Wednesday, September 30, 2015

5e official retcon - our experience

My last post talked about the 5th edition retcon situation.  I will take a few paragraphs to share our experience since restarting the campaign with 5th edition.

The shield spell has been the most common retcon.  I have two characters who can cast it (wizard and multi-classed paladin-sorcerer).  My first concern was me remembering from game to game to behave differently when player characters are about to be hit.  This has not been so much a problem, I am learning.  Seems whenever those two PCs are about to be hit by something the shield can affect, I successfully pull of the "it looks like you will be hit" or some such phrase and then sit silent staring expectantly at the player for a few seconds.  As I had hoped my players did 'get' it fairly quickly.

No player has so far taken the Lucky or Defensive Duelist feats, so I don't have experience there.  Therefore I have not needed to change my rolling behind the screen preference.  Also, my players roll their own d20s in the Cone of Fate when they should not know the outcome.  For example, if I do not want them to know how stealthy they are... or are not.

The most challenging play so far has been the wizard, who is a diviner with the portent feature.  So now any attack roll, saving throw, or ability check is fair game for a retcon.  The first few sessions had some awkward moments.  I first erred by simply saying the outcome, only to be corrected by the diviner who said differently.  Next I spent way too much time staring expectantly and then have nothing happen.  I eventually settled in to staring expectantly only when something 'big' is happening.  I let the little things go by and they rarely get corrected, and mostly the corrections happen when a player makes a poor roll and the diviner sees it differently.  These small amount of retcons does not seem to be busting our immersion, especially since the wizard only gets two d20 pre-rolls with each long rest.

So far so good, retcon is not making our game less fun.  On the contrary, the shield spell is making them less risk averse, and the portent feature has been jolly good fun when worrisome moment gets quickly turned to a sigh of relief and cheers.

The dice never lie.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

5e official retcon - what you thought happened did not really happen

For some spells and other features D&D 5th edition employs a sort of retcon capability for creatures to be able to potentially undo, or make not happen something which has otherwise apparently happened.  This edition is not the first to make use of this as a capability. I am not really going to argue for or against having this in the game (that has been done quite adequately around the interwebs), but rather talk my struggle with making it flow smoothly.

Possibly the most familiar example of this to most D&D 5e players is the Shield spell.  As a reaction which you take when you are hit by an attack or targeted by the magic missile spell, an arcane spell caster can fire off this spell. In the case of an attack the result is your armor class goes up 5 points which might have the attack, which was just described as a hit, be a miss.

In the past as DM I may have described the following: "The ogre grunts as your spell burns his filthy hide.  He turns and hurls the crude spear he was clutching directly at you," rolls a d20 with appropriate damage die behind the screen, "although you turn aside to avoid the spear you are not fast enough, you take 8 points of damage."

With the retcon capability I should probably say instead, "although you are turning aside to avoid the spear it looks like you will not be fast enough....."

Then what?  OK, so D&D is a game and sometimes we have to metagame.  However I would prefer to stay in game as much as possible.  I could say, "Do you have a reaction to take, or does it hit?"  Ugh.  That sucks the life right out of the immersion faster than a vampire dining on a red shirt NPC.

How I am trying to handle it is to metagame the first few times with a player and after that not remind them they have that option and just assume they will jump in and use their ability when I give them the pause.  How long do I pause without wasting time an making the whole thing look silly?  I finish with "it looks like you will be hit" or some such phrase and then sit silent staring expectantly at the player.  I hope my players will 'get' it fairly quickly as I do not relish the stare expectantly DM action.

The next challenges are to remember to change my behavior and state the expected hit, and to come with lots of different language to use so I am not repeating the same tired phrases.  I suppose the latter is a variation of the same problem we DMs have when trying not to say, "it hits you for 5 hit points of damage".

I have not figured out all the possible retcon capabilities.  In addition to the Shield spell, I can think of the wizard divination school roll substitution reaction and the Defensive Duelist feat as two other examples.  I am certain there are many more.  So it is not just doing this with wizard, it is doing this on any roll - and with the divination feature as an example a clever player might use this feature in unexpected ways and not just when a monster attacks a player.

Then there is the Lucky feat which is just..... lucky.

Now I may have to reveal rolls I normally choose to keep hidden.  I suppose that could be a whole post on its own, whether to keep roles hidden.  I will summarize by saying I rarely if ever fudge rolls, so that is not why I keep my rolls private.  It is more to keep the metagaming to a minimum.  I do not want the players calculating monster to hit bonuses and figuring out possible max damage based on me showing dice.  And now in some of these retcon cases, a retcon is not automatic success.  In the example of Shield spell, I only want them to know they could put up a Shield but not to calculate in advance to know for certain if it will be beneficial.

Since we have limited experience with 5e, no player in my game has taken the feat yet.  So I have not crafted a strategy to handle that yet.

What others retcons are there out there in 5e?  How do you handle it? Any good suggestions for keeping things in game and fresh?

The dice never lie.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: Detect Magic

One of the staple spells in D&D is detect magic.  When I first read the new spell for 5E I did not really dwell on the changes.  But, after seeing the players use it in action, I really like the updated version.

Way back in 1E, lower level wizards in our game rarely consumed a coveted spell slot
with detect magic when they were out adventuring.  With so few slots available, you loaded up on reliable party saving spells, or escape spells.  That means when gathering loot, you grabbed everything you could that might even remotely have the chance of being magical and sorted it all at in the safe confines of whatever you called safe confines. There, without the constant threat of annihilation you felt marginally safe using up spell slot on detect magic and hoped for the euphoric moment of discovering the party had indeed grabbed the right stuff.

With the addition of cantrips in 3E, detect magic could safely be used in the field.  Of course there were the complications as everything in 3E had complications.  You needed to build your spellcraft skill to keep a high success rate.  However, if you took a few rounds you would learn not just whether there were magic items, but how many, where, how strong and what school.  If you wanted to hide you magic items there was still the old stand by various thicknesses of various materials but barring that, you pretty much found all the magic items if you cast the spell.

I never gave the changes between 1E and 3E too much thought until I saw the 5E detect magic spell in use.

For the duration, you sense the presence of magic within 30 feet of you. 

I take this as you just 'sense' that magic is within 30' of you in any direction.  You would not know the direction, just sense the existence/presence of magic within 30'.  You would not know the number of items, or even the relative strength.

If you sense magic in this way, you can use your action to see a faint aura around any visible creature or object in the area that bears magic, and you learn its school of magic, if any. 

Key word here is visible.  If you do not see it, you would not see the aura. I like this so much.  You would still have to search for the magic item which you sensed.  This brings the other players back into the game.  Sure, you might find clever ways of narrowing the search area using some geometry and such.  But just having the item obscured by a floor board, a closed cabinet, a locked draw, you name it - keeps the search in 'searching for treasure'.

The spell can penetrate most barriers, but it is blocked by 1 foot of stone, 1 inch of common metal, a thin sheet of lead, or 3 feet of wood or dirt.

This section refers back to the sense statement.  If there is a visible barrier of this sort, you certainly could not see the item anyway.  I like that they remain consistent with earlier editions in this way.

Low level 1E kept the search in by simply making spells rare.  I like that detect magic can be cast as a ritual, and like even more that simple change in language which keeps the search in the game.  It definitely gets my DM juices flowing with ideas.

One interesting point, as I tried to look up the school of magic for the potion they located, I did not find one.  Not sure if I am supposed to extrapolate that, or, as implied by the spell (if any) not every item/object will have a school.  Until I learn otherwise, I am going with the later.

The dice never lie.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: Web Tools

Strictly speaking, the task of converting tools is more about restarting a campaign than it is about 5th Edition.  Let me tell you about our web tools.

Previously we had used Yahoo Groups as our primary web tool.  If communication was
the only thing we did on-line, we would be staying with Yahoo.  Alas, Yahoo has fallen behind the times.  They have made little to no investment in Groups, and what changes they did make I felt were detrimental.  

After research different options, wikis, gaming sites, etc. I decided to move to Google Sites.  Partly this was because I was already familiar with the Google tool set, and partly because it is all free.


Yahoo Groups was a friendly way to make sure that everyone was copied on messages, kept message history, allowed email responses once the topic was started so you did not have to go to the site to keep a conversation going.  All communication was kept in the same location whether it was game scheduling, out of character chatter, or in character talk.  It could be difficult to find what you sought.

Google Groups is a powerful communication tool, with many more options than we will need.  The main drawback to changing to Google is Groups is a separate tool from Google Sites, where Yahoo Groups was integrated.  Yes, I can create links in our Google Site to the Google Group, it is not the same.  Yes Google Groups allow you to respond to posts via email just like Yahoo.  Trouble is, if you want to start a new post in Groups you go to a different URL than the Site.  For some of my group, this is confusing and complicated.

Like Yahoo, Google requires you have one of their email accounts to log into the site. Use Chrome, and stay logged in there, and you will never see a login screen.  I find it works rather nice.  For the tech savvy - I created the Google Group first and then used the Google Group for permissions in Google Sites, Google Drive, and Google Calendar to minimize administration.  Add someone to the Google Group, and they get access to all the web tools.

The intention is to use Google Groups for game scheduling and meta type communication. Other type of communication should be handled elsewhere.

Also under communication, when a new file was added to the Yahoo Site you were presented with the option to notify the Group (within the bounds of what individuals had setup in their Yahoo Group accounts).  Google Site relies on individual group members to setup their own notification preferences by site or by page.  If folks have not setup to be notified, they do not get notified.

Game scheduling

Yahoo Groups used an integrated calendar, and all was well until they 'streamlined' their site and move calendar to a place where people could not see it easily.

Google Calendar is a separate tool from Google Sites.  After creating a calendar for the gaming group it was easy enough to display it in a window on the site.  However, to update the calendar you must follow a link and update what looks like your own Google Calendar, except you select the game group calendar from a drop-down menu.  So far this is confusing the heck out of my group.  Part of our first get back together session will need to be a lesson on this.  If we cannot schedule a game, we cannot play.

Adventure logs

After all the disappointment above, you might be wondering why did I move to Google? Because Google Sites is awesome.  We have a story oriented campaign and the adventure logs are a tremendous help in keeping things straight, knowing where we left off, and for looking up old information to insure consistency.  Except when you have 80 adventure logs in MS Word.  Yahoo only allowed us to store files, not create web pages.  Searching for information because time consuming and frustrating.  I tried to combine logs into larger cumulative files, create HTML documents instead, and some other things I do not even remember but nothing worked well.

In Google Sites you can make adventure log posts which are web pages and easily search-able.  Searching is now easy, quick and effective; and not limited to the logs.  I cannot tell you for me how HUGE this really is.

If you have a dungeon crawl game and the history is really unimportant, then this will not mean much.  But, if like me, when during a session the players ask, "What was the name of that healer we met in the capital?", instead of responding, "Uh, um, let me look, ah, hmm......  Well, will just call him Bill for now", with a few clicks I can respond instead, "Raynoldus, Priest of Balben".

Campaign information

The only option for campaign information in Yahoo was to save it in files.  To search for information you browsed through a folder structure and read the titles of documents.

In Google Sites I have turned all those documents into web pages, in a hierarchical structure, with some links to make life a bit easier.  There are pages history and description of places, the gods, the coinage, various lore, supporting characters, house rules including divine domains, and so on.  The key here is now it is all search-able.  Want to see what you might know about Raynoldus?  If he shows up in any adventure logs, campaign history, supporting cast list, DM handouts, or in any in or out of character chats you know immediately.

Notice I just mentioned in and out of character chats?  My intention is instead of having in/out of character chats mixed in the scheduling and logistics communications in Groups, they will each have their own separate location within the Site.  This has the benefit of quickly and easily segregating the two types of conversations which I hope will help players find them easily (searchable) and keep focus.  The down side is you must go to the site to post them, no respond via email.

I have some spreadsheets I had built to organize information which I can now serve up in the site.  For example, there are some customer armors available.  I built an armor table of PHB and customer armor available, stored it in Google Drive and shared up a read only version on the site.

Maps, pictures, and files

Electronic copies of maps and various pictures are stored in a folder like structure area. Additionally, these can be embedded in a web page.  For example, one character had a portrait drawn, that file is in the folder structure.  The city map of Penchawn is located with the city description, so players can read the map and map key together.

At this time I think character sheets will remain a pencil and paper affair, with a scanned copy kept on the site for backup.  It appears 5th edition is simple enough that players will not all be driven to electronic tools for character building.  Since there are no robust tools yet, paper works fine.

We have not started the game yet.  I hope to finish the character conversions soon, but I am currently waiting on the players.  Then the main act - the campaign restarts!

Next up - Table Tools

The dice never lie.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: Character Conversion

Character conversion is the part my players were most concerned.  I only played in the Lost Mine of Phandelver, and had no other 5th edition experience.  I read through at least once the Player's Handbook, Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master's Guide.  I did not take me long to come to the conclusion there was no pragmatic way to convert characters.  Instead, we would rebuild characters.

Rebuilding has the added benefit of the players reading through the rules enough to make decisions about their character.  Based on feedback so far, this is working as intended.  There are lots of questions.  Not just rules questions, but questions about how it matches up with how their characters were meant to be played.

Characters will be based on the default array - 15, 14, 13, 12, 20, 8.  This is primarily due to my limited experience with 5th edition and my suspicion that taking the original rolls from the other game (4d6 drop lowest, arrange as desired - reroll if you get a loser) would be over powered and make it challenging for me to design encounters.  Also this has the benefit of making the players think hard on the decision to up ability scores versus taking a feat.

The basic instructions was this: Rebuild your character from first level attempting as best you can to model it after your character, as initially intended, from the earlier game.  Therefore, I am not worried if they were a multiclass and whether or not the class split was the same.  Does you character feel similar enough to make you happy?  Let us avoid having to retcon how you managed to do all sorts of things previously that you cannot seem to do now.

If backgrounds in the Player's Handbook do not fit the character concept, I have told them it is easy enough for us to create another back ground.  As I read them, they are fairly easy to develop and keep within the limits of fairness.

There are a few places where the rebuild is a little more challenging.

  • Clerics: previously they had two domains, and now they will have only one.  We are just going to have to suck this one up.  The single domains are too powerful for me to be handing out additional domain powers.  Most NPC clerics really focused on one domain over the other - so the feel should not suffer much.  I only had one player character cleric, and she may not be coming back, so the character impact may be low/none.
  • Paladin/Sorcerer multi-class character: one player used this build focusing on the Sorcerer buffs to his Paladin.  With the concentration mechanic, that is significantly different.  I think it still will be a viable character, however I gave the player the out to have an 'accident' happend to his character.  He has decided to stick with the character so we will see how it works out.
  • Sorcerer blood line fluff:  neither I nor the player liked the sorcerer dragon blood line bit about scales, or the AC with no armor feature.  It was easy enough to house rule some variation.  I replaced AC feature with draconic senses - proficiency in perception, or expertise in perception if proficiency already existed.
  • Some spells are missing: I will be creating some new 5th edition spells to give them the same capability.  That should not be too hard.
  • Magic & Masterwork item inventory:  There are just too many items in their possession to work as the 5th edition game is designed.  Masterwork items become 'nice' items worth money but having no mechanical benefit in combat.  I am going over each magic item in their possession and making rulings.  They are 8th level, so they will have some items.  All weapons with a plus greater than 1 are now +1 weapons.  Same for armor.  Other items where I feel they are overpowered will be turned into items with charges that do something similar, but not the same.  This will include every item which gives an ability bonus.  If there is interest, I would post about the magic items conversions.
Whatever money they had, they can have.  I don't see too little or too much money giving me a headache in the new edition.  I had some custom armors in the game that I will have to dial back.  I see it as important to not get carried away with high AC values or the bounded accuracy will break.  They can have their custom armor, it will just have some other benefits related to small amount of damage reduction or other useful properties.

Lastly, even those these are experienced characters with lots of role playing behind them (they are 8th level), I have asked them to fill out the character description section: traits, ideals, bonds, flaws.  I think it is good to get in the spirit of 5th edition, plus summarizing those points will help them get back into role player as we have had a several year hiatus on this game.

That is it.  I have made it sound way more simple that it was to get to this point.  So far I have one player completed his character rebuild, and others in various places in the process.  I hope to have a rebuild & restart session to get everyone up to speed soon.

The dice never lie.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: What Happens To Previous House Rules?

Addressing old house rules is an area where my conversion priorities could have come into conflict.  To recap they are:
  1. Keep the game fun, do not overwhelm with rules or required details.
  2. World over rules. There will be no retcon to force the world to conform to the rules.
  3. History over rules. See above. If necessary, there will be a minimally invasive explanation regarding anything in the rules which makes history inconsistent.
  4. Minimize house rules vs 5E RAW.
  5. The guiding principles are in order of priority.
My intent would be to make as many of the house rules go away as possible, and start our 5E experience as RAW as possible.  Fortunately, I am finding the conversion to 5E is making many of our house rules obsolete because the spirit of the rule, if not the rule itself, is in 5E.  

Below is a listing of house rules with comments on how I am going to address the rule in conversion.  Green indicates a 5E covers it well and there is no need.  Yellow indicates I am not certain but will go with 5E RAW.  Red means we still need a house rule to play the way we want to play.
  • Arcane Spell Failure for Armor: If you were proficient in armor, you could cast in armor.  Now standard in 5E.
  • Area of Effect Attack: Player attacker rolls dice instead of defending monsters.  This is a variation of players roll all the dice.  We may reconsider this again in the future, but its nice it is discussed in the DM guide.
  • Building NPCs Building Characters, Monsters & NPCs: Build these as the DM needs for encounters, not holding to the standard character generating rules.
  • Cleric Energy Blast turning replacement: Instead of the swingy turn table, and undead who stood around and took range damage until they were destroyed, clerics did damage to undead in the blast.  I am not sure we will stay with the new 5E way on this but adding they stay back until attacked at least solves part of the problem.  I am too new to the game to know if the turn results are as swingy as before.
  • Creating Magic Items: Was a revised formula for creating magic items cost vs. time options which did NOT include XP costs.  I am fine to try the RAW in 5E because there are no XP costs.
  • Critical Hits: Removed the broad exemption on undead and constructs being immune to critical hits.  Some creatures, like oozes, would be immune, but it was fewer, and if you could make a case for a critical, your 20 would give you one.
  • Death Dying and Negative HPs: Instead of dying at -10, you died if your negative was 1/3 your total original hit points, reducing the chance for higher level characters to die on one hit when they were in single digit hit points.  Also had death saving throws each turn when below 0 hit points with three failures meaning death, and a 20 meaning you stabilize.  Healing brought you to 0 hit points and then added healing to that number.  I like the 5E system as is so far.
  • Defensive Disengage: Codified what was already in the rules, but made the language more clear for our game.  Like that 5E has disengage action.
  • Effective Caster Level: Multi class characters could add levels in other classes to their overall caster level.  Other caster classes as a full level, none caster classes as a half level.
  • Flanking Rules: Made flanking easier to calculate and expanded what counted as flanking slightly.  We will play without flanking for now and see how it balances out.  We may find we do not miss it.
  • Massive Damage: We put this in place to make falling more dangerous, and to offset the fact we instituted a higher starting hit point rule.  We will play RAW for now and see if we want to use the optional massive damage rule as time goes on.
  • Paladin Smite Enemy: Ruled that Paladins could smite more than just 'evil' creatures.  Allowed that Paladins were wise enough to use their smite power against enemies appropriately.  5E seems to have this covered nicely.  
  • Shrug Off Damage: Fighters could take a standard action once per encounter and get a hit point benefit very close to Second Wind.
  • Sorcerer Character Changes: Changed Sorcerer hit dice from d4 to d6, and gave them some other unique abilities to further differentiate them from wizards, including a metamagic feat at first level.
  • Spell Acquisition Arcane & Divine: I'll skip the long complicated rule text and just say we used spell slots.
  • Spell Limits Zero Level: Casters could cast unlimited cantrips.
  • Starting HPs: Added constitution total to starting hit points.  With the change to bounded accuracy, I am much happier with how starting and later hit points balance against challenge.
  • Unified DC for Spellcasters: All spells for all levels used the same DC based on character ability score and level.  I am fine with how the proficiency bonus works with this instead of using pure level.
Notice there is no Red?  I had not reviewed each house rule in this context prior to writing up the list and assume I would have at least one thing red.  What surprised me most is how many of our house rules are now just rules, either exactly or in spirit.  This is why we are finding 5E very comfortable for us.

The dice never lie.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: Divine Domains

When I first created my home brew world, one of the things I created was a pantheon of gods.  Back in 1E there were no real crunch elements gained by selecting a god, most of it was fluff/flavor.  Sometimes I would grant some rule breaking element to a cleric of a particular god, say allowing a cleric of the god of war to wield a sword (a 1E heresy - sharp weapon!) I thought having a pantheon of gods pulling strings in the mortal world was key to the flavor I wanted to have the pantheon.

The humanoid civilizations in my world tend to be polytheist - you might have a favored god, but might also pay respects to the god of travel before a long journey, or the god of healing if you were sick.  The gods might work together or jockey for power against each other.  I like the meddlesome or antagonistic stories of Greek and Norse mythology.

I created around 15 deities and fleshed them out with some details about their scope of control, who they married or who was their parent god, favored weapon (after all, this is D&D), colors, and how their priests dressed.  Gods worried about the sun, earth, sea, fire, war, travel, agriculture, vengeance, knowledge, magic, and the like.  At one point I considered stating them out like in the Deities and Demi-gods book, but reconsidered.  I was NEVER going to run a campaign where the players slew gods.  They were gods for... um... well... gods sake.

One thing I did differently though was instead of creating pantheons for each humanoid race, I decided they would all worship the same gods.  The avatars for those gods they favored might be different from what other humanoids might perceive, and they would certainly give them their own names and in some cases aspects.  As an example, I have a god of fire, vengeance, and lust known by humans as Drakka, but the Orcs know him as Gruumsh.  Drakka's human aspect has two eyes, his orcish aspect has one.  In both aspects he hates elves.

I also leave the door open to demi-gods which can be added if I need a cult for a player character or a specific adventure.

When we converted to 3/3.5E I was fortunate to find I had created a pantheon which was very close to the domains as released in the core handbooks.  Distributing the domains among my gods was relatively painless, and there was a decent distribution so that there were a fair mix of good and evil, lawful and chaotic gods and choices withing those for many of the domains.  I did not expand the domains using any additional publications beyond the three core rule books; I did not see the need and did not want to spend the time on rewrites and determining if they balanced.

Now I am at it again, trying to match the domains in the core books to my pantheon.  There will be no new gods, and no gods will be disappearing - I found a way to make everything work.  It was immediately obvious there were not going to be enough domains to cover the pantheon I desired.  So before we tackle that problem, we work with the domains provided:

  • Death - no change (from DM guide)
  • Knowledge - no change
  • Life - convert former Healing
  • Light - convert former Sun
  • Nature - convert/combine Plant & Animal
  • Tempest - convert Water
  • Trickery - no change
  • War - no change
The only one that really gave me trouble was Tempest.  I like the new domain flavor, and I really think it is superior to the old four element domains in terms of historical comparison.  However, it did make me make minor changes to the way I approached the rest of my domain conversions.  Here are the new domains for my world:

  • Earth
  • Inferno - converted from fire and flavored by Tempest thinking
  • Luck
  • Magic
  • Passion
  • Protection
  • Travel
  • Vengeance - converted from Destruction
The last part of the change was dropping the Good/Evil, Law/Chaos, and Strength domains.  Given the new outlook for domains they did not really fit, and where necessary they could easily be covered (hand waved) to another domain.

Next step was balancing/spreading around the domains among the pantheon.  In a few cases it caused a narrowing of focus for the god in question.  I many cases, it really did help me bring the flavor of the god back to my original intent.  Tempest is much more evocative than Water, and Inferno paints a different picture than Fire.  I also really like moving Destruction to Vengeance; I think the game opportunities are really expanded with that.

Major gods have three domains.  Minor gods typically have two or three domains.  Cult or demi-gods may have only a single domain.  However that is not a rigid rule, I had one demi-goddess whose scope of control was best described as a blend of Luck, Protection and Vengeance.  No god receives more than three domains.

I find that I can have a god focus on a subset of a domain without having to write 'rules'.  I just do it in role play and color.  As an example, there is a major god whose domains are Protection, Vengeance, and War.  He is concerned with war in a big way - battle fields, armies, huge sweeping events.  There is a Demi-god whose only domain is War.  He is concerned with person to person combat, usually in war time.  Rather than create special domains for the difference, I just make sure that NPCs of those two different gods behave appropriately and select the powers from that domain which are appropriate to their concerns.  Another example is the gods who are concerned with Passion.  One is the goddess of love, wine & song and is concerned with passion in that sense.  The other is the god of fires, both real and in the heart, vengeance, and the darker side of passion.  They can easily both use the same domain, but use it differently for their ends.

When the campaign restarts, I hope the players will not feel any real difference in the
pantheons.  I believe I kept to the intended feel.  The only challenge will be for Cleric characters as they must choose a single domain instead of the two allowed by 3/3.5E.  But character conversion is another post.

The dice never lie.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Converting My Campaign To D&D 5E: Character Races Allowed

Fortunately for me, the standard races in the Player's Handbook align fairly closely to what we have been using.  For the most part I will be able to transition without much fuss.  Of the nine 'races' in the book, I only consider six of them to be races with large groups, geographic homes and culture.  Dragon Born, Half-orcs, and Tieflings are playable 'races' but are rare offspring who must live within the other existing cultures.


The world is Human-centric, that is the Human civilization is where the play is focused and the Humans are the majority.  That is not to say that character to character Humans are superior, they are not.  It is just in this time in history the Human civilization is on the rise, and the other races play important parts but are not the central focus.

I would allow a player to use the variant Human trait.  I do not see exchanging four ability point increases for a skill proficiency and a feat as unbalancing.


There were no Dwarven sub-races in the world, but having Hill and Mountain Dwarves will fit nicely with the different geographic cultures I did already have.


Gray and Sylvan (Grugach) elves existed in the campaign, so High and Wood elves stats work fine and I will keep my names.  Drow are in the game but not offered as playable races.  (nobody in the group read any Drizzt books, thank the Lords of Literature).  We never played 4E in this world, so I have no Eladrin stuff to worry about.

Oh, and Elves have pupils in my world.  None of this pool of color stuff for me.


The Haflings are my gypsy sort of race, living in small communities near other races or as groups of nomads.  There were no sub-races, but I do not see the harm in allowing that.  I will be letting the Lightfoot and Stout groups live together in those groups and perhaps have some friendly and less than friendly bias between the two.

Dragonblood (Dragonborn)

Dragonborn are the race with which I have the most trouble.  It just does not fit in my campaign history, and world.  There were some very rare individuals wandering around who had dragon blood mixed in their DNA, and I have decided these will be my 'dragonborn'.  I can use most of the stats as is, but I am not sure I am going to keep the breath weapon.  I might keep it as one option and create some others.  Since I have no Dragonblood player characters at the moment I have some breathing room to finalize it.

For now I am going with the following; mechanically, Dragonblood are the same in the Players Handbook with the following exceptions:
  • Age: Dragonblood grow to maturity like the race they are part of, but can live up to twice as long
  • Size: Dragonblood are the same size as the race they are part of.
Descriptively, Dragonblood in my campaign are those who have dragon blood in their veins from a mating with a dragon at some time in their lineage. With enough time, the dragon blood might thin out and a Dragonblood parent might have a human child. How many generations is unclear, and may have to do with the potency of the dragon parent.

All Dragonblood have slightly elongated faces, though that is not necessarily a sign someone is Dragonblood. The colors of Dragonblood pupils are the color of the parent dragon type, and their hair has a tint of the same color. Skin tones run the range of human tones.

Of course, if a Dragonblood used a breath weapon, that would be a bit of a give away.


Gnomes are fine, we always had them as a playable race.  Again, we never did 4E, so we never 'lost' them.  I always envision them as chubby or stout, more like in 1E, but I am happy to let players decide if they want to be a Gnome.

Half Elf

Half elves sort of function as geographic location races, and with one off children.  I do not see a problem with stats as provided, and see no need to differentiate if the elven parent was Gray (High) or Sylvan (Wood).  Because my Sylvan elves tend towards xenophobia, there would not be very many Sylvan/Human mixes.


As presented, the Half-orc works fine for my campaign.  There are no communities of Half-orcs, you find a place to live as best you can fit in or not.


Mechanically, a Tiefling will be the same as in the Players Handbook.  Descriptively, as presented in the book they do not fit at all.  So instead, we will use the following.

Descriptively, Tieflings in the campaign are those who have devil blood in their veins from a mating with a devil at some time in their lineage. With enough time, the devil blood might thin out and a Tiefling parent might have a human child. How many generations is unclear, and may have to do with the potency of the devil parent.

All Teiflings have horns, but the size and shape can vary tremendously. All Teiflings have tails, again the size, thickness, length and other attributes of that tail can vary tremendously. Their teeth tend towards being extra sharp, and the colors of their pupils can be black, red, white, silver or gold. Skin tones can run the range of human tones plus red, however the colors tend to be more extreme. (darker darks, paler pales, etc). Tiefling hair is always dark, but the colors range from blacks, browns, red, blue or purple.

Even if a Tiefling looks almost human, there is always something different or unsettling about them around normal humans.

That is it for now.  The dice never lie.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Converting My Home Brew World/Campaign To 5E D&D

Our exercising of the D&D 5E rules via the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure turned out as a success.  The success we were interested in was not whether we triumphed in the challenges of the module, but did we enjoy and want to use the new 5E D&D rules going forward as our default game system.  The team concensus was yes - this was the D&D we wanted to play.

I was interested in restarting a campaign that left off four years ago, and four of the six players have so far expressed interest in returning.  There were a number of life-gets-in-the-way reasons for the DM and players to put that game on hiatus, which I am sure is a struggle for most long term games.  For me as a DM, there was another reason.  The players had reached 8th level and I was not enjoying the math complications of 3.5E.  Although we have not played that level yet with 5E, I have enough game experience to read the rules and project that 5E will be more fun to run at mid level than 3.5E could be for us.

Before I restart the campaign, I need to update the critical areas of the world, house rules, and campaign for 5E.  My intent is to share my experience doing so here on the blog.  Please feel free to comment along the way, it may help me resolved issues or use new good ideas.

This home brew world is an ongoing creation activity for 35 years.  This campaign alone is 80 sessions long. The world began in 1E, was converted for 3/3.5E, and will now be updated for 5E.  Although it seems like a gargantuan task, I do not believe it will be that bad.  The world was initiated using 1E, so I think the 1E DNA which is evident in 5E will make it somewhat easier to convert.  I will use the same philosophy regarding world conversion as I did with world building; it will not be built unless they are likely to encounter it soon.  So no, I will not be automatically converting every NPC in print.

There are some logistics I need to resolve.  We previously used Yahoo Groups for communication, file sharing and other campaign management.  However, some changes in Yahoo Groups over time and more importantly the lack of changes has pushed me to create a new site.  So I am going to use Google tools - Google Sites, Calendar, and Groups.  I am using groups for communcation and permission for the Calendar & Site.  Calendar is for game scheduling, and the Site will be an interactive place for campaign info, adventure logs, in and our of character posts, and all other sorts of files.  I find Google groups weak, and for some Calendar is confusing, but the capability in Sites is outstanding.  I will share some of that in the future.

The items on the top of my list for conversion include:

  • Character conversion
  • Races allowed
  • House rule conversions/eliminations
  • 5E rule 'patching'
  • Clerical Domains Missing
  • Changes to spell effects/results which may impact the world

My guiding principles in the conversion will be:
  1. Keep the game fun, do not overwhelm with rules or required details.
  2. World over rules.  There will be no retcon to force the world to conform to the rules.
  3. History over rules.  See above.  If necessary, there will be a minimally invasive explantaion regarding anything in the rules which makes history inconsistant.
  4. Minimize house rules vs 5E RAW.
  5. The guiding principles are in order of priority.

Sharing to commence soon.  The dice never lie.

Friday, January 16, 2015

D&D 5E: thoughts after a dozen sessions, the rogue and other stuff

Our experience continues to be very favorable, with people commenting on how much they like the new rule set.  I continue to be happy with the combat speed and pacing.  We are at 3rd level and none of our abilities have so far created the kind of 'calculating it out' delays during combat we experienced in 3rd edition.  We are in the mines of the LMoP module currently.  We are in the dungeon crawl part and the exploring/mapping is going slowly.  We need a better process than what we are doing with graph paper.  I do not see this as an edition problem - more of a logistics, module & experience of the DM challenge.

When we started with LMoP no one owned any of the hardcover books.  We were just using what came with the starter set, and the PDF basic rule set.  This is all that is required for this adventure.  Last night I counted two hardcover Player's Handbooks and someone ordered the Monster Manual and DM Guide online.  Starting to look like folks are in for the long haul.  Note: we have agreed to follow the starter set guidelines and are not using the additional/optional material from the PHB.

Everyone seems to be pleased with what they can do with their characters.  I am especially pleased with the versatility of the rogue.  My only disappointment with the pre-generated character is the background.  It was interesting at the beginning but has now gotten a little stale.  I am working through it, trying to make it more interesting without going too far away from the traits/ideals/bonds/flaws as provided.

Hiding and getting advantage from being hidden for the rogue seem to be one of the gray areas, and oft discussed on the boards.  We are working through it, with our DM being reasonable generous with his rulings on this regard.  He almost always requires that I am hidden prior to getting advantage on the attack, which means I almost always am rolling a hide check.  Here are a few examples of how my rogue was able to successfully get advantage via hide

  • Creatures were walking by arrow slits.  My rogue was not peering out but heard them go by.  I used stealth to sneak under the first arrow slit to get to better position, then popped up and shot out the second arrow slit with advantage/sneak attack.
  • During large combats (read lots of friends and foes and confusion) my lightfoot halfing rogue picks an opponent who I do not think is tracking me as a target.  At the end of my turn (or rarely at the beginning of my turn) he sneaks behind (read hide check) one of his companions and either shoots through them on his turn (giving +2 to the opponents AC) or pops out one 5' square to attack.
  • We hear a creature on the other side of a door.  My rogue quietly pops the door open (stealth check) and shoots with surprise and then runs to another spot with the potential to hide out of sight of the creatures in the room.  If I have a better initiative I can hide and ready my action to shoot one when it comes through the opening after me.

As a damage dealer, I was fortunate last night when on two different important attacks I rolled a 20 while I had advantage.  Both times I scored 25 damage, which is about 1 over average (short bow d6, sneak attack 2d6, +3 dex bonus).  Even without the critical, average sneak attack damage with my bow is 14.  Not too shabby.  The fact that I can get it every time one of my poor companions is face to face with a bad guy has been enormous.

Cunning action continues to be huge.  It really gives the rogue huge versatility.  My rogue can take risks, because he is easily able to get away from tough situations.  For example - if he gets surrounded by bad guys while exploring on his turn he can using his cunning action to disengage, move away 25', and then dash another 25' with his tale between his legs hoping his friends will save him.  As long as opponents are medium sized or larger, they are only difficult terrain for this halfing rogue.  Attack/move/hide, or attack/disengage/move turns give me loads of options.  The only caveat is you have to be stingy with your bonus actions to keep them available for your cunning action.

Speaking of readying an action - I have noticed that keeping the initiative order is quite a time saver during combat, which is not something I expected.  In 3rd edition when you held your action you moved to a different place in the initiative order.  This took someone's time to update the initiative tracker.  It also caused a bit of confusion with folks about who was going next when planning in their heads due to not everyone paying full attention during other folks turns.  The set it and keep it rule in 5E has added to combat efficiency.
LMOP spoiler

Random thought not tied to 5E rule set.

While searching using dark vision our elf discovered an ooze/jelly thing.  So far we thought it best to leave it alone while we address other areas.  This brought up the question - what does my character know?  There was a lot of player experience around the table with ochre jelly, gray ooze, green slime, and other nasty things over many different versions of the game.  What would our characters know, and how do we adjudicate it?  The DM chose a nature skill check and the player rolled high enough to know it is dangerous.  So we'll not poke that hornets nest just yet and wait until a convenient time to experiment with how to kill it (or use it to help with a nasty creature if we can 'introduce' the two?)

That is all for now.  Your comments welcome.  The dice never lie.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

On Thud and Blunder: Verisimilitude in our hobby

Poul Anderson was a widely known, celebrated and respected science fiction author.  He is less know for his work in what he called 'heroic fantasy'.  If two of those 'hf' novels (as Poul Anderson himself refers to the genre) were all he had ever done, he would still be a notable author.  I refer to 'The Broken Sword' and my personal favorite, 'Three Hearts and Three Lions'.  I have blogged about the latter here and here.  Poul Anderson also appears in Gary Gygax's famous Appendix N at the back of the DM Guide.

That is nice Barad, but what does this have to do with verisimilitude?  Read on, I am just setting the stage.

Somewhere around 1978 the esteemed Poul Anderson wrote an essay published in a swords and sorcery anthology edited by Andrew Offut: Swords Against Darkness III.  In that essay Poul Anderson goes on to chide and give advice to 'hf' writers about their lack of realism or verisimilitude, and how with improving these elements would provide more engaging stories, and be better for the industry.  That industry being heroic fantasy.

Since our hobby is so closely tied to heroic fantasy, our DMs good also use the advice to good use.  The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America thinks this advice is well met and keeps a copy of the essay here.  If you have never read it, do so.  If you want I will wait for you to come back.

Yes, it is a bit long by Internet attention standards these days - but save it as a favorite and refer back to it frequently.

  • Have long running wars in your world?  Think about who will grow or harvest the crops if you take the peasants away.  How reliable are those mercenaries and how will you pay them?  Swarms of evil humanoids attacking your towns, well their leaders know they have to win quickly in order to pay and feed the marauders else matters will disintegrate or implode.
  • When you describe those cities, is it filthy and dangerous?  If not, why and how does that change how the city dwellers live or behave.  If their city is that clean and safe would it not be overrun with immigrants trying to get in?
  • Travel is unreliable, and news is late in arriving.  Horses are expensive and destructible.  Roads are expensive to build, maintain and to police.  Where does that money come from?  Sailing was not necessarily better, safer or faster.
  • As a DM or player do you know anything about the martial arts?  (I know some of our fellow hobbyists are quite well versed in them)  We do not need to be experts in this matter but a little better understanding would go a long way to a better game
It goes on and on.  You do not have to adopt everything, but adopting some additional verisimilitude gives good color and consistency.  Additionally, when our heroes do something truly heroic, it makes a more stark comparison to the world around them.

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