Campaign Development

The Heroic Character

This post started out with the germ of an idea to compare, contrast, and the adjust the slimes and fungi of 1e vs. 5e. I’ll still probably do that, but that idea itself was rooted in disbelief that (evidently) some people consider 5e more lethal that previous editions…

Clearly they never played 1e.

But it started me thinking about the “heroic character” as the model of the D&D adventure (even if, say, the characters are evil anti-heroes). In 1e, all character race NPC’s either map to “0-level” (of a single d8 HD, save for humans which are d6) or function as character class-leveled NPC’s. In 2e there was a development of non-adventuring NPC classes IIRC like Noble, or Craftsman, or whatever – and this was part at least of where I just simply washed my hand of the game. In 3e this was evidently taken to the logical extreme and there was at least some version of all humanoid and demi-human monsters being leveled in character classes.

I can’t make much sense of the couple of things I have for 4e when it comes to deciphering this.

In 5e there is, for me at least, a relatively radical switch to NPC’s being (largely) non-character class leveled, even if they are “powerful class types”. By this I mean that while a NPC might be a 9th spell-caster or warrior they do not have all the class features of their nominal class. The old-style 0-level characters, might actually have a couple of HD now, and usually have some type of feature (“Parry” for Nobles, “Keen Hearing and Sight” for Scouts, etc.) or they might not have anything at all (see Guards & Bandits).

In 1e, Player Characters were part of an “ecosystem” in that if they looked around, they could see examples of themselves at various levels of power to aspire to. There was a clear “endgame” (and a Domain-game at that) for everyone, it was baked into both the RAW and the demographics of the encounter tables and the Monster Manual. While the Player Characters were heroes, it was because they stood above the 1d6 HP (not HD), 0-level NPC’s and represented people with some better training and/or experience. For example you could easily explain part of the backstory of a basic Fighter as having been a Mercenary Sergeant (all of whom are 1st level Fighters) who was now striking out on their own. When you look through the various adventure modules of the edition this is born out – there are 0-levels, and the scattering of leveled NPC’s in various special roles.

In 5e, the Player Characters – even a first level Player Character – are manifestly different than NPC’s – by the time they reach 3rd level and have chosen a subclass (if it takes them that long) they are  fundamentally beyond the ken of normal folk. More HD, multiple class features at this point, and perhaps they most significant (even at 1st level) they are especially lucky or divinely blessed because they get proficiency bonus on two saves – making them significantly more hardy than “normal folks”. It’s not that you can’t have a character-class leveled NPC, but they are far from the norm. They are as much of a stand out as the Player Characters themselves.

Some of this is rambling, my own game has hit a stage where the Player Characters are quite powerful (the top end of Tier 2 or start of Tier 3) and I’ve been working at bringing my campaign world forward into 5e. It is this fundamental difference that, I believe, has been a hidden piece of grit in the system. It’s not bad, I actually like it, but it changes the ways NPC’s function in the campaign setting and it changes how people view the Player Characters once their special status becomes apparent.

To wit, the most whitebread of PC’s is a 1st Level Fighter – who has both a Fighting Style and Second Wind, plus a Hit Die that puts them on par with a Large Creature! At second level they get Action Surge, and finally at 3rd they pick up the start of their Martial Archtype class features. All compared to a 1HD Commoner or a 2HD Guard/Bandit with no special features even a 2HD Noble simply gets a ‘Parry’ (which is basically a Fighting Style).

Wow!

Pound for Pound, Player Characters are simply more effective than NPCs. They are going to inspirational (good or ill) depending on the viewer and their actions. This came up somewhat a few sessions ago in my game when the 9th Level Fighter (Battlemaster) and local Baron tried to pass off the dangerous threat the party discovered to “whatever the king’s ‘special forces’ would be” and I laughed and said “You’re it!” and explained that he was close to being one of the most powerful warriors in the kingdom. In retrospect, I might have to change that and say that he might very well be the most powerful warrior in the kingdom when you figure on all his class features.

In the past, in AD&D, I used to be pretty generous in handing out extra’s and freebies in the way of weird abilities and bonues as a way to show that the Player Character’s were often special and blessed (or cursed) but if I use 5e the way that the RAW is written up then that is not generally needed. You simply have to use (or create) the stat blocks provided – the already heady advantages the Player Characters have given the action economy and difficulty in actually dying become even more stark.

TTFN!

D.

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Mystic, Psionics, and 5E vs AD&D Balance

So, the playtest of the full, 20-level, Mystic came out via Unearthed Arcana last week and it looks pretty decent. I’m not sure I like all of it, but I like most of it and I find the whole package quite workable even if I have some qualms about specific Disciplines and don’t think there are enough Talents.

I also don’t like that there is no “psionic vs. psionic” combat – all psionic attacks work against anyone, and there is seemingly no benefit in being psionic when it comes to resisting psionic attacks or damage.

Part of this is because I want to keep some of the flavor of AD&D psionics, and there are a handful of things which don’t translate well or haven’t been translated at all – and there are some things which I like a great deal and because I never played 3E or 4E or even any 2E Psionics, I never had any exposure to them. I played with a “Psionics as the random extra” straight out of the Player’s Handbook and the Psionicist class out of the Dragon Magazine. I also used the Deryni from the same issue and adapted various races do include an innately psionic component.

Now, you could certainly adapt Feats as a way to grant some access to psionics without having to go full-Mystic or even have to adopt a psionic subclass (which I am sure will appear sooner or later, I’m pretty sure that’s what the Soul Knife is going to end up as). There are the Magic Initiate and Ritual Caster Feats and some analogy would be easy enough to develop.

But I’m also a fan of the “psionics as a rare and random extra” for characters. So my current thought experiment is that there is a percentage chance equal to the total of the character’s modifiers for Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma that the character is psionic. This might be too high, I haven’t checked against the old chances in 1E.

And then a table both for total number and for random Disciplines and Talents – similar to the old 1E method of handling things. I’d probably make Psionic Strength Points a multiplier of level rather than the completely random method used in 1E, perhaps 2x or 3x level, so that it is always lower than an actual Mystic.

5E has attempted (and failed, as usual) to keep characters tightly balanced. The action economy, the mostly nonsense of bounded accuracy, the general increase of hit points, and the overall nerfing of spell-casting (fewer slots, concentration, etc). The problem is that even with spell-casters being nerfed, they still outclass other classes in Tier 3 & 4 play. Some are positively sickening such as the Eldritch Blast Warlock, and the non-caster melee types simply pale in comparison.

As broken as Exalted was (is), this is where it was amazing with it’s Charms, you could play a melee character and it was as bad-ass as a spell-caster (possibly more so in some ways, but that was the nature of the wuxia-inspired system).

So, as an old 1E AD&D DM, I’m much more comfortable with characters of unequal power, and in fact with characters that are fundamentally more powerful than they are in 5E. Heck, I have a campaign world somewhat predicated on it, there’s some wriggle-room, but I really wouldn’t want to depend on a 5E Tier 4 character for the fate of the multiverse…

Pretty much all my house rules continue in the vein of making 5E characters more powerful, especially the spell-casters. We are miles away from the quadratic casters of earlier editions, but I simply have no problems with the idea of high-level casters being significantly more powerful than melee-types.

When I think of high-level spell-casters I’m thinking Gandalf fighting 1v1 with the Balarog (yes, yes, I know that they’re both really angels, but you know what I mean) or Ged fighting multiple dragons by himself, or Elric, or Pug, or even Doctor Strange. These are characters you really can’t replicate any more given the power restrictions of 5E.

D.

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Druidic Foci and Tools

Druids as a character class actually cover a wide range of related, even similar but still quite different religions, commonly referred to as the Old Faith. Similar to Priestly Vestments, the tools and instruments of the Druids are a sign of their religious status as well as being regular ritual tools and foci. Of these, only the Torc, Crane Skin Bag, and Cloak are possible to be found used by related classes (such as Rangers or Bards of the College of the Old Faith) and the Druid’s tend to keep their secrets close. All of these items must be attuned, and while Druid’s themselves are not generally punished for losing such items – the uninitiated and thieves are often cursed or worse by the Old Powers.

 

Druid’s Cloak – Woven to be warm in cold weather and cool in the heat, the Druid’s Robes grant them Advantage on Survival Checks, these robes mark the wearer as a Druid. The robes also grant the Druid Advantage on Stealth Checks when in the wilderness. It also provides Resistance to damage from Beasts, and allows the Druid personal use of Invisibility to Beasts once between rests.

Druids Boline – Druids are steeped in tradition, and the boline is an ancient design – a curved, bronze blade that are used primarily for ritual work (Archdruids often have one made of Orikalkium). Enchanted to be as hard as steel, it is a Bane to Aberrations, Demons, and Lycanthropes. It is also used to harvest herbs and perform sacrifices – it is not to be used against mundane foes or for profane tasks. It can function as a Druidic Focus.

As Druids gain levels, they often increase the magical power of their tools and instruments, as in the following examples:

Druid’s Torc – An often ornate neck ring of bronze or precious metals with a variety of animal motifs worn by women, warriors, and those of higher social station. They are meant to be worn at all times, and are invariably damaged removed. The Druid’s Torc allows them to cast spells while wearing it in animal form during Wild Shape. It also increases the Spell Slots by one of each level. It also allows the use of Animal Friendship once per Long Rest.

Druid’s Crane Skin Bag – Traditionally made of crane skin in the Heartlands, the bag is a small repository of various small items of personal, mystic and spiritual significance for the Druid that must remain secret from all others. Of all the Druid’s Tools, this is the most precious as if it is held by another the Druid has Disadvantage in all things and the bearer has Advantage against the Druid in all things. If opened and scattered, the Druid loses all spell-casting abilities until the next new moon, and creating a new one (which generally does not remove the power of the old one) takes about two months per level of the Druid. It has a number of abilities:

  • It grants the Druid Inspiration, once between Rests.
  • It grants the use of the Guidance cantrip for the sole use of the Druid.
  • It allows the recall of a single Spell Slot, no higher than half the Druid’s level, once between Long Rests.
  • It can function as a Druidic Focus.
  • The Druid always knows where their Crane Skin Bag is.

Druid’s Anguinum – A small construct or occasionally a natural stone or crystal in the shape of an egg containing precious herbs and the essence of serpents, it is an aid to healing and herbalism. It provides Advantage on all skill checks related to healing and medicine (and, poison lore). It also allows the use of the Detect Poison and Disease ritual. It can be used as an Druidic Focus.

Druid’s Cauldron – Sometimes plain but more often ornate, the Druid’s Cauldron is a large container used in various rituals. In addition to these uses, it also has a number of other abilities.

  • It can Purify Water as a Ritual.
  • It can create a refreshing draught that can heal each member of the party once between Long Rests. This heals 2 Hit Dice worth of damage (without costing Hit Dice), removes a single level of Exhaustion, and cures Poison and grant Inspiration.
  • It can cast Scrying as a Ritual.
  • Grants Advantage to Alchemy Checks when used during the process.

Druids Staff – Traditionally two handspans in length taller than the Druid, the Druid’s Staff allows the use of the Shillelagh Cantrip on itself at any time. At its most basic the staff has the following characteristics.

  • Treated as an Enchanted, +1 weapon per five full levels of the character.
  • The staff does additional damage of an elemental type chosen by the Druid equal to their Proficiency bonus.
  • When held and planted on the ground, the Staff provides Advantage on Saving Throws against and Resistance to Arcane damage.
  • It increases their Spell Slots by one of each level.
  • It can function as a Druidic Focus.
  • The Druid always knows where their staff is located.

Archdruid’s rarely have any special items that mark them as being particularly different from lesser Druids. They are far more likely to simply have more puissant magic, and just generally more items at their disposal. Archdruids is less the actual term of strict hierarchical rank in this instance and more a term denoting the higher ranking Druids in their orders.

In the Heartlands, the Old Faith is a relatively structured with matching orders of male and female Druids and related groups of Rangers and Bards – with occasional Paladins and Warlocks in the mix, not to mention the occasional solitary Druid out in the woods, disconnected from any hierarchy. In Kistath there is a similar Old Faith that is focused on the Old Powers of the deserts, and in Ith you can find occasional, isolated shaman who follow their own path based on the spirits of the jungle.

Wood Elves are primarily Druid in spirituality, but like all elven spirituality it is often a more personal matter rather than an organized religion in the way that humans practice – but also with a strong connection to their Berserkers. That said, those E’lin who practice Druidry are highly respected and their Tools are often similar to those of human Druids – suggesting a strong connection. Instead of a Staff that are quite likely to use a Warspear instead.

Gnomes are also highly Druidic, worshipping a Great Mother and a Green Man with a respect for the Old Powers. Their tools are similart though instead of a Staff they common use a Wand of some sort it it’s place. They do not have the highly structured religion of humans, but do have an organized structure along clan lines.

Finally, some Khazan follow the Old Faith as well. Often a more bloody and dire sort, with Hunstman Archtype Rangers in attendance. Again, their Tools and Foci are often quite similar to other Druids, but they do not have an structured hierarchy or an organized religion.

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Priestly Vestments and Foci (5e)

While the details and forms of the foci and instruments of clergy will vary considerably from religion to religion, there have developed a common set of vestments that different priests and priestesses use. These Vestments mark the wearer as clergy or as one of the related professions. Depending upon the religion it will likely even identify specific orders as well as a ranks and roles. Those who wear Vestments can include Paladins, and certainly there is the potential for some Archtypes with Divine magic to use them as well. These items require Attunement – and any divine servant that loses, mistreats, or misuses their vestments suffers Disadvantage at the very least until the wrong is righted, often Curses and other punishments plague such misfortunate priests. The creation of vestments is included in the training of most clergy, though examples abound of them being created simply be strength of faith and devotion itself. Similarly, the vestments of the most devout (or wealthy) priests may have additional abilities beyond those listed here.

All of the items are considered magical and have Advantage on all of their saves.

The Priest’s Holy Text – Most priests carry at least a basic copy of their religions Holy Text. The length and breadth of this can vary considerably from religion to religion, and the beauty and ornateness of the copy or edition can also vary – much like a Holy Symbol. The primary use of the Holy Text is as a teaching aid, and as a source of Inspiration. During a Short or a Long Rest, a any sufficiently devout individual can grant themselves Inspiration by reading and reviewing their Holy Text, a priest can do it for themselves and any other members of the same faith that are present.

The Priest’s Book of Rites – Many priests also keep a copy of their Book of Rites handy, as this is required to cast Ritual Spells. For many religions it also has the information for the proper ceremonies when performing marriages, last rites, naming and dedications, along with the creation of holy water, holy oils, etc. At their most basic, a Book of Rites contains only a handful of Ritual Spells as well as basic community rites, at great temples or seminaries these may be a huge tomes with Ritual Versions of each and every spell that a cleric could cast.

The Priest’s Holy Symbol – The most basic of a priest’s vestments, the Holy Symbol is a cleric’s basic Divine Focus. Some spells may require additional components, but the presence of a Holy Symbol is necessary for all Divine magic. The appearance of a holy symbol can vary considerably depending upon the wealth and social class of the cleric or temple it comes from. Unlike a Wizard’s Wand however, any of the devout may carry a Holy Symbol, and it’s mere presence does not confirm the bearer as a priest. A priest merely openly bearing or presenting a Holy Symbol benefits from Protection vs Good & Evil (and this is a common enchantment on Holy Symbols for the devout). A priest presenting a Holy Symbol and Concentrating, may invoke Sanctuary for themselves.

As Priests gain higher levels it is not uncommon for them to gain increased magical items such as the following:

The Priest’s Robes – The most commonly visible and obvious of the vestments, these come in many different version. From the cassocks of the Church of the Lords of Light, to the robes of the En Khoda Theos Kirk, to the mask of the priest of the Midnight Sun or even the blackened splint mail of Khazan shamans. Aside from clearly marking them as clergy, a priests robes allow the priest the use of the Shield of the Faithful once between Long Rests.

The Priest’s Prayer Beads – A length of beads, usually with a set number according to doctrine and faith, often of particular materials. They may be worn as a necklace, a bracelet, or even simply hanging from the belt or kept in a pouch. The faithful use Prayer Beads to guide their individual worship, both prayers and mediation. Priests may also use their Prayer Beads in two special ways. First, it allows them to maintain Concentration on one additional spell if held in the hand. Second, using it allows them a Divine Recovery after a Short Rest if that is all that they focus on. They may recover spell levels equal to half their level, none of them higher than 6th level.

The Priest’s Girdle – Generally in the form of a belt or cincture or some sort to wear around their Robes, the Priest’s Girdle is another of the Vestments that commonly mark the wearer as a priest – and the absence of which (much like Robes) may cause some to question the authenticity or veracity of the claimant. When worn, the Girdle allows the personal use of the Resistance cantrip if they do not know the it, and also grants them the effect of an Aid spell once between Long Rests.

The term “Archpriest” in this context means that the following items, as Vestments, are often reserved for specific ranks within a religious hierarchy – or that they can only be created and gifted by higher ranks. They are often reflective of the greater divine mandate that these priests have, and are often reserved for Clerics of 10th level or greater. Exceptions have been made in some cases, and for the particularly devout but lower ranked priests, they may find that their “lesser vestments” may take on some or all of these abilities as well. These are the equivalents of Bishops, Cardinals, Abbots, and similarly ranked religious figures.

The Archpriest’s Medallion – Often an ornate piece included in either a set of Prayer Beads, the Archpriest’s Medallion often commemorates some special event or personage. In the Church of the Lords of Light it might be one of the Elect, while in the En Khoda Theos Kirk it might some special crystal or stone from the site of a significant manifestation of one of the Great Dragons. When included as part of a set of Prayer Beads, it does not require separate Attunement. This is the one Archpriest item that is most commonly found in the possession of non-Archpriests – often gifted to favored priests and other members of the Faithful.

  • Can hold Concentration for one spell cast by the Cleric.
  • Can use a Bless once before requiring a Short or Long Rest.
  • Can use an Aid spell once before requiring a Short of Long Rest.
  • The Cleric gains one additional use of their Channel Divinity

The Archpriest’s Cloak – Often a more ornate and elaborate addition to the Priest’s Robes, this is often a short cloak or mantle such as chasuble or alb – though for some religions it can be nothing more that a veil.

  • Provides a bonus to AC equal to +1 per five full levels of the Cleric class.
  • The Cleric may use a Hellish Rebuke, but the damage is Radiant and the Save is Wisdom, once between Rests.

The Archpriest’s Pectoral – A large and ornate Holy Symbol that is worn on the chest as a reminder of the status and power of the Archpriest in question.

  • +2 to Armor Class (it is treated as a Breastplate)
  • Protection vs Good & Evil at all times
  • With Concentration can invoke Sanctuary as desired
  • The Cleric has Divine Favor.
  • The Cleric also radiates a Crusader’s Mantle

The Archpriest’s Signet – Essentially the religious version of a noble’s seal, an Archpriest’s Signet is a worn by those priests that hold high rank within their religious organization. These are commonly destroyed on their death of the priest that they were made for, though some faith’s pass them along to the next holder of the office. Using one without sanction is a guarantee of getting the attention of the church authorities – not top mention the Divine Power who sanctioned the item’s creation in the first place.

  • With members of their Faith, may issue a Command as a Standard Action.
  • Can use Bless as a Standard Action.
  • May use a Guardian of Faith once per day
  • The Cleric gains one additional Spell Slot for each Spell Level.
  • The Cleric gains one additional use of their Channel Divinity.

The Archpriest’s Crown – Like the Archpriest’s Signet (q.v.) the Archpriest’s Crown is a physical symbol of the priests spiritual and temporal might using a familiar secular symbol.

  • Members of the Faithful have Disadvantage on saves against the Clerics magic
  • The Cleric has Advantage when making Charisma check with members if the Faithful
  • Advantage on Saves against Enchantments.
  • The Crown gains one additional Spell Slot for each Spell Level.
  • The Cleric gains one additional use of their Channel Divinity

The Archpriest’s Sceptre – Often a symbol of both divine and temporal power, the Archpriest’s Sceptre is usually an ornate rod of office – though in some more blood-thirsty religions it may be an actual weapon and may then share some characteristics with a Sanctified Weapon (q.v.).

  • Treated as a Holy Symbol for purposes of casting spells.
  • Always treated, at a minimum, as an Enchanted Weapon.
  • Weapon damage can vary from that of a Club to a Warhammer.
  • Treated as a+1 weapon per five full levels of the Cleric class.
  • Does additional Radiant Damage equal to the Proficiency Bonus of the Cleric
  • Weapon Bonus also adds to Spell Strike and Spell Save modifier.

The Sanctified Weapon – Some faiths, as well as most religious orders of warriors (including Paladins), have deities which are closely associated with a particular weapon. These are actually able to be used by any member of the faithful, but holy law often reserves their use to Clerics & Paladins, or a few select others who are deemed the most worthy. Considered a Holy Weapon, these are often relics and highly prized by the Faithful.

  • Always treated, at a minimum, as an Enchanted Weapon.
  • Treated as a+1 weapon per five full levels of the character.
  • Does additional Radiant Damage equal to the Proficiency Bonus of the character.
  • Some are able to Smite as a Bonus action a number of time per day equal to their Channel Divinity (and recovered in a similar manner). Smiting a foe means that the wielder may add their level to the damage done (Radiant). On a Critical, this damage is doubled.

The Church of the Lords of Light uses all of these vestments, their Robes being a simple cassock (often in specific colors and design as guided by Rule and Rite), their Girdle is the typical triple-braided cord worn by all members of the faith, the Holy Symbol being an Argentos, and the Prayer Beads being simply that (and made from a variety if materials). Their Sanctified Weapon, commonly made of sunsteel, is either a fighting knife or a broadsword (less commonly a longsword and very rarely a battlesword or greatsword).

As befits the somewhat disorganized nature of the En Khoda Theos Kirk they are not particularly organized in their use of vestments. Their Holy Symbols, a Scale (usually of a drake, but rarely that of an actual dragon) combines the functions of both the Holy Symbol and the Girdle. Similarly, while some Dorje wear Robes with the standard effects, for others they wear a sash that (confusingly) combines the abilities of the Robes and Girdle (effects do not stack) – this is an ancient style preferred by the Dragonborn. Prayer beads are commonly carried, most commonly made of stone. Sanctified weapons are commonly mainly with the military religious orders of the Kenza, and are not nearly as common within the ranks of the Dorje. They do not, however, have holy texts, and while there are a series of philosophical treatises that can function in the same way as Holy Text there are no Books of Rites.

While the Heptarchy uses all of these vestments, the individual style depends upon the actual deity, few generalizations being able to be made. Holy Symbols are the solar and lunar symbols noted in the specific descriptions, and while Robes are worn by most of the clergy, for the priests of the Midnight Sun this is a Black Mask, while for the Daughter of Blood they a considered Robed if nude and covered with a least some freshly spilled blood. The Sister of Bone only has prayer beads of bone, while Mother of Pearl uses only pearls. Sanctified Weapons are most common among the followers of Sol Invictus (usually sword, spear, or lance), Sister of Bone (bone dagger), and Daughter of Blood (battle axe of some sort).

A Note On Damage: While the damage done is generally Radiant for religions that are Good or Neutral, some Neutral and most Evil will do Necrotic damage instead. For some Deities, especially those with an Elemental or Nature portfolio, the damage may be Fire, Thunder, Lightning, or even Poison. This is determined by the Dungeon Master.

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Do dwarves take baths…?

So, the other day a picture of a chinchilla came up on my Tumblr, and I was struck for a moment by the image of one taking a dust bath. I immediately wondered if dwarves took dust baths? Do dwarves bathe? They don’t like deep water, they pretty much can’t swim (too dense), and the big reason to take a bath is because of sweat and I didn’t even know (because I’d never thought of it) if dwarves even sweat…

I kind of liked the idea though, the idea of dust baths and maybe filing away callouses and the like – or just a really good pumice scraping. So I took the idea to my dwarf player, KT, and talked it over with her. She kind of liked the idea as well, and after some discussion of physiological issues involved (no sweating means different ways of shedding heat, etc) we decided that it was a fine idea and added to it. Dwarves take dust baths, as well as baths with sand or some other coarse abrasive when they need to get rid of stains or caked on whatever. They have generally use pumice or a file to remove calluses and trim nails, and occasionally will slake themselves in oil and scrape themselves down – plus they’ll use oils on their beards occasionally to help shaped them and otherwise keep them healthy after being soaked in water to avoid lighting on fire at the forge.

Dwarves tend to keep their beards tucked into pouches, soaked in water, when they work at the forge in order to keep them safe. I can’t remember if that’s an old Ed Greenwood detail, or one that came from some old Tolkien illustration, but I distinctly remember liking it from somewhere, somewhen.

In fact, the only dwarves who are ever likely to actually wash with water are Hill Dwarves, because they are travelling so often. They don’t like it, and are likely to look a bit dirtier than the average Mountain Dwarf or Dwimmervolk for that reason – which of course adds to their reputation as being the “poor relatives” and vagrants who are at least (thankfully) better then those filthy, clanless and honorbroken Druegar…

We also decided that whatever the temperature regulation mechanism was for dwarven physiology, they just weren’t as bothered by temperature ranges from an comfort level. They aren’t resistant to heat or cold, but their “comfort zone” was far broader than that of a human.

TTFN!

D.

 

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Player Races

So, in picking up 5e again after the short break for Call of Cthulhu, and reading Volo’s Guide to Monsters, I’m struck at how 5e handles character races. I get that there are many problematic pieces to level limits (ala 1e), or even experience point penalties (ala 3.5e), the latter especially given that I’ve moved to story-based advancement rather than tracking XP. But for the life of me I have no reason to vote “for” playing a human in 5e and many more for playing another race – save for strictly flavor-text RP preference, unless the GM mandates some sort of ratio.

Now, I had pretty much banned folk from playing elves in my campaign world (with a couple of very notable exceptions) because I didn’t think anyone could play the mindset very well. I dropped that, at the same time I have a world where I want things to feel very “human -centric” – quite unlike the far more cosmopolitan Forgotten Realms for example. For me this makes the actually cosmopolitan areas stand out more.

But I’ll be damned about how to incentivize people to play humans over other races – and racial bonuses to stats make this even worse. Honestly, I think I’m going to switch statistic modifiers back to something more in-line with my 1e rules, perhaps even penalizing my non-humans more stringently. That was always a thing about playing a non-human yes, you got the stat bonus but there was always an associated penalty…

Now, this is probably at least partly a shared problem with my players. As one example, Ilda the Dwarf Bard might as well be Ilda the Elven Bard or Ilda the Human Bard, there is nothing especially “dwarvish” in the way that KT plays Ilda and while this is certainly something I’ve allowed, it’s also a failure on the part of the player to fully embrace the character’s race. MS always plays humans because he has said that he’s not interested in making things harder for himself, so I think that has stood out in his play of Lord Devin. That wasn’t always the case because I can remember when Ilda took some very strong stands against looting tombs.

When people have played nonhumans before, I’ve been used to them embracing the race and running with it. Sometimes playing a large part in creating that races culture – two of my previous characters did that with gnome. There is a reason why they are Celtic-ish, kilt-wearing, Druidic, hard-drinking folks rather than the version portrayed in other settings.

I also noticed that in the last couple of sessions I’ve dropped almost all of my descriptive detail – and that’s not good for the game. If I’m not setting the mood and the tone well, my players will follow suit and pretty soon were not role-playing, we’re roll-playing and essentially miniatures wargaming using the 5e rules. Not exactly a bad thing, but not what people came to do.

But getting back to character races, taking a page from Character Backgrounds, I think each nonhuman character race needs a real hook that serves as a foil. For my high elves and wood elves it is their lack of understanding of money, KR has done a good job of using that to build flavor into Gwynneth, but I don’t quite have anything like that for the other races. I should probably review each race and build something in on that level as I review statistic bonuses and penalties.

TTFN!

D.

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Volo’s Guide to Monsters (Review)

Ok, so this came in last Friday and I have to say that I’m pretty favorably inclined to it. I’m not even sure that I care about the extra monsters stat blocks, at this point I seem to be more inclined to grab my 1e books and adapt things on the fly, or I’m using modules and doing the same thing. But, the monster lore and character races are really nicely done – even the bits I will never use.

Beholders – don’t have them in my world, so not a thing for me, but still a nicely done section. I don’t have standard giants or an Ordning in my world so this is probably the least useful section for me. Yaun-Ti are the basis for my Ithians, and it was nicely done.

I don’t have Mind Flayers, so this is less useful to me but like beholders I things it’s well done section. My Ichneumon Vorre are essentially my version of Illithids, so over the years I have ganked some bits and pieces for them. The Goblinoid and Orc sections are similarly iffy, but mostly because my goblins are more Harn-esque than Tolkien in many ways, but I plenty of stuff there than I can use.

Kobolds and Hags are kind of interesting. I have kobolds, but as jungle-dwelling or desert-dwelling creatures (two differently adapted relations, the same with lizard men) but I liked the write-up. Hags as an organized group really gives me some food for thought – not sure if I’ll use it, but it’s well done.

The PC races would all need to be tweaked in the same way that I’ve tweaked the “standard races” but I like them. The new Aaismar is much more evocative than the version from the DMG, and the rest have their interesting aspects that are worth looking at.

Worth it as a GM (though perhaps not if you are a player), especially if you playing in a standard 5e setting.

D.

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The Shadowlands (Environmental Effects)

So, when the party travelled to the Shadowlands, they discovered that it has rather grievous effects on non-natives. Being so close to the Realm of the Dead, this creates a drain on those not born to it. The following are the basic rules for how the Shadowlands affects creatures and classes who travel for any length of time there without magical protection.

RACIAL PENALTIES:

  • Humans: Must make a DC15 Charisma Check Weekly or suffer a level of Exhaustion, on the Fumble they also lose 1 Sanity.
  • Khazan: Must make a DC5 Constitution Check monthly or suffer a level of Exhaustion, on the Fumble they also lose 1 Sanity.
  • Half-Elves: Half-Elves suffer from much the same penalty as both of their kin, just to a lesser degree. Use of their Faerie Magic requires a DC15 Con check, and they must also make a DC15 Charisma Check weekly or suffer a level of Exhaustion, on the Fumble they also lose 1 Sanity.
  • Dwarves: Dwarves are generally unaffected by the Shadowlands, merely needing to make a DC15 Constitution Check Weekly or suffer a level of Exhaustion, on the Fumble they also lose 1 Sanity.
  • Gnomes: Closely tied to the Mortal Realms and Faerie, Gnomes lose their Speech with the Wild Things and Mask of the Wild feature. Use of their Faerie Magic requires a DC15 Con check. They suffer greatly from the lack of sun (see their Disadvantages) and they must make a DC15 Charisma check Weekly or suffer a level of Exhaustion, on the Fumble they also lose 1 Sanity.
  • Elves: Closely tied to Faerie, Elves are grievously affected when within the Shadowlands. They lose their Faerie Mien unless they make a DC15 Con check to call it forth – and then must maintain Concentration upon it. They must make a DC15 Charisma check Weekly or suffer a level of Exhaustion, on the Fumble they also lose 1 Sanity.

For periods spent Carousing in the Shadowlands the roll to check for Exhaustion may be reduced to a DC5 Check.

Exhaustion levels may be reversed for each week spent Carousing. Sanity loses may be partially reversed in the Mortal Realms for every month spent Carousing, if started weeks equal to the 1 + the Wisdom modifier of the character in question. If Sanity is lost, no more than half can be regained in this way (rounded down).

HEALING AND REST PENALTIES:

  • Long Rest only restores 1HD (not half), unless accompanied by the excitation of strong physical and emotional passions (or by some forms of intensely focused meditation).
  • Death Saving Throws are at Disadvantage. A Healer’s Kit is and a DC10 Wisdom (Medicine) check is needed to stabilize a creature.

CLASS EFFECTS:

  • Bard: Song of Rest will restore +1HD if played during a Short or a Long Rest. Bardic Inspiration may also be used to restore 1HD per use of the Bardic Inspiration. Recovery of Bardic Inspiration requires a DC15 Charisma check. After a Bard has resided in the Shadowlands for 1 month per level they recover Inspiration as normal.
  • Cleric: Clerics of the Life, Light, and Nature Domains must make a DC15 Wisdom save to use their Channel Divinity feature. They also only regain one (1) use between rests. Clerics of a Death Domain do not suffer from Racial or Healing & Rest Penalties, and have the same benefit as the Druidic Natural Recovery feature.
  • Druid: Due to the alien nature of the Shadowlands, until a Druid has resided there for months equal to their level, they only regain half the number of spells as normal after a Long Rest.
  • Monk: Due to their studious discipline, Monks may recover HD as normal. Monks of the Way of the Shadow have Advantage in Combat, and only need spend 1 Ki to use their Shadow Arts.
  • Paladin: Paladins of the Oath of the Ancient must make a DC15 Wisdom save to use their Channel Divinity feature. They also only regain one (1) use between rests. Until they have resided in the Shadowlands for months equal to their level, they only regain half the number of spells after a Long Rest.
  • Ranger: Rangers have Disadvantage when using their Natural Explorer feature until they have resided in the Shadowlands for one week per level of experience.
  • Warlock: The nature of Pact magic means that there is no mechanical issues for Warlocks in play. Those with the Archfey Patron may find that they must make Charisma tests to use Patron-related features, while those with a Patron among the Great Old Ones are likely to become the targets of the Wild Hunt…
  • Wizard: Those who study the School of Necromancy do not suffer from Racial or Healing & Rest Penalties, and have the same benefit as the Druidic Natural Recovery feature.

DAMAGE MODIFIERS:

  • Cold, Necrotic, Poison, Psychic, and Radiant damage is +1 per die of damage.

EFFECTS ON GEAR:

  • Non-magical equipment and gear from the Mortal Realms suffers from -1 Penalty each week of existence in the Shadowlands. After no more than five weeks (and a potential -5 penalty) it finally reaches a functionally useless state.
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5e – Warlock Pact – The Grey Lady (and Associated Eldritch Invocations)

The Grey Lady

You have made your pact with one of the Grey Ladies, the Keepers of Magic. These beings are wise and mysterious, known for a lack of concern for mortal ethics and morals. They hew fiercely to women, rarely accepting men into Their service, and concern themselves with all things arcane and magical. The Grey Lady could be anyone from Lady Night, the Mother of the Heptarchy, to Lilith, the First Woman, to Hecate, the Goddess of the Crossroads, or any number of other powerful beings with similar interests.

 

Expanded Spell List

The Grey Lady allows you to choose from an expanded spell list when you learn Warlock spells. The following spells are added to the Warlock spell list for you.

  • 1st Level: Magic Missile, Shield
  • 2nd Level: Arcane Lock, Knock
  • 3rd Level: Glyph of Warding, Protection from Energy
  • 4th Level: Confusion, Polymorph
  • 5th Level: Teleportation Circle, Wall of Force

Arcane Sight

At 1st Level the Warlock is granted the ability to see the patterns of arcane force and magic in the world. The effect is that they may use Detect Magic as a Reaction and Identify spell as an Action (which also requires Concentration).

Aura of Power

Upon reaching 6th Level the Warlock can evoke an Aura of Power with a radius of 20 feet as a Standard Action. Glowing runes appear wherever the Aura interesects objects and the Aura acts in all ways as the Magic Circle spell. The feature may not be used again until after a Long Rest.

Arcane Spirit

At 10th Level the Warlock is Immune to Force damage, and is actually healed for half the hit points of damage it would caused.

Spellbind

Upon reaching 14th Level the Warlock may, without Concentration, paralyze a number of humanoids if they fail a Wisdom Saving Throw in a manner otherwise identical to the Hold Person spell. The ability may not be used again until after a Short Rest.

 

Associated Eldritch Invocations

Spellcleaver

(Prerequisite: 5th Level, The Grey Lady Patron)

The Warlock may, as an Action, Reaction, or Bonus Action cast Counterspell. This ability may not be used again until after a Short or Long Rest.

Spellweaver

(Prerequisite: 9th Level, The Grey Lady Patron)

The Warlock may, as a Standard Action, with Concentration, cast a spell not currently known to them, but of a level that they may normally cast. If the spell is not is not a Warlock spell it also damages them for 1d4 Hit Points per level of the spell and causes one level of Exhaustion. This ability may not be used again until after a Long Rest and any levels of Exhaustion have been removed.

Spellturner

(Prerequisite: 15th Level, The Grey Lady Patron)

The Warlock has Advantage on spell attacks that target them directly (not Area of Effect spells). In addition, if a 20+ is rolled for the save and the spell is 7th level or lower, the spell has no effect on the character and instead targets the caster, using the slot level, spell save DC, attack bonus, and spellcasting ability of the caster.

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5e – Prestige Class – Luminous Order

There was about fifteen years where I wasn’t running D&D for my fantasy campaign world, instead I was running my own home-brew rules. Now, much of what came out in that time-frame was dreck and did nothing to convince me that I was missing anything, but there were a number of modules that were interesting and had a lot of potential. When I came back to 1E AD&D before I started running 5E D&D, I ran a handful of modules and one that I was setting up was The Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde. It had something that I had no way to model exactly in AD&D (so I did it as more of an “extra” – that is pretty easy in AD&D), but with 5E they actually released rules for a Prestige Class, so I’ve decided to write-up my version of the “Solar Channeler” because I always thought it was kind of a neat idea and it fits my game world pretty nicely.

The Luminous Order

An ancient and mystical fraternity with roots that are said to predate even the Society of Light, and may be the original form of the current Lightbearers of the Church of the Lords of Light. The Luminous Order consists of individuals who have been chosen by the Angelic Host, to acts as channels for the Light and even to act as a kind of vessel for a member of the Host when needed.

The Luminous Order

  • 1st Level – Channel Divinity (+1/Rest), Healing Touch, Divine Spellcasting
  • 2nd Level – Summon Sword of Light, Greatsword Mastery
  • 3rd Level – Channel the Host
  • 4th Level – Channel Divinity (+2/Rest), Wisdom Score Improvement
  • 5th Level – Greater Channel the Host

Requirements:

  • Be a member of the Society of Light
  • Of Good Alignment
  • Be at least 5th Level in a Divine Spellcasting Class
  • Have both a Wisdom and a Constitution of 16+

Class Features:

  • Hit Dice are 1d8 per level
  • Proficiency in Greatsword

Channel Divinity

The character gains an additional use of their Channel Divinity ability between rests, at the 4th Level of the Luminous Order this become two additional uses.

Healing Touch

The character may use their Channel Divinity ability to touch any living creature and cure them of 4d8+2 Hit Points of damage, as well as freeing them from any curse, disease, poison, blindness, or deafness.

Divine Spellcasting

The character continues to gain spellcasting levels, as a full spellcaster, for the purposes of multi-classing, as long as they are a Divine Spellcaster. Clerics essentially continue their spellcasting levels as normal while Paladins potentially gain a small boost in available spell levels. Mages, Warlocks, Bards and Sorcerers (with the exception of those with the Celestial Patron) cannot gain this benefit, nor could Eldritch Knights or Arcane Tricksters. Only the rare Druids and somewhat more common Rangers that belong to the Society of Light would gain this benefit.

Summon Sword of Light

The character may, with the use of a Channel Divinity ability, summon a magical greatsword that they may wield with Advantage. It does 2d8 Slashing Damage plus 3d8 Radiant damage with each successful strike and counts as a magical weapon, and has the Finesse quality. The greatsword radiates Bright Light in a 30′ radius, and Dim Light for another 30′ beyond that. The greatsword lasts for one round per level of the character or until it is voluntarily released from the characters grasp.

Greatsword Mastery

When using a Greatsword, the character may re-roll any 1’s or 2’s rolled on damage dice, may immediately make another Attack as a Bonus Action upon making either a Critical Strike or reducing a target to zero Hit Points, and may choose to take a -5 to the roll in exchange for a +10 to the damage roll if it hits.

Channel the Host

Perhaps the signature feature of the Luminous Order, the character may use their Channel Divinity ability to act as a temporary vessel for a member of the Angelic Host. This is a choice fraught with some peril because the character loses access to their equipment and normal class features while doing so, buts access to a potent set of abilities otherwise. They gain the following abilities:

  • Aura of Life and Vitality: All non-hostile creatures within 30 feet of the character (including the character) have Resistance to Necrotic energy, and their Hit Point maximum cannot be reduced. Any non-hostile, living creature regains 1 Hit Point when it starts it’s round within the aura, and the character may use their Bonus Action to heal one creature within the aura for 2d6 Hit Points of damage.
  • Luminous Resistance: The character has Advantage on all Saving Throws, as well as Resistance to Radiant damage and damage from all non-magical weapons (Slashing, Piercing, and Bludgeoning). The character is Immune to Charm, Exhaustion, Fright, Disease, and Poison.
  • Greatsword Mastery as the Luminous Order class feature
  • Summon Sword of Light – While similar to the regular class feature for the Luminous Order, when Channeling the Host it has greater potency, and the character may Multiattack for 2 Attacks each round with it. It becomes Versatile, doing the same damage no matter if used one or two-handed.
    • At 3rd Level the Sword is +6 to Strike and Damage, does 2d10 Slashing damage and 4d8 Radiant damage, and does a Critical Strike on a 19-20.
    • At 4th Level the Sword is +8 to Strike and Damage, does 3d10 Slashing damage, 5d8 Radiant damage, and does a Critical Strike on a 18-20
    • At 5th Level the Sword is +10 to Strike and Damage, does 4d10 Slashing damage, and 6d8 Radiant damage, and does a Critical Strike on a 17-20
  • Angelic Form – While channeling, the character takes on a angelic aspect, growing in stature, with the wings, robes, and halo of one of the Host – though still discernable (with effort) as themselves through the Light that suffuses them. They are considered Large for the purposes of Grappling.
    • This lasts for 1 Round per point of Wisdom Modifier
    • At 3rd Level the character has an Armor Class of 17, +4 Temporary Hit Points per Hit Die, a Speed of 30, and may Fly 90′ per round.
    • At 4th Level the character has an Armor Class of 19, +6 Temporary Hit Points per Hit Die, a Speed of 40,  and may Fly 120′ per round.
    • At 5th Level the character has an Armor Class of 21, +8 Temporary Hit Points per Hit Die, a Speed of 50,  and may Fly 150′ per round.
  • This feature may not be used again until after a Long Rest.

Wisdom Score Improvement

This increases the characters Wisdom Score by +2, up to a maximum of 22.

Greater Channel the Host

The duration of the Channeling increases to 1 minute per point of Wisdom modifier.

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