TLDR: If you’re running 5E, you need to buy this book.
When I heard that the next book in the 5E lineup was Volo’s Guide to Monsters, I was a little disappointed. I’ve never been much of a Forgotten Realms fan, and Volo’s Guide sounded like it was going to be a fluff piece with articles similar to the old Dragon Magazine “Ecology” pieces. While that’s great for magazine content, I didn’t get too excited about the prospect of a $45 book with minimal new information.
Fortunately for me, Wizards really outdid themselves in packaging a variety of things in this book that make it a very valuable addition to my growing 5E collection.
Volo’s Guide starts with the following disclaimer in small, easily missed print, under the cover attribution:
Disclaimer: Wizards of the Coast does not vouch for, guarantee, or provide any promise regarding the validity of the information provided in this volume by Volothamp Geddarm. Do not trust Volo. Do not go on quests offered by Volo. Do not listen to Volo. Avoid being seen with him for risk of guilt by association. If Volo appears in your campaign, your DM is undoubtedly trying to kill your character in a manner that can be blamed on your own actions. The DM is probably trying to do that anyway, but with Volo’s appearance, you know for sure. We’re not convinced that Elminster’s commentary is all that trustworthy either, but he turned us into flumphs last time we mentioned him in one of these disclaimers.
I enjoy the fact that wizards is having fun with this volume, and it made me enjoy getting into the book a bit more than if I hadn’t noticed it. I also appreciate Wizards sold a special limited edition FLGS cover for only $5 more (pictured above) to help the local shops get a leg up.
The book is broken into three parts: Monster Lore, Character Races, and a Bestiary.
Monster Lore, the first 100 pages of the book, is what I had expected, but some crunch where I otherwise expected fluff for lifestyles of Beholders, Giants, Gnolls, Goblinoids, Hags, Kobolds, Mindflayers, Orcs and Yuan-Ti.
Examples of neat details that might constitute crunch include beholder charts detailing size, shape, texture, and a great random name generator, with tactics, variant eyestalk abilities, minions, treasure and a lair map. History, mindset, and biological function is laid out in a depth previously unvisited in text as far as I’m aware, allowing the GM a deeper background on this favorite of monsters.
The Chapters going forth are what I’d call asymmetrical, being that they don’t follow a routine pattern. Chapters on Giants have more details about origins, their habitat and personality traits. Gnolls have details on tactics, random traits and features, and tables to help build a gnollish warband. Mind Flayers have some magic items listed that are specific to their culture. Yuan-ti have a variety of charts detailing their variable physiology.
Each race detailed has a map of their typical lair, which gives some great examples where the trappings of the race might be otherwise somewhat mysterious (Mind-Flayers in particular).
Overall, these chapters are well written and flesh out the background of these common and popular monsters. Is it essential? No. Is it helpful? Yes. My fear had been that for $45.00 I was going to get that, and that be it. Fortunately, it goes on.
Now we start to hit things I can work with, and things that people invariably try to do on their own with varying degrees of success. I happen to currently be playing a kobold priest of Kurtulmak in our Out of the Abyss game, and have been playing a kobold trapper race variant my GM got off the internet somewhere. I yearned for canon guidance on what a kobold PC should look like. Fortunately, Volo delivers.
Races detailed are Aasimar, Firbolgs, Goliaths, Kenku, Lizardfolk, Tabaxi, and Tritons with a separate section for “Monstrous Adventurers” giving blocks for the already detailed bugbear, goblin, hobgoblin, kobold, orc and yuan-ti pureblood.
I’ve always been a guy that likes the idea of playing the monster as a PC, and this opens doors for me.
This, by far, seals the deal for this book being a must-have for the dedicated 5E player. 100 pages of new and classic monsters that were conspicuously absent from the Monster Manual. A few personal favorites include:
- Flail Snail!
- Several new Variant classed giants, very cool
- Shadow mastiff
- Spawn of Kyuss (Greyhawk?)
- Xvarts (Eric Mona must have been involved in this)
- Yeth Hound
- Many more!
Also a number of “Beasts” (including a rot grub swarm) and 21 new stock NPCs which are sure to prove super useful on an ongoing basis (in particular, it appears a mage of each spell casting school, archers, archdruid, war priest and so on). Not mentioned in my list are also special “classed” versions of various orcs, yuan-ti, hobgoblins, and so on, as well as some subcategories of other races like beholders that will prove useful in putting on games that utilize those species. This is where the book proves out its crunchiness but give me stat blocks that I can use to have a more interesting game.
Wizards has done a good job of bringing a little more than just the basics to each book it has published. Each adventure module has had a few spells and a few more general stat blocks that make each book tempting to pick up. This book, as a sourcebook, doubles down on that principle making there elements that you just can’t afford to miss. This book has extended value for the GM of your group, but remains optional for the player short of playing a racial variant. That said, I think anyone who picks it up is going to find it’s a great addition to their collection.
All Praise Kurtulmak!
Yesterday I watched the Monaco Grand Prix F1 race from start to finish. I had never really paid much attention to F1 racing before, and this was quite the dramatic race. Check out the highlights if you missed it.
Monaco is the track that comes with the board game Formula D. I’m such a big fan of the game I own all the expansions which include F1 tracks from around the world. The game is a lot of fun in its own right, but some games can turn to run away victories with a few fortunate rolls of the gear dice. This got me thinking about other racing games I love, like Super MarioKart.
If you are looking to add another layer of excitement, and to add some randomness and equalizers to the race, just add Mario Kart items! For the uninitiated, in MarioKart when your Kart runs over a question mark box, you get an item that can help you in the race. At this point there have been a lot of MarioKart games, and with them a lot of different items with different effects. Some would be more difficult to simulate in a board game than others. Here are my suggestions.
Use the red debris markers to simulate the the boxes, adding one per player. For a one lap game, I would suggest adding them half-way through the lap, for a two lap game, I would add them just before the finish line, or in both places if you want a lot of items! Once a car runs over the box, that player rolls the standard d20 “danger die” to determine what item is received. I’ve mixed and matched items from several different versions of MarioKart to make the mechanics easier to handle.
I’ve borrowed a few mechanics from 5th Edition D&D for the shells. While the game comes with one standard d20, I would recommend adding a few more to the box if you’ve got a few lying around (and if you’re nerdy enough to be reading this, you probably do!). For green shells its just a simple contested roll: both attacker and defender roll a d20, if the attacker has the higher result, the shell hits and the defender spins out. If the defender has the higher result, the shell misses! Red shells work the same, except the attacker rolls 2d20 (advantage in 5th ed. terms) while the defender still only rolls 1d20. Highest result wins, if its the defender, the red shell misses!
Download the full table here. I hope you guys enjoy this expansion to the rules. Watch out for blue shells!
Today is a day many felt would never come. Wizards of the Coast has released a pile of 5E information under a new System Reference Document and Open Gaming License. Not only that, they are selling Adventurer’s League materials through the newly formed Dungeon Master’s Guild. This allows 5E D&D enthusiasts to purchase the AL materials and run them in home games if they don’t live near to a FLGS that sponsors such games.
The implications of this are far-reaching, and some would argue, overdue. Most notably, Goodman Games and Kobold Press started creating adventures for 5E without a clear licensing framework in place for such content. Unlike the 4E era, the 5E OGL allows a good bit of proprietary content for use in independent development. Not only that, but in a partnership with OneBookshelf, anyone can create 5E Forgotten Realms content (with certain restrictions) and get paid 50% of the asking price. The remaining 50% is divided between OneBookshelf and WotC, respectively.
Many RPG enthusiasts have been requesting this kind of move since the development of 4E. The Skyland Games crew first came together under the D&D Encounters program hosted at an FLGS in 2009. Even then, players were lamenting on the now defunct community boards about the Encounters materials not being available for purchase, only available through store play. This new program provides options for players and GMs alike, and provides WotC with a brand new revenue stream.
Content created as part of the Dungeon Masters Guild can be considered for additional publication by WotC, included in digital games (Sword Coast Legends?) and possible marketing materials. This is a huge win for WotC, but also a huge win for the community. OneBookshelf offers any pricing model from free, pay-what-you-want, and set prices, which allows the flexibility to create a teaser adventure, then a series of paid adventures, or just let fellow DMs set their own price based on what they feel the content is worth. This model has worked surprisingly well for content creators on other OneBookshelf properties like RPGNow and DriveThruRPG.
Hopefully this program will be a resounding success, and more material and worlds will be released to an eager gaming community. Previous editions of D&D? Greyhawk? Dragonlance? Dark Sun? All speculation for now. Since this gaming group was founded around a company of dwarves adventuring in the Forgotten Realms, maybe one day, your own dwarven clan can follow the path of the Feyhammers.
Questions? Hit up the AMA on reddit January 15th at 1pm Eastern time.
While not new to the gaming scene, Campaign Websites, commonly called Campaign Wikis, are electronic resources used to organize and record the details of your tabletop RPG. These aren’t sites you use to play a game, necessarily, but are used to enhance and inform your tabletop game. This is regardless of whether you play that game on a virtual table or a physical one.
Some of these are well known, and have been around for years, while other tools are new to the scene.
Back in 2001, we commonly used Yahoo Groups as a searchable forum for posts, with file storage space and other handy utilities for running a campaign. Since then, more and more specialized tools and sites have emerged to assist the player with their campaign. I recall hearing about Obsidian Portal years ago, and thanks to it’s kickstarter success, has kicked off with a new a professional look and added functionality and features. Also out there are sites like Epic Words, and Google Sites, with templates specific to certain types of campaigns.
Last year I ran a game off of a Google Sites page (Paizo’s Reign of Winter), with positives and negatives. I’ll get into some of those, but also list some functions that you should be aware exist in these sorts of pages and services, as well as a few pitfalls.
GAME JOURNAL – Every Site has a forum or system where posts can be made documenting the history of the game. Not all sites have a system that is easily searchable. Games, especially long running and high level games, tend to have a lot of data. Longer games can have numerous characters and epic stories. Locations, NPC’s, items of note, and other facts can be lost with the passing of time. While summaries are helpful, unless they are easily searchable, they be useless for rebuilding stories or facts related to specific items or individuals. Obsidian Portal allows for these to be listed prominently, with pages capable of being rearranged by the play date. Added functionality includes allowing for only certain players to view certain posts, adding GM notes regarding the session that only the GM can see, and selecting who is notified of updates to the page. Google sites allows for pages and posts to be made freely, but are not as fine tuned as to how these appear, requiring more fiddling to get things to appear as you’d like them to.
Obsidian Portal, and perhaps other sites as well, allow linking from one page to another Wiki that can be repeatedly updated. Accordingly, a diligent GM or poster can continue to update either their character or the NPC entry or item entry for a page, linking that data and consolidating the narrative. Embedding of images and other media files is an added feature.
INVENTORY LOG – Inventory management, shared resource tracking, and other minutia can be important for a story, especially if you like that type of a game where the details matter. Shared ability to access those details and perhaps modify them can be important. Google Sites has a nice feature for tracking items, but it can definitely be tedious to enter it all. Obsidian allows a character sheet to be updated, and of course any page could have any listed data you wanted to, but nothing special seems to exist to allow for detailed tracking.
Anecdotally, I recall the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth requiring a trek through icy mountains. An avalanche forced us to lose several mules, and our detail oriented rogue had our survival gear written on individual notecards for each mule. While this level of detail can be irritating to some, the player loved the nitty-gritty and was delighted to have it pan out as relevant and somewhat helpful (as the DM was ready to totally screw us over).
CALENDAR – This is really a must-have for many groups, especially mine. I’m not sure if your situation is different, but I don’t know anyone who has a 9 to 5 job Monday through Friday anymore. Accordingly, our weekly game alternates between a group of regulars and a steady group of one shot or two shot players that jump in and out as necessary. A well-kept calendar is a treat. Google Calendar is used by many, though I believe it does require a google account, which pretty much includes everyone anywhere. Obsidian Portal has a calendar as well, and sends emails at the direction of the event lister, with confirmation buttons sent for attendees at intervals directed upon creation. Note that this a pay-only feature for Obsidian Portal users.
CHARACTER PAGES – While these are available on all sites, I would say that they are important, but manage to universally be difficult to use. Ideally, a player would track his own character, take a picture of the sheet, and post it to the site, which is theoretically possible with most sites out there. More often, there is an artificial character sheet generator that is not used outside of the page itself, that requires meticulous data entry. Obsidian Portal’s character sheet is fan-created, and is a bit buggy. Save early and save often as you enter data into the odd fields available to you. Google sites uses a spreadsheet, which has its own pros and cons. No less than awkward method of entry really exists. Character pages are important, however. Many times NPC or PC stat’s need to be checked, or a player leaves a sheet behind. It gives the GM a chance to see how players are developing without obviously or surreptitiously looking over character sheets, and gauge challenges accordingly. At its most cynical, it allows transparency that discourages cheating and catches faulty or erroneous builds that might misinterpret or improperly exploit rules.
FORUMS – Good in-character and out of character forums are important. This was perhaps Google Site’s biggest failing and not because they didn’t allow the ability to create as many forums as you wanted. The problem commonly encountered here was the ‘most recent post first’ posting style that was, inexplicably, unchangeable. Accordingly, if you wanted to read the flow of events, you had to read from the bottom to the top. While threaded, it seemed that frustration and cross talk was constant, and I could never really get over it.
Back in the Living Greyhawk days, a player created a fictional Tavern called “The Goose Nest” located in the Gran March, in which we posted our various living campaign PC’s. The characters were able to interact in a way that could never have consistently happened in face-to-face gaming due to the way we interacted with different folks from different locations, as well as characters being separated by level to such a degree they could never adventure together. The original player occasionally would put a plot device in to facilitate conversation.
Of course, out-of-character play is just as important for planning purposes, discussion of facts that might just take too long or be too convoluted to be carried out in character, and also for just sharing information like cat videos and recipes. Logistics, who’s bringing soda, and other critical issues of gaming life need a common forum.
IMAGES & MAPS – All systems appear to have a raw upload capacity for images, though an image bank is not exactly what is contemplated by any system. Having access to town an area maps, however, can cut down on a lot of confusion, and images (especially embedded images within, say, an NPC’s character stat block) can really bring together the way a PC or NPC is perceived.
COSTS – Google Sites – Free; Obsidian Portal – Basic = Free, Premium $39.99/yr. (GM only req’d). Epic Words = $12/yr
Lots of the functions for these three sites are the same. The key difference is one of quality, and as with most discussions of quality, the value is in the eye of the beholder. I will say that Google Sites is free, and so you can’t complain about the amazing value they convey there. They have all the key areas covered, many in a way that you probably already have the systems at work in your day-to-day. The downside there is that the programming, navigation, and functionality can be frustrating and difficult, with weird glitches occurring somewhat regularly. The database is largely very flexible, but all images and information will have to be entered by the user and managed at their peril.
I, admittedly, do not have an Epic Words account. My tinkering with it have shown it to be less finished than Obsidian Portal, but at an understandably lower price. From what I’ve seen, the quality of what’s available wouldn’t create a strong urge to forego the free service of Google.
Obsidian Portal is pricey. I can swing $40/year, and have done so as an experiment, but that price may make many GM’s eyes water a bit for something they can duplicate or just do without. For those willing to send $4/month, it’s by far the most user friendly. WIth an image bank of backgrounds, ability to change names, headings, colors and images, it doesn’t get much easier. People with the time, knowledge and inclination may find other sites bend to their will easier, but for those who want to get it done, OP is pretty hard to beat. I remain unimpressed with the character sheet options, which is a universal failing for these types of sites, but have enjoyed being able to easily surf the site without multiple glitches or misplacements of my data.
THE UNIVERSAL CATCH
As with all things in gaming, it all comes down to time. These sites are handy, but only if you keep them up to date, and only if they are used. In a longer campaign, players and the GM themselves may wish to access the wiki to see what a certain NPC’s name was, or what the story was in regard to a particular event. But someone has to enter that data, and one would hope that at some point the players or others would read it.
Many hands make the work light. In my Reign of Winter campaign, a player took on the inventory management, which was detailed and voluminous. He later undertook a series of published journals, written in character, which was truly magnificent. Eventually, the toll of such work caused him to get behind, then to stop entirely, leaving the final ten entries unfinished.
In my current campaign, playing catch-up has eaten up many hours of my time, but occasionally has been worth it for the sheer volume of information management. Some players have been reluctant to participate, but I think those who have appreciate the information that’s posted there, and certainly enjoy the development of plot and story during longer breaks in the campaign where scheduling becomes a problem.
It’s something that a GM has to own, and to evaluate whether they have the time (and indeed the need) to follow-up with it. Further, the GM and his players should discuss whether it is in fact desirable or necessary to pursue, either in whole or in part. I, however, think that for longer games, the necessity of such a bookkeeping device is increasingly required to maintain the quality of game I like to play, that being one with numerous rich NPC personages, mysterious items, places, maps, handouts, logs, journal entries, and locales that are best understood when capable of being reviewed at the player’s leisure.
All of these are either free, or have a temporary free option. Try one on for size and see if it might not help your next campaign.
2015’s Gen Con En World RPG Awards, or “ENnies”, should really be called the “Year of the Dragon”. Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition product line won 13 Gold and 2 Silver ENnies (out of 23 available). Of those Gold ENnies, they won the prestigious Fan’s Choice for Best Publisher and Product of the Year for the D&D Player’s Handbook. WizKids also picked up two Gold ENnies for their D&D related miniature products. The Dungeons & Dragons products line dominated the RPG world this past year and the awards show that players really liked what they got. It looks like D&D is back on track to become a force in the RPG world once again.
Last year saw Monte Cook Games versus Paizo, Inc., battling it out for RPG domination. This year Monte Cook Games won a Gold and 3 Silver ENnies while Paizo, Inc. won 3 Silver ENnies, with one being Fan’s Choice for Best Publisher. With Wizards of the Coast releasing their products at a brisk pace this last year, MCG and Paizo were simply overrun by sheer numbers. It will be interesting to see what next year holds between the three. What products will MCG or Paizo deliver that will push them over the top and dethrone Wizards from their 2015 throne? We’ll have to see.
Other notable ENnie awards were Best Software won by roll20 for the third year in a row with Lone Wolf Development’s HeroLab and Realms Works taking Silver for two of those years. Another big winner this year was Lamentations of the Flame Princess’ A Red & Pleasant Land. This hardcover won two Golds (Best Writing, Best Setting) and two Silvers (Best Adventure, Product of the Year) and gets praise for its versatility, setting and the art; definitively a book to check out.
Well, until next year!
Princes of the Apocalypse Review PLUS Converting the Temple of Elemental Evil: T1 – The Village of Hommlet to 5th Edition
First, let’s talk about Princes of the Apocalypse:
I picked up Princes of the Apocalypse a few weeks ago, after we had completed the Hommlet section of Temple of Elemental Evil. In case you weren’t aware, Princes of the Apocalypse is 5th Edition’s campaign for this year, and is not a reboot of the classic module, but derives core ideas and starts a series of entirely new adventures. They’ve done good work in not respawning the old story, but creating a new story with continuity to the old.
The philosophy is that Elemental Evil is something that transcends existence, touching down on various worlds through sheer force of will, infecting different communities with its blight. Ergo, Greyhawk is one of the first places to suffer its wrath, but this time it has found the Forgotten Realms. I can buy that, despite my intense love for Greyhawk .
Fortunately, they have a simple and clever conversion guide showing how to place the new events of the Princes of the Apocalypse in Greyhawk, Eberron, Athas, and other worlds. They translate factions to local entities, making the Harpers equate to the Circle of Eight, the Zhentarim to the Greyhawk Thieves Guild, and so on.
I love the old Temple of Elemental Evil, but as my group stares down the barrel of its 300 room dungeon, I am reminded now that my love is rooted in nostalgia that newer players will likely not appreciate. Accordingly, it is perhaps necessary for a more modern take on game design be applied to a new module. The designers nod to the old module, directing you how to get a copy and advising the ease of conversion (which is somewhat true). I think they have narrowly avoided angering grognards and new players alike by pumping out a spruced up but changed Hommlet and Temple. They’re not imitating the past, they’re building on it, depriving us curmudgeons of an opportunity to bitch about how they messed everything up in the reboot. So, well played, sirs.
Princes of the Apocalypse contains several new regional settings, great maps, and a story that crosses boundaries, suggesting a unifying element to Elemental Evil. The remainder of the book contains items make this a must-have for those converting the old Temple.
First, there are several stat blocks for elemental priests and acolytes. These are kept in a separate section of the book, and are easy to reference. This is going to save you a fair bit of time when going through the various sects, with stats for elemental creatures as well that are completely new, but add nicely to the campaign world. Temple of Elemental Evil suffered from a problem of having somewhat limited options (Monster Manual I) for filling the monster hotel. Choice replacement may spice things up a bit in making your conversion, so I recommend you look at what’s here.
Secondly, Spells, many of which are fairly classic, are found in this book. I did not pick up the Tyranny of the Dragon Queen, and I’m starting to worry that key and classic spells are going to start to appear in the back of numerous $50+ books, pushing players to collect them for just a section of the book. That may be the new way, unless they can be found elsewhere on a legitimate basis. It’s not a good way to collect information, but I anticipate increasing web resources to fill that gap.
Third, Magic items are found in the book with details on several weapons of great power (artifacts) which I am going to place into my game in key places. Other more miscellaneous magic items also exist, fleshing out the DMG’s selection and providing thematically entertaining tools that keep the mystery of magic items alive.
For those reasons, I would recommend checking it out. It’s good in it’s own right, and is a truly epic campaign (taking the players up to 15th level). I think that you’ll want to have it if you’re doing the old Temple, and see what you want to bring to it or change.
CONVERTING T1- THE VILLAGE OF HOMMLET
We’ve just finished this part of the module, so I can place the conversion material here now. NOTE THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD so anyone getting ready to play the old T1: Village of Hommlet should stop reading now. Below are a complete list of monsters found in the Moathouse and their page number in the Monster Manual. Some are quite obvious, but others not so much. I found these to most closely match the original intention and play of the first mod, and the challenge seemed spot-on.
- Brigands p. 343
- Bugbear p. 33
- Crayfish, Giant = (as Giant Scorpion p. 327 but no sting attack)
- Frogs, Giant (Large) = Giant Toad p.329
- Frogs, Giant (Small) = Giant Frogs 325
- Ghouls p.148
- Gnoll p.163
- Green Slime DMG p.105 (it’s a hazard now)
- Guardsman = Guard p.347
- Lareth the Beautiful = See below
- Leader = Berserker p.344
- Lieutenant = Bandit Captain p. 344
- Lizard, Giant = p.326 but add 2 to AC because of magic shield in its belly. Stupid, but true to form.
- Ogre p.237
- Rats, Giant p. 327
- Sergeant = Thug p.350
- Snake, Giant p327
- Spider, Huge p.328
- Tick, Giant = See below
- Zombie p 316
Medium Beast, unaligned
AC 16, HP 22, Speed: 20′ Climb 20′
Str 14 Dex 8 Con 16 Int 2 Wis 8 Cha 6
Senses: Darkvision 60ft , Passive Perception 9
Languages — None
Challenge 1/4 (50XP)
SA: Blood Drain Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft, one reature. Hit: 1d6+2 piercing damage, and attaches to target. While attached, Giant Tick doesn’t attack, each round target loses 1d6+2 for bloodloss.
Giant Tick can detach itself by spending 5 feet of its movement. Drops off after draining 15 hp. DC 14 Str check to remove)
Lareth the Beautiful
Medium Humanoid (Drow Elf)
Level 5 Cleric – Proficiency bonus +3
AC 21 HP 55 Speed: 25′
Senses: Darkvision 120′
Special Abilities – Sunlight Sensitivity, Channel Divinity (Trickery), Divine Spellcasting, Blessing of the Trickster, Invoke Duplicity
Str 18 (Save +4)
Dex 17 (Save +3)
Con 16 (Save +3)
Int 14 (Save +2)
Wis 18 (Save +7)
Chr 18 (Save +7)
Skills: Deception +7, Insight +7, Persuasion +7, Sleight of Hand +6
Abilities: Dancing Lights 1/day; Darkness 1/day
Staff of Striking [DMG p. 203] (+10 to hit, 1d6+7 plus 1d6 per charge expended)
Inventory – Plate Mail +1, Shield, Staff of Striking, Silver Holy Symbol, etc
Spells (DC 15)
Cantrips – Guidance, Resistance, Sacred Flame, Thaumaturgy,
Level 1 –Bane, Charm person, Disguise Self, Healing Word, Inflict Wounds
Level 2 – Blindness, Hold Person, Silence
Level 3 –Animate Dead, Bestow Curse, Mirror Image, Pass without trace