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A5E Kickstarter live! Go back it!

Tue, 10/05/2021 - 16:36

Level Up: Advanced 5E, the project I’ve been working on for a year, is now live on Kickstarter! (Funded in 18 minutes!) Go back it immediately!

Let me tell you about my contributions to each of the 3(?!) core books.

The Monstrous Menagerie

The Monstrous Menagerie is closest to my heart. I’m the lead writer and designer on this one. In this book, I’ve worked over every stat block in core D&D (except the dozen Wizards IP monsters: mind flayers, gith, displacer beasts, and so on). This is a straight up upgrade of the Monster Manual. There’s really no reason not to get the Monstrous Menagerie.

  • Gone are the boring bag-of-hit-points monsters. Every monster does something interesting.
  • Monsters have been re-balanced, so there are no more disappointing one-round disappointments (looking at you, mummy and vampire).
  • There are more monsters! About twice as many stat blocks as in the MM, including NPCs (my favorite monster).
  • A big team of writers re-did the lore for every monster: Andrew Engelbrite, Anthony Alipio, Cassandra Macdonald, J R Zambrano, Jocelyn Gray, Josh Gentry, Mike Myler, Morrigan Robbins, Peter Coffey, Peter N Martin, Russ Morrissey, Sarah Breyfogle, Sarah Madsen, Shane Stacks, Will Fischer, Will Gawned, Yvonne Hsiao, and me. By throwing a lot of biological determinism in the garbage, we opened up a lot of room for more interesting storytelling.
  • More dragon stat blocks than the Monster Manual and Fizban’s combined, with more interesting and specific abilities too boot. Cassandra Macdonald and Andrew Engelbrite did great design work here.
  • I got to add every bell and whistle I wanted in a bestiary: name lists, sample treasures, monster behavior charts, and other game-running aids.
  • Dozens of “elite” monsters, much stronger than legendary monsters, which can provide solo challenges to high-level parties.
  • New monster-building guidelines based on my MM on a Business card.
  • New encounter-building guidelines. If you’ve noticed that high-level characters are impossible to challenge using the traditional guidelines – or that first-level parties are too easy to TPK – I’ve got fixes for that.

    the Adventurer’s Guide

    OK, you already know about the Monstrous Menagerie – I talk about it plenty. The Adventurer’s Guide is the player-facing book, with classes and spells and so on. What did I do on the Adventurer’s Guide?

  • I did the rogue class, along with three new subclasses: the cutthroat, burglar, and trapsmith. Like all A5E classes, the rogue has a lot more customization options than the 5e class, including access to battlemaster-like combat maneuvers. My biggest change to the rogue class, though, was the addition of skill tricks, a menu of mini-abilities that expand the way you can use a skill, and which incidentally grant you an expertise die.
  • What’s an expertise die? It’s a replacement for 5e’s doubled proficiency bonus (which I don’t particularly like: I play a lot of high-level D&D, and a +12 bonus to a skill roll smashes bounded accuracy). You add an expertise die to a roll when you are particularly skilled at a task. Expertise dice stack in an interesting way. When you first gain an expertise die in, say, Stealth, you get a d4. If another feature grants you another expertise die in Stealth, the d4 becomes a d6. You never roll more than one expertise die on a check. Expertise dice started as a rogue feature and ended up becoming an important A5E design tool.
  • Spells! In my opinion, this is worth the price of admission alone. It was very important to me that we rebalance 5e’s spells. If you play high-level D&D, you know that certain spells, like force cage and animate object, make for less-fun encounters. We redid every spell, clarifying confusions, fixing broken spells and outliers, and folding in errata – and we’ve also added about a hundred new spells.
  • Rare spells! Another one of my home-game inventions that I snuck into the final project. I’ve always loved the idea of a special version of a spell, which can be obtained as treasure, which has an extra, cool effect in addition to the standard usage. For instance, a version of flaming sphere that you can ride like a chariot, or (very important in my game group) a permanent version of animal friendship. The other developers loved this idea and ran with it and now we have tons of rare spells.
  • Backgrounds. I redid the format of backgrounds, with an eye to providing adventure possibilities past level 1. Instead of a d6 list of bonds, a background now includes a d10 list of connections: specific NPCs from your history that the GM can leverage. Instead of a single equipment list, a background comes with a d10 list of trinkets or mementos, each of which provides a plot hook. For example, as an acolyte, your connection might be “the inquisitor who rooted out your heresy (or framed you) and had you banished from your temple” and your memento “a half-complete book of prophecies which seems to hint at danger for your faith—-if only the other half could be found!” Finally, each background comes with an “advancement” section detailing how you might earn an extra background advantage at high level. (An acolyte who advances their faith might earn devoted followers.)
  • Math! I did a pretty good amount of balancing for all the classes and combat maneuvers. “Balance” isn’t everything, but you might as well shore up the classes that lag behind.
  • The above are just my contributions, out of a dozen designers. Other stuff you should look for: every class has been expanded and rebalanced. Weapons, armor, and equipment have been overhauled and expanded. 5e “race” is gone, replaced by a hugely expanded set of ancestries and heritages. A character can now pick a destiny, which is like a fully-baked version of inspiration dice. Plus there are new feats, new combat maneuvers, and so on.

    Trials and Treasure

    If you’ve been following A5E, you might be surprised to see… there’s a third core book! 1000ish pages was just too big for a single book, so the core book was split in two. (Including the 500+ pages of the Monstrous Menagerie, the three core books are now 1500 pages!) Trials and Treasure is a primarily game-master-facing book.

  • The main work I did for Trials and Treasure is an overhaul of treasure. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t love the 5e treasure tables, and I got a chance to make my own. They’re granular and provide a better treasure mix; they come with a hugely expanded list of random jewelry, art, rare books, and other valuables; and they’re completely compatible with 5e economy, but with the proud nails hammered down. (Plus, of course, the list of magic items is, like, doubled.)
  • In D&D, sometimes it can feel like there’s not much to buy beyond level 3 or so. A5E includes prices for the training of monsters and the hiring of armies; the eggs of griffons, dragons, and other beasts; and extensive rules for strongholds and bases.
  • Lots of great stuff in here by other people, including safety tools, magic item crafting, and a really cool system where hazards and traps are expanded into well-defined, leveled encounters.

    forwards compatibility

    Level Up: Advanced 5E is, of course, backwards compatible with 5E. What about the 5e refresh that’s coming out in 2 or 3 years? Will A5E still be compatible with that?

    No one knows much about the 5e update (beyond the fact that it’s coming out in 2024), but all signs point to it being a fairly small change, with some new updated base classes, a new way of handling races, and so on: more of a 5.5E than a 6E. Wizards has said that it will be compatible with their older material. That means that A5E should be just as compatible with it in 2024 as it is with D&D in 2021.

    I’m excited to get the new 5e books when they come out! And I know I’ll be using them along with A5E – probably mixing and matching. In the games I DM, players will be able to use classes and player-facing features from 5E, 5.5, or A5E (though I may insist on them using the A5E fixed versions of broken spells) – but the A5E-only GM tools – the new treasure tables, the rare spells, the blessed high-level support, plus my precious Monstrous Menagerie – are going to be invaluable for years to come.

    Back the Kickstarter!

  • Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Battlezoo Kickstarter almost done! And here’s one of my monsters

    Mon, 09/27/2021 - 17:29

    As I mentioned, I’m the guy writing the D&D 5E conversion of Roll for Combat’s Battlezoo Bestiary, a monster book in your choice of Pathfinder 2 or D&D 5E. It has four days left of its Kickstarter as of today and it’s already collected more than $200k.

    I want to talk about what I’m doing on the book, and share a sample monster, the butcher booth.

    The butcher booth is basically a large mimic – but it’s the Sweeney Todd of mimics. It infiltrates market squares and poses as a booth or building. It mimics the sounds and smells of an inviting business, such as the sharpening of barber razors or maybe the smell of delicious meat pies. When people come in to engage in commerce, the demon barbershop seizes them in its jaws and flies away. Truly you’re never safe in the world of D&D, even during a shopping session!

    Here’s the original Pathfinder 2 monster. Click to expand

    I took the Pathfinder monster and converted it to 5E. Despite PF2 and 5e’s shared lineage, there are quite a few conversion considerations.

    The #1 issue is space. Pathfinder 2 is terse and keyword-based, while 5E uses natural language. For instance, it’s easy to give the Pathfinder butcher booth the ability to swallow creatures whole:

    Swallow Whole (1 action) (attack) Huge, 3d6+8 bludgeoning, Rupture 23

    The Pathfinder GM knows that Swallow Whole is a keyword they can look up to find the half-page of Swallow Whole rules. The rest of the entry fills in details. For instance “Huge” means that the creature can swallow creatures of up to Huge size. “Rupture 23” means that if the monster takes 23 or more piercing or slashing damage, the engulfed creature cuts itself free. And so on. Many of the rules are offloaded onto core book, so the actual swallow attack is about 10 words long in the monster entry.

    Compare that to the rules for swallowing a creature in 5E. Here’s the 5E behir’s Swallow:

    Swallow. The behir makes one bite attack against a Medium or smaller target it is grappling. If the attack hits, the target is also swallowed, and the grapple ends. While swallowed, the target is blinded and restrained, it has total cover against attacks and other effects outside the behir, and it takes 21 (6d6) acid damage at the start of each of the behir’s turns. A behir can have only one creature swallowed at a time.

    If the behir takes 30 damage or more on a single turn from the swallowed creature, the behir must succeed on a DC 14 Constitution saving throw at the end of that turn or regurgitate the creature, which falls prone in a space within 10 feet of the behir. If the behir dies, a swallowed creature is no longer restrained by it and can escape from the corpse by using 15 feet of movement, exiting prone.

    This approach means less page flipping but more stat-block real estate used. The behir Swallow attack is more than 150 words compared to PF2 Swallow Whole’s 10 words! A problem since the PF2 Butcher Booth stat block is already quite large. We don’t want the 5E version to be unmanageable in size.

    For the 5e butcher booth, I actually removed the swallow action. I thought that I could accomplish a lot of the same thing with a bite attack that grapples and restrains and pulls the target inside the booth. At that point, the butcher booth can keep on chomping every turn, and can even fly away with hapless victims inside. I wrote a special bite action that can affect every creature inside its space, so it gets more dangerous as it imprisons more creatures.

    This and similar considerations mean that, as I convert PF2 monsters, I’m making what you could consider a loose translation of the PF2 creature. I’m not in the business of re-implementing Pathfinder inside D&D. Whenever I can, I replace Pathfinderesque rules with something that works well in D&D, which is usually something simpler.

    Another example: Pathfinder’s action economy is based on a character or monster having three actions. Every monster ability is listed with an action cost, and the GM can mix and match in different ways each turn. On the other hand, 5E monster action economy (excluding legendary monsters and low-level mooks) is based around the Multiattack action. A D&D monster may have many possible actions, but Multiattack usually specifies the way in which the monster can do the most things. Multiattack is sort of like a monster’s AI: it’s what a monster should probably be doing in combat if the DM doesn’t have a big spell or a rechargeable breath weapon on deck.

    When I’m converting from the flexible PF2 action economy to the streamlined 5E one, I get to write the Multiattack, which means I codify the most fun collection of actions. That often means that I mix and match straight-damage attacks with fun, thematic powers that shake up the battle in an interesting way. The Butcher Booth’s multiattack is among the most complex multiattack I’ve written.

    Multiattack. The butcher booth can use its Frightful Presence. It then attacks each creature in its space with its jaws, or attacks once with its jaws and uses Create Husk.

    This strikes me as a fun attack routine. After a dragon-like Frightful Presence, it can bite everyone in its space (which could be everyone in the adventuring party if they all came in to browse for potions or whatever) or it can make a single bite – maybe pulling an external target inside for later digestion – and raise a previous victim as a zombie. Zombies pouring out of the general store should create some nice havoc in the marketplace, as well as being a rather heavy-handed criticism of capitalism.

    The last thing I want to talk about is math. How do you convert a Pathfinder 2 AC of 30, or HP of 270, or a damage expression of 3d10+14, to D&D 5E?

    Pathfinder is more mathematically rigorous than 5e and easier to math out. It provides monster creation guidelines that are more accurate than the 5e ones – in fact, without something like 5e’s bounded accuracy, you may break your Pathfinder monster if you venture too far afield from the guidelines. So all I need to do is take a look at the story being told by a Pathfinder monster’s numeric stats and tell the same story in 5e.

    For instance: The Pathfinder butcher booth has a somewhat low AC and high HP for a level 12 PF monster. So to come up with 5e stats, I want to fire up my 5e Monster Manual on a Business Card and come up with somewhat low AC and high HP for a CR 12 5E monster. (I landed on AC 15 and HP 217 respectively.)

    Here’s the final 5e Butcher Booth. Click to expand

    If you want, say 100+ more 5e monsters like this, plus lots more stuff, go back the Kickstarter.

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    Here’s the A5E Tarrasque!

    Mon, 09/13/2021 - 18:04

    I want to show you the biggest, toughest monster in the Advanced 5E Monstrous Menagerie: the tarrasque.

    The original 5E (O5E) tarrasque is – maybe not a pushover – but vulnerable against fairly low-level parties, especially compared to the tarrasque of earlier editions. For instance, since it has no regeneration and no ranged attack, it can be soloed by a level 1 aarakocra cleric with Sacred Flame. Silly exploits aside, I just don’t think it has a chance of standing up to an optimized level 20 party… and if the tarrasque can’t, no one can.

    Enter the Monstrous Menagerie tarrasque.

    Click to expand



    Click to expand

    I’m hoping this is the definitive 5e tarrasque.

    The MoMe tarrasque is elite, which is a mythic-like class of monster in the MoMe which is as hard to defeat as two monsters of its Challenge Rating – in other words, as tough as two standard O5e tarrasques. According to my much more ambitious encounter calculations (which are also in the Monstrous Menagerie), this is just at the edge of what a level 20 party can accomplish. If you can trivially beat this tarrasque at lower level, I’d like to hear about it!

    This tarrasque is designed to be a two-stage fight – where the second stage is optional.

    Stage one is fairly similar to fighting the original tarrasque. It’s a bit tougher than the original – for instance, it has a recharge 5-6 Godzilla-like breath weapon that can drop many characters in one hit (though that’s not usually a problem at level 20), and it has an ability that allows it to knock flying creatures in a 300-foot radius out of the sky, including that pesky level 1 aarakocra cleric.

    Once you’ve dealt around 600 points of damage – around the same as the O5E tarrasque’s hit points – the tarrasque has had enough. It turns around and retreats. You’ve saved the city and won the day!

    Here’s where you can choose to make things harder on yourself. If you try to finish off the tarrasque while it’s wounded, you enter Stage 2 of the battle. And remember, you brought this on yourself.

    In stage 2:
    -It has another 600 hit points.
    -It regenerates 50 points a round.
    -That breath weapon that the tarrasque could use instead of its regular attacks, if it rolled a 5-6? It can now do every turn, along with its other attacks.
    -It can only be killed by the use of a wish spell while it’s at 0 hit points.

    In other words, defeating a tarrasque is still within the realm of possibility for, say, a well-equipped group of 16th level characters. Killing the beast is very much a stretch goal.

    Speaking of stretch goals: You can get the Monstrous Menagerie via the A5e Kickstarter! Sign up for it now.

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    I’m working on the Battlezoo Bestiary!

    Tue, 09/07/2021 - 14:53

    The Battlezoo Bestiary is a big D&D Kickstarter that’s going on RIGHT NOW: it’s at $130,000+ as I write this. For $39, you can get a big hardcover of new monsters, in either PF2 or 5e format. And that’s where I come in.

    I’m working on the 5e versions of the monsters along with star editor William Fischer. Naturally the Battlezoo monsters will be fully business-card-ified, with meaningful and calibrated CRs, and incorporating the lessons that William and I have learned from working on the Monstrous Menagerie together. The Monstrous Menagerie plus the Battlezoo Bestiary will make a nice set: a leveled-up book of standard monsters plus a book of original, out-there monsters to surprise and delight.

    There’s some amazing monsters in here! I can’t wait for you to unleash them on your unsuspecting players.

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs

    the Level Up: Advanced 5e kickstarter and me

    Wed, 08/25/2021 - 19:44

    I haven’t been posting much here, but I’ve been writing D&D every day – and wishing I could share it with you. Soon, you will be able to get ALL the “Paul Writes DND” content you could possibly want.

    This is the Kickstarter for enworld publishing’s upcoming 5e reboot, Level Up: Advanced 5e – their biggest project to date. I’ve written and contributed to a ton of pieces of the core book! The treasure tables! The backgrounds! Spellcasting! Rebalanced spells! Rare spells! The rogue class! Stuff to spend money on once you’re high level! New and improved encounter guidelines! We’re really proud of how this project came out: it adds lots of neat things that 5e has been needing.

    AND… that’s my name on the cover of the Monstrous Menagerie.

    The MoMe’s going to be HUGE – more than 500 pages. A big team of designers worked on the Monstrous Menagerie, including Anthony Alipio, J F Zambrano, Jocelyn Gray, Josh Gentry, Mike Myler, Morrigan Robbins, Peter Coffey, Peter Martin, Russ Morrissey, Sarah Breyfogle, Sarah Madsen, Shane Stacks, Will Fischer, Will Gawned, and Yvonne Hsiao, along with 80 pages of dragon wrangling by Cassandra Macdonald and Andrew Engelbrite, and spectacular work by editor Will Fischer.

    This is the monster book I’ve been wanting to write. I think it’s going to be the best monster book ever.

    The MoMe has 95% of the monsters in the Monster Manual (minus some, like the mind flayer, which are WOTC IP) and then adds 250 more monsters, variants, and templates – enough for a second manual. I’ve carefully rebalanced every monster’s math, and I’ve created new, highly playtested encounter guidelines that provide challenges at high level. I’ve created dozens of “elite” monsters – improved legendaries that can, I believe, provide a solo challenge to high-level parties. (They said it couldn’t be done! I think it can! We’ll see when you get your hands on the book!)

    And there’s so much adventure fuel in here. You can flip open the book to any entry and generate everything you need for a full encounter – including monster motivations, names, treasure, and future adventure hooks, all with a few dice rolls, without looking anything up.

    Here’s an example entry, the mimic:

    Sign up to be notified when the kickstarter launches!

    Categories: Tabletop Gaming Blogs