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.

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...