The Flanking Rule: Why Many DMs Hate It and Why I’ll Still Use It

I never realized when I began writing this blog just how big a hot-button issue flanking is. Personally, being a longtime player of not just Dungeons and Dragons but also various war games, including quasi–war games like Sid Meier’s Civilization series, I thought using the optional flanking rule on page 251 of the fifth-edition Dungeon Master’s Guide was a no-brainer. Yeah, D&D is a game in which silly things happen on the regular, but given a choice, I still like to err on the side of verisimilitude, and it’s a simple fact of life that if you’re being attacked by someone in front of you and someone behind you, you’re going to get the tar kicked out of you.

But after getting some negative feedback to my advocacy of the flanking rule (including one Reddit poster who went so far as to say that as far as he was concerned, it invalidated everything else I say!), I decided to put some feelers out to learn why, exactly, some players are vehemently against granting advantage on attacks against a flanked enemy.

The rules of D&D 5E are written with considerable care and meant to be taken absolutely literally, so instead of glossing as I usually do, I’m going to reproduce the exact wording of this rule, in its entirety: (more…)

Reader Questions: Goblin Stealth and Retreating Monsters

Q: I recently purchased a copy of Live To Tell The Tale, and I must say, excellent work. But I was confused by all of the hiding and Stealth in the first scenario. There were times it seemed the goblins were moving, rolling Stealth, attacking, moving, rolling Stealth to Hide. What were all those Stealth rolls? And what about all of the Perception rolls that the players were doing during their turns? Do those count as part of their action?

A: A large part of that encounter has to do with the goblins’ Nimble Escape feature, which lets them Hide as a bonus action. In order to Hide successfully, a goblin has to (a) be out of view and (b) make a Stealth roll that exceeds every player character’s passive Perception. Once it’s made a successful Stealth check, it doesn’t have to keep making Stealth checks—it stays hidden until it does something that gives its position away, or until an opponent choosing the Search action finds it (which requires him or her to make a Perception check). Once it’s been seen, to Hide again requires another Stealth check, and so on. (more…)

Thoughts on Building Encounters

If you’re a dungeon master, you have a choice of running your players through published adventures such as Storm King’s Thunder, Curse of Strahd and the Tyranny of Dragons duology, or writing your own material from scratch. I’ve usually taken the latter approach, although with my current players—a group of mostly newcomers to Dungeons and Dragons—I’ve opted for a mix, starting them off with The Lost Mine of Phandelver, then a homebrew quickie, then Tyranny of Dragons peppered with personal sidequests.

Published adventures often give little or no guidance on how monsters—especially ones in random encounters—ought to behave, and occasionally, what guidance they give is inconsistent with what would be optimal, given a monster’s abilities and features. So a large part of my motivation behind writing this blog has been to provide that guidance, so that other DMs don’t have to figure it out on the fly, potentially resulting in lackluster encounters.

But when you’re writing your own material, you have all kinds of freedom. You decide what environments the player characters will travel through. You decide what villains they’ll fight, what those villains’ plans are and what kind of minions those villains will have. You decide what kind of help and hindrances the PCs will encounter along the way. And here’s a point of underrated importance: You draw the maps. (more…)

Live to Tell the Tale: An Introduction to Combat Tactics for D&D Players

In writing this blog, I’ve unleashed a wave of clever, highly evolved monsters upon the D&D world. It’s only fair that I now give players the tools they need to fight back . . . and live.

Live to Tell the Tale: An Introduction to Combat Tactics for Dungeons and Dragons Players is a 67-page e-book that examines combat roles, class features, party composition, positioning, debilitating conditions, attacking combinations, action economy, and the ever-important consideration of the best ways to run away. If you’re a beginning D&D player unsure what to do when you get into a fight, this e-book will point you in the right direction; if you’re an intermediate player, it will help you win more and die less. If you’re a dungeon master with a group of new players, buy a copy and share it with them. Although it’s a PDF download, it’s formatted to be printed as a booklet, if you care to do that. (In Adobe Reader’s Print menu, under Page Sizing and Handling, select Booklet.)

One thing I want to be clear about: This is not a book about how to create a fully optimized character from square one. Just the opposite. “Real roleplayers” are my people. If you want to create an idiot savant sorcerer, a half-orc cleric/bard or a gnome ranger, I wholeheartedly support that. Do what you love. But, that being said, if you love that character, you need to keep him or her alive!

Here’s the secret: Viability doesn’t depend on stats. It depends on behavior. That’s what this book is about: how to get the most from your creation in combat, so that he or she lives long enough to retire and tell boring stories about the old days. (more…)

Sorry I’ve Been AWOL

Hey, readers! It’s been a little dead here lately, what with my picking up some paying work that took priority, and also the fact that I’m working on a side project that I think many of you will enjoy. I’ve been getting your requests, and they’re all going in the pipe, even if I haven’t acknowledged them yet. More is on the way, I promise.