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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 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.

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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.

Top 10: D&D Characters I’ve Played

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When I make a character for Dungeons & Dragons they need to have the perfect name. If I’m not happy with the name, I won’t play the character. As such over the 30 plus years that I’ve played the game, my hall of champions has a relatively small number of characters. These are my top ten favorite D&D characters.

Killian: When I was first introduced to D&D by my friend Matt M. he had a character named Killer Kroc. At the time I wasn’t fully aware of the Batman villain, but I liked the alliteration. Years later I had adapted the name into Killian Krocerian. He was a fighter/rogue type and his escapades were the stuff of great hyperbole and much exaggeration. He was my first hero and still holds a place of honor in my imagination to this day.

Farak: The next great warrior in my list is a dwarven buzz saw. Farak The Axe was a twin axe warrior that could wade through a stable of zombies in the time it took a paladin to kill one. True story. His greatest tale involves falling 40 feet through a wooden staircase while avoiding a wyvern. He eventually would climb those same stairs again to take on the beast bare-handed, and save his friend Veirden.

Veirden: Which brings me to my next hero. At the time I was in a small gaming group and I was playing both Farak and Veirden, the mad Halfling. Veirden was a rogue who had been rescued from a POW camp by Farak. The two were inseparable. I played this rogue with a complete disregard for his own safety, often drawing twin daggers and charging head first into battle alongside Farak.

Friar Chuck: Tired of all my warriors and rogues I decided I would try my hand with a cleric. Friar Chuck was part of a team, his sister Aliana was a bard, but the two of them would never see a table top together. They were merely an idea. Still, as time went on and I found myself in need of an NPC cleric, Friar Chuck resurfaced.  While running a Steampunk D&D game set loosely in Philadelphia my players ran across a street-corner preacher handing out pamphlets for Pelor. “Have you felt the Strength of Pelor? Have you seen the Light of Pelor?” all in a bored monotone voice. The party’s rogue latched onto Chucks boredom and convinced him to abandon his post and take up a life of adventure.

 

Zephyr: Zeph was a half-orc monk, all speed and strength. He specialized in in crossing the battlefield, avoiding the meat-shields, and focusing on the casters in the back ranks. When he snatched an orb of storm control from a vile wizard and smashed it, Zephyr earned the title Stormbreaker.  I was never sure what monastery he came from, but he was a favorite at the table. The greatest terrain plans laid by our DM were of little to no hindrance to Brother Zephyr.

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Gar: Ebberon was an awesome campaign setting. I especially loved the Warforged race; living constructs with no names except those given to them by their comrades. Gar was found by a dwarf in an old bear cave, and given his barbarian nature the dwarf named him after the dwarf word for bear. He was a great tank, eventually multi-classing with fighter. Unfortunately he met his inside the belly of a dire shark. His quest for warforged mods (centaur legs, wings) was not meant to be.

Ahrazul: Possibly my favorite character from 4th edition was this Dragonborn Paladin of Bahamut. Ahrazul was always the center of attention in combat, lest the enemies suffer his divine smite for ignoring him. The problem was he was also very hard to hit, even harder to kill. Not so much a problem for me, but it sure was annoying for the DM. My love of creating new characters won out and I convinced the DM to orchestrate a glorious end to Ahrazul .

Rusty: With 5th edition I wanted to go back to my roots, so I settled on the idea of a dwarf. Russik “Rusty” Ironheart was the grandson of Farak the Axe. Unlike grandpa, Rusty liked ranged weapons. Wielding a heavy crossbow and a hand crossbow sidearm I pictured him as sort of a door-breaker dwarf swat officer. Spells, Weapons, and Tactics. All fighter, and delving into the Eldritch Knight sub-class it still is my favorite fighter sub-class from 5th edition.

Mad Dog: The Adventurer’s League had finally caught my attention. I was stuck with this idea in my head of a fighter wielding a staff or polearm much like Darth Maul. To get the wicked feel of it I would multi-class him into warlock.  With his devil sight, darkness, and polearm mastery he’s proven quite effective as a melee striker. A former pirate who sold his soul to save his own butt seems to be my go-to background for warlocks.

Qui’noa: Finally we have Qui’noa. A tortle monk, assisted by the spirits of his ancestors. This barbarian-monk is his own traveling bar brawl. It’s not an uncommon combo with the release of the Tortle race, but at least I haven’t named him after a renaissance artist. The ancestral ghosts make him a sticky tank, and his shell makes him a hard choice for the enemies to target.

Adventure Framework Part 1: Start at the Beginning

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“A few small, mostly melted candles adorn an old round table at the center of this shadowy room. The candle light flickers lightly as you step into the room through an ornate curtain. The dancing luminescence wicks over numerous porcelain masks covering the walls, their demonic visage accentuated almost seeming alive. A single gold censer hangs from the ceiling, swaying lightly, it’s pungent smoke cascading from it. Sitting at the low table is an ancient man, legs crossed, as he adjusts himself on one of the oversized pillows set around the room. His eyes are glazed and pale white, his beard grey, long, and scraggly. He wears an enormous red turban adorned with silver baubles and ornaments. An ornate red demon mask lies on the table in front of him, his gangly fingers gently tracing its features. His head tilts towards you, looking more with his ears than his eyes. In a raspy yet elegant voice he says: ‘You’ve come! Have you brought it?’ “

This is an introductory event I planned out for an adventure set in a fantastical and far off, foreign land. After gathering some information from the players, I set out to design an introduction to the game WE decided to play. These introductions are an art form that takes practice to get right. They come in many shapes and sizes; though, I much prefer to use these events as an introduction to the game we will be playing. Therefore, when you plan your session 0 this should be the first thing you present to your players. This moment is an accumulation of the story you want to run as well as a representation of what your players ask for in your initial chats about playing the game. (You really should chat a bit with your players before you set up a session 0.) Each introductory event will be different depending on the type of game your players want to play and the story you want to tell.

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Bears Vs Babies: A game review

20170627_171516 On July 4th, while many Americans celebrated with Fireworks and cookouts, my friends and I sat down to play Bears Vs Babies. As fans of the creators, we had been waiting to play it since the game had been announced. We were not disappointed.

Bears Vs Babies is honestly just a very entertaining game. It is also fairly easy once the players get started. There is a mat, and cards that are shuffled together. Some are babies who have different slots on the mat. There are some cards to give the players different actions. The other cards are pieces to help the player make a totally awesome monster!

The game encourages players to first go through a practice round, which is always helpful, depending on the experience level of the players. After they are comfortable, then it is time to get down to business and make some monsters. Players are given a number of cards. All babies are discarded face down on their appropriate color slots. Monsters are put together during each player’s turn.  

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The tricky part is that the cards have to line up with the stitches so it may take a few turns before a monster can be properly assembled. There are points on the cards which let you know how powerful each card is, so the more cards the more powerful your monster. All of the cards with the heads have a color that correlates with a baby pile, or they have a rainbow meaning they could fight any group. The goal of the players is to defeat the evil baby armies. If the player can, then they get the points. Some cards in the deck enable other players to trigger a fight between a player of their choice and the baby armies so it is a good idea to pay attention to what your friends are building.

Bears Vs Babies is brought to us by the brilliant minds of Elan Lee and Matthew Inman. Yes, the creators of Exploding Kittens. Bears Vs Babies has all of the humor of Exploding Kittens. It felt quick to play between trying to make my monster and strategizing against my friends. The art on the cards is well done. The monsters are funny and sometimes even fancy. In short, it was a great game that I cannot wait to play again.

I would rate Bears Vs Babies: Must play.

Always keep sparkling!

Top 10 Favorite Table Games

I love RPGs, gathering around a table and getting lost in fantasy with my friends. Sometimes though I just want a beer and pretzels type of game. Deal out the cards, lay out the tiles, and have fun. In no particular order (because I’m lazy) here are my favorite tabletop games:

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Munchkin – This card game is a simplified dungeon crawl with a stack of doors, and a stack of loot. Each person starts out as a 1st level human with no class, and that’s just the first joke of the game. The weapons are all tongue in cheek, the artwork comical, and the gameplay is fast and funny. The basic game is fantasy based, but there are any number of official sets for whatever your fandom might be. The best news is they can all work together making for some strange combinations.

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Betrayal at House on the Hill – Betrayal was the first random map game I ever really got into. You and your friends play a group of (fools) entering a haunted house. The map is laid out randomly from the foyer as you explore and find omens that will eventually reveal that one of you is a traitor. Or not. The main game has 50 possible reveals, and they’ve recently released an expansion for it, Widow’s Walk.

Abduction – Now this random map game is a simple deck of cards with cardboard cutout minis. You have been abducted by aliens and have to be the first one to escape. The layout of the ship can be chaotic, and with certain cards played, it can actually change at the last second snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory. I call dibs on the cow mini.

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Zombies!!! – I thought zombies were cool before they were cool, so when I saw this board game where you and your friends all played survivors trying to escape a town overrun with zombies. I was in. Starting with the center of town you deal out random tiles trying to find the helicopter pad and escape, or be the first to rack up a zombie kill count of 25. The game comes with 100 rubber zombies, so I also found it useful for the survival horror RPG I was running. There are several add-ons to date (8 I think) that make the map more complex adding a shopping mall, a military base, a college campus, a prison etc.

Zombies!!! 4 – The 3rd expansion for this game can really be called a stand-alone. Whereas the first game takes place in a city , this setting is a haunted forest accessible by a bridge out of the main city. The point here is to collect the pages of the Necronomicon and perform the ritual. This version also comes with 100 rubber zombie dogs to “hound” you throughout the forest.

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Red Dragon Inn – Dungeon crawls are fun, but what happens after the quest when the party is loaded down with gold? They drink and gamble it away. This game, with its four stand-alones and several individual add-ons has you choosing a character and using their personal deck to out drink their fellows, or win all their gold. If you pass out or go broke, you’re out of the game. Each character has their own strength and weaknesses. If you choose to imbibe some adult beverages of your own, drink responsibly.

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Epic PvP: Fantasy – This is a one on one deck battling game. Your race is chosen at random, as is your class making for some interesting combos. They’ve also come out with a companion game Epic PVP: Magic that can be combined with the original or played separately. My only wish is that it was designed for more than 2 players.

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Cards Against Humanity – How bad are your friends? How badly do you want to know? Play this game once and you’ll find out. The only drawback I found was after multiple games you start to get shocked less by the combos. Buying more cards, or finding new players is a must to extend the replay ability of this one.

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Chrononauts – Time travel is cool. A series or cards are laid out depicting the timeline of our natural history with alternate versions of key events on the reverse of the cards. Each player is given a secret goal that must achieve in order to win the game. By traveling up and down the timeline and playing cards to switch events they can create the future they know in order to win the game.

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Flux – You win by playing cards to empty your hand, but every card you play changes the rules. I’ve seen versions for just about every fandom (Chtulu, Monty Python, Batman as examples). It’s a funny game that’s easy to pick up and play.