Money for Potions

I have been creating a series of potions and other items for my game. I love single effect items like potions because allow the players to tactically when to use them and it gives them more options on how to spend their money. And unlike a +2 sword or a ring of power, it is hard for a 1-2 use item from breaking a campaign.

So I have been posting each item on Reddit. This allows me to get excellent feedback on their power levels, effect, and even wording. I think once I have enough of these, I might publish them for a buck or two at one of the 5e sites.

Please introduce these into your game and let me know how they work for you!

Here are links to the items I am posting.

Potions. I am exploring with different types of potions. Some are poured instead of drank!

Shard. These are new items of my design. They are crystal wands that are snapped for a magical effect. Then there is a chance the shard reforms. Basically they are 1-4 usage items.

Items. I want more items especially those that break!



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Complex Alignments

I read a lot of 5e D&D FB post. I guess I am a snob as most of what is describe as role playing sounds horrible. In a typical post of this nature, a character takes collection of random and mean actions in game justify it by saying, “I am playing an evil character….” As if this response explains it all.

My best guess is they expecting the FB readers to respond with, “Oh that is why you decided to attack your own party members after setting them up to fail so you could steal all their stuff? Nice Roleplaying!”

Some people see playing an evil character as a means being a random stupid asshole. Doing whatever they want at any given moment without thought or reason.

Playing a real and complex evil character is much more exciting and challenging. It is one of my favorite types of Heroes to play.

Before I get to my advice, I recommend the following two videos of playing evil characters and not playing a Dickish character. Both of these were created by the video blogger Guy at his site Bacon Battalion RPG. In both cases, I think Guy is right and gives solid advice.

Keeping with what Guy said, I want to introduce the Concentric Circle Alignment system for character creation. A Concentric Circle is a chart of a circle within a Circle. Apparently, this name sucks so I will call it Complex Alignments. By using this method, you can use the D&D alignment system to create more complex characters.

First off, playing the selfish evil character just doesn’t work for an RPG.

As a collective social story, excluding others from the game just by time management alone makes you a bad player. So when playing any character, it has to be a social one. Someone that can function as a group.

The best way to approach an evil Hero is to have a very narrow number of people you care about. This would include family, friends, the party, and perhaps a patron. And that is about it! The rest of the world you could all burn if it gets in your way.

Therefore, when dealing with those you do care about, be a good Hero. And as  BaconRPG suggests, be a super good character!

As it is, the D&D alignment system is inadequate and limiting. However, with a simple modification, I think it is excellent!

The modification requires you to think of alignment as a Concentric Circle chart with 3 or more circles. The circles I use are labeled as Friends, Stranger, and Enemies. You then give each circle and alignment of its own.

By doing so, you will end up making exciting and complex Heroes. And you can play evil characters who can function within a party because they are also good characters.

Let’s put this into play with building a Human Paladin who worships Bahamut.

The first version will be a by-the-book true good Paladin. So I write down my alignment as LG, LG, & LG. So in the case of Friends, Stranger, and Enemies, I am Lawful Good. This is a Hero that is true to his convictions.

In the second version, I decide I want to play a crusading Paladin. This is someone who hates the followers of a rival god. He has been fighting them and has a harder edge. Then I give him an alignment of LG, LG, & LE.

Circles

 

With this alignment, I am kind to everyone except for my enemies. In their case, I am still Lawful, but I am ruthless. I have no mercy for them. I will not break the law, but once judged my enemy then the gloves are off.

In the eyes of my enemies, I am an LE character. I hunt them down, burn their villages, and kill them. I am ruthless and cruel. But again, to the rest of the world, I am a super nice guy.

This Paladin might have a bad reputation in his church. He is apparently a good and kind person, but something about war brings out the worst in him. Perhaps he feels terrible about it and confesses his sins. Or he feels justified saying to the Priest, “Father, you do not understand the followers of Tiamat as I do.”

Now let’s turn to a third version of the same Paladin and make him more involved. Let’s adjust his Alignment to LG, LN, & NE.

He is still Lawful Good to his church and family. He would do anything for these people. Giving his life and soul to save them.

However, this isn’t true of the random person he meets on the street. By his nature, he follows the law, but he isn’t compassionate. He would not make a personal sacrifice for them. After all, they follow pagan gods, and therefore he really doesn’t care what happens to them. Perhaps if he were paid, he would help them.

Then against his enemies, he is Neutral Evil. This means for them there are no laws. They must be destroyed at any cost, without exception or mercy. In fact, he is cruel to them and enjoys to see them suffer. Not only would he burn their villages, but he would kill the children. It makes sense in his eyes since they will only grow up to be his enemies.

Now I get to play a more believable evil Paladin. Someone who is kind, generous and just to the party and fellow church members, but has less compassion for people as a whole. They must follow the law. Otherwise, he isn’t interested. What he is interested in is destroying his enemies in any conceivable means. The law be damned! Rules are for good people, not for those with evil hearts!

Each of these three Paladin I created would play very different, but not so different to party members. To his friends, he would take the shirt off his back to help them. Lay on track if need be. He is a Lawful Good hero.

Let’s make a second character using Complex Alignments.

I want to play an Elf that hates Dragonborn. I decided to create another circle: Friends, Stranger, Enemies, & Dragonborn. I give this Elf the following alignments: CG, NG, LE, & CE.

At first glance, she seems like a mess. But let’s dig into it.

For the people close to her, she believes that good people are worthy of trust and kindness. That there is no need for rules. Their kind hearts will guide them. For people as a whole, she sees it on a case-by-case basis.

When it comes to the bad people that are where rules are needed. These people don’t have the good in their heart to guide them. They need laws and order enforced upon them. A society needs guards and prisons. Rules are for bad people.

Lastly, there is the worst of the worst, Dragonkind. These are inherently evil. They are beyond laws. Having laws for them is pointless, they don’t have it within them. They should all be destroyed. And while she cannot kill dragons, yet. She can focus her rage on the Dragonborn.

Over time, the center circles must trump the lower Diagrams! Friends > Enemies.

This is important. Imagine a new Hero joins the party and plays a Dragonborn. Here is the trick! After a short hazing period, the Elf must shift the PC from enemy to the friend circle. In doing so, she can claim to have found one of the few good ones. And then she now uses the PC Dragonborn to further justify her hatred. “If only they were all like you, but they are not!”

Using Complex Alignment creates complex Hero that are constant in their view. It allows a Hero to be both good and evil. Lawful and chaotic.

 

5e D&D Character Death: Kids take it like Champions!

I have been DMing a mix group of kids and adults at the Game Chest in Torrance.

The store is kind enough to give playing tables for 3-4 different gaming groups each Sunday and Tuesday. I came in to the store as a player with my 8-year old son, but have since started DMing.

This is my first time doing any serious DMing of 5e D&D. Overall, I can see why it is so popular. It is fast, easy to use, but far from perfect. I cannot help myself but to change rules here and there. And to change content.

Why does every other race in 5e have Dark Vision? Seems lazy to me. But I digress. Best to leave that rant for a future post.

I am using my Homebrew world of Olympia as the setting.

I have been taking notes on the campaign and even playing a second group through the story using my Age of Sword system. It is my desire to take all these notes and create an Adventure Guide out of it for Kickstarter.

It has been a bloodbath.

There have been 5 PC deaths. Of the six players, only two have not had a character die. One kid has had his PC die in back-to-back Sundays. They started at 1st and are now reaching 4th.

The instincts when playing with kids is to keep it light, safe, and easy. I have done the opposite.

The story has been dark, gruesome, and violent. All the kids love it! They are mix genders ranging from 8 to 12-years old.

Asking them, they love that the game is challenging. They find the story interesting and creepy. The stakes are kept high. They are engaged.

One of their favorite moments was when they rushed into a room to stop a Hag from summoning a demon meant to kill them. They were too late, but were shocked when they found the demon was eating the guts of the Hag. And when the Hag turned out to be still alive!

The storyline revolves around an evil noble who has returned to the city of Evos. He has dismissed the local lords and has plans to rebuild his family manor and reclaim his rule over the city. The Heroes are the outlaws forced to fight the manipulated lords and city guards. Meanwhile, the Heroes have learned the nobles are not just corrupt, but are also cultist trying to summon a banished devil.

Their battle has a higher cause and they are going on quests to gain favors of the local gods to assist them. They need to prove themselves to not be the Outlaws the nobles have labeled them.

Some of the DMing tips have have been using in the game:

  • Open Rolling! They see the dice. They know I am not holding back and pulling punches.
  • No Resurrection! Dead is dead.
  • Last Minute Rolls! Failed checks have immediate consequences.
  • At least one challenging fight each session.

The story is structured in my Hourglass style. This is open sandbox gaming that moves towards a plot point. Then back to a sandbox.

They are on a Fox Hunt. It is their goals that drive forward the story. These goals are clear and definable:

  • Stop the ritual sacrifice of the kidnapped children.
  • Kill the noble Lucus Drynex, his mistress, and allies.
  • Restore their good names.

So in conclusion, a lot of people naturally choose light and easy adventures for kids. I didn’t.

My own son lost his 4th level Rogue Assassin last week. He has just re-rolled a 2nd level Druid to add to the story. He took his Rogues death like a champion. He is excited for next Sunday.

5e D&D Don’t steal from Classes: Adding Flavor and Special Effects.

A theme of questions I keep seeing DMs ask is about adding mechanics to a character. Often this comes because of the Hero’s in-game choices. Many times, not having any idea of how to balance these mechanics, they end up stealing them from another classes. Time and time again, I feel the same answers applies to each situation.

Here is an example from my own gaming at a local store. A new player to the group created a Bard. He asked me the following question:

Player: “Because of my Bard’s backstory I was hoping he could fight with two weapons.”

I said, “Sure of course. You can do that.”

He then asked, “Great. What is the mechanic I use?”

I said, “None. But you can fight with two weapons.”

He was confused, “But I should get a bonus otherwise what is the point?”

Me: “I thought it was about role-playing?”

What is the point? Much of this goes back to a post a while back about Wanting +1s. But I want to expand on this a little more.

First off, not everything we do in life is optimized. Not every skill we have is at the best.

His Bard can “fight” with two weapons. His Bard can feel like it gives him an advantage. To him, fighting “twin” could be what he thinks is the best way to fight. But many of our beliefs are really false assumptions. Sometimes they are even a liability or limitation. If he really wants to fight with two weapons because of a role-playing choice, then why does he need a mechanical bonus?

I get these questions all the time. So my answer to most of these questions is “Yes you can!”

Can my wizard wear chainmail? “Yes!”

Can my Rogue I have a pet wolf that fights with me? “Yes!

Can my Barbarian use an axe with two different axe heads? “Yes!”

Then it is always, “What is the advantage?”

Me: “None.”

Game Design

The classes, feats, items, skills, abilities, spells, etc… are nothing but a series of Flavor and Mechanics. If you start to give mechanics from one class to another, you are creating imbalances in the game.

A recent post I read was about a Barbarian with a trained wolf and a Ranger with their Animal Companion. By allowing the Barbarian an Animal Companion (he called it an NPC wolf), he is taking away from the Ranger class. In the design of the classes, they assigned a value to the Animal Companion. And while this value might not be perfect, it is apart of their balancing equation. Better not to mess with it.

Note: If you think the Ranger or Barbarian class is too weak and you are making a homebrew choice to fix it then this is another issues. I say more power to you. But making a balancing choice is not what I am talking about here.

The Fighter has a two weapon option. It is apart of their class balance. If I give it to a Bard, I am taking away from the Fighter. The Fighter become less special and less effective compared to both the Bard and other classes.

But if the bard gets gain nothing for using two weapons, then all the Fighter loses is some Flavor. The Fighter is a bad-ass with two weapons and the Bard thinks he is a bad-ass with two weapons. This is a great place for some role playing fun and no imbalance is created.

The last key to all of this is the narrative. While I personally rarely give narrative for minor attack results, when I do give the flavor I take into account their flavor choices. So if the twin weapon fighting Bard hits and does 2 damage, then it can be with his off-weapon. When he does a critical hit, he can hit with both weapons doing massive damage.

A lot of times characters want to train and pick up skills for the other characters and NPCs they meet. Great! If the Rogue has been training with the Monk and now wants to punch with his off-hand attack; sounds great. In narration, when the damage roll low I can say his attack was a punch.

The Wizard in Chainmail, does not get any improvements to his Armor Class. He isn’t wearing it effectively. It is uncomfortable, gets in the way, and the enemy finds it easy to get around it. But sure, he can wear it for role-playing reasons. It can make him feel safer.

Lessons from Champions!

Hero Systems Champions the Super Hero Game introduced me to the concept of Special Effects. In that game, you buy an Energy Blast as your attack. Say you bought a 8d6 Energy Blast attack. Then when you hit, you would do 8d6 damage. That was the game mechanics.

Then there was the Flavor of the attack. You got to choose that yourself. It could have a fireball, ice blast, wind attack, summoning a giant fist, sonic, etc. These special effects on occasion could come into play. If you said it was ice attack and the villain is immune to ice damage, then you are out of luck. But in most cases, the flavor was just the flavor.

I believe Savage World is built on the same general concept.

I apply the concept of Flavor to Dungeon and Dragons. I try to leave the mechanics alone and let the flavor be the flavor.

So next time they want to have their Bards fight with two weapons, say “Cool! Sounds good to me.” Then wait for the next question that always follows…

Update: Several people pointed out that 5e does have a mechanic for 2 weapon fighting outside of Fighters and Rogues. So I do have that to use. However, this was not the point. They player knew these rules. He was hoping for something extra. They are always looking for those +1 and other bonuses. Solve a lot of these issues by treating them as flavor is my point.

RPG: Expanding on Last Minute Rolls in 5e D&D.

More on Last Minute Rolls!

A while ago, I wrote a post on my style of waiting till the Last Minute on skill rolls. It was one of my more popular posts, so I thought I would give more examples of how I use it in game play.

Last week, I GMed two different groups in 5e D&D. Both were 1-shots with the hope of starting a new campaign. Both of the stories were in the same area, using the same themes, and involved a lot of Gnolls.

During play, they would often need to make SURVIVAL rolls. While on occasion, I would have a roll made by the Ranger just to see how well they were navigating the wilderness, most of the rolls I waited until something was going to happen. One failed roll told them they were lost and had traveled a day on the wrong trail.

Another roll was to avoid an encounter while they were taking a long rest. I didn’t have them roll to find a good camping spot, that was a given. But in the middle of the long rest, they rolled to dodge a Gnoll patrol.

The best example of the Last Minute roll that jumps out to me was a STEALTH check one of the players needed to make. They were at the base of some ruins where a Gnoll Shaman had made her hideout. The Paladin wanted to climb up from the dry moat and do some scouting.

Since they had debated in Real Time for a while on this plan, I wanted the Paladin to succeed in getting the information. Seriously, sometimes PCs are so timid it gets tiring. Anyhow, he wanted to see what was in the ruin’s courtyard before traveling up the road.

So I just allowed it. It was a win-win as player and GM. Since I view the PCs as Heroes and not Clowns, I let a lot of actions happen. He climbed up some stones and peeked around the fallen tower to get a look into the courtyard. There he saw the Shaman and some Kolbolts. He got the information he needed and then wanted to return to the party.

Now for the rolls!

See before, if I had him roll to climb and sneak about failure would have stopped the story. And there would have been no good consequences. If he had failed either the ATHLETICISM or STEALTH rolls it would have been a lose-lose. They still would have been stuck on what to do, and nothing interesting would have happened from a failed roll. Sure I could always go for some cheap laugh and have him fall or split his pants like some GM, but that is not my style. That is the PCs are Clowns style.

But now, while he is trying to stealth away, a roll is all sorts of win. In this case, he failed his stealth roll. I had several of the Kolbolts run at him.

He now had to hurry down the rocks, making for a more interesting ATHLETICISM roll. He did well on this roll, so escaped. I let the Kolbolts throw rocks. In the end, he took 2 damage from a stone. But now there was some tension. Dice were rolling. He was concern. There could have been dire consequences for him.

Now that they knew what was going on, they decided to go for a frontal attack. This strategy meant they would have to go up the raised road. Halfway up, the Kolbolts had their battleground picked.

The Paladin asked to check for traps. I told him it was all clear. I later told him that “checking for traps” was a meaningless statement in my game.

He then charged forward to attack. Guess what, it was a trap! I had him make an INVESTIGATION roll as he closed the distance. He made the roll, so I gave him Advantage to dodge the boulders the Kolbolts push down on him.

At one point in the story, they found some fishing traps left by some Barbarian Elves. The elves had decided to attack them. Instead of making rolls to see if they saw them sneaking up, I waited until the last moment. Then I gave PERCEPTION roll to prevent surprise. This type of Last Minute roll is normal by GM everywhere. But often they will add an earlier roll to spot them sneaking up in the first place. I often remove this rollout because it will often create meta.

As I plan out the next session, I look at how I am going to handle expected rolls.

Obviously, nothing goes as planned. But even so, I all the time am looking at the framing to get the roll at the Last Minute.

They will need to make a sacrifice to an angry god. I will just assume they will have an idea of how to do it without a Religion roll. But once they make the sacrifice, then have a RELIGION roll to see if it was correct. The first roll a lot of GMs give, prevents the roll with consequences. Allow the characters to make assumptions!

They are going to find some mirrors that give some knowledge. Instead of having rolls to understand it, I am going to tell them they do so. But then while using it, then comes the ARCANE roll. But on a bad roll, it will go directly to Death Saves. I will give Advantage to the Death Saves so the chance of dying will be slim to none. Sounds harsh, right! Story tension. Three Death Saves with Advantage is less than 2% of death.

They will come upon a puzzle trap. Once of the Hero has already found some clues in an old scrolls to disarm it. I will tell him that once he read the scrolls, disarming is easy. But after disarming it, and then opening the seal, I will have him roll to succeed on the Disarm roll (with Advantage). Not a roll before he opens to see if he succeeds, but after opening. See the different?

I plan for them to take a raft across a short waterway, only to have it become a dangerous trip in the middle. I will skip all rolls until it becomes dangerous. On a bad roll, they will have to jump to some stones. I plan to have these jumps not need a roll. But later they will have to jump off the stones to safety. These will require rolls.

Lastly, they will get into a fight with a living and dangerous statue. I plan for only then will they make the PERSUASION roll. I think I will wait until the creature is at half damage. So they will say, I try to Persuade it. I will get how, some role-playing, then it attacks. Once they do 25 damage to it, I will then have the Persuasion roll made. If successful, it will stop fighting. I do not do this with all NPCs, but in this case, I already know how it will go down.

I guess, one thing I do different that many GMs is I assume competence and the belief of competence in the Heroes.