2015-01-25

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 25

Favorite Magic Item

The Machine of Lum the Mad.


(In my own campaign world, this ancient and dangerous artifact has been hidden and rendered largely dormant in a coffee bar (“Joe’s Mud-Puddle Cafe”) in the city of Mooncastle, where it now functions as the espresso machine of Lum the Mad. True story.)

If we’re not counting artifacts, bag of holding, because every edition of the game has specified what happens if you accidentally tear one, but doesn’t specify how tearable it actually is. Plus, even the smallest bag of holding can be filled with 250 pints of oil (that’s by the weight limit; its volume limit is staggeringly higher, but oil is heavy). Dump that out from a height and follow it with a lit torch, then spend hours arguing with the DM over whether it does or doesn’t do 250d6 of fire damage.

2015-01-24

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 24

Favorite Energy Type

I like sonic damage from D&D 3e, because no one ever bothers thinking about sonic damage when they’re buffing up with 30 points per round of resist fire, lighting, acid, and cold.

Plus, in games with sonic damage, it’s easier to make fun of bards. And I live to make fun of bards.

2015-01-23

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 23

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 23

Least Favorite Monster Overall

Devils and demons. It’s not that I don’t like them; it’s just that they don’t make any sense.

There are lots of cool fiends in the game, with pedigrees going all the way back to the AD&D Monster Manual and the earliest days of Dragon magazine. Their mechanics are pretty much always cool. Their design is memorable, their art is always iconic. But where devils and demons break down for me is in the standard backstory of how these extraplanar fiends crave souls and long to destroy the mortal world in order to consume the living — and then somehow just don’t ever seem to get around to doing that.


I’m not a biologist or anything, but I’m at least passingly familiar with the notion that apex predators have lesser populations than the prey they feed upon, and that the number of apex predators is always limited by available prey. Monsters like dragons are typically always rare in an average campaign, because they implicitly obey the laws of predator selection, so that it’s easy to say within the context of a game world, “There are relatively few dragons because of competition between them for prey and territory.” And it’s easy to understand that this is a good thing, because if the numbers of dragons — or beholders or owlbears or behirs or what have you — suddenly doubled or tripled, it would spell disaster as they ate their way through existing natural food stocks, then eventually overwhelmed the humanoid world.

The thing with devils and demons is that they have no such limits on their population. And they have a mission statement that specifically involves overwhelming the humanoid world. And so they’re always, like, “We long to destroy you all!”, and I’m always, like, “Fine; what’s stopping you?” And then they’re, like, “Oh, well, today’s pretty full up. Lot of stuff going on. Blood War and such, you know. So out of the tens of millions of ravening, bloodthirsty, damage-and-magic-resistant shock troops at our disposal, we’ll just send in a half-dozen or so to give this particular group of heroes a bad time. Take that! Nyahh!”

Imagine an imaginary D&D campaign (I know that’s doubly redundant; just work with me) in which I get to play all the devils and demons in the Nine Hells and the Abyss, and you get to play all the people, creatures, and heroes in Greyhawk, or Faerûn, or wherever. I win that campaign every time. In, like, fifteen minutes. So it’s not that I don’t like playing with devils and demons; I just don’t like that unless a DM takes specific measures to limit their numbers and explain why their presence in the world is even more limited (as I do in my own campaign), every devil and demon encounter comes with an obligatory suspension of disbelief that goes over and above the normal levels of suspension of disbelief that are part of the game.

2015-01-22

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 22

Favorite Monster Overall

I’m tempted to say the 5e flumph, because the 5e flumph is really cool. When the Monster Manual finally got announced and I was free to talk in generic non-NDA-breaking terms about the work I’d done editing it, the thing I found myself saying most often was, “The flumph is going to blow your mind because it’s now really cool!”, and people were all, like, “Whaaah???”, and I was all, like, “Uh huh!”

Anyway.

I’m going to go for the obvious and say mind flayer. Because even though many monsters have risen to the heights of awesomeness in one edition of D&D or another, the illithids are the only monster I can think of to have hit that mark in every single edition. Right from their starting point in AD&D, mind flayers have exemplified a kind of evil that breaks the alignment system. They were the early epitome of the thinking monster — not just a deadly threat in the dungeon, but hatching plots and plans that could connect adventures and fuel a lifetime’s worth of campaigns.



As a player and DM, I’ve seen plenty of characters who weren’t afraid to die. I’ve played characters who could stand up to dragons. I’ve played alongside and DMed for characters willing to throw themselves into fights against demigods and titans without hesitation. But everybody who knows what a mind flayer is knows to be afraid of mind flayers, and I like that a lot.

(Pro tip: When the mind flayers first appear, playing the music from the Prometheus trailer can really help set the mood. You’re welcome.)

2015-01-21

D&D 30 Day Challenge — Day 21

Favorite Dragon Color/Type

Of all the dragons, the ancient red wyrm probably has the most iconic feel for me, because Smaug. (Though I can’t remember how Tolkien specifically described Smaug in The Hobbit, his own illustration was the cover of the first version of the book I ever owned, so I consider that canon.) However, my personal favorite in game terms (talking D&D 3e and up, where dragons began to be broken out more fully by age) is actually the red wyrmling.


I love the red wyrmling because — as the toughest of the wyrmlings — it makes a nice challenge for a neophyte party of 1st-level characters whose players might otherwise have assumed they’d have all sorts of time to level up before facing a dragon. Silly players should have paid more attention to the name of the game.