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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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

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.

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

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

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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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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“Pure” #5e #DnD One-Stop Stat Blocks for the Monster Manual #rpg cc: @bandofmisfits @stitched

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Well, that was fast. Converting my original “one-stop” stat blocks document to a “pure” form was easier than expected. What does “pure” mean?

In the original document, I edited the stat blocks for a couple of reasons. Monsters over CR 5 are typically underpowered with respect to how much damage their Actions do. I suspect that the reason for this is related to the fact that the Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide were released separately. While that time difference is relatively short, I suspect the two were written independently and thus aren’t in sync. I suggest the following changes in order to reconcile these stat blocks with the table on page 274 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Statistics by Challenge Rating.

Some of these changes, however, I suggest because I found the monsters as written boring or otherwise lacking. While I found the giants far too similar to one another, I was especially annoyed by the fact that the Azer, Githzerai, and Githyanki don’t have ranged attacks. As far as I’m concerned, a DM should be able to create an encounter based on what’s interesting rather than whether it makes tactics too easy for the PCs, and the entire point of this project was to make things easier on the DM. I also find it incredulous that a Cloud Giant doesn’t have a Create Beanstalk power. C’mon!

Nevertheless, my changes resulted in complaints. The Adventurers League players were concerned that my stat blocks were “illegal” because they made changes that the DMs weren’t permitted to make those changes. To satisfy their concerns, I created an index that  showed exactly how I changed the stat blocks. Converting them back to their boring, underpowered selves would be a snap.

Nope. Still not good enough for some, so in the spirit of making this as easy for the DMs as possible, I’ve created a “pure” document in which the stat blocks have no edits. Then I changed the appendix to reflect my edits as suggestions. That’s what I’ve provided here. As a reminder, the same rules apply to this document, which includes, among others, that I used shorthand to keep them as reasonable in length as possible. This means that one could take advantage of loose language to maximize the creatures. If you choose to do that, that’s on you. Also, I could use your proofreading, and if you have any other suggestions, please let me know. As you can see from the original post, I respond.

My next project will be based on Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and will take much longer to complete. Moreover, it’s competing with some other projects I have. Please be patient.

Here’s the complete list so far (in order of creation):

Latest Versions Available Here

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#5e #DnD One-Stop Stat Blocks for Tales from the Yawning Portal. #rpg @bandofmisfits @stitched

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As promised, I’ve converted stat blocks as necessary for Tales from the Yawing Portal using my “one-stop” method. I may need your help proofreading the document, so keep your eyes open. Note that this time I didn’t make any modifications to the stat blocks. They are mechanically identical to those appearing in the source material. However, the same rules apply, which includes, among others, that I used shorthand to keep them as reasonable in length as possible. This means that one could take advantage of loose language to maximize the creatures. If you choose to do that, that’s on you.

My next project will be to create what @stitched refers to as a “pure” copy of my original document. My original document made changes to the stat blocks to make them more interesting (in my humble opinion) and provided an appendix specifying all of my modifications. This resulted in some complaints (though I can’t imagine anyone not liking what I did to the Azer). In the “pure” document, I’ll remove my modifications from the stat blocks and alter the appendix to include those modifications as suggestions. Both documents will remain on my site, so you can use what whichever you want.

The project after that will be based on Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and will take much longer to complete. Be patient. I’m committed, so you’ll get them eventually. As some of you may know, a friend and I are designing our own RPG system, and we’re ready for alpha testing. What little free time I have is being divided between all of these projects, so again, be patient.

Here they are: Latest Versions Available Here 

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Resolved: More #5e #DnD One-Stop Stat Blocks Are Coming. #rpg @bandofmisfits

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I had some back and forth on Twitter today with @bandofmisfits, and that got me thinking. I’ve decided that I’m going to create a new document of my one-stop stat blocks. It will include the creatures from Volo’s Guide to Monsters. I have some other things to deal with this weekend, but I’ll at least start the project. Stay tuned.

Also, I intend to run some of the adventures in Tales of the Yawing Portal, and if there are any of those that require conversion, I’ll do that as well. The Sunless Citadel has already been released, so I’ll have that one done tomorrow night.

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And….. DONE! #5e #DnD One-Stop Stat Blocks #rpg cc: @slyflourish @koboldpress @monkeyking

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I’ve finally finished my one-stop stat blocks for 5e D&D. It was quite a chore, but those who’ve used it make it clear that it was worth the effort. Remember, if you want Kobold Press’s upcoming project, Tome of Beasts, to use this format, pummel them (@KoboldPress) and Wolfgang Baur (@monkeyking) with tweets. Maybe they’ll listen. 🙂

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Yet Another Update to My #5e #DnD One-Stop Stat Blocks #rpg

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I’ve made some more progress on my one-stop stat blocks for 5e D&D. I’ve gotten all the way to the slaadi, and perhaps my most tiring statblock is up next: the androsphinx. After that, I have the gynosphinx, the unicorn, all three yuan-ti, and all four yugoloths. Mike Shea, a.k.a. Sly Flourish, reminded me that my work still won’t be done after that. I still have a few NPCs in the back of the monster manual that could use some work: the archmage, the cult fanatic, the druid, the mage, and the priest.

*sigh*

By the way, I sent a tweet to Wolfgang Baur (@monkeyking) requesting that he use my format for his upcoming project, Tome of Beasts. If you like my work, you might want to inundate him with similar requests. Only spellcasters need my format, so it wouldn’t be much of a burden on them to add this format to those few creatures that needed it.

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Another Update to My #5e #DnD One-Stop Stat Blocks #rpg

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Yep, another update, and that lich stat block is unbelievable. When you have those spells at your fingertips, the lich can be run in its full glory, and it’s a true solo creature. It was also draining to convert, so please help me out and check it (and the lizardfolk that follows) for errors.

Here’s the link: Latest Versions Available Here

However, I’ve included some notes over at the original post that might be of interest to you, so you should probably link from there if you haven’t read them.

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