Friday, April 28, 2017

Monsters on a Role: Soldiers
Tactics: Hair is my favorite Turn-based Strategy Game
This week, we're continuing our discussion of monster roles with Soldiers, the more tactical cousin of the Brute.


Soldiers are similar to brutes in that they already exist in many places in the monster manual and are fairly easy to build. Soldiers generally have the following traits:
  • Average damage
  • Average attack bonus
  • Average hit points
  • High armor class
  • Lower-than-average mobility
  • Abilities that force enemies to target them
  • Abilities that prevent forced movement or stop enemy movement
That horse defies all conventional horn-on-horse logic
So, unlike Brutes, we won't have to do too much calculation to figure out how these guys affect Challenge Rating. But we do need to talk about AC.

Remember, so far we have two equations we can use to adjust the CR of a monster:
  1. Damage Increase/decrease per Round / 12 = Increase/decrease in CR 
  2. Effective HP increase/decrease / 30 = Increase/decrease in CR 

As you can imagine, AC is a defensive trait of a monster. That means it works alongside HP. Basically, HP is a timer stating how long a monster will be on the field. But AC is the probability that the timer will go down with each attack.

Now, calculating a brand-new monster's AC is tricky and unwieldy, and there's no good equation for it. However, we're going to be modifying existing monsters, which is much easier. Here's the formula you'll want to use:
  • If CR is above 1, AC increase/decrease / 4 = Increase/decrease in CR
  • If CR is less than 1, AC increase/decrease /8 = Increase/decrease in CR

So if we want to put plate mail on a zombie (great tactic, by the way. Try it!), then we are increasing it from a CR 1/4 monster (AC 8) to a CR 1 1/4 (which I would round down to 1) monster (AC 18).
What it comes down to is how the monster is played. No, the zombie's abysmal attack bonus and damage means it won't be killing any PCs. But that armored zombie suddenly becomes a powerful tank: high constitution, high armor class, and an ability that keeps it from dying most times.

So what about Saving Throws? Saving throws are also a measure of how often a monster's HP goes down. Much like the brutes, we also want to be able to make magic versions of these soldiers. How do saves affect AC?

Well, it turns out that the answer varies: either a lot or not so much. In D&D 3.x, there were only three saving throws: Reflex, Fortitude, and Will. In D&D 5e, there are six: one for each ability score. However, a vast majority of spells still only target three of the saves: Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom. The other three are used for corner cases: Strength is for grapples, Intelligence is for detecting illusions, and Charisma is for... keeping your soul on the same plane? I don't quite get that one.

In the end, though, a monster with good Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom saves is going to be a lot better at avoiding spells than a monster without them. Monsters normally have at least one of these three as either a proficiency or naturally high ability modifier.
So what are you doing this weekend? Same thing as every other day...
However, these soldiers need to be more defensive. For that reason, I would give them proficiency in either Constitution (to reflect physical discipline) or Wisdom (to reflect mental discipline). So, how do we add a proficiency bonus to a monster?

Well, a monster's proficiency bonus functions exactly like a PC's, except it's based on the CR instead of the player level. That's right, if you buff a monster too much, you will change its proficiency bonus and have to recalculate things like attack bonus and skill bonuses.

Proficiency increases by 1 every 4 levels for the players, starting at +2 and ending at +6. A monster is no different, except since monsters can go up to CR 30, they can have +9 as their proficiency bonus. So if you monster changes from CR 3 to CR 5, just like a PC, their proficiency bonus went up by 1.

So to give a monster proficiency in saving throws, we just add the bonus to the ability score, just like if it were a PC. but of course, that's going to affect CR:
  • If a monster has proficiency in 0 to 2 saves, its CR is unaffected
  • If a monster has proficiency in 3 to 4 saves, raise its CR by 1/2
  • If a monster has proficiency in 5 to 6 saves, raise its CR by 1
Which means if we wanted to buff a Shadow Demon (CR 4, 2 saves) by making it proficient in Strength, Constitution, and Wisdom saves, not only would it become a CR 5 creature, but its attack bonus, skills, saves, and save DCs would all go up by 1. We've talked about some of this, but save DCs and attack bonus (and their effect on CR) will be for next week's article.

That was quite the diversion about Armor and Saves. Needless to say, when you buff a creature's defenses, it gets a lot stronger.

Now let's talk about the other defining features of the soldier: making sure they actually take the hits they were built to take, and stopping extra movement on the battlefield. This isn't a common feature of monsters in the MM, so we can borrow from player abilities, spells, and feats to make it work.

These are a bit trickier to calculate in terms of effect on CR. Some of them won't have much effect, others will make all the difference. For this, I'm going to provide an estimate based on similar abilities found on the Monster Features chart found on DMG pg 280, modifying the text so it only adjusts the CR and not the other stats of the monster.

I would give any particular soldier only one or two of these traits. It makes sense that a goblin might cover itself in Adhesive sap, but not that it would have the training needed to use a Protective Maneuver.

Soldier Abilities
Under those masks, they are real ugly
Frightful Presence/Horrifying Visage: Creatures within a certain range must make a wisdom saving throw or be frightened of the Solider for one minute. On a success, they are immune for 24 hours, and they can reroll the save at the end of their turn to end the effect.
  • Used to keep PCs from moving towards the Soldier's group
  • Effective HP increase of 25% against PCs of 10th level or lower (use equation above)

Adhesive: If touched or attacked, the creature gets stuck to it. If it's one size larger than the Soldier or smaller, it's also grappled (Strength check to escape). Checks made to escape the grapple have disadvantage.
  • Forces a melee fighter to continue attacking the Soldier
  • No effect on CR - doesn't increase or decrease offensive or defensive capabilities
  • If you want to make it so the creature is grappled and restrained, increase the Soldier's CR by 1/4

Reactive: The Soldier may take a reaction on every turn of a combat.
  • Allows a Soldier to make opportunity attacks against every PC who tries to pass them
  • The DMG lists no change in CR, but I'd say this adds at least one attack per round if you are using it right. So +1 opportunity attack, and count that as increased damage per round, using the equation above.

Sure-Footed: The Soldier has advantage on Dexterity and Strength saves against effects that would knock it prone.
  • Stops PCs from running past the Soldier while it's prone (and would have disadvantage on opportunity attacks)
  • No effect on CR. Prone isn't that common of a condition.

Protective Maneuver: The Soldier can, as a reaction, impose disadvantage on an attack targeting a creature within 5 feet of it.
  • Encourages PCs to attack the Soldier, combine with reactive for a real powerhouse
  • Imposing disadvantage on a single attack doesn't affect defenses enough to change CR

Goading Attack: The target of the attack must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a fail, the PC has disadvantage on attack rolls against targets other than the Soldier until the end of the Soldier's next turn.
  • Encourages the PCs to attack the Soldier
  • Imposing disadvantage on a single attack doesn't affect defenses enough to change CR

Sentinel: When the Soldier hits a creature with an opportunity attack, the creature's speed becomes 0 until the end of the turn.
  • Stops PCs from moving beyond the Soldier
  • This is essentially the same as Adhesive - stopping movement doesn't change CR

Grounded: If an effect move the Soldier against its will, the Solider may use its reaction to reduce the distance moved by 10 feet.
  • Slows unwanted movement from spells like Thunderwave and Gust of Wind
  • Again, no effect on CR as it doesn't change offense or defense capabilities
I prefer "practical"
Let's end by taking our favorite little monster, a Kobold, and turning it into a soldier.

First off, let's give our Kobold some good defenses. I don't think Kobolds have acces to plate armor, but some Hide Armor and a shield could work to toughen him up. That will increase his AC to 16, meaning we've already made him a CR 5/8 monster. We can give him a couple saving throws without affecting CR, so let's go for Strength and Constituion, to reflect his relative sturdiness. So now he has a STR save of +0 and a CON save of +1.

Finally, let's give him a couple abilities to really highlight his role as a defender, and make the PCs single him out. I like Sure-Footed and Goading Attack. I like the idea that this Kobold can stay on his feet, and throws insults at PCs to make them fight him. Neither of those affect CR, so I think at CR 5/8 we can round down to CR 1/2. That's a good monster that can fight alongside and help his allies.

A quick note: we'll go into how this is calculated later, but the Wisdom save on the Goading Attack will only be DC 9. I imagine this won't be too strong against the PCs, but honestly if a Kobold starts tossing out insults the players are likely to murder him first anyway.

Sword? Oh, no. This is just a parking barrier.
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Mental Self-Care for PCs

Edit: I posted this article over on Reddit, and there was some fantastic discussion and feedback. Chekc it out here if you're interested in joining the conversation! Also, I'm not doing art links on this blog, to avoid singling out the artists.

Sometimes, you've got to be blue
Let's talk about madness and insanity in role-playing games. This is a pretty controversial topic, and to make sure I get this right, I've been in touch with my friends in the Mental Health field as well as some close friends who live with their own mental health conditions.

Some systems give purely mechanical detriments to make characters "insane." This is how the D&D 5e DMG does it on page 259-260. Congratulations, your character is now blind for 3 hours! However, the D&D system is built on powering up your character. This is epic fantasy. Some people like it when their characters suffer horrible mental trauma, and those people play Call of Cthulhu. So, my first problem with the way mental health conditions are included in the game is that it goes against the basic upwards flow of the system.

Additionally, the PHB and the DMG emphasize that people can play the game and role-play at whatever level they feel comfortable. Just want to hack some orcs? Good for you. Want to write a novella for your backstory? Go for it! But that leads us to another problem: in the DMG, the "indefinite madness" table manifests as a new flaw gained by your character. This means, if your character was just a simple hack-and-slasher, there's no consequence to the roll. This works against the idea that a player should be free to role-play at any level with a given mechanic.

However, I think both of these points are missing a bigger issue.

This art is by people who live with mental health conditions
The symptoms of actual mental health conditions are often portrayed as the problem, but often they are a coping mechanism for a larger problem. The best example is OCD: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It's not just "being a neat freak" or "liking things to be organized." It's because your brain is obsessing over something that makes you anxious and unable to focus on the rest of your life, and you begin to practice a repetitive activity (a compulsion) in order to calm down your brain.

Many mental health conditions are actually the brain doing its best to adapt to unusual situations. Hearing a voice that isn't yours in your head is unusual. Talking to yourself in your own voice and convincing yourself not to listen is the brain's way of adapting.

I do want to note that some people's minds deal with trauma differently, and I think that's beyond the scope of this post. I can't claim that these ideas apply to people with chronic mental health conditions.

So, instead of taking the usual route of "here's how your character is worse now that you're insane", I wanted to give the players an ability they'd want to use: a power of the mind, with a drawback.

Essentially, the character experienced something traumatic, unusual, horrifying, or mind-bending. But that doesn't really change who they are. The brain just has to take the time to adapt back to an understanding of reality. So, each ability listed below has a drawback (how the brain is adapting) and a time limit (how long it takes to heal).

But if we just gave people a drawback and a time limit, that's no different than what the DMG does. we want the player to accept the ability, because the character's brain would want to heal. So every ability has a benefit as well.

As these are temporary benefits, they won't affect the game too much, and the drawbacks are small enough that a character can continue their upwards growth while they work through the problems. This is also useful from a session planning perspective: if you're in a dungeon and you expect to get through about 4-5 hours of in-game time, what about the character who just rolled a long-term madness and is unconscious for 7 hours?

There's some common themes throughout them
With all of that in mind, here are some of the abilities I've devised for how a PC might adjust their mind after a traumatic event.

Mental Reactions to Trauma

  • For the duration, you can never have disadvantage on an Intelligence-based ability check
  • You cannot regain HP on a rest unless you spend at least an hour of the time away from your allies, talking through the events that lead to you gaining this ability. This becomes the only action you can take during a short rest if your are using hit dice to regain HP
  • Ends after 30 days

  • Once per day, you may automatically pass an Intelligence-based skill check
  • Ends when you have used the ability 30 times
  • For DM: roll 1d10 when the player uses this ability and modify the information they receive accordingly
    • 1-4: false information, that the PC would have no way of knowing
    • 5-7: false information
    • 8-9: truthful information, that the PC would have no way of knowing
    • 10: truthful information

  • While not in combat, you regain 1 HP whenever you permanently and intentionally destroy an object that is small or larger
  • Whenever you regain HP with this ability, all non-hostile creatures within 30 feet (including other members of your party) must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw of 8 + your character level or be frightened for 1 minute. A creature can repeat this saving throw at the end of their turn to end the effect.
  • Ends when you have healed 300HP from this ability

Like the idea of the body rebelling against itself
  • Whenever you are targeted by an attack roll, roll 1d8+12. Treat the number rolled as your AC against that attack
  • Ends when you have been hit by 30 attack rolls

  • For the duration, you have advantage on Charisma ability checks and saving throws made to influence hostile creatures or avoid effects from hostile creatures.
  • For the duration, you have disadvantage on Charisma ability checks and saving throws made to influence indifferent or friendly creatures or avoid effects from indifferent or friendly creatures.
  • Ends after you have made 10 Charisma saving throws with disadvantage
  • For the duration, whenever you take damage, that damage is reduced by half. Any damage prevented this way must be tracked on your character sheet as Delayed Damage.
  • At the end of a long rest, you may choose to take all your Delayed Damage as hit point damage. This damage cannot be reduced in any way. If you elect to not take your Delayed Damage, you must instead add an amount of damage to your Delayed Damage equal to your character level.
  • If, at any point, your Delayed Damage reaches an amount equal to 10 x your character level, you take the damage immediately. The rules for instant death due to massive damage (PHB pg. 197) do not apply to this damage, and if you are reduced to 0 hit points in this way, you are unconscious but stable.
  • Ends when you have taken 200 Delayed Damage.

  • Choose a PC or NPC related to how you gained this ability.
  • Whenever the PC/NPC is within your line of sight, you have disadvantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma ability checks and saving throws.
  • Whenever the PC/NPC is out of sight, you have advantage on all Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma ability checks and saving throws.
  • Ends when you have made 15 Wisdom saving throws with advantage (not necessarily due to this ability)

  • Your passive perception score increases by 10
  • Whenever you make an attack roll, whether ranged or melee, choose the target randomly among all available targets within the range of the attack
  • Ends when you have made 50 attack rolls

  • Each day at dawn, roll 1d20:
    • On an 11 or higher, you gain advantage on all rolls made for the next 24 hours
    • On a 10 or lower, you have disadvantage on all rolls made for the next 24 hours
  • Ends when advantage rolls equal disadvantage rolls, with a minimum of 3 days

Or trying to reason with different parts of your mind
  • At the beginning of combat, make a Wisdom Saving Throw of 15
  • On a success, take 20 on initiative
  • On a failure, you are surprised for the first round of combat
  • Ends after 30 initiative rolls

  • For the duration, you can never have disadvantage on a wisdom-based ability check
  • You cannot regain HP on a rest unless you spend at least an hour of the time in quiet, methodical contemplation. This becomes the only action you can take during a short rest if your are using hit dice to regain HP
  • Ends after 30 days

  • Choose a creature or creature type, preferably one related to how you gained this ability
  • Whenever you kill a creature of that type, you may spend hit dice to regain HP as if you had finished a short rest
  • You have vulnerability to all damage dealt by those creatures
  • Ends when you reach 100 points by the following system:
    • CR 2 or less: 1 point per kill of that creature type
    • CR 3-8: 2 points per kill
    • CR 9-13: 5 points per kill
    • CR 14-17: 10 points per kill
    • CR 18-23: 25 points per kill
    • CR 24+: 50 points per kill

The people who made this art work hard, every day, to make sure they can fit in
  • Once per day, you may receive a clue about a future event related to a person, location, or item
  • Ends when you have used the ability 30 times
  • For DM: roll 1d10 when the player uses this ability and modify the information they receive accordingly
    • 1-4: false clue, the event is against the party's goals
    • 5-7: false clue, the event is beneficial to the party's goals
    • 8-9: truthful clue, reveal an irrelevant future event about the target
    • 10: truthful clue about a relevant future event

  • As an action while you have this ability, you may touch an ally and heal them for an amount of HP no greater than your maximum HP - 1. When you do so, you take damage equal to the amount healed
  • When an ally within 5 feet of you takes damage, make a Wisdom saving throw of 15
    • On a failure, you take that amount of damage instead
  • Ends when you have taken 150 damage due to failing the Wisdom saving throw of this ability

  • During a short rest, you may permanently remove a skill, weapon, language, or tool proficiency in order to fully heal your HP.
  • Ends when you have used the ability 5 times

Even when part of themselves is in revolt

  • Choose a creature or creature type, preferably one related to how you gained this ability
  • You have advantage on attack rolls made against those creatures
  • If you fight a creature of that type, you cannot gain the benefits of a long rest for 24 hours. If you stop to rest for the night, you will only gain the benefits of a short rest
  • Ends when you have missed 15 long rests due to this ability

  • You have advantage on intimidation and deception checks, but disadvantage on all other charisma checks and saving throws
  • Ends when you have made 15 Charisma saving throws

  • When you make a Charisma-based Ability Check or Saving Throw, roll 1d6. On an even roll, treat your Charisma modifier as if it were that number. On an odd roll, treat your Charisma modifier as if it were that number, but negative. Your Proficiency bonus still applies normally to the roll if applicable.
  • Ends when you have been forced to make 10 Charisma saving throws

  • Choose an environment or room type (e.g. arctic, swamp, close quarters, open field, etc), preferably one related to how you gained this ability
  • Whenever you finish a combat in that environment and have at least 1 HP remaining, you may spend hit dice to regain HP as if you had finished a short rest
  • You have vulnerability to all damage dealt to you in that environment
  • Ends when you finish 30 combats in that environment, whether or not you gain the benefit from this ability

And people don't seem to understand

Modifying these abilities to fit your game might be necessary. For a game focused on dungeon crawling, 30 days or 15 long rests might be quite a while, whereas a wilderness travel game might find them too short.

I think the sweet spot is to let the player feel the effects of the ability for just a little longer than they might like. Reinforce the idea that this is something they are doing subconsciously, that it ends when it ends, not when they want it to.

I'm looking forward to trying these out in my sessions. Some of them are pretty cool mechanically, and I think my players will really take them to heart. That definitely wouldn't be the case if I was just using the purely negative effects in the DMG.

Thanks for reading!

They can be heroes too!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Old News: My Dungeon Mentor

I don't care what your character sheet says, you can't invent a cell phone in this setting.
Due to some unforeseen circumstances, we had to cancel our weekly game this past Saturday. Am I a masochist if I say I miss having 4 campaigns because I never had a weekend without D&D? Do I really need to add another group? These are the questions that haunt me.

Anyway, I've been replaying Dark Souls recently, and it's had me thinking about my first gaming group, the guy who convinced me to be a DM, and how much of that game he ripped off to put into his campaigns. He wasn't my very first dungeon master, but he ran some of the best games I've ever played in and taught me a lot about building a world and a story.

Plus, he's getting married in about a month, and I'm supposed to read at the wedding. So I've definitely been thinking about him.

Old News: My Dungeon Mentor

I met Murassa (that's not his real name, of course) through a theater fraternity I joined in college. I wasn't really a theater kid, but the group had good cohesion and just the right amount of nerdiness. I joined up with the campus's improv comedy team and wormed my way into the theater world.

Murassa wasn't a member of the fraternity, but a bit on the fringe. He was one of those older guys who hang around college towns to get that "youthful energy" or something. The college I went to was located in a small town, so a lot of folks graduated from the college and became "townies", hanging around into their 30s.

A typical representation of a college experience: sleeping, making out, and somebody trying to actually teach
Being on the fringe of a large theater group gave Murassa access to actors, and he weeded out the nerdiest of them to join his story-based role-playing games. After a particularly vigorous role in a short play put on by the fraternity, I was asked to join his group. My first character (being a musician) was a bard, and probably the most stereotypical bard possible. Elf? Check. Ladies' man? Check. Thinks he's better than everyone else? Double check.

Side note, the character did get better, after a while. His arc is actually really cool... that might be a topic for a future Old News article.

I played under a few different dungeon masters (including Murassa) in several campaigns before we started the "Dark Souls" campaign.

The campaign was very well structured. The first game was four of us playing the Knights of Gwyn (all names slightly modified, of course). The second game started the true campaign, where our characters tried to figure out what had happened in the first game. Also, there were about 20 of us under two DMs - the homebrew system we were using allowed for much more story-based play and streamlined combat.

We played quite a while with those characters, slowly ramping up to us saving the country. Of course, after that, we started our third campaign with the children of our previous characters (and some orphans we had found along the way) to go and save the world.

About that time, I was becoming more and more interested in running something of my own. Murassa saw this, and slowly started letting me see behind the curtain. I read through his game notes after the campaign, we played Dark Souls together to see his sources of inspiration, and he had me help him test and adjust his homebrew system.

When we started a new world, I jumped at the chance to run a few games. Looking back, those games were bad. No way around it. I made every DM mistake I could. In the end, I was able to keep running, but he paired me with a more experienced DM to help out.

Finally, a year after I had graduated, I moved out of the college town we were playing in. It was rough. I travelled back and forth each weekend for a while, but soon I faded away. However, the group is still going strong (they've switched to D&D 5e now), and Murassa has kept in touch.

Another side note: I'm definitely the type of person who gets really into whatever I'm doing, so much that I often forget to reach out to old friends and talk to them. It's nice when people remind me that they exist!

I don't think your fireball spell has that kind of range... unless your companions don't mind exploding
We've kept talking, and traded ideas and advice about DM'ing and worldbuilding. I still think that the guy writes epic fantasy better than I do, I've always had trouble making "saving the world" into a feasible character-based storyline. It's definitely something I'm still working on, though, because I really enjoy that kind of story and I want to be able to tell it.

Obviously, I can talk at length about what Murassa did for me, but the fact is that he was a great Dungeon Mentor for a few reasons. And if you are looking for someone who can train you in the ways of Dungeon Mastery, There's some qualities I'd recommend.

First off, Murassa was well-versed in storytelling, themes, and philosophy. I don't think that it was specifically his intelligence that made him a good mentor, though. It was that he had worked hard to study and understand people. How did they express ideas? What made a story satisfying to them? What did they believe, and how did they express it? What made them tick?

Now, nobody's perfect, and at times he would use this understanding for his own gains. He was occasionally a bit of a manipulative jerk. But that same skillset allowed him to understand what I needed, when I was ready to learn, and how best to teach me. And it allowed him to run better games, since he could essentially predict how his players would react to each event in his storyline.

A lot of OSR gamers decry premeditated storylines, since they feel that it removes player agency. But if you offer your players a choice and know what their decision will be, you can craft a powerful narrative while still maintaining the illusion of choice. And even when you're not right in your prediction, the character going against their usual path is still a powerful story.

And after the Arcane Crusher, have them go through the Hallway of Too Many Spiders
Another quality Murassa held was that he was willing to teach, even while holding himself and others to a high standard of quality. I remember meeting with him after each session I ran, and going over what had gone right, what had gone wrong, and how to carry forward. He always demanded a lot of me, and guided me when I wasn't able to do things myself.

It may sound unusual, but I learned as much from when he told me what to do as when I wrote my own material. It was a lot like learning to run games by reading pre-made modules, except the modules were custom-made to my game and emphasized the things I needed to learn. It was great.

The last thing that was great about Murassa's mentorship is that he encouraged (and sometimes forced) me to step outside of the gaming sphere and learn about the world. Obviously, he had me sit and play Dark Souls, but we also discussed all the philosophy and gaming topics that we could. One summer, we played Castle Crashers with a couple other friends, and spent the game talking about the map design, tactical strategy, and using characters with varying skillsets to complete different challenges.

We even briefly had a small (but kind of successful!) card game company that gave us an opportunity to explore and discuss building mechanics from the inside out. To this day, writing up custom mechanics for non-combat scenarios remains one of my favorite parts of prepping a D&D game.

Give me a few minutes to chart this on the map... And somebody grab the Scrabble tiles
Now, Murassa had his flaws as well. I'm not trying to say he's perfect. But I believe that life doesn't wait for ideal conditions. I could have found another person to learn from, but I don't think they would have provided all the insight Murassa did. Also, this guy is intensely loyal to his friends. Not only does he still reach out to me, but when I was living in the same area as him, he would constantly stick up for me. He even used his powers of human understanding to desperately try to tell me when I was being stupid. And I was stupid quite a bit in college. Mostly about girls.

I think that the path to mastery is long, winding, and full of setbacks. I'm still not where I wish I could be, but I've gotten far enough to work on my own, at least. And in the end, I'm glad to have a friend who taught me a lot, who is still teaching me. Perhaps more than a friend? I don't know, college was weird.

So, if you are looking for someone to learn Dungeon Mastery from, I would recommend a person who:
  1. Knows how to write a good story
  2. Understands how people tick
  3. Is willing to teach you
  4. Is willing to criticize you
  5. Pushes you to expand outside your comfort zone

Murassa did all those things and more for me. I'm intensely grateful to him, and doing a reading at his wedding is really the least I can do to show him how much he's made an impact in my life.
Just to be clear, Murassa is the one with a movement-centric build and humanity to spare, I'm the bumbling heavy who needs someone else to clear traps out for him.
Thanks, buddy. Praise the Sun!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Monsters on a Role: Intro and Brutes

Great poses everybody! Now just hold still for a few days while I paint this.
There's a lot of hate for 4th Edition D&D. I haven't played it personally, so I never really understood what the big deal is. People say it's about the feel of the game, which I can get, but I always thought the feel of the game was largely determined by the type of story being told, as opposed to the system being used to tell it.

Of course, my first dungeon master was a homebrew-system user who would change everything about our RPG system every six months or so. We ran the gamut of highly-complex career-based skill trees all the way to "roll Xd6 and count up how many sixes you got". But the key factor was that the stories were always good, no matter what the system was. Even changing the flow and mechanics of combat didn't really affect the quality of the overall game.

So, I have never really had an issue with 4e. And reading some articles about what the system did right helped me realize that there are some really good lessons to be learned there. And applied to 5e. Because 90% of this blog is about my 5e Frankenstein projects, so dang it let's do this.

Monster Roles

Pictured: more than enough roles. Seriously.
The real value of 4e is that their design choices were laid out, plain as day, so that the person writing a game could understand them. 5e does away with this. It kind of assumes that, for example, a player knows that their wizard needs to stay in the back of the group and fire off spells, not rush forward and soak up damage.

That may be obvious to seasoned players, but newer players see a wizard and think "Gandalf! Harry Potter! Doctor Strange!" Then they rush heroically in and die immediately when an Orc flicks a booger in their direction.

In 4e, the player knew their wizard was a "Striker", and they knew the type of things that Strikers did. It didn't involve running up to enemies, but shooting them with spells from afar. 4e hearkened back to the Wargames which D&D was based on, but instead of just letting players figure out proper grid-based tactics, it taught them how to anticipate and optimize a battle.

Which, for all those DMs who have had players who rush in and die immediately, seems like it should be a great idea.

But the really cool thing was that it wasn't just players who had those kind of combat roles. Every monster in the manual also was given a specific purpose to fulfill. They had their place on the battlefield, and a group of enemies might feature monsters filling many different roles.
The benefits of tactical tactics
I really want to give this a shot in 5e. I'm kinda tired of throwing waves of uniform orcs and goblins at my groups. Intelligent monsters have strategy. They have different abilities and tactics based on their strengths. But in 5e the best we get is "Goblin" and "Goblin Boss". Not too exciting.

So, in this series, I'm going to go through the monster roles from 4e and discuss a few things for each one.
  1. How to use a particular type of monster tactically
  2. Abilities or stat adjustments to alter existing monsters to fit those roles
  3. How those modifications affect the Challenge Rating of the creature
At the end of the series, we can go through and build different groups of monsters using all the types.


Some of you who might have played 4e games will notice I'm leaving off Elite Monsters, Solo Monsters, and Minions. That's because those designations aren't really a role, but rather a description of power level.

There's already a great article series about how to build that type of monster. To make an Elite monster, just add two normal monsters together. To make a Solo monster, add five monsters together and give it some abilities that will allow it to fill multiple roles.

Minions are a little more complicated, but I think they deserve their own article. Just not as a part of this series.

On to the first monster role!


Sick gains, bruh
Brutes are the simplest monsters to build. They are defined by the following characteristics:
  • High Damage (melee)
  • Low Attack Bonus
  • High Hit Points
  • Low Armor Class
  • Low mobility
  • Large Size

The Ogre is the ultimate example of a Brute. They are all muscle and not a lot of tactics, making them among the easiest and most straightforward type of monster to run. In fact, most DMs start out running every single monster like a Brute.

The best use for a Brute is in Melee combat, where they can deliver a few powerful blows before they fall. They can be used to block a path or an ally due to their large size, and often act as a definite, immediate threat to the party.

The Brute is also a good way to play monsters with low intelligence. Bears, Rhinos, Hill Giants, Elementals, Cyclops, and more all generally just swing with their attacks, not graceful but deadly if they connect.

Many of the monsters in the manual already function as brutes. But, if you want to modify a creature to be a brute, there are a couple ways to do so.

Magic: a more sophisticated way of bashing in heads
The best way is to make the creature a "Hulking" version of itself. This means use nearly the same stats, but increase the size category of the creature by one. Make a small creature medium, a medium creature large, etc.

How will this effect the creature's challenge rating? Well, it will require a bit of math. But we can get a pretty good estimate.

First, the creature's weapons will now deal an extra damage die worth of damage on each attack. using a kobold as an example, a "Hulking Kobold" will now deal 2d4+2 damage with its dagger or sling. This increases the average damage from 4 to 7 per attack.

This extra damage means the Kobold will deal +3 damage per round. Changing damage output (usually) affects CR using the following formula:
Damage Increase/decrease per Round / 12 = Increase/decrease in CR
So, an increase of 3 damage per round bumps our Hulking Kobold up to 1/8 (the original CR) + 1/4 (3 / 12) for a CR of 3/8.

If we don't move, they can't see us...
The size change also affects HP. This one's a bit more complicated. You'll have to check out the creature's HP calculation. The Kobold has 2d6-2 HP, which averages out to 5 HP. By increasing the size, the HP now becomes 2d8-2, or 7 HP (according to the table on DMG pg. 276). Not that big of a difference, but our Hulking Kobold could now likely stand up to an extra hit from a 1st-level PC.

Changing the HP of a monster (usually) affects CR in the following way:
Effective HP increase/decrease / 30 = Increase/decrease in CR
In this case, the Kobold's HP increase doesn't have enough of an impact on CR to matter. However, it should make us round our final CR upwards, giving us a CR of 1/2.

Another way to make a monster a Brute is to increase its Constitution stat. This directly affects HP. Suppose we weren't satisfied with the Hulking Kobold just yet. Sure, they hit harder and deal more damage, but we don't want a runty little lizard, we want a sturdy, healthy Hulk. So let's increase the Kobold's Con modifier!

By raising the Constitution score to 14, our modifier goes from -1 to +2. That means Hulking Kobold's Hp goes from (2d6-1) 5 HP to (2d8 + 4) 13 HP. Still not enough to make a big impact on CR, but that feels more like a Hulking Kobold!

The most advanced of all ancient magics: fist magic
The methods described above are very specifically avoiding raising the creature's strength or dexterity. Why? Because that also raises the creature's attack bonus and armor class. We want a big, dumb brute. More precise monsters can come later.

There's one last way to make a monster a Brute, without mucking around in stats or size. This is very simple: give them magical powers and weapons.

Let's make Zolo, the Kobold Wizard. He's dabbled in dark magics and has gained the following abilities:
  1. He has touched arcane energy and has become resistant to harm
  2. He can now channel that dark energy into his melee attacks
Let's use the table found on DMG pg. 277 to adjust Zolo's effective Hit Points. Note that his printed HP will still be 5, but he's going to be able to take more of a beating than his non-warlock-leaning brethren. Giving Zolo Resistance to nonmagical bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing requires us to treat his CR as though his Hit Points were actually 10. This alters his CR, increasing it by 1/6th. We're already pretty close to the 3/8th Hulking Kobold.

Next, let's give Zolo a magic weapon attack. We can say it's a cantrip-level spell, which (going by the table on DMG pg 284) increases his damage to (1d10+2) or 7. Sound familiar?

By increasing the creature's size or by using magical enhancements, we can make a creature that hits harder (without hitting more often) and stays on the battlefield longer (without giving it more armor).

So, let's finish up with another example. Taking another non-brute monster and making it a brute, let's make a Hulking Ettercap.

Changing the size from medium to large, the Ettercap's HP goes from 44 to 52. An increase of 8 HP raises our CR by about 1/3, not too much. However, since the Ettercap makes two attack a round, we increase our damage output per round by 10 (the poison damage isn't affected). That's enough to bump the Hulking Ettercap up to CR 3.

Finally, I would remove the Web ability of the monster, to encourage it to get up close and attack.

Not necessarily the leader, but definitely the guy yelling as he runs into combat.
Next week, we'll talk about the Brute's more advanced counterpart, the Soldier.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Diversifying Your Classes
Like this, but not at all like this.
I've been writing this blog for a while now (I started 5 months ago... woah) and I thought I'd give myself a break from creative writing and do a nice little article about making up names for "Multiclassed" classes. It ended up being quite a bit of work with the old Thesaurus.

I stuck to the classes in the PHB, and each class has a name for when they branch out into another class. The bold classes are considered the first class the character took, or the one with the most levels. So if a character starts in one class but eventually gets a lot of levels in another, they could easily be known as something else in-world.

Here we go!

  • Bard: Skald
  • Cleric: Skywatcher
  • Druid: Treespeaker
  • Fighter: Gladiator
  • Monk: Boxer
  • Paladin: Legioner
  • Ranger: Beastmaster
  • Rogue: Brigand
  • Sorcerer: Totemist
  • Warlock: Darkslave
  • Wizard: Wordblade
  • Barbarian: Warrior Poet
  • Cleric: Ovate
  • Druid: Treesinger
  • Fighter: Fencer
  • Monk: Diplomat
  • Paladin: Preacher
  • Ranger: Strider
  • Rogue: Factotum
  • Sorcerer: Dancer
  • Warlock: Enchanter
  • Wizard: Magician
  • Barbarian: Warpriest
  • Bard: Loremaster
  • Druid: Healer
  • Fighter: Avenger
  • Monk: Emissary
  • Paladin: Exemplar
  • Ranger: Medic
  • Rogue: Shugenja
  • Sorcerer: Favored Soul
  • Warlock: Invoker
  • Wizard: Archivist
  • Barbarian: Butcher
  • Bard: Siren
  • Cleric: Apothecary
  • Fighter: Guerilla
  • Monk: Hermit
  • Paladin: Yeoman
  • Ranger: Explorer
  • Rogue: Shapestealer
  • Sorcerer: Geomancer
  • Warlock: Summoner
  • Wizard: Animist
  • Barbarian: Dragoon
  • Bard: Marshal
  • Cleric: Reborn
  • Druid: Commando
  • Monk: Samurai
  • Paladin: Knight
  • Ranger: Sentinel
  • Rogue: Mercenary
  • Sorcerer: Dragon Knight/Chaos Knight
  • Warlock: Dark Knight
  • Wizard: Spellsword
  • Barbarian: Renegade
  • Bard: Aristocrat
  • Cleric: Acolyte
  • Druid: Ascetic
  • Fighter: Weapons Master
  • Paladin: Avatar
  • Ranger: Horizon Walker
  • Rogue: Ninja
  • Sorcerer: Psion
  • Warlock: Incarnate
  • Wizard: Scholar
  • Barbarian: Warrior
  • Bard: Evangelist
  • Cleric: Herald
  • Druid: Anamist
  • Fighter: Crusader
  • Monk: Templar
  • Ranger: Missionary
  • Rogue: Inquisitor
  • Sorcerer: Chosen
  • Warlock: Death Knight
  • Wizard: Savant
  • Barbarian: Scavenger
  • Bard: Wanderer
  • Cleric: Seeker
  • Druid: Beastmaster
  • Fighter: Cavalier
  • Monk: Warden
  • Paladin: Hunter
  • Rogue: Marksman
  • Sorcerer: Fireblessed
  • Warlock: Envoy
  • Wizard: Arcane Archer
  • Barbarian: Swashbuckler
  • Bard: Infiltrator
  • Cleric: Philanderer
  • Druid: Scout
  • Fighter: Bandit
  • Monk: Acrobat
  • Paladin: Bounty Hunter
  • Ranger: Raider
  • Sorcerer: Beguiler
  • Warlock: Blackhand
  • Wizard: Spellthief
  • Barbarian: Axeborn
  • Bard: Composer
  • Cleric: Divine Born
  • Druid: Ancient Soul
  • Fighter: Soulblade
  • Monk: Elementalist
  • Paladin: Augur
  • Ranger: Wildblood
  • Rogue: Kleptomancer
  • Warlock: Shaman
  • Wizard: Adept
  • Barbarian: Bloodbound
  • Bard: Silvertongue
  • Cleric: Malefactor
  • Druid: Channeler
  • Fighter: Hexblade
  • Monk: Mystic
  • Paladin: Darkheart
  • Ranger: Fugitive
  • Rogue: Gambler
  • Sorcerer: Witch
  • Wizard: Shadowcaster
  • Barbarian: Battlemage
  • Bard: Truenamer
  • Cleric: Theurge
  • Druid: Sage
  • Fighter: Bladesinger
  • Monk: Ardent
  • Paladin: Vicar
  • Ranger: Alchemist
  • Rogue: Duskblade
  • Sorcerer: Arcanist
  • Warlock: Binder
Inspiration often comes in triangle form.
Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday Recap: Dressed to Kill

We had a good session of Maze of the Blue Medusa this weekend. I really like this dungeon, but I can tell that my players aren't used to the kind of dungeon-crawling that OSR games are all about.

I think this will change as the players get more into the dungeon. This is definitely a dungeon that has a story to tell, and the more they explore, the more they will get a sense for how the dungeon operates. Plus, they can get some good NPC companions soon that I think will help them find their way.

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 3 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: Dressed to Kill

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

When we last left the group, they had finished up talking to Chronia Torn, an ageless woman who was not in favor of the Maze being destroyed. This was in direct contradiction to the plan of Lady Crucem Capilli, a dragon who was planning to burn the place down after she had collected enough artwork from it.

The group wanted to grab one of Chronia's books to present to Lady Capilli, to stave off the destruction of the Maze until they had more information on whether or not the maze should be destroyed. They found Chronia's library, which was full of incredibly rare, strange, and mostly melancholic books written in ways that her time aura wouldn't affect.

Suddenly, they were attacked by some golden ghosts! One of them possessed Aniria and forced her to destroy several shelves of books. Alan ran to grab Chronia's candle, which allowed her to dispel ghosts, and Aniria was freed. However, Chronia was quite upset at the loss of some of her books, and insisted the group only take a small novel written on a mummified snake. Coria recognized the author: Caphtor Clowe, known for his terrible writing. The novel was "Through the Eyes of the Gorgon", supposedly all about the Blue Medusa Psathyrella, but according to Chronia it was nothing but gossip and speculation.

The party made their way through a room with a book-hungry scarab beetle, and a room with a line that displayed whatever your worst fear was, before arriving back in the chess-piece room where they had first met Gibba Gognata. However, there was something odd waiting for them: a tiger, carved entirely out of beautiful lapis lazuli, moving towards them.

It spoke, calling itself the Lion in Lapis Lazuli. It began to ask pointed questions about what the group thought of it, becoming more and more demanding and capricious. Coria and Aniria tried to placate the beast, but when it turned its questions on Alan, the former noble didn't hold back and called the construct horrible and rude. Alan couldn't stand to see people claim they held a higher position than others.

The tiger attacked, tearing deep wounds into Derrik with its gemstone jaws. The group was able to quickly dispatch it, but Derrik was hurt and the party wanted to rest. They made their way to Lady Capilli, hoping to take a respite in her chambers.

After presenting the dragon lady with the book and the shards of the tiger, they requested Lady Capilli allow them to rest up a bit. The dragon was opposed to the idea, claiming that their journey through the maze shouldn't be sullied by her hands. She also already had a new item for them to find: a biography, from a unique creature. Lady Capilli insisted they not tarry until they had found it.

The group sulked off, displeased that their "benefactor" was so uncaring of their situation. They opted to board themselves into the room where the thrones had been previously, allowing them a short time to rest. Since they had discovered another route north, Derrik collected the three magic swords that they had previously placed in the thrones.

While they rested, Coria noticed a small flower poking through the corner of the wall. She watered it, and surprisingly, it closed up and withdrew between the stones. A moment later, a large bundle of vines poured out of the walls and threatened to engulf the party. They were being attacked by some sort of vine monster!

Derrik decided to attack the creature with his brand new Tree-sword, and he suddenly found out exactly what sort of magic enchanted the sword. All the thoughts of the vines were transferred to him, and he knew everything about the strange monster. It called itself Pellory-of-the-Walls. It once served a lich in the gardens named Xanthoceras, but it escaped its pot and fled into the walls. It also has a root somewhere in the dungeon that it's trying to use to spawn another vine monster.

The group beat back the monster while Derrik reeled. It retreated, and the group finished their rest. Fortunately, they now had the biography Lady Capilli asked for. They gave it to her, and she loved it. Being much more encouraging this time, she asked them to find her a piece of art, and also include how it was made and how the group obtained it.

Coria had been mapping their progress so far, and was able to guide them back to the fear line room without incident. As they crossed the treacherous line once more, Aniria saw a small figure at the other side: a small ghost boy. They had seen him once before in the dungeon, an afterimage in the False Chanterelle. They had avoided him the last time, but this time Aniria decided to take his hand.

The little ghost began to lead them in a direction they hadn't gone before. Coria was mortified and quickly began mapping as quickly as possible to keep up with the group. They passed though a room with a bunch of hypnotic disks that Derrik got bamboozled by, and a helpful hanged corpse who told them how they could have avoided killing the Lion in Lapis Lazuli.

They arrived in a room with a shifting black and white mural on the north wall, and lots of rotted treasure in the south section. Realizing they were close to a potential way out of the dungeon, they headed south to speak to a mysterious old woman named Lady Nine-Bones.

Lady Nine-Bones was sitting in a room, drumming away on a small set of finger drums. She was highly suspicious of the group, acting very oddly until they revealed that they were simply looking for a way out and a place to rest. She touched one of the nine bones on her necklace, and suddenly began to radiate pale light. The entire group was compelled to tell the truth! She began to speak in the voice of Torgos Zooth, and asked them a few questions about their intentions and if they had found his sons yet.

They answered honestly, and then Torgos said something very strange: he told them to destroy the maze. Immediately afterwards, Lady Nine-Bones pitched backwards, and woke up as herself once again. She said she would allow them to leave the dungeon, and pointed them in the right direction.

Following her directions, they found a large staircase spiraling down in a nearby room. The little ghost boy stayed at the top of the stairs, and waved goodbye as the group went downwards.

They walked for a long time in darkness. At some point, they must have changed directions, because they suddenly found themselves walking upwards out of the top of a stairway leading out of the ground. It opened up into a huge temple that seemed to be dedicated to the maze itself.

Standing in the center of the temple was a man in a mask that looked like a dour-looking female face. He seemed to think the party was a group of Gods that had come up from the maze, and ran off. The group decided to rest up in the temple, and deal with all that later.

After they had recovered, they opened the temple of doors and were greeted by a throng of people and priests. They were also greeted with a miraculous sight: they were on the top of an island, in the middle of an ocean! How they had gotten here, they couldn't tell. Coria said it looked like nothing she had ever seen in her travels.

The priests begged the party to be merciful, and the group decided to play up their godliness. Remembering that the mechanical peacock Zaccheaus had told them they needed fancy clothes to pass, they asked for a set of fine robes for Aniria and Derrik. Alan was already well-dressed, and Coria could simply transform into a fancy animal.

At this point, I had the group level up to level 6. I'm going on a milestone-based level advancement system, and I've given the players a few esoteric hints on how to find those milestones. One of them was "Take an Island Vacation" which is why they got to level up here. "Light the Wedding Candles" is another one, so the players were planning to go to the area called the "Dead Wedding" next. To get in, they would need the fancy clothes that Zaccheaus required.

After the islanders delivered the clothing to the group, the group thanked them and headed back down (up?) into the dungeon. The ghost boy was gone, but the party now knew exactly where they wanted to go. Coria decided to try out her improved shapeshifting powers by transforming into an Allosaurus.

They had gotten all the way back to the MC Escher-esque stairs leading to Zaccheaus's Cloakroom, when suddenly Derrik (who was bringing up the rear of the party) was stabbed in the back by the weird ogre-shaped shell with a baby inside it. The group destroyed the shell, but once again Derrik was badly hurt.

Aniria patched up his wounds and they pressed forward, stopping to pick up a strange monocle the shell had been holding. The thing had a not-very-funny bulging lizard eye, but it did allow the user to read the ancient lizard language they had found elsewhere in the dungeon.

Zaccheaus was very impressed by their fancy robes and "pet" Allosaurus, and allowed them to explore the wedding at their leisure. They first decided to check out a side-room of the cloakroom, revealing a room lined with velvet pillars. In the center of the room was the little ghost boy! Aniria was very happy to see him again.

Zaccheaus told the group that the boy's name was Tyko Wort, son of renowned Chancellor Sophronia Wort, and that he was the better behaved of the two young Worts. He also told them that nobody ever went in the Red-Pillared Room, meaning the group could use it as an area to rest in.

The group went out into the lobby of the wedding, where they could see into a few different rooms. They saw the ceremony hall, where ancient corpses walked around, pretending to be at the wedding, oblivious to their state. They saw the buffet, where all the food had long rotted away, except for a single perfect cake.

And they saw a small room labelled "children's room", with a key on the ground near the entrance. It was attached to a string, and was being reeled towards the door. Aniria went after it, and entered the door frame to a ghastly sight.

The bodies of the children were all as black and burned as the rest of the guests, except for one. The body of Tyko Wort was reeling in the string, and with a howl it attacked!

It used a needle to strike at the group, drawing the strength from their bodies. The party felled the unfortunate creature, but not before Derrik and Aniria had some of their vitality drained from them. They successfully recovered the key, which was marked "Treasury."

Searching the room, Coria found some notes on a time elemental they had seen earlier. She was very excited, as this meant that she might be able to transform into one when her shapeshifting powers were strong enough. Derrik discovered the skins of a previous adventuring group that the body of Tyko Wort had been poking with his needle. It seemed that small braille messages would appear in conversation when poked into the skins. Derrik had an odd conversation with some birds, and was sufficiently creeped out to the point that he decided to leave it alone. Alan realized that the guests hadn't been burned by fire, but had been rotted away somehow.

The group made their way through the buffet, and Alan told them about the enchantments on the cake (common for a wedding among nobility). The cake made people more pleasant for the wedding, and the cherries lowered any woman's charisma below that of the brides. Coria put a couple cherries in her Goodberry pouch, just in case.

The group entered a room with a central archway, surrounded by more of the charred wedding guests. Under the arch was a dais, upon which stood the wedding couple. They were dressed in fine robes, and just about to kiss, but it seemed that they were frozen in time. Coria tried to approach but couldn't. The eerie stillness of the scene created a haunting and somber atmosphere.

We stopped there for this week. I really do enjoy this dungeon, but with a module like this, full of curios and oddities, it's very easy for the group to cover a lot of ground, and I definitely do a disservice to the complexity of the dungeon in these write-ups. I'd highly recommend playing or reading the module to truly appreciate the massive depth this book has to offer.

The other note I want to make is about the combats. The group has been steamrolling the monsters in this dungeon, but not before they get a lot of damage in on the party (usually concentrated on Derrik). I'm okay with this, for a few reasons. First off, they have a lot of dungeon to cover, so I'm okay with slightly easy fights. Second, There are many monsters that do worse things than HP damage, and I'm excited to have those effects come into play. Third, they are still kind of squishy. The big monsters deeper in the dungeon will be real threats, but for now I'm fine with small challenges.

I'm not sure when we'll return to this dungeon, but I'm very excited for them to explore the rest of the Dead Wedding!

Thanks for reading!

Monday Recap: The Cold Winds Blow
Hey there, pilgrims
Storm King's Thunder is finally back! This week, not a lot happened, but we ended up with an absolutely hilarious session. This is one of my favorite things about D&D - when you're working together to tell a story, you never know what will become important, or how the players will turn into something awesome.

This story is part 10 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: The Cold Winds Blow

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

When we last left our heroes, they were heading out from Bryn Shander, after being made heroes of the city and handed a few new quests to explore. The group decided they wanted to take the long way back to Waterdeep, to get the chance to explore more of the North.

The group began to head out on the two-day journey from Bryn Shander to Hundlestone. Their first day of travel was very uneventful, and they made camp at the halfway point between the two towns.

When they woke up the next morning, a huge obstacle had begun: a snowstorm! They only had 24 miles left to Hundlestone, but with the severe winds it would take two more days to get to the city.
Things never turn out easy
The group forged ahead anyway, as Mialee estimated the blizzard would last a full 5 days. As they were walking along the Ten Trail, they were suddenly attacked by a Yeti of monstrous size: a fabled Abominable Yeti!

The beast used its chilling gaze to freeze Mialee in place. Cecelia tried to halt its attack with Bestow Curse, but the Yeti overcame it. Fortunately, Kye and Rolen fought back hard, and the monster fled before it was finished off.

The group continued forward, not encountering any other dangers that day. They made camp under a snowbank, and Mialee took watch as usual. She was wearing her yeti-skin coat, which she had dyed pink and turned into a midriff jacket with a fuzzy skirt and fuzzy boots. She was extremely fashionable, despite the cold.

While she was keeping watch, the Abominable Yeti returned in the dead of night, hoping to finish off the group. Mialee, now immune to the beast's gaze, roused the others and fought back. Kye nearly slept through the entire battle, but the group was victorious in the end.

When they woke up, they set out once more into the storm. By Mialee's estimate, they should have reached Hundlestone by noon that day. However, by the time the light of the sun faded behind the storm clouds, they had still not seen the town.

Those of you with more knowledge of the rules might have noticed I'm using a house rule here. According to the revised ranger rules, a ranger leading a party can't get lost. I decided that not getting lost would take some of the challenge out of traveling in dangerous or barren places, such as, for example, a blizzard. So Mialee has advantage on her navigation rolls, but isn't guaranteed success.

Somehow, they had lost the trail in the storm! The group had no idea where they were, and there were still a full three days remaining of the blizzard. They decided to turn back and follow their own trail until they reached the body of the Yeti.

When you let Mialee decorate the snow fort
After traveling another day and sneaking past some Frost Giants, the group finally found the body of the Yeti! Not sure where to go from here, they decided to dig a bunker into the snow and string up the Yeti's body outside.

Rolen set up some vines with his Thorn Whip spell so they could move the Yeti's arms (just like Weekend at Bernie's) and they named him Spaghetti the Yeti. The group worked through the night to build their bunker in hopes of waiting out the storm inside it.

However, just as they were finishing up, a pack of Yetis arrived! They took one look at Spaghetti and attacked the bunker. Fortunately, the entrance was small enough that the Yeti bodies quickly piled up outside it, but the other Yetis began to burrow around the other sides of the bunker and burst in through the walls.
Spaghetti the Yeti: dapper-est Yeti at the ball
Rolen cleared out the entryway with a Hunger of Hadar spell while Cecelia and Mialee provided ranged support. Kye began to stop the Yetis bursting through the walls, but they were coming from too many angles to manage.

Rolen killed one with his Snake Staff of Hysam, but another Yeti burst through the wall, and froze him with a Chilling Gaze before dropping him with its claws. Kye attacked it with fire, and Mialee took the hint: the yetis were afraid of the campfire they had built in the middle of the bunker.

The group finished off that Yeti, but the last two were about to burst through the opposite wall. Kye, still standing and healthy, ran over the block their entrance. The first Yeti to break through managed to freeze Kye in place. However, even frozen, the monster wasn't able to fell him. Cecelia healed Rolen, and Mialee and Rolen finished off the final Yeti with arrows and spells.

The group barricaded their bunker with Yeti bodies, and Rolen brought Spaghetti into the main bunker to use as a couch. They dressed him up in a suit and monocle for style. The Yeti bodies were good for rations, except the one Rolen had poisoned with his Snake Staff. They set that one outside as bait  to kill any predators who wanted to mess with them.

A sad glimpse into what our group uses for "Yeti" minis. Note Spaghetti the Yeti in the very back.
The group passed the final two days of the blizzard chatting, telling stories, and sharing information about themselves. Mialee told them all about the book she had read, using complicated shadow puppets to illustrate. Cecelia practiced her singing.

Kye and Rolen, still a bit awkward from Kye's unintentional kiss, started to talk their problems out. However, it seemed that Kye was still going to need more time.

Finally, the blizzard ended. The party poked their heads out of the snow, and to their great relief Mialee was able to spot Hundlestone in the distance. The group was tired, smelled like Yetis, and wanted warm beds to sleep in.

They made their way to Hundlestone, and were greeted by a sign: "Hundlestone: Best Underground Town Around! Welcome - Mayor Tom Hundlestone the 16th." The dwarf guard greeted them by asking them if they had been out in the blizzard. He was quite impressed that they had.

The dwarf introduced himself as Morthun Metalbranch, cousin of the famous hero Phoenyx Metalbranch. Rolen decided to go undercover as Arranis Nailo, and nervously agreed that he knew Phonyx and was just passing through. Morthun allowed the group in, telling them to duck down from the winds.

Inside, the low walls of Hundlestone did indeed allow the winds to blow heavily. The group noticed only dwarves and gnomes in the streets, and all the buildings seemed to be built half-underground, with stairs leading down to their entrances. They quickly made for the nearest inn, Ketthiel's Rest.

Inside, they paid for rooms and immediately went to the baths, a hot springs built from a natural hot springs in the second basement. Mialee stopped briefly to chat up a man with odd head tattoos named Javier Holden, but the group was exhausted and went to sleep nearly immediately.

Tom Hundlestone the 16th: mayor, gnome, amateur actor
We stopped there for this week. Again, this week was basically just travel, but the players made it very fun and hilarious. Spaghetti the Yeti, never forghetti.

Next week, we'll explore Hundlestone, deliver a package to Thwip Ironbottom, and perhaps set out towards Luskan!

Thanks for reading!