Point, Encounter Point.

aURiJfDThere has been some debate about the nature of the D&D end game. When you get from about levels 14-20, and you regularly to fight things that are normally boss monsters in most adventure hardbacks. These include liches, older dragons, and creatures that there are usually only one of.

But how do you keep this whole thing from seeming hokey? Do you simply start making a checklist of monsters of appropriate CR and march them in a procession before your players to have their butts kicked?

The answer to that is no. You shouldn’t just use the monster manual like a who’s who of gradually graded opponents like this is some cartoon of video game. I challenge you* to keep your fights fresh, and try to make them about the narrative, rather than hinging them on numerical calculations.

And this is a lesson that can work from levels 1-20. Combats are so much more than a hit point total and damage output. Work with terrain, hazards, and objects. Your players can’t make use of objects unless you get that ball rolling. Put in a swinging rope bridge that they can affect. Hint at breakable columns that might cause high drama.

The group is likely to break a lot of things, and probably burn what they haven’t broken, but it’s totally worth it when they realize that they have a physics engine** to play around with. Why fight a giant when you can collapse a ruin on it? Or flood it out it’s the 5th labor.

But just so I’m not spewing some old man speech about how you need to do things bigger and better without some kind of prompt, consider the following.

hqdefault
Sorry, I just couldn’t get it out of my head once I typed it.

You have a battle in a desert temple. It’s a ruined remnant of an old civilization. Part of that civilization’s fall involved a failed ritual that causes sandstorms at set intervals. Sometimes the sandstorm will bury entire villages, making the entire region nearly impossible to live in.

Now, the temple has been uncovered by a fierce sandstorm for the first time in decades. The group is racing against time, nature, and about two to three other groups to make their way into the temple to retrieve some magical doodad that will help them achieve their next objective.

In this case, the point isn’t so much the destructible terrain as it is the circumstance, though you can certainly play up things like unstable footing, loose walls, and collapsible ceilings. That being said, the objective is two fold; to get to the ruins first, and to get out before the next sandstorm hits. The other groups can serve as complications. They can be undead defenders that have no sense of preservation, or foolish minions that are trying to reach the object before you can. Whatever the case, defeating them may not be the goal, it may even be detrimental to the group’s survival.

So play things like that up. Fighting might not be the answer. Describe perhaps the looking wave of dust on the horizon as the group exchanges blows with their rivals, or the ominous song of the winds whipping through the ruins as the group tries to find the secret entrance.

It might not be an easy task to put a CR on a natural phenomenon like that, but te best part is that you don’t have to. Just figure out the CR of something that would be a tough encounter (usually average level +3) and award them that if they succeed. Heck, reward them some lesser amount if they fail. Unless the group was being unimaginative, the entire endeavor should have been the point of the game, and that right there is worth experience.***

You can use just about any desert temple, but here is one that might make it easier.

https://2minutetabletop.com/gallery/desert-ruins/

* Pun entirely intended.
** In case you don’t know what a physics engine is, it’s basically a way for video games to simulate a world in which objects can interact with the player. Some GMs forget that their worlds don’t need to keep objects static. Heck, I’m guilty of it sometimes too. But really, a good dungeon design considers that the players are in a world that behaves like ours, physics and all.
*** Or you could just… throw like…  two golems in the desert ruins. Combat is always still an option too. Just remember to mix it up, keep it fresh. Like maybe the golems are made of ice, and the players have run out of water. Something nifty like that.

Advertisements

#swarmnotswarm

them_poster_02

So there is some unexplored space in 5e monster design that I think needs some attention. You see some monsters that are meant to work together, like hobgoblins and giant rats, but you can really build some synergy into those creatures with a few tweaks.

In this meditation on monster design, I am going to propose the following creature:

Giant Ant

Large monstrosity, unaligned
Armor Class 12
Hit Points 78 (12d10 + 12)
Speed 40 ft., burrow 10 ft., climb 30 ft.


STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
15 (+2) 9 (-1) 13 (+1) 1 (-5) 3 (-4) 2 (-4)

Skills Perception + 0
Condition Immunities deafened, charmed, frightened
Senses tremorsense 60 ft., passive Perception 10
Languages —
Challenge 1 (200 XP)

Engineering. A giant ant can use its action to link to an adjacent giant ant, and can bridge gaps or act as a living ladder. Each contributing ant can add 10 feet to the connected living structure. If a giant ant takes damage while forming a structure, it must make a DC 11 Constitution saving throw. On a failure, the ant breaks away from the structure.
Obstructive. A giant ant’s corpse counts as difficult terrain to all creatures other than other giant ants. A giant ant corpse is an object with an armor class of 8 and 10 hit points.
Swarm. If a giant ant is within 10 feet of one or more giant ants, it gets advantage on its attack rolls.

Actions

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5ft., one target. Hit 9 (2d6 + 2) slashing damage.

So on the surface, it’s not an overly complicated creature, and yet its special abilities tell a story. The giant ant’s hit points and low armor class allows them to be a slightly durable mook. Their Swarm ability lets them hit slightly more often when in groups, and their Obstructive ability makes each dead ant* a liability to the mobility of the players while leaving its allies unaffected. Also of relevance is the fact that they can burrow and have tremorsense.

These grouped abilities really showcase that the ants are meant to be encountered in close quarters underground. Whether in an ancient ruin, or an actual giant ant hill, the players will kill themselves into a corner while more and more ants cluster around the players trying to eliminate or hedge out the invaders.

Although Engineering is mostly a ribbon** that makes ants interesting in an encounter, it also serves to allow for a GM to potentially ablate the ants as they lose one or two of their number in trying to cross a gap or build a ladder to the player characters. It’d be highly satisfying, for instance, if a player was able to throw a lightning bolt or fireball at a group of ants, either to clear a hallway, stop a group of ants from forming a bridge, or to destroy a cluster of ant corpses so the players can make a quick escape.

In either case, players will learn to fear the simple and brutal tactics of the giant ant. It barely needs to do anything but attack and die in close quarters. And there are probably lots and lots of them. Do the players animate an ant corpse and play ant spies? Do they lure the ants out with a colossal sugar mound and attack them in the open? Do they make a deal with local orcs that are also tired of the ant incursion, and pit army against army? The possibilities are endless.

And that is to say nothing of soldier/worker ants, queens, and various other iterations. Can these ants explode, secrete resin, or spit acid? Consider intermixing creatures like ankhegs and formians to flavor, and creating an intricate society with the giant ants as the bottom caste.

So, from a humble stat block we see a creature that is rather interesting, is dangerous in numbers, and might even evoke some thought and tactical acumen from your players. Alternately, they may just avoid the colony and come back at level 15 and lay waste to it out of spite. In either case, it’ll be a memorable encounter***.

*Stop me if you heard this one. What did pink panther say… oh. Ok I’ll stop.
**A ribbon, if you didn’t know, is an ability that isn’t especially effective in combat. In this case, the ability for ants to form living structures is there  to spook your players and show off how cool ants are.
*** Just don’t set this up as a failure encounter. Let the players escape and learn. It’s exceedingly easy to just trap them and kill them with THEM ants. Just… scare them a little, until they are prepared to face the hoard.

 

Here is the PDF!

Giant Ant

A Treatise on 5e Monster Stat Blocks

monsternew3

One thing that I’ve often grappled with (pun… intended?) is the fact that 5th edition monster design is my jam. And by that I mean that I love how everything flows together. Despite its lack of granulation, 5th edition monster stat blocks tell a story. As you start to understand the artistry, each monster’s role in combat is made clear.

Take the gnoll for example. It’s Rampage ability exemplifies its ferocity and lust for violence by letting it press an attack once it’s downed an enemy.  The ability specifically allows the gnoll to use its less potent bite attack over its spear attack, but the effect has a great narrative function, and can unnerve a group that sees these gibbering creatures fly into a wanton frenzy.

And it’s not just the stat block. For instance, the insectoid ‘cave fisher’ out of Volo’s Guide to Monsters tells you in the description that it rarely attacks groups, and tries to single out lone creatures when it can, unless it is used as a “guard dog” by some canny Underdark race. In that, it tells you the flow of its combat narrative.

You shouldn’t just make it be a thing that the characters encounter on a flat plane with everyone aware. Rather, it could attack the only person on watch, or it could be attacking a lone wanderer as the group hears their cries for help. These are the critical details that can make a boring monster into an interesting encounter, even if the monster is easy to fight. Remember that not every encounter must be difficult to be interesting.

But don’t even let the monster stat block or description stop you. Put a bunch of starving kruthik hatchlings at the bottom of a pit, and make that a trap. Summon a swarm of quippers inside of a water elemental. The sky is the limit, and unique situations can really make an old monster shine.  But don’t take my word for it.

Next time, we’ll look at how to use swarms without actually using swarms. More on that soon.

More content on its way, DOOD!

59023-disgaea-spinning-prinny

So I’ve been inspired to do a few new things. Let’s see what you think. Consider this an unofficial sidebar to my unofficial conversion of the prinny for 5th edition.

The concept of a prinny is fascinating when it comes to the way it is integrated into the celestial hierarchies of Dungeons and Dragons. There are many creatures that could be considered analogues to the prinny, such as fiendish larva, lemures, and manes. However, none as as compelling as the knife wielding murder penguins.

Prinny have occupied an interesting place in the greater Disgaea universe, and  I think they could fit very well. They are souls, trapped in a kind of indentured limbo, and forced to work until the universe decides they’ve paid their penance. Why not include these odd creatures as enemies, allies, or even paid conscripts in the planar landscape? You could do worse, DOOD!

PDF for Common Prinny: Fiendish Servant
Prinny DOOD

Something Humorous

warningtrollsCROPPED

So I was “baited”* into creating a monster stat block. Read into it what you will. Or nothing at all.

For what its worth, I’ve had a long and storied history with being kind to internet trolls. It often disarms them. I’ll point you to a famous incident that shows that most of these people are hurt, and there are not often enough hugs or good intentions in the world to undo what other lousy human beings have wrought.

That said, not everyone is a healer, so there is that, too.  You never owe anything to anyone who has the intention to hurt you, ever. They can often do lasting harm if you do not have the armor necessary to help.

All that seriousness to introduce this ridiculous thing I wrote that pokes fun at a darker aspect of our media driven culture. Don’t judge me! Or do, I guess.

Here it is!!

*Not really, but I couldn’t help myself.

Also, yes, I realized it’s been a while. I’m hoping to remedy that. Soon. I swear.

Review Revival! Limitless Adventures: Non-Player Characters vol. 1

This page isn’t dead! You could liken it to a phoenix, or perhaps a pop-culture movie franchise*.

Today I would like to review the “Limitless Adventures: Non-Player Characters vol.1” product, which provides a vast wealth of NPC resources.

la-logo

First off, the book is massive. I’m looking to print it out to have it available, and at 131 pages, it is going to be a decently sized resource that I’ll have to fit into a 3 ring binder**. Despite the lack of art (which I personally do not mind), this book does for NPC stat blocks what Tome of Beasts does for monster stat blocks.

The book is separated into five categories: allies, contacts, foes, merchants, and archenemies. Each category upwards of 20 entries, with the exception of archenemies which has five.

The ally section seems to skew towards lower CR creatures that serve as assistance and plot foils more than combatants, which is just fine. Though their statistics are not as important, knowing that an ally might have a skill or connection, or even a healing ability might be extra useful to a party out of combat. Great care is given to both giving these allies a lot of personality, as well as providing plenty of plot hooks to make each NPC both useful for advancing a plot, or for weaving a story!

While the archenemy section has fewer entries, each archenemy is given multiple stat blocks to map out the parallel growth they may have to your group during a campaign. This is an excellent move, and one that will make using these stat blocks easy and intuitive, cutting down significantly on prep time!

While the contacts section is ostensibly useful, though it mignt have been better to merely list an NPC, their personality, and the kind of information they can provide, as a contact is unlikely to be used in combat. On the other hand, I could also imagine people complaining for a lack of a stat block, and I this guide is nothing if not thorough. To that end, these contacts could serve double duty, and an enterprising GM could very well use the stat blocks for NPCs that are not contacts.

The foes section is really interesting, and provides a plethora of interesting combatants that could allow you to include all manner of enemies for your players, and can even be used to construct an enemy adventuring party! As a persistent theme for each NPC, the foes are given plenty of flavor and ample adventure seeds to make them relevant or even central to a session or even campaign! Entire stories could be weaved around foes of varying power. I am personally excited to include some of these ideas in my next game. The only complaint I have is that list seems to be a bit orc-heavy.

The merchant section is one that I am particularly impressed with, as it not only gives merchants that sell goods, but services as well. In both cases, the NPCs are given plenty of character and flare, as even the entries for their goods and services are given a bit of spice to differentiate and distinguish each NPC. The authors did a great job at this, and created merchants that are distinct enough to include in any campaign!

There are a few hiccups, such as referring to skills without their ability scores [i.e. Medicine rather than Wisdom (Medicine)], but this doesn’t bother me much. It depends on how much of a stickler you are for formatting.

All that being said, I am very happy with this book, and the few flaws I found are easily overlooked. This book is well worth the price, and can provide not only a reprieve from session planning, but even as an abundant source of inspiration for adventure!

This book gets 5 out of 5, and my royal seal!

 

If you are interested in this or other products from Limitless Adventures, please use this link- http://limitless-adventures.com/

* Looking at you, horror movies.
** Don’t judge me for my printed binder source books. It’s all the rage.