D&D 30 Day Challenge, Day 24

Nothing says magical fun like other meaningless looking spells. By this, I mean cantrips. I love cantrips.

Why?

Because cantrips allow creativity and fun. They don’t really do significant damage. Nor are they ever overwhelmingly powerful. Right, so what’s the point then?

Cantrips can impact a game in small ways. Spells like, Ghost Sounds, Prestidigitation, or Light are all really useful spells. Each and every one can and will impact a game. Need a torch, use light. I guarantee this spell will get used. Same with prestidigitation. What better way to steal a key? Ghost Sounds? How about a diversion when guards might be looking for your group?

All of these spells get used, and all the time. I love them. Not only are they useful, but finding ways to work them into games are always interesting. Seeing players figure out how to make use of cantrips really shows who is at the table. `It’s a great way to bring out the most in players.

Also, weak spells demonstrate something I love about RPGs. It isn’t the ability to throw fireballs that makes the games fun. Its how the players make the most of the characters. Cantrips are a brilliant way to show this off. Don’t believe me? Try it!

I can more or less guarantee early games will be fueled by how creative a player can be with low-level abilities. Chief among these are cantrips. This is where a player really learns how to use magic, not by slaying foes, but by influencing the game in subtle ways.

D&D 30 Day Challenge, Day 23

Just as with my favorite monster, I don’t have a least favorite. My issue was with the so-called “splat” books released for D&D. Frankly, there have just been to many of them. Go and read through some of the expansion books for the Monstrous Manual. They’re dreadful.

This is, of course,  a generalization. In every D&D book is at least some small kernel of wisdom, but the more books they tried to pump out, the more the quality deteriorated. There numerous examples of this, but one has always stuck out to me as really just not trying on the part of the writers.

There is the classic “Nightmare”. A very cool monster. An infernal beast with flaming hooves and mane. I’ve never disliked this monster. In fact, I don’t dislike the more powerful version of a Nightmare. I do however, dislike the creature that is directly related to the hellish steed, the Cauchemar.

Why?

Because Cauchemar is French for “Nightmare”. There was basically zero effort in making up that name. I understand wanting to have a more powerful version of the more well-known Nightmare, but just looking for the exact same word in a French-English dictionary is just truly uninspired. At least change the spelling a little bit, right?

This problem exists in a lit of the splat books. Lots of cool concepts ended up as boring garbage. At least since it’s gaming, taking the content and remaking it into your own thing is strongly encouraged. In the world of D&D though, sometimes less is more really makes a difference.

D&D 30 Day Challenge, Day 22

“Come children, gather round, but remain silent, for the sun has fallen. Shhhh….,” says the wizened old woman. Outside, a gentle breeze calmly rustles the trees and the moon lights the sky. The danger moves freely though.

In the above there’s no actual threat, rather there is the mention of the threat. Something could happen. Consequences are presented, but the monster could be just about anything. Truthfully, that’s what a monster is. The specifics don’t matter in this instance, but as the story progresses the monster would be revealed.

The monster would be entirely dependent on the context created by the story. It helps to have a connection between the story, the threat, and the threat’s manifestation. It doesn’t need to be a bland monster. If people are being drained of their blood, most people would think vampire, but it could be something else. Maybe it’s a pack of stirges, some kind of blood-drinking slime infestation, or really anything. Whatever it is, it should match the threat. Choosing a monster is like choosing a tool. You need to have the right one for the job. If you choose the wrong one, you might get the job done, but it might not be quality work.

At the end of the day, there is no one monster to rule them all. I love all my dreadful creatures, and even the loveable squishy ones. Every monster has its role to play. I love them all.

D&D 30 Day Challenge, Day 21

Favorite dragon…

Seriously?

How in the name of Strahd are you supposed to be able to pick a favorite dragon? I mean, its in the name of the game. Without dragons there would just be dungeons! Its like half the fun is gone. Lame.

No thank you.

It’s all dragons, or I’m in denial about there being no dragons.

This is one of those things where I just don’t want to choose. Like giants, dragons have been around. They are experienced. There is an incredible wealth of international folklore, myth, and what not pertaining to dragons. Choosing just one is really limiting your palette for no particular reason.

St. George vs. The Dragon

Lancelot vs. The wyrm

Amazing Asian sky, river, and storm dragons

And so on

This is literally just the tip of the draconic iceberg. The lore is much, much richer than those few examples.

Also, dragons just have too much going for them. They’re intelligent, cunning, magical, have magical powers, and they are a staple of fantasy literature. Imagine Tolkien’s The Hobbit without Smaug. I don’t want to. Imagine fantasy gaming without dragons. I don’t want to do that either. Having amazing beasts, and knowing where to find them helps bring a lot to the (gaming) table.

The final point is really that, dragons makes games better. If you disagree, you have a right to your opinion, but in this case its wrong. Playing a game called “Dungeons” could only ever be improved by adding dragons.

 

D&D 30 Day Challenge, Day 19

Frankenstein, or in D&D speak, a flesh golem. This is my answer for what is my favorite elemental/plant/construct. I like the idea of including classic concepts into my games, and a flesh golem is just that.

I’m not really being fair to the other choices for this category, but I also don’t have the same love for elementals or plants. That’s not true. Elementals are very cool, and recently I’ve been considering narrative ideas to bring them into my own games.

The reason I like flesh golems though is that I find it just allows me to bring elements of fiction into my games that I love. Tortured characters, freakish monsters, and anything that contributes to the first two.

Also, I love dark fantasy and horror elements in fantasy stories. Infusing a fantasy adventure campaign with a horrifying creature like a flesh golem, and of course, its creator. Granted, this allows certain kinds of story lines, but you can’t really force the issue too much, you know? Regardless, this kind of monster is very cool.

With golems of any stripe, it is necessary to have more than just the golem. It adds a level of complexity to the story when you know you’ll probably be dealing with more than the initial threat. With plants and elementals, their reason for existing just isn’t the same.

Same thing with plants. In many cases, plants are basically just furniture. They exist in the space, but they don’t really require other people. They can, but not always. Often, plants are, at least for me, environmental hazards. So, long live flesh golems.

D&D 30 Day challenge, Day 20

“The giants are coming!”

I’m a sucker for classic monsters. Giants are classic example of this. They’ve factored into all kinds of stories in all kinds of media.

Generally speaking, I only use giants as a threat in my games. Without really ever being present, giants always seem like something horrible that could befall the PCs, as well as the NPCs. Its a way to spur action, and cause tension. The beauty is that the giants never even really need to be there. They can comfortably exist as a far-off threat. Something that would require its own special quest to resolve.

On the other hand, they can useful NPCs. Giants can help as well. They basically humanoids, albeit on a very large scale. Maybe a hill giant is having some trouble with something, and “asks” your characters to help it. Why not? Its a reliable a quest hook as anything else, right?

Then there’s the fact that giants a basis in folklore. This is another reason I like classic monsters. Anything that has a history in tales from different cultures can add a lot of depth. If I really want to go this route, then I can dig up some folklore, and tie that into my games. I’ve always felt being able to do this really enhances what can be brought to the gaming table.

Giants are cool creatures. They offer a lot to games, and have an incredible depth in folklore, myths, and all manner of tall tales. They really only enhance games. (Pun may or may not be intended.)

D&D 30 Day Challenge, Day 18

This is one of the entries where I don’t have a lot to say. Really. The question of the day is, “Favorite Planar Being/Creature, but I don’t have one of those. My games rarely veer off in those directions. Not because they couldn’t, but for whatever reason, they just don’t.

Maybe it’s my group, or former groups, to be more specific. Maybe its just the material we ran incidentally didn’t include this stuff. Maybe we were intimidated by the whole “planar” thing. (Only some of us were good at geometry. Ba-dum-bum! Nerd humor!)

In the end though, it really is something that never factored in for us. And so, I have nothing to say good or bad about Planar beings/creatures. On to the next day!

D&D 30 Day Challenge, Day 17

My favorite animal is…anything that has the word “dire” stuck on the front of it. This has to be one of the best/worst approaches to creating monsters D&D has. I love that there is a super-sized version of pretty much any run of the mill creature you think of. However, I also hate that throwing the word dire in front of animal also means it has the same generic physical description. Spikes, red eyes, and its bigger than normal. Every. Single. One.

You might think that the designers could have been a little more creative, but no. I feel like this a Spock’s goatee version of making an otherwise animal seem sinister and menacing. “i know, give it spikes and stuff. Make it big,” says Designer 1. “Oh yeah, and give it red eyes. Red eyes are badass,” says designer two. And they agree and dire animals are set print as part of the roster of D&D monsters.

I do however, like the idea that there are improbably more terrifying beasties living just beyond the forest’s edge, so to speak. A warthog seems like it could be dangerous, but maybe isn’t that big of a deal. On the other hand, a dire boar is a handful, and can tear a PC apart. Same goes with rats. In fact, Dire Rats help ratchet up the scale of danger when I need to throw little curve-balls.

All in all this is a

D&D 30 Day Challenge, Day 16

Anyone that doesn’t say Gelatinous Cube as their favorite ooze is lying. Is it an ooze? Who knows? At the same time, it counts as one. Most importantly, its fun.

(It doesn’t hurt that its iconic.)

The prospect of being chased around a dungeon by a gelatinous cube really is almost kind of the D&D experience. The idea that a huge perfectly geometrical thing can chase people around with some kind of autonomy is so absurd that its brilliant. This is one of those moments where you don’t ask for a rationale explanation. Its cool, just go with it. Let the fun be fun, and run with that.

The other part of this that’s fun, is that this is a less is more creature. Whole dungeons full of these things would be boring, but every once in a while it’s kind of fun. It’s almost more like an animated trap rather than a monster, but that’s part of the appeal, in my opinion.

It’s also not the kind of thing you’d want to run into as a weaker adventurer, but it is in its own way, something to look forward to. It’s a sign of progress in the game. Same with other monsters, like a Beholder.

In the end, its fun. People don’t ask, where do these things come from? Never. Usually its, how do we escape? Or, how do we kill it? Sometimes, creatures are just fun. A gelatinous cube is a perfect of example of how that is possible.

D&D 30 Day Challenge, Day 15

“Unnnghhh…” says the creature as it makes its way into the campsite, sinking its teeth into the first thing that moves. The crowd screams and scatters, as the young man struggles with less and less vigor as he’s taken down.

The walking dead may be a comic book, a tv show, a horror staple, and are a major component of tabletop gaming. I’ve run whole campaigns around undead, and really I have no preference here. Zombies, ghouls, and more. Honestly, when it comes to horrific monsters like undead, the more the merrier. You really can’t ask for creatures that suit adventuring better. Maybe a few, but undead are kind of always a staple.

Choosing the right past-its-prime creepy creature is important. They all have different traits, and really don’t fit all situations. All of them crave the living though. Anytime you need a sort of hostile automaton to chase after the PCs, undead are the choice.

Zombies if you need mindless shock troops. Ghouls if you need something with a little more autonomy. Vampires if you need something more political, but brilliantly sinister. There are just a lot of options, and stories can move in all kinds of directions.

Perhaps one of the best things about undead is making sure there’s a reason to use them. Then again, you can just do what you like. Like any game, make it your own. Even if your own is a living dead creature feature.