Tag Archives: Dungeons & Dragons

When Time Runs Out

Sometimes you just run out of time in a game session.

I know, I know…lotsa players really have no concept of this phenomenon. You start a game session, and you play it through to completion. Three hours…eight hours…fourteen hours…whatever it takes, you play until you are done. College students might be able to do this. Unemployed gamers might be able to do this. High school players might be able to get away with this on weekends, or if they have very permissive parents.

That’s not how it works for many of us. High schools players usually have curfews. Players with jobs need to get enough sleep to get up for work in the morning. Married players need to make sure they are giving enough time to their spouses and families. This is just respect for other people in our lives, and for the responsibilities of life.

So what do you do when you run out of time in a session? How do you make sure you don’t run out of time?

First, time management should be the primary responsibility of the game master. The players need to be sure they let the GM know if they have a hard deadline by which they need to quit playing, but the GM controls the pace of the game, and the GM knows what she has in store for the players. The players do not know these things. Therefore, the good GM will keep an eye on the clock and respect his player’s time constraints.

When the GM knows how much time she has, the good GM will be able to control the pace of the game. Keep the game on track. Limit distracting table talk. I know that players want to tell war stories about past glories, and things they do in my game might remind them of “that time when…”, but try to keep your current game moving forward.

Keep an eye on the clock as the game progresses. Know where you are, and what you still need to accomplish in this session. Sometimes I might modify on the fly what I have the players doing. I might not throw that second wave of hobgoblins on the table. I might decide that a minor side quest would be more distracting right now then useful, so postpone it for later.

A good DM is also going to spot good stopping points along the way. Sometimes right before a big combat that I know is going to take longer than the time we have, I will call the game early. At first, some players groaned about this, but they have seen that his usually works out for the best.

Sometimes you are in the middle of fast and furious action, and the time deadline is there. The temptation will be to blow through that time deadline and just press on. I would advise you to weigh that decision carefully. Deciding to push on through might have very significant unintended consequences later.

For instance, in my regular group, I have one high school student with a 9:00 curfew. This player has pretty strict parents who would not be understanding of blown curfews. I understand parents setting curfews. When I was heaviest into gaming, in high school in the early ‘80s, my parents always set a curfew. They were also firm believers in corporal punishment. When they said to be home at 9:00, they did not mean 9:01. And they meant 9:00 by their clock, which was always roughly five minutes fast. It was always safest to make sure I was home fifteen minutes early. I won’t get into what happened to me if I was late. I’ll just say that there were consequences.

I don’t think my player would face such serious consequences as I did, but he would have some consequences nonetheless. They might not want him to come back to the game at all. That would suck. A short sighted decision to blow a curfew could result in his not gaming at all—at least, not playing in my Wednesday night game. Everybody with responsibilities face similar consequences. A significant other might be looking forward to one of your gamers getting home for some together time at the end of the evening. What’s going to happen when that player comes home hours late? What if one of your players plays later than planned, and then sleeps through his alarm the next morning and is late to work? When I supervised a CCC crew, the biggest problem I had with gamers on the crew was when they would have an all-night session before a work day and then be pretty useless at work because they were so tired. As a boss, and especially as a gamer, I did not take pity on game-induced fatigue and made sure there were consequences. They learned how to game and be responsible to their jobs.

So as a DM, you need to be able to spot good stopping places, even in the middle of fast and furious action. Be aware that some spots are better than others. Be creative in picking those spots.

For instance, in high school one of our favorite RPGs was a World War 2 themed game called Behind Enemy Lines. I was running a game based upon the old Rat Patrol TV show. The players were a recon squad in North Africa. They had two jeeps with pedestal mounted machine guns. In one game, they got caught open in the desert by a flight of German Stuka dive bombers…and we were running up against my curfew. I went ahead and started the battle. The planes made a couple of strafing runs first. The jeep drivers started evasive maneuvers, flooring it and spinning madly through the sand, throwing up big old sand rooster tails. The gunners held on and returned fire on the Stukas. I had one eye on my watch the whole time. Finally, the Stukas made their bomb runs. The first drop was a clean miss. The second drop was a near miss on the lead jeep—and I was out of time. The bomb exploded just yards away from the jeep, the jeep tipped over, the two guys started spilling out—and ‘To Be Continued’ flashed across the screen.

This is called a cliffhanger ending, and I love them. They are especially effective for keeping motivation high to get back to the game. Nobody is going to want to miss that session!

I had to do this in the last session of my Wednesday night game. The party has been looking for the cousin of one of the party members. The cousin had been captured by goblins. The party finally found the old abandoned castle in which the cousin is being held. They managed to find a back door entrance, and they made it to the room in which the cousin is held. In the room were a drow and a bugbear. The party surprised the drow and bugbear, and battle was on. The drow was the focal point for the party’s attentions, and she got hit pretty hard in the surprise round. She drew a dagger and dropped to the cousin lying unconscious in a corner. It looks like she’s going to try to off the helpless cousin. The bugbear is battling the other half of the party. Another surprise is about to spring on the party.

And then we were at my player’s hard curfew.

“To Be Continued…” Heh, heh, heh.


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When They Won’t Jump Through Your Hoops

Dungeon Masters love creating awesome encounters for our players. We love layering a story, developing unforgettable NPCs, and springing complex traps upon our players. We spend hours lost in thought at our day jobs planning the campaign. We spend late nights behind stacks of books and graph paper, carefully crafting and fitting every piece of the puzzle that the players will have to solve along the way. (Okay…old school guys like me are behind books and graph paper. Most of you are staring bleary eyed at your iPad screens.)

And then sometimes the players don’t want to play along.

I don’t mean they don’t want to play D&D. I mean that they come up with their own way of doing things that you did not think of when spending all that time designing the scenario. Sometimes they want to go an entirely different direction from the one you had planned. This means that, above all of your players, a DM needs to be an improvisational master. There are two things a DM can do at times like these. Well…three, but I’ll save that third option for a different post.

First, let me tell you what you don’t want to do. Above all else, you do not want to railroad your players into following your idea, anyway. As the DM, you really are god in your world. It’s easy to limit your player’s choices until they have no choice at all. This is not what players come to D&D, or any RPG, for. If your players feel like a cog in a machine, if they feel like cattle running down the one-way chute to the slaughterhouse, they are not going to have fun. It doesn’t matter how great you think your idea is; if your players aren’t having fun, they won’t come back. You might think “Well, I’ll just find other players.” You might find other players once or twice, but word will get around that you suck as a DM. You can’t DM without players. Therefore, it is in your own best interest to respond in a way that lets everybody have fun.

There really are ways you can handle the situation which are wins for both you and your players. As the DM, your job will be harder…but that’s why the DM gets the big bucks, right? 😉

  1. Go With the Flow

The first thing you can do when players depart from your script is try to find a work-around. To paraphrase Clint Eastwood in Heartbreak Ridge, you find ways to adapt, adjust, and overcome. Is there any way you can tweak your idea to make it fit into the direction your players go?

For instance, I had an encounter planned for a group that involved making up a special prop—a wanted poster with one of the player’s pictures on it. This would let the players know that the Bad Guy was onto them. A group of hobgoblins had the poster and were looking to collect the bounty. They knew generally where the group would be–heading south along a forest edge. The hobgoblins wanted to go north along the forest edge until they found the players. As an extra twist, the hobgoblins had an ogre with them whom they used for bait. They had the ogre head north outside of the forest while they followed along just inside the forest. They knew the players were aggressive and would attack the ogre if they spotted it first. While the players were occupied with the ogre, the hobgoblins could get into a good position to ambush the players, hopefully after they had taken damage from the ogre. If the players defeated the hobgoblins, they would find the wanted poster and know that the Bad Guy was onto them.

I was stoked to play out this little scenario. However, the first thing the players did when they started heading south was declare that they were paralleling the forest, but staying about a mile away from it.

Great. This would have them avoid the entire encounter that I had planned for the evening. The key for the encounter was the ogre engaging more or less in the open and distracting the players, while the hobgoblins ambushed from the forest. How could I mesh together my plans with the player actions?

I decided that even as far out from the forest as they were, there was a chance they could see the tall ogre silhouetted against the forest. One player did see the ogre. It worked out that it was the most aggressive player who saw it. Nice. I’ll save time here and avoid all of the details, but this battle started out as long range arrow fire at the ogre. The ogre rushed to attack.

I still could not use the hobgoblins as I had intended–close range ambush from the forest–so I had some decisions to make. What did the hobgoblins see? What did they think?

They saw the ogre rush away from the forest. One of the hobgoblins said “What in the world is Grom doing now?!”

The cautiously left the edge of the forest for the brushy hills. Soon they could see arrows flying through the air towards the ogre. They stayed low and crept forward. They could eventually see the battle, and realized that Grom had indeed found the party they had been looking for. However, the battle was going against their ogre bait.

“Let’s go help him!”

“I don’t think we’d get there in time to make any difference. Now that we know where they are, we could shadow them and attack their camp tonight.”

“Forget that! I wanna kill me a human!”

Seriously…this was the conversation among the hobgoblins I played in my head while fighting the ogre against the players. They decided to sneak up on the players while they were gloating over their ogre kill.

The hobgoblins should have waited until dark. So it goes.

Actually, to show how fluid this was in my mind, if the players had immediately pressed on after defeating the ogre, the hobgoblins would have waited until dark. Because the players took the time to loot the ogre’s body, have a rest, and take the time to talk about Life, the Universe, and Everything, the hobgoblins saw that the party was being inattentive right then and decided to attack. I adapted my plan to the player’s actions every step of the way, so as far as I’m concerned, that particular game session was a win.

2. Abandon

The other option you have when players don’t follow your plan is to abandon the plan that you had, or at least postpone it for a more opportune time. This is a far better option than coercing players into jumping through your hoop. It is far better that you go through the challenges of adjusting and adapting than for you to force your players down the slaughterhouse chute. If nobody in the party had spotted that ogre, they would have totally passed that encounter by…and I would have had to be okay with that. This is one of the things that makes DMing tougher than playing, adjusting to these unforeseen left turns.

There are things you can do to lessen the impact of these times. This is why it helps to adventure in a fully fleshed out world. It gives you more options when the game doesn’t go according to plan. This is an advantage to playing in a commercially available world like The Forgotten Realms. Much of that detail is already there for you. If the players had avoided the hobgoblin/ogre ambush above, they simply would have arrived at their destination sooner and the game would have continued. I would have been bummed that I still had an unplayed encounter, but the players wouldn’t have known any different, and they would still have had fun. Mission accomplished.

However, even in a home brew world, you should have more material ready to go than you plan to use in any particular game session. This is why there is no rest for the productive DM with a home brew world. You can never have too many side stories or NPCs in a home brew world. You never know when you might need them.

The bright side to these unused encounters is that they become another tool in your DMs tool box. So you didn’t use that idea today. The day will come when you can use it, and it will be so nice that you have it, and it’s ready to go. See? It’s never for nothing!




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The Dragon and the Witch

This battle occurred during my son Joshua’s Icewind Dale D&D 5E campaign he is running from a Wizards of the Coast adventure book.

Here there be some spoilers!


The dragon chased us to Good Mead.

He had cut us off from Easthaven in the pre-dawn, so we turned our horses and made for Good Mead. We started out with a half mile lead. To our good fortune, the dragon never took wing but pursued us on foot. We made it to the gate with only a quarter mile lead. The gate closed behind us. I climbed the stairs to the rampart. Clarisse and Granela followed. Varus, Cass, and Glacia stayed on the ground behind the gates.

The Ice Witch rode the dragon, which was close enough to see clearly now even though the sun was still below the horizon. This was like no dragon of which we had ever heard. This dragon was mostly skeleton with bits of dried skin shrunken tightly to its frame. He had not flown because most of the membrane composing his wings was gone. His wings were mostly a skeletal frame, with only some pieces of dried skin taut between the bones like a drum head. The sight was horrifying to behold. However, if this decomposed but animated dragon corpse could not fly, then perhaps its state of decay meant it could not unleash fire or frost from its terrible maw, either.

The dragon charged the gate, and the witch looked up to see us on the wall. Her popular name, Ice Witch, fit her well. She looked unnaturally white. She raised a hand and pointed a finger. A fog cloud grew out of the damp air and enveloped the battlements, blinding us to what was going on outside. We felt as well as heard the dragon hit the gate. I moved left along the rampart to try and get out of the fog. Clarisse and Garnela followed. As soon as I cleared the fog and could see the Ice Witch, I snapped my fingers and pointed at the witch, hurling a fire mote at her head. She ducked as Clarisse also fired her crossbow. My fire bolt and Clarisse’s quarrel both missed…but Garnela’s eldritch blast did not. The bright energy bolt lanced out from Garnela’s wand and connected squarely with the Ice Witch’s shoulder.

The Ice Witch flinched and took the blast. She looked on Garnela with cold fury. The witch waved her hand. A swirling glow stretched out and took on a spear shape. The Ice Witch hurled the spear at Garnela. The spear, a monstrous icicle, flew impossibly fast to the top of the battlement. Garnela had no chance to dodge as the ice spear took her solidly through the chest. Garnela fell back from the battlement in a splash of her own blood.

Everybody on the rampart ducked. The wall shook again as the dragon once more hit the gates. This time, the gates did not hold.

The dragon and the Ice Witch entered Good Mead.

There was no way we were going to last under the onslaught of both the dragon and the witch. The witch’s magic was clearly more advanced than mine to have any hope of winning a mage duel, and her Ice Spears were capable of dropping as hardy a soul as our tiefling, Garnela, in one blow. I had to get the witch out of this fight somehow.

Recalling a drow tactic which I had discovered when researching The Shard, I scooped a pinch of bat fur and pitch from my spell pouch and rubbed them between my index finger and thumb as I spoke the word of Darkness. I centered the black globe on the Ice Witch’s head.

She can’t hit us if she can’t see us. I hope.

Cass, Glacia, and Varus threw themselves valiantly at the dragon. Cass’s glaive bounced off a dragon’s rib, and a sweep of the dragon’s tail sent the elf warrior sprawling. Glacia screamed her war cry and furiously chopped away at the dragon with her axe.

Clarisse knelt alongside Garnela’s fallen form. She still lived, but not for long unless she received immediate aid. Clarisse reached into Garnela’s pack for a flask. The flask contained not brandy, though brandy would have been most welcome, but a healing elixir. Clarisse spilled some into Garnela’s mouth. The bleeding stopped. The rent tissue of her chest knit closed. Garnella’s eyes opened, and she picked her head up.

I concentrated on maintaining the darkness surrounding the witch, but I realized that this was only a temporary help. At some point, and probably sooner rather than later, we would have to switch to the offensive. I edged along the rampart while concentrating on the darkness globe. When I dropped the darkness spell, I needed to be close enough to the witch to engage her with a witch bolt electrical blast.

Having healed Garnela, Clarisse drew her two rapiers. She sprinted along the rampart and leaped with a cry onto the dragon’s back. She advanced with the rapiers into the black globe, knowing the witch was in this fifteen foot sphere. Clarisse felt a tug and a tear along the upper arm of her tunic. I saw another ice spear fly out of the darkness globe and sail over the battlement into the darkness beyond.

The melee on the ground between the two elves, the barbarian, and the dragon raged. Claw bashed on shield. Glaive chopped at bone. Axe bit into rotten dragon flesh and bone. Teeth snapped at Glacia. Glacia staggered back, then shook herself, howled again, and threw herself once more at the dragon with renewed fury.

Suddenly, the temperature dropped. I heard a howling wind, though I felt no accompanying blowing. Then the sleet hit me in the face. And the arms. And legs. I was surrounded by a whirling, blowing sleet cloud. As I struggled to keep to my feet, my concentration was disturbed, and the darkness globe surrounding the witch fell.

I suppose the Ice Witch didn’t actually have to see me to throw that one.

At this moment, our mighty Glacia delivered a final glorious blow up through the chest of the dragon, nearly cleaving the beast in two. The two halves shuddered and dropped. Thus ended the dragon.

Clarisse and the Ice Witch faced each other as they rode out the dragon’s fall. Off balance from the jarring of the dragon’s fall, Clarisse delivered weak thrusts with her rapiers. The Ice Witch began moving her hands. We had no idea what was coming this time. Would it be another Ice Spear, or something worse? Garnela, on her feet now, cast an eldritch blast that staggered the witch, but the witch’s hands continued their arcane motions. Suddenly from the ground, a flash of light leaped from Varus to the witch as he spoke a word of divine magic and pointed with a flourish. The witch was wrapped in an impossibly bright light. She screamed. Her form seemed as a snow carving, then melted and broke apart in the light. A pile of snow remained where she had stood on the twice-dead dragon’s back, and then even the snow disappeared.

It hadn’t been the real Ice Witch–merely a form of the witch she had sent in her stead. A wizard that could create such a form was far, far above my own powers. And she was still out there somewhere.

I carefully made my way down the stairs through the sleet slush. On the ground, I approached one of the town guards as he stood immobile, jaw agape at the battle he had just witnessed.

I asked, “Good Guard, where is the nearest place I could get a beer?”


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Ep 66: Bringing the Magic of Magic to D&D; If You Guild it They Will Come

This was a cool podcast by Dungeon Master’s Block about using Guilds in your fantasy world. They use guilds from a Magic: The Gathering setting to illustrate some Guild possibilities. The Green/Black guild was intriguing!

Listen here:

#MagicMark is back to talk with us about building Guilds for your D&D worlds and Campaigns. To delve in deeper into the MTG Universe, we will look at the plane of Ravnica and the 10 guilds that rule there. Patreon @DMs_Block Facebook Stitcher iTunes Intro Music in this episode is Dreams By Hired Beats is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Release:… License:… This episode edited by: DM Mitch

Source: Ep 66: Bringing the Magic of Magic to D&D; If You Guild it They Will Come


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AD&D vs. 5E: It’s a Harsher World Out There

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons players moving into D&D, 5th Edition might think that because their characters are beefed up in 5E, the usual adventurer-fodder of orcs, kobolds, and goblins would be even more of a pushover in 5E.

Not so.

Take your average orc. AD&D orcs had one hit die for 1-8 hit points. Orc guards had 11 hit points, and chieftains had 13-16 hit points. Most weapons are going to be able to kill your average orc in one swing. Guards and chiefs lasted a little bit longer. AD&D orcs inflicted 1-6 points of damage, or by weapon type. They had no other special abilities or talents not even guards or chieftains. The experience point value for beating one was 10+1/hp.

Orcs in 5E have 2d8+6 hit points, making them tougher off the bat, or maybe the ‘mace’ in this world. They are normally armed with a great axe, inflicting 1d12+3 damage. Ordinary orcs have two special abilities. The have the Intimidation skill at +2, which is rolled when attempting to influence anybody through “overt threats, hostile actions, and physical violence”. (5E Player’s Handbook, p.179) (This would be rolled versus NPCs.) They are also Aggressive, and can move faster than you would expect under normal circumstances. Orcs normally move thirty feet in a turn. As a bonus action, which is a free action in addition to its regular action, it can move an additional thirty feet towards an opponent it can see. I have seen this play out interestingly in games. The player said “I honestly didn’t think he could get to me there.” Oops. The experience point value for beating a 5E orc is 100.

Orc war chiefs are even tougher. They have 11d8+44 hit points. (Yes. You read that right. An average one will have 88 hit points.) They are also Aggressive. They have Intimidation +5. They also get multi-attacks, giving them two attacks per turn with a melee weapon. Once per day, they can also Battle Cry. “Each creature of the war chief’s choice that is within thirty feet of it, can hear it, and is not already affected by Battle Cry gain advantage on attack rolls until the start of the war chief’s next turn. The war chief can then make one attack as a bonus action.” (5E Monster Manual, p.246) The experience point value for beating an orc war chief is 1100. (I would imagine that this is so high because they are never encountered alone, but are always surrounded by a good sized band of orcs and are a force multiplier.)

Orcs in 5E are more Tolkien-ish than cartoon-ish.

These improved abilities apply to other creatures as well. Goblins have Nimble Escape, which means they can disengage from a melee without triggering an opportunity attack against them. Hobgoblins have Martial Advantage. They train to work together as a fighting team. Once per turn, they can inflict an extra 2d6 damage if their target is within five feet of a hobgoblin ally. Bugbears have Brute (one extra dice of damage for the weapon used in melee attacks—a morning star that normally does 1d8 damage does 2d8 in the hands of a bugbear) and Surprise Attack (surprised targets take an extra 2d6 damage from an attack). Yes, if you are surprised by a bugbear and he lands his blow, you are taking 2d8+2d6 damage. Even lowly kobolds now have 3d6-3 hit points and Pack Attack, giving them advantage on attack rolls if they have an ally within at least five feet of their target.

And if that is not enough for sadistic creative Dungeon Masters, you can give ‘special creatures’ abilities that player characters might have. Fighters in my group were really beating up on creatures with their Second Wind and Action Surge abilities. Then they met a band of orcs whose leader, while not technically a ‘war chief’, had maximum hit points for an orc plus the same Second Wind and Action Surge they had been using to run roughshod over poor monsters. Boy, where they surprised!

In all, 5E monsters really are new and improved over their AD&D counterparts—and they come with more surprises!

*Creature statistics are from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide (TSR; 6th printing, January, 1980), and Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition Monster Manual (Wizards of the Coast; 1st printing, September, 2014).


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Wizards: AD&D vs. 5E

Maybe the best way to see some of the most fundamental differences between AD&D and D&D, 5E is to compare character creation. I recently came across an old AD&D Players Handbook (PH) at a local used bookstore, and I picked up a PDF copy of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (DMG) at the Dungeon Masters Guild. The trip down memory lane was pretty fun—and I was reminded of why I never played magic-users in AD&D.

I decided that a character creation comparison between wizards, or in AD&D terms, magic-users, would be fun. I will create a first level human wizard using the different systems, but using the same dice rolls and stats for each character.

Let’s start with AD&D:

The stats rolls are:

STR: 11                  DEX: 15

INT: 17                  CON: 11

WIS: 11                 CHA: 13

Since humans are considered the ‘base’, or ‘normal’, my wizard gets no modifications to the rolls for stats. These attribute stats give him:

STR based stats:        Hit Probability: 0 (Modifier to To Hit roll)     Damage: 0 (Modifier to Damage roll)

DEX based stats:        Reaction: 0 (Modifier to Initiative roll)    Defense Adjustment: -1 (Modifier to AC)

CON based stats:       Hit Point Adjustment: 0           System Shock: 75%      Resur. Survival: 80%

INT based stats:         Chance to Know Spell: 75% (Chance to actually learn any given spell)       Min./Max. # of Spells/Level: 8/14

WIS based stats:         Magical Attack Adjustment: None (Defense modifier for certain spells such as beguile and charm)

AD&D magic-users use d4 for hit dice. The adjustment for CON is 0, and I rolled a 4, so I start with 4 hit points (HP).

Proficiencies: Magic-users can only use daggers, darts, and staves for weapons. A first level magic-user can only know one first level spell at a time. We learn from the DMG that a magic-user can actually start with four first level spells in his/her spell book: read magic, and then one each of offensive, defensive, and miscellaneous spell.

Some of the options with first level spells:

Magic missile: creates one missile that automatically hits its target for 1d4+1 of damage. The magic-user gets one extra missile at 3rd level, and another every second level after that.

Burning hands: Shoots flame from the magic-users fingertips to a range of 3 feet, doing one point of damage per level of the magic-user.

Shield: An invisible barrier is cast in front of the magic-user, giving him/her AC 2 against hand held hurled missiles, AC 3 against small device propelled missiles, AC 4 against all other forms of attack, as well as giving the magic-user +1 on saving throws vs. attack coming from his/her front arc, and negates magic missile attacks.

I decide to take read magic, magic missile, shield, and find familiar.

Magic-users start with 2d4x10 gold pieces. I roll 6, for 60 gold pieces, to start. I buy a quarter staff, two daggers, basic clothes and provisions, and my magic-user is now ready to play. Of course, I can make my background anything I’d like to that’s consistent with the DM’s world.

One last thing—my wizard cannot use armor, so he starts with the basic non-armored AC or 10, and his DEX bonus improves that to 9.


Okay, now the same character in 5E:

STR: 11                  DEX: 15

INT: 17                  CON: 11

WIS: 11                 CHA: 13

The first character creation difference between AD&D and 5E shows up right here. Other races get +1 or +2 in certain attribute stats, and this was the same in AD&D, but humans in 5E get a +1 across the board to all of their basic attribute stats. Since I come from Old School D&D, in which humans are the norm, this really rubs me the wrong way, but it is the way they want it in 5E. Okay. Therefore, from the same rolls, my wizard actually becomes:

STR: 12                  DEX: 16

INT: 18                  CON: 12

WIS: 12                 CHA: 14

The 5E system also uses these stats slightly differently than AD&D. These base numbers generate a modifier that will be used frequently and applied to die rolls based upon the stat. The way this looks on a typical character sheet is:

STR: 12(+1)                          DEX: 16(+3)

INT: 18(+4)                          CON: 12(+1)

WIS: 12(+1)                         CHA: 14(+2)

Instead of most of the stats such as Hit Prob, Damage, and Reaction which we saw in the AD&D character, the number in parenthesis will be the die modifier in many applications. For instance, a character might need to Roll vs. DEX to succeed at an action. The DM will assign a number to beat based upon the task’s difficulty. An Easy task would need to beat a 10 on a d20; a Medium task would need to beat 15, and a Hard task would need to beat 20. This particular character would get +3 to those die rolls.

Wizards in 5E have d6 for hit dice. 5E shows mercy on first level characters and allows them to have maximum HP for the appropriate hit die at first level. Therefore, my wizard starts with 6, and I add my CON modifier, +1, for a total of 7 HP for my first level wizard. For every level gained after first, the character will actually have to roll the appropriate hit die and add the CON modifier.

Now we come to a significant part of 5E: proficiencies. All characters have a ‘proficiency bonus’, which is 2 at first level. This bonus is added to die rolls when the character is proficient at a skill or task.

Wizards in 5E are not proficient with armor, the same as AD&D.

Wizards are proficient with daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, and light crossbows. Unlike AD&D, this does not mean that wizards cannot use other arms. When characters have proficiency with a weapon in 5E, it means they add their proficiency bonus to the attack roll.

Wizards have proficiency in making INT and WIS Saving Throws. This means that when making a ST versus those stats, they get to add the modifier from the stat plus their proficiency bonus. When my wizard makes a ST vs. INT, he is given a number to beat with the roll (say 15), and he gets to add his INT modifier (+4) and his proficiency bonus (+2) to the roll.

A 5E character sheet lists eighteen different ‘skills’. A first level wizard can choose two from the following skills in which to be proficient: Arcana, History, Insight, Investigation, Medicine, and Religion. I will take Investigation and Arcana. These are skills based upon INT. When searching for clues or recalling magic lore, I can add my INT bonus and proficiency bonus to the roll. For the skills in which I am not proficient, I use only the stat modifier. For instance, when rolling for Insight or Medicine, which are based upon WIS, I add my WIS bonus (+1) but not a proficiency bonus.

Two stats for wizards are Spell save Difficulty(DC) and Spell Attack Modifier. MY wizard’s stats in these are:

Spell save DC: 14              Spell Attack Modifier: +5

For starting equipment, I choose a quarterstaff, a spell component pouch, and a scholar’s pack along with my spell book.

Now we get down to spell choices.

First level wizards can know three cantrips and two first level spells.

I know that most of you all might remember when cantrips first appeared in The Dragon. They really went a long way to making magic-users more playable. They have since become a permanent part of the game. To refresh your memory, a ‘cantrip’ is a minor spell learned by wizard apprentices. They are effectively Level 0 spells, and apprentices learn them in their very first studies. They usually allow the apprentice to be more useful in performing chores to the wizard he serves.

Cantrips have evolved considerably. They are still considered minor spells, and they cost no spell slots to cast. This is one of the strongest enhancements to wizards, and makes them competitive even at lower levels. Recall in AD&D that a first level magic-user only has one first level spell. When that spell was used, the magic-user became pretty useless in combat, and more often than not a liability, since the other characters had to protect him keep to him alive to get him to the higher levels where he really did become useful. In 5E, even when a wizard has expended all of his spell slots, he still has his cantrips. Cantrips in 5E do include the useful apprentice tools such as prestidigitation, light, mending, and mage hand, but they also include such useful spells as fire bolt, ray of frost, and shocking grasp. Fire bolt is a ranged attack that does 1d10 damage and ignites flammable objects not carried or worn if it hits. Ray of frost is a ranged attack that does 1d8 damage and slows an opponent if it hits. Shocking grasp is a melee attack that inflicts 1d8 damage and prevents the victim from taking reactions until their next turn. My wizard would add his Spell Attack Modifier of +5 to his hit rolls for these attacks.

First level wizards have become much more useful.

My cantrips for this character will be prestidigitation, fire bolt, and friends.

Wizards in 5E start out with six first level spells in their spell book. I will take magic missile, shield, find familiar, burning hands, sleep, and alarm.

Some spell differences between AD&D and 5E:

Magic Missile: creates three glowing darts of magical force, instead of one. They automatically hit, inflicting 1d4+1, and they can be targeted against the same or different targets. The wizard gets an additional missile for each spell slot over 1.

Burning Hands: Shoots flame from the magic-users fingertips to a range of 15 feet (instead of 3), doing 3d6 damage if the target fails a saving throw, but still half damage if the target makes the save (instead of 1 point of damage for each level of the wizard). When my wizard casts burning hands, a fifteen foot cone of flame shoots out of my fingertips and everyone in that cone rolls a 1d20, adds their DEX bonus, and needs to beat my wizard’s Spell save DC of 14 to take only half damage.

Shield: An invisible barrier is cast in front of the wizard, giving her a +5 bonus to AC until her next round, and negates magic missiles. Shield can be cast as a reaction, taken when the wizard is either hit by an attack or targeted by a magic missile.

Okay, at this point in AD&D character creation, we would be ready to go. However, 5E adds a whole chapter covering Character Personality and Background. More depth to character creation is achieved by adding personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws into character background.

Based upon charts in the 5E PH suggested backgrounds, my wizard’s background is:

He was apprenticed to a wizard who lived as a hermit high in the mountains. My wizard dedicated himself to uncovering the arcane secrets of the cosmos. He often gets lost in his own thoughts and forgets his surroundings. He believes that inquiry and curiosity are the pillars of progress. His wizard master died suddenly (maybe from natural causes, but maybe not), and my wizard was surrounded by books and equipment that were far too advanced for him to use. He was forced to abandon his mentor’s mountain enclave to search out ways to advance his arcane skills. Accumulation of arcane knowledge is now his lodestone.

It’s true that I could have come up with this entire background on my own with AD&D, and that really was how we did it back then, but 5E is abundantly helpful in pointing the way to further creativity.

Wow. Now I really want to play this character!

And that, my friends, is the difference between an AD&D and 5E wizard.



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Streamlining Encounters

Here is a nifty form designed for D&D 5E that I found at Crit Games.

It looks like a character sheet, but it is designed to keep track of all of your many threads involved in a combat. You can keep track of three different types of monsters, and up to six of each type of monsters in each group. There are stat blocks for each monster type, boxes for that monster’s initiative modifier, attack capabilities, special attacks, experience points earned for defeating for the group, and hit points for up to six different individual monsters in each group.

The best part, the most handy part, is the numbered list down the left side of the page to write down everybody’s initiative roll. So cool!

My initial thoughts…

I am not sure how handy this would be for wandering monsters, because of all of the monster data that needs to be transcribed onto it. However, for planned encounters which you set up in advance of game time, I think this will be great! I currently have index cards with monster stats that I wrote out that I can just draw out of a box for my encounters. My cards even work great for random encounters, because I can just slip what I need out of the box. However, this sheet consolidates several monster types onto one sheet, and that initiative list is going to be handy! Right now I just list names down on a piece of scratch paper.

I can’t wait to try this tonight.


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