CoS Session 05 -From Baby Walter to Madam Eva

The Walter-monster, Retlaw the eternal, oozed forward onto the dais, babbling as it approached.  Hezekiah and Devlin found it easy to hit with ranged attacks, but other than some of its mouths momentarily changing their babbles to screams, it showed little injury.  Darian’s eyes glazed over in confusion as he went to act, and he went charging toward the far wall, passing no closer than 10 feet of the creature’s actual location.  When he reached the other wall, he turned, confused, and having lost his turn.  Zivago strode boldly forward and slashed into the beast with his longsword.  Ichor and teeth rained from the creature.

Zib cast comprehend languages, and the confusing babbles of the abomination clarified as he could suddenly understand all of the tongues it spoke.  He was almost overcome mentally by the things he heard, but was able to resist the effect by focusing on just one or two voices out of the whole.  One of the things he heard from Retlaw was a secret that one of the other characters has been keeping from the group.

Cordelia blessed the ranger, bard, and warlock.  On their turns, each succeeded in resisting the confusing babbling of Retlaw and added some ranged damage.  Darian recovered, flanking the abomination from the other side of the dais, and adding his own sword to the melee.

A few failed saving throws from Cordelia and Zib had them striking at each other for a turn, but neither landed a blow on the other.  Zivago was briefly blinded by the creature’s spittle, but the beast was unable to land a bite attack on anyone, and finally fell to the combined might of the party, felled by an arrow of Devlin’s which pierced the center of the monster.  Its form immediately rotted into a thick black slime.

The entire structure of the house began rumbling as a vortex appeared in the air above the dais.  Spirits could be seen flying through the air and up into the vortex, swirling within it screaming like damned souls.  Bits of the ceiling began raining down and the party gathered the girls and hightailed it out of the cellar, back up the circular stairs to the attic.

There, they found the house itself had turned against them.  Scything razor blades had replaced the doors, and poisonous smoke emitted from every fireplace.  Through some trial and error, they found the blades avoided the twins and the smoke seemed to recoil from them.  Utilizing the girls, they were able to pass the blades without injury.  The fumes affected a few characters, but none was felled and they all collapsed out into the street gasping for fresh air.

Turning around, they saw the mists of Ravenloft clinging thickly around the house.  As the mists thinned, the house’s appearance had changed, seeming to age centuries in seconds.  It now matched the run-down and abandoned look of the homes around it.  The windows opening into the one room they hadn’t explored on the first floor were broken out, and inside was the looted frame of a room, all furniture and valuables long since plundered or weathered away.

Rose mentioned that everything around them looked much older than the twins remembered it.  Rose also said that she and Thorn knew they had been asleep for a long time because they only had each other to talk to, but didn’t know how long it had been.  They mentioned their mother’s brother was the town merchant.  The party decided to go back to the Blood of the Vine and rest before looking for Ismark.  He had asked them to go do something good for the villagers, and now he could help them find a home for two refugees from the village’s past.

They found Ismark discussing village business with a trio of villagers in the tavern, and thoughts of rest disappeared as he waved them over.  It had been 15 minutes since they left him, apparently time in the house passed differently than outside.  The party told him the improbable story of the twins and he believed it, remembering the name Durst from records kept in the Burgomaster’s mansion.  He promised to research it further.

One of the Vistani owners of the tavern suggested the party seek out Madam Eva for a fortune reading.  Madam Eva was the most powerful Vistani seer of this generation and could be found at the Tser Pool encampment, down the road to the west of town.  But first, Ismark asked them to return with him to his home.

There he thanked the party for saving the two innocents and asked them for another favor, to escort his sister Ireena to safety, somewhere outside the reach of Strahd, perhaps the town of Vallaki far to the west.  In turn, he would see what he could learn about the twins lineage and see if they might have family still living within Barovia.  Ireena interrupted to state she would not go anywhere until her father was laid to rest at the church.

The party helped Ismark and Ireena carry the Burgomaster’s coffin to the church.  There, they found a despondent Donavich.  His son, the vampire spawn, Doru was still locked beneath the church.  Ismark took him aside, and in his capacity as Burgomaster convinced Donavich that the creature below was no longer his son, and promised his aid in putting him to rest after the Burgomaster was buried.  No townsfolk came to the graveside service.

When it was over and the party returned to the church  with Donavich, Ismark, and Ireena, they found the doors open, the trapdoor to the undercroft opened, and Doru was gone.  Devlin was able to find tracks leading in and out.  A booted humanoid, smaller than a human or half-elf, but much larger than a halfling or gnome had arrived on a horse, entered the church, and left with Doru by his or her side.  They had mounted the horse and left town toward the west.

Remembering that was also the direction of the Vistani camp, the party set out, bringing the girls with them, and promising to meet Ireena and Ismark back at the Burgomaster’s mansion by dark.  They traveled over a bridge and back into the Svalich wood, climbing into the foothills of the western mountains before reaching a crossroads.  The northwestern path led down to the shore of a large pool along the river Ivlis.  Traveling alongside it, they ran into the Vistani camp, a group of  tents pitched among a defensive square of four wagons.  Horses grazed nearby, and drunken revelers danced around the afternoon bonfire.

A pair of Vistani playing cards on a tree stump greeted them, saying that Madam Eva was expecting them.  The party was ushered into the largest tent, nearest the pool’s bank, where they met an old crone sitting behind a drape-covered table complete with a scrying ball and deck of Tarokka cards.  Hezekiah greeted Madam Eva, and was surprised when she called him by name and told him he and his friends were expected.

As the girls walked in Madam Eva looked up in surprise.  She told the party that by rescuing the girls from their sleep, they had acted as the hands of fate and that the girls had a part to play in a future story.  She assured Hezekiah that the party would soon find the place the girls belonged.  Turning her focus back to the party, she told them that they came seeking a way out of these lands, but while the roads into Barovia were many, all paths out led through the castle and its cursed resident.

Madam Eva drew 5 cards and arranged them into a cross shape.


This first card speaks of knowledge of the devil’s past. To know your foe’s history may speak to his weaknesses.

(7 of Swords / The Hooded one)

A man is not what he seems.  He comes here in a carnival wagon.  There you will find what you seek.


This second card tells of a powerful force for good & protection.  A holy symbol of great hope.

(9 of coins / Miser)

Seek out a fortress inside the fortress.  In a place hidden behind fire you will find what you seek.

This third card is  the position of power and strength; it tells of a weapon of vengeance, a blade of sunlight.

(8 of Stars / Necromancer)

Within  the castle, a woman hangs above a roaring fire.  Find her and you will find the treasure.


This fourth card sheds light on one who will help you greatly in the battle against the darkness.

(The Executioner)

Seek out the brother of the devils bride.  They call him the lesser, but he has a powerful soul.


Your enemy is a creature of darkness, whose powers are beyond mortality.  This will lead you to him when you are ready for your final confrontation.


When the time is right, you will find him in the mother’s tomb.





Curse of Strahd NPCs retooled

I felt kind of blah about some of the NPC stat blocks for major protagonists in the adventure, so I converted three of those most likely to do some adventuring with the player characters into PC-classed characters.  If any of them end up joining the party full-time, I’ll likely have them run in combat by one of the players.  They’ll gain experience and level with the party, and if any unrecoverable character deaths occur, the player will have the option of taking one over as their new character.  Two of the three use 3rd party classes and archetypes, so this is also an opportunity for me to see how these balance with the PHB material without having to nerf a player’s character if they prove too imbalanced.


First, there’s Ezmerelda.  Her spellcasting ability (as well as another rather well-known NPCs) didn’t strike me as very flavorful for the character concept, so instead, she’s a Dexterity-based, stealthy damage-dealing martial type.  Ravenloft is the perfect setting for the rare firearm using character.

I expect my party to run into her around level 5 or 6, and as she’s supposed to be pretty competent at what she does, I’ve made her a level 6 character: 5 levels of Fighter, using Matt Mercer’s Gunslinger archetype for fighters from DMs Guild, with a 1 level dip into rogue for sneak attack and expertise and to reflect her use of ambush tactics when hunting monsters.  If she ends up being the party’s ally against Strahd, she’ll advance to rogue 2 for cunning action some time after the characters reach 7th level, and then to fighter 6 just before they reach the finale, somewhere between the party’s 8th and 9th levels.

While accompanying the party, she’ll be a ranged combatant with strong single-target damage (much like a warlock or crossbow rogue), and a voice of experience when it comes to monster-hunting.


Next up is Ismark.  Another Dexterity based fighter, his role as a Burgomaster’s son has seen him receive some training in the more “refined” art of fencing.  Two-weapon fighting and the dual wielder feat give him decent damage potential with dual rapiers, while the Champion archetype makes him simple to run in combat as he’ll use the attack action and a bonus action for off-hand attacks, or take a shot with his longbow with the attack action.

He and Ireena are likely to join the party for a brief time after Death House, so they’re both 3rd level to match the party when they meet, but their builds will prevent them from dominating the action.  Ismark will have a bigger role to play in the early story, as he is due to marry the daughter of the Boyar of Graenseskov, a political marriage even more necessary now that the old Burgomaster has died and Ismark is single and heir-less.


Speaking of Ireena, she gets the EN5ider exclusive Noble class treatment.  This class, in the flavor of the 4th edition Warlord, adds a bit of support to the party.  She’s taken the Path of Bravery, the most martial of the subclasses.  A trio of limited-use-per-rest features include a 2-target “inspirational” heal action useable once per long rest, a single “use my action to give you an action” which gets better in what it allows the target to use as it increases in level and is useable once per short rest, and a reaction to reroll a failed save or ability check, also useable once per short rest.

She will be played as brave and strong-headed, and refusing to be Strahd’s victim, though her stubbornness often places her in harm’s way.  Medium armor and shields give her decent defenses, but she won’t be a front line combatant, running up only to deliver first aid to a fallen PC.  The Healer feat gives her additional support options, and she’ll begin play prepared for this with a healer’s kit.She will extend the over sized party’s hit point range between rests considerably and take some stress off the cleric.


CoS Session 04 -Not Quite Finished

We picked up right after the ghoul fight.  Darien’s player, Stanley is in Orlando this week so I ran him as an NPC, mostly as another warm body/meat shield, but I also got to use his NG alignment as a chance to inject my 2c into the party’s arguments over loot distribution.  The party debated moving on, but decided to take a short rest back in the “mess hall”.  Before the rest began, Zivago and Cordelia went back up the stairs and down to the second floor where they packed up the 4 suits of armor along the walls of the hall.  The fighters donned the two suits of plate mail, while two suits of half plate were carried by Devlin and Zivago with the intent of selling as the rest of the party declined the option of wearing a set.

After a short rest, the party ventured toward the area from which they determined the ghostly chanting was originating and found stairs leading down into the darkness.  Not wanting to leave their backs exposed, they doubled back and went south, finding a shrine of some sort.  Shackled skeletons lined  the walls, and the far wall was dominated by a wooden statue of a man and a wolf.  Insight revealed the man’s face was the same face on the electrum coins they had received as change at the bar (which they were told was Strahd’s profile).  The statue’s outstretched hand contained a crystal orb.  Hezekiah stepped up and spent some time performing detect magic as a ritual and detected no magic in the room.  Emboldened, Zib stepped forward to snag the crystal.  Zivago, Devlin, and Cordelia moved up to flank him in case of trouble.

Trouble arrived as he touched the orb.  Five shadows flew up out of the statue, hovering in the air for a moment before attacking the front line.  A hard-fought battle followed, with the party attempting to retreat back into the hallway to prevent being surrounded.  Zivago, Darien, and Devlin all held the line, allowing the others to disengage.  Repeated melee strikes from the three (against resistance), Hezekiah’s eldritch blasts (several missing), and Cordelia’s sacred flame cantrip (with vulnerability) finished the shadows, but not before Devlin, Darien, and Zivago had all lost significant amounts of strength (2-4 points each).

Zib ran right back up, grabbing and pocketing the crystal after seeing no further shadows appearing.  (inspiration awarded) The party avoided the door (someone remarked it was the first door they’ve found in the dungeon), and went the long way around to the northwestmost section of the cellar.  Here they found a sitting room with a table and chairs and a bedroom beyond it, with a big canopy bed against one wall with a chest in front of it.

Devlin was the only person who heard it, the scratching behind the walls.  He had just enough time to call out a warning when a male humanoid creature, obviously undead, and wearing a black robe burst out of the wall in the bedroom, just in front of the party.  A female undead, also in a robe burst out behind the party, where the two sisters were cowering.  To their horror, before the others could act, and with Devlin caught out of range, the female undead, revealed to be Elisabeth Dust, called out, “My daughters!  The ritual can now be completed.” as she grappled Rose and dragged her off down the hallway leading to the stairs down.

The male ghast, Gustav Durst, attacked once, dealing a bit of damage to Zivago before Cordelia stepped forth, presenting her holy symbol and calling upon the Raven Queen to wash the abomination from her vision.  Turned, the ghast fled to the far corner to the bedroom, where it cowered for most of the fight.

Zivago, Devlin, Darian, and Zib, freed from the melee with Gustav, ran to catch up to Elisabeth.  Rose managed to squirm out of her grip for a moment, forcing her to pause to re-grapple, which allowed both Zivago and Devlin to catch up at a three-way intersection.  Darian took the long way around but got stuck at the edge of the pit trap Zivago had fallen into the session before.  Zivago managed to strike the Elisabeth ghast once before Rose pulled free, running past him and out of immediate danger.  Elisabeth bit into Zivago, critically striking him and dropping him from slightly injured to unconscious.  As he lay there bleeding out, Zib and Devlin dealt additional damage to Elisabeth while Darian protected Rose, who had no problem skating along the outer rim of the pit trap to reach him.

A few rounds of blows exchanged, and Zib’s insight showed him that Zivago was losing a lot of blood (2 failed death saves).  Luckily, Elisabeth had stepped over him, trying to reach her daughter and engaging Darian and Devlin in melee.  Zib called out that they had a man down, and Cordelia ran out through the ghast’s own little wall-tunnel to reach line of sight on Zivago.  Unfortunately, she had to dash to get there, and thus, Zivago would have to make a successful death save this round on his own.  Zib offered Zivago his inspiration (the DM-granted kind, not bard die), but Zivago didn’t need it as the die roll came up a natural 20 for an instant stabilization.

Elisabeth dropped the following round, and Cordelia’s final spell slot was spent to Cure Wounds on Zivago.  Hezekiah and Devlin kept cantrip and bow attacks ready if Gustav left the corner where he had fled.  Gustav was pincushioned when the turning wore off.   Searching the chest in the bedroom, the party located a magical cloak, a box with four unidentified potions, a chain shirt, a small vial of red liquid, a bullseye lantern, some thieves’ tools, and 7 parchment scrolls with spells inscribed on them.  The party decided to take a long rest before venturing deeper as all were out of spells and class abilities, and also take the time to identify the scrolls and cloak.  The vial of red liquid appeared non-magical, but smelled like fresh blood.  The cloak’s enchantment was one of protection, and by popular agreement was given to Devlin as the two fighters were already tough to hit in their platemail.  As Devlin donned it, the party noticed a small imperfection.  Apparently its former owner had been backstabbed while wearing it, as there was a hole surrounded by dried blood in upper center of the cloak.  Zib cast Mending on the cloak, but the next morning, both the hole and blood stain were back.  Cordelia recognized the potions as potions of healing and held onto the box of them.

They reached the bottom floor, now able to understand the chanting coming from a tunnel to the west off of the reliquary they had just entered.  “He is the Ancient, he is the Land.”  Ignoring it, they waited a couple of hours while Hezekiah’s detect magic and identify rituals catalogued the minor enchanted items found in niches along the reliquaries wall.  As the group decided who would get what, some of them found that their choice of treasure had some unexpected drawbacks.  Devlin, in particular, ended up with two items with very good benefits, but ended up with an extra pair of flaws related to the new gear.

Heading around to the northwest, they found some hollowed out alcoves which served as some sort of jail.  Only one shackled skeleton remained, dead not undead, wearing a single gold ring, and a black cloak similar to that worn by the ghasts.  Finding nothing else they returned back to the reliquary, heading out the southwest tunnel, which descended down a slight ramp into about 2′ of standing water.  A rusted portcullis blocked their path, but Darian was able to lift it easily (20 + 5 on the Strength (Athletics) check).  They entered a flooded room with a raised walkway surrounding it, and a raised dais complete with altar in the center.

Remembering the shadows in the statue, no one wanted to approach the dais, fanning out along the east wall where they entered.  After a few moments, dark shapes appeared in the room, dark visages of long-dead chanting cultists, the chant changing to “One must die.”  Hezekiah had a vision of himself slaying Thornvalda with a bone ritual dagger, but felt no actual compulsion to make the vision reality.  The party agreed that none would die, and after a moment, the chant changed to “Retlaw the eternal, we summon thee.”

As the session ends, a pile of refuse on the far side of the room stirs, and then a horrific monstrosity, all eyes and mouths bursts forth, howling and gibbering from hundreds of mouths.  Horror overcomes them as they realize they have found Baby Walter, for part of the abomination resembles the face of an unborn fetus.  The party will have to wait until next week to face this final challenge, deep in the dark heart of the Death House.


Death House spellbook replacement

The following spells are found in a leather folio full of spell scrolls which replaces the wizard spellbook found in the Death House adventure (area 34).  Spellcasters of the appropriate classes can study the spell scrolls whenever a class feature allows them to learn a new spell of the spell’s level.  When a spell is learned this way, the spell scroll is consumed.  Clerics and druids can automatically prepare spells on the cleric and druid spell lists below once they have studied one of these scrolls for one hour.  This does not consume the scroll.

New 1st-level spells
Camouflage (Bard, Druid, Ranger, Sorcerer, Wizard)
Omen of Peril (Cleric, Druid)
Vigor (Bard, Cleric, Druid, Paladin, Ranger)

New 2nd-level spells
Creeping Cold (Druid, Ranger)
Malevolent Miasma (Wizard, Warlock)
Nimbus of Light (Cleric, Paladin)
Wave of Grief (Bard, Cleric)


1st-level transmutation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 10 minutes

You change the coloring of your skin and clothing to match the environment around you.  Throughout the duration of the spell, your coloration changes instantly to match the background of any new environment you enter.  This effect grants you advantage on Dexterity(Stealth) checks made to hide and you can attempt such checks while only lightly obscured.  This effect ends immediately if you cast a spell or attack a creature or object.

Creeping Cold
2nd-level transmutation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 30 feet
Components: V, S, M (a small glass or pottery vial filled with water)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

You cause the personal environment of one target within the spell’s range to grow supernaturally cold.  The creature must make a Constitution save on each of your turns for the duration of the spell.  On a failed save, the creature takes 2d6 points of cold damage.

At Higher Levels.  When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d6 for every slot level above 2nd.

Malevolent Miasma
2nd-level conjuration
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: 60 feet
Components: V, S, M (2 small gray stones)
Duration: Instantaneous

You cause an acidic green mist to manifest in a 20 foot cube within range.  Creatures caught in the cube must make a Constitution saving throw, taking 2d6 points of acid damage on a failed save and half as much on a successful one.  Creatures which fail their saving throw gain the poisoned condition until the end of your next turn.

At Higher Levels.  When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the damage increases by 1d6 for every slot level above 2nd.

Nimbus of Light
2nd-level evocation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self
Components: V, S
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute or until discharged

A glittering corona of sunlight surrounds your body, until you release it as a focused blast of divine energy.  While covered in the nimbus, you shed bright light in a 30-foot radius, and dim light for an additional 30 feet.

As an action, you can coalesce the energy from the nimbus around your outstretched arm and make a ranged spell attack against a creature within 30 feet.  You have advantage on this attack roll against creatures with the sunlight sensitivity trait.  On a hit, the foe takes radiant damage equal to 1d6 plus your spellcasting ability modifier, and an additional 1d6 radiant damage for each full turn during which you concentrated on this spell (this does not include the turn it is cast or the turn it is discharged).   Attacking with the nimbus ends the spell, whether the attack was successful or not.

At Higher Levels.  When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 3rd level or higher, the duration increases by 1 minute for each slot level above 2nd.

Omen of Peril
1st-level divination
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self
Components: V
Duration: Instantaneous

A brief supplication gives you and only you a vision that hints at how dangerous the immediate future (the next hour of time) is likely to be, based on an assessment of the caster’s immediate surroundings and likely path of travel.  The caster receives one of three visions: safety, peril, or great danger.  The DM secretly makes a Wisdom saving throw for the caster, against a DC of 10.  On a successful save, the vision is accurate, while on a failed save, the DM chooses one of the two other results at random.

  • Safety. The caster isn’t in any immediate danger.  If he continues on his present course, he’ll face no significant monsters, traps, or other challenges.
  • Peril. The caster will face challenges typical of an adventure: challenging but not overwhelming monsters, dangerous traps, or other hazards.
  • Great danger. The caster’s very life is at grave risk.  He will likely face powerful NPCs or deadly traps (one or more encounters of deadly challenge for the party’s level) within the next hour.

The form of the vision is personalized to the faith or religion of the caster.  A druid might see signs related to nature, while a cleric of Lathander could see a shining sun, a cloud obscuring the sun, or a solar eclipse.  Whatever form it takes, the caster understands the meaning of the vision.

1st-level transmutation
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 minute

With a touch of your hand, you boost the subject’s life energy, granting him or her fast healing for the duration of the spell.  The subject regains 1 hit point at the start of each of its turns for the duration of the spell, and is automatically stabilized if it is dropped to 0 hit points during that time.

At Higher Levels.  When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the spell’s duration increases by 1 minute per slot level higher than 1st.

Wave of Grief
2nd-level Enchantment
Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Self (30 foot cone)
Components: S, M (3 tears)
Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute

When this spell is cast, you create a 30-foot cone originating from you that overcomes targets with sorrow and grief.  Each creature in the area of effect must make a Charisma saving throw, or suffer disadvantage on attack rolls, Wisdom saving throws, and Wisdom ability checks for the duration.  Affected creatures may use an action on each of their turns to make another saving throw to end the effect.

Custom Player-Created Backgrounds

Now that I have a few 5e campaigns under my belt, I’ve started feeling like the PHB backgrounds are the one area of the game sadly lacking in diversity.  Many of them don’t seem to have very complimentary traits/ideals/bonds/flaws, and rolling randomly can often come up with seemingly contradictory results that require some hand waving and jumping through mental hoops to justify.

So many just don’t make sense or give any kind of synergistic benefits to the majority of classes, so you’re left with hundreds of sage wizards proficient in Intelligence skills (or dextrous casters with a checkered past for the stealth option), charlatan, criminal, and urchin rogues, and soldier fighters/paladins.

I’m going to experiment with allowing my players to come up with their own custom backgrounds with a set of personalized traits/ideals/bonds/flaws.  We’ll see how it goes.

Custom background construction rules

Skill Proficiencies: Any 2 (cannot take stealth and perception unless you give up a tool/language)

Tools/Languages: Any combination of 2.

Background Feature: Should be non-mechanical and downtime related.  The more flavorful and tied to the background concept, the more leeway I’ll give something that seems a bit more powerful than the norm.

Starting Equipment: One of the kits/tools gained under Tools/Languages worth no more than 50 gp, or one piece of adventuring gear (holy symbols and the like) priced the same, a set of clothes, and up to 4 pieces of adventuring gear or flavorful trinkets worth a total of no more than 50 gp.  Again, if these values are at the higher end of the allowed, then I’m going to look for supporting flavor from the background description.

2 Personality Traits: Questions to ask here are “What does my alignment and my background say about my personality.”

1 Ideal: What do I hold most important due to my background and life experience.

1 Bond: Who or what from my background connects me to the campaign world.  This can be a person, place, or group.

1 Flaw: What one feature of my personality, related to my background and life experience could my enemies use to exploit me and cause me to act against my own best interests.

I’m interested to see what players would come up with.  If the “background” ends up being more of a “backstory” with the mechanics tacked on (but fitting), then so much the better.  I’d much rather see “The third son of a widowed and destitute former merchant who fell in with the wrong crowd and was apprenticed to the local temple of justice in lieu of losing a hand for thievery and found his calling as a paladin than another “acolyte” or “criminal”.  Granted, there’s nothing preventing someone from using the acolyte or criminal background for that and then choosing traits that match the backstory, but perhaps the player wants Perception as a proficient skill.  In this case, during his first week of temple guard duty, his laxity led to a former acquaintance stealing some priceless relic and almost led to his expulsion from the order when they thought him complicit in the theft.  Since that day, he has vowed to never lapse in his alertness when on duty.







No-Spell Beastmaster Ranger

Everyone and their sister has their own version of the Beastmaster ranger archetype, as the one found in the Player’s Handbook is commonly considered one of the worst-performing 5e archetypes due to action ineconomy and the low hit points of the companion at upper tiers of play.  Fans of 3.x animal companions argue that it’s unrealistic to have to use your entire action each turn to cajole an instinctual predator and trained intelligent beast to attack someone threatening it.  

But allowing them to attack for “free” each turn is a huge power increase.  As huge as…spellcasting?  Let’s find out.  

These are the playtest rules Sarah is going to try out with her ranger, Devlin.  House rules for using trained beasts in combat are included as they tie in to how our table’s version of the Beastmaster gives commands to its companion.  The archetype should feel a lot more like a 3.5 druid or WoW hunter, with much of its offensive output coming from the companion.  As the Ranger progresses, so does the companion, and they gain synergies for working together at higher levels, promoting the theme of the archetype.

Beast Master

The Beast Master archetype embodies a friendship between the civilized races and the beasts of the wild.  United in focus, beast and ranger fight the monsters that threaten civilization and the wilderness alike.

This archetype uses the base ranger class features from the player’s handbook, but loses all features related to Spellcasting or powered by spell slots.

Ranger’s Companion

At 3rd level, you gain a beast companion that accompanies you on your adventures and is trained to fight alongside you.  Choose a beast that is no larger than Medium and has a challenge rating of ¼ or lower.  Add your proficiency bonus to the beast’s AC, attack rolls, damage rolls, as well as to any saving throws and skills in which it is proficient.  Its hit point maximum is calculated as follows:

Hit Points in creature stat block + your ranger level * (4 + creature’s Constitution bonus))

A companion with 13 Hit Points in its stat block and a Constitution bonus of 2, belonging to a 3rd level ranger, would have 13 + 3*(4+2) or 31 Hit Points.  The same companion would gain an additional 6 Hit Points whenever the ranger advanced a level.

When you gain the benefits of an Ability Score Increase class feature, you may also increase two of your companion’s abilities by 1 point each (or increase one ability by 2 points).  Alternately, with your DMs approval, you can choose it to gain the benefits of one feat for which it meets the prerequisites from the following list:

alert, durable, heavily armored, lucky, mobile, moderately armored, resilient, savage attacker, sentinel, skulker, slightly armored, tough

The companion has Hit Dice equal to the number of Hit Dice in its stat block plus your ranger level.  Like any creature, it can spend Hit Dice during a short rest to regain Hit Points.

You gain proficiency in the Wisdom (Animal Handling) skill if you don’t already have it.


Potential Ranger Companions

CR ⅛: blood hawk, flying snake, giant crab, giant rat, giant weasel, mastiff, mule, poisonous snake, pony, stirge

CR ¼: boar, giant badger, giant centipede, giant frog, giant poisonous snake, giant wolf spider, panther, pteranodon, wolf.


The beast is considered war trained and can be commanded as per the rules for commanding war trained animals.  It also knows the advanced commands: help, dodge, fetch, give, and take.  If you are incapacitated or absent, the beast acts on its own, focusing on protecting you and itself.  The beast never requires your command to use its reactions, such as when making an opportunity attack.

While traveling through your favored terrain with only your companion, you can move stealthily at a normal pace.

If the beast dies, you can obtain a new companion by spending 8 hours magically bonding with a beast that isn’t hostile to you and meets the requirements.

Tying this “auto-advantage” power to melee range is the only way to prevent all beastmaster rangers from going ranged weapon builds.  I think this makes both tanky pet/greatsword master ranger builds and defensive specialist ranger/dps critter builds vialble.  7 levels in this class prevent this from being a “dippable” power for optimizers.

Exceptional Training

Beginning at 7th level, your link with your companion is second nature to you both.  You can issue commands to your companion without an action cost each turn.  Additionally, while both you and your companion are within 5 feet of an enemy, you have advantage on attacks targeting that enemy.

Bestial Fury

Starting at 11th level, your companion gains the multiattack action if it doesn’t already have it.  It can make two attacks with its primary weapon attack.  If the beast already has multiattack, it can make one additional attack with its most damaging weapon attack as part of that multiattack.

I think the level 15 ability is a huge capstone for the archetype, making the beast master ranger one of the most accurate combatants in the game.  Have to look at the synergies between this and the damage-adding feats, or should it just be assumed that by this level, everyone’s got some way of regularly gaining advantage on attacks?  Not as big a boost for melee rangers as they’ve been doing this with their pets since level 7, but it’s the boost the archer build has been waiting for.

Pack Tactics

Beginning at 15th level, you gain pack tactics.  Attack rolls you make against an enemy have advantage if an ally (including your animal companion) is with 5 feet of the target and not disabled.


Rules for using mounts and other domesticated beasts in combat

The key determining factor for how a domesticated beast or mount acts in combat is whether or not that creature has been war trained.  Warhorses are the only animal on the list of mounts in the PHB which are considered to be war trained when purchased. Mastiffs, and other beasts with your DMs approval, can be war trained.  DMs are encouraged to assign exponential cost-increases for war training higher CR beasts.

War training by a skilled NPC takes 90 days and costs 180 gp.  Alternately, a PC can attempt to train a creature during downtime.  This costs 1 gp per day in training materials.  After each 30 days of training, the trainer must make a successful DC 15 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check.  A failed roll indicates the training costs are lost and the animal does not learn from that training period.  After three successful checks (minimum of 90 days), the animal gains the War Trained trait.

At the DM’s discretion, some war trained creatures (mastiffs) may be available for purchase.  Such creatures will cost their listed amount plus 200 gp.


At any one time, a war trained creature can be bound to one other creature known as its handler.  For mounts, their current rider is always considered their handler.  For other beasts, such as a war mastiff, their handler is a creature which has spent 8 hours of downtime bonding with the creature through training and succeeding in a DC 10 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check.  

When not being ridden as a mount, the war trained creature acts independently from its handler in combat. It acts on its own turn immediately following its handler’s turn in the initiative order.  It defends itself if attacked using its offensive and defensive abilities appropriately, attempting to flee if injured.  It stays by its handler’s side, and acts as if commanded to guard its handler (see Guard <target> below), until issued a different command.  

If you are its handler, you may issue a command to a war trained creature as a bonus action that requires a DC 10 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check..  A successful check allows you to give the creature one command it knows.  The creature acts 

When it has fulfilled the requirements of a given command, and the creature is not threatened, it reverts to its default behavior of guarding its handler.

The commands known by all war trained creatures are listed below.

Attack <target>– the creature engages the target if it can perceive it, using its offensive abilities appropriately for a creature of its intelligence: dogs/wolves make trip attacks.  War horses attempt to overrun and trample, etc.  It ignores other enemies in favor of its target, pursuing if necessary, until the target is disabled or flees.

Heel – the creature returns to its owner’s side, using disengage actions as appropriate if currently engaged with an enemy.  It remains passive, using attack actions only to defend itself.

Follow – the creature uses its movement to maintain a pace with its owner

Guard <target> – the creature moves to the target’s side, and remains there, readying an action if possible each turn to attack the first opponent that threatens the target in melee combat.  If the target moves, it follows as if it were issued the follow command.  Once it has engaged an opponent which threatens the target, it acts as if under an Attack command until that target has been disabled or flees.  If other targets threaten the target, it then engages the next nearest opponent and repeats the process.

Additional commands can be taught to a war trained creature by spending an appropriate amount of downtime and spending 1 gp per day of training for training materials/expenses.  Each of these commands takes fourteen days of training and 30 gp by a skilled NPC, or fourteen days of training at 1 gp a day by a PC during downtime, requiring a successful DC 15 Animal Handling check at the end of that period.  Like other commands, these require a DC 10 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check made as a bonus action during combat.

Help <target> – the creature uses its turns to move an unoccupied square within 5 feet of the indicated ally and uses the help action on its next turn to aid the individual indicated by the handler the next time it is able.  It then acts as if given the Guard <target> action unless a new command is issued.

Dodge – the creature remains engaged with its opponent, but takes the dodge action on each of its turns rather than making any attack actions.

Fetch – the creature uses its turns to move to and pick up the item indicated by its handler, and then return that item to its handler.  It uses its mouth to carry the item unless it can manipulate objects with a different appendage (an ape’s hands, a monkey’s tail, etc).  Strength and encumbrance rules apply, as well as common sense (a tiny chihuahua will not be fetching a medium greatsword).

Give <target> – the creature uses its turns to move to and drop the item it is carrying to the indicated target.  The command is ignored if the creature is not carrying an item.

Take <item> – the creature uses its turns to move to its handler and take an offered item from the handler’s hand.  The handler can use their reaction to let go of the item, or let go of it during their next turn for no action cost.

War trained Creatures as mounts

When acting as a mount, a war trained creature acts in unison with its handler on its handler’s initiative, and under the control of that player.  The player uses his or her turn’s movement to move the mount (at the mount’s movement speed), and can take actions normally while mounted.  The mount is considered to have taken the same action as the player if that action is dodge, disengage, or dash.  

As a bonus action, the player can make a DC 10 Wisdom (Animal Handling) check.  If successful, the mount can immediately use one of its melee attack actions against a creature within that action’s range.

CoS Session 03 -Deeper into Death House


As we left off, the party was assisting a pair of young, twin girls, Rose and Thorn Durst.  Rose told an odd tale of their parents being stuck in their cellar with a monster they kept trapped there.  Their nursemaid would not help them, and so they came outside seeking aid from other adults.  Thorn would not speak, even when directly addressed.

The party explored their home, finding books dedicated to summoning devils and demons in a hidden office, and had located a secret door leading to stairs up to the attic, after an attack by an animated suit of armor, and creepy, supernatural experiences with an empty blanket in a crib which cried, and the brief vision of a spectral young woman dressed as a maidservant.

We pick up with the party arguing over how to proceed.  Some want to explore the rest of the lower floors of the house while the others argue for exploring the attic.  They can’t decide and so, once again, they split up.  Within seconds of the split, Zib and Darien are engaged in mortal combat with an animated broom which nearly drops them both before they manage to cause enough damage that the magic sustaining it fails.

Upstairs in the attic, Zivago and Devlin make multiple attempts to bash down a locked door off the attic hall, not knowing that Zib has the key for it in his pouch.  After each failed strike on the door, the temperature drops more and a ghostly, chill wind picks up out of nowhere.  After the second attempt, a ghostly voice whispers “Leave the children alone”.  When Zivago strikes the door a third time,  a malevolent spirit appears, a cloud of ethereal matter, taking the form of a young woman’s torso, arms, and head.  Ghostly intestines hang from a gaping wound in her stomach, swinging around, as she flies through a shut door on the western side of the attic’s north hallway.  She strikes at Zivago, nearly knocking him out as the necromantic energy fueling the undead saps his life.  His hearty constitution resists the life stealing effect, which would have reduced his max health to the tiny number his current health has suddenly become.  He swings back as she disappears through the eastern wall.

The characters upstairs throw open every unlocked door and find a spare bedroom, sparsely furnished, and a room full of furniture covered in white sheets.  Zivago runs to the room with the sheeted furniture to get away from the north wall while Cordelia spots the ghostly specter re-entering the main attic and attempts to engage it in conversation.  The undead cannot be reasoned with, though Cordelia passionately states that they mean the children no harm.

The spectre turns on her, striking her deeply, dropping her to one health.  She, too, has enough constitution to resist the life draining effect.  A few blows from the party’s weapons are rather ineffective at damaging the specter, but combined with Hezekiah’s steady eldritch blasts, the undead dissipates back into the ether.

After the battle, Zivago uncovers some of the furniture in the attic to reveal a large steamer chest containing the skeletal remains of an adult human wrapped in a bloody blanket.  Study of the body reveals it was stabbed and likely disemboweled.  The party puts two and two together.

Zib opens the locked door with his key, and everyone gasps when the two little girls, Rose and Thorn, are asleep on a pair of beds, each covered in a layer of dust, but definitely alive and breathing.  As Cordelia checks the children, looking for a way to wake them without having to touch them, Zivago starts looking at a dollhouse which appears to be a perfect recreation of the house in which they’re standing.  In this same bedroom in the attic are two small dolls lying on small beds.  One has blue eyes, the other gray.

Zivago picks up the blue eyed doll, and Rose sits up in bed, yawning.  She is confused for a moment, but then looks at Hezekiah and the others and says “You were in our dream.”  Thorn sits up a moment later as Zivago touches the other doll, saying nothing.  Apparently she doesn’t talk in the flesh, either, though Rose says “she talks to me, I’m her sister” without explaining further.  Scanning the rest of the doll house, Zivago finds a secret door in the storage room in the attic, which opens into a spiral stair leading down.

Looking in the actual storeroom, the full sized door is found.  The girls are still confused and worried about their parents, though they’re not sure how long they’ve been asleep.  They are scared of the monster in the basement, but want their parents back.  None of the party mention the nursemaid, and the girls don’t seem to know she’s dead.

The party takes a rest to recuperate before heading down the tightly wound circular stairs.

Zivago leads the party down the stairs, and around the damp, earthen basement’s twisty tunnels.  Darien brings up the rear keeping a close eye on the twin girls who have eaten a day’s rations and drank a waterskin each.  A low chanting can be heard, but its point of origin is unknown, and it’s too soft to make out any words.

They find, but pass by the family crypts, entering the mess hall.  Combat with a pair of skeletal rat swarms, minor damage dealt to Cordelia and Hezekiah.  A swarm covers Zivago but fails to damage him through his chainmail.  Again, the weapons of the party’s martial characters are not very effective, so the swarms are dispatched chiefly from magical damage from Cordelia’s Guiding Bolt and Hezekiah’s now agonizing Eldritch blasts.

They make a loop through what looks like a barracks for some secret group which lived beneath the house.  Five locked chests are found, two of the rusty locks picked by Zib, while the others are forced open by Darien and Zivago.  Minor valuables are found in each.

Zivago, in the lead, falls into a pit trap, sustaining heavy damage.  Cordelia heals him, after he throws his rope up to be aided out.  Turning around, the party makes a loop of the eastern basement, passing through another barracks-like room and by another pair of crypts in an alcove.  Curiosity now catching up with them, they take the time to read and open all of the crypts, finding the names of the family, but nothing but empty biers, or biers with empty coffins.  The mother’s coffin contained a carpet of centipedes, but the party resealed the crypt immediately.

Leading back  through the dining hall, and then out the western exit, Zivago spots undead creatures as they crawl out of the ground on two sides of the  narrow four-way intersection the party approaches.  Calling for his companions to fall back, the group retreats and assumes a strong defensive position in the dining hall, readying attacks for the pursuing undead.  Cordelia uses a scroll of bless she had found earlier, giving Hezekiah, Devlin, and Zivago a better chance to hit and make saving throws for up to a minute, or as long as her concentration holds.

The first ghoul falls to Zivago’s blade and Devlin’s arrow, while the second absorbs an eldritch blast from Hezekiah, and a blow from Zib’s shortsword before wounding Zivago with its claws.  During the fight, Zivago, Hezekiah, and Cordelia sustain wounds, but all resist the paralyzing claws of the ghouls, and Cordelia’s concentration holds steady.  The second and third ghouls fall quickly to the blades and arrows of Zivago, Darien, and Devlin, while the fourth attempts to circle around and trap the party.  It fails to leap over the pit which Zivago had fallen in earlier, and limps into the room a round too late to provide any tactical advantage to its deceased pack mates.  It is no match for Cordelia’s warhammer.

The session ends with the party victorious over the ghouls, and deciding which way to go from the four-way intersection.