Spell Components @Erik_Nowak @brian_c_taylor #DnD #RPG #5e

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I had a brief interaction with Erik on Twitter (yes, him again) within the context of 5th Edition D&D (“5e”).

Material Components

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I stand by my statement but want to clarify it. The spell, Fly, has a single material component: a feather. As Erik mentioned, Heroes’ Feast has a significant one: A bowl worth 1,000 gps. The reason there’s a distinction between the material components for these items is that Heroes’ Feast is far more powerful in the long run. It’s a 6th-level spell vs. a 3rd-level spell, so there needs to be something to balance that effect. This is obvious. What’s less obvious is that the bowl has to be encrusted with jewels, which requires a long process by a skilled craftsman. That’s a spell component with far more limited availability than “a wing feather from any bird.” Such scarcity puts a check on overpowered spells, or at least an overpowered application of such spells.

This isn’t rules lawyering; it’s game mechanics. If you don’t want game mechanics, why are you playing a game?

If a DM tracks material components that have a high financial or logistical cost but largely ignores those with a low cost, game balance is maintained without turning the game into a spreadsheet. It also gives players another strategic dimension. A player must choose between having to collect 1,000 gp bowls to heal up and fortify defenses, or an offensive implement that prevents that damage in the first place. The decision isn’t merely mechanical; it also affects what kind of character a player wants to play.

Somatic and Verbal Components

Speaking of strategy, non-monetary components are also important. Ignoring components robs players of some of the fun. For example, Shatter has a verbal component. That makes sense. You shout to produce sound waves, then magically manipulate those waves to produce the damaging effect. If you remove that requirement, then the Silence spell is completely nerfed for combat, and with few remaining useful applications, the spell will largely be ignored by players. This means that everyone reverts to the same, short list of spells they choose. That’s boring (q.v., though it’s what’s happened for other reasons). This isn’t boring: Because NPCs may use Silence to prevent casting spells, PCs are given yet another strategy to consider during character design.

221 Casting Spell Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

The same is true of somatic components. Most players ignore somatic components when their PCs have been placed in shackles or tied together. PCs should have to pay attention to the components required by the spells they’ve chosen and make sure they haven’t placed their eggs in too many baskets. That is, they must make sure that some spells have no material components, some have no somatic components, and some have no verbal components. Do enough such spells exist?

How This Impacts Game Design

If there’s a problem here, it’s probably that there are too many spells with verbal or somatic components, so there’s no effective strategy to be had.

Let’s test that hypothesis.

As you may recall, I have a database of all 5e spells that I created for my one stop stat blocks project. You can find details for my methodology buried within this post, but I’ll point out that there are a total of 457 spells in those sources (deleting duplicates between the Elemental Evil’s Player Companion and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything). A simple query gives me the following:

 Number (Percentage)
V52 (11.38%)
VS149 (32.60%)
VM11 (2.41%)
VSM220 (48.14%)
S17 (3.72%)
SM8 (1.75%)
Number (Percentage) of Spells by Combination of Components Required

Material components are required by over 52% of spells, but never is there a spell that can be cast by a caster who’s bound and gagged but manages to pull a material component out of a hidden pocket. That is, there are no spells that require only a material component. 15% of spells can be cast with either a verbal or somatic component by itself, so those spells should be quite useful if material components are tracked. Almost 95% of spells require a verbal component, and over 84% require a somatic component. Clearly, the game designers didn’t intend for casters to be able to cast while bound and/or gagged.

SourceLevelSpell
Player’s Handbook8Demiplane
Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravinca0Encode Thoughts
Elemental Evil Player’s Guide0Control Flames
Elemental Evil Player’s Guide0Mold Earth
Elemental Evil Player’s Guide0Shape Water
Elemental Evil Player’s Guide0Thunderclap
Elemental Evil Player’s Guide1Absorb Elements
Elemental Evil Player’s Guide1Catapult
Elemental Evil Player’s Guide1Ice Knife
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything0Primal Savagery
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything1Snare
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything2Mind Spike
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything3Catnap
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything5Steel Wind Strike
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything6Mental Prison
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything8Illusory Dragon
Xanathar’s Guide to Everything9Psychic Scream
Spells requiring no verbal component.

I’d like to think that having a verbal component to, for example, a Power Word spell is more a question of flavor than mechanics. Even if that’s the normal approach, playtesters were probably forced to abide by the relevant rules when playtesting, and so the balance in the game was inevitably shaken out requiring components in most scenarios.

Consider that one of my criticisms of how D&D monsters are designed is that they all use the same spell selection. This list of spells is heavily weighted towards spells that are either overpowered or simple to remember without having to look up their details. For the first five levels, here are the top five spells by use by NPCs in the relevant sourcebooks (“preferred spells”). I skipped preferred spells higher than 5th level because there are far too few of those spells even used for a “top 5” list to make any sense, and besides, above 5th level none of those spells are used more than 8 times in all the sourcebooks combined.

  • Cantrips: Mage Hand, Prestidigitation, Light, Minor Illusion, Ray of Frost
  • 1st: Shield, Detect Magic, Magic Missile, Mage Armor, Cure Wounds
  • 2nd: Hold Person, Invisibility, Detect Thoughts, Misty Step, Scorching Ray
  • 3rd: Dispel Magic, Counterspell, Fireball, Lightning Bolt, Fly
  • 4th: Dimension Door, Banishment, Stoneskin, Blight, Polymorph
  • 5th: Scrying, Hold Monster, Cloudkill, Wall of Force, Cone of Cold

I’ve played with hundreds of different people through organized play, organized weekly game days across the Washington, DC area for a gaming club over about 250 members, and ran a convention for a couple of years. In my anecdotal experience, this is nearly identical to the list used by PCs, but I can’t technically prove that. Almost no one responds to my polls. 🙂

So, just for shits and giggles, let’s look at what happens to the numbers above when we limit ourselves to preferred spells.

 Number (Percentage)
V2 (6.67%)
VS11 (36.67%)
VM1 (3.33%)
VSM14 (46.67%)
S1 (3.33%)
SM1 (3.33%)
Number (Percentage) of Common Spells by Combination of Components Required

The numbers are too small to take too seriously, but they look about the same with the exception of spells requiring only verbal components (only Dimension Door and Misty Step). In case you’re curious, Counterspell is the only preferred spell requiring only a somatic component. So, preferred spells can be even more often nerfed if we enforce components. If we do so, perhaps we’ll see a more varied suite of spells at the table, but not by much in 5e. There don’t seem to be many alternatives that avoid the need for particular components.

What Have We Learned? Not Much.

I think this was a bit of work to say simply that the game was balanced during playtesting under a strong assumption that casters could be nerfed, especially by one another. Not enforcing components just further aggravates the existing problem of only a few spells ever being used. In the end, I’m sure people are having fun even if they don’t worry about components, but if a DM wants to remove spell components, I’d much rather see the DM remove them to urge players to choose spells other than the ones on the preferred (spell list, giving several spells the ability to be cast with only one type of component.

Food for thought for game designers of the future and those willing to do the work in changing 5e now.

Variety is the spice of life.

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WotC’s New Stat Block Format @Erik_Nowak @Wizards_DnD #copyright #DnD #RPG #5e

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I had a discussion during Winter Vantasy: The Return with Erik with respect to Wizards of the Coast’s (“WotC”) new stat block format. The new stat block has some rearranging of material, but that wasn’t the subject matter of the conversation. We were discussing the removal of spells and spell-like abilities from the new WotC stat block. Erik doesn’t like it and referenced my concerns about the complexity within the current stat block format. Erik referred to my position as “ridiculous,” but WotC’s switch proves that Erik’s view is the minority one. I didn’t have a large enough internet footprint to prove it on my own. More importantly, however, Erik understandably mischaracterized my position. I wasn’t saying that the Monster Manual got it wrong. In fact, quite the opposite. I’ve mentioned before that I think it’s the best RPG bestiary I’ve ever read. My concern is that WotC didn’t supplement it properly, then attempted to shut me down when I did.

Important Note: I’m not 100% certain that WotC’s stat blocks have been changed in the way we’re all assuming they were. I’ve seen a sample of the new format (below), but it was for a low level creature whose stat block would be simple anyway. Thus, this discussion comes from a place of partial ignorance, and I may get some things wrong. Take this all with a grain of salt.

When you look at a complex stat block (e.g., Mummy Lord), unless you have a truly eidetic or nearly eidetic memory, there’s no way you can effectively run that stat block as written, especially if the encounter is a combat encounter. There’s too much going on, and what we’ve all seen (and I actually got Erik to admit to an extent!) is that every DM just gives up and resorts to using the common spells they all know: Magic Missile, Hold Person, Fireball, Counterspell, etc., even for higher spell slots. Why? Well, first you must figure out which sourcebook contains the spell in order to look it up. If it isn’t a Player’s Handbook spell, you may not know, so you wind up searching through a couple of books before finding the correct one. Second, you must read the spell, which could take a while if it’s not one like Fly. If it were a spell like Fly, you may not have to look it up at all, which is why Fly is one of the spells to which DMs eventually resort. Something like Control Weather has far too much going on for most people to memorize. Erik is sometimes willing to do that, but there are very few players whose eyes don’t glaze over with boredom during that long process. Moreover, if you’re playing with a real-world time limit (e.g., convention play), that’s certainly not time you have to waste. At the table, the spell’s details should be right in front of your face. I don’t understand why anyone would disagree, and those with eidetic memories shouldn’t care one way or the other.

That said, in theory these stat blocks provide a framework for the culture of that creature. (In my second stat block/copyright post, I mathematically proved that WotC fails to do so, but that’s not relevant here.) So, the Monster Manual itself shouldn’t eliminate that complexity (I know; WotC can’t win with me), but rather use it as a framework for creating specific monsters within that cultural framework but suited to the encounter at hand. That last sentence is a tough read, so here’s an example. (I’m going from my memory, which is not eidetic.) The Couatl has both offensive and divination spells. If your encounter involved the Couatl using Detect Thoughts to aid in an interrogation, then you wouldn’t need the Couatl to have Shield. On the other hand, that position would be reversed if the Couatl were to engage in combat against the PCs (i.e., it would need Shield but I don’t think, from memory, Detect Thoughts would have value). The Monster Manual stat block provides you the spells a Couatl needs for all situations, but not every Couatl will appear in all situations. In fact, I doubt any will unless the Couatl is a PC, but a Couatl PC is clearly not what I’m talking about. For NPCs at the table, you need only the spells that that specific NPC will need in that specific encounter. Everything else muddies the water. However, it’s good that all situations are covered by the general stat block in the Monster Manual, because that’s what you use to build such table-based stat blocks.

So, in my ideal world, this is how WotC (or any game designer with sufficient resources) should approach their stat blocks. Make them as complex as WotC did in the Monster Manual, using only spell names as shorthand to make the stat block printable, but modify their online tools with check boxes allowing DMs to pick which spells and spell-like abilities appear on a final stat block at the table (whether in hard or soft copy). For that final stat block at the table, make sure that the spell descriptions are presented fully so that there’s no need to resort to multiple hardcopy resources to know details that are relevant to the combat, but at the same time make sure that the stat block isn’t cluttered with irrelevant details. If there are no online tools, provide one-stop stat blocks for all NPCs (as I did) as a PDF. They could also provide PDFs containing generic spell entries with coded placeholders such as, “Magic Missile, Atk: [L]+3+IntMod, . . . .” (or whatever it is), so that DMs could copy and paste them into their own stat blocks as needed. All my project did was the one part of that process that I could, which is something WotC didn’t do.

I fully appreciate that some (most?) game designers can’t do this. Online tools are a huge investment of time and resources they may not have, but some in the gaming community do. Game designers simply need to stay out of the way and allow the community to do that heavy lifting for them. On the other hand, WotC has both the time and resources to create this ideal that appeals to the most people, but they’re still getting it wrong, probably because there’s more profit in selling a new hardcopy (which I suspect will be very good nonetheless).

So yeah, WotC can’t win with me, but only because they’re choosing to lose. We’ll see how the final product shakes out.

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Twitter-Inspired Thoughts, Part I: This is Why the 5th Edition D&D Monster Manual is My Favorite RPG Bestiary @newbiedm @Dm_LSP @MerricB #DnD #5e

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Last Saturday, I tweeted the following.

All of those discussions were inspired by or involved NewbieDM, S Keldor lord of Castle Greyskull DMLSP (that’s a mouthful), Roving Band of Misfits, and Merric Blackman. I can say that NewbieDM and Merric are good at doing that; I’ve never interacted with S Keldor. Note that while I’ll be quoting them in these posts, much like my brain at 3 am acknowledged about me, I can’t do their arguments justice either. You’ll have to click through to see everything they’ve said. My only purpose here is to express my own opinions while providing context for their genesis and giving credit to those that inspired them. If you want to know what they think, click through and ask them to clarify.

To keep my posts short, each issue will be dealt with in its own post, all with this same introduction. | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV |Part V |

Part 1: This is Why the 5th Edition D&D Monster Manual is My Favorite RPG Bestiary

The 4e and 5e Monster Manuals took opposite approaches to how they loaded them with monsters. Very generally, and something you all already know, the Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition Monster Manual (let’s just say MM going forward) sacrificed variety for detail. The 4eMM1 (get it?) was the first bestiary we had for 4e, yet it didn’t include some iconic monsters such as metallic dragons and frost giants. No frost giants?!?! Even a 4e apologist like me (stay focused!) complained. The trade off was that there was more room to discuss the ecology and history of the monsters that were included, and there were more stat blocks for each of those creatures within that group. Plus, we got humans as monsters. 😐

Bill Murray - Imgflip

5e took the opposite approach. With only a few exceptions, such as dragons, giants, and slaadi (I get a smug sense of satisfaction for knowing the proper plural form of slaad), we got no ecology or history and only one stat block per monster. This provided a lot of variety but considering how hard it is for new DMs to create monsters in 5e (compared to 4e), it was initially frustrating. On the bright side, they had room to give us the flumph. 😐

Bill Murray - Imgflip

Ironically, it would seem that WotC should have taken opposite approaches in both situations, giving us only one, easily-leveled monster for 4e, but giving us multiple monsters for 5e so that we didn’t have to figure out how to create them. But didn’t they? Foreshadowing!

Enough complaining. Considering the title of this post, there must be a happy ending. As a result of my one-stop stat blocks project, I have in my possession something that I’ll never publish: a Word document containing my treatment of all of the 5eMM stat blocks, including ones that aren’t actually in the 5eMM (i.e., variant giant lizards, diseased giant rats, cave bear, and variant insect swarms). That is, I recreated by rote every single stat block in the 5eMM and then some. That gave me some perspective that I’m not sure one can have without at least intently reading the book cover to cover relatively rapidly.

Reskinning monsters is pretty easy in 5e. Here are two examples. First, let’s look at the giants. Before my stat block project, I was arguing with a friend (let’s call him Rob #247). He didn’t like the 5eMM, and I did. He complained that all the giants were the same: weapon attack, throw a rock, and multiattack. He found it boring and uncreative. I don’t think that’s fair. First, it’s actually important that the giants are very similar. It gives a sense that the giants were related evolutionarily speaking. Granted, You have to suspend quite a bit of disbelief in order to play D&D, but when logic is successfully applied, it triggers our instincts for familiarity and order. Second, when you visit the glacial rift of the frost giant Jarl, you don’t expect to see many, if any, fire giants, stone giants, etc. Maybe you’ll see one other giant type who’s an envoy from his leader (such as the cloud giant ambassador in Steading of the Hill Giant Chief), but that’s about it. That means that you can easily adapt the stat blocks for the other giants into the ones you need, even at different CRs , without appearing to use the same stat blocks over and over. There are plenty of other creatures with similar formats (e.g., cyclopes) that can be used as any form of giant.

Let’s now consider the kraken. Maybe you want to unleash it (yeah, I know) on your PCs, but that’s not an option for low level characters. What do you do? Well, have a giant octopus capsize their raft. Still too high a level? Then have a rock capsize the raft, and send a bunch of octopuses (octopi isn’t an English word) attack them. Maybe such a low level encounter isn’t that high a priority for your adventure, making ordinary octopi (octopodes also isn’t an English word) unimportant, but if your BBEG is a kraken, they become important as a means of foreshadowing or providing a theme. Need a lower-CR treant? Try the awakened tree.

The bottom line: The stat blocks are connected in such a way that you realistically have several stat blocks at different CRs that can be trivially adapted to represent the monsters you want. Because the 5eMM went almost 100% in the direction it did, the connections are far better than I’ve ever seen in a bestiary. You don’t just have to reskin some unrelated monster. You can reskin something that’s really close to it both mechanically and thematically, no matter which one you choose. That makes the game far more accessible for DMs than it otherwise would be.

Talk about foreshadowing! My thoughts on accessibility are the topic of the next post!

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One-Stop Stat Blocks for 5th Edition D&D: Tales #DnD #RPG

Here are the latest one-stop stat blocks for the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Tales of the Yawning Portal. The file is in PDF format and contains bookmarks. If you find any errors, please let me know.

OSSB Yawning Portal

If you’re curious as to the legality of this project, please see my long-winded posts on the matter.

Part 1: Stat Blocks
Part 2: Spell Descriptions
Part 3: The OGL
Part 3.5: A Mild Retraction
Part 4: FAQ/FRI

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed this product.

One-Stop Stat Blocks for 5th Edition D&D: Tomb #DnD #RPG

Here are the latest one-stop stat blocks for the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Tomb of Annihilation. The file is in PDF format and contains bookmarks. If you find any errors, please let me know.

OSSB Tomb of Annihilation

If you’re curious as to the legality of this project, please see my long-winded posts on the matter.

Part 1: Stat Blocks
Part 2: Spell Descriptions
Part 3: The OGL
Part 3.5: A Mild Retraction
Part 4: FAQ/FRI

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed this product.

One-Stop Stat Blocks for 5th Edition D&D: Saltmarsh #DnD #RPG

Here are the latest one-stop stat blocks for the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Ghosts of Saltmarsh. The file is in PDF format and contains bookmarks. If you find any errors, please let me know.

OSSB Saltmarsh

If you’re curious as to the legality of this project, please see my long-winded posts on the matter.

Part 1: Stat Blocks
Part 2: Spell Descriptions
Part 3: The OGL
Part 3.5: A Mild Retraction
Part 4: FAQ/FRI

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed this product.

One-Stop Stat Blocks for 5th Edition D&D: Ravnica #DnD #RPG

Here are the latest one-stop stat blocks for the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica. The file is in PDF format and contains bookmarks. If you find any errors, please let me know.

OSSB Ravnica

If you’re curious as to the legality of this project, please see my long-winded posts on the matter.

Part 1: Stat Blocks
Part 2: Spell Descriptions
Part 3: The OGL
Part 3.5: A Mild Retraction
Part 4: FAQ/FRI

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed this product.

One-Stop Stat Blocks for 5th Edition D&D: Mad Mage #DnD #RPG

Here are the latest one-stop stat blocks for the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon of the Mad Mage. The file is in PDF format and contains bookmarks. If you find any errors, please let me know.

OSSB Mad Mage

If you’re curious as to the legality of this project, please see my long-winded posts on the matter.

Part 1: Stat Blocks
Part 2: Spell Descriptions
Part 3: The OGL
Part 3.5: A Mild Retraction
Part 4: FAQ/FRI

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed this product.

One-Stop Stat Blocks for 5th Edition D&D: Dragon Heist #DnD #RPG

Here are the latest one-stop stat blocks for the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Dragon Heist. The file is in PDF format and contains bookmarks. If you find any errors, please let me know.

OSSB Dragon Heist

If you’re curious as to the legality of this project, please see my long-winded posts on the matter.

Part 1: Stat Blocks
Part 2: Spell Descriptions
Part 3: The OGL
Part 3.5: A Mild Retraction
Part 4: FAQ/FRI

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed this product.

One-Stop Stat Blocks for 5th Edition D&D: Tome of Foes #DnD #RPG

Here are the latest one-stop stat blocks for the 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. The file is in PDF format and contains bookmarks. If you find any errors, please let me know.

OSSB Tome of Foes

If you’re curious as to the legality of this project, please see my long-winded posts on the matter.

Part 1: Stat Blocks
Part 2: Spell Descriptions
Part 3: The OGL
Part 3.5: A Mild Retraction
Part 4: FAQ/FRI

Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed this product.