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Archive for May, 2012

At its most basic level, arcane magic comes from forbidden knowledge and is cast by wizards. Divine magic is bestowed from a higher power and channeled by clerics. Specific spell affects, like healing, have always been the purview of one type or the other, with very little exception. Divine magic tends to favor healing, buffing, and resisting or overcoming affects. Arcane magic on the other hand is all about bringing the pain and making things blow up. It is dazzling, powerful, and over the top, while divine magic is subtle — at least until it is time for a miracle!

The initial D&D Next 5/24 playtest material included two types of magic: arcane and divine, with hints of a third that will probably be psionic. These types of magic have been in the game since the beginning, and they have stayed true to their forms throughout, while each editions has attempted to clarify or expand the defining features of each kind of magic. Other types of magic, such as elemental, shadow, primal, and others have come along over the years, but none are as icoic as the original two sources of all magic, arcane and divine.

Spell Casting

All spells are assumed to require verbal and somatic components; that is, they need to have spoken words and hand gestures. Tis raises the idea that certain spells cannot be cast at certain times, and the rules go on to state that when circumstances are poor, a character may need to make an ability check to successfully cast a spell. Failure results in a lost turn and no spell, tough the spell is retained in the spellcaster’s memory for a later attempt.

These rules are both very old school and very grounded in a grittier, more realistic feel of game. The thought that wizards should be rooting around in their pockets for a ball of bat guano and sulfur to cast a fireball is a part of the myths and legends which have always informed the game, and it is done very well in this iteration.

Some of the spell components are inspiring and imaginative, and the whole system feels very different than recent mechanics. Old school is I guess the best way to describe it, but I am not sure that is entirely accurate: putting the mystical, the unknown and fantastic, the danger and risk and destiny, into the magic. The magic section is not workman-like: it is inspiring, colorfully written, and leaves plenty of room for interpretation; in fact it reads more like an interpretation than hard unbreakable rules mechanics, and maybe that is the secret sauce that gives this section such praiseworthiness. Magic is mysterious and always open to interpretation. If they can maintain this style, then the magic system is sure to be one of the highlights of this edition, and in this early stage, magic encapsulates the classic style and feel and advances the game to the next level.

Spells generally take a turn to cast (plus whatever optional movement the caster takes) though there are a few instantaneous or reactive type spells, like Feather Fall, and some spells have a “ritual” aspect that takes longer to cast and has a gold piece cost but it doesn’t have to be memorized ahead of time. The spells also have new forms of range and radius. The cubist non-euclidean geometry of Fourth Edition is gone (or at least on hold until we see how they deal with traveling on a diagonal) and we are back to spell radius described in feet, as well as lines, cones, cylinders (from space) and clouds, which are like spheres but ignore cover.

Some spells are now classified as minor spells, which means arcane cantrips and divine orisons. I do not know why they use the term minor at all — just call them what they are. The magic missile has been given cantrip status, meaning wizards do not have to resort to throwing darts after the first encounter any more. This is good. Clerics get lance of faith, which is basically a magic missile which needs a roll to hit and does more damage. Cool, and clerics need something like this (the quintessential laser priestess) but it is too blunt, and should somehow do more than just damage. It also needs to keep the ethos of divine magic: subtle help for allies, perhaps by granting a save or giving temp HP to an ally, or something of that nature.

There are 31 spells in the book, and they take up the last five pages of the 31 page How to Play booklet. Most of these are classics from all or most of the previous editions, and it looks like in most cases, the spell attempts to stay true to its roots. Below is a brief summary of the spells and things I found notable about each one.

The Spells

Alarm – I like how a silver bell is the component, and that the wizard can have the bell ring, or a mental alarm sound, and even allow a password to prevent the alarm from going off. A fine spell, that for 25 gold can be cast as a ritual and no paranoid party should be without.

Arc lightning — As awesome as ever, doing 4d6 to the initial and 2d6 to s second target, but I am appalled it is desribed as “a crimson arc of lightning” because my arch villain Zagnazerak the Lord of Time and Space is the only one who knows the secret of crimson lightning! Please fix.

Battle Psalm — This awesome second level divine spell which I beliee is new to this edition (though similar to bard and warlord powers of Fourth Edition) allows the cleric to sing the praises of his deity, and as long as he keeps singing, all his allies add his wisdom modifier to their damage. Sweet.

Burning Hands — As burning and handsy as ever. I like how it mentions it ignites all combustables in its cone of affect. We dms need to be reminded of the destructibility of the environment the characters inhabit. And it gives a hook to creative players.

Charm Person — Down from forever to one hour duration, my how this spell has lost its charms. Might as well cast Sleep and slit their throats.

Command — Many spells seem to have a cut-off of 10 hp or more allowing a save, while creatures under 10 are not, ad this is one of those spells. One word, one turn.

Comprehend Language — Normal but no cracking codes or revealing secret messages. Strangely, it is not offered as a ritual, though it is a perfect candidate for all non-linguist specialist mages.

Continual Light — awesomely the spell component of this as a 509 gold (or more) ruby, crushed.

Crusader’s Strike: Cleric, become more awesome with that mace. For an hour. I love when things last an hour, I don’t know why, maybe because it induces the party to keep going while the affects last.

Cure Light Wounds — 30 years and still rollin’ with the d8 (plus mods.) Some things are born perfect.

Death Ward – A minor (cantrip) new spell that either keeps corpses on ice, or gives necrotic resistance. Nice dual purpose, more like this please, even if it is fairly lame, that is until everyone in the party buffs up before a battle with the undead, then it becomes essential.

Detect Magic — Normal, but with a warning that it won’t detect magic designed to be concealed. Take note.

Divine Favor — A Nice little first level buff, reminds me of bless. Why isn’t this called bless?

Grease — The wizard cast Grease and hilarity ensued.

Healing Word — This is the anemic half-wit cousin to Cure light wounds. Bestowing a measly 1d6 (which will always be a 1 so don’t bother) without any modifiers, yet it allows the caster (obviously the fighty cleric type) to make a melee or ranged attack. Big whoop, forget the spell and just attack, I don’t need your 1 hp. Please fix (by adding ability bonus) or do something.

Hold Person — A nice powerful second level spell that can paralyze a creature under 40 hit points, or immobilize one above that threshold.

Light — Only one light spell going at a time.

Mage Hand — Its range has been increased, but it spells out that it can’t attack or use magic items. My friend who loves to make -5 attacks with his mage hand wielding long sword will be sorely disappointed. He actually hit once that way.

Magic Missile — Up to four missiles at higher level, and wizards can cast it every round all day long. It should spell out its affects better like, it will not damage or destroy inanimate objects, or we will see people trying to tie ropes to their magic missiles and shooting them across ravines if we are not careful.

Mirror Image — In a third edition game I once had a character playing a pseudo dragon who would cast this multiple times in a single encounter (like crazy amounts of times) and I still have nightmares about that. I think one time she had a congo line of at least forty versions of herself spread throughout the dungeon. Or perhaps all forty were in the same square, pre/post 3.5 rules change. Anyway, nightmare territory, I am gong to skip this spell, hope they fixed it, and hope even more that no one ever memorizes it in my group.

Radiant Lance — Magic Missile for clerics. ‘Bout time.

Ray of Frost — Cool cantrip that instead of doing crap, just immobilizes the target for a turn, which is a fine affect for a cantrip to have. Mmuch better than 1d2 damage, or causing the Shivering condition of past editions.

Searing Light – Holy crap this first level cleric damage does way more than any wizard spell of the same level. In fact the wizard spells are rather weak all across the board, while the cleric seems to be breaking new ground with massive damage spells. Something is off about this. Wizards blow things up, clerics kiss them and make them better.

Shield — Nromal Half cover, which I think is -2 to hit, or is it disadvantage?

Shield of Faith — Wierdly this can now be cast as a reaction (before determing if the roll hits the target) which used to be what Shield did, but no longer. Another case of the cleric stealing the wizard spell and making it better. What is going on here, I am seeing a trend. Is this why Monte left?

Shocking Grasp — I lke how you have advantage if the target is made of, or wearing metal armor.

Silence — A moment of silence for Silence please.

(pause, geez half the spells start with the letter ‘s’. I thought I was almost done like spells ago.)

Sleep — Pretty good rendition, casing drowsiness and slowness to all, but those under 10 hp, save or sleep for real.

Spiritual Hammer – Why memorize this when I can radiant lance each round? This spell is useless. Keep trying, it is iconic. Maybe 2d8, or 1d10 + modifiers or something, hell searing light does 4d6+, so why not?

Sunburst — I was all excited about the new spell “cylinder” yet none of them, like this perfect candidate, even use it. Lets tighten this up people. Ok last spell.

Evil DM has spoken

Turn Undead — I’m sorry this is a spell, but it is also the only Channel Divinity power a cleric can use, so which is it? Please get this off the spell list and into the core description of the cleric WHERE IT BELONGS! (Otherwise it sounds pretty good.)

Thank you, I hope you have enjoyed this review of the preview of the next edition of D&D. Check out my other articles on the subject, they are around here somewhere.

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Continuing my series of articles on the 5/24/2012 Pre-release open play-test for the Next D&D, this article details the specific major changes found in the new rules. I have played the game and written on the subject of the character classes, now I will turn my attention to rule changes, and try to suss out how they work, the intent behind them, and how they were perceived by our first impression playing the game.

It was surprising how many of the rules themselves felt familiar, almost as if they were taken word for word from the various editions published over my thirty year career as a DM for life. Ability scores and their modifiers, for instance, have remained unchaged since 3e, which were an improvement of previous editions by normalizing the bonuses across all scores. It was comforting to find many stable factors of the game, standing like pillars of strength propping up a venerable edifice. New rules (like the shocking advantage/disadvantage rules) really stand out like prized blooms amongst this comfortable garden.

An equally interesting subject is the rules that were LEFT OUT, which could be the subject of a future article. No opportunity attacks, no charging rules, and very lax movement rules in general lead this subject, as we were a group who chose to actually use a battlemat (specifically a flip-mat) while we played. Having invested hundreds if not thousands of dollars into minis, maps, and terrain may give me a certain desire to use — if not a grid — then at least an abstract representation on the table where some general measuring is possible, as well as an indication of where the characters and monsters stand in relation to each other.

Plus, I have discovered over thirty odd years of dming that every player wants a little plastic or metal figure to hold and call their own. Even me and my monsters. Watching a video called something like “I hit it with my axe: Playing D&D with Porn Stars” had the best use of miniatures and terrain. They didn’t worry about squares, but just piled their miniatures onto the table, using books or fake plastic trees or whatever they had to represent terrain. This rules system supports that type of play, and may even encourage it, but the movement rules need to be tightened up by eliminating some loopholes and other missing components. But enough of that, on to a page by page examination of the D&D Next Play-test booklet “How to Play”

Checks, Attacks, and Saving Throws

The three basic interactions with the game world involve using the ability scores, or their modifiers and rolling a d20 against set numbers. This is familiar, but there are some unique permutations of the basic core rule. Contests, for example, involve two (or more) opponents rolling against each other. Saving throws also follow this method, and here we have a huge rule. Instead of sving throws being determined by class, and modified by race and ability score, they are determined by ability modifier, and possibly modified by race, class, theme, or background. The check is made against a static DC. For example, a character might roll a dexterity check with a DC of 13 to take half damage from a flaming hands spell.

Ability scores and their modifiers are a core component of the game since the very beginning. The idea of rolling a d20 is just as sacrosanct, and the rules for making checks, contests, attacks, skill checks, and saving throws all keyed off the ability scores seems a natural and good progression of the game. If I had one area where I would like to see ability score interaction improved, I would like more chances to roll for or against the direct ability score itself, rather than always relying on the modifiers. Lets let our scores hang out in the sun to shine.

Advantage and Disadvantage

Arguably the biggest new innovation of the game is the idea of rolling 2d20 and taking the best or worst of the two rolls based on whether or not the roller has advantage or disadvantage. This is clearly an attempt to confer a bonus to a die roll without resulting in adding more +’s or -‘s to the roll, and I like it. It seems awfully powerful though, coming from someone who watched an Avenger rarely miss from level 1 through 15 during a 4e campaign which had a similar mechanic.

During our short play-test, it was hard to find times to invoke the disadvantage rule, other than when it was specifically spelled out, such as by the shield blocking ability of the dwarven cleric. I tried to use it for flanking, but the wonky movement rules prevented anyone from being flanked or surrounded long enough for any sort of vantage. I lke the idea of alternatives to static bonuses, and especially my biggest pet peeve: bonus-creep, where you end up with being +30 or more to hit, versus armor class of something astronomical. That is ridiculous, and anything that prevents it is an improvement. I hope they also include the idea of exploding dice (d10s becoming d12s) or adding dice (like +1d4) rather than giving a static +4.

Ability Scores

The scores themselves are ironically changed very little, considering how much weight rests on those six shoulders. Dexterity ow includes finesse weapons as well as ranged weapons they modify, and it also includes damage bonus. Constitution plays the main role in providing hit points to the stating character, but is otherwise unchanged. One huge (and disastrous) change is that when gaining a level, the character now rolls his hit die and uses that result OR the CON bonus, rather than adding CON bonus, as past editions did. This is a terrible idea but then the whole starting HP needs work. I am confident the publishers know this and that it will be fixed before release, or hopefully in a new round of playtest material.

For magic using classes, the ability score affects the to hit roll, but not damage (I wonder why,possibly because many spells do things other than damage.) In addition, the modifier determines the spell DC for saving throws against it. Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma are the three magical ability scores, while strength or dexterity are used for the physical attacks. No real surprises at all with ability scores other than their prevalence in the rest of the scheme of things.

Exploration

This section covers time, movement, stealth and perception. Most of it is standard fare, and they break game time down into days (no years) hours, minutes, and rounds, which are defined as six seconds long. Movement rates are basically the same as they ever were, with 25-30 feet typical of most PC races. Difficult terrain costs an extra 5 feet of movement for every 5 feet moved. Typical.

Instead of running, or taking a “double move” instead players can hustle, where they spend their whole turn to do nothing but move, and their movement increases by double. So if you wanted to cross a 30 ft river of mud that is difficult terrain, it would take you two rounds, one one full round of hustling. Doing the hustle is for sure a gay (by gay I mean absurd and giddy, not homosexual) term and I hope they find an alternative word choice. Jumping. climbing, crawling, and swimming rules are also contained, but nothing about flying, burrowing or charging for that matter.

One big change, is that standing up merely takes 5 feet of movement, so if some one is knocked prone, they can stand up, still move most of their movement rate and do a standard action. Being knocked prone is not as dangerous as it once was. The movement rules are very simple and easy to follow, but I worry that without some specific changes, movement will cease to be important for the opposite reason it was important in 4e. In 5e, at this point, a character or monster can basically move anywhere they want with little cost and no threat. The lack of opportunity attacks, the ease of standing from prone, and the lack of any type of “threat radius” mean everyone can run circles around each other and it doesn’t matter. Movement needs work.

Stealth, hiding, and perception are discussed next. I think it is a great improvement to allow some one to just say “I’m hiding” and not even roll for it until some one tries to detect the hide. The benefits of being hidden are that you cannot be targeted and that you attack from hiding with advantage. I am not sure how this makes the rogues’ lurker theme work, since it also allows attacks from hiding to grant advantage. Some editing work needs to happen or lurkers need an improvement to their ambush skill, which seems to be standard for all attacks from stealth.

Perception is a wisdom skill check, little changed from past editions, other than the bit of advice that the player needs to specify where and how they are searching when they use the skill. A character cannot enter a room and make a perception check to find the secret door, they must state “I am checking the walls, looking for cracks or seams” or something like that, and if their is a secret door in the floor or ceiling, they will not find it regardless of the roll because of where they described the search. (OK on a natural 20 I might give it to them anyhow.)

Combat

Such a big heading, but so far the majority of the mechanics changes are subtle tweaks. One re-curring theme of this edition is the attempt to reduce and eliminate “modifier bloat” which I would describe as adding, subtracting, and adding more and more bonuses, until the importance of the bonus begins to outweigh the die roll itself. Not to mention it is annoying and many people are not very savvy at doing simple math quickly in their heads.

(Trust me, as an Encounters DM, I roughly estimate that 60% of the population needs their fingers or a calculator to add three or more to any number larger than ten. And I am not talking just about kids either, who were generally better at least at trying to do the math, rather than some old fogeys who will peer into their phone or watch calculator to add 1 to the 15 they just rolled. Don’t get me going on this one, I am glad what they have done.)

Advantage and disadvantage are one way to confer non plus or minus modifiers to the die roll. (Mathematically they are powerful indeed.[insert formula]) Another way they do this, is by having certain character features grant an “upgrade” to certain die rolls. For example, a warhammer goes from d8 to a d10 in the hands of a dwarf. This is an excellent, subtle way to confer boons, and bonuses without resorting to the ultimately out of fashion and unstylish die roll modifier.

Surprise is handled strangely, in that the DM just decides who is surprised and they subtract 20 from their initiative roll. Thus anyone with surprise should generally go first, but not get any kind of free round. Lame. The DM call is ok, but I still think surprise should have… well, an element of surprise to it. There should be a roll, and those who are surprised get caught flat footed for a moment while the surprisers get a FREE action, not merely the chance to go first. Please fix or do something.

Tanking a turn is written in a vague manner that suggests (and I am paraphrasing both for legal and comedic reasons) “On your turn you can take an action, oh and you can move too if you want.” Only the move rules are so open ended that it literally means one creature can run circles around another on their turn. They also eliminated the minor action in a very handwavey mystical sort of way. “Oh little things are just part of bigger things, like drawing a weapon is part of the attack.” Ok, well, this whole area needs fixing, and it seems like the most glaring issues are not NEW rules or mechanics, but simply MISSING rules and mechanics. For example, there is no way to charge. Huh? Since this article is about new mechanics, I had better skip this whole mess for another time.

When you shoot while engaged in melee, you have disadvantage. Cool. This rule needs to be expanded to say that while shooting into a melee, you also suffer disadvantage. It should also cover the casting of ranged and area affect spells (which it might, but I haven’t gotten that far yet. Personally I believe, and most editions of D&D back me up, that trying to launch an arrow into someone’s face needs to do more than grant disadvantage, it needs to provoke a free attack, just like casting a long complicated spell against some one across the room while a goblin is trying to stab you in the gut should provoke a free opportunity attack or whatever this edition wants to call it. Needs work.

Death saves are in, and they are aweseome. When you die you roll death saves on your (un-)turn. Fail one and you take a d6 of damage. Hell ya, get ready to die! I am imagining the descriptions of character’s life blood draining onto the stone floors of the dungeon like the drool dripping onto my keyboard just thinking about it. Good job with this one, and negative CON (plus level) as the death threshold seems fair, and survivability seems pretty high, considering all healing starts from 0.

Healing is a whole other issue that I don’t want to spend too much tie covering, because it is an acknowledged FUBAR part of the game that is going to change. The hilarity of the current systems is that it is an experiment in extremes. On the one hand, healing while in combat is so rare and costly, that an average first level party might only get a single 1d6 once per day healing spell. On the other hand everyone heals up to full at night and starts each day fresh. This rule flies in the face of the gritty lack of healing available in combat, and practically guarantees a five minute workday, plus it is so unrealistic that the rule is completely laughable. No wound ever takes more than a day to heal completely. No cleric can ever cast a heal spell without it lessening her usefulness to the party. The healing and hit point rules need work. Incidentally, characters also get a short rest, a mechanic similar to healing surge shorts rests in 4e, though it is only once per level per day, rather than the tons of times 4e allowed for. The short rest give a hit die roll plus CON modifier, and it is an ok mechanic.

The conditions are much like many of the latest editions, and the intoxicated condition is my favorite new mechanic, which gives an intoxicated creature disadvantage on attacks, but all damage is reduced by d6. Yay drunken brawls. They always go on longer than they should and there is why.

Equipment, Arms, and Armor

There is little unique or new in this section, but it is impressive for its inclusiveness. The section starts with armor and each type confers an armor class. It is a pretty standard list, with a few exceptional choices, such as banded, or dragon scale, and they are divided into light, medium, and heavy, with dexterity bonus provided in full, half, or none at all respectively. Full plate costs 1,500 gold pieces and is one of the best armors available, with an AC of 17. Strap on a large shield and boom, 19 AC, though no amount of dexterity will help you out, and your movement will be reduced by 5 feet per turn.

The top three armors for their weight class are mithral chain, ringing in at 15 AC + full DEX bonus; Dragon Scale, with AC 17 and half DEX, and finally the mighty 15,000 gold piece Adamantine Plate, with an AC of 18, but forget about dex bonus, you don’t need it.

The weapon list is a little light at 31 different killing tools, especially in ranged weaponry. It is divided and sub-divided into many categories, such as basic, finesse, martial, and heavy, to name the melee choices; Simple and complex are the ranged choices, and the heavy crossbow is the only complex ranged weapon at this time and the only bows are the sort and long bow. Finesse and ranged weapons use DEX bonus for bot the to hit roll as well as damage, just like strength with heavy melee weapons. Actually finesse weapons can be used by either ability of the character’s choice, so they are very versatile indeed, and include the dagger, staff, rapier scimitar and short sword. I completely disagree with the rapier making this list. Perhaps a sabre might be considered finesse, which isn’t included, and neither is the mighty falchion sword, nor tulwar, so the curved sword pickings are meagre, and ill-tough out. A scimitar should also do 18 damage, not the sabre-rattling 1d6 given here.

Leaving aside that I am appalled there is no Bohemian Ear Spoon, instead the pole arm list is reduced to a single choice: halberd. If you include the lance and longspear, that brings us to a grand total of three reach weapons in the game. And there are some other missing weapons on this list, like the broad sword, the javelin, and a few others but not too many of the classics. I am glad to do without the cheesy fantasy weapons (like spiked chain, double axe, etc) but I would like to see shuriken maybe, or even better would be a list of other weapons that fall under one category, like how the PHB First Edition did. In this case it might be Longsword (includes broad sword, katana) for example.

I am glad to see no weapon does more than 1d12 damage, and only three weapons (all 2 handers) do that much: greataxe, greatsword, and maul. In fact, the halberd is the only heavy two handed weapon that DOESN’T do d12 damage! I am just glad there are no great bows, or great other weapons, or those dumb one handed axes that did so much damage in previous editions. Weapons bloat is something I always hated, and it got to the point last edition that if it wasn’t a GREAT something, it wasn’t worth it. I think I had a rogue using a great dagger at one point.

Finally, the last of the equipment section ends with mundane adventuring gear, and here the game really shines. There are 83 items, and each one is unique and inspiring. Manacles, parchment, merchant’s scale, spyglass, tent, etc. Each item has its own description which are brief but flavorful, and may provide cles to the curious reader. The heading for heavy blanket mentions that while it is god for keeping out winter chills, it also quietens the sound of breaking glass. God stuff.

And so ends our journey through the newly released beta version of our favorite game, the “D&D Playtest: How to Play” guide released May 2012. There is one last section of the book, magic and spells, but I am going to save that for another day. I may bundle it with my reading of the DM book, since it is so brief. Anyway, hope the article was helpful, and please check my blog for further reading on this subject and many others.

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Now that I have read the books; gone over them with highlighter and red pen; and played a session with the enclosed adventure “Keep on the Borderlands” I thought I would run down the list of big changes that came along with the new D&D Next Playtest 1 Package.

Before we get to that, the pregenerated characters deserve some time in the spotlight. Having seven players available, the full group! – meant that there were two of each class, with the exception of a single wizard. Everyone had a great time, and everyone found something to love about their characters, and we all tried to get a feel for each class, and its strengths and weaknesses.

Rogue

There were two hobbit rogues in the group, one played by my wife as a sneaky trickster, and the other played by my son as a brash scottish scoundrel. The stand out features of the rogue were that it could treat any roll for a skill it knew as a minimum 10 regardless, and that it was a very stealthy lurker. The idea of being trained in a profession was also appealing to the players, which was one of the benefits of the “commoner” background. The rogue class ability gives sneak attack, an extra d6 of damage per level, whenever the rogue has advantage. The Lurker theme gives the ambusher ability (which really should be renamed to “bush-whacker”) which allows any attacks from hidden to grant advantage (which means rolling 2d20 and choosing the best.) Needless to say, lots of hiding took place, behind trees and each other.

One complaint about the rogue was that they were poor with regular perception, since it was an untrained skill, they were -1 due to low wisdom. A complaint I had with the rogue was that the sling should not do 1d8 damage, that is too high, and likewise a dagger should do 1d4. Its a dagger not a short sword. I loved that they carried a crowbar among other useful tools, and am highly enamored with the equipment list in general, and happy to see each and every item described with its own square of text. Bravo. Hopefully the final release will include tons of sketches and artwork for the various sundry arms, armour, and equipment. The halfling luck was also very useful and flavorful.

All in all the rogue seemed to be highly playable and enjoyable with tons of useful as well as flavorful skills and abilities. If any area needs improvement, it is their skill-monkey list of skills. Having a minimum 10 roll is awesome, but they still need some rudimentary skill training in many more skills to give them the necessary “jack-of-all-trades, master of none” feel that is archetypal of a true rogue.

Fighter

Our two fighters, the hill dwarf brothers Rex and Dex, were hooting and hollering throughout the night, as they carved and sliced their way through hordes of goblins. Having a guarantee damage each turn of their strength mod (+4) whether they hit or miss seemed to be the favorite single trait, which comes from the slayer theme and is known as the Reaper feat. While the players loved it, I thought being +6 to hit at first level is too much especially with a mere 16 strength, optimized and they would be at least +7, I hope that was a typo, because I didn’t see how they arrived at those numbers. That is one of the problems with having pre-made characters and not having character generation rules, which I hope arrive soon. If those are in fact the correct modifiers then they are too high. 7 at first level is laughably too high, and hearkens to the worst of 3e and 4e super-optmization.

It was unusual that with a 14 wisdom and the perception skill granted by the soldier background, the slayers were by far the best secret door finders in the party, or perception checkers in general, with a +6 (skirting the limits of too high for first level, but that’s an argument for another time). For hacking and slashing, they couldn’t be beat. I was surprised to see they went with d12 for the hit die. What will the barbarian be, d14?? Can we bring it down a notch to the more realistic d10 hit dice, where they belong since time immemorial? Even the wizard kept his venerable d4, which we will get to soon enough.

The wizard

The wizard hit dice is d4. That is awesome, but I scratch my head at his starting hit points of 16. Too much! tarting hit points should be 1 or 2 times hit dice plus CON bonus, with 1 hit dice + CON bonus per level, just as it has always been. It works! I think the intent is to equalize hit points and prevent the high HD classes like fighter from streaking away with tons of HP, but I think it is supposed to work that way. 16 starting HP for a mage is too many, when the fighter starting HP is 20.

That said, the player loved every single aspect of the wizard, which seems to be incredibly well thought out and lovingly detailed wth flavor, from the Sage background, which grants the forbidden lore skill as well as the Research ability, to the Magic User (nod to old school) theme which grants arcane dabbler feat, giving knowledge of two minor cantrips (at will spells which are anything but minor) The wizard never ran out of spells to cast, and probably slung a dozen or more magic missiles when he wasn’t trying out other spells. Too many hit points, and also +6 is too high to hit bonus. There is no reason for the extra +2 to hit that the class grants to spells. Why do we need to be +5 to +7 at first level? Cant the players start out at +1 to +3 and build up a little? I think the +2 should be an ability given at 5th level or thereabouts rather than a 1st level class feature. Same with the other attack boosting bonuses. Keep them low for 1st level characters.

As a self-avowed elf-ophile, having grown up on Tolkien, I was satisfied to see the the wizard race described as High Elf, and I wonder if the eladrin is going back to being a High elf, as opposed to a wood, grey, or wild elf. The race had no innate teleportation or overt spell-like abilities, but did have keen senses, granting advantage, ad it mentioned skill with bow and sword, though I saw no evidence of such on the wizard sheet. The Free spirit trait is a good way of describing immunity to sleep and charm, and I like what elves I am seeing so far.

Cleric of Sun and War

There were two different clerics, a war cleric and a sun cleric. Neither of them were very happy with their class, though both classes had some incredibly powerful abilities. First the war cleric, who was a mountain dwarf with the knight background and the guardian theme. So a paladin, perhaps, or a dwarven defender. His prime ability was that when he was fighting an enemy, it had disadvantage against anyone else but him (the new marking mechanic! I like!) His spells were powerful, but it said he got 2, then listed 3 he could use per day. His single healing spell was pathetic, and I hope they make it a minor at will spell, or add healing to the channel divinity class ability,in addition to turn undead. I think that would be a fair trade-of. One use of channel divinity could be a hit dice + wisdom modifier healing to an ally.

The sun cleric had lance of faith as a minor, which was like a divine magic missile that you had to roll to hit, but did better damage. It was cool, and with the exception of the same lack of healing complaint (a single spell per day) the sun cleric was very happy to stay back from the front lines and help out from behind. It suited Bethlehem’s style perfectly. Her class had the background of priest(ess) and the theme of healer, but we didn’t get to see her healer’s skills much other than the spell cure light wounds.

the character classes were well fleshed out and each had a unique feel which was enhanced by the new background and theme packages. The players enjoyed the game, and for the most part enjoyed their characters as well. Clerics need help, they need to be able to heal more in battle. The use of channel divinity for healing would solve this issue, and would also give them a use for it when there are no undead about.

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Lets be frank, Caves of Chaos

Tonight we started playing the new pre-release playtest version of the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons. The company who makes the game has proclaimed a commitment to make the best edition of D&D yet, by incorporating all the best elements of every edition into one perfect system, and they are relying on playtesters to help decide what elements are the best. We aim to do just that.

First up the cast of characters. With seven regular players, the party is made up of two of each class, with the exception of having but a single wizard. There was the mountain dwarf cleric knight Dr House, the hobbit thief Zooby zoo, the two axe dwarves, Rex and Dex, the sun cleric Bethlehem, the other hobbit rogue Hop Scotch, and the high elf wizard Joel Jamariquai. (The actual names of the characters are changed while seemingly for reasons of privacy, forgetfulness is a much more likely cause.)

The character sheets are welled laid out with all the most pertinent information on a single page. All classes but the fighter had a second page which included spells, or other abilities. A lack of a defined skill list was a surprise, ad it takes getting used to, that a skill should point to an ability score check. For example, to use perception to search for secret doors is a wisdom check, which is at -1 for the rogues, therefor they are the worst at spotting hidden things. One of the other classes had a +3 perception, and was very good at it, easily finding some hidden treasure that both hobbits missed.

The other interesting change about the characters of D&D Next is that the skills are generally associated with a background, while the feats are associated with themes. The characters are built as packages” of race, class, background, and theme, rather than the individual building blocks of picking out each skill or feat. It made sense and is one of my favorite aspects so far, but then I am a DM, but it seems to help players by giving them building blocks of a complete concept, rather than sets of abstract unrelated abilities and powers. Holistic approach.

One area that needs work is starting hit points. While at first glance the idea of “Base constitution plus the CON bonus starting hit points” seems to be a fair way of giving a nice big starting pile, but it has its downfalls. The first is that starting HP in no way reflects class, and wizards can and often do have as many starting hit points as fighters rogues and clerics, even surpassing them with a freak high constitution. This is not right. While I can understand the want of having EVERYTHING tied to ability scores, HO should be tied to class, with ability possibly providing modifiers only.

The second reason hit points are just wrong is that by giving the full constitution score as well as the bonus that score provides seems like a double dipping, or double taxation, or even double indemnity, if one had a low con with a negative. A person with 6 Con would have 3 starting HP, while an 18 con would give 22 HP.

My solution is starting HP should be 1 or 2 max HD + con bonus. Leveling should provide a roll of the HD die + CON bous, just like every edition before it, not the weird, roll a ie and take the result OR the CON bonus as it now stands. That is a complication for no real result. I believe the intended consequence is to level the hit points between classes, but that is the wrong approach to take. Fighters should have boatloads of HP and wizards a miniscule amount, and everyone else in between, FROM THE GET GO. I think 4 out of 5 of the playtest PCs have 16 hit points due to all of them having a 14 constitution. Lame.

The Players book rang it at 30 pages or so, and the slender DM book was about 10 pages of mostly useless “advice.” but all told, I had absolutely zero time to prepare the adventure. It was going to be an improvisational first night, but I was used to that, and looking forward to it, actually. Having DM’ed Keep on the Borderlands through various editions over the decades, perhaps as many as a dozen times, I was ready for it, and assumed I could read as we played. That worked out to a certain extent, but the rules hiccups kept interfering.

The other issue was that I could not get a clear print of the map. While I had the original, I am pretty sure the numbering is different, so I had to use the very light, impossible to read map I managed to finally print. I have a no electronics rule at the table, which I try not to breach. I might sneak my kindle fire in for better map reading next week, with its ability to zoom, unlike traditional paper.

Yay fun with game. I am the evil one in red

I gave a brief backdrop: the Keep stands on the borderlands of civilization and the wilds beyond. Forever pushing back against the encroachments of a monstrous wilderness beyond, the keep on the borderlands attracts stalwart adventurers to its walls. They have come there. I noticed there was not much time spent on the keep in the adventure, and instead it pushes them right on into the nearby Caves of Chaos, so I did the same, describing them walking through a ravine whose sides get steeper and steeper.

They came to an area with a cave on either side, and each halfling went right and left. Hop Scotch the Scottish harfoot stumbled through the leaves, and provoked a dozen goblins to come boiling out. 3 surrounded and struck at him with their wood and stone maces, while the other nine spread out with their crude bows. Arrows flew and a few in the party suffered minor damage, before the fighters charged in. Or should I say, they did the hustle, or hustled up to the nearest goblin for some head bashing.

There does not appear to be rules for charging in this editions, as yet. Nor did we find any rules whatsoever for attacks of opportunities. I hope this is because it is an early version, but charging rules are tie honored and essential, while else does a fighter scream wildly and charge the nearest foe?

The fact that there are no movement restrictions due to a lack of opportunities, and coupled with the easy rule that characters can split their move up before and after a standard action, meant that there was a very loose interpretation of most actions during the round. For instance, being knocked prone is not very important, when a player can claim they still had movement left, and can stand back up with their “remaining movement” but I feel like it will be tightened up into a better final form. I firmly believe having standard, move, minor, was too such for a single turn ,but getting rid of the minor was a surprise. I thought they would make it move-or-standard, as per earlier editions. Its like the rules creators are addicted to making us move, but they are doing it for all the wrong reasons. A good charge bonus will get us to move, not a free-for-all

Speaking of lack of opportunity attacks, they should be in the game whether as defined in 3rd or 4th, or as written into specific cases in 1st and 2nd. Nonetheless, moving right up to someone, then away, or gong around them should not be allowed. Their sh9ould be a 1 per character per turn limit on op attacks, and they should be a reaction to moving through protected/adjacent space.

At one point a goblin had disadvantage, because the knight was next to him I believe, and I rolled two natural 20s. The party had a ferocious fight on their hands, and both clerics used their single heal spell. The fact that the clerics each only had a single spell per day was a shock and caused dismay. Most players around the table said it was not worth it to lay a cleric. The fact that one of the “Daily power” heals did a mere 1d6 damage cause outrage by Dave, and still being able to make a melee attack (which he missed) was little consolation.

I believe the intent is to reduce healing while in combat, and to make it more realistic with the binding of wounds afterwards (once per day at first level.) I think I like this mechanic, but a cleric needs to have a small per-encounter heal spell or something. Healing was WAY too limited. I pointed out they could load up on 3 heal spells, but it was met with “meh.”

Another problem I have with healing though it didn’t come up in tonight’s game, if I am reading things correctly is that everyone wakes up at full hit points each morning. This is the furthest deviation from reality or the classic feel yet in my opinion. Grievous wounds should take days to heal if unaided by magic. Healing for a nights rest should be CON bonus +level, possibly aided by a hearty meal or some other bonus giving source.

When there was one goblin left, standing toe to toe with one of the slayers and the scotch hobbit, and he ran off into the cave. I allowed each of them to get a swing, and both missed, so the goblin made it and they were given the option of binding wounds, or chasing after. They followed the echo of the the goblin down a few tunnels and came to a doorway covered by uncured skins. Beyond it they heard a deep voice rumble “Who goes there?

The rogue snuck forward and listened carefully, poking his head in. He heard the goblin say “Invaders at the gate, do your duty!” just as the slayer came screaming around the corner to chop into the goblin through the furs. THe goblin was destroyed, the ogre screamed in rage, picking up his tree trunk, and a hard battle took place in which one of the slayers was knocked unconscious to be healed by the sole healing spell of the sun cleric, and the other slayer came close. The sling stones were also flying, and another disappointment was the apparent lack of rules for firing into melee, or rules for smaller creatures fighting larger creatures.

Big dead ogre, looting the corpse


Also, despite having a huge bag of hit points, the ogre was very dull to play. He should have had some kind of special swing where e can hit two adjacent pcs (which I ad-libbed) or something to make hoim special. It is a tree trunk after all. In fact, it was hilarious to warch the wizard have to decide between being in range of the ogres trunk, or too close to the cave entrance, which cause the hairs on the back of his neck to stand on end. (It was the kobolds across the way watching the fight from their cave entrance, oops!)

It was a great fun time had by all. the biggest problem was getting used to a new game, but it many ways, the game seemed new yet the same. For example, the ability score modifier table is the same as it has been for the past few editions, and it is these nods towards constancy which makes the game comfortable to jump into. However, one of the two things that jarred the most was when something was totally unexpected and new or different from how it was previously done, such as the new way advantage/disadvantage works, or the way healing by clerics is SO INCREDIBLY limited compared to recent editions. (The heal spell should be 1/2 times per encounter, NOT day.)

The other thing that jerked us out of our pleasurable game time were the lack of things we have come to expect: rules for charging to be a prime example of this. The booklets simply lack many common, popluar, and fun aspects of the game. To me, many of these lackings can be attributed to wanting to “loosen up the prison of the battle grid” a good example of which is hand waving movement to break up into before and after the main attack. This sounds fine on the surface, but I am reminded of a certain player who was giddy when he found out that the 3rd edition Scout could do the same, and for the rest of the campaign his one goal in life was to begin and end his turn behind a wall/tree/whatever while darting out to shoot.

If lots of movement is going to be part of the battle environment, then it needs to be supported by common-sense opportunity attack rules, and movement rules that don’t allow for one side to run circles around the other. No one should be able to rn past an enemy without that enemy getting a shot at him, and no one should be able to cast a spell or a ranged weapon when adjacent to an enemy without provoking an attack.

The last rule reminds me that either there weren’t any, or I didn’t understand the firing into melee rules, which really need to be in place ad clarified. I hope the next playtest includes these common and popular concepts that have been around for every edition in one form or another. And really, give the clerics some more healing. They deserve it, especially when going up against ogre’s with that many hit points!

One fnal note, I like the natural 1 always misses, and 20 alwys hits, and crits are just max damae period, which is all ok with me, but I hope they have an optional crit success and fail system, and I hope they develop and expand the critical fail rule to include “mishaps” when rolling more than 10 less than the required success. Die rolls are important and fun, even the bad ones.

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You shall not pass. Ok, you might.

I have been waiting for this moment since our 4th edition Dungeons and Dragons campaign ended not too long after the announcement that there was a new edition in the works. Since then, our little group has experimented in a number of different mini campaigns while waiting for the big public playtest to drop, and today is the day.

By this point, some of the racks in that excellent previous (and still current) game edition were beginning to show through, and I wrote a pair of articles on the best of 4e and the Worst of 4e, that are worth checking out.

Since our fourth edition game ended, we have played the 4e Red Box adventure Twisting Halls, we have played the Black Fang Dungeon adventure out of the Pathfinder Beginner box. We then played in two off the wall campaigns, the first being The village of Hommlet adventure using the Pathfinder Beginner box rules (with updates from the standard Rules) and then finally for the last few months, I have taken our group into a strange world of using my own version of D&D (all the rules from every edition splashing around in my head like some primordial role playing soup) where each of the players plays an 11 year old first year student of Hogwarts School of magi in our every day world at the dawn of world war 2. It has been fun, but I am now going to unceremoniously dump all that aside for our new playtest, which just arrived in my mailbox….

The virtual Unboxing (and lots of printing)

Mike Mearls includes a no-nonsense letter outlining the purpose of the playtest, the format, future and finally the input we are expected to provide through surveys. Thanks Mike, now I move on to the folder containing a number of PDFs. The three core are represented through a long “How to play” a very short “DM Guidelines” and a compact 30 page bestiary. This will be the meat of my preview, as I go through the books with a red pen and a yellow highlighter. It is going to be a late night.

In addition to the play books, the adventure “B2 Keep on the Borderlands” is included, updated for the new addition, which I will go over in more detsail in my next actual play article. Finally there are 5 characters. Each of the 4 archetypes are represented: halfling thief, High elf wizard, dwarf slayer fighter, dwarf cleric melee defender, and human “laser” cleric. Each character sheet which were 1 or two pages max, gave enough information to advance the character to third level. The wizards and clerics didn’t get to pick spells, but had all options chosen for them, as was true of the other classes.

The two clerics each show off the difference between two claric variations using backgrounds and themes. The dwarf cleric has “knight” background and “defender” theme, making him paladin-like in his holy armor and close in fighting, The human cleric on the other hand has the mix of priest and healer, making him much thinner skinned, but able to pump out healing. I am a total cnvert to the new background/theme system after seeing these character sheets, however, it is interesting to note that the sheets include a small note that reads “do not use backgrounds or themes for a more old school feel.” Excellent advice, but I can’t see how anyone would want to give up the cool abilities (besides various bonuses and modifiers) that they have to offer.

Backgrounds concern themselves mainly with skills the character has picked up, and often involve a profession, or official status. The themes are a bit looser, and they are what hands out various feats. The slayer theme, for instance, gives the fighter (or apparently whatever class takes it) cleave as a 2nd level feat. If this means no more going through lists of feats every level then I am happy indeed. Paths, rather than overwhelming numbers of choices during character progression is a good thing. I hope they include rules for replacing or switching out different abilities, as well as creating our own themes and backgrounds. So far so good. I will discuss characters more after we have had a chance to play them. Now, let’s delve into the rules.

Delving Into the Rules — What you need to know to play

It is obvious that this set of rules is pared dwon from the original full presentation, and some basic knowledge of the game is required to know what is going on. The voice of the rules are very reminiscent of red box with a conversational but to-the-point tone. This could change with the final version, but I can already feel a specific voice echoing through the rules, that of the patient older brother perhaps, settling down to explain things one more time. Speaking of the tone and voice, I wish the rules had done a better job of differentiating normal stuff that hasn’t changed much over the years,like the ability score modifiers, compared to huge changes, like using ability scores for saving throws. Major rules changes are often found tucked away between columns of the familiar.

It was nice to read that adventurers could have ability scores up to 20, so I know at least one type of character bloat has been put to rest. Certain monsters and other deities can have scores up to 30. There were no actual character creation rules, but the basics were covered, including definitions for each of the ability scores along with what they are normally used for. Certain things stood out, like the detailed amounts of weight a character can push, pull, lift, or carry depending on the strength score.

Hit points are determined in a strange way. The initial HP are calculated as CON score plus CON bonus. Each additional level, the character rolls their hit die, and adds the total of their CON bonus, whichever is higher. Strange to not add CON bonus to HP which has been around since the beginning. Possibly they are worried about hit point bloat (like fighters adding up to 14 hp every level) but it is a jarring change, especially considering how generous hit points are for first level characters. CON is ok, but also CON bonus is piling on a lttle too much, and I hope they get rid of the bonus for the final rules. Honestly though ,I prefer the 1st-3rd way of doing things. Roll hit die + con modifier at first level and every other level after.

COMBAT
A round is six seconds, initiative is determined individually by rolling d20 + DEX bonus, and a character gets a standard and a move action. Bye bye minor. Really it was too much, but I wish they would have made it standard and move or minor. That would have made more sense than turning any minor action into a standard like they seem to have it now. Gotta keep ’em moving I guess.

Advantage and Disadvantage
I was surprised to find out that these were not static bonuses, but instead, with advantage yo roll 2 dice and use the best, and with disadvantage you do the same and have to use the worse roll. Wow, pretty major change. I think it will work out ok, since the avenger always loved sing the 2 dice method.

Death and dying seemed like a great mix of old and new. I really liked “Death saves” so I am glad they kept them as DC 10 Constitution saves (or checks?) If you pass, you remain stable, if you fail you take d6 damage. Death is at negative CON score + level.

The armor, weapons, and equipment section looked really promising. I like how they broke down armor into light medium and heavy, with dex bonus, half dex, and no dex respectively. The weapon list seemed a little light, bt I liked the damage dice range. No weapon did more than d12, and only a few did that much. Their still needs to be more weapons, the list was too small in my opinion. I did not see the Bohemian Ear Spoon anywhere on the list. The equipment lis was long, with all kinds of inspiring things, with a description of each and every item.

The rules seem like they are ready or mass consumption, and I will continue this article with a Part 2, as I continue to uncover the secrets of the Next edition. Stay tuned.

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Well here I go, lets see how much fortitude I have, there being over 100 monsters in this book. I get a kick reading others tales of their great games and characters of times past, and writing about it too, apparently.

One thing I have been reading on the webz lately is a kind of consensus that the Fiend Folio is somehow lesser quality than many of the core ADnD products. I was frankly shocked to realize this, since I recollected using it often in the early 80s. Leafing through the book, I was re-inforced in my own personal opinion of its high quality, as I could recall encounters using most of the creatures were involved.

To add some objectivity to the experiment, I leafed through the MM2 next, and I had a sense of de-ja-vue 25 yrs, as I sat pondering those freakish monsters in my youth trying and failing to feature many encounters with them, in comparison. The modrons especially. Not all of them, I definitely had at least one cat in my games. But the Fiend Folio was second, after the Monster Manual in usefulness to me. I also happen to love the Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh series of modules, so perhaps I am anglo-philific or something.

Another idea that struck me is that I simply had the Fiend folio before the Monster Manual . I know I had the core 3 first, and that the FF I had was used, but the MM2 was store-bought. I started playing in 1982, during recess at 10 yrs of age, and the first adventure I dm’ed, using the Expert box set was Queen of the Demonweb Pits. Thus began a dming career that lasted until our group broke up in 1989. 2nd edition was just coming out when we split, and our campaign was not diluted by it, but we embraced the Unearthed Arcana era (except for comeliness) and I used basic dnd game elements with impunity. It all went downhill from there…

For the 7 years I dmed 1st edition adnd, we played through one main campaign, a couple secondary campaigns, and literally hundreds of campaigns that would last from less than a session in length to the span of a few months. For each of the campaigns I would compile tables of random encounters which I would keep in a notebook. These were of all types and varieties and helped with my somewhat improvisational nature as a dm – required for a group of PCs who would constantly stray from the path, usually on purpose. Many of these encounter tables featured monsters from the Fiend Folio, such as:

Aarokocra than and now


AARAKOCRA

Has there ever been a better avian race? I think every mountain pass and rocky tor the PCs ever passed were inhabited by some nest/tribe/civilization of aarakocra. Often times the savage battle that broke out when the aarakocra dive bombed the party from surprise would end in dialogue if the party were able to get them to listen to reason. After the party convinced the avians of their good intentions, they would get embroiled with the aarakocra against some evil avian race, which he aarakocra warred against for aerial territory in the mountain passes.

Their connection to eagles was another favorite element to use, including rocs. I always used them as a highly noble race, but also savagely predatory and territorial. They were animal-like in those areas, but had a strict code of honor. Once in a campaign they were used as enslaved warriors and the characters were forced to fight and kill them until they were finally able to save the few who were left, lol. Big favorite and definitely not very rare in my campaigns.

IO have always wanted to update the Aarakocra to 4e, and even at one point sent in an article idea to WotC describing a delve that involved a war between barbaric tribes of Aarakocra and Kenku over the rights to a certain ravine. The Aarakocra were above, and the kenku tribe lived on the ground, forever at war. Needless to say, no response, but I still think that it would be awesome, maybe I will give it a full write-up some time. I just love the aarakocra (and the kenku!)

Updated to add: The aarakocra made an appearance in the Dark Sun Creature Catalog, where they were turned into vulture-men,and lost a little bit of their noble luster along the way, but became pretty cool ferocious dive bombing raptors from the sky.


ACHAIERAI

Ok, i Have to admit this is a pretty hokey looking monster. A bi four legged ostrich type thing or something. They were definitely very rare in my campaigns and I can only remember one time using these monsters. Mechanically they are unique, as their central body and legs have separate hps and acs. The PCs are given the option of attacking either, and if they lose a leg they will attempt to limp away on three.

This set up is really perfect for a comedic encounter. Imagine for a moment getting attacked by a flock of four legged fifteen foot tall flightless flamingos. When they flee they release a toxin that causes insanity for 2 hours for the PCs who fail their save vs poison. As the first one crawls away at 2″mv with only 1 leg left, the other 2-8 continue to attack and some of the party descend into insanity. I seem to remember not using the feeblemind rules but rolling a 1d6 to determine effect, at least one of which was attack allies. Usually my game had too much comedy already, so I didnt go for this approach very often, but at just the right time, this encounter can make a pretty big splash. Especially if you have some appropriate miniatures (blob of pink play-doh on top of 4 toothpicks should do it.) so the players get the idea of attacking the legs. This encounter works perfectly on the edge of a lake, or in a grotto, water should be near, and maybe some wooden bridges or a monastery. Think humungous ornamental guard-birds, that are evil, very evil.

ADHERER

This is one of those wandering monster in the underdark type of thing. I cant think of may times I used these, but I think they were usually as a trained pet or slave, and they would be sent in to “collect the weapons”of the party before the main threat, drow mostly, charged into the now weaponless front lines. the cheese factor of these is pretty high, and there are better monsters able to denude the party of their arms. Their similarities to mummies can often surprise the party, but their similar vulnerability to flame and magic missiles offer hope to the party, and a chance for the wizard in the party to help out the warriors. However the boiling water bit, as far as I know, never was played up. Maybe if I had glue expert amongst my party of players, we might have had some fun with boiling water, but alas.

ALEAX

OK these bad boys are simple and sweet. In a half page, Fiend Folio, tells a dm all he needs to know about how to put an overly self-righteous PC in his place. It is not to be used lightly, or often (unless you want to!) but he Aleax is the perfect one on one duelist for any PC. It cannot be perceived or damaged by any but the intended foe, and it is an exact duplicate of the character you plan on unleashing him against. Even though it says religion, I used him as a manifestation of alignment, and would send him in when some one breached their alignment code under certain conditions. This is slightly different than their description which casts them as aspects of specific deities, but that image of the shining alignment color (er colour…) from which they emerge is just too cool a concept.

The only time I can remember using an aleax was against a low level character, 2nd or 3rd, and it was in an arena environment, so it lost some of its “divine retribution” element, but was still cool. I wonder how many other “mirror-image” type of monsters there are in ADnD?

The two unique features of the aleax which make it an in-exact copy of the PC are its regen and its vulnerability to criticals. The regen especially meant that it was almost always a losing battle for the PC, but at low level a win is possible with some lucky rolling, and the loss is not so terrible with regards to PC wealth. I was never evil enough to unleash one of these on a high level pc, which would be a battle of epic, tragic proportions should it ever occur. I would love to see a head-to head battle between an aleax and an 18th level core ADnD PC.

ALGOID

Hmm. Well, yah, Im drawing a blank here. I can’t say that Ive ever used these, or even really contemplated their use. I went through a phase during our summer-long “underdark campaign” the year Dungeoneer’s Survival Guide came out, 1986. In that campaign I had all sorts of fungal, and especially mushroom underground gardens and forests, but never saw fit to use Mr Algoid here, nor in all the swamps the PCs constantly found themselves in. They fought shambling mounds, myconids, and all sorts of plant people, even a few I made up, but never this guy. I guess his mix of defenses and resistances and vulnerabilities always seemed a little too slap-dash to me. Movin on…

AL MI RAJ

Very rare my left foot! These basically replaced the common rabbit of my game world, and any time a PC would mention hunting for rabbit or what-not while out in the wilds, there was a good chance the party would stumble upon a warren of 2-20 of these who would “attack for no good reason” and much slaughter would occur which would end with uniocorn-rabbit stew. Unfortunately, no PC every took one to become its boon companion, which is too bad, and might have been part of the reason they kept encountering them.

The Al mi raj is just a darn fun little monster, and having each pc attacked by 1d6 of the things is great fun. And I haven’t even begun to make the Monty Python references…

APPARITION

These undead are hard core. They are insubstantial (meaning they cannot harm or be harmed on the prime material) except for the 1 surprise round in which they attack (1-6 on a d6). They attack the character ability scores, and can cause a character to have a heart attack and die on the spot. And they don’t even need to roll to hit. Hard core. They even have 8 hd and an AC of 0 in case a PC manages to get an attack.

It was only as I got older that I discovered a life-long love of the undead. In my youth, I used plenty of undead when I dmed, bu I never experimented with different types than the standard. I can think of all sorts of great ways to use the Apparition now, but for whatever reason, I do not believe I’ve ever used him in the old days. This monster would make a perfect big bad in an adventure through a haunted mansion or something. Part of the quest could be a method to damage him in the ethereal plane. Or even a haunted place festering with apparitions! Shoot, I wonder if these have been updated.

ASSASSIN BUG

Funnily enough, this creature spawned two new creatures in my games back in the 80s, neither of which are as written. The first time the party encountered them, they were much as written, they cam upon a bunch of them in a clearing at mating time or something. i completely changed the egg-laying bit, and just had the females swoop in to deliver a rot grub after a successful attack by the males. The rules for egg-laying are pretty nifty, and span weeks ending with alien-like assassin flies chewing there way out, that was not the type of game we were playing at the time. However, dive-bombing females ready to disgorge a rot-grub into paralyzed flesh was in like flynn!

The idea of assassin bugs was too cool to leave it at that. The picture alone inspired a second type of assassin bug, this one miniaturized and not much larger than a regular fly. It carried a more potent poison (sometimes a needle was tied with magical thread to the bug) that would paralyze the lungs and heart of whoever it attacked. The true 007 style assassin bug.

ASTRAL SEARCHER

No I didnt use this one, in fact I dont think I noticed him at all until now, maybe because there was no picture, but the more I think about it, the more I think hat full page spread two pages back is actually an Astral Searcher. Until now, I thought it was an aleax, but im still not 100 percent sure.

I could see a case made for these lost souls, perhaps while traveling in an extra-planar adventure. Being beset upon by a horde of these fairly weak, yet dangerous monsters would seem apt. I normally shied away from anything psionic after some disastrous attempts to incorporate the 1e psionic rules early on. While these guys are not technically psionic, they have that mentat feel about them. That said, again given the proper circumstances, say while crossing the river styx, or finding a strange island in the astral sea, these monsters would fit. The body-stealing and personality-destroying just creeps me ou a bit. For me, there were always better “astral” creatures than these kill-joys. And the random personality upon taking over a PCs body is just a little too much.

We have broken through the letter A and are now blazing along. Next up is

BABBLER

This simple monster is actually kinda confusing. First of all the name of this beast does it no favors. It is named for its rudimentary language, which sounds like babbling, no special attack or game-able reason for it. next, the picture looks well, uh pretty much like a t-rex. its large like a dinosaur, but only 8 feet tall, so maybe it is more like a velociraptor or what’s this, it spells it out, its like a gorgosaurus which a Google image search confirms. The third confusing thing about the babbler is its description. It sounds like a basic killing machine but the description leads one to believe that babblers lead lizard-man raid. Strange. However, when one considers that lizard men are typically low intelligence, and babblers are average (with high cunning) it begins to make more sense. The confusing nature of the Babbler keeps it from being used to its fullest extent. If you are flipping through the pages for a good monster to use, the babbler will always be overshadowed by the bonesnapper a few pages further in, but its a shame, because the babbler is a pretty spiffy monster.

The babblers were introduced to me in the wandering monster table of U3 The Final Enemy. This “Saltmarsh” series of modules was one of my all-time favorites and I ran U1, U2, and U3 on multiple occasions. The babblers in this module are enemies of the lizard men, who fear them, perhaps because it reminds them of their not so distant past of loving man flesh? Well thought out, but since no party I ever played with had lizard me in the party to detect the babbler, I was able to use their quite excellent surprise sneak attack ability. They are able to quickly and stealthily slither on their bellies up behind their prey and attack “as a 4th level thief” doing double damage AND gaining + to hit. Not too shabby.

I cant remember using them for their intended purpose – leading manflesh-hunting parties of lizard men, which would have been a pretty awesome encounter, I can see it now. A marsh in foggy low visibility weather. The lizard-men brandishing spears and clubs form a loud line, while a pair of babbler slithers to the flanks of the party. The wizard would be toast. Good solid monster. Even its name is not so bad after all, since it gives it some mystery instead of calling it a Slithering back-biter or something equally mundane.

Incidentally the gorgosaurus is a generically average dinosaur in the MM1, though it has a cool picture and includes the chance to roll 7d4.

BAT, GIANT

Wow, this is where the giant bat is tucked away? It seems like MM2 has giant bats, ah yes, the true giant bat the Mobat. The bat presented here is actually little more than a bat of unusually large size. I think giant might be a little bit inflated for a bat with up to 4 hp and a wingspan no greater than 5 feet. Personally I wish these almost useless bats would switch names and be called the mobats, and give the true goblin ride-able giant bats of the MM2 their proper due.

This dwarf giant bat has a couple redeeming factors. For one, it has a 10% chance to give rabies, and also that one in ten are of the slightly tougher 1 hd variety. Pretty blah, but if you ever need to have a bunch of big bats mucking up the place, these are the ones to use. Small giant bats.

A demon out of Filipino myth


BERBALANG

These monsters, these legends of print, date back even before the Fiend Folio, appearing in he british RPG mag White Dwarf, first, and have appeared in every version of the game up to 4E’s MM1. With a huge entry, the berbalangs life cycle is described, including its hidden trance states and its astral projection. This is a weird monster that would be great appearing in one of the planar traveling campaigns. Now that I have the web, I have learned that they are a creature of Filipino myth, and are actually pretty cool.

The Berbalang also benefits from having some of the coolest artwork in the book, both he hovering berbalang in a trance, and the incredibly gory picture of a berbalang devouring the entrails of what appears to be a fallen adventurer, while in silhouette, another berbalang flies off with a captive in its claws. In short these monsters are some bad mo-fos, and the fact that they can be this bad-a$$ and still only 1+1 hit dice means that ay group is fair game.

Be afraid, PCs, be very afraid of the berbalang, he will kill you in his dreams while he devours you in yours…

That’s it for today folks, but I will be back soon with another installment.

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