Clicks and clacks echo along the pale cobblestone as tendrils of lazy fog curl toward you. This moonlit night sends chills through your heart, and up your spine. Determined to get home, you pull your coat closer and quicken your pace.
Then, you see it. A slumped form, stepping out from a back alley. It is a man. Pale of skin, and dry of breath. But then he straightens, cold breath exhaling from his lips. A scraping of steel draws your eyes to the jagged dagger in his hand.
He begins walking toward you and you wonder if that blade is for you. But then his eyes meet yours, and though another chill slices into your bones, you know he is not here for you. The two of you pass in the night. Tonight, you are not what this creature seeks.
Revenants are created when a mortal soul claws its way back from the edge of the afterlife, seeking vengeance for its cruel and undeserving demise. The soul could be righteous or malevolent, courageous or cowardly, or any striation between. No matter what their true nature, they have been bound to seeking revenge, and cannot rest until that vengeance is completed.
A Revenant soul reclaims their mortal body, and rises from the grave much like a zombie. However, instead of the dead eyes of a corpse, the eyes of a Revenant command intelligence and resolve, often flashing or burning within the presence of their quarry. And their quarry always recognizes the Revenant for the reaper it is, no matter what body it may inhabit at the time. If a Revenant is killed...the soul finds its way back to another corpse, rising again from the dead in a new body, seeking its quarry endlessly.
It is known among monster hunters that a Revenant's quest is not forever. The soulbound only have a single year to exact vengeance upon their adversary, after which point the soul is ripped back to the afterlife and its current body turns to dust. And yes, I said "current body." During that year, a Revenant does not require food, air, drink, or sleep and if their body is killed...they find a new one.
If their adversary dies within the year, whether by the Revenant's hand or another's, the soul may finally pass on to the afterlife fulfilled. If not, well, whatever rips it back can decide what to do with them. Some pass on, while others linger as ghosts or wraiths, forever tormented by their unfulfilled destiny.
And these things are intelligent, often retaining the abilities and memories they possessed when they were alive. Now, these skills and powers may feel distant - like a lost dream - at first, but with training, a Revenant can utilize all of its previous assets to seek out its adversary, including seeking powerful allies to help it fulfill its hunt.
Monster hunters are also aware of the enhanced immunities and resistances it possesses which keep it in divine pursuit. One of the few creatures to possess resistance to psychic damage, you'll also have some difficulty with necrotic damage. Don't even try to poison or charm this thing, and assume it can't be stunned or exhausted. In fact, many of the techniques one might use to slow down any of us breathing humanoids just won't stick with a Revenant. Kill them, they rejuvenate somewhere else. Hurt them, they regenerate anyway.
Oh yeah. And they're really strong for a dead guy. Like all of their physical power were being channeled from their literal soul. Wouldn't want to get in the way of this thing and their divine justice.
The smart zombie in the legacy of Dungeons and Dragons is often fulfilled by the Wight, an intelligent and powerful undead with the capacity to command a small contingent of weaker skeletons and zombies. The Revenant, though also an undead creature and intelligent, is a different beast entirely.
It represents one trapped in a cycle of vengeance, desperately trying to punish those that wronged them in their former life. And, they're not even evil. At worst, they are only neutral, constantly walking the line between justice and chaos, and most of the time they're the good guys, cursed to right the wrong of their death. An anti-hero with a ticking clock.
This archetype finds its way into all sort of genres; the wanderer in the old west, a bitten hero in a zombie apocalypse, a terminal warrior princess with visions of her death. Someone who knows full well that the end of their quest is the end of them, but fights anyway. The terminal, destined entity. And I am pleased to say that what was once just a "hard zombie" has flourished into an entity with a massive potential for personal history, lore, and exploration.
And these creatures offer great opportunities for depth of world-building and cosmology when one entertains the idea of what gods and devils might vie for such a soul. Is it the Raven Queen that has brought you back for such a singular purpose, or Pelor with a divine mission before you can pass on to Elysium; is it a Great Old One in need of a temporary champion, or an Archdevil with a contract? The circumstances with which a Revenant is made can have startling implications as to the intentions of the greater beings in the world and their relationship to the Revenant, and, if a party surrounds them, to the party as well.
Revenants in Io
There are dark machinations that resonate and ripple across the ages of Io, and in this machina innocent people can find themselves crushed within the gears. These undeserving souls might find dreadful purpose in this false resurrection, and revel in their unkillable nature. However, every rebirth is a gift granted by an extra-planar entity, god, devil, or something else. And, like so many elements of the Weave in Ionian lore, there is a cost to such gifts...
The concept of an undead hero, neutral or not, exists in my world without a doubt. Revenants are certainly not common, but they aren't unheard of. Always seeking that greater depth of immersion and storytelling, those that do reveal themselves are never grunts or shambling corpses. They are aware, and might have already taken steps to hide the fact that they may be slowly decomposing (herbs, liquor, formaldehyde). Some have actively injected themselves with healing potions, syrupy elixirs of vitality, or taken to consuming infernal blood to cease the flow of rigor mortis. And all are well aware of the passage of time - and how long remains before they turn to dust. They may seek help from our heroes, allies to defeat their nemesis, or perhaps they've been down this road before, and have given in to their damnation.
My players have met two Revenants before, but I don't it was ever revealed to them (in secret or otherwise), and they will definitely show up again. Can a player-character be a Revenant? Anything's possible. There's too much espionage and assassination in my world for an Archfey to not take advantage of a poor, unfortunate soul every now and then. However, that is something that will be explored and revealed during play, not before. No one goes in thinking they're going to become a zombie Clint Eastwood...
See you at the table.
Man. I'm tired. What I wouldn't due for some CAFFEINE. ;)
Some baddies you find just hold a special place in your heart. Maybe you often fall back on them because they're so versatile, or you save them for that key moment when they'll be most effective. Could they be a striking nemesis, a freak chance encounter, or a surprising subversion of expectation?
I use a lot of monsters, and I make a lot of my own (that's another post altogether), but none so far have had such an "OH CRAP" moment from my players in recent games as the Remorhaz.
The Remorhaz is a traditionally arctic monstrosity. A predator preying on elk, polar bears, and other creatures that wander into their territory. They burrow deep into snow or ice, lying in wait for the faint vibrations of creatures moving above them. While hidden, it can raise or lower its body temperature, keeping the snow or ice around it from melting, or allowing it to glide through the cold tunnel.
A Remorhaz nest is quite a find, especially if you are a frost giant, as the young Remorhaz can be trained from hatching to obey commands and guard your citadels. Some might even become mounts for other creatures. Be careful if training these beasties, though; they are adept at swallowing their victims...
Their Place In Ionian Lore
The Remorhaz has become recently fascinating to me, and not just because of their mechanical capabilities. Residing in the grand north of the world, somewhere beyond the Wynnrik Region, the Remorhazes and their ilk would have been one of the first batches of creatures to encounter menacing Brood as they fled the collapsing Shadowfell at the turn of the 6th Age. This means that the once dormant, territorial creatures, fought, failed, and were corrupted by the impending swarm of shadow monsters. What came out of such a clash was an even more formidable foe.
What Makes Them Scary
1) They Can Swallow You (and then Burrow)
I have a few players it seems with a penchant for getting eaten, and with an ability like Swallow, this number continues to rise.
On their turn, a Remorhaz makes a Bite attack against a creature it is grappling (snake-like body, go figure). If the attack hits, you're looking at 6d10+7 piercing damage PLUS 2d6 fire damage, AND the creature is swallowed. While swallowed, they are considered blinded and restrained, and will suffer 6d6 acid damage at the start of each of Remorhaz's turns.
Now, that's pretty awful. However, your allies can deal damage to this thing while you're in its gullet. Deal enough damage in a single turn and the thing has to make DC 15 Constitution Save or regurgitate you. ...HOWEVER, if this thing swallowed you BEFORE it moved, it can now burrow 20 feet down (movement speed). Without a player with Sentinel, you're in BIG trouble if they can't hit it hard enough with attacks of opportunity.
If you're still conscious, you might be able to get yourself out. Restrained only brings your speed to 0, gives others advantage on attacking you, and your attacks and Dex Saves have disadvantage. You can engage in trying to hack your way out (which at higher levels is completely kosher), cast a spell, and so on. But if the odds aren't in your favor, your body might be SOL.
2) Fire AND Cold Damage Immunities
Let's shut down that Fireball and Cone of Cold immediately, shall we?
3) Their Bodies Are Superheated (Melee beware!)
Every time a creature touches the Remorhaz or hits it with a Melee attack while within 5 feet of it takes 3d6 fire damage. Every hit. Not every turn, or every round. EVERY. HIT.
This one is nasty. True, average damage here is only 10 fire, but it can add up quick. Imagine your Monk suffering 40 damage just for smacking the creature with their Flurry of Blows; sure, the thing can't take Reactions now, but the martial artist is melting. It forces you to pay attention to a creature's mobility, economy, and range - so YAY for tactics!
4) Ionian Augmentations (6th Age)
After their brush with the Brood, the resulting surge of necrosis and corruption moved through the species, garnering them two new curious features.
First is an immunity to Necrotic damage.
Second, a plethora of pulsing, bulbous tumors and sacks that litter their bodies. Every time the Remorhaz suffers damage (except Psychic damage), one of the boiling tumors bursts (GROSS). Every creature within 5 feet of the creature immediately suffers 2d6 Acid damage. Oops.
It makes the 5-foot radius around them extra volatile, and just like before, no saving throw. This, coupled with the Heated Body feature, can really mess with the melee attackers and how they synergize with ranged support.
Keep your healers healthy, you're gonna' need it.
Also, I've been painting two of them! Trying to follow the picture in the book for once. So far his color test is looking really nice. Can't wait to tighten up everything, smooth the fades, and finish him up.
Stay safe and don't get swallowed.
See you at the table.
So my buddy Shelley showed up to an event without a character. She warned me first, like a good player, maybe about 6 hours ahead of time. Lords bless my DnD Beyond subscription and knowledge of the game, because I made this character in 30 minutes flat and brought it to the game for her to play...and it was AMAZING.
The Core Concept
Normally she plays casters, so I asked if she wanted something familiar, or something new. She picked the latter, citing that a non-caster would be welcome. Knowing her, and her trust in me, I decided to give her something with enough technical choices to engage her caster experience, without worrying about spells, and had enough oomph to keep her on the front lines (when normally she doesn't put herself there), and finally some quirk to make things a little silly.
She's mentioned wanting to one day try a Kobold, so now's a great time to try it out.
To keep her AC high, I've awarded her a Ring Of Protection and some Bracers Of Defense. We rolled a decent array so I'll put a high stat in Dexterity and round out her Wisdom, and our Unarmored Defense will take care of the rest.
Race, Stats, and Features
So we started with an 18, 16, 14, 13, 12, and a 6. We'll put that 6 in Charisma because that's hilarious, and the 14 in Strength. 18 and 16 in Dexterity and Wisdom respectively, and we'll fill out the 12 and 13 in Constitution and Intelligence.
Kobolds are one of the few races in 5E that suffer an attribute penalty. -2 Strength and +2 Dexterity brings our Strength modifier to a lovely little +1 and our Dexterity already maxed out at 20 for a +5. To keep this little spitfire moving, I grant the Mobile Feat (+10 feet of movement!, among other things) at Level 4, and then we'll up her Wisdom to 18 (so her AC goes up too).
Add on her Grovel, Cower, and Beg feature, Darkvision, and Pack Tactics, this is rapidly becoming Team Advantage! Slap a pair of sunglasses on that sucker, and Sunlight Sensitivity is no problemo.
Race: Kobold Class: Monk 8, Way of the Open Hand
HP: 64 AC: 22 Speed: 55 Initiative: +5
STR 12 (+1) DEX 20 (+5) CON 12 (+1) INT 13 (+1) WIS 18 (+4) CHA 6 (-2)
Saves: STR +5, DEX +9
Gear: BAGPIPES (used hilariously as a sled, and played every time she fells an enemy),
Bracers of Defense*, Ring of Protection*, Ring of Mind Shielding* (just because)
In practice, Aki is bloody hilarious. When paired with our spry halfling barbarian, the small brigade is a force to be reckoned with, felling just about every big foe I can throw at them. In character interactions, Aki is adorable, ravenous, and entirely loud at the worst times. Mechanically, she has lots to work with using her Ki Points, but it's always the same list, and Open Hand gives her plenty of options to pivot to what needs to be shut down each round - whether it be Reactions, pushing them away, knocking them down - plenty of choice points.
As it stands, Aki is currently level 12 in our Knight Owls Season 3 campaign.
I'd say the character was a hit.
See you at the table.
Okay. Rant time.
I've been doing this gig for a while now. I've devoted hundreds of hours to cultivating my craft of storytelling, rulings, incorporation, and character growth. I've written thousands of words on my campaigns, I've written music for them, I paint my own materials and build my own sets. I reflect daily on how to be a better storyteller and a better teacher on every side of the table. I'm not perfect, no DM is, but I think I'm doing pretty damn good.
Every encounter I've run, even if difficult, has multiple ways to win. I never railroad, and I'm always open to creative solutions. Even a suicide mission has a way out (though it may be a bit dishonorable, still a way out).
Players who have played with me for years...are still questioning my intentions. Like I haven't been making this my LITERAL JOB for LITERALLY YEARS or anything. And I'm not talking like questioning my rulings, no; that's welcomed, we can discuss that stuff. I don't want my players to be scared of bringing up elements for discussion. What I'm talking about can be summed up into two main requests.
Wait and See
If I have continually given you scenarios where there are multiple ways to solve them, do not assume that THIS scenario is somehow a railroad. I have NEVER navigated a party to a no-win scenario. Enemies have been tough, but even those that feel "unfair"...have a puzzle. There are ways around and through everything I set up. Always. That's how I've always done it; it leaves room for the players to kick ass in unexpected ways, and that's great.
If the fight hasn't begun, and you haven't seen the literal character sheets I'm working from, how can you make ANY sweeping conclusions about how it's going to go...unless you're assuming that I'm trying to kill the party, which, if you have ever read this blog or listened to anything I do, you know would be ludicrous. Challenge? Yes. Kill unfairly? NEVER.
Also, until the conclusion of the plot arc...maybe don't pass judgement on it. You might think you're the smartest cookie in the box, but that doesn't mean you're right. And just because you're presented something "unfair," doesn't mean it's impossible. Take a deep breath and figure it out - that's part of what makes this game work.
AND we've already established that CRs are mostly BS so...what's your problem?
Try. See what happens. You might surprise yourself.
Maybe give me the benefit of the doubt...because that's what I've always done for my players (maybe even to a fault).
Trust Me (I don't have to tell you my secrets so you can feel better)
Wait, didn't that guy get away?
Was he on the ship?
You don't know.
Can you just tell us?
So I can stop worrying about it!
...Then definitely no.
But he literally killed me last time!
And we threw him in lava! How did he survive?
Yes, isn't that interesting. There is indeed a reason.
Really? Is it because he's impossible to kill?
...No. There's a reason, though.
Yeah? What is it! Tell me or I'll keep complaining and insulting your style of DMing, checking to see if you intended to paint our entire existence as a no-win scenario because you suck, and questioning your every move!
...Commence minimal spoilers to appease whining...
Now, the above scenario applies to only a few conversations that have prompted this post, but dare I put forth a radical idea: NOT KNOWING THE OUTCOME OF SOMETHING CAN BE EXCITING. Not everything gets wrapped up in a neat little bow; loose ends are a part of storytelling, and that tense uncertainty is a GOOD THING in a narrative, especially a cooperative one.
Do you REALLY need to know that you DEFINITELY killed that guy and he's never coming back? Or could you be excited if he ever returned? Could you rejoice in discovering IN PLAY why he seems immortal? Solve the mystery, damn it.
I have players that jump at the chance to figure this stuff out...and a tiny percentage of others that seem annoyed if they don't know everything - like they were somehow entitled to. And if they didn't know, then it "just wasn't fair."
Grow up. Put on your big kid pants and deal with the fact that you may not know everything. Mystery is a part of storytelling, hell it's a part of LIFE, and I don't feel like giving up my mysteries or loose ends because you're whining for them.
If you're not sure you're going to win because your level is too low, or your perceived enemies have too many hit points, or he has too many spell slots, or he's resistant to my damage type, or his AC is too high (saving throws might suck, ya' know), or no one took healing spirit.
Figure. It. Out. These are challenges, not impossibilities. If you've learned anything from me, it should be that I'm not a jerk GM. I kill my darlings, I'm happy when you win, I just want you to have a good time and feel satisfied.
Not all problems will be solved by mechanics and probability alone. This is a game that promotes creative problem solving. So do some problem solving! Don't throw up your hands and say "I can't because my character blah blah blah blah - I've heard enough.
I'll help you if you get stuck, but I ain't doing it for you, and I'm pretty sure that's how people like it.
Enough with this baloney sandwich.
I'll see you at the table.
I feel like ever since an adult grasped the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons manual, there has been drinking and D&D. At every game, peeps bring snacks and beverages and dice and supplies, and as we age up, those snacks and beverages often upgrade from chips and soda to wings and mead (I know, many of you expected beer, but I can't drink that junk). The addition of alcohol to a gaming setting can have a number of interesting effects, from breaking down walls to accelerating belligerent behavior to increasing fun flow to failing to follow anything during their turn but hyperfocused on playing everyone else's character... There are a few things I keep in mind whenever we introduce this type of energy into our tabletop setting.
1) This is a Social Gathering
No, seriously. For my players, this is a social thing. They're coming to play, enjoy themselves, enjoy the cooperative company of others. Also, these are always adults over the age of 21. Adult language can be used, mature themes explored, but most of all, they can make their own decisions when it comes to the level of drunk they're pursuing. And it takes experience to get the balance right.
I recall a specific game, our first 21+ game, where a good friend of mine showed up without eating much that day, then proceeded to pound down 4 drinks, fell asleep halfway through the session, woke up enough to get the killing blow (dude), then we hung out with him until he was good enough to drive (no matter how long that would take). We talked through all the poor decisions that led to that debacle, made sure he was safe going home, and the next time, he learned about EATING FOOD DURING THE DAY. Yeesh.
We've since grown up collectively, and even in that experience, the community of the party rallied around that player to help him stay safe, and made absolutely sure that he was alright during and after play had concluded. Why? Because we're adults too, we understand, and we're not jerk-faces. :)
There's going to be an ebb and flow to the evening, depending on how much people have consumed and by what rate, and everyone's tolerance is different. It will flow organically, just like any other social gathering. And everyone can choose the rate at which they partake (or don't partake).
2) Adding Energy To A System
Speaking of not partaking, I don't drink when I DM. It's tempting as hell at a 21+ event, but this is my job, and I'm never breaking that rule. Even if it's for a casual home group, I don't feel comfortable crossing that line. And it's because I need to be the steady in the room. Even-tempered, steady keel, arbiter of the rules and mainstay of the session. I am the constant, and that keeps the fantasy rolling. It also ensures that I don't miss as many details, so I can stay consistent.
My partner in crime, John Tanaka, said it best: "Alcohol adds energy to a system." Now, often the type of energy is dependent upon how each player responds to alcohol. Some will become louder, others more silly, and others more mellow; plus a full oscillation between as levels of buzz rise and fall. Mitigating this is actually much easier than you think, though.
First, meet your players with patience. It's okay if you have to repeat yourself or explain something differently (just as with any table), even if you feel you're doing it a lot. Some people get faster when they drink, others slower, and all in different ways. Just try to meet them where they are first, and guide them up to the level of understanding you need them at; don't demand that they leap to you - remember, drunk people don't move so well - take their hand and guide them up your well-labeled steps to the Landing Of Understanding.
Second, try your best to end on time. Alcohol's end result is BEDTIME, and the further you push beyond the agreed-upon end, the harder the time your players will have. And it's okay if the end time is 2am, if everyone knew going in...just don't go to 4am instead. A pre-determined end helps those adults plan accordingly, and if we push beyond that, people start shutting down. If you end a little ahead of schedule and everyone's satisfied? BONUS GLUTEN-FREE BROWNIE POINTS WITH CHOCOLATE CHIPS.
Third, stay consistent. Like I said, I'm the anchor for the session. All my wayward ships need a lighthouse, right? If I waver too much, I can sacrifice the social contract that we all bought into the game at the start. I need to make sure that my conduct is consistent from the start of the session to its close, even if my players fluctuate. That gives them a clear expectation to look toward at every moment of the session; they can trust me to be empathetic, understanding, but firm, and consistent. :)
And that's all I can say for now. Adults can make their own decisions as to the level of buzz they want to ride, and that changes from individual to individual, night to night. The only things I can do is maintain my own control level, be consistent, and stay kind. My players will sort themselves out as long as I keep a good table with clear expectations. Speaking of which...
See you over there.
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.
Game On! Director, musician, music teacher, game designer, and professional game master. In short, I'M A BIG NERD.