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Category Archives: Dungeons & Dragons

For The Hoard (Of Dice)

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One of the first things that people new to Table Top Role Playing Games take notice of is the oddly shaped dice that are used. More than just a six-sided die left over from a copy of Monopoly they range from 4 sides to 100 sides. Veteran players tend to develop collections, nay even a hoard, of dice.  Why, you may ask? What is the attraction to the random tokens of fate that we roll across tables,, into dice trays, and drop down dice towers?

Depending on the game, you may find yourself wanting multiple sets. Deadlands for instance has a mechanic where you’re required to roll multiples of the same die for each skill check. It’s easier to purchase 5 sets and roll a handful of D8’s instead of picking up the same one and making several rolls with that. Champions, a superhero game I locked onto through most of my 20s and early 30s relied on your standard D6s but would see dozens of them being rolled for damage depending on the power level of the hero you had created. When I started I would stroll the aisles of my local pharmacy searching for  5 packs of black and white D6s from Hoyle. I’d pick them up regularly. gathering more and more until eventually I found myself purchasing bricks of tiny 6 sided dice in different colors to match the color scheme of my heroes.

To an outside observer our behavior concerning dice is odd. We anthropomorphize them. We talk to them. We “train” them to roll well by displaying them on the table with the better numbers on top. We scold them when they roll poorly and put them in dice jail after a string of bad rolls. We are superstitious about them as well. You never roll someone else’s dice (without permission). We treat specific ones as blessed or cursed as we watch them roll consistently well or poorly.

Dice also come in all colors, sizes, styles, and materials. No matter your budget you can build up a collection of these precious rolling gemstones. Translucent or solid colored plastic dice are the base models. You can get a set for free with shipping if you trust certain overseas shopping apps, or a drawstring bag decorated as a bag of devouring full of 20 complete sets from Amazon for around $30.

True collectors though can expect to pay out some serious cash for dice crafted from metal, stone, bone, or even wood. From the moderate pricing like Skullsplitter Dice to the high end cost of Level Up Dice you can satisfy your inner dragon and amass a hoard of fateful gems.

The accessories we get for our dice need to be discussed as well. The first is the dice bag. Usually a felt drawstring bag, sometimes lined in bright colors, or decorated on the outside as a magic bag. Many dice hoarders begin with a borrowed, or stolen bag from Crown Royal. Like a pouch of coins we arrive at the gaming table and set down our purse of luck pulling them out and testing to see which ones will behave that night. Some people use dice chests, designed to look like…chests…or mimics. I’m a bag man myself.

Rolling them across tables can be problematic, what with maps and miniatures getting in the way. Dice towers sculpted from wood and plastic resembling watchtowers and fortified walls with little trays or courtyards below restrain range our dice may wander. There’s also portable trays that fold and snap into form that are more easily transported.

So search high and low, near and far. Find the shiny baubles that speak to you. Feed your inner dragon and collect your hoard of dice, but I issue you a warning:

Never let Wil Wheaton touch your dice. You may as well toss them if he does.

Dungeon Crawling: Barbarians

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Lords, Ladies, lads, and lassies it is time to rage. Barbarians have always been the meat-shields that protect the squishies. They’re big, tough, and fuel their battlefield expertise with Rage. Often played as dumb for the sake of humor, most of us have a stereotype in mind when we hear someone at our table has brought a Barbarian. Within the books of 5th edition D&D, however, things are not so cut and dry.

In the beginning, you’re a low level beast. The main feature of the class is Rage. This ability grants you advantage on strength checks, a bonus to melee damage, and toughens you up with a resistance to the basic three types of physical damage. Add to this the ability to stack your constitution modifier on top of your dexterity for unarmored armor class, and you’ve got someone who’s meant to take hits on the chin and keep going.

As you level up, your combat prowess increases. You can attack recklessly, gaining advantage against your opponents while leaving yourself open. As the meat-shield, this is perfect for protecting the rest of the party. You also develop a danger sense helping you face traps and spells that rely on you moving out of the way. Further on down the line, you get another attack, faster movement, better initiative rolls, better critical hits, and eventually physical stats that surpass the norm.

That’s all gravy, though. The real meat of the class is within your chosen subclass. The Berserker and Totem Warrior are the two basic choices from The Player’s Handbook.  Battleragers are the dwarf-only option presented in The Sword Coast Adventurer Guide. Xanathar’s Guide to Everything gives us three more choices: Ancestral Guardian, Storm Herald, and Zealot.

Berserkers get an extra bonus attack when they enter a frenzy. They’re also able to shrug off charms and fear affects. Their intimidation presence is enough to frighten most foes, and anyone foolish enough to go toe-to-toe with them can face a retaliatory attack in response.

Totem Warriors are more versatile than their straight forward kin. At various stages of their development, they can choose which animal spirit to follow and will gain an aspect related to that. Whether it be the strength and toughness of the bear, the eyes and flight of the eagle, or the pack tactics of the wolf, Totem Warriors can mix and match animals to get just the right combo for their Barbarian.

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From The Player’s Handbook

Battleragers adorn themselves with spiked armor literally throwing themselves into battle. Their spiked armor may be used as a bonus weapon,  extra damage when they grapple a foe, or even as a retaliation in melee. Eventually they can bolster their health with temporary hit points granting them a little extra staying power while raging. They might also use a bonus action to Dash into melee range.

Ancestral Guardians have to be my favorite flavor-wise. When you rage you’re surrounded by spirit warriors that hinder your foes and protect your allies. In metagame terms, they make you sticky. The spirits grant resistance to your allies, and if your foe doesn’t attack you they have disadvantage. The spirits can also shield your allies directly by reducing the damage taken, and even reflecting it back as force damage. Your spirits can also be consulted and used for Augury or Clairvoyance spells, should the need arise.

Storm Heralds surround themselves with elemental storms. If you choose the desert you can deal fire damage to multiple foes, gain resistance to fire, or retaliate when struck with fire. If you choose the sea you can deal lightning damage to a single target, gain resistance to lightning, breathe underwater, gain a swim speed, and knock the target prone. Lastly if you choose tundra you grant multiple allies temporary hit points, gain resistance to cold, freeze water, and reduce a foes movement to zero.

Zealots are chosen by the divine. Each turn they can do extra damage with a weapon attack. This damage is either radiant or necrotic and is chosen when the path is taken. If they are restored to life by a spell there is no material cost. They can also reroll a failed save once per rage. Eventually, if they are raging death does not stop them. They will keep on fighting, even after failing three death saves. Even then if they are healed above zero hit points before the rage ends they will live.

The menu of meat-shields is vast, the choices vary, and if you want to play a Barbarian…then rage on.

 

 

 

 

Dungeon Crawling: Bards

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Lords, Ladies, Lads, and Lasses, today I present my take on Bards.

A class I have never played.

You may ask, “How the heck can you have an opinion on Bards if you’ve never played one?!” Easy, I’ve played along side them, and I’ve DM’d for them.

The Bard class is a charisma based spell caster, a jack-of-all-trades, and mainly considered to be a support class. Their sub-classes are broken up into Colleges, with two in the Player’s Handbook, and three more waiting within the pages of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. 

The basic class uses Charisma as their casting stat, can use a musical instrument as their spell focus, and is also a ritual caster. They are performers, and if you have a problem being the “face” of the group, coming up with witty one-liners for your Vicious Mockery cantrip, or can’t parse together a quick ditty to sing inspiration for your fellow party members, then you’re playing the wrong class.

They have access to all skills from the get go, and those they don’t choose they can add half of their proficiency to any way at 2nd level. At 3rd level they can choose two that they are proficient in to gain double proficiency in as well.

And 3rd level is when you choose your Bardic College. This choice will slightly alter how you use your Bardic inspiration. Lore bards can distract with their words, protecting their allies in combat. Their foe’s attacks will strike with less impact, or sometimes even miss altogether.  Valor bards on the other hand can help add to their allies damage, or their AC. Those bards who enter the College of Glamour from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything can grant a group of people temporary hit points, and a free move. Sword college bards are master of the flourish, their bardic inspiration helps them dance around their foes, pushing them about, striking a second enemy, or even simply boosting their own AC. Those bards that join the College of Whispers can literally strike terror into the minds of their foes. Their Bardic Inspiration dice can be used to do psychic damage along with their melee attacks when they so choose.

Each of the five current official colleges only expand upon their themes as you level. Lore bards gain greater expertise with their skills, add spells from other classes to their repertoire. Valor bards gain training in medium armor, shields, martial weapons, and an extra attack. Eventually they can even cast a spell while making an attack with their weapon. Glamour bards gain power over the crowds, charming the masses, enthralling them, and dissuading them wanting to harm the bard in the first place.  Sword college bards gain extra attacks, medium armor training, and proficiency with the scimitar. Eventually they can use a free d6 for their flourishes instead of using up the finite resource of their Bardic Inspiration. Finally the College of Whispers allows it’s bards to steal the visage of the recently deceased, gaining the general knowledge and memories they would share freely with a casual acquaintance, and allowing the bard to pass themselves off as the deceased with greater ease. Eventually they can convince a target that they know a deep secret and charm them for an extended period for fear of revealing said secret.

So if you wish to sing, and cast spells whilst playing at being a Skill Puppy, a Duelist, The Center of Attention, a Dervish, or an Assassin they maybe, just perhaps, the Bard is the class for you.

 

Dungeon Crawling: My First Hero

…Or Dungeons and Dragons for Beginners.

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So you want to play Dungeons and Dragons, but you don’t know where to begin. There are so many books, so many rules, and so many choices that the options can be a bit overwhelming. Fear not for I shall simplify it for you.

Before you worry about what books to get, and what rules to learn, you need to find a Dungeon Master. They’re the arbitrator of the rules, the referee if you will. They are also in charge of all the monsters and characters not in control by a player. The will have a story in mind (also called a campaign). You need to check with them to see if there are any classes or races they don’t want you to choose from when creating your hero. Most likely, they will also have all the books you’ll need to make your hero.

So now you know what you can’t choose for a race, or a class, if there are any restrictions at all. This means you still have quite a few choices to make, and even though you’ve seen Lord of the Rings, you’re still not sure how to narrow it down. D&D is a game of “let’s pretend…with rules” as such most it is left up to your imagination. There is a mental exercise called The One Room Dungeon.

Before you stands a long corridor. Torches light the way every ten feet, and somewhere in the distance you hear the constant drip of condensation on the flagstones. At the end of the hall stands a solid oak door. It is closed, but flickering lamplight can be seen shining from the crack beneath it. There is a treasure chest behind the door, but also an Orc Warrior guarding it. How do you approach the door? Do you use stealth to sneak up? Do you stride confidently down the hall, clad in your heavy metal armor? Do you cast a spell that silences your footsteps? Once you open the door, do you sneak attack the orc, face him head on with a deadly weapon, or blast him with arcane spells? Which of these choices excite you the most? Are you feeling like a rogue, a warrior, or a spellcaster? Maybe you’re a combination of two or three. When you can imagine how you deal with the orc and gain the treasure, you should begin to have an idea of what class you want to play.

So you’re beginning to have an idea in you head of what your hero is. Great! Borrow the Player’s Handbook from your DM. Flip through the races and see if any jump out at you. There are quite a few to choose from, and you should be familiar with the basic idea of them if you’re into the fantasy genre at all. D&D tries to balance them all out, but if looking over their mechanical benefits helps you decide, then by all means do it.

Next you’ll want to narrow down your class. There’s more than three in the PHB, so the choices you made in The One Room Dungeon are just the tip of the iceberg. Did you choose stealth, using your skills to overcome the orc? There’s a Rogue, a Monk, and a Bard to choose from. Maybe weapons were your go to solution. Fighters, Barbarians, Rangers, and Paladins await you. Or if spell-casting was your thing there are Wizards, Warlocks, Sorcerers, Clerics, and Druids waiting to be called upon. There is no wrong class, race or combination of the two. Sure, you’re choice might not seem optimal mechanically, but if you have fun that is what matters.

The final choice is your Background. What’s your story? Who were you before you took to the life of adventuring? Were you a sailor making a life on the open seas? Did you grow up in the posh life of a Noble house? Were you a criminal thumbing your nose at authority?

Between your race, your class, and your background you have you’re starting equipment and skills. You’re almost ready to play.

You need to generate your ability scores. Ask your DM what method they want you to use. Are you going to roll six-sided dice, spend an allotment of points, or place a static array of numbers? Your class choice will determine what score is important for its features.  Do your weapon skills rely on Strength or Dexterity? Is Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma your spell-casting stat? Perhaps you just want to have a high Constitution and be healthy as an ox.

All those choices made during creation and you’re finally ready to play. “How do I play?” you ask. Improvisation. The Dungeon Master will describe a scene and ask you what your hero wants to do. You can respond descriptively or in character. “My rogue sneaks up to the door and attempts to pick the lock.” or “I’ve seen harder locks in my mom’s cupboard” and I take out my lock-picks. Whether or not you do it is another story.

Anytime there is a chance of success or failure you’re going to roll a twenty-sided die and add a number to it. The higher you roll, the better the outcome. What numbers you add to it depend on the task being attempted. If it was an attack or a spell you’ll need to roll another smaller die to determine how much damage you did. Don’t worry about rolling the wrong one, or forgetting which one is an eight-sider and which is the ten-sider. We all had those same stumbling blocks when we first started.

Mistakes will be made. Heroes will fall. New ones will rise in their place. It is a game. Have fun, and make their tales legendary.

 

Oresan’s Magnificent Foes: The Necromancer Dance Party…

You step gingerly into the dust covered room of the depths below. You’ve entered a long forgotten temple. As you scan the room for dangers you notice above you a faint light flickers into existence. The orb pulses lightly. Suddenly brilliant prismatic light pours outward in swift moving rays. The room comes alive. Near the back of the room a single spot light bathes a hooded figure in light, showing them off to the world. It displays enigmatic footwork, swiftly turns on itself with a deft twirl, and quickly thrusts one finger skyward! It begins to sing… Unerringly you watch. Drawn in by this presence.

I’m inspired daily. Books, Youtube, Movies… and Games. Specifically video games. Video games have done a ton of creative legwork and created iconic and influential monsters and villains for our every need. You just need to take the time to convert them. This particular foe was inspired by the Crypt of the Necrodancer videogame. This is my second entry in a series called “Oresan’s Magnificent Foes” in which I will be detailing entries in a personal Monster Manual of sorts. Each entry will include a little blurb about What the foe is, Why it exists, and How I went about creating it. I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any suggestions, comments, or would like to see me create a foe based off something you love (or loathe) please let me know in the comments below. Read the rest of this entry

Dungeon Crawling: The Adventurers League

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Dungeons and Dragons is a social game. Sure, you can play video games based on the source material that is solely single player, but at its core it’s meant to be enjoyed with friends. Sadly there are those among us who have no friends to play with. What do they do? First off, I suggest checking out our previous article on just that question (LINK).

So you’ve decided to find an Adventurers League game to join. I’m not sure of its reach, but I suggest signing up on Warhorn You can use it to find what local game shops are hosting AL games. With it, you can sign up and grab a seat at a level appropriate table and be on you way.

But is it worth it? Is the AL enjoyable?

Yes…and no.

There are pros and cons to everything. As a player the AL can scratch that need to play. You’ll find monsters to kill, puzzles to solve, and treasure to loot. All within a time constraint. That’s the problem.

In a home game we gather for a few hours, do the dungeon thing, talk to NPCs, and all the other fun stuff. If we run out of time, well there’s always next week. Not so with the AL. Each adventure is a published module available for purchase from the DM’s guild website. It has a listed average level, and the amount of time it should take to complete it. That’s all they allow for, because there are rewards for playing based on the length of the planned adventure. No one likes to go over because you’ve passed the limit and aren’t earning more Downtime or Renown. Downtime is a special type of currency that allows you to purchase goods from your Faction, or to skip a level and catch up to the other players that have hit the next tier. Renown are marks of honor that give you rank and privileges within your chosen faction.

Still sound like a fun time? Cool. Now you show up and either grab a pre-generated character or create one prior to the event using the AL rules. You must use the point buy system, no rolling for gold (choose from the equipment offered by your class and background), and you’re limited to the Players Handbook plus one other book. That means no taking a race from Volo’s Guide and a subclass from Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. It’s only slightly limiting, but it can be a downer when you realize your cool idea isn’t legal.

The good news is you meet new people and have a chance to make new friends. It’s also pretty much a guarantee that your local shop has the AL scheduled on the regular, no matter who shows up. As long as at least three players show up in addition to the DM, the game will be good to go. Every session is its own self-contained one-off, so there’s no need for continuity. Sure there might be a series of adventures that follow an arc, but each one is an individual run.

That’s what it’s like to play in the League, but what about running a game?

Well being a DM in the League is interesting. Each location usually has one person in charge of organizing the events and he/she will let you know what’s being run, if they have a copy of it, or if you need to purchase a copy for yourself. The DM’s Guild is a website PDF store full of official adventurers and fan made ones. In addition that is were you find the current season’s Dungeon Master pack. This is a listing of the achievements and rewards you will unlock for running games.

Yup, you earn experience, gold, and treasure for running AL games. You can hold onto them, keeping track of each one on a log sheet, and dole that out to your characters leveling them up while you run the games. Even downloading the packet, filling out the achievement card, and sharing it on social media will net you rewards. There’s also usually a fair number of DMs around so you’ll eventually get to play said characters.

Eventually.

In the meantime you’re prepping a prewritten adventure with probably less than a weeks notice. If you have a desire to take on multiple roles, to learn the lore of the latest product that Wizards of the Coast is selling, or to enforce your power over a table of strangers…than being an AL DM might be for you.

I have fun with it, more as a player though. I have a regular group, and life gets in the way, so to fill the hole I started playing in the Adventurers League. Then PAX Unplugged happened to be nearby and I decided to take a crack at being a League DM. An organization called The Role Initiative was looking for volunteer DMs on Facebook. I signed up, then asked my local AL if I could join them in DMing. They were more than happy to add me to their ranks, and in fact had been considering asking me anyway. I ended up having a lot of fun at the convention, and from time to time still DM at my local store.

So if you’re not getting enough D&D, if your regular group has become less than regular, or if you’re new in town and looking to make friends give the Adventurers League a try.

 

 

Oresan’s Magnificent Foes: The Bloodsail Scavenger!

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Arrrr me matey! You be seeking some sunken treasure in the depths of the deepest darkest oceans? Well pirate captain Oresan has a story for you… ::cough:: ::Clears throat:: Weird. Sorry about that. Sometimes national talk like a pirate day is every day…

If you couldn’t tell I’m going to talk about a foe I used in an adventure of the High Seas variety. This is my first entry in a series called “Oresan’s Magnificent Foes” in which I will be detailing entries in a personal Monster Manual of sorts. Each entry will include a little blurb about What the foe is, Why it exists, and How I went about creating it. I hope you enjoy it, and if you have any suggestions, comments, or would like to see me create a foe based off something you love (or loathe) please let me know in the comments below.

Bloodsail Gnoll

What? What exactly is a Bloodsail Scavenger?

 

Imagine sailing the open ocean. Your comfortable with the systematic rocking caused by the endless rolling waves. Your not far from shore, trolling along the coastline for schools of fish. You do; however, find yourself scanning the horizons  as the sun begins to set. You know that these waters are infested with the Bloodsail Gnolls, horrific humanoid hyenas that capture forlorn fishermen and merchants. Rumor has it they take those that live back to their bone filled dens and sacrifice them to their god, the Ever Hungering. They keep their prey alive so they are fresh when they are devoured by the Bloodsail clan.

Its said they attack ships near the coast during the early hours of the night. The row out on speedy longboats, using red sails that seem to blend in with the light from the setting sun. By the time you see them coming, it’s already too late. They hulking beats, standing nearly 8 ft tall, have already boarded the boat. They attack with gnarled spears capable of piercing through heavy armor. These sadistic creatures carry nets used for ensuring the capture of living meat. They kill the strong mercilessly and capture the weak; the children and the old. If you have the foresight to give up before they get a chance to fight, your fate is sealed and far worse than a quick death by being run through.

 

Why? Why did I create these Abominations in the first place?

 

I have always loved Gnolls as a foe in my campaigns. They are sadistic and nasty and have a great tribal feel to them. As such I often try to include them in some way. I took it upon myself to run an island hopping adventure in a homebrew setting called “The Shattered Isles” for a few strangers online. Early on in their adventure I wanted to introduce them to something that was going on in the world around them. I wanted this to be subtle and not necessarily centered around something they would have empathy for.

Why not Gnolls? I could have just thrown some regular old Gnolls at the party, however they were level 1 at the time. So i needed to scale them down and give them a bit of High Seas flair.

 

How? Everybody has a process, what was mine?

 

The Bloodsail Scavengers are at their core a standard Gnoll, however they do not share the CR of one. (A Gnoll in the Monster Manual has a CR of ½ whereas the CR of a Bloodsail Scavenger is ¼) I took the hit points and lowered them by about a ⅓. The other abilities are nearly identical in damage and scope, however; I took away their Longbow and replaced it with a net.

The Longbow needed to go. This weapon alone could take early fights and make them significantly lopsided in favor of these ferocious beasts. These Gnolls still have a ranged weapon by throwing their spears as well as the addition of the net. They can use the net to restrain characters and drag them into the depths causing them to drown or to simply restrict their movements.

(Important note about nets: Though they are ranged, their distance is 10/30 which means if they throw the net any distance 10 or beyond they are at disadvantage. This means that their effective range is 5 ft with net without suffering disadvantage; however, to 5 ft is melee range and when you use a ranged attack in melee it suffers disadvantage. All attempts to net a creature are at disadvantage!)

Once again this was the inaugural entry into Oresan’s Magnificent Foes, an evolving Monster Manual of sorts. If you have any comments, suggestions, or have a foe you’d like to see created please let me know in the comments below.