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.

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.

Anyway.

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.

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.

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.

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.

FIND FAMILIAR

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.

Self-Realization

I have come to realise that one of the main reasons I prefer to DM dungeon-crawl type games is because I am really, really bad at adjudicating and presenting NPC interactions on the fly. Just terrible. I would be the worlds most pitiful improv actor ever.

Dungeon crawling means that I can focus on describing environments, present problems to be overcome, and (for the most part) avoid all that troublesome social and psychological stuff.

Speed Painting

This guy is an experiment in speed-painting using Vallejo inks over a sprayed, graduated undercoat. Everything except the metallics, the torch flame and the base is painted in the inks, without any additional shading or highlighting.

They're very useful for getting instant shading, and because they're both transparent and fairly intensely coloured, they don't fill in detail as thinned paints do. The range of colours is fairly limited, but all the basics are covered.

The figure is Reaper's Bones 77140: Townsfolk: Village Rioter, who will, no doubt, do sterling service as a lowly-paid torch-bearer. Because I wanted to see just how quickly I could knock him out to a decent tabletop gaming-piece standard, I haven't done anything about the mould-lines, nor the way he's toppling over backwards.

For dungeoneering service, he could probably do with having the top half of his pitchfork replaced with a ten foot pole.

Innkeeper - Reprise

Here's another version of Reaper 77084:Townsfolk: Innkeeper. This time there's less dirt, but a lot more blood. He could be the town butcher, or doctor, or torturer — the possibilities aren't endless!

Yet Another Hill

 I got a cheap 30-watt foam-cutting hot wand from China a few days ago, and tried it out by carving up a foam off-cut into another hill. ...