D&December 2017 – Rapid Fire: W4D4-Trinkets/Treasures, W4D6-Forbidden Knowledge, W4D7-Spell/Item

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Nothing like waiting til the last minute for the last three topics I didn’t get done. So here we go in rapid fire succession. Trinkets & Treasures, Forbidden Knowledge and Favorite Spell/Item. 

Favorite Trinkets & Treasures

As a DM, my favorite treasure items are those that have a bit of a cursed trait to them. Or at least some significant downside anyway. Any adventure I run has to have a couple of cursed items. Well, during my first foray as DM it was a LOT of cursed items. Don’t worry, I’ve toned it way down since then. Now, in cursed items, I’m including any item that has a significant downside to it, not just those specifically defined as cursed. For instance, it may be a long sword +2, but it might also be an intelligent sword. And that sword is prone to lecturing the player in a condescending tone on their fighting techniques the entire time it is wielded. This would force the player to make a save every round or have a penalty to hit that round. I find those kinds of items to be far more fun than a straight up cursed item.

Forbidden Knowledge

My character Delban is an expert on forbidden knowledge. During their adventure in Ravenloft, Delban stole a Tome of Evil from Lord Soth’s castle, using it’s knowledge to advance his skills. The end result was that he left the party and became an NPC for a few years, serving as one of the bad guys when I ran the Speaker in Dreams adventure. He later found that Soth wasn’t too happy with the theft and tracked Delban down to his tower outside of Brindonford. The knowledge and power of the Tome was ripped from him and Delban was forced to flee into PC status for the City of the Spider Queen campaign.

There’s a reason that forbidden knowledge is forbidden. Leave it there. So says Delban. Learn from Delban. Don’t be like Delban.

Favorite Spell or Item

I’ve already discussed my favorite spell in a previous post. So this time I’ll talk about two of my favorite items, one magical and the other not.

First, my favorite magic item is the Deck of Many Things. This is a classic D&D item. You find a deck of strange cards. Drawing a card at random provides a magical effect of some sort, as often bad as good. There are many variations on the Deck and each DM tends to create their own version when called upon. When I was running my dwarven cleric Gogun Elfcrusher, he drew several times from the Deck we found in White Plume Mountain. Among the effects was he grew to about 6′ tall and grew a third eye on the back of his neck. Everyone started calling him “The Gogun”.

Of course, he was also the one that found one of the Keraptis scrolls and learned how to cast fireballs. A minor secondary effect was that he eventually come to believe he was Keraptis. He was last seen vanishing into the night from Silverhall, taking Whelm and the Keraptis reborn baby with him into the forests of the Dalelands.

My favorite mundane item is rope. What’s not to like about rope? It’s the handiest and most useful non-magical item in the game. Everything from descending into pits to tying up wizards so that the barbarian can cut their head off when we tell him to “bag the wizard”. Every character I’ve ever created carries 50′ or 100′ of silk rope. It’s always the first thing I buy when I create them.

 

So there you have it. My rapid fire coverage of the last three topics for DnDecember 2017. Hope you enjoyed it. Time to get back to some other things.

D&December 2017 – W4D5 – Divine Magic – Fixing the Cleric Class

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Divine magic is a part of Dungeons & Dragons that I think many of us have a love/hate relationship with. Running a cleric in an adventure can be both the most enjoyable and the most frustrating thing, sometimes at the same time.

Clerics have an interesting feature set associated with them. They are the primary healers of the party. They excel in defending against undead creatures. They also have decent capabilities in melee combat.

But it’s their capacity for divine magic that is the most frustrating and awesome characteristic of the class. The cleric has some amazing offensive and general purpose spells. Few things are as satisfying as a well placed Flame Strike spell. And their buff and defensive spells are often the difference between a brutal combat and a survivable one.

Oh Mighty Vending Machine
Oh Cleric, Mighty Vending Machine of Healing
Oh Cleric, Mighty Vending Machine of Healing

Unfortunately, during combat the cleric is all too often relegated to the role of healing vending machine. Most rounds they have to devote their energies to healing bursts or converting their other prepared spells into cure spells for the warrior or paladin or bard who are flinging themselves wildly at the enemies.

It can be a frustrating place for a player who wants to have a more active role in combat encounters. You know that if you don’t keep your companions on their feet, they will die. And then you will die.

You want to toss out that Spiritual Weapon, or lay down that Flame Strike. But then the raging barbarian or the paladin get cut down. You feel the need to let loose a Searing Light or a Smite, but your four companions felt the need to stand in a row for the enemy wizard’s Lightning Bolt. And once more you’re relegated to the role of Healing Vending Machine. 

What’s A Cleric To Do?

I haven’t done much with 5e yet, but it doesn’t seem to address this basic issue that has been around since the original Basic rules set. It’s a fact that the purveyor of divine magic is a support role. And it seems most players don’t want to be the support.

So here’s what I would propose. Make most of the cleric, paladin and druid’s healing abilities swift actions. This should include healing bursts, channels, “cure” and “heal” spells, lay on hands, and anything similar. This would not include things like neutralize poison, break enchantment, restoration and so forth. Only straight “give my team some hit points back” kind of abilities and spells.

The effect would not, in my opinion, break the balance of the game and would give the healer one free shot per round to heal up one or more team mates (or themselves). That satisfies their support role, while at the same time giving them the chance to make a more hands on contribution each round of combat. 

I think it would go a long way towards eliminating the antipathy many feel towards being the cleric of the party.

D&December 2017 – W4D2 – Traps

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Since I’ve talked about talked about Boxey before, I’ll talk about traps. Oh, how i hate traps. Well, as a player I hate traps. I’ve had several characters die as a result of traps over the years. The most memorable was my monk, Chojen Morg. He died within Nightfang Spire. A trap door opened, he slid down over several blades and was flung out into open space halfway up the tower. He didn’t have feather fall ring… or even feathers. And so he died. He had a rather short life. Not even a few months.

As a DM, i’m neither hot nor cold about traps. I guess they serve a purpose, like killing off characters. But I don’t really like to use them. When I am the DM, I use them rather sparingly. They seem to be more annoyance to keep track of and work through. 

It’s the mechanics of traps that I think annoys me the most. When traps are randomly placed, the adventurers must spend endless amounts of time searching. Move 10′, search, move 10′ search, move 10′ search. And it goes on and on and on. It gets very tiresome. But if you only make them search when a trap is nearby, then it gives away that the trap is there. 

There are times when traps are useful and acceptable. Protecting specific items, rooms, and so forth have great uses. But it is offset, in my mind, by all the other times of random and fruitless trap searching. 

There is one other time when traps come in handy: when it’s amusing. When I was running the Speaker in Dreams campaign, there was a bell tower in the center of town. It was square in shape and had a staircase that ran around the interior of the walls. At each landing I put a trap, not on the landing, but on the step just below it. It didn’t take long for the party to figure it out, but it was rather amusing nonetheless.

In short, well thought out traps have their place, but random traps don’t. At least, that’s how I see it.

D&December 2017 – W3D7 – House Rules

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One of the things that’s as constant in the history of Dungeons & Dragons as the official rules are each group’s house rules. In the group I’m in, the Wyrmfang Chronicles, we have a few of our own. Here’s a couple of ours plus a few that I’ve seen elsewhere.

Wyrmfang Chronicles House Rules

The Werebear

I don’t recall the origins of this rule, but we created a rule that applies at character creation. When you create a new character, you roll percentile dice. If the result is an 01, your character is a werebear. It’s happened exactly… never. There was a character in our campaign who was a werebear, but via other means.

On the Pronunciation of Drow

Regardless of official TSR/Wizards canon, the proper pronunciation of drow is like crow, or row, or snow. It does not rhyme with cow or sow or plow.

Spell Components

To alleviate the necessity of minute tracking of spell components, we’ve added a few enhancements. First of all, it is always assumed that you have any spell components of minor value (10-50 GP or less) so long as you have your normal gear. Further, for instances where a specific quantity of a certain gem is required, you may substitute other gems and coins of equal value. For example, Raise Dead requires 5000 GP of diamond dust. We allow you to substitute other gems totaling 5000 GP.

Birthday D30

If a gaming session falls on your exact birthday, you may roll a D30 instead of a D20 once during that evening’s session.

The On-Time Question Rule

A relatively recent addition is that if you show up on time, our DM will allow you to ask one question related to the current campaign. He may not give you an answer, but you get the option to ask.

My Favorite Rules From Others

Recap XP

Players who participate in giving a recap from the last session receive a story bonus XP award.

Re-Roll 1’s for HP

When rolling your hit points for a new level, re-roll if you rolled a 1.

Packing the Horses

One time half of our group spent almost an ENTIRE 3 hour game session figuring out what gear was packed on which horse. Any rule which just assumes everything is distributed across the various animals is fine by me. If you lose an animal without saving it’s packs, you randomly figure out a percentage of stuff that was lost.

CritMax (The Chris Perkins Rule)

On a crit, the original damage dice are automatically maxed.

 

What are some of your favorite house rules?

D&December 2017 – W3D6 – Sigil/Planar – The Slaadi

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Got a bit behind with the Holiday weekend.  One thing the Dungeons & Dragons does not lack is things planar. There are hundreds of planes in the D&D cosmos and planes within these planes and monsters upon monsters that call each of these planes home. Some of these monsters are ridiculous, but some of them are not. One of my all time favorites among the planar creatures are the Slaadi.

The Slaadi

The Slaadi are creatures of total, unrefined chaos. They are the epitome of creatures that do whatever the hell they feel like. Natives of the plane of Limbo, they resemble humanoid demon frogs in appearance. That appearance has sometimes made them the butt of jokes, but I never thought so.

Part of the fun of the Slaadi are their chaotic nature. And because in most editions and variants, they are chaotic neutral, that means that their behavior can be whatever the DM wants it to be from one minute to the next. 

That random chaos can make encounters a lot of fun as well. I always pictured coming across a group of Slaadi having a barbecue. Half would invite you to join them, the other half would invite you to be part of the menu. 

My history with the Slaadi has been few and far between. They seem to rarely get included in campaigns and only a few of the video games have featured them. It’s too bad really. I really kind of like them. Rrrriibbit!!!!

D&December 2017 – W3D5 – Cities, Castles & Tomes – The Castle Guide

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Castles have fascinated me for as long as I can remember. As an American, I grew up having no real castles anywhere near that I could visit. At least, nothing even close to what I pictured the word castle to mean. So I spent my time reading any book I could get my hands on and watching any show that talked about castles.

The Castle Guide
TSR2114 The Castle Guide
TSR2114 The Castle Guide

And then I laid my eyes on a plain greyish blue book with a TSR logo on the front and the simple words: “The Castle Guide”. Here were more than a hundred pages of how to build and run castles in D&D. I was completely enthralled. I spent hours and hours and hours reading and re-reading this book. It forever cemented my love for castles and how they should really be.

The Castle Guide was a AD&D 2nd Edition product that covered in great detail creating and running medieval style castles within your adventure world. It included every detail from the types of rooms it would have, to the people you would find there, to the day to day operations and costs, to sieges and warfare. It was an amazing guide. 

For years after I got that book, I would design castles on graph paper, imagining being and adventurer that would operate out of it. I would design, and redesign every last little detail. Each and every gates and drawbridge and building and room was given excruciating details. Every castle was different. This one was on a cliff side, that one surrounded by a moat, another was a built around an enormous cave. 

Sadly, all those drawings of my youth are long gone now. I’m pretty sure I still have the book somewhere amongst my game gear. Maybe it’s time I fish it out and start designing castles again. After all, I’m building a new world. And that world is gonna need some castles.

D&December 2017 – W3D1 – Feywild/Shadowfell

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The Feywild and the Shadowfell are two parts of D&D that we really haven’t delved into much in our campaigns. We’ve had some dealings with faeries and nymphs and dryads, but never any kind of extended campaign dealing with them.

I wasn’t really sure what the interest in such things was. They always seemed more annoying than anything. Whenever they were introduced into an adventure, they seemed forced and didn’t really fit. That is, until I started reading the Dresden Files novels.

The way that Jim Butcher presented the realm of the fey finally brought interest to me. The way that they interacted with other creatures and realms in those books actually makes the fey interesting to me. It gives them a character and style I couldn’t get into before that. 

The Shadowfell, or Plane of Shadow, is the more interesting of these two to me. The idea of a twisted reflection of the Prime filled with the undead and other creatures always seemed like a lot of fun. Add in a bit of Shar intrigue and there’s no end of fun there.

 

D&December 2017 – W2D6 – Spooky/Undead – The Lich

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No one will notice this didn’t go out yesterday, right?  

Lich King by Pikawil
Lich King by Pikawil

I’ve mentioned before that my favorite undead was the bodak. Read my various posts about Thelisn to see why. So I’m going to take this time to talk about my least favorite undead, the lich. Like dragons, liches are an overused trope in Dungeons & Dragons. They seem to be the go-to creature type any time someone needs a major bad guy for a module or story. It’s gotten to be tired.

From Acererak to Kiaransalee to Vecna to Zhengyi and all of the others in between, there is just an endless array of liches throughout the D&D universe of products. They never seem to stop. Even the latest product, Tomb of Annihilation, is about Acererak. It’s yet another foray against a lich bad guy.

I think the only bad guys more over used would be the “evil wizard” trope. Why do wizards get such a bad wrap? They’re just trying to expand their understanding of the forces of the universe. And isn’t expanded knowledge a good thing? So next time you come across an evil wizard, thank them for their efforts.

All this does have one benefit, however. It makes DMs and players really appreciate when someone comes up with a creative bad guy to be the big boss at the end of a module. I guess that’s not a bad thing. 

D&December 2017 – W2D4 – Celestial/Demonic – Fallen Angels

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Celestials are a strange piece of D&D/Pathfinder. They are a necessary group, serving as the compass opposite to devils and demons. Sometimes they serve to provide context or boxed text to the characters. And lesser celestials can be summoned for a few rounds to fight in combat for your cleric. Aside from that, however, they seem to provide only one other value proposition to game play. And that’s when they fall.

So many modules and campaigns seem to have fallen angels as a key opponent or story driver. At times it almost seems that PCs face off against fallen angels as often as they do devils or demons. But they aren’t even always foes. Search the web for “D&D fallen angel” and you will find all kinds of templates and rules that people have created to turn fallen angels into PCs they can play in game.

The theme of the fallen angel seeking redemption for their crimes is a common one. I’d even say it’s become so common in gaming, literature and media as to achieve trope status. There’s just something that resonates with that theme in each of us. And I can see why. It’s a very human feeling to want to make up for past mistakes and the fallen angel falls right into that niche.

Playing one as a PC gives you a chance to play that out in game. But even when it’s an opponent who is the fallen angel, it’s often that the PC’s will want to find a way to redeem them rather than kill them. For example, when we played through the Shackled City adventure path, on Occipitus there is a fallen angel who is the guardian of the Test of the Smoking Eye. I remember, playing as Aeduin, that I wanted to try and find a way to find redemption for that guardian. As I recall, we did not succeed in that endeavor. But it was the first instinct to do so rather than kill them. Perhaps, if I’d played it differently, the result might be different.