Sunday, 30 October 2016

Adversaries & Allies Review

A look and review of the Adversaries & Allies package of NPCs for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. 
  • Nice assortment of pre-created stats for Dungeon Masters to use for characters
  • Consistent since it sticks quite close player creation rules
  • 38 pages long
  • Free (well, pay what you want)!

  • Challenge ratings are often a bit off in my opinion
  • Nothing exotic is included since it only contains player like characters


I'm always on the lookout for things that make my job as the Dungeon master easier. As such, if I'm quickly drawn to new monsters I can unleash on my players as well as new characters. Adversaries & Allies caught my eye for that reason. It was also free (well, pay what you want), which meant I couldn't resist grabbing it.

What's Inside

It's a really nice collection in general. It's 38 pages of stat block after stat block. It's free (well, pay what you want) so I wasn't expecting any art, and that's just what I got. Although a Dungeon Master could make many of these stat blocks themselves by consulting the rules and making appropriately leveled characters (same rules players use to make theirs), having them already done is a nice time save. I find that many of the characters in a campaign tend to be more normal anyway and more like the players than an ancient evil lich. This makes the adversaries and allies provided quite useful. The author of this collection doesn't always adhere strictly to the player rules, adding further variety than if you just strictly used them. You still can do so but mixing the two together could make things more interesting as well as giving the Dungeon Master options. For me, it's also nice since some of the ones I created are a couple of levels off in either direction. Already made stat blocks like this also serve as an easy way to create more variations by trimming back levels (apply creation rules in reverse) and spell lists (spell list construction often takes me longer than any other part). The stat blocks also cover a nice variety of roles.

There are also some stat blocks, like the expert, that are made without using the player creation rules. Though these are probably the minority, they are extremely useful and far less likely to be come up independently. I personally like seeing these kinds of creatures and characters that Dungeon Masters come up with. They are also a great to use as is, as inspiration, or just to see how another Dungeon Master's mind ticks.


The main issue I have with this collection is the challenge ratings. As an example, let's look at the cleric. It's a challenge rating 2 while being a level 8 spellcaster, while the priest in the basic rules (also all other rules) is a level 5 spellcaster while also being a challenge rating 2. This also means that the experience for the combat encounter is not what it should be. Some of them I think are perfectly reasonable. Others, I think are might be slightly off but not by much (or might be made more powerful with a slight tweak to their spell list). In general I think they are solid. I also don't think challenge rating is a great representation of challenge, but it represents a starting point and translates to the amount of experience given. Experience is often also used to construct encounter according to the tables in the rules. If you are a new Dungeon Master, be aware that some of the stat blocks may not have the right amount of experience. Be ready to change the challenge rating and award experience accordingly. It's these kinds of things that tables like in Unearthed Arcana could help prevent. Since they are based around normal characters, some people may also find them a bit boring (in this case you can add a twist) and lacking in the exotic.

Note to New Dungeon Masters: Remember that like any other stat block, you are free to modify and not use them however you see fit. If you want to use the noble stats instead of ruler (provided in these rules) for a king, go ahead and do so. Not every ruler needs to be as tough as the stats provided here. Not all rulers need to be as weak as the noble. Some might be better with some form of mage stats.


I'd say grab the free PDF and use it as a resource (if you like it, throw some money at the author). It's really a nice collection that can easily be consulted along with the current Monster Manual. Just be aware that some of the challenge ratings are a bit off so be careful and adjust as you see fit. It's not consistent throughout so it needs to be looked at on a case by case basis (we might disagree on what a good challenge rating is anyway and challenge ratings are often not useful anyway).

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Map Set Review: The Keeper of Realms

A review of the Black Scroll Games map The Keeper of Realms.

  • Well draw and coloured maps
  • Isometric visual aid images included
  • Often used location (wizard's library is a popular location)
  • Example story with visual aids and riddle included
  • A PDF document broken up for printing as well as .jpg files are provided
  • 1 inch grid size
  • Free after signing up for the newsletter (for at least a year)

Could Go Either Way
  • The adventure idea included is system neutral (more accessible but more work)

  • The 3D style makes it difficult to combine with non-3D style sets unless they are used in their own separate sections (you need to commit to the 3D art style for at least some sections of your dungeon). You can still do so, but there will be an aesthetic break. 


In keeping in the tradition of me looking for free maps wherever I can find them, I've recently stumbled upon Black Scroll Games and their maps. In particular, The Keeper of Realms set is currently provided for free when you sign up for their newsletter (when I asked, I was told it would be this way for at least a year).

The Map

There are two main maps included, though that isn't really telling the whole story. The PDF files make use of layers so that there are options included for things such as background colour and grid style (classic square grids or rounded grids, since the library itself is circular). The main map is the large, 9 page library. Within the centre of the library, after solving the included puzzle, there is a secret chamber that is also provided. This secret chamber is made further more useful by providing an alternate empty version. It's missing the details such as tables, but it means it is much easier to customize for your own personal games. The ability to remove the details easily in the lower chamber section allows the placement of 3D props without conflicting with already present details. The story included with the map has a part where a spiral staircase to the lower chamber is revealed. In the set a tile with this opening is provided allowing you to visually show the event to players by placing this tile over the previous one. I really liked this added detail. Sound like too much work for too little gain? It's in its own .pdf file. Just don't print it.

An optional adventure is presented along with a riddle and adventure aids. These aids are handouts that are meant to be given to the players (a riddle in a code/dead language, the code/dead language itself and a drawing) and isometric depictions of the areas. The riddle isn't too difficult but it's fine for its purpose (you typically don't want riddles your party can't ever figure out). 

Libraries are a common feature in tabletop role-playing games and when they are featured, they usually belong to wizards. As a result, this map is quite reusable. It is easy to rework into a homebrew though it is probably not enough for a complete adventure on its own. With a little bit of work to flesh out the process of finding the library, it can make for a decent one-shot. It is very easy to convert it to something else entirely as well. If your players need to find some kind of scroll, chances are you can recycle at least part of what is found here.


It looks really nice. The map presented is detailed and has a perspective that shows off the details and height of the library in a way that isn't otherwise possible in a flat map. In many other maps you only see the top edge of the wall. In these maps, you get to see the angled face of the wall as well. As a map on its own, it looks really nice. However, this perspective choice makes it naturally harder to combine with other sets that don't go for this 3D approach because of the presence of the two different styles. In such cases, you can still use what is found here to create a room. When the 3D tiles are placed together with 3D tiles the issue is avoided. I also find it far less jarring to have flat style tiles lead to a 3D style room than a mixture of both styles in the same section. I've run adventures like that and my players didn't mind but some people might prefer to stick to either all 3D style art of to all flat style art. All of this isn't a problem if mixing art styles together doesn't bother you. In some similar maps I've been concerned that 3D props don't work well. This is because they don't completely cover up the art (for example, in the case of the book shelf). In this case, part of the library is raised. This means that if you have 3D prop miniature bookshelves and place them on the map, they will now be higher than the raised part of the library. For this reason, I'd suggest running the library itself without props. Without them, thanks to the 3D art style, it looks almost as if you had recreated the entire thing using 3D terrain and props. However, it's easier to set up than tiles and 3D props. If you really like going for full 3D, you'd need to build the raised section (this would require you to carefully cut out the raised section).

The isometric aids are very nice looking and the lighting in particular is very nice. They aren't an essentially but they are a really nice addition to the package. It also means that even if prefer theatre of mind play, you can still find something of use from this package.


It's a very nice map. The location itself, a wizard's library, is very easily reusable and comes up often in play. The library map in particular has a good sense of height. The visual aids give a nice alternate view of the area and allow for use even in theatre of mind play. A possible adventure idea and puzzle are provided with the adventure. For the puzzle and adventure idea, visual aids are also presented in order to enhance the experience. These take the form of a dead language/code, a riddle written in the dead language/code, and a drawing. As a map it is very nice and all of the extras, from visual aids to adventure elements, are just icing on the cake. The lower chamber part also allows you to remove details, further enhancing its reuse. It has just about everything you could want from a map. I hope I see more packages in the future that have so many elements for Dungeon Masters. The adventure isn't the most developed but it is system neutral. The 3D art style works best with maps and tiles that also have a 3D art style. It can still, however, be used to make art style consistent rooms even if you use mostly 2D style tiles. Doing so is less jarring but some might prefer a consistent 2D or 3D art style. For now it's also free. If you think you'd like it based on what I've said, go ahead and check it out. I've always liked the no risk and informative approach of samples and demos.  

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Unearthed Arcana: Encounter Building Response


Unearthed Arcana has a new article that covers guidelines for creating combat encounters. I've tried to create a table that maps level to challenge rating one to one (essentially translating level to challenge rating and vice versa) based on this article. Up until now we've mainly had experience and challenge rating to go on. Seeing this, I wanted to see what I could pull out and possibly organize into a new form as well as note anything else of interest I noticed.

Resulting Chart

The below chart uses the information in the multiple monster table provided in the Unearthed Arcana article. When two challenge ratings were given for a level, I took the highest. The result is a relative translation between level and challenge rating. If you like to use the player creation rules as a starting point for baddies, you might find this helpful.

Level Challenge Rating
1 1/4
2 1/2
3 1/2
4 1
5 2
6 2
7 3
8 3
9 4
10 4
11 4
12 5
13 6
14 6
15 7
16 7
17 8
18 8
19 9
20 10

What We Get

It doesn't look like my resulting chart follows a pattern. It's probably best that if you just consult the charts and not memorize them. I'm happy to finally see the math behind challenge ratings and hopefully once it gets finalized it'll help a better level of consistency on Dungeon Masters Guild. The challenge rating for different group sizes was also a nice touch. I wish the table went to at least 3 players groups for solo monsters. You would think that you could use the tables to figure it out yourself, but it doesn't line up. The math for the multiple monsters table is different than the solo monsters table. Given the modifiers used in the Dungeon Master's Guide for larger groups of enemies (the difficulty of an encounter was the total experience points multiplied by a constant determined by the number of enemies), it's not too much of a surprise. Trying to work backwards by guessing would be a pain though and not guaranteed to yield a result. It makes me wonder if the table was made mostly through eyeballing things or whether there is some kind of hidden math. If it's hidden math, I'd like to see it.

The solo monster table is quite interesting to see. You would think that challenge rating should translate to something meaningful, like being a nice challenge for a party of 4 for that level. At fifth level, that pattern is quickly abandoned in the table. It reinforces that challenge ratings are odd. To make things worse, it specifically states that the table is for challenge a party by using a single legendary creature.

The table for dealing with multiple monsters in an encounter may be more useful. I'm hoping to see if I can successfully trim back an encounter to fewer characters by using it. Based on the text so far, it should use the same math as the other guidelines. However, the difference in the way it is presented means it will be easier to use for certain things.

I like the sections about monster personality and monster relationships. Too often I've seen the encounters where creatures are just buckets of hit points that need to be reduced to zero before advancing. It honestly seems to be stuff that should have been included in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Is It Alternate?

Reading over these guidelines, it makes me wonder if it is indeed an alternate system or instead another system of checks we can use. If you know what creature you want to throw at your party or need a single legendary creature, it should make it easier to design the encounter. Using the second table, you can also choose monsters to challenge a single character and then multiply it by the number of characters, if you have a party of equal level. I think I might give that approach a try and see how it works. In the previous guidelines, however, the number of creatures used against the party influence the modifier. In the new method, the total number of creatures doesn't seem to be used. My concern at the moment is that these new guidelines will diverge from the old ones at times.  

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Dungeon Master: Known Spells

The number of known spells affects the strength of a spellcaster. However, outside the wizard, most classes can't learn more spells outside of their leveling. The wizard, however, can learn many new spells (through finding spell books and spell scrolls) and become a utility powerhouse due to their wide range of options. I'll try to talk about ways to bridge the gap for other classes as well as some problem that may result.

Possible Problems

Wizards are limited in the number of spells they can prepare. This means that even though they have many options, they have to make a choice. Other classes, however, always bring everything they know to the table. This means that if you decide to give every arcane spell possible to a sorcerer, they will not be limited by the preparation rules of a wizard and become even more well-rounded. If all you have in your campaign is a sorcerer, it may not be too much of a problem since the party wizard won't feel overshadowed. Otherwise, if done, it needs to be limited and done carefully to prevent the situation I mentioned.

Learn by Watching

You can decide that you want your sorcerers to learn new spells from watching others cast the spells. Clearly this is harder and more time consuming than passing around and mass producing books. It also, from a gameplay perspective, adds another reason for your sorcerer to pay attention. It also feels awesome to learn a new spell and pull it out to save everyone in the middle of combat (person experience talking). You need to trust your player, however, since keeping track of this in combat is very difficult. Whenever I've seen Dungeon Masters use a system like this, they would trust the player and not keep track themselves.

More Spells Are Needed

Just giving spells to the players that are important for riddles or other reasons is another solution to the problem. There are also some spells that are mathematically awesome that people always gravitate towards. If you give these for free and let them take other ones, the result is a character that can do cool things outside of combat as well as within it. However, again, some spells can make it easy for magic characters to completely overshadow the rest of the party. As a result, serious care should to be taken or other benefits should to be given to the non-magic characters in order to offset the result.

Spell scrolls can also be made available to these characters. It's an easy way to give access to tons of spells that the players may not otherwise have access to. Copying the spells from the spell scrolls is also not a problem for the non-wizard magic classes I was talking about so they are far less dangerous for a campaign in their hands.

Just Don't Give Many Spells to the Wizard

There is also a very easy solution to the problem from the start. If you don't give your wizard every spell under the sun, the entire problem goes away. A few spells here and there won't unbalance things too badly though.

Taking Away Spells

Spells like wish, which can be taken away from the player, can be a big problem for classes that cannot learn more spells as written. In these cases, you might choose to be merciful and let the player take a different high level spell to take its place. However, if your campaign features situations where spells or knowledge about spells is taken from players more often, beware that it will affect those other classes far more widely than the wizard (assuming the wizard has access to spell books and spell scrolls).  

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Rules Corner: Alternate Reaction

The rules, as written right now, only allow a single attack to be made as a readied action. At first, this really isn't much of a problem. However, as players become more powerful and get more and more abilities (including extra attacks), the “ready an action” option gets less and less useful. For that reason, I hope to provide an alternate system I've seen and personally used.

The New System

Using the “ready an action” action allows the player or creature to take their turn later in the round (for purposes of effects, only the initiative order turn is used). As a result, the option remains useful for the entire length of a campaign.

Problems and Solutions: Keep the Trigger?

The above, as written, doesn't keep the trigger. It allows the player to use their turn as normal. This can cause a wide range of problems, include from stealth attacks. For these cases, I have a few solutions that could work.

First, players attacked successfully from stealth cannot react. This goes for spellcasters too. This is to prevent using the reactions to always attack right before a stealthed creature attacks.

Secondly, the trigger can be kept as normal. The only different is that more conditions and actions can be added (“I pull the lever when someone steps on the trapdoor” can change into “I pull the lever when someone steps on the trapdoor and move back to the rest of the party after doing so”). This is my preferred solution since it keeps it simpler and also makes extra-attack oriented classes keep up with wizards. It does, however, force wizards to keep concentrations to attack and extra-attack oriented characters not too (I deem this to be not too much of a big deal given the often area attack nature of spells allows them to do more damage overall).

Problems and Solutions: Concentration

There are a couple of problems that may be quickly apparent. The first comes for spellcasters. Previously, they had to ready a spell and maintain concentration. The above may let them to do the same thing without concentration. This makes the rule useless except for effects that require concentration to maintain.

If this is fine, you can ignore this section and go as is. However, you can also decide that spellcasters still need to maintain concentration to cast their spells but attacks do not. One will give a distinct disadvantage to spellcasters, but spells are quite powerful already so it might be seen as fine.

Problems and Solutions: Multiple People Delaying Actions

If two people are delaying their actions and then they both want to react, there is a problem with who goes first. In these cases, I say that the person who waited the longest acts first. This is quite straight forward I think, though feel free to point out any issues if you see them.