Story — Three of Spades

“They’re going to die, aren’t they?”

“Probably. But such is life.”

Hart frowned, folding her arms as she stared at her brother. “Why do you do this, Spades?”

“You’ll have to be more specific than that, dear, I detest pronouns.”

“This game you play. Exploring the same moment in time over and over again with different adventurers. What do you get out of it?”

Spades nodded, swirling the wine glass in his hands and then pouring it out onto the table. As soon as it left the glass, the wine stopped moving, frozen in time just as the rest of the tavern was from the moment Hart walked in. He addressed her from across the bar. “That’s a neat trick, you know. You simply must show how to do that some time.”

“You bend the fabric of reality to repeat the same days over and over and you want to know how to stop time?”

“You’re right. Where will we ever find the time for such a thing?”

“Spades—”

“I’m looking for something, sister.”

Hart squinted, noticing the change in Spades’ tone. “What, exactly?”

“A change. An abnormality, one might say. You know, the last group of people I sent on this quest completed it without a hitch. Perfectly executed. They didn’t even break the curse.”

“Sounds like they were capable,” Hart said.

“They were boring, dear. I don’t care about competence, I want to be entertained.”

“So you’re sending a group that is the polar opposite of the last one. So woefully unprepared that they have no hope of survival?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. I’ll give them a boon. To increase the likelihood for quality entertainment.”

“And what would that be?”

Spades pulled out a deck of cards from his coat pocket and laid the top card onto the table. As soon as one corner of the card made contact with the wood, it froze in place, showing a face up three of spades. Hart rolled her eyes.

“I’ll be a little more direct this time around,” Spades said, shuffling the rest of the deck. “As long as it gets me a more interesting show.”

“This is pathetic.”

“You can watch with me, if you want.”

Hart’s face convulsed. “Watch as half a dozen people, possibly far more, get slaughtered.”

“Since when did you become a paragon of virtue? It doesn’t suit you, I must say.”

“You’re insufferable.”

Spades smirked. “Yet here you are of your own volition, suffering me.”

Hart stood from the table and looked about the tavern, still as a painting. “Tell me something, Spades.”

“Something honest, or clever, or stupid?”

“Something honest,” Hart said.

“Ah, good choice. That’ll cost you, though. I’m afraid information isn’t cheap.”

“I’ll show you how to freeze time.”

Spades nodded. “That’s more like it. What do you want to know?”

“Is this group the one? Are they different from any of the others?”

“Probably not. I expect them to set a record for quickest failure, to be honest. In all likelihood they’ll be dead by midnight. But it’s about the journey, dear sister, not the destination. After all, we all find ourselves in Death’s chill embrace in the end.”

“You really are despicable.”

“Yes, yes, I’m well aware. Now hurry up and undo the spell, I haven’t got all day.” He thought about that for a second. “Well, perhaps I do, and therein lies a new problem.”

Hart glanced at the table, then back to him. “As you wish.”

She snapped her fingers, and the tavern was brought back to life. As the ruckus of the Daylight’s Kiss resumed around them, both the card and the wine fell onto the table, red liquid pouring over the edges and onto Spades’ hands and clothes.

He looked up at her, unamused. “Don’t think the irony is lost on me, sister,” he grumbled.

“I should hope not. After all you do love your symbols.”

D&D — The Commoner Campaign

I’m setting up a short campaign I plan to run over the summer, and it’s going to be somewhat different than anything I’ve ever done before. I plan on it being longer than a one shot, but it won’t have some “big bad” that you never get to even after playing for several months.

This campaign is based on a very simple homebrew class: The Commoner. This picture is all you need to know about what this class is.

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Short story even shorter: you’re just a normal dude that is average in every way. All your abilities are +0, you get no armor, and all you start out with is a dagger. With 8 HP and only 10 AC, this means you’re very vulnerable.

Let’s put that into perspective. A singular goblin, basically fodder, has +4 to his attack, and deals 1d6 + 2 damage. He only needs to roll a 6 to hit you with his attack, and when he does hit you, if he rolls a 6 on his damage roll, you’re instantly unconscious and making death saves.

I actually did a test run of this. One goblin versus one commoner with +1 Strength. Not only did the goblin win 9 times out of 10, but the goblin went first and just one-shot the guy three of those times. Now, admittedly that’s abnormally lucky for the goblin, but the point stands. A simple commoner has no chance, which makes sense.

I love the idea of my players being scared of what would otherwise be trivial creatures. I mean, an everyday spider (challenge rating 0) is now a real threat. I want to make everything my party faces scary. A goblin party raiding the town? Well you can’t just run out there and fight them off, you’re just going to get killed. You have to stick together and rely on the element of surprise if you’re going to have any hope of wining. Still, though, you’re much safer just running away.

I want the party to use their wits in this campaign, using their environment and real strategy rather than stats and rolls to succeed. It’ll be a challenge for everyone involved. For me, I’m going to have to make a compelling story and combat using only weak little baby threats, because if I get too bold I can end up taking out players with single attacks. Plus, commoners don’t have hit dice. Every point of damage will be critical for everyone involved.

But the cool thing about this is that I know this campaign will bring fun stories about amazing rolls. Rolls will be key in this campaign, and I know there will be several points in time where both players and enemies have only one health and manage to Do The Thing.

So, should be fun.

 

 

*Spoilers for people that personally know me and may be in this campaign*

Also, I have the best antagonist for this campaign. It is going to be two or three kobolds in a trench coat (or something of that nature). It’ll be hilarious when the party meets them and mistakes them for a dragonborn simply because they’ve never seen anything even remotely draconic. It’ll be fun for the party when they find out what’s really going on, and fun to balance because, for three or four commoners, fighting three kobolds is no joke.

D&D — Dialogues 5: The Death Dungeon

Yesterday (as of writing this) my brothers and a couple friends were caught without board games to play. They were all at somebody else’s house and nobody wanted to go back to get them. Usually, we just play Telephone Pictionary instead (you draw a thing, pass it to the next person, they write what they drawing is, they pass it, they draw the description, etc.), but we weren’t really feeling it.

So we improvised a D&D session. We only had flash cards, two sets of dice, and the internet at our disposal. Most of us randomized pretty much everything. Random race and class, and randomized stats. In fact, for stats we just rolled 1d20 each. One of my brothers got two 20’s (at level one). He only ended up with 3 HP, though, so as a wild magic sorcerer his character was bound to be interesting.

When I rolled my d20s, my highest roll, and the only one above 10, was a single 12. Two of my rolls were 1s.

So naturally I made a goliath rogue with 1 Intelligence and 1 Wisdom. His name was Gerg, because that was the only sound he was capable of consciously making. Most of his modifiers were -2 or worse (even his Dexterity). The only thing he was kinda sorta good at was Strength and stealth specifically, because his Rogue expertise brought his Stealth roll to +2.

The session was fun, and I won’t get into the more mundane details. We had four rooms to explore and we only got to two of them. Each door had different monsters to fight. When another friend stepped in mid-game as a half-orc sorceress, we were really surprised when she just attacked us.

Now, Gerg was an interesting character to roleplay. You can’t really use logic to explain his actions because, well, he’s real dumb. A baby step away from catatonic, in fact. So he tries to attack the other half-orc in the party, and chaos ensues. The only normal person in the party died due to collateral damage, both of the half-orcs got away, and Gerg stalked after them with pokey intent. (Very loudly, I might add. That particular stealth roll was a 1.)

The person whose character had died re-rolled a new random character and followed into this new fray where we fought the Spanish Inquisition (literally). Gerg poked the nearest targets before losing the remaining 4 HP from the previous fight, so two out of the five players were down, one not in the room, and all of our loyalties to one another questionable at best.

So this True Neutral gnome druid walks into the room and sees this chaos happening. She can’t tell who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy, so she walks up to Gerg and casts Healing Word, which brings him to full health.

It was a mistake. Gerg wasn’t smart enough to know that this small thing was the thing that saved him. So… he poked.

And rolled a 20.

A sneak attack and 22 damage later, Devon’s poor second character met and instant, tragic, and hopefully painless demise. As Kollin I feel really bad still. It’s hard not to when you’re technically making the conscious decision to murder somebody you know helped you, even if the situation justified it.

But man, it was hilarious, too.

So, about three hours and a bloody mess of level 1 corpses later and we called it a night. I had a blast, because having a bunch of confused characters in a room doing crazy stuff is just silly on a level scarce achieved elsewhere.

We’ve discussed the possibility of making a random generator just for the purposes of a Death Dungeon. Spitting out random characters, random rooms, etc. I hope we do, because that was a ton of fun.

D&D — Dialogues 4: Do You MIND?

Sometimes, things just don’t go as well as you expect they might. Or sometimes they go just as poorly as you feared. It all depends on the dice with D&D. This one isn’t a funny story, but instead was a great moment of just how frightening some moments can be if done right.

 

This is the same campaign of Dialogues 2 and 3, only my character, a human priest named Kallos, has since died. In the session immediately after Dialogue 3, in fact. After getting knocked unconscious, he was thrown across the room (1 failed Death save) and then he rolled a 1 on his turn immediately after, so… dead. It happened really quick, and the party was only level 3, so there’s really no coming back from that.\

My new character is a halfling barbarian named Xiuhcoatl (pronounced Shee-uh-ko). She’s something of a monotone character, deadpanning everything, but she’s also a sadist, so it’s an interesting combo. This Dialogue, however, isn’t really her story.

The party has ventured deep into a tunnel, chasing an evil duergar who attacked our town. We have to find him to stop him from telling his people of the surface’s defenses. As we delve further into this cave (we’ve been in here for hours), we find a man sitting in the middle of a pile of bodies, all cut in half. He stands in darkness, mumbling to himself, and in walks my brother, who then joined the party. (This was a welcome surprise to the half of us who hadn’t been told he was coming.) His character seems a little… unstable. We warily accept him into our fold as we continue on.

Now, the party didn’t rest before following the dwarf down here. We fought him, he ran off, and we gave chase. My level 4 barbarian is at 18/53 health, our other warlock is tapped out for spells, and we’re all but spent as it is.

So our DM was surprised that, when we find a crumbling door and some tents nearby, we don’t rest and plan. In fact, we don’t even take the sneaky approach.

I accidentally alert the dwarves to our presence, and the party takes cover. Theren, our spent warlock, casts Grease at the choke point in the doorway. Jod, the crazy warlock, and I hide behind the doors and whack them as they walk through. There’s three duergar. Then, three more show up. Things are going well. The duergar are rolling pretty low and, miraculously, we haven’t taken any damage yet (in this fight, that is).

But as I said, we’re already tapped out. By the time we take out three of the dwarves, a mind flayer steps out of the third and last tent. As soon as all the players see this, we decide it’s best to retreat. We can’t take on three more duergar and a mind flayer. And while Kollin the player knows how dangerous they are, Xiuhcoatl has never seen one, and she likes to grapple people. If an illithid is grappling you it can eat your brain, which will kill you outright. So she might unwittingly get herself killed just because she doesn’t know what she’s up against.

On Theren’s turn, he takes out Remnant’s Necklace (as mentioned in Dialogues 2). We’ve since learned that this necklace will “greatly empower a single spell cast through it”. We haven’t been told what that means, exactly, so Theren casts Eldritch Blast through the necklace at the mind flayer. He does this to push him back and to discourage him from following the party as we make our escape.

The DM asks him to roll 5d10, as opposed to the normal Eldritch Blast damage of 1d10.

A giant beam blasts through the fray, slamming into the mind flayer and throwing him back into the tent. The party sort of mutually misinterprets this as a signal to go in, so we do.

Jod walks up to the mind flayer and casts Arms of Hadar, thrashing tentacle-like wads of paper (part of his backstory) wildly at him and the three remaining duergar.

On the illithid’s turn, he casts a wave of psychic energy outward, and the DM asks all of us to make an intellgence saving throw. If I recall correctly, our rolls were 3, 4, 4, 5, and 6. Our best score against this save was 10, and we needed to beat a 15. Think about that. Out of 5 people, all of us failed what could be considered a fairly average spell save DC. This also dealt about 12 damage, if I recall correctly.

So all 5 of us, in addition to the duergar, are stunned for 1 minute, or until we make the saving throw on our respective turns. Our monk has fallen unconscious. I’m at about 4 health. Theren’s almost down, too. All of us are stunned, and since Kallos died, the party no longer has a healer.

At this point, I would have said the chances of a TPK right here and now would be over 70%.

Jod and Xiuhcoatl make their save on their next turn. Theren and our artificer are still stunned, and our monk is unconscious.

On the mind flayer’s next turn, he walks up to Jod and grapples him with his tentacles. Really bad news.

On Jod’s turn, he casts Cloud of Daggers at 3rd level. This spell deals 4d4 (6d4 at 3rd level) damage when a creature enters the cloud or starts its turn in the cloud. So he deals 6d4 now.

Xiuhcoatl is too far away to get to the illithid without using a dash action. Instead, she rushes over to the monk and gives him a healing potion.

On the monk’s next turn, he jumps up and runs over to the mind flayer and starts clobbering him. He’s looking rough.

Everyone else is stunned. Theren would have cast Eldritch Blast to knock the mind flayer away. Our artificer could have dealt tons of damage, but they can’t.

I’m panicking because this is only the second time my brother has played D&D. I don’t want his character to die after him barely playing, but I’ve done all I can.

The mind flayer’s turn begins, and before anything else happens, Cloud of Daggers deals its damage.

The numbers on these d4 were 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4. He dealt 21 out of 24 possible damage, and because he rolled so well, the mind flayer dies, and Jod lives to see another day.

We were pulled to the brink, and as far as Jod’s life was concerned, that fight could not have been any closer.

 

Needless to say, we rested after that fight.

D&D — Dialogues 3: The Law of Averages, Pt. 2

Two (in-game) days later. Our party had been rescued by a stranger (the paladin’s new PC), and taken to the secret base of the resistance. The leader, a ripped dwarf lady named Boulderback, says that she could use our help toppling the ruthless leadership of the dwarves currently in command. We owe the resistance our lives, for rescuing us in the first place, but its also personal. We lost a friend in that fight. They would have their help.

The party is instructed to go attack a guard tower at the same time as the rest of the resistance. A coordinated attack meant to be swift and decisive. Our rescuer, a female artificer, joins us for the battle.

Now, it’s worth noting at this point that out of character, I’m telling the monk in our party that Kallos is going to destroy these guys this time around. I (jokingly) argue that since Inflict Wounds rolled so low the first time it hit, the second time I hit with it it would have to deal at least 30 damage. It’s called the Law of Averages. Our monk remains skeptical. Plus, I tell him, it’s my birthday, so the universe has to cut me some slack. Kallos (and I) want revenge for being humiliated in that last fight. And this time, Kallos has a plan.

The party is in an open, garden-like area with statues placed throughout. These provide half-cover, and if we’re careful we can use them to sneak up on the guards.

Kallos casts Invoke Duplicity, making a perfect copy of himself behind a nearby statue. Then he sneaks towards it and fumbles a stealth roll (-1 Dex is a real killer).

As soon as the guards come out to investigate, however, our artificer engages. She deals an incredible amount of damage in the first round, nearly killing a guard right off the bat. The rest of the party moves in to engage while Kallos sneaks around the statues, still not quite involved in the combat.

While the guards are distracted with our warlock and artificer, Kallos sneaks up to the nearest one and casts Inflict Wounds. This time, with Invoke Duplicity right next to me, I have advantage on my attack roll, meaning I roll twice and take the higher number.

I didn’t need the advantage, though. I rolled a 20 on the first roll. I believe this is also Kallos’ first crit.

Now, in this particular session, the way our DM rules crits is “Double dice roll, then max damage”. So, if your attack would deal 1d6 damage, it would turn into 2d6, and immediately take the max without needing to roll, meaning it would automatically deal 12 damage. Inflict Wounds, of course, deals 3d10, so when it crits by these rules, I deal 60 damage.

Now, I didn’t have enough movement speed to get to the boss-man. This guy was just a lackey. He gets disintegrated. Literally.

At this point, the DM has me roll initiative, as I’ve entered the combat. I don’t roll very high, but I still move before the boss. So when it creeps up to my turn again, I walk over to him, and realize it is the same guard captain that killed my friend.

“Thought it tickled last time, did you?” Kallos says, casting Inflict Wounds at 2nd level again. I still have advantage, but again, I don’t need it. I roll another 20 on the first throw. 4d10*2, maxed, equates to 80 damage. (Again, for perspective, Kallos has 27 health. That amount of damage would take him down nearly 3 times over.)

So, having crit with Inflict Wounds twice in a row, he’s dealt 140 damage in one turn. Our monk is at this point nodding sagely. “I didn’t realize how powerful the Law of Averages was.”

Now, this guy doesn’t die. Instead, he does what anyone else would do when faced with certain death at the hands of dumb luck. He turns into a demon.

That’s pretty much the end of the exciting part of the tale. He turns all of his buddies into husks as he mind controls them using lampreys (which was, may I say, exceedingly gross). He keeps fighting Kallos, unwavering, and with his two attacks a turn (and terrible armor due to my wanting to be more sneaky this combat), he doesn’t do so well. And, I kid you not, the die that rolled two crits (not technically back-to-back, since I had advantage) proceeds to roll 4 2’s in a row.

So, needless to say, Kallos doesn’t last long against him. He falls unconscious, and I legitimately thought he was going to die that session. The rest of the party manages to pull through, however, and the would-be valiant end of Kallos Mortani instead became “That time Kallos wasn’t useless in combat”.

D&D — Dialogues 3: The Law of Averages, Pt. 1

(Story isn’t ready yet. Will post it tomorrow!)

 

This is one of those stories that prove insanely strange and awesome things can happen just by how you roll the dice. Hilarious characters and circumstances are great and all, but there’s something to be said for the occasional instances where statistics just… no longer applies. In short, this is the story of the time my level 3 cleric dealt over 100 damage in one turn. (And by coincidence, this session took place on my birthday, so I consider it a literal gift from the gods.)

Before we get to that particular session however, some background. Kallos (my cleric) and friends had just cleared out a tunnel to a nearby dwarven village. Upon arriving there, however, the half dozen guards at the gates immediately attacked us, after a brief and pathetic attempt at a peace talk.

The guard captain attacks first, and he has two attacks, meaning he is (at least) two levels higher than us. Considering that, and the fact that they also outnumber us, this sends some serious red flags. So what do we do? The same thing any respectable D&D party does. We charge right in.

Kallos tries fighting toe-to-toe with the captain, since he can easily heal himself if need be. With 18 AC and Mirror Image up, he can also soak up quite a bit of damage, hopefully giving the monk and warlock some time to pick a few off. Our paladin, who was right beside Kallos in combat, takes some savage blows dealt by the captain, who doesn’t seem interested in the many clerics running around right in front of his face.

The battle rages on, and our paladin is forced to disengage. It comes to my turn, and I have exactly one spell slot left. I can cast Cure Wounds on my ally, or…

Hoping to end things then and there, Kallos rushes towards the captain and grabs him, channeling powerful necrotic energy as he casts Inflict Wounds at 2nd level.

I don’t have high hopes for his ability to hit. Kallos has literally never hit with this spell, try as he might. It’s high damage potential (3d10 baseline) is pretty high, but you have to land the attack, and you have to be close enough to touch the guy.

Kallos, miraculously, rolls a 17. So he hits! And since the spell is 2nd level, he gets to add another d10 to the damage. So he has a potential of dealing 40 damage here. And for perspective, at this level Kallos has a maximum health of 27.

In order, the dice I roll show these numbers: 1. 2. 3. 4. A total of 10 damage. Less than half the average amount of damage 4d10 would normally roll. I could have swung my hammer at the guy and dealt more damage, for crying out loud!

Hopes and dreams crushed, the captain snickers. “As reward for fighting so well,” he says, “I’ll only kill one of you if you surrender now.”

We have nothing left. I’ve got no spells, and most of us are on the brink of death as it is. We’ve killed exactly zero guards. Having no other options, (and honestly getting the hint from the DM that this is the way he wants it to go), we accept. Our paladin’s throat is slit then and there, and we’re taken to the dungeon.

 

D&D — Curating 5th Edition Pt. 2

(This is temporarily being published today. I don’t quite have this week’s prompt story ready, but I did have this. I’ll switch the two tomorrow.)

 

Last week I talked about how the basic rules, The Player’s Handbook, should not be taken as Gospel. I mentioned how all games of Dungeons & Dragons are homebrew to some extent, because it’s all about making calls in circumstances nobody could have prepared for.

But really, one of the greatest assets of the 5th edition of D&D is how malleable it is. I would hesitate to call the system simple, because I don’t think any table-top RPG could be called such. But what 5th edition does is it sets out a layer of rules that are easy to follow, and once you understand what all the layers are, you can do what you want with them.

The key thing about that is that you need to know what the layers are. If somebody were to ask me if they could make their own class rather than use one of the ones in the book, I would discourage them from that idea. Not because I don’t want them to be creative, but because I think that’s simply the wrong way to tackle it. The classes in 5e are each designed to have half a dozen (or more) subclasses once you hit level 3. Paladins choose their “Sacred Oath”, bards choose their “Bard College”, rangers choose their archetype, etc. (This is also why a campaign of everybody running the same class is totally viable, but that’s a tangent.) I think making a new class is the wrong mindset, because the existing classes are already made like templates with different skill trees. If you’ve got a cool idea, I bet there’s a way to purpose it as a homebrew subclass of a pre-existing cleric, or sorcerer for example. This will also save you a lot of trouble down the line, believe me.

If your player wants to invent a new race, it’s a little different. It’s not as complicated stat-wise, but it can be a little annoying for a dungeon master. If you’re the only Mantis-person in the world, that’s a strange thing to put into the narrative, and it will always be prevalent. It doesn’t matter if the stats of a Mantis race are just copied over from Elf, because the DM would have to implant Mantis-people into his world just to make it so your character isn’t out of place. (Making them exclusive to this one island nobody has ever heard of does not solve the problem, because you’re still the only one.) This particular point will be specific to the dungeon master, though. Matt Colville doesn’t really allow any exotic race like Tiefling in his campaign, even though it’s an official, valid race. (He’s not wrong. It’s his game to run, after all!) So while making a race for one specific player is annoying, it’s doable as long as the DM is okay with it.

But there are things that are totally reasonable to invent on your own, especially as a DM. Magic items, for example, are things I almost never take straight from the book. Typically, I think about it’s origin and what it’s purpose was, and then I make something based on that. Let’s say a traveling merchant did a favor for a wizard as he passed through town. As thanks, the wizard made him a ring that allows him to haggle for better prices when he sells this goods. If the party gets their hands on it, I would say they are better at persuasion checks when selling. Buying stuff is a whole different story. (But as compensation I’d give a more hefty chunk because it’s a specific circumstance, like +2 or +3 to those checks, rather than a simple +1 when haggling.) Presenting very specific tools to the players will often adapt their play-style accordingly, as something like this will naturally make the party (even more) prone to looting everything they can find from bodies and dungeons.

Literally anything in the book is subject to change as you see fit. Like the idea of throwing a vampire into your story, but your players are far too weak to handle it? Just change the stats to make him less threatening. Instead of getting into how you’d do that, I’ll just direct you to Matt Colville’s awesome, albeit lengthy, video about it.

I said this last week, and I’ll stress it again. You’re all coming to this table to have fun. Don’t let the rules stop that from happening. The rules are for optimization. You can pick and choose what rules you like because you want to maximize the enjoyment for the players. In fact, once you play this game enough and you know all the ins and outs, you can easily bend the rules to have more fun!