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Oct 10, 2019

Ways to Switch Up D&D Monsters

I've been having a blast reading Descent into Avernus, the first real D&D 5e book that I honest-to-goodness bought not just for access to new game mechanics, but to have as an actual adventure module to run. One thing I admire about Wizards of the Coast's published adventures is their ability to breathe life into combat so that it always feels new. They always seem to give great variety to the types of monsters you encounter in an adventure; for example, you don't just see devil after devil when you go to the Nine Hells; you also see a gang of wereboars, a night hag with a crew of fey redcaps and a pet flesh golem, and a chariot pulled by gorgons.

Even with the devils they do put into this adventure, they use simple twists to make each one seem unique from the standard picture shown in the Monster Manual. Below is a list I've compiled showing some techniques and twists you can put on monsters (along with examples) so that players who are already familiar with all the monsters in the game can encounter new challenges, and finding yet another group of orcs won't ever get burdensome.

And because this is D&D, I've made each table one you can roll on if you need an idea in a pinch.

Monster Variations

d20 Variation
1 Gender swap (female planetar, male medusa, manticore mother with cubs, female ogre)
2 Injury (missing a limb, disfiguring scar, limp, eye patch)
3 Mutation (ettercap with extra arms, two-headed hippogriff, scaly mind flayer)
4 Alignment change (brain injury or augmentation, outlier among others, repentant, friendly)
5 Individualist (pacifist, shy, cowardly, other agenda, jealous of allies)
6 Template (skeletal roc, half-dragon ogre, zombie rats, golem horse)
7 Noncombatant (troll children, elderly bugbears, lame or sick hobgoblins)
8 Weapon swap (goblins with pikes, death knight with bow, ghouls with slings)
9 Character levels (orc with sneak attack, wyvern with second wind, kobold with rage) 
10 Mounted (cloud giant on a roc, skeletons on skeletal warhorses, pixies on faerie dragons)
11 Paragon (multiple enemies mashed into one) (medusa hydra, animated armor-wearing jackalwere)
12 Progressive (flying basilisk that loses its wings when reduced to half hit points, bulette whose armor sloughs off over time, berserk trolls)
13 Damage swap (flying hammers, ice imp, radiant wraith, poison gas elemental)
14 Spell swap (archmage-archpriest, apprentice cleric, lizardfolk shaman-warlock)
15 Armor swap (goblins in full plate armor, armored wyverns, blackguard in black studded leather armor)
16 Reskinned (kuo-toa murlocs, red dragon phoenix, flying books (bats))
17 Magic item equipped (ogre with headband of intellect, beholder with ring on eye stalk, gnolls that drink potions of healing)
18 Age/size change (sphinx cub, ancient ankheg, beetle-sized gelatinous cubes, gigantic intelect devourer)
19 Legendary (legendary actions, resistance, powerful reactions)
20  Ability score swap (intelligent ettin, sickly giant, fast treant)

Enemy Group Variations

d12 Variation
1 A large number of "fodder" enemies. Same stats except only 1 hit point
2 Enemies that ambush the PCs
3 Enemies that set a cunning trap for the PCs
4 A second wave of enemies after the first (reinforcements)
5 Two separate factions of enemies in one battle (different colors)
6 Enemies who are out of reach and attacking with ranged weapons
7 Enemies disguised as other enemies
8 Illusory enemies set up by the real ones
9 Enemies who retreat or surrender immediately
10 Enemies led by a boss (boss has maximized hit points)
11 Enemies with visible leverage (hostages, destructible treasure, a lit torch in a wooden house, support columns underground)
12 Enemies arguing with each other who automatically fail Perception checks for the sneaking PCs

Oct 1, 2019

My List of Rituals

I love rituals. I think it's important to celebrate holidays and hold formal traditions, so as to have things to look forward to and add stability and gratitude to yearly life. Being as today is the first of October when I begin my yearly ritual of eating a bag of candy corn and a bag of creme pumpkins by as quickly as I wish, I decided to make a list of the rituals and traditions I enjoy from year to year. I'm sure as time goes by I'll come back here and update it as I remember more and make more to fill it in. As you'll notice, a lot of it has to do with food, as well as rituals to commemorate events that happened on that day years before.


1 - New Years Reflection. My family and I fill out forms thinking about what the new year will bring, with everything from goals to predictions. We also look back at the previous year, reflecting on friends we made, good and bad events, and favorite books and movies we experienced.


Project Month. Since it's the dreary, boring time of year, I often use February (and sometimes November) as a time to hold a month-long "project" for myself, often with a formal, alliterative name. There's something about sticking to a habit or practice for one entire month that can teach you a lot about yourself. I've detailed pretty much all my month-long projects right here on Pretzel Lectern:
1 - Hourly Comic Day. I've really enjoyed getting back to my comic drawing days participating in the Hourly Comic Day along with other comic artists each year. It's a fun way to seek out and find funny things (or simply punchline-worthy things) in day-to-day life and realize there are a lot more than you might think.

2 - Groundhog Day. What better way to celebrate Groundhog Day than to watch Groundhog Day, one of my favorite movies ever? Given the segmented structure of the movie, sometimes I come up with a sort of "drinking game" (except I don't drink) based on every time Phil Connors wakes up in a new day.

14 - Valentine's Day. My wife and I trade homemade gifts on Valentine's Day, but we never go on a date that night. To avoid the crowds of people who save their date for the actual day, we go out a few days before or after, usually on a Wednesday or Thursday night. Valentine's Day is about being together with your significant other, not waiting in line and being around a ton of other people and their significant others.

Dark Chocolate Kisses. My favorite kind of Hershey's Kiss is dark chocolate truffle, and they only offer them around Valentine's Day. It's been a couple of years since I've remembered to buy a bag around that time, so I'm really looking forward to the next chance I get!

Tax Return. I remember when I used to get my family's tax return for the year, we'd make some fun purchase for the house like an electronic keyboard or something, but now it all just goes toward debt. Still, we enjoy the tradition of going as a family to a buffet like Chuck-A-Rama or Golden Corral.


Easter - My favorite Easter ritual is eating a bag of those delicious malt robin eggs. 


8 - My Birthday. Birthdays for me are meh. My last truly great or even memorable birthday was probably when I turned 16 or 17. With each year blending into the following one and with age not really mattering anymore except every new decade, my birthday is never really any more special than any other day. Which I guess is a good thing—I'd rather have one normal day if the norm was great than have a dull life with only one day to look forward to each year. Still, my wife (who loves birthdays) does her best to make it a special day, which I'm grateful for. Maybe I need to try harder and come up with an exciting ritual for it, like making an extravagantly detailed cake.


6 - Dia da Bahia. I returned from a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bahia, Brazil, on May 6th, 2010, and I try to remember each year to celebrate by making Brazilian food. Since I make Brazilian food like feijoada, estroganofe de frango, and pão de queijo throughout the year already, I've been forgetting to celebrate this as religiously as I should. Maybe I should focus on making a more extravagant Brazilian dish, such as lasanha so that it's more special.


10 - Warcraft. One of the most fun days of my life was June 10, 2016, when the film Warcraft was released in theaters. All day long, my brother and I (lifelong fans of Warcraft, especially the first few games) listened to music from the soundtracks of Warcraft I: Orcs & Humans all the way to World of Warcraft, and that night we saw the premiere, complete with popcorn, candy, and soda (something I never splurge on), and I went on to watch the film two more times in theaters (unprecedented as well). I haven't been super diligent at this, but I really enjoy watching Warcraft once a year, so this is a good day to commemorate that memorable day.

22 - Yearly Journal Day. I started my first consistent journal when I was about 12, and after I ended the journal early to begin a new one, I decided to keep the old one's pages blank and write one new entry each year thereafter on that day. It's been fun to reflect on the primary milestones and key events throughout an entire year rather than "the past week" or whatever, and it's fun to see me change as a person from entry to entry, since the time between each entry is so much bigger than any of my other journal entries.

24 - Festa Junina de São João. My favorite Brazilian tradition is the Festa do São João, which is held toward the end of June. I'm trying more each year to give this tradition the attention it deserves in my family by making corn dishes, listening to forró music, and just generally embracing the Brazilian spirit of generosity and fun.


4 - Independence Day. I'm starting to get disillusioned with current traditions of Independence Day, with people saving spots for sitting at the morning parade two days early, so I'm looking to find a new tradition for this holiday. However, I do enjoy watching A More Perfect Union around this time, and cooking a lasagna.

24 - Pioneer Thanksgiving. This is one of my favorite rituals of the entire year. Pioneer Day is a holiday only celebrated in Utah and parts of Idaho. It's around this time of year that I start craving Thanksgiving food, especially turkey, and I realized one year that pioneers are just like pilgrims—it was the perfect excuse to feast and not have to wait six months till the end of the year holidays! We always invite someone new, whether a friend or neighbor family, over for all of the classic Thanksgiving foods, from turkey to mashed potatoes to yams to pies.


Renaissance Faire. I don't know if this will become a tradition, but I really enjoyed going to the Renaissance Faire this year, and I prepared for it by watching my favorite film, A Knight's Tale. Even if I don't go to the faire itself, I definitely enjoy watching it once a year.



1 - Candy Corn Binge. When October hits, I'm craving candy corn like crazy. I can't understand why people don't like that buttery, honeyed flavor! I purchase two bags—one of creme pumpkins and one of normal candy corn—and eat them without restraints. They pair especially good with pretzels.

Autumn. My favorite season of all has many traditions. I thoroughly enjoy watching Over the Garden Wall all the way through, which fits really well with the autumn colors and cool weather. My favorite episode is "Hard Times at the Huskin' Bee."

26 - My Wife's Birthday. Since my wife's love language is gifts and I have no skill with getting them, this day, Christmas, and Valentine's Day are some of the most stressful days of the year. Especially with how much she loves birthdays. Luckily, since she's discovered REFIT, she spends her birthday at RECON, so I can give her a gift I do know how to give, that of taking care of the kids for a few days so she can go be with her loud, athletic female support group, so we're both happy. 

Halloween - I'm not sure why, but I've really grown in my love for the Halloween season over the past few years. I love music like "Grim Grinning Ghosts" and "This Is Halloween." I love to watch Room 1408, The Skeleton Key, and Hocus Pocus while sculpting pumpkins and saving their seeds to cook later. I also never go an October without reading "Snow, Glass, Apples" by Neil Gaiman.


Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving comes with all of the usual classic Thanksgiving foods, and I generally celebrate it with the Ballard side of the family. We spend all morning cooking, snacking on Muddy Buddies or Coconut Chex Mix while we do, and eat in the early afternoon. My love of food makes this one of my very favorite holidays. Afterward, we leave out most of the food for grazing, and digest as we watch movies or do puzzles. When we have enough room in our bellies for dessert, we eat my favorite dessert, pie.

Decorating the Tree. The day after Thanksgiving marks the official start of the Christmas season for my family. We start listening to Christmas music, and that night, we decorate the Christmas tree! Our tradition is to eat chips and dip, vegetables, crackers and cheese, and pickles while we decorate it, all while listening to carols. Years ago, when we were filming us decorating the tree, I picked up a pickle and made it sing along with the Christmas song that was playing. The "Singing Pickle" became a tradition, and all types of pickles, from hamburger chips to spears to whole pickles, have played the part over the years, before being eaten. After the Christmas tree is decorated (Dad puts on the lights, Mom puts on the tinsel, we put on everything else), we listen to the Alabama Christmas album, the couples dance to "When My Heart Finds Christmas," and we dance the bunny hop to "Thistlehair the Christmas Bear."


21 - Anniversary. My wife and I have celebrated our anniversary in a variety of ways over the past 9 years (as of this blog post) of our marriage. One year we went back to our honeymoon restaurant (it had gone out of business), and last year we went to the nice restaurant The Roof in Salt Lake City. We want to go on a cruise next year, so hopefully that will happen. Regardless of where we go to commemorate the event, we always like to watch the film The Princess Bride, since it brought us together, is our favorite movie, and since I share Robin Wright's birthday and she shares Carey Elwes's.

24 - Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is my favorite day of the whole year—The Christmas spirit and excitement is climaxing but not yet over and the Christmas tree is surrounded by walls of mysterious presents. We eat eggnog French toast for breakfast and spend the day putting together puzzles, watching Christmas videos, and making last-minute touches on presents. When evening comes, the real fun begins. We eat hors d'ouevres for dinner: Li'l Smokies, shrimp, crackers and easy cheese, rainbow jello, ham and salsa tortilla rolls, and sometimes an artichoke dip bread braid. Afterward, we have a talent show showcasing things we've learned throughout the year, and exchange homemade gifts. Then comes the Barefoot Boys' Run, when all the boys run a barefoot lap around the snow-covered yard. My parents usually give us matching T-shirts (generally from my Dad's mowing company) and the kids pajamas, then we eat ice cream cake roll and watch a Garfield Christmas. Then, after the kids set out a snack for Santa and his reindeer, we all go to sleep together in the basement. It's still hard sometimes for me to fall asleep in anticipation.

25 - Christmas Day. We wake up around 6:00, and sit at the bottom of the stairs singing carols until Mom and Dad come to get us and the kids. Then we go into their bedroom and have a morning prayer around their bed. Then, we go in to see the presents from youngest to oldest. We open presents all morning, taking turns so we can savor it as much as possible. For breakfast, we have fresh homemade cinnamon rolls, cereal, and all-you-can-eat pork sausages. After the presents are all open, we play with our games that we got, and have a feast of a lunch that varies from ham or turkey to London broil, prime rib, or Cornish hens.

31 - New Years Eve. It isn't New Years Eve for me unless we have all-I-can-eat buffalo wings from WinCo. In the past we've also eaten homemade fries, mock champagne, and other delicious junk food while playing quasi-roleplaying games like Munchkin and Lords of Waterdeep. The countdown itself is usually pretty anticlimactic, but it's a fun evening nonetheless.


Alone at home. Whenever my wife and kids go out of town for more than a few days, it's a time for me to work on projects I'm behind on, play PC games till I get too tired to, watch Shaolin Soccer or Disney's Robin Hood in Portuguese, and eat an entire rotisserie chicken by myself (not all at once, and of course along with homemade mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and an ice cream sundae). It's always fun to be a bachelor for a day or two, but I definitely feel the loneliness kick in after that has worn off.

Calvin & Hobbes. Every odd-numbered year, usually in the summertime, I take out my box of Calvin & Hobbes books and read them in chronological order all the way through. This is such a fun tradition and always brings so much warmth and happiness to my life. Reading Calvin & Hobbes is like taking a step back in time to summer vacation as a kid for a few hours, and I'm always amazed at which cartoons stand out to me from year to year as I get older. There's always at least three or four cartoons that make me laugh out loud. Bless you, Bill Watterson, wherever you are.