Tag Archives: dungeons and dragons

D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 8: Adventuring

adventureAnd now we get to the Adventure!  Welcome to this installment in my D&D Fifth Edition PHB readthrough and review. This time, Chapter 8: Adventuring.

First they reiterate the D&D Decision Loop (DDDL) from earlier:

  1. The DM describes the environment
  2. The players describe what they want to do
  3. The DM narrates the result of their actions

Firmly establishing the trad playstyle.  I’m actually a little ambivalent about this, I like some player participation in limited environment narration and especially action narration but I can see they’re setting the baseline here.

Then we get the usual sections that have been in every PHB since time immemorial. Time, Movement, Vision and Light… It’s all pretty straightforward.  6 second rounds like the kids use nowadays. Crawling and swimming and stuff are simplified to just use 2 feet of movement to go 1 foot. Skill checks are described as being binary – you might make Strength (Athletics) checks to be able to climb or swim, but then the speed is invariant.

I like the “Interacting with Objects” section, instead of a big chart of substance hardness and hit points like in 3e it just says “DM will decide, and if he says you can’t cut a rope with a club, then that’s the way it is.”  I could see a DM advice book with things like the 3e hardness chart as “Here’s some guidance, if you don’t happen to personally know where bone fits vis-a-vis wood and stone in the hardness follies” but I like it being kept out of the core rules for simplicity.

But wait… Then a section on Social Interaction and Roleplaying?  What’s the world coming to? Isn’t D&D just torches and swords and orcs and Cheetos? They describe third person (“Descriptive”) roleplaying and first person (“Active”) roleplaying, and correctly note the second is more immersive. Affecting NPCs is a mix of roleplaying with the possibility of Charisma checks.  This is great, like a lot of things it moves the dial back to Basic/1e/2e times before affecting NPC attitudes was a completely rules exercise where “Diplomancers” could min-max happily enslaving anyone they could talk to with their +50 Diplomacy skills.

Next resting. Like 4e there is a “short rest” (1 hour, and you can roll up to your level in Hit Dice to heal) and a “long rest” (8 hours, and you regain all your hit points and 1/2 your Hit Dice).  This is the primary healing mechanic, which is pretty – perhaps overly – generous (on average, you can heal 2x your entire hit points in the first day). So don’t expect much in the way of lingering wounds.

Then there’s a between adventures section involving lifestyle expenses (from Chapter 5) and downtime.  This is very similar to the Pathfinder downtime system – options include making money from crafting or professions or doing research or training or recuperating from diseases or other effects.

This chapter’s a bit of a laundry list but it is a necessary laundry list of how you do what you do when you’re not murdering.

D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 7: Using Ability Scores

beholderWelcome to this installment in my D&D Fifth Edition PHB readthrough and review. We are entering “Part 2: Playing the Game” with a chapter on using ability scores.

First they reprint the Ability Scores and Modifiers section from earlier, in penance for their questionable organizational skills. They explain advantage and disadvantage, one of the big new mechanics in 5e – in many cases, instead of an additional bonus or penalty to a d20 roll,  you roll twice and take the best or worst die result instead. Advantage and disadvantage cancel each other. Simpler and elegant, though they’ve retained enough bonuses/penalties and other stuff to track that it doesn’t hugely simplify the system.

Finally they kinda explain skills.  They try to keep skills on the down-low in this version, basically you generally use ability checks but you can add your proficiency bonus to skills you have. Since proficiency bonuses really only range from +2 to +6 that means that, barring other abilities, there’s not a huge difference between having a skill and not having it.

They also describe passive checks, which is just taking 10 on the die, done when you’re doing it repeatedly or the GM wants to do it in secret (different from 3e’s taking 10 and 20). And working together, which provides advantage.

Group checks have an interesting mechanic – everyone makes the check and if half or more succeed, the group succeeds.  This removes the shitty “everyone makes a roll and one person is going to fail/succeed because probability” problem in earlier editions, very elegant.

Next they just go into what you use Strength, Dexterity, etc. for.  None of this is all that new and surprising, except DEX gives you bonuses to both attack and damage with ranged and finesse weapons, 4e-style. A sidebar on hiding sweeps away hundreds of pages of rules lawyering from previous editions, just saying “you can’t hide if someone can see you – but if you’re hidden you can sneak up on someone if they’re distracted, at the DM’s discretion.” You know, like all sane people have done it. (Google “The Rules Of Hidden Club” if you want to see how pathetically insane rules lawyers have gotten on this topic.)

And then saving throws are just ability checks (plus proficiency if applicable).

So the general message is… Ability checks! Roll them!

D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 6: Customization Options

customWelcome to this installment in my D&D Fifth Edition PHB readthrough and review. We’ve reached the end of the Character Creation section.  Now it’s time to customize.

By customize, I guess we really mean “some more spare rules.”  We start with multiclassing. It works like 3e where you can add levels ad hoc in whatever classes.  It has the additional twist of having ability score minimums, which is an interesting and IMO satisfying middle ground between the 1e “you need this much ability to be this class” and 3e-style “minmax however you want.”

Then there are feats. Feats are optional in 5e, you take them in place of an ability score advance (every fourth level). Since you have fewer of them than in 3e, each one is pretty buff.  In fact, oddly, some give you one point of ability advance anyway. Even the “skill” ones are good – let’s take “Actor,” which would be +2 to 2 skills in 3e (yawn).  Here, it gives you +1 Charisma, advantage on deception and performance checks, and an ability to mimic someone’s speech. Many are of course combat focused, like Dual Wielder gives you +1 AC and the ability to 2-handed fight with non-light weapons, and the ability to draw or stow 2 weapons at once.  I like how many of them add those little details (like the draw/stow) that show they’ve thought through the little details. A couple are boring (Skilled – Gain proficiency in 3 skills!) but that’s the minority, and they’re designed to help you push in some character direction you can’t get by class min-maxing in the new regime. And, they’re not strictly better than the +2 to a stat (though since the limit is 20, if you put a high number in your primary stat, a couple advances probably cap you out and you are looking to diversify anyway).

There’s only 42 feats, but each one is meaty, and you’re only going to get a fistful with any character, and I’m sure more will come (whenever they decide to publish anything else…).

And we’re done with character generation!  Solid all in all. Streamlined and not as fiddly as 3e, but more consistent and customizable than 2e. And a real role-playing game and not a pure tactical boardgame like… Uh… Some editions.

Reavers on the Seas of Fate – Season Four, Fourth Session

Captain Scarbelly

Captain Scarbelly

Fourth Session (16 page pdf) – “Family, Worship, and Business” – Sam and Serpent’s egg is coming along nicely while Sindawe and Hatshepsut visit an orc bar and get more than they bargained for. Finally, they protect some Cyphermages while negotiating with orcish pirates.  Just another day in the life!

After they spizzle the weasel-mast, the PCs head into Riddleport on various errands, none of which really bear mentioning in polite company. Luckily there’s no polite company here!  They try to deal with other pirate captains, procure biker-gang outfits for their crew, visit Serpent’s eggs… You know, normal weekend stuff.

And then Sindawe and Hapshetsut must prove their worth to a bar full of orcs. The Happy Fellow is a bar from a Freeport supplement, where orcs fight each other for spots beneath iron teats drooling “blood grog.” Captain Scarbelly and his crew are straight out of the Freeport books too.

If you want to make a “skill challenge” not boring, have it be to beat back orcs while trying to stay under a blood-grog nipple. It all ends successfully (which is to say in sex and violence).

Then in a weird turn they have agreed to escort the Cyphermages, who are pretty much shut-ins now because their two former leaders have tried to destroy the city in weird cult activity, on a field trip. While they’re doing this one Cyphermage and the ship’s cook sneak off into an alleyway. Ever alert for treachery, they send the mentally challenged crewman “Dum Dum” to spy on them (No, I don’t know why they picked him). When he returns, this was the exchange.

Dum Dum enters the alley cautiously, disappearing into the fog. He quickly returns explaining, “Billy is just helping that fancyboy go to the bathroom.” They wriggle uncomfortably at this news.

Captain Scarbelly and his orcs show up due to Sindawe and Hapshetsut’s brave performance the night before. The two captains parley for a while to their mutual profit. Then we end with…

Captain Scarbelly seems intelligent for an orc. The two discuss pirating business a bit  more before Scarbelly announces he has to go. Sindawe hands him a gift: a Mordant Spire elf mask.  Scarbelly admires the mask then says, “I need to find a prostitute.” He marches off.


Reavers on the Seas of Fate – Season Four, Third Session

Third Session (13 page pdf) – “Murder Avenged” – Tracking down their crewmate’s killers lead the command crew into an assassins’ trap! But killing is where they’re Vikings.

The murder of Little Mike throws our command staff into full-on police procedural mode as they investigate hard.  Speak with dead, interrogating witnesses, tracking his last steps. And they fall into the trap of three assassins – a trio of Calistrian slayers known as Yellowjackets. Given all the Calistria lore I thought a divine order of assassins called “Yellowjackets” that get dispatched in threes were super apropos.  I managed to find three good Calistrian type images, and basically statted them up off the images!

Ms. Whip

Ms. Whip

Ms. Kukri

Ms. Kukri

Ms. Pants

Ms. Pants

Wogan has to use one of his Infamy Points (we represent them by actual replica gold coins I give to the players) to avoid instant death from Ms. Kukri’s death attack. (These are the names the PCs gave them during the combat). It was a knock-down-drag-out fight but they finally killed one and captured the others.

As a special bonus – here’s a character sheet with the writeups of all three assassins! I took some NPC guide pregens and other stuff and doctored them up.  They have Rage from Lover’s Vengeance and Magic Vestment on themselves (it doesn’t really show that on the sheet).

They actually trade the two living ones back to the Calistrians via their friendly gendarme contact to try to cool the conflict down.  Will it work? Wait and see!


Reavers on the Seas of Fate – Season Four, First Session

Riddleport Harbor

Riddleport Harbor

Welcome to the start of Season Four of our epic Reavers on the Seas of Fate Pathfinder campaign! We’re exactly three and a half years in. In Season One, “Shadows in Riddleport,” our PCs went to Riddleport, became aspiring pirates, and became embroiled in a cultist plot to destroy the city.  In Season Two, “Eros and Thanatos,” they got their own pirate ship and confronted all manner of supernatural menace of both Shadow and Cthulhu types. In Season Three, “Et In Arcadia Ego,” they  head out to sunken Azlant in the Arcadian Ocean and face off against the elves of the Mordant Spire and the degenerate inhabitants of the lost Sun Temple Colony.

And now we begin Season Four – “Family Matters.” In which our pirate crew returns to Riddleport but finds an old enemy has not forgotten them, and then heads to darkest Nidal to help Wogan’s sister.

First Session (22 page pdf) – “There’s No Place Like Home” – the PCs return to Riddleport at long last! Time to dispose of booty, buy goodies, and drink much booze while re-acclimating to life on land.

Their first order of business is to hand over the thumbless, captive pirate captain Morgan Baumann to the Overlord, which they manage to do with a startling lack of decorum even for them.

Gaston pulls the hood off to reveal that Morgan Baumann has worked the gag out of  place. She spits an unhealthy glob at Gaston.
The man wipes at his face, then tells her, “Keep your hands off my ships.”
Her reply is, “Keep your hands off little boys!”
Gaston taunts her, “I didn’t figure you would go down so easy.”
She replies, “I thought the same about you!”
Unhappy with losing the verbal exchange, Gaston commands, “Take her away.”

I improvised that whole dialogue, I was proud. Then it’s cop-killing jokes and a return to the Golden Goblin in Riddleport, where the whole campaign started. Saul Vancaskerkin, one-handed crime lord, always slaps Sindawe on the cheek in that Italian-mobster way; he hates it.  I love that. They rove all over getting caught up on city life.  Not only are they higher level but also they have learned not to wander the streets of Riddleport alone, so they are no longer the second most dangerous thing in a given alleyway. At least the command crew is; now they have to run after their hapless crew members who are all getting robbed and tricked into fighting in the arena and the like.

Entire game sessions that are all the PCs entertaining themselves with NPC interactions and going places are great.  I was told once that if we weren’t rolling combat dice then “we weren’t playing D&D.” To that person I wisely reply “suck it.” REAL ROLEPLAYING BABY!

This episode is all about getting various balls rolling and threads started, and it’ll escalate steadily over the next five sessions until it’s a holocaust that would make the most seasoned hack-and-slashers quail. But for now… It’s a moment of relative peace back in civilization.

D&D 5e PHB Readthrough, Chapter 5: Equipment

tenfootpoleWelcome to the next in the series of my D&D Fifth Edition PHB readthrough and review. I know there’s been a little time gap, I had some bidness to attend to.

The equipment chapter kicks off with the basic monetary system and starting gold.  The electrum piece (worth 1/2 a gold piece) has returned from the sands of time. Ah, nostalgia, I remember you fondly.

Then they talk about selling treasure.  Undamaged gear is worth 50% of the list price, but monster gear is usually junk.  Then they finally breach the 3.e/Pathfinder bugbear, magic items – magic items are expensive and rare and selling anything but the most common is problematic, let alone buying them.  This is happy and leads me to believe that the “magic item economy,” which resulted in “Christmas tree syndrome,” one of the least delightful things about mid-range D&D editions, has been swept away.

Armor is somewhat simplified and has the interesting design decision that light armors allow full Dex bonus to AC, medium half, and heavy none. On the one hand that compensates nicely for different approaches, on the other hand it tends towards “everyone has AC 16-18, period.”

Weapons are simpler than in some editions, more complex than in others. They have one damage rating that is a die and type (e.g. 1d8 bludgeoning) – never any “1d4+1″ or the like. Then they have some keyword-properties like the kids are into nowadays that indicate special uses – heavy, two-handed, reach, finesse, light, etc. Finesse weapons use DEX for both attack and damage in this edition, making the uber-strength fighter a less automatic choice.  There’s no such thing as a masterwork weapon but you can silver one for 100gp.

Then they have other gear. You know, cook pots, paper, and the ever-popular ten foot pole. This is mostly “like every equipment list ever.” There’s a couple points of interest, like “Basic Poison” that requires a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or take 1d4 points of damage. And a potion of healing – at 50 gp – that will heal 1d4+2 hit points. So they don’t conflate healing with the hit dice thing (like 4e did with healing surges). I’m not sure how I feel about that, seems like “heal a Hit Die” mechanic is pretty smoov, and it would be simple to reuse it whenever being healed from other sources, but whatever. There’s sub-tables for barrels and ships and stuff.

The Tools are interesting. They claim that tools “help you do something you couldn’t otherwise do” – but mechanically they just let you add your proficiency bonus.  So if you’re a fighter, you can try to pick a lock without a proficiency or tools and just up and make the Dex check. But if you have the skill proficiency *and* the tools, you can add your proficiency bonus. As proficiency bonuses aren’t that large overall that seems a little odd.

A final cool part is the lifestyle expenses.  I remember this from Living campaigns back in the 1990s. Basically there’s a listed cost for living at certain social levels – from Wretched to Aristocratic.  They kinda wuss out and have no mechanical hook to those except to say “Well you know if you’re po’ then nobles won’t like you but thieves might.”

Similarly to the “magic items aren’t bought and sold like cattle” dynamic, even getting spells cast for hire is noted to be difficult – you can get a common level 1 or 2 spell in a major city for 10-50 gp but past that it’s DM fiat and quests, baby.

Then there’s two semi wasted pages on “trinkets” – a new character gets one!  Roll 1d100, you have “a single caltrop made from bone.” Seems gimmicky to me but I get that they’re trying to provoke some kind of “you are a real and unique person” roleplaying using it so that’s fine. Till you’ve made a bunch of characters and it gets repetitive.

All in all I like where they’re going!  Next time, Customization Options!