Monster Lore Skill (Home Rule) – Episode.069

While your strike is true on the beast, your blade seems to only enrage it more, whipping its body around to face you.  The grip of your sword holds firm, however, and you are spun around with the sword to the creature’s back, hanging on for dear life.  It seems you are completely outclassed in this fight, and it may be your final battle.  Yet in the back of your mind, you recall hearing from a peddler about such beasts having a sensitive area susceptible of injury between the shoulder blades.  Still holding the sword in one hand, you deftly pull out the dagger from your sleeve and jam it into the creature’s shoulders, sinking the blade much deeper and sending the beast to its knees in misery.

I have always implemented a minor action into my “House Rules” whenever running an RPG with new players.  Monster Lore is an exciting feature that players can use to learn about the monsters of the world, especially in Dungeons & Dragons or any other fantasy setting that is heavy with beasts.  While many people inexperienced to the game may recognize dozens of creatures that have been made famous through literature or movies, statistically they don’t know just how harmful they are.  Granted they can assume a Cyclops is lethal and they should run away, but if they keep that mentality, they will never engage in any enemies.

This is where Monster Lore comes in.  For 3.0, 3.5, 4th, and 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons as well as Pathfinder, having rollable skills makes adding this feature quite easy.  For other systems not as strong in this area, minor modifications can be made to build this into the game.  Whenever a character encounters a creature that is found to have statistics (i.e. immunities, resistances, vulnerabilities, behavior patterns), a player may roll to see if they discover one of these traits the monster has.  The GM will be the one who determines what information the players receive.  They are welcome to continue rolling this, but combat is still moving along at this time, and their action is being used to learn more.  As an added challenge, the number they must roll to obtain such information could go up incrementally as they try learning more information about the same creature.  Particularly devoted GMs could even create 3 or 4 categories that all traits fall into, each category having more critical information than the last, and the target number to roll would be assigned to each and progressively get larger.  For example, the creature’s Armor Class could be in Category 1 with a DC of 11 while its vulnerability to fire would be in Category 4 with a DC of 20.

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Many GMs already offer this feature through Perception Checks during combat to spot vulnerabilities.  Monster Lore Checks would essentially be the same, but this skill implies the characters might recall from a past book they read or a person that warned them of something relating to the creature.

While taking up an action to make the roll during combat could make a player disheartened of missing out on the real action, I will offer the check to be made in lieu of their movement so they could use a ranged weapon or spell, or they could wait until they are in melee range before making the roll.

This then provides another angle of interaction for the players: archiving.  They could keep a single binder and create a page for each creature they meet where they obtain information.  That knowledge would stay with them as long as the characters remain alive.  As they continue, the players would slowly learn and understand just what makes any particular monster dangerous.  Granted, they would not want to meta-game with this information, but at the same time, newcomers should be able to have some caution when gauging a fight in order to avoid preventable TPK (total party kills).

With more seasoned players, this feature is not necessary and would be quite monotonous for them.  But with new players fresh to the gaming world, it could really prove to be a great way for them to get a better grasp on what to expect while playing a roleplaying game.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Ed. – My Take, Episode.068

After a considerable hiatus, I have returned to continue writing as I am inspired.

His decision was critical as his companions faced certain doom.  The black dragon reared its huge head in preparation of unleashing its fiery acidic breath blasting down upon the unprotected heroes.  Meanwhile the infamous necormancer, Pyrex, grinned maniacally from high above as he neared completion of his resurrection spell that would bring back the fallen the heroes had just slain.  The decision was critical or his companions were surely dead, but he couldn’t decide who to focus on…..so he brought out two pipes and played them in unison for he was the Grand Master Bard.

I am among those who resented the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons that Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast published in 2008.  Although I adored playing MMO video games such as World of Warcraft at the time, the 4th edition books felt too close to those when I wanted to play more of a traditional role playing game that reminded me of the older editions.  Perhaps I am an old man who doesn’t like change, but the game play mechanics simply did not fit my style and preference.  So I was hesitant on even giving 5th edition a try when it was released in 2014.  In took me a year before I sat down with a group to experience it for the first time.  I will say this – I am very impressed with the effort and result that Wizards of the Coast put forth in the books.  Very impressed.

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For one, there doesn’t seem to be as much necessary crunch as before.  While I would say that 3rd and 3.5 editions were built to be more of a strategic role playing game, utilizing the innovated battle maps and miniatures, 5th edition feels more akin to the 1st and 2nd editions.  These were less of a visual game play and more of the mind.  While maps were still used back then (and even pewter miniatures were frequently sold), the maps were mostly drawn on-the-fly by the players as they ventured through dungeons.  There were few times when a top-down view of the immediate surroundings was drawn and miniatures were placed strategically on the battle field.

Fifth edition allows for battle maps to be used if desired for those who enjoy or need a better visualization on how the fights are laid out.  It caters in this regard to the 3rd edition lovers.  It isn’t necessary, however, to use them, and in fact many times I have gone through entire fights without them.

Another feature that I really like is the advantage/disadvantage system.  This is a simple but very effective way for a Dungeon Master to make a challenge difficult without having to do much math on adding modifiers to a roll.  On either account, you roll 2 D20s rather than one, but depending on whether you have advantage or disadvantage, you take the best or worst roll of the two.  There are still options to add the thousands of modifiers to a roll if desired, which was very common in 3rd edition, but if you wish to just give your players a little edge or challenge to their roll without having to over think it, this feature gives a quick result.  And that makes a good point in that streamline and pace, which I have talked about numerous times on how important they are, can be maintained with this feature.  Dungeon Masters need not look at a chart on their screen in front of them and hunt for the right situation modifier that will probably wind up being +1, +2, or +3 to their rolls.

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Short and long rests are a wonderful addition to the rules.  All too often the typical “rest” that a party faced in the past would result in an 8-hour stoppage of adventuring.  This would be mostly for the magic-users to regain their spells after blowing them all.  I always felt that it bogged play down and hindered magic-users a bit too much.  I would often find myself being very hesitant on casting a spell at an enemy because it was “early in the day” and I didn’t want to use up my 4 spells so soon.  Instead, we now have a short rest, typically 30 or so minutes of downtime for the characters before continuing on.  One of the classes fairly new to the list of Dungeons & Dragons game is the Warlock, which benefits greatly from this feature.  Although they are severely limited to the number of spells they can cast per day, they are given the ability to regain all of their spent spell slots after just a short rest.  This allows them to cast theoretically as many spells or more as a wizard or sorcerer if the party takes necessary short rests throughout the day.  Warlocks could then regain the spell slots right before a fight and concocting a plan of attack with whatever spells he knew.  Wizards would have been stuck with whatever they studied the night before and face possible expended spells used earlier that day.

Cantrip spells have become more useful.  Spells like Eldritch Blast now unleash considerable damage for magic-users who don’t want to spend any of their hard hitting spells but wish to contribute during common encounter fights.  There are even “bonus spells” that allow magic-users to cast more than one spell during a turn, giving them more options.

One of the most annoying rules that 3rd edition introduced was Attack of Opportunity or AOO.  This came into play when a character or opponent would pass by close enough to a target who could attack them.  There were ridiculous options and feats to this that really made players have to talk out the results on whether or not the situation even called for an AOO.  In 5th edition, AOO is only granted when an engaged combatant leaves their opponent’s melee area.  As long as they stay within that zone, they can move about as freely as they wish.  Just having to pay attention to characters leaving combat zones is much easier.

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And then there is the Dungeon Master’s Guide, which I have only gotten to work a bit through.  However, what I have seen so far is even more impressive.  There is a good portion of the book dedicated to people who want to become a Dungeon Master, which is to be expected in a book like this.  I have been asked many times by people wanting to know how to step into the Dungeon Master’s chair, and this book is a great start.  It works on NPCs, which honestly is an unnecessary task of creating and working with since many times they are here-and-gone in an encounter.  Creating monsters and spells is another area that Dungeon Masters like to produce, and both are thoroughly explained in the book.  Monsters are more modular, in my opinion, being able to swap abilities among other monsters for unique experiences.  If one monster has a sting ability but you want that ability on another monster, it can be done and the calculations of its improved difficulty is a snap to follow.

There’s a section to make random dungeons on-the-fly by dice rolling.  This is almost exactly what can be found in the 1st edition.  It provides all kinds of listings that can be rolled and sought out, allowing you to not have to really give a lot of thought into whether a turn in the corridor is a good idea here or if a 10×20 foot room is needed and with what to fill it with.  If anything the book is inspirational for Dungeon Masters with a lack of experience or a lack of ideas.

In the end, we all have our own preferences when it comes to what we enjoy playing.  You may not even like the fantasy genre and focus just on RIFTS, Shadowrun, or Traveller.  You may just focus on the Weird West of Deadlands.  You may only wish to play Paizo’s Pathfinder because you still have a sore attitude towards Wizards of the Coast for releasing a “3.5” edition only 3 years after releasing their 3rd edition (even though Pathfinder plays much like 3.5 and you paid $50-60 on a book after refusing to buy the 3.5 books, thus ironically doing the very thing you said you wouldn’t do).

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Fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons is one of the most flexible systems I have ever played.  Wizards of the Coast allowed for gamers to voice their opinions on what they wanted in a rule book, and the publishing company actually listened and made the book for them.  The result is satisfying (and if it didn’t become successful, it was the gamers’ fault because it was their creation essentially).  You can play it like 1st edition with charts and exclusively with the mind or you can crunch it up with modifiers and battle maps like 3rd edition.

I encourage those still with hesitation from 4th edition to find yourself playing the game in the future.  Empty your mind and biased feelings of any previous editions you didn’t enjoy and focus on the features this new set of rule books has to offer.  You may be surprised and have a new system to spend your money on and clutter up your already cluttered bookshelf.

Until next time, lie about your dice roll as much as you can get away with.  Thanks for stopping by.