Monthly Archives: January 2017

Fatigue and Moods

D&D has the Exhaustion scale, which lots of systems hook into; you know,
Exhaustion 1: Disadvantage on checks
Exhaustion 2: Speed halved
Exhaustion 3: Disadvantage on attacks and saves
Exhaustion 4: Hit point maximum halved
Exhaustion 5: Speed 0
Exhaustion 6: Death

You get exhaustion when things go against you; you lose exhaustion when you can long rest (or if you can catch a greater restoration or a potion of vitality).

We’re missing some other, lesser versions of fatigue, though: let’s call them moods. These are conditions (like charmed).

Angry: While angry, you don’t consider others your allies, you have disadvantage on ability checks (except for strength checks), and attack rolls against you have advantage.

Sad: While sad, others don’t consider you their ally, you have disadvantage on ability checks (except for dexterity checks), and your attack rolls have disadvantage.
Lonely: While lonely, you have disadvantage on saving throws against being charmed, and succeeding on a saving throw against being charmed cannot give you immunity to being charmed. Elves cannot become lonely.
Anxious: While anxious, you have disadvantage on saving throws against being frightened, and succeeding on a saving throw against being frightened cannot give you immunity to being frightened. Halflings cannot become anxious.
Gloomy: While gloomy, you are vulnerable to necrotic damage and have disadvantage on saving throws against necrotic damage. Whenever you fail an attack or check by more than 5, you cannot take reactions or multiattack, and can take only an action or bonus action until the next end of your turn.

Queasy: While queasy, you are vulnerable to poison damage, and have disadvantage on saving throws against poison and being poisoned. Dwarves cannot become queasy.
Fragile: While fragile, you are vulnerable to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage, and attacks against you have advantage.

Shocked: While shocked, you are vulnerable to acid, cold, fire, lightning and thunder damage, and your saving throws against these damage types have disadvantage.
Of course, then we need the more positive ones. Things like:

Hopeful: Your current and maximum hit points increase by 5.

Brave: You have advantage on saving throws against frightened.

Confident: You have advantage on saving throws against charmed.

I’m inclined to let calm emotions affect all of these; I’m also inclined to let an ally counselor you out of them with a campfire scene. Have a negative one and try to sleep on it? Probably turns into a point of exhaustion.
These would make excellent outcomes for, like, long term travel hazards.


Improving Monsters

Reminder: leader monsters are +40 hp, +2 to d20-scaled things, and it deals 20 more damage per round (via an additional attack, or a few more points on each attack if it’s already got multiattack). Easy-peasy; makes the numbers all bigger. Doesn’t do a lot for outside-the-numbers

There’s other dimensions in which to improve monsters, of course. I recently ran an adventure with a wizard’s college which had been infested by a spirit of chaos, a death slaad with a few additional spells and lots of planning. That one relied on granting the monster a panoply of ritual-like spells to be used solely off-screen: it already had the ability to assume humanoid form, but it also had animate dead, magic mouthNystul’s magic aura and planar binding. Not really combat spells; specially chosen to do maximum damage in my particular. These don’t affect the CR. If anything, these are just adventure seeds; knowing that there’s a monster dropping major images here and there would work with any monster type, using a wand if it’s not in the stat block.

So that’s one dimension: plot power. Raising an army or dissolving a mob, showing an outsized set of mental stats and knowing secrets. When NPCs influence NPCs and reveal plot secrets, the details aren’t that important; if the DM says the Blod-Prinzl is the Chosen One of the Giants, it doesn’t take a stat block saying “charms giants by the thousand”. But it might say that in the adventure notes, of course!

Similarly, “increases yearly food production four-fold within 5 miles”. Of course a powerful druid moving in would have such an effect, but we hide that they would do this in the description of the plant growth spell and assume they cast it in their down time. But what about “prevents facial boils” or “eases childbirth”? Or “increases the fluctuations of lit fires” or “calls storms”.

These can engage in rules systems, of course: Food is a thing that matters, childbirth can kill, fires get lit around characters, and storms affect all sorts of parts of adventuring. Those turn into adventure elements which do need statistics; during a storm, there’s heavily obscured spaces from the rain and suppressed fires. The called up army will of course be guards, and they will be charmed, and those are both things game rules can affect.

But all together, you don’t modify the leader to make that happen per-se, you just write it into the adventure. There is an illusion here, there is a passwall there. The source of these things should be suitably impressive, but you don’t necessarily need a new block for that.

High level adventurers don’t necessarily kill monsters by numbering them to death. More precisely, by the time they’re numbering the monster to death, they’ve already trapped the monster (so that it’s subject to their mighty math) and may have ensured they themselves are untouched by the monster’s strength. For instance, flying wizards raining down fireballs against a stone giant: it’s expensive, but what’s the giant gonna do? Run away under cover ideally, of course. Encounter over. But maybe the payload’s an enlarged hasted action-surged multiattacking  fighter with a flaming sword; maybe it’s an ethereal assassin. Whatever. The point is, math is half the problem, but it quickly approaches problems of engagement; speed, range, weapon immunity, and just straight up action economy.

The weapon immunity really hurts high level monsters. In previous editions, there was a ladder of magical weapons; +1 can harm elementals, but it takes +5 to hit a balor. That’s gone now, so that there’s no longer a system in the game which privileges items with plusses. There’s a trivial fix for that: a monster with protection from weapons can only be harmed with a magical weapon whose rarity equals proficiency. This will of course affect martial characters to a certain degree, but the really big effect is to make big scary monsters more expensive to attack for groups arming soldiers; even magic arrows would get pretty costly. Worldbuilding.

But even with that, there are some monsters without ranged attacks and no flight. Those monsters are dead meat. There are monsters with no ability to shut down spells, low wisdom scores, and the humanoid type. They’re dropping to a charm-type spell at its earliest opportunity, and probably joining the party to boot. Maybe the monster can’t see invisible, has no area attacks, and can be stabbed; not a problem for low-ish challenges, but it couldn’t be a Big Bad at challenge 20; it’s gonna die.

Those problems also need to be attacked. The problem isn’t math; it’s action economy, it’s mobility, it’s range. The simple solution is to make the creature legendary (move, perceive, attack as actions), give it the legendary defenses, ensure it can climb, jump, or fly. It’s still getting forcecaged, though; it’s still getting planeshifted away from, it’s still getting wall of stoned. Those are a little harder to lock down; most monsters are vulnerable to them. I think your best solution in general to that kind of lockdown is an ally with dispel magic, or some element of setting design which lets martials invoke dispel magic.


Planes and Worlds

I’ve posted a few times on the planes of my campaign as I firmed up exactly what cosmological model I wanted (seems to be something going around; while this was sitting in my drafts, enworld had this and rpg.net had this).

I’ve been thinking about the distinction between a layer and a plane. “Layer” is just a way of breaking up the monotony of a generic location into actual adventurable locales; the Abyss is the plane of all the demons, but the three layers of Azzagrat are specific environs (under the control of Graz’zt). Other than the Abyss, D&D planes are classically made of a fixed number of physically concrete layers; the Seven Heavens contain seven layers, one per heaven-mountain. Cool and all; not what I’m into.

Here’s what I’m into:

Let’s start with the base concept of a Domain. Domains are locations which exist; they have borders. There’s Cathule (where my game is set), but also Barovia; Dis (my first layer of Hell) can be sailed to from Cathule but literally is in Hell, Graz’zt’s layer of Azzagrat, and so forth. The borders of a domain set the limits for things like teleportation and scrying; all points in Barovia are in Cathule and so can be scried, but not the other way around.

Domains organize into Realms. Realms can be defined by anything — Hell is a Realm, but the country of Dis and each of the worlds of Baator and each of the worlds of Naraka and of Purgatory and so forth, those are Realms. Sometimes the borders between two domains in the same realm are very soft, such that you can walk or sail between them (such as Cathule to Barovia, though not the other way around) and sometimes very hard (such as the various realms of the Abyss). Still, some form of transport is generally achievable, through the use of gates at a minimum.

Okay, so: No structure, I get to draw a line diagram. As long as the plane shift spell exists, does any of this matter? Yes-ish. In the same way I draw a campaign map even though we’re just going to skip over most travel montages, I should do the same thing for planar campaigns. In the same way the characters will pick between a coastal cog and the inland caravan, I should provide the Charonic Nether Skiff versus the Limbic Stormwalk. That’s where the “planes” of the Nether and Limbo start to matter: they’re really big Realms with not much content that exist to fill maps: they’re basically oceans, to the Realms’ islands, including such weird effects as “the sun rises in the east” under the similar-behavior “the dead wind up in the Nether”. Most of the time, you don’t have an adventure on the open ocean, you have it near a feature: in a realm.

Neat. But humans don’t work that way; they organize orreries and seating charts. So probably the Realms get called planes and hooked up in a big wheel, nice and far away from the infinite expanse of empty air called the Inner Plane of Air. But don’t be fooled: that’s the equivalent of a blank spot on a map or a barren rock covered with gull poop until some adventure comes along and needs it, making it concrete.


Some lower level higher level spells

There’s a few effects whose levels are kind of wacky. I thought I’d written some of this before, but not obviously so in the last fifty posts, which was enough for me to feel okay repeating myself.

I was going to write a thing about how annoyning it was that transmutation had the haste and slow and darkvision and fly spells. Then I looked at what it actually gets and while, yes, it’s a random grab bag, it’s not completely unreasonable. It changes things or changes their capabilities.

But then I noticed that glibness (the only defense I could find against zone of truth) is an 8th level transmutation spell. That seems to me to be quite high. Glibness makes you preternaturally charming, but to me that feels like the next spell after suggestion; it’s somewhere between 3-5th level, not all the way up at “you will never actually use this in a game”. And subverting zone of truth: since whatever spell you use is going to detect (so you’ll also need nystul’s aura or nondetection to stop dedicated interrogators, maybe mind blank to protect your thoughts depending on DM ruling.

Okay, so what we’re seeing here is that basically nothing can protect you from an inquisitor’s psychic probe until you’re ludicrously high level. These spells are WAY too high level. Now, mind blank has some quite reasonable other effects and immunities, but it remains situational.

Here’s my list of misaligned effects, organized by level they currently are.

9th level:

astral projection: The only real problem is the name. “Walk, in very nearly complete safety, to any location that exists” is a pretty powerful effect. Astral projection feels like it should be an early trick, certainly before plane shift (right around magic jar, say?), but the effects of 5e-style astral projection are pretty dramatic.

imprisonment: Given how specific this spell is: 1 minute long casting, personalized material components, and is basically otherwise a noncombat flesh to stone (6th level, though has that 3-successes-before-3-fails thing) + a divination blocker. That’s not a bad 6th level spell, because the divination blocker feels like a reasonable tradeoff for its personalized component.
time stop: The idea feels ninth level, but the various changes to the spell have nerfed it below water so far as I’m concerned. These effects feel 7th levelish to me. I can’t really justify why.

weird: This spell just isn’t good enough. It keys off of the frightened condition, and inflicts 22 damage per round, ending when they save. At ninth level, you have better options. Contrast with 5th level cloudkill: similarly resisted damage type (poison vs psychic), no keying condition (the cloud heavily obscures no matter what), and the cloudkill damage continues so long as you keep them in the area, 19 damage per round (half on save!). Is “this effect can’t be seen” and “this effect doesn’t block your sight of the enemy” and “slightly larger and 3 more points of damage” and “selective targeting” really worth 4 spell levels?

8th: 8th level spells seem much better balanced. I guess people do play the game to 15th level, after all

glibness: This is the only way to pervert zone of truth, and while I like “you can’t go below a 15 on a persuasion check”, this is a bard spell; were they likely to?! This feels like a 3rd level spell, even as written. Maybe if it let you cast mass suggestion at will…

mind blank: Oh hey glibness, it’s your cousin, mind blank. Contrast with death ward (4th level). Everyone and their brother does necrotic damage; nobody does psychic. Resisting charm is great, but lots of effects have let us do that (calm emotions, protection from good and evil, standing near the 7th level paladin of devotion). Immunity to brainreading is nice; I can’t quite tell if nondetection does that too (since detect thoughts isn’t technically targeting you, does nondetection still prevent scrapes? I’d say yes, but amn’t sure). My point: this is a grabbag of features, and if you’re hunting mind flayers you probably cast it, but maybe you’d have rather saved that slot for a Power Word Stun, an Incendiary Cloud, an Antimagic Field, a souped up Prismatic Spray, and so forth.

telepathy: How much better is this than dream? It’s definitely better. But is it 3 levels better? They get to be awake, they get to be on another plane (but sending at 5 levels below telepathy can get around that…). It’s a quibble. 7 would work fine.

7th: Even better than 8, seven just feels right. There’s only one real stinker (oh, Mordy, why would you bother with your sword?!)

mordenkainen’s sword: I do kind of wish it were Mordenkainen’s Razor (like Occam’s). The damage is just bad though. Concentration, 1 minute, 16 force damage on cast (action) and each round thereafter (bonus action), each target within 20 feet of the previous. Contrast with the cleric’s Spiritual weapon (2nd level): 8 damage, similar movement and attacks. No concentration. Are 5 spell levels (4 would be the equivalent of the upcast spiritual weapon) worth reaching across the aisle to their spell? Sometimes, sure. But not this time, costing you both bonus actions and your concentration slot. This spell can stay at its current level, I guess, but it cannot consume concentration.

regenerate: This is a counterexample. I never noticed regenerate doesn’t require the target be conscious. If you aren’t dead already during its 1 hour no concentration duration, you cannot die.


Darkvision, Underbeings and Scouts

In D&D, humans, halflings and dragonborn are the only characters which lack darkvision.

Humans and halflings would otherwise make excellent rogues, but their inability to see in the dark is an enormous penalty in a game where monsters which detect the party can get the drop on them.

The ubiquity of darkvision 60 feet is also funny from a worldbuilding perspective. It’s SO common! Darkvision has its drawbacks, like not allowing color sight, but that’s relatively minor. Why does anything get lit, especially in battleground conditions?

Related topic: the trifecta drow, duergar and svirfneblin are more interesting than their aboveground cousins elf, dwarf and gnome. The undertypes deserve their darkvision; in their cavelike homes I see how it shapes their culture and is necessary, and they have dark-adjusted instead of light-adjusted eyes. But the overland types shouldn’t get to see in the dark just because their undertypes can!

If we still had low light vision (“Treat dim light as bright light”, as darkvision does, but without darkvision’s ability to treat no light as dim light), that might make sense as an adjustment for the aboveground types. In fact, this is very nearly the adjustment the game already makes: there’s two kinds of pitch black, the natural type and the magical type. If I simply adjusted things so that the Devil’s Sight trait means you can treat darkness as bright light (losing that distinction between mundane and magical darkness), and the Darkvision trait means you can treat dim light as bright light, then I’d be basically done.

This change works great for scouts, who can treat the dim light at the edges of the party lanterns as bright light (out to the edge of their own darkvision radius), and great for my physics engine sense of fair play (the only beings who can see in pitch black with no further rules changes are explicitly supernatural, though I think I’d probably extend the devil’s sight trait quite a bit; fiends, aberrations, and elementals with darkvision generally get devil’s sight; fey, beasts, humanoids, monstrosities and so forth generally do not). This weakens the darkness spell, since additional types of monsters would now have the ability to ignore it, but I tend to think of darkness as a weaker fog cloud anyway, so I’m hard pressed to care.

Oh, and of course Tieflings have Devil’s Sight (instead of darkvision). I’m torn about drow, duergar, and svirfneblin; I’m inclined towards letting them in the club too. The spell Darkvision grants Devil’s Sight as well, though Goggles of Night which give that additional property are probably one step rarer.

I especially like the way this puts everyone (except the underbeings and recipients of Darkvision) on the same level; those who can see in the dark will learn more details about the giant statue, but if one can see it, all can see it. Except for drow and tieflings. That’s fine.


Blood War

I think D&D made a big mistake making all Tanar’ri demons back when the Satanic Panic loosened sufficiently to permit printing the word “demon”. I make no bones about being unimpressed by the Yugoloth; the Devils as a mass noun have always been kinda weird sounding, and the Demons are a grab bag that just shouldn’t be made coherent. So here’s how I’d structure it, if I didn’t have 30 years of D&D canon to support.

Lots of things are currently fiends that shouldn’t be. Consider the Yochlol: she’s a fiend (a demon!) because Lolth is the Queen of the Demonweb Pits; as an Abyssal ruler, she needs Abyssal vassals. But everything about them is more aberration than fiend: they’re tentacled shapeshifters with mind reading powers and a poisonous cloud form. She wouldn’t even be the only demon prince(ss) served by non-demons: Graz’zt is the lord of lamia, for Goodness’ sake.

Another example: the palette-swap quasit and imp. If Imp, like Succubus (or Mephit), were not pinned to the Devil or Demon faction, we’d have more room for little irritating flappy guys. The way I’d split it is to have the monster category called Imp, and then focus on why I want different types. The serves-as-familiar-shapeshifts-poison-bite-invisible Quasit can eat the current Imp as far as I’m concerned, in this merger. The red-colored flappy guy should get a little pitchfork and just be a flame-tossing winged kobold (“Least Imp” or “Courier Imp” maybe). I’d probably put the spined devil in this type too (“Spike Imp” or “Spine Imp”). So maybe there isn’t even conceptual room for both types of mini-devil.

A third: the completely pointless dretch-and-manes-and-lemures. We not only don’t need all 3, but if the original monster manual had just said to go use a zombie for the gribblies of the abyss, we’d all have been fine with that. A zombie with fire resistance? okay, done. These monsters don’t unlock plot; by being “living beings” they at best bootstrap a bottom rung of the satanic evolutionary hierarchy, but that would be true no matter where you put the starting point: “One out of a million evil souls is so sustained by this wickedness that, rather than manifest as an undead corpse, they become a Hezrou with their former memories intact” works just as well.
This is 5e. If we sweep away the rest of the alignment-based one-plane-one-monster, what do we get?

Succubus/Incubus: These medium-sized infiltration-y fiends are as presented.
Night Hags: Ditto, these plotters and schemers stand alone. It occurs to me that we have fey hags and fiend hags; we need aberration hags to complete the warlock-patron set.

Kyton/Chain Devil: these get extracted to stand alone, too. Pain fiends, hunters and punishers. You could actually stick the Erinyes as avengers in this faction perfectly well too, if one wanted to; their association with ropes of entanglement is quite like the Kyton’s animate chains, and while they lack the Unnerving Mask, I’d give them a frightful aura (the effect of the ‘mask) without a second thought. They’re probably a manufactured, young race: Asmodeus’ created servitors or something. They’re also probably made out of humanoids via some horrific process.
Now the hard work. Devils and Demons are bound up with each other, defined in each others’ absences. The Devils on the whole have the better story beats, because the Abyss is where you (traditionally) stick weird monsters; see previous discussion on the Yochlol.

I like the Blood War, and I like its two factions well enough. I don’t like them as Devil and Demon, that feels wrong because it positions the entire races against each other and elevates the Blood War to a higher importance than worldly affairs. What I prefer, I think, is an all out war of Hell trying to conquer and colonize the Abyss, and the Abyss reacting violently on that front. I want the Abyss itself to be the battleground most of the time in this war, because it has such exciting beachheads. That is, every Devil is associated with the Blood War, but most Demons are not. The World is another conquest, and it’s the battlefront between Angels and Devils.

Team Baatezu: Make it out of two parts: Fallen Celestials and Native Baatorians.

The Fallen are the pit fiends, horned devils, and barbed devils (corresponding to solars, planetars, and deva before the fall). I suppose technically there should be a path linking deva to rakshasa (see below) also, but that’s D&D’s fault for misappropriating names. I like the reincarnating celestial being which becomes fiendish if it should falter from the path of righeousness, but the D&D deva isn’t that. These beings are probably frequently summoned: back before they fell they were friendly angels, after all, so their phone numbers were on file; the act of falling probably makes responding to the call much more optional, however.

I want my Fallen to have blasphemy powers. Maybe the mummy lord’s blasphemous word: each mortal creature within 10 feet of the speaker must make a Constitution saving throw or be stunned until the end of the speaker’s next turn, success granting 24hr immunity. Maybe just frequent access to spellcasting.

The Native Baatorians are, in D&D lore, the Ancient Baatorians, Scary Shit from Beyond the Dawn of Time, theoretically represented in modern products by the “Nupperibo” (another entry in the dretch-manes-lemure chain, pfeh). I will keep that idea around, but there’s no reason they had to die off: the Ice Devil and Bone Devil are their inheritors. There might be some others that fit well here, like Locust Devils (… Chasme, repurposed) or all of the Yugoloth, but I dunno, that might be a bridge too far.

Team Tanar’ri. These are young (the only ancient things in the Abyss are individuals and their domains. Demogorgon can be old, but Demogorgon’s servitors don’t last long enough), and exist in contrast and in order to oppose the Baatezu. There’s only a few demons which mention armies in their entry: Balor (generals), Goristro (seige engines), Hezrou (footsoldiers), Marilith (captain). So these and only these (barring anything really appropriate coming along) are the anti-Baatezu faction. Every other kind of demon is just that, a unique demon.

Rakshasa: I’d like more rakshasa at different power levels, but these lords of seeming are fine. Add more please. Per the MM, these are actually a type of devil: they’re linked to the Nine Hells. I could do without that myself, but at least it gives me a path (deva -> barbed devil -> rakshasa) that matches the cycle of reincarnation. A Rakshasa-couatl (sort of like a naga, I guess?) would be great. I’d move them out of the Nine Hells and into the 

Team Yugoloth: As I mentioned, as far as I’m concerned these are Baatorians gone off the reservation. Doesn’t really contradict existing lore; Asmodeus and the Night Hags created them, but that could as easily refer to an organization as a species. I’m inclined to give them mastery over the Styx (at least aspirationally), explaining their mercenary nature somewhat, since they’re everywhere you want to be.


What Dreams May Come

We all know that Hell bargains for souls: they’re the lawful-evil bureaucratic fiends who seek the degradation and subversion of mortals. They’re Milton’s Children, they’re a 90’s-style coke-fueled law firm that never ends, they’re Kafka’s Nightmare.

But what is the soul? Why do they want them? Do they treat them as wealth, and if so, do they hoard them or invest them or what?

D&D’s answer has traditionally been super literal. When you die, there is a mysterious process, but the ineffable thing that was you travels to — or awakens in — the Outer Planar realm which matches you two-axis personality type as a new creature, a Petitioner. The “petitioners” of some of the lower planes are larvae, soul-worms, much sought after. Others are as they appeared in life, or animals, or unformed light. In 4e, there was some transport involved, so there were adventures to restore the spiritual roads along which souls reached their makers, piratical demons, etc. In the forgotten realms, if you try to be tricky (“no gods for me!”), you wind up entombed in the Wall of the Faithless for eternity. In Planescape, you change mailing address (since you’re bopping around the planes already!). The Devil/Demon Blood War needs troops, so evil souls get sent into that fray as low level gribblies. The Upper Planes seek to escape the endless cycle of conflict (sit down, Ysgard, nobody’s talking about you); they collect petitioners for the good of the petitioner.

An aside: in earlier editions of the game, you could not raise dead an elf: they didn’t have souls. That was in the rules text. We lost that in 3e (I think it was still present in 2e?), to our detriment. Why can’t you charm an elf? Because charms enchant the soul, and elves are invalid targets; they’re P-Zombies, distinguished as such due to deific intercession. I guess technically we still have that in 5e if I hold fast that elves are mortal Sidheelien, that latter of type fey, fully invalid targets for that spell. In the 3e setting Ghostwalk, elves don’t leave spirits behind, but enter the grove of spirit trees.
The features of this rubric are straightforward: while there isn’t mechanical heft behind it, souls are concrete objects which can be seized and traded and held. They’re post-mortem artifacts, and don’t have a lot of consciousness in them. They power things through the power of plot.

I don’t really like this view of the soul as it regards the motivations for the powers of Hell. It’s gameable, don’t get me wrong, but it puts a concrete understanding on the ineffable. Why would any power want a stake in an individual mortal’s soul if ultimately souls are a commodity, tradeable by the bushel? Even granting that they might come in different grades, there is a physical object associated with the soul (the petitioner), so there’s some concrete value attached there. There’s an upper limit to their worth. And I find it difficult to build a post-mortem economy that allows Faustian bargains when most souls are, well, at the level of Faust’s. The power the Ruinous Powers bestow has to be so cheap for them to make it worth it that I don’t really know what to do with this.

I say that Hell is the CIA, and the soul is a pork-belly future (to propose two metaphors simultaneously). What I mean is that a Faustian bargain is not to harvest ectoplasmic phlegm or a soul-larva, but instead, for the deeds which a living character with that power will do while they are alive. Or undead. First, Hell has aims in the mortal realms. Secondly, the disaffected or the corrupt both will weaken the status quo, so make tempting prospects. Thirdly, Hell has an enormous armory: staves of fireballs for rebellious lords or hats of disguise for ambitious courteseans, it has programmed illusions and incubus handlers to blunt those who might otherwise grow on their own to lead nations, or philtres of love or arrows of slaying to give to ones adversaries to tip scales against a hero. A Faustian Bargain is not really about selling one’s “soul” for power; it’s about accepting power and the guidance that comes with it, and striking for one’s desires using underhanded mechanisms. This is a dangerous road because the power is addictive, and the fact that it’s being offered implies the direction it’s being applied agrees with Hell’s aims.

Like a staff of fireballs, a warlock investment (or clerical investment, or paladinical temptation, or whatever) is given unto its recipient and then the transaction is over. It’s one of the easiest Faustian bargains to strike, really, since in my view a supernal character is made via a transcendant experience: if a warlord beholds an angel in the field of battle, they’re quite likely to convert their hit dice to cleric. The ruinous powers get to do the same thing.

How does your mid-level Diabolic Actuary ensure that this is the right deal to strike, that this podunk peasant could do some real damage before the inquisition catches up? Dirty pool; the augury spell can be combined with the bureacracy of Hell to remarkable effect. Assume Satan (like the Big Guy) marketh e’en the sparrow’s fall; assume also that when the Prince of Darkness marketh something, it stays damn well markethed. Then since the punishment/reward cycle for deviled eggheads is so tight, the actuary can simply ask “How will making this deal wind up for me“, a perfectly valid augury question, and get an immediate response. To make this work, of course, the Dread Lord has to have a very immediate personal touch on His accountants. But that seems very reasonable too; they report back to the Head Office after every deal or something.

I mentioned the inquisition. Sure. If there is a CIA, there has got to be an MI5 (or whatever, since they’re not really opposed. Stasi, but for the angels. Boy, this is getting tortured). The thing about the forces of good is that they feel responsible for their actions. The angels do not hand out heavy munitions at will, because that is what makes them angels; as a result, those they have entrusted with heavy munitions are well-organized and on-mission. That mission is “end the undue influence of Hell”, but it can’t go so far as “cut off all contact with Hell” because humanity is neutral; all-out opposition would become all-out war. That kind of battle would trigger the end times.

But then, I mentioned a Prince of Darkness with enough foresight to bootstrap augury into a Turing-complete prognosticator. Which means that any such outbreak of hostilities has already been seen (“Knowing the price of failure, if I were to propose the following  End Times plan, WEAL or WOE: …”). Which means that triggering Armageddon is probably a positive for the Angels (or else Satan would already have pulled the switch, but not so positive that they see the way out of that end-times battle. Factions of angels probably do argue in favor of the End Game, because of this very logic (The Fallibility of Evil faction). But others take a more measured approach, hypothesizing mutual annihilation and infinite suffering (the Covenant faction). Still others look to the younger races, hoping that they will find a solution to this dilemma, while remaining fundamentally captive to their duty as caregivers and wardens (the Taurielline Faction; Undertale, eat your heart out).

But this is D&D; if there’s a synonym for spirit in this game, it’s got a monster manual entry. So of course when you die there’s a spooky ghost left behind, and of course angels and valkyries and demons and Anubis and Odin and Satan and Buddha fight over the remains. But on the cosmic scale, its value is that it was once sentient and irreplacable and you; monsters eat it or make hats out of it in the way that they eat human flesh and paint themselves in the gore. You can power a water wheel with a soul, or make a wraith or specter (or lantern archon or einjariar), but the reason they’re valuable is as boots or as brains, or for their own sake, as of a flower.