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Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #18 – “Pull!”

giants

Out of the Box introduction

D&D encounters giants
A pair of hill giants can make a very bad day for a village in a D&D game. [Art by Wayne Reynolds]
One of the greatest challenges for addressing questions in Dungeons & Dragons is the area of “crunch”. I would like to address this area with regard to one specific segment.
I was inspired by an older broadcast by the truly talented AJ Picket on his channel “The Mighty Gluestick”. In a video wherein he described “what would happen if a giant hit a player character with a tree”, he said that they would, to paraphrase, “go flying”.
So, that inspired me to think one thing. What would happen if a giant, say a hill giant (to get the ball rolling), flung a player character into the air?
Well, that inspired research. Considering that improvised weapons (page 147-148 Player’s Handbook) references ‘a dead goblin’ as a viable possibility, then it’s on the playing field that a body could be used as a weapon.

Continue reading Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #18 – “Pull!”

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Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms is Free to Play Dungeons and Dragons in Early Access on Steam and it’s Awesome

Idle Champions Dungeons and DragonsSalutations, nerds! And good news for fans of idle games like Cookie Clicker and AdventureQuest Dragons. Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms is a Dungeons and Dragons game in early access on Steam right now, free to play, and I have to say it’s exactly what I needed.

It’s an idle game, and if you’re not already aware of what that means I’ll give you the run down: you don’t have to do a whole lot for the game to do what it does. You click a couple of times and get it started and then watch the numbers go up and get ridiculously high as the story progresses and in this case, as your heroes do more damage. Continue reading Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms is Free to Play Dungeons and Dragons in Early Access on Steam and it’s Awesome

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Dark Sun Ever Mindful of D&D Psionics

DarkSun

D&D psionicsLike Nerdarchists Dave and Ted and Nate the Nerdarch mention in the video above, psionics has been a part of Dungeons & Dragons since 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. In the interest of utmost accuracy, the supernatural power of psionics were first introduced to D&D in Eldritch Wizardry, a 1976 supplemental rulebook for the original edition. Also of note are the other now-iconic facets of D&D included in that 60-page digest: the druid class, demons and demon lords like Orcus and Demogorgon, mind flayers, and artifacts like the Rod of Seven Parts and Axe of the Dwarvish Lords.

With those bits of long forgotten secrets behind us now, let’s turn our clairsentience to the future. Based on hints and bits of information shared through social media and in interviews, a fifth edition D&D iteration of Dark Sun is almost certain.

We’ve already got the mystic class available through the Dungeon Master’s Guild, giving D&D players the opportunity to utilize the awesome power of psionics in D&D 5E.

Now we only await the introduction of the sun-scorched setting of Dark Sun. Continue reading Dark Sun Ever Mindful of D&D Psionics

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Top Ten D&D Monstrous Humanoids

The gift that keeps on giving! Nord Games’ Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde inspired not one but TWO videos on the Nerdarchy YouTube channel, plus a review here on the website. And now its generating another post.

In the video above, Nerdarchists Dave and Ted and Nate the Nerdarch talk about their favorite monstrous humanoids in fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. They each choose two, discuss the appeal and explore a bit why and how they’ve used them in games, either as player characters or as a Dungeon Master.

It’s worth noting that there is no official “monstrous humanoid” designation in D&D. There’s just straight-up humanoids. Many of them are most certainly monstrous though! Also, despite appearing in the Revenge of the Horde book, ogres and trolls are not humanoids – they’re giants. But in defense of the book, there is no claim made limiting the creature types to humanoids, simply “classic monstrous races.”

And minotaurs are monstrosities.

According to the current D&D Beyond monster database containing material up to and including Tales from the Yawning Portal, there are 231 humanoids in official D&D content. Many are individuals from various adventures and campaigns like Pharblex Spattergoo, an NPC from Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Aside from official sources, there’s plenty of third-party material like the Ultimate Bestiary. Continue reading Top Ten D&D Monstrous Humanoids

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Out of The Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #14 – “Frog Princess”

Out of the Box introduction

Out of the Box D&D
If you run out of ideas to challenge your players, there’s always Tiamat from the Rise of Tiamat adventure.

If I hear any refrain commonly online and with other Dungeon Masters, it’s “but my players are X level. How do I challenge them?”

Truth be told, challenging players of any level isn’t hard. It only requires you address the players behind the characters and not the sheets those players use as references. Setting up the encounter ahead of time properly will really set up any encounter correctly. The setting may add to any deception or misdirection as needed.
Some DMs forget their player characters may be optimized for certain aspects, considering others to be either unimportant or “unfair.” I’ve seen tables where the Old School brigade of D&D players tank their Charisma scores for physical or spellcasting characteristics (unless they need them to do so). I’ve seen others completely take the minimum on Strength or Intelligence scores, and argue they lack any importance to the game outside of specific circumstances.

Continue reading Out of The Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #14 – “Frog Princess”

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D&D Fluff and Mechanics Make the RPG Go ‘Round

D&D fluff and mechanicsDebates swirl around the various forums and subreddits in the Dungeons & Dragons community; they’re chief among the interactions we have with each other. These debates often vary in their complexity, but a lot of the disagreement with how to even proceed with the debate itself is based on a misunderstanding some have about what the debate is even about. Is this a ‘flavour’ issue or a ‘rules’ issue? What’s the difference? Does it matter?

In this article, we’ll be delving into what ‘mechanics’ are, what ‘fluff’ is and how changing either can change your D&D game, for good or ill. The hope is that after reading, you should feel a bit more confident in your ability to discuss things, possibly even change things, in your games. Continue reading D&D Fluff and Mechanics Make the RPG Go ‘Round

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Chartopia, Part 4: Rollable lists

 

Unique results with Chartopia lists, tables and charts

Chartopia list
Any of these and more sewer encounters could take place in a setting just like this. [Art by Alexlinde from deviantart.com]
Hello friends! We’ve already brought up the Rollable List feature on Chartopia – a semicolon-separated list of items/words/phrases within square brackets. It adds diversity to results without needing to call upon multiple tables. But there’s more to it than a single dice roll. Let’s look into what else it can do for you. In the sewer combat encounter table discussed in the second Chartopia article, one possible encounter for players was adventurers. To mix it up we added some variance in how…

[they mistakenly believe you’re hostile/cultists/etc; they attack because they think you’re after the same treasure they’re searching for; they’ve been hired by an enemy to kill the party]

So what else can you do with a rollable list? Continue reading Chartopia, Part 4: Rollable lists

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D&D Product Review: Limitless NPCs Vol.1

D&D NPC
Limitless Non Player Characters vol. 1 from Limitless Adventures.

NPCs for any D&D occassion

Many a Dungeon Master has encountered a creative wall when it comes to creating interesting, believable nonplayer characters for Dungeons & Dragons. Some only need a brief description and a name, but others can become key points in a campaign setting. They give an identity and culture to the world of the game.

It can be a challenge, though – it’s hard to predict which NPCs your party will take interest in and seek out in future sessions, and sometimes you have to come up with an NPC on the fly when the session takes an unexpected turn. Enter Limitless Adventures’ Non Player Characters vol. 1. The book contains 100 pre-written NPCs with descriptions, stats and loot that can be put into any campaign.

The book organises NPCs into eight categories: ally, charge, contact, foe, hireling, merchant, sage, and quest giver. Some NPCs fit into multiple categories, so the book’s chapters are more broadly sorted into allies, contacts, foes, merchants, and arch enemies. Each character includes a name, a brief description, stats, treasure, and quest hooks that can be found for each under the Further Adventure subtitle. Continue reading D&D Product Review: Limitless NPCs Vol.1

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Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #10 – “Fish Bowl”

D&D encounter
Did someone say fish bowl? Better not mess with The Xanathar’s goldfish. Cover to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything from Wizards of the Coast. [Art by Jason Rainville]

Introduction

Terrain is everything to an fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons encounter. It determines the intent and feel. It determines what monsters can be used or what spells might work. It sets the stage.
But what if the terrain were to change…say almost instantly? What if the player characters weren’t ready for a change in terrain and were placed into a setting they may not be ready for? This is the basis for the fish bowl encounter.
Imagine, if you will, the exploration of a setting like a wizard’s tower, dungeon, or other interior setting. The setting might be so mundane as to allay any suspicions…until one or more player characters do something – seemingly innocent, to change the course of the entire moment. Then, out of nowhere, there might be one or more player characters fighting to survive while the rest scramble for solutions to the problem at hand.
That’s Fish Bowl. A mad and unexpected scramble to solve a problem. It’s part trap, part encounter, and entirely unexpected.

Continue reading Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #10 – “Fish Bowl”

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D&D Dungeon Masters Level Up Too

Hey nerds! This weekend I had the unique experience of getting to play in a party being helmed by a player I taught the game to in the first place. It’s his first big fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and I am filled with the twin senses of overwhelming pride and absolute horror.

If you’ve been in this situation there’s a good chance you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, I’m going to do my best to illustrate this for you.

D&D

D&D Dungeon Master do’s and don’ts

D&D Dungeon Master
Cover of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide. [Art by Jeff Easley]
First, let me start by saying he did a lot right. He touched base with every single player before the game started, asked us for backstories, and prepared how he was going to get us into the game in advance. He was animated, on his feet, speaking in the voice of his NPCs. He had clever, engaging names for his locations and a well-constructed backstory for his setting and what was going on in it.

On the other hand, he also completely railroaded the party. He dragged us into another plane of existence and made it clear this game was going to be about hopping into different dimensions, that we didn’t get to keep the money we earned there, that there wouldn’t be any recurring NPCs but the obnoxious one who pulled us into this hub world to begin with and said “yeah you’re going to do this or you just die.”

Inexperienced vs. seasoned D&D players

I noticed something, though, while we were playing. There were three new players at the table, and four experienced ones. The experienced players were not into it at all. One of them even left early, but the new players absolutely loved it.

The thing is, I can remember being that boosted Dungeon Master, once upon a time. I remember having a lot of fun doing some very stupid things back in high school, and I feel like a player who had been at it for a while wouldn’t have liked that nearly as much. The thing is, he’s going to learn. He is going to get better. But only if he has players who are willing to stick with him and see it happen.

We talked about it after the game, he and I. We ran a postmortem about what he could have done better, and also what I thought he did really well (because let’s face it, you learn as much hearing what you’re doing right as you do hearing what you’ve done wrong) and he took it much better than I anticipated he would.

New =/= bad

What I’m getting at here is he isn’t a bad DM, he’s a new DM, and I cannot wait to see the kind of DM he becomes when he has a little bit more experience under his belt. I’m really glad he has some newer players who are willing to take that journey with him and I think, even though there were some real holes in what happened that night, I’ll probably keep attending his sessions.

When I was new and taking my first turn behind the DM screen for more than one or two players, I had this guy George who played with us. I was terrible starting out. I didn’t know all the rules for combat, sometimes there were moments that I’d get frustrated and deus ex them instead of rolling with the punches or just being honest that I’d slipped up, but he stuck with me. This guy had been playing for years, and I know he didn’t miss some of the obvious mistakes I was making but he was always there with a little smile and a bit of advice after the sessions ended. It usually got marked up to “do a little more research next time,” but that comes with experience too.

I’ve seen the conversation come up a lot that this is a game that requires a DM to play but we don’t have a good mentor system for making new DMs. Learning the game is difficult, especially when you don’t have a lot of people to play with in the first place. That is why I feel this is an important experience to share, because in this one’s humble opinion, this is how we do it.

The right stuff

What a good DM needs to get started is a love of the game and a lot of enthusiasm. The guy I’m talking about has that in spades. You can tell he is really into the game he’s running. All that other stuff, the articulation, the crunchy bits, will come to him in time, but only if he has players who stick with him until he gets to that.

So that’s my suggestion for the week. If you have a D&D Dungeon Master who’s just starting out and is frustrating you or other players with details or lack thereof, try to remember we all have to start somewhere. The best DM’s were newbs once too, and the best tool we have to teach them to get better is just to support and play with them in the first place.

 

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How a Poll Created a D&D Character – #NerdyProject

D&D character
The cover of the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide illustrates a diverse group of D&D characters. [Art by Tyler Jacobson]
In the video above from the Nerdarchy YouTube channel, Nerdarchists Dave and Ted build and add flavor to a fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons character. The character specifics – race, class and background – were chosen by the Nerdarchy Twitter community through a series of blind polls.

The #NerdyProject was a series of 11 polls. Each one narrowed down the field of possibilities for each of the three D&D character aspects. Creating and administering the polls was a lot of fun. Based on the video content and comments the fun continued for the Nerdarchists and community, too.

Now that the polls and D&D character build are complete, I thought it might be interesting to peel the curtain aside and give people a peek at how each poll was put together. The polls were blind – answer choices were purposely vague – and the reasoning behind answer options might be of interest to those who participated or anyone who watched the video. Continue reading How a Poll Created a D&D Character – #NerdyProject

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Effects Of Age On A D&D Character Can Enhance the Experience

Effect of age in D&D

age effect
Opening phrase of Prince Hamlet’s soliloquy in William Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet,” Act III, Scene I.

Age is a usually inescapable villain that hunts down any and all who walk this mortal coil.

That being said, there are ways to escape it. What we will deal with here are reactions left to those who don’t have the ability to visit the fountain of youth, become a lich or vampire, and have no chance to ascend to godhood.

The touch of age is something a lot of gamers forget but could do well to keep in mind. After all, the effect of it could very well enhance your gaming experience.

In previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons the effect of age was pretty easy to document.

“To be or not to be? Not to be.” – Arnold Schwarzenegger as Jack Slater, playing Hamlet in the 1993 Columbia Pictures film “Last Action Hero”

In fact, your character could even use it as a form of min/maxing as your physical stats drop while your mental stats raise.

This could be a godsend to casters, especially the wizard and sorcerer who would want to push the DC of their spells as far as possible.

Conversely, a more physical type would run from the cold hand of time, as those physical abilities are their very bread and butter. Continue reading Effects Of Age On A D&D Character Can Enhance the Experience

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Using D&D 5E Unearthed Arcana Class Options for Worldbuilding

D&D Unearthed Arcana class
Limited Edition cover for Xanathar’s Guide to Everything from Wizards of the Coast.

Due to the recent announcement D&D Beyond will fully launch on August 15, my mind has turned back to Xanathar’s Guide to Everything (or perhaps forward, since as of the writing of this article it’s still four months away from its release).

I’m really excited to see the new character options that are going to be available. Obviously we have a strong idea of some of it thanks in so small part to Wizards of the Coast’s Unearthed Arcana. There are some good ones out there. And there are some failures, too.

But no matter how good or bad, I’m not a fan of letting my D&D players use the class archetypes. The reason is very simple. Unearthed Arcana is subject to change because it’s test material.

The designers knew going into it what they had needed work. Partially because a lot of them did some really cool things, and really cool can either be largely ineffective or overpowered. Continue reading Using D&D 5E Unearthed Arcana Class Options for Worldbuilding

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Run Each D&D Encounter Like it is Combat

D&D

Why don’t you run each encounter like a combat encounter? Combat is a Dungeons & Dragons staple. Most of the rules are based around it. The formula for combat has evolved through five editions and countless erratum. Each change made it faster and more efficient. Why then, aren’t you applying this finely tuned formula to your explorations and roleplay encounters? Continue reading Run Each D&D Encounter Like it is Combat

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Out of the Box D&D Encounters, Series 2, #9 – Bandersnatched

Night hag as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. [Art courtesy of Wizards of the Coast]

Introduction

In a previous encounter within Series 1 (Auntie Knows Best) there was mention of a Hag Eye. This device was being employed in a manner to draw the characters into the clutches and machinations of a green hag by the name of Auntie Treeshadow. A later encounter introduced a night hag in a mercantile manner (Madam Versiliplex’s Magical Wonders) whereby the items were not exactly what the players may have bargained for.
Either case is an example of how the players might become entangled in the web of a hag’s manipulation, although neither is truly desirable by any sensible player character. Though it may be fun for the Dungeon Master and create great drama and plot hooks, it’s a rare occasion where the PCs come out on top in these instances.
To be fair, banderhobbs might be a weapon in the tool chest of any hag. Mine are but examples. Hags are but the beginning of these entanglements. Whether by the plots and manipulations of one, by a curse, or perhaps a cursed item, a PC may seek to end their relationship with these foul beings. Such a break-up rarely ends amicably.
A banderhobb as seen in the fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons Volo’s Guide to Monsters. [Image courtesy of Wizards of the Coast]
In some cases, a hag may wish to employ a banderhobb to either retrieve a player character, the loved one of a PC, or the last known holder or wielder of a hag item. To properly employ such a creature, the DM will want the right set up.
Just springing such a creature on the party robs that possible encounter of any suspense or tension. Therefore the proper use of the Shadow Step ability is key. Set the stage with dim lighting indoors or outside. Remove sounds of natural wildlife outdoors, as crickets, frogs, birds and the like respond to the presence of this monstrosity in their vicinity. Optionally, if this encounter occurs indoors, it may be that indoor vermin out of sight under carpets, behind curtains, or hiding under beds scurry into the light to try and get out of any open doors or windows. To the wise, this might be an indication of impending danger.

Environment

Wilderness/Forest

Level

5

Description

As evening sets and twilight takes over the forest mantle, the party of PCs settle down for the night. In typical fashion, a small campfire might be lit and watches may even be set. What should be a typical night in the wilderness begins. A clever DM might wish to have one or more of these nights pass uneventfully, lulling the player characters into a false sense of security.
Then, should a specific character’s Passive Perception exceed 15 or they choose to roll a Wisdom (Perception) check against DC 15, they will notice the natural fauna (crickets, frogs, birds, etc.) are making no noise. If the PCs do not succeed in this check, feel free to give the banderhobb surprise on it’s first turn.
The initial attack will start from its maximum range of 15 ft. A tongue shooting out from dim light, shadow, or total darkness to attack a PC should create the appropriate horror dynamic. To create the correct context for this and to remove any sort of ambiguity with regard to how this is intended, have the banderhobb throw a simple object like a stone or chunk of wood among the other PCs that has a magic mouth spell on it as a bonus action. The magic mouth will activate and then cackle at them in the hag’s voice (whomever that specific hag is) and boast a warning at the PCs. A typical example might be something akin to “No one betrays the wishes of (insert hag name) without some consequence, little ones (insert mad hag cackle).”
What will occur from this point is simple combat – with one exception. The banderhobb has a singular order – collect a specific character or NPC. It cannot do so by fighting to the death. If it swallows this PC or NPC, it will use Shadow Step to “bamf” from dark area to dark area on his way back to its hag mistress.
Allow the players to track this banderhobb despite its Shadow Step ability through such means as dropped clues, Intelligence checks to remember where the hag might be, or similar skills or checks. The intent is to channel the PCs back toward the hag/hag coven in question. Remember, any target swallowed by a banderhobb will become stable when reduced to 0 hp, so the PC’s life isn’t in question until it gets back to the hag of origin. Questions may arise among the party about resting or pushing when it comes to pursuing the banderhobb during a lengthy pursuit.
Allow such discussions to continue. Discovering player priorities and problem solving methodology is an important source of information for aspiring DMs.
The banderhobb does not care about such discussions. Its mission is to retrieve and return a particular PC for its hag matron. Remember this when running this encounter. Knowing the purpose and intent of any creature in an encounter is imperative – it defines everything they do and are.

Monsters

Banderhobb (1) – As per page 122, Volo’s Guide to Monsters

Treasure

None, unless you count your friends and allies as treasure

Complications

Wow. Complications. Okay, so if the banderhobb fails in its mission you can suspect the particular hag will try again with either another banderhobb or perhaps a charmed NPC or beast. The hag will continue, perhaps even more stubbornly with the loss or death of an expensive and likely hard to summon banderhobb. PCs that successfully rescue their ally can expect more attempts at retrieving a colleague.
Should the banderhobb be successful it may become necessary to declare the unholy act of “splitting the party” and running separate events for the captured ally/PC and the pursuing party. Discuss such things with any players you might have at your table who have been successfully abducted to see what avenues of story building they’re like to pursue. The other PCs may well arrive to find the captured party member/NPC has become a warlock to said hag (fiend or fey depending on the hag in question), creating its own origin story on character creation.
Knowing the specific hag that created, summoned, or used the banderhobb will certainly determine its use and where this story will end. Knowing that important fact will determine the rest of the encounter’s course and target. Keep that in mind should you choose to use “Bandersnatched” at your table.