Rebirth of a Monster

Here, at long last, is the flash fiction version of the origin of probably the most beloved of all of my recurring NPCs, Manny the ogre chef. In the present day he’s a pacifistic tavern-keeper who is well-renowned for his kitchen prowess. But he wasn’t always so friendly…


As the sun rises over the Mountains of Ayel, the remains of the village of Woodston continue to smolder. Among the ruins, five ogres feast upon the villagers they roasted in the flames of their own homes. As one of them raises a leg to his slathering jaws, liquid fat dripping from the leg to the ground and tusks ready to tear off a mouthful, he is suddenly overcome with revulsion and nausea.

Lowering the now revolting hunk of meat from his mouth, Manny looks around, confused, yet clear-headed for the first time in his life. “Why you not eat?” asks one of his warband, using his tusks to rip a large chunk of meat from a child’s charred torso. Then he adds, spraying bits of manflesh through the intervening space, “this meat good.”

After taking a moment to spit out some errant bits of flesh that were caught in his teeth, Manny finally replies: “The smell makes me sick.”

His companions’ faces cycle through expressions of confusion, shock, disbelief, and finally horror. “We help!” one yells as he pounces. They grab Manny, pin his arms and legs to the ground, and attempt to beat out of him whatever evil spirit has possessed him. Since nothing like this has ever happened in all of ogre history, their simple minds cannot fathom any other possible explanation for Manny’s behavior.

As blow after blow rains down upon him, Manny revels in the pain as a respite from the nauseating smell of roast villager that permeates the air. Finally, just before he surrenders to welcome oblivion, the blows stop as one of the ogres picks up the discarded leg and offers it to Manny with a grunt. He turns up his generous nose at the proffered morsel, and with a final punch to the nose, embraces blessed unconsciousness.

When he finally regains consciousness, night has fallen, the embers are cold, and he is all alone – except for the squad of rangers stealthily emerging from the woods on southern edge of town, their bows drawn, and their steps silent. As he sits up, head spinning and stomach churning, Manny’s brain is so rattled that he doesn’t notice the silent approach of impending death. His nose eventually draws his attention downward, where he sees the fateful roast leg of hapless villager. Sneering at it in disgust, he flings it away, then lumbers to his feet. Seeing this, the astonished rangers melt back into the woods and vanish.

Creative Commons License
Rebirth of a Monster by Frank Wilcox, Jr (fewilcox) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

D&D Basic Character #2: Human Fighter

In case you haven’t seen it, Wizards of the Coast has followed Kenzer & Co’s lead and released a bare-bones version of the new edition for free. Since we have decided to use it for the next season of D&D Encounters, I decided to make a few characters with it even though I’m planning to GM next season.

Alden is the other main character in my book, and eventually marries Brianna, the first character I make in every new class-based system I try. He’s the youngest son of a merchant family (my wife’s book dynasty). (They are also the parents of Reine, who pays for Farga’s schooling in alternate universes where dwarves exist.)

While the family was moderately successful, there wouldn’t have been enough inheritance to go around, so Alden disinherited himself and went out into the world to make his own fortune. All he took with him when he left home were his dad’s old armor and sword, a backpack full of provisions, and barrels of charm (or so he thinks). The main ways he earns a living at the beginning of his career were gambling (and cheating) and womanizing. This is years before he finally meets Brianna.

Mechanically he’s a sword and board fighter with a high Charisma, and therefore as easy to make in D&D 5e as Farga was.

Alden Fairhame

Level 1 Human Fighter

Str 15 +2
Dex 12 +1
Con 14 +2
Int 11
Wis 14 +2
Cha 14 +2

HP 12
AC: 19 (Chain armor + Shield + Fighting Style)

Initiative: +1
30′ move.
Languages: Common, Goblin
Saving Throw Proficiencies: Str, Con
Second Wind
Fighting Style: Defense (+1 AC in hvy armor)
Skills: Insight, Perception, Sleight of Hand, Persuasion
Tool Profs: Herbalism Kit, Playing Cards
Background: Voluntarily-disinherited son of merchant family.
* Feature: (I’m stumped. Any ideas?)

Gear (84 lb)
Chain armor (10 lb) (Disadvantage on Stealth checks)
Shield (+2 AC) 10 g, 6 lb
Longsword (15 gp, 3 lb) +4/1d8+2 slash (V 1d10+2)
2x handaxes (2 lb ea) +4/1d6+2 slash LT
Traveler’s clothes (2 g, 4 lb)
Healer’s kit (5 gp, 3 lb)
Ink, 1 oz bottle (10 g, – lb)
Pen (2 cp, – lb)
10x Sheets of parchment for letters home (1 sp, – lb ea)
Whetstone (1 cp, 1 lb)
Playing Cards (– lb)
3x Belt pouch (5 sp, 1 lb ea)
Explorer’s pack (10 g) (50 lb total)
* Backpack (5 lb)
* bedroll (7 lb)
* mess kit (1 lb)
* tinderbox (1 lb)
* 10 torches (1 lb)
* 10 days’ rations (20 lb)
* waterskin (5 lb) * 50′ hemp rope (10 lb)

As usual, none of the sample backgrounds fit, so I’m made up my own, but this time I can’t think of a good Background Feature.

D&D Basic Character #2: Dwarf Fighter

In case you haven’t seen it, Wizards of the Coast has followed Kenzer & Co’s lead and released a bare-bones version of the new edition for free. Since we have decided to use it for the next season of D&D Encounters, I decided to make a few characters with it even though I’m planning to run next season. If I wasn’t GMing, this is the character I would probably play:

Farga is one of the characters I adapted into pre-gens for use by new players at Encounters, so you can read his background there, but just as for Brianna, I’ll give you a brief summary here: Farga’s fighter school tuition was paid for by a young half-elf traveling merchant (Brianna’s youngest daughter, in fact) in exchange for serving as her bodyguard for two years upon graduation. During their travels they slowly became friends, so much so that he continued with her for several more years, and he eventually learned a great deal from her about how to effectively manipulate customers, despite lacking her… “equipment”.

Just like Brianna, he started life in a video game and made his tabletop debut in a HackMaster 4e campaign. He was learning a fighting style called “Axe Storm”, which featured dual throwing axes, so tempest fighter was an obvious choice when I made him in D&D 4e, and he was not surprisingly quite easy to create in 5e:

Farga Kneecleaver
Level 1 Hill Dwarf Fighter

Str 15 +2
Dex 10
Con 14 +2
Int 10
Wis 12 +1
Cha 14 +2

HP 13
AC: 16 (Chain armor)

Initiative: +0
25′ move.
Languages: Common, Dwarf, Elf
Advantage on saves vs Poison. Poison resistance (1/2 damage).
Tool proficiency of choice: smith
Double proficiency bonus for History checks related to stonework.
Saving Throw Proficiencies: Str, Con
Second Wind
Fighting Style: Two-weapon fighting (Add ability modifier to off-hand attacks)
Skills: Athletics, Insight, Perception, Persuasion
Tool Profs: Smith, Herbalism Kit, Cart
Background: Retired bodyguard/apprentice of not-always-honest merchant.
* Feature: Reputation

Gear (98+ lb)
Chain armor (10 lb) (Disadvantage on Stealth checks)
4x handaxes (2 lb ea) +4/1d6+4 slash LT
Abacus (2 g, 2 lb)
Traveler’s clothes (2 g, 4 lb)
Healer’s kit (5 gp, 3 lb)
Ink, 1 oz bottle (10 g, –  lb)
Pen (2 cp, –  lbs)
Book (ledger) 25 g, 5 lb
3x Belt pouch (5 sp, 1 lb ea)
2x Sacks (1 cp, .5 lb ea)
?x Bottles of wine “blessed by Bahamut” (2 lb ea)
5x flasks of “Holy Water of Bahamut” (1 lb ea)
Smith’s Tools (20 g, 8 lb)
Whetstone (1 cp, 1 lb)
Explorer’s pack (10 g) (50 lb total)
* Backpack (5 lb)
* bedroll (7 lb)
* mess kit (1 lb)
* tinderbox (1 lb)
* 10 torches (1 lb)
* 10 days’ rations (20 lb)
* waterskin (5 lb)
* 50′ hemp rope (10 lb)

Thanks to once again making up my own Background, he has learned Elven and herb lore from Reine, so he can make and sell healing potions even when he can’t lay his hands on other merchandise. The stuff that is “blessed by Bahamut” is from the sadly-aborted campaign in which I played him for a few months.

The party ended up in a lost temple of Bahamut, so Farga helped himself to several bottles of wine he found there and later sold two of them to the tavern keeper back in town as “blessed by Bahamut”, so he made a sizable profit. The “holy water” is simply river water he scooped up to sell alongside the very dusty bottles of wine. Once he runs out of wine, that scam will probably no longer work. The “?” in place of the number of bottles is because I have misplaced him at the moment and I don’t remember how many bottles I had left.

Needless to say, he’s incredibly fun to roleplay. His combat style may actually be more fun in D&D 5e than it was in either HackMaster 4e or D&D 4e simply because of the more free-form combat. I can describe his various throws, slashes, and charges in a variety of ways, rather than being limited by the style-specific maneuvers in HackMaster or powers in D&D.

Preliminary D&D 5e Customizable Character Sheet

Every character sheet I’ve ever seen had one major flaw: it was never suitable for every character the game could make. Mages need spell space (or have lots of powers). Fighters have lots of weapons, gadgeteers have lots of gadgets, and so on. One enterprising HackMaster Basic player made customized character sheets for each of the four classes in that book simply to get around that problem.

That was the last straw for me, so I designed some character sheets for the games we play most with three major goals in mind:

  • Earth- and wallet-friendliness. In other words: cheap to print.
  • Only force the positioning of things that will be present on every character or are tedious to hand-write every time: stat blocks; name, race, age, etc.; skills; and so forth.
  • User-customizable depending on player taste and character class, if applicable. This includes having the lowest item on the front page of the D&D sheet be the column headings of the weapons table. That way it as long as needed, no more or less, yet still details out the math for new players and for ease of making changes as needed (leveling, new magic items, increases in skills, etc.).

With the release of D&D Basic, our Encounters group has decided to give 5e a try next season. I’ll be GMing again, but I decided to make a few characters to learn the system, and my wife will of course be playing, so I adapted my 4e character sheet for her. I have posted the result to scribd as usual, but expect it to change when the Player’s Handbook releases. Please let me know what you think, because I’m always looking to improve my game aids.


For the sake of spell-chuckers, I created a separate grimoire, adapted from the one I made for HackMaster 5e nearly two years ago. The only differences are that I removed the SP column since D&D doesn’t use Spell Points, and renamed the “Secs” column “Time” since casting times in HackMaster are always in seconds, but in D&D vary from Bonus Action to an hour or more. The space freed by the loss of the SP column was split between the Time and Effects columns.

As always, the links for both sheets are also available on my Downloads page.

Taking D&D Basic for a Spin: Elf Archer

In case you haven’t seen it, Wizards of the Coast has followed Kenzer & Co’s lead and released a bare-bones version of the new edition for free. Since we have decided to use it for the next season of D&D Encounters, I decided to make a few characters with it even though I’m planning to run next season.

If you are a regular reader or someone with whom I have roleplayed in the past, you know that I don’t really like class- or level-based games (which is why my love of HackMaster is so surprising), and that I always test new class-based games by trying to create Brianna, the main character in my first book and matriarch of most of the other characters. If you read my previous attempt with a playtest version of D&D 5e, then you know her history, but I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version here:

In D&D terms she’s closest to being an an old-school ranger (her tabletop debut was as a ranger in HackMaster 4e aka D&D 2.5), but has changed quite a bit as my world has evolved. She’s a Robin Hood level archer, but has access to elemental and healing magic. Her healing is primarily done by channeling magic through poultices she creates, thus multiplying their effectiveness. Her elemental magic manifests most often as arrows that ignite in flight, explode on impact, or the like.

Since my previous attempt in D&D 5e is the closest I’ve ever gotten to making her book version in a class-based game, I was actually pretty excited about making the attempt, despite how disillusioned I had gotten with the system as the public playtest proceeded. I’m sad to say that newest version can’t even get me close at level 1, but the multi-classing rules in the forthcoming Player’s Handbook may well do the trick. But here’s what I have using only Basic and at level 1:

Brianna Sheàri
Level 1 High Elf Fighter

Str 10
Dex 16 +3
Con 12 +1
Int 14 +2
Wis 14 +2
Cha 10

HP 12
AC: 14 (Leather armor: 11+Dex)

Initiative: +3
30′ move.
Low-light vision 60′
Languages: Common, Elf, Dwarf
Mage cantrip (race): Fire Bolt (+4/1d10 fire 120′ VS)
Saving Throw Proficiencies: Str, Con
Second Wind
Fighting Style: Archery (+2 attack with ranged weapons)
Skills: Medicine, Perception, Stealth, Survival
Tool Profs: Herbalism Kit
Background: Self-proclaimed defender of her home forest
* Feature: Reputation

Gear (77 lb)
Leather armor (10 lb)
Longbow (2 lb) +5/1d8 pi 150/600 Hvy, loading, 2-H
* Quiver (1 lb)
* 20 Arrows (1 lb)
Rapier (2 lb) +5/1b8+3 pi Finesse
Dagger (1 lb) +5/1d4+3 pi 20/60 Finesse, LT
Traveler’s clothes (2 g, 4 lb)
Herbalism kit (5 g, 3 lb)
* Forest-colored: +1 Hide in Shadows in forests
3x Belt pouch (5 sp, 1 lb ea)
Explorer’s pack (10 g) (50 lb total)
* Backpack (5 lb)
* bedroll (7 lb)
* mess kit (1 lb)
* tinderbox (1 lb)
* 10 torches (1 lb)
* 10 days’ rations (20 lb)
* waterskin (5 lb)
* 50′ hemp rope (10 lb)

Thanks to making up my own Background (since the four examples in Basic are all thoroughly unsuitable), all that’s really missing is healing magic, but if taking a level of cleric will give her a couple of spell slots and a 1st-level spell, then she’ll be reasonably close to the way I’m writing her. At that point the only thing she’d really need is another Wizard cantrip (Ray of Frost), and maybe a lightning one, if one exists. So it looks like I may actually be able to create her in a class-based game for the first time, but still not at first level.

Bring Reading Rainbow Back for Every Child, Everywhere

I helped Reading Rainbow on Kickstarter, you can too!

Some of you may not be old enough to have the fond memories of Reading Rainbow my wife and I share, but it fostered my love the written word more than anything else. We now have the opportunity to give Reading Rainbow to children everywhere – for free! Not only will every episode be available from their app and elsewhere, it will be made available at no cost to thousands of classrooms.

Naturally, those worthy goals all cost money, and that money has to come from somewhere. Some of it is coming from us. Won’t you join us?

If you need more incentive, among the rewards are sit-downs with the cast of Next Generation. And some lucky Trekker with really deep pockets can have dinner with LeVar Burton and even try on the actual visor he wore in the show!

Hurry. The deadline is July 2nd.

Multi-level D&D 4e Character Sheet for Encounters

For the past several seasons of D&D Encounters, my wife and I have had all three levels for that season on the character sheet at the beginning, saving us having to write, erase, rewrite, re-erase all the time due to constantly going up and down levels. Up until now we were squeezing them onto my character sheets, but that was less than optimal – for one thing, it was impossible to get more than one level’s worth of HP onto the provided space.

We haven’t been able to play this season due to both being laid up by the same cold, but I took the time to finally adapt my sheet to multi-level characters. In addition to widening the HP space, the Init, Defenses, Skills, and a couple of others are also wider, allowing you to fit in at least three levels’ worth of each (HP, for instance, might be 30/35/40). To accommodate the wider HP and Surge boxes without using up the highly useful space beside them (where I keep resistances, situational bonuses, etc.), I moved the Wounds box beside the Surge checkboxes. The box is now much smaller, but in our Encounters games we have very rarely found it necessary to track HP between sessions as we are nearly always fully healed at the end of the session, so the existing box was way too big anyway. (During the session we track our HP using dry erase boards.)

As it is no longer necessary to track experience gains, since we now level up at story-appropriate times instead, I widened the top section and weapons table to fill in the space formerly left for EXP. I also removed some no longer needed bits of the top section (current EXP and amount needed to reach the next level) and re-spaced the remainders.