Vicious Mockery #DnD #RPG

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Sundays are now lazy days for me. Going forward, I’m just going to re-post other people’s work or just do something silly. Today, it’s something from gaming.

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One the battlefield, one must remain flexible.

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How I Prefer to Play Dungeons and Dragons, and Why I No Longer Do @Raddu76 @Luddite_Vic @SlyFlourish #DnD #RPG

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A couple of weeks ago, one of my posts raised some questions from my social media contacts both on Facebook and Twitter. Specifically, they were wondering what I meant when I said I played Dungeons & Dragons differently from most others. It’s tough to express what I mean by that, but there’s been some back and forth, so I’ve given some thought on how to express it. I’m going to do my best here in an uncharacteristically long post. I’d like to make four quick points for context before I explain.

1. For RPGs, I limit myself to D&D out of necessity. I could play other games (and have), but nothing is more accessible than whatever the current edition of D&D is, especially in light of the living campaign being run for that edition.

2. There’s no right way to play D&D. Nothing I’m saying is a criticism of how other people play except to the extent that I’m saying I don’t prefer to play that way myself. Moreover, I was in Sly Flourish’s home game for years, and people like me can absolutely coexist on the same table as people . . .  not like me. That was probably the best gaming group I’ve ever been in because no matter who was in the group, everyone let everyone else do their own thing. I credit the DM for creating that atmosphere. He certainly guides the game but always places fun ahead of his own ego. Not many DMs do. Unfortunately, my gaming experience has conditioned me to go along with what other people expect, so even in that game I’d often sabotage myself by becoming what I didn’t want to be. But if that’s the way you want to play, then go for it. Some people reading this will know I’m talking about them and their play style. They shouldn’t be offended. None of this is meant as an insult.

3. Combat is part of the game, and I’m capable of enjoying a good combat.

4. Luddite_Vic and I have been designing our own RPG for a few years now. It’ll probably never see the commercial light of day because we’re too busy to meet regularly, but to some extent game design can absolutely accommodate my play style. It can even encourage it, though the best game system is going to be one that allows anyone to play it the way they want to play it.

So, what am I talking about?

I’m an Actor

No, you shouldn’t be asking me for my autograph. I didn’t say that I’m a good actor.

There are several player types. Some players change their type over time, and some fall into several categories at once. I’m certainly what I call an actor. I create a character with at least one notable, obvious personality quirk, and I play that up for maximum effect. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it isn’t, but it always defines my character, so much so that years later people reference the quirk by shouting, “Honor duel!”, “Bongos!”, or something referencing a character, when they see me. Whether I’m in combat or not, if I’m not playing up that quirk (or quirks), I’m not having fun.

Sometimes character concepts fail, so in theory I could impose an annoying play style on others, but I don’t. If I make a mistake with a character concept, or if it just doesn’t work within the game system, I move on from it before it becomes a burden. I’m self-aware of the impact I have on others, so if I’m annoying you, it’s intentional 😊, but I avoid doing that with characters.

True Immersion

The key to me having a good time is true immersion in the game world. I don’t think many players do that, and I think the best way for me to explain this is through a few examples.

The simplest and most talked about example of that is alignment. If you’re playing a lawful good character, then your character should act as such. I see far too many players choosing an alignment because of some mechanical bonus it gives, or because it serves a class build well, but then they act according to tactical needs rather than character philosophy, and their alignment goes right out the window. Again, if it makes you happy, fine, but I think you’re losing something valuable by doing that. After all, rolling a critical hit isn’t really an accomplishment. It’s random unless you’re cheating. As the great philosopher, Neil Peart, once wrote, “The point of the journey is not to arrive.” Misplaced modifier aside, by that he meant that how you get somewhere can often be more rewarding than where you wind up.

Assuming your character has roughly the same alignment as you, is that how you’d behave in the real world? If you’re playing a character with vastly different morals than you, is that how such a character would behave in the real world? If not, you’re not immersing yourself in the game world.

Here’s a better example. I openly wanted to test a story line but covertly wanted to test whether others would be interested in my play style, so I took over a 4e campaign when our characters hit paragon level (11th level). This is 4th edition, so even the bard had at least 70 hit points. The first encounter in the paragon campaign was clearly underpowered. It was designed to be a “James Bond” moment, where everything started off with a bang, but the point was to deliver the story hook. Any experienced player could recognize that, and in fact they all did.

The characters were visiting “the Lawns,” which was an area of the city best described as a much smaller version of Central Park. Commoners were everywhere, and I had the PCs place themselves randomly on the board. There were three magical cages containing a bear, a destrachen, and a manticore, all of heroic tier. Collectively, they were no match for the PCs. A blast of energy wipes out the vegetation in the immediate area and causes the cages to burst open. The bard wins initiative. He’s standing near the bear, an elf, the elf’s two small children, and a human. He elects to run over to the manticore to gang up on it with two other PCs. I say, “Just in case neither the minis nor I have described the scene properly, you have the jump on the bear, and the bear has the jump on the commoners. If you run away, those commoners, including two children, are as good as dead.” He said he understood but was going for the better tactical move, and the other players agreed, saying, “Get over here!” (or words to that effect).

I know these players well, so I knew this would happen — this encounter was also designed by me to be an ethical set up — but I couldn’t believe they fell for it. What exactly is the “better tactical move”? In my mind it was to limit as much damage to the citizens as possible. That’s what heroes do. (If I recall correctly, only one character was neutral on the good-evil axis, and I know it wasn’t the bard.) The party instead defined “better tactical move” as personally taking the least amount of damage possible. (Later, I’ll provide more evidence that this is their thinking.) This was the case even though the bard would be looking at taking, at most, one healing surge worth of damage in a one-on-one combat against any one of them.

When the bear got its turn, I described the event in gruesome detail. The elf shouts out, “Run to your mother, children!” right before he’s disemboweled with one claw. Then the human has his face ripped off by the other claw. I don’t expect the players to lose any sleep over make-believe characters getting killed, but not one of the characters expressed the slightest bit of sadness or regret. And don’t think for a second that I missed it. I was watching them carefully and prodding them in character (through NPCs) to let me know what they thought about these events. From a meta perspective, that was the entire point of me taking over the game as DM.

Isn’t a role-playing game supposed to be about writing a story? What kind of a story are these “heroes” writing?

As I said, I knew this would happen because I knew these guys, and part of what I was testing was this principal of immersion. I was trying to see if the right story would change the players’ approach to the game. So, I had some more tricks up my sleeve. I bit my lip for three months waiting for the story to progress to a specific encounter. The players needed to research some very obscure information, so they visited the “Black Library.” This place held all the knowledge of the universe in special crystals, including dreams and memories.

The Black Library was at a very important place in the multiverse. It was near the “Grand Stairwell,” which (as far as mortal minds could perceive) is a stairwell that leads up and down to each of your potential final resting places after death (e.g., the Nine Hells, Archeron, Nirvana). There was always a long line of souls of the recently departed waiting their turns for final instructions. Go up four levels, go down two levels; whatever.

I asked the players to make a Perception check. It didn’t matter what they rolled. I said, “You seem to recognize one of the people in line,” and they took the bait. It was the elf they let die. He confronted them, and once again all of the player characters showed no remorse other than an insincere, “Sorry, but . . . .” I gave them one more shot though. The elf said, “Okay, I don’t agree, but I at least understand the tactical approach. So did you at least make sure my children were okay? Did they find my wife? My wife and three children, one of them a newborn, depended on my farming to earn a living. My wife doesn’t know how to farm, and now she must feed three young children on her own. How are they doing?”

This sounds really sad, and it was somewhat predictable considering the scene in which the elf (and human) were brutally killed. Nevertheless, I received no showing of true sympathy despite closely looking for it. Instead, the characters (players, really) stood their ground and responded (essentially), “It wasn’t our problem.” They were so intent on being right that they couldn’t muster any sympathy for such a tragic circumstance their choices created. And of course, even after this conversation, not one of the characters even suggested checking in on the elf’s family. These were 15th-level characters at this point with more wealth than entire towns, but they just didn’t care. If that’s how they wanted to play, so be it, but that’s not immersion.

As I said, when bad things happen to innocent but make-believe people, I don’t expect players to be sad, but I do expect their characters to be, especially where the bad things were the result of the characters’ own choices.

If you were in an analogous situation in the real world, would you have behaved this way? Would you have any remorse for these circumstances even though there was no financial reward or information to be gained?

Another Example: The Puzzle Encounter

I created a puzzle encounter, which I’ll describe here. There’s a magically charged, metal plate with an array of 100 lighted buttons (10 rows of 10) in front of it. Each button is numbered from 0 to 99 in order (left to right). You must figure out which buttons to push and in what order. If you fail, the plate will light up and zap you (but not your allies) for an amount of damage equal to the number of the button you should have pushed. For example, if you should have guessed 4 but pushed 87, you’d take 4 points of damage (not 87!). You then should push the 4 and continue with the sequence. Remember, at this level, the relatively fragile bard (now at 13th level) has at least 80 hit points, so even a 4 would result in 5% of his total. If you couldn’t figure out the answer before running out of buttons to push, you couldn’t try again in your lifetime, so another player would have to try this level. If you push two correct buttons in a row (something you could pull off by guessing in some cases), the plate acts as an elevator and moves you and your allies up to the next level, where you face the identical situation but with a different code. There are four levels you must pass to get reach your goal.

All this information was deduced care of an easy Arcana check. My intent wasn’t to hold back the nature of the puzzle at all, so if someone was confused, I freely shared any information they needed. What they never got was a hint as to what the code was applicable to each level. The only way to discern the codes were through trial and error, and that was the actual puzzle. Hit some buttons, get zapped for a tiny amount of damage, but figure out how to avoid it and move forward.

Answer: FYI, the codes were based on various sequences. The first sequence was a series of squares (i.e., 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, etc.), the second was a series of cubes (i.e., 1, 8, 27, 64), the third was the Fibonacci series (i.e., 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13), and the fourth was the digit product series (i.e., 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 22, 26, 38, etc.). Again, the only way to discern the codes were through trial and error, and the players were angered by that. More on that later.

The point is this: If you truly immersed yourself in the game world, you wouldn’t have a problem with this puzzle. In fact, you’d expect this because of course this is how a puzzle would be designed. These are meant to keep out would-be intruders. They aren’t supposed to give you an out in which you take no damage, and logically you wouldn’t expect there to be any way to deduce a code unless you personally knew the puzzle’s creator and the way he or she thought. If anything, puzzles should be a lot harder (e.g., a simple 6-digit pin impossible to guess), but that makes the game inaccessible, which we don’t want. However, it’s reasonable that 1) you’re not going to be able to reason out the code except through trial and error; and 2) you’ll be punished when you get things wrong; however, 3) the initial punishment is easy in case the puzzle-maker himself makes a mistake or forgets which code goes in which order.

Remember when I said above that I’d provide more evidence that the players define success by how much damage they take? When we were finished with the third level, the players had had enough of my nonsense. They accosted me because the puzzle was unfair. The straw that broke the camel’s back? The third sequence was the Fibonacci sequence, which means when they got the first number in that series wrong, the plate lit up, and one player took a whopping . . . zero (0) points of damage. That’s right. A couple of them actually raised their voices and complained because one of them took 0 hit points of damage. After they were finished complaining, we continued. They pressed the one (per the instructions), then a two (which zapped them for one point of damage), and that’s all the damage one player took. Another player immediately deduced that 0, 1, and 1 were the start of the Fibonacci sequence, so for this sequence, a single 13th-level player with close to 100 hit points took exactly 2 points of damage, and that was unacceptable to all of them. I was so annoyed at this point that I didn’t tell the about the fourth level. I just said that they had reached their goal after the third puzzle (essentially, “Congratulations! You won D&D!”). The digit product series would have been a bit tough anyway, so frustrations aside, that was probably a good call.

Explain that any way you want. To me, it’s as simple as this: Some people just want to win D&D flawlessly, but that won’t always be possible if you immerse yourself in the game world. You always lose at least a little. I don’t get this at all, but I at least respect the fact that some of these players admit that immersion isn’t what they want from the game. Others claim they like immersion, but it seems like nothing but talk to me.

So Why Is This Important?

Why is this important to me? Why do I think this sort of thing would matter to far more players than it does if they ever gave it a try? Simply put because all mechanical bonuses and victories in the game are illusory. The only true successes or failures are story-based.

Let’s first look at the mechanics. Game designers, take note. As a DM, you may want to balance your encounter or campaign to be easy, even, or hard. I don’t care which; that’s not the point. The point is that you want a certain “balance,” which I’m using as a general term that doesn’t necessarily mean having a 50% chance of success. If a game is designed such that a 3rd-level PC is expected to have a +1 sword, then that disturbs your balance. It doesn’t do something cool like 4th edition frost brand weapon does. It simply increases your chances to hit by 5%. To keep the game balanced as you want it, the NPCs must have built within their mechanics a boost to defenses at 3rd-level (more or less). That means that the +1 bonus isn’t a bonus at all; it’s just keeping things consistent. Maybe you’re falling for that, but I’m not. I see it for the poorly-disguised illusion that it is. A frost brand weapon, on the other hand, allows (for example) a fighter to become a wizard for just a moment or two by giving the fighter a limited-use blast attack. It’s not enough to steal the wizard’s thunder, but enough to mix things up a bit. It’s a far more legitimate reward, though even that is still a bit illusory (just not as noticeably). It also allows the fighter to get a nice boost of damage against cold-vulnerable NPCs (if the game designers would ever create such creatures!), which mechanically is balanced by the fighter’s reduced damage against cold-resistant creatures. Thus, the reward is that the fighter has yet another avenue to get their moment to shine within the story. That’s much closer to a real reward.

The same can be said of encounters. If you’re trying to sneak by a campsite but get caught, you have an extra fight on your hands. Worse, if they’re able to sound the alarm to their allies, you have a single fight on your hands against, let’s say, 25 opponents. Levels don’t matter at that point. Even 25 kobolds 5 levels below you will likely be unstoppable. So, what does the DM do? He fudges it. He has the kobolds choose poor tactics by not all rushing the PCs, or he eliminates an encounter or two so that this extra encounter doesn’t upset the balance. Sure, the math allows some wiggle room here, but not a lot. Too many encounters, and you’re facing an inevitable TPK simply because you stepped on a dry twig. Because DMs don’t allow for a single twig to result in a TPK, the punishment is also illusory.

Something Real

So, what’s a real reward or punishment? A story-based one. Let’s say you’re approaching that same campfire, but the kobolds have prisoners. The prisoners are commoners who have no money, no information, and aren’t even important enough to have names. If you immediately charge, one of commoners gets their throat slit before you get there. If you’re sneaking but step on that dry twig, a few get their throats slit. Before you know it, you’ve got a lot of dead kobolds, but also a lot of dead commoners. That shouldn’t be seen as a victory despite the dead kobolds. Instead, the dead commoners should be your punishment for your failure. The more that die, the greater your failure. After all, aren’t you adventuring to save the world (assuming it’s not an evil campaign)? Unfortunately, commoners aren’t a concern to anyone unless they find enjoyment in immersing themselves in the game world. I haven’t met many of you that truly do, or perhaps most of you (like me) have resigned yourself to how things are done, so you don’t play that way despite it being your preference. I don’t know what’s in your heads; I can only guess based on your words and actions, and I’ve never heard anyone voice these specific concerns. Many adventure and game system writers don’t write that way either. Ergo, gaming has grated on me, and I no longer enjoy playing. The one time a year I do is at Winter Fantasy, but if I play too much, I get into a bad mood.

End Rant

That’s it. Rant over. I hope that explains my position. Please keep in mind that if all of this is falling on deaf ears, that’s fine. You don’t have to agree. None of you owe me a game played the way I want it played. If I’m not enjoying the game, I’ll find something else to do. We can still catch a movie together when the pandemic passes. That’d be fun. I rarely drink, so I can be the designated driver if necessary. 🙂

Side Note: 4th Edition D&D

In response to something someone said to me on Facebook, I’ll add that I love 4th edition. It’s my favorite edition of D&D. Despite the way I want to play, and even though it’s largely a combat simulator, I really enjoyed it. The math and logic were largely normalized, meaning you could focus on story above the math, which was easily dealt with as you went along. I wish more people took advantage of that. Instead, I think people prefer the convoluted, illusory math because they want that to be their focus. If true, that’s rather ironic considering the primary criticism of 4th edition is that it’s too rules heavy. But now I’m just picking fights. 🙂

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Bestiary: Wrath of the Titans, Part I (of 1) #dnd #rpg

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Better late than never?

I wrote this in 2012 but never published it. I wanted to finish Part II before doing so, but I never really learned how to create artifacts in 4th Edition D&D, so that never happened. It’s been sitting in my Drafts folder for 8 years and 9 days. Just in case anyone is playing 4th edition and can make use of these high-paragon to epic level NPC stat blocks, and/or my take on their history, here they are. I’m not optimistic, but this “quarantine life” finds me posting a lot of material. Warning: I haven’t proofread this other than to delete a dead link. 🙂

In 2010, Wizards of the Coast published Dragon 178, and in it was an article that provided 4th Edition material for the creatures that appeared in the remake of Clash of the Titans. With the release of the sequel, Wrath of the Titans, it’s time for a sequel to the article. This article contains the stat blocks for the creatures that appeared in the movie. Part II will provide the artifacts that appeared in the movie: Zeus’s Thunderbolt, Hades’ Pitchfork, Poseidon’s Trident, and the Spear of Triam, as well as the stat block for Kronos himself.

These creatures are built based in large part on how they were portrayed in Wrath of the Titans. Obviously, the movie took (far too many) liberties with the legends, and at times the legends themselves contradict, so don’t expect a perfect congruence between the creatures as presented here and your personal understanding of their legendary counterparts. FYI, a third movie is planned. May Tharizdum have mercy on our souls.

The Chthonic Cyclopes of Hephaestus

My depth perception may be lacking, but that doesn’t matter when I swing for the fences.

Hephaestus guarded himself with three Cyclopes, a father and his two sons. These giants aren’t by any means evil, but as brutes, they tend to fire, ready, and aim in that order. They represent a good test of character for PCs that might take the same approach. Sometimes tact is the best weapon you have. If that fails, they’ll never attack someone wielding Poseidon’s Trident.

Lore

Arcana 37: Chthonic Cyclopes are master blacksmiths that aid Hephaestus in his work. Though not inherently evil, they’re territorial and fiercely protective of their master. They will attack first and ask questions later, but they will certainly

Encounters

The Chthonic Cyclops is the epitome of a brute, charging into battle against any sentient creature daring to intrude upon Hephaestus’s island sanctuary. It will use Hurl Foliage to toss tree trunks at its opponents until it has entered melee range, then switching to Sweeping Club to lay waste to its enemies.  For lower-level characters, they represent an opportunity to negotiate a truce in the heat of battle by way of a skill challenge. For higher-level characters, they represent a good test of character for PCs that might be inclined to immediately attack. Sometimes tact is the best weapon you have. If that fails, they’ll never attack someone wielding Poseidon’s Trident.

Wolf-Chimeras

Look, people. Special effects difficulty goes up exponentially by the number of heads you put on these things. Three heads of different animal types is just too much to ask of the filmmaker.

Unlike their better-known, worldly cousins, these creatures have only two heads, both of which are that of wolves that can spew ignited venom. Additionally, their tails end in serpent’s head that packs a poisonous bite.

Lore

Religion 32: Residents of the underworld, these immortal beasts serve Hades as a reminder of the order of things. Their master, god of the Underworld, Hades, relies upon the fear of mortals to feed his divinity, and uses Wolf-Chimeras as a source of that fear.  Hades occasionally sends these creatures to the World to random places at random times, leaving its residents in constant state of fear. The resultant carnage can weaken a city’s resources, or forever wipe remote villages from the World.

Encounters

Wolf-Chimeras are used by gods of the underworld to strike the occasional chord of fear. However, they occasionally serve as an initial wave of attack in a war against humanity, serving as a harbinger of much worse things to come.

Tactics

A Wolf-Chimera begins combat by closing the gap with Ferocious Leap. The Wolf-Chimera will use Flaming Venom whenever available, but will otherwise use double attack to do as much damage as possible.

The Tartaran Minotaur

The ancient Greeks had no concept of dentistry. Even the gods couldn’t fix my teeth.

The greatest of minotaurs guards the greatest of mazes. With a spirit-filled maze, Tarterus, as its domain, this already fearsome creature knows exactly how to strike fear into the hearts of its enemies, then tears them to pieces with his natural weapons.

Lore

Religion 35: When Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon commissioned Hephaestus to create the prison-maze of Tartarus, the architect knew that a guardian was needed. Knowing of the affinity minotaurs have for mazes, Hephaestus chose from among their greatest warriors the honor of immortality, all for the small price of eternal damnation. It took very little time for the guardian’s rage to cross into the realm of insanity, but his insanity didn’t stand in the way of complete mastery of his domain. He uses its effects to full advantage.

If we have to be miserable, we’re taking you down with us!

Encounters

The great maze of Tartarus houses the souls of those who lived treacherous lives. These souls find little solace in their eternal existence and savor the rare opportunity to feed off the fear of the living that pass through their prison. They accomplish this feat by uncovering the greatest fear from within the minds of their targets and enhancing it. The Tartaran Minotaur takes full advantage of the crippling effect this causes.

Tactics

The Tartaran Minotaur attacks with its bare hands and horns. It attempts to gain surprise — a feat made relatively easy by its surroundings and at-will invisibility — and attack an unsuspecting target with its Teleporting Slam. Once isolated with its prey, the Tartaran Minotaur stays hidden the shadows, slipping in and out of invisibility, and doing extra damage from the resulting combat advantage.

Soldier of Kronos

When not waging war, we make great Vegomatics(TM)

When Kronos formally launches his war against humanity, he will be preceded into battle by the damned souls of long-dead soldiers, some of whom are fused into a single being.

Lore

Religion 31: When a great soldier dies, he becomes a leader in Hades’ army. When a mediocre soldier dies, his life force is joined to another in the hopes that together they will serve competently as foot soldiers in that army. Accordingly, these dual-torso soldiers serve as the first line of attack in the war waged upon residents of the World by the god of the underworld.

Encounters

Soldiers of Kronos protect Kronos from harm while he remains imprisoned. As Kronos emerges from the underworld to begin his war against humanity, he hurls Soldiers of Kronos onto the battlefield before him, where they weaken his enemy’s forces by literally slicing through their ranks.

Tactics

The Soldier of Kronos is thrown onto the battlefield by Kronos. Upon landing, it uses Cinder Strike to burn all in its range, then immediately hurls itself into battle using Rain of Steel. It constantly moves across the battlefield, attacking a different target each round. It focuses on a single target only if no other targets remain.

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One-Stop 5e D&D Stat Blocks

As a 4e player, I find the 5th edition stat blocks a major step backwards. The idea of having to comb through multiple spell descriptions in the PHB while trying to run an NPC is unappetizing to say the least. I preferred the self-sufficient stat blocks of 4e. I know there’s a lot of hate for 4e out there, but even the most hateful edition warriors might be able to appreciate one-stop stat blocks. Well, here they are. I’ve gone through the 5e Monster Manual and expanded the stat blocks so that you need nothing more than the stat block to run the creature.

Well, that’s not 100% true. If you want your NPC to shove another creature, then you’ll still have to look up the rules on shoving. However, those rules are the same for all creatures, easy to memorize, and in some cases not used very often, so they’re best left for ad hoc reference to the PHB.

Here are some notes:

  1. In most cases, the basic idea is to expand the spell-like abilities, providing a full description for each. This could get insanely long, so I used some shorthand. A min/maxer would be able to manipulate this language to his or her advantage, but you’re the DM. I doubt that’s your goal.
  1. In addition to making the stat blocks self-contained, I also tried to make the monsters more interesting. In quite a few cases, the stat blocks follow a specific, boring pattern: “Multiattack, Bite, Claw, Claw” or “Multiattack, Melee weapon.” The giants, for example, are remarkably similar. The only difference between the hill, fire, frost, and stone giants are reach and resistance. So, even for a CR 2 NPC like the Azer, it made sense to give it Innate Spellcasting. This gave it an underpowered ranged attack, making the Azer more interesting without making it overpowered.
  1. I’ve noticed that the player power curve beings to distance itself from the NPC power curve by 5th or 6th level. This isn’t surprising in light of the fact that the table on page 274 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Statistics by Challenge Rating, requires higher damage expressions for many higher-level monsters than what appears in the Monster Manual. My stat blocks reflect what’s in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, so expect tougher monsters. Note: I did not increase monster AC or hit points, because I didn’t want NPCs that would create seemingly interminable encounters.
  1. Legendary creatures are, across the board, interesting and well-stated out. I haven’t made any changes to the statistics of legendary creatures.
  1. The couatl is an example of a stat block that requires some discussion. Despite not being a legendary creature, when I converted the stat block to my format, it was over a page long (9-point font, 1/2” margins). There are some that are even bigger. This can be seen as a failure of monster design (i.e., it’s too complicated to expect a DM ever to use it as written) or a success of monster type. By the latter I mean that the full stat block should be seen as a starting point. You can delete spell-like abilities that you’re never going to use, leaving a smaller, more manageable, and more practical stat block. When you’ve deleted certain spell-like abilities, what’s left could be a couatl that focuses on healing, focuses on damage, or is best suited for a role-playing challenge. Or not. If you want to run it as written, go for it. I’m not barking out orders; I’m just providing some options.
  1. The further I went into the Monster Manual, the bigger the stat blocks became. High-level casters have a lot of spells.
  1. I added a suggestion for using a slaad in an otherwise boring encounter. I’ve had some fun with it and hope you do as well.
  1. For the final version, I’ve made several changes. Mostly they were pagination choices, but I had to fix my screwed up dryad (forgot some spells), and I had to correct all of the spell descriptions for Suggestion (adding the save). If you find any errors, please let me know.
  1. There’s a discussion about these stat blocks on ENWorld here. I’m making several changes based on the feedback I receive there. If you want the latest, greatest document, bookmark that discussion or this page.

And so, here is the complete set of one-stop stat blocks for 5e:

Completed October 26, 2015

Edited 10/31/2015: Added appendix showing all changes I made to stat blocks. Added a table of contents. Every stat block starts on a new page. Corrected several typographical errors due to copy-and-paste errors, including (among other things) missing powers, extraneous powers, and incorrect to-hit and damage expressions.

Edited 11/1/2015: Corrected cut-and-paste errors appearing in Hill Giant stat block. Added Hill Giant’s Rock power to errata.

Edited 11/1/2015: Added a date and time stamp so you can make sure you have the latest version. Added a spellcasting sheet for hag covens.

Edited 11/7/2015: Added the spellcasting variant of the Vampire. Corrected a typo in the Pixie stat block.

Edited 11/23/2015: Corrected the Archmage stat block to reflect that Fire Bolt as a cantrip.

Edited 12/05/2015: Corrected the Yugoloth: Nycaloth stat block to reference itself rather than the Lamia in the Mirror Image spell.

Edited 12/06/2015: Corrected the Yugoloth: Nycaloth stat block to reference itself rather than the Lamia in the Mirror Image spell (there were two errors, one of which was missed in yesterday’s edit).

Edited 12/26/2015: Incorporated the Official Monster Manual Errata from Wizards of the Coast. Corrected the Drow Elite Warrior to include poison damage in the shortsword attack.

Edited 06/01/2016: Corrected the typo in a Dao’s feature.

Edited 06/17/2016: Corrected the Fire Giant’s Burning Hands spell.

Edited 10/29/2016: Corrected both mind flayer stat blocks to reflect the property creature type (aberration) and alignment (lawful evil). 

The most recent version: Latest Versions Available Here

A “Pure” version of this document can be found here: Latest Versions Available Here

Remember, if you like what you see and want the upcoming Kobold Press bestiary to use this stat block format, pummel Wolfgang Baur with tweets saying so! He’s at @MonkeyKing on twitter, and Kobold Press is, not surprisingly, at @KoboldPress.

Happy gaming!

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Special thanks to Mike (@SlyFlourish), Vic (@Luddite_Vic), Erik (@Erik_Nowak), John (@GOPCyclist), and Rob Oz (too good for Twitter) for their insights.

C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness Encounters for 4th Edition #DnD #ADnD #RPG

As a follow up to yesterday’s post providing the converted pre-generated characters, I provide you the encounters for Ghost Tower of Inverness converted to 4th edition. Note that these encounters are designed using my dungeon crawl system for 4e.

Due to copyright law, only the mechanics of the encounters are presented. The only creative content you’ll find within is that which I created myself to update the encounters to 4th edition, but those are very few in number. This is the best adventure every written for D&D; it didn’t need my help.

Click here for C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness

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C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness Pregens for 4th Edition #DnD #ADnD #RPG

Don't say no.
Don’t say no to this guy.
Copyright (c) Wizards of the Coast

Any gamer that knows me well knows that Allen Hammock’s Ghost Tower of Inverness is my favorite RPG adventure of all time. Allen wrote it for the AD&D tournament at Wintercon VIII. I’m arranging to run my 4th Edition D&D conversion again, and that inspired me to post my versions of the pre-generated characters for that game in case my players, or anyone, wants to use them. As 4th edition is often played with 6 characters, I created my own character, Three, which I’ve provided as well. I also took some liberties with the races of the characters for the sake of stirring the pot and updating to the modern gaming community. These were created some time ago, and I’m no min/maxer, so you might want to make some modifications if you’re going to use them.

Discinque, Drow Rogue (Thief)
Hodar, Tiefling Wizard (Mage)
Lembu, Dwarf Fighter (Knight)
Li Hon, Halfling Monk
Three, Warforged Hybrid (Artificer|Swordmage)
Zinethar The Wise Half-Elf Cleric (Warforged)

If you’d like the character builder files, just let me know. WordPress won’t let me upload them here.

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#Dungeons of #Fate: A #DnD Hack of Fate Accelerated CC: @slyflourish @EvilHatOfficial #RPG

… or is it a Fate Accelerated hack of D&D? I get that confused.

Every single room had a pool in the center. "Lazy" doesn't cover it.
Every single room had a pool in the center. “Lazy” doesn’t cover it.

On New Year’s Eve, Mike Shea, a.k.a. Sly Flourish, introduced me to another game. Well, actually, he introduced me to Fate back at GenCon (via his Aeon Wave project), but being that I almost completely forgot the game rules, it felt new to me last night. Mr. Flourish (as you should address him when you meet him) has adapted Fate Accelerated to fantasy role-playing using much of the terminology/approach of 4th Edition D&D, and has labeled it “Dungeons of Fate.” He ran an abbreviated version of the classic AD&D adventure compilation, Desert of Desolation, and the system allowed him to do so with no real preparation of mechanics beforehand (quite appropriate for a Lazy DM). After the game was over, he asked me, “So, does it feel like D&D?” This one question sparked a discussion on gaming philosophy, dragging in Michelle (a.k.a., Mrs. Flourish) and another player, Brian. In the end, I think we agreed on most, if not all, of the points all of us were making, but here’s my take on what we discussed.

1. Not Everything Has to Be D&D

Dungeons of Fate didn’t feel like D&D to me, and to that we should all be collectively responding, “So what?” The only game that has to be D&D is D&D, so no matter who owns the intellectual property, they must always respect the brand or it isn’t really D&D. D&D, as the most powerful RPG intellectual property, is 6 attributes (Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, regardless in what order you present them), hit points, an armor class representing your ability to avoid damage from a hit, and a bunch of funny-shaped dice. These are the constants (among others) that must be in any edition of D&D regardless of who owns the property. This is reason #1,942 why the Edition Wars are stupid: All of the versions of D&D are “real D&D” because they all respect that rule. Whatever else is added to that base, the presence of that base makes it D&D. You don’t have to like it, but it’s still D&D.

However, Fate isn’t D&D. I couldn’t care less whether Dungeons of Fate feels like D&D.

Scratch that. I do care. I don’t want it to feel like D&D. If it did, why create it? Why didn’t Evil Hat Productions just post to their blog, “Hey, everyone, we’re not going to create a new game. Just play, D&D, okay?” They didn’t do that because they wanted to create something different. Whether you like Fate or not, the industry and community are better off because we have something different.

On the other hand, Dungeons of Fate does allow for the proper feel for a fantasy setting. That should be the more important issue to players, GMs, and Evil Hat.

2. Fate Isn’t Omnipresent, But It Has It’s Place

Reasonable minds disagree, but in my humble and honest opinion, Fate Accelerated is a horrible system for a long-term campaign. There’s no significant advancement, and the simplicity of the characters runs the risk of making them boring from a mechanical point of view. (Perhaps the full Fate Core addresses this.)

So where does that leave Fate Accelerated? Well, it leaves it in plenty of places. Not every RPG game has to be a weekly campaign lasting nine months. One-shots are a common practice, and two- and three-shots are hardly rare. Fate Accelerated certainly works for gaming groups organized that way. Personally, I’m more a fan of the two-shot or three-shot, even for D&D, so the idea of my home groups organizing around them doesn’t bother me at all. Unlike D&D, however, Dungeons of Fate requires no prep time for NPC mechanics, and if you’re focused (granted, most gamers aren’t), the entire table can have its characters ready to go in 30 minutes or less.

Mind you, these characters are exactly the characters the players want to play. If you want to play a ranger that is just as competent with melee as he is with striking, you can do that. If you want to play a “stone mage” more statute than human, go right ahead. You don’t have to worry about fitting your characters into the strict constructs provided by other RPG systems, nor do you have to wade through a seemingly infinite number of options in order to find the one strict construct that matches your character concept. You also don’t have to rewrite the rules in order to make room for your character concept. In other words, Dungeons of Fate as is gives you remarkable flexibility without having to overload you with options in order to do so.

3. On the Whole, Dungeons of Fate (and Fate Accelerated) Is Pretty Good

It all comes down to this: Is Dungeons of Fate fun? Absolutely. I really don’t like stress points. In fact, I don’t know why Fate Accelerated players do. One of Fate Accelerated’s best features is simplicity. Stress points seem to be a slight bit more complex than they need to be. I don’t get it, but I don’t have to get it, because this isn’t a deal breaker. It’s literally the only thing about Fate Accelerated I don’t like, and I don’t hate it. To a realistic game designer, that’s about the best you can ever expect; you can’t please everyone all the time. Leaving it in there still leaves me with a great time at the table.

Much like 13th Age, I encourage any RPG enthusiast to give Fate Accelerated a try, if for no other reason than this: If you every find yourself at a gaming store or convention with a hole in your schedule and you’re looking for something to do, you could always jump into a quick pick-up game of Fate. It’s as suited to that situation as a simple card or board game, yet the role-playing opportunities are just as robust as any other RPG.

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New Living Campaign for #4e #Dungeons & #Dragons #DnD #RPG #GenCon CC: @Erik_Nowak @Luddite_Vic

Information has slowly been swirling through or local Washington, DC gaming community, and to a lesser extent, beyond that. The Gamers’ Syndicate has put synDCon on hold and is focusing its efforts instead on something that you can enjoy all year round: A living campaign for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. Many 4e players feel that there’s still more to do with 4e, just as 3rd Edition players felt there was more to do with 3e, and we’re seeking to give 4e players that same opportunity that Paizo gave the 3e players with Pathfinder and, more to the point, Pathfinder Society.

Living Campaign

For those of you that don’t know what a “living campaign” is, I point you to the Wikipedia entry, because Wikipedia never lies. Actually, “living campaign” is often defined differently by different people. To me, the most important aspect of a living campaign is allowing all of us to meet each other. In other words, it grows the role-playing game community; however, there are other important aspects to it. It allows the players to shape the campaign world even though their playing pre-written adventures. That is, if the majority of players accomplished a task in one adventure, that fact will be tracked by the authors and shape how future adventures are written. What the players do matters, even though they’re sharing the experience with thousands of players worldwide.

The Campaign Setting

Every campaign needs a campaign setting: a world that needs protecting and sometimes saving. Some famous examples of Dungeons & Dragons campaign settings include Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms, Keith Baker’s Eberron, and Gary Gygax’s (everyone bow, right now!) Greyhawk. Our campaign setting hasn’t yet been named, but it’s one of our own design, spearheaded by the devious mind of Erik Nowak (who, if you recall, brought us Rotting Toes). Erik premiered the first two adventures (co-written by Dave Phillips) for this campaign setting at synDCon I and synDCon II. The setting is high fantasy, but not quite that high. Characters will use inherent bonuses so that acquiring magic items won’t be critical, and when they are acquired, they’ll be special.

We’re also introducing a mechanic for tracking a character’s reputation in the kingdom, and have a fairly ambitious plan in the works, but those are topics for later posts.

GenCon 2013

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ll be running the two introductory adventures at GenCon this year, which serves as a sneak preview of the campaign. However, we’re working on the first four adventures, so we’re on track for an official start not too far in the future. Stay tuned.

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#GenCon Indy, 2013! #gaming #games #RPG #TDA CC: @Luddite_Vic

For the first time, I’m going to GenCon and not working for Baldman Games. (You should work for them if you like Dungeons & Dragons. They give great rewards for running games.) I’m just going to play (though I’m running four slots). I’m honestly not sure how much gaming I’ll want to do. I might get bored and do something else. In any case, like all the other con-goers, I sat there at my computer just waiting for the countdown clock to strike zero at noon. I was lucky enough to be assigned #738 in the queue. Anything under 1,000 is lucky as all hell, and as a result, I got everything I wanted. This includes two puzzle-oriented True Dungeon adventures and a few role-playing games, none of which I’ve ever before played. Isn’t that what GenCon is supposed to be about: Trying new games? That’s my philosophy. I bought an extra ticket for each of the True Dungeon adventures, so I can help out a friend get into the game.

My current GenCon schedule is below. I have absolutely no complaints.

Wednesday: Fate Core (RPG1345241) at 8pm

Thursday: Dungeon World (RPG1341359) at 1pm, then the One Ring (RPG1343873) at 8pm.

Friday: True Dungeon (Lycan’s Afoot, TDA1348116) at 9:37am, then running the Gamers’ Syndicate new living campaign adventures at 1pm (RPG1343708) and 7pm (RPG1343710).

Saturday: True Dungeon (Golembane, TDA1348648) at 9:39am, then running the Gamers’ Syndicate new living campaign adventures at 1pm (RPG1343709) and 7pm (RPG1343711).

Sunday: A seminar on game design (SEM1346700) at 10am, then Far Trek RPG (RPG1342003) at noon.

This schedule lets me sleep in for the most part, and gives me plenty of time to roam the halls and keep myself fed. Let me know if you’re in any of my games.

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