Oct 08 2020

Wrapping My Head Around Mid-Level D&D

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You couldn't do this at 1st level.

You couldn’t do this at 1st level.

So a while ago now (two years, actually, but it feels like WAY WAY LONGER), I speculated on where my campaign would go when we finished Storm King’s Thunder. Earlier this year, we did in fact finish it, with shocking revelations, a titanic battle against an ancient blue dragon, and the restoration of the Storm King to his throne. It was huge, and epic, and everybody reached 11th level.

As a palate cleanser, and because I honestly had no idea where to go next, I started a side-campaign adapting Tomb of Annihilation. To make it flow more naturally, I introduced the Wasting Curse at the end of SKT by having Iymryth’s death come as a nasty shock to her—she thought she had a clone all ready to go, only to get sucked away into the Soul Monger instead. (Oops…!)

So for the time being, my players have a new group of jolly 3rd-6th level adventurers tromping around the jungles of the Burning Coast trying to end the Wasting Curse or die trying—either of which will set up to return to the SKT “main campaign” when it’s done. If the Burning Coast crew succeed, life carries on. If they fail, well, the SKT team can come and take up the task.

But again… then what?

At the end of Storm King’s Thunder, the party found themselves unexpectedly pronounced thanes of the storm giant king, and in fact one was named the first ever High Priest of Stronmaus. Hekaton has decided that the storm giants’ isolationism is half of what left them vulnerable to Iymryth’s machinations and wants to re-join the world as a going concern (kinda like huge blue Wakandans); therefore he is claiming the vast desert realm of Kadath with the intent of re-civilizing it, and I’m sure he’d love to have the players’ assistance with that. But what would that look like in actual play? They can only fight so many behirs before it gets pretty dull.

Some potential directions it could go:

  • Ambassadorial missions to Gyrenstone, Xul-Jarak, Hestelland, and Argent to set up friendly relations with the neighboring realms
  • Deeper delves into the horrors of Iymryth’s lair… what exactly is down in that hole besides purple worm larvae?
  • The continuing saga of the Unmaking, whatever was going on in the Garden of Graves, and how it connects to the Wasting Curse
  • Cagarax and the Council of Wyrms
    • Who is going to take Iymryth’s place?
    • How will they respond to her death?
  • Player backstory delving?

At 11th level, the characters have a lot of autonomy, and so the players will need to be setting some agendas. They’ve reached the point where an “adventuring day of random encounters,” besides being highly unlikely, is not going to be much of a challenge for them. Even monster-hunting in the wastes of Kadath, while hazardous, are not really a problem if they can teleport home at the end of the day.

So when the time comes to go back to the main group, I’m thinking we’re going to have to treat it like a harder reboot than I was initially thinking, with a whole new Session Zero and some in-depth discussions of where the players want it to go. But the main thing is, I have got to come to grips with this intimidation by higher-level play if we’re ever going to get anywhere. “Somewhere around 5th” is super-comfortable for me, because the characters are durable enough for some interesting challenges without having world-breaking magic and abilities, but it’s not fair to the players to keep forcing a new game every time they get past that stage. And plus, I just miss the Storm King’s Thunder gang, and I don’t want their adventures to be over just because I’m floundering behind the screen.

-The Gneech

Sep 21 2020

GeekQuery — Remote Gaming and YOU!

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We’re all a bit separated right now, but that doesn’t stop us from GAMING! Today we’re joined by Guest Geek Jamie to talk about remote tabletop gaming from text gaming to Roll20, how it impacted OUR games, and the pitfalls that people might not be aware of.

ForgottenAdventures maps Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/forgottenadventures/

The Gneech’s Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/the_gneech

Find us on Twitter!
The_gneech: https://twitter.com/the_gneech
Inkblitz: https://twitter.com/inkblitzer

Static animation taken from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6C0Dp8l1vA

Much thanks to WebDM, DungeonDudes and all the great D&D Youtubers for inspiring us!

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Jan 12 2020

We Came, We Saw, We Kicked Its Tail

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Shady Runs From a Big Sneeze
I’ve been playing D&D for a long time and had some great moments on either side of the DM screen, but last night was probably the single most satisfying thing yet. Shade-Of-the-Candle and the rest of our party of scallywags faced down a dragon way above our pay grade and not only lived to talk about it, but came home conquering heroes weighed down with loot. I’m still riding the high this morning and probably will be for days, and here’s some of the reasons why…

  • A tough challenge, risen to! This dragon already one-punched the whole party in a previous battle, and could have done it again if we let it. Shady set up a battle plan that the rest of the team executed brilliantly, many of them adding their own flourishes, using their abilities to set each other up for success. From the monk helping the warlock leap across the 20′ deep pit, to the warlock gimping the dragon’s Strength checks and saves so that everyone else could lock it down, we operated in ways that highlighted and improved each others’ efforts, instead of just being a bunch of stumblebums swanning off in every direction.
  • Perfect expression of Shade-Of-the-Candle. She really did get to do a little of everything she’s built to do, in every pillar of play. Exploration: stealthily scouting, finding traps and then turning them against the monsters, assassinating enemy guards to infiltrate, check-check-check. Social: bringing the team together, being a giant misdirection at the badguy so the other members of the party could get into position, and then of course singing sea shanties all the way home, check-check-check. And combat: doing crazy stunts in the form of riding a dragon like a bucking bronco, laying down the occasional massive sneak attack, and annoyance-tanking, check-check-check. I am particularly pleased at how well Shady pulled off the “tell the truth in the most unbelievable way” trick when parleying with the dragon. Although she would have accepted the dragon’s surrender if the dragon had offered it, Shady’s real goal was to get in close to start the battle without being blasted at range. and provide cover for the rest of the team—both of which she accomplished! It was a classic “misdirection, not deception” moment.
  • A perfect storm of “character I have always wanted to play, doing awesome things.” I’ve mentioned before that I’ve specifically wanted to play a swashbuckler since high school; 1E/2E didn’t really have any way to support the archetype, and while I did get to participate in a very fun four-session “Three Musketeers” one-shot in college, that was over all too quickly. Obsidian occasionally flirted with swashbuckling when I could get away with it, but it was always working against the grain of that particular game. This campaign is built around a party of no-hopers, jokers, and rogues (as the song says) in a seaport full of skullduggery, and the 5E swashbuckler archetype is an amazing character kit. Add into that mix that Shady is a tabaxi and a red oni to boot and… well… I am in RP heaven.

So… yeah. I have no real point to make here, I’m just super-jazzed about last night’s game and wanted to seal the memory. Big thanks to Inkblitz for DMing, and to the rest of the players for going along with my harebrained scheme! :D

-The Gneech

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Jan 05 2020

From Snarling Murdercat to Laughing Bandit

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Shade-Of-the-Candle uses diplomacy.

Seven sessions in to Inkblitz’s D&D campaign, and I am loving Shade-Of-the-Candle more than ever, and I have been using her to some extent as a therapeutic vehicle for getting through some personal issues that I was barely even aware that I had.

Basically, I realized after the Acrobatics vs. Athletics incident that as a D&D player generally, I have been something of a pissy jerk. Like, since forever. For whatever reason, I don’t think I was ever called on it—or if I was, I didn’t register that was what was happening—and I don’t know if it’s something that’s gotten worse in the past few years as my personal stress levels have gone up. Whatever the facts of the case, when I realized it was happening, I immediately knew I had to correct it, for two important reasons.

First, nobody likes a pissy jerk. I have been blessed with patient co-players who had not yet booted me out or discovered they were just too busy to play on any night where I was there, but if I kept going down that road it would only be a matter of time. And second, because being a pissy jerk is actually not very much fun, and I was wasting precious and limited player time at the table making myself and the people around me unhappy.

So the first step I took, was to give Shady some catharsis. Her backstory had made her a bitter character, so I found a way to give her some closure on that. She’s still shaped by that backstory, it’s far from “finished,” but by giving her an in-character reason to lighten up, it made it much easier to transition my approach to playing her from a metagame standpoint. The second step was to sit down and figure out just how I wanted her to change. I went online and found a ton of YouTube videos on how to be a good player and a valued participant in the game, as well as sussing out a positive, team-oriented way of playing her that maintained and even enhanced her swashbuckling style, rather than sending her down the eye-rolling path of the lone wolf. I wrote all this up and printed it out so that I could look at it while we actually played, to remind myself.

Finally, I set myself goals for each game session based on Shady’s Player Credo. I have a checklist of things I want to attempt each session: talking to every other player in character at least once, performing at least one action that sets up another character for success instead of going for the glory myself, and making sure I ask for group input around big decisions. Interestingly, Shady has still had plenty of Big Damn Hero moments, even tho I have not been chasing them. Her badassery has been more or less accidental, but all the sweeter for it.

The last thing I did related to this was to tell the other DM in our group that I wanted to retire my drow bard Obsidian, which was a little harder but which I felt like I had to do. Obsidian’s whole premise was based on a famous post in the 3.x era about bards regarding the rest of the party as “their staff,” and having a character who was vain, self-important, and frankly bitchy was a fun schtick for a while, but it I felt like her presence in that campaign was actually doing more to foster a toxic environment than anything else. As much as I loved some of her earlier adventures, I hadn’t actually enjoyed playing Obsidian for a long time, and I just didn’t want to keep subjecting myself to that—or the rest of the group to who I turned into when I was playing her.

It’s been a long time since I got to be a player instead of the DM this much, and I am ridiculously grateful for it. Part of that gratitude is going to be making sure that I am as much fun to be around as I am having myself—which in my personal case means playing upbeat characters, and leaving the edgelording to someone else.

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Nov 29 2019

Shade-Of-the-Candle’s Player Credo

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Shade-Of-the-Candle Takes It Easy... But Takes It

You Are a Swashbuckler

  • Zorro was always grinning. Robin was a Merry Man.
  • When the Pirate King flubs a step, he makes it part of the show.
  • Nobody likes a grouch!

 

Killing is a Failure State

  • Trickery and incapacitation is winning. “Massive damage” is for clods.
  • Accept surrender. Send bandits running off humiliated—or better yet, recruit them!
  • Capture, tie up, and rob your foes if they’re intelligent, or avoid/ward them off if not.
  • Won’t work on things like zombies, obviously, but would work on owlbears.
    • There’s a zombie AND a mimic? Get the mimic to eat the zombie and die of indigestion.

 

What Would Jack Sparrow Do?

  • A great entrance goes a long way.
  • Cunning is “finding the path the enemy has chosen, then digging holes along that path.”
  • The only rules are what a person can do, and what they can’t.
  • Lie by telling the truth in the most unbelievable way.
  • An overturned dinghy makes a great bathysphere.
  • Enter forbidden places dressed in enemy uniforms.
    • The enemies are giants? Time for three rogues in a trenchcoat!
  • Lean in to environmental effects. Sneak Attack with a yard-arm!
    • There’s probably more stuff around than the DM has mentioned. Always ask if there’s a chandelier/tapestry/rug/pulley on a rope.

 

Make Your Own Luck

  • Find a way that doesn’t roll dice—or makes the NPC roll the dice.
    • Does jumping require a skill check? Throw a grapnel and swing across!
  • A well-equipped utility belt is your second-best friend.
  • Stack the odds in your favor, then figure out a way to roll with advantage.
  • Go after what you really want; ignore what you really don’t.

 

Lead Without Being Boss

  • Learn the other players’ abilities and incorporate them into your harebrained schemes.
  • Get people to tell you their backstories.
  • Make other people’s goals somehow contingent on achieving your own.
  • Set up the other players to be awesome.
  • CAROUSE. Go to taverns and chat up the barmaids for rumors.
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Nov 10 2019

Acrobatics vs Athletics in 5E, Plus Shady Shenanigans

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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. :P

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.

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