Category Archives: Uncategorized

Simplified damage types

Obviously don’t do this for real, more of a continued thought experiment.

5e’s types

D&D5e has a lot of damage types, more even than we think:

  • Acid
  • Bludgeoning
  • Cold
  • Fire
  • Force
  • Lightning
  • Necrotic
  • Piercing
  • Poison
  • Psychic
  • Radiant
  • Slashing
  • Thunder

But! Also (and more importantly) things like:

  • Magical weapon
  • Silver weapon
  • Adamantine weapon
  • Wielded by a good aligned creature
  • Spell
  • While standing in dim light or darkness (!)

Aren’t those second set more (much, much more) interesting? Why, then, is every attack assigned a granular damage type if every monster ignores half the list? And if the only really gameable set of conditions ignores the damage types entirely? Now, of course, I’m being unfair. Fire elementals have to ignore fire damage, and so you have to decide if that includes dragon turtle breath (steam). But that doesn’t justify the sheer number of types we have.

Isn’t radiant basically force? Force effects translate ethereally, but as far as I can tell it’s very rare for damage to be able to make use of that; maybe blade barrier? Acid, necrotic and poison are technically each different, but in the fiction, I have a hard time seeing super sharp delineations; I think you could probably get away with

And for all the unnecessary detail on weapon damage, couldn’t we have gotten more detail on psychic damage types — mind thrust, ego whip, id insinuation, psychic crush, and psionic blast? And of course emotional attacks along the lines of frightened and charmed, or confused — damage types analogous to poison:poisoned.

Simplified damage types

  • Weapon
    • Cutting (piercing, slashing)
    • Bruising (bludgeoning, some force, thunder)
  • Elemental
    • Freezing (cold)
    • Burning (fire)
    • Shocking (lightning)
    • Corroding (acid)
  • Arcane
    • Rotting (poison, necrotic)
    • Radiating (force, radiant): rare, powerful, unresisted.
  • Psychic
    • Charming (persuasion)
    • Frightening (intimidation, also thunder-based roars)
    • Confusing (deceit)

In this model, I’ll still need to figure out how to do silver damage, but at least some of the lesser-used types are cleaned up.

Advertisements

A Guidebook to Faerie & Shadow

I’ve been thinking about planes again (Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes –> Blood War –> Why are demons & devils different?! –> planes). My current realization is that elementals and fey are not so very different at all, and that most of what I want out of the elemental chaos I could actually get out the plane of faerie.

Consider the relationship between the border ethereal plane and the deep ethereal plane (DMG 48). A creature on the border ethereal can see a few feet into the material, and travel in any direction and through walls, with space-warping effects. Major risks include cyclones, which waylay traffic, shunting one into another plane. So let it be with faerie: a mix of different “interdimensional weather/terrain effects”, rather than a single governing ruleset. Here’s a rough exploration of that:

Faerie

At the innermost edges of the 5e elemental planes, they “resemble places in the Material Plane”. The four elements mingle together as they do in the Material Plane, forming land, sea, and sky. But the dominant element exerts a strong influence on the environment, reflecting its fundamental qualities” (DMG 52). This is pretty much a description of faerie (especially if we permit more exotic elemental planes — Song, Wine, Love, Honor and so forth).

Faerie is divided into “near”: a sequence of kingdoms each more fantastical than the last which lies just behind the material world… and “far”, the lands at the edge of the Maelstrom where the world gives away to the raw and destructive energies of creation.

The map matches that of DMG 57, that is, earth to the east, fire the south, air the west, and water the north. The great genie cities of Aaqa, the City of Jewels, The City of Brass and the Citadel of Ten Thousand Pearls lie at the center of each of their nations, and at the center lie the faerie nations of the Summer Court, Gloaming Court, Bytopia, Beastland, Arborea, Ysgard and Arcadia.

However, it isn’t literal; one can also walk to heaven and hell from certain locations. Read on.

Hazardous Conditions

Memory Loss

Time Warp

Labyrinth Winds

Pervasive Good Will (alignment shifts); also, Abyssal Corruption

Intense Yearning (when leave, cha save DC 5+days, failure disadvantage on checks or return)

Hunter’s paradise (advantage on animal handling, perception & survival)

Beast Transformation (slaying a beast cha save or polymorph into slain form, repeat per long rest, fail 3 permanent)

Immortal Wrath (killed, restored each day at dawn)

Limbo Maelstrom (things turn into other things, lots of elemental damage) + Power of the Mind (various checks to create/alter elemental material). Githyanki are riders on these storms, and travel with them across the land, and back into the Maelstrom.

Planar Vitality (creatures immune to disease, poison, fear)

Shadow

Shadow is always near; it is the dark land behind the campaign world. It is a place of desaturation and corruption, half-light and gloom. Its themes are entropy, ossification, and hostility; at its innermost edge, one reaches the Singularity: the negative plane.

This sucking void is always visible on the horizon, if not closer. The plane of shadow is cramped, and danger lies nearer than you wish.

The many lower planar adventuring locales dot this plane, often larger on the inside than the outside.

Hazardous Conditions

Shadowfell Despair

Pandemonium (mad winds, exhaustion and madness)

Vile Transformation (exhaustion, turn into grub)

Cruel hindrance (can’t help anyone)

Bloodlust (temp hitpoints on kill)

Prison Plane (difficult to leave)

Stranger Realms

The Ethereal and Astral

Each of the realms above are contiguous streams of matter, streaming from the positive and into the negative plane. However, there is also empty space, surrounding and containing this matter. The ethereal realm is created at the boundary between this state of being and unbeing. Explorers and mystics who travel between planes are exposed briefly to this interface when they use planar travel magics or “go ethereal”. Should they reach the Astral (also called the Deep Ethereal), they are effectively deep space explorers: they may geographically be in Faerie, Mundanity or Shadow, but they are physically in a liminal space.

It is a starry, new-agey type of space. It rejects travelers, providing them with planar portals to other destinations with increasing gravity and vigor. However, it does have native life of its own, deep sea creatures and alien aberrations. And, somehow, space pirates.

This space contains realms like Mechanus, the plane of Law; it contains the Graveyard of the Gods, and also

Hazardous Conditions

Astral winds

Ether cyclone

Heaven and Hell

Viewing the mundane world as the interface between Shadow and Faerie, Heaven and Hell respectively are a finger of law cast from the Maestrom through to the Singularity. There are several interesting facts this suggests. For instance, the campaign World is closer to creation than entropy (Avernus, the first layer of Hell, is “true neutral”, eight layers from both the positive and negative planes). Also, law is an aberration in this view, since chaos surrounds and created it, but also more stable than the rest of faerie, which is thought-provoking.

So anyway, the heavens and hells are reachable through faerie and shadow. Worse, hell was once within faerie and was cast into shadow — many roads and gates remain, and so even though hell is in shadow, it does retain fey neighbors!

This arrangement has many names — the Lathe of Heaven, the Great Wheel, Jacob’s Ladder.

The Abyss

There isn’t just one. Where ever you want a demon prince and particularly those previously published, simply have a sealed realm of faerie and shadow intermixed under the care of a godling. Poof; abyssal realm. I’ve commented before on the incongruity of D&D demons and their princes; this mostly resolves the problem, since these realms contain whatever sort of being the DM wishes.

The demons themselves are likely relegated to being plane of shadow foes or, indeed, members of their own realm.

It’s true that this loses the D&D image of the infinite stack of the abyss. But I frankly don’t need it: I have the finite stack of hell, and the infinite web of abyssal realms. Good enough.


Hell Hounds: Fish or Fowl?

So OD&D didn’t have a whole lot of (what would later be come to be called variously) Outsiders, Celestials or Fiends.

When they did get added, it was tentative at first — hell hounds and separately things like succubi, and then six types of mystical and powerful entities. There’s a clear implication that the hell hounds are quasi-terrestrial; they pal around with fire giants.

So why did D&D make the hell hounds outsiders? I guess it’s the “hell” in the name, but it’s not like death dogs are undead, nor are “all hags fey”. I would guess something to do with summoning hell hounds, but then anything that leveraged that would also give access to the nightmare — that’s a potent trans-planar beastie; I wouldn’t want one spell to give access to both!

If you look at what they do, hell hounds are a lot like gargoyles. They’re a semi-mythological beast with a very visual behvior. The could very easily have been elementals, if it weren’t for their catchy and stupid name. It’s not like we’re hurting for fire-type elementals, but they’re somewhat more similar to azer and salamanders than they are horned devils and pit fiends.

One could even make them monstrosities (like their cousins, the Winter Wolf). That would also be a sensible change.


Mordenkainen’s: Dwarves & Duergar, Gith, and the rest of the book

So, to start with: I don’t need two psychic dwarves, but D&D has two psychic dwarves, so I know I’m going to have problems.

I love dero as mind-flayer-twisted-abominations. But I really, really wish that Duergar could be sort of redcaps or nordic selfish dwarves or something — asshole dwarves because they’re just asshole dwarves. Exposure to the underdark, whatever. And I feel like this book struggles with that same problem; that the dwarves aren’t a very psychic chassis. The story plays with it a little, but it’s committed; duergar are bound up with mind flayers.

There’s some good themes here around “Dwarves see their works of art as their children — like, literally, they are closer to them than their flesh and blood, and also they’re pretty close to their flesh and blood”.

The rest of the book didn’t really impress me more than this (up to the monsters, which I don’t feel like reviewing but were good).

The gith had some good stuff; I don’t know lore well enough, but it states that the githzerai revolted against Gith claiming she was evil. Is that new? It also proposes a gith unification body, but I’m a little unclear how that could work, given the unified political nature of the githyanki. I love the Melnibonean character of that latter, and can see myself using Tu’narath (though christ it’s hard to say Tuna Wrath at the table…).

The halflings and gnomes are as easy to overlook as they’ve ever been. Nice roleplaying fluff, maybe?


Mordenkainen’s: Elves

As widely reported, the Corellon origin story is… well, it’s not capital-G Good. Chaotic Neutral, say. And Lolth, true to form, argues for structure and a coherent action to the benefit of all elves — Neutralish or even Lawfulish, albeit probably Evil. I can’t say I care much for their origin strife — it’s got a lot of moving parts and doesn’t interest me very much.

Elves are serially reincarnated and, as children, can remember their past lives. They use the Minbari defense as a reason why the elves don’t outbreed the humans, but (unlike Babylon 5), their stance on half-elves is distinctly wishy-washy. They do present “half-elves have human souls” as an option, but omit “half-elves have a fragment of an elven soul”. Kind of dark, but given the long-term views of elves, anything less and there’s no reason to get worked up about it.

I don’t much care for the elven whobegats — I’m sure it’s interesting that they have their own religion, but I won’t use most of it. Or, uh, read it. Skimming, ho!

I don’t have room in one campaign for both high elves and for eladrin. But during 4e I learned that I just do not like teleporting elves. But this presentation makes them less “mundane”, which does make the teleporting trick easier to swallow. Actually, I’m not even sure I have room in the same campaign for the high elf and half-elf. Given the hyper-magical eladrin, aren’t high elves just half-eladrin? Sure, they might not have literal human genetics, but like archetypically, they’re just fey with the mundane dial turned up? I would have liked a PHB that put “elf” front and center, and particularly the “half-elf” (flavor targeting wizard, to get in touch with their roots and meld native magic with mortal effort); it would relegate all the other flavor of fey to the extended section of the PHB, and frankly that would be fine by me, since by definition half-elves focus on the extra skills and languages longevity gives them.

Bleh. Wood elves are fine, great. A wood elf druid does everything I need. But high elves are in a weird place, and weirder now (I haven’t even gotten to their brainspace competition with gith!).

Arborea remains a cognitive collision with Faerie (which gets a namecheck) or “The Feywild” — as does Evermeet. I love the fading/journey west that it gives the elves, but we definitely have the same thing represented in multiple ways. All in all, this whole caught in a strange and self-contradictory place. It wants to have elves be “fey” (capricious, strange), but is stuck with them being the ~second most popular player race, with contradictory and poorly thought through fluff. And couldn’t the Demonweb Pits be in the Feydark, instead of the Abyss? It feels like such an accident that it would be located there; even Hades would make more sense (silent darkened halls roped in spiderwebs…).

As I see it, this whole thing could have been salvaged if the wars of the elven deities had happened in the other order.

First there is Corellon, who makes the eladrin on purpose. They’re somewhat fixed in form, because that’s what lets them be something other than the orgiastic torrent of creation that is Corellon, but they’re hyper-magical and not *very* fixed in form; seasons, dreamings, etc.

Then some of the proto-seldarine fall to warring amongst themselves. Lolth started it, further refining her cadre into the drow and fixing their forms. They’re all exiled when they lose.

Then-then, the battle between Corellon and Gruumsh, where Gruumsh wounds Corellon. The droplets of blood that fell on eladrin fix their forms into the elves, and Corellon is very sorry but he couldn’t fix that without destroying them. So he doesn’t.

Everyone does the things they needed to do, and in particular, the right people are guilty of the right things. Lolth is a traitor and invented something new, Corellon isn’t a giant abusive jackass, Eladrin are *actually* the first-born (as opposed to yet another adaptation leaving yet another ancient elf type out there!), etc.

And yet there’s still room for high-CR fey like LeShay and ancient hags; not all eladrin have to be immortal or the same age, and I am fine with the first ten generations being crazy powerful. Or whatever.

Okay, but: the section the raven queen and the shadar kai is amazing and I have no further critique. I’m using that directly.


Mordenkainen’s: Blood War

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes is out now (D&D beyond!) and offline-tab-saving being what it is, I’m reading it on my flight from Zurich to Frankfurt (what even is my life?!).

I got through the Blood War chapter — surprisingly dry in my opinion, though a few little lore upsets.

I mostly enjoy them. Big changes I spotted included: Dispater is Ironman. Fierna and Belial’s order isn’t specified, so they can be creepy child + mommy instead of daddy/little incest triggers. There’s doubt over Glasya’s genetic lineage and Bensozia is explicitly dropped, so the only reference to the revolt in Hell occurs in Baalzebul’s entry. Baalzebul’s back in humanoid form, and has a pretty interesting “tell no lies/make no deals” thing. Lots and lots of details on Zariel, who has previously been underspecified, and more detail on majordomos for some of the more reclusive individuals.

The biggest change is that Asmodeus’ Ruby Rod went from a tool and possibly seed of evil, into a Primus-inflicted suicide-collar watchdog device. Bad change.

As always, the Abyss get to have more fun. Demonic incursions are a thing, though as usual there’s no sense of scale (“A demon prince might rampage across a world for a few days or weeks… [but that] doesn’t qualify as an incursion… It can take a few years for weaker demons to warp their environment, while changes begin to occur around the location of a demon prince in about a month.” — okay, so four weeks is the cutoff point?). I’m not just nit picking, and it’s not like I need precise rules here, but it really matters. Tons of ancient dungeons contain a 10×10 room containing a demon, or a 60×60 room containing a bunch of demons and a setpiece encounter. For, like, centuries. Demon princes left to their own devices trigger an incursion instantly (are an incursion!), and lemures left to their own devices take longer than recorded history, and everyone else is somewhere in between, on the scale of months to years.

There’s a nod towards adventure, but not a big one, in getting around. Portalling into the Abyss requires plane shifting in, locating a portal, and performing a(n unspecified) ritual there. There’s some ritual to unlock the doors to leave again, but apparently planar travel magic substitutes.

I skimmed it, but I believe most of the demonic lore matches OotA’s take on the same. In an edition so dedicated to shaking things up, it might have been nice to let the Demon Queen of Spiders leave the Abyss (let her lair in the Feydark or whatever you call the Underdark in Faerie!), but alas, tradition…


OD&D Fiends

My research on “when the devil got added” has really kept me interested. In the same vein as Grognardia’s [O]D&D is always right principle (depending on cultural mileu, you might find the same practice applied to Star Wars makes more sense 🙂 ).

Oh god, I’ve become James Maliszewski (on a time delay, with lower quality).

OD&D: The White Box + Supplements

Anyway: reading through the white box + supplements, the early game is definitely still taking shape. Lots of undead and monstrosities, greek myth creatures, even elementals.

Book IV Greyhawk introduces the Hell Hound (alogside the blink dog, rust monster, stirge, and owl bear — it’s a greatest hits album!). It also introduces the “king of lawful dragons”, the platinum dragon, and the “queen of chaotic dragons”, the chromatic dragon. These are our first “outsiders” — still no archons, angels or otherwise.

Book V Blackmore adds a lot of dinosaurs and other giant beasts, but nothing of note.

And then: Book VI, Eldritch Wizardry. Now we’re coooking! Psionics! Druid characters! Demons, consisting of Succubi, types I through VI, Orcus and Demogorgon! Mind Flayers! It’s interesting to note here that all of the non-demon monsters have psychic powers, and sothis presentation looks like something of its time, airbrushed onto a van. That’s not an insult; we’re looking here at monsters of karma and spirit. Still no angels. All demons are presented with fixed attributes (they have such a form, with such attributes) but also not (yet) named. Curious. And yet, those are the demons that have stuck with us!

AD&D: The Devil’s Game

Here in the MM1 we get the greatest hits of the OD&D books, plus a few extras. Demons, Devils, Hell Hounds, Imps & Quasits, Night Hags, Nightmares.

Sorting some of them, we get:

Horned Devil 5+5HD (but: a greater devil, by the book!)

Succubus: 6HD (or Erinyes, 6+6)

Type I: 8HD Vrock (or Barbed Devil)

Type II: 9HD Hezrou (or Bone Devil)

Type III: 10HD Glabrezu (or Efreeti)

Type IV: 11HD Nalfeshnee (or Ice Devil)

Type V: 7+7 Marilith (?!)

Type VI: 8+8 Balor

Pit Fiend (13 HD)

I’m really curious about those rankings. We’d expect Type IV to have ~48hp, and Type V to have ~31hp. Type IV are not affected by non-magical weapons, so they share that trait. I guess the note that type V and above aren’t destroyed by being killed is the point here? Or to balance their relative offensive superiority with a lower attack bonus, since 1E uses hit dice to derive attack matrices? But it’s quite a strange inversion at the top level. The same thing happens around the horned devil (a greater devil, but an easy target, weaker than the barbed devil by HD anyway). Spells no doubt make up for some of the difference.

Still no angels, archons or other good-aligned spiritual entities except for the Couatl, Lammasu and Shedu.

It takes until the Monster Manual II in this edition to get devas (astral, monadic, and movanic), planetars, solars et al. This is also where we get a whole host of classic- and not-so-classic monsters of all types; modrons, spined devils, many more demon lords and archdevils, etc.