Jul 23 2019

Check Out JohnRRobey.com!

Posted by

I still use Gneech.com for random bloggy stuff (and as an archive of {mumble} years of writing), but if you’re looking for my professional writing site, head over to JohnRRobey.com!

Filed under : Gneechy Talk | Comments Off on Check Out JohnRRobey.com!
Nov 10 2019

Acrobatics vs Athletics in 5E, Plus Shady Shenanigans

Posted by

Shade-Of-the-Candle, tabaxi rogue

So my tabaxi swashbuckler Shade-Of-the-Candle (whom I like to describe as “If Catra and Jack Sparrow had a love child…”) recently hit 3rd level in Inkblitz’s game and finally came into her full being… but not without some rough going. One of her earliest rough spots came from a failed check to jump a 10′ gap. Now Shady has a 10 Str and had proficiency and expertise with Athletics (giving her a +4). To clear the distance all Shady needed was a running start, but the DM called for a DC 10 Athletics check due to treacherous conditions. With her +4, all I needed was a 6+ on a d20.

Anybody who knows the history of me and dice should know that I would automatically fail that check, and I did. Some nights I don’t roll higher than 3 on any die of any kind, which is fine for d4’s, but sucks for everything else. Shady went splat down into the water below. 😛

This led to a discussion between the DM and myself after the game, because being able to easily jump a 10′ gap is something I felt like my tabaxi swashbuckler should be able to do, and wanted to figure out a way to make that happen. He eventually said that in the future he would allow Shady to use Acrobatics to make jump checks, and suggested I move her expertise over to that, giving her a +7 acrobatics check from there forward.

Well, I mean, yes please. ^.^’ But this points at a thing in 5E: sometimes the rules act like Acrobatics and Athletics are two very different things, and sometimes they’re treated as more or less interchangeably, being “do physical things using Str or Dex, whichever works for you, man.” Both of these approaches are workable, with different positives and negatives, but honestly I’d kinda prefer the game picked one. My DM went with the latter method, and because we game in a shared world and try to keep our rulings consistent, I’ve pretty much adopted the same.

If you assume that they’re different skills, the best quick distinction I’ve heard is “Athletics is for going up, and Acrobatics is for coming down.” You use Athletics to jump, climb, swim, etc., while you use Acrobatics to keep your balance, avoid damage from a fall, walk a tightrope or swing from a chandelier, etc. The Angry GM suggests to dispense with all the foofaraw by completely decoupling proficiencies from ability checks. A jump across a gap is a Strength check, and if you can convince the DM that your Acrobatics bonus applies, you get to add it. Of course in Shady’s case that wouldn’t have helped—she was already proficient in the skill check she couldn’t make, it was the ability check underneath that screwed her over. But it does at least keep Acrobatics and Athletics in their own lanes.

I’m still not sure the approach I like the best. I want my Dex-based monks and rogues to be able to parkour their way up corners like Jackie Chan and double-flip their way across wide open gaps, but I can also see how “Acrobatics for Dex peeps, Athletics for Str peeps” parallels nicely with Str-based melee weapons vs. finesse weapons. We’ve got an approach for now, we’ll see how it goes in play.

20th Level Pirate Cat

While I was mucking around with levelling her up, I decided to play with theoretical future iterations of Shady. Simplest version was straight Rogue 20, swashbuckler all the way down. Then I did a version each of Rogue 17/Fighter 3 and Rogue 15/Fighter 5, because as the rogue class starts to get up into the double digits, it tends to lose a little luster (at least in combat) compared to its mid-tier amazingness. Working from the baseline of where she is now, not upgrading up her gear at all, assuming average rolls for hit points and the availability of the Mariner fighting style from UA, I got…

Shade-Of-the-Candle, L20 Rogue
Str 10, Dex 20, Con 14, Int 10, Wis 12, Cha 16
AC 17, hp 186, Initiative +8
Cutlass MH: +11, 1d6+5, sneak attack +10d6; OH: +11, 1d6; DPR 12d6+5 = 45)
Acrobatics +17, Athletics +12, Perception +13, Persuasion +15, Sleight of Hand +11, Stealth +11
Blindsense
Climbing 20′ (tabaxi)
Dungeon Delver feat (adv. to spot traps, resistant to trap damage)
Elegant Maneuver (bonus action to get advantage on next Acrobatics/Athletics check)
Elusive (no attacker has advantage)
Evasion (no damage on successful Dex save)
Fancy Footwork (no AoO from target you melee)
Lucky feat (3 luck points)
Master Duelist (miss with one attack, roll again w/ advantage)
Panache (swashbuckler taunt/charm)
Rakish Audacity (+Cha to initiative, sneak attack isolated target)
Reliable Talent (any proficient check below 10 becomes 10)
Slippery Mind (proficient w/ Wisdom saves)
Stroke of Luck (turn one failed check/attack into auto success)
Tough (+40 hp)
Uncanny Dodge (reaction to halve damage from incoming attack)

…a nice solid build. Her capstone features (Master Duelist and Stroke of Luck) are nice “when you think you blew it, you didn’t” features, but are also made a bit redundant by Lucky.

Shade-Of-the-Candle, L17 Rogue, L3 Fighter
GAINS
AC 18, hp 189
Action Surge (one extra action per short rest)
Climbing 30′ (tabaxi + mariner)
Improved Critical (crit on 19 or 20)
Second Wind (bonus action to recover 1d10+3 hp once per short rest)
Swimming 30′ (mariner)

LOSES
Dungeon Delver
Elusive
Sneak Attack becomes +9d6 (DPR 11d6+5 = 42)
Stroke of Luck

Assuming there aren’t a whole lot of traps all the time, the only thing I really miss here is 1d6 of sneak attack, which reduces her DPR by 3 points, negligible at 20th. In exchange she gets +1 AC, more climbing, a swim speed, second wind, and improved critical (which makes for a 10% chance per round of a 20d6+5 critical hit, baybee). So, a net win. 🙂 Unless I had a pressing reason I probably wouldn’t take the first level of fighter until 11th level, as Panache and that 10th level stat bump/feat are too valuable. I might even wait for 12th to get Reliable Talent and the 11th level sneak attack die.

Shade-Of-the-Candle, L15 Rogue, L5 fighter
GAINS
AC 18, hp 191
Action Surge
Climbing 30′
Extra Attack (with reduced sneak attack DPR 11d6+5 = 42)
Improved Critical
Second Wind (1d10+5)

LOSES
Dungeon Delver
Elusive
Master Duelist
Sneak Attack becomes +8d6
Stroke of Luck

Here we lose 2d6 sneak attack which hurts a little more, but trade it for an extra attack, which keeps the DPR the same and also creates more chances for critical sneak attacks; she also ends up with a whopping 191 hit points. Totally worth it.

Of course, this is all academic… it’s a very rare campaign that reaches 20th level, although I’d love to play in one.

Sep 23 2019

The DM’s Second-Best Friend: A Well-Stocked Encounter Table

Posted by

Friggin' orcs, man.


Friggin’ orcs, man.

My pal Inkblitz started a new D&D campaign on Saturday; it’s his second attempt, intended to be a series of standalone pick-up games for when the regular DMs aren’t ready to go. Naturally, we bombarded him with characters and backstories and enough potential intra-party conflict to make at least five Pirates of the Caribbean movies. In the days leading up to the first session, he confessed to being a bit nervous, and particularly with the crazy disaster of a party we came up with I don’t blame him. (Our collective alignment for this game is “chaotic dumbass”.)

My suggestion to him, based on four decades of DMing experience (holy crap) was to put together a handful of generic encounters to have ready no matter what we did, throw some juicy hooks for the main event at us, and then sit back and let us wreck the place.

In short: don’t start your game without a well-stocked encounter table! That way, nothing the players ever do could possibly be “wrong.” You expect them to go explore the Temple of Elemental Evil and instead they decide to go sailing off to the Tomb of Annihilation—which you don’t even own? No problem! Because on their way to the docks, they’re (rolls) waylaid by a press gang! Or possibly once they get on the ship, they (roll) get attacked by manticores!

I’ve spoken elsewhere about the virtues of random encounter tables in making a world feel “lived in,” etc., but their biggest value here is creating a “catchall” scenario that can save a game session that’s about to fall apart because the DM is caught flat-footed. By having a solid chunk of stuff that might happen, but doesn’t have to, you open up possibilities. The scenario may have gone off the rails… but it’s still within the field of play.

Note that I’m not advocating for a Quantum Ogre here—if anything, the exact opposite. A Quantum Ogre appears when it doesn’t matter if the party goes left or right, they meet the same ogre down either pathway, and while I can see the corner-cutting appeal of including such a beast in your prep, I would advise against it for reasons well-argued elsewhere. The very nature of the Quantum Ogre is that it is inescapable, and the players’ choice is all an illusion. In the case of Schrödinger’s Manticore (as I will now hereby dub any and all Emergency Backup Encounters), he wouldn’t even appear if the players hadn’t made the choice to go somewhere you hadn’t otherwise prepared for them to go. It is precisely the players exercising their freedom of choice that calls Schrödinger’s Manticore into existence.

“But why should I waste time prepping material that may never actually get used?” I hear some of you asking. First, because players are a perverse and ornery lot. I would wager that once you start building scenarios this way and loosening up on the reins of “plot,” you’ll find you end up using a lot more of your backup encounters than you expect. And second, because nothing ever is really wasted if you are savvy about it.

Thanks to the wonders of 5E’s Bounded Accuracy, on-level foes start to take on the properties of 4E’s minions as you out-level them. Sure, the press gang of Thugs that was a problem for the players at level one isn’t going to be any more than a speed bump at level four, but add a Bandit Captain or a Veteran and two more Thugs to that same encounter and change nothing else, and your players will still have something to chew on. The trio of ship-attacking manticores that were a good fight at level five, are still a good fight at level seven when they’ve been browbeat into the service of a chimera.

It’s true that the lifespan of an encounter isn’t infinite—even a press gang of Gladiators would be hard, er, pressed, to bother a twelfth level party, for instance. But y’know… your current campaign probably isn’t going to last forever. At some point, you’ll have a new party, who’ll be swanning off to adventures you haven’t prepped for yet in their own campaign. The manticores whose encounter never comes up this time around, could become an epic moment in that future game.

And for the record, Inkblitz’s game was just fine. When we did indeed wander off the map, he handled it with aplomb—and a backup scenario standing by. 😉

Filed under : Dungeons & Dragons, Roleplaying Games | Comments Off on The DM’s Second-Best Friend: A Well-Stocked Encounter Table
May 25 2019

Dovakhin, Dovakhin, Where the Heck Have You Been?

Posted by

Dovakhin, Dovakhin
Where the heck have you been?
Dovakhin, Dovakhin
What were you stepping in?

Don’t mess with those daedra
You never can win!

You are green, Dovakhin
And there’s pox on your skin

Filed under : Roleplaying Games | Comments Off on Dovakhin, Dovakhin, Where the Heck Have You Been?
May 10 2019

Fictionlet

Posted by

“Yo, Greg,” said Brigid, wandering into the kitchen.

“Hello, hello!” he replied, sipping at a coffee and tapping away at the laptop.

She raised an eyebrow, but shrugged and started rooting through a cabinet for the english muffins. “Soooo…?” she said.

“Hmm?” replied Greg, still tapping away.

“Go on,” she said.

“Go on about what?” She just looked over at him; his expression was befuddled. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Really,” she said.

“Yes, really,” he replied.

“Okay,” she said, turning to her breakfast. A moment of quiet followed.

“You know,” he added, “the Hogan’s Heroes theme song is actually an incredibly dense and layered composition. It’s a masterclass in themes and sub-themes!”

“There it is,” said Brigid.

<-- previous B&G

Filed under : Brigid and Greg Fictionlets | Comments Off on Fictionlet
Mar 25 2019

Fish in Trees: Giving Good Critique

Posted by

Critiques can be scary. >.>

Critiques can be scary. >.>

Picture if you will, the valar and maiar gathered around discussing creation.

Reviewee: I have invented a new kind of animal! It lives in the water, has gills to breathe, and flippers that enable it to move. I call it a “fish.”

Critiquer: Yeah, that’s good, but… what if this “fish” lived in trees and had wings to fly with?

Reviewee: Well, the point was to make a thing that lived in the water…

Other Critiquer: Man, I really like this “lives in trees and has wings” idea! You should give your fish brightly-colored feathers and have them sing.

In the FurTheMore writing track, writing groups and critiques — and specifically, how to give good critiques — were a major focus. Having only recently gotten into the world of actually being in a writing group, this discussion was fresh in my mind as I watched and winced at a person in a recent group meeting having their perfectly good kid’s book being twisted into all kinds of weird pretzel shapes. Instead of critiquing the story that she had brought, the discussion kept turning to all sorts of different things the story could have been (or to some of the critiquers’ way of thinking, should have been).

The thing reached a head when one of the critiquers suggested that the entire story could be told in pictures, with none of the reviewee’s words at all, to which the reviewee replied, “So what’s the point of my even doing it?”

Please don’t do this to people.

Giving useful feedback can be difficult, and the thing about writers particularly is that we’re a creative lot. When we see an idea that sparks thoughts and possibilities, we want to spin new stories out of them. It’s as natural as breathing! But in the context of writing critique, it’s as useful as putting a fish in a tree and telling it to fly.

Unless the reviewee is specifically looking to brainstorm new ideas (which can also be a great exercise), your job as a critiquer is to address the text at hand: what works, what doesn’t, and specifically if the writer succeeds at making the text do what it’s supposed to do. “Maybe your fish should have its eyes on the side of its head to more easily spot predators” is useful feedback. “Your fish should be a bird” is not, and worse, it can be actively harmful. I don’t think anyone at the meeting intended to tell the reviewee that she had wasted her time and effort creating a useless story, but that was clearly the message she was receiving.

Giving Good Critique in Three Easy Steps

So, what should you do? Try this…

“Get” the Story. Look for what the writer was trying to accomplish, as well as fairly universal things like “Do the sentences make sense?” and “Are the characters engaging?”

Talk About What Worked, What Didn’t Work, and What Was Great. Using the famous “shit sandwich” model (the bad stuff surrounded by good things on either side), give feedback that’s as specific as possible. Remember that the point is to discuss the story that’s actually on the page, not the amazing story you came up with in your own head.

Suggest Changes. Here’s where you can toss in your own ideas, but keep in mind that the changes should be to address what didn’t work first and foremost. If the reviewee’s fish has given you a great idea for a bird, go ahead and mention it as a possibility for expansion or a new direction if you like. Or maybe go create your own bird. You’re a writer, after all! And the best part is that by doing that, you empower the reviewee to make an even better story, instead of tearing them down and making them wonder what the point of having written it was.

Filed under : Gneechy Talk | Comments Off on Fish in Trees: Giving Good Critique