Black Flame Zealot – a 5e Rogue Subclass

In Thay, the Red Wizards rule with an iron fist.

And yet, though the Red Wizards would never admit it, there are those they fear, those they can’t control.

Meet the Black Flame Zealot, a Rogue subclass! Inspired by and adapted from the 3.5e prestige class in Unapproachable East, the Black Flame Zealot blends the stealth, subterfuge, and damage output of the Rogue with the divine magical support of the Cleric to make new and flavorful characters for your Forgotten Realms campaign.

The Black Flame Zealot is mechanically balanced to match the Arcane Trickster rogue subclass, so you can be assured that this subclass won’t unbalance your party.

This is just a tiny part of a much larger project coming later this summer. Stay tuned!

You can get it here for less than a dollar!

Also coming soon: A tutorial on how I update things from previous editions of D&D to 5th edition. It’s both easier and harder than it sounds.

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Random Encounters Are Dumb.

Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s unpack that, shall we?

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Adventure Review – The Dreaded Tunnels of Ruxabar

There’s a lot to like in this adventure. (Click the image to be taken to the product page at the DMs Guild in a new tab. Yes, my affiliate number is on it, so I get a tiny kickback if you buy it.)

It’s your bog-standard “out and down” dungeon crawl, which some folks might yawn over, but there’s a really cool premise I found quite interesting, and there’s plenty in the adventure to keep your players on their toes. It manages to cover two of the pillars of play very well. Slayers will have plenty to kill. Explorers will find plenty of areas in which to poke and prod. Roleplayers won’t find as much joy, but that’s the nature of an out-and-down dungeon crawl, so I can’t fault the writing team for that.

The dungeon itself is as dangerous as many I’ve seen. It’s not as lethal as Tomb of Horrors, but Tomb of Horrors isn’t really a good dungeon. There are too many ways to just die in ToH, with player choices and character competency having no meaning. The Dreaded Tunnels, like all good dungeons, is accommodating of player agency. If a PC dies in The Dreaded Tunnels, it’s their own damn fault. There are plenty of ways for PCs to get dead in this adventure, but they’re all due to choices players make (and die rolls, of course). I stand firmly behind that. 

There are new and interesting monsters, plenty of loot, new and unique magic, and compelling NPCs.

Much of the art appears to be custom-sourced, and it’s executed to a very high standard. 

The map is an excellent, high-resolution PNG that can easily be slotted into your favorite VTT. The adventure also comes with a custom token pack for your VTT game, which is a pleasant surprise.

The layout is fairly well-executed. The text is laid out in a serif font, which I prefer, and I found it clear and easy to read. There are some problems with the fully-justified layout, like last lines of paragraphs spread across the entire line. These are pretty damning errors for a product which credits a graphic designer and layout artist, and could use a fix in an update.

The text is where my trouble with this adventure begins. For all the pretty, for all the maps and tokens, for all the ingenuity of the premise, it’s just…well, there’s no easy way to put this, so I’m just going to say it: It’s just poorly written.

There are grammatical errors, there’s shotgun punctuation, there’s apparently random capitalization. Those are objective fact. There’s way too much flavor text, which I admit is entirely subjective.

That’s one thing. I can get beyond that to a certain extent, especially if the premise of the work is good, like it is here. But the writing in this adventure is so bad it gets in the way. It especially gets in the way of easily DMing the adventure.

5e mechanical text looks a certain way. Take a poison needle trap, for instance. Here’s the Tier 1 example from my favorite online SRD:

A poisoned needle is hidden within a treasure chest’s lock. Opening the chest without the proper key causes the needle to spring out, delivering a dose of poison.

When the trap is triggered, the needle extends 3 inches straight out from the lock. A creature within range takes 1 piercing damage and 11 (2d10) poison damage, and must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or be poisoned for 1 hour.

A successful DC 20 Intelligence (Investigation) check allows a character to deduce the trap’s presence from alterations made to the lock to accommodate the needle. A successful DC 15 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools disarms the trap, removing the needle from the lock. Unsuccessfully attempting to pick the lock triggers the trap.

Here’s how the writers of The Dreaded Tunnels did it:

The chest is trapped with a poisoned needle, requiring a DC 14 Investigation check for the players to spot it. Once identified, DC 14 Sleight of hand check to disarm. If unsuccessful, when opened, the target takes 1d4 poison damage. The lock requires a DC 12 thieves tools check to unlock, or DC 15 Strength to break it with a crowbar or similar tool.

It’s like the writers never really took on board how 5e mechanical text is supposed to flow. It’s like they’ve never designed a 5e adventure. Hell, it’s like they’ve never read a 5e adventure, because mechanical description is uniform throughout Wizards publications, including AL adventures.

The DCs are wrong for Tier 2 characters, which is the stated design tier. It doesn’t take too strict an eye to notice these checks are too easy for Tier 1 characters. Some of the checks are wrong. All of the skill checks in this example either fail to list the relevant ability or, if it includes the ability, fails to tell you what to do with the ability. In other words, the text includes none of the adjudicating shorthand official Wizards 5e (and quality 3rd-party) adventure material has made you come to expect.

This is not an isolated incident. This is the standard throughout the adventure.

Elsewhere, there are mechanical things mixed in with the flavor text, like this:

If you decide to go on your left, you notice that the room is filled with nothing else than an unbearable stench that makes your insides turn. Make a constitution saving throw (DC 12) against puking. At the end of the room you finally notice what generates this horrendous smell.

This is supposed to be a room description. Reciting a player choice which should have been established before beginning to read, then giving the room description, then calling for a saving throw (formatted incorrectly), then removing player agency by assuming the PCs went further into the room, in the process contradicting the first bit of room description, is just…wow.

Again, this is not an isolated incident.

Summary

Practically speaking, if you’re an experienced 5e DM, you’re going to need to really dig in to the 2 out of 5 text to ensure you know precisely what the designers are trying to achieve. Spending the time to do that will likely mean that this adventure will take more time to prep than simply designing your own adventure from the ground up (and needing to spend any time at all to prep a canned adventure other than read it once or twice means 1 out of 5 convenience) . But if you’re prepared to do that, you’ll get a cracking 5 out of 5 concept. Additionally, if you run online, you get a lot of 5 out of 5 assets.

I can’t in good conscience give more than 3 out of 5 stars for this adventure. Submitted to a thorough editing and a top-down rewrite can bring it to 5/5. If that happens, I’ll revise this review or add a comment to it.

Again, click the image to be taken to the product page at the DMs Guild in a new tab. Yes, my affiliate number is on it, so I get a tiny kickback if you buy it.

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New Location and NEW STUFF!

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here, friends. But it’s for a very good reason — I’ve moved!

We’ve gone and moved ourselves, our doggos, and our businesses from the USA to the Netherlands. We left at the tail end of November 2018, and we’ve been settling in to our new digs in the village of Eersel in the south of the country. We love it here.

Due to the stresses of moving, I haven’t had much chance to write new stuff for the DMs Guild. I’ve mostly been editing other people’s stuff (look for a post about those soon!).

But I have released a few things.

First is Guildbook of the Watchful Order, a supplement for your Waterdeep: Dragon Heist game.

The book details a new faction, as well as a bunch of new spells, a new background, and a feat.

Second, and most important relative to my lack of output, is the first volume of my magnum opus: Encyclopaedia Formulae Arcana.

The Encyclopaedia is my attempt to track down Every. Single. Spell. from previous editions of D&D, from 1st Edition AD&D to D&D 3.x, and update it for the 5th Edition rules.

I’ve just released Volume A, which contains more than 125 spells.

Future volumes will be released through the course of 2019 (and probably 2020!).

If you subscribe to my email newsletter, you’ll get a notification whenever I release something new. Click the link at left or the link in the menu above to sign up.

As always, if you have anything you think I should know, leave a comment or send me an email! I’m always keen to hear from you — especially if you know of a spell I’ve missed in the Encyclopaedia!

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DON’T F*CK WITH 5E’S FUNDAMENTALS

After yet another thread on Facebook’s big 5e group, I found myself writing the same thing for the umpteenth time, so I’m going to set it out here as an essay for you, dear readers (and so I can just post a link next time I have to say the same goddamned thing).

Here’s the original post, for reference’s sake:

What if every martial class had access to Action Surge? What are the downsides to this? What would you give Fighters to keep them unique before getting their archetypes? Something I’ve been pondering since looking at the topic of “linear Fighters vs Exponential Spellcasters”.

Here’s my answer:

DON’T FUCK WITH 5E’S FUNDAMENTALS. 

Seriously. Just…don’t.

Why?

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I Love Collaborations…

…so much that I keep doing them. We just released another one, in fact: Halaster’s Hoard!

More than 120 pages of stuff for your Undermountain campaign—or any other campaign, really.

It’s a huge collection of powerful magic items, challenging monsters, and devious traps to tempt and terrorize the most jaded veteran adventurers.

Included in this weighty tome are:

  • 96 magic items
  • 65 monsters with lore and tactics
  • 13 traps both simple and complex
  • Halaster’s Vault, a short adventure location for you to add to the deepest levels of Undermountain. Will the heroes be able to brave the Mad Mage’s guardians and devious traps to reclaim a mysterious artifact from his hoard?

I had the pleasure of leading the design team, working alongside Christopher Walz, Elise Cretel, Jeromy Schulz-Arnold, and Luke Monroe. Layout by Travis Legge and editing by Ken Carcas.

Guys, this one is a gold mine for your D&D 5e campaign. Click the image to go get your copy!

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5-star Review for a new title!

Well, kind of new.

How To Play Good is an amalgamation of my best-selling ebooks You Can Try – Tips on Becoming a Better DM and I Want To Try – Tips on Becoming a Better Player. I revised and expanded both titles and jammed them together with (I think) a cool OSR-feel layout and art in a new book.

Ryan Langr over at DM Level Up was kind enough to review it, and he liked it. A lot. Which is really gratifying! Check out his full review here. Here are some outtakes:

“In this supplement, the prolific R. P. Davis delivers a brilliantly snarky, tongue-in-cheek compendium jam-packed with valuable advice for both DM and player.”

“R. P. Davis is a delight to read. Almost every page is filled with a self-aware humor that employs snark, cliche’, and a seemingly flirtatious malapropism of curse words.”

“Seriously, there is no reason not to buy this book. This product earns a well deserved 5 stars and gets our Must Have tag.”

Click the pic to get your copy!

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BIG collaboration goes up on the Guild!

So this just went live on the DMs Guild this morning, and I couldn’t be more pleased with it.

I had the good fortune to coordinate a crack team of best-selling Guild creators to make MLN, which brings you:

140+ spells

16 eldritch invocations

100+ magic items

Vistani lore

…and tons of jottings direct from the pen of the archmage himself!

Go on over to the DMs Guild and get your copy right now!

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It’s been a long time.

Wow. I haven’t posted in…like…a long time.

Truth is I’ve been fantastically busy. Writing, editing, doing voice work. I’ve been so busy I actually worked myself into an illness I’m even now getting over.

There’ll be more to come. I’ve got a lot to tell you about!

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A new adventure!

It’s been a long time since I’ve released an adventure. That’s because I like my adventures to be absolutely perfect, and I think this one is as close as I’ve ever gotten to my design ideal.

For your adventuring delectation, I present “Ransom at Falcon’s Crest” — an adventure in the Kingdom of Impiltur on the coast of the Sea of Fallen Stars.

Bandits have kidnapped the eldest child of one of Timbertown’s prominent citizens, who is secretly being manipulated by shadowy forces. You are tasked to get her back.

But there are questions. Is she his real daughter? Does she want to be found? Who is behind the kidnapping in the first place?

If you bring Evi home alive, your rewards will be great, and your standing in the town will increase. But if you fail, or if the demon worshippers of the Fraternity of Tharos gain a further foothold for their secret society, Timbertown’s future may be in jeopardy.

An 4-6 hour adventure for 4-6 characters of level 3-5, including maps, handouts, stat blocks, and NPC character cards!

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