Mar 28 2018

Gamers of the Galaxy

Posted by

WHAT ARE YOU DOING

DM: Ronan comes striding out of the wrecked ship. Like before, he appears to have taken no damage from the crash. He sneers at you and bellows to the crowd, “Behold! Your ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’!”

GAMORA: Gaah, that damn infinity stone! He’s basically casting globe of invulnerability on himself.

DM: He also steps in Groot.

ROCKET: Son of a bitch!

DM: Rocket, your turn.

ROCKET: The infinity stone is mounted in his hammer, right? Could I maybe shoot the hammer out of his hand?

DM: With a regular gun? Not likely.

STARLORD: Unfortunately, you used your hadron enforcer already. That recharges on a short rest, right?

ROCKET: Yeah. …But, hey! Can I spend my inspiration point from protecting all those civilians to get the hadron enforcer‘s charge back?

DM (thinking): Okay, sure, but it got kinda smashed up in the crash. Make a DC 15 tool proficiency check to get it working.

ROCKET (rolls): Aw, shit! What a time to roll a freakin’ nine.

GAMORA: Geeze, and you blew an inspiration point on it.

DM: Well, you can keep trying on your next turn– if you get a next turn. Ronan’s on the ground, now.

ROCKET: Crap.

DM: Drax? Your turn.

DRAX: I assist Rocket on his next roll.

DM: Okay. Gamora?

GAMORA: Um… crap, I dunno, I’m a fighter. Can I just… I dunno, keep my eyes open and be ready to jump in?

DM: Delay requires an action and a trigger.

GAMORA: Okay, I guess if I see an opportunity to grab the hammer, I’ll do that.

DM: Good enough. Starlord?

STARLORD: What’s Ronan doing?

DM: He’s getting ready to smash the hammer down and destroy all life on the planet. Y’know, like one does.

ROCKET: Craaaaaaap.

STARLORD: I challenge him to a dance-off.

GAMORA: What???

DRAX: Pffft!

ROCKET: Oh God.

STARLORD: You said my tape player was going, somewhere off in the wreckage, right? Well, it says right here: my bond is “I treasure my mixtape from home more than life itself.” If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die dancing to my mixtape!

DM (laughs): Sure, why not? Go ahead and make a Deception check, with advantage for tying into your traits.

STARLORD (rolls): Aww, yeah! Twenty-frickin’-SEVEN! (sings) Oooo-ooh child, things are gonna get bet-ter!

DM (still laughing): Okay! Ronan tries a DC 27 Wisdom save (rolls) and blows it bigtime. He’s effectively stunned for a round at Starlord’s pelvic sorcery.

TABLE: (laughter)

STARLORD: Gamora! Take it!

GAMORA: I am so not taking it.

STARLORD: I meant take the hammer.

GAMORA: Can I use my readied action to grab the hammer while Ronan is stunned?

DM: Call it a disarm check. Make an unarmed attack roll against Ronan’s Athletics check. (rolls)

GAMORA (rolling): Uh… man! Another nine.

DM: Yeah, no. Ronan’s got a vice grip on that thing.

GAMORA: Yeah, I’m just gonna stand there and stare at Starlord like he’s nuts.

DM: Okay, new round! Ronan is stunned and just stares at Starlord. “What are you doing?”

STARLORD: I’m distracting you, ya big turd blossom!

DM (laughs): Rocket, roll on your tool check again. You have advantage this time, thanks to Drax’s aid.

ROCKET (rolls): Nineteen! Hadron enforcer online, baby! I shoot the motherfucker! I mean, I shoot the hammer out of his hand.

DM: Unfortunately, it took your turn to make the skill check.

DRAX: So it’s my turn? I shoot the motherfucker.

DM: That works! You grab the hadron enforcer from Rocket and basically use it to make a ranged 5d10 disarm! Go ahead and total it up, the damage will be the difficulty for his Athletics check. (rolls)

DRAX (rolls, with no small amount of satisfaction): Thirty four!

DM: Ahahahaha, no. Not only does Ronan not make his Athletics check, the hammer explodes into a bazillion pieces, sending the infinity stone flying into the air!

ROCKET: Oh crap oh crap oh crap!

STARLORD: I’m basically standing next to Ronan, right? ’cause we were having a dance-off? Can I grab the infinity stone before it hits the ground?

DM: You can try! Give me a Dexterity save.

GAMORA: That thing does 100 necrotic damage per round and then you have to make Charisma saves to not explode!

STARLORD: Yeah, but while I’m lying there making death saves you can slap a container onto it. The Charisma save I’m not worried about.

GAMORA: But we don’t have a healer!

STARLORD: Well maybe there’s a paramedic in the crowd. (rolls) Anyway! I roll a sixteen.

DM: You nab it out of the air! You take 100 points of necrotic damage!

STARLORD: Ow.

DM: Fortunately, your Mystery Boon kicks in– turns out you are resistant to necrotic damage! So you only take 50.

STARLORD: Yay? I have fifteen hit points. (rolls) Twenty-two Charisma save.

DM: You are not killed outright on this round, but you are stunned and unable to act. A massive ball of purple-black necrotic energy swells around you, engulfing you and Ronan both. Ronan looks more than a little offended that you aren’t dead.

STARLORD: I bet he does!

DM: He also takes 100 points of damage, and is offended by that, too! It’s not enough to kill him, but it clearly hurts. He shouts, “Who are you???”

STARLORD: So all I gotta do is stand here dying at him to take him out?

DM: Pretty much!

STARLORD: Winning! When he shouts “Who are you?” I just give him my most smug, “You said it yourself, we’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, bitch!”

DM: Starlord taunts the badguy! It doesn’t do anything, but points for going out in style.

GAMORA: You said the damage happens every round, right? So he’s going to keep taking it?

DM: Yes. It spreads out through everyone in contact with whoever’s touching the stone.

GAMORA: Okay, I grab Starlord’s hand to absorb some of the damage and ready an action to shove a container onto the stone when Ronan drops.

DRAX: I’ll grab on too.

ROCKET: Ditto.

DM: Okay, new round! Ronan takes 100 points of damage, which is forty-odd more than he had. He explodes with a look of deep resentment on his face.

TABLE: (cheers, high-fives)

DM: You all take 100 points of damage split four ways, so 25 each, except for Starlord, who resists it and takes 12.

STARLORD: Two! I have two friggin’ hit points! Eat that, Ronan the Dickhead!

ROCKET: Ronan-the-A-Loser, more like!

GAMORA: I shove the infinity stone into the container!

DM: The purple-black cloud of necrotic energy immediately dissipates! Revealing Yondu and a dozen Ravagers. “Well, well, that was quite a light show!”

DRAX: Seriously?

STARLORD: Geeze, if it isn’t one damn thing, it’s another around here.

-The Gneech

Share
Oct 05 2017

D&D Overland Travel Encounter Table Template

Posted by

My Storm King’s Thunder campaign has moved to the underdark for a bit, and as such I need a new random encounter table as the characters tromp miles and miles in the dark, instead of their usual tromping miles and miles over mountains or across the plains. 😉 But it seems to me this is as good a time as any to work up an encounter table “template” for making these tables easier to build in the future.

I’ve been taking a lot of inspiration from Adventures in Middle-earth and including such things as world events, interesting terrain bits, and even just “mood swings” in my encounter tables to give the journey more character than just “you fight owlbears/you fight orcs” etc. That also means there are “empty spaces” on the encounter table so the party doesn’t automatically have a hostile encounter every time they enter a new overland hex.

Feel free to use this template for your own games, if you like. I’m pretty pleased with the result in my own.

1d12+1d8 Encounter
2 Major Benevolent Power. Your party happens upon your campaign’s equivalent to Gandalf, a powerful metallic dragon, or something similar. This power may be traveling incognito– the party may entertain angels unawares. On Repeat: No encounter.
 
3 Easy Encounter. Random creatures appropriate to the terrain. On Repeat: No encounter.
 
4 Resources. Your party finds plentiful game, a grove of mushrooms, wild healing herbs, a valuable mineral deposit, or even a small buried treasure or cache of supplies left by previous wayfarers. On Repeat: Fair weather changes to rain, or vice versa.
 
5 Medium Encounter. Random creatures appropriate to the terrain. On Repeat: Cloudy, windy conditions.
 
6 Fellow Travelers. Pilgrims, miners, friendly locals, wanderers. Will happily share news and maybe a meal. On Repeat: Fair weather changes to rain, or vice versa.
 
7 Help! Fellow travelers, as described above, being menaced by hostile creatures making up a medium or hard encounter. If rescued, the travelers will be grateful and provide aid or reward to the party. On Repeat: Medium Encounter.
 
8 Fair Roads and Favorable Conditions. Your party finds shortcuts, ample sources of clean and refreshing water or shade, and makes excellent time. Your travel speed is increased by 50% for four hours. On Repeat: Same encounter again once, “No Encounter” from then on.
 
9 Medium Encounter. Random creatures appropriate to the terrain. On Repeat: No Encounter.
 
10 A Skill Test. Fallen trees, a collapsed bridge over a swift river, or other something similar have blocked the road and the party must devise a way past it, or perhaps the party’s mounts are spooked by something and must be calmed down. Have each player describe their intended action in turn and resolve with a skill check or simply narrate likely results. If there are more successes than failures, the party moves on. If there are more failures than successes, the party loses four hours of progress. If all checks are failures, everyone in the party must make a DC 10 Constitution save or gain one level of exhaustion. On Repeat: No Encounter.
 
11 A Moment. The party comes upon a gorgeous vista, a mysterious ring of standing stones, crumbling statues from a fallen kingdom of old, a spectacular sunset, or other inspiring moment. Everyone in the party makes a Wisdom saving throw (DC 10-15 depending on the surroundings). If successful, they are filled with hope and gain Inspiration. If they fail, they simply shrug and keep marching. If they fail by 5 or more, they see only the fleeting nature of life and become morose, gaining a level of exhaustion. On Repeat: No Encounter.
 
12 The Wearisome Toil of Many Leagues. Trails lead nowhere or dry up. Progress is hampered and rocks turn underfoot. The scout must succeed on a Survival check (DC 10-15 depending on terrain) or you lose 4 hours of progress. If this roll fails, everyone in the party must make a DC 10 Constitution save or gain one level of exhaustion. On Repeat: Rainy conditions.
 
13 Hard Encounter. Random creatures appropriate to the terrain. On Repeat: No Encounter.
 
14 (Undefined. Default to “No Encounter” or “Medium Encounter.”)
 
15 (Undefined. Default to “No Encounter” or “Medium Encounter.”)
 
16 The Very World Seems Against Us. Your intended route is blocked by flooding, rockslide, enemy action, or an overwhelming hostile force. Lose 4 hours of progress. Everyone in the party must make a DC 15 Constitution save or gain one level of exhaustion. On Repeat: Stormy conditions.
 
17 Deadly Encounter. Random creatures appropriate to the terrain.
 
18 (Undefined. Default to “No Encounter” or “Medium Encounter.”)
 
19 (Undefined. Default to “No Encounter” or “Hard Encounter.”)
 
20 Major Malignant Power. Your party happens upon your campaign’s equivalent to Saruman, a powerful chromatic dragon, or something similar. This power probably has minions and is up to no good, but may regard the characters as beneath their notice and move on unless the party starts something. On Repeat: Stormy conditions.
 

During Prep: Pre-populate encounters with appropriate creatures. Place regional-, campaign-, or adventure-specific encounters in the Undefined entries.

At the Table: Roll (or have the party scout roll) when characters enter a new overland hex, or once per 4-hour watch while camped. Travel speed is not a factor: difficult terrain slows down monsters just as much as it does player characters. Roll more often (at least once per four hours of travel) in dangerous or heavily-infested areas, such as cursed jungles teeming with monsters.

Variations: Roll 1d12+1 during daylight and 1d12+1d8 at night to create a “don’t travel in the dark” atmosphere.

I hope you find this useful! It’s the core engine I use for my overland travel adventures, and I find it works well.

-The Gneech

Share
Filed under : Dungeons & Dragons, Worldbuilding Wednesday | Comments Off on D&D Overland Travel Encounter Table Template
Aug 08 2017

In Which Some 5E Stuff Needs Remixing

Posted by

Pictured: Probably not challenging enough.

Pictured: Probably not challenging enough.

In terms of round-by-round, 5E is great. It doesn’t have the grind-grind-grind problem of 3.x/PF, nor the “everybody is a sorcerer” problem of 4E (which, I’m told, also gets ridiculously grindy in short order).

But structurally, in terms of encounter building and monster design (and how that ties in with rest and advancement), I feel like it still has problems.

The Resource Management Game Nobody Plays

The “15-minute workday” is still a thing in 5E. The game is balanced around the notion that every two encounters (or so) the characters will take a short rest, and that after their sixth encounter of the day they’ll take a long rest.

In order for that to work, most of the individual encounters need to not be that tough. The party uses a big spell in one, the fighter loses some hit points in the next, and so on, but they can soldier on through. Because no one encounter is likely to wreck the party, they can keep on going until they’re out of Adventure Fuel (i.e., hit points and spells), and then recharge with a long rest.

The problem there is that, narrative wise, this can get real boring. If the stakes are that low for almost every encounter, and you have limited game time, there is a strong desire to “skip to the encounter that actually matters.”

So there is a strong inclination to beef up individual encounters, so that each one feels more significant. Instead of six rooms with six orcs each, the party finds three rooms with twelve orcs each. (Of course, in a well-built dungeon, there’ll be more variety than that. But you get the idea.)

But! When confronted with tougher encounters, players inevitably go nuclear on them– the wizard opens every fight with a fireball, the fighter uses their action surges, etc.– and it makes perfect sense for them to do so. The players don’t know how tough the encounter is or isn’t, or what the GM might have up their sleeve. Better to blast the hell out of everything and be reasonably sure you got it all, than to get one-punched by something without ever getting a spell off.

And what do players do after they’ve gone nuclear? They want a long rest to recharge! If that means backing out of the entire dungeon and coming back the next day to take it one room at a time? That’s what they’ll do.

Fighters get the shaft in a situation like this– their strength relative to magic-users is they can keep fighting all day without expending resources. But if the wizard gets recharged every time, the endurance of martial classes is irrelevant. (This is why everyone was a sorcerer in 4E.) Action surges and stuff like that make fighters a little more bursty to compensate, and of course 5E rogues are OP no matter how you slice it, so it’s not as bad as it was in 3.x/PF, but it’s still a thing.

The NERF™ Monster Manual

My campaign currently has a very large party. Six PCs, plus 1-3 NPCs of varying power levels depending on the scenario. This utterly breaks the action economy as it is, but even moreso once Bounded Accuracy comes into play.

Far from making it so that “even goblins can stay viable threats,” with a party this size B.A. makes it so that “even dragons are never a viable threat.” ;P In my last session, the 5th level party went into a fight with three wights and six zombies, and didn’t break a sweat. They were a little annoyed at the way the zombies kept standing back up again… but it wasn’t scary, so much as a nuisance.

Dammit, I want wights to be scary. -.-

When you have an edition in which levels 1-2 are pretty much intended to be skipped, but 60% of the monsters are CR 3 or lower, you end up with things like this. When you then combine NERF™ monsters with beefed up encounters, you suddenly have 5th level parties facing beholders. Combat then becomes very, very swingy, a game of rocket tag in which the only roll that matters is “initiative.”

Not great for “heroic fantasy” style gameplay. Also not great when the players have six chances to roll higher initiative than the monsters. ;P (Savage Worlds, a game that deliberately has rocket tag combat, also makes you check initiative fresh at the beginning of each round to at least add a little more uncertainty to this.)

Encounter Inflation and XP

The other danger of beefed up encounters, using the default assumptions of XP and level advancement, is that characters get beefed up XP, which in turn makes them advance faster, and the whole thing just explodes geometrically.

This can be avoided by decoupling XP from monster CR (or at least minimizing it), which a lot of my favorite RPGs of the past did by default. The HERO System for instance gave a pretty flat “3 XP per session, +/- 1-2 points for dull/easy or awesome/tough sessions.” You could (and our group often did) go through whole sessions without anyone so much as throwing a punch– and as long as everyone had a good time, you didn’t feel like you’d been shafted in the XP department for it.

The most recent Unearthed Arcana column has an interesting take on this, proposing a “100 XP per level” model in which exploration, interaction, and combat all have 1-4 tiers of difficulty, and any given encounter would give (10 x tier) XP.

I think this is a neat idea, although the first thing I notice is that it flattens XP progression back out. 5E is famously designed so that you fast-forward through levels 1-2, slow down for 3-10, and then pick up a little from 11+. The XP for monsters might still need work tho– it basically boils down to “5 XP per normal monster, 2 XP per minion, 15 XP for something way out of your league.” In the case of my party vs. the not-terribly-scary wights, that would have been 22 base XP, halved for having more than 6 characters, or 11 XP. Was that encounter really worth 1/10 of a level?

The tiers for treasure and interactions are also sorta arbitrary. Tier 4 exploration (worth 40 XP) is the discovery/wresting from monsters a “location of cosmic importance,” for instance. If a campaign starts doing the whole plane-hopping thing later, you’ll be discovering cosmic locations all the time, won’t you?

But the key thing is, with this system, combat is no longer the benchmark for character growth. Like the original “1 GP = 1 XP” model, characters who like to talk, sneak, or otherwise do things besides fight all the things have an alternate progression track, and that makes for a more varied and potentially-interesting game.

So What Does It All Mean?

Based on all this, I think I would prefer:

  • Beef up monsters a bit. When 1st level lasts a while, a CR 3 monster (like a wight) is scary longer. When the game starts at 3rd level and goes up from there, a CR 3 monster becomes the new baseline. By that reckoning, a lowly goblin should be at least CR 1, while a wight should be something like CR 5. Almost everything in the Monster Manual needs at least +10 hit points and +2 to their attack rolls. 😛
  • Tweak rests. This post is hella long already, so I will have to save the “rest” issues for another day. Something that will allow for tougher individual encounters, without screwing over the fighter types and/or creating 15 minute workdays is a big challenge.
  • Non-Combat XP is Best XP. A tier-based system in which each encounter (whether it is a puzzle, a roleplaying moment, a fight, a treasure looted, whatever) gains about the same XP makes for a much more interesting game. Is talking to the shop-owner as much of a learning experience as fighting for your life? Well… maybe not. But if it’s a great moment in the game, it should be more rewarding than just tossing a fireball at 2d6 orcs.

What do you think, players?

-The Gneech

Share
Filed under : Dungeons & Dragons | Comments Off on In Which Some 5E Stuff Needs Remixing
Jul 15 2017

The Halfling Lass From Appletop

Posted by


Berelandine the Halfling Serving Wench by Dunlaoch on DeviantArt

A popular barracks/meadhall song in Orbis Leonis, sung to the tune of “The Mademoiselle From Armentiers.”

[call]
The halfling lass from Appletop is a tavern maid.
[return]
The halfling lass from Appletop is a tavern maid!

The halfling lass is a tavern maid.
In gold or kisses she gets paid!

[chorus]
Will you have another round, me lord?

[call]
The halfling lass from Appletop is three foot high.
[return]
The halfling lass from Appletop is three foot high!

The halfling lass is three foot high.
She looks your codpiece in the eye!

[chorus]
Will you have another round, me lord?

[call]
The halfling lass from Appletop is a lovely girl.
[return]
The halfling lass from Appletop is a lovely girl!

The halfling lass is a lovely girl.
She’ll take your stallion for a whirl!

[chorus]
Will you have another round, me lord?

[call]
I asked the lass from Appletop to be my bride.
[return]
He asked the lass from Appletop to be his bride!

I asked the lass to be my bride,
and spend a lifetime at my side!

[chorus]
Will you have another round, me lord?

[call]
The halfling lass from Appletop said “Nay, sir, nay.”
[return]
The halfling lass from Appletop said “Nay, sir, nay!”

The halfling lass said “Nay, sir, nay!
Not until your tab you pay!”

[chorus]
Will you have another round, me lord?

Put that in your weed-pipe and smoke it. 😉

-The Gneech

Share
Filed under : Dungeons & Dragons, Risk a Verse, Roleplaying Games | Comments Off on The Halfling Lass From Appletop
Jan 28 2017

Learning Not to Suck at Overwatch– Capture the Flag

Posted by

Tags:

Inkblitzer and I give “Capture the Flag” a whirl– and win!

-The Gneech

Share
Sep 29 2016

Whither the Warlord?

Posted by

Faramir and Boromir wonder WTF is that?

For all I bag on 4E, it did have some cool stuff in it, and one of the coolest things was the Warlord class… which is conspicuously absent from 5E. I mean, it’s kinda-sorta there, in the Battlemaster Fighter, or possibly in a Valor Bard, but neither of those are really as robust as the Warlord was. Some of that may be intentional as part of the “We’re not with that guy!” treatment of 4E generally, but I think a big chunk of it is just a matter of focus. The Warlord class was really tied into the “miniatures skirmishing with a roleplaying game grafted on” nature of 4E, and with 5E‘s push to return to “theater of the mind” style gaming, they have a tougher time finding a place.

In short, Warlords as presented in 4E made combat crunchier, which is anathema to the 5E style. The question of whether there is a 5E-friendly way to make a Warlord is one that’s been discussed at length in the community. I think it could be done, and I think that the Battlemaster Fighter probably fills a good 65-75% of the gap, but I’d really like to see it fleshed out.

So what is a Warlord, exactly? Well, they’re a support class, who buff, heal, and provide tactical options for the rest of their team, but without using spells to do it (and without the religious baggage of the Cleric or Paladin, or the fantasyland rockstar thing that Bards have going on). Frankly, I always thought “Captain” would be a better name; in various incarnations across other games they’ve also been called “Nobles,” “Leaders,” “Standard Bearers,” etc.

In D&D the first thing that looks kinda like a Warlord– assuming you don’t just take it as read that every fighter above 9th level is one thanks to old-school level titles– is AD&D‘s Cavalier class, which was kind of a poor man’s Paladin. (Ironically, Paladin was revised to be a subclass of Cavalier when it came out) The Cavalier was intended to be a mounted warrior first and foremost (hence the name) and had all kinds of mount-related stuff going on, but they also provided a few team buffs, such as immunity to fear.

The real antecedent to the Warlord, however, came out in the Miniatures Handbook under the name Marshal. That class had auras (an extraordinary ability in 3.x/PF terms, and therefore explicitly not magical) that added various bonuses to allies within a small radius and could grant actions to other members of the party. They couldn’t do any healing, but by buffing party AC and hit points, they effectively “pre-healed” their allies. This was followed by the Noble in Star Wars Saga Edition, who combined some of the Marshal’s buffs with the Bard’s debuffs, basically rolling all the “leader” abilities into a single (again, non-magical) class.

Why is the emphasis on not being magical important? Well, that’s pretty much the appeal of the Warlord class when you get down to it. The Warlord is an inspiring leader, a masterful tactician, or even just the grumpy drill sergeant who tells you to rub some dirt on it and get back into the fight. Basically, it’s the Captain America class for D&D. This is both its appeal and its drawback, unfortunately. D&D already has a class for that role, to wit, the Paladin.

But the Paladin has baggage. Oh so much baggage. From idiot players who gave Paladins the reputation of being Lawful Stupid, to asshole DMs who create their whole campaigns around putting Paladins into no-win situations and then gleefully stripping their powers because they couldn’t find a lawful good way to prevent the demon-possessed king from slaughtering children in the first round of combat (or whatever), Paladins have a long history of being a problem class. On top of which, they have a “knights templar” semi-religious overlay which just doesn’t suit every heroic leader. Just like Robin Hood never cast a spell, Boromir never went searching for the Holy Grail.

So yeah, as far as I’m concerned the Warlord absolutely has a place in D&D as an archetype and as a class (or sub-class), although as I say I still prefer the name “Captain.” 😉 And it needs to be a little more interesting than the “+1d6 to do a not-attack thing” model of the Battlemaster. What that might be, while still fitting in the 5E mold, I’m not sure. I’m still working on that idea.

-The Gneech

Share