This is the book that powered my vacation, and it's the third time I've read it.
It is a tough feat to stay on my shelf. Often, I consume a book, gain what I need from it and pass it along to another. That is, if I found worth in its pages. If not, I'll donate it somewhere, and promptly forget what was unnecessary within the words and passages that rambled past my eyes and my mind.
But THIS book. This one stuck with me. Enough to revisit several times, and once again as the subject of this blog.
As I believe it to be an absolute necessity for our development to read and absorb information, ideas, and philosophy; to challenge our morals, and help cultivate our humanity, I thought this to be an appropriate segment to pursue over here on the GM's Corner. Yeah. Once a month, I'll review a book I am reading. So here comes number one:
Budo, Mind and Body by Nicklaus Suino.
Budo, as a principle and a pursuit, is about so much more than learning how to fight. It is about seeking meaning in life. In our actions, our teachers, our lessons, our art. Whatever your training, the pursuit of Budo is a method to forge physical strength, technical strength, and strength of character. In the book, Suino breaks the discipline needed into three main focuses.
The martial arts ARE a physical beast. Suino emphasizes the power of repetition, but marks the danger of "going through the motions." It comes down to caring about skill, and learning each technique as an aspect of that skill, not as a list of "techniques that work" and "techniques that do not work." True skill is derived over time and diligent training, and if you care about getting better, you'll take great care every moment that you train. And train hard, young grasshopper. A body only becomes pure through pushing it to its limits. Practice until you can practice no more. Musicians, artists, writers, and fighters. Train until you can't. Then rest, and do it again.
This is how I would throw myself into music. In my undergrad and even during my Masters, I would have required testing every semester to prove to a panel of judges that I was improving enough to deem the continuation of my degree. That pressure coupled with the fact that I enjoyed getting better, made the experience all the more rewarding, despite how taxing it was on my sleep schedule and workload. After enough, I felt a sense of physical transcendence, but only briefly, as back then, my self-doubt game was strong as hell.
The pursuit of mental skill, however, is a different beast entirely. Suino speaks of mindfulness, self-control, but places the greatest emphasis on one's ability to change dependent upon the setting you are in. Frankly, that the rules of the dojo are not the same as that of an office building, or a frat house, or a home, and a failure to adapt is a failure in your martial skill. We practice the right way to build the appropriate habit for a multitude of situations; in the same vein, for me, to recognize that each problem has multiple solutions and every situation can be handled differently, but it must still be handled. And to find the most appropriate response to an invitation, violent or otherwise, one must be mindful.
We see this at the table all the time. A player who is not mindful of the table's climate and does/says something inappropriate...now players are uncomfortable. In character or out, one that responds always in violence will incur the wrath of the guards, or bounty hunters, or divine justice.
Many lines are drawn toward the correct observation of instruction, but also of your own body. Awareness of your surroundings. But most of all, a pursuit of No-Mind: that awesome state of being where our techniques just "come out" without any bidding or effort. You know how you do this? I bet you can figure it -- TRAINING. Becoming lost in your training. I remember those days. Locked in a practice room until 3am, completely absorbed in the pursuit of the perfect run. Playing till my lips cracked. That's the goal, and telling your body and mind to KEEP GOING is a mental discipline. And now...I just want to return to it.
Bushido roughly translates to "the way of the warrior," but it is so much more complex and powerful than most people realize. To follow Bushido is not to follow a way of fighting; instead, think of it like a way of living. The remainder of the book breaks down living in the Budo life and martial virtues of the warrior caste of Japan. This runs parallel to the little philosophy that I know on the Samurai way of life. Heck, I once spoke on it to a class of graduating 8th graders, trying to instill in them a sense of purpose and maybe, just maybe, the idea that you don't have to be a jerk to get your point across. ;).
But in all seriousness, to follow the path of the Samurai in principle...isn't easy. Let me talk about those virtues a bit.
Integrity - be honest in your dealings with others, and with yourself, and consider all points of view before placing judgement.
Respect - true warriors have no reason to be cruel, or to prove to others how strong they are, so they are always courteous to their enemies, even in battle.
Courage - hiding is not living, so live life fully. Often, courage is not the loud voice; it is the quiet whisper at the back of your spirit that utters "I will try again tomorrow."
Honor - the choices we make and how we make them are a reflection of who we really are.
Compassion - because the warrior is not as most people, they must use their powers for good. They help their fellow humans at every opportunity.
Sincerity - do what you say will do. Speaking and doing are the same action. This also means don't make promises if you're not sure you can keep them.
Loyalty - warriors are responsible for everything they say and do, and all the consequences connected. With this, they are strikingly loyal to those in their care.
Suino extends the analysis toward what it truly means to practice Budo, which is to pursue personal perfection. And this is NOT an easy task. For someone who struggles with physical anxieties and nervous habits, however, this is an especially attractive concept, and probably why I keep returning to the book's concepts as a foundation of my personal development. Every time I walk into the gym, pick up my tuba, compose a song, or stop myself from picking my nails, quotes from this book trickle in.
Though Suino focuses the core of the book upon specific martial arts training as his base, anyone with imagination can extend these lessons to every walk of life. And some of its chapter quotes now hang on my wall.
"The Way is in training." - Miyamoto Musashi
"Purity is something that cannot be attained except by piling effort upon effort." - Yamamoto Tsunetomo
"Perceiving what is right, and not doing it, argues lack of courage." - Confucius
I highly recommend this book to every martial artist, gamer, teacher, and musician I know. In fact, if you want your own copy, I've included a link below.
See you at the table.
A Little Background
Before I dive into this, I think you need to know a few things up front.
The new Lion King film is not a BAD film. In fact, it is technically inspired. It is jawdroppingly gorgeous, and amazing to look at. And for a film, it does fine. Just fine. It doesn't ruin my childhood, insult my soul, or cause me to fly into a car-flipping rage. It's FINE.
It could have been so much more, and there's A LOT holding it back, and quite a lot of that...quite frankly could have been fixed easily, especially given Disney's resources AND that they have a direct line to the source material (it's THEIRS).
So, a little background for where I'm coming from.
I LOVE the original Lion King film. It is my all-time favorite animated Disney film (Mulan and Hunchback make a close second). And it's so much more than just the amazing artistic animation; the musical score is inspired, beautiful, and endlessly fascinating (the extra music album produced, Rhythm of the Pride Lands, is also some amazing work); the themes of the film are tight, and there's not a scene I skip when I replay it (in the theatrical version, at least). Everything about it is polished, emotional, artistic, and meaningful. Every scene has a purpose, and it's all executed with precision.
This, on the other hand, has some pretty stand-out problems for me. Let's break them down.
Spoilers, I guess. ;)
1) The Musical Score
To understand how pissed I am about the score in this viewing, all you have to do is read what Zimmer had planned for this rendition.
"In revisiting the score for “The Lion King,” Zimmer realized the original themes and music were the “emotional spine of the story.” He brought back many who worked on the original film, including Lebo M, orchestrator Bruce Fowler, conductor Nick Glennie-Smith, arranger Mark Mancina, plus several singers from the choir including Carmen Twillie (who performed “Circle of Life” in the 1994 movie)."
Alright! So we've got many of the original players, plus the amazing iconic vocal renditions of Lebo M, and the original composer, Hans Zimmer, all in the mix. This is going to be epic!
And it could have been. Except for a few glaring problems:
1) Your Lead can't sing. Well, maybe he CAN, but his style and range is very different than what the arrangement of the song requires. The youth that plays Simba struggles with higher registers, and during I Just Can't Wait To Be King, in key moments of belting it out...the kid goes to FALSETTO. IN THE FINAL CUT OF THE FILM. His volume drops to nothing, and it is very, very obvious. Notes aren't held to any kind of length (so no breath support), and any riffing you've got is used to HIDE this fact (badly) instead of acting as an augmentation to the original. Nala, on the other hand, overpowers and outshines his ability immediately. They need to be equal, folks. These are your LEADS. And older Simba (Donald Glover)...is doing his best. An otherwise excellent artist and I think a great speaking choice for Simba, comes off a little strange in Hakuna Matata, where he riffs before it feels appropriate. If you can carry the song, riff away, but don't riff to hide the fact that you can't carry the song. And before you think me rude to recommend vocal coaching to a musical artist...every musical artist gets vocal coaching throughout their career. As one continues to augment and extend their craft, they train to do so. Disney, you've got billions of dollars...you couldn't afford a vocal coach worth their salt? Or maybe, they were directed to sing that way, and if so, I very much disagree with their decisions, especially when it came to child Simba. Can You Feel The Love Tonight? ...was very good (despite being during THE DAY), and refreshing to hear the leads sing the whole song together, but I think it's Glover's style, directed or not, that felt off somehow.
2) Seth Rogen cannot sing it seems. When he does, it's played for laughs, but it is no less painful to see and hear. It's tragic, too, because Rogen is otherwise WONDERFUL as Pumbaa, but with Timon belting out excellent tracks beside him, it's even more glaring. The animated Pumbaa can sing (stylized, but he hits the notes he has); this one should too.
3) Be Prepared...barely exists. What happened to a great villain song? Scar speaks over drums for a bit, they skip 2/3 of the song, and it's over. WTH?
4) The score cues are rushed - let me explain. All the beats are there: themes, swelling score, iconic instrumental sections along with new composed work...but it never takes its time. It never revels in the themes it creates. Remember, this is supposed to be the "emotional spine," yet it seems like it's barely there, despite there being tons of music in the film. Take the iconic Stampede scene for example: in the animated original, the rumbling grows slowly (just like this one), we get a freaking dolly zoom on Simba as strings rise and a dissonant choir looms at the edges of our eardrums, creating tension to the scene, then Simba starts running and we get rhythmic singers moving along, working their magic. New version? Forget that rise of tension, let's just slam the rhythmic theme right down on top of the little cub. Everyone knows this theme. We'll bank on the memory; we don't have to "build tension;" how silly!
And that's all over the place. Themes show up in places they were never there before, or aren't really appropriate/take away from the scene they're in, or show up too early - which sends the message of "rushing" through the songs and setpieces; don't mind us, just prancing through hitting our check boxes on our money list!
5) Oh Hai random Beyonce. Following one of my FAVORITE scenes in the film, Simba begins charging back to pride rock. Now, this is another iconic segment of travel with rousing rhythmic choirs, Zimmer's awesome score - it's short, but truly great, with lots of energy and momentum. In this new film, we get the beginning transient notes of this original theme, and I hear the splendid tones of Lebo M start to creep in...and I get excited. I studied the music of this whole film, and Lebo M is amazing, so I'm thinking, "Ooooo, maybe we'll get a cool Lebo M jam session over Zimmer's instrumental section and we'll get some cool layering, because, ya' know, it's okay to be new as long as you're honoring the orig-- Is that a freaking pop song!?" And sure enough, there's a random-ass pop song in my Lion King movie. They killed Be Prepared and gave Beyonce her own random-ass song (and boy is it jarring to hear - the styles aren't COMPLETELY misaligned, but it certainly doesn't feel good). Hey, I get it, she's playing adult Nala and she does really, really well...but her random song doesn't fit here. Put it in the credits, Disney. The hell?
6) If you're going to add music, add Shadowland. For those of you who have heard the aforementioned Rhythm Of The Pride Lands, there's an amazing track called "Lea Halalela (Holy Land)", which was later adapted to the Broadway musical under the title, Shadowland, and is sung by Nala. It is a showstopper of a song; it acts as a transition point for her, as she weighs finding help to save her people and abandoning them to the terrors of Scar, and she may not return - it's a valuable exploration. But naw, let's give Beyonce a new LP that has little bearing on the overarching story. Sounds great.
2) Rafiki is awesome. Yet his most important lesson isn't in the film.
"Ah yes, the past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or...learn from it!"
Remember that? Yep. Not in the film. The lesson's not even there paraphrased. Never mind Rafiki. It's not like he's important or anything.
3) A Lack Of Emotion
Emotion. There is little of it.
I get it. They're lions. The animators worked REALLY FREAKING HARD to make these animals look real, and they TOTALLY DO OMG...but, when they talk and emote, it's very strange. It's hard to get the characters to actually express things. It all feels flat and hollow, and that's true with *some* of the voice acting too. Characters just rattle off lines like they're crossing off a grocery list - where's the love? Where's the care?
Simba, begging for his father to get up after the stampede...is delivered TOO FAST. C'mon Favreau, you've done movies before, this is a scene where you take your time. It's important. Duh. Even as an older Simba begs the clouds not to leave him again, it feels empty.
Favreau rushes through the scenes and beats from the original, but pads the stuff they changed or added, and that means the pace is all off, too. Everything feels rushed, and yet the movie is longer than the original. Big emotional beats carry little weight - Mufasa's death, Simba's lesson, Nala's leaving (very poignant in the Broadway show), Simba's ascension (like, seriously, you just flash cut to the end of the film mid-roar?) - not because they're poorly done (cinematography-wise), but because they don't take the time needed to FEEL. There's no class; no real understanding of what made the original so great, despite a seasoned director at the helm.
Characters have no personality. Facial expressions have been sacrificed in favor of "photo-realism." Impressive, yes, but tells little in terms of narrative. HUGE moments of the story (the stampede scene and all that transpires, one of the most iconic and traumatic and expertly crafted sequences in film and animation)...are bland and distant. And so much of the cast...sounds tired. Even James-Earl Jones; though he should be VERY familiar with these lines. What the hell?
Maybe I'll settle into it, and for kids today, it's serviceable...but when the 1994 version is STILL a better story and presentation with better music, better performances, and better messages, why "upgrade" to this soulless cinematic experience that lacks...heart?
This is clearly a cash-grab. Soulless, useless, and shameless.
4) So What Did I Like?
1) There's a lot more emphasis placed on Sarabi being a badass, and I love it. There's an implied "war" with the hyenas, which makes Shenzi a rival general, not Scar. As it stands, Shenzi is clearly the pack leader of the hyenas, not a flunkie to Scar, and the switch had a lot of potential. Maybe Shenzi and Sarabi get to have a show-down, as they would be appropriate opposites? Naw, Nala fights her. Glad she got to do more, though, the potential was wasted.
2) There's also a stated and implied love triangle where Scar holds Sarabi in high respect, but she chose Mufasa as a mate over him, which adds depth and complexity to the three's relationship, as well as weight and power to Sarabi's continued defiance after Mufasa is dead. There isn't a lot of exploration of this theme, but it's there I guess.
3) The Lion Sleeps Tonight was a lot of fun, and they added in the other "prey" animals as side characters hanging with Timon and Pumbaa, which was genuinely fun, and their interactions with Simba got some genuine chuckles out of me.
4) The musical additions - save Beyonce - are good. Lovely, even. More Lebo M please. That said, the music is somehow...muted throughout the film. The producers quote as the emotional spine. ...This film has NO SPINE.
5) The hyenas are wonderful, though emoting, again, is difficult. Ed being able to talk had a lot of potential, too, but that character isn't in the film much.
6) It is a technical marvel. ...and yet the CG is somehow lazy. Because it's a shot-for-shot remake of something that didn't need to be remade.
When a random kid walks out of the theater, shrugs her shoulders and says unprovoked that "It was rushed and I didn't connect with the characters," you have a problem, Disney.
You have the resources.
Do it right.
Back to games soon.
See you at the table.
In the time before the great pantheon of the gods, these gigantic creatures lurked in the primordial oceans and the underground seas. They reached out with their superior minds and enslaved the burgeoning lifeforms of the mortal realm, pushing dominion that made them like gods. Until the true gods took notice, smashing the aboleths' empires and freeing their enslaved beings.
Such an insult has never been forgotten.
General Knowledge - Aboleths in 5th Edition
Aboleths have ancient, flawless memories, and pass on their knowledge from generation to generation. This quality keeps the insult of the gods fresh and alive, perfectly preserved in their minds. They are also treasure troves of ancient lore. These entities play the long game; calling eons of planning to bear, patient and intricate.
Gods in the Lake
Ancient aquatic beings, Aboleths dwell in the deep recesses of underground lakes and rivers, and unknown depths of the grand oceans. They often reside in the Material Plane, and the Plane Of Water, but can show up just about anywhere with an underwater abyss. In these deep lairs and the lands that surround them, Aboleths are like gods, demanding worship and obedience from those that live nearby.
They also add the experiences and knowledge of all they consume to their eternal memory, creating a lust for knowledge with all they come in contact with. An Aboleth wields its telepathic powers to read the minds of creatures and know their desires, and they use this power to easily gain the creature's loyalty. While in its lair, an Aboleth can augment its telepathy, creating the illusions of such fulfilled desires for its loyal servants...but it is still just an illusion.
Enemies of the Gods
With flawless memories, and connections eons long, the Aboleths forever recall the slight of the gods. Their fall from power is written in stark clarity, for Aboleths never truly die. If an Aboleth's body is destroyed, its spirit returns to the Elemental Plane Of Water, where another body is coalesced in a month or two. Ultimately, the Aboleths dream of one day overthrowing the gods and regaining control, and dominion, over the world.
They've had eons to plan, and they never forget. Truly, they are a great danger to the cosmos.
Aboleths are a race of malevolent, eel-like gargantuan Aberrations with frightening psionic and psychic abilities.
Fish-like amphibians of immense size, often reaching 20 feet or more (6.1 meters) in length and many weighing up to 7,000 pounds. Though, as an Aboleth's body can live indefinitely if not destroyed, there are some cited at 60 feet in length, and others weighing upwards of 12,000 pounds. They resembled a bizarre eel, with long, tubular bodies, as well as a tail at one end and two fins near the head and another along the back. Aboleths' mouths are lamprey-like, filled with serrated, jawless teeth.
Aboleth underbellies were often orange-pink, while their topsides were typically sea-green. A little bit back from the head were four long tentacles, two sprouting from across each other on the top, and two more of the same on the underbelly. Their heads were triangular-shaped, with a spherical, beak-like nose. Above the nose are their three eyes, each one set atop the other. Tendrils and a few shorter tentacles dangle from the bottom of the head. Four blue-black slime-secreting orifices line the bottom of their bodies. The creature's blood is green and thick, oozing like sap.
Aboleths breathe through a thick gray mucus, which covers their body and which they exude from four pulsating organs along their body as they move. If robbed of the ability to exude this slime, an Aboleth would suffocate in water or on land alike. As such, an Aboleth had to take care of its mucus. Out of the water, an Aboleth's membrane-like skin dries out quickly, but this did not prove fatal in and of itself. Instead, the Aboleth would eventually enter a state of suspended animation, called Long Dreaming. During this process, the so-hampered Aboleth formed a tough, waterproof membrane, like a calcium deposit shell. Over enough years, this shell would grow harder than steel, forever entombing the dreaming creature.
Aboleths In Io
I admit we haven't seen many Aboleths in the campaigns I've run, though their influence has been felt. The first one encountered by a group was in the Halls of Pandemonium; a discarded, corrupted psionic entity - a far shadow of its former power. They ripped it apart, with little understanding of what it was and why it was there, whereas in reality they had released its body from an endless cycle of torment by the ancient dragon, Narizguun.
As the world continues to clarify, especially in the Fourth Age (where the Pirate campaigns reside), the Aboleth is a creature that has always had influence in the world of Io. Its power stretches to the depths of the world's memory, pulling strings and making plans. A creature of the long game, eternal and dangerous...perhaps some villains have taken notes. ;)
See you at the table.
Thoroughly afraid of the water.
4) Class Traits and Abilities
Warlocks act as Strikers - bringing divine punishment upon their enemies, but they're not tank-y in any way. My key abilities are Charisma, Constitution, and Intelligence, in that order, so my Gnome racial bonuses are BOSS. Let's stat it out:
STR 11 (+0)
DEX 12 (+1)
CON 16 (+3) = 15 + 1 at Level 4.
INT 16 (+3) = 14 + 2
CHA 20 (+5) = 17 + 2 + 1 at Level 4.
Being Small, my speed is only 5 squares, but it helps to have some Low-Light Vision too.
Armor is Cloth and Leather only, but my Defense Bonuses are +1 to Reflex and +1 Will.
Weapon Proficiencies: Simple Melee, Simple Ranged
1) ELDRITCH BLAST - Your At-Will powers are intrinsically tied to your class choice by theme and pact, so Eldritch Blast is an automatic At-Will power. Your Eldritch Pact decides your other At-Will power...
2) ELDRITCH PACT - You get three choices: Fey, Infernal, Star. This selection decides your second At-Will power, as it is mechanically tied to the flavor of the pact. Star punishes movement toward you with Dire Radiance (Movement), Fey makes you Invisible with Eyebite (Buff), Infernal channels additional damage to a target when I take damage with Hellish Rebuke (Offense). Each one is still an initial attack roll, with the appropriate follow-up bonus. I'm going with Hellish Rebuke, because the language specifies that the target doesn't have to be the one that damages me; I could take damage from something else entirely, and still automatically deal 1d6+3 fire damage to my chosen target. That's nice. Also, I get Dark One's Blessing, which grants me temporary HP when a creature under my Warlock's Curse (see below), dies.
3) PRIME SHOT - As long as I'm the closest to my target (so no ally is closer than I), I get a +1 to all ranged attack rolls against that target. Nifty.
4) SHADOW WALK - As long as I travel at least 3 squares on my turn, I gain Concealment until the end of my next turn. Which is great, because I plan to keep my distance whenever possible.
5) WARLOCK'S CURSE - once per turn, as a Minor Action, I curse a dude. That dude is more vulnerable to my nasty attacks and takes extra damage (+1d6 for now). So there.
6) IMPLEMENTS - Warlocks make use of specific powerful wands or rods or pact daggers that add extra powers or bonuses to their spells. Cool beans.
5) Powers (Spells)
A Level 4 dude has 2 At-Will Powers, 2 Encounter Powers (not including other class features, or racial abilities), 1 Utility Power, and 1 Daily Power. Many of my powers are already pre-determined by my Infernal Pact choice, so let's just lay them out.
1) Eldritch Blast - you can choose your Charisma or Constitution to help out with this spell, but you can't change later. Charisma is my OBVIOUS CHOICE with a +5 modifier. With the added benefit of this spell counting as a basic ranged attack, allies that grant such opportunities open up a world of hurt against our enemies.
2) Hellish Rebuke - Constitution-based ranged attack vs. Reflex, so 1d6+3 fire damage if I hit. The added bonus is they take an extra 1d6+3 fire damage if I take ANY damage before the end of my next turn.
Racial) Fade Away - We've talked about this. Take damage, go invisible!
1st Level) Diabolic Grasp - Another Constitution-based power that hits nice for 2d8+3, and will move the target 4 freaking squares!
3rd Level) Fiery Bolt - 3d6+3 fire damage, and burst 1 with 1d6+3 fire damage, with another +3 for my Intelligence. Ouch.
1) Armor of Agathys - Gain some 13 Temporary Hit points and any enemy that starts its turn adjacent to me takes 1d6+3 Cold damage until the END OF THE ENCOUNTER.
Utility - Daily
2nd Level) Fiendish Resilience - Minor Action to give myself 8 temporary hit points. Meh. No choice in the matter.
1) Improved Initiative - the earlier I go, the better. +4.
2) Improved Dark One's Blessing - when a Cursed enemy drops to 0, I'll gain 7 temp HP instead of 4.
4) Magic Of The Mists - retain Fade Away when I attack. Booyah.
6) Gear and Overview
Basic Melee = Sickle; +4 to hit, 1d6 damage --- Sickles have +2 Proficiency, + Strength (0) + 1/2 Level (2)
Basic Ranged = Hand Crossbow; +5 to hit, 1d6+1 damage --- Hand Crossbows have +2 Proficiency + Dex (1) + 1/2 Level (2)*
**I don't plan on using this, as my Eldritch Blast counts as a Basic Ranged Attack. 1d10+5, with a +9 to hit is way better.**
Implement: Magic Tome = +1 Attack and Damage rolls, but on a Critical add 1d6 damage.
At-Will Powers: ELDRITCH BLAST, Hellish Rebuke
Encounter Powers: Fade Away [R], Diabolic Grasp, Fiery Bolt
Daily Powers: Armor of Agathys
HP: 30 (15 at level 1, +5 per level )
Healing Surges: 9 (6+3) Surge Value: 7
AC: 15 --- (10+1/2 level +Dexterity Mod +Leather Armor 
Fortitude: 15 --- (10+1/2 Level +Con Mod )
Reflex: 16 --- (Int +3 + 12 + 1)
Will: 18 --- (Cha +5 + 12 + 1)
Trained Skills: Arcana, Bluff, Intimidate, Streetwise
Gnome made. Let's blow some stuff up.
See you at the table.
The Stuff Of Legend...
Some entities in fantasy have stood the test of time. They are either so old or so powerful that they have outlasted every adventuring party that has sought their ruin, or already stand amongst the gods and devils that rule the multiverse. Ancient dragons, demon lords, aberrations that rule the Underdark...these and so many more fill the world of fantasy with legend.
Legendary Resistance / Legendary Actions
Many legendary creatures are tougher than your average beastie, and show that in their Legendary Resistances. Three times per long rest, if a creature with this feature fails a saving throw, they can choose to succeed instead. This pisses off my players to no end, but this is a great mechanical representation as to why these things have survived as long as they have. An ancient being wouldn't be able to be charmed by one unlucky roll out of the gate; it has some fortifications against that.
Conversely, legendary beings are often, but not always, solo endeavors. In other circumstances, such encounters can feel a little...one-sided. As a party of 5-7 warriors gang up on a single creature, that's usually 5-7 swings on it before it gets its turn.
Legendary ACTIONS provide a pseudo-set of extra turns each round for a Legendary Creature to use, simulating its great power and rebalancing the economy of the encounter.
At the close of another creature's turn, not its own, this creature can spend 1-3 Legendary Actions to perform certain tasks, attacks, or powers, as dictated by their stat block. Some powers burn only 1 LA, while others can burn 3 at once, especially if the creature is attempting something very powerful. Sometimes it's a movement or an extra attack, or a bonus spell. Whatever it is, stay alert! There's a reason these things are legendary.
But to be clear:
Legendary Resistances only recharge during a Long Rest, but...
Legendary Actions return at the start of the creature's turn EVERY ROUND.
So you might force some saves and use up their resistances...but they're just as dangerous with their Legendary Action economy.
A Creature's Lair
Location, location, location...
A Legendary being often has a place it calls its home. A "lair," if you will.
Such a place tends to grant them superior bonuses to their defenses, like a homefield advantage, and often pose great danger to an unprepared party.
A Lair in a Legendary encounter acts on an Initiative count (often count 20) like a character, but you can't attack it or defeat it. Maybe you're fighting in a volcano, and a wave of extreme heat hits you; or a pulse of necrosis randomly strikes someone within range of the dark altar of the Lich. And many effects get worse the longer the fight goes on, so entering a Lair with a clear strategy will help keep your party alive and (hopefully) end this encounter quickly in your favor.
Pro Tip: If ever you can engage a Legendary Creature outside of its Lair, do so. Those homefield advantages, coupled with its already frustrating extra actions and resistances, make these fights particularly nasty.
Other Special Traits
Powerful creatures, not just legendary ones, can often have extra special abilities to be aware of that set them apart from your average hobgoblin or bulette.
Some monsters have the ability to cast specific spells as part of their features. These spells, unless otherwise noted, are always cast at their lowest level. If it's a cantrip, we can assume the creature's challenge rating (CR) as its level if we need to determine damage (unless it's otherwise noted).
Innate spells often have other restrictions, like "target self" or "Reaction only."
A monster with the Spellcasting feature is considered to have a spellcasting level and an arsenal of spell slots, as if they were a player class. Such a creature can choose to cast spells at higher spell slots, just as a player might, giving a large bredth of caster flexibility (and making them very dangerous).
Psionics is a form of spellcasting that allows a monster to cast spells using only the power of its mind. This tag can be attached to both Innate and standard Spellcasting, and carries no additional rules, but other parts of the game might refer to it.
Assume, though, that a spell cast using Psionics does not require components. ;)
And there you have it!
Next time, we delve into the depths and visit one terrifying little beastie. I mean it, this thing's the stuff of nightmares!
See you at the table.
4) Class Traits + Ability Distribution
Avengers act as Strikers - bringing divine punishment upon their enemies, but they're not tank-y in any way. My key abilities are Wisdom, Dexterity, and Intelligence, in that order, so my Deva racial bonuses are right ON POINT. Let's stat it out:
STR 11 (+0)
DEX 18 (+4) = 17 + 1 at Level 4.
CON 12 (+1)
INT 16 (+3) = 14 + 2
WIS 18 (+4) = 15 + 2 + 1 at Level 4.
CHA 10 (+0)
Armor is Cloth only, so I'm pleased that my Defense Bonuses are +1 to Fortitude, Reflex, and Will.
Weapon Proficiencies: Simple and Martial Melee, and just Simple Ranged (so I guess I'm going up close and personal)
Now, that Armor proficiency feels a bit disappointing, but the Avenger gets a few little features to help out their "battle cleric" status:
1) ARMOR OF FAITH - as long as I'm not in heavy armor or using a shield, my deity rewards my courage in the face of certain doom with a +3 bonus to my AC.
2) AVENGER'S CENSURE - I choose one of two bonuses that tie directly to a creature that is the target of my Oath Of Enmity (what up, 5E Vengeance Paladin?), Pursuit or Retribution. I like the damage bump (3 from my Int) of Retribution, as well as the synergy in Power selection later (you'll see), so I'll go with that.
3) OATH OF ENMITY - select a chosen prey, and take the best of two attacks on them until the end of the Encounter as a Minor Action. Woof. Probability is now on my side.
4) CHANNEL DIVINITY - you start with two Channel Divinity powers (more if you take certain Feats): Abjure Undead (deal sick damage to one undead target and immobilize them) and Divine Guidance (let an ally roll twice for an attack). Both Encounter powers, so I've got 'em each fight.
A Level 4 dude has 2 At-Will Powers, 2 Encounter Powers (not including other class features, or racial abilities), 1 Utility Power, and 1 Daily Power. Let's get to it.
At-Wills - my focus is on dealing decent damage and chasing down opponents so I can smite the crud out of them:
1) Bond of Pursuit - Weapon attack plus Wisdom Modifier damage, but the kicker is that I can chase down the target if he ends his turn away from me.
2) Bond of Retribution - decent damage and radiant damage tied to my Intelligence if an enemy other than my target smacks me. That'll learn 'em good. :)
Racial) Memory of a Thousand Lifetimes - didn't like that roll? Let's add 1d6 to it!
Class Feature [CF]) Oath of Enmity - roll two attacks and take the better result for the whole fight or when the thing dies. All that for a Minor Action.
CF) Channel Divinity: Abjure Undead - immobilize and wreck one undead creature.
CF) Channel Divinity: Divine Guidance - when an ally attacks your Enmity target, have them roll twice and take the better result. Yes please hit my quarry!
1st Level) Avenging Echo - Don't stand so close to me! Until the end of my next turn, enemies near me take 8 radiant damage (5 + 3 from my Int because of Censure of Retribution).
3rd Level) Halo Of Fire - same deal as Echo, but better weapon damage, and this time it's 8 fire damage.
1) Temple Of Light - Double weapon damage + Wisdom radiance AND it creates a zone of extra damage that follows the target. Creatures struck by me in such a zone take extra damage. I see this limiting a target's movement, as the spillover damage to their own allies is less than helpful.
Utility - Encounter
2nd Level) Resonant Escape - triggered by being hit, or missed, I get to teleport a few squares away. Cool.
1) Improved Armor Of Faith - an additional bonus to AC that increases at later levels (+1 for now)
2) Melee Training - effectively (if I pick Dexterity) turns my basic melee attacks into 5E finesse weapons, so I can use my Dexterity modifier to slice the junk out of enemies instead of Strength.
4) Melora's Tide - another Channel Divinity option that grants some regeneration to me or an ally until we're not half dead.
6) Gear and Overview
Basic Melee = Longsword; +9 to hit, 1d8+4 damage --- Longswords have +3 Proficiency, + Dexterity (4) + 1/2 Level (2)
Basic Ranged = Crossbow; +8 to hit, 1d8+4 damage --- Crossbows have +2 Proficiency + Dex (4) + 1/2 Level (2)
At-Will Powers: Bond Of Pursuit, Bond Of Retribution
Encounter Powers: Memory of a Thousand Lifetimes (Racial), Oath Of Enmity (CF), CD Abjure Undead (CF), CD Divine Guidance (CF), Avenging Echo, Halo Of Fire, Resonant Escape (Utility)
Daily Powers: Temple Of Light
HP: 33 (15 at level 1, +6 per level )
Healing Surges: 8 Surge Value: 8
AC: 20 --- (10+1/2 level +Dexterity Mod +Armor Of Faith 
Fortitude: 14 --- (Con Mod  + 12 + 1)
Reflex: 17 --- (Dex +4 + 12 + 1)
Will: 17 --- (Wis +4 + 12 + 1)
Trained Skills: Religion + Acrobatics, Heal, Perception
Time to kick some butt, Vered Felstaff. Let's rock.
See you at the table.
Everybody settle in and get cozy. We're about to share some deep stuff on gender, personal identity, sexual orientation, and personal expression. The following deep dive is an exploration of distinct characters I've played, others I've observed behind the screen, and a small look of the current state of D&D and how it affects and empowers us.
How Playing A Woman Made Me A Better Person (and many other things)
Gender-bending is a foregone conclusion when you are a Game Master. Unless you're running a completely male or female world (I mean...why?), the assumption follows that if you are playing as every character that is not another player-character, you will undoubtedly play a character that is the opposite sex that you are.
And we've all seen some cringe-worthy elements come out of this with newer DMs. A dude that plays all the ladies like lascivious harlots with high-pitched voices (because all women CLEARLY sound like THAT), or an awesome dudette playing all the men similarly but down two octaves. I get it, we're learning, and their range will (I hope) increase.
I'm happy to say I came from the middle when it came to voice. I was blessed with a love of the theater, and I adore trying out new voices, dialects, and accents. Some I've blended into regional accents for my fictional world, and that took some time! It's great to look back, and when I play ladies, they run the gamut of high to lower pitches. Most tend to sit in soft palette, and elevate slightly. But...it's not about the voice.
Characters are EMBODIED. A lot can change by a simple shift in posture and position. How a person moves, in face and body language, is even more important than how they sound. A shifty urchin looks shifty (regardless of gender), and a stoic knight is no less stoic with feminine features; both can also be seductive, or monstrous, or terrifying. Their actions and body language speak more than any masculine or feminine features would at their base. A lot of it ties more into the variables of communication, interest, and an alignment of style.
I'd be lying if I said gender DIDN'T play a role, but for me, I find it a little more complex.
I think I played Vanora to feel sexy at a time in my life that I certainly didn't. As frame, many of my men were shy and awkward (like me), or far too exuberant and annoying (like a cartoon version of what not to be), and my women, though cool, had what I thought was lacking in personality. Now, Vanora was not flirtatious; she was confident. Not once did she hit on anyone in the game, but I knew she could rock it if it came up. She was sensual in her movements, almost animal-like (Aasimar Shifter, Pathfinder), and I wanted to experience an otherworldly perspective, separated yet powerful, and highly feminine. And the perspective was...neutral. In fact, it became a piece far more about characterization; the subtle aspects of a person - their flaws, ideals, and the deeper shifting layers of emotional sand. It was a lesson in HUMANITY most of all. As the campaign fizzled out, her lessons reformed in the creature known as Lorelai in Gray Owls, except ten-fold, and much more complex, dangerous, and alluring.
And I end up playing a lot of women in my games, and not to feel sexy. Actually, I'm very proud of the women of Io in every age. I find I play them like people, rather than women or men, which might sound silly to some of you, but I think that that's the best way for me. Instead of gender first, it's always character. There's no sexism in Io (at least not in any frame that is acceptable), so a good leader is a good leader, regardless of gender. A ruthless tyrant is still a tyrant, whether it a man, woman, or anything in between. Yet, my players have had little trouble identifying who I'm playing and when (there is a family of strong women that all sounded a little similar early on, but I've adapted), and usually grasp their gender quickly.
In a lot of ways, playing women helped me consider people as people. I didn't want to box myself into tired narrative cliches or tropes, so to break free I played a person who just happens to be female, male, or something else. Their gender is secondary to their personality. What a concept to consider, yet I do believe - as a clearly heterosexual man - that women hold certain extra powers over those that would be interested in them, and the same is true for any gender that interests another.
So of course this swings toward orientation, at least at first. Love is love in Io; you love whom or what you want (as long as you're not hurting anyone), so the societal pressures that surround one's orientations that we feel so viscerally today...don't exist here. And it doesn't define someone's prevalent or lack of partners. Let's take Cecil, a high-elf bard of the court in Gray Owls, who, despite being married to probably one of the most frighteningly-powerful women I've ever played, has to play the field of information, favors, and rapport in order to sway the odds in the favor of his family and his assets. Cecil is a listener, first and foremost, and can flip on a dime whether to be masculine or feminine and all levels between as the situation allows so he can make the other in the room feel the most comfortable...whether that's manipulative or not. But for me, it forces me to wait and pick my moves carefully, embracing whatever side I need to and being open to multiple possibilities; a perspective of a tactically sound mind who will wield physical and mental intimacy to position others is a thing of beauty.
Contrast this with Obidia Skurr, the Master Slate Duelist of Feathertongue, who is concretely gay yet classically masculine, and chooses partners rarely, if at all. He never uses his sexuality overtly as a tactic; it is a subtle piece of himself that he chooses to save for only his most vulnerable times. A private person; willing to help, but only willing to open himself up to those that truly matter, yet he is pursued for his mystery. (Not the mystery of his orientation, mind you, because that doesn't matter). Whereas Alejandro Esuarve, definitively pansexual, can't get anything in bed due to his aggressively abrasive and annoying personality. Neither is a commentary on either orientation, and such an orientation is secondary to who they are as people. Whom we choose to love is really only a small piece of who we completely are, and we can choose to wear that intimate choice on our sleeve or express it only in the quiet, special moments. Neither is hiding, and both are completely normal. And yet still I can play the strong and masculine Lyla Ironwood, who (at this point in the campaign) hasn't expressed any shred of sexuality or interest in anyone, and still get hit on by the party's Barbarian, even though he knows she can rip his heart out. People are interested in who they're interested in, and each of those is a layered person (which I dare say is MUCH more attractive). ;)
Too often, we find ourselves in camps of judgment, across picket lines of which fun is most "right." We view one side in a given context, and omit others, yet we forget key powerful facts of the human identity. A person using their sexuality as a weapon is empowering and a person wielding a great sword in a huge battle is also empowering. The existence of one does not belittle or negate the existence of the other. And you know the best thing? That can be the same person. True agency is having a say in how you portray yourself in every given moment; a badass soldier can be a sexy seductress, and a sexy seductress can be badass soldier, and people WANT TO BE BOTH at different times, and run the oscillation between many others. The ability to pivot to what is most appropriate given the situation is an adaptable skill that so many desire, yet have little practice in. Wouldn't it be great if we could feel strong AND sexy? They're not exclusive, people.
I guess my main point in exploring this deeply is that, similar to my post on Boundaries, I build and play characters from a state of ideal representation. I'd be silly if I didn't reference the cruel fact that we fight for empowerment and representation because of a long history where it was taken from us, and how cool would it be if the core aspects of ourselves could be expressed without the barriers we have to punch through today. If I want to look good, I will. My choice to be fabulous. My choice to fight. My choice to breathe. My choice to express myself however I see fit.
And I choose unhinged Druid Assassin who believes she's descended from a long line of Tabaxi, despite being human. :) That fun is not wrong, and I'll probably learn something from it, too.
When Players Pursue Identity Through Gender and Orientation
I expect it at every one of my tables now; especially the one-shots. One of the gals is going to play a guy, and I'm totally down. Maybe it's just to be different, gain a new perspective, or to practice their own identity. Yeah. Practice.
So much of what we do at each table involves communication, problem-solving, complex fantasy cooperative storytelling...and social interaction. I'd be an idiot if I said my characters were not related to me SOMEHOW, as each will undoubtedly represent or be manifested from an aspect of oneself. They may grow and change, but, actually, so are you (the player). Each character we play is intrinsically tied to a piece of us, and will affect us in ways we may not have planned for.
Which is why when I witness players step outside (or inside) their comfort zones with new characters or explorative decisions I internally squee with glee. You now get to experience, in a safe and imaginative space, actual feedback on character choices, orientations, responses, communication... And if you offend, or miscommunicate, or cause a mass genocide - it's okay, because this is a game, and you can try again. That's one rep. Take the feedback, apply where you can, and we'll continue to grow together.
And 5th Edition has done quite a lot for representation. Couple this with Io's world, and my players have a lot of opportunity to explore themselves (as theme and appropriate for each age group in campaign, of course) in the shoes of each character. Maybe you're a girl that's figuring out if you like girls...so you play a guy character and try flirting out. Or you play a girl character who is bisexual, or lesbian, or pan. Who knows? Maybe you're a guy that would like to see what happens if you play a girl; will your perspective change, your thoughts, your motivations? What if your character is asexual? What does that mean, how would I play that? What if I'm a boy, and I identify as a girl? How do I explore that?
How does the group react to your bend, or your orientation? Do they support you, reject you, or are just uncomfortable? Are they uncertain, and need to consider a few things for themselves?
Maybe they're actually decent people and accept you for who you are, and try to help wherever they can. :)
I'm happy to say that I have players that decided, through their experiences pursuing an orientation they were uncertain of, to come out to their family and fight for agency in their own life. They used their character to harness the warrior inside, and actually fight for what made them happy. That's the beauty of this game; it's an opportunity to find your Sword and Shield, and rise above the walls you built around yourself. It is a forge, and when building yourself, you can always start over. You can always rewrite your narrative; tell yourself a new story.
And what we're seeing, more and more, is how little it actually matters at the table what sort of orientation, gender, or identity you wish to pursue. Those aspects of yourself (as long as they don't hurt others, and respect each other's boundaries) will be accepted at my table, and many others. However, those aspects are only tiny pieces of a much greater YOU.
What becomes possible when we expunge the social gender norms present today in what separates the expectations of a boy or a girl or the spectrum between, and embrace only the commonality of character and the sliding gradient of alignment point to point; decision to decision? Then, we are only measured by our actions, not solely by our gender, and we are but people drifting together. Sometimes we have a heading, others not, and either way, the journey is our own as we grow and learn and love together.
Forever pride. Forever human.
See you at the table.
Last week we took a look at the multitude of Monster Types, now let's take a look at the terminology surrounding how they MOVE and how they SEE.
A monster with a burrowing speed can tunnel through sand, earth, mud, or even ice! Bad news on a tactical map, but the monster can't burrow through solid rock unless it has a feature that says so.
Climb speed lets the creature scale vertical surfaces using all or part of its movement, and they don't have to spend extra movement in order TO climb.
Monster with fly speeds can use that movement to, you guessed it, FLY. And some monsters have the ability to Hover, making it difficult to knock them out of the air. Any decently smart creature with a fly speed (and a breath weapon) should be feared on a tactical battlefield.
Well, these are getting simple. Creatures with a swim speed can swim their speed! And they don't even have to use extra movement... Who'da thunk? Good to note, though, that a swim speed can only be used in a liquid; a semi-solid material, like mud, does not support a Swim speed (Burrow would be more appropriate), but in the same vein a Burrow speed does not allow you to swim (without costing extra movement as normal).
A monster with Blindsight can perceive its surroundings without relying on sight, depending on the radius. Creatures without eyes, like an ooze or grimlock, will usually have this sense, as do creatures that might use echolocation (like a bat) or something with heightened senses (like a dragon).
A naturally blind monster might also use this term to indicate the MAXIMUM RANGE of its perception.
A creature with darkvision can see in the dark within the specified radius. Just like with player characters, they can see in dim light as if it were bright like, and in darkness as if it were dim light. And, just like PCs, the monster can't discern color palettes, only shades of gray. Expect creatures who tend to live underground to have this special sense.
A monster with Tremorsense can detect and pinpoint the origin of vibrations within its specified radius, provided that IT is not in contact with the same ground or substance. No, it cannot be used to detect flying or incorporeal creatures. Expect monsters that tend to burrow, like an Ankheg or Umber Hulk, to also have this ability.
A popular thing among high-level players, a creature with Truesight can see (out to a certain range) in normal and magical darkness, see invisible creatures and objects, automatically detect visual illusions and succeed on saving throws against them, and perceive the original form of one who is a shapechanger or someone transformed by magic. Furthermore, the creature can see into the ETHEREAL PLANE out to the same distance. A few ancient or psionic creatures might have this ability, but it is much more rare.
This is a magical ability that allows a creature to communicate mentally with another creature within the specified range. The contacted creature doesn't need to share a language in order to communicate, but it needs to understand at least one language (so the Google Translate has something to do). A creature without telepathy can still receive and respond to telepathic messages, but can't initiate them.
A telepathic monster doesn't need to see the contacted creature and can end the contact at any time. The contact is also broken if the two creatures ever exceed the range of the sense. It often goes without saying, but contact is broken if the creature is incapacitated.
Note: A telepathic creature within an Antimagic Field or another location where magic does not function will not be able to send and receive telepathic messages.
Sometimes you smack that enemy really hard and it does nothing, or you hurl a particular potent concoction, roll real bad, and deal double damage...or you find yourself somewhere in-between. There are reasons why and these are the terms you need to know going in.
When a creature is Vulnerable to a damage type, it is assumed that the type deals twice as much damage to it. Some DMs will have players roll twice as many dice, or, for speed and efficiency, simply double the number rolled. Whatever the method, the creature can be considered "weak" to this type, and will therefore suffer more when dealt it.
A very common term among the monsters in 5E, a Resistance indicates the creature will only suffer half of the damage (rounded down) dealt to it of this type. It can be expected that many Fiends will probably be resistant (if not Immune) to fire damage.
An immunity indicates that the monster either cannot be affected by the named status effect or suffers no damage (even if an ability might punch through a Resistance otherwise - ahem, Elemental Adept feat - cough) from the indicated type. Powerful undead can be Immune to necrotic damage, or a large fiend Immune to fire damage, or how a construct might be Immune to being poisoned.
A trait often reserved for older, more powerful beings, (the Yuan-Ti Purebloods also enjoy this at level 1 in Volo's Guide To Monsters) a creature with Magic Resistance rolls with Advantage against ANY MAGICAL EFFECT THAT REQUIRES A SAVING THROW. Any. Magical. Effect. Yeah, that's awesome...or terrible, depending on which side of the screen you are positioned. :)
Next time on Dragonball Z
Legendary Creatures, Lairs, and what the heck that all means.
See you at the table, sipping on my coffee.
...Gods I need more coffee...
The Rolled Array - 13, 15, 18, 16, 16, 12
Woof, dude. Let's make something powerful. We'll build to Level 5 for now.
1) Race + Class Choices
RACE - Shifter, Swiftstride Subrace
Shifters are from the Wayfarer's Guide To Eberron, and act essentially as were-touched individuals.
Shifters enjoy an automatic +1 to their Dexterity, and Swiftstride grants another +1 Dexterity, with a +1 Charisma bump. If I allocate correctly, I've got a 20 Dexterity at Level 1, so Monk or Rogue is a pretty clear choice. Without a Wisdom bump, I'd normally be questioning it, but my other extremely high stats back me up and open the door to any class I like. ;)
Tack on the fact that Swiftstride grants Proficiency in Acrobatics, Perception, Darkvision, additional movement speed, and a circumstantial "Mobile" feature (moving without triggering attacks of opportunity), and this choice is feeling more and more obvious. Plus, the Shifting feature gives me a small damage buffer (+8 Temporary HP, Level+Con Modifier) if I really need it.
CLASS - Monk, Drunken Master
So let's map these stats:
STR: 13 (+1)
DEX: 18+2 = 20 (+5)
CON: 16 (+3)
INT: 12 (+1)
WIS: 16 (+3)
CHA: 15+1 = 16 (+3)
I'll decide to avoid all those awful Opportunity Attacks and take Mobile at 4th level, increasing my movement speed by 10 more, so by Level 5, I'm running circles around the board with 55 Speed.
Lump onto this all the great features from Drunken Master like:
1) Ki and Flurry of Blows
2) Stunning Strike
3) Drunken Technique - grants Disengage + 10 speed every time I Flurry.
4) An extra proficiency in Performance won't hurt the busking in the street for some much-needed coin. :)
2) Gear and Loadout
The beauty of selecting Monk here is a veritable lack of gear dependency, so this section is donezo.
3) Powers and Effectiveness
FLURRY OF BLOWS and MARTIAL ARTS
Ki Points: 5
Martial Arts: +8 to Hit, 1d6+5 bludgeoning damage
Stunning Strike DC: 16
Total Possible Attacks Per Round: 4
AC and Defenses
AC = Wisdom Mod + Dexterity Mod + 10 = 18 (will rise in later levels as I max out my Wisdom score
Saves = Strength +4, Dexterity +8, Constitution +3, Intelligence +1, Wisdom +3, Charisma +3
Speed = 55 Feet
Swiftstride Bonus Ability: once per short or long rest - SHIFT into a bestial form for +8 Temporary Hit Points, +5 movement speed, and a Reaction option to move 10 feet without provoking Attacks of Opportunity.
Name: Paw Dugan
Weight: 185 lbs.
Height: 6' 1''
Hit Points: 51
Should be fun to try out.
See you at the table.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, and aspiring fiction author.