Eldadres is a 24 year old Computer Engineer playing Dragons and Dungeons since he was very young. Follow this blog where he shares articles on how to run the game as a DM, play the game, character builds, mechanics, homebrew options, and software/tools that are helpful for playing.
What’s the difference between a shortsword and a longsword? Well, a lot actually, and it’s not just the flavor of the two weapons that separates the two. Both have unique weapon properties that dictate how they can be used in combat.
Weapon properties are just one factor that describes how a weapon is used. Damage, martial vs. simple, and damage type are also indicators that change how weapons are used. Weapon properties are sort of like the flavor that gets added to the weapon.
The combination of all of these factors comes heavily into play when you are purchasing a new weapon or building a new character. Let’s learn about all of the different weapon properties and how they can impact our decision making and our character’s playstyles!
And this isn’t even half of them! Credit: WotC.
What is a Weapon Property?
In game mechanics terms, a weapon property is a tag on a weapon that adds additional mechanics to the weapon when it’s used. Sometimes these are beneficial properties, other times they can be detrimental.
Knowing what each property does will allow you to select a weapon that either compliments your playstyle or gives you a new playstyle to use in combat.
This decision makes a huge impact on optimizing your character. You can use weapons with certain properties to fill-in weak spots or enhance your strengths. For example, a character with low AC may want to choose a one-handed weapon with a shield rather than a two-handed weapon.
Wielding weapons with certain properties can be required to get the most value out of feats. These feats can further change your playstyle or carve an even deeper niche for your character.
Anyone is able to wield a Light weapon in each hand allowing them to partake in two-weapon fighting. Makes sense. These weapons are small and lightweight enough that you can effectively use them with your offhand.
Light also indicates that these weapons are generally easy to handle. It makes sense, smaller and lighter objects are typically easier to maneuver than their heavy counterparts.
You’ll see a lot of rogues dual wielding Light weapons. This allows melee rogues to have two potential chances at hitting per round rather than their typical one. More attacks mean more chances at landing a Sneak Attack.
You have to wield this weapon with two hands. Shocking, I know.
Typically, weapons that are Two-handed will deal a bit more damage than their one-handed counterparts. Logically speaking, this because they’re generally larger and heavier.
In terms of game design, a Two-handed weapon gives you the perk of a bit extra potential damage in exchange for requiring the use of both of your hands. While wielding a Two-handed weapon doesn’t remove your ability to cast spells, it does mean that you forgo donning a shield.
Is that extra damage worth missing out on +2 AC? That’s for you to decide.
Your weapon is bulky, large, and well, Heavy!
The only mechanical effect that Heavy adds to a weapon is that it’s too big for a Small creature to wield effectively. A small creature can wield the weapon, but they will be making attack rolls at disadvantage with it.
Fun Fact: Heavy is always included with Two-handed, but Two-handed does not require the weapon to be Heavy.
This weapon does something completely different!
This property varies depending on the weapon that has it. Basically, Special indicates that the weapon has a unique mechanic or modifier that isn’t able to be described by any of the other properties.
Special is not always the same mechanical effect either. For example, the net has the special property which makes a creature restrained if they’re hit by a net attack. On the other hand, the lance has a property that imposes disadvantage on attacks using the lance to attack a target within 5 feet of you.
Special just means “this weapon does something weird. Read the description!”
You can throw this weapon!
Weapons with the thrown property can be thrown accurately. If you throw this weapon, you’ll use the same ability modifier (STR or DEX) for it as you would a regular melee weapon attack. If the weapon has Finesse you can choose which modifier you’d like to use even when throwing the weapon.
A weapon that can be thrown will always have the Range property alongside it. We’ll talk more about that property later!
This property is commonly seen on melee weapons that can be accurately thrown, but there are a handful of ranged-only weapons that are Thrown.
Melee Weapon Properties
You can use your Strength or your Dexterity modifier for this weapon’s attack and damage rolls.
Actually, that summarizes everything perfectly.
This weapon has an increased melee weapon attack range.
Your weapon’s reach increases by 5 feet.
Typically this means that you will have a 10 ft. reach with your weapon meaning you can attack a creature within 10 ft. of you. However, there will always be exceptions to this, so the weapon property clearly states that it increases your range.
You can wield this weapon with one or two hands.
Wielding the weapon in one hand means that you will use the weapon’s normal damage die when you roll for damage. However, if you choose to wield the weapon in two hands, that damage die will be increased.
This damage increase is typically a single step-up from the weapon’s normal damage die. For example, your weapon deals 1d6 damage as a one-handed weapon or 1d8 damage as a two-handed weapon.
This goes back to my blurb about Two-handed‘s design. Wielding a Versatile weapon in one or two hands is a tactical decision. Do you want extra damage or extra AC from a shield?
Ranged Weapon Properties
This weapon requires ammunition to attack.
In order to use this weapon, you’ll have to have ammunition that you can load into the weapon. Thankfully, drawing the ammunition is part of the attack action so this comes at no cost to your action economy.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to have appropriate ammo for your weapon. You can’t go running around shooting bolts out of shortbows!
You’ll also regain 1/2 of the ammo you used during the battle if you spend one minute searching the battlefield after the combat is over. That is of course if your group bothers with keeping track of ammunition costs or hasn’t acquired a magic item to ignore this mechanic.
This weapon has some intricate mechanisms and requires time to load it between attacks.
You can only fire one piece of ammunition from this weapon per individual action since you have to spend time reloading the weapon between shots. You’ll also need a free hand to reload the weapon.
This is just one of the reasons why the Crossbow Expert feat is such a strong choice. It allows you to forgo Loading on crossbows, opening up the weapon to characters with the Extra Attack feature.
If there are guns in your campaign you’ll also be super familiar with Loading. It’s a pain in the ass, but generally, it comes with having a higher damage die than ranged weapons without it.
This weapon can hit targets within a certain distance.
Every ranged weapon or weapon with Thrown will have the Range property along with (X/Y). In this case, X is the weapon’s normal range. Y is the weapon’s maximum range. If a weapon is fired further than the X value but less than or equal to the Y value you can make that attack at disadvantage.
For example, a blowgun has (Range 25/100). If you make an attack between 1-25 ft. you will make a regular attack roll. If you make an attack between 26-100 ft. you’ll make the attack roll at disadvantage.
The Sharpshooter feat ignores the disadvantage portion of Range meaning you can shoot from hella far back. It’s just one more reason why that feat is a high-value pickup.
How Do Weapon Properties Impact Weapon Selection?
For me, weapon properties are like decision 1b when selecting a weapon for a character. Unless of course, I’ve specifically built a character around wielding a certain type of weapon.
1a is picking a damage type. Are we hunting a bunch of skeletons? Then yeah we’ll probably go with something that deals bludgeoning damage. We don’t have a ton of chances to deal with vulnerabilities so we should try and make each one count!
It’s important to have a couple of damage type choices for your martial characters. It sucks if they’re going up against something that has resistance or immunity to their primary weapon and they don’t have a solid backup.
It’s interesting to see how the weapon selection has changed between editions. Credit: WotC.
Weapon properties unlock new playstyles. So sure, the weapon’s damage type is arguably the most impactful factor in selecting a weapon to use for an encounter. However, certain weapons are going to be more effective in your character’s hands based on your build.
For example, a longsword and a glaive can deal the same amount and type of damage. However, a longsword is Versatile so you can swap between two-handed and sword & board mode, and a glaive has Reach which allows you to strike enemies from afar and take feats like Polearm Master.
Both weapons are suitable choices for a frontline tank build. However, each weapon changes your character’s gameplay significantly.
The best part, though, is that you can absolutely use both. Your glaive may be your specialty, but sometimes you just need to pull out that longsword and get +2 AC by having a shield.
Also, you should always have a ranged weapon option. Even if you’re a master of melee weapons. It’s hard to hit a flying dragon with a greataxe.
Weapon properties add variety and flavor to weapons in D&D 5e. They’re just one way to individualize your character from other characters of the same class. I mean, a fighter that dual wields is different from a fighter that uses a halberd.
There are games out there where every weapon deals a flat amount of damage and different weapons only exist to provide flavor to the character. For some games that works. D&D is full of combat mechanics so it would feel strange to implement this type of design choice.
Personally, I love having to make choices and decisions that impact the flow of the game. Martial characters usually don’t get a ton of these, so weapon properties are sort of “their thing” that can give them some flavor and playstyle changes.
If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!
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You gasp for air, but only water fills your lungs. The seaweed-like appendages of the kelpie coils around you even tighter. “I thought it was a person in distress, not a beast of the depths!” Foolish mortal, to the depths you go!
Have you ever had an adventure planned underwater, maybe in a shipwreck or a sunken cavern, that needed just a hint of seaweed monsters strangling the party to death in the depths of a murky loch? Yeah, I have too.
Thankfully, there’s a perfect creature for that situation. In fact, they’re purpose-built to lure in unsuspecting adventurers by disguising themselves as creatures or humanoids. Once their targets swim within their clutches, the kelpie will use their seaweed to constrict and drown them in the cold depths of the ocean.
As far as I can tell the D&D team to their cues from the kelpie’s Scottish mythological origin. Its natural form seems to be like a cross between seaweed and a horse.
Kelpie are weird plant-like creatures that are natural inhabitants of murky waters. There’s not a ton of info in their official lore segment so there’s a lot left to the DM’s imagination.
The only concrete info in their lore blurb is that kelpies are known to morph their bodies to look like attractive humanoids from afar. They’ll use this form to lure unsuspecting people into their clutches beneath the water where the kelpie will grapple, kill, and presumably feast on their remains.
There’s no canon type of habitat that the kelpie seems to prefer so they could easily fit in an adventure in the depths of the ocean or at the bottom of a murky lake. They’re adaptable creatures and can be reflavored effortlessly thanks to their ability to change their form on a dime.
This is a really weird array of ability scores. For one thing, Constitution is the kelpie’s highest ability score which is not something we see super often. Continuing with this weird trend, we have both Strength and Dexterity dead-even at a +2 modifier.
It’s fine to have both of these stats being +2 or higher, but it’s odd to have both of them as dead-even. One of these is clearly their primary attribute in terms of attack and damage rolls. It would’ve been nice for that frontrunner to be bumped to +3 so they’d have a bit more offensive power.
Their Charisma being a +0 modifier is also strange in my opinion. A core part of their lore and kit is their ability to shapeshift into a beautiful creature and charm their victims into their melee range. You’d think with that being said that they’d have at least a +1 to Charisma.
Their AC is alright, not impossible to hit but it’s an ok buffer. Same goes for their hit points. Thankfully they have some very solid resistances to bolster their defenses significantly.
Their movement speed clearly showcases their niche if you hadn’t figured it out already. They’re sluggish at best on land, but they can move damn quick in their natural habitat when they need to.
First thing’s first, our creature has some out-of-combat utility! Kelpies have two solid bonuses to Perception and Stealth checks, further enhancing their ability to be hidden guards or ambushers.
Their damage resistances are also really good. Many creatures have resistance to nonmagical bludgeoning and piercing, but kelpies have total resistance to both damage types. While they would gain fire resistance from fighting underwater regardless, it’s a nice resistance to have just in case your kelpie is fighting outside of their preferred location.
Condition immunities are always beneficial. The blinded and deafened immunities stem from the kelpie’s blindsight, but the immunity to exhaustion is a cool perk. They can use their 30 ft. of swim speed to chase after the party without ever tiring!
Blindsight is rad and it gives the kelpie quite a few perks in combat. They can sit in dark, murky water without worrying about needing to physically see their opponents. This sort of environment is perfect for a kelpie but adds on more challenges for the party.
In 3.5e D&D the kelpie’s creature type was fey. While this direct link isn’t in the kelpie’s 5e statblock or lore, the kelpie’s ability to speak Sylvan is a certainly nod to this.
Abilities and Traits
Amphibious.The kelpie can breathe air and water.
Seaweed Shape. The kelpie can use its action to reshape its body into the form of a humanoid or beast that is Small, Medium, or Large. Its statistics are otherwise unchanged. The disguise is convincing, unless the kelpie is in bright light or the viewer is within 30 feet of it, in which case the seams between the seaweed strands are visible. The kelpie returns to its true form if it takes a bonus action to do so or if it dies.
False Appearance. While the kelpie remains motionless in its true form, it is indistinguishable from normal seaweed.
Amphibious should come as no surprise to no one.
Seaweed Shape is part of the kelpie’s identity. This ability gives the kelpie a way to trick their prey into diving deep into the water, and honestly, it’s needed initially. The kelpie does not function well on land or really anywhere but underwater. Having a way to draw in their target is necessary. Once they’re within range, the kelpie can follow-up with Drowning Hypnosis and really cause some damage.
Kelpies also have False Appearance just like the gargoyle, meaning that they can be utilized as hidden guards for a specific location. The downside to a kelpie doing this compared to a gargoyle is that the kelpie must eat and sleep so they cannot sit there indefinitely. Regardless, it’s a fun tactic that their kit plays into.
Any way you slice it, the kelpie is the master of disguise beneath the waves. They fool passers-by into thinking they are a beautiful humanoid in distress or they can lay in wait outside of the entrance of an abandoned shipwreck ready to ambush their foe.
Multiattack. The kelpie makes two slam attacks.
Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d8 + 2) piercing damage. If the target is a Medium or smaller creature, it is grappled (escape DC 12).
Drowning Hypnosis. The kelpie chooses one humanoid it can see within 150 feet of it. If the target can see the kelpie, the target must succeed on a DC 11 Wisdom saving throw or be magically charmed while the kelpie maintains concentration, up to 10 minutes (as if concentrating on a spell).
The charmed target is incapacitated, and instead of holding breath underwater, it tries to breathe normally and immediately runs out of breath, unless it can breath water.
If the charmed target is more than 5 feet away from the kelpie, the target must move on its turn toward the kelpie by the most direct route, trying to get within 5 feet. It doesn’t avoid opportunity attacks.
Before moving into damaging terrain, such as lava or a pit, and whenever it takes damage from a source other than the kelpie or drowning, the target can repeat the saving throw. A charmed target can also repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns. If the saving throw is successful, the effect ends on it.
A target that successfully saves is immune to this kelpie’s hypnosis for the next 24 hours.
Slam is an excellent attack option. With Multiattack, a kelpie can deal 22 piercing damage per turn. Not only that, but they can grapple up to two Medium or smaller creatures per turn as well. The damage is alright, but the crowd control that comes with it is solid.
I feel like “chooses one humanoid it can see” is poor word choice for Drowning Hypnosis. I understand the intention, but kelpie don’t see they have blindsight. They use their other senses to perceive their environment.
With that being said, this is a very powerful ability and super-dangerous ability to use on an unsuspecting Player Character (PC). Failing the saving throw for Drowning Hypnosis is potentially a death sentence as it forces the target to expel all their held oxygen and breath in water. You’ll immediately begin drowning as you swim toward the kelpie. Even if you pass the saving throw on your subsequent attempt, you’re still out of oxygen.
You’ll probably combo it with either Seaweed Shape to entice a PC to swim towards the kelpie. They can only distinguish the kelpie’s true form if they are within 30 ft. They’re probably screwed by then considering that Drowning Hypnosis has a range of 150 ft.
Thankfully Drowning Hypnosis has a Wisdom saving throw DC of 11 to balance out the strong effects of the action. It’s easy enough to pass for a typical PC, but those that are unlucky enough to fail it will be in dire straits.
14 AC and 67 HP are respectable base amounts for the kelpie’s survivability. Neither value is amazing, but they’re both average to slightly above-average. However, I would still argue that the kelpie has some excellent defenses and survivability potential.
For starters, they have resistances to three of the most common damage types in the game. They have resistance to ALL bludgeoning and piercing damage, not just damage from nonmagical weapons. That’s huge.
Their blindsight is an enormous boon and allows them to thrive in areas where an average PC will be at a serious disadvantage. This also comes with immunity to the blindness and deafness conditions.
Lastly, the kelpie’s False Appearance and Seaweed Shape traits give them the ability to lay in wait for ideal battlefield conditions. Having this type of battlefield control, along with their various forms of CC, ensures that the kelpie will be able to last as long as physically possible.
Oooh spooky, amphibious, seaweed horse! Credit: WotC.
Home Field Advantage
The kelpie is certainly a niche creature. They are meant to live on the floor of a large body of water, where they can entrap and drown their unsuspecting victims. Of course, the kelpie’s statblock gives them quite a few tools to thrive in this location.
For starters, they have poor base movement speed. However, when they’re swimming they are going to be damn quick. Underwater combat rules dictate that moving through water counts as difficult terrain unless you have swim speed. This effectively allows the kelpie to move at 2x the speed of an average PC. The party can’t easily escape.
Having 60 ft. of blindsight as their only type of sense is another excellent perk. Sure, they can’t physically see anything, but they can use their other senses to view the area around them perfectly.
How is this an advantage? You can drop a kelpie encounter in a murky lake where the PCs can’t see more than a few feet in front of them. However, the kelpie can function without skipping a beat. It’s difficult enough to fight underwater, but doing so when you can’t see is a nightmare.
Their ability to thrive in deep, murky waters is both a blessing and a curse. The issue with a creature requiring a specific environment for optimal use is that if they’re ever taken outside of that environment they’re practically useless.
Drowning Hypnosis becomes considerably less dangerous when the target is not already submerged in water. If they can’t drown then it’s only a low-DC charm that lures the target toward the kelpie. There’s a high chance that the target will never be lured directly to the kelpie, it’s the drowning aspect of it that makes this action dangerous.
This isn’t a challenging weakness to avoid when you’re designing an encounter with a kelpie in it. Keep the fight in water and don’t give your party a way to easily submerge or force the kelpie onto dry land.
You’ll probably get one or two good encounters out of a kelpie in a campaign because of their identity as a “one-trick pony”.
Susceptible to Magic and Ranged Attacks
The kelpie does have one glaring weakness. They don’t have really any answers to ranged attackers outside of their fire resistance (which they already would have from being underwater) and their Drowning Hypnosis.
However, if their target succeeds the DC 11 Wisdom save for Drowning Hypnosis then our kelpie is pretty screwed. They don’t have any ranged attacks to answer their attackers with.
While their superior swim speed will allow them to eventually catch up with the party’s ranged characters, the kelpie has a high chance of taking quite a bit of damage before making it there.
Also, their saving throw modifiers aren’t terrible, but not great either for a CR 4 creature (outside of Consitution). Sure, nothing is negative, but they don’t have anything outside of a +1 or +2 to avoid most spell saving throws that aren’t Consitution.
White Plume Mountain was the introduction of kelpies in D&D. Credit: WotC.
How to Play a Kelpie
Order Room Service
You work hard sitting at the bottom of the lake all day long. Why should you have to get up and make dinner when you can have it brought to you?
Use Seaweed Shape to turn yourself into something enticing for incoming adventurers or creatures. Once a sucker is bee-lining it to you, reel them in with Drowning Hypnosis and it’s off to the races!
Wait for the target to get as close as physically possible, then spring out with your 30 ft. of swim speed and attempt to grapple them with Slam. You get bonus points if they’re already in the process of drowning thanks to Drowning Hypnosis.
Once you have them in your clutches simply wait until they drown and voila! Dinner is served, and you barely had to move to get it.
Don’t Let Your Prey Escape!
One of the kelpie’s most glaring flaws is that if they’re taken out of their ideal battlefield/habitat, they immediately become noticeably weaker. What this means is that once your kelpie has identified their prey, they cannot let them leave the water under any circumstances.
As I mentioned earlier, kelpies are surprisingly well-equipped in the case of a chase encounter breaking out. They have swim speed which puts them well ahead of a typical PC in terms of speed. This means that there’s a great chance that the chase encounter will be over within a couple of rounds.
However, the kelpie is covered even if they cannot quickly end the chase encounter. Their immunity to the exhaustion condition ensures that they can continue to swim towards their targets at full-speed indefinitely. The party will have to be quick-thinking to escape these seaweed menaces.
Once the kelpies have caught up with the party their Slam attacks will be quite useful for dragging the party back down into the depths of the ocean.
5 Kelpie Plot Hooks
The Forgotten Grotto – Underwater ruins proclaimed to have riches beyond your wildest dreams attract many a treasure hunter. It’s odd though how none who seek out the treasure seem to return.
Symbiotic Relationship – A tribe of merrow leave their den to hunt during the day. The kelpie, disguised as seaweed ensure that their lair is protected. The merrow give the kelpies some of their supplies and provide them with shelter as payment.
A Curious Specemin – A bontanist recieved a unique type of seaweed. They’d like for you to travel to the location this specemine was found and procure them some additional samples.
The Haunted Swimming Hole – It’s summer time and the livin’ is easy. Well, unless you’ve visited the local lake for a swim, because chances are, you have mysteriously disappeared!
Invasive Species – Someone dumped kelpies into a nearby lake and they’re eating all the fish! Get rid of them before the ecosystem is ruined!
The kelpie is a fun creature with unique abilities. They have a variety of options as to how they’d like to strangle or drown their enemies to death at the bottom of a murky body of water.
Their only flaw is that they have a specific niche in which they need to be played. Putting a kelpie somewhere other than a deep body of water will yield you poor results. You also need to know just when to strike your opponent or else the fight can go sour quickly.
While they do have some aspects of high-risk, high-reward play they have enough consistent damage, maneuverability, and survivability that even if the whole party passes the DC 11 saving throw against being charmed, your kelpies will still put up one hell of a memorable fight.
If the name Digital D20 sounds familiar to you, that’s because they’ve actually translated a few of my articles into Spanish on their website. They recently approached me about doing a review of their app, likewise named Digital D20, which has recently undergone some updates and will be adding some new content in the near future.
Their app is essentially a hub for some hand-picked and edited D&D 5e adventures while also hosting a few other features for both players and DMs to use while playing through the adventures on the app.
If all that sounds good to you, you can find Digital D20 on the Google Play Store or the App Store. Now, let’s jump into the review for the rest of you that want to learn some more before you download the app!
For reference, I used my phone, a Samsung Galaxy S9 for this review. Your experience may differ based on what you use the app with!
What is Digital D20?
Digital D20 is an all-in-one app for D&D 5e adventure modules. You can download individual adventure modules from the app’s home menu, create and manage your characters, and read through the 5e SRD all through the app. Currently, all of the adventures on Digital D20 are free, but that may not always be the case.
Once you’ve downloaded a module you can tap the module’s icon in the home screen and get started. Modules on Digital D20 are essentially enhanced versions of a typical PDF adventure module. The app has maps, handouts, references, and tips that you can easily navigate through as you play the adventure.
As of right now the app only hosts a handful of modules in English and Spanish, but the team at Digital D20 have been working had to acquire (and translate!) new modules for the app.
The main menu of Digital D20. Here you can access your character sheets, the SRD, and download or play adventure modules!
There is a quick tutorial that can be accessed by clicking the drop-down menu in the upper-left hand corner of the screen. It’s only a quick 5-step tutorial, but it does a good job of teaching you the ins-and-outs of the app.
Honestly, the app was fairly self-explanatory already which I consider being a good thing. However, it’s nice that they included a quick tutorial regardless.
There is presently a bug with the app where clicking the tutorial page will bring you to a “page not found” error. Digital D20 said that this bug will be patched out in the next release, but the current workaround is to download The Siege of Sâlorium and you can then access the tutorial after. I confirmed that this does work.
The character sheet portion of the app needs work. Little things like automatically calculating the modifiers when you put in an ability score should honestly be a given at this point for these types of apps.
I used the pregenerated character included in the app, but I noticed that not everything was filled out properly.
Personally, I would just stick to using a paper and pencil character sheet instead or maybe something like D&D Beyond. It was honestly a bit of a hassle to use this on my phone due to the size of the window and the lack of features.
A tablet would probably be considerably better for this portion of the app, but it’s still missing features compared to other apps on the market.
With that being said, this is clearly an extra feature and by no means the focal point of Digital D20. However, this is really one of the only features that players particularly will utilize during a session. The app, in its present state, is definitely geared more towards DMs.
The SRD’s main menu in the app.
The initial main menu layout needs a bit of work, but this was a convenient feature in the app. If you take a look at the screenshot of this menu above you’ll notice that all of the links are cramped together when there’s plenty of open whitespace surrounding them. Increasing the font size a bit and spacing everything out would be a huge improvement.
Regardless, it’s quicker and more convenient to look up rules in this manner as opposed to opening up your PHB in the middle of the game. Honestly, I found this to be much more convenient than I had first anticipated it being. You can reference pretty much anything within 2-3 taps of your screen.
The formatting in the sections past the initial menu of the SRD is considerably better. Everything is easy to read and I had no issues navigating through this portion of the app.
This portion of the app was quick and easy to navigate.
Keep in mind that these are the rules from the 5e SRD and not the PHB or core books. However, in most cases, these rules are similar if not the exact same.
The adventure modules are the real meat of the app. Digital D20 boasts two modules written in English and six written in Spanish!
All of these modules have been converted into the app and stuffed with additional features such as tips for the DM, summaries, a storyboard menu, and pop-ups that offer quick-references for the DM as the game is in progress.
Personally, I tend to stick to PDFs or paper books when I DM. I love being able to write my own notes so I tend to avoid things like interactive versions of adventure modules even if they come with some additional features.
However, Digital D20 is one of the exceptions. I found that the features included in the app’s version of the adventure modules were both worthwhile and convenient. The quick references were especially awesome.
Tapping a link within an adventure module brings up a non-intrusive window full of the information you need about that particular portion of the adventure. You don’t need to flip between pages and slow down the game in order to refresh your memory on a particular part of the adventure during the session.
Here’s what one such window looks like! Every word in bold red font will have a window that you can open just like the one on the left.
Revisiting Beastmaster’s Daughter with Digital D20
Digital D20 and Dave collaborated to bring Beastmaster’s Daughter to the app as the first module only available in English on Digital D20.
Since I’ve already read, reviewed, and played Beastmaster’s Daughter, I figured it was the best choice to showcase the app. It was also nice to see the enhancements and changes that the Digital D20 team made when converting the adventure to their app.
The Main Menu
You can return to the home screen of the adventure by clicking the book icon.
The module’s main menu gives you the introduction of the module on the right-hand side of the screen. This contains information such as what the appropriate size of the party and level of the characters is for this module.
You can use the index on the left-hand side of this menu to navigate through the module. Tap the section of the module you wish to read and you will be brought to it.
You can return to this menu at any time by tapping the book icon.
For better or for worse, D&D has a lot of mechanics. When you have a lot of mechanics you get a lot of abbreviations and unique terminology to juggle. It’s a lot to keep track of. If you’re new to the character building scene then one such term you might have found popping up in many discussions is “level dip”.
A level dip is a short foray into a secondary class after a certain number of levels in your character’s primary class. You spend a couple of level-ups on this other class, but you have a goal for doing so such as a specific feature or proficiency that’s granted in the early levels of this secondary class.
This sounds similar to multiclassing, right? It is! But a level dip is again, a short foray. You aren’t going to sink much time or resources into this secondary class. It simply serves as a mechanical way to grant you some goodies from another class that will enhance your character.
Like an ability score increase (ASI), level dips are just one way that you can enhance your character during a level-up. Let’s take a look at what make level dips so unique and, to some, controversial.
Why Would You Take a Level Dip?
A level dip is almost always taken because you, the player, want something from another class that your character doesn’t have and can’t get through their own class. In a sense, you’d take a level dip for the same reason you’d multiclass.
However, level dips are concerned about mechanical value over anything else. A level dip is taken because you want a lower-tier feature from a class or even one of the proficiencies that multiclassing into said class grants you.
Let’s face it, by RAW you’d have to pick up a feat in order to gain proficiency in new skills, weapons, or armor. That’s using one of your valuable and limited ASIs to don some heavier armor or use a new weapon. Honestly, that’s a waste.
Instead, you could take a single level and put it into a new class. Depending on the class you choose you’ll get the proficiencies you desire and more! Take a look at the chart below this paragraph to see all of the proficiencies gained from dipping into any of the classes in the PHB.
A DM can give your character options to gain proficiencies outside of feats or multiclassing, but they’re not required to do so. Credit: WotC.
Not all level dips are equal, mind you, some have a lot more value than others. Think about what you’re looking to accomplish and choose the best class that mechanically suits your needs.
Some of My Favorite Level Dips
Here are a few of my personal favorite level dips that I like to use for my characters. Feel free to leave some of your favorites in the comments!
Cleric 1 – Grabbing even just a single level in cleric can net you heavy armor proficiency depending on which archetype you chose at 1st-level. Not to mention you’ll, of course, gain some cantrips, spells, and proficiency in light armor, medium armor, and shields.
Fighter 1 or 2 – That first level of fighter is chock-full of value. You’ll gain proficiency with every weapon, shields, as well as light and medium armor. Not to mention that you’ll also pick up a Fighting Style and a consolation prize of Second Wind to boot. For some builds, sticking around for a second level may be worth it to grab Action Surge.
Wizard 2 – If you’re looking to add some arcane magic to your character and want some solid features to go with it, a short dip into wizard is the answer to your desires. The War Magic tradition is exceptional for martial characters for example.
Hexblade Warlock 1 – If you choose to follow the path of The Hexblade for half a second, you’ll be well rewarded. At 1st-level, you’ll get some spells, cantrips, proficiency in medium armor, martial weapons, and shields, Hexblade’s Curse, and Hex Warrior which allows you to use your Charisma modifier when attacking with your attuned weapon.
Are Level Dips Pure Powergaming?
Sort of. I mean most of the time when someone is creating a character build and selecting what mechanics will work best with their ideal build they’re going to take dips to optimize or powergame their build. That being said, level dips are perfectly capable of being explained within the lore of the game.
It’s not difficult to justify your character taking a level or two in fighter, for example. Perhaps your character has trained to be more adept at frontline fighting, but it’s not something they’re going to pursue a complete mastery of.
For the record, it’s completely legal to just… not have a role-playing reason for your level dip. You as a player desiring the mechanics your character gains from a level dip is totally cool.
What are the Requirements for a Level Dip?
The requirements for being able to do a level dip are the same as the prerequisites for multiclassing. If you wish to take a level in a class outside of your base class, you need to have a minimum ability score of 13 in one or more ability scores depending on the new class you wish to dip into.
You also need to have a minimum ability score of 13 in the ability scores required for your initial class if you are going to multiclass out of it. This does force us to stretch out our ability score budget if we’re using point buy, but generally, this is worth the investment.
Check out the chart below this paragraph to see all of the prerequisites for the official classes in the Player’s Handbook.
Honestly, these prerequisites are super easy to meet. Credit: WotC.
A Level Dip vs. Multiclassing
Think of level dipping vs. multiclassing as the “square vs. rectangle problem”. A square is a special type of rectangle, but a rectangle is not a square; just as a level dip is technically a form of multiclassing, but not all multiclassing is a level dip.
Multiclass characters are extremely unique due to this unorthodox style of character build.
A character with a level dip into one or more classes is technically multiclassed, but typically we’d refer to them as just having a level dip in X class. They don’t put a lot of resources or time into their class, but they have picked up some of the novice-level features from it.
Part of the reason for this distinctive terminology is that a true multiclass character tends to have both (or more) of their classes as the focal point of their identity. In the case of a character with a level dip, their additional class(es) tend to take a backseat to their primary class in terms of their character identity.
When is a Level Dip Considered Multiclassing?
So at what point do we consider a quick dip into a class no longer a dip? As the name implies, a level dip is supposed to be short, sweet, and to the point.
Basically, we rush into the class, get everything we need that’s easy to grab off the shelves, and get the hell out.
I would say that a level dip should be considered as anything between 1-3 levels in a class. Anything more than that and you’ve multiclassed.
Of course, this does depend a bit on the game you’re playing. For example, if you’re making a level 5 character for a one-shot and your character is Paladin 3/Sorcerer 2, those sorcerer levels are not just a level dip in the context of the situation.
The Downsides of Level Dips
The issue that a lot of people have with level dips is that there aren’t many downsides to them. I mean take a look at a level dip in fighter. We gain a ton of new proficiencies, a Fighting Style, and Second Wind for the price of one level and ensuring that we have either 13 Strength or Dexterity.
And let’s be real, Dexterity is so powerful in 5th Edition that having a minimum of 13 isn’t by any means detrimental to a character. Even if Dexterity is nowhere near close to their secondary ability score as they’re in heavy armor and don’t get the +AC benefit.
There are a couple of less quantifiable downsides to level dips, though. For starters, it slows down your character’s progression. If you have two rogues in your party and one goes pure rogue and the other goes rogue 19/fighter 1, one rogue is going to be just behind the other in terms of their progression.
For example, the rogue that took a level dip will have less Sneak Attack damage every other level compared to their pure rogue ally. The trade-off, though is all of the awesome fighter benefits they received from their level dip.
The other downside to a level dip is that it removes your character’s ability to gain their primary class’ capstone ability. This can only be gained at level 20 in a class and since D&D 5e only goes up to a total level of 20 you’re out of luck if you’ve multiclassed at all.
The good news is that it’s very rare to go from 1-20 in a campaign. Also, there are some classes with some garbage capstones.
Are there downsides? Yes.
Do the positives outweigh the negatives? Absolutely.
Level dips are a powerful tool in a powergamer, min-maxer, or optimization fanatic’s toolbox. A well-timed and thought-out level dip can be more valuable than any feat or ASI due to some of the proficiencies and features you gain when initially multiclassing into a class.
There are a few prerequisites and draw-backs to level dipping, but the majority of the time these aren’t a hindrance.
Level dips definitely have earned a reputation of being a bit too powergamey. I don’t think the reputation is necessarily unwarranted as some classes/archetypes such as the Hexblade Warlock are exceptional level dips for a plethora of character builds. Seriously, it’s a meme at this point to recommend a dip into Hexblade because of how much value is packed into its initial levels.
I’m all for level dips. Some are more powerful than others, but it’s a cool way to experiment with a bunch of different mechanics that don’t normally interact with each other. Even a small one or two level dip can make an enormous impact on your playstyle!
If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!
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Dual wielding two one-handed weapons is, I swear, one of the most frequently-used fighting styles in D&D 5e. And why wouldn’t it be? Slashing two swords or laying down the hammer with two warhammers looks frickin’ awesome! After all, looking cool in combat is how you win Dungeons and Dragons.
Exhibit A: Me in WotLK trying to justify dual wielding > 2h frost tanking because it looked cool.
In practice, dual wielding is a bit wonky, especially for newer players who are, from my experience, much more likely to build a dual wielding character. They don’t have as much experience with the system and typically don’t fully understand the downsides and restrictions that come with being a dual wielder.
For the record, the point of this post isn’t to dissuade someone from playing a dual wielder. But there are some very real restrictions and limitations that we need to be cognizant of when we play and invest in this type of character because we’re going to need to make some costly investments to make this work!
See? Dual wielding is slick as hell. Credit: WotC.
The Mechanics of Two-Weapon Fighting
I keep calling it dual wielding, but the correct term for the mechanic in D&D 5e is Two-Weapon Fighting. However, from my experience, everyone just calls it dual wielding.
The gist of Two-Weapon Fighting is this, you can use a bonus action to attack with a light one-handed melee weapon. You can only make this bonus action attack after you take the Attack action with a light one-handed melee weapon in your main hand.
The caveat of this bonus action attack made with your off-hand weapon is that it DOESN’T include your ability modifier to its damage. Besides this, it’s the same as any other weapon attack.
Now here’s the crux of the issue. Is it worthwhile to use two light weapons such as shortswords as opposed to say a two-handed greatsword or even a longsword and shield combination? That’s up to you and how much stock you put into character optimization and what your goals are for your character build.
I will say that dual wielding does have a few niches in the game. The largest niche being melee combatants before they gain their Extra Attack class feature at level 5.
Dual wielding is one way for these frontline melee combatants to gain both a second attack on their turn and grant them a regular bonus action in combat. Sure, a single hit won’t deal as much damage as a greatsword, but a dual wielder gets two attempts to hit their target on their turn as opposed to just one.
Two-Weapon Fighting does limit the weapon choices you have, and by partaking in this fighting style you are effectively missing out on +2 AC by opting to not use a shield. The early game is by far the easiest time to lose a character so you’re taking on a huge risk by forgoing this AC to dual wield, but that’s your call to make.
If damage output is your top priority then this is a potential path you can take for the early game.
Arguably one of the most iconic Forgotten Realms characters dual wields so it’s clearly fine to do so. Credit: WotC.
Dual wielding can be a huge boon for rogues. They never gain the Extra Attack feature unless they spend five levels multiclassing to obtain it. Being able to wield two shortswords, daggers, or another one-handed light melee weapon can give them a bit of insurance for landing their Sneak Attack.
Though, that’s assuming that it’s a better call to wield a second weapon rather than use Fast Hands or Cunning Action. It’s a nice option to have though, but rogues aren’t hurting for uses for their bonus action by any means.
Improving Your Two-Weapon Fighting
Fret not! There are ways of making Two-Weapon Fighting much more powerful, but they require a bit of an investment. When you level you occasionally gain ability score increases (ASIs). Well, alongside cranking up either your Strength or Dexterity ability scores, you can also take feats to improve your overall combat capabilities.
One such feat is the Dual Wielder feat which, expectedly, improves your Two-Weapon Fighting considerably.
You can also either choose a class that gives you the Two-Weapon Fighting, Fighting Style or multiclass into one of them to improve your damage output with your offhand weapon.
Fighting Style: Two-Weapon Fighting
This Fighting Style is pretty straight-forward. If you take it, the offhand weapon that you’d use your bonus action to make an attack with can now include your ability modifier in its damage. This is a significant power boost for any character that’s angling to stick with dual wielding throughout their adventures.
The drawback to this Fighting Style is that only two classes can actually take it. The fighter and the ranger are the only two classes in the PHB that have access to this specific Fighting Style. The fighter gets theirs at level 1 while the ranger gets it at level 2.
My Swashbuckler Rogue build included a one-level dip into fighter for the Duelist Fighting Style, but you can certainly make a case for doing so for the Two-Weapon Fighting Fighting Style if your rogue is going to be brandishing two one-handed weapons.
The blood hunter is a homebrew class but has gotten a lot more love than most other homebrews. It’s worth mentioning that it also is a class that can take this specific Fighting Style.
The Dual Wielder Feat
You master fighting with two weapons, gaining the following benefits:
You gain a +1 bonus too AC while you are wielding a separate melee weapon in each hand.
You can use two-weapon fighting even when the one-handed melee weapons you are wielding aren’t light.
You can draw or stow two one-handed weapons when you would normally be able to draw or stow only one.
Feats are fun, but they’re not always worth the price of admission. It’s tough sometimes to justify spending one of your ASIs on a feat rather than giving yourself a +1 to the modifier of one or even two of your ability scores.
ThinkDM did the math on this one, it’s essentially always better to just ignore this feat and stick to pumping your ASIs into your Strength or Dexterity if you’re after damage. Not to mention the fact that you get other bonuses besides straight-up damage for increasing your ability modifier.
With that said and done, it’s not a completely terrible feat. You’ll gain some flavor and quality of life features by taking the Dual Wielder feat. It’s just more optimal to crank up your Strength or Dexterity to 20 before grabbing this one.
Dual wielding looks cool and is fun in terms of its flavor. The mechanics of it can be a bit rough in practice and sub-optimal, but at the end of the day it’s not detrimental to your party to play a dual wielder as opposed to a great weapon fighter or a sword and board fighter.
All in all, Two-Weapon Fighting isn’t all that complex in D&D 5e. There’s certainly room for improvement in my opinion as it does feel a bit clunky, but it’s extremely accessible for any character to use and it’s pretty clear-cut in terms of its mechanics.
Basically, you just have to make sure you’re wielding two one-handed weapons with the light property unless you have the Dual Wielder feat. If you make an Attack action with your main hand weapon, then you can make one with your offhand as a bonus action. However, you do not include your ability score modifier in the attack’s damage unless you have the Two-Weapon Fighting Fighting Style.
Keep all of that in mind and get to hacking, stabbing, and bashing your way through hoards of enemies at top-speed!
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“How dare you defile our sacred lands?”, roars the voice in your head. You run, gasping for breath, daring not to look behind you – the pounding of hooves getting ever closer. Then, the pounding stops and a sharp pain juts through your heart. The unicorn has brought you to justice.
Unicorns are the poster child of “lawful good”. Most unicorns can be found either protecting a forest or fighting alongside a good-natured paladin. They are intelligent horses that have an iconic horn on their heads. They are obviously magical creatures but mostly keep to themselves.
A unicorn is more of a guardian than a fighter, but they can still pack one hell of a punch. Their horns are expectedly deadly especially when a unicorn is charging at you at full speed. However, their hooves might be even more deadly when they put the full weight of their body into smacking you with them.
“But why would the party ever fight the epitome good-aligned creature?” I don’t know, maybe your party is full of jerks. Besides, that’s your job! My job is just to analyze these creatures on a bi-weekly basis.
The unicorn is a pretty common creature in the fantasy genre due to it being a real-life mythological creature. But there’s a lot going on there unlike the minotaur which was much more straight-forward to cover. So let’s stick with the D&D 5e lore because there’s an entire page worth of unicorn lore.
A typical unicorn will be found in one of two places. The first is being somewhere in a forest. Enchanted forests are their natural habitat. They protect the forest they reside in with their lives, keeping evil at bay. However, they’re well-known to allow their friends and allies to hunt and make use of the forest.
The second place is by the side of a chosen companion. In most cases, this is a paladin, but a good-natured cleric, druid, or celestial warlock may also be recognized as a suitable companion or disciple for a unicorn. Unicorns are loyal creatures, provided that you stay true to your word and walk the path of good.
The horn is the unicorn’s defining feature. It’s also the source of their divine powers. Their horn is also extremely deadly, as I’ve alluded to previously. However, due to its powerful magical essence, unicorn horns are a sought-after component in powerful magic.
Beware, though, a creature that takes part in the demise of a unicorn will surely meet divine retribution!
A Unicorn’s Lair
Unicorns are surprising creatures, mechanically speaking. They have a ton of different mechanics, including lairs! While lairs are optional, they can provide some fun mechanics to spice up a battlefield, or set the scenery of an adventure.
There’s a whole list of regional effects a unicorn may have, but you’re more than welcome to make up your own, flavorful effects. Let’s take a look at these regional effects.
Open flames of a nonmagical nature are extinguished within the unicorn’s domain. Torches and campfires refuse to burn, but closed lanterns are unaffected.
Creatures native to the unicorn’s domain have an easier time hiding; they have advantage on all Dexterity (Stealth) checks made to hide.
When a good-aligned creature casts a spell or uses a magical effect that causes another good-aligned creature to regain hit points, the target regains the maximum number of hit points possible for the spell or effect.
Curses affecting any good-aligned creature are suppressed.
Of course, you could use one, some, or all of these effects, but keep in mind that in the case of a unicorn’s lair, these effects end immediately after the unicorn’s death. A unicorn’s presence is what makes their domain magical, unlike some creatures where their lair will maintain regional effects for a long period of time after their death.
Unicorns are also only CR 5 creatures. They’re powerful, but not supremely in the grand scheme of things. Their regional effects should be flavorful and useful, but nothing obscene. Honestly, the maximum number of HP effect may be a bit much, the rest aren’t are pretty alright in my book.
You don’t have to use a lair in your game to use a unicorn. They can exist outside of their lairs. Their lairs can just be thematic and nice looking but have no mechanics. Their statblock and their success in combat don’t hinge on having these regional effects.
All in all, the unicorn’s ability scores are phenomenal. Their lowest is Intelligence which is arguably the least-useful ability score for a creature due to the lack of intelligence saving throw spells and effects in D&D 5e.
Everything else is somewhere in the realm of +2-+4, with their spellcasting ability score being a +3 and their physical damage ability score being a +4. This is a damn strong array of ability scores.
Their speed is 50 ft. which is to be expected for a horse-like creature. They clock in at 2x the speed of a typical small-sized player character (PC) and just above 1.5x the speed of a medium-sized PC.
Unfortunately, their base survivability is pretty poor. An AC of 12 for a CR 5 creature is abysmal and their 67 HP isn’t doing them any favors in that regard. The rest of their statblock helps boost this slightly, but overall this is not a defensively-gifted creature.
As I said, they have a few extra defensive traits to help boost their garbage AC and HP. Immunity to poison damage as well as the charmed, paralyzed, and poisoned conditions is a welcome boon for the unicorn’s statblock. Poison damage is a common spell damage type so that immunity, in particular, is awesome.
Unicorns are guardians of the forest and their respective domains. They need to be able to spot evil wherever it hides, including in the darkness. Their 60 ft. of darkvision will aid them in that endeavor as well as their 13 Perception which is well above-average.
They can speak quite a few languages that fit their flavor. Plus, they can talk to literally any creature that knows a language thanks to their telepathy. They’re great talkers and they have a Charisma modifier of +3 so there’s a good chance that they can talk themselves out of some tricky situations.
Abilities and Traits
Charge. If the unicorn moves at least 20 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with a horn attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 9 (2d8) piercing damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 15 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.
Innate Spellcasting.The unicorn’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 14). The unicorn can innately cast the following spells, requiring no components:
Charge might not always be usable on your turn due to needing to move 20 feet straight toward a target, but you should use it every time an opportunity presents itself. The additional 9 piercing damage is effectively a third attack’s worth of damage.
Not only that, but Charge’s ability to knock a creature prone gives you a bit of crowd control (CC) as well as some battlefield control. A creature can’t effectively maneuver around the battlefield if they have to use half their movement to get up. Plus, its DC 15 Strength saving throw is damn solid.
Magic Resistance gives us a sizable amount of survivability. The unicorn is already immune to three different conditions, so Magic Resistance will help us shake off the other ones. With their excellent array of ability scores, they’ll have no issue succeeding most saving throws caused by spells and magical effects.
Magic Weapon is a nice flavor trait, but it won’t be particularly useful against PCs. This will be an excellent trait for fighting other creatures, or if somehow your PCs have resistance to damage from nonmagical weapon attacks. It’s a niche trait, but there’s some value there in the right circumstance.
Unicorns have some creative spells at their disposal, so let’s talk about a few of them!
For starters, their DC 14 spell save is actually pretty solid, especially in Entangle‘s case as it requires a Strength saving throw which is one of the less common saving throw abilities. Therefore, many characters will use it as a dump stat.
Detect Evil and Good is an excellent at will spell for a unicorn that is patrolling their lair for potential evil intruders. It and Dispel Evil and Good are flavorful choices, though both have niche uses.
Calm Emotions is a sneakily good 1/day spell for the unicorn in the right conditions. They’re able to suppress effects that cause humanoids within the spell’s radius to be charmed for frightened for the duration of the spell (up to 1 minute).
Entangle is just all-around a fantastic CC pick for the unicorn and welcomed considering the fact that they don’t have any ranged attacks.
Multiattack. The unicorn makes two attacks: one with its hooves and one with its horn.
Hooves. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d6 + 4) bludgeoning damage.
Horn. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) piercing damage.
Healing Touch (3/Day). The unicorn touches another creature with its horn. The target magically regains 11 (2d8 + 2) hit points. In addition, the touch removes all diseases and neutralizes all poisons afflicting the target.
Teleport (1/Day). The unicorn magically teleports itself and up to three willing creatures it can see within 5 feet of it, along with any equipment they are wearing or carrying, to a location the unicorn is familiar with, up to 1 mile away.
If you haven’t noticed by now, unicorns have a ridiculous amount of options to choose from in their kit.
Their Multiattack is a run-of-the-mill Multiattack clocking in at two attacks for an action. Between Hooves and Horn, you’ll deal an average of 19 bludgeoning/piercing damage per turn, but if you combo Multiattack with a successful Charge you’ll deal a total of 28 bludgeoning/piercing damage per turn.
Horn and Hooves are just your standard melee weapon attack actions. Don’t forget that these are considered magical attacks!
Healing Touch is a damn powerful action. It’s effectively a 2nd-level Cure Woundsexcept that it also cures any diseases and poisons on the target. It heals 11 hit points, but I honestly think it should heal 12 due to their spellcasting stat being Charisma which has a +3 modifier and not a +2 as Healing Touch implies. Regardless, you can use this action three times per day on another creature
Teleport is an amazing escape ability. If your unicorn is getting demolished just pop an action and poof to safety up to 1 mile away from your current position. The only hitch is that the unicorn needs to be familiar with the location and you can only use this once per day. Use it wisely!
Hooves. The unicorn makes one attack with its hooves.
Shimmering Shield (Costs 2 Actions). The unicorn creates a shimmering, magical field around itself or another creature it can see within 60 feet of it. The target gains a +2 bonus to AC until the end of the unicorn’s next turn.
Heal Self (Costs 3 Actions). The unicorn magically regains 11 (2d8 + 2) hit points.
All in all, we have a couple of solid legendary action combos.
For starters, using Hooves three times to attack is obviously our most ideal option for dealing some impressive damage. It’s an average of 33 bludgeoning damage if all three hit!
The issue with this is that when we commit to using all three of our legendary actions in this manner, we’re assuming that we will always have a target within melee range to attack. If anyone moves, we may have wasted 1 action as Hooves is our only 1-cost legendary action.
Shimmering Shield is for sure our best legendary action. You gain +2 to AC bumping our AC up to 14 for an entire round, even through your turn! Use Shimmering Shield immediately after the creature following your unicorn in the initiative order finishes their turn. Then, follow it up with a Hooves on a different round.
Heal Self is a waste in most scenarios. For starters, its action economy is godawful. While I get that you can’t heal yourself with Healing Touch, it only takes a single action to use that to heal the same amount of hit points. It’s only an average of 11 hit points anyway. There’s a good chance a single character’s attack will undo that healing.
If your unicorn is in dire straits, perhaps Heal Self is worthwhile to keep them alive until they can Teleport away. But chances are, the combo of Shimmering Shield and Hooves is going to give you considerably more value for the same cost.
Unicorns are, in essence, magical horses. They’re going to be fast. That should surprise no one.
As I mentioned before, their 50 ft. speed is effectively 2x the speed of a small-size PC and 1.5x the speed of a medium-size PC. Unless a PC can fly or burrow, they’re not going to outmaneuver or outpace a unicorn.
A creature can’t even guarantee their escape by teleporting away. The unicorn’s Teleport action gives them a distance of up to 1 mile away that they can teleport to. If a creature can teleport further, or more than once, then that might be an issue, but still.
Pass Without Trace gives the unicorn and their allies within a 30 ft. ft of the unicorn +10 to Stealth checks for up to 1 hour. They already have a +2 Dexterity so they have a decent shot at sneaking up on a target or hiding from a threat.
I’m getting serious Renaissance vibes from the 4e artwork. Credit: WotC.
A Fantastic Variety of Actions
The unicorn’s statblock is chock-full of variety. You’ve got physical melee attacks, a long-distance teleport, multiple heals, a mid-range shield buff, and six utility/CC spells many of which require concentration and have long durations.
Unicorns can do practically anything and they have the ability score array to ensure that they can do all this effectively. They’re respectable spellcasters and powerful single-target damage dealers. They have a fantastic action economy that supports both multiple actions on their turn as well as up to three legendary actions.
Unfortunately, this variety doesn’t translate into any ranged attack options or AoE damage abilities, but considering the fact that unicorns have every other kind of action that’s not an enormous issue. Particularly since they have such exceptional mobility and a few CC options to lock-down enemies.
Exceptional Support Capabilities
Unicorns are solid creatures in their own right. They have respectable damage and some solid CC to take on any foe that’s thrown their way. However, they can really shine as a creature that is supporting other creatures, their squad of minions, or even supporting the players in combat.
Every aspect of their statblock has at least one support or utility ability that they can use to heal, buff/debuff, or teleport their allies. Not to mention, they’re a creature that can be used as a mount for the average humanoid.
Their Shimmering Shield is a fantastic support action that only costs two of their three legendary..
As you get more comfortable as a DM you tend to experiment a lot more. Your combat encounters are no longer just flat 20×20 squares with exactly enough creatures for a medium difficulty encounter. You’ll add environmental hazards, homebrew new creatures to use, and so much more.
But one small, but noticable thing that you can do to make encounters more engaging and potentially more difficult is to add elements of cover to the battlefield. Give your creatures and/or the party some obstacles to maneuver around. Doing this will give both sides the opportunity to break line of sight with their assailants.
Having line of sight is a huge deal in D&D 5e combat for certain creatures and player characters (PCs). Let’s take a deeper look at line of sight and how a better understanding of the mechanic can help us build better encounters as well as improve our play. Line of sight is a concept for both sides of the game.
What are you doing? Get behind the boulders! Credit: WotC.
What is Line of Sight
Line of sight is simply being able to see your target. Think of it as an imaginary line between your eyes and your target. If the line connects with the target, they’re in your line of sight.
Now, there are ways that your target can “break” your line of sight on them. The simplest of ways to break line of sight with a creature is by hiding behind a solid object. In fact, you don’t even have to hide to break line of sight, simply positioning yourself behind a wall is enough to break line of sight with a creature.
Total Cover is the mechanical condition in D&D 5e that describes what happens when you break line of sight with your enemy. Essentially, if you are considered to be in Total Cover you cannot be targeted by attacks that require the attacker to see you.
For example, a cleric can’t cast Sacred Flame on a goblin that is in Total Cover. They cannot see the goblin so the goblin is untargetable by that and other spells or attacks that require you to see your enemy.
Who Cares About Line of Sight Important?
Everyone cares about line of sight to a degree. Knowing the location of every enemy in a combat encounter is an enormous benefit. Hidden enemies can inflict some devastating damage and they’re essentially an unknown variable until they reveal themselves.
The more information you have, the better decisions you can make. The better decisions you make, the more likely you are at beating the encounter.
However, there are certain characters and creatures that care about line of sight a lot more than others. For example, any ranged attacker like an arcane archer cares about being able to see their target. Spellcasters are also going to be dealing with line of sight a lot as well, depending on the spells that they use.
Line of Sight and Encounter Design
As I mentioned previously in this article, adding ways for your creatures and the party to use the battlefield to their advantage doesn’t take a whole lot of effort on your part when you’re designing an encounter. It’s as much work as just adding a couple of boulders to a grassy field.
But in doing so, you create more dynamic encounters. The players can duck and hide behind the boulder. In turn, your creatures have to now reposition in order to sling spells at them effectively. The encounter just got a lot more interesting, and you didn’t have to do much prep to make this happen.
But, this article isn’t just about cover. It’s about line of sight. With that in mind, let’s talk about Total Cover which is the only type of cover that allows you to break line of sight with your potential attackers.
Total Cover can be narratively described as you dashing around a corner or crouching down behind an enormous tree. If the enemy can’t see you, they cannot shoot you.
Being untargetable by having Total Cover from an attacker does two things. First, it grants you a ton of survivability. The enemy’s damage options are limited if they cannot target you from their current position. Second, it will force the enemy to reposition. In doing so, they may break their formation or open up an opportunity for either yourself or one of your allies to punish them for repositioning.
You should also be sure to add lots of opportunities for creatures to get Total Cover if your party is stuffed with magic users or other long-range combatants. It ensures that not every encounter becomes a long-range slugfest from hundreds of feet away.
Total Cover changes the pace and the feel of an encounter more than any other type of cover. It actively forces the opposing side to react to their target gaining Total Cover.
Give Your Creatures (or the party) an Option to Retreat
All of your encounters don’t have to finish with one side being killed or incapacitated. Forcing your enemy to retreat, or being forced to retreat yourselves is a perfectly valid win condition. Honestly, it’s a win condition that isn’t frequently used in D&D 5e.
Add ways for your party and the enemy to retreat from combat. You can do this by putting a secret passageway in your big bad’s lair, or you could just add a hallway that allows the retreating party to break line of sight with their enemy.
None of this has to be complicated. In fact, the simpler option is sometimes the best when you’re having the enemy run from the party.
A retreat can also segue into a chase encounter. So by allowing one side to retreat, you’ve created both an interesting narrative hook, but also a brand new encounter. Of course, this becomes more challenging to pull off when your players get access to teleportation spells.
A Fight for the High Ground
The elevation that the attacking character is at is another factor that you’ll have to take into consideration when you’re determining cover and line of sight.
A creature attacking from a higher elevation than their target may be able to see over the boxes that they’re hiding behind, therefore negating cover. They also have a better vantage point on the battlefield so they may be able to gain line of sight on additional enemies.
Throwing in an area of higher elevation into your battlemaps creates a new goal for both sides of the encounter to chase after. A vantage point could turn the tide for either side’s ranged attackers and the combat now becomes a King of the Hill style game rather than a standard deathmatch.
Climbing the tree to gain a better vantage point in combat may be worth the risk. Credit: WotC.
As far as official rules are concerned, having high ground doesn’t do anything specific outside of reducing cover, but even that is up to the DM to rule. Determining how cover works vs. an elevated attacker is entirely up to the DM deciding if it makes sense.
In some games, having the high ground will increase the maximum distance of your ranged attacks. I could see this being a fun variant rule for D&D 5e, but it also adds a bit of extra crunch to every encounter.
A quick and easy way to give a mechanical benefit to high ground is to give a creature with high ground advantage on ranged attacks.
In my opinion, I’d just use the cover mechanics for a creature making a ranged attack at a creature with the high ground. I think Half-Cover makes both logical and mechanical sense as far as a benefit is concerned and it feels better to bolster the target’s AC rather than give a player disadvantage on an attack.
Line of sight isn’t a difficult concept to grasp. It’s simply a fancy way of saying “you can see your target”. However, it’s a very important facet of combat in D&D 5e or really any sort of wargame or RPG with a focus on combat.
You make an encounter dynamic by simply throwing in elements in the battlefield that can disrupt line of sight. Total Cover comes in many different forms so you can add it to any encounter and not have to sacrifice narrative cohesion for a mechanical element of the game.
High ground is a concept that doesn’t have a whole lot of mechanical definition in D&D 5e. Honestly, I think that’s intentional though. Having specific high ground rules could make the game extremely crunchy. However, that’s not to say that there’s no tactical benefit to fighting for high ground. Having the high ground as an archer or a spellcaster is beneficial.
If you enjoyed what you read be sure to check out my ongoing review for all of the official D&D 5e books!
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An unreliable narrator is someone who is telling a story or a tale to an audience, but with the caveat of their credibility being seriously compromised. They’re spinning a tale, and in many cases, they’re doing so for their benefit unbeknownst to their audience.
NPCs are a living, breathing part of any RPG world, but they’re also a tool for the GM. Sure, they are used to bring life to the world and help immerse the players in the game, but NPCs are the tools through which you can convey information to your players. This information could be anything from plot hooks to inside info about the town or city the party is in.
Many players, but new players especially, will take your NPCs at face value. If they’re asking for help or are offering a job, they must be telling the truth. And, to be fair, they’re probably right most of the time. If everyone is lying to you, a game can quickly become a tedious mess of the players “investigating” every NPC.
However, once in a while, you may be inclined to have them interact with an unreliable narrator. An NPC who is giving them a job to do, but the story they’re telling is incredibly biased. In fact, the story could be a complete farce, but the NPC has a motive or a reason for not giving the party the truth, and it’s up for the party to determine what to do in this situation.
Many people embellish stories, but to what degree? Credit: WotC.
What Makes an Unreliable Narrator, Unreliable?
Unreliable narrators can be many different kinds of people. Some of them are malicious and are twisting facts and embellishing the story for their personal benefit. Others are completely delusional and have no idea that the story that they are conveying isn’t entirely true.
It’s easy to make an NPC that loves to embellish stories. Yes, they’re an unreliable narrator, but they’re not harmful to the party. They may even know that they’re being an unreliable narrator, but they’re simply making their story more entertaining for their audience. Hell, the audience may even be in on it and is just going along for the ride.
However, in the context of this article, I want to talk about NPCs that are trying to get the party to do something. They’re asking the party for aid or offering a job to them, but they’re not being entirely truthful with the party.
These lies could be as egregious as the quest giver being the true villain and manipulating the party into stealing an artifact or killing the heroes trying to thwart the villainous NPC. On the other hand, these lies could be totally inconsequential such as them embellishing the value of the item they’re having the party fetch to make it seem like they’re considerably wealthier than they are.
Lies, misinformation, and deceit are what make an unreliable narrator unreliable. Unreliable narrators also tend to keep lying. There could be multiple layers of lies in their stories that the players will have to pick through or ignore in order to complete their task.
Can You Trust Them?
The thing about unreliable narrators is that they’re not necessarily entirely untrustworthy. They are still telling a story and in most cases, there is a grain of truth in their tales.
For example, an unreliable narrator may lie about the circumstances of their problem, but they’d be truthful about where and when it happened. They’re giving the party enough information for them to jump off and complete the job for the NPC, even if they’re not entirely cognizant of the situation.
Ultimately, it’s up to the party to decide if they are able to trust their informant. Even though the unreliable narrator is lying to them, they may be giving just enough information that the party is able to take it from there and make their own conclusions about the situation.
Convoluted Plot Hooks
An unreliable narrator is a great way to introduce some truly convoluted plot hooks and situations.
An NPC that has consistently lied about every aspect of an assignment is one that can absolutely lead the party into certain danger. They may be doing so because they have a monetary incentive to misguide the party, or because they’re just malicious people.
More often than not, though, an unreliable narrator is lying simply to save face. They’re nearly as innocent as they may seem in whatever predicament they’re in.
The party may come to the conclusion that this NPC is not to be trusted and they won’t endanger their own lives to aid them. That’s absolutely a valid outcome of all this and it’s the price that the NPC has to pay for lying to the party, even if they don’t know that they’re lying. Beware of unresolved plot hooks, though!
“Are we the baddies?”
A web of lies is not something that can be so simply crawled out of. An unreliable narrator can be a masterful manipulator and have everyone convinced that they are the true victims of the situation.
“That guard arrested me for no reason! Teach him a lesson so he won’t do that to someone else.” Credit WotC.
This person has played with the heartstrings of the party and caught a group of suckers hook, line, and sinker.
But will the party ever realize that they’re helping a truly terrible person commit a crime or wrongdoing? Perhaps there have been clues all throughout the adventure alluding to this, but the party didn’t care enough to look into them too deeply or they simply didn’t figure it out.
The end result, however, is that by following the twists, turns, and curves of this convoluted plot they’ve now become the villains of this story. How will they right their wrongs, and will they bring their manipulator to justice?
A Grain of Truth Can Lead You on the Right Path
As I mentioned before, even if the NPC is lying about theirs or others’ involved in the issue at hand, they’re still giving some useful information to the party. At this point, it’s up to the party to decide if they wish to unravel the web of lies or simply ignore it.
Ignoring it can be dangerous as it can set the party on the path to becoming the villains of the situation, but if they’re not overly concerned about that then it may be the path of least resistance.
However, if the party chooses to investigate the unreliable narrator’s claims they may come across clues to disprove their lies. These clues can give them the information they need to correct the situation. This could come at the cost of a hefty reward, but they may claim a moral victory or a different type of reward from doing the right thing.
What Do the Players Learn From This?
Critical Thinking Skills
While your players’ first instinct may have been to outright trust or distrust the unreliable narrator, one thing is for sure, if they accept the job they’ll uncover more information about the situation as they make their way through the task.
It’s entirely on them to determine what really happened to create the situation that they’re now involved in. This is going to require them to use some critical thinking to both obtain clues and analyze said clues.
After being duped by one unreliable narrator, they’ll have learned to ask clarifying questions and think of ways to confirm that someone isn’t lying out their asses to them about their circumstances. They’ll have the skills to call-out these unreliable narrators and tackle problems more efficiently.
Your World isn’t Black and White, it’s Shades of Gray
Not every liar is spinning their tales and embellishing their circumstances for their own benefit or because they cannot physically stop themselves from doing so. Our perspectives can get in the way of us telling the truth.
“I slew 20 yeti myself and saved the town. They’re indebted to me. Mention my name and you’ll be treated like royalty!” Credit: WotC.
An unreliable isn’t always a villain. They can be the hero of the situation, but they may be leaving out key details or they may be emphasizing irrelevant information. This could even be a situation where there aren’t heroes or villains, only people.
Good people lie and bad people tell the truth. Part of having a dynamic world is having NPCs with multiple layers of personality.
Unreliable narrators are a part of life. It’s important to be able to determine who is lying and who is maliciously lying to us. It makes sense that not every NPC looking to give the adventurers a task is giving them a truthful summary of the job.
As I said before, though, if you’re regularly giving your players reasons to not trust any of your NPCs then using unreliable narrators won’t be nearly as interesting. Sure, everybody lies, but not everyone is extremely untrustworthy, especially when they’re asking for help.
This is another one of those “use sparingly” ideas for your game. The payoff after the unreliable narrator’s lies are revealed is worth it if you’re able to pull everything off!
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How could this happen? Everything the spellcaster throws at them is shrugged off. These devilish soldiers, the merregon, keep pushing forward, breaking through your ranks. The city is lost for sure.
With the announcement of Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus I felt like it would be appropriate to take a look at a devil for this edition of Monster Monday. I also wanted to find a low-CR devil to showcase as the adventure takes place from levels 1-13. Honestly, this proved to be more of a challenge than I anticipated.
However, the merregon proved to be an almost perfect candidate. They’re essentially the backbone of the armies of the Nine Hells. At their core, they’re a fairly standard tank and spank creature, but they have some really fun traits and tools at their disposal to make them fun to build encounters around.
Merregons are (as far as I can tell) a new addition to 5e. So, unfortunately, this is all the merregon art we’ll be seeing! Credit: WotC.
Soldiers, mercenaries, bodyguards, and other professional fighters aren’t always folk that act with the best intentions. Some of these people are truly evil, others forsake their morals for an easy payout. Regardless, many of these people commit atrocities throughout their lives.
Once they are slain or die a natural life, a spirit will travel to whatever afterlife they have been deemed worthy of. In the case of these awful sellswords, their souls travel to the Nine Hells and become merregons.
Merregons are faceless soldiers without any individual identity. They are simply footsoldiers for the armies of the Nine Hells.
Each merregon has a mask that looks the exact same as every other merregon’s mask. The only identifying factors of their appearance are the markings on these masks which dictate the merregon’s commander and the layer of the Nine Hells that they serve.
Their lack of identity and their (magically forced) loyalty make them the perfect pawns in a devil’s army. A merregon will throw down their life for the master and will obey any order that they are given. They do not retreat unless ordered to, and they do not cease unless ordered to.
Frankly speaking, their base stats aren’t anything to write home about. It’s all pretty average for a CR 4 creature. Their speed is average for a medium creature, their AC is decent but nothing to write home about, and their HP is also solid.
Their +4 modifier to Strength and +3 to Constitution certainly aid in their melee-combatant niche. These are frontline bruisers and they have the ability scores to back it up. A +2 modifier to Dexterity also helps them deal with Dexterity saving throws which are sure to pop up in combat.
However, their mental ability scores are much to be desired. Wisdom is a +1 which is o.k. and sort of required for creatures that are created as bodyguards. They need to be able to perceive incoming combatants. Their Intelligence and Charisma are garbage, though. That being said, their existence revolves around taking orders. They do not think for themselves. It makes sense at least.
Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills
Damage Resistances: cold; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks that aren’t silvered Damage Immunities: fire, poison Condition Immunities: frightened, poisoned Sense: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 11 Languages: understands Infernal but can’t speak, telepathy 120 ft. CR: 4 (1,100 XP)
Here is where the merregon’s statblock starts to get interesting, and why their ability score spread and base stats are pretty bland.
They have damage resistance to the three most common damage types in the game, assuming that it’s not damage coming from silvered or magical weapons. They also have resistance to cold damage which is a common damage type for spells.
Not only that, but they have straight-up immunity from two extremely common damage types, fire and poison. I should note that these damage immunities and resistances are fairly standard for devils in D&D, though, but it’s still some solid survivability that we need to account for.
On top of all these damage resistances and immunities, they also get immunity to the frightened and poisoned conditions. So, not only is it difficult for spellcasters to damage merregons effectively, but they also limit their CC.
Though, in my research, it seems like the merregon has taken the place of legion devils (left) from previous editions. Credit: WotC.
Their passive Perception isn’t great at 11, but this coincides with their Wisdom so this shouldn’t be a huge surprise. It should come as no surprise that a creature from hell itself has darkvision.
Telepathy with a range of 120 ft. is very cool and extremely useful for a soldier to have. Telepathy, in general, is common for demons to have, but in this case, it lets merregon quickly and efficiently receive orders from their overseers. It also allows them to strike fear in the hearts of the foes even if they don’t share a language.
Abilities and Traits
Devil’s Sight. Magical darkness doesn’t impede the merregon’s darkvision.
Magic Resistance. The merregon has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.
Devil’s Sight is as the name implies, common for devils to have. However, this is an excellent trait as it yet again limits the amount of magical crowd control that an enemy spellcaster is able to unleash upon a merregon.
Devil’s Sight makes the merregon particularly deadly if they’re paired with a creature that can cast Darkness. They could use this area of darkness to severely hinder their enemy while still being capable of functioning normally.
Magic Resistance just solidifies the merregon’s role of being an anti-spellcaster. Sure, their Wisdom, Intelligence, and Charisma modifiers range from poor to average, but that doesn’t matter as much when they get advantage on the saving throw.
Multiattack. The merregon makes two halberd attacks, or if an allied fiend of challenge rating 6 or higher is within 60 feet of it, the merregon makes three halberd attacks.
Halberd. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (1d10 + 4) slashing damage.
Heavy Crossbow. Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, range 100/400 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d10 + 2) piercing damage.
The merregon’s Multiattack is pretty damn cool. First of all, two halberd attacks mean that we’re going to be attacking with reach which is already awesome. Second of all, it has a conditional buff. If the merregon is fighting alongside a more powerful devil they are inspired and can make an additional halberd attack.
So essentially, merregon are pretty solid when they’re used by themselves, but if you pair them up with a lieutenant or a commander they can become a real force to be reckoned with.
Halberd is a solid attack. +6 to hit is solid for a CR 4 creature if not slightly above average. The 9 slashing damage isn’t spectacular, but considering we’re getting 10 ft. reach with the attack it’s worth the lower damage in my opinion. Not only that, but they can make this attack up to 3 times in perfect conditions making their average damage per turn 27 slashing damage in ideal conditions.
Heavy Crossbow is by no means your ideal attack. It’s worse than the Halberd in every way except its range. If you have no better option, it’s a reasonable fallback. Otherwise, you should do your best to get your merregons within 10 ft. of the enemy.
Loyal Bodyguard. When another fiend within 5 feet of the merregon is hit by an attack, the merregon causes itself to be hit instead.
Loyal Bodyguard is the polar opposite of the goblin boss’ Redirect Attack. Instead of throwing an ally into harm’s way to protect yourself, you use Loyal Bodyguard to take the hit for ally fiend. This is useful for protecting other merregons, but it’s particularly useful for ensuring that your commander isn’t felled.
Keeping your commander alive should be your merregon’s primary objective. They are at their peak when they have a CR6+ fiend nearby.
45 HP may not seem like a lot, but when it’s backed up by a laundry list of damage resistances and immunities as well as a respectable 16 AC, it’s difficult to chip down that HP effectively.
You can effectively double the 45 HP thanks to how many damage resistances and immunities they have. Not only that, but these resistances and immunities are all for common damage types. There’s a good chance that everyone in the adventuring party is going to be hindered by these resistances and immunities.
Honestly, 45 HP isn’t even that bad for a CR 4 creature to start with. Even if you can attack with a magical weapon to ignore their damage resistance, it’s still going to take you a few solid hits to bring a merregon down.
The Nine Hells are fucking wild though. Credit: WotC.
Bane of Magic Users
Magic Resistance and Devil’s Sight both aid in shrugging off crowd control spells and magical effects. There’s a good chance the party’s magic users are going to dump extra spell slots in order to effectively damage or crowd control a merregon compared to the average creature. These guys eat spell slots for breakfast!
Their Dexterity and Constitution modifiers are above-average as well. This means that even before Magic Resistance got involved, they had favorable odds for 2/3 of the “big 3” saving throw ability scores. This only aids them further when rolling with advantage for saving throws against magical effects.
Merregons also have immunity to the frightened and poisoned conditions. These are two types of crowd control spells that they won’t even have to make a saving throw for. Again, they’re limiting the enemy spellcasters’ usefulness against them.
A merregon is a creature of attrition. Sure, you can blow some high-level spell slots to take them down, but you’re doing so against CR 4 creatures. Spellcasters are going to have to manage their resources with extra care if they are going head-to-head against an army of merregon.
Solid Damage, with Plenty of Range
Multiattack gives the merregon an average of 18-27 slashing damage with Halberd each round. This is of course done throughout the course of 2-3 attacks per round. This is decent damage for a CR 4 creature to begin with, but it comes with a perk.
That perk is, of course, a reach of 10 ft. Reach does quite a few things. Chiefly it ensures that you have a whole 5 ft. space between yourself and the enemy, giving you some extra room to maneuver around melee combatants.
Reach also increases the range that you can trigger opportunity attacks with. This limits the enemy’s ability to maneuver around you. Basically, you’re giving yourself some extra movement and maneuverability while hindering the enemy’s.
They also have the option of using Heavy Crossbow which, while not the most optimal of attacks, is better than nothing. Options are always nice to have.
It was extremely difficult to pick out two weaknesses for the merregon, so I didn’t! They’re a very well-balanced creature in my opinion. Their defensive and offensive options hit the nail on the head for a CR 4 creature.
Sub-Optimal When Not Paired With a CR 6+ Fiend
A merregon needs a CR 6+ fiend within 60 ft. of them to be at their peak effectiveness. This is for two reasons really, but the mechanical reason is pretty obvious.
Mechanically speaking, they need this CR 6+ fiend within 60 ft. of them to unlock their third Halberd attack included in their Mulitattack. This gives them an additional 9 average slashing damage per turn. This 9 average slashing damage puts them at 27 average slashing damage per round which is within the realm of a true CR 4 creature’s damage.
The second reason is that they’re at their core, unintelligent creatures that serve only to obey their master’s orders. If they are not paired with a CR 6+ fiend that is also intelligent enough to call out tactics and battle plans, they’re not going to be striking with peak efficiency.
Their 120 ft. of telepathy is helpful in this regard. They could have a hidden commander giving them telepathic orders still, even if they don’t have a fiend in the immediate vicinity to guide them, though they’d miss out on that third Halberd attack in this scenario.
How to Play a Merregon
Protect Your Master
Someone is giving your merregon orders, and there’s a good chance they’re fighting alongside them on the battlefield. It’s imperative that they are kept alive for as long as humanly possible.
As I mentioned before, having a CR 6+ fiend within 60 feet of your merregons gives them an additional Halberd attack per turn. Plus, they need someone to direct their attacks and give them orders as they don’t have the capabilities of thinking for themselves. It’s in their best tactical interest to preserve this leader, even if it means sacrificing themselves.
Protecting their leader is also how a merregon would function based on their official lore. They are purpose-built to serve a devil as a bodyguard or as part of their army. Their sole purpose is to follow orders and protect their master.
I have a good feeling that we’ll be seeing plenty of merregons in Descent Into Avernus. Credit: WotC.
Smash Through the Enemy Line
The merregon is a creature of attrition. They will suck up the resources of enemy spellcasters and force others to sacrifice resources and time in order to get an ideal attack off on an enemy merregon.
Due to their excellent defenses against magical effects and spells they can practically shrug off a magic user’s attempts at barraging them. Their devil overlord may instead opt to tell them to simply smash into the enemy’s frontline to provide a distraction for stronger devils to take out the party’s backline characters.
If a merregon is left to their own devices, they’d most likely just swing at whatever..
Cities, towns, villages, and other settlements are an integral part of any TTRPG campaign. However, a city is perhaps the most important type of settlement of them all. Therefore, city building proves itself to be a difficult, but important challenge for someone who wants to craft their own world.
Cities are not proclaimed cities due to their size alone, though they tend to have an enormous population compared to that of a large town. The significance of a settlement is also taken into consideration when determining whether or not it is a city.
For example, a city is a place where people gather to do business, participate in the arts and cultures, participate in government, and so much more. A large town may have some of these aspects, but a city will have almost if not, all of them and generally to a larger scale than any other settlement could maintain.
I’ve recently been on a campaign planning kick due to starting up a brand new campaign. Because of this, I’ve had to partake in a bit of city building which is not something that’s typically part of my week-to-week prep in my ongoing D&D campaign.
I’d written a series of articles on city building in the past, but after this past round of worldbuilding, however, I wanted to nail-down how I now go about creating a city in RPGs. A lot has changed in the 5 years since I wrote them! So, without further adieu, let’s take a look at building a city, the definitive edition.
Neverwinter is perhaps one of the most iconic D&D cities. Credit: WotC.
The Macro Scale
Let’s take a look at the factors of a city from a bird’s-eye view. Many important bits of information that you’ll have to think of when you’re building your city isn’t just about the physical city.
The info that we’re going to be talking about in terms of “The Macro Scale” of the city are tidbits of information that the players probably won’t directly interact with in the game. However, this information and similar bits of info can make an enormous difference during the city creation process.
The environment of the place that your players are at can make a huge impact on the game. For example, a session that takes place in the desert may have random sandstorms that buffet the party, giving them yet another challenge to face on their journey.
Determining where your city is located also impacts what type of city it is. A port city that is located on the coast will be considerably different from the city nestled in the middle of the desert.
The location that a city is in can absolutely affect the type of culture and government that flourishes in the city. The natural resources near the city are another factor that will seriously change the way the city looks, feels, and operates. That desert city may be hewn from sandstone as opposed to lumber due to a lack of trees.
Where your city is located can be extremely important.
What’s the City?
This information can give you a lot of info on the city, but also its inhabitants such as their quality of life and lifestyles as a whole.
What’s the Size of the City?
This question is a bit of a two-parter. For starters, this refers to the city itself. How much space does it take up? How many buildings are there? A gigantic city with towering skyscrapers is going to have a considerably different feel from a historical city with buildings that barely reach 3-4 stories tall.
The physical size of the city and the districts within it and even the density of the buildings within it makes an impact on the environment and the way the city operates. It’s important to think about to some degree.
Ravnica, for example, is an enormous city that spans the entire plane. Your cities don’t have to be that big. Credit: WotC.
Another way we could interpret this question is to refer to the population. The amount of people that live in the city affects how the city operates. A crowded city is going to have plenty of infrastructure-based issues. It’s also a lot less sanitary to live in an overpopulated and run-down district in the city.
The size of the buildings, walls, and structures are important to think about. The size of the population is just as important if not more important in many cases.
What’s the Economic Status of the City?
A city that’s ravished by famine and poverty is going to be a completely different city than one that is flourishing with trade and overflowing with food. There are unique challenges for people of different economic status and lifestyles.
It’s certainly not unheard of for groups of different social or economic status to pit against each other. A power, money, or resource imbalance between groups of people is an important part of your city’s day-to-day life and certainly an aspect of the city that your players can explore in great detail.
How does money affect the citizens of your city’s lifestyle and what can your players do about it?
What’s the City’s Significance in the World?
A city is a hub of culture, technology, and possibly even magic depending on what type of game you’re playing. Carving out a niche within one of these (or other) categories can help you shape your city into something truly unique.
Perhaps your city has sunk tons of money into developing top-of-the-line tech. Because of that, it’s full of steampunk infrastructure that makes for an efficient lifestyle for its citizens. They have access to advanced transportation and sanitation systems which makes them the envy of the world.
Now other settlements want a piece of that pie. Sure, they could create their own tech, but instead, they may seek to trade or learn from this city.
Giving your city a unique strength makes it desirable to travel to and do business with. A city wouldn’t be a city if there was no reason for other settlements to interact with it.
The Micro Scale
Let’s take a look at the inner-workings of the city. This information will tell us a lot about the unique parts of peoples’ everyday life in the city.
People live in cities for a reason. This question gives us information to determine those reasons.
For many, this reason could be as simple as “they grew up here”, but there’s got to be a reason why they grew up here. A city isn’t like any other settlement. It has a plethora of variables that create it, and generally, at least one of these variables is the reason that a person or a family will flock to a city to live there.
Our job is to create interesting things to do in the city that would attract an average person to live there or at the very least, journey there for a visit.
Shopping and Entertainment
It goes without saying that where there are a ton of people, there will be a ton of businesses. At the bare minimum, people need to eat so there will need to be merchants and shops that sell food.
In most cities, though, especially those filled with people with disposable income there will be a lot more. There will be book shops, furniture stores, jewelry stores, and tons of other places of business where people can spend their coin.
Not only that, but there will most likely be plenty of entertainment to find around the city. There could be a traditional theater, but there could also be street performers and musicians that operate outside of shopping centers or within taverns and restaurants.
Unique Culture or Cultures
The culture or cultures of a city are another big attraction for people looking to visit or move to a city.
Typically, a small town or village won’t be a very diverse place to live. A city naturally blends a lot of different people together. This blending of cultures can create a unique mix of traditions that will attract people from all over.
The location of a city will impact a lot of its culture. Certain holidays exist because of the time of year that you’d harvest crops, for example, and that could change drastically from one city to another if they are in completely different parts of the world and grow completely different crops.
Depending on the game system you’re playing, religions worshipped or the races that live within the city could also determine the different types of cultures that are in the city. These cultures won’t just influence how the city feels and operates, but it will also attract others that seek to participate in the cultures or learn from them.
Coruscant is kind of like Star Wars Ravnica. Both cities take up the entirety of their respective planet or plane of existence. Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd.
A Hub of Labor
The predominant factor for anyone deciding to live anywhere is if there is work for them there. If there is no money, there are no people. It’s as simple as that.
People need to eat. People need money to purchase the food to eat if they’re not in a position to hunt, gather, or grow the food otherwise.
Labor can come in many different forms, but you need to start from the bottom of the economy when determining what type of labor can be found in your city. The lower and middle classes will probably make up the majority of the population, so they need to all have jobs.
Thankfully, cities are huge and require a ton of upkeep. You’ll need laborers, construction workers, masons, guards, medical staff, sanitation workers, and tons of other professions to keep a city running in an orderly and efficient manner.
If for some reason your city doesn’t have a lot of available work, you need to come up with a unique reason for people to stay there. Maybe they are trapped due to a tyrannical government. Maybe it’s the best of a terrible situation. Who knows? But for the most part, every city is going to have a ton of jobs.
Who or What Runs the City?
Government and politics are important for a city in real life. However, we don’t actually have to delve that deep into it when doing worldbuilding if we don’t wish to. There are a ton of intricacies, and for good reason, but a lot of that information will never see the light of day at the table.
Instead, let’s focus on what type of government runs the city. A city with a panel of democratically elected officials will be a very different city from one that’s a military dictatorship.
Governments affect the city as a whole both in the terms of how the city operates and how the day-to-day lives of people are affected by who or what calls the shots.
However, the type of government isn’t the only factor that we need to take into account. We should also determine who makes up the government. I mean, having a corrupt or secretly villainous mayor or governor is going to be an important plot point for your game and the city as a whole.
Why Would Adventurers Travel There?
Now here comes the key part of creating your city. Why do your players and by extension, their characters, want to go there?
It’s cool if you want to make a functional city just for the fun of it, but I suspect you’re reading this article because you’re creating a city for your TTRPG campaign. Let’s now create some parts of the city that will draw in our adventurers so that they can explore all of this great work you’ve done!
These problems could be due to the tensions between different social or economic classes. They could be hidden issues that the public doesn’t know about, but the government needs to be solved discreetly. Whatever it is, there’s a job for the party and they’ll (possibly) be rewarded handsomely for it!
Adventurers are sort of like civilians in that they’re drawn towards places that can provide them with jobs to do. They need coin just as much as anyone else. The difference, though, is that they’re more than willing to uproot their lives and move to the next settlement in search of new work if the well runs dry where they’re currently residing.
Regardless, these problems don’t have to be fleshed-out and official quests. They could be simple observations or plot hooks that the party stumbles upon and wishes to explore further. Players are more than capable of creating their own problems to investigate. A great city will have opportunities for just that.
For some groups, it may be more like “what problems can the party create?” Credit: WotC.
Exclusive Guilds or Organizations
Cities have tons of people living within them. They’re hubs of trade and business. This means that they have plenty of opportunities for regulation of said people, trade, and business. This regulation could, of course, come from the government, but it doesn’t always have to.
Guilds such as a crafting guild or an adventuring guild can be the perfect organization to manage certain aspects of a city. These are groups of people that the party may seek out or be pointed towards in order to provide them with work to do or access to rare equipment that they can obtain through these guilds.
Thieves’ guilds and assassin organizations can control the underbelly of the city. They enforce shady treaties and deals to strongarm businesses into handing over coin for protection. They also could be in charge of distributing contracts to acquire items or kill targets for a reward.
There are tons of different guilds and organizations that can thrive within a city.
You could even make a short adventure within the city that could work as a one-shot or a side-quest for the party to do. This is a great way to get them to explore the city and interact with the different organizations within it.
Rare Equipment and Commodities
There are tons of opportunities to find rare goods and equipment in a city because so many traders, merchants, and shopkeepers will pass through or set up shop in a major city.
All of this traffic of coins, items, and people will certainly bring interesting and unique goods into the trading centers of any major city. Perhaps the average joe won’t bat an eye at it, but adventurers or folk with a ton of money would certainly be drawn to a city based on its wares and rare goods.
Players are always in search of shiny new toys and upgrades that they can adorn their characters with. What better place to find these items than a major city?
Even if the city doesn’t have exactly what they’re looking for, surely the merchants within it will have some idea as to where the party could go to find it. The party could seek out business relationships or friendships with NPCs “in the know” about that sort of thing and leverage their relationship to gain this information.
Cities are fantastic places to spend a few sessions or an entire campaign in. There is so much to..