The Other D&D: Deities and Demigods @SerpentineOwl @Luddite_Vic #ADnD #DnD #RPG #MythologyMonday #MythologyMonandæg #folklore

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Every now and then, someone posts to a D&D group asking how everyone used Deities & Demigods in your games. The question almost always refers to 1st Edition D&D (“1e”). I suspect the reason for that is 1) many people that used it as kids so (like me) their answers will depend on how long ago they played; and 2) later editions of D&D overtly incorporated combat with divine creatures, or their avatars, for epic level adventurers. I’ve also played 3rd Edition D&D (“3e”), 4th Edition D&D (“4e”), and 5th Edition D&D (“5e”), so I’m going to address all of them.

Yes, there’s a clear pattern in my abbreviations, but this is how lawyers write.

1e

As a kid, I loved reading mythology before I had even heard of D&D. Mythology is what drew me in, so of course I was going to use Deities and Demigods anyway I could. I remember during my earliest days (1977 or 1978), I created a list of 100 (or so) magic items from that sourcebook (e.g., Thor’s hammer, Enlil’s helm), and each PC was permitted to roll a d100 to determine their starting magic weapon. Yes, a 7th-level level character could wield Zeus’s Aegis. As an adult, this sounds stupid, but there’s no wrong way to play D&D, right? We had fun with it.

Hiatus

I stopped playing D&D in 1982 due to the Satanic Panic, so no 2nd Edition or 3rd Edition D&D for me.

3.5e

I returned to the game of D&D in 2005, and 3.5e was the current edition. I never played or ran epic level for 3.5e, so that edition’s Deities and Demigods was nothing more than reading material. I sold off almost all my 3e materials when 4e came out, but when I repurchased some for posterity, I made sure to grab that one (actually, it was gifted to me by James). I love that book, but what stood out the most to me about it was the transition to Horus as the supreme leader of the Egyptian pantheon. Like the real world, leadership switched. But I never used it in game.

Side Note: I really wish I’d never sold Hordes of the Abyss or Tyrants of the Nine Hells. They’re great resources valuable in any edition, but buying them now would be a horrible waste of money.

4e

There was no 4e Deities and Demigods. Divine creatures, or their avatars (DM’s choice as to which), appeared throughout various monster manuals, and they were designed as encounters for epic level creatures. Basically, Wizards of the Coast (“WotC”) surrendered to the notion that a lot of us wanted to face the divine, and it became part of the game. How the monster was interpreted – the actual creature or just an avatar – was a matter for the DM to decide, but they were there. Well, a few of them. I don’t recall WotC publishing gods beyond their own proprietary pantheons. I believe you had to go to third parties for that material, and sometimes it wasn’t right on point (e.g., Soldiers of Fortune had a Thor equivalent, but he wasn’t called “Thor”).

Going Backwards

Now that I’m going backwards, I must decide how to deal with divine creatures. They aren’t baked into the scheme like they are with 4e. In fact, as some have pointed out, it really should be impossible for PCs to compete against the divine on their home plane, which is the only place where they can finally be defeated. Once you leave the Prime Material Plane, many spells don’t work or are severely weakened. The environment itself works against the PCs but is home sweet home for divine creatures. There’s no upper limit to class levels for PCs, so eventually PCs should be able to fight the divine within the rules, but who’s going to level up to level 1,000? No one, and isn’t advancement through adventuring the real fun of the game? I’m not just going to say, “Okay, you’re all 1,000th level. Let’s go fight some gods.” I’m also not going to rewrite the rules in some odd way to make divine encounters more practical. It’s assumed that DMs will tweak the rules a bit, but eventually that reaches a point where we aren’t playing D&D anymore. That doesn’t interest me.

Of course, I don’t have to make my decision anytime soon. In fact, I may never have to make it. Once I sit down at the table, I may lose interest in 1e quickly. We’ll see.

Shameless Plug

This isn’t much of a plug, but here it goes. Luddite Vic and I are designing our own RPG. It’ll never see the commercial light of day because we don’t meet frequently enough to get it done. However, the system so far is, unsurprisingly, exactly what I want from an RPG. One of our design schemes relevant here is to make sure that PCs can emulate characters from mythology, folklore, or literature even at first level. I’ve never seen that in an RPG.

For example, how might one emulate Thor in 5e? One less-than-ideal option would be a hammer-wielding human tempest cleric, but that cleric would barely be distinguishable from any other cleric build until 3rd level, and even then, it’s going to take a while before it’s obvious to other players what you’re trying to do. You could just tell them, but if you need to do that, you’re not really playing Thor yet. What about Tarzan? How long would a half-naked, dagger-wielding barbarian last in a game of 5e?

In our system, everyone would know from the get-go exactly what you were doing with your lightning/thunder-based, hammer-wielding, human tempest, or a half-naked, dagger-wielding barbarian, even though those characters wouldn’t be any more or less powerful than any other 1st-level characters. That’s the real solution, but I know of no other game that does that. One game was mentioned to me where the PCs are the gods, but from what I understand, they don’t start as anything resembling 1st-level for other RPGs. That’s not bad, but it’s not the same thing. I want to start as first level with that character concept and earn divinity.

That’s how I’d prefer to “use Deities and Demigods.” I shouldn’t need to. I should be able to make the PCs and NPCs exactly what I need them to be. But in 1e, they’re just avatars.

Maybe someday Vic and I will finish our game.

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Tales of Arcana 5e Race Guide @TalesofArcanaRP #5e #DnD #RPG

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Sundays now are lazy days for me. I either post something silly or other people’s work. Usually both. Today, it’s an advertisement of sorts. I was a legal consultant for the Tales of Arcana 5e Race Guide. I have an advanced copy, and it took me by surprise because I didn’t know much about what was going to be inside. At times, I found myself laughing out loud and some of the 200 playable races this resource provides.

Great stuff, and it appears to have something for everyone. Whether your a goofy bastard like me or someone that takes their game seriously, I suspect there’ll be something in there for you.

For now, it’s a PDF, but there’ll be a hardcover release.

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It’s Roleplaying Cats and Dogs! #Caturday

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File this under, “What?”

Apparently, a line of miniatures inspired it’s own RPG universe. These aren’t anthropomorphic races, but rather the animals themselves roleplayed as PCs. Again, what? The Kickstarter was successful, so if this is your thing, go for it.

Why would anyone want to roleplay a pathetic animal like a dog. Be a cat. Have an ego and kill something.

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My Favorite TTRPG Characters @slyflourish @alphastream #DnD #3e #4e #5e #RPG

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Writing yesterday’s post gave me the idea for this post. Here’s a list of my favorite RPG characters.

D&D 3.5 Edition: Frylock

This is my favorite character of all time even though I’m not a fan of 3rd edition. I left D&D in 1981 due to the Satanic Panic and returned in 2005. Frylock was the first character I created in my glorious return, which was for a Living Greyhawk game day. He was a half-elf warmage with a couple of levels in rogue. I’m not sure if I played correctly by the rules, but this was an awesome character, combining the rogues sneak attack damage with high-damage touch spells. He was high charisma, manipulative, and arrogant as hell, except for that one time he met his match. He ran into Teos’s character, Ambrosia, in whose hands Frylock was like putty. He was also a terror in combat, which was helpful considering that I’ve almost never built a character for combat. Spoon-feeding me competent character design helps keep my fellow players happy with my combat performance. If I was cheating to do it, this would explain why no one called me out for it.

For over a decade, my license plate was Frylock. That shouldn’t surprise any of you.

I’ve never been able to duplicate the feel of this character since 3rd edition. The closest I came was the supremely underpowered sorcerer-assassin hybrid in 4th edition. Maybe if I cheated, I could’ve done that in other editions. 🙂

D&D 4th Edition: Rizzen Pharn

4e is the only edition of any RPG I’ve ever played in which I loved play leaders (i.e., healers). After playing the Warlord pre-gen at some convention, I knew that would be the case. My first character I built on my own was the Drow, Rizzen. He was an Inspiring Warlord, and due to Commander’s Strike, it didn’t matter whether I rolled well on my d20s. I just gave my attacks to other people, than used my minor action to heal everyone. Suddenly, I was the most popular player on the table. I can’t remember any personality quirks I gave him. I doubt I did. At this point, 4e was new, and the character builds leant themselves inherently to personalities probably due to the emphasis on roles (i.e., controller, defender, leader, striker). I didn’t feel the need to spice it up.

D&D 4th Edition: Doofus Pharn and Snuggles

Doofus was Rizzen’s brother, and he was a beastmaster ranger. That was a really good class. Combined with the class’s features, my choice of powers gave me the ability to race across the length of a standard battle map in a single turn. The first time I did this was a disaster. I was all by myself surrounded by enemies with no actions left to fight or “ink.” Once I got the hang of the character, that mobility was remarkable. His DPS was also pretty good. His companion was a jaguar named Snuggles, and using the companion, Rizzen was able to set up his own flanks without the help of any PCs. Just like Frylock, I didn’t have to build the character for combat efficiency. The race and class combination handled that for me.

D&D 4th Edition: Luigi Deleonardis

Luigi was a riot. He was the stereotype of a senile old man, and I played him to a tee. He was a brawling fighter, which meant his primary combat tactic was “rassling.” He had a belt buckle with Kord’s holy symbol on it. He didn’t worship Kord; they grew up together. Sure, Kord was a bit younger than Luigi, but Luigi took him under his wing and showed him the ropes. He felt bad for the little guy.

Initially, Luigi always annoyed other players because they thought he’d be useless, but here’s a quick story of how I avoided that. The party had to convince wood elves to let them through their woodlands. Skill challenge! Everyone went with diplomacy or bluff, but not Luigi. As he was about to engage with the elven leader, he suddenly had a squirrel moment and decided to climb a tree. As a fighter, my Athletics was pretty high, and I (uncharacteristically) rolled well. My physical prowess was remarkably impressive, so I passed that check. When we came around again, the entire challenge came down to my roll. I was one of only two players that had to roll twice in the challenge. My (perceived) age allowed me to tell an impressive story of the gods, and with a natural 20, I saved the day. In that same adventure, the ultimate mission was to rescue a kidnapped woman, and as Luigi often did, he told that woman that she reminded him of his great, great, great, great granddaughter’s . . . granddaughter. That gave Luigi the incentive to protect her directly, which is exactly what a fighter is supposed to do.

My unorthodox style never held me back, but it always provided comic relief.

D&D 5th Edition: Balasar Kimbatuul

Balasar was a gold dragonborn battle master fighter who played the bongos, and by that I mean that I went to Toys ‘R Us and bought a set of bongs to play at the table. I created him for Sly Flourish’s Horde of the Dragon Queen campaign, and somewhere on slyflourish.com is a picture of me playing those bongos. The first leg of the campaign is a really tedious slog with little opportunity to rest and recover abilities. The rat swarm was particularly annoying, but the first leg ends with a blue dragonborn, Lennithon, calling out one of us for a one-on-one fight. I spontaneously shouted out, “Honor duel!” That became Balasar’s thing. He’s always pick the baddest NPC on the battlefield and convinced that NPC to duel him. It wasn’t through some class or racial feature, but purely through role-play, which Mike facilitated. In such a situation, it’s easy to outshine your fellow players by grabbing all the glory. I honestly don’t believe that ever happened. Besides the fact that my dice are weighted towards low numbers, so I was often knocked out, Sly Flourish is literally the best DM I ever had. He allows everyone to play as they want to play, and yet characters rarely stole each others’ thunder, nor did players annoy each other. As players, we deserve some of the credit for that, but most of it goes to Mike, and I like to remind him how grateful I am for his talent as a DM. I was in his home game for many years and play-tested most (all?) of his published work during that time.

D&D 5th Edition: Portia Tossgobble

Portia was one of four members of the Tossgobble family I created. Because I can play only one of them at a time, they never met in-game, but they were all siblings. Portia was a halfling, kensai monk in the D&D Adventurer’s League. Because I play once per year, I forgot most of her details. I was playing her at Winter Fantasy, and we needed someone to steer a ship. It suddenly occurred to me that she had a sailor background, so with a natural 20 on my attempt to steer the ship . . . well, let’s just say I finally had the opportunity to yell, “Ramming speed!” The adventure’s treasure included a perfect item for her: a +1 trident. All I need now is a magic item or feature of some sort that allows her to breath water, and she can rule however many seas Faerun has.

I could go on, but I won’t. Maybe I’ll remember some other fun characters and share them in a future post. I liked my occultist in 13th Age (another Sly Flourish campaign), but I was on my last legs as an RPG player at that point. My memory and my thrill in creating meaningful characters waned during that time.

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that all of these characters were D&D characters.

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Twitter-Inspired Thoughts, Part V: 4th Edition Combat #DnD #4e

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| Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V |

I didn’t think I’d write a part V, but here we are. Once again, I’m my own inspiration.

Inside information: I made up that rule number.

I’m going to expand on this thought. For proper context, I point you to my post on how I prefer to play D&D and my dungeon crawl system PDF. Because neither of my two non-spam followers are going to click through, here’s the gist of them. Dungeon Crawl System: I created a system for 4th edition D&D that quickens combats and removes the annoyance known as the 2-hour adventuring day. (Your number of hours may vary.) My Approach to D&D: While I can enjoy a good combat, I prefer role-playing a quirky character to rolling dice, immersing myself in the game world and taking interest in even the most mundane of NPCs. That limited context will have to do if you don’t want to click thorough.

If you’re in combat and roll a natural 20, what have you accomplished? I’m not talking about your character; I’m talking about you, the player. What did you accomplish? Rolling a 20 (or any hit) is just a matter of random chance for the player, so while it represents a character’s achievement, the player hasn’t done anything of note. That’s why I prefer puzzles, moral dilemmas, and the like. They’re a challenge for me, the player. This doesn’t mean combats are useless in this regard. One thing we accomplish in all aspects of the game is that we’re telling a cool story. I just prefer that in doing so, we’re more screenwriters than moviegoers. I want to be the one writing most of the story rather than have random chance present it to me. That is, I prefer to moderate random chance so that it provides tension without overwhelming the story.

4e changed things for me. I actually enjoyed combats because winning a combat felt like I was accomplishing something. The tactics were intricate. I had to cooperate with my team of PCs to defeat the tactics of the DM, just like what you’d do in the real world.

See the source image

Damn, that sounds nerdy. I know real life combat is very different. I’ve trained in the martial arts since I was 14. I’m just drawing an analogy. The point is that you have to use your brain and employ sound tactics in 4e D&D. It seems so strange to me that one of the most common criticisms of 4e is that it’s a combat simulator that sacrifices role-play. The mechanics of 4e kind of made role-playing a character part of combat, and it’s why I had a much easier time fitting in with other gamers during its run. That gives me an idea for tomorrow’s post. Seriously, typing that sentence gave me an idea.

All that said, I’ve always said that if a game system doesn’t do what you want it to do, it’s you’re own damn fault. You can use any system to play any style.

I’m a Napoleon Dynamite-esque martial artist.

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Twitter-Inspired Thoughts, Part IV: 4th Edition Stat Blocks @shawnmerwin @MerricB @bandofmisfits #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 #4: 4th Edition Stat Blocks

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Didn’t you already write 39 pages on this subject (Cambria 11 pt. font)?” Well, sort of. Those posts were about intellectual property law, so the comments on this particular subject were obscured in a sea of other material. Because this is still going on in my mind and the minds of others, it’s worth a brief and focused reexamination. Besides, this is going to pick far fewer fights than yesterday’s post.

So Shawn, who clearly has no idea what he’s talking about (settle down, internet tough guys; inside joke), inspired a complimentary response from Roving Band of Misfits. This led to a back and forth between Merric and me. I’m just going to post a couple of tweets. If you want more context, click through to the thread.

My response boils down to this.

Space

Merric has a good point. I don’t expect any bestiary to be printed with one-stop/4e-style stat blocks (henceforth, “OSSB” or “OSSBs”), but I do expect Wizards of the Coast to make them printable via D&D Beyond, or to provide PDFs for download on their site. However, I don’t care what they choose to do (especially now that I’ve done it). This post is about why I think they’re helpful.

Versatility

Merric’s position is that shorter stat blocks allow you to make more complex creatures. However, if you hide a stat block’s complexity through shorthand, the complexity not only disappears, but the stat blocks all become nearly identical to one another.

Let’s use an example. Halaster Blackcloak’s stat block (Waterdeep – Dungeon of the Mad Mage, page 310) is about 2/3 of a page long. In my OSSB treatment, he’s 3-1/2 pages long (see page 12). What should be going through you head is, “How can you expect 3-1/2 pages of content to be properly run with about 81% of it missing?” Well, without an eidetic memory or tons of study time, you can’t.

What Merric is missing is the fact that compressing everything into a small space with up to 90% of the content missing can no longer be considered “describ[ing] them”; you’re merely hinting at what they could be, because most DMs can’t run that much material as intended in combat unless it’s right in front of their face. Now, you may also say that most DMs couldn’t possibly handle a stat block as large as Halastar’s. Well, that’s kind of the point. OSSBs will always be easier to run properly than the alternative. Put another way, if Halastar is too big to run, abbreviating it will make it even harder. It’s always harder except for the most simplistic of stat blocks, which break even. by publishing OSSBs, game designers need not fear making more complex stat blocks.

So, how do DMs typically handle very complex stat blocks in combat? In my experience, they just go with what they know: Fireball, Magic Missile, and Hold Person. That is, the spells that are most popular among WotC designers themselves (in part due to their universal value in combat) are the ones they memorize, and rather than look up a new couple of candidate spells every round, DMs just use those adjusting each for spell slot level. They sure as hell aren’t going to use Symbol in combat, and most couldn’t handle Confusion either unless they had the time to look up and memorize it, but the brain has only so much space to store these spells. What’s the difference between Halastar casting Magic Missile and a Githyanki Gish doing it? Spell level. That’s it. The result is that every monster they run become slight variations of each other. In other words, not only is stat block complexity lost, but so is the complexity of the game itself. Everything’s the same, and it can be boring. If OSSBs don’t fix that, nothing really will short of computers running the combats for you.

I really don’t get the resistance at all, so if you have a different view, please speak up.

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In case the tweets are deleted, here are images of them.

I’m Playing Again! (Until I Get Sick of It.) #DnD #RPG #Theros

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I was invited to an online, 5e D&D game with some friends. The recent release of Mythic Odysseys of Theros inspired me to accept. Our first session was last night. I’m playing a leonine (anthropomorphic lion) fighter modeled after the archetypical Spartan. Dory spear, xiphos, loin cloth; all the trimmings.

The character, Grexes, has been transported through space and time by the blacksmith god, Purphoros, from the world of Theros to the Forgotten Realms. His quirk: He speaks in riddles. For example, when he went to the bar, he asked the host for that which has four legs but cannot run (table, though chair works). As a player, this is hard to pull off, but that’s a good thing. I won’t be able to overdo it to the point it becomes annoying. I also sprinkle in Greek care of Google Translate. For example, I refer to Waterdeep as the most splendid polis I’ve ever seen. This also isn’t overdone because Grexes is notably learning Common through divine inspiration. Being from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, he otherwise wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively.

We’ll see how it goes.

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Update: One-Stop Stat Blocks and the #WotC Complaint #DnD #5e #RPG #copyright

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I just wanted to give an update on the situation with Wizards of the Coast and my one-stop stat blocks. To review, I created stat blocks that were stand-alone. When using them at the table, you have no need to reference the Player’s Handbook (or others) when using spells with your NPCs. The entire spell description is contained in the stat block, but expressed as concisely as possible.

WotC contacted me through their paralegal, Martin Durham (who apparently has a history of making inappropriate demands), and instructed that I take down the project. In Mr. Durham’s words:

Hi – I’m with the Wizards of the Coast legal team – we recently became aware of your project.
 
It looks like you’ve basically copied the text from our books, added check boxes and spell descriptions, and then placed your own copyright notice on the bottom. I am curious what is transformative enough to warrant the notice. Also, how does this infringing material fill a “hole” in Wizards product offerings.
Wizards realizes that the Dungeons & Dragons books are more than just “rules” or “instructions.” The text is highly descriptive, and as such, is inherently copyrightable.
 
Wizards requests that you remove your stat blocks, or create your own material under the Open Game License.

Within this single, six-sentence email, there is a glaring mischaracterization of the project, an attempt to use legalese to confuse me, and a stunning display of willful ignorance. I’m assuming the ignorance is willful because the alternative assumption would be quite insulting to Mr. Dunham. He then mischaracterizes the nature of stat blocks (in the context of copyright law) and recklessly makes two unlawful demands. In truth, the only sentence without an error in it is the first one. I’m sure he indeed works for WotC and only recently learned of the project.

I know I promised a quick response and republication, but good work takes time. My response is coming soon, and it’ll be a doozy. I’ve drafted three articles that will expose WotC’s conduct over the last 10-15 years. They’re currently being reviewed by other attorneys — some that focus on intellectual property, and some that don’t — and I’m reaching the finish line. The third article will link to the one-stop stat blocks, which have been expanded upon quite a bit. If you’re a fan of them, you’ll be floored by what’s coming. WotC, not so much, but that’ll be the least of their problems.

In the meantime, I again provide you with a copy of the template so that you can easily create your own one-stop stat blocks. Happy gaming!

One-Stop Stat Block for 5th Edition DnD TEMPLATE

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#WotC Complaint #DnD #5e #RPG

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A paralegal at Wizards of the Coast sent me an email demanding I take down my one-stop stat block project. It’s clear he really didn’t read the document because he made a rather glaring factual error. He also insulted my intelligence. I can live with that, but it shows what I’m dealing with. I responded and await his reply. I’m mulling over my best course of action, which of course depends on their response and how condescending they are. Even if I decide to comply, I promise you that won’t actually be the end of it. I meant it when I said I didn’t want to be their adversary, but they’ve chosen to poke the bear. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you want to be able to create these yourself, I’ve provided a link below to a Word document containing various versions of the stat blocks. This way you won’t have nearly as much formatting to do. You will, however, have to create language for spell descriptions, etc. (at least for now). There’s a quirk in WordPress. You’ll have to click on the link, which brings you to a page where you’ll have to click on a separate link to download the document.

One-Stop Stat Block for 5th Edition DnD TEMPLATE

Update here.

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#5e #DnD One-Stop Stat Blocks for Volo’s Guide to Monsters cc: @CartridgeBros #rpg

Edit: You can find the one-stop stat blocks starting here. Each sourcebook conversion was published as a separate post on the same day, so just go to the link provided, then jump to the bottom of that page, and then click on the link to the next post in line.

At the request of a Twitter user, I’ve resumed my work on the One-Stop Stat Blocks for Volo’s Guide to Monsters. I’m nowhere’s near finished — I’ve finished only 17 of the 45 stat blocks I intend to convert — but something is better than nothing, and more are coming. Also of note is that I found some errors in two of my existing docs, so they’re replaced below. Please contact me with any errors you find.

These were removed on May 12, 2019, at 8:14 PM EDT. They should be back within the week, along with other material that I wasn’t planning on publishing. If you loved what I was doing, you’re really going to love what’s coming.

I don’t do this for the money, but if you’d like to donate to my efforts, feel free to send me whatever you want (including nothing) via PayPal.

As a last note, I get a recurring question on these docs. People have requested the Word document that I use as a template to create these stat blocks. I don’t give that out because I don’t want to make this easy for people to copy all of the stat blocks from any of the books (something that is clearly on the minds of many people criticizing me*** for not publishing the template). Doing so could damage Wizard of the Coast’s sales for their books. My intent is to fill a hole that they left in their work, not to replace their work entirely and harm their sales. I appreciate the hard work they did in producing the game and want them to enjoy the benefits of that work.

*** Yeah, you read that correctly. I’ve actually been criticized for delivering a free, supplemental product that isn’t comprehensive enough.

Here’s the complete list of stat block files.

OSSB Monster Manual
OSSB Volo
OSSB Tome of Foes
OSSB Dragon Heist
OSSB Mad Mage
OSSB Ravnica
OSSB Saltmarsh
OSSB Tomb of Annihilation
OSSB Yawning Portal

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