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. 1

One thing that I had never quite understood until recently is that 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is so malleable. It’s like you get this giant rulebook and you learn how things work. You don’t have time to read it cover to cover, but let’s be honest, nobody does. In fact, it wasn’t even meant to be read like that, even for dungeon masters. The rulebook is just there to provide you the blueprints for the building you and your friends are creating together. It tells you how to set up the scaffolding and presents a rough idea of where to go from there, but really, it’s not an instruction manual. The Player’s Handbook is meant for reference— solving disputes in a pinch, or understanding the idea behind a rule, but it isn’t set in stone.

Matt Colville summed it up pretty well. The book is not D&D. D&D is what happens at the table with you and your friends. As a matter of fact the book isn’t even a necessary part of that journey. You can have a totally valid game of Dungeons & Dragons without any book or physical dice, because in the end, D&D is what you make it, so it involves a lot of imagination.

All that being said, the most important thing is for everyone to have a clear understanding of the way things are supposed to go. I break and bend rules all the time. Being a DM is about making calls others would disagree with. My brother likes the idea of casting Eldritch Blast (basically a laser beam) at targets 300+ feet away. The rules allow him to do this, but I interpret this to mean the spell can remain effective at that range, not his ability to aim. So while I would allow him to attack, it would be at disadvantage. At the same time, though, there’s nothing in the book that says how Eldritch Blast is cast. For all I know, it has nothing to do with one’s ability to aim, but that’s how I rule it, cause that’s how it makes sense to me.

It doesn’t always go poorly for the players, though. Spending hit dice to regain health is “Roll 1d8 (usually) + Constitution modifier”. Theoretically, if a player has a negative Constitution modifier, that means they can lose health in a rest. There’s nothing in the book that says spending hit dice gains a minimum of 1 health (unless I missed it), but it makes no sense to me. So I house ruled that to say your Con mod can only benefit you in a circumstance like that.

All games of Dungeons & Dragons have house rules. The game is too complicated to function without them, and people who are super strict about what the book says and never give the players any leeway tend to be a little awful to play with anyway.

So as Captain Barbossa said, “The rules are more like guidelines”. I often say you can break a rule once you understand why it’s there, but in this circumstance, you might not even need that. Remember, everyone’s fun is paramount. If somebody is having less fun because of something they don’t agree with, what takes priority, the fun, or the rules obstructing it?

D&D — West Marches “Guild Hall” Campaign

I have a grandiose idea for a Dungeons & Dragons setting. Something that, if executed well, could hold an amazing standard for how the game is run among my group of friends. It changes the dynamic of the game a great deal, because it screws with the fundamental “game night with a group of friends”.  The idea behind the West Marches campaign is that you have a small community of people that set up periodic events.

Now, I won’t simply elaborate on what a “West Marches campaign” is supposed to be, though I’ll leave a link to the video I found on YouTube where I learned about it. Instead, I’ll just talk about my ideal implementation for the “Guild Hall” campaign, which has strong synergy with the concept of West Marches.

Imagine this. You and thirty or more people you like to hang around all want to play D&D. So instead of splitting off into five different groups that meet at various times, you make a group. (A Facebook group, a Discord channel, whatever. Ideally, though, I would want an entire website dedicated to it, complete with maps, forum channels, etc.) That’s step one.

Collectively, you all make a guild. The worldbuilders in the group can also get together and start to put together a cohesive map. Then, everybody makes characters. Every person in this 30+ group is a member of the guild. For this post, let’s call the guild ‘Froststar’. They all start at Level 1, with basically nothing. They have an abandoned warehouse that serves as the guild hall, sleeping on bedrolls and probably making friends with various rodents.

The goal of this campaign is to build the guild’s renown. You want Froststar to be the most popular guild in the entire city. Maybe even kingdom or continent. They have to pool their earnings, upgrade the guild hall, compete in Guild tournaments (not unlike Fairy Tail, if you’ve read/seen it). The guild starts at the bottom, but over time will acquire followers, build up their headquarters, and make a name for themselves.

“But wait,” you ask. “How is a group of 30+ people play D&D all at once?” Well, you don’t. That’s what the website is for. Here’s how it works. One member in the group calls for a session, and anyone that wants to jump in is welcome to. The games don’t happen weekly, but instead are handled on a case-by-case basis. This campaign could easily have three dungeon masters, as well. The only thing you’d need to do is compare notes after a session. (I imagine the DMs wouldn’t have characters in the guild, but I don’t see why it isn’t doable. All they have to do is be able to separate player/DM knowledge from character knowledge and you’ll be fine.)

By virtue of how this would work, pretty much all of these sessions would be one-shots. Everything starts and ends in the city, where the guild hall is, because you can’t have these five characters go to a neighboring city and have them also be a part of the next session. Because of this, a calendar where the DM(s) keep track of who is where and when would be essential. (Plus, a guild tournament where they compete against each other would be a yearly thing, so it is something Froststar should be planning around, and it can be the “topic” of those sessions.)

The number one danger with this set up is that people will inevitably gravitate towards specific people. Probably people they know better than others in the group. You don’t want the same people inviting each other to sessions over and over again, because that is the opposite of the hive mind mentality you want the Guild Hall campaign to be. You want to invite people that have abilities or characteristics suited to your goal. If you’re going to an ancient crypt, invite the hunter whose favorite enemy is Undead and the cleric who can Turn Undead. But if the group of 30+ people start splitting off into teams, that defeats the entire purpose of the campaign. So, how do you solve that? Simple: you can’t invite the same people twice in a row.

So, that’s the gist of the West Marches inspired “Guild Hall” campaign. The best part about it is that people can leave or join the guild without disrupting the flow of the in game world. Theoretically, you could set up a website with all the original members, and have it’s community be completely different ten years later, but thriving all the same. That fantasy really speaks to me, because that’s what Dungeons & Dragons is all about.

Prompt — (Therros) The Bell Tower of Tear

Noviel sat on the edge of the ruined lookout, feet hanging off as she stared out into the sea. The cool breeze tousled her hair as it drifted by. Waves made a soft, rolling crash as they hugged the sand and the rocks several hundred feet below. Sea birds made their nest on the cliff face, and a few more perched on the stonework of the tower with no knowledge of the sacrilege they committed by taking roost here. Or would be committing, if Tear still had a throne, a king, a country, or a people.

This was the last piece of that forgotten time she could find. She doubted whether many people in Therros would know this ruin for what it was: the site where the apocalypse began. The one she herself had started.

Not that she had any memory of that, of course. She and the rest of the Arbiters had to give away a piece of themselves to perform their foolish errand. She gave away her memory of what had been, and now she could hardly remember anything older than a few weeks.

She pulled out her notebook. The latest one, for Noviel had had many over the centuries. The first page: ‘The Bell Tower”, followed by a set of instructions of how to find it, when she inevitably forgot. This notebook was what kept her on her path. She refused to lose her way, like many of the others did.

With a sigh, she closed the book and rose to her feet. This place always had an odd familiarity to it, even though every time she visited the sight was brand new. That was one small benefit of the curse, at least.

Time to go. There was always work to be done. Too much work to be done. With Nera on the brink of collapse, and Amoria preparing for war, it was hard to find the time to search for the other Arbiters. Couldn’t they see that they needed to unite to stop the looming threat? Sephiran didn’t think so. And he was dead now. She prayed the others wouldn’t be so foolish.

Of course, the heroes would be aiding her. Where had they gone? She consulted her notes, but there was nothing written about which direction they were headed when they set off. How stupid of her not to write that down!

Noviel glanced down to the floor of the lookout. There were missing grooves between the stonework, with a large gap in the middle. The only piece of the Tear Catch that had been returned was her own shard. Besides the shard the heroes carried, Sephiran’s, the rest would still be with the Arbiters. Ideally, once they found all of them they would bring the pieces here. This was where the journey began, but it would also end here, one way or another.

Fixing a mistake. That’s what her duty was. In the end, it didn’t matter if the others really understood. Their compliance would certainly help, but it wasn’t necessary. Noviel looked up. In the center of the tower, despite the rust and overgrowth, a large bell watched over the rest of the ruins. Though no cord hung down from it now, , and while she couldn’t remember having seen the bell before, somewhere in the back of her mind she knew what it would sound like when it rang again someday.

 

Prompt: bell_tower_peak_by_arcipello

D&D — Who Tells the Story?

There’s something that a lot of beginning players don’t understand about D&D, and it can cause lots of problems based on the experience of the group, especially if your dungeon master is new to the role. In fact, this was perhaps my biggest problem when I first tried my hand as a DM, and since I wouldn’t consider myself to have been fun to play with until I had learned this lesson.

In a typical Dungeons & Dragons campaign, who tells the story? For the purposes of this, it is completely irrelevant what the story is. It doesn’t matter if the dungeon master is using a campaign they bought, or downloaded online, or if they are making something up themselves. Who tells the story? I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t the DM.

This is the problem many aspiring dungeon masters have. They write out their characters, they make a map, they set up a conflict. They might as well be the author to the story, and they certainly would be if they put all of their preparation into words on a page. But there’s a variable they often misidentify: the players. New DMs consider players the audience to the epic tale of elves and wizards. Of trolls and orcs. Of dungeons, and… well, dragons.

In most D&D campaigns, there is no audience. An audience implies observation with no interaction, which certainly isn’t what the players are. The player characters aren’t, or at least they shouldn’t be, obvservers of events and occurrences they can’t influence. Influencing an open and full world is pretty much the reason to be playing D&D in the first place.

Many novice dungeon masters consider the players to be crew members of the ship, while they themselves are the captain. The DM/captain steers the ship (well, more accurately the helmsman, but you get the idea), and the players/deckhands follow orders as the DM guides them to interesting lands.

That’s not what D&D should be. Instead, the players are the entire ship. Self governed, in fact. They may declare somebody captain of the ship, or they may otherwise take turns steering it. Point is, the DM doesn’t tell the boat where to go, the players do. So, what is the dungeon master in this metaphor? Simple: they’re the entire ocean. They’re the monsters that halt their progress. They’re the ports they stop at when they reach shore. They are the storms they brave when the skies aren’t clear. The DM isn’t the narrator. They are the driving force for the characters, who are narrating their own story.

If they’re anything like me, a new DM might feel a little attacked at this idea. Dungeon masters spend time out of the game preparing ahead of time, isn’t it more their story than the rest? My answer to that is, sure, it is your story. (That’s why, when I talk about the two campaigns I’m involved in, I refer to one of them as my campaign.) But it’s also their story. The dungeon master and the players are not against one another. It’s not (necessarily) an adversarial relationship.

The DM isn’t the captain of the ship ordering the players around. The DM is the ocean a ship of players must interact with and handle in order to survive.

D&D — Dialogues 2: Remnant’s Necklace

This story happened in the most recent session of my PC campaign (the one I’m not DM of). The party consists of: A human cleric (me), a human warlock (my brother), and a wood elf drunken master monk (another friend of mine). We have a fourth, but she couldn’t make it to this particular session. Now, there are a lot of spells and names used in this story. For the less obvious ones I’ll add parenthesis immediately afterwords to explain.

A little backstory, my character is a liar. His Divine Domain is Trickery, and by virtue of his religion, he never tells the truth when he doesn’t have to. He invented a fake religion and likes to convert NPCs to it in his spare time. My brother’s warlock simply loves chaos. He likes playing tricks on people, casting Prestidigitation (A spell that can do lots of things. You can mess with senses, temporarily make objects, etc.) and Minor Illusion just to get into their heads.
As a side note, it’s worth noting that so far, my cleric has rolled terribly throughout this campaign. In the most recent fight against about a dozen goblins, he missed every single time, and when he cast Sacred Flame (a fire-like radiance burns something, and it always hits) never rolled higher than a 2 on the damage roll. His biggest contribution that fight was casting Bless beforehand to give everyone an extra boost to their attack rolls. Suffice to say, luck hasn’t gone his side.

This story begins in a town called “Daybreak”. In the center of this town there is an immense tower that goes further than the eye can see. Maybe Kami lives up there, who knows. The party got word that a mysterious being called “Remnant” lived there, and has been there a long time. He doesn’t come down often and doesn’t like talking about himself. The gates to the tower are closed, and there is no easy access point.

Kallos, at this point, wants to know what all the fuss is about this “Remnant” guy. But he knows just shouting at him won’t get his attention.

So he takes a piece of parchment, and uses Sacred Flame to burn the words “ORCUS COMES” onto it (Orcus is, in a lot of D&D worlds, basically the evil god of murder and death and all that fun stuff). Then, he tosses it past the gate, where it gets swept up by a mysterious wind. It’s at this point that Kallos realizes he has perhaps made a terrible decision, but it’s too late now.

A few sessions later (after dealing with the aforementioned goblins), they return to town. Kallos wakes up before the rest of the party and sets off for the tower. He casts Locate Object to see if he can find the parchment that was swept up the day before. If no lead is between it and him, he can sense it’s presence within 1000ft.

It’s right behind him.

He swivels around to see a robed figure that is largely nondescript. He has an air about him that makes him difficult to look at directly, though.

This wasn’t the encounter Kallos was hoping to have. Especially not alone. Remnant pulls out the note and says “What is this?”

Kallos: Oh, you know. A warning. Orcus is coming, so we gotta stay vigilant and all that stuff. You can never be too careful… *nervous laughter*

Remnant: Who are you?

Kallos: Just a missionary from a far off land. (He asks me about my religion, and I tell him a bit about the fake one. I seem to have passed that Deception check.) I came from the West. Got into a bit of trouble over there and now they don’t like me. I plan on going back, but not until I’m stronger and more prepared and you don’t care about any of that.

Remnant: There’s trouble in the West.

Kallos: I know. I just told you that.

Remnant: The people there don’t serve who they think they serve.

Kallos: OH! Are they actually serving Orcus?!

Remnant: … Yes.

Kallos: I knew it! I told you! I mean, you told me, but I totally also told you.

Remnant: You talk too much. *He hands Kallos the parchment that says “ORCUS COMES”.*

Kallos: Thanks. I’ll alert the masses.

Remnant: Yeah, don’t do that.

Kallos: Yeah, you’re probably right. So like, since we’re on the same side, can you like, help? Maybe tell me what I should do? ‘Cause if I go back there now I’ll just die. Maybe you can give me something that proves I’m working for you? Well, not for you, obviously, but maybe something with like your symbol on it?

Remnant pulls a necklace out of his robes with the symbol of a sun on it and hands it to Kallos, and gives some information about what he suggests of their long-term goals.

Kallos: Alright, cool, thanks. See you later, friend! *He goes for a fistbump, then a handshake, then a high five, but Remnant doesn’t move. Kallos awkwardly leaves*.

Kallos returns to the party to tell them what happened. There are lots of specifics that aren’t relevant to the story, so I’ll leave them out. On Remnant’s suggestion, they go to a tunnel that collapsed. They need to clear it, but have no way of moving all the rocks out.

My brother, whose warlock is named “Theren”, suggests using the necklace, since we know it is magical in some way. Kallos responds by holding it up, but when nothing happens, he throws it at the rocks. It lands on the ground unceremoniously.

Theren goes over and picks it up. “I’ll hold on to this.”

Kallos: What? No way, Remnant gave that to me.

Theren: And you just threw it carelessly!

Kallos: I was going to pick it up!

Theren: No, I don’t trust you with it. What are you even good for anyway?

Kallos, at this point, casts Charm Person (This makes it so the target is more amiable to your commands). Theren succeeds his Wisdom save, meaning he knows Kallos tried to trick him. He responds with Suggestion (basically, the next sentence you say sounds very reasonable), and Kallos makes his Wisdom save. Kallos tries to instead cast Command (A one word verb that the target would have to obey) , but realizes he didn’t prepare that spell.

Theren: Fine, fine. You can have it. *He casts Prestidigitation and gives Kallos a replica necklace. He doesn’t notice it’s fake.*

Kallos: Was that so hard?

They bicker a bit longer, but decide to go back to town to enlist aid in clearing the tunnel. They get back to the tavern, and Kallos is talking to the bartender about getting the local townsfolk to help. Prestidigitation has since worn off, and Theren suspects Kallos will try to pull the necklace out of his bag, which would make him realize he’s been tricked when he doesn’t find it. He casts Prestidigitation to make a new necklace, and tries to make a Sleight of Hand check to sneak it into Kallos’ bag. He rolls a 2.

Kallos, upon catching Theren holding the necklace: Dude, what the heck? You gave it back only to try to steal it again?

Theren: Sorry, you’re right. My bad. Here. *He hands it to Kallos, who puts it in his bag*.

Kallos: We talked about this. Just let me hold on to it, and we’ll be fine.

Theren: Yeah, yeah, got it.

 

And that’s where we leave off. Kallos still has no idea Theren has the real necklace, and the entire table was having so much fun with the whole scenario. This really highlights my favorite part of Dungeons & Dragons: the dramatic irony that plays out when a player knows more than their character does, and they act appropriately with the information their guy knows (or, more likely, what they don’t know).