Dinosaurs in Dungeons & Dragons

Scan of the Tyranosauraus Rex stat block from the Expert Rules, BECMI edition of D&D

I don’t like dinosaurs in my Dungeons & Dragons and despite them being there from the very start, I know I’m not the only one (I checked). 

However, the time has arrived in our 5th edition D&D game when one of the casters has the Polymorph spell, has reached level 8 and so wants to polymorph themselves in to the most powerful beast the spell supports.  At the time of writing this post, that beast is the Tyrannosaurus Rex.  There are two other CR8 official beasts but one is a whale and the other (from an adventure, not a core rulebook) is a giant crab.  So the Rex it is.

Luckily for me, it turns out my polymorphing player also doesn’t like the idea of dinosaurs in D&D.  Before I’d broached the subject, he asked if we could do something so that during a fight he’s not declaring that he’ll be turning himself in to a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

As a result of this unexpected good news, I’m reskinning; so in a spark of unoriginality I’m branding all dinosaurs Tyrant reptiles and then adding descriptions or monikers to them.  My player is also working up a different physical description to go with the renamed Rex.  Maybe, when announced in-game, some players will think doesn’t he just mean the Tyrannosaurus Rex and why isn’t he using that name.  That’s fine, for me and my polymorphing player at least, it matters.

I don’t want to just dump all the dinosaurs; for a start, I’d have to find a CR8 beast to make sure the Polymorph spell doesn’t lose potency, but also if the characters ever go to Chult or any adventures set there, I don’t want to be replacing huge swathes of beasts.  The alternative I’ve chosen, thinking of new Tyrant names for them, isn’t going to be that hard.

There are other posts online (Reddit for example) with many of these suggestions, and a lot of folk saying “why bother, dinosaurs are fine in D&D“?  As I thought about it last night there are really two aspects that have irritated me since I started playing (in the 80’s).  Firstly, the names are anachronistic as far as I’m concerned.  They’re too scientific, too tied in my head to the Victorians who invented them, and I just can’t separate that out.  Secondly, when I was young, I read about the ‘real world’ which had dinosaurs, or I read fantasy books, which had dragons and magic.  I didn’t (I’m sure there are some) read any books or watch any shockingly bad TV which had magic and dinosaurs, and so I’m not able to easily assimilate the idea that dinosaurs exist in a fantasy setting.  It’s daft, and there’s no good reason for it ultimately, but in my head-canon, Dinosaurs are real, and Dragons are fantasy and D&D is a game of fantasy.

So anyway, here’s a bunch of unoriginal names for core 5th edition dinosaurs based on calling them Tyrant reptiles.  Apologies if this unintentionally rips off anyone else’s ideas.

DinosaurTyrant reptile name(s)
AllosaurusSharptooth (Tyrant)
AnkylosaurusWhiptail (Tyrant), Tyrant Juggernaut
BrontosaurusTyrant Behemoth
DeinonychusSickletalon Tyrant, Fastclaw (Tyrant), Shredder (Tyrant)
DimetrodonSpineback (Tyrant)
HadrosaurusBeaked Tyrant, Duck-billed Tyrant, Crested Tyrant.
PlesiosaurusDeep Tyrant, Tyrant of the Deep, Sawtooth (Tyrant)
PteranodonCrestwing (Tyrant)
QuetzalcoatlusSkywing (Tyrant)
StegosaurusPlateback (Tyrant)
TriceratopsRhino-tyrant, Trihorn (Tyrant), Triple-Horn (Tyrant)
TyrannosaurusTyrant Sovereign, Tyrant Alpha, Apex Tyrant, or just Tyrant.
VelociraptorTyrant Hunter

I’m not overly fond of ‘Beaked Tyrant’ (and some of the others are a bit weak) but I may come back and change that one (or more) later.  It’s a start.

Edit: All good ideas are inevitably re-inventing the wheel, and someone pointed out to me today this Eberron sourcebook on the DMs Guild which does pretty much exactly what I’ve done here but has a set of different entries.


Evil in Dungeons and Dragons

I’m sure there are a hundred blog posts about playing evil characters in D&D games.  I’ve read some.  I just wanted to get my own theory down in writing.

Firstly, and most obviously, D&D is generally about playing heroes and heroines, and neither of those tend towards evil.  Yes, some great heroes and heroines have been a touch vengeful, and some have done things you might consider rather naughty, but they tend to get redeemed at the end.  If you’re starting out evil and your intent is to roleplay seeking redemption, congratulations, you’ve found the only time I’d be comfortable letting someone do it, and it won’t be easy.

Otherwise, I don’t think you should play evil characters in D&D.  Some people disagree.

Apart from the issue of heroes and heroines though, I think the real problem for me is that people playing evil characters don’t actually mean evil, they mean chaotic, or troublesome, or selfish, or greedy.  Those aren’t purely evil traits.  There are plenty of good people in the world who are selfish.  Plenty of greedy people who are inherently good.  Plenty of people who cause chaos but don’t have a bad bone in their body.  Yes, in the polarised D&D world most evil people tend towards being selfish and greedy, but they aren’t exclusive owners of those sins.

Evil people do evil things.  Not mean things.  Not naughty things.  Not unpleasant things.  Actual, evil things.

People who want to play evil characters should have to recount their childhood when they grew up killing the neighbouring villager’s pets.  Or, how they betrayed their own brother and threw him down a well at the age of 7.  Or you know, evil stuff.

Evil is the thing we should be fighting against.  Evil is all the shit that’s wrong in this world and every fantasy world there has ever been.  Evil is the great tyrant.  There’s no space in heroic adventuring parties for people who are pretend-evil, and actual evil people wouldn’t last long enough to make it out of the tavern with their first job.

D&D 5th Edition

wallpaper_BeholderI really wasn’t that impressed with 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.  To be fair, I’d pretty much stopped playing by the time it was released, and only got to play a few fitful sessions.  I spent more time playing 3rd Edition (and 3.5), but no where near as much time as I spent playing 2nd Edition AD&D.

The MMO origins in 4th Edition were clearly evident, and the intent to ‘gamify’ the game to make it appeal to MMO players was both interesting and also frustrating.  It become more mechanical than 3rd Edition without any major advantage and utterly obscured the roleplaying aspect behind book-keeping.  Not everyone will agree, naturally.

When I heard about D&D Next, or 5th Edition I wasn’t really that excited.  We didn’t have time to play anyway, the friends we played with had mostly moved away, and I’d become a bit disillusioned.  Spending a good number of hours to prepare for a game you only played two or three times a year was hard and not doing enough prep meant the games weren’t as enjoyable for anyone as they should be.  We tried Warhammer FRP, we tried Call of Cthulhu and we tried D&D 4th Edition, but nothing had stuck, so 5th Edition seemed like it had come too late.

However, I read the freely released PDF’s when I got around to it – and they’re exciting.  They’re exciting because they garner a feeling in me similar to that when I read the original Dungeons & Dragons Basic (red) and Expert (blue) books.  Here was a light set of rules, that supported play, but encouraged roleplay.

Gone are mandatory 5 foot squares and military precision during combat, back is the option for purely narrative combat, but with the added light-weight structure if you want or need it.

At the same time, a friend introduced us to Roll20 (http://www.roll20.net), which doesn’t look perfect, but looks good enough to actually do some roleplaying without needing to be in the same room as all of the other players.

So for the first time in a long time I’m excited about roleplaying and I’m especially excited about it being Dungeons & Dragons, which is how I got into this hobby in the first place.


D&D 4e Rules I got Wrong

Probably a recurring theme, but here’s the first 4th edition D&D rule that we’ve been doing wrong

1. You only roll once to attack, even when you’re about to Critical.

It looks like we skimmed the rules around this section, or we read them and then forgot them, or we just plain got them confused.  When you roll to attack, if you roll a 20* then you automatically hit.  You also have the chance to cause a critical hit.  The determination of whether it’s a critical hit is simple.  Does your total attack roll score enough to hit.  If it does, you criticalled, if it doesn’t you still hit, but for regular damage.

So if the enemy AC is 23, and you roll 20, and add 2 for a total of 22, you hit but don’t crit, if your total turned out to be 24, you would have caused a crit instead.  This gives you the chance to hit something 1 in 20 times that you might never otherwise be able to hit, and also gives you an increasing chance to crit against creatures as you increase your attack bonuses off of that automatic hit.

Let me know if I’m still wrong 😉

* A 20 is always an automatic hit, some weapons have an increase critical hit range (19-20), if you roll a 19 and the total is enough to hit, you crit, but if you roll a 19 and the total is not enough to hit, you miss and don’t crit.  Only a natural 20 is enough to automatically hit, no matter what the weapon.

More encounters

Wrote a couple more 4th edition D&D encounters last night, again won’t really know how well they play out until the characters get to them (maybe this week, maybe not, depends how quick we get through the remaining encounters in the ‘intro’ adventure).

I knocked up a quick spreadsheet (yes Grete), which does the work of adding up the numbers so you can play with how many of each creature type you want included.  That makes it easy to move between a load of minions and a few tough mobs, to more tough mobs and fewer minions while staying within your XP budget.

I did flirt briefly with the idea of signing up to WoTC’s D&D Insider thing which gives you access to some online tools, but decided not to in the end, we’re on a budget this month for one, and secondly I think I can probably hack together anything I really need.  We used to do all this by hand you know 🙂  I’ve enjoyed working out the maps for the encounters as well, trying to take into consideration the different kinds of terrain and situations that affect abilities, to spice things up.

The three encounters are sort of bridging encounters between the starter adventure and the published module I want to run.  I’ve added some treasure although it’s a bit of guesswork as to how much I should be giving out.  All-in-all it should be enough to get the PC’s to 2nd level and give them some excitement.  We’ll see if they turn into pushovers or are so deadly the PC’s die three times over.

D&D 4e – Creating Encounters

I tried my hand at creating an encounter last night using the guidelines in the 4e DMG – and I have to say, I found it a lot more intuitive than it was in v3, and none of the random guesswork and knowledge of creatures required in 1st and 2nd edition.

We’ll see how it plays out when the party meets the bad guys.   I can see that it could turn out a little formulaic, but then it’s based on a formula so there’s always going to be that risk, the difference will be how well a DM can turn things around to give the same results without always ending up with the same encounter structure.

I created a 4th level encounter for a party of 5 1st level characters, which makes it a pretty tough encounter.  I love minions, in older versions of D&D you’d end up to 2 or 3 tough creatures and the fight would feel small, with 4e the encounter has 11 creatures and feels much larger and epic even if 6 of those have essentially 1hp.  I tried to make sure the terrain played a role, giving the enemy cover and adding some terrain which slows movement, and then picking creatures which could take advantage of that (don’t want to say *too* much since my players are reading!)

I certainly feel more confident that the encounter will at least be appropriate, without having to test it too hard or run through too many details, and that leaves me more time to think up exciting situations and more encounters.  I’d love more electronic tools for doing this, but I’m not going to pay Wizards for theirs, I may have a go at putting some basic creatures values into some spreadsheet tables and just giving myself the option to quickly build encounters and add the XP totals as we go, which is the only non-creative hard bit.

I may post the encounter was the players have defeated it.


I loved HeroQuest, even though I never really got to play it enough.  I have several versions, and some expansions, in various states of repair, and that means I have a lot of plastic mini’s that came with the game.  I’d mostly forgotten about them until last week, when I was wondering about getting some figures for our D&D sessions.  It suddenly occurred to me I probably had enough stashed away (I wanted something durable, and lightweight that we could chuck about on the battle map and not worry too much about) so I collected them all up and yep, there’s loads.

Mostly unpainted though – but I set about fixing that.  Finished up all the zombies (8 of them), and decided to start on the goblins (since both myself and Chris need a lot of zombies and goblins in the games at the moment).  I asked Grete if she wanted to lend a hand, and she did, helping paint her first miniatures.

Here’s the resulting goblin hoard (I base coated them yesterday so they’ve gone from nothing to game-ready in 2 days).

There’s 18 of them all-together including one I painted years ago.  It’s a superfast paint job, base coat, wash, dry brush, clothing, wash, drybrush, detail.  But it does the job for miniatures you’re going to be gaming with.

Now, if only I knew where to get the 4 red dragons in hard waring plastic resin I’ll need for the next game … 😉

Well, D&D 4E

I enjoyed running it a lot, I hope the players enjoyed playing it as much.  It’s hard work running 4e encounters, but it’s not totally stressful, just hard work.  In a good way.

We got four characters rolled up and two encounters out of the way between about 7:30pm and 1:30am including some socialising, some talking to NPC’s and a tiny bit of travel.

Good times.

D&D 4E

So, you’ve got 14 monsters in the encounter, say 10 Goblin Cutters, 3 Goblin Warriors and a Goblin Hexer.  They’re all on your battle map along with your four or five PC’s.

You’ve done the work and you know the order your monsters are going in, but, how do you remember which Goblin Cutter is which? I wonder what the best way of identifying them is.  There’s plenty of suggestions on the web about marking them with conditions (like marked, slowed, etc.) but nothing I can find using lazy-google-fu about just tracking which bloody one is which.

I might try sticking a small bit of paper underneath each one with a number on it for now.

I get to GM!

We’ve been playing D&D 4e for a few months now and it’s cool.  When you roleplay in your late 30’s, there’s a lot of life that can get in the way, kids, work, a bunch of stuff, so just getting together once a week can be a challenge.  But we’ve managed it mostly and our characters are coming along and we’re just setting off on another quest.

We’re also getting another player in the group but he can only play every other week, so rather than force him to miss out on some games we decided to run another game and alternate them.  And I get to run it!

Which means I just spent a whole wad of cash I don’t have on a bunch of D&D rulebooks I’ll probably use 5% of, to match the other dozens of rulebooks I have that I’ve never used 😉