Monster Monday: Spawn of Dragons!

Continuing in the vein of last week’s monster, we’re going to look at dragonspawn. Wizards of the Coast has put out some good info on dragons, and even provided a couple of drakes. But so far, they haven’t released an official product that updates dragonspawn for 5E. So we’re going to look at one dragonspawn–Greenspawn Razorfiend–that has both 3E and 4E versions. We’ll use those two versions as guideposts as we build a 5E version.

You can find the 3E version of the Greenspawn Razorfiend in the 3E adventure, Red Hand of Doom. Here’s the stat block:


And you can find the 4E version of the Greenspawn Razorfiend in Draconomicon: Chromatic Dragons. Here’s the stat block:


What’s interesting is to see the differences between the two editions. Of course, the mechanical aspects of 4E were so vastly different from previous editions, there are naturally going to be differences there. But if you look closer there are deeper differences. 3E has an acid breath weapon; 4E instead gives the dragonspawn a ranged “spittle” attack, and makes it both acid and poison. 3E mentions a “spring attack,” but 4E just mentions that it can jump 4 squares (which is 20 ft.). When you look at the ability scores, there are also some interesting differences. The Strength and Wisdom scores are similar, but the Constitution and Dexterity scores on the 4E version are much higher. The 4E version is very stupid, but has a high Charisma…? Both versions have wings, but don’t mention a fly speed. The 3E version mentions a swim speed and waterbreathing, but the 4E version doesn’t say anything about it being aquatic.

So before we start our custom build process, we know a few things. The greenspawn has wings with sharp edges, and a breath weapon which is acid or poison damage. It’s Strength, Dexterity and Constitution are very high, it’s Wisdom is above average, but it’s Intelligence and Charisma are either average or below average (that 4E high Charisma doesn’t make sense to me). The greenspawn can’t fly, but it can jump really far. We know it’s a relatively high-level monster, probably Tier 2 (5th-10th level) or Tier 3 (11th-16th level).

So as a reminder, here’s our steps for building a custom monster.

  1. What the H*ll Is It For? (Roles)
  2. Who’s Going to Fight This? (PC level)
  3. How Hard Is the Fight? (Encounter Difficulty)
  4. What Sh*t Makes It Special? (Traits)
  5. What’s the Defensive CR? (HP & AC)
    1. Adjusting Defensive CR
  6. What’s the Offensive CR? (Damage Per Round & Attack Bonus)
    1. Adjusting Offensive CR
  7. How Does the Special Sh*t Affect Defensive/Offensive CR? (Adjust CR for Traits)
  8. Final Tweaking


  1. What the H*ll Is It For? We know that this monster is a skirmisher (because it says so in the 4E version). A skirmisher is a melee fighter that deals a lot of damage, but is also highly mobile. Oddly, though, it also has a ranged attack. Whether we use it as a breath weapon, or just a ranged attack, it’s unusual for a skirmisher. Usually breath weapons are a recharge attack. The 4E version of this monster has a regular ranged attack–but it also appears to be created for higher level PCs. So my take is that the greenspawn uses its breath weapon, then uses its melee attack (wingblades). Since it can jump far, it will either disengage and jump away, or use its jump to get to another opponent.
  2. Who’s Going to Fight This? We are building a monster for a Tier 2 party. Tier 2 is 5th-10th level. I’m shooting for the mid-range of Tier 2, so 7th-8th level.
  3. How Hard Is the Fight? This is really interesting. The 4E version of this monster is worth 1600 XP. It’s labeled as a level 13 monster, but if we look in the DMG on page 82, a deadly encounter for a level 7 PC is 1700. Meaning this would be a really hard fight for a level 7 PC…but it’s possible. That’s for one level 7 PC. If we target 8th level PCs, a hard encounter is 1400 XP per PC. Four level 8 PCs would give us 5,600 XP. I think this dragonspawn qualifies as a hard encounter. A CR 6 monster has 2,300 XP, and 2 of those would be 4,600 XP. We could fill out an encounter with other creatures to make 5,600 XP. So we’re going to build it as a CR 6 monster.
  4. What Sh*t Makes It Special? (Traits) Dragonspawn are not natural creatures. They are created by dark rituals that infuse a dragon’s egg with the blood of animals or monsters. But 5E doesn’t seem to have subtypes at this point, so we’ll just go with “dragon” as the type. Our Greenspawn Razorfiend should have some of the traits and abilities that green dragons have. All green dragons have the Amphibious trait, which means they can breathe air and water. Let’s give our greenspawn Forest Camouflage, which gives it advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks to hide in forested terrain. We’ll give it Standing Leap also, since both 3E and 4E versions mention its superior jumping ability. Green dragons are treacherous, manipulative, and scheming. Rather than brute force, they prefer to use trickery, seduction, and manipulation to bend the wills of their foes–corrupting them even as their victims are unaware of their corruption. But the greenspawn razorfiend is a fighter. How can we reconcile this?  For attacks, we’ll give it a wingblade attack, a pounce attack, and a breath weapon attack. Now the 3E version has acid breath, and the 4E version has acidic poison spittle. Green dragons in 5E are strictly poison (acid is for black dragons) so the breath weapon is poison damage. But since green dragons are beguiling and manipulative, let’s have the poison breath also bestow a status effect. We’ll call it Beguiling Toxin. It’s a poison cloud, which also bestows a weakening effect that I’m stealing from gold dragons (I don’t understand why metallic dragons get to have one damage breath and one status condition breath–that just seems unsportsmanlike). The attacks will be listed in Actions, and none of the traits we picked have any effect on the CR. So we end up with:
    Amphibious. The greenspawn can breathe air and water.
    Forest Camouflage. The greenspawn gets advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks to hide in forested terrain.
    Standing Leap. The razorfiend’s long jump is up to 20 ft. and its high jump is up to 10 ft., with or without a running start.
  5. What’s the Defensive CR? Now for the hard part. It’s likely to be with some of its friends. So we’ll make it a CR 6 monster. Remember, Defensive CR is HP and AC. CR 6 gives us a proficiency bonus of +3, an AC of 15, and HP of 146-160. This creature is Large, so it uses a d10 for hit dice. It’s going to have a high Constitution, say a +3 bonus. So we’ll use 153 (18d10 + 54) HP. That fits into our range. This monster also has a high Dexterity, also a +3 bonus. With a proficiency bonus of +3, that means its AC is 16 (not 15). But we only bump to a different line in the table if the listed AC varies by 2. So we stick with AC 16.
  6. What’s the Offensive CR? We’ve given this monster three special attacks, right? Wingblade, Pounce, and Beguiling Toxin. Remember, Offensive CR is Attack Bonus and Damage per Round. And if a monster has special attacks that are limited in use, you add up max damage from all attacks over 3 rounds, then take the average. The greenspawn is really strong, so its Strength score gives it a +4 bonus. That means its attack bonus is +7. That’s only 1 higher than the standard attack bonus of a CR 6 monster. For damage per round, we have to add up damage for the wingblade attack, the pounce attack, and the breath weapon attack. For the breath weapon attack,  we assume that at least two people are hit with the attack, so that’s 70 damage for the breath weapon (that’s 35 [10d6] times 2). The Pounce attack includes one claw attack for 13 (2d8+4) damage, and a bite attack for 15 (2d10+4) damage if the target is prone. The wingblade attack is 22 (4d8+4) damage. If we do the math, that means 120 damage over 3 rounds, so the average is 40 damage per round. That’s in the range for a CD 6 monster.
  7. How Does the Special Sh*t Affect Defensive or Offensive CR? Short answer–it doesn’t, because none of our non-attack traits have any effect on CR according to the DMG.
  8. Final Tweaks. We don’t really need any.

Final Result

Okay guys, here’s what we end up with. EDIT 10/17: After getting some feedback, I tweaked the stats in the stat block and revised the text above.


That’s it for today, folks. Have fun with your dragonspawn!




Lost Mine of Phandelver Remix Part 8b: Setting Up Nodes in the Sandbox Section

In my previous article, I said there were 4 nodes in the sandbox section. But there is one more node: Cragmaw Castle. I didn’t include it in the previous article because it’s a destination node. How do I know this? Because Gundren Rockseeker is there. If the PCs go there, they can fulfill one of their objectives (if they accepted Sindar’s quest), and there is information there that will lead them into the next story section. The whole point of this section is for the PCs to find information on two things: where is Cragmaw Castle, and where is Wave Echo Cave.

So we have 4 nodes and we need to set them up using the Three Clue Rule. There need to be clues leading to each other node, as well as
the destination node.

Nodes Clues to Other nodes Optional clues
Agatha and Conyberry Orc corpse has clue to Wyvern Tor; Agatha mentions Necromancer at Old Owl Well; party sees a green Dragon fly over (Ruins of Thundertree). Treasure map leading to another adventure.
Old Owl Well Kost the necromancer wants the orcs at Wyvern Tor removed; he wants to ask a question from Agatha; Most had green Dragon scales, mentions Thundertree. Something that mentions the megadungeon.
Ruins of Thundertree Druid Reidoth knows the location of Cragmaw Castle and Wave Echo Cave; Green Dragon mentions Necromancer at Old Owl Well; Reidoth warns the party about Agatha at Conyberry; party finds letter mentioning Wyvern Tor. Reidoth mentions that the twig blights have moved on from somewhere east of this area; perhaps mentions Guldias the renegade druid.
Wyvern Tor If party defeats the orcs, they find a journal that describes the other nodes and Cragmaw Castle. Something that mentions the orc artifact, or their war plans.

You can see that some of my optional clues are vague. That’s because I don’t have a current group going through this adventure, and since optional clues lead to other adventures and the adventures that I choose depend on the players, I’m keeping it open.

Next time I will look at each location in depth, and show you how to adapt what is written to your particular game.


Monster Monday: And Now for Something Completely Different

I have a lot more ideas for Bile Spider Goblins, but I thought it might be good to have a little variety. So today, we’re converting a 4E monster that hasn’t made it into the Monster Manual, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, or Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. We’re going to convert the Needlefang Drake Swarm. Because what’s more terrifying than a swarm of small bitey things? A swarm of dragoney small bitey things!

To recap our process steps:

  1. What the H*ll Is It For? (Roles)
  2. Who’s Going to Fight This? (PC level)
  3. How Hard Is the Fight? (Encounter Difficulty)
  4. What Sh*t Makes It Special? (Traits)
  5. What’s the Defensive CR? (HP & AC)
    1. Adjusting Defensive CR
  6. What’s the Offensive CR? (Damage Per Round & Attack Bonus)
    1. Adjusting Offensive CR
  7. How Does the Special Sh*t Affect Defensive/Offensive CR? (Adjust CR for Traits)
  8. Final Tweaking

This little doozy is going to be fun. I love swarms, just generally. Because they are simply terrifying. Ever played the video game Dishonored? Swarms of rats in that game can take down a fully grown man, fully armed, in a heartbeat. Then they kill him and devour him in a few minutes. In movies, TV, heck even legend and lore–swarms of little bitey things are universally feared. And rightly so. If swarms of insects or rats isn’t enough to terrify your players…this swarm of tiny drakes might do the trick.

  1. What the H*ll Is It For?  Well that’s tricky. It’s definitely a melee fighter, because it’s a swarm. And it pulls people down, to make it easier for them to attack.
  2. Who’s Going to Fight This? In 4E, this was a level 2 monster. So I’m targeting PCs at level 2.
  3. How Hard Is the Fight? The difficulty of this fight depends on how many of these you throw at them, and whether they are accompanied by other monsters. If the PCs can focus solely on the swarms, it’s probably a medium fight even if there’s more than one. If the swarm is fighting with, say, other drakes or with goblins–that’s going to be hard fight. Maybe even deadly depending on how you build it. But for our purposes today, let’s make it a medium fight with just the swarms. A medium encounter for level 2 PCs is 100 XP per character. So for a party of four PCs, we are looking at 400 XP.
  4. What Sh*t Makes It Special? Here’s where it gets fun. We have to add the Swarm trait, because it’s a swarm (duh).
    Swarm. The swarm can occupy another creature’s space and vice versa, and the swarm can move through any opening large enough for a Tiny drake. The swarm can’t regain hit points or gain temporary hit points.
    Now we’re going to add a fun one.
    Pull Down. Whenever the swarm succeeds on a hit, the target of the swarm must succeed on a DC 13 Strength saving throw or be knocked prone. If the target is prone, the swarm can make a second attack with Swarm of Teeth.
    And we’re going to flavor its attack action too. Instead of the usual Bites action most swarms have, we’re going to call it Swarm of Teeth. The mechanics of the attack will be the same as Bites, though.
  5. What’s the Defensive CR? We’re shooting for a CR of 1/2 total. If we compare our swarm to the swarms listed in the back of the Monster Manual, the swarm of insects is CR 1/2…but instead of 50-70 hp, it has only 22 hp. So we probably want to bring our drake swarm’s hp down a little too. For a CR 1/2 monster the AC is 13. But to go down a level for hp, we need to have the AC at 15. With a proficiency bonus of 2, that leaves 13. We’ll say the drakes’ natural armor gives them an AC of 10. That means we need a Dex bonus of +3 to make AC 15 (AC 10 natural armor, Dex modifier of +3, proficiency bonus of +2). Going to hp, the hp range for the CR 1/4 level is 36-49. We don’t need a Constitution bonus. So we’ll shoot for the low end of 36 hp (8d8).
  6. What’s the Offensive CR? Looking at the table in the Dungeon Master’s Guide (p. 274), the Attack Bonus for a CR 1/2 monster is +3, and the Damage per Round is 6-8. But our swarm is going to try and knock down its target every time it hits. If it knocks down its target, it does twice the damage because it gets a second attack. The swarm of rats does 7 (2d6) damage; the swarm of insects does 10 (4d4) damage. But they don’t knock their target prone. If the swarm does 5 (2d4) damage per attack, then the average over 3 rounds (assuming one knockdown) is about 7. That puts our damage right in the range for a CR 1/2 monster. Our final Attack Bonus is +5, and our Damage per Round is 7…but our attack does 5 (2d4) damage. It does 3 (1d4) damage when the swarm half its hit points or fewer.
  7. How Does the Special Sh*t Affect the Defensive CR and Offensive CR? We actually made allowance for the traits’ effects in step 6, so we don’t need to do anything else here.
  8. Final Tweaking. We don’t need to do any at this point.

So we’re done! I’m sorry this post got out later than normal; I had stuff going on over the last weekend so I wasn’t able to get my post done in time to publish this morning. I hope you guys find a use for this Needlefang Drake Swarm. If you do, let me know in the comments how it worked (or if it didn’t).


Resource Roundup

Hello, and welcome to my newest feature. My plan is to list some of my favorite D&D information resources each Friday. I’m not sure how long this will work, as eventually I might run out of resources to list. But I’ll be posting this on Friday for as long as my resource list lasts.


There are two kinds of D&D/RPG podcasts I listen to: actual-play podcasts, and information podcasts. The first actual-play podcast I started listening to was The Adventure Zone, and it’s still one of my favorites.

As for information podcasts, the DM’s Deep Dive by Mike Shea is a really good one. Mike Shea is known for his Sly Flourish website, and for The Lazy Dungeon Master. Mike also recently released an updated version called Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master.


One blog/website I refer to a lot (and link to in my articles) is Justin Alexander’s The Alexandrian. I’ve particularly gotten a lot out of his Gamemastery 101 articles. He’s been writing stuff about RPGs (not just D&D) for a long time, and his site is chock-full of great information, design techniques, and stories from his games to serve as examples.

YouTube Videos

There are a surprising number of RPG-related YouTube channels out there. They aren’t all to my taste, and the ones I recommend may not be to yours. I encourage you to do a search, try different YouTube content creators, and find the one that speaks to you and the games you run. With that caveat out of the way, here are two I recommend.

Matt Colville – I really like Matt Colville, just in general. I like his presentation style, I like his sense of humor, I like his take on D&D, and I like his general worldview (as he has presented it on his channel, anyway). His Running the Game playlist is something I go back to again and again, because the videos are full of both information and encouragement.

WebDM – These guys are funny, albeit sometimes in an awkward way. But they remind me of people I actually know, and their sense of humor matches mine. On top of that, they provide really useful information, both for GMs and for players. They do a lot of D&D stuff, but also dip into other RPGs such as Numenera, Warhammer Fantasy, Pathfinder and Starfinder. YMMV as to their particular style–but they have a LOT of good content.


Well folks, that’s it for this week. I have a lot of resources still to go, and I do look around for new resources fairly often (and I frequently get recommendations from other RPG folks I know). So hopefully we’ll keep having this Resource Roundup feature for a while to come. Remember to check my blog next week for Monster Monday!

A Brief Interlude about Node-Based Scenarios

So I’ve mentioned Justin Alexander’s website before, The Alexandrian. He has developed an idea called Node-Based Scenario Design. His site has a whole series of articles on it. I’m going to try and summarize the concept, but if you want you can read the whole thing on his site, starting with Node-Based Scenario Design – Part 1: The Plotted Approach. Since we have been talking about the sandbox section of Lost Mine of Phandelver, and since a sandbox can’t be handled in a linear way, I thought introducing the concept of Nodes, along with some of Alexander’s other design ideas, would be helpful to DMs who aren’t sure how to run a sandbox adventure.

The basic principles of Node-Based Scenario design are these:

Identify Nodes

The easiest way to identify nodes is to look at the locations you want your PCs to explore, or the locations you think are most likely for them to explore. I think there are other types of nodes, but this seems the easiest to wrap your head around. And it applies to our problem of the sandbox, too, because we’ve already identified four locations in the sandbox section of Lost Mine of Phandelver.

Seed Clues with the Inverted Three Clue Rule

The Three Clue Rule states: For any conclusion you want the PCs to make, include at least three clues. The reasoning behind this is that with three clues, you have enough redundancy to ensure that the PCs will find and correctly interpret at least one of the clues, preventing a bottleneck and keeping the scenario moving forward.

This logic leads to the Inverted Three Clue Rule: If the PCs have access to ANY three clues, they will reach at least ONE conclusion. 

So if we look at Phandalin as our starting node, we can label the four locations in the sandbox as A, B, C and D. In Phandalin, we have seeds leading to each of those four nodes. Now, we do the following.

  • Node A: Place clues leading to nodes B, C and D.
  • Node B: Place clues leading to A, C and D.
  • Node C: Place clues leading to A, B, and D.
  • Node D: Place clues leading to A, B and C.

Using this approach, you can be sure that the PCs will find some of the clues, and will therefore go to some of the locations in the sandbox. As written, there are also two locations (Thundertree and Conyberry) that can potentially lead to Cragmaw Castle (the end of “The Spider’s Web” section) and Wave Echo Cave (the location for Part 4 of the adventure). You can decide to add that same information to any of the other nodes in the sandbox section, to ensure that the PCs actually know how to get to those two vital story locations.

Prepping the Nodes

So you’ve got four nodes, and you don’t know for sure which nodes your PCs will decide to go to. How do you prepare? In his article “Don’t Prep Plots, Prep Situations,” Alexander lays out the following design principles:

  • Three Clue Rule: For any given problem in an adventure, you need to prep at least one possible solution, and remain open to any other solutions the PCs come up with. But for a chokepoint problem, prep at least three possible routes to success. A chokepoint problem is one that would halt the player’s progress in the scenario.
  • Goal-Oriented Opponents: Instead of trying to predict what your players will do, focus on what the bad guys want to do. This can also apply to NPCs who are not necessarily opponents–determine what the NPC normally does or wants to do. This can be a simple bullet list, or a detailed timeline. It’s up to you and how much time you have or want to spend.
  • Don’t Prep Contingencies: Don’t get caught up in trying to determine what the NPC will do if the PCs get in the way. This is exactly what you are trying to avoid! If you know what the NPC wants or what it normally does, you can respond to the PCs actions in the moment, at the table.
  • Know Your Toolkit: In order to react appropriately to the PCs actions, while you’re at the table, you need to know what you have to work with. What resources does the NPC have, that they can use to respond? Typical tools are: equipment, personnel, locations, and information. This is particularly important for prepping a possible confrontation with a “bad guy”, but can be useful for any NPC that is not already an ally to the PCs. Because any neutral NPC can become an adversary depending on what the NPC is like, and what the PCs choose to say or do. Like any toolbox, you need to know what each tool does. A hammer is used with nails; a screwdriver is used with screws. Figure out what each resource (location, personnel, equipment, information) can do, so if the PCs toss you a “nail” you know you can reach for the “hammer”.


If you use the principles in this article, you can prep each “node” in the sandbox section of Lost Mine of Phandelver in a minimal way. You can be reasonably certain that the players will find the information they need to get to the next part of the story, and reasonably certain they will find whatever other information you seed in those locations (such as clues leading to other locations for future adventures).

Next time, I’ll show you how to use these principles, by setting up those nodes myself.


Monster Monday: Bile Spider Goblin Ratkeeper

Hello again friends! I only have one monster for you today, because I am slowly learning that this process of custom-building monsters is way more time-consuming than I ever anticipate. Even last week’s monsters, which were supposed to just be reskins, took a lot longer than I expected.

So to recap our process steps:

  1. What the H*ll Is It For? (Roles)
  2. Who’s Going to Fight This? (PC level)
  3. How Hard Is the Fight? (Encounter Difficulty)
  4. What Sh*t Makes It Special? (Traits)
  5. What’s the Defensive CR? (HP & AC)
    1. Adjusting Defensive CR
  6. What’s the Offensive CR? (Damage Per Round & Attack Bonus)
    1. Adjusting Offensive CR
  7. How Does the Special Sh*t Affect Defensive/Offensive CR? (Adjust CR for Traits)
  8. Final Tweaking

Goblin Ratkeeper

This one is totally original. In fact, this goblin is so original I couldn’t really find a current 5E equivalent for the traits I wanted to give it. At first I wanted to just give it an aura, but the aura was a rat swarm, and there isn’t really a type of aura close enough to that for me to be able to figure out whether it would work or whether it would break the game. So I switched to a trait where the goblin can summon a rat swarm. Unfortunately there don’t seem to be any monsters in 5E that can summon things (if you know of one that I missed, please let me know in the comments!). So I’m totally in the dark about how powerful this trait will be.

That said, let’s proceed to the build.

  1. What the Hell Is It For? I had to go back to 4E to get the role for this one. The Goblin Ratkeeper is what 4E called a controller. A controller has abilities that control the battlefield–disable enemies, help allies, move things around, create obstacles or obstructions that damage enemies or hinder their movement. While not a magic-user, the ratkeeper can summon rat swarms and help that swarm or other allies when they are nearby. The ratkeeper can also move the swarm around. This seems to fall within the scope of a controller role.
  2. Who’d Going to Fight It? This goblin is designed to be fought by a part of PCs who are level 2-3. It is never alone–it always has other goblins, or rats (giant or dire) fighting with it. Keep that in mind if you use this in your encounters.
  3. How Hard Is the Fight? This is a Medium encounter for level 2-3 PCs. XP threshold for that is 600 (taking into account that there will always be other monsters fighting with the Goblin Ratkeeper). We’re shooting for a CR 1 for the ratkeeper, which is 200 XP. So you would have to add other goblins and rats whose total XP adds up to 400. Keep in mind the action economy, though, and don’t make the group too large. Once PCs get to level 3 they become more powerful and durable, but if outnumbered they can still get into a death spiral pretty easily.
  4. What Sh*t Makes It Special (Traits)? Here’s where it gets interesting. I couldn’t really find an equivalent existing trait for what I wanted to do here, so caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) with these guys. Hopefully I will be able to playtest some of the stuff I’ve created in Monster Monday posts some time soon. Until then, it’s a mystery. If you use any of my monsters, please do comment and let me know what worked and what didn’t.The first trait we are giving our ratkeeper is: Summon the Swarm. Once per encounter, the ratkeeper can take a bonus action to summon a swarm of rats to any unoccupied location within 10 ft. of the ratkeeper.
    Second trait: Ratkeeper’s Medicine. When an ally is adjacent to the ratkeeper, the ally can heal 1d4 hp as a bonus action.
    Special action: Pied Piper. As a bonus action, the ratkeeper can move a summoned rat swarm 5 ft. in any direction without provoking an opportunity attack on the rat swarm.
  5. What’s the Defensive CR? As with the other goblins we’ve made, the HP for a CR 1 creature is too high. So we’re going to go for a Defensive CR 1/2. However the HP for a CR 1/2 is also a little too high for a goblin. So we’re going to bump the AC from 13 to 15, which means we can use the CR 1/4 numbers for HP. We end up with an AC 15 (leather armor, +2 from Dexterity, +2 from a shield) and 38 (11d6) HP.
  6. What’s the Offensive CR? Since we lowered the average Defensive CR to CR 1/2, we have to raise the Offensive CR to CR 2. This means an Attack Bonus of +3 and Damage per Round of 15-20. Like with Defensive CR, we’re going to tweak the numbers a bit. We raise the Attack Bonus to +4, and the Damage per Round becomes 12. This is a combination of the damage from the ratkeeper’s weapon, and damage from the rat swarm the ratkeeper summoned. This assumes that the ratkeeper will summon the rat swarm immediately, attack every round, and make sure that the rat swarm can attack every round. I admit, this is fudged a little bit. When I playtest it, I will come back to this post and edit the stat calculation.
  7. How Does the Special Sh*t Affect Defensive/Offensive CR? The truth is…I don’t know. Since I couldn’t find an equivalent trait or action for the ones I’m giving the ratkeeper, I won’t really know what effect the traits and special attacks have until it is playtested. Again, I will edit this post depending on what I find out.

Here’s what we end up with. Hope you enjoy it!




A Brief Interlude About Railroading and Sandboxing

If you consume much content about D&D or other RPGs, you’ve probably run across discussions (or rants) about railroading and sandboxing. Most sources tend to see the two as opposites, as if you should either do one or the other. The truth is that both approaches have their strengths, and can be useful in different situations.

NOTE: I’d like to point out that there is a difference between railroading and stories that are on rails. Railroading is often used for both, but to me railroading means you force your players to do things the way you want them to. On rails, on the other hand, just means a linear story.

When I started DMing, I wasn’t confident enough to create my own adventures. So I started with published adventures (in the old days we called them modules). Seems simple, right? Just read it, and follow along.

You can maybe guess what I found out. It’s actually not simple at all. Players will always do things you didn’t expect, go in directions that aren’t in the map, avoid fights you meticulously prepped, or find some way to skip to the end while being completely under-leveled for the climactic finale. Well I found this frustrating, to be sure.  I was a theater kid and creative writer in my youth, but it had been a long time, and I didn’t know how to improvise anymore.

Fast forward to last year, when I put together a D&D game for my youngest son and his friends. My kid knew what to do, and had all these cool ideas. But the newbies weren’t sure where to go, or what to do. And then there’s my daughter, who doesn’t even like to play D&D because she gets overwhelmed by too many choices.

So…stories “on rails” are probably better for young players, players who have never played D&D before, or players who are overwhelmed by too many choices. Give them limited choices, and nudge them occasionally by saying “here’s a few things you can do.” Or, you can always have an NPC dramatically burst into the room saying: “You’ve got to help me!”

Now for more experienced and/or older players, you can use a more open-ended approach. But this can lead to other problems. The two biggest are:

  • How can I create a story if I don’t know where they will go, or what they will do?
  • How do I prepare for a session if I don’t know what they will do?

Luckily I’ve managed to find some tips and tricks from other Game Masters with more experience. Here they are.

  • In a sandbox game, the key is to know just a few things about each place the PCs are likely to go, and slightly more things for the places you really want them to go to.
  • Don’t bother writing out lengthy plots. Focus on the Big Bads. Who are they? What do they want? Who do they work for, and who works for them? Which places are they likely to be, and why are they there? Who could take over if the PCs take out the Big Bad?
  • Next, rough out NPCs for most places in your base town or starting location. Don’t write a novel. Keep it simple: Name, job or role in community, what do they know, what do they want, who they are connected to.

You don’t have to spend hours trying to anticipate every possible thing. You won’t be able to predict everything anyway. Have a few notes for each person or place you think is likely for the next session. Then make sure you have some resources for creating things on the fly: Name generator (Donjon is a great online source), some descriptive bits of flavor text, some clues or mysteries, maybe even a published supplement with lairs or other locations you can quickly drop in the players’ path. That’s it. If they go somewhere unexpectedly, call for a ten minute break. Slap a few notes together and run with it. You’ll be fine!

I’ll post a few resources I’ve found handy on Friday, in a new feature I’m calling “Resource Roundup”. Next time it’s back to the Lost Mine of Phandelver, where we will examine the sandbox section of the Starter Set!


Monster Tuesday: Night of the Undead (Bile Spider) Goblins!

My Monster Vault

I unfortunately did not get this up yesterday–life intervened. I seem to have a problem with scope-creep, or just severely miscalculating both how much time the monster creation will take, and how much time I have to work on these posts. I had planned to do some more Bile Spider goblin types, but since I’m already a day late I’m just going to put up some alchemically raised undead. We’re going to do the Alchemical Goblin Zombie and the Alchemical Goblin Skeleton. As with last week’s entry, I will post the basic stats when I initially publish, but fancy stat blocks will be added later (because none of the methods I have for creating them are easy or fast). So check back to get those.

So in looking around the web, I found a great guide on Crit for Brains that lays out how to turn any monster into a zombie. I’m using their method/template. We’ll use a similar process to create the skeleton.

Traits all Zombies Have

All zombies in 5E have the following traits:

  • Undead Fortitude: If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead.
  • Immunities: Zombies are immune to poison and the poisoned condition.
  • Darkvision: Zombies have darkvision to 60 ft.
  • Languages: Can’t speak, but understands the languages it knew in life.

Adjust Abilities and Other Stats

  • Strength: Stays the same.
  • Dexterity: Lower by 25 percent.
  • Constitution: Lower by 1.
  • Intelligence: All zombies have an Intelligence of 3.
  • Wisdom: Lower by 40 percent.
  • Charisma: All zombies have a Charisma of 5.
  • Armor class: Zombies are slow and their armor is decaying or incomplete. (If they have natural armor, it’s rotting right off.) Decrease the monster’s AC by 3.
  • Hit points: Drop the monster’s hit die type by one level (d12 to d10, for example), and recalculate using your zombie’s new Constitution bonus.

Add New Traits or Abilities

The original Crit for Brains article lists a lot of fun traits and special attacks that have a survival-horror or zombie-movie flavor. But we’re doing a specific type of zombie here, so I’m not going to use most of those. You can check their article if you want to make more fun zombies, such as for a special Halloween one-shot or something.

Based on the original article on which our Bile Spider goblins are based (“Alchemically Unbalanced,” Dragon #364), we can make our alchemical undead glow a sickly green color. We can also add the acid or poison damage type to their attacks.

Putting the Zombie Together

Okay so we have to start with our vanilla goblin stats. Then we’re going to apply the stuff in the previous sections.

  • Armor class: 13
  • Hit points: 2d6
  • Challenge: 1/4 (50 XP)
  • Strength: 8
  • Dexterity: 11
  • Constitution: 9
  • Intelligence: 3
  • Wisdom: 4
  • Charisma: 5
  • Senses: Darkvision 60 ft.
  • Damage vulnerabilities: fire (I added this because it seems logical)
  • Damage Immunities: poison
  • Condition Immunities: poisoned
  • Traits: Undead Fortitude: If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead.
  • Traits: Death Burst. When the zombie dies, it explodes in a burst of guts and decay. Each creature within 10 feet of it must make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw, taking 2d6 poison damage and receiving the poisoned condition for two rounds on a failed save, OR half as much damage on successful save.
  • Actions: Slam. Melee weapon attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6+1) bludgeoning damage.

And Now the Skeleton

Okay so we have an example process for the zombie, so we’ll try to follow a similar process for the skeleton.

  • Armor class: 13
  • Hit points: 2d6+4
  • Challenge: 1/4 (50 XP)
  • Strength: 8
  • Dexterity: 14
  • Constitution: 14
  • Intelligence: 6
  • Wisdom: 8
  • Charisma: 4
  • Senses: Darkvision 60 ft.
  • Damage vulnerabilities: bludgeoning
  • Damage immunities: poison
  • Condition immunities: poison, exhaustion
  • Traits: Alchemical Fog. When the skeleton is reduced to 0 hp, it crumbles, releasing a cloud of poisonous vapors from its remains. PCs within 5 ft. must make a DC 12 Constitution saving throw, taking 1d6 damage and poisoned condition on a fail, or half damage and no condition on success.
  • Actions: Rusty Shortsword. Melee weapon attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6+1) piercing damage.

Here’s your stat blocks. The Magic Set Editor thing is so far the easiest way to get stat blocks; it’s not identical to the Monster Manual but it’s close enough. The other ones are either painfully time-consuming or I can’t get them to work at all.

AlchemicalGoblinZombie AlchemicalGoblinSkeleton

Okay guys, that’s it for this week. I’ll try to give you a few more next week, and get it up on time!

Monster Monday: Bile Spider Goblins for Level 2 PCs

My Monster Vault

Okay for our first Monster Monday, I’m going to create some more Bile Spider Goblins. This time I’m going to create some for Level 2 PCs to fight. Next week I’ll work on some slightly more interesting gobbos, and do some alchemically raised zombies and skeletons.

Here’s what we’re creating today:

  • Goblin Sharpshooter
  • Goblin Warrior

As a reminder, here are the steps for building a 5E monster:

  1. What the H*ll Is It For? (Roles)
  2. Who’s Going to Fight This? (PC level)
  3. How Hard Is the Fight? (Encounter Difficulty)
  4. What Sh*t Makes It Special? (Traits)
  5. What’s the Defensive CR? (HP & AC)
    1. Adjusting Defensive CR
  6. What’s the Offensive CR? (Damage Per Round & Attack Bonus)
    1. Adjusting Offensive CR
  7. How Does the Special Sh*t Affect Defensive/Offensive CR? (Adjust CR for Traits)
  8. Final Tweaking

Goblin Sharpshooter and Goblin Warrior

Okay so these two are just slightly tougher versions of the Goblin Slinger and Goblin Cutter we created in Lost Mine of Phandelver Remix Part 7b: The Bile Spider Tribe (An Exercise in Monster Building). So here we go.

  1. The Goblin Warrior is a melee fighter, the Goblin Sharpshooter is a ranged fighter. They are designed to fight in groups of 3-5 goblins. They may have other types of goblins, or other creatures, fighting with them.
  2. These monsters will mostly fight PCs of Level 2.
  3. These encounters are designed to be Medium to Hard difficulty. This gives us a XP threshold of 600-900 XP. This may be problematic, as I want these goblins to be CR 1/2, and that would only give us around 400 XP. I could have an encounter with 6 CR 1/2 creatures, but for a party of 4 characters that would be harder than Medium because of the party being outnumbered. But here’s where the encounter multiplier rule on page 82 of the DMG can be our friend. It says that the multiplier for groups of 3-6 monsters is 2. So if we divide our XP threshold by 2, we get 300-450 XP. And 4 CR 1/2 monsters is 400 XP, so that fits into the range we are looking for. TLDR: We’re looking at CR 1/2.
  4. We’re going to give these two slightly different traits than we gave the Goblin Cutter and Goblin Slinger. The specialty of the Goblin Sharpshooter is mobile ranged attacks–it can move and shoot. So for the Goblin Sharpshooter, I’m going to make up a trait called Nimble Archer.

    Nimble Archer: The sharpshooter always uses Nimble Escape to Disengage. When possible, the sharpshooter will split up its move–it will move, attack, Disengage, and then move the rest of its speed.

    The specialty of the Goblin Warrior is to run interference for the Goblin Sharpshooter. It’s more of a defender type. So for the Goblin Warrior, I’m going to make up a trait called Nimble Defender. I’m also going to create a special defender trait called Protection.

    Nimble Defender: The warrior always uses Nimble Escape to Disengage. When an ally of the warrior is attacked, it will attempt to use Nimble Escape to disengage its current combatant, and move to defend its ally.
    Protection. When a creature the warrior can see attacks a target other than the warrior that is within 5 ft. of the warrior, the warrior can use its reaction to impose disadvantage on the attack roll.

  5. For defensive CR 1/2, the base stats are AC 13, HP 50-70. That’s a lot of HP. If you recall, when we made the Cutter and Slinger, we decided we needed to make the defensive CR lower, so we could give them lower HP. As a result, we had to raise the offensive CR in step 6. It looks like we may need to do that here, too. So for defensive CR 1/4, the base stats are AC 13, HP 36-49. The Warrior and Sharpshooter are different enough I’ll have to do the adjustments for each separately.
    1. The Goblin Warrior is going to have better armor, so we’ll say it has regular leather armor for AC 11. Plus, it’s a defender so it’s going to have a shield which gives it +2 to AC, for a total of AC 13. Then it’s got a Dexterity bonus of +2, which gives it a total of AC 15. As a defender, he’s going to have more HP than the usual goblin. We going to give the Goblin Warrior 32 (7d6 +7) HP.
    2. The Goblin Sharpshooter can’t use a shield. So to get it to AC 15, we’re going to give it studded leather armor (AC 12), and make its Dexterity bonus +3, for a total of AC 15. It’s HP is somewhat lower than the Warrior’s, so we’ll give it 22 (5d6 +5) HP.
  6. Since we lowered the defensive CR to 1/4, we have to raise the offensive CR to 1. Again we’ll have to fiddle with this a little. We already know that the Goblin Warrior has a Dexterity bonus of +2, and the Goblin Sharpshooter has a Dexterity bonus of +3. Goblins are Small creatures, so their attack bonuses usually use Dexterity rather than Strength. Again, I’ll do the adjustments for each one separately.
    1. Goblin Warrior uses a shortsword, which is a d6 weapon. The warrior’s attack bonus is +4 rather than +5, so normally we wouldn’t be able to go down to the CR 1/2 damage line. But I can’t figure out how to make a small creature with a small weapon to do 9 damage without Multiattack, which seems ridiculous for something that Level 2 PCs are going to fight. 1d6 + 2 is around 6 (rounding up), which fits CR 1/2. So we’re good there. Damage is 6 (1d6+2).
    2. Goblin Sharpshooter uses a shortbow, which is a d6 weapon. The sharpshooter’s attack bonus is +5, so we can definitely use the CR 1/2 damage line. 1d6 + 3 is around 6 (rounding down), which fits CR 1/2. Damage is 6 (1d6+3).
  7. Okay this has taken WAY longer to figure out than I anticipated. I had planned to add some really cool alchemical attacks but if I’m going to get this out on time, I’ll have to skip it for now and add it in later. So with the traits I’ve already mentioned, there is no use of Hide when the goblins use Nimble Escape, so I don’t think there is any particular effect.

EDIT: Here are the stat blocks for the goblins we made in this week’s Monster Monday: