Hipsters & Dragons

Because roleplaying is social, creative, fun… and kinda cool!

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Always Roll Insight Behind Your Screen

When your character attempts to stick their spear in a yeti (Attack Roll), track a unicorn in a forest (Survival check) or swing across a pit of molten lava on a fraying rope (Athletics / Acrobatics check) they generally know if they have succeeded or failed. However there are some scenarios, particularly those involving the skill Insight (p.178 of the Player’s Handbook), where the character has no way of knowing if they have succeeded or not. A character who has failed to swing across a pit of molten lava knows by the mild burning sensation on their skin that they have fallen short, but a character who has failed an Insight test could easily come away thinking they have succeeded… “undoubtedly this pale man with sharp carnivores and no shadow can be trusted wholeheartedly,” they might conclude, having been hoodwinked by the vampire’s charm. However if the 1 they rolled is staring them in the face, then it’s impossible for the player roleplaying the character not to realise that in fact the NPC is completely untrustworthy and that their PC is (temporarily at least) a gullible fool.

I’m bluffing with my muffin… (painting by Coolidge).

That’s why, for me, Insight checks should always be rolled by the Dungeon Master, not the player, behind the screen. After all a PC’s intuition might tell them that an NPC is completely trustworthy, or a pathological liar, but the PC’s intuition might be completely wrong. In gaming terms it’s important that they don’t know when to trust their character’s intuition or not… otherwise every insight roll reveals the truth every time. If the character rolls well, then they can be pretty certain to trust whether the NPC is lying or not. The character rolls badly, then the player knows not to trust his own character’s judgement. The more PCs rolling visibly on the table, the more certain the party can be of guessing what’s going on.

One of the highlights of any Dungeons & Dragons’ session should be the NPC interactions, and the party making decisions about who to trust and who to keep on the suspect list. Whilst an Insight check can set up a fun contest between two parties (one rolling Deception, the other Insight) it also removes the suspense from a tight situation the moment a PC tosses a high dice onto the table – which is why some DMs don’t allow Insight checks at all, rather the players behind the PCs must use make a call themselves based on the interaction. However there’s no need to go that far. Simply by putting the Insight check behind the screen, where it belongs, the tension returns to the game. Sure, three of the party might trust Count Bitealot, but two don’t – so what is their course of the action?

Try it and see the difference!

If you liked this, and enjoy challenging your players try my new healing rules. No more powering up back to full HP after a sixty minute sit down.

How Can I Start Playing Dungeons & Dragons?

One of the mission statements of this blog is to blow away some of the fog of mystery that surrounds this enigmatic game we call Dungeons & Dragons, and help people access this amazing past time. Aside from allaying fears about whether it’s satanic or not, or do you have to be some kind of uber-geek to play it (I’ll actually be addressing both those points in forthcoming posts, but spoiler alert: it’s no and no!), I think by far the best thing I can do is offer some practical advice on how to get started.

And that advice would be: to learn how to play Dungeons & Dragons simply join an existing D&D group.

By doing so you’ll very quickly grasp the concept of the game (which is notoriously hard to explain, but makes sense as soon as you start playing!), and slowly pick up the rules as you go along.

Generally speaking to play Dungeons & Dragons you need 4 or 5 people. One of those will be the Dungeon Master, the person who directs the game; the others will all be players who take part in the game. To be the Dungeon Master you need quite a lot of experience of the game and firm mastery of the rules… you on the other hand simply want to join the game as a new player. And to do so you need nothing more than an invitation from the Dungeon Master and his or her group of friends. You don’t need any knowledge of the game at all, or it’s rules, nor do you need any equipment. They will have all the materials needed for the game, such as the rulebooks and dice. (Although if you have a pencil, eraser and paper that’s great… and if you want to bring some food and drinks you’ll make yourself popular!).

Whilst the modern world has opened up the possibility of playing Dungeons & Dragons online I would strongly recommend trying to find a game where you can meet in person to begin with. You’re going to need people to take you by the hand a little bit, to help you create your character (ie. the hero you will play) and to advise you on the possibilities of your character (ie. what actions they can take in the game, what special skills they have etc) once the game starts. All of which is a little easier face to face than with a webcab delay.

Racking my brain I can see three possible ways a new player could find an existing group to join… so here they are.

Option 1: Ask a Friend Who Plays

The best opportunity to enter the world of D&D would be if you are friends with, or at least acquaintances with, someone who already plays. In that case don’t be shy and just tell this person you’re also keen to play and ask them if they have any room for you in their next gaming session. There’s a very high probability they’ll be delighted to have you along. Although if for some reason they’re not don’t take it personally, it’s likely that they just have too many players already (the game doesn’t function so well once there are more than 5 or so players at the table). Ask them to keep you in mind if a space opens up in future.

Option 2: Join A Session at a Gaming Store

If you don’t have any friends that already play, you could try contacting your local gaming store. Wizards of the Coast, the company that own the Dungeons & Dragons brand and publish the official rules, which are now in their 5th edition, have a store locator on this page. It basically searches for shops that stock their products, and these stores often run D&D sessions at the actual store… you just need to contact them and find out when. I just tried and their store locator understands UK postcodes as well as US zip codes and there are several shops around London for example.

Option 3: Network Online to Find a Game in Real Life!

Your third option is to find a friendly group of strangers! And what was the Internet invented for if not that? Try posting in this massive Facebook group. Even better try searching on Meetup – in fact I’ve done it for you, you lazy so and so. There are currently over 800 meet up groups tagged with Dungeons and Dragons all around the globe! There are even more on roleplaying games in general (whilst D&D is the most famous roleplaying game, it’s certainly not the only one!). So there’s a high chance there’s a game you could join near you. Otherwise there’s scores of other social networks you could scour for a local gaming group.

And finally…

Option 4: Play Online

As I said, I don’t think this is the easiest option if you’ve never played, but as long as you can find a patient DM and group of players there’s absolutely no reason you couldn’t join in an online game. To do so register on Roll20 and search for a game that’s looking for players!

I really hope that helps and is the final kick up the backside you needed to get started! If you’re still trying to puzzle out what the hell is Dungeons & Dragons click on my attempt at explaining. Honestly though, it’s way easier just to turn up to a game and find out how it works!

One final tip, a great character to begin with is a barbarian or fighter as they are simple to play. Your main goal will be to charge at the monsters and hit them really hard with your sword, and whatever happens you tend to be in the thick of the action! (Some other characters, like rogues, wizards and priests, require a bit more fine knowledge of the rules to make the most of their abilities).

New Spells for Wizards (& Others)

I’ve spent a lot of time this year preparing one of my D&D adventures for publication, an adventure that hinges around the Order of the Gossamer Robes, a pioneering body of wizards whose mastery of magic has allowed them to formulate many and various powerful news spells. Naturally, having created this storyline, I was duty-bound to create at least some of the incantations that these arcane academics have committed to their seminal tome, The Discoveries.

I will be releasing the adventure soon on DMs Guild (update I have released it!), along with the full version of The Discoveries, which currently contains 29 new spells. As a little teaser – and also to allow for playtesting and feedback before publication – I’d like to publish six of those incantations right now.

wizard spells 5e d&d

It’s a kind of magic…

My goal in authoring them was to provide some new effects and possibilities that currently don’t exist (or at least I have missed!) in the 5th edition Player’s Handbook (or else provide the same effects but in different ways). And whilst nominally wizards’ spells, I’ll leave it up to you if you feel that they could be adopted by sorcerers, warlocks or certain priests.

Hopefully I’ve pitched them about right. They need to be as useful / powerful as existing spells (otherwise why bother create them!? No one would learn them…) and yet not not so powerful they unbalance the game.

Bridge

2nd level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes.

You create a shimmering bridge of energy 5 feet wide and 30 feet long, which arcs 5 feet above the ground at its highest point.
At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a 3rd level spell slot or higher the bridge you can create is an additional 5 feet wide, 10 feet long and arcing 5 feet higher for every extra spell slot expended. Additionally the duration of the spell increases by 10 minutes per spell slot used.

Author’s notes: I designed this so a low level wizard can solve problems in a dungeon, whilst a higher level one can help armies cross raging torrents…

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Chameleon

Illusion cantrip

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self
Components: V, S, M (a piece of chameleon skin)
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes.

You assume the colours and appearance of the nearest surface, blending into your environment, enabling you to become all but invisible when still. The spell has no effect on any creature that has already seen you (unless you break line of sight and then hide), and the spell’s effects cease to work whenever you move.

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Flash Bang

3rd level evocation

Casting Time: Bonus action
Range: 60ft
Components: V, S, M
Duration: Instantaneous

You trigger a blast of magical force, accompanied by a thunderclap and flash of bright white light, that affects any creature within a 30 foot radius of a point you choose within range. The blast does 2d10 force damage, or half as much on a successful Strength saving throw, and causes victims to be stunned for 1 turn (no effect on save).
At Higher Levels. The damage increases by 1d10 for each spell slot level expended above 3rd.

Author’s note: Nowhere near as dangerous as fireball, the stun effect coupled with the fact it only requires a bonus action to cast I think make this spell interesting. Might be best used by a multiclass character, such as a rogue, who could then use sneak attack on the victims

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Lavinia’s Stunning Escape

5th level evocation

Casting Time: 1 minute (activated with a reaction)
Range: Self
Components: V, S, M (a pair of cymbals)
Duration: 24 hours

You weave a protective aura around yourself (or a willing target you touch) that you are able to trigger using a reaction the moment you take damage from an attack. When triggered a stunning blast of magical force affects anyone within 30ft, doing 2d10 damage (half on a successful Strength saving throw) and causing them to be stunned for 1 turn (no effect on save). In addition you may turn invisible as per the conditions of the spell invisibility (requires concentration, ends if you attack a creature) and teleport up to 60ft to an unoccupied space that you can see. The spell must be triggered within 24 hours of casting, or be lost. Only one protective aura can be active per person at one time, and it can be triggered only once.

Author’s note: an extremely powerful defence mechanism, this is a good spell to reward a PC with… possibly found in a musty spellbook in the depths of some dungeon (or in the Gleaming Cloud Citadel, if you buy my adventure out soon!).

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Meredin’s Mighty Applause

4th level illusion

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120ft
Components: V, S, M (a flower in bloom)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

Any humanoid within 30ft radius of the targeted creature of this spell must succeed on a Charisma saving throw or be overwhelmed by a need to clap this target, dropping whatever is in their hands to do so. This enthusiastic applause takes up the entirety of their turn. They may repeat the saving throw at the end of their turn.
The spell ends for an affected creature if it takes any damage.
At Higher Levels. For every spell slot expended beyond 4th level, the radius effect of the spell increases by 10 feet.

Author’s note: I feel this one could be a lot of fun – and very effective – in the right situation, especially if you’ve banned the overpowered Hypnotic Pattern (which you really should have by now!). 

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Heart Attack

7th level necromancy

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 30 feet
Components: V, S, M (a chicken’s heart, crushed when casting the spell)
Duration: Instantaneous

You wrap a spectral hand around the heart of a giant-sized target or smaller within range and squeeze. The target must make a Constitution saving throw, and then roll a d12 and consult the following table. If they pass their saving throw they may add 3 to the roll.

D12 Spell Effect
1. Heart explodes causing instant death
2-4. Heart collapses reducing target to 0 hp
5-10. Heart attack. Target is paralysed for 1d4 rounds, taking 4d6 damage
each round.
11-12.+ Target suffers excruciating heart tremors doing 4d6 damage.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a 8th level spell slot or higher you can target one additional creature per spell slot expended.

Author’s Note: I like spells with a little table of effects! I found trying to pitch the danger of a 7th spell really hard, so let me know how you get on with this one… comments appreciated!

Phobias for PCs & NPCs (5e D&D)

“I ain’t getting in no boat fool!”

Ever wanted to give your PC a little extra flavour, such as BA’s infamous phobia of both boats and flying, or Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes? The mightiest heroes have weaknesses and flaws, that make them all the more credible – and even heroic, since they often have to overcome them – and will lift your PC above the ranks of that tedious infallible paladin you usually play.

Every great hero has a weakness…

For those who love the roleplaying challenge of 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons, here is my table of common(ish) phobias that will ensure your character is no cookie-cutter hero but one whose Achilles’ heal can all too often place him and his fellow adventurers in grave danger.

DMs meanwhile, perhaps you want to use this when creating your NPCs? It’s going to be a hell of a lot harder to rescue that princess from the castle’s dungeons at night if she’s scared of the dark…

Hipsters & Dragons Table of Phobias (5e D&D)

Roll a d20

1. Fear of Darkness
2. Fear of Fire
3. Fear of Water (as in drowning in oceans, lakes, rivers, not as in drinking a glass of…)
4. Fear of Heights
5. Fear of Thunder and Lightning
6. Fear of Ghosts (and/or undead)
7. Fear of Death
8. Fear of Enclosed Spaces
9. Fear of Open Spaces
10. Fear of Spiders
11. Fear of Snakes (and/or lizards)
12. Fear of Insects (or biting / stinging ones at least)
13. Fear of Dogs or Wolves.
14. Fear of Cats
15. Fear of Rodents
16. Fear of Fish
17. Fear of Horses
18. Fear of Mirrors
19. Fear of Divine Magic (obviously reroll if you’re a Cleric, Paladin)
20. Fear of Sorcery (obviously reroll if you’re a Wizard, Sorcerer etc.)

How strong the phobia is, is probably best for you to decide. Strong enough to inconvenience you will make for good roleplaying opportunities. So strong that everyday adventuring situations become a massive and rapidly tedious pantomime is soon going to grate on your fellow PCs.

If you do want to randomise the extent of the phobia though I would suggest this table.

Roll a d10

1-7. Normal phobia. Oh God, get it away from me.
7-9. Extreme phobia. Please no, don’t make me *sobs*…
10. Crippling phobia. No fucking way Jose.

More Realistic Healing Rules (5e D&D)

The more I play 5e D&D the more I feel the designers got a very complex balancing act almost exactly right. Sure a few feats (Luck!), spells (Counterspell) and special abilities (Divine Smite) are overpowered, but considering the task at hand you have to say hats off, great job.

One significant thing that bugs me though are the official rules to do with healing and rests. All too often a character that just moments ago was clobbered to zero hit points by the spiked club of a stone giant, on the cusp of death, can restore themselves to full health by laying down by a grassy knoll for a 60 minute siesta. Quite aside from this assault on our credulity, the overpowered nature of rests also undermines magical healing like Cure Light Wounds and Lay On Hands, an important function of Clerics and Paladins.

What are you doing? I just need a short rest!

After a minor 20 year hiatus from the world of fantasy (during which time I even considered it a bit naff), one of the reasons I got back into Dungeons & Dragons was the sheer awesomeness of Game of Thrones. With its gritty realistic take on the genre and a strong focus on intrigue, war and politics I started to see fantasy through a new lens… it didn’t have to be a cheesy battle of good vs. evil that relied on epic monsters and magical effects to keep its audience entertained. Done well and fantasy could be complex, character-driven and credible – but to do so it has to employ the same techniques used by the best storytellers in every other genre. The fantasy element should be the delicious icing on the spongey goodness of a believable plot line, not the cake itself. Since realising that I’ve tried to inject as much realism into my return to D&D as possible, as both a DM and player. If I’m the DM and I throw a band of goblins at the party then there needs to be a reason for that… why are these goblins in the area? How do these goblins survive? Where do they live? If they ransack every caravan that passes how does trade even continue to exist in the region? I want the worlds I create and play in to make as much sense as possible… just as George R. R. Martin’s Westeros does.

It’s my love of realism that means I take issue with the healing rules in 5th edition D&D, and the short and long rests mechanics. Chilling out for an hour after every combat shouldn’t be enough to mend broken bones, seal critical wounds and have arrow-sized holes in your torso magically clear up – nor should this frequently-taken power nap work better than most healing spells and magic potions. As for the long rest, whilst everybody loves a good night’s sleep, the crazy mechanics that you restore all HP are such you never carry an injury, no matter how severe, into the next day (let alone the rest of your life). It feels like a computer game power bar that charges up the moment you stop taking hits, which might be convenient for a shallow hack’n’slash campaign, but creates friction for those of us who want to try and believe in the worlds our characters inhabit.

The awkward moment your Rage ends…

Of course full realism for wounds and healing (I know there are some smart asses who are going to bring this up) can’t work. If that was the case you’d have to roll for potential infections for every scratch and mighty warriors would soon go the way of the way of Khal Drogo or The Hound, taken down by “flea bites”. And that’s not to mention the tedious accumulation of effects of being injured several times a day that would make gameplay a nightmare.

Official Rules: Optional Healing Variants

Taking a look at the official optional rules for rests etc. (p266 and 277 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide) there are two options that make healing even easier (cue me smashing my head against wall) and two that make it harder, so let’s take a quick look at them. Slow Natural Healing is the method that one or two of the DMs in my group use. Every day you get a full complement of Hit Dice to employ at the end of short or long rests, which is way better than getting all your HP back and full complement of Hit Dice (as per Player Handbook, p186), but still allows you to power back from the edge of death in a jiffy if needed. The Gritty Realism option however then takes thing way too far the other way… a short rest takes 8 hours and a long rest 7 days! That changes the game so radically that it’s not something I really want to even try out. It would also have a major effect on abilities and spellcasting (unless they operate under normal rest rules… it’s not really clear).

Nope, I’m going to have to sort this one out myself…

Hipsters & Dragons’ Healing Rules

To resolve this gameplay issue to my satisfaction I’ve homebrewed these optional healing rules that I believe provide a nice balance of realism and simplicity, giving the PCs something to worry about (“guys, maybe we should parlay this encounter!?”) without hamstringing them. In fact I already playtested them during a recent adventure and I was pleased with the results (the time limitations on short rests meant there were a few grumbles from the fighter in our party when he found out he can’t get all his superiority dice back after every combat anymore…. but I’m also all for PCs having to go into fights without all their powers on occasion).

Let me know your thoughts and if any feedback you might have from playtesting them… I may well fine tune them in future.

General Rules

A character can benefit from a maximum of three rests in a 24 hour period, either one long rest and two short rests, or three short rests (if for some reason there is no time for a long sleep at the end of the day). Rests must be spaced at least four hours apart, if a character is to derive any benefits from them.

Long Rest

At the end of a long rest a character recovers HPs equal to half their hit dice rounding up. Ie. a 9th level character recovers 5 hit dice worth of HP. They must roll each dice.

Short Rest

At the end of a short rest a character may recover one hit dice for every four levels they have. Ie. levels 1-4 = 1 hit dice, levels 5-8 = 2 hit dice, levels 9-12 = 3 hit dice etc. They must roll each dice.

Treating Wounds (adding Constitution Modifier)

A recuperating character may add a positive Con modifier to each hit dice, if they have one, only if their wounds are successfully treated. To be considered treated either they themselves (depending on location of wound, DM to decide) or someone else in their party must make a Wisdom (Medicine) check DC15. If this person employs one use of a healer’s kit (p151 PH), the DC is reduced to 10.

NB: As I consider Medicine ‘a technical proficiency’, non proficient players would get disadvantage on this check… suddenly it pays to actually have someone with Medicine proficiency in the party!

If the character has a minus Con. modifier the same Medicine check can negate it.

Severe Injuries

It also annoys me when characters with 1 HP run around the place as if they have never felt better. Here are a couple more optional rules you might like in order to add a dash more realism to your game.

Critically Injured: Ask your characters to make a note of what 10% of their maximum HP is (or 15% if you want to be tougher on them!) rounding any fraction, no matter how small, upwards (ie. 10% of 11 HP in this case becomes 2 HP). When characters equal or fall below this amount of HP, they automatically suffer the effects of one level of exhaustion and must make a Constitution Saving Throw DC10 to avoid suffering from two levels of exhaustion.

Last Legs: Any PC on 1 HP automatically suffers from two levels of exhaustion and must make a Con Saving Throw DC15 to avoid suffering from three levels of exhaustion.

Is Banishment Overpowered? How To Deal with Banishment as a DM

Aside from Counterspell, which I dealt with in an earlier post, another problematic spell in 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons is Banishment. In fact like Counterspell it also makes DM David’s top four irritating invocations in the game. In his words:

Banishment lets players split combat scenes into two parts. In part one, the wizard or cleric banishes the toughest foes so their party can gang up on the outnumbered mooks in a one-sided romp. In the second part, the banished creatures spring back into reality and the party ambushes them. A potentially compelling fight turns into a rout followed by a dreary murder scene.

This is exactly what happened when I was Dungeon Mastering the other day and I came across the spell as a DM for the first time. The party’s camp was attacked at night by a band of orcs, led by an orc eye of gruumsh and a pet cyclops. The fight started interestingly enough with my cyclops scoring a critical hit on the party’s almost indestructible paladin, but the minute the party’s sorcerer cast Banishment on the cyclops the fight was over as a contest. Orcs were routinely mopped out of existence after which the cyclops rematerialised surrounded and outnumbered. The subsequent dice rolls were pregnant with the weight of their own pointlessness.

Up in a puff of smoke…

I was pondering how overpowered and frustrating the spell was after the session and so looked it up to see if somehow we weren’t missing something… and indeed we were. A closer look at the material components of the invocation (p. 217 PH), reveals that “an item distasteful to the target” is required to cast it. Now, I’m a pretty liberal DM when it comes to components. If the costs aren’t prohibitive I assume the caster in question keeps a reliable stock of whatever bits, bobs, nuts and guts they are likely to need during the course of an adventure. However this component requirement clearly demands some knowledge of the intended subject of the spell and varies completely depending on the target. And so I’ve informed my players that if they want to cast this spell in the future they are going to do some legwork on their opponent and then after go out and acquire an appropriate ingredient for the spell to work. In other words it’s nerfed… and all according to the rules!

Of course it’s up to you as DM how strictly you want to enforce this rule, and what breaks you give your PCs… maybe some kind of nature or knowledge check could determine if a character for example knows that orcs hate elves, and therefore if they have something elven on them they could go ahead and cast Banishment successfully. But overall, a strict interpretation of this material component will help seriously reduce the otherwise over-effectiveness of a potentially very problematic spell.

One final thing to note is that Banishment does require concentration, so if the PC in question casts another spell that requires concentration the baddie they just banished will pop back into existence. Similarly if the bad guy’s buddies are smart and rain blows on the caster the chances are they will quickly lose concentration and the banished boss will reappear.

So there you are… problem solved? Let me know your thoughts and experiences!

Ps. if you feel the component aspect is too arbitrary and open to interpretation and you would rather go with a rules fix, I would suggest – something similar to DM David’s suggestion – that the Banished creature returns in 1d8 rounds, in a random direction, between 5 and 50ft feet (1d10 x5) of the spot they were banished from. And they must materialise in a space (not in a wall etc.). Or you could simply give them a saving throw to return at the end of each of their turns. Just give your players advance warning of any rules changes you want to enforce and allow them to change spells if they feel that they don’t like your amended version.

A Quick & Easy Flanking Optional Rule

So I’m going to be DMing this Sunday, and one thing I want to introduce into combat is a quick and easy flanking rule that conveys some of the danger of being outnumbered in combat. Fifth edition only has an optional rule that conveys advantage, but that can be too strong at times (and not strong enough at others, if someone is surrounded by five foes) and involves another dice roll.

So here we go, here’s my simple rules fix. In a combat between one combatant and multiple opponents, each of the multiple opponent gets a plus modifier equivalent to their number.

Example: Aragorn is fighting two orcs. Each orc gets + 2 to their attack roll. Aragorn is fighting three orcs. Each orc gets +3 to their attack roll. Aragorn is fighting six orcs (probably the max. I’d allow to attack at one time), each orc gets +6 to their attack roll.

Note that I won’t be paying any attention to the direction the single combatant is facing, which I assume to be constantly shifting in battle. So the single combatant will still get their shield and AC bonus – having a shield and being agile would no doubt be useful still, and perhaps more importantly saves additional calculations.

Will be playtesting this on Sunday… if you think it might work for your table please try it and let me know your thoughts!

How Not To Be A Really Annoying Player

Beyond finding the treasure, rescuing the princess, and saving the village / town / nation / world, every game of Dungeons and Dragons has a higher goal… that everyone playing has fun. In that sense D&D is very much a team sport, dependent on the co-operation of all gathered. As such it can quickly be ruined, or impaired, by someone that doesn’t buy into the team mentality, usually because they want, consciously or subconsciously, for the game to revolve around them.

Just like a game of five a aside (ie. soccer to any American readers) can be spoiled by a Lionel Messi wannabe who attempts to take on the entire opposition and shoot every time he gets the ball, a game of D&D can quickly be compromised by a selfish player who monopolises the DM’s attention and tries to take control of everything from the party’s strategy and decision making, to NPC interactions and combat scenarios. Whether that Messi wannabe has the skills to back up their selfishness is besides the point (in soccer at least they invariably don’t!); because by their singular approach, this one person excludes the other party members from playing a full role, reducing them to spectators for much of the session.

Partly for cathartic reasons, partly for educational ones (feel free to subtly share this with any friends who are guilty of one or two of the misdemeanours below!) and partly to remind myself to improve my own gaming behaviour (as I’ve ticked off most of the below in my time!) I’ve compiled this list of specific things that players do which the game could really do without.

One type of annoying player… according to Dorkly.

So without further ado, let’s take a look. Which of these bad gaming etiquette traits are you guilty of?

10+ Things Annoying Players Do in D&D

1. Control Familiars, Pets, Steeds, Henchmen

For many it’s one of Dungeons & Dragons most loved spells, but my number one pet peeve in the game is the Find Familiar spell as it’s a massive time sink, especially in the hands of someone who constantly abuses it. Much of D&D is waiting for your fellow party members to act, and that’s fine, but when someone’s turn consistently takes twice as long to act because they are commanding their pet hawk / bat / cat / guinea pig / woodlouse to perform some additional task I start to think how much better this adventure would be without the animal in question. Familiars also are also a massive cop out for most adventurers, allowing parties to scout way too easily, possibly infringing on the Rogue’s role (see point 3. below) and perform a host of minor tasks without character involvement or risk. Worse still than familiars however are creatures that PCs control that get an attack. Do I really want to spend my precious Sunday afternoons watching someone roll dice to see if their warhorse or henchman scores a crappy hit? Unless it’s a solo campaign, no player should try to control anything other than his player… and no DM should allow otherwise.

2. Start A Fight At Every Opportunity

We get it. You’re a real tough guy. Everyone should be quaking in their boots the minute your half orc barbarian walks into the tavern with his two handed axe. You’ve written “quick to anger” on your character sheet just to make sure that it’s perfectly ok to start a fight at every single opportunity… except it isn’t. It’s really fucking dull, and it negates any opportunity for people with actual roleplaying skills to negotiate, charm, deceive, flirt, banter, or beguile with NPCs – which you may not realise it, is what some people actually most enjoy about D&D. Just because you’ve built a character for combat doesn’t mean you should reduce every D&D encounter to a combat situation as soon as possible (nor does it make you real world tough by the way, just in case you’re confused). For one thing it’s plain ridiculous. Even in more lawless times very few people drew swords the moment an insult was exchanged… and if they did they wouldn’t live very long. Nor would your character if I was DM. For another thing it is just plain downright selfish to those PCs with non combat skills. In every adventure I’ve ever played in 75% of encounters are combat anyway, so there’s really no need to bring the remaining 25% down to your level.

3. Usurp Others’ Jobs

Since the very beginning D&D was engineered to be a team game, with each player bringing something to the table, dictated to a large extent by which character class they choose to play. For sneaking around and disarming traps there’s the Rogue, for healing and turning undead the Cleric, for mass damage and special effects there’s the Wizard, and for hand to hand combat and sucking up damage there’s the Fighter. It’s part of what makes D&D so much fun, because – at least in a well balanced adventure – every character gets their moment(s) in the spotlight. There’s few things more frustrating then than the player who insists on performing multiple roles, especially if in doing so they tread on the feet of the other PCs. If you’re the party’s fighter don’t try to be the guy that sneaks round the back to take out the guard, even if you have Stealth proficiency: let the Rogue do his job. Similarly if you’re a Barbarian with Intelligence 8 don’t take advantage of the game mechanics and declare “I roll Arcana” the moment magic happens… let the Sorcerer or Warlock have their moment in the sun. Bear this in mind especially if / when you start multiclassing. I for example currently play an Assassin / Wizard, and whilst I do have Fireball in my spellbook, unless I’m predicting a particularly tough day in the office, I rarely prepare it, because doing mass damage to a rank of foes is the Sorcerer’s job in our party. Rather I use my spells to enhance my character’s role as the Rogue.

4. Constantly Call For A Roll (Especially At The Wrong Time)

This one annoys me both as a player and as a DM… a player interrupts proceedings to loudly shout “I roll Insight / Arcana / History” and then clatters his dice over the table with the expectancy of being told something on a high roll. First of all a player should never declare he is rolling, they are not the games master… they should start by asking the DM if it’s appropriate to roll a skills check. But first of all they should wait as long as possible to allow the roleplaying in question to pan out. If for example the DM, speaking as an NPC, is acting out a conversation with another PC in your party, then let them talk it out as much as possible and see if this NPC seems trustworthy by, you know, roleplaying. Rolling dice and demanding answers is the crudest way to play your characters, and certainly should never interrupt gameplay.

5. Don’t Accept That Shit Can Happen To Them

This annoys me more when I’m the DM, but it can come into effect as a player too if refusal to accept a bad outcome ends up in a lengthy argument between PC and DM that wastes gameplay time. If bad shit happens to your character accept it without too much fuss. Speaking from my personal experience, it can be really irritating when it happens to you, especially if you feel the DM hasn’t judged the situation well or enforced the rules properly, but ultimately a large part of the fun of D&D is the risk of your character dying, so certainly things like being injured, maimed or weakened should be water off your feathered back. If you want a narrative where your character succeeds every time at everything and is all powerful then stay at home and play with yourself. Certainly don’t get in a sulk and a protracted argument with the DM that wastes everyone else’s time.

6. Play Disruptive Characters (Then Justify It As “Roleplaying”)

If your favourite alignment is Chaotic Neutral then no need to wonder who the dick on the table is… it’s you. Chaotic Neutral is the alignment the worst type of players invariably choose because it allows them to do what the fuck they want whenever they want, without doing anything as difficult as roleplaying a realistic character. Instead they can just respond on a whim to situations in order to get the best advantage of themselves without abiding by any consistency of behaviour. In fact many Chaotic Neutral players will insist that their character’s dick moves are in fact testament to their brilliant roleplaying because stealing the ally’s magical weapons or starting a bar fight for no reason is exactly what a Chaotic Neutral person would do. What they fail to see is that manufacturing a character in order to give themselves carte blanche to be a dick is even worse than just being a dick. In general PCs that are disruptive to the the rest of the party’s goals are incredibly frustrating for fellow players and DMs, usually selfishly choosing their own sense of what’s entertaining at the expense of everyone else’s.

(Castles and Cooks say it best: you don’t have to pickpocket every NPC. The inn is perfectly fine without you setting it on fire. It doesn’t matter how “cool it sounds”… Betraying your fellow adventurers for the fun of it does not make you awesome. The name for this behavior is Chaotic Stupid, and it sucks).

7. Powergame

Powergaming is of course the practice of min. / maxing all your attributes, and selecting your skills and feats to be as powerful as possible, especially in combat. Whilst a little powergaming is rarely too damaging in itself, it’s often symptomatic of someone who is going to try to steal the limelight and do everything themselves. Someone who is trying “to win D&D” as if it were a board game. The real danger here is if someone, whilst sharing the same level as other PCs in the group, has managed to make their character grossly overpowered, then it may leave other players with less to do or feeling redundant. If you catch yourself powergaming either in the character creation process, or as you level up, then start to focus instead on who your character is instead, and determine your attributes and skills based on their personality and life story, not what is going to give you the best possible damage modifier in combat.

8. Cheat (By Actively Metagaming)

Metagaming, as I’m sure you know (if you read any roleplaying blogs), is when you act on your personal knowledge of the game’s rules and mechanics, above and beyond what your character knows. It’s almost inevitable to some extent, and it can actually be tedious not to metagame at times (for example it’s usually much easier to assume that something an NPC tells one PC in private gets relayed to the rest of the party than have to act out the charade every time it happens), but it can also be abused. What I would call “active Metagaming” should be strongly discouraged. This could be doing something illogical or outrageously out of character because it confers an advantage, when you know something your character doesn’t, or for example deliberately checking the Monster Manual in between sessions to find out a foe’s prepared spells or weaknesses. It is basically cheating and can take a lot of fun out of the game for everyone – including the person that does it.

9. Get Drunk / Wasted

(I have a feeling this one just applies only to my specific group of hedonists in Barcelona! Take note guys!). Just like playing football with someone who is struggling to control the ball quickly becomes really tedious, so is roleplaying with someone who’s crossed the line of being tipsy into drunk. Communication slows down, situations have to be explained again and again, there’s a lot of shouting over one another, and arguing with the DM, as well as a lot of reckless decisions that don’t make any sense in the context of the game and break the illusion of reality you have tried to create as a group. Tea on the other hand is awesome.

10. Mistake Themselves For The Dungeon Master

This often happens when one or more players know the rules better than the Dungeon Master in session, and therefore they constantly intervene to contradict and overrule said DM’s decisions. It’s perfectly ok to point out the rules from time to time, but often a DM makes a decision based on his judgement of the scenario that effect A causes effect B to happen, and trying to argue it doesn’t because you haven’t used your Bonus Action yet is all a bit petty and trite. A sense of logic and realism is always more important that the wording of the rules and, even if you don’t agree with the DM, it’s definitely not your job to arbitrate what happens, rulebook in hand. Furthermore players who constantly badger and petition the DM for breaks or situational advantages are almost certainly doing so to the detriment of the rest of the party, who are operating under the same circumstances but are polite enough not to spend the whole session whining / arguing about it.

No, no, and thrice no…

11. Take Forever On Their Turn

You know the scenario. Goblin arrows are raining from the sky, orcs are piling over the parapet, and a monstrous ettin is bearing down on the party, spiked club in hand. The heat of battle is furnace-like in its intensity, the time for action is now – there’s no time to think. Only one player is leafing through the Player’s Handbook for the best possible spell to utilise. No not this one. Maybe this one. What’s the range again? Then he suddenly remembers his new feat could come in handy. Or is it a 5th level character ability? I’ll just look it up. Cue eyerolls. You know what instead of a normal attack action I’m going to use acrobatics to [insert outrageously improbable trick] and appear behind the ettin so I get advantage on my roll. Just to get it over with the DM consents and the player’s turn is finally over… surely? Wait, I still have half of my movement left and my bonus action! Please God, make it stop! Ok and now it’s my warhorse’s turn. He breaks free of his reins in the stables and bursts into the courtyard and tramples on the nearest orcs as he makes his way towards me…. If you recognise yourself reading this, please change yourself! Whilst considering your options in combat is one of the fun dilemmas of any D&D session, there needs to be some respect for time both in terms of realism (snap decisions!) and basic respect for your fellow gamers. Meanwhile memorising your commonly used spells and abilities can save a lot of faffing around during the time-limited Sunday sessions you and your friends have to play D&D.

Agree with this list? What other annoying things do characters on your table do? What is the best way to discourage them from doing them in future?

Apart from avoiding the above, I’ll be back with a list of awesome things you should do to make yourself a better gamer very soon!

How To Play A Rogue Assassin

So you’re thinking about playing a Rogue Assassin in 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons? It is certainly one of the most iconic archetypes in the game and one that allows you to do deadly damage to your foes, and in the right circumstances, much more damage with one blow than fighters and wizards can hope to do. Which, together with their penchant for stealth and deception, makes them a pretty exciting prospect to play.

In this post we’ll take a look at how we can build really fun Assassin characters to play (or rather Rogue characters with a view to selecting the Assassin archetype at 3rd Level), along with what skills and proficiencies are going to make you the most effective when it comes to the mechanics of the game (ie. combat and sneaking around like a mofo).

I’m a priest, honest! (Image by Pcwallart.com).

Let’s look first at the roleplaying aspect, because hey, this is a roleplaying game after all, and whilst rolling dice is fun, the RPG pay off usually comes when we successfully breath life into our stats sheet…

The Character Side of Your Character

Backstory

The first question that you have to ask yourself when creating an Assassin is how did they get into the killing game? Are you a cold-hearted bastard who considers that if everyone has to die at some point, why not make a profit from it? Or are you a principled killer: a vigilante who only deals death to those that have it coming to them (in your humble opinion)? Are you a religious killer… dedicated to the fatal work of your deity? Maybe you were trained since childhood by an Assassin’s Guild to be an agent of death – killing has become an instinct to you, perfected by your perverse upbringing. Consider as well that your character doesn’t have to be a 24 carat pure Assassin. Maybe they are a spy or secret agent, who just happens to be particularly good at drawing a dagger across the throats of those who stand in their way – more in the mould of a medieval James Bond.

Once you’ve answered that question you also need to consider how then you ended up with your fellow player characters, as an adventurer. Have you reformed your ways (for those starting at 1st Level this could be a bit problematic as you don’t technically become an Assassin until 3rd Level)? Are you between contracts and in need of some fast cash (if so, why… do you owe someone important a big debt?)? Has an NPC sent you to spy on your fellow players? Have you been sent adventuring by your guild to get some real world experience? Or maybe you’ve rejected and run away from your guild training (let’s hope they took it well!)?

In all cases you should consult with your DM… if you’re spying on your fellow players for example do you need to present yourself as something else and hide your Rogue abilities? Or in the example where you were raised as a child by your guild, do you at first represent the guild loyally (until at least 3rd level when you complete your training) before starting to have doubts about the life you were groomed into? This could be a great story development which you could play out. By communicating with your DM you will both get ideas from him about how you can fit into his world and his adventure, as well as fit into the party, and in turn – if he’s a good DM – give him plot hooks that can shape the story you will be building together.

When I built my own Rogue Assassin I decided to create a full profile of the White Scorpions Assassin’s Guild to give more colour to my hitwoman, complete with guild history, power structure, current grandmaster, favoured killing methods, initiation ceremony and motto. I will share it soon with you!

UPDATE: I just published an e-book on the Order of the White Scorpions on DMs Guild. You can buy it for just 2.99 USD and I hope it will give you a big headstart on fleshing out an awesome character.

Now available to buy on the DMs Guild…

Using Official D&D “Backgrounds”

Don’t forget to take advantage of the excellent Backgrounds section in the 5th Edition Player’s Handbook to flesh our your character (or even create them from scratch). Charlatan, Criminal and Urchin are the obvious ones to consider, but often the best character ideas come from combining two seemingly miss-matched premises. What if the bespectacled and weedy cartographer (Guild Artisan background) puts down his pen and inks at night to fire poisoned darts into his victims’ necks from his hand-made blowgun? Or maybe the boyish Orlando Bloom lookalike uses his celebrity status as playboy poet (Entertainer background) to infiltrate the palaces and castles of the rich and famous in order to do his dirty work.

Once you’ve made a decision be sure to roll on the Personality Trait, Ideal, Bond and Flaw tables. As you get a sense of your character you might prefer to choose one (or more) from each table (or from the tables of another background) than roll randomly… then again rolling randomly can do wonders for your creativity, as it forces you to join the dots in a credible way, no matter how far away they are.

Rolling randomly on the Charlatan’s tables just now I got the following:

Personality Trait
3. Flattery is my preferred trick for getting what I want.

Ideal
2. Fairness. I never target people who can’t afford to lose a few coins.

Bond
6. I swindled and ruined a person who didn’t deserve it. I seek to atone for my misdeeds but might never be able to forgive myself.

Flaw
2. I’m always in debt. I spend my ill gotten gains on decadent luxuries faster than I bring them in.

From these rolls I’m already getting a firm idea of a new character. A lush gambler with a love of the high life, who once – out of desperation – conned a woman who loved him out of her life fortune. She died shortly after and he has never quite forgiven himself, but nor has he managed to clean up his act completely. He still robs, cheats and cons to pay for his lifestyle, but only from the rich. He is sounding more like a Thief than an Assassin, but I’m going to toughen him up a bit by imagining he is from low nobility and an experienced dueller with the rapier. His goal in any fight is simply to win by any means necessary, preferably without exposing himself to any danger, explaining his ability to use the Rogue’s Sneak Attack ability and later Assassinate ability. In short he is a dissolute rake, with a thin sense of honour, but a sense of honour nonetheless and it could be a lot of fun playing with the ambiguities in his character.

So there you go guys… roll dem dice and watch as – out of thin air – a fully fledged character idea emerges!

(By the way, my e-book on The Order of the White Scorpions does include a new background ‘Trainee Assassin’ which would suit anyone wanting to play a character groomed for the killing game from an early age).

Important: Fitting Into The Party

Remember, whilst you might have a lot of fun spying on your fellow characters, lying to them and creating chaos, it’s not always that much fun for the others – especially if you end up stabbing them in the back with a poisoned dagger “because it’s in my character”. One of the challenges of playing Assassins, and Rogues in general, is finding a credible reason for them to be with the party and not only that but be on their side, and keep the game fun for everyone. Even if you start by spying on them, perhaps later, after they’ve saved your life more times that you can count, your loyalties and values change and you become a trusted team member.

I solved this problem by having my Assassin work for a guild who deal in strictly just killings. This meant I could play a principled character of good alignment, one who could ally easily with the objectives of my party as they performed various missions against the forces of evil.

Lovely night for a lakeside stroll isn’t it?

Building A Kick-Ass Assassin

Now that you’ve got a solid backstory, let’s engage in a bit of powergaming (I know you didn’t really come here for the roleplaying tips!) and take a look at how to build your character for maximum effectiveness.

Choosing Your Race

Dexterity is what all Rogues live and die by, so it makes sense to look at the races that start by giving you a boost on this crucial skill. That is Elf (+2), Forest Gnome (+1), Halfling (+2) and Human (+1), and potentially Half Elf (+1). The idea of a Forest Gnome or Halfling Assassin seems fairly ludicrous to me… but then again remember what I said before about mismatches leading to great characters! What about a happy go lucky, somewhat portly female halfling, a maternal figure who loves singing, cooking, cleaning… and killing people? However, if you’ve been inspired by visions of a stealthy ninja-like shadow slinking over castle parapets and firing poisoned crossbow bolts at corrupt Princes then definitely Elf, Human or Half Elf make more sense. If you consider that humans can’t see in the dark, which is a major disadvantage if you’re Assassin, I’d put Elf and Half Elf ahead. As I find the idea of an Elf Assassin incongruous with their nature (and a Dark Elf one too cliched), I’d put Half Elf as my favourite Assassin race. (Half Orcs and Tieflings as natural outsiders could be decent shouts too).

Whatever you decide bump Dex up to the maximum, as you’ll be using it for the majority of your skills, your AC, initiative and your to hit and damage modifiers. Second tier attributes are Charisma (so that you can have a lot of fun conning, charming and deceiving NPCs) and Intelligence (for Investigation, but more importantly for when you multiclass as a Wizard, as I’m going to suggest!), whilst Constitution is handy if you plan to fight hand to hand in combat (more fun than pussying around with bows IMHO!), especially as you are only proficient in light armour and therefore relatively easy to hit. Strength is useless to you, especially if your DM lets you use Acrobatics for climbing checks (as our does!), and Wisdom too, as you’ll take Expertise function in Perception the only skill for which you will need it (although you will fail an annoying amount of Saving Throws because of it!).

Choosing Proficiencies

The Rogue class gives you four proficiencies, you should get an extra two from your background, plus Half Elf as a Race grants you another two, so you could start the game with a whopping 8 proficiencies – two of which you can choose Expertise in, allowing you to double your proficiency bonus. Here are the most useful ones, starting with what I consider the most essential.

Stealth – Hiding and sneaking up on foes is key to taking advantage of your Sneak Attack and Assassinate skills. Choose expertise in this.
Perception – Probably the most rolled skill check in the game, plus no one likes being surprised. Consider strongly for expertise.
Acrobatics – Depending on your DM you might roll Acrobatics for jumping over rooftops, tumbling out of windows and cartwheeling out of danger, or sometimes Athletics. I love Acrobatics but possibly if you have a high Dex. anyway and your DM insists on Athletics checks for climbing and jumping choose Athletics instead.
Athletics – See above.
Sleight of Hand – Useful for slipping poison into your victim’s wine and other subtleties.
Deception – Fast talking, lying, charming or disguising yourself.
Insight – For determining if others are lying to you.
Investigation – Useful for finding traps and hidden objects, although many DMs use Perception checks.
Persuasion – For general charm.
Arcana – Useful if you want to multiclass as a Wizard later.

Optimising Combat

One weapon combination really stands out for Assassin’s as the best and that is fighting with two short swords (or for a more oriental flavour scimitars), one in each hand. The rules state (p.195 of the Player’s Handbook) that as long as both weapons are “light” then you can use your main action to attack with one, and your bonus action to attack with the other. As shortswords (and scimitars) are not only “light” but also “finesse” weapons you can use your Dexterity modifier for both attack and damage rolls (note, when you use your bonus action to attack with your offhand you don’t get a damage bonus however). This means you can not only use your best skill modifier in combat but you get more attacks than most fighters at first level. There’s an additional reason for favouring two weapons however. As a Rogue you will want to be initiating combat more often than not, jumping out of shadows to get your Sneak Attack / Assassinate bonuses. Once you’ve been spotted however getting your Sneak Attack bonus is harder… you may have to dissolve into the melee to reappear somewhere else, or flank a creature already engaged in the fight… which means you really don’t want to miss your initial thrust, or any other time you get a Sneak Attack. With two chances to hit that means even if you mess up your first attack, you can still strike using your bonus action and ensure your Sneak Attack damage gets dealt (you can only do Sneak Attack damage once a turn).

Aside from two shortswords / scimitars (or daggers if you fancy a weapon you can throw as well!), you will want to carry a range weapon. Range weapons still qualify for Sneak Attack and since you’re likely not to the toughest or heavily armoured dude on the battlefield being able to keep your distance on occasion is invaluable. Unless you’re a shortass (halfling or gnome) then a longbow beats a shortbow, and whilst a crossbow is stylish if I was the DM I would find ways to penalise anyone trying to sneak around with an 18lb heavy crossbow, so a light or handcrossbow makes more sense.

Finally, whilst you might put yourself at a disadvantage in terms of game mechanics, an iconic weapon can lend a lot of fun flavour to your character. For this reason you might want to consider fighting with a scimitar and sickle, blowgun, or perhaps poison-coated whip. Check out this list for inspiration. Seriously regretting not arming my own character with a Xena Warrior Princess style Chakram. Speak to your DM about making fair rules for any new weapons.

Using Poison

Poison somewhat problematic in D&D as really there’s little reason why an Assassin wouldn’t be using deadly poison nonstop… other than the fact it would unbalance the game. I guess for that reason using poisons is expensive and a little impractical. In the Player’s Handbook (p153) it lists a vial of basic poison as 100 GBP and says that is only enough to coat one blade, or three pieces of ammunition. So not much bang for your buck. Worst of all it does a measly 1d4 damage – and that’s only if the victim doesn’t succeed a DC10 constitution check. Considering that it takes an action to apply the poison in the first place, this is underwhelming to say the least. After level one it’s completely pointless.

The Dungeon Master’s Guide attempts to come to the rescue (p. 257 and 258) with a more detailed list of potentially deadly toxins, although all of them are fantasy poisons that retail at outrageous prices (I would have preferred some poisons from the real world at sensible prices). The most attainable is Serpent Venom, harvested from giant poisonous snakes and retailing at 200 gp a dose, which does a semi-respectable 3d6 damage – although again the saving throw DC is just 11. You’ll need to pay ten times the amount (ie a whopping 2000 gp!) to get a dose of venom worthy of the name in the form of Purple Worm Poison which does 12d6 damage, with a saving throw DC of 19.

The ingested poisons, for slipping into someone’s cider glass, are priced similarly, and make you wonder why you couldn’t just administer some hemlock or rat poison for a fraction of the price that might in addition do the job it is intended to do. Something like Assassin’s Blood, 150 gp, does a paltry 1d12 damage and is saved on a DC10 anyway. Hardly your toxin of choice for a high profile hit job. (It is at least one of the few poisons that gives the victim the actual condition of being “poisoned”. According to p292 of the PH: a poisoned creature has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks).

Finally the rules for harvesting poisons are perhaps the most ridiculous… you can read them yourselves (DMG p258) but in most cases you are more likely to do damage to yourself than harvest a lethal dose.

Overall you are probably best speaking to your DM about what poisons you have access to, and what are the rules that govern using them. Laying low creatures with every nick of your blade is obviously going to make your character massively overpowered, but at least semi-frequent use of toxic materials should be part and parcel of playing an Assassin IMHO. (Remember as well that poison won’t work on many creatures like undead, demons and supernatural beings, whilst as a DM I would always give large creatures advantage on poison saving throws as obviously it’s exponentially harder to bring down an Ogre than a kobold with a nasty dose).

If there’s any shout for it, I might even create some new poisons for 5e D&D. Let me know if that you would interest you in the comments!

UPDATE: I do include playtested rules for a new poison in my aforementioned e-book. Deathstalker Scorpion Venom is an injury poison, a concentrated dose of which brings on temporary paralysis (on a failed save) allowing its administrator to dispatch their victim.

Your Equipment

As a Rogue you start with Leather armour, which is a bit of a joke as it only gives you 11AC instead of 10 with no protection whatsoever. Real life leather armour is actually really tough, so not sure why WOTC nerfed it for 5th edition. Anyway it only costs 45 gp to upgrade to studded leather, giving you AC12, which is sadly as about as high as you’re going to get for armour alone – luckily your dex. modifier as discussed is your best friend and you should have minimum 16 dex / +3 modifier to start with.

Armour aside you also get a Burglar’s Pack (p.151 of PH), which contains, I quote: a backpack, a bag of 1000 ball bearings, 10 feet of string, a bell, 5 candles, a crowbar, a hammer, 10 pitons, a hooded lantern, 2 flasks of oil, 5 days rations, a tinderbox and a waterskin. The pack also has 50 feet of hempen rope strapped to the side of it. Plus Thieves’ Tools (p154 of PH), which contains, I paraphrase: a small file, a set of lock picks, a small mirror mounted on a metal handle, a set of narrow-bladed scissors, and a pair of pliers.

The ballbearings can be useful to aid an escape… see also caltrops (both p.151 of the PH). I would definitely add a grappling hook to your list of possessions and maybe a wrist sheath, from which you can surreptitiously pop a knife/dagger in case of emergency. If you can dig out the old 2nd edition Thieves Handbook it had a load of good ideas to supplement your equipment with the likes of marked cards, loaded dice, blinding powder, weaponblack and more. Discuss with your DM what they might allow.

Don’t Miss This Feat!

Generally speaking when you have the chance to go for an ability score improvement or a feat, you’re going to want to take the chance to add another +2 to your Dexterity. As this will increase you modifier by +1, and that modifier goes on your AC, your attack rolls, your initiative and many skills checks… however there is one feat that is well worth selecting in my experience. And that is Alert. It doesn’t sound too sexy at first, its main boon being a +5 to initiative but when combined with your high dex. it pretty much guarantees you will always act first in combat, often allowing you to kill a foe before they have time to strike. Indeed, let’s read again the wording of the Assassinate skill which says: you are deadliest when you get the drop on your enemies. You have advantage on attack rolls against any creature that hasn’t taken a turn in the combat yet. In other words you can use Sneak Attack even without sneaking if you act first. (Of course it’s much better if they are surprised because: any hit you score against a creature that is surprised is a critical hit . Remember, in the case of surprise you would be getting your Sneak Attack anyway, but with Assassinate it becomes a critical Sneak Attack, meaning you roll ALL your damage dice twice, then add any modifiers).

I can’t really emphasise how much acting first is an advantage for a Rogue so select this feat and find out for yourself. The only other tempting feats for the Assassin are Sharpshooter and Lucky, the latter of which is banned on our table as it’s like having three inspiration points a day. Which is plain silly.

Multiclassing…

What’s more deadly than an Assassin? An Assassin that can radically alter their own appearance, create an illusionary diversion, make guards magically fall asleep or even turn themselves invisible. Whilst most Wizards don’t want to use their precious spells slots on utility spells, preferring to stake their authority in combat with the likes of Thunderwave and Fireball, there are dozens of 1st and 2nd level spells that perfectly compliment your roguish abilities, making multiclassing as a Wizard a fantastic option for optimising your gameplay.

Using the Prestigitation cantrip you could snuff out a candle, before closing in for the kill in a darkened room. Or on the battlefield you could use Misty Step to appear behind your opponent, granting you advantage (at the DM’s discretion), and therefore Sneak Attack bonuses on your strike. Need to beat a hasty retreat from the palace? Grease, Fog Cloud or Web will all slow down those pesky guards… or select my personal fave way of exiting the building by jumping out of a top floor window and casting Feather Fall as a reaction on the way down. Also worth noting, the easily neglected Shield spell is a life saver, literally, for combat situations and can also be cast using just a reaction.

More Inspiration

Hopefully this article has got you excited about playing a 5th Edition Rogue Assassin. Don’t cop out of roleplaying by opting for the “silent killer” mould though… use my tips to come up with hitman with both personality and power. If I haven’t got your creative juices flowing yet then why not take some inspiration from some of fiction’s best loved assassins, like Nikita, Leon, Altaïr ibn-La’Ahad, 007, and many more. NerdMuch have a list of eight of the best, whilst you can find a pretty comprehensive list on Wikipedia.

A reminder that you can find the stats and personality of my own dagger in the dark, Xenia “Night Sting” Zanetti together with a profile of the guild she works for: The White Scorpions on this very blog.

You can even power up your PC, give them a tonne of extra credibility and support the handsome, kitten-saving, environmentally sustainable and downright loveable – but very poor – guy behind Hipsters & Dragons by buying his e-book.

>>> Buy The White Scorpions Assassins Guild for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons <<<

Is Counterspell Overpowered? How To Deal With Counterspell as a DM…

Is Counterspell overpowered? The answer is probably yes. Using just a reaction (ie. you can still use your own action to cast another spell or attack!), and a third level spell slot (minimum), you can negate the effect of any spell of 3rd level or lower cast within 60ft of you, and you have a decent chance of bringing higher level spells to a grinding halt as well.

During a recent encounter our poor Dungeon Master grew quite frustrated as the sorcerer in our party rendered a high level cleric powerless, by negating a succession of dangerous spells that would have put the combat right in the balance, all with just a couple of 3rd level spell slots. Maybe that’s why DM David voted it one of the four most annoying spells in D&D!

Counter this beeactch... (Artwork by Biffno on Deviantart)

Counter this beeatch… (Artwork by Biffno on Deviantart)

As a Dungeon Master the spell carries a double annoyance. It can make it harder to judge how tough to make encounters (if Fire Storm takes effect the party is going to be in a lot of trouble… if it doesn’t it could turn into a cakewalk), and from a story point of view it can replace epic happenings with the empty hiss of arcane magic fizzling out into nothing.

Of course you could simply ban the spell from the table, but that can feel pretty rough on those who consider it a key weapon in their armoury, so let’s look at some ways you can legitimately prevent it from getting overpowered without changing the existing rules.

1. Perception Check
The caster of Counterspell has to be able to see the caster of the spell they are trying to interrupt. But let’s remember that they don’t get a little notification in their inbox saying “someone within 60ft of you is trying to cast a spell, would you like to try and counter it?” Just because it’s possible for character A. to see character B., ie. there is a clear line of sight, doesn’t mean that character A. was looking in that direction at exactly the right moment. Unless the character in question was unquestionably focused on the caster have them roll a Perception check to see if they notice what the hell is going on. On a chaotic battlefield with multiple casters I’d recommend a DC of around 15.

2. Don’t Automatically Reveal What Spell Is Being Cast
If you know one or more of your players has Counterspell up their wizards’ sleeves, then be smart. Don’t declare what spell your NPC is casting. Simply inform your player(s) that they see a creature (if indeed they do see them… see points 1. and 2.) about to cast a spell, and have them roll an Arcana check DC15. If they pass they correctly guess the spell being cast, otherwise they have no idea and have to gamble whether or not to use their spell slot to try and counter the spell on what might just be a magic missile or cantrip. What’s more if the character has never seen the spell cast before give them disadvantage on their Arcana roll (if they have seen it plenty, or frequently cast it themselves, you should probably give them advantage). If you want to be really mean roll for them privately, behind your screen, and feed them misinformation when they fail their roll. This way they never know for sure, because even when they pass the check and you tell them the truth, they don’t know they passed the roll, so can’t be sure to trust their character’s assessment.

3. Make The Players Act Instantly
The uncertainty caused by point 3. will create a lot hesitation… snap your fingers, and if they haven’t decided tell them they’re too late! They just lost their reaction. Better luck next time. (That is if they survive the Lich’s Power Word Kill… mwah ha ha ha!).

4. Get The Rules Right
When the spell being cast is higher than the spell slot being used to interrupt it the Counterspeller must make a DC check of 10 plus the spell level. They can add their spellcasting ability but NOT their proficiency bonus. (I mention this because we got this wrong on our table and indeed our frustrated DM might have got off at least one more spell if we had this clearer! There is actually a skill called Improved Abjuration available to Wizards who follow the School of Abjuration who reach 10th level that enables them to add their proficiency bonuses to this roll [p.115 of the Player’s Handbook]… chances are your players don’t have that!).

5. One Reaction A Turn Max.
Remember the spell does take a reaction. And every character only gets one reaction a round. So if they’ve cast Shield already for example, or indeed another Counterspell, or used Uncanny Dodge to halve some damage (if they are multiclass Rogue), then they’re shit out of luck.

6. Fight Fire(ball Extinguisher) with Fire(ball Extinguisher)
One other very obvious way to fight the power of Counterspell is to arm all your NPCs casters with it as well – a particularly good tactic if you want to persuade magic using characters on your table to drop it from gameplay altogether, as you’ll soon see them get frustrated when their own spells fizzle out and the combat is decided by the fighters in the party. (Do note however, despite some DMs arguing that you can, you can’t Counterspell a Counterspell. Aside from the ridiculousness that would ensue, that would also involve casting two spells simultaneously, which is not only against the rules, but also against common sense. Additionally CS is so fast there’s no way you could react to it… most spells take several seconds to cast, CS takes a split second).

Hipster Rules Fix

If, after applying all these factors to your gameplay, you still feel that the spell is overpowered let me suggest the following rules fix. Instead of setting a DC, the CS caster must contest the original caster each using their spellcasting ability modifier. If one of them is using a higher spell slot than the other, they get +2 modifier per slot higher.

Eg. Gandalf is a wizard with Intelligence 18 (+4 spellcasting modifier) and seeing the dastardly Harry Potter (Intelligence 16, +3 modifier) preparing a nefarious incantation he successfully rolls Arcana to recognise it. It’s the level 7 Finger of Death spell! Gandalf uses his highest spell slot left, a level 6, to try to counter it. He rolls a 15, which becomes 19 with his spellcasting modifier. Harry rolls 13, plus his own spellcasting modifier of 3, and an additional plus 2 as his spell is one level higher than the slot being used to counter it. His total is 18 (a draw would result in the spell being cast). Gandalf succeeds in his counter… just.

In my rules fix there’s also no such thing as an automatic counter, so you should roll/contest if even if you are countering a spell using a higher spell slot, getting +2 on your roll per slot level higher you use. (Otherwise a higher level wizard would systematically destroy a lower one without a chance, which is against the spirit of D&D).

Personally I quite like Counterspell, probably because I currently play as a multi-class Fighter / Rogue / Wizard, and it gives me a chance at least to avoid seriously nasty spells of magic users before engaging them in melee, where I have the upper hand. As someone with a long history of failing saving throws I really enjoy getting a second chance to avoid some excruciatingly annoying effect that is going to take my character out of the game for the rest of the encounter…

Plus this guy has some good advice on making it fun!

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