A monster on the verge of eating an adventurer.


Into the Feywild

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on September 26, 2016

Tagged: kiel 5e

Kiel was all, “did you read my adventure about the Feywild?”—more or less—and in my head I was all, “man, I’m not reading an adventure about the Feywild”—more or less. And then I totally read it: when has Kiel let me down?

The Feywild is called many things by its inhabitants: the Bright, the Truelands, the Everwood, and so on. Only mortal outsiders, and fey who have spent an great deal of time in the mortal world, call it the Feywild. Most fey look at folk who use the word like backwards country bumpkins (imagine calling the ocean the “really big puddle” or a castle the “big stone house”).

For the 100th issue of EN5ider Kiel wrote an adventure set in the Feywild, the fairy kingdom of the Forgotten Realms. Now, that’s not really my bag, but I was curious to see what Kiel could do in a few pages: a fair amount. The adventure opens with a brief background of the Fedwild and the adventure. Thankfully Kiel doesn’t waste page count explaining what a magical fairy kingdom is. (You’re smart, you’ll figure it out.) Instead Kiel answers a series of useful questions that most GMs would probably ask when picking up any adventure: “How does this adventure begin?”, “How did we get here?”, “Who is this important NPC”, etc. This is a solid way to open any adventure, really.

The adventure takes place in Hedgegrove, the topiary hedge maze town ruled by Princess Dandelion. Kiel’s drawn a cool looking map of the site, though I’m not sure how easy it would be to use in play. (If I wrote better reviews I’d have played this adventure and told you how it worked out.) The most interesting part of the adventure comes next, the random tables: Random Fey Trade Requests, Random Shops, Fey Oddity (Mutations), and a Random Encounters table. All of these could be plucked up and placed in any campaign that contained a fairy themed site. The remainder of the adventure is spent describing some quests a party can undertake on behalf of Princess Dandelion in order to escape the Feywild.

Though the PCs’ excuses can sway Dandelion’s temperament, she invariable decides to be lenient with them—provided they can complete a grand collection of quests on her behalf.

Now this is the sort of sentence I don’t think you need to write. With most any adventure, any time you find yourself writing out that what the PC’s do doesn’t particularly matter you should just cross that right out. It’ll probably make the adventure better. That’s some free gaming advice for you! It’s also my only real complaint with this adventure.

It was interesting to see what is clearly a very Kiel adventure in a different context. This adventure is light hearted and whimsical. Kiel’s been writing a lot for EN5ider recently, so if you are playing 5E you might want to check it out. I’m surprised WotC isn’t doing something similar.


D&D Player's Handbook: Races and Classes

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on August 17, 2014

Tagged: 5e wotc

The 5th Edition Player’s Handbook takes the Basic D&D rule book Wizards of the Coast has made available online for free and expands upon it in both breadth and depth. The core rules for the game as presented in the free PDF are unchanged. What you are paying for is more of everything else: more races, more classes, more spells, more backgrounds, and options like feats and multiclassing. People who find the Basic game a bit lacking may enjoy all the additions to the game found in the Player’s Handbook.

Basic D&D includes the 4 races found in Original Dungeons and Dragons: Humans, Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings. The Player’s Handbook adds 4 more races, and a few sub races. Dragonborn are the first new race. When I played 4th Edition everyone wanted to be a Dragonborn: our group included two, and without fail there was always a little kid playing a Dragonborn at D&D Encounters. In the old-school D&D scene they seem to be viewed as the Jar-Jar Binks of playable races. I’m not sure how they are presented here will change that sentiment. The other new races are Gnomes, Half-Orcs, Half-Elves and Tieflings. The Drow are included as a new sub-race for Elves, presumably so everyone can play Drizzt Do’Urden. With the exception of Half-Elves, which feel like more of the same, the other races are distinct enough to be interesting additions to the game. They are similar enough to how they have been presented in earlier editions of the game to be instantly recognizable to old players. Whether you want to use them all depends on how Mos Eisley you like your D&D.

There are 12 classes in the Player’s Handbook, 8 more than presented in the core rules. The new classes are the Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Sorcerer, and Warlock. Unlike 4th Edition, the classes do for the most part feel quite different from one another. They all generally have some weird quirk or feature unique to them. Many of the classes overlap in their additional features. The Paladin, Fighter, or Cleric can all be used to model similar character archetypes, so the choice of which to use will probably come down to what features of those classes you are most interested in exploring: each would play quite differently.

The classes in 5th Edition all begin for the most part with a handful of things a new player needs to worry about. Each time a new level is gained there may be another new feature that the player can now use. Each class generally has at least two paths one can take when they reach 3rd level that further specialize the class along some theme. These specializations are also used in a few cases to split classes up into an easy mode and a hard mode. For example, in Basic D&D Fighters only have the option of choosing the Champion martial archetype when they reach 3rd level. The Champion has very straight forward features and don’t really make the class more complex as you gain levels. In the Player’s Handbook there are two more choices: the Battle Master and the Eldritch Knight. The Battle Master learns maneuvers as the character levels up, and has a pool of dice that can be spent to execute those maneuvers.1 This would probably be a good choice for someone who likes playing fighters, but also wants to play a character with a lot of moving parts. The Eldritch Knight is a Fighter crossed with a Wizard. This would be a better choice for someone who is interested in creating the sort of magic wielding fighter they might have read about it in a book.

There are three different spell casting classes: Wizards, Warlocks and Sorcerers, and each has a different vibe, and slightly different mechanics around spell casting. Wizards have spell slots, and can learn an unlimited number of spells. Sorcerers have a finite number of spells they can learn, but have spell points they can spend to augment the traditional casting system of 5e. Warlocks also learn a finite number of spells, but then have Warlock invocation and features related to the diabolic pact that grants them their powers.

Paladins, Rangers, Bards and Druids can all cast spells as part of their core class features. As mentioned above, Fighters can become Eldritch Knights which grants them access to magic. Similarly, Rogues can become Arcane Tricksters. So, with the exception of Monks every single class can cast magic spells without even needing to resort to multi-classing. I’m not sure i’m a fan of that: it seems like there is way too much magic all over the place. I assume this is to allow for a wider variety of characters without requiring the plethora of classes found in 4th Edition.

I enjoy playing OD&D where there are only a handful of classes, and if you want to be a Ranger you just make a fighter and give him a bow. That’s going to feel lacking for many people.2 With 5th Edition, characters are far more complex than they were in earlier editions of the game, but are much more straight forward than those found in later iterations. I think Wizards of the Coast has done a good job here. The complexity of the character classes increases over time, slowly, for most classes, and there are several classes that are clearly meant to be played by new players—like those presented in the basic rules

In the old-school scene you often find people sharing their home brew character classes. I think 5th Edition has enough breadth you can probably cover all sorts of character types simply by using the Player’s Handbook by the book. Where I suspect we will see creative efforts directed is making new races and sub races, and making new backgrounds—which probably deserve their own post.

  1. This is actually similar to how the Fighter was presented in one of the earlier play test packets. The most notable change (and improvement) is that the manoeuvres as written now aren’t so reliant on the use of a grid in combat. 

  2. Based on how OD&D grew with each new booklet, playing just four classes got boring for players at the time as well. 


The Art of the Player's Handbook

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on August 09, 2014

Tagged: 5e art wotc

The Warrior

Basic D&D is more or less all I wanted in terms of 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. It’s nice and simple. Still, I wanted to give Mike Mearls and his team a high five for all the work they have done so I picked up a copy of the new Players Handbook yesterday. One aspect of the book really jumped out at me right away: damn there is a lot of art in this thing.

The team behind 5th Edition must have blown a sizable portion of their budget on art. This thing is overflowing with artwork. It’s rare to go more than a handful of pages before hitting a painting. Everything is in full colour. There is a bit too much of that “single character posing” artwork that seems to be most common in new RPG books, but on the whole I like this book’s art. I wish they had credited which artists painted which pictures. Maybe that’ll be something that ends up online, one day.

One nice change of pace compared to RPGs books of yore: women seem to be represented in the art more or less equally. In fact, there might be more girls than boys in this book. There’s also much more variety in terms of how people are represented in general. Suck it, White dudes in armour: we’re coming for you!

How was this feat achieved?

Hire lots of women. And hire gay dudes. And hire every kind of person because they make a talented version of every kind of person. They exist.

That is the sole and only answer that is fair and that will get us good work while sacrificing neither of the real priorities here.

Hire women (50%!) and let them do whatever they want. Don’t hire men and tell them to make work that does not appeal to them. Don’t hire a writer and ask him to write a world he will not want to play in. Hire a woman and ask her to do whatever.

Zak Smith has a great blog post about this (obvious?) idea from a couple years ago that’s worth re-reading. Unless i’m bad at guessing gender, it looks like 4 out of the 6 art directors for this book were women. I can’t imagine any other route to get to this book and its art that doesn’t involve women being directly involved in its production.

This is good.


D&D 5th Edition

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on July 03, 2014

Tagged: 5e dndnext wotc

I took a particularly long lunch today to go and pick up the new D&D Starter Set.1 I have been looking forward to grabbing it for quite some time now. It’s hard to believe that they announced 5th Edition over two years ago now. The boxed set contains the core rules you need to play the game, and an adventure that helps set the tone for the new edition and hopefully helps teach people how to DM a game. I haven’t ran a game since I was a little kid, so I’m thinking i’ll try and run this one.2

Today also saw the release of the first version of the Basic rules for 5th Edition. Wizards of the Coast decided to publish a subset of the players handbook for free, online as a PDF. What was particularly amazing is that the PDF isn’t behind some weird login form or any other nonsense. It’s just there for anyone who wants it. What’s not to love about that?

As I’ve mention before, I am pretty hyped about 5th Edition. They are off to a good start.

  1. It’s my birthday, so that seems fair. How many birthdays am I going to enjoy where there is some crazy D&D mega-event going on? 

  2. Derek from Dungeons’ Master has a much better review of the starter set. (Of course he does.) 


D&D Game Day 2013

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on June 22, 2013

Tagged: 5e dndnext playtest encounters toronto freerpgday

The Map of the Vault of the Dracolich

I had another successful Free RPG Day this past Saturday. In addition to getting some free RPG books, I got to play a some D&D Next, the new fangled version of D&D coming out in 2014. Derek from Dungeon’s Master was the Toronto organizer for a public play event from Wizards of the Coast, an adventure entitled Vault of the Dracolich.

The set up is straight forward enough: a Wizard needs a group of adventurers to find a magical staff he had been unable to retrieve when he was a young adventurer. He gives the party a rough map of the caverns the artifact is located within and warns the party they won’t be able to retrieve the staff without first disabling four wards that protect it. To do so they’ll also need to find four idols hidden in the caverns. With that brief intro we were teleported off to the caverns in search of adventure. Our motley crew numbered forty odd people. What!?

There were five tables participating in the adventure. It was designed to be tackled by multiple groups at the same time. Each table was teleported to a different starting location. We each had a team leader whose character had a magic item that would let them talk to the leaders from the other tables. In this way we could communicate things we had found or encountered while traveling through the dungeon. Occasionally the groups would bump into each other while adventuring. This happened at my table while we were fighting a giant Hydra. Our DMs coordinated things like how many hit points the monster had left, and ended up having half the Hydra’s heads attack one party, the other half attacking the other. We would also come across places other parties had passed through. My group had to fight this giant Treant because a previous party had apparently harassed the monster: our attempts to reason with it were for naught. The session ended with a giant fight: we split into groups of four, each group had a different objective. My table had to fight this Dracolich simulacrum, whose ass we kicked.

This was my second time playing D&D Next. I hadn’t played a game since the very first play test rulebooks were released. The game has evolved a fair bit since then, and is a bit more complicated. That said, on the whole it is much more straightforward than 4th Edition, and plays much faster. Our 3-4 hour D&D Next session would have probably taken four times as long using 4th Editions rules. Not using minis for most of the combat sped things up considerably. The lack of long lists of powers and complicated combat mechanics helped as well. I felt like we got a lot accomplished during our session. Even though no one at our table had played Next before things went fairly quickly.

I am curious to see if Wizards of the Coast can maintain the appeal of the game to people who enjoy 4th Edition. One of the ladies I played with has only ever played 4th Edition, and she found the combat in D&D Next a bit boring. I think a lot of people enjoy the extremely detailed and tactical combat of 4th Edition. If your only experience with D&D is 4th Edition, I can see how the simpler combat mechanics of all the other editions might seem like a step backwards.

I’ll be playing D&D Encounters this season using the D&D Next rules. It seems like a great step forward. It’s probably one of the easiest versions of the game to teach, especially if you don’t play with any of the feats. Thus far I have to say i’m a pretty big fan.

The game day was a lot of fun. Although i’m quite happy playing D&D online nowadays, there is something to be said for actually playing in person.


D&D Online (is not just a Video Game)

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on June 11, 2012

Tagged: 5e dndnext playtest

My first gaming session using the D&D Next rules was also my first gaming session playing virtually. Kiel, of Dungeons and Donuts fame, mentioned on Google+ he was planning on running a play test of D&D next online. I was expecting a quiet night at home anyway, why not try and cram in a game of D&D?

I had written off Google+ a while ago, but people more imaginative than myself saw the possibilities the Hangout feature opened up in terms of tabletop gaming online. Skype has supported multi-user video chat for some time now, but it’s a feature you need to pay for. Google+ hangouts are free, and the social network side of Google+ makes it easier to connect with other gamers. D&D is basically collaborative storytelling, so multiuser chat is really all you need to get going. The video helps stop people from talking over each other, since you have those visual cues, and gives you the ability to share images when needed. This has probably played some part in Google+ becoming a wild success in the D&D community.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with an online game. Though the stereotype of a D&D nerd is probably someone antisocial, the game itself is a social activity. It’s all about human interaction. I wasn’t convinced that side of the game would translate well if you weren’t sitting next to the people you were playing with. D&D is also inherently silly. In a game you might be pretending to be a Half-Orc Wizard or some other nonsense: it takes a certain level of comfort to do that with strangers.

My concerns were unfounded. I had a lot of fun playing online. I don’t think it beats playing in person, but the play experience is still pretty damn good. It certainly beats not playing at all, which is the alternative for me more often than not. My friends and I play our 4th edition campaign incredibly infrequently. I think playing online might be able to help us play for often. Video chat is a good enough approximation of sitting next to someone, at least in this case.

Beyond the social side of things, managing the mechanical side of the game was also painless. D&D Next is similar in style to older editions of D&D in that combat can be run without tracking precisely where everyone is. Not having to move minis around a board got rid of one possible impediment to the online experience. In our game we also rolled our own dice and announced the results. Assuming you aren’t playing with dirty liars, this works well.1

The best example of what you can do with video chat and D&D nerds is ConstantCon. Someone posts that they are going to host a game online, and other people can sign up to play. By the looks of it you should always be able to find a game of D&D whenever you want to play. Kiel runs a game of D&D Encounters using Google+ once a week as well. He’s an excellent DM, so I would definitely try and scam your way into one of his games.

Ultimately what made the night fun was that the actual adventure was a lot of fun.2 By the end of the night the adventuring party consisted of: Pickles the horse, two dwarves, an elf, a halfing, a robot cleric of Pelor, and a (demon?) baby called Hope. That’s what i’m talking about!

  1. There are tools available to aid with running more precise combat, and for online dice rolling: Tabletop Forge and roll20

  2. Stacy, who played the halfing in our group, has a more thorough write about our play session for those interested in our adventure. 


D&D Next

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on June 10, 2012

Tagged: 5e dndnext playtest

Wizards of the Coast have spent the past few months hyping up their plans for the 5th edition of D&D, something they have been calling D&D Next. They announced a public play test, which I signed up for, a couple weeks ago. The first batch of rules were released to the public to read over, play, provide feedback on.

The new rules are a pretty refreshing change from the 4th edition rule books. The “how to play” booklet is incredibly short. Everything you need to know to play the game fits on 25 pages and a handful of pre-generated character sheets. (The current play test rules don’t include anything about character generation, so I imagine the actual rules will be a little bit longer.) The character sheets are amazing because they are all 1-2 pages long and include almost everything you need to know about your character. To contrast, the character sheet for the first level character I play in D&D Encounters is 5 pages long.

D&D Next is a much simpler game than its predecessors. It takes the D20 rules from 3rd and 4th edition and strips them down even more. Saving throws are now done using your ability scores. (For example, Save vs. Magic is now an intelligence check.) Similarly there aren’t separate list of skills or proficiencies to manage. The only stat blocks on the character sheets are your six ability scores, HP, and AC. It feels nice and light. There is much less to explain to a new player, and much less to look up.

The plethora of modifier bonuses found in previous editions of the game have been replaced by a simpler advantage/disadvantage system. Instead of getting bonuses stacked on top of bonuses, you either end up being in an advantageous situation or a disadvantageous situation. When this happens you roll two D20 dice when performing an action, and take the higher roll in the case of an advantage, and the lower roll in the case of a disadvantage. In play I felt it worked quite well, and it’s an easy system to teach and understand.

D&D Next, at least in this initial ruleset, feels like a good mix both old and new D&D. There are still (optional) feats and powers and junk like that, but it’s been toned down a lot. For the most part I think the game feels very old-school. Combat is reasonably quick to resolve and fairly free form. The DM was rolling for random encounters, something you’d probably never want to do in 4th edition. The play test I participated in1 was run without miniatures. I think that makes a huge difference in how quickly combat plays out.

D&D Next is looking quite promising. If I have any gripes it is that the player characters felt a bit overpowered. Original D&D has very weak starting characters, while 4th edition has fairly powerful starting characters. Figuring out a way to balance between both extremes will be tricky.

I know a lot of people have written Wizards of the Coast off, but it’s clear they still have some ideas to share.

  1. My first game of D&D Next was also my first game playing online. A DM I met at Duelling Grounds ran a game online using Google+. Playing online actually worked surprisingly well. 


Rule 0': don't be an asshole

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on June 08, 2012

Tagged: op-ed 4e 5e dndnext osr

When someone makes fun of me for playing D&D I now know that makes then a bit of an asshole. Different people have fun in different ways. A lot of people find different things fun. Most people I interact with nowadays don’t care one way or the other that I play D&D: this is because I’m an adult who now interacts primarily with other adults. Most adults are mature about these sorts of things. The only people I encounter nowadays who mock this outlet for fun are in fact other gamers.

I’ve played every other edition of D&D: original D&D as a kid, 2nd edition as a high school student, and now 4th edition as an adult. Did you know that if you are playing 4th edition you are doing it wrong? I didn’t either till I took to the internet–always a mistake.

For my friends and I 4th edition was the success Wizards of the Coast was probably hoping for: it got a few of old school gamers playing Dungeons and Dragons again. I don’t think any of us had really paid much attention to the game in well over a decade. It’s certainly quite different than the previous editions I’ve played, but having missed 3rd edition I thought many of the rule changes were mana from heaven. (No more negative AC! Even when I was 12 that seemed like a stupid idea.)1

After playing 4th edition for a while I was pretty delighted to discover the community that surrounds old school D&D. There are lots of great articles, books, and modules being put out by an engaged group of people. I’d argue the most interesting stuff happening with hobby right now is a result of the old-school renaissance and all the indie and DIY publishing that surrounds it.

With the noise from Wizards of the Coast around D&D Next I now get to witness the arguments and complaints I wasn’t privy to when 4th edition was first released. It takes real energy to get angry over a game you don’t play, and aren’t interested in playing in the future. People can get defensive about their hobbies. For some I suspect enjoying the game they are playing takes a back seat to justifying to others why it’s the one to play. Those sorts of arguments can be interesting, but it takes a level of effort and maturity that doesn’t seem to come across in much of what I read about 4th edition and D&D next on some of my favourite OSR blogs.

In many ways hardcore D&D fans remind me of hardcore indie music fans. Reading responses to D&D Next reminds me of reading reviews in Pitchfork. Both groups fandom is so transcendent it can only be expressed by hating all music, in the case of hardcore indie music fans, and all tabletop gaming, in the case of your hardcore D&D fan.

There is enough room in this hobby to accommodate everyone and the wide variety of things that draw them to the game. Rule 0 in role playing games is that the DM is always right. I would suggest a Rule 0’: don’t be an asshole.

  1. I don’t think 4th edition is perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but those thoughts will have to wait for another post.