On Creating the Gaslight, Part 2: Working out the Mechanics

(This is the second part of a two-part article. Read the first part, On Creating the Gaslight, Part 1: Confronting Humanity through Games.)

Last month, I talked about a lot of the concepting that went into the design of the gaslight, our new monster for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. I want to continue the design talk this month, getting further into the mechanical aspects of the monster design.

I knew right away that I wanted the gaslight to be an undead skull, and I wanted to incorporate the components of the name into the monster itself. Gas was easy enough—gaseous monsters certainly aren’t anything new to roleplaying games—but lighting took a bit to get right. My first thought was that they could use light to misdirect—and the standard gaslight can, which gives the attacker disadvantage. I think there would be several different kinds of gaslights, though. Let’s take a quick look at their description in Monster Mausoleum:

Traveling through swamplands is difficult for the most savvy of explorers, but many of those who venture into the bogs unprepared never venture back out. A body that decomposes in these swampy areas often putrefies faster than one in another setting, and when the body starts to emit gas, the life of the person inside leaks out with it, and they meld into one being. The gaslight takes the form of a gaseous skull. Mostly transparent, it glows a very faint green color as the gas flows around its shape.

So these travelers, by their very nature, will have died under different circumstances. Aside from dying in the swamp, they’ll have died at different ages, in different moods, with different numbers of people—there are so many variables, and all of those variables can affect the kind of gaslight you get. That being the case, I figured that with so much opportunity for different types, maybe they’d each be able to affect lights differently. There’s plenty of room for that, too, and I’ve already got some ideas on what other types of gaslights can do. I’m looking forward to our next monster book release, because you can bet it will have a few more gaslights.

Figuring out stats for a monster often seems like it should be simpler than it turns out to be, but the gaslight was actually fairly straightforward. I knew I wanted it to have some strong abilities, so its overall stats landed a bit lower than a simpler monster’s might have. Those abilities vary from gaslight to gaslight, but they all revolve around confusing the target. Both the gaslight and the greater gaslight can cast a fog as a free action, which disorients and causes the confused condition. They also have spells that follow the same theme, such as dissonant whispers and suggestion.

With stats, abilities, and spells out of the way, we just needed to figure out the gaslight’s basic attack—except the longer I thought about it, the less it made sense for them to have a melee attack. The thing is made of gas. So I handed it over to Dave for him to look at without any attack line at all.

Now, it’s worth noting that I don’t have the 20 or more years of tabletop RPG experience that Dave does. I’ve played video games since I was a kid and got into the video game industry about seven years ago. I played my first tabletop roleplaying game five or six years ago and have been working on them myself for about three years. I’ve played in several by this point (two of my games just ended, in fact), and I’ve written and edited adventures for major publishers. I know what I’m doing, but I’m coming to the process from a different perspective than Dave is, which means sometimes I think about things differently. So when Dave expressed a concern that the gaslight didn’t have an attack line, I asked, “Does it have to have one?”

We talked a bit more about it and then decided that no, it actually didn’t have to have one. In fact, maybe it made more sense that it didn’t try to gas-bonk you in the face. It was a bit of a weird choice from a monster design perspective, but we liked it for this monster, so this tiny-sized gas creature just sticks to psychic damage via spellcasting.

My first draft of this critter did have a couple blatant flaws, though. For one, I was way too fast and loose with the stun effects. I thought they’d turn out to be really cool because I wasn’t thinking through how they would play out at the table. (If you’re not sure why making a player skip their entire combat turn is not ideal, play the game with a seven-year-old and watch what happens when she has to skip a turn. Then realize that’s how the adults feel, too. They just hide it better.)

Having really cool ideas for monsters is one thing, but you always have to keep the table in mind. The way it plays out there is always more important than how it reads on the page. Designing something really complicated for your own campaign is one thing, but you can’t assume that every GM wants to juggle a lot of complicated monsters around, because most really don’t. Designing for publication is hugely different from designing for your own table, and that’s something else that’s vital to keep in mind.

The other big flaw was that I forgot to look at spell durations for that first draft, so the gaslight had a few spells that were all duration: concentration. That’s ridiculous because it can only ever use one at a time, so having more is often just a waste. Most monsters don’t live long enough to use an entire laundry list of spells (coming back around to how it reads vs. how it plays).

A few back-and-forths later, and we had a well-rounded monster that we both really liked and that left us room to grow. Just because the two gaslights that exist now don’t have attacks doesn’t mean that none of them could possibly have attacks. That falls in line with the concept, too, honestly. There’s a lot we can still do with it, and I’m really looking forward to what we might come up with.

On Creating the Gaslight, Part 1: Confronting Humanity through Games

When I started writing this post, is was quite short. It highlighted the mechanics of my thought process then segued into the mechanics of monster creation. After discussing it with Dave, however, I realized there were really two aspects of creation I wanted to talk about. One was the crunchier aspect of monster design (which you can read about in Part 2 soon), but the first was more personal than I’d originally given credence.

DASTOW Games Gaslight

Artwork by Liz Green

A few months ago, DASTOW Games published Monster Mausoleum, our first non-adventure and our first release for 5th edition D&D. Alongside the undead monster classics like the pennangalan and the huecuva, this book also featured our new monster, the gaslight.

The gaslight began with me wanting to create a physical manifestation of gaslighting, the phenomenon of making someone think that their valid ideas or concerns are crazy or unfounded. Gaslighting is an all-too-common way of controlling someone else, and I know many people—myself included—who have experienced it. At first, I just thought the concept would make for a really interesting breed of monster (and I think it’s turned out to be so), but as I thought about it more, I considered some of the more interesting aspects.

Let’s take a step back for a moment to look at the power of games.  Some, certainly, offer nothing more than entertainment. They’re fluff if they’re anything, and they’re intended to be that way. That’s totally fine, and there’s nothing wrong with playing a game for that very reason. Other games, however, aim to dig at your subconscious, whether it be with conflicting moral choices or very significant parallels to certain horrors of reality. Some games aim to make you think about the world or the people in it differently.

In the same way that different games aim to fulfill different roles, so too do people come at different games for different reasons. Sometimes I’m looking for a game to make me feel something, and sometimes I just want to hit pixelated monsters with pixelated sticks or beat some internet rando at a card game. I think Gone Home is one of the most beautifully honest games I’ve ever played, but I also just got my fourth golden hero in Hearthstone (#humblebrag). Often, we come to games to feel powerful, whether it’s as a gun-toting soldier or a fiery mage. Some studies have even shown that a short stint of playing a powerful character can make a person feel more confident and decisive for over a day. Games are actually good for us.

I’ve referenced video games here, but this is arguably even more true with roleplaying games. Video games have the limits of financing and time and hardware, but in a roleplaying game, the only limit on what you can do is your imagination and the GM’s approval. Facing things in real life is often difficult. Facing things in a fantasy world where you wear magical armor while shooting arrows or swinging swords or blasting out a few fireballs is way easier by comparison. When you imagine yourself as a powerful character, a lot of things become easier to face.

So let’s bring this back around to the physical manifestation of gaslighting. One of the real hells of being on the receiving end is that you can never be sure it’s happening. By the very nature of gaslighting, it casts doubt on your interpretation of the situation, and breaking free can be extremely difficult. But now let’s say you think you’re struggling with this very issue. If pretending to be a powerful character for an hour can make you feel powerful in real life for a day, maybe facing a gaslight head-on can do something similar. Maybe it can wipe away some of the cobwebs and give someone a chance to really figure out the truth of their situation. And then maybe it can’t. But if the cost of finding out is creating what Dave and I think turned out to be a pretty cool monster anyway, then there’s no reason not to try.

Games are a powerful medium. Many still see them as infantile, and that’s a damn shame because I have had games deliver more deliberate, honest, heart-wrenching stories than half of whatever’s on TV. Many are truly immersive art, and well-done art can change you. Games can make us stronger in our day-to-day lives. I want to add to that. I want to be part of that—part of using games as a way to not just entertain, but make people stronger. I want to be part of what pushes the industry forward and gives it more freedom to examine that side of itself.

That’s one of the reasons the gaslight exists. That, and because you simply can’t have enough creepy floating skulls in D&D.

(The second part of this two-part article, On Creating the Gaslight, Part 2: Working out the Mechanics, is now live.)

Players Guide to Gith Released for 5e D&D

Players Guide to Gith

The githyanki and githzerai have a long, troubled past. If their history has always struck you as something that would make a great character concept, we’ve got just the product for you. In Player’s Guide to Gith, you’ll find everything you need to turn that concept into your next playable character: racial traits, new feats, psionics—even expanded bonds.

From zerths to red dragon riders to silver swords, our Player’s Guide to Gith will help you fine tune all the details for your first (or fifth!) githyanki or githzerai character.

The Pristine City Released for 5e D&D

The Pristine City 5E D&DAfter working on this adventure for several months and then spending more time converting it to Pathfinder, we’re very excited to announce that we’ve finished the final conversion of The Pristine City, which is now released for 5E.

We think this great adventure works really well with 5th edition, and we’ve introduced a couple new monsters (one being the gaslight, which you may have already seen in the Monster Mausoleum). the collapse rules work largely the same as they do in 13th Age and Pathfinder, with the DM keeping track as the city slowly falls down around the players, and the players trying to accomplish all of their goals before it does.Treasures Cover

If you’re just learning about our company for the first time and would like to get a glimpse of our work before committing money to it, check out Treasures of the Pristine City. This is offered as a “pay what you want” title, so feel free to pick it up for free. It offers the ten magic items found in this adventure, and you can see a little bit of our design work as well as our layout. If you like it, leave a review and pick up The Pristine City (or any of our other 5th edition titles).

Thanks for checking us out!

Tome of Templates Released for 5e D&D

Tome of Templates

Cover art by Liz Green

We’re excited to announce that we’ve released Tome of Templates for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons! It’s available now over at the Dungeon Masters Guild.

Inside, you’ll find ten templates for 5e monsters, including clockwork, fiendish, krakenthrall, topiary, and zombified. We’ve even got some tips on how to make the templates work for you and your table—after all, you know your players better than we do.

Some templates increase a creature’s CR. All of them grant an ability or action that comes standard with the template, and most have a list of optional abilities or actions to make sure you can bring something truly unique to your table. Even the player who has memorized the Monster Manual won’t see the angelic half-orc coming! (Or the clocktopus, pictured on the cover, left.)

Meanwhile, we’re just about done with the 5e conversion of “The Pristine City.” We’re even including a sidebar to help you incorporate it into a Forgotten Realms setting so you can easily work it into your current ongoing campaign. We’re really excited to finally get this adventure converted to 5th edition, so expect to see that in the next few days!

Monster Mausoleum Released for 5e D&D

Monster MasoleumIn a sharp shift of plans, we have released one of our two monster projects for 5th edition before we finished converting “The Pristine City.”

Monster Mausoleum has 17 undead monsters in it, from allip to skull lord. While we were converting “The Pristine City,” we noticed the Monster Manual has a huge gap in undead creatures between CR5 and CR13, so that’s the range we tried to cover. You’ll find bodaks, crypt things, and devourers, not to mention three different draugrs and two versions of our brand-new monster, the gaslight. (And of course, possibly the most grossly awesome undead of them all, the penanggalan, pictured on the cover, right.)

Our next monster project, Tome of Templates, should be available in just a day or two. Expect pages filled with new ways to use monsters from any 5e bestiary: Turn them into clockworks, ghosts, fiends, and more. Then, shortly after that, we’ll be finished with the 5e version of “The Pristine City,” so start getting your table together!


Fifth Edition and Beyond

Now that we’ve published “The Pristine City” for both 13th Age and Pathfinder, we’re working on converting it over to fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. The conversion is going well, and we expect it to be a relatively smooth process all the way through. It shouldn’t be too long before we’re able to announce that the conversion is available for sale.

Speaking of fifth edition, we’re also starting in on some other projects; particularly, we’re working on a short, one-session adventure and a small monster project. These are both in very early development, but expect an update soon with more.

Don’t worry, though—we’re still hard at work on the 13th Age class books, and we expect the barbarian book to be out and available before too long. We’ve got a lot of stuff on our plates right now, but we’re doing our best to give each project the attention it deserves.

Keep checking back for more updates on what we’ve got in store!