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Showing posts from September, 2015

Interesting Encounter: Dark and Dangerous Cavern

Interesting encounters are short descriptions of encounters that GMs can use to build on.  They combine unique aspects of different types of foes, terrain, skill checks, weather, combat, etc in order to provide more unique challenges than hit monster; repeat.

The PCs are walking through caverns deep in the earth.  This particular cavern is entirely inside an antimagic field, faerzress, or other magical anomaly.  As the PCs approach the area, any magical items (especially magical lights) will blink off and on and then stop working.  The antimagic field is just large enough so that light from the edge of the zone cannot light the caverns ahead.

Inside the pitch black cavern is a scorched giant corpse.  The smell from the corpse, for those with relevant experience, indicates the corpse is several days old and heavily charred.  Also inside the cavern is a significant build-up of dangerous gas, that can both asphyxiate the PCs and explode if lit.  This gas can be smelled and identified by …

Interesting Encounters: Necromancer's Onslaught

Interesting encounters are short descriptions of encounters that GMs can use to build on.  They combine unique aspects of different types of foes, terrain, skill checks, weather, combat, etc in order to provide more unique challenges than hit monster; repeat.

In this encounter, we have a path that runs up to the top of a hill.  The path is sunken into the the hill as you go up, so there is a steep earthen wall that leads up to the full height of the hill to the left of the path.  The weather is dreary with light rain.  The path is mud and pretty slick.

At the top of the hill on the path is a portal.  Undead are pouring from the portal and following the path to attack the PCs.  Disabling the portal requires a magical check to identify and magically cancel the 6 runes around the portal.  This takes enough time that undead will definitely be harassing the PC dealing with it.

To the left of the path at the top of the hill, above the steep earthen wall, is the necromancer and a few guards.…

Devil Monkeys of the Underdark

So I am looking for small furry creatures to toss into the Underdark to steal, overwhelm, and generally terrorize travelers in the Middledark.  After a few google searched, I came across Devil Monkeys, a supposed legendary creature inhabiting North America.  These things sound perfect for the Underdark. Now let's turn them into monsters.

Reading the description of this creature, I am going to pick out a few aspects to include in my monster build:
Small sized, 3 feetKangaroo-like legs and lightning speed: 40 ft speed with 20 ft jump for a total of 60 ft normal speed3 toed claws (attack) and bite (attack)tiny ears, long tail: advantage on acrobatics checks To fill in the gap for my monster needs, I am going to add the ability to perform 3 sleight of hand checks to steal items as an action with its two claws and tail.  I am also giving it the ability to squeeze through exceptionally tiny spaces.
Now these are just the angry little thieves I am looking for.
Ok, to whip up some stats, I…

Faster Mass Combat in 5E

Dungeons and Dragons 5E is an elegant system that has far simplified the math of combat over previous systems.  With this simplification, my previous articles on using expected damage are feeling a bit dated so I wanted to revisit Mass Combat math to better match with 5E.

5E has a nice feature that average damage is already calculated for monsters.  For heroes, small damage numbers give a mean damage pretty easily: (die max - die min)/2.  What isn't easy is calculating how much of this damage is expected to hit.  Enter the expected damage formula to allow us to figure this out.
The formula isn't as important as what is represents.  An attacker can always miss with a 1 and always hit with a 20 for double damage.  In between the attacker gets a bonus on their d20 to try to hit the AC of the defender.  For every hit, the attacker gets to apply normal damage.
So imagine that we look at a collection of lots and lots of attacks.  Based on this we can calculated the expected damage t…

Rules for Flying Creatures in 5E

I'm not one for just throwing my players willy-nilly into something new without an idea of how it would work.  Flying races are on the horizon for one of my games, so here are my clarifications for flying creatures:

A flying creatures requires a minimum space of at least 3 times their height in all directions in order to flight. For example, a 6 ft tall flying creature requires a room to be at least 18 ft in all dimensions before they can fly in it.

A flying creature can attempt to grapple a creature. 

If the the target or grappler are flying, grapple attempts are at disadvantage. If neither are flying, grapples are per RAW.  The state of flying or walking is determined by the last square you have moved.  To change between walking and/or flying, you must use at least 1 space of movement.  Movement rules per RAW apply (PHB pg 190 "Using Different Speeds")

A successful grapple check by a flying creature can allow the flying creature to potentially carry the creature into the a…

Motivating and Manipulating Characters

Characters are slippery little things, scurrying about the game world.  Corralling them into a coherent story challenges even the most experienced GM.  This articles addresses all those convenient holds we use to push and pull characters in the right direction to keep the story moving.

To get PCs moving, we need a way to motivate them.  Some of this motivation is from the player who has agreed to play the game.  Unfortunately, too often, "that's not what my character would do" becomes a shield against the plot, so it's just not enough. We need handle to grab the PCs by: this is the character biography.

The character biography is part story and part facts.  The story gives a bit of flavor and affords the player a chance to spew volumes of prose about their characters like they like to do.  For the GM though, the meat of the biography are the facts: who they care about, who their enemies are, where they are from, and what has sent them into our game world.  These are o…

The Impact of Terrain on an Encounter: The Improvised Prison Example

Terrain can greatly alter the difficulty of an encounter.  Hide ranged attackers above a cliff and they are untouchable by melee attackers.  Bottleneck an incoming hoard into a 5 ft corridors, and the allies can defeat a 10x force.  More intriguing is how a simple reconfiguration of a hall in a building increases an easy encounter to a deadly one. In this post, I am going to look at this example in play in an improvised prison, taken from a recent game.

The improvised prison is roughly 20 x 20 square map made up of 5ft squares.  It consists of a single 10 ft entryway with 2 swinging 5 ft doors.  There are 12 cells around 3x3.  In the map as played, the cells are arranged in three rows.  One hallway accesses 1 row of cells; another hallway accesses 2 rows of cells.  Short corridors connect the halls to the main entryway.  All hallways and corridors are 10 ft wide.
The alternate way to build this map would be to build the hallway as either 1 big hallway that houses all of the cells, or …

The Rules We Forget

In almost ever game we play, there are rules we "forget".  These rules are the extra rules that no one uses, the rules we ignore for the sake of fun.  In roleplaying games, the GM / DM is essentially defined by the rules he or she doesn't use.  So what are these rules and why do we keep including them?

Rules are written like walls for the game.  They separate the agreed upon model of whatever the game is about, from the things that conflict or break the model.  If you don't put in encumbrance rules, you end up with players carrying around 100 sets of full plate armor in their backpack.  If you don't put in rules for the details of how many words a player can say during their turn, the game doesn't resemble reality anymore.
For the game in play though, rules are like lines on the road: they only mean something if everybody follows them. The DM, despite his apparent position of power, can't monitor every rule every time.  He isn't the police officer, re…

Rethinking the Murderhobo Problem

About every other week, a request from a frazzled GM appears in the forums regarding "the murderhobo problem".  It is always the same pattern.  The gaming group, in part or in whole, is murdering NPCs instead of playing the game.  They refuse to follow the plot or take advice.  They are a lawnmower of killing.  Sometimes the GMs don't know how to fix it.  Sometimes the GMs tried something already and it didn't work.  The GM and players aren't all having fun, and that is a problem.

The discussions about solutions are always heated.  GMs want to punish players for playing the game wrong.  Players complain that this is a valid way of playing.  GM versus player fights break out.  Because of all this misdirected emotion it is sometimes hard to get to the bottom of the problem and how to solve it.

Why is murderhoboing bad?  Generally, the answer, is that the gaming group (players and GM) has not chosen to play a TTRPG just to kill stuff over and over again.  There are …

The Cost of Kickstarter in Gaming

Gamers love kickstarters.  There have been no bigger opportunity for games in decades to get cool new stuff than the hundreds of gaming related kickstarters that have emerged in the past few years. I have backed quite a few myself -- some of them have been phenomenal; some have been total disasters. Unfortunately, kickstarters have hidden costs for our hobby that often go unnoticed on both sides.

Kickstarters basically allow anyone to post an idea online to get money to produce it.  In return, those pledging towards the production get something in return, usually at a reduced price point.  By ensuring enough customers come together to fund the initial production, no financing is required.  It also ensures that there is a market for the product before the product is produced, giving the producers a much lower risk.

There are a number of problems with this model.  First, all of the risk doesn't just get eliminated.  Instead of the producer taking the risk of getting the financing an…

Future Glimpse: Late for Work

I stepped out of the shower, hot air blasting to a stop, knowing that I was already late when I went in.  I pulled my underclothes up with one hand while shoving the toothbrush into my mouth with the other. A small fraction of a second later it whirred to life, slowing walking across my bicuspids with brushes spinning.  I tried to force out a whistle, spitting toothpaste foam all over the bathroom mirror.  The door opened.  My belt crawled in, snakeline, pulling my pants along with it.  I gave it a quick yank and my pants were on.  
I dashed to the closet, grabbed my shirt, slipping it over my arms while lifting one foot.  A black suede loafer crawled out of the closet, carefully aligned to my foot and wrapped itself on.  With a beep indicating the end, I spit my toothbrush out.  It floated in the air for a moment to get its bearings and flew back into the bathroom, while I lifted my other foot and other arm.  The second shoe was on and I pulled my second arm through.  The shirts butt…

5E Tactics: A Living List

Tactics are patterns used to deal with specific situations.  In the lists I have collected a list of tactical patterns that can be used effectively in 5E.  This is a living document, so comments and additions are always welcome. Curse and Save -- First, the saves of the target are reduced; then a spell with a save for damage is cast against the target.
Pit and Illusion -- Dig, find, or magically generate a pit.  Cover the pit in an illusion.
Kill Zone -- Using spells, terrain, or other features, funnel the bad guys into an area one at a time.  Have a large number of allies positioned so they can attack each foe all at once.
Ambush -- Set up an area the foes will come through, and hide.  Before they can react, have all the allies volley off a deadly surprise attack.  An effective first attack can even cause the foes to retreat.
Grab and Teleport -- This idea can be implemented several ways.  Most of the time it is used to either move an ally in or out of combat.  The teleporter runs in, or…

The Art of the Disruptive Encounter

Art is what you can get away with, so the disruptive encounter is clearly a piece of art in the GM realm.  Sometimes things get boring. Sometimes the PCs seem like they are a step ahead.  You get to that point where you need a big change.  This is your tool: the disruptive encounter.

The disruptive encounter has a few key characteristics that make is extremely powerful in altering your game:

It breaks a key assumption.  By breaking this PC assumption it requires a complete rethink.It forces a change in the party plan. They may have had a lot of time to plan things before this, but now they are starting from scratch.It rotates the alignment matrix.  By scrambling what is good, evil, lawful, and unlawful, the PCs may not longer know where they stand.It denies an implicit pending success. The PCs were planning to find the leader in the next city and kill him, but now things have gotten a lot more complicated. Let's do a quick example.  My PCs are chasing down an enemy in a dungeon.  T…