Hipsters & Dragons

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

Tag: 5e D&D (Page 1 of 4)

Call Lightning is Really Boring… Here’s How To Fix It!

My second ever 5e character was a tempest cleric called Jaxx Storm. Safely floating to shore in a barrel as a baby, after his boat was shipwrecked, he believed himself to be the son of Shaundakul, and had an attitude to match his (self-declared) demi-god status. I had a lot of fun playing him, as he was pretty versatile. I could switch between being pretty handy in melee (I enjoyed knocking people over with my shield – using Shieldmaster feat – and then smashing them with my morning star) and casting utility spells, and I never tired of unleashing wrath of the storm (p.62, Player’s Handbook) on my opponents.

However, as I played through levels 1-4, what I was really looking forward to was reaching 5th level and getting my hands on call lightning. When that happened my PC became a lot more powerful, as I had expected, but sadly he also became a lot less fun to play…

Call Lightning

3rd level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 120 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes

A storm cloud appears in the shape of a cylinder that is 10 feet tall with a 60-foot radius, centered on a point you can see 100 feet directly above you. The spell fails if you can’t see a point in the air where the storm cloud could appear (for example, if you are in a room that can’t accommodate the cloud).

When you cast the spell, choose a point you can see within range. A bolt of lightning flashes down from the cloud to that point. Each creature within 5 feet of that point must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 3d10 lightning damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. On each of your turns until the spell ends, you can use your action to call down lightning in this way again, targeting the same point or a different one.

If you are outdoors in stormy conditions when you cast this spell, the spell gives you control over the existing storm instead of creating a new one. Under such conditions, the spell’s damage increases by 1d10.

At Higher Levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 4th level or higher level, the damage increases by 1d10 for each slot level above 3rd.

Bring the storm!

Looks Great… So What’s The Problem?

The problem with this spell is that a) it’s too good – it does significantly more damage than a cleric’s melee attacks and other spell options at 5th level, and b) it goes on forever. The result was that I ended up using call lightning every time we entered a major combat. And so, instead of getting involved in the fight, I just hung around at the back of the battle doing the same thing every turn… another 3d10 damage. This, it turns out, is really f*cking boring!

Given that you could theoretically keep on casting call lightning for 100 turns of combat, hitting maybe two foes on average, you could potentially end up doing around 600 x d10 (3300) hit points of damage using just one third level spell slot. In practice this is rarely going to happen, but a cleric of the tempest or a druid taking cover behind a battlement could swing a long battle single-handedly with just this one spell, making it ridiculously overpowered in certain circumstances.

That’s another reason why I’m tempted to tinker with this one…

Hipster’s Fix

How can we solve these issues neatly, without nerfing the spell? My suggestion is that after initially casting the spell and calling down your first bolt, at the start of each subsequent turn you must roll a d6. On a 5 or 6, the storm cloud you have conjured has recharged and you can unleash another bolt on your foes. On a 1-4 it keeps brewing, meaning you can’t use it this turn – however for each turn the storm brews you can add an extra d10 damage when you next are able to call down a bolt.

This adds a really fun random twist to proceedings. In two out of three rounds you’ll have to find something else to do, maybe joining melee or casting another (non concentration) spell. But when the 5 or 6 turns up the fun factor of bringing down another lightning bolt returns… especially fun if it has charged up to 4, 5, 6 or god knows how many d10s of damage.

By both reducing the number of times it can be used, and by increasing the likelihood of the caster losing concentration (as they won’t want to spend their time taking cover and doing nothing on the rounds it doesn’t recharge), this fix also balances the spell quite nicely, I believe.

Sadly Jaxx Storm is in retirement right now, so please get back to me if you have a chance to implement this fix in your game… just leave a comment below!

For more spell discussions check out these posts on why hypnotic pattern is too good, why fireball is so much better than lightning bolt, and dealing with banishment. There’s usually some good reader comments as well.

The Lion & The Blades, by Weston Prestage

The DMs Guild is the resource that keeps on giving and I never fail to be astonished by the creativity and industry of the many many contributors enlarging the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse. Expanded monster manuals, epic compendiums of NPC statblocks, planar guides, warlock handbooks, and my own guide to magic weapons (get a free sample here!), there’s so much rich material to add to your game.

For all the handbooks, player options, and new lore, for my money there’s nothing quite as romantic as an adventure, especially when it takes you back – Stranger Things-style – to a pre-digital world of kids riding their BMXes through the rain to clatter dice together during the school holidays. And so, without further ado, let me give over the reins to Weston Prestage, whose adventure, The Lion and the Blades, is steeped in 2nd edition nostalgia…

Tell us about your adventure, The Lion and the Blades…

It’s a city / dock / sewer adventure for a 1st level party. Taking place over one intense speed run with no breaks or hit point boosting power naps. It starts a group off like being shot from a cannon into the intensity of what D&D always was for me. Hot, fast and often brutal… grim meat hook realities… lying in wait for bad choices and bad rolls… and the rewards of REAL emotion at your success or failures.

I made this adventure when I was 14, and it was written in the twisted yet simplistic style of the mind of a 14-year-old Dungeon Master who ran a group of four to six players in a small town in rural New Zealand in the year 1991. I have brought it up to 5e standards without losing the old school 2nd edition – mostly made up as you go along, out of total imagination and written in the back of your math book in class, feel.

The Lion and the Blades is a “Linear” Adventure to a degree… the players are not wandering about mission-less, paralyzed by sandy boxy free choice.

Buy The Lion & The Blades on the DMs Guild

Why did you write it?

Back in the early days, I always had a hard time starting off adventurers on their first few levels, as most of what was available back in the early 90s was high level stuff or pretty dull, orc and goblins in rooms or caves in the hills stuff… I wanted to start guys off with a bang… and so I would make adventures where a powerful NPC mentored them… kind of.

I had big goals that my games and adventures were always going to be amazing. That the players will be faced with challenge after challenge and it will possibly be too much for them, mentally. My adventures have been known to cause grown men to lie down on the floor and refuse to get up until the mad merry go round stops. Others enjoy the carnie roller-coaster feel of my adventures. When, back in 91, the guys showed up at my house after riding in the rain for an hour – they needed something to bring them back to life. My adventures did just that.

How about a little taster then?

Knowing how much players love swimming their characters through freezing cold water toward adventure I made sure to include this:

The party comes to a large pipe with sea sounds and sea smells from the seashore issuing from it – a salty and refreshing change from the slimy sewers. Leon asks if someone would scout stoutly ahead to make sure the coast is clear. He also says that if anyone has anything that water would ruin, to leave it here as now they will be swimming aways.

After 20 feet of crawling, the pipe ends underneath a wharf. Leon jumps out and starts swimming strongly through the cold dark salty seawater, towards a huge and terrifying, Black and Blue painted Galleon, bristling with gun hatches (if you run a gunpowder game) and vicious barnacles. This is the Black and Blue Lass. The wooden pillars that support the wharf are spaced 20 feet apart and the players must swim through the freezing water with attendant penalties from the cold. Bad swimmers can swim/ from wharf pillar to wharf pillar clutching and sputtering at each of these, on the way to the galleon…

Who the hell are you by the way?

I’ve been playing since January 1985… I met a kid called Ben, who introduced me to a game called Tunnels and Trolls.

Ben and I played this game a lot over that summer in a sweltering little caravan…with my characters Rambo I, II and III.

My foolish and reckless play style got me killed often but undaunted I made my own dungeon and killed other people’s characters.

When I was 11, I could finally understand the Red Box I got for Xmas when I was 10. Then a teenager sold me all his 1st ed books at the same time 2nd ed came out. By 13 I’m playing a twisted house ruled out of control bastard mix of all of the above and did so until 16. Every weekend and holiday… A good 20 hours a week + 15 hours creating adventures with my gaming group of 6 players.

I resisted 3.0 – 3.5 all the way until I was 26 when I was up in a cabin in the wilds of Canada hanging with some hippies and one day one of them said “The way you speak… You sound like a Dungeon Master… I made the outrageous claim that I was not only a 47th level Dungeon master, but one of the top 10 on the planet…and the only difference between myself and Dungeon Masters …. is that I am a Dungeon Master.

He produced a 3.0 players handbook and some battered dice and the twisted hippies forced me to read the book cover to cover and kept me as a captive in a cabin for 26 straight days while I took them on an immense campaign 1st level to 17th – all adventures run from memory …seamlessly and flawlessly.

I have taken breaks now and then to work and get things done, but when I get rolling on playing its fully immersed.

Now Im 42 – I have a “D and D room” in my house and every book worth having since 1977– EVERY Dungeon magazine, Every Dragon Magazine, and my poor 7 year old son starts every second sentence with “In D & D…”

I kept playing right into the unplayable mass of piddling plusses and minuses that pathfinder became before almost going into a brain dead coma from it all… then 5e liberated me like a firebird from the sooty nightmare realm of min maxed optimized builds and pictures of cartoony monsters wielding giant weapons.

If someone had told me as a child that I would spend countless hours over the next 35 years scribbling into notebooks, rolling dice, making funny voices and would go without food, sleep and even destroy perfectly good relationships with perfectly proportioned women all for the thrill of helping others follow me through a glowing green portal into an imaginary world populated with fairies, elves and gremlins I would have grabbed them by the arm and said…

“THERE’S A” PORTAL????!!!!!”

And what else have you written?

I have written about 20 other adventures, a number I converted to 3.5 and were very popular on old D&D websites back in the day. They are almost all insanely epic in scope 40+ hours each – not the stuff for beer and pretzels play… but more like group of 14 year olds living in a remote area fodder. In their original note form, each adventure filled 3-4 school notebooks. One is almost 400 pages long. If I had the strength … I would convert them to 5e for DMs guild.

I can send people the 3.5 PDFs if anyone is interested.

And just for fun…

What’s your current PC?

I have never really played in anyone’s game before, I’ve always DMed… what I do is make up insane NPCs and kind of play them along with the players… like Glambrax. A demented mullet wearing alcoholic human afflicted with dwarfism. He is numb from years of self-abuse and wild with rage at his own existence. When not trying to win prizefights, he lives in a barrel in the slums and sells roasted rats and a crude beer fermented from acorns.

Both rats and acorns being gathered for him by street urchins he has befriended.

What’s your favorite character class?

Dwarven Rogue. Tough and rough, low Charisma, low dex, high strength and constitution, chops through chests instead of picking them, crowbars traps apart instead of disarming them and screams at people instead of persuading them…

What’s your favorite monster?

Twisted NPCs… it could be a deranged fisherman… a crazed orphan Elf or a human with dwarfism that has racially appropriated the Duergar race. The kookier and more intense the better.

What’s your favorite official D&D adventure?

The UK Series… they are all amazing, but the shining gem is When a Star Falls. I love massive wilderness adventures that have many plots and twists going on at once.

You can get in touch with me, Weston Prestage, via email: agentfestaskull@gmail.com

Buy The Lion & The Blades on the DMs Guild

Are You A Good D&D Player?

My Dungeon Master recently shared an interesting video with me by Taking20, in which the presenter Cody, shares his thoughts on what make a great – and not-so-great – Dungeons & Dragons player.

He categorises players into tiers, and gives the qualities that he feels define each tier.

Partly because I’m more of a word man than a video junkie (i.e. I wanted to see his points in a form that I could easily refer back to), and partly because some members of my group were too lazy busy to watch a 20 minute video they could benefit from, I decided to make a list of Cody’s tier system for quick and easy consumption.

There are a number of great takeaways from the video, and – just as the author intended – it is a very useful barometer to measure your own play style by, whether you’re fairly new to the game or a decades-old veteran of the art.

Tier 0 – Disruptive Player

Cody’s Definition: These players destroy campaigns and break up groups, because people don’t enjoy playing with them.

Traits:

  • They argue with DM’s rulings
  • They don’t pay attention in combat (they’re on their phone)
  • They hog every situation, try to fulfil every role on the table
  • They may over-roleplay mundane moments (eg. buying some rope), thereby slowing the game narrative to a crawl
  • They are unprepared, and don’t know their character’s abilities
  • They ‘pout’, ie. sulk when things don’t go their way

Tier 1 – Beginners

Cody’s Definition: These are the newcomers learning the game. You should be able to leave this tier quickly.

Traits:

  • Don’t know the rules
  • Need constant help

Cody is quick to point out that everyone has a right to occupy this tier as a beginner, but you should be heading out of it after just three or so sessions, provided you’re not planning to be disruptive tier 0 persona.

(NB. Cody’s maths get a bit wonky here, as he goes straight from Tier 1 to Tier 3. I’ve taken the liberty of correcting him).

Tier 2 – Average Player

Cody’s Definition: This is basically Cody’s minimum expectations of a non-beginner player.

Traits:

  • Has a solid understanding of the rules
  • Take notes when the DM introduces a new PC
  • Show up to first session with readymade character, with ideas for a backstory, personality and character motivation
  • They understand their class mechanics (“if you don’t understand your class mechanics by the third session you’ve slid down into a disruptive player” says Cody, who brooks no bullshit!!!).
  • Have an understanding of the setting / campaign world
  • Understand the basics of roleplay, make choices based on their character
  • Manage to hold back from metagaming around 50% of the time (ie. don’t offer advice when they’re unconscious, etc.).

Tier 3 – Good Player

Cody’s Definition: Cody defines a good D&D player by the following traits…

Traits:

  • Know how to involve others in the game (and can do it in character)
  • Recognise party roles, allow everyone their moment in the spotlight
  • Recognise story hooks that the DM lays out, and follow up on them
  • Don’t create annoying motivational issues for their PC that threaten the advancement of the story
  • Understand how to roleplay, and can truly avoid metagaming, acting according to their character knowledge etc.
  • Know how to accept character death

Tier 4 – Great Players

Cody’s Definition: Beyond good, these traits make a great player…

Traits:

  • Have mastered the art of improv, can go with the DM’s flow and invent new story details on the spot that add to the story
  • They can read the table, and help move the game along when necessary
  • Can make player vs. player conflict fun, without escalating it and derailing the session

Tier 5 – Extraordinary Players

Cody’s Definition: You are ready to star in Critical Role!

Traits:

  • They are fully immersed in their character (without losing sight of the above points)
  • May have mastered voice acting (or may not)
  • Know what their character would do in certain situations
  • Have defining vocabulary and catchphrases
  • Constantly try to improve as players

Anyway I think it’s a really interesting tier system, and quite an exacting set of standards to hold oneself up to.

Here is the video if you want to check it out. For more on gaming etiquette check my twin posts on traits of annoying D&D players and qualities of great D&D players, where I look at some of these issues from a slightly different angle.

Great Weapon Master Feat… OP’ed or not?

There are three feats that the vast majority of Dungeon Masters consider broken, according to this survey by Think DM.

One of them is Lucky, the only feat to get banned on my table and one which I discussed previously on this blog (and which in turn generated scores of conflicting comments, with many people rushing to its defense. I’ll let you read their reasons yourselves). Another is Sharp Shooter, which perhaps I’ll talk about another time. The third, and today’s topic, is Great Weapon Master.

It’s an interesting feat for sure… the Player’s Handbook states:

Great Weapon Master

You’ve learned to put the weight of a weapon to your advantage, letting its momentum empower your strikes. You gain the following benefits:

  • On your turn, when you score a critical hit with a melee weapon or reduce a creature to 0 hit points with one, you can make one melee weapon attack as a bonus action.
  • Before you make a melee attack with a heavy weapon that you are proficient with, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to the attack roll. If the attack hits, you add +10 to the attack’s damage.

The concept is simple. You’re a big brave brute who has sacrificed a shield (and an ability modifier to take this feat), in order to do maximum possible damage with each swing of your blade.

The first of the two benefits raises few eyebrows… critical hits are pretty rare after all, as is reducing a creature to zero hit points.

The second benefit is where the controversy comes in. An additional 10 damage is massive. If you consider a greatsword does on average 7 damage, it’s kind of crazy that there’s a feat that allows you to do another 143% of that damage as part of the same attack. Everything hinges on that -5 modifier… but in a game of low ACs and high bonuses to hit, not to mention various potential ways to get advantage on your attacks, is that enough of a penalty to justify that huge damage haul?

Ready to do serious damage…

Some Maths…

I’m not going to go super nerdy on this one… this is Hipsters & Dragons remember! I’ve got some art house movies to watch with a locally brewed IPA later tonight (ok, the next episode of Vikings, with some cheap Spanish wine…), but let’s do some simplified sums. I’m doing this on the fly… in other words I haven’t drawn a definitive conclusion about the feat myself yet. Plus the maths might be shoddy, so stay sharp.

Taking a 5th level fighter as an example, let’s see how much damage he does using this feat in three rounds of combat against an opponent with AC 15, versus how much he does without using it. Let’s say he’s got 18 Strength, and a +1 sword by now. His name is Ted.

For simplicity sake I will discount how critical hits effect the maths, and assume there is no advantage on these rolls for now.

Without the feat (5th level fighter)

Ted has a to hit bonus of +8, meaning he needs a 7 to hit AC 15 (70% chance). He does 2d6 +5 damage per hit (12) and has 6 attacks in three rounds. Therefore he does 0.7 x 12 x 6 = 50.4 damage in total.

With the feat (5th level fighter)

With his -5 penalty, Ted now has only a +3 bonus, meaning he needs a 12 to hit (45%). He does 2d6 + 15 damage per hit (22) times the 6 attacks. Therefore he does 0.45 x 22 x 6 = 59.4 damage total.

Hmmmm, it’s not too strong. Just 9 hit points difference, and if you chose to increase your Strength by 2, instead of choosing this feat, you would have dealt an extra 4.5 hit points in those six attacks. That said, I feel that the damage outputs should be closer, if not even. With outputs like this it just means you will opt to use the power nearly every time, and reliably come out on top…

Anyway let’s run the same example with a 10th level fighter, and assume this time that Ted has advantage on his attack rolls for one of the three rounds. Being 10th level, Ted now has a +2 sword.

Without the feat (10th level fighter)

Ted has to a hit bonus of +10, meaning he needs a 5 to hit AC 15 (80% chance), with advantage 96% chance. He does 2d6 + 6 (13) per hit. So in two rounds he does 0.8 x 13 x 4 = 41.6, and in the final round 0.96 x 13 x 2 = 24.96. So a grand total = 66.56 damage

With the feat (10th level fighter)

With his -5 penalty, Ted now has a hit bonus of +5, meaning he needs a 10 to hit AC 15 (55% chance), and with advantage (79.75%). He does 2d6 +16 (23) per hit. So in two rounds he does 0.55 x 23 x 4 = 50.6, and in the final round 0.7975 x 23 x 2 = 36.685. So a grand total = 87.285 damage.

Ok now I’m beginning to see what people are complaining about. That’s pretty big gains over just three rounds. This feat is definitely going to start unbalancing the game at higher levels, especially if it’s being paired with other skills like the barbarian’s reckless attack feature to get advantage more frequently.

In general I like the concept… take a risk, and get a reward… I probably wouldn’t go far to say the feat is broken, but with 5th edition’s low AC monsters and its frequently employed advantage mechanic, the risk / reward dynamic doesn’t feel quite right, and it does come over as overpowered.

Hipster’s Fix

The first part of the feat works just fine in my experience, and is especially fun when mopping up low level mooks in a fight. I am happy to leave that well alone. As for the second part, here are my suggestions…

Option 1

The simplest way to fix the problematic part of this feat would be to keep the same risk, but reduce the reward. In general the flat 10 extra damage doesn’t sit well with me. It’s too dull, and too guaranteed, and it doesn’t scale on a critical (annoying from a player’s perspective!). So I would simply substitute the +10, for 2d6 extra damage, which is a) more fun and b) a bit less powerful, ie. more balanced.

When you bear in mind that most characters using Great Weapon Master feat will also have selected the Greater Weapon Fighting Style that allows you to reroll 1s and 2s, then the average damage is actually 8.33 (not 7), so only slightly nerfed from 10. Especially as between 5 and 10% of the time (ie. when you get critical hits) you will be doing 16.67, which will bring the average up some more.

Option 2

Another way of approaching a fix, would be to say, you can only land these killer +10 blows when you have advantage on the attack roll. Only when you’ve snuck up on your opponent unseen, or they’re rolling about prone on the floor, do you have the time to put your full force into the blow and have any hope of hitting. This means you don’t get to use it so often, but when you do, it tends to pay off big.

Option 3

A third idea I had would be to simply say… whenever you have advantage on a melee attack roll with a heavy weapon you deal an extra 1d6 damage. No penalty to hit. Simple and situational, this saves on any maths and also indecision that sometimes accompanies this feat (“shall I take the penalty or not? Erm, err.”) which can eat up valuable game time.

Option 4

Just thought of a fourth option. You could make dealing the extra damage reliant on a using a bonus action as well. This seems to have some logic… such a powerful blow might take a little extra time to work up to, as you adjust your stance and wind up for the kill. This is perhaps the best way to keep GWM on the table as written, but preventing it from getting out of hand, as it would limit its use to once per turn. This same solution works well for limiting the burst damage of divine smite. Hmmm, it does however screw with the first part of the feat, whereby you get to make a free melee attack as a bonus action, if you kill / crit a creature. You could however give extra attack as a free action on those occasions.

There you go! How have you got on with Great Weapon Master feat on your table? Have you come up with a fix that works for you? Please comment below, and feel free to pull me up on my tired, probably incorrect maths, obvious things I forgot to take into consideration and anything else. Just keep it polite, as you normally do.

Oh by the way, did you check these 5e magic weapons I homebrewed? They are free for use in your game.

Killer Kobolds, by Tony Petrecca

One of the most well-known and well-loved adventures on the DMs Guild is Killer Kobolds, an adventure that pits your players against wave after devious wave of the eponymous little critters.

Who better to introduce the best seller than the author himself!?

Dear Tony…

Tell us about your book, Killer Kobolds…

The Kobolds of Crag Canyon have kidnapped the children of the pleasant village of Thornyfoot, and it’s up to the heroes to charge in and save the day. Killer Kobolds is a fast paced 5th Edition D&D adventure meant to provide an unforgettable challenge for characters from levels 8-12.

With its simple, straightforward premise, Killer Kobolds quite purposefully sidesteps any and all moral quandaries in order to provide hours of thrilling, high octane, action packed fun.

Looking for Die Hard meets Aliens meets John Wick meets Thunder Road in a D&D session? Well then, have I got the Kobolds for you. Killer Kobolds! Action just levelled UP!

You can buy Killer Kobolds on the DMs Guild for $4.95.

Why did you write it?

The scenario that would eventually become Killer Kobolds grew naturally from my long running home game. My players, having recently taken possession of a small keep guarding a mountain pass, had the opportunity to negotiate with a couple of kobold traders from a nearby canyon enclave. Goliath Barbarian Eglath couldn’t bring himself to believe that the kobolds were negotiating in good faith, thus he opened negotiations with his great club, launching a war.

Knowing full well things were going to get ugly quick, the party set out to kobold territory to take the battle to the little beasties. What ensued was an ever-escalating series of action scenes featuring a vast array of kobold kin harassing the party from all angles using a wide and constantly changing variety of tactics, building ultimately to a thrilling showdown with a big bad kobold ally. The gameplay was filled with foolhardy charges, desperate retreats, harrowing escapes, and a crescendo of action whose final resolution brought about cheers and applause at the table.

When it was done our table agreed that it was some of the most entertaining D&D any of us had been involved in. I realized that the Killer Kobolds could be readily extracted from their original campaign and turned into a stand-alone, drop anywhere action adventure with a simple plot hook change, and I set about making that happen, so I could share the fun with the rest of the world.

How about a little taster then?

Killer Kobolds is NOT Tomb of Horrors. It is not meant to be a TPK waiting to happen. Like any great action movie, I want the characters to find themselves breathless, brutalized, and proudly victorious scene after scene, but I don’t want them slaughtered. Thus, the adventure has simple guidelines in place to help the DM modulate the action, allowing the adventure to continue its pace, which should be a gradual crescendo of action all building to the shocking BBEG reveal at the end.

Like any great action movie, Killer Kobolds contains several set piece scenes that play out as exciting, fluid, dynamic battles. Similarly, like any great action movie, Killer Kobolds has its share of memorable enemies the heroes must overcome, from the brilliant cover girl Levexi the kobold sniper, through flying kobold war priests, to a surprise big bad evil that, when revealed, should inspire jaws to drop.

One such enemy that never fails to infuriate in play is the kobold sorcerer Rerecross. Rerecross uses his skills to hit and run, frustrating the PCs as they give chase through a gauntlet that includes several traps and a collapsing bridge guarded by Kobold Commandos and Kobold Air Cavalry.

He manages to inspire the chase thusly:

Rerecross, prepped and ready to defend the ritual in the best kobold manner he knows how, is at the western door of area 1, using it for three-quarters cover. He will toss a fireball at the party and then retreat, closing the door behind him. He takes a position at the bolthole (2) and readies another fireball to throw into area 1 should its door be opened by anyone but a kobold….

….Rerecross knows the layout well and will target the fireball for maximum effect – centering it on the square that is fifteen feet behind the open door. If the party pursues he’ll retreat, using the dash action, a misty step or dimension door if necessary, to get past area 3, across the bridge, and into area 4. From that vantage he’ll take three quarters cover, peaking around a corner to harass with ranged spells while the kobold squads and air cavalry engage in area 3.

… Rerecross, in area 4, will continue to harass from cover until he gets somebody’s attention, at which point he will retreat to the middle of area 5. He hopes an eager pursuer, split from the party, will somehow cross the collapsed bridge and come at him solo. But solo or not, once pursued he retreats to the middle of area five, behind the Catapult of Doom, hoping to draw his pursuers through two brutal trap areas.

It works like a charm, every time I run it. Inevitably at this point a brave Paladin, brash Fighter or enraged Barbarian tears off in pursuit… first setting off The Four Pillars of Destruction, and then turning to find Rerecross beckon from the middle of a large open room, a sly grin upon his face, as his pursuer triggers The Catapult of Doom and finds themselves hurled over the grinning kobold’s head to smash against the opposite wall.

Oh sure, cautious, careful adventurers might notice and avoid the traps,“but who treads carefully when in hot pursuit of an infuriating kobold sorcerer?”

Who the hell are you by the way?

Well, I’m a 50-year-old Indianapolis resident, Purdue grad, husband, dad, dude with a day job, DEVO fan, and a DM – not necessarily in that order. I got introduced to D&D sometime last century when a friend of mine sent me In Search of the Unknown in a place called Quasqueton and I’ve been hooked ever since.

I’ve always been a fan of creating my own scenarios in any game I’ve played, thus jumping into DMing seemed a natural fit. I’ve got an amazing table of friends, many of whom have been gaming together since early childhood, and I love devising new and creative ways to entertain them. Alas, we’re all parents with day jobs and such, thus we can’t game as often as we used to, though we do our best to play for a couple hours at least once a week.

And what else have you written?

My first forays into publication were Journey Through the Center of the Underdark 1 & 2, companion pieces to Out of the Abyss. They were remarkably well received and went on to become platinum best sellers. Eventually I compiled the two into one convenient bundle available here.

After completing Killer Kobolds I wanted to turn my attention towards something more emotionally complex, an adventure where investigators, explorers, and role players would have their day in the sun, while still providing fans of combat with their dice rolling opportunities. Inspired in no small part by Dean Spencer’s amazing cover art, Hunted was born. Folks can take a look at Hunted here.

I’ve also had the opportunity to contribute to several other DMsGuild projects, most notably Jeff C Steven’s Savage Encounter’s series. I’m particularly proud of the work Jeff, Shawn Merwin, and I did on The Mines of Chult.

You can find all of the above, and plenty more I’ve gotten to contribute to on my DMs Guild page.

And just for fun…

What’s your current PC?

Wendilisa Delirious – Tiefling Bard.

What’s your favourite character class?

I’m a clutz in real life, so I’m drawn to dex builds in my RPGs. I love my bards, rogues, swashbucklers, and dex based fighters. Stout halfling barbarian, anyone?

What’s your favourite monster?

You have to ask? Kobolds of course. I’ve loved em since the first time I read about Tucker’s.

What’s your favourite official D&D adventure?

Of all time? 3rd Edition’s Red Hand of Doom gets high marks from me. For 5th Edition I’ve got a big soft spot for Out of the Abyss.

What’s your favourite unofficial D&D adventure?

Oh no, there are way too many outstanding adventures from amazingly talented authors on the DMsGuild to pick just one. I do keep a reasonably up to date collection of many of my favorites, with reviews, here.

What’s your D&D alter ego?

Oh, the player in me would love to be my OG original AD&D bard Sprite Silverlocks, or perhaps my current tiefling Wendilisa. The DM in me likes to think he’s the Arch Mage Accertep or the Silver Dragon Zephrym. But at this point, realistically I’m the retired adventurer, safely running the inn with his wife and daughter, happy to sit by the fire swapping tales of glory with those who’ll listen.

Thanks Tony, was great getting to know you. How can we stay in touch on the interwebs?

Well on the Facebooks I’ve got an Author’s page, @DMTonyPetrecca, and my personal Facebook presence where I play Tony Petrecca. On the Twitters I’m @TonyPetrecca and, finally, I’ve got a Google+ presence where, I know, this’ll be a big surprise, I’m Tony Petrecca.

Do Paladins’ Auras of Protection Stack?

Yes, but they definitely shouldn’t. Aura of protection is hardly 5e D&D’s most glamorous ability, but gameplay shows it be one of the most powerful tools in the game (….as if the paladin doesn’t have enough of those already, with the insanely overpowered (IMHO) divine smite and lay on hands).

One aura of protection already provides a massive boost to a party in almost every combat, but once you’ve got two paladins in your party things get insane. Just by staying tight, the whole party could constantly be benefiting from +6 on every saving throw! 

And it’s not just an adventuring consideration. What happens if the PCs need to take out a cadre of four evil paladins? Provided the bad guys stayed close to one another, they could easily be getting +12 on their saving throws… I wouldn’t want to be a caster charged with facing them!

Anyway, you probably don’t need any convincing… you’ve already experienced it for yourself, and that’s why you’re here. Well here’s a little house rule you can use to lessen the effect.

  1. Multiple auras of protections don’t stack if the paladins worship different gods. The creature in question can benefit from just the strongest aura.
  2. Where two or more auras of protection of paladins who worship the same god overlap, a creature benefits from the strongest aura, with an additional +1 bonus for every extra aura they are overlapped by.

10 FREE Magic Weapons For Your Game

To celebrate the launch of my latest title, Esquiel’s Guide to Magic Weapons (available to buy on the DM’s Guild), I would like to offer my readers my ten favourite weapons in the book, for free, for their 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons gameplay.

Now available on the the DMs Guild

One of my main goals in writing the guide was to craft at least one magical arm for every weapon type in the Player’s Handbook, particularly as the Dungeon Master’s Guide offers very few options besides swords. I wanted to offer gamers way more variety, and to ensure that, no matter what obscure weapon a PC fights with, the owner of this book has a ready-made magic arm for them.

Of course, it was also crucial to create balanced weapons, so that DMs can confidently drop these creations into their sessions without causing headaches for themselves. For this reason 90% of the mechanics are ones you’ve seen somewhere else in the game… ie. you know they work!

Hopefully these 10 sample weapons will prove a lot of fun at your table, and may even inspire you to go ahead and invest in the book.

My Ten Favourite Weapons

1. Bloodthirsty Battleaxe

Battleaxe, very rare (requires attunement)
This vicious battleaxe craves the fury of combat, filling its wielder with bloodlust as it scythes down the enemy. You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. Additionally, when you reduce a creature to 0 hit points with this weapon, you gain 1d6 temporary hit points and can make one melee attack with the axe as a bonus action.

This axe is perfect for a mass brawl against a horde of lower level baddies. It borrows one of the features of the Greater Weapon Fighting feat that I love, and lets someone who fights with a one-handed weapon use it as well.

2. Rogue Bow

Shortbow, legendary (requires attunement by a rogue)
The magic weapon has 5 charges for the following properties. It regains 1d4+1 charges daily at dawn.

Poison Arrow. You speak a command and expend 1 charge to coat an arrow you have nocked with thick black venom. A creature hit by the arrow must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, they take an additional 4d4 poison damage and become poisoned for one minute. On a success, they take half as much damage and are not poisoned.

Sleep Arrow. You speak a command and expend 1 charge to place a charm on an arrow you have nocked. Should you hit your target, roll 5d8. If the number is equal or greater than the target’s hit points, it falls into a magical slumber. They remain unconscious for one minute, awakening only if they take damage, or another creature spends their action to shake or slap them awake.

Smoke Bomb. You can use an action and expend 1 charge to fire an arcane arrow, which lands at a point within range and starts to emit a cloud of smoke. One round after it lands, the smoke creates a heavily obscured area in a 20-foot-radius. A moderate wind disperses the smoke in 4 rounds; a strong wind disperses it in 1 round.

Flashbang. You can use an action and expend 2 charges to fire an arcane arrow at a point within range. It explodes with a deafening crack and blinding flash of light. Each creature within 20 feet of the impact point must succeed on a DC 15 Intelligence saving throw or be stunned until the start of your next turn.

Grappling Arrow. You may expend 1 charge to transform an ordinary arrow into a slender but durable grappling hook. You may fire the grappling hook at bow range, and a thin gossamer rope will magically uncoil behind it, matching the distance of the arrow flight. If you successfully secure the grappling hook (DM to determine difficulty), the rope is strong enough to support 1000 lbs. of weight. After ten minutes, the grappling hook transforms back into an arrow and the magic rope dissolves into nothingness.

Frag Grenade. You can use an action and expend 2 charges to fire an arcane arrow at a point within range. It explodes on impact, spraying the area with razor sharp pieces of rock. Each creature within 20 feet of the impact point must make a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw, taking 5d6 piercing damage on a failed save, or half as much on a successful one.

This is the ultimate utility weapon for the rogue, and gives them a nice range of abilities that perfectly complement their sneaky ways.

3. Earthquaker

Greatclub, legendary (requires attunement, by someone with at least 15 Strength)
This greatclub appears to be no more than a large and gnarly piece of black and deadened wood, with nothing in the way of adornment, however, it is infused with earth-shattering power.

You gain a +3 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.

The weapon magic weapon has 5 charges for the following properties. It regains 1d4+1 charges daily at dawn.

Giant Blow. While holding the weapon, you can use a bonus action and expend 1 charge to temporarily invoke the strength of a stone giant. For the rest of your turn, when you make a melee attack with the weapon, your Strength modifier is +6, and the weapon deals 3d8 bludgeoning damage.

Earthquake. Smashing the ground in front of you with the club, you can use an action and expend 3 charges to create an earthquake. You create a fissure 10 feet wide that extends 2d6 x 10 feet in front of you and is 1d10 x 10 feet deep. A creature standing on a spot where the fissure opens must succeed on a DC 15 Dexterity saving throw or fall in, and take bludgeoning damage from the fall. A creature that successfully saves moves with the fissure’s edge as it opens. As the earth tremors and shakes, the ground within 20 feet of the fissure becomes difficult terrain until the start of your next turn, and any creature standing in this area must succeed on a DC 12 Dexterity saving throw or fall prone. Any spellcaster concentrating in this area must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, the caster’s concentration is broken.

Fans of the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon from the 80s will recognise this weapon, wielded by Bobby the Barbarian. To limit its powers I simply added the charges mechanic, which is one I love in general, as it constantly poses a choice for characters… should I use a charge now, or might I need it more later! Also included in the book are a whole range of Hank style bows, that do different types of energy damage (each has a secondary minor effect), and one master Energy Bow suitable for epic level PCs, plus the Acrobat Staff.

4. Krakentooth

Dagger, very rare
This dagger is fashioned from the tooth of a kraken and is steeped in the magic essence of this ancient leviathan.

You gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.

While holding this dagger you can breathe underwater, and you have advantage on melee attack rolls made with this weapon while underwater.

I wanted to make a Dragontooth dagger, but then I stumbled upon this. I’m glad I did because I think it prompted me to make a more interesting weapon.

5. Scream Stealer

Dagger, very rare
The demonic nature of this blade steals your victim’s screams as you strike them. When you hit a creature with an attack using this magic weapon, the creature is unable to speak, scream, or vocalise any sound, until the start of your next turn.

You gain a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.

This is my favourite weapon in the whole book. If you manage to stab a magic user every round they wouldn’t be able to cast any spells that requires vocal components.

6. Commander’s Hammer

Warhammer, very rare (requires attunement)
You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon. The hammer has 5 charges, and it regains 1d4+1 expended charges daily at dawn.

Commander’s Strike. You may use a bonus action and expend 1 charge to direct one of your companions to strike. When you do so, choose a friendly creature who can see or hear you. That creature can immediately use its reaction to make one weapon attack.

Compelled Duel. You may use a bonus action and expend 1 charge to compel an opponent into facing you in battle. Use the rules that govern the spell compelled duel but, whenever a Wisdom saving throw is called for, replace it with a Charisma contest.

Manoeuvering Attack. When you hit a creature with this magic weapon, you can expend 1 charge to manoeuvre one of your comrades into a more advantageous position. You choose a friendly creature who can see or hear you. That creature can use its reaction to move up to half its speed without provoking opportunity attacks from the target of your attack.

Rallying Cry. You may use an action and expend 1 charge to bolster the resolve of your companions. When you do so, all friendly creatures within 30 feet of you, who can see or hear you, gain temporary hit points equal to 1d8 plus your Charisma modifier. Once a creature has benefitted from this effect, it must finish a short or long rest before being able to benefit from it again.

I like the versatility of this weapon, which packages up several cool abilities that already exist in 5e D&D but rarely get used in my experience.

7. Thunderstar

Morningstar, very rare
You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.

This weapon has 5 charges and regains 1d4+1 expended charges daily at dawn. If you expend the last charge, roll a d20. On a 1, the weapon explodes with a mighty crack of thunder and any creature within 30 feet must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. On a failed save, the creature takes 3d6 thunder damage and is deafened for the next 10 minutes. On a successful save, the creature takes half as much damage and isn’t deafened.

While holding the morningstar, you can use a bonus action and expend 1 charge to call forth its thunderous energy. The next time you hit with a melee attack using this weapon it unleashes a thundercrack that is audible within 300 feet of you, and the attack deals an extra 2d6 thunder damage to the target. Additionally, if the target is a Large-sized creature or smaller, it must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be pushed 10 feet away from you and knocked prone.

Thunderous Smite is one of my favourite spells… and now you don’t have to be a paladin to use it! It could have been thunder-anything, but thunderstar somehow felt right…

8. Moonsong

Greatsword, legendary (requires attunement by a lawful good creature)
You gain a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.

This holy blade is able to detect evil. Whenever it is within 60 feet of an aberration, fiend or undead, it emits a low humming sound, and glows with a dim blueish-white light in a 15-foot radius.

When a paladin of devotion uses their Sacred Weapon Channel Divinity ability on Moonsong, it blazes with bright moonlight in a 30-foot radius, shedding dim light 30 feet beyond that, and sings with celestial fervour. For the duration of your Sacred Weapon ability, any aberration, fiend or undead within 30 feet of you has disadvantage on attack rolls. During this time, you cannot be charmed, frightened or possessed by them.

Paladin’s of devotion are the poor cousin of paladins of vengeance, so this weapon is a great reward for any PC who decided to play an old school lawful good paladin, providing a nice boost to their Sacred Weapon ability. I actually invented it for a PC of mine, Estelle, a kind of Joan of Arc style warrior. The glowing light is pretty handy if you’re a human!

9. Rakish Rapier

Rapier, legendary (requires attunement)
You gain a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this magic weapon.

The weapon has 5 charges and regains 1d4+1 expended charges daily at dawn.

Flurry of Blows. When you select the Attack action, you may expend 1 charge to make a melee attack against every creature within 5 feet of you.

Flurry of Parries. When a creature hits you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction and expend 1 charge to add your proficiency bonus to your AC for that attack, potentially causing the attack to miss you. You continue to benefit from this bonus against all further melee attacks against you, until the start of your next turn.

Riposte. If a creature misses you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction and expend 1 charge to make a melee attack against the creature.

Another weapon I invented for one of my PCs, the swashbuckler Drake Griffonheart (check my guide to playing a swashbuckler if you fancy playing a similarly stylish prince of panache), this rapier is deadly in the right hands. Using the riposte skill you can get a second sneak attack a round, whilst the flurry of parries and flurry of blows abilities help compensate for the fact the rogue only gets one main attack a round per round. This extra power is bounded by the charges mechanism, and therefore shouldn’t get out of hand!

10. Screamhoarder

Greatsword, legendary (requires attunement)
The hilt of this merciless blade is decorated with ghostly visages screaming in pain. The weapon stores the dying screams of those it strikes down, releasing their agony on its next victims.

When you hit a living creature with this weapon it must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or take an extra 5 hit points of psychic damage, as the death cries of the blade’s previous foes reverberate through the target’s very being.

For every creature with an Intelligence of 4 or above that you kill with this blade, add an additional 1 hit point to the psychic damage inflicted on a failed save.

When you roll a 20 on an attack roll made with this weapon, the trapped screams fly from the blade to assail the psyche of the target with their full force. The target has no saving throw against the extra psychic damage, and must make a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw or suffer from short-term madness ( p.259, DMG). When this happens, the sword’s additional psychic damage is reset to 5 hit points, as just the residual echoes of its victims’ death screams remain.

Curse. The imprisoned screams of the dead also threaten the sanity of anyone wielding the blade, wearing down their psyche over time. Whenever you score a critical hit with this weapon, you must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or roll on the indefinite madness table (p.260, DMG). You may suffer from multiple effects from this table. While sane you may choose to unattune to this weapon at any time. While suffering the effects of madness, all the usual rules of unattuning to a cursed weapon apply.

This is a very rare example of me moving away from tried and tested existing 5e mechanics to deliver something quite new and different. There are reasons why I didn’t do this very often, but in this case I think I am very pleased with the result, and it’s definitely one of the more memorable weapons in the guide!

Esquiel’s Guide to Magic Weapons

So there you go, my ten favourite magical arms, but it wasn’t easy to choose them. After all I made 110 more, and I’m confident you’ll like the majority of them.

The book also includes 20 new sets of magic armour, highlight amongst which are the Displacer Hide, Lizard Skin, Rogue Suit, Armour of the Golden Dawn and Arcane Shield.

Plus rules for superior, nonmagical weapons and armour (great if your PCs have a lot of cash but nothing to spend it on!).

An example of the interior layout and artwork.

Probably my favourite part of the entire guide is the DM’s Magic Weapon generator though, where you can randomly assemble 10,000s of unique arms using a list of tables that determine weapon type, bonus modifier, and magic property (around 70 cool properties, including curses, plus additional variations). This tool is particularly useful for generating weapons appropriate for low and mid-tier characters.

Within a few days of being available to buy, the book has already became a best seller of the DM’s Guilds, so don’t wait around… grab a copy, using the link below!

Buy Esquiel’s Guide to Magic Weapons on the DMs Guild

Jeff C. Stevens Introduces: Encounters in the Savage Cities

You’ve probably heard me mention the DMs Guild one or two times on the blog by now. It’s an amazing marketplace where Dungeons and Dragons lovers can publish and sell their own homebrew content… including myself!

I often check by to gaze at the latest releases, looking for inspiration, but I rarely have time to read many of the enticing-looking titles cover to cover and review them (something I’d love to do in an ideal world where my job was to live and breath D&D every day! Sadly it’s not, although writing about Barcelona is hardly the worst 9-to-5 in the world either…).

That’s when I had the bright idea of inviting the authors of the Guild to introduce their own work, in their own words, and as well to find out a little more about these men and women at the creative coalface of the homebrew industry.

First to step up to the plate is Jeff C. Stevens, who introduces us to his favourite work within his Savage Encounters series of publications…

Tell us all about your book: Encounters in the Savage Cities…

Encounters in the Savage Cities is a collection of 26 short, urban-themed encounters / adventures written by some of the best-selling writers on the Dungeon Masters Guild.

The encounters are fully-developed and most include challenge rating scaling suggestions, which makes it easy for a Dungeon Master to drop them into their own game.

Maps are also included, both in the PDF and as separate downloadable files.

Buy Encounters in the Savage Cities

Why did you write it?

I like short encounters and adventures. There are times when a DM may need more time to prepare for a session, when only a little bit more experience is needed before the party levels up, when not everyone can make the game night, or times when the party turned left instead of right, and these short encounters really help in those situations. They also help inspire current campaigns, adding to and building off what is written, making it your own or expanding on what occurred when you ran the encounter.

I also wanted to showcase the great writers on the Dungeon Masters Guild. It’s tough establishing your name and products in this industry, I thought this would be a good way to give consumers a sample of writing from many different writers and styles. 23 writers contributed to Encounters in the Savage Cities, and each writer did an incredible job.

How about a little taster then?

Certainly! Here’s a snippet from ‘Trouble in the Docks’, an encounter MT Black wrote for the supplement:

The docks smell of saltwater, tar, and rotting fish. Above the din of the crowded streets, you can hear the slap of water against sodden piers, the clank of chains, and the rustle of canvas. The sky is shrouded in dark, heavy clouds, and the odd spot of rain begins to appear on the dirt road you are walking on.

A halfling pushes through the crowd, coming directly toward you. She holds a clipboard in one hand and has a pencil behind her ear. “Please,” she says. “Can you help me? I just need a few minutes.”

The halfling tells them her name is Seraphina Redport, and that she is a planner employed by the city council. She is currently trying to interview a broad selection of people in the area. Assuming the party talk to her, she will ask several questions…

Who the hell are you by the way?

I’m Jeff C. Stevens – a 47-year-old dude from Missouri living his childhood dream of writing D&D adventures. I started playing in the early 1980’s and I can still remember the all-night games we played over the weekends at a buddy’s house, living off soda, chips, and pizza while we rolled dice and slayed bad guys. It was fantastic! I took a long break from the game, but I came back when 5th edition was released. I’m glad I did!

Unless I’m at a gaming convention, those marathon D&D sessions don’t happen anymore. Now, I’m lucky to get in two games a month, even one game a month can be difficult with all the adulting we have to do. Plus, being a creator takes a lot of time. I wish I could be a full-time writer/producer but it’s tough to do in the RPG industry. I love writing, it’s been one of my life goals for a very long time. I wish I had studied writing in college, but I chose to instead learn about Criminal Justice – a field in which I do not work (LOL).

And what else have you written?

I have an entire product line built around the Savage Encounters idea. The first Savage Encounters product was Encounters in the Savage Frontier, which was inspired by the Storm King’s Thunder campaign. Then came Savage Cities, Savage Jungles, The Mines of Chult, and most recently, Savage Wilderness. Each time I use a mix of writers to provide writing for the books. Very soon, there will be a new Savage Encounters supplement available – Villains & Lairs. You can find my entire catalogue here, on the DMs Guilds.

I have also written 14 adventures. Several are also available for Fantasy Grounds and two are Adventurers League legal.

And just for fun…

Who is your current PC?

I have a couple PCs I use. My favorite is Gruntog the Half-Orc Bard.

Your favourite character class?

Bard. I’m a drummer and I love roleplaying. It’s a good fit for me.

Your favourite monster?

Mimic. There are just too many cool ways a party can encounter a mimic!

Your favourite official D&D adventure?

I’m running Tomb of Annihilation for my group. I like the jungle setting, the lost ruins, and the zombified creatures. It’s a great area to explore even if you aren’t running the official campaign as it’s written.

Your favourite unofficial D&D adventure?

My group had a great time playing Scarab of Death by Benoit de Bernardy. There’s a good mix of all three pillars of play.

Your D&D alter ego if you were beamed into the Forgotten Realms?

I would be Finnian Brushrunner – halfling Paladin to Tymora. He’s my character from the Curse of Strahd campaign I played in. He survived that campaign, so I think I’ll stick with him!

Thanks Jeff, it was great getting to know you. How can we find you on the multi-webs?

On Twitter @jcorvinstevens or Facebook.

101+ Terrain Features for Better Combats

I was just reading DM David’s latest post, about “locations and (monster) tactics that encourage dynamic combat scenes“. As always with his excellent blog there are some great ideas there.

One thing he didn’t cover though was specific terrain features that can turn a drab, barren grid into a dynamic combat environment, so I felt inspired to do just that.

…the most memorable moments in a fight often come through a PC interacting with their environment in a creative way.

Apart from creating additional obstacles and interests, terrain features – be they humble bushes or a series of a crate of ripe melons ready to be tipped over – can be used, by the resourceful player, as cover, to hide, or for some other tactical advantage. In my experience, the most memorable moments in a fight often come through a PC interacting with their environment in a creative way.

Winning initiative is key when you’re fighting on a log bridge…

Let’s create two lists… wilderness terrain features and indoors terrain features.

Wilderness Terrain Features

Bushes
Trees
Fallen tree
Boulders or rocks (some massive, others that could double as weapons)
Ditch
Brook
River
Bridge
River ford
Stepping stones or giant lillypads
Slippery log bridge
Lake (with jetty, and moored boats)
Waterfall
Drystone wall
Crumbling ruins of an ancient temple
Hut, shed or barn
Farmhouse
Windmill or watermill
Crate of ripe melons
Long grass, meadow or wheat field
Scarecrow (not the monster… or is it?)
Quicksand
Vines (to swing on)
Erupting geysers
Beehives
Pack of wild dogs
Nest of poisonous vipers
Stampede of buffalo / elephants / dinosaurs
Bog (with bloodsucking leeches)
Campfire
Wagon
Burial mound
Tombstones
Gorge or canyon
Hill, slope or ravine
Landslide
Cave entrance
Moss-covered skeleton of a long-dead dragon
Pit
Well
Sundial
Bales of dry hay
Smoke
Animal snares
Tripwire
Plants that give off poisonous spores
A tree that is really a treant
A huge savage beast that doesn’t like you or your foes
Zone of slowness
Gallows

Weather Features

Since you’re outdoors, don’t forget to consider what the weather is like (as well as whether it’s night or day time). Some conditions that could seriously affect the outcome of any fight are…

An impenetrable mist (range attacks impossible)
Driving rain (range attacks with disadvantage, roll DC 10 Dexterity (Acrobatics) every round not to fall prone on slippery ground)
Galeforce winds
Snowstorm or sandstorm
Freak hailstorm of small rocks which does 1d4 bludgeoning damage a round to anyone in it…
Solar or lunar eclipse

Dungeon or Indoor Terrain Features

Stalactites / stalagmites
Chasm
Pit
Bridge (natural stone or rope? Or broken?)
Underground river (is that water or acid?)
Underground lake (with a ravenous beast inside)
Lava flow
Tables and chairs
Steps and staircases (trapped?)
Ramp
Throne
Altar
Coffins or tombs
Crates
Barrels (full of oil)
Statues
Prisoners in hanging cages
Columns, pillars and plinths
Alcoves
Arches
Maze
Mirrors (…or mirror maze!)
Tapestries
Chandeliers
Slippery, polished marble floor
Portal
Firepit
Fountain
Arrow slits (from which baddies pepper you with crossbow bolts)
Walls that start to close in
Water that starts to rise
Gas that starts to fill the room
Skylight
Murder holes
Trapdoor
Floortiles that randomly give way to spiked pits
Levers that set off various traps
Portcullis
Exploding fungi
Swarm of plague-carrying rats
Lots of confusing illusions
Wind tunnel
Animated armour and weapons
Lift / elevator
Mining cart and tracks
Ladder
Strategically placed glyphs of warding
Giant moving cogs
Giant spiderwebs
Sewers
Bookshelves
Curtains
Magical darkness
Jets of hot steam
Vacuum
Huge bell
Clock
Narrow ledge
Cauldron of steaming liquid
Giant, swinging thurible
Zone of silence
Ropers hanging from the ceiling

What did I miss? Please pipe up in the comments. Damn, pipes.

Of course pimping the terrain is just one way to make combat more interesting, and hopefully this got the juices flowing, but there are plenty more tricks the wily DM can pull out of their toolbox to spice things up when the d20s start a’rollin’. No doubt I’ll return to this topic in due course.

Player Tips: Maximising Bonus Actions & Reactions

Whilst those paragons of roleplaying virtuosity may be drawn to the table by the chance to breathe life into their complex three dimensional character, in what they intend to be as much an improv theatre session as an RPG, there’s a large number of gamers who, if you’ll forgive the language, just want to fuck some shit up.

And so without further apologies or explanations, let’s spoil ourselves with a little powergaming. Today’s topic is all about how to maximise your use of bonus actions and reactions in order to optimise your PC’s ability to whoop some ass.

Now, as you know, once initiative is rolled and combat has started, time is delineated into rounds, with each PC having their turn within the round. But have you ever noticed how some players manage to pack way more into their turn than others? No one ever forgets to use their main attack(s) or cast a spell, but actually you can often sneak in several more activities if you’re playing smart.

…have you ever noticed how some players manage to pack way more into their turn than others?

Let’s break things down.

Action

Your main opportunity to influence the tide of battle, most likely you will choose to either Attack or Cast a Spell, but it’s worth remembering that other actions you can take are Dash, Disengage (a powerful getaway tool), Dodge (a powerful defence tool that also gives you advantage on Dexterity saving throws), Help, Hide, Ready (useful for when someone keeps using their move to duck back under cover, in between peppering you with arrows), Search or Use An Object (drinking a magic potion being a common example).

Move

Every round you can move up to your speed (for 90% of characters this is 30 feet), and it’s nearly always worth considering what you can do with your move to gain a strategic advantage. Obviously if you’re engaged with an enemy you need to consider whether you want to move out of their reach and provoke an opportunity attack, however it’s possible you could gain an advantage in battle by using 5, 10 or 20 feet of movement (depending on the size of the creature!) to outmanoeuvre the creature without ever leaving their reach.

Bonus Action

Technically you only get one of these if an ability says you do, but a good player will find a way of using a bonus action on most of their turns. Typical things you can do using a bonus action are: make an attack with a second weapon (you have to have selected the Attack action to be able to do so, meaning you can’t Cast A Spell and then sneak in an offhand attack); attack with your shield or butt of your polearm (requires feat); cast a spell that has a casting time of bonus action; take advantage of your Cunning Action ability (Rogues only!) to Dash, Disengage or Hide.

Free Action

On p.190 of the PH it reads: “In combat, characters and monsters are in constant motion, often using movement and position to gain the upper hand…. Here are a few examples of the sorts of thing you can do in tandem with your movement and action:”

It then gives a long list of examples of things you could do as a “free action” (unofficial title!), from which I’ll choose a few that could easily come in handy…

Draw or sheathe a sword
Open or close a door
Withdraw a potion from your backpack
Pick up a dropped axe
Fish a few coins from your belt pouch
Pull a torch from a sconce
Turn a key in a lock
Hand an item to another character.

Reaction

Reactions are actions that you can take in response to a trigger, the most common being opportunity attacks, which you can take as a response to the trigger of someone moving out of your reach (the logic being that this leaves themselves vulnerable to attack for a split second). Most of the time they don’t take place during your turn, but as a reaction to what another creature did during their turn in the round. Whilst you might feel that it’s hard to bank on being able to use your reaction each round (you only get one), I usually find a way to do so. In fact I often find myself ‘saving my reaction’ because I have so many options on how to use them. Typical things you can do with your reaction include: casting a spell, such as shield or counterspell, using Defensive Duelist feat, using Uncanny Dodge ability (Rogues only), making an opportunity attack, making an attack using the Sentinel feat.

So there you go, far from using just an Action each turn you can actually use an Action, Move, Bonus Action, Free Action and Reaction!

Action Packed vs. Dull

Let’s imagine a scenario where (low level) Fighter 1 is locked in combat with Orc A, whilst Orc B is running for the door to summon more stinky green back up. Fighter 1 swings his longsword, hits Orc A but doesn’t kill him. Not wanting to provoke an opportunity attack, he is stuck engaged with the enemy.

Now let’s imagine the same scenario with Fighter 2, who is identical to Fighter 1 except that he chose the Shieldmaster feat. Fighter 2 first uses a Bonus Action to attempt to shove Orc A to the ground with his shield. He is successful, after which can attack the orc with advantage using his Action. He hits but also doesn’t kill Orc A, but as the orc is now prone it either wouldn’t be able to make an opportunity attack (common sense!), or would do so at disadvantage as he is prone (p. 292, PH). Therefore Fighter 2 is able to safely use his Move action to cut off Orc B before he reaches the door – and on the way he uses a Free Action to knock a flask of oil off the table in front of Orc B, potentially causing him to slip on his turn. By positioning himself between Orc B and the door, Fighter 2 ensures that if Orc B were to pass him he would get an opportunity attack against him using his Reaction…

I think it’s fair to say the guy (or girl) playing Fighter 2 is exerting way more influence on the combat, as well as having a lot more fun in doing so, by using each of the potential actions available to them during the round.

Maximising Bonus Actions and Reactions

Ok, so we’ve looked at how effective the extra actions in Dungeons and Dragons can prove in battle, now let’s look at how to better take advantage of them. The key here is choosing abilities and spells that allow you to use bonus actions and reactions on a regular basis.

Whenever I play a caster the first thing I do is look for spells that I can cast without using a full action. Here are all the ones I found in the Player’s Handbook. (There are a few more in Xanathar’s Guide).

Spells You Can Cast with A Bonus Action

Banishing Smite
Blinding Smite
Branding Smite
Compelled Duel
Divine Favor
Divine Word
Ensnaring Strike
Expeditious Retreat (not just for retreating!)
Flame Blade
Grasping Vine
Hail of Thorns
Healing Word
Hex
Hunter’s Mark
Lightning Arrow
Magic Weapon
Mass Healing Word
Misty Step
Sanctuary
Searing Smite
Shield of Faith
Shillelagh
Spiritual Weapon
Staggering Smite
Swift Quiver
Thunderous Smite
Wrathful Smite

Spells You Cast with a Reaction

Counterspell
Feather Fall
Hellish Rebuke
Shield

Having some of these up your sleeve will give you a lot of extra versatility when combat starts.

Second Attack

For anyone that wields a weapon, the obvious way of getting more bang for your buck every single round is to fight with two weapons instead. This way you get to make an extra attack on your turn, using a bonus action.

Failing that feats are the best way to get a regular and potent use from your bonus actions and reactions, as well as giving you other extra powers…

Feats That Grant You a Bonus Action

Charger
Crossbow Expert
Great Weapon Master
Martial Adept (depending on the manoeuvres you choose)
Polearm Master
Shieldmaster
Tavern Brawler

Feats That Use Your Reaction

Defensive Duelist (uses your proficiency bonus so a great feat to grab at a higher level)
Mage Slayer
Martial Adept (depending on the manoeuvres you choose… Riposte is cool)
Polearm Master
Sentinel
War Caster

Of these feats a few stand out for me. Shieldmaster for example lets you use a bonus action every time you take the attack action, whilst Polearm Master feat is probably the best out there as it allows you to use a bonus action every round AND often a reaction too. Sentinel allows you to use your reaction on a frequent basis, although intelligent monsters (and/or metagaming DMs) will target you a lot. Defensive Duelist is underrated and a brilliant one to pick up at a later level as it uses your proficiency bonus as a basis, and allows you to use your reaction every time you are attacked with a melee weapon.

I won’t bother repeating exactly what each does, but do delve back into your Player’s Handbook and consider them for your next PC, or next time you get to pick up a feat (always more fun than taking a +2 modifier to an ability, and usually more effective too).

Plan A Strategy

One thing I like to do is think about how I can put together all my actions in a round into a coherent strategy or gameplan.

For example when playing with Estelle, (5th level paladin of devotion / 3rd level battlemaster fighter), one common tactic was to start my turn by casting thunderous smite (bonus action), then make my first melee attack doing extra 2d6 thunder damage. If my target failed their saving throw and was knocked prone, then I would make my second attack with advantage and use my Greater Weapon Master feat to take the -5 to hit penalty (with advantage I would still normally hit!) and do +10 damage. If my opponent was still standing after this (potentially 6d6 +10 damage plus modifiers), I could use up some divine smite or even my action surge to finish them off. Against a large number of weaker foes I relied on the fact I would reduce an enemy to 0 hit points most round to get a bonus action attack with Great Weapon Master (so I wouldn’t bother with thunderous smite).

With Jaxx Storm, a combat-loving cleric of the Tempest (1st-3rd level), I chose the Shieldmaster feat, which together with proficiency in Athletics, allowed me to regularly knock foes prone with my bonus action – giving me and my buddies advantage on our attack rolls against them. The Wrath of the Storm ability allowed me to use my reaction to good effect on occasion too.

Xenia Zanetti was my first ever 5th edition character and versatile as hell (5th level Rogue Assassin, 5th level Wizard, 3rd level Battlemaster Fighter). She could use a bonus action to Dash, Disengage or Hide, to cast misty step, or to make a second attack, or use a battlemaster manoeuvre such as feinting attack to gain advantage (which meant she could do sneak attack damage even in a one on one situation). Whilst for her reaction she often cast shield, or for less dangerous foes took advantage of the rogue’s uncanny dodge ability.

My 5th level rogue swashbuckler, Drake Leopold Florentine Griffinheart III (it’s always the third!), fights with two weapons, meaning he nearly always uses a bonus action. I also gave him the Martial Adept feat and chose the Riposte manoeuvre (as well as the Disarming Attack) meaning he can use a Reaction to make an additional attack (once per short rest only, sadly), and this actually allows him to deal his sneak attack damage twice in one round (once on his turn, once on someone else’s), making him pretty deadly. At 8th level I plan to take the Defensive Duelist feat, which will help cover his main weakness… his mediocre AC. Being a rogue with proficiency in acrobatics also gives you plenty of scope for interacting with your environment in a creative way, either for dramatic effect or for a tactical advantage, using either a free action or bonus action.

Hipster’s Takeaway Tip

One great tip is to write down everything your PC can do with their action, bonus action, reaction on your character sheet, and then, when it’s your turn, you can quickly remind yourself of your options in combat. This way you’ll rarely miss an opportunity to take full advantage of your character’s powers.

Some potential combat options for my Rogue swashbuckler PC…

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