So this project has been on the back-burner for a long time. We finally got everything we need to start it, and we’re jumping in with both feet. It’s a D&D Let’s Play podcast. The sound quality on the first few episodes is going to be a little wonky as we work out the tech — I’m editing episode one and it already sounds better, because I learned a LOT editing episode 0 — and it’s only going to get better.
It should be searchable on iTunes and a handful of the other big podcasting platforms in the next few days. I’ll be putting them up on both SoundCloud and Patreon, both of which have RSS feeds that should allow you to regularly download these with whatever your favorite podcast software is.
Links to Episode 0:
A Fishy Encounter
My “Fall One-Shots Campaign” is in full swing. It’s neither fall nor are we doing one-shots. We’re having a blast! Originally, I was going to DM different settings and stuff each week, and that quickly devolved into Gomer the Ranger, Anna Jones the Wizard, Vikrid the Druid, and Bharash the Barbarian on a long, involved quest to defeat a blue dragon who’s conquered Amn and is coming for dear old Candlekeep next. I think the story of how this came to be is
fun, but I’d prefer to zoom in on a fun encounter we had and look at a pretty cool monster from the Veins of the Earth.
During his down-time, Gomer trained with Drow in the underdark, which I thought was cool. Then, when the session was live (we deal with downtime via our Facebook group), and the party was tasked with killing the aforementioned blue dragon, he suggested to the party that, since he trained in the Underdark, it’s not unreasonable that he’d be able to navigate it to skip some of the challenges they knew were on the road ahead.
So they headed toward the nearest entrance to the Underdark and I chucked away two weeks of campaign prep. (You never really waste prep, but it’s always amusing to me when the party finds a way to make me discard 12 hours of work.)
Then I discovered that I didn’t really have any fresh ideas about the underdark. And exploring so far had been very bland, in an empty-seeming world. I wanted to fix that when we came back to the darkest caves Faerun can offer — so I picked up a fantastic PDF called Veins of the Earth and gave it a read.
I was instantly enchanted by it and after an excruciating month-and-a-half-long break from D&D (because we have jobs and apparently those don’t pay us to roll dice, I guess. Hey, speaking of which, you should subscribe to our patreon or go buy one of our comic books!) and finally got to break out some content from it a few nights ago.
My party rolled into an ambush and the dice landed on an Anglerlich.
Without giving away VotE’s content, an Anglerlich is an extradimensional fish with a lure. The lure is a horrible villain. The fish is hungry for heroes. The villain does horrible things to try to draw heroes out or else to inculcate new heroes. The fish emerges when the hero is heroic
enough to eat, and it devours them, experience points first.
The lure is meant to be easy to kill – or at least, meant to be non-lethal. The fish, not so much — though I softened it up a touch out of style preferences, and because the party had just emerged from a deadly encounter.
I have a homebrew answer to the Exploration Pillar being scant (stay tuned), and this naturally involves ways to find interesting locations, fights, traps and other things that are fairly randomized. The party first encountered the Anglerlich as it was spearing myconid sproutlings, eating them, and cartoonishly shouting “Evil!”
VotE says to color the Anglerlich a shade off of the tone of the rest of the campaign, and while I had fun turning it into Snidely Whiplash, I definitely made it too easy to divine the nature of the creature. He was too out of place. Our Druid (hi, Duke) and Wizard (hi, Angela) were both instantly suspicious. And the Wizard had heard about some of the VotE content before, so she knew Anglerliches could potentially exist, even though no one in the group had ever encountered one before, meta or otherwise.
They saved the Myconid sproutlings and pinned the Anglerlich (well, it’s lure, which I decided was its tongue) under a massive boulder. The monster waited around to see if the party would take the bait and then left when they didn’t.
A bit more travel happened and then the Anglerlich was in their way again, this time torturing some Duergar. Our Dwarf ignored that hot mess and on they marched. The Anglerlich was getting angry. (A n g l e r y !)
At the next settlement (a random drow village from one of my tables), our Barbarian passed a DC 20 insight check to realize that the anglerliche was stalking them through village after village, torturing people to try to get the attention of the Good characters in the party. If they wanted any hope of safe places or friendly encounters in the underdark, they would
need not to be seen as harbingers.
The party decided to ambush the Anglerlich.
They backtracked to a fortress they’d found (an abandoned Amnish undertaking) so that they’d have room to fight. This was a smart choice.
They “killed” the Anglerlich’s tongue, and I decided to keep him cartoonish. I had his body glow, as if he were in a video game and needed to be looted. The party had already guessed that the creature was some kind of trick, and Bharash had even used the word “anglerfish” when trying to get across what he suspected it was. (They’re a pretty sharp bunch, and again, I over-sold the encounter.)
The fish itself became furious at the party’s teasing and attacks. It burst from its extra-dimensional hidey hole and real combat began.
Three people were swallowed. Experience was siphoned away. The fish would face from existence, leaving its awful lure out to fight, then re-emerge and try to swallow people who were fighting the lure.
Anna Jones and Gomer’s faithful goat saved the day with 24 damage from burning hands (She had a boon from a shrine of Lolth that would let her next attack do maximum damage) and something like 8D4 piercing damage from its horns. (It’s not actually a goat. It’s some kind of goaticorn. But it’s really just a goat.) The fish’s armor class is very high, and my party’s a bit low level, so I modded the stats so that people other than the wizard had a shot of hurting it – attacking its open mouth dropped the “shield” from its AC, and I had made the Lure be the Anglerliche’s tongue, specifically, so that the soft target could be hittable for most of the encounter.
Can’t have a beastie swallowing away their experience points if there’s no way to kill the damn thing.
I was a bit nervous about running a systems agnostic encounter in a 5e game, but it worked brilliantly. I naturally had to take the creature and stat it so that it worked in a 5e encounter, but the book gave me more than enough tools to do so, and the writing in the book is brilliant and engaging.
And yes, I’m aware that 5e is not built for exp-loss encounters, but we’re already so steeped in homebrew that makes the game feel a bit more old school that the Anglerliche fit in just fine.
I have not seen a leveling progressing for the abomination I am about to describe. I only know that the character at beginning at fifth level.
The monstrosity’s name is Leba Gelosi, may Helm have mercy on its soul. It’s a Tiefling Variant with fangs, pale skin, and the request for a custom Tiefling bloodline. We shall call this bloodline the framing element of this section and end with it.
Its class consists of two levels of monk and three levels of druid. The character will be ignoring many of its druid-related powers, or reskinning them. The player is not asking for any special replacements. The class levels, its creator Zach tells me, are representative of something other than training. Monk levels represent superhuman dexterity. The druid levels allow him to shapeshift into a bat or wolf. He has these levels in Monk / Druid, but really just wants to be level 5 of a custom class that has cherry-picked elements from two others.
His Tiefling bloodline represents this class: Leba was born of vampiric heritage.
Setting aside that there are so many homebrew and official ways to create a vampire, I resisted this character concept fairly hard for a lot of reasons. I’ll address my minor concerns first. By not swapping out spells and abilities for homebrew options, Zach has made a statement about my world that I never agreed to. Shillelagh is, I’m told, critical to the build’s combat functionality, as well as number of other iconic druid abilities and I suddenly have to adjust my world to account for vampires that have druid skills. Vampires exist in my setting, but they can’t heal people or cast Goodberry.
Additionally, while I don’t really mind power gaming, I am annoyed at the subtle attempt to get out of the malus of multi-classing – namely that ABIs / Feats typically come at the fourth class level and not the fourth character level.
Largely, though, the aesthetic bugs me, and it bugs me for the same reason that some DMs ban monks or psionics. We’re playing in Faerun and that’s just not how vampires work in Faerun. Classes are earned, not born into, and my myopia disallows me to see the monkness and these druidness of this character as intrinsic aspects of a unique Blade-esque character.
Also, Zach has openly admitted to wanting to roleplay as Bela Legosi.
Players love their creations as much as anyone else. There’s never a reason to stomp on it, even if they rub the wrong way against your setting. I look absurd in all sorts of real life settings and any setting that attempts even a hint of realism must eventually cope with players pushing at boundaries in the same way that Vermin Supreme and Donald Trump exist in the same universe as Emmanuel Macron and Elon Musk. This makes the primary solution to not to put puppet strings on your player’s creations. If they’re doing something inordinately dangerous, warn them and move on. People exist that other people disapprove of; people exist that rest of the world, that popularity, and that decency itself actively resist.
There need to be some negotiations about rules, but ABIs and Feats are ways to customize a character, not break a world, and there’s no reason to deny a multi-classer these things—once they earn them. Just because you say yes to a concept doesn’t mean you’re saying yes to it having Goku’s power-level. This might mean letting the player take monk powers or druid powers as they want and calling it a vampire. It might mean telling the player to choose monk or druid every level. And if you’re feeling really nice, it might mean giving out boons as the character plays that help actualize the image of playing as Bela Lugosi in clownshoes.
If the player isn’t interested in negotiating, but all choices they made have come official source material, or source material you already approved, suck it up. My objection to this character class was that, from my perspective, it colored the magical secrets of Druids and the training of Monks; it was abomination in the sense that it changed the fabric of my assumptions. But Zach never did this, and neither did Leba. I did it my head as easily as I undid it by saying, “this character is from some faraway land and does not reflect the shared reality of the background,” and solved my problem.
My problem. Not the player’s.
Every DM is going to have this problem, eventually, I think. Banning Tiefling-druid-monkpire is just as game-breaking as banning monks. If Monks or Wizards don’t exist in your world, you’re not playing D&D anymore. You might be close enough that the rules of 5e still apply, but frankly, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you are vetoing primary source material, it’s time to either swallow your pride and let everyone play the game you agreed to DM, or else it’s time to find new rulebooks.
Agree? Disagree? We wanna hear from you. Sound off in the comments, and consider supporting us on Patreon if you like our content and want more.
This is the final comic (or next to final; we haven’t quite decided) in Phoenix Down Part 5.
Both of our comics, Thieves Can’t & Ramen Empire, are going to a strip Format after this. Pages are labor intensive and comics aren’t a great return on labor, even if we adore making them. We’ll still be making page-format comics, but expect to see those as objects in print that you’re able to buy somewhere, or as PDFs that you download off our Gumroad site. On a related note, Thieves Can’t, Issue #1, is available on Gumroad right now and will soon be available for print over on Indy Planet. I have some longer-term plans to try to get Thieves Can’t into comic book stops, but that has not panned out the way I wanted. I’ve learned a lot, but didn’t quite get where I wanted with Issue #1.
Phoenix Down Part Six is not going to be in comic strip format. It will be in page format, and will close Skyler’s fire-curse story line and a few other loose ends.
In the meantime, we’re doing incidental comics about different characters, starting with Arty in her own strip titled Zounds! This was originally a paywall comic, but — well, see above. Strips are easier to give away than pages. And we genuinely think people are going to love this strip, so hiding it behind our Patreon seemed wrong.
Our rewards on Patreon are not good-seeming yet. We’re working on it. We’re open to ideas.
Zounds isn’t quite ready for whatever sort of public launch Zach and I are ultimately planning for it, but for now, #3 is up for our Ramen Empire Patrons and we’re definitely open-eared to you guys’ thoughts.