Saturday, December 15, 2018

Firearm Rules

Guns! How to use em, abuse em, and die by them. Guns are rare, and those guns preserved approach roughly technology levels of the 1870’s. Attempting to design simple mechanics that can be applied to OSR with a few rule-specific changes.

3 types for our purposes: revolvers, rifles, and shotguns. All use exploding dice, don’t add ASI’s to damage, and you can use Dex or Str for attack rolls.

1d4 (exploding) piercing damage (max 1 dice explosion)
Ammo count: 6 before reload
Range: 50/100

2d4 (exploding) piercing damage (max 2 dice explosions)
Ammo count: 8 before reload
Range 130/260

Shotguns: 3d4 (exploding) piercing damage (max 3 dice explosions)
Ammo count: 2 before reload
Range: 30/60

Special gun rules:
When a gun or ammo is exposed to water, it’s soaked. A soaked gun or a gun using soaked ammo will only be able to fire one shot, after which the gun needs to be stripped and cleaned over a long rest. Soaked ammo can be dried off with a cloth or a spell.

When a loaded gun or ammo is exposed to fire, roll a dice. On an even number, the ammo cooks off dealing 1 piercing damage to the user for every round inside the gun or on the person. The gun itself is ruined unless repaired by a gunsmith. 

When a gun or ammo is exposed to acid, roll a dice. On an even number, the gun/ammo is corroded and won’t work unless repaired by a gunsmith. On an odd number, the gun has a 50% chance of jamming every time it’s fired/corroded ammo has a 50% chance of jamming every time it's used until cleaned over the course of a short rest.

Revolver rules: People proficient with revolvers can attack with them a number of times per round equal to half their proficiency bonus.  Revolvers don't have disadvantage on ranged attacks within 5 feet of a hostile, and they are light weapons. 

Rifle rules: Rifles have disadvantage on all attacks against a hostile creature within 5 feet. Additionally, a bayonet can be attached to the front of a rifle. A creature proficient with rifles may make a melee attack with an affixed bayonet as a bonus action, dealing 1d4 piercing damage.

Shotgun rules: Beyond 30 feet, a shotgun loses one damage dice every 10 feet. 2d4 at 40-50 feet and 1d4 at 50-60 feet. Shotguns don't have disadvantage on attack rolls within 5 feet of a hostile creature. 

Crit rules: When a nat 20 is rolled on an attack roll, add 1d4 to that attack’s damage. This d4 can only explode once.

Crit fail rules: When a nat 1 is rolled on an attack roll, the gun jams. Clearing a jammed gun is an action.

Backfiring: When a gun or its ammo is soaked or corroded, the gun backfires on a crit fail, dealing 2 piercing damage to the user for each round left in the gun and destroying the gun. 

New weapon proficiency: guns. Separate from all other weapon proficiencies.
New tool proficiency: gunsmith’s tools
New ammo types: pistol ammo, rifle ammo, and shotgun shells

Obviously, these will be retooled as time goes on. What I wanted to emphasize:

Revolvers are designed for medium range engagements. Their strength is multiple shots.
Rifles are long-range weapons. Arguably longer effective range but I'm not bumping their strength up just yet. Playtest first.
Shotguns are close quarter murder machines.

I'm going to develop specialized stats for guns to reflect arms races (1893 semi-auto pistol!) but guns will largely stay magic free. There will be different ammo types (including magical types) and magic guns.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Cleric of Xihuitl [2nd Draft]

Xihuitl Domain Spells:
1st level: touch of undeath*, create and destroy water
3rd level: flowsight**, geyser**
5th level: animate dead, wall of water
7th: control water, death ward
9th: red tide**, danse macabre

* my homebrew
** Walrock Homebrew’s Codex of Waves

Xihuitl’s Currents
Starting at 1st level, your mind taps into the dimensionality of Xihuitl’s rivers, and your powers follow its flow upstream and downstream. Your touch spells gain a range of 30 feet if you and your target are standing in the same body of water. In addition, any time you cast a healing spell on a target that’s partially submerged in water, you restore the maximum number of hit points possible to that target, and you gain a swimming speed equal to your walking speed.

Bonus Proficiency
When you choose this domain at 1st level, you gain proficiency with martial weapons.

Channel Divinity: Extract Waters
At 2nd level, you learn how to pull life out of other creatures. As an action, choose a creature within 30 feet with water in its body. That creature must make a Constitution saving throw. On a success, it takes 2d12 necrotic damage. On a failure, it becomes desperately thirsty, and seeks out the nearest drinkable fluid for the next minute.

So We Beat On
Starting at 6th level, all your summoned undead gain a swimming speed and a climbing speed equal to their walking speed. If undead under your control are in a body of water, you can cast healing spells on them and the range of your mental commands includes the range of that body of water.
In addition, you no longer have to concentrate on wall of water.

Beginning at 8th level, the attacks of your undead become dangerously desiccating. As a reaction, after an undead controlled by you hits a target that has water in its body with a melee attack, you can force the target to make a Constitution saving throw or gain one level of exhaustion as your undead sucks moisture out of their body. Creatures composed of water-based liquid have disadvantage on this saving throw.
You can use this ability a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier per long rest.

Waters of Life
At 17th level, you learn how to share the water that lets you live with others. As an action, you can roll any number of your hit dice and heal a creature you touch by that amount. You can even expend hit dice that you’ve already used during a short rest, but for each already used hit dice you expend, you take 2d8 necrotic damage.

New Spells:

Touch of Undeath
1st level necromancy

Casting Time: 1 action
Range: Touch
Components: V,S
Duration: Concentration, special

You touch the corpse or skeleton of a Small or Medium humanoid, raising it as a zombie or skeleton under your control for a number of rounds equal to 1 + your spellcasting modifier. On your turns, as long is it’s within 60 feet, you can mentally direct it as a bonus action. If not given any orders, it defends itself against hostile creatures. The undead follows one order until given another.
At the end of this spell, the zombie or skeleton collapses back into a corpse or skeleton unless you use a bonus action to touch it and expend another 1st level spell slot to cast this spell again.

At higher levels: When you cast this spell using a spell slot of 2nd level or higher, the duration of this spell triples.
When you cast this spell at 3rd level, 5th level, 7th level, or 9th level, you can summon an additional undead from a suitable corpse or skeleton within 30 feet.

It's really remarkable how one minor change can transform a subclass from situationally useful to pretty decent. I don't think taking away concentration from wall of water breaks the game too much, and it opens up a lot of fun options for this subclass.

I do have issues with necromancy. I think that necromancy is weak, especially at higher levels, even if you're playing the necromancer subclass, which get buffs to his creatures that make them viable as low level minions. I think these buffs should already be included in necromancy spells to give them greater utility against other powerful spells that compete for slots at 3rd level and 5th level. 

To be fair to WotC, balancing summons is a tricky tricky business, and I vastly prefer underpowered summons to overpowered summons. Brandes Stoddard has a nice article which addresses some of my necromancy concerns.

Anyhoo, this subclass probably isn't finished yet. The 8th level feature is a marked break from standard 5e design, and might be overpowered given how good exhaustion is.

I think the most worrisome feature of this subclass is the 6th level ability, specifically healing summons in water. That alone might make for a good 8th level feature. Playtesting will tell.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Cleric of Xihuitl

A paladin left the party and deprived them of healing. My players asked for healing. So Galen, the NPC caravan leader, stepped up to the plate. After discovering a holy symbol of Xihuitl, he spent a day or so deciding whether or not he wanted the responsibility. My players were very understanding, and gave him the time and space he needed to make his choice.

The dawn after unearthing a turquoise mask, he donned it, and accepted the responsibilities of becoming a cleric.

Of unknown Mesoamerican origin.
Oh, holy symbols - masks - of Xihuitl are made from the front top skull of a former priest after they die. A pecked cross inlaid with greenstone adorns the forehead. 

Below is my first tentative draft. 

Xihuitl, in my campaign, is the main god of the underworld and agriculture. 

Xihuitl Domain Spells:
1st level: animal friendship, inflict wounds
3rd level: pass without trace, geyser*
5th level: life transference**, wall of water
7th: control water, dominate beast
9th: revivify (raise dead), danse macabre**

Circle of Mortality:
At 1st level, you gain the ability to manipulate the line between life and death. When you would normally roll one or more dice to restore hit points with a spell to a creature at 0 hit points, you instead use the highest number possible for each die.
In addition, you learn the spare the dying cantrip, which doesn’t count against the number of cleric cantrips you know. For you, it has a range of 30 feet, and you can cast it as a bonus action.

Channel Divinity: Stand with the Ancestral Dead
Starting at 2nd level, you can use your Channel Divinity to heal undead.
As an action, choose one undead you can see within 30 feet. The next time that undead takes necrotic damage, it instead regains the damage dealt as hit points.

Comfort in Death
Beginning at 6th level, you can walk among undead. As an action, you may make a Persuasion check against any number of undead you can see. On a success, they become at least neutral to your presence and your companions presence, if you have any companions. You make this check with advantage if the undead are allied with Xihuitl or raised by worshippers of Xihuitl.

Divine Strike
Starting at 8th level, you gain the ability to channel death through your weapon strikes. Once on each of your turns, when you hit a creature with a weapon attack, you can cause the attack to deal an extra 1d8 necrotic damage to the target. When you reach 14th level, this extra damage increases to 2d8.

Channel to the Underworld
Starting at 17th level, you can convey creatures to a watery grave. As an action, target a creature within 60 feet touching a body of water. That creature must make a Constitution saving throw or be dragged underneath the water and take 2d8 necrotic damage on a failure, and half damage on a success. Every time the creature fails its Con save, it loses a minute of air. The creature may repeat the Con save at the beginning of its turns, exiting the water to the closest body of land on a success.

*Spells from Walrock Homebrew's excellent Codex of Waves.

**Spells from Xanathar's Guide to Everything

So, at first glance this feels like a hardcore necromancy cleric. It....isn't intended to be, but there're some ancestral undead I want to bring into play later. The main features are centered around supporting undead with some limited mob control via geyser, wall of water, and control water

One weird thing about the spell list is that revivify is listed as a 5th level spell. This is intentional - coming back from the dead is much harder in my world. Raise dead is a 7th level spell. The other thing I'd like to note is that any clerics taking this domain should scoop up raise undead when they hit 5th level. What's the utility of raise undead compared to danse macabre? Well, duration, but there's a magic item that's supposed to sync with raise undead

The 1st level feature is explicitly ripped off from the Grave Domain cleric and is pretty damn powerful. Life Domain wishes it was this good.  

The 6th level feature is not concrete in its wording because there should be leeway for roleplay and multiple results. I considered making it a "charm undead" feature but then dismissed that idea. This cleric isn't supposed to dominate the dead, it's supposed to cooperate with them. 

In keeping with the standard practice of either boosting cantrip damage or boosting melee damage at 8th level, I've opted for the latter. This cleric isn't a real tanky cleric but should have some combat prowness. When I rewrite this in the future, I think I'll add an 8th level feature that gives this subclass more flavor. +damage is stifling. 

The capstone, I hope, is on the low side of the balance scale for now. Drowning and the like with no concentration is good, even if there's a lot of Con saves allowed before the drowning begins. 

Magic Item: Death Mask (rare)

This basalt mask inlaid with turquoise depicts a serene, resting, androgynous face with its eyes and mouth closed. 
If placed on the face of a corpse that has been consecrated to Xihuitl, it can be used as the material component for raise undead or danse macabre. Regardless of the type of undead that would normally be created, a ghoul is created instead. This ghoul retains most memories of its past life, is free willed, and does not expire after the duration of the spell used to raise it lapses. 
If used by a cleric of Xihuitl as a holy symbol, the cleric's save DC increases by 1.

So this plays right into the hands of create undead and danse macabre. Masked ghouls and ancestor ghouls can often be found guarding a temple, running a temple, or waiting until needed. 

One of my players wants to make a "totally Jesus loving Mormon as hell cleric in the middle of the jungle". Well, I guess that means Mormon Jesus in Mesoamerica: the subclass is a-coming. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Environmental Obstacles in OSR and 5e Rangers

In the OSR, there's a lot of emphasis placed on exploration. The main obstacles of exploration are resource management. Some OSR blogs have a take on how to manage inventory, storage, and environment as a challenge; which is awesome. I want to compare the OSR and 5e.

There are mechanics that appear in exploration in both systems. Management of light, management of food/water, management of ammunition (spells and arrows alike). 5e has a less technically complex approach that requires more bookkeeping: each item has weight, and each player has a maximum amount of weight they can carry. While this is simple, it doesn't create any need to track inventory, which means less players look at inventory, which means most players are less aware of the tools they have. There are penalties in 5e and in the OSR for carrying more than you can handle.

When running a gritty (OSRish) 5e game, 5e inventory becomes very important. Heroic fantasy - not so much. The overall approach for inventory remains the same, though: 5e and the OSR offer ways to keep track of items and hard limits to how much a given player can carry. 

Environment and related obstacles, though, are treated very differently from other ways of overcoming challenges.

For example, during combat, there's a different set of obstacles. AC, HP, conditions, damage, healing - all of these impede success/survival, the "goal" of combat. Players work through multiple steps to overcome the obstacles of combat.

In environmental exploration in the OSR, there's a lot of thought given to obstacles. A good obstacle should be something that is impeding progress, but can be overcome. There is no one "right" solution to any given obstacle, merely degrees of success (there are wrong solutions) because some solutions are better than others. Some obstacles will be more difficult to clear than others, but obstacle difficulty changes with the situation. Given the right tools and people (lockpicking rogue) a locked door becomes a delay. It's not a given that the rogue can pick the lock, but now the party doesn't have to try to bang the door down or search for another way around, or, or, or....

It's also important to note that dungeons have an environment all their own. I will be talking about environment very generally in some points covering both dungeon and natural and even city environments, (my 3 different environments) but I recognize each of those environments is fundamentally different.

What changes between environments is the toolkit game systems give you to address their challenges. There's a decent amount of mechanics in the OSR and 5e for dungeon environments. Some of these dungeon env. tools can also be applied to situations in the city.

Back to my earlier thought: the way 5e handles natural env. challenges is too reductionist.

In combat, obstacles are overcome gradually. This necessitates the most complex ruleset of any part of the 5e game. With 5e obstacles, almost all solutions are: roll 1d20+proficiency bonus+related ability score+other situational bonuses (advantage, spells, etc.) and compare the total to a DC. One and done. I don't have an issue with using dice to solve some challenges, BUT:

when players (especially new ones) learn they can solve obstacles quickly with dice rolls, they can get used to quick solutions for obstacles/get tired of obstacles that feel like arbitrary dice rolling.

 when players depend on dice rolls to solve problems, sometimes the only "good" obstacles can't be solved with a dice roll.

one dice roll (usually) doesn't change the course of a single battle. Why should one dice roll determine either success or failure (with no in-between) for other obstacles that should require time to work around or are ongoing?

I know there're some parts of 5e with contested checks or "best out of 3" to resolve obstacles. The norm, however, is one and done.

I have butthurt with the ranger class too. The original ranger completely takes the tension out of a number of compelling environmental challenges.

In my current campaign, the party's traveling with pack animals on a road through a jungle. NPC's have told them they're being chased by a group of demons. If they travel at the maximum pace that their mounts can travel, they'll probably make it to relative safety and elude the pursuit. If they lose even an hour (we did the math), the chances of being caught will rise. Last session, my players were attacked by demons, interrupting some of their long rests. Because my players and the caravan they're traveling with don't want to stop, they're marching on at daybreak, but some PC's are finishing their long rests later. If there's an encounter during the day, and these unrested PC's have to fight, they lose the resources of HP, hit dice, and spells.

Goblin Slayer probably has some advice for you, buddy

With the original/revised ranger's Natural Explorer, after traveling in Favored Terrain/any terrain, the ranger gains:

 - Difficult terrain doesn't slow your group's travel.
 - Your group can't be lost except by magical means.
 - Even when you are engaged in another activity while traveling (such as foraging, navigating, or tracking), you remain alert to danger.
-  If you are traveling alone, you can move stealthily at a normal pace.
- When you forage, you find twice as much food as you normally would.
- While tracking other creatures, you also learn their exact number, their sizes, and how long ago they passed through the area.

Both rangers would vastly simplify environmental exploration for my party and take away the tension that comes with resource management.

I don't like the fact that the ranger outright solves many resource management obstacles and other literal obstacles, such as difficult terrain, outright. Overcoming obstacles should be a process. I think the ranger should have tools to solve obstacles rather than just ignoring obstacles outright.

I recognize that combat is the strongest emphasis of 5e, but I think a well balanced game needs more than just combat rules. An Unearthed Arcana post detailed three pillars of experience points: exploration, combat, and roleplaying. There are systems in place for combat, not so much for roleplaying, and exploration is neglected. If a 5e game wants to grapple with resource management, there isn't any systematic approach that creates tension but encourages problem solving like in combat. In short, if you want people to be able to engage with and enjoy all sides of an RPG, you must design mechanics that allow them to approach a side with tools and hindrances. D&D 5e does this with combat and spells, but nothing else. (I recognize that it's also possible to approach an obstacle in theater of the mind with no rolls at all, but I can't render a scenario well enough to create that without lots of preparation.)

As a quick aside, I also dislike immunity to damage/conditions in class design for the same reasons. Damage/conditions should remain relevant, and special abilities that overcome immunity simply reinforce the ridiculousness of immunity for me.

How to resolve this issue for natural environments?

Well, I want people to be able to play Ranger at my table. So I have to fix Ranger. Let's revise Natural Explorer, point by point, trying to strike a balance between 5e checks and the OSR. For those of you unfamiliar with OSR design philosophy, it goes like this: less is more, and make it intuitive. (Dear god, I'll try.)

I'm going to summarize the 5e travel rules below because some mechanics will refer to them.

Fast pace: 400 feet/minute, 3 miles/hour, 30 miles/day. Effects: -5 to passive Perception scores.
Normal pace: 300 feet/minute, 2 miles/hour, 24 miles/day
Slow pace: 200 feet/minute, 1 mile/hour, 18 miles/day

- Difficult terrain doesn't slow your group's travel.

You can travel with groups through difficult terrain in their favored environment at a slow pace. If you wish to travel at a slow pace in a group outside your favorite environment, you may make a Survival check with a -1 penalty for every group member in the party not proficient in Survival. If you fail, you may not attempt again until after their next long rest. You may not travel at a slow pace through difficult terrain with a mount in the party.

It's fine if ranger has some helpful bonuses, but nothing that completely negates the challenge of surviving. Also, I referenced favored terrain, something that isn't in the Revised Ranger. I like favored terrain cause it helps ground a character. Any version of this that's less wordy would be good.

- Your group can't be lost except by magical means

You have advantage on checks to follow a heading you determine while in a natural environment. Additionally, you have advantage on saves to avoid getting lost through magical means in your favored environment.

I like the idea of giving rangers little things that make existing in their favored environment easier. Rangers should have an advantage if they're traveling through familiar terrain.

- Even when you are engaged in another activity while traveling (such as foraging, navigating, or tracking), you remain alert to danger.

Even when you are engaged in another activity while traveling (such as foraging, navigating, or tracking) in your favored environment, you remain alert to danger.

Honestly, this is fine as long as it's in your favored environment. Otherwise, it negates surprise for the ranger across the board after an hour of travel (per the Revised Ranger), which lessens the impact of ambushes.

If you are traveling alone, you can move stealthily at a normal pace. 

If you are traveling alone, you can use Stealth while moving at a normal pace through any environment.

Good! No changes. This is something ranger should have access to after all that traveling outdoors.

- When you forage, you find twice as much food as you normally would.

Oh boy! I'd like to introduce a new mechanic thingy for foraging that tries to reflect resource depletion.

So, there are lots of different environs in D&D that're possible to travel through. I'll cover 3: desert, plains, and jungle.

So, natural environs have a Resource number: 20. Natural environs also have Depletion Dice: how much the surrounding area is depleted every time a group (not one person) forages for food. "Area" is a pretty broad term here. For my purposes, an area is the amount of ground covered by a day of travel. Referring to the travel table above for a normal pace, the area covered by a forager traveling at a normal pace is 24 miles/day. So, for a party traveling at a normal pace:

Desert: Every time a group successfully forages, roll 3d6 depletion dice. Average roll is about 10.5, so 2-3 days of foraging in the same desert place sounds reasonable to me.
Plains: Every time a group successfully forages, roll 2d6 depletion dice.
Jungle: Every time a group successfully forages, roll 1d6 depletion dice.

I'm pulling these numbers out of thin air, but it seems reasonable to me that deserts have less resources than plains which have less resource numbers than forests.

Also, "successful" foraging is passing the check to forage. Failure means you find half the food/water you/the group needs and the depletion dice are still rolled. Depleting Resource to 0 means that you can't find enough food to sustain the group unless you move on. Resource regenerates at a rate of 1/day.

So, with these new mechanics in mind:

- When you forage, you find twice as much food as you normally would.

When you forage in your favored terrain, you roll one less depletion dice, or halve the dice roll if you would roll less than one dice. When you roll to forage, add +1 to your roll for every other group member proficient in Survival.

This is an extremely untested mechanic because my group hasn't gotten to the point where they actually have to worry about food...yet. Heheheh. Additionally: as long as you pass your check, it won't be hard to find food if you're constantly on the move. If you are forced to stick around one place and run out of rations, or can't move to another area to forage, though, you just might run into some serious trouble unless you have a cleric/paladin/bard who can cast Create Food and Water which makes all this irrelevant AAAAAAAAAAAGH

- While tracking other creatures, you also learn their exact number, their sizes, and how long ago they passed through the area.

When you track other creatures, you can make a Survival check to learn their exact number, their sizes, and how long ago they passes through the area. You make this check with advantage if you're in your favored terrain.

If you like this for OSR, replace the Survival checks with whatever you have your rangers or nature-oriented classes do. There's a great article about the weaknesses of the 5e barbarian, and one of the points it brings up is that there isn't much for barbs to do outside of combat. As a a stereotypical nature-centric class, there should probably be a barbarian subclass that overlaps with ranger a bit.

Another way to come at natural environments are some really, really good random encounter tables. Those are hard to write.

What I'm trying to keep in mind is that I'm not writing a game in which the players slowly die because they depleted the natural resources and can't move quickly enough to find more because of exhaustion. That's horrifying. I'm trying to write something that creates pressure and a chance at failure and success. Whether or not this'll work....we'll see!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Way of the Lightning Rider

Way of Lightning

In old, weatherbeaten monasteries overlooking stormy coasts, there exists a scattered organization of monks dedicated to the gods of tempests. These ascetics practice ancient forms of weather magic, and sailors that pass by their monasteries during fierce storms will swear they heard unearthly screams and saw human figures, silhouetted in blinding light, flashing across the skies -- lightning riders. 
     Lightning riders are of a more chaotic bent than most monks, and are often regarded as slightly unhinged by their more sober peers. Ever since the Great Rain, monasteries of the Way of Lightning have been spotted more frequently along major coastlines. Some say the order is simply proliferating with new members. Others say the growth is the harbinger of a new Great Rain.

At 3rd level, your affinity to electricity grants you resistance to lightning damage. Additionally, on your turn, you can spend a ki point to charge your strikes with your choice of the essence of lightning or thunder. Choose one of the following abilities:
     Lightning. Until the end of your turn, your attacks deal lightning damage. A creature that takes damage from one of these attacks can't take reactions until the start of its next turn.
     Thunder. Until the end of your turn, your attacks deal thunder damage. A creature that take damage from one of these attacks is pushed 10 feet away from you.

At 6th level, you gain resistance to thunder damage. 
     Additionally, you can use your bonus action to move 15 feet in any direction without provoking opportunity attacks. You can also use this ability to travel through solid objects that are good conductors of electricity, like metal walls. If you end your movement inside a solid object, you are shunted to the nearest unoccupied space and take 1d10 force damage.

Ride the Lightning
Starting at 11th level, you can use your action and spend 4 ki points to channel your body and ki into a surge of lightning. Until the end of your turn, you gain the following benefits:

  • You can move up to twice your normal walking speed and do not provoke opportunity attacks.
  • You can pass through hostile creature's spaces, but cannot end your movement there. 
  • If you move through a creature's space, it must make a Dexterity saving throw. A creature takes 8d6 lightning damage on a failed save, or half as much damage on a successful one. However, because lightning never strikes twice, a creature that takes damage from this ability can't be affected by it until your next turn.

The Body Electric
By 17th level, your ki constantly sparks and crackles around you. When you begin your turn, each creature you choose within 5 feet of you takes 2d8 lightning damage and can't take reactions until the start of its next turn.
     Also, you emanate a strong electric field. You gain a flight speed equal to your base walking speed. However, you must begin and end your movement on solid ground, otherwise you fall.

This is a collaboration with MFoV I'm pretty proud of. I think it's the coolest monk since Goku Way of the Sun Soul and shitty Avatar Way of the Four Elements. 

Be a monk. Punch people. Turn into lightning. Travel through electric conductors. Punch people. Please, thank you, and you're welcome. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Hey, what happened to your writing? There was like that druid post and then nothing really.

Hi there, OSR people. I haven't really ever talked to any of y'all despite watching this community and loosely participating in it for years. So, this is print "hello, world!"

I like this community. I want to be a part of it. However, my interests differ, and for a long time that has held me back from producing content.

OSR, at least to me, seems to be a reductionist style of gaming. It's not about telling a story through rules, it's about telling a story with rules to adjucate conflict and/or decide outcome to continue a narrative, to build tension, and to do lots of other things.

[going somewhere/disclaimer]

My major influences, as a relatively new arrival, have been: D&D Next/5e (my first D&D game), Goblin Punch, and Middle Finger of Vecna. These influences are selected out of many (basically everyone I follow on G+ and more) by how much they've posted and how much I like their stuff.

These above occupy the same sphere of D&Dish RPG but very different content/tone subspheres. I'll briefly summarize my perspective on these influences after years of following them.

D&D 5e: At it's core, high fantasy. More rules lite than the previous editions, but the flavor and tone (especially for Forgotten Realms) remains unchanged. The system I play in. Have all the core books, know how to construct homebrews for every class. Read all the Unearthed Arcana. Etc, etc. Hoping that Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford + crew avoid system bloat in the long run.

Goblin Punch: My biggest influence/hook into the OSR. I have bookmarked 58 blog posts and I know I've lost some bookmarks over time. For me, this blog and the dude behind it will always be the "what is cool in OSR" standard. I don't mean the specific setting, or the specific rules, but the sense of wow I get from reading a kickass Arnold post. 7 Myths Everyone Believes About Druids, Synthexia, Eldritch Americana, the Awakened, Non-Euclidean geometry, and his starship setting. I can go on and on. First post I read was about Guilder, the City of Green Brass. Basically the only reason I write (share) online.

Middle Finger of Vecna: 5e homebrews. Updates Mon/Wed/Fri on a good week. Odds are, these gentlemen have a 5e archetype for your character idea. I'm using the Shugenja in my current campaign because a player asked for a "sort of Chinese feeling wizard". Heh, heh. I really can't understate how much their breakdown of 5e homebrew creation has encouraged me to write my own stuff. Also kudos to them for building up from 2 dudes making stuff on GitP forums to a fully fledged Patreon with multiple writers that just successfully finished its first Kickstarter. 

So, what you're supposed to get from all this is a general sense of where my gaming style/content is heading. 2 D&D 5e influences, and I like Goblin Punch for the creativity, not necessarily the system. My dream game is a D&D 5e game that feels like an OSR, so basically D&D 5e's lethality at the first few levels continued. Yes, you're squishier, and you earned it. That means my game will have that much less give the next time.

Which means I'm probably just going to write for 5e. Other systems are cool, but I don't really have the headspace to innovate consistently in other RPG systems. I guess that means I can stop adapting my content to what I felt like the community was responding to and drop the feeling that I have to prove myself.

Anyhoo, now you know more about me and nothing really at the same time, which is good. I live in Texas. Now you know something else.

Everything from here on out, as specific archetypes or monsters, will be 5e, because it's easy for me to balance content inside 5e. This will probably change, like all good rules do.

Also, now that G+ is officially being shut down, I need pointers as to where people are moving so I can follow the pulse of the OSR. Thanks.

Also, y'all have been very friendly and respectful in general. There are exceptions but there always will be. Thanks for playing nice.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Brains in the Garbage: Setting

So, I decided to run far, far away from the unfortunate Eurocentricity that usually tags along with the OSR/standard 5e.

Brains in the Garbage is set in a loose pastiche of Mesoamerica as it was before the conquest. I have my players pronouncing Nahuatl words and traveling with tamed cipacs (crocodiles) to dig a 30x30x30 foot cube of greenstone out of a mountainside with pickaxes and blasting powder. They're boiling maize with lime and then grinding it to make fresh tamales and tortillas.

In some ways, it's a leveler. Lots of people playing D&D typically know something about obscure Byzantine priests of the 12 century and why my "not Byzantine monastery in not Turkey" isn't historically accurate, to give a random and fictional example. By playing in this oft-ignored area, everyone's starting with the same amount of knowledge: none. However, stereotypes *cough* Aztecs sacrificing lots of humans *cough* still persist due to the heavy colonial version of history we're fed as kids. I recommend a great article by Cecelia Klein called "Not like Us and All the Same".

Name 3 Mesoamerican/South American cities besides Chichen Itza, Tenochtitlan, Teotihuacan, and Cusco.

Name 3 Mesoamerican/South American cultures besides the Inka, the Mexica (Aztecs), and the Maya faction represented at Chichen Itza.

It's terrifying how well the colonial legacy of conquered cultures as "primitive", "tribal", or "savage" still influences both academia and popular culture. Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is reflective of attitudes towards Mesoamerica. Something a little bit closer to home in the OSR, the Aztech orcs, while not a bellwether of the OSR, seem to be an entire culture distilled into some of its worst tendencies.

So far, the PC's have taken to the world pretty well. I haven't overloaded them with too much foreign terms. When I include lore, I try to incorporate the lore as flavor to crunch. Eventually, if I'm doing my job right, they'll begin to care about the lore for the lore's sake.

Tsung Rao, a Shugenja wizard from "faraway places" talking to some local farmers after gaining their trust about the local demon infestation:

"...alright. If you ever see a tree marked with this symbol, it'll be climbable. Up in the tree, buried in the lightning strike scar, is a polished circle of greenstone. If you reflect the sun to the east or the west, you may get the response. Do you know pepepetlaca (they flash/shine)? No? Here's a slab with the code letters. Remember, everything one of us knows they also know. Answer calls for help, but be cautious."

This is the symbol referenced above - a pecked cross.
It represents the concept of sacred time according to the Maya.
All this new mythology is pretty cool. I haven't found a centralized, accessible source for all the different myths, but I'll try to share them.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Brains in the Garbage

I'm starting a new campaign in my world of Requiem. It's called Brains in the Garbage. If you're asking wtf, the campaign title worked.

Anyhoo, I'm now being forced to sit down and flesh out/codify all the things. I'll present them in no particular order. Expect 5e flavored with OSR.

Here's the lore!

A long, long time ago, Mother Sun and Father Moon created the world from nothing. They sculpted the mountains, dug out and filled the oceans, scattered pockets of precious ore, and seeded the world with life both sedentary and mobile.
They wanted more. What good is art without intelligence to appreciate its nuance?
So they gave up their physical forms, molded beings strong, tall, and wise out of their own flesh, and filled these shells with ephemeral, flickering energy plucked from the void.
These elves, the first sentient creatures, gave the gods the adulation and validation they sought and created many wonders in their time on the earth.
Eventually, the elves began to experiment on their own and the earth around them, reshaping flesh and spirit at a whim, working towards unlocking the secrets of the world and turning away from the gods.
Caught up in their perversity, the enraptured elves ignored the warnings and pleas delivered by Mother Sun and Father Moon, so the world burned. Proud metropolises of spiraling wood and tempered adamant sunk into themselves while the elves screamed their pain into a cold, uncaring void.
Afterwards, however, Father Moon felt guilt over his rashness. He spoke to Mother Sun about bringing back the innocent and kind, but in her pride, she refused, and spoke of a new race of beings she planned to bring forth, both humble and mighty.
She spurned his advice, and he refused to help her.
Father Moon, tormented by the screams of his children, raised the few he deemed worthy of life, but without the spark of Mother Sun, they returned as shadows of their former selves, as vampires, forever craving the warm flesh of the sun.
Mother Sun, ignoring her own pain and guilt, brought forth the angels to inhabit a scorched earth, but without the soft glow of Father Moon, they emerged bright and terrible, forever lacking the softness of the moon.
Each god, upon seeing the abominations the other had wrought, began to argue and then spar, invisible hands pummeling the fabric of the world.
As the gods fought, the vampires crawled out of the ruins of their homes, and the angels descended from the skies on flaming wings. Each side was seized with a terrible hunger, and each fell upon the other, ripping and devouring.
For years, the skies blackened, twisted, and split open.
When the fury of the gods abated, bleeding and broken, they looked upon a world burned at their hands and riven by their creations. Remorseful, they decreed that never again should gods fight each other, for to do so was to neglect their responsibilities as creators. Mother Sun tended to the hurts of her remaining angels while Father Moon healed his few vampires of their wounds.
United, they named their world Requiem, in honor of the dead, and one final time conjured clouds of life-giving rain to heal and erase the awesome sprawls of ruin. This last work done, Mother Sun, Father Moon, angels, and vampires retreated from the face of the earth, sick of war.


While each god promised that they would never again birth a race, the legacies of the elves persisted. Ancient vaults, built secretly to resist the powers of the gods, opened, unleashing new spawn birthed of godflesh upon the world.
Humans, dwarves, and orcs, the three Founder Races, spidered out across the world, rediscovered metallurgy, writing, agriculture, and settled atop Requiem, a graveyard for billions.
Their children, known as halflings, goblins, gnomes, and ashanti, forged their own distinctive strains of civilization. Wars flared up, as they always will, but wars of swords and spells, not wars fought with weapons capable of scorching the world.
New gods arose, offering knowledge and power, garnering devoted flocks. Advances in tech and magic improved both standards of living, trade networks, and the lethality of wars. Mighty dragons awoke, and carved out places for themselves.
Eventually, though, Mother Sun and Father Moon turned their gaze back to their monument, and were shocked by the proliferation of new life. The angels and vampires awoke, charged by their creators to walk among the races and learn their ways. What they discovered changed them.
Some vampires, wishing to redeem themselves, began to teach and guide the new races of the time before, dribbling out scraps of knowledge and caches of technology, seeking the blessing of Mother Sun. Some vampires, seeing a chance to live again, shed their former identities and walked among the new flesh, rejoicing in both familiar and unfamiliar sights. Some vampires, bitter over the loss of their world and their new form, disappeared into what old vaults of the elves still existed and became something worse. Darker.
The angels, offended by the new gods, descended to convince the new flesh of the old gods and their power. Some succeeded, and established bastions of Mother Sun. Some were conversely persuaded of the righteousness of the new gods, and broke away from Mother Sun. A few simply discarded all bonds like old robes, and took to exploring the world both old and new.
Eventually, the puritanical angels, hurt by their more “enlightened” brethren, demanded a meeting to refute the usurpers. Both sides brought mortal supporters, and sought neutral mediators. An agreement was reached: seven vampires would serve as the mediators, and each side would respect what the seven decided.
Maybe a mediator sought war. Maybe a mortal supporter decided to take matters into their hands. Maybe an angel betrayed the terms of the contract. Whatever the case, the negotiations broke down with the assassination of a puritan angel, and an angelic civil war erupted.
Father Moon and Mother Sun, afraid of the damage divinities could do, prevented any gods, new or old, from taking part as armies lead by screaming angels clashed over entire nations. Atheist states attempted to distance themselves from the fallout while neutral angels and vampires were pressured to take sides.
The vaults of the elves, perhaps tampered with, perhaps sought out for their ability to decide wars, birthed one last, horrific thing: demons. Hordes of slavering, whining, cringing, starving bundles of twisted flesh began to feed upon the armies of both sides.
Eventually, the waves of demons were forced back, but not before mortals learned how to control and summon them, and not before especially powerful individuals, bloated on souls and biomass, laid claim to the title of demon lord.
In the wake of the demon war, society started to rebuild. New alliances were formed, formerly verdant lands were abandoned or burned to purge demon infestations. Most major metropolises survived the conflict, notably the unlikely confederation of Bblyns and Torre’kan.
The present is a more cynical time for mortals. Some people cling more strongly to their gods than ever, hoping for protection and deliverance, while others reject deities. Angels are viewed in the same light as deities. Vampires are distrusted for their dietary restrictions and history but reluctantly accorded respect for their knowledge and proven leadership. Most alliances center around the military containment of demons or the turf wars that occasionally flare up.
The new art of devilry has attracted support and controversy like moths to a flame. Some argue for its expansion, others for its immediate cessation. Demons are demons, no matter how they’re bound.
Following the demon war, most angels have been ordered to pay penance. Some have renounced arms and dedicate themselves to helping and protecting the innocent. Some pledge themselves in service to an organization, and some have willingly locked themselves away.
A select few angels have discarded all allegiance, believing themselves betrayed. These angels look for answers, like some vampires before them, in the treacherous vaults of the elves. Some return, chastened, sporting new scars. Some never return, but tales spread of beautiful and terrible beings of flame both glorious and grotesque.
Nations rebuild as they always have around war and trade, two sides of a coin. The new gods, kept from fighting and deprived of their angels, work through mortal proxies. Throughout all this, Father Moon and Mother Sun observe, occasionally working small changes in the world towards their own inscrutable goals.

Welcome to Requiem.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

OSR Fighter: Gladiator-Butcher

Idea stolen wholesale from Ben L's stupendous Bestiary of Ruined Ghinor.

The lords of Torre'kan shall dine well tonight on marinated brisket
It takes an interesting person to become a gladiator-butcher. Brutal, yet incisively intelligent enough to memorize the anatomies of all sorts of strange monstrosities. Strong, but delicate in their cutting. The guts of a monster can't be punctured - that spoils the meat!

Above all, they must have a large dollop of showmanship. This isn't a manticore hunt (the manticore has already been hunted, caught, and prodded into the arena), this is a gladiator fight. More sapient enemies are given weapons if they so wish, but no armor. Gladiator-butchers wear smocks, chef's hats, and a light yellow jerkin with pantaloons. They don rubberized boots for traction. If they have no armor, why give any to the meat?

To a gladiator-butcher, all opponents (including other gladiator-butchers, sometimes) are meat. Meat is for consumption. Accordingly, gladiator-butchers have no names, only numerical designations stamped on their hats to display that all are equal to the masticating and digestive organs. Whatever creatures are on the menu are addressed as "appetizer", "side dish", "something resembling tender chunks of veal stewed in a light rose-cream-of-mushroom bisque with rosemary", or the almighty "main dish". 

These hardened butchers (men and women alike) rarely leave the city in which they practice their craft. They are customarily slaves and occasionally have to defend themselves from religious or legal authorities in other locales when they are suspected of murder and cannibalism. Most hail from Torre'kan, the largest port city in the Ecumenides. 

Sometimes, they depart on a grand hunt to attend their lord and his retinue of knights, necromancers, griffon riders, giant-riders, rickshaws, or what have you as yet another privileged noble sets their taste buds on a rare, usually magical beast.  

Sometimes, such a hunt ends with a spectacular slaughter in the middle of a trackless expanse of woods, leaving a solitary gladiator-butcher and a handful of retainers with no employer or means of travel. 

What creature probably ate your employer? (1d6)
1. A green dragon by the name of Vladicleres the Shade-stalker
2. A massive mantis shrimp that lurks off the coast of the Anatolian Bay
3. A demon named Rumbleguts who likes to pull off limbs
4. A mind flayer who didn't take kindly to having their door kicked down
5. The orcish warlord Daggerpick Molarcrush
6. A band of redcaps that asked your advice on cooking your lord/lady

What is your "fighting" style? (1d6)
1. A sharp, sharp knife and detailed knowledge of tendons
2. Polearms to the aorta
3. Blinding: with spiked caestus, throwing knives, or even blowgun needles
4. Entangling and dismembering meals with bolas, nets, and axes
5. Inflicting massive quantities of pain through sticks coated with burning pitch, flaying, etc
6. Concussion and trepanation with a mallet and corkscrew

Nicholas Papatzounis

OSR Class: Gladiator-Butcher

You get +2 Smock HP for every Gladiator-Butcher template you possess.

Starting Equipment: smock (leather), boots, hat, butcher knives, and proof of ownership
Starting Skill [d3]: 1 = Actor, 2 = Soldier, 3 = Chef

A: Coup de Grace, Smock HP, +1 Attack
B: Tricky, Carver
C: Notches, +1 Attack
D: Brag, Reputation

Coup de Grace
Once per combat, if you deliver the deathblow to a creature you're fighting, you may narrate it in a suitably bizarre and signature fashion. All onlookers who've never seen this method of dispatch before make a new reaction roll with your choice of a +4 or -4 bonus.

Smock HP
While you are wearing your smock or a similar garment, your maximum HP is increased by 2 x [Gladiator-Butcher templates]. If you wear something that obstructs your smock, this bonus is lost.

You do whatever it takes to avoid becoming dinner, especially if it means bruising the nethers. When a hostile creature enters or exits your space, you can use your reaction to attempt a Dirty Trick.

You're well versed in the art of separating muscle from viscera, and can butcher any creature who you're anatomically familiar with in [HD] hours. This produces crude but edible meat and probably destroys any delicate unedible parts. If you double the time spent butchering a known creature, you have a 4 in 6 chance of retrieving organs of your choice. If you butcher an unknown creature, you have to spend 2 x [HD] hours learning its anatomy.
Each gladiator-butcher has a distinct repertoire of butchery, but all know how to butcher humanoids.

Keep track of your kills with one specific weapon. When you reach 100 kills with that weapon, you gain a +1 bonus to damage. 350 nets you a +1 to hit. 500 kills gives you +1 to Defense while wielding that singular killing tool. 1000 kills garners you a nickname based on your slaughter style and .

You may spend a turn boasting of your gruesome kills, presenting trophies as appropriate. Opponents of [HD] < [1/2 HD] of your favorite trophy must Save or flee/surrender/accept a challenge to duel as appropriate.

By dint of survival, panache, or dogged persistence, you've garnered quite a reputation. If your owner or their estate still exists, they'll definitely send agents to retrieve you or negotiate the purchase of your freedom.
You'll also attract 1d4 novices a year eager to learn the trade from a master, and will have to field occasional job offers from organizations interested in your services.

Dirty Tricks:
1. Reflect light into your enemies eyes.
2. Hard boot to the tenders.
3. Tackle 'em.
4. Throw something small.
5. Hook a hand in their mouth and yank
7. Throat punch.
8. Kick a joint.
9. Sucker punch.
10. Thumbs to the eyes.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

5e/GLOG Wizard: Order of Solar Geometers

[This wizard undergoing revision soon.]

In the beginning, Mother Sun measured out the heavens and the earth with Father Moon.

Some of the surviving depictions show her as a man, but why not? Mother Sun can assume any shape when the feeling seizes her.

The Ancient of Days by William Blake
She measured and partitioned the earth with a compass and a right angle. Father Moon double-checked her work, but that took several thousand years, and in the mean time some errors magnified themselves. Any first draft of code is riddled with typos and confunding logic that looked pretty good at 1 in the morning, but Mother Sun was impatient. She wanted to see the breasts of her creations rise and fall, to watch them use the convoluted jelly orbs she gave them to admire her handiwork. 

Today, the Solar Geometers travel around the known world, measuring plants and animals, categorizing and analyzing the spread of infections, and dropping balls of different weights from buildings, checking and rechecking, transcribing, publishing, working. Their traditional homes are the Equinoxes and Solstices of Bblyns, 4 shining towers to catch the rays of the 4 auspicious moments.

Understanding that a^2 + b^2 = c^2 allows you to rewrite the equation. Magic is intentionally unbalancing one side of an equation to produce something out of nothing, negate a process, or square root a giant. If 1 +1 = 3, and 3 +3 = 8, what can you do with the excess energy? 

The simpler the equation, the easier it is to unbalance. Magic effects often require extremely convoluted equations. (Try mathematically modeling a Fireball.)

Modeled off Arnold's rules but compatible with Skerples's adaptation.

Order of Solar Geometers

Perk: If you are casting with sunlight on you, your MD return to your pool on a roll of 1-4. 

Drawback: Every time you cast a spell without facing one of the four cardinal directions, you must Save or take [dice] penalty to (1d4): a) inventory slots b) HP c) damage d) skill checks for [dice] minutes. The world does not like making something out of nothing for you.

You start with a geometric compass, a magnetic compass, a right angle, and some fancy colored chalk.


1. Know the exact angle and distance to a point you can see.

2. Instantly count how many objects are in a pile.

3. Spells you cast may treat their point of origin as a circle you drew that you can see.

Solar Geometer Spell List:

1. Magic Missile*
R: 200' T: creature D: 0 
Target takes [sum] + [dice] damage, no Save. Your magic missile is a small wormhole. 

2. Congruence
R: 30' T: creature/object D: [dice] minutes
You alter a creature's or an object's shape and size to mimic that of another creature/object you can see. If 4 or more dice are invested, this spell is permanent.

3. Remeasure
R: 30' T: creature/object D: [sum] minutes
You correct [dice] physical anomalies (mutations and the like) on a creature. If 4 or more dice are invested, this spell is permanent.

4. Speak With Planes
R: Self T: planes D: [dice] rounds
Your brain warps to allow communication with localized representations of either length, width, depth, or time. They are neutral to your presence unless you have done some great favor for them or offended them. Length, width, and depth measure things by how much of a length, width, and depth the thing has relevant to the local direction of gravity and the local units of measurement. Time will let you view the last [dice] minutes in an area if you ask nicely.

5. Sunlust
R: 30' T: [dice] creatures D: [dice] rounds
Creatures that can see sunlight must Save or rush towards it.

6. Illumination
R: touch T: creature D: 0
A creature you touch has a sudden flash of insight or can make a Save against a confusing or befuddling effect.

7. Solar Flare
R: self T: [dice] creatures D: [dice] rounds
Creatures that can see you must Save or be blinded by a flash of sunlight.

8. Binding Ray
R: 100' T: creature D: [dice] rounds
One creature or object that you choose must Save or be struck by a 2-dimensional line, take [dice] damage, and be tethered to your index finger. The ray can "reflect" off of corners with angles ranging from 90 degrees to 180 degrees if the target is within range but not within sight. The line is invisible due to its two dimensional nature, but can be cut.

9. Sunkissed
R: touch T: [dice] creatures D: [dice] x 2 hours
Creatures (including yourself) that you touch are comfortable in temperatures up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit, need half as much water for the duration, can't suffer from heatstroke, and can't be harmed by fires smaller than a torch.

10. Numbersect
R: 200' T: [dice] x 5' D: 0
Creatures or objects within the radius must Save or be divided into [dice] +1 sections of the same mass and similar shape as possible.

Sidebar: Blinded
Blinded creatures cannot do anything that requires sight like reading. They automatically miss with ranged attacks and have a +5 penalty on melee weapon attacks.
If blinded creatures spend a round listening, they may make a ranged weapon attack with a +5 penalty, but only if their target is making noise and there isn't too much background noise.

Boy's surface: a representation of a one-sided surface in 3-dimensional space

Emblem Spells

11. Immolation
R: [dice] x 10' T: creatures D: [sum] rounds, concentration
All creatures within range must Save or take [dice]d4 heat damage each round. Small objects spontaneously catch on fire if flammable, and water boils away. You incandesce enough that creatures cannot perceive you. A creature reduced to 0 hit points by this spell is riven from within by shafts of sunlight and explodes, dealing [dice] damage to adjacent creatures.

12. Dimenopsia
R: touch T: creature D: [sum] rounds
You rob someone of their ability to perceive dimension. If they fail a Save against this spell, roll on the table below. If [sum] > 18, this is permanent.
1. The creature loses its ability to perceive or conceive of depth. It treats all things as if they were the same distance away.
2. The creature loses its ability to perceive or conceive of length. It cannot distinguish between two dowels of the same material and width but of different length, for example.
3. The creature loses its ability to perceive or conceive of width.
4. The creature loses its ability to perceive or conceive of time.
Alternatively, this spell can also be used to correct strong dimensional anomalies within a radius of [dice] x 10'.

Solar Geometer Mishaps
1. MD only return to your pool on a roll of 1-2 for 24 hours.
2. Take 1d6 damage.
3. Random mutation for 1d6 rounds, then Save. Permanent if you fail.
4. Blinded for 1d6 rounds.
5. No depth perception for 24 hours.
6. An ally loses their ability to perceive any object with an angle less than 90 degrees for a day.

Doom of the Solar Geometer
1. Become two-dimensional for a day. Handy if you walk sideways, but watch out for winds.
2. You become adrift in time for what feels like an eternity. Roll 1d20. On an odd roll, you return that many hours in the past in a random, survivable spot 100 feet away from where you were in the past. On an even roll, you are catapulted that many hours to the future 100 feet in a survivable location away from where you are going to be. After the number of hours stipulated in your temporal journey elapse, one of you vanishes.
Until then, there are two of yourself, and if anyone (including yourself) besides you becomes aware of that, 1d4 +1 paradox angels sent by Mother Sun arrive to exterminate both you's and anyone else in the vicinity.
3. You are reduced to a 1-dimensional point. Choose one of the four dimensions. You disappear, become an invisible, infinitesimally small dot, and are only able to view that dimension.

This doom can be avoided by obtaining the direct blessing of Mother Sun or by writing down every fundamental law of her world.

Gabriel's Horn - possesses infinite surface area but finite volume

5e: School of Solar Geometers

At 2nd level, when you choose this tradition, your spells interact differently with angles. Spells cast by you that require a ranged attack roll can reflect off of acute and right angles formed by straight lines of your choice, potentially around corners.

Starting at 6th level, you always know how high the sun is in the sky and which direction is west, even if underground. In addition, you may change fire damage to radiant damage when you cast a spell of 1st level or higher.

At 10th level, you learn how to split your spells. As a bonus action, when you cast a spell that targets only one creature and doesn't have a range of self, you can simultaneously expend a spell slot of the same level or higher (1st level for cantrips) to duplicate the spell.
This ability recharges after a short or long rest.

Beginning at 14th level, you regain hit points equal to your Constitution modifier when you start your turn with less than half your hit points if you are exposed to sunlight. This ability does not work if you are reduced to 0 hit points.

As always, feedback welcome! This is a wizard tradition I've had rattling around my skull for a long, long time.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Shadow Post: NOVUM ACERVO, Episode 1: Greenest in Flames

Greetings, friends.

This is a continuation of an effort to rewrite the motivations behind HotDQ (and HotDQ) completely, having some impact on the early adventure, but completely changing the endgame in Rise of Tiamat.

Last time, I reconsidered Severin Silrajin as a hopefully more interesting villain with a huge personal stake in both releasing Tiamat from her prison and destroying her and elevated Tarbaw Nighthill from an early quest-giver to a major antagonist (antihero?) who works on the PC's side for virtually the entire course of the adventure, provided things go his (and therefore Severin's) way.

Now, how do these changes affect Greenest in Flames? Not much. The real affect this will have on the adventure is shaping the major NPC's (Rezmir, Tarbaw, Frulam) perceptions of the characters and accordingly how they react later.

The Cult, as it exists in the adventure, is still very much the same in motivation and operation. Only Severin, Tarbaw, and a very few others know about the actual destiny of the Cult after it summons Tiamat.

Severin and Tarbaw reason that by building the Cult up, they can attract a large amount of mercenaries and generally depraved peoples, who all deserve to die, which they can then kill after successfully summoning Tiamat. They've created this huge organization dedicated to zealotry, greed, and evil, while carefully introducing/maintaining schisms that will be leveraged to destroy the organization from the inside out after drawing it into the open with help from Tarbaw's and the PC's eventual army. Because of this, the Cult on nearly every level will operate with much the same motivation. Every average cultist believes they're serving Tiamat and that the world is destined to be ruled by living dragons after humanoid civilization is shattered. A substantial minority (mostly middle level and a few high-ranking cultists) are still attached to the idea of dracoliches, but they've been appeased by the promise of loot and power for now (and intimidated by a few suspicious deaths).

Severin Silrajin has talked to a god, and gained the distinction of being the few beings in history to successfully lie to one. Tiamat can still grant power and witness events (with great effort) in her prison, but lacks the capability to parse a lesser being both physically and mentally. In game terms, this means that by bribing her jailors heavily, she can cast scrying at a divine level (which is unblockable unless countered by an artifact or other deity), but cannot cast detect thoughts on a being not in her realm. Her prison ostensibly prevents her from communicating with her worshipers in any way, but it's weakening. She's intelligent enough to detect or ferret out a lie when she hears one, but arrogant (oh so arrogant) enough, desperate enough, and greedy enough to be manipulated.

Severin, as one of his three magic items, wears an special armband - his personal fusion of a amulet of proof against detection and location and a ring of mind shielding. It's always invisible.

Anyways, on to Greenest! When last we saw it, it was being looted by a loosely organized pack of raiders. What's up with them?

The adventure hook for this entire campaign has the PC's being paid to deliver supplies/guard a caravan to Greenest. Later, the supplies/caravan just....*disappear(s)*, from what I can tell. In my first runthrough of this adventure, my PC's attached rope fuses to the barrels of lantern oil in the resupply caravan and Animal Handled the oxen pulling the caravan into charging at a mob of cultists. After the PC's jumped off, the caravan slalomed on some mud into a wall and ruptured, spilling burning oil slicks everywhere. Group 1 (G1) splashed several cultists in oil and created a fun terrain feature.

I like the idea of the resupply caravan because it provides two motivations: deliver the supplies for money and/or deliver the supplies to help the villagers. It also acts as a narrative anchor: the PC's will have to abandon (or destroy) it to avoid attracting attention as they move through the war zone of a town, but if they want payment or to help others, they've gotta go back to fetch it.

I'm going to move through the book in the order that things are presented now and make my suggestions.

General Features:

I like the whole dim light aesthetic, of flickering, bouncing shadows, and sudden snaps and pops that go along with burning buildings. The disadvantage on perception that goes along with that reinforces the uncertain nature of every corner.  

Most fires will probably come from a few buildings. Up to 20 feet away from those buildings, the lighting can count as bright. Characters should take 1d4 fire damage for every turn they spend in a square right next to a large fire, and anyone that enters a square of fire, moves through one (including forced movement!), or spends a turn in one takes 1d6 fire damage. 

The Stream: 
In the book, the stream is rarely more than 3 feet deep and has a gravel bottom. I recommend making it 5 feet deep with a 1 foot ford near the old tunnel that can be used to cross easily. The river requires a DC 10 Athletics check to ford, and characters in heavy or medium armor have disadvantage. An interesting point in the adventure with Group 2 (G2) was when they tried to throw a gnome paladin across. Even with the help action, they got a 5 total, and the gnome crit failed his swim check.
Anyone who fails the swim check is pulled 10 feet down the river, towards the center of Greenest. Anyone who crit fails the swim check starts drowning and must make death saves. Fording streams is serious shit, kiddos.

Important Characters:
Nighthill: Mentioned above and previously. Friendly for now.

Castellan Escobert (es-ko-BER) the Red: Droll dwarf who maintains the castle and who holds all the keys. He suspects something's up with Themberchaud and is going to die spectacularly because of this.

Frulam Mondath: Stays in the background and directs the raid. May or may not become vaguely aware of a group of adventurers depending on your players actions.

Langdedrosa Cyanwrath: Provides (as +Brandes Stoddard points out) a good emotional hook. will be connected with...

Lennithon: A dragon who serves as background furniture with a bite.

Linan Swift: A heroic commoner that may turn out to be an important ally. 

Random Encounter Table:

As the table currently stands, players have a 87.5% chance of encountering hostiles. The book says to roll for random encounters every 100 feet but never specifies how far it is to the keep; instead, it says the players have to move past 4 groups of raiders if they march forwards. 
The first encounter is not avoidable, and sets a group of 4 (the book assumes 4) players against 8 kobolds. The players get help from a named commoner (Linan Swift) with a spear, but have to protect 4 commoners (one for each player). The kobolds "assume the characters are cultists and ignore them to concentrate on killing the woman first, her family second." This "they're with us" mentality should only apply to other groups as long as the PC's don't let any kobolds escape to spread the word of the adventurers. If they do, cultists should attack them on sight and coordinate to ambush them. 

I think an opportunity is missed with Linan here. If she survives, I can easily see Tarbaw making her a local hero and raising her to a position of importance in his burgeoning counter-cult. I picture her as lady with dark skin and dark brown hair, average height, built like a brick. She has a quick wit, strong arms, can be occasionally snappish, and obsessively whittles.

This set of encounters features, on average, 7.5 (3d4) cultists and 18.5 (3d6+8 kobolds) against 4 "new" adventurers and Linan (if she survives) protecting at least 4 villagers. That's deadly, discounting all random encounters. It'll definitely teach the PC's that you can't fight through everything if it doesn't kill them, but the text doesn't offer ways or suggestions (not great considering this is marketed to people who've never DM'd or played before) to encourage non-stabby behavior. DM's, take note: remind players that Perception, Stealth, and Cha based checks exist. It'll save some meatgrinding and potential death/player boredom.
My suggestion is to reduce the number of kobolds in the initial encounter to 6: kobolds can take a hit before dropping, and the PC's resources won't be taxed as heavily. For the next encounters, I would scratch the 1d6 kobolds/1d4 cultists entirely and suggest a mix of not just enemies but enemy actions. The below table should be paired with the Encounters table, which I want to adopt for all random encounters in Greenest. 
1d10 Encounter Actions
  1. The enemy group is fighting over loot: any disparate groups in the encounter are battling each other. Kobolds versus cultists, cultists versus mercs (guards), acolytes and cultists versus mercs, kobolds versus mercs, or simply 3 v 3 for a group of 6 kobolds or cultists. Ambush drakes side with cultists over kobolds/mercs and acolytes over everyone else. The group should be scuffling but not fighting when the PC's hear them, but they will buddy up to kill PC's if attacked. PC's can also try to sneak around them or pose as cultists and pick a side, perhaps killing the losers or making some friends.
  2. Looting a house. Two enemies are keeping a lookout.
  3. The enemy group has spotted the PC's and presents itself at half strength. The visible half will hail the PC's and pretend like the PC's are also cultists while the other half circles behind the PC's for a surprise ranged attack, after which everyone closes for melee.
  4. Loud group that has the maximum number (i.e, 6 out of 1d6) in it and a lot of swag. Half are drunk on looted alcohol, which gives them disadvantage on Dex/Int saves, attack rolls, and Dex/Int checks. They're visibly burdened with bags, which they fight to protect.
  5. Wandering around, looking for loot.
  6. Group of enemies either torturing 1d6 townsfolk (if kobolds/mercs) or trying to convince them to join (if any cultists/acolytes). If the PC's do nothing/avoid the fight, the villagers will be taken as slaves by the mercs/kobolds or half of them will join the cultists/acolytes as new cultists, donning cultist armor and taking daggers. If the PC's attack, the mercs/kobolds hold half the townsfolk hostage while cultists/acolytes will try to persuade the townsfolk to attack the PC's. The PC's can of course try to persuade the townsfolk to join their side. 
  7. Looting dead villagers. One enemy keeping lookout.
  8. Group of raiders egging a newbie to kill a prisoner. Evens/odds to determine actions of newbie. If the new cultist kills the prisoner, the raiders give them a symbol of Tiamat and move off as a group. If the newbie won't, the raiders pin them down and execute both the prisoner and the inductee.
  9. Straight up looking for a fight. Small group ambushes, large group charges. Fights until 50% of the raiders are dead and then flees.
  10. Burning a house down with some commoners locked inside. Two raiders keeping lookout.
Encounters in the book:
1d8 Encounters
1: 6 kobolds 
2: 3 kobolds and 1 ambush drake (see appendix B) 
3: 6 cultists 
4: 4 cultists and 1 guards
5: 2 cultists and 1 acolyte* 
6: 3 guards and 1 acolyte* 
7: 1d6 townsfolk being hunted by raiders (roll a d6 to determine the raiding group) 
8: 1d6 townsfolk hiding 
* the acolytes have command prepared instead of sanctuary

Suggested alteration:
1d10 Encounters
  1. 1d8 kobolds 
  2. 4 kobolds and 2 ambush drakes (2 kobolds should ride an ambush drake!)
  3. 1d4 cultists and 1d4 newbies
  4. 1d4 cultists and 1 merc
  5. 1d4 newbies and 1 acolyte* 
  6. 1 mercs and 1d4 acolytes* 
  7. 1 ambush drake and 2 acolytes chasing 1d4 townsfolk
  8. 1d6 mercs fighting 1d6 townsfolk
  9. 1d6 townsfolk being hunted by raiders (roll a d8 to determine the raiding group) 
  10. 1d6 townsfolk hiding 
* the acolytes have command prepared instead of sanctuary

The book also introduces another interesting mechanic:
"Each time the characters retreat from an enemy group to avoid it, they run into 1d6 more townsfolk who are trying to reach the keep. For every four additional townsfolk in tow, the group must move past one more enemy group to reach the keep."

So if the players retreat from all 3 fights, they'll acquire an average of 10.5 people to protect, which means two more fights, which can add 7 more people, which means one more fight, which means another 3.5 people, for a total of 21 extra townsfolk in tow if the PC's manage to avoid every fight and 3 extra encounters for a total of 6 potential encounters (assuming average dice rolls) and 26 townsfolk (remember the family from the first encounter?) to keep safe. 

Holy balls, Batman. That's a lot of people. If the players make it through with no fights and bring in 26 people, the rules award 50 XP per NPC brought in safely. That's 1,300 XP: 433 per PC for a 4-person party (enough to level with minimal combat!), or 260 for a 5 person group. 

I would keep this mechanic, but remind the PC's that it'll be a Herculean effort to protect all these commoners even if they arm/armor all the ones capable of fighting. Try to suggest alternative solutions: hiding the commoners in a locked, barricaded house, have the commoners pretend to be cultists escorting the players as prisoners, etc. The PC's should still get the XP if they bring all those people back, it just doesn't have to be around the same time they're learning the controls/battling through the town.

And the night is still young!

G2 skipped the first "required" encounter and instead dumped the goods wagon outside the camp. Their biggest challenge was A) finding a good spot to cross and B) not dying. I threw a straight up fight at them for their first combat and an ambush (where they had to detect where the cultists were and flush them out) for their second. Their largest challenge was crossing the river on their way back. They snuck around the outside of the tower, slept a sentry, and created a dramatic fog cloud at the castle gates to enter through that almost got them shot.

A few notes on the book's map from the official errata: area 3 (bottom left corner) is the mill, while area 4 (bottom right) is the sanctuary. This cleared up a lot for me.

I have the stream running towards the mill going right to left (and the players entering from the right of the map), and the town being attacked from the top area because it has the most houses. I'd advise portraying the area behind the keep as "safer" when the cultists are really stalking the long grass, looking for easy pickings while attempting to prevent people from getting to the keep/avoiding determined resistance.

Escobert becomes a questgiver along with Tarbaw but doesn't even really have much of anything besides a nickname based on his hueg beard. I want him to have an expanded role. Over the night, if the PC's act like decent people, he should confide in them.

Right before the attack, Proctor Themberchaud, while making the rounds of the small towns under his jurisdiction, went up to the top of the tower with Tarbaw and several of Themberchaud's guards when Lennithon announced the raid with a breath weapon sally. Themberchaud ostensibly died in the very first strafe. However, Escobert went up to inspect the damage, and discovered an inconsistency in the stories he heard about the attack. In a version told by one of Themberchaud's guards (the one with straw-colored hair), that Escobert overheard as the guards put on battle armor in the guest chambers, straw-hair dived in front of Themberchaud and the lightning scorched his clothes. In a version told by Tarbaw to Escobert, Tarbaw dived in front of Themberchaud. Both of them have the burns to prove it, but neither mentions the other.

Have Escobert tell the PC's about this after their third outing, and give them a bit of time (maybe two outings) to investigate the guard. Escobert says he last saw the guard out on the walls fending off the dragon. If the PC's wait too long, they find the guard's body among the dead. Maybe he's dying. Anyway, if they get to him before he dies, he tells them that the initial lightning strike blinded the group. When his eyes cleared, Themberchaud was dead and Tarbaw was fine.

Tarbaw, who knew this was coming, shielded his eyes. The initial strike missed Themberchaud completely, so Tarbaw killed him with a firebolt. If the guard is asked to recall details or suspicious behavior, he recounts the following:

- Tarbaw was constantly looking around
- Another guard straw-hair didn't like had his visor down
- Visor-down and another guard stepped away from Themberchaud right before the attack hit
- The lightning scorch mark didn't really line up with Themberchaud's body

If the other guards are asked about this, if they're still alive, they corroborate straw-hair's story. Tarbaw invents excuses "I was on edge about the recent attacks.", "I couldn't see the lightning but it must've killed Themberchaud. I'd hate to contemplate the possibility that another person did it." "I'm beginning to wonder if we have any traitors in our midst..."

Before the night ends, Escobert will call the PC's to a room to tell them that he found something important. He has; it's a key that unlocks a closet hidden away behind a bookcase in the small library in which Tarbaw keeps a locked chest. This is insignificant, the fact that there's an icon of Tiamat on the lock is. The room Escobert leads the PC's to is an old extension that would have been a passage between the keep and the larger castle it was designed to be part of. It has hastily plugged up murder holes in the ceiling, one of which Tarbaw will stealthily uncover and then use to cast Crown of Madness on Escobert.

Shit goes down. Escobert may or may not be killed, and regardless of who survives the party may or may not go to Tarbaw, who's planted a cult symbol on any person in the keep the party earlier designated as suspicious to him. He'll suggest interrogating them ''and they'll have no reason to protest if they're innocent."

Lennithon will lackadaisically avoid blasting Tarbaw.

Next up is my take on the missions the party is more or less forced to go on if you run by-the-book.

10,000 Chambers of the Cnite King

Deep within the turgid reaches of the Samarkand Desert, a lone crag of withered sandstone presents a visage long scoured by time.  Samuele B...