Progressing Towards Normalcy

Well, yesterday we got our driveway cleared which allowed Sarah to get her car out and us to go collect Jack’s car from where it was towed. That was as pleasant an experience as it possibly could have been, as the tow lot folks were pleasant, personable, and professional about the whole thing, and they also did us the courtesy of digging the car out before we got there and waiving a day’s fees due to the storm. We are getting reimbursed for the cost, but a courtesy is a courtesy.

Today was our scheduled recycling pick up day. We only get pick-up every other week, they’ll only take what’s in the (admittedly large) container provided, and the last time we were scheduled for pick-up was the middle of the week we were away for the belated holidays. I had no idea if they were keeping to the pick-up schedule this week, but I wasn’t about to miss the chance to unload some of the backlog, so I managed to wrestle our recycling can down to the curb yesterday and carve out a spot in the snow-covered shoulder for it to stand where it would be accessible to the collections truck but not in the way of traffic or our driveway.

We were the only house on the street with our bin out, but my faith was rewarded when the truck pulled up at 9 and collected it as normal.

Our landlords just called to tell us that now that our house is accessible from the street, a plumber is coming over to take a look at the water heater within the next hour and a half or so. I have barricaded the cats inside the cat/author suite to prevent any further magical adventures in the root cellar for them. They’re warier about being shut up inside a room than they used to be, and better at opening doors than ever, but thankfully they’re still distracted by bird calls, even ones that are actually coming from a computer speaker. As I type this, they’re currently going window to window, trying to figure out where their elusive blue jay friend is hiding.

Based on my third hand understanding, it sounds like the plumber expects to just replace the heating element outright, and if that’s the case, we’ll have hot water again within the day. I mean, it’s going to be heating the whole tank from stone cold, so I expect it’s going to be hours before we get lukewarm. If it’s anything more complicated, he’ll be back tomorrow.

But either way, progress.

Let It Blow, Let It Blow, Let It Blow

Thank every star in the heavens and some in other places, but five days since the snow started and three days after it ended, we are finally going to be able to get out of our driveway. The farthest I’ve been out of the house since at least Thursday was yesterday when I trudged across three yards’ worth of snow to help bring in an emergency grocery drop from Sarah’s parents, parked at the mouth of the alley behind our house.

Given that I sometimes go a week without going anywhere, you wouldn’t think that cabin fever would be a thing, but it’s different when it’s voluntary and you don’t have to worry about when the next time you’ll be able to get to the store is.

The cats are fascinated by the snowblower at work. They’ve been absolutely rapt by this whole drama. It’s not their first winter, but probably the first one they remember. During the blizzard they sat at the window, wide-eyed and trying to track individual flakes as they fell, occasionally looking over their shoulders at us as if to gauge our reactions and figure out if they should be doing something more to let us know about all this fluffy whiteness going on.

Gone Away Is The Blue Bird

An actual beautiful sight this morning, as I settled into my office chair: both of our cats sitting on their platform by what I think of as the “tree window”, staring in rapt fascination at a pair of blue jays perched in the willow tree. The female was letting out the characteristic harsh jeer at a regular interval, and Tony, the more talkative and burbly of our tiny house panthers, was repeating it as best as she can every time she did.

I tried to snap a picture of the window with the two cats staring up at the birds, but the jays didn’t stay long (most birds, I think, are frankly weirded out when Tony starts calling back to them).

Funny side note: just now I went looking for a sound clip of the jay’s cry so I could figure out how best to describe it. When I played it on my computer, Tommy went running back to the window and pressed her nose against it, looking for the bird.

Something to remember for the next time I can’t find her.

Life During Snowtime

Given that the snowstorm that did it apparently made the international news in at least some markets, you might well have guessed that we are buried under several feet of snow.

Our blizzard experience got off to a rocky start before the snow even started, with our hot water heater failing just before and then Jack’s car getting towed by an over-zealous home owners’ association in the neighborhood in which he worked. His employers did not warn him, but in their defense, they were not warned, either.

The frustrating thing about it is he was supposed to have been relieved (and thus gone) long before then, and also that four days on, I’m told they *still* haven’t plowed the street it was towed from. We’re not going to have to pay for the tow or impound, at least.

Here at Chez The Place Where We Live, the one car that we do have has forty feet of snow-drifted driveway in front of it, and about sixty feet of driveway behind it leading to an alley whose condition I am not able to assess. Our yard slopes up from the driveway, which created the perfect surface for snow to drift against all the way down to the street. The only reason our back door opens is that I went out and shoveled snow away from it a couple of times during the blizzard; even with a covered back porch, I had to push away two and a half feet of snow the first time I went out. The only reason our front door opens is that I trudged around and cleared off half the front porch that wraps around the front of the house.

Sarah usually does that sort of stuff, but she’s a bit under the weather and I was curious to know how much snow I could move in an emergency. I rewarded myself by sculpting a dinosaur with the mound of shoveled snow, since the snow was too dry and powdery to make a good snowman. Well, no one said it *has* to be a snowman.

The snow removal people we contract with have been working 18 hour days to dig out their more elderly and infirm clients, and lost two guys and a $3,000 snowblower to the effort while the snow was still falling. I choose to believe the snowblower gained sentience in an accident involving a snowman and a silk top hat, and the two men were injured fighting to stop its malevolent rise to power.

Whether that is true or not, we are not going anywhere for a while. Dozens of people died and there are people still without heat or electricity, so as much as the fact that we have no hot water is driving me up a wall, it’s not a big deal in comparison. We’re not going to starve, though our meals are a little sparser and less interesting than we would like and snack options are pretty much nonexistent. Trying to find out where the car was towed to (all the lots in town were apparently full or closed, so it was towed to the next town over, where roads were already closing by the time we found out) ate up a lot of time Friday that would have been otherwise used doing last minute stock-ups and preparations.

We were well situated in some regards, at least. The battery-operated LED lanterns and rechargeable floodlight I got for illuminating the grounds for Halloween make for handy emergency lighting, too. That’s part of why I got them.

Anyway, things aren’t necessarily comfortable or fun here, but we’re all at least safe and we’ve carved out some fun for ourselves. I’ll keep you posted as things change.

Spherical Goblins: Rules, Exceptions, and Procedural Thinking

A lot of the pitfalls I talk about regarding gaming come down to the attitude that players or DMs take towards it, but even the best attitude can lead to confusion and frustration and arguments when you don’t grasp how the rules of the game actually work together. This is how you wind up with situations where the people on the opposite sides of the table have very different ideas of what the PCs’ actual capabilities are, or where neither side actually understands what the characters are capable of doing.

It usually manifests something like this:

A character has a certain feature or skill or spell. This ability is described in the rulebook as a set of rules, procedures, really, that govern how it works. The rules are designed to convey how to apply it to the game, so they are not easy to hold in your head unless you’ve got a particular turn of mind. So you don’t remember the rules, you remember what the rules do, what they mean for you.

Really, it’s a failure to understand how the rules are written and why they’re written that way, which leads to the failure to understand how to read them in the first place, which leads to you asking (yourself or the DM), “So, what’s this do in simple terms?” and only ever internalizing the plain speech explanation.

One root of the problem is not understanding that the description of an ability or spell is its rules, to a greater degree in 5th Edition than any edition before. “I can’t find the rules for Sneak Attack.” or “I can’t find the rules for Stunning Strike.” or “I can’t find the rules for [a particular spell].” are all things you hear pretty frequently, sometimes with the explanation of everywhere they looked: in the combat rules, in the rules for spellcasting, in the Monster Manual, the DMG, et cetera.

Sometimes it’s apparent their approach was pretty exhaustive. They might have literally looked through all three core books trying to find the rules for this one ability.

The one place they don’t look is under Sneak Attack, or Stunning Strike, or under the heading of the spell they’re confused about. I mean, they read it, or at least looked at it. They figured out what it’s saying, generally. And then they went looking for the actual rules, and failed to find them.

Usually this question will be accompanied by a situation that arose at their table, where a player tried to do something (like, let’s say, stun a Fire Elemental with Stunning Strike) and the DM wasn’t sure it would work. So they went looking for the rules governing it, and when they couldn’t find it, they just ruled on the fly based on their understanding of how it should work, then went looking for a definitive answer for next time.

If you’re thinking about the text below the heading of a special ability or spell as nothing more than a sort of general description in game terms of what happens, not only are you going to be looking in some nebulous elsewhere for clarity about its exact limits and implications, but you’re not going to have any reason to prioritize the text over your own, simpler version of the general description.

Stunning Strike and Sneak Attack are frequent sources of confusion, because they’re two abilities that people tend to think of in very precise “in-game” terms that aren’t really portable to different situations: you’re hitting someone in a vulnerable spot, like a nerve cluster (Stunning Strike) or organ (Sneak Attack). That’s a great capsule description of what the ability might represent happening in-game in a particular (fairly frequent) case, but it’s not even a general description of what the abilities do. 

Stunning Strike lets you stun someone. That’s what it does, in shorthand terms. Sneak Attack lets you hit for more damage. That’s what it does, in shorthand terms. And the rules that govern each are neatly self-contained within the short paragraph or two of text that describes each ability. And if you don’t know this, if you don’t get this, then you’re likely to look at those short paragraphs and say, “There has to be more to this, but where?”

A buzzword people use a lot to describe 4th and 5th edition is “exception-based design”. The actual rules describing what characters can do in general are relatively few and fairly simple. An individual character, be it a heroic adventurer or monster, is a set of exceptions to those rules. Fighters replace some of the normal rules of combat with rules that represent better fighting. Rogues replace the normal skill rules with rules that represent better skill. Wizards replace all sorts of rules, temporarily, using spells.

A buzzword that should be used more often than it is for describing how 5E works is “procedural logic”. What people frequently write off as a general description or just overly wordy stuff designed to sound formal and technical is not just actual rules, but in fact a set of instructions that tell you how and when something applies, and what it does. The vast majority of apparent ambiguities in how things work and disputes over what abilities can do could be settled simply by looking at the abilities in question and following them, word by word and line by line, like you’re a computer executing a compiled program.

For example, let’s take what is both a common special ability and a common cause of confusion. About half or so of the character classes in the Player’s Handbook gain an ability at level 5 or 6 that’s called Extra Attack.

Now, you probably don’t even need to read the rules for Extra Attack to understand what it does, especially when you notice that the classes that get it are the “warrior” ones like Fighter and Barbarian. It lets you attack more often. It gives you an extra attack. The general rule is that you can attack once per turn; this lets you attack again.

And if that’s your guess, you’ve nailed it. Here’s the actual text for the feature:

“Beginning at 5th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.”

Oh, boy. They crammed what looks like some extra verbiage in there, but even if you don’t understand the formal meaning of “take the Attack action”, you can tell that Extra Attack does what it says: it gives you an extra attack. That’s all you know and it’s all you need to know.

Except if that’s all you know, you’ll run into situations where you’re not sure how it applies. If you’re just thinking, “I can attack twice”, what happens if you cast a spell that is kind of an attack, or even definitely an attack? Do you get to attack again? Could you cast two such spells? What happens if you take an opportunity attack, do you get another one? If you have two copies of this ability (after all, multiple classes have it), do you get an extra attack from each one?

Now, if you have any familiarity with the rules of the game and maybe even if you don’t, sitting there with the actual text staring at you, the answer to all those questions might be pretty obvious. No, you can’t more attacks by taking the ability more than once because it doesn’t give you an additional attack in the first place, it lets you attack “twice instead of once”. No, you can’t mix it with spells or use it when taking an opportunity attack, because it only applies “when you take the Attack action on your turn.”

The text I excerpted above for the Extra Attack ability is not just a clunky way of describing the bare fact that you get to attack more. They are exact instructions for how the ability is applied. IF you are 5th level, and IF you take the Attack action on your turn, THEN in place of the one attack you normally get, you can make two instead.

Procedural logic. We have conditions that must be met, and if those conditions are met, we process the ability, which provides us with an exception to the normal rule that you can attack once by taking the Attack action.

I’ve seen a load of questions about how this one ability interacts with this, that, or the other thing… but they can all be answered just by parsing the one line of text I excerpted above.

Let’s take the Monk’s Stunning Strike. The rules for that read, in their entirety:

Starting at 5th level, you can interfere with the flow of ki in an opponent’s body. When you hit another creature with a melee weapon attack, you can spend 1 ki point to attempt a stunning strike. The target must succeed on a Constitution saving throw or be stunned until the end of your next turn.

That’s all the text under the heading of “Stunning Strike”. It is, in fact, the complete rules for how Stunning Strike works. There’s a bit more descriptive text. I mean, “interfere with the flow of ki in an opponent’s body” is not a precise game term, but a flavorful description of what’s happening. It does at least do the job of telling us that no, this ability does not depend in any way on the target having identifiable nerve clusters, which should stop a lot of arguments that it shouldn’t work on creatures without nerves (though, it doesn’t).

Still, it’s pretty straightforward: if you are 5th level and if you hit another creature with a melee weapon attack, then you can use the ability, the effects of which are—again—contained within this short block of text.

Now, you have to know what a melee weapon attack is and what constitutes a creature and how a Constitution saving throw works and what it means to be stunned, and those things are defined elsewhere (poorly, in the case of “melee weapon attack”, though I’ll get to that later). But they’re all general rules. You don’t have to look them up in relation to the Stunning Strike ability. You don’t have to know some secret intersection of those rules and this rule.

Got a question about how and when you can use Stunning Strike? You can answer it with this text.

“Can I use Stunning Strike when I hit with an opportunity attack, or only on my turn?” It doesn’t say anything about your turn, so it doesn’t have to be your turn. It doesn’t say you have to use the Attack action, so literally anytime you hit with a melee weapon attack it’s good.

“Do I have to declare I’m using it in advance?” It doesn’t say that, so you don’t have to.

“If I have a spell that lets me make a melee weapon attack, can I stack its effects with this?”

It says “when you hit with a melee weapon attack.” If you hit with a melee weapon attack, then you can use Stunning Strike. Nothing else matters, not how the attack happened or what other awesome things the attack does.

“Can I use this on a Fire Elemental?” It doesn’t say particular types of creatures, it says “creature”, which all monsters and characters recognized by the rules are considered to be. Fire Elementals are creatures; ergo, you can use Stunning Strike on them.

Now, I have to point out that “It doesn’t say you can’t, so you can.” is not a great principle to follow, generally. But when you’re parsing out the rules of an ability, any requirement it doesn’t explicitly lay out does not exist. Any limitation it doesn’t explicitly lay out does not exist. If you have a question about what does or does not work, just follow it through procedurally.

Let me lay out an example that’s going to get a little complicated and nerdy, but it just shows how to apply procedural logic to determine what is and isn’t possible, what does and doesn’t work together.

Say you are a 5th level Monk with Stunning Strike and the Extra Attack feature, and you have learned through some means a spell called Greenflame Blade. This spell’s description reads, in part:

“As part of the action used to cast this spell, you must make a melee attack with a weapon against one creature within the spell’s range, otherwise the spell fails. On a hit, the target suffers the attack’s normal effects, and green fire leaps from the target to a different creature of your choice that you can see within 5 feet of it. The second creature takes fire damage equal to your spellcasting ability modifier.”

You also have the Monk Martial Arts ability, which includes this line:

“When you use the Attack action with an unarmed strike or a monk weapon on your turn, you can make one unarmed strike as a bonus action.”

Wow, that’s a lot of stuff going on. You’ve got a spell that lets you make an attack and then zap someone else with green fire, you have the ability to attack twice every time from Extra Attack, and you have the ability to make a bonus unarmed strike! That’s a whole lot of moving pieces to sort out, but it sounds like there’s going to be a whole lot of attacking going on, right?

So it’s our turn. We cast Greenflame Blade, and “as part of the action used to cast this spell”, we “must make a melee attack with a weapon”.

Let’s say that we’re using a short sword.

A short sword has a blade, and you might think this is important because the name of the spell is “Greenflame Blade”. You might even spend some time looking all over the place to find where it says that Greenflame Blade does or doesn’t allow non-bladed weapons, but the text is right there: it says “with a weapon”. Type unspecified, so any weapon will do.

So we use our action to cast the spell, and then we immediately make a melee attack using the short sword. We hit, let’s say, an Ogre Zombie. At this moment in time, we have hit with a melee weapon attack.

That means we can use Stunning Strike.

But wait, can we stun zombies? Nothing in the rules for Stunning Strike says it only works on certain creatures. We can check the “stunned” condition, but spoiler warning: it doesn’t list exceptions, either. None of the conditions do. That’s because conditions are a general rule, and in exception based design, the exceptions are self-contained. This means if the combination of ogre and zombie is immune to being stunned, it will be found in the listing for Ogre Zombie. We check, and it lists only one condition it’s immune to: poisoned. They can be stunned.

So we use Stunning Strike. Depending on how well the Ogre Zombie rolls, it may or may not be stunned, but we have used Stunning Strike. This brings me to an important point: imagine that the Ogre Zombie was immune to being stunned. This would not mean you can’t use Stunning Strike on the Ogre Zombie; it would mean the effect would be negated. This might seem like splitting hairs, but it does help you understand the flow of things better. The “program” we’re following continues until we hit an exception.

But, another thing is happening. Greenflame Blade provides another thing that happens when this attack hits: fire leaps to another target (let’s say a Zombie Donkey). And with that, we are done processing Greenflame Blade.

Can we use Extra Attack? No. Even though we attacked, we took the “Cast A Spell” Action, not the “Attack” Action.

Can we use the bonus attack from Martial Arts? No. Again, we did not take the “Attack” Action.

So the next turn comes and this time, we decide we want to use our attacks. We take the Attack Action, though we probably just say, “I attack the Ogre Zombie,” just we didn’t actually say, “I take the Cast A Spell Action” last turn, we just went straight to “I cast Greenflame Blade.” We are taking the Attack Action, which lets us use Extra Attack, allows us to attack twice.

We attack the Ogre Zombie twice, and let’s say we missed both times. Can we still use Martial Arts for a bonus attack? Yes. Greenflame Blade and Stunning Strike “proc”, as they say, on a hit, but Martial Arts doesn’t mention having to hit, only taking the Attack action and a requirement that we be using an unarmed strike or a monk weapon.

“Monk weapons” are defined elsewhere in the text of the Martial Arts ability, and they do include short swords, so we’re good. We make our bonus attack.

Can we apply Extra Attack to this to make two attacks? No. A bonus action granted by a special ability is not the same thing as the Attack action.

Of course, if you’re familiar with the Monk class, you know they’ve got the ability to make two bonus attacks if they want to, resources allowing, but there’s enough going on here for you to get the idea.

Any place where people are discussing the game, you’ll see questions about these kinds of interactions repeated again and again. Can a Paladin combine a spell like Searing Smite with their Divine Smite ability? Does a Paladin have to declare the use of Divine Smite in advance? Can a Rogue Sneak Attack even if the target is aware of them? Can a Rogue Sneak Attack if they hit on someone else’s turn? Can you use an unarmed strike with a smite spell? Can you use it with Greenflame Blade? Can you use Greenflame Blade as an opportunity attack?

In every case, if you understand the basic game terms, then the answer to the question is contained within the text of the abilities or spells under discussion.

(For reference, the answers are yes, no, yes, yes, yes, no, and no.)

Of course, some of the game terms are better defined than others, and I really can’t claim to be telling you how to read a character ability if I don’t explain the taxonomy of attacks.

You will never see this spelled out in a rulebook, but almost all attacks in the game fall into one of four categories: melee weapon attacks, melee spell attacks, ranged weapon attacks, and ranged spell attacks.

Both melee weapon attacks and melee spell attacks fall into the supercategory of “melee attacks”, just as melee weapon attacks and ranged weapon attacks fall into the supercategory of “weapon attacks”, but you will never see something that is both a spell attack and a weapon attack, or both a ranged attack and a melee attack. These categories are explicit and exclusive of each other.

Because of this, we end up with some oddities, like an unarmed strike being considered a “melee weapon attack” even though it is not an “attack with a melee weapon”. This means you can use the Monk’s Stunning Fist when you hit with an unarmed strike, but you cannot use an unarmed strike with the Greenflame Blade spell. The spell specifies “with a weapon”.

If all of this procedural stuff and precise taxonomies doesn’t sound very magical or adventurous to you, don’t fear. You very rarely have to sit down and explicitly proc a thing, like, “I take the Cast a Spell Action. I use it to cast Greenflame Blade.” and so on. One of the reasons that people stick with the shorthand version so often is that so often, it works. It’s only really when there’s a question about whether or not a combination of things work together that you have to sit down and process it step by step, and once you’ve done that, you know.

Now, this post has been talking about how to read and understand an ability like Stunning Strike or Extra Attack, and I’ve mostly been framing it in terms of not understanding the logic of the rules because it’s never been explained. There is another thing that is sometimes at play, sometimes, in the nagging insistence that surely there must be additional rules for Sneak Attack, and that’s the belief that whatever the player is proposing is too ridiculous to possibly be allowed.

I’ve got a whole post about that topic that I’ve actually been prepping for a while. I realized as I was writing it, though, that this one really needed to go up first for it to make any sense. For now, I’ll give you the shorthand version of the next post’s message, which is: never change the rules mid-game to make them make more sense. 

I’ll tell you why next week.


In (and Out) of Hot Water

So, I spent a lot of time yesterday trying to take a shower. The first time, the hot water was a little iffy. No big deal, I thought. We just got back from out of town and are settling into routines, Jack just went back to work, I’ll have to wait a little later in the day to do it. I waited. Hot water not any better. Someone must have done dishes or a load of laundry, I guess. I decided to just take a hot bath in the afternoon instead.

I wound up repeating the “maybe if I wait” process throughout the afternoon. By the time I went to bed last night, I was pretty sure that our hot water heater wasn’t heating at all. After talking to the other people in the house, two of us noticed on Tuesday that it was running noticeably hotter than normal, so I’d bet it just overheated and tripped the cut-off switch. If I’m right, it’s an easy fix, literally just a button…. but that button is in the middle of a bunch of live electrical wires and our house has complicated wiring due to its history. So, not much I can do. I’ve let our landlords know.

It threw my day off yesterday and again today because I’ve gotten used to using a shower to signal “time to go to work”, plus the bath as a time and place to unwind and let the creative juices simmer. I’m trying not to let today slip by me, though it’s going to be a kind of weird and uncomfortable day.

5th Editon Bard Option: College of the Dancing Flame

Hey, folks! The friendly wizards who live up the coast have recently opened a venue for selling material relating to the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, called the DMs Guild. Though you can well imagine this is exactly the sort of opportunity I’ve been waiting for, this happened while I was out of town, and so I’ve spent many a distracted moment brainstorming content to brew up when I got home.

Today I put some of those plans into action and I have begun working on a supplement that adds character options revolving mostly (though not entirely) around the element of fire. My goal is to have 1 or 2 new character subclasses for every class that I can do so without it being forced, and so far that’s everyone except the Fighter, Rogue, and Ranger (and I have some rough ideas for them), along with other character options such as new spells, feats, racial subtypes, etc.

You who read my blog know that character classes are not just interchangeable bags of abstract mechanics with some flavor text appended to them. I believe the designers of 5E did a wonderful job of making characters whose abilities are governed by rules that strongly suggest a desired flavor. In creating my heroes of flame, I’m taking care to do the same. Fire is not just a damage type, after all. It has a primal power and mystique all its own. It’s an ancient source of terror and the thing we use to beat back terrors. It symbolizes both the holy spirit and the flames of perdition.

To whet the appetite and illustrate my general approach, I’d like to share one of the two Bardic Colleges I’ve created, the College of the Dancing Flame. I believe this falls under the category of “short promotional previews” that are allowed by the DMs Guild terms.

Flame Dancers have abilities that allow them to interfere with attacks on their allies while daring enemies to attack them. Their tendency to laugh in the face of danger emphasizes the unstable nature of fire, as they don’t really have the AC or HP of most classes that take the “tank” style. In their favor, they do have a version of the Unarmored Defense feature that uses their primary ability (the existing Monk and Barbarian ones both use a secondary ability, though Monks have the advantage of their primary ability already being factored in).

The Flame Dancer also show one of the hallmarks of this collection, which is characters who focus on two types of damage. I mean, that’s the main problem with elemental-themed characters: they are hopeless when out of their element. Flame Dancers use both fire and psychic damage (psychic damage being the medium used for taunting spells and attacks). Some of the abilities below may be reworked (and in particular, streamlined) before final publication.

The other Bardic College, not featured in this preview, is the College of Fire and Ice. It’s a spellcasting-focused one that is like a blend of the College of Lore and the Wizard tradition of Evocation, albeit with a more narrow focus than either of them.

Other highlights from the collection include a Fire and Infernal domain for Clerics along with a variant “Gentle Light” domain, Pyromancer and Elementalist traditions for the Wizard, fiery new totems for the Barbarian and a whole new Raging Inferno path, Everlasting Flame Oath for Paladins, and more.


The Dancing Flame option provides another way to weave weapons and magic together, focusing on mobility, defense, and the ability to draw enemies in to attack you. Flame Dancers (as members of that college are called) play a dangerous game with their taunts as they are far more fragile than the typical front-line warrior, but have the advantage of relying on a single ability for attack, defense, and magic.

Unarmored Defense

Starting at level 3 when you join this college, you have an Armor Class of 10 plus your Dexterity modifier plus your Charisma modifier when you are wearing no armor and not using a shield.

Flagrant Finesse

Also at 3rd level, you gain the ability to use your Charisma in place of your Dexterity when making a weapon attack with a ranged or finesse weapon. When doing so, the damage inflicted becomes psychic or fire (your choice when you attack).

Once per turn as a bonus action when you hit an enemy with a weapon attack with a ranged or finesse weapon, you may choose to taunt them. An enemy who is so taunted has disadvantage to attack any creature other than you until the end of your next turn. A creature can only be subjected to one taunt at a time, with new ones superseding the previous one. Creatures who cannot be charmed are immune to this effect.

Burning Retort

Also at level 3, when an enemy makes an attack roll against a creature that has a Bardic Inspiration die from you, the targeted creature can roll that die and choose to inflict that much fire or psychic damage against the attacking enemy. If the enemy is not immune to the damage or to being frightened, it gains disadvantage on all attacks made against the creature that used the die until the end of its next turn, including the attack that triggered this. The creature can decide to use the die in this fashion before or after the initial attack roll is made, but only before the result has been announced.

Blazing Web of Song and Steel

Starting at level 6, whenever an enemy you can see makes an attack against another creature or casts a spell that targets one or more of your allies that you can see but not you, as a reaction you can either cast a spell with a casting time of 1 action that targets only the triggering enemy or an ally targeted by the triggering attack or spell, or make an attack using a ranged or finesse weapon against the triggering enemy.

Your reaction is processed before the triggering attack or spell is completed. If you inflicted fire or psychic damage against the enemy as part of the reaction, the enemy gains disadvantage on its attack roll for the attack or your ally gains advantage on any saving throw against the spell (as applicable).

A creature does not trigger this feature when attacking or casting spells against other characters who also possess it.

Blaze of Glory

At level 14, during your turn you may choose to blaze with energy as a bonus action. When you do so, you immediately regain one expended Bardic Inspiration die, and can spend 1 or more of your bard Hit Dice to regain HP.

The other effects of this ability last while you concentrate on it (as you would a spell) for up to one minute. You emit bright light in a 20 foot radius, and dim light for a further 20 feet. You have resistance to fire and psychic damage and cannot be frightened or charmed. On your turn, you may either dash, dodge, disengage, make a weapon attack with a ranged or finesse weapon, or cast a bard cantrip with a casting time of 1 action as a bonus action. You also have advantage on any Dexterity (Acrobatics) or Strength (Athletics) checks you make (except for checks made to swim). You cannot hide while in this state. Any attempt to do so ends the effect.

Once you have used this feature, you cannot use it again until you complete a long rest.


TotD: Clutterscale Peak


By Alexandra Erin

The enormous cavern was empty, or at least as empty as a place can be when there is a dragon inside it.

The brave adventurer stared in shocked horror and amazement not at the twenty-ton scaly beast but at the bare floors that were not piled high with gold, the vacant nooks and crannies that absolutely were not overflowing with precious jewels the size of their fists and heaps of coins, the crevasses that were definitely not brimming with ancient chalices and silver goblets and bejeweled swords that were maybe magical but certainly valuable.

“Wh… where did it all go?” he said, more to himself than to anyone else.

“All what?” the dragon answered anyway, in what would have been a soft voice had it emanated from a smaller instrument.

“The… the treasure,” the adventurer said. “Your hoard!”

“Oh, wow, that’s a harsh word,” the dragon said. “I never thought of myself as a hoarder. But, I mean, I guess it’s fair. I mean, it started out simply enough, just collecting shiny things because they caught my eye, and then it just turned a thing I did, and then… well, I hate to say it, but it became what I was. I didn’t own anything, it owned me.”

“But what did you do with it all?”

“I gave it up. It was just stuff, you know? Look how much more room I have. You know, I couldn’t even roll over before. And even before the piles got that high, there was nowhere for me to sleep that wasn’t on top of something. It was ghastly.”

“Don’t dragons like sleeping on top of coins?”

“Would you?”

“But dragons love gold!”

“I’m getting a kind of a vibe from you that tells me you do, too, but I doubt you’d bed down on it if you had a chance.”

“Enough, wyrm!” the adventurer said, drawing his sword. “You will tell me what you did with your treasure!”

“Oh, no, please!” the dragon said, cringing and shielding its eyes with its taloned forepaws. “Put it away!”

“I see you have heard the legend of my sword, aptly called Drakeslayer,” the adventurer said.

“No, no, it’s just… it’s so shiny, and I’m still, you know what they say about old habits…”

“I’m giving you to the count of three,” the adventurer said, taking a step forward. “One… two…”

“Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to take one little sword,” the dragon said.

If it makes you happy…

So, last week my increasingly scattered and growing family met in Florida to celebrate a late Christmas. It was a lot of fun, but also more jam-packed with activity than I’d expected. I hadn’t planned on it being any kind of a work week, but I thought that with the kind of inspiration and momentum I’d been having, there would be the odd spare moments where creativity flowed anyway and I was able to post a few things.

Well, there were more odd moments than spare ones, and more of both than there were moments where I could reliably connect to the internet on my tablet, so here we are. It was a lot of fun, and obviously it’s always great to spend time with my family while I can, but it’s also great to be back sitting in front of an actual computer in my own room.

In keeping with the theme of a late winter and a late Christmas, I had a late epiphany this year, too. On my way home yesterday, while we were in the air, something crystallized for me. I don’t remember where the chain of thought started, but it involved a lot of things that have been swirling around in my head: the fact that writing Tales of MU isn’t nearly as rewarding for me as it used to be, that I don’t do enough of the writing that I want to do, how often it happens that I think I want to write something and I think I’m full of ideas for it but then I sit down and nothing comes, how often just when something is going great I just completely lose all ability to can, how many projects that I started off really strong on (Harper’s Folly, The One Called Wander, and a few I haven’t posted as widely) and then just hit a wall on when I should have been hitting my stride…

I’ve thought of most of this as writer’s block or fear of success or other things over the years, but I think it comes down to one thing: my projects always fall apart at the point where I’m writing to please other people rather than myself.

I know, I know… I already have as personal/professional mantras things like you can’t please everyone, write what you love and people who love it, too, will find it, et cetera. And that’s all very well and good until you realize that the people who love what you write have found it, and without realizing it you’ve started worrying about keeping them happy.

I mean, it’s not that I don’t want my readers to be happy. It’s just that as goals go, that’s a more nebulous and harder to reach one than making myself happy.

I’m one person, and while I don’t have perfect information about my tastes and emotions and expectations, I have a better inventory of them than I could ever have for anyone else, much less an entire audience of individual and discrete anyone elses. I can write a thing that I like and be confident in how much I like it. I can never be that confident in writing a thing and thinking my audience will like this.

And it’s not like I ever focus exclusively on the goal of pleasing other people, but sooner or later I’ll find myself in a situation where a thought occurs to me that goes something like, “Wow, I’d better make sure this is a good one,” whether it’s because I just got paid a chunk of money for it, or because I’m catching up on missed deadlines, or I’ve looked at reader comments and noticed that expectations are running high (or even just that people are really into the storyline), and as soon as that thought is in my head, then without even noticing I switch gears… and in particular I’m switching from the high-performance gear of writing something I’m excited about because I’m excited about it to trying to write to please an invisible and imaginary construct in my head.

Name a thing that I’ve been struggling with and I’ve probably said “I’m just not happy with the way it’s shaping up,” and that’s generally true, but it’s even more true that I haven’t been shaping it up to try to make myself happy. I’ve been trying to imagine what will make some generalized other happy and neither being personally happy with the results nor been able to convince myself that my idealized audience will be, either.

I’ve been going through this cycle with Tales of MU for a long time now where I’m just not feeling anything I’m writing, it becomes a noticeable problem, I stop and evaluate and figure out where to go with it that does excite me, and things start moving… and then I hit the same rut. And that’s because I’m only thinking about what I think and feel about the story in the moments of crisis where I’m trying to figure out how to get it moving again. When it is in motion, my attention inevitably (so far) shifts to “But what do the readers want?” and then it grinds to a halt.

This kind of introspection doesn’t tend to lead anywhere without an action plan attached to it. I don’t have such a plan at the moment. I have many times resolved in the past to focus more on the sorts of things I want to write and to do so apologetically, so I don’t want to just say that I’m going to do this thing. I think the reason I’ve failed to keep it going in the past is not understanding the process by which that morphs over time into trying to please the audience I’ve attracted by doing so, so I could just say “forewarned is forearmed” and press on ahead.

am going to be focusing on writing to please myself and telling myself that forewarned is forearmed, re: the cycle described above. I’m just also recognizing that this isn’t enough, in and of itself. I think perhaps something like a “mindfulness exercise” where I remind myself of these things on a regular basis might work. I wonder if it would be weird to set reminders in a digital calendar to tell myself that I write best when I write for myself and that trying to write to please others goes nowhere would be weird. Having said that, I wonder if I care.

Stuff to think about.

It’s happenstance of circumstance that I didn’t post a MU chapter last Monday, but I’m kind of glad that it happened because it’s very much a chapter I wrote in an attempt to imagine an audience and then imagine what would please them. It’s also more due to circumstance than anything else (the timeframe I was working in when I set the return) that I wound up with Monday as a MU posting date. I’m going to switch it to Friday to give me a chance to get back into the higher gear this week and have a chapter I’m happy with.

I guess that is something of a plan.

Quick Note

I am (and have been) off with my family celebrating a belated family Christmas. I was not planning on treating this as a work week, though I did come into this with the expectation that I’d be blogging semi-regularly during it and polishing and posting a few things I had previously written, but as is usual for these get togethers I overestimated the amount of quiet downtime I would have and—even moreso than usual in this case—the amount of internet connectivity I would have.

So, just letting you all know why I’ve gone completely quiet. I’ll be back in the saddle next week for a regular work week, allowing for Monday off to recover from the travails of travels. Everybody enjoy the weekend!