Archive for June 2013

D&DN Q&A: Modular Features, Paladin Alignment & Legendary Creatures

I have blogged numerous times about why I do not like wizards, ways I might do magic, and how to make some of the existing classes more interesting, so it was nice to see a positive response in this week's Question & Answers column as to whether modular features will change the core abilities of a class. Though the answer specifically mentions a "robust point-and-bonus based skill system module", maybe that means that we will see rules for a magic system that will approach some semblance of sense.

I can dream. After all, they did feature a variety of alternate rules for magic in 3rd Edition's Unearthed Arcana (hint hint).

Wandering Monsters: Big Beasts

Where last week's Wandering Monsters pertained to giant bugs, this week we get to look at giant entries from a trio of other biological classes.

I doubt most campaign settings concern themselves much with periods of prehistory development, extinction events (except maybe Forgotten Realms), and evolution, with only a passing glance at physics, biology, and ecology, so it is a wonder that dinosaurs seem to often be restricted to remote islands or the confines of dark jungles.

Why? This is a fantasy game, and I do not think that monsters should be written under the assumption that it should or should not be a core party of anyone's game. Just put some entries for various iconic dinosaur-like monsters in the book, and let the Dungeon Master decide if/how she wants to use them in her campaign. I loved them in Eberron, and have used them as part of random encounters in games because they could do interesting things and were unexpected.

Legends & Lore: System vs. Content


I hated adventure design in 3rd Edition at any level. Early on it was because of limited hit points, reliance on certain class features (like trapfinding) and magical healing, and magic in general required me to pay particularly close attention to what I was using, how much I was using, what the players might have or try to do, and so on. At higher levels I not only had to worry more about what spells the characters had, but I also had to juggle spellcasting monsters, flight, save-or-die effects, and more.

4th Edition made adventure design exceedingly easy and straightforward. Characters had some staying power right from the start. They were not super human by any stretch, but could manage without a "healer" class or magic items. While magic never fully ran out, it also did not outright ignore mechanics like hit points or skill checks, and the more problematic spells like teleport were throttled to a more manageable level. You also did not need a rogue (or one of the other four classes with trapfinding) to find traps.

To sum it up I always felt that I could write almost any adventure I wanted without having to consider what everyone else was going to play. Heck, even the players did not have to concern themselves much with what everyone else was going to do. Though virtually every group had at least one defender and leader, there was enough variety to keep things from getting stale. We did not have to frequently stop to head back to town and wait for the cleric to heal us, or rely on magic to keep everyone going. In other words it felt very open and free.

Obviously not everyone shares these issues, otherwise I do not think that 3rd Edition would have lasted as long as it did (and in fact there are those that would label my 4th Edition praises as issues). Mearls thinks that Next will be big and flexible enough to accommodate a variety of play styles, and despite observations to the contrary I have seen quite a few 4th Edition elements in the playtest (no racial penalties, something like healing surges, at-will magic, etc), so I think there is room for me in there somewhere.

What concerns me is how easy it will be to get what you want out of the rules, and how smoothly the game responds to your needs and wants. Personally I want something very much like 4th Edition, just without the needless scaling and number of immediately available powers; the number of things to choose from was great, but having to juggle like, six things at 1st-level is a bit much for most players I run with (I would also like a magic system that makes sense, but Dungeons & Dragons has yet to address that).

So how does this work? Are they going to be packaged into something like styles or genres, so if you want to match a previous edition it will tell you where you should set the dials, as it were? Will each rules module reference an edition, or have sidebars that tell you the pros and cons like the variants in 3rd Edition's Unearthed Arcana? Will various setting require you to go back through everything else and modify it, like inflating/reducing monster hit points, changing save-or-die effects to less punishing effects, turning resistances into values, changing/removing spells, etc?

What also concerns me is where Mearls states that despite a "good number" of DMs leaving alignment at the door that it is part of the game's identity, so it is considered a default element even though they are "committed to severing its ties to any mechanics" if you do not want to use it. Personally I would replace alignment with something else entirely, like FATE's aspects or Exalted's virtues and intimacies, but I guess being responsible for the existence of ridiculous things like magic items that mask your alignment, or make it appear as another alignment is deserving of page space.

(Seriously though, it would be nice to have a rules module that better emphasizes a character's personality. morals, and motivations.)

At least you can apparently completely ignore alignment, but what about classes? Will there be an option to make them "meatier", or more flexible, or interesting? I have blogged a couple times already about how boring and needlessly rigid they are. It would be nice to give them the breadth of 4th Edition, just without the depth (at 1st-level anyway), or give us enough options to actually realize some key concepts. Like, you know, a wind monk that can do more wind-things than fly a short distance once per day.
June 24, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Aurora: The Wandering Empire



Long, long ago in the time before the Sundering, there were gods who held dominion over the celestial heavens and influenced the people of the Prime Materia through angelic servants and mortal clerics. The expansion of their sovereignty was held in check by the Primordials, ancient elemental beings with whom the gods harbored longstanding enmity.

When the veil between worlds was ripped open, gods and primordials and mortals from across the multiverse were suddenly thrown together, the immediate result being several large scale conflicts erupting all at once. Eventually the utter chaos of this cataclysmic event subsided with all sides suffering heavy losses. Most of the gods and primordials however had killed eachother in the great pandemonium.




When the Primordials died, the elementals under their auspices were freed of their bounds and flew into utter bedlam, essentially becoming like wild animals.

When the gods died, many of their angelic servants lost all sense of purpose, and begun aimlessly wandering the ruined realms of their dead gods while slowly going mad over the long centuries. Some angels took their gods dogma and followed it to the most extreme degree. Angles of the God of law will hunt down and mercilessly punish criminals wherever they find them; angels of the god of war constantly see to ignite the flames of strife and conflict, angels of the god of love enthrall and force people to become lover slaves to one another, etc.

The servants of the slain god of light (we'll call him Pelor, or Helios, or Torchy) had an entirely different idea. They found a new sun god in the form of an infant celestial deity fathered by the light god upon the goddess of knowledge, and they began to raise this godchild up in the image of their former master. Though a font of great divine power, and viewed by many mortals as a being of awe inspiring puissance, the godling is still a child by the reckoning of the immortal celestials. Where once the gods presided over the angels with absolute authority, now the angels influence the will of a god to their own ends, which is pretty much preserving their way of life from before the Sundering and the following wars.

The godchild sits in isolation and tranquility within the uppermost room of the highest tower in a grand, golden city floating upon a great magical cloud and surrounded by honor guards of armored angels, as well as an armada of levitating cathedrals that are capable of devastating foes with blasts of seering radiant light. This floating space Vatican travels along the Angel Roads, great pillars that fold two points of space together for quick travel from back when the celestial realms of Empyrean and Apollyon were whole, bringing light, warmth and protection to the people who live in the desolate outer reaches of known space. 



For the various peoples who live on the dark edges of space, this grand floating city of gleaming golden towers is the closest thing to daylight that they know. They offer their love, devotion and obedience to the goldchild, who in turn consumes this energy and uses his will to power the the whole grand procession at the behest of the archangels who rule the divine armada. Because the city's regular procession, the folk along the Angel Roads have come to know it as “Aurora”, after an old world term meaning “sunrise” from the days when there was a sun.



Though the godchild rules in name, most actual decisions are made by Araehel, the archangel who discovered, protected and mothered the infant deity (angels do not have any innate gender, but some choose to take on either a male or female aspect). Besides Araehel, there is a council of seraphim who debate and rule on a number of issues concerning Aurora and the worlds she visits. The council is split into two parties, one who wants to focus on improving their existing territories, and another, led by council member Sabrael who wants to broaden the cities influence and involve Aurora in other conflicts. Michratheon is another member of the council who was secretly a servant of the dead god Asmodeus, and seeks to subtly disrupt and undermine the city, in an effort to ruin it from within.

Michratheon also secretly runs an extensive criminal network within the city itself through “his” underlings Uziel and Zaradhel.

Aurora itself is home to a number of pilgrims from all around it's orbit, who live in the lower levels of the city and perform menial labor in exchange for a pittance and being within close proximity to the godchild. Many of these become soldiers in the ever growing army of Aurora, and they support the angel Sabrael's vision of an expanded empire. The mid-levels of the city are populated by deva, a race of humanoids who were once the angelic servants of many gods, but gave up their divine aspects in lieu of going mad without their gods. They represent the merchant and artisan castes of Aurora.

There is another purpose to the procession of Aurora and it's radiant glow. Beyond known space is a force of utter destruction. A vast, nonsentient space virus that knows nothing but the instinct to consume. The Nihil (working title) is a immense organism not unlike a giant amoeba that lies hibernating beyond the reaches of the various inhabited realms of space. Before the Sundering, the Celestials had to eke out a civilization in their earliest days by driving this organism back further and further to allow for their expansion into the stars. That makes this thing the natural predator of angels and gods. Now, the only thing keeping this ancient threat pacified is the procession of of the golden city. Imagine an immense cloud of utter blackness, with the faint light and dying screams of partially digested souls within it. Now imagine this is the size of a continent. Travel too far out amongst the stars, beyond where even the astral krakens and other wild celestial beasts roam, and you may find yourself within the Nihil's obliterating embrace.




Campaign Front

The godchild has been kidnapped! Who had the power, resources and motive to do it?

Was it one of the archangels hoping to further their own ends? Was it mortal forces who learned the truth behind the facade of Aurora? Was it worshippers of another god? A cult dedicated to the worship of the Nihil?

And what happens when the one thing keeping the Nihil at bay is taken out of the picture?



June 23, 2013
Posted by Joshua Sorenson

D&DN Q&A: Legendary Difficulty

Earlier this week we got our first glimpse at 5th Edition's kind-of answer to 4th Edition's solo monster. Understandably this raised a lot of questions, some of which are covered by this week's Questions & Answers column.

One of the traits about legendary creatures is that they can have lairs that not only are capable of independently taking their own actions, but can expand on the out-of-turn actions that the legendary monster can perform. In the example black dragon, the pools of water in its lair could automatically surge forth at a specific initiative count, potentially dragging characters underwater. The dragon also gained the option to spend legendary actions while underwater to heal itself.

This lead to questions about a monster's XP value, specifically as to why it only had one when such a dragon encountered outside of its lair would be at a greater disadvantage than one inside. The column states that they will "probably" present two XP values for encounter-building, but it sounds like it would be pretty a simple matter to just attach an XP value to the lair.

That being said these "lair" rules could be great for handling environments for any kind of creature, and it would be a wasted opportunity to just attach them to legendary creatures: guards armed with crossbows could take shots at you on a catwalk, a planar gate could randomly unleash destructive energies (or vomit forth monsters), and rocks might fall from a ceiling while fighting an earth elemental underground.

There was an article awhile back that talked about making some monsters like the medusa into unique creatures by default. My reaction was one of confusion as Dungeons & Dragons is not particularly known for sticking close to an established mythology, mentioning that gorgons are metallic bulls, basilisks have like, six legs, hydras come in a variety of forms, and depending on your campaign setting minotaurs might be a true-breeding race, blessed cultists, or something else entirely. Really the only unique monster that I am aware of that is not a god is the tarrasque.

As I also said before I think that WotC should focus on interesting, useful monsters and let DMs decide when/if they want to make a monster unique because it is way easier to power up a single monster than to strip away a lot of stuff if you, say, want a nation of monsters. Of course, I also think that they need to bring back elite and solo monsters, because I do not believe that a monster that does not exceed an arbitrary size category need be "legendary" in order to hold its own against a handful of people.

Finally, artifacts. It was briefly mentioned that artifacts could make a creature legendary. While I am fine with this, as there are plenty of instances where a magic item makes someone incredibly powerful, there are also examples of people being capable of seemingly magical feats of awesomeness, and it is disappointing that after 4th Edition made it possible for "mundane" classes to remain viable at any level that to be legendary you either must be made of magic, capable of using magic, and/or have a magic item.

D&D Next: Drafting the Druid

I had a number of complaints regarding the druid just from reading it since its initial release—per day wildshaping and spells, and set-in-stone class features—but I figured that my criticisms would be more accurate and helpful if I saw it in action first. The characters in my Epiro campaign just hit 4th-level, meaning that I have seen the first three levels of the druid and so feel a bit more qualified when I say that I pretty much still dislike the class as a whole.

Since the 2nd Edition druid adhered to a bizarre interpretation of the (True) Neutral alignment (which I swear included an example of the druid changing sides mid-combat), I never bothered to give it a shot, and barely remember anything else about it except that high-level druids had to
fight other high-level druids to level up after a certain point.

3rd Edition's druid eased up on this a bit by allowing you to be any alignment that had Neutral somewhere in the mix (and as an added plus, Neutral became less silly), but I still only played one once. The animal companion was nice, and usually twice a day you could do something druid-y like summon entangling roots or animals, but since there was no cleric I ended up doling out cure x wounds. Really nothing about the class stood out; when I was not healing I was hitting things with a metal scimitar (and not wearing metal armor or shields).

It was not until higher levels that you got the ability to change your shape, but even then you were limited to per-day uses. Another downside was that the shapes you could assume were limited by size and Hit Dice, which lead to balance issues where a 5th-level druid could turn into a dinosaur capable of making multiple attacks per round (some with poison), while the fighter could still only make one.

4th Edition broke the mold by not only having no restrictions on weapons, armor, or alignment, but also unlimited wildshaping and druidic magic in some form thanks to the at-will/encounter/daily power structure. One thing I found particularly interesting was that unlike other classes, what she could do depended on whether she was in her human or animal form; nature magic required you to be in human form, while "beast" powers required you to be an animal of some sort.

The downside was that while your animal form was unrestricted, no matter what you you turned into you were Medium-sized, and what you could do was limited without access to certain evocations. So you could wildshape into a bird, but you would be Medium-sized and unable to fly. Fish? Medium-sized and no swim speed. Now if you had the daily evocation form of the hunting falcon, you could change into a Small creature with a fly speed, but you could not manipulate objects, even things that you would expect a bird to be able to interact with or carry.

Despite these issues I still find it unfortunate that 5th Edition's druid strays closer to 3rd Edition's model. Yeah you can wildshape at 1st-level, but still only a set number of times per day and only into one of two forms (one of which you only get with the right Circle Initiate choice). Spells are a bit more flexible in that you do not have to specify how many of which one you want to prep ahead of time, but for the most part have a per-day cap (like every spellcaster in the current playtest). Oh, and with the exception of your Circle Initiate choice you only get specific class features at specific levels.

In play the druid is not particularly interesting. Randy's go-to spell is fire seeds, an at-will that lets you throw up to two exploding acorns, pinecorns, or holly berries at a target for all of two fire damage. Compare to 4th Edition's druid; yeah, you could throw a flame seed, except it was more like an area-effect grenade, but you could also opt to conjure a thorny vine to yank creatures around, unleash swarms of insects, channel bolts of lightning, and more. Otherwise aside from the odd use of fog cloud or entagle he pretty much uses his magic to heal everyone else.

Really the most druid-y thing he regularly does is turn into some kind of animal and maul something to death. Mechanically the shapes are fine, and I am surprised that they do not eclipse the paladin in terms of attack and damage output, but it disappointing that as with every class feature except Circle Initiate you are stuck with whatever they arbitrarily give you at whatever level: hound at 1st, rodent at 2nd, and at 4th you get both steed and fish. Yep, fish.

4th-level druids, one half of a delicious appetizer.
In changing the druid I would take a similar approach as the monk, dividing its class features into categories like seasons, circles, maybe even some terrain-based features (like we got with 4th Edition's hunter and berserker sub-classes):
  • Seasons would determine for the most part kind of magic you could use. For example summer druids would have fire/radiant and healing magic, while winter druids would have cold and "de-buffing" magic. I could see a case for seasons also establishing what animals you can choose from, but that might be more appropriate for terrain.
  • Circles are fine conceptually, and would love to see more class features that are limited by the circle you chose. I would also use them for prestige class/paragon path requirements.
  • Terrain could give you bonuses on skills, maybe even something like "terrain tricks" (which would tie in nicely to the Exploration pillar), but like Dungeon World could also be used to establish the animals you can choose from.
Building a druid from these categories would go a long way to making them more diverse and interesting right from the start. One druid might be able to conjure freezing winds, draw strength from a dying creature, transform into a wolf, and easily find shelter to fend off the cold, while another might channel fire (perhaps healing an ally at the same time), assume the shape of a bear, and locate sources of food in the forest. Much more diverse than what spells you prepped for the day.

Another problem is how their magic works. According to the playtest packet, they live in harmony with the land and call upon the gods to wield the magic of the moon, sun, storm, forest, and beast. I am not sure if it means gods in the cleric's sense, or gods as powerful nature spirits. Linking them with nature spirits could let them cannibalize some of the best parts of the shaman while helping to make them distinct from god-gods. At any rate, cleric-gods or no, like the cleric how their magic works does not make any sense at all:

  • Why can they only prepare two spells per day at 1st-level? Are they making deals with specific spirits? Does it have something to do with their headspace?
  • Why do they need to prepare spells at all? Is it because whoever they are phoning these into when they set them is too busy to take another call?
  • Why can they only cast a set number of spells each day? If these are the result of calling on gods, then what happens if they are acting on the behalf of a god? Is the god tired?
  • How come they can use a higher-level spell to cast a lower-level spell, but no matter how many lower-level slots they have access to they cannot cast a single spell of a higher level?

Calling upon gods is all well and good, even if it treads on the toes of the cleric, but then like the cleric aside from "this is how it was done before" I do not understand why they have a daily limit, why they have to set miraculous acts ahead of time, and why there is no way for them to beseech their benefactor for aid in a time of need.

I would go with something more like a wizard. They learn their magic from a circle of druids and/or powerful nature spirit/god. Couple this with the proposal for more flexible and varied mechanics from above, and you could make a pretty thematic druid. Their magic is physically demanding, to the point where I could see some spells having a hit point cost. Some spells might require buildup, so instead of entangle dealing damage and requiring a saving throw to avoid getting trapped, it would start out with thick growth that makes it easier to trip creatures up and slow them down, but if they stick around then they risk getting caught taking damage. Maybe you could burn hit points to speed up the process, representing the druid sacrificing her strength to fuel the magic?

As for wildshaping, someone mentioned druids being unable to remain in an animal's form for too long because they begin to lose themself. While that is not stated, and at least in the latest packet any flavor reasons for the duration is not even hinted at, I think that that is an excellent mechanic idea. Let them transform whenever, but make it so that they start taking penalties to some Intelligence and Charisma checks over time until they return to normal. I would even keep it so that the penalties linger until you are in your human form for awhile, too.

In order to keep animal shapes viable, I would have many aspects of it scale as the druid levels up, but also allow her to choose features/perks/talents that let that form do more things. So that way if a druid really wants to stick with a wolf theme, she can without falling behind the curve. I am not even just referring to combat stuff; you could attack Exploration elements to animal forms, so that a falcon could be good at scouting and keeping watch, while a horse could travel incredibly fast.
June 20, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Bugs

In a game that combines owls and bears (among other things), where panthers can have tentacles and extra legs, and numerous creatures imitate mundane objects like cloaks, swords, pillows, floors, ceilings, and more, I am not only surprised that the major variable with vermin seems to be size, but also that being able to do things like shoot webbing would be regarded as inappropriate.

When it comes to vermin as a whole I think that the game should offer an actual toolkit approach that goes above and beyond just picking a size and one of two hunting methods. Why not let us build our own bugs, by choosing movement methods (such as flight, swimming, burrowing, and/or
climbing speeds), attacks (bite, stinger, claw, etc), and any other special
attacks (like webbing or poison)?

Sure, give us the more mundane insects as examples, but make it easy to add wings, grasping pincers, acid-sprays, and more supernatural traits so that we can cook up some truly horrifying monstrosities, like a giant wasp that can spray blinding acid at its prey (bonus points if said acid causes other giant wasps to go into a frenzy and tear the target to shreds). What about ants with a bite that causes excruciating agony? Those are both based on real-world insects; since this is D&D we should be able to easily cobble together some kind of flying spider with a scorpion stinger that breathes fire.

It is better than having pages upon pages devoted to a bunch of insects of various sizes, sometimes with an elemental/fiendish/divine power tacked on.

I find it strange that James refers to the lamia of Editions-past as a Classical monster. The mythological lamia was a person whose children were killed or stolen by Hera, and was then transformed into a child-eating monster.

She seems to be handling it pretty well.
Most of the art I found showed her either with the lower body of a snake, or having a snakeskin article on hand, though I guess there is a bit about her just having a distorted face. A later story mentions that she could not close her eyes, and would continue to see her dead children until Zeus gave her the ability to remove them (which gave her the gift of prophecy, for some reason).

There are a few other variations, such as multiple lamias being likened to vampires and succubi, or that Lamia was forced to eat her own children, but nothing that really makes me think of a person with the lower half of a lion/goat/deer/etc, a list of enchantment and illusion spell-like abilities, and a Wisdom draining touch. The list of spell-like abilities inspires a few cliche scenarios of women in need turning out to be the bad guy, or a voice crying out for help, but there is no explicable reason for them. Same goes for their Wisdom-draining touch.

While the 4th Edition lamia might be no more accurate, the concept of a mass of intelligent bugs inhabiting a fleshy sack is at least more interesting and unique than yet another half man, half quadruped, nonsense array of magical powers or no. If you are going to change its name, then you should also scrap the previous lamia for something that hits closer to home. I would start by giving them the lower body of a serpent (which she might be able to conceal for a time, but it manifests as an article of clothing), swallow whole, and maybe some sort of divination powers (that it might use on another's behalf...for a price).
June 18, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Playtesting Dragons

I do not ever remember fighting a dragon in 2nd Edition. I am sure that it happened, but nothing comes to mind. 3rd Edition is not much better in that I can remember fighting one once. It was great because since it had the Fire subtype it took double damage from cold magic, so the arcane archer put a bunch of fireball spells that he Metamagic-ed into inflicting cold damage into some arrows. It died before its breath weapon recharged.

Ultimately the joke was on us, because the Dungeon Master forgot his notes that mentioned what the dragon would have in its treasure hoard. Since we did not want wait until next week for him to get it, he rolled up a new treasure on the spot. While I do not remember all of it, what I do recall was a lackluster haul amounting to tens of thousands of copper
pieces and a scroll with Tenser's flaoting disk scrawled on it, which we joked could be used to carry the coins out.

3rd Edition dragons start out pretty straightforward: charge the nearest character and attack them. If they do not move more than five feet away, take a 5-foot step and follow up with a full attack, as even the lowliest of dragons starts out with a triple-attack routine. As they get more Hit Dice, things change. It starts out with just more attacks, adding wings and then tail to the mix. It is not so bad until they start getting spell-like abilities and sorcerer spells.

Spellcasting in 3rd Edition was particularly harsh if you multiclassed, or got access to spells at any point after 1st-level. Dragons do not tend to get them until they are in the Challenge Rating 8-10 range, which means that they are generally used against level 6+ characters. At that point the damage output and saving throw DCs are so low that to get the most bang for their buck you would just stick with self-buffs like mage armor and shield. This is why that the only time I remember throwing a dragon at the party, I used the Xorvintaal template from Monster Manual V I think to strip all the spells away and just give it more cool things to do.

4th Edition made dragons better, but it was not until they got solos "right" in Monster Manual III and Monster Vault that they really shone. They were fast and easy to run, got more dangerous as the fight progressed (bloodied breath and static bonuses), and had unique actions/reactions to really mix things up. The Draconomicon books allowed you to swap out powers to mix things up further, though I guess you could just stack them on, and the general ease of building monsters in 4th made it pretty easy to give them spells if you really wanted to.

Though 5th Edition does not have an elite or solo category, dragons remind me of 4th Edition dragons in that they fit on one page and do not require you to reference other books to figure out what they can do (I guess they also have the recharge mechanic). The only downside is that they have no reactions or ways to take multiple actions, and they do not get more dangerous as the fight progresses. Really the only thing that differentiates them from each other is what energy type their breath weapon inflicts, and what they are immune to.

Legendary creatures are kind of like solo monsters, except that they are limited to specific types of monsters, namely dragons, titans, demons, guys with expensive magic items, and the like. I guess solos and even elites were initially intended to be reserved for Larger and larger creatures, but even that barely lasted a few encounters what with the party-killing elite goblin in H1: Keep on the Shadowfell. I am not complaining, because I do not believe that being able to make multiple attacks and hold your own against superior numbers needs to be somehow tied to the fabric of reality.

That aside I kind of like how legendary actions work in that they let you do more things than you normally could. The way this works is that you get a number of legendary actions when the turn ends, which can be spent on a list of actions with a variable cost. The black dragon can recharge its breath weapon automatically, make a tail attack or move with a few restrictions, and auto-detect anything within a short distance. Not bad, though I wonder why its tail is the only thing on the menu; being able to spend all four points to use its breath weapon would be pretty cool.

Though the article mentions being able to auto-succeed on attacks, saving throws, and skill checks, the black dragon only has the option to automatically succeed on a saving throw up to four times per day. This is pretty underwhelming, and I much preferred it back in 4th Edition when solos just got a hefty bonus to saving throws. Even better, Monster Vault dragons got other benefits as well, such as getting a free out-of-turn to charge or bite, and could also end certain conditions when its turn ended.

The last part of the legendary trinity is being able to change the surrounding environment. This is actually pretty cool, giving the creature lair actions that automatically trigger on a set initiative count, legendary lair actions that it can use with its other legendary actions, and regional effects that affect the surrounding terrain. In the case of the black dragon, pools of water in their lair can surge forth and pull creatures in, it can spend a legendary action while underwater to heal itself (again, x times per day), and forests within 10 miles of its lair become difficult terrain.

I think this needs some refinement, especially because a dragon in its lair should be worth considerably more XP than one outside. I think that these regional effects should be applicable to non-legendary creatures, or even just places in general, like undead lords that cause everything nearby to whither and die, hags whose forests can disorient and confuse travelers, and even random magical effects around a wizard's tower. There should also be plenty of options to choose from, so that not every black dragon lair has the same capabilities.

The last thing of note is the dragon's interactions. This is basically a list of role-playing notes for running the dragon. It is not much, and like legendary actions and environment effects I would love to see a massive list of suggestions, but it goes a long way for giving you something to work with.
June 17, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Hulkamania

This week’s trio of monsters are united by their size category, specifically Large, possibly also by type, specifically Monstrosity.

The umber hulk is a Dungeons & Dragons staple. According to its wiki entry it was designed explicitly for the game, and it has pretty much stayed the same over the course of every edition: it is big, burrows, and has two sets of eyes (one of which can cause confusion). The only major deviation was in 4th Edition, where they reduced its Intelligence from from Average/11 to 5.

I am not sure why they pegged its Intelligence on par with most humanoid races, but nothing about it really indicates that it would be that smart, or even need to be. If you wanted to make it smart, then why not have it work with other intelligent races for labor, protection, guides, or even bounty hunters? Sounds like a much better deal than waiting in a corridor for something to happen by, and makes for more interesting uses.

Otherwise I think that even 7-8 is a bit much, and would go with something in the 3-5 range. This would still be more than enough for it to understand Deep Speech/Undercommon, and make them clever enough to create traps and wait in ambush.

Their confusion-gaze is an interesting quirk, but what about switching it up so that their gaze can also induce pacification or fear? I imagine a character wandering through a dark tunnel, and noticing a set of glowing eyes, either a soft blue or a sinister red. Think the angler fish's lure or the vampire squid. I am not saying changing its default setting, but make it either a swappable power or letting them do other things with it.

In any case I would chalk it up to a primitive psionic effect, which ties in with other underdark things like aboleths, mind flayers, deep dwarves, etc. This could give way to mutated umber hulk’s possessed of a great intelligence (possibly also psionics). They could enslave creatures, or even work with them willingly to dig out great cities beneath the surface. You could also give them a kind of Cthulhu-vibe if that is your thing.

Speaking of a Cthulhu-vibe, even though I agree that chuul renditions do little to evoke snakes (though I can see a bit of insect in there), it still looks like something that you would find palling around with deep ones or swimming through the Far Realm's amoebic sea. Frankly if the otyugh is good enough to muck about in their ranks, then I see no reason to change their type.

Mechanics-wise there is not a lot I would change. If you want to draw some inspiration from lobsters, then just have them get bigger and bigger as they get older. Gargantuan chuul, anyone? You could also toss psionics onto the mix, or divine powers if you want to have them worship some ancient sea god. Heck, maybe they were once people that were changed in a similar fashion as deep ones, but crab-people. That sounds like a good point to start for those "body-horror" elements.

I have not had occasion to use a gray render, despite their bonding shtick (which seems kind of lazy). They are not bad, just boring, so I would be interested to see if they can provide some compelling flavor regarding their origins, as well as why they bond with pretty much anything but their own kind.

Legends & Lore: Downtime

Where the past few Legends & Lore articles have talked about existing game elements and the potential changes to them (that some are disappointed about not seeing in the most recent packet), this week we scratch the surface behind something completely new: downtime guidelines.

The basics of the system are that each week you can choose a task to improve or work on. These are divvied into four categories: influence, economic, knowledge, and dominion, and include tasks like crafting items, earning some extra cash, studying, meeting new people, building things, etc.

Apparently every background benefit can be picked up using this system, but obviously some tasks can take longer than a week to complete, most cost money, and where you are can put limits on what you can do (but not levels, so of course if/when we see the first draft of these rules I am sooo going to try building a keep right away). I am curious if there will be other limitations, such as Intelligence on learning more languages, or Charisma for a kind of "friend-cap" similar to the henchmen/follower limits from past editions.

It is being designed as a "simple set of rules", so I am curious if/how ability scores, race, class (and class features), skills, feats, religion, etc affect the time/money/place factors. Like, does a high Intelligence or Charisma help you respectively learn languages or make friends faster? Do dwarves pick up gemcutting faster than, say, elves? Can a wizard use her magic to cut costs on running a magic business? Does a cleric substitute for a temple if someone wants to learn a new religion? I am not asking for a huge table of specifics, but it would be nice if they had guidelines to help DMs modify them.

I think that this is something where they could really go crazy, like attaching time and/or gp costs to obtaining certain class features or feats (as well as for swapping them). For example, instead of multiclassing into fighter or burning a feat to pick up Armor Proficiency, you could spend a week and some cash learning how to use Light armor. A fighter could spend a month and some cash attending a wizard academy to learn a cantrip. Unfortunately while there is a precedence in past editions on spending gp for these sorts of things, it that might be too granular for what they want to do with Next.

I find the concept is interesting, and given that players will be able to personally invest in things think that it will be more useful in getting players to interact socially and care about the immediate area, than the lengthy recovery times pitched in last week's hit point article. Depending on how the mechanics work and the reliability of some tasks, I could also see players abusing it to pick up more globally useful background benefits, grind gold, or "find" rumors for specific magic items. Something to keep in mind.

Some closing thoughts: my games do not often have lots of downtime, so incrementally being able to complete some tasks would be nice. Like, if I am learning how to cut gems, will I be able to work at it for a day or two, adventure, come back for a few more days, etc until I am done? It would also be nice to see a good system for allowing wizards to research/modify spells, as well as construct guardians.
June 10, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Geography Of A Sundered World



When Antioch pitched his Sundered World campaign to me, the genesis of the idea was to take the cosmology detailed in the lore of Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition's implied setting and remove the cosmic membrane that keeps the planes separate, creating a blasted spacescape wherein players could explore dead stars full of incomprehensible horrors, navigate chaotic elemental storms, and fight unhinged angels aimlessly wandering their dead gods ruined domain.

Since then, he and I have been pitching, reversing, bolstering and molding ideas back and forth which have sprouted into a lot of the lore that has been posted on this blog space, and you readers have offered some invaluable insights on.

One of the particular areas of detail that Antioch and I are trying to hammer out, along with our friend and resident cartographer Victor, and hopefully the people who read and comment on this blog, is the makeup of the Sundered World's “landscape” for lack of a better term.

Previous to the mysterious cataclysm that tore open the veil between realms, the Sundered World was made up of five(ish) distinct planes, each with it's own character and inhabitants:

The celestial heavens of Empyrean, and the infernal hells of Apollyon were a vast expanse of stars and free floating domains where devils and gods dwelt, along with their angelic servitors and the souls of the devout. The astral plane was a magnificient realm of opulent ivory palaces floating upon magical golden nimbi, and stygian black iron citadels wreathed in blue hellfire.


The Maelstrom was a roiling mass of elements, constantly colliding and reforming into new matter. It was believed that from this storm of constant destruction and reformation the rest of the universe was thrust into being. This is where elementals lived and thrived. At it's very heart, the eye of the elemental storm, is a vast, unfathomably deep well of utter darkness called the abyss. This is where demons made their home, frequently making incursions into the space beyond.



Faerie was a wild and verdant mirror realm to the Prime Material plane, where magic courses through the roots of the great godtrees and the loamy soil like blood through a man's veins. Before the Sundering, mortalkind who found themselves in the fey realm either by wandering through faerie rings or through design, often became transfixed with the beauty of the faerie landscape and found themselves wandering and wondering endlessly, until they lay down and die of old age many decades later. The fey creatures who made this realm their home, are often so intuned with the freely flowing mystical forces of Faerie that they possess innate magical gifts. Creatures like Elves, gnomes, dryads, unicorns, etc.



The Netherworld was another mirror realm to the Prime Material plane. Where the realm of Faerie is teeming with life and energy, the shadowy Netherworld absorbs it creating a bleak and funereal landscape of sepia and grey. Often referred to by mortals as Purgatory, or the Land Of The Dead, this realm sounded a clarion call to the souls of the dead - a pilgrimage on their way to wherever the were going after their mortal clock winds down. Many of the inhabitants of the Netherworld were ghosts and specters, but there were mortal inhabitants as well. Shades are humanoids who are naturally imbued with umbral nether energies much like fey creatures are imbued with magic.



The Prime Material plane was the native home of humankind, and the world most like our own. It is the nexus point where all other realms meet, each touching the plane in some way. This was also the center and the strongest point of the Axis Mundi, which is what connected the planes to one another, but also kept them separate. This made the Prime a place of strategic significance to imperialistically driven races from the other planes. In fact, many of the races who made their home on the Prime Material plane were actually refugees from other planes who grew acclimated to the realm over the course of generations.



And then there are the things from Beyond. Maddeningly strange and incomprehensible things native to somewhere beyond the planes. Alien horrors that view all life in the known universe with mocking contempt and disdain. Abominations that feed on fear and insanity just as they consume flesh and bone.

Though the details may have long faded from memory of even the oldest beings, there is a reason that Celestials and Primordial eventually stopped warring with eachother. There is a reason that scores upon scores of angels and devils entered aberrant stars to fight side by side. There is a reason that the instinct of demons is to flee away from the Abyss.



This was the makeup of the multiverse before the Sundering. Now, the celestial heavens are a vast sea of stars wherein pockets of space that used to belong to other planes now float like islands in a sidereal ocean.

So what then would this blasted starscape actually look like if you were to map it? Well - we don't know exactly. Antioch and I both have different ideas which we'll detail here and hopefully get some of our readers to weigh in, as your input has proven to be a valuable asset to us in the creative process.

Antioch's take:

Antioch envisions the geography of the Sundered World as a vast expanse of space in layers with free-floating motes of lands from other planes suspended therein. The uppermost layer is comprised of starry space, while the bottommost layer is a roiling cauldron of wild elemental energies descending into the great Abyss. Picture if you will, the universe as a tea kettle sitting on a gas burner.

His take springs from the idea that players will be faced with potential perils on all sides, with the Abyss at one end, and the boundless mysteries of deep space beyond.



Gizmoduck's take:

The picture I have of the Sundered World in my headspace is a similarly immeasurable span of starry space that is bisected with a great diagonal gash of wild elemental energies, as though space had been slashed with a great sword, and is bleeding fire and ice and living earth.

My idea is that domains would be situated on one side of this scar or the other, and that travel between them is a perilous prospect...sort of like mariners traversing the worst stormy sea you can imagine and oh yeah there's demons.



So there you have the basic mental maps of our grandiose cosmic ruin. We'd love to hear what you guys and gals and arthropods think.

Posted by Joshua Sorenson

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