The Back-Up Plan, D&D Edition

By RJ on 29 November 2022. 

When I learned we had to cancel/postpone our next D&D session, I was initially crushed. Presently, I only get the chance to Dungeon Master every two weeks, and I'd been ready for this session for a while. Even the last time we were scheduled to play, I had to cancel! The woeful joy of being the parent of a beautiful baby girl.

When last we left the companions of Caught in Galen, they had teleported inside the fleshy interior of an extraplanar prison, upkept by a timid giff scribe who served the prison's slaadi creator. Sadly, this giff was experiencing a form of Stockholm Syndrome, having been in service of the slaadi named Nailen for untold centuries. The party were doing an okay job of trying to break him from this horrendous, endless bout of servitude, but a certain someone's not-so-nice demeanor was directly causing the poor giff to wish for Nailen's return all the swifter...

Anyway, the companions were in a potentially dusty situation: three beholders had engaged them and were prepared to disintegrate yet another player character (one of the players has lost at least two characters to disintegration rays before). Rays of green energy were blasting the outer shell of this living chunk of a settlement and the party were ready to engage. They thought.

Alas, all of this would have to wait for another stretch of time.

Would the companions survive the three beholders?

Would they succeed in helping the poor giff escape his maniacal slaadi master Nailen?

Would they actually try to use the four, torn pages of the Book of Vile Darkness they'd just found?

Maybe, maybe, and I truly hope not!

I know, I know, you probably think we just canceled and will pick up again in good time. But that's not the case! Just because we weren't playing one campaign didn't mean we couldn't dive back into another!

I call it: the Back-Up Plan, D&D Edition.

Sure, the usual group couldn't gather 'round the table and likely bash in some beholder eyestalks, so we stepped into another adventure I had a firm enough grasp on. One of the players of the other campaign ended up coming, my wife wanted to play, and with those two and my little daughter around the table, we picked up a new tale. There ended up being much less combat and a lot more talking, especially with the cutthroat kobold named Reekdar they ended up meeting, but fun was still had.

This back-up session wasn't what I had planned on DMing that night, but it scratched that itch. It served its purpose well. It only happened, though, because I was moderately prepared.

Always be prepared. Have something on the backburner. Be ready to improvise.

Life happens. Sometimes people need to cancel D&D. 

They get sick. Work comes up. Children are unwell or just plain angry. In any of those cases, try to commit to a back-up plan. Sometimes, that planned D&D session is the biggest source of respite and rejuvenation in someone's week. Don't take it away. Instead, build something new, have it ready.

Really, you only need a few essentials to get a good session going:

  • At least one player and their character
  • An enticing plot hook
  • A few encounter ideas
  • A gripping finale

I'll admit I wasn't entirely ready to pick-up that other campaign. I hadn't thought about the world in quite some time, hadn't even familiarized myself with those characters or people or plots. Luckily, I write a lot of my notes down and had a good foundation to quickly build a session on. Plus, I love improvisation! With my notes and a few minutes of thought, I was able to pull together the following:

  • A party of two (one historic PC and a new one)
  • A demon guards a holy sword below an abandoned mine, a cleric's deity commanded her to recover it
  • A stealth mission through a kobold encampment, an interaction with a cutthroat kobold shaman, exploration of the ruined temple that runs into the abandoned mine, and a confrontation with the demon
  • It turns out the only object keeping the demon below the surface was the holy sword he was forced to guard. He was sending omens to the cleric as his deity to bait him to the ruined temple. With the sword taken by the party, the demon is free to roam and terrorize the world once more

Regardless of any of that, I pushed myself to run it because I knew it'd be fun. It'd still be a good D&D session; maybe not a great one, definitely not a bad one, but a good one.

Simply "good" D&D is better than no D&D.

The next time life happens and you're about to cancel D&D for the day/week/month/year/decade, take a moment and think:

Is this someone's respite?

Does this help someone rejuvenate?

Do I have something ready to go?

Am I prepared to improvise?

If you're able to answer yes to any of those questions, think twice before sending the official cancellation text. You might just make your own or one of your player's days by deciding not to cancel and go forward with something unexpected instead.

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D&D Monsters Inspired by the Monk Class

By RJ on 22 November 2022. 

Masters of the martial arts, separation of the body and the mind, impossible feats of dexterity, and channeling the raw energy of the mortal form, monks make excellent candidates to create compelling D&D monsters with. Although the books and online resources we use contain endless amounts of beasties to populate our games, if we're eager to craft our own using just the Player's Handbook, the Monster Manual, and our minds, this strategy of crossing monsters and player character classes works wonders, easily.

Just off the top of my head, here are a few instant monk cross monster combos.

A storm giant Way of the Four Elements monk who masters her craft atop a floating mountain, eager for challengers to dissuade her pure concentration.

A kobold Way of the Open Hand monk who wanders a vast desert endlessly, assisting those in need and battering those who refuse to show compassion to the weak...this includes the player characters.

A vampire Way of Shadow monk who mastered the martial arts in life but took to the shadowy side of the profession in death. He secretly runs a monastery that harbors his deadly secret...and grooms more sharp-toothed spawn.

A copper dragon Way of the Drunken Master monk who hoards not gold or secrets or magic items, but the greatest brew around, some of which corrupts and causes her to commit drunken rampages. Much of this alcohol enhances her powers and would help the heartiest of long as they can stomach it.

Do they excite you?

If the answer is yes, the rest of this articles explains easy ways to make a massive difference in the monsters you create for your D&D games. Read on, fellow Dungeon Master, to be amazed and enlightened.

Take a Monster

What you'll need first is a monster base.

Gaze into your world: think about what monsters would make sense as monks. Then, create a brief list of twelve.

For my own world of Eldar, here are twelve creatures who would make sense as monks.

  1. Kobold
  2. Gnoll
  3. Drow/dark elf
  4. Urson/bearfolk
  5. Girallon
  6. Efreeti
  7. Stone giant
  8. Vampire
  9. Storm giant
  10. Gold dragon
  11. Solar
  12. Empyrean

As great as curating a list that makes sense for your world, sometimes it's great to subvert expectations. Not always, such as in formerly excellent television shows, but in the right cases, such as your D&D table, it's a fun concept.

Think: what creatures WOULD NOT make great monks? Generally:

  • Ogre
  • Zombie
  • Dire wolf
  • Xorn

Any of these four monsters would make terrible monks, conceptually. If you think a kobold, gnoll, or efreeti monk is too generic, try to make something work with one of the four above beasts!

Choose a Subclass

The next step requires you to form a set of subclasses you can affix to your particular monster base. These can be canon subclasses or ones you've made up for your monsters! After all, you'll be using preexisting mechanics as a simple starting point or piece of inspiration.

For monks, specifically:

  1. Way of the Open Palm
  2. Way of the Four Elements
  3. Way of Shadow
  4. Way of the Drunken Master
  5. Way of Mercy
  6. Way of the Ascendant Dragon
  7. Way of the Astral Self
  8. Way of the Kensei
  9. Way of the Sun Soul
  10. Way of the Long Death
  11. Way of the Twilight Sky
  12. Way of the Infernal Ascendant

That's a solid set of homebrew and base game subclasses. With a subclass in hand, it's time to move on.

Meld the Monster and Subclass Together

With our two lists built out, it's time to insert one of creativity's best friends: randomness.

Take two d12's and roll them. The first result determines the monster, the second picks out the subclass. Once you have both together, inspect the monster and the theme, abilities, and cool skills provided by the subclass. Ponder how they could meld together as one to create a compelling combat, social, or exploration encounter.

For example, say I roll two d12's and receive a seven and a four. The result is a stone giant Way of the Drunken Master.

Instantly, I'm rocked with inspiration: typical stone giants are contemplative and solitary, masters of crafting the natural earth and stone around them. Perhaps this stone giant is an outcast, a loner who turned to drinking to cope with some extreme lost. However, instead of annihilating his ability to carve, it enhanced it. This enhancement caused other stone giants, meditative and sober, to cast out the drunken stone giant. Yet, in his banishment, he found comfort with other kinds, trading masterful carvings and craftings for more and more powerful drink.

And that's just basic story/social possibilities!

Taking a look at the Way of the Drunken Master's initial edit to the Monk's Flurry of Blows ability, it completely revamps the monster's combat style. Drunkenly, the stone giant can weave in and out of combat every time he uses Flurry of Blows, gaining the benefits of the Disengage action with the use of this bonus action. Imagine the stone giant plowing through an enemy combatant then rushing up a nearby rock, not provoking any attacks of opportunity!

Exploration additions thanks to this melding are fun and simple. Carved creations inspired by an enlightening drunken stupor, elevating alcohol to almost religious levels of importance. Earth-inspired drinks brewed by the stone giant, using all natural ingredients found in the adventure area. Nine Hells, perhaps the stone giant even runs an entire brewery, now that's a unique locale for a quest!

Easy to Make, Exciting to Run

That wasn't too bad, right?

When you're lacking inspiration, take a monster, take a class, and mash them together. The results might surprise you and are easy to make but exciting to run.

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