Weekly Statblock: Ebrietas

Ever on my Bloodborne kick, I made this creature on vacation for a session that same day. 

The party was Dennis playing Asura, Chris playing Alan, Matt playing Sael, and two others from our primary group! My friends Caleb playing Kevlier and Megan playing Kieron joined us for the session, bringing a Druid and Paladin to play.

I'll probably go into the non-combat details of that session some other time (I tried out some new storytelling techniques), but for now, the boss of that session is here.

Ebrietas.jpg

So, you wanna stat Gods? This is a good start! Ebrietas's strategy for attacking is pretty simple. First, cast Crown of Stars. The sooner you cast it, the more mileage you'll get. 4d8 as a bonus action every round is nothing to sneeze at, and her +12 bonus to hit makes it fairly consistent. Next, start using legendary actions for Magic Missile. There were 2 paladins in the party facing Ebrietas, both with high armor class. You can already see where this is going. If you really focus a single person, it can end up somewhere around 30 damage per round. That accelerates to 60 once Ebrietas drops below half hp.

After the first round, start blowing other high level spells. Synaptic Static is devastating, dealing psychic damage and producing a pretty negative effect on a failed saving throw (which is intelligence, not a common save). Maelstrom was also excellent. The creek in Ebrietas's lair widened to accompany the Maelstrom's size, and at a 30 ft radius, it was excellent for area denial. Area denial works both ways, of course. That is, until, Ebrietas starts using her "Fly" legendary action. 80 feet of movement easily carried her from one side of the lair to the other.  I did end up using Chain lightning, but against my players in particular that was sort of a bad idea.

The Rune Spells are a subsystem I designed, the Elsry rune being the most esoteric (on purpose). I used it several times to Halt (the second level variant of the rune) Alan, freezing him in time. Once a character interacted with him however, he was good to go. I think I used Halt all 3 times she was able to cast it, and all on Alan. That’s all that kept her alive for so long, he’s such an absurdly tanky character.

This was a beast of a creature; I’m happy with how she worked out.

 

Another Condition: Weakened

My long suffering page followers were hit with a barrage of COME WATCH MY STREAM posting (and indeed you should) while I played For The King, specifically their Frostbite Mountain adventure. I had a great time, and it scratched my D&D itch to boot. I’ve been thinking over a lot of the items, skills, spells, and in particular status effects. Video games are better equipped to handle a multitude of status effects than your average RPG by far. You have more time to engage with the game than if you were depending on scheduling something out with your friends, the game adjudicates the status effect’s impact on gameplay by way of the developers coding, etc.

Status Effects in RPGs depend on the players to properly adjudicate the effect, and the DM in particular. So, status effects need to be clear on how they impact the game, concise in their clarification, and from a mechanical perspective can’t bog down the game. This lends to fewer status effects that are featured in a multitude of spells and abilities. The interesting variation comes not from several different iterations of the same status effects, but the twists and circumstances of the individual skill or spell that produces it. I see plenty of requests for new abilities and even spells, but very few for new effects, and in all honesty that’s probably for the best when it comes to your average homebrew designer,

I’m not that designer. Also, a new status effect is more of a tool specifically for people creating content, seeing as you need some sort of delivery system for a status effect to even come up in the game. When considering what I wanted out of a new status effect, I decided on a damage boost (against the target effected).

So here it is.
Frozen: The target is vulnerable to the next damage it takes.

There’s a few issues with this, but let me hit you with the inspiration. “Frozen” in For The King causes the target to suffer an additional 25% damage. Now, vulnerable obviously deals an additional 100% damage. Frozen in FTK lasts for more turns, but that’s besides the point. I don’t need to duplicate it to the exact.

First, the question of Resistances and Immunities. I need to include a small disclaimer of those. I could simply say that it has no effect if the target is immune to the damage type. I could assume the game master is happy to make a target normally resistant take normal damage. Applying vulnerability to a creature normally resistant to an effect isn’t something people normally need to deal with. As a matter of fact, I don’t think that situation has existed even as a possibility until the release of Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, with the addition of the Grave Cleric. Its channel divinity feature makes the creature targeted vulnerable to the next attack against it. Do resistance and vulnerability cancel each other out? I certainly think so, and I’m sure everyone I play with would agree.

That’s not quite my standard for placing caveats in my design. If I can clear things up without inflating the word count too much, to me that’s preferable than any unnecessary amount of confusion. The questions Mearls and Crawford in particular have to suffer shows it doesn’t hurt to include some extra clarification.

Frozen: The target is vulnerable to the next damage it receives. If the target would normally be resistant to the damage, it instead loses its resistance to that damage. If the target would normally be immune, it takes no damage.

Not too bad! We should fix two last things. First, “Frozen” is probably a bad name for the status effect. It’s a port from something else; D&D has a ton of monsters to use. While it makes sense in the context of For the King, there’s no specific relation to ice or frost here. Next, the last sentence on immunity sounds redundant, so we’ll change it up.

Weakened: The target is vulnerable to the next damage it receives. If the target would normally be resistant to the damage, it instead loses its resistance to that damage. Targets which are immune to the damage suffer no effect.

Now we’re cooking with gas! Weakened makes far more sense when it comes to the effect. I don’t have to worry about any dissonance between the condition’s name and its effect on a creature like Frost Giants or Rhemorazes. This should provide some interesting levers to play with when designing homebrew content. In fact, I have to make a magic bow for Kevin’s new character.

Might see some use!

I took my players to the Argonne Forest

You heard me! The group had just finished up their business at a set of standing stones, a local font of magical power. They received ascending from Ulfin, requesting their assistance. He showed up moments later, asking if they'd be willing to directly assist the war effort. A Vanguard force had found themselves surrounded a day prior. It was the perfect opportunity to showcase the power of the runes, and Ulfin needed a group comfortable hitting above their weight class. The group was relatively happy to assist, and I think they were somewhat excited to test their mettle against an organized opponent. And so they went off!

Ulfin used his usual transport via plants to drop the group off at an encampment of soldiers from Garamentes. The Captain fills them in. A few of the advance force moved too far in, and either didn't receive the retreat order or didn't think it was legitimate. Either way, they're surrounded, low on supplies, and soon they'll have more wounded than men in fighting condition. The group's job is straightforward; smash through a bunker too heavily fortified for their regulars to handle. 

The encampment has howitzers, and a few shells remaining. They can't produce any serious bombardment if they spread their shots. With the party striking the most heavily defended choke point, the main force can rain hell on the flanks, allowing their men to penetrate any defensive line. 

One final point; the vanguard only had 1 spellcaster, who was unresponsive after their last sending. 
An unidentified archmage had engaged them. 

The group settled in, and come morning the trench whistles shrill cry sent them off. I laid out the first battle map; I'd taken a great deal from BF1's Argonne Forest map. The players have a few rows of trenches and barbed wire to cross before coming up on a bunker. The only creature immediately visible was an ogre holding a ballista-sized crossbow. The party engaged!

As they moved forward, they encountered a set of Tyrant Regulars, a hobgoblin legion employing weapons like crossbows, rapiers, and whips. They fired from the trenches before going prone. The party took some hits before moving into melee, diving behind cover before finally getting in their faces. Right as they reached the last trench, two sets of creatures emerged. First, two Tyrant Captains came from the bunker, tossing blastcap bombs (combustible, easily grown mushroom with incindiary materials) at the party. Next, an ogre carrying a small fort came from a side path, leading to train tracks (keep that in the back of your mind for now). 

The fort held four goblins of the Powder Horn Legion, all wielding muskets. On arrival, they sent a volley towards the Paladin, Sorcerer, and Artificer, all crouched behind cover. The ogres from that point were quite heavily focused. The party mages took them down as the Cleric and Paladin moved into melee with the Tyrants. The Howdah Ogre fell, along with his cargo, sending the goblins spilling out. They’d by this time finished reloading, and sent another volley towards Alan the Paladin, to little avail.

Once both the goblins and ogres were dispatched (along with a majority of the Tyrants), two of the Tyrants managed to escape. The fled into the bunker, sealing one of the two doors shut. The party attempted (and failed) to bust through, before attempting to enter the other door. It was unlocked, lucky them! It was also trapped. A blastcap bomb detonated in their faces. Inside this front area, they found spare bolts, rations, rain capes, coils of barbed wire, etc.

The party continued through a long hallway, until they came up on beds with plaster dividers between them. I had the party roll perception, and they failed; Tyrants emerged, and began unloading. They started with a volley of crossbow bolts before clustering next to the edges of the hallway, waiting for the party to emerge. The party engaged, quickly recognizing these were stronger than the last. The Sorcerer Sael cast polymorph on Asura the Cleric, turning him into a giant ape. The ape gave full cover to the party (good for them) but also almost entirely blocked movement to the Tyrants (good for me). What ensued was primarily Asura striking the Tyrants as they desperately tried falling back. They put up a decent fight, taking the ape down by about 100 hp, but not enough. Asura burst through the other side of the bunker, the crumpled bodies of Tyrants around him.

At this point, I asked the players to roll a d4. 2 was the result; they heard the whistle of a train. They looked around, prepared themselves with what little they could (the party had at this point expended almost all of their spells), as an armored train rolled through.

Now, siege equipment/armaments takes time to load, aim, and fire. YOu only have all 3 in the same round if multiple people are operating the equipment. The train had 5 armaments of varying size, each manned by one person. Asura (still a giant ape) immediately set to attacking it, wrecking the center gun. After a natural one on an attempt to flip one or two of the rail cars, he draped himself over the train. The guns to either side fired at point blank, leaving him unconscious next to it.

The party engaged, trying to get to Asura before he died. Dr. Silver (the party artificer) opened up a small bunker next to the train, finding…two Tyrant Knights. What followed was a chase around the battlefield as certain party members tried to catch the attention of the Tyrants as the others attacked the train. Asura was up in about two rounds, and cast Spiritual Guardians. There were screams from the 3 cars next to him, which then stopped. Kevin playing his regrettably short-lived sorcerer (spoiler warning) started throwing blastcap bombs at the hatches on the other two cars, which were at that point retreating.

Kevin’s character actually climbed the car and got inside (after successfully blowing off a hatch) and gutted one of the engineers. The cards continued moving back, and after dispatching the Knights, the party gave chase.

At last, the final map was laid out. Simply a brick bridge over a slight depression, tracks leading over it. Kevin’s character had at this point killed the last engineer, and managed to stop the train on the bridge. He’d also accidentally unloaded a shell from the siege howitzer in his car. The rest of the party arrived, sounds of battle on the flanks, and above a hill some hundred yards ahead of them. This was the final stretch; where was the enemy?

A slow clap rings out, seemingly from all around them. Someone starts congratulating them on their progress, but regrets their journey must be cut short. Undead start rising from the ground, and its initiative. It starts out simply; the zombies don’t have a high armor class or to hit chance. Asura pops Channel Divinity, destroying undead in a 30 ft radius. Here, the strange voice’s owner reveals himself. Decked out in black with a white, engraved mask, our friend raises more undead. Morover, he begins casting spells through the undead around him, their bodies twisting and jerking to match his commands. The battle actually doesn’t go too poorly by and large; zombies prove largely incompetent except acting as remote spellcasters, and the archmage doesn’t have a terribly impressive number of hitpoints. Nevertheless, he is whittling down Asura and Alan’s hitpoints. Kevin’s character has, in the meantime, been re-loading and aiming the siege howitzer attached to his car. The archmage’s turn is coming up, but Kevin and 1 other go before him. The archmage here has roughly 25 hp. Alan and Asura are clustered around him.  Kevin’s character fires the siege howitzer. I have him roll an attack. Even if he rolls above AC, it won’t necessarily hit, and almost certainly won’t be a direct hit. He rolls: natural 20.

Kother and the Zombies around him are obliterated. I have Kevin roll 10d10 and double the result, and ask Chris and Dennis to roll dex saves. Chris, playing Alan, succeeds! Dennis, playing Asura, does not. The total result of the damage is 106 or 112, I can’t recall. Alan gets to halve that damage, but Asura will not. Asura is actually killed outright, but Alan intervenes. He uses an ability from his subclass to take the damage on himself, keeping Asura alive but unconscious, and killing Alan outright.

Asura is brought back up with potions, but he has no spells for Revivify. In fact, all he has a first level spell slot; he can’t cast something like Gentle Repose to extend his window on reviving Alan. There’s one way, however. Expending a first level slot,  he casts the Blood Rune, allowing him to cast a second level spell. He casts Gentle Repose, giving him a chance to revive Alan once they rest.

The other party members, in the meantime, have a talk with Kevin’s character.

Kevin’s character is not longer with us.

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A response to Jeffro Johnson

I was wasting time on Quora (as my poor page followers are by now all too aware) when I got a notification from Twitter! JeffroJohnson and I follow each other on Twitter, and we've interacted a bit before on the topic I'm going to discuss with you here. He's the author of the appendix N, an exposé on the biggest influences on the early iterations of Dungeons & Dragons. I've gotten quite a few lessons from it, and it also serves as a nice guide to people my age (Gen Z) to 20th century classics that have been swallowed up in the age of "Game of the Really Nice Chair" and "Harry Potter and the Grown Ass Adults Who Won't Shut Up About This Series". You can buy from it from Castalia House here. I'm also plugging his work because I'll be referencing it!

So, to the meat of the matter! Jeffro was responding to my answer to a Quora request. Said request was on how to create an engaging plot line for role-playing games. You can find my answer here, but the short of it was to think about what both I and the players would enjoy most while considering the work I need to do to fulfill all parties involved. Then, to take a few of those ideas and simply pitch them to the players.

Jeffrey responded with this: "If your campaign has a plot line, you are not just doing it wrong. You have repudiated the very concept of fantasy role-playing games!"

It's here I should probably mention the very strong generational gap between Jethro and I, which you probably guessed at already. 

Jeffrey doesn't have a seat at my table and so is probably misunderstanding my approach to narrative and the game, but his accusation is just plain silly even outside of that context. There are any number of ways to include a narrative or plot line that has a rough beginning, middle, and end without restricting player agency or ruining the fantasy.

Start off with a classic game on rails scenario. You sit down with the players, you tell them what the adventure is, and you get ready to play. The adventure has a specific goal, and your players are expected to work towards it. Does this necessarily cut down on player agency? Of course not! All you've laid out so far is the general goal of the content you are putting in front of the players. How they achieve that goal could conceivably be entirely up to them. They may take hints and pointers from NPC's, or ignore them altogether and do their own thing! I'll admit here this is probably not how the game by and large plays out; people deciding the what often decide the how of dealing with it, and their players are simply present to go through the motions. Jeffro mentions this style of play in his section on Stormbringer in Appendix N. The game master constantly funnels the players into what they must do next; whether by mining their backstory for family or loved ones to capture or kill, forcing the player into battles which they will certainly fail, and don't provide any option to the players that takes them off the beaten path, even for a moment. This is probably what Jeffro thinks of when he hears the phrase plot line in the context of a tabletop RPG. If I'm right, I can't blame him for his reaction.

Next we have how I personally run my campaign. Here, the plot line is a backdrop for the players, not the other way around. In my campaign, the Second Host War has kicked off. What does this mean? Well, important NPC's are often busy, the prices of many items have gone up, and society at large is a bit more chaotic. I consider it the plot line of my campaign. Up until a session ago, the players weren't even involved in that war (at least not directly). They've been the length of the United States from their home civilization where that war has been taking place. Why are they so far away? They were sent on an expedition to look for lost magic and alchemical formulae by a Druid NPC, looking to tip the scales of the war before it escalates too quickly.

My players have a very sandbox style game. Each location they visit is largely self-contained, hosts its own monster ecology, and contains its own minor setting details for the players to conquer and loot. They're able to craft impressive magic and mechanical items of their own design (provided they meet some minor prerequisites), able to choose which areas they want to engage with, and overall drive their own fantasy. Last session they were briefly transported back to their civilization (of their own accord) to participate in a minor battle. Up until that point, their NPC liaison would occasionally inform them of how what they found impacted the war. What I consider to be the central narrative of my campaign is something my players have engaged with and driven forward, but indirectly. I let them do that, because I want them to be able to drive their fantasy. I don't force them to go through the motions of what I think should happen in my world. I let my players drive the action, I just make sure the numbers check out.

This I think explains the generational gap between Jeffro and I.  I think we both focus on player agency, primarily enjoy the mechanics of the game (pick your jaws up from the floor folks, yes we actually consider this a game), and like being free to toss situations at our players at will, regardless of whether or not an encounter might be considered fair. In fact, this is how the majority of my group plays. However whereas Jeffro would be inclined to say the inclusion of a plot or central narrative inherently diminishes the fantasy of player action, at my groups table we've always viewed it differently. To us, a plot has always been wellspring to draw from, not something to drown the players in.

I have a nagging suspicion Jeffro would enjoy such a game, even if he was using 5E.

You can find Johnson's blog here.

Creative Differences

So my friend Jake pitched me a superhero comic recently. The work on the Eyes of the Forest comic has unfortunately come to a halt (hat's fine, the book is still in progress) so I had something of an opening. Just one problem: I don't like superhero media!

This isn't to say I won't sit down for a movie with a couple of my friends. Yes, I coincidentally had dust in my eyes from the moment Yondu told Quill "He might 'ave been your father, but he wasn't your daddy" to the moment we watched him die in the airless void.

Fuck you, James Gunn.

Just in general though, breaking me out of my hovel or obsessive work cycle to watch a superhero movie demands something like a king's ransom and the universal approval of my friends, because how dare I spend 2 hours on anything I can't justify the productive value of.
Like playing video games. 

In all seriousness, I just can't get down with superhero media. It freaks me out, I see a lot of tropey and "we're trying too hard to not be tropey" stuff and my suspension of disbelief is primed fail the second I see a cape. Shame, really. 

There was one instance of superhero media that I not only enjoyed, but connected with on a really deep level. Alphas, on Sci-fi. It only ran for 2 seasons (and included who would later be one of my favorite voice actors), but it bypassed my normal skepticism. It was realistic; not the grim dark "everything is sex drug use and murder" completely un-relatable realism of DC, these were people living normal lives around what was (to them) a disability. Disabilities that could be used to great advantage if someone took the time and effort to coach them through it. I would not be particularly shocked if I was the only one that sort of narrative could connect with.

So when my friend Jake pitched this comic to me, I told him exactly what I wanted to do with it. I described my personal feelings on the subject, and used Alphas as an example of what I thinks often missing in storytelling in general. To my surprise he accepted! I'm not a tyrant of course, and neither is he. So naturally, we've had a few disagreements on certain plot elements. I want to share to these disagreements here.

I'm comfortable sharing all the details of this one thing is though I think I convinced Jake to scrap it. He wanted to introduce a reality bending device; something that would in his words explain why superpowers started cropping up. It was an alien artifact, Ancient, and every single superpower in the world would depend on it. Moreover, it would be located on earth! Oh, and it can be turned off. Lovely. I spent I think over a week discussing with Jake, Zach our other writer, and a mutual friend whether this was just a McGuffin had no real place in story.

I think what finally managed to convince him was the fact that our audience was coming to us specifically because they wanted a superhero story. Storytelling in general has an over explanation problem to begin with, but explaining to the audience why they are allowed to suspend disbelief is taking it to a whole new level. Jake's response was that it was cool, and there were a lot of story opportunities with it. All of the stories that he proposed intersecting with this device more high escalation everything screwed if we don't win fights. I hate those! I hate them with a passion, and superhero media is absolutely full of them. Everything is screwed if we don't win is almost universally on relatable. I stuck to my guns, and Jake relented. I'm not dictating things, I just have a standard that I measure everything against.

The second was a character pitch. This really did not progress far. I opened up discord to see a message from Jake reading what if Hercules was a real person and had superpowers and survived into the modern age? Here I really got to work. My first question was why on earth but we take a character from mythology? Next, why Hercules? Literally everyone does the Greeks next to the Norse pantheon! The usual "but it's interesting" objection came out. In addition, the other writers felt that just because other people had done it didn't mean we couldn't. In principle, I agree!

There is absolutely nothing in this instance that would convince me otherwise. I had two core objections. First, you take a character from mythology explicitly so you do not have to be original. Unless you're doing a full reimagining that actually fits within the setting of your world, you are taking from the lore so that you do not have to do the writing on your own. The more commonly retold the myth, the more your take is likely something that everyone has heard before. I'm not saying you can't enjoy that by the way, but it's popcorn. It's not deep, and something I really prefer to avoid. Next, I felt the choice of mythological figure was telling. Who is Hercules? He's a big strong guy. Not only is he a big strong guy, he's the big strong guy. It's not exactly the most complex core characterization you could pick. On top of that, we go back to the fact that everyone does the Greeks! There are other figures to choose from when it comes to absurdly tough and good at killing things. I suggested Samson or Beowulf. The fact he chose Hercules told me it was not coming from a place of originality or inspiration, but more of a first thing to come to mind. It's a lazy choice, and I wanted to keep that from diminishing some of the excellent plots we've drawn up so far.

I always try to keep the same standard when it comes to things; if you're going to pitch something, I have two questions. Can we plausibly keep the peace we desire when it comes to escalating conflicts if we introduce this thing? What purpose does it have within the central narrative? It's easy to get swept away by the cool factor. I often go back to earlier chapters in my book make sure I haven't been so caught up in the idea of something that I didn't pay attention to the execution of it. When it comes to comics this is especially important; I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say that the plot is central to the success of the comic!

 

 

Changing Spells I

Well the poll on my page was clear, and the Charger revision is going back to the drafts for awhile.

You terrible people. 

All's well though, spellcasting is one of my favorite topics when it comes to games in general. Now, I love magic in tabletop RPG's in particular because there's such a variety of actual spells. Far too many they could get a game like sky room, there's just too much programming and development of assets that would go into developing 1/10 of the spells D&D has (that's not including situations that would involve their application, though most are combat focused so it's layered with other things). 

However if you're like me, you might find spellcasting and D&D a little stale after a while. You're constantly looking up spells that don't have the concentration tag's you can layer some active effects, combats only last three or four rounds, and there's all the spells you can't really justify casting over something else. There may be a situation one in a million where casting wall of sand would aid the party in combat. Perfectly reasonable assumption. However, there will never be a time in which casting wall of sand is a better tactical option than casting haste.

So, my first choice for editing spells within D&D is screwing around with the concentration tags. Now, I've already gone into elsewhere what my current system for managing concentration is. For those of you not quite looking to rip off that band-aid yet, no worries, I'm going to try something a little different here that hopefully exposes the process.

We're going to run down a 5 step plan for determining whether you can take concentration off a spell without breaking the game. There's plenty of obvious spells to choose from, but I'm going to see if I can't run down a list of more difficult choices (can't grow if you don't challenge yourself).

1. Compare the spell to haste.
Haste isn't actually the linchpin here but it's a useful example. Chances are, if you play for a year or more, certain casters have a signature spell. It's the best, the party moves around it, it's the first suggestion someone makes when they want to solve an issue, it's the first thing someone casts in combat. In the game I'm currently playing, literally every player has some sort of martial competence. On top of that, we find ourselves kited often (mostly bosses fleeing from the raging half-orc with two greatsw-ALL HAIL KAINO THE MOUNTAIN) so the speed boost is gravy. Any other concentration spell I cast is weighed against the speed and damage boost 2 or 3 of my party members are receiving at that time, so it's rare that I drop anything else on the field. Spike growth COULD be cool in some situations, but I rarely have the excuse for it. For these reasons, haste is my go-to.

2. Evaluate the opportunity costs of the spell. 
What happens when a character drops concentration on another spell to cast this one? How does the battlefield change? Is it more valuable to maintain concentration on a hold monster or fog cloud then switch to this one? Will it see any use? If you drop in this instance the concentration tag, does it displace the other spells? Obviously if you remove concentration from the spell they can deploy the effect alongside a concentration effect.

Let's say we've got a spell, single target to keep things simple. It doesn't deal any damage but incurs a pretty hefty status affect. Not something that hurts a creature's action economy, just makes it worse that using the actions it has available to it. That spell sounds pretty fun, and it is! It has to pretty hefty downsides though. It offers a saving throw for the effect obviously not bad enough itself, and that save is Constitution based. Monsters tend to be decent at Constitution and strength saving throws. Next, the spell offers a repeating save. The spell can fail well before it would naturally end or even before you take damage and may be feel concentration check, even if the spell originally succeeds. For arguments sake, let's make the spell second level quite a few second level spells match the sort of design.

Now the spell isn't useless by any stretch of the imagination, it's still pretty powerful. Do we add the concentration tag to it? I'd say no! The restrictions placed on the spell are significant, and the spell's benefit isn't something that takes the enemy off the board. It doesn't deal damage, and it has a good chance of failure even if the spell succeeds at first. If you add concentration to this spell, it's not going to be terribly impressive. So unimpressive, that it gets moved from a "nice in-pocket spell" to "right in the never-cast list with wall of sand".

So, we do not add the concentration tag to such a spell. If said spell has that tag, we remove it.
This spell exists, by the way. It's Blindness/Deafness, and it's great for minibosses and clutch moments when I'm playing a character focused on battlefield control.

3. Compare the spell to other spells of its kind.
There's a cluster of 2nd level spells that really overlap in their utility and purpose, mechanically and thematically. Suggestion, Crown of Madness, and Hold Person (that last one might seem odd but I promise it's supposed to be there) all serve to diminish or cut out action economy in some fashion when it comes to the enemy.

Are your players going to ignore spells similar to the one you've selected to change? Is that an indication those other spells are in need of a fix as well? Or are you just boosting a spell to be too powerful?

4. Consider any exploits that result from changing it.
This step in the process of editing the spell is particularly relevant given the tag have chosen to use as an example. After all, concentration is fifth editions design Band-Aid on too many spell effects. So naturally, making your mechanical change in this area exploit – proof is especially necessary.

It's almost like I plan these things.

Changes to debuff spells are especially in need of attention. Stacking multiple conditions on top of one another can create a much faster downward spiral for your monsters. Creature fails wisdom save, creature has a condition that makes it automatically fail dex and strength saves, casters start throwing those spells at the creature, tensions rise, the DM flips the table. Avoid this. 

Don't engage in theory crafting; honestly think about how your usual combats play out. Mine tend to go about 3-4 rounds, and the players tend to get surprised more often than they do the monsters. I wouldn't think about what would happen if the cleric had 6 rounds of not taking damage, total preparation, no restrictions on line of sight, no risk of the monsters overwhelming him, etc. That situation will never play itself out in the game, not even by accident. Does the caster become a higher value target for intelligent monsters? Does the caster somehow make themselves more difficult to hit or take damage with the spell? Do the effective damage reductions also restrict their ability to affect the battlefield? Play out the situations in your head, or just take some 1" grid paper and literally play out the situation on paper. Not enough DMs do this, in can seriously benefit your design decisions. 

5. Evaluate whether toning down the spell may be worth the tradeoff.
There are two easy ways to tone down spells that are normally concentration. First, add a repeating save. There are few concentration spells that last for something like a minute and do not offer a repeating save. Spells of these sorts are usually justified in having the concentration tag. You might want to remove it anyways for whatever reason, so a good way to tone it down is to inflate the chance of the spell's failure. Pretty simple, right? Now some spells have a one minute duration and already offer a repeating save. If you want to remove the concentration tag from that spell, your easiest option for diminishing the effect is hard capping the duration. Make the spell last until the end of the casters next turn. It's a hefty penalty, but it's a nice trade-off. Now, what if you've encountered a spell that already caps the effect at the end of the casters next turn and has the concentration tag? More likely than not, you found a poorly designed spell. But if some miracle such as spell exists and deleting the concentration tag would make it unbalanced, simply increase the minimum level at which it must be cast. In fact, that change is relatively easy to institute to begin with and perhaps easier to remember.

This stage of the process is what I'd most recommend consulting with your players. As the adage goes, if it ain't broke don't fix it. After going through the previous steps, you may find a proposed mechanical change is best in your eyes balanced by diminishing some aspect of the spell. There are a variety of ways to do this of course, but I'd like to note that this step of the process is most likely to step on your players toes. Now, don't try to avoid that while going through this process up until this point. You would to plunge yourself into the mechanics, the math, the way your change plays out of the table. This plenty of opportunities for somebody to be mildly inconvenienced by a change you made; you need to ignore those thoughts while testing things out, or a else slow (worse yet, stall) your progress.

Once you get to this point, feedback is helpful! Making the design process collaborative for this sort of thing in the early stages can be difficult. It's far too easy to shoot each other down before getting things on paper. And since prototyping mechanic for a tabletop game is noticeably easier than prototyping for something like a videogame, the potential payoff for ignoring everyone else to get the idea established is far too high to resist. So, ask your players! Ask whether this will step on any of their toes! They will be best equipped to see if this will have any immediate or obvious detriments to their enjoyment of the game. 

Note: Sorry for a lower quality here, I had a really excellent 2-5 point list buy didn't save changes, so a lot of this is re-hashing things I'd already written down. 
 

Weekend Statblock: Kother

I'm excited for this one; it's a character from my book! I'm generally reluctant to do this sort of thing but it means that character could be killed prematurely or something of that sort. Normally, a writer would just say this is what happens in the book universe and this is what happens in the campaign universe. Better yet, there'd be no overlap between the sequences of time to begin with. Well, maybe. There is probably a right way for me to do this. I don't know what that way is, so I'm just going to try to execute what it is I'm currently doing in the best way possible. I hope there is something in that statement that made sense.
It's a fleeting hope.
Nevertheless, with this character I didn't need to worry about anything of that sort! The means of cheating death are rare, but this guy has access to one of them. In fact, this neatly packages an excuse to make him a recurring villain, even if the players kill him. Especially if the players kill him. In fact, love tossing out enemies that know who the players are and what they can do. I generally employed intelligent enemies to begin with, who react reasonably to the players mid fight. But when my monsters get to meta-game? Oh boy, how I love smacking down my players. For the record, they love it too! 

All right, let's go over the man. You may have guessed he's probably going to make an appearance in the upcoming argon forest side quest I've set up for my players. I'm starting more and more to get the hang of creating solo or near solo boss fights, thanks largely to the creativity and diligence of my friends. Is a friendly reminder that don't worry if you suck as a DM; chances are at least one of your friends is good at some aspect of it. Learn from them!
 

Kother.jpg

Now the Deathtaker's are not really a legion themselves. They're more of a sub faction. Then again, that sort of what the lesions are. To put it another way, they don't fit perfectly within the militaristic paradigm of the Brestrels nation. They have other functions within the state, simply put. Nevertheless, a focus on death and necromancy makes for a nice supplement to a military force. Plenty of corpses on a battlefield....

Let's jump into the purpose. Necromancers as PCs (or summoning undead in general) can be annoying for DMs. I'm generally fine with it, I just hand the player a monster manual when they start summoning. There's also the RP aspect, and while my group does not I think suffer from the oft maligned "lawful stupid" character, we very much DO have the "I antagonize the lawful good" character(s). I of course, being noble and virtuous as I am, would never annoy another player in such a fashion. I don't need to worry about the rp or mechanical annoyances in any case though, as I'm controlling the "I make more NPCs" character. 

This proves an easy solution to the issue of disparity in action economy when it comes to boss fights. Not only that, you get to exploit something I could do more often but simply forget, which is to introduce more creature in the midst of a fight (again, something I really don't do in boss fights).

It works really, really well for this guy in particular. Check Army of Death; +1 to AC for every undead within 30 feet. AC rarely changes across the course of a fight! Even when it does, it's usually pretty predictable. Here though, it's extremely dynamic. I'd actually pose that as a warning if you end up using this guy or even just this mechanic in particular; you may find it difficult to manage. Spells are easy enough to manage, but let's look over Voice of the Dead for a moment. The creature Kother chooses (either an Undead or staying true to my "this faction is special" design, another Deathtaker) uses its reaction to let Kother cast a spell through it. Simple right? I realized my language was poor off the bat for the secondary effect, and didn't want to leave it hanging.

The secondary effect talks about "as if the creature cast it". Here's how I define it: if the creature would suffer or gain any advantage or disadvantage or any other bonus or restriction if it was the one casting the spell, that effect is in play. Examples usually clear this sort of confusion. If the creature Kother chooses is under the effect of a silence spell, he can't use that creature to cast a spell with a verbal component. If it's restrained, it has disadvantage on any spell attack roll. If the creature is paralyzed, it can't take any actions. 

I hope I cleared that up, the language went through more than one iteration before I settled on the final product you see there. 

Death Touch is a ripoff of Lightning Touch from the Kraken Priest in Volo's. Consume Undead is actually pretty great though! At this level zombies and skeletons aren't a threat to the players in terms of damage. You're only 1 failed strength check away from being grappled though! Dog piling the cleric or paladin could be a great investment just to hold back those particular heavy hitters. Also goes back to the dynamic AC thing. Take a penalty to AC, get HP back. 

Legendary Actions! Cantrip actually gives me a lot of room to play around with given the Voice of the Dead ability. Beckon is very convenient if a number of enemies are on the field. Fail a wisdom save, take an outrageous number of opportunity attacks. Empower Undead won't be particularly useful by and large in this situation, I'm not giving Kother high CR undead to control (in this encounter), but when I do, it'll be nasty. 

Also, I'm now realizing the spell save DC and Spell Attack Bonus should be 1 higher if I think of this guy as a 16th level caster. Proficiency bonus is annoying when it comes to NPCs with "class levels". 

I'm not concerned if my players see this (they now have access to my blog) for 2 reasons. One, they're great roleplayers. Two, I have other unique statblocks to add on to this encounter :)

The utility of Quora

I joined quora recently (find my profile here ), and I'm loving it. My views started rapidly inflating with just a few questions answered (primarily about D&D, for obvious reasons). I'm happy to see the positive response. There's this weird thing when it comes to D&D forums, blogs, etc where people don't know how to ask or answer questions. People don't write essays in the comments of twitch streams when they want "advice on a problem player", but at the same time they want personalized advice! When it comes to written media, they'll write an essay, but not include the relevant information that would help them actually assist the given problem. 

On top of that, content creators are very, very reluctant to ever diagnose an issue in a game. Some people even have an explicit policy against it! This isn't a criticism by the way. I know exactly why they have that opinion and they're totally justified in holding it.

I just can't help myself.

If you have any questions (and this is your opportunity to go nuts with "personal relevance"), hit me up there! I love writing essays and getting into the nitty gritty of game design and storytelling. 

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.