Dragon Heresy: Sidhe vs the PCs

This one’s unusual, because I didn’t do it. My Aesir-level playtester +Luke Campbell loves fae and sidhe and all things funky, and he ran a playtest on his desk, taking a notionally high-challenge sidhe – not the rulers, but still powerful – of the Fey and pitting them against four 8th level characters with a typical party makeup. I’ll just post his words and you can see how this turns out.

Pre-fight Commentary by Luke

I volunteered to help write up some of the monsters.  Oh whatever did I get myself into?  But it has been a real blast, even if a lot of work.

I’ve tried to get a set of antagonists and actors in the world that are evocative of real-world beliefs about mythical and legendary creatures with a Norse focus (although with influence from all around Europe).

Recently, I’ve been working on the upper level fae, what the Norse would have called alfar.  These were powerful beings, almost divine in some ways, hidden spirits of nature that were set apart from and (in some ways) above men.

One question during the design process is figuring out how much of a challenge an encounter with one of these beings would be.  So I took a typical alfar (or fairie, or sidhe, or whatever one might call it) and set it against the archetypal party of a fighter, cleric, thief, and wizard. Then I tweaked the fae’s design parameters, and ran it again.  And again.  And again.  Our poor party was caught in a Groundhog day-like cycle.  Sometimes it was a cakewalk.  Sometimes they got curb stomped.

I finally got dialed in on a design I liked, of about the desired challenge rating, which I could use as a base for ever more powerful variants as the fairie nobles and ladies acquired power and mystical connections to their archetype.  I reported back on some of my findings to the playtest group, and Douglas asked me to do another test with some minor rule tweaks.  So I did, and kept careful note of what happened.  In the process, my generic party acquired names, and perhaps a bit of personality, as did their wily foe.

Then I sent my notes to our playtest group – and here they are. A blow-by-blow breakdown of the fight, in all its gory detail.


Prelude

Our setting: my computer desk … err, a windswept ledge crawling along the sheer cliff-sides of the Frostharrows.  The path has just passed under an overhang (that looks oddly like a computer monitor), widens out to a ledge of relatively flat ground with good footing about 40 feet across with a sheer cliff plunging down to the right and jumbled scree and boulders to the left (difficult terrain, odd that they are in the shape of keyboards)), before turning 90 degrees and continuing along the front of the desk, err, mountain for about 100 feet before turning again.  A clever person with sharp eyes might notice a narrow path between the keyboards – um, scree and boulders.  Just before the path turns, sits a large boulder (mouse), and beyond there are large rocky outcrops (books and piles of paper) around which the path winds, with broken ground and difficult footing.  The boulder is where Fairlane will be sitting when first encountered.  The characters will be represented by lego minifigs, and distances measured with a ruler, using 1 inch = 5 feet.

The wind blows chill, bringing with it a light dusting of snow and making eerie howling sounds in the canyons.  The sun has risen, with the crisp light of late morning that you get in the mountains.  Since our heroes are on the east face, they have had daylight for several hours, and got an early morning start.  Although chilly, once started the hiking has invigorated and warmed them although they are likely to stop soon for refreshments.

Fairlane has spied the party approaching – trespassing in his hold! But they might make fine tools with which to harass his neighbor-enemy.  As the party rounds the bend, they see an old man, possibly a goat herd (but we know him as Fairlane in disguise) sitting on the bounder, scratching designs in the dirt with a stick.

… and that’s enough for now, until I get down to actually gaming things out.  I may run several tests – previously some were very short when the entire party got charmed and were sent off on a wild goose chase.

Dramatis Personae


Frode the Fighter, Human Fighter (champion) level 8
Str 20 (+5); Dex 13 (+1); Con 17 (+3); Int 9 (-1); Wis 12 (+1); Cha 11 (0)

Vigor 74 (8d10+24); Threat DC 16, Hit DC 27 (+4 from shield); DR 8 (plate armor)

Wounds 20; Control 21

Proficiency +3; Saves: Str +8, Con +5
Skills: Athletics +8, Intimidation +3, Insight +4, Perception +4
Defense fighting style
Second Wind (1/rest): As bonus action, +1d10+8 vigor
Action surge (1/rest): +1 action
Extra attack
Improved critical 1
Remarkable Athlete: +2 to Str, Dex, Con if proficiency doesn’t already apply

Longsword: +8 to hit, 5 ft. 1d8+5 damage (crit 19-20)
Handaxe x 4: +8 to hit, range 20/60, 1d6+5 damage (crit 19-20)

Welch the Wizard, Human Wizard (school of might) level 8

Str 13 (+1); Dex 16 (+3); Con 20 (+5); Int 20 (+5); Wis 14 (+2); Cha 13 (+1)

Vigor 74 (8d6+40); Threat DC 13, Hit DC 24 (+4 with shield spell)

Wounds 21; Control 16

Proficiency +3; Saves: Int +8, Wis +5; Skills: Arcana +8, Investigation +8, History +8, Insight +5

Spell Save 16, Spell Attack +8; Cantrips; Acid Splash (2d10), Mage Hand, Prestidigitation, Mending; 1st (4 slots): Magic Missile (2x2d4), Shield, Sleep (5d8 vigor), Mage Armor; 2nd (3 slots): Continual Flame, Invisibility, Web (2d8+8), Scorching Ray (3x3d6); 3rd (3 slots): Counterspell, Fireball (4d6), Lightning Bolt (4d6), Fly; 4th (2 slots): Black Tentacles (3d6/4d6), Polymorph

Sculpt Spells; Arcane Ward: absorbs 13 damage

Quarterstaff: +4 to hit, 5 ft., 1d8+1 damage; Dagger: +6 to hit, range 20/60, 1d4+3 damage

Ragnar the Rogue, Human Rogue (thief) level 8

Str 15 (+2); Dex 20 (+5); Con 12 (+1); Int 14 (+2); Wis 16 (+3); Cha 9 (-1)

Vigor 51 (8d8+8); Threat DC 15, Hit DC 26; DR 2 (studded leather armor)

Wounds 14; Control 20

Proficiency +3; Saves: Dex +8, Int +5; Skills: Acrobatics +8, Athletics +5, Investigation +5, Perception +6, Stealth +11, Insight +5, Sleight of Hand +8; Tool Proficiencies: Theive’s tools

Sneak Attack +2d6; Cunning Action: Hide, Dash, or Disengage as bonus action; Uncanny Dodge: Use reaction to halve damage from attack; Evasion: 0 damage if Dex save succeeds, half damage otherwise; Fast Hands: bonus action to disarm a trap, open a lock, sleight of hand, use object; Second Story Work: climb at full speed, +5 feet to running jump distance

Rapier: +8 to hit,5 ft., 1d8+5 damage; Dagger: +8 to hit, range 20/60, 1d4+5 damage; Shortbow: +8 to hit, range 80/320, 1d6 damage (crit 18-20)

Carr the Cleric, Human Cleric of Justice and War level 8

Str 20 (+5); Dex 11 (0); Con 18 (+4); Int 12 (+1); Wis 20 (+5); Cha 14 (+2)

Vigor 75 (8d8+24); Threat DC 14, Hit DC 25 (+4 from shield)

Wounds 21; Control 18

Proficiency +3; Saves: Wis +8, Cha +5; Skills: Insight +8, Religion +4, Medicine +8, Persuasion +5

Spell Save 16, Spell attack +8; Cantrips: Light, Guidance, Resistance, Mending; 1st (4 slots): Divine Favor, Heroism, Bless, Cure Wounds (1d12+8), Detect Evil, Guiding Bolt (4d6), Protection from Evil; 2nd (3 slots): Magic Weapon, Zone of Truth, Enhance Ability, Lesser Restoration, Prayer of Healing (6 x (1d8+8)), Protection from Poison; 3rd (3 slots): Righteous Fury, Remove Curse, Dispel Magic, Protection from Energy, Magic Circle; 4th (2 slots): Banishment, Locate Creature, Freedom of Movement

Channel Divinity (2/rest); Destroy Undead (challenge <= 1); Judge of Character: advantage to determine falsehood; Righteous Arms: Use channel divinity for maximum damage for 5 turns; Improved Heroism: add +11 to vigor when using heroism spell; Divine Strike: extra attack as bonus action

Mace: +8 to hit, 5 ft. 1d6+5 damage; Shield: 3 hits

Fairlane the Fairie Freeholder


Medium fey, chaotic neutral
Speed 30 ft.
STR
DEX
CON
INT
WIS
CHA
13
20
15
16
16
20
+1
+5
+2
+3
+3
+5
Defenses
Wound Thresholds
Threat DC
15
Morale
Injury
KO
Death
Hit DC
26
0-4
5-8
9-17
18+
DR
0
Control Thresholds
Vigor
112
Grab
Grapple
Restr.
Incap.
Vigor Dice
15d10+30
0-4
5-9
10-18
19+
* DR +1 to +5 with mage armor.
Proficiency +3
Saving Throws. Con +5, Cha +8
Skills. Acrobatics +8, Deception +8, Insight +6, Perception +6, Persuasion +8
Damage Resistances. Bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from non-magical and non-ferrous weapons
Condition Immunities. Charmed, sleep
Languages. Sylvan, Common
Challenge 8 (3900 XP)
Innate Spellcasting. The fairie’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 16, spell attack modifier +8). The fairie can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components, as a 10th level sorcerer:
  • cantrips: dancing lights, mage hand, mending, message, minor illusion, prestidigitation
  • 1st level (4 slots): detect magic, mage armor, sleep, shield
  • 2nd level (3 slots): hold person, suggestion
  • 3rd level (3 slots): counterspell, major image
  • 4th level (3 slots): arcane eye, polymorph
  • 5th level (2 slots): creation
The fairie has 10 sorcery points, and the Heightened Spell, Quickened Spell, and Extended Spell metamagic abilities.
Magic Resistance. The fairie has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects. This power does not work if the sidhe is in contact with iron or steel.
Trackless. A fairie leaves no tracks. Although it has a normal scent, it leaves no scent trail. Difficult terrain is treated as normal terrain.
Fleet Footed. The fairie can take a dash or disengage action as a bonus action. Climbing does not cost the fairie extra movement.
Elf-Stroke. Any physical attack by the fairie, unarmed, melee, or ranged, deals an extra 10 (3d6) necrotic damage as vigor. This can be delivered as a touch attack, if no weapon damage is to be caused. DR subtracts from weapon damage first, and then necrotic damage.
Actions
Multiattack. The fairie makes two attacks.
Fey Charm. The fairie targets one creature that it can see within 30 feet. If the target can see the fairie, it must succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom saving throw or be magically charmed. The charmed creature regards the sidhe as a trusted friend to be heeded and protected. Although the target isn’t under the fairie’s control, it takes the fairie’s requests or actions in the most favorable way it can.
Each time the fairie or its allies do anything harmful to the target, it can repeat the saving throw, ending the effect on itself on a success. Otherwise, the effect lasts 24 hours or until the fairie dies, is on a different plane of existence from the target, or ends the effect as a bonus action. If the target’s saving throw is successful, it is immune to the fairie’s Fey Charm for the next 24 hours.
Fey Veil. As long as it maintains concentration, or until it attacks or casts a spell, the fairie is hard to notice. It can make Dexterity (Stealth) rolls in plain sight, at a bonus of +8. There is no need to roll a Dexterity (Stealth) check for creatures with a passive perception score of 21 or less, they will not notice the fairie without actively looking.
Shortbow, Magical. Ranged Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, range 80/320 ft., one target. Hit: 3 (1d6) piercing damage plus Elf-Shot ability (critical on 18-20).
Shortsword, Magical. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) slashing damage plus Elf-Stroke ability.
Change Shape. The fairie magically polymorphs into Medium or smaller beast, humanoid, or fey of its challenge rating or less; or back into its true form. It retains its Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma, its Vigor, its traits and actions (except for armed melee attacks, if the form lacks hands for holding weapons). Otherwise, it takes on the physical (but not mental or magical) traits of the creature it changes into. The fairie’s equipment can polymorph with it, remain carried or worn, or fall to the ground, at the fae’s option. A fairiecannot polymorph if in contact with iron.

Fairlane is scheming against some of his neighbors, and plans to use guile to get at them.



Play of the Fight

The kids are in bed, the chores done, and the pythons fed.  Lets do this.

The fairie casts Mage Armor on himself well before the heroes reach him, expecting there may be trouble, and using a level 5 spell slot to gain DR 5.  The wizard has long ago cast mage armor on himself using a 4th level slot, and then took a short rest before setting out for the day to recover that slot.

Our heroes approach the old man sitting on the boulder, cleric and fighter in the front, rogue and wizard in the second row. The old man, actually the fairie, attempts to charm the fighter, figuring him to be the weakest-willed among the group (turns out he’s right).  The fighter rolls a 12+1=13 for his save, and fails to meet the DC of 16.  Frode the fighter doesn’t know why, but he feels he can trust this man.  The party reaches the fairie.

“Greetings, good sir,” says the cleric.

“And a good day to you, my lords,” replies the fairie.  “What brings you to these lands?”  The fairy now tries to charm Ragnar the rogue.  Ragnar rolls a 15+3 = 18, easily beating the DC.  He feels a cloud pass over his mind before he shakes it off.

“What trickery is this!” shouts Ragnar.  “He is not what he seems, he is trying to befuddle me!”

“Nae,” says Frode.  “You must be mistaken.  We can trust this man.”

“Fool!  He has already taken you.”  Ragnar retorts.

During this exchange, the fairie tries to charm the wizard.  Welch the wizard rolls 10+5 = 15, and succumbs to the fairies charms.  “Ragnar,” Welch calmly explains, “there is no need to get paranoid about this old, harmless man.  Likely, he needs our help.”

“Not you, too!’  cries Ragnar.

And now it is Carr the cleric’s turn. The save is 5+8 = 13, not good enough.  “Ragnar, be reasonable” says Carr.

Ragnar looks at his companions wildly.  There is only one thing to do – kill the vile sorcerer trying to enchant his friends.  Quick as an ermine, he slips around past the front of the line, draws his rapier, and tries to impale the fae.  His attack roll is 12+8 = 20, threatening the fairie.  Fairlaine ducks just in time as the blade whistles over his head, taking 3+5 = 8 vigor, with 104 remaining.

“Help!” pleads Fairlaine.  “He’s mad!  Won’t someone help a poor old man?”

Time to roll initiative.  In order of initiative Fairlaine (25), Carr (15), Ragnar (14), Welch (10), and Frode (9).

Fairlane waits, preferring to let the party fight each other rather than risking his charm by attacking.

Carr will not let that scoundrel Ragnar hurt this poor defenseless old man, but neither does he wish to hurt is friend.  Grappling it is!  Carr steps around behind Fairlaine and tries to tackle Ragnar.  He rolls 9+8 = 17, threatening him and causing 8+5 = 13 vigor as Ragnar avoids Carr’s lunge.

Ragnar disengages and slips into the rock fields, then uses his bonus action to hide.  He rolls 3+11 = 14.

Welch tries to spot Ragnar.  He rolls 13+2 = 15.  Good enough, but he just spent his action peering around.

Frode tries to spot Ragnar.  He rolls 1+4=5.  No good.  Frode steps out between Fairlaine and the scree jumble to try to protect his new friend from attacks coming from that direction, if needful.

Fairlaine rolls 2+6 = 8.  Not good enough to see Ragnar.

Carr doesn’t have to roll, his passive perception is 15.  Fearing his friend is under the influence of some malign magic (ha!) he tries Protection from Evil, which would give Ragnar an extra save (at advantage, no less) if that were the case. “Ziu, protect this man!”  Of course, Ragnar is the only one not affected by fell magic, so nothing happens other than Carr expending a 1st level spell slot.

Ragnar pops up and looses an arrow at Fairlaine.  He rolls 7+8 = 15 and 2+8 = 10, and takes the 15.  This just barely threatens the fae, but it’s enough.  Damage roll 3+2+3 = 8.  Fairlaine dives aside at the last moment, losing 16 vigor and leaving him with 88.  Ragnar takes his bonus action to hide again: 13+11 = 24.  He vanishes like smoke in the wind (well, better than smoke in the wind.  Smoke tends to hang around and be visible for a while).

Welch drops a web spell on Ragnar’s last known location.  Since Ragnar didn’t move much, he may be caught.  The spell rolls its attack: 9+8=17, and Ragnar takes 5+6+8=19 vigor as he avoids the sticky strands.  Ragnar now has 19 vigor left.

Frode looks for Ragnar.  20+4 = 24.  Just barely, he sees Ragnar, crouching behind a rock, with webs all about him.  “I’m sorry, my friend, but this is for your own good.”  He strides forward, navigates the unstable talus, and tries to grab the rogue.  Welch sculpts his web spell so that Frode can pass through.  Frode rolls 19+8=27 for his attack.  That’s a solid hit.  The damage roll is 6+5=11 – Ragnar backpedals furiously, spending 18 of his remaining 19 vigor in vigorous defense to reduce the control to 2.  Frode has a tenuous grip on Ragnar’s boot.

Fairlaine feigns concern, but does nothing else other than laugh inwardly.

Carr turns to Fairlaine.  “Let me help you, good man.”  He uses a cure wounds spell to allow Fairlaine to recover 3+8=11 vigor.  Fairlaine is now at 99 vigor.

Ragnar starts his turn in the web, so he takes 4+5+8=17 control.  He is now well and truly restrained (19 control, control maximum 20).  Ragnar tries to escape.  His roll is at disadvantage for being restrained.  He rolls 5+8=13 and 3+8=11, so he gets the roll of 11.  Okay, what do you need to roll to threaten a web spell?  It doesn’t say?  I’ll say he needs to meet the spell save DC, which is 16.  Ragnar goes nowhere.

Welch concentrates on his spell.

Frode tries to get a better grip.  He has advantage because Ragnar is restrained.  6+8 and 20+8, for a critical hit with 28.  He causes 12 control.  Ragnar is now incapacitated.

Fairlaine says to Carr “Thank you lord.  But my nerves are still shaking.  Can you spare another?”

Of course, replies Carr, giving Fairlaine another cure wounds spell.  Fairlaine heals another 5+8=13 vigor.  He is now at 102 vigor.

Ragnar can’t do anything.  Technically, he takes more control from the web, but at this point, who’s counting?

Welch concentrates on his spell.  “Do you have him yet?” he asks Frode.

“Not yet” Frode replies, and tries to get Ragnar in a come-along.  Since Ragnar is restrained, I’ll just give Frode an auto-crit.  3+3+5=11 control, for a total of 25 control from Frode alone.  “Now I’ve got him!” exclaims Frode.

“I’m still not quite back to normal” says Fairlaine to Carr.

“Ziu heal you” prays Carr, and Fairlaine recovers 11+8=19 vigor.  He’s now back at his original 112 vigor, and Carr is out of 1st level spells.

“Many thanks,” replies Fairlaine, and then (since he was waiting) activates his fae veil.  He rolls a 13+8=21 on his hide check.

Ragnar does nothing.

Welch drops the web spell.  It is no longer needed.  But where did his new-found friend go?

Frode drags Ragnar out of the rocks and into plain sight.  Then looks around in confusion for the old man he was helping.

Fairlaine realizes he will get no good out of these fools any more.  Might as well dispose of them.  The wizard is most dangerous, so Fairlaine stabs Welch in the back.  17+8=25, 5+8=13.  Fairlaine takes the 25.  This is a solid hit.  Damage is 3+5=8 for the shortsword, and 4+1+4=9 for his elf stroke, for a total of 17.  Welch takes a frantic defense, and suffers a loss of 34 vigor.  He has 40 left.  Since Welch was attacked, he can make a new save against the charm – 13+5=18, and Welch is free!  “What?  Who?  YOU!  FIEND!”

Carr suddenly notices Fairlaine as he tries to stab Welch with his sword.  An attack on his ally, enough to allow another save against the charm.  17+8 = 25.  Carr’s mind unfogs.  Ragnar was right all along!  Carr casts protection from evil on Frode using a second-level slot.  Frode rolls 15+1=16 and 8+1=9, taking the 16.  Frode can see freely now!  He releases Ragnar.

Ragnar hides as a bonus action, rolls a 10+11=21, and disappears behind the boulder Fairlaine was first sitting on.

Welch turns on the fae that just attacked him.  “You worm!  Be a WORM!”  He casts polymorph on Fairlane.  Fairlaine’s Wis save is 16+3=19 and 18+3=21 (remember, he gets advantage on saves vs. all magic).  Both succeed, so he could take either one.  No matter, Fairlaine is not destined to spend the next hour eating dirt.

Frode turns on Fairlaine, his blade flashing.  His first attack is 7+8=15, his second 8+8=16.  Both threaten the fae.  Damage is 3+5 and 4+5, for a total of 17 vigor.  Fairlaine is now at 95 vigor.

Laughing, Fairlaine turns on his veil again.  12+8=20.  Where did he go?

Carr casts Detect Evil using a second level slot.  He now knows where Fairlaine is.  Then he uses his Divine Strike to attack with a bonus action.  14+8=22 to hit, 4+5=9 for damage.  Fairlaine is now at 86 vigor.

Ragnar tries to spot Fairlaine.  19+6=25, That’s more than enough.  Unfortunately, he just used his action trying to find the fae, so he has to wait until next turn to do something.

Welch doesn’t want to waste time trying to look around.  He drops a fireball on his own location (offset a bit to avoid anyone hiding behind the boulder, like Ragnar).  He uses Sculpt Spell to exclude Carr and Frode from the blast.  Fairlane was still right behind Welch, so he is caught in the detonation.  His dex saves are 1+5=6 and 15+5=20.  He takes the 20, and only loses 2+4+6+1=13 vigor.  Fairlaine is now at 73 vigor.

Frode tries to see Fairlaine.  1+1=2.  No dice.  Still, he moves to where he thinks Fairlaine might be.

Fairlaine stabs the wizard again.  14+8=22 and 4+8=12, taking the 22.  Damage is 4+5 and 6+6+4, for 25 total.  Welch has 15 vigor left.  Everyone can see Fairlaine now.

Carr uses a 3nd level slot to cast cure wounds on Welch.  9+10=19 points are cured, and vigor recovery is doubled.  Welch now has 53 vigor.

Fairlain’s back is to Ragnar.  Ragnar darts from behind the boulder and strikes with his rapier.  14+8=22 and 15+8=23 – good enough to hit, and the 23 is a crit.  Damage is 7+7+5 for the rapier, and 4+4+6+6 for sneak attack.  So 39 base damage.  Fairlaine spends 72 of his remaining 73 vigor in frantic defense to cut down the wounds to 3, which are soaked up by the mage armor.

Welch blasts Fairlaine with magic missile.  Does casting a spell within reach of an enemy give the enemy an attack of opportunity?  I’m not going to bother looking it up at this point, and say no.  Fairlaine uses his shield spell as reaction to negate the magic missile.

Frode steps around opposite of Ragnar, Fairlaine is now flanked.  Frode attacks twice, both times at advantage.  18+8=26 and 8+8=16 for the first attack, 2+8=10 and 3+8=11 for the second.  One solid hit, doing 5+5=10 damage.  Fairlaine loses his last vigor point, his mage armor absorbs 5, and he takes 4 wounds.  He rolls an 11+5=16 to avoid demoralization, and succeeds.

Fairlaine doesn’t like his position right now, and uses his bonus action to disengage, strikes at Welch as he leaves, and moves 30 feet away.  His attack roll is 12+8=20, a threat.  Damage is 5+5+6+4+5=25.  Welch has 28 vigor left.

Carr chases Fairlaine down and strikes him twice with his mace (once for his normal action, once for his bonus action).  First strike 4+8=12, second 7+8=15.  The second connects.  Damage is 6+5=11, minus 5 for the mage armor, for 6 wounds.  Fairlaine is critically wounded but rolls a 20+2 on his con save to avoid unconsciousness,  He succeeds, and is only injured.

Ragnar takes a bonus action to dash after Fairlaine, then shanks him in the back with his rapier.  Fairlaine is not flanked or surprised, so Ragnar doesn’t get a sneak attack.  He rolls 14+8=22, good enough.  Damage is 6+5=11, reduced by 5 for mage armor, for 6 wounds.  fairlaine is now at 16 wounds out of 17 wound maximum.  He rolls 18+2=20 to avoid unconsciousness, again succeeding.

Welch lets lose a lightning bolt.  It doesn’t matter whether Fairlaine succeeds or fails his dex save, he’s going to take wounds.  I’ll roll anyway … 16+5 and 4+5, for a save.  But with no vigor left … 4+4+5+2 = 15 wounds.  Reduced by 3 for the mage armor to 12.  Fairlaine is now at 28 wounds, and automatically falls unconscious.  He rolls a 6 to avoid death, and fails.

Post-fight Commentary by Luke

The fight is over.  Fairlaine lost, and lost his life.  But our heroes are pretty banged up.  Ragnar’s vigor is almost entirely depleted, and Welch is at about 1/3 of his normal vigor.  Both Welch and Carr have used up a lot of their spells.

Since it is getting late, I won’t tally up the damage inflicted by each individual right now, but we see that Ragnar’s one sneak attack was the decisive blow that changed the fight around.  The discussion of removing the critical threat range bonus would have meant that it would have been far less devastating.  It would still have been a good, solid blow that would have cost a lot of vigor, but it wouldn’t have been the one attack that mattered the most.

There are probably some rule errors here – misinterpretations, and math mistakes, and so forth.  A number of character choices were probably sub-optimal.  They would have been made in actual game play, too, so I’m not too worried.

D&D is a fun game.  I have many fond memories of playing AD&D in grade school, engaging in epic quests to save the world in Junior High, and sitting around the table with a handful of good friends from the university, laughing, eating pizza, and wrecking carefully imagined worlds with our character’s antics.

Still, when I sit down and think about old AD&D and the newer SRD that more modern versions are based on, there are a number of weird bits that bother me.  They don’t get in the way of a good game, but the model builder and simulationist in me makes me want to fix them, tweak the game until I get a beautiful, consistent framework of rules that is not only fun to play but scales well and does a fair job representing real world antics (albeit with a heroic bias).  What I’m looking for is probably impossible, but can be approached, even if at a distance, to get something less able to break suspension of disbelief.

Dragon Heresy goes some way toward this goal.  By conceptually separating vigor and wounds from hit points, you get rid of a number of bizarre results that come from the traditional conceit of the ever-increasing spiral of hit points at higher levels.  Now your 16th level barbarian doesn’t causally shrug off a sword through his guts, he nimbly sidesteps the blow … for a while, until he gets too tired out.

A neat idea, but does it work in practice?

Yes.  Playing the game is as easy as the traditional SRD, with more dramatic results.  The grappling system, in particular, is a work of genius.  Douglas has done an impressive job putting together this rule set, and his dedication to seeing it published and available to the table-top gaming community is simply inspiring.  It has been my privilege to help in this process, in my own small way.

It is enjoyable seeing the setting develop.  From a nebulous initial concept into a fully fleshed out world.  It is enjoyable to be involved with the creation, working toward a realized world with strong motifs and influences from Nordic culture.  It is enjoyable to be a part of getting the rules and descriptions to evoke a sense of northern pagan Europe in the early middle ages.

And I think we’re doing a pretty good job of it.  A world with fae spirits hidden in rocks and hollows, where great and terrible gods occasionally walk the world of men, where brave adventurers set forth in their longships to go raiding and pillaging and exploring in exotic lands.

Douglas did specifically ask me to mention what I don’t like about Dragon Heresy as well as what I do.  They’re minor points, and will not get in the way of having fun, but here are a few additional niggling details that scratch at the back of my brain when I spend too long thinking about things rather than just getting out the dice and gaming:

  • The way ranged combat versus melee combat works is a bit odd, in that an arrow is assumed to cause wounds unless you take a frantic defense, while a sword causes vigor.  I understand the rational behind it – you can’t parry an arrow very easily, but two sets of rules for different kinds of attacks breaks my desire for simplicity.  Is there a way around this?  Maybe, maybe not.  Having been through many rules revisions over the course of the game’s development had me starting out these playtests with a misconception that got fixed when I actually read the more recent set of rules – treat an arrow (or other ranged) attack like a normal vigor-causing attack, but don’t include your proficiency bonus to your hit DC.  This has the advantage of a more consistent conceptual way of handling things, and the disadvantages of requiring keeping track of two different hit DCs for your character depending on circumstances, and of needing to go back an re-write the rules again, and making sure you catch all the places in the text where things need to be changed.  
  • A wimpy goblin with Str 6 and Dex 20 will do massive damage with a shortword since he gets to add his Dex bonus to damage instead of strength.  Weird.  He should do wimpy damage as well, because even though he’s squirly and sneaky he’s still a wimpy goblin of wimpiness.  A gargantuan Str 30 lindorm gets +15 to hit with his massive venom-dripping jaws lined with rows of serrated steak-knife teeth, in addition to any proficieny bonus.  What ever happened to Sinbad gracefully evading the blows of an immense and powerful yet clumsy monster?  I understand there will be an optional rule somewhere about using Dex for all hit bonuses and Str for all damage bonuses, but I don’t know what shape it will take, how it will interact with finesse weapons, or any other details.  Still, it would get around issues I run into when finding a tiny orm gets to add lots of damage to its attack because it has a high Dex and similar confounding events I find as a monster designer.
  • Making monsters big and small leaves me wanting some basic guidance on how attributes and damage scale with size.  Unfortunately, the SRD is inconsistent on this.  Dragon Heresy has done some great things on getting critters to scale better across a vast size range, but its still not perfect.  Of course, getting a truly consistent set of rules would take you so far from the SRD that you probably wouldn’t be playing a D&D-like game any more.
  • I’m not sure armor or shields should impose penalties on Dex bonuses or as much disadvantage as they do on some skill checks.  This is a bit of a case of getting hoisted by my own petard – Douglas asked for ways to keep sheilds from being overwhelming, and I made a bunch of suggestions, and they actually got used.  Perhaps if you have proficiency you can ignore the Dex penalties and disadvantage on ability checks?  I don’t know.  But as it stands you can have a very high Dex character actually get easier to hit if he uses a shield.  You certainly do want to preserve character niches, allowing your viking warrior to have his mail byrnie and shield while the outlaw rogue puts on a more modest apparel and your wizard wise in the ways of seidr to merely be wearing a robe, cloak, and floppy-brimmed hat.

As I said, minor points.

Overall, it’s a good game, fun to play, fun to be involved in the design process.  I look forward to seeing it turned into an actual product, one I can hold in my hand and see displayed on the shelves of game stores, one where I can feel a sense of accomplishment at being involved, in however small a way, in giving back to the community of like-minded gamers that has given me such joy over the years.

Post-fight Commentary by Doug


First, I have to thank Luke for being a ridiculously awesome playtester. He’s written a ton of monsters, is tireless at stress-testing the game, and knows a lot about fey and Nordic mythology, which has been very valuable during the test.

Discussion, then!

Sneak Attack

The discussion over how much damage a sneak attack ought to do, and on what frequency, has been an active one. The relative ease by which a rogue can gain advantage means that they will frequently outdo fighters as damage-dealers. +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I have groused about that in the past in certain games – I want to say even Swords and Wizardry, but I might be wrong there – but the two of us have noted that it feels odd and aggravating when it’s way scarier to stand at the line of battle with a rogue than with a fighter. I have zero problem with a rogue on a sneak attack getting a very high burst or effectiveness capability – the ability to halve DR or go straight to wounds or something. He sneaks up on you and sticks a knife in your neck or armpit. 

But toe-to-toe, and on a sustained basis, one should be scared to stand next to a fighter, and not just because he’s got more hit points than you. The switch to vigor and wounds helps this a bit, but only from the defensive end. The fighter can whittle away your vigor and then deal wounds and he has more of his own to lose in the process. But that’s not terribly satisfying; the fighter should be dishing out some hard stuff.

Anyway, we toned it down a bit for Dragon Heresy, but doing some math revealed that some of the benefits I’d given really tipped the scale back to the rogue in a huge way. A few modifications later, and I’ve got an answer I’m satisfied with that does the least violence to the expectations of playing an SRD-based rogue when sliding over to DH, but still caps out the one-turn damage of a rogue to just under that of a fighter at mid-level. Early on, rogues are just better from the sneak; at high levels, fighters can dominate. I’m comfortable with this.

Playtest Artifact


This battle was over before it started, because the Alfar/Sidhe/Fey’s greatest ability is the charm ability, and that was quite successful. Only when Luke clearly and obviously decided to have Fairlane throw down and start a real fight at four-to-one odds did it turn against him. That was a playtest artifact, to be sure, but a deliberate one. A “real” GM and circumstance should have the faerie continue to plague the party, acting as friend while trying to set them up to get horribly killed. For fun.

Under the Hood


I hope this extensive example gives some insight into where Dragon Heresy is going. You can see the new monster stat-block, the interaction of wounds and vigor, and some of the other mechanical differences – shields, Threat DC and Hit DC, and other things.

Ranged vs Melee Combat


I think the latest rules resolve this. You roll hits the same way vs the same numbers – you have the same Threat DC for ranged and melee in nearly every case. You only get your increased Hit DC against arrows, though, if you have a shield or something else you can interpose (a Monk can do it with the right ability, for example). But you don’t get to parry them, and sidestepping and dexterity-based avoidance is rolled into your Threat DC. If you do have a shield, it enables your Hit DC, much like sword-on-sword, and with the same rules and targets.

The lower damage for arrows that you see on the weapon chart is a direct outgrowth of this – vs no-shield foes, the easier hits mean higher damage output, and I wanted to keep it balanced. You do get an expanded crit range for arrows over other attacks, though.

DEX and STR based damage


I’m with Luke on distinguishing between attack (DEX) and damage (STR). But that’s not the official SRD way to do things. I’ll write it last, because it’s an optional rule, I’ll offer up a way to just have DEX be the to-hit modifier, and STR be the damage one. That will also get into an optional rule for higher STR bows doing more damage – the draw weight effect. 

Optional! But it’s a nudge towards plausible verisimilitude for those that care.

Armor and Shields and DEX, Oh my


By now, if you haven’t seen the videos of people exercising and doing all sorts of things in full plate and other heavy armor then you might not care about this. But really, instead of armor being classed as having DEX penalties just for it’s type (light/medium/heavy), there should probably be a factor that says “this armor is heavy, and you take a DEX penalty for every N points of STR your Strength is below Y value.” You might split proficiency into armors that require extensive fitting and buckling to assemble (splint, plate, half-plate, and maybe scale) vs armor you just wear like clothing. But to be good as armor, it needs to move. Armors that don’t move well are a real drag, and would be a good point of differentiation.

I like this concept, even played with a bit (and every armor in DH has a Strength value now) to put the hooks in place to do something like this. Ultimately, I settled for minor tweaks to the SRD way. 

But I do like the concept that if you want a full DEX bonus for full plate, you need STR 18, and each 2 points below that removes -1 from a prospective DEX bonus (just making numbers up here). So your typical STR 16, DEX 14, CON 15 starting fighter type that found a suit of full plate would have a natural DEX bonus of +2, which would be cut down to +1 by his Strength. This would grow to +2 when he got stronger, but no higher unless he also improves his DEX.

A STR 12, DEX 20 archer that found the same armor would start with a natural DEX bonus of +5, but being 6 points under the STR rating would cut that down to +2 as well.

Make the STR requirement 5 + Weight/5, for example, for armor.

I do still like limiting DEX bonuses for shields, though. It’s a 7-8 square foot chunk of wood (more or less) strapped or gripped in one hand, both encumbering the hand and taking it out of play for fine work. It’s somewhat awkward and harder to move around object with it than without it, impacting Stealth.

But Luke and I are in agreement in principle on this – I do not like the extreme reduction in DEX and mobility caused by the type/class of armor being worn. I left it as-is, though, because of the reach of the concept. It impacts class balance, feat choices, and bounded accuracy for the classes. Giving full bonuses would make various armors insanely good – if you can get +5 DEX bonus with DR 8 plate, you’re nigh-unstoppable. 

Maybe that’s OK. It’s certainly hard to damage a guy in properly made full plate.

Parting Shot

Once again, thanks to Luke for such a huge playtest and full-detail report. 

I hope that this provides a good view into what Dragon Heresy will feel like to play, and hope it gives a reason to back my Kickstarter when it shows up.

Cheers!

5 thoughts on “Dragon Heresy: Sidhe vs the PCs

  1. I have to ask, because although I love Norse themed games, I also love my own home brewed settings too. Is there any plans at all to release a copy of the rules bereft of setting flavour? Or at least have much of the "core" mechanical divergences from SRD to DH be set apart/highlighted easily enough that they can be cut out and dropped into a unique version of the standard game?

    Basically what I want to know is how hard will it be to make a cocktail out of DH and my own brew? I love the greater fidelity of action outcomes in combat and the underlying simulationist approach, and would love to upgrade my current 5e game with it.

    1. The Book of Heroes contains the bulk of the combat mechanics. Not all of them, but most. Hrm, let me pull up The Book of Deeds and it's TOC.

      Section Heads:
      What is Dragon Heresy?
      Campaigning
      Domain Building
      Environments and Hazards
      Between Adventures
      Rewards and Treasure
      Magic Items
      The Conquest of Tanalor (History and World Factbook)
      Bestiary
      Optional Rules

    2. So most of it that you want is in the Book of Heroes. I will say, though, that there's a lot of utility in the Bestiary and its stat-block. So much so that if I can fully fund the Kickstarter and get both books published as I like, I might even break that out into its own volume. Maybe that'll be a stretch goal, but at some point, early on and as a small press publisher with no actual products yet, one has to realize that the a la carte method provides a pathway for me not to fund at all. So early on, it's likely going to be "fund both books" as the goal. After they go on sale, customers will pick and choose.

  2. Suggestion to make fighters more dangerous: Why not have each successful attack made by a fighter cause a minimum of 1 Wound, regardless of the attack's actual damage type (Vigor/Wounds)? If it already deals Wound damage, no change need be made; if the attack causes Vigor damage, shunt a point of that Vigor damage to Wounds, instead.

    1. There's a morale roll if a foe takes even one wound, so that won't work out both mechanically an narratively. We "fixed" the issue by toning down Sneak Attack just a bit. It had several components of how awesome it was, and a slight tweak brought the peak damage down to a better range.

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