A D&D Next legendary creature of terror, inspired by the marvellous Innistrad MTG setting.
Be afraid, be very afraid..!
A D&D Next conversion of the deadly sea devils of the Evil Tide AD&D module: the Sahuagin!
These creatures will also play a major role in my cosmology/setting, World of Cthon...
The World of Cthon
A new cosmology and setting template that concentrates all the planar location into the material world!
Cthon: First Age
The First Age of Cthon in detail!
The primitive and deadly world that ended with an immense disaster, going deep underground and becoming the Underdark and Lower Planes of the later ages!
Cthon: Elder Gods
Meet the Elder Gods of Cthon, a class of deities that includes classic lovecraftian beings, classical evil gods and entities, and demonic lords of DnD!
The Dawn of Sorcery
A "legend and lore" post wrote before my World of Cthon cosmology idea, it explores sorcery as channeling of raw magic, predating wizardry and eventually originating it!
A big real-world mythology figure inspired the story... Which one?!
Not yet part of the #dndnext blog carnival "If I Ruled The Multiverse", but I will adapt it to World of Cthon soon!
Thursday, November 21, 2013
With this very self-explanatory title, I basically gave you my personal review of Heinsoo and Tweet's great "advanced D&D vision" that is 13th Age.
Two things in particular blew my mind, and they're the elements that are advanced in the field of story-telling devices that the game offers to both players and GMs.
Backgrounds and Icons.
Backgrounds: as they should have always been.
It's hard for me to describe how this non-mechanic is mechanically awesome..! Basically you have Background points to distribute... In backgrounds you totally make up. In descriptive ways. They substitute skills, they include skills, and at the same time have nothing to do with skills.
If I choose, like in the case of Solanyt, my Ravnica character that I still haven't played yet (boo...), "Dimir Guild-Infiltrator" as a background, and give 4 points to it, I'll add +4 to all the checks on which such a background should have a significant positive influence: in skill terms things such as Bluff, Stealth, Knowledge (Dimir), and so on.
The maximum limit of +5 on any given background is interesting because it basically forces the character to have some story-depth: you can't have been only one thing all your life.
So notice the incredible elegance that such a system offers to describe my character: 8 points split equally on basically his formal and hidden identities/jobs: Simic Crypsis Agent and Dimir Guild-Infiltrator. There will be a lot of overlap between the two, but at the same time, I know that everything he may try in his roguish business has the same bonus added to. It's one of those game mechanics that is so simple and useful you think "why the hell didn't I think of it before?". Big congrats to Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, who by the way are somewhat akin to Elder Gods of D&D design, so it shouldn't surprise they came up with quality stuff.
Icons: story elements given form.
The Archmage, the Diabolist, the Emperor, the Crusader. These powers/NPCs are not different from similar equivalents of basically any fantasy setting and game. But just as with the backgrounds, associating some numbers to them, and dice, makes for a totally new gaming experience.
You are favored by the Archmage, but the Diabolist hates you with a passion? One die of positive relationship with the former, two dice of negative relationship with the latter. And rolling these dice, the GM can always know in crucial moments what kind of help or hindering, enemies or allies you're gonna have. And no, there are no fixed tables that associate dice results to unique effects. It's just a matter of combining how positive or negative relationships (or "conflicted", something ambiguous in-between) combine with the dice results, which can basically only say if something happens or not and if yes, how big/important it is.
Is it clear enough how such a system is basically tailor-made to role-play in Ravnica?? Substitute the 13th Age icons with the guilds themselves, or if wanting to stay true to the source sytsem, to the guilds' leaders. My dear Solanyt would have 1 die of positive relationship with Zegana, 1 with Lazav and maybe a negative one with Isperia. Or if going into a bit more detail, and dividing each guild into two or three icons, Solanyt would actually have a conflicted relationship with Zegana (due to his secret but not as covert relationship with the Dimir), a positive one with the (invented) leader of the Crypsis clade of the Simic, Laykan Vigeamack, and then a positive one with Lazav himself to represent the whole Dimir (or maybe not...)
It's a powerful system. Some classes and feats can also give you additional dice of relationships with icons, and with a reason (such as when a Sorcerer actually draws power from an Icon), so the positive relationship with the Dimir or Crypsis Clade of Simic could stem directly from Solanyt's class or backgrounds, leaving another slot to describe a negative relationship with an opposing guild, such as Boros or Azorius. And having so many different relationships, but not a focus on one would actually make Solanyt's life a bit neglected by both his guilds, which is actually the case..! Now that's a mechanic supporting story: it even helps define the story before it's even being understood completely by who actually makes it..!
The rest of the mechanics.
Even if the classes themselves look quite advanced compared to the current state of D&D Next, and follow design philosophies that I LOVE (no single class uses the system of another class, so playing each class is truly different and requires different levels of system mastery), not having multiclass rules (yet) still puts 13th Age classes in a realm that I'd define "not fully representative" of characters. It's good to play stereotypes, not so much to play the exact character you have in mind. For example, Solanyt is not a stereotypical Rogue. It uses the Assassin subclass, which would be still describable by the 13th Age Rogue, but uses a big hafted weapon, something done by a feat that the designers take the time to describe as something intended for Fighters and Paladins. Plus, there is basically no way to get a spell or two without being in the right class (no "multiclass feats"), so it becomes tricky. If I had to really make Solanyt using these classes, I would have to make up my mind between such different choices as Rogue, Ranger, Paladin, Cleric, or even Sorcerer. Which means no one really nails it, and without a multiclass system, it becomes a problem. Fortunately, the up-coming expansion for the game will not only bring multiclassing, but new classes as well including my beloved Monk!
I can't wait to use the Icons system to better describe the Ages of my World of Cthon cosmology-setting, so stay tuned! :)
Thursday, September 26, 2013
So the largest RPG playtesting of human history and probably the whole galaxy has ended.
This "review" of mine will be very short hopefully, and bullet-point structured, to make it both as easily readable and as bull's-eye-aiming as possible.
My big likes:
- Class features are really meaningful.
- Subclasses feel quite different from each other.
- Skills are back.
- Multiclassing kind of works.
- Feats are important.
- Exploration and Interaction rules.
- Human racial bonuses: the whole internet is against them, and they still continue to persist as the most super-human ones among all the races... Humans as the most super-human race, really... And come on, a bonus feat would be completely ok and would make them special. And since it can be traded for a double +1, you could also have a "super-human human" if you wanted, just not as super as the current. Also with proficiencies on the table, things such as an extra proficiency which could even be a saving throw one, would go a long way. I'd really just give them these two features. Also remove the extra language: the extra proficiency can be turned into one, or the extra feat could give even three (Loremaster).
- Skill dice are gone: they added a lot of fun. I understand the need to have expert classes that bypass the dice unpredictability, but then give static bonuses to those expert classes, and leave skill dice the standard, no? Why not? It makes more sense, in general. It wouldn't even need a lot of change. Just make a standard skill dice progression for everybody, and leave the Expert class feature as it is: a +5 on top.
- Multiclassing grants all proficiencies with one-level dips: The solution is dead-simple: give 1 or 2 proficiencies for each level of the class you multiclass in. This forces some commitment and makes each level full of interesting choices such as gaining new weapon, armor, tool, skill, or saving throw proficiencies. Endless combinations. Also make armor proficieny progressive, to solve the problem of Wizards taking one level of Paladin/Fighter and suddenly casting everything in plate. Make them spend at least 3 levels in those classes (one for light, one for mid, one for heavy armor prof.), and the trade would be fair.
- Multiclassing casters are boring: getting all those spell slots solves a lot on the power side, but you end up casting the same spells over and over again. I would simply give the option to trade in one spell slot (or maybe two, must think about it) for one "caster level" in the class you're advancing. This way you can have more spells known and less slots, if you wanted (I want).
- Non-casters will be forced to take special sub-classes to multiclass into casters well. This is wrong, it really makes multiclassed character less varied, which goes exactly against the whole point of multiclassing. I would solve this in a very simple way: non-caster levels still counting as 1/4 caster levels for the purpose of spell slots. As opposed to the 1/2 caster levels of Paladins, Rangers, and Bards.
- Mage having one spell list that will predictably be passed on to Sorcerers and Warlocks. This is actually what scares me the most. If alternative spellcasters, which are meant to be different from the Wizard, have to use the same spell list (which implies an equivalent casting system, even if not equal), then it goes against the whole purpose of alternative casters. Mearls said this makes it really easy for campaigns to add their specialized/alternative casters into the game. But hey, why not adding them as subclasses of Wizard if they use this system, OR subclasses of Warlock/Sorcerer when we'll see those? This way we split Arcane magic in three really different systems and approaches, which can further refined into flavorful sub-categories. I agree that making Warlocks and Sorcerers really different could be something for a later specialized book and not the Player's Handbook, but thats better than having the words "Warlock" and "Sorcerer" associated to something extremely similar to Wizard in the Player's Handbook, and then having to invent silly class names when the inevitable REALLY ALTERNATIVE casters will come out in later books! Really, it's just a matter of planning ahead the products, WotC!
- Skills not being optional: I love skills, but you can't say they can be ignored if they add a static bonus. And even with my dice proposition, they can't be simply skipped. AND you can't impose them to a player-base that includes really old-school (or lazy) players. The solution is very easy and under our very nose: leave the dice as the optional skill system, and use the new proficiency bonus as a static bonus on all ability checks for characters not wanting to use skills. Then every class feature that references to skills, make it modular: "if not using skills, change it to +X to checks based on attribute Y", a lot like the previous playtest with the Expertise Dice, but with static bonuses.
- Feats come too late. And I'm happy to have read a tweet by Mearls admitting they're thinking about giving a first feat somewhere between 1st and 3rd level...
- Skills associated to one ability score. And again, I'm happy to have read a tweet by Mearls saying that he wants to make it clear they should be made ability-score-independent.
- Modularity: retain the good new ideas like skill dice, but make them optional!),
- Customization: again only on demand, such as trading spell slots acquire through multiclassing with an advance in "spells known", or equivalent "caster level"/"spell level" advances.
- Backgrounds: making them evolve with the new rules for off-time, or how they call non-adventuring time. I think they should also evolve with levels, giving new, more advaced traits, and the ability of retraining proficiencies or accessing special equipment, or whatever really. Giving them such a structure would make them more similar to 4e themes and if standardized well enough, players could mix and match stuff from multiple backgrounds to represent a truly dynamic and unique growth for their characters.
- Big future-related choices such as Mage subclasses: be careful what you name and grade Sorcerer and Warlock in a Player's Handbook: if you name with those improtant names two subclasses that use the same spells as Wizards, you'll eventually need to name with some other obscure words new classes that better represent those concepts as truly separate and unique compared to Wizards.
- HUMAN RACIAL BONUSES.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Monday, August 12, 2013
So the Cleric has gone through some major changes in the last packet, and my Ravnican guildmages got pretty much obsolete and needed a complete rework, the first part of which is here!
The biggest change was to Channel Divinity, now an encounter resource. I like the change quite a lot, but the balancing of the abilities you can activate through it must change. It's not anymore something more or less equivalent to a 1st to 2nd level spell, that scales with level. It must be a bit lower than that, and it must be something that every battle will see the use of without getting too easy because of it. At the same time, it is a one-shot per encounter, so it would be tricky to balance it out if I hadn't got any examples. Luckily, we all have the guidelines in front of our eyes, via the existing features!
Another change is a "fixed" feature you get even before the Channel Divinity (in one case I ignore this and tie it to the rapidly following Channel Divinity feature), and some bonus proficiencies, namely cantrips OR armor/weapons.
So without further ado, here they are, in the same order as before, which is just the order in which I made them and represents my familiarity and ease with the guild and its corresponding mechanics!
Saturday, August 10, 2013
I guess this blog is becoming a lot like a "let me tell you about my cats", with cats being my characters... But anyway, I always try to push the system a bit and pull off some archetypes that at a first glance are not doable.
As always, the inspiration comes from a picture, which comes from a Ravnica card that is not properly Simic, but depicts a Simic character.
How cool is that, first of all?? In my mind, it is clearly a monk (also notice the resemblance with the iconic D&D 4e Githzerai Monk), and it is clearly repelling some spell.
Couldn't help noticing that the current Monk's "Way of The Four Elements" tradition has the water themed ability focused on saving throws. But honestly, it's also the most boring ability. So what about giving the magic-resistant theme through race instead? The new Gnome has exactly that.
So making a medium-sized Gnome represent this Elf or Human mutant (perhaps even Merfolk, who knows) is a very doable choice. Return to normal speed, but leave the weapon restrictions in place to represent his frailty. Take the Forest Gnome subrace and we also have animal-speaking (quite fitting for a Simic) and the Minor Illusion cantrip, which could be easily replaced by Prestidigitation to stay more in-theme.
So the Monk's elemental choice can now become the flashy Fire Riposte one, which could also be a second take on the picture. Alternatively, if I could start at a higher level, I'd still take the "signature" Shelter of the Flowing River first (which combined with Gnome's feature covers all saving throws, basically), and then opt for Flames of The Phoenix at 6th level.
The feat choice is a bit hard, but to stick to Simic flavor, I would add some magic for sure. And in particular, I'd take the Divine Initiate feat and take Resistance (to capitalize even more on Saves), and Sacred Flame, which I'd reflavor as a "biomancy" power dealing with spontaneous combustion..! The first level spell would be Bless, which I would reflavor as the incarnation of Simic's "Evolve" ability.
As for the Background, I'd go Sage, and take Natural and Magical Lore. The Expertise Die would be of course assigned to Wisdom checks, to better represent the mystical nature of the character.
Now, would I like to play this character? The Monk class has become pretty mature and interesting compared to previous incarnations, but honestly something is missing, and it's basically the first level feat for me. I really miss that, especially considering characters such as this get an even slower feat progression than most. With a first level feat, I would have certainly taken either Alert or Loremaster, adding a lot of flavor to the character.
Repeating a well-known error of previous editions, D&D Next still forces the player to choose between combat and non-combat features (feats), which are very difficult to balance, and even when balanced, one simply feels too bad about choosing.
I think D&D Next sorely needs to expand on the Background concept to make it more like the 4e's Themes, and have it advance with levels, granting a choice of non-combat features, while leaving the Feats to represent truly combat/power related things that are truly measurable in terms of Ability Score Improvement that you give away.
Sunday, August 4, 2013
My dear DM Gonzalo asked a cool thing before starting the campaign. A write up of a typical day in the life of our characters. This is an update of my previous post, taking in consideration the changes to the D&D Next playtest rules, which made me reconsider the class to be used (abandoning homebrew stuff, MOSTLY), and also the weapon, since the katana is now just a common longsword. And since I'm changing the weapon, even the ability scores of Solanyt needed tweaking.
So here we go!
A recent Legends & Lore article hinted at D&D Next getting new elements to incentive role-play, with these being Bonds, Weakness, Ideal. I will give a shot at these from a purely narrative point of view, at the end of the "Day In The Life" below!
"Dawns are always extra foggy around Zonots, and I always wake up at dawn, always in my Zonot. Screening for my krasis wings is mandatory each day, and within my "beloved" Crypsis clade, screenings and briefings are always scheduled for early morning. A stupid contraddiction since we work mostly at night, but then again the Simic are drowning in contraddictions, much more than they do under water.
The Crypsis clade's job is to "develop strategies for obscuring other guilds' views of the Simic. This includes literal camouflage as well as magic designed to hide knowledge or operations." - Actually no: it's mostly assassination, and since most of our krasis are easily spotted, tracked or even tamed, agents like me do most of the dirty work, followed by the camouflager mages.
I wake up even earlier than needed for my daily excercise routine with my glaive and the aerial maneuvers. My glaive is a slightlty improved version of the standard issue one for most of us Crypsis clade agents. It's quite simple since it's serially produced (I should say "grown" actually), but it's quite sleek: it's made from a krasis-synthesized quasi-metal which makes it extremely light, perfect for usage in watery environments and to perform quick strikes, but also makes it almost supernaturally slippery. A Boros elite could make a show by trying to pick it up: it would drop it at each and every attempt while it slides from his grunt hands, and the whole thing would look like a clown's act. By the way it also doesn't rust. Something of paramount importance, since half of the distance I cover everyday is underwater.
|Solanyt's krasis-synthesized glaive (slippery waterborne guardian glaive +1), named after an aggressive species of Simic water-bird: "Cygnebron". The grafted wings are equivalent to Winged Boots, but with few rounds instead of hours of autonomy.|
The muscles they implanted me (and I had to train) to operate them are completely foreign to my body and use a lot of energy. I can fly for no more than 300 feet in one swoop before having to recover for one hour to then be able to do half of that. The best way to use them is to use them for short distances, especially to reach hideouts from where I can surprise targets from above. I also use the wings to navigate the Undercity, so I need to be as fit as possible to use them.
So after my needed daily training and the trip to head-quarters to receive my screening and orders, I just eat and then quickly get some hours of trance again, if my second guild doesn't wake me up too early.
Knowing that the zonots are fauna-heavy, they usually send me messages through beasts that don't look out of place here, such as small cloudfins or some anonymous krasis. When I answer back, I get to deal with much more noble beasts, such as stryxes and nighthawks, or other birds of prey who can navigate the undercity, and the undercity near Simic zonots in particular, that which only me, some fellow Crypsis agents, and a few swimming and flying beasts can get through.
|Simic undercity near Solanyt's Zonot|
So my true life begins at dusk, when I realize how usually my Dimir and Simic missions are one and the same, and how much my bosses from both guilds are aware of this.
I then read, both to prepare myself for the mission and to amuse myself with a daily doses of truth, something that my life sorely misses. I read random passages from only one book, my favorite: "Notes From The Undercity", wrote by an unknown Golgari hermit as a collection of brief thoughts on life and death.
I firmly believe that wisdom can be achieved by meditating a lot upon just one thing, rather than a little upon many things. Another example of this is that I always listen to one and only (beautiful) symphony too before starting work, and I always find something new within it.
Work is usually one of two things: kill someone or something, or acquire information stealthily. Most of the time it is both things, since I have to complete two missions for two guilds; and when the kill is for the Dimir, the information is for the Simic, and vice versa.
|Simic Crypsis clade-stem: Laykan Vigeamack, pondering the possibilities opened by Solanyt's jobs.|
They always seem to be aware of each other's plans for me, and I find that amusing.
In the mean time I slowly meditate on each case and just as I discover so many things from just one book and one symphony, I'm discovering very much from my monotonous job too. Both contractors find me invaluable right because of that, but they will never know what my soul discovers in addition to my mind, how I evolve.
They want to know a lot of each other, but they fail to realize how much I learn from them in the process, and what this will mean to me, to my essence. There are some among the Simic who clearly are eager to see what my evolutionary path will be like. I silently answer them to be careful: they might find exactly what they're digging for.
When I return home, lost in thoughts and still as aware of the hopelessly urbanized surroundings as a shambleshark senser, the sky is getting light already, and a fish-based breakfast is easy to catch. The next few hours of dreamy trance become more real than the nightmarish so-called reality that will follow."
BONDS: Simic & Dimir. Being a member of both guilds, but covertly so for both guilds, in different manners, means that on one hand Solanyt has double responsibilities, on the other hand half the risks. Risks from other guilds are lesser, but responsibilities are double since he must work for both and in a delicate position.
The Simic Crypsis Clade is highly organized, and Solanyt can in theory call some favors there, but as with everything Simic, things tend to be a bit complicated, so at the end of the day it's all about material resources that are "statically" made available to him, such as his equipment, the wings, his residential quarters, secret hideouts, some services, and his wage.
Being a Covert Dimir is pretty much the opposite. Formally there's little to no organization, and hierarchy is so fluid that Solanyt has hardly had the same bosses for two distinct missions. So in theory, Solanyt has few if any specific people to call for favors among the Dimir, but since it's such a fluid and vast network, he has received much more help from the Dimir than from the Simic when it came down to difficult situations that had to be dealt with quickly. Bane Alley has even provided some useful material resources on the fly sometimes, again through the different networks connected to each of Solany't particular jobs.
So the Simic mostly provide economical and material support, whereas the Dimir mostly provide situational direct help, mostly social in nature.
Solanyt is not greedy, so he is not bought by best offers. He's not an idealist so he's not manipulated by his own ideal. But his lack of true drive means that wherever the current brings him, he will let it take him. He's aimless as much as he's fatalist, and as fatalist as he's an evolutionist. He is a true Simic at heart: strongly believing/thinking that natural evolution always wins. His rationality and irrationality bring him to the same conclusions, and this becomes his weakness: he basically walks every path in front of him, without thinking too much about consequences, and without any long-term strategy in mind. His short-term decisions are usually very good and that's why he survived, but he has been the agent of so many plots larger than him, and even if he knew it, he did nothing to change this. He doesn't mind, because he's not aiming at something in particular, he basically just amuses himself with his own choices, or more frequently lack thereof.
Both Simic and Dimir leaders of Solanyt take advantage of this weakness of him, giving him the jobs and risks that others would not take, sometimes even without clear objectives and leaving a lot to his initiative, knowing that left to his own, Solanyt will often acquire a lot of precious information, just because he will follow basically every lead, if only to see where do those leads take him.
Solanyt is not an idealist, and his weakness shows that. But also thanks to his weakness, and the beliefs and rationales behind it, a pseudo-ideal shapes out strongly in his mind: self-improvement.
Since to Solanyt no long-term plan or ideal can be a drive, and survival of the strongest is the only thing that matters, he simply tries to be or become the strongest. The only thing Solanyt has greed for is personal strength, intended much more as effectiveness and efficiency rather than true brute force or power.
Solanyt, Simic-Dimir agent, Level 4, Neutral
Wood Elf Rogue (Style: Assassination); Medium, Speed 35 ft; Low-light vision
HP: 22; AC: 15
STR 16 (+3)
DEX 16 (+3)
CON 12 (+1)
INT 8 (-1)
WIS 12 (+1)
CHA 8 (-1)
(+1d6 on Sneak Attack, +2d6+6(+additional attack) on Assassinate)
Fields of Knowledge: Forbidden Lore, Subterranean Lore.
Trait: Contact (Spy)
Expertise Die: 1d6 - Dexterity, Intelligence
Trap Expertise: Use Expertise Dice with Traps-related checks.
Rogue's Cant: Secret language and gestures.
Sneak Attack: 1d6
Proficiencies: Disguise Kit, Poisoner's Kit, Thieves' Tools.
Assassinate: Advantage against enemies who haven't acted yet; Critical and max Sneak Attack on surprised enemies.
Level 4: Great Weapon Master: Additional attack when scoring a critical hit. Can attack at -5 to deal additional weapon die plus Strength modifier damage.
Slippery Waterborne Guardian Glaive +1 (+2 to Initiative, Advantage on Swim, Dex contest to grab/hold)
*Grafted Krasis Wings [Winged Boots with 4 rounds instead of 4 hours, and short rests make them regain 1 round, cumulatively. Total rounds equal level.]
Thursday, July 11, 2013
I had a "gothic (s)urge" amidst the Ravnica craze of the last days/months. It began while looking at Warhammer miniatures of the Vampire Counts, mainly the Vargheists and the Varghulf.
|Check out the "plog" of the talented artist that painted this beautiful vargheists!|
I thought that this kind of "terror creatures" are under-represented in D&D, but I didn't want to "convert" anything.
Then I was studying for my latest geology exam and a real world location caught my attention for its name. Morvan. I did a bit of research and found out the name means "black mountain". A "gothic-sounding" name for such a location pulled some strings in my head for some reason, and I decided I wanted to create a creature that satisfied the following requirements:
- A cool, flavorful and gothic story, name, and special location.
- Being wolf-like, to fill a gap in one of my planned campaigns in the also gothic setting of Innistrad (from Magic The Gathering).
- Using the new Legendary creature "template" presented with the early testing version of the Legendary Black Dragon appeared in one of the recent Legends & Lore articles by Mike Mearls.
- Have ghost-like traits. Something in-between a nature spirit and a restless soul. A creature that embodies a feeling/story, and a very negative one of course.
- Being wolf-like but not entirely. It should be a monstrous wolf, something akin to a never-human werewolf, but not entirely hybrid either. A strange mix.
- A terror-machine: a creature that terrifies a whole region, but in a subtle way, nearly never actually causing direct damage, or at least not leaving witnesses of it.
- Attached to a particular landmark, the "Black Mountain". This is connected to its "spirit of the land" trait, and should be part of its story.