DNDtober the 18th: Mimics

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgThere’s a gaming joke making the rounds right now that goes something like this:

The tavern keeper asked why we always wore our weapons and armour in the tavern. “Mimics”, I told him. He laughed, we laughed, the table laughed. We killed the table and it was a good night.

Funny, right? But it also points up how I think mimics should really be used in a D&D campaign. Mimics are essentially ambush hunters; they camouflage themselves as something innocuous and wait for their prey to draw within striking distance. Great so far, but the “standard” mimic camouflage is a wooden chest. I get it, if you’re trying to catch adventurers you put out the adventurer bait. But this raises questions for me. Are there so many adventurers coming through the mimic’s lair that a chest is its go-to form? How many stupid adventurers has this mimic eaten, then? Because if I’m exploring a cave network, say, and I come across a chest sitting by itself in the middle of a cavern, that raises more red flags than the Kremlin on May Day. Which is the opposite response a camouflage hunter wants. Ideally they want their prey to want to come closer, but at the very least they want their prey oblivious to their impending entree status.

So here’s a few ideas which I think will make mimics a more interesting challenge to the players. In no particular order:

Anything But a Chest – Unless it’s a room full of chests. But seriously, if a mimic is smart enough to make itself look like a chest when it wants, it should be able to look around and pick a more appropriate item. So yes, maybe the mimic makes itself into the table, or a chair, or a bench. Can you imagine the look of terror on your player’s face when they sit down for a moment’s rest and you ask for an Athletics check at disadvantage (because who is expecting their chair to grapple and eat them?). Definitely brown trouser time.

One is the Hungriest Number – Just because camouflage hunters in our world are usually solo acts doesn’t mean mimics have to be. There is no reason why mimics in your game couldn’t operate as pack hunters, combining their talents to bring down larger groups of prey. Imagine this. Your party is exploring a room, which appears to be some kind of long-abandoned bedroom. The rogue is picking the lock on the wardrobe as the wizard explores the desk, and the fighter is prodding at the bed with her spear. Suddenly the desk grabs the wizard and tries to stuff him into its maw. The rogue turns around at the commotion, only to be engulfed in the jaws of the wardrobe. Frozen in indecision about who to help first, the fighter is attacked by each of the bedposts in turn. The cleric, who stepped down the hall to use the little boys garderobe, returns to find most of his party in the process of being eaten. Out of the corner of his eye the ornate picture frame on the wall begins to move…

Look What my Pet Can Do! – In the real world people train dangerous animals to follow commands all the time. Any animal you’ve seen in a movie that wasn’t a digital construct has been trained to follow commands and generally not eat the people around them. So why not mimics? I can imagine a mimic would make a great pet for wizard looking for a bit of special home protection. Rogues could definitely make use of the mimic’s unique skills; not only stealth, but for getting rid of those pesky leftover bodies at the end of a job. A ranger with a mimic animal companion would be all sorts of fun to play. Training would need to be handled perfectly, and there would almost certainly be some training mishaps as the pet learned who not to grapple and/or eat (“Has anyone seen the neighbor’s cat?”). But the occasional pet is a small price to pay for a cool and creepy animal companion.

How do you handle mimics in your campaign? Do you use them as pets, and if so, do you paper or litter train them? Let me know in the comments.

DnDtober the Ninth: Undead

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgI’m always careful with how much I use the undead in my campaigns. Don’t get me wrong, I love using them. But I believe that things like the undead should be used in such a way that it enhances the creep and/or terror factor of your campaign. Just dumping a bunch of skeletons or zombies into an encounter as throw-away bags of XP undermines how chilling it would really be to encounter something dead now walking around again. Nevermind several somethings.

I also feel that the undead are most effective when their exact origin and method of elimination are a bit of a mystery. In my D&D campaigns so far, reducing incorporeal undead to 0-hp causes them to fade away for anywhere from one to four days (d4 roll); corporeal undead can take a bit longer to pull themselves together, re-manifesting in one to eight days (d8 roll). But unless the characters can discover what is causing the undead to manifest in the first place and somehow deal with that, those particular undead are going to keep coming back.

In my current 5e homebrew campaign, I wanted a way to demonstrate that the land was still tainted by a magical cataclysm several hundred years previous. I used aberrations to partially demonstrate this; all aberrations in my campaign were born from that magical cataclysm, not existing before that point. But I wanted a way to show the land was still poisoned by this past event. So I came up with a type of undead to fit that theme. Many undead manifest from some horrible traumatic event while they still lived, or are created at the whim of a necromancer. Coffin Knockers are created purely by an accident of interment in a magically-tainted location.

***

Coffin Knocker

Medium undead, chaotic neutral


Armor Class 13

Hit Points 16 (2d8 + 6)

Speed 30 ft.


STR 13 (+1)  DEX 8 (-1)  CON 16 (+3)  INT 8 (-1)  WIS 10 (0)  CHA 5 (-3)


Damage Resistances bludgeoning, piercing, slashing

Damage Immunities poison, necrotic

Condition Immunities charmed, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, restrained

Senses Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 10

Languages understands the languages it knew in life but can’t speak

Challenge 2 (450 XP)


Partially Incorporeal The coffin knocker can move through an object or objects,  but not another creature. It may choose to end its movement inside another object.

Rejuvenation If the coffin knocker is destroyed, it regains all its hit points in 1-4 (d4) days unless its remains are sprinkled with holy water and re-interred in untainted ground. Alternatively, if the tainted ground is somehow cleansed the coffin knocker will fail to rejuvenate.


Actions

Slam Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6+1) bludgeoning damage

Tainted Mana Bolt Ranged Spell Attack: +1 to hit, range 30 ft., one target. Hit: 10 (3d6) necrotic damage

Coffin knockers appear much as they did when they were interred, though parts of their form can be seen to become incorporeal seemingly at random. While not possessing all the intelligence they did in life, coffin knockers are still more cunning than purely mindless undead, and are often able to act much as they did in life.

***

I envision coffin knockers causing some terror in small villages in my world, as deceased friends come back for a visit simply because they were buried in a patch of magically-infected ground. Inhabitants would learn over time which spots were safe for burial and which weren’t, but that wouldn’t stop Aunt Edna from coming back every few days, until someone could deal with her permanently.

What sorts of special undead do you use in your campaign? Share them in the comments section.

DnDtober the 8th: Tieflings

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgIn a previous post I talked about some of the changes I made to the races in my D&D campaign. At that time, most of the changes were fluff changes; I had adjusted how some of the races had come to be, without really touching their racial stats. But as I looked at tieflings in my campaign, I knew that I wanted to make some mechanical adjustments. Tieflings in my campaign world were born out of the world-spanning contamination from an explosion of dark magic, not from any sort of infernal source. And while the racial traits for tieflings as written were okay, I began to feel like I should have something a bit more in line with the source of a tiefling’s birth. Below is a draft of the racial traits for the “mana scorched”, or just “scorched”, which is what tieflings are most often called in my world.

***

Mana Scorched Traits

The mana scorched share certain racial traits as a result of the common source of their contamination. They also gain different racial traits based on their parentage.

Parentage. Decide what race your parents were. This will affect certain other racial traits, below. Note, no scorched parents have successfully given birth to a child, and so scorched is not a racial choice for your parents.

Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence and Charisma scores each increase by 2. As well, pick one attribute to which you would normally get a racial bonus. That attribute increases by 1. For example, if your scorched character was born to Hill Dwarf parents, you could increase your Constitution or Wisdom score by 1. Mana scorched born to human parents may choose one ability score other than Intelligence or Charisma to increase by 1.

Age. Scorched mature at a similar rate to others of their parent race. Because of the magic suffusing their bodies, they will tend to live several decades longer than is normal for their parent race. Roll a d10, that is how many extra decades of life the scorched will live.

Alignment. The mana scorched have no innate tendency toward any particular alignment. However, as they are often shunned as different or outsiders there is a good possibility a scorched character will tend toward chaos in their outlook. Occasionally, scorched characters will embrace lawful tendencies, as they seek to tightly control the magical taint inside.

Size. Mana scorched will take on the size and build of their parent race, with any attendant bonuses or penalties that incurs.

Speed. Your base walking speed is that of your parent race.

Darkvision. Thanks to the magic suffusing your body, your eyesight is enhanced. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were brightly lit, and can see in darkness as if it were dim light. You can’t discern colour in darkness, only shades of grey.

Scorched Resistance. Pick one of the following damage types: acid, cold, fire, lightning, or thunder. You have resistance to that damage type. When a scorched character reaches 10th level, this resistance grows. The scorched character gains resistance to damage from any spell source, as well as the damage type originally chosen (from any source).

Born of Mana. You know the thaumaturgy cantrip. Once you reach 3rd level choose a 1st-level spell. You may cast this spell once per day as if it were using a 2nd-level spell slot. Once you reach 5th level, choose a 2nd-level spell. You may cast that spell once a day as well. Regardless of any other spellcasting abilities, Charisma is your spellcasting ability for these spells.

Languages. You can speak, read, and write Common and the language of your parents. If human, choose any second language available in your campaign.

***

As you can see, I gave the mana scorched in my campaign a slightly different feel from the rules-as-written tieflings. While tieflings tend to be born to human parents, the scorched in my campaign could be born to any race, and I wanted to reflect some of those potential differences in their racial traits. As well, their taint comes from magical, not infernal, sources, and I wanted that reflected in their traits. Playing the campaign will tell me if these racial traits are too powerful, but so far they seem to be on par with the other available races.

Have you made changes to any of the base races in 5e? What’s your take on the tiefling race? Let me know in the comments.

DnDtober 7th: Ogres

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgMost encounters with ogres result in plenty of screaming and not an insignificant amount of bloodshed. Few people experience the fun, playful side of ogres, or are even aware ogres have a fun, playful side. But when not terrorizing the local population or being terrorized themselves by random adventuring parties, ogres enjoy any number of leisure activities. Of course, no one could ever accuse ogre games of being piquant in any sense (the less said about “How old is my stoat?” the better). But if it involves a healthy amount of physicality and the chance to hurt someone, ogres have probably made a game of it.

Of all the games ogres have developed, the one known simply as “ogre ball” is the most wide-spread and easily playable among ogre-kind. Playable with as few as two ogres and with as many ogres as want to take part, ogre ball combines aspects of rugby, dodgeball, soccer, and hurling. Most games of ogre ball are played with a ball made from an animal skin stuffed with whatever detritus is at hand (and with ogres, there’s always detritus at hand), though occasionally a comparably-sized rock is used in place of the “traditional” ball. Ogres need no designated field to play ogre ball, and games are generally played wherever the ogres find themselves.

As one would expect, the rules of ogre ball are simple. Points are scored for getting the ball across a goal line designated at the start of the game, or by hitting your opponent(s) with the ball. Theoretically, play continues until some arbitrary amount of points is scored by one team or the other. In practice, most games of ogre ball devolve into a mass of ogres pelting each other with an increasingly disintegrating animal skin ball, until they simply begin fighting amongst themselves in frustration and anger.

In a more modern setting, underground ogre ball leagues have all but replaced the more vanilla sport of football for fans of mayhem and carnage. The trappings of regulation and organization give ogre ball a hint of respectability, but at its heart it is still what it always was: brutal ogre-on-ogre fighting.

Should your party ever find itself involved in a game of ogre ball, players will find the “ball” to be increasingly unwieldy. They’ll need to make a series of Athletics checks at disadvantage (DC 15) in order to handle the ball, and ranged attacks, also at disadvantage, to be able to throw the ball at opponents. If an adventurer is able to make themselves large-sized through magical means, they may make these checks normally.

***

That’s it for today. If you’ve got your own ogre-inspired post or art, drop a link in the comments below. I’d love to see it.

DnDtober 6th: Displacer Beast

Yes, I missed a day. A cold grew from the con crud, and and blossomed in my lungs. Don’t worry, I’m back on track and I’ll make sure to slip some posts in for the days I’ve missed. I think you’ll especially like the goblin entry…

But today is DnDtober the sixth, which means displacer beast. I like displacer beasts, and I’ve used them to great effect in past games. I have nothing about how to make the monster itself cooler, but I did have a few ideas for magic items you could make from the beast, once they are defeated. While I use D&D terminology, they can easily be adapted to any system with a bit of tweaking.

* * *

Displacer Whip

Made from the tentacle of a displacer beast, this magical whip employs some of the natural magic its former host to make defending against it more difficult. Attacks from the whip seem to hit the target from random directions, regardless of where they are in relation to the attacker. The wielder of a displacer whip attacks with advantage, due to the unexpected directions the attack may come from. In addition, once per day the wielder can cast blink on them self. This ability resets after a long rest.

Shifting Rug

A useful item for any one afraid of attacks in their own home, the shifting rug is made from the pelt of a displacer beast. To be used in the rug’s creation the pelt must be relatively whole. The magic of the rug is active whenever the rug is flat on any horizontal surface. A command word can be spoken as a reaction to activate the rug’s power. When activated, the speaker of the command word and up to three others (designated mentally when the rug is activated) within 30′ of the rug gain become spatially shifted, like a living displacer beast. Attacks against them suffer disadvantage, unless the attacks come from a creature or foe which does not rely on sight.

That’s it for today. Stop in tomorrow to hear all about ogres!

DnDtober 2016

Surprising no one who attends conventions, con crud is real and it sucks. My Expo-sized crud laid me low last week, so I apologize for the abrupt hiatus. But I am back, reasonably hale and hearty, and raring to jump back into gaming nerdery.

Travis Molina created an art challenge for the month of October,  for any artists who wanted to stretch their sketching abilities. Each day, artists are invited to sketch the monster of the day and share it with the hashtag #DnDtober2016. I am by no stretch an artist, but I liked the idea enough to try and use it for myself. So every day this month I’m going to post something on the blog inspired by the monster of the day. Could be a new monster stat block, could be a setting for the monster, could be a recipe; whatever the monster inspires me to write. I am a few days behind, so I’ll post a catch-up post soon for “Goblin” and “Hellhound”.

But today is “Hydra”.

* * *

Encounter: Widow’s Walk

The fishing village of Widow’s Walk has fallen on hard times in recent years. Fishing has become more tenuous, with more and more boats unable to bring home a viable catch. The village, already perched on the brink of starvation and ruin, suffered another blow as a freak storm assaulted the coast, leaving much of the village in ruin.

Next morning, while scouring the beach for useful debris for repairs and rebuilding, villagers were terrified to discover the body of a hydra washed ashore, obviously a victim of the storm. Even more terrifying was the discovery that, while badly injured and unconscious, it was still alive! An enterprising merchant and fisherman named Topley Dabhand quickly turned terror to opportunity. Exhorting his fellow villagers to move quickly, Topley convinced them to imprison the comatose hydra in a nearby sea cave. After a nervous hour spent moving and imprisoning the beast, Topley then outlined his plan…

Several weeks after the storm which wrecked the village of Widow’s Walk, the village is beginning to show signs of coming back to life. Rumours abound about new fish stocks discovered by the village’s fisher folk, and the prosperity they have brought. Widow’s Walk is not only rebuilding, there is even talk of expanding the village and the fisheries. Rumours hold that these new fishing grounds are more dangerous as well, as there have been recent casualties among the fisher folk. Nearby fishing villages can only wonder at the new-found prosperity their neighbour is enjoying, as attempts to glean the location of these new fishing grounds have so far met with failure.

The reason no one can discover these new fishing grounds is because they don’t exist. After imprisoning the hydra and rendering it mostly harmless, Topley explained his plan to collect a never-ending supply of meat from the regenerating hydra. It took some convincing, but given the state of their village and their larders, the folk of the village agreed to the bizarre plan. While some crews head out and fish as normal, a few stay behind each day to “harvest” a neck or two from the imprisoned hydra. They prepare the meat in such a way that it looks like flesh from a large fish, and sell it alongside the meager legitimate catches. As a result, money has come pouring in from the local markets, and Widow’s Walk is on its way to recovery and prosperity.

How to Get the Players Involved:

  • The nearby fishing village of Dory’s Roost hires the party to investigate Widow’s Walk, and discover the location of the new fishery.
  • Market officials are concerned about reports of illness after consuming fish from the nearby village of Widow’s Walk. An inspector sent to investigate conditions there has disappeared, and the party is tasked with discovering her fate, and carry out her investigation into this new source of fish.
  • Rumours are beginning to spread about strange deformities (patches of scaly skin, snake-like arms, and so on) afflicting some villagers in Widow’s Walk. The local temple has asked the party to escort their healer to the village and help discover what is causing the strange malady.

* * *

Feel free to use anything I post for your own games. If you do, please stop back and let me know how it went. I’d love to hear about it!

#RPGaDay, Day 17: Favourite Fantasy RPG

This is a harder question to answer now than a year ago. A year ago the answer was the Pathfinder RPG, and Pathfinder still has the finest organized play I’ve ever encountered (and helped run, as Venture-Captain). But a year ago D&D 5th edition didn’t exist, and I hadn’t give the AGE system a closer look. But the newest iteration of D&D looks great, especially as I see it being played on Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role. Also from G&S, Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana has shown me how simple and fun the AGE system from Green Ronin can be.

So let me say this. While I still love Pathfinder, and it’s still my current favourite, I think there may come a time when we part amicably as far as my home games go. Pathfinder could (rightfully) take me task for only using it to get through the Dark Times when D&D, frankly, sucked. But we had some good times and truly great moments, Pathfinder and I, and I regret nothing. D&D has gotten back to its old self, maybe even better than it once was. It was my first love, so I’d be foolish not to give it a chance.

I do still love the world of Golarion, though, so a lot of my D&D or AGE adventures may continue to happen there. Who knows?

RPGaDay, Day 3: First RPG Purchase

In our current age of internet shopping where gaming material is just a click away, it’s easy to forget things were not always so. In Fort McMurray, where I lived, gaming material was not available anywhere until about two years after I started playing. And then it was whatever the local Cole’s Books felt like bringing in. The local library brought in The Dragon, so that helped scratch my hobby itch. I received the Dungeons & Dragons box set for Christmas the year I started playing only because my Mother mailed away for it. Yes, in 1980 we were savages.

No, in those first formative years, if I wanted to buy a gaming book I had to travel. And that meant hoping we’d get close to a book store when the family went to Edmonton, the nearest large city, about 500 km to the south. It was in one such store in the newly opened West Edmonton Mall that I found a copy of G1-2-3: Against the Giants. That shrink-wrapped little beauty immediately grabbed my attention, and I gladly parted with $12 of my hard-won allowance to take it home with me.

Thus began the season of slaughter. Of course I had no idea what Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was at the time. We just figured that if the module was for characters Level 8-12, we could balance that out by using three 3rd-4th level characters each. That would work, right? The Steading of the Hill Giant Chieftain was littered with our miscalculations.

But hours upon hours of fun ensued. And on later trips to West Edmonton Mall I would find the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide and Monster Manual, which expanded my gaming mind and our mayhem potential exponentially.

What was your first RPG purchase?

For Those Just Tuning In…

After a break away from the blog I like to just jump back in. But that break was long enough I felt I should acknowledge it for at least a moment…and the moment’s past, let’s dive in!

I had a clever plan (and a buffer built up) where I was going to start back on Monday, August 4. But strolling around the internet I found this:

Click on the image to go to a larger version.

So everyone can go thank/blame Autocratik (you might know him better as David F. Chapman) for bringing me back three days earlier than I intended. Which I’m okay with, actually. I was going to ease back in, but a 31-day challenge seems like a much better way to get back on the horse.

Day 1: First RPG Played

I’ve mentioned before that Dungeons & Dragons was my first RPG ever. A stylized accounting of my first taste can be found here, but suffice to say said taste was enough to keep me coming back for more. With all the sophisticated, dare I say, complicated rules systems out there today, it’s hard to image a set of rules as simple as early D&D providing much entertainment. But at the same time it was setting me on a future course I could only imagine, this colourful box with its black & white line art and hard to read dice was providing me hours of fun and adventure with my friends.

My regular Thursday night gaming group, guys I’ve gamed with for 20140801_204112almost 8 years, got me the newest iteration of the ‘basic’ rules. And I have to admit, I felt that same little tingle as I opened up the new box and looked inside. While other games have become new favourites over the years, there will never be a time my shelf and gaming table won’t have room for Dungeons & Dragons. Say what you will, there is adventure in that box.

 

D&D Release Dates Leaked

In a move which is either a “Whoops!” from on-line seller Barnes & Noble or a calculated testing of the waters by the Hasbro marketing team, the release dates and prices have been posted for the first new Dungeons & Dragons products in over a year (sorry, I don’t count reprints and trips back to the well). Looks like some sort of Starter Set will be available on July 15th for $19.99, with the Player’s Handbook following up about a month later for $49.95. No images, or in fact any useful information, are provided beyond book title, release date, and MSRP.

I have some thoughts about the newest Dungeons & Dragons iteration. Many thoughts, in fact, which this news has stirred up. So let me give you a few in no particular order:

* $49.95 for a Player’s Handbook!? In this age of game systems printing all-in-one core books, and even Pathfinder giving us a core book with player/GM info combined, I’m both surprised and dismayed at Wizards for hanging on to this publishing tactic. I get the D&D books have traditionally been broken down this way; I can see my 1st, 2nd, and 3.5ed books sitting comfortably on my shelf. But with all the talk of D&D Next (so glad they seemed to have dumped that moniker, by the way) being a new direction for the game, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect them to at least follow Pathfinder’s model and combine player and GM books together. Especially for a hefty half a C-note.

And assuming the other two books in the D&D triumvirate are priced the same, that’s a price tag of $150. $170, really, because as the release dates now stand there is no talk of a Dungeon Master’s Guide or Monster Manual, so if you want to play right away you’ll need to grab that Starter Kit. A prospect which, based on the quality of the 4e Red Box, underwhelms me. So $170 for the “core set”…Wizards, you are asking me to take a big leap of faith here.

* No confirmation yet, in either this  newly leaked info or in previous mentions from WotC, on whether digital downloads will be available at time of release. Or at all, actually. Again, not something you can really afford to skimp or skip these days. Given how WotC dropped the digital ball when 4e released, silence on this front could be good. But it’s debatable whether it’s worse to promise the moon and fail to deliver, or promise nothing and turn off potential pre-sales. But like many folks anxiously awaiting D&D’s return, I’m hoping they handle their digital offerings right this time.

* I am excited for a new D&D! Yeah, I know I started with a couple of negatives, but I am honestly excited to see new Dungeons & Dragons material on store shelves. D&D started me down the path of table-top gaming, lo those many decades ago. Like many first loves I’m always going to have an attraction to it, even if I’ve moved on in my heart. I want it to do well, I really do. It’s going to take something fairly extraordinary to make it my primary game again; Pathfinder has pretty well taken that spot. And with games like Numenera and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, it may even have a running battle as my second favourite.  But even with my misgivings, I know I’ll pick up the books at Gen Con and I know I’ll at least try to like the new game.

* While I hope it does well, I’m not of the same mind as a lot of folks who put a direct connection between the health of the table-top gaming industry and a new, healthy D&D. Yes, healthy gaming companies are good for the industry as a whole; if the new edition does well, WotC gets stronger, is in a position to employ freelancers, supplemental products can be produced, and so on. But I’d argue two things: 1) The gaming industry, for all intents and purposes, has lived without D&D for close to 2 years at this point. While I wouldn’t argue it’s at its strongest, it certainly isn’t weak. And, 2) When I hear most people talk about the new Age of Prosperity which will follow the newest D&D, they use the d20 release as an example. But much of what strengthened the gaming industry when 3rd/3.5 hit the market was the Open Gaming License (it could also be argued that it later weakened it, but that’s another article). So far there doesn’t seem to be any sign of anything similar coming with this edition, so I don’t think the effect will be as monumental as some hope.

Okay, those are some of my off-the-cuff thoughts about the new D&D. What do you think? Are you excited, meh, or somewhere in between? Drop a note in comments.