Monthly Archives: November 2014

Session #3 – Arrival in Phandalin

So, today we picked up the game again. We meant to play last weekend but time got away from us, but the holiday gave us plenty of time to play.

The module continues to plague me to a certain extant. Travels times and maps don’t seem to have anything in common with one another, and the layout of the Phandalin section just seemed confusing to me (not to mention a frontier town with no water source, but that’s just standard goofy fantasy setting crap). I spent way more time flipping back-and-forth than I would have preferred. Those complaints aside, everyone enjoyed themselves a great deal and had the chance to shine in various ways.

We picked up with the party healing up Sildar a bit and getting the infodump on what had happened. After some quick discussion, they decided to escort him to Phandalin. Then they interrogated their two goblin captives, Fonkin disguised himself with magic to look like a goblin – which worked poorly until Rhys had Gwyneth drag Fonkin off and then threatened the remaining goblin with “talk or I’ll hand you over to the elf…” – cue resultant goblin infodump.

From there it merely remained to travel to Phandalin. As per the module this occurred with no incident, and they spent the evening after arrival at the Inn following their various wonts – Ilda the Bard played for room and board (and gathered many rumors), Fonkin gambled with the locals (and gathered some rumors), Rhys drank and flirted (and picked up a rumor or two), while Gwyneth enjoyed the local ambience for a short period before retreating her room. I made a command decision and said that like any typical mining town with a frontier economy the prices here are inflated, but that given the lack of comment in the module merely doubled the prices of things rather than some of the historically insane levels.

In any case, they certainly heard about the Redbrands – and given the speed at which they moving we had a two-part confrontation with the ruffians as the left Barthen’s Provisions. There was the initial bunch of four of them, one of whom fled in response to Ilda’s Dissonant Whispers – and then fled to get five more of his compadres. The remaining two wounded Fonkin and Gwyneth quite badly, Fonkin being dropped to 0HP, before being slain. As the first character to achieve this rather dubious honor his player then celebrated this by blowing two death Saves in a row. Ilda then used a Healing Word to bring him back from his near-death state before he blew a third.

Whereupon the reinforcements arrived, though due to Rhys’ companion Lockheed the Dragonet (pseudo-dragon) instead of managing any form of surprise were surprised in turn. My son pulled a Dragonlance when he used his character’s warlock “Beguiling Form” power to instil Fear in first two to arrive by invoking the dread and awful great wyrm “Caterpilius” – it was a really great bit of roleplaying! The other three were ambushed in turn as they failed to try and sneak around the building (finding that it’s hard to sneak up on people when they have an “eye in the sky” in the form of a dragonet).

We closed with the party standing around in the street, Sildar and the town druidess (rather than a priestess of Tymora) running up to provide some quick support and healing. Everyone agreed that combat moves quickly, plays fair, and is a great deal of fun. The power of 5e spells and having Advantage continues to be illustrated, and everyone is looking forward to 3rd level. Final lock on “class specialty” and the allure of 2nd level spells are mighty appealing.



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Humans, The High Men

“Are we not cousins? I am a woman, just as you are. We both breath the same air and bleed the same red blood. I was merely drawn to the life of sword and prayer in the service of the Perilune while you have chosen a quiet life of hearth and home, raising a family – both are equally as important for the welfare of our people. We both stand as part of a circle, a circle of men and women whose span arcs across time, nations, and continents. A circle whose perimeter stands against the Dearth and all it touches. I guard bodies, and you guard hearts – who can say fights the deadlier battle?”

– Aeron Ó Leannáin, Champion of the Perilune, Sword of the Sister of Blood.


The legends of the High Men fill the lore of humanity. Some say they are the Children of ‘Aden, the “root race” that all humanity is descended from. Other tales suggest that they are descended from some combination of Humanity, Celestials, and the Fey – and there is certainly some suggestion that this is at least partially true. In any case the High Men have a undeniably blessed status in the eyes of the divine and they all suffer from an indefinable saudade that seems rooted in their long-lost origins. As a result they often occupy the places of rulers, nobles, and heroes wherever they are found, noted for the wisdom and their understanding of the human condition. While the vast majority of the High Men come from specific lineages, they have interbreed with the Common Men (and other humans) enough that occasionally a High Man is born into a family of Common Men, seemingly out of nowhere – a scion of an unknown hero from ancient days. Often, no matter what their desire, High Men are unable to avoid a life on the battlefield that is the War Without End.

Statistic Bonuses: +2 to Charisma, +1 Wisdom

Languages: Local Human Language

Appearance: The High Men, are all Medium in Size and their Speed is 30. They stand 5’0″ tall (+2d10″), and weigh 120 lbs (x2d4). Their appearance is generally the same as their cousins, though taller on average the Common Men, though they invariably are strong of limb and hale of body with an attractive appearance. Unlike the Common Men, it is unlikely for them to show signs of any other racial heritage, though when they do it tends to be a subtle suggestion of some form of Fey ancestry.

Common Dress: The High Men dress in the typical local manner for the Common Men.

Lifespan: High Men are young adults at age 15, considered mature adults at around age 25, and can live up to 250 years of age. They generally begin play at 13 + 2d4 years of age.

Common Culture: The High Men have no particular culture of their own, being part and parcel of the culture of Common Men.

Backgrounds: While any Background is acceptable for the High Men , Acolyte, Noble, Sage, and Soldier are all highly appropriate.

Naming Conventions: The High Men use the same local naming conventions as the Common Men. They are also more likely to come particularly noteworthy lineages or ancient stock. As a result the two additional, primarily religious, identifiers in names used primarily in Avalonian and Kistathian names, are often found associated with the High Men. In the Church of the Lords of Light, ‘Sanc’ (abbr. Sc.) indicates a surname associated with one of the Elect. In the Old Faith, the signifier “hyr Anciens’ marks the individual as one “of Ancient Blood” or alternately as “of the Ancients” and as having a notable and distinguished bloodline.

Common Alignments: While the High Men exhibit the full range of morals and ethics, they do have a tendency towards good alignments. Those High Men who have chosen evil can be among the most terrible of opponents, the most committed to atrocity and debauchery as a matter of life.

Common Religions: The High Men have the same religions as the Common Men, because or in spite of their spiritual heritage the High Men are often drawn to obscure branches of religions, or to idiosyncratic and deeply personal paths of spirituality. They are just as often part of or responsible for various heresies in existing religions, and in all cases are often among the most devout.

Common Classes: Preferred — Cleric, Bard, Paladin; Common — Monk, Druid, Ranger; Uncommon — Rogue, Fighter, Warlock; Rare — Wizard, Barbarian; Very Rare — Sorcerer

Common Professions: While the High Men are found across the entire human demographic, they do tend to be found following spiritual or mystical pursuits. Favored by the Gods, they are drawn to professions that draw them either into conflict with the foes of humanity or that open them up to spiritual awareness – or both.

Racial Traits

Natural Leaders: Proficiency in the Insight and Persuasion skills.

Hale of Body: The High Men also have Advantage for Saving Throws against Poison, and are Resistant to it’s effects.

Pure of Spirit: Advantage to Saves against Necrotic and Radiant Damage.

Strong of Heart: Advantage on saves against Fear.

Blessed: When a High Man rolls a 1 on an Attack Roll, Ability Check, or a Saving Throw, you can reroll the die and must use the new roll.

Special Vulnerabilities: None

Psionics: Reserved

Death: Upon death, High Men travel either to the Realms of the Dead or into the service of their deity if they are holy enough. There are no restrictions on Raising or Resurrection. If Reincarnated they invariably come back as High Men, though some come back as Half-Elves, Sh’dai, or even Common Men.

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Humans, The Serpent Folk of Ith

“You really have no idea what you’re doing do you? You think that because you’ve won out against these weak northern assassins and spies that you are ready? Haven’t you heard of the Poisoning of Imris? Ithians are bred of a thousand, thousand generations of intrigue. They can whisper so softly in the ear of your best friend that they become the most casual of enemies, a lover becomes crazed attacker, and the unknowing simply follow orders without even know that they are. Worst yet, you will never know who is the quick-witted agent or their dim-witted dupe. Never trust an Ithian, their words are poison and their poisons are worse.”

-Azperi, Bastard Ithian Half-Blood, Mercenary and Duelist

The Ithains are the scions of the Serpent Kings, the descendants of the human slaves of the elder kingdom of the Serpathians. While human in many respects, the miscegenated blood of the Serpathians also flows in their veins, and this has left its reptilian mark. Degenerate and monstrous abominations are occasionally born and hidden away by their families, or used in dark and secretive rituals designed to further the aims of the Eternal Emperor. The Ithians rule over the remnants of the Serpathian Empire, wise in ancient lore and antediluvian secrets – and ever in fear for the return of their ancient masters. They rule as their masters did, though fear and sheer mystical power and psychic force, from oppressive basalt towers and cities in the jungles of Ith over legions of slaves who keep them in decadent and glorious splendor. Considered a cold and dispassionate people of monstrous appetites (literally), capture by Ithian slavers is almost as feared a fate as being taken by the Sh’dai.

Statistic Modifiers: +1 Charisma, +1 Intelligence, -2 Wisdom

Languages: Ithian, Demonspeech

Size, Speed, and Appearance: Ithians are all Medium in Size and their Speed is 30. They stand 4’8″ tall (+2d10″), and weigh 110 lbs (x2d4). Both sexes tend to have a slender and muscular builds, with alabaster or ivory skin – often with scattered fine scales that does not tan in the slightest. They tend towards either human beauty or a monstrous grotesquerie. Body and facial hair is non-existent in Ithian pure-bloods, and they are often bald or have minimal head hair. Those that can grow a head of hear have exceedingly straight locks cultivated very long to show off, usually in black or some shade of white. It is not uncommon for Ithians to have a long forked tongue like a snake, or serpent eyes of amber or green.

Common Dress: In their homeland, Ithian dress is minimalistic, primarily consisting of loincloths, silken robes, and bare skin due to the heat and the desire to flaunt their serpentine traits. In other lands they dress far more modestly, both for warmth and for privacy. Jewelry tends towards body piercings (often mimicking scales), bracelets, and necklaces – though tattooing is uncommon and seen as declassee compared to actual scales.

Lifespan: Ithians are young adults at age 15, considered mature adults at around age 25, and can live up to 250 years of age before they either die or begin to transform into some else... They generally begin play at 13 + 2d4 years of age.

Common Culture: The Ithians are an ancient and proud people of deeply held traditions – and a brutal, decadent society that reflects their own origins as a slave race of the Serpathians. This racial trauma plays out in the treatment of their own slaves, as well as their deeply held paranoia about the Serpathians. The rulers of their own Empire, built upon the ruins of the Serpathians, the Ithians have castes of warriors, priests, sages, nobles, merchants, and slaves. They thrive on secrets and intrigue, deception and indulgence, seeing life as an eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth – life feeding on itself to beget more life. Bloodlines and family relationships are carefully traced and recorded – though incest and bastardy is common and merely cause for note rather than any automatic disqualification or inherent prejudice. Ithian life is a chaotic and confusing mess of serene and detached contemplation marked by orgiastic frenzies of incest, bloodletting and other debauchery. For the Ithian, all is permitted with the proper ritual, the correct payoff, or the right blackmail.

Common Backgrounds: Ithians are commonly of the Acolyte, Criminal, Harlot, Noble, Outcast, Sage, and Soldier Backgrounds.

Naming Conventions: Ithians have simple given names, with surnames that derive from their caste. Professional and noble titles are considered quite important – and in the lower castes may even be used as a given name or surname. Names are inspired by Indic and Mesoamerican source material.

Common Alignments: While the Ithian Empire is a tradition-rich, even hidebound institution, the indulgent and self-serving nature of Ithian’s themselves, combined with a ruthless desire for power and disregard for the life and freedom of other brings a fair amount of chaos to what would normally be a Lawful Evil society. As a result, individuals that survive and thrive are most commonly Neutral Evil (with the worst offenders being Chaotic Evil) – Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Neutral, and Neutral are also common and probably provide the stability that ancient empire needs to survive. Few Ithians rise above their beginnings to actually have or maintain a Good alignment.

Common Religions: Religion in the Ithian Empire is a curious thing, with ancestor worship through the person of the Eternal Emperor as the representative of the Great Devouring Serpent, being the primary form of organized religion (as an often bloody variant of the Old Faith). Other religions are often ruthlessly suppressed, and the only ones that have any real foothold is the Church of the Lords of Light and the Horned Society.

Common Classes: Ithians prize raw magical and psychic power. Preferred — Monk, Sorcerer, Rogue; Common — Barbarian, Fighter, Warlock; Uncommon — Wizard, Druid, Ranger; Rare — Paladin, Cleric; Very Rare — Bard

Common Professions: Ithian culture is part of a deeply traditional society with tightly regulated caste system. In this system, pure-blooded Ithians sit at the top, almost exclusively of the aristocratic and ruling classes – the middle and lower classes are comprised of Common Men and Ithians of mixed breeding. As a result, Many Ithians have no profession and are used to a life of luxury as a sybarite. Outside of their homeland, Ithians are commonly encountered as merchants and diplomats, occasionally as travelling wizards and sages – alternately they are outcasts due to some political misstep or other infraction on the laws and traditions of the Empire. Ithians can often trade on their race to become poisoners and spymasters for those in other lands.

Racial Traits

Darkvision: Due to their heritage from the Serpent Kings, Ithians can see in dim light up to 30 feet as if it were bright light and in darkness as if it was dim light. They cannot discern color in darkness though, only shades of grey. They also have Blindsight at the range of 10 feet, this does not allow them to discern details of appearance it does allow them discover many features and characteristics.

Serpent Blooded: Ithians are Immune to Poison.

Snake Lords: Ithians are able to communicate with snakes and serpents of all kinds and they are considered to under the effects of an Animal Friendship spell at all times.

Magic Resistance: All Ithians have Advantage on saving throws against spells and magical effects.

Legacy of the Serpent Kings: Strong and innate Psychics, an Ithian’s natural psychic abilities are based on Charisma and do not require material components, and are not considered magic per se. All Ithians have the Prestidigitation, Friends, Message, Mage Hand and Poison Spray Cantrips. Upon reaching 3rd level they may cast Suggestion once per day, they may use it an additional time per day for every odd level after that. All of these are Psychic in nature.

Special Vulnerabilities: Beyond social prejudice and stereotyping from the Common Men and other races, Ithians have Disadvantage on all saving throws against Serpathians. Furthermore, Ithians all suffer from an inbred, psychic Dominate Person effect that any Serpathian can use.

Psionics: Reserved (But Highly Psychic)

Death: Upon death, the spirits of Serpent Folk travel to a large basalt crystalline egg contained in the depths of their family’s stronghold. They may not be Raised or Resurrected (though Revivify and True Resurrection work as normal). If Reincarnated they invariably come back as Serpent Folk, usually some form of horrific abomination or another.

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Humans, The Common Men

“Humans are the most populous of the races in the Mortal Realms. We are different from the other races, collectively not quite having quite the focus of any of the races but somehow managing, as individuals, to be as good or better at anything that any other race does. Nor are we defined by some “essential nature” in the same way that the Fae or the Goblinkin are – or perhaps our essential nature is that we are a race of defined by our variety and by the organizations and institutions that are the focus for our passion and loyalty in the face of a hostile world.”

– Alexian, Sage and Historian.


Humans, the Common Men, are the most populous race of the Mortal Realms – easily comprising 80% of the intelligent life present. They are adaptable enough to have even expanded into the Underdark and the Shadowlands in limited amounts, even though those realms are dominated by other races. Considered one of the “Younger Races” (if not the youngest race), humanity can thank their sheer adaptability , as well as a general resilience, to their success. They have no unified culture, no unified language, and no unified religion. Capable of amazing heights of both magic and technology, humans have a truly unique ability to take the best of other races and capitalize on it. As a race, humans are likely to ally with each other, ignoring differences in alignment or religion, in the face of threats from other races. Similarly, while human biology seems to allow an amazing amount of racial miscegenation, the primary human prejudice is not over skin color or ethnicity, but over breeding and relationships outside of the human race – with very few exceptions. Half-elves are accepted with a minimum of distrust for the most part and Sh’dai are looked at askance but the other half-breeds (the Khazan, Half-Ogres, and Half-Trolls) are almost universally reviled. Other half-breeds are either not seen as half-breeds at all (the High Men and the Ithian Purebloods) or not really recognized as human at all (the Beastmen and the Old Race). Despite this bigotry, half-bloods can still find a place within human society – though usually in its lowest echelons.

Statistic Bonuses: None

Languages: Local Human Language

Appearance: Humans, the Common Men, are all Medium in Size and their Speed is 30. They stand 4’8″ tall (+2d10″), and weigh 110 lbs (x2d4). In the Heartlands and in other cosmopolitan settings Common Men are often a mixture of bloodlines, most commonly having a mixture of Avalonian, Kistathian, and Thulian body types and complexions. Of special note is that red hair is quite uncommon and treated as a sign of sorcery or psychic powers, and is not found in individuals without the Talent, though it may be latent or not yet manifest.

  • Acadia/Acadians – Medium skin tone from white to brown, that rarely burns and tans deeply. Straight black hair is the most common, with dark brown and amber eyes . Facial hair is sparse and body hair is moderate. The nose is usually long and narrow. Acadians maintain average to above average height, with a wide range of body types and sizes.
  • Atlan/Atlanteans – Light, pale skin that rarely seems to burn or suntan. Most commonly blond hair in various shades with blue, green, grey, and amber eyes. Facial and body hair is moderate. The nose is often prominent. Atlanteans tend to be among the tallest of humans, with lean and muscular bodies.
  • Avalon/Avalonians – Olive skin of a moderate complexion that rarely burns and often tans. Hair in browns and blacks are most common, with facial and body hair both heavy. Eyes are most regularly blue, brown, or hazels. Avalonians are generally average in both height and weight.
  • Ith/Ithians – Deeply pigmented skin that ranges from dark brown to black that never burns and tans easily. Kinky black hair is most common. Facial and body hair are both moderate and eyes are commonly dark brown. Noses tend to be broad and flat, Ithians have quite a range in size, from the shortest to the tallest of humans, with similar wide ranges in builds.
  • Khem/Kistathian – Dark brown skin that rarely burns and tans very easily. Curly hair in browns and blacks are most common with brown eyes . Facial hair is heavy, body hair is moderate to sparse. Kistathians are average-to-below average in height and generally slender in build.
  • Khitain/Khitainese – Creamy white, fair complexion that sometimes burns but tans uniformly into an almost bronze shade. Straight black hair, with dark brown eyes. Facial hair is moderate, body hair is sparse. Their noses tend to be small and flat, and their eyes have a pronounced epicanthal fold. Khitainese are shorter and generally slender in build.
  • Thule/Thulians – White, fair complexion that tans minimally and burns easily. Blond hair is most common, with blue, green, or hazel eyes. Facial and body hair is heavy. Thulians tend to tall, big-boned and broad of build to the point of being barrel-chested or stout.

It is also possible for humans, especially within a family line, to display traits that reveal a non-human forebear. Slightly pointed ears of an elf, elongated canines of goblin, or any number of even more subtle features that will barely register in the viewer but which can provide clues for the discerning or knowledgeable observer.

Common Dress: The greatest strength of Humanity is that of variety. Unlike the non-human cultures with their relatively monolithic cultures, the Common Men have multiple cultures within each continental group with often dissimilar dress. Within that, dress can and will vary according to class and profession as well. That all said, due to weather and other commonalities some broad statements can generally be made regarding dress and clothing of each continent – with the same caveat that “mixing pots” like the Heartlands and other cosmopolitan areas can be quite the mix of customs.

  • Acadia/Acadians – The Acadian natives tend to towards loincloths or breeches and shirts for men and skirts and tunics for women, all made of soft leathers. Soft boots are common, while jewelry is usually necklaces and bracelets. Body piercing and modification (including tattoos) is also common. Armor is uncommon, Light generally being the heaviest found, and common weapons are Spears, Axes, and Bows.
  • Atlan/Atlanteans – A shattered land with a scatter people, layered robes with high soft boots or sandals are traditional. Jewelry is commonly rings, bracelets, necklaces, and diadems, but body piercing and other modifications are quite uncommon. Armor tends to Heavy and common weapons are Swords, Spears, Polearms, and Bows.
  • Avalon/Avalonians – Men tend to wear pants and shirts in Avalon, while women tend to wear blouses and skirts. Shoes or low boots are common, and jewelry is most commonly rings, bracelets and necklaces. Body jewelry is not uncommon though other body modification is less so. Armor ranges from Light to Heavy based on class and profession, the Heavier the better as far as most warriors are concerned. Common weapons are Swords, Axes, Spears, Bows, and Crossbows. Hill Folk maintain their own traditional culture, men wear shirts and kilts, women wear dresses – both with soft boots. Jewelry is armlets and torcs, with Light and Medium armor preferred. Common weapons are Swords, Axes, Spears, and Bows.
  • Ith/Ithians – Due to the generally oppressive heat and humidity, clothing in Ith is minimal. Both men and women mainly wear loincloths or short wraps with bare feet, and jewelry is commonly used to indicate status along with tattoos. Armlets, bracelets, necklaces and pectorals are all common, along with body piercing and various forms of body modification. Armor is invariably Light, and the common weapons are Spears, Axes, and Javelins.
  • Khem/Kistathian – Hot and dry, the predominate clothing in Khem is robes and sandals for both men and women, with head scarves equally as common for both genders as well. Jewelry is common, necklaces and bracelets being most common, in combination with body piercings of various sorts. Armor tends to be Light (with some Medium), with Scimitars, Lances, Spears, Bows, and Crossbows being the most common weapons.
  • Khitain/Khitainese – Distant Khitain favors a wide range of clothing. Robes and wraps are common for both genders, though men also wear pants and tunics, commonly with slippers or boots. Veils and hats are common for both genders. Jewelry is common among women, with rings, necklaces, and bracelets preferred. Body piercing and body modification (including tattoos) are practiced in varying degrees. Armor tends towards Light and Medium, with Polearms, Spears, Lances, Swords, Bows, and Crossbows all being common weapons.
  • Thule/Thulians – Due to the general cold, clothing in Thule tends towards heavy furs and leathers, with pants, tunics, and high boots being common for men, with dresses and high boots common for men. Men and women wear bracers, necklaces, and armlets as jewelry. Armor ranges from Light to Heavy, with Chainmail being prized. Swords, Axes, Spears, and Bows are all common weapons.

Lifespan: Common Men are young adults at age 15, considered mature adults at around age 25, and can live up to 120 years of age. They generally begin play at 13 + 2d4 years of age.

Common Culture: Across so wide a set of geographical space it is ridiculous to talk about common culture among the Common Men. But in truth, the Common Men do have some things that cleave true across nationalities and continents. Humanity is loyal to ideals not merely people, they build institutions that last across generations (religions, nations, organizations), and they are similarly able to work together, across alignments, in the service and defense of those institutions against threats.

  • Acadia/Acadians – A tribal society that is nonetheless organized into muti-tribal nation states, Acadian culture is a relatively egalitarian though matrilineal. Extended family is important and plays a large role in child-rearing, and many aspects of culture are segregated by gender.
  • Atlan/Atlanteans – Classic Atlantean culture is highly stratified, with strictly delineated roles for men and women. Spirituality and mysticism play an important part of life, and both men and women play very important, but very different, roles in society.
  • Avalon/Avalonians – Avalon is often considered a continent of immigrants, a rich melting pot of different cultures which have formed their own unique mix over the centuries. The native Avalonian Hill Folk have a deeply spiritual, clan-based society organized into many kingdoms, usually with some over-arching High King. It is a distinctly matrifocal culture, with a strongly patriarchal ethic.
  • Ith/Ithians – Organized along tribal lines and living primarily in small villages (with several notable exceptions) under the rule of the Ithian Empire. Culture is matrifocal and matrilineal, though tribal leadership is patriarchal. All of which are dominated by the Ithian Serpant Folk as a tyrannical ruling class.
  • Khem/Kistathian – Comprised of a number of kingdoms with established aristocratic families, Kistathian culture is relatively patriarchal (though matrilineal). Urban dwellers are organized by household while rural dwellers and nomads maintain close-knit tribal ties.
  • Khitain/Khitainese – Dominated by a series of dynastic empires, this highly stratified culture is extremely focused on the family and alternates between patriarchal and matriarchal depending upon who sits on the Imperial throne. Throughout all of the changes a large civil service bureaucracy maintains the status quo.
  • Thule/Thulians – A remarkably egalitarian society, men and women share power in many, relatively democratic ways. Society is made up of innumerable noble households that rule over small settlements, themselves part of larger kingdoms.

Backgrounds: As the most populous and widespread race, any Background is appropriate for the Common Men.

Naming Conventions: As can be imagined, names different from culture to culture. Some generalities can be observed and certain patterns are generally followed.

  • Acadia/Acadians – Individuals have given names generally based on natural or supernatural phenomena observed at the time of their birth. Names are also quite fluid, being changed based on important life events. Surnames are rarely used, and when they are it is a patronymic. Tribal and national membership is important but not considered part of an individuals name, per se. Names are inspired by First Nation and Mesoamerican Source Material.
  • Atlan/Atlanteans – Individuals traditionally only have a given name, though for official records a patronymic may be added, as well as a organizational or locational identifier. Names are inspired by Roman and Greek source material.
  • Avalon/Avalonians – Individuals tend to only have a given name, with either a patronymic or a cognomen to differentiate them. Surnames are generally only used by nobles or gentry. Depending upon the culture, names are inspired by English, French, Italian, and Spanish source material. Hill Folk derive their names from Celtic source material, use a given name, a patronymic, and their clan name (which serves as a surname).
  • Ith/Ithians – Individuals tend to simply have a given name, of which them may accumulate several over their lifespan (some of which may be cognomen). Tribal membership is also important, and village of residence also plays an important part of identification. Names are inspired by Central and Western African source material.
  • Khem/Kistathian – Names are generally long and complicated. A personal name, a church name (‘Abh/’Amah-), a cognomen/descriptor (nickname), a patronymic (or series in some cases) (ibn/bin –), and in the most important families a surname. Names are inspired by Arabic, Persian, or other Middle Eastern source material.
  • Khitain/Khitainese – Names are generally quite simple, with Surname given first, then the individuals Given Name – either of which can by followed by a cognomen or a profession. Names are inspired by Chinese, Japanese, and Korean material.
  • Thule/Thulians – Given names, then a patronymic, with a cognomen following based on either a profession or a nickname. Surnames are generally only used by those with a respected family lineage (most commonly nobles or aristocrats). Names are inspired by Scandinavian, Germanic, or Russian source material.

There are two additional identifiers in names used primarily in Avalonian and Kistathian names, primarily as additional religious identifiers. In the Church of the Lords of Light, ‘Sanc’ (abbr. Sc.) indicates a surname associated with one of the Elect. In the Old Faith, the signifier “hyr Anciens’ marks the individual as one “of Ancient Blood” or alternately as “of the Ancients” and as having a notable and distinguished bloodline.

Common Alignments: The Common Men exhibit the full range of morals and ethics, no alignment is more or less common than any other.

Common Religions: Unlike the various non-human races, the Common Men are responsible for a wide range of religious institutions. For those of lawful and good alignment the Church of Lords of Light is common, while for those of a more neutral and rural bent the Old Faith is equally as common. But beyond those common religions there are a variety of Mystery Cults as well – the Mysteries of the Moons, the Perihelion, and the worship of Lady Night are all popular across the land. For truly evil folk, the Horned Society is probably the most attractive, with the Cult of the Dragon and the Cult of Shator often being the refuge of the insane.

Common Classes: Preferred — Cleric, Fighter, Rogue; Common — Barbarian, Druid, Ranger; Uncommon — Bard, Warlock, Wizard; Rare — Monk, Paladin; Very Rare — Sorcerer

Common Professions: Given their nature, no profession can be said to be more or less common save as is found within the regular demographic distribution.

Racial Traits

Accomplished: For one of the Common Men to begin a life of adventuring, they are already more accomplished than their peers in fundamental ways. They are allowed to choose one Feat at first level.

Knack: The Common Men all seem to have a knack for something, as a result they gain one additional skill of their choice.

Special Vulnerabilities: None

Psionics: None

Death: Upon death, Common Men travel either to the Realms of the Dead or into the service of their deity if they are holy enough. There are no restrictions on Raising or Resurrection. If Reincarnated they invariably come back as Common Men, though some come back as Half-Elves, Sh’dai, or even High Men if they have had sufficient contact with the right Realms.

Categories: Campaign Development, Game Design, House Rules | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Is it just me..? (Wish in 5e)

So, in my quest to figure out how high-level characters can engage in wholesale carnage and slaughter (and yes, 40d6 from a Meteor Swarm is quite decent) I happened to look at the Wish spell.


  1. Duplicate any 8th level or lower spell – check.
  2. List of clearly spelled out non-spell duplicating effects – no problem.
  3. Obligatory, the DM can let you do anything you want if they want to, but it might screw you if you try it – duh.

And then we get down to the last paragraph.

The stress of casting this spell to produce any effect other than duplicating another spell weakens you. After enduring that stress, each time you cast a spell until you finish a long rest, you take 1d10 Necrotic damage per level of the spell. This damage can’t be reduced or prevented in any way.

Ok, seems kind of harsh for the ability to “downgrade” a 9th level spell into an 8th or lower spell (even if it is potentially a non-Wizard spell) in the 5e spell slot mechanic, but, well, ok. I guess. But let’s continue.

 In addition, your Strength drops to 3, if it isn’t 3 or lower already, for 2d4 days. For each of those days that you spend resting and doing nothing more than light activity, your remaining recovery time decreases by 2 days.

Ok, so in addition to being useless as a spellcaster for the “rest of the day” you are also essentially useless physically. Sure, I can run with this, even if it seems like insult on top of injury. But wait, there’s more…

Finally, there is a 33 percent chance that you are unable to cast wish ever again in you suffer this stress.

Let’s just write that again so we are clear:

There is a 33 percent chance that you are unable to cast wish ever again in you suffer this stress.


So, in a game where I can pretty much memorize anything thing I might want to cast, unless I use what is theoretically my gamechanger, my single most powerful spell, the single most powerful spell in the game, to do something that I already innately do (unlike every other edition) there is a One-in-Three chance that I will never be able to cast this spell again? That’s in addition to being all but useless until I can get a full night’s sleep.

I am kind of hoping that there is a missing sentence in there somewhere. A Saving Throw to make, a clarification that “Category 2” Wish‘s (see above) count as “spell duplication”, something… Because otherwise the opportunity risk/cost of using a Wish is far too high, and it moves from the category of “super-utility” spell and into a some other netherworld of arcane magic that is great, as long as you never count on doing it again – so make sure it’s worth it!

Teleport the entire party in flash to escape the dragon? 1/3 chance to never cast another Wish.

Cast a “Tempest Cloud” instead of a “Incendiary Cloud” because the monster is vulnerable to Lightning and immune to Fire? 1/3 chance to never cast another Wish.

Especially when compared to the new Divine Intervention rules for Clerics, this seems so out of whack.

Please tell me they are going to Errrata this…




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CR = Combat Rating = Training Wheels = Fleeing From Gygaxian Naturalism

I was commenting on the Rambling Roleplayer’s “The Temple of Elemental Challenge Rating Calculation Evil” post when I realized my big problem with CR numbers.

It’s a set training wheels that I don’t need or want.

I’m used to playing 1e – there were no CR’s. I had to learn how to build adventures based on roughly equating Hit Dice to Level – sort of. Alternately, we could look at the old “Random Monster” tables for dungeon levels, which had a roughly accelerated version of that idea. Going one step further there was the old Wilderness Random Encounter tables which were Gygaxian Naturalism red-in-tooth-and-claw and had no correlation whatsoever to level, it was simply what you could run into “out there in the wild” (or in the city).

This might be because it is a game based on a wargame that predates the vast majority of “point build systems” that are so common today (the Citadel games, Ground Zero Games, etc.) It was rooted more in systems that replicated scenarios that were often less about “balance” and more about “interesting”. Could you survive as the British at Roarke’s Drift? Could you sink the Bismark? How would you handle Pearl Harbor? Can you do as well as Caesar at Alesia?

Instead of trying to build a “balanced scenario” players and DM’s really did engage in a least a little bit of “who can outwit the other” – in the same spirit as wargamers did. In fact, some of the joy of the DM was not so much in building a scenario that killed the players but in watching the players win against odds that were stacked against them.

That’s what made adventures like D3 so great – the idea isn’t to wipe out the entire city of Drow, it’s to sneak in and “win” by achieving the victory conditions. There is nothing “balanced” about the module at all in most respects. One of the most memorable adventures I played in as a players was similar, it was for essentially name level characters (9th-10th level) and was based on Stephen King’s novel Salems Lot – yes, it was a remote village that had been taken over by vampires. By “CR” standards it was utterly over the top and a level-draining, undeath-generating deathtrap, there was nothing “balanced” about it – but we still beat something like two-hundred vampires, along with the utterly evil vampiric version of Rutger Hauer’s character Étienne from Ladyhawke with the bastard sword that acted as a Ring of Vampiric Regeneration. Twenty-plus years later and I still remember that adventure, we had a great time, by finding and enlisting allies, some combination of Captain Kronus, Vampire Hunter and Vampire Hunter D by my recollection, plus finding a vampire-mesmerizing magical item (the Bloodstone) and then fighting smarter not harder.

There are some echoes of this concept in Rise of Tiamat, and that’s actually kind of cool. But it still talks about reducing Tiamat down from a CR30 threat to a more manageable CR18 for the supposedly ~15th level adventurers. I wish it simply talked about ways to allow a group of hopelessly outmatched 15th level adventurers to handle a CR30 threat. It bad gamer speak that robs, I think, the players of any real pride in the accomplishment of taking down Tiamat. “Sorry, that wasn’t the real Tiamat, it was the CR18 version – come back and brag when you vanquish the real one.”

As a long-term DM I don’t need the training wheels of a CR to tell me how to balance an encounter or adventure. Ultimately I’m not trying to build a balanced adventure. I’m trying to build a fun adventure, a challenging adventure, a memorable adventure, hopefully an adventure that my players will be talking about 20+ years from now.

I think the other potential problem with CR ratings is that it doesn’t actually account very well for exceptional players or “unbalanced groups” – I think I just witnessed that with the Cragmaw Hideout session. Three lightly armoured, high-magic characters essentially walked through the entire section by using stealth rather than what was clearly designed for a more “frontal assault” from the descriptions in the module.

The players job is to break the module, to shred any semblance of balance, and reap the rewards.

CR is a third and unnecessary wheel in that process.




Categories: Game Design | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Wow! On an entirely different note…

I had the insight that my “Lost Imperium” idea for an alternate Dark Heresy game would also make a fantastic Traveller campaign – especially with the Mongoose rules that have all sorts of pointers towards the WH40K setting. I’m kind of amazed that I never seriously considered it. I spent so much time wrestling with the question of how to “fix” the Imperium to get an ATU that I could live with I never realized that all of the elements I was looking for are pretty much already present:

Imperial Nobility, Interstellar Trade, Stellar Empires, Alien Races, Psionics, High Tech, Low Tech, Lost Tech, “Ancients”, Cybertech, Lost Colonies, New Colonies, Interstellar Wars, Powered Armor, Imperial Agents, etc. etc. etc.

Really, it’s all a pretty nifty fit in a good many ways – the only clear boggle I can see is the basic (and somewhat fundamental) lack of Adventurer-class ships – unless of course I posited a change in the tech (and I could do that if I wanted I suppose).

I mean, yes, it’s a radical re-envisioning of a Traveller setting, but not as radical as someone who prefers a Proto-Traveller setting instead of the fully-fledged OTU from the height of the GDW era. I was never a huge fan of the Rebellion, enjoyed the old Paranoia Press and Judges Guild versions of the (then) ATU, even the last bits of the Classic Traveller OTU were pretty enjoyable – but the Rebellion was kind of “meh”… I actually enjoyed Hard Times more than the Rebellion and that is pretty darn sad when you think about it.

(Yes, I thought TNE was an abomination just like everyone else. Bad system, worse setting…)

Now, I’m enjoying the heck out of 5e right now and no desire to switch games any time soon, but this is kind of nice to have in my hip pocket. I always run better games when I can let my brain gnaw at an entirely different setting and system.



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Society of Light – Part 5

Part One     Part Two     Part Three     Part Four     Part Six

As large and encompassing as the Church of the Lords of Light, all those who work with the Celestial Hosts do not full under it’s rubric – nor are all of the Celestials in accordance with how to pursue the War Without End. Some of these organizations are well-respected by the Church, being recognized as members of the Greater Society of Light that have different connections to the Celestials than the Covenant of Enoch.

  • The Healers of Sc. Estor – Perhaps the best known of the Orders that do not fall under the Seal of the Lord Sc. Metatron, the “Green Friars” or “Green Cloaks” (as they are often known) are renowned as healers and have chosen to coexist with the Church by creating monasteries and chapter houses similar to those of the Orders Anchorite and Mendicant. In truth, most members of the Church do not fully realize that the Estorians are not members of the Church proper.
  • The Endorian Warrior Monks – Equally as renowned as the Healers of Sc. Estor, the Warrior Monks of Endor maintain a series of monasteries across the Mortal Realms. Masters of the martial arts, the Endorians wander the realms, bringing justice, healing, and wisdom to those in need. More obviously not members of the Church, they are nonetheless deeply respected, and are friends no commoners and nobles alike.
  • The Sabean Order – Little known and secretive, the Sabean Order likes to think of itself as the “pragmatic cousin” to the Church of the Lords of Light. More “neutral good” than “lawful good” the Sabeans work with all Celestials not merely the Host, as well as good-aligned Dragons, Fae, and Giants (and neutral as well if need be) – often acting as spies and assassins as often as they fight on the field of battle.
  • The Tamarines – With their robes of many colors and ash-marked faces the spiritual sons and daughters of Tamar dwell deep within the Desolation of Hazor in the Tower of Absalom. Led by the descendant of Tamar herself, the women are mystics and prophets, while the men are assassins who seek vengeance for the crimes witnesses in drug-fueled visions. They can be found throughout the realms, doing their bloody work in the darkness and the shadows.

Others however are viewed as heretics by the Church and not considered part of either the Church of the Lords of Light or the greater Society of Light, even though they may have been accepted at one time.

  • Rite and Benediction of the Congregation of the Triune – A short-lived Rite that was declared heretical within a generation of it being founded, the Triune was established with a group of angels fell from grace when they lay with women and spawned a race of monsters – fair in form, black in heart. While it still exists in small hidden communities, it is ruthlessly stamped out wherever it is found by the Church, wary of the monsters that can be hidden within their midst.
  • Order of the Blessed Knights of the Triune – An Order Militant that is associated with the Triune Rite, it is equally small and hidden at this point, working in secret to protect the members of the Triune Rite from the enemies both within and without the Church. Considered as skilled in the skills of the knife and cloak as the Siccari  by those who know of them, they are quite feared by the hierarchy of the Church.
  • Children of the Revelation – An extremely heretical sect unrelated to the Triune Rite (and never actually a formal part of the Church), the Children of the Revelation are a sect that practiced (or practices, their extinction is unconfirmed) a radical form of prophecy involving altered states of consciousness derived from a series of intense ecstatic experiences. Though similar (and much less intense) practices are used by the Church, these were of such a nature that the Children were deemed to be heretics on the verge of Apostasy.


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Ok, also figured out a name for the new campaign…

The Siyahchal Campaign.

I’ve also basically decided where to set it – down south in what was the old Duchy of Loren in Albion, on the borders of the small realm of Mystvale and Old Aquitaine (ignore the quick revision of the old campaign…). Somewhere up on the northern border, near the Ossian Tanglehills – if I’m going to keep the old Mystryvven Campaign relevant I need them to be on the border, in hilly country, near to some mountains, and ideally a coast as well – and that is a vaguely decent enough area. Rich in history and lore, close to all sorts of things now that I think about while writing this. My first thoughts were that beyond the proximity to Mystvale (one of the two independent elvish kingdoms in the Heartlands) it was near the remnants of Tiernaese culture and even relatively close to both Lindesfarne (the home of the Sacred Grove of the Old Faith and the Bardic Colleges) and Tysfar (kind of my version of Waterdeep, plus home to a reskinned Undermountain). But as I think about this also gets the game close to the Great Tor (site of the first great blow against the Witch King in the Wars of Binding and one of the most holy sites of the Old Faith) and the Well of Souls (portal to the Realm of the Dead). Heck, the old County-Palatine of Morrow isn’t that far away when I think about it – and that is/was the domain of an old PC of one of my current players. It’s probably its own small kingdom now.

All of this makes things full of great potential.

The Ossian Clans are a richly neo-Celtic culture compared to the rest of the Heartlands, which actually makes them an excellent neighbor to Mystvale. The exotic nature of Tiernaese culture (think a fantasy Turkish/Ottoman Empire) makes those remnants equally interesting – not to mention the presence of the Iron Court. There is also the remnants of Albion to the south, now a collection of smaller kingdoms and independent states that grimly hold the line against the Blight and the depredations of the Ravengers that cross over the Barrier Peaks. In any case, it’s easy to set both Phandelver in this area as well as a Diamond Lake, an Oakhurst, or even a Barrow’s Edge. I had wanted to spend the time to create a homebrew “starter village” but I suppose I don’t have to.



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Session #2 – Cragmaw Hideout

So we played a bit of 5e again – picking up with the party just outside Cragmaw Hideout but down one player (who wasn’t feeling well) so the party went in with Gwyneth the High Elf Sorcerer, Fonkin the Gnomish Warlock, and the Rhys the Half-Elven Rogue (an NPC) – Ilda the Dwarven Bard “stayed to guard the wagon”.

All in all it went extremely well. The players are pretty tactically adept, but they also all rolled consistently good Initiatives and generally as good Stealth checks – as a result they did the ninja thing through the whole complex. Having the two spell-casters really helped, as did the “brazen stealth” thing – which allowed a great many Sneak Attacks on the part of the Rogue (twin thrown daggers for the win!). The big boss fight with the Black Goblin (aka Bugbear) was somewhat anticlimactic, the two Goblin’s Boggarts were put to Sleep by the Warlock, and then the Black Goblin was dropped in a single round by a solid hit with a Chromatic Orb from the Sorcerer and twin Sneak Attacks with said thrown daggers. They rescued Sildar in the final battle without even allowing the Goblin leader to drag him over to the edge or push him off and no character took any damage the entire evening. We’ll pick up the next session with the whole group and Sildar can do his infodump and they can interrogate the two Goblins they Slept – and then make their way to Phandelver!

Other observations:

  • Cantrips really do free up the spell-casters to be spell-casters rather than one-shot glass cannons. And even the Warlock, who is kitted out as a non-combat spellcaster, was able to acquit themselves quite respectably.
  • Spectral Hand is nasty, Eldritch Blast almost as much. I’m kind of dreading (from a DM perspective) finding out what the “real” combat spells look like – but as players all end up discovering, what goes around, comes around!
  • Stealth and Sneak Attacks are impressive, but mostly for the Advantage. Yes, the +1d6 damage was a game-changer against the Goblins (with 7HP), but I think this will be much less of a factor against more higher HP monsters – even at higher levels with increased Sneak Attack damage.
  • Now we have three 2nd level characters! The Sorcerer gets Font of Magic, the Warlock gets Eldritch Invocations, and the NPC is now a multiclassed Rogue/Fighter (to continue out his backstory for a 1E Ftr/MU/Thief)



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