Bucklers

I'm going to be frank with you; I have literally no conception of what a "buckler" is beyond "easier to wield/lighter shield that provides a minor defensive advantage". I have no idea if any of that is even accurate to begin with, and furthermore no idea what the history of bucklers in D&D are. None whatsoever.

I needed "smaller easier to wield shield" for a few magic items I was creating though, so here come the bucklers.

2 Bucklers.jpg

You probably get the idea to begin with here. Spend part of your action to position the buckler for a minor AC boost. Doesn't offer you the constant protection of a shield, but allows you to wield two handed weapons with said shield equipped. I definitely see these as being useful for anyone with the Shield Master Feat, as you'd retain those benefits even if your character wasn't in a defensive stance. 

Something I ought to say though, the Vine Buckler is more the "default" for this type of shield. Spending your object interaction for a +1 to AC is fairly powerful, especially if you can use two handed weapons in the meantime. Spending a bonus action for that benefit is a little more reasonable I feel, falling behind shields in utility when it comes to action economy and defensive capacity but offering more versatility in your choice of weapon. It can also then be more on par with a shield in its defensive capacity if the character takes the Shield Master Feat (as previously mentioned).

That's the purpose of the Spriggan Buckler's Enchantment, by the way. It molds to your arm until you command it otherwise, further freeing your action economy for the same benefit as a "normal" buckler. Object Interactions vs Bonus Actions. 

Weekly Statblock: Frost Dune Worm

This week's statblock is a little different in that I actually already attacked the players with it. Besides that, This is more of a "homebrewed on the spot" monster (I had a bit of help from the 3.5 Sandstorm supplement). 

Frost Dune Worm.jpg

Nasty, huh? This is how solo bosses should be made!

Let's go through it. The players met God-King Orion (which I stole shamelessly from warhammer), who pledged to give them access to a Rune if they pledged themselves to a Hunting Lodge of his tree-city. How does on pledge to a lodge? They agree to go on a hunt, the target of which is chosen by Orion. The players accept, Orion thinks awhile, and he decides on what he wants. "On another world lies worms of titanic size; hunts worthy of my Glade Riders! One's caught my eye; Albino, with the breath of a dragon, and scaled! My Riders will guide you through the Glade, and drive the creature towards you." This plays out, the players make it to this new world (which they didn't at first understand, was not a plane, but another Material World), and look about. Pale red skies and sand lie above whatever ravine or canyon they've landed in, and the Riders set out to drive the worm towards them. Important note; the players knew the Riders were not to assist them in the event things went sideways.

This sort of encounter (the players are specifically contracted to fight it) is a great opportunity to be nastier than usual. 

So, let's evaluate what this guy can do.

The big threat to players is the Cold Breath. It's based on a Con save and deals a slightly less common resistance. The Gusting Breath is functionally more deadly to the players. It's based on a slightly better save for players (though not for mine in particular), but deals a far less common resistance (physical damage) and has the potential to blind the players besides. That being said, it can only be used after using the Inhaling Breath. This of course means using its action a whole round beforehand, which minimizes its damage somewhat. Not by too much, though. The Inhaling Breath is actually quite useful on its own; bringing creatures closer to its lovely whirlwind of death is frightening on its own, particularly if you start using the Bull Rush legendary action. 

Let's go to the Molting Shriek ability. I detected pretty early on the players were going to attempt a stunlock (and why not, there's only 1 creature). Once we got to a point in the fight that the players discovered holding back might get one or more of them killed, the creature's hp started dropping far more rapidly than before. I decided to give it a reaction (homebrew monster, I can do what I waaaaaaaant). I didn't know the specifics of the reaction beyond 2 things; it dropped his AC by 2, and the players had to make a con save or become stunned. I remember describing it as rearing back in pain, inhaling to emit the shriek so strongly that some of the scales and chitin they'd been striking began to slough off. If I recall correctly, this was roughly around where the creature was at half hp. Half HP is generally a goof flux point to intensify a battle, whether the creature gets stronger, weaker, or whatever else have you. I used this ability a second time however, when he was at something like 20 hp. I didn't have to include a justification for using the ability multiple times, of course. What I invent in the moment isn't always necessarily useful to anyone reading. Nevertheless, I thought I might be able to come up with a clever escalation mechanic, and lo! I did!

You might be wondering "Why doesn't the worm just spam that ability, use legendary actions and breath weapons to kill the pcs, and bounce?" 2 reasons, one of which is tactical, and one of which is not. The tactical reason is spamming Molting Shriek grants diminishing returns. The chances that all of your players will fail the save (even as hefty as 16 Con) is low. The chance they'll all fail it multiple times? Virtually none. So your monster is very rapidly decreasing his armor class (which normally remains static). 5e math is adjusted for players hitting something like 60% of the time. That might be lower when it comes to high AC creatures like this. If the monster spams this ability, he'll be hit with far more attacks and be far less able to defend himself. His HP will begin to spiral downwards; the difference between HP retention in the fight between my players and this creature before and after he used Molting Shriek was very, VERY distinct. That's just going from 20 to 18. Imagine going down to something like 12! You might very well kill a player, don't get me wrong. You're probably not going to get much more than that, though. 

I saved the narrative reason for last because I wanted a well thought out, mechanical explanation for the inevitable complaint over things people haven't playtested being "OP". Narrative reasons are nice, but people will glance over them if they dislike the conclusion. There's a very simple reason this creature doesn't do take "tactically completely optimal" option: it has an intelligence of 6. 6! There are no tactics for that creature. It's not going for the spellcaster first. Stop it. Stop typ-no, stop. If you wanna play the half dragon sandworm like it houses the trapped consciousness of Alexander the Great, you do you man. 

Don't drag me down. 

One last thing; the death burst! This was I think lifted directly from the 3.5 supplement. Very simple ability; the players kill the creature, and the creature detonates and hurts them. This can actually be important in 2 contexts. For one thing, if other creatures are on the way, how many resources (HP, spells) the players have left is actually quite important. Next, if any players are unconscious (particularly more than one), stay in initiative (which I did). The players probably won't lose anyone to failed death saves outside of combat. The possibility remains, however, and who has what spells to revive someone actually matters (at the very least, a non healer might need to spend some health potions to ensure the survival of a close downed player).

Lemme know what you think guys!

Re-leashing the players

The players have crafted a cool magic item and discovered new runes in the last session, as well as discovered a bit more about the world they live in. These are things I'd tell you in a campaign diary, but the campaign diaries are supposed to provide 2 things: useful DM material/inspiration, and an enetertaining story. I can't justify cutting down the videos to tell you the "only useful" parts when those are generally best saved for a specific concept. Seeing as though I'm not that great of a storyteller in the context of D&D yet, that means the videos' primary functions aren't being fulfilled. That's fine though, I have this as a creative outlet and I can always go back to videos (which will then be linked here) should I decide that content will be sufficiently useful and worth my time to make it such.

Seeing as that's out of the way, let's get to the meat of the matter. I've given my players a lot of sandbox style freedom in their general directions, goals, what they want to seek out, etc. I did start wondering about why they were sent down here in the first place, though. For those of you catching up, my players are exploring the southern reaches of this continent, seeking lost magic items, civilizations, magical power and spells, etc. The reason? The Second Host War has just kicked off, and the nation acting as their patron would very much like to gain any advantage they can at minimal expenditure of resources. A small expedition of adventurers fits that bill, particularly if they start to succeed (and indeed they have). 

So the players are feeling that success, right? 

Well, not quite. They definitely love finding new stuff, making magic items, the works. I focus a lot on what I think 5e is missing (somewhat intentionally); loot! In coming to this new region though, they're actually the underdogs in some sense. The party has fought quite a few enemies at this point that have access to Runes they didn't (or still don't). Finding said runes has boosted their power to be more on par with the things they're assaulting, not to gain an advantage over creatures that have no such thing. That's fine! They love the "we get beaten down to come back better" style of play. I still can't help but wonder if it's a bit of dissonance in the narrative. They have managed to transfer Runes to their civilization by way of the high-level druid that contracted them in the first place, despite now being the lateral distance of the United States away through use of certain spells. 

So here's where I come to my plan for next session; I specifically kicked off the Second Host War so the players would have their punching bag and I'd have a ready supply of "it's ok to wipe the floor with them" villains. Runes are being transmitted and learned back home, but not terribly quickly, and there's no reason to think the Brestrels (antagonist nation) have them yet. What if Ulfin requests their help back home? He can cast a spell, have them there to assist, then bamf them back to their original quest. If the players agree, I know exactly what to prep, what I can expect from the players, who the bad guys are, etc. That session will effectively be on rails, but only because the players chose to put themselves on in the first place. After what I consider to be the failure of my first campaign, I no longer worry all that much about "railroading" but I still have the occasional nagging voice, telling me how terrible I must be as a storyteller for having a real, prepared narrative. 

The effect I'm hoping to have on the players is demonstrating how dominant their advantage back home would be (and here, is). This is their opportunity to power trip. I'm not saying I'll make the combat easy per se, just adjust hitpoints and such so the volume of enemies they can take on with this advantage is reasonably inflated. 

As for the premise of the mission? A vanguard force pushed too deep into an Argonne-style forest, found themselves surrounded, and now it's rescue time. 

 

Getting back on Warframe

So my favorite science-fantasy space ninja game is back on the download list, and I think it's been a year since I last played. Lots to get to; mroe cinematic quests and all, but I think my top priority is Plains of Eidolon. I would say though, the fact I finished The Second Dream and unlocking The Operator + its abilities, only to come back and discover the abilities had been reset, was somewhat annoying (especially considering I need to do something else to unlock them).

No worries, though. Chroma is still amazing, and my Zephyr build still kicks ass. I'm going to miss raids (did like 400+ runs of the first one) but ehhhh to hell with it. Everyone playing them were constantly obsessing about some stupid "meta" team even at a point there was something like 18 unique frames (by the time I left at least). I spent quite awhile looking for ways all of them could be useful (and succeeded with most, which is where my Zephyr build came from). 

Really excited to get back into it, it's always served as a useful source of inspiration and I love the devs.

Armchair Designer Spotted!

So I frequently browse D&D forums and something that often comes up is a query for special house rules people are willing to share. SOP for when I or one of my team spots a post of this sort is to toss in a link for my one-page what you need to know document I introduced at the beginning of my current campaign.

It contains a brief lore blurb as well as a few mechanical changes.

Most people react pretty positively to my change to concentration, calling it neat, innovative, and unique. But recently a fairly negative reaction was brought to my attention!

"What level are your players"

"Started at two and three, currently at level 6."

"So you haven't play tested your concentration at higher levels then?"

"I have, both with higher level creatures and in my previous campaign. 

"Since you're dancing around the question you want to ask, no, it doesn't make them op, and no, the strategy for dealing with spellcasters as a DM remains largely unchanged."

I had discussions like this in the past, and I can spot someone who takes the original design of the game as gospel fairly quickly. So I knew what was coming!

 

"Theres no possible way the answer to "is it op for spell casters to hold 3 concentration spells at once" no. You can be fine with them being op, or balance around it. But unless your players are absolutely terrible, thats incredibly powerful."

"I've already playtested it, it's already balanced against the dev's initial misgivings on having too many active effects, and these are all people very, very experienced with 5e's design (both as players and dms). Wait, one exception. My friend Kevin, playing a fighter."

By the time he finished the accusation, I'd already typed out a good half of my response. This person could not assimilate the idea that I'd found a way around the confusion and hesitation towards editing for physicians black sheep. I've gone into a video on this before so I won't rehash it here, but to sum up my position, I have two issues with concentration and that the addition. First, just about any element of fifth edition characters have a clear and precise means by which you can improve or harm them without breaking the game. Ability scores increase, your pool of hit points expands, etc. But if someone felt as if concentration was too limiting when it came to the number of active effects on the field or served as a disincentive for certain play styles, there's no easy way to change it (until I did).

 Second, concentration is a Band-Aid on active spell effects that cut them down so far that a control wizard is little different from a blast wizard. The control wizard casts haste, then fireball. The blast wizard casts fireball twice. Thanks Crawford, I really feel like Quick Ben. Fifth edition magic feels like sky room, not Dragon's dogma. That's fine though, I've come to save you all.

So, back to our friend, who seems rather determined to inform me that my game is in fact, wrong.

"Did you triple the number of attacks the fighter gets? Lol"

I think this displays most of the core issue. This guy glanced at concentration changes, and assume that all players would simply add all times regardless of damage taken, situation, number of rounds the battle is likely to last, viability of casting non-concentration spells, whether they even could cast additional concentration spells according to my rules, that spell caster is in my game were inherently three times more powerful than martial characters. Pretty embarrassing, really. I told him as much!

"All I said was you tripled something and it does make it stronger which you continue to deny. I didnt say anything about it not working for you or your players. Just the obvious fact you insist tripling something doesnt increase its power.

But hey, Im the armchair designer here, not you, who is actually doing the redesigning insisting triple power isnt an increase, so what do I know."

The response to this encapsulates just about every rebuttal necessary:

I didn't say anything about not making it stronger, the fucking point is making them stronger. 

It doesn't make them OP, and the strategy for dealing with them is largely identical (which is pretty much the definition of making them stronger). 

And "Tripling" what exactly? You can only cast 1 of these spells in a round. Sure, a spellcaster could blow through 3 of those slots, but in a 3-4 round combat that's mostly a waste. 

You could go nova in a big boss fight, in which case I'm going to use things like counterspell and force you to make con saves. 

It's not "tripling" power. Action economy, taking damage inducing concentration checks, inability to cast more than one spell in a round, various anti-magic spells and abilities creatures possess, etc are all in play. 

You haven't tested this, you haven't looked at the math behind the scenes, and you're reacting to something you found out about 30 minutes ago as if you know more about how it functions than me.

Please stop annoying me.

And, to his credit, he did!

 

Fix the Eldritch Knight?

The Eldritch Knight is something of an abomination within D&D. Just about all the martial classes have a subclass which is considered to be the magic fighting hybrid. And they all pretty universally suck. Well, maybe I shouldn't go that far. I'm relatively certain you could play a combat effective Eldritch Knight. You can take spells like shield from the get go, making you extremely hard to hit (especially if you're in something like plate armor). You can further boost your chances of survival with spells like blur, absorb elements, protection from evil and good, you get the idea. I'm not going to mention spells like haste (seeing as though you're practically never get up to that level), but hey, they're out there.

All that being said, the subclass feels disjointed. You're constantly going to choose between either casting a spell, or using your melee attacks. As you learn more about the subclass and what's optimal (not to mention your number of attacks going up) you start doing the smart thing and pretty much ignore your spells.
 

I preface the mechanical change I'm about to propose to demonstrate I'm willing to look at the subclass as being viable for combat. When people want to play a hybridized magic knight, they want to do two things. They want to in some fashion combine spellcasting and their martial abilities, or at the very least on a regular basis do spellcasting and their regular attacks within the same turn. On this basis, the Eldritch Knight doesn't fill that niche. You either cast spells, or you make physical attacks. And as previously mentioned, as the levels go up, you lean heavily in one of those directions.

I can say this now having done it, if I wanted to play a kind of magic knight I would simply mix wizard with about three levels of Battle Master fighter. I get several maneuvers that allow me to toy with the battlefield, some damage and survival enhancing abilities, and in general don't have to choose between using my core class features and spellcasting. It actually works out pretty well, and I highly recommend it to you all (even those of you who accept the mechanical change I'm about to propose).

All that being said, let's look at one abilitiy in particular.

War magic:
Beginning at 7th level, when you use your action to cast a cantrip, you can make one weapon attack as a bonus action.


Now, this is pretty miserable. By the time you get this ability, you've already gotten the first of your extra attacks. If you're using any sort of heavy weapon, the damage you do with one attack will likely outclass anything you do with a cantrip. If you're not using a heavy weapon, the difference between a single physical attack and a cantrip is much smaller. As previously mentioned however, you can at this point make two attacks per round.

Just to reiterate; the fact you will not use this ability except in very specific and convoluted circumstances does not mean that the Eldritch Knight can't be effective in combat. It just suffers from one of the many instances of a class receiving poorly designed abilities (not ribbons) that pretend to change the character. Even if the class as a whole is well designed and even carries the subclass through, if the subclass's special abilities don't seem to fundamentally change the character, it'll feel lackluster.

Did that make sense?  Let me try putting it this way: the Eldritch Knight could be completely viable and even on par with the Battlemaster (as an example) levels 3-20 despite never changing from "that guy who swings his sword and casts shield". However, if those abilities he gets from 3-20 don't produce any improvements (i.e. the character actually uses them on occasion), the subclass doesn't actually grow. That's fine, unless literally any other subclass or class does grow. If another subclass actually improves over time, it's more fun to engage with (for most people).

 Now, on to the proposed change:

War magic:
Beginning at 7th level, take the attack action, you can cast a cantrip as a bonus action. 

Let the harpies come. 
I'm going to try to justify this as best I can before I put any additional restrictions on it. At this level, your cantrip damage has only increased by one dice, and Int is still most likely your secondary or tertiary stat. No wizard at this point is "taking a dip" into the class, they're giving up some serious firepower to do whatever insane build the seven level deviation is for. Ditto for Warlock and Arcane Trickster. You have a decent increase in damage (probably not something that will supersede the champion) and a bit of increased utility to boot. On top of that, you can actually use this ability without feeling like a complete idiot, right?

That being said, we should definitely add a caveat. 

War magic:
Beginning at 7th level, when you take the attack action, you can cast a wizard cantrip as a bonus action. 

This is just to prevent any Eldritch Blast shenanigans. The fighter gets enough feats that Magic Initiate becomes a must-have, and Eldritch Blast being what is is, Warlock is pretty sound. Also, with the release of the Hexblade, a heavy deviation into something like Eldritch Knight becomes viable (seeing as you'd only need to focus Int and Cha for your offensive abilities). 

Now, if this still seems too powerful for some reason (and there are several), we can cut it down further.

War magic:
Beginning at 7th level, when take the attack action, you can cast a wizard cantrip as a bonus action. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Intelligence modifier (a minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a short or long rest.

Now we're cooking with gas. I admit, this feels punishing compared to the last example, but in actuality it's probably more balanced. These additional cantrips are now on par with something like Battlemaster Maneuvers, though perhaps a bit damaged focused. 

I can definitely see an Eldritch Knight pummeling an enemy to just a few hitpoints trying to save the Sorcerer or something, casting Shocking Grasp to let him exit safely.

A big part of this is the introduction of the SCAG, and several cantrips that allow you to make a weapon attack as part of the spell. Having unlimited access to that as a bonus action would quickly (and I really don't use this lightly) overpowered.

So, let's recap:

War magic:
Beginning at 7th level, when you use your action to cast a cantrip, you can make one weapon attack as a bonus action.

This is the default ability for the Eldritch Knight. Your player will never take a second glance at it, and poor design like this turns your players off from the subclass.

War magic:
Beginning at 7th level, take the attack action, you can cast a cantrip as a bonus action. 

The first proposed change. It'll see use, maybe too much use. The constant extra damage or utility from the cantrips can override the Battlemaster and Champion's abilities, making them seem like the suboptimal choice. Also fairly easy to break with multiclassing.

War magic:
Beginning at 7th level, when you take the attack action, you can cast a wizard cantrip as a bonus action.

Issues with this change are identical to the last, with the exception of problems caused by multiclassing. This would be a nice ability to attach to a magic item. 

War magic:
Beginning at 7th level, when take the attack action, you can cast a wizard cantrip as a bonus action. You can use this feature a number of times equal to your Intelligence modifier (a minimum of once). You regain all expended uses when you finish a short or long rest.

The final proposed change. Less ideal as a reward in the form of magic item or simply an improvement upon an ability (though your players won't complain for getting it), but makes an excellent replacement for the Eldritch Knight's 7th level ability.

Let me know what you think in the comments.

Weekend Statblock: Gael the Red

Gael the Red.jpg

So this week stat block is Gael the red. My players have an upcoming airship fight (they're being ambushed) and I wanted to have the classic tank, archer, mage combo on deck.

See if you can guess what Gael is!

Also, I adore Dark Souls III (brought a sense of beauty, loss, and wonder to what I thought was going to just be a popcorn fest) and wanted to see if I can bring Slave Knight Gael to life.

So, let's take a look at how I think he's going to perform. He's got a relatively high armor class (at least for my players at this level), and that particularly matters seeing as how he's a ranged character. Ranged characters don't generally need a high armor class, but I think he's likely to be targeted. This along with evasion (no damage on successful deck saves, halve damage on fails), greatly inflates his chances of survival long into the fight.

Whereas the tank has to be concerned about things like movement and creatures directly adjacent to him and the mage has to dish out higher-level spells while protecting themselves, the archer can fire at will. In other words, I can pick whatever targets I want and be as cruel as I want in the combat while maintaining verisimilitude.

So, let's take a look at his crossbow. Some of you may notice based on his ability score modifiers compare with his bonus to hit, he has a proficiency bonus of +4. He has a +11 to hit with the crossbow thanks to the archery fighting style. I wasn't sure as to whether to include that in the stat block but it's included here.

The crossbow is actually reasonably easy to deploy in combat want to understand how it works. Gail rolls attacks against up to three creatures, and expends up to seven pieces of ammunition It's probably best to declare how many pieces of ammunition are being fired at each creature before the attack roll is made, in the interest of fairness. Also, to freak the players out. 

Can't wait to see how he plays (and what the players do with their new magic item (should they win, that is). Expect another campaign diary and the article on the Eldritch Knight within 2 days.

Weekend Statblock: Syrnor

Time for this week's weekend statblock, the first I'm placing on the blog.

 

To give my readers here a bit of extra juice I'm going to go a bit in-depth on why I made the creature, how I made the creature, and how I think it'll perform.

Syrnor (extra).jpg

I added two stat blocks here just to save paper and have on hand. So! For the why: my players as you'll find out in the next campaign diary fled from the coastal village amidst an assault by watery creatures. The large pit billowing smoke that can be seen for miles was not there first stop after the village, but it was what they stuck with.

First thing they encountered and this was the fight that ended the night were two beholder-kin: Death Kisses. Pretty nasty fight for a six level party. Nevertheless, I thought about how cool it would be if this place was the layer of a fire themed beholder. Crazy right! Anyways, want to give him some minions that would be both useful as trash mobs in a boss fight and function as nasty encounters in their own right.

I'm not going to mention what fire Giants will be doing so far down south in my setting, just know for now that they are very much not supposed to be here. So, what would fire Giants twisted by the experiments of a mad beholder look like? These guys!

Meaty and mindless was the goal of this particular creation and I'm pretty sure I was spot on. These guys have a lot of hard-hitting abilities but low enough mental stats that I can justify playing them in sub optimal ways should the need arise to further the narrative. They have a low armor class to make up for their high hit points and immunity to fire damage. There are at least three people in my party who have the "lower your hit chance, boost your damage" feats of 5E, so this is tuned to them (much like most of what I put out). Sael shouldn't have too many issues seeing as though he's a storm sorcerer (as much as he likes using fire damage). I also like implementing various conditionals; fire drying can arbitrarily boost his damage or to hit chance but only once per turn, and if the players output enough damage of a certain type or engage in some creative spellcasting, they can take these guys down a peg out of the gate.

Something I thought of while I was writing this is Sael just hit sixth level, which means he has access to and ability that allows him to create rain within a 20 foot radius. I did write on this sheet that the head needs to be dunked specifically, and I don't I'm splitting hairs when I differentiate that and simple rainfall. At least, I hope I'm not.Also, I noticed I didn't include a save DC for the spellcasting portion or what ability score it relied on. 13, relies on charisma should be fine for a regular if not for the fact a lot of giants use constitution(?) though I may be thinking of other creatures. 18 seems hefty for what these guys can do, but they're also only 1st and 2nd level spells. The slam attacks and the eye beam are the real stars of the show.

Other than all that I don't think these guys have any particular sway against my party, they're just generic meaty fire dudes with some cool abilities. Should be fun!

Excerpt: Eyes of the Forest

From Chapter 4:

Morgan huffed. "Bit of an unnecessary show, isn't it?" The figure didn't turn. "I see no reason for you to insult my tastes, General Morbin." Morbin's nose flushed red as his skin. "What sort of hole are we in that you don't know my rank?" The vitriol oozed past is shoddy attempt at an even tone like pus from an open wound.

The figures shoulders rose and swelled swiftly as if stifling a laugh. It's cheery voice seemed at odds with the decor as he said, "Am I then the bearer of bad news?" The figure at last turned. Beady eyes stared out from a gorgeous macabre mask, every inch engraved with skulls and impressions of Deathtakers.

"General, did you really die so swiftly after your last resurrection as to not receive word of your demotion?" His shoulders rose and fell again, though no sound escaped him.