Musing on the implications of the D&D 5e SRD

Little Dorrit, Musing and dreaming, by PhizThe main reason I stopped playing D&D Fifth Edition was that it read too much like a set of software requirements (use cases). 5e writes everything out in expansive detail, rather than in a concise “Strunk & White-esque” manner.

This drove me back to simpler rule sets like Swords & Wizardry and even Microlite20 or Searchers of the Unknown. For some purposes (e.g. playing with my kids), those still make the most sense. I need the ability to riff on what my players do as quickly as they  do it. Otherwise, their interest starts to wane and they want to go watch anime or play Minecraft or something.

But the release of the Systems Reference Document and Open Gaming License for 5e might change things a little. +Stan Shinn already has a project titled Dungeonesque: Red Box RPG that will provide a streamlined version of the 5e rules based on the SRD. I expect a number of similar projects to come out soon as well. While the so-called “O5R” movement may not have gathered much steam, this sort of approach might do enough to make it worthwhile for me. In fact, incorporating the best parts of other games (e.g. the encumbrance rules from Lamentations of the Flame Princess and the domain level play from Adventurer Conqueror King System) just became a lot more viable.

Related to this, I have trouble playing via Roll20 in part because data entry for the monsters takes so much time. (Voice chat has become less workable for me due to my home environment as well.) I expect we’ll see the monsters from the SRD available on Roll20 soon based on comments from the developers there, however.  They can’t afford to miss the opportunity to streamline play for the most popular game on their platform.

I’d like to come back to 5e for something other than dungeon crawling. Perhaps a game of urban intrigue and espionage using text chat on Roll20 would work better, as it involves a lot less crunch and a lot more roleplaying. (The reason for sticking with 5e comes down to the interest level from players.) I also like designing monsters and such using the 5e crunch, ironically enough, so I might stat up a few things from my Roll For Initiative collection and put them out on the Dungeon Master’s Guild for people to use.

Certainly this started me thinking about 5e again in a way I haven’t in quite a while. Good job, WotC.

Do the simplest thing that could possibly work

XKCD "Board Game" comic

my backup plan

So this weekend I’m going to run some D&D at a local makerspace (TheLab.ms has an open house Saturday evening for anybody in the Dallas-Plano area). I’m probably going to use “Searchers of the Unknown” by +Nicolas Dessaux or some variant thereof, because you can’t get much simpler and call it D&D. Microlite20 would work just about as well and for the same reasons.  Several of the folks who have expressed interest in playing also noted they’ve never done this before, and the open house will  almost certainly provide a fairly raucous environment.

I remain unsure about what dungeon to use, though. Here again, I’m partial to the simplest possible approach: here is a dungeon, go get the treasure and try not to die. Normally I’d go with “Goblin Gully” by +Dyson Logos for this, but my kids are likely to play and they’ve been through that one before (albeit not all the way to the end). So I think I will quickly stock an existing map or try to pick something simple from the One-Page Dungeon contest entrants in the past. Of course, any suggestions on this would be welcome, because I have a lot of level 1 modules in my archives and such but need to do this in a way that satisfies two conditions: (a) family friendly-ish (i.e. no Death Frost Doom even if I love it), and (b) approaching the platonic ideal of “old school D&D”. If it goes well enough, it could end up being an open-table setup where every few weeks I show up with another dungeon level or two, but one step at a time.

Revisiting Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Plate 8 of 22 for the Macklin Bible after Loutherbourg.Since posting about various retroclone games, I’ve re-examined my opinions a bit. Thus, I decided to revisit Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Something about the design kept calling me back. In part, the layout looks gorgeous, even in the free no-art version. Also, largely inspired by LotFP, I watched the 2009 movie Solomon Kane. I wanted to get a sense of that early-modern dark fantasy, even if it has more than a few plot holes. For an evening’s viewing with popcorn and whiskey, it entertained me quite well.

The simplification of some things like skills and the silver standard also appeals to me, even if I find six-sided dice a bit ho-hum. My only previous complaint about the game itself had to do with saving throws. It takes the standard approach found in the editions of D&D it emulates. Whereas I earlier stated a preference for the approach of 5e, matching saves to abilities, that has started to feel stale to me. That makes saving throws just another form of ability checks. But they don’t reflect, say, the innate resistance to magic of classic dwarves. I haven’t given the older approach a fair shake.

So what does LotFP do better than many other games?

  • Simplified encumbrance rules that take out most of the bookkeeping but retain the resource management.
  • “Maritime Adventures” get an entire chapter
  • “Property and Finance” for those who get into domains and strongholds
  • Magic remains somewhat unpredictable, especially when researching new spells or summoning monsters. Especially when summoning monsters. More on this below.
  • Skills exist, but with a straightforward “n out of 6” system. Only one class, the Specialist (previously known to many of us as “Thief”) gets to improve these skills as they increase in level.

However, I’d like to see some things improved. Hopefully the upcoming referee book includes guidance on monster creation. The philosophy of the game seems to imply fewer but weirder monsters, which makes sense for a number of play styles. But a few tips would go a long way.

Alternatives to the classic pseudo-Vancian system would work very well in this game. In particular, a vitality-based system (similar to what Microlite20 uses) would fit the “weird roleplaying” motif. Casting spells cost hit points, and only rest, not magic, can heal that “damage”. You could potentially reduce max HP until a full night’s rest for a similar effect.

I should not have written the game off so quickly. The next time I run a new game, I will likely give it a try.

Losing ruleset weight: evaluating older RPG games

D&D 5e has started to frustrate me. I feel like I spend way too much time looking stuff up when running a game. Some of that comes from poor information organization in the core books. This leads to too much time looking up spells and so forth. Another large chunk results directly from the amount of rules: conditions, cover, grappling, etc. Wizards of the Coast has made the business decision not to provide us with electronic materials. As a result, we have to depend on books, player-generated material that lawyers don’t take down, or our own preparation efforts. The amount of time taken by data entry in various applications and private documents doesn’t help.

As the DM, I can decide to change the rules, of course. But I want to take care when doing so. DM fiat shouldn’t frustrate players more than absolutely necessary. That doesn’t even include the optional rules I’ve chosen to exclude, like multiclassing and feats. Some of the things that take more time than I’d like actually include some of the most fun bits, like the different monster abilities and features.

Switching to another simpler game could certainly work. I don’t care one way or the other about labels like “OSR” (including whatever the abbreviation actually means to someone). But I do like the balance between crunch and freeform play in older games and “retroclones“, which I lump together here for this purpose.

Game analyses

A sorcerer comes to a peasant wedding. I’ve been re-reading various versions of a number of games. As much as I like Microlite20 and Microlite74, they just don’t seem to have much traction in terms of finding groups. For players, this choice might look like a distinction without a difference. None of the systems differ in large ways. Find a group you like on Roll20 and use what they use, since the DM will probably have tons of house rules anyway. But as a DM myself, I need to choose a place to begin. All three of these systems have tremendous community support. In addition, they are cross-compatible with each other and lots of other older games or clones (which is largely the point).

Dungeons & Dragons

OGL-based games constantly refer to “the Original Fantasy Roleplaying Game”, or  they use some other euphemism for actual Dungeons & Dragons. Wizards of the Coast has made available legitimate (non-infringing) electronic copies of older editions. This includes 3.5e and 4e, editions I prefer not to play, but also B/X and AD&D. A little time and effort can find actual books for sale on Amazon, eBay, and other places like that. Used bookstores and local gaming stores also carry them at times. The organization and lack of clarity in some of these editions has left me a bit cold, though I have some of this material for reference as needed.

In the meantime, my campaign in 5e will continue. I still plan to finish running Dyson’s Delve with the Relic Hunters Guild if the players keep going. I also play in a meatspace 5e game and find the new Dungeon Master’s Guide useful for everything, not to mention that gorgeous Monster Manual.

Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game

Basic Fantasy has something of an “Acme Industries” vibe to it. It focuses on doing what it does very well, including mechanics as well as production value, without embellishment to the point of distraction. BF uses ascending armor class, which I like, but it also has the older-style saving throws (“Dragon Breath”? “Wands”?). These never made much sense to me. It also uses the modern separation of race and class. I’ve never used the older approach of race-as-class and would like to experiment a bit, but I don’t know how players typically feel about that.

Labyrinth Lord

Labyrinth 28, etching, aquatint, soft-ground etching, mm.180x330, Engraved and designed by Toni Pecoraro 2007.Labyrinth Lord supports race-as-class directly in the core book. It seems closest to the older edition it seeks to emulate, including descending AC and all the old saving throws. This system has a bit more heft to it, though in this case that means “completeness” rather than rules-heaviness. I’ve joined a campaign using LL rules on Roll20 that will start in the new year, but this time I’ll get to participate as a player rather than DM. We will play in a really unusual campaign setting: the Anomalous Subsurface Environment. I have high hopes for that!

Lamentations of the Flame Princess

Lamentations of the Flame Princess has a beautiful approach in terms of its simplicity (e.g. the silver standard) and just enough “weirdness” to make it stand out. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed reading an adventure as much as I did Death Frost Doom. It uses race-as-class & ascending armor class and has extensive domain management rules. The old-style saving throws are a turn-off, as is the fact that, for reasons I do not understand at all, James Raggi has blocked me personally on Google+. I’ve never had any interaction with him that I recall, so it strikes me as somewhat odd.

Swords & Wizardry

Swords & Wizardry seems the most hackable. It supports both ascending and descending armor class. Since I prefer ascending, this helps a lot. A single number for saving throws might go too far in the other direction from the original game. In fact, D&D 5e probably does this in the way that makes the most sense to me, tying saving throws to ability scores. SW does modify certain types of saves based on character class, though, which helps. And it has both “race-as-class” and the more modern approach available depending on which edition you use.

What’s next?

For now I will start from S&W, though I have much love for all the systems above in their own ways. This will immediately require a few small tweaks, such as bringing in Advantage/Disadvantage. I also have taken some cues from Microlite74 OSS and some rules variants in 5e regarding skills. Characters who specify a particular skill or background at creation time will get advantage on relevant attempts. I will also use some of the material in Lamentations of the Flame Princess, like the extensive support for strongholds and hirelings.

In reality, no two RPG campaigns truly use the same system once you include house rules and such. Systems like these, all based on more or less the same game, just provide a framework from which we can begin.

Time to do work.

Play Report: Temple of K’thu’uk

Ta Prohm is a temple in the Angkor complex built in the late 12th century by King Jayavarman VII. Large tree roots now cover much of this amazing jungle temple..I don’t know why I keep forgetting how dangerous D&D Fifth Edition can be to level 1 characters. Last night I ran a small one-off adventure based on the Temple of K’thu’uk from Robin V. Stacey (of Microlite20 fame). You can find my conversion notes, including a new 5e monster, at the end of the post.

Session

Out of the folks who signed up, four players came. “Kogrosh” the half-orc barbarian, “Tegid” the dwarven bard, “Leon” the tiefling rogue, and “Alston” the gnomish wizard.

I explained that the forested area around the village of Alston had originally belonged to a tribe of kobolds. As time went on, the humans logged the forest and turned the area into farmland, driving the kobolds further and further back into what remained of the forest. When the adventure begins, only a relatively small thicket remains. Humans who enter the forest to hunt (whether game or kobolds) sometimes don’t come back. The local sheriff has therefore offered a bounty on the kobolds to get rid of them once and for all. He noted that they have a primitive temple built into the side of a hill and that the adventurers should focus on clearing it out.

For the initial approach, I didn’t really use a battle map. I showed a top-down view of a forest and we just roleplayed their tracking, including several times when the barbarian thought he found a trap. At least once he didn’t find it, but he did manage to grab on the lip of a pit before falling in. For some reason, the use of traps by kobolds surprised them even OOC. Adventurers should never underestimate the opposition.

Once they arrived at the dungeon, the four kobolds in first room nearly managed in a TPK. In part, the dice just did not work in their favor and in part their tactics lacked a little finesse. Also, because the bard (and wizard) went down hard, they lacked any healing. After some difficulty, the remaining party members managed to stabilize them and they waited there in the entry hall for the unconscious folks to wake up.

While they waited, though, that gave me lots of opportunities to roll for wandering monsters. A couple of giant rats snuck in just as the bard awoke (while the wizard still lay on the floor). This fight ended up harder than I expected again, but I’d modified almost all the creature abilities to roll in the open. Everyone could see how the dice conspired against them. Then their greed took over and they tried to break off an arm from the jade statue of a kobold warrior. They all failed – the half-orc even fumbled. This resulted in another pair of rats coming to investigate and another fight that didn’t go the adventurers’ way.

They decided they’d had enough and, since the bounty had a 3-day completion, returned to town for the night to rest and buy some healing potions. Those cost a decent chunk of change for fledgling adventurers, so we roleplayed out some “aggressive negotiations”. Town guards wandered in before things got too rough, but they managed to get a significant discount. The wizard ended up using mage hand and minor illusion to shoplift one more as they left.

After reaching the temple again, they tried a more tactical approach. To avoid attacks from the rear, they barricaded some doors they didn’t use. The wizard then used disguise self to look like a kobold and they tried to lure out a couple who squabbled in the next room. But speaking in Common made the kobolds a bit suspicious, so one went to check and the other hung back a bit. When the barbarian cleaved right through the lead kobold, the other one fled around the corner and through a door to wake up a group of sleeping friends. These kobolds knew something bad had happened yesterday when they’d found the decapitated bodies of their comrades in the front room. Now the monsters had come back and invaded the large storage room! They lay in wait while the adventurers kept trying to lure them out. Eventually the dwarven bard kicked in the rotting door, stepped inside, and belched a thunderwave that crushed their little reptilian bodies. One by one, the group started to clear the rooms. In fact, at one point, they opened a door to find a scared little kobold quivering in a corner. The dwarf thrust his rapier right through it (“shish kobold”, I called it).

At one point rocks fell on them. But unlike what one player thought, the rocks came from winged kobolds Rather than a case of “rocks fall, everyone dies”, it simply consisted of another small ambush that wore the party down even further. In another room, alligators lurked in relatively deep standing water. Nearby lay a half-submerged dwarven skeleton. Of course, dwarves being dwarves, the bard rushed toward it, heedless of the fact that they’d just seen the alligators slip into the water when they opened the door. This resulted in the dwarf and half-orc getting chomped and pulled under. It took a bit, but the party made it through and recovered a +1 war hammer and a magic circlet from the dwarf.

In the next room, the rogue – and only the rogue – saw three kobolds hiding under the tables, but everyone saw more gardening implements. They’d already found wheelbarrows and similar equipment in other rooms. So one of them made a History check to see what they might know about this tribe. I explained again that the kobolds hadn’t really troubled anyone. They only defended themselves when the humans started trying to kill them and cut down the forest where they lived. The party finally got the idea that the humans had just hired them to eliminate the tribe because they viewed the little reptilians as vermin, not “people”. How odd that the tiefling rogue should have a crisis of conscience and decide not to tell the others about the scared little creatures…

When they reached a food storage room, they found more giant rats infesting the food supplies. As the rats had plenty of food, they made no aggressive moves towards the party. But when the party started to move on, the barbarian did what barbarians do and jumped in the middle of a pack of rats to hit them with his sword. For this, he nearly died and the party decided that the best course of action was to head back with the kobold heads they’d already acquired. Some discussion about possibly killing the sheriff ensued. I made it clear that a frontal assault on law enforcement in town would probably not have the desired result. Anyway, by this point the session had run for four hours and I wanted to go to bed.

They never really got to the kobold’s “god” in the center of the temple. They did, however, earn a bit of coin (much of which they spent on those potions of healing), some decent experience, and a couple of magic items. I invited all of them to join the Relic Hunters Guild with their characters, so hopefully that will provide a good lead-in and recruitment tool.

Conversion

Most of this module requires little to no conversion. Almost every creature in the entire dungeon has an existing analogue in 5e except the eponymous K’thu’uk.

  • “Verdant kobold” as a kobold (Monster Manual p. 195).
  • “Assassin vine” as a vine blight (MM 32).
  • “Slumberspore” as a myconid adult (MM 232).
  • “Dire rat” as a giant rat (MM 327).
  • “Small alligator” as a crocodile (MM 320).
  • “Klaldyk” as an acolyte (Hoard of the Dragon Queen supplement p. 4) For his spells, replace light with guidance and sanctuary with shield of faith.

However, for K’thu’uk, I rolled up an undead kobold magic-user based on the flameskull in Lost Mine of Phandelver. Feel free to grab the PDF and use as you will. As noted above, the group didn’t get this far in the dungeon. Therefore I have not yet had a chance to playtest it.

 

 

Initial Impressions: Fifth Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide

Kyle holding his DMG

Happier than I should be

I went down to my friendly local gaming store this morning and picked up the new Dungeon Master’s Guide. (They had a 15% discount on all D&D stuff, which gave a little extra bit of unexpected happiness.)

A full review of this book would take significant time due to the density and amount of material in it. But I wanted to see right away how to build & modify monsters. I also have been looking forward to learning how to distribute treasure (especially magic items). This post mostly discusses those two areas. Other brief impressions include:

  • I see Robin Stacey in the credits. More Microlite20 love.
  • The art matches my expectations and deserves its own post. In fact, it probably even exceeds them. During my upcoming business trip, I could spend hours on a plane just examining the illustrations. I recognize a few of them from earlier products. The goblin illustration on page 107 comes directly from the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure.
  • Yay for “low-level followers” and “hirelings” – torch bearers! This doesn’t contain nearly enough information for me, though. I will need to refer to older DM guides for this sort of thing.
  • Successfully noticing and bypassing a trap should provide XP. I don’t think that the book gives any guidelines for that, or even credence to that idea. I may have missed it, of course, in the brief time since I acquired the book.
  • Reaction rolls on page 244. As a rule, I don’t like to roll for social interaction. But since players “spend” some power to have those skill and ability scores, I can’t just ignore it, either. These guidelines will help a little.
  • HEX RULES!!! I spent many years playing war games, both tabletop and computer-based. So I have a special love for maps using hexagons and the tactical play they create even if I don’t like using D&D as a tactical game itself. Come to think of it, this may help me get into that mode when it fits.
  • The Madness section on page 258 will assist me greatly with the upcoming “Madness of Iliasha” campaign (spoilers?).
  • Appendix D: Dungeon Master Inspiration looks like an “Appendix N” with more specificity. The list largely consists of non-fiction books with a few true classics in the greatest possible sense. For example, in addition to lots of books by Gary Gygax and TSR, it includes Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory.

Monsters and CR

Page 312 sample mapSince the Monster Manual came out, I have wanted to roll up my own monsters. Other DMs have already started, of course, but they have far more experience at it than I do. The section “Creating a Monster” in Chapter 9 starts on page 273. It discusses reskinning, including minor changes such as adding special traits or switching weapons. The section also includes a table on Monster Statistics by Challenge Rating. For each rating, the table lists the proficiency bonus, armor class, hit point range, attack bonus, damage per round range, and save DC. This table fits those situations where you just need something quick, such as an on-the-fly conversion.

Then it has a procedure for “Creating a Monster Stat Block”, allowing us to brew up a full-fledged monster. That procedure has 20 steps, some of which themselves have several parts. Obviously this requires much more effort than the process for games like Microlite20. But as the introduction to the whole section notes:

Part of the D&D experience is the simple joy of creating new monsters and customizing existing ones, if for no other reason than to surprise and delight your players with something they’ve never faced before.

This zooms in on the abbreviated process described before. It discusses things like damage and special traits in far more detail. We also have a Monster Features table that covers two full pages. Finally the section discusses the mechanics of creating NPCs from scratch (not the preview section on mannerisms and backgrounds and such).

Magic Items

Illustration of an adventuring group reviewing a mapPlayers get excited to see the actual magic items themselves. People like me get excited to see how we can distribute them. Chapter 7 (“Treasure”) should satisfy us both.

The distribution frequency for magic items in this edition in particular has confounded me a little. Page 135 shows a “Magic Item Rarity” table showing the expected character levels per rarity type. For example, common and uncommon items correspond to all characters starting at first level. But rare items typically go to characters at fifth level and higher. Of course the text makes clear that DMs should do as they wish according to what fits their campaigns. The book only makes suggestions, not rules.

For more specificity, of course, the book has several treasure tables. It has four different Individual Treasure tables for different CR ranges. The same applies to the Treasure Hoard tables. Gemstones and Art Objects have several different tables by value. Some of these tables refer to Random Magic Items of various types. You can enhance those with tables on magic item flavor (e.g. What Is a Detail From Its History?). Between this and Appendix A on “random dungeons”, I should have no trouble populating environments generated by Donjon or using maps created by other people.

Time to go tweak tomorrow’s adventure!

Dungeon Masters Rulebook (Red Box version)

Basic Dungeon Masters Rulebook

I picked up the Dungeon Masters Rulebook from the old BECMI D&D edition (aka “the Red Box”) a few days ago. Most of the OSR products I’ve read didn’t have enough guidance for this rusty old DM.  What better source for guidance on running an old-school game than the actual old-school guidance?! The rest of this post consists of my thoughts as I took notes during my second reading. It isn’t really a review in the critical sense but in the “let’s go back over what’s here” sense.

The Most Important Rule: BE FAIR. That fits, since we control everything about the world and universe in which the characters exist. The world itself may not be fair, but our rulings should be consistent and even-handed.

Hewlett-Packard 48GX

“An electronic pocket calculator is helpful.”

Quite a few pages consist of “your first game”. Actually, this game is first for the DM, which comes after the solo game in the players guide that teaches the initial rules. The players go after some magic user named “Bargle“. Most of this doesn’t apply to my games or needs. The map of the dungeon’s second level looked interesting, though, and would make a great candidate for conversion.

The rulebook includes advice on issues like arguments and complaints. That reminds the reader that RPGs are social in ways most other games are not. Given the age and inclinations of the target audience for D&D (especially at the time), I suspect Gygax and even Mentzer felt themselves in something of a fatherly position.  Related to that, the rulebook gives advice on providing clues appropriate for the player skill and experience level, including the admonition that “extreme danger with no warning is not very fair.” ROCKS FALL EVERYONE DIES! Also, the Deities section obliquely refers to some sensitive issues and takes a diplomatic approach: “The DM should be careful not to needlessly offend players and current beliefs should be avoided.”

For the first time, I finally understand how early editions treated demi-humans. Dwarves consisted of both a race and a class, so that all dwarf characters basically act like Gimli: short, squat fighters all up in your face who know everything there is to know about stones and gems and dungeons. Most modern players probably would not like this. Generally speaking, I don’t either, but there’s a certain mindset where I can see that working.

Experienced dungeon masters may select results instead of rolling dice.

See, the old school includes fudging rolls! I remember reading a quote from Gygax to the effect that the real secret to being a good DM is that the dice are just for show. That perhaps goes a little to the extreme (which could be a product of my faulty memory) but the sentiment is useful.

Reaction rolls seem like a core mechanic in this old edition. I’ve seen these in Microlite20. If the new Fifth Edition DMG doesn’t contain something like this, then I will likely incorporate some version of it in my games. Often I just roleplay the NPCs and “select results” as discussed above, but a little unpredictability in some situations can go a long way.

Lost spell books? Now that’s evil. I wouldn’t do that to a player unless they actively did something that clearly would result in losing the spell book. “I throw my spell book at the fire elemental.” “Um… okay.”

Mapping SymbolsMapping has changed considerably in the last thirty years. I don’t think most groups really treat it as a player skill anymore. Certainly those of us who primarily play online on Roll20 or similar can’t do this effectively without significant restructuring. Perhaps allowing one of the players to draw on the map…? I do like the old-school concept of player skill mattering at least as much as character skill, and this fits into that philosophy much as the clues discussion does.

During the play of the game, a player will eventually try something not explained in these rules… Be sure to write down any rules you create, and apply them fairly to everyone.

If by “eventually” we mean “within the first five minutes”, then sure! Otherwise you could send a self-addressed stamped envelope to TSR with a rules question. Things about the 20th century I don’t miss include SASEs and snail mail.

Timekeeping still presents a challenge for me outside of combat rounds. I’d hoped for some guidance here but it honestly doesn’t help much:

You may simply make notes on the time used during an adventure, or you can create a system (check marks, boxes to cross off, etc.) for keeping track.

Transferring characters remains a touchy subject. I just had a player ask me about it this past weekend, in fact. For some sorts of campaigns, it would feel odd just for narrative reasons. It could also create the perception of fairness issues with other players. But in other cases it might work fine, and so Mentzer gives some guidance on balance considerations.

Then the book goes into some lengthy monster references, including stat blocks and reactions and everything else. The treasure tables, though, really come in handy for me. I frequently find an old-school adventure I want to use that refers to “treasure type H” or something. Now I can cross-reference that.

Dungeon stockingFinally we have some guidance on dungeons, especially adventure motivation. The table on stocking dungeons reminds me of the so-called Barrowmaze method. But now I know the real source, because the method here is to roll 1d6 twice. The first roll tells you what’s in the room (e.g. a trap or a monster) and the second roll tells you whether the room has treasure.

I still look forward to getting my 5th Edition DMG in two days.The material in this rulebook will help fill in any gaps, plus provide additional stuff for my Microlite games.

Microlite20 monster: Ormyrr

OrmyrrThe Practical Guide to Monsters has a few monsters that don’t have Microlite20 versionsOrmyrrs stick out to me more than the others. For reference: Thri-kreen, Yuan-ti, werebear, wereboar, ghost, and lich do not have M20-style stat blocks that I have found. Some of those have enough substitutes you can reskin (lycanthropes and generic undead), while “lich” can be applied as a template. But I like these slug-looking characters that clearly have no relation whatsoever to Hutts. In fact, the D&D Fifth Edition doesn’t have them, either.

Orymyrrs have enormous grublike bodies that possess powerful arms, a mouthful of extremely sharp teeth, and a surprisingly intelligent brain. They aren’t particularly aggressive, tending to keep to themselves.

While (or perhaps because) these creatures have no talent for casting spells, they find magic absolutely irresistible. They will lie, cheat, and steal to obtain a scroll, spellbook, or other magical object, and can be mesmerized by a skillful display of magic powers.

The book also notes that they tend to live in a solitary state or in small tribes of no more than one dozen. I would use the following stat block. DMs may want to adjust the to-hit numbers (especially slam). They should also target magic users of whatever flavor first.

Ormyrr: HD 7d8+7 (43 hp), AC 15, Slam +6 (1d4+1), spear +8 (1d6+6), constrict (2d6)

Review: “A Practical Guide to Monsters”

A Practical Guide to MonstersI recently got a copy of A Practical Guide to Monsters. An in-universe reference volume for apprentice wizards, it lists 53 different monsters by my count. Each of them has a bit of fiction, a fact box (e.g. height, weight, habitat, diet, attack methods, etc.), and an artistic representation. If you think this sounds like a Monster Manual, then you’ve got the idea, but the book includes no game statistics. In effect, you can think of the guide as a monster manual for kids. Some of the monsters even have associated maps and marginalia.

The illustrations bring out the ideas behind each monster without scaring small children. A few of them include a child-like goblin running away or otherwise engaged in some activity. This gives kids a way to imagine themselves interacting with the monster but in a reasonably survivable way. Several intermediate sections list weapons, armor, and equipment that an adventurer might need. My kids and I have had a nice time looking through it and talking about what it might feel like to run into some of the monsters.

A sleeping goblin adventurer

I don’t want to give the idea that the guide only works as a children’s book. The free Dungeon Master’s Basic Guide lists statistics for a little under half of the listed monsters, and the Monster Manual for 5e includes almost 90% of them. Exceptions include the Yrthak, Ormyrr, and Athach, among others. The Microlite20 expanded monster list includes about the same number. A GM could easily convert the exceptions from other editions.

So in addition to the coffee table aspect, this book works well as a way to illustrate monsters to players. A game with children or using a retroclone would particularly benefit. Wizards of the Coast first published the book in 2007, so lots of stores carry inexpensive copies. They published a whole series of Practical Guides (“wizards”, “dragons”, etc.) and I look forward to getting a few more for my home library.

Play Report: Isle of Malimont

Open table night #dnd #d20 #dice #rpg #tabletop

A post shared by Kyle Maxwell (@technoskald) on

Last night, I attended an open table session at the Animefest office here in the Dallas area. I didn’t know what to expect, so I took my D&D 5e Player’s Handbook, dice, and gaming notebook. I also had a hard copy of necessary Microlite20 bits and Scenes of Chance in case we needed another GM. I forgot my miniatures, which did cause a momentary bit of embarrassment later.

When I found the place, I found two tables with people. One had a full group deep into a Pathfinder campaign. A few people sat at the other table and had started a new 5e campaign a couple of weeks ago. They graciously let me join, so I sat down and filled out a character sheet using Omonac. I wrote her out at 1st-level, though, since this campaign doesn’t have anything to do with the Adventurers League. For a moment, I considered leaving, since that made a total of 7 players. The DM assured me that he would scale the encounters to the group size and that I shouldn’t worry about it.

Play session

In previous sessions, the group had survived a shipwreck caused by a rampaging giant squid or kraken. As the ship sank beneath the waves, they found themselves trying to make the nearby Isle of Malimont. A dwarven sailor had screamed that no one had ever returned from this cursed island before he went down with the ship. The DM used this to include the two new characters (his RL girlfriend and me). We played other survivors who’d landed a little further down the beach.

The party had split during an earlier session when a couple of players hadn’t attended. So the first part of the adventure consisted of us trying to link up the entire party. Those who’d already explored bits of the island exercised more caution and stealth. Previous experiences with monsters here had demonstrated the local dangers. My little half-elf cartographer, of course, had no such notion. She simply wanted to find other survivors for mutual protection.

So when we saw them above us on a rope bridge in front of a waterfall, I shouted in joy and greeting. This woke some sort of crystalline bats with red glowing eyes and green acid blood hanging under the bridge. They swooped at us and began to attack our faces with stabbing beaks and tails. We made short work of them, as one would expect. A half-elf paladin created an epic moment by jumping off a twenty-foot cliff to attack a crystal bat in the air before crashing to the ground on top of it. The player had the right idea: RPGs like this work best when we eschew careful play and go for cinematic moments.

After the fight, I noticed a small cave behind the waterfall and a trail that led around to it. We went inside and found a grotto with skeletons, ancient rotted crates, and rusted old weapons. One skeleton, though, had embraced a wooden chest that had not rotted. The skeleton had a cutlass in good condition in its chest and a key around its neck. We carried out significant investigation, including a detect magic ritual performed by a gnomish wizard. This only indicated that key as a magic item. I decided to open the chest as no one found any traps.

The chest contained gold coins, inscribed with the symbol of an ancient nation none of us recognized. As a naive explorer (albeit Cthulhu-touched), I rejoiced in the gold and started running my fingers through it. On cue, a portcullis slammed down to lock almost all of us in the grotto. Bones started to fall from the ceiling and form into skeletal warriors. Several of the party members started to stuff as much gold as we could carry into our pockets and stomp on the bones. A bard pulled out a skull idol he’d found in earlier exploration and inserted it into a skull-shaped indentation in the wall. This had the dual effect of opening the gate and halting the flow of the waterfall. As the lagoon drained out into the ocean, the bones kept forming. Outside, a robed figure appeared. This figure had no face, though, only one large eyeball for a head. A rogue prepared to face it, but our monk bounty hunter ran outside. She performed some sort of acrobatic flip over the rogue, then smashed the eye creature with her staff. She followed that up with a roundhouse kick and a quarterstaff jab. This turned out so well (two natural 20s!) that she destroyed the creature’s head while we all looked on in amazement.

We fled the scene down a staircase that the lagoon had hid before. At the bottom, we found a pair of silver doors inscribed with dwarven runes. The runes read “WITHIN THESE HALLS LIES THE TOMB OF THE GREAT KING HARAVEN”. We could hear a skeleton army stampeding down the staircase behind us. The dwarven cleric grabbed the key away from the bard and opened the doors. We slammed them closed behind us in the face of the skeletons.

That might have put us in an even more precarious situation. The stagnant air indicated that the tomb makers had sealed it off centuries ago. Despite the intricate carvings and craftsdwarfship of the tomb, we could feel an aura of unnatural darkness. The tomb appeared to stretch out in front of us for hundreds of feet. Stalagtites reached down from the ceiling, formed by water that had seeped into the tomb over the years. After we’d explored a bit of the tomb, a darkmantle fell onto the dwarf’s head and wrapped itself around him. The paladin next to him ripped it off, and…

…at this point the players got distracted with chat and tiredness. We’d played for something like four to four and a half hours. We broke up and and left for our respective homes.

Results

The group had some interesting house rules that unbalanced things a little but led to more of those epic moments. For example, skill proficiency grants +2 and advantage. This might have had more to do with unfamiliarity with the rules than a house rule per se. And the XP pool gets split up according to group preference. This might mean an equal split as traditional, but could go other ways on a particular encounter if the group decides.

I happily answered other rules questions when they arose, but I did not bring them up myself. After all, the other guy ran the session, not me, and I just wanted to play. No DM likes having somebody else criticizing and trying to take over the table. And running a group of 7 characters provides enough challenge all on its own.

Having a local “game clubhouse” that runs games on non-weeknights also feels nice. Wednesday night Encounters at 6pm just don’t work for my schedule and life. I wish the bill readers on the snack machines had worked properly so I could have contributed a little something to the upkeep of the place.

Next week I’ll go back and see how we finish out this session. I’d like to know a little more about this accursed island, after all.