Sunday, 29 November 2015

Dungeon Master: Subtle Magic Effects

Occasionally players may find themselves facing off against someone whose knowledge of magic is greater than theirs. In such cases a question that comes up often is how to handle the description of spells cast by the more powerful wizard. There is no question with the big, flashy spells. However, some of the subtler spells would be harder to determine until the effect takes place (for example, if a wizard casts haste on someone and that person doesn't move).

Piecing Together the Spell

An optional rule for this kind of situation could be that a character knowledgeable in magic can try to figure out the effect of a spell by making a check while it is being cast. The harder part to decide is when such a check would be required. At the very least, a wizard should be able to recognize the spells they know. However, at there could be many spells of a given level that a character doesn't know. In those cases, we can have two variants.

Variant 1: When a spell is being cast that a magic class character does not know, they can make a DC 10 + level of the spell arcana check to determine the effect the spell is about to have.

Variant 2: When a spell of a higher level than a magic class character knows is cast, the character can make a DC 10 + level of the spell arcana check to determine the effect the spell is about to have.

Variant B: The above variants but use a DC of 10 + proficiency + modifier.

I tend to use variant 2 + B.

Frequency of Use

The variants above generally assume that the characters won't be facing characters much higher level than them very often (if this isn't true, these kinds of rolls will happen more often). It also assumes that a lower level wizard would be able to determine what spell is being cast through their arcana knowledge, even when they cannot cast it themselves. If either of these assumptions proves problematic, it may be a good idea for the Dungeon Master to use a more restricted version of the rules.

There examples of spells that allow for multiple effects (right now this is mostly for house rules). The rule can be adapted to only apply to these kinds of spells instead to reduce the number of these kinds of rolls. This kind of rule needs to be carefully applied in order to prevent the game slowing down. As an alternative, the Dungeon Master can keep more in their arsenal as a more random occurrence instead of a rule to still allow for it to be used when needed while not being used all the time (weird spells, as below, is an example of this, though more rigid in the way it is applied).

Weird Spells

I've seen situations where certain wizards have special spells that they came up with. In these cases, particularly when the spell is more subtle, it can be hard to determine and react to the spell when it is cast. Instead, the effect of the spell needs to be revealed with time. In such cases, this kind of rule could apply to just the weird spells of this spell caster. I've also seen examples where a necromancer, for example, will have modified spells in their disposal (a fireball ends up being a ball of necromatic energy). These situations can be hard for the characters because these spells may not even be available for them. In these kinds of cases, this kind of rule could apply (knowing it's a modified fireball can help players make inferences about the number of spell slots left for the wizard, etc.).

Ritual Magic

It is important to realize that ritual magic is also magic. In these cases, this kind of rule gives a straight forward and consistent way to determine the intention of a ritual or the remnants of a ritual site (circles, components, etc.). Even there is hesitation to apply this rule in combat it can still be used as a Dungeon Master tool during dungeon construction to decide DCs.  

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Dungeon Master: Defense Wizard

A while ago I wrote a sample villain (you can read the old article here). However, Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition allows for multiple different kinds of wizards through arcane traditions. As an example, I will modify the stats and character of Sator Ivertillion to be in line with the School of Abjuration.


Level 5 Wizard
Ability Score
Strength 10
Dexterity 10
Constitution 9
Intelligence 11
Wisdom 10
Charisma 18
Hit points: 17 (using averages)
Skills: Arcana, Insight, Deception, Persuasion
Proficiency Bonus: +3
Armor Class: 10 without mage armor, 13 with mage armor

The above ensure though he is a level 5, the spell save DC for his spells is 11. This gives even a level 2 player a chance to survive a spell, though it is still an incredibly deadly situation to be in for the level 2 party. His low health also makes it possible to kill for a low level party, especially when surprise is gained as well.

To make the difference even more pronounced, the School of Abjuration perks from the Player's Handbook can be applied up to level 5 (other schools can be used for different kinds of wizards). In fact, I'd argue that those kinds of differences make it far more unique for the characters. It also acts as a way to show the feasibility of certain class builds if for some reason your players are avoiding them, though this should never be the main reason. Instead, I find that the novelty of the character and combat encounter should be the main reason (we don't want combat to be too static).

Playing Them

In this case, playing the character as a coward is the most straight forward way and also the potentially most memorable if your players are used to aggressive combat encounters. Similar to previously, this character will avoid combat if they can by using their deception and persuasion skills. However, in this case they should be more likely to lie in order to avoid combat. At the same time, this character should be far less willing to die for their goal.

When running combat with this character, spells should be used when possible to boost the character's allies and help prevent damage. They should still have one offensive spell just in case but it should be quite significantly weak. The first spell should be something defensive that benefits the caster such as mage armor, and the first move should be used moving into a place that will give them cover if it is possible.

Of particular importance to have this character's combat style mirror their personality is the use of reactions. Since they are meant to be a coward, a dispel magic or shield spell should be cast regardless of how much damage may be done. It also gives the players a way to lock down the character, though they will need a magic and martial character to work together or two magic characters (to use up the reaction).

At the same time, this character should be very willing to flee if things are not going their way. If they get too hurt during the combat, they should also try to flee (the low hit points and AC means that the players still have a fairly good chance of dropping them and the low other scores mean that the players have a good chance of catching up in a chase).

The character can still be played as brave. In this case their main role would be to help their allies and to limit the effectiveness of other magic users.


There we have another wizard to drop into games as a villain. The other schools can be employed in much the same way but the tactics of the wizard will need to change to incorporate the school. As always, feel free to bring up any questions.  

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Dungeons & Dragons: Harried in Hillsfar

Since I wrote about the free adventure that was in issue 4 of Dragon+, it's probably a good time for me to talk about the free adventure in issue 3 (yes, there was a free adventure there) called Harried in Hillsfar. As usually, I'll go over the general structure, problems and what can be scavenged.

Overall Structure

This adventure is really 5 separate adventures that can be used independently or combined together. Each one is shorter than the adventure in issue 4, but they can be combined to create a bigger adventure (be careful of order since 2 in particular work better when done in the right order). When done so, they are not as closely connected as you might like but at the same time it works to showcase a wide scope of things (I think it could work quite nicely as a lead into Rage of Demons). Naturally there's quite a bit of combat but there is also a lot of room for role-playing (a good portion of which will need to be thought up by the Dungeon Master or improvised).


This adventure has a few problems with it though none are that major.
  1. There are two handouts listed but only one provided (you'll need to rewrite the coloured text yourself or white out the black text)
  2. Though information is provided to tie the adventures together on the handout, the role-play alternative is barely touched on and will take some time for the DM to develop
  3. Some strange typos will force you to reread parts of the adventures (nothing too weird but it is quite distracting)

What Can Be Scavenged

The adventures are demon themed to fit as an introduction to the Rage of Demons story line. However, undead and demons being a common enemy in D&D, it makes it fairly easy to recycle if running that kind of campaign. Some of the adventures even come with puzzles or riddles that add to the general aesthetic and can be ran as is without heavy modification (adventures 4 and 5 are the best example of this) since they are more tied to demons than they are a specific feature of the adventure. The riddle rooms can be lifted exactly and thrown into other adventures quite easily. You could probably combine adventure 4 and 5 into one bigger adventure quite successfully as well (trap door in the church).

Overall Opinion

I found these adventures a lot more enjoyable than Shackles of Blood. It's partially due to the riddles (which aren't too hard and all have a less desirable alternative if necessary) and to the overall atmosphere, but I found them to be quite enjoyable. Some parts, especially where role-play is concerned, will need a bit of polish but I don't think that is too much of a big deal (it's hard to provide a good balance for role-playing sections since most times players will go in a different direction than the adventure provides, even if only slightly). It also seems quite to expand and work into other adventures. Have fun and give it a shot. You can't go wrong with free.

2016/10/09: Fixed issue as pointed out by comment. I had coloured and black text reversed in the problem section. 

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Dungeons & Dragons: Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide Review

Review copy courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.

  • Lots of full colour art (as we have come to expect of this edition)
  • Lots of maps
  • Lots of fluff and descriptions about the different areas and people there
  • The mechanical stuff doesn't break the game
  • New backgrounds with setting ties that are easy to adopt to other settings are provided

Could Go Either Way:
  • It's focuses on the Forgotten Realms (if you like the forgotten realms, this is a major plus and if not it's a con)
  • New paths for classes are provided (if you don't like creep, you may not like this) though they are not game breaking and will be too few for some to justify the purchase just for mechanics
  • For the list price, it's a bit short
  • No PDF*

* Denotes nitpicking.
Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide cover
The front cover of Sword Coast's Adventurer's Guide.


Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide has been released for the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Inside its 159 pages is information about races, options, backgrounds and locations for use with the Forgotten Realms. Personally, I think those who are interested in the Forgotten Realms will appreciate this book. Being no stranger to the Forgotten Realms myself, I enjoyed reading this book. Still, I had a couple of issues. For more depth, just read below or jump to the conclusion for a high level overview. Table of contents is here.

The Internals

New Mechanics and Rules

Inside this book are different mechanical options for players. At least one (deep gnomes) of these have already been featured in other adventures though I didn't notice much reuse beyond that. It's nice to have everything together in one book and yes, they did seem to be consistent with the previously published material. Most of it, however, is new. Anything I didn't like seemed to be easy to house rule as well and it mostly had to do with fluff (I'm looking at you, spiked armour).

Going in no particular order, we have some new backgrounds. Now, personally, I feel like backgrounds are probably some of the easiest things for a Dungeon Master to create in this edition. Still, it's nice to have some new ones written down and they generally seemed to be in line with the previously published ones (I'm a bit scared of power creep so this is important to me). They also tend to have links to the Sword Coast world which is nice to see (this will take some slight house ruling for other settings but it will be only slight).

We had some new material provided for the classes. There weren't any completely new classes, but some new options where provided (by options I mean domains for clerics, martial archetypes for fighters, etc.). Many different classes get attention here (strangely rangers don't) and I didn't have any concerns for almost all of the paths provided. There's one or two which make me a bit nervous (bladesinger is one of them) but if they are a little bit better than the rest, it isn't by much. The exception is Way of the Long Death but it's easy to increase the number of ki points needed to make it in line with the rest. I find myself occasionally making NPCs by following the character creation rules so any of them I feel may be too good for the players I could always use for my NPCs anyway (and adjusting the encounter to be fair, of course) but it's still nice to see that my players get some new options too.

Finally, we have a big list of races that exist within the forgotten realms. Mechanically, there isn't too much here. Some races get a couple of new variations which are in line with what we have seen so far. However, while I am breaking my format a bit here, there is far more for the races than mechanics. Many of them have fairly long explanations of their place in the world, histories, and unique features. There are even Forgotten Realms scripts provided for races such as humans, elves and dwarves (which means we are missing the exotic scripts Celestial, Infernal and Draconic, though we still have the Draconic script from the Player's Handbook).

Overall, it's rather light on the mechanics which honestly I tend to prefer at this point (lots of mechanics across many books scares me). I could see how some might be disappointed with how few there are, though. 

The Writing

If you are getting this book, it is probably for the writing. Lists of gods are given for the players (those Forgotten Realms veterans already know that there are quite a few gods in the Forgotten Realms), and histories of the world are provided. I knew most of what was in the book due to playing in the Forgotten Realms, but I still enjoyed reading it. Even when new options aren't given to a class or race, information on their roles in the world are provided.

Ever wonder how they measure time? It's covered. What about holidays and festivals? It's covered. Systems of government along the Sword Coast? Check. There's quite a nice range of topics covered and I found them to be a good read. It seems like it would work as a fairly decent reference. It does feel a bit short though. Almost like we could easily have 50 pages or even twice the content in exchange for a bigger price. Still, there were some pretty good deals out there that should help make the book tempting. 

The majority of the writing is good, but the part where this book really stood out for me was the descriptions of the locations through the Sword Coast. There is an emphasis that this is your Forgotten Realms and you should change it to be what you want it to be. Even when describing a location, the book does not speak from a position of authority. Instead, that portion of the book is written as a collection of accounts from informants and it really makes it seem stronger for me. It's evocative but not completely authoritative. It's how I feel that kind of section should be done.

The Art and Book Build Quality

Sword Coast map from Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide
One of the maps inside Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide. There are others, and they also look good. They are also in a similar style. 

I found the art throughout this book to be quite nice, though it probably has my least favourite cover so far. The maps and objects are done really nicely in this book, though scaling is missing on the maps. Out of all of the Faerun gods mentioned in the list, almost all of them have an illustration of their symbol (I only counted 3 without illustrations) and they look great (my personal favourite is Jergal's symbol though I can't think of one that looked bad). I tend to be quite picky when it comes to depictions of people and prefer a realistic art style. Even so, there were quite a few pieces of art involving people that I liked in this book.

The book itself is in the same style as the rest in this edition. Everything from the pages to the spine makes it fit perfectly when standing on the book shelf. The pages themselves are in a style that makes them look like they are from an in-game book, complete with fake creases close to the edge of the page. It's nice, and I generally appreciate these kinds of details (they also blend really well with the style of the maps, which look like they are lifted straight out of Faerun).


The good news is that the pages in my copy were straight. The bad news is that out of all of the books I have of this edition, the binding is the worst. This is especially true for the first page and last page (look at the picture below to see what I mean). Still, I've been reading it and it seems to be staying together securely though it has been worrying me a bit. It also looks like two of the pages in my copy were stuck together with glue and when separated caused a small part of the surface of the page to be ripped out. It's barely noticeable but I feel it's worth noting and looking out for. I'm also not sure how common those kinds of things are for this run of the book.
Binding on the last page of the book
The binding on the last page of the book. 


The best prices I could find doing a quick search were $23.77 at Barnes and Noble in the US (Amazon has the same price) and $31.94 at Chapters in Canada. 

What I felt was Missing

Again, we are missing a PDF. A reference like this would have made a perfect candidate for a PDF. Also, I would have liked to see all of the script types mentioned in the Player's Handbook (including exotic) included in the book. Fonts being provided would have also been nice so that we Dungeon Masters could use the ones that are here in our handouts. This wasn't done for the Player's Handbook either, but I still feel it's worth mentioning. 


Overall, this is a resource and reference for Dungeon Masters who will be running games on the Sword Coast. It does what you would expect with its 159 pages. It has generally good art, a lot of good information describing the Sword Coast and is a bit light on mechanics. If you don't like the Forgotten Realms, you might still be tempted to buy the book just for the extra player options though as mentioned, it's a bit light on them. However, I'd say the main reasons to get the book are for the art and writing. It may be hard to justify buying this book if you already have a lot of old Forgotten Realms stuff. It's also not a must own book, especially if you prefer your own setting. Still, it's a good addition to this edition, and Forgotten Realms fans as well as new people to the game who want to learn more about the world they have been playing in through the adventures should be happy (especially if you find a lower price online and prefer description over mechanics since it is shorter and mostly descriptions). If you heard that there was going to be a Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide and thought, “Cool”, you will be happy. Just be on the lookout for that binding if you can.

Other Stuff
  • Reading over this book, I don't remember many typos

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Dungeons & Dragons: Shackles of Blood

Free adventures are always nice. Even if you don't like every part, there is usually something that can be taken and use. In the newest issue of Dragon+ Wizards of the Coast have given us a pdf of an adventure (second time in a row) called Shackles of Blood. I'm mainly aiming at Dungeon Masters here but since it's a free pdf and players may read this, I'll try to avoid spoilers.

Overall Structure

The adventure starts off a bit slow (you won't be slaying your way through armies of kobolds in this one) but provides many opportunities to role play. When the action does start rolling, it is centred around a set piece encounter that is actually pretty good. If you run this adventure, it will go by quick unless you pad it (though it probably isn't the easiest adventure to add to). It's not a very easy one to recycle either. It's also quite a bit more railroad-y than I would like. It ties into the issue 3 adventure.


This adventure has a few problems with it. I'll try to list them all below.

  1. There is one place where it seems the counting is slightly off (page 14).
  2. The race relations in the adventure as written are weird and takes some creativity to make sense if you a human in the party (I don't have a way I'm 100% happy with to fix this).
  3. The difficulty stuff for this adventure is a bit wonky. You probably won't have much luck running this adventure with a full part of level 1's without giving extra experience or a level up.
  4. Awarding experience at the end of part 1, regardless of how players accomplished the ending, makes the most sense to me (otherwise it makes less sense to me and one party member can cause the party to not get experience as written).

What Can Be Scavenged

The set piece encounter can quite easily be converted to new adventures or used as inspiration (it is very situational though). There is a character named Deriel that may give new Dungeon Masters ideas. The general idea and role of her character can be used to great effect but the way she is used is not very good in my opinion.

Overall Opinion

As an adventure, I'm not a fan though it's not like there is nothing here. At this point I'm convinced that a good Dungeon Master can make any adventure good, but this one will require quite a bit of work. What you can recycle from this is either situational (the set piece encounter which is pretty good) or is an idea that basically requires a rewrite for when you use it. If you are in a pinch and have to run this adventure, address those problems and carefully think about it and you may be able to save this. If you like the idea and want to save it, I'm sure you can but it won't be as easy as reading it and running it. The only case where you could just read it and run it is if your party has no human characters, is 5 level 3 characters and acts exactly as predicted in part 1 (which you can't predict ahead of time).