what divination spells are being used on the PCs?

March 23rd, 2015 by paul

Let's say the PCs have pissed someone off. Believe it or not, it happens sometimes. What consequences should they expect? Once the PCs get out of Dodge, are they completely safe from Dodge law enforcement? Or are their pursuers given an arbitrary level of omniscience (pursuers catch up to the PCs whenever the DM feels like things are getting slow)?

Let's figure out some predictable consequences based on the might of the offended cities/countries/organizations. Assign each organization a level, 1-20, using the guidelines below. Here are the 5e divination/law enforcement spells that might be routinely available to each organization.

Local tier (level 1-4): Towns, baronies, local thieves guilds, low-level casters, monsters with caster minions.
Locate Object (level 2): Pretty much the only way to find a thief in this tier is cast Locate Object on the stolen item. With a range of 1000 feet, though, it will take a while to catch a thief even in a small town.
Tier Analysis: If you're a petty outlaw, you're pretty safe, magically speaking. Just hide the stuff more than a mile away from town and it will never be magically found.

Regional tier (level 5-10): City-states or small countries, duchies, crime syndicates, big merchant houses, noble families, drow houses.
Clairvoyance (level 3): Its range is a mile, and it's pretty much a room-by-room search, so its uses are limited to surveillance of known suspects.
Sending (level 3): You can't locate someone with Sending, but you can send them threatening messages or offer them deals. If your pursuers' highest spell level is 3, prepare to be mildly irritated by daily telepathic threats. It's basically all they can do to you.
Divination (level 4): Ask a question about something to happen within 7 days. It's hard to see the utility of this spell for catching enemies, and the answers are cryptic anyway.
Locate Creature (level 4): Like Locate Object, it only works within 1000 ft.
Commune (level 5): At level 5, divination spells start to get more useful. Commune lets you ask three yes/no questions, so you can use it to play a really slow game of 20 questions about the target.
Contact other plane (level 5): Like Commune, but five questions, and it's way too dangerous to use every day (chances of death or insanity with every casting). Sensible NPCs probably won't use this spell much.
Dream (level 5): You can't locate an enemy but you can threaten them, do psychic damage, and prevent them from resting. You might be able to kill them at a distance without ever finding them.
Scrying (level 5): Almost certainly the spell of choice for hunters of PCs. The PC gets a saving throw, with a bonus if the caster doesn't personally know the target, and a penalty if the caster has physical evidence (like fingernail clippings). Organizations should have CSI-like crime squads to track down such evidence. Even if the target makes the save, the spell is repeatable every day. On a success, the caster can see the target's surroundings (for 10 minutes) but doesn't necessarily know the global location.
Tier Analysis: PCs who upset regional authorities can expect regular angry Sendings and Dreams, and daily scry attempts which will eventually succeed unless the PCs take countermeasures. The PCs should avoid recognizable surroundings like the Eiffel Tower. Scrying gives the DM a new problem: exactly when do the enemies try to tune in? while the PCs are discussing their plans, or while they are mutely trudging through anonymous forest? Here's a DM trick: set a phone alert for, say, an hour into the game session. When it goes off, that's when the enemies try to scry.

Major tier (level 11-16): Major countries, major religions, major campaign villains, major worldwide organizations.
Conjure elemental (level 6): This is a level 5 spell, but cast at level 6, it can summon an Invisible Stalker. The Stalker automatically knows the direction and distance to the target. Even without the stalkers' assassination abilities, that's bad news for fugitives. And a new stalker can be summoned every day.
Teleport (level 7): Finding the fugitive is all well and good, but Teleport or Tree Stride (level 6) let you go out and get them.
Tier Analysis: Compared to the regional tier, major-tier organizations are slightly better at finding you, and way better at taking you out. Between Invisible Stalker and scry-and-die teleport tactics, you can't escape - except by going to another plane of existence.

World-spanning tier (level 17-20): Global or planar empires, demon princes, Sauron-level villains.
Gate (level 9): Costs 5000 GP per casting, but it's worth it. If the caster knows the targets' names, and they're on a different plane, it will summon them (unless they're in the demesne of a deity or similar creature). Combine this spell with Plane Shift (level 7) to guarantee that you're on a different plane of existence from your target.
Tier Analysis: Gate takes away fugitives' extraplanar bolt holes. Only the gods can hide them from 9th-level casters.

three zany D&D kickstarters and why I’m backing them

March 18th, 2015 by paul

I love D&D kickstarters; right now I'm backing three. One question I try to ask myself is "will I use this in a game?" The answer for all three is "yes, but not necessarily as intended."

city_originalOK, first, the project with the most obvious D&D utility: Stefan Pokorny's city Dungeon Tiles. How precious! A set of little D&D dollhouses to complement my love of city-based D&D adventure. This has everything I need for urban set-piece battles: adorable Tudor houses, guardhouses with battlements, and, as stretch goals, minis missing from my lineup: commoners, city guards, and ratlings.

I have a lot of Dwarven Forge stuff, which is weird, because it doesn't actually go very well with my DMing play style. I rarely do high-prep set-pieces: I mostly wing it based on the whims of the PCs. I probably won't construct an intricate diorama of a lovingly-detailed city location, because I don't want to force the PCs to use it. But if a fight does break out in a tavern, city street, or village square, I'd like to be able to plop down a couple of nice-looking houses and give the battle some character.

And I'd like some ratling minis.

Dwarven Forge stuff is expensive. For people who would rather drop $25 instead of $250 on D&D, Rob Schwalb's Shadow of the Demon Lord might be a better choice.

GMXFlyer-200x300Given that I'll probably be playing D&D 5e for the foreseeable future, what does a new RPG offer me? I like a lot of Schwalb's previous design work, including A Song of Ice and Fire RPG and, well, D&D 5e. Shadow of the Demon Lord looks like it will have a lot of stuff to mine for a D&D game. It's got the post-apocalpyse dial turned way up, which I like. And from the descriptions of the spells, the gross-out and body-horror value is pretty high too. That's less appealing to me as a core part of D&D, but there is a place for it.

I love spells-as-treasure. Maybe the "make a dude's nuts explode" spell is too silly for a core D&D spell, but it might be a plausible find in an evil wizard's spellbook - and maybe some warped PC will actually transcribe it. In my game, one of the players has a half-deciphered book of evil rituals. Hopefully I'll get to see some more Shadow of the Demon Lord spells before the other half is deciphered.

rocketbookMy final kickstarter is ostensibly non-D&D: it's a "cloud-integrated" paper notebook. What does that mean, besides the fact that the "cloud" buzzword is now officially overused?

Basically, what it means is that when you take a cellphone photo of a notebook doodle, it will automatically resize it, color-correct it, un-perspective it, and upload/post/email it to a location of your choice.

Why does this scream D&D to me? Because the notebook page has a dot grid. It's essentially graph paper. I doodle a lot of maps and other D&D sketches during meetings. I wouldn't mind being able to one-click post them, or one-click email them to my D&D group, instead of bringing the notebook home, scanning it, fiddling with it in Photoshop, etc.

The other goofy, fun feature: if you microwave the notebook, the ink disappears and you can use it again. Future technology!

some underdark geomorphs

March 9th, 2015 by paul

underdarkMy game has found its way into the Underdark. To prepare for the PCs' big battle against the drow - and to create quick locations for future random encounters - I made 12 Underdark geomorphs. Download 'em!

My geomorph map pieces are slightly non-standard: they're rectangular, 8x10 inches. Square geomorphs allow for more facings for each piece, but the Underdark is different from a regular dungeon in that it has a grain. Tunnels don't spiral off randomly in every direction: they tend to be long straight paths with the occasional branch or turn. My Underdark geomorphs have very few dead ends along their long axis, and relatively few side tunnels along the short axis.

By the way, the Post-it in the picture is a spider-drawn war chariot.

5e DMG: page 250 as a complete mass combat system

February 26th, 2015 by paul

The 5e DMG has a short section on "handling mobs:" it has a chart for approximating, out of a group of attacking monsters, how many monsters hit.

It's pretty simple: subtract attacker's hit bonus from the target's AC. Cross-index that number on the chart. If the number is 1-5, all the attackers hit; if it's 6-12, 1/2 of them hit; etc., up to 1 in 20 of the attackers hitting on a 20.

I ran a big set-piece battle yesterday: 8 mid-level PCs and 10 gnomes against 20+ drow and other assorted creatures, including a drow spider chariot and a sinister angel. With a wizard and a sorcerer PC and two drow wizards, all slinging fireballs, the mob attacks weren't much of a factor. With all those fireballs, what I COULD have used was rules for mob saving throws.

If I'd thought about it, I'd have realized that the same chart can be used for saving throws. Instead of subtracting attack bonus from AC, subtract saving throw bonus from DC, and use the chart as normal. For instance, a fireball save DC of 15, minus the drow dex save (+2) is 13, which, according to the chart, means that 1/3 of the drow succeed on their saving throw (and probably survive with 1 or 2 HP left).

In fact, this same chart can be used for ability/skill checks (how many orcs managed to climb the wall? DC minus skill bonus) or any other d20 roll.

To me, it seems this is all you need to run fairly simple battles with dozens or hundreds of creatures per side. The amount of HP tracking is not excessive: for instance, in this unit of 50 ogres, 24 have 15 damage and the other 25 have 30 damage. (For ease of bookkeeping, assume that melee attacks always target the most-damaged creature.)

You might also care about the base size of big units. I assumed that a close-packed formation of 10 Medium troops took up the size of one Large creature. I'd say that 25 troops are Huge and 50 are Gargantuan.

If we do any bigger-scale battles, I might find other rules that I need (after all, the Chain Mail rules are much longer than this blog post) but right now, this is looking pretty good for running big D&D skirmishes.

a random encounter chart that reminds you of the 5e hex crawl, wandering monsters, weather, navigation, and surprise rules

February 12th, 2015 by paul

Running a by-the-book 5e hex crawl takes practice. There are a lot of fiddly rules on different pages: you have to skip back and forth between the sections on weather, wandering monsters, getting lost, and random hex contents.

I've been running hex crawls lately and I've boiled down the relevant rules (for me) into a single random encounter chart. Based on the current location/terrain type, the DM fills specific encounters into the chart, Mad Libs-style. The chart does the heavy lifting for determining weather events, chances to get lost, monsters both in their lair and out, surprise, and landscape features.

This chart also reminds me to run a good mix of encounter types: some monsters are friendly! sometimes you run into an inexplicable mystery of the ancient world! Many "encounters" don't lead to combat! (Of the 12 slots on this table, you only need about 5 potential combats.) With a relatively small and varied number of possible encounters, you can design a bunch that you really want to run, instead of lots of "2d6 goblins" filler. The DM, at least, should be excited to roll on the random encounter table. Here's my encounter chart template as a PDF.

Checking for encounters: Roll d6 four times a day: morning travel, afternoon travel, first night watch, second night watch. Any roll of 6 means that you roll on the encounter chart. (Or use the official 5e rule: roll 20, encounter on 18-20. Pretty much the same odds, but I like the traditional d6.)

Rolling on the encounter chart: Roll d12 on this chart while traveling, or d6 while stationary (for instance, while resting). The chart is organized so that stationary encounters can't sneak up on you while you're not moving.

1: Plot advancing creature: This means different things in different campaigns. If you're running a campaign about the rise of Tiamat, you might populate this slot with dragons or Tiamat cultists. In my open-ended game where the characters are pursuing their own goals, I fill this slot with people or groups related to characters, like the drow assassin that's chasing the noble. If you're running a totally plotless hex crawl, fill this slot with a high-level monster (it potentially advances the story by killing the party!)

2: Intelligent creature: Any locale-appropriate group or creature with tool-using intelligence or higher. At night, if the characters hide their camp and don't light a fire, treat this roll as no encounter (unless your intelligent monsters has darkvision or a sharp sense of smell). That's the advantage the PCs get for not lighting a fire.

3: Unintelligent creature: Beasts or unintelligent monsters. Most beasts shy away from fire. If the characters are resting and have a campfire lit, treat this roll as no encounter (unless they're fearless or fire-based beasts). That's the advantage the PCs get for lighting a fire.

4: Ambush creature: Use stealthy creatures or creatures with special movement modes (flying, burrowing, climbing, swimming, incorporeal). All of these creatures can typically take the party by surprise, so check for surprise against the party's Perception (rules for perception while traveling: PHB 182). If the PCs are currently using a special movement mode, populate this slot entirely with matching creatures (flying PCs may ignore almost all other encounters, but a 4 is always another flying creature.)

5: Beneficial creature: There are actually a few good monsters in D&D, along with friendly adventurers, kobold bands looking for a new king, and suspicious traders with valuable information to sell. You could roll d4 on this chart to find out what kind of beneficial encounter this is.

6: Weather: If you make the standard 4 random encounter checks per day, you have about an 8% to 12% daily chance to hit bad weather. (The DMG weather chart gives a 15% daily chance of heavy precipitation. Of course, this is probably lower in practice because few DMs roll on the weather chart every day.) Feel free to use any place- and season-appropriate weather that challenges or inconveniences the characters in some way, or use the official weather rules in the DMG p. 109. Possible weather inconveniences: while exposed to the weather, you can't benefit from a long rest; low visibility forces a Survival check to avoid becoming lost; fords and valleys are flooded.

7. Lair: Locale-appropriate bad guys (or beasts) live here. Usually lairs are where creatures keep their treasure. This could also be a dungeon entrance. No matter the level of the PCs, I make 1 in 6 lairs contain monsters with more than 10 HD/level/CR. Alert PCs shouldn't run into a cave without scouting first.

8. Survival Check or Hazard: The rules for getting lost (DMG 105) are vague: a Survival check is made "when you decide it's appropriate." Consider this encounter slot a reminder. Characters might get lost because of detours, low visibility, or hazards. Hazards include rockslides, quicksand, etc, all detailed in the DMG p. 110.

9. Path Choice: Take a forest shortcut? Ford the river or caulk the wagon? The tradeoff might be apparent (safe path vs. quick path), or a Survival check, or good reasoning, might be needed to reveal which choice is best.

10. Beneficial location: Typically, this means a friendly settlement or homestead (1 in 6 chance of being bigger than a village). Random settlement rules are on DMG 112. In the uncharted wilds, this might instead mean a treasure or natural resource, or a magic resource like a stand of healing herbs or a teleportation circle, or (valuable late in the day) a defensible place to camp.

11. Ruin: One cool thing about the 5e assumptions is that ruins seem to be about as common as civilized spots. A ruin might be a lair or the entrance to a dungeon, but it might just be an abandoned village or castle, an ancient monument (DMG 108), or a weird locale (DMG 109) that hints at lost history beyond the scope of the adventure.

12. Tracks: It's cool when the PCs gather information that lets them make informed decisions about their surroundings. Roll d12 on this table; there are tracks, noises, glimpses, or other signs that lead to (or let the PCs avoid) that encounter or location.

OK, so much for the chart explanation. Now here's an example chart that I've made for my campaign, and some blank ones in case you want to print them up and use them.

1: Plot advancing creature: Depends on the group. Let's say a monk who's challenging the monk PC to duel for an available position in the heirarchy: someone murdered the Grand Master of Flowers.
2: Intelligent creature: A paladin from a well-known paladin order. He tells the PCs that he has fought through Hell and returned with a book of devil truenames, and he is fleeing from a pack of vengeful devils. He will accept any help: fight his pursuers (encounter 5); escort him to his destination, which is a holy priory; take his book from him for safekeeping; etc. He is actually a blackguard and he is on his way to sell the book to a devil in a ruined priory.
3: Unintelligent creature: Ghosts of an extinct dwarf clan. They snipe at the party with their ghostly flintlock rifles; from their ancient dwarven curses, it appears that they think the PCs are goblins. They are nearly mindless and cannot be reasoned with. When down to 1/2 HP, each starts retreating to a jumble of bones and treasure in a valley about a mile away. If the bones are blessed, the ghosts will rest.
4: Ambush creature: Hungry wyvern family; will try to fly off with the first PC casualty. Target horses preferentially.
5: Beneficial creature: A troop of paladins searching for the blackguard who stole their book of devil truenames. They will bless and heal friendly PCs and will offer a reward for the book's return.
6: Weather: Unseasonal snowstorm which follows and surrounds a pack of 7 ravenous winter wolves. Under moonlight, the wolves turn into 7 cursed and miserably cold brothers.
7. Lair: A small tribe of sheep-raising ogres, unusually well-supplied with wool kilts, led by Queen Morag, a relatively industrious and intelligent ogre. If the party seems too powerful to kill, she'll offer to hire out her warriors as mercenaries (100 GP a day or best offer).
8. Survival Check or Hazard: A miles-wide area of canyons and plateaus. It's easy to get lost or hit a dead end in the canyons, while staying on the plateaus requires crossing the occasional abyss.
9. Path Choice: Entrance to a long tunnel which leads in the general direction of the PCs' travel, but descends. Various side passages lead back to the surface while the main tunnel goes to the underdark.
10. Beneficial location: An empty tower with ominous gargoyles up top. They're actually non-animate stone gargoyles. However all the wood floors are rotten and will collapse under more than #500 weight (characters get saves to avoid falling). The top floor (unless it's damaged) has a weather-stained permanent summoning circle which can be activated to summon an imp who will answer one question per day: the imp can cast Scry to try to answer the question. Before answering each question, the imp will demand the answer to a personal question about the asker's life.
11. Ruin: A sloping round tower, three hundred feet tall, completely solid (no inside space). An outside spiral staircase leads to a thirty-foot-wide platform on top, protected by battlements. On the platform are the signs of many old campfires. This is a safe place to camp (except in lightning storms). The bottom of the tower has a gnawed appearance because local peasants have removed stones for their building projects.
12. Tracks: An unseasonal path of quickly-melting snow which leads to encounter 6.

Here's a blank encounter chart PDF for you to fill out.

the always and never rule

January 28th, 2015 by paul

If I were writing the D&D rulebook I'd make a Rule Negative One, right before Rule Zero ("The DM always has the authority to change the rules").

The always and never rule:

In this book, the words "always" and "never" have a special meaning. Whenever you see these words, mentally add "with at least one interesting exception, to be determined by the players and DM."

This rule always applies.

Then I'd make sure to use the words "always" and "never" a lot. I'd throw in tons of restrictions. Demons, drow, and orcs are always evil. Paladins are always lawful good. Dwarves are never wizards. Skeletons are always mindless. Under a Zone of Truth spell, you can never lie. Halflings can never resist a pie.

cursed items turn into regular items

January 12th, 2015 by paul

OK, you know all those brutal old-school cursed items? Bowl of watery death, rug of smothering, etc? i always hated them, but I think I came up with a twist that allows me to use them in good conscience.

Every cursed item, when its curse is thwarted, becomes a useful magic item for the user who mastered it.

For me, this suddenly transforms "evil DM" items into "interesting treasure" items. Cursed items are kind of like intelligent items: if you prove stronger, they can be useful tools. But instead of making a contested ego check, you conquer the item by succeeding at some task that's specific to the curse.

I'll use examples from 3e for cut and paste convenience, but every edition has pretty much the same list of gotcha items.

Broom of Animated Attack: This item is indistinguishable in appearance from a normal broom. It is identical to a broom of flying by all tests short of attempted use.

If a command is spoken, the broom does a loop-the-loop with its hopeful rider, dumping him on his head from 1d4+5 feet off the ground (no falling damage, since the fall is less than 10 feet). The broom then attacks the victim, swatting the face with the straw or twig end and beating him with the handle end.

What I'd add to this: the rider can make difficult Ride checks to stay aboard the broom. Several successes will "break" the broom. From then on, it will be an exceptionally loyal Broom of Flying for this user, but will act as a Broom of Animated Attack for all other riders.

I'd further posit that one of the items needed to create a Broom of Flying is "the soul of a steed." Brooms of Animated Attack are imbued with the souls of unbroken steeds, or of nightmares.

Bag of Devouring
This bag appears to be an ordinary sack. Detection for magical properties makes it seem as if it were a bag of holding. The sack is, however, a lure used by an extradimensional creature—in fact, one of its feeding orifices.

Any substance of animal or vegetable nature is subject to "swallowing" if thrust within the bag. The bag of devouring is 90% likely to ignore any initial intrusion, but any time thereafter that it senses living flesh within (such as if someone reaches into the bag to pull something out), it is 60% likely to close around the offending member and attempt to draw the whole victim in. The bag has a +8 bonus on grapple checks made to pull someone in. [...] Creatures drawn within are consumed in 1 round.

OK, this bag is really good at grappling, and it devours people in 1 round? What if the proposed victim is a better grappler? Instead of automatically devouring an engulfed victim, it must beat the victim in a wrestling match. Otherwise, the extradimensional creature is tamed, and the "victim" climbs out of a brand new bag of holding.

Cloak of Poisonousness
This cloak is usually made of a woolen material, although it can be made of leather. A detect poison spell can reveal the presence of poison impregnated in the cloak’s fabric. The garment can be handled without harm, but as soon as it is actually donned the wearer is killed instantly unless she succeeds on a DC 28 Fortitude save.

A wearer who succeeds on the Fortitude check now has an immunity to this particular poison and gets a nice Cloak of Resistance - and a potential assassination tool. ("You look cold. Take my cloak.")

-2 Sword, Cursed
This longsword performs well against targets in practice, but when used against an opponent in combat, it causes its wielder to take a -2 penalty on attack rolls.

All damage dealt is also reduced by 2 points, but never below a minimum of 1 point of damage on any successful hit. After one week in a character’s possession, the sword always forces that character to employ it rather than another weapon. The sword’s owner automatically draws it and fights with it even when she meant to draw or ready some other weapon. The sword can be gotten rid of only by means of limited wish, wish, or miracle.

-1 and -2 items are tough because they don't force a single moment of conflict; they just make you worse at stuff over a long period. Therefore, you should have to spend a significant amount of time winning the item over. Here are a couple of possibilities.

  • Why is the -2 sword trying to fight you? Maybe it has a quest it wants accomplished. Instead of declaring an attack, let it choose the target; given its choice of target, it might turn out to be +2 against the enemies of its creator. Ask it to point towards a place where you can do it a service.
  • Embrace the challenge of using the sword as your primary weapon, serving out a period of trial to prove your worthiness. Score three critical hits with the cursed sword, or strike the killing blow on a dragon, and it might suddenly become a +2 sword.
  • Here's a simple one: have someone cast Remove Curse on the sword, and then pick it up again. It's now +2.

    Armor of Arrow Attraction
    Magical analysis indicates that this armor is a normal suit of +3 full plate. However, the armor is cursed. It works normally with regard to melee attacks but actually serves to attract ranged weapons. The wearer takes a -15 penalty to AC against any attack by a ranged weapon. The true nature of the armor does not reveal itself until the character is fired upon in earnest.

    I actually think you need to be killed by missile fire in full Borimir fashion, or at least be dropped to the brink of death, to tame this armor. Once you're resurrected or healed, the armor will become normal +3 armor for you. However, if you ever clean your bloodstains from the armor, the curse re-exerts itself.

  • 5e DMG: Every D&D city should be a metropolis

    January 5th, 2015 by paul

    The 5e DMG has no size category for cities larger than 25,000 people: because cities require so much surplus food, such cities are "very rare". Similarly the 3e DMg says that a 100k metropolis should be the exception, not the rule. This is bad advice. Every game world should be dotted with metropolises of mind boggling scale. Screw medieval demographics.

    DNS basically has three adventure settings: dungeon, wilderness, and urban. D&D dungeons are not pokey prisons beneath a castle. They are unmapped mega-labyrinths and Mythic Underworlds. Who cares why the dungeon was built or where monsters' food comes from? D&D wilderness is not a cozy Sherwood Forest where every encounter is with a jolly bandit in Lincoln green. It's more like that Oregon trail game where you always die of cholera but instead of cholera it's dragons. It's the Mythic Wilderness. Similarly D&D urban adventuring shouldn't be restricted to plausible little 25k cities - the same population as modern Port Chester, NY. The players don't play D&D to explore fantasy Port Chester. The great D&D cities are Greyhawk, Waterdeep, Lanhkmar - all aspects of the Mythic City - filthy, vast, unmappable.

    In practice I've found that the metropolis is the standard urban adventuring setting. When you settle down to an extended urban story arc, you do so in a city big enough to stretch your arms in. D&D is not a research paper or a movie. It doesn't require historical plausibility and it doesn't cost you anything to build sets. D&d should embrace that. Instead of advising prudent and conservative little settlements, it should recommend vast old sprawling cities containing stinking treasure-laden rivers, ancient forgotten palaces jutting between slum roofs, armies of beaurocrats in competing courts, entire neighborhoods which only appear under certain moons, and strange monstrous denizens who remember ancient days.

    5e Dungeon Masters Guide: The Paradoxical Economy of D&D

    December 17th, 2014 by Rory

    10313383_10152396043486071_5167317756165026174_nThe D&D Dungeon Masters Guide is out now, and it's a very cool resource filled with lots of new rules for treasure, magic items, world building, new downtime activities, and optional rules! Also, my name is in the play-tester credits, so that's pretty fun :).

    Anyway, instead of doing something ridiculous, like review an entire book, I'd like to focus on one specific element I found interesting, the rules for running a business during your downtime!

    The idea of running a business and making extra money during downtime is pretty appealing. It's a great way to engage with the campaign world, a fun "simulationist" way to make money, and it opens up some cool adventure hooks for the DM. For example, maybe some mysterious cloaked figures show up at your Inn, clearly wounded and seeking shelter for the night, OR maybe a group of bumbling first level adventures meet up for the first time, planning a raid on a dragon lair that will surely result in their deaths!

    However, running a business is a tricky mechanic to get right. You probably don't want it to be TOO profitable, or else your PCs will be scratching their heads, wondering why they ever go on adventures. Conversely, if it doesn't really make you any money, why even bother? Sure, running an Inn sounds cool, but if it's not profitable, maybe you're better off spending your character's time elsewhere.

    The folks at Wizards of the Coast gave running a business a decent shot that may work for casual play, but unfortunately it suffers from a few serious flaws when you dig into it:

    • Running a big business is less profitable than running a small business: If you look at the table for running a business, you'll see that lower results penalize you by forcing you to pay some percentage of your upkeep every day you spent running a business. Your upkeep can range from 5SP a day for a farm to 10GP a day for a trading post. That makes sense. If your business does poorly, you still have to pay your workers and keep your property in shape. What is pretty counter-intuitive, however, is that if you roll higher on the table, you roll a set amount of dice to determine your profit. This profit is in the same range no matter the size of your business. So a small farm makes the same profit as a large inn, but since the large inn has an upkeep that is 20 times larger, you'll end up making a lot less money overall since it will hurt a lot more when you roll poorly and need to pay that upkeep. Read the rest of this entry »

    5e DMG talks a good game about ancient dragons

    December 16th, 2014 by paul

    The 5e DMG describes the tiers of the game from levels 1-4, where you fight rats in a basement, to level 17-20, where you fight "wyrms of tremendous power, whose sleep troubles kingdoms and whose waking threatens existence itself."

    Wow, that's some high flown rhetoric about dragons! Let's take it seriously and see where it takes us.

    First of all, sleep and waking are traditionally very important to dragons. In old school d&d, dragons are, I think, the only monsters with a chance to be asleep when discovered in their lairs. This is clearly an emulation of Smaug, who is asleep when Bilbo finds him and who has been holed up in his lair, apparently, for about sixty years. So dragons hibernate. Like cicadas, they have an active period when they desolate the countryside and a sleeping period of 30+ years when they leave their nests little if at all. I propose that the older the dragon, the longer the sleeping period. The d&d world just can't support lots of existence-troubling dragons all awake at once.

    Their sleep troubles kingdoms. What does that even mean? The simplest and most boring explanation is that everyone is worried about when the dragon will wake up. Possible, but not mythic enough. Another possibility: those world-altering 5e "lair effects" persist during the dragon's hibernation. Undoubtedly true, but the area around a dragon's lair is probably wilderness anyway. I don't see lair effects troubling kingdoms. The best explanation I have is that hibernating dragons aren't 100% asleep. They can wake or semi-wake for brief periods, maybe even lash out a casual claw to wipe out a foolish lair intruder. And they can have conversations. They can get reports from their spies, bandy words with bold explorers, and send kobolds to negotiate alliances with other evil monsters. The diplomacy and threats of an ancient dragon could trouble nations, and perhaps truly powerful dragons can use other powers from far away. Green to twist the minds of mortals. Black to bring eclipses and darkness. Red to spark rage-fueled wars and wildfires. Et cetera.

    Of course, if anyone seriously angers a hibernating dragon by wounding it or by stealing its treasure, it will fully wake and start its ravages early. So the countryside will try to persuade the adventurers: "Let sleeping dragons lie."

    Waking threatens existence. That seems like that's gotta be hyperbole, right? They're just dragons. Sure, dragons have good stats, and an ancient dragon could probably torch a palace and decapitate a kingdom or two, unless the kingdom has some epic level heroes handy. But existence? Like, the whole material plane and the other planes as well?

    Ok here is my theory. There are only a literal handful of dragons who can actually raise this sort of existential threat: one of each chromatic color, in fact. Here I am taking a cue from Rory's game world. He has an important NPC black dragon who is an oracle to those brave enough to visit its lair (if it conforms with my house rules proposed above, it is in its hibernation period and is probably using its oracular power for some sinister future purpose). As far as Rory has revealed, this is the most powerful black dragon in the world, but it doesn't necessarily attack its visitors. But imagine the devastation that this infallible black dragon will wreak when it wakes up. Let's say that, likewise, the master of green dragons has a charmed coterie of spies in every palace and its claw on the domino which could topple civilization. The white dragon master is not cunning like its peers: it is simply cold personified. Packs of winter wolves coalesce from its icy snores. When it wakes, it wreaks ice-age blizzards in which glaciers roll towards the heart of the world. Blue and red dragons: I can't think of the powers of the two strongest dragons right now. Perhaps you can. If so, leave a comment. The point is, each dragon has the individual power to threaten kingdoms or the world, though not existence itself. But here is the thing. These five master dragons are on sleep cycles from, say, 28 years for white to, say, 60 for red. If they are ever all awake at once, they, Voltron-like, form an unchained Tiamat. And then existence really is threatened.