Friday, January 20, 2017

Ghostwalk and Fifth Edition

The Ghostwalk Campaign Setting Book from the 3E era

Because I'm a slug with immense self-doubts -- but an excellent cook, mind you -- I tend to focus my efforts here on converting old stuff. One day I'll work up the courage to put my own settings and creations up here.

Today is not that day. Today you get some of my meanderings regarding my next project: converting the Ghostwalk systems for 5E. You can find its 3E version here on the DM's Guild.

I really like "city of adventure" style settings, and this one is among my favorites from the 3E era. Designed to be a place you could drop into any world, the city of Manifest lingers close to the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead. As people go about their day to day lives, they share the streets with ghosts. Now, this makes it a bit hard to just deposit over that unexplored hill in your homebrew; the very nature of the place's inhabitants and its inferred cosmological implications probably require some forethought. The people of the world have to come to terms that there are ghosts walking around a city where there is a legit portal to the land of the dead, and you can go meet your dead relatives for a pint at one of the city's bars.

Due to a magical contrivance known as the Manifest Ward, ghosts can only become physical and actually interact with stuff while within the city. Otherwise, they are either fully or partially in the Ethereal Plane and can't do much of anything related to the real world while there. It's probably not a lonely experience; ghosts are swept along Ethereal Currents until they reach a place called the Veil of Souls, where they can either pass along to the afterlife or linger. One is bound to meet a lot of other ghosts adrift in the current or preyed upon by hostile entities that eat ghosts.

Now, these aren't the ghosts from the Monster Manual. In fact, the setting discourages the use of those ghosts to avoid confusion (wraiths, specters, et al. are all fair game though). Ghosts in the Ghostwalk campaign are only kind of undead and they are designed to be used as PCs. This comes with some caveats and implications for the rules.

  • Ghostwalk ghosts aren't undead. They're kind of in this gray area, but for game balance purposes, they are still humanoids of their respective race.
  • Pursuant to that, only humanoids can become ghosts. Other creatures either have too-simple a spirit (beasts) or lack the supernatural quality that allows their souls to linger (most everything else).
  • Ghost characters don't need to breathe or eat. They always have a ghost trait that defines something about their personality, and usually takes the form of a compulsion or outright obsession (such as listening to music, eating food despite not needing to, watching a particular person or place, or lurking around a building).
  • Ghosts that are fully-manifested in the city are physical, have mass and weight, and can be punched back to death.
  • In 3E, ghosts had to plan their advancement very carefully, as they could only advance in the eidolon and eidoloncer classes. If you were ever restored to life, you could convert levels around. This gets weird as hell in 5E and means you need to perform tons of maintenance to your character as you die, adventure as a ghost, come back, etc. There were options to ignore this rule, but they introduced other complications that I won't go into here.

There's a lot to work with in this setting, but also a lot of landmines. As I work on this project, I need to consider what's tenable around the average gaming table. Should I expect this to be an "advanced" setting and system where only people who have good gameplay knowledge can really enjoy the experience? I don't much like that idea, as it creates the potential for the curse of knowledge to strike between the DM and some players.

Regardless, I'm going to need to figure out what to do with the two ghost classes and how leveling, dying, coming back, switching levels works -- if it will work the same way at all.

Once all this work is done, I'll mash it all together and chuck it up on that links bar at the top for people to use, or not, as they see fit. For now, I've got a lot of reading and brainstorming to do.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Radiant Sorcerer Bloodline and Defiling Homebrew Rules

Today should be pretty brief, just an air-drop of a few ideas for some stuff that was brewing in my head over my lunch hour at the code mines today. First is a sorcerer bloodline for Dark Sun, specifically individuals imbued by the destructive power of the sun itself.

Radiant Sorcery 

At 1st level, you are enveloped in a glow whenever you cast a spell from the sorcerer spell list. You become the source of bright light out to 30 feet and dim light for an additional 30 feet until the beginning of your next turn. You can spend 1 sorcery point to cause the corona to flare out, dealing your Charisma modifier in fire or radiant damage to enemies within 5 feet of you.

Sun-Basking Vigor
The heat and blinding rays of the Dark Sun cause you no discomfort and, in fact, are a boon to you. At 1st level, you can regain 1d4 sorcery points by taking short rests in broad daylight, and do not suffer discomfort from the heat of the day. You must still hydrate properly and can be affected by other sources of heat normally.

Radiant Assault
Upon reaching 6th level, when you cast a spell that deals damage to an enemy, you may convert the damage it deals to fire or radiant.

Solar Flare
When you achieve 14th level, your corona becomes far more dangerous and all-consuming. When you use the flare effect of your corona bloodline feature, the range is increased to 15 feet. You also gain resistance to fire and radiant damage.

Once you reach 18th level, you become a vessel for the destructive power of the Dark Sun. By expending 5 sorcery points, you transform into a being of radiance and flame. You are enveloped in an aura of licking flames and searing radiance that deals your sorcerer level in damage to all creatures within 20 feet of you when they start their turn within the aura. Half of this damage is fire, and half is radiant; round fractions in favor of radiant. Flammable objects within the aura catch fire. This aura lasts for 1 minute or until you suppress it as a bonus action.

The bloodline is pretty straightforward and offense-focused. I'm not even entirely sure it's any good, but I'm not convinced it's bad either. Maybe just boring. I'll noodle on it.

Next is the end result of a lot of consideration regarding defiling, but before I post it, I want to talk about the thought process. Defilers are the reason people fear users of arcane magic in the Dark Sun world (though most probably wouldn't know the difference between a cleric spell or a wizard spell). They are persecuted in most civilized territories, subject to either the laws of the sorcerer-kings or torn apart by angry mobs. Everyone knows defilers are bad news, even the good ones; their magic destroys fertile land and kills plant life, and with how hardscrabble life can be on Athas as it is, it's kind of a dick move to make things even worse.

At first, since 2E defilers and preservers were distinct wizard sub-classes, I thought about making the only wizard traditions Defiler and Preserver. But then, the game's gotten a lot more diverse since then; we have arcane tricksters, eldritch knights, bards, sorcerers, and warlocks that are also casters of "arcane" magic (though that distinction is iffy in a post-3E and 4E world). It would have also meant cutting out the existing wizard traditions, which sucks and reduces player options.

So I then tried to come up with rules for defiling and preserving options when a spell is cast. I didn't like having two choices players had to make any time they cast a spell and magnifying the already complicated nature of playing a caster in D&D -- 5E has made it easier than other Vancian-based D&D editions, but that doesn't mean I should regress just for the sake of it.

2E defilers had a much more forgiving experience table similar to the cleric. They leveled up way faster than the preserver did -- the dark side is the quick and easy path to power, right? There isn't a concept of that in later editions due to a single experience table for all classes, and it would be a bitter pill to swallow around the table to say, "Okay, defiler player, you get 10% more experience because you're an asshole."

But defiling also had to be a desirable course of action for people, since it brought power at the cost of destruction to the surroundings. Thus, I opted for this implementation.

Preserving and Defiling

Whenever you cast a spell from the arcane trickster, bard, eldritch knight, sorcerer, warlock, or wizard spell list, you may choose to wrench energy from the ambient plant life around you to fuel its power and restore vigor in the process. To defile, you must be in a region with some measure of plant life. A completely barren desert or salt flat has insufficient life to fuel a defiling attempt. 

For each level of the spell you cast, you destroy a 5 foot radius of plant life to empower the spell (thus, a 5th level spell destroys a 25 foot radius of plant life around the caster) if the territory is fertile. If the territory has only sparse vegetation, you double the radius of the defilement. 

When you defile, you can perform one of the following effects in conjunction with the casting of the spell. 

1. You regain a number of hit points equal to the level of the spell you cast (if you boost a spell using a higher level slot, you regain proportionally more hit points). 
2. You cause the victim(s) of the spell to suffer disadvantage on appropriate saving throws. 
3. You double the duration of the spell, for spells that have a duration. 

The act of defiling is abhorrent in the eyes of most people. By doing so, the ground is rendered infertile and dead for months if not years at a time, and it will almost assuredly make witnesses hostile if they have a stake in the wellness of the land. In the city-states of the sorcerer kings, it is wise to hide the fact that one can cast magic at all if one is not a cleric or druid -- most people do not know the difference between a preserver and a defiler.

It's now something you're always tempted to do if you need that extra boost, but comes at the cost of potentially making an enemy out of everyone around to witness it. The third effect probably needs a more-thorough review; there's probably a spell I'm not taking into account from my mental storage of 5E spells that would break under these circumstances.

Anyway, I think that wraps up the bare necessities to get a 5E Dark Sun game off the ground (I touched on wild talents in a previous entry though I may revisit them). I've already got a crew scheduled to start it at the beginning of March. Should be fun times!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

New Links Bar, plus Witch Knight Fighter Archetype

In case anyone was curious about that new links bar above, it's a quick way to get to my conversion and homebrew projects as they get finalized. I've also updated my old Black Knight fighter archetype, which is renamed Witch Knight; that link is up there too. Pact of the Aegis got a buff, and  Pact of the Brand saw some updates to clean up verbiage and make it a little more like the recent UA Revised Ranger as it pertains to a "pet class" archetype.

There are still some general problems with hybrid spellcasters, but they are beyond the scope of that archetype. I might revisit its spell progression; fractional values get weird at certain tiers, making the progression look weirder than it could be.

That's all! Back to Dark Sun stuff next time.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Taking a Stab at a 5E Warlord

I've probably mentioned it before, but warlord was my favorite class in 4E D&D. I liked the idea of a non-magical healer that kept their allies up through inspirational commands and boosted combat effectiveness with cunning tactics.

No discussion of this method of healing is complete without a further discussion about what hit points represent. D&D itself recognizes that they are an abstraction, not necessarily representing actual physical injury but a combination of luck, skill, and toughness. No one is going to heal a laceration by shouting at it (I mean, unless you're some kind of bard), so the warlord concept chafed some folks I knew strictly because it was "healing" you by giving commands.

I like the battle master fighter, don't get me wrong, but it is too focused on how awesome the fighter is and not on how awesome their team is as a combined force. The battle master doesn't hit the same warlord notes that I'd like to hear.

There have already been a couple of attempts at converting the warlord to 5E by various people, but I wanted to take a crack at it. It is based on the fighter chassis and makes use of the 4E concept of hit dice as healing surges. Special thanks go to various colleagues and gaming cohorts who helped provide feedback; there's a bunch of you and you know who you are.


The battlefield commander, the knight-captain, and the cunning warrior chieftain; these are all tactical geniuses with a talent for leadership. Where the fighter focuses on personal combat, the warlord specializes in supporting their allies and turning the conditions of the battlefield to their advantage.

While they may lack the offensive capabilities of their counterparts in similar classes, the warlord has a strong array of support abilities that improve the overall combat effectiveness of their team. Warlords coordinate battle plans with their allies during adventure downtimes and adjust to circumstances as they arise, but can also serve as the face and voice of their company.

Class Features

As a warlord, you gain the following class features.

Hit Points

Hit Dice: 1d10 per warlord level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 10 + your Constitution modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d10 (or 6) + your Constitution modifier per warlord level after 1st


Armor: Light and medium armor, shields
Weapons: Simple weapons, martial weapons
Tools: None
Saving Throws: Constitution, Charisma
Skills: Choose two from among Athletics, History, Insight, Intimidation, Medicine, Perception, Persuasion.


You start with the following equipment, in addition to the equipment granted by your background:

  • (a) scale mail or (b) leather armor, longbow, and 20 arrows
  • (a) a one-handed martial weapon and shield or (b) a two-handed martial weapon
  • (a) a light crossbow and 20 bolts or (b) two javelins
  • (a) a dungeoneer’s pack or (b) an explorer’s pack

Proficiency Bonus
Battle Plans
Fighting Style, Rally the Wounded (1 hit die)
Martial Discipline
Ability Score Increase
Extra Attack, Rally the Wounded (2 hit dice)
Battle Plan
Martial Discipline feature
Ability Score Increase
Alternative Strategy
Battle Plan
Rally the Wounded (3 hit dice)
Ability Score Increase
Martial Discipline feature
Overcome the Odds
Battle Plan
Ability Score Increase
Rally the Wounded (4 hit dice)
Martial Discipline feature
Ability Score Increase
Dogs of War

Battle Plans

You can enact battle plans for you and your allies to enhance your combat effectiveness. After completing a short or long rest, you select one battle plan that you know and maintain its effects until you either abandon the battle plan as a bonus action on your turn or complete a short or long rest. If a battle plan is abandoned, you cannot immediately select a new one unless you possess the Alternative Strategy feature.

For your allies to benefit from the effects of your battle plan, they must be able to see or hear you, you cannot be dead, incapacitated, or unconscious, and they must be able to understand at least one language you speak. If a new ally joins your group, you must spend at least 1 minute going over your current battle plan in order for them to benefit from its effects. You can only grant the effects of your battle plan on up to ten creatures (not including the warlord).

When you gain this feature, you select two battle plans that you know. You learn a new battle plan at 6th, 10th, and 15th level.

Act as One. When rolling for initiative, every ally uses your initiative result to determine when they act in the round. You may add your Charisma modifier to your initiative rolls while this plan is active. When you or an ally perform the Help action in a combat situation, add your Charisma modifier to the result of any die rolls made.

Cavalry Charge. While mounted, you and your allies have advantage on melee attacks made after moving at least half the speed of the mount.

Defensive Hedge. Any ally with one or more allies adjacent to them gains a +1 bonus to AC. This bonus increases to +2 at 11th level.

Flush Out. With this battle plan, the warlord and their allies can make ranged attacks with the intent of moving intended prey out of cover. Make the ranged attack roll as normal. If this attack hits, the target must succeed on a Wisdom save with a DC equal to 8 plus the warlord’s proficiency bonus plus the warlord’s Charisma modifier or be moved five feet in any direction the attacker chooses.

Formation Fighting. While this battle plan is active, allies gain the warlord’s Charisma modifier as a bonus to melee and ranged weapon attack rolls while standing adjacent to other allies.

Girded Stave Stratagem. When you or an affected ally casts a spell while adjacent to a character taking part in your battle plan, melee attacks against the caster suffer disadvantage until the beginning of their next turn.

Outmaneuver. Allies may move up to 5 feet whenever they successfully hit a target in melee. This movement does not count against their speed for the round, and does not provoke opportunity attacks.

Skirmish. When you or affected allies are not adjacent to any creatures at the start of your turn, you gain a 5 foot bonus to your speed. This bonus increases to 10 feet at 11th level.

Tactical Withdrawal. While this plan is active, the warlord and any allies can use Disengage as a bonus action so long as at least one ally is within 10 feet of them at the time they take the action.

Rally the Wounded

Beginning at 2nd level, you can use your action to help get an adjacent injured ally back in the fight. They may immediately expend one hit die plus their Constitution modifier to recover as though they were completing a short rest.

At 5th level, the ally may expend two hit dice and add their Constitution modifier to each. At 11th level, the ally may use three hit dice with Constitution modifier to each, and at 17th level they may use four hit dice with four times the Constitution modifier.

If your ally cannot understand you or you are unable to speak or signal to them in a way they understand (such as the ally being unconscious), this healing is only half as effective; tally the results and cut them in half, rounding down as necessary.

You can use this feature a number of times equal to half your level plus your Charisma modifier. You regain all uses of this feature after completing a long rest.

Fighting Style

At 2nd level, you adopt a style of fighting as your specialty. Choose one of the following options. You can’t take a Fighting style option more than once, even if you later get to choose again.

  • Defense
  • Dueling
  • Great Weapon Fighting
  • Protection

I tend to house rule it so any class that gets fighting styles can pick any one they want, so that it is not just fighters that get them all. I don't think it's such a key part of the fighter's repertoire to have exclusive access to some styles, and hell, I might want to play an archery-focused paladin one day.

Martial Discipline

At 3rd level, you select a discipline that reflects your attitude in command situations. The discipline you choose grants you features at 7th, 13th, and 18th levels.

Ability Score Improvement

When you reach 4th level, and again at 8th, 12th, 16th, and 19th level, you can increase one ability score of your choice by 2, or you can increase two ability scores of your choice by 1. As normal, you can’t increase an ability score above 20 using this feature.

Extra Attack

Beginning at 5th level, you can attack twice, instead of once, whenever you take the Attack action on your turn.

Alternative Strategy

Upon reaching 9th level, you can enact the effects of a second battle plan that you know when you use your bonus action to end the effects of your current battle plan. Once you use this feature, you cannot use it again until you complete a short or long rest.

Overcome the Odds

Beginning at 14th level, the warlord emboldens their comrades in arms with their mere presence. As an action, the warlord may allow any single ally within 30 feet who can see or hear them the opportunity to roll a saving throw to end any impairing effect, such as the charmed or poisoned conditions, or a hold person spell. The ally has advantage on this saving throw. You may use this feature a number of times equal to your Charisma modifier, and you regain all uses upon completing a short or long rest.

Dogs of War

At 20th level, the warlord and their allies become a peerless fighting force. As a bonus action, the warlord can let slip the dogs of war to grant the following bonuses to up to ten allies they can see, provided those allies can see and hear the warlord. These effects last for 1 minute, and once this feature has been used, it cannot be used again until the warlord completes a short or long rest.

  • Allies may use their reaction to gain resistance against damage they suffer from a single source, provided they are not already benefiting from resistance to that damage type.
  • Allies may use their reaction to move up to half their speed whenever they or an ally receives damage.
  • The warlord gains advantage on attack rolls made against targets with at least one ally adjacent to it.


Savage barbarian chieftains may lead through raw power and fear, but the conqueror understands that it is spirit, not brute force, that wins the day. Though they tend towards violence as their first course of action, conquerors realize that superior tactics can overcome even the most powerful enemies.

Unchecked Aggression

Upon selecting this discipline, the warlord is considered proficient and doubles their proficiency bonus when using the Charisma (Intimidation) skill to influence hostile creatures. The warlord also has advantage on attack rolls against surprised opponents.

Coordinated Onslaught

When the warlord selects this discipline at 3rd level, they may use their bonus action to designate an ally to support in battle. This ally gains the warlord’s Charisma modifier as a bonus to damage they deal with melee, ranged, or spell attacks. The ally must be able to see or hear the warlord at the time the attack roll is made in order to benefit from this feature.

The warlord may designate a new ally on their turn with a bonus action. Only one ally may be supported at a time.


Upon reaching 7th level, the warlord may use their bonus action to mark a single foe that they can see. If the target is reduced to zero hit points, the warlord and all allies within 30 feet of the target gain temporary hit points equal to one half the warlord’s level plus the warlord’s Charisma modifier.

The warlord may use their bonus action to mark a different target on any turn, and can only have one mark active at a time.

Grounding the Dragon

At 13th level, the warlord can enact a cunning strategy to immobilize opponents. When an ally strikes a creature that the warlord can see or hear, the warlord may use their reaction to make a single melee or ranged weapon attack against the same creature. If this attack hits, the creature is restrained until the beginning of the warlord’s next turn.

Unstoppable Horde

When the warlord achieves 18th level, the thrill of battle invigorates their warband at the onset of each engagement. When the warlord rolls initiative, they and up to ten allies who can see or hear the warlord may expend up to three of their hit dice, adding their Constitution modifier to each, and regain hit points equal to the result.


The axiom that no plan survives contact with the enemy rings true for the factotum. Some warlords that follow this discipline are begrudgingly forced into their military roles, or have a disrespect for conventional schools of thought as they relate to tactics. Through force of personality and no small degree of improvisation, they chaotically direct their warbands to victory.

Auxiliary Tactics

Upon selecting this archetype at 3rd level, the warlord may use their action to grant the benefits of a second battle plan they know to allies until the beginning of their next turn. Once this feature is used, it cannot be used again until the warlord completes a short rest.

Seize the Initiative

After reaching 7th level, the warlord learns to spur their allies into a rapid onslaught against surprised or unready opponents. On any combat round in which the opponents are surprised, or if an opponent has yet to act during the encounter, the warlord and up to ten allies gain advantage on melee or ranged attack rolls against the target. The warlord’s allies must be able to see or hear the warlord to benefit from this feature.

To the Hells with the Plan!

At 13th level, the warlord may apply one of the following effects to up to ten allies for 1 minute after they abandon a battle plan, in addition to the effects of any new plan adopted by use of the Alternative Strategy class feature. Once the effect is chosen, it cannot be changed.

  • The warlord and allies gain advantage on saving throws against spells and magical effects.
  • The warlord and allies regain hit points equal to the warlord’s Charisma modifier when they reduce an enemy to zero hit points.
  • The warlord and allies ignore the effects of difficult terrain.
  • The warlord and allies double their movement speed on any turn in which they take the Disengage action.

Master Strategist

When the warlord achieves 18th level, they may select two battle plans to activate after completing a short rest. The effects of both plans remain in effect until the warlord abandons one (or both) with a bonus action or when they select new battle plans after completing a short rest.

This feature can apply the effects of To the Hells with the Plan for each plan abandoned. The same effect cannot be applied twice.


These warlords focus on defensive strategies and aiding their cohorts in overcoming injuries. Training allows them to wear heavier armor to protect them as they weave between the front lines and position their allies for maximum effectiveness. The greatest stalwarts can inspire their troops to remain standing long after lesser forces would yield to injury and exhaustion.

Armor Training

When you select this discipline at 3rd level, you gain proficiency in heavy armor.

Take Heart

Also starting at 3rd level, Whenever you use your Rally the Wounded feature on an ally with only half or fewer hit points remaining, you add your Charisma modifier to each hit die expended to calculate how many hit points you restore.

Rousing Speech

At 7th level, the warlord can restore vigor to their allies during a short rest. They restore a number of lost hit points to themselves and up to ten allies equal to their warlord level plus their Charisma modifier, without the need to expend hit dice. The warlord cannot use this feature again until they complete a long rest.

Repositioning Strike

Upon reaching 13th level, the warlord may use their bonus action after successfully striking a target with a melee or ranged attack to move a single ally that can see or hear the warlord up to half of the ally’s speed.

Last Stand

When the warlord achieves 18th level, they may inspire injured allies who can see or hear them to make their final stand. The warlord and up to ten allies gain temporary hit points equal to twice the warlord’s level, plus the warlord’s Charisma modifier. Once the warlord uses this feature, they cannot use it again until they complete a long rest.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Anatomy of a Marsupialmancer Encounter

Today I wanted to talk a little about the way I design encounters and run my games. Not because I have any particular point to make, but because it interests me to dissect my own work.

As mentioned in a few previous articles, my primary focus is my Sunday evening D&D party, a group of five veteran gamers whom I've known upwards of a decade or more. I am DMing Forgotten Realms, specifically in the Silver Marches, around 1482 DR. A few critical events have yet to occur in the canon timeline (of which I pay lip service to, but prefer to keep things fluid so I don't get written into corners). This is currently the third arc of a several-years long campaign, trading out some players between arcs, and allowing players to make new characters between arcs.

The party consists of a human paladin/storm sorcerer (Eldingar Volk), a half-elf moon cleric (Eiranil, using a homebrewed moon domain), an aasimar battle master fighter (Cyarra Farlong), an elven hunter ranger (Wren), and a human Way of Shadow monk (Leyla Katinmah).

Our primary platform is Roll20, though we do not use any of the voice chat or camera features. For comfort, ease of slipping in and out of distractions, and record keeping, everything runs via chat (think of a turn-based graphical MUD and you've basically figured out what the game is like). The game runs for three hours every Sunday (barring holidays or absences) and thus needs to be straight to the point with minimal interruption.

The Spider Pit and the Pendulum

The particular encounter and setting I wanted to discuss took place about five or six months ago (somewhere thereabouts, anyway) in a demon-infested labyrinth, with the party hoping to reach an imprisoned demonic general (a marilith) before the arc villain who has designs on enslaving/recruiting it. At this juncture, the party is around 9th level -- fighting the marilith would be tantamount to kicking a landmine, basically, so they had to find another way to deal with the problem.

During their search for the key to the prison in which the marilith was kept, the group slipped through a secret door straight into a tough encounter, which one of my players grabbed a mid-combat screenshot of below.

Click to embiggen (large image!)

The room, carpeted in bones and pools of coagulating blood and draped with sticky webbing reaching down from the vaulted ceilings, was the lair of a bebilith. The party's arrival was not silent, and thus the demonic spider noticed them immediately, scurrying out of the enormous pit in the eastern half of the room.

A bebilith is CR 10; I was using a slightly-modified version that came as part of this product on the DM's Guild. Alone it would be at a grave disadvantage despite the CR edge it has on the party -- action economy is king in 5E, after all. Thus, it was accompanied by varying sizes of giant spiders living in the ceiling, which descended a round later and continued to descend throughout the battle (totaling 12, ranging between CR 1 for the small ones and CR 2 for the large ones). Dynamic lighting in Roll20 helped mask some of the elements I needed to control in the shadows -- have I mentioned how much I love Roll20?

At this point the party was about about two-thirds strength. History demonstrated that the cleric can pull out some significant clutch heals and that the pal/sorc in particular can land some pretty disgusting alpha strikes, so I knew not to put all my spider eggs in one basket. The bebilith was the biggest threat, but poison and minor damage from the smaller spiders could not be ignored.

The fight unfolded pretty much the way I expected it to. Quickened blur is the go-to defense of the plate-wearing paladin/sorcerer, though his hit points are comparatively low -- the defense strategy is to avoid being hit in the first place. The battle master engaged the bebilith with Goading Attack to keep its attention on her while things were handled accordingly by the others. The ranger kept pressure up on the smaller spiders and made good use of Horde Breaker (when circumstances allowed) as well as her Sharpshooter feat; spider ACs aren't terribly high.

If you've not had the opportunity to play or DM for a shadow monk, they have downright crazy mobility with the teleporting they can do. Though it requires dim lighting, that is rarely a problem; she uses ki to grant darkvision to the party members that lack it and the group frequently moves in darkness to maintain the element of surprise on certain foes. Torchless Darkest Dungeon runs, anyone? In this case though, a torch was lit due to needs prior in the dungeon, making opening movements tricky.

The cleric previously made good use of the banishment spell to clear the board of dangerous opponents while the weaker ones were swept up, though the bebilith made its save against her attempt in this encounter -- this was for the best, since the bebilith long ago devoured the magic key that unlocked the marilith's prison and kept it in its gullet. Losing it would have meant having to open the prison a completely different way.

Web clumps were some terrain hazards, though they never came into play -- the group coincidentally never stepped into them, which is okay. The bone heaps were difficult terrain, though it also never really hindered the group.

In the end, the party was down to about one third of their resources and acquired a sizable sum of treasure from the bebilith's lair, in addition to the key they needed.

In Hindsight

There are a few things I did wrong with this encounter, and in retrospect would have handled quite differently.

The spiders proved to be only a nuisance. They did not provide the desired output of harm to the party, though this was largely due to dice luck (as anyone will attest, you have those nights where you just can't hit to save your life) and the party remaining clustered. Thus, the spiders could not for long get through to the back rank to eat the tasty and squishy cleric and archer before they were splattered by either the paladin/sorcerer or the monk.

I should have played the bebilith more aggressively. At this point, some of the party members were still lacking magical weapons, and thus it held its ground very well in terms of absorbing damage. The battle master did her job very well in keeping its attention (inflicting disadvantage on some of its attacks on the others nearby by virtue of the Goading Attack early in the fight), but I should have focus fired a bit more to put the fear of the Abyss into the players.

Of course, powerful healing from the cleric was a factor. It's tough to find that sweet spot where I'm scaring the PCs, but not forcing the cleric to spend every action throughout a fight tossing cure wounds around just to keep people upright.

Overall though, the encounter was a success. The players felt well-rewarded and challenged, and I learned a bit more about their capabilities when the chips are down. Subsequent encounters would be based on the lessons I learned here, though now the party is level 13 and their power has grown by leaps and bounds -- 7th level magic alone can do things to turn the tide on a dime.