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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

I day in the life of Solanyt, my #dndnext #Simic and #Dimir character!


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. Here I go with the first, which won't be the last...

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"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 katana and the aerial maneuvers. My katana is the standard issue one for most of us Crypsis agents. It's incredibly 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 provides a strangely solid grip even if it the surface is feature-less, and most importantly, it doesn't rust. Something of paramount importance, since half of the distance I cover everyday is underwater. 
Solanyt's krasis-synthesized katana: "Cygnebra"

So after my 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 I can usually communicate with animals during the day, they usually send me messages through beasts that don't look out of place in the zonot, such as small cloudfins or some anonymous krasis. When I answer back, I get to talk 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."

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Solanyt, Simic-Dimir agent, Level 3
Wood Elf Cleric (Simic, swapped-in Dimir channel); Medium, Speed 35 ft; Low-light vision
HP: 21; AC: 15
STR 10 (+0)
DEX 17 (+3)
CON 12 (+1)

INT 11 (+0)
WIS 16 (+3)
CHA 8 (-1)

Background:
Skills:
Bluff, Climb, Recall Lore (Forbidden Lore), Sense Motive, Sneak, Swim, Tumble
Trait: Contact (Spy)

Spells:
Cantrips:
Guidance, Thaumaturgy
Level 1 Spells: Cure Wounds, Inflict Wounds, Bless, Feather Fall* (Domain)
Level 2 Spells: Spiritual Weapon, Speak With Animals, Elemntal Mantle* (Domain)
Channel Divinity: Cipher, Evolve, Warrior's Gale

Feats:
Level 1: Hide in Shadows
Level 3: Ambush

Equipment:
Katana
Krasis Leather (Dragon Leather)
Longbow
Arrows x30
Caltrops x10
Ball bearings
Grappling hook
Antitoxin
Adventurer's Kit
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Monday, June 24, 2013

The Thrull from #mtg as a #dndnext monster


Thrulls are strange creatures that have evolved through a variety of forms and functions along with the game, in Magic: The Gathering.

As a game/bet with @ArtificerAlf aka Karl Rech, I wanted to create a creature for our Ravnica D&D Next campaign, and I let him name the first one. He chose Thrull.

The Concept

In Ravnica, the Thrull has no defining ability, if not perhaps the one of the most common type, Regeneration using Black mana.
In previous expansions though, Thrulls were actually more similar to each other and shared a common theme of giving either Black mana or some kind of bonus to other creatures when sacrificed.

The general feeling of the Thrull is thus that of a un undead-like construct, infused with dark magic, and at the service of Clerics or Wizards of White and Black alignment.

Taken from The Return of Thrulls

I decided to translate this into D&D terms with some kind of "switch sides" potential, connected to magic.

The Base Creature

After a quick search that ended when reaching the letter D in the Bestiary, and in particular at the "Demon" entry, I realized that the Mane demon had all the base requirements: a somewhat lowly creature with a strong arcane nature, that dissolved when killed (dissolves in Black mana perhaps!) and reforms somehwere else.
Now how to tweak that...

The Tweaks

I definitely want the Thrull to be linked to some specific spells. In particular, I think the Cure Wounds / Inflict Wounds would represent very well the White/Black duality of Thrulls, and these spells could basically help the Thrull retake form. Instead of completely dissolving, the killed Thrull would kind of "lose pressure" and leave a husk and a cloud of dark energy/vapor. This cloud can be manipulated with these spells to reform the Thrull. Also, since it's always Black mana to regenerate, I think I will limit this to Inflict Wounds, but I also want a Wizard spell to be capable of doing the job, although at higher level. This way the link with the clergy is more prominent, but a possible link with Wizards would not be impossible. An iconic necromantic spell to be used for this kind of work could be the straightforward Animate Dead, two levels higher than Inflict Wounds and its undead-curing capabilities.

Returning to the initial concept, we could make the reformed Thrull be charmed by the one casting the spell, thus representing the "switching sides" potential that kind of makes for a truly "quasi-construct" creature. This, in addition to the Immunity to Charming, makes for a special kind of servant, who can't switch sides unless "mana" is used by the wanna-be master (and only after it has been "killed").
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Eternal Torment (Thrull): A thrull reduced to 0 hit points or fewer emanates a cloud of black vapor, leaving behind a flaccid empty husk. The cloud moves in random directions for 24 hours at a speed of 20 ft. before dissolving. If the thrull's body husk lies within 20 ft. of the cloud, casting Inflict Wounds or Animate Dead on it brings back the Thrull after one round, and charmed by the caster.
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As for other resistances, I think the Fire resistance is a bit off, and I'd replace it with Necrotic resistance. The other ones I think they make sense, Electricity being in theme with the pseudo-Frankenstein-esque nature, and Cold being usually resisted by undead and constructs alike. I'd also add Poison, just out of consistency
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Resistances: The mane is resistant to cold, necrotic, lightning, and poison.
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Attacks should be ok, although Thrull could also wield weapons, making them a bit more dangerous.

As for the creature type, I think I would stick with Construct instead of Undead, so that Rebuke Undead doesn't overlap with the integrated method of making the Thrull switch sides. So it would be a Medium Construct (Thrull). Perhaps Living Construct if that becomes a type.

Additional "Kit" Ablities.

Called "theme powers" in D&D 4e, a menu of optional abilities can make for a really customizable creature.
I think I would give Thrulls three of these, to represent the coolest Ravnican Thrulls.

First of all, a larger Thrull (with base statistics and special abilities of a Hezrou demon, but with the same tweaks described above), could have a Consume ability making it able to represent the Maw of The Obzedat thrull. I'm also adding a restriction on the Thrull's movement, to represent this big fat guy:


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Consume:

A Large Thrull with this ability can consume a helpless creature, or a creature it has killed with its Bite, and transform it into necromantic power, giving selected creatures within 50 ft. benefits equivalent to a Prayer spell. Not being originated by a spell, these bonuses stack if the ability is used again, and they only end if the Thrull dies, moves more than 5 ft per round, or if the subjects leave the effect radius.
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Another interesting ability to be converted is the one of the Thrull Parasite. Let's see what I can do:

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Parasite:

The Master of a Thrull with this ability can choose to suffer 1 Hit Dice + Con mod of damage to make the Thrull cast Dispel Magic on a selected creature, object or location without expending spell slots. The dispel roll is made as if the master had casted the spell.
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Finally, a Thrull can have the Extort ability, maybe accompanied by a single 1/day usage of Sanctuary to make the most out of it. You can find the conversion of this mechanic in the Orzhov entry of my conversions of Ravnican "Guildmages" (as D&D Next Clerics) here.

Another final option for Thrulls could be functional wings, giving it a fly speed of 20 or 30 ft.

That's all folks!


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My latest #dndnext #Ravnica character: a Noble Gruul Ranger!


My moments of boredom very often result in new characters, and Ravnica is still all the rage as far as character themes go, here where I'm sitting!

My latest idea tries to "fix" the Ranger, considered by most players the weakest class in the current playtest packet.

While I'm at it, I also try to create an interesting character, using my custom "guild powers", and this time it's Gruul's turn.

The Gruul Mechanic.

I chose to give Gruul a somewhat direct "conversion" of their actual mechanic, in the form of a wild sure-critical charge which triggers an also sure-critical OA. So you deal high damage but risk a lot for doing so.

The current critical hit rules in Next are hopelessly underwhelming too, adding just one die of damage, so weapon selection becomes critical.

By the way, if wanting to maintain the custom "Guild Initiate" feat (which grants the guild "channel divinity" effect to non-Clerics) balanced with the equivalent feat (Magical Rejuvination), the power will be usable only once per day, so it's not going to be anything special, but it will be cool to have a "one shot nova".

Equipment.

I'm really fond of D&D Next's take on the Katana. Quite simply a two-handed bastard sword but using Dexterity. I also like the slight paradox of a Gruul using a katana or equivalent exotic sword, and the mechanical advantage of being focused on Dexterity, allowing for good ranged attacks and AC.

So katana it is. And since we want to capitalize on the sure-fire one-shot critical hit, I'd choose a "Keen Katana", replacing katana stats on the magical "Keen Rapier". Those extra 2d6 will help make it worth it.

Armor choice is trickier than usual. I had thought about going light, but until Dex can become 18 at 4th level, medium armor is better. And since stealth is not going to be a focus, Scale Mail will make a lot of sense (and protection). An AC of 16 is nothing bad at all for a two-handed weapon wielder. And since we're talking about a Giant slayer, where "giant" can be any Large or bigger creature, a Studded Dragon Leather could also be available...

For ranged attacks, I picture him using javelins, to retain some savage style.

Favored Enemy

This is the cool part. Making this Ranger a Giant slayer not only fits the Gruul theme, but also the mechanic, because if the enemy OA connects, the ranger can expend his reaction to halve the damage, at least if the enemy is Large or bigger.

Plus, I like the idea of a Gruul Ginat Slayer. Gruul is the "giant guild" in many ways, and having a "small" guy good against them, makes for a respectable individual within his Clan. Which brings to an interesting Background choice...

Unusual Background.

This Gruul (aka savage) Ranger will have the... Noble background. It is meant to be an elite warrior within the clan, who earned a lot of respect by fighting big and scary members of the same or other clans. So for a twist, the "three retainers" pledged to serve this noble will likely be (very) tamed OGRES!

Only change to the skill selection is the selected Lore. Political doesn't make a lot of sense for Gruul, so I'd replace it with Cultural Lore, focused on the Gruul culture, but not only.

Ability Scores.

I'd like a rather balanced stat array for my Ranger. Dexterity is obviously a must, but basically all the rest needs to be decent too, especially mental stats, to convey an "elite" feeling within the savage Gruul. Strangely enough, I think Strength will be the dump stat!
Here's what I'd use, after the (crazy) all-stats human bonus, and class bonus:

Str 9, Dex 17, Con 12, Int 14, Wis 14, Cha 14

Yes, pretty crazy for a Gruul, but I think it works pretty well, making his Intimidate, Persuade, Recall Lore, and Sense Motive skills quite good at a +2.

Feats.

Apart from the nearly obligatory custom Guild Initiate feat, the first level feat that I think fits best here is the simple Weapon Mastery. As written, it could take into account extra damage, so it should allow to replace the result of the extra d6 damage from either Hunter's Mark or Slayer of the Colossus with a juicy d10 from the katana. It's borderline cheating, but hey, we're trying to "fix" the Ranger..!

Name and final details.

I want a name that is both savage and noble of course. A harsh sound, but elegant in some way. Kharshk 'Tan it is, after a 1 minute brainstorming. That "Tan" is meant to conjure "chieftain". I also did a 30 seconds search of Gruul clans using the magiccards.info database, and I chose the rarely mentioned (actually mentioned only once) Bolrac clan, cited on the Wrecking Ogre card, since I want Kharhsk to have the respect of ogres.


Finally, I want a bad-ass illustration, which I obviously found on deviantArt, among the artworks of ~XRobinGoodFellowX.


And that's all for my latest Ravnican character

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Sorcery in #dndnext (as opposed to Wizardry) - The Arcane and Raw Magic


Yesterday I posted an old blog entry if you noticed, dated more than one year back. My ideas about sorcery have not changed much fundamentally, but they evolved a bit.

Today I'd like to talk about raw magic, the kind of magic that I'd like to see Sorcerers literally wield.

Types of magic: premises and disclaimers

Ok, so if you're here, you probably know that in D&D there's always been this great divide between Arcane magic and Divine magic. Psionic are considered "non-magic" traditionally, or simply another "power source" in more recent times. Always more recently, with 4th edition, we have become accustomed to distinguish also Primal and Shadow magic, and on a smaller scale even Elemental magic, although it never became a "stand-alone" power source (and the same can be said of Shadow).

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Sorcery in #dndnext (as opposed to Wizardry) - Initial thoughts


THE NEXT SORCERER - AS I WOULD LIKE IT

Wednesday, February 8, 2012, 6:12 PM


I have a lot of ideas on how to differentiate Warlocks and Sorcerer from the over-arching archetype of "Wizard", this is actually the second blog I write on the subject.

There are many players and DMs alike that find that the two concepts are too similar to be separated. They view Warlocks as Wizards who delve into dark powers and have spells themed accordingly, and Sorcerers as Wizards that receive their spells from bloodlines and have spells themed accordingly. I think they are legitimate points of view, but they come from a tradition that didn't have clear ideas on the different archetypes in a first place.
Classes need many things to be "worth being a class". They must represent clear and broad archetypes. Any substantial overlapping with another, more iconic class, would make them unnecessary and better off as sub-classes or equivalent. 

That's why I'd like Sorcerers and Warlocks to be radically different from how they are represented now. Especially mechanically-speaking, because even if mechanics can be re-flavored, certain mechanics are better suited at conveying some flavor than others.

This time I will limit myself to the Sorcerer, describing in a brainstorm fashion all the concepts that I think can really distinguish and characterize the class, other than rendering it interesting in play and desirable.

Fluff-story.
  • Raw magic: what should really make "sorcery" different from "wizardry" is that the Sorcerer should draw from raw magic. Either in its "chaotic form" or its "elemental form", Sorcerer's magic should be to Wizardry what stone and wood are to buildings. It's more primitive, and it ties directly to the forces used by primordials to shape the world as we know it. It's tied to chaos, raw energy and the elements.
  • Two fundamental types: as I said, I basically view two types of Sorcerers. One is more tied to the chaotic part of this raw magic, the other more to the elemental nature of it. Note that I view these as the foundations of everything in the world. Chaotic magic is like the "residual radiation left by world's creation", the "wave-like" part of it, while Elemental magic is what constitutes matter at a fundamental level.
    • Chaotic Sorcerers. These are more similar to the classic concept of Sorcerers we're accustomed to. Chaotic magic is something invisible to all but them and creatures imbued with raw magic, as certain fey, dragons, demons or others. It's like a stream that encircles all things, and Chaotic Sorcerers can bend it to their will. They can produce many subtle effects with it, and its signature is being a quick and "reactive" type of magic. Each movement, spell, everything in the physical and not-physical world is in some way touched by Chaos, and as such Chaotic Sorcerers can literally mess with it with their own wills, if they're quick enough to do so. Their method is drawing from these energies, collecting them in ways only them can, and then using them in the most varied ways, sometimes in the blink of an eye.
    • Elementalists. They are somewhat derived from Chaotic Sorcerers, a more specialized form. While Chaotic Sorcerers mostly have just an inner spark of power inside them that lets them see and manipulate a hidden energy source present in all things, Elementalists have some of this energy directly inside their bodies. For them, it's not a matter of manipulating something outside of them through a special power. They are the special power, and they manipulate forces that come from an inextinguishable wellspring placed directly inside their bodies, in their primitive "animus". As such, they need strong bodies, able to withstand the incredible forces encased within them. They also use will-power, but don't need to understand anything of the world around them, they have raw magic all inside them. They can shape this energy in a lot of ways, their spells wouldn't be limited in form, they wouldn't be "known spells". They could create a fireball in a thousand different ways, it's not the Fireball that wizards cast from the books, although it could resemble it. Their fireball could be proportionally as strong, fast, or big as their muscles, casting movements, or bodies are... Their bodies are magic, their metabolism includes spellcasting (or better yet "spell-morphing") as a biological function.
  • Bloodlines. This traditional concept of the Sorcerer is, in my opinion, better off as part of the fluff, story and background. It can be made optionally as a mechanical element, but I think it's something that too many different classes could draw upon, to just make it a foundation of the sorcerer only.
    Sorcerers do have innate powers either as inner magical "sparks" and "senses" (Chaotic) or as true elemental power in their bodies, but the reasons are better left open for the player to describe them. Elementalist could have their powers derived from Dragons, and this could show in any spell they create, but it's only a possibility. They could tap into this bloodline to actually have mechanical advantages/differences, but it should be an option, not the rule. Making it a rule is like limiting the broader scope of the class. Even with countless bloodlines, making them something you have to think about for playing a sorcerer is limiting. You should play it for having innate powers to access raw magic and morph into spells, the reasons behind this, the origin of this power, is better left to the player's imagination first. Then it can always be worked into feats, optional class features and anything else.
  • Actual possible different origins. To show that bloodlines should not be the only distinguishing origin of Sorcerers, I think the developers should come up with different ideas for the origins of Sorcery in a character. Elementalists could be made when not born, for example, in the superhero fashion. They could have had some episode in their life that tied them to elemental magic, they could have found an incredibly old artifact of the time of the primordials that imbued them with elemental magic, or they could have been subjects of arcane experiments. Maybe they started off as wizards and delved too deeply and strangely into the study of elementalism that they accidentally unlocked powers inside them.
    Chaos sorcery could have even more varied origins. It could be a trait that manifests on children born in strange conditions, it could be the result of a close encounter with some strange creature (without the pact thing of warlocks), or it could manifest after birth, for any reason. It's chaos, it's unpredictable.