Halloween, Hunters, and Homebrew, oh my!

This last Monday, as some of you may or may not know, was Halloween. Halloween…the legendary night of spooks, monsters, and copious amounts of candy. While this fall holiday caught me admittedly by surprise this year (I didn’t even have a proper costume!), it did get me thinking back on a certain tabletop RPG chock full of monsters and magic and how, through the concept of homebrew, it can be tailor made to fit any festivity!

Homebrew, at least in D&D, can be loosely defined as, “any campaign in which the DM has cobbled together what he wants in his game. This can be a mix of published material and custom-created material,” according to en.world.org. Simply put, to homebrew something is to bend the official rules of the game in order to create something new, often to fit a particular situation. For instance, there are homebrew monsters created just for Halloween…like this Pumpkin King posted on dnd-5e-homebrew.tumblr.com this last monday which inspired this post!

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The Great Pumpkin is real, Charlie Brown! Sorry…couldn’t resist. But, this monster and others like the Timekeeper or Evil Doll (Dungeons & Dragons Memes) are just a few examples of the amazing things that can come from the mind of a creative DM. Homebrew monsters can make a stagnant campaign lively once more by giving the players something new they’ve never encountered before or keep veteran players who have slain every creature in the Monster Manual on their toes by throwing them up against a foe only the DM knows the strengths and weaknesses of. Like in the case of a Halloween campaign like the Pumpkin King was designed for, homebrew can provide a unique experience separate from your usual dragon-slaying and damsel-saving.

Homebrew doesn’t just apply to monsters, though. DMs can homebrew classes and races as well. A famous homebrew class (in my opinion) is that of the Witch Hunter, created by Matthew Mercer (geekandsundry.com). Mercer is a well-loved voice actor and DM of the popular D&D YouTube show, Critical Roll, by Geek&Sundry. For a Halloween special of their weekly Thursday session featuring guest star, Vin Diesel, Mercer homebrewed the Witch Hunter class for Diesel in honor of his latest movie, The Last Witch Hunter (geekandsundry.com). You can watch the special here (I highly recommend it!)

This class offered a unique combination of melee fighting with crossbows and spellcasting with blood magic, a homebrew style of magic drawing power from the caster’s own body. After the special, Mercer shared this new class online so other DMs around the world could add it to their own campaigns as an option for their players to play.

This brings me to the darker side of homebrew (to carry on with the creepy Halloween vibe I’ve got going). As homebrew deliberately breaks the rules, there aren’t any true restrictions to prevent imbalance. A certain homebrew monster might be near impossible to defeat by even the most skilled PCs or a homebrew class might get twice as many skills, proficiencies, and spells as any other class. While usually not intended in malicious spirit, these can tilt the campaign wildly in or out of the PCs’ favor, sometimes even “breaking” the session and spoiling the whole group’s fun. This is why most homebrew material is thoroughly play-tested by experienced D&D players before it is released online, in order to make sure the content is balanced and find out what must be changed if it isn’t. Some untested homebrew material is uploaded on online wikis or reddit with merely a warning to use at your own risk.

Sadly, in my experience with D&D 5e, there is a LOT of homebrew material out there…much of it poorly written or unbalanced. However, that should not discourage DMs and PCs, both newbie and veteran, from looking into homebrew material for their campaigns. Homebrew adds something wild and new to spice up a session, but like any spice, it should be used in moderation. After all, all those D&D rulebooks and supplements were made with the intention that players actually use them. Still whether it be a Halloween Pumpkin King or a Christmas St. Nick Demon (they DO exist), D&D homebrew is sure to give an interesting twist to any game.

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Source: paizo.com

Can you Teach an Old Dog New Tricks? D&D 3.5 Edition vs 5th Edition

I’ve mentioned in previous posts such as D&D for Dummies that there are many different versions of Dungeons and Dragons. While they all are basically the same game, each is slightly different from the generation before it. The most popular, I’ve found, of the D&D editions is 3.5 as it was the last “good” edition as far as many people are concerned. 4th edition left a bad taste in the mouth of many players due to focusing more on combat than storytelling, which only leaves 5th edition, the new kid on the block. How does this newest edition compare to the oldy-but-a-goody 3.5?

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D&D is known as a very detailed and admittedly complicated game. Whether it be sword-fighting or chatting with a king, there are a LOT of stats that go into every roll and action a PC can take. This is one of the most major ways 3.5 and 5th differ in my opinion. 3.5 has thirty-five different skills which PCs could put points into in order to become better at said skill such as opening locks or spotting hidden enemies (Player’s Handbook: 3.5 Core Rules). It also gives PCs six abilities: Wisdom, Charisma, Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Constitution (as well as a Reflex, Fortitude, and Willpower for saving throws) which add further bonuses or penalties to a PC’s roll. On top of that, each class and/or race might get different penalties or bonuses that could further influence the outcome of  their course of action.

What I’m getting at here is that 3.5 had a lot more source material and expansion books, therefore it had a lot more numbers and rules to keep track of. While this had the advantage of allowing a PC to be whatever they want and be good at whatever they want, the surplus of information could be overwhelming to newbies, as I can say from personal experience. “3.5 is great for people who really love the number crunching and mechanical aspects of character building. There are a lot of options and you can pretty much always find a way to build whatever character you want. [But] It can be difficult to keep track of that much content and granular rules… It is a mountain of material that, while opening up vast opportunities for those that know all of it and where to find it, can be extremely daunting for those trying to jump in,” (Pros & Cons to D&D 3.5, 4e and 5).

5th edition on the other hand is “Simplicity, Simplicity, simplicity,” (Pros & Cons to D&D 3.5, 4e and 5).  Many of the rules in 3.5 were condensed or simplified in 5th which made it much easier to just pick up and play, especially if you’re green to D&D in general. The original thirty-five skills were condensed to eighteen (the six abilities stayed the same), and instead of adding a bunch of negative or positive modifiers to skills, a PC was proficient (add +1 up to +5 to roll) with a skill or not (Player’s Handbook: 5th edition). 5th brought in the advantage/disadvantage system. If a PC had advantage, they rolled their d20 twice and took the higher of the two rolls, and conversely, at disadvantage, they took the lower (3.5e to 5e). This helped to speed up game play, particularly in larger groups. With simplified stats and proficiencies, PCs could get at best a +11 to a roll, instead of a +20 (if they played their cards right) as they might in 3.5 edition. Some resented this as being too restricting while I feel it balances PCs across the board better.

In the same vain of simplicity, 5th brought in resistance and vulnerability. While in 3.5 a PC might take a +5 or -5 to damage of a certain type (plus other modifiers), a PC takes a flat half damage with resistance or twice the damage with vulnerability (Nerd Immersion). Weapons, taking rests, and other mechanics that were determined by numbers or more complex rules in 3.5 were condensed down into a “type 1 or type 2” sort of style.

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Source: serpent77.com

D&D, being a fantasy RPG, also has a lot of lore and importance in magic. This is the one other area where 3.5 and 5th edition differentiate greatly. There are a lot of expansion books in 3.5 that go into different magic circles and orders, but to simplify, spell casters in 3.5 were complicated but widely powerful classes. They couldn’t wear armor as it interfered with their spells (inflicting one of those many penalties I mentioned earlier), their cantrips or “free” spells were useless in combat, and there was a LOT more spells that a PC could choose from which ranged from quirky but useful to ridiculous and completely over powered (Nerd Immersion).

In contrast, 5th edition spell casters were more balanced. Armor no longer got in the way of their magic, letting them wear armor if they had a proficiency in it. Their cantrips could actually do damage and scale in power well enough to remain useful in combat. The spell list was condensed a bit overall, and the different magic wielding classes could no longer know as many spells as they once could in 3.5. In general, using magic was “much less mathy…mostly fixed numbers instead of per-level calculations”(Pros & Cons to D&D 3.5, 4e and 5). These changes were met with mixed reviews as some veterans disliked what they felt were more limited options for spells.

As you can see, there are a lot of difference just between these two editions of the same game! Yet, both 3.5 and 5th edition D&D remain ever popular and heavily played. Every tabletop RPG has its pros and cons, so if you want to dive into this world, go look into what sort of game might be the best for how you like to play!

It’s All About Class

In its 40 years of history,   Dungeons and Dragons has featured a large amount of different classes for people to play as. Each new edition and supplement handbook brought new archetypes for adventurers…though not all classes were home runs as blogger Rob Bricken can attest to. In his article The 24 Most Embarrassing Dungeons & Dragons Character Classes, he went over some more…inspired classes from older editions of D&D such as Beggar, Clown, or Fetishist which really are better left forgotten. While he mostly tears apart these useless classes, he does reaffirm that despite this D&D has far more well-made classes than it does bad.

From the beginning with the 1st edition of D&D, this tabletop RPG’s classes can be grouped into a few main categories: Fighters, Wizards, Clerics, Rogues, and Rangers. According to Wizards of the Coast, the distributor and current owner of D&D, these are the “five key classes to the game” which, despite evolving to suit the times and current player demographic, have stayed pretty much the same since their inception and remain staples of the series. But, did you know that these classes are actually inspired by real-world people and jobs?

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Fighters are based off your standard militia man or even tavern brawler in some editions, Wizards of the Coast states. All around balanced units with many versatile fighting skills and proficiency with every weapon and armor type, Fighters embody a heavy-hitting melee combatant. In 5th edition, fighters are now more of a jack-of-all-trades with the Barbarian class taking its place as team powerhouse.

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Wizards and Clerics, sometimes lumped together under the common title of Mage, can cast spells with any number of reality-warping effects and generally stay off the front lines due to being unable to wear armor. Wizards, based off witches or alchemists, appeared first in 1971, but Clerics, based off of clergy men or women, did not appear until 1974 in a later edition of the game (Wizards of the Coast). While many other spell-slinging classes have been introduced by 5th edition such as the unpredictable Sorcerer and the devious Warlock (a personal favorite of mine), the Wizard and Cleric still remain the most iconic.

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Ever wanted to play a character who was a complete scoundrel or perhaps a notorious thief stalking through the shadows of night? Enter the Rogue class, based off of the assassin and pick-pocket (if you couldn’t already guess). The Rogue was a favorite of D&D’s founder Gary Gygax’s who “liked the concept, creating his own thief for Great Plains Game Players Newsletter #9″ in June of 1974 (Wizards of the Coast). Like Clerics, Rogues oddly enough did not grace the D&D stage until a few years after the initial game was released. While other archetypes like the Mage have been reworked and expanded in newer editions, Rogues are pretty much the same as they’ve always been and remain the best class built for stealth…though the Monk class can come a close second depending on certain choices made by the players.

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The last class archetype I’ll be covering is the Ranger. Rangers are based off of Robin Hood, traveling archers at home in the outdoors (in that regard you could say they draw some inspiration from park rangers as well). Like Fighters, Rangers are physical attackers except with an affinity for long-ranged combat. Rangers were introduced the latest at 1975 and remained somewhat unnoticed for many years more, though they are an extremely popular class choice now. This class even drew on concepts from another popular fantasy series: Lord of the Rings. “This primeval ranger was likely influenced by Aragorn from Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), as its 2nd level title was “strider” states Wizards of the Coast. Like Rogues, Rangers haven’t changed too much over time though they have gained some major advantages such as the choice of having a beast companion (who doesn’t want a panther as a pet?)

D&D gives players so many options of what kind of adventurer they wish to be. Every class tells something different about the player. For instance, I play as a Monk, a holy kung-fu fighter, in my current campaign. The widely popular tabletop RPG masters of Youtube, Nerdarchy, said in their web series that playing a Monk often means the player likes to have a more balanced playstyle as the Monk class specializes in speed and versatility while also being a decent melee fighter (which is entirely true for me). They covered every class and I would highly recommend checking them out on Youtube if you want to learn more about pretty much anything D&D related.

 

A Guide to Not Dying: 5 Tips for Players New to Dungeons & Dragons

Just last week during our usual D&D session, my group received a new player to fill a hole in our party left by a player who had moved away. She’s enthusiastic but completely green to D&D. As one of the more knowledgeable people in our group, it was decided that I would mentor her on the ways of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition and help her create her adventurer. So, in honor of her and all the other newbies out there, here’s a few basic tips for being a better role player.

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Source: reddit.com

  1. Respect the Dungeon Master

    The Dungeon Master (Game Master in other tabletop RPGs) is god. Their word is law. DMs put a lot of effort into building the story and world as well as managing both PCs & NPCs (often having to improvise when the party decides to go in the exact opposite direction of where the DM was leading them). Listen to your DM and don’t argue with their rulings in the game. An annoyed DM can make an adventurer’s life very, VERY difficult if they so choose.

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  2. Know Your Role

    While 5th edition is simpler than previous editions, D&D has a lot of rules which can be overwhelming to new players. Learning as you go is fine, but I recommend doing some research on the character you plan to play before jumping in. Learn what your class’s strengths and weaknesses are. Study your race and its unique features. Find what your role will be in the group such as scout, tank, or healer. Write out your character’s motivations, backstory, and personality to remain consistent from session to session. Keeping these things in mind will help bring out your adventurer’s full potential in the game.

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    Source: imgur.com

  3. Stay in Character

    Being “in character” is putting aside all thoughts of yourself to take on the persona of your character. While in character, be aware of what is happening in the game world and avoid “breaking character” by bringing up real world chatter like some funny post on Snapchat. These distractions disrupt the flow of the story and can turn game play into a drag. Everyone has set aside this time to play the game, so don’t be rude and waste it by forcing the DM to repeat things because you weren’t paying attention. Keep your personal feelings about the other players separate from your character’s feelings. Conflict made in game can interesting or exciting. Conflict made out of game is not.

  4. Teamwork!

    I’m all about playing well-rounded characters, but no race or class can do it all. That’s why there’s an adventuring party. Talk to the other members of your group if you are stuck in a situation that seems unsolvable. Maybe you can’t bust down a door through brute force, but another player can pick the lock. Work together and pull upon the skills of every PC. Communicate. Don’t withhold information just because your character is “untrusting.” Everyone trust each other enough to be travelling and fighting together. Unless completely necessary, avoid splitting up or trying to be a lone wolf. You will always be able to accomplish more as a group than alone.

  5. Roll with it

    Remember, D&D is just a game. Everyone comes together to have fun and bond. Don’t get ultra nitpicky on rules. If your character dies (which can happen, sometimes very easily), don’t sweat it. Roll up a new one and keep playing. Don’t let role playing intimidate you. Odds are no one there is a professional actor so play out as much as you are comfortable. Be free to be silly or stupid. Laugh at yourself when you get that natural 1 (a critical failure) and whatever you were trying to do goes hilariously wrong. Have fun!

For more tips, check out a few of these sites (all of which helped inspire my list!):