Don’t be Anakin: dealing with bickering PCs, continued

Last week I discussed the problem of PC bickering in RPGs, and suggested two models for players to follow. The bad model is Anakin and Obi-Wan from the Star Wars prequels. The good model is Frank Castle and Microchip from Netflix’s The Punisher.

So how can we push bickering PCs away from the Anakin/Obi-Wan model? There are a few options, for both GMs and PCs.

GMs:

  1. Tie characters’ backgrounds together. I often have at least two of them know each other, maybe working together on a mission. This gives them a reason to try and cooperate.
  2. Give the group a reason to be together. Chance encounters make work for the first adventure; e.g. characters all hear about a dungeon that needs clearing, and decide to work together. But why wouldn’t the LG paladin leave the bickering CN party to find better friends after they clear the dungeon? They need to be forced to stay together; options include a divine command, a threat that strikes them before they can disband, etc.
  3. Be willing to mess with difficult players. I have a post planned for how to deal with chaotic neutral players, and this is part of it. When players act out of character to try and be funny, have NPCs respond as they would in real life; if a belligerent and irritating man tried to buy a beer from my bar, I–at the least–wouldn’t tell him any of my town’s secrets. And if a player’s teasing is harming another player’s experience, make that player fall into a pit or get splashed by mud; something harmless that lets them know they need to stop.

Players:

  1. Put some effort into your characters’ backgrounds. Just like the GM should tie characters together, players can think about how their characters know each other. Are they childhood friends, business partners, etc? Beyond that, fleshing out your character’s background and personality is important. “I’m a loner,” lends itself to disruptive behavior. “I pretend to be a loner because I’m hurting over my family’s death,” gives us a character who may seem unpleasant, but does care about something.
  2. Be a team player. It might seem more fun to try and pick-pocket your party’s wizard than keep watch for monsters. But the point of this game is cooperation. A lot of bickering comes down to players trying to create a fun situation for themselves without thinking of what the party needs to accomplish its goals. If your character isn’t interested in working with the others, and finds their planning and rules irritating, maybe they should leave the party… 
  3. Be sensitive to other players. This is more on the meta-game side. Some players may enjoy “giving crap” as we used to say where I grew up. Others find it annoying, or may think they’re being picked on. Try and be aware of how the target of your bickering or teasing is reacting. If they aren’t laughing, then stop. Again, the point of this is to work together and have fun.

D&D and other RPGs are supposed to be fun. You don’t have to take them seriously as you would your job. You’re not an actor in a play; there’s no script. But sometimes “having fun” can make the game less fun. When in doubt, just think: am I being Anakin, or Frank Castle? Don’t be Anakin.

So there are my ideas. Any thoughts? Is this not as big of a deal as I think? Other suggestions to deal with this issue?

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Solo RPing: Roland “saves” the inn

As my Twitter followers know, we recently had a new baby. Babies are great, but it makes it hard to game (or really do anything but take care of the baby). As a result, I’ve been kind of desperate for gaming. So during some down-time, I decided to do some “solo RP-ing;” I set up a basic scenario and ran through it with dice rolls.

This scenario involves Roland–my Aasimar sorcerer (formerly a paladin) I’ve been writing about–encountering some ruffians in an inn. Specifically, it’s my level 5 Paladin facing off against two thugs (from the 5e Monster Manual).  In addition to giving me something to do, it also serves a gameplay purpose. I used it to work out how Roland would respond in a specific social situation. I also used it to “play test” a sorcerer, as I haven’t used this class before.

Hope you enjoy:

Roland plopped down into his seat in the crossroad inn, weary from his days of travel on the road. He left Oakhurst–promising the party he would return–to meet with a sage who may know something of his father’s ring he carried with him. The sage was little help, however, so Roland, disappointed, was heading back to rendezvous with his party.

He had just been served a glass of bitter lager when he noticed the two ruffians a few tables over. They were shouting profanities, growling at any customers who looked at them, and grabbing waitresses that walked by. Roland knew that, despite his increased arcane powers, he would struggle in a one on one battle. He also remembered his mother urging him to keep his powers hidden. But he could hear his deva guardian calling on him to punish the evildoers.

Roland strode over, holding his hood over his Aasimar features. “Gentleman,” he said, tapping one thug on the shoulder. “You are disturbing the inn’s patrons. How about I buy you a drink, and then you move on?”

“Piss off,” growled one thug. [failed persuasion challenge]. “What are you hiding under that hood, a wart?” The two thugs laughed at this not quite funny joke.

Roland sighed. “I’m going to ask you one more time,” he said, his voice taking on celestial,r rumbling echoes. “Leave now or I will become angry.”

The thugs were a little shaken, but weren’t about to act scared in front of an audience [barely successful intimidation challenge, gave thugs disadvantage on next attack]. “I think you’re the one who needs to leave,” the thug shouted as he jumped up and lunged at Roland.

Roland was prepared, readied a spell [went first in initiative]. He threw back his hood, his eyes glowing with radiant fire. Holding aloft the ring on his left hand–which had started to glow as well–he grasped the light emanating from it in his right hand, stretching it across the two men. Roland then gestured and uttered arcane words. Frost suddenly appeared, covering the two thugs. They screamed in pain and stumbled back. [used 2 sorcery points to twin “frostbite,” and cast. They failed Con check, taking 10 damage and getting disadvantage on next attack.]

The thugs, injured but enraged, attacked. The first drew his mace and swung twice; he was thrown off by his frigid limbs, however, and missed. The second was more able to shrug off the effects of the spell and the Aasimar’s intimidating glare. One swing nearly hit, but Roland cast shield, and the mace bounced off the arcane barrier. The second time he connected with Roland, causing pain to shoot through his arm [one hits, for 5 damage].
Roland realized he had to act quickly. Swirling the light from his ring, he squeezed it into a cone. He dipped his right hand into the cone of arcane energy, swinging it across one thug’s face as he uttered mystic words. The thug suddenly started stumbling around, shouting that he was blind. As he pulled his hand back, he flicked the remaining cone of energy at the second thug. It formed into a mote of fire. The thug ducked, and the fire bolt burst against a neighboring table, setting it aflame. [used 2 more sorcery points to quicken blindness to be a bonus action. Cast fire bolt as an action, but missed]

The thugs were now fearful, and channeled that fear into rage. The blinded one swung wildly, missing Roland with the first swing but connecting on the second. As the mace came down on his head, Roland cast shield again, and the mace bounced off harmlessly. The second thug, eager to end this fight, charged and hit Roland twice with the mace, knocking him to the ground. (edited)

Roland knew the fight was turning against him. He had an idea. Roland began to cast a spell, but stopped, catching the arcane energies swirling around him and pushing them into his ring. He then pulled at the mist from the ring, uttering the incantations for a spell as he gestured quickly with his hands. Recalling his religious instructions with the knightly order, he formed the image of a vrock demon in his mind. The demon appeared beside him, lunging at the two thugs with a horrid scream. The thugs’ will broke, and they ran, screaming from the inn [turned a spell into a sorcery point, then quickened silent image to cast as a bonus action, casting minor illusion as an action. Silent image created the demon, and minor illusion the scream. I also did a Religion check to see if I could recall the demon as I’d never actually seen it.]

Exhausted, Roland steadied himself on a chair as the inn’s owner and wait staff doused the flames of the next table. Roland looked up, hands raised and ready to ward off effusive thanks of the inn’s patrons. Instead, he looked into glowers and fearful stares.

“I, uh,” Roland said, trying to summon an appropriate speech. “I apologize it took me so long to deal with these ruffians, but all is well. No need for a reward.”

“No need for a, what, I-!” sputtered the inn keeper. The waitress who had received most of the thug’s unwanted attention put her hand on his arm.

“I appreciate the thought,” she said. “Although the scared customers and burned up table may be worse than two jerks. You wouldn’t happen to have gold to cover the damage, would you?”

Roland smiled, shook his head. “I donated all my gold to the Oakhurst temple of Tyr. But never fear, if trouble ever arises in this fair inn again, I will return. Now, I must be off.”

Roland finished the rest of his beer, and walked around, satisfied in his defense of the good.

Bonus post: Automating D&D attribute rolls

Hello all,

I found myself needing to roll a D&D 5e character, but didn’t have my dice nearby. So I tried to automate in R (the open-source programming language). I think I got it to work, so I thought I would share it below (and am happy for any feedback).

 

rm(list=ls())
#rolls 1d6 four times, drops lowest. repeats 6 times for all stats*
#includes sum of all numbers, in case have a minimum you allow for re-rolling*
#also includes smallest number, to check*
finallist <- list()
numlist <- runif(6,1,1000)
roll <- function(X) {
set.seed(X)
out <- sample(1:6,4, replace = TRUE)
result <- sum(out) – min(out)
finallist <- c(finallist, result)
}
finallist <- lapply(numlist, roll)
final <- do.call(rbind,(do.call(rbind, finallist)))
ok <- sum(final)
smallest <- min(final)

 

UPDATED TO REMOVE SOME UNNECESSARY CODE

How to role-play an Oath of Vengeance Paladin

I’m working on an Oath of Vengeance Paladin, Roland, for my D&D 5e campaign. One of the trickiest parts of this is how to role-play this oath. So I thought it might be useful to share my thoughts on this with all of you (and I’m happy to hear any of your thoughts).

First, what is the Oath of Vengeance Paladin? Well, in D&D the Paladin has usually been played as a stereotype. Paladins had to be Lawful Good, they had strict codes of behavior. This could lead to interesting, conflicted characters, but it often caused every Paladin to be an even more annoying Sturm Brightblade (from the excellent Dragonlance novels).

The 5th edition, however, changed that. Now Paladins can choose an oath to follow. The classic paladin was there in the Oath of Devotion. But players also had a choice of the Oath of Vengeance and Oath of the Ancients (see my post on the latter).

Here’s what the Players’ Handbook–on page 87–says about the Oath of Vengeance: ‘The Oath of Vengeance is a solemn commitment to punish those who have committed a grievous sin.” It later states these paladins are known as “avengers or dark knights.” It then presents the tenets of this oath (88): “fight the greater evil,” “no mercy for the wicked,” “by any means necessary,” “restitution.” Compare this to the Oath of Devotion’s tenets: “honesty,” “courage,” “compassion,” “honor,” and “duty.”

Players were intrigued. Some argued they should be either Lawful Neutral or Chaotic Good. Others even suggested they should be evil. Many described them as being something like the Dark Knight incarnation of Batman or the Punisher.

I struggled with the idea of an Oath of Vengeance Paladin. First, the suggested alignments are not at all compatible. Second, there’s nothing in that Oath that precludes a specific alignment outside of evil (as they defeat the wicked). I can see the Oath of Vengeance tenets being compatible with anything from Lawful Neutral to Chaotic Good.

Where it does differs from Oath of Devotion is the intensity of acting out the alignment. Indeed, the Sword Coast Adventurers’ Guide section on paladins refers to Oath of Vengeance holders as “zealots.” An Oath of Devotion paladin and Oath of Vengeance could both be Lawful Good, but differ in whether or not they show their foes mercy and whether they stop to help the random villagers or ignore their cries in order to catch up to the evil villain.

Unfortunately, there’s no parameters in character creation for “intensity,” or “attitude.” So I thought I’d come up with a few examples to illustrate the difference.

The first is the Punisher. In Season 2, Episode 3 of Netflix’s Daredevil series, the two heroes have a great conversation about the use of force. Daredevil doesn’t like to kill bad guys; he just uses enough force to stop their evil-doing and give them a chance to change their ways. Punisher, of course, does kill; he wants to save innocents from future threats. I think that’s a good distinction between Oath of Devotion and Oath of Vengeance (I should note that the Punisher’s use of torture is not in line with Good alignments in D&D).

The second example comes from “Curb your enthusiasm,” Larry David’s HBO series. David is frequently sabotaging personal and professional opportunities by enforcing his own set of rules regarding various–arguably trivial–slights. In Season 2, Episode 5, Larry gets the wrong take-out Chinese food and finds out the person who got his food is an HBO executive to whom he was pitching a show. After Larry got his food, he found out the executive ate the shrimp from his food. Larry, of course, confronted him, leading the pitch to be rejected. This is the Oath of Vengeance: pursue the evil-doer even if it causes harm to yourself or your reputation. An Oath of Devotion Larry David, in contrast, may have forgiven the slight and focused on bigger issues.

The final example involves me. At one point in my career, I discovered some malfeasance by a colleague. It was nothing criminal, and didn’t harm anyone else. But it was unethical. If I raised it, the perpetrator may have been disciplined and probably would never do it again. But they were more powerful than me, so it was a risky move for my career. An Oath of Vengeance me would have pursued the issue until it was impossible for the injustice to ever occur again, regardless of the costs or likelihood of success. An Oath of Devotion me would have quietly raised it to make sure the problem was corrected, but avoid forcing any serious consequences onto the perpetrator. (I won’t tell you what I did).

I think these examples can help, as a series of questions to ask when deciding between Vengeance and Devotion. Or you can apply them in a general sense to a situation, and follow the Oath of Vengeance path:

  • when fighting enemies, is your goal to stop the immediate threat and allow them to be redeemed, or ensure they never threaten anyone again? If the latter, you’re Oath of Vengeance.
    • If you’re definitely Oath of Vengeance, your goal in combat is the latter (although not to a ridiculous extent)
  • if your paladin could ensure an evil-doer was unmasked and shamed, but it’s not clear this would actually defeat them (and it would probably take you down in the process), what would they do? If they’d go full Larry David, then you’re Oath of Vengeance.
    • If you’re playing Oath of Vengeance, you never stop pursuing your sworn foe, with no regard to personal cost
  • if your paladin could let an evil-doer off the hook with assurance they’d change their behavior, would they? If not, you’re Oath of Vengeance.
    • Oath of Vengeance paladins would laugh at such an offer. They wouldn’t kill the prisoner, but they would prevent them from going free.

 

Any thoughts? Agree, disagree?

 

UPDATED FOR TYPOS

Origin Stories: Roland, multi-classing

UPDATE: MY GROUP COMPLETED THE SUNLESS CITADEL AND STARTED TOMB OF ANNIHILATION. OUR DM SAID WE COULD ADJUST OUR CHARACTERS AS NEEDED. SO I RETCONNED ROLAND A BIT TO GIVE HIM MORE OF A SPELL-CASTING FOCUS, MULTI-CLASSING AT LEVEL 3 INSTEAD OF 4. SO I’VE REWRITTEN THIS POST TO REFLECT THAT. THE ORIGINAL POST IS BELOW, IN CASE ANYONE IS INTERESTED.

Last time, I discussed how I leveled up Roland–my D&D 5e Aasimar Paladin–to level 3. In this post, I’ll continue through level 4 and 5. After we adjusted our characters for the new campaign, I decided to multi-class Roland with sorcerer at Level 3. So I’ll discuss the mechanics of multi-classing a bit as well. This post ended up a bit long (as multi-classing is complicated) but I marked each section clearly if you want to jump around.

My party ended up being pretty well-covered in combat between the rogue, ranger and barbarian. Meanwhile, the only other spellcaster besides me was a wizard, whose player ended up being a little unreliable in attendance. So I thought it may be useful to add more spellcasting to the party through multi-classing Roland.

Multi-classing

I have never multi-classed in pen-and-paper D&D before, so this was new to me. The basic idea is combining two different classes together in your character’s progression. So over the course of 10 levels, you could take five levels of fighter and five levels of thief to to combine the powers of the two. This is in contrast to earlier editions in which you multi-classed from the beginning, progressing in both classes but advancing more slowly than other characters. Alternately, you could dual-class, in which you start as one class but switch completely to another later on.

I was conflicted as I’m not a huge fan of multi-classing. It always comes off as power-gaming to me. People will dip into alternate classes to gain access to certain spells or powers, making their character more effective. But this occurs at the expense of role-playing; for example, how did the rogue with a street urchin background suddenly gain training in being a wizard? It also may disadvantage players not interested in optimizing their characters. That being said, fifth edition D&D achieves some balance between single and multi-classing by granting powerful 20th level abilities to all classes (which you only achieve if you stay in one class). When I’m DM-ing, I allow it (as it’s in the PHB) but I require players to have a good backstory for why the multi-classing occurs.

So anyways, I was conflicted, but I thought I’d try it out.

The first thing to figure out was the other class. As I’ve complained about before, too many classes in 5e use charisma as their primary stat. But that does make multi-classing convenient for paladins (who rely on charisma). One option is a bard, but that didn’t fit Roland at all.  That left sorcerer and warlock as the others who rely on charisma. Normally, these two would not fit well with a Lawful Good (LG) Aasimar Paladin. But the new Xanathar’s Guide to Everything included some great options.

This new D&D resource provides additional character paths for each class. One new warlock option is the pact of the celestial: instead of the warlock gaining their power from a fiend or Great Old One, they can be connected to a celestial being. This grants them paladin-like power and is consonant with a LG character. Similarly, a new sorcerer option is the divine soul, in which a sorcerer gains access to magic through a divine bloodline. This grants them access to the cleric spell list–as well as the sorcerer spells–and some other useful powers.

Both of these would work well, role-playing wise, with Roland. They are both amenable to LG alignment, and fit with my paladin backstory. Aasimars gain a celestial guide, so I could easily adapt that guide to serve as Roland’s patron for his warlock powers. At the same time, Aasimars come from a fusion of human and celestial blood, so it is easy to imagine Roland gaining access to magical powers through his heritage.

Ultimately, I chose divine soul sorcerer for game-play purposes. Sorcerers have more spell casting options than warlocks, which was the point of multi-classing. I also liked the idea of using metamagic–particularly quicken spell–in combat. I could use sorcery points to cast a spell as a bonus action, allowing me to still attack in the same turn.

Level 4: Oath of Vengeance Paladin 3/Divine Soul Sorcerer 1

First things first, I got more healing powers and hit points. I got fewer hit points as I’m adding a level in sorcerer (which gets a d6 hit dice instead of d10). And while my Paladin laying on hands skill doesn’t increase, my Aasimar healing does.

I also adjusted my Paladin spell list (Paladins can change their prepared spells each level). I kept cure wounds (which is always helpful) and protection from evil and good. I get bless with my sorcerer level (which I’ll discuss below), and I decided it wasn’t worth having multiple protection spells that required concentration. So I switched in detect magic and purify food and water (for utility purposes) and command, which can help me maintain control of the battlefield.

The other big choice for this level  has to do with the ability score increase. At level 4, you can increase one ability score two points, two scores one point each, or take a feat. My options were to increase Charisma, or take a feat. I went with linguist. In my revamped character, Intelligence is a prominent stat (I love playing smart characters, and my party needed it). This feat gives you a one point increase to intelligence and three extra languages. It won’t help in combat, but I though it may be useful as we explore Chult.

Now for the sorcerer decisions. The big choice for a level 1 sorcerer is the spells. I try to avoid spells that duplicate functions (protection, damage, etc.) and avoid having too many that use concentration (as you can only have one going at a time). At first level I got four cantrips and two spells. For cantrips, I chose minor illusion (incredibly flexible spell for a variety of situations), mage hand (another good utility spell), message (good for secret communication in the party), and ray of frost (a combat cantrip that also imposes a disadvantage–lowered speed–on enemies).

The first level spells were a little tricky to decide on. Because I would be the primary arcane spellcaster, I tried to pick spells that could complement front-line fighters and be useful in a variety of situations. I also picked spells that could increase in power with higher level spell slots. Because of the complex multi-classing rules, I get 4 level 1 slots and 2 level 2, but don’t know any level 2 spells yet. So I will use my level 2 slots to cast more powerful spells.

One was earth tremor, from Xanathar’s Guide. This creates a mini earthquake, causing people caught in it to take damage and be knocked prone if they fail a saving throw. I thought that could be great if I’m up front, facing foes on my own. I also chose chaos bolt (also from Xanathar’s Guide). This spell allows you to launch a bolt of randomly determined energy at enemies, with a chance of the bolt duplicating itself on impact. Finally, divine soul sorcerers get an extra spell based on their alignment; as lawful good I took blesswhich freed up an additional paladin spell slot.

Finally, one of the divine soul abilities is the power to add 2d4 to an attack or saving throw once per long rest (to represent the divine favor in me).

Level 5

 

 

At level 5, my proficiency bonus went up to 3, which added a lot to my attacks and skill checks. I also added more hit points.

I got an additional spell as well, and chose feather fall. I didn’t really need another attack spell, and this spell is more useful than you may think.

The other big change was sorcery points. These are what make the sorcerer balanced with wizard (which gains a lot more spells). They are points you can use to basically mess with your spells. At level 2 they can create new spell slots as a bonus action, but other uses emerge later on. So this will make me a more powerful caster.

So that’s Roland at Level 5. I think my specific progression (in terms of paladin vs. warlock spells) will vary based on what my group needs. But I will definitely use at least 3 levels of warlock to get the metamagic feats. So stay tuned for future posts on how Roland is doing.

ORIGINAL POST:

Last time, I discussed how I leveled up Roland–my D&D 5e Aasimar Paladin–to level 3. In this post, I’ll continue through level 4 and 5. At level 5 I decided to multi-class Roland with the sorcerer class, which is pretty interesting so far. So I’ll discuss the mechanics of multi-classing a bit as well. This post ended up a bit long (as multi-classing is complicated) but I marked each section clearly if you want to jump around.

Level 4

Once again, I got more healing powers and hit points. I also gained an additional prepared spell, which I used on command; this lets you, appropriately enough, issue a command to an enemy, causing them to flee or grovel or anything else your DM lets you do. I thought that may help controlling the battlefield.

But the big choice for this level has to do with the ability score increase. At level 4, you can increase one ability score two points, two scores one point each, or take a feat. I was really torn. My options were to increase Charisma from 16 to 18 (which would give me more potent spellcasting and social skills), take the Heavy Armor Master feat (which decreases damage I take and increases Strength to 18), or the Sentinel feat (which helps me protect others on the battlefield). I decided to go with the Charisma boost, as I was the party’s primary divine spellcaster and negotiator. I took a lot of damage early on, so the Heavy Armor Master feat would help, but I thought the benefits of Charisma outweighed that. And again, because my party was pretty well-covered on damage infliction, I didn’t need to add strength.

Level 5

[So our D&D session was postponed at the last minute, and Roland hasn’t reached level 5 yet. But our DM had asked us to prepare a level 5 character sheet to make the session easier. As I already had it ready, I’ll still include it in this post]

With level 5, I decided to take Roland in a different direction. My party ended up being pretty well-covered in combat between the rogue, ranger and barbarian. Meanwhile, the only other spellcaster besides me was a wizard, whose player ended up being a little unreliable in attendance. So I thought it may be useful to add more spellcasting to the party through multi-classing Roland.

Multi-classing

I have never multi-classed in pen-and-paper D&D before, so this was new to me. The basic idea is combining two different classes together in your character’s progression. So over the course of 10 levels, you could take five levels of fighter and five levels of thief to to combine the powers of the two. This is in contrast to earlier editions in which you multi-classed from the beginning, progressing in both classes but advancing more slowly than other characters. Alternately, you could dual-class, in which you start as one class but switch completely to another later on.

I was conflicted as I’m not a huge fan of multi-classing. It always comes off as power-gaming to me. People will dip into alternate classes to gain access to certain spells or powers, making their character more effective. But this occurs at the expense of role-playing; for example, how did the rogue with a street urchin background suddenly gain training in being a wizard? It also may disadvantage players not interested in optimizing their characters. That being said, fifth edition D&D achieves some balance between single and multi-classing by granting powerful 20th level abilities to all classes (which you only achieve if you stay in one class). When I’m DM-ing, I allow it (as it’s in the PHB) but I require players to have a good backstory for why the multi-classing occurs.

So anyways, I was conflicted, but I thought I’d try it out.

The first thing to figure out was the other class. As I’ve complained about before, too many classes in 5e use charisma as their primary stat. But that does make multi-classing convenient for paladins (who rely on charisma). One option is a bard, but that didn’t fit Roland at all.  That left sorcerer and warlock as the others who rely on charisma. Normally, these two would not fit well with a Lawful Good (LG) Aasimar Paladin. But the new Xanathar’s Guide to Everything included some great options.

This new D&D resource provides additional character paths for each class. One new warlock option is the pact of the celestial: instead of the warlock gaining their power from a fiend or Great Old One, they can be connected to a celestial being. This grants them paladin-like power and is consonant with a LG character. Similarly, a new sorcerer option is the divine soul, in which a sorcerer gains access to magic through a divine bloodline. This grants them access to the cleric spell list–as well as the sorcerer spells–and some other useful powers.

Both of these would work well, role-playing wise, with Roland. They are both amenable to LG alignment, and fit with my paladin backstory. Aasimars gain a celestial guide, so I could easily adapt that guide to serve as Roland’s patron for his warlock powers. At the same time, Aasimars come from a fusion of human and celestial blood, so it is easy to imagine Roland gaining access to magical powers through his heritage.

Ultimately, I chose divine soul sorcerer for game-play purposes. Sorcerers have more spell casting options than warlocks, which was the point of multi-classing. I also liked the idea of using metamagic–particularly quicken spell–in combat. I could use sorcery points to cast a spell as a bonus action, allowing me to still attack in the same turn.

Level 5: Oath of Vengeance Paladin 4/Divine Soul Sorcerer 1

The big choice for a level 1 sorcerer is the spells. At first level I got four cantrips and two spells. For cantrips, I chose friends (charisma boost, which will help in social situations), minor illusion (incredibly flexible spell for a variety of situations) and two from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide that would help in combat. Booming Blade is a spell cast as part of an attack; on a hit, the target is engulfed in sonic energy, taking damage if they move. Additionally, lightning lure forces a target to make a saving throw or be drawn toward the caster, taking damage in the process. I envisioned using these to keep enemies from advancing on the rest of my party in combat.

The first level spells were a little tricky to decide on (and I may tinker with this a bit before our session). I tried to pick spells that did not duplicate any of my paladin spells, and could be useful in frontline combat. I thus didn’t go with the ever popular magic missile (although I’ll probably choose fireball when I get to that point), in favor of melee spells. I also picked spells that could increase in power with higher level spell slots. Because of the complex multi-classing rules, I get 4 level 1 slots and 2 level 2, but don’t know any level 2 spells yet. So I will use my level 2 slots to cast more powerful spells.

One was earth tremor, from Xanathar’s Guide. This creates a mini earthquake, causing people caught in it to take damage and be knocked prone if they fail a saving throw. I thought that could be great if I’m up front, facing foes on my own. I also chose absorb elements (from Xanathar’s Guide as well). This cool-sounding spell grants me resistance to a type of attack I’ve just been hit with; I can then re-direct some of that into my next attack, adding 1d6 of the type of damage to my next hit. I’m picturing a boss battle in which I absorb a lightning bolt, then in the next turn combine my divine smite with the extra lightning damage to go nova on the bad guy. Finally, divine soul sorcerers get an extra spell based on their alignment; as lawful good I took cure wounds, which freed up an additional paladin spell slot. As a result, I added shield of faith, another good tanking spell.

There were a few other things I had to update. My proficiency bonus went up to 3, which added a lot to my attacks and skill checks. I only got 6 extra hit points (because sorcerers gain fewer than paladins). Also, one of the divine soul abilities is the power to add 2d4 to an attack or saving throw once per long rest (to represent the divine favor in me).

So that’s Roland at Level 5. I think my specific progression (in terms of paladin vs. warlock spells) will vary based on what my group needs. But I will definitely use at least 3 levels of warlock to get the metamagic feats. So stay tuned for future posts on how Roland is doing.

Origin Stories: Roland, leveling up

Happy New Year! What better way to ring in 2018 than with some D&D…

In a previous series of Origin Stories posts, I discussed Roland, my D&D 5e Aasimar Paladin. I am using Roland in a current campaign (we started with the Sunless Citadel from Tales from the Yawning Portal, and are going to start Tomb of Annihilation), so I thought it would be interesting to continue to post on him as he levels up. My walkthrough of the campaign itself is forthcoming.

I always try to come up with a focus for characters, but it doesn’t really come out until you need to start making choices when leveling up. For Roland, he will be the party’s tank; a character focused on absorbing damage from enemies and protecting party members. I love running a dps Paladin (damage per second: a Paladin who kills a lot of enemies) but my party was heavy on damage-causing characters and light on spellcasters who can aid in combat. So I decided to focus on the latter.

Level 2

Not much happens between level 1 and 2 for Paladins. I gained more hit points, taking the pre-set amount plus my Constitution modifier (I’m not a risk taker). I also gained divine smite, in which I can use a spell slot to add 2d8 extra radiant damage to an attack (3d8 if undead). And the amount of hit points I could heal through my Paladin lay on hands and an equivalent power for Aasimar increased.

The big choices had to do with spells and fighting style. A paladin can prepare a number of spells equal to their charisma modifier plus half their level; for me, this was four. As I am focusing on tanking, I chose some useful spells in that area. Bless is an obvious one, gaining 1d4 extra points to attack and saving throws. There’s also protection from evil and good, granting benefits in fights with undead and fiends (I obviously chose protection from evil). I also chose cure wounds, essential in a party with no cleric. Finally, I picked compelled duel, which imposes disadvantage on the target if it attacks someone other than me. I thought that would help keep fire from my allies.

For fighting style, I chose protection (going with the tank theme). If I’m using a shield, this lets me impose disadvantage on an attack against an ally. This is really helpful in combat, especially if you have other characters who can inflict a lot of damage (in my case a barbarian and ranger).

Level 3

With level 3 I again gained more hit points and more healing power. I also gained more spell slots (although no more prepared spells, that comes at 4).

But level 3 is where things get fun, because this where you get to customize your class. For paladins, that’s with “oaths.” These are the guidelines your paladin follows, which provide a set of rules as well as extra spells and powers. In the Player’s Handbook, you can choose between the Oath of Devotion (the classic holy knight), the Oath of the Ancients (a nature-loving knight, which I ran in the past) and the Oath of Vengeance, a kind of Batman/Punisher type. As I mentioned in the character creation post, I went with Oath of Vengeance.

At level 3, I gained a few things. I got two extra spells on top of my other prepared spells; bane and hunter’s mark. These are very useful in combat, causing fear and extra damage, respectively. I also gained some powers. Once per long rest, I could use abjure enemy, which requires a target to pass a Wisdom saving throw or become afraid. I could alternately use vow of enmnity, which gives me advantage on attacks against one target. The idea here is that Oath of Vengeance Paladins are sworn to right wrongs, and use their divine powers to pursue evildoers.

I also gained powers through my Aasimar. At level 3 I could cast radiant consumption. This causes the Aasimar explode in radiant fire, harming himself and any other creatures within 10ft. Additional damage can be inflicted on one target. The amount is minor at first (half your level), but increases with each level up.

So at level 3 I not only had a stronger Paladin, but a fearful agent of righteousness. I could frighten enemies, and use my divine backer (in this case Helm) to gain advantage in attacks. I could burst in radiant fire, consuming my enemies. And then I can heal my allies when needed.

Thoughts

So that’s how I advanced Roland from Level 1 to Level 3. I’ll have another post next week on levels 4 and 5 (including multi-classing…) and I’ll do a separate post on how role-playing developed for him over time (with more general thoughts on the Oath of Vengeance track).

In retrospect, I wish I had gone with Oath of Devotion. The Oath of Vengeance is really built for inflicting damage. But as I mentioned, my party had that covered, and needed more protection (such as from Oath of Devotion). I tend to focus character development on backstory, rather than in-game optimization. This makes it fun for me, but I worry I’m not as effective as I could be.

Tune in next time for multi-classing…

 

Origin Stories: Roland, mechanics

Last time I presented the backstory of Roland, an Aasimar paladin. This time I’ll discuss how I created this character. This was kind of a case of group need driving character creation, although I had an archetype in mind for the character I’d use.

Our group seemed like it could use a tank and a healer, so paladin seemed appropriate here. I was intrigued by the Aasimar race since it appeared in the Volo’s Guide book; I played an Aasimar Paladin in Neverwinter Nights 2, and thought it was an interesting idea. So I thought I’d go that route here as well.

There are three Aasimar sub-races, the protector, the scourge and the fallen. All Aasimar get a Charisma bonus, but they get a second bonus (and additional powers) by sub-race. The protector fit the initial idea of my character, but it received a Wisdom bonus, which was not very useful. I went with the scourge Aasimar instead, which got a helpful strength bonus.  Scourge Aasimar are consumed by their celestial nature and desire to defeat evil, and can use their power to cause an explosion of searing radiant light that harms themselves and nearby enemies.

The choice of this sub-race influenced my decisions for focusing the paladin class. Paladins get a choice of “oaths” at 3rd level, which give them standards for behavior and a variety of powers. The Oath of Devotion is closest to the classic LG Paladin we all love. Then there is the Oath of the Ancients, which one of my friends describe as a green knight; a holy protector of the wilds. I played this sort of character in the past. Then there is the Oath of Vengeance, a paladin focused more on defeating evil than spreading righteousness. (There are additional oaths in the supplements as well if people are interested).

I was leaning towards oath of Devotion, but the scourge Aasimar fit with the idea of an Oath of Vengeance Paladin. So I decided to create the character with that eventual path in mind. This didn’t have any effect on creation at first level, but it did affect my backstory (as I will discuss in a bit).

For stats, I rolled them instead of taking the pre-set values. I thought I’d go for a little randomness, in the hopes of getting a powerful character. I ended up with a 16 and two 14s, along with some more mediocre rolls. So, not great but not bad either. I put the 16 in strength, which ended up as a 17 with the sub-race bonus. And one of the 14s went into Charisma, which increased to 16 with my bonus. I then put the second 14 into Constitution. So I had a starting character with pretty good stats for the most useful attributes (Strength for fighting, Charisma for spells and social interaction), and respectable Constitution for hit points.

I turned to the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide for my background. One of the new backgrounds  in this supplement is “Knight of the Order.” I chose the Knights of the Gilded Eye, an order dedicated to Helm. I thought it made sense for an Aasimar to have been taken in by a knightly order, and I’d been interested in trying one of the new backgrounds for awhile.

I could now work out my skills. I took Athletics and Religion for my Paladin; Athletics is always useful, and while knowledge skills are often under-used I liked proficiency in Religion for role-playing reasons. Then for my background, I took Persuasion and Insight. Both of these should come in handy. I really wanted Intimidation, which fit with the backstory I was developing as I finished character creation (again, see below) but I thought that would be redundant. My background gives me persuasion, so I felt like it would be a waste to also use Intimidation. I later realized that both would have been useful, so that’s worth remembering for the future; go with your gut.

For alignment, I went with Lawful Good. There is some debate about the appropriate alignment for Oath of Vengeance Paladins, with some suggesting they be Lawful Neutral and others Chaotic Good. I don’t think ruthlessness particularly corresponds to any one alignment (with the exception of certain behaviors like killing prisoners). Helm is Lawful Neutral, but Aasimar are Good; Lawful Good is the obvious mix of the two. I don’t think alignment necessarily determines personality, it just sets parameters for behavior. So Lawful Good behavior guidelines combined with my personality traits seems like it would produce my character. There will be some tensions, especially when dealing with evildoers who don’t cooperate, but that could make for a good character, as I’ve discussed. (At some point I’ll write about alignment, which I really think we under-utilize, but that’s another post).

Finally, I just took the basic starting equipment. For my weapon I chose a war hammer instead of the default longsword. It had the same stats, but I wanted to try something different. I also kind of liked the idea of my scourage Aasimar resembling Thor at times in combat…

So by this point you may have figured out where my backstory came from. A scourge Aasimar spends much of his life in hiding due to his obvious celestial nature; many reject or expect too much of them, while evildoers want to kill these celestial representatives. Meanwhile, an Oath of Vengeance Paladin has a Batman-esque need to defeat evil everywhere. Where would this come from? And why would a new member of a Knightly Order be travelling on his own?

I tied this all together with last week’s backstory. Roland was sent to the knightly order by his mother to keep him safe. But his unit was ambushed and wiped out, which explains why Roland was on his own and driven by a desire for vengeance. Based on this backstory, I chose his personality traits (drawn from the soldier background); he obeys authority and is polite, but is haunted by the death of his comrades, for which he feels responsible.

So that’s how I developed Roland. The party had a hole to fill, but I was able to use the basic archetype–tanking paladin–to come up with a unique and fun character. Since I am currently using Roland in a campaign, I’ll have a post up in a few weeks on how I leveled him up through the first few levels, and how I’ve been roleplaying him.

 

 

 

Origin Stories: Roland, backstory

As I’ve discussed on Twitter, I’ve started a new 5e D&D campaign as a player (the first time I’ve been a player in a few years). We’re running through the Sunless Citadel adventure in Tales from the Yawning Portal, before starting Tomb of Annihilation. I thought I’d start a new Origin Stories post–my series on the background and mechanics of characters I’ve played–for my character in this campaign.

I’ll add posts as he levels up, which may be useful for players looking for info on how to advance their characters. As always, part 1 is the backstory, and part 2 is the actual mechanics of character creation.

My character is Roland Arkbury, an Aasimar Paladin (aasimars are human touched by celestial blood, kind of like a good version of tieflings).

Roland was born in Mulhorand, among a surge of Aasimar births in that war-torn land [as discussed in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide and online]. Roland’s mother fled with him when he was young (he never knew his father) . They settled in Neverwinter, where his mother worked odd jobs. Roland’s celestial nature became apparent as he neared puberty, however, so his mother sent him to a local Knightly Lodge–of the Knights of the Gilded Eye–to properly train him.

The Knights trained and supported Roland well, and he became devoted to the worship of Helm. After graduating from squiredom, he joined his unit on their first patrol through the Mere of Dead Mean. Unfortunately, they were being followed…

A group of cultists of Orcus had become aware of the Aasimar in Neverwinter and desired him for their rituals. They followed the knights deep into the swamp, surrounded them and attacked.

Realizing what the cultists were after, Roland’s commander ordered him to fall back behind the more experienced knights. The knights fought bravely, slaying many cultists, but they were outnumbered and outmatched by the evil cleric of Orcus who led the cultists.

As the last of his brothers in arms fell before the onslaught, Roland drew his warhammer and threw back his hood. His glowing eyes flared in rage and he called out a challenge to the cultists. He knew he would probably not win, but he would avenge as many of his friends as he could.

Suddenly, a flurry of arrows shot out of the darkness. Seizing the confusion, Roland charged and, combined with his mysterious savior, killed the remaining cultists.

As the last of them fell, a man stepped out of the shadows. He introduced himself as Evan. His village had been destroyed by the undead, so he now ranged the wilds, hunting them whenever he could find them. Roland thanked him for his aid, and asked if he would help him bury the knights.

After they finished, Evan mentioned he had heard that a wealthy woman in the village of Oakhurst was looking for heroes, to help find some missing relatives. He suggested they join up to check out the situation. Roland agreed, and secretly vowed to never rest in his struggle against evil, and to never forget how he had led his brothers into death…

Next week I’ll present the character creation mechanics for Roland.

Why don’t I play wizards in CRPGs?

I know it’s kind of weird to write a blog post asking my readers a question about myself. But it’s a question I’ve been pondering recently.

I started re-playing the expansions for Neverwinter Nights. The two expansions—Shadows of Undrendtide and Hordes of the Underdark—actually form a series separate from the main Neverwinter Nights campaign. It takes your character from level 1 to epic levels, and is a lot of fun.

As I was making my character, I realized I tend to play melee characters in computer-based role playing games (CRPGs). My first game ever—Baldur’s Gate—used a paladin, and I repeated that in its sequels. Other times I’ve played a ranger or a melee-focused rogue, but that’s as far as I stray.

That’s not the case with pen and paper RPGs, like D&D 5th edition. While I have played paladins here, I’ve also played clerics, warlocks and wizards. My favorite so far was a wizard (Fonken, who I’ll discuss here at some point). So I thought I’d try a wizard in my latest play-through of Neverwinter Nights. But after about halfway through Shadows of Undrentide, I stopped.

Why? Part of it is the nature of that game; your choice of henchman disadvantages non-frontline characters. But it was also the gameplay. I found myself spamming the same set of attack spells in each combat. And if the enemy broke through my outer defenses, I had to reload the last save. Ultimately, it proved one-dimensional and both tough and boring at the same time. So now I’m playing as a ranger.

But obviously some people play CRPGs as a wizard, and have a lot of fun. So the problem must not be in a design flaw, but some difference between tabletop and computer-based Dungeons and Dragons games.

Indeed, the tabletop experience as a wizard is a lot different than in a computer game. Some people do just spam magic missile, and have a great time. But there is a lot of opportunity to use attack spells that disadvantage enemies, giving your melee companions a chance to attack. And all the non-combat encounters provide an opportunity to use utility spells in a manner that really makes your party’s lives easier. I tend to follow this guide’s approach to wizard, which de-emphasizes damage per second (dps) and focuses more on controlling the environment.

A lot of this doesn’t translate into computer games. There are many spells I prepare as a wizard that I never use, as the situation doesn’t arise or there are other easier means. For example, in Shadows of Undrentide, I had knock prepared, but my panther familiar ended up just breaking down locked doors. So as a wizard you tend to gravitate towards spells that cause a lot of damage or that summon allies.

As a result, wizards just become dps machines. This is the role they play in World of Warcraft. That might be fine if you have a large party to control—as in Baldur’s Gate—but when you control just yourself and a henchman (like in Neverwinter Nights) it can be limiting.

More importantly, it’s not what draws people to play a wizard. Wizards are smart and inquisitive. They’re masters of lore and problem solvers. None of that comes across if you just cast attack spells over and over. I guess you could still add in some role-playing elements, but it’s rarely directly connected to the story.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is a way around this. Games like the Elder Scrolls—in which there is a lot more freedom to interact with the environment—are more fun to play as a wizard. You can use your spells in creative ways to avoid combat if needed. But ultimately, a lot of the non-combat encounters from D&D would be difficult to pull off in a video game (although if someone has a good example, please let me know).

Overall, this may be a good case of how tabletop gaming does not translate well into computer games. They’re both good, but are not exactly the same experience. Are there other areas where we lose something important if players only know D&D through computers? Am I being unfair to “support” characters in computer games?

Origin Stories: Dain, character mechanics

Last week I presented the backstory of Dain, a D&D 5e dwarf cleric, as part of my ongoing Origin Stories series. This week I’ll discuss how I actually created him.

Just like Badger, Dain was inspired by the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. As I read through the list of deities, I was struck by the Red Knight, Lawful Neutral Goddess of Strategy. I had been interested in playing a lawful neutral character for some time, and thought that a Red Knight cleric might be a lot of fun. I initially thought of using a soldier background—a former soldier who joins the priesthood—but was intrigued by the Adventurer’s Guide “Faction Agent” background. Also, my group needed a heavy-hitting tank, so I decided to play a dwarf.

I chose a sun dwarf (the Sword Coast version of the generic hill dwarf) as the wisdom boost would help with a cleric. And I chose the War domain for the cleric, as this covers the Red Knight. I prioritized Wisdom and Constitution (Wisdom is the dominant stat for clerics, and Constitution would help absorb damage), while having Charisma as my lowest stat, as a Lawful Neutral former bureaucrat would probably not be very charismatic.

For skills, I went with the most obvious ones for a cleric—history, insight, medicine and perception. And I took advantage of dwarven weapon proficiencies, to give Dain a Warhammer and shield, with a mace backup. Finally, I chose the usual spells for a cleric. Sacred flame, magical weapon and spiritual weapon gave some offensive abilities. Spare the Dying, Healing Word, and Prayer of Healing took care of healing. And Resistance, Divine Favor, Shield Faith, Bless, Protection from Evil, Warding Bond and Aid allowed me to buff myself and others.

Overall, I really liked this character. In one sense it’s pretty generic—a lawful neutral dwarven cleric is about as pre-gen-y as it gets. But the full backstory I gave him made me excited to try him out. That’s one important point on character creation. Don’t feel the need to come up with archetype-busting characters all the time–sometimes a predictable character with a fully-fleshed out backstory can be just as compelling.