Sunday, September 29, 2019

Vexing Verdicts

My game last Friday night was the occasion of one of the most bewildering nonstop series of weird effects and judgement calls that I've had to make in many moons. It seemed unbelievable that every 10 minutes there was some exasperating (and possibly deadly) situation that I had to deal with, that I'd never seen before nor ever thought about. This friggin' game. Major props to my players for challenging me with all this crazy stuff. A sampling:
  • How to manage PCs finding and engaging 80 bandits fighting with 60 merchant guards in the wilderness.
  • Wandering gnolls blocking narrow mountain ledge, parties engage. PCs top choice is to grab them by the hair and throw them off the ledge, what's the rule for that?
  • In a deep dungeon, can you cast spells through a web spell blocking a tunnel? Lightning bolt? Cone of cold?
  • Elf wizard crouching on a tiny two-man rock ledge for cover. Casts 6 mirror images. Where do they appear?
  • Lead fighter gets charmed and ordered to attack fellow PCs.
  • What if he's Lawful, attacks with a Lawful intelligent sword, as is doing the bidding of a Chaotic being?
  • What if he's geased to do the exact opposite of what he's currently being charmed to do?
  • What if the charm-caster gets knocked unconscious by magic missiles?
  • And then starts regenerating?
  • Can an earth elemental summoned by a scroll spell pick up a live attacking giant hog and throw it as a missile weapon against the chaotic regenerating charmer guarded by a mob of angry giant-types?
  • Can an 18 Strength PC use a giant-sized club?
  • What about log fence posts from the giant devil hog enclosure?
  • Can the earth elemental collapse the rock tunnel everyone is fighting in?
  • If 20' tall, can it crawl into a 10' tunnel?
  • Can the charmed fighter block the elemental from advancing over his position?
  • If the charmed PC gets picked up by the elemental and deposited on a dangerous 20' high ledge and has his rope, net, etc., yanked away on subsequent rounds, what does he do then?
  • If a hobbit polymorphed for a year into an elf dies and then gets reincarnation cast on them, what counts as their "original" form, elf or hobbit?
And on and on and on like that, great jumpin' jehoshaphat. 


Tune in later today for Wandering DMs to help us discuss how appropriate mind-controlling spells (like charm person) are in D&D. I need a major debriefing on this! (1 PM ET)


20 comments:

  1. Just like baseball, you can watch or play 1,000 games and every time you will see something you have never seen before. It's really marvelous.

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  2. Sounds like an ideal game, that's the way the game is meant to be played! It used to frustrate me as a DM when I was younger, but nowadays I try to stick with saying, "Yes, but..." when players think outside the box. Players should be the heroes, but must remain challenged. The hard part is keeping track of your rulings, because players are entitled to some control over their dates. I envy you that bunch of players!

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    1. Right... part of my process after any ruling is to think about how likely it is to come up again and whether it's worth while documenting it. E.g., the "charmer gets killed" problem has apparently come up twice this year so I feel I may need to formalize that decision.

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    2. That is part of my process, as well. I try to look at everything as if it would be formalized.

      Also I try to consider, "Will we like this ruling if we see it again in the future with the PC/NPC divide reversed?" The players are usually really good about knowing how they'd feel if we mirror the situation back.

      The ones that make it as formal rulings, honestly, have created some of the rules that I've gotten into the game system as official material.

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    3. That's really great! Like, I wish around 1E that had been the process for evolving D&D (carefully reflected playtesting, instead of EGG coke-fueled benders).

      The PC/NPC mirror is definitely a thing that sometimes I overlook in my own games until it surprises us all in uncomfortable/scary ways.

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  3. Unsolicited feedback :D Unfortunately lost color coding going from Word to Blogspot comment:

    • How to manage PCs finding and engaging 80 bandits fighting with 60 merchant guards in the wilderness. This is a hard one! I wonder how the scenario emerged (I’m guessing it was a sequence of separate random encounters?). If I had a sense it was coming I’d engineer a round-by-round event schedule for the meta combat and allow the players to observe for a round or three (if they so chose) before charging in. Once they committed it would be a standard combat sequence with a proportion of the combatants (perhaps 16 vs 12) run round-by-round while the greater event schedule continues to run. In the absence of PC intervention I’d probably have the bandits winning in 6 to 8 rounds, unless the merchant guards were loaded with leader types for some reason. But if I’m doing it on the fly?! Yikes! I guess I’m attempting to fake what I’ve described above.
    • Wandering gnolls blocking narrow mountain ledge, parties engage. PCs top choice is to grab them by the hair and throw them off the ledge, what's the rule for that? I don’t generally allow for that sort of called shot (presume that standard attacks are the best-case course of action and any called shot is automatically sub-optimal). Of course, flung-off-ledge is a highly desirable outcome. But given that the targets are only 9hp (mean) AND have a size advantage, I would definitely make it less efficient than a standard attack (off the cuff, a non-halfling PC could make an attack at -2 to hit for a 30% chance to knock them off).
    • In a deep dungeon, can you cast spells through a web spell blocking a tunnel? Lightning bolt? Cone of cold? Absolutely. I don’t think of these two spells as projectiles in the traditional sense, and in both cases I’d rule the portion of the web within the AoE to be destroyed (with a 50% chance of ignition in the case of lightning bolt). And if the caster was set the start-point for lightning bolt beyond an intersecting web spell I would allow that no problem (I’d rule the same way if the barrier were thin glass or ice).
    • Elf wizard crouching on a tiny two-man rock ledge for cover. Casts 6 mirror images. Where do they appear? Ooo, another good one! Off the cuff, glitch. I’d have them standing upright, perpendicular to whichever stretch of wall/edge they spawned near and obviously not the caster (although they’d also move with him if he made his way to an area with more floor space).
    • Lead fighter gets charmed and ordered to attack fellow PCs. Charm isn’t powerful enough to compel actions that far outside the norm.
    • What if he's Lawful, attacks with a Lawful intelligent sword, as is doing the bidding of a Chaotic being? Generally wouldn’t allow it. When a conflicting order is issued the charm begins to fade, and if the caster continue pressing the matter the spell wears off entirely.
    • What if he's geased to do the exact opposite of what he's currently being charmed to do? Geas trumps charm.

    cont'd

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  4. cont'd...

    • What if the charm-caster gets knocked unconscious by magic missiles? Charm is a discrete effect which requires neither concentration nor ongoing proximity. Charmed target would respond as though an ally had been downed.
    • And then starts regenerating? See above.
    • Can an earth elemental summoned by a scroll spell pick up a live attacking giant hog and throw it as a missile weapon against the chaotic regenerating charmer guarded by a mob of angry giant-types? Jesus. I’d rule yes, I suppose, but not with any great proficiency or force (certainly not on par with a giant hurl). I don’t think of elementals has having much in the way of articulated limbs, nor intelligence.
    • Can an 18 Strength PC use a giant-sized club? Not well, no. Also depends on what we mean by giant. A hill giant club would be liftable by 15 str and wieldable (at least as a tool) by 18 str. But even in the case of a PC with giant-like str, I generally rule that giant-sized weapons are cumbersome and sub-optimal for M-sized PCs (I would perhaps allow them for brushing gnolls off of mountainsides).
    • What about log fence posts from the giant devil hog enclosure? This is strictly a matter of scale. Are the posts 5 feet long or 10 feet long?
    • Can the earth elemental collapse the rock tunnel everyone is fighting in? Jeez, another tough one. I really love the presentation of Magius’s elementals in Legend of Huma. They don’t seem to have their own mass so much as ‘occupy’ the local volumes of their respective element. So in the case of earth elementals they are more like a rolling wave appendage, pressing through the local earth/stone (and leaving a disorganized, mottled path in their wake). Given that interpretation, I wouldn’t allow them to completely bring down an otherwise stable cave network. However an earth elemental would certainly be a formidable opponent in such an environment!
    • If 20' tall, can it crawl into a 10' tunnel? See above. Yes.
    • Can the charmed fighter block the elemental from advancing over his position? Not any more than a fighter could prevent an air elemental from going around him on the surface.
    • If the charmed PC gets picked up by the elemental and deposited on a dangerous 20' high ledge and has his rope, net, etc., yanked away on subsequent rounds, what does he do then? Charm person doesn’t generally change core behaviors in my game. The PC would continue to endeavor to follow whatever order had been given but would not behave foolishly or abnormally in doing so.
    • If a hobbit polymorphed for a year into an elf dies and then gets reincarnation cast on them, what counts as their "original" form, elf or hobbit? Ah, one of these chestnuts! I’m inclined to rule halfling, but I’d also allow them retain any elf levels attained in the interim. Or how about this (since I’m a 1e wonk): MU reincarnation defaults to elf, druid reincarnation (a more profound renewal) defaults to halfling.

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    1. That's awesome! I was hoping that someone would take me up on that. :-) Gratifyingly, what you suggest is just how I ruled in most of those cases (and I was worried that I was waaaaay off in left field).

      For the mass combat (which did come up as random wilderness rolls), I did mentally fall back to my Book of War rules. So basically just 6 dice vs. 8 dice, rolled every 3 rounds, where results of 4+ (leather armor) indicate 10 men fallen. I guess in practice I sped that up to every 2 rounds to accelerate the action. Meanwhile PCs were fighting a small component and the sergeant figures. Plus standard morale checks (which both sides made and bandits fought berserk-style to the last). I think it worked pretty well.

      With the charm spell, I am running by OD&D LBB language, which says "come completely under the influence" of the caster (synonymous with vampire, dryad control, etc.), so our habit is that charmees absolutely start fighting former friends on command. Of course, that spell has been very much dialed down in effect in later editions (see this week's Wandering DMs show where we mostly debriefed on that exact issue).

      But on the other hand, I do agree that geas trumping charm would be a very solid ruling. Unfortunately at the time I'd actually forgotten/overlooked the fact that I was charming the geas recipient and giving directly contradictory orders (and also the Lawful sword). Counter-control effects seems to happen enough that maybe I need to document something so I remember to look for and get consistent about that.

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  5. Here's my take:

    • Decide equipment for the sides, and based on that quickly figure out expected casualties per round. Each round, each side takes the expected casualties plus or minus a couple. Leaders have their attacks rolled as normal, as do any normal guys who are directly engaged by the PCs.
    • Opposed check for grapple: each rolls 1d20 + attack bonus, including strength modifier. If the system doesn't assign scores to monsters (as OD&D doesn't) then ballpark it, e.g., gnolls are big and tall so say the average gnoll gets a +1 bonus. If you win a grapple that you initiated, you can wrestle them to the ground or throw them - if you win when defending a grapple, then you just successfully defend and the would-be grappler wastes his turn. If you get thrown off a ledge, you get a saving throw to cling to the edge.
    • I'd say lightning would go through the web and also light it on fire. Cone of cold would also go through, and if I thought of it (or if the players did and petitioned me on it) I'd probably let it freeze the web and make it vulnerable to being smashed through. Other spells, as long as the spell is either insubstantial in nature (like hold person), springs into existence at a location (like wall of fire), or has sufficient force to pierce through the web (like lightning bolt). I'd be more questioning of something like fireball or magic missile, whether they could "thread the needle" through the gaps or not, but there's a good chance I'd err on the side of generosity.
    • They're only images; I'd let the excess images appear over thin air. I'd only give the elf a 50/50 chance of avoiding any given attack, but I'd let the images re-position themselves so that there was always one on the ledge.
    • Running anything prior to 3.0 I would say yes, the fighter will fight for the charmer. In 3E they added wording requiring you to make a Charisma check to convince them to do things they otherwise wouldn't, and post-3rd it's explicit that the charmed person won't fight for you.
    • The sword has a chance to take control according to the usual rules, in which case I would say the sword overrules the charm spell.
    • As I understand it, a geas compels action through threat of punishment, not mental compulsion. See above for edition-based variation; I'd consider defying the geas to be "something the fighter would not ordinarily do" for fear of sickness and death, but in the "best friend/trusted ally" wording of Basic/Advanced D&D I'd say the fighter would be willing to defy the geas for a short time, or if running OD&D then I'd assume the "completely under the influence" wording would mean that the fighter could be commanded to defy the geas up to the point of death.
    • Charm doesn't require any kind of sustaining; if inclined to fight for the caster, the fighter would continue protecting him. Otherwise, the fighter would vigorously pursue a compromise or other course of action that involved sparing him.

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    1. • See above for my opinion on grappling and throwing; if successfully throwing the hog at other enemies, I'd have each enemy in a 3-square diameter make a saving throw of some sort, and on a failure take some damage (maybe 1d6 for an old-school system, or 1d10 for a newer one with higher HP values) and be bowled over.
      • If it's a moderately-sized ogre or giant, say in the 10-14 foot range, and it was a one-handed club for the original user, then sure. If the giant needed two hands to use it, or if it was more like a 20-foot giant, then no.
      • Assuming it's something like the wooden palisades from a historical fort, then absolutely not.
      • An earth elemental can explicitly deal structural damage to castles and fortifications, so I would say yes. I might make it take several rounds, though.
      • I envision an earth elemental as being able to "swim" through earth and stone, so yes. I'd probably give it some sort of attack penalty when squeezing into a smaller space, though.
      • No, the elemental can "swim" under him.
      • If fighting, he'll use any missile weapons available. Otherwise he'll just sit tight and maybe shout impotently at the combatants by default. However, if the charm-caster is within earshot and explicitly commands him to attempt to climb or jump down, he could do so if I'm working with the "completely under the influence" interpretation or an AD&D/3E interpretation (albeit requiring the charmer to successfully convince the fighter to do so).
      • Even if he's taken on "elf mentality," the polymorph is still technically able to be dispelled, so I would say hobbit is the original form.

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    2. Thanks for your takes on all that! We're pretty close to how I actually called things Friday night.

      On the mass-combat I fell back mentally to my Book of Wars rules, which is basically s d6 per 10 men each 3 rounds. It was satisfying that it's simple enough I could recall all of that mentally. One lesson might be to be more conscious of running PC fights with leaders while mobs of normal men duke it out in the background. That seems like both (a) good mechanics, (b) good story, and (c) even kind of realistic in primitive-fighting sense.

      The grappling is pretty much as you say. I've been doing a normal melee hit followed by d6 + Str bonus roll-off. Indeed, I gave gnolls a +1 there; more generally, I give monsters a Str bonus of HD/2. (Whole lot of prior math regression behind that.)

      The web did indeed get smashed by consecutive applications of cone of cold and lightning bolt. :-)

      The one big difference is that I don't think of earth elementals as swimming through stone. I feel like that's a late 1E-ism, like, out of Jeff Grubb's Manual of the Planes. I was actually ruling (based on slowness of the elemental) that the fighter could indeed block it, given that the controlling PC didn't want it to step on and kill him.

      The charm vs. geas in 0E is a real tricky one. I wonder how Iwould have ruled if I hadn't initially forgotten that he had the geas?

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  6. You know, I have a Manual of the Planes, but I never really dug too deep into it. It was also a late acquisition, I don't think that was really where I got the idea. I think they may have had a burrow speed in some edition, but I think what really cemented it was in one of the later Heroes of Might & Magic games I seem to recall their movement animation involving partially submerging into the ground and gliding forward.

    And yeah, I'd be tempted to actually run a combat using some kind of wargame rules - and I probably would for a larger battle - but for something that would only be a few figures per side I'd probably stick with averages. Say for example, if expected value is 6 bandits killed per round, maybe roll 1d4+3 for actual number of bandits killed each round, and likewise for guard casualties.

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  7. I see you are curious of our solutions to your situations so I'll play the game, too. Very long, so have to split.
    * Q: How to manage PCs finding and engaging 80 bandits fighting with 60 merchant guards in the wilderness. A: Bandits don't attack unless they have confidence they will win with ease, or else they break and flee quickly to survive and steal another day. Roll surprise for the Bandits. If they were surprised then have the guards inflict some casualties and the bandits flee on round 2. If not surprised have them take out guards at twice the rate guards kill bandits and have the guards roll a moral check after the first round. Either way I doubt there will be much for the PCs by the time they jump in.

    * Q:Wandering gnolls blocking narrow mountain ledge, parties engage. PCs top choice is to grab them by the hair and throw them off the ledge, what's the rule for that? A: Ignore "by the hair" and realize in the past you've used some ruling for how to grapple. Apply grapple rules with a "pin" equal to "throwing the enemy off the ledge."

    * Q: In a deep dungeon, can you cast spells through a web spell blocking a tunnel? Lightning bolt? Cone of cold? A: I rule webs block movement but not vision so spells can be cast through them. Any destructive spell would destroy webs if it affects those within.

    * Q: Elf wizard crouching on a tiny two-man rock ledge for cover. Casts 6 mirror images. Where do they appear? A: Next to. The images move back and forth through each other and the original so the 7 elves will be overlapping in the space available just as if there were no ledge.

    * Q: Lead fighter gets charmed and ordered to attack fellow PCs. A: Okay, no problem. He attacks. That's how you say you play charm.

    * Q: What if he's Lawful, attacks with a Lawful intelligent sword, as is doing the bidding of a Chaotic being? A: The sword wouldn't like that. It would attempt a test of wills to take control of the fighter's actions. If it wins, he's in the control of the sword. If it loses, he's in the control of the elf.

    * Q: What if he's geased to do the exact opposite of what he's currently being charmed to do? A: Geas doesn't compel action. The subject still has free will to resist, but will suffer for doing so. So the fighter does it anyway and suffers the consequences of violating the geas.

    * Q: What if the charm-caster gets knocked unconscious by magic missiles? A: I make the subject of a charm obey, not be directly controlled by the thoughts of the caster, so for me the fighter continues doing the last command he was given until countered or the spell ends.

    * Q: And then starts regenerating? A: Irrelevant as the charmer being unconscious (or dead) has no effect on charm the way I play.

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    1. * Q: Can an earth elemental summoned by a scroll spell pick up a live attacking giant hog and throw it as a missile weapon against the chaotic regenerating charmer guarded by a mob of angry giant-types? A: I see no reason it couldn't. Spell conjured elementals are huge and extremely strong. Treat the giant hog as a boulder (it is physically larger but also softer so the damage balances out, and I don't need to be that precise in a game).

      * Q: Can an 18 Strength PC use a giant-sized club? A: Sure. Giants do double damage with weapons. A club does 1d4 in Basic (1d6-1 in my OD&D) so the PC will do 2d4 (or 2d6-2) damage with it. And the giant club is a two handed weapon with any of the effects you associate with that (losing individual initiative, etc).

      * Q: What about log fence posts from the giant devil hog enclosure? A: I think these would be much larger than the club so I would not allow it as too unwieldy. To keep giant devil hogs in they'd be massive posts.

      * Q: Can the earth elemental collapse the rock tunnel everyone is fighting in? A: Earth elementals have a connection to rock so I'd say that makes sense. Let it use its turn to collapse a section of wall or ceiling just as if attacking a castle wall. (Per Master Set guidance earth elementals do double damage against stone structures.)

      * Q: If 20' tall, can it crawl into a 10' tunnel? A: Earth elementals can burrow or move through solid stone. They could absolutely move through a 10' tunnel (part of them would be within the surrounding stone, but that doesn't matter to the elemental).

      * Q: Can the charmed fighter block the elemental from advancing over his position? A: Absolutely. Most games don't allow movement through hostile creatures. The elemental could burrow around or steamroll the fighter with ease. Keep in mind it is made of rock and is 16' tall (you mentioned 20' so maybe yours is bigger than BTB) so it probably weighs 10 tons.

      * Q: If the charmed PC gets picked up by the elemental and deposited on a dangerous 20' high ledge and has his rope, net, etc., yanked away on subsequent rounds, what does he do then? A: Attempt to climb down, attempt to jump down and break-roll, fire missile weapons, or whatever the charmer instructs him to do.

      * Q: If a hobbit polymorphed for a year into an elf dies and then gets reincarnation cast on them, what counts as their "original" form, elf or hobbit? A: You answer your own question with your wording. You call him "A HOBBIT polymorphed into" not "AN ELF transformed from". He's a hobbit, and that's what his spirit knows, regardless of what shape his body is twisted into. Reincarnation brings the spirit back and if the result is original form, the spirit's original form was hobbit.

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    2. Thank you for that!

      It's gratifying that we all seem to be basically in agreement on spells going through a web (and possibly breaking it), because that's how I ruled, and was a little sqirrelly about it being correct. Your point about having vision through it is good, possibly I should have emphasized that (e.g., letting PCs see some action on other side).

      Your ruling on the charm vs. geas is exactly what I did at the time. I do think there's wide room there for other interpretations.

      Admittedly I don't let earth elementals burrow at will (maybe I'd let them dig slowly), and the controlling PC didn't want to steamroll/damage the charmed PC doing the blocking maneuver, so my ruling was the elemental got successful blocked (until it picked up the charmee). That was slightly contentious at the the time.

      Also exactly how I ruled on the reincarnation. :-)

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  8. Oooh, I'm a bit late but this is a really fun exercise. I spent a few seconds thinking about every question because any more would be cheating. My answers are...

    Bandits vs Guards: Make up a "group of 10" statline by multiplying a bandit's HP and damage by 10. Run 6 "group of 10 bandits" monsters. Same for merchant guards. Leaders are separate monsters. I've handled mass combat like this before and it went pretty okay.

    Gnoll tossing: Grapple checks! Wrestling type stuff comes up really often in my opinion, a consistent rule is vital. But as usual, if your strategy works (here, it should!) the monsters will imitate you...

    Casting through a web spell: Counts as the target being behind a visual obstruction/cover. -4 to hit? Chance you may miss and hit the web (it'll burn/freeze the web for sure).

    Mirror image on ledge: Wizard's choice. They can appear in the air or holding to each other and teetering above the edge.

    Lawful sword: Clearly an intelligent Lawful sword would hinder its wielder's swings, to sabotage the Chaotic caster's plans. -4 to hit.

    Charm vs Geas: Uh, umm, geas takes priority 'cuz it's a more powerful spell. (If it was just Charm vs Charm I'd allow two (temporary) saves every round. If both effects are active, the confused Fighter does nothing!)

    Charm caster KO'd/regenerates: Spells keep going after the caster gets KO'd or killed unless they specifically require concentration. Comes up often for me (just a few sessions ago, running B2 for newbies, they wonder out loud: if we kill the cultist necromancers, do the skeletons collapse?). It's kinda lame though. Might change it to the opposite. Killing the bad guy and seeing all its magically bound minions collapse makes more sense both from a narrative and common sense perspective.

    Thrown hog: Yes! Counts as improvised weapon. Deals something like... 3d10 if it's ogre-sized? Depends on how giant we're talking.

    Giant's club: This one's difficult, I would say yes, but make a Strength roll or your attack is wasted.

    Fence post: Same but probably a little easier.

    Elemental cave-in: Hell yeah it can do that. It has to spend its turn focusing on the cave-in, picks 3 10x10 areas, and has a 1/6 chance per round of collapsing each for... 3d10 to each target in area (save vs petrification to halve).

    Elemental fitting in: It could squeeze in no biggie. It'd give no penalties, it's at home in a rock tunnel.

    Fighter blocking the Elemental: Grapple checks again! This one's going to be difficult, elementals are big and strong.

    Fighter on ledge: Charmed creatures will obey command but not obviously suicidal orders (in BX at least). I'd argue trying to get down the ledge is not obviously suicidal but I may still give the PC fighter some morale checks since he's basically a monster right now.

    Hobbit: Oh yeah his original form is a hobbit for sure.

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    1. Thanks, I like these! (I think this makes a majority for the geas vs. charm issue).

      I agree that one of the things I semi-discovered that worked nicely was to have the bandit leaders face off against PCs, while I run mass mob combat in the background (mostly). Hopefully I can do that in a bit more focused way in the future.

      Also agree with modifiers for casting through a web. I think I was giving +2 to saves?

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