Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Saga System

I was browsing dmsguild.com and came across the “Saga Rules System” by Arcana (I’m eating a sandwich on the roof as I write this, so no direct links for you, and the pdf doesn’t do a better job of identifying the author than that).

It’s a free download, so I don’t feel too badly analyzing its ideas in public (and thereby giving them away). It’s one page long. Download it, pad their stats.

The central concept is to houserule death saves: gone! Instead, you have a destiny token (expend: do not die when you otherwise would have), and three characters at different levels. You can get the token back by laying the character fallow for two sessions, and increase your token limit by laying fallow for 3.

I really like this system! I think I am more comfortable with something a little more freeform, so here’s a local modification:

Death Saving Throws:
All characters die at 0 hp.
PCs and named NPCs get 1-3 “death saves” (PCs get 3)– they do not die until they are out of death saves, lose a death save on each hit, lose another on a crit, lose one each round during which they fail a death save. Just like the core rules.
Unlike the core rules, death saves do not refill on regaining consciousness. Instead, they are regained by spending downtime days: 1 long-rests worth of downtime days to restore the 1st death save, 2 long-rests worth of downtime days to restore the 2nd death save, and 3 long-rests worth of downtime days to restore the 3rd.
During the period which a character is convalescing, the player can (and should!) be playing a secondary character, with a full complement of saves.

Since death saves and when you make them becomes incredibly important in this system, it’s important to note that the structure of a round is:
1) Every player begins their turn
2,3,4,…) Each player declares and resolves their action
n) Each player ends their turn.

That is, you cannot be healed by the cleric “before your turn comes around” if you’ve dipped negative.

I’m a little concerned that this rule gives a great reason for frontline fighters to keep a back-burner character (after all, their primary is taking the bulk of HP damage) but not so much for a cowardly wizard or a cunning archer. All I can say is that glass cannons are glass; if you don’t want a better-than-baseline character waiting in the wings for when your wizard takes a month off to make a +1 sword, you needn’t have one.

I don’t know what to do about that archer. Someday you’ll get yours. ­čÖé

The rules about “character floor” remain in effect: the characters are 9th level, replacement characters for successful retirees come in at 5th level, those lost to death come in at 4th, the lowest level of characters all level up at the end of each session up to 9th, at which point plot unlocks the next tier and the characters take 2-4 weeks to train.

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On 5e crafting (this time it’s not hypothetical)

By the book, crafting a magic item (DMG 128-9), you need a formula, a spellcaster capable of casting any spells the item can produce, and a minimum level per item rarity.

The creation cost table is pretty much the same as the salable price (common 100, uncommon 500, rare 5000, very rare 50,000, legendary 500,000), and since progress is tracked in 1-day-is-25-gp increments, that means a common item is 4 days, an uncommon one 20 days, a rare one 200 days, a very rare one 2,000 days, and a legendary one a back-breaking 20,000 days. Luckily, multiple qualifying casters each produce 1 day’s worth of labor per day devoted, so with 100 qualifying casters you would reduce the time necessary to 1% of the initial value (or whatever).

The rules require you cast the spells in the item each day you craft the item. Given my wonky long rest rules, that would be super punitive; I’m happy to waive that.

Okay, all well and good. Let’s see what happens next:

Per the book, a formula creates items one step more common.
I think I’m going to waive that, especially since so many of the costs are so high: instead, a formula crafts items of the same rarity (sidebar on DMG 141, cost double of an equivalent item). Probably a few craft skills substitute for formulae; I’m happy to let wizards scribe scrolls and brew potions if they have brewers tools proficiency or alchemist’s proficiency or calligraphy experience or astronomers tools or whatever, at least for the commons and uncommons.

Any item which is rare or rarer will require 1d6 ingredients from each tier (one use items only take 1d3 ingredients); common reagents can almost always simply be purchased and so are ignored for these purposes.

Uncommon ingredients (approx 50gp each):
Bloodstones, citrines, moonstones, quartzes.
A body part from a CR 5-10 creature (based on individual treasure hauls’ expected value; usually yields 1d6-3 such parts).
As a funny corollary, this means well-collected troll’s blood is worth a healing potion or two.
Treatment at a location within 10 miles (dipped in water from a flowing river).

Rare ingredients (approx 500gp each):
Black pearls, peridots, topazes
A body part from a CR 11-16 creature (based on individual treasure hauls’ expected value; usually yields 1d6-3 such parts)
As a side-note, that means a body part from a CR 11-16 creature is an uncommon item (more or less), so feel free to impart magical properties to the liver of an efreeti or the blood of an archmage; the fangs of a vampire, the armor off an iron golem, the eyes of a beholder, the innards of a mummy lord).
A pound of pure platinum, mithril or adamantium.
An uncommon magical item.
Treatment at a location within 100 miles (dipped in water from a blessed spring).

Very Rare ingredients (approx 5000gp each):
Black sapphires, diamonds, rubies
A body part from a CR 17+ creature (based on individual treasure hauls’ expected value; usually yields 1d6-3 such parts)
A rare magical item.
Treatment at a location within 1000 miles (dipped in lava).

Legendary ingredients (approx 50,000gp each):
Plot relevant.
A very rare magical item.
Treatment at a location within 10,000 miles (anointed with the Blood of the Redeemer at the First Fane).

My party slew a pair of invisible stalkers (super sad they don’t have a by-default garrotte attack, by the by). They kept the bodies, skinning them and figuring out what to do with the meat. They’re 9th level (so the best they can do are rare items). The bodies don’t even count as a rare ingredient unfortunately (though, sure, they’re 50gp a pop for trade-in value towards an appropriate item).

Looking at the rare items for anything even remotely relevant, that means: a putative Wand of Invisibility, a spell scroll (4th level, improved invis), oil of etherealness (… I guess), a gem of seeing, a cloak of the bat, a cloak of displacement, or a cape of the mountebank.
At uncommons: a spell scroll (2nd level, invisibility), ring of mind shielding (… I guess), a lantern of revealing (… I guess), gloves of thievery (… I guess), dust of disappearance, a cloak of elvenkind.

Let’s say Henderson the mathemagician decides the ring of mind shielding is where it’s at.

That’s an uncommon item: The only requisite is 500 gp on the barrel (400, once he finishes skinning the stalkers) and a formula. And the formula can be purchased for cash-money in the city they’re in, If Only They Could Find A Way To The Wizard Tower (a somewhat recurring theme, though they found a way through a dungeon that might do it!). So 1000 gp and a brief stint in a dungeon startup cost, then 500 gp (less 100 gp in corpse parts), and 20 days per ring.


Hacks to Fix Things

It’s impossible to be all things to all people. Heck, it’s impossible for a game like D&D to even be all things to one people — get two engineers in a room, get three opinions on the same subject.

So let’s talk about some low cost tweaks to the game to bring it in-line with what I, personally, want.

Druids
I really like Druids as a witch class, but that omnipresent shapeshifting really knocks me for a loop. I hate it, legitimately hate it. My problem with it is the non-fantasy nature of it: Polymorph is a spell available at 7th level, but there’s a whole class of people out there who can turn into voles from day 1. Hedge witches feel like they should be more popular than regular wizards. So every hamlet and thorp should have a volewalker? Not on my watch!

I came up with a solution I don’t hate, though! Replace their wildshape with a possession effect called warg-ing (pretty similar to the magic jar spell; it’s a charm effect, no save, targeting beasts only), with the same CR limits as the current shapeshifting effect. This leaves your body behind and limits you to creatures appropriate to the scene. It also gives you an always-on-tap way to coopt certain types of foes; noisy guard dog? Warg into it, no save. While you’re warging, your body is unconscious and might be mistaken for dead.
A kindly DM might make it more like a spirit-animal-projection-thing, which I _still_ like more than a fully fledged shapeshift, because then everyone knows to watch out for glowing ravens or whatever. That would let you pick the animal instead of being limited to what’s on-site. I think I wouldn’t do that, but it’s not crazy.

Give the Circle of the Moon a real wild-shape ability, separate but consuming uses of, their warging ability. This feels like a suitable reward for the specialization they’ve put in to me.

Monks. I mean Assassins.
Take a Monk.
Use Intelligence instead of Wisdom for everything they do.
That’s it; you can still take your subclass from Empty Hand (“Hashishim”), Shadow (“Ninja”), even Way of Four Elements (some ridiculous elven martial tradition).

Wizards of Powers Dark.
Warlocks get subclass benefits at 1st, 6th, 10th, 14th, and 5 “domain spells”.
Wizards get ’em at 2nd, 6th, 10th, and 14th.

So: Feel free to take Warlock subclasses as a Wizard. They should just work. You probably have to prepare the “expanded spell list” spells into prepared slots, but I’m tempted to say you don’t have to record them into your spell book.

Vice versa, too, though the wizard schools are all boring!

Fighter and Ranger Equivalence.
Fighters get subclass features at 3/7/10/15/18; rangers at 3/7/11/15 (+ feral senses at 18). Close enough to just use straight, pretending that “feral senses” was a property of the subclasses. And the features look more or less equivalent, once you’ve made that exchange. So just take features across the aisle. This is particularly good with fighters with the hunter archetype and rangers with the battle master archetype.

You might even be able to ranger/eldritch knight, as a 5/6 caster or something, backfilling spells from the druid once the ranger runs out.

Which is a big enough boost that I’d rather find something in the standard ranger to throw out to just round it up to a full caster — say, drop to a d8 hit die, drop shield proficiency, add druid spells to the ranger spell selection? That looks pretty tempting to me, especially if you name the amalgamation “Elf: the class”.

That last little spellcasting boost might push the ranger into something I actually want to play, even if it is a little sad that you don’t get to select a subclass.


A year out; on hitting ninth level

They did it. Those maniacs, they blew it up.

My player characters have hit name level. Not all of them — recently, a marked-for-death smurf-hued sorcerer left the group and the former Lord Guardian of the Highwatch Clay Fenway joined. Similarly, the too-rigid-by-far Pali retreated to Thrane while her replacement Loreth (?) took money to train a wyvern and decided to go camping for the rest of her life. Smalli died by Strahd’s hand; Henderson the mathemagician took over. And even before that, Jolli bowed out and Bippi joined, with another hastily-disintegrated character between. And Whistler for Saladzar, long ago. There’s been a lot of churn! Still, here we are, nearly one-in-game-year later — it’s coming up on june in game, and the campaign started in late august.

I really want to hit the brakes on leveling pretty dramatically now, but I suspect that would lead to a player revolt. What I might start doing is leveraging the insanely large party sizes and doing some MVP-voting scheme, maybe with some d20 level-rollover to establish eligibility. At 10th level, the lowest level character would have a 50% chance of being eligible (say), which would mean the party as a whole would take 14 sessions for everyone to gain a level (7 players, 50% chance for each session’s nominee to make the jump). That might be so slow as to get me raked over coals. Could let two people through the gate at a time (7 sessions-ish!), maybe, which strikes the balance between what I want and what they’d want.

Or alternatively, we can escalate. The reason I want to go so slowly is to explain why things are so pseudo-medieval here in Berlaine and Barovia. They head west to Thrane or into the Iron City or Gehenna or Fomor-haunted Fymory or something, and we’re suddenly talking a significantly higher percentage of CR-appropriate encounters, as opposed to 90% way under CR, and 10% super deadly.

I guess what I’d like to do is either start building keeps and armies and all that, or else double down on superhero adventuring across the planes (and being the Pope’s best friend, and figuring out what the deal is with Cania, and on and on and on, forever).

Part of the reason we want to keep things going along the exploring-dungeons slaying-dragons mode is because that’s what the game supports. The monster manual doesn’t have CR 17 armies; the DMG doesn’t have a magic item that represents stewardship of an arcane laboratory; the PHB doesn’t give fighters followers.

Actually, that’s not completely true. The DMG and MM do have a little bit to say here.

The rod of rulership vaguely implies rulers get something like charming all creatures within 120 feet for 8 hours, DC 15.
The rod of lordly might does a similar trick, frightening those within 30 feet for 1 minute, DC 17. And turning their weapons into ladders.

The MM gives us the knight, who can basically bless their allies (1 minute/short rest, allies within 30 feet add a d4 to attacks and saves).

So there’s something there; charm, fear, and buffing.

Maybe I can split the difference. ENWorld published a noble class some time ago; maybe I start insisting the players multiclass into it. It certainly plays along with that.


A monklike sorcerer

It’s always kind of ground my gears that the 5e sorcerer isn’t more like the 5e warlock in mechanics.

I took a stab at this before with the half-martial cambion. That’s still not perfect for my needs, but it’s pretty durned close.

Here’s another shot at that chassis, doing little more than setting the PHB sorcerer’s refresh of sorcery points to a short rest instead of long rest cycle:

The Sourcerer
The british-ish spelling is mostly to distinguish this from the PHB Sorcerer, which this one cleaves pretty closely to. It’s also to liken it to the Terry Pratchett “hole in the world from which magic spills”. The main distinction is that it casts per a warlock, with extremely limited spell choice but access to a few Sorcerous Origin (“sourcerous origin”?) features and more low-level spells per encounter as a result of the mix-and-match use of sorcery points.

Hit Points
Hit Dice: 1d6 per sourcerer level
Hit Points at 1st Level: 6 + your Constitution modifier
Hit Points at Higher Levels: 1d6 (or 4) + your Constitution modifier per sourcerer level after 1st

Proficiencies
Armor: None
Weapons: Daggers, darts, slings, quarterstaffs, light crossbows
Tools: None
Saving Throws: Constitution, Charisma
Skills: Choose two skills from Arcana, Deception, Insight, Intimidation, Persuasion, and Religion

Level Proficiency Bonus Cantrips Spells Known Maximum Spell Level Sorcery Points Features
1st 2 4 Spellcasting, Sorcerous Origin
2nd 2 4 3 1 2 Font of Magic
3rd 2 4 4 2 3 Metamagic
4th 2 5 5 2 4 Ability Score Improvement
5th 3 5 6 3 5
6th 3 5 7 3 6 Sorcerous Origin Feature Ability
7th 3 5 8 4 7
8th 3 5 9 4 8 Ability Score Improvement
9th 4 5 10 5 9
10th 4 6 10 5 10 Metamagic
11th 4 6 11 5 11 Mystic Arcanum (6th level)
12th 4 6 11 5 12 Ability Score Improvement
13th 5 6 12 5 13 Mystic Arcanum (7th level)
14th 5 6 12 5 14 Sorcerous Origin Feature Ability
15th 5 6 13 5 15 Mystic Arcanum (8th level)
16th 5 6 13 5 16 Ability Score Improvement
17th 6 6 14 5 17 Mystic Arcanum (9th level), Metamagic
18th 6 6 14 5 18 Sorcerous Origin Feature Ability
19th 6 6 15 5 19 Ability Score Improvement
20th 6 6 15 5 20 Arcane Master

Spellcasting: Yadda yadda. Charisma based caster.
Note that you don’t actually get any slots at first level, so you start out with just cantrips + origin features. For 1st-5th level spells, you know spells as indicated on the table and will use your Font of Magic feature to create slots with which to cast them. For 6-9th level spells your Mystic Arcanum feature grants use as a warlock, with one-off spells known castable once per long rest, outside of the rubric you use for the rest of your spell slots.
As elaborated under Flexible Casting below, a spell slot is equivalent to the same number of sorcery points.

Sorcerous Origin: As the PHB sorcerer feature of the same name. Included here is the translated Draconic Bloodline.

Font of Magic: Similar, but not identical to, the PHB sorcerer feature of the same name.

  • Sorcery Points: As indicated on the table. These refresh with a short rest.
  • Flexible Casting: Spells slots can be created or exchanged with sorcery points 1:1; a 3rd level spell slot costs 3 sorcery points to create, or if it were available from some other class, grants 3 sorcery points if consumed. Features which restore or grant spell slots can be used to restore or grant an equivalent number of sorcery points.

Metamagic: Exactly as appears in the PHB.

Ability Score Improvement: Exactly as appears in the PHB.

Mystic Arcanum: Per the warlock’s ability of the same name, you know and can cast slotlessly a spell of the indicated level 1/long rest.

Arcane Master: Per the warlock’s Eldritch Master ability, you may refresh your pool of Sorcery Points with one minute’s rest, 1/long rest.

Sorcerous Origins
Draconic Bloodline
As presented in the PHB except as indicated here.
Note that this version of the sourceror has fewer spells to toss around at first level in particular, so will generally need an additional granted feature at first level.

For the draconic bloodline, the existing features effectively boost it to “medium armor proficiency” (with respect to the scales) and a d8 hit die; I say we finish the job:
Bonus proficiencies: At first level, you gain proficiency with simple weapons and with shields.