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This regular column is for Dungeon Masters who like to build worlds and campaigns as much as I do. Here I share my experiences as a DM through the lens of Iomandra, my Dungeons & Dragons campaign world. Even though the campaign uses the 4th Edition rules, the topics covered here often transcend editions. Hopefully this series of articles will give you inspiration, ideas, and awesome new ways to menace your players in your home campaigns.
MONDAY NIGHT. Nick DiPetrillo plays a warforged artificer who doesn't have any friends. The other characters tolerate him because he infuses their weapons with lots of fat, juicy bonuses. The warforged is also a bit of a sociopath, so he doesn't really care what others think of him anyway. The idea of "friendship" does not compute.
Recently, Nick's character was swallowed whole by another PC who was transformed (unwillingly) into a giant star spawn resembling a purple worm. (That's what happens when you have a bunch of purple worm miniatures lying around.) The "star worm" had a trans-dimensional gullet that spit the warforged onto a far-flung moon with very little gravity and even less air. Fortunately, warforged don't breathe or require sustenance. However, the bitter cold of space proved a touch uncomfortable.
The moon was covered with the dust and desiccated bones of millions of dead corpses from across the multiverse. Nick decided that his warforged had found paradise . . . a quiet demesne far removed from the tiresome politics, conspiracies, and quests of Iomandra, and a realm he could call his own where enemies dare not follow. After figuring out a way to survive the cold, the warforged began to sift through the dust in search of artifacts and relics. Much to his surprise, he found a dismembered warforged arm made of gold how lucky is that? (It comes with lots of mystery, too. Who was the arm's previous owner, what happened to that warforged, and are there more golden body parts hidden beneath the dust?) Nick immediately had his character amputate one of his own arms and attach the golden arm in its place. I, as the DM, was pleased. I was also left with the challenge of determining what powers or properties if any the golden arm possessed.
I have decided to incorporate a particular element from the current D&D Next playtest documents into my 4th Edition campaign. I'm glad the campaign still has a few months of life left in it because the next iteration of the game isn't so far in it's development that I'm ready to kick off a full-blown "D&D Next" campaign anyway.
As the master of my own campaign world, I'm free to plunder from past and future editions of the game as I see fit, and that's really the point of this article. My 3rd Edition campaign, Arveniar, began as a 3rd Edition playtest, and toward the end I started to allow some 4E-isms into the game. My 4th Edition campaign, Iomandra, started as a playtest of the 4th Edition rules, and once again I'm pulling in elements from the next iteration of the game. When the time comes to start my next campaign, it will almost certainly be a D&D Next game, but I see no reason why I can't take a few of its rules for a "test drive."
D&D Next introduces a game term called advantage, which is similar in function to 4th Edition's combat advantage but different in execution. Just like combat advantage, a creature can gain advantage in different ways, but the benefit of gaining advantage in D&D Next is that you get to roll two d20s instead of one and take the higher result. (For example, a character might gain advantage when attacking a prone enemy with a melee weapon.) The corollary mechanic, disadvantage, works similarly, except that you must take the lower result. Attacking while prone, for example, is a surefire way to gain disadvantage.
I decided to work the new advantage mechanic into my 4th Edition campaign in a somewhat limited fashion using Nick's golden arm as the means. I briefly entertained the notion of swapping out the 4th Edition combat advantage mechanic and using the new advantage/disadvantage system in a more widespread fashion, but making such a large-scale systemic change months before the campaign's end seemed like a bad call. Also, I wasn't prepared to deal with potential game balance issues; after all, 4th Edition wasn't designed with that system in mind (although there are plenty of "roll two dice, take the higher/lower result" mechanics lurking in the edition). Nah. Better to let the warforged artificer tinker with the mechanic for a while and see what happens.
Here's what the golden arm looks like written up as a simple, straightforward, and undeveloped 4th Edition magic item:
So far in the campaign, the arm's property has been used once only. Nick made an attack, pulled out two d20s with a twinkle of excitement in his eyes, and rolled a natural "1" and a natural "2" on the dice. Not great. Just goes to show you that even a kick-ass magic item can't save you from angry dice gods.
The D&D Next playtest documents are out there for everyone to play with. I encourage any DM who's not running a D&D Next game to see if there's something in those documents worth exploring for his or her current campaign, be it 3rd Edition, 4th Edition, or whatever. I'm betting there is.
My next campaign is still several months away, and as much as my Monday night players seem to enjoy the current campaign, some of them are chomping at the bit to make new characters and start fresh with a new set of rules and new character options to explore. Anything I can do to whet their appetites seems like it's worth trying, but I don't want to turn my Iomandra campaign into something it's not. So, at the same time I urge you to explore what D&D Next has to offer, I caution you against implementing widespread rules changes to your campaign unless you're fairly certain the risk is worth the reward.
Until the next encounter!
Dungeon Master for Life,