• Zombies, zombies, everywhere!
  • Level 4 upgrades
  • Undead fortitude
  • Undead fortitude in action

Episode 16: The Events at the Windmill, Part One


Dear adventurers,

Is it Saturday yet?

Here’s our weekly email where I’ll (1) remind us where we left off, (2) ask any questions I need to know to prepare the next session, and (3) highlight an aspect of the game we can all learn more about together. The reminder is just there to jog your memory, the questions are important to answer, and then the mastering the game part is fun but entirely optional.

I’m still setting up a website to better be able to share and archive information from our game, but for now it was most important to me to share an update no later than Wednesday. I’ll try to have these out on Tuesdays in the future.

(1) Where we left off: Zombies, zombies everywhere!

We left off as Hag killed off what appeared to be the last of several zombified hobbits ranging around outside the windmill. Inside, a red wolf, Tib, Little, and Enya remain locked in mortal combat with several more zombies while a wizard incants a sinister sounding ritual over the unconscious, stable body of our elven comrade Sildar. We’ll resume in the middle of combat with the wizard and the zombies getting a turn before the top of the next round. If it helps you coordinate your plans, the initiative order once we get to the top of the round will be: Tibboh, Enya, Little Pocket, wolf, Hag, wizard, zombies.

(2) Decisions: Level 4 upgrades

Party members who survive this battle can expect to reach Level 4 upon completing a long rest. For the spellcasters, consult your class tables (Bard PHB:53, Cleric PHB:57, and Druid PHB:65) and the rules for spellcasting for your class to see what new abilities you will need to prepare. Typically this would be an additional cantrip, an additional second level spell slot, and an additional spell known, but this varies by class. Reach out to me with any questions.

For all classes, Level 4 is another significant advance in overall power. The primary development is that you can all choose either an Ability Score Improvement or a Feat. You’ll find a section explaining ASI in your class description, and the short version is that you get to add +2 to a single ability (Strength, Wisdom, etc.) or +1 to two different ability scores. You can remind yourself how ability scores work with the chart on page 173. Feats are covered in Chapter 6: Customization Options (PHB:163-170). We’ve seen one of these in play already, the Lucky feat which Hag possessed from first level as a human. In general, it’s usually seen as a good idea to first bring your most important ability score to a 20 (giving you a +5 bonus based on that skill) and then add feats to further develop your character. But you can do whatever you think would be fun to play, and we do not need to limit ourselves to the feats in the book. Especially if you’d be willing to postpone taking a feat until 8th level, we could work together to design a feat that is balanced with the other feats available to other players but that makes your favorite feature of your character even cooler and more powerful.

A *great* resource to consult about Level 4 improvements is Tony, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the different classes and how they can be fine-tuned for battle with these sorts of upgrades. I’m sure he’d love to hear about your characters and to bounce ideas around with you about choices you might make at Level 4 to build the kind of character you find most fun to play. You can text him or email him. Of course I’d be happy to answer questions, too, but Tony’s a great person to bounce ideas around with about this. I always talk to him when my own characters are at junctures like this.

(3) Mastering the Game: Undead Fortitude

What’s the difference between a skeleton and a zombie? If you haven’t noticed already, you’ll find that both are detailed in the back of the Player’s Handbook just like the Giant Spider was. The reason it’s there and available to players is because certain classes are able to create zombies and skeletons, just like the spider was there because it can be summoned or even transformed into as a powerful druid. If you look at the skeleton and the zombie, and it’s nice that they’re side by side on pages 310-311, you’ll see that they’re both considered to be equal “Challenge Rating,” CR 1/4 or 50 XP, whatever that means (it doesn’t matter). But they’re so different! What are the differences?

For the purpose of the present battle, I want to highlight one key feature that only some (perhaps only the cleric) of our characters would have known before seeing it in action: undead fortitude. You’ll see how it works explained in the Zombie description (PHB:311). In the video clip this week, you’ll see that even more experienced players can sometimes be confused by this ability (or they’re very good at role playing confused characters, even if the players do understand). There’s about 4 minutes before the combat starts, but it helps to understand the environment they’re fighting in and what they’re trying to achieve. Their combat is a step more complicated than ours, some of their zombies contain a sort of key necessary to solve a puzzle and release them from the room, but you can still see a lot of undead fortitude in action. Note also the cleric ability Turn Undead (PHB:58-59) which comes up a couple of times, and these being level 5 characters it actually functions as Destroy Undead (PHB:59). As usual, it’s a fun combination of powers we recognize and then new abilities that will soon become available to us. (Counterspell, anyone…?)

With no further ado, here you go: Beyond the Eyes of Angels | Critical Role | Campaign 2, Episode 67. The link should take you right to the 3:08:49 mark just a few minutes before initiative is rolled. The fight takes just under an hour from that point. This whole episode is filled with interesting fights, some of which would be familiar to you and some of which would be novel. It takes me several days to watch a full episode, though, so I primarily wanted to highlight this example of Undead Fortitude.

Last but not least, the very best way to understand how monsters work is to play them! You have the full information about zombies, skeletons, and more in the back of the Player’s Handbook. You could pull out your dice and make a skeleton fight a zombie, or make two skeletons fight two zombies, or make your character fight a skeleton and then compare that to your character fighting a zombie, or whatever you like. It can be a great way to understand why monsters behave the way they do, the similarities and differences between monsters, as well as to keep mastering your own character.

As the title of a book I like states: “The Monsters Know What They’re Doing.” Do you?

Be heroic,
Be creative,
Have fun together,

P.S. I’m still accepting sketches from Little Pocket, stories from Hag, letters from Enya, and whatever way Tibbo would like to record events. It’s never a requirement, but I love saving these things for us to remember the sessions by, and I’ll share them with the group as a whole once I have a simple web page set up to record the deeds of our party.


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