Which came first, the devil or the demon?

D&D’s fiends are defined in a completely self-referential way, with 40 years of legacy on top of them that doesn’t match a whole lot of real-world culture or even necessarily roles in the game. It makes everything harder for everyone.

You could populate lake-of-brimstone hell with hellhounds, efreeti, fire giants, and salamanders. We don’t; we need something more supernatural on top of that. Thus the fiends. But real-world cultures use “fiend” not so differently from the word “monster”. D&D has always treated each named thing as a separate entity, so that ghost and specter and wraith and apparition and so forth are each a separate stat block. Usually it’s charming, but with “demon” and “devil” it created entire universes opposed to each other with no linguistic or cultural hints at all.

Some of this is just early-on choices. A quick skim of BD&D shows only one creature we currently consider a fiend: the Hellhound. And OD&D is the same; Monsters & Treasure doesn’t even have the hell hound. We first get fiends in Eldritch Wizardry (alongside the druid and psionics), demons only. I don’t even object; they’re properly presented as templates there (“Type I demon” instead of “Vrock”), and the Demon Lords have always been more variable and exciting than the (more restricted) Archdevils. So the demon/devil split is 1e’s fault.

So what does 1e say?

On demons: Type I (Vrock) demons and Type II (Hezrou) demons will fight at the drop of a hat. Type VI demons are named individuals, and Balor is a specific one of them. So there’s nothing a-priori that says we can’t have all-demons fighting all-demons always, and that the balor represents a top-level unique demon strength.

Demons (and devils) have a laundry list of other planes they can visit — those alignment-associated with their home plane. The text says demons and devils resemble each other (… I should say so!).

Manes are the dead which go to the 666 layers of the demonic abyss. But the most evil are sent to Gehenna. So there’s some wiggle room.

Dispater & Erinyes live on the second plane.

Barbed devils populate the third and fourth planes.

Geryon & Bone Devils live on the fifth plane, and prefer cold to heat.

Malebranche live on the sixth and seventh plane, presumably serving Baalzebul.

Ice devils live on the “frigid eighth plane of hell”. Implying it is the only such frigid plane.

Pit fiends live in the “lowest” plane of hell.

This setup is a lot less… flabby… than it will later become. Alas!

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Genies as Genius Loci

It’s pretty straightforward to use genies as the spirits of a place — they have a variety of magical powers, they have strong elemental affinities, and they have enough strange powers that it seems reasonable.

Many terrains work for the elemental genies we have now (see below), but a few don’t. They’ve got an asterisk. And a full workup.

  • Arctic: Cold Djinn (cold immunities instead of lightning, thunder)
  • Coastal: Marid, land-based genies
  • Desert: Efreet, Djinni
  • Forest: Forest Genie*
  • Grassland: Djinn, Urbane Genie
  • Hill: Dao
  • Mountain: Dao, Djinn, Efreet
  • Swamp: Swamp Genie*
  • Underdark: Dao
  • Underwater: Marid
  • Urban: Urbane Genie*

Forest/Swamp Genie

Secretive and meddling genies from the Feywild, the race’s true name is xana. In their natural form they are green of skin, tall of stature, and striking appearance. They prize objects which celebrate their deeds and weave them into their eclectic dress. When a xana flies, its lower body transforms into a column of flower petals.

Masters of Root and Branch. Xana rule twisted woods and fens from a bower of living trees, and claiming the surrounding area as their “garden”. Even the xana’s buildings are made from living wood and reflect their master’s mood. They have an eccentric sense of aesthetics towards their gardens and any visitors to them.

Meddlesome Loners. A visitor to a xana’s garden might be asked to play the part of a topiary or a songbird — captive but beloved — as easily as a flowing river or a migratory bird — a temporary guest. Trespassers in a xana’s garden can expect to be interrogated by the xana and to be punished with curses, transformations, kidnapping or a geas. Exceptional visitors can expect the granting of a boon, however.

Fickle Neighbors. A settlement with a neighboring xana will accrue strange taboos and rituals; avoiding the woods except to celebrate the birthday of a particular tree, giving gifts of cheese and clothing to migrating birds, or dressing children in particular colors and cuts of garments. They hope to placate the xana and draw its good fortune.

XANA

Large fey, neutral
Armor Class 15 (natural armor)
Hit Points 163 (13d10 + 91)
Speed 40 ft., fly 30 ft.

STR 18(+4)
DEX 12(+1)
CON 24(+7)
INT 16(+3)
WIS 15(+2)
CHA 16(+3)
Saving Throws Int +7, Wis +6, Cha +7

Damage Resistances cold, fire; bludgeoning, piercing
Senses darkvision 120 ft., passive Perception 12
Languages Sylvan
Challenge 11 (7,200 XP)

Fey Ancestry. The xana has advantage on saving throws against being charmed. Magic cannot put the xana to sleep.

Fey Demise. If the xana dies, its body disintegrates in a shower of delicate flower petals, leaving behind only equipment the efreeti was wearing or carrying.

Innate Spellcasting. The xana’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 15, +7 to hit with spell attacks). It can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:
At will: detect magic, goodberry, speak with plants
3/day: bestow curse, blight, plant growth, tongues
1/day each: conjure elemental (shambling mound only), gaseous form, geas, invisibility, plane shift, polymorph

Natural Step. The xana and each creature it chooses within 30 feet has a +10 bonus to Dexterity (Stealth) checks, ignores difficult and hazardous terrain due to plants or stones, and cannot be tracked except by magical means. Such creatures leave behind no tracks or other traces of passage.

Actions

Multiattack. The xana makes 2 claw attacks.

Claw. Melee Weapon Attack: +8 to hit, reach 10 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d6 + 4) piercing damage plus 7 (2d6) poison damage. If the target is a Medium or smaller creature, it is grappled (escape DC 16). Until this grapple ends, the target is restrained and takes 7 (2d6) piercing damage and 7 (2d6) poison damage at the start of each of is turns. Until this grapple ends, the xana can’t use this claw (the xana has two claws).

Animate Plants. Up to four plants the xana can see within 60 feet of it magically sprout thorns and animate under the xana’s control. Each animated plant is an object with the xana’s statistics, no movement or actions, and 20 hit points. When the xana uses multiattack on its turn, it can use each animated plant to make one additional claw attack. An animated plant can grapple one creature of its own but can’t make attacks while grappling. An individual animated plant remains animate so long as it has hit points and the xana maintains concentration (as if concentrating on a spell).

Urbane Genie

The cosmopolitan and people-loving Houri genies appear wherever settlements enable a large enough leisure class. They go by many names; zeitgeist, lares compital, tutelary deity, and of course houri. They live in their cities traveling among the people, and their personalities fluctuate with those of their populace. They dress like a rockstar and when they fly, their lower bodies leave glitter in their wake. A houri isn’t happy unless it is the center of attention.

Vox Populi. The halls of a Houri are richly appointed and sumptuous. They expand trade and industrial networks across planes to seek out new marvels. Houri calculate their every move to enhance their status and their city’s status. They regard the individual citizens somewhat as a queen regards her worker bees; individually as extensions of their own will, but at the same time utterly dependent on their collective mood.

Egotistical Schemers. The power base of a houri quickly works itself into politics as a power player, but will rarely defeat all of its rivals: to whom would the houri brag of its accomplishments? To this end, a secure houri begins to foment rebellion against itself — and then count-rebellion, and counter-counter rebellion. Anyone who can pierce the veil to the center and discover the houri can at least earn its attention.

Fickle Aesthetes. The tastes of a houri are for novelty and quality, and regard mortals who are sources of these things positively. However, their streak of self-love and need for adoration can cause them to turn on an ally in an instant, making them extremely unreliable.

HOURI

Large fey, chaotic neutral
Armor Class 17 (natural armor)
Hit Points 147 (14d10 + 70)
Speed 30 ft., fly 60 ft.

STR 21(+5)
DEX 17(+3)
CON 20(+5)
INT 15(+2)
WIS 15(+2)
CHA 20(+5)
Saving Throws Int +6, Wis +6, Cha +9
Condition Immunities charmed, frightened

Senses darkvision 120 ft., passive Perception 12
Languages Common, telepathy 120 ft.
Challenge 11 (7,200 XP)

Urban Demise. If the houri dies, its body disintegrates into street noise and litter, leaving behind only equipment the houri was wearing or carrying.

Innate Spellcasting. The houri’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 17, +9 to hit with spell attacks). It can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components:
At will: alter self, detect magic, detect thoughts
3/day: fabricate, mirror image, tongues
1/day each: charm monster, gaseous form, invisibility, major image, plane shift

Actions

Multiattack. The houri makes 3 scimitar attacks. It can substitute blinding gaze of binding voice each for one attack.

Scimitar. Melee Weapon Attack: +9 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 12 (2d6 + 5) slashing damage.

Blinding Gaze. The houri targets one creature it can see within 30 feet of it. If the target can see the houri, the target must succeed on a DC 17 Constitution saving throw against this magic or go blind until the end of its next short rest. A target who has not yet failed the saving throw by 5 or more may repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. If the target’s saving throw is successful, or if the effect ends on it, the target is immune to the Blinding Gaze of all houri for 1 hour.

Binding Voice. The houri targets one creature it can see within 30 feet of it. The target must succeed on a DC 17 Wisdom saving throw or follow the Houri’s command on its next turn, as the spell.


Bell, Book and Candle

In 5e, a wizard is defined by their tome (they go out of their way to collect spells and can ritual anything they have access to). But what if instead we could loosen that grasp with a simple hack to the Spellbook class feature?

How it currently works

Spellbook: At 1st level, you have a spellbook containing six 1st-level wizard spells of your choice. Your spellbook is the repository of spells you know, except your cantrips, which are fixed in your mind.

Ignoring the weird comma splice, this is just saying “start with six spells and by the way this class feature grants you an object”. Weird but fine. We could as easily say “six known” and leave it up to you to write them down.

Preparing and Casting Spells: … To do so, choose a number of wizard spells from your spellbook… Preparing a new list of wizard spells requires time spent studying your spellbook…: at least 1 minute per spell level for each spell on your list.

And again, it makes reference to the spellbook to underscore the sub-list from which these spells are drawn, but I’m not sure we need a physical object for this to follow.

Ritual Casting: You can cast a wizard spell as a ritual if that spell has the ritual tag and you have the spell in your spellbook. You don’t need to have the spell prepared.

Straightforward, and another reference to spellbook-as-repository-of-spells. This rule doesn’t actually require the wizard to have their spellbook on hand, which I didn’t realize — certainly gives the wizard more flexibility!

Learning Spells of 1st Level and Higher: Each time you gain a wizard level, you can add two wizard spells of your choice to your spellbook for free… on your adventures, you might find other spells that you can add to your spellbook.

There we go: Access to 2 more spells per level, and by the way, you can get access to more spells if you want. This doesn’t need a single physical spellbook object for the 2 spells per level, but spellbooks are definitely concrete objects for finding new spells. Or are they? Nothing here about not learning spells from monoliths, sphinxes, what-have-you.

Arcane Recovery: You have learned to regain some of your magical energy by studying your spellbook…

I don’t really think that had anything to do with the book as repository or as physical object. Heck, if you ready that “by studying your spellbook” as an explanation instead of a requirement (compare with “You have learned to do smokey eyeshadow by watching youtube videos”), you don’t even need physical access to the books. Again.

And then the motherlode, the post-class discussion on “Your Spellbook”. I’m too lazy and it’s not instructive to copy that whole thing out, but you can Learn new spells (2 hours and 50gp per spell level, no chance of failure), Replace the Book (really, copy the book or scribe from memory; 1 hour and 10gp per level), and that it can look like anything you want.

How it could work

This is going to get weird: Make the wizard a known spells caster (instead of a prepared spells caster). I know this feels strange, but go with it; divine casters prepare spells from anywhere on their list, arcane casters know spells and then are restricted to those specific spells.

Then give the wizard a very special relationship with magical items, particularly scrolls and wands, and in particular, let them start the game with a small number of scrolls and/or tomes.

Changes to magical items:

Spell Scroll: A spell scroll contains a one-time use of a magic spell and works just as the standard rules state.

Spell Tome: A spell tome contains the theory and practice of a single spell. Anyone holding it and with that spell on their class’ spell list is considered to have that spell known. As permanent magic items, rare tomes may have other additional attributes, such as modifying the effects of their spells, providing bonus spell slots, or having intelligence of their own. A tome generally weighs 5 pounds and contains 1d20 levels’ worth of spells.

Changes to the Wizard:

The first change is that the wizard is a spells-known caster: they know a number of spells equal to their level + their intelligence modifier (the same as the number they could prepare). They no longer prepare spells in any way and cannot change their list of prepared spells as a part of a long rest.

The second change is to the Spellbook feature, which is simply removed.

In its place is the magic user trait:

Magic User: At 1st level, when you use a magic item to cast a spell that is a wizard spell of a level you can cast (such as activating a wand, scroll, or tome), you may learn the spell (replacing one of your spells known). You cannot use this ability again until you finish a short rest.

The text on ritual casting is updated as well:

Ritual Casting: You can cast a wizard spell as a ritual if that spell has the ritual tag and either know the spell or else you are touching an item which can activate that spell for you. This doesn’t consume a spell slot or any charges from the item.

The text on “learning spells of 1st level and higher” is instead the standard text for known-spells casters learning new spells and:

Scribe Tome: You can create a tome of any spell you know for 50 gp and 2 hours per level of the spell. You can scribe it into an existing tome so long as this doesn’t raise the total levels of spells in the tome above your current level.

Okay! So you can now mint tomes (to re-prepare spells) and learn new spells (by casting them). I would even let them scribe scrolls as a class feature, by the way, but I don’t want to figure out how to balance that.

All other references to spellbooks are replaced with “spells known”.

What changes?

Everything! There is no “spellbook” feature or concern about exactly one class having the implicit sneaky ability to learn spells from a very particular type of item.

Instead, the wizard naturally learns spells from any sort of magical treasure, in a self-balancing kind of way.

And consider what else we can do!

Familiars — those much-beleaguered bomb-disposal tools — can be an insight into the infinite, ie, a familiar knows a number of spell levels equal to the spell level used to summon it from the appropriate warlock list (fiend, fey; celestial to be designed) which its master may use as though the familiar were a tome.

Arcane Monuments — spells might get written on walls so that lots of wizards could prepare from them simultaneously, or because they really wanted to make sure the spell didn’t get forgotten.

Living Spells — Forgetting a spell so you can learn a new one feels super vancian to me, and hearkens back to the 1e fire-and-forget. I’d also love little side-effects, like maybe Counterspell lets wizards forget Counterspell and learn the spell-that-was-countered.


The Dragon’s Hoard

I want all of my dragon-in-her-lair fights to be the Hobbit’s Smaug scene or Aladdin’s Jafar fight. I want the terrain to be coins, so many coins.

There’s this size-Gargantuan 20×20 dragon, right? And so an interesting fight against it happens in a lair with enough room to move around. If it were a 5×5 orc, you’d want a 20×20 room for the fight to stretch out in — 4 times bigger along each dimension, so let’s say an 80×80 lair. That’s 6400 square feet. That seems appropriately cavernous.

Some clever soul says a silver coin is about an inch across. So a lattice one layer deep and one square foot across is 144 coins — let’s call it 150 coins.

So a layer one-coin-deep in this dragon’s lair is 960,000 coins. That’s about on track for the value of the legendary hoards we expect this dragon to have, since it gets some multiple number of hoards per the rules. But it’s one coin deep. Isn’t that unsatisfying? I want it to be hundreds of times greater than that; great piles of wealth.

Oh, sure: the dragon could be sleeping on pennies. You know that’s not good enough; it’s gotta have the glint of gold. So our only real option is to cheat; to say that the pile is one hundred times, one thousand times deeper than that single-coin stack, but that the heroes don’t get to keep it.

Perhaps there’s a tax on dragon gold in these parts. But really, a 99% tax? A 99.99% tax? That induces most PCs into outlawry.

Perhaps dragon-gold really is toxic to mind or to spirit; keeping or spending that wealth renders one rapacious, sickened, or cursed. I think that’s the least gameable answer, though, because the PCs killed a dragon; of course they want the hoard. And they have expert saints and wizards and suchlike in the party, so they can reverse most curses. And they’re played by smart folks, engineers and economists and such; even if the curse is unbreakable, they’ll figure out some system of catspaws to defeat that. So it’s definitely an option, but not the best.

Perhaps dragon-gold is mostly shadow-stuff — the hoard does contain coins, but they evaporate once away from the dragon for an hour or a day. You can still get some money out, but at dissatisfying one-in-a-thousand coin rate.

Perhaps dragons destructive powers wreck their hoards, melting and corroding coins. This has the downside that if clever players can kill the dragon away from the baubles, they get a vastly oversized payout.

How vast is that payout? Let’s say our dragon had a conservative 100 million gp in her hoard. Then that’s 2 million pounds of gp — 1% of the world’s gold supply. The current world’s gold supply. A more realistic medieval estimate puts that figure at 300% of the then-world’s gold supply.

So: it’s gotta be “Elemental Plane of Gold”-level fantastical.


Travel Montage

D&D 5e has a problem, and it’s long-distance traveling.

In most campaigns I’ve run, I don’t say “you explore the Tulgey Wood for another day, getting one-twentieth closer to the Tulgey Ruins”. I say “You explore the Tulgey Wood for 20 days, and then come across the Tulgey Ruins”.

Period, not Frequency

At a minute-by-minute or hour-by-hour pace, I want responsive rules that tell me when to roll for The Bad Stuff. Player choice makes a huge difference here, after all.

But to montage, I know time is going to pass; I really want to know how frequently interesting things might happen, and I definitely don’t want it to be on the “hourly” range. The 5e DMG advice is a 3-out-of-20 chance checked once per hour, per 4-8 hours, or once during the day and once during a long rest, depending on “whatever makes the most sense based on how active the area is”. For montage rules, that sounds an awful lot like a 1-in-6 checked 2-24 times per day — so even the sparsest region the rules gesture at has a random encounter occur every 3 days.

So I’d be fine with saying an encounter definitely occurs every 1d6 days. Maybe 1d4 days in a dense region, maybe 1d12 days in a sparse one. Let day vs night grow out of the actual random encounter table itself.

Resource & Exhaustion Abstraction

Anyone untrained in survival at exhaustion 0 has to make a DC 10 constitution saving throw at the end of their first night or else be unable to sleep, acquiring 1 level of exhaustion.

All characters (regardless of exhaustion or training) must repeat this saving throw at the end of each week of travel.

Any sort of discomfort (no fire, no shelter, etc) or rationing raises the DC by +2 to +5. Starvation automatically inflicts an additional level of exhaustion.

Characters traveling by vehicle make this check per month, not per week.

Sing Ho! For the bath at the close of the day

At the end of this, we have two systems which, combined, let us skim over the costs of travel: a way to resolve random encounters, and a way to represent road weariness.


Nonstandard Prices for Uncommon Items

Continuing a theme from here and from a thread on enworld. Must be something in the water.

Like a poster there, I rigged up some evidence of diseased thinking; while I’m reasonably happy with the results they don’t actually indicate much. Still, I thought I’d share them.

Assumption 1: The frequency on the treasure tables factors into cost

There’s no reason this would be true, but I went with it. The DMG has some assumptions about how often over the lifetime of an adventurer they’ll find each broad challenge-band of hoard, and of course has tables for treasure table conditional on hoard and item conditional on treasure table. With that, I could figure out the notional average number of each item an adventurer would receive over their career or, even more valuably, the notional average number of each item a society of a mix of adventurers would receive over their careers.

Some items show up on more than one treasure table, of course (second level scrolls, I’m looking at you) and I further made some 3e-style the-rules-are-the-simulation-of-the-world assumptions, modeling the relative ratios in society of adventurers at each tier (so that I could have many, many more adventurers at the lowest levels than the highest levels). This makes sense, because without that, the wealth generated in the mid tiers produces a weird bulge where low level items are, in fact, rarer than mid level items because an adventurer is given more mid-level items over their career.

You can see the assumptions in the spreadsheet, but basically I assumed 500 tier 1 adventurers, 50 tier 2, 5 tier 3, and 1 tier 4.

Assumption 2: Pleasing curves about the log of the frequency of the items

Our society of adventurers gets an awful lot of healing potions over their career, and very few Apparatus of Kwalish drops. I normalized the items back into levels with fun curve fitting — this log base, that baseline, that curve. Even with that, potions of healing are STILL encountered in sufficient numbers to break the curve. But I assigned each item a “level” that tracks to their frequency in this assumption-laden global item ranking — rarer pulls are higher level.

This is not a good assumption. Level should, in D&D, mean power level, basically, challenge rating. The sovereign glue is just not that cool. And yet, based on only rarity and not better utility functions, my made-up-math shows it at level 20, along with the portable hole — because that’s the frequency you encounter them.

Assumption 3: The DMG pricing tiers are correct (with a proxy)

I gave up on data entry past a certain point, so I mapped the levels back to the hoard tiers, and called those rarity. That’s totally cheating, but basically I said that any item which, based on my magic order-preserving function from global frequency to “level”, was level 1-4 was uncommon, level 5-9 rare, level 10-16 very rare, 17-25 legendary, and 25+ artifact. And that each tier’s cost was 10* the previous cost. And that it was reasonable to price an item linearly between the low and high range for its tier.

I don’t feel too much shame over that, because my version of “common” is absolute; I might have classified some items on the wrong side of that divide, but any items which inverted (a designated-more-common item rarer than a designated-less-common item) are, on average and at the table, de facto more or less common than indicated*. So whatever, mine has made up stats behind it.

* Unless my “use the rules to simulate the world” thing comes back to bite me. When would that happen?!

I’m not sure I’ll use this thing as is; it still assumes permanent items are only twice the cost of consumables, and I have no idea how realistic its cost curves are. It’s possible the *right* thing to do is to map these item levels into challenge ratings and use a function of monster exp for cost, to reflect D&D’s love of exponential curves.

But even if my costs are crazy, surely an interesting fine-grained rarity-as-proxy-for-power system has some use? Wouldn’t you love to know which items are actually just-slightly-rarer than which other items? Now you can.


Standard Prices for some Common Magic Items

Okay, not a real economy. But a surprising number of useful rules are hidden across the books in strange corners. And in self-contradictory ways.

For instance, XGtE has pricing (at last!) for generically buying magical items as well as the adventurer’s league guidelines for specific adventurer scrolls and potions (p130, p174); the two strongly conflict:

Potion of…

  • Healing: 50gp
  • Climbing: 75gp
  • Animal friendship: 100gp
  • Greater healing: 100gp
  • Water breathing: 100gp
  • Superior healing: 500gp
  • Supreme healing: 5000gp
  • Invisibility: 5000gp

Scroll of spell level…

  • Cantrip: 25gp
  • 1st: 75gp
  • 2nd: 150gp
  • 3rd: 300gp
  • 4th: 500gp
  • 5th: 1000gp

For good measure, a one-time casting of spell level…

  • Cantrip: 1gp + materials
  • 1st: 10gp + materials
  • 2nd: 40gp + materials
  • 3rd: 90gp + materials
  • 4th: 160gp + materials
  • 5th: 250gp + materials

with “materials” = 2* consumed materials + 0.1 * non-consumed materials.

And, of course…

  • Mithral: 100gp + item cost
  • Adamantine: 500gp + item cost
  • Orium: 1000gp + item cost

Discussion: XGtE has generic rules for magical items, as well as specific rules for scrolls and potions of healing. And even with that, they don’t play well with the AL standard.