Wednesday, May 6, 2020

#Zendikar #DnD Take 2: beefier races - Merfolk!

Was nearly writing Mefolk, and it would have been appropriate: Merfolk and in particular Zendikari Merfolk are the race with which I identify the most!

This makes it very easy to incur in Mary Sue effects, so please be ruthless in your criticism about balance of this one.

The main characteristics that should be part of Merfolk are the following:

  • Early flight: seems strange if you don't know the setting, but on Zendikar (and many other MtG worlds, Merfolk are able to acquire and even more often grant flight.
  • Connection with the Roil: although I don't want to go look for the obscure source where I got this info from, I don't even care much, because canon or not, we kind of need at least one race that can be "the Roil race". This can or even should be connected to the flight mechanic, since it's not like they would be able to fly or make others fly without the Roil.
  • Individualism and diversity: far more than because of their "creeds" (originally absent from their description, and kind of introduced later on with the problematic Battle For Zendikar), Merfolk should be a diverse lot because of their strong individualism. you could find a Merfolk more similar to just about any other race on Zendikar (save for Surrakar and Vampires) than to another Merfolk.
  • Water-related advantages: this seems to go without saying, but I want something of their aquatic nature to be usable even in non aquatic environments, and I think I have an idea, taken from a famous cult movie...
  • Some weaknesses: the usual "has to be in water for X hours" is a low-hanging fruit, and it's not something mentioned by the source material. If you analyze the original Zendikar articles, there are two other "needs" of Merfolk that are in my opinion more flavorful and less annoying: needing some protection against sun/heat, and needing to tie/pierce their fins if they don't want to be impeded by the difficult terrain of Zendikar.
I hope the features I found for this will explain by themselves how I thought of covering all the points!


Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom and Intelligence scores both increase by 1, and any ability score of your choice increases by 1.

Age. Merfolk reach maturity early, around 12 years of age, and have human-like lifespans but less decrepitude, sometimes approaching 100 years still able to be independent, although dying of old age soon after.

Size. Merfolk are as tall as humans, but usually weight less, since they are very lean. Your size is Medium.

Alignment. On Zendikar, merfolk can be of any alignment, although usually far from extremes, and tending more towards neutrality.

Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 ft, and you have a swimming speed of 30 ft.

Amphibious. You can breathe air and water.

Solitary Learning. You gain one feat of your choice that grants an ability score increase, ignoring race requirements. You gain all its benefits except the ability score increase.

Twitch. When an attack misses you, you can use your reaction to move 5 ft. without provoking opportunity attacks.

Languages. You can speak read and write Common and Merfolk.


Roil Sense. As an action, you can make a Wisdom (Survival) or Intelligence (Arcana) check to learn more about the presence, color, and state of any Roil within your line of sight.

Caller of Gales. Within the influence of Blue or White Roil, you can use an action to create an effect like that of a gust of wind spell, without requiring components, but with an instantaneous duration, and with the possibility to center it under yourself, so that you and other affected creatures can be propelled upwards by it. (Affected creatures can choose to fail the saving throw.)

  • Sunscreen unguent
  • Fin harnesses or piercings (reducing swimming speed to 20 ft.)
  • For every 4 hours under the sun you suffer 1 level of exhaustion.
  • Your walking speed is reduced by 5 ft. and difficult terrain costs an extra 5 ft. for you to pass.

As you can see, there are no subraces: the bonus feat takes care of that, because racial feats will represent the "creeds", which in the WotC implementation were taken as subraces.
The word "creed" doesn't even appear in the original description of Merfolk, but I guess I must acknowledge it since it's published. Instead of making it define the Merfolk though, I think their solitary nature allows them to choose, if to actually follow a creed or not.

Note that the thing of stealing a racial feat from others might seem crazy, but considering many of the feats with an ability score increase are racial, and I really wanted the clause "except the ability score increase", this is needed to have at least a few decent options. I didn't want just a free feat because that's the Human thin, and I still wanted the ability scores to be slightly better than Human, with some variability but basically only Int or Wis having the big increase.

The flying feature is very limited, as you can guess. Requiring Blue or White roil is already a big condition (which might be too much, honestly, but it might change, just like Roil colors might disappear, or be substituted by terrain types), but most importantly, the gust of wind effect can only propel 15 ft. in any direction. This means very short flights, and that's why I left it at-will: at least in those moments when the stars align and you can use the feature, you can use it as much as needed. It does burn the action, after all.

An alternative, especially if ditching Roil Color completely, could be requiring positive Roil (difficult to fly when gravity or winds are pulling you towards one point!) This way, Merfolk would be encouraged to take the Lullmage feat, and use it to actually raise the Roil, like Noyan Dar does in Battle for Zendikar.

This would of course require the Lullmage feat to be a "lower or raise by 1", or "improve or worsen by 1" instead of just improve: I wonder if that's ok, but I think so.
Note that although Merfolk would be encouraged to take the Lullmage feat, they would get very little from it if they take it as their first feat, since they don't get the bump to ability score, and they already have Roil Sense.

Lastly, the Twitch feature, which I had devised in 4th edition for the same purpose (Zendikar D&D started in 4th edition) is basically only flavor, and is inspired by the way Abe Sapien fights (or better, avoids hits) in Hellboy 2. I think it represents this fish instinct of swimming away instinctively. Was considering making the move prone the character, but then it would really rarely be used, since it could mean more problems, unless we talk ranged attacks.
I am still puzzling on it: any suggestions? Of course in theory I could just drop it and the race would be still fine, but I thought they should have at least one common thing that doesn't depend on the Roil.

That's all for Merfolk, for now, and I think I will do one more race with Roil-based features, and then return to the Roil to really flesh it up and call it done!


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