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

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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.

Origin Stories: Dain, character background

My Origin Stories series of posts presents interesting characters I’ve created for a variety of games. When I put characters together, I often had more backstory and thoughts on its creation than DMs needed. So I thought it may be a useful exercise to write it out for this blog, and hopefully other players can gain some inspiration from these posts. Previous posts include: Dorn, a D&D 5e Oath of the Ancients Paladin; Badger, a D&D forest gnome rogue; and Arkdo, a Duro archeologist from Star Wars: Edge of the Empire.

This post is about Dain, a gold dwarf priest of the Red Knight, for D&D 5e Forgotten Realms.

Dain is from the gold dwarf lands far to the south of the Sword Coast. He was a bureaucrat in a bustling trade center, where he lived a comfortable, but boring life. One day, a wandering knight from the north arrived in town. Dain struck up a conversation with the outsider at the tavern, and learned she worshipped the Red Knight, goddess of strategy. Dain was entranced by her stories of the intrigue and adventure among the powerful city-states on the Sword Coast, as well as her teachings of the Red Knight. This goddess supported warplanners and strategists, and her priests were in high demand among many of the lords of the north.

Dain, far from impulsive—even by the standards of dwarves—decided he had enough of shuffling papers around and wanted an adventure. He spent the next few weeks preparing for his trip (he was, after all, still a dwarven bureaucrat, and could not avoid planning), then set out in the middle of the night. He sought out news and followers of the Red Knight on his way north, connecting with a group of wandering monks in her service in Athkatla. They pointed him to Baldurs Gate, site of one of her greatest temples.

In Baldurs Gate, Dain studied under the Red Knight’s highest clerics. He found his time as a bureaucrat served him well in his studies, as it gave him a love for planning, order and strategizing. Dain breezed through his clerical training and was ordained as a priest of the Red Knight. He chose to be an itinerant cleric, travelling through the Sword Coast and spreading her teachings.

Eventually, Dain made his way to Daggerford, a smaller member of the Lords Alliance. While drinking in the tavern, he heard two councilors for the town’s ruler—Lady Morwen Daggerford—debating the proper way to press a claim for greater trade revenue from the Lords Alliance. Dain introduced himself, and gave them some advice, combining his bureaucratic skills with the teachings of the Red Knight. The men were sufficiently impressed to introduce Dain to Lady Morwen. She convinced him to join her court as an adviser, tasking him with advancing her interests among the Lords Alliance. Dain did a good enough job that the Lords Alliance voted to make him one of the faction’s agents, sending him abroad to aid their endeavors.

Origin Stories: Arkdo

My gaming group just finished their latest session of D&Ds’ Out of the Abyss (see latest walkthrough here). They made it to Blingdenstone, and discovered even in this relatively safe city, threats still abounded…I’ll have it up soon. But first…

In this installment in my ongoing Origin Stories series, I want to discuss a character I made for a non-D&D game. As I’ve mentioned, I played Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars RPGs with an old group. These are really fun games that capture a lot of the flavor of Star Wars. This character was for Edge of the Empire, a game setting focusing on the seedier side of the Star Wars Universe (see my walkthrough of an adventure I wrote here). Other settings include Force and Destiny (focusing on force-users, as I’ve discussed) and Age of Rebellion (where you play as part of the Rebel Alliance).

This post is a bit shorter, so I’ll include it all as one post, instead of putting it up over two weeks.

The character I created was Arkdo, the Duro archeologist.

Arkdo grew up on Dantooine; his parents, originally from Duros, fled when the Empire took over and made their way to the Outer Rim. His parents were pilots, helping move cargo through the system and nearby systems and shuttling passengers around. Arkdo helped them out, learning how to fly and astrogate, but he spent most of his time exploring the Jedi ruins on Dantoiine.

During one exploration, he met an old man, who befriended him and taught him much about the ancient Jedi. The man turned out to be a Jedi in hiding, which Arkdo learned when a bounty hunter hired by the Empire found him and killed him. Arkdo then decided to strike out on his own. Getting his parent’s blessing and the meager inheritance they had set aside for him, he set out to make his way in the Outer Rim.

His talents at astrogation and piloting, as well as the skills he gained in Old Republic lore, exploration and archeology, helped him get steady work with the salvagers and treasure hunters who exist at the edge of the Empire [see what I did there?]. Arkdo eventually joined a steady crew hunting for ancient relics to sell to wealthy buyers. On one expedition beyond Subterrell, they found a long-lost Jedi outpost. Among the relics were data on other Outer Rim outposts, which the crew realized would lead them to vast stores of treasure. The crew’s commander knew the Empire had begun collecting all remaining Jedi relics, and thought they could sell this information to the Empire for a lot of money.

Arkdo decided then he would rather be principled than rich. Remembering his Jedi mentor, he resolved to never let this information or the Jedi relics fall into the Empire’s hands. He stole the information and crippled his crew’s ship, before escaping by offering his astrogation services to a smuggler who had landed on the planet. He disappeared into the Outer Rim, his forbidden knowledge guarded carefully, constantly looking over his back for the crew he had betrayed…

Character Creation: Arkdo

This character came about through some good interactions with my GM. When we started playing EOTE, I created a Scout character from the base EOTE rulebook. After playing a session, the GM thought I was going more the route of an archeologist, a character from one of the EOTE expansion books. I checked it out, noticed the illustration was a Duros, and decided I’d play a Duros archeologist.

Character creation is a little complicated in EOTE. It’s a mix of Shadowrun or Firefly/Serenity—when you have a number of points you can use to create customized characters—and D&D, with its set character classes. You start with a career and specialization, like Bounty Hunter-Assassin or Explorer-Scout. Then the race you choose starts off with beginning characteristics (for example, Wookies have high Brawn), and a set number of XP. You choose these XP to build your character through characteristics, skills and equipment.

For Arkdo, as I mentioned I wanted him to be a Duros, and used the Archeologist specialization for the Explorer career (which is part of an expansion pack). I knew I wanted him to be smart and cunning, and also able to use a weapon, so I bumped up his agility (which is used for ranged attacks), intellect and cunning. Most of his skills would go towards his knowledge of lore and the Outer Rim, as well as perception (useful for finding ruins and relics) and survival, for exploring. I gave him a few skill ranks in ranged-light (for things like blasters) as he likely had to defend himself a lot while exploring. Finally, after buying his weapons, I got him equipment appropriate for an archeologist, like macrobinoculars and scanners.

The other cool thing about EOTE character creation is the obligation mechanic. The idea is that everyone exploring the edges of the Empire has some complications in their past. It could be a family they left behind, a debt to a crimelord, or a cause they’re devoted to. These give characters resources, but also lead to complications. At creation, characters choose an obligation, and can add to their obligation value in order to gain more XP or credits to buy equipment. But at the start of every session, the GM rolls dice based on the party’s total obligation value; if the roll comes up right everyone faces some adverse consequences. It’s a cool way to introduce risk into the creation process.

I chose the betrayal obligation, and bumped it up a bit for more equipment. As I was creating Arkdo, I was thinking of his backstory, and the betrayal option inspired me to come up with his introduction to adventuring I discussed in the previous post.

Arkdo ended up being fun. He was not as cutthroat or mercenary as others in the party, since he saw himself as a noble figure trying to gain knowledge of the past. And he was obsessed for searching every market or ruin for relics of value. But his knowledge of ancient sites and Outer Rim societies and governments came in handy pretty frequently.

This was a good example of coming up with a general idea for a character, and then letting the mechanics flesh it out.