What Do I Know About Crowdfunding? Flee, Mortals! (5e OGL)

Picture2This monster book snuck up on me. It must be an Ambusher. Okay, if you are wondering what I’m talking about, I’m going to look at the preview material for MCDM’s most recent Kickstarter, for their bestiary Flee, Mortals!

Disclaimer

James Introcaso at MCDM sent me the preview material early, which I read immediately, but haven’t had time to expound upon that preview until now. I have already backed the Kickstarter and have reviewed several MCDM products in the past. I’m very familiar with D&D 5e, both as a player and a dungeon master.

What is this Preview?

This preview is a 26-page PDF. It’s not exactly an excerpt from the book, as there are several places where it is clearly addressing potential backers, which is noteworthy because it’s a pretty nice-looking document for a “proof of concept.”

There is a credits page, a preface, and a full page OGL statement. The rest of the book addresses various topics that will be addressed by the final book. This includes lots of full color artwork depicting the various creatures and locations referenced in the sample.

What’s IN the Preview?

The sample tackles a few topics that are bound for the final product:

  • Monster roles
  • Sample Monster Entries
    • Goblins
    • Lightbender
    • Overmind
    • Corpse Collector
  • New Rules
    • Save Ends
    • Villain Actions
    • Companion Creatures
    • Retainers
    • Minions

Monster Roles

The monster roles outline how the creature is likely to act in a combat situation. This includes Ambushers, Artillery, Brutes, Controllers, Leaders, Skirmishers, Soldiers, Solos, and Support. If you think this sounds like the D&D 4e thought process surrounding monsters, you would be right. That said, there aren’t really special rules for building these monsters, so much as it’s a classification based on what the monster is good at, as shorthand for how the monster is most effectively paired, and what monsters work well together.

Companions, Minions, and Retainers are also listed in these creature types, but these monsters do have special rules surrounding them. Companions and Retainers are designed to work with and for the player characters, while minions are meant to facilitate using larger numbers of a given creature.

Companions use the rules presented in MCDM’s Beastheart and Monstrous Companions supplement. This sample reprints the rules for Monstrous Companions that are not controlled by a Beastheart character. In short, monsters build up ferocity, and the creature’s caretaker can spend that ferocity to trigger different types of attacks, but a monstrous companion whose ferocity gets too high may go temporarily berserk. These also have statistics not unlike the Ranger companions introduced in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, or in some of the newer summoning spells in D&D 5e, which provide for statistics that are increased based on a player’ character’s stats. While the rules for the Beastheart are not reprinted, the sample Monstrous Companion, the Lightbender, has additional information presented for use with the Beastheart.

Minions are a similar concept to their 4th edition counterparts, however, they don’t share the 4e version’s “only one hit point” statistics. Instead, a minion dies if they are hit with an attack roll, or if they fail a save against damage, but otherwise survive physical attacks. They have a hit point total, which will indicate if damage on a failed save will kill them. It is also used to see if a character can “cleave” a minion. If a character does more damage than a minion can take, they can carry over that damage to another minion. There are example goblin and zombie minion stat blocks, as well as an extended CR table showing the expected proficiency bonus, hit points, and damage that minions should have, like the chart for monster statistics in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

In addition to making minions easier to mow down than standard monsters, minions have some special grouping rules. You can have all the minions in a group roll a single save to determine their fate, and up to five minions can group together to make a single attack. Minions do a set amount of damage, and if they group together to hit, they multiply that base damage by the number in a group (with a limit of five minions, or however many can threaten a target at one time).

Retainers first appeared in Strongholds and Followers, but they received some modification for their presentation in this book. Instead of saving against damage and having a health level to track, this time around they just get a set number of hit points per level of the Retainer (which is based on the level of their boss). Retainers have a signature ability, and then gain new attacks with limited uses at 3rd, 5th, and 7th level. I really liked the concept of Retainers, but I wasn’t convinced that the save and health levels were much better than just tracking hit points, so I like the changes. I like the idea that with a solid signature attack and some fun, thematically appropriate limited abilities, you can really make a retainer feel like a “type” of character that they might represent (i.e., what class or subclass they might be emulating).

Sample Monsters

The entry for goblins shows off some of the design philosophy for the book. One of the objectives of this supplement is to create more variety of monsters with more options. There are goblin leaders, spellcasters, assassins, and minions. There is also a named NPC that can be repurposed for individual games, given more extensive powers that interact with other goblins and the flow of combat. There are also supporting creatures associated with goblins, including spider mounts.

Lightbenders are felines that radiate bright radiance. They have a mechanic that allows them to declare an attack hit an afterimage as a reaction, and they can mesmerize those that stare at them. There is a standard stat block as well as a companion stat block. Minus the hypnotic mane, this feels a lot like a reflavored Displacer Beast, showing how the mechanics for those monsters might be repurposed to present the same story in game with different mechanics.

Speaking of monsters that kind of look like repurposed monsters that aren’t part of the SRD, Overminds are Tyrants, with eyes. But not with attached eyes. They just float separately. There is an “artillery” version of the Overmind, as well as a named solo creature that is an example of a creature designed to take on a whole party. Instead of having randomly triggering eyes, the Overminds can use a subset of their eyes on their turn and have a limited use effect from their eye that dispels magic. They also have reactions that let them bring eyes to bear whenever PCs get too close to them.Xorannox (as well as Queen Bargnot from the goblin section) makes use of the Action Oriented actions first presented in Kingdoms and Warfare. We’ll swing back around to those.

According to the information provided in this sample PDF, there will be some thematic organization of the book. In some cases, it will be by monster type, such as the various stat blocks that represent goblins. However, there may also be monsters organized by adventure location. The next section is an example of that, showing what might be found in Graveyards and Tombs.

The Corpse Collector wanders graveyards, gathering bodies. They have an impaling attack, and they can animate corpses into zombies. If they are feeling grim, they may just hurl a corpse at someone, which explodes with necrotic damage when it hits.

One other bit of the monster stat block I would like to touch on is that while the stat blocks look familiar, the CR has been moved up to the same line as the monster’s name and creature type, listing it’s CR, monster role, and XP. For those wondering about alignment, goblins are listed as “any” alignment, Overminds are “typically Lawful evil,” and the solo, named monsters have a definite alignment, since they represent a specific NPC. The goblin entry also specifically mentions that most hostile goblins are bandits that have been exiled from goblin society, avoiding the monoculture issues from a lot of previous descriptions.

New Rules

I touched on some of these new rules back in the monster role section, but let’s look at the non-role associated rules that are introduced (or gathered from other MCDM products).

The first new rule isn’t so much a new rule, but the introduction of terminology to save time when designating whether a save to end a condition happens at the beginning or the end of a turn. So “save ends” effects are summarized as “save ends at end of turn,” or “save ends at beginning of turn” is the terminology used.

The next new rule is interesting, because it’s a conditional rule. It tells gaming groups that if they are using flanking rules, those flanking rules don’t work on this monster. It’s interesting to see an optional rule that comes up often enough to have a conditional rule to address it.

The Action-Oriented options presented in Kingdoms and Warfare go a little something like this:

  • You get three of them, and you can use one of them after another creature takes their turn, but only one per round
  • They are designed to be increasingly powerful, but you aren’t limited to triggering them in order of power
  • The three actions broadly start with an opener, a crowd control power, and an ultimate move

This concept isn’t drastically different from Legendary Actions or Mythic Actions, except it only comes in to play once a round. That said, the effects are more likely to stick around, rather than being an extra attack, movement, or a recharged ability. For example, Xorannox gets an opener that lets him target three more opponents, a crowd control ability that lets him turn invisible and teleport, and an ultimate that sprays an area with random eye rays. Er, eye psionics?

Final Thoughts

I’m way more likely to use retainers with these rules. Even with people that may not want to track an extra character’s hit points, I feel like just explaining how retainers work may be easier, and the same players that aren’t a fan of tracking hit points are likely to have some overlap with getting confused at new damage tracking paradigms.

I like the wide range of samples provided in the document. Not only does it introduce monster roles, but it shows how those rules might be implemented. While it may make some monsters more complicated to run, I’m a fan of monsters having “active” abilities that I can choose to use, rather than too many passive abilities that just modify what is done to them.

While I have tried to keep the spirit of 4e Skill Challenges alive in my games, I haven’t ever been happy with just giving monsters 1 hit point to emulate minions, even though I thought they were a good idea. I’ve made “pseudo-minions” for some encounters by giving them the minimum hit points they would have for their hit dice. I’m interested to get the opportunity to toss a bunch of minions into a fight, and I like that we have the example chart beyond the two stat blocks, as it might not be too difficult to merge the minion chart to existing monsters to produce some minions as is.

Future Wishes

There are several comments that use fire giants as example minions, and I’ll admit it, I want some powerful minions. I would have loved to have had minion giants when I was running Storm King’s Thunder, because I wanted jotun that could hit hard, but didn’t last too long. In fact, I’m interested in lots of minions just for the purposes of those monsters that work best with allies, because then that support is less likely to overstay its welcome if the supported leader type gets taken out.

Whenever I think of monsters that I want to be improved or made more exciting to run, I think of beasts. I want more real-world animals to have special abilities that make them interesting. A lot of dangerous wild animals don’t walk up to another creature and claw and bite, then wait for a counterattack. I want to see crocodile death rolls, and giant cats raking with their back claws when they jump on prey. I want to see scorpions hold something still to sting it, or parry with their claws. What I’m saying is, I hope that it’s not just monsters like goblins that are going to be given some fun new options.

When it comes to consolidating MCDM rules, the only thing I’m a little disappointed with is that it doesn’t look like the mount rules from Arcadia will be making an appearance. It might be a little much to have a mount with variable stats based on the rider in a party with retainers and a monstrous companion, but I do like the idea of mounts that don’t become a liability as characters gain levels.

One of the things that is a great strength of MCDM can also have a bit of a downside. Sometimes pushing the rules in new directions can make for rules that don’t feel like they gel with the existing means of adjudicating D&D 5e. The Beastheart convinced me that some of these boundary pushing concepts can still feel at home with other rules and did a great job of balancing innovation with an existing paradigm. Looking at the rules in this document, it feels like this will be another supplement that manages to innovate through iteration rather than radical redefinition, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.

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