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.


Skyrim – main quest line

I finally finished Skyrim’s main quest line yesterday.  I managed to stay out of the civil war for the whole quest line, and felt quite pleased that I brokered a short truce so I could briefly capture a dragon.  I still stand by everything I wrote in this article, but I have to say toward the end the main quest was pretty decent.

Of course, the way in which I play Skyrim (and games like it) means that it was also entirely trivial by the time I got around to it.  In my head, I want to do ‘everything’ before I complete the main quest in games such as Skyrim or Dragon Age.  That means I’m usually at the top of the level range the quests are designed for, I’ve found all the locations, got all the gear, etc.

Still, despite that, the main quest was interesting and had some nice unique locations.  I’d like to spend more time exploring Blackreach for example.  Once I’d completed the main quest, I moved on to the civil war quest (it starts up again as soon as you capture the dragon basically, when your truce is no longer needed).

With Skyrim, if you just follow the civil war quest it forces you to explore, find locations, and survive epic battles.  However, since I’d found all those places before, and I could kill any of the enemies involved in the epic battles in one or two strikes of a sword, it was more a case of just fast travelling, saying hello to the quest giver, fast travelling, killing 50 bad guys, rinse and repeat.  It would be more exciting, I suspect, if you did this alongside the rest of the game, but it means some quests aren’t available to you as you take various cities, so I left it until I’d done as much as I could stomach of the rest of the game.

This being Skyrim though – the final battle of the civil war quest bugged out on me.  Now every time I try and go into Windhelm it tells me I must help the soldiers defeat everyone before I can enter (and then lets me enter anyway), and all the time I’m inside it plays the battle music.  Ulfric’s body remains on the floor of the Jarl’s hall, and no new Jarl has arrived (not sure if one should).  So the whole thing feels a bit broken.

Anyway, glad I’ve finally done enough to say ‘I’m finished’ with Skyrim.  Like Oblivion before it, I actually feel relieved I’ve done with it for some reason.

An Open Letter to Game Developers – Content, not Hair Styles

Ground rules for this rant about computer (roleplaying) games,

  1. I know some players absolutely love being able to customise how their character looks to the nth degree
  2. I know that with the ability to customise appearance, and to change appearance based on the gear you’re wearing in the game, is rumoured to capture a larger audience
  3. I know that funding for Feature X does not necessarily impact on funding for Feature Y (so less of X does not mean more of Y, or more of Y does not mean X suffers).

Given those basic ground rules, here we go.

Dear games developers, mostly roleplaying games developers

To a reasonably large extent, I don’t care how my character looks, but I do care if all the locations are just the same rehashed map over and over again (I’m looking at you Dragon Age 2).

Mostly, I don’t really mind if I only have say, 2 hair styles and 1 nose to pick from at character creation.  But I do care if all the quests are similar and there’s no epic storyline to follow other than ‘buy your way out of debt’ (hey, DA2, looking at you again!)

Yes, I absolutely want to be able to invest in my character, because being invested makes the gaming experience that much better, and part of that is being able to change how my character looks.  But let’s be honest, I’m not going to make him look like me (fat, fourty, hairy) so a small sample of heroic male and heroic female appearances will do.  Also, armour is armour, I don’t mind if you use the same shape and just change the colour, really.

Instead of spending time and money developing the game engine so it can handle all that customisation and doing all the hard work necessary to pull it off – why not invest that time and energy into content.

Quests, dialog, locations.  That’s what I want from a game.

Not to decide if my character has a hook nose, or a ever so slightly smaller hook nose.


Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas – why I love them

I read a review yesterday for the new DLC pack for Fallout: New Vegas called Honest Hearts.  To be fair, I didn’t read the whole review, I read a summary which basically suggested Honest Hearts wasn’t that great and that the quests were mostly fetch and collect stuff.  Compared to Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, that seemed out of place since the developers do a good job of disguising the quests so they don’t feel like ‘go here, fetch that’.

It got me thinking though.  What was it that I enjoyed most in the two Fallout games I’ve played (I never really played 1 and 2)?  After thinking about it, I believe the reviewer of Honest Hearts missed the point.  The quests aren’t what make Fallout 3 and New Vegas the games they are, it’s the side stories.

When I first played Fallout 3 on the PS3 I was blown away by the depth and richness of the world.  I came from an MMO background really, in terms of computer RPG’s, so I was expecting lots of little quests tied together, but the main one in Fallout 3 is actually quite simple.  Essentially it’s, ‘go to a small number of locations, find evidence of your father, piece together the story, and then make a decision at the end which finishes the game’.  But doing that took ages, because I was constantly dragged into the side quests.  The side quests are great, but even they aren’t what make the game essentially unforgettable, it’s the non-quest driven side stories.

Finding a vault, searching it, and finding journal entries, or computer logs, or snippets of information and putting together what happened in the war, or just after, or what happened in that vault to one or two people, or the entire population.  Finding a house in the middle of nowhere with some tiny piece of information about the owner, often sad, poignant, a reflection on what the Fallout world had become before the war, or the struggle that followed.  That was what made the game great.  Learning about the world, learning about the history.  Not having it given to you on a plate or purely in voice overs, but honest discovery.  If you just did the main quest, you’d miss it.  You had to go looking, had to go digging, open every box, check every terminal.  Find out of the way locations, en route to nowhere, and delve into their history.

Slowly, the sinister truth about the vaults became clear, and the heartache of a world destroyed came into focus.

I was initially disappointed with Fallout: New Vegas, it felt a little too civilised for me, I wanted more of the blasted world of Fallout 3.  Despite myself, I found it growing on me though, and eventually I bought into the story.  Sadly, constant crashes on the PS3 version meant I stuck to the main quest, did as little as necessary to complete the story and got through it more as a chore than a game.  But I recently re-bought it on the 360 (still in pocket after purchase, re-sale, and cheap re-purchase), and thanks to fewer crashes (3 in 80 hours, plus 2 almost-game-breaking bugs) I’m taking the time to go everywhere, search everything, do every quest, explore every vault.

The stories are still there.  The vault where people were basically driven insane so they could be researched, the vault in which people had to sacrifice one person every year to stay alive, the vault with too many people and an unlocked armoury.  In those locations you learn the back story by piecing it together, yourself, from journals and terminals.  You don’t need to, nothing in the main quests requires it.  You may need to go to the vault, but you can find what you need by just following the arrow – if you’re interested, if you want to find out, it’s there for you to find.

The writing is superb – I feel like I was there during the last moments of the lives of those vault dwellers, because the game authors take so much time to craft the words.

I picked up Honest Hearts and played through it in a weekend.  It’s a new location, rocky and hard to navigate, there aren’t many different enemies, and the story feels a tiny bit contrived.  But there’s an underlying story of loss, heartache, suffering and then optimism if you want to go looking for it.  Not only that, but there are little teasers of connection to the Mojave wasteland and vaults you’ve already been to.  While I was running around doing the collection quests, I was also searching every inch of caves for some sign of an old hunter who lived in the region and who documented his story on his computer terminals.  That story takes us from the war through his survival, and the slow regeneration of the land, including the first signs of new creatures that Fallout 3 players will know well.

It was fascinating, sad and heart wrenching, and as well written as anything else in the Fallout universe, but if you didn’t go looking for it, you might never find it.

None of this needs to be there.  The developers could just stick the same vault design in the ground, fill it with ghouls and leave it at that.  They don’t have to write these stories, they don’t have to populate the vaults or the buildings or the caves with history and sadness.  Quite a few gamers wouldn’t even notice, certainly not the people who brag about completing Fallout: New Vegas in 7 hours.  I’ve been playing it for 80 hours and I’ve only scratched the surface of the main quest.  I’m pleased they take the time to include this content, I’m grateful the development team get the time from their management and the people funding the game, it’s what makes them worth buying.

You can make me collect as many broken radios as you want, as long as when I get to the building they’re in, I can spend time learning about the world, the people who are or used to be in it, and hearing their stories.

(Oh, it would be nice if it didn’t crash too)

The Enemy Within – WFRP Campaign

This was about the fourth WFRP session, in the Enemy Within campaign.  The gaming sessions are quite long (most of a day), so we get through quite a bit of the material each time.  The PC’s having already finished Mistaken Identity and Shadows over Bögenhafen are just starting Death on the Reik.

To be frank, reading the Death on the Reik campaign is pretty hard work – it’s pretty non-linear and there’s a lot of stuff going on.  To give it the best shot you really need to do a lot of preparation and understand the motivations of everyone involved.  Have I done that?  Not yet – I tried, a few times, to read through everything, but one or two things just don’t gel and I’m really struggling to make it all fit in my mind.

Luckily (for me, not for them), a couple of the players arrived a little later than expected on Saturday and we ended up not getting through much of the session, plus we were all distracted by real life.  One of the problems of not playing often is when you do get together, you end up talking about a lot of non-game stuff.

Anyway, I think what we did was fun, hopefully the players enjoyed it, and I get longer to read the campaign again and try and resolve the things in my head that are causing it to feel broken.

Borderlands – mini-review

I still don’t buy many games for the PS3, but after finishing up the ones we had in the house I was looking for something fun and engaging.  I saw the following quote for Borderlands and thought I’d give it a shot (no pun intended),

87 bazillion guns

I’d also read a couple of comments about it being much like Fallout 3 but with more emphasis on the first person shooter element, and since I really loved Fallout 3 I was sold.  After the obligatory patch and system update, I was up and running.  I own a PS3, so my comments reflect that platform, although the game is available on most major gaming platforms.

The Setting

The first thing that struck me about the game setting is that it’s not only similar to Fallout 3, it could be Fallout 3.  The game takes place on Pandora, an apparently post-apocalyptic world full of bandits, small outposts of humanity and strange creatures.  There’s clearly plenty of advanced technology around including robots, satellites, big satellite uplinks, transport systems, etc., but the world has basically gone to shit and is overrun by gun wielding bandits of all shapes and sizes.  The human settlements have a distinctly movie-wild-west feel and although there aren’t any cowboy hats in view you get the feeling this is the Wild West by any other name.

The world is broken up into zones or distinct maps of various sizes.  Most of them are large, open areas but there are a few underground cavernous locations and one or two extensive indoor/industrial locations.  As you progress in power the story naturally progresses you through these different places.  I felt some of them were underused with only a few quests while others were heavily packed with content.   Some major locations contain quest centres (and so, friendly NPC’s) and you return to those often to pick up new quest or hand-in completed quests, while the other areas have mostly unfriendly NPC’s and are there for you to quest in.

The artwork is pretty impressive (although somewhat repetitive), and the game has a pretty big sense of scale.  Despite the size of some locations however, they still manage to feel very claustrophobic when required which is nice.

The Characters

Since it’s a roleplaying game (with FPS elements), there are a number of classes you can choose from.  There are four main characters, each representing a single class.

  • Soldier: A mercenary style character who favours combat rifles and shotguns.
  • Siren: The only female character, a wielder of elemental powers and sub-machine guns.
  • Hunter: A scrawny individual who likes sniper rifles.
  • Berserker: A huge brick of a man, preferring exploding devices and hitting things with his fists.

Each of the characters has a little bit of back-story, and the game intro presents them to you to give you an idea what they’re about.  The characters vary based on the skills they can spend points in when they level up along with a single unique skill each of them gets.  Soldiers have a deployable auto-gun, the Siren can turn invisible, the Hunter can summon a flying pet and the Berserker can go into a rage.  The additional skills support the class in various ways.  For example, Soldiers can improve their deployed gun, can give themselves ammo regeneration, increase their resistance to bullets, etc.  I completed the game with Soldier and have messed around briefly with the others.  On the assumption that the game boils down to ‘shooting everything you can find before it kills you’, the choice of class really only affects how you kill stuff and where you spend your money.

In the multi-player game, the class choices can support each other (for example, Soldiers can heal other characters with gunfire if they spend points in the right skill).

The Game-play

Borderlands boils down to ‘complete quests to gain levels and better gear and follow the main quest to complete the story’.  Not much different to Fallout 3 in that respect, although Borderlands makes it even easier to find side quests because they pop up in central locations and a little friendly robot shouts at you when there are new quests available.

Completing quests can involve killing enemies, locating objects or people and even buying equipment.  You are rewarded with experience points (so that you can level) and cash (so you can buy new equipment).  When you gain a new level you earn a skill point which you can use to customise your character.  It’s not possible to purchase all the skills so you’re going to end up specialised in some areas.

Equipment can be bought from some locations, found on dead enemies and looted from chests.  New equipment takes the following forms,

  • Guns – there probably are 87 bazillion guns, but if you’re being cynical it’s because most of them are randomly generated and vary only in minor ways.  There are 8 classes of gun (combat rifle, repeater (automatic pistol), revolver, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, sub-machine gun, alien weapons) and your character improves in their skill for each as they kill things with them.  Guns have varying amounts of damage, recoil, elemental damage (e.g. fire or acid), clip size, zoom, etc., etc.  Those attributes are generally randomly generated to result in the huge range of choice.  A lot of game time can be spent trying to find the ‘best’ gun in each of the categories you care about.
  • Grenades and grenade mods – grenades are carried around like ammunition, and you can equip a single grenade mod.  Grenade mods change how your grenades work and how much damage they do.  For example, turning them into proximity mines, bouncing bombs or even devices which transfer health from your enemies to you.
  • Class mods – a device which improves the effectiveness of your class skills (one equipped at a time at most).
  • Shields – again, your character can equip a single shield which provides defences against incoming damage, increases health, and other benefits.
  • Other – there are some other items in the game which I won’t go into, the above four are the ones you spend most time working out what to do with.

The quests are generally enjoyable and the mechanics usually engaging.  However, they do get repetitive.  It’s great killing 8 bandits, until you realise that just about any quest you complete needs you to kill 15-20 bandits and get into their camp to find something.  I guess it’s the nature of the FPS element, which brings me to …

The main difference between this RPG and others, is that combat is purely based on FPS tactics.  You have a gun, a cross-hair and the bad guys are shooting at you.  So you will need your regular FPS skill-set.  However, because it’s an RPG you can scale the game to your own skill level.  If you’re struggling, you can hang around an area killing stuff and getting a level or two and then retry a quest with your new found power.  I like that aspect, and when I found the quests getting too hard, I put in a bit of work and levelled and found the level at which I was more comfortable.

The Storyline

Borderlands has you chasing down a secret, hidden, mysterious vault (Fallout 3 much?) on Pandora.  You’re dumped from a bus outside a little settlement (so little it only has one person in it), which you immediately have to rescue from bandits.  Along the way you meet a robot (Claptrap) who shows you around, and are visited by a mysterious voice in your head (your guardian angel) who tells you to trust the robot.  From there, it’s all about the quests.  You start earning the trust of the locals while also trying to find out more about the vault.  As you progress through the storyline you learn small bits about the aliens who inhabited the planet and the corporations who are fighting over the vault.  However, it’s a pretty minimalist storyline to be fair, and most of the time is spent hunting down bad guys, terminating them with extreme prejudice and looting more stuff to sell.

The major quest line is pretty easy to spot and follow, although you’ll need to do the side quests to increase in power enough to achieve anything.  In many cases, the side quests are more entertaining.  The only issue is that they do get repetitive, there are only so many ways to say ‘travel to here, through these bad guys who you will need to kill, and collect something’.  I was a little disappointed with the end sequence of the game but won’t spoil it here for you.


The multi-player element of Borderlands is probably pretty good.  However, I’ve never played it so I can’t comment.  You can play two-player split screen on one console, on-line, or LAN based.  It’s co-operative multi-player, I believe, with no PvP element.  Having said that, there is a duel option, so during the game you can duel your opponents.  This is outside of the main scope of the multi-player game though, in my view.

Closing Comments

Borderlands was good fun in general.  I did get a little bored a couple of times after a long session, doing very similar missions over and over, but a break from the game helped, and coming back with fresh eyes made it enjoyable again.  I loved being able to scale the game myself, I’m not a huge FPS lover and I don’t have the skills of the average 8 year old, so being able to outlevel the bad guys when required really did make the game more enjoyable.  Another feature which helped avoid the repetition was that bad guys don’t chase you for ever.  If you’ve cleared a camp, and the bad guys are back and you can’t face killing them all again – just run through.  If you survive, they give up after a while, you just need to find a place you can get to which is safe.  Some people might hate those two features, saying they make the game too easy, but they allowed me to enjoy the content, play at my own pace, and complete the game without getting too frustrated.

The boss encounters were a little underwhelming, but I guess they match most FPS bosses (scoot-and-shoot the glowing bits), the cinematic style and boss info made them worthwhile in the end.

There’s definite replay value in the game, either as one of the other classes, or the same class with different skill choices.  Once you’ve completed the game on Walkthrough 1 you can start again on Walkthrough 2 with the same character, level and equipment.  All the enemies are boosted to your level, so the little dog-like beasts you killed at level 1 are now level 33 and ready to chew your face off.  I can see myself trying to beat it a second time before even trying another class.

Borderlands held my attention for the 5 or 6 days it took to finish it, provided something like 20+ hours of game-play on one run through, and had plenty of humour to keep me amused.  Well worth the asking price, in my view (if you accept that games cost what games cost), and I’ll probably hold onto it to see if there’s any downloadable content I want to see.

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.

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.

Blogging from the car

Thought I’d see if you can use the wordpress app to write posts off-line and what do you know, you can. We’re just on our way to weekly d&d (4th ed.) and the m1 north bound was slow bit it’s cleared up now. My fighter made it to level 5 last time we played but various events transpired against us and it’s been a few weeks since we got together.

Probably a lot of downtime things in this session, dead companion to replace, gear to restock etc.

SMORG (Smallish-Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game)

We’ve had MMORPGs (massively multi-player online roleplaying games) for a while and now we’re increasingly just calling them MORPGs (Multi-player online roleplaying games).

During a conversation with friends we decided you needed Smallish-Multiplayer Online Roleplaying games (SMORG) to cover old games which have shrinking player bases, games which never really took off, and games which naturally thrive with small groups of players.

So, feel free to use this term.