A couple of years ago I picked up my best friend from Sequoia Humane Society. There are an awesome no-kill animal shelter, and both my TKD school and my… uh, regular school have donated a ton of stuff to them and the animals.
When we first got him he was a little scared and nervous, but he was an adorable baby. These next two pics were from the first week we got him, the first one is the cover on my phone.
Also, the shelters best guess was that he was a dachshund (wiener dog) / lab mix. We got a doggie DNA test kit as a gift from my parents, and it turns out his shortness and ‘lab face’ come from being part beagle.
He is a very emotional dog. He doesn’t like being alone so we got a doggie daycare membership for him, he plays with other dogs during the day while we are at work. He likes to cuddle too, whenever I am working on the computer or playing games he likes to sit in the chair with me. He also likes to sleep on me:
We taught him how to shake, and he figured out how to do it on both sides.
A few weeks ago he got a pretty bad ear infection. We were using some ear cleaner and giving him some medicine the vet gave us, but there was one night where his ear was bothering him so much he couldn’t sleep. He woke us up at about 2am digging in his ear and yelping because it hurt him. We knew he had to get him a cone to keep him out of his ear, but almost no stores were open in the middle of the night. I ended up MacGyvering one for him out of a water jug and some duct tape I bought in the middle of the night.
He slept through the rest of the night fine and we got him a legit cone the next day. Today he is healthy and happy, and continues to be the best dog in the universe. He hopes you enjoyed this story about him, and he also hopes that you have a dog treat for him.
Travis doesn’t always talk about his dog, but when he does it’s because he is taking a break from his D&D and hobby gaming newsletter! Click here to sign up and keep tabs on Blu
Today I shall tell you a tale of another of my childhood heroes. He doesn’t fly around in a giant robot, but he does have a wicked ass scar on his face:
That’s right, his name is Squall Leonhart and he is the hero from a video game. Those of you who know who he is can start mocking me now, everyone else better listen up cause this is awesome:
You see, the thing about Squall is he doesn’t give a fuck. Just like Heero (you know, the guy from last time who pilots the giant robot), he is focused on his goals and doesn’t care about how he is seen or what he is ‘supposed’ to do. Squall came to me during high school, a time when there is a lot of social pressure to conform and people judge you the harshest for the stupidest stuff.
In the world I lived in, there existed the dreaded dance. It was something you were supposed to go to, something you were supposed to be excited for, and something you were supposed to dance at. Bullshit! Young Travis thought. But for some reason none of my friends agreed with me. Nobody except for Squall:
Here is a dude, who totally kicks ass at dancing, but pretends to suck at dancing so he doesn’t have to do it, because dances are stupid. Of course a pretty girl got him to dance anyway, but the point is I admire characters who do their own thing, even if it makes people mad or goes against tradition. So I decided to cosplay as Squall at SacAnime last year.
Now, most of the time when people cosplay as Squall they dress how he looks in the rest of the game, with that leather jacket and like 27 belts. I wanted to stand out by wearing the dress uniform he had on in that dance scene. There are a couple of other short scenes in the game where he is wearing those same clothes, but that dance is really the only time you see him rocking something formal. There are so many costumes and characters at conventions like these that I wasn’t expecting many people to know who I was dressed as, but about a dozen people recognized my costume from that dance scene, and that made me really happy.
Hey guys, Nick checking in again! So I’ve talked about two different roles previously–tank and healer. But let’s complete the “Holy Trinity” that Travis explained previously.
That’s right baby! Today we’re talking about damage dealers! These are your rogues, rangers, barbarians, warlocks… classes that, by default, are made to dish out heavy damage. By all means, each has secondary utility as well; however, if you build a damage dealing class right you can dish out big pimpin’ damage! And who doesn’t love rolling a ton of dice?!
I remember when I first got into it, I wanted to make some sweet high damage characters. I tried rolling everything from Fighters, to Rangers, to Sorcerers… and most of them ended up sucking. It felt pretty lackluster watching the sweet two-handed build Fighter I spent hours making do an extremely good job of cleaving the ground. Or the Ranger hailing a storm of arrows against skeletons, who laughed in reply (it sucked).
As for the Sorcerer….
We don’t talk about her.
She will be missed.
But man, sometimes you roll a character thinking it’s good, but the performance is a zero. So how do we get this:
… and not this:
Let’s go over some information to help you go Super with your damage! Just Saiyan. (I’ll see myself out for that one)
1.) Rock Your Build: I’ve mentioned it in all 3, and I simply can’t reiterate it enough! builds are available everywhere. Want to learn about Ranger? There’s some great information here, for example. There’s a ton of valuable information available online, or you can thoroughly study your core content like the Player’s Handbook. You’ve heard me say it before–you know.
But I want to take it a step in a different direction today. I also want to encourage you to play to your build and class strengths. It’s totally fine to build glass cannons–or, rather, characters who can dish out massive damage but are also killed easily. It’s incredibly effective to have a super tanky tank, a great support, and a group of damage dealers who can focus the enemy down quickly. But if you want to throw in extras to help you survive in case things go wrong, or if you style of play doesn’t jive with what’s posted online? Further yet, what if you’re playing without a tank or healer in your group? (It happens!)
Well, that’s fine! I know a lot of people who use “Lucky” to get those extra rolls for when things go wrong. Or “Tough” to get some extra HP, should the enemy decide to focus on something other than the armored dude in front. It’s totally fine to look up a build and make it your own! Just remember what you’ve got and use it to your advantage! I encourage everybody to research their builds to make sure you don’t end up with something totally off-the-wall that doesn’t work, but at the same time if you know how to make it work then do you. Information is available but at the end of the day it’s all about having fun, right?
2. Know Your Enemy: This, right here, is what’s gonna separate the kids and the adults at dealing damage. Experience is by far the biggest factor here. As you play more, you learn more about what enemies are affected by types of damage. If you’re playing a mid-to-high level campaign, it’s perfectly reasonable for your seasoned adventurer to know a thing or two. Knowing that a skeleton isn’t resistant to blunt, that trolls regenerate unless they take fire damage, or that iron golems shouldn’t be fucked with are important things to dealing damage and being effective.
Plan for the occasion! Ask the needed questions when it’s time to roleplay. Is your quarry a troll? have your character take the time to ask around or research it. Learn its weakness and bring the right supplies! Delving into an undead tomb? Why not bring a mace (or cudgel) along with your usual sword/daggers? Being prepared for a number of situations–and taking the time to truly learn what you’re up against will prepare you for almost anything! Except a tarrasque. You’re probably screwed, then.
Having some versatility in your weapons and supplies might make the difference between a party member dying, and your group victorious pillaging the emptied dungeon for that sweet, sweet loot. So ask the questions, do your homework, get those supplies. Plan ahead.
3. Communicate: I know, nobody likes to be “that guy” who meta games (rather, considers the game, rather than what their character is thinking). But sometimes in the midst of combat, I tell players it’s better to meta game a little and realize you’re fighting a god damn dragon (so don’t line up for breath attacks) than to risk everybody dying because your character wouldn’t know that.
And it’s okay for you–or your character–to communicate what you know! Need the tank to move out of the way to drop a Fireball? Notice an enemy that nobody is focusing down, but appears to be a bigger threat? Maybe an enemy is starting to focus you and things are looking dire. Or perhaps everybody is spreading out when you do need to focus something down. Communicate your thoughts! Not everybody notices every little detail on the battlefield, and your attention to detail could be the difference between victory or defeat.
As I also mentioned above in #2, if you happen to know something about a monster, provide a suggestion rather than let everybody flounder and inevitably die because they don’t know how to exploit the weakness (unless you’re playing neutral/chaotic evil, then do you).
These are just a few tips to get you going down the Path of Greatness, to help you achieve a better experience as a damage dealing class! Taking the time to build for good damage, and to utilize the right kind of damage along with communication are all important to effectively kicking enemy ass.
Any builds you prefer to use? Do you maximize your damage, or build for versatility?
Until next time, happy gaming!
You’re walking in the woods. There’s no one around, and your phone is dead. Out of the corner of your eye you spot him.
If you’ve been on the internet for the past few years, chances are you’ve seen this video. Actual Cannibal Shia Labeouf (by Rob Cantor) stands in the pantheon of incredible internet videos. Years ago I saw the original animated version for the first time, and still joke about it to this day. There’s also a good chance it’s true, nobody can be sure.
As far back as 2013 when I first began running games for my D&D group on Roll20, we had the inside joke that one day the party would face off against none other than the flesh-eating king: Actual Cannibal Shia Labeouf. One of us would reference the video, I’d jokingly threaten to pit the party against him, and we’d laugh for a moment before resuming the session.
Little did they know, these threats were not hollow.
In the back of my mind, I kept that idea alive. Waiting for the right time, for the perfect time to strike. My original Pathfinder campaign drew to an untimely close and I could never seem to find the perfect time to throw Shia against them in “Gods of the Void”. But just last week, in “Thicker than Wine”, the perfect opportunity presented itself. After years of plotting I would have my party face off against the ultimate monster… man himself.
Lurking in the shadows… Hollywood superstar Shia Labeouf!
We began our last session with the party leaving Dusant. They’d just learned about people disappearing outside the city and were in a hurry to investigate (thankfully this party has a moral compass). Daniel Thorn, the Royal Huntsman, was summoned by his Lady, Countess Surgail, and was unable to join his comrades (Michael couldn’t attend last session) so Ivellios (Fighter), Eilish (Fighter), and Kaelynn (Rogue) ventured into the woods in search of the missing citizens of Dusant… especially Jeras, the son of Varen, the masterwork blacksmith of the city.
They made their way into the forest to the southeast, following recent tracks that appeared to lead deeper into the woods. They stumbled upon the cabin of Old Bill, who really desperately wanted affection:
Old Bill held some parallels to Old Gregg. Old Gregg is an inspiration to me.
After deciding they didn’t want to be friends with Old Bill (can’t imagine why not–washing each other’s feet is natural to do with strangers), the party ventured onward. But Old Bill shouted a word of warning to our intrepid heroes… “Beware the Vale! Don’t go beyond it–that’s where the people be disappearin’!” A successful insight check led the party to realize that while this old man was bat-shit crazy, his warning appeared… genuine. They cautiously moved onward, as I gritted my teeth in excitement.
With little delay, they reached their destination… a glen filled with an unnatural, thick fog. They stopped to momentarily plan how to proceed. The first attempt ended with the rogue, Kaelynn, falling into a pit trap. They recovered quickly enough, but seemed hesitant to proceed–I knew they needed a nudge.
I described a predatory gaze fixated upon them, a cold chill running up their spines. But they couldn’t see anything in the fog. They retreated briefly, discussing what they just experienced, and how they should make it in. I knew another nudge was in order. They heard the lamenting moans of prisoners ahead, from deep within the fog! They steeled themselves and ventured onward, unwilling to leave the innocent townsfolk to their fates.
Hidden in the fog, the party saw a group of thugs around a campfire near the cages where the prisoners were kept. They listened in, and heard that the thugs were remorseful. They were beginning to doubt that this was worth the money they were being paid. The party then decided to act–making me proud as a GM could ever be.
Ivellios threw out a distraction, drawing some of the guards away and placing the others on alert. Ivellios and Eilish slowly approached as Kaelynn stuck to the shadows. The guards approached, weapons drawn, ready to fight. Ivellios and Eilish talked them down, convincing the guards that they were from the guild “Wealth of the Humble” and had only come seeking the townsfolk. As they explained they did not come to fight, the thugs only appeared agitated, believing this was a ploy to catch them off-guard. Eilish then won them over by appealing to their own doubts. How could they continue serving someone who would have them do this–traffic innocents to satisfy this monster in this glen?
This struck a chord with the thugs. I laid out some exposition… they all stuck together, being the kind of folk who couldn’t live in the restraints of lawful society. They’d always lived the free life of outlaws, until they joined the Black Oath. At first, they were simply taken with the coin–the jobs didn’t matter. Then they began working for this client. This man, who paid them to bring creatures of all sorts for ghastly hunts and amusement in the glen. It was fine at first; they would bring him creatures and be paid well. But then, he wanted… people. The coin was even better, so they convinced themselves it was worth it. But the sickening pleasure the man took in hunting those people, and the sounds of the… eating. The tearing. Chewing. It was too much. No coin was worth that.
In that moment, they had a change of heart. Eilish and Ivellios pleaded with them to turn over a new leaf–redeem themselves for what they’ve done. Moments later, the thugs freed all of the captives, and pledged themselves to live better lives. The party recognized old friends from within the captives… but there was no time to celebrate.
“You feel that same piercing, predatory gaze upon you. The hairs on your neck stand up, the tense chill of fear gripping at your heart. You know he is there. Watching.”
Panic struck the crowd, frightened shouts of “He’s here!” “We’re going to die!” “He’ll kill us all!” The party helped the captives flee… through the thick fog, the chill damp grass, they ran. But their pursuer was gaining on them. They knew they couldn’t get everyone out. They knew they had to stand their ground.
Finally. It was time.
You’re in the woods amidst the victims.
Suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you spot him.
*whispers* Shia Labeouf.
The players roared with fucking laughter.
Eating all the bodies… Actual Cannibal Shia Labeouf!
I continued in with the lyrics from the song.
He’s following you, about 30 feet back.
He gets down on all fours and breaks into a sprint.
He’s gaining on you.
He’s almost upon you now.
And you can see there’s blood on his face.
My god! There’s blood everywhere!
Everybody fought well. They quickly flanked Shia, getting advantage on their attacks. They fiercely pummeled Shia, swiftly depleting his HP. But Shia had other plans. With swift attacks and a Bite, he launched a counter-assault, injuring Ivellios and Eilish, while restoring his own HP with his sick blood-thirst.
It seemed he was getting weakened. Victory was at hand! But what’s this? He disengaged and… my gods?! He’s eating a body?! The sickening chomping, crunching, chewing… the sound echoes through the air! He appears to have regained some vigor!
Needless to say, they didn’t like that.
A few more intense, edge-of-your-seat rounds later, he fell…
His body falls to the floor. Your heave a deep, exhausted sigh of relief.
You have beaten Shia Labeouf
Ivellios knew better. Believing there was something supernatural about Ol’ Mr. Cannibal, he acted to decapitate him.
All according to plan.
Wait! He isn’t dead! Shia Surprise!
There’s a blade in his hand, and death in his eyes!
Shia then got a surprise round where he landed another bite on the now-severely-injured Ivellios. The party went ballistic, launching everything they had left, and they did it.
His head topples to the floor, expressionless.
you fall to your knees and catch your breath.
You’re finally safe from Shia Labeouf.
The session ended with them discovering Shia’s cabin after the fog fades (supernatural indeed), and several people swearing loyalty to the new up-and-coming guild “Wealth of the Humble”!
Things went far better than I ever could have expected. With a bit of twisting I was able to incorporate the now-deceased Shia Labeouf into my world (yes, his presence made sense) and I got to give the party a thrilling session filled with intense fighting. All-in-all, I’d call it a hell of a victory.
Here’s the stat block I used for Shia:
Shifty Predator: Shia can use Withdrawal or Hide as a bonus action.
Lurking in the Shadows: Shia has advantage on stealth checks in the dark and in the fog.
Multiattack: Shia can make two attacks, two Short Sword or one grapple and Bite.
Short Sword +6: 5 ft reach. Target takes (1d6+3) slashing damage, OR instead of dealing damage, Shia will Grapple the target. (DC 13 STR save)
Bite +6: 5 ft reach. Target must be Grappled, Incapacitated, or Restrained. Target takes (1d6+3) piercing damage and (2d6) necrotic damage. Restore HP to Shia equal to necrotic damage dealt.
Shia Sprint: Shia gets down on all fours and breaks into a sprint! Moves four times his base movement speed as his move action. Once per day.
Eating all the Bodies: Shia can use an Action to eat a corpse on the ground recording 2d10 HP.
Shia Surprise! When Shia hits 0 HP, he comes back at 45 HP unless decapitated.
Hope you enjoyed the tale of my party’s great victory! Feel free to shoot me an email with any awesome fights you’ve had in your campaigns!
Until next time, happy gaming!
Tips for GMs:
– Player’s love it when the game is so difficult that they die all the time. Keep in mind that all the rules in the DM guide about balancing encounters are actually just guidelines. It shouldn’t just be hard, it should be totally hopeless. D&D is at its best when your friends make new character after new character to throw into the jaws of an undefeatable monster. The most rewarding thing after creating an in depth character backstory is to watch that character die horribly.
– Use a totally bonkers and off the wall campaign setting. It’s a common mistake to believe that players will be alienated by a setting that they don’t know anything about. The opposite is true, players hate a setting where they already know most of what’s going on and how to relate to everything. They would rather start in a world where everything is totally different from everything they have ever known. A steep learning curve is very enjoyable.
That’s why you should try the barbie campaign setting. There are several different kinds of barbies to serve as races, careers to serve as classes and tons of equipment. The players could go on a quest to get that pink convertible, the adventure almost makes itself.
– Don’t listen to any of your player’s ideas. In the words of one of my good friends “D&D is the only game where the monsters are always listening.” Players metagame by making assumptions about the game world based on what they know about you, and you can metagame right back by paying close attention to casual remarks they make. They will often betray what they think would be cool if it happened, and they often assume motivations for the main villain that are way cooler than what you were actually planning. Stay the course my friend, you always want to stick to exactly what you originally had in mind. Improvising never leads to anything fun.
Tips for players:
– When you are playing it is a good time to catch up with your email, text your friends and watch youtube videos. You don’t need to pay attention to anything until it is your turn. You have a whole table of friends who would love to catch you up on what’s happening and remind you which dice is which. The game basically plays itself anyway, just let the GM and your other friends decide what to do and where to go. If you participated by actually roleplaying or taking a creative action you probably wouldn’t have any fun.
– D&D is a casual game, so you don’t have to worry so much about being on time. Let everyone else get there on time while you are fashionably late. That way you can start playing as soon as you get there, and you get to skip troublesome things like the session recap. The only thing people love more than explaining what happened last time, is explaining what happened last time… twice!
– You want the party to have as much variety as possible. Chances are your adventuring companions all have some goals in common and a reason to adventure together. You want to spice the story up a bit by making a character that has absolutely no connection to any of the other characters, or anything they are questing for. That way you won’t have any motivation or reason to go along with the party on any adventure, and your character can go off on its own.
GM’s really love it when they are forced to make up a reason on the spot to force your character to go along with the plot. Even better is when they main adventure on hold and make everyone else wait while the make up a mini-quest for your character to do all by itself.
Have a terrible day!
Why not also be a master of painting dungeons?
Nick here to talk about a program I picked up the other day. As you may recall, I really hate making maps. I’ve recommended numerous products to relieve the unending pain of crafting maps, the ceaseless pain in the ass of adjusting images, and the torment of adding the finishing details.
Just after the holiday season, I picked up Dungeon Painter Studio on Steam, thinking I’d give it a shot. It’s actually a pretty easy-to-use program with a lot of flexibility. There are a lot of pre-made options to make it easy to create local maps, dungeons, towns, and even world maps! It is admittedly pretty clunky, but it gets the job done with relative ease and allows one to create some pretty marvelous maps–if you take the time to practice.
Fortunately, the team behind Dungeon Painter Studio have created a variety of video tutorials, explaining everything from basic techniques to more advanced techniques (which I still suck at). While I’m definitely less-than-stellar at creating intricate professional-grade maps, I’ve found that it’s easy and intuitive to create some decent-looking maps with ease.
The region of Dusant, in all its glory! I made this baby with Dungeon Painter Studio
As you can see above, this is a prime example of a world map that you can make with this program. I’m by no means an expert either–there are a lot of beautiful maps created by people who are very well-versed with the program, proving that it’s a powerful tool in the right hands (not mine).
It’s worth noting that Dungeon Painter Studio not an all-encompassing art program like Photoshop, though–oh no, this program was designed for the express purpose of creating tabletop maps. It does have a lot of convenience and interface features that are common in art programs, but all the tools are specifically for map-making.
Another really great feature of this software is that it is made to easily print as well as import to online D&D sites, such as Roll20. This has been great for me, since my campaigns run on there. I’ve made a few maps in the past and they turned out pretty decently. My current party sees the world map above fairly often as they travel through the surrounding regions of Dusant.
Feeling a little curious, but not quite ready to commit? That’s fine, you can try the product online for free! The developers put a free trial version online for people to try before they buy! Even the trial version alone is sufficient to throw some quick maps together so you can see how kick-ass it is!
I had an excellent dream this morning. So excellent in fact that I feel the need to turn it into a short story and share it with all my friends and family over the internet. I call it ‘Vegeta Dream’ because my actions in this dream are best described by the character Vegeta. For those of you who don’t know who that is, you can think of him as an evil Superman.
I walked alongside some of my friends in a depressing barren small town. I am in a group of settlers that were sent to a shitty planet to make a colony. It looks like a run down old west town, with half built buildings and roads made of mud. There is some nice grass through. As I walk I see two large Boeing passenger jets fly overhead. ‘Fucking alien invaders!’ I thought to myself. Although they look like passenger jets I know that they are actually space ships, no doubt carrying an invasion force to conquer our shitty little old west colony. I decide that I can’t possibly stand for this, so I leap into the air and fly after them. After a neat flying chase scene I get close enough to the first spaceship to see it more clearly. It looks a lot more like a spaceship up close.
I wondered how I would get inside it, but I found an airlock near the front. I bang on it and yell ‘Help! Let me in! Help!’ There are some people on the other side that freak out, and they let me in. Suckers! As soon as I am inside I shoot energy beams from my hands into their chests, killing all three of them. They look like humans, but I know they are aliens. I look to my right down a short corridor to where I know the cockpit is. I consider going there to crash the spaceship, but then I look to the passageway on my left. I suppose it is reasonable to give these guys a chance, I will explore a little bit and see what they are about before I kill them all. Yes, perfectly reasonable. I walk about acting like I belong there, I look just like them so nobody questions me right off the bat. I find a room that is build sort of like a lecture hall, with nice wooden bleacher style sitting. People are taking their seats to listen so I sit down too. Turns out to be something of a mission briefing, and they are describing how they are going to collect native life specimens for study. There is a hologram of a clear capsule looking thing that swoops down and scoops you up. Yep. Fucking alien invaders, I knew it!
Clearly the best thing for me to do is go to their engine room and screw up the engines so the whole place blows up. So I leave that room and start looking for the engineering section of the ship. A group of soldiers rush by me in the hall. I rationalize that someone must have found the people I fried at the airlock. I walk right past them but one guy at the back realizes that I don’t belong and he breaks away from the pack to chase me. I run down the hall and he chases me, and I lead him into some sort of gymnasium room. He tried to fight me, but I just kick him in the chest and he flies across the room. I taunt him that I am going to blow up his ship, and run off to continue my search for the engine room.
Then I found it! There was a long line of what looked like factory workers. They were lined up to go through some kind of security check point, they are checking ID’s and searching people and the like before they let them near the engines. I run past them and rush the gate. Somebody sees me and sets off an alarm, then a gate starts to lower over the entrance. I try to run fast enough so that I can slide under it, but I am to late and it closes right before I get there. The first gate that comes down is like an iron portcullis, like on a castle. As soon as it is in place, it activates a purple forcefield. And THEN after that another barrier comes down. It looks like a big plate glass window so I punch it a few times. It is WAY harder than a plate glass window, but I did break off a chunk.
By now security has caught up to me and there is a row of military types points guns at me. They tell me that the barrier is some kind of polycarbonate diamond laced super enforced unbreakable blah blah blah sort of material. ‘How can you possibly break it?’ they ask me sarcastically. I pick up the chunk off the floor that I had punched off and hold it up. ‘I will break it like THIS!’ I grit my teeth at them and crush the bit of super material with my bare hand, sending little specs of it flying everywhere. To their looks of astonishment I spin around and fucking SPEARHAND my entire arm through all three of the barriers. The forcefield burns my arm like hell, but I drag it though cutting a small doorway for myself. I feel them shooting me, but naturally I am focusing my chi to create an energy barrier around my body, so they don’t hurt me. I crawl through the hole I made in the barriers and rush up a big steel ramp to the engine.
However it doesn’t look the way I expected. When I get up there is it actually a huge circular bed, with nice white sheets and big pillows everywhere. It is then I notice my cat Milo from when I was a kid. He is mostly white with orange stripes and a wet pink nose. I forgot that he was here, so I sit down to pet him and play with him a bit. He purrs and presses against my check with his wet nose and it is adorable.
Then I woke up.
P.S. I never actually had an orange cat named Milo.
While not what I meant, fighting an evil pepper would sure as heck be a change of pace.
We all get stuck in a rut sometimes. The party is traveling through the world and encounters the all-too-predictable group of wolves, bears, or goblins that sends the players into a glassy-eyed trance where their only hope for maintaining their sanity is to lay waste to the meaningless HP values before them.
So how do you spice it up with encounters? Well, evil fire-breathing peppers are one way. Not really your style? Consider the concept though. Sometimes you need to throw something completely out of left field in order to keep your players engaged. Every now and again they need to encounter something just weird enough that they remember you run this sh*t.
Just the other day, I had my players battle against “Actual Cannibal Shia LeBeouf” and it was glorious. I’ll go into details specifically about it at a later time, but it completely caught them off-guard and I had their attention locked onto the game!
So what are some good ways to keep them engaged, spice up the encounters, and keep things fresh, fun, and mildly spicy? Let’s take a look.
1. Throw in something different: Like I mentioned above, look through the Monster Manual and find something that looks great, yet would be a good fight for your party. Do a little research and find the encounter that looks just right to engage your players, catch them off-guard, and remind them what a serious fight looks like.
That’s not all though! Perhaps you have a tendency to throw in a lot of melee, some big tanks or heavy-hitters to topple the players. Try sprinkling in some basic spell casters, or some ranged attackers! Perhaps give one of the ranged attackers poison arrows, and point that out to the party so they can decide how they want to try focusing that guy down.
Consider setting up a fully-balanced rival party! Your players will have to think carefully before proceeding, as they know full-well how hard that Barbarian hits. Yet they know they can’t afford to ignore the cleric, or the Wizard readying Prismatic Spray. As long as this isn’t something you use terribly often, it’ll really spice things up and you might be surprised how much coordination your party can put together!
Or use evil peppers. Seriously.
2. Use the environment: I’ll admit, this is a huge area of opportunity for me. Plan the encounter using the environment! Have your mages partially covered, forcing the party to advance or get pummeled. Position your archers set up at high points, protected by a hammer-wielding murder machine ready to slaughter any who step up. Or have a weak little mage who is protected by a massive effing iron golem who holds the party at a choke point (tried this and it worked beautifully).
Once you get a little practice, get creative! Allow the party to use things in the environment! Is a dragon or demon attacking the city the players are sworn to protect (until they inevitable kill everyone)? Why not throw them a ballista or two? Encourage them to interact with the environments and reward them for creativity. I always loved dropping the lanterns and torches into the oil in Skyrim, so I like giving my players the chance to do the same thing.
You can even let your players throw you a bone! If they’re battling a horde of monsters within a cave, and they’re looking for a weak point in the ceiling to cave in, why not let them? Maybe it goes against your plans, but perhaps there can be collateral damage. Besides, it’ll make them feel awesome for coming up with plan that works.
3. Guide their attention: Battle can become a drawl sometimes, depending on how many missed attacks there are. But you can capitalize on this! Rather than simply stating “the barbarian attacks you and misses” take the time to describe what is happening! Don’t settle with “you shoot an arrow and miss”, sell it to them! Tell them how they drew back the arrow, how it whooshed through the air, and struck the wall right next to the wizard’s head.
Along with that is taking the moment to capitalize on danger in a fight. The other day, my party faced a group of brigands, one of which was a berserker. As he raged, rather than just stating he attacked and missed, I fully described it. “How his eyes were wild with fury, gripping his blade white-knuckled and driving into the ground as a player barely deflected the otherwise fatal blow that crushed the floor boards, sending splinters of wood scattering throughout the room.”
And you know what? That scared the hell out of them.
By taking something meaningless like a missed attack, I let the players know just how dangerous their adversary was, and it completely turned the course of the fight. Think about moments like this, when can you describe a seemingly simple action like a miss, a dodge, or even a look, and tell them a little something extra? How can you focus their attention where it should be without being direct?
Sh*t, the taunt check passed…
Some of these things take practice, but with trial-and-error you’ll surely find something that will work for you! Take what you’ve learned and keep those combat encounters suitably spicy! Drop me a line and let me know what you think. Until next time, happy gaming!
Nick, Patrician of Peppers
It is time to tell you a tale, a tale of how giant robots have influenced my life. You see, I am all about story telling. It is part of human existence and I love it. Long before we had books and science, we sat around camp fires telling eachother epic tales of mythical heroes and deeds. Storytelling is in the roots of how we learn, and giant robots make it effing AWESOOOOOOME!!!!
When I was 4 years old, I did what all other little boys did, I watched Transformers.
No. NO! Not those! Damn you Michael Bay!
Yes. Yeeeeeeees. Hell yes! That’s what I am talking about!
You see, the cartoon was all about marketing cool toys to kids. From a storytelling point of view there wasn’t really anything special about it. What was special was the movie, because it was NOT for kids. It’s a movie that could never EVER come into existence today. At the time it was made, it was assumed that anything animated was for kids and to this day, the movie has a G rating despite being filled with cursing, brutal murder and effing genocide.
The villain of the movie is a giant ass robot named Unicron. Now when I say ‘giant ass’, I mean space monster big as a effing planet giant ass. In the opening scene of the movie, before the opening credits even role, he eats a freaking planet. It’s a planet of robots, so I guess they didn’t count as people as far as any adult was concerned, but my four year old mind made no such distinction. There were robot children playing in the streets, robot people going to work, and genuine terror in their eyes as the sky turned black and the inescapable gaping maw of Unicron filled the horizon, come to swallow everything they had ever known and loved alive.
…what the hell Travis!? Yep. Seriously. Unicron eats an entire civilization alive. There are two scientist dudes that see him coming and have just enough time to attempt an escape. “The ships! Get to the ships! It’s our only chance!” one yells to the other. They run to two small ships as the runway crumbles around them, being sucked into the sky. The second guy stops for a moment to look up in terror before he climbs into his ship. That moment cost him his life, because his ship was a split second slower to take off and was sucked into Unicron’s hungry mouth of annihilation. Of an entire planet of people, there is only one survivor. (Spoiler alert, later on in the movie he is fed alive to robot sharks. Which death would have been better?)
That is just the opening scene! The opening credits haven’t even rolled yet! Nobody even freaking watched this before they gave it that G rating! No person in their right mind could watch that scene and honestly tell you it was OK for children. But, it was awesome. I think being forced to think about such deep and scary concepts at that young age kick started my mental development, in addition to scaring the hell out of me. The rest of the movie showed me my childhood heroes having their heads blown off, ripped apart and melted by acid, including the legendary Optimus Prime. One of my earliest memories is crying my eyes out as he delivered his dying words to his surviving followers.
Anyway, I’m not here to traumatize you, I’m here to talk about storytelling! There are two parts of the movie that expanded my horizons in terms of imagination, and one part that I just want to tell you about because it remains one of the most bad ass things I have ever seen.
About half way through the movie, they are flying through space in two spaceships. The spaceships get separated and crash land on two different and bizarre as hell planets. The first planet blew my mind because their ship crashed in a robot ocean, filled with all kinds of robot fish, robot plants and even a giant robot squid. How can such a place exist? my child mind pondered. Wouldn’t everything rust? What is the water made of? I dare to say that these questions started me down the path of being interested in chemistry, because I vividly thought about that planet years later when I had my first chemistry class in high school.
The second planet was made out of effing space garbage. Just scrap metal, trash and whatever floats around in the cosmic empty void. It seemed great at first, the good guys got out of their ship and starting fixing it by welding the holes closed with scrap metal. Because, you know, that’s how you fix spaceships.
That’s when the garbage bots attack. An entire civilization of robots that are made of and sustain themselves with garbage. There is an epic fight scene as they fend off an army of mismatched monster robots, set to the soundtrack of Weird Al’s Dare to be Stupid. That’s right, Dare to be Stupid. After the battle they end up becoming friends, and they find out that everyone on this planet has learned how to talk by intercepting and watching old earth TV signals. That’s right, everything they know about the universe comes from TV. They all talked like they were news anchors, or like they were straight out of a daytime soap opera.
How could such a place exist? What was truly strange to me, was that it worked. Something about the music, and robots and garbage planet all came together to make sense, and it was really cool. They convinced the robot people to help them fight Unicron, and they all got onto a giant spaceship chanting “Destroy Unicron! Kill the Grand Poobah! Eliminate even the toughest stains!” over and over. When I imagine civilizations in the stories I write, I still think about that planet.
Let’s switch gears for a second (Ha! Get it? Because robots…) and talk about one more time when giant robots influenced my life. I had grown up a bit (well, kinda) and I was like, 15 or 16 and in high school. A glorious show called Gundam Wing came on TV after class and one scene in particular made me think in a deep way about personal goals. If you watched the scene now, it would be corny as hell and you would think I am a moron for saying that. The thing is though, when I was 16, I WAS a moron! So it worked.
The thing about high school is, there is a period of time when pretty girls rule everything. As a young man your worth is determined by popularity, if you have a girlfriend, and what people gossip about you etc. There is always that group of pretty girls that control all three of those factors and can get what they want from anyone. Be it someone to help them with their homework, attention, or just to cut to the front of the line at lunch. Furthermore and more importantly, pretty girls dominated stories. Every hero was on a quest to save a princess, every action movie star got the girl in the end and everyone was obsessed with sex and romance. That was true in my world, until that scene in Gundam Wing came along.
The main character was a high school age kid (like me!) but instead of being a dipsh*t boring regular person, he was the pilot of a giant robot death machine. He had come on a secret mission to destroy military bases, fight other giant robots and kill bad guys. However, you can’t blow sh*t up ALL the time, so during the day he pretended to be a regular high school student to blend in. The thing is, he was a loner (like me!). He didn’t make any friends and his personality was off putting (uhhhg, like me.).
However! This was his lucky day, because he was noticed by the school’s prettiest and most popular girl. The thing is she accidentally saw him with his giant robot of death once, so she knew his true identity. Out of the goodness of her heart, in front of a crowd of other students, she handed him an invitation to her birthday party. The students applauded and I imagined what I would have done. I fully expected the main character to be stunned, clearly he was an a-hole because he didn’t get any attention and all he needed was some love in his life and a girl to fight for, just like every other hero ever.
Without a word he tore the invitation in half. Sixteen year old Travis was stunned, how could the main character be such a jerk! The crowd of students went silent, and the pretty girl was so hurt a tear welled up in her eye. “Why are you so cruel?” she asked. He wiped the tear away from her eye, and leaned in to speak. I whole heartedly expected him to apologize or explain or give some excuse, but instead, cold as ice he said:
“I’ll kill you.”
He strutted away, and she was left with horrible realization that this guy does not give a f*ck. He isn’t here to save anyone or get a girlfriend, he is here to blow sh*t up and kill people. She knows his identity, so she is going to die. And that was AWESOME. Sixteen year old Travis had never imagined being so dedicated to a goal, and it planted the seed of the idea that exceptional people don’t let anything stand in their way, and they don’t care what anyone thinks.
Now you know a little bit more about Travis, and he hopes you have a wonderful week!
Click here to waste five minutes of your life watching the only fight scene ever set to a Weird Al song. (Bah-weep-Graaaaagnah wheep ni ni bong.)
How to stop your party from dying!
“What do you mean you have no spells left?”
Nick here again, to offer some advice to our new players! Last week, I talked about tanks and how to play them effectively. Today I’ll go over another important role in the party… the healer!
Ah, the healer. Playing that role is important–and tricky! You’re responsible for keeping the party alive, but there’s so much more to it than that! Spells do more than just increase/decrease HP values… you can control the flow of combat by casting support spells to make your party strong or enfeeble the hell out of the enemy! Or enfeeble the hell into them if you’re playing that kind of character. It’s your call, really.
Many people take up the mantle of a healer to play that divine, benevolent protector (or dastardly servant of some dark lord). Some people are a little familiar with the role from MMORPG’s like Final Fantasy XIV. However, it’s not always that simple. A few careless mistakes can have devastating results. As the healer, you’re the life force of the party. Cutting you down means the enemy gains a massive advantage, as the beefier tank can’t be healed, and the party lost access to all of your support magic. Which–especially when you’re against a smarter foe (not goblins) means there’s a pretty god damn good chance they’ll try to single you out.
In other words…
He’s dead, Jim.
So how do you avoid the untimely death so that you survive long enough to get a sweet effing halo? Let’s discuss this!
1. Build: I talked about this last time with tanks, but I simply can’t reiterate this enough–research your builds! For example, feats are super important. I can’t stress enough how absurdly effing good War Caster is for any caster. (War caster feat 5e) Using your reaction to cast spells rather than an attack of opportunity, advantage on CON-based saves for spell interruption, and being able to cast somatic spells with weapon in-hand is stupid good. If you’re thinking about creating a Cleric, they’re a very versatile class with a lot of builds. Melee builds are very feasible (I’m looking at you, Cleric Tempest Domain), but pure casters are also incredibly powerful. With spells to eventually bring back the dead or call upon divine intervention, a Cleric is an incredible boon to the party… if played right.
Perhaps you’re not big on the idea of playing a Cleric? Well, other classes can offer some supplementary healing in a pinch. Bard, especially with the College of Lore, gets access to a good number of healing and support magic while still providing great aid through its proficiency bonuses and Bardic Inspiration. Druid gets a lot of the classics like Cure Wounds or Regenerate and later True Resurrection and has about as many spell slots as a Cleric. Paladin can play a healer in a pinch thanks to supplementary healing and its Lay on Hands ability, but a Cleric/Bard/Druid would be better suited.
2. Situation Awareness: Just as the tank must look over the battlefield to see where they should be to protect someone, you should be looking to see where you need to be to not be surrounded and murdered. Going through a narrow corridor in a sunken temple? You probably shouldn’t take point. Facing down a horrible roaring demon? Don’t stand out in the open and don’t rush the damn thing. Remember: everybody can contribute to the damage and help out during the fight, but if you get too caught up in dishing out sweet numbers you’re liable to get an axe through the head.
Now, that’s not to say you can’t attack. If your party has the upper hand or if you are going on an offensive, feel free to contribute! But just be careful not to let yourself get overwhelmed. Also bear in mind that a great way to help is to consider your support magic. Blinded, dazed, or sleeping creatures can’t attack. Shielding your tank to hold enemies at a choke point removes the need for immediate healing so you can focus on other things, or attack! Keeping aware of the battlefield and how the fight is going make the difference between a good healer and a great healer!
3. Use your Spells: A common trap that players fall into is holding onto their spells “just in case”. By all means, read the situation–there’s no use blowing Cure Mass Wounds when you’re fighting a pack of wolves. But if half your party is nearly dead while you’re staring down a Beholder… well, now might be a good time to use the best you’ve got. After all, you can’t cast those big spells if you’re dead, right?
Along with that, really take the time to research your spells and abilities. Become familiar with them, but also consider creative uses for them. One of my favorite moments of ever playing is when my wife Katie, on her Bard Philia, cast Polymorph on my dungeon boss. The boss failed the check and my epic fight I’d been planning became a game of the party escaping a tiny kitten (they abandoned it in the chambers of the dungeon, in case you were wondering). It thoroughly pissed me off, but it was also effing awesome.
That’s all the information I have for today. Read up, roll your awesome healer, and kick some ass! Or, ah… undo the ass kicking that’s been happening. Until next time, happy healing!
Nick, the Hardcore Healer