Saturday, November 1, 2014

Find Familiar - rewrite

Because I really hate what they've done with familiars in D&D5e, I've rewritten the spell description. It's heavily based in the way it was presented in AD&D2e.

Find Familiar

1st level Conjuration (Ritual)

  • Casting Time: 2-12 hours
  • Range: 1 mile
  • Components: V,S,M (10gp/hour of charcoal, incense and herbs that must be consumed by fire over the course of the ritual in a brass brazier)
  • Duration: Instantaneous

This spell enables the caster to attempt to summon a familiar spirit to inhabit the body of a small creature, and to act as his or her aide and companion. Familiars are typically animals such as cats, frogs, ferrets, crows, hawks, snakes, owls, ravens, toads, weasels, or even mice, though more exotic creatures are sometimes (rarely) found in the role, such as imps, quasits, or pseudodragons.

A creature acting as a familiar can benefit a wizard, conveying its sensory powers to its master, conversing with them, and serving as a guard/scout/spy as well. A wizard can have only one familiar at a time, however, and he or she has no control over what sort of creature answers the summoning, if any at all comes. If an appropriate animal is supplied by the caster for use in the ritual, it can improve the chances that the spirit (if it answers the call at all) will inhabit the desired form.

The familiar will be of normal human intelligence — 3d6 (3-18) INT. It will normally be longer-lived than the normal animal, but familiars are not immortal, and the bodies will eventually wear out.

The wizard receives the heightened senses of his familiar, which grants the wizard a +1 bonus to Passive Perception.

Familiars have the same hit points and armour class as their animal prototype, plus 1 hit point per caster level.

The wizard can drop into a trance-like state in which he or she can see, hear, smell etc. through the familiar's senses. While in this state, the wizard has no use of their own senses, and cannot move about or perform any other actions. Any damage taken by one member of the link is also experienced by the other.

If separated from the caster, the familiar loses 1 hit point each day, and dies if reduced to 0 hit points. When the familiar is in physical contact with its wizard, it gains the wizard's saving throws against magical attacks. If a magical attack would normally cause damage, the familiar suffers no damage if the saving throw is successful and half damage if the saving throw is failed. If the familiar dies, the psychic shock is intense: the wizard must successfully make an immediate DC 10 CON save or drop to 0 hit-points (at which point they are dying — make Death Saves as usual). Even if he or she survives this check, the wizard permanently loses 1 point from their Constitution when the familiar dies.

When the wizard decides to find a familiar, he or she must load a brass brazier with charcoal. When this is burning well, he or she adds 10gp worth of incense and herbs per hour that the ritual lasts. The spell incantation is then begun and must be continued until the familiar comes or the casting time is finished. The DM secretly determines all results. Note that most familiars are not inherently magical, nor does a dispel magic spell send them away.

Deliberate mistreatment, failure to feed and care for the familiar, or continuous unreasonable demands have adverse effects on the familiar's relationship with its master. Purposely arranging the death of one's own familiar will almost certainly result in no spirit ever voluntarily acting as a familiar again.

A familiar spirit can be dismissed by means of a similar ritual as that which invokes one, whereupon the creature becomes a normal animal once again.

Random Familiar Summoning Results
D20 RollFamiliar*Sensory Powers
1-5CatExcellent night vision & superior hearing
6-7CrowExcellent vision
8-9HawkVery superior distance vision
10-11OwlDarkvision, superior hearing
12-13ToadWide-angle vision
14-15WeaselSuperior hearing & very superior olfactory power
16-20No familiar available within spell range

* The DM can substitute other small animals suitable to the area.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Time for some more thrilling heroics...

Our heroes are getting SICK of these motherfuckin' ZOMBIES on these motherfuckin' PLAINS!

The zombie dogs were dangerous, and not in the least bit waggy...

...but the poor old zombie cow was just pathetic. And stinky. Very stinky. Especially when JZ stuck a sword right into its bloated, distended, gas-and-slime-filled belly.

The party have finally made it, at long last, to the ruins of Thundertree, where no doubt they will either succeed in their aim, or fail. I think that's a reasonably safe prediction.

It's a TRAP! A tiny, perfectly-modelled TRAP!

Here's my collection of painted, human-sized undead (plus three or four skeletal pooches... awwww!). I have a bunch more, still unpainted. And I have various giant-sized undead mummy lords or cyclops skeletons or huge horse-headed skeletal things. Plus the non-humanoid undead things, like skeletal snakes or zombie dragons or what-not.

And that's just the undead. Then there's all the other monsters and characters I've collected and painted over the years. And I have boxes and boxes full of unpainted figures as well.

And yet, I never have enough of the particular type of figure I want for the particular encounter at hand, or if I do, they're buried somewhere in amongst the giant figure pile and thus something of a hassle to lay my hands on at a moment's notice.

Sure, I could substitute one figure to stand in for another kind of critter, but that seems to me to kind of defeat the purpose of having a whole bunch of different figures at all.

That's why I'm beginning to think that it would be better to just use cheap plastic chess pieces of various sizes as markers, whenever we feel the need to use figures on a map layout. If I needed anything more as a visual aid, I could just show the players a picture of what the chess pieces represent, but for the most part I think a description would be sufficient.

Contrary to what people might think, considering my abiding habit and hobby of painting up these little bastards, I'm actually not all that interested in creating little dioramas on the tabletop to play with my little dollies in. Not that I'm morally averse to such things; in fact, if somebody else is doing it, I find them quite appealing. I just can't be faffed putting in the time or effort to do it myself.

At game time, the figures, to me, are purely functional... but I find the wrong figures distracting, somehow.

Next day...

OK, so I bought a couple of cheapish chess sets of different sizes because it seems nobody just sell chess pieces on their own any more. It used to be that you couldn't move for boxes of plastic chessmen for a couple of bucks, and now I can't find them anywhere.

I hate change. Unless I like it, then I like change.


It occurred to me that Scrabble tiles would make ideal markers for situations involving lots of monsters of the same type. Assuming you don't need more than 26 of them, you have individually marked tokens that the DM can use to keep track of exactly which monster is where, without the risk of note-taking confusion that can so often arise when using non-unique markers.

I think it's possible to get Bingo tokens too, which would be labelled 1—99, for those REALLY big fights. Where you'd get them from though, I do not know.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Children of the Night of the Living Dead Go Mad in Dorset

Well, the party managed to survive its first encounter with a roving band of zombies, and with only one near-death experience. They learned two things:

  1. Zombies in 5e are MUCH SCARIER than they used to be, and
  2. Critters that stop to munch on you when you go down instead of moving on to another (moving) target are MUCH SCARIER than intelligent, tactically-savvy critters.

Having waded through years of game "development" in which player-characters have steadily become more and more unstoppably invulnerable superheroes, able to wade through oceans of mook-blood with impunity, it's rather refreshing to have them have to think twice about whether they should fight or run.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Boring Terror-Bird

This is an old Citadel slottabase figure I think. It's some sort of generic  Phorusrhacidae, or Axe Beak if you prefer the name from the Fiend Folio of yore. Actually, I strongly suspect it's a pirate of an old Citadel figure, because the detail is pretty soft and blobby.

I painted this quite some time ago, and I was fairly happy with it then. However, I recently re-based it on to a large steel washer, and in the process became dissatisfied with it.

It's just boring.

Also, the matte varnish I used has gradually become less and less matte, to the point where it's actually quite glossy.

All this indicates that it's time to repaint it.

Next day...

OK, here it is jazzed up a little bit.

It still mostly sucks, but it's ever so slightly less bland than it was yesterday. And that's about as much attention as I can be bothered giving it, I think.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

5e Character Sheet Update

I've uploaded updated versions of my 5e chracter sheet designs, now including a space for Death Saves. That's a bit of the sheet that's sure to get plenty of use.

Mark I: A4 double-sided

Mark II: A5 booklet fold

Monday, October 20, 2014

D&D 5e DM Screen — Progress

I've filled up three pages, which is sufficient to make the screen self-standing. It could include one more page, but any more than that and it would be getting unmanageably wide, so I'll try it out as it is for a while and see how it goes.

No doubt there will be more stuff I think will be vital to have at my finger-tips once the DMG comes out in December.

You can download the most recent version here — the PDF is about 195 KB.

Friday, October 17, 2014

D&D5e — DM Screen

I am working on a DM Screen for D&D 5e, and I've run into a bit of a blockage.

It really needs at least three panes to stand up by itself and to guard the flanks of my oh-so-secret DM dice rolling and note taking and crap like that. However, I'm struggling to fill even two panes. There's more equipment price lists I could throw in there, but that seems like rather a waste of space when all one really needs is where to find them without any extraneous page-turning.

I imagine there will be more stuff that might be useful when the DMG comes out, but I won't be getting mine until a couple of weeks after it's released, so about Xmas time.

If anyone is feeling of a mind to help, take a look at this WiP PDF, and feel free to make any suggestions for stuff you think would be useful to a struggling DM in the middle of a game.

The pages are each 180 x 297 mm (that's roughly 7" x 12"), which I find low enough to see over easily, but tall enough to keep my super-secret DM secrets secret.

Note: I'm not really all that concerned with the sanctity of DM secrets these days, and do most of my rolling and stuff out in the searing light of day, but it is useful to have handy information at one's fingertips to avoid constantly paging through manuals for stuff.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sound Effects

I've been taking a look at Syrinscape, a sound mixing/playback app aimed at the tabletop roleplaying market. The app is free, and there are some free soundscapes available with it, but for the most part the soundscapes cost about four bucks a pop (and there are some collections available which will get you a small price cut for buying a bunch of them at once).

It assumes, of course, that one has one's gaming area set up for sound, and that one is able to make use of a computer (or iOS/Android tablet) at the table. That's not a big ask these days I guess.

I like the way that it blends sounds together, and fades seamlessly from one to another. I've always fancied the idea of being able to have ambient sounds running during the game — things like wind noises, rain, thunder, crowd/street noises, all that sort of thing — to reinforce mood, and this app seems to be ideal for that.

Unfortunately my gaming area isn't set up to make best use of it right now. My computer is nearby, but I'd have to be getting up and down to activate the noises I want, which is far from ideal. However, I do have a little netbook that sits around mostly doing nothing, and I have a spare set of speakers, so I might just give it a try-out one of these days.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

D&D5e Character Sheet

I put together this character sheet for D&D5e for a couple of reasons. It includes an arrangement of characteristics and their related skills and saves that I like, and it's rather less rigidly laid out and sterile than some. It could be more compact, but I wanted to leave plenty of room so that you don't have to cramp up your writing hand fitting in teensy-tiny pencil scrawls.

I've printed it with both pages on the same sheet too, and everything is still easily legible. That has the added advantage of giving you a whole extra side of the page to use as a jotter.

The link points to a PDF file, approximately 160 KB in size.


This version is laid out with both of the above pages on the same side of an A4 sheet, to be printed double-sided and folded down to an A5 tent-fold. The inner pages are lined and framed, but otherwise blank — write whatever you want in there.

This one is also about 160 KB.

GHQ Microarmour — SiG-33

I just received another order of early WWII German 1:285 scale microarmour from GHQ, amongst which are these — the SiG-33 self-propelled 150mm howitzer.

It's about as simple as self-propelled artillery gets, being nothing more than a gun plonked on top of a Panzer I tank chassis and a welded steel box shoved around it. They got more sophisticated as the war progressed, but even this initial stop-gap design was very successful.

I may have to buy some decals for the markings; my hands aren't as steady as they once were, and painting them in this tiny scale is becoming something of an ordeal.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Because you can never have too many worms...'s another one.

OK, I guess you can have too many worms, especially if those worms are parasitic and giving you some kind of disgusting tropical diseases.

This is a re-paint of one of Reaper's 77006: Great Worm plastics.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Unburied Treasure

I was fossicking around amongst some old storage boxes and found some things.

First up, some Magic - the Gathering cards.

I have no idea where these came from. I've never played Magic in my life, and I would certainly never pay actual money for the cards, so I can only assume they came free with a magazine or something. Probably a Dragon magazine, now that I come to think of it. Or Dungeon. I used to buy them both at one time, though not for years. I spent arseloads of money on D&D3e-related stuff before I finally got tired of it. So many arseloads.

Magic was huge when I was hanging out at the UCSA Lower Common Room back in the distant past, whenever the hell that was. There always seemed to be three or five games going on at any time. As I recall, the players tended to favour keeping their cards in little plastic bags, presumably so that they couldn't be identified by DNA traces left on them. Or something.

Also, I found a bunch of WotC pre-painted plastic Star Wars minis.

Including this particularly balletic rendition of that loveable old son of fun, Darth Vader.


They might come in handy if we ever get back to doing any more Traveller gaming or the like, so I'll transfer them into the general miniature stock and hopefully won't forget that they exist if and when we ever get around to needing them.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Cyclops Skeleton and Pathfinder Goblin

This isn't a new figure. In fact I painted it about twenty-five years ago (bloody hell!), but I've left it since then gloss varnished and sans-base. I've finally got around to giving it something of a scenic base, and squirting it with matte varnish. Never let it be said that I rush things.

It's a Grenadier figure, I believe, and stands about 70mm tall from foot to crown. I've never actually used it in a game, and I really should remedy that.

This one is considerably newer. It's one of Reaper's Pathfinder goblins. The Pathfinder artistic style is pretty cartoonish, and that doesn't always work, but I quite like their version of goblins — they're like little bipedal piranha with an attention deficit disorder. Not stupid, exactly, but definitely with poor impulse control.

This little guy is about 18mm to the top of his little flat head, not counting the thickness of the base. I have a few more ( another seven, I think). I got them from Reaper's first Bones Kickstarter.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Reaper Ettin

77103: Nor'Okk, Ettin - sculpted by Tre Manor
I've never been a big fan of the GW-style green-skinned humanoid trope, but I thought I might give it one go, and this is it. I'm still not wholly convinced, but it could have been worse I suppose.

As with almost all my miniatures these days, this is one of Reaper's Bones plastics, mounted on a big washer for stability.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

LMoP — players' map

I've been running our gaming group through the D&D5e Starter Set adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver, which is set near the city of Neverwinter™ in the Forgotten Realms™ (which has taken over from Greyhawk™ as the official™ D&D®™ world™©).

I don't use the Forgotten Realms™ as my campaign world, but I've got plenty of empty space left on my maps to slot this bit in somewhere.

Anyway, there's an overland area map supplied with the adventure, which is a good and fine, but I prefer that my players not be able to count hexes to get an exact idea of how far away anything is from anything else, so instead of giving them access to that map, I've made this considerably cruder and less exact map for them to refer to, and to scribble on and abuse as they see fit.

I intended it to be a bit crappy, but I have to confess that it's even crappier than I intended. Never mind, it will do the trick.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bring wine! Wine for the Blood God!

Painting by Boris Vallejo. Perfect.
NOTE: This is not my idea. I'm stealing this idea from somebody else. Just so we're clear. I don't remember exactly when or where I saw it, alas.


The person who originally came up with this noted that one fantasy trope, presented in oodles of films, comics and novels, is the recuperative power of wine. Any alcohol really. How many times have heroes staggered, bloodied, bruised and battered, up to the nearest bar, quaffed a mighty tankard of wine (or ale or brandy or whatever), slammed down the cup and returned to the fray, rejuvenated?

A LOT. That's how often.

So, I thought I would make it available to players in my campaign as a sort of el-cheapo substitute for healing potions:

  • If you heroically quaff a mighty quaff of wine/ale/brandy/whatever, you immediately recover 1d6 hit-points. Huzzah! (Note that this requires actual quaffing, none of this sissy sipping nonsense. Quaffing.)
  • The down-side is that you also temporarily lose one point each of  Dexterity, Wisdom and Charisma. Boooooo! Until you complete a Long Rest. Yaaaay!
  • If you're on zero hit-points, having a swig of brandy poured down your throat will stabilize you, and you will lose the DEX, WIS and CHA, but you won't actually recover any hit-points on that initial guzzle.

I realise the danger of this turning the party into a bunch of wildly violent and increasingly incoherent alcoholics reeling their way from one encounter to the drunken next, but I like the trope so much that I'm willing to accept that peril.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

D&D5e — Inspiration

Inspiration is the term used more or less for what in other games are called Fate Points — points players can use to improve their dice rolls and what-not.

In 5e, however, players can't amass Inspiration points; they either have it, or they don't. That means that no matter how consistently clever and excellent they may have been, if they use Inspiration at all, they then have to wait for the whimsical GM to arbitrarily decide that they're worthy of having it again.

I don't like that.

Instead, I will allow players to stockpile accrued Inspiration points, with the caveat that if one is used, the character needs to take a Short Rest (about an hour of restful down-time) before another can be used. This should prevent the situation where the party save up all their fate points for the final Boss Fight and then blow them all in the space of a few rounds in a GM-depressing holocaust of automatic hits and saves.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

D&D5e — Recovery and Healing

Casualty. by Heather Nicholson
In general, I like the way that hit points in 5e are much more explicitly linked with luck and fatigue rather than with actual cuts, scrapes and bruises, and also the way that recovery of these points is so much quicker and easier. There's less need for parties to be constantly scurrying back to safety after ten minutes of dungeoneering to get themselves healed, and it also means that a party without a cleric (or a guaranteed cheap supply of healing potions) can actually be a viable adventuring party.

That's all very well and good, but what about situations where your character is actually folded, spindled, and/or mutilated? I guess the easiest thing to do would be to reflect that condition with Ability Damage. That has two advantages:
  1. It doesn't require the addition of a new damage mechanic to the rules, and
  2. Ability damage is scary and hard and expensive to fix, and it can give combat meaningful consequences (and thus a good reason to find ways to avoid it if possible).
A potential down-side is that it could easily lead to the 'death-spiral' effect, which may make sadistic GMs rub their hands together and go "Muahahahahaaaa!", but isn't actually all that much fun to experience in play. It would need to be applied with a bit of thought rather than willy-nilly — I'd probably use it only as a consequence of a critical hit, or of long, bone-breaking falls and the like.

Anyway, the actual focus of this rambling is that I think it is wise to distinguish from the outset between RECOVERY and HEALING.
  • Recovery is what your character does when resting, or when a fighter gets their second wind or what-not. If all you're doing is getting back hit-points, you're recovering, not healing.
  • Healing is what you have to do to cure Ability Damage (in which I include such conditions as deafness or blindness, or loss of mobility due to injury or disease or whatever).
Magical means of recovery are pretty straightforward to identify: low-level "cure" spells are about it, along with Cure Wounds potions and so forth.

Magical healing, in the sense I've been using it here, is less easily categorized, though it doesn't take a lot of thought on a case-by-case basis. Heal, Restoration and Regenerate are three spells that spring immediately to mind; I haven't looked thoroughly enough through the current spells lists to be definitive. Generally, I'd say that if the wording of a healing spell indicates other effects over and above simple hit-point recovery, it's probably appropriate.

Natural healing can be handled by the GM pretty much as a matter of common sense. Broken bones will take a month or two to heal, while blindness caused by having one's eyes gouged out probably isn't going to get better on its own. Personally, I wouldn't worry too much about gross stuff like secondary infections and gangrene and so forth; it's just not very heroic or mythic to succumb to septicaemia after weeks of lying in your own pus. However, your mileage may, as they say, vary.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

D&D5e — Find Familiar... not on my watch!

And so begins the tinkering.

The D&D5e version of the Find Familiar spell is one with which I have many issues. It not only drastically changes the way that the spell works from earlier editions, but it also messes with the nature of familiar spirits as represented in myth and legend.

It really should be renamed Summon Cheap Little Expendable Reconnaissance Robot. Here's the text of the spell as written on page 240 of the PHB, along with my comments.


1st-level conjuration (ritual)
Casting Time: 1 hour
Range: 10 feet
Components: V, S, M (10 gp worth of charcoal, incense, and herbs that must be consumed by fire in a brass brazier)
  • Waaaaaaay too cheap. 10gp? Pffft! 
Duration: Instantaneous
You gain the service of a familiar, a spirit that takes an animal form you choose: bat, cat, crab, frog (toad), hawk, lizard, octopus, owl, poisonous snake, fish (quipper), rat, raven, sea horse, spider, or weasel. Appearing in an unoccupied space within range, the familiar has the statistics of the chosen form, though it is a celestial, fey, or fiend (your choice) instead of a beast.
  • I can see why people would want to be able to choose the vessel for their familiar spirit, but one of the big things about the old version of the spell was the gamble. You got a toad? Suck it up! Also, I'm inclined to have the magic-user have to supply an appropriate vessel animal to be filled, if they want to be able to choose the form the familiar takes. 
Your familiar acts independently of you, but it always obeys your commands. In combat, it rolls its own initiative and acts on its own turn. A familiar can't attack, but it can take other actions as normal.
  • That's OK to a degree, but in my view while a familiar is incarnate, it will keep at least some sense of self-preservation. So if you order it to do something clearly dangerous, it may... be reluctant. 
When the familiar drops to 0 hit points, it disappears, leaving behind no physical form. It reappears after you cast this spell again
  • OK, I can live with his I guess, though unlike in the olden days, there's no real down-side to a magic-user losing a familiar, except that they've got to cast the spell again. Quelle horreur! I prefer the old way, in which the death of a familiar actually cost the magic-user a permanent loss of hit-points so that there's an incentive to keep it alive.
While your familiar is within 100 feet of you, you can communicate with it telepathically. Additionally, as an action, you can see through your familiar's eyes and hear what it hears until the start of your next turn, gaining the benefits of any special senses that the familiar has. During this time, you are deaf and blind with regard to your own senses.
  • I'd add a feedback penalty here: if the familiar is attacked and damaged while you're linked with it in this way, you take the damage as well due to psychic shock. 
As an action, you can temporarily dismiss your familiar. It disappears into a pocket dimension where it awaits your summons. Alternatively, you can dismiss it forever. As an action while it is temporarily dismissed, you can cause it to reappear in any unoccupied space within 30 feet of you.
  • HELL NO! If you don't want your familiar around, find somewhere to hide it. None of this blinking out conveniently bullshit. Also, this is just an excuse to give the thing a free short-range teleport ability.
You can't have more than one familiar at a time. If you cast this spell while you already have a familiar, you instead cause it to adopt a new form. Choose one of the forms from the above list. Your familiar transforms into the chosen creature.
  •  I think not. Once you've summoned a familiar, it stays in the vessel you summoned it into until it's released either voluntarily or through the death of the vessel.
Finally, when you cast a spell with a range of touch, your familiar can deliver the spell as if it had cast the !spell. Your familiar must be within 100 feet of you, and Tit must use its reaction to deliver the spell when you cast it. If the spell requires an attack roll, you use your attack modifier for the roll.
  •  Tchyeah, riiiiight...... by which I mean, of course, FUCK NO! This is a first level spell, for fuck's sake. This ability to redirect one's magic is way too powerful for a spell of that level.
There's so much wrongness here that I may as well just rewrite the whole bloody thing. I suspect that this won't be the only new spell definition I'll have problems with, but one step at a time.