Friday, July 15, 2022

A serious problem with 5e: the first sentences.

 I wrote a way back about a hidden problem in 5e with advantage.   I've recently become aware of another, perhaps more insidious problem:  the flavor/fluff writing and the mechanics *do not match*.

Basically, most spells or class abilities  have the format of a title, a sentence or two of fluff/flavor, then a mechanical description. But HOW OFTEN does the first sentence not really match the mechanics?!?  Let me give an example that happened in play very recently: 

So we had an encounter with a weird monster (I'm GMing gates of firestorm peak, an excellent 2e adventure I converted to 5e.) and the party paladin decided to "detect evil, paladins can do that in 5e right?"

So here is the power. I have put the first "fluff" sentence in italic

Divine Sense​

The presence of strong evil registers on your senses like a noxious odor, and powerful good rings like heavenly music in your ears. As an action, you can open your awareness to detect such forces. Until the end of your next turn, you know the location of any celestial, fiend, or undead within 60 feet of you that is not behind total cover. You know the type (celestial, fiend, or undead) of any being whose presence you sense, but not its identity (the vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich, for instance). Within the same radius, you also detect the presence of any place or object that has been consecrated or desecrated, as with the hallow spell.

The player tried to argue that the effect would detect evil... but it doesn't! It detects fiends, celestials and undead (and consecrated/desecrated stuff). The thing was plenty evil, but it was technically speaking an aberration but it was such a vile one (and kind of undead-ish) that I ruled it as detecting evil, but RAW (and probably RAI) it shouldn't have.

In my experience, a lot of casual players are... not super aware what their powers/spells do. So they look at the name of a power, read the first line, think "that looks cool and makes sense for this situation, let's do that!"   This is how they learn the game - by playing, by trying things and see how they work "live".   And all these powers/spells that have a miss-match trip up these casual or new players, and there is no need for it. There is no reason why the first sentence couldn't have said "The presence of extraplanar beings and undead register on your... "

Here is another example from a  few months ago, in a Drakkenheim game.

A fighter was surrounded by 2-3 foes.  The party druid decided to help their fellow PC out by casting a spell at one of the bad guys.  She looked at her selection, and chose Ice Knife.  She cast it at the foe and... it turns out that the ice knife is an *ice grenade*, and the spell hurt everyone in the area, including her fellow PC!  Let's look at the spell and what happened:

 Ice Knife

You create a shard of ice and fling it at one creature within range. Make a ranged spell attack against the target. On a hit, the target takes 1d10 piercing damage. Hit or miss, the shard then explodes. The target and each creature within 5 feet of it must succeed on a Dexterity saving throw or take 2d6 cold damage.

So once again, the casual player takes a brief looks, thinks "this looks good" - and it turns out the ice knife, which sounds like a single target spell, is actually an area of effect spell.  It's a good spell!  But it's not what the label says, and a more "serious" player would not have made that mistake... but neither would have a casual player if the spell had been named properly. 

These experiences make the game less fun and harder to learn, and could be fixed easily with better writing. 

There are several more examples of this if you look for them.  The cantrip friend, for example. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

THE DEFENCE Of SAN FLORIA: A Short Glog adventure/Session Recap


I had a GLOG session a while ago that was quite interesting.  I wrote a recap, and I told myself: why not just slightly change it and publish a little adventure? :)

Enemy design:  Spekkio at black rat big hat
NPC guard/mercenary class design:  Petty Sell-Sword
Ruleset:  the GLOG, but I hope that there are enough details here that this could easily be run in B/x or something similar.

Basic scenario concept:  

In this campaign, the heroes are part of a large-ish mercenary company (the Fox's Company), who's captain has made enemies (as they do).  The captain, Ricardo Volpe, receives rumors of a plot to raid a monastery and frame him for the raid.  He sends some of his trusted followers (the PCs) to protect the monastery and his reputation.  There is a roughly 1 week window of time in which this raid will occur.

Feel free (of course) to modify this intro to fit your campaign.   The only real requirement is that the PCs would be seen as trustworthy enough to be hired for this.  If they aren't... you could reverse the scenario on its head and have the PCs be the raiders!

This adventure was play-tested with 4-5 2nd-level PCs using the GLOG system.  

The Monastery:

The Convent of San Floria 

Leader: Abbesss Maria:  A no-nonsense woman with a strong will, with sharp features and green eyes.  She is a bit dubious about this entire situation, and does not trust the PCs entirely, but will allow them to defend the monastery.  She is worried about the relic being stollen, but also concerned about the monastery’s extensive wine cellar, and she doesn’t want it raided or even discovered. Most of the other sisters will stay out of sight and not interact with the party.  She will provide some lodging (sleeping in the hayloft or something of the sort) and food to the party while they stay at the convent.  The convent has about two dozen nuns and a few servants.

Guards:  3 eunuchs, rescued from a difficult situation and devoted to the convent.  No armor, armed with quarterstaves, 5hp.  Will help the heroes defend, but more in a "extra pair of eyes" role - they see their main objective as protecting the convent itself and would rather let the PCs do the fighting.  The leader is Bernard, a boarman, 10 hp.  He did some soldiering in his youth, which makes him both relate to the party and yet not trust them fully.  The guards’ attitude towards the party will depend on how respectful and competent the PCs behave.

The Relic: a silver and glass reliquary containing the Hand of San Floria, said to be able to remove curses during lunar eclipses... it doesn't really matter, it's a McGuffin.  Worth a few hundred gp to the right buyer.

By Dyson Logos, see link above

Monastery grounds:

A wall surrounds the monastery, but in the north and part of the east is "incomplete" - a series of graceful arches beautifies but make it easy to bypass .

The convent is on a large patch of poor soil, used for pasture.  They have little agricultural activity beyond a few apple trees and beekeeping.   About 750 feet north-west of the monastery is a tiny hamlet - a few modest homes where an extended family of shepherds live.  A dirt track leads past it to the nearest town.   To the north and east there is a small cops of woods, and less than a hundred feet to the south there is a small river (15 feet wide and fordable on foot) in a small, bushy valley.

Rather bland, but it shows the layout.  each square = 30 feet.  Taken late in the session.

The opposition:  

Marnie's Movers, a group of petty-sell-swords (designed by Spekkio, I added one member, Burak)

= Marnie (leader) =
F Human
9 9 9 9 14 9
Atk: +1 / 1d6 dagger [dual-wield]
AC: 12 (leather)

Items: 5 daggers total, 3 rations, shovel, 30' rope, a small insignia of Fox's Company to be left behind.
Treasure: 4gp 8sp various coinage, anklet worth 17sp
Skills: Literate, Brigandry (+2 to checks relating to executing an ambush), LOW CUNNING (+2 Stealth, can perform crude deception)

Appearance: Esmerelda from Quasimodo, but aging and with a few scars and pockmarks.
Personality: Dry and lowbrow. Motivated by greed.

= Burak =
M Dwarf
9 9 14 9 9 9
10 HP
Atk + 0 1d6 (hand axe)
AC: 13 (leather, shield)

Items:  3 rations, matock, large sacks
Treasure: 4 gp, ring worth 3 sp
Skills: Brigand  (+2 to checks relating to ambushes)

Appearance: stout even for a dwarf, black hair and eyes
Personality:  Cautious, suspicious, and protective, sees himself as Marnie's bodyguard.  The voice of "reason".

= Nicolin ("Young Nick") =
M Ratling
9 9 9 10 9 9
Atk +2 / 1d6 dagger (Fell Handed)
AC: 12 (leather)

Items: 3 rations, shovel
Treasure: 2gp various coinage, locket worth 13sp
Skills: Urchin/Pickpocket.

Appearance: Black fur. Squinty eyes.
Personality: As Todd T Squirrel.

= Percival ("Perc") =
M Ravenling
9 9 9 9 9 11
8hp (Eating Well)
Atk +0 / 1d6 dagger
AC: 12 (leather)

Items: 8 rations, shovel
Treasure: 8sp, 20sp bauble
Skills: Brigand (+2 to checks relating to ambushes)

Appearance: Beak heavily scuffed from clam habit
Personality: Thinks he's funny

= Nicholas ("Old Nick") =
M Ratling
9 9 9 10 9 9
Atk +0 / 1d6 dagger
AC: 12 (leather)

Items: 3 rations, shovel, lantern
Treasure: 18 sp, 6sp earring
Skills: EAGLE EYE (adv to perception checks), Brigand (+2 to checks relating to ambushes)

Appearance: Greying, with whiskers sticking out in all directions. Rather long and thin face.
Personality: Reticent.

= Winnifred ("Winnie") =
F Badgerling
9 9 13 9 9 9
Atk +0 / 1d6 dagger [dual-wield]
AC: 12 (leather)

Items: 2 daggers total, 3 rations, whompin' shovel
Treasure: 22sp, 3sp Toe-ring
Skills: LOW CUNNING (+2 Stealth, can perform crude deception), Peasant/Animal Handling, can dig

Appearance: -
Personality: Surly in comparison to normal people, rather upbeat for a badgerling. Still likes animals more than people.
Extra: has a small donkey, named Cheeky. She loves him dearly.

= Alais =
F Human
9 9 9 14 9 9
8hp (eating well)
Atk +0 / 1d6 dagger, 1d6 bow
AC: 12 (leather)

Items: 8 rations, shovel
Treasure: 14 sp, 12sp snuffbox (empty)
Skills: Urchin/Pickpocket.

Appearance: Pale and waifish. Tendency to stare.
Personality: Very intense.

Marnie is cunning and objective driven - she doesn't want to fight, she wants the relic.  Depending on what defensive measures the PCs adopt, she will craft a plan to bypass them (or so she hopes!).  She is a big fan of using a distraction to draw away defenders while the main group sneaks in the back. You can read the recap below to see one example of such plan.


If you feel like making the scenario thornier, a third party may intervene - a local taxman who has a dispute with the monastery for example - a taxman the party may mistake for a raider scout/impostor?  Perhaps a young nun is interested in one of the PCs?  Perhaps Bernard is not a boarman but a were-boar and the full moon approaches?  Have fun!


The Abbess will reward the party with a bottle of fine wine each, claiming that they were given to the monastery by a noble a few years ago (true) and that they had no use for it (quite false).  These bottles can be sold for 5 gp each (it's a somewhat famous vintage), or simply enjoyed.  She will also gift them with a large jar of honey.

Captain Ricardo will reward the PC according to their success.  A complete failure yields no reward, a successful defense will earn the PCs 10 gp each, and information about the plot another 10 gp, and perhaps extra equipment from the company store. (adjust according to your campaign, of course)


So how did this work in my game?  Explody.  Here is how it went down:

Ragno, a spiderling sawbwones (level 2)
Xerses, a dwarven Sorcerer from afar (level 1 sorcerer, level 1 thief)
Mr Bill (level 2 human Zouave)
Violetta (level 2 gnome tactician, player is absent for most of it)
Giuseppe (level 2 human hunter, has a crossbow) 

The party managed to establish a decent rapport with both the local guards and the local shepherds - the later achieved with an offer of a few silvers to the shepherds to keep an eye out.  A few days after arriving at the monastery, they got word from said shepherd of "suspicious strangers" seen lurking in the north (Marnie's men were scouting the scene - they paid the shepherds in coppers, not sliver).

Correctly anticipating a nighttime raid, the PCs surrounded  the monastery with fires at night, so that no one can sneak in unseen.  Marnie, seeing this, developed a plan of attack.

First, a distraction - 3 members (Alais, Nicolas and Winifred) "attacked" from the north at night.  Each carried a long pole, each end of the poll having  dummy carrying a "spear" and a torch, creating the illusion of 6 attacking torchbearers and "more" poorly seen.  Once within about 200 feet of the monastery, they stopped, put down the poles on support (the fake attackers are now "standing on guard") and begin shooting flaming arrows at the building from extreme range.  If a counter attack happens, they run.  But because they start their charge from quite far, it takes a long time for a counter attack to work...    The flaming arrows did little damage, but certainly caused a lot of concern, and the monastery guards went on fire control duty, leaving the PCs to take care of the fighting.

(I'll note that in the GLOG, ranged attacks have significant penalties, and these ranges may have to be adjusted so they make sense for your system.  The attackers want to be close enough that shooting arrows at a far range at a large collection of building is possible, but far enough that return fire has little chance of hitting them). 

In the south, Marnie, Burak, Nicodin and Percival snuck close to the back of the monastery, taking advantage of the distraction and cover from the small river valley.  They have with them bales of hay that they soak in the river and use to extinguish one of the fires, and a ladder to go over the wall.

But Xercese, the party sorcerer, suspects that something is amiss and heads south.   He manages to signal to the others that the mercenaries are coming, but his efforts to slow the invaders down only spur them to greater speed.  He paralyzes Marnie and her dwarven guard Burak, green sparks shooting out of his ears from the magical effort.  But the fat ravenling Percival and Nicolin the ratling are already over the wall and charge him, with Percival yelling "grab the wizard!!!", and they tackle the sorcerer.

Ragno and Mr Bill are rushing south, and Guisepe is trying to flank, but are just a wee bit too far.  Xerces is not hindered by the grapple -he is not a wizard, but a sorcerer, he doesn't need mumbo-jumbo gestures or chants!  He draws his powers for the third time, and paralyzes Percival with a thunderclap!  Nicolin panics, and decides the solution to the "wizard problem" is stabbing!  He misses.  Guisepe fires a bolt but misses as well.

Ragno and Mr Bill are so close!  Xerces decides to turn invisible for a short moment to escape, thinking that Mr Bill and Ragno should be able to handle Nicolin.  But Xerces has used too much magic today, and the spell catastrophically backfires.  For a brief moment he is engulfed in crackling magical energy (tacking 9 dmg) ... and then he *explodes* in a fireball, inflicting 16 damage to everyone within 20 feet.  Xerces, paralyzed Percival and stabby Niccodin are obliterated....   Mr Bill and Ragno, outside the blast zone, can only stare in shock as Xerces's peculiar hat flutters down from a great height...

(note: in the GLOG, the sorcerer is a caster that the more they cast, the more dangerous it gets - the player pushed his luck too far.  They knew they were going to blow up sooner or later!)

The arcane explosion brings the battle to a stop.  Marnie, still paralyzed, is captured by the PCs, along with a few others.  In exchange for their freedom, she tells the PCs all about who hired them.  The party begin to see the outline of a plot against their captain... 

 Thanks to Kwub for helpful suggestions and revisions

P.S.  I have pretty good notes from this campaign, and I think a few of the other adventures are also "decent enough to publish".  The next one will not be a battle, but a "capper" - The Yamac Sauce Capper.  I think we need more adventures in the GLOG - enough classes!

Thursday, May 19, 2022

The GLOG alchemist: a playtest

 I previously published a GLOG class called the alchemist.  I was pretty proud of my creation, but it was a complex class, and it hadn't been playtested.  Anyone who does game design knows that no matter how "solid" something seems, if you don't playtest it, you can't be certain that it works like you intended.

The first thing I realized is that I hadn't included backgrounds.  Oops

Either come up with something good yourself, or Roll 1d3:

1: wizard.  You have no talent at casting spells, but you can detect magical items as a wizard.  You start with 2d10 silver

2: cultist:   Use the summoner class as a guide to create the cult you used (or still? belong to).  Start with 1d6 silver and a dagger.

3: Inventor:  You start with 1d12-6 gold and a peculiar crossbow that only you can use.  If  you have negative gold, you owe it to someone who may prove troublesome.

The second thing - much more important - that playtesting uncovered was that the  degradation rules and the resulting "stabilize" system just do not work well in play.  The design intent was to prevent someone building up a huge arsenal and "nova strike" with all their spells at once.  It doesn't really, and it really is penalizing to the character.  If a level 1 alchemist prepares a concoction one day but doesn't use it, each day there is a 1/6 chances of it being lost forever - those CDs aren't like a wizard's MDs, they don't "come back".  But if the alchemist doesn't, well the alchemist has no magical powers.  This is *not* ideal nor fun. 

 What we compromised instead was that alchemical preparations should have an "expiry date".   How to do that easily in game?  Simple.  Keep track of the character level at which the preparation was made, and 2 levels  higher the preparation has gone stale and is worthless.  

Example:  Kava the gooseling alchemist has made a smoke pot at level 1.  He keeps it for a while, but if he doesn't use it by level 3, it is now a dud and the CDs are lost.

So why not simply at the next level?  Well it could result in something expiring *very* fast if the PC happens to level up on the same session as the smoke pot was prepared.  

I would update the preparation tracking sheet with something like this:

Lastly, we decided that the sword of St-Germain alchemical enhancement can be used on a dagger - or any vaguely sword-like implement.  It seemed a bit silly that the alchemist could not use the sword they prepared due to proficiency issues.  

So how did it play?  Fairly well!  The alchemist basically plays a bit like a conservative mage, but can be rather good in clutch situations.   It's not for every players clearly, but my player enjoyed it.  We also found that the proposed amounts of CD was about right, at least right for my campaign pacing.  I also occasionally allowed the player to find spare CDs when it made sense, such as finding an abandoned alchemist's lab.

Of course, one PC in one campaign not sufficient playtesting, so if you too have played an alchemist, I would love to hear about it.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

A new Familiar: The Potato

 Familiars are an important part of some D&D rule-sets (they are sorely lacking in the GLOG...*) and can be a fun and very useful addition to a party.  

5e, 2nd ed and other editions had lists of "regular" familiars people could take:  cat, raven, crab etc etc etc.  But I have realized that these lists are all missing an *excellent* form for a familiar:  the Potato.

Here is why:

1: No plant based familiar

2: Something people are familiar with, it's plausible.

3: SUPER stealthy.  Who suspects the potato?

4: EXCELLENT guard - due to all its eyes, the Potato familiar has 360 vision. (but see point 7...)

5:  Yes it has poor speed, but it can burrow.

6: In a pinch, the potato can be used as a weapon and hurled at your foes.

7: The potato makes for an excellent bribe for certain foes, esp goblins (this makes the potato a poor choice to spy on goblins).

8: in a pinch, the potato can be used to make a meal.

9: It cannot fly, but it will not get sucked into a jet engine. (thank you Dice and Doggos for that crucial contribution)

10:  It can be used as a battery to power high tech devices or perhaps used as a magical focus (autographedcat came up with this one)

11:  Significant RP potential.

That's a lot of utility for a simple familiar!  

Now  you might say "ok sure, it's the best regular familiar, but surely it doesn't beat the improved familiars like the imp".  And yes, you would be 100% correct.  To be in the same class as the imp, you need a turnip.  Why?  I have said too much already... 

*edit:  about that, I've been a bit out of touch from the GLOG-sphere so maybe there are several ones now out there, I thought I should note that.  Also, some have asked me to generate rules for familiars in the GLOG and that is harder than in looks, since spells are "entities" of sort in the GLOG magical theory, so a find familiar spell may not make sense.  A familiar in the GLOG would be something different...

Friday, April 15, 2022

Angels and Devils, Birds and Bats

 Ok.  Why do angels have bird wings, and devils bat wings?  This is a quite consistent depiction in art etc.  Why is this, what is going on?

From Memoirs of Bartholomew Fair ... Fourth edition", p 104, 1892

I have been pondering this for some time, and a sort of revelation came to me.  The situation is complex, but it can be boiled down to a simple fact:

Angels are birds.   Devils are mammals

Why is this significant.  And what *are* birds, really?  Birds are dinosaurs (seriously, look it up). 

Angels are the survivor of the meteor impact. They are a hyper advanced civilization, watching earth from far above in their sky-cities, the heavens if you will.  They have existed for millions of years, as they achieved *stability* - they do not change, they are "sustainable".  Maintaining the Status Quo, the Divine Order, is paramount.

Once the dust from the great meteor strike settled (if it was a meteor strike...), mammals became somewhat dominant on earth. The bird-angels became curious about this new form of life - advanced, but still nowhere near as advanced as they, of course -  and did some experiments. They created the devils, as a lark perhaps.  Gave them bat wings.  For a time, the devils lived in the sky cities in small numbers, slowly growing, seen as "lesser" than the Angels.

With time, humans eventually came to the scene.  The angels grew concerned - intelligent mammals, not under their control?  Could they become rivals?

So they started instructing them in "morals".  As Nietzsche pointed out, this morality was a "servant"  morality.  Not suitable for leadership.  Designed to control the humans.

The mammal-devils were horrified - they felt kinship with these humans.  They wanted to instruct the humans about freedom, self-determination.  They started agitating. 

The bird-angels were offended and cast the traitor devils out of their celestial bases; and started warning humans about not trusting the devil's words - their temptation would lead them to perdition.  But if humans were "good" they would go to the "heavens" - a lie, of course.

Preposterous some of you may say... BUT:  Who is said to be our secret rulers?

Lizard people. And lizards have the same origin as birds... it's an other conspiracy with a small nugget of truth inside. ;)