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Multiple motivations for your D&D games

dungeonmastering.com - Thu, 03/26/2015 - 22:32
What if every player character in a one-off adventure came with a backstory featuring their own individual goal? Designing such a module or convention game where different members of the party...

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Couple of homebrew 5e monsters…

Newbie DM - Mon, 03/23/2015 - 10:43

I went on a bit of a monster kick this weekend, only to see just how easy it was to take old AD&D monsters and turn them into 5e creatures. Here’s what I worked on…

First, the Yuan-Ti Histachii. My version of this creature (a 1/2 Challenge monster) comes from the one found in the 1993 2e Monstrous Compendium, although this creature first appeared in the Kara-Tur campaign setting, and was originally printed in that product’s Monstrous Comendium Appendix. The histachii is a former human, transformed into a reptilian humajoid by a foul yuan-ti mixture. They serve as slaves to the Yuan-Ti, guarding prisoners, hunting, and other tasks. Of course, they can also serve as cannon fodder.

From TSR's 1993 Monstrous Compendium

From TSR’s 1993 Monstrous Compendium

I wanted to make this creature available for 5e because the Yuan-Ti entry in the MM is missing (in my opinion) a suitable low challenge grunt for low level PCs. Sure, the Yuan-Ti Pureblood is there, but in my opinion it serves a different purpose.

My 5e Yuan-Ti Histachii

My 5e Yuan-Ti Histachii

You can find the Yuan-Ti Histachii here. 

The following monsters are a pair of undead, the Skeleton Warrior, and the Huecuva. The skeleton warrior was a nasty monster back in the AD&D days of yore. (It also made for a memorable character in a classic episode of the D&D cartoon). It first appeared in the Fiend Folio for 1e, then reappeared in the Dragonlance Monstrous Compendium appendix, and eventually ended its AD&D appearances in 1993’s 2e Monstrous Compendium. Almost a bit lich-like, the skeleton warrior has an interesting backstory… its soul was trapped long ago in a circlet by powerful demigod or an evil wizard. Their only raison d’etre is to search for and find the circlet containing their souls. The circlet can be used to fully control the skeleton warrior,  but if the circlet gets lost watch out… because the skeleton warrior will stop at nothing to kill its former controller.

From TSR's 1993 Monstrous Compendium

From TSR’s 1993 Monstrous Compendium

Granted, it’s a very situational type monster. But I thought it was a neat backstory. Neat enough that I wanted to see it in 5e. In 2e term, it was a 9+2 to 9+12 HD creature. In 5e I made it a Challenge 13 monster, since the guy is loaded with immunities and can’t even be turned. He’s a nasty critter. Now, one of the things not described in the AD&D version is the magic item which makes up this monster’s story. So I added it to my write up. It’s basically a golden circlet that grants a +1 to AC and saving throws, along with the skeleton controlling abilities.

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.20.31 AM

Art shamelessly taken off google...

Art shamelessly taken off google…

Download the Skeleton Warrior here. 

The final monster is a neat one, and a bit of a D&D trivia oddity. The huecuva, or heucuva, depending what you’re reading. You see, it’s one of the few D&D monsters (maybe the only one) that managed to have an editorial error slip through the cracks and become canon. In the Fiend Folio, it was huecuva, and later it became a heucuva due to a typo. The rest is history ( and you can read more about this on page 6 of Dragon Magazine issue 168).

The huecuva (I went back to the original spelling) is a neat undead with a bit of a creepy backstory. It’s origins come from Chilean folklore, specifically the religion of the Mapuche people of south-central Chile. (Read about it here.)

In D&D terms, it’s described as an undead spirit similar in appearance to a skeleton. Legends tell that they are the restless spirits of monastic priests who were unfaithful to their vows and now face eternal punishment, roaming, killing, and making mockeries of their past lives.

It attacks with its claws, causing disease to the unlucky ones it manages to hit. In the Fiend Folio it actually caused terminal renal disease! They could also polymorph themselves into other types of creatures, and are resistant to mind controlling spells. And yes, I know there was a 4e template for this creature, but it seemed to ignore this whole aspect of the monster, so again, I’m working off the AD&D versions.

 

From TSR's 1993 Monstrous Compendium

From TSR’s 1993 Monstrous Compendium

 

In 2e it was a 2 HD creature, I made it a challenge 4 creature for 5e. A shape changing undead that can cause disease and has advantage resisting turning? I’ll take that!

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 11.38.28 AM

Grab the Huecuva here. 

These monsters haven’t been playtested yet. I created them using the guidelines in the DMG, and from reading their older stat blocks. Partly art… partly science. Let me know what you think!

 

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13 things unlucky players might hear

dungeonmastering.com - Tue, 03/17/2015 - 01:55
At the very end of the adventure, as the players head into that final room to confront the main enemy, what will the big monster say to them?  Well this article gives you 13 catchy bits.  We’ve...

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more kick-ass quotes from House of Cards’ 1st season

dungeonmastering.com - Fri, 03/13/2015 - 20:54
Last time we looked at various phrases of dialogue from Netflix’s hit political drama House of Cards that could be used by those NPCs who are benign to the players and want to actually try to...

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kick-ass quotes from House of Cards’ 1st season for your NPCs to say

dungeonmastering.com - Thu, 03/12/2015 - 01:58
House of Cards is to political dramas what Breaking Bad is to shows about teachers. Kevin Spacey in easily the greatest role of his career transforms into a ruthless politician who will stop at...

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Khatogon: A Dungeons and Dragons Pilot Campaign

dungeonmastering.com - Mon, 03/09/2015 - 16:06
Hello Everyone, My team and I here at Revenant are proud to announce the release of our pilot campaign for 5th Edition, Khatogon. Our core team consists of myself, the chief director and content...

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The 5e Overland Travel Montage

Newbie DM - Mon, 03/09/2015 - 12:55

One of the things I’ve had to deal with in the 5e game that takes place in the 2nd Ed. era of the Forgotten Realms is overland travel. That map is huge! And there are quite a few empty spots along the way (one of the reasons why I’m switching to the 3e map actually, but I digress). Overland travel can be a tricky thing to navigate through when you’re a new DM, and the DMG sort of tells you to hand wave it and make it a quick, but evocative couple of lines and move on to the destination. Older version of the game asked for tons of random encounter rolls, something that can be interesting if used sporadically, but ultimately work as filler to do something while you travel. That’s to say, it’s not very rewarding, but it will give you necessary XP. That’s not to say that they all have to be this way, you can come up with a list of interesting and useful things the players learn or find in these random encounters, but that requires a bit more planning.

117024_CN_GL

I want to take a different approach. Page 106 of the 5e DMG talks about the Travel-Montage approach of exploring the wilderness, and basically it boils down to describing and hand-waving the trek quickly to get to the desired destination. The fantastic D&D variant 13th Age, takes this approach one step further in its organized play adventures, putting the task of narrating the montage in the hands of the players. I like that! i want to play with that and maybe add a bit of 5e mechanics along the way. Here’s what I’m thinking:

The way 13th Age does it (in a system devised by author Ash Law), the DM will describe the area the players are trekking through, and then ask a player to come up and narrate an obstacle that the party faced along the way. Then that player picks another player to determine how and what his or her character did to defeat the obstacle, and hopefully that player will make his or her character look like a complete badass in the process. It’s a neat reprieve from having to roll charts for wandering monsters and other random encounters, and allows players to get their creative juices flowing.

While I like the narrative approach, I want to add a bit of 5e’s new mechanics to it, namely Advantage/Disadvantage and Inspiration to give it just a bit of crunchiness to it. So it would go something like this:

GM: “Your journey across the barren, rocky wastelands of the Plain of Standing Stones in Anauroch will take you a few weeks,  The occasional vulture flies overhead, waiting for your demise, and it may just come, given how this land is frequented by hill giants, hobgoblins, and even the occasional blue dragon.  Ahkek, what obstacles did you and your companions come across the first few days of your journey?”

Ahkek: “Well, we’re in the desert, right? Rocky and barren? Lets tell the tale of how we fought that giant scorpion.”

GM: “Oh yeah? You mean the one that got a good couple of stings on you and your companions. Clarity how did you defeat this scorpion, what did you do?”

Clarity: “The giant scorpion had me locked in it’s claw, it was clamping down hard, stung me with the poison stinger. I prayed to Lothander, thinking I was slipping away, and from the heavens it rained down flames and killed the scorpion with my Flame Strike.”

GM: “Awesome. So it explodes in a flash of fire, with poison and scorpion flesh raining down on you, Now you all got hit with a nasty poisonous sting. Ahkek, give me a Constitution saving throw. You guys went head to head with a giant scorpion and got stung in the process while trekking through a harsh environment and I want to see what happens.”

Ahkek: “9. D’oh”

GM: So for three days you guys feel the effects of the poison. You’re sluggish, weak…..”

At this point the GM would ask another player to describe what other obstacle they faced along the way, and perhaps apply Disadvantage to the roll due to the lingering effects of the terrain and poisons…

By the end of the overland journey, each player would have narrated an obstacle, a way out of an obstacle, and the GM did minimal work in making the scenes come alive, as it would all be in the hands of the players.

If the situation warrants it, you can add Inspiration, you can take into account Bonds, Flaws, Ideals, etc, and apply Advantage or Disadvantage as you see fit. You can also award loot if it went well for them, so maybe had they faced bandits they could have found some coin, but if they would have failed the STR check to represent the fight, their weapons may have gotten damaged instead, or they might have lost some gold.

What do you think? You like?

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DM’s MBA: Commerce and Trade in Roleplaying Games

dungeonmastering.com - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 01:57
This column proposes some new ideas regarding trade and commerce in fantasy roleplaying games. Admittedly, I play Pathfinder almost exclusively so I’m using that ruleset but you’ll be able to...

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A tale of two fund drives

dungeonmastering.com - Thu, 02/19/2015 - 00:58
Crowdfunding whether from Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or GoFundMe is the new way to make dreams happen.  But its not just passing the digital hat, it’s involving people in the process.  Believers...

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Playing D&D with football fans

dungeonmastering.com - Sat, 02/07/2015 - 02:43
At DungeonMastering we CRAVE comments.  It’s the best way to give feedback & let us know how we’re doing.  We need you to tell us what you don’t like and what you don’t....

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Cheating, unsportsmanlike conduct, & bad play calling: lessons for D&D from Super Bowl XLIX

dungeonmastering.com - Tue, 02/03/2015 - 02:18
Now that the 49th Super Bowl has become the most watched show in television history (you lose yet again, M*A*S*H series finale from 1983) it’s time to look back at it from the vantage point of...

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How to have a Super Bowl for your D&D games

dungeonmastering.com - Sun, 02/01/2015 - 00:54
On the first Sunday in February, Americans will order 12.5 million pizzas, guzzle 325.5 million gallons of beer , and eat 1.25 billion- that’s billion with a ‘B’, chicken wings.  No...

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Rethinking Initiative

Newbie DM - Wed, 01/28/2015 - 02:04

“You enter a room, the smell in here’s musky.  The ground is covered in a fine dust, and you can see footprints, along with a few drops of fresh blood.”

“The creatures must have come through here. I want to roll perception, maybe to see if I hear something… 15… Anything?”

“You do, you hear soft breathing noises from the shadows in the far northwest corner.”

“I tell my companions.”

“When you do, the creatures step out from the darkness, revealing themselves. Roll for initiative.”

Another player looks up from his phone… “Wait, what??”

A twitter conversation caught my eye the other day:

@skinnyghost I hate it and wanted to pull it from D&D. Such a drag. A dragon swoops in and… Let's do a bunch of bookkeeping.

— Mike Mearls (@mikemearls) January 26, 2015

“A disruptive smash cut”, to use an film editing term, is a great way to describe the effect of calling for initiative. Usually, in my home game, the call for initiative wakes up one or two players from their cell phone induced trance. That’s a topic for another day, sure, but it ties into this. The initiative roll tells my players that story time is over, now we get into a fight. It’s attention grabbing, it makes people pick up their dice, it’s part of D&D, it’s a call to action. But I think i might get rid of it entirely. Precisely for those very same reasons. I want flow, I want focus, and I want smooth transitions, not smash cuts.

Here’s a thing… I thought about writing this article without having read the section on initiative variants in the DMG (which I picked up to read 5 minutes before writing this post at 1 AM).

I threw this on twitter today:

Wonder if dex score alone, favoring PCs, are a good enough way to determine init and getting rid if roll altogether….

— NewbieDM (@newbiedm) January 27, 2015

And I got a ton of responses. How would that play? Here’s what I’m hoping to get. I’ll use the same example from the top there…

“You enter a room, the smell in here’s musky.  The ground is covered in a fine dust, and you can see footprints, along with a few drops of fresh blood.”

“The creatures must have come through here. I want to roll perception, maybe to see if I hear something… 15… Anything?”

“You do, you hear soft breathing noises from the shadows in the far northwest corner.”

“I tell my companions.”

“When you do, the creatures step out from the darkness, revealing themselves. They are walking towards you, their claws pointed in your direction. They are coming closer, 15 feet, 10 feet, if you’re going to act, now would be a good time.”

“I’m rushing towards them, and slashing the leader with my sword. 15″

“Good, the sword strikes its side, the creature coils in pain, it’s going to attack you. The other two are going to move toward Larry…”

Not the most evocative description, fine, but you get the idea. Everything just kind of flowed. Page 270 of the 5e DMG has a section on initiative variants, and one calls for Passive Dexterity as the way to determine initiative order (10 + Dex Modifier). I was thinking more of Dexterity score as the way to determine initiative order, with ties with NPCs going to the PC’s, and allowing the PCs to determine who acts when in case of ties amongst themselves.

So if Jack, Jill and Larry are fighting a trio of Orcs (12 Dexterity). Their dexterities are Jack 16, Larry 15, Orcs 12, Jill 10, I can already have an order of how things should progress during the encounter, and I’ll give Jack a verbal cue that he can act first.

And how about adding the alternate plot point mechanic found in page 269 of the DMG to this? So Jack goes, but the DM wants to have his orcs jump ahead of Larry for tactical reasons… he rewards Larry with a plot point in exchange for taking over his initiative slot. Now Larry can alter the game a bit on his turn, maybe finding a weak spot on the orcs, or a vial of poison in his belt pouch…

I know for many of you I’m probably trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, but that smash cut analogy really resonated with me. Marvel Heroic and Dungeon World both have non-traditional initiative systems, with the former having a great system where players themselves pick who goes next. Read about it here.

I’m still formulating my thoughts about this, and perhaps this post isn’t very clear, but I think I want to move in this direction. Maybe just taking Marvel’s approach completely, (although it may may things wonky) or simply going with the one I describe above.

How about you guys? Anyone using alternate initiative systems in their 5e games? What? Is it working well? Let me know in the comments… and check out Ameron’s article about it over at Dungeon’s Master too. He was one of the people I was talking with this about on twitter…


The Best Damn Dungeonmastering.com of 2014

dungeonmastering.com - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 22:45
“That’s a spicy meatball!” said aloud by yours truly, after going back through all the articles published on DungeonMastering.com last year. Gaming is all about flavor. Tasting the atmosphere....

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How to keep your Players even MORE focused

dungeonmastering.com - Fri, 01/23/2015 - 23:43
Last time we talked about a seemingly common- if admittedly annoying- issue that inevitably comes up at game tables: maintaining player attention.  Those 5 strategies were largely out-of-game...

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How to keep your Players focused

dungeonmastering.com - Sun, 01/18/2015 - 05:40
Last Thursday my weekly D&D group for the first time in almost a month.  The holidays, some illness, and Murphy’s Law had combined to put Darkwarren’s ongoing Runelords Adventure Path...

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Apps that make your D&D games better

dungeonmastering.com - Fri, 01/09/2015 - 23:21
We’ve previously shared a number of great deals on books, maps, miniatures, and terrain that we thought you guys would like as gift ideas for the holidays.  There were definitely a lot of cool...

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Clandenstone: The City Of Stairs

dungeonmastering.com - Fri, 01/02/2015 - 12:21
Archways of stone describe undulating pathways across the jungle floor. A deep sinkhole captures sunlight and a river’s fall to fill its bowl with towering trees and sprawling greenery....

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Behind the Gear-spun Curtain: A Purely Steampunk Look at Game Design

dungeonmastering.com - Tue, 12/30/2014 - 15:54
Designing a campaign setting isn’t all about world lore and locations populated by classes, races, and monsters. You need to have things for those classes, races, and monsters who populate your...

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Get a bunch of RPG’s, help a bunch of kids

dungeonmastering.com - Mon, 12/29/2014 - 02:53
Consider this yet another Attack On Your Wallet, but this time it’s for a good cause.  Actually, for a whole variety of good-to-the-point-of-being-Lawful Good causes.  Here’s just a few...

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