Monthly Archives: June 2016

The binder’s back, baby.

From the Middle Finger of Vecna (despite the name ūüėČ ), an updated version of the 3e binder, a sort of not-quite warlock.

I’m really impressed! It certainly has some nits to my¬†eye (their “not-quite-a-cantrip” permanent character power system has an option that you can select at 2nd (character) level granting¬†access to 2nd (spell) level effects; misaligned!), but on the whole, it does a great job of giving us a nice¬†character type I’d be thrilled to play.

Binders¬†aren’t spellcasters. Mostly. They do cast spells, but they prepare a small number of vestiges instead, and the vestiges grant access to spells and powers in a bundle. That document gives appropriate subclasses for all sorts of binders: binders that are more fightery, binders that are more spellcastery, binders that double down on the binding, and so forth. Vestiges are split into levels just-like-spells, and their apex powers are frequently usable only once per day, and come with new proficiencies, resistances, tricks, and suchlike. Because the power comes in big blocks and is so strongly flavored, there’s a natural tendency to let that power define your character. But in D&D that seems like it’s always a risk: the fighter only gets so many feats; the 5th level wizard’s defined by¬†fireball, the 1st level cleric their¬†cure wounds.

Of course, it’ll never get open sourced. Every page drips with flavor, and a lot of that flavor is specific to D&D. Wizards of the Coast¬†owns ’em.

It’s a tragedy, really.

I was going to wind this up with “use this to build clerics” — where the vestiges become enlightenments, where the mental traits they give you become vows — but then I didn’t, because that deserves real content, and the content it requires is just as encumbered with intellectual property as the vestiges, really.

Besides, then I’d have to say that Odin is 9th level, and Geb is first level. Or Mercy is level 3, while Chastity level 7. There’s something there, but it took those guys 55 pages to get their opus out.


The Avvor, the Arqa and the Halquor

So, I put orcs and dwarves in a blender for my campaign. I regret nothing. Here’s what popped out, explicitly and in one place.

The vor are a people divided between the brutal avvor and the mystic arqa, two castes or classes; those who fight and those who craft; as a side effect of these rigid roles, there arises a third type, the marginalized halquor. Here’s a little bit about them all.

The vor are the blood of giants. Titans, actually. Their creation myth states that Vorn awoke from a great chaos, amidst a storm of fire and blood on a battlefield of ruined flesh and rusting iron. Through the breach in the corpse he crawled, and countless other unnamed followed the First Warrior, slick with blood and howling in pain. The battlefield was called Ragnarok and Meggido, Gehenna and Tartarus — it was a chaotic wasteland beset by demons. The vor ate and slew and screwed their way across this chaos, exulting in it, barely noting the firsts which Vorn taught them: the first axe, the first shield, the first poison, the first orgiastic wash of passion in the wake of battle. But all things must end, and Vorn’s empire spread so far that his children could not all be warriors, and so they divided: the avvor, who travel the land spreading the gift of battle, and the arqa who remain behind, creating the tools of war.

The halquor are the third and least-favored children. Some say they represent a genetic taint, a foreign bloodline, or a divine curse. Whichever, they are simply different than the other vor, more cunning and more lithe.

* +2 Constitution
* Vorish resilience: Advantage on saving throws against poison, and resistance against poison damage.
* Relentless: While at 0 hp (but not dead), you may concentrate (as on a spell) to remain conscious while dying for up to 1 minute. You still make and accrue failed death saves, and cannot stabilize; you still die at 3 failed death saves.
* Stonecunning: Make Intelligence(History) checks related to the origin of stonework with expertise.
* Normal vision: I shouldn’t have to call it out, but Vor don’t have darkvision. This is a surprisingly major loss, though see the subraces.
* Languages: speak, read and write Common and Vorqu.

The Subraces:

The avvor are what everyone thinks of when they think of the vor; the name of the race as a whole is merely a corruption of the name of the caste. They’re vikings with horned helms, or mongol hordes; they’re klingons or orcs or hobgoblins. Their form is often irregular; the version suitable for PCs is as presented here but they frequently exhibit gigantism or other mutations; ogres, trolls and ettins are all expressions of this bloodline.
A group of avvor is a warband. The warband has a subjective hierarchy: its bottom rung are the nameless, those avvor who have not yet distinguished themselves. These individuals are considered the property of the band, and have no names, no goods, no ability to speak. Above the nameless are the named, those avvor which have distinguished themselves (usually in battle) and convinced the other named of their strength and worth. They are recognized and are the council of the band. Approximately a third of a given band is named. Above the band are one or more chiefs, nominally selected from among the named, but in practice the selection basis is the ability to seize and hold the title. There can be multiple chiefs in a larger band, including subchiefs, or just one in a smaller group. Warbands will occasionally be drawn together under a khan into an organized body, a horde, and once created these hordes can change the fate of nations, held together by those chiefs as share the vision of the khan.
The warband is therefore a very important concept to the avvor, as it represents their family and nation and employment in one. An avvor alone — such as an adventurer — can still arise. Perhaps their band was a small one, and disbanded due to some tragedy great or small. Perhaps they have been given a quest which requires single travel. Perhaps they were a rare egotist among the avvor. Whatever the reason, it’s likely that an avvor would bond with a new family, showing them the same devotion normally due their warband, regarding its members as named, though with perhaps a regrettable tendency to regard hirelings as unnamed.
Physically, avvor have grey skintones in the range from slate to fishbelly, tending towards stony colorations; thinning black oily hair, thick ridged flesh, eyes with little sclera and odd colorations (purple, red, and black-brown are not uncommon), and underbites with protuberant tusks. They stand seven to eight feet tall and weigh 300 pounds.
* +2 Strength.
* Avvor weapon proficiency: Proficiency with javelins, spears, handaxes and battleaxes.
* Blood rage: When at fewer than half hit points, +1 melee weapon damage (+2 at 9th, +3 at 16th; also add this damage if raging regardless of hp total).
* Large Framed: Double lift, drag and carrying capacity values.

The arqa are more rare. They are religious zealots of a faith which other races regard as daily toil. These dwellers in their mountain halls are the miners, herders, tanners, smiths and teachers of the vor. Vor culture regards study and skill as an almost religious experience, because of the level of rigor it demands of its adherents to sublimate their warlike nature. This religion is called arqarash, the way of the still mind.
Their clan-halls are founded by a small group of, generally, avvor who have tired of battle. Over a single generation, the avvor delve their halls and practice arqarash, bestowing arqa on their children born from birth into the stillness. Those who do not take into arqarash are banded together and given the best fruit of the hall, then sent into the world to bring back news and goods and glory, because the arqa do not forget the purpose of their work.
The leaders of a clan are the wise, a democratically elected post which even thralls may select. Oh, and there are thralls, brought back by avvor to the mountain halls; vor thralls regard this as a somewhat holy task, but to be consigned to an arqa mine is considered a fate worse than death by the other races.
Their long delves in darkness and the religious ecstasy they experience from the use of skill lends arqa to a somewhat solitary existence. While they feel beholden to their clan, a lone arqa is proportionately nowhere near as rare as a lone avvor — though the much smaller number of arqa settlements makes that still a rare event in absolute numbers.
Physically, arqa have brown skintones in the range from black earth to walnut, tending towards ligneous colorations; black, grey or brown hair, wrinkled or smooth ridged flesh, eyes with little sclera and odd colorations (purple, red, and black-brown are not uncommon), and underbites with negligible tusks. They stand five to six feet tall and weigh 200 pounds.
* +1 Wisdom
* Arqa tool proficiency: Gain expertise with one tool (especially blacksmith tools, miner’s tools, weaver’s tools).
* Darkvision: 60 ft.
* +1 hp per hit die.

The halquor are the outcastes of the vor, and in lean times can come to outnumber the other two castes put together. There are occasionally small communities of the halquor, but more frequently they are encountered as one-offs, half-vor in a human community or a barbarian lost alone in the woods.
There is no single description of the halquor, but to a first approximation, they have human-range skintones, hair, and eyes, with minor features to call them out: their skin is less saturated than their surroundings, their eyes have odd mixin colors, and their features are more rough and their skin and bones occasionally subtly ridged.
* Increase one ability score of your choice by 1.
* Darkvision: 60 ft.
* One skill proficiency.

Designers notes:

This is kind of tricky and I still don’t trust it. The rough idea is that I took the goliath, dwarf and half-orc and blended them. The three races are individually useful — the avvor as vikings, the arqa as the leaders and “friendlier” dwarves, and the halquor for your half-orc rogue (or I suppose barbarian, but why not avvor then?! Oh right: darkvision and a freebie skill. Ain’t I a stinker?).

I used to give the avvor “reckless” to model their inner rage, but I think that’s too finicky, especially on an NPC. The “bloodrage” is 1 point lower than the barbarian’s equivalent and stacks, so it works well for PCs and NPCs both, and at 10th level (much more reasonable than 20th IMO!), it’s +2 per attack on, say, 2 attacks — 4 extra damage a round doesn’t seem too nuts to me, even if it does make you a consummate cuisinart of death — even if we notice it’s really 6+ extra damage because of that sneaky +2 strength. It does require you be relatively unhealthy. It creates a perverse incentive (“no don’t heal me I prefer the chips be down!”) except for the barbarian, which is definitely an incentive to go barbarian.

I’d much rather hand out a damage boost than an accuracy boost, and granting a little extra damage feels mostly okay.

I considered something like bless (1d4 extra damage) but that’s so perverse at the lower levels and its only scaling is irritating. So a flat boost some of the time, which by the way synergizes GREAT with relentless — seems like the ticket.


You might like some monsters with these stats. Have some!

On Fey and Demigods

D&D has a pretty weak stance on “what it is to be fey” — which it immediately subverts with the elf. It’s reasonable; an elf is a player character race, which means it kind of has to be humanoid typed. I mean, I dunno, maybe it doesn’t have to, have to, but it happens to. Can we do better?

Things that are fey: dryads, sprites, satyrs, hags (well, not night hags), pixies, blink dogs. Things that aren’t fey: centaurs, chimerae, cyclops, kobolds, elves, faerie dragons (which, okay, would be a tossup anyway I suppose), fomorians, harpies, goblins (and bugbears), trolls, treants, winter wolves, merfolk, phase spiders, ettercaps, giant owls or eagles or goats, will-o-wisps, pegasi, perytons, pseudodragons; even the titanic empyrean is a celestial.

That’s not sane, right? What does fey even mean?!

Okay, to start with: per the MM, we know that fey are magical creatures closely tied to the forced of nature. They dwell in twilit groves and misty forests. In some worlds, they are closely tied to the Plane of Faerie (ed: which is pretty self-referential if you think about it). Some are also found in the planes of Arborea and the Beastlands.

I think there’s a few other hidden assumptions; if it showed up in greek myth, I think there’s a sort of slant towards being more fey than not (why else the Satyr, other than the sexual dimorphism thing they have with nymphs, which got specialized to the dryad?). If it showed up in a book by someone named Grimm or Lang, I think there’s a tendency towards the fey also, why else the hag?

Frankly, I think the giants and humanoids that are not fey got that way because D&D stole their names; in what universe does goblin- or troll- being as diminished as they are make sense?

And then there’s the drow and duergar and svirfneblin. They both have to pull dual duty as the PC-race-of-the-underdark and creepy-enemy-inspired-by-myth-and-legend. But they’re kind of funny! Consider first the duergar. They’re medium (but they’re dwarves, so go with it for a sec), they can magically become large or invisible. The invisible isn’t really among the archetypical powers of the creature I’m about to name, but the warlike nature sure is (they’re pretty hefty, waring armor and sporting martial weapons) — they’re basically redcaps. Changing size, the occasional murder. I think I’d make their native size small instead of medium, but that’s literally the only change I’d make. I might even say these are my goblins, always and forever.

Next, the gnome-comma-deep. They have innate castings of blindnessfo/deafness, blur, disguise self; that is, they’re easy to overlook changeling tricksters with resistance to spells, an underground bent towards digging… Slap the fey type on them and they’re knockers! That’s the same mine spirit that gave us kobolds, which definitely has some shades of irony to it, but they work fine as is. I might even say these are my kobolds, now and forever.

The Drow… well, I call them Fomor and just move on with life. Obviously fey. Done.
The Drider then presents a somewhat special case; I like previous editions’ Aranaea, but even without them creepy spell-weaver types (and make no mistake, always use the sidebar!) seem awesome. I think they’re probably just monstrosities and not fey, though. I’ll just use them standalone, same as the in-my-campaign leaderless yochlol.

From that opening harangue, I think I’d promote the faerie dragons, fomorian giants, pegasi, peryton and will-o’-wisps to fey, straightforwardly.

I think underbridge-troll demands a different type of creature than D&D troll. I also think centaur doesn’t fit — but an artemis-y centaur probably would! (I’ll figure out how to embed next time ūüôā ).

Chosen of the Gods

You’d think, if I wanted to provide the rules widgets to support deific sponsorship, that I’d use the cleric as a basis?

HAH! No. Paladins. Paladins represent a divine mixin already, after all: they’re the fighter-types who heed the call.

The PHB gives us 3 paladins oaths to work with (so we’ll be working on the Devoted, the Ancient and the Vengeful), and the DMG another one (the Fallen). There’s the oath of the crown in the sword coast adventurer’s guide, but as I write this post I don’t have easy access to it, so let’s pretend it’s dead to us.

The MM gives us angels — sort of “paladins-as-monsters” if you squint, with their aura of detect lies, their always-on radiant smites, their lay on hands, their various abilities. But they don’t really line up with the oath of devotion directly, since they’re made for a different purpose.

A Devoted creature smites (4d8, 5d8 or 6d8 radiant on weapon damage), is immune to charm and fear, resists radiant and mundane weapon damage, has magic resistance, has truesight, knows when it hears a lie, and can heal by touch (4/day, smite value + 5, 10 or 15 healed, and the subject also has any curse, disease, blindness or deafness conditions removed).
They can cast protection from evil and good, dispel evil and good, and commune. 1 each per day unless otherwise noted.
Their type becomes celestial.

An Ancient creature is immune to charm, sleep, poisoned and age, resists damage from poison and spells, has magic resistance, speaks all beast tongues, and has the trackless step (cannot be tracked, unaffected by natural difficult or hazardous terrain), siege creature (triple damage to constructs and objects), and regeneration 15 (, 20 or 30; suppressed by iron weapons) traits.
They can cast misty step (1/short rest), plant growth, and commune with nature. 1 each per day unless otherwise noted.
Their type becomes fey.

A Vengeful creature smites (4d8, 5d8 or 6d8 psychic on weapon damage), is immune to fear, has magic resistance, when it is reduced to 0 hit points may make a con save with DC equal to half the damage to be reduced to 1 hp instead, and has a 30-foot aura of menace (begin or enter, be frightened of the vengeful, wis save initial and each turn outside aura or damage negates for 24 hours; frightened creatures in the aura of menace grant advantage on attacks against themselves).
They can cast haste (1 per short rest) and scrying (1 per day).

A Fallen creature smites (4d8, 5d8 or 6d8 necrotic on weapon damage), is immune to charm and fear, resists necrotic and mundane weapon damage, has magic resistance, has truesight, and has a 30-foot aura of dread (dims light one step and imposes disadvantage on sight-based attacks; begin or enter, be frightened of the fallen, wis save initial and each turn outside aura or damage negates for 24 hours; frightened creatures in the aura of dread have vulnerability to all damage)
They can cast darkness, animate dead and geas. 1 each per day.
Their type is fiend.

The 4d8/5d8/6d8 values are pretty tier dependent, assuming a base CR of 10 and a top CR of 23 — I ripped them off the angels in the MM. So it’s probably something like “Just use your proficiency bonus in d8s”, though I haven’t actually checked that that’s how the math plays out.

On the Dungeon Dimension

Pratchett has this notion of “the place where the cthulhoids come from”, the Dungeon Dimensions. It’s the layer below reality, where things with tentacles for faces rule. D&D has taken to calling it “The Plane of Madness” or “The Far Realm”. The thing that’s funny about D&D’s take on it is that it elevates aberrations above demons and even elementals as a more fundamental order of being. You have your little orrery of a¬†world, the heavens, the hells; and then behind and around it all, an endless sea fundamental madness of everything, the far realm.

Frankly, it’s annoying. It lets Cthulhu win. HP Lovecraft’s point was that on the grand scheme of things, the universe¬†doesn’t care¬†about you — it’s ambivalent at best and inimical at worst to life in general and humanity in specific. What you do doesn’t matter, you aren’t the apex intelligect; you are bugs. That’s fine, but that’s a specific stance on the place of humanity in the cosmos. When the game has The Gods themselves as entities of the same order as the PCs (consider: humaniform, capable of spellcasting, not generally super-psionic, living on a fragment of the astral plane), introducing the gribblies at the border of reality is taking a strong stance.

Not a bad stance! Just a strong one.

My take is a little different. I like people. I think that D&D doesn’t work as well in a universe that has made up its mind that sentience doesn’t matter, that players don’t matter.

My astral plane is pretty close to my ethereal plane and my shadow plane, one big blob called the Nether. In some places the nether rots: that’s the plane of shadow, and undead come from there. In others, the nether elevates and clarifies: that’s the astral plane. In some places where it clarifies, however, it clarifies wrong, balooning out. Those pockets of madness are themselves aberrations, and creatures that come in contact with them are also aberrations.

The nether — the astral — plane is the minds of creatures. Where it goes wrong, it warps creatures into aberrations. But that’s not some fundamental place which lies behind all of reality, but a taint, a process, that is a part of reality. What you do matters, and the cthulhoids are, themselves, part of the same order of being as we are. A virus, perhaps, which attacks logic, or the response of reality to that virus.

My slaad and gibbering mouthers and flumphs are the allergic reaction to chaos, self-correcting bugs thrown off from the source code of reality in response to an incursion. They spontaneously generate in areas where astral taint touches the world (or its shadows). They mostly sort of “burn out”: while¬†both creatures¬†trash reality, they consume more than they convert, so they tend to starve themselves.

My beholders and aboleths and ‘flayers are all “spirits of taint”, creatures that are generated within an area of taint and escape from it. They’re metastatized, and stable. They wait, and plot.