Character Study: A Different Kind of Rogue

For a long time, my default character was the Elf Ranger. My son has the same preference. I’m not sure whether to blame genetics or Legolas or (most likely) both. I don’t think we’re alone in this. Elves and Rangers go together like Gary and Gygax. It’s a strong character that’s useful to have around when you go adventuring.

There’s nothing new about the Elf Ranger. Or the Gnome Wizard. Or the Dwarf Fighter. The rules have changed and the details are different, but the characters look the same as they did before. One of the things I’m enjoying about the kids game is their ability to put together characters that I would never dream of.

Enter the Rogue.

Set aside the Halfling Rogue archetype, my player chose High Elf. The Elf’s Dex bonus is a natural fit for the Rogue, so it is a good choice, but the High Elf option was an unexpected left turn. A Wood Elf is faster and hides better, great for the Rogue’s Sneak Attack and Cunning Action. Instead the High Elf comes with a Cantrip and an extra language.

On top of this, the background of choice was Spy, with features taken from the playtest rules. The Spy gains proficiencies in Deception and Stealth skills as well as disguises. The Spy knows another extra language and has contacts in a network of other spies.

I’m not sure if he made these choices deliberately with some grand design in mind, but the potential for this character is actually pretty high. I’m picturing Martin Landau’s Rollin Hand or Leonard Nimoy’s Paris, masters of disguise from Mission Impossible. I can’t wait for the role-playing aspect to kick in at the game table (hint hint! Are you reading this?)

At level three the Rogue chose the path of the assassin. He got his license to kill. He’s a medieval James Bond with pointy ears.



New Players, Old School Game

My kids game is fast approaching and I’m seriously considering changing the game on them. Again. We’re part way into our third adventure and I’m beginning to think that it was the wrong choice for the group.

We’re currently playing through Wizards of the Coast’s “Hoard of the Dragon Queen.” So far, I like the material. The story line is intriguing and the quests appropriately challenging for lower level characters. So far, each chapter has offered up a different style of play. The story opens with a small sandbox of level one encounters in the middle of a town-wide battle. The second chapter has a much subtler infiltration mission. Chapter three is a small dungeon crawl. It’s a sampler of Fifth Edition game play.

Far from being a criticism of the material, I see this as a great way for seasoned players to quickly become familiar with as much of the new rules as possible. But for younger, novice players, this is a lot to take in all at once. My crew is still solidly in the “hack and slash” style of play.

Before this, we had played a bit of “Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle”, an adventure written for the 5E playtest rules. Our first adventure was a swamp filled with wandering monsters and a small series of caves with a boss fight and a chat with a dragon. When we switched to the official 5E rules, I managed to transition the story by handing off the characters from one Lord with a mission to another. This worked well enough, but I’m realizing that both adventures were just heroic contract work.

Our first adventure was exploring the Caves of Chaos, the classic first edition dungeon delve updated for 5E (playtest) rules. There was no lord paying the characters to do a job. There was no unearthly scheme to summon a demon, no complex plot to take over the world. It was simple adventuring.

Caves. Monsters. Treasure.

Okay, so I’m no longer considering. I’m going to make a U-turn with my kids game and return to a simpler game of adventuring for the sake of adventuring.

Sorry NO SPOILERS! Some of them read this blog. Perhaps I’ll recap after next week’s game.

— DM


Dungeon Geek? You bet.

On TV, or in the movie theater, I seek out science fiction. The more spaceships and laser beams I can get, the better. Time travelling robots? Perfect! New show on Syfy? I’ll try anything.

For me, though, sci-fi doesn’t always leap off the page. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read, and enjoyed plenty of good sci-fi. I devoured Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy as soon as it was published.

But, on paper, my favorite genre by far is Tolkien’s “King Arthur and the Game of Wardrobes.”

The first book I fell in love with was Lloyd Alexander’s “The Book of Three.” It opened the door to a realm that I never left. My love of Prydain was followed closely by my love of Shannara. I added Narnia to that realm along with Middle Earth, Hogwarts and the Wheel of Time.

Right from the beginning, I wanted to add my own stories to my growing realm. As a lifelong author of Chapter 1‘s, my go-to subject matter was swords, sorcery, castles and dragons.

It was inevitable that when I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons, it would capture my imagination like nothing else. I played in grade school, poring over the original rulebooks and modules, rolling up characters with awesome dice and painting lead miniatures. I played a long-running Advanced D&D campaign throughout college. My wife (I love her!) found a local group of dads and we played 4th edition for a few years.

I’ve tried a few Sci-fi flavored RPGs like Star Frontiers (also from TSR, the then makers of D&D) and a Star Wars game. I played Car Wars and Paranoia. They were all fun, one time. but didn’t grab me like D&D. I played superhero themed games – definitely not for me.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, when I was asked to run two D&D games at the same time, the arm twisting was merely a formality. I don’t think it would have been possible to turn it down. In fact, as my daughters are showing a renewed interest in it, I’m seriously contemplating a third game…

— DM

P.S.  To be fair, I have to concede that the Cthulu RPG scene is pretty awesome and second only to D&D in my book.


The Alchemist (I)

I have a homebrew campaign idea simmering on the back burner that centers on a society that does not believe in magic and merely tolerates religion so long as it stays quiet. Of course this society sits squarely in the middle of a medieval fantasy world filled with magical creatures and spellcasters.

As characters, spellcasters are extremely useful, but how do you play a game without one? Easy. Enter the Alchemist.

Well, not so easy. How do you make the Alchemist an interesting player character? How do you make them useful during combat? How do you NOT get bogged down with the endless bookkeeping of gathering and using ingredients?

So far, in my years-long thought experiment, my alchemist is little more than a re-skinned spellcaster, replacing magical components and handwaving with more practical descriptions. This might work for my homebrew but might not be as compelling in a traditional D&D campaign. I’d like to make the alchemist stand a little more apart from a wizard.

I’ve run across a few solutions recently. A friend of mine (and college DM) came up with a lightweight solution: http://strangedice.com/2014/11/22/alchemy-in-dd/

Instead of creating a whole character class, he added a proficiency with Alchemist’s Tools and an Alchemist Feat to put some alchemy tricks up any character’s sleeves. This idea has some merit, and I’ll have to get some feedback from him on how it has worked at his table.

Yesterday I found this link to a fully developed Fifth Edition style Alchemist character class: http://middlefingerofvecna.blogspot.com/2016/01/alchemist.html

At first glance, and without the benefit of playtesting, this seems to be a very playable character. I’m impressed by the author’s thoroughness and how well it fits the 5E style. As a class, it definitely stands apart from any spellcasters out there. However, it seems to pigeonhole the alchemist as a maker and thrower of bombs. Perhaps this was the author’s solution to simplifying the bookkeeping?

For now, the thought experiment continues. I do have answers to some of my earlier questions and I will get around to sharing them here.




Dungeon Mook

For a little over two years now I’ve tried my hand at running a couple of Dungeons & Dragons games and I finally have the confidence to say that someday I will probably know what I’m doing. For now, I don’t feel I’ve earned the title of Dungeon Master yet. I’m constantly discovering new rules that I’ve overlooked. I often try new house rules, only to change them later or abandon them completely. I always seem to find myself facing a situation that the DM’s guide doesn’t have a chapter for. I’m making this all up as I go along. I think I’ll stick with the title of Dungeon Mook for now. Luckily, my players are tolerant of my stumbling along and often pretend not to notice.

I started the first game for my son because we both wanted to play. He and his friends were all new to the game. As a veteran player of many editions of D&D, I hoped to guide them through character building and role playing while at the same time learning to run the game. To keep things interesting, I chose to use the new play-test rules of the then unpublished Fifth Edition. Since then, we’ve played through parts of published adventures including an updated Caves of Chaos, the play-test adventure Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle, and once we moved to the official rules, Hoard of the Dragon Queen.

As soon as I started planning the kids’ game, I discovered my son’s friends’ parents also wanted to play and I was convinced to run a game for them as well (for the record, the arm-twisting was merely a formality). I warned them of my Mook status, but they agreed anyway. To really keep things interesting I chose to create a homebrew campaign for the parents’ game.

If I had taken a step back and thought about all this for any length of time, I might have realized I was in over my head and called it quits before I even started. But I didn’t, and two years later we are all still playing, still learning and still having a great time.

–DM (Dungeon Mook)