Archive for April, 2015

This month’s RPG Blog Carnival theme is “The Combat Experience” selected by Samuel Van Der Wall over at RPG Alchemy. We all know combat can (and should) be really fun, but who among us hasn’t gotten bogged down in a slog of simply rolling dice until all monsters are eliminated? So for this month’s carnival I’m going to share some of my tips and tricks for keeping combat fresh and interesting. If you weave the ideas below into your combat encounters with frequency and variety, I promise you no more dull combats!

Time Factors

Adventurers fight their way up an airship docking tower to leap onboard a vessel as it pulls away. PCs battle an umber hulk in an underground cavern while a nearby drow mage completes a ritual to collapse an elf city above. The floor slowly opens beneath our heroes revealing a spiked pit as they battle angry aarakocra guards, one of whom holds the key to the door locking them in the deathtrap of a room. Giving the players a timed objective can really spice up combat. In the examples above they may only have so many rounds (determined by the DM) before the airship departs, the mage completes the ritual, or the floor completely opens beneath their feet. Suddenly the point is no longer kill everything, but rather accomplishing a goal before the timer dings. Watch as movement becomes more important than ever and PCs try all kinds of crazy improvised actions and risk opportunity attacks to get their goal accomplished in time.

The Third Dimension

It’s often easier to deal with only two dimensions in combat. Most games take place on flat battle maps or in the theater of the mind. We’re used to just length and width, but when you add height into your combat encounters, things instantly become more interesting. I don’t mean just adding a few flying creatures so now PCs have to use ranged attacks. I mean adding some high ground like hills or guard towers that both sides can try to take advantage of. It can be fun to see a great weapon fighter forced into using a longbow against flying foes and cursing with every miss, but isn’t it more exciting to see that PC charge up a hill or scale a wall to take down an enemy sniper? Being on higher ground provides a natural defense PCs can overcome or exploit, but if you want to spice things up a little more in the third dimension, give non-flying creatures with higher ground advantage on attacks against creatures on lower ground. If a creature is in flight it loses this advantage because they have to concentrate on, ya know, flying. Keep it simple, have only one or two areas of high ground and you can still use those flat maps (by simply marking off an area of high ground). A limited number of high ground areas also makes it easier to track this in theater of the mind.

Cater to the Monster

When the craftiest DM I know, Mike Shea, ran the Tarrasque Takedown, all of his encounters were specially designed monster lairs which catered to the beasties we were fighting. The Tarrasque’s encounter was in a tight space with low ceilings (so we were always within its deadly reach) and featured a river of fire (which the Tarrasque wouldn’t care about, being immune). The beholder death tyrant’s lair was bowl-shaped, so that he could get us with his eye beams and central eye as we struggled to climb the smooth walls to get up and attack him. The red dracolich’s lair was full of small platforms suspended above a sea of lava all of which were within perfect reach of the dragon’s massive breath weapon. When you create an encounter, especially for a monster in its own lair or on a battleground of its choosing, take a look at the creature’s abilities. What sort of natural defenses might that creature prefer? What defenses might it construct? How can it get the most out of its attacks? Don’t do this for every encounter, but it makes good sense for boss fights and prepared, intelligent enemies.

Moral Quandary

Give players difficult moral choices during an encounter. Perhaps a devious villain makes them choose one friendly NPC to die and another to live. Perhaps they were asked to bring back a bandit leader alive, but she insists on fighting until the death. Perhaps the PCs could end a dangerous threat once and for all, but doing so requires they use a weapon of mass destruction that would harm many innocents. Perhaps they face child soldiers in combat. It can be difficult to put characters in a moral quandary, especially in the middle of combat, but play to their personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws. These quandaries can cause debate amongst the players at the table, so if you’re in the heat of combat and don’t want to stop to argue a moral issue, give each player one minute to make their case, and then let initiative determine who acts and speaks when. Suddenly combat is more than just hacking up some baddies. It’s making choices and living with the consequences. If the PCs figure out a way to get what they want without any bad consequences, so much the better. Their cunning has made this a memorable and exciting encounter indeed.

Traps and Hazards

Rockslides, pits, crushing walls, swinging blades, earthquakes, lava-spewing vents, spider webs, and so much more can really make combat interesting. You don’t need to make things complicated with an enormous maze of traps (though if you do, kudos to you). Keep things simple. The trap or hazard activates and attacks random targets on initiative count 0. If it’s a one time thing like a rockslide, let it attack many targets, and if it happens every round, it should only attack one to three targets.

Siege Weapons

How fun is it in a video game when you get to use a cannon, enormous mounted machine gun, tank, or AT-AT? Super fun! Give your players the same option once in a while. Don’t make it easy. To use the catapult, ballista, or arcane cannon against the baddies, they first have to takeout the enemies who are operating the siege weapons against them.

Oh yeah.

Add a Puzzle

Giving players a puzzle to solve can really be frustrating for them and boring for you… but it’s fun if you add in some monsters for them to fight while solving it. Maybe the PCs can only close a portal to The Nine Hells by arranging colored gems in a specific order while the portal spews out devils for them to fight. Maybe the adventurers have to answer a sphinx’s riddle to a raise a bridge across a chasm while a throng of zombies presses down on them. Maybe summoned elementals endlessly attacks PCs until they complete a complex ritual honoring the god of nature. Give the players something to do aside from fight to end an encounter, and suddenly they have to decide who will fight and who will work on the puzzle.

Chases

I’ve written a lot about chases already. Turning a combat into a dramatic chase sequence means a constant change of terrain, a whole bunch of complications, and a lot of new environments to run through while battling. It can a little complicated to run a chase, but use the tips and tricks in my older post and you’ll be ready to rock.

Dungeon Brawls

Another thing I’ve written about are dungeon brawls. These battles are really a few encounters rolled into one, separated into waves. Take a look at my comprehensive post on these bad boys and you’ll be able to spice up a whole session’s worth of combat encounters.

Combine!

Why not have a timed puzzled? Or a chase through an environment that’s been created for a villain? Or a dungeon brawl with siege weapons? Go ahead! Mix and match the ideas above. You’ll be glad you did.

Above All, Say Yes

When a player asks if a character can do something crazy I almost always say one of two things, “Yes,” or, “You can try.” Sometimes combat can be made more interesting just by allowing your players the freedom to try whatever they want rather than restricting them to the options present in printed texts. Before you know it they’ll be taking all kinds of risks and trying to top one another with the most creative combat maneuver. Give saying yes all the time a shot. Let the PCs roll and set a high DC if the task seems nigh impossible, but let them try! It’s not about being a slave to the rules, that’s what makes combat stagnate. It’s about having a grand time telling a story together.

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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I’ve been doing a lot of updating since the official Dungeons and Dragons fifth edition rules came out last year. Next up on my list is updating the rules I wrote for the mind altering fantasy drug, orange spice. I wrote these rules last year using the final D&D Next playtest packet, so they’re due for an update.

When sorted, smoked, or ingested the vasiseing flower’s orange pollen causes great jubilation and energy within the user. The vasiseing pollen, more commonly called orange spice or simply orange, is highly addictive. Heavy users become dependent on the substance and can eventually lose their lives to the stuff.

History

Orange spice was first discovered growing wild in the Paxa Forest of Parian by soldiers in The Emperor’s Military. They found that after smelling the vasiseing flowers their mood was enhanced and their movements and reflexes were quicker. They harvested the flowers to share with their platoon and soon the entire nation became aware of the wonderful effects of orange spice. They figured the source of the effect was the flower’s pollen and so they began harvesting the substance. Farms were erected and Parian’s merchants began selling orange spice over seas.

It soon became clear orange spice had some terrible side effects. Many users developed a dangerous dependency which made them spend all their earnings on the drug. As these users ran out of money they began to live in squalor and turn to crime to feed their addictions. Others would take too much of the drug and overdose, which has a variety of random effects including death.

As these effects became clear the drug was outlawed in Findalay. Initially, Parian was upset with these developments as the country was the main supplier of orange spice, but as its own government’s eyes became open to the effects on their people, the emperor outlawed the drug as well.

In many ways this action was too little, too late. The trade was established and addicts created. Soon an international black market for the stuff was created. Today this same illegal market exists, bigger and more profitable than ever.

Orange Spice Cartels

The orange spice trade is now controlled by cartels small and large. Each cartel is a competing corporation in a business with no ethics and ruthless tactics. They are at war with law enforcement and each other.

At the head of each cartel is a boss. Each boss has his lieutenants who are responsible for a territory. They supervise the growers, smugglers, hitmen, and falcons within a given region, which could be as big as an entire country for larger cartels or as little as a city neighborhood for the smaller cartels. Cartels also have assets, folks not on the full-time payroll and outside the organization, but who can be tapped for a specific task when the need arises.

  • Growers – These are the people who grow the vasiseing flowers and harvest the pollen. They often have to farm in secret fields deep in the forests, or magically enhanced greenhouses so their activities are kept private. They keep these areas well-guarded with soldiers, animals, and traps. Most growers are based in Parian, but there are a few grow operations in Findalay and now Verda.
  • Smugglers – The most creative and charismatic people of the orange spice trade are the smugglers. They have to keep coming up with original ways to hide the orange from law enforcement and they must be bold enough to lie, bribe, and murder (when necessary) to keep from getting caught.
  • Hitmen – Kidnaps, thefts, extortion, assassinations, and all-out wars are the specialties of the cartels’ hitmen. They deal with problems in the most violent ways possible. Publicly when the cartels want to send a message, quietly when they don’t.
  • Falcons – The lowest level operatives of the cartels are also some of the most important. The eyes and ears on the street, falcons monitor and report the activities of law enforcement and rival cartels while serving as street dealers. Falcons are the merchants selling the drug to individuals.
  • Assets – Anyone could be a cartel asset, a bribed city watch sergeant looking the other way when a huge shipment arrives, a merchant with a kidnapped daughter allowing a smuggler to use his ship, or a politician being blackmailed into pardoning a group of thugs. Assets are manipulated by the cartel because of their job or position within a society. Usually a bribe is the first way a cartel will try to manipulate a target, then intimidation, blackmail, kidnapping, and violence come into play. It can be difficult to not give into the cartels’ demands. Even the smaller organizations tend to have assets in law enforcement and government, so there are few people one can turn to for help if a cartel comes knocking.

One of the largest cartels is the Rainbow Dragons, led by boss Juong Meral and based in Parian, but operating everywhere. They are rivaled by Sunset’s Children, another large Parian cartel led by boss Kerta Fernnath. In Aeranore, a small cartel called No Trace has gained some infamy as they have begun expanding into Taliana.

The cartels have begun moving into Verda, where the lawless land allows them to easily sell and transport orange spice. They have had success addicting colonists and the folk of the tribes at first, but the people of Verda have begun to wise up and many are wary of those peddling the stuff.

Effects of Orange Spice

Orange spice is a stimulant. It makes users faster and full of life, but leaves them feeling immensely down once the effect wears off. A user can snort the drug directly, absorb it through their tongue, or smoke it in a paper or pipe. The going price for a hit (or one dose) of orange spice is usually around 1gp.

One hit of orange spice grants users one extra action during their turn for the next hour. After the initial effect wears off, a secondary effect kicks in. Users must make a DC 15 Constitution saving throw. Users who fail the save are poisoned for the next 8 hours. Users who save are poisoned for 1 hour. The poisoned condition cannot be removed in any way, but it can be delayed by taking a second hit of orange spice, however the target risks overdosing (see below).

Once the orange spice’s secondary effect wears off, targets must make a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or become addicted. Each time a creature makes this saving throw within 1 month of the last time it made another Wisdom saving throw to avoid becoming addicted to orange spice, the DC increases by 1.

Addicted creatures have a difficult time functioning without orange spice. When they aren’t using, addicted creatures are considered poisoned and need to use just to function normally. An addicted creature needs one hit to function without the poisoned effect for 1 hour and two hits to feel the effects of the orange spice outlined above. A creature who takes two hits of orange spice at one time has disadvantage on the Constitution saving throw made when the orange spice’s effects wear off. A creature can detox to lose their addicted condition, but they must not use orange spice for a month.

A creature who takes orange spice twice in a day must make a DC 10 Constitution saving throw or overdose. For every use of orange spice after the second, the DC increases by 1. When a creature overdoses, roll on the chart below to see the effect of the overdose.

d20 Effect
1 Creature dies
2 – 4 Creature is unconscious for the next 8 hours
5 – 7 Creature is paralyzed for the next 8 hours
8 – 10 Creature is blinded for the next 8 hours
11 – 13 Creature is deafened for the next 8 hours
14 – 16 Creature becomes frightened of another creature of the DMs choosing for the next 8 hours
17 – 19 Creature cannot stand and is prone for the next 8 hours
20 Creature considers all other creatures it can see enemies and attacks for the next 8 hours

PDF Time!

So now that I’ve got a new module for addiction out there, you MIGHT want it for your game. If you do, there’s a free PDF in the link below and the same document will live forever on the Free Game Resources section of this site along with tons of other D&D fifth edition rules modules, backgrounds, monsters, spells, magic items, and more.

Orange Spice and Addiction Rules Module

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!


I sit down with Drootin Heacock, Richie “Walnuts” Sweeten, and Eric Sweeten of One-Quest to talk with them about their first EVER time playing D&D. Then it’s a conversation with Liz Theis of Lone Wolf Development about Hero Lab and Realm Works softwares and a few big, exciting updates coming in the future. This podcast was recorded on March 24, 2015.

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Links:

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, Bonus Action, is up on The Tome Show’s website.

In this episode Sam and I discuss the rules for spellcasting in D&D. You can find an explanation of these rules in the Player’s Basic Rules D&D PDF on pages 78-81 or in the Player’s Handbook on pages 201-205.

Sam’s Blog

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, The Round Table and Gamer to Gamer, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Throughout fantasy’s history summoning creatures to do one’s bidding has been a big part of the genre. Throughout Dungeons and Dragons‘ history spells like summon monster have served conjurers and conjurees alike elevating both to levels of notoriety they may not have achieved otherwise. While the Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook does present us with a variety of conjuration spells, the net cast on creature summoning is not nearly wide enough for me. So I present to you a bunch of new conjuration spells so you can summon creatures into battle!

I like my conjuring to be high risk high reward, so you’ll see some powerful creatures casters can lose control of in the descriptions below.

New Spells

Cleric Spells

4th Level

Conjure minor fiends (conjuration)

8th Level

Conjure fiend (conjuration)

Druid Spells

3rd Level

Conjure plants (conjuration)

Ranger Spells

3rd Level

Conjure plants (conjuration)

Sorcerer Spells

5th Level

Conjure slaad (conjuration)

9th Level

Conjure dragon (conjuration)

Warlock Spells

4th Level

Conjure minor fiends (conjuration)

5th Level

Conjure oozes (conjuration)

8th Level

Conjure fiend (conjuration)

Wizard Spells

1st Level

Conjure monstrosity (conjuration)

4th Level

Conjure minor fiends (conjuration)

5th Level

Conjure oozes (conjuration)

Conjure slaad (conjuration)

8th Level

Conjure fiend (conjuration)

9th Level

Conjure dragon (conjuration)

Conjure Dragon

9th-level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 minute

Range: 90 feet

Components: V, S

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour

You summon a dragon of challenge rating 9 or lower, which appears in an unoccupied space that you can see within range. The dragon disappears when it drops to 0 hit points or when the spell ends.

The dragon is friendly to you and your companions for the duration. Roll initiative for the dragon, which has its own turns. It obeys any verbal commands that you issue to it (no action required by you), as long as they don’t violate its alignment. If you don’t issue any commands to the dragon, it defends itself from hostile creatures, but otherwise takes no actions.

If your concentration is broken, the dragon doesn’t disappear. Instead, you lose control of the dragon, it becomes hostile toward you and your companions, and it might attack. An uncontrolled dragon can’t be dismissed by you, and it disappears 1 hour after you summoned it.

The DM has the dragon’s statistics.

Conjure Fiend

8th-level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 minute

Range: 90 feet

Components: V, S

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour

You summon a fiend of challenge rating 8 or lower, which appears in an unoccupied space that you can see within range. The fiend disappears when it drops to 0 hit points or when the spell ends.

The fiend is friendly to you and your companions for the duration. Roll initiative for the fiend, which has its own turns. It obeys any verbal commands that you issue to it (no action required by you), as long as they don’t violate its alignment. If you don’t issue any commands to the fiend, it defends itself from hostile creatures, but otherwise takes no actions.

If your concentration is broken, the fiend doesn’t disappear. Instead, you lose control of the fiend, it becomes hostile toward you and your companions, and it might attack. An uncontrolled fiend can’t be dismissed by you, and it disappears 1 hour after you summoned it.

The DM has the fiend’s statistics.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a 9th-level spell slot, you summon a fiend of challenge rating 9 or lower.

Conjure Minor Fiends

4th-level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 minute

Range: 90 feet

Components: V, S

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour

You summon fiends that appear in unoccupied spaces that you can see within range. Choose one of the following options for what appears:

  • One fiend of challenge rating 2 or lower.
  • Two fiends of challenge rating 1 or lower.
  • Four fiends of challenge rating 1/2 or lower.
  • Eight fiends of challenge rating 1/4 or lower.

A fiend summoned by this spell disappears when it drops to 0 hit points or when the spell ends.

The summoned creatures are friendly to you and your companions for the duration. Roll initiative for the summoned creatures, which have their own turns. They obey any verbal commands that you issue to them (no action required by you). If you don’t issue any commands to them, they defend themselves from hostile creatures, but otherwise take no actions.

The DM has the creatures’ statistics.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using certain higher-level spell slots, you choose one of the summoning options above, and more creatures appear: twice as many with a 6th-level slot and three times as many with an 8th-level slot.

Conjure Monstrosity

1st-level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 minute

Range: 90 feet

Components: V, S

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour

You summon a creature with the monstrosity type of challenge rating 1 or lower, which appears in an unoccupied space that you can see within range. The creature disappears when it drops to 0 hit points or when the spell ends.

The creature is friendly to you and your companions for the duration. Roll initiative for the creature, which has its own turns. It obeys any verbal commands that you issue to it (no action required by you), as long as they don’t violate its alignment. If you don’t issue any commands to the creature, it defends itself from other hostile creatures, but otherwise takes no actions.

If your concentration is broken, the creature doesn’t disappear. Instead, you lose control of the creature, it becomes hostile toward you and your companions, and it might attack. An uncontrolled creature can’t be dismissed by you, and it disappears 1 hour after you summoned it.

The DM has the creature’s statistics.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using a a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the challenge rating increases by 1 for each slot level above 1st.

Conjure Oozes

5th-level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 minute

Range: 90 feet

Components: V, S

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour

You summon oozes that appear in unoccupied spaces that you can see within range. Choose one of the following options for what appears:

  • One black pudding.
  • Two ochre jellies.
  • Two gelatinous cubes.
  • Eight gray oozes.

An ooze summoned by this spell disappears when it drops to 0 hit points or when the spell ends.

The summoned creatures are friendly to you and your companions for the duration. Roll initiative for the summoned creatures, which have their own turns. They obey any verbal commands that you issue to them (no action required by you). If you don’t issue any commands to them, they defend themselves from hostile creatures, but otherwise take no actions.

The DM has the creatures’ statistics.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using certain higher-level spell slots, you choose one of the summoning options above, and more creatures appear: twice as many with a 7th-level slot and three times as many with a 9th-level slot.

Conjure Plants

3rd-level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 action

Range: 90 feet

Components: V, S

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour

You summon fey spirits that take the form of plants and appear in unoccupied spaces that you can see within range. Choose one of the following options for what appears:

  • One plant of challenge rating 2 or lower.
  • Two plants of challenge rating 1 or lower.
  • Four plants of challenge rating 1/2 or lower.
  • Eight plants of challenge rating 1/4 or lower.

Each plant summoned by this spell is also considered fey, and it disappears when it drops to 0 hit points or when the spell ends.

The summoned creatures are friendly to you and your companions for the duration. Roll initiative for the summoned creatures, which have their own turns. They obey any verbal commands that you issue to them (no action required by you). If you don’t issue any commands to them, they defend themselves from hostile creatures, but otherwise take no actions.

The DM has the creatures’ statistics.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using certain higher-level spell slots, you choose one of the summoning options above, and more creatures appear: twice as many with a 5th-level slot, three times as many with a 7th-level slot, and four times as many with a 9th-level slot.

Conjure Slaad

5th-level conjuration

Casting Time: 1 minute

Range: 90 feet

Components: V, S

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 hour

You summon a red slaad, which appears in an unoccupied space that you can see within range. The slaad disappears when it drops to 0 hit points or when the spell ends.

The slaad is friendly to you and your companions for the duration. Roll initiative for the slaad, which has its own turns. It obeys any verbal commands that you issue to it (no action required by you), as long as they don’t violate its alignment. If you don’t issue any commands to the slaad, it defends itself from hostile creatures, but otherwise takes no actions.

If your concentration is broken, the slaad doesn’t disappear. Instead, you lose control of the slaad, it becomes hostile toward you and your companions, and it might attack. An uncontrolled slaad can’t be dismissed by you, and it disappears 1 hour after you summoned it.

The DM has the slaad’s statistics.

At Higher Levels. When you cast this spell using certain higher-level spell slots you can summon a different type of slaad. You can summon a blue slaad using a 7th-level slot, a green slaad using an 8th-level spell slot, and a gray slaad with a 9th-level slot.

Have a PDF. You Earned It!

As usual, I wouldn’t just leave you with this information in a blog post. Why not have it in a PDF you can download and keep forever and ever and ever? So you can grab these spells in the link below or head on over to the Free Game Resources of this site where you can find rules modules, magic items, monsters, and more for your game.

Conjuration Spells

If you like what you’re reading, please check out my podcasts on The Tome Show, follow me on Twitter, tell your friends and share this blog post, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!