Monthly Archives: August 2015

More Common Items

Right now, my treasure table A is potions of healing, purity 1 Lyricum Draughts and Incense (see appropriate article), spell scrolls, potions of climbing. And bags of holding and driftglobes.


Let’s explore some more good low level commons and uncommons.

One idea, bottled pets. This isn’t so dissimilar to the potion of animal friendship; a homonculus that eats your actions (per beastmaster ranger) and lasts for up to an hour, consuming the drinker’s concentration else it turn on them.

Another, resistive gauntlets, act similar to gloves of missile snaring: as a reaction the wearer catches an appropriate attack on the glove, reducing its damage by 1d10 + dexterity modifier. To qualify, the damage must be either retributive (such as burning blood or body, damage dealt to melee attackers passively as a trait), aimed as an attack against AC (while the wearer has at least 1 free hand) , or the sort of environmental hazard one can imagine the glove helping against (reaching into a bowl of acid, grasping an electrified iron bar).
Roll on the ring of resistance table to determine elemental affinity. I’d probably let the force glove snatch magic missiles.

Wand of Cantrip. a single cantrip, 7 charges, crumbles 1-in-20 on last charge, yadda yadda. Probably only attack cantrips.

Nightcandle. Renders a 60′ area around itself dim light only to those already in its radius. Burns 1 hour.

Litmuscloth. These come in a variety of types; when touched to the sweat or blood of type of creature they identify, stepped upon or breathed upon by same, they change color to show the true face of the being who triggered the change. They have a 5% chance of failing to change when they should, or of changing when they should not; after changing they are no longer magical. Types include: werewolves (and anyone owning more than 10 dogs), vampires (also triggers for anyone possessing more than 100gp), Illyrians (and Spaniards), sick people and ghouls, ghosts and cursed people, guilty people (including overly conscientious innocent people, but not sociopaths; never works on worshippers of Luth!), “witches” (meaning spellcasters that are not clerics, paladins, monks or bards; also includes hags, virgins over 65, and great-grest grandparents), “madmen” (triggered also by worshippers of Qhlu, bards, lovers and barbarians), and so forth.
Their use is specialized at best, but at least they are often discovered in large numbers!

Polycake. A sort of baguette-shaped party-based iron ration, a polycake may also be spread on the floor to grease a 5′ area, burned as a torch which repels stirges and mundane insects, thrown as a +1 dart or broken into a gallon of wine to yield enough food and water for 10 people for a day, all while weighing in at 1/10th of a pound itself. It floats in water, in which it floats and slowly froths as soap, and makes an excellent vermin poison.
Found in packs of 10.

Remembering Strings. Intended for a lute or other instrument, these wires record about five seconds of sounds per inch of length when plucked — a minute per foot. When rubbed or bowed, they play this sound back. Edges of two remembering strings pressed together anneal seamlessly; rough handling (such as unstringing or falling too far out of tune) causes them to forget.
They can record and play back such sounds as harpy song, gibbering mouther gibber, etc; they cannot duplicate spells.
Kyton devils (among others) can influence remembering strings with their telepathy, changing their contents at will.

Weighted Weapon. Made of some ultradense material, these adjust their weight when swung. Weilder may spend their action “winding up” to give themselves doubled damage dice on the next round, as though one size larger.

Silent bells. Made of a single grain of adamantium alloyed with lead, these tough tinklebells do not make any noise at all. If shaken in an area of magical silence, they permit speech as loud as a whisper — and spellcasting. They peal a 10′ bubble of sound restoration, and are powerless against silence effects of 6th level or higher.


Lyrium, radiation and madness

I don’t know if younoticed, but Dragon Age did something BRILLIANT.
It invented a substance of crystallized madness — Lyrium.

It’s the Uranium 238 of the psychotropic world — radiative & deadly, debilitating to the mind & spirit but not the body.
It’s also the “plot juice” that makes a lot of the series run: The dwarves mine it and thereby derive their magical immunity. The mages chug it like cool-aid to refill their mana. The Templars are carefully exposed to it & become super unmagical. And more: kryptonite-like, it comes in flavors and the flavors wreak various havocs, directly.
I think it plays some role in magic item creation, and probably the construction of Quieted mages?

I’m not ready to go that far — I think magic items work better as paragon exemplars of their type. But a substance of crystallized madness sounds ideal for my Azoth: an intrusion of the chaotic energies of that place warp thenatural world already; deciding that they deposit a permanent taint sounds very fitting!

An inorganic substance like horn or coral, Lyricum is found in places where the world grows thin and the energies of Azoth creep though, warping the stone and soil into stage organic shapes. These formations are much sought after by mages & kings, because they still carry the imprint and power of that fey place.

A constant menace to the miners of the stuff, as well as a byproduct of its refining, fine Lyricum Dust is a great hazard. When free in the air it forms thick ground-hugging hazes filled with whorls and eddies; it is water soluble and diverts the flow of water as well. It actively seeks thinking creatures to settle upon and in, forming auras around them.
Inhaled or imbibed, it causes visions and madness. Brief exposure, such as passing through a cloud of he stuff without holding one’s breath or ingestion of an ounce of liquid causes a “long term madness” with a duration of 1d10 minutes. An Intelligence (madness) saving throw against a DC of 10 negates. Call for this save upon first exposure and every hour thereafter.
Continued exposure while in this state (continuing to breathe or drink) increases the duration to 1d10x10 hours, no save.
Even under the strongest precautions, miners must make this save from daily to yearly (depending on quality of protective gear) or suffer an indefinite madness.
The “gas” is highly flammable, and the vapor it produces affects its victims with much greater potency. Bringing candles, torches, unshielded lamps etc. into a pocket of disturbed Lyricum dust causes it to explode (dealing 5d6 fire in the area, dexterity save DC 15 halves) and the fumes it produces cause an intense short term madness, intelligence save DC 15 negates. Sufferers of this madness are left with the debilitating long term madness as a parting gift.

You would have to be mad to intentionally wet down raw lyricum dust, form the resultant mud into sticks of incense with blood or honey as a binding agent, and then at some later date burn the tapers and intentionally inhale the smoke. And yet…
Lighting a taper takes an action. Entering the 10′ cube around a lit taper or ending ones turn there exposes one to the smoke. A lit taper burns for 1 minute unless extinguished, and a thrown taper has a 50% chance of going out.
The smoke affects the inhaler as burned Lyricum dust above, causing a short term madness to those who partake even the slightest. As a side effect, when the madness clears (and an unwilling participant may repeat their save at the end of each round while under the effects), the creature has +1d4 on intelligence, wisdom and charisma checks for one round. A DC 10 intelligence (madness) save negates the negative effects of the smoke, as does holding one’s breath.
Clever adventurers might keep a taper around as a sort of alchemical weapon, since most beasts are vulnerable to its intelligence-based saves and 50% of the results incapacitate the victim.
A single taper is a common magic item, and its manufacture should be regarded as similar to that of meth.

If manufactured into a gently glowing potion via admixture with quicksilver and other fixatives, a draught will affect the imbiber as per a single use of the Wand of Wonder, centered on themselves. That’s incredibly dangerous, naturally; study in unstable Lyricum is often regarded as a particularly expensive method of committing suicide.
A spellcaster under the effects of a Lyricum Draught experiences a slightly different side of the drug. They must make an Intelligence (madness) saving throw against a DC of 12 + the purity of the draught (rated 1-5). On a failure, the Wand of Wonder effect occurs, and the caster gains a long term madness. On a success, the madness is of a long term type, but lasts only 1d10 minutes and the caster may regain a spell slot of a level equal to or less than that of the purity of the Draught, which lasts until the madness ends. If they are unable to gain a slot equal to the purity of the Draught, the Wand of Wonder effect also occurs, but if they ride the lightning just so, the Wand of Wonder effect sublimates entirely into the spell slot.
Purity 1 is common, 2-3 uncommon, 4-5 rare.

Relatively rare within lyricum “groves”, egg-sized crystalline growths sometimes form. These talismans are highly sought after, functioning as pearls of power, frequently worked into jewelry, staves or similar. Possessing one for more than a year begins to risk long term madness.
Spells cast through a crystal’s restored slot always trigger a wild surge, per sorceror.
Both the long term madness and wild surge effects may be removed through careful treatments of the stone, though sources disagree over the precise formulae. The stones also take extremely well to enchantment, forming a core component of many extremely rare items.

These lair underground in lyricum intrusions, tending their silicate gardens.
Use the creature stats of a green dragon, but add the Euphoria Breath trait to the green dragon’s breath cloud (as an additional effect, same save DC but against Intelligence). Additionally, these dragons have innate, reactive, passive spellcasting powers; as a reaction to anyone casting a spell within the radius of their fear aura (or 15 feet if none), they may cast one of the following spells of a level equal to or less than the triggering spell, each once per day:
dancing lights, mage hand, minor illusion, color spray, mirror image, suggestion, major image, hallucinatory terrain, polymorph
Other than casting time this is in all ways a standard form of that spell, taking concentration, each spell only useable once, etc; the DC to resist the spell is equal to the dragon’s breath DC.

This so-called Lyricum Golem isn’t really; obtaining that much fissile lyricum is far too dangerous (but see lyricum elemental and greater lyricum golem!). Incorporating lyricum into the metal manufacture of arms and armor, however, can lend it sentience; laying the proper spells upon that frame transforms the whole into a helmed horror, or at least a variant thereof.
Instead of the Spell Immunity property of the Helmed Horror, the Lyricum Golem has the Tarrasque’s Reflective Carapace; when targeted by magic missile, line spells or ranged attack roll spells, it is unaffected and 1-in-6 the effect instead rebounds on the caster.

Actually made from the coral whorls of a lyricum growth, semi-stabilized in some unknown way, this dangerous creature is as a stone golem, with the Tarrasque’s reflective carapace (as above) and its slow ability instead inflicts a short term madness (DC 17 Intelligence (madness) save each round negates).

As an earth elemental, with AC 15 (instead of 17), lacking earth glide and seige monster, with the ability to discorporate or reincorporate as a bonus action, gaining fly 30′, air form (resist thunder, may pass through enemies, no damage on its attacks, immunity to prone and grapple). In any form, it emits lyricum dust; those exposed suffer a short term madness, DC 15 Intelligence (madness) saving throw negates. Those touching it or hitting it with melee attacks while within 5 feet are exposed. So are those within its space while the elemental is in air form. So are those it hits with its attacks while not in air form.
It has vulnerability to fire in any form, and in air form this vulnerability, uniquely, deals treble dsmage (instead of double). When it takes fire damage, all those within 20 feet take 5d6 fire, Dexterity save DC 15 halves, then expose them to the creature’s lyricum dust.
For every 5′ moved through liquid or each 5′ moved through it, it takes 1 point acid and loses its discorporate/incorporate, lyricum dust and explosive abilities for 1 round.

Normally, the gnomes’ advantage on mental saves provides a great measure of shielding from the effects of lyricum. Derro are communities of gnomes so tainted with the stuff that, while their immunity has kept them alive, that is all that can be said. Use evil, insane deep gnomes with an immunity to further madness or confusion effects for now; await better stats.

Nice things for the warrior class

Wizards get scrolls and potions. They get cool wands which give them new tricks at the same time the fighter gets, at best, a +1 sword. They actually can eat the scroll and learn its contents, a permanent breadth of power increase.
Clerics get the scrolls and wands too, albeit without the permanent personal boost. And potions, natch.
Druids, bards, paladin, rangers ditto.

It’s fun to hand out one-use and, to a lesser degree, limited use items. They are useful treasure which players want to track and find a situation to which they apply, not an incremental treasure increase.
But potions, always potions? Boring, and helpful to casters too.

Archer-types get enchanted arrows or bolts or bullets. Pretty cool.
But what of the poor melee character? Drawing a weapon is sufficiently expensive that, while I considered obsidian daggers or spears, consumed as they strike at the moment their power is unleashed, it’s not really what I want. Requires a golf bag to keep track of it all.
Now, poisons and a few similar alchemicals are close; they still encourage the warrior to use their weapon but layer effects on top, and are single use, and small.

Let’s talk kata: semi-ritualized practice moves. Perhaps fighter “scrolls” unlock these techniques. But once you have access to Falling Eagle Strike, it feels like you should either always have it available, or else go play 4e. You could do something with concentration or something to ensure just one per scene, but it’s hard to make them really feel 1-use. Scrolls got around this with magic; the words fade from the page as read, and the magic is in the object, not just the movement. (Cynicism: yes, this is the 4e way out; in my defense I’m willing to call it magic!)

Can we use that? Kata-scrolls, when read and their rituals performed during a short rest, give some benefit that lasts until used or replaced with a new one, which is semi-magical and personal? I might allow passing a scroll around a group; a large number of people might benefit from a single training session, but a given individual cannot spam the same scroll continously once used.

Now, I happen to have access to a conversion of the maneuvers from the Book of Nine Swords from 3.5e. I’ll probably use those as my kata.
However, just within 5e core, you might hand out something like superiority dice (nonrefilling) and a maneuver, or a handful of bonus sneak attack dice (also non-renewable, can only spend a few per attack), freebie advantage dice, reactive stoneskin or blur or misty step or other combat magic, ki points and something to use them on, etc.

On Perception

I think, gentle reader, that by now we have some understanding.

I do not like D&D’s core 6 stats, and I am suspicious of its choice of skills.
The stats are distributed such that certain archetypes overload in odd ways (clerics; trapfinding).
The skills prohibit direct weapon skill (laudatory) but then immediately sink back into problems when they get into grappling and the hide-and-seek game. Oh, and the social skills aren’t to my taste.

Time for fixes!
Not of the stats; my problems there are well known and I think I’ve sufficiently covered my bases.
For the skills.

1) Drop the investigation, perception and, possibly, insight skills. You can still call for these checks; they are lore-ish skills combined with the appropriate stat for the check (dungeoneering underground, nature in the woods, streetwise in a city, etc) adjusted by wisdom to spot a detail and derive data. A character may request +int instead for a check performed over a long period, or +cha if the check is in conversation with a creature.
The DM determines the appropriate skill and it’s generally obvious — based on what the scene appears to contain. If its a complex scenario (can you tell that the beautiful maiden — diplomacy or history — is actually a wicked hag — nature?!), the DM can either explicitly list the available skills, somewhat tipping their hand, or see the next part.
2) Spot something or suffer isn’t a good use of the skill system. When you get down to it, things like ambushes and ruses are traps, and should use trap rules. At the point where you’re determining surprise, don’t make a skill check.
Make a saving throw.
Now, there’s a problem here, which is that wisdom is overloaded to willpower, and this really wants to be a wisdom save. You can get around this by making it a dexterity save, or you can make a new category of saving throw, “surprise save”, based off of wisdom, which rangers, druids, fighters, monks, rogues, elves, halflings, felines, serpents, dragons, and any creature with any form of sharpened senses are proficient in. This is what generally opposes stealth in combat.
Failure means you’re caught by whatever nasty surprise you had hoped not to be, which is generally a brief effect followed by more saves for everyone. The brief effect is often called “surprise”.
This solves the case of the sweet-presenting hag; if characters interact with her they can put forward their suggestions of what she is and bring their skills to bear; at the last minute if they haven’t pierced her disguise it’s unmodified surprise saves all around at the moment the cat’s out of the bag.
This also solves the ambush problem; players can interact and detect things using the appropriate skill, but will ultimately fall back to a surprise save at the last minute. Same with dungeon traps.
3) Grapples. Grapples use the skill system because they’re a canonical example of freeform resolution, inflicting a condition in exchange for going off-book. Unfortunately, they also unfairly privilege the athletics and acrobatics skills; why should rogues be better grapplers than fighters? And so: I move grapples back into the combat system.
Making a grapple is considered a strength-based martial weapon for proficiency; it targets not armor class but a dexterity or strength save. Monks are proficient in it also. Escaping from a grapple is that same strength or dexterity save. Magic that affects skill checks (guidance?) need not apply; magic that affects saves is fine for defense, and magic affecting offense affects the initial grab attempt.

This constrains the role of skills to active use by the player, which is good because passive use should be a save to prevent a specific bad outcome. This also constrains skills away from defending against particular combat moves — valuable because of the common nature of those moves. Finally, it makes grappling a sort of specialty weapon, which better matches its use.