Xanathar’s Druids

Similar to the last post about Clerics I wanted to review and discuss the Druid options in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Druids are my favorite D&D class so I’ll have plenty to say, but I shall try to be succinct. Or at least less verbose.

Circle of Dreams

(Or I wish I was Fey)

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Circle of Dreams feels pretty well put together to me. The Feywild and the creatures that dwell there are natural allies to good-aligned or neutral druids and sharing their power feels like a natural evolution.

Balm of the Summer Court – This is a pretty straightforward 2nd level ability: d6’s that heal and grant 1 Temp HP.

Why the 1 temporary hp? What is that really going to do for anyone? Forget the 1 hp and instead let the affected character regain the hp and re-roll to remove a negative effect they are currently under (Blinded, Exhaustion level etc). That feels more like supernatural healing.

Hearth of Moonlight and Shadow – Nice flavor ability that doesn’t have much active influence but allows essentially for uninterrupted rest.

I just had a thought: It could also be used to buff Stealth or Perception checks in a known space, thus making whatever space you choose as an ideal site to ambush enemies. Rogues would love this. Tag team!

Hidden Paths – This is a fun and flexible movement feature. Teleport 60′ as a bonus action OR teleport and ally up to 30′. This is super useful and could be a great way to populate the battlefield or escape from a cell.

Walker in Dreams – At the end of a short rest you cast Dream, Scrying or Teleportation Circle. This Teleportation Circle send you back to the last spot you had a long rest. Basically a WoW Hearthstone. It’s a nice ability I just wouldn’t tie it to the end of the short rest. Have the short rest recharge the ability otherwise you are resting in order to teleport out or use the Dream or Scry ability. I think it’s more evocative to be able to use the teleportation circle to quickly escape from enemies that are bearing down on you. Let exciting to take a break so you can port back to town.

Circle of the Shepherd

Shepherd druid

Ok I have not been shy of my issues with Shepherd Druids but it is mostly put together well. The issue for me is the Totem ability does jive with the rest of the abilities. Let’s explore.

Speech of the Woods – Sylvan as a bonus language, Yes please! On top of that you get an always on Speak with Animals. You don’t know the spell for free or cast it willy-nilly you just understand animals and they understand you. Bam! very nice and fitting with a protector of beasts.

Spirit Totem – Summon nature spirits to a spot and beneficial effects take place for you and your party members. One use per short or long rest with the following abilities listed:

  • Bear spirit-temp hp = 5+druid level and Advantage on Strength checks and saves.
  • Hawk spirit- Use your reaction to give Advantage to an ally’s attack. Advantage on Perception checks.
  • Unicorn spirit-Advantage on checks to detect creatures in the aura and bonus hp when casting a healing spell.

I don’t have any issues with the ability, I really like it actually but I don’t think it fits the overall theme of the Shepherd Druid. This feels like a separate ability from another class that doesn’t really have to do with protecting and promoting the welfare of the creatures of the world. The flavor text at the beginning of the sub-class description talks about seeking aid from and communing with spirits but to me it feels like it was put there to explain this one ability.

I would take Spirit Totem out of the Shepherd Circle (and out it into a different sub-class such as Spirit Shaman, something that focuses on interacting with the spirit world). This would be a great place to give the druid an animal companion and perhaps expand on it a little. Whereas the Ranger can have one companion allow the Shepherd to have multiple so long as they don’t exceed the 1/4 CR cap. (1 CR 1/4 creature or 2 CR 1/8 creatures). That would allow the Shepherd to exploit that Animal Speech regularly and would foster a player playing a Shepherd surrounded by animals they care for/travel with.

Maybe have the CR cap grow as the druid levels? Much like wild-shape grows, a Shepherd druid could bond with beasts of increasing power as they advance? I actually really like that though it would need to be balanced so the advanced beast companion(s) don’t outshine the party.

Hmm Going to try writing this out to explore it.

Mighty Summoner – Beasts of fey summoned by your spells have increased hp and their attacks overcome immunity to non-magical attacks and damage.

This is perfectly fitting for a summoner/beast class. I like it.

Guardian Spirit – Your summons beasts and fey gain hp when it they end their turn inside your totem aura.

Again a solid ability for a shepherd to regen the beasts they summon. Assuming I moved the totem ability off this sub-class I would just have the regen occur when the beasts/fey are within a certain distance from you. Role-play that you are their care-taker and nearness to you strengthens and safeguards them.

Faithful Summons – When you are reduced to 0 hp  or are incapacitated (can’t take actions or reactions) against your will Conjure Animals goes off as a contingency spell summoning 4 beasts of CR 2 or lower they automagically protect you from harm and attack your enemies.

This is perfect flavor and a nice defensive ability the enemies may not be expecting. Again I feel the intent of this sub-class is to be a guardian, advocate and companion for the beasts of the world and having them come to your aid, reciprocating your service to the natural world feels right.

As I stated at the beginning, Shepherd is mostly built around summoning and augmenting animals, remove the imperfectly placed totem ability, give them animal companions and boom, the class is complete.

Let me know what you think of my suggested changes. Did I make any sense? Did I miss the intention of an ability or the sub-class in general?

Discuss and share!

 

 

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Xanathar’s Clerics

I know there are lots of these posts and reviews out there now and I am very grateful they are there. Seeing what others think and how others interpret the same information allows me to learn and to grow, to experience something I wouldn’t have normally come up with.

In that vein I want to start by offering my own take on the Cleric options presented in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Contrary to perceived popular opinion (maybe it’s just clerics) I really enjoy clerics. Not only for their abilities but for the role-playing and depth their divinely granted powers enable us to play.

 

Lets start by taking a look at the Forge Cleric.

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Right out of the gate (racing idiom) I like the class and abilities but I have issues with the name. “Forge” implies use of the forge for melting/smelting metal and it even says so in the class description.  I would however prefer (and I will in my homebrew) to expand the abilities to items beyond metal. Specifically in my homebrew world The One World, a certain group of dwarves have specialized in making arms and armor completely from stone. Works just like the normal items but slightly heavier (though I don’t much pay attention to encumbrance unless it is just getting ridiculous.)

That being said it is not a big stretch to expand this to these dwarves or perhaps the lizardfolk who make so much from natural materials. “Forge” evokes a stronger more fearsome mental image than “Craft” or “Artisan” so I get that. Expanding teh definition also includes such settings as Dark Sun, where there are lots of other materials used besides metals.

Domain Spells- As they go I think most of them make sense. Especially Identify. Personally I can’t stand that spell. It’s cheating. It is the quick and dirty way of divining the powers of your shiny new magic item. I obviously prefer to have my players test and play with their new items but I don’t make them agonize over it. That just isn’t fun. However Identify in the hands of those clerics specifically empowered to create and manipulate magic items makes perfect sense to me.

 

Blessing of the Forge

This is a solid utility ability at low levels. Granting a +1 bonus to a weapon or armor is huge. Yuge! It however will fade in importance once the party begins acquiring their own magic items.

“Sorry my dude, I don’t need your +1. I got my Vorpal bastard sword now.”

I would propose the following to keep it relevant as the party accumulates their own powerful magic items:

Increase the number of items the Forge Cleric can modify as they level. Say 2 items at 8th level and 3 at 17th level but only once per mundane item. In addition: the Forge Cleric has the option of adding a +1 bonus to a mundane item OR another ability such as Flaming. If the Cleric adds an ability to a mundane weapon then it would count as magical for overcoming resistances but you would not benefit from the +1 to hit.

You have a +2 longsword? Let me see that for a second lad…

Taking this even further, I’d consider allowing the Forge Cleric to manipulate the abilities on an exiting magic items. Take that +2 longsword let the cleric play with it a bit and he hands back a +1 flaming longsword. Again once per item and this would only last until the next long rest. You could even make manipulating items this way cost two uses of the Blessing of the Forge.

This would make a Forge Cleric very (almost too powerfully) utilitarian as they could tailor the party items for known encounters. Now there are of course ways around that or that the DM could limit that but I’ll leave it out there and you just think about it for a minute.

The other abilities (Artisan’s Blessing, Soul of the Forge, Divine Strike and Saint of Forge and Flame) I think all fit the mold pretty well and are balanced appropriately for how they are spaced. It feels like appropriate progression.

 

Grave Domain

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OK that’s not the art from XGtE but what was up with that guy anyway? What’s with the wineglass? Creepy.

I will say I like the flavor text of Grave Clerics as the Guardians of Death. Destroying undead and those who would create them. Don’t immediately see how one would play that in an evil fashion but I’m not going to try too hard.

Circle of Mortaility – Max heals on a 0 hp creature is nice. And when you don’t want to spend a spell slot the 30′ range Spare the Dying as a bonus action is a solid backup. Seriously a nice but not overwhelming set of abilities granted here. No one should fear death with a Grave Cleric in the group.

Eyes of the Grave – Sounds like a fun ability. I would love to surprise my characters by having them use this ability in a social encounter and discovering their host or maybe even their employer is undead!

Channel Divinity: Path to the Grave – This is a solid feature. Creating a vulnerability on a creature is a nice debuff to be able to pull out and will help overcome resistant creatures and those with high hp. Wording is a bit muddled. States the curse ends on the end of your next turn and also states the curse ends after the next successful attack from you or an ally. So you have a turn to use it or you lose it? Probably but I don’t think it would be overpowered to keep it in effect until used.

Sentinel at Deaths Door – While the ability to cancel a critical hit and any associated effects is cool, it doesn’t quite fit the flavor for me. That doesn’t feel like delaying death. I think it would be more fitting to mimic a barbarians Relentless Rage. This keeps the PC up when they shouldn’t be. You could also have the PC that was sustained make a Con Save or gain a level of Exhaustion. A little good, a little bad. The price to pay for cheating a little.

Potent Spellcasting – Nothing exciting here. Damage boost to Cantrips is nice but what does it have to do with being a Cleric of the Grave?

Keeper of Souls – This is a very good visual but I’m not sure how useful it will be at 17th level. Lots of Hit Dice when an enemy drops to be sure but it is what a massive heal to someone at the end of a big fight? I guess I’ll need to see it in action to really understand it. But yes I like the flavor it provides. I kind of picture whoever receives the healing from the departed soul might take on a few of their mannerisms for a time.

Looking at these two I would definitely play a Forge Cleric, especially with the modifications I suggest. Grave Clerics have some very nice abilities but don’t feel as polished as the Forge domain.

 

The Extras

The Temples and Keepsakes are good ideas and they threw a bunch of those kind of random character backstory tables in for each of the classes so that’s not unexpected. I really like the Secrets though. I particularly enjoy the concept of a person of faith that struggles with that faith. Being the walking and breathing proof of Divine Beings would put you at the center of a lot of attention, wanted and unwanted.

How would a cleric deal with that? A living example of proof of the Gods is still a normal person and is as fallible as any other normal person on the planet. Fun thoughts.

What did you think of the Cleric domains? Have you played as either of them yet? I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on my takes. Let’s have a discussion.

Two New Party Members …again!

We were back at it after a week off for Fall Break (that’s what they call it but really the city needs the school buses for Balloon Fiesta s this kids get two days off school).

We had two new kids join the D&D group this week, bringing our total to 13. That’s even more of a daunting but exciting venture.

I gave the kids the option to stay in one large party or to split into two parties. The catch? In one group 13 is a lot to manage so they would have to do an extra solid job of being quiet and paying attention. If we split into two groups I can’t run both at the same time so someone else would need to DM the second group.

Now we all the prospect of DMing can be intimidating but nothing scares kids more than being asked to behave. They chose to split into two parties. I kept the bulk of the original players in my group and continued where we had left off. My daughter volunteered to DM the new group with the caveat that she get to keep her PC as an NPC. She’s such a brave kid and super creative so this is a good fit I think.

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They started from the beginning of Lost Mines and I think made it into the Goblin caves. Quick work considering they had to make a couple new characters.

My group had finished the last session having defeated a group of the Red Cloaks with three as prisoners. The interrogated them, alternately threatening their lives or being willing to imprison them or let them go. It can be hard to negotiate when the other side of the table is so erratic! Ultimately the PC’s let the brigands go in exchange for the location and entrance to the hideout.

The used the cloaks taken from their defeated enemies to sneak in through the tunnel. The Nothic in the crevasse realized they were here to eliminate the brigands and was happy to ignore the PC’s in exchange for the bodies of the bad guys.

They decided to head west and interrupted three bugbears picking on a goblin. After some banter in which the monk tried to keep their cover intact the gnome had had enough and shot one the bugbears. It was a rough fight but the party survived, though we had our first player go down.

It didn’t phase them much. Bunch of goofballs.

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Middle School D&D

I’ve been talking about this on social media over the last few weeks but it’s time to set it down in a more meaningful setting.

For the last three weeks I have been hosting Dungeons and Dragons as an after school club for my daughters middle school. A general call went out early this year prior to school starting up again and I had the thought

“What if…..?”

First I asked my kiddo what she thought and she said she thought it’d be cool and she’d love to play. Done! An email volunteering and then waiting for that first session.

*note* there was actually more than that like a background check (which was in place as I am already a school volunteer and a nurse with a government clearance), a prep meeting and then getting my shit together. I picked up a copy of the Starter set and did a little reading.

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Session One was the scariest because I didn’t know what I was in for. The organizer mentioned that she had a lot of interest and that sometimes the Magic:the Gathering club had upwards of 60 kids in there. 60! Woof, not sure how I was going to get 60 kids organized and playing but I’m not turning away a kid that wants to play D&D.

Turns out I was hyperventilating for nothing. I had seven kids show up. One had played 3.5 a couple times and the rest (besides my kiddo) were brand new. We spent about half the time with some quick character creation and basic rules setup and then went right into it.

For those of you familiar with the Starter set and keeping score they finished the first fight defeating the goblin ambushers with minimal injuries.

FYI: for character creation I had them choose race/class and roll stats. Then we went forward with adventuring and I explained anything I needed from them in a roll. Afterwards I kept all the character sheets and fleshed the characters out at home. Yes I made choices for them but it’s not much different than a Pregen PC and they actually picked the big pieces.

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Session two was the scariest session because I was worried more people would show up or that no one would show because they decided they had something more fun to do. Wrong on both counts. The same group came to the table and they proceeded to explore the Cragmaw Goblin hideout.

It is fun watching them play and discover their play styles. I have one know it all who has advice for everyone at the table. Another guy who is super happy to sneak around and get some treasure. Then there is the louder, attention grabbing kid who named their Fiendish Pact Warlock Trump (but has since revised that to Taylor Swift).

My daughter is the most experienced player and she’s someone I would want at any table. She’s quiet, pays attention and she knows what she wants to do. IMG_0969

I’m also having a lot of fun watching the only other young lady at the table. She is quiet, almost reserved and very soft spoken with zero D&D experience. She is observant ans smart though. She listens, she asks questions and thinks outside of the box. She’s going to be a sharp player very quickly.

The party cleaned out the goblin cave. They set up a double-ruse. Agreeing to aid Yeemic (whom they renamed Yum-Yum) in overthrowing Klarg. They were loosely bound and brought before the bugbear but then charmed Klarg and assisted him in defeating the would be usurpers. After some congratulations by the bugbear they quickly left for Phandalin to avoid being nearby when the charm wore off.

Session Three

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This was the scariest session because not only did everyone return but four new players joined us! Four more Pc’s means this party goes to eleven! To save time I handed out four pre-generated characters and they jumped right into the story.

With this many kids at the table it is going to be an effort to channel and focus their energy. WE made it through an encounter with the Red Cloaks. They managed to capture three, defeat five and two well, they may have gotten away.

I guess we’ll see what happens next time.

 

Cultural Barbarians

I was getting ready to post something on the D&D Beyond forums about rage-less barbarians when it struck me that I was approaching the idea from the wrong angle. Instead of taking away a Barbarians Rage, let’s re-frame the concept of “barbarian”.

What makes a Barbarian?

Or Everybody’s So Mad!

Taking a look back down the interwebs, (and a short trip down memory lane, yes I am that old), we see that Barbarians were not introduced to D&D with much more flair than the Ranger. Just look at the Unearthed Arcana entry for them. What I see in the list of skills and abilities are the precursors (not direct translations) for the current iteration of barbarian attributes:

  • Back Protection => Danger Sense
  • Climb, Hide in Natural Surroundings => Current Skills list
  • Surprise => Feral Instinct
  • Leaping and Springing => Fast Movement

Somewhere in there we lost the Illusion detection and fear of magic. Oh well.

However ever since those kits in 2e, with 3e making it official the defining feature of a Barbarian is Rage.

Taken straight from the current SRD:

These barbarians, different as they might be, are defined by their rage: unbridled, unquenchable, and unthinking fury. More than a mere emotion, their anger is the ferocity of a cornered predator, the unrelenting assault of a storm, the churning turmoil of the sea. (…) For every barbarian, rage is a power that fuels not just a battle frenzy but also uncanny reflexes, resilience, and feats of strength.

The error in this thinking is that paints a broad scope picture of a people as rage-machines. A society peopled solely by Incredible Hulks would not last very long. I put forth that what we cal the Barbarian class is in actuality a Berserker. It is a specific role within barbarian society but not representative of Barbarians as a whole.

So what does this mean? How to apply that thinking to enable deeper breadth in your barbarians?

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Treat the Barbarian Class as just that: a class, a single aspect of the Barbarian culture. I prefer to call it a Berserker or Rager. That leaves me free to culturally use any of the other classes as Barbarians as well. All it takes is a little re-skinning.

If you want to create a Barbarian culture take a look at what makes them “barbarians”. This often implies a lack a civilization but I encourage you to simply have it be different than the prevailing society. Barbarians have their own customs and traditions and philosophies and education systems. That it covers different topics or diverges from “our” reasoning doesn’t mean it is less valuable/meaningful, just different.

Barbarians or often portrayed as savage, ignorant brutes but this isb308a96eeb3256b3cc8cf8e781ac73e7 too easy a trap to fall into. We are holding barbarians to our (unequal) standards. Think of it this way: Compare ourselves to humans 100 years ago.

We might consider ourselves to be smarter and more enlightened but  just over 100 years ago we had Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison fighting it out in the War of Currents. They were masters of their technology. Expose them to our tech and they would be able to master and further it (hell they started and foresaw some of it).

 

 

Classy Barbarians

Having a Barbarian “culture” or society allows you a lot of leeway. You are now free to play any of the other classes and re-skin them into your barbarian civilization! In general I would say this means limiting their resources or available technology until they encounter it in their travels but really you can make it mean whatever you want. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

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Bards – Barbarian tribes have strong oral traditions. In addition to or in place of instruments they could chant or sing or perhaps tell stories. That sounds a pretty fascinating to me actually.

 

Clerics/Druids – Clerics and Druids could very easily be recast as shaman or seers. Use local materials in place of the heavy metal armors. Consider multiple Gods/Spirits in place of traditional deities.

Fighter – Not much needs to change here. Use different materials for heavy armor equivalents or perhaps restrict them until further adventuring takes place. The key difference is that here is a barbarian warrior that is not a Rage-machine. This makes “traditional barbarians” take the specific role of “berserker”.

Monk – diablo-iii-the-monk-f-360x360Barbarians are just a likely to have traditional hand/fist martial arts. “Fight with what you have”. I would probably change the flavor from the serene, meditative monastery to a raucous field of barbs learning the most efficient ways to attack each other without weapons.

 

Paladin – Apart from limiting or re-flavoring gear as you did for the fighter not much needs to change. A paladin could be a crusader or an avenger born to protect the tribe or hunt down fiends. A holy warrior is not defined by his plate mail. It is his devotion, his zealotry his willingness to do what his God requires of him.

Ranger/Rogue – The close scoutrelationship to nature that barbarians already have makes this an easy substitution. The gear and equipment doesn’t change much. Rogue/Scouts could join rangers as infiltrators and protectors of the tribe. Ranger/Beastmasters are a pretty typical barbarian trope.

Sorcerer/Warlock/Wizard – Barbarians initially were written with a fear of magic but since that has changed they are free to have tribal spell-casters. Again, call them seers, witches, warlocks whatever fits the flavor.

The dark hut, secluded from the others, with rancid smells or fearful noises. Most other barbarians in the tribe avoid it and its inhabitant, but be assured they are glad he is there. Wizards might need to forgo the idea of colleges of study but can learn under the tutelage of their master or masters.

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These are a few ideas deliberately wide-ranging and vague so you can plug in whatever details you want that make sense for your character in your world. Work with your DM or your players to find the details that fit your characters and give you a wider range of options to make your (insert character class here) barbaric.

 

Religion in Dungeon and Dragons

Polytheism in D&D

Just what does it mean to live in a world with more than one God? In our very real world we struggle with the concept of one God versus many versus God having multiple manifestations. I’m not here to discuss real world religious doctrine or faiths (though that is a favorite topic).

For the purposes of many D&D and RPG game worlds there are many Gods present in the world. Think of the Greek or Roman pantheons we learned about in school. One God rules over one aspect of the world or perhaps many but not everything. “God of the Seas? You bet! But uh, I can’t do anything about your crops drying up…go ask her.” This means there is a great deal of diversity for players to choose from and almost endless role-playing and flavor potential.

In my experience however each character still acts as though only one God truly matters: their particular God. In fact many characters don’t acknowledge the gods at all. This I think, is a problem.

Let’s explore this from the perspective of the characters shall we?

There is an adventurer, lets say a fighter. A mercenary. She travels the world selling her sword-arm to the highest bidder. While in the north she meets a shaman able to speak with the dead! While in the south she faces a priest of the Sun God able to call down columns of fire on his enemies! During her time as a pirate (you know it) the ships cleric calls on the favor of the Sea Goddess to grant her the ability to breathe water and she swims to the hull of an enemy vessel and bores it full of holes!

All of these are actual events the character experienced and benefited from. Factual evidence of the existence and power of the Gods!  She personally experienced the power of all of them. How can the character in question support the existence and power of only one of these Gods?

She cannot. Each deity is as real to her as the other. So my main question in this: How  does a character worship in a world with multiple Gods? A la carte.

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They worship all of them in the situations that require it. About to cross the sea? Pray to that Sea Goddess. Pray fervently. Entering a maze/dungeon? Pray to the finder of lost souls. Each God or Goddess has a place and a role and the characters in that world must honor that. Yes a warrior would serve the God of Battle first and foremost, but he would pray to The Mother to watch over his family while he is away, to the Lord of Storms for favorable battle conditions and so on.

Now even if they are not your favored deity they are a deity and they demand worship. To use a D&D example look at what happens when Tanis encounters just the slightest shadow of Takhisis in the DragonLance novels. He kneels. She is the epitome of evil, the very thing he is fighting against and even the slightest, the weakest version of her demands his respect. He bows before her.

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So what’s the point? I think we as players are missing out on a huge role-play opportunity. Devoting oneself to one particular God does not negate the Godhood of the other deities, merely how you interact with them and their followers.

DM’s: encourage your players to utilize religion beyond the God the Cleric or Paladin follows. A rogue  or fighter or barbarian will have just as much need for divine guidance as a cleric.

Players: Think about how your character views religion? Are they religious? Very much so or a bit of a Sunday morning Paladin? Do they devote themselves to one God or keep their options open?

Let me know how it goes. I love hearing and sharing stories of our games.