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Friday, September 26, 2014

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition - Monster Manual

This is part one of my extensive look at the Dungeons & Dragons 5e Monster Manual. I was unable to find the art online, so you'll have to suffer through photos I took out of my book, photoshopped and cropped to the best of my meager ability.

I'm just going to flip through it and make inane observations. I will complain and moan a bit, so turn away now if that sounds like your idea of a bad time. But for the most part I really like this book and I am happy with it in a major way.

I'm going to break this up into two articles, as it is proving to be massive. I should have the next part up in a day or two.

The Opening Stat Stuff:

I was hoping there would be a bit of elaboration on how challenge ratings work, but I guess they are saving that for the Dungeon Master's Guide. I just want to know how many lower level creatures are a challenge. Like, for example, are four CR 1 monsters an appropriate challenge for a level 4 group?

Legendary Actions:
I love this one.
There's a discussion of legendary actions and lair actions on page 11. I've already talked about these here. I love both concepts, especially lair actions. It's like they took the 4e terrain power stuff and integrated it in a more concrete and useful way.

My big pet peeve with these books is the weird stains and page tears they use as part of the design. There's these green cloudy blotches all over the place in this book. I really hate it. I don't even know what the point is. Why not just put the monster on the page? There's already all sorts of parchment texture stuff going on in the background.


- There's a cool bit on fallen angels. There is a mention of Zariel, ruler of the first layer of Hell, which I believe is a change from 4e (I could be wrong). I think the pit fiend Bel ruled it. Tiamat was the original ruler.

- They changed Devas. They're still sort of like the 4e race (which I think everybody liked, although some didn't like the name... "diva"). They are not reborn with amnesia anymore and they don't wear their weird/cool armor anymore.

- The lair actions are great. And I love the death tyrant! Look at that! Their central eye shoots a cone of negative energy that raises those slain as zombie thralls. It has a death ray that does 55 points of damage. The target is immediately killed if it drops to 0. I really like the hovering eye spheres. I guess that would make for a lousy miniature, though.


- Sorry, I have never been a fan of twig blights. I mean, come on... twigs? Even if I am running a level 1 PC, it feels like a pretty pathetic moment when a walking twig bundle is a threat to my cool character. I ran The Sunless Citadel, which is twig blight central.. it didn't do much for me. This book does refer to the Gulthias Tree in the blight entry, which is very cool. This book does a great job of referring to all of the D&D lore in a way that doesn't confuse new people. Just quick little blurbs seamlessly integrated into the monster entry.


- I've always thought they were cool. Half-demons are never not-cool, right? Apparently now cambions can be the spawn of either demons or devils.


- A chimera is a pretty iconic fantasy monster that doesn't seem to get much use. Has there ever been an adventure centered around them? There should be. I think they are great foes for lower level PCs.


- I am alarmed that these guys have a CR of 1/2! They turn you to stone! Two of them are an appropriate challenge for a level one party? They have 27 hit points, too. Yikes.

Death Knight:
- I like that they used Lord Soth as the depiction, though I kind of wish there was another depiction of a generic death knight as well. They even have a blurb about Soth's origin, which I didn't know. I love Lord Soth, he was the big bad guy in my best high school campaign.


- They did a great job in very succinctly describing all of the basic cool things you can do with demons. Demon summoning is something there should be more of. How cool would it be to have an ongoing NPC who can help the PCs be a bound demon that the party spellcaster has to negotiate with?

Lamashtu belongs!
- The book lists the major demon lords. I was wondering if they would introduce a new one or two. Each edition should build on the lore. Regardless, I don't think anyone would disagree that some of the Pathfinder demon lords belong in the official D&D cosmology (I am thinking of Lamashtu and Nocticula to start with). I believe those entities are based on names mentioned in D&D products that hadn't been fleshed out.

- They covered up the marilith's chest in this. It makes sense, as she is a warrior, so she should have armor. I just don't want the game to be completely de-sexualized. I think it should be equal - there should be sexy men types in the books too. In fact, I wonder if someday there will be a sexy depiction of a transgender character in a D&D book (maybe Corellon?). I wonder how far away we are from that?

- The Quasit looks really goofy. I always get quasits and imps mixed up.

The 4th Edition Erinyes
- Something we DMs need to remember: Devils and Demons killed outside of their home plane simply vanish and appear back in their home.

- Zariel is, indeed, ruler of Avernus. They have a snazzy list of current and previous rulers. How thoughtful. I am a big fan of sidebars and little bonus content like this.

- The Erinyes has been de-monsterized in appearance. In 4e, they deviled her up big time. Now she's a bit more dull-looking.


- In 4e, there were "drakes" for most of the run. It is nice to see dinosaurs included here. Who doesn't like dinosaurs?


- They certainly didn't hold back! There are a billion types of dragons in this book. In 4e, the dragons were parceled out in different sourcebooks. I thought 4e did an awesome job of creating new dragon types in many different supplements.

- Each dragon has a few different stat blocks for different aged dragons. Each type has its' own lair actions. You could make a pretty awesome dragon hunter campaign just out of the material here.


- I used to hate these guys. The duergar dungeon in 4e's Thunderspire Labyrinth was so dreadful that it made me actively hate these guys. But then when I ran Scourge of the Sword Coast, I had these little dudes enlarging and "hulking up" and it was awesome.


- That picture on page 126 is so dark, it's just a black smear.


- Wow, these are cool. I guess they're like a stand-in for greek titans. They are children of the gods with immense power. They affect the environment around them with their mood!

Helmed Horror - my favorite piece of MM art
- Marids (water genies) used to be big blue people. Now they look like fish-people. Well, that's the artistic depiction of them, anyway. Not kewl.

- Genie Wishes! Awesome! They are presented as a variant genie power (which seems like a smart idea). That is great. I blabbed all about genie wishes in my column on the wish spell.

- I know this has nothing to do with anything, but I really wish wizards had made a final 4e adventure. As in, an apocalyptic adventure where everything changes (to set the stage for the updated cosmology and rules for 5e). That seems like a missed opportunity for a truly epic poster map. I suppose the adventure should have somehow related to the primordials, as they were something of a focus in 4e.


- There's a sidebar on giant gods. My friend, if you care at all about secondary deities, you should get the AD&D 2e Monster Mythology supplement. You can get it for a few bucks on ebay. That thing is loaded with official D&D monster gods, fully detailed.


- I didn't think anybody could top the 4e art of the githyanki, but they did it here.

- I am a bit bummed that the events of the 4e adventure path Scales of War are ignored. The pact with the red dragons was broken, among other things. It is too bad, as the githyanki stuff in Scales was really great, probably the best stuff in the whole path. Vlaakith is listed as the ruler in this book, but in Scales the heroes fight her undead floating spine and that thing caused a TPK! It was very memorable.


- OK. As someone kindly pointed out one time, I am not an "edition war" guy. I like and use material from every edition. One thing I love is Pathfinder goblins. They just look cool. I think I own about 12 different Pathfinder goblin minis, and if new cool ones come out, I will not hesitate to buy them as well.

If I am Wizards of the Coast and I am designing the 5e goblin, I am going to try to make it as cool - yet different from Pathfinder - as I can. But this final version, this yellow guy with the weird nose... it doesn't even come close. It doesn't even really look like a goblin at all! Terrible. I think I might just say that in my games, the goblins look like Pathfinder goblins.

- I love the art of them. Very cool. Just monster-y enough. Sometimes they look ridiculous with all the feathers.

- They are a challenge rating 1! Seems low? Maybe not. I guess I'd rather have my level one PCs fighting cool monsters like harpies than the aforementioned piles of twigs.

Helmed Horror:

- This is my favorite piece of art in the whole book. I love that shoulder-piece with the face on it.


- I love the way they look. They are distinctive and will not be confused with imps. They kind of look like bat/rat/frogs. Awesome.

Hook Horror

- They are what they are. Nobody tried to reinvent the wheel here. I could really do without those stupid whiskers. We took a thorough look at Hook Horrors here.

Click here to continue to Part Two.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hoard of the Dragon Queen - Dragon Shrine

This week I'm going to run down what happened in our D&D Encounters game and then at the end I will talk a little about how the other groups in the store are doing.

I got to the game store this week to run another session of encounters and to pick up the Monster Manual. I've begun going through it and am working on an article about it. The art is better than in the PH. Not much else stands out to me at first glance except for the way-too-dark drow image.

We added one more player to the group, and we're maxed out at 7 players. Here's the make-up:

- Four 14-year old boys who go to school together
- Rules Guy: 25 year old male
- DARK'S DAD: Dude in his 30's

Because we sped through some material, the heroes are 2nd level. This dungeon has some very tough-looking monsters in it. I was worried this would be too hard.
Last time, Dark led our heroes through the dungeon, spotting an ambush and violet fungi. They had a harrowing battle with stirges in a cloud of screeching bats. They took an hour rest, and then headed left into a dark cavern.

Room 7: Dark led the heroes through a corridor. She stepped on a trap that confused her (as per the spell) for one round. It caused her to run back from where the heroes had come from. She got lucky - that could have been bad.

The hallway led to a room that had four kobolds and one winged kobold. There's a pit with some drakes in it. The adventurers pummeled the kobolds and wisely let the drakes be.

Room 8: There are stairs that descend down to room 8. The top step is trapped. Dark stepped on it, and caused a partial collapse which mostly affected the people behind her. Dark was very amused that the falling rocks injured her dad.

They made their way through the rubble into a room with 6 kobolds and 6 winged kobolds. This looked like a rough one for our trusty heroes. After a moment of consultation with her dad, Dark declared to the kobolds that she and her friends were dragon egg inspectors!

I was vastly amused. I asked her to make a charisma check. She rolled a 19. The kobolds all nervously let the heroes go through as the entire group gave Dark a round of applause. She is one of the most awesome players in the history of D&D Encounters.

Room 9: This room is a shrine to black dragons. Dark has black dragon blood, so she felt a weird connection to this room. In here was the blue dragon-man Langdedrosa and two berserkers.
On paper this one is scary. Langdedrosa's breath weapon does 22 points of damage! Each berserker has something like 60 hit points, if I remember right. That is a far cry from the 5 hit point kobolds they've been facing.

Langdedrosa breathed on half the party (they were in a line in the hallway) and hurt them very badly. The berserkers have a cool little gimmick where they have advantage to hit, but enemies also have advantage to hit them.

Dark charmed one of the berserkers, nullifying him. For some reason, Dark began a conversation with him about her sister. She explained to me that she and her dad had created Dark's sister at home. I think her name was Sabrina or something like that.

It was a rough battle. A couple PCs went down. But the new kid made a druid, so he had a few cure spells that brought people back up. He also really seemed to get a kick out of the Thorn Whip spell (which does damage and can pull an enemy 10 feet closer).

The adventurers took them down. What to do with the charmed guy? Why, open the trapped chest, of course!

 The group had spotted the chest and figured it was trapped. All but the two paladins left the room entirely. Good thing they did! When the chest is opened, the whole room fills with acid mist. This requires two saving throws, each for a different type of damage.

The berserker's face melted off like in Raiders of the lost ark. The loot was split and the heroes made their way to the dragon egg chamber.

Room 10: I decided not to use the roper, as we were running low on time. I thought the room was difficult enough.
This room has a bunch of stuff: A pit with four bomb-throwing kobolds, a lower cavern with some 3 foot tall dragon eggs, and a pair of guard drakes.

A wild melee ensued. The adventurers did surprisingly well. I thought the drakes would be too difficult, but that wasn't the case at all.

We wrapped it up. They got a pile of XP, and almost everyone leveled.

I scoped out our other two tables. Both lost a few players this week. I am kind of wondering if the 5e frenzy around here has peaked.

I noticed something else. Both tables are still in episode 1. One DM commented to me that basically they do one "Town Under Siege" scenario per session.

We blew through episode 1. As soon as people started hitting the XP, I ended it and jumped into episode 2. I didn't want to have a situation where players were sitting there playing entire sessions without getting any XP or treasure (this adventure is very skimpy on loot thus far).

I guess I am still in 4e "we gotta get through these encounters tonight" mode. I haven't gotten any complaints, so I'll continue our efficient run through this adventure for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hoard of the Dragon Queen - Dragon Hatchery

We had a good session of Dungeons & Dragons today. First I am going to talk a bit about the players in this group. Then I am going to run down what happened in the adventure.

Have you ever lost your wallet or identification? I did the other day. The idea of having to replace my license, my debit card and all that other stuff was overwhelming. I am so careful about this kind of thing. I couldn't fathom how I had lost it.

After three days of suspense... I found it. It fell out of my laundry. I can't tell you how relieved I was.

I found the wallet about two hours before game time. This meant that I was going into the session in a good mood, which obviously always helps.

Sadly, my playtest group (who went through Dead in Thay and White Plume Mountain, among others) has splintered to the far ends of the realm, like the heroes in the Dragonlance Chronicles. Hack and Slash Guy is too busy with football. The brony has been banished to another table. And the kid who was the core of my games for six months has pretty much dropped RPGs in favor of this online video game called Destiny.

I have ended up with an entirely new group comprised mostly of kids. They are awesome. I have, of course, talked about the 4th grade girl who plays the legendary character known as Dark The Dragon Sorceress. Her dad plays a rogue. There's a few 13 year olds who are brand new to the game and very into it (also very nice and considerate). There's also a handy 25 year old who knows all the rules very well, which is great because he can field rules questions and help the players along while I am handling something in the game.

Today a new kid jumped in. His mom told me he was very nervous (Why do Moms yell this in front of everyone? That just makes the kid more nervous. Pull me aside and tell me that kind of thing... sheesh), but I think we put him at ease very quickly. His mom seemed pleased and came back later with cookies that she made, and I must tell you they were loaded with chocolate chips. She gave me a bunch to take home. They were a Meal of the Year Candidate, I kid you not.

On top of that, the store decided to hand out free dice. They had a pile of those awesome Dead in Thay dice left, so they gave them out. I think that is a great way to help keep people coming back.

Dark first commented that the Dead in Thay die did not "match" the color of her dice set (which is light purple). But she ended up rolling the new die all night. These promo dice are just a little bigger than regular d20's. They are awesome.

So yeah, I found my wallet, got free dice, got free cookies and played D&D with nice kids. It was an awesome session.

Last time, we blew through episode 2 in a single session. They did not get close to enough XP to hit level 3. When running this adventure in a home game, you can just have your players level when each new episode hits. But in the Adventurer's League, we have to hand out XP fairly strictly.

So I was worried that the adventurers would get slaughtered in this episode, which has a lot of deadly monsters with multiple attacks.

I decided to go soft on them in a major way. They are new, after all.

Our heroes returned to Greenest and rested. There was this weird part in episode 2 where there's a monk the heroes are supposed to rescue, but the monk says he doesn't want to be rescued. But at the start of episode 3, the adventure assumes the monk was rescued!

Welp, my group didn't. So I had Governor Nighthill deliver the monk's flavor text. The adventurers are asked to return to the enemy camp to find out more.

I gave the heroes the chance to load up on potions of healing. They're 50 gp and heal for 2d4+2. I warned them that this would be difficult.

I had them encounter some 'hunters' from the camp, who are tracking an elk. My idea here was basically to give them an easy encounter where they got the jump on the bad guys so they could remember how the game worked, and so I could get them some XP to help get them to level 3 as fast as possible.

The players were great with the new guy, helping him along on his turn without me having to say anything. It is a very nice group.

After they took down the hunters, the group came upon the camp to find that most of the enemy army had left - scattered in different directions. Basically, the only enemies that remained were in the caves (which held dragon eggs). I decided that the bad guys had dragged the monk in there, too.

The first encounter involves two guards who spot the heroes coming, hide in the shadows, and ambush them. But what happened is that Dark absolutely insisted on going first in the marching order (a sorcerer going first in a dungeon is a recipe for disaster, I warned her. She ignored my warning).

She then stopped, peered around, spotted the ambush and cast color spray on the two guards, blinding them. It was unbelievable! There was no prompting, no anything. Just high rolls and clever play.

With the guards blind, our group mauled them with no problem. Easy XP!

Next up, there was a fungus garden. To get to it, you either had to head down some (trapped) steps or drop down a 10 foot ledge. Our wary heroes mostly used the ledge. Two used the steps.

The trap is so old school. I am instructed to roll "any die". If the result is odd, the trap goes off. The PC is slid to the base of these evil fungi. I was quite taken aback when I read this. It's cool, I just did not expect it at all.

But nobody triggered the trap. There's two paths through the fungi. One path, unbeknownst to our heroes, held 4 evil violet fungi that look just like normal fungi.

Dark stopped. She peered around. She rolled high and sensed something was not right. Then she made a nature check. She rolled a 19. She spotted the violet fungi! At this point, everyone agreed that Dark the Dragon Sorceress needed to always be in front of the party.

They avoided the fungi and made their way to the next chamber. It was a large cavern with dead bats on the floor. Thanks to Dark's clever play, the whole group was trying to figure stuff out. The rules guy suddenly said, "Wait, I almost forgot. Always look up."

He looked up, and saw the ceiling was full of bats, with stirges off in a corner.

The idea here is that the heroes can sneak through the room without disturbing the creatures, but instead they threw a dagger. This triggered the encounter, which is yet another classic but never-used trope.

It goes like this. The bats fly around in the cave screeching. The stirges are among them, attacking the heroes. The stirges have +2 to their AC due to the bats. Very cool.

The stirges hurt our heroes, but they worked well as a team. The paladins did a great job protecting their allies with their little shield maneuver that makes the monster roll with disadvantage.

After an intense battle, the adventurers paused for a short rest. I had them decide where to go next: A trash room, a cold room, or a dark room. They picked the dark one. We'll do that one next time.

It was a great session. I'd give it a 9 out of 10.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition - The Player's Handbook

Compare this to the version on page 171
I've been nibbling away for a week on this article, which is about the Player's Handbook for the new edition of D&D. First I will go over stuff for new players, like how a roleplaying game works and the things that make this edition different from the others. Then I will ramble about the art (I love D&D art). After that, I'll pick little things out of the book that are of particular interest. Then I'll let you know if I think this edition is worth playing.

I spent hours googling the artists from the Player's Handbook to find good scans of their art. I couldn't find all the ones I like, but I found most. It almost killed me! I hope you get something out of it.

(The one piece I couldn't find that I really wanted to include is the elf casting dimension door on page 232)

How Do You Play Dungeons & Dragons?

If you are entirely new to tabletop role-playing games, here's how it works: One person runs the game. They are the "Dungeon Master". They tell you where you are, what you see, and they control every monster, shopkeeper, queen, waiter, bad guy, etc.
Love this one: Prismatic Spray by Clint Cearley
Everyone else is a "player". Each player has a character that they created. You are the hero (or villain) of a novel or a movie, and your job is to have adventures, survive and thrive in your dungeon master's world. When you achieve goals and kill monsters, you gain "experience points" and your character becomes more powerful. You can also acquire magic items that do all sorts of things, anything from a flaming sword to a cloak that turns you invisible. In roleplaying games, you can do anything you can think of. You can change the whole story on a dime if you want (don't do that too much, though, or your DM might have a heart attack).
It's all about sitting at a table with your friends and having a good time within the context of the game. The DM should make sure he or she is prepared to run the game. The DM also needs to be careful not to play favorites (for the love of all that is holy, do not use the game to hit on somebody!), not to purposely take out real life frustrations on the characters, and in general make sure that the game is fun and fair.

Elf vs. Hellhound by Craig Elliot - The No Pants/No Shield version?
The players should remember not to ruin the game for others by whining, cheating, or being a distraction (by creating excessive side-conversations or looking at their phone which, IMO, should be turned off during the game). Bottom line, if you're going to play D&D, play D&D. If you just want to hang out, drink and talk, then do that instead.

For a good example of how the game works, watch a little bit of this PAX convention game run by the best DM on the planet, Chris Perkins.

What Are the Changes in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition?

Beth Trott got cut off big time
This version of D&D is stripped down to the core. It's most similar to 3.5/Pathfinder and the old 80's Basic Red Box. You just roll a d20 and go.

Saving throws are all keyed to your stats. If someone casts fireball at you, you make a Dexterity saving throw. If you are poisoned, you make a Constitution saving throw. Just roll a d20 and add your ability modifier.

Attacks of Opportunity are largely gone. The only time you have to worry about them is when you try to back away from an enemy.

There is no charging, unless you have the feat known as "charger". A double move is now part of the "dash" action.

Feats are optional. If you use them, you can take a feat when you hit 4th level. Normally at 4th level, you can raise two of your stats by 1 point each. You can opt to take a feat instead. The feats are very broad and kind of awesome.

Advantage: You roll twice and take the higher of the two rolls. You can get advantage in all sorts of ways... usually getting the jump on your enemies. Disadvantage is the opposite - you roll twice and take the lower of the two rolls.

Page 272 - they really ruined this one in the book
Advantage is meant to replace all of the varying bonuses that slowed the game down in previous editions.

Inspiration: A reward for playing up your character's background. When you have inspiration, you can use it to give yourself advantage on one roll of your choosing.

Downtime: This is an abstract system to help you handle your character's "off" days when you're not out on an adventure. I go over this in detail here.

Basically you can train, craft, recover from diseases, etc.

The Art of 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons

I've gone over my feelings on the art in previous columns. I'm not a fan at all of the "page rips" and the "coffee stains" that make up the background of the art in the 5e books. I also am not enamored with a lot of the art in the player's handbook. It just looks a bit blurry and uninspired. I don't know a lot about modern art techniques using tablets, but I am kind of wondering if this is simply a technology issue.
My favorite illustration in the PH, by Alessandra Pisano
That said, as I dig up the art from the sites of the artists, I am kind of seeing that these artists have done some really good stuff - mostly for magic the gathering. But the more I look, and I've googled most of them, I realize that their player's handbook art is getting all chopped up when placed in the book. Most of these pieces are shown in part, half-obscured by a page rip! Their art was done a disservice. I honestly thought the art in the PH was largely awful until I looked up the actual art pieces on the artists' blogs and websites.

I also couldn't help but notice that one of my favorite pieces of art - the elf vs. the hellhound -  was altered. Wizards had to put pants on the elf pictured above fighting the hellhound. Here's the site of Craig Elliot, the artist. I also realized that Jesper Ejsing is pretty freaking good.

As an old fogey in his mid 30's, my idea of good D&D art is stuff by Larry Elmore, Clyde Caldwell and Tony DiTerlizzi. In my largely uninformed opinion, the 5th edition stuff does not measure up. But maybe that's just me getting old. Perhaps this new art will grow on me.

I have placed my favorite pieces of PH art throughout this column. Almost all of them look much better on their own, without the spilled coffee.

DiTerlizzi... awesome
Tony DiTerlizzi has been posting new D&D art on his twitter account. I really hope wizards reaches out to him, because I think it is awesome stuff.

I would have liked to see some art that depicted some iconic D&D locations, like a hero in the tomb of horrors, something involving Strahd, maybe even a "crossover" piece of art with Tanis Half-Elven and Elminster talking with the Lady of Pain.

There is a "bar fight" scene on page 126 in what appears to be The Yawning Portal, the bar that contains an entrance to the mega-dungeon known as Undermountain. I don't really like the painting much but I appreciate the idea. There is a lot of art of items throughout the book, which is a nice touch, though most of it feels dull.
Yawning Portal bar fight
There's also a lot of depictions of locations, but the art is so vague that it's hard to make it out. As an example, I don't know what the heck the smoky blob is supposed to be on the top of page 43. A volcanic field? They might as well have just covered it with the piece of art of the infernal contract. I really like the image of the stream-ruins on page 36. I found the full image of this, by Jedd Chevrier, online (I posted it at the bottom of this article). It is really good! It looks much worse in the book.

I think that wizards tried to load this book up with art like the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG book did, but in my opinion DCC hit a home run and this is maybe, at best, a double. DCC has it a little easier as they used black and white art, which I'd imagine is much cheaper to commission.

The paper they used in this book is fantastic. There's no glare and the ink doesn't smudge when my greasy paws rub it for any length of time (you should see some of my 4e adventure booklet covers.. it's like a crime scene). The paper has a sort of "wetness" to it, smooth to the touch and heavy in a weird way. Fantastic!

Random Thoughts on The Player's Handbook

Page 104 The Wild Magic table is incredibly useful. I always loved the wild magic table in the Tome of Magic and this is probably going to get a lot of use in my games. It kind of makes me want to make a wild magic dungeon, actually...

Page 109 Warlocks can take on patrons like The Great Old One. Entities of this type include Ghaunadaur, Tharizdun and "Great Cthulhu". CTHULHU.

Page 114 There's a sidebar discussing spellbooks. It takes 2 hours and 50 gold per spell level to copy a spell into your book. I kind of wish they made a little random table of different types of spellbooks, like one long scroll, or a book made of dragon hide, etc.

Page 154 Tools are really odd. All that to add your proficiency bonus to certain rolls? It's so vague as to who can do what if you aren't proficient with certain tools. I guess if you use thieves' tools but you aren't proficient, you make the check with disadvantage?
The cover art unfettered by Tyler Jacobson
Page 157 Lifestyle expenses are especially handy because it gives us a good idea of how much money NPCs make - which is something that was always difficult to determine in previous editions. Here, we know joe schmoe probably makes a bit more than 1 gp per month as that covers their living expenses. So maybe a modest wage for someone with a family would be 1 gp per week?

Page 168 I really hated feats in 3rd edition. But I really like these feats in this book, Particularly Mage Slayer. If you're adjacent to someone casting a spell, you can attack them. You can also disrupt their concentration and you get advantage on saves vs spells. It reminds me of the Spellslayers from Al Qadim. I think it is a cool idea to have a character who specializes in taking down spellcasters, seems like it could make for a cool campaign.

Page 175 I really wish they hadn't bothered with passive skill checks. I barely used them in 4e, and it lead to a lot of complaints by players when something bad happened that maybe/might/probably wouldn't have been auto-detected by a passive skill. In my opinion, as DM, you have to account for passive skills when preparing your adventure. You're just not going to remember them in the heat of the moment.

This Reynolds art is half-obscured in the PH
Page 177 I have never been comfortable with hiding. Players always try to run, hide and attack all in the same round. It feels wrong - too difficult to adjudicate fairly.

Page 189 Surprise is left up to the DM to a degree. You could compare a PC stealth check to the enemy's passive perception (ugh). If you win, you basically get a free round of attacks and movement.

Page 190 Getting up from prone costs half your speed!

Page 204 The little chalkboard drawing of the different Areas of Effects of spells is very helpful. Most of the stuff seems like 4e bursts and blasts (which I love) re-worded.

In the back of the book, there's a section on the planes. In 4th edition, there were four planes: The Feywild, The Shadowfell, The Astral Sea and The Elemental Chaos. In 5th edition, they've brought back a lot of the old stuff from previous editions like The Beastlands (which I always hated) and Mechanus (which I love). A lot of these planes were folded into one of the 4e "big four", but now they are all separate again.
Magic Missile on page 200 - compare!
I am very happy that they kept and integrated the 4e planes, although it's a bit of a bummer that it is the astral "plane" again, not the astral "sea". Though I guess the astral sea could be a place found within the astral plane.

I'm also very happy that they brought back the planes of positive and negative energy. If you remember, the demi-plane of minerals borders the positive energy plane and sort of fuels the creation of ioun stones. I rambled about all of this in a previous article all about ioun stones.

The book lists pantheons and deities from many settings, including the Forgotten Realms (the core seteing of 5e), Greyhawk (THE D&D setting IMO), Dragonlance, and Eberron. There's also a great list of demi-human deities. You might want to track down the old AD&D monster mythology book. You can probably get it for a couple bucks and it is a fantastic resource that has most of these non-human deities in it.

They also list Celtic, Greek, Egyptian and Norse gods. I've never been into using "real" mythology in my D&D games, but hey maybe it will work for you.

You can get the basic rules completely free here. The only difference between the basic rules and the player's handbook is that the PH has more classes, races and spells, and other extra details. The basic rules are the same as the rules in the PH.

Is Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Good?

Yeah, I think it is. It's snappy, it's simple. It's still D&D. The fights take 5 minutes instead of an hour of 4th edition. It remains to be seen if this edition will suffer complications at higher levels like 3rd edition did.

I've run a number of playtest campaigns over the last year and we didn't have any problems.

But I have seen quite a bit of worry online that "min/maxers" will "break" this game with ease. 4th edition did a pretty fantastic job of balancing things in that regard. 5th is much more loose and it seems very likely that power gamers will do their thing.
My favorite landscape, by Jedd Chevrier. Extreme zoom in the PH page 36

Here's the bottom line. If you don't like power gamers, don't play with them. DMs, you can shut this behavior down. You make the rules, you are not bound by the book. This is how D&D has always been. If somebody is bending a rule to "cheat code" the game, just tell them you're not allowing it. If they can't handle this, they need to find another group.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition is really good, it's as simple as that. You should definitely check it out.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hoard of the Dragon Queen - Raiders' Camp

We jumped into episode 2 of the adventure tonight at the store. Going in, I was a little concerned. This episode is short. And they are supposed to hit level 3 by the end of it.

The scenario goes like this: The heroes head to the enemy camp, encountering two bands of cultists along the way. Both encounters can be avoided entirely. Then they get to the enemy camp of 180+ enemies, where they must infiltrate it, learn as much as they can, and possibly rescue 8 prisoners and a captive monk.

This could easily take a single session. At least, that's how it looks on paper.

An entire table of new gamers showed up this week. They made characters. This means we're now up to 4 tables. Clearly 5th edition is doing well so far.

I was sad to see that Hack and Slash Guy didn't show up this week. He didn't show up at the Thursday game either. He is a great kid... I know his football team stuff was really eating a lot of time and I think we may not see him again. He may have mindlessly hacked at everything in sight, but he was fun to play D&D with.
The 7 year old girl (actually, she said she's in 4th grade so I think she must be 9 or 10) was back with her epic character Dark the Dragon Sorceress. She wrote her name on her little standee thing and put the drawing of the cute dragon with heart-horns on it.

This week she was kind of learning how the game worked. In the beginning, Dark was storming around, refusing to go on the adventure because she was "tired". When I explained that she'd be really bored sitting at the table while everyone else went, she joined them.

A lot of the players are very new, so there's a lot of little rules things being ironed out. One kid thought he used his DEX bonus for melee. He has an 8 DEX. This explained why he never hit anything, poor guy.

We finally got to do some Downtime. How odd... this adventure clearly states that the heroes should set out after the enemy force the very next day. But if you spend ten downtime days...? Do the days actually pass? I guess not. I guess it's an abstract thing.

It didn't matter, as none of them had much interest in downtime activities, anyway.

The adventurers set out after the Cult of the Dragon. They came upon stragglers, who were split into two small camps. The party's two rogues did a lot of sneaking, which was very fun and different. Ultimately this lead to a swift slaughter of all the enemies after some eavesdropping.

The eavesdropping paid off, as the heroes learned of the "rearguard" - a small band of cultists whose job was to take out anybody who tried to follow the cult.

The adventurers came upon an ambush point and decided to just circumvent it entirely. Dark wanted to go in alone, but her dad talked her out of it. I think there was 12 bad guys there who cause a rockslide that does 2d12 damage. Dark has 9 hit points!

The heroes got to the camp, put on some cult garb and walked right in. This is what the adventure wants the PCs to do. So far, so good. They looked around. They cleverly handed off a sack of loot to the cultists - a sack stolen from the stragglers they'd ambushed.

The cultists made a comment about dumping the loot with the rest of it in the hatchery.

I was hesitant to mention the hatchery. It's in the camp, but it's not supposed to be adventured in until episode three. In addition, there's a tent in the camp full of enemy leaders that the module pretty much tells you that the PCs can not enter.

The best way to handle these things is to not even dangle it in front of the PCs. It might feel a little cheap, but it's better to do it that way then to have to block the players out in a very blatant way.

The heroes rolls suddenly went south. A cultist recognized one of the thieves from Greenest. The heroes tried to talk their way out of it, but the dice just refused to cooperate.
A fight broke out, and quickly the adventurers were surrounded by 25 cultists. Our heroes were captured and brought before Frulam Mondath (who I couldn't find much info on in the moment.. somehow this had been missed in my preparation).

She decided to execute them. They were tied to posts next to the captured monk and left overnight. They'd be killed in the morning.

One new player explained that there was no need to worry - they couldn't die or there'd be no adventure. I got to tell him what a "TPK" was, and how it was most definitely a part of D&D. The adventure would go on, young fellow, but you'll be running a different character!

One they heard that, they frantically tried to escape their bonds. Each of them tried some roll. Dark tried to use her incredible strength to break her bonds, but rolled poorly. Luckily, one PC made - the paladin. He slipped free, and freed his friends.

A lone rogue crept out and stole back the party's gear. They geared up, climbed a wall, and got the heck out of the enemy camp.

They've pretty much gotten all the way through episode two. I had figured it wouldn't take long, but wow this barely filled a session.

This episode is one where you really need to "unpack" a lot prior to the session. If you sit down 45 minutes before game time and read these four pages, you're not going to have the time necessary to fill in a lot of blanks. This requires some work on your part. You will need to cook up some details of the camp, such as how many guards are on each watchtower, what the kobolds are doing, what the acolytes are doing, some NPC names for guards questioning the PCs, etc.

If you go into this cold, you may end up with a flat session as you scramble to flesh out the scenario on the spot.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hoard of the Dragon Queen - Dragon Attack

We just finished up the second session of Hoard of the Dragon Queen at the game store. I was excited about this session, because I had planned on running the blue dragon encounter. Yes, in this adventure, the 1st level adventurers have a skirmish with a blue dragon that has over 200 hit points.

The store went from one table with 7 players to three tables with a total of 18 players! 5th edition is bringing them in, that is for sure. The question now is whether we can keep them.

In last week's post, I mentioned that a player brought his daughter who decided to try playing this week. Once in a while, you come across a legendary D&D character. Tonight, this 7 year old girl debuted one of the most epic characters of all time: Dark the Dragon Sorceress.
Greenest was under attack by an army and a dragon. Our heroes had arrived at the village, rescued a family and hacked their way through the hordes to get to the safety of the keep.

The heroes were hurt badly. The adventure says they can take a short rest if they like. They did so. Then Escobar the Red asked them to meet with Governor Nighthill, who was up on the parapet overlooking his besieged town.

He had a bandage on his head, his arm was in a sling and his tunic had a blood stain on it. He recruited our heroes (who angrily demanded gold!) to sneak through a never-used secret tunnel to go back into the town to rescue citizens barricaded in the temple of Chauntea.

The Secret Tunnel:

There's a rat's nest where rats attack if the PCs disturb it. They did not. Pretty cautious on their part! I was impressed. The exit to the tunnel has a rusty lock on it. The key or thieves' tools will break off in it on a bad roll, which is a very cool little detail.

Upon exiting the tunnel, the heroes crossed a shallow stream and were spotted by cultists and kobolds. A battle broke out. The father of the little girl stealthed around and backstabbed some enemies, while his daughter - DARK THE DRAGON SORCERESS - fired off ranged spells and then closed in with her dagger for the kill.

Yes, that's right. Dark has a freaking 17 strength and she will not hesitate to stab you to death. She took down a kobold and I asked her to tell me how she killed it. She said "I stab it in the arm!"

At the end of the night, she showed me drawings of her character. She had been working on them with her dad as we played. I really wish I could have taken pictures of them to post here, but I wasn't sure if that was appropriate to ask. One picture was of Dark, who is sort of gothic with face paint and red hair. And then there's a cutesy picture of the 225 hit point blue dragon, with big shiny eyes with horns whose tips end in hearts. It was beyond epic.

The heroes mopped the floor with the bad guys and made their way toward the church while clinging to shadows.


This is a nice, elaborate encounter. There's scared citizens barricaded in the church. Outside the church (which is gigantic) are three groups of bad guys. One group is trying to use a ram to bash the door open. Another group is trying to set a fire by the back entrance. The third group is circling the place, throwing stuff through the windows, hooting and hollering.

The heroes stealthed to the back, took positions behind or on nearby buildings, and then took out the bad guys in a quick but deadly fight. Those kobolds with their advantage when an ally is adjacent are pretty deadly.

Our heroes busted into the church, calmed down the villagers and hustled them out before the front door was bashed in. Dark first declared to me that she wanted to stay in the church - alone - to take on all the bad guys!

After some discussion, she changed her mind. She was going to go with the group, but keep her eyes peeled for pursuers or enemies and take them out.

Cool, right? OK, so I had to see what would happen. So I described the scene with our heroes leading the poor villagers through the ravaged village, with Dark at the rear trailing behind, angrily keeping her eyes peeled for bad guys.

A single kobold rounded a corner. I asked her what she did. "Fireball!"

Yes, she cast fireball on one lone kobold, blowing him to smithereens. She couldn't cast that spell, but I didn't care. I was dying laughing.

Soon after, she spotted another one in a building. Fireball again! The whole building exploded!

The villagers were brought to the secret tunnel. That rats' nest was not disturbed. The villagers were rescued.

Dragon Attack:
Before the adventurers could catch their breath, there was an explosion from outside the keep. The blue dragon was attacking!

This encounter is pretty scary. I really wonder how it went in other stores. If the DM does not make it crystal clear that this monster is MUCH more powerful than the party, you are going to have serious problems. I made sure to do as the adventure advised and told the heroes that the breath weapon did 66 points of damage to a guard.

The deal here is that the dragon hovers above the wall breathing lightning down on the guards, killing d4 of them per round. While it waits for its' breath weapon to recharge, it flies up higher into the night sky. Once ten are dead, the PCs get less XP for the encounter.

The players' reactions to this situation were understandable. One player was certain that this was an illusion. Others hid behind a wall. Most of them, interestingly, tried to parlay with it. Even Hack and Slash Guy, he who charges every monster every time, tried to talk to it. The players couldn't understand what the idea was behind this encounter (the gimmick is that they need to do 24 points of damage to the dragon to get it to go away, which is a sort of difficult thing to convey to them).

Dark has dragon blood or something. Thus, she reasoned, the blue dragon probably liked her. I agreed! They entered into a telepathic dialogue (don't ask me, it just seemed like a fun idea at the time). Through this psychic conversation, Dark learned of the Cult of the Dragon's plan.

Her father in real life was playing a rogue. He saw that the blue dragon seemed to respect Dark, so he suddenly told the dragon that he was going to kill Dark if it didn't go away!

And what did Dark do? She tried to stab her dad's character!

She missed, but Dad cleverly made it look like he had been stabbed. The dragon, shocked by this turn of events, was hovering above the wall. Our heroes suddenly rushed onto the wall and unleashed ranged attacks. A critical hit was scored with a javelin, and a flung dagger found its' mark. The dragon was wounded and soared off into the night.

The guards let out a cheer! They thanked the heroes profusely. Then came my favorite part. I said, "The guards cheer, thank you and pat you on the back."

Then the little girl playing Dark told me she was grabbing the hand of the guard who patted her back.

I didn't get what she meant. Was she going to hold the guard's hand? How cute.

"I break his hand" she said, smiling.

So... a guard patted her on the back and said, "Well done!" Dark's eyes narrowed. She snatched his hand, crushed it in her mighty grip and stormed away as the shocked guard clutched his wrist and howled in pain. The guards and the party stood stunned as Episode 1 came to an end.

This was one of those classic sessions where everything goes right. Sometimes public play royally sucks, but this one was a 10 out of 10.