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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.

NPCs are also one way to give the players quests, missions, or potential jobs to do. These tasks can range from a simple delivery or errand to something complex like reclaiming an heirloom or an item of great significance to the NPC.

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.

Conclusions

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!

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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The post Using an Unreliable Narrator in an RPG appeared first on Dungeon Solvers.

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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.

Today we’ll be hopping into Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes to study the faceless legionnaire, the merregon!

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. Merregon Lore

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.

Merregon Stats and Abilities

You can find the merregon’s statblock on page 166 of Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes.

Stats

Size: Medium fiend (devil)
AC: 16 (natural armor)
HP: 45 (6d8 +18)
Speed: 30 ft.
STR: 18 (+4)
DEX: 14 (+2)
CON: 17 (+3)
INT: 6 (-2)
WIS: 12 (+1)
CHA: 8 (-1)

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.

Actions

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.

Reactions

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.

Merregon Strengths Hardy Defenses

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.

Merregon Weaknesses

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.

They’re still a perfectly fine CR 4 creature even without this 3rd attack, but they’re suboptimal if they’re not making the most of their action economy.

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..

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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.

Where is the City?

We have a world. This world consists of different locations, biomes, etc. A diverse world makes for a fun game! Your players can explore underground caverns, scorching deserts, and lush grasslands.

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.

Speaking of people, you should check out this article from The Mudworld Blog on how to (quickly) create NPCs. People are one of the most important parts of a city, after all!

What’s There to Do 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!

Problems They Can Solve

The point of most TTRPGs that I play is that there is a problem to be solved and obstacles to overcome. Without these, you have no conflict, and without conflict, there isn’t much of a story to unfold.

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.

Conclusions

Cities are fantastic places to spend a few sessions or an entire campaign in. There is so much to..

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There’s a holy grail for GMs. No, it’s not the perfect TTRPG system or anything like that. The holy grail of GMing is the ultimate campaign organizer. Strangely enough, I think I’ve found mine. Shockingly, it was OneNote.

I’ve wanted to get more organized with my campaign notes and documents lately as I’m about 2 1/2 years into a D&D 5e campaign and I swear I have lost about a campaign’s worth of notes and ideas throughout the course of it due to being so disorganized.

My current “setup” is a bunch of folders with random word documents in my Dropbox account. Oh, and a few random scribblings on notepaper. I’ve moved like twice since I started planning out this campaign so I lost most of my handwritten stuff.

That’s why I decided for my first Shadow of the Demon Lord (SotDL) campaign I was going to force myself to find and stick to a planner.

Why OneNote?

I’d mentioned a while ago about how I used World Anvil to plan out a west marches D&D campaign. It was nice, but it felt like it was way too in-depth for what I needed. If you’re looking for a planner that can keep track of complex worldbuilding then I’m sure it’s an excellent resource.

However, as I said recently, worldbuilding isn’t a crucial part of the prep for any TTRPG. In fact, if you want to get heavy into building a world and creating a ton of history and lore for it you should be doing it for your enjoyment alone. Assume that the players won’t care much about it or else you’ll be disappointed.

I needed a planner or organization tool that was much more lightweight. I’ve tried Obsidian Portal before as well, and while it was closer to what I wanted, it still felt like it was too “big” for what I need for planning a campaign.

There were other online campaign managers that I tried as well, but many of them had lag issues or had a plethora of bugs and glitches that it wasn’t worth it.

I realized that I needed to just keep it simple. I’d used OneNote a bit in college and I’ve recently been using it for work as well lately. The downside is that I can’t share all of my plans and lore easily with my players compared to any of the campaign managers I mentioned previously, but the tradeoff for this is a fairly lightweight and highly customizable organization tool.

I can link different notes and pages to other pages within my notebook. I can save it and back it up somewhere to make sure I don’t lose it. Plus I can access OneNote from my phone which lets me jot down quick ideas whenever I have them. There are a ton of other features, but those have been my favorite so far.

How I Organize My SotDL Campaign in OneNote

I’ve basically divided my typical sections of prep into separate categories in my OneNote Notebook. Over half of these sections entail worldbuilding and the rest are reserved for my more mechanical planning and personal notes.

Keep in mind I’m still really new to SotDL, plus these are ever-evolving notes. I wouldn’t be surprised if my notes change significantly once I get a better handle on the system and the campaign in general.

My sections would also change depending on the system I’m running. For example, I’d probably have a section for homebrew, but as this is my first time ever playing or running SotDL, I’m sticking strictly to the book. We’ll see how my notebook evolves as we get further into the campaign.

Overview All of the notes in here are able to be read or shown to the players without spoiling a thing.

The overview section is going to be my lightest section by far. This is where most of my large-scale lore and worldbuilding will live. For example, the historical information about the world that is shown in the screenshot above.

I purposely wrote this section with the players in mind. I wanted to have information that I could read off to them during session 0 to set the stage and the tone of the game. However, it was good for me too as a writing exercise as it helped me set the tone for the rest of the campaign prep.

Session Notes These notes are for my benefit. However, I’ll compile them and post a recap in our Discord before the next session!

This section hasn’t seen much use yet, but it will in time! I like to take quick notes while we play a session so that I can remember a lot of the little details that happen throughout the game.

I have a pretty good memory so I’ll remember all of the highlights of a session. But a lot of those minor details start to really add up. They tell you a lot about a character and can help you plan a more customized game based on these character-defining moments.

I particularly like how OneNote organizes the pages within its sections because it lets me easily jump to the notes for a particular session that I’m looking for. Also, they’re searchable, so if I’m looking for something and can’t remember which session it happened in, I can simply search a few keywords and find it.

The session notes of my D&D campaign are for sure the majority of the information that I’ve lost over the years. I’m excited to have organized notes that I can easily read through!

Locations Fun fact: everyone in Quarry is poor. Some just live in absolute squalor. On second thought, that wasn’t fun at all.

I should really change the label because “locations” makes way more sense and I just thought of it while writing this. Anyway-

I like to have a bit of description of each major location that’s in a game I run. These descriptions tend to look similar to the one above, but this is probably the most refined iteration of this yet.

There are a few variables that are important depending on what the location is and what game we’re playing. The example above is just a section in a town so I only need its average economic status and population. The town of Quarry has additional information such as the type of government.

Other games I’d probably list the religion(s) that are predominantly followed and any special rules about the city or locale.

I was tempted to add a section and pages for each individual shop, tavern, or building listed in a page in the locations section. However, that’s a lot of time to spend prepping for something that I don’t have much of an issue thinking up on the fly.

NPCs

My NPCs section is sort of separated into two different categories. Major and Minor NPCs. These NPCs coexist in the same sections, but their page layouts are very different.

Major NPCs are people or creatures that have a potentially large impact on the game. They may have work for the party or they could be big players in the world. They could also just be an NPC that I thought would be fun to flesh out.

Minor NPCs are ones that I don’t believe will have a large impact on the game world. Now, there’s always a chance that I’m wrong, but in that case, I’ll just go back and bump them up to be a Major NPC the next time I prep the game.

(Potentially) Major I have to keep some stuff safe from the wandering eyes if you know what I’m saying.

Owners of shops that make it onto the map of the city are one example of NPCs that I consider to be Major NPCs. They get a bit more screen time because in most cases, they have wares that the party wants. The party will probably keep going back to them to interact with them.

Business owners also have problems. This means that they’re an excellent source of work for adventurers for hire.

Many of these problems are self-inflicted. That’s why in the GM Notes in a Major NPC’s page I write down their flaws, secrets, and problems. The party can interact with them to learn these or deduce these.

Minor Random generators are your friend!

I have a ton of small bars and taverns in the city of Quarry. There’s no way of knowing which bar my players will opt to visit, and there’s no way I’m going to make a single bar and just plant it wherever they choose.

Instead, I opted to make bar staff Minor NPCs. Another example of Minor NPCs is Miscellaneous NPCs which is just a list of NPCs that I have generated and will fill out their duties and jobs as they’re used in the game unless they have a specific one already.

Minor NPCs get a physical description, a summary of their behavior, and the name of their job. I can always fill these in later as new information arises in the game, or bump them up to a Major NPC if the party takes a liking to them.

Adventures SotDL’s leveling system revolves around completing adventures. Finish an adventure? You level up! Simple as that.

I like to split my adventure/quest/dungeon prep into sections. The first section outlines the background information such as where this takes place, how the party got the job, and what this job entails.

Another section lists the NPCs of note and talks about their direct relation to the adventure. OneNote’s hyperlinking is super useful for this because I can just jot down a few notes and then link to their NPC page.

My next section contains the creatures, traps, and rewards in the adventure. I like to also list their difficulty/CR and how much EXP their worth as well as what page of what book they’re located in. This gives me an easy way to reference creatures if I need to look something up that isn’t on their Roll20 sheet.

The final section is the real meat of the adventure. I like to separate my adventures into scenes. Chunks of time or locations that contain parts of the adventure. In this case, it was a caravan guarding mission so I sectioned the adventure into driving to the location, working at the location, and returning home.

I just listed any major events that could happen as well as a few possible choices that the NPCs or creatures would be inclined to make if given the opportunity. Obviously, if my players did something completely different, these events may not even happen or they may happen entirely differently (they did).

As I’ve run more TTRPGs I’ve gotten more confident in my abilities to improvise and not rely on fully-written notes. So if you have more written down than me about your adventure, don’t fret!

This was also a level 0 adventure, and super, super basic because I had no idea what I was doing. It was fun though!

Conclusions

This was a good example of finding that the best solution to a problem was the simplest. I didn’t need an RPG-focused planning tool, and I didn’t need something super in-depth and complex. OneNote was easy to learn and basic enough to give me everything I needed without overloading or bloating my prep.

One downside to using OneNote as opposed to any of the online campaign managers I’ve tried is that it’s not nearly as easy to share parts of my planner with the players. I can’t just make a handout of the town and link it to my players. I’d need to..

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Being a tank is probably one of my favorite roles in RPGs. I love having that kind of control over a combat encounter, plus it’s fun to be that beefy frontline hero that’s protecting the rest of the group.

I’ve mentioned before that D&D 5e is really lax in its “requirements” for party composition. In fact, my long-running home game had been playing without a healer for two years before one of them rerolled recently. You can design encounters and campaigns to fit whatever party your players wish to play.

Tanking isn’t necessary, but as I said, many people find it fun.

Let’s learn how can we suit ourselves up in a role that’s a) not required and b) very different to play in a tabletop RPG as compared to a video game.

What is Tanking?

Tanking has always been a role that consists of two parts. The first being a character that can soak a lot of enemy attacks and/or damage. They use themselves to mitigate the damage that their allies might take, even if it hurts themselves in the process.

This first part is really easy to imagine, plan, and act out in TTRPGs like D&D 5e. You could make a heavily armored fighter that’s got plenty of health. Maybe high AC isn’t your thing? That’s fine, roll up a barbarian and tank using your massive amount of HP and damage resistances.

There are tons of different builds and options to create a tank or tanky character. So many that I doubt I could list them all in this article.

The second part is that tanks have a way of drawing the enemy’s attention to themselves. In video games, tanks tend to have ways to generate threat or force an enemy to attack them.

But D&D doesn’t have a lot of these options at its core. There’s no threat mechanic to force enemies to focus the tank in D&D. There aren’t a lot of taunts or taunt-like mechanics in 5e either. This is the, often overlooked, challenge of building and playing a tank in D&D and most TTRPGs.

How to Tank in D&D Building Your Character for Survivability

Based on base proficiencies and features alone, barbarians, fighters, and paladins are fantastic choices for a hefty frontline tank build. Choosing any of these classes is setting yourself up with an excellent base class to build your tank with.

Each comes with a solid amount of HP, and the potential to have pretty high AC thanks to Unarmored Defense or heavy armor proficiency. Depending on the decisions you make within the class such as the archetype you choose, you may have a bunch of features that boost your survivability.

So much armor he doesn’t even need a helmet. Credit: WotC.

Clerics and druids also deserve a mention as they can be super tanky depending on how they’re built. A Circle of the Moon Druid or a War Cleric can tank with the best of them and have tons of spells to choose from to boost their CC, Utility or Damage output.

Tons of Health and Armor

Anyone can take hits and massive amounts of damage. However, tanks are the ones that can do so and still stand afterward. The surefire way of being certain that you can do that is if you have enough health to sustain a few big hits in combat in case you can’t get healed in between strikes.

Having a good Constitution modifier to give yourself some extra health is going to be a must as a tank. However, it’s going to be just as important to have enough beefy hit dice to have a solid baseline of HP, to begin with. The classes I listed previously all lend themselves to this in one way or another.

That being said, the goal isn’t necessarily to take damage at all as a tank. You just want to have the ability to do so and keep on trucking if you need to.

Damage mitigation is very important and extremely desirable for a tank. High AC is an excellent form of damage mitigation. You waste the enemy’s attack if they miss you, and you don’t take any damage? It’s the perfect outcome!

There are builds and characters that sacrifice high AC for other types of passive damage mitigation like the barbarian’s resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage when they rage. AC isn’t the be all end all of a tank.

But, Not Too Much AC!

In fact, too much AC can be more harmful than helpful in some cases.

Let’s put it this way, you’re a behemoth in full plate armor, a shield, and you’ve just cast Shield. You’re at 25 AC. That’s a ridiculous amount of armor for a creature to chew from.

In fact, if they’re an intelligent creature they may realize by watching their allies that it’s not worth their time to attack you at all. Instead, they’ll opt to take an opportunity attack from you or disengage to chase one of your less-armored allies. Your godlike AC has just made your job as a tank more difficult.

This is part of why barbarians make such fantastic tanks. They’re naturally able to take and mitigate a ton of damage, all the while still enticing the enemy to keep hitting them.

There’s a point of diminishing returns where super high AC will not really help you that much while dissuading enemies from attacking you. Though, the advice in this section does depend a lot on how your DM plays their creatures. If they play them tactically then this outcome is certainly a possibility.

Character Classes and Archetypes

One of my favorite part about D&D as a player is how many viable build options there are. There are many facets of the game and while some classes and archetypes outshine others, they all have a niche.

Tanks are no exception. If you’re looking to build a frontline behemoth you have a ton of choices. Some of these choices are super obvious like any character that can wear heavy armor or has naturally high HP is probably going to be a good choice at its core.

For example, the Cavalier Fighter which we’ve covered before is an excellent tank right out of the box. They have some solid survivability, and they have mechanics that naturally draw attention to themselves in an encounter.

You don’t have to be a big, burly wall of a character to be a tank though. Consider high Dex classes like monks that can focus more on high AC and crowd control to tank on the frontline. They can’t take a huge hit, necessarily, but they’ll still be able to perform the duties of the tank. Find ways to get yourself some extra HP and you’ll be a formidable tank.

For an example of less conventional-seeming classes being part of a great tank build look no farther than the wizard and sorcerer. They offer up a ton of great options for tanks as part of a multiclass build. Spells like Shield can lend themselves to being excellent defensive cooldowns when you find yourself needing some extra survivability in a pinch!

There are classes and archetypes that can create a perfect tank right out of the box. There are also plenty of ways to tweak and tinker with a build to make something unique and feasible. As long as it has health and/or AC, as well as some solid ways of drawing the enemy’s attention, you’re going to do just fine.

Enticing the Enemy to Hit You

Instead, tanks and frontline characters in D&D 5e need to be a bit more creative with how they draw and hold the enemy’s attention to themselves. There will be plenty of times, especially when the best decision for an enemy is to ignore the heavily armored frontline characters and cleave through the spellcasters.

Limit Their Ability to Move Away from You

If you’re the only option that a creature can choose to attack, you’ve done your job well. However, this is going to require you to find ways to limit a creature’s movement.

A simple option that literally anyone can do is use the Shove action to knock a creature prone. They’ll need to expend half of their movement to get up, limiting their ability to move past your reach.

Another option for the more magically inclined builds is, well, any sort of crowd control spell. A Hold Person and Warcaster feat combo could be pretty devastating. But even simpler than that is Booming Blade. You can force a target to choose between moving and taking some heavy damage, or staying put and dealing with you!

Limit the number of enemies that can attack your less tanky allies. Credit WotC.

The Sentinel feat is an exceptional option for melee-centric tanks to grab in terms of locking down an enemy. The feat upgrades your opportunity attacks in a number of ways, but the most prolific of these options is that when a creature is hit by your opportunity attack, their speed is reduced to 0 for the rest of the turn.

This means that you’ll have plenty of opportunities to lock a creature down next to you for an additional turn, preventing it from engaging with another one of your allies and thus giving them some more time to get further away from the enemy.

Now combine Sentinel with Polearm Master, which is even more powerful than I first thought, and you could extend the range and increase the frequency of your opportunity attacks. You become a lockdown machine. Creatures will have a difficult time getting past you or will have to expend more movement to avoid you.

And these few options I’ve mentioned barely scrape the surface! Get creative, find ways to limit your target’s movement and keep them locked in place with you.

Be the Most Convenient Target to Hit

This strategy can overlap with limiting your target’s ability to move away from you. However, this isn’t always the case. Being the most convenient target is sometimes all you need to be, there’s no extra lockdown required to entice an enemy to hit you.

Find a way to stick out like a sore thumb. This is particularly easy during the earlier portions of an encounter. Rush right towards the enemy in such a way that they’d have to run past you to hit anyone else. At that point, they may as well just make a few swipes at you before they try to move on!

Congratulations, you’ve just tanked. Your allies are safe for at least one round and have time to create more distance between themselves and the enemy.

Being a convenient target is an excellent strategy for low INT and/or WIS opponents. Sure, their attacks aren’t landing on you thanks to your armor, but you’re closest, why would they want to run all the way to the archer when they can all just gang up on you? Take advantage of unintelligent enemies.

Deal Enough Damage to Force Them to Notice You

Another possible strategy for drawing attention to ourselves is to make the enemy regret ignoring you. If you’re both able to tank and able to dish out some solid damage, the enemy may not have a choice but to keep themselves engaged with you.

Traditionally, tanks aren’t exceptional damage dealers. They’re focused on generating threat and using their survivability abilities which both don’t typically coincide with optimal damage dealing. D&D, however, doesn’t have to worry about these types of mechanics. You can be a damage dealer and a tank.

Barbarians are a class that comes to mind with being both a damage dealer and a tank. You can take some massive hits and mitigate them seamlessly, but you’re more than capable of throwing caution to the wind and demolishing an enemy with your two-handed weapon.

Tactical Positioning Take Advantage of Choke Holds

Choke holds are areas where creatures or your party have to slowly funnel through to get into a room or an area. This funnel essentially breaks the party or the enemy’s formation and allows the other side to control the battlefield for the time being. The map below this paragraph is an example of a chokehold.

There’s only a 1×1 hallway to go through if you wish to make it into the big room. Credit: Dyson Logos.

If you are in an advantageous position where you can force the enemy to use the chokehold you have made your job as the tank extremely easy. You and the rest of the frontline can plant yourselves at the end of the chokehold and force the enemy to rush at you one at a time. They cannot squeeze past you. They have no choice but to run at you until they, or you, fall.

Taking advantage of terrain, in general, is a rewarding part of D&D’s more tactical combats. As a tank, making use of the terrain to assist in limiting your enemy’s movement is an exceptional skill to have. Chokeholds are definitely the most obvious type of terrain advantages you can take advantage of.

Guard a (Physically) Weaker Ally

Sometimes it’s difficult to find ways to manipulate the enemy’s movements or formation in a way that allows you to tank effectively. In these dire straits, I’d recommend changing up your tactics a bit.

Instead of finding ways of preventing the enemy from reaching your backline, bring yourself to the backline and guard them directly. Stick to an ally with low AC and/or HP and be their personal bodyguard. They have other strengths in combat and can now focus on acting on those thanks to your protection.

This is a solid strategy for when you are able to be outmaneuvered or outpaced by a fast enemy. If you can’t beat them, literally join your friends together. Unless they have AoE attacks, of course!

I’ve been a part of this combo before where I played a support sorcerer and frequently had our bear form druid protect me from harm as I buffed and supported him. It’s a fun time for sure.

Create a Buffer Between the Enemy and Your Backline

Let’s face it, there are going to be plenty of encounters where the battlefield doesn’t lend itself towards a carefully crafted tactical display. When in doubt, simply position yourself between the enemy and your allies.

The way I see it, you have two options when you wish to create a buffer.

  1. If you can reach them, see if you and the other frontline characters can create a type of wall that prevents the enemy from charging straight at your less defensively gifted allies.
  2. If you can’t reach the enemy, work together to set yourselves up as speedbumps or obstacles for the enemy.

Either way, use Sentinel or your other crowd control abilities to prevent or limit the enemy’s ability to move past you and your frontline. Basically, it’s business as usual for you once you’re in position.

The goal isn’t to grab every single one of the enemies. Your goal is to mitigate as much damage from being done to your party as you are able to. They’re going to have to deal with enemies getting in their face every now and then. If they have no way of doing so, that’s on them.

Conclusions

It takes a bit more effort to create and play a tank that makes narrative sense in D&D as opposed to something like WoW where tanking is a crucial part of the game. It’s definitely the most difficult role of the “holy trinity” (Damage, Healer, Tank) to fulfill in TTRPGs as compared to video games.

The majority of the difficulty comes from finding ways to ensure that enemies stick to you and don’t just eat an opportunity attack or disengage to go smack your backline spellcasters around.

Though, that’s not to say that you always need to be the center of attention either. There are times where it’s not possible to, and your character isn’t a failure for not being able to lock every creature in place. Becoming enough of a nuisance that you make things difficult or inconvenient for enemies to target the rest of the party is a success in it of itself.

The issue that most people run into when they build a tank in D&D 5e is that they’re not considering the fact that tanking or being a frontline character in D&D is very different. You’re not just a meat shield, you have other roles to fulfill as well!

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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The post I Fight For My Friends! – How to Be a Tank in D&D 5e appeared first on Dungeon Solvers.

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You feel the ground beneath you shake. Is it adrenalin? No, the quaking is getting worse! You look around and see nothing but green hills and clear skies. Abruptly, you turn around as the ground feels as if it is about to erupt. There it is, a galeb duhr, rolling down the hill at lightning-fast speeds. It’s charging you. You can’t outrun it.

It’s high time we checked out a mid-level CR creature again. The galeb duhr is a personal favorite due to how unique their playstyle is in comparison to most big, brutish elementals. While they still hit characteristically hard for an earthen elemental, they are also pretty damn quick and sneaky.

Galeb duhr are magical creatures that can shift their appearance so expertly that they’re practically indistinguishable from a boulder. They can use this technique to perch high upon a hilltop and roll down it, collapsing on top of their prey and decimating them with a single blow.

In many ways, they are very similar to gargoyles, which we’ve talked about previously. They are both stalwart protectors, though unlike gargoyles, galeb duhr are typically good-natured protectors and not cruel guards for evil masters.

Let’s barrel downhill into the Monster Manual and learn all about the living boulder, the galeb duhr!

Galeb Duhr Lore

Galeb duhr look very similar to a boulder. They are stony, round creatures with stubby arms and legs. Though they are medium size so they are fairly large in comparison to most rocks you’d stumble upon.

They are magical creatures and can use their magic to make themselves look identical to a boulder when they wish to rest, hide, or simply wait until something interesting happens. They don’t need to eat or sleep, so they can lay dormant in wait as they watch over whatever it is that they are guarding.

Another magical ability that galeb duhr possess is that they can imbue smaller rocks and boulders with temporary life. For short bursts of time, they can conjure up some additional galeb duhr if they are attacked and need some assistance in a pinch!

The 5e artwork heavily focuses on maintaining its boulder-like appearance. Credit: WotC.

Galeb duhr are naturally from the Plane of Earth, which is the plane of existence that is home to all earth elementals. This plan contains riches and treasures in the form of literally any rock, earth, or mineral imaginable.

Because, galeb duhr make fantastic bodyguards and sentinels making them a popular choice for a druid, wizard, or another powerful spellcaster to summon as a guard for their treasure or sacred lands. Unfortunately, when they are summoned to the Material Plan, the galeb duhr are trapped here for good. If they die, they do not return to the Plane of Earth to be reborn.

With all that being said, galeb duhr are actually quite kind and intelligent creatures. If they feel like a creature could be a potential ally they’re certainly no strangers to hashing out their differences and forming a friendship with a willing creature whose goals align with their own.

Galeb Duhr Stats and Abilities

You can find the galeb duhr statblock on page 139 of the Monster Manual. 

Stats

Size: Medium elemental
AC: 16 (natural armor)
HP: 85 (9d8 + 45)
Speed: 15 ft. (30 ft. when rolling, 60 ft. when rolling downhill)
STR: 20 (+5)
DEX: 14 (+2)
CON: 20 (+5)
INT: 11 (+0)
WIS: 12 (+1)
CHA: 11 (+0)

Their lowest ability score modifiers are at +0 and +1 with the +1 modifier being Wisdom which is frequently used for saving throws. I can’t imagine a galeb duhr needing to make frequent checks using their Intelligence or Charisma. None of these “low” ability scores are detrimental to the creature.

Strength is going to be used frequently as it’s the galeb duhr’s offensive ability score. Considering it’s a +5 modifier, their attacks are going to have a high bonus to hit and have a solid baseline for damage.

Constitution is a huge factor for their plentiful health pool. It’s also one of the most common abilities for saving throws. It’s advantageous that they also have a +5 modifier to Constitution as well as Strenght for these reasons. However, they’ll also have to make regular concentration checks when Animate Boulders is active. Constitution is going to be a regularly used ability, so it’s awesome for it to be their highest modifier.

Dexterity isn’t going to be used much outside of saving throws. It’s a nice perk that they have a +2 in it though!

All in all, the galeb duhr has an excellent spread of ability scores. They also have a very solid AC at 16 with plenty of health with an average HP of 85. These are hardy, medium-sized creatures.

Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills

Damage Resistances: bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical weapons
Damage Immunities: poison
Condition Immunities: exhaustion, paralyzed, poisoned, petrified
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., tremorsense 60 ft., passive Perception 11
Languages: Terran
CR: 6 (2,300 XP)

Bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage resistance is pretty sweet and thematically appropriate for a giant boulder. These are pretty much the most common damage types in the game so it’s a valuable resistance to have, especially as a mid-game creature.

Poison damage resistance is another very common damage type. There are plenty of low-level spells and cantrips that deal poison damage, and poisoned weapons won’t be of much use at all against a galeb duhr.

Immunity to the exhaustion, paralysis, poisoned, and petrified conditions is exquisite for any creature that is meant to be a guard or sentinel like the galeb duhr. I mean, there’s really nothing that can stop them. Plus, their ability modifiers are already solid. It’s going to be difficult to impose the remaining conditions that galeb duhr aren’t immune to.

As I said earlier, there are a ton of similarities between the galeb duhr and gargoyles. Their damage resistances, damage immunities, and condition immunities are about the same, aside from the fact that galeb duhr are also immune to the paralyzed condition.

Everyone has darkvision but obviously, it’s great for any watchdog. However, they also have tremorsense like one of our other Monster Monday creatures, the wurm! Tremorsense lets the galeb duhr determine the location of nearby creatures by using vibrations in the earth. As long as the galeb duhr and the creature are both touching the ground, they can use their tremorsense.

Galeb duhr are more than willing to talk things through with other creatures as opposed to a fight to the death. That’s going to be difficult, though as they can only speak Terran. Though creatures that speak Primordial or another dialect of it such as Aquan can speak with a Terran speaker.

Abilities and Traits

False Appearance. While the galeb duhr remains motionless, it is indistinguishable from a normal boulder.

Rolling Charge. If the galeb duhr rolls at least 20 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with a slam attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 7 (2d6) bludgeoning damage. If the target is a creature, it must succeed on a DC 16 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone.

False Appearance is yet another part of their statblock that the galeb duhr share with gargoyles. This is a cool trait as it allows a galeb duhr to perch in an ideal position and wait for the best opportunity to launch a surprise attack or ambush on an unsuspecting enemy.

Of course, False Appearance could be used defensively as a way of hiding from powerful foes that the creature doesn’t dare to face.

The 4e art in general just feels a lot more threatening. Credit: WotC.

Rolling Charge is very similar to the minotaur’s Charge trait which we’ve talked about before. Essentially, if the galeb duhr is able to move towards an enemy at a straight line and make a successful Slam attack against them, they deal an additional 2d6 bludgeoning damage and potentially knock the target prone pending a Strength saving throw.

This is an important trait to utilize as it’s a significant factor in the success of the creature in combat. It requires a bit of work on the DM’s part as ideally you’ll want to craft a specific encounter for them where Rolling Charge can be effectively used.

Actions

Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d6 + 5) bludgeoning damage.

Animate Boulders (1/Day). The galeb duhr magically animates up to two boulders it can see within 60 feet of it. A boulder has statistics like those of a galeb duhr, except it has Intelligence 1 and Charisma 1, it can’t be charmed or frightened, and it lacks this action option. A boulder remains animated as long as the galeb duhr maintains concentration, up to 1 minute (as if concentrating on a spell).

Note that the galeb duhr does not have Multiattack. This makes it a bit of a risky creature to use as their entire round can be rendered useless if they miss their one and only attack.

With that being said, they have an excellent chance of hitting with their bread and butter attack, Slam. It has +8 to hit which is a fairly generous attack bonus for a CR 6 creature. Dealing an average of 12 bludgeoning damage plus the potential Rolling Charge damage makes it a hefty attack.

Animate Boulders is a wicked cool action. It allows you to conjure up to two secondary galeb duhr that work alongside the primary galeb duhr. These are, by extension, your Multiattack. However, it requires an action to set them up and for you to maintain concentration on them in order to use them.

Thanks to our +5 Constitution modifier, maintaining concentration shouldn’t be an impossible task by any means. That being said, the action to use them does kind of suck as it forces us to either forego our Slam at advantage if we use our surprise round, or we have to use Animate Boulders when engaged with the enemy.

Galeb Duhr Strengths Exceptional Defenses

It should come as a surprise to no one that a literal boulder has some excellent defensive capabilities. Rolling in at 16 AC and 85 HP galeb duhr already have a very solid baseline to work with in terms of their survivability. You’re going to have to put in some effort to hit them, and they can take quite a few solid hits.

With resistance to damage from nonmagical weapons and immunity to poison damage, they’re also covered for some of the more common damage types in D&D 5e. This only serves to increase their defenses and, mechanically speaking, essentially double their HP if your party is comprised of characters that use nonmagical weapons.

Their condition immunities are also extremely impactful in ensuring that they stay alive for a few rounds to deal some hefty damage to the party. It’s going to be tough enough to crowd control with given their excellent spread of ability scores, but their four condition immunities make the list of potential crowd control spells and features very short.

Exeggcute? Credit: WotC. High Potential Mobility

While the statblock says that they only have 15 ft. speed, you may as well ignore that. As far as I can tell there’s no restriction for simply using the rolling speed instead of walking speed (someone call me out on this if I’m wrong). If we simply use our rolling speed at all times in combat they have 30 ft.

This is where I clarify that they have high potential mobility. If they are rolling downhill, this speed doubles to up to 60 ft. which is double that of a typical PC.

This downward slope speed should be kept in mind when you are crafting encounters for galeb duhr. If you can have them perched on a small hill or slope they’re going to be considerably more effective. They need this speed as it heavily increases their damage output by allowing them to use Rolling Charge.

We should also make a quick nod to their condition immunities. If it weren’t for them, the galeb duhr would have a hell of a time rolling around or using Rolling Charge to its full potential.

Galeb Duhr Weaknesses Poor Damage & Action Economy

Galeb duhr have a piss-poor action economy by themselves. While a downhill roll could effectively give them a free Dash action by doubling their speed, it’s not likely that you’re going to be able to roll downhill for an entire combat encounter.

They also lack any form of Multiattack, and while the +8 to hit is exceptional, you still have a chance of missing your target.

It always sucks when you have a creature without Multiattack as there’s a very real chance that they do absolutely nothing during their turn. Galeb duhr essentially have one shot at their Slam attack which you best hope includes Rolling Charge or else you’re doing some pretty poor damage for a CR 6 creature.

Rolling Charge being able to knock a creature down does serve as an easy way for the other creatures in the encounter to gain advantage against a helpless enemy, but it doesn’t do much for the galeb duhr that performs the knockdown. It’s more a utility feature for their allies than an offensive perk for them.

Animate Boulder does effectively give the galeb duhr Multiattack in the sense that it has 2 minions that can attack with it for up to 3 Slam or Rolling Charge combos. However, it does take an action to summon your minions and it requires you to maintain concentration on them. It’s great, but it’s got its downsides that make it a “Multiattack, but with conditions”.

Lack of Offensive Options

You can Slam, you can Rolling Charge and Slam, but that’s about it. If the party is able to find a way to slow you down or find high ground you’re effectively just a huge target dummy for them to practice their DPS rotation on.

Now, obviously you could just not include high ground in your encounter, but my point is that if the party is able to find a way to outpace the galeb duhr, they are effectively done for. Unless they can Animate Boulders right beside the party.

The fun parts of the creature are their passive features and bonuses more than anything. There’s not much in the way of variety otherwise besides meleeing their opponents or making more of themselves to melee their opponents.

How to Play a Galeb Duhr A Rolling Boulder Gathers No Dust

Being able to use Rolling Charge liberally is a huge boon to the galeb duhr’s success in combat. First of all, it adds enough damage to Slam that it bumps it up closer to a CR 6 creature’s damage output.

Second of all, it gives the galeb duhr a chance to knock their opponent prone. Obviously, this is great as it can give other creature or the galeb duhr’s Animate Boulders advantage on their attacks until the creature is able to stand up. However, the prone condition also requires the creature to use half their movement to stand up.

Using half of your movement all but ensures that your target is not going to be able to outpace the galeb duhr, keeping the creature within your grasp.

Regardless, the name of the game to playing a galeb duhr effectively is to be able to constantly use Rolling Charge, even if you need to risk opportunity attacks to do so. Slam into different members of the enemy forces so that even if you fall, you have depleted the intruders’ resources enough that your master can finish them off handily.

Yeah, uhm. Let’s stick with the 5e artwork instead. Credit: WotC. Hidden Boulder, Flattened Party

False Appearance gives a big, bulky creature like the galeb duhr a surprising amount of stealth and ambush capabilities. You are indiscernible from a regular boulder provided that you don’t move, and considering that galeb duhr don’t need to sleep, eat, or breathe they can stay still until they have an ideal opportunity.

This gives you an all but certain chance of getting a surprise round if you play your cards right. Depending on your map design and the party’s actions you have two separate options for your galeb duhr.

The first option is that they can Slam or ideally, Rolling Charge into an unsuspecting opponent. They’d probably make this attack at advantage if the galeb duhr was able to successfully hide and ambush the party.

Our second option is to use this surprise round to Animate Boulders and move..

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Achieving balance in D&D is no easy feat. It’s also one that I don’t believe gets enough appreciation. A balanced D&D game is a great example of something that you don’t think about until something goes horribly wrong, or in this case, something is horribly imbalanced.

Balance in D&D is something you’ll hear loads of people talk about online. Most of the time this is in reference to homebrew, 3rd-party, or WotC official content. It’s how you judge if something that’s being added to the game is fair in comparison to the rest of the mechanics that are already in the game.

Today, however, we’re focusing on the game as a whole instead of a specific mechanic or character option. The encounters, the obstacles, the challenges, and of course, the risks. How important is it that each of these is balanced to the party’s capabilities?

I know that I’m super type A about balance. Playing by the rules and ensuring that the game fits within the bound of balance is important to me. Of course, I also like to see how far the rules and mechanics can be taken.

Encounter design and balance accounts for a large portion of my session prep. While I think it’s perfectly fine to not be anywhere near as focused on balancing your game as I am, I think that balance is still something everyone should put a bit of effort in when they prep their home games.

But What is Balance, Anyway?

“In game design, balance is the concept and practice of tuning a game’s rules, usually with the goal of preventing any of its component systems from being ineffective or otherwise undesireable when compared to their peers.” –Wikipedia

Essentially what that definition means is that balance is when game designers fine-tune and change game mechanics and rules until everything able to be effective in the game.

This doesn’t mean that in a perfectly balanced version of D&D 5e, every class is effectively the same thing. They each still have their niches and are more desirable in certain situations. However, as a whole, they’re all viable at the base level of play.

The idea isn’t to make everything equal. That’s impossible, especially for a game that continues to have new things added to it from outside sources. The goal is to ensure that everything is at least a good enough option to be played.

What Does Balance Have to Do With My D&D Campaign?

The unique thing about D&D and other Tabletop RPGs is that you are encouraged to create and run your own adventures. You can build your own dungeons and your players can use their characters and the game’s mechanics to try to overcome every obstacle you throw at them.

But how do you know what’s appropriate to pit against your players’ characters?

In D&D we have guidelines to create challenging encounters such as CR to determine what a creature’s relative power is. We also have guidelines such as encounter difficulty which tells us how many of what CR creature should be thrown at a typical party of a certain level.

Balance in D&D is difficult to achieve, but it’s a great way to learn how the game works! Credit: WotC.

There are tons of guidelines that help a DM figure out if their encounter is challenging and fair.

But these guidelines make a bunch of assumptions and depending on your group’s playstyle can be very inaccurate. For example, a group with a lot of magical items is already past the power level that the official guidelines for game balance state they should be at.

To keep the game balanced, the DM now needs to spend some time figuring out at what point the group is challenged by their traps, encounters, skill checks, etc. If you completely phone it in there’s a good chance you’ll make the game too easy or too difficult.

Learning how to balance your game is critical if you wish to present an even, power-level appropriate challenge. However, it’s also a lot of work, especially for newer DMs.

Strive for Fairness First

The further along with a campaign you get, the more variables you tend to introduce to the game. These variables can be magical items, homebrew mechanics, new players, or any number of things that can influence how you balance the game for your adventuring party.

Variables increase the difficulty of achieving balance. After all, the designers for D&D couldn’t/didn’t account for many of these things when they created their guidelines for balancing the game.

That’s why I say as the DM, you should strive for creating a fair game first and foremost.

A fair game is one where the players are all on equal footing. They each have their time to speak and interact with the world, of course, but all of their characters have a niche that can shine throughout the course of the game.

Essentially, everyone has a place and an active chance to meaningfully participate in the game.

Another aspect of a fair game is that there are challenges and obstacles for the party to overcome. However, these obstacles are all possible to solve and the party can succeed in the challenges. Perhaps not in one-go or not on their first try, but they’re not regularly thrown against mathematically insurmountable odds.

Equal Opportunities Are Important

Obviously, the first step to ensuring that every member of the party has an equal opportunity in the game is by doing so in character creation. It should go without saying that you should allow all of your players the opportunity to use the same sourcebooks when creating their characters.

Homebrew options are the exception to this rule. Judge those on a case-by-case basis for their quality. Just because something comes from the same creator doesn’t mean each item has the same level of polish and balance!

I like to take this concept a step further and use point buy for character creation. Point buy is the epitome of ensuring that every character has an equal opportunity. Sure, some characters will be better optimized, but that’s the player’s choice. Every player had the opportunity to do so.

While rolling for ability scores is fair in that everyone has the same mathematical potential to have an equal stat array, in practice this isn’t usually how it works out.

If the entire session takes place on a tightrope does that make the whole session balanced? Credit: MadDogOzie

It sucks when your group rolls characters up and one person lucks-out with multiple ability scores at 16-18 while the rest of you maybe have one ability score that high. While you’re all a team and benefit from your friend’s excellent rolls, it still feels lackluster to have someone well above the party’s average due to good luck. It also feels awful to be below the party average due to bad luck.

Using point buy or sticking to the standard array ensures that each character has the same base power level. Their power will fluctuate from this point forward based on the decisions they make throughout the game.

Point buy isn’t the only way to ensure that each character has an equal opportunity to succeed, but it’s the most impactful method of doing so from my experience.

Does D&D Need Balance to Be Fun?

No. Your campaign doesn’t have to be anywhere close to balanced to be enjoyable for you and your friends.

This is primarily due to the fact that your group’s enjoyment of D&D and fun as a whole are subjective.

However, I’d still argue that at minimum, the game needs to be fair to be fun. Everyone should have a shot at playing a character they enjoy in a game that they have an equal opportunity to succeed in. Well, at least in relation to their fellow players.

Not Every Session Has to be Balanced

You may, like myself, run a tight ship and ensure that the game is fair for everyone at the table, but it’s also as balanced as you can possibly manage it to be. You’re not afraid to veto unbalanced homebrew and you spend time and effort balancing encounters to the best of your ability.

But not every session has to be a home-run in the balance department.

I like to keep things as balanced as possible, but there are plenty of sessions where I’m a bit more lax with the rules or I introduce something overpowered to the game temporarily. A ridiculous session of a campaign or an absurd one-shot once in a while can be really, really fun.

Constant Unfairness Breeds Resentment

Some of my favorite sessions as a player have been when our characters are stripped of our magical items or possessions and are forced to think of new, creative strategies to resolve our current situation. It’s fun to be presented with an unfair challenge and overcome it.

But not every session. These types of sessions are fun once in a while.

Constantly taking things from the players in order to give them an obstacle does two things. The first is that it creates a lack of trust between the DM and the players. Why bother enjoying the cool stuff or new powers they get if they’re just going to lose them?

The second is that it breeds resentment. No one is going to want to play with you if you constantly tip the scales in your or a specific player’s favor.

No one wants to play a game where they’re a side character in another character’s epic journey. Well, unless they want to, and if they do that should be laid-out in session 0.

When is Balance Most Important?

You might think my answer is going to be something simple such as “balanced combat is the most important part of D&D”. However, my answer isn’t a specific part of the game at all.

The most important time to focus on balance for any RPG is when you and your players are learning the game! 

Your first thought when you crack open a brand new game with your friends shouldn’t be “how can I get this system to do X”. Spend some time with the game! Use the rules and the officially published content to play the game. Don’t reinvent the wheel before you get into the driver’s seat.

I’m not saying to memorize every single rule or know the contents of the books to the letter. My point is that homebrewing, hacking, or otherwise changing up a game is a deep-dive into the balancing act of the game’s mechanics. Games with lots of mechanics like D&D 5e are a trickier balancing act than games that are less heavy on the rules.

Games are balanced with respect to the source material they have available to them. Take some time to learn and use this stuff before you start adding layers on top of it. The rules are there to guide you and help you learn. Balance is a result of the rules. It’s all a cycle.

D&D already gets wild enough. Don’t let things get out of hand too quickly! Credit WotC. Conclusions

I think balance is important, but it can also be very difficult to achieve due to a number of factors. While creators and game designers for D&D 5e should be held to a standard of ensuring that their products are well-balanced, I don’t think every homebrew campaign should be held to this same standard.

Instead, I feel that DMs should focus more on making the game fair for the players. Give each player an equal opportunity to play and enjoy the game. Throw challenges their way, but ensure that they’re capable of being solved.

I don’t believe that D&D needs to be balanced to necessarily be fun. However, I do believe that balance certainly impacts the amount of fun that you’re certain to have as a player, especially when you’re new to the game.

Balance is a great way for the DM to ensure that they’re throwing fair challenges at their players. It’s also a way to help them adjust encounters that may be too easy or too hard. Without learning how to balance your game, you’re shooting from the hip, which can absolutely be fun still. However, it’s worth the effort to give balance a shot.

Site Graphical Update!

You may have noticed that the site looks a little different. The banner art I commissioned from my friend Slow Wolf is here and I love it! Be sure to check out  SlowWolf’s Twitch and Youtube channels. He streams tons of different indie games and has also been doing a lot of art streams as of late!

I’m still messing with the site color scheme as I didn’t feel that the green was blending in well with the banner. Let me know what you think, though!

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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Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde by Nord Games is a creature compendium filled with statblocks and lore for monstrous creatures that gravitate towards communal hunting, fighting, and survival.

I noticed many similarities between Revenge of the Horde and Volo’s Guide to Monsters (VGtM). Both books thrive off of taking existing creatures and giving them new flavors or creating more powerful versions of them. Revenge of the Horde specifically does this with bugbears, gnolls, goblins, hobgoblins, kobolds, orcs, and trolls.

Revenge of the Horde also includes a species of creature that they created themselves, the okiti, which we talked about last week. They’re a humanoid race with rat-like features that can be found primarily in the slums of coastal cities. They share a lot of mechanical similarities with kobolds and goblins.

It’s a treasure trove of statblocks, lore, and other goodies for D&D 5e Dungeon Masters. That’s not to say there isn’t anything for players in Revenge of the Horde as there is some stuff, but the book is absolutely made for DMs looking for new creature options and lore.

Keep in mind that they’re on the last few days of their latest Kickstarter for their next book in the Ultimate Bestiary series, The Dreaded Accursed. Be sure to check it out if Revenge of the Horde piques your interest!

The cover art really sets the tone of the book. These creatures are BRUTAL! Credit: Nord Games

Quick Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from Nord Games, however, this did not impact my review of the book in any way, shape, or form! 

Well-Formatted and Full of Excellent Artwork

You all should know by now how much I love a well-formatted PDF. Revenge of the Horde is masterfully formatted and extremely easy to read. The pages themselves are neat and professionally polished with plenty of pictures, tables, excerpts, and subheadings to break-up walls of text.

The PDF version is entirely searchable and has a plethora of bookmarks which let you jump to any specific section you desire. Well-made PDFs such as this are a godsend for people like me who play their RPGs entirely online.

The book is full of fantastic artwork with nearly every page having at least one piece of art. The majority of the art in the book consists of full-color images of the creatures themselves, but there are also scenic paintings to show off a creature’s environment or set the scene of a chapter.

The art style itself feels very “D&D-like” as if it were something you’d find in an official book from WotC. I think it works in the book’s favor more than anything. As I said before, this book reminds me of VGtM. It feels like an extension of the Monster Manual and the artwork definitely helps to set this tone and feeling.

All the artwork in this article comes straight from Revenge of the Horde by the way. If you like what you see, you’ll like what you find in the book!

A Horde of New Creature Statblocks

For the most part, the book caters to low to low-mid CR creatures, but there are a few mid and high CR creatures thrown into the mix. The vast majority of the creatures range from CR 0-6.

They’re also very-well balanced as a whole. There may be a few outliers here and there, especially at the higher CRs, but balance as a whole is well-done. There is clearly a professional level of polish that went into these creatures.

Quite a few of these creatures do hit slightly-above their respective CRs compared to creatures from official sources. However, that’s by no means a negative remark towards the book. If anything, I feel as though creatures from the official sources can be too weak at times.

I find that a lot of 3rd-party creatures and resources give a bit more heft to their statblocks. A common way that Revenge of the Horde adds a bit of additional combat prowess is that it’s not afraid to give low CR creatures high AC. A kobold with half plate and a shield? Sure, knock yourself out.

In terms of game design, many times when you have high AC creatures fights can seemingly drag on due to the party having a more difficult time landing blows. However, to counteract this, creatures with high AC in Revenge of the Horde typically miss out on having large health pools. High AC and low CR creatures tend to worry me, but Nord Games did their due diligence with ensuring that the creatures are balanced with this in mind.

There are some really unique takes on orcs in here. And we know how much I love new takes on orcs! Credit: Nord Games. Traits, Traits, and More Traits!

My favorite aspect of all the statblocks in this book are their traits. Most of the species of creatures share a universal trait between the majority of the members of their species. For instance, gutter gnolls all have the Contagious feature which forces a non-gnoll creature to make a Constitution saving throw or contract a disease when they come into contact with a gutter gnoll.

In terms of flavor, traits help to showcase the differences between the different types of creatures shown in Revenge of the Horde. Gutter gnolls have Contagious, plains gnolls have Sprinter to increase their mobility, and rock gnolls have Rocky Camouflage to help them ambush unsuspecting prey. A single trait brings a lot of flavor into the statblock. It carves out a niche for each type of creature within the book and their counterparts in official sources.

Not only are these traits flavorful, but they also create a more engaging playstyle by spicing up a creature’s statblock. The first time your players encounter a gutter gnoll they’ll probably change-up their tactics to try to avoid dealing with Contagious. This will differ with their typical gnoll-killing strategy of spreading out their formation to avoid letting them make use of Rampage.

Gutter gnolls are literally trash gnolls. Credit Nord Games. A Plethora of Lore for Each Type of Creature

Each species of creature has a section that talks about their general personalities, behaviors, and cultures. Typically this is reserved for more general discussion about the species as a whole.

Some creature species in Revenge of the Horde don’t have subspecies so their lore is a bit more in-depth from the start. These additional pages dive into their specific culture, environment, and combat tactics. These sections are all well-written, but they’re not terribly long. They’re just enough to give a DM a guideline on how to play and introduce these creatures to their players.

A fair number of creatures have subspecies, such as the gnolls with their plains, rock, and gutter gnolls. Each of these subspecies gets their own individual sections on their preferred environment, combat tactics, and culture in addition to the more general sections on the gnoll species as a whole.

Most of the species in Revenge of the Horde live and hunt in packs, clans, colonies, etc. There are a few paragraphs for each three of these types of communities for the applicable creatures. Not only do these give plenty of great information to use these communities as-is, but they also serve as a guideline as to how to whip up your own unique community for these creatures.

Tables and Tables Galore!

There are tons of tables throughout Revenge of the Horde. Not only are they convenient for generating some on the fly encounters, but there are tables for adding flavor and flair to the creatures within the book.

First off, for each species or subspecies of creature, there are sets of tables that have premade encounters based on their CR. If you need a quick fight that’s roughly CR 5 in difficulty, there are one or two premade encounters in a table for you to pick from. If you have a wider threshold of 5-8, for example, there’s a table with a few premade encounters for CR 5-8. You can simply roll and drop the result into the game.

There are also tables to determine what trinkets a given creature may have on them or what notable equipment they’d have on their bodies when the players search them. Some creatures may have special ammunition or unique weapons that they can use in combat based on these tables!

There is also a table for lair descriptions for each species or subspecies of creature. I actually like this layout more than a more traditional way of describing a lair in paragraph form. These descriptions give you a great base to work off of to create your own unique lair, or you can use a few different aspects and combine them together to create a lair on the fly.

New types of creatures mean all new areas for your party to explore! Credit: Nord Games. A Playground of Extras Throughout the Appendices Beasties, Weapons, and Maps!

Revenge of the Horde is undoubtedly geared towards DMs in particular. It should come as no surprise to you that three of the four appendices are DM-oriented.

The first appendix is a quick foray into some of the different beasts and animals that are mentioned throughout the course of the book. This is cool because it gives you a few more statblocks to throw in for encounters as well as some new tools for beastmaster rangers and spells like Conjure AnimalsQuite a few of these creatures have unique traits or actions that help them differentiate themselves from a standard beast in 5e.

My favorite appendix is Tools of the Horde which has various potions, tools, and consumables that are unique to each of the tribes, communities, clans, etc. in the book. There are some really unique items in this section.

The catch with these items is that many of them have a random effect table that the user has to roll after they consume the item. The results can range from dealing damage to themselves, imposing a mechanical disadvantage on themselves, or actually benefitting from the consumable. Don’t worry, there are plenty of items that just work as intended too!

The final appendix is a set of 10 unique lair maps. These are all gridded and can be easily copied and pasted out of the PDF and dropped into a virtual tabletop program or printed for in-person play. My only quip with these maps is that I’d have liked to know the dimensions for sizing them in something like Roll20. Regardless, they’re well-detailed and easy to use in play.

Character Races for Each of the Creature Types

There is an entire appendix dedicated to character race options for each of the species/subspecies in the book. Well, provided that they are a small or medium-sized creature. That being said, that’s the overwhelming majority of the creatures in the book, so there are a lot of race options to pick from.

Many of these races already exist in official sources, for example, goblins, kobolds, and bugbears. In these cases, the race option for these races in Revenge of the Horde focuses on a specific subset of goblins. For example, the kobold racial option is a warren kobold which is a kobold that is much more heavily influenced by dragons. They’re smarter and have a pseudo-resistance similar to the dragonborn’s draconic ancestry.

My personal favorite is the legionary hobgoblin. One of their traits is that they give nearby allies a +1 bonus to AC provided that you’re wielding a melee weapon. This fits in well with both their militaristic flavor and their playstyle of a front-line combatant.

Your players get a bunch of new options, but you get to keep the trolls all to yourself! Credit: Nord Games. Conclusions

All in all, I really enjoyed Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde. It’s an excellent foray into some iconic D&D creatures while giving them some new and exciting flavors.

The book is very well made and you can absolutely tell it was professionally developed due to its excellent formatting. The PDF is completely searchable and has a robust index for quickly finding the creature or topic you desire if you have a physical copy of the book.

There’s a ton of great flavor and lore for each and every creature in this book. It’s all..

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The Swashbuckler Rogue

Let’s just go ahead and call this week Swashbuckler Week! I recently played a one-shot as a swashbuckler rogue and immediately found myself loving them. In fact, they’re on my short-list to play out in a full campaign when I get the chance. So, in light of that, here’s the build I’d end up using!

Goals of this Build Mobile and Maneuverable

One of the core mechanics of rogues is that they are extremely mobile. I mean when you can use the Dodge, Dash, or Hide actions as a bonus action you can generally run circles around friend and foe alike.

The features from the swashbuckler archetype take the rogue’s incredible base mobility and maneuverability and kicks it up a notch. Right off the bat, you get Fancy Footwork which allows you to move away from a creature you attack without requiring anything out of your action economy.

You’re fast, you’re slippery, and you still have plenty of other tricks up your sleeve. If you have a mind for good combat positioning and hunger for tactical combat, the swashbuckler is a character that will satiate your desires.

Master Duelist

A swashbuckler build would be a complete and utter failure if it was not a fantastic duelist. That’s why we live and die by the sword, or swords if you so choose to go a more dual-wielding build.

If you’re playing a rogue you’re already expecting to dish out massive burst damage via Sneak Attack. The swashbuckler archetype takes Sneak Attack and adds a twist to it, it allows you to 1v1 a target while still being able to deal Sneak Attack damage.

Of course, it goes without saying that you also get some features and tools to give yourself the upper hand in one on one combat. You can charm your foes into an unideal position and then finish them off with a quick blow while your party engages with the enemy minions. En garde!

You can tell the one on the left is the swashbuckler because they’re entirely done with this shit. Credit: WotC. Books Needed for this Build

Player’s Handbook

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

Optional Books for Races Volo’s Guide to Monsters Level 1

Class: Rogue

Background: Charlatan
Note:
 Urchin & rogue is the D&D version of peanut butter & jelly. But I’m from Boston. We eat peanut butter and fluff here. We’re going with Charlatan for this one. (You can choose whatever background you want since you can swap the skill proficiencies).

Race: variant human, any elf, tabaxi, bugbear, or goblin
Note:
 Any race with +2 Dexterity will do, really. I didn’t include halflings as you have 25 ft. of speed which feels subpar for a build that values mobility. However, I chose tabaxi as their Feline Agility trait works really well with the swashbuckler rogue’s kit.

Ability Scores: This was done using point buy. Check out this post for more info on point buy!

STR:  10 (+0)
DEX:  16 (+3) – +2 from Tabaxi
CON: 13 (+1)
INT:   12 (+1)
WIS:  12 (+1)
CHA: 14 (+2) – +1 from Tabaxi

Note: We definitely want that +3 Dexterity modifier no matter what. Having a +2 modifier in Charisma is fantastic and highly desirable as well. You can certainly optimize the other ability scores for some additional Constitution or crank up your Charisma even higher.

Skills: Acrobatics, Intimidation, Investigation, Persuasion (Rogue) & Deception and Sleight of Hand (Charlatan) & Perception and Stealth (Tabaxi)
Note: Holy shit lol.

Post Level 1 Rogue 19/Fighter 1

For 95% of this build, we’ll be going rogue. However, there are some very nice perks in a fighter multiclass for any martial character, but rogues in particular.

Yep, we’re dipping a single level into fighter for this one. In fact, you’ll do it at 4th level. You go in there, get your 1 fighter level, and get the hell out and keep leveling rogue as if nothing happened. However, in doing so we’re going to gain a ton.

For starters, we’ll gain proficiency with medium armor, shields, and martial weapons. Really, all we want here is the shield proficiency. We also get the excellent 1st-level fighter feature Fighting Style and they throw in Second Wind for free.

We have two Fighting Style options, depending on what type of swashbuckler you wish to make. The first and my personal choice is Dueling. This gives us a +2 bonus to damage rolls with a weapon provided you are only wielding a melee weapon in one hand and no other weapons. This means we can use a rapier and a shield while dealing an average of 6.5 + DEX modifier damage per hit.

The other Fighting Style option is Two-Weapon Fighting. This allows you to add your ability modifier to the damage of the second attack. For now, you can only use two weapons with the light property, but if you opt to go this route you’ll want to pick up the Dual Wielder so you can use two melee weapons that aren’t light.

“But what if we’re actually going to play to level 20?”

I’d still skip out on going 20 levels into rogue for Stroke of Luck. Nothing against it, but Master Duelist makes up for about 1/2 of Stroke of Luck’s usefulness. Dipping a level into fighter gets us all of that good stuff I already mentioned, and we still get to max out our Sneak Attack dice and get all of the rogue’s ASIs.

Ability Score Increases (ASIs)

We get a total of 6 ASIs throughout our journey to level 20.

Ability Score Priorities

Dexterity >>> Charisma >> Constitution > Wisdom >= Intelligence > Strength

Dexterity is quite possibly the best ability score in the game. There are a ton of regularly-used skills that require it, it’s a popular saving throw ability, your initiative is based on it, your AC is based on it, and as a rogue, your attacks and damage revolve around it as well. Cap your Dexterity at 20 ASAP, as in within your first 2-3 ASIs.

Charisma is extremely important for swashbucklers as a lot of our features revolve around it. Due to this, we’ll probably end up being the face of the party, so extra Charisma never hurt anyone. I don’t think you need to cap it at 20 but shoot for 16-18 for that sweet, sweet +3 or +4 modifier.

Constitution is nice because it’s also a popular saving throw ability. It also bolsters our base HP so it aids in our survivability. Personally, I wouldn’t go buck-wild with Constitution. You can grab a half-feat and boost it up to a +2 modifier easily. 16 Constitution is our absolute max though.

Intelligence and Wisdom are roughly equal in usefulness depending on how you wish to play your character. Are you more perceptive or inquisitive? Naturally, I’d give a slight edge to Wisdom just because it’s a common saving throw ability.

Strength isn’t super useful to this build. However, as a tabaxi, we have unarmed strikes that deal extra damage based on our strength modifier. I still wouldn’t put extra points into it, but it’s not entirely useless.

Feats

Dual Wielder* – This is a fantastic feat if you’re looking to dual wield two melee weapons instead of roll with the rapier & shield duelist combo. You’ll gain some AC while you are currently dual wielding, dual wield melee weapons that aren’t light, and draw/stow two one-handed weapons at once. It’s a lot of value for a dual wielding playstyle.

Mage Slayer – While this is a niche feat, it does its job well. You gain the ability to use your reaction to make an attack against a creature that casts a spell within 5 feet of you. This gives us another opportunity to flex our Sneak Attack damage. It’s a fun feat if you find yourself facing off against a plethora of spellcasting enemies.

Magic Initiate (Wizard) – With this feat, you gain 2 Cantrips and 1 1st-level Spell from the Wizard Spell list. Can you say Green Flame Blade or Booming Blade? I mean, if we’re only able to make one melee attack per turn anyways we may as well cast a cantrip that gives us some additional damage and perks for doing so.

Find Familiar is a fantastic choice for our 1st-level spell. You can use your familiar to give yourself or your allies free advantage every turn among some other nice perks.

Resilient (Constitution) – If you have an odd number for your Constitution score you might as well pick up this feat. This way you get that additional +1 modifier to your Constitution and gain proficiency in Constitution saving throws. We’ll have a total of 4 saving throw proficiencies at level 15 thanks to Slippery Mind!

Sentinel – This is similar to Mage Slayer except it has many more opportunities to be used. There will be plenty of times where you wish to engage a creature in one-on-one combat, or you have them locked in an ideal position. This ensures that they won’t slip away from your duel without your permission.

Lucky – Lucky is a great feat for any build.

We can still do all the cool rogue stuff. We’re just expert duelists too! Credit: WotC. Class Features – Rogue Expertise – Level 1 & 6

If the eight skill proficiencies weren’t enough for you, you can now gain expertise and double the proficiency bonus of two of your skill proficiencies. You can optionally gain expertise with your thieves’ tools.

You gain this feature twice so in total we’ll have expertise in four different skill checks.

Level 1: Persuasion & Thieves’ Tools

Level 6: Dealer’s Choice

I highly recommend grabbing expertise in both Persuasion and Thieves’ Tools. Persuasion is directly tied to the swashbuckler’s Panache feature so it’s incredibly important to have a high modifier. Thieves’ tools are particularly useful for disabling traps or unlocking doors.

Honestly, you can probably choose to gain expertise in whatever skills you desire. Persuasion is the one mandatory skill that you absolutely need for this build. My personal favorites for level 6 would be Stealth and Perception/Investigation, though Deception and Intimidation are great options for a face character.

Sneak Attack – Level 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, 19

This is the rogue’s bread-and-butter combat feature. Unlike the other martial classes, rogues do not get the Extra Attack feature. Instead, they play as a high-burst character with few attacks per turn, but their attacks hit hard.

Sneak Attack starts-off at level 1 dealing an additional 1d6 (3.5) damage once per turn. This damage increases every other level by 1d6 (3.5) damage.

Granted, they have plenty of tools to offset the risk of missing with their 1 or 2 attacks per turn, but it can still bring a bit of risk into their combat effectiveness. Rogues revolve around being able to regularly dish-out their Sneak Attack damage. They become sub-par when they’re unable to.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to trigger Sneak Attack. You can use it once per turn provided you have advantage on the attack roll with a finesse or ranged weapon. However, you don’t need advantage on the attack if an enemy of your target is within 5 ft. of your target. Swashbucklers also get an additional trigger which we’ll discuss later.

Sneak Attack provides a ton of burst damage. It’s by far the leading factor into why I frequently wind-up multi-classing into rogue whenever I play a DEX-based martial class.

However, in this build, we’re getting the maximum benefits of Sneak Attack as it caps out at 10d6 at level 19. That’s an average of 35 extra damage which is nothing to scoff at for a feature that has no cool-down and can be used multiple times in a round.

Thieves’ Cant – Level 1

Thieves’ Cant is essentially a unique language that only thieves, rogues, and other unsavory characters know. It takes considerably longer to communicate using Thieves’ Cant, but it’s a way to ensure that your messages won’t be intercepted by most eavesdroppers.

You’ll also learn secret signs and symbols that you can use to mark locations. These symbols can convey simple messages such as if the surrounding area is dangerous or has plentiful easy marks for pickpockets.

This isn’t anything crucial to our swashbuckler build, but it’s certainly a fun tool to use for role-playing.

Cunning Action – Level 2

We wanted mobility, now let’s get some mobility. Cunning Action is possibly one of my favorite features in the game. It’s got a ridiculous amount of utility packed into a small, 2nd-level-sized package.

This feature allows you to take the Dash, Disengage, or Hide action as a bonus action. This is part of the reason why I opted to go with the rapier and shield duelist combo instead of a dual wielder build. I’ll always have a bonus action available to use Cunning Action.

Keep in mind that you can still use your action to take a Dash, Disengage, or Hide action and use Cunning Action. This means that you could take two Dash actions on a turn, or Disengage and Dash in the same turn if you’re caught in a tough position.

If you choose to play a tabaxi like me you can couple your Cunning Action with Feline Agility to bolt around the battlefield with lightning-fast speed.

Tabaxi have climb speed as well. That means we have permission to parkour the hell out of the battlefield. Credit: WotC. Uncanny Dodge – Level 5

Our Consitution is ok. We can take a solid hit or two. Mediocre HP wouldn’t be a problem for most rogues, but we’re playing a swashbuckler which with the Panache feature at level 9 is able to essentially taunt an enemy.

My point is that we’re going to be a target if our high damage output doesn’t make us one already.

Uncanny Dodge, however, gives us a way to use our reaction to reduce an attack’s damage by half. This is an exceptional feature as it gives us a fantastic survivability option, but it also gives us a regular use for our reaction. I’m all about maximizing that action economy!

You can use Uncanny Dodge to brace yourself for an attack that you know is bound to hit you hard. Another great use is for mitigating damage while you’re at low HP.

There’s really no wrong way to use Uncanny Dodge, unless you think you have a better way to use your reaction, such as if you have the Sentinel feat and have a wider window to make opportunity attacks against enemies.

Evasion – Level 7

Evasion is another survivability feature that rogues get, however, this one doesn’t require anything out of our action economy to use. It’s purely a passive feature.

If you make a Dexterity saving throw to take half damage you take no damage on a success and half damage on a failure.

It’s certainly not a fun feature, but it’s a fantastic one that will save your ass many times.

Reliable Talent – Level 11

Sorry, were eight skill proficiencies, up to four of which have been upgraded to Expertise not enough for you? My bad.

Well, with Reliable Talent, whenever you make an ability check that allows you to add your proficiency bonus to it you can treat any roll of 9 or lower as if it were a 10.

Cool, so now we can’t roll lower than a 10 on any of these skills. This is going to be exceptional for Panache as it guarantees that we have at least a 10 on each of our Persuasion checks!

In fact, with a base of 10 for our roll, Expertise and a +3 Charisma modifier the lowest we can roll for a Persuasion check is a 21. Nice!

Blindsense – Level 14

You can now sense..

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You feel a weight lifted off or your belt. Someone has stolen your coin purse! You look behind you to see an empty alleyway. You turn around again and find yourself meeting the beady rat-like eyes of an okiti swashbuckler brandishing a rapier. For most this is a robbery, but for you, this is just another day of life at the docks.

Okiti are curious rat-like creatures. They live short, but adventurous lives on the high seas or in cities that boast major naval traffic. While they’re certainly not evil creatures, they love to steal, trick, and out-wit people out of their belongings, especially shiny things.

Okiti swashbucklers are okiti that have honed their combat skills and have become a dexterous whirring dervish of pain. Also, because I’ve been on a huge swashbuckler kick as of late.

This special edition of D&D Monster Monday is the result of a collaboration between myself and Nord Games. The Okiti are an original race created by them and can be found in their book Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde.

For full disclosure, I was given a free copy of the book for the purposes of this article. I’ll also be releasing a complete review of the book next Monday.

They are on the tail-end of their latest Kickstarter for their next book in the Ultimate Bestiary series, The Dreaded Accursed. So be sure to check it out!

Okiti are curious folk, though they prefer to interact with society from afar. Credit: Nord Games Okiti Lore

Okiti are a short-lived race of ratfolk who live out their 20-25 years of life to the fullest. They treasure material objects like shiny things or sweet foods like a kobold. However, they don’t bend the knee to a higher power or creature.

My favorite nugget of okiti lore is that they are an extremely communal folk. Children are raised by the community as a whole. Leaders of an okiti community tend to lead for 1-2 years and willingly step-down. Everyone is equal, even the leadership, that’s their way of life.

A community of okiti can generally be found close to the sea. Typically in urban areas that have bustling docks. They may opt to take to the sea on these ships and work, but they really love stealing what they can from the goods and riches these ships bring to port!

Okiti swashbucklers are just one subsection of okiti. They are the few who have chosen the profession of swordplay, dueling, and violence while others stick to stealing, sailing, or a number of other professions. Swashbucklers are nimble and quick-witted. They’re a blessing to have on a ship’s crew in case of being boarded by pirates!

Okiti Swashbuckler Stats and Abilities

You can find the Okiti Swashbuckler statblock on page 132 of the Ultimate Bestiary: Revenge of the Horde.

Stats

Size: Small humanoid (okiti)
AC:  18 (studded leather, shield)
HP: 17 (5d6)
Speed: 30 ft.
STR: 8 (-1)
DEX: 18 (+4)
CON: 10 (+0)
INT: 9 (-1)
WIS: 8 (-1)
CHA: 14 (+2)

An okiti swashbuckler has a very specific niche, combat. Its ability score spread greatly reflects that, in fact, it’s extremely min-maxed for melee combat as a swashbuckler. Though to be fair, for a creature, combat is just about the best niche to be optimized for.

They also have a solid Charisma modifier of +2. They’re very persuasive buggers, but they’re not afraid to get into a scrap if their words cannot find purchase.

Having a high Dexterity affords you many great benefits in D&D 5e. In fact, I’d say it’s the best ability score in the game. With a +4 Dexterity modifier, you’ll have high AC (18) as well as a high initiative. Both of these are required for swashbuckler type characters as they thrive off of dealing a crippling amount of damage early.

This is of course because they can’t take more than a couple of well-aimed punches. A +0 Constitution modifier and 17 HP alludes to this. I mean, their AC is higher than their HP! They’re banking on either decimating their enemies before they can act or avoiding damage altogether with their high AC.

Gods help them if they ever need to make a Wisdom or Constitution saving throw though. A -1 modifier for their Intelligence also makes them apt to fall for simple illusions.

Resistances, Immunities, Saves, and Skills

Skills: Acrobatics +6, Perception +1, Sleight of Hand +6, and Stealth +6
Damage Resistances: poison
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 11
Languages: Common, Okiti
CR: 2 (450 XP)

I think my favorite part about a lot of homebrew and 3rd-party products is that they’re not afraid to give creatures skill proficiencies. Giving the creatures some perks and proficiencies for non-combat interactions gives them another dimension of play.

Of course, most of the proficiencies that okiti swashbucklers get are useful in combat such as Acrobatics for escaping a grapple. They’re stealthy, slippery critters for sure. This spread of proficiencies makes them excellent pickpockets and ambushers.

Resistance to poison damage is a perk that all okiti have. It’s a common damage type, so this is a useful damage resistance to have!

11 passive Perception is slightly above average, but it’s great for a creature with a -1 modifier to Wisdom. They also, of course, have darkvision which certainly helps okiti lurk in sewers or below a wharf waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike.

The okiti swashbuckler is definitely a high-powered CR 2 creature. I don’t think they’re unreasonably powerful, but they could certainly be a low-end CR 3 creature considering the massive amount of damage they can output.

Okiti may choose to learn many different fighting styles, though they primarily revolve around the more dexterous styles. Credit: Nord Games. Abilities and Traits

Keen Smell. The okiti swashbuckler has advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks that rely on smell.

Offensive Stance. Once per turn, the okiti swashbuckler can add 1d4 to its attack roll.

Pack Tactics. The okiti swashbuckler has advantage on an attack roll against a creature if at least one of the okiti swashbuckler’s allies is within 5 feet of the creature and the ally isn’t incapacitated.

Keen Smell is another attempt to bolster the okiti’s Perception. Between this and their proficiency in Perception they have a great shot at percieving the world around them despite the fact that they’ve got a -1 Wisdom modifier.

Offensive Stance gives you essentially a 2.5 average bonus to hit for one attack per turn. Note that it says per turn and not per round. Opportunity attacks, for example, can benefit from Offensive Stance. Considering the fact that we have a reaction this is going to get some mileage!

Pack Tactics is a popular trait for creatures that have a natural affinity to communal creatures. It’s also extremely powerful as it’s yet another way that the okiti swashbuckler gains a hefty bonus to hit with their attacks. Havoc runner gnolls and kobolds are two other creatures that we’ve talked about that have this trait.

Actions

Multiattack. The okiti swashbuckler makes two attacks with its rapier.

Rapier. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 8 (1d8 + 4) piercing damage.

Multiattack is great, especially because I’ve noticed that the roguish creatures in D&D tend to lose out on this feature. Their two Rapier attacks deal an average of 16 piercing damage per round which is a solid chunk of damage for a CR 2 creature.

But we need to talk about that +6 to hit because as-is that’s pretty juicy. Add Pack Tactics (+3.325 avg) and Offensive Stance ( +2.5 avg, once per turn) into the mix and that modifier jumps to just under +12 for one attack and roughly +9 on the other. That’s phenomenal for a CR 2 creature.

Reactions

Riposte. If a melee attack made against the okiti swashbuckler misses, it can make an attack against its attacker with disadvantage.

Considering you’re a dexterous scallywag with a shield and studded leather armor, you’re going to be avoiding quite a few attacks with your 18 AC. Point being, you should have plenty of opportunities to use Riposte. This can give you an additional 8 piercing damage per round if you hit with your attack.

While disadvantage seems scary, we have to remember that Pack Tactics can cancel this out entirely. Either way, Offensive Stance still gives you a +2.5 average to hit. You’ve got a good shot of hitting with your Riposte.

Okiti Swashbuckler Strengths Fantastic Offenses

It should come as no surprise to you that an okiti swashbuckler is an offensive machine. They get a guaranteed two Rapier attacks per round, but due to their high AC, they should have plenty of opportunities to Riposte!

This means they can dish out 16-24 piercing damage per round. That’s enough to drop a level 2 or 3 PC each round. They’re vicious buggers that’s for sure.

The real strength of the okiti swashbuckler isn’t so much their damage, but their Pack Tactics and Offensive Stance give their attacks ample opportunity to hit. The quick napkin math I did showcases that an attack with both of these bonuses has roughly an additional +6 bonus to hit.

Couple this high attack modifier with a solid action economy that gives them an almost guaranteed reaction each turn and you have a fierce rat with impeccable swordsmanship.

Exceptional Ambushers

Okiti swashbucklers have a +6 to stealth making them very difficult to see, even if the party is actively on the look-out for an ambush. Though giving these creatures a surprise round might be overkill considering their offensive capabilities.

That being said, a successful surprise round is all you need to get your okiti in position so that they’ll quickly benefit from Pack Tactics.

With their Keen Smell and passive Perception of 11, they have a decent chance of sniffing out incoming prey as they lay in wait. Especially since they have darkvision on top of that.

They also don’t need to necessarily fight the party during an ambush. While an okiti swashbuckler is an exceptional combatant, they may just wish to pick the pocket of a member of the party with a shiny possession. They’ll wait in hiding and dash out to grab this trinket before the party even notices!

The rapier is the weapon of choice for a couple of the okiti statblocks! Credit: Nord Games. Okiti Swashbuckler Weaknesses Poor Survivability

While I’ve said quite a few times that their AC is exceptional, because it is, AC is not the only factor of a creature surviving a fight. Though it is a big one.

17 HP isn’t great for a creature’s longevity in battle. Realistically this is about 1-2 hits worth of damage from a lvl 2 or 3 PC. While it may be difficult to land those hits against 18 AC, it’s going to be devastating when they do.

Resistance to poison damage is also a solid defensive trait. However, it’s essentially the only trait they have going for them in the defenses department. It’s good, but it’s probably not going to be the difference between life and death for an okiti in combat with your party of adventurers.

They also have a +0 and -1 modifiers to their Constitution and Wisdom ability scores. As humanoids, they’re susceptible to Hold Person which could prove to be devastating to an unfortunate okiti in the midst of battle. Their survivability relies on them being able to drop one or two members of the party.

Crowd control is essentially the bane of the okiti swashbuckler’s existence, and they don’t have much to work with for avoiding it.

Lack of Ranged Options or Distance Closing Abilities

At 16-24 piercing damage per round, the okiti swashbuckler is a force to be reckoned with. However, there are a lot of caveats to this damage being dealt. Primarily that it’s melee-only damage.

They have 30 ft. of speed per round which is average compared to a typical PC. That’s great in that a PC won’t be able to out-run an okiti, but if the PC already starts 30+ ft. away from the okiti, the okiti is going to have to use their entire turn to get into position. They lose out on dealing their excellent damage which is their win condition for an encounter.

Any sort of ranged weapon would help to alleviate this weakness. It’s certainly possible to add in a few throwing daggers for a DM, but when we’re examining their statblock as-is this is certainly an issue.

That being said, it’s fair to have a weakness like this. An okiti swashbuckler has plenty of excellent melee abilities, they shouldn’t be the absolute masters of the battlefield, but it’s certainly something to keep in mind as a DM building an encounter for them. Long hallways or big rooms are a no-no for them!

How to Play an Okiti Swashbuckler Gang Up on Your Foes

You should try your damnedest to utilize Pack Tactics to its fullest. An okiti swashbuckler isn’t long-lived for combat, so the idea of playing one successfully is to decimate your enemies before they can have time to retaliate against you.

Okiti, in general, aren’t particularly intelligent. They probably won’t be able to pick out the easiest target to gang-up on immediately. Regardless, with their high attack bonus, Pack Tactics, and Offensive Stance even the party’s front-line tanks are going to be in danger against a group of okiti.

Small areas and tight quarters are the most ideal battlefields for an okiti swashbuckler. Their speed is average so it’s not like they can out-run the party in most cases. Instead, they need to be able to use their environment to corner the party and make them easy to flank. Okiti need other okiti engaged with their target to benefit from Pack Tactics after all!

Wait For the Perfect Target Okiti swashbucklers may opt to simply steal from a tougher opponent rather than instigate a duel to the death. Credit: Nord Games.

Strike swiftly, strike true. Okiti swashbucklers are phenomenal damage dealers, but only in fights that work on their terms. If their enemy has the upper-hand on them they’re at a serious disadvantage.

Thanks to their skill proficiencies, okiti swashbucklers have the tools necessary to wait for the opportune moment to pick a fight. They can select an ideal battlefield and potentially get the jump on unsuspecting opponents, giving them plenty of time to dish out some initial damage.

Not every encounter with an okiti has to devolve into combat either. In many cases, the perfect target for them is going to be an easy target to pickpocket. They’re not in it for glory, they’re in it for cash, valuables, or good food.

Conclusions

Okiti swashbucklers’ offensive ability hits well-above their respective CR belt, however, they have quite a few exploitable weaknesses. I mean, they’re the epitome of a glass cannon. They’re not unfair, but they’re certainly strong and challenging creatures.

I love the “bilge rat” aesthetic that okiti bring to the table, and the swashbuckler, in particular, caught my eye as a very fun creature to run as a DM. Their Offensive Stance trait feels fun, rewarding, but still well-balanced. Almost like a reverse Sneak Attack.

I’ve been angling to run a mini seafaring campaign for quite some time now. I’m certainly going to be adding these lovable scamps into the mix when I get the chance!

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