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Saturday, March 29, 2014

#MtG's #Zendikar plane as a #13thAge setting - Quick Icons!

A flash of insight hit me suddenly about the icons in Zendikar and I had a stupid idea that proved less stupid than first thought.

It started thinking about the "everything goes" philosophy I was beginning to think was the only solution to the Icons in Zendikar. I thought: "At this point, you could even just take the cards that most closely approximate the 13th Age Icons, and call it a day." - And then I tried the experiment..!

The Archmage: Seagate Loremaster

It can definitely be a legendary (aka unique) figure in Zendikar, even if the card itself is not Legendary in type, and thus allows multiple copies of it to be in the game. But we're not playing Magic: we're devising a setting. So in our setting, The Loremaster is a legendary figure of which there's only one!

It's also extremely appropriate in Zendikar for the Arcane/Lore Icon to be a Merfolk.

#MtG's #Zendikar plane as a #13thAge setting! - Icons Brainstorming

It's proving extremely difficult to devise Icons that work in the standard 13th Age way for the Zendikar world.

A bit of background explanation is needed to understand why. Then I'm going to basically propose some "models" and see what you guys in the community think about this.

BACKGROUND: Why Zendikar lacks world-shaping NPCs.

First and foremost, we would be tempted to cut the matter short by stating that Zendikar has never meant to be role-played into. As all Magic: The Gathering worlds/planes, it's just meant to be a backdrop to battles that involve tapping the magical resources that are embedded into the world's lands (and this is also the focus of Zendikar compared to other MtG worlds), and havng creatures and spells summoned in this way.

But Zendikar has everything it needs to be at least a common D&D setting. It has dunegons, it has adventurers, it has sorts of guilds of adventurers, and it has all manner of artifacts and magical stuff, a strange unfolding prophecy and a culmination into an eldritch apocalypse involving three Chtulhu-like aberrant gods that will devour literally all reality unless they are stopped. (Oops, spoiler!)

So what it lacks is exactly the classical important NPCs/factions that the Dragon Empire of 13th Age has. Or doesn't it? It depends on the scale used to measure their possible equivalents in Zendikar

LARGE SCALE ICONS: Zendikar doesn't lack big players, but can they be Icons?

The three apocalypse-igniting alien gods trapped within the very earth of Zendikar are immensely powerful.

The triads of gods that the major religious races (Merfolk and Kor) have in their theologies, are just cargo-cult versions of the long-forgotten appearance of the three mentioned world-enders. That is, technically the "true gods" of Zendikar don't even exist: they are historians' failures in keeping the memories of those old terrors for what the truly were. BUT. But... There still are clerics of these gods that have powers. And there still is a connection between the true Eldrazi (the names of the alien elder gods) and the "theological illusion" gods. So two routes are possible here: either we consider the religons' gods as some kind of spiritual avatar of the imprisoned Eldrazi, maybe become so thanks to the mortals veneration, or we even think that while inspired from the Eldrazi in origin, these gods also became something "kind of real" as separate mystical entities.
In any case, we're still talking of distant entities, in all senses.

And that's the problem with the large-scale players of Zendikar: be them imprisoned, mystical avatars of the imprisoned that became somewhat stand-alone gods, or very abstract deities, they lack a lot of the characteristics required by icons.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

#MtG's #Zendikar plane as a #13thAge setting - Part 1: Races

If you know me from the Wizards community or even just if you are one of the few regular readers of this blog, you know that I have a passion for Zendikar, the Magic: The Gathering world that I consider most playable and fun from a fantasy RPG point of view.

I already spent a lot of time in the past trying to "convert" the setting to D&D 4e, with mixed results, and now, after seeing how good of a job does the 13th Age system do in giving life to settings, thanks to the Icons idea, and pumped up for the opportunity to contribute to a 13th Age fanzine proposed by +David Eglinton, I want to try out a 13th Age conversion of Zendikar!

First of all, let it be clear that "conversion" should not be the term to be used. It's not about taking the actual Zendikar block cards and converting them to D&D or 13th Age rules. It's about making the world behind those cards into a playable setting.

Set this in stone, even before the Icons, which will prove quite difficult in Zendikar, compared to the straightforward Guilds->Icons correspondence of Ravnica, I want to start with the iconic Zendikar races, one of which, the Merfolk, I just re-wrote for D&D Next.

Races in 13th Age are extremely simple. They only get one ability score bonus chosen between two, and one racial power. There should also be a racial feat for Champion tier, but it's kind of secondary: you can play the first levels without it.

So let's do it!!

Part 1: RACES

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

#Merfolk, the #MtG variety, home-brew as a race for #dndnext!


As a merfolk, you share these racial traits with others of your kind.
Ability Score Increase. Your Intelligence score increases by 2.
Age. Merfolk grow and age at approximately half the rate of a normal human, attaining adulthood in 30 to 35 years. They live to be around 160.
Alignment. Merfolk tend to be neutral on the cosmic war between chaos and law, although exceptions exist, especially for very tight communities where lar prevails, or banished or orphan indivudals who can tend more toward chaos. Their side on the good and evil axis depends a lot on their personal experience, tending toward evil if they experienced or witnessed evil acts, or towards good if vice-versa.
Size. Merfolk are more or less the same height as humans, but tend to be lighter in build than the average human.
Speed. Your base land speed is 30 feet. You also have a swimming speed of 35 feet.
Aquatic. As a merfolk you can breathe underwater, and being underwater imposes no penalty on your attack roles or ability checks.
Languages. You can speak and read Merfolk and Common.
Reflexive Twitch. In place of an Opportunity Attack or when surprised by or surprising enemies, move half your speed without provoking Opportunity Attacks and without expending movement or actions.
Curious Researcher. Choose a feat that grants a bonus to an ability score. You gain its bnefits, except for the bonus to the ability score.
If feats are not in use in your game, choose two different bonuses among the following: proficiency in one skill, one weapon, one saving throw, one tool, or learn a language.
Subrace. Merfolk exist in many planes, and in each plane they develop substantial differences and adaptions


Zendikar is a plane of stronger and more pervasive magical forces, where the land itself changes constantly under the geo-magical phenomenon known as the "Roil". Zendikar merfolk have attuned so well to this that they know how to be nexuses for the Roil, even in planes where the Roil doesn't usually manifest: when any spell disturbs the natural order, you can "ride" the magical currents that get amplified by your presence and take advantage as the laws of physics change around you.
Ability Scores. Your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Roil Nexus. When casting a 1st level or higher spell, or as a Reaction when a 1st level or higher spell is casted within 10 feet of you, choose one of the following effects:

  • One or two creatures within 10 feet of you are pushed up to their speed in any direction (Strength saving throw negates, saving throw DC is 8 + your Proficiency Bonus + your Wisdom modifier)
  • You and a willing target within 10 feet of you gain a fly speed equal to the respective base land speed until the start of your next turn.
  • Choose an area within 10 feet of you up to 10 feet per side to become heavily obscured or 4 areas of 5 feet per side to become lightly obscured, until the start of your next turn.
After you use this feature, you can't use it again until you complete a short rest or a long rest.


In Ravnica, Merfolk have lived in isolation under the surface of the city for centuries. When they emerged, they found themselves at home in a recently battered Simic guild and eventually took control of it and brought it back to a prominent position.
The guild's take on evolution matches perfectly your own fast adaption to new environments.
Ability Scores. An ability score of your choice other than Intelligence increases by 1.
Fast Evolution. If after two consecutive long rests you exhaust your Hit Dice by healing, you gain an additional Hit Die to spend in healing until the next long rest. Alternatively, if after two consecutive long rests you exhaust your daily spell slots, you gain an additional daily spell slot of the highest level you can cast until the next long rest. These bonuses can't happen at the same time and are not cumulative. If both conditions apply, the Hit Die benefit applies.


Original "design notes" of my 4e Zendikar adaption (here) - annotations in italic. 

I envisioned two principal themes while exploring Zendikar's Merfolk [cards]: exploration/scouting and knowledge.
They are described as solitary in the sense that they enjoy researching in solitude, but most of their abilities benefit their allies as a group. They have a leader streak mechanically, without actually being charismatic. They lead with their knowledge.

There were many powers that fitted as a racial power for them, so I decided to make a single power with many uses depending on the merfolk's power source. This encourages hybrids and/or multiclassing, and makes the Bard an attractive class for the merfolk (which is thematically fitting IMO), even if Charisma is not given a bonus. - I simplified this by just letting them choose the effect. The concept of power source could still be used in Next, but the caster classes are too few for now, and even if I considered making the effect tied to spell school, it would have made the effect more "arcane", when it's intended to be more a "ride the currents of magic" thing.

Their other signature ability is knowing an extra encounter or at-will power of their level but needing to swap it with another one in order to use it. It's like they all have a mini spellbook, which I think is fitting because they're listed as wizards more often than any other class, and this power swapping during resting also sounds as something a solitary explorer/researcher could do, to prepare him or herself to the next challenge in advance. - This was of course re-adapted into the toned-down feat.

The explorer feature can be powerful and it can be extended to allies via feat: extra move action during surprise rounds. Note that it can be combined with the racial power, which is a minor action, and can thus be used by burning a move action if need arises. - No more racial feats, and no combination of racial power with the Reflexive Twitch. After all, it's not intended to be an at-will racial power, but a feature that can be linked to a spell, it's more passive.

Last thing, maybe the most overpowered, the racial power doesn't scale with level in quantity of bonus, instead gaining more uses per encouneter. Two at paragon and three at Epic. I thought that maintaining the effects low, it could have been a good way to represent the resourcefulness of the Merfolk. - Of course, I didn't make the "racial power" scale, because it's already quite powerful for Next standards.

P.S.: The Ravnica subrace is quite uninspired I guess, but I think it was uninspired in the setting as well. They just needed an iconic Blue race to put in Ravnica, but they didn't expand on them enough, so I just wanted to make them flexible and with a take on the theme of evolution, typical of their Simic Combine guild.


And that's all! Above you see my favorite Merfolk character, Cylonea, whose card-inspiration, Caller of Gales, is also the inspiration for the flying-giving power of my Merfolk race write-up (she's a very basic Merfolk but she can give flight to any creature, so I figured it was quite a basic thing for them in Zendikar!).
She can't be converted right now, because there's really nothing like the 4e version of the Shaman (and a World Spirit Shaman at that!) and the Artificer.
I could eventually try to make the spirit companion a matter of Feat, but then I wouldn't really know on top of which class to put it to represent her. Druid would be ok if it wasn't for the unavoidable Wild Shape which really doesn't suit her. I just hope that between the Warlock and the Sorcerer, something will come up in Next to represent her in a nice way!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Solanyt, the #Simic and #Dimir winged elf assassin, from #DnDNext to #13thAge

I had already written before of how I consider 13th Age the perfect system to play in Ravnica, but I had questioned the feasibility of it in representing my Solanyt character.

The expansion book 13 True Ways will bring multiclassing, thus making it really easy to build the Solanyt I want, but even before laying my sticky fingers (or sticky cursor) over the new product, Wade Rockett provided me with very useful suggestions to build the character using the core system, just tooling around a bit!

So let's go through character creation, following the book step by step.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Ranger that #DnD never gave me. A #DnDNext wanna-be post.

There are a few D&D classes I always rant about. Basically all the "not-big-4" classes. That is, everything that is not Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, or Rogue.

The idea that all other classes should be derived from these is a common "political alignment" in the D&D community, and it's a nasty confusion in and by itself. Because one thing is saying that classes should all be classifiable in those 4 big groups, which would make it easy, for example to have mechanics such as feats or things such as magic items apply to whole groups of classes, like all spellcasters, all scoundrel etc; another thing is to say all classes are technically a combination of those 4, and at that point can very well be sub-classes. You know, I agree: if they are a combination of features from those 4, definitely make them subclasses. Or even more rationally, (p)re-packaged multiclass characters, for those that really don't like to manually multiclass.

The big problem is very simple: all of this comes out of one seldom-recognized mistake: wanting to recreate the "hybrid classes", such as the Ranger, in every edition so that they resemble the first incarnation of the class. You might say "But it's tradition of the game, it's a classic". And I say: "Sure, the Ranger is a tradition and a classic. But is its class advancement table also that??".
My point is that for a class to respect its own tradition and classicism (pun not intended), the mechanics need not to be the same.

Ranger by BBeaton