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Monday, August 31, 2015

Role-playing in Zendikar, without too much Battle for it! #dnd #mtgbfz

With my already long-time friend Gonzalo we once delved into the Zendikar world with D&D.
He mastered a great adventure that in true Zendikar style was a puzzle-heavy dungeon delve in an exotic land (Tazeem).
It stopped short of turning into a full campaign, because of defections of players and the impracticality of forums. But it was already starting to include a bit of Eldrazi in it. It was an element of Zendikar nearly impossible to ignore, even if it's been confirmed that they didn't originally belong to the setting, in the designers' view.

Some time later I took interest in the very D&D-derived 13th Age table-top RPG, and more than in the game itself, in its approach to role-playing and setting-building. The concept of Icons, the Non-Playing Characters with enough influence in the setting to become political forces, and the relationships of playing characters with these Icons, fascinated me.
So I went on to create the "Icons of Zendikar", and an incomplete but usable set of locations and story hooks to go with them.
I also kind of attached a few parts of our campaign story (especially the parts that actually never came to be played) into the story hooks, advancing a bit the whole story-line. Eldrazi where largely absent, mostly due to my personal dislike of them.

My dislike for Eldrazi is mostly due to a love for Zendikar: when you love something, you don't want to see it spoiled and ruined. Other than that, I also think they did them too well: they are really alien and it shows. And I don't like that. I would have liked them more if they would have been less alien, more Zendikari. But then their purpose would have been defeated, so I still "accept" them. I just prefer not to deal with them in role-playing.

Now Battle for Zendikar is coming, and with it a new wave of excitement and will to role-play into Zendikar (shared with Gonzalo!), but also a new wave of Eldrazi madness.

So this post will be a brain-storming about how to make a cool adventure set in Zendikar, even in the Battle for Zendikar times, but without much influence of the Eldrazi.

"I search for a vision of Zendikar that does not include the Eldrazi."
Wall of Omens flavor text

So where in Zendikar could we have an Eldrazi-free or Eldrazi-light experience?
I have multiple answers.

We know from the story released so far, and the lands artwork, that Tazeem still has pockets of uncontaminated nature. But it's basically a continent under siege, so it should be largely excluded.

Bala Ged, one of my favorite continents (actually defined as a sub-continent of Guul Draz, a bit like India is a sub-continent of Asia), has been completely destroyed. And apparently, Sejiri was destroyed as well, I guess being the continent from which Ulamog came out (but that's not canon, just logic because I wouldn't see the titan going there to destroy something, since there's little life anyway).

These leaves us with three continents: Murasa, Ondu, and Guul Draz.

Murasa: the "Retreat to Kazandu" option.

One of the spoiled cards caught my eye and mind immediately: Retreat to Kazandu.

It clearly represents a place where the "allied forces" have found shelter, free of Eldrazi presence and contamination. 
Murasa has also been quoted in the wonderful Canopy Vista dual land:

So it's even more clear that Murasa itself, not only Kazandu, would be a great location for such a campaign: the Eldrazi would arrive mostly from the sea, and even if they would corrupt the ground, the "canopy" would still be free.

I would say this could be the "classic" option: getting to Murasa is still as difficult as before, so half of the challenge could actually be the arrival by boat in the dangerous Sunder Bay, and finding a way to go up the canopy. But then it could turn into the kind of "pure Zendikar adventuring" that I like, although maybe focused on finding some answer to the looming Eldrazi threat (which could be found in Murasa's vast subterranean cave complexes, including the mysterious Glint Pass and Visimal the hidden city.
Good stuff!

Guul Draz: the "Another Kind of Evil" option

Even without playing an all-vampire game (which could still be fun), we have a quote from the new set stating that vampires could be the only effective force against Eldrazi. Although it's a quote coming from a vampire itself...

It would be extra-cool to have a sect or other powerful group being sure that victory is already in the hands of vampire lords. And already busy brokering the spoils of Zendikar coming from the eventual aftermath! Nimana, "the free city", would be an obvious starting or central point of such a campaign, in which the vampires would be a shadow darker even than the Eldrazi, maybe even using the Eldrazi to gain more power. After all, Sea Gate has been all but destroyed, and it was basically one of the very few "points of light" in Zendikar: some powerful vampires might be thinking that that's the opportunity of a lifetime to actually rule all of Zendikar.

In the depths of wild Guul Draz, another possibility opens us: these lands were not only left untouched by the Eldrazi, but also by the vampires. And they might hide artifacts and ruins of great power, from the ancient past of pre-Eldrazi Zendikar. The Planeswalker's Guide to Zendikar clearly states that in Guul Draz "there are more ruin sites here than elsewhere". Complexes such as the Hagra Cistern could be "mana engines" capable of countering the Eldrazi influence, or who knows what else.
Plus, there's another power hidden in Guul Draz: its name is Ob Nixilis, and if you're reading this, you know how important he is!

So I would say that Guul Draz offers as many opportunities for an original, "pure Zendikar" experience as Murasa, although more bent towards "evil parties", who could feel at ease negotiating with vampires and demons, maybe because they're vampires themselves, or maybe because they even plan to double-cross the vampires in a gigantic game of powers!

Ondu: the "Sea-faring Adventures" option

The mainland of Ondu is not a very interesting place, and the description of it coming from the new dual cards doesn't sound similar to the one given with the old Planeswalker's Guide... There is probably some confusion among the designers themselves about what's in Ondu and what's on Murasa, because it seems like they regulary mix the two continents, in terms of environments, in particular regarding the "verticality of the landscape" (which I like to think to as a constant of Zendikar, actually!)

The Turntimber forest looks and sounds very similar to the the forests of Murasa, although at least one main difference remains: Ondu's forests are (or were) the resting place of Omnath, one of the "avatars" of Zendikar that could be counter the Eldrazi.

There's few places worth mention in the mainland of Ondu, like Graypelt Refuge. Instead, the big islands that surround Ondu are the truly intersting places.

There's Agadeem, which is both home to the "church", in my interpretation of the setting, and to some very strange roil effects involving hedrons that are no longer aloft. It could have been the very first place where the original Three planeswalkers started working on the big ward against the Eldrazi, since that would explain why the hedrons stopped their levitation here before stopping elsewhere. The Crypt of Agadeem is still one of the most mysterious places in Zendikar and could have something to do with the Three, or maybe with the demons.
If I would have to bet on the next target of the Eldrazi invasion, I would bet on Agadeem, before even Ondu's mainland.

Then there's Beyeen, with its interesting port settlement of Zulaport, which I detailed in this blog. Zulaport could mirror Nimana in being one of those "bad cities" that can still work as a hub for both good-aligned and evil-aligned adventurers.

And last but not least, there's the mystery of mysteries: the Isle of Jwar. This place is so inaccessible that most Zendikari never even dreamt of going there, before the Eldrazi. After the Eldrazi, it could become a safe haven, target of a mass exodus both from the rest of Ondu, and from other continents. it's described as tiny, but since it was home to a prehistoric civilization which littered it with the "Fadun" statues (very much like the Easter Island heads), and it's still home to the Strand of Jwar, a strange magical or meteorological phenomenon centered on the island, Jwar could be made into a more prominent setting, either by adding a large underworld connected to its surface, or by stating that the Strand of War is actually a giant illusion magic that screens a much larger land-mass from the sea-farers.

So the campaign set in Ondu could be a sea-based campaign, in which reaching Jwar and unveiling its mysteries could require an intricate voyage, from Tazeem to Beyeen, then from Beyeen to the mainland, from mainland to Agadeem, and finally from Agadeem to Jwar. Not only that, it woud be easy to add some small islands in-between. Pirates would abound thanks to Zulaport, and the Eldrazi could become just a distant thought in all of this.

Other options remain!

I also like to think about more radical approaches, which I will just list briefly as "bonus ideas":

  • Bala Ged is still alive! -  Bojuka Bay was such a hidden place that not even the Eldrazi found it...!
  • Aerial Tazeem - The highest floating parts of the Vastwood are still safe havens, and Emeria could be the ultimate exodus target.
  • Hidden Islands - After Jwar lie more islands that are somehow warded off from the rest of Zendikar, maybe thanks to the Strand of Jwar. Old isolated civilizations could be still living there as they used to before the very first advent of the Eldrazi, 3000 years before!
  • New Continent! - Much like the above but bigger: the Zendikari explorers suck, and they hadn't mapped all of the continents yet!
  • Underwater Sejiri - Sejiri is destroyed, but under its ice, an unexplored underwater world remains, where the Sejiri Merfolk are planning a counter-offensive, or maybe just want to remain hidden...
  • AKOUM - Yes, I had forgotten about it, no, it wouldn't be a main option since the Eye of Ugin where the Eldrazi where released from is exactly here..!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Doing the Ranger or Being the Ranger: a #dnd class and its (missing) identity!

The "State of the Game" official podcast on the D&D website was a huge surprise for me and guys like me: they finally admitted having given the Ranger class nothing really unique, no true definite identity, and admitted that they want to work it out and present variants that solve this issue.

I don't want to link now the posts in which you could see that "I told you that!" - But I friggin' told you that!

Now, on to business:

The Ranger as it is today (read: as it always was)

The parenthesis is there to explain the origin of this whole issue.

We tend to associate words with what we know the word for, not with what the word could potentially represent. Due to this fundamental human weakness, every single iteration of the game has tried to refine, fix, and improve a class that was flawed *in its roots*.

The problems of the original Ranger are the following, and they apply to the Ranger as it is today:
  • It's a hybrid class, let's face it. Everything "typical" of the Ranger comes from another class, except for a few things that (even worse) come from Background territory.
  • It was meant to describe a specific character, we even know his name. The very word "ranger" basically comes from that character. The class evolved a bit only when it also needed to describe another specific character, and we know the name of that one too. Still: no class should describe unique characters. Unique characters should use the classes to be better described, which is totally different.
  • It casts freakin' spells. And still it tries to describe a particular archetype of expertise-based warrior/specialist that, if having all the skills and derived advantages it should have, would have no need of spells, other than no time to study them, or no time for the eventual mystical connection needed to receive them.
  • It's portrayed as a tree-hugger (a completely Background-territory concept) for no other reason than pure blatant cliche. To make a comparison, if such a Background-tied concept would be tied to the Fighter, we would have Fighters being described and having *features* such as "Beer-Fueled", "Obsessive weapon polisher", and "Being unable to speak without shouting". These kind of things should be completely out of a class, they just don't belong there.
  • It has no fighting mechanic that makes it different from any other man swinging or firing a weapon, other than some minor things like "extra damage or extra attack" choices, which could belong to just about any other class and don't tell anything about how is the Ranger something different.
Doing The Ranger

So to do the Ranger, what should you do? Being able to track, take the Perception and Survival skills, maybe some Knowledge (Nature) or Knowledge (Arcana) to know the weaknesses of monsters, and maybe have Expertise in these skills to be better than the Fighter with those skills. So you should be a Rogue and do these things. Entirely possible, entirely viable, and you will probably feel like you're "doing the Ranger" better than the Ranger himself, since you actually deal more damage with beautiful Sneak Attacks.

 - FAQs at this point:
  • But what about armor? Take the feat.
  • But what about hit points? Take Constitution, maybe feat.
  • But what about the animal companion? Animal Friendship or Familiar spell or plain-old training and Animal Handling skill.
  • But what about two-weapon fighting or archery? Yeah, what about them? You have them.
It's clear that it is easy to do the Ranger, especially by being a Rogue, but also being a Fighter or Barbarian, or even better mixing all of them, which is entirely possible.
If the Ranger has to be just "the class for those people who want to mix classes but don't want multiclassing", I hope you realize how pointless and shallow that is. The designers, fortunately, realized it now.
So what about being the Ranger?

Being The Ranger

Being the Ranger is basically what we don't know how to do. No Ranger yet has even BEEN a Ranger for real. It was just a class to easily do the Ranger, something that you could do using other classes. To be the Ranger, you must basically be something that no other Ranger class has ever been, then. It's uncharted territory.
Here is my basic point, my manifesto for the Ranger that is instead of the one that does.
The statement could sound a bit too serious and modern, but it's just because it needs to stress out technical differences. Without breaking much the immersion into the world of fantasy roleplaying, or D&D in particular, we could say that the Ranger is:

  • The kind of warrior that concentrates on the environment around him/her other than the foes.
  • The kind of warrior that patiently scouts an area and observes enemies for hours before attacking, to maximize every advantage.
  • The kind of warrior that is always moving and using momentum to dart around the battlefield, nearly dancing around the enemies, and making them die the death of the thousand cuts while pinning them in a situation or terrain from which they can't easily escape.
  • The kind of warrior that would set up traps,
  • The kind of warrior who works best alone.
  • The kind of warrior that can guide his/her allies across difficult terrain, or save them from immediate environmental dangers.
  • The kind of warrior that uses beasts as a tool for combat, sometimes forming close bonds with a beast that becomes the only reliable companion to fight in his way without spoiling the plans.
  • The kind of warrior that takes on the most difficult to reach enemies, by navigating the terrain better and faster than others, and/or by harassing them with bursts of arrows.
  • The kind of warrior that can have a whole bunch of people concentrated on him/her to no effect, because he/she moves better and faster, knows the terrain better and uses it better, and is sometimes difficult to spot or catch.
I think everyone can say that these things are strongly rooted into the fictional Ranger. The kind of Ranger that the Ranger class was never able to deliver.
This kind of Ranger is closer to the Rogue than to the Fighter, so...

The true rival of the Ranger: the Rogue - What should be similar, what different.

  • Both should be experts/specialists, as opposed to pure fighting machines/generalists (aka Fighters).
  • Both should care about their surrounding more than the generalists, because they depend on them both for attacking and survival.
  • Both use intellectual abilities more than the typical soldier.
  • Both are weaker in defense, stronger in attack, at least in general.
  • Both should be able to create the situations they need to excel/survive, at least in some limited fashion, when they can't find them in their surroundings.
  • A Ranger should be an expert in survival, terrain, the use of animals, possibly the making of traps or at least ambushes. A Rogue could be an expert of anything, even the Ranger stuff, but will never get the benefits that the Ranger gets from its particular expertise.
  • A Ranger should be a specialist of open, possibly natural terrain, movement across it, and long ranges (hence "ranger"), whereas a Rogue should excel in close quarters, provided he can use or create a distraction and/or a hiding/escape.
  • A Ranger should use a lot his/her Wisdom, whereas a Rogue should use a lot more Intelligence and Charisma.
  • A Ranger should focus more on open movement as a defense, whereas a Rogue should focus more on hiding or distracting.
  • A Ranger is stronger than a generalist Fighter in attacking multiple enemies, whereas a Rogue is stronger in attacking only one enemy at a time. None of them are strong in attack against a tight group, which should instead be the specialty of the Fighter, that has the defense skills to survive thick melees.
  • A Ranger could create the favored situation using his/her animal, previous terrain recon, and/or with bursts of movement and maneuvers aimed at separating the enemies, making them more manageable, whereas a Rogue could create the favored situation by improvising a diversion, distracting, feinting, hiding, or dirty-fighting alongside a more imposing ally.

And that's it from my side: I hope the designers will follow these new ways at last, after I suggested them for so long. Sure, crafting mechanics that actually represent them could be harder than just describing things like this, but I have a few ideas in those regards as well.
And in fact, I will conclude with a bonus: a pitch for a truly unique Ranger mechanic.

BONUS: Skirmish (A possible signature mechanic for the new Ranger)

Instead of attacking once (or more times, depending on additional attacks), and subsequently dealing damage accordingly, as a Ranger you can attack every enemy you move close enough to, or every enemy in line of sight in case of ranged weapon usage, with a single attack roll and damage roll. You just split the total damage as you wish among the enemies whose AC you hit with your roll.

This feature would work because instead of gaining additional attacks, the Ranger could gain additional movement or line of sight to attack more enemies, while other features could provide additional damage in various situations.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

#DnD in #MtGKtK: Adventuring in #Tarkir! (BONUS: Ainok as a PC race!)

Well, finally after the intellectual injury that I felt during the #Theros period, a new Magic expansion comes. (To add offense to injury, I even liked Theros' art and mechanics, making me even more mad about the flavor...).
Khans of Tarkir looks like it will become one of those expansions that catch me completely, like #Innistrad or #Zendikar (although nothing can beat Zendikar for me, really).

What are some good bullet points about Tarkir as a D&D setting?

  • The land is wild and dangerous but includes some civilization in many different forms.
    This is particulary good because it offers variety in playstyles. You could have dungeon crawls in the bowels of the #Sultai decadent cities, intirgue on their surface, wild adventures throughout #Temur and #Mardu territories, with Mardu offering a cool militaristic/nomad background and Temur focusing more on primal aspects. #Abzan organized cities would be good for crime and politics adventures, while #Jeskai monasteries could house arcane weirdness of all kinds.
  • Each clan has multiple focuses, allowing for different types of characters in it.
    The Sultai (my favorite) are about necromancy, opulence, assassination, intrigue, and even world domination.
    The Abzan are about law and order, with a focus on defense and passive isolationism.
    The Temur are the go-to clan for primal forces, druidic magic, beasts and the wild in general, but also have a good bit of martial prowess in them.
    The Mardu are the typical "horde" clan, the icon of the setting if you wish, with "raiding" being the standard form of living, but with some dark magic (especially concealment) in it as well.
    The Jeskai are the most "enlightened" clan, with monks being prominent, but also wizards and a pursuit of knowledge and perfection in general.
  • There are a few nice peculiarities about magic in Tarkir.
    The "morphs" are basically just concealed creatures or things that fight with some kind of elemental or purely arcane force power. There are artifacts and spells to look what these morph "clouds" conceal, and it's a form of magic available to all clans, something connected with the world itself maybe, worth exploring in D&D even as a new mechanic.
  • Dragons are apparently absent, but at the same time their presence is felt.
    The spirit dragon Ugin is trapped somehow here in its homeland (although he was prominent in Zendikar, so it must be or have been a planeswalker), and Sarkhan Vol is a dracomancer. The spirits of dragons may be the basis of elemental/primal magic in Tarkir, and some dragons may still be alive, trapped in hybernation beneath the ices that they indirectly brought after their last war (some sort of nuclear winter!).
  • A guide to the setting: Part 1 (Intro, Abzan, Jeskai, Sultai) and Part 2 (Mardu, Temur, Planeswalkers)
    There is even mention of locations and prominent NPCs. I'd say it makes for a nearly ready-to-play world!
  • Quite a few interesting races!
    The new tage on naga, the brand new Ainok that come in canine or ursine variants, the extremely original take on djinn and efreet... There is really plenty of races to choose for Tarkir characters!
  • There are strong connections with Zendikar!!
    This is not really an advantage of Tarkir as a D&D setting in general, but for me personally it is that and much more!

Clan Mechanics

I really tried to translate some of the clan mechanics to feats or some other kind of thing, but I must admit that even with my now long experience of translating even the most abstract Magic mechanics into D&D terms, this time I thought it was too much of a stretch. It's really not worthy in my opinion, and subclasses specific to the clans may do a much better job. I might change my mind on special feats, but it would entail changing the original mechanic very much, especially since some of them are just keywords that activate always on the same condition, but never having the same effect. These must change for sure, if they have to be set into feats, while they can retain their variability if set into different subclasses, or variant class features.

All in all, it's really not necessary to convert these signature mechanics, because more than anything they represent the style of the clan, which is already apparent if one builds a character well-inserted/themed in/around the clan.

Races! The Ainok!

Yes, I could not resist!

Ainok Traits

Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Size. Canine, desert-dwelling Ainok associated with the Abzan are human-sized or even a tad smaller, while the ursine Ainok of the Temur lands are much bigger, espeically broader.
Subraces. There are two subraces of Ainok: the canine Ainok allied to the Abzan, and the ursine Ainok allied to the Temur. They are very different.

Canine Ainok
Canine Ainoks sometimes resemble hyenas, and are adapted to the desert of the Abzan territories, and the magic art of sandcalling.
Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 35 feet.
Survivalist: You are trained in the Survival skill.
Desert Adapted. You have the equivalent of the Natural Explorer Ranger feature focused on deserts and dry steppes. If you are a Ranger, you must select another territory, since the bonuses wouldn't stack.
Sandcalling Adept. You can conjure sand to make lightly obscured an area of 10 feet per 10 within a range of 30 feet. The effect lasts until the end of your next turn. You can do so a number of times equal to your Wisdom modifier. You regain all expended uses after a long rest. At 5th level, you can instead make the area heavily obscured.

Ursine Ainok
Ursine Ainok resemble bears, and are adapted to the cold sub-arctic territories of the Temur clan.
Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 1, and your Constitution score increases by 2.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet.
Cold Adapted. You have Resistance to Cold damage.
Broad Build. You have Advantage on Shoving and Grappling checks and count as Large for the purpose of carrying capacity and the amount of wight you can lit, push, or drag; but you have Disadvantage on attacks and Dexterity ability checks and saves when confined in a 5-feet wide space.

That's all for now folks, please provide your feedback and ideas!

Saturday, September 6, 2014

@criticalhits: Here's my 10 #DnD monsters I always use & 5 I don't!

A tweet-title for this mini-blog-carnival post induced by Critical Hits!
Here is the original post by legendary Dave Chalker: quite an awesome list, especially because it reminded me of the Zaratan (a turtle-island thing!), and made me think of ways I would use it..!

As my few readers might imagine, my list is gonna be a bit counter-intuitive... But let's start with no further ado! (Usually I don't do it when I declare it, but here fortunately there's really no possibility of writing any useful introduction..!)

10 monsters I use in every D&D campaign:

  1. Gargoyles
    The gothic factor is really impossible to ignore, and where the campaign flavor is not really gothic-y, I tend to use their stats for re-flavored variants. In general, having a cool stony decoration taking life is something that makes my adventures... Mine! Ah, there's no way these monsters won't be customized by me with particularly nasty martial prowess and/or divine magic... They're just made for these things!
    (I know the illustration is that of a Malebranche Devil, but that's how my gargoyles look like, when not of stone!)

  2. Faeries (of any kind)
    The Seelie Court and even more so the Unseelie Court are always present, somewhere, in my campaign worlds. And when these beings come into play, strange things happen. For me, fey/faeries equal morality madness: it's an occasion to introduce truly strange and contrasting morals and ethics to the campaign and make the players question themselves both about these critters and themselves! Who's doing right? Who's the bad guy? When tricksters are beautiful or even cute, the lines of these questions are very blurred!
    (The illustration is that of Oona's Blackguard, from MtG: an example of dark faerie flavor!)

  3. Faerie dragons / Pseudodragons / any tiny dragon!
    First of all, obviously, it's a way to add dragons at low levels, and possibly tie them with the faeries. Second, they can be even more annoying than true dragons! A faerie dragon usually has spells and magical abilities that makes it a pain for adventurers to fight (or even ally with), and pseudodragons, with their random "save or sleep" sting are another major threat when in large numbers! Plus, the whole aesthetics of the campaign and/or setting change when these creatures are abundant. It basically means "in this world, common things are a minority"..!
    (Link to illustration: )

  4. Kuo-Toa / Locatah / Sahuagin 
    There MUST be "fishy folk" in my games... No game of mine is complete without a big part of it at least related to underwater adventuring or underwater threats coming out to do some unusual above-water adventuring! Locatah in particular (in the illustration), this forgotten-by-game-designers kin, are my favorite: their very fish-like look makes them the most alien of the three, and thus the most likely to be related to some kind of cult dedicated to, spawned by, or spawning some... ->

  5. Far Realm entities / creatures
    And I'm not speaking Mind Flayers or other D&D classics... I'm speaking pure Lovecraftian horror!! And they MUST be aquatic. Aboleths are in fact among my favorites, and as many of you know, you can base entire story-arcs on them, even in traditional published worlds such as Forgotten Realms.
    The illustration is originally Juiblex, a demon prince. But the fact I found it in a lovecraft fansite to represent a Shoggoth is telling...
    But since we're speaking aquatic unfathomable horrors, I must go epic directly and call forth The Prince: ->

  6. DAGON
    YES. Even if he's supposed to be an incredibly epic level guy, his presence must be felt since low levels in my campaigns. The Prince of Depths incarnates four things that I like and I already cited in previous entires: aquatic, horror, great evil, alien, blurred morality. You would say a demon prince has nothing to do with blurred moralities, but if you go by the most complete D&D lore about him, Dagon is a demon of an older generation compared to "regular ones", even other princes. He's an Obyrith, demons that basically ended up with their universe of origin already, and crawled into this universe before more regular demons even existed, and possibly even spawning them. It screams alternate creation myths and links to the Far Realm. And just as with Aboleths, Krakens, and other related aquatic masterminds, it also calls for a cult of followers, with all that such a thing implies for a D&D setting!

  7. Hobgoblins
    Finally a classic, you'd say! And yes, I like the classic-ness of Hobgoblins, particularly the fact that they're militaristic and, in D&D terms, devil-ish, due to their favored alignments and general motivations. They're cool also because they could constitute the army of another race, and because their possible link with devils might make them connected with Nine Hells-related plots. And from a simple humanoid critter, there goes a planar campaign in the making!

  8. Ghosts
    Everybody has a favorite undead, and I go again for a rather surprising classic in this department. Ghosts can be simply everywhere, and they are basically living (undying, actually) mini-quests for adventurers. Each ghost is a side-trek in the adventure of its own.

  9. Angels
    Again a matter of blurred morality, but nobody can deny that angels can be pretty scary. Especially because when you finally manage to stop their fury (by killing them: they would never surrender), you start wondering a bit too much about who or what you angered in doing so... In the illustration, an angel that appeared in the archive of 4e's Monster Manual illustrations online, but not on the actual manual... Never solved the mystery, and yes, although it's probably a rare case of evil angel, don't think the others were less scary!

  10. NINJAS!
    Broad enough to cite more favorite monsters in one entry, in D&D ninjas can be anything, and in my campaigns this is especially true. There can be desert elf magic ninjas, lizardmen ninjas (Predator love, anyone?), naga ninjas (icing on the cake!), rakshasa ninjas (the revelation/transformation moment is golden, plus these cat-people die easily once revealed!), giant undead mantis ninjas (yes, I did it once), warforged ninjas (can't help thinking about that villain from the first Hellboy movie!) and sometimes even DRAGON NINJAS (Shadow Dragons of course)... The important thing is acting like a ninja. Mixing exotic combat styles to plain assassination-aimed lurking! In the illustration, Ink Eyes, a ratling ninja of the MtG setting of Kamigawa. It's an oriental-flavored example, so not very apt at displaying how many more "typical D&D flavors" exist, but she's my favorite by far!

... And 5 I don't:

  1. Drow
    Perhaps due to many players favoring the race, perhaps because they're too obvious, Drow never figured in my D&D campaigns as enemies, except for one time in which they were reflavored as the dominant civilization in a "real world setting" in which they were basically the civilization of Atlantis. And they looked nothing like true Drow.
  2. Orcs
    Come on... Orcs...
  3. Giants
    I find them mostly uninteresting, with the exception of Fomorians!
  4. Zombies
    Another thrill-killing critter! And I hate zombie movies as well!
  5. Elementals
    At least in their single-element standard variants, they are really boring compared to many other elemental-themed creatures!

Now blog yours!

Let's keep up the hype at least until we're not too busy reading the new Monster Manual!!
It's your turn now!

Monday, August 4, 2014

New #DnD #5e class in the making: the Weaver! - Part 1

D&D 5e is out only through the (incredibly promising) Starter Set as of now, but I couldn't hold myself anymore, I did it again: I created a custom class!

Actually, I haven't created it yet... I have some notes, a stream-of-consciousness-like thread of facebook comments in the D&D Next group, and many ideas in my head. But possibly, here and now the class is going to take the first gaming-terms form for the first time.

First of all, a little intro as I'm used to do.

Why a new class, and why the Weaver

To the first question, usually I wouldn't bother replying, because in my world (real-world sense), with my parameters, there is nearly always space for a new class. However, many people are concerned with this question, probably because they don't have/know fixed parameters to regulate new classes.
To me a new class has to exist when NO other class or even multiclass combination has the mechanical and thematic space to allocate for a given concept. 
Negative examples: 
- A Pirate class? Nonsense: even if the thematical niche is big enough, there is nothing in their way of doing things that couldn't be done with other classes, so it ends up being a Background in D&D 5e terms.
- A Ninja class? Hardly: as a subclass of the Rogue or Monk (boys, it's really coming as the latter!!) every needed mechanic can be represented, so add a specific custom Background to that, and a new Class becomes completely redundant.
- An alternative caster class? Depends: if we're just talking of a new way of dealing with existing spells, you could make a new class mechanics-wise, but thematically it's surely going to step on others, becoming more useful as a simple replacement of slots for an existing class, like it happened during the playtest of D&D 5e for the spell points system.

So, for many people, this would mean there is really no space for new classes. For me, it means you just restricted an endless pool to a still numerous list.

The Weaver is a spellcaster in thematic terms (and even there, with a foot steadily set on "trickster class" territory), but mechanically is a completely new animal, with absolutely no spells in traditional sense.
It draws from many past concepts to ultimately becoming something completely unique and new, and as such, also difficult to explain.
I will start with a quote from my draft of full class write-up, to make the Weaver more of a solid concept: sample characters scenes like in the upcoming D&D 5e Player's Handbook!

A mischievous gnome hops around a minotaur, artfully dodging his axe, and suddenly the expression on the minotaur's taurine roster becomes one of nonsensical amusement, and he starts dancing, carelessly dropping his weapon.
A brooding tiefling runs past the beholder with demonic speed, and the aberration starts emitting unspeakable sounds while it bursts into green flames.
An elf with colorful sparks fluctuating inside her eyes dances intricately as if with an invisible companion, then she abruptly soars in the air and a mighty gale blows from her, hitting hard the imps and dropping them to the floor, tens of feet away.
These magic users are rare gifted individuals who can see and manipulate the weave of magic. As such, they are known to a few scholars of cryptic arcana as Weavers. Their unique way of creating magical effects involves only movement, along invisible and ever-changing leylines that only they can see.

Now, from here the Weaver actually starts looking like a quite familiar concept, and you might think that it actually does step on other classes. But look at a common element among these characters and especially their actions: movement. The Weaver is a movement-based spellcaster. To cast spells he/she actually has to move. However, this is not "its shtick", or its source idea.
Here we go with more specific Weaver info...

Seeing the Weave of Magic and knowing how to use it

This is the underlying concept behind the Weaver. The Weaver does not have an innate source of power, but has an innate supernatural ability to see invisible sources of power all around: the strands, or leylines, of the Weave of Magic. If you prefer to reason in scientific terms, the Weaver has the ability to see in so many spectrums at once, that he/she can even perceive things such as magnetic field lines, electrical fields, and basically every force that could (un)realistically be harnessed.
In fantasy terms, the Weaver is very much tied to the Fey, or better yet to the concept of a parallel invisible world were "magic flows strong". They see these currents and they understood by pure experience that by moving through them, they can produce magical effects.
The tricky thing is that they don't decide where these currents, which we'll call leylines, are or go to. The leylines are influenced by the position in space of living individuals, the Weaver first and foremost, and as such, when the Weaver moves, the leylines are readjusted. But more than anything, they are simply random, and they usually go through, or into, living beings near the Weaver. Whether they are allies or foes.
If you are an experienced D&D player, you already see a lot of mechanics underlying this. And the funny thing is that even with this apparent randomness, especially in the selecting of targets, the Weaver's magical effects are always useful, because they can be used always in two ways: positive or negative. So they can always either help allies, or damage (but mostly hinder) foes. It's just that each turn the Weaver has little control on what of these two he will do, although he can still try to move around, and readjust the leylines to his or her liking (but risking to end the available movement, and thus the available magical effects!)

So this is the general concept in rather gamist terms. It has a lot more theme to it still to be explained, even if I could see already a lot of potential theme in these gaming terms, such as an interaction with the forces of magic unlike any other caster, an innate or acquired special sense to see them, and a surely chaotic tendency, other than little reliance on Intelligence and study, and not much even on true personal power. It's nearly a new take on what personal power is.

The original story of the Weaver and the many possible ones.

I admit that at first the Weaver had a very set-in-stone story/setting element to it. So much so that it could have been "disqualified" by my "new class requirements". In fact, if a class includes a Background, it basically invalidates Backgrounds. But it was pretty easy to overcome this problem. However here goes the original flavor behind the class.

The Weaver was the Spelldancer. A class deeply connected with the Fey. In particular, it had to represent the way fairies do things in Magic: The Gathering. It's incredibly difficult to "port/convert" Magic cards into D&D or even just RPG terms, but it's possible, and with a lot of abstraction, anything can come out, even awesome things. The fairies in MtG are scary because they are fast, and because even if they are "squishy", they can basically run past the opponents that they disable through magic, and defeat the enemy before the big creatures can be effective or sometimes even act. So this was the original idea behind the movement-based spellcasting. As such, the Weaver/Spelldancer was meant to be "the fey caster": the fey version of the Wizard if you wish. As such, however, it covered a really small niche. Some settings don't even have fey altogether. So instead of seeing the fey leylines, I decided that Weaver version 0.2 could actually see the whole Weave of Magic. This makes for a much more general and sub-divisible concept (don't forget every class needs subclasses, in D&D 5e). 

However, the Weaver still has a "main story", and from being a full-on "fey class", it became "a rare type of natural gift that more often appears in fey races", but dealing with energies that are not fey in nature, just purely magical. This can also help explain, in the settings Weavers are present, even if not common, why a fey creature such as a Sprite or Pixie might be very hyperactive movement-wise: it would be their preferred way of creating magical effects.
Being a class common among the fey, the magical effects of the Weaver are still going to bear fey-reminiscing names, but just because they were named by the fey: nothing in their nature is intrinsically fey.
I think this helps convey the original story, without rooting it too much into the class: just rename the magical effects or even just their classification, and you got another flavor. The underlying game-world story of being able to see and manipulate the general Weave of Magic will make the rest: the character would be one of those rare individuals, and could have even named him/her-self the effects that he/she discovered how to produce.

So basically each Weaver can have a unique story, but with a common underline about the source of their power, just as Wizards, Sorcerers, and Warlocks can.

Of Charms and Seasons: the original "spells" of the Weaver

So the "default" idea is to leave a fey-ish tone set into the "spell-list" of the Weaver.
As such, I present to you the table of the Weaver's Charms:

Seasons / Charms of Power - Charms of Hearts - Charms of Making - Charms of Flutter
Winter  /   Charm of Ice       - Charm of Apathy    - Charm of Disappearing - Charm of Borea
Spring  /   Charm of Dawn  - Charm of Empathy  - Charm of Appearing     - Charm of Zephyr
Summer / Charm of Fire     - Charm of Sympathy - Charm of Making         - Charm of Sirocco
Fall      /  Charm of Dusk    - Charm of Antipathy - Charm of Unmaking     - Charm of Mistral

If you noticed a pattern, well... You missed some! Many patterns here, and with many possible implications.

First of all, these are not exactly the bread and butter of apprentice Weavers, at least not in my current idea. The first two levels are going to be those of Minor Charms. A bit like the cantrip versions of Charms, although all Charms are at-will, more on that later. From 3rd level onwards though, you're gonna be able to select 10 Charms. If you notice, 10 among a selection of 16, arranged as a "4x4 matrix", means that you could complete only two "rows" or "columns" of Charms. Which means, only two Seasons or two types of Charms, or one of each. This gives me some room to do something cool with Weavers: making them change based on what Charms they are able to produce. Or even better, leaving it unclear if they are really selecting them, or if they are just unraveling a deeper magical nature within them! Lots of story possibilities.

Again, if you think the names make the flavor too set in stone, you can change a lot. The ones which are perhaps a bit bound are the winds, or Charms of Flutter. In theory, these Charms could optionally make the tactical aspect of the Weaver a bit more complex, adding preferred attack (or buff) "directions". However, I think about leaving this rule optional. And if optional, it could mean they could be renamed in many ways based on their effects. The Borea is a wind that opposes movement. The Zephyr facilitates movement. The Sirocco increases movement, and the Mistral just moves everything. They could be interpreted as (and they are, actually) different ways in which the magical strands of the Weave and its "currents" can affect the physical world, just like the other Charms, but in a more literal/physical way. They are the true forces at work, and I'm even thinking about associating them with areas of effect. One could be cone, one could be line, one could be "burst", and so on.

As you can see, it looks like one Charm by itself would not be very useful, but two or three together might turn into real spells. Well, that's exactly the case. And "two or three" is exactly the number of Charms that a good Weaver could cast in the time a Wizard casts one spell..!

Weaving. Or how to cast 2 or 3 mini-spells to get a full one.

This concept I hadn't touched yet. The Weavers use movement to cast Charms. But they are also very good at movement, and can move in strange ways, when the leylines allow them to. In particular, they are extremely fast when near other living beings, which bend the leylines. This is represented by a simple rule which will say that "circling around" a living being (or more than one, with the progression of levels), only costs half of the base movement, whatever the base movement is. This rule implies they can do so two times, potentially. And these two special movements are the triggers for 2nd and 3rd Charm in a row! The 2nd is actually going to be a Bonus Action. The third is actually going to be a Reaction, so it's gonna come up later in the round, but still necessarily before the start of the Weaver's next turn.
Note that the Charms are meant to be combined, and they work in a "cascade-like" fashion: the 2nd Charm is going to include elements of the 1st, and the 3rd is going to include elements of both 1st and 2nd, becoming the most dangerous or useful, depending on who's the target. 

So yes, Weavers actually do their most awesome thing outside of their turns. The problem is they don't know the target, or not much in advance: the leylines are constantly changing with movements of creatures!

The Leylines: their randomness and their awesomness

Let's go with my proposed mechanic, without much ado:
At the start of your turn, and each time you move at least 5 feet, roll 1d6 to determine the direction of the leylines: 
- 1: The leylines go upwards. (You can still use them using a Charm of Flutter or any other ability to jump at least 10 feet up, or fly.) 
- 2: The leylines pass exactly in between the two nearest living creatures. (You can circle them only if they are separated by no more than 5 feet.) 
- 3: The leylines go through the second nearest creature. (You can circle it.)
- 4: The leylines end into the second nearest creature. (You can circle it, you have Advantage on Charms against it, or it has Disadvantage on Saves against your Charms.)
- 5: The leylines go through the nearest creature. (You can circle it.)
- 6: The leylines end into the nearest creature. (You can circle it, you have Advantage on Charms against it, or it has Disadvantage on Saves against your Charms.)
So basically, from 3 to 6 you will surely be able to do something interesting (that is, casting at least two Charms, if the distances permit it), while 1 and 2 can mean being limited to one Charm, and possibly being better off using weapons, unless you have a Charm of Flutter, roll 1, and use a Charm of Flutter to soar a little, then possibly another one to soar more, and then use a third Charm as a Reaction later, with devastating effects. You will see this is possible only past 5th level, and it's good because it can result basically into a Fireball!

Note that "circling" is still a placeholder name, and it refers to actually circle around a creature. In the upwards leylines it would actually mean circling in the air. I will think of a standard terms to use, maybe, or keep circle just because it's easily understandable.

That's it! I think the table and the possible cases look as simple as I see them, to everyone.

A Weaver's Abilities.

So, for the final part of this part 1, I will talk about the abilities needed by a Weaver. I hope I won't surprise too much anybody who read until here, at this point, if I say Dexterity will be the "spellcasting ability for Weavers". Yes. There is still a bit of uncertainty about the second most important ability. Part of me is prone to making it subclass-decided. And in particular, it should affect the Unarmored Defense, if present (still thinking about it). The most thematically-correct choice would be Charisma, and could even be class-wide, but it would make the class a bit too race-tuned, something I don't like. Wisdom would be very correct under the Unarmored Defense point of view, and the fact the class actually needs to sense the Weave well, but it would make it too Monk-like. So in the end, I think I'm gonna stick with Charisma, and say that the Leylines themselves can basically be a form of defense for a Weaver, and this defense is stronger the more his or her force of personality is strong, because the Leylines would be affected by it. In ways only a Weaver can exploit.

So to wrap up everything, here is an illustration that I hope won't cause wrong judgments by the sexism-conscious crowd, of which I'm part, actually... It's just that it's hard to find good illustrations of spllcasters that look like they are dancing...
Plus, for a Weaver it actually makes sense to have absolutely no armor: movement is everything. And Charisma adds to AC...


Friday, June 20, 2014

Oracle of Nectars from #MtG as inspiration for #13thAge/#DnD character!

My Zendikar 13thAge / D&D conversion is revealing itself a titanic task, and although I deeply enjoy writing for it, sometimes I need a change of pace, and creating a character from a random (and awesome) illustration is exactly the change of pace I need!

We now know that codename D&D Next will simply be called D&D (as easily foreseen), and "5th edition" will be written on the back cover, because they can't lie of course. :)

I'm still under NDA from my Wizards Of The Coast internal playtesting group (have I ever mentioned that?), so I can't use any of the more up to date material. As such, in this indirect comparison between the two RPGs' character creation systems, 13thAge rolls with Advantage, to use a D&D game term... Or D&D with Disadvantage... Or both. You got my point.

So here is the guy I want to represent!

We are clearly seeing, apart from the exaggerated ears and the horns typical of some MtG planes, a light-armored if not unarmored elf, with some kind of spellcasting looking perhaps druidic, perhaps holy, perhaps elemental in nature, and a fine sword. Clearly a Dexterity-focused type, probably also Wisdom. Perfect as a Wood Elf!

Here I go with my D&D Next (last public playtest packet) version!


Thursday, May 8, 2014

#MtG #Faeries as a #13thAge Playable Race!

I couldn't help it once +Adam Minnie gave me the idea, and here's an initial adaption of the Faeries from Magic: The Gathering to the rules of 13th Age!
I think I found an elegant solution to represent the variety and the "tempo mastering" of MtG faeries, although it's so difficult to find equivalent mechanics between such fundamentally different games...

Feedback needed!