Posts in RPGs
Jack in the Dungeon #3: The Soul Collector

The latest creature inspired by the great Samurai Jack comes from episode XXIII: Jack vs. Demongo, the Soul Collector. The main villain of the episode, Demongo, is one of the most dangerous that Aku has sent against Samurai Jack to this point. The interesting thing about Demongo is that while he himself is not so dangerous he commands a vast host of defeated warriors and creatures perfectly under his control. Each time he defeats another warrior he adds their soul to his army.

In the episode, Jack tears through Demongo's warriors again and again but because upon death the souls return to Demongo's control he can just send them back at Jack no matter how many times he kills them. Eventually Jack realizes the only way to defeat Demongo is to enter into Demongos soul prison by latching onto one of the defeated warriors souls before Demongo recollects it. Once inside he finds a ethereal-like soul prison, with all of Demongo's warriors kept in a kind of stasis until he calls upon them.

As a one off villain for an episode he's kind of cool. But as a potential recurring villain in Dungeons and Dragons? I think he's absolutely terrifying and awesome. With a few tweaks to keep him from being completely overpowered and a DM to balance his captured warriors strength against the party, a Soul Collector can be a painful thorn in the side to any level of adventurer.


The key to making this guy a lot of fun in your campaign is getting creative with the Soul Prison. A Soul Collector could have literally anything in it's bag of souls to toss at the player. Dinosaurs. Devils. An old friend of the party it hunted down just to spite them. Centaurs. Minotaurs. Anything else that ends in -taurs. Did I mention dinosaurs? The key to making it compelling as a side villain over the long term is variety and scaling up with the party.

I've compiled a few examples of a Soul Prison that scales in challenge a few steps at a time. A Soul Collector could have just one of these sets of creatures or all of them, or literally whatever you want. The Soul Collector can be every monster in one. Have a blast.

Soul Prison 1 - 
2 Kenku (1/4)
2 Winged Kobold (1/4)
2 Bullywug (1/4)
2 Pseudo Dragon (1/4) (50)
1 Mephit Ice  (1/2)
1 Mephit Dust (1/2)

Monsters: 10 (gang)
XP to award: 600 XP (150 XP each)
Difficulty multiplier: 2.5
Adjusted Difficulty Rating: 1500 XP
Encounter Challenge Rating: 4

Soul Prison 2 - 
Centaur (2)
Quaggoth (2)
Minotaur (3)
Were-Tiger (4)

Monsters: 4 (group)
XP to award: 2700 XP (675 XP each)
Difficulty multiplier: 2
Adjusted Difficulty Rating: 5400 XP
Encounter Challenge Rating: 9

Soul Prison 3 -
Gnoll, Fang of Yeenoghu (4)
Cambion Devil (5)
Cyclops (6)
Tyranasaurus Rex (8)

Monsters: 4 (group)
XP to award: 9100 XP (2275 XP each)
Difficulty multiplier: 2
Adjusted Difficulty Rating: 18200 XP
Encounter Challenge Rating: 17

White Plume Mountain in the Realms

I recently ran White Plume Mountain over a weekend D&D bender for my regular play group. It's a very short and brutally designed puzzle dungeon that has a long history in D&D, one of the few modules for the original edition of the game that has been updated for damn near every edition since including 5th edition. The compilation book Tales from the Yawning Portal has seven classic adventures including of course, White Plume Mountain.

While Tales does include gorgeous new art of the mountain and updated traps and monsters it doesn't do much more besides replicate the sparse introductory text used in the original modules to try and give hooks for player characters. When White Plume Mountain was first published stories and cohesive world building wasn't something TSR thought players or DMs cared much about - or if they did they would do that on their own. Fair enough.  Tales itself doesn't bother to give the DM much help bringing the adventure into Faerun, the 'default' setting for 5th edition. In fact it provides exactly one sentence:

Forgotten Realms. The mountain can be placed near Mount Hotenow in the region of Neverwinter.
— Tales from the Yawning Portal, pg. 95

Sounds like a tale from the yaaaaaawning portal amirite?

Being the sort of person who can't be content to not know how and why White Plume Mountain exists in Faerun instead of Greyhawk (where it was first published) I had to explain where Keraptis and his mad lair came from. So let me present to you how I would have written this section of Tales and how I made this mad adventure slot into my personal Faerun campaign.

Step 1) Re-Write the Legend

The module has always come with a "The Legend of Keraptis" page which can be given to the players to provide them with what the general hearsay about this Keraptis character is. Since this adventure is published in Tales from the Yawning Portal and the Yawning Portal is an actual tavern in Waterdeep with a great bar tender I re-wrote the Legend as if he was telling it with some extra Faerunian flavor.

Take a seat by the fire my friends. Mind the well in the center of the floor now, unless ye wish to be facing the Undermountain. But that’s a  tale for another day.

You’re here to listen to my tale of the mountain. White plume mountain.  They say it sits on the land like a boil, somewhere in the mere of dead men south of Neverwinter - ever smoking a white cloud from its peak into the swampy air. It is the lair of the mad wizard Keraptis… or so I’ve been told.

He was once one of the mages of Netheril before it’s fall into ruin. He was known even among the extravagant Netherese magi as a cruel eccentric. He delighted in magically creating new monstrous creatures as well as diabolical magical traps to test them against. But after the collapse of his society, Keraptis had nowhere to indulge his sadistic magical research.

He searched Faerun for a desolate place he would not be disturbed. After a time he retreated into the mere of dead men where he found White Plume Mountain. He burrowed within its rock, accompanied only by his cohort of enslaved gnomes - using them to tunnel out the mountain to his insane desires.

That was over 1800 years ago. Keraptis had long since faded into legend and then into a faint memory, only remembered by the most learned sages of ancient history when the Lord’s of some of the most powerful cities in Faerun received a strange letter recently.

It informed them that one of the most valuable artifacts in each of their royal treasuries had already been stolen. They had been taken into the heart of the mountain and if they wished to have them back they must send a champion - one from each city. The letter wasn’t signed except for a with a large K covered in writhing snakes.

And so each of the lord’s contacted each other and learned of their shared predicament and each in turn elected champions to retrieve their prized possessions. Know that if you too step foot into the mountain in search of those legendary artifacts, you will be merely playing a game devised by a demented 1800 year old wizard for his sick entertainment. Of course if you won, you would be extraordinarily rich… and could maybe pay back your bar tab with a few extra gold dragons for your old friend Durnan.
— Durnan Dryndilstann, Owner of the Yawning Portal

Step 2) Keraptis and the Mountain in Faerun

Next I fleshed out a bit of the historical background for this wizard and where he ended up. He's supposed to be old, even the original adventure has him over a millennia old. In Faerun this lines up pretty well with the fall of Netheril, which happened to be filled with powerful wizards.

Keraptis in the Realms

Keraptis was a Netherese wizard who survived Karsus’ Folly, having already left their floating cities by the time the disaster occurred. Keraptis cared little for the fate of Netheril, only interested in furthering his own magical experimentation. He was particularly fond of magical items, a good number of which “disappeared” when Keraptis left his floating city for good. He fled into the mere of dead men and isolated himself within the lone mountain that rose from the miles of swampland around it.

Keraptis grew sadistic in his isolation. The gnomes he hired to carve the dungeon became it’s first slave denizens. He delights in luring powerful monsters and adventurers into the mountain and trapping them there forever as it’s new protectors.

When Keraptis approached death he undertook the final ritual to become a demi-lich. Keraptis had spent centuries learning every rock and gemstone that made up the interior of the mountain. He placed his soul into those gems, diffuse throughout the mountain making the very earth around his dungeon his body and phylactery. He has absolute dominion over the dungeon and still directs and mentally dominates his minions within it, able to cast spells within at will and even shape new rooms. Keraptis however takes great pride in his current dungeon layout, having used it to sadistically kill and enslave great monsters and heroes alike.

It has been over a millenia since any powerful adventurers have wandered in for Keraptis to play with and he grows bored. So in the year 1493 DR he decided to insight some chaos. He stole 3 magical artifacts, one from each of the largest civilized settlements near him. He took Whelm the Warhammer from Mithral Hall. He stole Wave the Trident from Waterdeep. Blackrazor the Sword was taken from Westgate.

Geography of the Mountain

White Plume Mountain is located deep in the Mere of Dead Men on the Sword Coast, between Neverwinter and Waterdeep.

From Faerun Wiki: “The Mere itself was full of trees, vines, quicksand, and hidden islands, and it was generally covered in fog, making visibility very poor. The bones of fallen creatures were clearly visible throughout the Mere. The water was deep enough that it could be navigated on a flat-bottomed boat, but the dark water and hidden obstructions made that choice dangerous.”

Tales of the mountain and its eternal geyser occasionally make their way out of the Mere by the rare adventurer or lost merchant who goes deeper into the swamp and lives to tell of it. Rumors of a fierce tribe of Bullywug who inhabit the stretches of swampland surrounding the mountain’s base have kept people away - not to mention the will-o-wisps, trolls, giant vermin, lizardfolk, hydras, and doppelgangers that infest the heart of the Mere.

Only the rare sage still know that it houses inside the ancient lair of Keraptis of Netheril.

Step 3) Re-Write the Letter

The final part that I felt needed to be updated was the poetic letter Keraptis sends to taunt the lords he has stolen from. I decided to edit some of the opening stanzas in order to hint at the location of the mountain within the mere of dead men. I have a digital hand out version with a background and a printable version with only text. Printing it on some parchment paper made a great handout at the table. 

So there it is. Hopefully you have a clearer picture of how this dungeon could fit into the Forgotten Realms or maybe it sparked some ideas for how you would do it completely differently. That's the fun of Dungeon Mastering, happy gaming!

Tenser's Tapping Stick

The 10-foot-pole is one of those weird artifacts left over from the original days of D&D. Given the way the game is played today one could be forgiven for not understanding why such a mundane and unwieldy object finds itself in the 5e Player's Handbook adventuring equipment section. Listed simply as "Pole (10-foot), 5 copper, 7lbs" the pole doesn't even get its own description in the more detailed explanation of some adventuring gear. In fact, the only other mention of a 10-foot pole in the PHB is on page 190 where it is mentioned that tapping a 10-foot pole counts as a type of incidental action not requiring an action (like opening or closing a door).

In the old days of Dungeons and Dragons, long before the coming of the 3rd age and the d20 system, skill checks weren't a thing. Traps were dealt with on a less game mechanical basis and tended to have their mechanisms described in clearer detail. For player's to get past these traps, a great deal of careful poking and prodding could be helpful.  The first edition of the game is also notorious for its insta-death traps, deadly caustic slimes lurking out of sight, spheres of annihilation casually hanging out in statues, etc. Hence the 10-foot-pole was found to have boundless uses for the first wave of players in the game.

Due in part to 3rd edition and its "disable device" skill, this style of playing out traps fell out of favor with gamers who didn't want to tediously tap their way forward to avoid trip wires. I think 5e further improves on the streamlining of traps in gameplay with the addition of passive perception to avoid exactly that type of scenario.

And even though I began the game in the 3rd edition era and never dealt with much 10-foot-poling myself, I do have a soft spot for gaming traditions. To honor that tradition and to further play around with the D&D beyond homebrew tools, I bring to you my first spell to be added to D&D Beyond.

Tenser's Tapping Stick

My First Questlandia Experience: The Island Kingdom of Chichazehski

My friend has had this weird RPG he picked up at the Penny Arcade Expo a year or two ago sitting on his shelf, occasionally thumbed through but never played. All that changed this past weekend as my wife and I with two friends sat down and created a new world. A world populated by a spiritual kingdom of anthropomorphic rabbits on a small island where every night the spirits of the dead inhabit the homes they once lived in. Everyday the rabbit people of Chichazehski work, trade, and live together on the island and at night live offshore on floating barge houses so their ancestor spirits may inhabit their homes when the stars come out. If the rabbit-ancestor spirits are not pleased and the proper carrots and cabbages are not sacrificed evil spirits will overpower the ancestors and the world will come to darkness. Does that sound weird enough for you? Welcome to Questlandia.

This is a game where in one single RPG length play session (3.5 - 5 hours) you and your friends create a setting for your RPG together. Players are prodded along by initial die rolls and card draws (more on that later) which give them some starting points to build the world from. We rolled that that in our setting, the kingdom had a religious or philosophical focus. Further card draws and dice rolls suggest character types and motivations for the player character's that will inhabit this new world. At our table this yielded results like a laborer driven by honor, a high priest bound by tradition, and a miscreant shunned by the community.

These broad archetypes are left up to the players to develop into a character with a name and a history. Here again the game assists with small mechanics in the form of traits (mine were commanding and grouchy) and weaknesses (prone to lashing out in rage).  During the setting and character creation process, players also pick aspects of the game world to have creative control over. Input and ideas can be taken from all players, but in their own respective areas the owner has the final say in answering any questions about the setting. For instance, I chose to flesh out the high rabbit priest and so took control over the aspects of the setting which determined the nature of our kingdom's religion. Other players were concerned with the geography or social aspects of our world. In this way every player can feel personally invested in the world you are playing in.

Once the world and characters have been created play proceeds scene by scene from person to person. On your turn you are the protagonist. You decide where your character is, who else is there, and what they are going to try to do in order to move closer to their character's personal goal. The remaining players, if their character's are not involved in the scene, can play other NPCs who may be present or provide commentary and ideas as the scene progresses. No stats or dice resolution come into play during the scene, player's simply role play out the proposed scenario with the game suggesting that non-protagonist players behave with the same mindset that a DM does in D&D. Keep the scene fun for the protagonist, feel free to challenge them, but don't directly veto or contradict them unless you feel it is crucial to the story being told.

Once the protagonist player calls for resolution to the scene, dice are rolled by the protagonist against the opposition forces. How many dice you get to use depend on how relevant the scene was to your characters traits and goals in addition to relationships with other player characters. The dice are rolled and compared with positive or negative story results doled out based on whether the protagonist player or opposing forces rolled higher. Positive results take the form of mastering obstacles, gaining character traits or boosts, or improving your relationships with other characters. Failures comprise reversals of fortune, a worsening or broken relationship, or even a general swing for the worse on the level of the entire kingdom.

In Questlandia, everyone gets 3 of these scenes where they are the primary protagonist. With 3 chances to drive the plot of the world and your character forward there is a good deal of potential for pushing through character arcs and seeing some growth even in a one session game like this. Our group had a lot of fun not only coming up with scenes when we were the protagonist, but in playing many NPC's who flit in and out of other player's scenes. I'm looking forward to playing again and developing a new world every time that can be as light hearted or as serious as the players call for.

It was a ton of fun rotating characters and playing different NPCs for each scene. In our game it turned sometimes into a comical Greek chorus with people chiming in as various faceless merchants and villagers. After the first few scenes we seemed to settle into how the game worked and it resulted in a lot of fun role playing. In a way, Questlandia feels more like an improvisation game with a formalized set of rules than it does a role playing game with a heavy emphasis on role playing.

That's not a bad thing, by any means. I like having a crunchy strategic system to dig into (I am a BattleTech player, after all) but Questlandia was refreshing in its insistence on constant improvised role playing. It felt like great practice for the DM's chair or role playing in any other system on top of being a ton of fun in and of itself. I've ordered a copy of the book for myself and plan on taking it out with more casual game players as a great step-in to the world of role playing.

If you want to check out Questlandia for yourself, it's available in pdf or paperback here:

Part of the creation process is drawing a map as a group, and adding to it as the game goes on. Here is what our group ended up with.

High Rabbit Priest Phavrecha

High Rabbit Priest Phavrecha

Shadow Spawned Kobolds

In the deep black of the lowerdark where no light has ever touched, dark portals and strange magic lead to the twisted nether-realm of the Shadowfell. It is where the most evil of dragons take on the twisted form of a shadow dragon and where their legions of shadow kobolds are spawned...

Ahh, yes. The lowly kobold. They have been a staple of D&D since before I ever picked up the game. They're typically craftier than goblins or orcs and love to put clever little traps in their lairs, proving a fun challenge for adventurers just starting out. With a challenge rating of 1/8 however, they very quickly stop being much of a menace unless they're met in excruciatingly large numbers. I say excruciatingly large because they stop being threatening unless you throw them in such large numbers you risk bogging the game down in boring combat.

I recently picked up my copy of Volo's Guide to Monsters and really became enamored of the little buggers, but presented as is they have almost no chance of seeing play after the first few levels of a campaign. The shadow spawned kobold is my attempt at kicking the basic kobold up a notch. I wanted a kobold that was more cunning, sneakier, and with a hint of supernatural flavor that would throw more experienced adventurers off their guard.

The shadow kobolds are bred in the Shadowfell by their shadow dragon masters, the few of which exist in Faerun stay in the darkest deepest crevices of the earth where their power is strongest. Like any dragon worth his scales shadow dragons want minions to gather them gold and information. In the dangerous and wild underdark, standard kobolds simply don't make the cut for a mighty shadow dragon's needs. Given the natural respect and awe that kobolds hold dragons in, it wouldn't take any coercion at all for a shadow dragon to lead a tribe into the shadowfell and twist it's new minions to the shadows.

Sneaking in from the shadows come these fierce new kobolds:

Jack & The Dungeon #1 - Beetle Drones
Scaramouch the Merciless

Scaramouch the Merciless

Samurai Jack is an excellent cartoon that ran from 2001 to 2004 on Cartoon Network. It was recently resurrected by it's creator for an also excellent (so far) conclusion to the original story. One of the many things that makes Samurai Jack so good is the huge variety of original creatures and characters that Jack encounters throughout his journey. From the talking dogs with british accents in episode 2 right up to the musical assassin Scaramouch the Merciless in the first episode of the revived series Samurai Jack is packed to the gills with awesome characters.

While re-watching a bunch of classic episodes in the lead up to the new season I realized that nearly all of the episodes play out like D&D encounters for a party of 1. Jack must contend with alien monsters, bounty hunters, devious puzzles and traps, and magic items of all stripes. All in the name of an epic quest to rid the world of the god like evil sorcerer Aku. Jack even travels into the belly of a dragon in an attempt to heal it and save a nearby village. How's that for a D&D-esque narrative?

With all of this in mind and armed with the Angry GM's excellent series on monster building in 5e D&D, I have set forth on my own quest to translate the monsters and magic from the world of Samurai Jack to the world of Dungeons and Dragons. I think it will be great DM exercise to deepen my understanding of the 5e mechanics and hopefully churn up some fun monsters and items for myself and the D&D community at large to have fun with. 

This series isn't intended to teach you the gritty crunch of monster building, the Angry GM (and others) have already done a great job of that already. Through this series you can see my process for transforming narrative characteristics from the screen into game mechanics for the table. That way the next time you see a creative monster in a movie or TV show you can feel empowered to make a stat block and throw that thing at your players so you can enjoy watching them squirm against a new unforeseen foe.

For the first installment of this new series I decided to start with the first of Aku's future minions that Jack has to fight: the Beetle Drone.

Samurai Jack fails his Athletics check.

Samurai Jack fails his Athletics check.

The beetle drone is the basic foot soldier of Aku when Jack arrives in the future. In Episode 2 and 3 an army of them is sent to wipe out the aforementioned group of rebellious talking dog archaeologists. We see them running up and down vertical walls and steep inclines perfectly, using tactics of grappling and surrounding their target.  So how did I start translating that into a D&D monster?

First I tried to identify what were the obvious narrative characteristics of these creatures that separate them from any other generic minion. Here's what I came up with:

  • They attack in swarm-like groups, working together to surround their prey.
  • They are proficient grapplers, managing to hold even the mighty Samurai Jack a round or two.
  • The beetles move fast in addition to being able to scale vertical walls.
  • They are mindless hunter/killer drones, following a mission objective to completion or destruction.

As the Angry DM suggests I started by sussing out the Challenge Rating. We can see Jack ripping through these things like butter. Aku clearly has a ton of them at his disposal, but they don't have much functionality beyond hunting targets to either retrieve or kill for Aku. So that means I want to be able to send them at players in groups, at lower level parties in smaller squads of two to six and against higher level players in waves. They also don't need to be smart or charismatic, but have a reasonable wisdom score to perform their jobs as hunters as well as good physical stats, particularly strength.

At the same time, they aren't pushovers. Against normal human beings (or aliens, or weird dogs) these things would be efficient hunters for Aku. From the combat ability they display in the show, one could imagine a single beetle taking down a few goblins before they bring it down. Given all that, CR 1 was the natural place to set the bar.

Monster Traits in 5e can add narrative flavor to a creature and I used three here. Spider Climb, Pack Tactics (renamed Swarm Tactics, because it sounds cool), and Grabber. Spider Climb gives them their sweet wall scaling capability, so they can come down a hall full speed on the ceiling Aliens style. Swarm Tactics represents their method of surrounding a target as a unit. To represent their high speed, I chose 35 feet for land and climbing. Why 35? Because it is one square faster than most humans can move in one turn. Round after round they close slowly on their prey. When they do they can capture them using the Grabber trait, which states that if both their claw attacks successfully hit the same target, it becomes grappled by the beetle.

Now for their attack. These things are armed with 4 bad ass scythe arms. Giving them a multi-attack of 4 would bring it's offensive CR up and make them more lethal than I intend them to be. Interestingly enough, in the show they only ever seem to strike at Jack with 2 blades at a time. So two attacks per round. I modeled the damage off of the Sickle, for 1d4 damage. However, they're quite strong at STR 16 meaning each sickle is dealing 4 - 7 damage or 8 - 14 if both hit, triggering the Grabber trait.

On the defensive side, they're relatively easy to hit even at low levels with an AC of 13 but they have enough HP to soak a few hard blows from low level players. This is in line with the DMG suggestions for a CR1 creature for AC but the HP is dropped down to account for Swarm Tactics and the creatures high strength bonus to damage.

To further emphasize their role as hunters I gave them proficiency in Perception and Athletics for their skills. Perception to help sniff out enemies, of course. With an Athletics of +5 they have some serious bulk to throw around in the grappling department. 

But what use is this kind of creature in D&D? Imagine a wizard too busy with his research creating a pack of clockwork beetle drones to retrieve rare magic reagents he needs for spells and potions. The adventurers traveling the woods come across a pack of 6 beetle drones swarming around a growling Owlbear. Even as it rends one apart with its beak the others move in behind it methodically bringing it down with insectoid bladed arms. Carefully, almost surgically, they begin prying off its beak and removing its eyes before scuttling straight past the players ignoring their presence. If the party chooses to attack and are at a low level, one or two of the beetles peel off the pack to engage while the others return to the tower. At higher levels, maybe they trigger the two dozen beetles held in reserve to swarm out like an angry ant colony. That might cause a few conversations around the campfire that night.

I hope you found this useful, it was a fun exercise trying to translate something from screen to statblock. Feel free to steal this, tell me its garbage, or come up with your own version. As for me, there will be more Samurai Jack inspired creatures to come!

First Impressions: D&D Beyond Beta Phase 1
Update: Curse has responded to early critique of D&D Beyond in their "Beta Report - The Morning After" thread including most of what I wrote here.

The very first portion of Wizard's of the Coast's fancy new digital tools to support DMs and players is out now as a beta to anybody who has a account to log in with. The decision to require a Twitch account in order to use the service has ruffled the usual feathers one would expect over at Reddit. For people who don't watch any streams on Twitch but do play D&D and want to use the official tools it seems like a strange hoop to jump through. However, It is a move undoubtedly tied to the fact that Curse is owned by Twitch and WotC has partnered with Curse to produce D&D Beyond. I do use Twitch pretty regularly so this doesn't bother me, but I can see someone else asking, "Why do I have to get an account with this streaming service in order to use D&D tools?"


Beyond is split into 5 sections at the moment and contains only the content that is currently available for free in the SRD and Basic Rules that have already been put out. In this stage of the beta (which WotC has promised to roll out in 3 "phases" over the next few weeks) Beyond has five different sections:

1. The Compendium

This section of Beyond which contains all the rules for actually playing a game is what needs the most work to me at the moment. There is no way to search through the text of the rules. The table of contents is broken into categories and than organized alphabetically, which is useless. Right now, this part of Beyond is sadly just a worse version of something like the Roll20 compendium. Honestly, I hope this is placeholder for a better system coming down the pipeline.

2. Spell, Item, and Monster Lists

Thankfully, these sections feel much better developed. These types of searchable databanks are directly in Curse's wheelhouse and it shows. Each section is categorized logically and easy to search and filter.

Players will be able to search through spells by what type of attack or attribute save they use, spell level, casting time, duration, range, and additional tags such as "control", "summoning", "utility", etc. Easily, this is already the best interface I know for a player leveling up who wants to browse through what they have available to them - if not for the pesky fact that this currently is missing spells not in the Basic Rules. The items are similarly sortable in the same manner.

As a DM the most useful section for me right now is the monsters. Sortable of course by name and challenge rating but also by type, size, alignment, and the environment they  are most likely to be found in. For bringing up stat blocks on the fly during a game this would be an invaluable tool for me. The less time flipping back and forth between pages of the monster manual the better.

3. Forums

Suddenly, it makes a lot more sense why WotC shut down their official forums in 2015. The 5th edition had already been released and being reviewed quite well when they made that decision and it puzzled me somewhat. Well, now we have new official forums and they've been moved under the umbrella of D&D Beyond. Not much to say here, other than to note that these are now the "official" D&D forums.

What's missing?

As far as I can tell this thing is only accessible through the web right now. Why they don't have Android and iOS versions available right now makes me a little nervous about how they're coming along. It's a strange for something that is billed as an "app" showing it's use on smartphones and tablets in marketing material only to have the first impression of it through a website.

Other than that, the most glaring omission and what players and DMs alike are hungering for is a well supported and intuitive character creation program. We have been promised this will be coming in Phase 2 of the beta for us to check out. What we've been given so far is such slim pickings that I suspect this Phase 1 test was largely to see how their servers would respond to the load. There are tons of creatures from the Monster Manual/Volo's Guide to Monsters along with Spells from the Player's Handbook that really need to be available before I can evaluate Beyond as a real tool I can use.

The interface for spells, items, and monsters is on point for the functionality I want this app to have. However, until we see a pricing model for the full content of the Player's Handbook and Monster Manual I'm still skeptical. The basic rules compendium is less useful than 3rd party implementations of the exact same content and the forums are your standard forum that's been in use for decades now.

I realize this is a beta right now but I'm not too impressed. I am very open (and hoping) that that changes in the future, there is a lot of potential packed away here. Wizard's has been bungling their digital tools for one reason or another since 3rd edition - I want this to be the time they nail it.

The Medium Rest

"Rest and Recovery", Eva Wildermann

In Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, there are two kinds of rests that your players can take. There is the "short" rest and the "long" rest. Each one is defined not only by the its mechanics but how it integrates with the role playing and story being told at the table. First, let's break down how the rules define both of these aspects of the long and short rest.

Mechanically, a short rest must last 1 hour at the end of which they may spend dice from their remaining Hit Die pool to recover 1 HD + Con Bonus in Hit Points. No HP is recovered "automatically" in this process, Hit Die must be spent. They can be taken 1/hour, so basically as often as the players and DM wants. In terms of role play, the character can do nothing "more strenuous" than eating, drinking, reading, or tending to the wounds of themselves or allies. 

On the mechanical side of the long rest must last 8 hours in total length, at the end of which the character recovers 100% of their HP and 1/2 of their total Hit Die pool.  In addition, most spell casters will recover all of their spell slots and be able to prepare a new list of spells. For the narrative of a long rest the characters must sleep for 6 out of the 8 hours (unless they're an elf) and during the 2 hours of wakefulness may only perform "light activity": eat, read, talk, and stand watch. If they do anything the PHB refers to as "strenuous activity" (1 hour of walking, fighting, casting a spell, or "similar adventuring activity"), the long rest must be started over in order to gain any of its mechanical benefits.

The short rest as it stands works fine for my games. Hit Die are a very finite resource as are most of the class abilities that recover during a short rest. My problem stems from the long rest. Mechanically, a long rest will takes a character in nearly any condition and bring them to perfect fighting condition. At worst, they will be missing 1/2 of their Hit Die. The reasoning for this is described in the DMG on page 267 where it states: "The rules for short and long rests presented in chapter 8 of the Player's Handbook work well for a heroic-style campaign. Characters can go toe-to-toe with deadly foes, take damage to within an inch of their lives, yet still be ready to fight again the next day."

To their credit, they knew that this would feel a little too easy for some DMs and players so they provide a "Slow Natural Healing" and "Gritty Realism" variant on the resting rules. With the Slow Natural Healing rule, no HP is recovered after a long rest - it may only be recovered by spending HD. Gritty Realism tweaks the time each rest takes. A short rest becomes 8 hours while a long rest becomes 7 days. Seven days! They acknowledge "this puts the breaks on the campaign" and recommend it only for campaigns where combat is rare or to be avoided.

Neither of these address what really grinds my gears about the long rest rules. I dislike how incredibly powerful it is at healing characters in any environment but I don't want to introduce rules that simply make healing take forever. My players and I still want a game with a fair amount of combat. These variants and the standard short/long rests leave out an important factor that if taken into account solves my problems. That factor is the quality of a long rest, not simply whether or not you have a place to lay down for 8 hours.

Sleeping in a dungeon with roaming monsters on a hard stone floor with one eye open looking for danger would be significantly less restful than sleeping in a warm bed in the heart of Waterdeep surrounded by guards. The way I perceive it, the long rest described in the PHB represents near ideal resting conditions. A warm fire, low to no chance of being attacked in the night, and at the very least a bedroll to sleep on. What about when they try to sleep in the heart of Neverwinter Wood with the sounds of hungry predators prowling about the camp?

I wanted rest mechanics that more closely represented the role play aspects of trying to sleep in some forsaken tomb. In the style of D&D I prefer to run I don't think you should wake up feeling incredibly refreshed in a dungeon. It has to be difficult trying to catch some Zs on a slab of ancient granite hundreds of miles from the nearest inn knowing there are liches or worse going bump in the night. I could force the issue by simply throwing monster encounters at them every time they try to sleep in a dangerous area or restrict them to short rest but those solutions feel cheap and "gamey" in an unappealing way to me. It also fails to really address the problem of 100% health restoration after a long rest in the dungeon that makes the game a bit too easy for my taste.

Hence, the "medium" rest.

The medium rest lasts 4 hours, 1 of which may be spent on light activity. At the end of the medium rest, a character regains 1/4 of their HD (minimum 1). In addition, they recover their level in HP and may choose to spend HD in the same manner as a short rest. Only two medium rests may be taken in a 24 hour period, they may be taken back to back. Class abilities which may be used on a short rest may be used during only one of the two medium rest periods.

This represents the characters stopping to quickly patch themselves up and catch an hour or two of shuteye as best they can. With these rules taking two medium rests is always worse than taking a long rest and it will gradually wear the party down creating a more dangerous tension the longer they stay in a dungeon. Eventually, they will have to find a safe haven or create a very secure area through magical means or otherwise in order to get a long rest. My hope is this will encourage some creative thinking from the players as they look for ways to create a safe haven for themselves.

I'll be testing this out on my players in my ongoing Princes of the Apocalypse campaign and I will report back in after a few sessions and we'll see if it's working at all as I hope it does.

How I Got Into Battletech

My first encounter with Battletech was listening to the excellent podcast Fear the Boot a few years ago. They described some of the encounters they had played through in this feudal sci-fi universe dominated by corrupt nobles and 100 ton walking tanks. Despite having spent a fair amount of time playing tabletop games and hanging around game stores I'd never heard of it before then. Maybe you've never heard of it either.

That is because Battletech as an Intellectual Property has a long strange history involving copyright disputes and changing hands between companies nearly half a dozen times over the course of more than 30 years. It hasn't been incredibly popular since it boomed in the late 80s, being overshadowed by other games and eventually all but disappearing from local game stores. I was able to find one store in my area that carried the books, but no store I have been to carries miniatures.

Even if you've never heard of Battletech, you may be more familiar with things like Gundam, Pacific Rim, Voltron, Evangelion, or any one of a million movies or TV shows that feature pilots flying humanoid robots with awesome fire power into battle against the backdrop of a corrupt political system. So when I heard about this tabletop RPG called MechWarrior that had a fully fleshed out tactical mech combat game to go with it I knew it was love. If any of what I described sounds right up your alley, I suggest listening to Fear the Boot #374 for a great primer on the game and setting.

Once I knew about the game I started diving in headfirst, picking up the starter box of miniatures and basic rules. While waiting for that and getting my miniatures painted I started pouring over the truly breathtaking wiki. The timeline of the game's lore is vast. We're talking from the 2500 A.D. up through the 32nd century and it is jam packed with war and technological development, alliances and betrayal, terrible deeds and great heroism. It is the perfect setting for both RPG campaigns and detailed wargaming campaigns.

The only "warning" I give, perhaps less of a warning and more to set your expectations appropriately, is that Battletech is a human focused science-fiction. It is not a space opera. There are no aliens, nanotechnology, nothing akin to the force. The technology they have is gritty and mechanical. This isn't Star Trek where you can zip from star to star at Warp 9, it is a setting where making a jump to another star takes a great deal of time, calculation, and fuel. Think more like Battlestar Galactica's style of ship and you are on the right track. Then imagine that the Galactica could deploy two dozen mechs from low orbit.

If you like sci-fi but you're not keen to play in a Star Wars, Warhammer, or a more Cyberpunky game like Shadowrun I would implore you to check out Battletech. It's an old game, but there is a reason it still has die hard fans and still puts out products. It fills a niche not a single other game I have heard of can fill in.