Author Archives: Rob Donoghue

I Want Enough 5e to Hack

Here is the sign that I’m digging 5e. I am so hungry for the actual rules that I am pondering hacks for no other reason than I desire to play with the toys.

For example, i was pondering injury rule. Something simple like:

  • When you take damage, you can reduce that damage by 1 hit die (2 hit die if you’re level 11 or above) by taking an injury.
  • Each time you take an injury, mark a failed death save. It remains filled in until the injury is healed. A character may fill all three boxes in this fashion, but if they are reduced to 0hp while injured, they immediately suffer the consequences. As such, if all 3 boxes are filled and the character drops to 0 HP, death is instantaneous.
  • While injured, the character is at a disadvantage in all physical activities.
  • Injuries can be treated by the Medicine skill (dc 5 +5 per number of boxes filled). This does not cure the injury, but removes the dsiadvantage so long as the character takes it easy (taking twice as long to do things and does not dash or otherwise engage in heavy exertion).
  • If a character is at full HP and takes a long rest under medical supervision (Wisdom (medicine)DC 15) and has only one box checked, that box can be unchecked and the injury cleared.
  • A second box extends that time to a week, A third extends it to a month. All boxes clear at once.
  • 10 points of magic overhealing (healing beyond maximum HP) clears all boxes and removes the injury.

That seems maybe a little too fiddly, but if I was going for a certain kind of bloody feel, it’d be a pretty good match.

I’m also pondering the language of time. A short rest is now about an hour long, but there’s still a conceptual space that’s about 10 minutes long which is the time it takes to cast a ritual spell. In my mind, I’m calling that a “pause” and considering it the amount of time it takes to “take your time” with something (enough to get an advantage on an action which could be done in a round). Not sure if there are other ideas to hang off this, but I’m keeping in my back pocket.

There’s more. But the point is, seriously, I want to get my hands dirty!

D&D 5e Post Mortem

We only had 3 players this weekend, so rather than the usual Dungeon World session, we decided to try 5e. We rolled up our own characters (limited to the 4 core classes, since we were using the released rules) and went with a Cleric, Rogue and Warrior. There had been some initial discussion regarding whether a cleric was necessary, and the conclusion by the end of the session was OH SWEET GOD YES.

To jump to the end, we had a really good time.  It feels like a somewhat less fiddly version of 3e in play, but I recognize that it’s hard to judge overall fiddliness at first level.  We’re enthusiastic to play again and find out.

Non-spoiler stuff first

  • 3 characters cuts it pretty close for this adventure. If things had gone even a little differently, we would have had a TPK. The extra firepower of a wizard probably would have been just about right.
  • Tellingly it makes a big difference to have more than 8 hit points (our rogue did not) because if you’re at 8 or less, then every single thing you encounter can potentially one-shot you.
  • We used the random tables on the backgrounds, purely on a lark. Mixed results. The players pulled some fun stuff out of them, but they were a bit toothless in play. I wanted to give out inspiration much more frequently than I got to.
  • That said, man do I love the backgrounds. They are as awesome as I’d hoped they would be.
  • It was 100% worth the cleric spending his 10 GP on a shield. He had the best AC in the party, and didn’t take a hit through the entire game.
  • The Life domain is really potent. Makes me super curious to see others.
  • Also very interesting to see the modular bits in the classes (like domains) at a chunky level of granularity. This is one of the things that keeps raising the specter of 2e for me, with it’s NWPs and kits.
  • I need to check the math and see if the great weapon fighting style (reroll 1s and 2s) works better for 1d12 or 2d6.
  • That said, it does warm my heart to see support for bow fighters in a way that doesn’t seem like a complete hose. All in all, the fighting styles seem to carry a lot of conceptual weight.
  • Weird rule thing. You recover half your level in hit dice during a long rest, which means level 1 characters never recover hit dice.
  • We became intimately familiar with the rules surrounding zero HP because the rogue went down three times and the fighter once. The “a stable creature that isn’t healed regains 1 hit point after 1d4 hours” rule (p. 76 of the basic rules) is worth making a note of, because it’s nowhere in the “rest” section, and unless you find it, it largely seems like a character will never get back up from zero HP without magical healing.
  • I had missed the section of the rules regarding stat bonuses adding to missile damage. Would have simplified one encounter if I’d done it right, but our range luck was not great.
  • The medicine skill seems like a rip off. Doubly so once you see how Healing Kits work.
  • If you play a rogue, strongly consider playing a race with darkvision. The whole “scouting ahead” thing is well supported, but works poorly if you’re carrying a torch.
  • Sacred Flame (the Cleric attack cantrip) saw heavy use for us. It’s a weird one, since it calls for a save rather than being a spell attack. Messed up the cadence of things every time it came up.
  • Which lead to my looking – at 6th level, a wizard evoker starts doing half damage on a save when using a cantrip. That would rock for a cleric, but the wizard cantrips are all spell attacks, so that’s not actually useful.
  • Thank God level 2 comes quickly. And feels nicely rewarding, without overwhelming choices.
  • Oh, yeah, advantage/disadvantage held up just as well in play as they looked on paper. Super happy with them.
  • Mountain Dwarf Fighters? Scary.







Spoiler Stuff

  • The initial fight was much harder than I expected, largely because it took a round for the players to be able to engage the goblins, and every hit in that fight feels huge. This was the fight where the rogue got dropped, healed, and dropped again.
  • I like the way the dungeon writeups include common details at the outset. I wish they included the monster list, just for ease of reference. There are only 3 monsters in the first dungeon, so I put them on a cheat sheet, but it would have been nice to have the reference.
  • The group went through the wolves and up the chimney. The fight in the bugbear’s room started while the third character was still climbing up, which was not a good thing for them. It’s not a surprising route, but it definitely alters the cadence of the rest of the dungeon.
  • The rogue also snuck in and backstabbed the goblin leader in the other room, so that whole negotiation bit got snipped in the bud.
  • The bugbear is terrifying to a 1st level party. 2d8 + 2 damage can one shot anyone. We got super lucky, and he blew the damage roll against our fighter (after one-shotting our rogue) which bought them the round they needed. The cleric to burned a damage spell and a the fighter landed a fairly lucky attack roll, taking the bugbear down in a single round.
  • That said, they had to shotgun the Potions of Healing in the bugbear’s treasure.
  • if you are wondering why the golden frog is in the treasure, it’s so your thief can palm it.

EDIT: a note on the one shots.  If I’d used the fixed damage outcome rules, the Goblins would have been doing 5, the wolves 7 and the Bugbear 11.   I suspect that would have favored the players a little, since the real problems came when the goblins were rolling 7s and 8s.  The Bugbear would have been a guaranteed one shot on anyone but the fighter.  On balance, I suspect I would have benefitted from going that way, though I did not out of habit.

Deep Dive into DW GMing

Really fantastic Dungeon World session last night. 3 players (Dogan the Fighter, Sanguinus the Pirate Paladin and Lily the Bard) ended up as a pretty good number. The session went in pretty unexpected directions more than once, in very fruitful ways, and the final shape of the game was completely different than expectations going in.

We did not have the wizard, so I did not get a chance to try any magic hacks, so the jury is still out on that. What we did do is replace +1/–1 forward with a variant on the Advantage/Disadvantage rule from 5e. +1 forward became an advantage, and with advantage, the player rolled 3 dice rather than 2, and counted the two higher ones. –1 forward became a disadvantage, where the player rolls 3 dice and keeps the two lowest.

So, for example, when Sanguinus charged, it gave Dogan a +1 forward on his subsequent Hack and Slash roll (because of a Paladin ability). Normally that would mean he’d roll 2d6 + 4 (he has an 18 Strength), but in this case he rolled 3d6 and got a 2, 4 and 5. Taking the best 2 (4 and 5) he rolled a 9, plus 3 for a 12, a most palpable hit.

For the curious, the math is that an advantage or disadvantage equates to approximately +/- 1.5, so it’s a little more robust, but still in bounds. Importantly, it still keeps the result within the curve, so you get some interesting results. If you haven’t used bonus or penalty dice before this may seem weird, but for us, the experience felt really smooth. More, it made the +/–1’s simply feel a little more engaging. I’d be hard pressed to say exactly why (perhaps just the tactile component, perhaps the die making the bonus or penalty feel a little more concrete). Also, “advantage” is just nicer language than “+1 forward).We’ll absolutely be using it in the future.

I’m going to do a recap of the session, but not in the normal fashion. The plot was fine, but I’m going to use this as an opportunity to run through the details of my GM process, since I’ve been experimenting with using props to drive my play. This is going to be some serious inside baseball, so be warned.

I had no plan when we started. This is common, and is one of the reasons I chose Dungeon World. I lack the time and energy for more serious prep, so I chose DW because of how easily I can wing it. What I did know was the following:

  • Dogan and Lily had just had an adventure together where they found hints of interesting things about their weapons. I could probably spin out that thread.
  • The last couple adventures had all been in the city, it was time to go back out to sea. The presence of Sanguinus reinforced that.
  • Lily had leveled up, and took the fighter move to make the Songblade she’d found into a signature weapon. One of the options she took was “Glows in the presence of…” . She went with “invisible enemies” but the amused observation around the table is that the real purpose of that choice is to guarantee that they show up in the game, so I had that now.
  • This trio has the easiest alignment moves to engage, since they are basically fight, fight, don’t fight. That’s great once we get going, but not terribly informative for planning. And, unfortunately, the bonds between these three are similarly applicable, so they did not provide much inspiration.
  • Lily’s bardic specialty is ancient heroes, so that’s an easy place to put a hook.
  • The most active front at the moment is the Alchemists. And, unfortunately, most of the other fronts have been focused on the city, which is a mistake on my part. The only two naval fronts I have on hand are the Elven Fleet (who are more of a proto-front – they’ve been mentioned, but not seen) and The Citadel (Those guys are jerks). I had no obvious ins for any of those, so they’re just back of mind.
    • I have my map of the Sea of Mists as a random reference.

So, at that point I turn to the randomizers. I bust out the Rory’s Story Cubes voyages set[1]. I have my son roll a spread (he wanted to help) and also draw three cards from my Paizo Plot Twist Deck and I get the spread below:


The plots twists I set aside for now. Those are more likely to come up in play, so I focus on the dice.

Right off the bat, this looks promising. The TREASURE MAP seems like an absolute gimme for something piratical. The GEAR has previously shown up with the alchemists (who have some brasspunk stuff), so that’s good. The CAVE, DESCENDING STAIRS and MOUNTAINS could all be locations. Not sure what yet. Not yet sure what to do with the AXE or the SUNRISE/SET – generally they could mean weapon and time sensitivity, but I don’t have a hook for that yet. The CAMERA means observation to me. Someone is watching them. Probably the alchemists, but we’ll see.

The clincher is that collection of TOWERS. In the last game, that ended up being the fingers neighborhood in Umulon, but in this one, it reminds me on something on the map, the Isle of Spires (aka The Isle of Spiders). This seems like an excellent place to go adventuring for some treasure, and that in turn is enough for me to turn to the players.

To Lily I ask “How have your studies of the Stormsinger pointed you to the Isle of Spires?” (It’s where he found the songblade)

To Sanguinus, I ask “Why did you need to get out of Rzae so quickly?” (Alchemists were sniffing around after him. Mentally, I flag that GEARS.)

To Dogan, I ask “How did you get swept up in this?” (Because he can get free meals on the Ice Witch, and he was belowdeck raiding the larder when the set sail. Food is very important to Dogan.)

Ok, easy enough. We have a direction and an interest. Easiest thing to do would be to skip right to the Isle of Spires, but that feels a little bit too blithe. It feels like there should be some sort of barrier to overcome. The TREASURE MAP seems the obvious hook there – they need to get some information on where the heck one goes to safely get onto the Isle. It’s a dangerous place that doesn’t see a lot of traffic, so but it does get the occasional explorer. academic or treasure hunter, so the best place to check is the pirate port of Nouveau Rochefort. Sanguinus blew a defy danger with Wisdom on the way over and did not spot the other ship, but I made no immediate move on that, instead considering it a use of the HAVE A NICE TRIP card.

This was the first time we’d been to Nouveau Rochefort, so excepting the few things we’d established (pirate haven, many of the buildings are wrecked ships) this was largely spun from whole cloth, spouted lore, and Lily’s “What’s changed?” ability. Things we established:

  • There are two pseudo governments that run things. The first is an informal hierarchy of ship captains. Nominally, every captain in port has a vote when a matter comes up, but in reality, it’s the 7 great captains whose voices really matter, and who must be present to vote on anything really important. Sanguinus is one of these, having killed one (possibly two) previous officeholders, so he’s a big deal.
  • The second is a constant roil of gangs. Rather than names, they simple have colors, corresponding to their sports team. So when Lily checked, the Blues and the Greens seemed most dominant, with the Reds having fallen behind. The Blues are usually in power (they have a lock on prostitution, but don’t reach far beyond it) and the Greens had obviously ascended on the backs of the Reds.
  • The Reds were largely dwarven and specialized in legbreaking and accounting. Their leader was a dwarf named Rockgut[2] We didn’t get into what the Greens do, but their leader is a woman named Anabeth who has a reputation for face-stabbing.
  • The Driftwood Arms is an inn in the looses sense of the word. Composed largely of dead ships, it’s the largest singe lodging in the city, spanning several city blocks. Sanguinus got one of the nice rooms.
  • “The Game”, which is the major sport of the island, is a bit of a mess. Start with Quidditch, but remove the brooms and add a hard wooden ball. Then add in two guys on each teams (“Brawlers”) whose job is to largely beat the crap out of the other team and you have the general sense of it.

The players decided to approach the Reds, figuring they’d be most inclined to make a deal. Lily and Dogan met with Rockgut at a Red/Green Game, while Sanguinus watched from the better seats with one of the other 7 captains, Natalya[3]. Rockgut seemed open to negotiations, but the real centerpiece was the game, and the simple reality was that everyone at that table wanted to see Dogan enter the fray.

Who am I to say no? An injury called for a substitution, and Dogan was offered the chance to brawl, which he leapt at, leaving weapons and armor with Lily and enthusiastically entering the fray.

And this, right here, is where it went off the rails. Because I’m watching this and thinking “Lily is now alone holding a priceless dwarven artifact, surrounded by Pirate Dwarves.” In retrospect, I might have also taken a cue from the AXE, but really, I just flagged it as the BAD DECISION.. The Reds plied Lily with drugged wine and, when she passed out, scurried off with Bellringer while Dogan was alternately eliciting cheers and getting dogpiled.

Sanguinus spotted this, leapt from his seat in pursuit, thoroughly intimidated those foolish enough to get in his way and…totally lost the fleeing dwarves as the dice profoundly betrayed him. Really, it should not have been hard – they were not very fast and not very stealthy. But sometimes the dice just have strong opinions.

I admit, I had expected Sanguinus to catch them, so it was time to think fast. Thankfully, I had a little time to do so. Sanguinus had to come back and wake up Lily and get Dogan out of the game (which went poorly for the Red Team). Lily knew where the Red headquarters were, but those did not seem like the likeliest destination.

So they approached Anabeth, the head of the Greens, who was happy to talk to Sanguinus. There was a bit of oblique discussion before they got to the proposal – Anabeth would tell them where Rockgut’s private lab was located, and in return, the Ice Witch would run a blockade for her. Sanguinus did check to make sure that the cargo was not outside of the bounds of his ethics, and was reassured that it was merely dangerous. That wouldn’t be a problem, would it?

All parties agreed, her assistant, Remy (Who does not yet have a face card, but is on the cusp of earning one) lead them into the Red neighborhood and Rockgut’s lab. Four dwarves were watching the door. A very well done discern realities roll ushed me to add somethign else to the scene, so in a nod to the CAMERA, it revealed a human watching from a nearby bar. Lily arranged a distraction, allowing Dogan to cold cock the human, and Sanguinus to take out the two semi hidden dwarves. The two remaining guards were no real challenge.

Dogan and Sanguinus entered the lab, while Lily searched the human (who had a few pointers to being an alchemist, including a bronze whistle), then hid and waited for him to wake up, so she could follow him. Dogan and Sanguinus’s entrance should have been dramatic and scary as hell, but a blow help roll resulted in them stepping on each other’s cues and in each others way. In the lab were Rockgut and a human (who the previous game would recognize as the alchemist who lost his pistol), but the entrance bought the human enough time to drop some smoke and go out Rockgut’s secret escape route (much to Rockgut’s chagrin). Bellringer was on the table, along with the alchemist’s tools (including another whistle).

Rockgut pretty much crumpled at this point. He claimed he hadn’t known Dogan was in Sanguinus’s crew, that it was all the other guy’s plan, that he had been a patsy and so on. No doubt, substantial parts of it were fiction, but it put a name on the Alchemist (Niko) and since they had Rockgut over a barrel, they got some cash out of him, and everything he knew about the Isle of Spires.

Lily followed her target to the docks, where he went up the gangplank of a ship from Rzae (one that she recognized as likely hired). He was met on the gangplank by Niko. There was an angry exchange that culminated in Niko doing a total villain thing – grabbing the dude by the jaw, pouring something small down his throat, then shoving him away back onto the docks.

Niko went back up the gangplank and his ship cast off. Meanwhile, the other guy started staggering around and giving off smoke. Lily did some math and shoved him into the water before he exploded on the dock, but she was not fast enough to be completely clear. Dogan and Sanguinus (as is their wont) headed towards the explosion, and Sanguinus had to wake the unconscious Lily(again).

Back at the Ice Witch, Remy was waiting with the Greens’ cargo and instructions. The guys were faced with a dilemma – they could pursue Niko’s ship, but it would be a tail chase, so even though the Witch was almost certainly faster, it would take time. However, the Green’s destination was in the other direction. Ultimately, the deciding factor was that Sanguinus had given his word, so they set out to run the blockade, after using the money they’d gotten off Red to put up a bounty for Nico and the ship he’s on.

This was, structurally, a pretty clear break point, but I was hesitant to take it. We’d started a little late, and this would be a short session if it stopped here. Also, it was a rough break point for continuity – if I don’t tie off a session, then it can make for a little bit of weirdness when I pick up the next one. So I took a breath and considered that I need to answer:

  • Where they were going
  • What blockade they were running
  • How the hell to adjudicate a blockade run
  • What they were carrying
  • For who

I’d considered the Citadel(those guys are jerks) previously, and they seemed like exactly the kind of guys to have a blockade in need of running. The AXE suggested that maybe the cargo was weapons. I still had an unused SANITY CHECK plot twist card, so it seemed time to introduce an eldritch horror. That suggested a fishing village. So it was an arms smuggle to a village within the Citadel’s sphere. I still wasn’t sure WHY they needed the weapons yet, but I figured that would reveal itself.

The actual blockade run itself was pretty straightforward. Some discussion of Citadel naval procedures, a slightly longer route and a defy danger roll in the night were all enough to get them into dock in the wee hours of the night, and get their illicit cargo handed off to the Harbormaster.

That created the opportunity for Lily to bust out the “What has changed since the last time I was here?” move. Note, it would have been totally reasonable to say “no, this is a little fishing town, of course you’ve never been here” but what would be the fun in that. The answer was the construction of a watchtower on the edge of town, protecting the route from further inland. I visually modeled it after a tower in Colonial Williamsburg, because I’ve seen it a few times. I actually was originally thinking of the MOUNTAIN and CAVE dice result, thinking of the tower as a hint that there were dangers inland.

However, a little thought realized that was kind of flat. Short of doing a handoff quest(or something similarly ham-fisted), the characters had no interest in going inland and no investment in what was going on. So I realized that whatever was up needed to be in town, and the tower seemed like a good focus. Weapons would be useful for storming the tower, so why would the villagers want to do that?

The obvious reason would be that the soldiers were Citadel, and the Citadel are, as has been noted, a bunch of jerks. So I could run with that, but it was a bit smooth – it needed something, especially since that’s not really enough of a motive for armed rebellion. So I went for an inversion – what if the villagers were the bad guys?

Paired with the SANITY CHECK card, this kind of wrote itself (and was influenced by, of all things, the direct-to-dvd sequel to Disney’s Rise of Atlantis, which I had just watched). The village elder was actually something monstrous, and the Citadel Soldiers had captured it, and were holding it, waiting for reinforcements to help them deal with it. The villagers intended to bust him out. But so far as they were concerned, they were just going to bust out “Grandfather”, so it was not overtly creepy, and they weren’t going out of their way to draw attention to it. Basically, the Ice Witch had arrived in the night, and it would leave on the next tide (the next day) and everyone was happy with that arrangement.

But the party did pick up on the oddities, most notably the lack of street patrols (all remaining soldiers were holed up in the tower) and Lily got some information by being open and honest with the Barkeep, but in the process, let slip that Dogan had been in a Citadel prison[4]. Lily and Sanguinus also investigated a bit and discovered that there were weapons in the crates being distributed to villagers with the intent of attacking the tower.

The clincher came in the morning when the barkeep approached Dogan as someone who may have a grudge against the Citadel, and who might have the kind of military experience that a group of armed villagers might need. Dogan was entirely in favor of this.

At this point, the players had a sense that something was wrong, but had nothing explicit to hang it off of. So I threw them a bone in the form of some information about the last time the tower had sent out a patrol. When they investigated, they found the soldier’s bodies laid out on a clearly ritualistic pattern, something the villagers clearly did not think was any kind of real issue.

Knowing the attack would come after SUNSET, they approached the tower early, with Dogan entirely ready to smash down the door, but held off when a soldier opened the view slot, very clearly very tired and probably hungry, but keeping it together enough to tell them to piss off. They made some attempts to get him to let them in (including Dogan trying to “turn himself in”, which he refused, but in doing so revealed that there was a monstrosity in here with them, they were holding out for reinforcements, and they would burn down the whole tower rather than let it get out.

Sanguinus switched tactics and congratulated the man on proving he was not corrupted, and attempted to present himself as an inquisitor. He rolled really well, and given that the guy was sleep deprived, terrified and desperately wanted this to be someone else’s problem, they bought it. The guys were hurried inside.[5]

The soldiers very quick to start calling Sanguinus “Sir” and were clearly relieved at his presence. The tower had lots of oil barrels around, and it’s clear the soldiers were serious about the threat to burn the place. Expecting the villagers to attack at any moment, they asked to be shown to the captive. They were lead to the basement (because DESCENDING STAIRCASE) and the storeroom with the door blocked in every possible way, with something that looked like a pool of oil in it.

After some discussion, Sanguinus charged in in the name of the Inquisition, which got him covered when the oil slick sort of foamed much larger, but rather than bubbles, the foam was made of tiny eyes that bit. For all that his other rolls were crap, Sanguinus’ streak of defying danger with CON when the moment called for it kept up. He got bit and hurt, but not dissolved or anything, allowing Dogan and Lily to engage the rest of it’s “body”.

Now, obviously, I had not had a lot of time to stat this thing up, so it was a little fast and loose. the basics were that it had 20 hit points, ignored mundane damage, took half damage from interesting sources (notably fire and elderglass weapons), did Max damage at range or Mid+Max[6] damage when enveloping, and call for some defying danger with con to not be rendered helpless. After a successful envelop, it would try to force its way down the victims throat to possess the body. If reduced to 0 HP, it was vulnerable to exorcism or similar, and needed a host to function, so it would focus on that. Seemed about nasty enough.

Sanguinus used the I Am The Law move as he felt it pushing towards his nose and mouth, and basically blasted it off himself, opening it up to Dogan and Lily. Dogan wanted to hurt it, but also wanted to keep it pushed into the room. Fiction-wise, that was reasonable for Bellringer, but it seemed to demand a price, so I docked him a damage die (he was rolling d10 + 2d4 initially), which worked out ok. We’ve considered a fighter CC based around that idea of giving up damage dice for effects, so Dogan’s player pretty much just rolled with it.

The actual fight that followed was pretty stand up. Lily took advantage of her ability to fight at Reach, and occasionally switched over to Bardic songs for healing and boosting. and while Sanguinus took a pretty serious beating, they got it down to 0 and, in a nicely timed synergy, Lily laid down some Bardic magic right before the exorcism attempt, and I let her give the +1d4 damage the the effect of Sanguinus’s next I am the Law move (“Begone!”).

Bearing in mind that Sanguinus’s god is the Voice, we had another round of harmonic magic, with the command resonating with Bellringer and Songblade, creating a sound that drove away the creature.

Wrap up had two major points. First, the villagers had started attacking during the fight, but had fallen into confusion when the thing had died. However, they had lit the fuse on the explosives that had come in the crate. Lily smelt it, Dogan got the door open quickly, and she managed to grab it and throw it, knocking herself unconscious in the process. Again.

The players also pretty much could decide how things were going to play out from there. The soldiers were fried and trigger happy, and the villagers were confused but worked up. It could have come to blows (or, if left alone, could end badly later when the reinforcements did arrive), but with two Charisma monsters in the party, I pretty much let them decide how it went. There was a temptation to kill all the Citadel witnesses, but the fact that these guys had actually been doing the right, arguably heroic, thing made it difficulty to dispatch them, so the result was peace.

We wrapped there. I hadn’t used all the dice (including some I’d been sure I would) but they had definitely helped. I had a few outstanding questions, like whether this “Grandfather” was a one off, or if it’s a part of something bigger. If the latter, did the Greens know what they were getting into, or was this just a job? I’m genuinely not sure yet – it’s not enough to craft a new front yet, but it floats in my notes as a proto-front. I’ve also added Eldmere (the town) to the Map of the Sea of Mists, just in case it ever comes up again. I had a few more faces added to the pile, and the final spread of used stuff looked like:


Clockwise from the left, that Niko, Rockgut, Anabeth and Nat.

For the curious, that’s basically my methodology – 1 sheet of paper, where I capture notes, and the dice and cards on hand, set aside as they’re uses.

  1. I’ve tried to use other Rory’s sets for RPGs, and they’ve never really worked for me. The Voyagers set is the first one general enough that I don’t feel like I’m fighting it.  ↩
  2. He got a face card, as did most of the NPCs named from this point forward.  ↩
  3. We saw less of her than I’d have liked, but the name and face are now secured for future use.  ↩
  4. I directed the open and honest move a little bit more than the text suggests, explicitly asking “Tell me something about X” rather than leaving it totally open. This helps me by keeping things relevant and interesting and keeps the players from decision paralysis.  ↩
  5. I dropped the ball a little here. I had described that a crowd of villagers had gathered, just outside the green that surrounded the tower, and were watching the group approach the door with confusion which was slowly turning into upset. When they went in, Dogan declared that he turned and did a bellringer sonic wave to disperse the crowd to keep them from rushing in. I told him the crowd was too far away for that to be any real danger. That was true, so far as the fiction I’d presented, but in retrospect, I should have just given him the moment.  ↩
  6. max== roll 3d6,count highest. mid + max== roll 3d6,drop lowest. more details here  ↩

Dungeon World Double Dose

Ok, after the sidetrack into 5e, time to catch up on Dungeon World before the next session. Actually have two sessions to catch up on.

In the first, Lily and Dogan tried to sell some silks and got tangled up in some Antesian[1] internal politics of succession which turned into fights with shadow demons, a trip into an ancient crypt, the burial of a chieftan and the discovery of an ancient songblade.


  • Because of Dogan, I made the shadow demons pretty badass, and he still tore them up. Fighters are scary.
  • Lily finally got to really take Bardic Magic for a spin, and damn, it’s awesome.
  • Got to use Lily’s bardic focus on ancient heroes to tie into the crypt where things finally went down, and used it as the hook for her receiving the songblade of an ancient warrior-bard (“Stormsinger”, in the vernacular of the Antesians)
  • Best failure of the night was Dogan charging into the crypt and falling down the stairs. With Bellringer. It was musical.
  • Music actually permeated the session, and the final fight ended up being a sonic crescendo of Lily helping Bellringer and the dead king’s Songblade to all sing in harmony, producing one great note of Ass kicking.
  • Lily now has a songblade. it’s physical characteristics are similar to Bellringer, and it has the harmonic keyword, which means she uses +CHA instead of +STR to hack and slash. Because that’s how I roll.

Next session ended up being simultaneous with Dogan and Lily’s trip out of town. Jack was hired by the king of beggars to provide security for a clandestine meeting. He brought in Urv and Tetra, and because Dogan was out of town, he also brought in Ajax, a former gladiator driven underground when the Plague Doctors closed the arena.

Things took an interesting turn when it turned out the meeting was in a knot (an overlapping space, like the Muddy Yak) which Urv and Jack could perceive, but Ajax and Tetra could not. This made for some fun because there were exits that Ajax and Tetra couldn’t see (and thus couldn’t watch).

Things took a deeper turn as the atendees started arriving, 6 in all. 2 came from Rzae, which was fine. 3 of them were very puzzling to Ajax and Tetra who could not see them enter (though Urv and Jack saw them enter from Umulon). Most disturbing was the 6th guest, who never opened his eyes, and who no one saw enter.

Naturally, he cellar came under attack by the same alchemical forces that have been plaguing the PCs. Much violnce followed, including poison gas, acid puddled, alchemical pistols and brass razorballs modeled after Phantasm. The group managed to fend them off and, when things got too hairy, managed to get everyone out through the Umulon side (in the process, opening Ajax and Tetra’s eyes to the other world). They found out a little bit more about the attackers, and we wrapped up there so we could get in a game of Sentinels of the Multiverse.[2]


  • We had a guest from out of town playing Ajax, and it was interesting to see what a different fighter than Dogan looked like. The answer? Still terrifying.
  • I made use of some tools in this session. I used the most recent set of Rory’s Story Cubes (Journeys) and the Paizo Plot Twist Deck to prime the pump. basically, I just cast a handful of the dice and drew three of the cards and just kept them in front of me. When it came time to make a move (or just come up with something) I looked them over to see if there was anything I could pull out. It worked out pretty well.
  • What worked even better was the Paizo Face Cards. I had cards for the King of Beggars, the unnamed meeting attendees as well as the two known alchemists. Super handy for reference when the characters don’t know names – I can just hold up the card for reference rather than re-describe.
  • A lot of damage got dished out, especially by the phantasm balls, but Ajax hit like a truck, which kind of balanced that.
  • Tetra finally got to use parry and disarm!
  • Jack may now have the nickname “boots”, but it’s up to her to tell you why. It involves a pool of acid and two blown defy danger rolls.

  1. The Antesians are the hillfolk who might be indigenous to the area where Rzae was built. They don’t come into the city much, and largely trade through The Laughing Market , the market outside the city walls where a lot of the poor and disenfranchised trade.  ↩
  2. The Sentinels, Tempest, Argent Adept, The Naturalist and Setback versus Apostate in the Ruins of Atlantis. We owned him.  ↩

5e Initial Review

So, if you missed it, here’s the story. I skipped the entire D&D 5e playtest so that when the Starter Set was released, I had pretty fresh eyes. Starting from that, I opted to read through the D&D starter set and then the Basic Rules, and share my impressions as I went (mistakes and all). They’re all collected here.

Starter Set

Basic Rules

Final Impression

I liked it a lot, enough so that I’m looking forward to running or playing it, and I will absolutely be buying the core books. It was full of clever and elegant bits, and I can’t wait to play with these toys (so much so that if the license is overly restrictive, I will be greatly disappointed). It’s not all perfect, but the good far outweighs the less good.

Compared to previous editions, I would describe this as a “Good Parts” version of 3e – it carries forward a little bit more of the spirit of 2e while incorporating the best practices from 3e and 4e.

I am also delighted that there is no sign that it will require an online component. After the pain brought about by the 4e character creation tool, that was a real fear (at least for me) and it looks like we won’t see a repeat of that. Thank goodness.

D&D Basic Rules: Part 2

Ok, finishing off the Basic Rules with more annotations.

  • Unrelated to the text, this kind of font density is a luxury. I’ve got a pretty good screen, and I can read a full page at a time, but only just. It’s going to make for gorgeous physical books, but crowded PDFs.
  • Yay, starting with ability scores! Someone may finally tell me what a Strength save means!
  • The full table of difficulties! Notably, it’s flat. Easy is always 10. Very Hard is always 25. This seems consistent with the relatively slow advance of bonus (given that a top tier character is going to have a +5 stat bonus and a +6 proficiency bonus, which is only +5 or +6 more than a starting character (a fact that makes the +3.x from advantage feel all the more weighty).
  • Group checks are interesting, since the rules as written (does half the group succeed?) are at odds with two examples in the adventure (one where only one member needs to succeed, one where everyone needs to succeed). All three versions actually have a place, and it’s a shame there’s not a little more language to articulate that.
  • Slightly more nuance about failure here. “Otherwise, it’s a failure, which means the character or monster makes no progress toward the objective or makes progress combined with a setback determined by the DM.” Wish it had a little more emphasis, but nice to see it.
  • Variant encumbrance rules. AKA Fan service.
  • Disguise falls under Intelligence?
  • Travel rules are perfectly nice, but I still wish they were a little bit more robustly engaging.
  • The descriptive vs active roleplaying section is interesting. Basically, it talks about how to handle dialog (though it never actually says so), and that you can either describe what you say (descriptive) or actually say it (Active). It’s awkwardly framed, though.
  • Really, the whole social interaction section feels awkward. The intent is perfectly solid, but it probably needs to either be more technical or more practical. The guidelines on using dice for social interactions don’t seem helpful. Practically, it seems like something as straightforward as “fun, clever or compelling roleplay could give an advantage to an ability check” should be in the text.
  • Downtime activities! I’ve loved those since Birthright. Research looks fun, but I wish it was fleshed out more.
  • The ability to pick up a proficiency for time and cash is really compelling, and I expect it to be taken advantage of quite vigorously. I admit, my first thought was “heavy armor” for the wizards. I don’t see any reason why you can’t technically do that, but I know I’d say that proficiency requires the lighter armors.
  • You can sustain a better lifestyle with performance skills than any other skill. That is somewhat hilarious.
  • Ok, it looks like size only affect mobility. None of the “bonus to hit larger creatures” stuff that got insane. Thank goodness.
  • Ah, and grid play is a sidebar option. That seems right.
  • Combat stuff is otherwise largely what we’ve already seen, with the addition of mounted and underwater combat.
  • Magic section is also largely repeated.
  • Y’know, I wonder if this spell model would solve the problem we’ve been having with Dungeon World spells.
  • Oh, ugh. “The Weave” is now called out as the explicit explanation for magic (as opposed to a setting-specific explanation). That seems unnecessary any annoying.
    • Unless there’s a secret plan to create a meta-level game. One with, I dunno, different planes. Maybe with people who walk between them. Ones who gather some sort of magic.[1]
  • Ooh, more spells!
    • Y’know, one other benefit of this model of spell prep is that is really supports cards much more elegantly than past models, because you don’t end up with quite so many cards in your “hand”, which was the real problem with past attempts. Also, the fact that effects are not as variable means the card text is actually useful. And the fact that spells are not typed means card decks can be generic and mixed.
      • I am sure this is a coincidence
    • So, my thought had been that the payout for leveling up damage spells was a little bit low, but it’s not quite as egregious as I thought. Fireball starts at 8d6, at 3rd level, and is +1d6 per additional level. So it’s 10d6 at level 5 (average 35) vs Cone of cold (8d8, average 36). At level 7 it’s 12d6 (same damage as delayed blast fireball) and it only really diverges at 9th level, where it’s 14d6 is abruptly overshadowed by the 20d6 + 20d6 of Meteor Swarm. Which is a bit of a jump.
    • It is always nice to know that illusions will never again be the horrible mess they were in 1e.
    • That said, I had thought that maybe intelligence saves would be helpful against illusions. Nope. Investigation skill.
    • As with Sleep keying spells like Power Word Kill off hit points is pretty sweet. As Justin Jacobson pointed out, because they use current hit points, this also allows these spells to be used judiciously as part of a strategy (like, waiting until the big bad has been hit for a while) rather than just making them saving throw coinflips.
    • Spare the Dying (Clerical cantrip that stabilizes someone at zero HP) is a nice touch.
    • Checked the Greater Restoration description to see if there’s any sign of energy drain, but it looks like not (beyond the hit point thing we saw with the wraith)
    • Haste grants +speed, an extra action, +2 AC and an advantage on Dex saves. So, basically, it remains a supremely awesome buff, limited only by the fact that the spell has a 1 minute duration and requires concentration. Thankfully, the extra action can’t be used to cast spells.
    • Greater invisibility is pretty badass – nothing breaks it. But the duration caps at a minute (with concentration) so I’m good with that.
    • Like many nerds, I am happy to see Mordenkainen, Otto et al on the spells. despite the assumption of the Forgotten Realms.
    • Worth noting that Regenerate is a pretty badass buff, largely because it explicitly does not demand concentration.
    • I am slightly sad that Teleport is not a Ritual Spell (even if the ritual component is limited to using teleport circles). But it’s probably not a big deal – because it’s back to being a very high level (7th) spell rather than a ritual in the 4e sense, then the expectation is probably that it should be rare.
    • Only one wall spell (stone). That’s strangely disappointing.
  • Then we have conditions, and What Comes Next

Taking a moment to step out of the bullet format to address something. The “What Comes Next” page is basically a pointer at the Starter Set and the D&D page . This is fine, but for the moment, it’s a bit disappointing. The starter set and the basic rules are both profoundly lacking in examples, and that’s a real problem (less so for the Basic Rules, which is a reference doc, but still worth noting). This is something that can be addressed with robust online support, including things like How to Play videos, exactly the sort of things you’d expect to find on the D&D site under, say, “Learn to Play”.

Sadly, that is not what you’ll find. Instead, you’ll get directed back to the basic rules or, if you’ve got kids, directed to the Dungeon boardgame. Not helpful.

Now, in fairness, 5e has not officially released yet. The street date for the Starter Set is still a few days away, and the release of the Players Handbook might be considered to be the “real” launch, and that’s a ways out yet. So there is time to pad out this content a bit, and create the kind of support that people need, and I’m really hopeful that they will. But WOTC’s track record with web stuff is uneven, so I’m also a little wary.

  1. The thing I’m joking about will never happen. But that doesn’t rule out the possibility of a cosmic metagame.  ↩

D&D Basic Rules: Creating A Character

Cracked open the D&D Basic Rules PDF. I don’t feel like a full review is appropriate for something which is freely available and still in flux. So I fear you’ll get the slightly abbreviated experience of the bullet points that come up as I read.

  • Lots of copy that’s also in the Starter Set. Not going to dwell on that.
  • The three pillars are Exploration, Social Interaction, andCombat , in that order. Fair enough.
  • Magic is…rare but common? Not 100% clear what they’re saying.
  • Oh, god, they kept sub-races. Valley Elf, he’s a Valley Elf
  • First Level – “You totally suck, but you can totally have a backstory about not sucking!”
  • Order of operations for chargen is race, class, stats. Is that changed? Seem to recall stats being first.
  • Curious little line: “Occasionally your proficiency bonus might be modified (doubled or halved, for example) before you apply it”. That’s a fascinating little mechanical hook that I could absolutely see using for character differentiation.
  • 4d6 is the first stat generation method mentioned, followed by the fixed array. There’s a point buy option which is most-optional, but also gets the most inches.
  • 4 tiers of play (at 1, 5, 11 and 17, which are the same levels the cantrip damage tiers suggested). It sounds like the theory is that multiple attacks are the primary offset for the raw damage dealing of spellcasting, but I guess we’ll have to see.
  • Hee hee hee. The races have little “What they think of other races” boxes. One one hand, this is actually a fun role playing thing, but on the other hand it’s always been such a signature White Wolf thing that it’s jarring to see.
  • Hill Dwarf gets +1 wisdom and +1HP per level. Mountain Dwarf gets +2 Strength and proficiency in light and medium armor. Interesting balance. And I now kind of expect to see a lot of people trying out Mountain Dwarf Wizards (since armor doesn’t impede spellcasting, so long as you’re proficient)
  • Drizzt gets his own callout box. I wince a little.
  • High Elves and Wood Elves. No Eladrin Need Apply.
  • There is clearly a strong sense that there must be subraces, because they even have two halfling subraces. But at least one of them is the Stout, so that’s something.
  • Lightfoot Halflings are apparently characters in Assassin’s creed, as they can use human sized creatures to hide.
  • No subraces or special abilities for humans (though there are apparently some optional feats), instead, just +1 to all stats.
  • Oh, man, these class summaries look like third edition.
  • Cleric
    • Your cleric has the option of not being proficient in Religion. That’s…kind of lame. I mean, I can see the edge case where a cleric might choose not to do it, but by not giving it to the cleric for free, it forces the player to sacrifice a different skill for something he should already have.
    • Clerics get bonuses to Charisma saves. That shores up my “Charisma is now willpower” theory, but no one has actually explained that yet.
    • No martial weapons for you, mister Cleric! Hope you’re playing a dwarf!
    • Ok, I kind of dig how domain spells work. They are always considered to be prepared, but don’t count against your total. That’s elegant.
    • Back to the idea of getting Deivine Channellign which can be used (by default) to turn undead, but can do other things based on your deity.
    • When you get potent enough to destroy undead, the efficacy is based on the CR of the creatures. This is interesting, but makes sense, because it doesn’t really seem like monster hit dice are a thing any more.
    • Little comment in the Channel Divinity power for clerics of life (“5 times your cleric level”) suggests to me that we’re going to see multi-classing, probably in the style of 3e.
    • Ok, holy crap, if the Life Domain is any indication, Clerical Domains are going to be badass
  • Fighter
    • You get a strength save! Whatever that means!
    • The fighter who does not take athletics puzzles me.
    • Ok, the Fighting styles are actually decent. I wish the heavy weapons one was “roll 2 dice and keep the higher one ”rather than “reroll 1s and 2s” just because rerolls are awkward, but they largely feel cool enough, if only barely. That’s actually impressive because things like this often feel liek token nods rather than real character signatures.
    • ACTION SURGE! It’s a great name! Get one extra action over and above the usual action threshold rules. Very cool, but worrisome, since it’s suggests that neat limiter that the “Only one bonus action, only one reaction” rule put in place is more of a gate than a door.
    • Interesting. The Fighter’s ability score improvements seem to come more frequently than the Cleric’s.
    • Yep, extra attacks. Yep, gate.
    • Based on the Champion, the Martial Archetypes look a lot less interesting than the Clerical Domains.
  • Rogue
    • Intelligence Save! Perhaps every class gets a save whose utility is a mystery to me!
    • Again, the lack of any freebie proficiencies hurts a little. Again, I guess you might choose to not take Stealth, but that feels like self-injury
    • Whoah, Expertise! Double proficiency bonus for 2 skills (or thieves tools). That’s awesome!
    • Similar whoah for cunning action! Get an extra action every round that you can use to Dash, Disengage or Hide. KINGS OF MOBILITY!
    • Definitely seeing a list of the greatest hits of the 3e Rogue here. And I’m good with that. 3e Rogues were pretty great.
    • The Roguish Archetype (as presented) is less badass than the cleric, but more badass than the Fighter.
  • Wizard
    • Wizard abilities seem a bit thin. A little bit of spell recovery then BAM at level 18, you’re a machine gun, merry Christmas.
    • The Arcane tradition offsets this a bit, but it’s about as cool as the Rogue.
    • The theory is, I suppose that the spells themselves provide enough awesomeness. And I’m actually OK with that, since the basic spellcasting does actually seem kind of awesome.
  • Still pretty happy with the Sex paragraphs.
  • Alignment section refers to paladins and druids, which I take as an indicator that they will be full fledged classes.
  • I am struck by the definition of lawful in lawful good (expectations of society) vs Lawful neutral (law, tradition and personal codes) vs Lawful Evil (code of tradition, Loyalty or order). I would just like to say, that particular definition of Lawful Good can kind of kiss my ass. It sounds like Paladins are champions of peer pressure, not justice.
  • Oh, man. I LIKE the backgrounds. I want a bazillion of them.
  • Though, MAN, they screw your out of starting cash. Which is awesome.
    • Because broke adventurers are the best adventurers
    • And because I’m a terrible human being
  • Specifically, it seems like you’re better off taking the starting gear for your class than the starting cash, leaving you with the small amount you get from your background.
    • Which is generally enough to keep a roof over your head for a week or two. A little more if you live cheap. Thus, IMPETUS!
  • Definitely a more robust armor list than the starter set. Plate costs and arm and a leg, but with a base 18 AC, that seems decently worth it. I do not think it’s a coincidence that Plate Mail and Shield provide a nice, round AC 20.
  • Weapon list is longer, with some additions. Blowgun, fist, a few polearms. Two “special” weapons, the lance and the net. Lance is what you’d expect – disadvantage use’d close up. requires 2 hands off horseback. The Net is sort of it’s own mini-grappling rules, leaning on the “restrained” condition.
  • In the gear section, the various tools, kits and packs are a handy addition. Packs are basically pre-buyable bundles of goods that speed up the process of equipping your characters, while kits and tools basically correspond to proficiencies (which is why, I imagine, the healer’s kit is not with the other kits)
  • The inclusion of a “trade goods” table is actually a really nice touch. I can use that as a baseline in all sorts of situations.
  • And, oh, excellent, they explicitly lay out lifestyle expenses (and modest lined up with my guess of about 1gp per day).
  • I am a little sad that mead is not on the food and drink list. I learned about mead from Keep on the Borderlands, so I always look.
  • The starting trinket table? Fun. And as soon as there’s a license, expect one with 1000 entries. Probably more than one.
  • Ah, ok, 3e style multiclassing. And backdoor feats? Forgo a stat bump to take a feat instead? That’s intriguing! It keeps them nice and genuinely optional. It also demands that feats be a little it cooler than we’ve been used to in past editions to merit the investment, and I’m totally on board with that. The worst thing about feats was that they felt like too-small pieces of a bigger idea. Hopefully this changes it.

That’s the end of section one, creating characters. Let’s look at the wordcount and…DAMMIT, I’m over 1500 words!

Ok, apparently there is more of this to come.

D&D Starter Set: The Adventure

It is somewhat emblematic that the index for the Starter Set rulebook went on the back of the adventure. There are a handful of things (like how to set DCs) which find their way into the adventure that should have been in the rules. I assume that’s a function of space management. The rulebook was pretty pressed for space as is, but it still threw me a bit.

I’m going to spoil the hell out of the adventure when I get into it, so let me start with the non-spoiler stuff, and I’ll mark when I make the transition.

  • GM priorities are clearly articulated – When in doubt, make it up. it’s not a competition. It’s a shared story. Be consistent. Make sure everyone is involved. Be fair. Pay attention. Some of those are stronger than others, but it’s not a bad list.
  • No real nuance to character failure. I’m hopeful that the actual rules are more expansive.
  • Yeah, I totally skipped ahead to the magic items. Charged items seem to have switched over to a small number of charges, recover about half of them per day, risk losing the item is you use the last charge. Not a bad model.
  • It struck me that it’d be pretty trivial to have magic items that just expand the number of spells the wielder has prepared.[1]
  • Other magic items were about what I’d expect, though “attunement” is a nice addition. it takes time to attune to more potent items, and there’s a limit to how many items you can be attuned to. Good trick for limiting total magic item haul without including more mundane items. For example, the staves listed require attunement, but a +1 sword (apparently) does not.
  • Monster entries are interesting, and look more like 3e without class levels than anything. No minions or bosses. The few humans statted up this way have what seem to largely be one-off abilities (or spell casting). There’s a little bit of the distinctive color of 4e (goblins can disengage and hide easily, frex) but on the whole, these entries feel a bit more…utilitarian. It might just be a function of it being an adventure, though.
  • Monsters have challenge ratings (though there seems to be a fair amount of variation in what makes a “1”) which translate into XP. But the adventure just seems to be handing out Milestone XP, so I’m not sure what’s going on there.
  • Inspiration! Your roleplaying hooks grant you a point of inspiration when they cause you trouble, you spend that point for a bonus (advantage on a roll). Familiar mechanic, and I can’t fault it. The decision to limit it to a single inspiration is a nice incentive to use-or-lose, though getting that flowing properly will depend on the table getting a sense of its cadence. You don’t want to spend inspiration before you need it if you don’t think you’ll get a chance to get it back!
  • I admit I totally blah-blah-blahed over the forgotten realms stuff. It’s near Neverwinter, which is great (probably the single best 4e product). The maps are gorgeous, but, well, Mike Schley, so that very nearly goes without saying.
  • Yes, the adventure hook is thin, but it’s a starter adventure. Of course the hook is thin. It’s enough to start playing, and that’s enough for me (though I do wish there had been maybe a little more information on Gundran at the outset, if only for ease of reference)

Ok, done the general stuff. On to the meat of things.


The overview of the four main parts of the adventure was useful, but it left me pretty unclear on the whole transition from 3 to 4. As a whole it felt like:
1. Fight Goblins!
2. Save the Town!
3. Um….do a bunch of stuff. Y’know. Stuff
4. Go to Climax!

Not to say that act 3 is bad or unstructured, but the explanation? Left a bit to be desired.

Also, while I appreciate the absence of a ticking clock on this adventure, based on the description of what’s up, it feels like there should be one.

Goblin Arrows

  • As is to be expected, lots of GM guidance in the first fight, which is good,
  • The idea that you might keep initiative in the margins of the adventure sounds like something that was written before layout. Glossy paper + tiny margins == Not so much.
  • If the players kill the goblins but blow the Wisdom (Survival) roll, they pretty much are screwed. The DC is low enough that this probably won’t happen, but it would probably have been worth spending a sentence on.
  • I like the traps on the trail. They’re total sleight of hand, since they don’t really challenge resources (because their consequences are so mild) but that’s good for teaching the idea to new players. Doubly nice to put the more harmless trap first, so that if the partly learns their lesson and starts looking for traps after that one, they’ll spot the slightly more dangerous one.
  • The actual dungeon is nicely set up. There’s a lot of sleight of hand here (the loud river, the wolves always making noise, the sentries being lazy) to keep the encounters discrete, but that’s appropriate for an introductory adventure, and it’s done in such a way that it doesn’t feel too ham-fisted
  • I feel like there’s a really good chance of the party skipping acts 2 and 3 if they manage to charm or interrogate any of the goblins. Especially if Sildar doesn’t make it. The GM can plan for this by adding in some personal hooks into town, but it feels like this should be cut off at the pass, because as is, it’s pretty logical, especially since the cart (their other responsibility) is Gunden’s. I am pretty sure I would be all “Why don’t we take this cart of adventuring supplies and go…adventure with it!”
    • Especially because at that point, the town and the castle are roughly equidistant.
  • I loved the possibilities of the negotiation with Yeemik over Sildar. it is a shame that they don’t pad that out a little bit, especially the guaranteed betrayal. Even a small nod to the use of social skills in resolving things might have been nice.
  • Given that there’s a non-trivial chance of the party coming into Klarg’s chamber via the chimney, a little more guidance on how to play that would be nice. is the entrance out of sight? How quickly will they spot the first player up the chimney?
  • I dig the flood as a potential event. Memorable, but scarier than it is really dangerous. I would have liked a little guidance on what the Goblins to next.
  • Because I felt like doing the math, it’s about 75 miles from Neverwinter to Phandelver[2], or about 3 days, assuming that the cart is about as fast as walking (which presumes 24 miles a day) and the attack would be either very late on the second day or very early on the third day. Anyway, that’s 10gp for 3 days work. Modest cost of living (meals, lodging, a little booze) is about 1GP (3sp for meals, 5sp for a room, 2 sp for a gallon of ale for the day) so that’s a solid paycheck, but not an amazing one. Also, it suggests that housing is damn expensive.


  • I love frontier towns in D&D, I truly do, so I’m presupposed to like this town. Despite the name.
  • Ok, I cannot help but imagine some of these NPCs with gold question marks above their heads.
  • Given that the locations are not listed in alphabetical order, would it have killed them to number them or otherwise make the (lovely) map more referenceable?
  • The rumors are kind of a blunt instrument, but fair enough. Introductory adventure.
  • This is probably the section where the lack of examples hurts the most. The guidelines for playing NPCs are decent, but could REALLY use supplementation.
  • Membership in a secret society as a reward? Awesome!!! What does it mean? …I have no idea.
  • Scale on the map seems odd – suggests the buildings are pretty tiny
  • A bunch of push goes away if Sildar dies. Important to stay aware of.
  • Ok, I am liking the habit of including “what the X know” sidebars.
  • XP seems to be by fight now. I guess the streamlining in the goblins cave was just that?
  • Glassstaff’s bug out bag is a wonderful way to do random treasure in a strange place.

The Spider’s Web

  • Ok, yes, this is totally MMO’ish in its framing, but I admit, I totally dig this array of bite sized adventures. I mostly just wish the greater context of things did not make them feel a bit like faffing about.
  • Ok, I thought it was a stretch that the Black Spider’s letter beat you to town, but it’s gotten to the point where they have one of your faces AND have gotten it into hobgoblin hands? Really?
  • I would rather have 3 more little adventures than have Thundertree. But Thundertree has a dragon, so i guess its inclusion is mandatory.
  • That said, I’m startled there’s not a little more guidance on how to run the Venomfang encounter.
  • Cragmaw is nicely put together, but I admit I kind of want a diagram of who hears what, where and does what in response.
  • I don’t understand – are you saying that the owlbear leaves without ripping someone’s arm off? Your ways are strange to me!
  • Personal taste thing, but if I was GMing, and my party went straight to Cragmaw Castle, I would introduce some binary element to the information they receive, so they would have reason to not power on to Wave Echo Cave..
    • For example, Gundren’s map might be missing a key landmark, required to give it reference. He’d been keeping the map safely in Neverwinter until his brother notified him that they’d found the landmark. Now the players need to find it – Agatha, Reidoth or Hamun Kost could probably all identify it as a hilltop you can see clearly from Wyvern Tor.

Wave Echo Cave

  • When I saw this map, I died a little inside. I know it’s totally a D&D tradition to have a big sprawling map like this, but it’s a little bit bigger than my comfort level to run. I am not the target audience for this.
  • It’s made a bit worse because I can’t see the story of this map by looking at it. I could see the stories of all the other maps – imagine how people got in and out, moved around, used the space. This one? Just feels like a bunch of stuff.
  • That said, I really like the preliminary writeups of the dungeons, including default behaviors, actions, difficulties and so on. It feels like a similar level of care as went into the specific encounters for 4e. Make of that what you would.
  • Ok, yeah, they have totally been doing the training wheels things with XP. This time you have to look it up in the stat block. Which is kind of annoying, but I suppose it’s educational.
  • Ugh, wandering monsters, ugh. Specifically, Ugh wandering monsters who do not otherwise exist in the context of the adventure. I understand their utility as a pressure mechanism, but i hate that particular implementation. If these are supposed to be the creatures from other encounters, then give me a cross reference, so players don’t have to kill them twice.
  • And if I roll 4 Gricks, I am totally rerolling. Because I don’t actively hate my players.
  • The booming waves are neat sensory addition to things. I wish they had some payout. Or even a note like “clever players who time their movements to take advantage of the noise might get an advantage on stealth rolls”.[3]
  • The Mine tunnels, with the Ochre Jelly, are a kidn fo encounter I don’t particularly enjoy running. Either you convey “it’s mazelike!” which is dull, or you have a really unfun mapping experience. And if you draw attention to it, you pretty much ruin the point of a surprise attack.
  • I like the 10% stake in the mine as a reward. Honestly, for all that the magic items and such are pretty sweet, the less conventional treasures really make this adventure much more interesting.

And holy crap, I’m done. Or nearly done. Just a few more thoughts on the monsters:

  • The recharge mechanic feels clunky. I wish it were triggered by something in play rather than its own roll.
  • I do like the option for flat damage.
  • Bugbears looks scary. That double damage thing is going to hurt.
  • Several doppelgangers in this, but they’re not really used to the full extent of their abilities. I admit, I wonder why they went with Dops rather than actual drow (cynical answer to self: because drow are actually too scary)
  • Nice touch not giving the Evil Mage sleep. That would probably suck.
  • The bit about sprinkling the flameskull with holy water to kill it permanently made me wonder what it would take to know that. Regretting the absence of default lore difficulties.
  • Ghouls. Ghouls will mess you up.
  • The Grick’s damage resistance is kind of a bear.
  • The Wraith’s energy drain is clever! Hit points of damage are taken from max HP, and only come back after a long rest. That is nasty, but not distasteful.
  • The Redbrands have multiattack? CHEATERS!
  • As with the Flameskull, I’m wondering how much lore it takes to get what the Spectator is

And with that? Actually done. I may take a short break before going onto the PDF. This was actually a bit more of a journey than I’d originally planned.

  1. This is actually a pretty old school idea. There was a very old 1e era dragon article about giving players spell substitution magic items, so a wand of fireball channelling meant that the user could expend any of their level 3 spells to cast fireball (so you could memorize less useful spells, knowing that you had this fallback).  ↩
  2. Total taste thing, but I kind of hate that name.  ↩
  3. Yes, an experienced GM will just do that, but just as this gets a pass on a lot of things because it’s an introductory product, it also is expected to do stuff like this.  ↩

D&D Starter Set: Magic

Ok, the magic section. I admit, this is the one I was most excited about. Magic has always been such a critical part of D&D’s rules that it always reveals a lot about how the game is expected to play. And this time is no different.

Like the combat section, I walked away from this one quite pleased. It made me want to try playing a wizard, which is fairly high praise.

First and foremost, we should talk about the mechanic for casting a spell. This is definitely something which has gone through a lot of permutations, and while the new model steps back from the 4e model of powers back to something with discrete spells and casting, it’s definitely not the model from the 2e or 3e days. The new idea is that you can keep a certain number of spells prepared (which you do by studying the spellbook or praying), and a certain number of spells you can cast. That sounds familiar, but the important difference is that you don’t “Use up” a prepared spell when you cast it, and by extension, there isn’t a direct connection between the number you can prepare and the number you can cast.

This is a little hard to visualize, because it lacks the relative simplicity of “using up” spells. So, consider that at first level, I can prepare 5 spells, and I can cast 3 level 1 spells. That means I could prepare Magic Missile, Mage Armor, Sleep, Charm Person and Shield. It also means I could cast magic missile 3 times. Or sleep 3 times. Or two magic missiles and a detect magic. Any combination that I see fit.

This is a fairly novel solution to the age old question of how to keep the idea of spellbook/prayer and memorization (both of which are well loved) while giving the caster a little bit more flexibility in their spells, specifically so that the caster can have utility spells on hand without depriving himself of workhorse spells like attacks and heals.

[EDITED TO ADD (for all the Van Hœts): Yes, it will totally look familiar to fans of Arcana Evolved]

There have been a LOT of attempts at solving this problem, and there’s no guarantee this one will stick. I like it on paper, but am curious to see it in action. If it has a weakness, it’s that it feels a little bit abstract in a way that “using up” spells did not. But it’s not as abstract as 4e, so perhaps it will find purchase.

And I hope it does, because there are a lot of clever twists in this, especially regarding how spells are cast.

First, a number of spells are labeled as “Rituals”, which basically means that if you take 10 minutes to cast the spell, it won’t count towards your spells cast today. These are largely utility spells (detect magic, identify and so on) and there is definitely serious metagame thinking about the application of this label. There are spells with long casting times which aren’t rituals, because the logic is more that is the spell is really something that helps move the adventure along (rather than one which provides an immediate advantage) then it shouldn’t burn a resource. As someone who has had to hoard spell slots to keep some detect magics available, I applaud this thinking (doubly so, since wizards only need to have the ritual in their spellbook, something that suggests lots of interesting stuff).

Second, and even more interestingly, they have fiddled with the idea of spell level in really interesting ways. First, spells no longer scale with the level of the caster (except in terms of how hard the saving throw is). Fireball, for example, is a 3rd level spell, which does 8d6 fire damage[1].

However, and this is where the spell prep rules get interesting, you can opt to cast fireball as a higher level spell (using a higher level spell slot), in which case it does more damage (+1d6 per additional spell level). This has several implications. First, you no longer prep spells by level, just a certain number of spells. The caster is obliged to make sure that all slots are covered, but that’s a trivial burden. Second, this allows a little more leeway in writing interesting spells because they can toss the spells that are effectively improved versions of earlier spells (like the whole “cure…” chain). Third, this supports some weird and interesting concepts. You could literally play a mage who never casts anything but magic missile if you really wanted[2].

Between these two things, you capture a lot of what was good but too fiddly in the metamagic feats of 3e, and open it up to everyone. I REALLY like that thinking.

There are also some really interesting things about the spells themselves. First, I think they hit upon a fairly elegant solution to concentration and spell disruption. In short, you can’t disrupt someone casting a spell, but if the spell requires concentration to maintain (many good ones do) then damage may cause it to be disrupted. This is a nice but ultimately secondary benefit to a more subtle trick to concentration – you can’t maintain two different concentration spells at the same time, and since most buffs are concentration spells, the “Stacking buffs” problem[3] from previous editions is greatly curtailed. They also have explicit maximum durations for most concentration spells, so that undercuts a different category of abuses. That said, they have also created a fairly obvious hook for items and abilities to sustain secondary concentrations, which could be pretty scary. Something to keep an eye on.

Second, spells aren’t typed – there are no cleric or wizard spells. There are only spells. And they all are categorized by the traditional wizardly schools of magic. That is going to simplify some bookkeeping in the future.

While spells are no longer 4e style, the cantrips totally are. You prep them all, and cast them for free. This is actually a great thing because it provides two essential things. First, it gives the wizards Prestidigitation, which is one of the great things for making things feel Magical. In that spirit, they gave the clerics an equivalent of Prestidigitation (Thuamaturgy) and it’s about time. Now the cleric can speak in thunderous tones and generally do cool voice of god tricks.

Second, they give a default, reusable spell which is roughly comparable to a weapon. Ray of Frost, or example, does d8 damage, and can be used as often as you like.[4]

Speaking of which, another nice thing they did was basically get rid of the concept of touch attacks. It’s an attack, just like anything else, and the caster gets stat and proficiency bonuses to it, which suggests parity with mundane attacks. I am not sure how they address the magical plus issue at higher levels (where equivalent base bonuses become a discrepancy because there’s no +3 hand) but I am curious to find out.

As to the spells themselves, there are a few interesting things:

  • I like the abbreviated header, but the fact that Save information is in the text is awkward. Also, the fact that nothing calls for a strength or Charisma save means I’m no closer to envisioning what those mean.
  • Most things last a minute. Which is to say 10 rounds. Which is an amusing return of “the turn”.
  • Augury is the first ritual you come across, and it’s a great example of why making it a ritual works. Good spell to have but not necessarily to always use.
  • Bless uses an unexpected mechanic, granting +1d4 to attacks and saving throws (rather than a flat bonus or advantage). Shades of Alternity. it’s subtly potent though, as it can stack with Advantage.
  • Language on Charm Person and Command both seem a bit less prone to doom as past versions, but we’ll see.
  • Comprehend Languages is actually written usefully enough (including being a ritual) that i could actually see wanting to have it.
  • Detect and dispel magic are also both very nice and clear in their use.
  • Healing Word is a nice addition to the mix, basically providing a less potent cure spell usable at range. I suspect most clerics will appreciate the flexibility.
  • Inflict Wounds is its own spell – no fiddling around with reversing Cure or anything, which is just as well, since it actually allows it to be more potent (doing 3d10 damage, vs 1d8 + stat healing)
  • Mage Armor isn’t terrible.
  • Magic Missile starts with 3 missiles, 1d4+1 damage, always hits. Feels right.
  • Misty Step gives a level 2 short range teleport, which I very much like.
  • Revivify is basically battlefield raise dead for any target who died from wounds in the last minute. Practical, and good to have it available reasonably early on.
  • Shield is a reaction spell, basically giving you a retroactive +5 to AC (and immunity to magic missile). That’s very 4e, but in a way I like.
  • Shield of Faith is a +2 bonus to AC, so flat bonuses apparently have their place.
  • Sleep affects a number of hit points of creatures, starting with the lowest hit points affected first. I actually dig that, as it makes it an effective minion clearer, but not necessarily a fight winner.
  • Spider climb explicitly leaves you hands free, and is therefor awesome
  • Spirit Guardians, a 3rd level cleric spell, is a pretty serious defense. Effectively it puts the cleric in the middle of an ongoing 3d8 AOE attack (which can selectively ignore allies). Not a fun thing to fight.

The book ends with a page of conditions which are largely similar to the 4e conditions. This is good – 4e’s standardization of effects reduced a lot of bookkeeping. You can always do something that’s not on the list, but the list covers most situations.

All in all, I was pretty stoked by the magic section. With the increased flexibility provided by spell slots and 0 level spells, it just looks fun. And with little caveats like the fact that you can cast spells in any armor you have proficiency in, and the presence of finesse weapons to reward dex as a secondary stat, they have opened up some badass mage possibilities.

I’m looking forward to cracking open the adventure, but I admit that at this point in time, I would be more than happy to take the game for a spin.

  1. Which seems like a LOT to me. The spell damages seem pretty high overall, which makes me all the more curious to see the underlying hit point and damage model. The numbers I’m seeing make me wonder if they did something 13th Age-ish (But don’t tell me! No Spoilers!)  ↩
  2. That sounds flip, but it’s actually really interesting. Because spell prep and recovering spell slots are now separate things, it means that wizards are less crippled by the absence of a spellbook (and clerics by the absence of prayers, but that’s always been a lesser burden). Once you’ve prepped a set of spells, that’s permanently locked in until you actively change it. You could, theoretically, lock in your spells at first level and never look at a spellbook again. You’d be pretty limited, but it’s doable. This has fascinating implications for things like Sorcerers, which could really be modeled by “more prepped spells, but it’s MUCH harder for them to change them”.  ↩
  3. That is, just pile on the buff spells (stat enhances especially, in 3e) to make the team unstoppable for a while, then rest and recover when they wear of. Curiously, the system has one more check against these. 3.5 drastically reduced the duration of most buffs, and the 5e durations seem to be in that spirit.  ↩
  4. Cantrips seem to be the exception to the “use a higher slot” rule, as they actually increase in damage as you level up. Ray of frost does 2d8 and 5th, 3d8 at 11th and 4d8 at 17th. I should add, things like this are what leave me wondering if there are 13th Age style damage scaling rules in the core (as noted above).  ↩

D&D Starter Set: Adventuring

Ok, cracking open the adventuring section opens with jumping rules, which are basically one of the poster children for fiddly bits. I hope there’s a lot of jumping in the adventure because otherwise it is about a third of a page included for reasons of tradition.

Things get much more interesting when we get to the long and short rest. Interestingly, the Short Rest seems substantially changed from 4e, where it seemed more like “catch your breath for a few minutes”. Now it’s more “Lunch break”, demanding you take an hour to benefit from it.

It also is, apparently, the avenue for self healing through the “Hit Die” rule, which caught me by surprise. I hadn’t inferred anything like this from the character sheet, but I guess it’s something like you get a number and type of hit dice based on your level and class which you can roll for healing during short rests and recover during long rests (which are still 8 hours, with the caveat that you only benefit from them once per 24 hours).

I get the intent, but this seems like a somewhat baroque way to go about it. I guess making it dice just makes it more appealing than having it be a kind of abstract recovery pool, but that’s totally a flourish. Still, it remains delightful to see the continued influences of Omega World.

XP progression table reveals that, yes, the Proficiency bonus increases to +3 at level 5. That suggests some kind of fascinating stuff, specifically that the net bonus to hit (and damage) of a first level character is not that much less than that of a, say, 5th or 6th level character, unless there are some other bonuses that I’m not yet aware of (like exactly how common and potent magic items will be), and that in turn says interesting things to say about how AC is expected to scale (since it presumably advances about as quickly as attack bonuses). At present, it looks like the only thing that really scales up is hit points, which seems odd. I’m curious what piece I haven’t seen yet.

This is also where they mention that they’ve gone back to the 20 level cap, which I understand (it’s more familiar) but I regret the loss of the tiers from the 30 level model.

Next we get into equipment. Weights are in pounds, encumbrance is basically all or nothing, but it’s simple enough to calculate that I suspect that’s a fair tradeoff.

The armor section answers some questions. Shields are +2 to AC, which I like. Light armors allow full dex, medium armors allow dex bonus capped at +2, so things have stepped back form 4e, and now a maximized rogue (18 dex + Studded leather) will have a 16 AC, while a fighter in Splint Mail and a shield will have a 19 (as opposed to the 1 point difference you could end up seeing in 4e).

I assume the gap is wider with Plate Mail, but they don’t even include it on the list, which is an interesting (and slightly weird) choice. Flashes back to earlier editions where Plate Mail was something you had to save up for (or kill a dude for). But even so, it’s exclusion from something without chargen rules (and which may have characters going as high as 5th level) seems wacky, unless they’ve removed it from the game entirely, which seems unlikely.

Weapons are pretty well standardized. Non-martial weapons do a base of d6, up to d8 if it’s 2 handed, down to d4 if it has some other benefit. Martial Weapons do the same thing centered around a d8 (with the soul exception being the Maul, which does 2d6 rather than 1d12, for a slight upgrade over its contemporaries).

This looks pretty familiar, but it’s noteworthy for the absence of the “exotic” weapon category. Not sure if it’s gone (because in the absence of feats, it’s harder to handle) or if it just doesn’t have a place in the starter se.

The weapons keyword list is short and familiar. Finesse, Versatile, Range, thrown, and two-handed are all what you’d expect from previous editions. “Heavy” is basically “no Halflings” but it seems oddly applied, since it is synonymous with “Two Handed” for every weapon listed except the Greatclub, a discrepancy I can’t quite wrap my head around.

The “Light” keyword effectively means “usable in the off hand” and, predictably, the Scimitar is a Light, Finesse weapons. Because screw you Drizzt. The Ammunition keyword is exactly what you’d expect, but is noteworthy for its fast and dirty arrow recovery rules (spend a minute, get half your ammo back). This is something that a clear guideline is very helpful with, at least in my experience.

I like the use of the Loading keyoword, which is, effectively, the Crossbow keyword (but I could totally see it being used in other ways, such as truly oversized weapons). Thankfully, it does not require spending a round loading or anything, it simply says that you can’t make multiple attacks in one round with the weapon in question.

Rules for improvised weapons seem more complicated than they need to be, since the default is to model them after simple weapons, and if it sucks, roll d4.

After that comes equipment, and it’s fun, as is the nature of all such inventory lists. I don’t know what kind of money character’s start with, so it’s hard to really judge what’s cheap, but Spellbooks and Thieves’ Tools are clearly designed to be money sinks. There are a few interesting tidbits

  • The healers kit is basically the answer to the question of “how do I stabilize someone at 0 HP”
  • Oil. Ah, oil. The low level adventurers dearest friend. We forgot about you during 4e when everyone was awesome, but now that we are less awesome, we turn to you once more to kill things above our weight class. And you look down and say “no”, with your drastically reduced effectiveness.
  • The presence of the Potion of healing on the normal equipment list (even if expensive) is practical and telling. It suggests that they are a very matter-of-fact item more than something rare and magical. This is probably good, but also is going to lead to barrels of healing.
  • You can have proficiency with playing cards (as we saw on the character sheets) and it gives you +P[1] to rolls with them, and largely that just seems weird and disconnected from the rest of the rules.

I admit, these kinds of lists are fun, and while i wish it was longer, I realize that space constraints are a real issue. it wraps up with the cost of mounts and daily living stuff, which is nice, but in the absence of guidance for how they should be used, is probably less help than it might be.

All in all, this chapter is ok, but weak. Its got lots of good bits, but it’s kind of a grab bag, with little real sense of anything holding it together. That’s more of an annoyance than a problem because the reality is that for a starter set, you have to expect an “all the other stuff” chapter. For all that, I’d have been delighted if the travel and time stuff had been a little bit more coherently tied together (perhaps in the style of Dungeon World). But that’s a small gripe in the larger scheme.

Boilerplate: I skipped the beta. I am writing these as I read each section, which means I will frequently reveal misunderstandings and faulty assumptions.  That is the cost of doing this “live”, so to speak, but I want to capture those impressions, warts and all.

  1. That my notation (for “plus proficiency bonus”) not theirs, but I will be using it because I like it better.  ↩