Friendly Neighborhood Lizard Man RPGs, Games, Reviews, Fun Wed, 27 Feb 2019 19:30:45 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Friendly Neighborhood Lizard Man 32 32 The History of Slimes Wed, 27 Feb 2019 19:30:45 +0000

Slimes and Ooze

In modern RPGs, there are few monsters as iconic as the humble ooze. Enjoying a recent surge in popularity thanks to That Time I got Reincarnated as a Slimea light-novel and anime of the same name, and their inclusion in dozens of popular titles, slimes have never been more prominent RPG and mainstream culture.

 On a recent project, I’ve had the odd privilege to journey down the short rabbit hole of the ooze’s origins. It was a fun journey learning about the myth, history, and culture behind oozes, but the best journeys are shared. I hope you will enjoy The History of Slimes as much as I have enjoyed researching it.

What is a Slime?

The ooze or “slime” (used interchangeably) is usually a weak monster in RPGs. It is characterized by an amorphous, ooze-like form, and is generally of low or non-existent intelligence. It almost exclusively attacks by ingesting its target, swiping with tentacles, or (rarely) using magic.

Slimes are unique in that they do not derive from classical mythologies. They are recent phenomenon in storytelling and one that’s gaining traction at a surprising rate. Before we uncover their origins, let’s take a journey backward through time.

Slimes in Popular culture

Slimes are prolific in popular culture among the RPG crowd. They are featured in dozens of games, including the ever popular titles:

  • Dragon Quest 
  • Dungeons and Dragons
  • Minecraft
  • Mother Series
  • Final Fantasy

Not to mention, anime, manga, sci-fi, and fantasy novels.

The modern tradition of dewdrop, almost amicable slimes in RPGs dates back over three decades to the release of Dragon Quest in 1986, where it was so beloved that it became the series’ mascot. 

In all likelihood, Dragon Quest borrowed the idea of slimes from other RPGs such as “Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord” (1981) which was a part of a wave of RPGs inspired by the famous “pen and paper” rpg called “Dungeons and Dragons”.

In 1977, the original Monster Manual hit store shelves and in it was one of the most iconic creatures of Dungeons and Dragons: the “Gelatinous Cube.”

Gary Gygax included this cube-shaped monster was mostly a joke: a transparent cube that fit perfectly into the 5x5x5 hallways of the grid-paper dungeons, travelling along and sweeping up anything in its path. It was a magical, monstrous Roomba, before Roombas even existed.

But Gary Gygax did not conceive of oozes in a vacuum, he had a little help to come up with the idea.

Slimes in Movies

There is no more iconic slime movie than the The Blob a 1958 cult sci-fi horror classic, The Blob tells the story of a mysterious thing that falls from the sky and begins devouring everything it can find. As it eats, it grows. Then a group of plucky and unfortunate youths stumble into its feeding ground while on vacation.

At a runtime of 86 minutes, and with special effects that solidify its place as sci-fi cult classic, it’s well worth a watch.

But even Hollywood wasn’t original enough to invent the idea of a slime monster out of thin air.

Slimes in Sci-Fi

Before the cinema, slimes had a far more literary legacy in science-fiction.

One of the most iconic and disturbing representations of slimes was the Shoggoth from H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos. The Shoggoth first appeared in publication in 1929 and is a disturbing monster with the ability to shift its form, imitate speech, and wield its large strength to crush enemies. Perhaps unique about the Shoggoth, was that it was the first time slimes were presented as beings of higher intelligence than humanity.

Despite being a truly terrifying iteration of the slime, the shoggoth is far from its origins.

As early as 1926, we see the slime appearing as villainous monster in The Malignant Entity, published in the renown pulp magazine Amazing Stories

During the early 1900s, the slime made a slew of appearance across pulp magazines. In 1923, it even made it to the front cover of Wierd Talesin the story “The Ooze.”

But the earliest recorded usage of slime as an antagonist seems to be in The Odyle a short story published by Charles Edmond Walk in 1907 in The Blue Book magazine.

It’s a story about a scientist who brings life to cells that start growing and just don’t stop. 

At last we arrive at the origins of the humble slime: the amoeba. 

Born in the early 1900s out of an intersection of rapidly growing medical knowledge and human fear of medical science, the humble slime is the embodiment of human hubris gone awry. It is the crystallization of the fear that we have waded too deep into the unknown waters where only gods and darker things dwell and that we have used that forbidden knowledge to make the device of our own undoing.

At least, that’s what the slime was and what it would still be, had not Gary Gygax and pulp movies from the 1950s taken an otherwise intensely threatening concept and transformed it into the humorous, lovable slime we all know today.

Notably, the slime still appears in its amoebic form in many space sci-fi iterations, including the popular turn-based strategy game series Masters of Orion and an episode of the original Stark Trek series: The Immunity Syndrome.

Unique to the space sci-fi version of the slime (amoeba) is that it is almost always large enough to engulf entire ships and sometimes even pose a threat to planets. It always represents an unending hunger and primitive, malevolent intelligence, such that negotiation is never an option.


The humble slime has enjoyed many interpretations during its short life. From the small, but dangerous amoeba, to adorable animated dew-drops, to dungeon cleaning roombas, the slime has been it all.

Outside of space sci-fi and space fantasy, the modern slime enjoys a whimsical feel due to the representation of the slime in 1950s cinema culture, and then again in the pen and paper game “Dungeons and Dragons” which enshrined its position as an iconic and somewhat silly monster.

How will slimes be in the future?

It’s hard to say, but there is a growing slime presence in modern media which, in the past, has lead to exploration and even humanization of mythic creatures, and the humble slime is no exception. Look for representations of slime that push the boundaries between humanity and ooze in a lovable and relatable way.

Happy sliming to you all!


Do you have additional information about the history of ooze as a monster? Do you have a link to an online-readable version of The Odyle? If so, please leave a comment below.

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Slimeoid – Slime Player Race [D&D5e] Tue, 26 Feb 2019 16:34:58 +0000


Yesterday marked the official release of “So You Want to be a Slime?” on DMsGuild. I am proud to announce that it has achieved over 200 downloads in 24 hours! 

This effort would not have been possible without the support of the great D&D community. Thank you all for making high-quality content creation possible.

There is also a free version if you want to check it out.

Below you’ll find the original intro (prior to publication) to “So You Want to be a Slime?”  The published version features original artwork and over 10 pages of additional content.

Please enjoy.

Playable Slimes

So, you want to play a slime? The humble ooze has been a staple of RPG gaming nearly since its inception, but our favorite, gooey creature has remained oft-overlooked as a playable option.

Contained in this document you will find rules for introducing the ooze as a playable race called “Slimeoids”. Oozes have brought humor, joy, and occasionally terror to the table of RPGs for decades and now you can bring that to the table as a player.

The following race, subraces, spells, feats, and monsters should provide you everything you need to get started.


“Where’s Theren?”

“She ate him!”

“You mean that lil’ halfling cut ‘em down?”

“I mean SHE. ATE. HIM. WHOLE.”

      –Last exchange between unfortunate roadside bandits, expert from the journal of Sasha Twigleaf.


In the last century strange creatures of animated slime emerged. Called “oozes” or “slimes”, at first they were merely a nuisance. Some even called them “gross”. But at least slime infestations gave amateur adventurers something to do.

Then it was discovered they could be put to use: cleaning dungeon corridors, trash disposal, removal of unwanted guest, etc… It was no time at all before all manner of mages, wizards, and demons took an interest in them.

Slimes of all colors and shapes began to emerge: monstrous slimes, slimes that devour the dead, slimes that eat metal, slimes with magical affinities, psychic slimes, even a Demon Lord of slime.

Then came the humanoid slimes. No one knows what magic or crazed experiments created them, but a few adventurers have discovered the truth: intelligent slimes now walk among us.

A new race of slimes, called “slimeoids”, maintain a humanoid guise as they travel, trade, and live amongst the humanoid races. Exploring the world with a passionate exuberance, open minded adventurers have learned to welcome them and the curious perspective they bring.


Hiding in Plain Sight

Slimeoids are intelligent oozes who have gained the ability to take on humanoid form. They use this form to explore the world and interact with humanoid creatures.

Each slimeoid has both a slime and humanoid form that they switch between at will. This form is, for all purposes, identical to a humanoid form of flesh and bone. Much like real humanoids, most slimeoids have little control over the appearance of either of their forms.



Slimeoids are more intelligent than most other oozes and often find the monotonous life of a slime to be rather dull, instead choosing to strike out and explore the world. Unlike many intelligent oozes, slimeoids do not have a natural tendency toward evil or even carnivorous behavior, making it easy for them to interact seamlessly with humanoids.

From an early age, slimeoids have a strong drive to explore and immerse themselves in new experiences. They tend to be passionate about their physical forms and will frequently seek out jewelry, clothes, or accessories to adorn themselves.


Slimeoid Names

Names are a very new concept to slimeoids. Their slime ancestors have no names at all.

Some slimeoids will give themselves names to blend in with the humanoid race of their alternate form. Other slimeoids hold a naming tradition where a name must be imparted to the slimeoid by a close mentor or friend.

Sometimes a slimeoid may even choose to have two names: one for each of their forms.

Slimeoid Traits

Your slimeoid character has the following racial traits.

Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 1.

Age. A slimeoid is usually mature after a few weeks, when they gain their humanoid form. Their maximum lifespan is unknown, but their humanoid form does not age naturally.

Alignment. Charged with passion, slimeoids have a slight tendency toward chaotic alignments.

Size. When in slime form, a slimeoid is a Small sized creature. As a slime they weigh between 5 and 40 pounds. When they are in their humanoid form, they have the appropriate size and weight for that form.

Speed. When in slime form a slimeoid has a 15ft base walking speed. For humanoid form, use the movement of the humanoid race for that form.

Humanoid Form. At character creation, you may choose a humanoid form. The form can be from any medium or smaller race approved by the DM, though player races are recommended. The details and appearance of the form are set by you at character creation.

Your humanoid form may look like a typical member of the humanoid race and subrace you choose, but it is not uncommon for slimeoids to manifest a few atypical features such as unusual and striking colors of hair and skin, exotic eyes, an odd number of fingers, etc.

While a slimeoid in humanoid form is physically indistinguishable from a normal humanoid of that race, the slimeoid has none of the abilities of the race. Your humanoid form, however, does have the perception (vision and hearing) of the race and subrace you choose.

While in humanoid form you are considered a Humanoid.

 Slime Form. Every slimeoid has a natural, amorphous slime form. When resting, this form tends to hold the shape of giant dew drop. Your slime form can be any color as long as it is not fully transparent.  Your slime form lacks a mouth and is incapable of speech. Additionally, your slime form lacks hands entirely and cannot hold objects or perform the complicated gestures required for somatic spell casting.

While in slime form you are considered an Ooze.

While in Slime Form you have the following abilities:

Blindsight. You have Blindsight out to 15ft.

Amorphous. You can move through a space as narrow as 1 inch wide without squeezing.

Engulf. You move up to your speed. While doing so, you may enter the space of a Small or smaller creature or object. When you enter the space, the creature must succeed on a dexterity saving throw with DC equal to 8 + your strength bonus + your proficiency bonus.

On a successful save, the target is pushed back 5 ft. On a failure, you engulf the target. You may have no more than 1 Small creature or object, or 2 smaller creatures or objects engulfed at a time.

While a target is engulfed it is cannot breathe and is restrained. Your slime is not acidic enough to harm engulfed creatures or objects.

An engulfed creature can escape at any time by taking an Action and succeeding on a dexterity saving throw vs 8 + your strength bonus + your proficiency bonus. If it succeeds, it exits your body at a location of its choosing within 5ft of you.

Form Change. At any time, you may use an Action to switch between any of your available forms. Any gear you have equipped merges into your form and reappears when you change back to that form.

Expel. At any time, you may expel an engulfed creature or object with a bonus action. The creature or object appears in your hand or within 5 ft of you as you choose. You may expel engulfed creatures or objects even when in humanoid form.



If you like what you’ve seen, you can purchase “So You Want to be a Slime?” and in addition to supporting the release of future high-quality products, you gain:

  • 5 unique and creative subraces
  • 11 feats
  • 5 spells
  • 6 monsters
  • NPCs
  • and a full-color art spread

Get your slime on!

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Nerdy Gifts Ideas [CyberMonday] Mon, 26 Nov 2018 23:52:19 +0000

If you’re reading this, you’re probably like me: nerdy. 

That means you have really good taste and you want to get the most bang for your buck. But you also don’t want to waste a lot of time wading through spammy deals to find the perfect, nerdy gifts.

Fortunately, I’ve done that last part already!

These are the best and most affordable finds of this year’s Cyber Monday from Amazon. 


‘Cyber Monday’ is getting better all the time. Show that special someone that it’s dangerous to go alone and make them take this to remember you by.

Legend of Zelda style ring


<- Amazing Legend of Zelda style ring




If you’re like me, you enjoy tea. A lot. Maybe you also like cats. Normally teas and cats are a BAD combination, but not today!

Cute cat tea diffuser






Indiana Jones’ Bag

Help that special person in your life look how they’ve always secretly wanted to look: like Indiana Jones.

Indiana Jones' Bad

*Hat not included and, let’s be honest, you probably own the whip already.



A fez

Because they’re awesome and that Doctor Who fan (yes, you know the one I’m talking about) will love you for buying it.

Doctor Who Fez



*Time travelling phone booth not included due to temporal paradox in return policy.




These playing cards have a distinctly ‘Witcher’ type of feel to them. Which is good because they’re waterproof and they come in their own custom case. No more worries about monster blood ruining your cards!

Amazing black-wolf waterproof playing cards

Unfortunately, they’re not Gwent cards, but that never stopped Geralt of Rivia, don’t let it stop you!




All of these goodies are on sale for Cyber Monday at the time of posting. Just click the images above and show those people you care about:

“Yes, I really am that nerdy and you love me for it.”

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Super Critical TShirts Mon, 22 Oct 2018 21:24:14 +0000

So … I have a confession. I got sidetracked again today and I made these.

Superd20-vegeta-hair superd20-goku-hair









Then I got sidetracked again and put them up on tspring.

How do you feel when you roll a natural 20? What if you could wear that feeling ALL THE TIME?

Unleash your Super Critical today!

For those of you who prefer the better saiyan, you can find his Super Critical TShirt here.


Happy gaming to you all!



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ExcelDungeonCreator – Make maps on grid paper in excel Mon, 01 Oct 2018 21:49:27 +0000

As often happens in the D&D Twitter community, today I saw a great idea on Twitter and I decided to help make it a reality.

The Result

After a little bit of tinkering I came up with the following:

Now you can paint and draw dungeon maps in Excel and print them as if they’re on graph paper! Just select a color and use the mouse keys to move around, painting as you go.

  • You can add as many colors as you like.
  • Paint with the arrow keys or by clicking.
  • Columns are automatically sized to grid paper format (except the first two columns).
  • If the first four columns (A:D) get in your way when printing, just select them and hide before printing.


It was a short, fun project and there’s a lot of room to grow it i.e. applying colors to a selection, toggling paint modes, etc… While my schedule won’t allow me to keep developing it, feel free to take it, modify, and share it to meet your needs.


To run it you will need:

  • Microsoft Excel with macros enabled
  • The template file (linked below)



Good luck out there and happy dungeon creating!

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Splinter of Gygaxia [D&D 5e Cursed Item] Fri, 15 Jun 2018 17:48:50 +0000

Shortly before town of Honmur was consumed in a raging conflagration, an expedition had returned from the nearby tomb. Within its depths they found a chest full of valuable gems. I have been fortunate to recover one of these gems from the ruins of the town; it has already shaved my life from the ambush of the mad survivors of the town. I feel at peace when I hold the gem, I think it will prove invaluable on my travels.

-Tangar the Cursed, last  journal entry 


Splinter of Gygaxia

The Splinter of Gygaxia is a slender crystal that vibrates faintly with energy when held.

It bears an emblem of a snake etched upon its surface. In its dormant state, it gives off no magic aura and identifies exactly as a normal gem worth 50GP would identify.

Though there is no visible sign, the gem bonds with the last creature to touch it. While it is bonded in this way the creature gains the Cheat Death ability. The crystal bestows no sign that it has imparted this ability or even that it has bonded with the creature.

Cheat Death – Triggers when the bonded creature fails a Death Saving Throw.

The first time a creature uses this ability: it regains 10 HP instantly. If the creature is a Player Character, they can no longer be awarded Inspiration for performing good actions. All Insight checks to determine a creature’s motives or truthfulness are made at a disadvantage. The crystal now vibrates somewhat more energetically.

The second time a creature uses this ability: it regains 20 HP and, if applicable, one first level spell slot. If the creature is a Player Character, they can now only be awarded Inspiration for evil actions. In addition, they begin to hear whispered promises of power; solutions to their dilemmas are carried to their ears, borne on the faintest winds of hell.  

The crystal is now warm to the touch. It identifies as having a strong aura of necromancy.

The final time a creature uses this ability: it is time to pay the toll. Instead of failing one death saving throw, the creature fails two. If the creature dies while bonded to the crystal in this way, the crystal disappears and the creature’s body melts away in a fiery inferno to be reborn as a Marlith (see MM page 61).

If a new creature touches the crystal, it bonds with that creature; however, this does not reset the effects of the Cheat Death ability. The only way to remove the effects is with a Wish Spell or by destroying the Shard of Gygaxia.


If you enjoyed this you may also like 3 Traps to Excite Your Players or the Tower of Tears.

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Writing Compelling Character Backstories Tue, 12 Jun 2018 18:55:46 +0000

I often receive compliments on the character backstories that I write and the DM never skims my backstory. It wasn’t always this way: I used to just think of a cool character and write about it.

But then I’d get into the writing and before I knew it, I had multiple pages about this REALLY COOL character. 

The DM would skim it and none of the backstory would really come up, much to my disappointment.

When you hand the DM your 4 page backstory.

Over time I developed a method to save myself from writing backstory that would go unread and, consequently, save the DM’s time.

A good backstory is:

  • Brief
  • Relevant
  • Connected

If you can write a backstory that does all of these you’ll be in good shape. 


“Brevity is the soul of wit.” -Shakespeare

People are busy: you and the DM. Be considerate of your time and the DM’s and don’t put a lot of extra detail into the backstory. Instead, crystallize it down into the essential points and let your character’s personality and backstory be revealed through roleplaying. 

Backstory gained at the table is worth 100 times backstory written on paper.

Reducing backstory down to its essentials also serves as the first gateway of quality: if your character backstory cannot be expressed in 3 short paragraphs or less, then your character concept is not well defined.

Don’t believe me? Let’s try a few examples:

One of the Maiar of Valinor, came to Middle Earth to oppose Sauron. Came to Middle Earth as part of the Istari, taking the guise of an old man in the hopes that the kings of Middle Earth would listen to his counsel. Bearer of Narya, the Ring of Fire.

Strained relationship with Saruman because of the gift of the Ring of Fire. On a quest to destroy the one ring and prevent the return of Sauron.

Refuses to be bound by any authority except the Valar who sent him to Middle Earth. Like Hobbits.

That was Gandalf right up until The Hobbit.

Let’s try another one:

Brother was kidnapped and tortured by gods who feared he would one day be their undoing. During the kidnapping, he received a scar from the War god, Aries. 

Was the youngest captain of Sparta’s armies. Received the (super cool) Blades of Chaos from Aries and became his champion, before Aries tricked him into killing his wife and daughter.

Now on a quest to redeem himself by killing the rampaging War god, Aries. Really likes breaking things and yelling a lot.

That was Kratos up until God of War 1.

The examples go on and on. If you cannot reduce the concept down to 3 short paragraphs, then you need to further define your concept.

This leads us to the second part of the method:


Everything that appears in your backstory needs to be relevant. This means that it:

  • Ties the character to other characters, events, or places in the world. -OR-
  • Develops the characters ‘feel’ either via aesthetics (keep it minimal) or personality and disposition

That’s it. Describe where your character came from, an event or two of significance, their general disposition, and their motivation for adventuring. 

ProtipIt’s often helpful to your DM to provide a few ‘hooks’ on the side. A hook is something or someone that your character will pursue. No DM is offended if you hand them three hooks and say “Here’s three things my character REALLY wants and will leap for every time.”

This brings us to the last part of the method:


Tabletop RPGs are a social game: don’t have an anti-social backstory. Write in events and reasons for your PC to be connected to the others in the party.

DO NOT write a “lone wolf” backstory that gives your character nothing to care about and no reason to adventure with the group. While great roleplaying may allow such a character to develop at the table, that’s rarely how this backstory unfolds.

Instead the lone wolf often makes it difficult for the DM and other players to motivate their character, resulting in bogged down sessions and the character frequently being left out of decision making.

Instead, incorporate the other party members even if it’s just a brief sentence “Likes hobbits” “Values friends” “Unusually enthralled by warforged” etc…

Lastly, if your character is entering the game after level 1, make sure to tie in some motivation that is relevant to the current plot. This could be a reason to pursue the big bad evil guy, a desire or need to seek the plot McGuffin, or (if the others players are OK with it) even a close, personal relationship with one of the other Player Characters i.e. friend, cousin, sister, etc…


Troubleshooting Tips

Writing is messy work and tabletop games can make it more messy. If you’re having trouble applying this method, here are some tips to make it easier:

What if I can’t write just 3 paragraphs?

Tabletop games are imaginative games and sometimes we can’t constrain our imagination to a mere 3 paragraphs. That’s OK!

When that happens, write your full story and keep it for yourself, think of it as the “Detailed Version” of the backstory that has the details you need if the DM or the other players ask for more information. Then take one sheet of paper and the Detailed Version: you’re going to use it to write a few things on that one sheet of paper:

  • Appearance – No more than 2 sentences describing your character’s appearance
  • Demeanor/Outlook/Personality – No more than 2 sentences describing  their personality and alignment
  • Backstory – No more than 6 sentences describing backstory
  • Adventure hooks/goals – Write 3 adventure hooks or character goals: things the DM can use to motivate your character
  • Relationships/contacts – Write 1-3 contacts or relationships that are important to your character. It could be another PC or it could be their mother, sister, best friend, teacher, etc…

If you are still stuck at this part, approach it kind of like writing a dating profile: keep it light, make it interesting. Save the detailed backstory for yourself and use it to build your own character knowledge.

A sample 1 page backstory sheet (click for download)
A sample 1 page backstory sheet (click for download)

When you are done, format your 1 page document so that it’s easy to read and hand it to the DM. No DM should consider it too much and most will be thankful to have all this information clearly described on one page.

What if I don’t know who I’m playing with or the major plot?

This is a common problem with new people joining a group or creating a new group. In this case, first work with your DM to discuss what a good character motivation would be, they will usually be able to give you a vague idea without giving away too much of the plot.

If you’re still having trouble, talk to another player and consider having your characters acquainted i.e. friends, cousins, adventured together before, went to wizard school together, etc… this can make it easier to build party cohesion and make character introductions flow smoother.


A Real Play Example – Zan Zalladar the Insane Mystic

Below is an example of a backstory used in a real game. It was for a character being introduced into a higher level campaign. My previous character had been violently murdered and the party was in the far reaches of the arctic, meaning that the new character would have to come from one of the crew that was manning the expedition along with the PCs.

The character joined up right before the “planar exploration” phase of the game and I wanted a backstory that really reflected the heroic aspects of high-level play. While this is a bit on the longer side, it fit really well into the campaign and provided solid motivation for the character to stick with the party: he was a spy and the party was pursing leads straight to the doorsteps of the gods.


Zan Zalladar was the oldest son of a wealthy merchant until his vessel met misfortune and sank during a long voyage. Seven years later, Zan emerged from a harbor in the human lands to find that his father had passed and his three younger brothers had taken control of the entire inheritance after presuming Zan to be dead. Eerily calm, Zan chose not to fight his brothers for the inheritance and, instead, enlisted in the navy. He has been serving on various ships ever since.

If you ask Zan Zalladar what happened during the seven years he was away, he will tell you that he was taken to the kingdom of the god of the ocean and there it was that Zan fell in love with his daughter. The god of the ocean did not think him worthy and so, to prove his worth, each day he was given a task to perform; each day Zan Zalladar completed his task and was allowed to stay another day. Love flourished between Zan and the goddess daughter of the ocean. However, no living mortal is allowed in the domain of a god for more than seven years and so at the end of those years Zan was sent back to the surface with the blessing of the ocean god and a promise of betrothal to his daughter should he ever return.

Zan knows there is only way to be reunited with his love: to become a god. Each day Zan works to prove himself, to grow and master and exceed himself. He will be reunited with his love or he will die trying.


The DM really liked the backstory and ended up tying it one with one of the major antagonists of the campaign (an aboleth). The big reveal, worked out between myself and the GM as the character progressed, was that the character was actually insane and working for the Aboleth who he believed to be a god.

This is one of the longest backstories I’ve used in a long time, but it was worth it to capture the mythic feel as of our campaign. Practicing brevity is difficult and it takes time to master, but if you keep honing your writing skill you will save yourself and the DM a lot of time and unread backstory.



For more writing tips, custom traps, NPCs, and encounters used in actual play or for more advice about building memorable characters and worlds, subscribe to our monthly newsletter.



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Tales of Vesperia [Spoiler Free] Review Mon, 11 Jun 2018 17:47:48 +0000

XXXX: “So… who’s gonna be my second?”
Yuri: “…It would be my honor.”
XXXX: “Guess yer stuck doin’ a job nobody much wants.”
Yuri: “You too.”
XXXX: “Heh. No kidding. Yuri. I was lookin’ forward to watchin’ ya go places. I’ll make sure to save you a spot in hell.”
Yuri: “I don’t think they’d let me into the hell you’re going to.”
XXXX: “Hah. I won’t forget that attitude, boy.”

-Yuri, the main protagonist of Tales of Vesperia (other name censored to avoid spoilers).

If you’re a fan of RPGs you should play Tales of Vesperia and with the Definitive Edition now available for order on Switch, XBone, PC, and PS4 (with remastered graphics and ALL the bonus content) there’s never been a better time to play than now.

The unique thing about this RPG is the exceptional quality. Aside from being one of the best titles of the titular “Tales of” series and therefore one of the best titles of the one of the most popular RPG series in Japan, it manages to break from a large number of entrenched RPG stereotypes with characters and a story that are still refreshing today, 10 years after its initial release.

People like RPGs for various reasons, but if you like RPGs for ANY reason, this game is for you. If you enjoy the:


A badass with a good heart.

Tales of Vesperia sports an unusual cast. The main protagonist is a disillusioned thief who’s savage burns cut as sharp as his sword. 

But there’s so much more to the character!

This dog has seen some things.

Right from the get-go, we see him paired up with his faithful, knife-wielding dog companion. It’s hot in the slums where they live and the water has gone out.

You instantly build up a love for the character’s relationship with his dog and the people of the slum as he ventures into the unfriendly upper areas of the city to retrieve (steal back) the missing part they need to restore running water to the slum.

What sets him truly apart from most RPG protagonists is that he fundamentally wants to be a good guy and do the right thing. No matter how jaded he becomes, his better nature shines through. This conflict between the reality of his world and his desire to do good leads him to make some tough decisions and makes the character memorable and believable.

At times you want to root for him, at times you want him to see a little bit of light, for something good to happen to him and for everything to turn out alright.

Throughout the course of the game, you’ll discover his backstory, how he came to be so jaded, and you’ll watch his character grow as he witnesses the consequences of his own choices.

Pink and innocent.

Keeping him in check along the way is Estelle, a naive and good-hearted princess. Their dialog is magnificently written with Yuri’s palpable jade countered by Estelle’s undefeatable optimism. 

She gets a lot of jokes played on her throughout by various members of the cast, but it’s all in good fun and you get to see her really grow and develop from a two-dimensional rich, naive princess into a true world-traveler with a more enlightened perspective.

You’ll meet an intriguing cast of characters, each with their own goals and perspective and you’ll watch each of them grow on their journey to save the world. Even some of the villains are incredibly well-written.


If you like humorous dialog, or dialog that is just well written, then this game is for you. Here are just a few out-takes from the game:

Skit (Estelle and Repeede)

Estelle: Hey, why is he letting Judith pet him?

Raven: Maybe the little pup’s a fan of pretty girls.

Estelle: B-But I’m a pretty girl too! [Repede moves away from Estelle as she moves towards him.]

Judith: My, my.

Estelle: Why doesn’t he like me?

Skit (Yuri can cook)

Karol: Yuri’s croquettes are the BEST!

Rita: How strange…They’re just balls of mashed potatoes, but..

Judith: There must be a secret ingredient

Raven: Oh yeah? What’d you put in it Yuri?

Yuri; Love

Rita; Agh..*Hack* *hack* Ick, blech!

Karol: Wh-who are you and what did you do with yuri…?

Raven: My hearin isn’t what it used to be. What’d you say was the secret ingredient?

Yuri: Love! The lady who ran the inn I lived at always said cooking was all about love. I put as much love in them as I could. So eat them with care, okay?

Karol: Yuri’s loved filled croquettes….

Rita: Ugh

Raven: I wish they weren’t so good.

Judith: A secret ingredient is a cook’s greatest treasure. You did not want to tell them did you?

Yuri: Actually I didn’t put anything special in there at all.

Skit (We know what Raven likes)

Estelle: This figurine is lovely!Yuri: A figurine? Id say its more of a toy, really.

Karol: You must not of seen many things like this in the castle , Estelle.

Estelle: Id like to see more of these figurines.

Yuri: and thus a figurine collector is born.

Judith: Oh some people are just more interested in aesthetics than others Yuri. Its not all that unusual.

Rita: Yeah, I really don’t have any other inrests outside of blastiea.

Karol: ive always been a fan of cool guild emblems myself.

Estelle: What about you Yuri.

Yuri: Huh? Ive never really given much thought to artistic sorts of things. I never really looked at anything in art.

Raven: ask me, ask me! Ask me what I like

All: girls

Raven:…Th…that’s right….

Rita: We know that’s right.

All of this optional dialog that brings out the personality of the characters, reveals their self-conscious tendencies, their likes, and even surprises you wouldn’t have known.

I’ve chosen this dialog to avoid spoilers for anyone who has not played game, but it goes without saying that the best moments of the game are tied closely with developments in the plot. Even as they face down a great threat to their world, the characters are always growing and learning about each other.

By the end of the game, you really feel like you know all the characters and the dynamics of relationships well. It feels like playing a game where your friends are the main characters.


The gameplay is on-point for Tales of Vesperia. The controls are easy to learn and the party dynamics are easy to change.

What I like about the Tales Of series is that their combat is always energetic and involved: you control a character and move them around the battle while using special moves, attacking, or casting spells. You can even switch between characters if there’s one you really like playing or you need to control directly.

Trying out different party combinations is rewarding for the in-combat dialog alone, but your characters will also deepen their bond as they fight alongside each other, potentially unlocking more side quests and dialog options so can really get to know your favorite characters.

Inventory management is also pretty trivial. I recognize that a LOT of modern RPGs make this aspect kind of a pain, especially with resource gathering and item forging mechanics, but (fortunately) Tales of Vesperia ins’t bad about it! The only place where it gets kind of hairy is with weapons: always keep at least one of each weapon, you never know when you’ll need it again.

You can quest for better items or get them from enemies, but it never feels like a grind and you’re never waiting for that one drop with a 1/50 chance that hasn’t dropped in the 150 times you’re been farming this one monster. Instead the emphasis is always on the developing the story, the characters, and the world and even the item side-quests reflect that.


Each quest will deepen your experience of the world, characters, or the story while enough humor is seamlessly blended in to make it feel light-hearted between touching moments of deep emotion and characterization. 

The characters are well-written, their development and interaction makes each of the main cast, and some of the villains, feel real and alive. Throughout the game it’s a true joy to feel their relationships change and develop as the characters learn about each other and overcome their own pasts. 

The world is interesting and unique and you really get a feel for each region and city with it’s own ‘personality’.

The gameplay is fluid, easy, and energetic with very little inventory-management non-sense to bog down the game.

This game deserves a 5 out of 5.

If you like RPGs at all, for any reason, you owe it to yourself to give Tales of Vesperia a try. With the updated graphics and content of the Definitive Edition, there’s never been a better time to  play.


If you enjoyed this article you may also like Roleplaying Exercises to Get Into Character and The GM’s Easy world Creation Kit.


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The Elven Shank [5e Combat Effective Grappler] Wed, 06 Jun 2018 22:02:14 +0000

A tattoo covered elf saunters by, swaying unsteadily from side to side. Clothes in tatters; the smell of booze emanates so strongly from the elf that your eyes begin water.

The dingy tavern falls silent as the elf bumps into a mountainous half-orc, spilling his ale. The half-orc turns to face the elf and the tavern grows silent as a tomb.

Towering over the drunken elf, the half-orc bares his teeth and growls. He throws his cup to the floor with a loud CLUNK! and reaches for his weapon.

In a flash, the elf has got him: a single delicate hand around the half-orc’s throat. Almost without resistance, the hulking warrior gasps and collapses to the floor: dead. 

It was over so fast you barely saw the elf draw a single shiv from the folds of its tattered clothes. The single, fatal strike was so quick that, for just a second, you question if it was only your imagining.

As onlookers stare stoopified, the elf picks something off the body of the half-orc and disappears through the doors of the tavern.


In yesterday’s article I explored how to build the best grappler. In today’s post I’m going to present “The Elven Shank” a build that uses grappling to be a highly potent force in combat.

Before we get into the specifics, I am going to use a dagger for this build purely out of flavor. There’s no reason you couldn’t use a rapier or other one-handed weapon for higher damage, but something about this build says “I’ve done hard time, and I’m going to shank you with my toothbrush.”

The Elven Shank

The elven shank has 4 elements that make up the build:

  1. The Grappler feat
  2. The Elven Accuracy feat
  3. Multiple (at least 2) attacks
  4. Race: any type of elf or Half-Elf (required by 2)

For the race, any type of elf will do though I’d recommend Wood Elf for the WIS and movement increase.

The core concept is pretty simple:

  1. Use first attack to grapple an enemy. You now have advantage on attacks against that enemy (thanks to the Grappler feat).
  2. Pump as much damage into the second attack as possible. You will not miss, you will crit. A LOT.

The Rogue class fills most of our need by itself; however, we will need to multiclass to get a second attack. Our options for that are:

  1. Fighter (5 levels)
  2. Bard – College of Swords or College of Valor (6 levels)
  3. Barbarian (5 levels) 
  4. Paladin (5 levels)
  5. Cleric – War Priest (1 level)*
  6. Warlock – Pact of the Blade with Thirsting Blade Invocation (5 levels)
  7. Monk (5 levels)

*The War Priest allows a character to make a bonus action attack with a weapon as long as they use the Attack action. While grappling uses the Attack action, the limit on the bonus action attack is  once per WIS bonus per long rest and therefore is not very desirable

I decided on Fighter (Champion) 5/Rogue X

We’ll be starting with a DEX score of 17. At 4th level it will get bumped up to 18 when we take Elven Accuracy. 

Pick any Rogue sublcass you like. Assassin is nice for automatic crits in the first round of combat. Swashbuckler will make you into the best possible grappler with its 13th level feature to grant advantage on STR (Athletics) checks. The Scout, at 13th level, will get you (and your allys) advantage on all attacks against a single creature for the first round of combat.

All of them are good choices.

Let’s take a look at the build at  9th,15th, and 20th level:

9th level (Fighter 5/Rogue 4)

Core features: Improved Critical,  Attack(2), Expertise(Athletics), Elven Accuracy, Grappler, DEX 18, 2d6 Sneak Attack

Assuming a measly 13 in strength we have a +9 Grapple bonus. When we attack with advantage we have a 27.1% chance to land a critical, dealing 2d4 (shank damage)+ 4d6 (Sneak ATTACK!) + 4 (DEX) + 2 (Dueling FIghting Style) = 24 Damage.

While this isn’t great output for this level, it is output we can manage every single round, indefinitely since it uses no resources. If we find this output is too low we can still fallback making two attacks per round and using our allies to gain sneak attack damage.

The damage trade-off is not for nothing though: our Fighter features i.e. Second Wind and Action Surge make us significantly tougher than a typical rogue.

Let’s see how the build progresses:

15th level (Fighter 5/Rogue 10) 

Core features: (Everything from last time),  5d6 Sneak Attack, DEX 20

Now with our measly 13 STR we’re looking at a grapple bonus of +11, the same 27.1% chance for a crit on advantage and dealing 2d4 (shank) + 10d6 (sneak) +5 (DEX) + 2 (Dueling) = 41 damage, nearly double the damage output of our 9th level build.

20th level (Fighter 5/Rogue 15)

Core feautes: (Everything from last time, reliable talent, 8d6 Sneak Attack

Our grapple bonus is now up to + 13 and we can never roll lower than a 23 thanks to reliable talent. When we crit, which we will be doing at least every third round, we will be dealing a respectable 2d4 (shank) + 16d6 + 5 (DEX) + 2 (Duelling) = 59 damage.

Keep in mind that an enemy has to use its action to break our grapple and, thank’s to Reliable Talent, that is likely to never happen.

This frees us from having to make repeated grapple attempts and we can just focus on doing what the Elven Shank does best…shanking. We can even use our Action Surge to sneak in an additional two shanks per short rest.

There are certainly higher damage builds, but this one is pretty well rounded, having a nice mix of:


  • Fighter HD
  • Second Wind
  • Evasion
  • Uncanny Dodge
  • STR, CON, and WIS prof (thanks to Slippery Mind)
  • Fey Ancestry (Adv vs charmed, can’t be put to sleep)


  • Sneak Attack
  • Improved Critical
  • Elven Accuracy
  • Action Surge


  • Cunning Action
  • Fleet of Foot
  • Proficiency in 6 skills (Perception, Athletics, +4 others)
  • Expertise in Athletics
  • Expertise in 3 other skills

Customizing /Improving the Elven Shank

What’s neat about this is that if you want to emphasize one category over another i.e. more durability, more damage, or mobility/utility you can swap out the 5 fighter levels for the following:

More Utility

Monk – Drunken Master/Open Hand/ Shadow will all increase your Mobility/Utility and get you access to the powerful Stunning Strike ability. You may be able to ditch armor entirely, but most importantly of all, the monk increases your shank damage to a d6. Very important. Also, the Drunken Master just fits the theme perfectly.

More Durability

Barbarian – Advantage on all Strength checks, and a little bit of extra damage while raging, is probably worth it alone. Path of the Zealot will add an extra 1d6 + 1/2 of Barbarian level to the first attack you make each round, increasing your average damage output. Meanwhile a Bear totem barbarian will have greatly increased durability thanks to having resisting to all damage, except psychic. 

Mostly just a Rogue

War Cleric – If you want to be mostly just a rogue who uses grappling as a fallback option, a single level of War Cleric will allow you pick up 10d6 sneak attack and the Elusive feature. This is a good option if you can almost always count on your allys to grant you sneak attack, but you want a back-up option just in case.



While there are other grappling builds that can deal a lot of damage, most of those builds are even sillier than this one and require the use of strange items, high level spells, or a LOT of team-work with your casters.

If you’ve ever wanted to play a durable, shank-wielding, damage dealing elf who has probably done hard time, then this is the build for you. 

If you enjoyed this article you may also like A Fistful of Dice or the Eldritch Sniper.

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Building a Grappler [5e Character Build] Tue, 05 Jun 2018 20:46:29 +0000


The word itself became a thing of controversy in D&D. Some people loved it, so

me hated it, some obscure builds even relied upon it.

One of the most resounding criticisms of D&D 3.5 was that grappling was slow, complicated, and often brought the game to a screeching halt.

The developers listened to the community and now grappling is much easier in 5th Edition. The downside is it does a lot less than it did in 3.5.

If you want to build a grappler, let’s start with the basics:

What can a grappler do in D&D 5e?

There are 3 paragraphs on grappling in the 5e Player Handbook. Fortunately, they’re also a part of the SRD:

In short, we make an Athletics check in place of one of our attacks and, if we succeed, the target gets the grappled condition and we can move them around the battlefield (though our speed is halved and they do not provoke Opportunity Attacks when moved in this way).

Notably, you can only grapple a creature up to one size size category larger than you: no small grapplers.

Let’s take a look at the Grappled condition:


  • A grappled creature’s speed becomes 0, and it can’t benefit from any bonus to its speed.
  • The condition ends if the Grappler is incapacitated (see the condition).
  • The condition also ends if an effect removes the grappled creature from the reach of the Grappler or Grappling effect, such as when a creature is hurled away by the Thunderwave spell.

The main advantage is that a grappled creature has 0 speed, meaning they cannot move, mount, dismount, or stand up from prone. This leads us to the role of the grappler is 5e:

Grapplers keep enemies prone

Prone is a really good status effect in 5e, let’s look at what it does:


  • A prone creature’s only Movement option is to crawl, unless it stands up and thereby ends the condition.
  • The creature has disadvantage on Attack rolls.
  • An Attack roll against the creature has advantage if the attacker is within 5 feet of the creature. Otherwise, the Attack roll has disadvantage.

What’s not mentioned here is on page 190-191 of the Player’s Handbook

“You can drop prone without using any of your speed. Standing up takes more effort; doing so costs an amount of movement equal to half your speed. For example, if your speed is 30 feet, you must spend 15 feet of movement to stand up.”

Not sure who, but someone’s gonna stay down after that.

The role of our grappler is not just to grapple, but to knock enemies down and keep them there, giving our allies (and ourselves) advantage to hit them while they’re prone.

It should be noted this requires two Athletics checks, one to grapple and the other to “shove” them prone. There are some abilities that allow one of the checks to be replaced with an attack roll and a save; these are discussed later.

How to build the best grappler in 5e


Notably, there’s a couple of options for race: variant Human (for the feat), Goliath (for the Powerful Build Feature). Both of these races net us Proficiency in Athletics which we must have before building any kind of grappler. 

The Goliath (from Volo’s and EE Player’s Companion) doubles the weight we can drag, bringing it up to 60 times our strength score. If we have an 18 STR we can push or pull up to 1080 pounds. Which should cover most large enemies. 

If your DM is never going to say that a creature is too heavy for you to move and you’re ok playing a human in a fantasy game, then the variant human might be the way to go.


There’s really only two feats that directly relate to grappling:



Strength13 or higher

You’ve developed the skills necessary to hold your own in close–quarters 

Grappling. You gain the following benefits:

  • You have advantage on Attack rolls against a creature you are Grappling.
  • You can use your action to try to pin a creature Grappled by you. To do so, make another grapple check. If you succeed, you and the creature are both Restrained until the grapple ends.

and the other feat may surprise you: Tavern Brawler which, in addition to granting us a much needed +1 STR it also allows us this:

  • When you hit a creature with an unarmed strike or an improvised weapon on your turn, you can use a bonus action to attempt to grapple the target.

 Unfortunately, Tavern Brawler is probably not worth it due to the unarmed strike or improvised weapon requirement.

The DM laughed when I brought a wrestler to a dragon fight. Who’s laughing now?

What’s neat about the Grappler feat is that we can make a grappled creature restrained: this gives them disadvantage on DEX saves and attack rolls, and gives everyone advantage on attack rolls against them. In short, this gives us the option to allow everyone, even the wizards and archers in the back row, to have advantage on attacks, but at increased risk to ourselves.

It’s definitely worth it if your party has a lot of ranged characters, and if you have multiple attacks the feat may be worth it just for the first benefit alone because it allows you to grapple and then attack.

So far: we have either variant Human with the Grappler Feat or Goliath for our race. Either way we start with Proficiency in Athletics and (using Point Buy) either a 16 or 17 in Strength. 

Best class for a grappler

Since Grappling in 5e is 100% contingent on beating the target’s athletics roll, Expertise(Athletics) is a requirement for any grappler.

There are three ways to get expertise:

  1. Bard, you’ll need 3 levels of it.
  2. Rogue, you’ll need 1 level of it.
  3. Prodigy, a feat from Xanathar’s guide, requires Human as race.

There’s also a couple of nifty spells to consider:

  1. Hex – A warlock spell well known spell for adding an extra d6 of damage to an attack. It also let’s you choose an ability and give the target disadvantage on those abilitiy checks. Since the target can only beat your grapple attempt with STR(Athletics) or DEX(Acrobatics) you just have to pick the right attribute to give it disadvantage against your grapple.
  2. Enlarge – A Sorc/Wiz spell that increases your size category by one size.
  3. Enhance Ability – A Cleric spell list that can grant us advantage on STR based checks.

Regrettably, both of these spells require concentration which will be difficult to maintain on a grappling character since we will be taking damage in melee. It’s definitely best if you can buddy up with a caster to have them buff you.

Finally, there’s also the BattleMaster fighter to consider. It has a few maneuvers that have a lot of synergy with a grappler:

  1. Trip Attack – If you’ve already grappled an enemy, attack them to force a saving throw and knock them prone. Since they’re not “moving” you maintain the grapple.
  2. Disarming Attack – When you hit the creature, force a save to make it drop its weapon. You can then just move the grappled creature away from its weapon.
  3. Commander’s Strike – Give one of your allys the chance to attack the grappled creature and take advantage of them being knocked prone, in exchange for one for one of your attacks.

Building the Best Grappler

We don’t have a plethora of options, but we do have enough to get started.

If we start as a variant human with the Prodigy feat, we can begin the game as a fairly effective grappler. If we take our first 3 levels in fighter we gain proficiency in all weapons and armor, Con saves (important later), good HP, and we can pick up the Maneuvers from the BattleMaster subclass. 

At this point, we’ll want to go to level 5 in fighter to pick up the second attack. If we have a +4 STR we’re now rolling our grapples at a very nice +10. We get two attacks so we can grapple and then follow up with some great Battlemaster Maneuvers to knock our enemies prone or disarm them.

This is completely unrelated to the article, but I found it while writing and it’s AWESOME!

From here on out, there are three paths we can take: 

  1. Continue as a fighter – not the most exciting option and we won’t get any spells, but we will get a lot of attacks, stat increases, and all the feats we desire
  2. Go pure rogue – At low levels, cunning action synergies well, allowing us to dart around the battlefield and grapple the right target each time. At higher level we gain Reliable Talent which allows us to never roll below a 10 on any Athletics check, making our minimum check at level 16,when we get Reliable Talent: 5 (stat) + 10 (Prof) + 10 (minimum roll) = 25 as the lowest we could possibly roll.
  3. Go Bard – There’s not a lot of spells that help us grapple, but thanks to the bard’s Magical Secrets we’ll be able to pick up any of the spells we want. This would also us to pick up expertise if we’re OK delaying it and swap out our starting feat from Prodigy to the Grappler feat.

With the bard option, it may be better to build Fighter 1/Bard 6/Fighter 2/Fighter 3/Bard X if you’re starting at level 7 or above.

This seems counter intuitive, but it gets you CON save proficiency which will be desperately needed if you’re concentrating on any spells during combat. It also prevents you from taking more levels of fighter than you need, resulting in a build that is a very competent grappler, melee combatant, and caster.


While grappling options are limited in D&D 5e, grabbing Expertise makes it fairly easy to build a competent grappler. Adding in BattleMaster maneuvers on top of it has a lot of synergy and opens more intersting combat options for a character, provided the character has at least two attacks in a round. Feat support is limited, but the Grappler feat is definitely worth it with the right character build and party composition.


If you enjoyed this article you may also like The Paragon of Luck and A Fistful of Dice.

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