Saturday, April 30, 2011

Experience in the Open Game Table

One of the major concerns I had before I started running my open game table is this: How should we handle character levels and experience?

My immediate inclination, and Justin Alexander's when I asked, was to start everybody off at level 1 (or whatever level you prefer to play at; I know 1 is too weak for many people). Each character gains experience at the usual rate for monsters they kill and RP they participate in. That's all you need to do, D&D's experience point system solves the problem for you.


I'd like to point out how much of a work of sublime genius the 3.5e experience system really is. A player is rewarded for each session he attends. Low-level characters gain experience faster than high-level characters, and so inevitably catch up. Low-level characters can usually contribute at least a little to a team of higher-level characters, at least until they catch up, which won't take long at all.

That's why, whenever somebody says they dispense altogether with 3.5e's rules for awarding experience, I want to bludgeon them upside the face and neck with some sort of large stick. If you just say "You all gain a level" every few sessions, or you just split the experience evenly with no regard to level, you save a few minutes punching numbers into a calculator every session, but you lose all the benefits of one of 3.5e's most well-implemented systems.


The open game table particularly lends itself to Alexander's last point in that comment, that the ideal method is to provide a variety of challenges, and allow the players to choose which one they want to tackle. If they discover that the centipedes in the cold iron mine are too weak for their taste, they can choose to head to the fungus-filled Stank Cave instead. This puts it entirely up to the players to decide their ideal level of risk and reward. This is very similar to Shamus Young's argument against auto-adjusting difficulty in video games.


On the other hand, as I commented in that comment thread, I’m a little afraid that might discourage players from keeping a stable of characters, if they have to bring each character up from zero.

How should I fix this - allow a player to, at any time, create a second character at 75% the experience of their highest-level character? This is distasteful to me, for a number of reasons. The biggest: it defeats part of the purpose of having a stable of characters in the first place: choice of what level you want to play at. "All the other characters in the party are level 1 today. Should I play my level 5, or pull out my disused level 1?" Level imbalances sort themselves out, sure, but there's a point where the difference can just be too great. So I'm going to say all characters start at level 1, and a player can, at any point, choose to create a new level 1 character, or to play one of the pre-gens I've provided.


Speaking of which: for players who don’t want to make their own characters or who don’t have time, I am indeed using a common stable of pre-gen characters that anybody can play, who level up just like any other character. If a player plays a pre-gen and likes it so much that they want to claim it permanently for themselves, they may do so by putting their name at the top of the paper. Conversely, if a player decides they're not super-fond of one of the characters in their stable, they can erase their name and allow anybody to play it.

I was almost afraid this might discourage people from making their own characters, but the ability to say “I brought pre-gens, you don’t need to make a character unless you want to” is an incredibly powerful tool in reducing the barriers to entry. It's worth it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Custom Reincarnate Tables

If you are looking for (or wish to return to) the central list of my updated Reincarnate tables, click here. If you're not in a hurry and simply want tips on making your own, keep reading this post.


The other day, I mentioned that I've broadened the lists for reincarnate to choose from. I'll go into a little bit more detail on that subject now.

By way of explanation: I like randomness. The more, the better. So I decided I wanted a reincarnated creature to be able to come back as anything at all. Plus, I had an aasimar and a warforged in that campaign, and it didn't make sense to me that they would choose from the Humanoid list and not their own. And as long as I was making Outsider and Construct lists, I might as well make one for everybody.

Let's construct a new Humanoid list from scratch.

First, we go to HeroForge and MonsterForge and consider all the available humanoids. Going from HeroForge, which includes all the various subtypes (Fire Elves and Shield Dwarves and the like), the list is nearly 300 entries long. We could do it; we'd just make three d% lists, and roll 1d3 to choose which list to choose from. But let's make it simpler and stick with MonsterForge, which gives a much more manageable 27:
Bugbear; Dark One, Dark Creeper; Dark One, Dark Stalker; Dwarf; Dwarf, Duergar; Elf; Elf, Drow; Githyanki; Githzerai; Gnoll; Gnome; Gnome, Svirfneblin; Goblin; Halfling; Hobgoblin; Human; Kobold; Lizardfolk; Locathah; Merfolk; Mongrelfolk; Neanderthal; Orc; Selkie; Skulk; Troglodyte; Varag

Now, I want a creature to have a chance of coming back as any creature at all, so let's add "Any Other Type" to the list. If "Any Other Type" is rolled, we simply choose randomly from the other reincarnate lists.

I also want a Humanoid to have a greater chance of coming back as a Humanoid-like creature than as a dragon or something, so let's add the four most Humanoid-like types to the list. Let's go, semi-arbitrarily, with Monstrous Humanoid, Giant, Fey, and Outsider. If any of these are rolled, you simply roll on the respective list.

I also want a creature to be more likely to reincarnate as a creature close to its own power level, to make it less likely to completely unbalance a campaign. How do we measure power level, though: Challenge Rating, Hit Dice, or Level Adjustment?

Well, CR is a measure of a creature's power level in a single fight (and takes HD into account), while LA is a measure of a creature's power over the long term of a campaign (and only partially takes HD into account; the question LA asks with respect to HD is "Are the abilities this race gives more powerful than it would get from spending its HD on class levels instead?").

There's actually another question here: do we take racial hit dice into account for a creature that's reincarnated into it? On the one hand, we really should, for utmost balance. On the other hand, that can easily lead to a reincarnated creature gaining buttloads of ECL in one dollop, and I'd rather shy away from that. So, in my game, if a creature is reincarnated into a body with racial HD, the racial HD are ignored. The racial LA is not. (I do allow this LA to be paid off like any LA.)

So let's sort our list by LA alone:

+5    Dark One, Dark Stalker
+4    Dark One, Dark Creeper
+3    Gnome, Svirfneblin
+2    Elf, Drow
+2    Githyanki
+2    Githzerai
+2    Skulk
+2    Troglodyte
+2    Varag
+1    Bugbear
+1    Dwarf, Duergar
+1    Gnoll
+1    Hobgoblin
+1    Lizardfolk
+1    Locathah
+1    Merfolk
+1    Selkie
+0    Dwarf
+0    Elf
+0    Gnome
+0    Halfling
+0    Kobold
+0    Mongrelfolk
+0    Neanderthal
+0    Orc
+0    Goblin
+0    Human
-    Any Other Type
-    Monstrous Humanoid
-    Outsider
-    Giant
-    Fey

Now let's assign each LA a value. Higher value will mean higher likelihood of that thing being chosen, so +0 LA should be highest and +5 LA should (in this case) be lowest. Each number will correspond to a number of results on a d%, so these numbers need to add up to 100.

After a bit of fiddling, it turns out that we can set up the numbers such that LA +5 and +4 = 1, LA +3 and +2 = 2, LA +1 = 3, and LA +0 and the five that call for rolling on other reincarnate tables = 4.

Our complete Humanoid reincarnation table then looks like this:
1-4    Any Other Type
5-8    Fey
9-12    Giant
13-16    Monstrous Humanoid
17-20    Outsider
21-23    Bugbear
24    Dark One, Dark Creeper
25    Dark One, Dark Stalker
26-29    Dwarf
30-32    Dwarf, Duergar
33-36    Elf
37-38    Elf, Drow
39-40    Githyanki
41-42    Githzerai
43-45    Gnoll
46-49    Gnome
50-51    Gnome, Svirfneblin
52-55    Goblin
56-59    Halfling
60-62    Hobgoblin
63-66    Human
67-70    Kobold
71-73    Lizardfolk
74-76    Locathah
77-79    Merfolk
80-83    Mongrelfolk
84-87    Neanderthal
88-91    Orc
92-94    Selkie
95-96    Skulk
97-98    Troglodyte
99-100    Varag

It's basically the same idea to generate a random list for each Type. You can, of course, add homebrew creatures (such as the Engineers of my campaign) and remove creatures that don't appear in your campaign (what the heck is a Varag, anyway?), to taste.

Another possibility for inclusion on the table is a Template option, where you reroll on the same table, and then apply a randomly-determined template from a different table.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Open Gaming Table 2

So I set up a megadungeon for my Open Gaming Table. There are at least five main areas of ingress, scattered around the slopes of Mount Dis ("Mount" being relative; recall that sea level was a mile above the highest peak before dropping by a mile; the highest point in the world is still only half a mile above sea level):

- The Ruins of the Disreputable City and Mat~Sya, on the peak of the mountain. This area is too large, so I made few specific maps. There may be some locations from the first campaign or some specific new areas of interest. But mostly, anything that happens here, I make up on the fly.

- The Poison River / The Don't Drink This River (two names for the same river). This foul, undrinkable, ooze-infested river emerges from the side of the mountain. I used the Donjon random dungeon generator for a base, carved a river through it, then added a great many miscellaneous Things.

- The Tiv-Beckett Cold Iron Mine, infested with centipedes. I couldn't find any good, large mine maps, or any generators that turned up things that looked like mines, so I just did one myself. Random long, twisty passageways punctuated with occasional irregular rooms. Rails lead to lifts to the deeper levels.

- The Cave of Burning, very hot and inhabited by many fire creatures. I used Donjon's random dungeon creator again, replaced some of the walls and floors with fire walls and floors from Dungeonscape, and again, miscellaneous Things.

- The Stank Cave, populated with a myriad of funguses and other stanky things. I used Donjon's dungeon creator with the layout set to Cavernous. This is going to be massively inconvenient to draw on a battlemat.

These may or may not all be connected to each other in various ways, as well as to deeper caves within the mountain, which I may or may not have already bothered to map out.

The PCs have their choice to go to any of these locations, or to anywhere else they want to go. They're populated with different levels of challenge, which the PCs might be able to estimate by asking around with Gather Information (bartenders might have stories of entire parties of high-level adventurers entering the Caves of Burning and never coming back, or low-level adventurers scoffing at the lack of challenge posed by the centipedes in the Tiv-Beckett Mine, for example).


When the players are ready to play, I slap on the table a map of the region (including all the above locations, plus some less important things, like roads marked "to Winkle Village" or "to Omorashi border") and a stack of 8.5"x5.5" papers with bounties on them, in various handwriting and calligraphy fonts. These are the things that are posted on the bulletin board of the Adventurer's Guild. The bounties are things like:

- A sculptor wants people to bring him the spells Animate Object, Permanency, Stone to Flesh, and Awaken Construct, in any form (spell, scroll, wand, wish, limited wish, or whatever). Rewards include an Elephant Figurine of Wondrous Power, a Dread Guard as a free follower, a snarky yet powerful sword, or custom-crafted fine statuary.

- A knight of the Kingsguard (more like advisors to the king than actual guards) wants a flying mount.

- The half-ogre knight of the Kingsguard wants mermaids to feed to his elephant mount. This note is incredibly poorly-spelled, in the most childish font I could find.

- The king and his mother offer a massive bounty for "the most beautiful woman to be found in all the reaches of the cosmos", with various other caveats, for a wife.

- A knight of the Kingsguard wants the flesh of shrieker mushrooms for a cure for a plague of Spelunker's Itch afflicting the city. A pound of mushroom flesh isn't worth much, so the party may have to bring pack animals or burden themselves down with heavy loads to bring back enough to be worth it.

- Demonic creatures have been plaguing the countryside. Maps of the cave system, information on the infestation, and actually stopping the infestation altogether, all bring substantial rewards.

- Somebody, blatantly doing Tiamat's work, offers standing rewards for the heads of metallic dragons, half-dragons, dragon-descended, or Dragonborn of Bahamut, and for live female chromatic half-dragons and dragon-descended.

- The Tiv-Beckett Cold Iron Mine offers custom cold iron gear to anybody who clears their mines of centipedes, plus a per-head bounty on centipedes.

- One note written in a substitution cipher. The players will have to figure out the cipher before they even know what the quest is. If their characters roll high enough on intelligence checks, I may give them a couple letters to start them off. Because of this extra step, this bounty may be easier and more rewarding than the others.

Note that some of those bounties clearly correspond to places: the centipedes and the Tiv-Beckett Cold Iron Mine. Some of them may or may not even be accomplishable at all: the one about the wife for the king. Some are blatantly Evil: the one about killing metallic dragons. Some are blatantly Good: the one about helping cure a plague. In particular, I put no effort into balancing the rewards against the danger of the tasks. The players can freely choose which one they want to try on any given day, or not even to bother with any specific bounties and just explore, if they want.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Natural Consequences 2: High Seas 3: Open Gaming Table

If you were paying attention to the summary of my High Seas campaign, you may have noticed a recurring theme: players not being there, shuffling randomly in and out. This is enormously problematic for any standard D&D campaign, and I'm sure you've experienced the same sort of thing. How do we fix it?

The answer: the Open Gaming Table. Set up a situation where you don't need the same players every week, just play with whoever happens to be on hand. I'll quote the Alexandrian's basic OGT structure:

1. There’s a huge dungeon. So big that it can’t be cleared out in one or two or even a dozen gaming sessions. In fact, it’s so huge that the parts you’ve already cleared out will probably start repopulating with new monsters before you finish exploring the rest of it.

2. There’s a nearby “gold rush” town where PCs can form adventuring parties to explore the megadungeon.

3. At the end of each session, everybody heads back to town. At the start of the next session, a new adventuring party forms and heads back to the dungeon.

He goes into a fair amount of detail on how he sets it up for his OGT. As a comparison, I'll go into some detail on how I set mine up.


First of all, it's set in the same world as my first campaign. But, the deiteration of one of the six iterations of the machine reduced the machine's total power to 5/6.

For my first campaign, I had calculated exactly how much the seas had risen by. I ruled the world had been basically earth-like in its geography, and the ocean had risen to about half a mile above the top of the highest mountain. Everest is about 5.5 miles high, so the sea rose by 6 miles. How convenient that the math worked out! 5/6 of 6 is 5, so the sea fell by a mile after my first campaign.

I didn't bother to calculate how much exposed land there would be if the sea were 5 miles higher than it is. It turns out there are 14 mountains more than 5 miles tall, so the world should have been something like 14 smallish islands. So I departed from reality and set up 5 mini-continents. The elves settled one and called it Miranda, the engineers settled one and called it Surface Holdings, the humans settled one and called it Romus. One is still unsettled, nominally controlled by the (aquatic, non-amphibious) sahuagin, and is called Here There Be Monsters.

The player who played the scout in my first campaign is a massive weeaboo Japanophile, and I allowed his character to be, basically, Asian. So that character's people settled another mini-continent and called it the Omorashi Empire (most of my players have been too distracted by the name of the capitol city of Wang to notice the name of the empire).

The vampire who defeated the adventurers in my first campaign was lavishly rewarded by Quasxthe. He was a minor baron in the Disreputable City, and Quasxthe displaced the rest of the family and made him Count Rogan, nominally in charge of the city. But it turned out that the orb had been what was keeping the city floating in the first place, so Count Rogan also asked Quasxthe to land the Disreputable City on a mountain (actually on the merfolk city of Mat~sya, but nobody cares about the merfolk, they would need to abandon the city anyway).

Rogan claimed the continent, named himself King, and called his nation Gus, after Gus Dreadworm, founder of the Disreputable City. The people of the Disreputable City moved downhill to a new city, which they called New Disreputable City. That name crosses the line of unwieldiness, so they just started calling it NDC, which was very quickly corrupted to Endeesy. The city of Endeesy is structural element (2), above, the "gold rush town".

The king was also rewarded with a pirate captain for his wife, the captain of the vessel the PCs had sailed on in the first campaign. Later on, the king was assassinated in a manner suspiciously similar to some PC-on-PC shenanigans the wizard pulled in the first campaign, leaving his half-vampire son in charge.

Then, as the waters receded, it was discovered that Gus and the Omorashi Empire had claimed the same continent. The entire military and diplomatic corps of Gus has been occupied ever since, dealing with the border dispute, leaving domestic issues ignored.

So the new king and his court is of the opinion that there's no problem that can't be solved by posting a bounty with the Adventurer's Guild and letting adventurers team up to handle it. This is structural element (3), above, the group that doesn't need to be the same from week to week.

Without too many spoilers (in case my players are reading), I'll go into more detail on the dungeons and the bounties in a subsequent post.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Reworking Mongrelfolk

Mongrelfolk are among the most common races in my campaign. But, if you look at them, they're actually kind of weak, or at least uninteresting.

They're not SRD, so I'm toeing the legal line here, but let's consider what the mongrelfolk can do:

+4 Con, -2 Int, -4 Cha. This may be really good for a tanking character, especially one that uses extremely heavy armor. No penalties to physical stats, large bonus to constitution. That's about the nicest thing they have going for them. Interestingly, half-elves get a diplomacy bonus because of general likeableness, but half-everythings get a large charisma penalty because of horribleness.

Low-Light Vision isn't bad, but it's far from great. It rarely comes up.

Immunity to Sleep spells and effects. Good in theory, but I've never in my life seen anyone cast Sleep.

+2 on saving throws against any spell that targets or ignores a particular race from which the mongrelfolk is descended. Do any such spells even exist? Dance of Ruin ignores demons, but mongrelfolk aren't demons. I'm sure there are other spells like that, but they never get used, so that's not a useful ability.

+1 on saves against enchantment and illusion spells and effects. Not terrible, that at least applies to 2/9ths of spells, not that it's a particularly large bonus. Also, +1 saves against poison, which can be nice, lots of monsters have poison, but again, not a large bonus.

+1 to Appraise, Climb, Jump, Listen, Move Silently, Search, and Spot. Three skills people use frequently, three nobody ever does. Maybe a rogue can benefit from move silently. But again, small bonus. The little things add up, sure, but it's still not very interesting.

+4 to Hide and Sleight of Hand. At last, a super-useful bonus! ...for rogues. If you're not a rogue, this is crap-tastic, because you never use either of these skills.

Can automatically Emulate Race, as with Use Magic Device, provided the race is humanoid. +4 to emulating non-humanoids. This could be useful, if there were many magic items that required you to be a specific race. There aren't.

Can mimic any voice or sound they have heard. This has real potential, even if you don't allow the mongrelfolk to mimic, say, the Babble of an allip (as you probably shouldn't; Babble is a Supernatural ability, Sound Imitation is only Extraordinary).


In summary, aside from the con bonus and the Sound Imitation, most of the mongrelfolk abilities are "can do X slightly better, if there were ever any call to do X, which there isn't". And they all sort of fit thematically, but none of them (except Sound Imitation) are at all interesting, which is a major problem.

What can we do to fix this? Well, for one thing, why are mongrelfolk limited to being descended from human, halfling, dwarf, elf, gnome, goblin, and orc? Especially in an all-ocean world where sahuagin, tritons, merfolk, locathah, and kuo-toa are so common, and where virtually all the other races died out or interbred with mongrelfolk?

Well, first, because it makes no sense for a mongrelfolk to get mongrelfolk benefits from some things they're descended for and not from others, I add some clauses to Emulate Race and Diffuse Blood:

Where Diffuse Blood specifies "Mongrelfolk gain a +2 racial bonus on saving throws against any spell that targets a particular race or ignores a particular race, provided the selected race is part of their general ancestry (human, halfling, dwarf, elf, gnome, goblin, or orc)", I add "or any other race from which they are descended through feats, bloodlines, or templates".

Where Emulate Race specifies "A mongrelfolk can automatically emulate any humanoid race", I add "or any race from which they are descended". Where it gives a "+4 racial bonus on attempts to emulate nonhumanoid races", I specify "nonhumanoid races from which they are not descended".

Now the kicker, the actual major change that could make mongrelfolk a legit force to be reckoned with. I add to the list of mongrelfolk racial traits:
"Mongrelfolk may take heritage feats even if they do not meet the class restrictions (for example, you may take the Draconic Heritage feat even if you are not a sorcerer). If you take a heritage feat tree, choose a single race described by that heritage (for example, if you choose Fiendish Heritage, you may choose to be descended from any one demon or devil, for example a succubus). You are descended from that race for the purpose of your Emulate Race and Diffuse Blood racial abilities."

Boom, with one feat (Fiendish Heritage, specifying some specific demon), a mongrelfolk wizard can cast Dance of Ruin, doing 2d20 to every creature in the vicinity including himself, but get a +2 to save. Okay, yeah, that's still only okay.


The other thing I did, then, was to add a buttload of additional mongrelfolk-only feats, partially capitalizing on this new specification that a mongrelfolk is descended (for the purpose of his racial abilities) from anything from which it is descended (in general).

Balanced Heritage [Racial]
You are descended from a more balanced mix of races, so you are more comely but less hardy.
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race
Benefit: Your racial bonus to constitution and your racial penalty to charisma are both reduced by 2, bringing your racial modifiers to a total of +2 Constitution, -2 Intelligence, -2 Charisma.

Because I've all but eliminated gnomes and halflings and replaced them with engineers, there may be a bit of an open niche for Small races, so:

Small Heritage [Racial]
You are descended from kobolds, fey, or some other undersized humanoid.
Prerequisites: Mongrelfolk, 1st level only
Effect: Pick any Small or Tiny aberration, fey, giant, humanoid, monstrous humanoid, or outsider. You are descended from that race for the purpose of your Emulate Race and Diffuse Blood racial traits.
In addition, you are naturally Small sized. Your height is halved and your weight is divided by 8. You take a +1 size modifier to attack and armor class, -4 to Grapple, +4 to Hide, -2 to Strength (to a minimum of 1), +2 to Dexterity. Your unarmed strikes do 1d2 instead of 1d3damage. You use smaller equipment, which is correspondingly less expensive, but your weapons also do less damage because of their size.
Special: You may take this feat more than once. If you do, you may choose a second creature from which you are descended. You receive no other benefits for taking this feat more than once.

By analogy with Small Heritage, we should include a Large Heritage. Notably, this would be the only way to get a Large PC at anything less than +2 ECL, which is problematic. So it's worth more than Small Heritage, and should thus be an investment of two feats, both at first level (so you must take a flaw to take them). It's still marginally problematic, in that Powerful Build is in some ways better than actually being Large. But you can get Powerful Build at first level (by being a goliath), so that's not so terrible. Why would you want to take both feats, if you already get all the benefits of being Large and none of the penalties? Because Powerful Build doesn't stack with Monkey Grip, and legit Largeness does. Plus, Large Heritage gives you a permanent size bonus to Strength and penalty to Dexterity, which can be useful:

Built Heritage [Racial]
You are descended from giants, ogres, minotaurs, or some other oversized humanoid.
Prerequisites: Mongrelfolk, 1st level only
Effect: Pick any Large or Huge aberration, fey, giant, humanoid, monstrous humanoid, or outsider. You are descended from that race for the purpose of your Emulate Race and Diffuse Blood racial traits.
In addition, you have a Powerful Build. Whenever you are subject to a size modifier or special size modifier for an opposed check (such as during grapple checks, bull rush attempts, and trip attempts), you are treated as one size larger if doing so is advantageous to you. You are also considered to be one size larger when determining whether a creature's special attacks based on size (such as improved grab or swallow whole) can affect him. You can use weapons designed for a creature one size larger without penalty. However, your space and reach remain those of a creature of your actual size. The benefits of this trait stack with effects of powers, abilities, and spells that change the subject's size category.

Large Heritage [Racial]
You are descended from giants, ogres, minotaurs, or some other oversized humanoid.
Prerequisites: Mongrelfolk, Built Heritage, 1st level only
Effect: Pick any Large or Huge aberration, fey, giant, humanoid, monstrous humanoid, or outsider. You are descended from that race for the purpose of your Emulate Race and Diffuse Blood racial traits.
In addition, you lose your Powerful Build, but you are now naturally Large sized. Your height is doubled and your weight is multiplied by 8. You take a -1 size modifier to attack and armor class, +4 to Grapple, -4 to Hide, +2 to Strength, -2 to Dexterity (to a minimum of 1). You have a space of 10 feet and a natural reach of 10 feet. Your unarmed strikes do 1d4 instead of 1d3 damage. You use larger equipment, which is correspondingly more expensive, but your weapons also do more damage because of their size.

Seafolk Heritage [Racial]
You count one of the races of the sea among your ancestors. This can manifest even late in life.
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race
Benefit: Pick one of Merfolk, Triton, Locathah, Sahuagin, or Kuo-Toa. You are descended from that race for the purpose of your Emulate Race and Diffuse Blood racial traits.
In addition, you gain +2 to Swim checks to perform some special action or avoid a hazard. You can always choose to take 10 on a Swim check, even if distracted or endangered. And you can use the run action while swimming, provided you swim in a straight line.
Special: You may take this feat more than once. Each time you do, you are descended from an additional seafolk race, and you gain an additional +2 to your Swim checks, to a maximum of +6.

Seafolk Amphibious [Racial]
You have inherited gills from your seafolk ancestors.
Prerequisite: Seafolk Heritage
Benefit: You can breathe both air and water.

This is a fairly powerful feat, but it does take a two-feat investment.
Triton’s Ally [Racial]
Due to your triton ancestry, you have the ability to summon a water elemental.
Prerequisite: Seafolk Heritage (Triton) or Triton-Descended Mer.
Benefit: An innate talent for magic grants you the following spell-like ability at a caster equal to your hit dice: 1/day – summon nature’s ally III, water elementals only.
Special: If you have the ability to gain a familiar, you may lose the spell-like ability and gain a Small Water Elemental familiar instead. Like a familiar chosen from the Improved Familiar list, this familiar does not gives you a bonus to a check for proximity.
If you have the ability to gain a special mount, you may lose the spell-like ability and gain a Water Elemental instead. If you are Small, your mount is a Medium Water Elemental; if you are Medium, your mount is a Large Water Elemental; if you are Large, your mount is a Huge Water Elemental. You can “ride” within the elemental as if you were riding on a solid mount. You can ride your elemental mount even if it is in vortex form: you remain in the same orientation with respect to your surroundings.
If you have the ability to gain an animal companion, you may lose the spell-like ability and gain a Water Elemental companion instead. You may select from the following list, depending on your effective druid level. Stronger elementals gain abilities as though you were a druid the indicated number of levels lower, as on page 36 of the Player’s Handbook.
Size : Required Level : Adjustment
Small : - : -
Medium : 7th : -6
Large : 10th : -9
Huge : 13th : -12
Greater : 16th : -15

Sahuagin Blood Frenzy [Racial]
Like your sahuagin ancestor, you can fly into a frenzy when you take damage.
Prerequisite: Seafolk Heritage (Sahuagin)
Benefit: Once per day, if you take damage, you can fly into a frenzy in the following round, attacking madly until either you or your opponent is dead. You gain +2 Constitution and +2 Strength and take a -2 penalty to Armor Class. You cannot end your frenzy voluntarily.
Special: If you have access to the Barbarian Rage class feature, you may gain an additional use of rage per day instead of your frenzy.

Sahuagin Four Arms [Racial]
Sahuagin have a small chance of being born with four arms, and you have acquired this trait from your sahuagin ancestry.
Prerequisite: Seafolk Heritage (Sahuagin), 1st level only
Benefit: You have four arms and may use extra weapons. You do not gain sahuagin claws.

Sahuagin Sharktongue [Racial]
You have inherited the ability to speak with sharks from your sahuagin ancestry.
Prerequisite: Seafolk Heritage (Sahuagin)
Benefit: You can communicate telepathically with sharks up to 150 feet away. The communication is limited to fairly simple concepts such as “food,” “danger”, and “enemy.”
Additionally, you can use the Handle Animal skill to befriend and train sharks.

Mongrel Specialization [Racial]
One of the races from which you are descended is more powerfully expressed than others.
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race
Benefit: Choose one of the races from which you are descended for the purpose of your Diffuse Blood racial trait. For the purpose of feats and prestige classes, you may consider yourself a full-fledged member of that race.
Special: You may take this feat more than once. Each time you do, it applies to a different race.

Kuo-Toa Keen Sight [Racial]
You have excellent vision thanks to the two independently focusing eyes you inherited from your kuo-toa ancestors.
Prerequisite: Seafolk Heritage (Kuo-Toa)
Benefit: Your eyesight is so keen that you can spot a moving object or creature even if it is invisible or ethereal. Only by remaining perfectly still can such objects or creatures avoid your notice.

Kuo-Toa Slippery [Racial]
Thanks to your kuo-toa ancestry, you secrete an oily film that makes you difficult to grapple or snare.
Prerequisites: Seafolk Heritage (Kuo-Toa)
Benefit: Webs, magical or otherwise, don’t affect you, and you gain +4 to all Escape Artist checks.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Myconid Monster Class

The first few times I came across the myconids in Monster Manual II, I dismissed them as silly. Recently, I saw them again, and decided these mushroom-people were actually a little neat, and that I might want to include them as major players in my campaign, and possibly allow people to play them.

So I searched for a myconid monster class, and it seems that nobody has even attempted such a thing. Indeed, the reaction to the idea of a myconid player character tends to be "Why would anybody ever play a character that can't speak?"

To which I say: An inability to speak is not such an all-destroying handicap. For one thing, there's nothing that says myconids can't understand as many languages as they have INT bonus for. For another, I've had characters who had absolutely nothing wrong with their ability to speak, and yet went entire sessions, sometimes entire campaigns, saying nary a thing. And if it's that terrible and you absolutely cannot wait for rapport spores (which admittedly come fairly late), there's always Drow Sign Language, usable by anything with hands.

Another complaint is that myconids only live to 24 years old. To which I say: not so! A myconid has a life span of about 24 years. Notice that a myconid sovereign is "usually at least twenty-four years old". There's no well-defined upper limit. Though I suppose, say, 50 would be pushing it. Even so, a campaign usually doesn't last 20+ years anyway, even in-game.


So how do we make a myconid monster class? First, we need to come up with level adjustments for each level of myconid. Luckily, in the update from 3.0 to 3.5e, WotC provided LAs. Each kind of myconid has a LA equal to its HD, so any myconid monster class will gain HD every other level.

The second concern we need to conceptually deal with before starting to lay out a monster class is this: like true dragons, the standard myconid advances by age, not by experience. I'm inclined to solve this by saying that the character's current age puts a lower and upper limit on its myconid levels. If its current age is lower than the age range for its myconid level, then it must take class levels instead, as if it were done with its monster class progression, until its age increases. If its current age is higher than the age range for its myconid level, then it must take myconid levels.

The existence of various stages of myconid growth is both convenient and restrictive for a monster class. It's restrictive in the sense that each two-level pair has specific pre-defined abilities it needs to grant. It's convenient in the sense that it means for less thinking when determining what order to grant abilities.

Now it's a simple matter of plugging the six monsters into the monster class progression guidelines...


Racial Traits:
Tiny Plant
-2 Str, +2 Dex, -2 Int, +2 Wis.
Land speed 20 feet.

Plant Traits:
Low-light vision.
Immunity to all mind-affecting effects (charms, compulsions, phantasms, patterns, and morale effects).
Immunity to poison, sleep effects, paralysis, polymorph, and stunning.
Not subject to critical hits.
Plants breathe and eat, but do not sleep.

Automatic languages: none. Bonus languages: common, terran, undercommon, drow sign language. Myconids have no mouths and so cannot speak any language that requires speech, but they can understand, read, and write any language they know. Some take the time to learn drow sign language, to communicate with outsiders without using rapport spores.

HD: d8
Class Skills: Diplomacy, Intimidate, Knowledge (nature), Listen, Move Silently, Profession (farmer), Profession (herbalist), Sense Motive, Spot, Survival.
Level HD BAB Fort Ref Will Skill Points Age Range Special
1st 1d8 0 2 0 0 (2+INT)x4 4-8 Feat, slam 1d3, Tiny
2nd 1d8 0 2 0 0 - 4-8 +2 Dex, +2 Cha, distress spores
3rd 2d8 1 3 0 0 (2+INT) 8-12 +2 Con, +1 natural armor, slam 1d4, Small
4th 2d8 1 3 0 0 - 8-12 +2 Str, +2 Int, reproduction spores
5th 3d8 2 3 1 1 (2+INT) 12-16 Feat, +2 Str, -2 Dex, slam 1d6, Medium
6th 3d8 2 3 1 1 - 12-16 +2 Cha, +2 Wis, rapport spores
7th 4d8 3 4 1 1 (2+INT) 16-20 +2 Str
8th 4d8 3 4 1 1 - 16-20 +2 Con, pacification spores
9th 5d8 3 4 1 1 (2+INT) 20-24 +2 Str, +2 natural armor, slam 1d8, Large
10th 5d8 3 4 1 1 - 20-24 +2 Con, +2 Wis, hallucination spores
11th 6d8 4 5 2 2 (2+INT) 24+ Feat, +2 Str, Potion Making
12th 6d8 4 5 2 2 - 24+ +2 Int, +2 Cha, animation spores

Proficiencies: Slam attack only. Not proficient with any armor.
Feats: All characters gain a feat at first level and every three hit dice thereafter. A myconid with no class levels will gain these feats at 1st, 5th, and 11th levels.
Age Range: Myconids are unlike other monster classes in that they advance through hit dice by age.
            If a character’s age is below the lower age limit for a level in the myconid monster class, they may not take that level, and must take a player class level instead.
            If a character’s age is over the upper age limit for their current myconid level, they may not take levels in any class other than the myconid class.
Slam Attack: At 1st level, a myconid has a slam attack which does 1d3 damage. The damage for this slam attack increases as indicated at levels 3, 5, and 9.
Size Change: At 1st level, a myconid is Tiny, with a space/reach of 2.5/2.5, a size bonus of +2 to attacks and AC, a size bonus of +8 to Hide checks, and a penalty of -8 to bull rush, grapple, overrun, and trip attempts.
            At 3rd level, the myconid grows to Small. Its space/reach increases to 5/5, its size bonus to attacks and AC drops to +1, its size bonus to Hide checks drops to +4, and its penalty to bull rush, grapple, overrun, and trip attempts drops to -4.
            At 5th level, the myconid grows to Medium. Its size bonuses to attacks and AC, Hide checks, and penalty to bull rush, grapple, overrun, and trip attempts are all reduced to 0.
            At 9th level, the myconid grows to Large. It gains a size bonus of +4 to bull rush, grapple, overrun, and trip attempts, a penalty of -1 to attack and AC, and a penalty of -4 to Hide checks.
Spores: As a standard action, a myconid of 2nd level or higher can release a cloud of spores. Every even-numbered level, a myconid gains a new variety of spore but does not lose access to the previous varieties. Each type of spore can be used a number of times per day equal to the myconid’s total Hit Dice (including class levels). A level 6 myconid, for example, has the first three spores (distress, reproduction, and rapport), and it can use each variety three times per day. The DC for saves to resist the effect of spores is equal to 10 + the myconid’s wisdom modifier.
Spores can be released either in a 120-foot spread or as a 40-foot ranged touch attack against a single target, as noted in the individual descriptions.
Distress: These spores alert all other myconids within the area that danger is near. They are released in a 120-foot spread.
Reproduction: These spores eventually germinate into new infant myconids. They are released as a 120-foot spread and have no detrimental effects on nonmyconids. A dying myconid of 4th level or higher will automatically release reproduction spores.
Rapport: Myconids do not speak, but these spores enable them to establish telepathic communication with each other and with outsiders. A successful Fortitude saving throw negates the effect, but it is harmless. Rapport last for 30 to 60 minutes with outsiders, but for 8 hours with other myconids. Rapport spores can be released as either a 120-foot spread or a 40-foot ranged touch attack. Regardless of the release area, communication range is 120 feet once rapport is established.
Pacification: These spores are released as a 40-foot ranged touch attack. The target must make a Fortitude saving throw or become passive for 1 minute. Being passive is similar to being dazed, except that the target can take partial actions that don’t involve attacking. This is a mind-affecting compulsion effect.
Hallucination: These spores are released as a 40-foot ray. The target must make a Fortitude saving throw or suffer powerful hallucinations that duplicate the effects of a confusion spell for 1 hour.
Animation: When released over a dead body, animation spores begin a process that covers the corpse with purple fungus. After 1d4 days, the corpse reanimates as a servant under the control of the myconid. A servant has all the characteristics of a zombie of the same size, except that it retains its previous creature type and it cannot be turned or otherwise affected as an undead. Over the course of 1d6 weeks a myconid-animated corpse slowly decays. At the end of that period it simply disintegrates into dust.
Potion Making: A myconid of 11th level or higher may choose the Brew Potion feat, even if it is not a caster (this is not a bonus feat). It can duplicate the following effects as a cleric or druid once per day (but only for the purpose of brewing potions): bull’s strength, cure light wounds, cure moderate wounds, cure serious wounds, delay poison, endurance, endure elements, greater magic fang, invisibility to animals, lesser restoration, magic fang, negative energy protection, neutralize poison, protection from elements, remove blindness/deafness, remove disease, remove paralysis, resist elements.


MMII does specify that "occasionally, an individual with more than two arms or legs pops up." That's interesting, not least because the randomly asymmetrical nature of myconids allows for odd numbers of arms and legs.

After it reaches adulthood and becomes mobile, "its appearance changes very little as it ages". That would seem to indicate that possession of extra arms and legs should be set at 1st level and never changed. However, I can easily imagine an errant sword chopping a myconid's limb near in two, and then the limb simply becomes two limbs. Moreover, myconids advance steadily in size through their lifetimes, so I'm inclined to write that line off as a generalization and allow extra limbs to sprout at any time in a myconid's life.

How do we represent it? Well, there are precedents. Most notably, the difference between a two-armed sahuagin and a four-armed sahuagin is a matter of +1 LA. I'm inclined to give myconids only one extra arm at a time, and I'm inclined to give it to them as a feat. Which means a myconid could spend two feats to get two extra arms, the same thing a sahuagin can get for an extra +1 LA. Is a level worth two feats? Let's ask the friendly neighborhood fighter: aside from your BaB and Fort saves, what kind of class powers do you get? A feat every two levels, you say? Let's call that an even trade, then. (Especially if we're using the level adjustment rules that make LA a more temporary thing than feat expenditure.)

Arms seems simple, but isn't: if you have an extra arm, you can wield an extra shield or one-handed weapon, a two-handed weapon and a shield, or simply have a hand free while carrying a one-handed weapon and a shield. But myconids get 2 slam attacks, one for each arm! Should we give them that, too? Well, consider the four-armed mutant sahuagin: it gets 2 extra claw attacks with its bonus arms.

I'm inclined to say "No, a character could just buy five extra arms and get five extra slam attacks." But that objection makes no sense, it could just buy five extra arms and five extra swords, and get five extra sword attacks, stronger than the slam attacks. Can a creature slam attack with a hand it's holding something with? Which is to say, could it buy five extra arms and five extra swords, then make five sword attacks and five slam attacks? Apparently, "a frost giant carrying a heavy weight in both arms doesn’t have a free hand to use for a slam attack. He’d have to drop the object (a free action) before making a slam attack." So the answer is no.

Plus warforged, for example, have two fists but only one slam attack. So I'm going to say no, the myconid doesn't get any additional slam attacks, though it can get additional weapon attacks if it uses additional weapons, though it may want to spend the buttload of feats it needs to do effective multiweapon fighting.

Legs seems a little more complicated, but isn't. I'm inclined to give a three-legged myconid quadruped status. On the one hand, the Monster Manual says "Any creature with four or more motive limbs can carry a load as a quadruped". On the other hand, Deities and Demigods says "any form with three or more legs" is affected by loads like quadrupeds are. The wording of the MM entry doesn't exclude the possibility that the D&D entry is true, so let's go with that. A third leg turns a myconid into a quadruped.

So let's write up some feats.


Extra Arm [Racial]
Prerequisite: Myconid race
Benefit: You have an extra arm.
Special: You may take this feat more than once. Each time you do, you sprout an extra arm.

Extra Leg [Racial]
Prerequisite: Myconid race
Benefit: You have an extra leg. You can carry loads as a quadruped.
Special: You may take this feat more than once. Each time you do, you sprout an extra leg. You never gain the benefits of being a quadruped more than once. However, if you should happen to lose one of your legs, you still count as a quadruped as long as you have at least three legs.

Monday, April 18, 2011

High Seas Campaign Summary, Part 2

The wizard studied the tomes they stole from the temple of Vecna for a bit, and discovered that Vecna's followers had a straightforward plan for defeating Quasxthe and undoing the Inundation.

You see, Quasxthe's machine was iterated in each of the six Elemental Planes, and it worked by forcing the Lawful Plane of Earth out of its natural orbit, further away from the Material Plane, allowing the influence of the Hellish Plane of Water to increase, raising the level of the ocean. Merely destroying the machines wouldn't help, and would indeed make it impossible to deactivate them. To control each machine, you need the two keys, the two orbs. Which, as it happened, the PCs had on hand.

So the PCs trekked across the Deathly Plane of Shadow. On their trip, they crossed paths with a bunch of drow and big spiders, whom they defeated. The drow had two PCs captive, a scout and a knight, who joined the party. Then the rogue's player stopped coming.

One of the conceits of the Elemental Planes is that each is non-Euclidean in some way. In the Deathly Plane of Shadow, it's that, effectively, an infinite line is much easier to draw than a finite one. So when they came to the place that contained the Shadow iteration of Quasxthe's machine, they discovered that it was an infinitely-tall round tower. They broke in, and discovered a curved room containing a door, guarded by a drow. They defeated the drow and discovered a second room, exactly identical, plus an additional shadow creature. They defeated these, moved on to the next room, exactly identical, except the shadow creature was stronger. This would have gone on for an infinite chain of rooms, each one guarded by a group of creatures slightly more powerful than the previous one.

Eventually, they discovered that the key to ending the infinite chain was to utter the password, which obviously turned out to be "swordfish". This admitted them to a room that was, again, identical, except a.) it curved in the opposite direction, b.) in place of a far door it had the machine, and c.) it was guarded by a half-illithid drider. They made unfortunately short work of the boss, and then, because the wizard wasn't there that day, it took them a preposterously long time to figure out that the two hemispherical depressions on the machine corresponded to the two orbs.

Eventually they did, and figured out how to work the machine to de-iterate it from the Deathly Plane of Shadow. Doing so decanted everything in the vicinity to its home dimension, so the party was dumped back into the Material Plane. They would have landed in the sea, but the illithid cleric they had spoken to earlier helpfully redirected them back to his lair.

They didn't yet have Plane Shift, but the warforged knight helpfully remembered (because he made a knowledge check, so I reminded him) a bit of fluff I had provided: "A sophisticated ventilation system, possibly involving an actual portal to the Plane of Air, keeps all the inhabitants [of the engineer undersea city of Garzak] breathing." So they made a deal with an engineer submarine captain (the same one who had stolen the first orb from the sahuagin in the first place) to take them to Garzak.

So they made it to Garzak and convinced the Council of Elders to let them at the ventilation system. The scout, thinking to create flaming arrows, wanted to buy a hundred pints of lamp oil. I pointed out that this would encumber him substantially, so he bumped it down to a little over 50 pints, few enough that he could carry them without fuss.

There were some restrictions on the system, primarily that it only had the power to send solid matter through once a week or so. On the day that they actually went through, a third of the party wasn't there and another third was late. The swashbuckler/knight came back, though. So I said that people could only go through in ones or twos, with a few minutes in between each pair. So the knight and the swashbuckler/knight stepped through first, only to violently discover that the engineer outpost in the Chaotic Plane of Air had been taken over by gargoyles and vampires.

The knights managed to hold their own for awhile against an encounter designed for three times as many people. Then the wizard's player arrived, so the wizard stepped through and rescued them, though his Fireball killed one of the knights. Then I NPC'd the cleric and the scout coming through, and they used a scroll of Reincarnate to bring back the knight. He was a warforged, so I rolled on a handy construct chart, and he came back as a Dread Guard (retaining the (Living Construct) subtype).

The next session, they came across the big boss of the area, a vampire factotum. It didn't occur to any of them to use stakes, strongly presented holy symbols, garlic, or any of the myriad of other vampire weaknesses, so they only barely survived long enough for the cleric to Turn him. Stat-wise, vampires are way too powerful for their CR; their balance comes from their ludicrous list of weaksauce weaknesses.

In the kitchen, they found a PC bard and a couple of NPCs, kept on hand as snacks. Then they found the vampire's coffin. They hacked it in two and dumped it out two windows. Then the Turning wore off and the vampire came back.

And the vampire noticed that the scout had 50 pints of lamp oil on his person.
This being the Chaotic Plane of Air, it was a high-oxygen environment, so I ruled that the explosion of a pint of lamp oil would deal 1d6 damage.
The vampire had Scorching Ray prepared.

The vampire made his save (and had a Ring of Evasion, so he took no damage). The wizard was outside the range of the explosion. Everybody else died.

The wizard ducked into a Rope Trick, replenished his spells and hit points, and emerged again to challenge the vampire to a duel.

The wizard polymorphed into some obscure beast from one of the later Monster Manuals, and the vampire cast Keen Edge on his +1 Merciful Falchion, so it would be a critical threat on a 15-20. They went back and forth for a time, the wizard managed to chew away at the vampire's hit points slightly faster than he regenerated them back. But eventually the vampire managed to hit the wizard and bring him down to -1 hit points (well, to bring his non-lethal damage up to 1 more hit point than he had).

The vampire sucked out all the wizard's blood, then chucked him out the window, to sail through the Chaotic Plane of Air for 1d4 days until he rose as a vampire.

Then the vampire took the orbs and returned them to Quasxthe (and was lavishly rewarded for it). The campaign was over, unwinnable.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Foot In The Revolving Door of Death

Everyone complains about the Revolving Door of Death in D&D. You die; so what? The cleric will just resurrect you. You lose a level, psh, you'll earn that right back soon enough.

The answer, as it frequently does, comes back to Calibrating Your Expectations.

A character needs to be 7th level to cast Reincarnate, 9th to cast Raise Dead, 13th to cast Resurrection, and 17th to cast True Resurrection. But how many of these kinds of casters are there, in a world where level 6 is beyond most of the greatest heroes of yore?

Maybe the absolute highest high priest of the most popular religion in the world is high enough level to cast Raise Dead. One guy in the world, aside from any PCs that might happen to get that high. If the king has donated a heck of a lot of money to the Church of Pelor, maybe the high priest will deign to bring him back after an assassination. Maybe.

This is especially true if you maintain, as in some campaign settings, that the majority of priests aren't even clerics, but Experts or Commoners.

Perhaps there are more druids around who can cast Reincarnate than there are clerics who can cast Raise Dead. But good luck finding a friendly druid to cast natural-order-defying spells on your whim. I've also broadened the lists for Reincarnate to choose from; you're more likely to come back as a creature of your type, but it's always possible that you might come back as a creature of a different type. It seems reasonable that the High Librarian of the Elves might decide not to respond to the Reincarnate spell if it would mean coming back in the body of, say, an orangutan.

I also threw on a rule that every time you get resurrected, in addition to the normal loss of level, your body ages by {1d20 minus your CON modifier} years. In higher-level games, where resurrection is common, this makes death a little bit more than a slap on the wrist, in the sense that aging is more permanent than level loss. Unless you get reincarnated into a new body, of course, which always starts out base Young Adult age plus 1d20-CON years.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

High Seas Campaign Summary, Part 1

The campaign, discussed the other day, started out on Shell at level 4, with a wizard, a rogue, and a swashbuckler/knight, who were all summoned to the mansion of Bob Varakas, a minor aristocrat. Varakas was concerned because trees were being poached from the tree farms at night (this in a world where the only sources of wood are the tree farms of Shell and the mangals of the elves), and he was concerned that his trees were next.

So the party kept watch over his farm and, sure enough, came across some tree poachers, casting Silence, chopping down trees, and bringing them back to their boat. The adventurers apprehended the poachers, then invaded their ship and defeated most of the crew (only actually killing one, though, leaving the rest alive).

At this point, the captain of the poachers/pirates, respecting combat prowess, offered to let the adventurers join the crew. This was a choice that could have coloured the flavour of the rest of the campaign, though the events would have remained largely the same.

Either a.) the adventurers would take the chaotic good choice to join the downtrodden pirates, or b.) they would take the lawful evil choice of turning all the pirates in to Varakas (I never quite established if he was really evil or merely kind of a dick), and he would finagle the laws of Shell to award the confiscated ship to the adventurers, and he would give them material support as they sailed around doing his bidding.

The adventurers chose to join the pirates. They tried, unsuccessfully, to rescue the prisoners they'd already captured, then sailed off.

It soon came to pass that the ship was periodically attacked by sahuagin.
One incident involved a gargantuan shark (actually a huge shark enlarged with a spell), which did more damage to itself when it bit itself after a fumble than the party did to it.
Another incident involved a sahuagin wizard who, once he got down to one or two hit points left, cast Dance Of Ruin (a Book of Vile Darkness spell), which does 2d20 damage to every creature in a substantial radius, including the caster. He rolled something like 4, defeating himself and none of the PCs.

Anyway, they figured out that the pirate crew had stolen a mysterious lead box, containing a mysterious orb, from a crew of engineers. It later became clear that the engineers had themselves stolen the orb from sahuagins, and forged the lead box to try to prevent Locate Object. Somehow, the sahuagin got a look at the box itself and started casting to locate it instead of its contents, and the engineers got sick of the constant sahuagin attacks and allowed a pirate crew to "steal" it.

At about this point, the crew got to the Disreputable City, and a cleric joined the party. They determined that the orb was inscribed with markings in qualith, the illithid written language. So they made an iron copy of the orb with a plaster cast, and decided to seek out an illithid to read it for them.

It transpired that a reclusive cleric of Ilsensine had his home deep in the Disreputable City, so they took it to him and asked him to share the story. He obligingly did, explaining an old legend that Quasxthe, the god of the Inundation, the world-spanning permanent flood, was once a mind flayer. Quasxthe used complex machinery to raise the oceans, machinery to which there were two keys. One of the keys was given to a sahuagin cult of Quasxthe for safekeeping, the other was stolen by followers of Vecna and hidden. (I had some amazingly great justification for why Vecna was Quasxthe's biggest foe, but I sadly can no longer recall it.) This orb was one of those keys (later determined to be the one kept by the sahuagin, that being where the engineers stole it from).

So the PCs found the nearest secret temple of Vecna to look for clues. The wizard used Charm Person, and one of the priests led him straight to the innermost sanctum of the temple, to the high priest himself. After blowing up the altar, the wizard barely escaped with his life, with a combination of Fly and Invisibility.

The party, minus the swashbuckler/knight because of player commitments, burned through the temple. For the duration of one session, they gained a druid and a fighter, who dropped out again immediately.

They found two mini-shrines of hate, one dedicated to how much Vecna's followers hate Kas, and one dedicated to how much they hate Quasxthe. The PCs grabbed some tomes and moved on. They defeated the high priest. They encountered a half-ogre mummy who challenged them to prove their worthiness by defeating some other mummies, and who then handed the PCs another orb, identical to the first. The PCs escaped the temple through a handy portal to the Deathly Plane of Shadow.

(To be continued...)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Genetics in D&D

I'm a big fan of genetic heritage. D&D has a number of different rules for dealing with heritage, and it's never entirely easy to decide what way is best. Between templates, bloodlines, and feats, how do you choose? A little while back, I drew up some simple guidelines for myself. These are mostly based on the relative LA of each option. I count major, intermediate, and minor bloodlines as +3, +2, and +1, respectively.

But they are only guidelines. If anything in a specific case fails to make utmost sense, adjust it until it does.


If one of the parents is an X, use a half-X race, if an available one is appropriate. For example, if an orc breeds with a human, use the half-orc race. But if an orc breeds with an elf, find something else.
Otherwise, use a half-X template. For example, if a fiend breeds with a human, apply the half-fiend template to a human.
If there are no available half-X races or half-X templates available in splatbooks, Dragon magazine, or on the web, take X, chop all its stats in half, chop the other parent's stats in half, and combine them.

If one of the parents is a half-X, use the strongest available X bloodline (from Unearthed Arcana). For example, if a half-vampire breeds with a human, use a human with the major vampire bloodline.
If there is no available bloodline, use X heritage feats. For example, if a half-fiend and a human breed, and you're missing that page of UA, use a human with the fiendish heritage feat and as many or as few feats from that feat tree as you desire.
If there are no such heritage feats, make an X bloodline using the guidelines provided in UA.

If one of the parents has a major X bloodline, use the Xish/ic template. For example, if a human with a major celestial bloodline breeds with a human, apply the Celestial template to a human.
If there is no such template, use the intermediate X bloodline.

If one of the parents has an intermediate X bloodline, use a planetouched race. For example, if one parent has an intermediate fiendish bloodline and the other is a human, use the tiefling race.
If no such race exists, use a minor X bloodline.

If one of the parents has an Xish/ic template, use a planetouched race, if appropriate. For example, if one parent has the celestial template and the other is a human, use the aasimar race. If one parent has the celestial template and the other is a dwarf, use something else.
If no such race exists, use a minor X bloodline.
If no such bloodline exists, use X heritage feats.
If no such feats exist, make a minor X bloodline using the guidelines provided in UA.

If one of the parents has a minor X bloodline, is X planetouched, or has X heritage feats, use X heritage feats.

If one of the parents has X werecreature template, use an X werecreature template.

If one of the parents is a mongrelfolk, use a mongrelfolk. Half-mongrelfolk is always mongrelfolk.


In theory, these rules can be applied successfully no matter how bizarre and convoluted a character's ancestry is. Consider a situation where one parent is a nixie and the other is a half-vampire tiefling with draconic heritage feats and an intermediate celestial bloodline:

One parent is pureblood fey, so the offspring will have the half-fey template.
One parent is a half-vampire, so the offspring will have the major vampire bloodline.
One parent is a tiefling, so the offspring will have fiendish heritage feats.
One parent has draconic heritage feats, so the offspring will have draconic heritage feats.
One parent has an intermediate celestial bloodline, so the offspring will be aasimar.

Thus, the offspring will be an aasimar with the half-fey template, the intermediate vampire bloodline, and fiendish and draconic heritage feats.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Natural Consequences of a Single Change

The first campaign I ran was fairly standard in D&D terms, with one major exception.

The main conceit of was that the world was completely flooded for 500 years. If your first thought was a reference to Waterworld, know that you are exactly like everyone else who has ever heard me mention this. I had some fun figuring out the natural consequences of "exactly like a standard D&D campaign, except it was flooded 500 years ago".


Humans moved to ships and a single large floating island called Shell (so named because it was once the shell of a giant turtle, floating inexplicably).

Elves manipulated mangrove trees into living tree-boats called mangals (it was handy that English already had a word for "mangrove swamp", which I simply coöpted), the largest of which is the size of large cities after 500 years.

Gnomes and dwarves teamed up, built a fleet of submarines, and have since interbred into a single species, called engineers. Seaforged (created by the engineers) are like Warforged, but created to function at the bottom of the ocean.

The half-ogre pirate king Gus Dreadworm, after a long and successful career, moored his fleet together and retired. More and more people moored their decaying and crumbling ships (mind, aside from the elven fleets and a handful of trees on Shell, there are very few trees to repair ships with) to Dreadworm's fleet until it was more properly a floating city (explicitly a ripoff of Armada), known as the Disreputable City.

The drow prayed to Lolth, and, with her help, the most powerful drow spellcasters decanted their entire civilization from the Underdark to the Deathly Plane of Shadow (I'm using a simplified set of six elemental planes that do double duty, filling the rôles of the outer planes).

The mind flayers discovered that tritons were almost as good as humans and elves for ceremorphosis, allowing mind flayers to survive underwater.

The rest of the humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, orcs, kobolds, goblinoids, etc, wound up either interbreeding with one another or dying out, to the point that mongrelfolk are among the most populous races.


This has natural game consequences. For one thing, any campaign set in this world is likely to be largely aquatic, so Stormwrack is in order.

Aside from the commonness of mongrelfolk and the rarity of orcs, halflings, dwarves, and gnomes, some of the remaining races are altered. I'll dedicate a later post to combining gnomes and dwarves into the engineers, but I'll briefly cover the minor changes here.

Because the culture of the elves is so focused around maintaining the mangals, their Favored Class is now Druid.

Seaforged contain no wood, so they are no longer susceptible to spells that target wood. They do, however, contain materials like whalebone and coral, so they are susceptible to spells that target bone or coral. They're created to function at the bottom of the ocean, so they have darkvision. They're created for mining on the bottom of the ocean, so they have a racial penalty of -4 to Swim checks.

Drow are now native to the Deathly Plane of Shadow and gain the (Extraplanar) subtype if they travel to the Material Plane. (A game using standard cosmology might move them to Lolth's plane of the Abyss, or else someplace like Carceri, the Gray Waste, or Gehenna.)

A mind flayer tadpole applied to a human, elf, or mongrelfolk becomes a mind flayer. A tadpole applied to an engineer becomes a Small mind flayer (as if naturally under the effects of a Reduce Person spell). A mind flayer tadpole applied to a triton becomes a mind flayer with the (Aquatic) subtype. Any other combination uses the half-illithid template.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Level Adjustment Reduction 2: Hit Dice

In my post on LA reduction, I mentioned the possibility of doing the same thing, but taking hit dice into account.

I still want the only determining factor in when you can reduce your LA to be the experience cost, and I still want experience cost to be based only on level adjustment. So the natural option is to figure out what the average hit dice are for any given LA.

One of the very nice things about HeroForge and its ilk is that they all contain lists of the relevant information. In particular, MonsterForge contains a list of, apparently, every 3.5e creature (HeroForge contains a list of all or most of the creatures that advance solely by class level, which is much less useful).

So let's analyze the creatures. First, I eliminate every creature with an LA of 0 or --. Now, because creatures with 1 or fewer HD replace their HD with a class level, we change HD of 1 or less to instead read 0. Now it's a simple matter of taking each tier of LA and averaging together the HD of all the monsters in that tier.

The results:
+1 : 1.375
+2 : 3.3
+3 : 4
+4 : 7.85
+5 : 7.79
+6 : 8.2
+7 : 8.19
+8 : 11.67
+9 : 13
+18 : 7
There are only two creatures with LA+9 (the Hezrou and the Sillit), only one with LA+18 (the Aurumach Rilmani), and nothing in between or greater.

Plugging those numbers in generates a chart along these lines:
+1 : 4,375
+2 : 10,300; 12,300
+3 : 15,000; 20,000; 22,000
+4 : 22,850; 30,850; 35,850; 37,850
+5 : 26,790; 37,790; 45,790; 50,790; 52,790
+6 : 31,200; 45,200; 56,200; 64,200; 69,200; 71,200
+7 : 35,190; 52,190; 66,190; 77,190; 85,190; 90,190; 92,190
+8 : 42,670; 62,670; 79,670; 93,670; 104,670; 112,670; 117,670; 119,670
+9 : 48,000; 71,000; 91,000; 108,000; 122,000; 133,000; 141,000; 146,000; 148,000
(To reduce the Aurumach Rilmani's LA by 1 costs 78,000; the 18th step costs 520,000. I will leave it out of further calculations, because it is preposterous.)

How messy!

We can clean it up a little if we take the all-powerful rule that you Always Round Down (and take into account that HD1 = HD0 when class levels are involved):
1 : 3,000
2 : 10,000; 12,000
3 : 15,000; 20,000; 22,000
4 : 22,000; 30,000; 35,000; 37,000
5 : 26,000; 37,000; 45,000; 50,000; 52,000
6 : 31,000; 45,000; 56,000; 64,000; 69,000; 71,000
7 : 35,000; 52,000; 66,000; 77,000; 85,000; 90,000; 92,000
8 : 42,000; 62,000; 79,000; 93,000; 104,000; 112,000; 117,000; 119,000
9 : 48,000; 71,000; 91,000; 108,000; 122,000; 133,000; 141,000; 146,000; 148,000

This is still problematic in that it is inelegant. It is derived from a statistical analysis of creatures, so there's no way to recreate it without the original data set. The UA rules are nice in that they can be described as algorithms to follow.

So let's come up with an algorithm.

Let's try comparing the average difference between LA and HD. Returning to the original dataset pulled from MonsterForge, it turns out that the average creature's HD is slightly more than 2 greater than its LA.

I was all set to complain that low-LA creatures are more likely to have HD lower than their LA and high-LA creatures are more likely to have HD much higher than their LA, but a closer analysis of the data finds the greatest concentration of substantial difference is actually in LA +4 and +5.

So that works out: let's assume all creatures have 2 more HD than they have LA. The numbers are now:
1 : 6,000
2 : 11,000; 13,000
3 : 16,000; 21,000; 23,000
4 : 21,000; 29,000; 34,000; 36,000
5 : 26,000; 37,000; 45,000; 50,000; 52,000
6 : 31,000; 45,000; 56,000; 64,000; 69,000; 71,000
7 : 36,000; 53,000; 67,000; 78,000; 86,000; 91,000; 93,000
8 : 41,000; 61,000; 78,000; 92,000; 103,000; 111,000; 116,000; 118,000
9 : 46,000; 69,000; 89,000; 106,000; 120,000; 131,000; 139,000; 144,000; 146,000

Any one of these charts can work. I'm inclined to go with either this last one or the very first one, from the previous post, as they are the two which are most conceptually elegant, representable algorithmically.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Can Wizards Copy Non-Wizard Scrolls?

It came up in my last campaign that the wizard came across an arcane scroll of Silence, and wanted to copy it into his spellbook. But it isn't on the wizard spell list! It's a bard/cleric spell. The rules say nothing about whether a wizard may copy arcane spells into his spellbook, so do I permit it, or not?

In fact, reviewing them now, it looks like the rules as written don't even specify that the scroll to be copied must be arcane! It seems preposterous that a wizard could copy a spell from a scroll he wouldn't even be able to use, so it seems uncontroversial to say that the scroll to be copied must be arcane.

But that doesn't solve the problem. The scroll is arcane, can the wizard copy it? For aid, I turned to the archivist, a standard class from Heroes of Horror. The archivist is clearly intended to be the divine counterpart to the wizard. The archivist casts spells from a prayer book. He automatically learns spells from the cleric list every level, but he can copy spells into his prayer book from scrolls or other prayer books, just like a wizard.

Most relevantly, the description of the archivist specifies that he can copy any divine spell into his prayer book, even if it isn't on the cleric spell list. The archivist can learn a druid spell if he comes across a divine scroll. He can learn domain spells, if some clerics scribed domain spell scrolls, even spells that aren't available in divine form outside of domains. The rules are very clear: this is exactly how the archivist is intended to be used.

So, if the archivist is intended to be able to copy any and all divine scrolls, and the archivist is intended to be a divine wizard, that inclines one to suspect that the wizard is intended to be able to copy any and all arcane scrolls.

On the other hand, as in the second paragraph, it does seem preposterous that the wizard should be permitted to copy a spell from a scroll he wouldn't actually be able to use. To be able to cast an arcane scroll that isn't on the wizard spell list, the wizard needs to make a Use Magic Device check. Notably, Use Magic Device is not a class skill for the wizard, and it cannot be used untrained.

Eventually, I solved this problem by declaring that a wizard can copy non-wizard scrolls, but while doing so, he must pass the same Use Magic Device check that he would need to pass to be able to use the scroll at all. At which point, the wizard raged slightly because he had no ranks in Use Magic Device.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Alternatives for Negative Levels

I don't know anybody who likes Negative Levels. Part of this is (a) the fuss of recalculating all your stats (without the corresponding cognitive reward of adjusting them upwards, as with leveling up) and (b) that the rules are (or are perceived to be) simply more complex than they need to be. Part of it is that (c) people just don't like becoming permanently weaker.


On the subject of (a) and (b): I recently reviewed the actual rules for Negative Levels, and they're not actually quite as bad as I thought. I was under the impression that, if you gain a Negative Level, that's equivalent in every way to losing a level, and you immediately lose everything you gained at your last level. Not so! A negative level is effectively a template you apply to your character. You lose 5hp, 1ECL, and take a -1 to every attack, save, and check you make. If you're a caster, you lose one of your highest level spell slots. That's it!

Of those things, one is even partially beneficial (it's nice to get experience as if you're a level lower, though things like caster level suffer). You don't need to figure out what you last spent your skill points on or how many hit points you rolled last, you don't lose feats or class abilities (aside from the aforementioned spell slot), you don't lose ability score increases.

At least, not until 24 hours later, when your negative level transforms into level loss if you fail your save, at which point you do have to figure out all those things. But at least you don't have to figure them out while you're busy getting your life force sucked out by undead creatures!

(C) is something of a different story, though. This is one of many places where WotC decided to reduce the risk of actual harm to characters in 4e, and disposed of it entirely. On its own, this is a sound notion. So let's get rid of level adjustment in 3.5e.


But wait! All the undead creatures that deal energy drain are balanced with it in mind! They will be rated as a higher challenge rating than they merit, if we take negative levels out of the equation!

We could simply remove energy drain altogether, and bump everything that had it down by a point of CR. But this has the unfortunate side-effect of making these monsters kind of samey. What's the difference between a wight and a skeleton, if the wight doesn't energy drain?

So what else can we do to replace negative levels?


Consider the Wraith of Stargate: Atlantis, consciously modeled after vampires. They feed on human life force, sucking it out with a touch attack through an organ in the palm of their hand. The Wraith's victim ages swiftly into a decayed husk.

This winter, I was playing a lot of Demise: Rise of the Ku'tan, and it struck me that Demise incorporates a lot of aging effects. Traps, spells, resting, some monsters, all sorts of things can age a character quickly. Drinking certain potions can restore youth and vitality.

Yet D&D has almost entirely stripped out aging effects in 3.5e. There are rules for aging, but there are precious few ways a character might age, aside from the normal way we're all familiar with. Earlier editions had spells that aged a character, now replaced with experience costs. Perhaps there were good reasons for this. But premature aging is such a prominent trope in fiction that it's a shame to leave it out of D&D.

So let's replace negative levels with premature aging.


One school of thought seems to hold that magical aging should reduce the character's maximum age (the point at which they keel over and die of old age, no resurrection permitted) without increasing their current age. Another holds that magical aging should straightforwardly increase your current age.

The justification for the former is that, for anyone dependent on mental ability scores, advancing through age categories brings bonuses. If your maximum lifespan simply decreases, then you don't reap the advantages of these bonuses. Most compellingly, the intelligence, charisma, and wisdom that you gain are supposed to come through experience, of personally living through those long years.

Certainly, there are some characters who might trade a -6 to physical scores for a +3 to mental scores, but that deal is lopsided for nearly all characters.

As for experience: we already have a system to keep track of that. You know what really comes of experience? Experience points come of experience. Ability score increases come of experience, but only every four levels, and they don't necessarily go into mental abilities.

Most importantly, if your maximum age simply decreases, then you're not aging. If Robert Patrick gets his life sucked out by a Wraith under this model, he simply remains the same for several seconds, then keels over of old age without having aged a day. That's profoundly unsatisfying.

So let's have magical aging just add to your current age. You may keep track of your character's chronological age separately from his physical age (the wrinkled old geezer may firmly insist that he is in fact 23), but that's not strictly necessary. Only physical age is important.

I do dispute the notion that older people are necessarily more intelligent, wise, or charismatic than younger people, but I suppose having nothing but penalties would run into the problem of (c) in the first paragraph. "Oops, my character turned 35, now he's weaker, slower, and less hardy, without anything else to show for it. I guess I should roll up a new one now." Having magically-earned years apply penalties only would fall into this trap, and be undesirable.


So, having decided that energy drain entails adding years to a character's current age, let's consider how to balance those creatures that deal energy drain.

To keep these monsters properly balanced (assuming they're properly balanced in the first place; an assumption some may find laughable, but there it is), they should add enough years per energy drain that it will take as many applications of age to kill the average character as it would take applications of negative levels to kill the character. So we must answer these questions:

1.) How many negative levels does it take to kill the average character?
This one's easy: it takes as many negative levels as the character has levels. Well, okay, so it turns out the real question here is: what level is the average character? Setting aside the fact that Aragorn son of Arathorn, Conan the Barbarian, and any fictional hero you care to name is at most 5th level, I'm inclined to just say the "average" D&D character is level 5, if only because the highest-level campaign I've been involved with was level 10, and because after 10 is where balance between classes completely falls apart.

2.) How many added years does it take to kill the average character?
This one's a little trickier, because it comes in two parts: how old is the average character now, and how old will he be when he dies of old age?

Well, I don't think it's particularly a stretch to suggest that the average character is human. In D&D as in much literature, humans are treated as the baseline, the default, the standard to which all others are compared.

So let's go back to those aging tables. A human of a simple class (barbarian, rogue, or sorcerer), just starting out on his adventuring career, is 15+1d4 years old. A human of a moderate class (bard, fighter, paladin, or ranger) is 15+1d6, and a human of a complex class (cleric, druid, monk, or wizard) is 15+2d6. Which is to say, the average level 1 simple class human is 17, moderate is 18, and complex is 21. In this case, let's take "moderate" as a synonym for "average", so the average level 1 character is 18 years old.

Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure it doesn't say how many years it takes an average person to gain a level, possibly because this is nigh-impossible to quantify. After all, the majority of people go through their whole lives without ever making it past their first level of commoner. So I'm tempted to just say the average level 5 human of a moderate class is the same age as the average level 5 human. Again, 18.

Now, a human dies of old age at 70+2d20 years of age, or 91 years old. So if you age the average human by 91-18=73 years, he dies.

So, we've concluded that the average character is an 18-year-old level 5 human who will die in 73 years. 5 negative levels will kill him, so 5 applications of aging should kill him. Each energy drain should therefore age a character by an average of 73/5=14.6 years. Because this is D&D, that should be randomized.

In descending order, the 5 sets of standard dice that average closest to to 14.6 are 6d4, 4d6, 3d8, 2d12, and 3d10. In general, more than 3 or 4 dice are insufficiently random, and fewer than 2 or 3 dice are potentially too random, so I'm inclined to rule out 6d4 and 4d6 for sure. Because it's slightly harsher than the others, I wound up going with 3d10, but 3d8 and 2d12 would both be solid choices.


As a post-script, I shall attempt to tackle the inevitable objection: what about elves and other long-lived races? Well, yes, what about them?

Under this system, it would indeed take about 29 applications of energy drain to kill the average elf. But that makes sense, doesn't it? An elf has a massive store of life force, that's why he lives for so long in the first place. Of course he's got plenty to spare.

Maybe it's unbalanced, then. An elf is, by his very nature, more resistant to energy drain. But also consider this: what is an elf's favoured class? Wizard (well, in my campaign's world, druid, but never mind that). Wizard is a strongly single-ability-dependent class, which benefits from intelligence and hardly cares about anything else. Up until venerable age, a wizard can only benefit from being prematurely aged. So the very race who is most resistant to energy drain is also the race that could tend to benefit most from energy drain! I call that satisfactory.