Category Archives: Dungeons & Dragons

Unearthed Arcana: Mass Combat, Simplified

Mass combat, via

Last week’s Unearthed Arcana covered Mass Combat for the second time since the series launched at the beginning of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Behind only the Ranger class, it is the second most-covered subject of the series, meaning D&D’s designers feel there is a gap in players’ expectations and the rules as written.

Frankly, I don’t care much for either entry, as both sets of rules offer too much unnecessary crunch to a game that’s elegant and streamlined. I don’t have any particular gripe with the rules they’ve presented (though they’re more complicated than just using a swarm, for no real benefit), but rather with the fact that any rules are presented at all. Simply put: most RPGs, including D&D, don’t need them. However, this latest Unearthed Arcana does capture the most important element for running exciting mass combats, buried in the very final section: Critical Events. An RPG should focus on the moments where the characters’ actions influence the direction of the story most, and these inflection points–Critical Events, in the parlance of the UA article–should be the point of focus for the rules and the Gamemaster.

To illustrate this thesis, think of the Trojan War. It’s a story that has been retold a thousand times, but can you recall anything about troop formations or the tide of the broad battle at any given point? The Greeks attacked and the Trojans held firm. Alternatively, think of the battle between Hector and Patroclus; Hector famously slew Patroclus, believing he was Achilles for he had donned Achilles’ armor. Achilles, on learning of Patroclus’ demise, entered the battle in earnest and turned the tide in the Greeks’ favor. More to the point, if you were retelling the story at a tabletop, would you rather focus attention on the minute movements and formations of the regular Greeks and Trojans, or on the epic duel that led to the entry of the Greek’s greatest champion and, ultimately, the demise of Troy? To borrow from the silver screen, would you rather focus on the naval battle around the Second Death Star, or the Millennium Falcon’s bombing run into its core?

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This Theater is Loving It: One Man Livetweets PAX West’s Acquisitions, Inc. Event

Acquisitions, Inc

As we discussed this week on the podcast, on September 4th, on the Sunday of the PAX West gaming convention, hundreds of fans filed into a theater to watch Chris Perkins, Patrick Rothfuss, and the rest of the Acquisitions, Incorporated cast play Dungeons & Dragons for a few hours. While it continued an annual tradition, this year was a bit different: it was streamed live to theaters across the country via Fathom Events.

Wizards of the Coast was kind enough to send me to a nearby theater to watch the event, so along with a few dozen other faithful nerds, I filed into a theater at 8:30pm. Despite the fact that I’ve never seen a single episode of Acquisitions, Inc., I enjoyed myself, in no small part because I was livetweeting the whole thing. Here is that feed, preserving my bewilderment at the crowd reaction, amusement at dick jokes, and otherwise favorite moments for all time.

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Analyzing D&D 5E’s Unearthed Arcana Revised Ranger


This week, Wizards of the Coast released the much-awaited The Ranger, Revised Unearthed Arcana, in which they took the first pass at a truly redesigned Ranger class. In previous Unearthed Arcana editions, they proposed new archetypes to mixed reception, but this one is actually a rebuild from level 1 to 20, with three subclasses: the Hunter Conclave, the Beast Conclave, and the Deep Stalker Conclave.

Full disclosure: I’m a Ranger critic. As we discussed on Total Party Thrill #18, I love the concept of the Ranger class in Dungeons & Dragons, but I’ve been disappointed with its implementation in 5th Edition. As printed in the Player’s Handbook, the Ranger is a total mess; it’s the weakest of the martial classes in combat, it lacks a niche, and its class-defining abilities are either useless, overshadowed by other classes, or simply less fun in practice than they should be. The Fighter has both trickiness and brute force in combat, the Paladin has better burst damage and party buffs, the Barbarian tanks, the Rogue dominates the Exploration pillar with its Expertise, and the Druid has identical-or-better wilderness and animal handling capabilities. The last hope for the Ranger, his last One Cool Thing, is the animal companion. It’s only available to one subclass, and it happens to be the single worst class in the game by a longshot.

In short, this revision is overdue. Let’s break it down, ability by ability.

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With Fantasy Grounds, Amazon Sales, D&D is Awfully Cheap Right Now

Fantasy Grounds MM Screenshot

If you thought Black Friday deals were just for big screen TVs and trendy consumer electronics you probably don’t need, think again: there’s a pretty sweet sale going on for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition in both digital and dead-tree formats.  Continue reading

Group Spellcasting: D&D 5E Homebrew Challenge

Not the same Unearthed Arcana

This is not the Unearthed Arcana you’re looking for… via

Homebrew Challenge is an occasional column in which we develop a homebrew solution for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition in order to create additional player options, actions, or abilities. We discuss the challenge, the solution, the design principles we employed and ideas that we rejected, and the areas of concern that Dungeon Masters should keep an eye on.

The Challenge: Group Casting

The idea that a group of casters can combine their power into a single spell is as old as magic. It shows up in fiction in various forms, from Shakespeare’s witches in Macbeth to a variety of psykers, heretics, and cultists in the Warhammer 40k universe. The goal here is straightforward: create a mechanic by which two spellcasters can combine their spells to achieve a greater net effect.  Continue reading

Total Party Thrill Podcast is Now Live on iTunes (with a Big Thanks!)


I want to take a moment and thank everyone who listened to our preview episode and sent in their feedback. It was immensely helpful, and I-Hsien and I truly appreciate it as we try to make Total Party Thrill the best RPG discussion podcast we possibly can.

All of that effort and kindness has finally borne fruit, as yesterday we officially launched on iTunes, and only a couple days later than we anticipated! Our third full episode (Player-Centric Campaigns & Combat Medic) went up today, and we’ll continue a weekly Thursday release schedule.

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Total Party Thrill is a podcast for GMs and players where we discuss our campaigns in order to inspire yours. We draw heavily from a 3-year, level 1-20 D&D 5th Edition Eberron campaign. Each episode covers a particular aspect of game planning and playing, and we share tips and advice drawn from our own experience. Then follow us into the Character Creation Forge, where we build iconic character archetypes from outside traditional D&D using the D&D 5E rules.