Villain's Handbook Series

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In case you weren’t aware, I’ve been slowly creating a product line on the DMs Guild, the Villain’s Handbook series. These FREE books take an iconic villain, like a dragon or werewolf, and goes over some ways you can use them as an effective villain.

Each handbook has some story ideas and plot hooks you can use with these villains, every one includes at least one new monster/NPC stat block.

villain handbook tyrant.jpg

The latest entry is The Tyrant, and we also have handbooks for Dragons, Orc Warlords, Barbarian Chiefs, Slavemasters, and Werewolves. Go check it out, they’re already free but are also part of the New Year, New Campaign sale at DMs Guild.

Let me know what villain you want in the next handbook!

Simplified Spells: Evocation

The Challenge

I’ve always wanted a better magic system for D&D. I understand that they’re tied to using Vancian magic, but it’s always kept me from playing a magic user. 5th edition has made it a lot better, in my opinion, but I still find it lacking.

One of my issues is that there are so many spells with very minor differences. Part of this is because, in the core rules, there isn’t a way to customize spells (GM can always change things, of course). We have the firebolt cantrip, which does 1d10 fire damage, but what if you want to do cold or lightning? Sure, you could take shocking grasp, but that’s a melee spell. Why can’t we just have arcane bolt, and then pick an element?

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Many RPGs have been moving toward a more narrative, free-form style lately. The new Genesys system, for example, has a very open spellcasting system. I want to see if we can incorporate something like that into D&D.

Let’s try focusing all of the spells from a D&D arcane school into a single spell, starting with evocation. Evocation is generally pure damage, which is the easiest type of spell to balance. Let’s make the damage spell, our catch-all spell for damage.

Taking a look at all of the spells that deal damage, and the spell creation rules in the DMG, we can plot out the amount of damage a spell should do at certain spell levels. Our goal here is to:

  1. Use damage similar to that of existing spells
  2. Make something easily scalable
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Certain spells like fireball break the mold, so it’s not going to be an exact match. Some normal spells are going to be stronger or weaker than our damage spell. We can eventually go back and start working on refining the process, but for now we’ll have to accept those discrepancies. Here’s the first pass at the numbers:

Spell Level

Damage

Cantrip

1d10 at 1st level

2d10 at 5th level

3d10 at 11th level

4d10 at 17th level

1

3d8

2

5d8

3

7d8

4

9d8

5

11d8

6

13d8

7

15d8

8

17d8

9

19d8

Spells that target one creature should deal more damage than those that deal damage to multiple creatures. Taking a look at other spells, some have additional effects or abilities that happen as well. All of these spells should deal less damage overall than a spell that deals pure damage.

An easy way to model this would to reduce the size of the dice used.

Let’s take a level 1 spell that hits one creature. By our rules, it would deal 3d8 damage. If we want to hit multiple creatures, then reduce the d8s to d6s. Now, our spell deals 3d6 damage. Let’s update the chart to show what it looks like with lower damage dice.

Spell Level

Damage

Additional Effect Damage

Cantrip

1d10 at 1st level

2d10 at 5th level

3d10 at 11th level

4d10 at 17th level

1d8 at 1st level

2d8 at 5th level

3d8 at 11th level

4d8 at 17th level

1

3d8

3d6

2

5d8

5d6

3

7d8

7d6

4

9d8

9d6

5

11d8

11d6

6

13d8

13d6

7

15d8

15d6

8

17d8

17d6

9

19d8

19d6

You can choose to stack this multiple times as well. If someone wants to affect an even larger area, or have two extra effects, reduce damage die size by another step, from d8 to d4, for example.

A benefit of this system would be flexibility and ease of use. However, does require the GM to decide what kind of effects are acceptable. Instead of specifying exactly what kind of effects are allowable, let’s list some suggestions. This way, each group can decide what works best for them. Some may allow a wider range of effects, while others may require a more focused approach. Both work, but here are some suggestions.

Effect Examples

·         Area of effect: (cone, burst, etc) Hits multiple creatures, allowing a saving throw for half damage.

·         Target can’t take reactions

·         Target can’t regain hit points

·         Reduce target’s speed

·         Divide the attack between multiple targets

·         Force target to make a saving throw instead of attack roll, taking no damage on a successful save

·         Inflict a condition

·         Impose disadvantage on next attack (2)

·         Grant advantage on next attack against it

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Using the Spells

I can think of two ways of using this system.

1.       Customized Spells. Whenever you learn/prepare a spell, you decide which extras or flaws to apply at that time. This lowers on-the-fly spellcasting flexibility, but allows you to pick and create the spells you want to use. This would be the easiest to introduce, since it fits in to the current spellcasting system easily.

2.       Ad Hoc casting. With this method, you just prepare the Destruction spell once. Whenever you cast it, you can choose to add extras or flaws as needed. This grants the most amount of flexibility, since you can tailor your spells to do what you need. However, it only counts as one spell, which means that spellcasters have an infinite amount of damaging spells with one prepared/learned spell. Once we have a full spellcasting system overhaul, we can have a resolution to this, but as of right now I don’t have a good solution for this problem.

The Spell

Anyway, here is what our new destruction spell looks like!

destruction.PNG

This is my first attempt at simplifying the spellcasting system in D&D 5th edition. If you find this interesting, let me know if you have any other ideas or suggestions!

Fight a Super Saiyan! The Unleashed Monk NPC

This week's entry to the NPC Gallery is the Unleashed Monk.

Ok, it's not actually a super saiyan. But it's what I thought of as soon as I saw the picture.

The unleashed monk is what I see as a fantasy version of a fighter going super saiyan. Instead of it being an ability utilized due to heritage, it's something any sufficiently trained monk can use, although with danger to their own body.

Check on the CR 18 Unleashed Monk.

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Cinematic Death in D&D

How can you handle a fitting, cinematic death for a PC when death can happen suddenly and randomly?

Adam Koebel posted this comment to Twitter, and it generated a lot of conversation.

 

Adam’s comment is specific to streaming, but it’s an interesting idea. D&D’s rules allow death to happen at any time, which works in most games. However, streamed games are for an audience, and their needs are sometimes different. Gaming groups that focus on character development and story may find that they want some more agency in their characters destinies. How can we accommodate this?

Changing the normal rules of D&D isn’t necessary, since this is something that individual tables can house rule themselves. At its core, this is about wanting more control over the shared story, so a possible solution should be narrative in nature. The fewer rules, the better.

So...this is how...I die...

So...this is how...I die...

I have a quick solution that I’ve put together, and I’d like to hear your opinions on it.

When a character would be killed, they are instead stable and unconscious at 1 hit point, but they are marked by Death. The character will meet their end soon, or be forced to retire from the adventuring group. Work with your GM privately to decide how your character will move on.

Mortal wounds are one way of handling this, but aren’t necessary. You know the character will die, so you can work on making it as heroic or fitting as you need. If don’t have anything in mind, or think the death will serve the story, you can die in the moment!

When you can specify a time of death for your character, you avoid the issue of having a player sit around and not participate in the game. A character’s death is unfortunate, and not being able to participate for an indeterminate amount of time can be frustrating. Death is set up to be a penalty, instead of another story moment.

Come back into the Light.

Come back into the Light.

Resurrection in D&D can cheapen death. Once you achieve a high enough level, the basic rules allow for death to be a revolving door. This feels good when a character you like gets to keep playing, but removes the importance of death. When you allow players to find a fitting death for their character, resurrection isn’t as necessary. With this idea, you can get rid of resurrection magic entirely.

What do you think? Do you have any ideas, or do you do something differently for your game? Let me know!

Designing an NPC

Today we're going to go through a step-by-step process for designing an NPC!

There are many ways you can go about creating an NPC. When I need to come up with a cool NPC, I head to the internet to find a cool picture to use for inspiration.

Let's use this cool picture from Daniel Kamarudin (theDURRRRIAN)

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What are your first impressions of this person when you see this picture?

Here are some of mine

  • Physical power
  • Heavy armor
  • Iconic helmet

I think this person is a fighter. Based on his unique armor, he probably has a nickname. His helmet looks like it has a horn, so let's call him The Rhino.

No, not that rhino

No, not that rhino

Well, if we call him the Rhino, we need to give him a charge ability, don't we? Let's add a charge.
To look at how charge works, look in the Monster Manual for monsters that already have it. Here's what we'll use.

  • Charge. If the Rhino moves at least 15 feet straight toward a target and hits with a melee attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 18 (4d8) bludgeoning damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 18 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone. Charge only applies on the first attack that hits in a turn.

Most of this was taken directly from an existing monster, all that changed was the distance required to move and the damage/DC.

What other abilities can we give The Rhino? He's got a big shield, let's use that. A number of NPCs in the Monster Manual have "Parry", let's use that. (Parry appears to add a creature's proficiency to their AC as a reaction).

The Rhino looks like an aggressive person. I want him to be able to use the shield offensively, so let's give him a Shield Bash ability. I could make it just a simple damaging ability, but I want to try something different. Let's have the shield bash just move the target if they fail on a saving throw. This won't change the Rhino's Challenge Rating (CR) at all, so we can add it without worry.

  • Shield Bash. When The Rhino hits with a melee attack, it can use a bonus action to try to push the target. The target must make a DC 18 Strength saving throw, or be pushed back 5 feet on a failure.

Let's move onto some of the more numerical aspects, the statistics.

The Rhino looks incredibly strong. The highest level a human can normally achieve on Strength is a 20, so let's use that.

He doesn't look very agile, so I wouldn't put his Dexterity high. He's a skilled fighter, so let's do just slightly above average, 12.

Constitution looks like it would be high as well, so let's make it an 18. I could see making it a 20 as well.

I see the Rhino as surprisingly insightful instead of having book smarts, so I'll give him a higher Wisdom instead of Intelligence. We don't need to make him dumb though, so I'll give him average Intelligence of 10.

Finally we come to Charisma. I mean, that's a pretty looking dude, but Charisma isn't just appearance. I'm starting to get an idea in my mind of The Rhino, seeing him as a leader. Let's give him a 14 on Charisma. It's not super high, but it's certainly above average, making him an effective leader.

Before we go any further, let's talk about where we stand with The Rhino. He's shaping up as a physically strong warrior, who also leads. To get a nickname like The Rhino, I'm thinking that he has to be a mercenary. They get cool names, right? Anyway, The Rhino is a leader of a mercenary group, we can figure out who later.

With this new information in mind, let's do saving throws quickly. We can add two saving throws without affecting the CR. A good idea is to look at the weakest stats and apply the saving throws there if you want to reduce the character's weaknesses. I want the Rhino to be an all around good fighter, so I'll amplify his weakest saves, Dexterity and Wisdom.

The Rhino's skills can come naturally from the vision we have. Athletics is obvious, due to his physique, as well as Intimidate. I see him as surprisingly insightful, so let's go with Insight. Finally, even though he's not smart, he's a tactical leader. I think he's well read with historical battles and tactics, so let's give him History as well.

Armor. Looks like he's got heavy armor, so let's call it plate. He's got a shield, so add those together for a total of AC 20.

The hardest party is figuring out hit points and attacks. For beginners, I would suggest looking at the hit die and number of attacks of a similar creature to the one you want to make. For the Rhino, I see him as a big, beefy tank. He has a large AC, so let's give him a large pool of hit points as well.

For his attacks, three is a good number for a melee fighter. He's not getting damage from anything else except his charge, so he needs multiple attacks to keep his damage up. One thing I did was increase the damage he deals with melee weapons. A maul would usually deal 2d6 damage, but I doubled it to 4d6 to make him a bigger threat.

Finally, we calculate his Offensive CR and Defensive CR, and then find the average. By doing the math, we come out at a pretty big CR 13. Playtesting is important in figuring out the real CR a monster/NPC should be, but this is a good guideline to use.

That's it! We've made an NPC. This is what our final version looks like.

The Rhino

The Rhino

That's the very quick, very brief run-through of designing and creating an NPC. I hope this was helpful, and stay tuned for more in the future. I'm adding an NPC gallery in the Homebrew section where the Rhino and other NPCs will live.

Do you have an NPC you want to stat out? Hit me up on twitter @pirategonzalez and let me know what you have!

 

Archive of Magic Items

Pirate Gonzalez Games is Working on a Kickstarter!

Coming to Kickstarter soon will be the launch of the Archive of Magic Items (AMI)!

Chainsaw Blade

Chainsaw Blade

 

Since the launch of D&D 5th edition, I’ve been creating fun, unique magic items for the system. A few years and 300+ magic items later, and I’m finally going to launch a Kickstarter for publishing!

The writing is already done, although some playtesting of tricky items is still needed. The majority of the kickstarter costs are going to art! The items I’ve created may sound cool, but seeing them fleshed out brings it to a whole other level.

I’ve already tapped Matthew Sargent (@mbsargent) and Alli Grimes (@gracefulxdead) for some initial art, which you can see here. With a successful Kickstarter, I’ll be able to put in more art!

I’m expecting to launch Q1 2018, but stay tuned for updates!

If you’re interested in helping to be part of the playtest, reach out to me on Twitter @pirategonzalez

I hope you like it!

Undertale- Sans Stats

SPOILERS FOR UNDERTALE AHEAD

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The hardest boss in Undertale is the most surprising. Laid back skeleton Sans has been holding back, and the only reason you’re alive is because he made a promise to someone.

i'm sans. sans the skeleton

i'm sans. sans the skeleton

This stat block mechanically represents his abilities in a D&D world situation. He’s incredibly powerful, with the ability to use Reverse Gravity, a 7th level spell, at will. Size limits don’t apply to this, so even the largest threat is still going to get affected by this spell. His only real protection is his incredibly high pool of hit points and his ability to use shortcuts to escape.

If you’re fighting sans in D&D, you probably did something wrong. He is Karmic Retribution incarnate. And if you can’t SAVE and LOAD, you’re screwed.

you're gonna have a bad time.

you're gonna have a bad time.

Sans was an interesting character to me, and can be seen as an archetype. He’s a lazy friend with incredible power, who only interferes when absolutely necessary. He knows that when faced with people who can control time, he doesn’t stand a chance, so why bother? You can create a Sans-like NPC in your game.

If deities that can alter reality or change time exist, there’s not much you can do against them. The NPC has incredible power, akin to a demi-god, but knows that any major actions they take are meaningless. They become fatalistic.

When the NPC can’t sit aside any longer, they finally step in. They have a strong ideal that propels them to act, even with knowledge that it may not matter. They’re going to give it their all. And you better hope that they’re not fighting you.

Here is the statblock for Sans! I hope you enjoy it.

Sans.jpg

Ant Extermination: Side Quest

A few months back I made a free, short D&D 5e adventure called Ant Extermination: Side Quest. Ants accidentally got into an alchemist's growth formula, and turn into giant ants! You can check out the adventure here.

 

While making the adventure, I created four new Giant Ant variations. Not all of them made it into the adventure, but I hope you can use them yourself!

Giant Ants.jpg

 

 

5 Ways to Play a Tank in D&D

Playing a tank is a common term in RPG video games. As a tank, your role is to protect your teammates by taking damage for them. Games like World of Warcraft have built in mechanics that force an enemy to target you. Tabletop RPGs, however, don’t have an AI. The Game Master decides what the enemies do and who they attack. How do you play a tank then?

Here are 5 ways to effectively play a tank in D&D 5th edition:

1.       High Hit Points, High AC

I'm wearing armor over my armor. That gives me twice the AC, right?

I'm wearing armor over my armor. That gives me twice the AC, right?

Most attacks from NPCs target a player’s armor class (AC), and deal 0 damage on a miss. The higher your AC is, the less likely it is that you’ll be hit by a weapon attack. Wearing heavy armor, carrying a shield, spells, and certain class abilities are ways to increase your AC. With 5th edition’s bonded accuracy, having a high AC early on is very hard for enemies to hit.

Having a large amount of hit points is critical as well. Even with a crazy high AC, you’ll still take damage. Spells, traps, and environmental effects can target your saving throws, and can deal damage even on successful saves. Having a large pool of hit points is a key component of being a successful tank. Getting reduced to 0 hit points in a couple of hits isn’t going to do you much good. For example, a monk can have a pretty high AC due to their class abilities, but they don’t get as many hit points as a fighter or barbarian. Getting hit hurts a monk a lot more than a barbarian.

2.       Mechanics

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There are only a few abilities that force attacks against a target, like the compelled duel spell, but even things that grant penalties for NOT attacking you is an option. The DMG has this as an optional rule, a cool carryover from 4th edition. Marking a target grants a target disadvantage if their attack doesn’t include you as a target.

Sentinel and Polearm Master is a combination of feats that makes it very difficult for creatures to get past you. On a successful opportunity attack, you lock them in place.

Other mechanics that benefit a tank are boosts to your AC, temporary hit points, and resistance or immunity to damage. The barbarian gets resistance to the most common forms of damage while raging, effectively doubling their hit points.

3.       Positioning

Always take the high ground.

Always take the high ground.

If playing in a theater of the mind style, describe your intentions along with your actions. Take these two examples:

“I rush at the goblin and attack.”
versus
“I rush at the goblin and attack, putting myself between Wazo the Wizard and the goblins”.

The first example only focuses on your attack, while the second shows that protection of your teammate is important to you. You haven’t done anything mechanically different, but by adding some more description you’ve established something as fact in the narrative. If the goblins want to attack the wizard, the GM knows that you’re in the way.

4.       Taunt/Intimidate

Come at me bro!

Come at me bro!

If you can’t force a target to attack you, the next best thing is to make them WANT to attack you. Make yourself impossible to be ignored. Enemy archer aiming at your cleric? Make fun of their clothing. Insult their family. Do something to focus their attention on you. Spiderman is an excellent example of this. He taunts and quips with his opponents, making them REALLY want to squash him.

Intimidation can be done in the same way, although it’s all about how you direct it. Intimidating might cause someone to be afraid of you, avoiding you and attacking someone else. As a tank, you don’t want this. You want to seem like you’re the biggest threat, the one to focus their attention on first. If you’re trying to intimidate creatures into attacking you, specify the intent, otherwise, a common assumption is that you are frightening something away.

5.       Change Tactics As Needed

A fighting style for every day of the week!

A fighting style for every day of the week!

Unlike a video game, not every enemy is going to be susceptible to the same tactic. Part of the beauty of a tabletop RPG is having enemies react in a dynamic fashion. Maybe you’re fighting a tactical general who knows to focus on the wizard and healers first. No taunting or bluffing is going to get him to change his tactics, so you’ll have to rely on positioning.

Learning how to play an effective tank will involve trial and error, and will change between games. What worked against wolves in your last game may not work against them with a new DM in a new world. You’ll need to pay attention and learn to adapt.

 

These are just some ways to play an effective tank in D&D. Do you play a tank or defender class? Let us know how you play in the comments!

Bonus: Let’s see how many comments we get about the word “tank” not having a place in D&D, or the idea of playing a “tank” being wrong. Bonus points if 4th edition is mentioned in a disparaging way!

Molly Ostertag's Paper Dragon

Molly Ostertag is an illustrator who currently works on the webcomic Strong Female Protagonist, and just published The Witch Boy. She also happens to be a DM for a D&D game.

On twitter one of the players, Noelle Stevenson (another cartoonist whose works include Nimona and Lumberjanes) posted a drawing from an encounter with a Paper Dragon that Molly created. Molly later posted the stats for the dragon, and the mechanics were really cool!

I decided to give her dragon the full Monster Manual treatment, including Noelle's art!

The paper dragon can inflict madness with it's breath attack, and even destroy memories! A normally dangerous creature just got even worse!

Check out the Paper Dragon here, and check out Molly and Noelle's work, they're great!

Paper Dragon.jpg