Mike Mearls’ Combat Maneuvers

Yesterday I mentioned the manoever system from Book of Iron Might. Mike Mearls, who later went on to design Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition, wrote this mechanically interesting expansion for D&D 3.5 in 2004.

The maneuver system (I’ll use the American spelling to stay consistent with the book, as it’s a game term) allows you to perform a wide range of combat techniques without taking a feat, but at the cost of a large attack penalty of -10 or greater. This penalty can be offset by taking drawbacks.

Lets say you wish to knock an opponent prone. You can do so, at the impossibly high penalty of -20 to attack. However, you can reduce that penalty by 10 if the maneuver provokes an attack of opportunity, by a further 5 if your opponent gets a saving throw or opposed check, and another 5 if the attack only knocks prone and doesn’t deal damage.

Other possible maneuver perks include disarm, bonus damage, ability score damage (2 points), blindness (1d4 rounds), speed reduction, daze, stun, and disabling a natural attack or special ability such as the beholder’s antimagic eye.

This deconstruction of the 3e combat system is what got me to first take note of Mike Mearls and his grasp on mechanics. His later work, the similarly titled Book of Iron Heroes, formed a lot of the groundwork for D&D 4th edition. I’ll write more about Iron Heroes in my next post.

If you’re interested, you can buy Book of Iron Might at RPGNow for £4.41 in PDF, £7.25 in print, or whatever that is in your currency, which looks like Monopoly money to me.

One Weird Feat Discovered By A Sean

For some reason today, a strange feat came to mind. It’s called Reciprocal Slaying, and it appeared on D&D writer Sean K Reynolds’ personal website in 2003.

The benefit is this: As a full attack action, you can allow an opponent to make an attack against you as if you were helpless. If it hits, it counts as a coup de grace - for reference, this means he automatically deals a critical hit, and you make a Fort save or die (DC 10 + damage taken). However, if it hits and you survive, you then get to make a coup de grace attack against your opponent in the same way.

Thinking back on it, this is a really terrible feat. It’s something you might use in an emergency, but not often enough to warrant a feat. It’s more of a “Book of Iron Might” manoever: a special attack with benefits and drawbacks that balance out but don’t require a feat to learn. I’ll blog more on those later, they’re interesting.

Imagine it in the hands of monsters, too. A kobold insta-kills your high level character. Or an undead uses it, because he’s immune to coup de grace.

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Is This Dragon Encounter Too Deadly?

A couple of years ago I came up with an idea for a particularly unfair combat encounter involving a dragon who takes every advantage of his terrain and abilities. I never inflicted it on my players, but other Dungeon Masters may not be so merciful.

Using the D&D 3.5 rules, take a young red dragon, CR7. Red dragons are described as preparing multiple strategies ahead of time, and taking great care to avoid damaging their enemy’s items so they can loot them later. This one is no exception.

The dragon lures his enemy to a chosen spot: a beach, at night. With +17 to Bluff, setting up a ruse like this is no problem. Bluff is a class skill for red dragons, and they have a lot of hit dice.

He begins the battle by reading a scroll of resist energy for cold resistance 10, which he can do since he casts spells as a first level sorcerer. It costs 150 gp, but 7th level characters have about 19,000 gp worth of equipment each, so it’s a sound investment. The dragon uses his own spellcasting ability to cast mage armor and resistance, for +4 to AC and a brief +1 to saves before swooping in for the attack.

This is where the beach terrain is important. The dragon swoops in from 150 feet away (30 squares) and uses the Hover feat to make a whirlwind of sand. The sandstorm extinguishes all torches, gives the dragon full concealment if he’s 25 feet away or more, and forces casters to make a Concentration check (DC 16) to cast a spell. The dragon can hover at a height of up to twenty feet, out of the range of melee attackers.

The PCs will have to move into 10 feet range of the dragon to attack without penalty. This means archers can’t make a full attack and spellcasters must move into melee range. A PC at the very edge of the dust cloud must move 45 feet to attack without penalty. Area spells work normally, but the red dragon is immune to the usual fireball and resists the first 10 of a cold based attack before its cold weakness is applied.

Now, lets say we scale this encounter up to a young adult red dragon, CR13. We have even more frustrating tactic to use here. Remember that we’re on a beach.

At Huge size, the dragon qualifies for the Snatch feat, giving him the ability to pick up anyone he hits with a bite or claw, provided he can succeed at a grapple (at a whopping +37). He then flies over the ocean at full fly speed of 150ft and drops the grabbed character into the ocean.

To get back, the dropped character must swim 150 feet. Assuming he passes a Swim check each around (DC 10), the character moves at one-quarter speed: half speed for swimming (even as a full round action), and half that again due to the little-known effect that you move half speed in darkness. The average character will be out of combat for twenty rounds.

This snatch attack assumes the dragon hits with his bite attack and flies off in the same round. If it misses, the dragon continues his full attack (two claws, one tail slap), choosing to grapple with the claws at a -20 penalty to hold without penalty to himself (still grappling at +17). If the target fails to escape, he begins the next round by dropping the target in the ocean as usual.

Once there’s only one character left on the beach, the dragon can do even worse. Hovering at 10 feet, he snatches the target with his bite and flies up diagonally at a 45 degree angle at half speed (the maximum allowed by his fly movement category), moving 35 feet forward and 35 feet up. If the target breaks free on its turn, it falls 45 feet. If not, the dragon flies another 35 feet diagonally up, blasts the target with his breath weapon allowing no save for 10d10 fire damage, then drops him 80 feet for 8d6 falling damage. On average, this is 83 damage in one round.

What do you think? Too much?

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Free D&D PDF #3 - Last Chance

If you’re following the RSS feed, you may have missed Monday and Tuesday’s free D&D PDF giveways to celebrate the 36th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons and the 10th anniversary of D&D third edition. Today D20 Sources the last of three PDFs graciously donated from The Le Games's line of third edition player enhancement books.

Today, you can download 17 Archer Feats. Save it out while the download is still available.

If you missed the previous two offers, the previous PDFs are still available for the time being: Monday’s expansive Treasures of Malevolent Magic and the comically named (but seriously useful) Pimp My Paladin.

Free PDF #2

D20 Source Dungeons & Dragons Blog has teamed up with The Le Games to give away a D&D PDF every day until Wednesday to celebrate the 36th anniversary of D&D.

Yesterday’s offer was a free PDF copy of Treasures of Malevolent Might, a collection of 36 magic items including several artifacts.

Today, you can download Pimp My Paladin, a tongue-in-cheek titled collection of serious ways to beef up your divine warrior for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. Save now while the file is still available!

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Free PDF Offer Celebrates D&D’s 36th Birthday

Dungeons & Dragons is 36 years old today, and to celebrate, D20 Source has teamed up with publisher The Le Games to give presents to every reader.

Gen Con VII took place in 1974 from August 23-25. It was at this convention that TSR launched the original Dungeons & Dragons, in a print run of only 1,000 copies. This August also marks the tenth anniversary of the Dungeons & Dragons third edition Player’s Handbook, estimated to have sold several hundred thousand copies per year.

To celebrate, we’re giving away a selection of The Le Games’ player-oriented third edition PDFs, one every day for the next three days.

Today’s release is Treasures of Malevolent Magic, a collection of 35 magic items for Dungeons & Dragons third edition. Right-click and Save As to download your copy - the offer won’t stay up for long.

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Buy D&D PDFs, Help Haiti Disaster Relief

For the rest of January, Monte Cook is donating 100% of the proceeds from sales of Book of Experimental Might I and II to the Haiti relief fund. These books are packed with interesting house rules for D&D third edition, from one of the original authors. If you’ve got these on your wish list, or you’re interested in third edition D&D rules, now’s the time to buy.

If charity doesn’t appeal to you, Book of Experimental Might I made #1 on RPG Countdown’s Best of 2008, ahead of the 4th Edition Player’s Handbook at #2, followed by Book of Experimental Might II at #3. What’s more, both are available in PDF from RPG Now at $9 each, reduced from $20 and $16 respectively.

In addition, RPG Now is offering a coupon for $20 which entitles the bearer to 100% off a massive selection of PDF titles, worth over $1,000. The proceeds of the coupon go to Doctors with Borders. The pack includes Kobold Quarterly #11 and 173 other PDFs. RPG Now is requesting that users wait a few days before downloading the products after their purchase, as the server is struggling to cope with all the donations.

Purchase links:

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Pathfinder’s New Summoner Class

Paizo has released a new character class called the summoner, compatible with Pathfinder RPG and D&D 3.5. The concept is an arcane spellcaster who has a permanent summoned companion that increases in power when the character increases in level. The class is also a specialist with summon monster spells.

The summoner’s spell list mainly contains arcane abjuration and conjuration spells, making this a good support mage class. His summoned monsters can be used to set up flanking manoevers and such, reach enemies in difficult positions, block opponents from charging, and all sorts of useful things.

The best way to explore this class is to examine it at various levels, which I’ll do now.

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5 Tips to Handle NPC Followers

On occasion you’ll want an NPC to follow the party. Perhaps a player is missing that week and you want an NPC to stand in, or the players have hired a henchman to fill a missing party role. They might call in a favour for an epic final battle, adding extra NPCs to help fight.

Here’s some advice on making the experience go smoothly.

1. Don’t overshadow the players

Newbie DMs sometimes make the mistake of having an NPC tag along and do the party’s job for them. It detracts from the players’ victory if your NPC wins all their battles for them.

If you do have an NPC join the party, be sure he’s only assisting the party and not hogging all the glory. Especially, don’t have a high-level character step in and solve all their problems. Nobody wants to sit back while you teleport Gandalf in and fight all your own monsters.

2. Use simpler game stats

NPCs don’t need as much detail as a full player character. Unnecessary detail makes an NPC more time-consuming to generate, and can slow down play by presenting the DM with too many options.

Since NPCs tend not to have many wild abilities (damage reduction, fear auras or the like), it’s safe to write down their base stats: HP, AC, Fort/Ref/Will, Initiative, any skills you think they’ll need, and their attacks.

Don’t bother with individual feats, skill points, powers or racial abilities. With 4E NPCs, one or two at-will attacks and an encounter power should be enough. More detail only slows NPC generation and detracts from the player characters.

3. Fill missing players with NPCs

If your group is missing a player this week, one option is to fill in with a “Biff the Understudy”.

Biff the Understudy is an NPC in the PC game Baldur’s Gate who replaces any plot-relevant NPC you manage to kill. Likewise, the DM can run a quickly generated replacement character of the same class. As above, you don’t need full stats.

4. Use character generation software

Some character generation software can throw together an NPC very quickly.

A particularly useful feature of the 4E D&D Character Builderis the “Quick Character” option, which lets you auto-generate a character in a few seconds. This is actually quicker than the in the NPC generation guidelines in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Similar software exists for third edition, or you can use the quick NPC stats in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

NPCs who join a party can be generated with full treasure for their level, but hired troops and opponents should not. If a player runs an NPC henchman, don’t let the henchman hand over his equipment to the player for free. NPC allies with full treasure may take a share of XP and treasure.

5. Give NPCs some character

Each NPC should be more than a set of statistics. Pick a name and at least two distinguishing features.

Drop a comment with your own suggestions for handling NPCs, henchmen and hirelings.

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Wizard Needs Food Badly: Eating Monsters (3E)

This is a D&D third edition conversion of Monday’s article: Wizard Needs Food Badly: Eating Monsters (4E).

When a character eats the corpse of a monster, what side-effects await him? Will poison or magical effect make the attempt more trouble than it’s worth? Or, might he gain some strange and wonderful power?

Below are effects for several iconic monsters of D&D third edition. You are encouraged to invent your own.

As a general rule, monsters must be eaten promptly when slain to have any effect. Preserved corpses (frozen, pickled, etc) may provide nutrition, but lose their special efficacy when stored. A Medium creature provides enough vital body parts to feed two characters, plus one for every size class above Medium.

Orc or gnoll

According to the human barbarians tribes of the cold north, eating the liver of savage humanoids is a way to gain their courage. However, it’s not without risks.
Risk: Character risks acquiring blood parasites. Treat the parasites as a disease. (Savage bloodflukes: Ingested, DC15, incubation 1d3 days, damage 1d4 Int, 1d4 Wis, +1 inherent bonus to Str. If reduced below 3 Wis, victim must pick melee target at random each round, from all adjacent creatures, including allies, and must make attacks of opportunity against allies who would provoke one. If reduced to 0 Wis, target remains conscious but loses free will and enters a killing frenzy until slain.)
Effect: The next time the target scores a critical hit in earnest combat, he gains a number of temporary hit points equal to the target’s hit dice.


Dragon meat is tough to eat and difficult to prepare. Cooking red dragon meat is impossible without magical fire.
Risk: Dragon flesh is toxic. Character makes a Fortitude save equal to the dragon’s breath weapon DC; on failure, the character takes 1d6 damage per four hit dice the dragon has (minimum 1d6). This is a poison effect.
Effect: Gain energy resistance to the dragon’s breath weapon type, equivalent to half the dragon’s hit dice. The effect lasts until the character takes a full rest.

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