Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What Do I Know About Reviews? Baby Bestiary Caretaker Warlock (5e OGL 3rd Party Product)

I really appreciate it when a supplement can take a concept, do something novel with it, but still manage to make it feel as if it is still hitting the same notes as the material it draws from. The way this is normally done with Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition products is to create a subclass that has a unique set of features running along a theme. The product we’re looking at today changes this formula slightly.

The Baby Bestiary Caretaker Warlock is a product that, instead of creating a new subclass of the warlock, creates an alternative version of the class. If it’s a new class, why is it a warlock? The core of the class still revolves around an agreement between an entity and the PC, but in this case, the agreement is a much more defined arrangement, as the caretaker warlock gains powers in exchange for protecting the egg, or the newborn form, of a powerful creature.

Revealed Form

The PDF of this product is 26 pages, including an ad for Metal Weave Game’s other products. In keeping with this being a Baby Bestiary affiliated product, there are many pictures of cute coatl, dragons, and phoenix, as well as their caretakers. There are various bold headers and tables throughout, as well as various sidebars explaining concepts or putting information in context.

Form and Function

While not split into specific chapters, the PDF is divided, generally, into the overall class abilities, a section on how you acquired your patron, and a separate section for each of the following types of patrons for the caretaker: Phoenix, Couatl, Dragon Turtle, and Dragon.

General Assumptions

The default assumption is that your patron is still in an egg, and that the egg doesn’t suffer damage unless the warlock has already been incapacitated. There is some discussion about how to handle running the companion with separate statistics, but they largely exist to be protected, so there isn’t much benefit to allowing them to have separate stats outside of the default assumption.

There is also some discussion on the differences between how the creature might function once hatched, but largely, this just means that patron is mobile, and the same option to keep them free of separate statistics is still an option, even if they are a hatchling instead of an egg.

Class Structure

The class is introduced with a discussion on the product’s assumption (that the creatures in the product are so cosmologically important as to be able to strike bargains with their caretakers), as well as a discussion on “homebrewed” game content and its inclusion in the game.

Despite being an alternative version of the warlock, the class abilities appear at the same place in the level progression that abilities appear for the standard warlock. Patron Insights replaces Otherworldly Patron, and Imparted Magic replaces Pact Magic--these function very similarly to the replaced options from the standard warlock, with the altered story elements revolving around the patron striking a deal with the essence of the creature they are protecting and receiving insight and abilities from the idealized form of the creature.

Entrusted Boon replaces Pact Boon, and is flavored as a gift that the creature being protected gives to their protector. The entrusted boons include the following options:
  • Entrusted Awareness
  • Entrusted Blade
  • Entrusted Servant
  • Entrusted Shield (this option is noted in the current PDF as still in development)
  • Entrusted Tome


If some of those options sound familiar, yes, most of them function very much like the similar option that standard warlocks receive. 

We don’t get into a lot of departure in the overall structure, but I can understand why the class was presented with the new terminology. While the concept of the bond with the patron is similar, the language of protecting a young creature that will grow into its power flavors how the class feels.

One of the biggest departures is the parting gift, the ability bestowed on the warlock when the creature is old enough to take care of itself and it moves on. The caretaker gains a special ability related to an ability score, and gains the ability to call on their patron, in their adult form, once per week, with the patron not staying more than 48 hours to help their former protector.

It’s potentially powerful, but it’s also the capstone 20th level ability. It feels more powerful than getting back all of your expended spell slots, but it’s also subject to how the DM wants to play the NPC (a patron dragon, for example, will want to help their old friend, but just because the PC wants them to level an army for them, they may not want to do so--they may just make sure the PC is safe from harm and give them some advice).

There are tables with various invocations listed, and the tables subdivide them into patron specific invocations, cantrip focused, and boon focused invocations. While the standard warlock list includes invocations depending on pact boons and cantrips, the patron specific boons presented are a nice thematic way to reinforce the logical abilities granted by the patrons presented in this product.

How Did You Acquire Your Patron and Patron Mishap Tables

While this section is comprised of tables, I wanted to call it out separately, because I really enjoy some of the details added on these lists. I like the idea of the origin story of the link between patron and warlock, and it gives you backstory bits like patron and warlock dying at the same time and returning to life linked, as an example.

The mishap table has lots of great entries about what kind of trouble your newly hatched patron might get into, but unlike the similar product that Metal Weave produced for companions, there isn’t really a trigger for when to use these mishaps. The mishaps also assume that at some point in the story you will opt to have the creature hatch, which isn’t spelled out as happening at any specific time in the campaign.

Guardian of Rebirth, Guardian of Sunset, Guardian of the Deep Scale, Guardian of the Scaled Skies

There are separate sections for phoenix, couatl, dragon turtle, and dragon patrons. The structure of each of these is similar, providing a quirk of the patron, some questions to ask to flesh out the patron, an expanded spell list, and some special abilities gained as the warlock levels up.

The phoenix special abilities revolve around fire and healing, the couatl abilities revolve around divinations and psychic bonds, the dragon turtle grants abilities that armor and protect the warlock, as well as providing a breath weapon, and the dragon grants abilities that revolve around command, bravery, draconic senses, and claws.

The Real Treasure Was The Friends We Made Along The Way

I love this concept. It still feels exactly like the concept of the warlock, but with an interesting twist that potentially uses the same elements to make a class that is less sinister or reckless than it is born of circumstance. The powers and abilities play into the theme of the specific patrons well, and overall, despite being an alternate version of the warlock, it still feels very much like the warlock.

Friendship Isn’t Always The Best Treasure

While I understand representing aspects of the class to flavor them in a more fitting manner, this does mean that there is a lot of material that is reprinted with a different title. Since the shared health feature is written into the class, I’m not sure it’s worth the time to discuss the alternate rules for creating separate stats for the patron. I wish it were a little more spelled out when to transition from egg to hatchling, instead of leaving everything variable, even if it’s just a default from which to deviate.

Qualified Recommendation--A product with lots of positive aspects, but buyers may want to understand the context of the product and what it contains before moving it ahead of other purchases.

This is a great product for doing something different with the warlock, but if you really like a warlock that is either sinister or dabbling with powers they shouldn’t dabble with, this shifts that feel dramatically. If you want something that hews a little closer to standard alternate pact features or patrons, it also pushes the boundaries a bit more. Additionally, there are still a few places in the product that are flagged as being under development, although the page on RPGNow has this boldly called out.

On the other hand, I think there are a lot of roleplaying opportunities created with this product. Having not long ago watched the Dragon Prince, I can’t help but see this as a way of adding some elements of that kind of story to your D&D game. It’s very imaginative, and worth a look if you do like the idea of pushing the boundaries of what a warlock is in your campaign.

Monday, January 14, 2019

What Do I Know About Reviews? College of the Opera Bard (Dungeon Masters Guild Product)

Despite not being able to sing or play an instrument, I have loved bards in Dungeons and Dragons since 2nd edition. And the only reason it took me that long is that I had no idea what bards even were in 1st edition, other than “complicated.”

Given that I love bards, it didn’t take me long to notice the College of the Opera bard when it started appearing in my social media feeds. Sadly, it did take a while to get back into the flow of writing reviews for the site because, well, holidays and end of semester reports at work tend to get in the way of RPG reviews. But enough of the real world!

The College of the Opera Bard is a product on the Dungeon Masters Guild, presenting a new bard subclass. It follows the same format as the other bard colleges, so the product only comes in at two pages. It was written by Hannah Rose (you can find her on the Worlds Apart actual play), with Kelli Butler (real-life opera singer, and participant in various streamed games).

The Look

The product is in a two-page format, with a title page with credits, and a second page that has similar formatting to the standard sub-class layout in the Player’s Handbook. Instead of artwork, the featured images are photographs of Kelli Butler in two different performance costumes, and that’s a nice, unique touch that sets the look of the product apart from others.

The Content

The product starts with an explanation of how bards of the College of Opera differ from other colleges, and a brief introduction to what the opera world may look like in a fantasy world, and why renowned members of the College of the Opera might have goals that lead them to adventuring.

Early class abilities revolve around gaining multiple new languages. Because the College of the Opera bard is so focused on their voice, even spells that do not require a verbal component require the bard to use their voice as a focus. While this is a nice thematic element, it’s not especially impactful, as there are very few spells on the bard spell list that don’t have a verbal component.

College of the Opera bard gain shatter in addition to their regular spells, and it functions differently for the subclass, operating as a cone that has multiple additional effects, some of which don’t trigger unless the spell is cast at higher levels.

At 6th, 10th, and 15th level, the College of the Opera bard gains an aria, and these interact with other bard abilities, such as the uses of bardic inspiration or the Song of Rest ability. These arias allow the bard to spend their bardic inspiration to give advantage or disadvantage under certain circumstances, as well as granting temporary hit points in addition to the benefits of healing for the Song of Rest.

At 14th level, the bard gains two additional abilities. When seeing someone else using the bardic inspiration you provide, it can grant the bard their own inspiration. In addition to this ability, the bard gains the ability to seize someone’s soul with their performance, which grants special benefits while the soul is possessed.

High Note

Several of the abilities granted to this class nicely reinforce the opera theme. The minor modifications to standard abilities lend themselves to defining this subclass. The abilities of the subclass seem like they would be fun, but not so great that they outshine other bard subclasses. I absolutely love the Capture Soul ability, but . . .

Discordance

Capture Soul feels a little overpowered compared to other capstone abilities for subclasses, but 15th level abilities can get a little crazy. I’m almost hesitant to try and balance being able to make decisions about if a character can be raised or to block their soul being captured against getting an extra attack when casting a spell, or getting a secret juiced up charm spell, because Capture Soul is powerful, but the most powerful aspects of it are very situational (and the advantage on charisma checks is slightly less impressive than the charm the College of Whispers provides).

There also isn’t another bard college that has two 15th level abilities, but I really like the concept of being inspired by seeing someone use the inspiration you gave them.

Recommended--If the product fits in your broad area of gaming interests, you are likely to be happy with this purchase.

If you are interested in bards at all, and are open to 3rd party material or DMs Guild products, you won’t regret this purchase. In addition to being an interesting additional option for bards, the subclass fits in well with an urban campaign, and the last time I checked, there were at least a few recent D&D products with an urban focus.

As an aside, regardless of the power level comparisons, I would love to see what kind of creative situations could be derived from a high-level bard temporarily holding the soul of another character, and I really like the idea of soul shenanigans that result from more “mythic” abilities, rather than being derived from necromantic or divine origins.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Leveraging Temporary Hit Points for Interesting Combat in D&D


I have an idea percolating that comes from the crossroads of two realizations about Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition. The first concept is basic, but it is simply that NPCs don’t have to be built according to the same rules as PCs. The rules work the same way, but an NPC spellcaster, for instance, doesn’t need to be built as a Level X member of Class Y.

The other realization is that temporary hit points are kind of magical. What I mean by that is that the fact that they can’t build on themselves, but can keep renewing whenever a given circumstance is true, means that you can toughen something up considerably if you give it temporary hit points, but you don’t undermine the ability to actually defeat that thing, once you get past those temporary hit points.

Specific Example

The magic of temporary hit points really struck me when reading an adventure for Adventures in Middle-earth. That adventure has a stat block for a guard that gives them temporary hit points every round, until they sound an alarm. In other words, once they fulfill their purpose, they are less potent in the scene.

I thought this was a wonderful use of that set of rules. The guard demands more of the PCs attention because they represent a potential greater threat for what they can do. Once they can’t do that thing anymore, they are much easier to deal with, themselves, even if the evolving scene then becomes more complicated.

Fictional Combat

It’s a common trope in action-oriented fiction that some characters are more dangerous in a fight until the person fighting them “figures them out,” and then everything falls into place. While hit points are an abstraction, and may represent this to some degree, the mechanics of hit points don’t do a good job of telling that story.

That’s not to say it still doesn’t work to say that hit points are an abstraction of health, luck, and vigor in combat. It’s just that lumping all three of those together means it’s harder to figure out when you took the wind out of an opponent’s sails, or when they ran out of luck. When it comes to d20 level-based systems, I’m not a huge fan of trying to carve up hit points into discreet packages, but hit points are just a resource for how long an opponent stays in a fight.

Confidence

What all this led me to is potentially creating a trait for NPCs called confidence. Not every NPC should have this, just important NPCs for which combat should be more of a puzzle than a straight forward game of attrition.

Confidence works like this—so long as something is true in a fight, the character with confidence gains X number of temporary hit points. What that something is may be obvious, or it may take the PCs doing some investigation or using insight to determine.

Lesser confidence. If a given condition remains true, the character with this trait gains temporary hit points on their turn equal to their challenge rating.

Greater confidence. If a given condition remains true, the character with this trait gains temporary hit points equal to 3 x the number of opponents they are facing on their turn.

Examples

Characters with lesser confidence may be zealots who gain that benefit so long as their altar or idol remains intact. They might be troops that are so heartened by their commander that they gain the benefit so long as their commander takes the field with them. They may also be creatures that favor the darkness so heavily that they gain that bonus if there are no bright light sources in the area.

In the cases above, if the PCs destroyed the altar, killed or drove off the commander, or created a bright light source, the Lesser Confidence trait no longer triggers.

As far as Lesser Confidence goes, it’s not likely to be something that makes a creature invincible, but it is something that will make a large group of monsters take longer to whittle down, giving the weight of their numbers more time to wear at the PCs resources.

Characters with Greater Confidence may rely on a specific weapon for their fighting style, or they may be heartened by holding an item that it has taken them years to attain. They may be enamored of a given comrade in arms, or they may be exuberant if a ritual is under way.

In this case, taking away the weapon or item, removing the ally from the fight, or making the ritual impossible to complete will stop Greater Confidence from triggering.

Math

I haven’t had a chance to try out the math on any of this, and I couldn’t comment as to how the above traits would affect a character’s CR. To be honest, these are traits I would be more likely to tack onto an existing stat block to make a fight more dynamic, rather than something I would “build in” to the assumed capabilities of a new character.

The point isn’t so much that the PCs should “power through” the temporary hit points as much as they should figure out what is providing them and could remove they source of the confidence.

As Always

If you happen to use these ideas, and have some thoughts on how they worked, please let me know. If I could work them into something, I’ll be providing an update as well.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Gaming Wishes 2018--How Did I Do?

Last year I did pretty well following up on the RPG wishes/resolutions I had for RPGs. My wishes for 2018 didn't fare quite as well.

I'm not sure I have the same desire to micromanage exactly what I did and didn't accomplish from last years, other than to do a quick check-in.

Essentially, I'm giving myself partial credit for getting to play games that I wanted to run, and for doing activities related to what I had wanted to accomplish last year.


  • Wrap up ongoing campaigns (3 of them)(1/3)
  • Play RPGs outside (0/1)
  • Play an RPG online again (1/1)
  • Run Call of Cthulhu (.5/1)
  • Play Shadowrun Anarchy (1/1)
  • Play or Run Blades in the Dark (1/1)
  • Run a Game in the Midgard Setting (1/1)
  • Run Dungeon Crawl Classics again (.5/1)
  • Run a PBTA game beyond my usual convention games that I had scheduled (1/1)
  • Play a Western-themed game (0/1)
  • Play a Gumshoe game (0/1)
  • Go to Gary Con and Gamehole Con (1/1)

Life has conspired against having a regular gaming schedule for the last few months. I've been to conventions and played in one-shots every month this year, but I haven't had a regular gaming group for the last couple of months. That changed the dynamic on a few of these goals.


I was probably too lenient, but a few of the games I wanted to run, I gave myself partial credit for if I was able to play in a few games of them. I picked up an additional convention this year, so I managed to play DCC at two conventions and CoC at one.

Figuring in the above, I managed to hit about 61% of my gaming goals this year. Not as good as I would have hoped. Better than I thought I was going to do at one point in the year. Now I have to do the difficult work of trying to figure out what gaming is going to look like next year, and how to "wish" accordingly.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Love and Shipping in RPGs

Often times, I’ll end up being inspired by the podcasts I listen to, and today is no exception. I happened to be listening to one of the Whelmed Reprint episodes:

Whelmed Reprint Volume 5: Emily Buza

If you haven’t listened to Whelmed, and you have any interest in DC Comics characters, you should really take some time to check it out. While it is focused on analysis of the Young Justice animated series, it tackles a lot of DC Comics related subjects, and it’s a joy to listen to.



Today’s topic was shipping, and it actually made me think of a system to add an element of shipping to roleplaying games. By mechanizing how a relationship develops, it might actually even add tension to a player who is actively deciding what path their character’s relationship is taking.

Shipping Rules

If a character wants to see if a ship is realized, they can create between one and three possible ships between their character and another existing character.

For each potential ship, create a single word name for that ship, or a compound word for that ship. Each of these ships has five boxes.

In addition to the one to three ships that you create for the character, create one more track with five boxes, labeled “Relationship Revelations.”



For PCs

You cannot create a ship with another PC unless that PC agrees. If that PC agrees, then this ship takes up one of their possible ships.

For NPCs

The game master must agree to any ships that you create with existing NPCs. If you create an NPC to ship your character with, the GM must be allowed to flesh out the details of the NPC after you create them.

No False Starts

No character can do anything to confirm a ship with a character on their possible shipping list. They can flirt, fall into one another’s arms, reveal deep secrets to one another, but they can’t declare their love or become an official couple before any of the tracks fill up.

This does not mean that the character cannot have a relationship with another character that they do not have on their ship list. The meta-conceit is that anyone that they have a relationship with before their boxes are full, and that isn’t on their ship list, is not going to be a long-term relationship, even if the character thinks it will be a long-term relationship.

Checkboxes

At the end of each session, ask the following questions for each ship that the character has:

  • Did you share a significant scene with your ship, that would bring you closer?
  • What scene was it, and how did it bring you closer?


If the player answers yes and supports that answer, add a check to one of the five checkboxes next to that ship.

At the end of each session, ask the following questions for the Relationship Revelations track:

  • Did you learn something significant about how you view relationships this session?
  • What did you learn?


If the player answers yes and supports that answer, add a check to one of the five checkboxes next to that track.

If All Ship Boxes Are Full

The player (or players, if another PC is involved in the ship) comes up with how their ship became an actual relationship, and they decide if they want to reveal it to the group.

If the Relationship Revelations Track is Full

When this track is full, the character decides something major that governs how they view all of their relationships. They may decide that they can’t get into a relationship with the person they love for some reason. They may decide that they have to prove themselves before they can move forward with their relationships.

At this time, the character sets a Relationship Resolution track. This also has five boxes. At the end of the session, ask the following questions:

  • Did you learn something about myself that changes how you feel about my relationships?
  • What did you learn?


If the answer is yes, and the answer is supported, check off a box. If the boxes are filled up, the character can resume whatever previous relationships they had put on hold.

The character does not mark any further boxes on any of their ships until the Relationship Resolution track is full.

Multiple Ships

If a character is a monogamous character, once their ship boxes are full, erase all marks in other ships. If the character is polyamorous, the relationships can continue to grow as per the above rules. The only exception to this is that if the full ship track is with a PC, that PC can choose to add that track to their own as well.

If one member of the ship has checked off all of their Relationship Revelation boxes, and the other one does not, their other ships still advance. If that character is monogamous and they erased all checks, they start over with new checks to see if they are being drawn away from their original ship while the original ship is working out their relationship concerns.

Why Mechanize Shipping?

Romance is a natural part of many stories, but many players have a hard time directly addressing romantic subplots with their own characters. By mechanizing the “rules” for relationships, a little bit of distance is put into the process, and may make it easier to engage in the narrative.

Despite that, I wanted to avoid any random die rolling. Sometimes characters start to gravitate towards having more meaningful exchanges naturally. A player can direct that purposefully, or it can develop naturally as the game goes on.

I also wanted to add some degree of variability without randomness. Characters may see themselves ending up with multiple characters, but not really sure which one will be the one they gravitate towards, or if they are even destined to be in a one on one relationship. This allows for some growth and change over time, instead of just creating a single linear path to romance.

The Relationship Revelation track is there to create additional tension that is often at play in a story, but is again, something that players may not think to add into their own narrative.

Feedback

These rules are meant to portray more melodramatic relationships that develop alongside other story arcs in whatever game system you might be playing. It may not be the B plot, but it won’t be the only A plot even if it is important.

I would be interested to see this in play, and additionally, I would gladly take any feedback if any of the topics I touched upon is less nuanced that it should be. I tried to keep it zoomed out to account for a wide variety of relationship possibilities.

Additionally, certain game systems will lend themselves to addressing these rules with more layers. For example, in Fate, achieving a ship might create a new shared aspect with a free invoke, and resolving a relationship resolution might change the name of that aspect and add an additional free invoke once attained.


Let me know what you think, and if you end up using these rules for any game system.