Great mechanics come from excuses.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I generally suck at designing adventures. Certainly campaigns, I’ve run 2 major ones and never came up with anything resembling a narrative. At least, not intentionally. You see I am a great designer. I can say that with confidence nowadays, and have a small legion of happy fans and customers to back it up. Narratives, though. Not the best at them. I’ve designed multiple subsystems for 5E! Have only worked on 1 book, though. Like a story, I know I have a physical 5E product coming out.

So how do I shamble through campaigns? Well, I know I need to hook my players in somehow. Rarely do I pillage someone’s backstory for plot points. I did it a bit more in my second campaign. I’m hoping to do it more in my Sky Pirates campaign, when that comes up again. Not why we’re here, though. The most typical hook I use for the players is “go get the thing”. This other takes the form of “go find the thing, it’ll be useful for us if it’s in your hands” and “go repossess the thing, for similar reasons along with the general discomfort of bad guys”. This is a convenient way to present new mechanics, rewards, items, etc. to the players. Coincidentally, if I were to approach this backwards, I could develop new mechanics, discover the natural consequence of their presence in the game world, and insert them as a player hook from there.

This does not make for quality storytelling, at least not on purpose. There were certainly interesting moments that came out of these mechanics, but that’s because narrative is evoked from mechanics. The mechanics we use change the stories we tell. Even if you’re simply narrating an occurrence, you’re still subconsciously referencing (and perhaps modifying, personalizing) a mechanical structure at your table. You’ve read it, now you’re infected. No going back. You’re stuck with it. I tell you that to tell you this; those new mechanics I invent? They tell new stories.

Airships are not new in tabletop games by any stretch of the imagination, mine just happen to be better than just about anything on the market. The fact I beat WOTC to Spelljammer-adjacent mechanics aside (no, their 1-ton cargo weight airship in the DMG doesn’t count), having a ship greatly expands player freedom. As I discovered in my first campaign, too much freedom, or at least too much when I suck at designing adventures to give them a sense of direction. Which I still do, largely. So too much freedom. Ah, but what if I made yet another subsystem? I created Runes, powerful spells the players could access but only cast under certain conditions (which were essentially vancian magic).

Well I had a goal in mind for the players, now I just need a place to put these runes, and a reason for the players to go down there so they can discover them. Someone approaches the players and asks them to make an expedition down south, to unexplored territory. Great! Now, essentially no matter where they go, they’re in the “right” area. Not because I’m keeping them there, just because the main goal is fulfilled by virtue of exploring.

This might all sound like I’m creating cool narratives by excuse of the mechanics, but that’s a separate, upcoming article. You see, to keep the draw of the exploration aspect, players need things to discover, or be rewarded by their benefactor for discovering things that maybe didn’t have a reward in of themselves. Or beating other explorers to important locations, or just beating them in general. Point being, I need to keep up the act, because my players want me to, and get the illusion of things moving along by virtue of me coming up with this shit.

So, I did! I developed probably around a dozen runes across the course of the campaign. Then, I developed a bunch of psionic abilities. I developed mechanical events for travelling in the Nightmare, my version of the Far Realms. I never touched on the personal bestiary I’ve developed to challenge players with absurd items and abilities. I gained all of these mechanical options that open the floodgates of possibilities (on both sides of the screen) because expanding possibilities was the hook of the game I pitched to begin with. It was my excuse to push myself, sometimes in a somewhat tardy fashion, to expand upon what I and the players had access to that session. Again, my excuse.

What’s yours?

Thoughtbites: point-buy multiclassing.

I was playing Total War Warhammer the other day (as Wood Elves, of course), And one of my lords apparently had some unspent skill points. It’d been a while since I had played this game, so I set about perusing the various skill trees and abilities of said Lord. It occurred to me I might want to wait before attributing certain skill points, but I got familiar and often did so anyways. This got me thinking; one of the early episodes of digressions and Dragon included a brief spiel on multiclassing. Unlike the usual drivel about “I can’t see why your character would multiclass”, Scott managed to make an interesting objection. Earlier editions of D&D apparently had minimum age requirements for your character based on class. The assumption was you had to spend a certain number of years studying your craft in order to get to first level. This causes serious narrative conflict across the course of the game, even though little scrutiny will likely be placed on it.

It’s also the first time I’ve heard “the character suddenly gains a level in something else” have any sort of legitimacy. You see, adventurers within the game can always attempt things like casting spells they are not prepared for, attacking more times in a round than they would normally be able to do, etc. D&D simply has no mechanics that outline this process of stretching beyond your usual limits. Fifth level for fighter is simply the first time he can attack twice within around without reliably failing. A very “sudden” transition that we don’t place scrutiny on, because there’s no fun to ruin for someone else without being disregarded and mocked relentlessly down that road. I outlined this process in greater length in an old video of mine, which probably needs to be updated.

Multiclassing in the game, by this standard, is still “sudden” compared to the supposedly years of requisite training. Fair enough. This was all followed by a discussion on Multiclassing’s design writ large; to Scott, it’s an afterthought. Nobody thought about how to explain characters needing multiple years of training to go into one class, could then go into another class across a few weeks of practice (possibly done in an unrelated discipline). Now this concerned me for number of reasons, not least of which is the fact he is absolutely correct. I’m not going to go into an in-game explanation for why this is possible (though I have one), that’s just not the point.

I myself am designing an RPG, which I have effectively begun preproduction on. I am also a pretty flagrant multiclasser. So, whereas I was originally focused on ensuring the dip into various classes would be satisfying and balanced, am now questioning the entire “level dip” method to begin with. I won’t be taking the dual-classing approach Angry mentioned for a number of reasons, because that’s not why we’re here. Remember when we started this post, somewhere in a prior epoch?

Skill points! You could gain skill points based on your total character level, as well as other achievements in game (such as building a stronghold, accomplishing certain feats of strength or wit, etc.). I’m now falling under the rather miserable realization that somebody has almost certainly done this already. I have not looked at any classless systems yet; I probably should. Back to the subject at hand. So imagine D&D, but each and every ability has a set of points that it costs underneath it. They have a level prerequisite, and perhaps a prerequisite ability that must be purchased before hand. Now imagine this is a fantasy RPG that is not D&D, not medieval, etc. We’re talking mine. It’s important for a reason, we’ll get to it.

Let’s say it’s not just “class” abilities (and there are defined classes) that can be purchased this way. Maybe ability score improvements are chosen this way. Maybe feats are chosen this way. Maybe there are ability rewards with pre-requisites most commonly attached to mixed-class themes (even if they don’t occur via multiclassing). You could play a single class in this system, this would just be an optional rule the system was designed with (just very front-and center). “I take all of the abilities listed in this class, because I have just enough points to do so along with some ASI’s or feats.” So everyone who isn’t really invested in character customization (or just micromanaging things) just gets to make a character they want, and let the game guide them.

Now let’s take my encounter manual (includes environmental hazards, traps, along with monsters), and the section on designing monsters from scratch has a list of abilities, passives, resistances, the whole mess.

Those can be built with points. Those points can be directly comparable to the total points player characters have, can be on the same power curve.

Wouldn’t that make designing challenging encounters a breeze? Compare the points from this monster to those of your players? You wouldn’t even need to use the multiclassing rule. You’re just taking all of the background math and “bounded accuracy”, and dropping them into single digit totals to compare against your players. Man, this really got away from multiclassing.

If you build your game (meaning, if I build my game, which you fine folks will then purchase and enjoy for the rest of your lives) on this point system, and take notes from D&D by roping these points into single or double digit totals to match roughly 5% increments in the chance of any given ability succeeding by and large, you have access to an easily understood, easily modified game through which all things can be hand massaged in seconds. Your players can build their own class progressions (if you let them). People online can build your players class progressions, and since everyone has access to the same understanding of the math (without said math being outrageously complicated), collaboration between Historians (GMs of my game) will be a breeze.

This was more of a thought-chomp, now that I think on it.

Psionics, and how to do them right.

After setting up some basic principles and restrictions, writing up a few abilities, and testing them out on my players recently, I can say with confidence, no, certainty, that I know how psionics can and should be done in 5E.

Ready?

First thing I want to note is the fact psionics should not be a default feature of D&D. I certainly think if I was a designer on D&D, I would designate specific domains psionics would be used for (and would therefore not appear in abilities like spells) in anticipation for settings psionics prominently featured in. I would have done this, seeing as though earlier editions of my games had settings which included psionics, and would try to ensure that any eventual inclusion of psionics would not step on the toes of other features of the game. This is commonly known as “foresight”, and we know not to expect such things from WOTC. Certainly, I would never include items which were previously psionics as spells in add-ons to the game 4 years in when people were clamoring for psionics.

Jackasses.

I’m inclined to agree with the OSR guys that Monk shouldn’t be a default D&D class. Why? Because it’s a psionic class. It has supernatural abilities that are often not interpreted as being magic (and existing within systems of magic), though they can certainly interact with magic. Point being, you should explain why supernatural effects not covered by magic exist in your game, both in a narrative and mechanical sense. That explanation can be as simple as “It’s always been here, no one’s bothered to look into it. We just know the things we do with magic and the things we do with this other thing are different.” Not the coolest explanation in the world, but hell, you’re busy. We get it.

Before I give you my explanation, let’s switch to the mechanical purpose of the system. In spite of previously existing spells and abilities, we have options insofar as what domains psionics cover. Whereas spells displace a person’s personality, psionics make minute adjsutments to their personality. You can flavor this as attacking the conscious vs subconscious mind. A suggestion spell may force you to run away from a battle, whereas a similar psionic might impart you with a phobia (of say, metal) to achieve a potentially similar but unique effect.

Here’s another; spells conjure matter and energy, generally do so for specific effects, rather than to be manipulated themselves. Those instances in which they do wouldn’t be present in a system designed from the ground up with psionics in mind, but such things fall to me to do. Psionics on the other hand manipulate matter, whether conjured or present naturally. What do I mean by manipulate? I can hardly think of a better example than Avatar: The Last Airbender (which I only recently watched for the first time). There’s a potential exception when it comes to firebending, but that’s neither here nor there. The primary focus is in manipulating the elements present to your whim, not spontaneously creating or summoning them. You turn water to ice, raise walls of stone, move objects by bending their air around them, etc, This system is potentially more open to creativity than spellcasting generally is, but that’s a double edged sword we’ll have to blunt when it comes to restrictions in a moment.

One other comparison, before we do. There’s only one spell that explicitly affects time in 5e as it currently stands, and that’s Time Stop. It’s quite garbage without some changes to the Concentration mechanic, but we’ll leave that to the side (much as I enjoy screeching about it). Other spells like Haste and Slow obviously invoke thoughts of time in the name, but can be thought of as affecting processes other than time itself ( internal chemistry, creature’s perception, etc). Psionics of a similar sort would affect actual time, displacing a creature for 3 rounds, for instance. They might reverse a creature’s wounds! Said reversal would be more or less powerful based on the most recent damage the creature took, and indeed, that’d be your balance factor for such an ability.

So, let’s run over the comparisons again:
Displacing Personality vs Manipulating Subconscious
Conjuring Matter vs Manipulating Matter
Enhancing Creatures vs Altering Time

Let’s talk restrictions. Psionics are primarily based off the mind, and by extension, their senses. Spells can be fairly loose with what does or does not allow you to target creatures with them. Psionics need restrictions based on said perceptions built into the abilities, given a lack of common counters that magic has (counterspell, magic resistance, generic anti-magic fields, etc). I’ll develop comparable counters at some point, but that only comes after the system’s creation. Maybe not, I’ve already thought of a few as I type this. I can’t help it though, I’m just too creative. So what I’ll say as general advice is plan ahead, but don’t leap to the “ahead” portion until you’ve squared everything you need to make the system function away. Back to the point; psionics need restrictions baked into the system. “A target you can see” is my go-to, and allows enemies with the proper gear or tactical acumen to defend against sight-based spells. Ditto for psionics. Certainly one could think of higher level psionics not having restrictions on sight, but rather “At a point of which you’re aware” or some similar language, to ease the burden on the sense and reflect the Seer’s improving skills.

What we should probably develop next are general classifications of psionic abilities, much like spells have schools. We’ll take a note from the Mystic UA here and call them disciplines. Chronos will denote our time-based abilities. Telekinetics will cover abilities that manipulate matter. Cognetics will be our mind-altering subst-I mean abilities. I’m going to include another here (mostly for my own records) called Fractures, where reality writ-large is adjusted in one way or another, sort of a catch-all for things not covered in the others.

These are just examples to spin off of, general principles to use as you generated psionic abilities. You will inevitably step on the toes of spellcasting or other abilities, that’s fine. As long as the majority of the system feels as if it’s tackling problems from a different angle, the exceptions won’t ruin the fantasy.

Speaking of the fantasy, let’s talk narrative. Mine, in particular.

Psionics in my world come from the Nightmare. They’re able to pick and choose pieces of this unreality mirroring their own, and displace one another. As they get stronger, they begin matching the divinity that spawned the Nightmare to begin with, and exercise a finer control over what gets displaced (manipulating the Nightmare itself before taking pieces of it). This process isn’t entirely conscious; the psions (Seers, on Brackas) know what effects they’ll produce, but not entirely how its done. In some sense, they guard themselves against knowing; woe to the inexperienced Seer who gazes to far into whatever window is opened by their psionics. You never know what gazes back.

Given that lovecrafty things have a very specific explanation for their existence, and have fleshed out consequences and counter-consequences for their coming into being, psions (as created in Brackas) make quite a bit of sense! That’s not the case in all settings, and if i’s not the case in yours, knead an explanation into it (perhaps by changing/advancing the world state), or don’t include it. It’ll feel weird, and forced. Probably.

Psionics vs OP Party.

I GM for what’s currently a party of five, but given what they faced and defeated in the past, you’d think they were an army of players. They are overpowered, so to speak. Now, this is by design. I homebrew my own magic items, and didn’t want to worry about whether certain things were or were not attunement, what combinations could be generated using both book items and my homebrew items, what would frustrate the players in terms of being able to use their favorite gear, etc. So, I throughout the three attunement rule, and simply let the players attuned to his many items as they wanted. I in turn scaled the difficulty curve.

This worked out well for a time; the players got extraordinarily powerful, I got to throw increasingly cooler and tougher monsters at them, and the players received (or crafted) more interesting magic items. At this point though, challenging the players is, well, proving to be a challenge! I find myself funneled into the “one giant encounter per day” strategy. The players have a number of resistances to elemental damage (I think acid’s the only exception), they have a paladin with a +5 charisma modifier in the party, Etc. On top of that, these players received a boon from a deity earlier in the campaign. Many of these players chose magic resistance, which gives them advantage on saving throws against spells or other magical effects. The aforementioned Paladin wields a holy crusader, which also grants this effect to anyone within 10 feet of him.

That’s a very long winded way of saying “My players have lots of resistances to and interrupts for my typical means of challenging them.”

Now, I’ve found another means of challenging the players that isn’t covered by this particular essay; creatures who do lots of damage dice and hit often. I don’t employ those frequently, not frequently enough anyways. But again, not covered by this essay. I need a different series of homebrew monsters/mechanics to rely on.

Enter Psionics! The other night I brought out some Kuo-Toa to attack the players (and give a nod to my first DM Matt, who established a tabletop tradition of them screaming “SACRIFIIIIIIIIIIIICE”). Now, several of these fish-men were spellcasters. One of them I made a Mystic, using the UA article as a baseline. What I found amusing was the mystic was far more terrifying, and roughly equivalent in strength to the 5 spellcasters. “Make me a dex save. This isn’t magic, by the way.”

I was greeted with scared looks all around!

Now, the Mystic class is a total mess, but it’s the sort of mess you can pick through and butcher for your own needs. In my tradition of making a Hobgoblin legion or faction for everything, here come the Seers. These Seers will take beats from my Lord of Brackas RPG version, which does a great deal to distinguish psionics and spellcasting.

I should, now thinking on it, have a simple attack available to these Seers. “Lots of psychic damage, int save for half”, should do nicely. Switching away from the “complex list of abilities to make you do stuff” should be nice, for a chance. I’ll leave that stuff to the players to enjoy.

TLDR use brain stuff against players you can’t challenge.
One of these days I’ll get better about the long winded stuff, but hey, there’ll be a follow-up post on how it went, along with examples of statblocks and abilities.

Airships, what fun!

I’ve got a Kickstarter coming up for this very thing (and of course I do), so in combination with the fact I’ve now used this mechanic in 3 campaigns, as well as my general obsession with them (and what could I possibly love more than talking about myself), it’s time to talk about Airships.

Airships are floating boats of any variety, whether they’re zeppelins, wooden ships with magic sails, floating fortresses, you get the idea. The specific form of the airships will have some relevance later, but we have to go over some basics first.

If you’re including Airships in your campaign, you should probably think of a specific reason why.

How are they made? Magic, tinkering, both? Do they need to be maintained?
Do the Airships provide transportation for people? How about cargo?
Are they common? How long do they take to build?
Are they used for military support? How about direct combat?

Any DM who drops airships into their campaign needs understand that if the players have access to them (including by means of theft), your world will suddenly expands in scope. these ships provide your players with a certain degree of freedom, particularly if they need no additional and PCs to maintain or operate the airship. I prepared for this with a map on the scale of North America. It’s not necessary by any means to do that, there’s plenty to do in any given region or country. I do find it useful, however, to have on hand when players say “we want to take a vacation somewhere else”, in addition to other benefits. Just know in advance; an airship that doesn’t need to be maintained or operated by other NPCs, or are otherwise guaranteed to operate at the parties command, will unhitch your players from locations they’d normally have to struggle to leave.

It also reduces the relative threat posed by any given entity or event whose primary danger is its proximity to the players. That’s a fancy way of saying “if it’s not a hurricane or Dragon, it’s not going to light a fire under your players by necessity.” If you, like me, enjoy watching your players freak out about whatever’s on their plate, you may need to adjust the challenges you throw at them.

Don’t turn their airship into a punishment, though. Don’t get me wrong, giving the players an airship with hit points gives the players a fail state that doesn’t involve players dying or being captured. Absolutely use that to challenge them (or, should mischief take you, a new adventure hook; your ship is gone)! Understand however, the more any given possession or ability of the players needs to be micromanaged, and the longer it takes to resolve the effects of that position or ability (particularly in combat), the more likely they are to push it to the side whenever they can. Your players want to wear tri-cornered hats and call themselves pirates, not become a spreadsheet manager. I made this mistake in my first campaign. My players had the Celestial Wyvern, the bane of the first Host War, stolen from the nation of its creation, their pride and joy. Despite its obvious benefit in combat, the amount of time it took to resolve the firing of various cannons, howitzers, swivel guns, you name it wore the party down. It still wouldn’t be too much if not for the tracking and management of ammunition, their various weights, ranges, etc. afterwards. It brought down the experience as a whole, even though certain parts were fun. I was ruining a night at a five-star restaurant with an obligatory post-meal survey. The dread of resolving the aftermath of a combat started bleeding into the combat itself, and that dread certainly didn’t make resolving the battle any easier.

I also made a custom system for sailors to gain experience and abilities as time went on, giving the players an additional sense of progression and success. When I told them their crew had leveled, they got excited! When I handed them a well written six page document on how to generate the stats for 50 crewmembers, this excitement quickly faded. The fact it made them more effective in combat only made the problem worse; they couldn’t think of an excuse not to make use of the system!

I’ve since Capt. adapted many of the features of that document into simpler, abstracted, easily resolved mass combat systems. This is Matt Colville’s mass warfare system, by the way. Any warfare system that includes a simple way to resolve upkeep will do, but Colville’s system is both sufficiently fun to manage and play and adapt for my own purposes (I’ve already created three new kinds of units within) that’s at the top of my recommendations list. I inflate the cost of “crew” units, which allows me to roll the cost of ammunition into upkeep. I’ve also incorporated the various armaments into the stats of the crew unit itself, determining its power score specifically.

Since in Colville’s system the stats of any given unit, along with certain modifiers, determine the cost of purchasing and maintaining the unit, all I had to do was apply certain modifiers to roughly incorporate the cost of ammunition. The only things the players need to purchase individually are the armaments of the ships themselves. Remember when I asked whether airships in your campaign serve to function in combat? Remember when I asked whether they participated directly? If you want to handle that in a way that’s engaging, simple, and sensible all at the same time, you need to do something similar to the formation process. Or, of course, adapt someone else’s system (or even better, you someone else’s comprehensive adaptation).

There is a reason “The Airships of Brackas” is behind a pay wall, that’s because products like it solves problems like these for the GM and allow them to jump straight into the fun.

So these are the primary lessons I’ve taken from running with airships in my campaign. If I had to boil them down, they’d be:

  • Don’t let them take too much time to adjudicate in combat. Familiarize yourself with someone else’s system (like mine), make setting adjustments, and enjoy.

  • Players like having ships because they like the freedom and expanded opportunities they bring. Not for inventory management simulator.

  • Prepare for the scope of your campaign to expand if the players gain access to one. Start making monsters that threaten characters on or with airships (like the bestiary attached to Airships of Brackas).

Sky Pirates: Campaign Diary 3 (Disaster Strikes!)

Well, it’s what it sounds like.

Not entirely sure as to how long this will be, seeing as though it was pretty straightforward overall. Before dawn, the players attempted to sneak into the desert fortification they were scouting out. They went around the right side where some lumber was piled, stood atop it, and attempted to throw grappling hook onto the wall. It did, in fact, hit the wall. It just didn’t fulfill the purpose for which it’s named, and instead serve that of a tuning fork, albeit one that was fastballed at an adobe wall. the guard on the wall, one of two, took note. He began walking to the other guard tower, connected by a walkway on top of the wall itself. Alistair wanted to distract him with a prestidigitation, mimicking some wind nearby. I had him roll performance check to see how clever he could be with this; it was another fail. The rest of the party in the meantime, hold themselves up over the wall, once Alistair used his climb speed to go up and properly hitch the grappling hook. It’s worth noting at this point, they left the grappling hook behind.

What followed was the party somewhat poorly taking cues concerning the camps general alertness. After the first guard made his way over to the Southwest guard tower, he returned with the second guard. They conversed in their own tongue, but didn’t appear to be on high alert. The party very wisely didn’t try anything risky while the pair were together. The second guard went back to his tower, and the first one stayed on the wall, leaning over the parapet. This was roughly the only section of the night that the party succeeded in not making sufficient noise to alert somebody. the party had at this point gotten to the very top of the Northeast guard tower, at which 2 of them jumped over to the roof of the administrative building, while Gloridrod stayed on overwatch.

we were joined for the first time tonight by Ellis, who joined the group some time ago but was unable to show up for the first two sessions. I had (I thought) the perfect introduction for her character, in need of rescue from this camp. I screwed up, however; I didn’t give the character an opportunity to begin doing things while her guard was still there, sleeping. She didn’t get to act at all until one hour into the session, at which point her guard was quietly drawn out of the building for some purpose (for which I still feel bad). In addition, the party literally did not venture from the administrative building or guard tower for practically the entire session, much less before combat started. Therefore, they didn’t have an opportunity to find the cell, or really anything else.

When Alistair went on to the rooftop of the administrative building, he failed his stealth check. There was a hatch that led down to the second floor of the administrative building, which Braka went down. I mentioned that he noticed movement going down the steps to the first floor right as he made his way down to the second. I mentioned he was in a kind of master bedroom/office. He made some checks to listen into the first floor, and upon doing poorly, just stuck his head down and looked around. He didn’t see anyone, so he went back up and began looting the master bedroom. He stole some official looking documents off the desk ( written in the Brestrel tongue), saw a large metal chest, and noted an empty armor and shield rack, along with an empty scabbard. He decided at this point to attempt breaking into the metal lockbox with a crowbar.

His first check succeeded, which made some noise. Alistair, Gloridrod, and the guard on the wall all heard it. The crowbar had just gotten some purchase between the lid. Braka decided to rage (giving him advantage on the check) and have another go at it. He unfortunately failed the check, and promptly made even more noise. It sounded like shaking marbles inside of a metal can, except louder. Right around this time, the two characters on the rooftop noticed a lantern being hooded and un-hooded repeatedly from the Southwest guard tower. The guard near the northeast tower saw this as well, and hurriedly went inside (though not upstairs).

this is also when Ellis had the chance for her escape. Her guard had been woken by a knock at the door, and after a brief discussion (which she could not understand), exited the building. I think Ellis is new to certain aspects of D&D, and had some confusion as to how certain spells work. I know most of the spells of fifth edition, which in addition to allowing me to help players that get them confused with other editions, lets me understand just how difficult keeping track of them can be. She used dragon’s breath to spray acid across the wall, against which she rubbed her bindings and weaken the wall simultaneously. Bruising her knuckles, she been through the last two or so inches of Adobe sitting between her and freedom. Alistair actually noticed this happening, and there would have been an opportunity to share details (one in particular I’d sent to Ellis over dms) had something not first happened.

Braka approached the barracks, hoping to look through a window. I asked him to show me exactly where on the map (we used roll20 for this session), at which point I explained he was actually pointing to a door. He wasted no time (I’d hoped to point him to the nearest window) in telling me he would peek through the door, stealthily of course. He rolled a stealth check; natural one. Braka tripped as he moved to push the door open, slamming it open to a large number of awake, fully aware, fully armored Brestrels. The jig was up, and unbeknownst to the players until now, had been for some time.

You see, armor (and in particular medium and heavy armor) take some time to put on. Whoever was in the administrative building (presumably the jackal captain) made his way to the barracks when he was alerted, carrying his equipment with him. This was opposed to catching him asleep, unarmed, wearing a tunic.while he was making his way over, the party did not spot him, meaning he had time to wake the barracks, have them quietly get ready for battle, and keep them on high alert. Around two dozen Brestrels, awake and fully armed, as opposed to sleeping and defenseless in their bunks. the captain made his way to the front of the potential recruits, and began attacking Braka. He hits, and the magical blade bypasses Braka’s typical immunity. He’s at this point raged, so he’s taking half damage, but it put the fear of God into him nonetheless. Shots are coming from the southwest guard tower; the Brestrel inside has a heavy rifle, taking a hefty chunk out of Alistair’s hit points. The other Brestrels fan out. Some had between the smaller buildings to the north west to flank, some fire crossbows at Alistair and Gloridrod before ducking back behind cover, and the other storm the Northeast guard tower.

This is essentially the worst case scenario. I heard some players mention ( not entirely unreasonably) that had a certain thing I will mention in a moment not happened, things still would’ve been relatively fine. Besides the fact that they did a poor job of resolving the various issues leading up to this situation, I don’t think it’s entirely the case. Being a lycanthrope doesn’t protect you from being thrown into a canyon, and without area of effect attacks, the Brestrels superior numbers would’ve proved challenging at the least, and deadly at the worst of the party’s poor tactical decisions. These are, of course, what if scenarios. The party attempted to focus down the captain, seeing as though he was the only one capable (to their knowledge) of harming Braka with regular attacks. Once Gloridrod dealt the ostensibly killing blow, however, it became very clear that things were not about to go in their favor.

The captain’s body changed, transformed, his gear melding into his new appearance as a young, blue Dragon.

What followed was Ellis and Gloridrod escaping over the sand dune from which the party had originally approached, Alastair throwing himself into the canyon and casting feather fall, and Braka being reduced to unconsciousness by a lightning breath, subsequently subdued and captured. It’s definitely the first low point of the campaign; but not to worry. The party is already expressed their interest in a rescue mission, and provided they can evade capture before dealing with their opponents or facing enemy reinforcements with reinforcements of their own, it should make for an exciting comeback ( or at the very least, opportunity for replacement characters).

Sky Pirates: Campaign Diary 2

We had our second session of the sky pirates campaign, a bit shorter and straightforward than the first, but just as fun nonetheless. It’d been two weeks since the previous session so we have plenty of time to discuss what was going to happen next time, giving me plenty of time to prep. The party wanted to go on a raid! They had a bigger, tougher ship, more units, they just gained a level, and they wanted to try everything out!

Just to make things easy on them I explained where a prime location for raiding was. Between Joro and Rengkir , perhaps a bit to the west, was a large concentration of Brestrel camps and resources. If the call for reinforcements went out, convoys and ships could travel in either direction. Think of it as an invasion platform. I asked whether they wanted to hide behind an advance line wafer convoy to pass by, or just take the direct approach. The players wanted blood this evening; they wanted to hit the first thing they could see.

I told them they could see a medium-size ship and a small size ship a ways off. True to form, Alistair sent his hawk familiar Zeus on over. Both ships were very lightly armed, with ballistae and muzzle loaded swivel guns. Below however, was a large military convoy. There were two significant units of archers (one of which was actually riflemen), along with several wagons (two of which had a large number of swivel guns attached). I mentioned this was atypical for a convoy.

“Given the lightly armed ships, and heavily armed convoy” they asked, “would it be reasonable to assume they’re carrying some valuable equipment?” I told him that was well within the realm of possibilities. I try to stay away from giving a straight or certain answer by and large. Obviously I don’t do this for things at the players would have good reason to be certain about, but for everything else, I always want to leave room for surprises (even if it’s the equivalent of a supply closet).

It’s the typical setup; Braka hops on the Ornithopter, which speeds him onto the small ship as he attacks the ship’s mage. Alistair and Gloridrod are commanding their forces on the major ship. This was our first time use Matt Colville’s Warfare system, and the players grokked it pretty quickly. Their boarders (a cavalry-style unit I designed) attacked the medium ship’s crew, preventing them from firing on their ships. The major threat, then, came from the archers, riflemen, and cannoneers below. The party focused down the crew of either given ship, neglected the units on the ground, at first. Alistair boarded the medium ship while Gloridrod fired on the various mages and crewmen that attempted to stop him. Braka had the attention of everyone on the small ship, as they desperately tried to stop him from killing the only men on board who could harm the raging lycanthrope.

Once the ground units were up, they fired on the ships and their units. Additionally, a mage began using Battle Magic against them, as lightning and thunder stormed around their ship. This quickly freaked out the players, and they started splitting attacks. Gloridrod wanted to ask if there was a way he could affect the units on the ground. I told him it was certainly possible, but it’d rely on his creativity and the circumstances at hand. It was right up his alley; he asked whether the cannoneers had an barrels of gunpowder or something similar around, and of course they did! He asked if he could fire on it, I told him to make an attack roll with disadvantage based on his distance from it. He still hit, and I had to come up with something on the fly. I rolled a d6, determining the number of rounds -1 it’d take for the powder to detonate, unless the unit stopped it. I rolled a 1, so the unit immediately took a casualty! Gloridrod elected to repeat this process a few times as other units focused the cannoneers down, disbanding the unit right as the medium ship’s crew was dealt with.

Once again, the split-second decision of “Let’s take the ship we just cleared!” was made, and the players retreated. I did my due-diligence as a DM and mentioned they could fire on the archers (who had less range than they) until they retreated or disbanded, allowing them to take the loot. The party elected to retreat anyway, satisfied with selling the medium ship they’d taken and not risking the fury of whatever High Mage still lurked on the ground.

They returned from the raid, sold off the medium ship, replenished their lost crew, and set about planning. the party wanted to enjoy some combat that didn’t involve mass combat (I was expecting this), and asked Arales if he could point them in the right direction. He asked them some questions about what locale they’d prefer to go dungeon delving in, what sort of target they’d hit, and directed the party to a fortification on Brestrel’s southern border. The party determined whattheir crew would be doing in the meantime, set up a rendezvous point a day’s walk from the fortification, and told the crew to meet them back in five days.

the party made it to the fortification, of which I’ll post a graphic representation below. It seemed to be a kind of training/recruitment camp for the Jackal Legion, and the party spotted one representative of the Jackal Legion directing training. What happened next, happened last night, in the third session.

The training camp.

The training camp.

Campaign Diary: Sky Pirates 1

We finally had our first session of the online campaign two Sundays ago, and man was it a blast. We played for six hours, and virtually none of it was introductory work. All of what we might call session 0 was taken care of in the discord chat. This, for the record, was convenient as could be imagined. We essentially just jumped straight into the game!

First off, I explained the plight of Alistair Black and Gloridrod, the captain and chief gunner/quartermaster of a pirate gang, respectively. While on the border of Brestrel (which some of you may remember is the nation of the hobgoblins in my setting), a supernaturally sudden and powerful storm appeared, threw them off course, crashed their ship, and left the survivors in an unknown locale. The pair had their remaining 20 crew members pillage the wreckage for any supplies they could salvage, and began to head off in a random direction. I explained the ongoing downpour (along with this happening at night) was covering any visual indications of where the crash happened. They got the message; if they wanted any chance encounters with friend or foe alike to occur on their terms, they’d need to act fast.

I had them roll perception checks; they managed to spot a light off in the darkness, past the foliage and rain. Hardly difficult to see, given their surroundings, but they need to get closer to glean any more details. They instruct the crew to stay behind as they creep up, and see two hobgoblins next to a horse-drawn cart, apparently stuck. Some clever RP gave Alistair and Gloridrod a surprise round, and during the brief combat, the cart’s contents are revealed as the final PC, Braka Whitefang, is revealed as he uses his manacles to restrain a guard that got too close to his cage. A brief interrogation of the guard and Braka reveals a resupply airbase down the road, and Braka to be a friendly addition to the party. They collect the crew, and make their way down.

It’s still thundering outside, but the rain is ever so slightly lessening, and there’s a bit of ambient light. I explained the configuration of the base. To the south is an obvious guard tower, and a similar (but not identical) tower lies opposite of it on the northern end of the camp. To the east is a single story barracks. To the west is a pole barn of immense size, with large sliding doors on the side they can see. Smack in the middle of the camp is a don jon or administrative building. There were two patrols of guards, moving in a clockwise fashion but in irregular intervals (trying to take shelter from the heavy rain). The players discuss possible approaches for a little while, spending enough time I saw fit to change the state of the camp. I informed them a single deck medium-size ship and a small ornithopter pulled to the side of the pole barn they couldn’t see, and they spotted a small troop of soldiers run out to the double doors they could see. After a minute, they exited with another 40 soldiers.

It had the effect I was hoping for; the players immediately sprung into action. Alistair and Gloridrod would take care of the guard tower, while Braka and the crew would head to the far west side of the base to secure an airship. Here I switched back and forth before the characters, preemptively having them roll initiative. Braka successfully stealthed along with the crew to the west side, while Alistair approached and nearly detonated a trap on the door of the guard tower. They instead elected to climb, and disposed of the two watchers within (nearly alerting the entire camp in the process).

In the meantime, Braka assaulted the two guards who’d made their way to the west end of the (now identified) hangar. One of the guards actually managed to escape around the corner of the hanger. Gloridrod, the Warforged Artificer, was already lying in wait, as Braka had only attacked on Alistair’s signal. He took the shot, killing the guard. At this point, there’d been sufficient motion to warrant the other patrol approaching the guard tower. This resulted in a somewhat louder battle ( firearms are of course a feature in my campaign), in which Gloridrod fired a revolver. The party quickly regrouped, pillaged the hangar, set an explosive trap, and fled just as a daylight spell was cast over the administrative building. The party flew away on a hobgoblin-pattern medium ship and a gnome/hobgoblin pattern small ornithopter as the hangar burned behind them. Don’t worry if those terms sound confusing, you may well get an explanation of them at some point. Not now though, we’ve a story to tell!

Alistair at this point received a sending to head north from an unknown voice, promising him safety. He kept this from the party, but acceeded, and began their trek northwards. They reached the poorly-defined normal border, whereupon two combat skiffs began moving parallel towards them, each poised reach either side of the medium-sized ship. The players debated what to do, and after clarifying that diplomacy was probably not an option for hostiles behind enemy lines like themselves, the party began combat. Through clever maneuvering and use of the ornithopter, they kept fire off the main ship while focusing down one of the skiffs. The failing skiff attempted to flee while the relatively undamaged one covered its escape. The ornithopter flew past the defending skiff, however, and dealt the final blow, sending many Brestrel soldiers to their doom. The two ships then focused down the remaining skiff, which quickly met the fate of its companion ship.

The players first impulse was to loot the crashed ships, and sent down the medium-size ship to carry out the task. They wisely left the ornithopter in the air; Alistair noticed six combat skiffs and a dreadnought heading in their direction. He quickly signaled to the crew below, and they hightailed it north. After about three days, they came across an unidentified outpost. The players (wisely) pulled down the Brestrel colors they were flying on approach, and to skiffs approach them from behind to board. After brief introductions, the players were greeted and welcomed into the outpost, at which they landed.

They met a high mage named Arales upon landing. He congratulated the group on their daring escape, and offered them a deal. The outpost was well defended, but couldn’t proactively engage in assaults or remove threats preemptively without exposing themselves to danger. He suggested the party build a fleet to ferry their beanbag-sized balls around, and in exchange for harassing Brestrel forces and bringing back pillaged goods, they’d receive certain discounts from shipwrights and a safe place to stay. The party gleefully accepted, and spent some time carousing around town.

Before heading out, they wanted to visit the end and see if anything special was going on. I mentioned that’s were being placed on which of two hunters would slay a local drake first. The players sized them up as the two taunted one another and bragged. The first Hunter wielded a greataxe, and clearly had the brawn to move it around as easily as he would a knife and fork. The second Hunter had a crossbow, and the players managed to notice his bolts were covered in poison. Braka Whitefang, the were-tiger Barbarian, decided to take on the contract himself, and Alistair put some gold down on him.

They set out the next day; both Braka and the axe-wielding hunter failed their checks to track. They had no clues as to the Drake’s location until roars and the sound of battle reached their ears. Braka took the opportunity to shift into the form of a tiger, quickly outpacing the first hunter. He arrived to see the wounded drake attempting to pin the crossbow-wielding hunter. Braka leaped into the fray, claws and teeth raking and puncturing the draconic serpent’s hide. The crossbowman took the opportunity to take more shots at the creature, while the drake vomited acid upon Braka. The fight was extremely close; had Braka taken another round, the crossbowman would’ve gotten the killing blow. Luck was on his side, however, and he ripped the creature’s heart out.

Brutal.

I gotta hand it to the players, each time one of them does something on their own, they’re all respectful, patient, and engaged besides.

The players reconvened at the tavern, and debated on their next course of action. The first craft they built with the outpost’s shipwrights would have a hefty discount, and so it was decided they would gain more assets before having their ship built. “What better way to get more funds”, they asked themselves, “than privateering?”

I explained to them the situation of Brestrel’s advance line and border, the difference between the two, and what their characters would recognize as soft targets, more risky but potentially lucrative enemy units, etc. The crew decided to land and hide their ship behind the advance line of Brestrel, waiting for potential targets to ambush. A few passed by, but nothing particularly enticing; until a huge ship with a small escort was spotted. Alistair’s a bit of an odd mix on class features; he’s got two levels in fighter, one level in rogue, and the Magic Initiate Feat. Pretty cool character build! He’s got a Familiar from the feat, (a hawk if I recall), which he sends over to the Brestrel ships. Looking through its eyes, he sees supplies being loaded onto the smaller ship. As the hawk flies further, he can see the pair of ships actually lie between the party and a camp of Brestrel soldiers. By the time the hawk returns, the small ship departs from the larger of the two, towards the camp.

Here, the party puts their plan into motion. They hoped to use a flare to lure a ship in, but hadn’t come across any travelling alone. They expected the smaller ship would close in. On the spot, they decided they’d engage, pillage the small ship, and hightail it out of there before the huge ship came over.

Not quite how it went down. See, the small ship was already en-route to the camp, and was heavily burdened with cargo besides. The huge ship, being more heavily armed and prepared to assist smaller ships under attack, began lumbering on over. The ornithopter, holding Braka and Alistair (along with a few other crew), had be stationed in a different location, and a bit after seeing the flare fired, the huge ship passed over them.

Here’s where the action started; Gloridrod wasn’t about to give the larger, better equipped ship the first shot. As soon as they were in range, he ordered their crew to fire. The Brestrel ship, not expecting a distress call to immediately turn to combat, was surprised. All of the men they’d armed began taking position, and it was time for battle. The ornithopter was speeding up behind the Brestrel ship, and anyone on the ship was too scrambled to do anything that round. It’s worth noting as well that the Brestrel crew was understaffed, as many of their men went down to the Brestrel camp. Braka and Alistair swung down to the ship’s helm to fight while Gloridrod directed the crew.

Initiative was rolled; the players and the single enemies went first, then the various crews went (and there were some interactions between the two). The Brestrel ship’s weapons were powerful, leading Gloridrod have his crew focus the enemy weapons. Now, ship armaments are not made to target individual people. Howitzers make for poor marksmanship, unless fired against structures (or creatures of similar size, spoilers). What the party’s crew does succeed in doing is damaging the panels and deck near the Brestrel ship’s weapons. Combined with some clever target practice, the enemy ship’s siege howitzer fell into the second deck before it could be fired. Meanwhile, Braka flexed his abilities as a lycanthrope; being immune to nonmagical or non-silvered weapons, he let the Brestrels crowd around him, giving Alistair time to focus down the ship’s mage. It worked (mostly)! The mage did manage to pop off a Lightning Bolt before they could take her out, and to 3rd level characters? That’s a lot of damage (editors note: this blog is not sponsored by Flex Tape ).

The bridge was cleared out, and I informed the players that the rest of the crew would be attempting to re-take it. My question to them; how was Alistair going to survive, seeing as though Braka couldn’t take damage from them (not their weapons, anyways; I had another plan for that). Alistair literally tied a rope to the back railing and clung for deal life to the back of the ship as 40 of the crew bull rushed Braka. They overwhelmed him, pinning him to the deck; I had him make strength checks (easy enough, raging barabarian) to keep them from literally tossing him off of the ship. We’d already had a brief discussion earlier on “Is falling damage Bludgeoning damage? Because I’m immune to that.” He knew quite well being thrown off a ship 300 feet up would result in his death (always a way to challenge your players, no matter the circumstance). Gloridrod in the meantime had the crew fire down on the mass of Brestrels crowded around Braka, luckily not needing to worry about friendly fire.

With the enemy crew dead and a good reason to split, the party had a new idea; why not take the entire ship back to trade in? So they did!

We spent the last part of the session going over how we’d track ammo for the crew’s weapons (spoiler, it’d be rolled into the crew’s upkeep) and the design of the new ship/stronghold that’d be built for them; The Hurricane.

Our next session is literally tonight right after my buddy Caleb’s game and we’re adding a new player; I can’t wait!

Sensory disabilities in D&D

There was a tweetstorm a few days past concerning someone very upset with a conversation in “the facebook 5e group”, centered around deaf characters. I’m in a few 5e groups myself (most of them quite small), but I’m guessing they’re referring to the generic big 5e group. I’m not actually in that group, so I don’t have the original post on hand. Not terribly important, but hey, backstory. If anything, consider this a caveat for anything concerning this woman’s tweets; I don’t have the full context. Take that as you will.

Here are the tweets:

Oof.

Oof.

I can’t really help but comment on the attitude here. “Something I argue that can only benefit a table, party and gameplay!” One instance in which a deaf or otherwise disabled character negatively impacts the game comes to mind almost immediately; when it becomes an annoying distraction from rolling dice and killing orcs, in groups who like rolling dice and killing orcs. You don’t get to play the “Sympathize with what I think is fun, you couldn’t possibly have any other style of play at your table” game.

It totally flies in the face of the game’s social contract. Other people have tastes, preferences, whatever have you that differ from yours. Spending 4 hours trying to resolve basic communication between two players might appeal to some people out there. Go find them; leave other people the hell alone, unless they show an interest. It’s not too difficult to imagine why someone would think “Can someone invent a spell/potion/item to fix this person?” after yet another stealth segment ruined by a communication failure between teammates.

All that being said, I didn’t want to write this just to rag on some stuck up snob informing everyone else what “Real fun is”, and ironically getting upset with people for not sharing her tastes (whether that’s an accurate picture of the aforementioned or not). There’s a more interesting point to discuss here.

There isn’t much to reiterate on the point of disabilities hindering player characters, and that hindrance proving annoying to other players at the table. There would be problems if Master Chief’s legs stopped functioning every 10 seconds in-game, everyone gets it.

A given disability doesn’t always have to appear as-is in game, however. Certain issues can be adjusted for, like cripples having animal companions that double as mounts. What about disabilities like blindness? How do you “compensate” for something so objectively debilitating? The answer lies in how we approach the problem; specifically, a scientific solution versus a fantastical compensation.

The Witcher 3’s Phillipa Eilheart was a blind(ed) sorceress who attempted to regrow her eyes. She specifically attempted to grow the tissue on stones that served as a focus for the experiment, and wore an enchanted headband that assisted her in navigating the environment in the meantime. This is a scientific solution to a disability; negating the effects of the disability through whatever applied study exists in that world (yeah, that includes magic). The disability functions much like it would in real life. The character simply restores whatever bodily function the disability impedes, generally using things we don’t have access to in real life. There isn’t a functional difference between Eilheart’s enchanted headband and Tleilaxu eyes, only the narrative in which they’re found.

On the other hand, you have Toc the Younger, whose first appearance is made in Gardens of the Moon, of Steve Erikson’s Book of the Fallen series. Toc’s unfortunate affliction is quite the eyesore (I’m so terribly sorry). During a major battle earlier in the book, a chunk of burning rock slammed into his face, destroying one of his eyes. Besides the obvious detriments Toc, an archer, struggled a great deal in battle afterwards due to his lack of depth perception. Quite awful, isn’t it? Wondering if a healer of High Denul could fix it? Not so fast; Erikson has made a fantastical addition to Toc’s state of being. Our One-Eyed King of archers receives premonitions and visions from his missing eye, briefly alluded to as a common superstition concerning the blind in previous passages. This is a common theme in a great number of works, extending well beyond books. The Divine Tomes of Dark Souls 3 are written in Braille, and their descriptions mention great faith being placed in the words of blind church figures.

The fantastical addition is a compensating factor where disabilities are concerned. A blind character receives premonitions, as previously mentioned (and perhaps receives some manner of blindsight). A deaf character hears the voices of the dead. There are any number of ways to add a supernatural quality to a disabled character that are perfectly in-genre, and if pitched to (rather than demanding acceptance of) a D&D group, could be very appealing indeed.

List for the week (JAN 21)

We’ve got a lot on our plates folks.

  • First session recap for the Sky Pirates campaign (video and blog post)

  • Mechanazium Graphics

  • Mechanazium Special Edition Hardcover

  • Roll 20 asset design (airships)

  • Airship Models (Triton Ornithopter’s at the top of the list)

  • Blog post on sensory disabilities in D&D

  • Record a short excerpt from Eyes of the Forest

Having a kind of public calendar is convenient, I think.

Kickstarters, back-to-back (The Mechanazium)!

It’s Saturday morning (it’s two in the afternoon, but that’s morning for me) as I type this, and boy was yesterday a busy day. I closed my first kick starter, considering the project finally complete, and opened my next kick starter all in the same evening. The messages I’m getting back from backers about the alchemist class have all been very positive, and many of them have informed me that they intend to support this next project of mine!

And what is this next project of mine? It’s a 10 level mega dungeon, overflowing with original, professionally designed content from yours truly. The kick starter will run for 40 days, and it’s currently sitting at 2.5% funding, which is about what I need per day. I’ve secured some advertising space on the Dungeoncast, so likely to get a nice boost when those ads air as well.

I immediately had regrets about setting the funding goal so high; $10,000 is a lot of money for this kind of project, even when you consider on the one running it and producing content for it. I’ve now had the chance to sleep on it, and those feelings aren’t bothering me so much anymore. The circumstances of the situation haven’t changed in any way, mind you (other than perhaps starting out with more funding than I initially expected). I’ve simply knowledge that failure is a distinct possibility, will always be a distinct possibility, and that I’m bound to run into it at some point. No successful person has experienced otherwise.

So, Cheers to a successful, satisfying first kick starter, and Cheers to whatever learning experience I get from this next project (and hopefully, money)!

You can find my current kick starter here; The Mechanazium Part 1: A Megadungeon Adventure for 5e.

If you missed out on my last Kickstarter (the Alchemist Class), no worries! You can access it by subscribing to my Patreon.

Preparing to run an online campaign

I mentioned running an online campaign for some of the folks in the D&D Critposting discord, and got a pretty positive response off the bat. It looks like I’ll have four players, and we recently started going over expectations for the campaign in a discord of my own. The pitch was this; the players will be on an airship, where they go hopping from location to location to raid Brestrel. it’s simple enough as a premise goes, manageable for me running an online game for the first time, and generally appealing to players looking to kick down the door and kill stuff.

The players, having agreed to this, immediately started running over different things they could do in the campaign. I asked if they were more focused on RP, focused on big and flashy combats, one to check out strongholds and have an impact on the world around them, etc. I wasn’t expecting them to building a pirate fleet, building strongholds in the cool abilities they get from them, and other shenanigans they were hoping to get into during the course of the campaign. I very much love the group of players I’m currently running the game for; I enjoy hanging out with them. My natural inclinations as the DM however don’t really accord with their tastes insofar as playing a campaign goes (or, they’re only showing up to be polite in the first place). They’re very passive, and it always seems like I have to pull teeth For them to tell me what it is they’re doing next. This campaign is a lot more spoonfed compared to my previous one; I was hoping to provide a sense of direction to players while giving them the chance to engage the world full of cool loot and dangerous monsters on their own terms.

I never got an answer as to what the players were hoping to tackle next until the day before the next session. The only exception was this; when pestering players yet again and the group chat, when I reminded them we were playing tomorrow someone will have a sudden unavailability. It was then that I found out we’d actually be playing that night, and even then hours I could’ve spent prepping for spent waiting for players to let me know what they were doing. I had rattled off a very long list of things the players could be doing, could’ve discovered they could’ve been doing had they asked. The players actually picked one of those things, and I began prepping for the next session.

Things are better now; I tossed a small handout in the chat describing the place to be going to next, and immediately started working on a dungeon. They spent the entirety of the last session in that dungeon, and it’s still not over yet! I self indulgently sprinkled some lore blurbs into a puzzle solution, which immediately got the players thinking. All in all, it’s actually going pretty well! I’d say this very last stretch of the campaign will close in a satisfying fashion.

That was still about five or six months of somewhat unpleasant DM work. I’ve enjoyed just about every session we’ve had, for the record. It’s just that the things going on behind the screen suffered for the reasons explained above. I’m happy I learned the lesson; my next kick starter is going to be for a mega dungeon adventure, and finally getting through my thick skull that different types of players have different tastes will assist that product design.

Anyways, back to the online campaign!

I pitched the campaign to them; jump around on airships from location to location, wrecking the enemy’s shit and collecting loot along the way. This sort of campaign would allow me to draw up more isolated encounters and dungeons, placing them as I wished without having to do a ton of prep work. That last bit is a lie, I force prep work on myself. Can’t help it. “This airship system isn’t good enough, time to change it.”

Ugh.

The players seemed pretty excited, so I began informing them of the world, doing a setting writeup, etc. I asked what they were looking to get out of the campaign; if what the OSR guys are saying is (half) true, there’s a greater diversity of playstyles nowadays. I asked if they were looking for storygaming, epic combats, having an impact on the world around them, etc. I also asked if customizing their ship was a part of the game they wanted to interact with. Look at me, figuring these things out ahead of time. This excited them; I set about writing up a second iteration of my airship rules, complete with patterns (styles of crafting the airships, conveying different bonuses on them), templates (special kinds of ships like ornithopters), etc. They were really excited by it! So excited, that they immediately set about planning a keep, pirate fleet, and eventual city-state.

These are the types of players I am naturally inclined towards. “We want to make a dent in the world.” Fuck yeah! They glommed onto the setting detail, had some requests of their own that we worked through, etc. I think this is going to turn out really well. First session is tomorrow; I’m excited!

The "Mercer Effect"

There’s a reddit post floating around, written by a frustrated DM trying to deal with poor player expectations. These players absolutely love Critical Role. They constantly make reference to it in the group chat, they speak the dread incantation of “Matt does this thing this way”, etc. Matt Mercer himself actually responded to the comment, offering a pretty heartfelt response, tips on managing player expectations, and encouragement on maintaining your frame (great term from the manosphere) as a game master. I read this, then noticed Bleeding Fool (quality site btw) published an article as a…response? Solution? Not sure. Let’s go with “commentary”, to be charitable.

The author would like you to know that he’s rolling his eyes at Matt’s response, that there are things Matt just doesn’t get, doesn’t understand! Oh, our author is happy people are going out and buying the books, don’t get them wrong. There’s an issue with new people coming to the game; they have expectations, I’m told. They think everything is going to be like what they saw in last week’s episode of Critical Role! They’re not going to bother to read the campaign handouts, they’re going to brush you off and get upset when the blasphemous incantation of “you can’t do that” defiles their corporeal form.

Surely the end is upon us all.

The first dungeon Master I ever had (also named Matt, seems to be a lot of fantastic DMs named Matt) began his first game because of critical role. It was a huge inspiration to him, despite the fact his games were vastly different in style. Not only that, he turned us on to Critical Role as well! Our group really enjoyed the first season. We would talk about it often before, during, or after playing the game ourselves. In fact, we’d occasionally tease Matt with the quip “well Mercer does it this way”. The reason we all laughed in the first place was we understood it would be silly to expect the game to be identical to what we saw on Critical Role. It would be completely absurd to expect our DM to have a world as interesting and detailed as Exandria (though as far as I’m concerned, my friend Matt met and exceeded that goal), just as it would be silly of him to expect quality voice acting of us.

Now, apparently our author can manage the situation. He recommends we advertise our expectations as dungeon Masters to the people we are actually playing with. Then, if we find our players amicable enough, We should try to meet their expectations halfway. Players who have difficulty with this midsession should be spoken to in a respectful, but firm manner, so as to not further embarrass anyone or cause any kind of other disruption at the table.

This to me sounds eerily familiar! Almost as if Matt had mentioned doing exactly that in the reddit comment our author quoted.

Less eye rolling, Vince. More reading.

One last thing I wanted to point out is this bit on expectations. All new players, irrespective of whatever their knowledge of RPGs are, have expectations. Every single one of them. Some might be more subtle than others, may differ in focus (npc interaction vs combat), etc. All players come to the table with an idea, expressed or otherwise, of how things are going to go and how fun it would be. Those expectations may crumble during the first 5 minutes of play, or even before that reading your world doc (if you have such a thing). In any case, you will always need to explain what it is the game is about, and your expectations for player behavior. Critical Role didn’t cause this. It may have turned expectations into slightly less subtle expressions of what the players want out of the game, sure. That’s the reason for this discussion in the first place! Nevertheless Critical Role isn’t responsible, and given the vast interconnected networks of players, dungeon masters, designers, and everyone inbetween on social media? It seems silly to regard players having a more similar, vocal expectations of the game as some massive negative compared to the fact we can crowdsource the solution to these issues in part thanks to productions like Critical Role publicizing the hobby.

The "Draw 4" Solution (little victories)

In game design there’s something called a “death spiral”. You’ve probably heard of it. If you haven’t ( or even if you have), The description typically goes something like this: player one begins to win. Player two begins to lose. Then, the rate at which player one begins Wenning seems to accelerate. For whatever reason, his edge or lead over his opponent is steadily growing. Player two on the other hand is obviously losing, but the key here is this; there are little to no options for player two to reverse the situation.

This is a particularly common experience in RTS games. If you’re playing against the AI, you’ve probably at some point thought “I’ve won, the computer just doesn’t know it yet. Time to go through the motions, there’s literally no way for the computer to turn this around.” You’ve unlocked all of the in game research and abilities, your fleet or troops or at max capacity, and you have to sit through another hour of gameplay wishing that there was a 32x speed because the AI isn’t smart enough to concede (or maybe it is, and it decided to filibuster your victory out of spite). On the other hand, you’ve doubtless quit a game or even deleted a save file because you determined there was no coming back from whatever defeat you had already suffered, even if they were early in the game’s progress. Maybe especially if they were early in the game’s progress.

Personally, I don’t view it as a gratifying experience.

Now I don’t have a solution for RTS games as far as this problem is concerned. But I know that other games have solved this issue, and I find the solution relevant to some of the irons I have in the fire. The drive to write this was stoked if you will by a conversation I recently listened to about Hearthstone (though the conversation did not recently take place). Card games are apparently relatively easy to create, needing little more than two or three programmers to handle UI and the actual player interaction, a ton of art from whoever you can get it, and the role of Yours truly, a designer to handle the mechanics. Consider this a public invitation to DM me if you have interest in such a project.

Ah, but there was a complaint about Hearthstone in this discussion. About a death spiral, no less! There was no cleverness to winning; the game was dependent on how strong the cards were, and whether the other player had encountered them before. There were no interrupts; things for you to do when it wasn’t your turn. This kept the game fast paced (good) but without any other cards to fill this role on the player’s turn, there was nothing to use as a “counter” (bad).

Now, obviously a “counter” isn’t limited to things that interrupt the player on their turn. A counter is simply something that hinders the opponents in their objective. Ever play Uno?
Yeah, you know where I’m going with this. The Draw 4 card! Your goal is to ditch all of your cards in the pile, you’re down to your last 2 cards and your opponent has 8, suddenly BOOM, you have to draw 4 cards. There’s been a reversal in the trend, victory suddenly becomes less certain. Even if you do end up winning the game, there’s an element of satisfaction for the other player.. The game was a war they lost, but they got the joy of winning a battle; they had a little victory.

You can craft a “little victory” condition simply by introducing (in this case a card) an asset the player can deploy to hinder the opponent. Real strategy enters when these assets have 2 or 3 layers of counters that can be deployed.

This essay’s been in the backlog for a few weeks, it got pushed off with the lead-up to the kickstarter.

Describing the indescribable

There is a description of the far realms inside the 5E PHB, or maybe it’s the dungeon Master’s guide. The description follows through for pretty much all descriptive text sections that have to deal with anything Lovecraft related. It goes something like this:

It’s incomprehensible! Your mind literally can’t comprehend it. It’s too alien, too insane, doesn’t abide by the laws of this reality. Your mortal mind can’t handle it.

Boring, isn’t it? It tells you literally nothing about what it is that you’re seeing, experiencing, what the aftershock of such a sight might be.. It’s completely useless. It reminds me of a recent digressions and dragons episode.

You see a creature the likes of which you have never seen before, which is just perfect as descriptions go. Do I know how many limbs it has? Are any of them sharp? “You encounter a creature the likes of which I have not bothered to write down a description.”

I understand the natural inclination to leave something at “your mind can’t comprehend it.” However, as storytellers, we are charged with inventing depictions of the experience, and at this point even ending the story with a simple, fact of the matter “your mind can’t comprehend it” is no longer enough. Sure, we can say constructs of insanity and realms that lie beyond the constraints of our natural laws are beyond our means to explain. Fine! We are not here to artlessly explain how everything functions in a scientific context ( particularly not in the fantasy genre). What we can manage are the aesthetic or linguistic representations of things that lie beyond our full comprehension.

Consider the following:

The light around you is blue, refracted. Something like the surface of the ocean when viewed from beneath lies too the left, then your right, then above you, then moving again. The source of the light is clearly behind it, but looks red despite the soft blue rays it casts.

Or this one:

A gray, tattered landscape lies before you, roiling like a flag, moved by a nonexistent wind. The very horizon shifts in ripples, bending the ground up, up, up until it crests over your head – a quick glance South reveals it to have never moved at all. A quick glance North shows the horizon did indeed crest over you, wrapping ‘round to diminish the sky to a thin line, and the ground 100 miles away lies only a few hundred feet above your head. Looking North again, you can see it never moved at all.

I’m no Lovecraft but, not bad, right? It’s a start, at the very least. Paradoxes are things we characterize as being logically incoherent. Who cares about the explanation? In a moment of madness, the struggle to reconcile the incomprehensible with reality, the description of such an experience is what counts. I be willing to bet there’s a value to doing this inside a game like Dungeons & Dragons. Your players sitting across the table from you, in touch with reality.

Through a clever use of language, I believe we can ever so slightly nudge the player into the shoes of their character as they experience something horrific, or simply inexplicable. They are already engaged in the act of imagination; take advantage of that! Don’t be afraid to invent paradoxes and play with the incomprehensible; with any luck, the group activity this will create a feedback loop as nervous eyes look back to one another in confusion.

DOA: Runescribe

TLDR; the Runescribe was designed to fail.

I’ve only ever played 5th Edition D&D, but I love taking monsters, abilities, feats, spells, whatever have you from earlier editions, and usually that means 3rd and 3.5 (I rarely know which is which when I’m flipping through a supplement).

Back when I was playing my first campaign, the Runescribe came out.

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Pretty interesting concept, right? It was to me, a natural fan of Multiclassing who was at that point getting familiar with the downsides of that aspect of the game. I figured something ostensibly designed to help you explore A character concept within Multiclassing would smooth out some of the issues that was previously having with it. I never actually got to play the rune scribe, the concept stuck with me for quite some time. I never really understood why WOTC didn’t revisit the concept in 5th edition.

I began designing some prestige classes of my own, sticking to what I figured was the formula of the prestige class presented. The principles of design were simple:

  1. Where core classes are generalized, and subclasses slightly less so, prestige classes should explore very specific concepts ( people who use shadow magic, mounted combatants, etc.).

  2. Prestige classes should be mechanically dense. Ribbons should be rare, and only ever presented in addition to useful mechanics. Just about each level should provide the player with some new ability, whether active or passive.

  3. Prestige classes should retain some of the limitations that were in mind when Multiclassing was designed. This manifested as setting a lower limit for when the prestige class could be accessed (level 5), and not including any ability score improvements.

I started setting up some polls, surveys, etc. If I wanted this thing to survive play testing, and eventually public release, I needed to know exactly why people disliked prestige classes in earlier editions. I received quite a few preemptive attacks and criticisms. “Why are you doing this, we already have subclasses! Don’t you know subclasses were introduced to replace prestige classes?”

Thank you, NPC! It never occurred to me to research the thing I was designing.

On the other hand, a quite a few people who were excited at the prospect of someone other than WOTC taking a stab at this. I suspect it was were very specific reason; I asked them what they hated most about prestige classes! Genius, I know. The response was nearly universal; “We hate the stupid prerequisites. We hate having to plan out a checklist from levels 1 to 17 just to make sure we can actually use the prestige class.” There were of course other complaints, but they were usually attached to this one.

I went on my way designing, doing quite a bit of play testing with my long-suffering friends at the table. I think it was a few months after I had started my page that Mike Mearls, Matt Colville, Matt Mercer, and Adam Koebel sat down for a chat about the design of the game. They did another one a few weeks later, but that’s besides the point. In one of these chats, the subject of the rune scribe was brought up. Mike shed a bit of light on the prestige class’s failure to become an official product.

Unearthed Arcana materials have a reasonably high bar to be considered for a future product. If I’m correct the threshold hasn’t changed, but nevertheless at the time of the rune scribe’s release, 70% of the follow-up surveys needed to be positive. Obviously it didn’t meet the threshold (this being something like two years after its release), but what I didn’t know was the exact ratio.

The rune scribe had a positive feedback rate of only 30%, also revealed by Mike to be the most unpopular Unearthed Arcana article released to date. 30%! How could it possibly be so low? Take another look at the Runescribe:

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See that little section there? Prerequisites! Now, the normal D&D multiclassing rules include prerequisites. Nothing wrong with ‘em; it makes sense that stupid characters can’t take levels in wizard. Fine! We see two such requirements in the rune scribe. We also see the level requirement. Great balance tool for prestige classes! I can compare these abilities to 6+ level abilities, get away with front-loading, etc. There’s a problem; “Complete a special task”. I don’t mind if you and the DM come together when discussing a character and suss out exactly how or why he’s branching out mechanically. I don’t think anyone does; the issue comes in when weird pre-reqs like this get in the way of play, especially when they’re so stupidly designed. Can’t advance in the class without access to a specific NPC? Pardon the french, but fuck that.

So why include it? I have a suspicion; WOTC never wanted prestige classes to be a part of 5e. It’s not like they don’t have their uses. Having now designed several, I can say there are many concepts not served by multiclassing, but too specific to spread out over a 5e sublcass. Even those that could be spread out over a subclass would be better served in a dense, balanced prestige class. I can also say based on the aforementioned qualities, it’s a great template for more narrative focused deviations in the mechanics of a character.

So why wouldn’t they carry it forward? Well, based on the reactions and information I was collecting, WOTC’s prestige classes made a piss-poor impression on their ability to design class deviations. That was rectified with Archetypes and other names for subclasses, but prestige classes still leave a poor taste in the general player body’s mouth. People’s general inability to properly justify their gut reactions is rightly feared; feedback that goes beyond “I don’t like it” becomes increasingly suspect as the length of the complaint goes on. There can still be a justified complaint with the product at hand, but the longer the word count, the greater the chance the author made some glaring error in his complaint (which allows bad developers to dismiss it entirely).

Would you want to re-introduce a mechanic that your player base had no confidence in your ability to design properly (or rejected it as replaceable on the whole) in that kind of market?

I might well self-sabotage the product when I previewed it, and while I’m certain they’d never admit it publicly, I suspect the designers of D&D feel the same way.

This is all assuming the devs have some sort of competence when recognizing their player base’s satisfaction, and would certainly never tease a product touting an almost universally reviled feature.
No, never.

Some thoughts on character specialization

I might’ve lied. Technically this is a post on character specialization. However it’s primarily me ranting and raving and generally putting down other people’s thoughts on the subject using allegories and analogies that I have an emotional attachment to. Maybe you’re thinking hey, isn’t that what he always does?

You’d be correct.

I’ve been working on the Rebuilt Ranger recently, squeezing original abilities and spells out of my head like a pressed orange to what’s essentially the husk of the revised ranger Wizards Of The Coast released. There’s something of a shibboleth floating around the ranger class, a preprogrammed response to that afterthought-design cobbled mess. Everyone likes to talk about the Beast Master, and while I of course agree that it’s so miserably designed I practically hope WOTC never attempts a redesign of that particular subclass, I don’t like focusing on it! Poorly designed subclasses can still hold themselves together provided their built on the foundation of inappropriately design class. Likewise, a spectacularly designed subclass can elevate a poorly designed class (as unlikely as that particular combination is) so as to conceal some of core class’s flaws. For this reason, I focus on the Hunter. A subclass of impressive design, clearly focused on martial prowess with a host of well-designed abilities to complement a number of play styles. Unfortunately, the ranger still sucks. The Hunter would be even more fun to play or attach to a class that wasn’t half-baked.

That’s a standard intro I give to any conversation, post, or general essay on the ranger. Here though, I want to drill down on a specific debate on design within 5E. When is it appropriate to attach specialized class features? How specialized is too specialized? Do benefits against specific kinds of creatures take away from the fun of fighting anything else? That last one (aside from the fact I practically open this talking about the ranger) probably gave it away. I’m told what is ostensibly a core feature of the Ranger, favored enemy, can’t possibly do anything useful within the context of the game ( especially not combat). after all, if you’re especially good at dealing with a specific kind of enemy in combat, you’ll feel bad at fighting just about anybody else! How does the rest of the game feel about this? Ah yes, the forbidden question. Are there any other class features in the game that adhere to this apparently unshakable principle? Both the cleric and paladin have bonuses against particular enemies. The cleric has access to destroy undead, which functions as turn undead to any other living creature not immediately vaporized by it. Interestingly enough this is a channel divinity feature; every single cleric archetype comes with its own channel divinity feature. You can use that channel divinity as opposed to turn undead. How about the paladin? When he uses his divine smite feature (adds a bit of holy judgment to a weapon attack the paladin makes), The unfortunate creature takes additional damage if it is a fiend or undead. Not bad at all. What do both of these features have in common? They are not the end-all be-all of the class. In the cleric’s case, turn undead isn’t the only way to use his channel divinity feature. The paladin on the other hand, can apply divine smite to any creature, and simply gains an additional benefit if the creature is of a specific type.

No one really complains about not being able to fight undead in the case of the cleric, or both undead and fiends in the case of the Paladin. Their class features are satisfying enough on their own that fighting these enemies makes them especially useful: not simply useful. There is a difference. To further illustrate the point, imagine if you will that these holy warriors and men of the cloth had no special abilities or features to bring to bear against unholy terrors of the night? It might seem a little strange. Let’s suppose further that we spent several hundred words as a description of a supposedly core class feature describing how good these classes were at attacking these particular creatures. It would feel like a sham; you would wonder why it was there in the first place! The class itself might well mathematically check out in terms of its utility or skill in combat, but this obviously terrible design choice would leave you feeling underwhelming.

I think we can all see well enough that specialization enhances the specifically narrative elements ( how you think about your character and how it’s perceived by others) even if its only technical application is in combat. I sincerely apologize to all the people who think that storytelling and mechanics are completely divorced from one another, who will only read this apology after recovering from what was surely a solid five minutes of wailing and gnashing of teeth, spurred on by my previous statement. Moreover (steel yourselves, please), I think excluding specialization from where the narrative clearly made room for it is a recipe for disaster. Doubly so if the aforementioned hints from the narrative take the form of a 1,000 word description of a class ability.

If you want to make a big deal about how well the feature or class or spell deals with a specific problem, make sure it actually does. Features which deal with specific problems ( or simply do so especially well) should probably be tacked on to a generally useful class, not used as compensation for something underwhelming (side note, I might’ve just solved the poor transition from the 3.5 to 5E Ranger, you’re welcome). Thanks for reading.

Yes, morality is black and white (but)

I watched a few different videos recently, none of which prompted the essay (the title was sitting in my ever expanding drafts section), but nevertheless helped put this in context. Dael Kingsmill’s vid on alignment, Colville’s vid eo on alignment, etc.

People like to bring up the idea that morality “isn’t black and white”. There are general principles sure, but what happens when you bring those principles to specific circumstances? Insert ridiculous oversimplification of a principle in a snapshot moral quandary, and voila! Morality isn’t black and white.

It’s very silly. That’s not to say there’s no confusion to be had when it comes to specific morals situations; on the contrary, it’s because moral principles are objective that they’re difficult to suss out. We’ll take murder as an example.

Killing someone is bad! Wait, what if they break into your house, or try to kill you? Oh, I guess murder is ok sometimes! Nope, we’ve excluded things like self defense from the definition of murder. The aggressor excludes themselves from the protections of moral society (in this case, right to walk around unmolested, bodily autonomy, etc) by way of his aggression. The victim’s rights supersede the aggressors, as the victim was hitherto adhering to moral society’s demands. The circumstances may vary, but this general principle can apply to every circumstance (referring to real life, not snapshot moral quandaries).

Let me pose the morality is not populated by some gray area, but is instead pixelated. From the outset it may appear grey, but zooming in (addressing the circumstances by priority and relation to moral principles) reveals the pixel as black or white. Viewing morality as black and white can theoretically be an oversimplification of circumstance, but more likely the person is addressing the circumstances (whether they’re correct or not).

Designing Spells for the Artificer

This is definitely more of a stream of consciousness post, I’m thinking through various principles for designing spells for my Artificer player. He’s the only guy in our group that’s attending school abroad, so I try to toss him extra goodies to entice him to show up for games. It works (about 50% of the time)! Jokes aside, he largely only fails to show up when he can’t. Anyways, those goodies take the form of crafting primarily. Whenever my player is away, he’s on the airship crafting firearms, potions, magical oddities, you name it. We ran into a bit of a problem though; he wanted a self-winding grappling hook. I’ve got a good grasp on the mechanical advancement of the world and how its limitations differ from those of real life (you can check this post for why firearms will never become widespread in my world). Long story short, it wasn’t gonna happen (not in the form he wanted at the very least).

Being the ever generous DM, I made him an offer; why not create a spell that did what he was looking for? He was an intelligence based caster, after all. This excited him a great deal, and after a short delay, I set off to work!

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Not bad for a first draft, right? It’s even cooler for the artificer, because he gets an ability that let’s him place spells in items! He can literally place this spell that uses a grappling hook as a material component into the grappling hook and hand it off to another character. There’s a bit of wording to fix, I need to say “alternatively, you can swing up to 60 feet away, provided the anchor point is at least 20 feet above you” or something.

You get the idea, though! The moment this concept played itself out it my mind, I started thinking of other artificer spells. It’s such a unique class, of course it would benefit from unique spells! What would they look like?

The Artificer’s ability to place spells in an object is a factor in any spell I design for them. Material components normally are not important beyond a gold cost. The Artificer could of course cast spells into unrelated objects. It’s incentive enough to make spells that focus on altering equipment for me, however. I’m attracted to that variety of narrative/mechanic synergy.

Next is action economy. The Artificer has plenty of things to do with his action already, mostly shooting things with a firearm. As such, anything that isn’t a bonus action spell should probably have some sort of significant effect. I understand that’s horribly unspecific, so I’ll try to drill it down in a sentence or two. Bringing a party member back from the brink of death with a cure wounds, forcing multiple creatures prone with grease, etc. Something that cures or deals a status effect is “significant”, or perhaps is better stated as “changes the conditions of the battlefield”. Spells shouldn’t simply deal damage, they should augment damage. Anything worth casting with his action at such a low level spell would not be balanced in the least, the dude has 1/3rd casting progression. No, the spells need to impact the battlefield in some manner other than damage. Damage is a nice rider if the spell takes an action, but I should look to balance bonus action spells.

Finally, we have spell levels to watch out for. Anything I make for the Artificer can be picked up by the Bard at level 10 with magical secrets, but I’m not terribly worried about that. My primary concern is multiclassing. Since I’m as much of a power gamer as power gamers can be and an avid fan of multiclassing, I usually know what to watch out for. The more the spell is meant to synergize with the class I’m designing it for, and the greater investment a multiclasser has to make to get that “prize spell”, the less I need to worry about it. Things shouldn’t be so far down the line that they can’t access it, on the contrary. I want players to actually feel special with the artificer. Is a 3 level dip enough of a cost to get a new take on misty step, or cast a special spell on a grappling hook? I think so.

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Let’s look at another spell I designed somewhat spontaneously.

By the time the artificer gets this, he’s at least 13 level. It fits with his class, it’s an excellent secondary damage boost (6d6 with the thunder monger from his class, 2d8 from the spell, all to 2 targets, one of which doesn’t require a roll to hit). It’s far enough in that I don’t have to worry about any nasty “I dip in, now I’m OP” multiclassing (though dipping out of the class could make for some interesting combinations). It fits his theme (spell requires a firearm, he’s all about mechanical weapons, can literally implant the spell in the gun for later use, etc). I’d say it fits my principles!

I already had some additional ideas for spells (which will sadly stay out of view until I release a supplement focused on them)!