Archive for May 2013

Wandering Monsters: Birdmen

I guess the voting majority do not ever want to see either the hollyphant or opinicus in Dungeons & Dragons ever again. Not only am I fine with that, but I could also stand to see some of the game's equally unexciting bird-men candidates likewise go the way of the dodo.

My only mental image of the aarakocra is the one from 2nd Edition's Monstrous Manual, and is actually the only edition that I recall seeing them in, though a quick Google search reveals that they were in 3rd Edition's Monsters of Faerunwhich could explain why I do not remember themand Dark Sun Creature Catalog.

I do not get what is appealing about them, despite the description of their feet "unlocking and folding back to reveal hands" making me think of a potential Beast Wars candidate.

Though they usually come with guns and/or swords.
I would lose the hands-in-feet. Do they even need a set of hands? Why not just give them wings and talons; they could drop rocks, I guess, or even swoop down on creatures, picking them up before dropping them from a great height. That would certainly add something to a battle. I would also give them a variety of beak-types depending on geographic location, so in the mountains they might have a hawk-like beak, parrot for jungles, and vulture for desert.

As for flavor I would, by default, make them the creations of some kind of bird-like deity as opposed to a pact with djinn. The pact could still work in some cases, providing a reason for aarakocra on other planes, or even in a more fantastic, isolated city within the desert.

They can still have a connection to air elementals, but I would make them capable with wind-themed magic, which could include nature magic, divine magic, or sorcerer-esque arcane magic. I could even see a case for warlocks. They would live on cliffs and have a fairly technologically-primitive culture. Alignment-wise I would go with Neutral, but due to their xenophobic nature might attack travelers in order to frighten them off. 

Both the tag- and punchline for dire corbies is "underground birds whose wings turned into arms".

Yeeep.
In its defense, I was at least aware that the aarakocra existed before the tail-end of 4th Edition. I heard mention of dire corbies shortly after the release of Neverwinter Campaign Setting, which some people were apparently excited about, and as with the aarakocra I have to wonder why. After all there are already plenty of humanoid races dwelling in the Underdark as it is, were we really missing one with a bird's head?

Nope, still not doing it.
If I had to include them I would change them so that they were aarakocra that, long ago, were enslaved and gradually changed by mind flayers. To me this sounds better than linking them to drow, and gives you a way to link them with the aforementioned wind-themed magic (which could be particularly devastating in cavernous tunnels). Even better, you could give them mutations and psionics.

If you wanted to associate them with Pazuzu, I would keep their wings, take them out of the Underdark, and just make them evil mirrors of aarakocra. Throw on some demonic traits to better distinguish them and you are good to go.

Now I know some people are upset at James for pretty much only grudgingly acknowledging that gyerians are a thing, but I am inclined to agree given that, near as I can tell, they are mostly halfling-sized birdettes that possibly served as the inspiration for Lil' Sneezer from Tiny Toons. I mean, even the dire corby made it into another edition. 

Though they both look equally silly.
It is...different I guess, but unlike its devastating allergies it is severely underwhelming, even if you are only mining it for comedic value. I cannot even recommend associating them with wind-things, since that seems to be the aarakocra's shtick.

I have actually used kenkus before in both 3rd and 4th Edition, and even rolled up a few 4th Edition characters. Given their bird-like appearance (though raven would be more appropriate), voice mimicry, and rogue-oriented mechanics I would associate them with some kind of trickster deity. If you wanted to make them Fey, then a raven spirit would be more fitting, though I do not think it is necessary.

As a quick aside I find it odd that they are pegged as Neutral, despite favoring kidnapping as a source of revenue. That sounds distinctly Chaotic to me, maybe even a bit Evil depending on how far they are willing to go. I think it is fine for some groups of kenku, particularly those in an urban setting, but then I tend to dislike global alignment association.

I have not yet used tengu, but I fully plan to in an oriental campaign I am working on. I would divide tengu into two camps, with the humanoid ones as the chaotic variety and the crow-headed ones as the bad guys.

Humanoid tengu could be sought after as skilled warriors, serving as prerequisites for certain fighter maneuvers or prestige classes. What about "Tengu Training" as a background perk? They could also forge magical swords (and be a source of magic fans), or at least guard them/know their location. Warriors who fail them or earn their disrespect might be cursed with long noses or ears until they redeem themselves.

Crow tengu wander the land, killing with impunity, though sometimes stop for a bit to conquer a village and torment the inhabitants. They might be the malicious ghosts of warriors that were finally slain, or even some kind of spirit (perhaps the spiritual manifestation of a cruel samurai's sword). Okami describes them as the spirit of a dead samurai that possessed a crow, though they retain a sense of honor.

Nagpas are kind of like driders in that the curse that transforms them has many beneficial side-effects, including a strict allotment of several spell-like abilities, and a staff that for some reason works better for them that also functions as a ring of spell storing. I wonder why more curses do not come with benefits packages?

"For my selfish nature I was rewarded with more power."
Okay, okay, it is not all good. According to the Ecology section they cannot "eat, sleep, laugh, reproduce, or take part in any other activity enjoyed by living humans". This is preceded by a bit in Habitat/Society where they can for some reason detect anyone within 100 miles that is talking about them; they track them down, are "immediately kill by the nagpa" in an unspecified manner, who then feels a combination of "guilt, remorse, relief, and joy".

I am all for a curse, but I think that it should only have a downside and not be contradictory. Why does it give them spells? Why does it give them a bitchin' staff? How can they feel joy or relief, which is something that humans tend to enjoy? Why is this only applicable to mages? Would not a better curse be to prevent them from using magic, or worse, learning more? Like, they are stuck with just a taste, but are unable to master more advanced arts.

A good idea might also be to associate them with Pazuzu. He might curse wizards that messed up while in service, or just dared to even attempt communication. A fitting mark.

Near as I can tell raptorans were designed specifically to make a race that could fly, and that is not enough to warrant their continued existence in my book, especially when they tread on the ground of other, similar creatures. The whole Walk of the Four Winds is pretty silly, serving to justify raptoran adventurers, as is their pact for flight that they cannot even utilize reliably until 10th level.

Star Wars As Lovecraftian Horror-Fantasy

I mentioned in my review of Edge of the Empire that I know of Star Wars, but am not really a fan of it. Gamma World came out some three years ago, and I have on occassion thought of running a campaign by taking the Star Wars universe, and cramming everything onto one planet.

In this setting alien species would either be mutants or actual aliens from other worlds or dimensions, while planets would be represented either as geological regions or locations; Tatooine would be a desert, Hoth a frozen wasteland, Dagobah a swamp, Naboo an island chain, Coruscant a bit city, etc.

While playing The Old Republic another thought occurred to me while I watched my jedi smack humanoid-sharks with a sci-fi bokken (that apparently everyone has): why bother with the sci-fi elements at all? Also, what if the world was the battleground for numerous aberrant stars vying for control (making the name Star Wars a literal thing)?

The high concept is a...relatively nightmarish world where mortal races get caught up in the conflict between the denizens of various otherwordly entities, giving rise to many bizarre creatures that you would expect to see from Star Wars, like those aforementioned shark-people or gungans.

Just kidding, even Cthulhu has limits.
If you want to use some 4th Edition flavor, the Feywild could be a major player (though it could have also been destroyed).

In this setting the Jedi would be an order designed to instruct people on the proper usage of psionics (aka, the Force), which in most cases can cause insanity to those "gifted" with it that go untrained, the Sith would be those that have been corrupted by elder gods, lightsabers could be psi-blades, spaceships become airships, and various types of warforged take the place of droids.

Hyperspace would be a method of travel by which travelers exploit distortions in space and time due to the Far Realm encroaching on the world. The Death Star could be a kind of gate intended to allow an elder god to enter the world, or a weapon to destroy the prison of one. Maybe the world is a prison, and it is designed to destroy it? Maybe it will only annihilate all life to pave the way for a new race of an elder god's design?

Ghosts of Dragonspear Castle GenCon Exclusive

If you have not already heard, at this year's GenCon GaleForce Nine is offering an exclusive book containing some pre-generated characters, and four adventures intended to run you from level 1 to 10, and the winning sheet from the character sheet contest.

Oh, and if you pre-order it you also get a free mini.

A lot of people are understandably miffed that this is going to be a GenCon exclusive. I do not see any reason for it, as people might be able to afford a $30 book, but not the ticket prices, possibly travel fees, and/or the ability to skip out on work for a few days. Really, all GaleForce Nine is doing is missing out on more money.

Though I am interested in the book, as with the aforementioned others I do not live anywhere close to Indiana, and I also cannot afford to set aside time to go. What I am able to do is pay the price of the book, plus shipping and handling, plus something extra for the effort.

So if you are going and do not care one whit about the book, or knows someone that is going that does not care about the book, and want to do me a favor let me know in the comments. Heck, if you want to go and cannot afford to I would even be willing to pay for a one-day badge (which I think is $30-40).
May 24, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Epiro: Episode 106

Cast
  • Iola (wood elf monk 3)
  • Perseus (human paladin 3)
  • Yllian (high elf wizard 3)
  • Corvus (human ranger 3)
  • Randy (wood elf druid 3)
The characters had been hiking across the Goathills for about an hour, searching for wherever it was the wights that had attacked them last night had come from--ideally an unguarded, treasure-laden burial ground--when they came across a gentle, grassy valley.

Given that Corvus was having no trouble following the trail left by the wights, they decided to cut across as the terrain would be easier on the wagon and it would save time. This worked out well enough until they got about halfway across, at which point they noticed that there were numerous bones scattered throughout the grass (which they were easily able to identify as horse bones thanks to the live specimen on hand).

Pegasus started acting nervously, not because of the bones (which would have been understandable), but because of the griffon doing a poor job of hiding in the grass a couple hundred feet away. It was, unfortunately, just a distraction, and as they tried to turn the wagon around another burst from cover and dived at them. Well, specifically Pegasus, because griffons love them some horse.

Perseus interposed himself between the two, but only managed to graze the griffon as it bolted past. Iola leapt into action, hitting it square in the beak with a kick that sent it spinning to the ground. It recovered quickly, raking Iola with one of its claws as it circled around her towards Pegasus. The other griffon sprung into action, but was anticlimactically chased off by one of Yllian's color sprays. Thankfully I had a third griffin in reserve, which was able to temporarily take him out of the fight with a few good claw attacks.

The griffons were chased off after a few rounds, as I figured that even with the promise of delicious horse on the line they were not willing to die for it. Randy got to take his cat form for a spin, which is pretty brutal with a 2-3 attack routine, but despite going up against a pair of Large creatures Kamon was unable to try out his favored enemy features. Oh well, I still gave them full experience points for surviving the encounter and driving them off.

They found the burial place of the wights a few hours later, a chambered cairn dug into the side of a low hill. Perseus took point, his shield illuminated with Yllian's magic. After a short flight of worn stairs they found themselves in a large, circular chamber. The center was dominated with a stone pillar carved with the likeness of a chimera, and three passages branched away.

Behind the totem was a dessicated corpse of a woman, either human or elf they could not tell, clutching a pair of stone boots. Yllian deduced that she was probably slain by one of the wights. When he went to move her arm to better examine the boots, a stone amulet clattered to the ground as she crumbled into dust: it was engraved with a jagged spiral that he vaguely recalled was indicative of some elemental entity.

The boots were carved entirely of stone. There were spaces that might have once been inlaid with precious metals or maybe gems, and dwarven runes mentioned something about The Lord That Shatters The Earth. Yllian had neglected to prepare any detect magic spells, so if they were magical (they were), it would have to wait until the next day to determine what they could do (something really cool).

Iola discovered the hard way that each of the passages were trapped, though she made her Dexterity save and was able to walk away with only minor burns. At the end of each passage was a burial alcove where it was assumed that the wights were originally laid to rest, and they managed to find a cache of art objects, which included a drinking horn and chimera-skin carpet.

With the place thoroughly looted they made their way to Goathill Quarry to meet up with the caravan. The four-hour walk was uneventful, though they did not make it back until well after nightfall. Given that much of the town's "staff" were indentured criminals the place did not see many tourists; there was only one inn, and a small one at that. Even worse was that it was mostly filled up thanks to the caravan, so most of the characters ended up having to crash in their wagon (at least they had that chimera-skin carpet to keep them warm).

This ended up being just as well, as their respite was abruptly interrupted by a devastating, quarry-collapsing earthquake. Normally this would be bad enough, except for the aforementioned criminals accounting for the majority of the town's population.

Behind the Scenes
The characters finally feel durable and competent enough that I can safely throw difficult challenges at them without it being a total-party wipe. Just a level ago a single griffon would have mopped the floor with them, what with their triple multiattack combo and 11-point per claw average.

Despite being able to fly for a short period of time all of twice per day, the monk still seems incredibly boring. I desperately want to see a monk that gives you something neat that you can reliably do at 1st-level, with a variety of thematic options to choose from as you level up. The traditions are nice, except that you can only do tradition-specific things once per day.

For example, I think that Path of Four Storms should give you a bonus on jump checks, and/or a speed boost, while Path of Stone's Endurance could give you a bonus on Constitution saves, and maybe bonus damage or damage resistance if you do not move on your turn. Not sure what to do with Phoenix...maybe let you spend Hit Dice when dropped below 0 hit points (even as a once per day thing), possibly also fire resistance?

Basically do what 4th Edition did, but tone down the initial amount of options.
May 23, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Because Good Is Dumb


I look at this list of monsters, most I am aware of, none I have used, most I would not use (at least, not as presented), and I cannot help but think that there are more pressing questions than what creature type to best shoehorn them into.

For starters, do they really need laundry lists of spells, spell-like abilities, and maybe even psionics? Many of the monster entries mention casting spells like a cleric and/or wizard, with the phoenix getting called out as having "tons of magical abilities". Given that the coautl could cast spells like a 9th-level sorcerer in 3rd Edition, I wonder what the barometer is?

The mythological baku started out as a chimeric creature that could protect against disease and evil. Later dream-devouring would get added to its roster, and its appearance would eventually change into that of a tapir. The concept and capabilities seem fairly simple, so what is with all the the psionic powers? I no longer have a copy of The Complete Psionicist's Handbook, so I can only guess that absorb disease makes sense, but what about animal affinitymetamorphosis, and ectoplasmic form?

For this I greatly prefer 4th Edition for monster presentation: you get an entire block, on the same page, and you do not have to reference one or more other books to figure out what anything does. Just a glance at the "typical lammasu's" loadout of twenty-one cleric spells (of which a merciful few were prepared twice) causes flashes of Edition-induced PTSD.

When it comes to type I disagree that Dungeons & Dragons, at least in both 3rd Edition and Next, have an orderly structure of creature types. For example, in 3rd Edition if you came from another plane, you were an Outsider, but inevitables are considered Constructs. Even mortal, humanoid races like aasimar and tieflings were Outsiders, unless they were born and raised on the Material Plane, in which case they were Outsiders with the Native subtype.

Next not only retains some artifacts from 3rd Edition, but makes things even more confusing. Why does Giant have to be a separate type from Humanoid? I always figured that a size category, or maybe even a subtype would do the trick. Do Fiends need their own type, when there are Demon and Devil subtypes? The same thing goes for the Dragon type: it seems like Monstrosity would do, despite it being divided from Beast by a very, very blurry line.

While some of the monsters in the article clearly come across as celestial entities, like the hollyphant and ki-rin, that does not work for all of them. I think that the baku and couatl would work just fine as magical beasts, though this might be grounds for a spirit type, or at least a subtype. Again, 4th Edition did it better with its origin/type combinations, and with only ten options between them both to boot. You could give them the immortal origin, lock them in a tomb, and call it good.

As for the poll questions, while I do not think that they necessarily need to get rid of any of them, I think a lot of them could stand to have their concepts and/or mechanics revised. For example the lamassu and shedu could be folded into one monster (since they are both the same thing), and you could stick with the bull depiction to help differentiate them from a sphinx.

Legends & Lore: Exploration And Interaction Pillars

After a two-week absence Legends & Lore returns with a look at two of Next's occasionally-mentioned three-pillar system, which I just now realized that if arranged properly could be referred to as “ICE” (not to be confused with Shadowrun's IC).

I have not used the exploration rules beyond overland travel, and even then I kept forgetting to assign exploration tasks, so removing the 1-day time increment will not affect me much. The addition of weather rules sounds fun, but not nearly as fun as the potential for classes and monsters to interact with them (especially stuff like the bit about the green dragon).

One of the things that I disliked about 3rd Edition was that it was a simple matter to rack up a massive Diplomacy skill modifier early on: half-elves got a +2, three skills could give you +2 synergy bonuses, and you could also lump Negotiator and Skill Focus together for another +5, which meant that at level 3 you could feasibly have a +19 bonus before Charisma became a factor.

Not only did this make it incredibly easy to change most NPC reactions to at least indifferent--going from Hostile to Indifferent "only" required a DC 25 check, which you could make on a 6 if your Charisma "only" was average--but it basically relegated social interactions to the guy with the highest Diplomacy modifier.

4th Edition tried to make it easier for more characters to contribute to these sorts of interactions with mixed results: all to often players--mine included--ended up "spamming" the skills they were best at until they got the requisite number of successes, or just piled on Aid Another bonuses so that someone else could. Or, you know, if they had nothing better to do.

Given that the interaction rules involve "Charisma checks (or other checks, as appropriate)", it sounds like they are to a degree starting with something resembling 4th Edition's skill challenge system. I am of the mind that skill challenges got better over time, so hopefully the designers have learned from this. If nothing else NPC traits, as well as the ability to "invoke" them with varying results (as well as related monster- and character-abilities), sounds both ambitious and interesting.

DDN Q&A: Wound Modules, Uncommon Choices, and Humans

There are two reasons that can pretty much sum up why I am unsatisfied with hit points in Next: you do not start with enough, and you are largely reliant on magic to get them back.

When I tried running Age of Worms in 3rd Edition several months ago, the characters ended up having to rest every few rooms due to the lack of a cleric. In my Next campaign Hit Dice have made things a bit smoother, but ultimately it depends on how many cure wounds spells the druid and ranger have on tap.

The talk of a variety of hit point modules is good, I guess, so long as at least one of them lets you play without having to have magical healing. I think I have said before that my ideal hit point system would be something like the vitality- and wound-point split that I first saw in 3rd Edition's Unearthed Arcana (and that I maybe saw later in one of the Star Wars games), where wound points are based on your Constitution score, and vitality points are derived from class.

Wound points would recover more slowly over time, maybe based on your Constitution modifier. Certain attacks like poison, maybe critical hits, could directly apply to wound points. Vitality points would recover much more quickly, being the more abstract part generally reflected by combat skill, luck, etc. Things like warlord "shouts" could be used to recover them in combat, as well. I would also do something like Dragon Age: Origins, where getting reduced to zero wound points slaps you with a persistent injury that recovers over time.

As for halfling barbarians, I think that 4th Edition did oddball combinations best by making it so that while certain race/class combinations were more ideal, the rest were still capable of contributing in a meaningful manner. Like, a half-orc barbarian would probably start out with a Strength score of 18, but the benchmark was 16, which a halfling could still do. The ironic downside with Next is that given the 20 cap on ability scores, even before all the talk of stat-boosting feats, everyone will end up with the same score no matter their size category.

Humans used to be a very fun race to play because you got a variety of floating bonuses. Now its just a bonus to all your stats, and...that is it. Pretty easy to build with, but really boring. I do not think that humans should just be the "speed-building" race, especially when it means that they are as strong, tough, fast, smart, wise, etc as other races that are supposed to have those traits as a shtick.


May 17, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Demonic Cults

And here I was thinking that we would not get a Wandering Monsters article today. What is even more surprising is that I like a lot of what it has to say (in particular the entries on Demogorgon and Baphomet); though only a few paragraphs, each type of cult has its own defining word--madness, destruction, and decadence--as well as a solid foundation to build adventures on.

The Cthulhu association with Demogorgon is an angle I had never considered before, despite the fact that he is apparently allied with Dagon to some capacity. I dig it, but then I tend to dig many things associated with the Cthulhu mythos.

Demogorgon's appearance has changed several times over the editions, and I am hoping that they keep the more recent renditions, namely this one:


Despite running a Greek-themed campaign, I had not given much thought to Baphomet until now. I love the adventure seed of cultists abducting people in order to ceremoniously murder them in a maze, and will fit that in at some point (though I might have the characters captured, too).

The bit on Graz'zt is the weakest, but still delivers some solid flavor on the sort of things his cultists might do. If nothing else is presents a good argument on why a nice chunk of tieflings might have similar traits, maybe even a thematic warlock pact.

All in all I think that this was a pretty good article. I like the direction they are heading, and each of them has given me a clear idea of how I might use them in my campaigns.
May 14, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Faster Combat Review


One of the biggest--and to me, more legitimate--criticisms about Dungeons & Dragons is the length of combat. I remember how, back in 3rd Edition, combat was often resolved pretty quickly, allowing us to plow through a good chunk of dungeon in a given sitting.

When 4th Edition came out, though we were excited by all the options and changes, we saw immediately that combat could drag, especially if monsters took reduced damage or could heal. The kobold ambush at the start of Keep on the Shadowfell? That could eat up 30-60 minutes of game time, and that is just for kobolds.

Faster Combat is just over 260 pages of advice and methods on how to speed up combat in your game. Some of it are things that you probably already know, like pre-rolled initiative charts, average damage results (which is featured in D&D Next's monsters), and reducing monster hit points by 25% or more, but there is a lot of other stuff in here, like noting how long individual players take (along with a variety of ways to establish a time limit, as well as a reward system), ways to identify character strengths and weaknesses (along with ways to challenge or pander to them), and combat terrain to use/not-use.

Even better is that is is not just about combat efficiency; there are sections on how to design more exciting encounters (along with a list of 20 random and fantastic encounter locations), run "cannon fodder" and boss monsters, 50 monster quirks, numerous linked resources relating to whatever it is you are learning about, and more.

It is, in a word, extensive, which is good because even if a DM is not willing to invest much time in an attempt to resolve any of the issues mentioned (which not every group suffers from, or even identifies as such), there are still other things that he or she might find useful, like the aforementioned random encounter and quirks, and encounter building advice.

The ebook runs $20, but whether or not it is worth it depends on what kind of games you play (it is intended for Dungeons & Dragons and D&D-related games), and if you have any issues with running combat and/or building encounters. If so I think it is worth the buy, though even experienced DMs might learn a thing or two. You can preview the book's mind map, but this is where I think a few preview sections would help gamers on the fence.
May 13, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

A Sundered World: Drow Draft

I have already elaborated at length as to why I do not like drow-as-written, and since I do not expect WotC
to give this iconic Underdark race any depth, Josh and I came up with a different origin and flavor to back them up. As always, let me know what you think.

During the Sundering, the elves opened up gates that allowed them to evacuate to the moon. Other things made it there as well, or laterwhich we will cover in a blogpost specifically about the Feywild/Faerie/Wyld/whatever we end up calling itbut not everyone did.

Like the drow.

The drow were in a bad place at a bad time. When the barriers between words was shattered, each plane, with their own rules, layout, and denizens tried to fill in the gaps. The severity and end result of which plane, if any, would come out on top in any given place was...unpredictable to say the least; not only were the drow unable to maintain their own gate, but their home was flung into the far reaches of the Astral, and it was assumed that they were lost or destroyed.

They were not.

Drow dwell within the dark regions of the Astral, venturing forth to ambush astral vessels or hunt, though some houses are willing to trade or hire themselves out. Their homes are large motes of stone that vary in size and shape—though generally the more powerful the colony, the larger the mote—and riddled with numerous passages (think floating termite columns). Though gravity on the Astral is usually subjective, these tunnel networks are still useful in disorienting intruders, making it easy to separate and dispatch them.

Physiology
For the most part drow are similar to other elves, except that their skin is very pale, and in some cases semi-translucent. Hair color is generally black or white, but other colors can manifest as a result of one or more transmutations.

Drow undergo ritualistic transmutations as reward for their accomplishments. These can range from additional eyes or limbs, venomous fangs, chitinous skin, and so on. As a rule of thumb the more spider-like a drow appears, the more powerful it is. For D&D, this would be reflected as optional powers that you can add to drow (boosting their XP value), while for Dungeon World this would just add moves.

Society
We are sticking with the matriarchal society, but alignment-wise they would range from Lawful Evil to Neutral Evil, or either Neutral or Evil in Dungeon World parlance. Definitely toning down the random betrayals and murder, as there is really no way that any kind of meaningful society could flourish if almost everyone was Chaotic Evil. Plus, I want there to be other reasons for drow adventurers beyond "inexplicably good renegade".

We are also kicking around the idea of giving them something like a "hive mind", making them like Borg, only with spider-bits instead of machines. I think this would be more appropriate if their insect theme was ants or wasps, but as with the alignment shift above I want to make sure that there is a fairly easy way to play a drow.

Hierarchy
At the top of the food chain is the Spider Queen. She appears as a drider, but her entire body is covered in a hardened carapace, and there is little to indicate that she was once an elf. I imagine her face being a largely expressionless mask—kind of like that scene in Mimic where they realize that the bugs are mimicking them—behind which is a grotesque conglomeration of eyes, mandibles, and hair.

The drow worship and offer sacrifices to her, making her the source of their divine magic and considerably powerful, comparable to Asmodeus (Next), an apocalypse dragon (Dungeon World), or a level 30+ solo controller (4th Edition D&D).

The matrons look similar to the Spider-Queen, but the humanoid half of their bodies are still mostly recognizable as elf. Each drow house is lead by a single matron. They are very capable in combat and able to channel powerful divine magic, but tend to keep a handful of heavily mutated warriors (aka, royal guard) on hand just in case.

Priests are drow that have yet received the same "gift" that their matrons have, but are still trained in martial combat—wielding daggers or swords instead of snake-whips—and have access to divine magic.

Warriors who prove themselves enough are elevated to royal guard, ranked just beneath the priests that they are assigned to protect. It is because of this that they are the subject of numerous transmutations, oftentimes retaining only a vaguely humanoid shape.

Weavers are arcanists that specialize in thematic "spider" magic: they can summon spiders—including spider-like demons and devils—conjure sheets of webs, bind creatures, poison, and such.

The typical rank-and-file warrior retains most of its elven appearance. They wield swords (often times two), poisoned javelins, and wear a kind of carapace armor that is mechanically identical to studded leather.

As for spell-like abilities, I am shying away from faerie fire and levitate. Darkness is fine, but I think giving them something like web, the ability to envenom one of their weapons, or even something more mundane like advantage on climb checks makes more sense.

Spidership
Spiderships are, as their name implies, vessels built in the shape of a spider, complete with articulated limbs. I am thinking something like the Necron tomb spiders. Raiders attack by initially launching a salvo of ballista bolts at a vessel. Cables attached to the bolts allow their warriors to board while preventing escape.

Puppeteers specialize in telekinetic magic. This allows them to manipulate the legs, which they use to grasp onto ships, either to prevent them from escaping or to just crush them. The "strands" are visible to anyone able to detect magic, and can be severed with either abjuration magic or a cold iron weapon.

May 12, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Dragon's-Eye View: Imagining the World

It is has been quite awhile since there was a Dragon's-Eye View article that I wanted to comment on. While I am not a fan of Forgotten Realms, I do like the quality of this concept art:




They are evocative images that make we want to base dungeon locales off of just so I can show them to my players. I hope that this sets the bar for the quality we can expect.
May 08, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Yugoloths & Gehreleths

Even though Planescape was my favorite campaign setting up until Eberron, I do not have much to say about the flavor of yugoloths, and even less about gehreleths.

To me yugoloths are just another kind of fiendish subset that seems to have been designed to fill in an alignment-spoke on the Great Wheel which, surprise surprise, is not enough to get me interested.

Neither does a high concept of, "greedy, unreliable mercenaries", for that matter.

Or a huge list of resistances.

From what I can gather from the article, yugoloths seem to tread the middle ground between Lawful and Chaotic, which makes sense because they are Neutral Evil, and...that is about it. There is nothing about them appearance-wise that even suggests they differ much from devils or demons:

Nycaloth and mezzoloth
A devil, obviously.

I get that Planescape probably has an extensive treatment on both, but that does not mean much to me if I am not running Planescape and/or do not care about the Blood War, or--even more heretical--running Planescape without the Great Wheel (and/or Blood War).

Speaking of the Blood War, I am not even sure what hooks to use with them without having a high-level, full-blown war campaign. I guess a wizard could summon one, only to have it escape? Maybe one gets trapped on the natural world/Material Plane and becomes a warlord? These could work, but they also sound just as feasible for a variety of other summoned/extraplanar things.

It is nice that they are parsing down spell-like abilities, as I have always felt that massive lists of spell-like abilities were unnecessary, but I think all of those resistances are also unnecessary since none of them seem to fit a theme. Like, I get that a lot of devils have fire resistance what with them being in Baator/Nine Hells, but why does every yugoloth have resistance against acid, cold, and lightning, too?

When it comes to individual yugoloths I do not have any issues for the most part; but I would keep the mezzoloth at six legs because of its insect-like appearance, and while I guess the nycaloth could stand to lose a pair, why not have both? A four-armed nycaloth could just be a more powerful incarnation.

Ultimately they will probably all end up looking very similar to their 2nd and 3rd Edition counterparts, which is a shame because as with many of the other Wandering Monsters articles there is a chance to be creative and give them a stronger identity (and, possibly, adventure hooks). I could see them bring rolled into demons given that many of them seem similar, but I do not think it is necessary or will do much to differentiate them. If nothing else, stick to calling them yugoloths instead of daemons.

(Oh, I almost forgot: either call the unique yugoloth Anthraxus or something else entirely. Changing it to Phraxus just to be politically correct is silly.)

And then there are gehreleths.

Sigh...
I had completely forgotten that these things exist, though when I looked up some art online I recall the DiTerlizzi art from one of the Planescape-specific monster manuals. They look kind of like slaads with wings, but they live on a prison plane. Eh, inhabitants of some kind of prison plane has merit, but I think that they need to have much, much stronger flavor material to back them up.

Epiro: Episode 105

Cast
  • Yllian Faraday (high elf wizard 2)
  • Randy (wood elf druid 2)
  • Iola Talmiel (wood elf monk 2)
  • Perseus Eurymedon (human paladin 2)
  • Corvus (human ranger 2)


Since last week it was decided that the characters were heading to Copper Cairns with a caravan in order to engage in some good old-fashion paid murder, I took the time to add some more towns, a fort, a hex-grid, and flesh out that particular story arc some more. As a result the map changed from this...


...to this.


Normally I would have just told them that they got there in about day without any hassle, as I learned a long time ago that having one or two random encounters a day was basically a complicated procedure that ultimately output free XP and/or treasure. With this I could not only better track their travel time, but I also got the satisfaction of rolling for a random encounter each time they entered a hex (using the convention I started in A Sundered World, where they got to choose the numbers that would trigger one).

The first random encounter was more psychologically scarring than anything else (though I imagine the flock of 2d4 + 1 cockatrices would also do the trick); one of Beth's goals for Perseus is to get something that is a pegasus in more than just name. This is not anything new, as her prior goals usually amounted to something along the lines of getting a horse-like creature, with an extra accessory or two (pretty much a unicorn or pegasus).

Four hours go by smoothly, but when they get to the south-western edge of the Goathills Iola notices something flying south. What could it be, you ask? Oh, a pegasus! Of course Perseus and Iola entertain the notion of dropping everything to follow it--probably because they thought that they could easily tame it--and of course no one else wants to do that because it is flying pretty quickly, and they are kind of on a schedule. Perseus and Iola relented, but at least they knew a good spot to look for one later, right?

Then they saw the rock.

It spun through the air, colliding with the pegasus and sending it spiraling to the ground. By itself this would be more than enough to shock them, but then they saw the stone giant that threw it. They continued to stand there and watch as it walked over to the downed pegasus, produced a elaborately carved stone club from the ground, and smashed its head. It then casually scooped it up, tossed the club over its shoulder--which merged with the ground as it landed--and walked back into the hills.

The rest of the day went on mostly uneventfully. Among some dialogue trees that I do not care to repeat, I recall Perseus and Iola promising to wreak vengeance upon the stone giant. You know, once they tripled their current level. Night fell, and given they were still three hours away from Goathill Quarry, they stopped to make camp. While Perseus seduced one of the caravan guards, the rest took turns with the watch. As in they helped keep an eye out for intruders, not, you know...

Anyway, everything went fine until they heard the screams. The caravan guards--or most of them, at any rate--were the first to the scene, discovering the dessicated remains of three other guards. As the alarm was raised, Yllian spotted something in the darkness outside the campfire's light. Perseus--weapon and shield in hand, and absolutely nothing else--rushed beyond the wagon circle to look for the attackers. He could just barely make out a humanoid figure in the dark, until Randy illuminated it with a well-placed fire seed.

Its skin was paper-thin, and seemed to just barely contain its bones. It was clad in old, rusted scale armor, with a helmet made from a large ram's skull. It was also swinging a massive club, which easily connected with Perseus since his Armor Class was down some six points. While Perseus, Randy, and Iola fought the undead creature, Corvus, who had hidden himself in a wagon, noticed two more creeping into the camp: they were similar to the first one, except one had a dragon skull for a helmet, while the other wielded two claw bracers.

He shot the one with the dragon-helmet almost point blank with an arrow. It barely seemed to affect it, but it still retaliated with a gout of fire. This attracted the attention of Yllian and Randy; the former blasted it with a few magic missiles, while the latter managed to bind it with an entangle spell. Perseus used Channel Divinity to smite the one with the ram helmet, and Iola finished off the one with the dragon-helmet with a flying boot to the head.

Which left just one. It charged Iola, knocking her to the ground and rending her with its claws Hunter style. One good damage roll and a crit later, and she was down for the count. Thankfully Corvus had access to a bit of healing magic, and was able to bring her back. After a charge from Perseus (which triggered the Boar King's Tusk's bonus damage), and a salvo of magic missiles from Yllian it was destroyed. The worst part--for me, anyway--was that, despite it being a wight, Iola's hit point reduction would go away the next day since she had not taken a long rest, yet.

With all the wights destroyed they inspected them, and discovered that they were warriors from the Chimera tribe, the equivalent of princes by the various trinkets that they wore. This meant that wherever they were buried would likely contain treasure of some sort. Even better since they just re-killed the occupants, it might even be unguarded (HA!). Though they decided to wait until morning to see if Corvus could track them back to their lair, they did not need to: once the sun was up they were able to clearly see the trail of dead grass where the wight's had tread.

The caravan master gave them the go ahead, stating that without them he would have lost even more men, and that they would wait in Goathill Quarry for a day before moving on.

Behind the Scenes
I decided to just let the stone giant do interesting stone-magic-things, making it up on the spot. I did not stat anything out, but would probably let it do it pretty much as often as it wants because it makes sense and is cool. This is the kind of stuff I would want monsters to be able to do, not just cull spells from the wizard's list.

For example, why does the aranea Customization Options include access to shocking grasp, magic missile, and sleep? None of those sound particularly spider-like. This is where I greatly preferred how 4th Edition handled monsters; you could design pretty much anything you want using a minimal of space.

Even at 27 hit points wights go down really quick, especially when over half the party can make ranged attacks that not only do half damage on a save, but allow you to followup with an actual attack. I was only able to use the wight-with-the-dragon-helmet's breath weapon, because I decided to make it a reaction when the wight lost half its hit points (or bloodied in 4th Edition parlance).

I preferred it more in 4th Edition, where healing powers just healed, radiant attacks just did damage, and vulnerabilities were up to the individual creature. As it is the damage is nice, it still deals half on a save, and you can still make an attack regardless of the outcome.
May 06, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Epiro: Episode 104

Cast
  • Yllian Faraday (high elf wizard 2)
  • Randy (wood elf druid 2)
  • Iola Talmiel (wood elf monk 2)
  • Perseus Eurymedon (human paladin 2)
  • Corvus (human ranger 2)
"So, you killed the Boar King."

Despite the players having a week to come up with a snappy comeback, everyone was quiet. They glanced at each other, trying to think of the right thing to say, or maybe the thing that would not trigger combat; since satyrs are not in the Bestiary, it is entirely possible that they feared I would force Wisdom saving throws to avoid dancing until they puked out their hit points.

Eventually Yllian broke the silence with a classic, "Who wants to know?"

Smoothly, because though the average Charisma of a satyr in 3rd and 4th Edition varies by 5 points, the baseline is still above average--and thereby higher than mine--he replied, "Me, if you would be so kind." He then offered them a drink of wine, which I had not decided whether or not if it could impart any sort of magical effects, but they declined.

Yllian began to repeat his question, but Iola, tired of everyone beating around the bush, simply stated that yes, yes they did. The satyr nodded, wished them good luck escaping the forest, and turned to leave. Just before he made it over the crumbling ramparts, Yllian asked who he was working for. The satyr paused for a moment, and without so much as a turn of the head responded with, "The Lady of this forest. You know how it is." And then he was gone.

They did not attempt to follow, instead engaging in wild speculation, which is always fun to listen to. Randy, having lived in the forest for some time, was well aware of a spider-like fey entity, but thankfully had never run into her. They eventually settled on the theory that she had cursed the Boar King, that they had accidentally "freed" him from the curse before she had intended (which might have been never), and that she would likely seek retribution...or replacements. Fey can be weird like that.

Despite the potential threat of an angry spider-fey capable of serving century-long curses, they took a long rest before hitching up their cart full of heads and heading back to Sidon. As before, when they got to the ruined bridge Randy had his familiar scout ahead. This time it noticed a lone goblin camping on the bridge. He transformed into a fox to investigate the trees to see if any more were waiting in ambush. While he did not find any goblins lurking in the woods, he did find a pair of ogres.

Assuming that they were working together he crept up behind the goblin, shifting back into a human to make a grab at him. Since he rolled really well, and the goblin rolled really bad, he was able to not only pin his arms, but prevent the goblin from screaming. Given that he did not share his plans with the rest of the party, and they were some three-hundred feet away, he sent his familiar to go get them. After a few minutes of adorable pantomime, the party followed the owl to Randy.

After a bit of trying to figure out what to do with the goblin, they eventually decided to bargain with it, opening with another classic: "If you promise not to scream, I will remove my hand."

Of course the goblin nodded, of course it screamed, and the ogres came blundering out of the trees seconds later. The lengthy exchange that followed could be summed as follows: the goblin wanted to charge them a lump sum of 10 gp for safe passage past their bridge, or a whopping 2 gp each. 5th Edition characters start with 150 gp, but even with both fighters and paladins being gouged for some 100ish gp worth of gear (armor, shield, and weapon), that still leaves about 50.

Oh, and they found about 500 worth of coins and loot.

They still wanted to haggle about it.

For about half an hour.

In the long run they ended up paying the goblin a forgettable fraction of their profits, including an extra gp to tell them where the "Lady of the forest" could be found, then continued on their way, making it out of the forest without fur  ther incident.

By the time they returned to Sidon it was very early in the morning, so rather than surprise Eleni with a re-enactment of The Godfather (plus a dozen or so human heads) shacked up at the Hungry Hydra. They ran into Yllian's retainers, and the rest of the party learned that he had journeyed from his homeland to seek military aid against hobgoblin armies. Sidon had nothing to spare, what with the people being in desperate need of aid themselves, and so was planning on heading on to Argos.

But first things first, drinking. I love that they were not willing to part with a measly 10 gp in exchange for essentially free XP (and I did give them full XP for getting past the ogres), but have no qualms parting with cash for a completely non-mechanical event.

They next day Eleni gave them their bounty and her thanks for avenging her father, before tipping them off on another regional plot-line problem: townsfolk were being abducted from Copper Cairns. The Green Ridge is fraught to a variety of monsters, from kobolds to manticores to ogres, so this is normally a given. Recently the disappearances have ramped up quite a bit, so the garrison leader and mine managers pooled together resources to pay for bounties on them all.

At this Yllian sent his retainers ahead to Argos to speak on his behalf, hoping that by currying favor with the nobility it would help his odds (and if not, he would have money to hire people), while he and everyone else teamed up with the next caravan leaving town.

Behind the Scenes
This is kind of what I did in  A Sundered World, giving the characters several plot threads to choose from. They could have gone back into the Tunnelwood to look into the whole Lady of the forest angle (as well as other things hidden inside), or continued to Argos (as I have things going on there, too). The difference is that in A Sundered World, distances were vast and places were pretty isolated. Here, there are things going on whether or not the party is there to deal with it, so we will see what happens with the other loose ends.
May 02, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

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