Monthly Archives: September 2016

Holy Water and the alchemical door it opens

Craft holy water is a ritual which every paladin and cleric always has prepared. No, really:

A cleric or paladin may create holy water by performing a special ritual. The ritual takes 1 hour to perform, uses 25 gp worth of powdered silver, and requires the caster to expend a 1st-level spell slot.

That’s kind of great. You can expand the powers of your classes in the mundane equipment gear chapter, I guess implicitly by talking about crafting.

And holy water is pretty magical stuff: it can determine creature types, it washes off a vrock‘s spores, it’s a material component for very useful spells like bless. It’s at least comparable to a single casting of a low-level-character’s cantrip (longer range and slightly more damage of better types than poison spray, but it’s also creature type restricted and is an improvised weapon i.e. raw dexterity attack so less likely to hit, but it ALSO also isn’t subject to magic resistance).

So: I think, per the rules, we can safely transform any cantrip into a one use item at about 25 gp, a spell slot, and an hour of an appropriate character’s time.

Unambiguously (in my opinion 😉 ), we get to add a sort of one use taser, the shocking glass (a jar of bottled lightning, dealing 1d8 damage and denying reactions? Neat!). We also get armor-piercing rounds in the form of the eldritch blast arrow (d10 force damage as a ranged attack at whatever range it’s fired from?) — why  spring for these over, say, silvered? Because these can damage incorporeals and golems. Ouch.

The glue of mending is similarly an item that seems very reasonable; at least it can do what it says on the tin. The spare the dying stimpak doesn’t seem quite worth it to me against the potion of healing + getting the injured out under their own motion (or a regular healer’s kit!), but maybe there’s some externality there that makes it worth it. The potion of healing doesn’t talk about its manufacture, but it seems to me like it must have very similar text to the holy water given its ubiquity (a caster of any type, an hour, the list price; maybe a 3rd level spell, but on the other hand, maybe not!).

We get a host of performance enhacing drugs. Of particular interest to me are the potion of true strike and the oil of blade ward, since the cantrips aren’t generally worth learning, but I could imagine corner cases where you’d still want the effects. The straightforward potion of resistance and potion of guidance are nice, and lead to the bard crying in the corner. Does 25gp make this kind of portable bonus a reasonable tradeoff? I’m not really sure; true strike is not so different from hidden; resistance and guidance are more open questions.

The philtre of friends is kind of funny-slash-laughably-bad; it’s surely the philtre of love that’s within reach of the common man, but since its duration is only 1 minute long, you really have to get moving. It is a little sad there isn’t a “peasant scale” love charm/curse because of their role in fiction, but then, D&D’s world is at an interesting point on the High Magic curve anyway. Most stories with a tinge of  the supernatural have a couple REALLY GOOD items, because they only need to last for one story. Put a REALLY GOOD love potion in the game at 25gp and the world’s gonna end.

Then, finally, we have the nasty pamphlet of vicious mockery, a satirical little weaponized pamphlet made illegal in twelve boroughs.

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Companions and Inspiration

Never let it be said that the only thing I do is try to kill my PCs — I also rip off other people’s ideas. The system there is for companions, named and DM-provided characters which function a little like an equipped magic item. It’s an idea so nice, I gotta try to riff on it myself.

A companion is an opportunity to refit a few of the softer D&D rules work for us — especially inspiration.

As a reminder, you usually get inspiration when you play to your character’s ideals/bonds/flaws in an interesting way; unfortunately, compared to Fate or similar games, the implementation here is pretty lackluster. The guidance is basically “be compelling and the DM will give it to you; have inspiration and you can give it to others as though you were the DM”. You can expend inspiration when you make an attack, save, or check; it gives you advantage on that roll.

The problems with this are well-recorded; the inspiration is granted with little more direction than “be interesting”, and expended “when you need the bonus”, so it doesn’t really drive the story — in theory, at least, you get inspiration for your ideal as easily as your flaw.

First, a slight modification: you do not “have inspiration”, you “have inspiration in one of your ideals, bonds or flaws”.

Let’s see what adding other people to the mix can do.

Take the (unintelligent) mount rules as a base; in other words, you share a space with your companions and they don’t really get actions of their own, but instead take their turns as a part of you taking yours. In particular, their contributions are modeled as giving your character new capabilities.

Your companions have their own ideals, bonds and flaws (IBFs). Indulging the companion in a IBF while they are on screen inspires that IBF just as it would a PC. The PC may also transfer inspiration from one of the PC’s IBFs to the companion’s IBF. In either case, a given companion’s IB or F can only be inspired once per session.

Once per turn, the PC may take (atop their normal complement of actions) a companion action (similar to a legendary action), selecting from the menu of  companions and their actions available to them; using a companion’s companion action discharges the indicated number of IBFs. Some companion actions are marked as “reactions” — these consume a companion action as indicated, but happen at the time indicated, rather than as a standalone legendary-like action.

You can draw companion IBFs from the ones associated with the backgrounds below (listed in the PHB) or from the tables for this purpose in the DMG, page 89. Companions with a secret agenda (a public and a private face) will still use this system openly with their false front, but the DM should track their private character as a more full NPC. Otherwise, if the companion is operating independently, use the parenthetical statistics.

Acolyte (acolyte + insight, religion, and 2 languages)
Cast a cantrip (1 point): You can cast one of your cantrips (or guidance).
Tend wounds (1 point): At the end of this short rest, all creatures spending at least one hit die recover an additional 1d6+their level hit points.
Cast a spell (2 points): You can cast one of your first or second level spells (or cure wounds 1/day).

Charlatan (bandit + deception, sleight of hand, disguise, forgery)
Suggestive patter (1 point): One non-hostile creature who has been listening to you talk for 1 minute or more is exposed to a suggestion (save DC 8 + your proficiency + your charisma modifier).
Dip (1 point): You lift an object off the attacker’s person which could reasonably be pickpocketed.
Violent dodge (2 points, reaction to being missed with a melee attack): The attack is repeated against a target of your choice which would have been a valid target of the initial attack.
Criminal (bandit + deception, stealth, a gaming set, thieves’ tools)
Escape (1 point): You immediately make an escape check against one grapple or restrained condition, and may move up to half your speed without provoking opportunity attacks.
Hurt (1 point, reaction to hitting an enemy with advantage): Deal 1d6 extra damage per point of proficiency.
Mislead watcher (2 points): You may move half your speed and then hide behind the barest scrap of cover. Normal line of sight rules resume as each other creatures’ turns begin.
Entertainer (commoner + acrobatics, performance, disguise kit, musical instrument)
Echo (1 point, reaction to a creature succeeding at a save and becoming no longer frightened of or charmed by you): That creature is still frightened (or charmed), subject to the same effect until the beginning of its next turn.
Tumble (1 point, or as reaction to a trap or a fall): Move your speed, taking half damage from opportunity attacks, traps and falls until the start of your next turn.
Inspire (2 points): Give a target who can see and hear you within 60 feet an inspiration die (per the bard class feature); the die size is based on your proficiency bonus; +2 = d4, +3 = d6, and so on up to +6 = d12. This can be added once to one ability check, attack roll, or saving throw; recall a character may hold only one inspiration die at a time.
Folk hero (commoner + animal handling, survival, a tool, land vehicles)
Hard work (1 point): You heal 1d10 hit points plus your level and lose one level of exhaustion.
Good, clean living (1 point, reaction to becoming frightened, charmed, or poisoned as the result of failing a saving throw): You succeed on that saving throw instead.
Hear the people’s cry (2 points): You and any number of allies who can see and hear you within 60 feet gain can make a melee weapon attack with disadvantage as a reaction.

Guild artisan (noble + insight, persuasion, a tool, a language)
Just the thing (1 point, 2 points or 3 points): Produce an item from the PHB equipment list of up to 50 gp in value (500 gp in value, 5000 gp in value); if it weighs more than 10 pounds, you instead know where to obtain the item with no trouble.
Assay quality (1 point): Cast identify.
Hermit (cultist + medicine, religion, herbalism kit, a language)
Strange insight (1 point): One creature within 30 feet that you can see and hear makes a deceit check opposed by your insight; if you succeed, you learn a secret about it.
Seek seclusion (1 point): Move half your speed away from one creature without provoking opportunity attacks from anyone.
Foretell (2 points): Roll a d20. You may substitute that for any d20 which would be rolled by any character within 60 feet before the start of your next turn.

Noble (noble + history, persuasion, a gaming set, a language)
After you! (1 point): A creature of your choice within 30 feet that can see and hear you can use its reaction to move half its speed and make a melee weapon attack.
Leadership (2 points): For the next minute or until you are incapacitated, you may use your reaction to give other creatures that can see and hear you within 30 feet a bonus d4 to their attacks and saving throws.
Majestic presence (2 points): All creatures of your choice within 30 feet that can see and hear you make a wisdom save DC 8 + prof + cha or are charmed or frightened for 1 minute (your choice, save at the end of each turn). Consumes concentration.

Outlander (tribal warrior + athletics, survival, a musical instrument, a language)
Hunt and gather (1 point): Provide food, water, shelter and supplies for 10 people.
Invoke idol (1 point): You cast guidance or hunter’s mark.
Farstrider (1 point): You move your speed, ignoring difficult terrain.

Sage (acolyte[1/4]  + arcana, history, two languages)
Divine (1 point): You cast guidancedetect magic or detect evil and good without expending a spell slot.
Augur (1 point): At the end of this short rest you can cast comprehend languages or augury without expending a spell slot.
Advise (2 points, reaction to failing a saving throw against a spell or magical effect): Succeed on that saving throw instead.

Sailor (bandit[1/8] + athletics, perception, navigator’s tools, water vehicles)
As some other type: sailors give bonuses dependent on their role on the ship (often criminal, soldier, or peasant hero). 

Soldier (guard[1/8] + athletics, intimidation, a gaming set, land vehicles)
Defend (1 point, reaction to getting hit): Add your proficiency to your AC until the start of your next turn, including against the triggering attack (which may now miss).
Watch (1 point): Make a perception check.
Attack (1 point): Make a weapon attack.

Urchin (commoner[0] + sleight of hand, stealth, disguise kit, thieves’ tools)
As some other type: urchins often function as criminals, charlatans, or entertainers.
Since these companions just sort of drag along with your character, they occupy a sort of non-space in the game: they don’t get directly attacked, they don’t need to be exposed to danger, etc.

If that’s a little too unrealistic for you (“since my PC is bleeding on the floor, I have Yinkle drag me back behind cover, since he should still be fine!”), then you can use the recommended stats (or substitute stats, for better companions) and make it the PC’s duty to track their welfare. That’s pretty heavy handed, though, since I imagine most of the time their damage is only really coming from area effects, and you’re not REALLY boosting the opposition to reflect the real number of characters in the scene.

Thus, you could “fake it” by saying that each companion takes the same damage as their PC does from area attacks, and that the PC can choose to funnel the blow which would drop the PC to 0 hit points to one of the companions instead; then, if the PC would prefer to have Yinkle drag them behind cover, they can instead have Yinkle eat the blow.

Be careful of this second option: villains should be surrounded by guards, right? Once they do that, why aren’t the guards eating their death blows?
Why do these rules use _your character_ as the originator for the actions? Because per these rules, your companion isn’t really there; they just provide a palette of actions, really.

Henchmen vs hirelings: Because you can randomly generate these guys, and their effects explicitly are NOT an additional set of hit points in the encounter, it seems very reasonable to treat these as purchasable assets. 2gp per day, maybe a modest downpayment like 20gp for the first week’s pay; if you want to do a dungeon, 5gp per day and a 50gp downpayment still seems very reasonable to me: you still have to hit the companion’s IBFs to use them.


The nalfeshnee

I don’t love it in 5e. It’s the first demon to have telepathy, teleportation, and truesight, which oughta endear me to it, but I just can’t figure out what to do with that boar-faced ape-bodied tiny-winged beastie.

The fact that it “glows terror” is even weirder. It’s not just a fear aura, it’s a lightshow and fear aura.

I’m kind of interested in going in a different direction with these guys: let them keep the horror aura, but let it just be a standard frightful presence, aura 15 (that feels small to me, but the balor’s is only 20). No graphics. Not sure it needs the recharge, since it’s going to catch most of its targets up front, and the fear aura just isn’t that strong at this point; the paladin is going to kill it, the protection from evil is going to kill it, the halfling is going to kill it.

Then, separately, let’s talk lightshow and, more generally, special effects: In 3e, these guys were heavy casters, capable of at will castings of feeblemind and slow. In 2e, it was even worse, spells out the wazoo. In every edition, they seem to do a lightshow-that-makes-you-fear; this treatment does nothing for me. But it seems clear that they need their spells; I know we’ve cut down on spells a fair bit, but I think they got hit too hard. So add:

Innate Spellcasting (casts off of Cha; DC 15 saves, +7 to spell attacks): Cast, at will, dispel magic, modify memory, slow ; 1/day feeblemind. Also, as an action, call lightning (all targets in a 5 foot cylinder up to 100 feet tall within 120 feet; 16 (3d10) lightning damage, dex save DC 15 for half).

If you insist on keeping the light show, let’s steal a page from Holy Aura’s book: As a reaction to getting melee hit from within 5 feet, the Nalfeshenee can flash; DC 15 constitution save or be blinded 1 minute (save again at the end of each round ends).

Once you do that, I totally get what they’re for: they’re for TPKing, because a bad guy who can teleport, feeblemind, and modify memory is horrifying. Meleers beware, they will blind you in retaliation.


The barbed devil

I said a few posts ago that I had something I wanted to do with the barbed devil; I do.

We need a devil who is “bound into things”. At first I landed on the barbed devil by accident (I eliminated every other type of devil for one reason or another), but I’ve really come to like it.

A barbed devil in its natural state is a lemure. Using certain arts known only in the Iron City, a chirurgeon-devil (a kyton, a chain devil) will take unformed lemures and torture them into a manufactured object: a weapon, a book, a toy. Such objects are cursed, staining history. A martial object, if present during the right sorts of events, may birth a bloody crop of barbed devils as the object strains under its diabolic influence.

If the lemure are bound instead into a book (perhaps an unwholesome treatise on the cults de ghoules? Perhaps an incanabula that permits the summoning of a nightmare or hell hound, per the Old Black Magic!), they become a rather more bookish sort of devil at the other end.
These creatures go hooded and hook-clawed, with the heads of queer birds and the eyes of owls. Their 

Quilled Devil
Medium fiend (devil), lawful  evil
AC 15 (mage armor)
HP 78 (12d8+24)
Speed 30 ft.
STR +2 DEX +2 CON +2 INT +3 WIS +2 CHA +2
Saving Throws DEX+5 INT+6 WIS+5 CHA +5
Skills Deception +5, Insight +5, Perception +8
Damage Resistances cold; mundane or unsilvered weapons
Damage Immunities fire, poison
Condition Immunities poisoned
Senses truesight 120 ft., passive Perception 18
Languages Infernal, telepathy 120 ft.
Challenge 5 (1,800 XP)
Devil’s Sight: As per Barbed Devil — but surpassed by this devil’s superior truesight.
Limited Spell Immunity 1: The devil cannot be affected by spells of 1st level and lower unless it chooses to be. It has advantage on saving throws against all other spells and other magical effects.
Spellcasting: The devil is a 6th level spellcaster. Its spellcasting ability is intelligence (spell save DC 14, +6 to hit with spell attacks). It has the following wizard spells prepared:
Cantrips (at will): mage hand, minor illusion, shocking grasp (2d8)
1st level (4 slots): detect magic, mage armor (already cast), shield
2nd level (3 slots): alter self, darkness, mirror image
3rd level (3 slots): counterspell, fireball, fly
ACTIONS
Claw:
+5 to hit, reach 5  ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6+2) piercing damage.
Hurl Flame: Ranged Spell Attack: +6 to hit, range 150 ft., one target. Hit: 10 (3d6) fire damage. If the target is a flammable object that isn’t being worn or carried, it also catches fire. Miss: Half damage.


On Investiture

So given that we want to tell a story about a bad guy gate-ing in a bunch of servants of a badder guy — and maybe even make corporeal the baddest guy at the top of the pyramid — what does that look like? What’s actually going on?

At first, I was going to talk about how sad I was that there weren’t good stats to summon for a proxy — you know, it’s unreasonable that there be stats for Yeenoghu in the monster manual,  but surely a challenge 10 demon that could serve as a sort of general “I’m the thing this cult is worshipping” — or at least “I’m the lesser servant of it, and the big guy is coming in behind me around challenge 20” or something.

But if D&D doesn’t have such stats, then surely such a thing must not exist; deities and archdemons simply do not manifest at less than their glory. The yocholol, Handmaiden of Lolth, should have been my clue: custom servitor yes, avatar no.

Okay. So what model do we have for a lower-powered proxy for a deity? Well, it’s right there in the query: we have the cleric and the warlock! So my plan is to make a sort of template which can beef up a creature into a proxy for its remote patron.

These rules are completely compatible with blogofholding.com’s Exceptional Leaders for Every Monster. They don’t assume their use, but they do encourage it, since you’ll probably want your diabolic proxy or squamous indweller to stick around for a few rounds of combat.

Aspected Creature

An aspected creature is a creature with a portion of the powers of some greater patron. The creature to be invested comes to a warlock-like pact with the patron and acquires some measure of its legendary nature and skills. The patron must be much, much more powerful than the aspected creature: at least 5 challenge levels, and ideally more like 10. It must be a legendary creature. It must be willing.

Good examples of this are the Chosen in the Forgotten Realms, the cultists of a demon lord or great old one, the kobold true-believer of a great wyrm, or the devotee of a mad lich bound towards demi-godhood.

The aspected creature’s type changes to one pleasing to the patron — often aberration, celestial, elemental, fey, fiend or undead. I could imagine construct or monstrosity popping up, too: whatever fits the story. Maybe the type doesn’t change at all; that’s fine too.

The creature gains magic resistance and damage resistance to mundane weaponry (if it lacked either or both; if it makes sense). It also gains 1, 2 or 3 uses of legendary resistance (per day; if it fails a save, it choose instead to succeed) and of legendary actions (per round; at the end of other creature’s turns, one at a time, with the semi-standard set “move, attack, or cast a cantrip”; individual creatures should of course customize further).

The creature gains the Innate Spellcasting trait (Charisma-based), with “appropriate spells” from its patron; I suggest 1 spell/day of each level up to a maximum indicated in the  below chart.

  • Any challenge: Two or so cantrips
  • Challenge 2: Spell level 1
  • Challenge 3-4: Spell level 2
  • Challenge 5: Spell level 3
  • Challenge 6: Spell level 4
  • Challenge 7-8: Spell level 5 if it is at least aspect 2.
  • Challenge 9: Spell level 6
  • Challenge 10: Spell level 7
  • Challenge 11-12: Spell level 8 if it is at least aspect 3.
  • Challenge 13: Spell level 9

Also, I suggest allowing spells of up to level 5 to be 3/day if they are at least 2 below the max castable — and spells of 1st and 2nd level to be at will if they are at least 4 below the max castable. Use judgment.

After applying all these changes, increase the creature’s challenge by the number of legendary points it got, less 1 if it already had mundane weapon resistances, less 1 if it already had comparable or better spellcasting (but minimum +1 overall, anyway). I don’t worry much about challenge values, so this is quite eyeballed.

So for instance, an Aspect of Yeenoghu would be a creature allied with that abyssal butcher, with 1, 2 or 3 (depending on investiture strength) legendary charges and as high as it can climb on the ladder of spells:

  • Cantrips: True Strike, Vicious Mockery 
  • 1st: Bane
  • 2nd: Blindness/Deafness/Mute
  • 3rd: Fear
  • 4th: Confusion
  • 5th: Hold Monster
  • 6th: Create Undead
  • 7th: Plane Shift
  • 8th: Antimagic Field
  • 9th: Weird

    Yeenoghu being who and what he is, the base is likely to be an abyssal ghoul (Hezrou) or perhaps a double- or even triple- elite Fang of Yeenoghu. Scary stuff.

    Since the template is so easy to slide on or off (extra Legendaries, maybe unlocking the higher spells), you can use it in a scene pretty easily. If the baddies finish the ritual, they summon some demonic reinforcements, and their chieftan becomes Aspected III instead of Aspected II. If the jeweled idol is destroyed, the chieftan is reduced to Aspected I instead of Aspected II. That sort of thing.

    For another example, you can make a nature-touched creature (I have previously quite happily used this scheme to make a druidic direwolf; I regret nothing!)

    • Cantrips: Druidcraft, Guidance
    • 1st: Goodberry
    • 2nd: Pass Without Trace
    • 3rd: Plant Growth
    • 4th: Conjure Woodland Beings
    • 5th: Tree stride
    • 6th: Heal
    • 7th: Regenerate
    • 8th: Control Weather
    • 9th: Gate

    The gate cascade & Summoning Today

    In previous editions, certain monsters had the ability to cast gate. For example:

    • Titans (now Empyreans) could cast the spell innately, as a spell-like ability
    • Epic prismatic dragons were assumed to know the spell as a sorcerer
    • Solars could cast as 20th level clerics (so, if prepared, could cast gate) and in any case, could cast wish as an innate spell
    • Pit fiends could wish once per year

    I’m certain I missed a few. The Solar, in particular, was an amazing source of the so-called gate cascade, because  of course the gate spell can bring in a known extraplanar creature. If you summon one solar, within 24 hours you will summon every solar, since they can call each other using wish and using clerical prepared slots.

    Terrifying to every would-be necromancer and diabolist; terrifying to every paladin and high priest. Presumably the Heavenly Choir is kept from doing this because the other angels are busy, but it’s still a sobering thought that all resources that can be freed can be transported instantaneously anywhere, if even one of them is brought there first. Why would the first balor on the scene not wish in an infinite number of reinforcements? Anyone capable of this scheme can just spend weeks building up their forces, even if they’re not as exponential as the solar.

    In 5e, it’s fixed in a few ways. No monster in the MM has planar ally or gate as an innate ability; nor do any casters have it explicitly listed as prepared. As a result, even the sorts of beings previously capable of participating in such a cascade can’t do so effectively. Cutting this mechanism to the bone are the widespread removal of spell-like abilities and spellcaster-equivalent abilities; while nagas and sphinxes still cast, they’re monstrosities (and so not summonable); a full hag coven is fey or fiendish, but cast from the wizard list where they can’t bring more of themselves in, and so forth. In general, creatures that couuld gate got downgraded to plane shift, which I’m in favor of.

    But we still have vestiges of this self-increasing extraplanar influence around the edges. The most obvious: Most fiends have a sidebar ability which can, with some probability summon some sort of reinforcements. Those abilities don’t make a ton of sense to me as a combat ability (which is what they’re for: short duration, denying the summon-ee their own instance of the ability), but do work well as inspiration for a story ability: summon a spirit of disease (y’know, a type I demon) in an old house, better expect an infestation of minor imps along for the ride.
    So long story short: how do summonings work? It’s easy to get an in-combat helper with a variety of conjure elemental or conjure celestial or what-have-you effects. The unearthed arcana old black magic article provides a few more wizardly options (The concept is straightforward: call a fiend with challenge equal to spell level; it challenges your authority each round until it breaks free). Want to have it stick around longer? Cast an inverted magic circle, summon the creature on-target, make sure it’s one of the critters that can’t get out on its own (maybe a dimensional anchor?), apply a planar binding and you’re golden, assuming it fails all the saves. One in-combat helper transformed into an out of combat helper, and all it took was a 3rd level spell, a 5th level spell, maybe a 4th level spell, and the actual conjuration which might require some minor risk to life and limb. Gate is still around if you’re a PC, and is even better: it lets you go fishing for creatures of arbitrary power, albeit at very high level.

    In some ways, then, the cleric’s planar ally feels unfair. Poof, one ally of arbitrary strength, in exchange for wealth appropriate to service; no haggling, no risking your face getting melted. There’s probably some lawful good deity of goodness; you’re probably their priest, probably engaged in some save-the-world mission; surely we can come to some wealth-by-level-appropriate arrangement.
    But that demon cult down the street is probably after just such an arrangement as well. If they can get one caster capable of 6th level spells, that caster can planar ally, and I presume any Unwholesome Power interested in sponsoring the local chapter of the Demogorgon Fan Club has some auto-extracting self-installers on call for just such an opportunity.

    So why hasn’t the world ended yet? It’s basically got to be because this doesn’t work for some reason: because there is no such autoextracting self installer possible, or no power interested in sponsoring it, or similar. Or alternatively, the world has ended, this does work, and the big problem is that we’re in one of those periods between apocalypses while things rebuild.
    Let’s assume for the nonce that it’s because summoning creatures on the higher end is rough on reality, and reality fights back: you can call up a pit fiend, but if you haven’t put the work in to roll out the welcome mat, calling up the next few unwholesome allies gets much harder, and only manages a thin shower of lemures or, at least, PC-appropriate foes like spined devils. What you wanna do here is build up a huge background of fright and pain and death for weeks and weeks. Then, when the ‘fiend shows up, there’s enough background horror that you can keep calling them up, and get a proper apocalypse going. We could probably build a big table of how much pain to earn this many pit fiends but it doesn’t seem worth it to me; it moves at the speed of plot.

    What doesn’t move at the speed of plot is arcane background radiation. Here, have some “hanging around waiting for the dead to be raised, the puzzle box to be opened, the wrong incantation to be flubbed” random encounter tables.

    These tables are organized by tier; I suggest something like rolling a d8; on a 1, use the single next table up; on a 2-5, use the tier appropriate to the site, and on a 6-8 use that many instances of the table of the next tier down.

    If you’re not sure which table to use, I suggest a d6: 1-3 fiend, 4-5 undead, 6 other.

    Fiend 0:
    1d12:
    1-4: lemure
    5-7: manes
    9-12: dretch

    Fiend 1-4:
    1d12:
    1-2: imp
    3-4: quasit
    5: spined devil
    6-7: hell hound
    8: nightmare
    9-11: shadow demon
    12: succubus/incubus

    Fiend 5-10:
    1d12:
    1: barbed devil
    2: barlgura
    3: bone devil
    4-5: chain devil
    6: chasme
    7: glabrezu
    8-9: hezrou (abyssal ghast)
    10: night hag
    11-12: vrock
    note: unique individuals like cambions aren’t random encounters; yugoloth and servitor demons are rarely randomly encountered.

    Fiend 11-16:
    1d12:
    1-4: horned devil
    5-7: erinyes
    8-9: nalfeshnee
    10: ice devil
    11-12: rakshasa

    Fiend 17+:
    1d12:
    1-3: marilith
    4-5: goristro
    6-8: balor
    9-12: pit fiend
    Undead 0:
    Always a shadow.
    Undead 1-4:
    1d12:
    1-4: Specter
    5-6: Poltergeist Specter
    7-8: Will-o’-wisp
    9: Banshee
    10-12: Ghost

    Undead 5-10:
    Always a wraith
    Undead 11-16:
    Always a Dread Wraith (per Scot Metzger’s Monster Expansion)

    Undead 17+:
    Always an avatar of Death (per the Deck of Many Things) with 200 hit points, additional damage immunity to mundane weapons and elemental energies, its reaping scythe damage replaced with an even 50 force and 50 necrotic damage to all foes within 5 feet (as before, no to-hit necessary; maximum hit points are automatically reduced by the necrotic damage), and etherealness as an action.

    Other 0:
    1d12:
    1: gas spore
    2: gray ooze
    3-4: rust monster
    5-6: swarm of ravens
    7-8: swarm of insects
    9: giant centipede
    10: giant wolf spider
    11: slaad tadpole
    12: flumph

    Other 1-4:
    1d12:
    1-3: gibbering mouther
    4: intellect devourer
    5: death dog
    6: doppelganger
    7-8: mimic
    9: phase spider
    10-11: ochre jelly
    12: black pudding
    Other 5-10:
    1d12:
    1-3: red slaad
    4-5: blue slaad
    6: invisible stalker
    7: cloaker
    8-9: green slaad
    10: grey slaad
    11: death slaad
    12: yochlol
    Other 11-16:
    1d12:
    1-8: Beholder
    9-12: Shoggoth (from Metzger’s Epic Monster Expansion)

    Other 17+:
    1d12:
    1-6:Mi-Go (from Metzger’s Epic Monster Expansion)
    7-10: Star-spawn (from Metzger’s Epic Monster Expansion)
    11-12: Elder Thing (from Metzger’s Epic Monster Expansion)


    What the Hell? 3

    Enough about monsters, let’s talk places.

    There’s the world, obviously. It’s where we all walk around and have our adventures. I assume it’s a sphere, but haven’t had to argue the point yet. It’s got a sun and a moon; let’s assume we’re the center of it all, and that beyond the veil of the stars (a cloak with pinpricks of light, but finite) there is a great boiling sea of azoth, raw creation.

    There’s a few parallel worlds, lying on the obverse of the natural one. The most accessible of them is the Nether, a place of shadow, mist, reflection, and twilight. It is a place of entropy and hunger; holding close to the world in the nether is difficult, as unseen tides pull you away from the shore into the Deep Nether, which is an infinite and hungry sea. It’s a place of the dead, and the tides pull them deeper. Undead, resistant to the tide and intrusive to the world, upset this order and channel the living to resist it. The Deep Nether is sometimes called Lethe, a place of forgetfulness and sleep, where souls dwindle away.

    In places where the nether has been twisted with magic and made thin, attempts to enter it lead instead to an entire second world behind our own: Gehenna, a toxic hellscape overrun with aberrations, lies just behind the world. Its sun is red, its land is poison, its core is a mazy twist of deadly dungeons which enclose ancient terrors. Slaad, gibbering mouthers, mind flayers, beholders, gith of both types, mimics, aboleth. Its native plant life is a venemous hybrid with snakes; its jungles are overrun with snake people: yuan-ti, naga, marilith.

    The elves have a series of more bounded worlds associated with them: the intricate shadow world of Fymory, and the twilit groves of Illyria. They’re not very different from the point of view of reaching them; they’re a patchwork of locally continuous, non-locally shifting terrain: like clouds moving across the sky, they come into and out of conjunction with each other at the edges.

    In all three cases — Gehenna, Fymory and Illyria — they can be reached by “crossings”, areas of intermittent magical area. If the crossing isn’t active, an attempt to reach the nether will usually activate it; if it is already active, it is as easy as walking to reach stranger skies.

    There are other conjunctive demiplanes, of course. Haunted houses likely attach to an area of the nether so warped that it might as well be a demiplane, and tales persist of constellations of mirrors linked by some event which permit far-travel. 

    There are then two more fundamental planes to discuss: Azoth, and the Astral. Azoth is the plane of magic, the plane of possibilities, the plane of madness. An ever-shifting place of energy and rippling cause-and-effect, it is the source of magic, of demons, of elementals, and where many demi-planes bubble. Exposure to raw azoth has a warping effect, but if mediated by a demiplane — a realm of azoth made relatable albeit still raw — it can instead be a place of wonder or terror.

    The Astral Temple is a much more austere realm, where the “machine elf” modrons and the self-appointed Silver Lodge of gith, gnomes and other astral wanderers keep the mechanisms of the cosmos functioning. The Astral Temple is a place of force and light hovering in an infinite black abyss below and an infinite blasting sun above, timeless and omnipresent. It is difficult to reach without potent spells; Plane Shift cannot reach it, but Astral Travel can. It is coterminous with every point in the world and its shadows, at every point in time. Time travel, however, invites paradox, which is enormously destructive to the fabric of the temple.

    Beyond that: who knows?