Meeseeks of Dungeons and Dragons , which is a lawful neutral creature created with a single purpose which it will infinitely carry out. Or the intellect devourer, which is a brain with legs but no visible way to keep that brain from being damaged or drying out. It produced spectral slugs, wolfworms, and the legendary Walfablang.
I don't know which makes less sense, the names or the fact they might actually be in the next monster manual. The stereotypical adventuring party has a fighter to soak up damage, a rogue to sneak attack the boss, a wizard to control the crowds of enemies, and a cleric to keep everyone from dying. That kind of covers what a party needs. And then there's the bard.
The loveable, singing, sometimes utterly useless bard. Especially in some of the earlier editions, where the bard had to maintain their performance for the duration of a battle just to give the party a small bump to skills and attack rolls. Add to the fact that bards are often a bit theatrical and prone to seduce anything that moves, and the class is an easy target as the butt of any joke. It does beg the question, though, if everyone has the encounter on lockdown, why are they all going down?
If the fighter was doing their job, the bard wouldn't have to change their bardic performance into a dirge all the time. Fifth edition bards, though, have become quite the opposite. With vicious mockery as a cantrip that allows you to kill enemies with an insult, who's laughing now? Bardic inspiration can be popped onto a turn after moving and attacking or spell-casting, keeping them relevant in combat. This has turned them into a great class with high versatility.
A mark of useful design is that it goes unnoticed. If any part of the table top RPG has become ubiquitous, even in video games, it's the hit point. From tracking a character's descent into oblivion with pens and paper, to the red orbs and bars that are video game staples, hit points are everywhere. As with a lot of ideas that become true standards, if you look a little closer HP is a very strange notion.
It isn't clear if it is a measure of how healthy your character is, or how well they avoid a lethal blow, or some mixture of the two. As you level up, they increase too, which suggest they can't be a physical quality. But describing how every blow delivered by a character is "a near miss" or "a graze" would get old, quickly. And as long as you have even one, you're still in the fight. How many barbarians and fighters have gone rushing in and received a brutal crunching, but thanks to some quick healing, just get up and keep going.
To be fair, this is one of those necessary abstractions. Games that do more specific kinds of damage tracking can get bogged down in rolling on more damage tables than are ever going to be necessary. Maybe it's best to stick with HP shenanigans. Players of tabletop games, and video games for that matter, are very good at reading the signs that a boss fight is coming. Every party has a strategist who can come up with the daring plans that will finish off a boss in a handful of rounds or fail spectacularly and result in an epic story.
Some players endlessly work on their combination of abilities, feats, and magic items to give them the edge in combat. Teamwork tactics grow as the party finds its rhythm together. And then there's the out of combat challenge problem. Locked doors when the rogue isn't around or the most mundane of traps can suddenly grind the game to a halt. This is even more common if the party has already triggered one trap in a dungeon. Then every door, chest, strange statue, or empty room will be meticulously checked for traps. If a trap is discovered, then the party is liable to stand around arguing for ages about the best possible solution that doesn't involve throwing the halfling down the hallway to see what happens.
On the other hand, an optimized rogue can so often just disarm any trap with the right roll that the party forgets all about it. That is, until the rogue isn't there for a session and the DM rolls out a bunch of new deathtraps. The introduction of every big bad for a dungeon is definitely a scary moment.
A good DM can craft a scary monologue to fill the players with dread. An ominous magic item, especially if it is key to finishing the quest, can drop jaws around the table. Nothing, though, will come close to the panic players will experience when the DM gives just a little too much detail about something otherwise ordinary. A plain old statue can send a party into a tailspin of perception checks, insight checks, and paladins detecting evil on it.
They're liable to poke it with a ten foot pole if they're brave enough. Sometimes its worse finding out that the "seemingly empty" room really is just that. All the players really want is the relief of actually finding the thing that could kill them, instead of imagining the traps and beasts that they didn't see.
In fact, this is part of design philosophy the king of the meat-grinder dungeon, Gary Gygax himself. An empty chamber in a dangerous environment doesn't provide the break a DM might expect it would. Just because you know the room is safe doesn't mean the same for the players. The uncertain "it seems fine" or "it looks like an ordinary storeroom", followed by a bit of description is a great way to keep the players freaking out throughout the entire dungeon crawl.
Spare a thought to the hapless newbie adventurers in your campaign. After a few years of adventuring, they'll be going toe-to-toe with Gods. Now, though, they have one hit die and probably a rusty heirloom sword and 10 gold to their name. A party of four level one characters should be able to tussle with a brown bear.
On their own, though, they're pretty vulnerable even to enemies as weird as a swarm of centipedes or a giant goat. To fill the space between the low level adventurers and the more powerful and iconic enemies from the Monster Manual, GMs have to get creative to do more than have the PCs killing giant rats, skeletons, goblins, and wolves. Some examples are fey boggles, which live under the bed and ooze oil, or giant animals on the loose, or the mushy-bodied lemure devil for a bold party.
Combat can swing quite dangerously as a result and DMs who aren't keen on killing off their party can provide some humorous or strange quests to toughen the party up before the orcish invasion comes by. Alignment is a strange concept. On a mechanics level, it is weird that a paladin can just look at someone or something and deduce that it is evil. It begs the question how rookie villainous entities get by. It's also a strange idea that certain monsters and races are just inherently one alignment.
An example is the Drow race, which canonically is evil but since Drizzt popularised the tortured good drow character the race has become a staple of adventure groups. On the other hand, alignment also seems to apply so well to the strangest situations. The endless alignment chart memes stand as testaments to this fact. Alignment can be placed over superhero teams, over Game of Thrones characters, even over SpongeBob. And this meme shows that it also applies to how you put bread back into the bag. This meme could lead you to a long look in the mirror, considering your bread alignment. It also does show how loosely the alignment system can be applied to almost anything.
That's a sign that it is both quite intuitive and almost anything can be shoehorned into fitting across the spectrum of good-evil and lawful-chaotic. Dungeons and Dragons has some famous monsters that have pervaded pop culture and whose appearance can terrify players. But thinking a little about their shapes and homes raises a lot of questions about how they came to be and how dungeon ecosystems don't collapse under the endless weight of a purple worm's appetite.
A lot of these, like the bulette "rock noms" and the mimic are handwaved in-universe as the result of mad wizards. The fey, or nasty fairies, provide an explanation for anything not covered by "a wizard did it", like displacer beasts. What this shows is just how insane the underdark is.
The underdark has to be a place that is weird to people who consider throwing fireballs and seeing giants to be everyday events. As a result, the underdark and the dungeons it is connected to are filled with things not even a ranger with a pet giant badger and flaming bow would be willing to believe on any other day. If that means a brain with a beak, then so be it. The players and the DM are supposed to be working together to create a shared fiction, an engaging world, and a satisfying story.
More often than not though, the PCs are liable to drop everything and go completely against what the DM has planned for. What the DM thought was a tantalizing quest will be dropped in favour of arbitrarily stealing from the local populace or causing a revolution in the city.
Sometimes it feels like there's no point in planning. They do say a key DM skill is improvisation. We can't only lay blame at the feet of the players, though. The paranoid ramblings of the party often give the DM some excellent ideas to tweak their story on the fly.
The result can be a chaotic mess or a story that the players will think the DM has been masterfully planning the entire time. They need never know that the DM made it up on the spot since they were supposed to go and do something entirely different for the session. It is just unbelievable how often the players can derail the game and still have the game turn out to be entertaining. And sometimes the diversions can turn into the brilliant moments to be shared again and again, or built into the bigger story by a quick-thinking DM.
Bob Ross would definitely produce the happiest little treants in the dungeon, but this meme also tells us a little about the planning process. Designing a dungeon isn't just about writing the story or filling the space for the players to explore. It's a genuine craft that can draw you into it in a way that makes no sense to anyone else.
DMs can spend hours shading in the details of their maps, only for the party to blaze through, taking out everything, or skipping some of the DM's favorite content. It is so easy to become attached to a particular dungeon and its denizens. Some magic happens that turns the ogre and the goblin into friends that guard the entrance of the dragon's lair. Take a look at texts from kobold to see how a faceless mook can turn into a little character in the mind of a Dungeon Master.
This approach might be a little heartbreaking for a DM if the players don't decide to investigate every room, or spot the little clues to the secret life of the dungeon denizens. However, it makes for coherent and engaging dungeons that can really feel like an immersive place for the players to traverse. Tags: dungeons and dragons.
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Chapter 1: Characters. It is a common complaint where Mike Mearls is concerned that you will have to wade through some copious amounts of cow flotsam. The chapter begins with a quick explanation of the difference between an urban and wilderness environment. Why this is necessary I haven't a clue though I would wager a guess that Mike Mearls was getting paid by the word as every chapter begins with a rather redundant series of introductions and an unnecessary addition of another hundred words or so. This introduction is followed by the subheading Running Characters pg 6 - Now I want to point out that in my last review, Dragons by AEG , that I didn't come to anything useful in that book until page 10, and what I found was rather measly at best.
By comparison there are already neat little ideas in this product starting at page 5 where Mike has had the forethought to provide the player with some ideas for the basic classes in an urban environment. Some of these are great, like the Barbarian as Bodyguard pg. It is a common complaint where Mike Mearls is concerned that you will have to wade through some copious amounts of cow flotsam in order to get to the gems that he drops every two or three pages.
But my god! The Cleric is a missionary pg 7 ; the Fighter an officer pg 8 ; the Bard a star of the stage pg. That's the best you could come up with? And you follow up that brilliant moment by copying the officer career path onto the Ranger pg 10 , proclaiming that the Monk is a martial arts instructor pg.
Really, Mike? That's the best we can do for those guys. Nothing creative or unique just some trite mess that we have to wade through and pretend like it's all cool? Next we come to the inevitable Feats pg 11 section which manages not to provide me with anything new and should have been lumped into the General Advise pg.
And while we're on the General Advise section let me just say that this section should have been at the beginning of the chapter with a fuller discussion of playing in the city environment and the proper mindset that you have to develop for the urban game. Then we should have begun talking about the base classes and tailoring them to the city life.
This book could be so much better just by cleaning up the organization of the chapters and streamlining the thoughts expressed. I swear it's as though they were so focused on chanting to the reader "Organization, organization, organization! At this point in the book we come to the Urban Character Classes pg 13 - Now normally when you come across a third party character class you hold your nose and tip-toe past it hoping that your players don't dredge it up because they're usually fucked; but unlike most of my previous experiences Mike Mearls is actually able to create two usable classes in this book: the Acrobat pg.
Each possess inspired abilities - I love, love the Acrobatic Maneuvers, espescially Death From Above pg 15 - are well thought out, and don't overpower the game's base classes. Which is phenomenal. We follow this up with Urban Prestige Classes pg 25 - 32 which are mostly useless but there is a gem here too.
The Speaker of the City pg 28 - 30 is outstanding. The concept is really well done and it's actually carried out in thoughtful manner that makes it worth using. The Urban Feats pg 32 - 35 are a mixed bag with only two being worth including in your regular third edition game: Face in the Crowd pg 33 and Opportunistic Shot [Fighter General] pg The other feats are either too nuanced to be used in a sandbox game which mine almost always are or just simply begging to be abused in ways that will make you regret buying this book.