Tag Archives: d&d

D&D Fifth Edition

I’ve been playing Dungeons & Dragons in one form or another since the late 90s. Granted, this doesn’t give me the lengthy pedigree of a truly veteran grognard (look it up) but I’ve seen a few editions come and go. More importantly. I was playing regularly at a time when one edition (3.5) went out the door and the new one (4th) came in. And I played that new edition for the majority of its life cycle.

Many words have been written about why 4th edition isn’t good. It was deeply polarizing in the player base. It was too video game-esque, too much like World of WarCraft. On and on, the forum arguments go. I’ve come to realize that none of it matters.

The truth is that learning how to play 3.5 and earlier editions of D&D was a nightmare. I remember pouring over the books I had for hours, trying to reverse engineer how all the math worked out to understand how characters worked. Even after I created my own characters, it was a constant struggle to remember “okay, so I add this and this to that, and this condition applies so I get that, so I do . . . how much damage again?” It wasn’t until I’d played for a while, with an experienced group, that I finally saw how it all worked out.

To be honest, 4th edition isn’t that much easier to figure out, but at least they have a nifty program that does all the math for you and just tells you “roll this and add this number.”

But even that isn’t the real problem. The real problem is that the structure  of the tabletop RPG can’t do what everyone is trying to make it do. There will never be “one system to rule them all.” And even if there was, you know what? It has an incredibly finite lifespan.

Here’s how it works. The core books that you need to run the game are released. So you buy those. The first supplement books come out and add neat stuff like new classes, new archetypes, or whatever. Some more books come out, and those are cool too. But there’s a tipping point. There’s a peak level of purchase-interest in any game system and once you’ve passed it, new books become less appealing. Maybe it’s because you’re starting to resent the amount of money it’s costing or maybe you just have everything that you need.

My personal theory is that eventually, the books just start getting too weird. 4th edition had this problem in spades. You needed the first player’s handbook to play the game and it contained the basic classes. Okay, great. Players Handbook 2 contained a lot of well-liked stuff that was left out from the first one; classes like the barbarian, bad, druid, and sorcerer. Even the new classes still made sense and fit into the traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy archetypes. Okay, cool.

But by the time the Player’s Handbook 3 rolled around, you’ve got a book filled with classes like the ardent and the battlemind. There is no one who can tell you what those are supposed to look like without refering to the book. There’s no fantasy archetype that’s being fulfilled here, which is what classes are supposed to do.

What happens from here? Honestly, I have three different sets of RPG on the bookshelf behind me that are some variation of the “Player’s Handbook, Gamemaster’s Guide, and Monster Manuel” trio. (D&D 3.5, D&D 4, and Pathfinder, if you’re curious). How many more times am I going to buy a Player’s Handbook and a Monster Manuel? It’s starting to feel a little old.

Let’s just say I don’t envy this particular business model too much.

Maybe when the books are finally released, I’ll be blown away and rush out and buy them. I remember when the 4th edition books were so new and shiny and I couldn’t wait to play them. That was a good feeling. I’d like to recapture it again . . . but at this point, I’m starting to think it’s all same dance, different song. Or maybe it’s the same sing, different dance. Whatever. You get my meaning.

Myers-Briggs And RPG Classes

Buckle up, because I’m about to go full nerd in this post. This will be your only warning.

I have something of a fascination with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and its variant the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. The Keirsey is my favorite between the two; I like his methodology after having read his book. My interest in typology comes not from a true scientific basis (I’ve heard it said that typology has as much scientific accuracy as a fortune cookie) but from the perspective of a writer. I spend a lot of time thinking fictional personalities and archetypes and the MBTI and KTS provide a language to facilitate such discussion.

One way this interest has manifested itself is an attempt to correlate MBTI results with character classes in roleplaying games, both tabletop and virtual. Although RPGs encourage you to create and be whoever and whatever you desire, I have found in my gaming career that most, if not all, players will trend towards a few particular archetypes. Some will play the same type of character repeatedly while others will choose from a small but interconnected pool.

There are two particular factors I’ve noticed that motivate these choices: archetype and mechanics. Archetype refers to the fantasy and storytelling aspect of a particular character: wizards are brilliant and studious, rogues are, well, roguish and devil-may-care, etc. A person may be drawn to a character because he or she enjoys the style, perhaps because it synchronizes well with one’s own internal version of the idealized self. In this example, what the character does in the game is secondary to what the character is in the fantasy context.

The second factor is the mechanical aspect. This is the inverse of the archetype aspect. A player operating from this perspective prefers characters that perform a certain roll or function within the context of the game. It might be a preference for characters with a wide variety of options, lending itself to versatility, or it might be a character that plays a vital role, such as defending more vulnerable characters. The archetype of the character is only important if it informs what the character can do. The player will choose a villainous death knight over a heroic paladin if it turns out the death knight’s abilities make it better at protecting others.

I’m planning on writing more posts about this subject, particularly after I can gather some actual research data on what characters people play and compare that to self-reported MBTI types. So far, I’ve been able to poll my weekly D&D group, which is hardly a conclusive sampling. I’m hoping that this post will lead to more information so I have something to followup with.

I also have my hypothesis on how I assume the class/type arrangement will be. It can vary by game to game, of course, and I may end up writing up arrangements for a few different popular RPGs. The archetype aspect is the easier of the two aspects to arrange in this way. I may try doing the mechanical aspect in the future.

For this chart, I’m going to go with the “default” assumptions of the class’s archetype and flavor. I’m not going by any one particular game, although if you’re talking about the fantasy genre, in some form or another, you’re talking about Dungeons & Dragons, so feel free to free to that if you need a background context although not all of the classes have a direct D&D analogue.

I’ve also included a few notes about my choices and experience in arranging the classes. Generally speaking, I believe that the Sensing preference lends itself better to the more martial archetypes, compared to the abstract focus of iNtuition which trends towards a mystical or magical aspect. This is why all the rogue and fighter types are grouped into the S temperaments while the N types are all magic users to some degree.

RPG Class/MBTI Type Comparison According to Archetype

Guardian (SJ)

  • ESTJ: Marshal
  • ISTJ: Monk
  • ESFJ: Fighter (Warrior Archetype)
  • ISFJ: Fighter (Defender Archetype)

Artisan (SP

  • ESFP: Bard
  • ISFP: Rogue (Thief Archetype)
  • ESTP: Rogue (Swashbuckler Archetype)
  • ISTP: Ranger

Idealist (NF)

  • ENFP: Paladin
  • INFP: Druid
  • ENFJ: Cleric
  • INFJ: Shaman

Rational (NT)

  • ENTP: Artificer
  • INTP: Mage
  • ENTJ: Summoner
  • INTJ: Wizard

Guardian: In the guardian temperament, all of the class choices are all variations on the same martial archetype, but this does not mean they all fill the same rolls. The Marshal is a leader that supports the other characters while the monk is characterized by inner power, discipline, and focus. I chose not to use the term barbarian, as even though it’s an iconic part of many RPGs, the word carries more of a negative connotation than I’d prefer. Characters of that type can be considered part of the “Warrior Archetype” of the Fighter. Overall, we see a group of characters that, although different in ability, are categorized by their more down-to-earth nature and their focus on protecting or supporting others, whether through leadership, defense, or combat skills.

Artisan: For the most part, I think the choices here speak for themselves. The Bard was already referred to as the Performer in Keirseys’ types. This group, like the Guardians, is more martial than mystical as a result of their S, but these characters are more individualistic than the Guardians. I thought about changing the name of the Thief to something that didn’t imply criminal larceny, but the term is fairly well situated in the fantasy genre. The only one that seems out of place is the ISTP Ranger, but Keirsey describes them as “looking for any opportunity, and just because they feel like it, to play with their various toys: cars, motorcycles, boats, dune-buggies, hunting rifles, fishing tackle, scuba gear, and on and on.”

Idealist: This is the arrangement I feel the most confident about, possibly due to my own familiarity/bias as an NF. Cleric and Paladin were placed due to their Extroversion; in my opinion, these are characters that are leaders and champions of their churches and faiths which suggests an Extrovert mentality. Shamans and druids are more isolated and removed from social structure, meditating alone on the elements and natural world respectively, which to me indicates Introversion. All four derive their power from an abstract, mystical source, a trait they share with the other N temperament.

Rational: All four of the classes here are variations of the same core archetype, that of the mage. Fortunately, the mage archetype has many different permutations which allows for a wider variety. The Artificer could also be called the alchemist; this is the character that uses magical items or enchanted equipment such as potions and the like. The difference between wizard and mage was harder to articulate, due to the imprecision of the terminology, but in this context, the INTP mage was the more reclusive sort who would be focused on the study of magic while the INTJ wizard would more resemble Gandalf, an entity who is not eager to lead but steps in during moments of crisis.

Originally, I conceived of this list as mapping specifically to World of WarCraft’s classes, however, I decided to change to a more general approach when I realized that WoW’s classes were missing a few of the important fantasy archetypes. Even with the larger, more general approach to fantasy RPGs that I took, I still missed a few popular archetypes. I wasn’t sure where to include the fighter/mage and sorcerer, for example.

One final note: in preparing this list and reading through the descriptions, while there were a few choices I felt were very strong, most ended up being more arbitrary than anything. If I were to revisit this list, I might better note the places of ambiguity: mage, for example, might be better classified as xNTP, rather than indicating a particular preference for Extroversion or Introversion.

Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment and let me know where I got it right or wrong. And if you are feeling so inclined, feel free to post your own MBTI type and the class or classes you prefer to play, whether in WoW or in other RPGs. It’d be great to get some hard numbers for future comparisons.

My Take On The 10 Most Memorable D&D Monsters

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons around 1998 or so, which means I came in during the end of Second Edition. Due to the myriad ways Second Edition defied logical (THACO, I’m looking at you), it never really became more than a passing thing for me until several years later when I joined a group of players that I met through one of my college roommates. The rest, of course, is history; I started running my own games after that and continue to do so to this very day.

IO9 recently put out a list of the 10 most memorable monsters in Dungeons & Dragons. Since, at this point in my gaming career, I’ve DMed for twice as many campaigns as I’ve actually played in, I thought I’d take a look and give my opinion on these monsters.

One thing I learned early in my DMing career was that monsters are, in some ways, the DM’s version of the new spells and powers that the player characters acquire. I found myself buying books with new dragons or whatever so I could see what shiny new things I could throw at my players. I would look forward to unleashing a cool monster the way a player looked forward to unleashing a big spell. The fact that my cool monsters almost always died wasn’t the point; as a writer, I know the villain’s place and role in the story. Survival wasn’t the point. The goal of a good monster was to get the emotional reaction from the players: at first, fear and “oh god, we’re going to die” and then excitement as they manage to overcome the threat.

Anyway, let’s look at the list:

  1. The Beholder: I’m not sure I would have put the Beholder in the top slot, but there’s no denying that these guys are both iconic and effective. There’s just something about the Eye Tyrant that inspires fear among players; maybe it has something to do with their ability to fire disintegration beams from their eyes. I’ve never really used a beholder in a main villain capacity, but the few times I have unleashed one, the party was certainly considered. Come to think of it, I have that set of Beholder figurines I’ve never really used in a game before. Hmm…
  2. The Displacer Beast: Here’s my first disagreement. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually used a displacer beast in a game before. If I have, it certainly wasn’t iconic enough to mention. They’re annoying to fight with their ability to shift around, but at the end of the day, it’s still just a big cat with tentacles. Not quite as impressive as some of the other beasties on this list, in my opinion. Admittedly, they are probably the most iconic opponent a low-level party will face which might be one reason to include them. Still, in my opinion, these guys aren’t worth the number two slot.
  3. The Mimic: It’s a monster that pretends to be a piece of furniture, usually a treasure chest, because every DM knows that players are greedy and there’s nothing better than punishing greed with getting devoured. Mimics are amusing, but like the the displacer beast above, I’m not sure they deserve to be this high on the list. Even at low levels, I think there’s another “screw you” monster out there that makes even savvy players shiver, and it’s next on the list.
  4. The Rust Monster: Now we’re talking. Basically, it’s a big bug that rusts metal. It’s probably the least dangerous monster on this list, except for one thing: it rusts and eats metal. Any metal. Yes, including the ancient coldforged sword of your ancestors and your masterwork plate armor. I had a player who was playing a fearless crusader run away from a battle against one of these guys. Those are some of the moments that make DMing worth it. I love these guys, because they create a threat that the players take seriously but aren’t incredibly lethal and potentially disruptive to the story itself.
  5. The Gelatinous Cube: Sure, it’s basically a living cube of acidic gelatin, but there’s one thing the IO9 list doesn’t mention: the gelatinous cube is transparent and nearly invisible in dark places. They’re the perfect monster for ratcheting up the paranoia factor, especially if the unlucky player discovers the cube’s presence by walking facefirst into it and getting engulfed. Good times.
  6. The Owlbear: Yes, it might be iconic, yes, even this list notes that they’re hilarious . . . but I really hate owlbears, for all the reasons listed in this comic. Owlbears remind me of the time earlier in D&D’s life cycle when you had really freaking strange monsters, like a carnivorous tree stump with a rabbit attached to its head to lure prey. I wish I was making that up, but I’m really not. No owlbear has ever appeared in one of my games and no player has ever asked, “hey, why aren’t there any owlbears in this game?”
  7. The Lich: Now we’re talking. Liches are awesome. They’re perfect for playing the arch-villain, but they’re just as useful as information brokers or other roles. As soon as one shows up, you know you’re dealing with the big leagues. In my opinion, these undead spellcasters deserve to be way higher than number 7. I might be a little biased since the final villain of my last campaign was a powerful lich, but regardless, these guys are intelligent, powerful, and dangerous. Best of all, they haven’t had their mystery and villainy peeled away, unlike what happened to vampires.
  8. The Drow: Here’s my number one pick. Easily. Drow are the ultimate bad guys. They manage to be murderously chaotic and yet maintain a rigid social structure and noble House system. They are stylish. They’re dangerous. I recall reading somewhere that game books and magazines that featured a drow on the cover would often sell better than other issues and I believe it. While they have suffered the same villain-decay as vampires due to so many players wanting to play Chaotic Good rebels, for me, there’s nothing better than the drow in their true, evil form. For those who are expecting the Drizzt clone character, unleashing a no-holds-barred evil drow is a satisfying experience. I’ve run one entire campaign focused on the drow . . . and don’t tell my players this, but I’ve got another one slowly growing in the back of my mind. The drow are my number one pick, hands-down.
  9. The Mind Flayer: I like these guys, but I think they’re a little too far on the fringe for most players. Sure, the idea of an alien squid monster that eats brains is scary, but I’ve also had the experience of telling the party “you see a mind flayer” and been given blank looks. I don’t think enough attention has been given to mind flayers to really elevate them in the ranks of liches, drow, and beholders . . . which is a shame, because these guys deserve to be in those ranks. In this case, I think number 9 is a good place for them on the list.
  10. The Tarrasque: The Tarrasque is the urban legend monster for a game that is focused on playing make-believe with your friends. Despite how often I’ve heard about the Tarrasque, I’ve never actually unleashed one, nor do I know any DMs that have done so. Regardless, the fact that they so tough and powerful means their presence can be felt just by mentioning their name, even by players that haven’t fought one; the Tarrasque might well be the inverse of the mind flayer in this regard. I think number 10 is a good place for the Tarrasque . . . and I’d like to note that I plan to use one at least once in my DMing career.

And that brings us to the end of the list. Overall, I think it’s a good one, aside from reshuffling some of the rankings and dropping owlbears entirely. I went back and forth in my mind on whether or not dragons deserved to be on the list. It’s tough to say, because on the one hand, dragons are always attention-grabbers when they show up in my campaigns. On the other hand, they’re all over the fantasy genre, so it might be tough to say how memorable they are. At the very least, I think the Red Dragon is scary enough to earn a spot on the list.

Oh, and the Pit Fiend. You can’t have a list of awesome monsters without mentioning the Pit Fiend. He definitely deserves to be on here.

So, let’s look at my revised list for the Top 10 most memorable monsters:

  1. The Drow
  2. The Lich
  3. The Beholder
  4. The Rust Monster
  5. The Red Dragon
  6. The Gelatinous Cube
  7. The Pit Fiend
  8. The Mimic
  9. The Mind Flayer
  10. The Tarrasque

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Entirely confused about what I’m talking about? Feel free to share your thoughts.