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Overland travel

Greetings again!

My group has begun to travel quite a distance overland, as I’m sure many groups do. The handwaving of, ‘You travel for 6 days and reach your destination’ didn’t sit right with me, not did the idea of a random table that handled all the variables. To that end, I’ve written up a few rules that I hope will make overland travel more fun and engaging for the players (it should be noted that, on our campaign map, rather than work out distances, we’ve gone with the 1 cm = 1 days travel guide):

Step 1: Distance

Determine how far you want to go and in what timeframe (+2 to the DC if travelling off-road, -2 from the DC if travelling by horse).

Normal pace: 1 day = 1cm = Easy DC

Hurried pace: 1 day = 2cm = Easy DC +5

All out: 1 day = 3cm = Easy DC +7

All party members make the check. The party succeeds if half or more of the members (rounding up) pass the check. A failed check means you make the distance, but suffer the following consequences:

Fail by less than 5 (take a -1 penalty to attacks and defences for the next encounter).

Fail by 5 or more (take a -1 penalty to attacks and defences and lose your second wind for the next encounter).

Fail by 7 or more (take a -2 penalty to attacks and defences, lose your second wind and any dailies for the next encounter)

Step 2: Approach

Determine if you wish to travel stealthily. If so, roll a group stealth check. The perception DC for enemies is equal to the lowest roll from the group.

The party can get a +5 to these checks if a party member takes a scouting position. This means that one party member effectively moves ahead of the group  to see what’s coming. They roll a perception check against the enemies stealth (if that enemy is trying to remain hidden) or against an easy DC (if not). These checks take pace penalties if the party is moving faster then normal pace. Furthermore, a scouting party member may be asked to roll a stealth check is required (landing them in potential danger if they fail).

If the party succeeds, they can choose to ambush any enemy threat (gaining a surprise round), or move around them.

If they fail the check, they themselves are surprised in the first round of any encounter.

Step 3: Foraging

The detrimental effects of distance travelled can be alleviated by successful hunting and foraging. At the end of each days travel, one party member (who is not the scout) can roll an athletics, nature or stealth check to see if they can provide for the group, whilst the rest sets up camp. Their success is judged against a moderate DC. If they:

Succeed – reduce the detrimental effects from the says ride one step.

Succeed by 5 or more – remove all detrimental effects from the days ride.

Succeed by 7 or more – remove all detrimental effects from the days ride and gain a +2 bonus to the next days travel.

Step 4: Getting rest

After camp has been made, the characters finally get to sleep. The DM determines whether they are attacked during the night (if this happens, the party loses any beneficial effects from an extended rest, unless they decide to camp for longer). Each of the party members maintains a watch during the night. If attacked, the member keeping watch at that point is determined by a roll of the dice. That party member must then make a perception check against the attacking enemies stealth or a moderate DC. The PC gets a +2 bonus for any party member besides themselves who doesn’t need sleep or is otherwise aware of their surroundings whilst they rest, as well as +1 bonus for low-light vision, or a further +2 bonus for darkvision. If they:

Succeed – they see the enemy coming and combat continues as normal (PCs start where they were sleeping).

Succeed by 5 or more – they see the enemy coming and get a +2 to initiative checks.

Succeed by 7 or more – they see the enemy coming, gain a +2 to initiative checks and gain a surprise round.

Fail – see the enemy coming, but those sleeping or meditating start prone.

Fail by 5 or more – see the enemy coming, but those sleeping or meditating start prone, and the party takes a -2 penalty to initiative.

Fail by 7 or more – see the enemy coming, but those sleeping or meditating start prone, the party takes a -2 penalty to initiative and the enemy gets a surprise round.

So there you have it. It really is a work in progress, and I’d like to find ways to add RP bonuses to the rolls, and if the players ever offer any I’d be more than happy to oblige them. The encounters they face will be, usually, story driven (ie: people or creatures they looking for, are looking for them or will clarify the plot is some way), but a few random encounters would be fun as well.

So what do you think? Too harsh? Too easy? Over simplified? Too complicated? Let me know! Like I say, a work in progress, and I’d like to get them smooth before implementing them. Also, how does your group handle overland travel?

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Let me begin by saying, I’m by no means a rules lawyer. Quite often I’m reminded by my players at the table about how a particular rule works – usually it’s little things and we move on pretty quickly. For my players and myself, the rules are a guideline – something to aid in the playing of the game, not the be all and end all of it. Never let the rules get in the way of awesome.

That said, as I was putting together some elevated terrain the other day, I got to thinking about how it would work, rules wise. What sort of bonuses and penalties would be involved? Furthermore, how does elevation work with large or larger creatures? This thought process has brought me to this post and, in extension, to you. I want to know what, if any, rules you use for elevation. Does it even factor into your game? It hasn’t really in mine yet, but I’m hoping to change all of that. Here is the process I went through to get the draft rules I have so far. As I say, I’m very open to hear suggestions and your thoughts and/or experiences.

1. The rules should be simple

I really don’t like looking rules up when there’s a flow of energy at the table. I usually house rule something on the fly, especially if one of the players offers a fair solution. Any new rules being implemented should be simple and easy to remember! They should add fun to your game, not time page flipping.

2. The rules should make the terrain attractive

No point in making all these rules if no one wants to use elevations! It got me thinking as to why people use high terrain in films. Why does Errol Flynn jump on to the table to fight off the kings guards when there was a perfetly good floor right there?

3. The rules should make sense

This one is pretty self-explantory. Yes, we’re in a fantasy setting, but there is still a certain logic to the way things work. Break this and you break any possible immersion.

Fumbling my way through the guidelines above, I came up with the following rules… er, guidelines for people standing on higher ground. Have I said that I’m not a huge rules person and that I’m very open to suggestions here? *ahem* anyways, here they are:

Increased critical hit chance

Why does Errol Flynn stand on the table rather than the ground? He’s closer to his enemies head! At least, that’s one idea. This is even more relevant when fighting large or larger creatures.

Increased damage from ranged weapon attacks

Why not include magical ranged attacks? Why not increased attack instead of damage? Well, the reason is gravity. Gravity is what gives elevated archers the edge. It makes their arrows, javelins and stones rain down with more oomph! I don’t think that gravity would have the same effect on a magic missile, and I certainly don’t think it would give the archer more accuracy.

Bonuses to armour class

This is one that I was ‘umming’ and ‘arring’ about. It made sense in my head one way, but I couldn’t see it as being applicable in all situations. Someone standing on a table in a bar shouldn’t benefit from increased AC against someone standing right next to them, right? The bonus becomes a situational thing and behaves basically like cover. Have a look at the tables below to see how I tried to make it make sense.

Chance to be knocked prone

Standing elevated and fighting in melee? Your enemy sores a critical hit on you? You get knocked prone. Sure, you’ve got greater access to his head, but he’s got that to your legs. I didn’t want to inlude many detriments to higher elevation, but this one fit in with rule three, above. I don’t think it translated well against larger creatures, however. If you’re standing head height with an elder dragon, you’re not going to be knocked prone because she’s taken your legs out from under you, since her claws and or jaws are as big as you are.

Situational effects

There are no rules for these affects, and they’ll have to be made up on the fly or thought of when you’re preparing your encounter. Using the example above, you’re standing head height to an elder dragon, depending on the situation, that dragon is going to find it difficult to use any tail based attacks against you. The same goes for bursts and blasts. Are they exactly the same height and width, or is there some discrepancy? I imagine with some dragon breath abilities, they might be thirty or forty feet long for every ten feet thick. Be careful here, as you do want to keep things simple, but making some minor adjustments like these can make the world seem more dynamic.

Everyone at the table!

Here are a couple of quick tables I put together to aid in my own understanding of the relationship between height and elevation. If you plan on using them, remember that they’re guidelines – there’ll be a thousand and one instances where the ideas don’t wash. If you have any suggestions on how to improve them, let me know!


Click on them for larger images.

Samuel is getting a +1 critical step bonus, but is in danger of being knocked prone.

Overview of the battlescene. Our brave adventurers take on a huge red dragon.

Ol' Myron better hope his shield is working properly. He's 20ft up against a huge creature, giving him no bonuses.

Gerron here gets a bonus to critical chance, however, being an extra 10ft high and bringing him face to face with the beastie.

Finally, being 40ft high, Polson is getting a +4 bonus to damage against the dragon with his arrows. Sure hope he doesn't get knocked from his perch, however.


While we’re at it, how about some feats to make elevated terrain more attractive?

Nimble feet

You take no movement penalty for scaling terrain up to five feet higher than you (this includes stairs). This feat lets you shift up to five feet onto higher elevation as a move action, and/or 5 feet down onto a lower elevation as a minor action.

Elevated thinker

You are not knocked prone as a result of being hit with a critical attack whilst elevated to an attacker (unless it is a specific result of the type of attack). Furthermore, when you gain an extra critical step because of your elevation, you may increase that step by +1.

Dedicated tumbler (must be trained in acrobatics)

When you leap of your own accord from higher terrain, reduce any damage you may recieve by an amount equal to your level. Furthermore, once you land, you may move a number of squares up to half your acrobatics skill (rounded down), with a +4 bonus to any opportunity attacks accrued whilst you do so. This movement is included in the action you took to jump.

Sharp shooter

Increase the bonus to damage you get from making elevated ranged weapon attacks by +2. Furthermore, increase the range of those attacks by +4/+4.

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Hanging around on twitter as I often do, I came across a response to a NewbieDM blogpost where he talked about the benefits of just playing around with your dungeon tiles to see what you can make, and them using that location in your game (http://newbiedm.com/2009/09/22/playing-with-my-dungeon-tiles/). I think I already got a little more mileage out of my tiles than Newbie, as I’ve used smatterings of them here and there since I first bought them, but always the other way around – location first, and then trying to make the tiles fit it. I have to say that Newbie’s approach is another one of those genius ‘duh! Of course!‘ moments, usually accompanied by a slapping of the forehead. While I probably won’t do it for every encounter or locale, I’m hoping to see some great benefits to my game, with some fully fleshed out areas made with tiles. I paid for them, why not use them to good effect!

This brings me to my second adaptation for dungeon tiles, also stolen from NewbieDM (http://newbiedm.com/2009/09/23/adding-a-new-third-dimension-to-dungeon-tiles/). As the man has done, I’ve just gotten some cotton spools from my local craft store (in my Australian case, Spotlight). Now, I was originally disheartened to find that I couldn’t buy a consistent size – the packs all seemed to have various sizes! I thought I’d try them anyway, and after a little experimentation, I’m really quite happy with the results! The adjusted sizes have given me a number of different ‘pillars’ that can be used, not only to hold up second levels, but also as set dressing. Firstly, they can make good inn tables, or the little ones can be the table ‘legs’ for the Harrowing Halls tiles:

Acting as the table itself...

...and as the legs of the table

Below is a quick slapped together dungeon room displaying the usage of the ‘cotton-reel pillars’:

The three types of pillar I was able to make with some wood glue and a quick coat of paint


The shifter finds the best spot to evade the beholder...

...and the dwarven sorceror ducks behind a pillar...

...while the dragonborn fighter races up the stairs to the beholder...

...while the dragonborn fighter races up the stairs to face the beast!

And, as usual, the evil mage (both literally and figuratively behind it all)

Meanwhile, the evil mage (who is both literally and figuratively, behind it all), looks on.

So there you have it. My contribution to Newbie’s awesome idea. Shine on you golden stallion! The only issue I have with the greatness of the 3D tiles is that they make everything on your map else that isn’t look kind of… flat (oh yeah, you saw it coming). True story though. Have any experience playing with 3D tiles? Had to adapt your playstyle or even make a few house rules to suit?

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Yes, we have clerics, paladins, avengers and invokers, but when I got this guy into my head, I just couldn’t resist putting him down on digital paper.  As per our last flavor-class, the Necromancer, this class is based on one already published; in this case the bard, as found in the PHB2. I don’t want to reprint the great work that WotC have already done, and so I have only posted by changes to the mechanics, as well as all the new flavor-text.

And so, coming to a game table near you, bringing with him promises of fire, brimstone and eternal damnation is…

The Preacher

“And lo! The fiery flame of Pelor did come down and smite the heathen Oni; and it was good.”

Class traits

Role: Leader. Your commands condemn enemies and absolve allies; so powerful are your words that you can re-order battlefields to your liking, making controller a good secondary role

Power source: Divine. You translate The Word of your God and inflict it’s mighty resonance on the heathen.

Key abilities: As per the bards.

Armor profiencies: As per the bards.

Weapon proficiencies: Simple melee, military melee, simple ranged.

Implements: Holy symbols (book of commandments).

Bonus to defense: +1 Fortitude, +1 Will

Hit Points at 1st level: 12 + Constitution score

Hit Points gained level: 5

Healing surges per day: 7 + Constitution modifier

Trained skills: Religion. Choose three more from the bards skill list, substituting endurance for acrobatics.

Class features: Book of Commandments, Steadfast Morality, Words of Absolution, Words of Damnation, Resolute, Preaching to the Converted.

Preachers are often found in the harshest climates in the most hostile regions. There’s is a life of both servitude and command; bringing The Word of their God to the farthest and darkest reaches of the world, whether it is welcomed or not. More than just a mouthpiece, preachers learns to defend themselves early, or risk becoming the one thing that any preacher fears: silenced.

Because of the hostility they often face, preachers make use of arms and armour, but often all they need is one thing: their book of commandments. This book contains the divine edicts of their God and is as inseparable to a preacher as is his head or arms.

Following in the footsteps of the ancient Order of the Inquisition, a preacher holds vows and promises to be truths without question; let no one stand in the path of a preacher who has vowed to aid the wretched, and clense the wicked.

Book of Commandments

You gain the Ritual Caster feat as a bonus feat, allowing you to use magical rituals. You own a book of commandments (ritual book), and it contains two rituals that you have mastered: Comprehend Language and another 1st-level ritual.

Steadfast Morality

The Gods are at once kind and merciful, as well as damning and vengeful. Preachers are masters at interpreting their God’s commands, and often find themselves playing the role of creator or destroyer in lieu of their God’s actual presence.

Choose one of the following options. The choice you make gives you the benefit described below and also provides bonuses to certain preacher commands, as detailed in those powers.

Word of the Sword: As per Virtue of Cunning

Word of the Shield: As per Virtue of Valor

Words of Absolution

As per a bards majestic word.

Words of Damnation

As per the bards Words of Frienship, only with intimidate, as opposed to diplomacy.


Instead of the bards multiclass and skill versatilities, you gain a +5 feat bonus to saves against fear or charm.

Preaching to the converted

As per the bards ‘song of rest’, only reading from your book of commandments, rather than singing or playing an instrument.


Holy symbols. A preacher’s book of commandments can be used as a holy symbol, upgraded by priests of his or her God for the same price as it would be to buy a holy symbol of the same level.

Preachers and Deities

Preachers are the devotees of a single God, choosing their Word above all others. Some go as far as actively shunning the worship of any other deity; most, however, are content to merely champion their own cause. Their worship goes beyond simple ideas of morality or social code; those who stand against them are to be condemned or smited, whether evil overlord or agnostic but pleasant nobleman.

This strict devotion has led to many preachers getting a feared reputation, and there have been instances where preachers have actively tried to stamp out all life who do not share the same views as themselves. Beyond these dangerous individuals, there are many other preachers who bring both the Word, as well as supplies, medicine and education to struggling societies.

Preacher Powers

Preacher powers are called commands. Any creatures with a mouth and at least some brain activity can speak, but a preacher’s orders are charged with divine resonance, and as such carry weight unlike any other.

Anywhere you see the arcane keyword on a bardic power, replace that keyword with divine.

Level 1 At-Will Commands

Find Fault (as per Guiding Strike)

You face your foe and easily determine from where it’s moral corruption stems; even if they didn’t realise it themsleves.

Proclaim Executioner (as per Misdirected Mark)

You charge one of your allies with the task of bringing due wrath to a condemned sinner.

Condemn (as per Vicious Mockery)

Your words ring out true and laiden with damnation; the wretch you direct them at feels their confidence peeling away beneath your gaze.

Shepherd the Flock (as per War Song Strike)

You lead the attack against an enemy, rewarding those who follow your guidance.

Level 1 Encounter Commands

Path of Tears (as per Blunder)

You order an enemy to walk the Path of Tears, hoping pain will force it to see the wrror of it’s ways.

Saving Grace (as per Fast Friends)

Your words illuminate the inherant goodness in youself or an ally – so radiant is the image, that even hated enemies are given pause when raising their swords.

Call to Inquisition (as per Inspiring Refrain)

As your weapon finds it’s target, so your words find theirs – in the hearts of your allies.

Whisper The Word (as per Shout of Triumph)

You utter the slightest noise, reciting a small fraction of the Word of your God, the resonance of which allows you to reshape the battlefield.

Level 1 Daily Commands

Promote to Inquisitor (as per Echoes of the Guardian)

You call on your allies, infusing them with the words of the Inquisitors and bidding them to carryout their divine duty.

Ongoing Judgement (as per Slayer’s Song)

You make your way across the battlefield, judging each enemy in turn, and finding each as reprehensible as the last.

Righteous Strength (as per Stirring Shout)

The call for purification has been made, let those who heed their duty be rewarded.

March of the Inquisition (as per Verse of Triumph)

You begin reciting the holy names of the ancient Order of the Inquisition; as you proceed, their spirits appear, guiding you and your allies to victory!

There is is. The first level of the Preacher flavour-class. Personally, I’d love to see a longtooth shifter Preacher, fighting his own feral nature and taking that self-hate out on the enemies who stand in his way. What’re your thoughts?

Happy role-ing!

Bardic Training, Bardic Virtue, majestic word, Multiclass Versatility, Skill Versatility, Song of Rest, words of friendship

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Let me begin with a story. I was watching a certain, recently released, vampire movie recently (no, not the one with the glittering vamps), and it came to a scene where two characters were at a standoff with a more powerful adversary. They circled the creature as it hissed, claws ready. Everyone, characters and audience alike, were wondering who was going to strike first. Having D&D on my mind at the time (as it often is), I pondered, ‘You know, you can’t really get that kind of tension in-game’ No-one is going to waste time ‘circling’, they’ll just be hacking, or at least trying to’. The more I thought more about it however, I realised that I was, as usual, incorrect.

The answer, I believe, lies in skill challenges. I’m sure many have used these neat portions of play to set up mad chases through packed bazaars, interactions with long dead informants or navigating treacherous rapids etc, but the idea that came upon me whilst bathed in the flickering luminescence of the screen before me was using one as a combat encounter.

…perhaps an example will help illustrate my idea.

Image from www.rasmusillustration.dk/UK_Fantasy.htmlFive bold adventurers have tracked a red dragon to her volcanic lair. They’ve fought through throngs of her followers and navigated the naturally formed maze that has left many lesser groups trekking off for a date with the Raven Queen. The ancient red stands defiant before them; it’s pride means that they will battle, as it would rather be dead than shown mercy.

In game terms, this means the beginning of combat against a solo creature. This can be tricky for a DM to make exciting – to keep the battle from becoming a grind. Staged battles are an option, giving the solo monster more than one turn per round is another, and there are various other tricks to keep things spicy. Here is mine.

Throw away the minis and the map (or, at least, put them somewhere close by for reference if you like). The DM has described the cavernous space to the players and gets them to roll initiative. The DM doesn’t roll for the dragon. The battle begins. Instead of the first player working out how far she is from the dragon and whether she’ll be able to charge over what may or may not be difficult terrain, she describes her epic idea to the DM:

“Alright, I’m gonna charge out there, screaming my goliath head off. I’m sure that big, red bugger is gonna try and take a swipe at me, and I’m gonna be ready. When it does so, I’m gonna chop it with my battle-axe!”

The DM agrees that that sounds awesome, commenting that it seems like an insight check to him, to read the dragon’s posture and predict it’s move. Not the goliath’s best skill, but she rolls and the Gods of the Dice smile on her: the DM describes the dragon lashing out fiercely with it’s tail, there’s the sound of a massive whip-crack before the roar of a dragon in pain fills the chamber. The goliath has, indeed, sunk it’s weapon into the dragon’s flesh. These humanoids aren’t going to be a pushover after all! That’s one rather cool success to the players.

Next up, it’s the gnome rogue’s turn. He’s decided that he’s gonna try a similar tactic; only instead, he’s gonna slide under the dragon’s tail, kicking up dust and debris before leaping high (well, as high as a gnome can leap), and jamming his dagger in the stomach of the monster, leaving him hanging from the wound. Pretty straight forward acrobatics check. Unfortunately, despite his training, he’s not fast enough. Perhaps he dodges the tail, as hoped, but is swatted by a massive talon he wasn’t prepared for. He is knocked across the rocky floor, coming to rest near a pile of bones left from previous dragon-meals.

The wizard isn’t exactly going to charge in, wand waving. She’s more clever than that – this fight isn’t going to be won on brute strength alone. She puts all of her effort into a blinding light which she hopes will erupt right next to the dragon’s eyeballs. One arcana check later and she’s successful! The dragon’s retinas are seared by the sudden influx of illumination. Mechanically, this means that the next physical attack on the dragon get’s a +2 bonus.

And so on. Hopefully, something like this could keep big fights moving, and allow characters to do some pretty interesting things. Characters aren’t restricted by what powers they have not spent, doing things that they’ve not usually been able to do. Also, if prepared correctly, it means that every character will be just as useful to the combat. It also means that, since no actual HP is being lost, that all players are in the game until they’re victorious, or until they accumulate enough failures that the dragon has the upper hand… and devours them all.

Here’s another example, this one trying to simulate the tension from the film I watched: Two PCs armed only withImage property of WotC daggers are circling a snarling displacer beast. The DM has decided the DC to hit the creature is 20, but each character only has a +5 in strength or acrobatics of whatever they’ve decided to use for successes. They can, however, boost their chances by making numerous insight, perception, intimidate, bluff, religion (for spiritual resolve and/or guidance), nature (for knowledge of animalistic movements), dungeoneering (for knowledge relating to the attacking habits of the particular creature) etc checks. Be wary, however, the displacer beast isn’t just going to crouch there growling, allowing the players to rack up bonuses, it’s going to force a success attempt every 1d4+1 rounds, and these failures count as two! Can the PCs survive?

Obviously these sorts of challenges are not ideal for all battles, but for the sake of variety at least, I think it’s worth a shot. Druids can call on their nature skill in a whole new way, commanding vines to restrict his opponent, even if that’s not a power they have. Fighters endure endless barrages behind their shield with an endurance check, diplomacy can be used for… ok, I haven’t thought of a use for diplomacy in combat yet, but I’m sure there is one! Maybe encouraging your allies? The power, as captain planet says, is yours!

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