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.