score by 2, to a maximum of 22.
  • If you can see a creature, you may make a Wisdom (Insight) check with a DC equal to the creature's Charisma score. If you succeed, you learn that creatures' surface thoughts as if you had cast the spell Detect Thoughts.
  • You have a +10 bonus to your passive Wisdom (Perception) and passive Intelligence (Investigation) scores.
Thunder (based on Charger): You move through a battlefield without pause, tides of foes falling before you.
  • You may use a bonus action to take the Dash action.
  • If you use your bonus action to dash, then make an attack action, you may shove any number of creatures within 5ft of you up to 10ft away from you in a straight line.
Titan (based on Athlete): Your physical and athletic prowess exceeds that of mere mortals.
  • Increase your Strength or Dexterity score by 2, to a maximum of 22.
  • You may stand up from prone as a free action on your turn.
  • Climbing doesn't halve your speed.
  • Your standing long jump and high jump cover the full distance of a running leap.
Twin Strength (based on Dual Wielder): Your great strength allows you to wield any weapon with ease in each hand.
  • You gain a +1 bonus to AC while you are wielding a separate melee weapon in each hand.
  • You can use two-weapon fighting with any weapon, even those that have the Two-Handed property.
  • You can draw or stow any two weapons when you would normally be able to draw or stow only one.
Unbreakable (based on Durable): Even when you fall, you will rise again to fight your enemies.
  • Increase your constitution score by 2, to a maximum of 22.
  • When you roll a hit die to regain hit points, you automatically gain the maximum amount of hit points you could gain from that die.
  • When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. You can't use this feature again until you finish a long rest.
Virtuoso (based on Skilled): You have unnatural skill with any task you attempt, any situation you find yourself in.
  • You gain proficiency in all skills and any tools you use.
Wordsmith (based on Linguist): You have uncanny knowledge of codes, languages, and secret communications.
  • Increase your Intelligence score by 2, to a maximum of 22.
  • You understand all languages, including Thieves' Cant and Druidic.
  • You can cast the Message cantrip at will.
  • You can ably create written ciphers. Others can’t decipher a code you create unless you teach them, or they succeed on an Intelligence check (DC equal to your Intelligence score + your proficiency bonus), even if they use magic to decipher it.
    Later, mortals!
Not all the feats are represented here, since some of them are already really good, or can't really be improved to epic proportions.

Thanks for reading!