Wizards of the Coast D&D
This month’s Sage Advice is concerned with some feats that have sparked questions. Remember that feats are available to your character at the discretion of your Dungeon Master. As you read the answers to the questions below, keep chapter 6, “Customization Options,” of the Player’s Handbook handy. In a few spots, you’ll see a reference in parentheses to a page in that book.
If you have questions for a future installment of Sage Advice, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.Crossbow Expert
Is it intentional that the second benefit of Crossbow Expert helps ranged spell attacks? Yes, it’s intentional. When you make a ranged attack roll within 5 feet of an enemy, you normally suffer disadvantage (PH, 195). The second benefit of Crossbow Expert prevents you from suffering that disadvantage, whether or not the ranged attack is with a crossbow.
When designing a feat with a narrow use, we consider adding at least one element that can benefit a character more broadly—a bit of mastery that your character brings from one situation to another. The second benefit of Crossbow Expert is such an element, as is the first benefit of Great Weapon Master. That element in Crossbow Expert shows that some of the character’s expertise with one type of thing—crossbows, in this case—transfers to other things.
Do the first and third benefits of Crossbow Expert turn a hand crossbow into a semiautomatic weapon? The short answer is no.
The first benefit of the feat lets you ignore the loading property (PH, 147) of the hand crossbow if you’re proficient with that weapon. The upshot is that you can fire it more than once if you have a feature like Extra Attack. You’re still limited, however, by the fact that the weapon has the ammunition property (PH, 146). The latter property requires you to have a bolt to fire from the hand crossbow, and the hand crossbow isn’t going to load itself (unless it’s magical or a gnomish invention). You need to load each bolt into the weapon, and doing so requires a hand.
To dig deeper into this point, take a look at the following sentence in the definition of the ammunition property: “Drawing the ammunition from a quiver, case, or other container is part of the attack.” The sentence tells us two important things. First, you’re assumed to be drawing—that is, extracting with your hand—the ammunition from a container. Second, the act of drawing the ammunition is included in the attack and therefore doesn’t require its own action and doesn’t use up your free interaction with an object on your turn.
What does that all mean for a hand crossbow? It means Crossbow Expert makes it possible to fire a hand crossbow more than once with a feature like Extra Attack, provided that you have enough ammunition and you have a hand free to load it for each shot.
Does Crossbow Expert let you fire a hand crossbow and then fire it again as a bonus action? It does! Take a look at the feat’s third benefit. It says you can attack with a hand crossbow as a bonus action when you use the Attack action to attack with a one-handed weapon. A hand crossbow is a one-handed weapon, so it can, indeed, be used for both attacks, assuming you have a hand free to load the hand crossbow between the two attacks.Lucky
How does the Lucky feat interact with advantage and disadvantage? The Lucky feat lets you spend a luck point; roll an extra d20 for an attack roll, ability check, or saving throw; and then choose which d20 to use. This is true no matter how many d20s are in the mix. For example, if you have disadvantage on your attack roll, you could spend a luck point, roll a third d20, and then decide which of the three dice to use. You still have disadvantage, since the feat doesn’t say it gets rid of it, but you do get to pick the die.
The Lucky feat is a great example of an exception to a general rule. The general rule I have in mind is the one that tells us how advantage and disadvantage work (PH, 173). The specific rule is the Lucky feat, and we know that a specific rule trumps a general rule if they conflict with each other (PH, 7).Magic Initiate
If you’re a spellcaster, can you pick your own class when you gain the Magic Initiate feat? Yes, the feat doesn’t say you can’t. For example, if you’re a wizard and gain the Magic Initiate feat, you can choose wizard and thereby learn two more wizard cantrips and another 1st-level wizard spell.
If you have spell slots, can you use them to cast the 1st-level spell you learn with the Magic Initiate feat? Yes, but only if the class you pick for the feat is one of your classes. For example, if you pick sorcerer and you are a sorcerer, the Spellcasting feature for that class tells you that you can use your spell slots to cast the sorcerer spells you know, so you can use your spell slots to cast the 1st-level sorcerer spell you learn from Magic Initiate. Similarly, if you are a wizard and pick that class for the feat, you learn a 1st-level wizard spell, which you could add to your spellbook and subsequently prepare.
In short, you must follow your character’s normal spellcasting rules, which determine whether you can expend spell slots on the 1st-level spell you learn from Magic Initiate.Polearm Master
The first sentence of the Polearm Master feat mentions reach weapons, and goes on to benefit the quarterstaff. Does this make the quarterstaff a reach weapon if its user has this feat? No, the feat would tell you if the quarterstaff gained the reach property.
Can I add my Strength modifier to the damage of the bonus attack that Polearm Master gives me? Yep! If you have the feat and use the Attack action to attack with a glaive, halberd, or quarterstaff, you can also strike with the weapon’s opposite end as a bonus action. For that bonus attack, you add your ability modifier to the attack roll, as you do whenever you attack with that weapon, and if you hit, you add the same ability modifier to the damage roll, which is normal for weapon damage rolls (PH, 196).
A specific rule, such as the rule for two-weapon fighting (PH, 195), might break the general rule by telling you not to add your ability modifier to the damage. Polearm Master doesn’t do that.
About the Author
Jeremy Crawford is the co-lead designer of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, as well as the game’s managing editor. He was the lead designer of the new Player’s Handbook and one of the leads on the Dungeon Master’s Guide. He has worked on many other D&D books since coming to Wizards of the Coast in 2007. You can reach him on Twitter (@JeremyECrawford).Publication date: 05/18/2015Introduction: Sometimes you want to customize your character, and the character’s class doesn’t have what you’re looking for. In that situation, feats are a great option.Tags: Featuresexternal_urls: Texture banner: HideBanner video:
Sure, we all want to believe we didn't totally bite it falling off that cliff because we’re athletic powerhouses, or that ship captain was compelled to toss his passengers overboard in favor of taking you and your party to your final destination because you’re so darn cute and charming. More likely it was the result of a successful die roll.
The dice in D&D carry a lot of power. Your fate is (literally and figuratively) in your own hands. Because of that, we know you’re not above encouraging fate to lean a little in your favor. Do you blow on your dice before rolling? Maybe only roll them to the left of your Player’s Handbook? Perhaps you roll all of your d20’s upon first sitting down and discard any that roll below a 12?
Whatever you do, we want to hear about your dice rolling rituals.
Your submission may appear in a future issue of Dragon+ or on a D&D social media site.Content loading...
Rituals Heard Around the Office
We asked some D&D players around the office if they have any dice rolling rituals. Here’s a few from those willing to cop to it:
Test your dice! Roll each of my d20’s (because seriously, who only carries one?) to see which one is rolling well. But never stop rolling one if it hits a 20. The next one probably won’t be another 20. – Emi Tanji
I never trust random sets of dice, or borrowed dice. They always betray me. I have a dice bag full of trusted sets that won't fail me. If a d20 ever rolls two 1s in a row, it needs to be set off to pasture. Pasture is normally across the room. – Chris Dupuis
I keep my dice in a bag made by one of my favorite artists, Beth Trott. Even if I have only one of everything else, I have at least three d20 in case one of them is cold. Then I can switch it up. I never use dice that I think are ugly. – Kate Irwin
I don't have a ritual “pre-roll” but I will punish them if they roll poorly by putting them in time out back in my dice bag. – Hilary Ross
If one of my d20s is rolling particularly poor during a game session I will take it out of the rotation, basically bench it on the sideline for the rest of the game. Then when I get home I’ll take all of my d20s and line them up in front of the microwave then take the “bad” d20 and put it in the microwave and slowly and deliberately hit the buttons. I hit start and it is the longest 5 seconds in any d20s life. It isn’t long enough to hurt the die but it does send a message to the rest of them. – AnonymousPublication date: 05/13/2015Introduction: We know you got ‘em. Time to share!Tags: Featuresexternal_urls: Texture banner: ShowBanner video:
Called by the Elder Elemental Eye to serve, four corrupt prophets have risen from the depths of anonymity to claim mighty weapons with direct links to the power of the elemental princes. Each of these prophets has assembled a cadre of cultists and creatures to serve them in the construction of four elemental temples of lethal design.
And then, it’s Adventure Time with none other than Pendleton Ward! In case you’ve never caught the show (then shame on you!), you can watch clips and full episodes on the Cartoon Network.
Hosts: Bart Carroll, Shelly Mazzanoble, Trevor KiddPublication date: 05/11/2015Introduction: We talk with veteran game designer Rich Baker about Princes of the Apocalypse. And then a visit with Adventure Time’s Pendleton Ward!Tags: Podcastexternal_urls: External url: http://media.wizards.com/2015/podcasts/dnd/DnDPodcast_05_08_2015.mp3External url description: Adventure Time: Elemental Evil Podcast Texture banner: HideBanner video:
The first step to fostering a creative environment is to make sure the players know that you are all there with the same goal. Sometimes it takes a while for players to get comfortable roleplaying, even if they are among friends. With new groups, it’s an even bigger hurdle. The trick is to make it clear that the table is a safe space. Be welcoming, reach outside your normal group of friends as necessary, and make it clear that you want to facilitate an environment that is free of judgment. Remember, gaming is for everyone. If you offer your players a safe space to be themselves, they’ll understand that they are free to create and craft their characters however they want.Teach by Example
Use your nonplayer characters to highlight how differences in character voices can color your world. Insert some personalities that players might recognize from pop culture—a feisty and resourceful noble like Princess Leia, an egotistic villain like Loki, or even a roguish antihero like Firefly’s Malcolm Reynolds. As a new DM, you’ll find it easy to dive into those characters, and your players can quickly make the connection to something familiar. Don’t worry if it takes a while to start creating characters that really resonate. Like everything else in life, running memorable NPCs takes practice. But when you give the players some good examples, they’ll start to see the canvas they can use to adapt their own characters to a voice and play style that suits them.Be Descriptive
This is something that’s still a challenge for me. Focus on describing the small details, not just the one thing in the room that the players should focus on. What does the tavern smell like? Ale and lost dreams? Or is the scent of pine smoke from the fireplace overwhelmingly sharp? When the characters dispatch an orc, how does it collapse to the ground based on the weapon that hit it? How do those around the characters react? Being descriptive in your interpretation and explanation of the characters’ actions and the world around them will help paint a picture for the players. And the more examples the players see of those storytelling tools, the more they’ll be able to help you create increasingly vivid details within your shared world.Lean on the Backgrounds
One of the mechanics that I love the most from fifth edition is the personality and background system. When I sat down for one of our Wizards of the Coast livestream games, I read over my trait, ideal, bond, and flaw, and quickly realized that this character sounded a lot like Captain Hammer from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Once you find a voice for a character, it’s easy to see the adventure developing around that character through a new lens. That insight lets you become an even bigger part of the shared storytelling experience.
You can easily reinforce character backgrounds to your players by collecting and reviewing their background info. Let them know that those details are important to you, and they’ll become important to the players as well. Lean on backgrounds and reward players for falling into a comfortable play style with the inspiration system, and you’ll find you’re no longer the one person the players look to for the creation of lasting images. Instead, you’ll be along for the ride with the players, rolling with the unique ways in which they interpret your world.
About the Author
The Lunchbox DM is Chris Dupuis, a board game designer at Wizards with RPG dreams. He's played in plenty of D&D games, but he's run only a few one-shot adventures as a Dungeon Master. You can find him on twitter as Gameguruchris.Publication date: 05/11/2015Introduction: Last time, I talked about introducing your players to the basics of D&D and character creation. In this installment of Behind the Screens, I want to focus on getting your players into roleplaying and creating the shared storytelling experience that is so integral to Dungeons & Dragons. Tags: Behind the Screensexternal_urls: Texture banner: HideBanner video:
Today, Wizards of the Coast announced Rage of Demons, the new storyline for Dungeons & Dragons fans coming in Fall 2015. The demon lords have been summoned from the Abyss and players must descend into the Underdark with the iconic hero Drizzt Do’Urden to stop the chaos before it threatens the surface. Rage of Demons is the story all D&D gamers will be excited to play this fall, whether they prefer consoles, PCs or rolling dice with friends.
Following on the critically-acclaimed Tyranny of Dragons and Elemental Evil stories, Rage of Demons will transport characters to the deadly and insane underworld. Rumors of powerful demon lords such as Demogorgon, Orcus and Graz’zt terrorizing the denizens of the Underdark have begun to filter up to the cities of the Sword Coast. The already dangerous caverns below the surface are thrown into ultimate chaos, madness and discord. The renegade drow Drizzt Do’Urden is sent to investigate but it will be up to you to aid in his fight against the demons before he succumbs to his darker temptations.
Dungeons & Dragons fans will have more options than ever to enjoy the Rage of Demons storyline. The themes of treachery and discord in the Underdark are in Sword Coast Legends, the new CRPG (computer role-playing game) coming this fall on PC from n-Space and Digital Extremes. The epic campaign that drives Sword Coast Legends' story forces players deep into the Underdark and continues well after launch with legendary adventurer Drizzt Do'Urden.
For fans of Neverwinter, the popular Dungeons & Dragons-based MMORPG will bring a new expansion – tentatively titled Neverwinter: Underdark – in 2015. The update will see adventurers travel with Drizzt to the drow city of Menzoberranzan during its demonic assault as well as experience a unique set of quests written by the creator of Drizzt, R.A. Salvatore. The expansion will initially be released on PC and will come out on the Xbox One at a later date.
Players of the tabletop roleplaying game can descend into the Underdark in Out of the Abyss, a new adventure which provides details on the demon lords rampaging through the Underdark. Partners such as WizKids, GaleForce 9 and Smiteworks will all support Rage of Demons with new products to help bring your tabletop game to life. To really get in the mind of Drizzt, fans will have to check out Archmage, the new novel by R.A. Salvatore, scheduled for release in early September.
“Rage of Demons is a huge storyline involving all expressions of Dungeons & Dragons, and we’re excited to bring players this story in concert with all of our partners,” said Nathan Stewart, Brand Director at Wizards of the Coast. “I can’t wait to see everyone interact with one of the world’s most recognizable fantasy characters: Drizzt Do’Urden. Descending into the depths won’t exactly be easy for him, and D&D fans will get their mettle tested just like Drizzt when they come face-to-face with all the demon lords.”Publication date: 05/06/2015Introduction: Fight alongside Drizzt Do’Urden in the new Dungeons & Dragons storyline on computer, console or tabletop this Fall.Tags: NewsRelated content: Rage of Demonsexternal_urls: Texture banner: HideBanner video:
You can think of the material presented in this series as similar to the first wave of the fifth edition playtest. These game mechanics are in draft form, usable in your campaign but not fully tempered by playtests and design iterations. They are highly volatile and might be unstable; if you use them, be ready to rule on any issues that come up. They’re written in pencil, not ink.
The material presented in Unearthed Arcana will range from mechanics that we expect one day to publish in a supplement to house rules from our home campaigns that we want to share, from core system options to material designed for specific campaign settings. Once it’s out there, you can expect us to check in with you to see how it’s working out and what we can do to improve it.
Waterborne Adventures: The new character options presented in this month’s Unearthed Arcana showcase a simple design approach to adventure on the high seas. These rules include new options for the Fighting Style, Roguish Archetype, and Sorcerous Origin class features, as well as a playable minotaur race from Dragonlance’s world of Krynn. Created to be specifically useful for nautical D&D campaigns, these rules are general enough that they can be useful in any campaign.
The Dungeon Master’s Guide contains the rules for managing ships at sea, along with encounter tables, rules for weather, and other useful tools. By combining those rules with these new options, your campaign will be ready to set sail.Publication date: 05/04/2015Introduction: Welcome to Unearthed Arcana, a monthly workshop where D&D R&D shows off a variety of new and interesting pieces of RPG design for use at your gaming table.Tags: Unearthed Arcanaexternal_urls: External url: http://media.wizards.com/2015/downloads/dnd/UA_Waterborne_v3.pdfExternal url description: UNEARTHED ARCANA: WATERBORNE ADVENTURES Texture banner: HideBanner video:
Inside you’ll find interviews, features and comics that cover all things D&D—whether you play with a controller, mouse and keyboard or pen and paper. Free on iOS and Android devices, you’ll be able to stay up to date on the latest Dungeons & Dragons news and stories no matter where you go.
In the first installment, we take a closer look at the new Elemental Evil story and how it plays out in the tabletop adventure Princes of the Apocalypse as well as the Neverwinter MMORPG. We also sit down with Dan Tudge to talk about n-Space’s new game, Sword Coast Legends, and get our first look at the lovable Gauntlet Gophers in Tavis Maiden’s new comic. There’s a lot more, but we’ll let you dive in and discover it on your own.
Dragon+ opens a new doorway to adventure, and we’re excited to see where it leads. We’re just getting started so expect to see additions and changes as we move forward. And don’t forget to tell us what you think about the app by taking the survey found in the Letter from the Editor!
Trevor’s “real job” is talking to other fans about D&D and working with partners on their vidja games, but he’s secretly part of a yuan-ti organization bent on world domination.Publication date: 04/30/2015Introduction: Meet Dragon+, the newest addition to your Dungeons & Dragons library!Tags: NewsRelated content: Elemental Evilexternal_urls: Texture banner: ShowBanner video:
That workhorse of the game is the focus of this month’s Sage Advice. Afterward, I address some questions that arose in response to last month’s column on spellcasting. Please send questions for future installments to email@example.com.The Ability Check
Three d20 rolls are at the heart the game’s rules: the ability check, the attack roll, and the saving throw (as explained in chapters 7 and 9 in the Player’s Handbook). The attack roll is usually confined to combat and has the narrowest use of the three rolls, whereas the ability check and the saving throw occur in many different scenarios. The ability check, in particular, can pop up often—in combat, during a social interaction, and in the midst of exploration. Whenever the rules say you’re making a check using one of the six ability scores, you’re making an ability check. This is true whether or not the check involves a skill. A Strength check, a Dexterity check, a Charisma (Persuasion) check, a Wisdom (Perception) check—those are all examples of ability checks.
Are attack rolls and saving throws basically specialized ability checks? They aren’t. It’s easy to mistake the three rolls as three faces of the same thing, because they each involve rolling a d20, adding any modifiers, and comparing the total to a Difficulty Class, and they’re all subject to advantage and disadvantage. In short, they share the same procedure for determining success or failure.
Despite this common procedure, the three rolls are separate from each other. If something in the game, like the guidance spell, affects one of them, the other two aren’t affected unless the rules specifically say so. The next few questions touch on this point again.
If you cast the hex spell and choose Strength as the affected ability, does the target also have disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws that use Strength? No, the hex spell’s description says it affects ability checks that use the chosen ability. The description says nothing about affecting attack rolls or saving throws. This means, for example, that if you choose Constitution, the spell’s target doesn’t suffer disadvantage when trying to maintain concentration on a spell, since concentration requires a Constitution saving throw, not a Constitution check.
Curious about the spell’s intent? The spell is meant to be a classic jinx—the sort seen in folklore—that is useful in and out of combat. In combat, the spell provides some extra necrotic damage. Outside combat, you could foil a cunning diplomat, for example, by casting the spell and imposing disadvantage on his or her Charisma checks.
Does the bard’s Jack of All Trades feature apply to attack rolls and saving throws that don’t use the bard’s proficiency bonus? Nope. The feature benefits only ability checks. Don’t forget that initiative rolls are Dexterity checks, so Jack of All Trades can benefit a bard’s initiative, assuming the bard isn’t already adding his or her proficiency bonus to it.
When you make a Strength (Athletics) check to grapple or shove someone, are you making an attack roll? Again, the answer is no. That check is an ability check, so game effects tied to attack rolls don’t apply to it. Going back to an earlier question, the hex spell could be used to diminish a grappler’s effectiveness. And if the grappler’s target is under the effect of the Dodge action, that action doesn’t inhibit the grapple, since Dodge doesn’t affect ability checks.More Spellcasting Questions
Is there a limit on the number of spells you can cast on your turn? There’s no rule that says you can cast only X number of spells on your turn, but there are some practical limits. The main limiting factor is your action. Most spells require an action to cast, and unless you use a feature like the fighter’s Action Surge, you have only one action on your turn.
If you cast a spell, such as healing word, with a bonus action, you can cast another spell with your action, but that other spell must be a cantrip. Keep in mind that this particular limit is specific to spells that use a bonus action. For instance, if you cast a second spell using Action Surge, you aren’t limited to casting a cantrip with it.
Can you also cast a reaction spell on your turn? You sure can! Here’s a common way for it to happen: Cornelius the wizard is casting fireball on his turn, and his foe casts counterspell on him. Cornelius has counterspell prepared, so he uses his reaction to cast it and break his foe’s counterspell before it can stop fireball.
Do you need line of sight to a spell effect to maintain concentration on it? You don’t, unless a spell says otherwise.
If a character has levels in more than one class, do the character’s cantrips scale with character level or with the level in a spellcasting class? Cantrips scale with character level. For example, a barbarian 2 / cleric 3 casts sacred flame as a 5th-level character.
Bio: Jeremy Crawford is the co-lead designer of fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, as well as the game’s managing editor. He was the lead designer of the new Player’s Handbook and one of the leads on the Dungeon Master’s Guide. He has worked on many other D&D books since coming to Wizards of the Coast in 2007. You can reach him on Twitter (@JeremyECrawford).Publication date: 04/30/2015Introduction: Whether it’s a grand tale of intrigue, a long series of battles, or something else entirely, a D&D campaign inevitably relies on one of the three main d20 rolls: the ability check.Tags: Sage Adviceexternal_urls: Texture banner: ShowBanner video:
As you know, last month we asked you about the six remaining character classes. The responses have given us a full set of data on the game’s classes and will help us chart a course going forward.
Last Survey Results
Overall, the barbarian, bard, monk, paladin, sorcerer, and warlock all graded very well. The areas of concern were limited to specific areas of the classes.
For instance, we’ve heard consistent feedback that the sorcerer doesn’t offer enough options within the class. Not everyone is excited about the wild mage, thus leaving some players with only the dragon sorcerer as an option. It’s no coincidence that we showed off a favored soul option for the sorcerer in Unearthed Arcana. Plus, we have another sorcerer option on tap for that article series.
We also saw some dissatisfaction with the monk’s Way of the Four Elements option. Feedback indicates that this path focuses too much on adding more ways to spend ki points, rather than giving new options or maneuvers that a monk can use without tapping into that resource. We’re doing some monk design right now that used the Way of the Four Elements as an option, so we’ve shifted that future work in response to that feedback.
Like with the first wave of class feedback, things remain very positive. The issues we’ve seen look like they can be resolved by trending toward what people liked in our future design. Nothing stood out as needing serious changes.
The Eberron material, as you can expect for stuff that is in draft form, needs some more refinement. The changeling will likely have its ability scores and Shapechanger ability tweaked. The shifter scored well, so expect a few shifts there (pardon the pun) but nothing too dramatic.
The warforged had the most interesting feedback. I think we’re going to take a look at presenting a slightly different approach, one that ties back into the original race’s armored body options to make them feel more like innately equipped characters.
The artificer still needs a good amount of work, so that one will go back to the drawing board. I think the class needs a more unique, evocative feature that does a better job of capturing a character who crafts and uses custom items. We played it too conservatively in our initial design.
I expect that you’ll see some revisions to the Eberron material before the end of the year. Unearthed Arcana is proving a useful resource in giving new game content every month while giving us the chance to test drive mechanics.
Thank you all for taking part in these surveys and making our job of producing great RPG content much easier. I’m looking forward to seeing how our work evolves and hope you enjoy the option of weighing in on our work.
The Latest Survey
We’re also looking for participation in our latest survey.Publication date: 04/29/2015Introduction: Another month brings another D&D feedback survey.Tags: Newsexternal_urls: Texture banner: HideBanner video:
The material for this article was originally part of a presentation I made back in 2006, at a convention panel on Dungeon Master advice. Given the number of random tables that found their way into the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, it felt like a great topic to go back to for this installment of Behind the Screens.
Randomness is one of the best tools at a DM’s disposal. Employing randomness is a great way to maximize the return on your effort, create new game situations on the fly, and ensure that the players can never truly surprise you. The heart of effective randomness for a DM is to create tables you can roll on to answer questions during a game session, fill in details as you need them, or provide a quick blast of content when the players dart off into a random direction.
A few years ago, I ran a short campaign set in Waterdeep. Since I expected the characters to spend a lot of time in various bars, taverns, and other dens of vice, I needed an easy way to fill out the roster of barflies and lowlifes they might run into. And what I realized is that it’s a lot easier to come up with six adjectives to describe characters you might find in a sleazy bar than to stat up six specific nonplayer characters, especially if the adventurers won’t interact with those NPCs for long.
Here’s a table I used to randomly create the patrons of a gaming parlor the adventurers visited. If the characters wanted to interact with someone other than the key NPCs I had created, I could build an NPC with four quick die rolls—one for each column on the table.
Happy, unflaggingly optimistic
Angry, looking for trouble
Suspicious, answers questions with questions
Desperate to win
Friendly, looking for a good time
Just started playing
Intent, curt and rude
Criminal, not here to game
Bored, not really interested in the game
By setting up a similar second table, I could just as easily create the gambling hall’s employees.
New hire, nervous
Fawning, eager for tip
Nervous, skims money
Quiet, wants to keep the game going
Arrogant, hates customers
Criminal, in on the scheme
The strength of these tables comes from the fact that until the characters talk to a random patron or employee, I don’t need to spend any precious brainpower thinking about the NPC. This allows me to spend my prep time creating the hall’s owner, the bouncer, and the pit boss (the guy in charge of watching the dealers)—the key NPCs that I know the adventurers will interact with.General Advice
Creating tables can save a lot of time, but it helps to have an idea of what you want to do with your tables and the effects you can achieve with them. The specific contents of a table determine its utility. If you fill a table with dull and uninspiring items, the table will produce dull results.
Recycle: Note my clever laziness in creating the tables above, where I reused the columns for race and gender. Once you have a few tables, it’s easy to go back and mine them for useful adjectives and ideas. Also, since the employees weren’t that important to the scenario, they got fewer columns. In the game, I expected the adventurers to deal with the pit boss, the bouncer, and the owner, which is why I detailed those NPCs beforehand. Fully fleshed-out dealers and other employees would have competed with my established NPCs in the story, so why put more energy into them?
Go For Extremes: Use traits that will stand out for the players. You might notice that in the first table, there’s no option for an NPC who is breaking even. The extremes stand out, so don’t have an entry for a quiet NPC. Instead, create entries that yield up characters who are mute, characters who shout a lot, or characters who speak only rare languages that the adventurers might not know. This method makes tables easier to build because it allows you to think in terms of creating opposite pairs—for example, the big winner versus the big loser in the first table above.
Avoid the Bland: Here’s a good example of a mistake—in the second table, I have “Quiet, wants to keep the game going.” That’s not a great entry, since it has the potential to stop the interaction and make the adventurers move on. There’s no point to an NPC who says nothing beyond, “Go talk to someone else. I’m boring!” When you spot features like this in your tables, revamp them to make them more interesting.
Action: Try to seed your tables with traits and ideas that prompt action in your game. In both tables above, notice how the final column gives a simple personality trait and a description of how the NPC acts. In the heat of the moment, you know how to portray the NPC to get things moving. Once everyone starts roleplaying the interaction, that initial sense of how the NPC acts can drive things from there.
Bend, Fold, and Mutilate: Don’t allow random tables to dictate the adventure. Always remember that a table serves you and not the other way around. If an idea for a cool NPC pops into your head, just use it. Random tables should inspire your creativity, not replace it.
Columns, Not Rows: If you find yourself creating larger tables, try to keep them wider than they are deep. Each column of a table represents a broad type of attribute, while each row represents specific attributes within those types. It’s often harder to come up with lots of different specific attributes. For example, the number of potential races for your NPCs is usually low, and it’s much easier to come up with six distinct motivations for a soldier in the town guard rather than twenty. In my experience, the first few specific attributes are easy to generate, but once you need more than ten or twelve, you start to struggle for ideas.
More importantly, a table with more columns than rows actually gives you more options. For example, a table with six columns and six rows has the same number of entries as a table with three columns and twelve rows. But the first table gives you 46,656 possible combinations compared to the second table’s 1,728 possible results. At the same time, creating a smaller number of rows for each table means that there’s a better chance you’ll actually use a specific entry you created. That’s intelligent laziness in a nutshell: maximize the return on the work you do!
Take Notes: If you use a table to create a creature, location, or some other aspect of the game that is persistent, keep track of it. For example, when you create a random NPC, note the results, the character’s location, and so forth. Soon enough, you might have an entire city’s worth of NPCs at your disposal, each represented by a quick assortment of characteristics.
Keep it Fresh: Avoid using the same tables over and over again, and don’t be afraid to create new tables by carving up your old ones. Swap individual table columns around, create new columns as needed, and rotate out specific elements that you’ve used a few times. Don’t let your tables sit around long enough to start generating results that look too familiar to the players.Quick and Easy Combat Color
Combat is a central component of the fun of D&D, and it’s even more interesting if you can present vivid descriptions of each spell and sword blow. During the course of a fight, the monsters and characters might make dozens of attacks. That’s a lot of description for a DM to create, especially on the fly, but using tables can help guide you in creating interesting battles.
The following tables are fairly simple, but they can help add color to otherwise mundane attacks.
Spray of blood
Growl of pain
Cut/crack in armor/hide
Weapon bites in, pulled out with a sharp tug
Crunch/crack of bones
Target reels in pain
Saw attack coming
Shield block/armor absorbs
Lucky move avoided attack
Skilled defensive move
Moves fast to recover
Foe takes only a scratch
Last second adjustment
Foe twists away
To make things more interesting, and to vary your descriptions, try creating tables customized for specific monsters. The following tables work for attacks against zombies and similar undead. To build the tables, I just thought about what an attack against a zombie might look like and wrote down descriptions as table entries. The beauty of this is that you can think about these interesting concepts and descriptions during your prep time. During a game, it can be harder to come up with such ideas without bogging down play.
Weapon buries into flesh/collapses flesh and bone
Dull moan of pain
Dead flesh or organs spill from wound
Wound that would be fatal to living (spear in eye, skull crushed)
Chunk of flesh falls from body
Internal organ bursts
Attack smashes into body but fails to damage critical parts
Attack bounces off bone
Zombie grabs at weapon
Bones crack/blood flows, zombie ignores wound
Attack hits existing wounds
Zombie stumbles but shrugs off attack
These sorts of tables can also be developed for combat in specific locations, not just against certain types of foes. During a bar brawl, characters might miss on attacks because of drunk patrons stumbling into them. A pool of spilled beer could cause a warrior to slip, or an attack might succeed because a foe is hit and dazed by a thrown tankard at just the right moment.
About the Author
Mike Mearls has always been lazy, and he’s been a Dungeon Master for almost as long.Publication date: 04/27/2015Introduction: Randomness is a DM’s best friend when filling out the details of your adventures, but good randomness requires smart prep.Tags: Featuresexternal_urls: Texture banner: HideBanner video:
Air, earth, fire, and water elementals are as old as the D&D game, appearing in the original Dungeons & Dragons rules (1974). However, these elementals only became part of something larger when Gary Gygax introduced a cosmology for Dungeons & Dragons in Dragon magazine. In issue 8 (July 1977), he laid out an entire “Great Wheel” that included “the ultra-pure Elemental Planes of air, fire, earth and water.” Those four “Inner Planes” existed alongside the material plane and the almost-elemental positive and negative material planes. Gygax didn’t provide many details, but it was a first look at a cosmic conception.
The Great Wheel was officially incorporated into Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in the Player’s Handbook (1978). Meanwhile, over in Dragon magazine, author Jefferson Swycaffer was contemplating other possibilities. In Dragon 27 (July 1979), Swycaffer suggested a complex set of eighteen planes. First, he introduced four new elements—cold, dry, hot, and moist—each of which lay between two of the existing elements. Then he added two new planes lying above and below the elemental planes: good and evil. Finally, he added four planes between good and the elements—beginning, fertility, light, and pleasure—and four planes that lay between evil and the elements—barren, darkness, ending, and pain. The result was an elemental globe.
Though Swycaffer’s elemental planes were totally unofficial, Gygax liked the idea. In Dragon 32 (December 1979), Gygax said that he also had been thinking about the elemental “borderlands.” He revealed the results in Deities & Demigods (1980), which contained the first official expansion of the elemental planes. Now four paraelemental planes lay between the various elemental planes: ice between air and water; dust between air and fire; heat between fire and earth; and vapor between earth and water.
Three years later, the elemental planes grew again. It started in April with the publication of the adventure The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror (1983), which featured a new monster called the lightning quasielemental, said to inhabit “the Elemental Plane of Air and the Positive Material Plane.” Gygax explained the expanded elemental cosmology more fully in Dragon 73 (May 1983), published around the same time. Swycaffer’s elemental globe had become an elemental cube, with the elemental planes and paraelemental planes around the middle, the positive material plane at the top, and the negative material plane at the bottom. The brand-new quasielemental planes lay between the traditional elemental planes and the two energy planes—which Swycaffer had replaced with good and evil in his own model. There were thus eight quasielemental planes. The positive side of things contained lightning (near air), steam (near water), radiance (near fire), and mineral (near earth), while the negative side included vacuum (near air), salts (near water), ash (near fire), and dust (near earth).
Later that year, Monster Manual II (1983) revealed a complete set of paraelementals, though three of the names were changed: a smoke elemental rose from the dust plane, a magma elemental rose from the heat plane, and an ooze elemental rose from the vapor plane. The book also reprinted the lightning-based quasielemental.
The elemental planes as imagined by Gary Gygax for AD&D had reached their ultimate form. Jeff Grubb then produced a final supplement to Gygax’s primordial elements in Manual of the Planes (1987). That book devoted nearly forty pages to the eighteen Inner Planes, including the paraelemental and quasielemental planes. Author Jeff Grubb even got to stat up the missing quasielementals in Dragon 125 (September 1987) and Dragon 128 (December 1987).
Elemental Adventures: 1979–1989
Elemental monsters like those that appeared in original D&D, the Monster Manual, and Dragon magazine were the height of elemental adventuring in the 1970s and 1980s. The elemental planes were seen as a dangerous and inhospitable place, so adventurers didn’t go there. Instead, elemental adventures occurred when the elemental planes intruded on the material plane.
This idea was made explicit with the Elemental Princes of Evil, an original set of elemental monsters by Lewis Pulsipher that first appeared in the Fiend Folio (1981). Frank Mentzer saw their potential and used four of them—Imix, Ogremoch, Olhydra, and Yan-C-Bin—in the RPGA adventure The Egg of the Phoenix (1982), later collected as part of the TSR adventure module Egg of the Phoenix (1987). It was the first major encroachment of the elements into the world of D&D adventuring.
Meanwhile, Gary Gygax was working on his own elemental adventure. Though The Village of Hommlet (1979) hinted at the topic, it took several years until The Temple of Elemental Evil (1985) revealed Gygax’s full elemental plan. Instead of elemental monsters or elemental gods, Gygax focused on a new way to bring the elements to the world of D&D. The eponymous temple contains four elemental nodes, described as “cauldrons, used to mix evil and elemental forces in an unholy recipe.” In other words, each node was an elemental miniplane that allowed for exciting elemental adventuring without facing the deadly rigors of the actual Inner Planes.
Other than a short adventure for each elemental plane in Tales of the Outer Planes (1988), that was the extent of elemental adventuring prior to the advent of AD&D second edition in 1989.Elemental Settings: 1991–1998
The 1990s saw the development of a plethora of new settings for D&D, many of which were able to incorporate elemental themes more fully than the adventures of the 1980s. Whether you wanted to travel to the elemental planes or to feature elementals more in material plane adventuring, the 1990s had what you desired.
The Dark Sun campaign setting (1991) used the old trope of bringing the elements to the PCs, but it did so in an unusual way that gave them particular prominence. There were no gods in Dark Sun’s world of Athas, so priests instead worshiped elemental powers. Though this idea was with the setting from the start, it received extended attention in D&D’s first-ever elemental supplement—Earth, Air, Fire, and Water (1993), a resource for Dark Sun players.
Earth, Air, Fire, and Water also introduced the paraelemental priest, who worshipped those elements lying on the borders. However, Dark Sun’s paraelements were different from those defined by Gary Gygax—revealing that the Dark Sun setting broke with D&D’s core cosmology. Its paraelementals were instead based on natural phenomena: rain lay between air and water; sun between air and fire; magma between fire and earth; and silt between earth and water.
The Al-Qadim campaign setting (1992) didn’t place the elements in such a central role, but the adventure Secrets of the Lamp (1993) did give special attention to one location on the Elemental Plane of Fire. That was the City of Brass—the great settlement of the efreet that had appeared on the cover of the first edition Dungeon Master’s Guide (1979). The city received initial attention in the late 1980s when it was briefly mentioned in Manual of the Planes (1987). Shortly afterward, it appeared in a pair of adventures: an unpublished RPGA tournament by Rob Kuntz called To the City of Brass (1987) and a short adventure in Tales of the Outer Planes (1988) called “Through the Fire.” These adventures demonstrated why the City of Brass was interesting. Though located in the Elemental Plane of Fire, it was a livable location and not just a place of wild flames—which made it perfect for adventuring.
Planescape (1994) was the last setting of the 1990s to place an emphasis on the elements. One of its core mandates was to make all the planes more playable, so for the first time ever, players would have regular opportunities to visit the elemental planes, rather than having the elements of the planes come to them.
All sixteen elemental planes got some attention in the Planescape Campaign Setting (1994). Then the designers immediately put those ideas to work in the first Planescape adventure, The Eternal Boundary (1994), which includes a trip to the Elemental Plane of Fire. Taking a page from Al-Qadim, The Eternal Boundary takes players to a set, civilized locale—a “citadel of fire.” However, the elemental planes only really came into their own with the publication of the Planescape expansion The Inner Planes (1998), which devoted a full chapter to each of the sixteen planes. By focusing on the inhabitants and numerous sites of each plane, the book provided a sound basis for adventuring—one that remains a useful primer on the elemental planes to this day.Modern Elementals: 2000–Present
In the last few editions of D&D, the elemental planes have been ever-changing.
D&D third edition (2000) gave the elemental planes their spotlight in a new Manual of the Planes (2001). The overall structure of the elemental planes and the energy planes was similar to that found in Planescape, but the paraelemental and quasielemental planes were described only as places where elements and energies mixed. They were no longer named nor detailed.
D&D fourth edition (2008) reinvented the Dungeons & Dragons cosmology, and the elemental planes became part of the Elemental Chaos. As explained in the newest iteration of Manual of the Planes (2008), the Elemental Chaos was the “raw material of creation.” Now instead of being theoretical building blocks, the home of the elements was clearly linked to the reality of the material plane itself. However, the Elemental Chaos was more than just the former elemental planes. It was also home to many different planar creatures, from the primordials (including the elemental princes) that shaped the world, to the demons that lived in the Abyss that was an adjunct of the Elemental Chaos. Despite these changes, the elemental planes’ prime destination—the City of Brass—survived the transition.
Fourth edition D&D’s cosmology—known as the World Axis—was well integrated into the game, providing power sources, character themes, and background settings alike. As a result, the elemental planes of fourth edition received the best attention since the end of the Planescape setting. More details on the elements appeared in The Plane Below: Secrets of the Elemental Chaos (2009), while players could access elemental-influenced powers following the publication of Heroes of the Elemental Chaos (2012).
D&D fifth edition (2014) largely returned to the older Great Wheel cosmology, but the Inner Planes retain aspects of the World Axis. The four elemental planes are back, but they remain tightly integrated with the material plane as its creative foundation. The paraelemental planes have also returned for the first time since Planescape, but they have more evocative names. The Plane of Ash is known as the Great Conflagration, the Plane of Ice is the Frostfell, the Plane of Magma is the Fountains of Creation, and the Plane of Ooze is the Swamp of Oblivion. Additionally, the Elemental Chaos is the churning realm within which the Inner Planes are held.
This organization reflects Mike Mearls’s goal to make the elemental planes “places to visit and explore”—a notion influenced by the writings of Michael Moorcock and Roger Zelazny. As a result, the elemental planes are more habitable toward their interiors where they touch the material plane, and weirder toward their outskirts as they descend into the Elemental Chaos.
Making the elemental planes a destination for adventuring is a noble goal—because making those planes playable is something that D&D has been striving toward for a full forty years.
About the Author
Shannon Appelcline has been roleplaying since his dad taught him Basic D&D in the early ’80s. He’s the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons, a four-volume history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time.Publication date: 04/23/2015Introduction: The elemental planes have long been a source of adventure in Dungeons & Dragons. Princes of the Apocalypse marks D&D’s latest delve into the world of the elements—a constant presence within the game since its inception.Tags: D&D Alumniexternal_urls: Texture banner: HideBanner video:
I was crazy about the Urban Arcana campaign setting in particular. The scenario was a familiar one, seemingly plucked from my own daydreams. D&D monsters and magic (called “Shadow” within the setting) are finding their way into our world. The vast majority of humankind remains largely ignorant of this development, thanks to our awesome capacity for denial. Only a small number of humans and friendly Shadowkind races can even perceive—much less combat—the threats that such an incursion brings.
I ran my Urban Arcana campaign for six years. By that point, other games had clamored for my attention, but I never forgot how interested I was in the marriage of D&D to urban fantasy. When the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was released last December, I knew without a doubt that my first homebrew setting using the new rules would be an updated take on Urban Arcana, adapting firearms and modern armor for use in an urban fantasy game.Rules of Engagement
The Dungeon Master’s Guide provides optional rules for firearms in D&D—including modern and even futuristic weapons. However, this left me in a quandary regarding character defenses. In a typical fantasy setting, adventurers, guards, and other possible combatants are fully expected to wear armor. There are no social penalties when characters are observed in full armor while going about their business. Modern settings are a different animal in this regard.
Using the old d20 Modern Core Rulebook as a guide, and tweaking the math for fifth edition, I created armor options for my “5e Modern” campaign. Because it can be assumed that most characters operate undercover, incognito, or simply in an unobtrusive manner for at least part of the time, I made sure that those options included concealable armor. More obvious armor—whether riot armor, flak jackets, or Land Warrior milspec armor—will likely have an affect on characters’ social ability checks and their ability to move freely in your campaign. By that same token, armor might afford bonuses to Charisma (Intimidation) checks.
Armor Class (AC)
11 + Dex modifier
11 + Dex modifier
Light undercover shirt
11 + Dex modifier
12 + Dex modifier
13 + Dex modifier
13 + Dex modifier (max 2)
14 + Dex modifier (max 3)
15 + Dex modifier (max 2)
Special response vest
Land Warrior armor
Forced entry unit
As you can see from the table, many of the heavier armors grant damage reduction (DR) or resistance to several damage types, including a new damage type: ballistic damage. In game terms, ballistic damage is the type of damage that firearms inflict, and is a subset of piercing damage. This means that all ballistic damage counts as piercing damage, but not all piercing damage counts as ballistic damage. Magical effects or creature properties that grant resistance to piercing damage also apply to ballistic damage, but effects or properties reducing ballistic damage do not automatically apply to piercing damage.
(Armor in my game currently has no price because my modern ruleset uses a wealth system for characters, similar to that used in d20 Modern. Characters gain equipment based on their wealth, rather than tracking income and expenses. I won’t get into the full system here, but it might make a good topic for a later installment of Behind the Screens.)Who Gets What?
Because of the high potential damage granted to firearms, it was also necessary to introduce a complication or condition in order to balance their use with more traditional modes of attack. In my campaign, a character proficient with a firearm does not automatically add any proficiency bonus to the attack roll. Rather, proficiency with a firearm allows a character to use a bonus action to take the aim action, which adds the character’s proficiency bonus to the attack roll. Without taking the aim action (or if a character is using a firearm without proficiency), the shooter receives only the benefit of a Dexterity bonus on the attack roll.
When it came to weapon proficiencies, I decided that several classes would enjoy proficiency with firearms, while others would have to earn their proficiency with multiclassing or by training through the use of downtime days (see the Player’s Handbook). I divided firearms into two basic classes: sidearms (for anything up to a submachine gun) and long arms (for anything up to a light machine gun.) Anything heavier—such as a heavy machine gun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher, or a flamethrower—is given special dispensation according to the in-game situation. In my own campaign, I created a feat called Heavy Weapon Specialist that allows proficiency in all modern weapons heavier than a medium machine gun wielded by an unassisted individual on foot. I also made this feat available as a fighting style for the fighter class.
Firearm Proficiencies by Class
None (though possibly granted through domains such as City or War)
Long arms and sidearms
Long arms and sidearms
Long arms and sidearms
Long arms or sidearms (chosen at character creation)
None (though sidearms and long arms can be created through the Pact of the Blade class feature)
None (though sidearm proficiency might be granted through the School of Technomancy)
Hold up! City Domain? School of Technomancy? I’ll get into those next time!
About the Author
Daniel Helmick is a contractor attached to the Dungeons & Dragons R&D department, formerly of the D&D Insider studio at Wizards of the Coast. He has contributed numerous articles and adventures to Dungeon and Dragon magazines, as well as the Tyranny of Dragons and Elemental Evil Adventurers League programs. He’s thinking about getting a cat, but he’s torn between the names Trapspringer and Dragonbait.Publication date: 04/13/2015Introduction: I’m a longtime D&D player, but I’m also a sucker for urban fantasy. With the Dungeon Master’s Guide and some tweaking, I’ve begun to use the fifth edition rules to explore the possibilities of gunplay in a modern fantasy setting.Tags: Featuresexternal_urls: Texture banner: HideBanner video:
We are happy to announce Wizards of the Coast has partnered with SmiteWorks to bring Dungeons & Dragons to the virtual tabletop Fantasy Grounds. All of the rules, classes and monsters available in the core rulebooks has been skillfully converted to be usable within Fantasy Grounds. Fight cunning beholders and ancient red dragons with your long-distance friends! Roll that virtual d20 with advantage!
Fantasy Grounds is an application developed by SmiteWorks to help gamers play tabletop role playing games over the internet. Players can download the Fantasy Grounds client, available from FantasyGrounds.com or from Steam, and log in to your Dungeon Master’s specific table. The DM runs the game like any other D&D session, with mapping, combat and skill checks all automated through Fantasy Grounds. One of the greatest experiences in Fantasy Grounds is rolling 3D animated dice and having the results shown to the whole table. The drama of rolling that natural 20 against the big ogre about to pummel your friends is the same as if you were physically sitting together.
You can purchase the D&D Complete Core Class Pack with all the class, feats, spells and equipment or you can purchase individual classes based on what your party is using. You can also buy the monsters in packs separated by monster type like aberrations or dragons or as the D&D Complete Core Monster Pack. All of these packs have been converted to work tightly with Fantasy Grounds to give you the best possible gaming experience. Each pack contains all the great artwork and content from the official products published by Wizards. Not only will you get the same content that can be found in print, but you also get an exciting new theme for the client, as well as adventures and content customized specifically for ease of play inside of Fantasy Grounds.
Right now, you can check out all of the packs available on the Fantasy Grounds website, or purchase them through Steam. The adventure found in the D&D Starter Set—the Lost Mine of Phandelver—is available for purchase now, and SmiteWorks will be bringing the Tyranny of Dragons and Elemental Evil storylines.
For Dungeon Masters and players on a budget, you might pick up a Player Customization Pack and one or two Class Packs of your choice. Dungeon Masters can often get by with just the Adventure of their choice and one or two Monster Packs. Don't forget that players can gift purchases through Steam for Dungeon Masters who have linked their license on Steam.
ScreenshotsPublication date: 04/08/2015Introduction: The Fantasy Grounds Virtual Table gives Dungeon Masters and players all the tools they need to play D&D over the internet. Mix and match class and monster packs, create your own adventures and encounters or play published modules with all your friends no matter how far away they live.Tags: Newsexternal_urls: Texture banner: HideBanner video:
Opening a Loot Crate is kind of like opening a treasure chest in Dungeons & Dragons except you don’t have to ask Fat-Fingers Bob to check for traps first. In this month’s fantasy Loot Crate we’ve added an exclusive piece of D&D loot that you and your party will definitely want to have while you’re out adventuring - whether it’s in a dungeon, on a screen, or at your favorite hang-out!
And since you’re such accomplished adventurers, we’re going to give you a little bonus. Head over to lootcrate.com/dnd now and enter in the code: DUNGEONS for $3 off!
You have until April 19th to get the fantasy themed Loot Crate, so take a break from rolling dice or viciously mouse-clicking on those kobolds to head over and sign up now.Publication date: 04/07/2015Introduction: Make sure you sign up for the April Loot Crate if you want to get this month’s surprise D&D gift!Tags: Newsexternal_urls: Texture banner: HideBanner video:
The time has come, adventurers, to defend the Sword Coast from utter destruction once again!
The Cults of Elemental Evil have amassed their forces to take over the Sword Coast and reduce all life down to its four basic elements: Earth, Fire, Wind, and Water. With each element comes a terrifying coterie of cultists more dangerous than the next. Fortunately for the good citizens of Neverwinter, the Sword Coast factions have lent their strength to the cause of driving out the menacing cultists and saving the Sword Coast. In addition to these powerful factions, two heroes have emerged to drive an armored boot into the elemental backside of evil. Indeed, the Ranger Minsc and his miniature giant space hamster, Boo, have appeared and are ready to aid in the fight to save Neverwinter.
With Neverwinter: Elemental Evil comes the Oathbound Paladin, a class suited to both tanking and healing. Elemental Evil will also bring with it a raised level cap, allowing players to reach level 70 and enter special epic dungeons that have been reworked to provide challenges worthy of their epic title. Adventurers will also be able battle the Cults of Elemental Evil through 4 new adventure zones, each with its own elemental theme.
The Forgotten Realms are in need of your aid once again, will you heed the call?
Begin your Forgotten Realms journey at www.playneverwinter.com today!Publication date: 04/07/2015Tags: Newsexternal_urls: Texture banner: HideBanner video:
We’re happy to announce that Neverwinter is now live on Xbox One in 33 regions across North America, Europe and South America. After releasing in China last year, our team has been hard at work building upon our initial launch to bring one of the first MMORPGs to the Xbox One for free. To download the game for free, visit our Xbox product page.
We are also happy to announce that within the first three days of launch, all Xbox One owners will be able to play the game for free. On Thursday, April 2, an Xbox Live Gold Membership will be required to play Neverwinter.
With this launch, adventurers can jump into the living world of the Forgotten Realms as they explore strange environments like Icespire Peak and Pirate’s Skyhold as you experience classic Dungeons & Dragons creatures. In the free download, adventures will also be able to access the classes available through the Tyranny of Dragons expansion including the Scourge Warlock and access all in-game content.
Following our launch, our team will continue to work to ensure the game lives up to your expectations and ours. We’ll be bringing additional content including our previous module launches that will be available to players completely for free on the Xbox One. As always, let us know what you think of the game. We’ll be watching Twitch, Twitter, forums and many more places for feedback from the community. Happy adventuring!
Publication date: 04/06/2015Tags: Newsexternal_urls: Texture banner: HideBanner video:
Sometimes a campaign will have special needs for archetypes or character options not found in the existing official material. If you’re in this situation, you might want to modify one or more of the classes in the game in order to provide options for players looking for a unique twist on their characters’ abilities. However, modifying a class is not something that should be undertaken lightly, and the job requires some serious effort, playtesting, and revision to get it right. The two best ways to modify a class are to swap out some class features for different ones, and to add new to an existing class. This article presents methods that will help you to use existing mechanics as a model, while drawing upon features of other classes for inspiration.
You can think of the material presented in this series as similar to the first wave of the fifth edition playtest. These game mechanics are in draft form, usable in your campaign but not fully tempered by playtests and design iterations. They are highly volatile and might be unstable; if you use them, be ready to rule on any issues that come up. They’re written in pencil, not ink. For these reasons, material in this column is not legal in D&D Organized Play events.
The material presented in Unearthed Arcana will range from mechanics that we expect one day to publish in a supplement to house rules from our home campaigns that we want to share, from core system options to setting-specific material. Once it’s out there, you can expect us to check in with you to see how it’s working out and what we can do to improve it.Creating New Class Options
Each class contains at least one major decision point, referred to here as a class option. Clerics choose a divine domain, fighters choose a martial archetype, rogues choose a roguish archetype, wizards choose an arcane tradition, and so forth. If you want to create a different version of one of these major decision points (such as a new primal path for the barbarian), examine the existing examples to see how they are built. As with anything in class design, be prepared to playtest your ideas and then make changes if things aren’t turning out the way you want them to.
The first thing to do when creating a new class option is to figure out what that option’s unique aspect is, both in terms of the class’s underlying story and the option’s place in the campaign world. Figuring out the story behind the class option, and what kinds of characters you want to enable your players to create with it, is the most critical step in the process because it will serve as a guiding example for you.
Once you have a unique concept for your class option in mind, it’s time to get down to the design process. Take a look at the class’s existing options and see what they provide, and then use those as examples or building blocks for the features that your class option will provide. It’s perfectly fine for two class options in the same class to share some mechanics, and it’s also appropriate to examine other classes for mechanics you can draw upon for inspiration. At every step along the way, you can compare what you are designing with your original concept, and, if the design is helping to define and establish that concept, you know you’re on the right path. On the other hand, if your design for a mechanic isn’t somehow helping to reinforce the theme of the new class option, it might be worthwhile to reconsider that mechanic.
As you consider which class features to include in your new class option, address the following questions:
- What kinds of abilities do the other options for this class provide at comparable levels?
- Do the features improve a character’s combat ability directly, make the character better at exploration or interaction, or provide alternatives that aren’t about a pure increase in power?
- How do the features at a given level reinforce the story of that class option?
- Does an existing mechanic already accomplish something that the new class option also needs to do?
As it says in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, no formula exists that can be used to perfectly design a new or replacement class feature, but some guidelines do apply for each of the eleven classes. While this advice is by no means comprehensive, it should provide a few points to ponder and get you thinking about how a class’s features should work together.
Often, as you’ll see, the best advice is to leave things as they are. Many classes have deeply ingrained qualities, such as how they receive and cast spells, that don’t lend themselves to being tinkered with. Even if some parts of the class descriptions are off limits for our purposes here, there are still plenty of opportunities for you to develop variant features within each class.Barbarian
- Though the barbarian’s Rage class feature grants the class a significant increase in defensive strength, be aware of how other class features interact with Rage to boost the character’s offensive potency. For example, the primary drawback of Reckless Attack is largely offset by the damage resistance provided by Rage, and the berserker’s Frenzy feature gives the barbarian a lot of attack power for at least one combat.
- Note that Fast Movement serves three important purposes: getting the barbarian to the front line of a battle quickly, preventing the barbarian’s rage from ending because an enemy is not nearby, and encouraging the barbarian to stay out of heavy armor.
- The 10th-level features of both Primal Paths speaks more to the interaction pillar of the game than to combat; be wary of replacing or altering them to add combat potency.
- The 6th-level benefit of the Path of the Totem Warrior generally speaks to the exploration pillar of the game, so think twice before changing it, for the same reason as above.
- Bards have the full spellcasting progression; any changes to the Spellcasting feature will have a big impact on the class.
- Bards know a limited number of spells, which is a restriction on their versatility that should be modified with care when making changes to the class. Bards of the College of Lore receive an expansion of their number of spells known as a full class feature.
- Font of Inspiration, gained at 5th level, helps encourage the bard to continue along the class’s path for at least five more levels in order to make better use of Bardic Inspiration. Be wary of developing similar mechanics for other classes, because a feature that hands out a true increase to a numerical result (instead of advantage and disadvantage) should be rare.
- Clerics have the full spellcasting progression; any changes to the Spellcasting feature will have a big impact on the class.
- A cleric domain has a strong, defining class feature that fundamentally affects the way that character plays. The 1st-level feature in a domain, whether the domain is one you’re creating or one you’re modifying, should be something that really makes clerics of that domain stand out.
- Domain spells were typically chosen to expand the cleric’s options, while the base spell list of the cleric was kept relatively short. Look to other ’classes’ spell lists when searching for spells to add to a new domain. For instance, the Light domain offers a number of spells that aren’t on the cleric’s list.
- Druids have the full spellcasting progression; any changes to the Spellcasting feature will have a big impact on the class.
- Wild Shape is used largely for exploration purposes by Circle of the Land druids. For Circle of the Moon druids, Wild Shape offers significant defensive advantages, making such characters very durable.
- As with cleric domain spells, Circle of the Land druids’ circle spells are frequently drawn from the spell lists of other classes to increase those characters’ versatility.
- Fighters gain most of their combat prowess from three characteristics of the class: being able to make up to four attacks per round; using Action Surge to grant quick bursts of combat potency; and having the highest number of Ability Score Improvement features, which allows fighters to strengthen their attacks and saving throws, or, if the DM allows it, select feats.
- The fighter archetypes are largely meant to be different flavors of the base class, in which most of the fighter’s combat strength lies. The Champion gains some versatility and a better chance of scoring critical hits. The Battle Master specializes in maneuvers that aren’t available to other fighters. The Eldritch Knight’s ability to cast spells sets that archetype apart, while being limited enough so that the character still feels like a fighter.
- Note that the 7th-level features for the Champion and the Battle Master lean heavily on the exploration and interaction pillars of the game; the Eldritch Knight gains spells, which contribute to the fighter’s competence in the exploration and interaction pillars, and so its 7th-level feature is geared to blending spells and attacks.
- The monk is one of the most complex classes, with the highest number of unique class features. Be wary of replacing a single feature with more than one new feature, since the class already has a lot of capability.
- The monk’s Martial Arts feature was carefully worded to prevent unintended combinations; this is why the feature does not treat unarmed strikes as a finesse weapon, since that could have unforeseen consequences in future material about finesse weapons that is appropriate for, say, a rapier or a dagger but not an unarmed strike.
- Ki points have some subtle guidelines in how they are expended; features that cost 1 ki point usually focus on utility, or are the equivalent of a single unarmed strike. Features that cost 2 ki points should be on par with a 1st-level spell, while a feature that costs 3 ki points should be on par with a 2nd-level spell. Examine the elemental disciplines of the Way of the Four Elements monk for further examples of how to match ki points to spell levels.
- Paladins have a spellcasting progression that is half as vigorous as the normal progression. The Spellcasting feature can be tinkered with a bit, but it still needs to be a significant portion of what the class can do.
- Paladins derive a large amount of their combat potency from the Divine Smite class feature. Since the paladin can wait until after determining if an attack hits (or is a critical hit) to use the smite, the character is capable of intense bursts of damage. Be wary of tinkering with this feature, because it is fundamental to the paladin’s combat strength.
- Many of the paladin’s class features are defensive in nature, protecting both the paladin and his or her allies from harm. Swapping out defensive class features for offensive ones starts to alter the feel of the paladin, perhaps in ways you did not intend.
- Rangers have a spellcasting progression that is half as vigorous as the normal progression. The Spellcasting feature can be tinkered with a bit, but it still needs to be a significant portion of what the class can do.
- Much of the ranger’s extra potency in combat comes from spells such as hunter’s mark and from the class features granted by the ranger archetypes. The 3rd-level feature in each archetype usually either provides a raw increase in combat power, or grants the ranger greater combat versatility.
- Favored Enemy was intentionally designed to provide no combat bonus, because the ranger’s strength in combat should not rely solely on the discretion of the Dungeon Master or the circumstances of the adventure. Although the Hunter archetype’s 3rd-level ability does rely somewhat on the nature of the foes being fought, Favored Enemy is generally useful in the interaction and exploration pillars of the game.
- Rogues rely chiefly on two features for both the class’s feel and its strength in combat: Sneak Attack and Cunning Action. These are fundamental to the rogue, and Uncanny Dodge at 5th level is almost their equal in importance to the class. Leave these features as is, unless you have a powerful reason for changing anything.
- The class features granted by the roguish archetypes at 3rd level should fundamentally alter the way the class plays, just as the cleric’s Divine Domain features do.
- Rogues are the masters of skills, and the class already pushes the boundaries of what we (and our playtesters) consider to be acceptable in terms of game balance. Giving them more skill potency could push rogues over the line.
- Sorcerers have the full spellcasting progression; any changes to the Spellcasting feature will have a big impact on the class.
- Like bards, sorcerers are have a limitation on the number of spells they can choose from, which is a major restriction on the class.
- The sorcerer does not get many metamagic choices. When you create a new metamagic option, be sure that it is useful enough that a sorcerer could justify using one of his or her precious choices on it.
- Sorcery points and Flexible Casting were intentionally designed so that a sorcerer who does nothing but convert spell slots to sorcery points in order to cast higher-level spells does so at the cost of overall output. Be cautious when altering this balance.
- Warlocks have a unique spellcasting method, and they rely on being able to cast a smaller number of spells more frequently. Remember that a warlock automatically increases the spell slot level of spells he or she casts, meaning that even lower-level spells gain potency when cast by a warlock.
- The warlock spell list was carefully cultivated to avoid including spells that might become annoying if cast too often at the table. If you want to grant a warlock access to a new spell, but are concerned that its frequent casting could be disruptive to the game, consider creating an eldritch invocation that enables the use of the same magic on a more limited basis (by requiring a rest between uses, for instance).
- Warlocks derive a lot of their combat potency from the eldritch blast cantrip, and already have a lot of invocations to choose from to increase that reliance. Be wary of creating new invocations that make eldritch blast even more powerful.
- Wizards have the full spellcasting progression; any changes to the Spellcasting feature will have a big impact on the class.
- Wizards have the longest spell list and the broadest selection of spells to choose from each day, thanks to their spellbooks. Anything that further increases their versatility in this respect should be approached with caution.
- The Arcane Traditions serve three purposes, which you should consider when creating new ones: encouraging the casting of certain kinds of spells, providing utility that is unique to specialists of a particular kind of magic and that cannot be found within spells, and subtly altering the play style of the wizard without fundamentally drawing the thrust of the class away from spellcasting.
As an example of what the class feature replacement process might be like, we will remove spellcasting from the ranger class. Let’s say that in your campaign you want rangers to be a little bit more like Strider from the Lord of the Rings, and less overtly magical from the outset.
The Spellcasting class feature has a big impact on the ranger class, so this is no small project. Start by evaluating what the Spellcasting feature is contributing to the class. In general, rangers have a more limited spell list (and know only a relatively small number of spells), and operate on the same half-speed progression for spellcasting as the paladin does. Looking over the ranger’s spells, you might come to the following conclusions about what the Spellcasting feature contributes to the class:
- Rangers have a lot of exploration utility in their spells, with access to magic such as detect poison and disease, beast sense, and conjure animals.
- Rangers gain a lot of their combat potency from spells, especially hunter’s mark.
- Rangers get some healing and restoration ability from spells such as cure wounds, lesser restoration, and protection from poison, which stave off the harm an adventurer might suffer while exploring in the wilderness.
- Rangers get some combat control effects from their spells such as ensnaring strike, spike growth, and conjure barrage, all of which give the ranger a magical edge in combat.
- At some levels at which the ranger gains access to new spell levels, this is the only class feature the character receives. As a result, the ranger will need additional class features at those levels to prevent them from providing nothing to the ranger aside from increased hit points.
Given the usefulness of the cure wounds spell, and the greater need for healing at lower levels, let’s create a healing class feature that allows the ranger to create and apply herbal poultices—an improvement that is on par with drinking a potion at first, but one that will scale up as the ranger gains levels.
Additionally, since the ranger is likely to need some extra combat utility that spells would normally provide, let’s add a version of the Combat Superiority class feature drawn from the Battle Master fighter. The maneuvers that Combat Superiority grants can provide a nice boost in combat, especially in matters of battlefield control. Looking at the fighter class, we can see that the Battle Master fighter’s Combat Superiority is sitting in a similar space as the spellcasting progression of the Eldritch Knight. We don’t want the ranger to outshine the Battle Master fighter, so we’re going to start the ranger with fewer maneuvers, scaling up as the ranger gains levels. Since we’re going to be replacing a one-half spellcasting progression, this means that we’ll need a few other features to bring this ranger up to par.
At 9th and 13th levels are gaps where we can place some exploration-focused mechanics. Let’s model the first one on the protection from poison spell, and also give the poultice-creating class feature an improved effect. The second one we can model on the conjure animals spell, which can be useful both in exploration scenes and in combat scenes.
At 17th level is another gap, which we can fix with an improvement on Combat Superiority. Fortunately, the Battle Master has a class feature that would fit in well in the concept of this ranger, so we can swap in the Relentless feature to make sure the ranger always has at least some ability to exercise control over the battlefield, even in the later part of an adventuring day.
Finally, we need to consider the impact of these changes on other class features, and make adjustments as necessary. For example, the Beast Master archetype for the ranger has a Share Spells class feature at 15th level that will no longer work without a Spellcasting feature. If your non-spellcasting ranger decides to play a Beast Master, you will need to create a substitute class feature for Share Spells as well, perhaps something to help keep the ranger’s beast companion alive longer. Additionally, since Primeval Awareness requires the ranger to expend spell slots to activate the class feature, we can modify that feature to allow the ranger to use it once and regain its use after finishing a short or long rest.
Here are the full descriptions of the new class features for our spell-less ranger:Combat Superiority
At 2nd level, you learn maneuvers that are fueled by special dice called superiority dice.
Maneuvers. You learn two maneuvers of your choice, which are chosen from the list of maneuvers available to fighters with the Battle Master archetype. Many maneuvers enhance an attack in some way. You can use only one maneuver per attack.
You learn one additional maneuver of your choice at 5th, 9th, 13th, and 17th levels. Each time you learn a new maneuver, you can also replace one maneuver you know with a different one.
Superiority Dice. You have four superiority dice, which are d8s. A superiority die is expended when you use it. You regain all of your expended superiority dice when you finish a short or long rest.
You gain another superiority die at 9th level and one more at 17th level.
Saving Throws. Some of your maneuvers require your target to make a saving throw to resist the maneuver’s effects. The saving throw DC is calculated as follows:
Maneuver save DC = 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Strength or Dexterity modifier (your choice)Poultices
At 3rd level, you can create special herbal poultices that have healing power comparable to some potions. You can spend 1 hour gathering herbs and preparing herbal poultices using treated bandages to create a number of such poultices equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum 1). You can carry a number of poultices at one time equal to your Wisdom modifier (minimum 1). The poultices you create cannot be applied by anyone but you. After 24 hours, any poultices that you have not used lose their potency.
If you spend 1 minute applying one of your poultices to a wounded humanoid creature, thereby expending its use, that creature regains 1d6 hit points for every two ranger levels you have (rounded up).Natural Antivenom
Starting at 9th level, you have advantage on saving throws against poison and have resistance to poison damage. Additionally, you can use one of your poultices to cure one poison effect on the creature you are applying it to, in addition to restoring hit points.Call Natural Allies
Starting at 13th level, when you are in an area of your favored terrain, you can call natural creatures from that terrain to fight on your behalf, using your attunement to the natural world to convince them to aid you. The DM chooses beasts appropriate to the terrain to come to your aid from among those that could hear you and that are within 1 mile of you, in one of the following groups:
- One beast of challenge rating 2 or lower
- Two beasts of challenge rating 1 or lower
- Four beasts of challenge rating 1/2 or lower
- Eight beasts of challenge rating 1/4 or lower
These beasts approach you from their current location, and will fight alongside you, attacking any creatures that are hostile to you. They are friendly to you and your comrades, and you roll initiative for the called creatures as a group, which takes its own turns. The DM has the creatures’ statistics.
After 1 hour, these beasts return to their previous location. Once you use this feature, you cannot use it again in the same general area for 24 hours, since the same animals will not repeatedly heed your call.Relentless
Starting at 17th level, when you roll initiative and have no superiority dice remaining, you regain 1 superiority die.
As a replacement for Share Spells, we could also consider the following feature:Beastly Coordination
Beginning at 15th level, when an attacker that you can see hits your beast companion with an attack, you can call out a warning. If your beast companion can hear you, it can use its reaction to halve the attack’s damage against it.Example: Favored Soul
As an example of how creating a new class option could work, let’s examine a design that was a full-fledged class in the third edition supplement Complete Divine: the favored soul. This might be an appealing archetype if you are running a game where the gods are going to have a big impact on the world, and where the Chosen of those gods (individuals bestowed with a fragment of a god’s divine power) are prominent players in the campaign. To reflect this tone, let’s create the Favored Soul as a new origin for the sorcerer class. This decision reflects the idea that the character is someone who is fundamentally changed by the touch of his or her deity, which awakens powerful magical abilities.
Looking at the existing sorcerous origins, we can determine that, at 1st level, an origin provides not only the explanation for the source of the sorcerer’s power, but also a flourish on the way that character plays. Since this sorcerer is going to be gaining its magic by being imbued with divine power, we decide to give the Favored Soul access to some spells normally gained by the cleric. Any time we expand the known spells of the sorcerer, we run the risk of overshadowing the other sorcerous origins, since the limitation on the number of spells the sorcerer knows has a big impact on how the class plays. This indicates that the other class features probably shouldn’t all tie closely to the sorcerer’s spellcasting, since that aspect of the sorcerer is already getting quite a boost. Since the favored soul class was a little more martial in its previous incarnation, we decide to give our sorcerer some better armor and access to simple weapons, similar to the defensive bonuses gained by the Draconic Bloodline sorcerer at 1st level.
At 6th level, the other sorcerous origins provide features that have an impact on the character’s combat abilities. Looking at the bard class, we can see that the College of Valor gains the Extra Attack class feature at the same level, and we decide to give that to the Favored Soul to further enhance its martial bent.
At 14th level, the sorcerous origins provide some measure of utility, with little direct impact on spellcasting or combat capabilities. Here, we choose to model the Favored Soul’s feature after the Draconic Bloodline’s feature at the same level, reflecting the touch of the divine with some imagery typically associated with divinity: wings.
At 18th level, the sorcerous origins provide options that are both potent and strongly linked to the origin’s central theme. Since the sorcerer will have access to higher-level spells at this level, and the feature we gave it at 1st level to provide some cleric spells won’t have as much of an impact, we decide to tie this class feature to those cleric spells, both to incentivize the continued use of those spells, and to give the Favored Soul a little more resilience in the face of high-level threats.
When we are done with this initial design, here’s what the Favored Soul sorcerous origin looks like:Chosen of the Gods
At 1st level, you choose one of the cleric class’s divine domains. You add that domain’s spells for 1st-level clerics to your known spells. These spells do not count against the number of spells you can know, and they are considered to be sorcerer spells for you. When you reach 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th levels in the sorcerer class, you likewise learn your domain’s spells that become available at those levels.Bonus Proficiencies
At 1st level, you gain proficiency in light armor, medium armor, shields, and simple weapons.Extra Attack
Starting at 6th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.Divine Wings
At 14th level, you gain the ability to sprout a pair of wings from your back (feathered or bat-like, your choice), gaining a flying speed equal to your current walking speed. You can create these wings as a bonus action on your turn. They last until you dismiss them as a bonus action on your turn.
You can’t manifest your wings while wearing armor unless the armor is made to accommodate them, and clothing not made to accommodate your wings might be destroyed when you manifest them.Power of the Chosen
Starting at 18th level, when you cast one of the spells you learned from your Chosen of the Gods class feature, you regain hit points equal to your Charisma modifier (minimum +1) + the spell’s level.
In the end, the capabilities of our Favored Soul sorcerer are quite close to those of the spontaneous-casting favored soul class from long ago!About the Author
Rodney Thompson is a senior designer for the Dungeons & Dragons game. In addition to serving as a designer on the fifth edition of D&D, he is the co-designer of the Lords of Waterdeep board game and its expansion. Rodney is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and has worked at Wizards of the Coast since 2007, when he joined the company as the lead designer of the Star Wars Roleplaying Game Saga Edition.
Publication date: 04/06/2015Introduction: Looking for more advice on modifying character classes? Dive into customization with some advice on class design.Tags: Unearthed ArcanaRelated content: TRPG_PHBexternal_urls: External url: http://media.wizards.com/2015/downloads/dnd/UA3_ClassDesignVariants.pdfExternal url description: Modifying Classes PDF Texture banner: ShowBanner video:
That process influenced my actions as a DM, and has inspired me to come up with two rough modes for running games, which can help make the overall experience for my players a good one. If you’re a new DM, these modes might help you deliver that fun player experience that all DMs crave.With great power comes blah, blah, blah . . .
It’s true, though.
Being a DM is a responsibility. I feel responsible to my players. I want them to have a good time and enjoy the story, whether it’s a prewritten adventure or one that I’ve cooked up for them. I want them to feel all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as they plow and plunder their way to victory or death.
At the beginning of my DM career, I noticed that some players got a sad face when their characters died, or that other players checked out and began fiddling with other stuff in the middle of the game. What did those players want that I wasn’t giving them? Sad faces and a lack of engagement are anathema to a DM. But from those two reactions came my two modes of D&D play.
Every group of players has a general vibe beforehand. I gauge what kind of experience my group wants to have. After a chat, I usually know exactly what they’re in the mood for. In my world, that breaks down to “Cinematic” or “DM as Nature.” I know these modes exist in other forms elsewhere in the RPG multiverse, but here’s my take. If you like them, try them out.Cinematic Mode
Sometimes everyone has just rewatched the Lord of the Rings extended editions and all the players are pumped to have an experience where they’re the heroes of the story, fighting supreme evil. They want to do amazing stuff, swinging from chandeliers to land in a silver punchbowl while severing orc heads. They want to live the fantasy dream. In this mode, I put on a movie director hat. I don’t want characters to die; they’re the stars of the movie. The threat of death can be there, but instead of dying, I opt for knocking characters out and having them wake up in a more dangerous situation.
As an example, imagine that an orc hits Rowena on the head with a shot that would have killed her in a normal game. Instead, I have her go unconscious then wake up with 5 hit points, trussed up like a turkey and being slowly lowered into the Pit of Wailing Death. It’s the penalty of dying but without the actual death. The story doesn’t end for the character or the player. Instead, the fun continues in a different form and the player is still in the game, trying to figure out how to save the character from peril. In cinematic mode, it’s about the DM and the players creating an awesome movie together.
Cinematic is also the mode in which to goof around. You can let players make up the craziest characters possible, then do outrageous things to shock and horrify each other. When players want to have this kind of experience, my goal is to try to feed the fire and give them a stage that enhances each character’s idiom. For example, a player might run a character who is a cannibalistic circus freak. I’ll find a way to drop that character into a cultured and reserved setting—perhaps a fancy dress ball in an ancestral estate—to add to the shock value. It’s fun to try to see how that character is roleplayed (or not) in awkward situations that will eventually melt down into chaos.
Goofball cinematic games are a guilty pleasure of mine—the RPG equivalent of a B-horror-movie night. I give the characters and their players something outrageously fun to do. The normal rules of cinematic mode help to keep these crazy characters alive—and if and when they do die, the end should be fitting for the character. Perhaps the cannibal circus freak is ironically eaten by a wandering mob of other cannibals? It’s a grab bag of weirdness.
All in all, cinematic mode is about the story being amazing and exciting, even as it tries to avoid dead characters so the players remain engaged.DM-as-Nature Mode
Sometimes players are itching for a different kind of experience. They want to get as close to actual reality as a fantasy world can get. In this format, I pull no punches as I simply simulate nature. Nature doesn’t care if you didn’t pack any food on your Antarctic trek. Nature simply kills you dead in such circumstances, even if you have the noblest of intentions and a quest to fulfill.
Players often find this mode thrilling—a full-time, ongoing test of their tactical and roleplaying skills. For example, the party might enter a massive hall only to have the doors slam shut and magically lock. Smoke grenades are thrown as unseen archers cut loose with volleys of arrows. The party reacts as goblins leap from the ceiling and rush in from all sides, shrieking “Release the worgs!” as they come. In DM-as-nature mode, I run my monsters “realistically.” They want to survive just as badly as the characters do. I don’t give the players an inch, remaining impassive and wholly neutral as to the outcome. If characters survive, the players derive satisfaction from knowing that they weren’t given any help or favors. Every experience point was earned the hard way. Every gold piece is a victory.
Some players love this mode. However, other players think that they’ll love it only to find they actively hate it. If you’re not careful, you’ll crush those players’ fantasy dreams. They came from their regular lives to feel like a hero and live an amazing story, and you’ve thrown a wet blanket of “reality” on their aspirational escape.Making the Most of Modes
When I see the signs of sadness in my players, I steer clear of the realism of DM-as-nature mode and head straight for cinematic mode. A good bout of wild heroic action usually brings the fun back to the players’ faces. I’ve found that it’s rarely jarring to move from DM-as-nature to cinematic mode even on a moment’s notice, though moving the other way can confuse player expectation.
Be careful not to focus too exclusively on what the players want, however. Sometimes you just want to run a world where you as the DM don’t give a hoot as to what anybody else expects. By running your game the way you like to run it, the players need to step up to the challenge of adapting to you. It can be especially cool if you become a DM known for your particular style of gaming—creating a sense that you have your own way of doing it, and knowing that players want to play in your games. But in the moments where you feel things breaking down, it can be useful to think about what type of mode you’ve instinctively moved into—and to think about using the alternative mode to bring the players back if their interest is flagging.New Players
With new players, I usually default to cinematic mode. Let the characters live out the fantasy dream, slaying goblins and orcs or saving the village from unreasonable jerks. Let them drink frothy ale, arm wrestle a hairy oaf, or head-butt a cow. It’s all good, especially if no one has to die.
If I’m running a DM-as-nature-style game, I warn my new players that death will happen. Some players have to emotionally adjust to the possibility of their characters dying.
Other players will never take character death well, especially players who live through or aspire to be their characters. (The question of ‘to kill or not to kill’ is a topic for another article, though.)
In all cases, find out what your players want. Try out these two different modes of running games and assess how each mode feels, both for you and your players. And have fun making stories and worlds.About the Author
Adam Lee is a story writer, game designer, world builder, and wandering minstrel. He has worked many years on Magic: The Gathering making up cool worlds and characters, and now works on D&D doing the same. He has been playing D&D and living in fantasy worlds since he was a tiny lad. He likes birthday cake.Publication date: 03/30/2015Introduction: Among many other things, D&D is a creative balance between DM and players. After running a number of games, I found that I began to think about what kind of experience my players really want. Tags: Featuresexternal_urls: Texture banner: HideBanner video:
True dragons are winged reptiles of ancient lineage and fearsome power. They are known and feared for their predatory cunning and greed, with the oldest dragons accounted as some of the most powerful creatures in the world. Dragons are also magical creatures whose innate power fuels their dreaded breath weapons and other preternatural abilities.
While that's the formal description, what about a rather informal look at dragons? Cartoonist Jason Thompson (creator of our D&D walkthrough maps) delivers his next comic panel—this time, looking at the Black Dragon!
We hope you enjoy. (Click for the full view.)
If you missed any of the past dragon cartoons, we've collected them for viewing below!Black Dragon Blue Dragon Green Dragon Red Dragon White Dragon
About the AuthorFeaturesRelated content: Tyranny of Dragonsexternal_urls: External url: http://media.wizards.com/2015/images/dnd/articles/Toon_BlackDragon.jpgExternal url description: Black Dragon Cartoon Texture banner: ShowBanner video:
Recently we asked all of you to give us your best idea for trinkets that would fit into the basic elemental theme of Elemental Evil. You did not disappoint!
We were originally going to pick the top ten and feature them in an article in our new Dragon+ app, but there were so many good entries, we had to find a way to show them off.
With more than 1,300 entries, it took some time to wheedle it down to our top 100, but now they’re here in their random table goodness. Thanks to everyone who submitted their best curios and we look forward to the next community poll!Elemental Evil Trinket Table
A Compass that always points to Mulmaster.
A paper fan that won't produce a breeze no matter how hard it's waved.
A petrified potato that resembles someone important to you.
A glass cup that can only be filled half way no matter how much liquid is pored into it.
A mirror that only shows the back of your head.
A small glass bird that when set down near water dips its head in as if to get a drink.
A lady's coin purse containing two sharp fangs.
A small sea conch with the words "From the beginning" painted on the lip.
A frost-covered silver locket that's frozen shut.
A seal which imprints a mysterious, unknown coat of arms into hard rock.
A small wooden doll that when held brings back fond memories.
A small handmirror which only reflects inanimate objects.
A glass eyeball that looks about of its own accordance, and can roll around.
A glass orb that replicates yesterday's weather inside itself.
A drinking cup, that randomly fills with fresh or salt water. Refilling once emptied.
A deep blue piece of flint, that when struck with steel produces not a spark but a drop of water.
A conch shell which is always damp and constantly drips saltwater.
A charred, half-melted pewter clasp that glows as if smoldering but releases no heat.
A clockwork finch that flaps its wings in the presence of a breeze.
A unbreakable sealed jar of glowing water that hums when shaken.
A small, finely polished geode whose crystals slowly fade between every color of the spectrum.
A rough stone eye pulled from a petrified creature.
A stone smoking pipe that never needs lighting.
A small whistle, that when blown, whispers a name of a person or place unknown to you, instead of the whistle sound.
A fist sized rock that "beats" like a heart.
A pair of bronze scissors in the shape of a pair of leaping dolphins.
A bronze oil lamp which is rumored to have once held a genie.
A single gauntlet inscribed with a fire motif and an unfamiliar name in Primordial.
A one-eyed little fish inside a spherical vial, much bigger than the vial's neck. He has a cunning look.
The tiny skull of a rabbit that whispers scathing insults when nobody is looking.
A rag doll in the likeness of an owlbear.
The desiccated body of a small eight-legged black lizard.
A small toy boat made with a walnut shell, toothpick, and piece of cloth.
A small pocket mirror that slowly fogs over while held.
Wind chimes that glow when the wind blows.
A small, clay square with an unknown rune etched into one side.
A tea kettle that heats itself when filled with water.
An old scratched monocle which shows an underwater landscape whenever someone looks through it.
A rose carved from coral.
A set of dice with elemental symbols and primordial runes instead of pips or numbers.
A amulet filled with liquid that churns, freezes, or boils to match its wearer's mood.
A small silver bell that makes a sound like quiet, distant thunder when it's struck.
A small vial of black sand that glows slightly in the moonlight.
A small whale tooth with etched with an image of waves crashing upon a beach.
An hourglass in which the sands pour upward instead of downward.
A glass pendant with a hole in the center that a mild breeze always blows out of.
A soft feather that falls like a stone when dropped.
A large transparent gem that, when gripped tightly, whispers in Terran.
A small crystal snowglobe that, when shaken, seems to form silhouettes of dancing forms.
Half of a palm-sized geode that pulses dimly with purple light.
A book filled with writing that only appears when the book is held underwater.
A sealed envelope made of red leather that you haven’t been able to open. It smells of campfire.
A locket of hair that is rumored to have come from a famed fire genasi.
Flint and steel that, when used to start a faire, creates a random colored flame.
A blank piece of wet parchment that never seems to dry.
A small puzzle box made of brass, that is slightly warm to the touch.
A cloudy chunk of glass that is said to hold a spark of breath from a blue dragon.
A crude chalice made of coal.
A miniature brass horn, silent when played, but fills the air with the scent of warm and exotic spices.
An eye-sized blue pearl that floats in salt water.
A tuning fork made from a dark metal which glows with a pale, white light during thunderstorms.
A small vial that is always filled with the smell of autumn wind.
A clear marble that slowly rolls toward the nearest source of running water.
A small collapsible silver cup that perspires constantly when opened.
An hourglass that tells time with falling mist instead of sand.
An ornate razor, which only cuts in freezing cold temperature.
A shark tooth covered in tiny etched words from a lost language.
A large brass coin with no markings or images on it.
A small wooden box filled with a strange red clay.
A necklace with a small, rusted iron anchor.
A small brass flute adorned with silver wire that is always faintly sounding.
A red and black Aarakocra feather.
A palm-sized stone with a hole in it, through which can be heard a constantly whispering wind.
A small conch shell covered in black crystal.
A small music box made of brass. It features a pair of tiny automatons that resemble Azer working at a forge.
A glass jar containing the preserved corpse of an unfamiliar aquatic creature.
A piece of petrified wood carved into the shape of a seashell.
A wooden puzzle cube covered in elemental symbols.
A small stone cube that acts as a magnet when placed against another stone.
A ring made of a white metal. On the inside is a name etched in Auran.
A bracelet made of silvered fish hooks.
A journal filled with poetry hand-written in Primordial.
A yellow gemstone that glows dimly when a storm is nearby.
A charred chisel with an unfamiliar symbol stamped into its base.
A canteen filled with a foul smelling orange mud.
A faceless doll made of driftwood.
A heavy iron key bearing the name of a ship long lost to the sea.
A small jewelry box made from the shell of a turtle.
A chess piece fashioned to look like fire myrmidon.
A spinning top with an image of one of the four elements on each side.
A single hoop earring made of a porous red stone.
An arrowhead carved from seasalt
A small comb made of blue coral.
Seven small beads of sandstone on a string, all different colors.
A romance chapbook written in undercommon titled "Just one Layer of Grey".
A tiny, broken clockwork Harpy.
An ivory whale statuette.
A fist-sized cog, covered in barnacles.
An eyepatch made of obsidian and a black leather cord.
A glass bottle with a tiny ship of unfamiliar design inside.About the Author
Trevor’s “real job” is talking to other fans about D&D and working with partners on their vidja games, but he’s secretly part of a yuan-ti organization bent on world domination.Publication date: 04/30/2015Introduction: The Dungeons & Dragons universe is chock full of treasures. Some in the form of gold and silver and some in the form of a glass orb containing a clockwork goldfish or mysterious unbendable needles. Time to make room in your rucksack for a smattering of new trinkets meant to help your quest to unearth the deception.Tags: FeaturesRelated content: Elemental Evilexternal_urls: Texture banner: ShowBanner video: