Friday, November 28, 2014

Class Showcase: Paladins

It’s week eight of my Class Showcase series, where I take a class from D&D and give three examples from popular culture. This week: Paladins.

#1 Arthas Menethil (Warcraft 3 / World of Warcraft)

Arthas has the unique distinction of being both a paladin and what many would describe as an anti-paladin in his long and varied history within Warcraft lore. He began as a Prince of Lordaeron and a paladin in training under Uther the Lightbringer. However, during the events depicted in Warcraft 3, he became corrupted by the cursed runeblade “Frostmorne”, eventually killed his father, King of Lordaeron, and destroyed the kingdom. After this, he traveled to Northrend and eventually merged his body with the Lich King gaining control over the Scourge. He is one of my favorite examples of how a good character can go bad for all the right reasons.   

#2 Joan of Arc / Jeanne d’Arc (Various)

Saint Joan has the proud distinction of being both a pop-culture figure and a historical one. While many of her deeds have been glorified by movies, television, and novels, the factual history of the Maid of OrlĂ©ans is no less impressive. She quickly became the figurehead for the French forces during the later period of the Hundred Years’ War, she is credited for turning the tide at several battles which led to the coronation of Charles VII, and, despite the fact that she was illiterate, knew more about religion and the laws of god than many of the church officials who put her on trial and ultimately burned her at the stake. Not bad for a girl who never attained the age of twenty.  

#3 Private Jackson (Saving Private Ryan)

Religion and war movies seem to go hand and hand. I look at The Patriot, Gladiator, the recent film Fury, and of course Saving Private Ryan. In the latter, the character of Private Jackson stands out to me as an excellent example of a modern-day paladin. He believes that god guides his sniper rifle in a grand effort to hinder those who would replace his Christian beliefs with fascist ideals. The scene in the bell tower is particularly moving as Jackson recites quotes from the bible as he shoots down several German soldiers. His faith seems absolute and his conscious, despite the many corpses he leaves in his wake, is clear. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

The 5th Edition Expert Level Monster Manual Quiz!

Hey 5th Edition players and DMs, it's time to test your knowledge! Challenge yourself by taking my Expert Level Monster Manual Quiz and see just how much you know (or don't know). Write down your answers as you go and add up your points at the end. Good luck!

1) Which of the following monsters has the greatest amount of hit points on average?
a) Chimera                         b) Hill Giant  
c) Hook Horror                  d) Troll

2) Which of the following monsters has the highest armor class?
a) Goblin              b) Harpy
c) Orc                   d) Skeleton

3) Which of the following Dragons is worth the most experience?
a) Ancient Black                               b) Ancient Blue
c) Ancient Green                               d) Ancient White

4) Which of the following Elementals have the highest Constitution score?
a) Air                     b) Earth
c) Fire                   d) Water

5) Which of the following Giants is tallest?
a) Fire                   b) Stone
c) Frost                 d) Cloud
6) Which of the following Golems has the lowest Strength?
a) Clay                  b) Flesh
c) Iron                  d) Stone

7) Which of the following monsters can fly the fastest?
a) Griffon             b) Adult Red Dragon
c) Pegasus           d) Wyvern

8) Which of the following has the highest Dexterity?
a) Sprite               b) Faerie Dragon
c) Imp                  d) Will-o'-Wisp

9) Which Dragon's breath does the least amount of damage on average?
a) Ancient Blue                  b) Ancient Green
c) Ancient Red                   d) Ancient Gold

10) Which of the following Lycanthropes has the best Perception bonus?
a) Werebear       b) Wereboar
c) Wererat           d) Werewolf

11) Which of the following monsters has the highest Charisma?
a) Mind Flayer                   b) Unicorn
c) Lich                                d) Medusa

12) Which of the following is slowest on the land?
a) Nightmare                     b) Warhorse
c) Centaur                          d) The Tarrasque

13) Which of the following has the highest stealth bonus?
a) Pixie                                              b) Vampire
c) Drow Elite Warrior                      d) Invisible Stalker

14) Which of the following monsters can bite for the most damage on average?
a) Dragon Turtle                b) Ancient Red Dragon
c) Purple Worm                 d) Giant Crocodile

15) Which of the following have the least amount of hit points on average?
a) Pseudodragon              b) Kobold
c) Goblin                          d) Eagle


Alright now compare your answers to the solutions below. Give yourself 1 point per right answer.

1) A        2) A        3) B

4) B        5) D        6) B

7) C        8) D        9) D

10) A      11) A      12) D

13) D      14) A      15) D

And finally, compare your score:

1-3 points: You get the Bronze coin. You have much more to learn. 
4-6 points: You get the Silver coin. Your knowledge is average.
7-9 points: You get the Gold coin. Your knowledge is above average.
10-12 points: You get the Electrum coin. Your knowledge is vast and impressive.
13-15 points: You get the Platinum coin. Your knowledge is expert level. Congrats!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Class Showcase: Rangers

It’s week seven of my Class Showcase series, where I take a class from D&D and give three examples from popular culture. This week: Rangers.

#3 Strider/Aragorn (The Lord of The Rings Trilogy)

An orphan raised by Elves, who became a Ranger, who became a hero, who became a King, Aragorn is without a doubt one of the most famous and pivotal characters in J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy series. Through his leadership, tracking abilities, combat skills, and sheer determination, Aragorn is one of the driving forces that leads to the ultimate downfall of the dark lord Sauron. Looking at his Ranger skills in particular, Aragorn or Strider manages to hide the hobbits from danger, provide them with food and guidance on the journey to Rivendell, protect them from the wraiths, and even provide a certain amount of healing to Frodo. His skill with animals, horses in particular, is also quite evident. Aragorn was, is, and will be the template for many Rangers in D&D.

#2 Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games Trilogy)

Until a little novel by Suzanne Collins came around in 2008, the list of female rangers was quite thin. Since that time, I can name several who fit the bill such as Merida from the Pixar movie Brave (2012). The character of Katniss has inspired a whole new generation of young women and writers who create stories for/about young women rediscovering their “hunter” or “primal” side. In the stories, Katniss begins as a young woman forced to break the laws of her world and hunt game in the wild to provide food and basic needs for her family. Later, as she gets sucked into the Hunger Games and several other political plots, her fighting skills and survival instinct allow her to become not only a figurehead but also the spark that lights a powder keg of upheaval.   

#1 Link (The Legend of Zelda Series)

From his first appearance in 1986 to his latest romp in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Link is one of the most recognizable characters in all of video games. Now granted, some of his incarnations over the years vary greatly and while I may not consider his character a Ranger in all of them, I certainly consider him one in two of the most popular incarnations of the franchise: A Link to The Past (1991) and Twilight Princess (2006). Here’s some evidence for you: 1) He is equally skilled with both sword and bow; 2) His armor is quite obviously light/medium and not heavy; 3) He has access to magic; 4) He can communicate with animals and other wild creatures; and 5) In both of the two games listed above, he originates from a forest setting. In some ways, I can also see the argument that Link may be a Bard (lots of musical references) or perhaps an Arcane Fighter build. However, in my opinion, Ranger fits best.   

Monday, November 17, 2014

10 "Monster" Races That Should Be Playable in 5th

It shouldn’t be surprising that many players are very interested in playing “monster characters” from time to time. Rather it be in reverse dungeons, “evil” campaigns, or homebrew adventures people occasionally want to dip their toe into something a little weird. Just as Half-Orcs, Dragonborn, and Tieflings have all grown out of many players’ desires to play Orcs, Dragons, and Devils, there are a few other races in the 5th Edition Monster Manual that I think would make excellent playable races. Some of them would just be for fun or as an experiment, but I think others could easily become memorable PCs and be just as important as the mainstream races. Here are my top ten candidates, in alphabetical order, and how they could be possibly played:

1.     Centaur
Using the centaur characters from both the Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia series as a base, it’s not hard to imagine a very diverse and engaging culture for your Centaur characters to explore. They are essentially guided by a strong connection to nature and the wild (Druids and Rangers) but also have a supreme sense of honor and duty (Fighters, Clerics, possibly Paladins, but no Rogues). They would be weakest or perhaps even abstaining from the use of arcane (Wizards, Sorcerers, and Warlocks) and but could have an oral storytelling and/or singing tradition (Bards). I can also see the Barbarian class working out well with Centaurs, but I have a hard time seeing Monk.

2.     Giant
I suppose you could really choose any type of giant you wished, so long as it fit the storyline. In my mind though, I see Hill or Mountain Giants. Immensely strong and moderately intelligent, they would be excellent Barbarians, Fighters, Druids, and Rangers. I can also see their greed and weak wills pushing them in the direction of Warlock. I’m having trouble envisioning Cleric, Wizard, Sorcerer, Bard, Rogue, and Paladin. However, and this may sound crazy, but can you imagine a Hill Giant Monk? All I can say is, wow!

3.     Gnoll
Ravenous, territorial, temperamental, and with a healthy dose of bloodlust, a Gnoll PC would make for a difficult companion unless the rest of the party were Gnolls as well. And even then, it would make a terrible headache for the DM. However, I can easily see Gnolls filling the rolls of Fighter, Ranger, Druid, Shaman (Cleric), and Rogue. The other classes would be a stretch. 

4.     Goblin
I have had the distinct honor of running an all-Goblin campaign in 2nd Edition using house rules. The result was both interesting and horrifying. My PCs were made up of two Fighters, a Shaman (Cleric), a Ranger, and a Rogue and let me tell you that Goblins get scary when they start achieving 3rd or 4th level. Sure, there was a lot of snarling, biting, stealing, in-fighting, and name-calling, but hey I’ve seen that from an all Elven party too.     

5.     Lizardfolk
For some reason I cannot explain, I have always equated Lizardfolk culture to Klingon culture from the Star Trek universe. The only difference being their almost fanatical devotion to magic instead of Honor. I suppose that a good argument could be made that making Lizardfolk playable characters is irrelevant when you have Dragonborn, but I see a few fundamental differences that could be fertile ground for gameplay. Firstly, Dragonborn seem to be loners like their Dragon ancestors and Lizardfolk congregate into huge clans. Secondly, Lizardfolk lean more towards the evil side of neutral where Dragonborn are mostly good or at least lawful. And thirdly, Lizardfolk practically worship magic and those who can use it, whereas Dragonborn can make up their own minds. It would also be interesting to make a few PCs the leaders (i.e. the spell casters) and make the others their minions (Fighters, Rangers, Barbarians, and possibly Rogues) 

6.     Mind Flayer (Illithid)
Oh what a twisted and tangled web an all-Mind Flayer campaign would be! Each one of the players would be desperately hungry to outshine the others and gain the favor of the Elder Brain. As far as evil campaigns go this would be, in my opinion, the pinnacle. However, I’m not even sure if a Mind-Flayer can possess any class other than a Psionic. I know that they have a great deal of natural ability which is enhanced by the Elder Brain, but are there Fighter Illithids? Are there Rogue, Wizard, and Cleric Illithids? Interesting thoughts to explore…..  

7.     Minotaur
Once upon a time, using the old 2nd Edition rules, I ran a very in-depth and memorable all- Minotaur campaign. I thought it was excellent and would love the opportunity to run it a second time under 5th Edition rules. I know that they have been quite popular as player characters in World of Warcraft, and I feel that many of their traits from that game can be transferred over to D&D. Fighters, Druids, Rangers, Clerics, Paladins, Monk, Barbarian, all seem quite natural. The Arcane classes might be a bit more difficult but I’m sure that an inventive player could come up with a great story explaining it. Unfortunately, the idea of a Minotaur Rogue (believe it or not I have seen it tried) or a Minotaur Bard just makes me laugh and I can’t take the idea seriously. 

8.     Pixie (or Brownie)
Some of you “manly-men” out there might feel like playing a Pixie or Brownie is too girlish for your taste. Well please allow me to give you a few pop-culture examples of how playing a tiny little person with (or without) wings might be fun: 1) The brownies from Willow; 2) Reepicheep from the The Chronicles of Narnia series; 3) All of the characters from Pixar’s Toy Story and A Bug’s Life; 4) The Smurfs; and 5) All of the characters from the Redwall series. As you can see, there is a long tradition in fantasy of the main characters being small and taking on the larger world. I think it would be fun to make something as simple as a wolf or a coyote as intimidating and powerful to small characters as a dragon is to normal characters. I can also see Pixies and Brownies filling in every class role available. (But maybe the damage on a tiny fireball might not be the same!) 

9.     Troll
From the very beginning of D&D, Trolls have had it rough. They are ugly, smelly, gangly, always hungry enough to eat almost anything, and hateful towards any race but their own. I think to play one would be an excellent experiment to see how accepting and accommodating other people can be. On the other hand, playing Trolls might just be a good excuse to let your players run wild and be evil monsters for a while before they get wiped out. 

10.  Yeti
Just like Minotaurs, I think Yetis could be played with a great deal of depth. They would be a proud and valiant race struggling to survive on the barren tundra and in perpetual winter environments. I envision struggles against Frost Giants, Dire Wolves, Mammoths, Undead (White Walkers anyone?), and many other winter foes. While they may not be intelligent enough for the arcane classes, I really don’t have an issue with any of the other options, although Rogue might be a stretch.

Do you have any other suggestions to add to my list? Feel free to comment.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Class Showcase: Monks

It’s week six of my Class Showcase series, where I take a class from D&D and give three examples from popular culture. This week: Monks.

#3 Caine (Kung Fu / Kung Fu: The Movie / Kung Fu: The Legend Continues)

Most people of my generation remember the character of Cain popularized by David Carradine. Caine was a Shaolin Monk who forsook the monastic life to travel the Western United States in search of his long lost half-brother. His soft-spoken voice, sage wisdom, and impressive unarmed combat skills were very admirable. The series was kicked off by a two hour movie-of-the-week in 1972 and ran for 63 episodes until 1975. It was later revived into a movie in 1986 and again as a new series called Kung Fu: The Legend Continues in 1993 which ran for 88 episodes until 1997. Although I have no real proof to back this claim up, I fully believe that this series was the inspiration for the Monk Class in the original D&D release. That being said, have a peek at this series if you've ever wondered how a monk should be played.

#2 Yoda (Star Wars Universe)

There is a strong argument to be made that Jedi are more psionicists than monks. However, especially in Yoda’s case, I lean more toward monk in my thinking and here are my reasons why: he spends a great deal of time meditating; he is a philosopher and well spoken; he has a strong (almost spiritual) connection to the force; and he is well trained in combat. Combine all of this with his adeptness to train others and empathize with their wants and needs, and monk seems to be the best option for our little green Jedi Master. I also think it is important to note that many of the principals observed by the Jedi and Jediism have been derived from Buddhism and the teachings of Buddhist monks.       

#1 Neo (The Matrix Trilogy)

If you can imagine for a moment that technology can have its own kind of spirituality and that the inter-connectivity of our digital world will one day be just as diverse as the natural world, then the idea of Neo being a kind of Techno Monk makes a lot of sense. It’s not just that he knows Kung Fu or that he struggles to preserve/improve mankind. It is his philosophical quest for understanding and his desire to learn about life. It is his balanced approach to listen to both sides of the argument, human and machine, and find the common ground between them. It is his ability to cling to the one principal that guides all living things: choice. That is what makes him a monk.    

Monday, November 3, 2014

Never Fear, The Comic Relief Is Here!

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months talking about things I don’t like to see in D&D. (See Here) So this week, I thought that I would talk about something I love to see in every campaign: Comedy. I find that sometimes players can get too wrapped up in their character, their back story, and in the adventure at hand. Thus, just like many serious movies and television shows, it is important for DMs to work in a few moments of comedy to break up the tension and let the players have a good laugh. Sometimes this is provided by the PCs themselves without any help from the DM (and that’s a good thing) but other times the DM needs to step in and make something a little silly, or unexpected, or down right hilarious happen. And, after a few years of practice, I have found that the easiest way to do this is to introduce a new NPC to the adventure.

While there is nothing wrong with having an NPC show up for the sole purpose of making the players laugh for a while, the NPC doesn’t have to be labelled “Comic Relief”. That is to say that they don’t have to be a one-trick pony. They can have many uses and even switch back and forth from silly to serious. However, once players get a sense that an NPC is comical, they tend to expect that NPC to go on being comical all of the time. (Incidentally, this is a great vehicle for a DM to implant a spy or traitor into the midst of a group and gain their trust quickly.)

To illustrate what I mean, let me give you four examples of NPCs I have used/witnessed in the past that have been used to good effect:

Originally, I introduced Squee the Pirate Goblin to one of my campaigns because a couple of the players were acting like complete asses and I needed to give them a kick in the pants. Thus the party hired a pirate ship to sail them from city A to city B and Squee was the first mate. During the course of the voyage, my mischievous players attempted to pull-off several pranks which were not only foiled by Squee but usually ended up doing more harm to the perpetrators than anyone else (think Wile E. Coyote).  This resulted in an improvised assassination attempt on Squee which failed hilariously. Afterwards, Squee and the other pirates left the PCs marooned on an island.

As you can see, what began as just a comical foil character quickly developed into a conduit to maroon the PCs on an island. As the DM, I was planning on the PCs being left on the island from the beginning but was originally going to have the ship sink in a storm and have the PCs wash-up on shore. I believe that what actually happened was the better story and we all had a lot of fun besides.

Taloon Sargon
From time to time a character named Taloon Sargon shows up in my Forgotten Realms Campaigns. He usually presents himself as a simple Half-Elf Bard looking to tag along with the PCs for a short trip. However, in my Faerun he is really a demi-god servant of Mystra and he loves getting the PCs into no end of trouble. In fact, I have often described him to my players, usually after the fact, as my “Q” character from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He is funny, witty, can be temperamental from time-to-time, and almost always wants to challenge the PCs in some way that they don’t expect.

With his demi-god powers, Taloon often sets up riddles or dungeons that the PCs must solve in order to learn something they need to know for the campaign ahead. This makes him not only a comical and mischievous NPC, but one that the players will look back after the fact and say, “he might have been a pain in the ass but I’m glad he helped us out”.

The Gully Wizard
Once upon a time in a Dragonlance campaign, our party came upon a Gully Dwarf who could mysteriously cast many magic spells. In case you don’t know, Gully Dwarfs are often lucky if they have the intelligence god gave a rock and usually have no greater ambitions than picking their next meal out of a garbage heap. But this one was different. This one could string together mostly coherent sentences, he could cast spells that put our party wizard to shame, and he even provided us with some much needed magical transportation. The only drawbacks were the fact that he was naked except for a robe, smelled like week old fish left out in the sun, and carried around a petrified lizard with which he liked to hit people. It was only later that we figured out that the “Gully Wizard” was in fact a normal Gully Dwarf who had just happened upon the dead body of a powerful wizard and had collected his stuff which included several wands, a Robe of Intelligence, and the legendary Staff of Magius!

In this case, I believe it was finding the legendary staff which was the point of the whole encounter. Although, I have to admit that the phrase “stiff lizard, bring you back from life!” has stuck in my head for the seventeen years since I met him.

Tommy & Turkish
(Note: these two NPCs make a lot more sense if you’ve ever watched the movie Snatch written and directed by Guy Ritchie) While traveling along a road, our party encountered two Gnomes driving a wagon. They introduced themselves as Tommy and Turkish and told us that they were traveling merchants. When one of us asked what goods they dealt in they told us, “garden humans”, and then proceeded to pitch to us all of the many fine uses one could have for miniature painted concrete humans with silly hats. It was enough to send all of us players into fits of laughter.

Thankfully, they also decided to hire our party on as wagon guard (only the best for the garden humans) and we had a lot of fun trading jokes on the way to the next town. I also want to mention that several of us did end up purchasing garden humans from the gnomish pair and would later find them very useful as dungeon tools and improvised weapons.

In conclusion, I want to stress that good DMs know when to use comedy and when to get serious. Good DMs also know how to get the most mileage out of even their silliest NPCs such as using them as vehicles to get to new parts of the story/adventure.