D&D 5E [Let's Read] 5e Minigame and Subsystem Sourcebooks

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Hello everyone, and welcome to my next Let’s Read project! After covering Keep of the Kobold Queen I found that doing shorter sourcebooks was easier on my schedule and energy levels than the larger tomes I usually cover. But I also want to stick with a longer-format series of sorts that won’t leave people hanging in case I have to bow out midway.

Thus I decided to dedicate my next few reviews to mini-game and sub-system sourcebooks. For the purposes of these reviews, these include “game within a game” activities with some element of risk or loss such as Three-Dragon Ante, while sub-systems can include things such as new ways to use Ravenloft’s Tarokka Deck to generate characters and plots. In short, these sourcebooks include new material that may or may not incorporate the classic dungeon-crawling elements of D&D, but are a bit more involved than “roll opposing skill checks.” Like with Lair of the Kobold Queen, I will be prioritizing smaller and lesser-known products when I can, but may review some popular pieces if I feel that I can add commentary that hasn’t been covered before.
 

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The first product we’re covering is a dice and card game commonly played in taverns across Faerûn that simulates fantasy monsters fighting each other. The game itself is pretty simple, with the bulk of the product containing illustrated printable cards with pictures of monsters using official D&D artwork.

This is covered in the product preview above, but the rules are a mixture of luck and tactical deployment of the cards. To paraphrase, each player has a “stack” of coins to bet during play, with an ante pile known as the “stakes.” Cards are drawn with numbers rated from 1 to 3, indicating the monster’s level of power. Each player places a card face down, flipping over all of them once the final player plays their card. Every player rolls a number of six-sided dice equal to their card’s rating. The highest result wins, with ties being rerolled. The winning player chooses one other player as the “loser,” who must then ante up a coin into the stakes as well as discard their losing card, and the rest of the players return their own cards to their hands. Further rounds continue until a player runs out of cards, at which point the remaining players add up the value of the cards in their hands. The player with the highest number wins the game, claiming all of the coins in the stakes. Ties are resolved by rolling the dice of the strongest card’s value.

So in short, Arena encourages a conservative play-style: one could play 2 and 3 rated cards to maximize the probability of winning a round, although losing them can lower the chances of winning the game at the end. As a rating 2 card averages a 7 on a 2d6, it’s a pretty big upgrade from a rating 1 card, with a rating 3 card almost guaranteed to win against a rating 1. Additionally, while a loser’s loss of coin and card is significant, the revealing of the cards they have (which are then returned in the case of non-losers) allows players to count the cards of others.

Thoughts: The rules look fine and functional at first glance, and the combination of card-play with dice seems like a good mixture of the tactical use of the former with the randomness of the latter. The use of monster illustrations can be easily repurposed to mix and match whatever monsters the DM wants if they aren’t sufficiently satisfied with the product’s choices. The sample monsters in Arena are a bit obscure, leaning more towards options such as Ibixian (goatfolk), Death Giant, Naga, and the like rather than more “common” monsters you’d expect the average fantasy townsfolk to know of or recognize.
 

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For the Millennial and older gamers out there, do you remember the days when Ocarina of Time was the hottest game on the Nintendo 64? When it was the first in the series to expand Link’s adventures to a whole new world of three dimensions? The time that you galloped across Hyrule Field on your trusty steed, the time you bombed a seemingly-ordinary rock for fun only to discover a hole leading down into a treacherous cavern? The intense controller-rattling you did at the Fishing Pond from reeling in the 13-pounder so you could get a Gold Scale, and thus that final Piece of Heart in the Lakeside Laboratory?

Sorry, did I bring back some less-than-fond memories? Well here’s hoping that this supplement will provide an equally-rewarding yet less frustrating experience to the arts of minigame fishing! The DM’s Guide to Fishing expands this age-old practice into a sub-system of its own, complete with lists of both real-world and fantasy aquatic creatures that can be caught this way…including a few that can bestow supernatural effects upon the fisher!

The rules themselves are simple: fishing equipment is separated by rod, tackle, and bait, with some suggestions on how the DM can personalize this gear depending on the needs of the campaign. For example, some fish may not find worms tasty and require more exotic bait, magical fishing rods can grant a +1 to +3 bonus to Athletics checks for reeling in fish, and nymph’s hair if willingly given and used as bait guarantees the luring of a rare fish (catching it is another matter). A new tool proficiency option is given in the form of Fishing. Those with it can add double their proficiency bonus to relevant skill checks made while fishing, and once per day can recall old techniques and prior memories to gain advantage on a single check for fishing purposes.

Fish and aquatic creatures can be identified via successful Nature checks, although some species have lesser-known traits which can only be learned by succeeding on the check by 5 or more. Fishing takes an indeterminate amount of time to lure in a fish with bait (determined by the DM), and players roll a d100 on an appropriate Fishing Table to determine what creature they get on the line. Opposed Athletics checks are called between the fish and fisher. Failure by 5 or more on the fisher’s part can end up losing or damaging equipment, with the entire rod snapping apart on a failure of 15 or more!

We have eleven d100 tables for determining caught fish, including one General table and 10 region-specific ones which includes more fantasy-flavored options such as Planar. Every fish or aquatic creature is given a Size category and Strength modifier, along with physical descriptions and special traits where noted. The less-common results on the tables often give fish with some unique feature: for example, a lucky fisher may snatch a valuable Jewelfish with gems growing in its flesh, but woe to the angler who snags the fanged Viperfish which can deliver a nasty bite attack! Some fish have rather interesting rewards, such as a Rootfish which if planted in soil can guarantee a successful harvest for the year, or the Toothfish with a mouthful of human teeth which small fey crave and can make a useful bargaining chip when dealing with them.

Thoughts: The DM’s Guide to Fishing is short but sweet, being overall simplistic yet having just the right amount of complexity for what will likely be a casual minigame adventuring parties may indulge in every once in a while. I do like how it makes fishing capable of providing rewards in and of itself via certain rare fish rather than leaving that up to DM Fiat with in-universe fishing tournaments or the like. The more fantastical fish are a nice touch, even the ones who don’t have rewards, as they can nicely reflect how certain magic and terrain can influence the native life in strange and wondrous ways.
 

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When it comes to the Ravenloft setting, the Tarokka Deck is perhaps as iconic as Strahd Von Zarovich himself. It plays a prominent role in each of the classic modules featuring the vampire count, from the original I6 to the current Curse of Strahd. By determining major factors of the adventure from the allies the PCs can recruit to the placement of important items in the module, it adds a sort of randomness to the composition of the castlecrawl.*

*Like a dungeoncrawl, but in a castle!

And yet, this method of plot generation hasn’t seen much use for more general-purpose adventures in the Land of Mists or other settings. Madam Eva’s Tarokka Deck of Friends, Foes, and Fortunes expands this concept into procedurally-generated short adventures. The NPCs and plots make specific references to elements in the Curse of Strahd modules, although many of them are generic enough to be repurposed for other adventures. There are 40 unique NPCs in this book, each corresponding to a “common” card of the Tarokka deck, whose role in the story can differ depending on whether the cards mark them as friend, foe, or quest-giver.

Basically, the DM separates the Tarokka Deck into a Common Deck of suites (hearts/glyphs, diamonds/coins, etc) and a High Deck of major cards (jack, queen, king, and joker cards). Between gaming sessions the DM draws three cards from the Common Deck in unconventional orders. The results will generate one NPC who plays a role in the Objective (patron, quest-giver, etc), another as a Friend to serve as their ally, and a final card as a Foe to hinder the party’s progress. The High Deck is typically drawn from zero to three times and provides optional setbacks, twists, and overall complications to the plot and which modify one of the Common Deck NPCs.

As the book’s entire contents can be accessed via the preview option on the Guild page and detailing every character would be beyond the scope of this review, I’ll instead cover the cards in broad strokes while highlighting some of the more interesting results.

The High Deck cards are not meant to provide results on their own so much as add something to an NPC that is not part of their default entry. The results are rather open-ended in what they can do, although some have more specific effects such as particular monsters. Some of the more interesting results include Dark Lord (the NPC is secretly in service to Strahd or an appropriate Dark Lord), Ghost (the NPC is an undead but is unaware of their state or how they came to be so, along with a list of small enhancements to a stat block), Innocent (the NPC has good intentions for their goals in this particular adventure, even if they overall aren’t good-aligned), and Mists (the Mists gradually close in on the PCs during their mission, spawning monsters if they tarry for too long or are slow in their progress).

One particular result, the Artifact, makes the NPC be in possession of a powerful artifact, with a list of existing suggested ones as well as a new one: Madam Eva’s Tarokka Deck. This particular deck is actually of legendary rarity rather than being an artifact proper, and is drawn from like the Deck of Many Things save that the results are one of the 14 High Deck cards. The results vary from beneficial to deleterious, and some of them are pretty cool. Darklord for example, has the card-drawer gain a temporary audience with Strahd in a conjured demiplane where he is obligated to answer a question or perform a favor that won’t be harmful to him.

The Cards of Swords are themed around those driven to fight and otherwise pursue a life of violence. They include such figures as Arlenna Naskovna the militia woman-turned-werewolf; the lumberjack Theodosia Hezekiah who finds herself barely in control to a building anger that seems to lie in wait like an opportunistic monster; an undead vigilante known as the Hood who believes that adventurers are a plague on Barovia whose quests and activities bring collateral damage to innocent villagers; and a cursed warrior known as They of Battle forced to serve as the embodiment of war and is enthralled to their hellspawned nightmare mount.

The Cards of Stars are those people who are touched in some way by magic, even if they themselves do not wield the arts of spellcasting. They include the four-armed drow Eve “Four-Hands” Heron who finds her new life as a hedge witch in Barova preferable to the unspoken horrors of the Underdark; the tiefling Magdalene Zajic who believes that a dread entity lurks in one of Barovia’s lakes and gathered a group of followers to worship and protect it; and the doppelganger Prosopon whose discovery of souls being trapped in Barovia drove them insane, and thus seeks to “free” these unfortunate people by taking on as much of a victim’s identity before killing them.

The Cards of Coins are those who engage in trade, artisanship, and the various tasks necessary for the maintenance and upkeep of feudal fantasy living. They include the swashbuckling skeptic Melusine Ember who doesn’t believe in monsters and believes them to be trickery and superstition with the culprit being human evil instead; the skilled thief Indra Sejdrescu who is in indentured servitude to a nobleman for being caught in the act; the conflicted and semi-corrupted tax collector Henly Beumont who earnestly seeks to use funds to improve the lot of Barovia’s commoners but finds the accumulated wealth too tempting not to indulge in; and the Scroogelike Drisden Von Polvinch who forged a pact with the Dark Powers for wealth and luxury, but found himself eternally haunted by three warring ghosts who all seek to use him for their own ends.

The Cards of Glyphs detail those who don’t fit anywhere else or who otherwise have unique magical features. They include the gnomish shepherd Omolara who discovered the secret to herding a huge clowder of cats and hires themselves out to villages as a ratcatcher; the firbolg revolutionary Szandor Zadijic who sought to overthrow Strahd only to end up shackled in the middle of a village to starve to death as a witness lesson to all who follow in his footsteps; and the vampire priest Athan Caltvic who pretends to be a redeemed monster in service to the Morninglord but still feeds on blood via the use of medical leeches.

All of these NPCs have roughly 1 to 1.25 pages devoted to their backstory, personality traits, and overviews for Objective adventures, the assistance they can provide as a Friend, and why they’d oppose the PCs as a Foe. The potential adventures can provide a lot of variety and inspiration for a DM. For example, let’s do a randomly-generated reading right now:

We draw the 3 of Stars, ending up with the half-elf enchanter Aelwen as the Objective, the 2 of Swords for the paladin Sir Reginold Dawnbreak as the Friend, and the Master of Coins for Luciel Menze as our Foe. And just to make things interesting, we’ll draw a High Deck card for the Friend: the Executioner.

So from these results, Aelwen tries to sell some potions to the party in the village of Vallaki, and then confiding that her pet pig Henry can answer questions in the form of prophecies via causing temperature fluctuations in water (steam for yes, iced over for no, undisturbed if unclear). She uses a free demonstration to prove its foresight, and requests the party to escort her and Henry to the Wizard of Wines for safety in fear that Strahd’s minions will use the pig for foul ends.

Our good friend Sir Reginold Dawnbreak is a traveling paladin and servant of the Morninglord, who is impulsive and is more at home in solving straightforward problems like smiting undead rather than more morally complicated scenarios. Aelwen’s task isn’t exactly his strong suit, but it would be beneath him to let such a potent tool fall into the hands of evil.

Our foe is Luciel Menze, a local guide who specializes in learning and selling the secrets of the rich due to his family being ruined at the hands of the Wachter family of Vallaki…or so his story goes. A pig which can predict the future would be a massive asset to Menze’s operations, so it’s no question that he’d try to claim the swine for himself. It’s nothing personal, merely business.

As for Sir Reginold Dawnbreak, the Executioner indicates that death’s door lurks close to him, either due to a desire to slay someone or to be slain themselves. Perhaps he’s become victim to a necrotic disease eating away at his body, or must find and slay a particular monster before it can complete a ritual to destroy an innocent soul. So a powerful divination spell can point him in the right direction for a rescue or cure, which will make him eager to get Henry to safety in Vallaki so that the animal can perform its work without the threat of sabotage.

All this took was the drawing of four cards and a few minutes of thought in linking the NPCs together.

Thoughts: Madam Eva’s Tarokka Deck of Friends, Foes, and Fortunes is a short yet indispensably useful addition to coming up with short quests on the fly. It can be adopted for non-Ravenloft campaigns with minimal tweaking (although still hews closely to horror and dark fantasy), and many of the NPCs can be useful characters for adventure ideas on their own outside of the quest-generating card system.
 

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In the real world, people have found excuses to try and eat virtually every living species on this planet. So what would happen in a fantasy world with a much more diverse array of creatures? Furthermore, what if consuming certain monsters could instill the gourmand with special Benefits and Downsides?

The Monster Menu is a product which sets out to answer that question, providing new rules for the cooking and eating of monster parts as a special type of consumable item. The book is short yet thorough, being 23 pages of content with over 100 unique entrees. The basic rules are simple: preparing the edibles of a harvested monster is done during a short rest, and the cook must be proficient with cook’s utensils and rolls against a DC determined by the entree in question. Others can aid the cook and grant advantage if they too have the same tool proficiency or are proficient in an appropriate knowledge-related skill pertaining to the monster. Every entree has a Benefit and Downside as a consequence of eating, where failing the check grants the Downside, success by 5 or more only the Benefit, and succeeding by less than 5 both. Monster food spoils after 24 hours and grants the poisoned condition to those who eat it (with neither Benefit nor Downside unless other noted) unless they’re preserved with Survival. Rangers have advantage on all such knowledge checks for the purposes of cooking monsters. Every entree also provides Servings, indicating how many people can gain the benefits of partaking in the meal.

The entrees are diverse, and generally speaking the higher CR monsters have more longer-lasting and/or significant effects as well as italicized flavor text explaining how the meal is prepared and what it tastes like. Some of the more interesting entrees include Beholder Nerve Pasta (immune to all magic for 24 hours as Benefit or inflicting a random eye on yourself or someone you see as a Downside), Chimera Tongue Buffet where each tongue is its own serving (fire resistance/advantage vs frighten condition/advantage on Constitution saves as Benefits, or disadvantage on Persuasion checks for 24 hours as a Downside), Steamed Ettercap (can know exact location of any other creature in contact with a touched web/rope for 7 days as a Benefit, but leaving obvious wiry webbing trailing behind you for 7 days as a Downside), Stuffed Harpy Lung (advantage on verbal Performance checks for a month and advantage on Charisma saves for 3 days as a Benefit but compelled to hum at normal volume once during the next 30 days at the DM’s choosing as a Downside), and Hydra Tongues (Regain 10 HP for 8 hours as long as you have at least 1 HP as a Benefit, but suffer 3 levels of exhaustion that can only be removed by eating 3 full meals as a Downside). Even the Tarrasque has edible bits, with the Tarrasque Syrup being taken from the crystalline secretion beneath its carapace, granting the monster’s magical reflection qualities for 7 days as a Benefit, but causing one to be targeted by an Earthquake spell once during the DM’s choosing within the next 30 days as a Downside.

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Some monster Benefits and Downsides are less immediately useful in play, or only useful in certain scenarios. For example, the Fruit from a dying Treant adds one year to a consumer’s natural lifespan as a Benefit, but for a year any Druid or Ranger of 5th level or higher can smell the fruit on the consumer’s breath and know what it’s from as a Downside. Medusa Hair Teeth grants advantage on saves vs gaze and visual-based spells and trap triggers as a permanent Benefit, but a permanent Downside is that you take 1d6 poison damage every time you finish a long rest. Troll Appendix Jelly is perhaps the most broadly-useful and powerful meal for a monster of its CR: the Benefit is an 8 hour long regeneration of 10 hit points at the start of each of the consumer’s turns, with a Downside of becoming Vulnerable to fire and acid damage for the same duration and losing that same regeneration when taking that damage until the end of their next turn. This can effectively restore most characters to full hit points between fights and obviate the need for spending Hit Dice on short rests. Water Weird Nuclei Pie grants advantage on saves against a variety of conditions for 8 hours as its Benefit, but its Downside can quickly make a character die of thirst unless they drink a glass worth of water every 10 minutes for the next 8 hours or gain a level of exhaustion. Hope your party’s near a bountiful source of freshwater when eating this meal!

A few broader monster types have some “universal” rules added on top of the individual entrees. Demons can randomly grant only Benefits or Downsides on a high or low enough roll of an unmodified d20, Devils grant 120 foot darkvision that can see thru magical darkness but also binds the consumers to the devil in charge of the eaten devil in the infernal hierarchy for the duration of the Downsides, while Hags turn into candy-like treats that never spoil but all share the same Downside of if you die within 7 days of eating the treat then you can never be resurrected. Slaadi, being a race that reproduces via parasitism, are unique in that they grant no benefits while eating, only Downsides.

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“Dessert” covers the miscellaneous details that don’t fit in the main section of this rulebook. We have four new culinary-themed magic items which even have sample prices in gold pieces for those campaigns where buying magic items isn’t an impossibility. They include Residuum Salt which can preserve monster flesh for far longer before it spoils, a Darkwood Smokebox which can double the duration of Benefits and charges from said Benefits, a Good Platter which makes one immune to the Downsides of consumed monsters but can only be recharged when hand-washed by a parent during a short or long rest (“just like Mama used to make”), and the Tasteful Weapon property for melee weapons can grant the Benefits of eating a monster when striking it in melee and if it fails a Constitution save albeit with a shorter duration.

We also have five Variant Rules, which are mostly small variations on gameplay changes. Such as applying both Benefits and Downsides simultaneously if rolling dice every rest feels too cumbersome, or using monster meals as poison via a Poisoner's Kit or Medicine check by disguising them as a normal meal. The Design Postmortem is a half-page detail on the inspirations and design process that went into making the Monster Menu. Nethack and Delicious in Dungeon were the primary inspirations, and for making the various Benefits and Downsides the author consulted the stat blocks of monsters to come up with something close to their inherent abilities. In cases where a mechanic couldn’t be as easily ascertained, ones were created based on the monster’s personality or habitat.

Thoughts: The Monster Menu is a pretty cool concept, and I’m strongly reminded of Final Fantasy XV’s food-based system of long-duration party buffs. Virtually every entree has some ability or implied effect that strongly meshes with the monster of its creation, even if the effect isn’t hewn straight from its stat block.

I also like this book because it gives benefits to two under-served concepts in 5th Edition: tool proficiencies and the Ranger class. Much like the DM’s Guide to Fishing, I’m fond of subsystems which grant direct in-game benefits for what is in the core rules a mostly-flavor option.
 

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Glittergold’s Clockwork Combat is an adventure and minigame all in one, but with a twist. Written with charity livestreams in mind, certain aspects of the adventure can be influenced based on audience votes and donations. It’s not for any particular charity nor does it give specific donation tiers, so what it provides are more guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. Taking strong inspiration from the Robot Wars and Battlebots shows, Glittergold’s Clockwork Combat has the PCs visit a gnomish festival where they compete in a Clockwork Combat Championship. Here they design their own gnomish constructs to fight against other contestant’s creations. The adventure is designed for parties of all levels, as the challenges and encounters don’t require powerful magic or esoteric abilities and are more or less non-lethal save for one exception.

On the 13th of each month it is common for gnomes to celebrate the Communion of Laughter, a holiday of whimsy, pranks, and gift-giving to honor Garl Glittergold. Located in an underground community lit with magical lights, the PCs have the opportunity to check out the prized creations of gnomish magical technology, which for the holiday are all coin-operated with the proceeds donated to charitable causes. There’s a rival adventuring party of two gnomes and a halfling known as the Fun Size Squad who act as the PCs’ foil, and their first introduction has one member drunk to unconsciousness, another declaring how unimpressed they are with the PCs’ combat prowess, and a third pretending to fire arrows at them which intentionally miss only to get called out by her other conscious partner on good pranks not being harmful.

It doesn’t take long for the Fun Size Squad to earn a negative second impression, with one of them feeding hundreds of gold coins into a pie-making machine. This causes the machine to malfunction and start summoning mephits made out of whipped cream. The monsters’ attacks are all harmless, although the machine will explode in 3 rounds unless the PCs disable it. Audience participating in a livestream can make donations to have the mephits choose who to attack, which in real life has that player be sprayed with a can of whipped cream by another player.

The next event gives some foreshadowing of the combat construction tournament by showing gnomish children having clockwork toys fight each other. One of the festival’s tour guides explains to the party a rumor of how this very cave is believed to be the one where Glittergold trapped Kurtulmak via collapsing an entire mountain on the kobold god. Changing her tone to a more suspenseful one, she mentions that kobold agents are believed to be infiltrating the Communion, at which point one of the Fun Size Squad members casts a Seeming spell to make the PCs appear as kobolds as a prank.

At this point the PCs learn about the amateur competition of the Clockwork Combat Championship, where a local tinker by the name of Emett Bobbinoggin seeks to sponsor the PCs for the competition. The party must pay 100 GP per contestant, but in exchange Emett can give them each a clockwork construct of their own after the Championship ends. This is on top of the Belt of Gnome Giant Strength the winners get; it sets your Strength score to 10 when worn. One of the Fun Size Squad members will attempt to raise the stakes by betting one of their magic items against a PC’s in exchange for their most powerful one; the Squad member’s magic item is determined by the DM, but it should have an inconvenient side effect and unsuitable for the PCs’ current Tier.

Now this is the meat of the adventure and the big minigame for this product where each PC designs their own construct at the Build-A-Bot Workshop. Combat bots are treated as creatures for combat purposes, are remote-controlled, and for the simplicity of this minigame don’t have ability scores, are immune to all conditions, have a preset +3 attack bonus, have a Shover Bumper melee attack which can push a target 10 feet away and deal damage to the target if pushed into another combat bot or hazard, and adds the controller’s Intelligence modifier to damage with their weapons if they’re proficient in tinker’s tools. PCs can customize their bots via Build points of which they have 10 to be spent on the four main features: the Body (determines AC), Material (determines HP), Wheels (determines land speed and initiative), and Weapons (determines damage die and type). One Bonus Part may be added to a bot for free, and there are four options such as a ranged steam blast attack or a roto anchor which can make the Weapon hit multiple adjacent targets.

There are 2 example stat blocks for prebuilt Combat Bots, and the adventure suggests that players build their bots before the session begins rather than during it. We also have a character sheet at the end of the book for designing a Combat Bot. The Fun Size Squad uses the same rules for building, save that they’re cheating and build theirs with 12 points. They use illusion magic to hide these features before the Championship, taking advantage of a loophole that once a game starts it cannot be called off. The crowd doesn’t like this, and boos them and cheers more for the PCs.

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The contest takes place in an Arena which has its own map with various Hazards. Hazards are features of the terrain which can cause various types of automatic damage and negative effects for those within their Areas of Effect, such as slashing saw blades, acid puddles, an electromagnet which halves movement speed away from it, and a Compactor which has a chance of slamming down and reducing any non-destroyed bots to 1 HP. The audience can make donations to help the PCs, such as granting a one-round +5 to AC or temporary hit points, the placement of healing potions around the arena which can work on constructs, and so on.

The adventure’s conclusion has Emett give each PC a clockwork device that acts as the tinker gnome subrace’s ability save with a month-long duration, as well as Goggles of Minute Seeing on the PC who dealt the killing blow to the combat bot of one of the Fun Size Squad members he has a bone to pick with. The Fun Size Squad will finally respect the PCs for their performance in the Championship, and offer a Small-sized PC the chance to join their party should one of the Squad’s own members retire (via death and staying dead), while gnomish PCs will be offered to do volunteer work with the priesthood of Garl Glittergold for future festivals and charities.

Thoughts: I haven’t had the chance to playtest this adventure, but from my initial reading the Combat Robot aspect looks pretty cool. It’s simpler than typical D&D combat, although given the adventure’s one-off nature that is for the best. It also makes use of rules players are already familiar with as opposed to learning everything anew, which is another point in its favor. I also like the calls for the audience making subtle alterations to encounters via donations; I don’t know if this adventure was ever used for a livestream or not, but if it was I’d be interested in seeing how it went.

I do have three points of contention for the module: the exploding pie machine is treated as a fireball, and given its potentially fatal effects can set a rather grim mood for what is otherwise a silly low-stakes one-off. Secondly the betting of magic items can leave a sore spot given the permanency of its loss if the PCs don’t win the Championship. Thirdly, while the adventure notes the Fun Size Squad using illusion magic to cheat, it doesn’t make any mention of what happens if the PCs try to do what’s fair in love and war and bend the rules themselves. Or call them out if they manage to discover their trickery.

But otherwise, Glittergold’s Clockwork Combat rates overall positive and is a refreshingly different change of pace from most modules.
 

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Fictional sports are a pretty old concept,dating back to chivalric romances and other works of medieval literature. Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop games delved into what sports would look like in worlds of magic, monsters, and interstellar travel. Siegeball is a fanmade concept originating in the 3.5 era on 4chan’s /tg/ (traditional games) forum. The most detailed rules for its original form I found archived on this 1d4chan page.

Fast forward nearly a decade later, and it’s been converted to 5th Edition by the third party publisher Mage Hand Press.

Chapter 1: the Game is self-explanatory. Siegeball is a full-contact sport between two teams of five players each, where the goal is to use an extremely heavy and dense ball known as the siegeball to damage and destroy an opposing team’s tower. The ball cannot be picked up or pushed within the confines of the rules of the sport, but must be attacked with Siegeball-approved weapons in order to be flung or pushed. The more damage you do to the ball with an attack, the more Momentum Points it generates, which provides it a scalable AC bonus and allows it to move across the field of play until it runs out of momentum or collides with an object or player. Remaining Momentum Points deal damage to a struck object, although as a reaction non-prone creatures can choose to redirect the ball with an attack of their own. This technique replaces the Momentum Points with their own attack, albeit at the risk of being damaged by the siegeball on a miss. We also get 4 new types of actions which can also work in non-Siegeball contexts, such as Block which grants advantage on rolls in being forcefully moved and can attack any ball-like object within 5 feet rather than being directly in its path, Follow which allows you to move in unison with a creature up to what your base speed can allow, Retire which can be called to remove yourself or an adjacent unconscious player from a Siegeball game, Tackle which is a variant of shoving a creature that knocks both of you prone, and two methods for secretly getting away with illegally attacking or casting a spell while playing the sport.

What follows are discussions on more intricate and variant rules, as different cities and cultures often put their own spin on Siegeball. The conventional standard is that only Siegeball-specific equipment is allowed, all magic is banned, and you cannot intentionally injure or harm other players (non-damaging shoving is allowed). Underground tournaments, Roman-style colosseum arenas, and high-magic civilizations are more lax about some or even all of these restrictions, allowing a wider variety of equipment, magic, and even the attacking (lethal or non-lethal) directly of other players.

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Chapter 2: Character Options provides us with 4 new subclasses and 5 feats, most of which can be used in conventional campaigns but can also be useful when playing Siegeball. We have the Barbarian Path of the Die-Hard, which is basically a football hooligan who can more efficiently wield improvised weapons, “tank” an enemy by imposing disadvantage on attack rolls against anyone besides the Barbarian, can create a limited number of signal flares every long rest, and can halve the speed of struck opponents. The Fighter’s Star Player archetype grants a variety of broadly-useful abilities, such as double proficiency to Athletics, can reroll the d20 of a Strength-based ability check/save/melee weapon once per long rest, advantage on Persuasion checks against people who recognize their Siegeball prowess, and can gain an Inspiration-like Luck Point that has the typical uses save it can also be regenerated once per long rest or by voluntarily turning one’s critical hit into a normal hit. The Rogue’s Dirty Player archetype allows one to do the new action types in this sourcebook as a bonus action (but not the illegal attacks or spells), can forego sneak attack damage for a melee strike to make onlookers unable to see evidence of the attack, can feign death by dropping prone as a reaction, and can feint a creature and impose one of three general-purpose debuff effects. The School of Charade is a Wizard tradition often taken by spellcasters in magic-intolerant locales, and whose abilities are focused around better concealing one’s magical nature. Its abilities include disguising spellbooks and foci as other objects, suppressing the visual effects of cantrips, the ability to create an illusory double that can act independently for 8 hours and can be spoken through by the caster, and the ability to make targets forget what they saw for the last minute along with an immediate one-round disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks.

The five feats include Blocker (can better block/redirect siegeballs), Disguised Spellcaster (can disguise a cantrip as a mundane melee weapon attack), Showman (proficient in Performance and can gain bonuses to an ability check or attack roll when being watched by a non-combative audience up to 3 times per long rest), Striker (proficient with all sigeball weapons, generate more Momentum Points, can maximize the damage die of a melee attack once per long rest), and Team Coordination (can harmlessly pass a struck siegeball to an ally with no attack roll necessary, can can switch initiative results with one ally when initiative is rolled and grant them advantage on the first attack they make).

While each feat save Disguised Spellcaster and Showman has some Siegeball-specific applications, Striker and Team Coordination stand out in having some broadly-useful abilities. Disguised Caster, Showman, and Team Coordination all grant +1 to an ability score, which make Blocker and Striker have a bit less of a “wow factor.” Showman is a bit limited in requiring non-hostile witnesses, although there are likely ways around this such as having a party caster summoning harmless creatures to count as an audience.

Chapter 3: Equipment provides us with new weapons, armor, and magic items designed for the sport. Siegeball armor comes in three varieties and are actually cheaper than the PHB counterparts who provide the same AC bonuses. Spiked Gear stands out as heavy armor which lets you deal piercing damage to anyone you tackle. Siegeball weapons are all bludgeoning-style weapons ranging in size from mere 1d4 Batons to the martial 1d12 Siege Club. The weapons are unique in being both finesse and bludgeoning for the Baton and Bat, a trait combo that doesn’t exist in core 5th Edition, and with the Siege Bat being a simple weapon and dealing 1d8 it’s basically a clubby rapier that can be equipped by anyone albeit requiring two hands to wield. There are also Spiked Balls which deal double damage to creatures (not objects) they hit. They cannot be thrown or wielded, so it’s presumed that this is done via the Momentum Points way.

Our nine magic items tend to be employed by shady teams and underworld figures given the common ban on magic, and include options such as Jax (magical steroids which permanently reduce hit points per use), Ball Magnet (spend a charge to have a siegeball redirect its path towards you), Referee’s Whistle (once per day cast hold person on every creature of choice within 60 feet), and Champion’s Ring (rewarded to each player that wins a Championship, can spend a charge as a reaction to gain a +10 bonus on a single ability check or save).

Chapter 4: Tournaments is mostly DM-friendly details and suggestions for how to incorporate Siegeball into a campaign or having an offbeat campaign centering on the sport. It describes a sample outline of a low-level to high-level “rags to riches” plot of impoverished players in improvised street tournaments eventually competing in multiversal planar arenas. We also have four common methods of tournaments (single elimination, double elimination, multilevel, round-robin) and sample cash rewards for completing a tournament based on the party’s level.

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Chapter 5: Arenas provides three sample arenas complete with backstory, a d20 table of unique arena traits to provide for some unique challenges to draw in crowds, and a short list of variant rules for playing Siegeball in three dimensions, underwater, or in zero-gravity. The book actually recommends against this last part due to three-dimensional movement and positioning being much more complex to keep track of. The three sample arenas also have their own gridded maps and come with neat backstories and adventure hooks, ranging from a church-sponsored colosseum dedicated to the god of adventurers and thieves, a domed stone arena that was originally a crypt from some forgotten civilization, and an elven-designed garden whose terrain of arches and walkways allow for various paths for players.

Chapter 6: Teams is our last major section. It goes over the roles and duties of sports coaches in real life and also provides a silly d20 table of fantasy-themed corporate sponsors (“Crazy Owlbear’s Used Wagon and Carriage Lot!”). But the thing most useful to DMs are eight sample teams with their stats fitting comfortably in index card formats. Many of them draw from fantasy monsters as players, such as the Archons who are an elven team that have a minotaur named Tiny as their point man, or the storm giant twins known as the Titans who are notable in being just two players rather than the usual five due to how massive and strong they are.

Appendix: Game Twists is our final section in the book, a d20 sampling of unique rules variations often applied by arena owners to spice things up. They include peppering the field with invisible walls, the inclusion of a skeletal war chariot which indiscriminately knocks the ball around and runs over any players in its path, audience members using magical ballots to vote on players to give the lowest and highest players a haste or paralyze effect respectively,* and so on.

*Presumably votes are bad to gain.

Thoughts: Siegeball is a pretty cool concept. The major rules of the game itself are short, easily folded into the existing 5e rules via tactical grid movement and the action economy, and the supplemental material is useful for non-Siegeball PCs in case the sport is more of a fun diversion rather than a major aspect of the campaign. The Champion’s Ring magic item is a particularly great reward, with the book noting that it’s only given out in special Championships (think the Superbowl or FIFA World Cup) rather than just any tournament, and the additions of rules and terrain variations can help keep the mini-game feeling fresh.

My main concern is the ban on magic in conventional rules. A huge amount of player-facing abilities easily qualify as magical even discounting outright spells. Does a Monk’s various abilities count as magic when playing Siegeball? How about a Barbarian’s Path of the Ancestral Spirits? What about a werewolf player’s immunity to non-magical, non-silvered weapon attacks being used as a way to safely “tank” incoming siegeballs? The book seems to allow for abilities that aren’t outright spells in the Titans’ entry, noting that they never cast their spells during matches out of the interest of fairness even if playing in an arena that allows it. But this is more an indirect nod than an outright codified ruleset.
 

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A lot of video game RPGs incorporate a progressive crafting system where existing equipment can be enhanced, with additional properties based on the user’s talents as well as the appropriate ingredients. While optional most of the time, the creation of one’s own gear often gave the player more powerful items than the kind found in shops and dungeons.

The base rules of 5th Edition for crafting take a rather long time, with even simple daggers taking at least a week. The bulk of rules focus on magic item creation, which are overall brief in detailing time and money based on rarity and required monster parts based on Challenge Rating. And there’s nothing mentioned about adding enhancements or alterations to existing items.

Ghesh’s Guide to Making Things is a short and rather specialized sourcebook in spite of its name. It applies to weapons, armor, and alchemical bombs which are detailed in a chapter of their own. Crafting time for nonmagical weapons and armor is greatly sped up overall, with simpler weapons such as clubs, javelins, and spears taking 4 hours while more complicated schematics such as crossbows, greatswords, and the like take at least a day. The highly metal armors such as breastplates take at least 10 days with plate armor 30. The advantage of crafting is that making things yourself costs half the base price as purchasing it. Certain tools are required based on the weapon and armor’s material, with leatherworking applying to leather, smith’s tools to metal, and woodcarver tools for wood.

All weapons and armor have 4 levels of Quality, each corresponding to a Tier of play at which they’re expected to be found. Basic is your default, and items of higher Quality both cost more and take more time to create. Quality determines how many slots an item has as well as the level of those slots. For example, a Basic leather armor has 1 Basic slot, an Intermediate Longsword has 2 Intermediate slots. Slots represent allowances for craftsmen to make modifications to the weapon; some modifications have differing levels which allow them to be upgraded, but otherwise a modification must be removed if a crafter wants to replace such a property with a new one. Modifications have prices and crafting time of their own for adding to an item. We also have a brief section on Additional Materials, which allow you to turn Intermediate level and higher items into things such as adamantine, cold iron, and mithral which is independent of the Quality and modification system.

All crafting processes in this book, from crafting the items to upgrading their Quality to adding and removing modifications, require a tool check with a DC depending on the item’s Quality. Magical modifications use Arcana instead, and differ from their nonmagical counterparts in that once they’re added to an item they are permanent and cannot be removed. But magical modifications also treat the item as being magical for the purposes of damage resistances and immunities.

There’s no mention of if magic weapons and armor such as Flametongues and Dragonlances have Quality levels as well, or are considered to be powerful enough that the rules in this book cannot apply to them. As there are modifications in this book that can give a weapon or armor a +1 to +3 bonus to attack/damage/AC, I can see some powergamers seeking to break bounded accuracy by having their master craftsman turn a Holy Avenger into a godly +6 sword.

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There are 49 Armor Modifications in this book, 5 of which can only be applied to shields. At the basic level we have some useful features such as Bashing which lets you use a shield as a 1d6 bludgeoning weapon, Burnished which makes your armor shiny and can blind a creature attacking you in bright light if they fail a Wisdom save, Climbing Spikes to grant advantage on checks made to climb, Finned which grants you a swimming speed of 30 feet, and the potentially abusable Skill Checker which adds +1d4 to the rolls of a certain skill chosen at the time of the modification’s creation. Intermediate modifications include Attracting which “aggros” attacks from a single monster type chosen upon creation if they fail a Wisdom save, Hardened which lets the wearer turn a critical hit into a normal hit as a reaction once per long rest, Heavy which reduces your movement speed by 5 feet yet grants advantage on checks and saves vs the prone condition and being forced to move against your will, and Wound Closing which automatically stabilizes you if you are dying and doubles the number of health restored when spending Hit Die. Advanced modifications include Glamoured which can make the armor look like mundane clothing via a command word, Speedy which increases movement speeds by 10 feet, and Transfusion which grants temporary hit points whenever you target an ally with a spell. The Masterwork modifications include such powerful abilities as Duplicit which can create an illusory double who can cast your spells from its position, Invulnerable which makes you resistant to nonmagical damage and once per day makes you immune to such damage for 10 minutes, and Protected which provides the wearer with a constant Protection From Evil and Good spell.

The Basic modifications are overall cheap, ranging in price from 10 to 100 gp and taking a day to make barring one exception. Intermediate is a slight increase, averaging around several hundred gp on average and taking several days to as much as 2 weeks for the most expensive ones. By Advanced you’re almost guaranteed several thousand gold to spend and 2 weeks to a months’ worth of crafting time. By Masterwork you’re looking at requiring significant time expenses of 100 days and five figure sums.

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There are 41 Weapon Modifications, with quite a few being specific to certain types or classes of weapons. The Basic modifications include things such as Composite bows which add your Strength modifier on top of Dexterity to damage once per turn, Illuminating which makes the weapon shed light, Tripping which makes a reach weapon allow you to knock prone a target if they fail a Strength saving throw as an attack action, and Venomous which can deal 2d6 additional poison damage once per short or long rest. Intermediate modifications start providing a lot of interesting features, such as Blazing which can set up to 3 arrows or bolts on fire via a magical command word to deal 1d6 bonus fire damage, Scoped which increases a crossbow’s range increments by 30 feet, Staggering which can reduce a target’s speed to 0 on a failed Constitution save via expending a magical charge, and Tranquilizer which can turn an arrow or bolt into a non-damaging effect that can knock a target out if they fail a Constitution save. Advanced modifications are overwhelmingly magical and include things such as Blessed which deals 2d10 bonus radiant damage to fiends and undead, Bloodied which restores 2d6 hit points to the wielder whenever they reduce a target to 0 hit points, Grappling which imbues a piece of ammunition with a magical tether that allows the wielder to reel in a struck target, and Wondrous which can transform into a friendly living monster with the right command word. The Masterwork modifications include such things as Dancing where the melee weapon can levitate and attack on its own, Holy which radiates a 15 foot aura granting advantage on saves against magical effects to those within, and Switching where a creature hit by an arrow or bolt fired switches places with the shooter on a failed Wisdom save.

For time and prices most Basic mods take 1 day to create and cost anywhere from 10 to 200 gp. Intermediate modifications average 3-6 days with 2 being 10 or more and cost at least several hundred gp. Advanced mods average around 2 weeks to a month and may cost 1 to 3 thousand gp. Finally, the Masterwork mods are few in number, usually taking a month to a month and a half to make and cost anywhere from 3,000 to 9,000 gp.

Interestingly, the modifications which add bonuses to attack and damage or AC are the most time-consuming and expensive for their tiers by leaps and bounds. For Armor, Mithral Weave (for clothes) and Shielded add +1 to +3 depending on Quality. They cost 1,500 gp and take 16 days to craft at Intermediate +1 or 15,000 gp and 100 days at Advanced +2. Only by Masterwork does it become in line with the others, at 100 days and 30,000 gp at +3. The Precise modification for weapons adds +1 to +3; it takes 14 days and 1,300 gp at Intermediate +1, 50 days and 10,000 gp at Advanced +2, and 70 days and 25,000 gp at Masterwork +3. Amusingly, the most boring and straightforward options require the greatest investment to apply.

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Crafting Bombs and Grenades provides us with 20 new explosive weapons and rules for making them. They too have Quality levels which determines the overall effectiveness of the explosion, increasing factors such as damage and area of effect radius. We have two new pieces of equipment relating to explosives, Bombmaker’s Tools which are required for crafting them as well as setting fuses; and the Grenade Launcher, which is basically a specialized crossbow designed for increasing the range of bombs to 80/160 feet rather than the 20/60 feet that comes with throwing them normally. Crafting explosives is risky, for there are chances for mishaps of an ill-crafted bomb exploding randomly as you light it on a failed result. Bombs can be timed to blow up via a longer fuse, although said fuse can be cut as an action to disarm it.

While a character can only craft up to 4 bombs a day, there are optional rules for DMs who want to avoid stockpiling of explosives via the adding of a cumulative percentage chance of bombs exploding every day after a week past their creation date.

There are 20 different bombs, each with their own Quality levels, and are quicker to make as they can be crafted during a short rest rather than over a period of days. 16 of them have entries for boosted traits when they are crafted at higher Quality levels than their base. For a few examples, we have the typical Incendiary Grenade which deal fire damage in a radius and ignites flammable objects and creatures; Concussion Grenade that deal thunder damage, halve speed, and make it impossible for targets to concentrate on spells if they fail a Constitution save; the Healing Grenade which releases a steam that restores the hit points of creatures standing in its area of effect; Ram Rockets which are missiles that deal bludgeoning damage and can knock a target prone on a failed Dexterity save; Smoke Bombs which can release a cloud of thick gray smoke; Spellstoring Shells which instead of exploding cause a spent prepared spell to go off; and a Vortex Grenade which creates a damaging gravitational field that pulls creatures in its area of effect towards the center of the explosion.

Thoughts: I like how this book adds some versatility for weapons and armor without the cumbersome process of making new magic items for each one that is the standard for most sourcebooks, and gives a large degree of player control in how exactly they wish to improve their gear. And as it incorporates tool proficiencies as a crucial factor in the use of this sub-system, I’m also a fan of it. But it still allows parties lacking such proficiencies to make use of the system by buying such modifications, albeit at higher cost. The granting of expensive things for PCs to spend money on to increase their personal capabilities will make this a very attractive supplement.

Now onto the negatives. The book needs to be explicit about the adding of Qualities onto existing magic weapons and armor, and the abusable nature of stacking Shielded and Precise modifications with +1 to +3 magic items. I’m also unsure on how to feel about the new explosives. Although the text mentions Bombmaker’s Tools, the rules only say that you need it in your inventory rather than having proficiency, and given that alchemist’s supplies already exist the additional item feels superfluous. I also tend to be wary about limitations such as “critical misses” given that it’s likely PCs may find ways to get around defective bombs. What’s preventing a character from deciding to light its fuse via Mage Hand from a safe distance, for instance? The optional rules of bombs exploding after a week also feel like they’d add additional book-keeping. A simpler solution would be to limit the amount of bombs a character can have at once by a level-based factor, and have them be regained at the end of a short rest via the proper expenditure of gold pieces.
 

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Although most music is designed to be a team effort, it can also be competitive. After watching a certain scene from a movie about a Canadian fighting against his girlfriend’s evil exes, the author for Bard-Core Brawlers had the idea of bringing musical fighting to a Dungeons & Dragons fantasy setting. Whether it’s a paladin and lich engaged in a rap battle or a roadie using another kind of axe to fight demons and monsters, Bard-Core Brawlers creates a minigame tweaking 5th Edition’s combat rules for a Battle of the Bands style scenario.

The rules for Band-to-Band Combat are deceptively simple, being a mere 3 pages out of a 21 page rulebook. Instead of hit points, there are morale points which are calculated with Wisdom instead of Constitution and are added into a collective for an entire band rather than for individual characters. They are recovered just like hit points during rests and are restored along with them, but cannot be restored via spells. Instead, there are special Crowd actions that can restore morale points.

Attacks are renamed Riffs, which have bonuses based off of Charisma by default rather than Strength or Dexterity, while Resolve Class serves as Armor Class and is a base 11 + Intelligence modifier. Due to the diminishing returns of multiple loud instruments, someone who takes damage from a Riff gains a cumulative +1 to their RC until the end of their next turn.

Musical instruments serve as weapons, and are split into simple and martial categories. This means that classes such as the Barbarian and Fighter have a wide array of musical options, but being proficient in an instrument as a tool also grants proficiency for it in Band-to-Band combat. There’s a new category, Stationary, which requires an action on top of movement to move with it, while instruments with the Finesse and Heavy properties allow you to substitute Dexterity and Strength respectively instead of Charisma for Riffs.

There’s also rules on spellcasting so that the pure mages don’t feel left out. Spells that deal psychic or thunder damage can be incorporated as songs and deal damage to morale points rather than hit points. Additionally, temporary blindness and deafness as the result of a spell or ability can cause disadvantage on riff attacks during a band battle, but long-term blind and deaf musicians ignore this penalty as they have already overcome these limitations.

I like this last part; people are most likely to be familiar with Beethoven, but there are many other deaf musicians in the real world who found creative ways to interact with and make music by taking advantage of their other senses. It’s common for many of them to experience it via other stimuli, such as this professional dancer who feels the vibrations on a sound speaker to feel the rhythm as just one example technique.

The other big factor in band-to-band battles is the goodwill of the audience, represented as Favors. Favors are represented in points that can be spent to perform what are basically lair actions, and can be gained via spending an action and succeeding on a DC 14 Performance check, awesome in-character roleplay, or starting out with it for a particularly famous and well-loved band. The favor actions are appropriately musical, such as Crowd-surfing which grants bonus movement, getting the audience to sing along to restore morale points, and the crowd rushing the stage to negate favor actions on both sides for 1 round.

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As you can see, a large amount of martial instruments have Finesse and Heavy properties which can help offset martial characters who are not as likely to have overall high mental ability scores. Voice on its own isn’t very strong, although the Light property can allow for some strange combinations: singing and playing on a trumpet at the same time via two-weapon fighting? You can totally do this within the rules!

The remainder of Bard-Core Brawlers is dedicated to the adventure of the Larksbury Music Festival, sized for 4-5 5th level characters. Mick Nesbitt, slick-talking hot-shot gnome and questionable ally of the PCs, calls in a favor to invite the party to the city of Larksbury to have them participate in an annual Battle of the Bands tournament. Whether some or all of them have musical proficiency doesn’t matter, for Mick figures that they can get in enough practice. As professional adventurers, he’s quick to remind them that they’ve been in much hairier situations. As for what’s in this for the PCs, winning the Battle of the Bands can guarantee paid gigs and a touring contract along several cities of the Sword Coast.

The PCs can practice at the local inn which can gain them Favor for the future festival if they roll high on Performance, and can meet with and get into arguments and drinking contests with rival band members and thus earn more Favor.

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The PCs have to play against 3 different bands in order to win the event, and all of their competition has their own color portraits, short histories, and stat blocks. They also have their own unique crowd actions and can incorporate spells and class abilities such as Sneak Attack into uniquely musical ways. The book also recommends certain real-world bands and soundtracks to play based on the competition to help set the scene. The Banderhobb Boys are a pair of goblin bluegrass bards fond of getting in taunts and zingers to the competition via the incorporation of their tunes and Vicious Mockery. Up next is Trifling, an all-girl, all-tiefling punk band who are fond of flashy pyrotechnic visuals. One of their members isn’t fond of a musician from GGROGG, feeling that there’s something off about them.

GGROGG is a heavy metal band who lost three prior tournaments in a row, and not wanting to let the band down one of its members is planning to cheat by trapping the venue with smoke bombs to obscure the view of the stage. At which point they’ll attack and knock out the PCs, thus “winning” the contest if their competition can’t play back.

There are various skill checks and methods for the PCs to learn about this. They can even avert this plan by providing proof and get GGROGG to “fight clean” during the battle of the band. If GROGG goes through with the plan, they’ll activate the trap when the band dips below 25 morale points and fight for real. Even then, a PC can talk one of the more reluctant band members to stop his teammates from doing this unsportsmanlike conduct, thus siding that against the rest of his fellows in the battle.

The adventure’s conclusion is short and meant to be a springboard to future adventures for the tour. If the PCs lose, they can get some work by playing at the local bar and perhaps try again next year.

Our Appendix contains 3 magic items: Drums of Paramissile which is a drum set that can turn the magic missile spell into a riff attack, Shades of Focus which grants the wearer +2 to their Resolve Class, and Medova’s Axe (wielded by the GGROGG musician of the same name) which is a guitar that can spend charges to perform an area of effect stunning blast when you hit with a melee attack with it. We also have a gridded and ungridded map for stages and a character sheet for making Bands and for the new rules and stats provided in this book.

Thoughts: Bard-Core Brawlers has a cool concept, and the rules are both short and close enough to typical D&D combat that it shouldn’t take long to learn them. I also like how it gives characters who don’t have proficiency in Performance or musical instruments the ability to contribute, particularly if they otherwise have a high Charisma or other mental ability scores. My main concern is that this minigame can be a bit punishing on mage-heavy players who don’t have the right spells. There aren’t many spells that deal psychic damage in core 5th Edition, although thunder damage is a bit more common. So certain casting classes may be out of luck or made to rely on instruments or other abilities to contribute in a band-to-band battle. I will say that the Bard class happens to have access to quite a few spells of both types, which makes sense given the musical nature of Bard-Core Brawlers.
 

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Achievements have been a long-held tradition in video games, where performing certain tasks in game displays a notification that the player completed such a feat. Oftentimes these achievements had no direct in-game benefit, being more of a status symbol or to provide a sense of accomplishment.

The format doesn’t translate as well to tabletop gaming. Given the personal nature of many gaming groups, the closest we got to achievements were via tournament play and player reward cards obtained via RPGA events. In the latter case, such cards often granted some benefit that players could use in RPGA campaigns, such as access to races or classes otherwise barred from conventional play.

Pathfinder experimented with achievement feats early on in its lifespan, although these were of mixed benefit. First was the fact that they had to be taken via feat slots rather than being granted automatically, which made them functionally identical to virtually every other feat. But as many of these achievement feats required a massive amount of book-keeping, this made them rather unappealing choices.

But what of 5th Edition? King of the Road seeks to apply the achievement concept to the RPG via an in-game folkloric challenge: long ago, the prince of a tyrannical king saw how his father lost touch with his subjects and embarked on the road so as to better understand the people. He learned much on his travels and made many friends, earning him the title King of the Road. The prince’s private journal of his travels is said to appear once per century, and that travelers who complete the tasks within will become the new King of the Road and be granted the prince’s magical crown.

This rulebook, and the in-game journal, contains checklists for various challenges and point totals, and advice is given for how the DM should implement its use in the campaign. Generally speaking, the King of the Road is meant to be a friendly competition and that it’s against the spirit of the game for PCs to self-sabotage each other. It’s also suggested that the DM should sprinkle 1 to 3 chances to complete challenges per session, although players finding ways to accomplish them without prompts should also be encouraged. It’s also heavily suggested that the “end” of the mini-game should come at a predetermined time, such as when the PCs reach a certain level of experience or after the conclusion of a major story arc. At that point, the point totals of each PC are tallied to determine the winner.

When PCs find the journal and decide to compete for King of the Road, a magic item known as the Bracelet of the Front Runner will appear on the PC with the most points at the beginning of each session or after a certain challenge is completed. The DM determines which is best for their own campaign, although the former requires less work to handle albeit at the expense of the item being on one PC for a longer period of time. Once per day the Bracelet can grant advantage to all ability checks of a single chosen ability score for 1 hour, at which point it needs 24 hours to recharge before using this ability again.

There are 29 different checklists in King of the Road, with 12 corresponding to a particular character class, 9 to a particular PHB race, 2 “Author’s Choice” lists that are unrelated tasks that the individual authors find entertaining, 2 pertaining to magic item uses and monster trophies, 1 being where characters are rewarded for accumulating the most of something, and the remaining 3 being different related to generic events and settings. Each player is given copies of checklists that are relevant to their PC. Achievements can only provide point rewards once after they’re checked off, although some achievements can be accomplished by multiple party members. The “Most Of” achievements give points to 3 different PCs, being akin to a race where the winners are ranked 1st to 3rd place, while the class/race ones can only be done by PCs who match the list’s title (multi-classing grants more options). The event and setting achievements may grant points to multiple PCs who work together to accomplish the goal depending on DM discretion.

Point values range from 5 to 25, although I have noticed that some options don’t necessarily correspond with the difficulty of achievement or can be more subjective. While many of the 5 point achievements are rather trivial, there are some 15 to 20 point ones which aren’t that difficult to get:

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Take this Cleric checklist. The “heal 3 or more allies” option can be easily accomplished with Mass Healing Word, which is a level 3 spell. Given the preparation-based nature of that class’ spell list, this is a very easy 20 points.

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Now contrast this with the Monk. “Walk barefooted over hot coals” is 15 points, and is subject more to DM Fiat. I’m going to presume that most DMs would have this trial deal fire damage, so outright immunity to damage types is much harder to come across in RAW. Fire immunity specifically comes not from the Monk itself but rather spells from other classes.

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Now check out the Dwarf’s 25 point rewards. “Become poisoned on purpose and survive” is perhaps the most egregious example of easy points. As Save or Die isn’t really a thing in 5th Edition anymore, the vast majority of poison instead either deals damage and/or inflicts the Poisoned condition. A party who can summon a poisonous snake or get their hands on some weak poison can get 25 points without much challenge.

Additionally, some classes have rather specific achievements in spite of said classes having rather broad concepts. 4 out of 10 of the Sorcerer’s achievements require either specific spells or spell themes, while half of the Paladin’s achievements hew closer to the classic Lawful Good interpretation of the class despite that Paladins in this Edition can be of any alignment.

I will note that these options jumped out the most in terms of being explicitly easier or harder for their supposed point values. The bulk of the achievements are more subjective, yet still have some degree of challenge or finesse to encourage some clever planning by individual PCs or the party. Taverns and Inns in particular is almost all subjective role-play.

The “Most Of” list is a bit heavy in regards to book-keeping. While it isn’t doing anything as extreme as Pathfinder's achievement feat of tracking individual points of damage, certain things such as death saving throws, critical hits, and amount of healing potions drank are the kind of things that may slip by a player in the heat of battle unless the party’s particularly meticulous.

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So how good is the reward for King of the Road? Well, the Crown of the King of the Road appears on the head of the winner and the Bracelet of the Forerunner disappears. It has the ability score advantage ability of the Bracelet, save that its duration is 24 hours. Its other benefit is that the wearer is always welcome at any inn, tavern, or local residence. The host is magically granted gold equal to five times the sum of the party’s expenses when the party leaves the establishment, which goes a long way to explaining the extensive hospitality.

Thoughts: King of the Road takes the concept of gaming achievements and distills them into an in-universe concept with distinct rewards and incentives for PCs to act in certain fashions. Keeping achievements as a purely metagame concept may clash a bit with role-playing (like a bard breaking their own musical instrument when fighting), but when the PCs themselves know that such actions have a powerful payoff this is a good rationale. The Bracelet and Crown magic items have broad enough benefits that they can be a welcome addition to any PC’s arsenal regardless of class. There’s more than enough achievements of various types that the sourcebook doesn’t feel pigeonholed towards a certain setting or playstyle.

Barring some edge cases, the checklists are open-ended enough to not weigh any particular PC towards accumulation of points. But my major concern is that PCs may have too many checklists to consult and juggle: they have 2 from their race and class and 1 for The Most Of which they’ll likely consult often. Then when combat begins they’ll need to keep Combat Events on hand, and possibly Monster Souvenirs for when those specific monsters show up. Social Encounters, Taverns & Inns, and Magic Items will likely be shelved away until appropriate times, but even without those I am concerned about King of the Road slowing down gameplay in this regard.
 
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DM’s Guild Page.

Here we have another product that seeks to make the Tarokka deck a more frequent element in Ravenloft games. But whereas Madam Eva’s Tarokka Deck of Friends, Foes, & Fortune was focused largely on adventure generation, the Tarokka Critical Hit Deck covers combat. In-universe, the idea is that the Dark Powers have an inordinate interest in the PCs, and their influence can be called upon during momentous times.

These rules split the deck in two: 40 cards from the Common Deck, and 14 cards from the High Deck. Cards from the Common Deck can be drawn whenever a character rolls a natural 20 on an attack roll, and only one card can be drawn per turn save for “legendary situations.” The Common Deck is player-facing, meaning that only players draw from it unless they ask the DM to do so. The effects of a card are applied in addition to the normal results for a critical hit (usually double damage) rather than replacing it. A few modify the critical hits, albeit for the better; the 6 of Swords has you roll the weapon damage dice three times instead of two if attacking with a melee weapon.

The High Deck’s cards are drawn only by the Dungeon Master, and should be reserved for dramatically appropriate situations. Such as at the start of combat or when a PC rolls a natural 1 on an important task. Once a High Deck card is drawn and effects applied, it is put face-up at the bottom of the deck and that particular card can never be used more than once per session; replicated results weaken the impact.

Swords/Spades are themed around martial and physical might. Around half the cards deal additional damage, grant additional effects if the hit was a melee attack, and two of them have effects dependent on a certain equipment type. Some interesting results include the 3 of Swords (+2d6 damage, an ally with a shield can move up to their speed and make a free shove attack against the target), the 8 of Swords (choose an ally that can hear you to gain a d12 Bardic Inspiration die), and the Master of Swords (melee attack deals +20 damage, ignoring resistance and immunity).

Stars/Clubs draw upon the powers of magic and are accompanied by supernatural effects. Three of the cards grant additional damage on top of the base effect if the attack was a spell. Some interesting results include the 1 of Stars (target that doesn’t have Legendary Actions turns into a random trinket if they fail a DC 13 Constitution save), the 4 of Stars (instantly learn HP, resistances, and vulnerabilities of one enemy that you can see), and the Master of Stars (1-10 on a d20 has you roll on Wild Magic Surge table, 11-20 lets a creature of choice to regain one low-level spell slot).

Coins/Diamonds play off the power of greed and in wanting more things. Seven of the cards can cause the loss, gain, or trade of an item, or allow for/require the attacker or target to pay gold pieces to cause or resist an effect. Some interesting results include the 5 of Coins (every creature present loses 5 gold or takes 10 force damage if they can’t pay the cost), 8 of Coins (a ghost appears demanding tribute, dealing 1d100 damage minus the amount of gold paid to one ally and one creature of choice), and the Master of Coins (+3d6 damage, bonus damage dice are maximized if target is unaware or done as part of a sneak attack).

Glyphs/Hearts are themed around faith, religion, and holiness. Three of the cards grant beneficial healing effects to the card-drawer and/or allies, and two have additional effects against undead targets. Some interesting results include the 5 of Glyphs (cast a concentration-free Spike Growth spell), the 7 of Glyphs (target is Charmed by you and your allies for 1 turn unless they are immune to the condition or have Legendary Actions), and the 9 of Glyphs (target attacks one of its allies on its next turn or falls prone if they cannot do this action).

The High Deck is made up of 14 cards. If using standard playing cards, they are the Jacks, Queens, Kings, and Joker cards (Aces are the Master cards). The book advises to never draw from this deck with the intention of punishing PCs. “They are meant to enrich the game, not torment your party.” Several of the cards do impose negative conditions, so I take it that the punishment is meant more for metagaming reasons.

Some interesting results include the Darklord (shadows of the environment take pieces of the PC’s own shadows away; non-evil creatures present lose 5 HP, a single evil creature on the same plane gains the total as temporary hit points for 1 year), the Horseman (a spectral warhorse ridden by a headless corpses rushes through the area, knocking prone and dealing damage to those in its path), the Mists (Fog Cloud spell effect, but up to 1 mile and people within can see grasping vaporous hands), and the Tempter (character hears a voice granting them knowledge of learning the single answer to a question pertaining the past or present by dealing 5d10 damage to a willing creature, and if the question involves a creature’s weakness their next attack deals 1d100 necrotic damage to that creature).

Thoughts: The Critical Hit Deck is a pretty nifty feature, albeit a rather high-magic one that may not necessarily be appropriate for all Ravenloft groups. I do like the variety in critical hit possibilities so that you don’t ever really know what you’ll get when drawing. And besides some results from Coins, the vast majority of cards have no downsides or double-edged sword bargains. That role goes to the High Deck, and given how it’s restricted to DM Fiat, that prevents the default rules from feeling like a burden to the players.
 

Libertad

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Drive-Thru RPG Page.

This product is actually part of a larger collected work that I do not own. It’s also a tad on the lengthy side, so if I were to review it I’d likely make it its own thread.

The World’s Greatest Roleplaying Game: the Game is an Inception-level metanarrative, where you play as players playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. The player-PCs of the 5e PCs have Apocalypse World-style playbooks reflecting a common type of gamer, such as the Actor or Optimizer, and they can use their moves to give in-game benefits to their 5e PCs. The session is otherwise a typical game of 5th Edition D&D rather than being its own RPG.

There are nine playbooks, eight for PCs and one for the DM (Master of Dungeons). Four of the playbooks roll an unmodified d20 to trigger relevant moves, and are considered to be death saving throws for the purposes of interaction with other rules even though they don’t have to be used when a PC is dying. Rolling a 9 or less causes the intended move to backfire in some way, a 10-19 is a success, while a natural 20 has a success which goes above and beyond. The other four PC-facing playbooks don’t require a d20 and typically interact with Inspiration in some way, shape, or form. The Master of Dungeons is its own special case.

The Actor merges player and PC skill together by granting the opportunity to auto-succeed at a Charisma skill check by role-playing it out. And by roleplaying it out, I mean roll a death saving throw! A natural 20 grants Inspiration, but a 9 or less backfires and imposes disadvantage on Charisma-based rolls against the same targets.

The Explorer is played whenever the PC is seeking out something. 10 or above grants some kind of hint or clue, but 9 or less causes you to roll with disadvantage on the relevant check. There is no natural 20 result for this playbook.

The Instigator move is played whenever the PC does something against the better judgment of the rest of the party. This automatically grants their PC an additional bonus action that can be held onto to use for later. But further uses of this ability during the same session cost Inspiration.

The Warrior can trigger only if the PC spends their action, movement, and bonus action and successfully causes damage to a target. In such a case, Inspiration can be spent to cause maximum damage.

The Optimizer is unique in that the 9 or less d20 roll imposes no negative conditions. It triggers whenever two features of a PC (feats, spells, magic items, etc) are used in concert with a single action. A 10 or above allows one to ignore a condition of the feature, such as requiring a short or long rest to recharge, while a natural 20 increases one effect of the action by 50%, such as dealing one and a half times as much damage.

On a 9-, you must abide by all conditions as normal. What? We’re not gonna punish you for choosing such a great combination. You’re the Optimizer!

The Problem-Solver can be triggered whenever the PC fails a skill check or saving throw. A 10 or above allows them to temporarily avoid the consequences of failure, being able to retry the roll again with disadvantage or find some other way to circumvent fate up to their proficiency bonus in rounds. If used, the PC needs a long rest to do so again, and 9 or less forces the PC to deal with the consequences of failure.

The Storyteller can be played whenever a new NPC is introduced, spending Inspiration to create a piece of backstory or personality for them. Furthermore, the PC and their allies have advantage on skill checks against that character whenever they take advantage of that trait against them.

The Rules Lawyer move triggers whenever they correct the Master of Dungeons about some rule in the game, but must spend Inspiration for every additional use more than once in a session. However, the Rules Lawyer’s PC takes disadvantage on all rolls related to any house rules in play, but gains Inspiration if both of the disadvantaged d20 rolls manage to beat the DC.

The Master of Dungeons is a specific DM-only playbook. Whenever a player uses any of the other playbooks to do a successful move, the Master of Dungeons can give +5 HP to any monster or NPC of their choice or increase the next skill check DC by 2.

Thoughts: These are pretty simple rules that can be bolted onto 5e games without much hassle. Some of the playbooks are more narrowly focused; the Actor only interfaces with a narrow range of d20 rolls, and the Warrior can only affect damaging abilities. Optimizer and Problem Solver are incredibly broad in what they can be used on, and while I do like the Storyteller’s ode to collaborative story-telling common to PbtA games, for dungeon-crawling fantasy I can see a player falling into a repetitive rut of “the NPC is cowardly/overly trusting/underestimating my PC’s race/class/etc” or something similar to justify advantages on rolls. Instigator and Rules Lawyer I can see taking special care to employ, given that their moves can more easily generate adversarial playstyles in disagreeing with the other players or DM. I also like how the DM gets something when moves are successfully triggered, which can help temper PCs from overusing their moves beyond the limitations of Inspiration and rest.

I’d like to note that the hacking of the “2d6 Apocalypse World” resolution system into a d20 death save provides for some interesting effects. In being a death save, Bardic Inspiration can modify the roll, and Bane and Bless’ 1d4 modifiers can do so as well. Same with the Lucky feat’s luck points. Those are what I’ve been able to find via a quick Googling, but I’m sure there are CharOps folks out there who can cook up more innovative combos.
 

Libertad

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DM’s Guild Page.

From the same creators as King of the Road, Wizard Sleeve Studios has reimagined several popular franchises as minigames for 5th Edition. Amongst Thou is obviously based on Among Us, a one-shot that takes place on an airship where the PCs are adventurers en route to their next destination. But one of the PCs is actually a monster in disguise known as the Deceiver who seeks to murder the other PCs. In this adventure, the Dungeon master is basically the referee/arbitrator and the majority of conflict is between players.

There’s a lot of advice for running this in both online and offline games, offering advice in keeping the rest of the group in the dark about the Deceiver’s identity given that foreknowledge will ruin the point of the adventure. Using mobile devices, private messaging, subjective lighting and fog of war effects for virtual tabletops, and private rooms for things like Discord are suggested for online games. For in-person games the classic “pass note cards to the players” and “take each player into a separate room” are suggested.

The adventurers must go about the airship doing maintenance and repairs in order to ensure that they reach their destination, and Captain Frocktor (who’s the sole NPC who doesn’t do anything else) assigns individual PCs various tasks to perform which take the form of ability or tool proficiency checks. The Deceiver, in addition to hunting and killing the other PCs, can also sabotage tasks which can impose negative consequences for the survivors. We have a gridded handout of the ship map for both the upper and lower decks, and the game is separated into combat rounds for the purposes of movement and time. Rolls for tasks (or sabotage) normally take an action, although the DC of the checks start at 10 and increase by 1 every round (the starting DC is higher at other Tiers of player). There’s no negative consequences for failing a check besides time wasted.

There are six forms of Sabotage the Deceiver can do, each with their own complications. For example, breaking an engine part in the Engine Room means that a PC must first repair the broken part in the Blacksmith room as its own task before being able to work on the Engine Room task (repairing the engine as a whole) on its own. Poisoning food in the kitchen gives the Poisoned condition to any PC who eats the snacks prepared during an Urgent Assembly.

The Deceiver, in addition to sabotage, has the ability to murder a PC by taking an action if they’re both in the same room. The Deceiver’s nature is vague although a few monsters are suggested for the DM (lycanthrope, possessing ghost, doppelganger). But instead of resolving it as a typical combat, the murder attempt auto-succeeds with no means of resistance. PCs who die come back as ghosts, and can continue performing tasks on the ship albeit with disadvantage, and they’re also incapable of interacting with or cluing in the other PCs as to the nature of their murder.

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When a dead body’s discovered or a PC calls for one by visiting the meeting room on the third round or later, an Urgent Assembly can be gathered where all tasks are stopped and every living PC puts a vote as to who they believe is the Deceiver and thus thrown overboard. Votes can be openly cast or tallied in secret. If the Deceiver’s correctly chosen, then the surviving PCs “win” the adventure. If an innocent is selected, they come back as a ghost. The PCs can also win the adventure if every task is successfully completed, at which point the airship reaches its destination. The Deceiver wins if they either murdered all other PCs or avoid being thrown off the airship. There’s also a mention that the Deceiver technically wins if there’s only one other PC alive, “as they won’t have enough votes to vote the Deceiver off the airship.” This raises the question, then, on what happens if the votes result in a tie? There’s also no mention of what happens if all the tasks are completed (adventurers win) but the Deceiver’s still alive (Deceiver wins). Wouldn’t that be a draw, then?

A short epilogue is given, which can differ if done as part of a larger campaign rather than a one-shot. In such a case, the captain can give the party a Monocle of Revelation as a reward, a new rechargeable magic item which can expend charges to grant the wearer truesight (no duration specified) or gain advantage on their next Insight check. Additionally, less-lethal alternatives for losing are given, such as accused PCs being put in a magical dream-like state or correctly identifying the Deceiver allows the PC to be turned back to normal from whatever state which caused them to become a monster.

Thoughts: Although I haven’t played Among Us, the inspiration and mechanics of that game are quite clear in Amongst Thou, albeit reflavored for a fantasy airship setting rather than a sci-fi spaceship. I will say that it cleaves a bit too heavily to the game, and while the handling of secret information for games is useful, the adventure fails to discuss or consider the myriad ways 5e PCs have of discerning the murderer. A Zone of Truth cast during an Urgent Assembly can put the Deceiver in a tough spot, although on the other hand one can argue it encourages clever wordplay for the monster’s player. Additionally, a PC with a familiar can have it shadow another PC and use telepathic communication to keep each other aware of their surroundings. Furthermore, monsters aren’t exactly brimming with skill proficiencies, so unless the DM has everyone make die rolls in secret (a tall order) an observant player might notice that the Deceiver pretending to be a Wizard is rather lacking in tool and lore-related proficiencies. Of course, none of these things can break the adventure on its own, but it would’ve been nice to see the book touch upon such subjects.
 

Libertad

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DM’s Guild Page.

From the same makers as Glittergold’s Clockwork Combat, Glittergold’s Guide to Gambling (shortened to GGG for this review) is a rather creative piece of work providing seven games of skill and chance. The concept is that Garl Glittergold, god of gnomes, opened a new temple-casino known as the Gilded Nugget, and this book is his in-character guide in sharing some of his favorite games with the reader. In keeping with the charitable nature of Clockwork Combat, proceeds of all sales go to Extra Life.

GGG introduces a new game mechanic and in-universe item known as gembones. They’re basically the polyhedric dice we all know and love, and they can be used for gambling with the games in this book but are also wagered in those very games. The value of a gembone is determined by the make of its material (ranging from bone to precious metals and gems) and the number of sides, and for the purposes of these gambling games gembone rolls use a “g” instead of a “d” for rolls. A shared set of material is commonly used depending on the stakes of a game; for instance, a six-sided gembone made out of bone would be worth 6 copper pieces, read as a g6, and used in low-stakes casual games. But a twenty-sided die made from sculpted gold would be worth 20 gold pieces, be read as a g20, and used in high-stakes games often in casinos and high society functions. GGG links to some online dice sellers on Amazon for appropriate-looking dice, all the better for DMs who want to encourage their use as props.

Furthermore, there are ways for a 5e character’s in-game abilities to affect gembone games. For instance, the Lucky feat can be used to reroll a single roll for gembones (not just d20s), a Persuasion check can be used to move the dealer with a desperate sob story to try and go for “double or nothing” after a loss, and there are even ways to cheat at the games such as using Sleight of Hand to swap a valuable gembone with another!

Following are the 7 games. Each provides an alternative set of Game Variants for different modes of play, as well as a Point System for those who want to gamble for fun without wagering gembones. In the latter case they are divided into point values for Quick Games (if you want to do more than one such game a session) and Full Games (for when a single game takes center stage during a session).

Tripledip is a game of chance where each player rolls 3 four-sided, six-sided, or eight-sided gembones; higher die values are rare due to making the game much longer. Getting two or three of the same number in a combination (“dubs” for two matches or “trips” for all three) counts as a win and the player has their dice “locked.” Remaining players reroll until they get a winning combination, and the person with the highest winning combination receives gembones from other players, the amount based on the combination tier. There are four game variants, such as Machae’s Golden Pot where gembones ordinarily given to the winner are placed in a “golden pot” whose contents are given to the player to first roll “trips.”

Garl Glittergold, as well as one of the game variants, warns of a high-stakes Tripledip casino which tricks betters into signing over their souls to play the game for eternity…or until they win with a 20-20-20 roll.

Lucky No. 13 is popular among the worshipers of trickster deities, and it is common tradition to give a portion of one’s winnings to the altars of such gods. Every player needs a four, six, eight, and ten-sided gembone, and the aim of the game is to roll as close to 13 as possible without going over. Only one gembone is rolled per round, and once rolled that player’s gembone stays on the table until the game ends. The sole game variant known as Blessings of the Tricksters has players choose from among one of six deities (all from Forgotten Realms) at the beginning of the game to grant them a unique power they can use once during the game. For example, Tymora allows a player to flip a coin and add 1 or 2 to the result if their gembone total is 12, while Brandobaris allows a player to swap their last roll with a roll from an unrolled gembone if they go bust.

Rolled Gold is a game where players compete against the house, where gembones of a minimum size are the “buy in” but the house rolls a 1g20. The house’s roll determines the single potential payout die for players who win (can range from a g4 to a g100), which is called out by the house, and then players can follow up with up to three “wager dice.” The wager dice are rolled, and a player wins if they roll higher than the house or have a total of 20 or above; if the house rolled a natural 1, the wagers are paid 1 to 1 and the game is over. For games that have the payout and wager die as both g20, a bonus g4, g6, or g8 die can be wagered and added to a single g20 roll with the move being named after a spell or class feature (ex: g4 is Guidance). There are six minor Game Variants, such as Acerak’s Bane where the house rolls 1g4 and subtracts the result from all player rolls but a player roll of 20 has a better payout, or Dark Moon Heresy where house rolls are made at advantage in one game and disadvantage the next.

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Barovian Boneyard is a game played against the house that originated in the Demiplane of Dread, and several names for its rules derive from locations such as Svalich or Vallaki. The game is played solely with g6s, and each player wagers one such die. The house rolls 2g6 and the players 1g6. The result of the players’ rolls are compared to the house rolls. The goal is to get between the house’s highest roll and lowest roll for a Ravenloft, but matching either roll, a Svalich, pays out evenly; unless the house rolls doubles, in which case matching it is a 2 to 1 win. Getting higher than the higher roll or lower than the lowest roll is a Mist, or a loss. There are five minor variants, such as Blinsky where instead of gembones winners receive tickets which they use to buy creepy stuffed toys, or Wolves in the Woods where a Svalich result is a loss for the player.

Hag’s Haggle is our final game versus the house, where the concept is that the players are entering into a risky bargain with a hag. The dealer, taking the role of “hag,” states a code of conduct for players to abide by at their table, and tend to be silly things that don’t have a direct effect on the rules (players roll dice with tiny polymorphed t-rex arms, gembones must be rolled and handled with the left hand only). Failing to abide by the bargain means that the player is considered to be cheating at the game and they lose. The dealer calls out which kinds of gembones will be used in the game, and the players place their wager dice in the tray, at which point the house rolls and then the players roll. The house rolls are two dice that have the same max result as the player’s but with better odds: for example, if the house is rolling 2g10 then the players roll 1g20, and such dice also determines the payout. At various points during the game the dealer can offer the player the opportunity to “strike a bargain,” where they may have the chance of undoing a loss but with greater risks. The bargains can also vary like the Codes of Conduct, but three sample bargains are given. One example has the player guessing the result of their next die roll for a potential 10 to 1 payout, but at risk of losing their gembone if they don’t call the number even if they would ordinarily win the roll-off.

I Cast ‘Fireball’ relies more on skill than the other games while still having some unpredictability with dice; it is a houseless game where the players play against each other but a neutral spectator is used. It is custom for an illusory fireball to be cast centered on the table when someone wins the game. Much like the fireball spell, every player begins the game by rolling 8g6 when the spectator shouts “cast!” Once rolled, each player must find out which number appears the most often among their gembones, and set all such gembones with that result off to the side as being “locked.” This process is repeated with lower amounts of gembones being rolled until one player has all of their gembones being the same number, at which point they must shout “FIREBALL” to win the game. The locked gembones of every player are given to the winner, where ties are determined by either the spectator or other players. There are six variants which are themed around different spells, such as “I Cast Wall of Fire” where locked gembones are stacked on top of each other but those who fall off become unlocked.

Tiamat Is the only game in GGG that makes use of cards. The only die used and wagered is a g100, which is used to keep score rather than rolled itself in the game. Tiamat uses a custom 50 card deck, with 10 cards each of five different chromatic dragon colors. The goal of the game is to make a winning combination from a hand of five cards, and the more cards of the same color you have the better your result. The player with the highest winning hand deals damage to other players that is based upon their own hand, where the relative strength of the losers’ hands determines how much damage they “block.” Tiamat card decks are often magical and enchanted to create illusory dragons doing battle during such a time, making it a popular spectator sport. Players who take damage change their g100 to lower results, representing their “life counter.”

Tiamat’s three game variants are based off of popular draconic creatures, such as Bahamut where players are organized into two teams (chromatic and metallic) and team members cannot damage each other.

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The subsequent sections are much shorter. Gambler’s Code talks about common rules of etiquette for gembone gamblers as well as consequences for cheating. Gembones made of gold piece-equivalent and higher value material are often crafted with magic that makes them glow if the results are magically altered. Cheaters caught at the Gilded Nugget are punk’d by the manager: in claiming to be impressed at the cheater’s ingenuity, they are escorted to a VIP Room and offered one of four new magic items provided in this book as a reward. All four such items are cursed, with the curse only removed via an exorbitant donation to the Church of Glittergold. They include the Belt of Gnome Giant Strength (STR becomes 10 if higher than that value), Duck Blade (looks like a Luck Blade but summons 10d100 ducks to the area if the “wish” is used), Snake Eyes Greatsword (+1 greatsword that treats all damage rolls as if the dice rolled a total of 2), and Stone of Fool’s Luck (attuner believes they have advantage on Ability Checks, but actually has disadvantage).

Our product wraps up with a glossary of common gambling terms as well as a few specific to this product, and an advertisement for four other 5e products by other publishers the author believes make a good addition to gambling-themed events and adventures.

Thoughts: I am not a probability expert, so I cannot accurately attest to the odds and playability of the games within Glittergold’s Guide to Gambling. Most of their rules are simple enough to be ascertained quickly by players, and between the game variants and point values there’s a good amount of ways to keep these games feeling fresh. I particularly like how the in-game skills and proficiencies of PCs can influence play, even if such rules are brief, and I love the concept of gembones as the major betting mechanic because it has a more interesting feel than just wagering coins. They can also make for good treasure for parties to find on adventures and introduce them to the games. The in-character text boxes of Glittergold’s narrations are flavorful, and I do appreciate the fact that the author is willing to shout out the products of other publishers and dice makers.

When it comes to the gambling games themselves, I’m rather fond of the last two, likely due to them having a better mixture of skill as well as chance. I Cast Fireball encourages sharp eyes and quick estimations, while Tiamat is a rather simple card game that is quicker to play than something like Three-Dragon Ante. I also like Barovian Boneyard, where instead of a simple “higher/lower is better” the winning combination of die results is highly dependent on what the house gets. Beyond this, I enjoy its concept of extraplanar call-outs that come with the implied shared universe of many D&D settings.

Tripledip and Lucky No. 13 are a bit too simple for me to have many thoughts on one way or another. Hag’s Haggle feels similar in being an inherently simple game, with the Codes and Bargains being more of an ad hoc means to add complexity. I’m a bit unsure about Rolled Gold. A single d20 has every result being an even 5% chance, but when rolling three dice that creates a bell curve. I can see a 3d6 being “fair,” although when you hit 3d8 the dice start to tip in the player’s favor. I’d have expected the “buy in” die to be lost no matter what. On the other hand, as the payout die for a win is only ever a single gembone (with g12s for house results of 11-12, g20s 13-18, and g100 for 19-20) that still means that over half of players are at risk of losing an equal or greater value (3d4 is 12, 3d6 is 18) of gembones money-wise via the wager.

The cursed magic items at the end are an amusing touch, although the flaws of the Duck Blade are a bit more subjective; there may be times when a one-use hoard of ducks can actually be helpful to the party!
 

Libertad

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Drive-Thru RPG Link.

There’s quite a bit of weapons in 5th Edition, but in practical play most gamers stick to a few, with some being suboptimal choices clearly outclassed by others. The authors of Choose Your Weapon sought to remake how weapons work by tying them directly to a character’s martial skill. Dispensing with simple and martial weapon proficiencies, their damage is tied to a new mechanic known as an heroic damage die determined mainly by class. This damage die can be further altered by weapon properties, and unlike properties of the core rules the ones here are reflective more of a character’s particular fighting style rather than an innate quality of the weapon itself.

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The Heroic Damage Die is determined by the class a PC selects at 1st level, ranging from 1d6 for primary spellcasters to 1d12 for the Fighter and Barbarian. Paladins and Rangers have a d10, and Bards and Rogues a d8. Monks are a special case, for they have an heroic damage die of d6 but they can use the die of their Martial Arts class feature for monk weapons if it’s a higher value. The heroic damage die can be further altered in a number of ways up or down the damage die ladder in a process known as steps. Generally speaking, qualities which can be advantageous to a weapon reduce its damage by 1 or 2 steps, but ones which impose some kind of hindrance can raise it by 1 or 2 steps. A PC’s innate heroic damage die increases by 1 step if they multiclass into a class with a higher value, and subclass features that can grant martial weapon proficiency can also improve it by 1 step (up to a maximum of d10 unless it’s already better). Races which grant martial weapon proficiencies don’t alter this, and Blade Pact Warlocks and Bladesinger Wizards use a d10 for their signature weapon but d6 for all others. In the Bladesinger’s case the final base damage should be d8 or less. There is a problem with the above graphic in that it is missing the d10 value, although the sample text more or less confirms that it’s nestled between the d8 and 1d12/2d6 steps:

As a Fighter, your weapon damage die with the hand crossbow is reduced from d12 to d10 (one-handed), then from d10 to d8 (light), and finally from d8 back up to d10 (loading). You deal d10 + your Dexterity bonus damage with your hand crossbow.

Already we can find several interesting impacts on the base system: for one, this makes non-monk unarmed strikes a lot more potent, for even with negative ladder steps a Barbarian or Fighter can deal 1d8 or d10 damage with their bare fists, and even a quarterstaff can deal a mighty 1d12 or 2d6 damage in the hands of a Paladin or Ranger with the versatile property applied. As for the monk, they get the short end of the stick in that they won’t be dealing a lot of damage; I’ll get into it further, but with how Choose Your Weapon works they’ll be dealing 1d4 damage base at low levels unless they opt to go for two-handers, which don’t qualify as monk weapons. As for light and one-handed weapons? That’s going to be a measly 1 until their Martial Arts die grows to 1d8 and 1d10 at 11th and 17th levels. They aren’t going to be batting at the same level as even Rangers and Blade Pact Warlocks. It feels wrong for me that Fighters and Paladins can punch better than Monks, so I would apply a personal rule where Monk Weapons use a d10 for their Heroic Damage Die.

As for multiclassing, Choose Your Weapon makes starting out as a martial class a better option, particularly for gish builds. As such things were heavily encouraged in basic D&D with armor proficiency, those Fighter/Wizard builds have all the more reason to take their 1st level in Fighter with Choose Your Weapon. An unarmed character or one who wishes to be a monk would do better in taking their first level in Barbarian, Fighter, or a martial subclass such as Valor Bard.

When players or DMs make a new weapon under these rules, it is known as a Template. They are character-specific means of wielding a weapon: for example, a mighty-thewed barbarian may wield a greatsword with wild, powerful blows and even throw it a respectable distance. They may deal 1d16/2d8 damage to reflect their inaccurate yet deadly fighting style: a base damage of 1d12/2d6, modified by two-handed for 0 steps, heavy +2 steps, and thrown 30/120 feet -1 step. Meanwhile a Pact of the Blade Warlock may use their innate magical abilities to fight with more precise strikes and keep their opponents at a distance. They may technically have the same weapon but deal 1d8 damage: a base damage of 1d10, modified by two-handed 0 steps, and with the reach property -1 step. PCs create new personal templates as they wield or acquire different weapons in play, and for DMs which desire added verisimilitude can use an optional training rule. In this case, PCs are treated as untrained with new weapons and have disadvantage on attack rolls until they spend downtime becoming proficient with them as per rules in the Dungeon Master’s Guide or Xanathar’s.

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Properties for weapons both new and existing are outlined, along with how they may alter steps on the die ladder. One-handed weapons reduce damage by 1 step, and two-handed weapons leave it unaltered. Ranged and thrown weapons don’t alter the damage die at the lowest levels (ammunition 30/120 feet, thrown 20/60 feet), although higher ranges can reduce the die by 1 or 2 steps and in the case of ammunition weapons they cannot be one-handed. Heavy weapons are altered in this system: instead of being wielded only by Medium and larger races, they impose disadvantage on attack rolls but increase the damage die by 2 steps and can only be applied to two-handed weapons. One-handed weapons with the Versatile property increase the damage die by 1 step when wielded in 2 hands, which given that one-handed imposes a 1 step penalty this more or less negates it. The lance property (which works like a lance but without reach by default) adds 2 steps, putting it up there with Heavy. As for the double property, it is -2 steps and both ends of the weapon are used to attack: it is a two-handed weapon by default, but for two-weapon fighting both ends are created as 2 one-handed light weapons. For those with the Dual Wielder feat, an attack made with an action or reaction deals -1 step and an attack made with a bonus action -2 steps. In regards to 2-weapon fighting, a reading of this sounds like the weapon could have a total of -4 steps (-2 by default, -2 for turning the two-handed weapon into one-handed light weapons), which can be really punishing. Even a d12/2d6 PC will be reduced to 1 on the damage die ladder this way. As for Reach (-1 step), it is the same as in the PHB save with the caveat that Small or Tiny PCs can’t apply it unless they also apply the Heavy property, which has the effect of making gnomes and halflings rather inaccurate with whips.

For very big monsters, there are Oversized and Massive properties, wielded by creatures 1 or 2 size categories larger than the PC. Oversized is like the heavy property but none of the upsides, while massive cannot be wielded at all. Neither property can be chosen for weapons at character creation.

We also get a new sub-system for Entangling weapons, which don’t damage but restrain a target and use their own properties instead. Generally speaking, the only real properties are range and have their own prerequisites: melee the weapon cannot have the finesse, lance, or versatile properties, ammunition 30/120 feet requires the weapon to have the loading property, thrown 5/15 feet must be a one-handed weapon without the finesse property, and thrown 10/30 feet is only for two-handed weapons. In each case a target is restrained on a successful hit, and can only be used on Large or smaller creatures that aren’t formless (Oversized and Massive can be used against Huge creatures). A weapon can have the Dual property where it can deal damage instead of entangling at -1 step with its own properties, but in such a case both versions are built with properties as close as possible. The barbed property deals damage to a restrained target equal to the heroic damage die -2 steps at the beginning of each of their turns.

Characters going for pure damage have the ability to really crank up values. A weapon with the Heavy and Lance properties can go up a whopping 4 steps, but as the damage die ladder tops out at 1d20/2d10 it is redundant to have more than 2 or 3 steps for martially-inclined PCs. As for ranged weapons, the only property that can increase damage is Loading, and only by 1 step which is perhaps for the best given how useful ranged attacks are in comparison to melee.

We also get a table of Standard Weapon Templates showing how virtually every PHB weapon (plus a few new ones) can be built in this system. The notable additions include various polearms sized for Medium and Small characters, while weapons that would ordinarily be Heavy in the PHB such as greatswords and mauls lack this property. Generally speaking, the d12 and d10 classes do overall more damage with non-two handed weapons which would be Simple, but more or less the same values for martial properties. The d6 classes do less across the board, and in cases where it’s -2 steps (mostly in the case of one-handed weapons with the light property) deal a measly 1 damage!

To showcase how this system can be used to make entirely new weapons, we have stats for a yklwa, a one-handed weapon with the 20/60 thrown weapon for a total of -1 step. We also see the return of the two-bladed sword, listed as a Double Sword which is a two-handed melee weapon with the Double property.

I did spot a few errors: the whip has the one-handed and reach properties which would reduce it by 2 steps, but in the table only reduces by 1 step. The shortbow, light crossbow, and heavy crossbow list ammunition at 90/350 when the latter category should be 340. As for the Double Sword it lists -2 steps, although given the problems I saw in that property above there isn’t an easy way to put it in a table.

Special Cases cover clarifications to the rest of the rules in using this new system. For one, natural weapons from a race’s innate features that don’t have special effects use the Choose Your Weapon rules, with some general guidelines like determining whether it’s one-handed or two based on how many hands are free when the attack is made. For weapons acquired through class features or a racial ability with secondary effects (like secondary damage from forced movement), the damage die of the default ability is used. For monks, any weapon that doesn’t have the two-handed, heavy, and oversized properties counts as a monk weapon, and uses the higher value of either their Martial Arts or Heroic Damage Die when making attacks with monk weapons.

Enemies explains that in most cases the Choose Your Weapon rules shouldn’t apply to NPCs and monsters. Not only does it heft a lot more work on the Dungeon Master, the damage output of enemies are often already balanced with their default features. But for DMs who wish to make their stat blocks from scratch, the book gives six sample roles and their appropriate damage die: for example, Controllers focus less on direct damage and so have a d6, while Brutes tend to be physical melee types at d10. The Skirmisher has the highest at d12, being glass cannons that strike fast and hard.

Overall Thoughts: From a broad perspective, Choose Your Weapon applies a net increase to non-monk martial classes and frees up characters to reflavor weapons as they desire without being forced into suboptimal choices (“but I really like flails!”). On the other hand, it has several side effects as a result of implementation, like all but requiring spellcasters to make use of cantrips or heavier weapons to deal respectable damage. For example, Clerics are now on par with Sorcerers and Wizards when wielding longswords (1d4 damage), and two-weapon fighting Rogues need to rely even more on poison and Sneak Attack for damage (1d8 -2 steps for light and one-handed weapon properties is 1d4). Due to this, the book’s reception among gaming tables will differ depending on what classes are being used by players: martial characters, particularly pure martials like the Barbarian and Fighter will love it, as will some gish builds like the Valor Bard, Bladesinger Wizard, and Pact of the Blade Warlock. But Monks, Rogues, and War Domain Clerics may not be as fond of the damage die drops for their one-handed and non-loading ranged weapons.
 

Libertad

Hero
For a change of pace, I did a live streaming review of a sourcebook:


The Zero Level Rulebook takes the iconic character creation funnel from Dungeon Crawl Classics and converts it to 5th Edition D&D. A pretty fun idea for a one-shot!
 


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