Does One D&D Fix Grappling?

At least in one major way, yes.

In 5e, to grapple someone you make a Strength (Athletics) check opposed by their Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics) check, and if you win they are Grappled, meaning they cannot move, but that’s it.

Pictured: grappling (picture of a stop sign)

So imagine your party Wizard is being attacked by a melee brute, let’s call it a Bearded Devil. You’re a big Barbarian or Fighter and want to grapple the thing to get it to lay off the Wizard. You go up and succeed the opposed check, and you’re both now Grappled.

What has changed? Almost nothing. If the BD’s turn comes between yours and the Wizard’s, the BD still gets to attack the Wizard totally unimpeded. If the Wizard’s turn comes between yours and the BD’s, then they either have to Disengage or take an opportunity attack, the same as if the BD weren’t grappled at all. The only difference is that if the Wizard disengages or eats an opportunity attack and successfully moves away, then on the BD’s next turn, it has to either attack you or use its action to try to escape the grapple to pursue the Wizard.

(Spider-Man asking “Why do I even bother?”)

That is a tangential benefit that almost certainly is less useful than just hitting the thing or at least knocking it prone.

But the One D&D UA released today changes that in a good way! The new Grappled condition gives disadvantage to attacks against anyone other than your grappler. So as soon as you grapple the Bearded Devil, its opportunity attack against the fleeing Wizard is now at Disadvantage! And even if the BD’s turn comes before the Wizard’s, it has an incentive to attack you instead of the Wizard even though the Wizard is still next to it. So you instantly help out your party’s squishies by grappling the melee brute that is attacking them! Exactly how you imagine running up and engaging your companion’s assailant should help.

It’s not all good news for grapplers and bad for grapplees, though. The Bearded Devil now gets a free chance to break the grapple at the end of its turn instead of having to use its action. So if the BD’s turn is before the Wizard’s, then it will likely attack you to avoid disadvantage, and then attempt to break the grapple. If it succeeds, then the Wizard still faces a full OA when they run on their turn.

Battle of the Bearded Dudes, I suppose

In summary, there are three ways a successful grapple changes this scenario: either 1) the Wizard is able to run away and only face an OA with disadvantage, 2) the BD attacks you instead of the Wizard, but breaks the grapple at the end of its turn and still fully threatens the Wizard, or 3) the BD attacks you instead of the Wizard and fails to break the grapple at the end of its turn, so the Wizard also only faces an OA with disadvantage.

Either way, it’s a lot better than maybe sucking up the BD’s action a whole turn later after it’s already made another round of attacks and opportunity attacks on the Wizard. I’m implementing this immediately. Three cheers for One D&D!

Think Things, Not Words

(This is a post about rulings in D&D 5e, I promise.)

In 1899, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., wrote the lines “We must think things not words, or at least we must constantly translate our words into the facts for which they stand, if we are to keep to the real and the true.” We live in a very different age where justices allow textual minutiae to erode and diminish the rights secured by past generations’ efforts, then chide the upset citizenry for not knowing that words are more important than things. But that’s a little too significant for this blog.

Almost as significant as that moustache! (Portrait of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., sporting a Wario moustache in white)

It is relevant, though. For the life of D&D 5e, official rule interpretations have come in the form of Sage Advice, mostly tweets from D&D’s Lead Designer Jeremy Crawford. These are compiled into the Sage Advice Compendium, here. As of this writing, the most recent compendium update was released in April of 2020.

The vast majority of Sage Advice’s rulings are fairly noncontroversial, but there are a few that leave you scratching your head. There’s a theme to some of the most egregious of these outliers: they rely on the text of the rules as written to justify an awkward, clunky distinction that doesn’t really make sense based on the apparent in-universe rules of “how things work.” They are rulings based on words, not the actual things the words represent.

A Hero Is Only As Good As His Weapon

The best known example may be the paladin’s Divine Smite ability. The text of the rule reads “when you hit a creature with a melee weapon attack, you can expend one spell slot to deal radiant damage to the target, in addition to the weapon’s damage.” So the question came: Can a paladin use Divine Smite when they hit using an unarmed strike? Well, in the combat chapter, the PHB tells us “Instead of using a weapon to make a melee weapon attack, you can use an unarmed strike.” In other words, whether you use a weapon or an unarmed strike, that is a melee weapon attack, so either fulfills the requirement of Divine Smite.

And this makes sense, right? What god insists on the use of handheld weapons to the point that they withhold their paladins’ ability to smite enemies if they head-butt them instead of smash them with a hammer? Let alone all gods, since this would apply to all paladins! That’s a pretty arbitrary, if not outright silly limitation. Divine Smite imbues divine energy to a paladin’s physical attack, whatever form that takes. Any other ruling would also create a strange, new distinction between a “melee weapon attack,” which includes unarmed strikes per the combat chapter, and an “attack with a melee weapon,” which does not. Textually, conceptually, structurally, and practically, Divine Smite on an unarmed strike is the clearer, more sensible, more consistent rule.

But it’s not the one Sage Advice went with. You see, according to Sage Advice, “the text of Divine Smite…refers to the ‘weapon’s damage,’ and an unarmed strike isn’t a weapon.” (Compendium, p. 5). Sage Advice gets stuck on the words in the rule, that it refers to “the weapon’s damage,” which must be different from an unarmed strike’s damage, even though they are both melee weapon attacks. If the rule had meant to include unarmed strikes, I suppose it would have said “you can expend one spell slot to deal radiant damage to the target, in addition to the weapon or unarmed strike’s damage,” or “in addition to the attack’s normal damage,” or something else. But since it said “the weapon’s damage,” well, I guess poor Sage Advice’s hands were tied.

(“Is he though?” still from Thor: Ragnarok)

Paladins got a slight nerf and the category of “attack with a melee weapon” was distinguished from “melee weapon attack,” because Sage Advice answered the question by thinking words, not things. Never mind that the words in Divine Smite were likely drafted without knowing what the combat chapter’s final text would say about unarmed strikes, and likely by a totally different person or even team than whoever wrote the unarmed strike rules. No, Sage Advice instead insists that this was a thematic choice, that paladins are traditionally associated with weapons so the game wouldn’t support unarmed paladins, and not an interpretive choice wherein Crawford answered a question by strictly following a slightly contradictory text. That is difficult to believe, and if true, a bad reason to burden us with “attack with a melee weapon” anyway.

But even more egregious than Divine Smite is what this textualist approach did to magical effects in, say, an antimagic field.

Works Like Magic (Except When It Totally Doesn’t)!

According to antimagic field‘s description, “[s]pells and other magical effects, except those created by an artifact or a deity, are suppressed in the sphere and can’t protrude into it.” There are some further rules describing how spells and other magical effects are suppressed, but that’s the relevant takeaway. So the question comes to Sage Advice: is the breath weapon of a dragon magical? Is it a “magical effect” for antimagic field and similar purposes?

A great question, since “magical effect” is not defined in the rulebooks. There are a number of things to think about while answering it: dragons are inherently magical creatures, and breathing fire or ice or acid or sleep gas seems like a part of their magical nature. At the same time, every elf also has Fey Ancestry which gives them apparently magical immunity to charm and magical sleep effects. Is that also a “magical effect” suppressed by antimagic field? Elementals are beings of almost pure magical energy, are they suppressed, as well? Magic infuses every inch of D&D worlds, it is part of their fundamental make up, yet obviously antimagic field doesn’t blink everything in its radius out of existence. What about a monk’s ki effects? Druid’s Wild Shape? A paladin’s aura? Bardic Inspiration? We have to draw a line somewhere that feels right and that DMs can apply at their own table.

Or we could do what Sage Advice did and make up textual rules about whether something is magical. There are 5 ways an effect can be magical, and if it doesn’t fit any of those 5, then it’s not magical. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is it a magic item?
  2. Is it a spell, or does it let you create the effects of a spell that’s mentioned in its description?
  3. Is it a spell attack?
  4. Is it fueled by the use of spell slots?
  5. Does its description say it’s magical?

If at least one of the answers is yes, the feature/trait is a magical effect. So, a dragon’s breath, it turns out, is not a magical effect since it is not described as “magical” in its statblock or any of the other criteria. (Compendium, p. 20)

But as is often the case when you impose strict textual rules of interpretation on rules written years before by different people in different phases of development, these rigid rules lead to some weird results!

For instance, a bard’s Countercharm ability, whereby you use “musical notes or words of power to disrupt mind-influencing effects[,]” is now not magical. A Light Cleric’s Warding Flare or Life Cleric’s Divine Strikes? Not magical. When a Tempest Cleric takes flight via Stormborn? Also not magical. The Eldritch Knight Fighter – you know, the one who casts spells – gets the ability to teleport when they Action Surge, but it’s not a magical teleport, apparently, just one of those mundane teleports. A paladin’s Lay On Hands is not magical, nor is the Vengeance Paladin’s ability to transform into a winged form with a frightening aura. An Archfey Warlock’s Misty Escape, whereby they become invisible and teleport, is not magical, nor is the Fiend Warlock’s Hurl Through Hell feature which, as you can guess, hurls enemies through hell. All of this can happen in an antimagic field, apparently. Bizarrely, teleportation is one of the specifically enumerated effects of antimagic field, even though some teleports are, by Sage Advice, not magical!

(Woman with math meme)

“OK, fine,” you might say to yourself, “imposing that rule backwards may not work very well, but I’m sure specifying what is meant to be magical became standard practice after that Sage Advice, right?” Well, that Sage Advice response first appeared in 2015, over 2 years before the first major expansion, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, was released. That book featured the Barbarian Path of the Ancestral Guardian, whose key feature, Ancestral Protectors, summons spirits who protect you. It just does so non-magically, apparently. The Grave Cleric can harness the energy of a departing soul to heal others, and this is also not magical. A Hexblade Warlock can raise an undead specter to be its servant all without magic.

Suffice it to say, things don’t get better in Tasha’s, either, in fact it introduces psionic subclasses which are a whole new gray area. Material being released today is just as random on the Sage Advice magical effect criteria as the material that predated it. And this list is by no means exhaustive. There are dozens more class features that are clearly magical in concept but are not technically “magical effects” per Sage Advice. I haven’t even looked at monsters yet, but I assume the problem is just as rampant there.

When PCs are teleporting, hurling fools through hell, and raising spectres and you’re calling that not a magical effect, but a Totem Warrior Barbarian speaking with animals is since the latter directly cites a spell, the term “magical effect” has lost all practical meaning. These are not even the close calls that rules clarifications are helpful for. Sage Advice never should have defined “magical effects” by tying it to the specific words a dozen or more authors happened to use in descriptive text written across the many years of the edition’s lifespan. The results are absurd.

Now, I’m a lawyer, I get where Crawford’s coming from: in an ideal world the words we use to codify rules would perfectly express the scope of what we want the rule to do, so the rules text itself can provide the answers without having to engage with the inherently fuzzy concepts directly. He wanted to find an answer in the words, not the things the words represent, just like a Supreme Court Ju–no, sorry, not getting significant. I get that impulse for easy analysis, but in any sprawling system, the easy answer will often lead to more confusing, less beneficial outcomes. In Justice Holmes’ words, it loses “the real and the true.” Sometimes it is better to let judges just roll up their sleeves and make substantive judgment calls in context.

“I never broke the rules! I AM THE RULES!!” (Judge Dredd)

That means the “rule” on magical effects should have addressed things, not words. Something like:

  • If an effect is accomplished by material, mundane, or mechanical means, it is not a magical effect; but if it is accomplished by applying some source of supernatural energy, whether arcane, divine, mystical, or otherwise, then it is a magical effect.
  • For example, all spells channel arcane or divine energy, so spellcasting is magical, as is any feature or trait that mimics a particular spell or is fueled by spell slots. Likewise, any effect that calls for a spell attack or a save against a Spell DC channels magical energy.
  • Some features and traits are magical even if they don’t refer to spellcasting: a druid takes the form of beasts via Wild Shape, clerics and paladins can Channel Divinity, and Pact of the Fiend warlocks can send their enemies on a trip through hell.
  • Supernatural energies include more than just the arcane and divine, e.g. the mystical or psionic. A monk’s ki powers and a mind flayer’s Mind Blast are also magical effects since they manipulate those energies.
  • Just because something seems unrealistic does not mean it is not mundane in D&D worlds. Realistically, a creature built like a typical fantasy dragon would be unable to fly. But what matters is that dragons have wings, which are a mundane means to fly. Unless something suggests otherwise, creatures with a mundane means to accomplish an effect use those means, and creatures with a magical means to accomplish an effect use those means.
  • When a creature has both mundane and magical means to accomplish an effect, it may help to compare the effect to other effects the creature has to decide which means is likely producing the effect in question.

Thus, the analysis of a white dragon’s Cold Breath would go something like: while we could imagine a mechanical or mundane means of spewing an icy blast at a foe, nothing about a white dragon suggests it has such means. On the other hand, white dragons create icy effects similar to their Cold Breath in their lair and region as they grow in power, which certainly seem to be supernatural. Since the white dragon’s other ice effects appear to be accomplished by magical means, and no mundane means of blasting ice is suggested by what we know of dragons, the white dragon’s Cold Breath is a magical effect.

(Spongebob Squarepants making a rainbow with the words “It’s Magic”)

Maybe you would draw the line slightly differently, maybe “magic” is really only about drawing on external energies and therefore inherent magic like a dragon’s breath or a monk’s ki or an elf’s fey ancestry would not count as “magical effects.” Or some other mental model entirely.

The point is not to draw the perfect line between non-magical and magical effects, the point is that the rules and/or DM rulings should define that line in terms of the fictional things that are happening and not by the words a given author happened to use to describe them.

And that has become very apparent with the updated monster stat blocks! A lot of good changes in the new blocks, but magic is a much more mixed bag. Spellcasting monsters’ key spells will be turned into unique Actions to make them easier to run, while other, mostly out-of-combat utility spells, will be in the general Spellcasting Action. I’m all for making spellcasters easier to run, and Actions written out in the block beat just a spell name I have to look up every time. But changing key effects from spells to non-spells changes things a lot, especially when the new write-up forgets to describe an obviously supernatural effect as magical. Now it’s no longer a spell, no longer uses a spell slot, and isn’t written as “magical,” which makes it not even a magical effect! The old War Priest was, for all intents and purposes, a War Cleric who would be just as affected by antimagic field as the party’s War Cleric. The new one, OTOH, would not be much affected since its at-will Holy Fire attack is neither a spell nor a magical effect, according to Sage Advice.

Enough is enough. Sage Advice put out a rigid, text-based definition of magical effect that was wildly inconsistent with the game as it was written then, has not been applied since, and now the textual and mechanical lines between mundane and magical effects are being blurred even more with the new evolution. DMs shouldn’t follow that Sage Advice, and the new evolution of 5e should write a rule for magical effects and then ensure that magical effects actually follow it.

My definition and ruling are by no means perfect, there are still edge cases like paladin auras or bardic inspiration that you could argue either way for. But when stuff is already published and you’re just looking to interpret it, clear concepts with some unclear application is ultimately preferable to a crystal-clear-to-apply but frequently absurd answer. DMs have to make up how to award magic items and had to invent how stealth is supposed to work entirely: we can decide whether an effect in the narrative and rules is accomplished by mundane or magical means.

Keep to the Real and True

I’m a proponent of robust rules, but no TTRPG can cover everything and making rulings is an important skill for every DM. Unfortunately, 5e really doesn’t provide much guidance on how to make one or how to communicate one. Sage Advice are official rulings: they’re not binding, but they’re a model of rulings. While most Sage Advice is perfectly reasonable (where the rules actually answer the question), occasionally the insistence on ruling from text instead of from the fiction creates absurd results.

Justice Holmes gives us a better way: think things, not words. Understand the rules are imperfectly trying to reflect the fictional world, and that world can and should be the foundation of your rulings, not just the letter of the rules text. Paladins can Smite with their fists. Lay On Hands is a magical effect. Sage Advice can just be wrong. Death to textualism.

(King Theoden shouts “Death!” at the Battle of Pelennor Fields, Return of the King)

Rant: Creature size on hex grid is WAAY off

Have you ever tried to put a Large creature mini in the center of 3 1″ hexes like the 5e DMG indicates is the size of a Large creature?

Table showing D&D creature sizes in both square grid and hex grid (as listed below)

That mini’s base is spilling waaay over into the bordering hexes, such that no Medium base can fit there. And a Huge base swallows the 7 hexes the DMG says it’s supposed to get plus takes a bite out of 5 more hexes.

Either you need to use a much bigger hex grid (like 1.25″, maybe 1.33″?), or just drop the 3-hex configuration and bump the size categories up so that a Large mini fits over 7 hexes, Huge covers 12, etc.

And this makes way more sense because a 1″ hex isn’t a square inch of area the way a 1″ square is. A 1″ hex is ~.853 square inches, so 3 of them together is only about 2.56 square inches, significantly smaller than the 4 square inches on a square grid. Currently, the DMG recommends an increasingly smaller area on hex grids than on square grids:

  • Medium (1″ diameter base, 0.785 sq. in.) = 1 square (1 sq. in.) = 1 hex (0.853 sq. in.)
  • Large (2″ diameter base, 3.141 sq. in.) = 4 squares (4 sq. in.) = 3 hexes (2.56 sq. in.)
  • Huge (3″ diameter base, 7.068 sq. in.) = 9 squares (9 sq. in.) = 7 hexes (5.974 sq. in.)
  • Gargantuan (4″ diameter base, 12.566 sq. in.) = 16 squares (16 sq. in.) = 12 hexes (10.24 sq. in.)

Notice that every hex arrangement over Medium is actually smaller than the creature’s base? You see how the Gargantuan creature is supposed to take up barely over 1 sq. in. more on a hex grid than the Huge creature does on a square grid? These hex arrangements are unworkable.

The Huge creature should take up 12 hexes, the Large 7, and the Medium 1. Gargantuan, then, takes the 19-hex pattern that Colossal creatures took in previous editions. (The 19-hex pattern covers 16.214 sq. in., almost exactly the 16 that Gargantuan creatures on a square grid takes).

Hex-based creature sizes from Small/Medium through Colossal, Colossal with 19 hexes.

If you want, you can put the Large creature on a symmetrical 6-hex pattern that actually makes its total area closer to the 4 sq. in. of the square grid than either 3 or 7 hexes does (5.12 sq. in. instead of 2.56 or 5.974, respectively).

6-hex Large creature pattern that forms a triangle of 3 hexes on a side

I know no one cares about hex grids anyway, and VTTs and TotM really don’t care how big minis are. But it bothers me that multiple editions have been suggesting such absurd hex conversions to ostensibly use with your same minis and maps.


“Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee”: Inspiration as Camaraderie in D&D

“Camaraderie” by Magic the Gathering artist Sidharth Chaturvedhi

Camaraderie, friendship, and love are quintessential themes of the fantasy adventure genre. This goes back at least to The Iliad: Achilles is content to sit out the fight against the Trojans until his dear companion Patroclus is slain by Prince Hector of Troy. Achilles’ world-shaking rage is awakened, and Hector’s fate is sealed.

In the grandfather of D&D, The Lord of the Rings, the fellowship of the Ring quickly grow to be a tight-knit group (Boromir excepted). Merry and Pippin begin as close friends, and that bond strengthens them in their many hardships. Conversely, Legolas and Gimli don’t see eye to eye (ba-dum-tiss!), but their common travails nevertheless forge a trust that transcends their familial feud. And then, of course, there’s Frodo and Sam. From their earliest steps, where the quote in the title symbolizes this relationship, their love and devotion to each other seem to be the only things carrying their small Hobbit forms through the oppression of Mordor.

In D&D literature, the Heroes of the Lance on Krynn, the Companions of the Hall in the Forgotten Realms, and nowadays Vox Machina and the Mighty Nein of Exandria are replete with siblings, comrades, and lovers that inspire equal parts heroism and foolishness. Whether its the Majere twins in Dragonlance or the half-elven twins of Vox Machina, or the found family of misfits that is the Mighty Nein, the line between family and adventuring companions is often blurry, a dynamic that breeds the kind of trust you need to risk life and limb next to someone in a dungeon day in and day out.

“The new Rogue’s got our back, right? Right?”

It’s a core part of so many fantasy adventure stories, and a lot of fantasy TTRPGs include something that reflects that bond: you’re not just 3-6 strangers who happen to be fighting monsters in the same room, the trust you’ve built helps you focus – you’re not worried about being stabbed in the back – and to push yourself – you are all that stands between your companions and death! My favorite implementation was in The One Ring by Cubicle 7.

In The One Ring, every character has a small pool of meta-currency called Hope that you can spend to add extra bonuses to rolls. In addition, there is a shared “Fellowship pool” equal in size to the number of companions in your fellowship which can replenish 1 spent Hope per Fellowship, if at least half the group agrees (if half the group does not agree, you can still take the point, but you also gain 1 Shadow). Finally, one of your adventuring companions is your “Fellowship Focus,” and any Hope you spend to directly help or rescue them is restored to you, if the attempt succeeds, but if they are wounded or slain, you take 1 or 3 Shadow, respectfully.

So, when Anthony Joyce (@Thrawn589) and M.T. Black (@mtblack2567) called for ideas on incorporating love of all kinds into D&D, I half-remembered The One Ring mechanic and described it (wrongly) on their posts. I said Fellowship points were the meta-currency, and spending them to help your Fellowship Focus gave you it back, but if your FF was slain, you took Despair and couldn’t use Fellowship points. Black, in particular, was a big fan and took that and ran with it:

M.T. Black’s Camaraderie rule, from his Twitter post

This is a great optional rule that instantly inspired a lot of ideas for me. It’s also a much better implementation of Inspiration than the forgettable default Inspiration rules.

First, I think there needs to be some limit on uses of the inspiring comrade bit. I first thought of limiting it to 1/SR, but I think the limiter from TOR is better: the camaraderie point is replenished only if the action succeeds, as your spirits are lifted as you see your inspiring comrade escape a terrible fate or succeed at their endeavor. If it fails, the point is not replenished, as your effort did not change your comrade’s fortunes at all. If you and your inspiring comrade are fighting a monster together and using camaraderie on every attack roll, the pool will be depleted before too long. But then, using it up when you’re fighting the big boss is exactly the point: when we face extreme challenges, that’s when those bonds must flex the most to share the great burden.

Next, while reading a related thread I noticed someone posted a similar ability to inspiring comrade called Bond from the Quest TTRPG:

In particular, the second and third bullets are extremely flavorful and part and parcel of the trope we are aiming for. I’d say the third one is partially covered by the base inspiring comrade mechanic, so out of a desire to keep moving parts to a minimum, I would just add the second: When you are separated from your inspiring comrade and they face grave danger, you sense that they are in peril, no matter where you are.

Finally, I would re-introduce some consequences when your inspiring comrade falls, but not just negative consequences. The death (or otherwise permanent loss, like being plane-shifted with no means of return, etc.) of your inspiring comrade should be a big gut punch; there’s a raw wound in your soul that shuts down all other social bonds, and the possibility of warping your focus to exclude all else and consider only your loss. Rules-wise, you are Isolated and must make a DC 10 Wisdom saving throw or become Anguished, which you can choose to fail if desired. Both end when you complete a long rest.

What’re Isolated and Anguished? New conditions that interact with camaraderie rules, because I like to make things complicated:

Isolated: An isolated character cannot use camaraderie.

(Having the isolated condition separate also allows other triggering events that might make someone isolated. That gets into inter-party conflict, which is kind of verboten in 5e, but hey, optional rules are optional rules. I’m willing to put it out there and see how it goes.)

Anguished: An anguished character has advantage on all attack rolls and saving throws against the enemy or enemies that led to their inspiring comrade’s death. They have disadvantage on all other attack rolls, saving throws, and ability checks.

Grieving for a fallen comrade

What does this look like? It means the Barbarian Achilles can use camaraderie to gain advantage on an attack against the Dark Prince Hector who is attacking the Fighter Patroclus, his inspiring comrade. If that attack succeeds, the camaraderie point comes right back. When Patroclus dies or is teleported to a torture chamber in Carceri, never to return, Achilles can’t use camaraderie anymore, but he can choose to fail the save against his grief (or just fail it) and get advantage on all attacks and saves against Hector and his minions. He slays Hector, but when the party go to negotiate with Hector’s surviving brother Prince Paris, Achilles is still anguished and has disadvantage on his Persuasion checks. The negotiations devolve into more bloodshed. Paris fires the fateful arrow that crits on Achilles’ heel.

Another example: Frodo and Sam have maximized their use of camaraderie; they fight Gollum, hide from Nazgul, and persuade Faramir, together. When Shelob the Spider stabs Frodo and prepares him for eating, Sam fails a Wisdom (Perception) check and believes he is dead. Sam chooses to fail the Wisdom save and becomes anguished, giving him advantage on his attack rolls and saving throws against Shelob. With that, he is able to wound her with a critical hit in the abdomen. As she slinks back, he runs up to Frodo again, and the DM tells him to make another Wisdom (Perception) check. Being anguished, he rolls with disadvantage and fails. The DM tells him he hears no heartbeat. Frodo truly seems dead. Their players are chuckling, because they know Frodo is just unconscious.

OK, that last example was a bit of a stretch, but I think the concept here is solid.

I put together all the above, renamed some things to my liking, and put it on Homebrewery. I think just having the rules out there would point many tables in the direction of thinking about building the team and inter-party relationships. But tell me what you think: is this too heavy-handed? Too abusable? Too foreign of a design, a bad port of material that’s clearly from another game?

We Need to Talk About Hopper

I guess it’s too late for a mustache intervention…

I was a Stranger Things agnostic until earlier this year, when I finally sat down and watched Seasons 1 and 2 in just enough time to watch Season 3 right when it came out. The first season alone earned me as a fan for at least one more season. Joyce Byers’ character was just so compelling: desperately trying to claw her way into a mystery to save her son when everyone else, with the best of intentions, essentially gaslit her (unintentional gaslighting probably doesn’t count as gaslighting, but essentially) into questioning all of her experiences. Even as a viewer of the show, part of me wanted her to believe it was all in her head just so she wouldn’t have to keep struggling against an unsolvable mystery about a parallel dimension that took her child: the horror and impenetrability of it–knowing that Will was out there but so beyond anyone’s help due to the paranormal–almost seemed worse than just losing Will to a fall in the quarry. That drama was magnificently crafted.

We haven’t had anything quite like that in Seasons 2 or 3. At no point has anyone been quite as powerless, isolated, and afraid as in Season 1, which makes sense: the time it took for the various characters in Season 1 to come across one sliver of the situation, find someone they could trust to help find more, and then finally meet all the other groups and put all the pieces together was a central tension until the last couple episodes. Now, however, they have those relationships established, they trust each other, and it just feels contrived when, for often banal reasons, they don’t use the network of other characters in the know when more Upside Down stuff happens. We’ve transitioned from horror/thriller to adventure/thriller.

As the actual plot has become slightly less compelling, the characters have to step up and carry more of the burden of hooking the audience. We’re invested in their relationships, their goals, their defeats, and their triumphs. And that brings us to Hopper and Joyce.

Or “Jopper,” for those who believe in syllabic economy.

It’s not just that this looks a lot darker than it did when it was hinted at in the previous seasons because Hopper is emotionally abusive from the moment she agrees to go on a date with him, it’s that after the first couple episodes these two characters suddenly have very little going on outside the plot and the “will they, won’t they?” that drags on way too long.

In the first act of the season, Joyce is getting ready to move out of Hawkins (though we learn this by being told, not by seeing it, which is lame), and Hopper doesn’t want that for apparently selfish reasons. Hopper also has issues with El growing up and her relationship with Mike. So Hopper has a hard time accepting change, but everything in his life is changing right now.

And then he gets beat up by a Russian Terminator lookalike and we’re off to the races. Hopper spends this season as the cocky, angry, shouty guy who tries to control everyone around him and…that just works? Hopper gets basically everything he wants by being controlling and shouty. Mike backs off of El. Joyce agrees to date him. Alexei starts cooperating. He even straight-up defeats all the young, fit Russian hitmen, including the aforementioned Terminator lookalike, through sheer hand-to-hand prowess despite being one overweight, alcoholic single dad a couple decades past his prime.

It’s probably all the capitalism he eats.

That just encapsulates the problems of Hopper’s character this season: he spends episode after episode ramming fists–metaphorical or literal–into his problems, and is never confronted with any negative consequences of that approach which would force him to grow as a character. This is even weirder because he already had that arc in a different context in Season 2: he was controlling and manipulative of El since the government was still looking for her, but there his angry outbursts, his failure to apologize, his willingness to lie and get physical to maintain control at all times ended up blowing up when El ran away entirely. He was forced to apologize, and when she returned, he was more transparent and less controlling.

Not so in Season 3. Even as the script indicates consequences to Hopper’s actions, he never faces them, so he can’t ever grow. He lies to Mike and then threatens him to stay away from El, which causes all kinds of problems for the kids, but Hopper is just happy as a clam when he comes home from being stood up by Joyce to find it is Maxine, not Mike, in El’s room tonight. The mayor of Hawkins, played by the Dread Pirate Roberts, threatens to reveal all kinds of things about Hopper if Hopper tries to blackmail him for information on the Russians, but then when Hopper goes straight to violence and torture, and despite every indication of Westley’s ability to take some action against him…nothing really happens. Whatever the Robin Hood with the English accent did to help the Russians find Hopper (he said something about having the state police all looking for him or something), none of it worked, or even appears on screen: he had to phone it in himself when Hopper waltzed into the 4th of July bash. And speaking of the Russians, even though Hopper was completely outclassed by the Terminator in their first encounter in the abandoned lab, the second in the farmhouse was maybe a draw, and only defeated him in the fun house due to the hall of mirrors, in their final fight he just out-fights him and throws him into the spinning machine of ridiculous death.

But then (VERY SERIOUS SPOILERS, LIKE, THE NEVERENDING STORY SHOULD HAVE A CLEAR CONNECTION TO PLANCK’S CONSTANT TO YOU BEFORE YOU CONTINUE) Hopper dies,* and so there was some lip service of him reconciling with Mike. It was another one-sided conversation where Mike didn’t even say anything, he just nods. He more or less says goodbye to El, rehashing the second season’s themes because Hopper and El have almost no interaction in this season: he is actively dismissive when Joyce suggests they should even be worried about the kids. And then there was the Captain America-esque date scheduled with Joyce before the mission is finished.

I thought this was super fun and I have been singing it ever since, but it also ended all the stakes that had been built up. It was ten or fifteen minutes before there was any tension again. Not exactly what you want for your finale episode.

That brings me to Joyce. Joyce didn’t even have the setup of a character arc this season, except “will she date Hopper?” And lest my sarcasm be poorly detected in text, that’s not a character arc. A character arc is where a character overcomes a flaw or other internal impediment and grows. A good character arc differentiates between what a character consciously wants and subconsciously needs. The latter often includes a revelation that her worldview or approach is incomplete and needs broadening, thus allowing her to see that what she originally wanted was never the answer to what she needed in the first place. Think of Marty McFly in the Back to the Future trilogy: he wanted to be tough, to never back down from a fight, to not be a chicken like his dad. That led to him being goaded into bad spots time and time again, until he finally let go of his pride, which ended up saving him from a terrible car accident at the end of the films.

So what is set up for Joyce in this season? We see her re-enacting dinner with Bob. Hopper reveals (though it is never really brought up again) that she is also preparing to move away from Hawkins. She wants to figure out the mystery of the failing magnets. At the end of the season, she has figured out the mystery and leaves Hawkins, because the last person that could tie her there, Hopper, is gone. And she adopts El. I’m not sure if there’s really any character growth there at all. She does go from not recognizing her feelings for Hopper to recognizing them, so there’s that. At the same time, it’s not clear that her feelings are anything more than the sexual tension that Maurice identifies: they have little in common except that shared trauma, and outside of physical security, it’s unclear that Hopper has ever really supported or been there for Joyce in any way.

The Duffer brothers have been hinting at Jopper for two seasons, and this is what we get? I understand that they wanted Hopper’s death* to hit hard, but this is all they could think to make that happen? The angry guy who just shouts or punches until he gets his way and the trauma victim who is attracted to him despite the fact they’ve never emotionally connected? Meanwhile he has a daughter that stepped into his lost daughter’s place and they went through a serious test of their boundaries last season but grew a lot through it and now there are new boundary challenges going on, but instead of building that up even more to be the relationship that pulls at our heartstrings when he dies, the Duffer brothers ignored that entire relationship, instead “solving” Hopper’s issues with El and Mike by shouting and threats in one episode to focus on the shallow sexual tension that is Jopper, and filled that with more shouting and threats, until Joyce finally says yes to a date.

Of all the ways to send off Hopper, or to finally deliver on Jopper, this was a pretty clumsy way to go. This doesn’t feel like Season 1 anymore, with all the tight characterizations and straightforward, powerful themes. Now everything is murky, and the electricity just isn’t there. It’s almost like we’re in…

the Upside Down!

(*) Yeah, yeah, I know “the American.” I think that’s more likely to be Brenner, personally.

You must construct additional Infinity Stones


I don’t see how this will make a 3-hour movie more aerodynamic, but I’ll take it anyway.

I don’t normally do Fridge Logic/plot hole/nitpick posts, and I really think Endgame is a very satisfying movie with good character arcs that basically nails what it wanted to accomplish. All that being said, something just occurred to me that seems kind of significant.

To begin with, I liked the unique take on time travel that Avengers: Endgame uses, before discarding it in the last scene so Cap can farewell Sam.*

But I just realized that there’s another hole in the (mostly) happy ending for the world.** Didn’t we learn in this movie that Infinity Stones were kind of important to maintain the fabric of reality? And there just aren’t any here any more?

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Marauders of Sekolah: Tomb of Annihilation Campaign Diary #1

Evil stirs in a sunken stone chamber. A malevolent ripple courses unseen through the fabric of space and time. “Soon,” echoes a sinister voice in the chamber, “worlds shall bow to me or wither. Magic and fate shall be mine to command.” The chamber begins to hum with energy. “The momentary flash of Life against the vastness of the eternities shall be swallowed by Death, ever infinite.

My hour is nigh.”

Mountain, jungle, and oceans away, on the open sea off the Sword Coast, glides The Barracuda, a two-masted sailing ship with a ballista mounted on one end and a mangonel on the other. Dark clouds hang overhead, and the waves grow choppy. The sails are secured except a topsail, and the crew battens down the hatches before securing below deck. A storm approaches, though it doesn’t appear terribly dangerous. Not yet.

In the galley are four long tables flanked by benches, where sit the crew and the band of marines hired for the expedition. The ship had left its home port of Waterdeep over a week ago, headed south to the shores of Chult to claim the bounty on several pirate vessels marauding visiting merchant ships. The adventurers hired as marines – the boarding party – had generally made themselves a part of the crew; some, however did not.

A tan, gray-haired elf whose haunted eyes were an unusual red color had kept to himself most of the voyage. Whenever he was not eating, sleeping, or standing watch topside, he was pouring over books and vials in one corner of the marine berthing. His name was Iralan, though he told this to but a few.

Cronan Treebane, on the other hand, was a household name by now. The colorful Half-Orc had spent nearly every night regaling the crew with fantastic tales of ancient heroes who dutifully abstained from consuming any animal-based food, ointments, or other sundries. At this point several of the crew now feel a twinge of guilt as they sit down to eat the cook’s stew each night.

Cronan’s closest companions were Aura, a Chultan Aarakocra scholar, and a slinky Tabaxi they called Tweety. The latter found the occasional seagull just irresistible, quickly scaling the rigging to catch it. Sometimes, Tweety seemed to look at Aura the same way. Cronan would dutifully remind her that birds are friends, not food.

Another odd pair was Ragar Sunforger and Miznar Boltbreaker, a hulking Minotaur and an inventive Goblin of some kind, respectively, though neither of them quite resembled the types familiar to this world. Ragar was adorned in armor emblazoned with a white first on a red shield, and slung over his shoulder was an ornate maul, easily the size of his Goblin companion. Not to be outdone, Miznar wore a pair of metalwork goggles and carried some kind of exotic firearm with a pair of candles – one whose flame burned red when activated, the other blue – fixed near the barrel’s breech instead of a magazine. Whatever it is, the image of the keen-witted Goblin walking around with the contraption was enough to unnerve many of the crew.

Finally, two more shady figures rounded out the boarding party: Wren, a short, Half-Elven woman with striking features, dark raiment, and thick chain armor was accompanied by Eden, a young, wiry Elf-maid clad in a dark cloak, who seemed almost like Wren’s shadow, appearing with her almost exclusively.

That night in the galley, as the storm clouds gathered and rain began to fall, Ragar sat on the galley bench next to the marine sergeant, a Goliath called Barney the Blunderbuss. The two dwarfed anyone else on the ship, and the bench bent beneath their colossal combined weight. “So, you, uh, ever been through the Triangle before?” Barney asked. The Triangle referred to the open sea north of Chult, surrounded on three sides by the Sea of Swords, the Shining Sea, and the Rackless Sea. “They say it’s mighty bad luck to sail in the Triangle. ‘S part of why Chult is still so isolated: sailing there’s a bit of a risk, plenty of ships don’t make it. Taken by the waves…or something worse.” Barney took another bite of stew. “Of course, you can’t believe everything you hear. Shouldn’t get too superstitious.”

After dinner, Miznar carefully scales the forward mast to relieve the watch in the crow’s nest. The wind picks up as the sun’s light fades totally from the sky. The clouds cover the moon and stars, and the patter of rain on the wooden deck combines with the wind to drown out any oth–wait…what was that? Between gusts of wind, Miznar hears a faint, constant tone. A conch? There it is again. Yes, a conch on the wind. Miznar knows only one breed of monster would be out in a storm and signalling on a conch: Sahuagin.

He alerts the helmsman, who pulls a rope that strikes a bell below decks: the alarm. All hands move to their battle stations, the adventurers to the deck. Lanterns are lit and hung on each of the masts. Cronan climbs into the aft crow’s nest, Miznar remains in the other, and the rest of the adventurers fan out across the deck. After a moment, dark, scaly hands grasp the edge of the deck and begin to pull monstrous forms up onto the deck. In the darkness and rain, all that is apparent is arms, legs, a tail, and what looks like spines coming out of the forearms and head. Lightning flashes in the distance, illuminating their flat, fish-like faces with jet black orbs for eyes and rows of teeth inside their fin-flanked mouths.

Probably here to borrow a cup of sugar or something.

Just as the party raises their weapons to strike, something slams into the ship, sending them reeling. The adventurers quickly recover and go on the offensive: Cronan launches into a menacing Orcish war dance, which frightens one of the Sahuagin still clutching the side of the ship. Wren gives a shout and bone-like demon wings appear on her back, as the air around her ripples with a dark energy. Another Sahuagin frightened. Miznar lets loose a Chaos Bolt which erupts into flaming energy as it slams into one of the Sahuagin who barely manages to roll up onto the deck. Iralan imbues his double-ended Elvish scimitar with the dark magic that courses through his veins and downs an elixir of some kind before slicing clean through one of the still-climbing Sahuagin’s forearms, sending him plummeting back into the water.

The Sahuagin leap onto the deck and bring the fight to the adventurers, but to little avail. Soon Ragar charges and gores one with a horn, while Tweety plays whack-a-mole with the Sahuagin frightened by Cronan. Another Chaos Bolt rains down from the forward crow’s nest, melting a Sahuagin’s face off. Iralan deftly spins his double-ended scimitar, slicing through the Sahuagin flocking to him as the scent of his blood sends them into a frenzy.

Three more Sahuagin emerge from the aft of the ship: one stands taller and lither than her companions, clad in a robe, necklace, and brass bracelets. She raises her arm towards Iralan and begins muttering in a harsh tongue. Iralan focuses on her, blood running from his nose, creating a connection to her blood, and forces her arm down, ending whatever she was about to cast. The two Sahuagin beside her charge in towards him.

Cronan swings down from the crow’s nest back to the deck and joins Tweety in finishing off the Sahuagin on the ship’s port side. Ragar finishes off the gored Sahuagin and begins to clear out the others near Wren, who has taken some blows. All that remains is the caster and the clump surrounding Iralan. Iralan parries away their blows with accelerated speed, but he can’t keep it up for long. The caster raises her other arm and once again mutters the words of a spell; the wounds of the Sahuagin Iralan already cut begin to magically heal before his eyes. SLAM! The ship is rocked by another impact. The heroes remain steady, but Iralan, having spent his own life force to power his attacks, fears the worst as he is now surrounded by three Sahuagin at full strength.

Wren and Ragar crash into the Sahuagin behind him, cutting them to ribbons. Cronan magically transmits the most disturbing image of the effect of an animal-based diet into the mind of the Sahuagin caster, causing her great pain and to lose her grip on reality and flee back into the waves momentarily. She shakes it off and returns, only to find Iralan standing over her remaining guard’s lifeless form. A cloud of magical daggers appears and begins cutting her from various angles. Before she can escape, a final Chaos Bolt slams into her mind, and as her consciousness begins to melt she rips out her own eyes. As black blood begins to pool around her limp figure on the deck, the power of the blast continues on into the ocean, causing the ten-foot tall fin of a gigantic shark creature to emerge and spasm. After a moment, the fin speeds away from The Barracuda.

As the rush of battle gives way, the rest of the crew appears topside. The First Mate, a broad-shouldered Human male in a double-breasted coat, tricorn hat, and trim blond hair pulled in a ponytail congratulates the new marines. “The fight is ours, men! Your skills are formidable. If you do that well against the pirates in a few more days, we’ll all be rich! Huzzah!”


And so ended the first session of a Tomb of Annihilation campaign. I’m trying a new intro to the main quest thread, hope it works. So far, so good. The characters are certainly awesome.

The Ash Wood (Campaign Diary #1)

In the far north of Tyr Alona, on the banks of the Silverrun River which flows out of the Mountains of Madness, lies the city of Greywatch. A continent-spanning mercenary guild called the Sapphire Legion operates a franchise of adventurers there. Recently, the unfortunate adventurers–known as the Sapphire Hares–met their demise in the depths of an abandoned dungeon outside the city.

Occupational hazard, you see.

Five new recruits from Ebonholde have been hired to fill their shoes. They hired a cart driven by an older gentleman named Berny to take them to Greywatch, where they would meet their Sapphire Legion liaison and manager, someone by the name of Exard Shaley.

These five recruits are:

  • Thia, the Wood Elf Ranger
  • Winnie, the Firbolg Druid
  • Jewel of the Mountain, the Tabaxi Rogue
  • Hyperion, the Aasimar Paladin
  • Cora, the Halfling Rogue

As they entered the last day of their journey, the cart entered the Ash Wood, a cursed wood full of menacing fairies and terrifying monsters, according to rumors. The mist seemed to thicken, obscuring what little the adventurers could see through the dense foliage. The air grew chill, and the din of nature was seemingly silenced.

An hour into the Wood, a scream erupted from around the next bend. Berny knew better than to stop on this road, so the cart rounded the corner to find an ornate carriage surrounded by four guards on horseback focused on the eastern side of the road, crossbows drawn. Arrows streaked out from the foliage, hitting the carriage and one of the horses, which reared up, throwing its rider to the ground with a crash.

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D&D Combat Strikes Back

Michael Shea just wrapped up a series of articles over on D&D Beyond about running D&D in the Theater of the Mind (meaning without miniatures or a grid), why to do so, how to do so, and how games like 13th Age have developed guidelines to steer it, and how to borrow mechanics from less tactical games like the FATE RPG. TotM combat is a great tool with a little elbow grease, but it necessarily rounds off some of the corners of the base rules, like the many races and classes that have differing movement speeds, weapon/spell ranges, and differences between areas of effect.

But what if we want to swing the other way? Make D&D combat more tactical, not less. Could it be more engaging throughout the round instead of just on your turn? In a game of 5 players and 1 DM, each player goes on their turn, and then sits out the rest of the round unless they need to roll the occasional save. So in an hour-long combat, each player is only active about 10 minutes. Could you change all of that while not slowing down combat and maybe even speeding it up? Where could we find inspiration for that kind of thing?

But before we get there, there’s another, more theoretical reason I want to talk about these specific rule ideas (scroll down to “Obi-Wan Has Taught You Well” if you’re impatient).

You Must Unlearn What You Have Learned

In 2012, I wrote an article describing an epiphany I had about D&D combat: dealing damage isn’t interesting. Especially if you are a martial character (e.g. Fighter, Barbarian, Rogue), you spend your turn attacking an enemy, but whether you succeed or fail, the tactical landscape is entirely unchanged. Sure, rolling really high damage for a crit or a sneak attack is fun, but damage itself? It’s hard to engage with.

So I slapped together a damage/HP-less idea for combat, where you either killed the target outright (crit success), had a chance to kill them (success), did nothing (tie or marginal failure), or they had a chance to kill you (significant failure), or you were killed outright (crit fail), based on your margin of success or failure. So you could kill the other guy on the first hit or be killed yourself on your own turn, if your attack was that bad against their defense. And then a bunch of other things would ride on your attack, as well.

It was riddled with problems from a conceptual level, which several comments pointed out. Underlying those criticisms was an important counterpoint to my article: just because damage/HP isn’t interesting in itself does not mean that it is unnecessary. Damage and HP still play a critical role: pacing.

The primary utility of damage/HP is pacing: you will have ~X rounds to fight monsters until they kill you, and vice versa. Things like damage resistance or immunity, healing, temporary HP, and regeneration add in puzzle elements or other complications in that X gets shorter or longer if you have the right tool for the job, but the sine qua non of damage/HP itself is a pacing mechanic: the tension starts low and ratchets up as your HP goes down.

HP is dressed up like “toughness,” but it’s not really about toughness: armor doesn’t interact with your HP, though that is a common variant rule because it seems like it should if HP is toughness. The Player’s Handbook defines HP as “a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck.” In other words, they’re basically plot armor so that you can handle an appropriate amount of enemy without much urgency, and some more with a lot of urgency before you’re really in danger of death. Put another way: a pacing mechanic. QED.

This is why systems that put the cart of “toughness” (e.g. using HP inflation as a major part of power growth) before the horse of the pacing function often end up with one of two problems in higher levels: either a fight is a huge slog because damage doesn’t keep up with HP bloat (the padded sumo effect), or, if there are effective-enough save-or-dies available, it’s over too fast because players learn to just use those until one hits (rocket launcher tag). In the latter case, it has effectively turned into a damage/HP-less game, with no real pacing mechanic built in, like the one I whipped out for the old article.

So leaping from “damage isn’t interesting” to “let’s get rid of damage” was ill advised. But the basic premise, that just dealing damage is boring, still holds true. Every turn should do more than just move the pacing mechanic along: the tactical calculus should be different after you hit than before, even if just slightly.

Cham outlined the seed of the right idea in another article: his point was that to get the dynamic movement we’re used to seeing in action media, where the opponents range over the environment as they clash, remaining stationary had to be lethal, a result you took only if you were cornered or surrounded, and the default action then should be to move away from your attacker.

Obi-Wan Has Taught You Well

Enter, wargames. Specifically, the Middle-earth Strategy Battle Game by Games Workshop, which uses what I assume was once a version of Warhammer rules. Let’s look at how combat works in MESBG, and then adapt some of that to a D&D context.

In MESBG, each player commands a squad of creatures and instead of turns, each round is separated into 5 phases: Priority, Move, Shoot, Fight, and End.

In Priority Phase, both sides roll off to see which has priority for the round. This becomes important.

In the Move Phase, the side that has priority moves their creatures up to their movement allotment in inches. If you move within 1 inch of an unengaged enemy creature, though, you must charge into melee with that enemy and can no longer move. Once an enemy creature is engaged by an ally, it no longer threatens that area, so other creatures can move within 1 inch of it. Creatures with reach weapons can engage enemies from immediately behind allies already engaged with them (i.e. they can attack from the second rank, and some even from the third). All engaged combatants will resolve their attacks in the Fight Phase. If a creature has Magical Powers, they can typically be used only during the Move Phase. If a creature moves more than half its movement, it cannot make a ranged attack in the Shoot Phase. After the side that has priority finishes moving their creatures, the other side can move their unengaged creatures, if any.

In the Shoot Phase, the side that has priority makes any ranged attacks from its unengaged creatures that moved half their movement or less. There are rules about how difficult it is to shoot a target based on distance, how much of the miniature is visible from the perspective of the attacking miniature (as in yes, you bend down so that the miniature is at eye level and look at how much of the target is covered by the model terrain on the board), and whether the miniature is engaged in combat or not. The other side then makes any attacks from its unengaged creatures that moved half their movement or less.

In the Fight Phase, the engaged creatures are grouped into their distinct melees, breaking into as many distinct melees as possible with the side that has priority settling any ambiguities about who is fighting whom. The side that has priority then decides in what order to resolve the melees. Fights have three steps: Duel, Loser Backs Away, and Winner Makes Strikes. Both sides roll a contested Fight check to determine who wins the Duel. The loser(s) must back away 1 inch from the winners: if the loser cannot do so because they are surrounded by enemies or cornered by geography, they are considered Trapped. Then the winner(s) roll to land a Strike on their retreating opponent: if the opponent is Trapped, they roll twice the dice, meaning they can inflict more than one Wound. Most creatures in the game are defeated after taking 1 Wound.

Finally, in the End Phase you resolve certain effects, clear away casualties, and get ready for the next round. Then it goes back to a new Priority Phase where both sides roll for priority again, so the side that controls movement and melee resolution often switches.

You’ll Find I’m Full of Surprises

You can import a few of these concepts or a lot, with varying degrees of elbow grease to make it work in the context of D&D:

At the low end of the spectrum, there are ideas you can adapt without changing much. For instance, take the Priority Phase and team initiative ideas:

At the beginning of each new round, every creature rolls initiative to seize the initiative. The team of whichever creature rolls the highest goes first. Creatures on the same team can move and take their actions in any order, then initiative passes to the next team, until all teams have taken their turns.

Optional rule: A creature can use Inspiration to act out of order at any time.

This does not require any other change to the game to work and has several benefits:

  1. You get into combat quicker because you only care about the highest initiative score on each side: it actually removes the several-minute process of rolling and recording 5-15 initiative scores.
  2. Higher initiative bonuses are noticed more often because they get to help more since it is rolled more than once per fight.
  3. Combat is much more dynamic when the turn order varies from round to round, including times where one team will go twice back-to-back (e.g. losing initiative in the first round while winning it in the second).
  4. It encourages more active cooperation and strategizing, because turn order on a team is fluid, so you can make a plan and then immediately execute it. (Of course, so can the enemy).

Now, if you’re willing to take things one step further, implement the movement/engaging rules and the backing away/Trapped ideas into melee combat:

Opportunity Attacks are removed.

You can Engage an enemy within reach of your melee attacks as part of an Attack Action or as a Reaction. You and your target are both Engaged. An Engaged creature cannot leave the other’s reach, cannot Engage another creature (though other creatures can Engage them), and cannot attack any creature other than a creature with whom it is Engaged. A successful melee attack or taking the Disengage Action ends the Engaged condition.

When a creature is hit by a melee attack, it can move 5 ft. away from the attacker, which does not count against its movement for the round and does not trigger an Engage Reaction. If the creature still has movement for the round from its speed, it can move beyond the free 5-foot step away. If the creature does not or cannot move away from its attacker(s) (because terrain or other creatures block any path away), then any successful attack is considered a critical hit, regardless of the die roll.

If a creature can make multiple attacks, it can roll them simultaneously or separately. If simultaneously, the target only moves back once. A creature can Engage an enemy, attack, push the enemy back, then move and Engage/attack/push all over again as many times as it has attacks and movement.

If more than one creature on one team is Engaged with the same enemy creature, all the Engaged allies should resolve their attacks together before the enemy moves away (if possible).

These rules make tactical positioning much more important, and also creates a dynamic battlefield where players will be keeping an eye on exit routes at all times, trying to set up flanking or cornering an enemy before they are flanked/cornered themselves.

Unlike Theater of the Mind, which diminishes differences in reach or movement speed, these rules emphasize them. A level 5 Monk has five attacks to make (Attack action = 2, Flurry of Blows = 2, Martial Arts Bonus action = 1) and 35-45 feet of movement (depending on Race) to make them across: that means she can potentially maneuver an enemy across a battlefield in a single turn, or clear away multiple enemies, allowing an allied Rogue to punch through the enemy line to the spellcasters in the back.

The added stickiness of Engage relative to Opportunity Attacks means that front-line types are more effective (albeit by cannibalizing some of the benefits of the Sentinel feat). At the same time, the added movement means that people move more, and the right tactical movement can quickly change the tide of a fight.

But why stop there? You can fundamentally change the structure of combat with just a little more tweaking in a way that still adds value.

Each combat round is divided into 5 phases: Initiative, Move, Shoot, Fight, and End.

During Initiative phase, every creature rolls initiative to seize the initiative. The team of whoever rolls highest holds the initiative for this round.

During Move phase, the team that holds initiative first moves into their chosen positions, and the other team(s) follow.

During Shoot phase, the team that holds initiative first makes any ranged attacks or casts any spells (but not melee spell attacks) it wants from creatures not Engaged in melee, followed by the other team(s).

During Fight phase, the team that holds initiative determines in what order to resolve the melees that have formed. Attacks from all creatures in each melee are rolled simultaneously, and whichever team rolled the highest attack value is the winner: the losers’ attacks deal no damage, and all losing creatures must move back or suffer an automatic critical if the winner’s attack value(s) hits their Armor Class. The winner can choose which loser or losers its attacks hit.

During End Phase, all ongoing effects are resolved, including Death Saves.

A character can use Inspiration to move and take actions at any time, outside the usual order.

This changes things. A lot. It would require at least a tweak if not a rewrite of many abilities and possibly rebalancing HP and damage since melee attacks that otherwise would hit and deal damage simply won’t when the other side rolls higher and wins the Fight, though criticals might happen more often with flanking/cornering.

But it solves one of D&D combat’s most entrenched problems: the fact that you rarely have to pay attention to anything outside your turn. It breaks down what was once a “turn” into its pieces and allows near-simultaneous resolution of similar actions, so the flow of combat is more energized and streamlined: it draws you into the tactics as a team, not just as an individual character on your turn.

And Fight Phase is way cooler than D&D melee. Instead of two chunks of HP slapping each other at arm’s length until one falls down, the two combatants actively seek out a good position or create one for themselves, and when your raging Barbarian is surrounded by 4 Goblins but wins the Fight anyway, pushing them all back, it is 10x as exciting as each Goblin missing you on their turn and then you hitting one or two on yours. That dynamic drama in melee is sorely missing in vanilla D&D combat.

You can take this all one step further and replace the 1-inch square grid with a tape measure or ruler: now you’ve gone truly old school.

I Am Your Father

Role-playing games split off from their parent hobby wargames back in the 70s. One avenue of development for them in the decades since has been to get more abstract and “rules-light,” relying on conversation and the Theater of the Mind to reduce the complexity of combat. Even then, folks find it useful to write down zones on cards to off-load the mental task of tracking the space their characters are in.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are rulebooks that have many layers of derived statistics for each character and a modifier for every circumstance. But what “rules-heavy” systems usually lack are rules that make use of the grid-and-minis that D&D assumes when it measures distance in 5-ft. increments, gives varying movement speeds as class/race features, includes reach weapons, and features a wide variety of spell shapes. These wargame-inspired rules do not make the character sheet or dice rolls any more complicated, they just make movement more possible and more important, while using a new structure for combat that minimizes “zone-out” time and makes melee far more interesting.

It’s fascinating that looking to wargames has revealed what might be a shot-in-the-arm for D&D combat. Instead of teaching an old dog new tricks, the old dog is teaching new dogs its tricks. I intend to write up a tweaked Combat chapter to work with these rules, a sample of play, and then to go through and write tweaks to races, classes, and spells for them, too. That will be an ongoing project, but this is the groundwork. Maybe this will all change as I bump into problems. Gutting the action economy and making something new in its place is going to have weird consequences that I won’t understand until I just try and run it through all the permutations of D&D 5e’s options. Hopefully I’ll figure out some rules of thumb for how to convert categories of things in vanilla 5e combat into this more tactical setup, so that I can prepare a total package document. We’ll see how it goes!

Comments and feedback always welcome.

Let’s Play Hoard of the Dragon Queen: The Summarized Ending

Hoard of the Dragon Queen has a much stronger finish than it does a middle. Castle Naerytar is an okay dungeon, the random encounters on the road are alright, but the lack of any particular involvement of the caravan makes it feel underwhelming, and I would’ve appreciated more guidance on what to do with all the other merchants and guards. Greenest was a great opening and Skyreach Castle is a great end, especially with the possibility that players can get their hands on a flying castle. That’s just awesome. My little brother did not actually pull that off, but it’s cool that they thought to leave the option open. Unfortunately, this ending is going to be botched up a bit by the several months of time between when it happened and when I’m writing about it, but it was filler to begin with, so it’s not a big deal.

The party met with Talis, who wanted to be the white wyrmspeaker and was rather put out at having been passed over for the job, and Talis agreed to give them the services of his four-armed troll buddy Trepsin to track down and kill Rezmir as a favor to Cyanwrath. Cyanwrath, in return, promised to kill the white wyrmspeaker and return his mask to Talis. If Severin, the red wyrmspeaker and leader of the entire cult, doesn’t like these shenanigans, Cyanwrath and Talis are staging a coup.

Talis reports that the party were killed and eaten by Trepsin to stop Rezmir from flying off with the castle immediately, and the party spends some time cleaning out the rest of Naerytar. Arvensis is killed, brought back at the temple of Malar found in Parnast, the town outside of which Skyreach Castle is currently hanging out. Malar is an evil god of the hunt worshiped by Trepsin, and he’s able to arrange with the Cleric to have Arvensis raised with no questions asked.

The party heads into the castle disguised as allies of Talis (which technically they are) and scouts the place out before ambushing and exterminating them. The party is critically underleveled at this point (the XP given out is just not enough for a standard party of five to keep up with the levels they’re supposed to be at), but they manage to ambush both Rezmir and Rath Modar while the castle is still on low alert. With the staff of fire and Hazirawn on their side, the party is able to fight off the vampire, his spawn, and a small army of ogres before barricading in for a long rest. Kobolds attempt to break into the room they’re hiding in while they rest, but the second a pick-ax strikes through the wall, Arvensis uses the opening to shoot a fireball from the staff. None of the kobold work crew survives, and the remaining kobolds refuse to take their place.

Rested up, the party is able to defeat the remaining enemies in the castle, including Blagothkus, but the dragon poses a serious problem. He’s directly guarding the treasure they came here to keep out of the cult’s hands, and the castle could be moving them closer to the cult’s ultimate hideout (it’s actually moving towards Rheged Glacier, which is the opposite direction from the Well of Dragons, but the party doesn’t know the location of the dragon cult’s hideout). After brainstorming a few different ways to disperse the treasure across the ground as the castle flies (much to the agitation of both Cyanwrath and Robyn), it’s finally agreed upon that the best plan is to position two of the castle’s ballistae in the ice tunnels with chains attached to their bolts. Arvensis will distract the dragon, then use the staff of fire and his own magic to shoot two fireballs and collapse the ice tunnel over the dragon’s head, whereupon the two ballistae will fire their bolts in an x-shape across the dragon’s back from behind. With the dragon’s head caught under the ice and his body restrained, he will be stuck and unable to turn around and confront the party with his terrifying breath weapon. The party can then attempt to stab it to death before he gets free.

Somewhat anti-climactically, this goes off without a hitch. The dragon dies, but soon afterwards the castle crashes into Reghed Glacier. Blagothkus was aiming for the frost giants camped nearby, but he’s starting to lose it and wound up crashlanding instead. The party stumbles, shaken but mostly unhurt, from the wreckage of Skyreach Castle into an unforgiving winter wasteland, having thwarted the dragon cult’s nefarious schemes for now, but having lost themselves miles and miles from civilization in the process.

Warning: Low Content Incoming

Every November, my creative juices just kind of dry up a little. I’ve been meaning to talk to a psychiatrist about a possible seasonal depression problem for a while, but I’m not exactly swimming in wealth, so that hasn’t happened yet. In any case, since the month of November tends to be seriously low output for me and Stubbazubba is still in law school and very much too busy to contribute, I’m giving an advance warning that we may end up seeing schedule slippage significantly more serious than what came before, and that the blog posts I do write might be short and low quality. For example, they might be a warning about low quality posts for the following month without any relevant content at all.

The Best of Chamomile: The Importance of Fluff

My brother is now in school. As of the day this post goes live, I will also be in school. This makes D&D much harder to arrange, and the fatigue of frequent D&D games, trivial during summer, threatens to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back when we’re more busy. Once we figure out schedules, we should be back to regular gaming (and I may start posting smaller posts to get one session’s worth of material to cover 2 or 3 blog posts), but for today I’m just going to reproduce a forum post I wrote once that people liked. Copy/pasta begins after the break.

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“Limited-Time Content” And “Living World” Are Not The Same

My younger brother is back from summer camp today, but that doesn’t mean we have enough time to play a session and then for me to write down its results, so I’m going to keep doing the “articles about whatever Monday and Friday, campaign log on Wednesday” thing I’ve been up to last week. I’ve also pretty much run myself out of filler content, though, so I’m just going to rant about something I don’t like and hope it ends up being entertaining.

So here’s this bizarre idea that crops up now and again, the idea that you can make an MMO, an RPG society of some kind, or some other shared-universe experience more “realistic” by offering most or all content on a very limited time basis, “as it’s occurring.” So if it’s the old 3rd edition Living Greyhawk, for example, whenever you show up to your friendly local gaming store on game night, there’s going to be some kind of adventure going on, but each week it’ll be a different one. If you miss the week, you miss the adventure forever because it already happened and is now over. Or, an MMO where every two or three months the game updates and old content gets removed in favor of whatever’s going on right now.

This can seem genuinely immersive at fist glance, but it falls down so quickly under scrutiny that it really isn’t worth the costs (which we’ll get into later), because these “living worlds” never have the dedication to be genuinely alive. Except EVE Online. EVE Online totally does have a truly living world, and it has that by putting things almost entirely in the hands of the players. A living world doesn’t just mean that all events are limited time, it means that how the populace of players reacts to an event is the determining factor in how it resolves and that players can start events on their own initiative just by starting large scale conflicts between factions, whether those factions are built by the players from the ground up or pre-determined by the devs and then turned over to player leadership.

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Podcast Ep. 4: DungeonScrapped

For those who don’t check author tags, this is Chamomile again. That baby Stubbazubba has means that I’m now in charge of posting episodes. I guess? Communication with Stubbazubba has been kind of infrequent since he had that kid. Please bear with me while I figure out how this whole “post episodes” thing works.

In today’s episode of the Critical Insignificance podcast, we mostly talk about DungeonScape. We also discuss Running With Rifles towards the beginning and I give a long, rambling, and probably poorly edited description of Risk threads at the end. Feel free to just stop listening when we stop discussing DungeonScape, because seriously, that part was not very good. Maybe I should’ve cut it completely instead of just editing out the worst parts.

Podcast Ep. 3 – Iteration and Immersion

Stubbazubba had a kid, so I recorded with a mystery guest host instead. This also means all kinds of quality of life features did not make it into this podcast. The editing is not as good because the episode was recorded last minute and I had less time to edit, there’s no direct download link, it’s being posted pretty late, and this little summary post here is a lot sloppier than normal. I’m really bad at summarizing, but we do end up coming back around to the topics of iteration and immersion a lot. We talk about video games. And tabletop games. With a mystery host who is some guy you’ve never heard of, and sloppier editing than normal. And also this is released under the Creative Commons 4.0 International License and I hope linking to what that means isn’t part of releasing it that way because we are legally obligated to release under Creative Commons (we use CC music) but I’m already kind of exhausted. There’s a podcast, listen to it.

And no, the thing where it’s two play buttons isn’t another issue of the editing guy doing the uploading instead of the uploading guy. This episode is unusually long and therefore has an unusually large file size, which means it had to be split into two parts.

You can find out more about Steam Jazz here and the map we referenced is here. Srax can be contacted at

Man of Something Part 1

The Man of Steel hit theaters last week, and since I’m actually back in the States again (and not in China), I could actually go see it!  So I did. And there were some cool parts. And boy, did it look good. But by about halfway through the movie I was very aware that this would not be the movie I had been hoping for.

This is your official spoiler warning: I talk about specific scenes and plot points, and re-write them. It’s only for those who have seen the movie or who won’t be seeing the movie. I promise this blog will still be here after you see it.

As always, I’ll start with where the movie excelled. And for that you need look no further than the visuals. Whether it was in space, on Krypton, or in Metropolis, everything here looked beautiful, though dark. The vistas and landscapes of Krypton, the snowscapes of the Arctic, and the cityscapes of ground zero in Metropolis were like paintings, and the design of the ships, costumes, and technology was similarly sumptuous.

In addition, it had some amazingly strong performances: Henry Cavill has been snubbed out of being a household name for a long time, but I can see him earning it with this one; he didn’t have much to work with script-wise, but he still packed an emotional range into the character that saved the movie from being unbearable. Michael Shannon was bristling with aggression and insanity as General Zod. Amy Adams as Lois Lane was impressive, as expected; she didn’t come off as overly pushy, in-your-face reporter girl, which was a relief. Russell Crowe did a fine job, but for much of the movie his character was very flat. I didn’t really like this take on the Kents, but given what they were aiming for, I think Kevin Costner hit it out of the park with that “Maybe.”

Finally, let’s talk action. The fight scenes are fittingly epic, with major smack-down on all sides, lots of explosions and indiscriminate destruction. The fight between Superman and Zod is possibly the best super hero fight since Spider-Man and Green Goblin in 2001. Unfortunately, there’s so much fighting going on, it eventually loses its pizzazz.

OK, that’s the short list of what was good in this movie, and some of those were still qualified. I’ll mention some things that were really lacking, then I’ll dive in to a re-imagining of Man of Steel.

First, where was the humor? Batman Begins was lighter than this movie, for cryin’ out loud. The unrelenting heaviness seemed completely inappropriate for a super hero summer blockbuster movie at all, let alone a Superman movie. What’s worse is that the ever-present mood made their few, awkward attempts at humor feel out of place and fall flat all the more. This shortage of levity made it difficult to watch.

Second, why was everything so washed out? Everyone looked pasty white, except Jor-El for some reason. All the colors were muted to what seemed like an obscene degree. That kind of thing might work in a Batman movie, where, y’know, everything takes place at night anyway, but in a broad daylight movie, you’ve gotta put that color there.

And third, someone needs to organize an intervention for Hans Zimmer. His work has become increasingly similar as of late. Step 1: lots of percussion. Step 2: dramatic chord progression. Step 3: have those strings riff around on top. Step 4: no one notices the lack of melody. Inception. The Dark Knight Rises. Man of Steel. I like Zimmer, I really do, but I can’t help but feel like we’re missing out on some great themes and motifs because this percussion-driven mood poem is not only accepted, but praised as awesome because Zimmer’s name is on it. Maybe he’s a genius who’s purposefully pushing soundtracks in a new, minimalist direction and I’m just not a fan, but I much prefer his earlier stuff (Lion King, Prince of Egypt, Gladiator). (Remind to write a piece about how good Michael Giacchino is someday).

OK, that was the easy stuff. Anyone can point out things like that. What comes next is a little trickier. This movie just didn’t speak to me. I’m not excited to see more Superman after watching it. I don’t feel like I know this film’s Superman very well. He wasn’t a very memorable character. The guys that stands out in this movie is General Zod, followed by Jor-El. What I feel it really came down to was that Superman himself didn’t have much of a story to tell. It felt like there were big action set pieces to get to, and Zod had a clear motivation, but the writers just didn’t know what they were getting at with the main character.

Finally, a Superman movie unafraid to ask the tough questions

In fact, this lack of clear narrative direction resulted in a lot of conflicting themes. Jor-El broke Kryptonian law and had a naturally-born son who would have the choice of becoming the kind of man he wanted. But then Superman’s choices in this movie are almost entirely made for him, or they’re so extreme that its clear he has no choice at all: Save the school bus of kids or let them drown to protect my secret? Sacrifice the Earth or turn myself in to Zod? No hero points for that one. Even the final conflict with Zod, where it’s a choice between sacrificing the family he’s about to kill or killing Zod is specifically designed to be inevitable, to push him to justifiably have to kill Zod. So in the end, as Zod had revealed, he is genetically engineered to pursue the path he is, while Superman…also has no other real path to pursue. He can’t help but save people, even when Pa Kent seriously discourages it. He’s clearly got this hero mindset down, but where on Earth and/or Krypton does it come from??

Superman has no reason to be a good person, besides the fact that its easy for him to save school buses; Pa Kent lives and dies to keep him from doing so, he never knew Jor-El, much less his aspirations for him as a hero or leader, and he apparently struggles with trusting humanity himself. Oh, well, I’m the protagonist, I guess I’ll do the right thing and save the world for no good reason. ? I’m so confused.

It’s super effective

Next on the list of Things That Confuse Stubbazubba, is why does Lois Lane do any of the things she does? What is her motivation? I mean, tracking down Clark’s secret is one thing, after she personally encountered him, and a touch that I rather like, but printing a story about him against her boss’ wishes, and then not, just because she feels sorry for his sob story about his dad? It’s almost as if Lois’ character was so poorly thought out that she was written just to reflect the poorly thought out internal conflict of the main character (which is only ever talked about, never acted upon; he’s a hero from the word ‘go,’ he just…makes a show of debating it sometimes). In which case, why are we wasting Ms. Adams’ valuable time here?

OK, so the first two problems were just the two leads. Maybe the rest of the characters were better? Sadly, not so much. Pa Kent is afraid that people will fear Clark, a reasonable fear and a good twist on the character, but why he’s afraid enough of that to die to prevent the secret getting out is a mystery. Yes, we can just figure that it’s a scary prospect to possibly have your child taken away by black suits or an angry mob, but the movie never shows the Kents feeling that fear, so it lacks explanatory power for Jonathan’s motivation. Instead, he just comes off as paranoid to the point of completely uncaring about the fate of others (Really? He struggles with whether or not to let a school bus of children die? These aren’t strangers, these are Clark’s friends, their neighbors’ kids, people he knows!), yet still likable? Curse you, Kevin Costner and your considerable folksy charm! Faora (Zod’s lieutenant) has the opposite problem: She keeps spouting off all this stuff about evolutionary advantage, hinting at her motivations, which don’t really gel with Zod’s fanaticism that well, but when they’re on-screen together, all that just disappears.  How did those two end up working together?

Their love for fashionable armor, I presume.

I’m sorry, folks, but there is hardly a character that is well done here. There’s not even a central theme they’re working with: Hope is a buzzword they throw around, but that didn’t really come up in any significant way, while the outsider/humanity thing was talked about and we had some awkward scenes where soldiers started trusting him (because…wait, he hadn’t done anything to impress those soldiers…how did that scene even happen?), but it was hardly central to anyone’s motivation, mostly because no one had any motivation…except the villains, and they couldn’t even agree on one. They paid lip service to themes, but didn’t actually put any into the DNA of this tale.

So…that’s a lot to re-write. While many people would probably prefer going back to concept, I’m going to try and keep the major plot points as they are, and stick to what I think the filmmakers wanted to get across. So, Superman will kill Zod in the end, but that makes this a tragic Superman story. Unorthodox for an origin story, but that’s the way it’s got to go.

First things first; Superman has to be way more Big Blue Boy Scout and way less Batman. So he will not be destroying trucks like a petulant teenager. He will be saving people, not in the abstract, but preventing harm to everyone he can get to. This motivation needs to spring from somewhere: He needs to feel a deep connection to the human race, and to specific individuals. His mother is a good candidate, as is Lois, and some more people he’ll have to have scenes with from Smallville, and preferably the crew of the Daily Planet. And his relationship with his dad is going to be re-tooled.

Let’s talk about that. The way I see it, Superman cannot be a hero without Ma and Pa Kent kind of inculcating that in him as he grows up. However, encouraging him not to use his powers in public is all well and good, and they should be afraid of losing him. I want the audience to feel that fear, so we are going to see a bit more into their lives. They will be established as good, honest, loving people who have been unable to have children in a single scene, possibly at the hospital when they find out. Then the ship falls from the sky, revealing the baby Kal-El. They are bewildered, but overjoyed. But the next morning, the sheriff knocks on the door, accompanied by an FBI agent in a jet black suit and tie. The Kents are terrified, and as they ask if they can take a look around the field, they must think of something fast to stall for time so Jonathan can move the ship before they can go look. They are successful, barely, but they resolve to hide him from prying eyes until they can sort things out.

Flash forward to the X-ray vision/hiding in the closet scene, which works as-is. Cut to young Clark at home, listening in on his parents going back and forth about what happened. His dad is certain the teacher will report it, but mom said she was able to put it out of everyone’s mind. Dad is still not totally satisfied, but mom promises to help him learn to hide his gifts. Clark runs off crying (possibly at super-speed).

Flash forward to the school bus scene. Spend extra time establishing that Clark and Lana are good friends, then as the bus fills with water, have them make eye contact just before Clark disappears. Bus is saved, Pete is saved specifically, as-is. This time, in the scene afterwards, first off I want Martha to come out first and just sit next to Clark and hold his head against her. When Pa Kent comes to talk to Clark, Clark apologizes. He says he tried to just shut it out and hide from it all, but he just couldn’t listen to the screams and see how afraid they were when he could help. Pa Kent looks Clark in the eyes and says, “Clark, don’t you ever apologize to me for doing the right thing again.” Ma Kent takes over, “Your…talents, they’re yours to help people with, even if we forget that when we’re afraid.” Clark replies, not quite understanding, “Afraid?  What am I, some kind of monster?” And then we do the spaceship scene as-is.

Flash forward to another scene. It’s a bully scene, but it’s not the one in the movie. Clark is in high school, he’s friends with Lana and Pete, they’re eating lunch, and some bully starts picking on Pete and/or Lana. Clark steps in, tries to defuse things, but the bully taunts and taunts, harassing Clark, Pete, and Lana, which finally gets Clark to snap. He sends the bully flying. This elicits cheers from the students, but Pa Kent kind of freaks out, tells him hospitalizing boys with no hope of fighting back is a sickening abuse of his gifts and an insult to everything they’ve taught him, and showing off like that in front of hundreds of people is asking to be taken away, to destroy his life and his parents’. Segue directly into the tornado scene, which can still play largely as-is (though Pa Kent dying to save a dog is pretty dumb; make it someone’s kid at least, preferably Ma Kent herself).

OK, so Clark has learned his lesson about keeping a low profile the hard way now, and the best part is Pa Kent actually has to sacrifice himself in the tornado because anything else would arouse too much suspicion with Clark’s feat of strength the same day. Now, the next challenge is to get from that Uncle Ben moment to world-traveling silent do-gooder. From the end of the tornado scene, segue into montage of Clark and mom at the funeral, Clark on graduation day bummed that his dad isn’t there, and him taking care of the farm but not really doing anything else. Mom comes to him and pretty much tells him this isn’t the future his father envisioned for him. Clark brings up his other parents, his heritage, and Ma Kent suggests he search for clues. He says he couldn’t leave her, as she’s all he has left. She replies something along the lines of, “No, Clark, you have more than just me. You have a future, a destiny. You will always be my son, but you are a gift to the whole world, and I’m not going to let you waste your gifts doing farm work for me. You, more than anyone, can become whoever you want to be, because I know you’ll always be the same good man. Just remember the good woman who raised you every now and then, OK?”

That wasn’t so bad. They have a scene at the bus stop where he says good-bye, and then we flash forward to the ship/oil rig scene. It plays as-is, followed by the clothes-nabbing, hitch-hiking, and bar-tending scenes, where he will show way more interest in what the military guys are saying about the discovery site. He gets harassed by the redneck, walks away, totally doesn’t destroy his truck like a child (heck, maybe have him save him somehow).

OK, so that’s the first part, kind of the obligatory exposition to his motivation. We feel connected to his upbringing and his motivation now, I think. Moreso, at least. We know he helps because he feels empathy and because the Kents raised him to be that way, while also hitting home the fear of being discovered, and the quest to discover more about himself. I’ll wrap up here for tonight, and continue on the next chance I get with another character that has to be re-directed a bit; Lois Lane.

Like or subscribe if you like the direction this is going, and leave a comment if you have any input or if something seems wrong to you.


Man of Steel, since you asked. | Thrillbent.

This is pretty close to my feeling after my first viewing.  Full review/re-write to come.

This is just a …


This is just a short post to let you know that I have not given up in the slightest.  I am in the process of moving to China, and establishing reliable ways of getting around the so-called Great Fire Wall, and have even spent one recent night with no money, sleeping in an airport waiting room.  I have several posts I’ve been working on, one about After Next, one about the Avengers, those’ll be coming up shortly, hopefully in the next week.  Until then, I apologize for the delay, but insignificant things come after significant ones, and right now I’m dealing with multiple significant things that need my attention first.

I’ll be back soon!