Wicked Wednesday: Vicious Variants, Part 1

Like Magical Monday, Wicked Wednesday is a (hopefully) weekly column of D&D 5th Edition information dedicated to monsters, traps and other vile tricks for the Dungeon Master to use against his player characters. Like that column, initially Wicked Wednesday will focus on information in the Starter Set and the Basic PDF, but expand to include new information as it is released both in print and on line. I hope to see you back here every Wednesday for monsters and mayhem!


With weeks yet before the release of the PHB and months before the Monster Manual ships, Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Dungeon Masters must make due with the relatively short list of creatures found in the Starter Set adventure Lost Mine of Phandelver.


In order to expand the potential enemies available to the Dungeon Master in his quest to provide fun and interesting (and deadly!) challenges for his players, I will, in this installment of Wicked Wednesday and the next couple weeks, provide Vicious Variants for most of the creatures present in the Lost Mines adventure. Rather than new creatures cut from whole cloth, these will be (as the name suggests) variant versions of the Mines adversaries, with just a tweak or two to keep them interesting and surprising but maintaining the utility of the stat blocks provided in the adventure.


So, without further ado, I give you Vicious Variants, Bugbear to Giant Spider.


Bugbear, Nightkin


All bugbears prize stealth and ambush as their favored means of engaging their enemies, but the Bugbear Nightkin becomes the darkness itself. Born with night black hair and white, pupiless eyes, the nightkin are considered gifts from the dark goblinoid deities. They often lead ambushes or serve as scouts for war parties, and can be found working as assassins for all manner of evil humanoids (and humans!).

Game Rules: Nightkin Bugbears do not possess the Brute ability. Instead, they use the Sneak Attack ability as a rogue (1d6 additional damage when granted advantage) except they gain the bonus with any melee weapon. In addition, Nightkin are considered invisible when in dim light or darkness.


Commoner, Mob


The simple folk of small towns and villages that dot the landscape are generally well meaning, if somewhat suspicious of strangers. Occassionally though, commoners will turn from genial regular folk into an unruly, and ultimately deadly, mob. Sometimes, fear or jingoism are used to created a Commoner Mob, while other times it is the work of more sinsiter and magical forces. In any case, once a mob has formed and set itself against the party, it can be very dangerous indeed.

Game Rules: A Commoner Mob is considered a swarm —  a group of like creatures acting as a single entity. Huge in size, the mob may overwhelm a victim by occupying is space and dragging the victim to the ground or tearing him limb from limb. A Commoner Mob makes a grapple attack against any character in its space with a total bonus of +6. If it succeeds, the victim is grappled. An incensed mob may cause 2d6 damage to a victim that starts its turn grappled in this manner. Commoner Mobs are considered 9 HD creatures and have 45 hit points. They take only half damage from non area of effect attacks. If a mob is reduced to less than half its maximum hit points, it disperses and no longer poses a threat (though individual commoners may,at the DM’s discretion). A Commoner Mob is a CR 1 (200 XP) “creature.”


Cultist, Mad


Some would say all cultists are mad, given their propensity for worshipping foul entities hidden from plain sight. The Mad Cultists, however, goes far beyond the usual disregard for life and polite society of his peers. Truly a zealot of some unknowable monstrosity beyond mortal understanding, the Mad Cultists has been touched by that twisted power and made far more dangerous for it.

Game Rules: The Mad Cultist possesses a zeal that grants a bonus action each turn. This action may only be used for the Attack, Dash or Help actions. In addition Mad Cultists may summon supernatural might in service to their dark gods. On a single attack, the Mad Cultists hs advantage and on a successful hit will do an additional die of damage (1d6). If the cultist misses, his dark patron is displeased and he takes 1d6 damage. Mad Cultists are CR ¼ (50 XP).


Doppleganger, Skinmaster


The inscrutable dopplegangers act in the wider world towards an unknown purpose. Most are sinister, shadowy figures, hidden in plain sight and only engaging in open combat when all other options have failed. The Skinmaster is different. A warrior trained in shifting its shape for defense, Doppleganger Skinmasters serve as guardians and champions among the shapeshifters. They are occasionally hired out to others, but only when the clients interests align with those of the shapeshifters. Given that dopplegangers engage in decades and even centuries long plots, however, often even such clients have no idea what role they play in the Dopplegangers’ plans.

Game Rules: Doppleganger Skinmasters do not posses the multiattack action. Instead, once per round as a bonus action, they may choose one type of attack. They have resistance to this type of attack until the choose to change the type. There is no time limit to the ability nor a limit on the number of uses. If the skinmaster is knocked unconscious, however, the resistance goes away.


Evil Mage, Enchanter/tress


Not all magic is the destructive variety. Many masters of the Arcane choose a more subtle path, allowing them to manipulate others with words as sweet as nectar and as deadly as venom. And enchanter or enchantress can be a sly con artists on the city streets, or an advisor to a chieftain or king. He or she can have the ear of every thief in the Guild, or manipulate the very faith of the clergy of a great cathedral. While not particularly dangerous themselves in direct combat, these masters of manipulation are often guarded by charmed and duped minions of great skill and might.

Game Rules: The enchanter/tress has a Charisma of 16 (+3) and is proficient in both Deception and Persuasion (+5 each). He or she knows the following spells: Cantrips=dancing lights, mage hand, prestidigitation; 1st level=charm person, sleep; 2nd level=hold person, suggestion.


Flameskull, Deathskull


The vast majority of Flameskulls are created from the remains of dead evil wizards, but some few are forged from the remains of evil clerics. Unlike a Flameskull, however, a Deathskull is not the creation of a mere mortal spellcaster, but that of a demon or other dark entity worshipped by the mortal who is to become the Deathskull. Beings such as these are not gods and they cannot command legions of fallen angels. Instead, they must forge their own harbingers from the remains of those who foolishly followed them in mortal life. As such, all Deathskulls are tormented mockeries of life, who desire only to bring pain on the living and are bound to serve one final, single command of their creator, usually as a guardian or an assassin.

Game Rules: Deathskulls were clerics in life rather than wizards. As such, their Int is 10 and their Wis is 16 (+3). They are proficient in Wisdom saves. They cast clerics spells rather than wizard spells: Cantrip=thaumaturgy; 1st level=Inflict wounds, shield of faith;2nd level=hold person, spiritual weapon; 3rd level=dispel magic.


Ghoul, Infectious


One wonders: how are ghouls made? Some scholars believe they are wicked mortals cursed to an unlife of continued evil. Others contend that it is the act of cannibalism that transforms a mortal into a ghoul. Still others believe ghouls are a true breeding, subterranean race, not undead at all but so connected to negative energy that they appear to be in the eyes of clerics and other divine casters. The truth is far more insidious, however: ghouls are the victims of a horrible disease, an infection that transforms them into flesh eating monsters from normal mortals. Most of the time, once transformed, a ghouls is no longer infectious. But some few remain that way into their unlife and any they scratch with their filthy claws will also become infected and be doomed to rise as a ghoul.

Game Rules: Against the Infectious Ghoul, any character that fails their Constitution save and is paralyzed may also become infected and shortly transformed into a ghoul as well. In such cases, the character makes a second Constitution save at DC 15. If this fails, they die and emerge from their paralyzed state as a shoul. If they fail the saving throw with a “1” they emerge as an Infectious Ghoul. Infectious Ghouls are CR 2 creatures (450 XP).


Next week, I tackle Giant Spiders to Owlbears!


Magical Monday: Fantastic Fountains

Magical Monday is one of a few weekly Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition columns I plan to write, as both a way to build a good posting habit as well as explore ideas for the new D&D.  Every Monday — fingers crossed — I will be writinga  short article for 5th Edition centered around magic — spells, items, locations, its impact on society, and so on — with game rules included for using those magical elements. As we are still months away from a full release of the game, early posts like this one will be utilizing rules found in the Starter Set and the free Basic Rules PDF. With each major release (Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide) the scope of these articles will expand. Enjoy, and thanks for reading! Also, come back in a couple days for the first installment of Wicked Wednesday, my weekly installment of tricks, traps, monsters and other methods with which to torment player characters!


Fantastic Fountains


Magical fountains are a mainstay of what is now considered Old School gaming. The original Dungeons and Dragons game modules and imitators included all kinds of weird magical fountains into the underground labyrinths and lost cities. Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition is designed at least in part to embrace all modes of D&D play, including that old school vibe. Therefore, iconic magical fountains seems like a perfect place to start for Magical Mondays.


What is a Fantastic Fountain? At their most basic, fantastic fountains are actual fountains, including a basin and some sort of spout from which liquid flows. They are found in any adventure locale, sometimes integrated into the architecture (perhaps in the central square of a long abandoned and overgrown city of antiquity) and sometimes completely out of place (a beautiful marble cherub and pool in the depths of an underground, monster filled maze). No matter the form or the location, a fantastic fountain possesses strange and wondrous (and sometimes dangerous) qualities. The fluid that flows from its spout is no longer simple water — though it may appear innocuous enough — but is instead a powerful potion or strange brew from another world. In some cases, fantastic fountains were enchanted upon their original creation, blessed with powers for the benefit of any and all who could drink from their waters. But far more often, the fountains gained its power by accident — perhaps a great hero bathed in its waters upon her death and her blood empowered the cool water, or perhaps the malevolence of a vile necromancer’s lair leached into the water over the length of an age. Some fountains are actually conduits between worlds, the liquid within actually essence from some far off dimension, while still others tap into the primal magic of the world itself, the mystical waters representing the smallest drop of the true power of unfettered magic.


How to use a Fantastic Fountain. Because magical fountains are usually anchored to the adventure locations in which they are found, they generally do not count as “treasure.” Instead, they are just another weird element with which the player characters must contend, perhaps beneficial and perhaps treacherous. (It is possible, of course, for PCs to gain permanent use of a Fantastic Fountain if they take ownership of the site in which it is located, but that is beyond the scope of this article.) The characters will encounter the fountain, either use it or avoid it, and then move on, but may return. The more beneficial the fountain, the more likely the characters will come back to it or even choose it as a base of operations; the mare dangerous, the more likely they are to avoid it. It is best, then, to couple both beneficial and dangerous qualities of the fountain in order to make the choice to return to it one of debate between players and consequence for characters. Placing a powerful healing fountain in an area heavily patrolled by enemies not easily eliminated is one strategy. Another element to consider is how much use an individual fountain can provide. Some fountains are essentially limitless, their waters unending. Other fountains may have but a single use: only the first one to sip from it or throw a coin in and wish will gain the benefit or other effect. In these cases, clearly establishing that the fountain is fantastic with some general clues about its powers will help make the debate over not just whether to use it, but who gets to do so, much more lively. Between these two extremes are fountains with some limited number of uses, which may be known or unknown to the characters, that may or may not recharge after a period of time. It is generally a good idea to limit the more powerful fountains, but this is not a requirement, especially if the effects are temporary in nature.


Two Fantastic Fountains: Following are two examples of fantastic fountains for use in 5th Edition D&D games.


Spring of Renewal: Located deep in rugged hills infested with orcs, ogers and worse, the Spring of Renewal is a fountain created by a good and just deed. For centuries this wilderness has been a place where newly knighted paladins have come to test their mettle and fight the forces of darkness. Many earned their first battle scars here, while many more perished unequal to the challenge of their vows. Among those lost was a knight called Lady Morn, who abandoned her husband and children to become a questing knight after a righteous vision. She killed many beasts and fell warriors in the wilderness, but one day heard the cries of a traveler waylaid by orcs. She ran to the rescue, but the orcs were many and she barely overcame them and even then after the one she was trying to save had already fallen. When the battle was over Lady Morn saw that the victim of the orc attack was her husband, who had followed her to the wilderness to beseech her return to their family home. Lady Morn carried his corpse to a gently flowing spring and washed the blood and dirt from his body. She built a cairn over the spring and interred him there. That night, she wept for him and prayed to the powers she had chosen over her family to return him to life. At dawn, Lady Morn’s husband woke to find his wife a statue overlooking the bowl shaped cairn she had built for his grave. He returned home to raise their children and the tale of her sacrifice and the Spring of Renewal spread. Any character that comes and bathes at the Spring of Renewal (this takes approximately 1 hour) is affected as if having drunk a Potion of Vitality. An individual character can only gain the benefit of the Spring once per day but there is no limit to the number of uses total per day the Spring has. Only up to four individuals can bathe in the Spring at a time. The Spring of Renewal can be located in any wilderness adventure area and a DC 15 Intelligence(Religion) check reveals its history and powers.


Font of Shadows: In eons past, when slithering things ruled and their foul gods crawled the earth, shadows cloaked the world. It was an age of darkness and cold and few good things walked in the twilight. Eventually, a spark broke through the gloom and a long war between umbral power and luminescence took place. In the end the slithering masters were destroyed and their gods burrowed deep to escape the light, going into hibernation far below light of the sun. But even as they were forgotten and the younger races grew to power in the light, they slumbered and did not perish. When those races learned that the deep earth held treasure — gold and jewels for the taking with just a few lashes of the whip — they began to dig. Inevitably, in their greed, they dug too deep and they followed their veins of ore into the very bodies of those sleeping elder gods.Most perished. Some were consumed. But one resisted the horror just enough to feed upon its power. Already a wicked taskmaster, the one known as the Night’s Gaoler converted the mine into a cathedral dedicated to evil and darkness. The shadow power that seeped from the dead god’s wound transformed slaves into twisted minions and the Night Gaoler emerged on moonless nights to capture victims for foul rights and prisoners to torment. Over the place where the elder god bled gloom, he built the Font of Shadows, distilling the darkness into a black, viscous liquid. One drop would turn any mortal into a thing of night under the Night Gaoler’s command. Eventually, the depredations of the Night Gaoler reached the ears of the good and valiant. War between light and dark waged again, if in miniature, and once again light prevailed. They forces of light sealed the dark place and destroyed all knowledge of its existence — or so they thought. The Night Gaoler had built many exits and some still stood open so that the degenerate spawn of his slave things could yet hunt the dark of moonless nights centuries later. The Font of Shadows is located in any deep dungeon populated by horrors from beneath the earth. It appears as a twisted obelisk with a basin full of black liquid at the base. Anyone who tastes the liquid must make a DC 18 Con saving throw or die instantly. If the taster succeeds, she must make a DC 19 Int save. If she fails, she falls into a coma for 3 days before rising as a Nothic. If during that time the victim is brought into the full light of the sun, she is granted a second second DC 18 Int save. Failure this time grants a merciful death while success cures the condition. Success on the original DC 18 Int save grants permanent dark vision (double the range of the darkvision if the imbiber already possesses the ability).

Going All In with Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition

The face(s) of D&D 5th Edition!


I am a gamer. More specifically, I am a table top role-playing game gamer. And to be precise, I am a Dungeons & Dragons gamer. That’s not to say that I have not tried, played, game mastered and/or completely geeked out over other games — I have — but my first game was D&D and D&D is where my gamer heart lies.


Dungeons & Dragons is on the cusp of its 40th Anniversary this year, and is launching it’s so-called 5th Edition. (I say “so called” because counting the editions, especially when you factor in Dungeons & Dragons versus Advanced Dungeons and Dragons is a little bit wonky.) I myself and nearing my 30th year with the game: I started with D&D when I was 10 years old and I recently turned 39. However, I have not really been a D&D player for some time, not since the release of the 4th Edition of the game in 2008. I played 4E for about a year and even tried to run it, but eventually realized it “was not D&D” to me and abandoned it for Pathfinder. That game, the spiritual successor to the D&D 3.5 rules, proved just too fiddly and “crunchy” for my taste and after a few attempts at serious campaigns I abandoned trying to run the game (but still play it). I won’t get into too many specifics, but the fact is that I have a “D&D sweet spot” as it relates to rules and DM control and complexity. The perfect level of that is probably found in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition.


For some time after its announcement in 2012, I was ambivalent regarding the new 5th Edition of my favorite game. At that time, I was still enamored with Pathfinder, suppressing my misgivings and running it despite my inability to keep it all straight. Although Wizards of the Coast — D&D’s owners and publishers since the late 1990s when TSR was a burning ship and us rats were leaping into the ocean of games by other publishers — opened up the 5th Edition (or, D&D Next as it was called then) to public play test, I only lightly perused the documents and went about playing Pathfinder. I was sure for a very long time that Pathfinder *was* D&D and WotC would never be able to produce a suitable game to match the trademark again. I secretly wished Hasbro would sell the property off and Paizo, publishers of Pathfinder, or some other entity would snatch it up and treat it right. But, alas, that did not happen and as time went on I became disillusioned with the increasingly complex Pathfinder system and started drifting away from D&D, old and new, altogether.


A strange thing happened then, one I should have predicted but failed to see. As the actual release of D&D 5E approached, a fire kindled in my belly. I felt an anticipation, a hope, a preemptive joy that spoke one truth from inside: D&D was coming back. I did the same thing with 4th Edition, to be honest. Despite everything I had read that turned me off during the lead up to 4E, I pre-ordered the 3-book slipcase edition. Not only that, since it would not arrive until a few days after launch, I actually ran out and bought a 4E Player’s Handbook on launch day — for a game I knew I would not like, simply because it was a new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. With 5E, as soon as the Basic Rules appeared on the Wizards of the Coast website for free, I downloaded them, and as soon as the Starter Set — which I had swore not to purchase since it was not a “complete product” — was on the shelf, I purchased not one but three copies (one for myself and two for friends). The difference between 4E and 5E, though, was that upon reading 5E, I said to myself: *this* is D&D.


It is difficult to articulate what makes a game “D&D” for me, and I won’t bother trying in this post. Suffice it to say that something in these initial 5E offerings remind me of that favorite edition of mine, 2E, with just enough novelty to suggest something special is happening. As with every other edition of D&D since I started playing way back in 1985, I want to be in on the ground floor and embrace the game that has given me so much pleasure and allowed me to express so much creativity. More, D&D has served as an open door through which many of my closest friends have emerged. There are many reasons for that, which I will explore perhaps in a future post, but the bottom line is that D&D is an intimate sort of entertainment, and that builds friendships.


In any case, what this means to both of you, me dear readers (hi, mom!), is that this blog is going to be dominated by gaming in general and D&D 5E in particular for the foreseeable future. I have been sort of at a loss with this and my own creativity for a while anyway and I am hoping that a focus on gaming and 5E will re-energize my creative batteries and allow me to make some progress. Plus, the fact is this blog is mostly for fun and therefore, i should make it about what I enjoy, and D&D is one of those things.


I plan to, in the near future after attending GenCon, producing some regular features, including Magical Mondays (new spells, items and magical locations), Wicked Wednesdays (new monsters, villains, traps and tricks) and Setting Saturdays (fantastic peoples, places, organizations and such like) just as exercises to keep my creative juices flowing and my players on their toes. With any luck, there will also be more than a few rants and raves and opinion pieces regarding the game.

So here’s to the newest iteration of the first and greatest fantasy role-playing game ever created, and to all the gamers out there who have eagerly anticipated its release. Huzzah!