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Dungeon Crawling: Making It All Up

Lords, ladies, lads, and lasses, I am Vinni the Troll and I am a Dungeon Master. I have always loved to create, and that is what I enjoy about being a DM. As a player, I was always happy to have a character die off, as it meant I could then create a new one.

As a DM, that means that I have a sizable retinue of NPCs waiting in the wings. Sometimes, they are ghosts of my own creations, and other times they are stolen from my youthful memories. Recently, on our Sunday night stream of Malhaven, I introduced the real names of the hacker Oracle, and his brother, Captain Happy. They are Pete and Bobby. If Ash had asked about other siblings, I would have gone on to list one other brother and 3 sisters. Quite the bunch.

Sunday nights, I run Malhaven on our Twitch channel. Perhaps you’ve watched an episode or two? I hope you’ve enjoyed the zombies and weird science that I’ve thrown together. On Sunday mornings, I run a D&D game for Crymson, Fluffy, Aiks, Vanri (sometimes), and my lovely Dragon wife. Still I find that is not enough. This new world I’ve created has many places to explore, so I’ve started another weekend game on Saturdays using Discord and playing theater-of-the-mind.

We started with barely anything. Two players and a loosely described city. The Monk was new to town and really playing up the fish out of water. He’d been told that he would find either work, or a fighting circuit at a certain tavern. The Bard, who worked the tavern, came up with the name “The Slaughterhouse.” I’ve already come up with rules and notes for this world, and during a one-shot, one player played a Minotaur. The proprietor had to be a Minotaur. Somehow, in my head, I started with heifer and twisted it into Festus, and he had a name.

Starting in a tavern is an old trope, but cliches are there for reasons. Another is low levels fight Undead, or rats (but I had that twist on my Sunday morning group already). There is a website called Kobold Fight Club; it’s a wonderful tool to help a DM build an encounter based on the level and size of the party. I set it to Undead, then 2 players of level 1. The lowest creature that came up was a Crawling Claw. I have never heard of or seen this type of Undead before, but they seemed really easy and tiny and I knew I’d found my start.

A comical scene unfolded in my head of the Bard and the Monk fighting a cluster of Undead hands straight out of a cartoon, or Sam Raimi movie. I only needed to set the trap.

With over 3 decades of gaming under my belt, I had an advantage. I knew a lot of quest hooks and styles. I decided on “The Milk Run.” It’s an apparently easy task of carrying an object from point A to point B, but it never goes smoothly. They never do.

With a large metropolitan city, I decided that the quest board on the tavern wall would direct the party to the College Arcanum, where a certain Professor Weir (I have no clue where I pulled that name from) had a crate that needed to be delivered. Weir worked in a sub basement of the College called the Dead Wizard’s Library. The hallways of skulls chatted with each other on all manner of topics, serving as reference tools.

The professor gave the crate to the party, along with a shipping strap that would help levitate the crate. His instructions were to take it to The Inner Ring, where all the wealthy estates were, and deliver it to a Lord Krocerian (a name resurrected from my gaming past) for disposal.

I only need to find a moment for the contents to escape. Sometimes while you plot, your players provide the means. As they cross the campus with the floating crate, the Monk wanted to see how much weight the strap would hold. To the chagrin of the Bard, the Monk lept onto the crate and I decided that was the perfect moment.

As the crate cracked, and the contents began clawing their way out, our heroes tried to put it back together again. With a failed attempt at reactivating the belt, the claws emerged.

When the combat had finished, the goods were put back into the crate, and a helpful student fixed the belt. Our heroes were on their way once more.

So far, all of this had been off the cuff. I wanted to finish with a big baddie, but an Ogre Zombie was bit much for the duo. Looking at the page in the Monster Manual, I saw that a regular zombie was probably more suitable.

The Estate of Lord Krocerian was quiet, the gates unlocked, and the guard dead and hidden in the bushes. Turning to call for help, the heroes were interrupted by a hooded figure with a glowing circlet charging from the house.

They won the day and called for the Watch. Statements were taken and then they returned to The Slaughterhouse for payment as the Watch assured them, and signed off on it, that the claws would be destroyed.

Now I look forward to the next game, and the mystery I have seeded. Who was behind the controlled zombie? Why did they want the Krocerian family dead? Would our heroes give a rats ass? We shall see.

Critical Brew

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Dungeons and Dragons has a lot of variety for players to choose from. The combinations between the 9 races and 12 classes from the Player’s Handbook alone will grant you 108 possible combinations, not accounting for multi-classing, subclasses, and racial variants. For some that is not enough though, or perhaps their inner creativity just can’t be sated by what’s offered officially.

So we have Homebrew. Many a player and Dungeon Master has spent their time to craft homebrew classes and races. If they wish to share with the world, many of these creators post their offerings online in a Pay-what-you-wish format. There are too many for me to review here, but I will showcase two Homebrew classes created by Matt Mercer of Critical Role.

In season one of Critical Role one of the heroes of Vox Machina was Lord Percival Fredrickstein von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, or Percy. Percy was a Gunslinger; a homebrew fighter subclass created by Mr. Mercer. In season two we saw Mollymauk Tealeaf, a Blood Hunter, join the Mighty Nein. The Blood Hunter is a full class, complete with subclasses to choose from. Both the Gunslinger and Blood Hunter were played by Taliesin Jaffe, and over the course of both campaigns his characters were adjusted as Matt tweaked and modified the homebrew classes.

The Gunslinger uses a mixture of Dexterity and Wisdom to make incredible shots with firearms, some of which they must create themselves. When you choose Gunslinger you gain proficiency with firearms to better hit your target, tinkers tools to craft your weapons and ammunition, and your choice of trick shots to give that added oomph to your attacks.

The trick shots are fueled by Grit, which is based on your Wisdom modifier, and can either be replenished when you rest or when you roll a critical success in combat. This is a good thing as rolling a critical failure will result in a gun jam, and should you fail to clear it, the weapon will break and need to repaired outside of combat at not-to-cheap cost of gold.

The action economy of the fighters multiple attacks and action surges will keep you busy as you unload and reload your weapon multiple times during an encounter. As you level the speed with which you can reload increases, so there is that. With the many Ability Score Increases a fighter gets you can customize the type of gunfighter you wish rather well. A Gunslinger with sharpshooter and the Bad News rifle can make the ultimate sniper, while choosing crossbow expert can make a dual pistol wielding Gunslinger rather fearsome in close quarters. In the latter case wielding two might be considered unnecessary and your DM might be convinced to extend that Feat’s hand crossbow bonus action to your pistol.

Ammunition is not cheap however, and it’s cost varies by the weapon you wield. The palm pistol will run you 2 gold for 20 rounds, while the Hand Mortar is 10 gold for 1 round. That is if you can find the ammo at a market. Most likely you’ll have to craft your own, and that cuts the cost down by half.

There are 8 trick shots to choose from. As you level on your way from Fighter 3 to Fighter 18 you’ll have the opportunity to choose 6, changing out ones you don’t like when you also have the chance to learn a new one, much like spells. These trick shots can intimidate foes, disarm them, give you advantage or grant them the reverse, and even greatly increase the damage you do, while also increasing the chance for your gun to jam.

I say double down on Crossbow Expert and Tavern Brawler, dancing through melee combat with pistol in hand and pistol whipping targets when the gun jams or you run out of ammo. Maybe there’s room for a Gun Fu Monk homebrew there somewhere.

Now the Blood Hunter is another creature entirely. With a fighters hit die, light and medium armor, and all simple and martial weapons they can be sturdy warriors. These arcane rangers are skilled in tracking fey, fiends and undead. Their class features allow them to sacrifice their own vitality in order to charge their weapons with magical energy and cast curses upon their foes.

With the Crimson Rite they can reduce their maximum hit points (which Mollymauk did by slicing himself with his own blade). This adds an extra die of arcane energy, that scales with their class level, to the imbued weapon. Starting at 1st level they choose one of basic types (fire, cold, lighting, or acid) and will gain 1 more each at levels 6 and 9. When they hit level 13 they can choose one from the lesser types (thunder, psychic, or necrotic).

Upon reaching 3rd level you have another major choice before you. Which Blood Hunter Order to you follow; Ghostslayers, Profane Soul, or Mutant. Like other martial classes they can choose a fighting style at level 2, and gain an extra attack at level 5. Further on they gain the ability to cast blood curses, determine an object dark past through psychometry, fend off fear and charm, move swiftly around the battlefield, and even have a greater chance to stave off death.

The Ghostslayers seek the Undead and add a splash of Radiant damage on top of their chosen damage from their Crimson Rite. They can also hasten their actions gaining another attack and bolstering themselves from the defeat of a foe, extend their Blood Curse to targets without blood, see that which others cannot, and continue to fight in spirit form while their mortal form slowly bleeds out.

The Order of the Profane Soul have borrowed a few pages from the Warlocks handbook. They choose a few cantrips, a few spells, and may use their weapon as an arcane focus. Further advancement along this subclass sees them casting cantrips and making a bonus action attack in the same turn, or channeling a spell through a weapon attack in the same blow. They can also gain resistance to magic energy that matches their currently chosen Crimson Rite, make a spell attack as a reaction to a foe’s error in combat, or regain a spell slot upon the defeat of a powerful foe.

The Order of the Mutant consists of Doctor Jekylls that alter their own bodies on the fly through alchemical experimentation.  They eventually master the knowledge of 5 mutagenic formulas, and become immune to toxins because of it. The creation of these mutagens requires a short rest, and by level 15 you’ll be able to craft 3 separate formulas during a single short rest. Drinking these requires a bonus action and their affects, and deleterious side affects last until you take a rest or mediate and flush the toxins from your system. As your body grows accustomed to these toxins you’ll be able to ignore the side affects, and find that you’ve begun naturally producing one of them permanently.

There are 15 mutagens each with side affects, and class level prerequisites. Any of the six attributes can be boosted, but they are accompanied by a penalty to one other. You may find yourself able to fly, but physically weaker. Foes may not be able to restrain or grapple you, but you’ll be slower in the combat order. Every pro has it’s con, at least until level 15.

I suggest watching the 1st season of Critical Role, or listening to the podcasts of it, and paying close attention to Percy to gain a better feel of the Gunslinger class. Taliesin’s luck, good and bad, with dice was most entertaining and showcases the pros and cons of that class very well. As for his Blood Hunter, Mollymauk, in season 2…

The risk of betting ones own health did not fare well for poor Molly. He did shine bright, even if only briefly.

 

 

 

 

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: Clerics

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Lords, ladies, lads, and lassies, today I am here to talk to you about healers Clerics. I mean really, when most gamers think of clerics the first thought that comes into their minds is a healer, and they can be so much more than that. They are not the only class that has access to healing spells, nor do their subclasses have a monopoly on healing features. Just take a look at the Circle of Dreams Druid or the Celestial Patron Warlock.

Proficiency-wise, clerics don’t do too bad with all simple weapons, light and medium armor and shields. Certain Domains will give you access to Heavy armor as well, allowing you to wade into the thick of things cracking heads and getting hands on with your better healing spells.

Wisdom is the primary spellcasting ability for clerics, affecting everything from spell attacks to spell DCs, and even adding to the effectiveness of their healing spells. Combined with their clerical levels, wisdom also determines how many spells they can have prepared on any given day. Each of the chosen domains also gives the cleric access to certain spells that they automatically have prepared each day for free on top of the ones they choose. Ritual casting is in the arsenal for a cleric as well.

Channel Divinity. Every cleric gets it, and the common use for it is Turn Undead, or Destroy Undead at higher levels. Each of the domains also has a secondary use for it as well, adding to the clerics toolkit of abilities. Starting at 1st level you have roughly ten subclasses, or Domains, to choose from. I say roughly because the Death domain is secreted away within the covers of the Dungeon Masters Guide and is meant for villainous characters. Still, with seven to choose from in the Player’s Handbook and two more in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything a budding cleric has plenty of versatility laid out before them.

The Knowledge domain is all about divination, and borrowing proficiency in skills and tools using your Channel divinity. In addition you gain double proficiency in two skills of your choosing from Arcana, History, Nature or Religion making for an extremely talented learned scholar.

The Life domain is the quintessential healer. Most healing spells in the cleric list are not counted against their daily prepared spells. In addition, healing spells of 1st level or higher are more potent. They also gain access to Heavy armor so they can wade into the thick of battle. When push comes to shove their Channel Divinity can be used as a group heal spreading a scaling pool of healing among whomever they choose.

Light domain clerics are bright shiny beacons burning their foes with fiery spells. They can distract an enemy with a brilliant burst of divine light or use their Channel Divinity to set off a radiant area-of-effect attack.. At higher level they are capable of adding their Wisdom modifier to the damage they deal with any cleric Cantrip.

When you choose the Nature domain you gain proficiency in heavy armor, access to a druid Cantrip, and a skill chosen from Animal Handling, Nature, or Survival. Your Channel Divinity can also be used to charm animals and plants.

Now the Tempest domain is another full on battle cleric. They gain proficiency in heavy armor and martial weapons and specialize in using thunder and lightning spells. They can rebuke attackers with a lightning strike, and use their Channel Divinity to max out the damage on thunder and lighting attacks when they choose.

Trickery domain clerics are sneaky, giving a blessing of stealth to someone else or using their Channel Divinity to create an illusory duplicate of themselves creating confusion on the battlefield. At higher levels their Channel Divinity can also be used to turn invisible for a turn.

War is the last of the basic domains in the Player’s Handbook and not surprisingly another full on battle cleric. Like Tempest, War gains proficiency in heavy armor and all martial weapons. When they fight in battle they can make extra attacks as a bonus action, but this is limited to a number of times per long rest. Their accuracy however can be truly awesome. They can use their Channel Divinity to gain a +10 to hit after they make the roll.

The Death domain in the Dungeon Master’s Guide is the only villainous domain so far. Focusing on death and negative energy, they start with a free necromancy Cantrip that is expanded to hit two targets within 5 feet of each other. They also gain proficiency in all martial weapons. Their Channel Divinity can used as a necromantic smite doing extra damage on a melee hit.

Next we have the Forge domain. These clerics are walking magic item arsenals. Sort of. Once per long rest they can imbue a non-magical suit of armor or weapon with magic granting a +1 to AC or Hit and Damage. They are also capable of creating metal objects using an hour long ritual when they use a Channel Divinity.

Finally we have the Grave Domain. These clerics monitor the line between life and death. They can cast Spare the Dying as  bonus action and at range, and when they heal a target who is at 0 hit points the dice are considered to have rolled maximum for the spell. They are also able to detect undead a limited number of times per day. In combat though their Channel Divinity can be used to curse a foe so they are vulnerable to the damage from next attack that hits them from an ally or the cleric themselves.

So all clerics can heal, but all clerics are not strictly healers. Pick you god, choose a domain and kick evil ass.

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.