Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Play Paladins with Problems, Not Problem Paladins

Ask any given sample group of D&D/pathfinder players which character class they dislike the most, and there's a good chance the Paladin will be mentioned. This stems from the fact that Paladins are such an easy class to play badly, and many of us have one or more stories about a Paladin in the party that ruined the fun for everyone else.

Historically Paladins were required to be Lawful Good and had a strict code of conduct. Failure to adhere to that code could, at the DM's ruling, lead to the loss of the Paladin's powers. To avoid the risk of that, many Paladin players would be completely anal in the service of their Faith and alignment, leading to the creation of the term "Lawful Stupid". As a term, this is more disparaging than it is useful. It also assumes that the problems inherent to this sort of character are only present when a character's alignment is Lawful, which while quite likely, is not necessarily true. Let's use the term "Problem Paladin" instead, with the following definition:  a Problem Paladin is a character that sticks to their principles/code/religious tenets (often the absolute pursuit of their moral and ethical alignments) without any consideration for nuance or common sense.

Lawful Stupid
"Lawful Stupid"

When a paladin is not a Paladin

Okay, before I continue, I want to acknowledge that although this article is framed as advice for the players (and DMs) of members of the Paladin class, the points I'm making here can easily apply to a host of other characters. Because while "Paladin" may be a literal class in the D&D/Pathfinder games, the term "paladin" is an archetype—more generally, a "paladin" might be any character that serves some kind of higher power with loyalty and passion. That higher power could be a god or spiritual cause, as in the case of the Paladin class, or it could be something else: examples might include an individual, a bloodline, the throne of a nation (as opposed to whoever currently sits on it), a personal mission (such a quest for vengeance, peace, or anything in between), or even unusually high commitment to a personal code of honour.

Whenever a character (who may be of any class) serves a cause with fervour, possibly even fanaticism, then they are an example of the "paladin" archetype, and this article is about them too.

It's not all on the Players

Another quick sidebar: most of the advice in this article is directed towards the player of a paladin. But to all the DMs reading right now, this advice only works if you agree with it and are equally on board. I can make recommendations about how a nuanced paladin might be played until I'm blue in the face, but if you don't give the paladins in your party any leeway to make mistakes or bad choices without constant punishment, you reinforce the lesson that the paladin must be perfect, and perpetuate the issue of the Problem Paladin.

What actually is the Problem Paladin?

You might have a Problem Paladin in your party if you notice any of the following:
  • They always have to be right, and refuse to allow the possibility of compromise.
  • Every morally grey choice becomes an onerous argument with the paladin on one side and (usually) the entirety of the rest of the party on the other.
  • They actively prevent (or attempt to prevent) other characters from doing things that displease them.
  • The rest of the party actively attempt to keep the paladin out of the loop so they can get things done without the paladin blocking them.

At its least serious, Problem Paladin behaviour can derail a game and tie the party up in pointless arguments, usually repeatedly. A Problem Paladin might wants to punish every pickpocket, even when it would be a pain to turn them over to the authorities right now or their fellow party members are advocating mercy. They might refuse to release a prisoner taken during an adventure, even though it's impractical to deal with the logistics of having a prisoner alongside. Problem Paladins typically "win" every argument they get involved in, not necessarily because they are right, but because they are most stubborn. They expect the other characters to act in accordance with their beliefs, but won't offer their allies the same willingness to compromise.

At their worst, Problem Paladins bring harm or even death to other characters, not just themselves. A Problem Paladin might be so uncompromising against evil they attack the level 20 campaign villain, even though discretion would be the better part of valour. They might try and stop the party rogue from doing their job (and even threaten them with violence, jail time, or other repercussions), resulting in a divided party.

The most recent edition of Dungeons and Dragons has taken steps to ameliorate this problem. Alignment requirements are gone, and there are no longer strictly codified rules about what happens when a Paladin breaks their code. Like so much else, Fifth Edition leaves it up to the Dungeon Master to decide what happens. And this is why the first step to avoiding a Problem Paladin is the DM's to take. When running the game remember that Paladins aren't even required to be the ultimate boy scouts/girl guides any more.

Still, even if the rules and the DM are flexible, it's still easily to overplay a paladin-type. Concepts like "unyielding exemplar of justice" or "no one will stay me from my vengeance" might sound fun in theory, more fun than they're likely to be in practice.

Contention is Fun... Up to a Point



Party Conflict
"Party Conflict"

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I'm not advocating for all player characters in a campaign to be perfectly sympatico. Interpersonal drama between player characters is interesting. Characters should argue sometimes. But not all the time, about every minor thing. And they should be able to reach compromise... from both directions. The main thing DM and players all need to keep in mind is that regardless of any moral and ethical disagreements they may have throughout a campaign, a party of heroes needs to function. And when they do have a break down in communications, they should usually be able to solve the issue swiftly. If they can't get a single thing done without someone throwing a spanner in the works and digging in their heels then the question ought to be raised: why do these people continue to work together when they are so clearly incompatible?

If you look at your party and can't see a good reason why one or more characters wouldn't either be kicked out of the group or leave of their own volition, it's time to re-examine the social dynamics of that party. The players of such a dysfunctional party should consider making minor adjustments to how they play their characters to make them more open to compromise.

"Lawful Good" versus "lawful good"

I've already said it's not always the Lawful Good paladins, but it can't be avoided that they are likely to be the worst offenders here. Neutral, Chaotic, and Evil characters have more latitude. It can be harder to see how the Lawful Good character justifies making difficult choices.

I've talked before about my issues with D&D's alignment system, and one of the issues I raised is that there is no gradation between the extremes of a being that is the exemplar of its alignment, such as a Celestial, and the far more fallible nature of a mere mortal. You can see what I have to say on that subject by visiting The best things about 4th Edition that never should have been rolled back and scrolling down to the section titled "Alignment Simplification". You can also take a look at The Why and How of a Celestial Warlock for an illustration of how the unyielding Lawful Good can, in its own way, be quite harmful to mortals.

The point here is that celestials, devils, demons, and other outsiders from the aligned planes are the very avatar of their alignment. They simply cannot be any other way. Mortals occupy a space in the middle, and can choose who to be. But that freedom of choice is not a one-time deal. A mortal constantly chooses, in every moment, with every decision. And sometimes they choose differently to how you would expect.

One way to illustrate this key difference might be to capitalise the alignments of outsiders (eg. "Lawful Good") but treat the alignments of mortals as though they are lower case (eg. "lawful good"). The former represents an absolute. The latter is merely a strong pattern of behaviour.

As I put it in The Why and How of a Celestial Warlock, "Alignment Extremes of any kind are anathema to life as we know it". By the same token, alignment extremes in a player character can be anathema to the effective functioning of a player character party. The Paladin played as an extreme Lawful Good becomes "Lawful Stupid", and ends up being a Problem Paladin. A lower case lawful good Paladin is freer to make compromises, and take actions even when those actions leave them filled with doubt.

Imperfection is Interesting

As mentioned, the lower case lawful good Paladin acknowledges that there aren't always perfect answers. They are also prepared to accept that sometimes other characters have more expertise, and take what those experts have to say under advisement. They are willing to reach compromise when they cannot see a practical and better way forward.

They might feel that they have failed the tenets of their code when they have done so, and question their own commitment and faith. This is fine—actually, it's downright desirable. When a character fails to be perfect in their own estimation, they embark on an emotional and intellectual journey of self-reflection. It's good storytelling. I'm sure you enjoy reading about a character's personal demons in a novel or watching them go through these issues on screen. It's just as good in roleplaying, too. If you're playing a paladin-type who's as rigid as the stick up their rear end, ask yourself why you're trying to avoid these kinds of interesting personal developments.

Conflicting Loyalties

A paladin is most loyal to the higher authority they serve. But is that their only loyalty? Don't they also have family, friends, and maybe even additional causes that they come to value? Hopefully, the other player characters also count as friends, or the paladin at least feels some sort of mutual respect or sense of debt toward them.

When serving their higher cause conflicts with one or more secondary loyalties, it goes without saying that the paladin should lean towards the higher cause. If they were a perfect, unfeeling avatar of that cause they would do so one hundred percent of the time and without compunction. But that's the path of the Problem Paladin. The mortal, imperfect paladin weighs their options with more care. If the ideal interpretation of their tenets means rejecting the other bonds in the paladin's life, it makes sense that they would be more open to the idea of finding a third path. It's not always possible. Sometimes, after weighing those options, you'll find yourself deciding to have the paladin stand their ground, no matter the cost to them personally, the same way a Problem Paladin might. But there's a big difference—when the conflict your paladin feels comes out in your roleplay, you show a thought process beyond "I'm Perfect McPerfectson.", and your fellow players know they're not just being a stubborn ass.

Consequences of Failure or the Third Way

When paladins do choose to compromise, or even choose to go completely against the tenets of their belief system, should they suffer consequences?

The answer is "yes" and "no". There should always be some sort of roleplaying consequence. When a paladin makes a questionable choice, they should question it. The doubt they feel, and their reactions to the in-game consequences of the decision, are great material.

There's a tendency for DMs to be more punitive towards Paladins, Clerics and the like than towards members of other classes. When characters commit to belief systems, particularly when those beliefs are tied to all-powerful beings in the sky who can throw thunderbolts, it's tempting to dole out consequences for breaking faith. In truth, though, we DMs should be wary of giving these characters such a negative special treatment. Sure, it's appropriate for a deity or sovereign to show their displeasure, but it doesn't have to happen every time. Sometimes, the higher authority can recognise the need for the compromise and accept it as the best choice that could be made in the moment. Other times, they might simply encourage their servant to do better. When they are genuinely angry, it can usually be limited to a dressing down and metaphorical slap on the wrist. Steer away from stripping class powers away, or taking back story-based rewards. Usually, that is. Rarely, it's good storytelling material for a character to be stripped of titles, powers, or possessions. Sometimes, players pick classes like the Paladin partly because they are open to these sorts of hardships. Even so, it shouldn't happen very often, and there should generally be a way for the character to earn their way back into good graces.

It's worth remembering that the character's god or other patron knows they are mortal and fallible. They are also a precious resource. Some higher authorities are more forgiving than others, true, but it is generally bad practice to severely punish one's most loyal servants for lapses in judgement, or they may not remain loyal much longer.

Example Paladins



Okoye
Okoye, an archetypal Paladin

I polled twitter and asked for some example characters from popular culture. I got a large number of responses, and added a few of my own! Take a look at this list of wildly different characters, each of which fits the mold of the "paladin" archetype. At least one person out there thinks that each of the characters on this list has something to teach us about playing strongly characterised, interesting paladins. Note that few of them are without character flaws and/or complex relationships and conflicting loyalties. Some aren't even heroes!

  • Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel)
  • Aramis, Athos, D'Artagnan, and Porthos (The Three Musketeers)
  • Beric Dondarrion (Game of Thrones)
  • Boromire (The Lord of the Rings
  • Brienne of Tarth (Game of Thrones)
  • Brynden Tully/The Blackfish (Game of Thrones)
  • Captain Ahab (Moby Dick)
  • Captain America (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
  • Carrot Ironfoundersson (Discworld)
  • Eli (the Book of Eli)
  • Evelyn (Dice, Camera, Action)
  • George Bailey (It's a Wonderful Life)
  • Harry Dresden (The Dresden Files)
  • Heden (PRIEST)
  • Horatio Hornblower (Hornblower)
  • Huma (Dragonlance)
  • Jim Gordon (Gotham)
  • John Hobbes (Fallen)
  • Kambei Shimada (Seven Samurai)
  • Lancelot (and other Knights of the Round Table)
  • Luke Skywalker (Star Wars)
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars)
  • Okoye (Marve Cinematic Universe)
  • Oliver Cromwell
  • Paksenarrion (The Deed of Paksenarrion)
  • Paragon Commander Shepard (Mass Effect)
  • Saito Hajime (Rurouni Kenshin)
  • Sam Vimes (Discworld)
  • Shepherd Book (Firefly)
  • Steel Brightblade and Sturm Brightblade (Dragonlance)
  • T'Challa/Black Panther (Marvel Cinematic Universe)
  • The Doctor (Doctor Who)
  • The Operative (Serenity)
  • The Punisher (Marvel)
  • William Wallace (Braveheart)
  • Winston Churchill
  • Wyatt Earp (Tombstone)

Over to You

How do you like to round out your paladins? What are some of your paladin success stories? What characters or persons would you add to the above list of inspiration?

Monday, 12 February 2018

Soundscapes from the Underground - a review.

Today I'll be reviewing a 10+ hour, 36 track audio album released by Satyr Productions and presented by @ratkingnow.

Soundscapes from the Underground
Soundscapes from the Underground


Soundscapes from the Underground is the first of what I hope will be many albums designed to provide non-intrusive, ambient sound for your games. Not just your home game either—once you've purchased the album, you're allowed to use the music in any non-commercial stream or other creative endeavour provided you properly credit the creators. Non-commercial is defined as any project that does not attempt to earn money except via reliance on generosity of the audience (eg. tipping), If your project is commercial, you can license the album for $150.

The actual price of Soundscapes from the Underground is ridiculously good. Artists on bandcamp can set a minimum amount, which in this case is just $3. You can voluntarily pay more, and let me tell you up front that for the amount you're getting here and the production quality, it's definitely worth more. You don't have to pay without knowing exactly what you're getting either, as you can listen to the entire album before making your purchase.

As mentioned, the album includes 36 tracks. All but one are around 18 minutes long so should probably last plenty of time for a scene, and if not they loop pretty well. The theme of Soundscapes from the Underground is, of course, the underground. These particular tracks are therefore designed to be perfectly suited for adventures deep beneath the surface of the earth.

The Campaign Begins is the shortest track at 1:43 long and serves as a piece of intro music to the actual soundscapes. I don't know whether it's intended that you would actually use this music too, given its short length, but it is a wonderful piece that conveys the magic and mystery of a fantasy realm. At under 2 minutes I might wish for it to be a little longer to make its potential uses less limited, but I could see it being useful as the audio accompaniment to a short introductory video playing before your stream, or as one of a handful of tracks played during a break.

Common Location: Fire is exactly as it sounds—18 minutes of a crackling log fire! Most groups will probably never reach the end of this track before changing it for a new dawn or a midnight ambush, but if you're lucky enough to have a group who'll happily spend twenty minutes making up stories for their characters to tell each other around the campfire, you'll especially love this track.

Common Location: Chains provides the sound of rattling, jangling, and dragging chains. Not exactly an everyday sound! To get the most use out of this track, you'll likely want to have your PCs captured so they can be marched through the tunnels or an underground city in chains.

Common Location: Cold Place is a slightly haunting soundscape made up of some kind of wind instrument that hums like a finger run round a crystal glass, occasionally interspersed with chimes. It does a decent job of putting me in mind of an icy cavern!

Common Location: Forgotten City evokes an ancient, abandoned metropolis. I'm not sure how common a "forgotten city" really is, but quibbles of naming aside this track does a credible job. The theme here is gongs, which follow a slow, fairly repetitive beat occasionally interspersed with lower and higher notes. The overall impact suggests a quiet, not obviously threatening, but slightly mysterious environment. I like it for a "Forgotten City" as intended, but I'd be equally happy playing it as the soundscape for any kind of man-made ruin whenever there is no imminent threat.

Common Location: Lava includes the sound of fiercely crackling heat set to the backdrop of a low, ominous ambient track. Other than lava, I think you could use this track for a burning building to good effect. I went into this one expecting an occasional bubbling, which is not present. Having done some research it seems that this soundscape is actually fairly accurate, I suspect I'm just used to the sort of sounds added to movies for cinematic effect. Authenticity aside, a more cinematic, animated lava sound might actually have been a good thing here to make the scene more dramatic.

Common Location: Rift is a percussive track with an echoing quality. It sounds somewhat mysterious, which is probably what you want when your adventurers are climbing down into the unknown.

Common Location: Temple is a quiet and contemplative piece, broken up by the occasional tolling of a bell. There is a persistent ringing noise throughout, and I'm not that sure what it's supposed to represent, but it does give the music a slightly otherworldly quality.

Common Location: Water is the perfect accompaniment to an underground pool. Water drips and splashes, and occasionally bubbles as though from the rise to the surface of a pale, blind fish from the pool's hidden depths... This is the most animated soundscape so far, with near-constant activity, to the point I'd almost prefer it if the drip drip drip of water was a bit more irregular. But on the bright side, your players are certainly never going to forget where they are!

Bear in mind that this collection is called Soundscapes from the Underground when you listen to Common Location: Wind. Rather than simply recreating the sound of a strong wind, this track captures the deep, slightly echoing and distorted sound of a strong airflow blowing underground.

We're moving on to a new grouping of soundscapes now that are themed around foes that your adventurers may encounter. I assume the creators intend these tracks to represent common underdark creatures but are avoiding using specific creature names that might run afoul of licensing issues. This has resulted in some quirky names in a few cases!

First up is Enemy: Aquanoid. My idea of an underground "Aquanoid" would be a Kuo-Toa. I have to say that this track does a good job of capturing the spirit of that monstrous species, even if it wasn't actually they who inspired it. Its intermittent notes paint a picture that's both alien and a little schizophrenic.

Enemy: Dark Elf is next, and now I'm sure that actual specific monsters were the inspiration for this set of tracks. This ominous track certainly captures the idea of "dark", there is a deep atmospheric background noise that gives me the impression of an impenetrable void, such as the pitch tunnels the drow might patrol around their cities. This is punctuated by an occasional forboding beat. And throughout, grinding and skittering noises that definitely conjured the image of spiders scuttering across the stones toward hapless adventurers...

Enemy: Dark Gnome is, I would guess, the soundtrack of the derro (although they are actually a type of dwarf). If it's not, it certainly fits them. The slow, drawn out notes of this piece carry a sense of impending but as yet unrevealed horror, which seems to suit their stealthiness and their sadistic personalities. The derro are also insane, a feeling I feel the track captures well by drawing each note out just a little past the point of comfort, lending the track an air of disquiet.

I would guess that Enemy: Eel Demon represents the aboleth, a creature that one source describes as being "a hybrid of fish and eel". If not, I have to say I'm stumped. This track has a slightly more hostile feel to it and the level of echo on the crashing notes gives it a sense of expansiveness, making it feel like a soundtrack to a large cavern environment—such as one containing an underground lake, say.

Enemy: Grey Dwarf would be for the other evil underground dwarves, the duergar. Like the rest of the Enemy tracks, it carries a sense of danger. Aside from the Dark Elf track, I think this one is the most truly sinister. The slow, dolorous notes of a hammered gong help complete the dwarven atmosphere.

My best guess for Enemy: Multiclops is that it is meant for the beholder. This is one of the busier tracks, and I like it. There is definitely something aberrant about the sound, which is built up around a slightly uncomfortable ringing. Layered behind this alien noise are clicks and echoes that are quiet enough to give a feeling of distance. As though they were being carried from a far reach of a beholder's labyrinth of vertical tunnels, perhaps.

I suppose there are no prizes for suggesting that Enemy: Octokenisai must, by process of elimination and also sheer obviousness, represent mind flayers. This one has long, reverberating, dissonant notes which meant I found it slightly grating to listen to the whole piece. However, that affect on my mind was perhaps rather apt, considering the psionic nature of mind flayers. It's definitely alien, and pretty eerie.

The album moves on again to a new category of soundscapes:  "Major Locations". It's a completely minor quibble, but I'm not sure the need to separate "common" from "major" locations, especially when it feels like a few of them are in the wrong lists. How "common" is a Forgotten City, after all, and how often do adventurers really find themselves near lava?

As much as I'd like to continue commenting on the tracks individually, there's still a lot to get through and I'm conscious both of the time it's taking to write this review and the reality that your attention span is probably being tested here. So from now on, I'll just talk about the soundscapes by category, and offer thoughts on ones that particularly stood out.

As far as the Major Location soundscapes are concerned, I like each and every one of them.These are a collection of mysterious, slightly fearful soundscapes that are perfect for the unknown caverns of the underdark. The theming of the tracks is mostly clear enough that I have a good idea when the creators expect me to use them, although by name alone I wasn't sure of the conceptual difference between "Beneath the Realm" and "Earthen Roots". Having listened to the tracks though, the difference becomes clearer. Given the watery feel of Major Location: Earthen Roots (lots of dripping noises) I suspect that the key word here is "roots". The soundscape evokes imagery of underground caverns filled with natural pools from water drainage in the lands above, the great sprawling roots of giant trees tangled throughout the cavern from ceiling to pool.

The last set of soundscapes are in the category "Mood", and start with four moods for battle.

If I'm honest, I don't think any of the battle moods is truly fit for their intended purpose. As in all things your mileage may vary, but I just don't see myself playing them as background for a battle. Like every other soundscape on this album, they are slow-paced and are uncluttered, using a limited palette of sounds to create their soundscapes. This is a choice that works very well everywhere else in the album, because the tracks hit a good midpoint between being atmospheric and yet non-intrusive. Here, though? It isn't a combination that gets my blood flowing and leaves me thinking "this is what a battle sounds like". Honestly, if there were any place on the album for more traditional musical scores, this would be it.

At best, I would say these tracks could work for the tense moments preceding a battle. If there are more entries in this series (and I hope there are), and if those albums include battle music, I'd like those tracks to have a higher intensity that captures the action and peril of the moment.

Other than the battle soundscapes, I found most of the other moods very fit for purpose though I do have a few specific notes on a couple of the tracks.

I think I might find it difficult to actually use Mood: Near Death in play, because characters most often find themselves in that state during a battle, and it's not really appropriate in a battle scenario for the same reasons mentioned above. To be honest, it probably wouldn't be my track of choice even outside of combat, because I'd want a soundtrack that really increased the feeling of tension as the character's allies race to save them. When would I use it? If the PC was alone with no chance of being saved outside of NPC help/DM intervention. The ghostly nature of the track would be perfect while narrating how the PC slips from the mortal coil.... possibly to be saved, just at the last moment? It occurs to me that it would also work very well as a soundtrack to the ethereal plane or whatever underworld exists in your game's cosmology. So all in all a great track, if possibly a fairly niche use case.

It's important to understand the use case for Mood: Sacred. And it boils down to this - sacred is a word with multiple meanings. It could mean "something connected to God (or gods)". In the D&D context, simply something divine. Or it could mean "something regarded as too precious to be interfered with". This soundscape is very clearly based on the latter definition! It sounds very, very ominous. Play it during a scene that includes a holy relic of some kind as a warning: don't touch, bad things will happen. But don't play this track to your players expecting the sound of angelic choirs and unicorn farts.


Final Rating and Summary 


17 out of 20! A superb hit.

This album has a clear and specific goal in mind: ambient soundscapes to add atmosphere to underground adventures. It is very successful at accomplishing it. The soundscapes are very evocative and very useful, and there are no problems with the audio quality. They avoid being too obtrusive, without ever letting you blank them out.

There are some minor missteps (in my opinion): just a few soundscapes I wouldn't use for the purpose they've been designed. But even these are perfectly good tracks if considered beyond those original contexts, and I feel confident I could find uses for them.

Soundscapes from the Underground deserves to be on the shopping list of every DM that uses music and sound effects in their game. Furthermore, at $3 this is a real steal, so it's worth giving more if you can afford to do so.

Still not convinced? Go listen to it and decide for yourself!

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

5e: The Wages of Sin, Part II

Content Warning

While I don't think there's anything offensive or particularly grotesque in today's article, a devil is a devil. If fiends in your D&D game happens to be a no-no for you, then turn away from this article!

A couple weeks ago, I started a series following my design process of new types of devils based on the seven deadly sins. Today's is the continuation of that series. If you missed the previous article, make sure to give it a visit first as it explains what I wanted to accomplish with the Sin Devils—the type of Devil they are and their position in the fiendish hierarchy. It also provided the statblocks for avarice and wrath devils.

Originally I wanted to provide two devils per article (or three in the last week), but developing them and writing a walkthrough of my process is proving to take longer than I originally estimated. Thus I'll be providing one devil at a time from now on. This week is the gluttony devil.

This article is an exercise in monster creation, which is going to be more useful and interesting to some than others. If you're more interested in the gluttony devil's statblock than my process, skip all the way to the end!

Sin Devil Traits

This is something we discussed last week, but since you may want to refer to the list while following along, I've reproduced it here.

The following are traits that are common to all devils and should also therefore be included in the statblocks of the Sin Devils created during this exercise. Unless, that is, there's a good reason to override them (for instance, an Ice Devil has Cold immunity whereas normally devils have Cold Resistance).

  • Damage Immunities fire, poison
  • Damage Resistances cold; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks that aren’t silvered
  • Condition Immunities poisoned
  • Senses darkvision 120 ft. Some greater devils may have truesight 120 ft. instead.
  • Languages Infernal, Common. All devils more powerful than an Imp have telepathy 120 ft. (which replaces Common).
  • Devil's Sight Magical Darkness doesn't impede the devil's darkvision (if it has any).
  • Magic Resistance The devil has advantage on saving throw against spells and other magical effects.
  • As potently magical creatures, devils generally either possess innate spellcasting (the only example of this is the Pit Fiend, which might suggest spellcasting is generally reserved for more powerful devils), or else unique special abilities that are overtly magical in nature. In the case of the Sin Devils I'm creating, it makes sense to theme spell choices and special abilities around the devil's particular Sin.
  • Even the powerful Pit Fiend only has four special traits, including its Magic Resistance as noted above. Keeping a cap on how many abilities a monster has is a good principle for any kind of creature, but particularly for non-legendary monsters which are expected to be encountered in groups. I'll try to stick to a four special trait maximum where I can. I might need to bend this rule, but will try to make sure that if I do most of the creature's special features are simple to adjudicate or don't apply in combat.
  • I'm going to make a similar commitment to trying to keep a Sin Devil's available action options straightforward, aiming for no more than two types of special action in addition to its regular attacks and multitattack options.


Sin Devil CRs

Again, this section is included for ease of reference. Last week I decided that my target CR range for the Sin Devils was between 13 and 16. I also noted that it would be good, if possible, for at least a few of the devils I create to have different CRs to each other so there is a greater range of play. Ideally, most if not all of the Sin Devils would also occupy CRs that aren't already filled by Greater Devils in the Monster Manual (eg. the CR 14 Ice Devil). I'll try to make sure that only one of my new devils, at most, has a CR of 14. It would be nice if they were fairly evenly spread throughout the range too.

Finally, I decided that Pride devils would be the most powerful, as Pride is often considered the sin from which all other sins spring. I'm aiming to make the Pride devil with a target CR one higher than the next highest Sin Devil. This means that if any of the other Sin Devils winds up with a CR of 16, the Pride devil will actually have a CR of 17.

Okay, let's get to it!



Making the Gluttony Devil

The gluttony devil should appear morbidly obese, that much seemed immediately clear. My initial instinct was to make it a Huge creature, but then I remembered that it'd be dealing with a lot of secret cults in cramped hidden rooms. Large might be more reasonable.

Given the devil is themed around overindulging in food, why not give it a grotesquely large maw? Certainly a powerful bite attack seems appropriate. To make the bite a bit more grotesque, I'm going to say that the gluttony devil can unhinge its jaw, and has the TARDIS-like quality of being "bigger on the inside", allowing it to consume things far larger than its physical size might suggest.


Gluttony Made Manifest

At this point, it's already fairly obvious what the gluttony devil's unique selling points as an opponent need to be. In case you've not read the previous article, both of the devils I previously created had the ability to manipulate nearby creatures with sinful feelings (an aura of avarice in the case of the Avarice Devil, or a single-target rage incitement for the Wrath Devil). Each of these devils need something similar, the gluttony devil being no exception. I've also already established its powerful bite and ability to swallow creatures whole, as well as the idea that it might be larger-sized creature.

So let's talk about the ability to turn people into gluttons, and how that might even work in a combat context. The gluttony devil's feast should be delicious, and it should also have positive rewards for its allies, such as cultists. But it needs to have a negative side that it can use to bring harm to hostile creatures (or cultists it wishes to punish). I came up with the idea of a Tempting Feast that can be eaten voluntarily, or because a creature is compelled to do so. Eating from the feast can have one of two effects depending on whether a creature is an ally or a target for the devil's animosity. For the positive effect, I looked to the spell Heroes' Feast but scaled it down slightly. For the negative effect, poison seemed appropriate. To make it more horrifying, the creature would still be compelled to keep eating, in spite of the harm it is doing to itself. Tactically, this also sticks the creature to the vicinity of the feast so it can continue to eat.

Here's what I came up with:

Tempting Feast (1/short rest).

The gluttony devil brings forth a great, mouthwatering feast which appears in an unoccupied area that is 10 feet by 5 feet in dimensions and within 30 feet of the gluttony devil. The feast may appear on top of any flat surface within the area that is at least 8 feet by 3 feet, or the gluttony devil may summon the feast atop a table of those dimensions and of a suitable height for either Medium or Small creatures. The feast typically comprises food and drink, but the gluttony devil can tailor the contents to also cater for any creature that requires other substances to sustain itself (such as blood for a vampire or some manner of fuel for a living construct). 

Any hostile creature that moves within 30 feet of the feast or starts its turn within the same range must make a DC 19 Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the creature uses any necessary movement and actions to reach the table and partakes from the feast before the end of its next turn. The gluttony devil may choose to force any nonhostile creature to make the same saving throw, with the same result.

When a creature partakes of the feast, the gluttony devil chooses the effect:
  • Though the food is appetising it is not fit for consumption and the creature gains the poisoned condition and takes 1d10 poison damage every time that they partake from the feast. Despite their discomfort, the feast is so delicious that the creature is compelled to stay within arm's reach of the feast and use a bonus action on each of its subsequent turns to continue partaking. The creature may make a DC ?? Wisdom saving throw at the end of each of its turns to overcome this compulsion. After it is no longer partaking in the feast, the creature may make a DC ?? Constitution saving throw at the end of each subsequent turns to overcome the poisoned condition.
  • The creature may immediately make a saving throw to end each disease or poison currently affecting them, becomes immune to poison and the frightened condition, and makes all Wisdom saving throws with advantage. It also gains 2d10 temporary hit points. These benefits last for 1 hour.
Once a creature makes its saving throw or it benefits from the feast's positive effect, it cannot be affected again by the same gluttony devil's tempting feast until 24 hours have passed.


Okay, so what about its swallow ability? Luckily, that's not a new feature. We can look at creatures like the Behir, the Remorhaz, and the Tarrasque to guide us. The damage dealt while within the devil's stomach is not the issue, since we can just decide on an appropriate amount to help us reach the CR we want (the DMG tells us to assume a monster swallows one creature and deals 2 rounds of damage to it). The main problem is deciding how many hit points of damage a creature inside must do to be regurgitated, because unfortunately the DMG doesn't help us there.

Based on the limited number of monsters available, my best guess for the "rule" behind this "regurgitation threshold" is as follows:

Swallow Feature Regurgitation Thresholds by CR

CR Range Regurgitation Threshold Examples
1-5 10 None *
6-10 20 None.
11-15 30 Behir, Purple Worm, Remorhaz
16-20 40 None.
21-25 50 Kraken
26-30 60 Tarrasque
* There's no actual evidence that creatures below CR 5 even need to regurgitate. All lower CR creatures with the swallow ability have no rules for regurgitation. My guess is it's assumed that the creature has few enough hit points it will be killed within a few short turns of the creature being swallowed. Furthermore, all examples are smaller creature who can only swallow one PC, meaning it's impossible to end up in a situation where most or all of the party are inside and need to escape without outside help.


The evidence for the above table isn't conclusive, but I'd say this pattern does fit the available data in a way I'd consider compelling.

Since we know the gluttony devil is going to be somewhere in the CR 13-15 range, we can give it a "regurgitation threshold" of 30, similar to other example monsters with similar CRs. If it winds up a CR 16, the threshold might go up to 40.

I also need to decide the type of damage dealt. Most creatures deal acid damage when they swallow, but the banderhobb from Volo's Guide is a "hybrid of shadow and flesh" that actually deals necrotic damage to the creatures it swallows, so it's not out of the realm of possibility that other supernatural creatures might deal other types of damage. For instance, for any other devil, I might consider giving it a fiery interior rather than a true stomach. For a gluttony devil, however, how can anything be more appropriate than stomach acid?

As previously noted I've decided that the gluttony Devil can swallow creatures larger than its size might suggest due to an unnaturally large stomach out of proportion to its physical dimensions. This gave me the idea that it could use the large quantity of stomach acid within as a weapon, but that spewing acid should be tied to its regurgitation reflex.

Swallow (bite attack rider).

If the target is a Large or smaller creature, it must succeed on a DC ?? Dexterity saving throw or be swallowed by the gluttony Devil. The devil's stomach is an extradimensional space, far larger than the devil's outward appearance would suggest. A swallowed creature is blinded and restrained, it has total cover against attacks and other effects outside the worm, and it takes (a not yet determined amount of) acid damage at the start of each of the worm's turns.

If the gluttony Devil takes 30 damage or more on a single turn from a creature inside it, the devil must succeed on a DC ?? Constitution saving throw at the end of that turn or regurgitate all swallowed creatures, which fall prone in a space within 10 feet of the devil All other creatures within 10 feet of the devil are targeted as if it had used its Spew Stomach Acid attack. If the devil dies, a swallowed creature is no longer restrained by it and can escape from the corpse by using 20 feet of movement, exiting prone.

Spew Stomach Acid.

The gluttony devil vomits forth an unwholesome wave of stomach acid on all creatures in its vicinity. Each creature within 10 feet of the devil must make a DC ?? Dexterity saving throw, taking (a undetermined amount of) acid damage on a failed save, or half as much on a success.

Any creatures currently swallowed by the gluttony devil is regurgitated as described in the description of its bite.


For a fourth and final feature, it occurs to me that the gluttony devil ought to be making use of grappling to pin its prey and make them easier to swallow. Thus:

Gluttonous Grip.

If the gluttony devil hits a Large or smaller creature with both its claw attacks on the same turn, it may choose to grapple that creature. While a creature is grappled by the gluttony devil, it has advantage on its bite attack against that creature.


Proficiency

As a Greater Devil, the gluttony devil has a Proficiency of +4 or greater. I'll start with +4 and adjust upwards if it turns out to be necessary later.

Movement

The gluttony devil has no conceptual basis for any kind of special movement. It is on the slow side for a large creature, with a walking speed of 30 ft.

Abilities

The most important ability for any Sin Devil, as consummate tempters, is always going to be Charisma. All Greater Devils are intelligent, for they are cunning creatures. Sin Devils especially need to be cunning to trick mortals into forfeiting their souls. Wisdom should be reasonably high, since a Sin Devil cannot afford to be the one who comes out the worst of an exchange with a potential victim.

For a gluttoy devil, Constitution also feels like it ought to be an important score. We're making them large and ungainly, but they should have excellent endurance. Since it's going to be making physical attacks and is of a larger size, Strength is also important.

I go with my gut and assign the abilities as I see fit, coming up with the following array:

STRDEXCONINTWISCHA
20 (+5)10 (+0)24 (+7)22 (+6)20 (+5)24 (+7)


Skills

As has been the case previously, I think that all Sin Devils should add their proficiency to Deception, Persuasion, and Insight.

Saving Throws

The gluttony devil is proficient in Dexterity, Constitution, and Wisdom saving throws.

Resistances, Immunities, and Vulnerabilities

The gluttony devils has same resistances and immunities as other devils.

Senses and Languages

I'm giving Sin Devils truesight 120 ft., and telepathy out to the same range in addition to Infernal.

Other Special Features

The gluttony devil has Magic Resistance and Magic Weapons in common with other devils.

Actions

As a high CR creature, the gluttony devil is going to have multiattack. Since it'll only have two limbs, it can have two claw attacks and its bite. The bite is likely to be a significant portion of its damage given the size of its toothy maw.

The multiattack entry looks like this:

Multiattack.

The gluttony devil makes two attacks with its claws, and one with its bite.


Putting it together: Offensive Challenge Rating

This time round I didn't make any assumptions about the damage each of the devil's attack options should be dealing, nor the damage of its stomach acid (though looking at the remorhaz and purple worm statblocks, between 3d6 and 6d6 acid damage would be appropriate depending on where the gluttony devil falls in the CR range).

For now then, I'm going to aim for CR 14. Why? Simply because the avarice devil already slotted in at CR 13 and the wrath devil at CR 15. There are too many sins for every Sin Devil to have its own unique CR in the target range I've set for myself, but it would still be nice to have a nice spread within the range.

Assuming all things being equal a CR 14 monster should be dealing 87-92 damage per round. Looking across at the Defensive Challenge Rating values for CR 14, I can already see that 266-280 hit points and AC 18 might be a bit on the high side, so I can probably afford to push the offensive challenge rating higher.

Let's assume for now that each of its claws deal 12 (2d6 + 5) slashing damage, and its gaping maw deals damage more appropriate for a huge monster. Let's call it 27 (4d10 + 5) piercing damage! That's 54 damage accounted for already.

I'm meant to assume one creature gets swallowed and takes two rounds worth of damage. If we give the gluttony devil 21 (6d6 acid damage) for its stomach acids, we can multiply 21 by 0.66 to determine its effective increase to the devil's damage/round over 3 rounds, which is 13.86. Let's call it 14. Our running total is up to 68.

Finally, there's the area attack acid damage that the devil deals when it Spews acid/regurgitates. Since this will take an action if done on the devil's own turn, it has to be an attractive option. Eg. it should deal damage roughly equivalent to the devil's multiattack. The general assumption with area effects is that they will hit two creatures (see the entry for Breath Weapon in the table Monster Features in the DMG, for instance). So ultimately, the acid spew should be dealing about half the damage of the multiattack to each target. So we're looking for a solution that achieves about 26 damage. Well, it would make sense to use d6s, right? That's consistent with the damage it's dealing when creatures are swallowed. 7d6 would deal an average of 24.5 hit points; 8d6 would deal 28. Let's go with the larger number in this case. Yep, it's slightly more attractive than the multiattack, but it also comes with the cost of regurgitating any already swallowed prey.

But then, why does spewing acid deal more damage than it does to a swallowed creature? Sort of suggests the damage against the swallowed creature should also be raised to match, right? In that case, let's reset our damage per round subtotal to 54 from the multiattack.

The acid spew would normally replace the multiattack and deal 4 more damage, but it can't keep doing that if it also wants to swallow creatures, which is better for it in the long run. I'm pretty comfortable assuming the average damage per round from the devil's actions will be 52.

We now know the gluttony devil is actually dealing 28 (8d8) acid damage to a swallowed creature. 28 multipled by 0.66 is 18.48. Our new subtotal is 70.

If we're assuming one creature gets swallowed, it's reasonable to assume that the creature will escape, causing two nearby creatures to be affected by the gluttony devil's acid spew at no action cost to the gluttony devil. So that's (28 times 2) multiplied by 0.33 = 18.48.

That puts our running total at 90.

But there's more, isn't there? The Tempting Feast! Once again, let's assume that the gluttony devil can successfully affect 2 hostile creatures with the feast. That's an additional 11 poison damage per round, for 101, bumping the CR up to 16.

As far as I know the poisoned condition should not have an affect on CR given it's roughly equivalent as a penalty to one player as grappling would be a bonus to the monster. And believe it or not, advantage on attacks against creature's you've grappled nets no change. However, I'm comfortable enough to rule that both features stacked together and the fact the poisoned condition would be applying to 2 or more players is enough to combine into an effective +2 to the monster's attack bonus/saving throw DC.

The appropriate attack bonus for CR 16 is +9. The devil's attack bonus actually is +9 (Strength +5 plus Proficiency +4) but I'm treating its effective attack bonus as +11. However, a not insignificant portion of the devil's effectiveness comes from saving throw abilities. An appropiate DC for CR 16 would be 18. The gluttony devil's is actually 19 (8 + Charisma +7 plus Proficiency +4), or effectively 21. This has worked out nicely - whichever offensive measure you use, the calculations come out the same. The gluttony devil currently has an offensive challenge rating of 17.

Putting it together: Defensive Challenge Rating

Assuming I still want the gluttony devil to come out as a CR 14, I need its defensive challenge rating to be 11, so it averages out the offensive challenge rating.

How do the devil's features play into its defensive challenge rating?

Firstly, damage resistances and immunities: with four resistances, we need to factor those into the calculation. Since there are only two immunities, which are both easily bypassed, it should be enough to adjust for the resistances only. For a creature of the CR range we're designing for, the monster's hit points should be multiplied by 1.25.

The devil has magic resistance, which the Monster Features table tells us is equivalent to a +2 AC.

Should the effect of the feast on the gluttony devil and its allies ought to be accounted for? There's not really any example for how this might be handled, so I'll be having to go with my gut.

I'm reasonably certain that most of the benefits of the feast to the devil's allies are negligible. Most of them don't even apply to the gluttony devil and other devil allies, and would only be of benefit to cultist minions. Advantage on Wisdom saves is certainly attractive, but its easy to get around by targeting other saves. The hit points certainly need to be factored in, though.

2d10 temporary hit points is attractive, but probably less attractive than the normal actions of the Sin Devil and other creatures that might be accompanying it. They're likely to deal average damage higher than the amount they would regain. Its allies probably still will eat the feast, because the combined package is a nice deal. But what I'm saying is the mathematical gain is likely to be null, or even a loss.

I might be really wrong in this, and I'd love to hear your opinions if you think so, but I don't think the feast has a significant impact on the devil's defensive CR.

Okay, so now we work backwards. The devil's +2 AC from magic resistance tells us that our target DCR is actually 10, not 11. The hit point range for DC 10 is 206-220. Since the devil has a resistance multiplier of 1.25, we need to figure out a number that is lower than that range and that when multiplied by a quarter of itself arrives at a total witin the range.

165 multiplied by 1.25 is 206.25. 176 multiplied by 1.25 is 220 exactly. So I need to figure out an amount of d10s (since the monster is Large) that, when added to the same amount multiplied by the devil's Con mod, falls within that range.

The average of a d10 is 5.5, and the devil's Con mod is +7. So my first step is to divide 220 by 12.5 (5.5 + 7), for a result of 17.6. Multiplying 12.5 by 17, I get a result of 212.5. 212 is right in the middle of the range, and I clearly can't do better. 212 hit points it is!

The typical AC for CR 10 is 17. And I can't change it without screwing with all the above calculations. But actually, in this case I've been happy all along to rule that whatever AC is required by the calculations is fine. Since the devil has no Dex bonus, it wasn't important to figure out. Its AC bonus can all be natural - from its magical nature and its blubbery body.

Since the DCR is 11 and the OCR is 17, the target CR of 14 has been achieved!

The Gluttony Devil



A gluttony devil is a Sin Devil whose role is to inspire mortals to consume above and beyond their physical need. They provide seemingly endless supplies of delicious foods, wines, sweets, and any other treats that a creature might wish to consume.

A gluttony devil is a tall humanoid with the physical proportions of a grotesquely obese ogre. Its arms long arms end in needle-like claws, with which it is capable of surprisingly delicate handling. It is known to use its claws to puncture its own favourite treats, such as the eyes of a victim, before popping them in its mouth. The gluttony devil's fang-lined maw is unnaturally large and its lower face contorts elastically whenever it smiles, frowns, or shows its fury. The mouth can open to a fantastic degree, unhinging completely, and a gluttony devil is capable of devouring a creature even of its own size, much like a snake would. The pallor of a gluttony devil's skin is wan, and when it is close a faint distasteful odor can be picked up on.

Gluttony Devil
Large fiend, lawful evil

Armor Class

17 (natural armour)

Hit Points

212 (17d10 + 119)

Speed

30 ft.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
20 (+5) 10 (+0) 24 (+7) 22 (+6) 20 (+5) 24 (+7)

Saving Throws

Dex +4, Con +11, Wis +9

Skills

Deception +11, Insight +9, Persuasion +11

Damage Resistances

cold; bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks that aren't silvered

Damage Immunities

fire, poison

Condition Immunities

charmed, exhaustion, frightened, poisoned

Senses

truesight 120 ft.; passive Perception 15

Languages

Infernal, telepathy 120 ft.

Challenge

14 (11,500 XP)

Gluttonous Grip.

If the gluttony devil hits a Large or smaller creature with both its claw attacks on the same turn, it may choose to grapple that creature. While a creature is grappled by the gluttony devil, it has advantage on its bite attack against that creature.

Magic Resistance.

The gluttony devil has advantage on saving throws against spells and other magical effects.

Magic Weapons.

The gluttony devil's weapon attacks are magical.

Actions

Multiattack.

The gluttony devil makes two attacks with its claws, and one with its bite.

Bite.

Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 27 (4d10 +5) piercing damage. If the target is a Large or smaller creature, it must succeed on a DC 19 Dexterity saving throw or be swallowed by the gluttony devil. The devil's stomach is an extradimensional space, far larger than the devil's outward appearance would suggest. A swallowed creature is blinded and restrained, it has total cover against attacks and other effects outside the worm, and it takes 28 (8d6) acid damage at the start of each of the worm's turns.

If the gluttony devil takes 30 damage or more on a single turn from a creature inside it, the devil must succeed on a DC 19 Constitution saving throw at the end of that turn or regurgitate all swallowed creatures, which fall prone in a space within 10 feet of the devil All other creatures within 10 feet of the devil are targeted as if it had used its Spew Stomach Acid attack. If the devil dies, a swallowed creature is no longer restrained by it and can escape from the corpse by using 20 feet of movement, exiting prone.

Spew Stomach Acid.

The gluttony devil vomits forth an unwholesome wave of stomach acid on all creatures in its vicinity. Each creature within 10 feet of the devil must make a DC 19 Dexterity saving throw, taking 28 (8d6) acid damage on a failed save, or half as much on a success.

Any creatures currently swallowed by the gluttony devil is regurgitated as described in the description of its bite.

Tempting Feast (1/short rest).

The gluttony devil brings forth a great, mouthwatering feast which appears in an unoccupied area that is 10 feet by 5 feet in dimensions and within 30 feet of the gluttony devil. The feast may appear on top of any flat surface within the area that is at least 8 feet by 3 feet, or the gluttony devil may summon the feast atop a table of those dimensions and of a suitable height for either Medium or Small creatures. The feast typically comprises food and drink, but the gluttony devil can tailor the contents to also cater for any creature that requires other substances to sustain itself (such as blood for a vampire or some manner of fuel for a living construct). 

Any hostile creature that moves within 30 feet of the feast or starts its turn within the same range must make a DC 19 Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the creature uses any necessary movement and actions to reach the table and partakes from the feast before the end of its next turn. The gluttony devil may choose to force any nonhostile creature to make the same saving throw, with the same result.

When a creature partakes of the feast, the gluttony devil chooses the effect:
  • Though the food is appetising it is not fit for consumption and the creature gains the poisoned condition and takes 1d10 poison damage every time that they partake from the feast. Despite their discomfort, the feast is so delicious that the creature is compelled to stay within arm's reach of the feast and use a bonus action on each of its subsequent turns to continue partaking. The creature may make a DC 19 Wisdom saving throw at the end of each of its turns to overcome this compulsion. After it is no longer partaking in the feast, the creature may make a DC 19 Constitution saving throw at the end of each subsequent turns to overcome the poisoned condition.
  • The creature may immediately make a saving throw to end each disease or poison currently affecting them, becomes immune to poison and the frightened condition, and makes all Wisdom saving throws with advantage. It also gains 2d10 temporary hit points. These benefits last for 1 hour.
Once a creature makes its saving throw or it benefits from the feast's positive effect, it cannot be affected again by the same gluttony devil's tempting feast until 24 hours have passed.