The concept for this module was simply to expand on a fascinating creature-type that has the potential to offer so much to a campaign. The 5E Monster Manual has only so much room but offers a few birds to give the DM enough flavour to expand on its hawk, owl, vulture or raven stat blocks. What I was wanted to do was add special skills to each bird and where appropriate give them ample hit points or opportunities to defend itself.
Beyond giving unique abilities to recognizable birds, I wanted to add magical abilities and increase their sizes and challenge ratings. For example I gave the incredibly distinctive bird called the Ruff its own humanoid race. Birds such as Flamingos, Hoatzin and Puffins also get their own magical sub-species. At the most epic end of the spectrum, there are ten legendary individual birds including Nivanda the Wandering Roc and Zephyr the Storm Serpent. All ten get legendary resistance as well as additional magical abilities and attacks.
Beyond their abilities and stat blocks, each bird has a preferred habitat type within the material plane such as cold climate, grasslands, wetlands and forest. They also have a rarity rating, ranging from common to very rare. Finally, they have a Companion Compatibility status. A tame bird can be bought from specialist shops, and a friendly bird is ready to befriend empathetic travels. However, ferocious birds take a lot of effort before they trust someone, and solitary creatures rarely accept a companion. The effort can be worthwhile if it works as each bird has a companion ability that is unlocked when they partner with a PC or NPC.
The module was a lot of fun to create and expands the possibilities of bird interaction within the game. From the Master Crow’s ability to detect traps to the Golden Phoenix Pheasant’s healing powers they can be valuable companions. The can also be formidable opponents, such as the lightning surge of Zephyr the Storm Serpent, and provide fun encounters (who can resent the rolling attack of the Rotund Duck?!).
Birds: Companions & Encounters is available from DMs Guild.
Total Party Kill is when the party of adventurers are defeated in a single event, be it combat, a trap or an unfortunate accident. For the players it can be humiliating and for the Dungeon Master, the story ends here. Of course a TPK has its place; the Player Characters are mortal after all, and there are some modules where everyone is expecting a blood bath going into it and will roll multiple characters before the end.
For most cases, however, the Players grow attached to their character and the DM wants to create the story around them. That’s why I decided to create a book that gives the DM an option – a literal last throw of the dice – to determine what happens to the party if they are faced with elimination. And of course, that dice had to be a d20.
The TPK categories I created are: – Combat encounter – Construct encounter (being a combination or combat and trap) – Ensnared by a trap – Punishment from a geas or through a deity’s decree – Abrupt end, such as falling from a great height or a spell gone wrong – Life drain, such as a disease or a cursed wound.
The twenty options apply to each of these categories and in many cases I created multiple options that can be rolled, meaning there is a huge variety of possibilities to play out. Will a party gain help from allies, a magic item, or will there be a malfunction or will opponent in-fighting give them the chance to escape? It’s been a lot of fun to create an provides a solution to the age-old problem, how to avoid a TPK.
After creating the NPC Creator, I set myself a challenge. I enjoyed creating the product, but I wanted to see what NPCs might be created from it. I was intrigued to see what juicy combinations might arise.
The challenge was really useful in terms of tweaking the original NPC Creator, because I could see if there were any errors, but just as significantly, I could see if the stats boosts and options it created made sense.
The first things to change were the stat boosts. The mental stats (Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma) were far more likely to come up compared to the physical stats (Strength, Dexterity and Constitution). Secondly some of the options in a table produced the same results (for example, boosting Intelligence by 3 and Wisdom by 2), making the description for the chosen word in the table meaningless. I was able to manage this as I created the NPCs.
The remaining changes were all minor, such as changing an ability’s range or strength, but because there were 100 NPCs to create, it took a long time. As part of the process, I made sure to balance the frequency that each creature came up, and to make sure that no creature type ever had two of the same character class.
I am extremely pleased with the outcome. The final flourish was using midjourney for the character art and including the eight animal companions. Now that the product is complete and released, I really hope the NPCs get to play out in the wild. The idea that Nevi could be a kick-ass companion, or a dangerous villain excites me. What will Grenla find in the woods when she goes looking for the flower in her dreams? Can Kourtan be trusted, or will he use the adventuring party?
There are so many NPCs to interact with, and so many plot hooks to explore. It has been a labor of love, and hopefully a lot of fun for groups out there!
A lot is made of level-appropriate material. In D&D combat, this term is referred to as CR (Challenge Rating). A level 4 party will be roasted alive by an ancient dragon, but will also make meaty fries out of a similarly-sized party of goblins. To avoid Total Party Kill (TPK) or Total Party Boredom, the GM/DM has plenty of options…
Find a suitable opponent
The Critical Rating is made for this. For example, a few Manticore will provide a good battle for five level 4 adventurers.
Add more fodder until they are dangerous
A band of goblins are easy to kill off, but not so easy when they can attack 3 times more than the players can.
Weaker opponents on a flat field or dungeon floor will be easy. But what if they are ambushing the party and get surprise attacks? Perhaps they have the high ground and ranged weapons or you are on uneven terrain that only your opponent can move across easily. Increase the odds against the players even further by having them stealth so as not to wake even more opponents or you could have traps in place in case they charge in unprepared.
If the monsters are too weak, why not give them an extra arm, a magical weapon or poisoned arrows to increase their abilities. If the monsters are too powerful, then make them aged, young or mentally addled in some way, giving them disadvantages on their rolls. Want the creature to have a special move not in the rulebooks? Go for it! If it makes the combat interesting, then why not!
This option is fun, if played right. Create creatures with only a few stats and hit points firmly decided, and be flexible with the rest, such as their moves and attacks. This option is a way of keeping the players on their toes and making combat challenging. However, this option can backfire is done too often; especially if it appears to directly counteract the player’s moves (e.g. “aha, it is actually immune to damage by your fireball and your ranged weapons!”). The important thing is to have an idea of what this creature is capable of and then improvising how it might react in a fight.
As always, the most important thing is for the players to have fun. So long as the combat element of the game is varied then they will have plenty to sink their sword or arrows into.
In Part I, I discussed the types of spellcasters and how they interacted with magic in the fantasy realm. It’s time to look at the mechanics of spellcasting. How does it work in practice?
Here are the basics…
Prepared spells: Some spellcasters need to prepare spell for the day from a greater resource they have access to.
Known spells: Some spellcasters learn spells until they know them, meaning they do not need to prepare them in advance.
Spell Slots: Most spellcasters have Spell Slots (Monks are the exception), which represent their capacity to cast spells before their magic is used up and they need to replenish their energy.
Spell Modifier:All spellcasters use a modifier to work out how effective their spells are. This affects their Spell Attack rolls and rolls for the Spell’s Difficulty Class for opponents to try and match or get a higher result when they roll a saving throw.
Each character class or sub class is a little different, so let’s compare…
Bards don’t study magic, they take what they know and perform. For that reason, bards have known spells and a charisma modifier.
Clerics are conduits for divine power. They use Wisdom as a modifier. They can cast any cleric spell available up to their current spell level, but need to have them prepared. This is their Wisdom modifier + Cleric Level.
Druids draw on nature, as clerics draw on the divine. They use Wisdom as a modifier. They can cast any druid spell available up to their current spell level, but need to have them prepared. This is their Wisdom modifier + Druid Level.
Eldritch Knight is a subclass of the Fighter. Like Bards, they have knownspells they learn as they improve and apply to their fighting style. They draw from the wizarding spells and their modifier is Intelligence.
Monks learn to use magical energy called Ki. They channel this energy in their martial art practices uses Ki Points. The subclass Way of the Four Elements can cast elemental spells using Ki points. Like Bards and Eldritch Knights, these become Known but are referred to as Elemental Disciplines and not spells. They use a Wisdom modifier to determine out how effective their spells are.
Paladins learn to draw on divine magic as clerics do. They use Charisma as a modifier. They can cast any cleric spell available up to their current spell level, but need to have them prepared. This is their Charisma modifier + half the Paladin’s Level.
Rangers learn to draw on nature as Druids do. But they behave far more like Bards and Eldritch Knights, applying what they have learned and using their Known Spell, learning more as they level up. They use a Wisdom modifier.
Arcane Trickster is a subclass of the Rogue. Like Bards and Rangers, they don’t study magic, they take what they learn and apply it. For that reason, these Rogues have known spells . They use an Intelligence modifier.
Sorcerers have no need to study as magic is in their veins. Very much like Bards, they perform what they know. Because of this, Sorcerers have known spells and a charisma modifier. They also have Sorcerer Points, which can be used to enhance their spells in some way.
Warlocks are peculiar because although they have spell slots, all of these slots are the same level as their current spell level. They can still cast lower level spells but they will be using a higher level spell slot to do it. They perform the gifts of their patron, so like Bards, they have known spells and a charisma modifier.
Wizards are the students of magic and draw from a spellbook to prepare spells (They should also use physical components as part of the spells’ preparations but not all roleplays apply this). Because of this their known spells are whatever spells are in their spellbook, so researching and finding spell scrolls can be exciting! They use the Intelligence modifier. The number of spells they can prepare is their Intelligence modifier + Wizard Level.
Magic is as integral to D&D as dragons and faeries. It allows for anything to be possible; from creatures with strange, otherworldly abilities, to travel between planes, to crazy spells such as being able to polymorph into a dinosaur! But, to paraphrase a well-known superhero movie, with great power comes a great deal of rules!
The 5th edition rules for D&D have tried to keep spellcasting (using magic to affect something) as simple as possible, but it still takes some getting used to. That’s what we’re here to do…
In this first article, I’ll look at the different types of spellcasters.
Your spellcasters come under the following types…
1) those who have a natural gift for magic 2) those who study it 3) Those who are blessed with magical powers for their beliefs 4) Those who pick it up as they go along
The sorcerer is the gifted magic user, who has through some cosmic reason or exotic lineage been chosen to carry such power.
Wizards are keen to master magic and require spell books to record what they have learned and to prepare their daily spells. Eldritch Knights also study magical techniques to enhance their fighting prowess. Monks learn to channel magical energy known as ki.
The blessed Clerics and Paladins draw on the divine magic of their deity. Warlocks gain powers in return for serving their patron (an otherworldly being). Barbarian Totem Warriors also gain gifts through their spirit animal. With nature as their muse, Druids and Rangers learn to use magic from their environment.
Gifted performers known as Bards learn tricks on the road as they perform and can weave magic with their music. The Rogue type, Arcane Tricksters also learn tricks which enhance their shadowy lifestyle.
That’s enough magic talk for now. If you want to discuss anything in particular, let me know. Next time, we get into the rules…
Recently I’ve been getting a few questions regarding the mechanics of D&D and how it works. The Player’s Handbook is excellent but it is just one explanation and sometimes what might make sense to one person might baffle another. So this series is about looking at an element of D&D and explaining it in more detail.
Let’s start with a description of Saving Throws taken from Wikipedia:
A saving throw is a roll of dice used to determine whether magic, poison, or various other types of attacks are
effective against a character or monster.
What are they for? In D&D they are used to determine whether a character can resist or avoid the effects of a threat, such as a
trap, drinking poison or being charmed by another creature.
How do they work?
When the Dungeon Master (DM) reveals a threat to the player, they will be asked to roll a saving throw based on one of their character’s attributes. But which one?
Here are the 6 attributes as described by the Player’s Handbook, p.173:
Strength – measuring physical power
Dexterity – measuring agility
Constitution – measuring endurance
Intelligence – measuring reasoning and memory
Wisdom – measuring perception and insight
Charisma – measuring force of personality
I’ve listed 20 possible scenarios below and sorted them into the attribute the character needs to save against. Next to that is the reason why that attribute is the one being used.
How do you roll a saving throw?
You roll a saving throw against a difficulty class given by the DM. Often these are pre-determined; for example a monster’s attack effects (Beholder’s eye ray effects have a difficulty class is 16) or a magic user’s spells (8 + spell
caster’s ability modifier + proficiency bonus).
For difficulty classes not pre-determined, it is up to the DM to decide how difficult it is to avoid or
resist the threat. These range from very easy (difficulty class of 5) to nearly impossible (dc of 30). The DM should
also say what character attribute it is against.
Now you know what you are rolling against, you roll a d20 die and add you attribute modifier. If your character class has proficiency against that attribute, you add their proficiency number to the die roll. For example, a Level 3 Wizard with intelligence of 16 needs to try and pass an intelligence save. His intelligence modifier is +3 and as a
Level 3 wizard he can add his proficiency of 2. So his saving throw is 1d20 +5.
If the saving throw equals or is greater than the difficulty class, then they successfully save. This normally results in avoiding or reducing the effects that were threatening them.
So does it matter what attribute to use when making a saving throw?
Yes, it will matter to the character making the save. Each class has proficiency in saving throws for two attributes (see list on p.145 of the Player’s Handbook). Here is an example:
Meet Pevel, a Level 5 rogue from my online RP campaign, Agora Core. Rogues have proficiency in saving throws for Dexterity and Intelligence.
In this example, Pevel is being attacked by a Beholder (yikes!). The Beholder can attack with its many eye rays. Let’s blast Pevel 10 times with 2 different eye rays. The first time through, we will use the Petrification Ray, which requires
a Dexterity saving throw. Then we will repeat the dice rolls but this time, we will use the Sleep Ray, which requires
a Wisdom saving throw. For both, the difficulty class is 16.
Pevel’s rolls without adding modifiers are:
13, 5, 1, 6, 12, 7, 14, 20, 18, 17
Against the Petrification Ray, Pevel uses his Dexterity saving throw. As a Level 5 rogue, he add his proficiency, which is +3. So with his Dexterity modifier, his saving throw is 1d20 + 6.
That means his saving throws rolls are:
19, 11, Nat 1, 12, 18, 13, 20, Nat 20, 24, 23
Against the Sleep Ray, Pevel uses his Wisdom saving throw. As a Level 5 rogue he is not proficient in Wisdom, so simply adds his Wisdom modifier. He saving throw is 1d20 + 1. That means his saving throw rolls were:
14, 6, Nat 1, 7, 13, 8, 15, Nat 20, 19, 18
The difference between the two results shows how your chances of success vary depending on your character’s attributes and class. For the Dexterity saving throw in which Pevel was proficient, he successful rolled 16 or more 6/10 times. But for the Wisdom he only succeeded 3/10 times.
What if there is no threat?
If there is no threat, then the character is not reacting to imminent danger to their life. Any actions they take become an Ability Check instead. These still use the core 6 attributes, but more often than not use skills, which character can have proficiency in. For example, spotting a trap is a Perception Check (Wisdom-based), and working out how to disarm it with an Investigation Check (Intelligence-based).