Monday, May 30, 2011

What Kind Of Balance Matters?

As I've said before, a properly-implemented open gaming table or similar system can auto-solve the problem of encounter balance. If you provide a variety of encounters, and a choice for the players of which encounters to engage, the problem of encounter balance solves itself. Your players, if they have any capacity for learning, will fight whatever creatures they feel comfortable fighting. If they would prefer to fight ECL-2 foes and accrue experience slowly but risklessly, they can do that. If they would prefer to fight ECL+2 foes and accrue experience quickly but at great risk to themselves, they can do that, too. This is basically the same principle espoused in the Dungeon Master's Guide, except it involves less need for the GM to be good at reading his players. (It's probably inaccurate and offensive to say that D&D players are less likely to be good at social skills like reading people than your average person, so instead I'll just imply it. Though D&D players are certainly more likely to be good at such skills than, say, pure video gamers.)


So with that problem neatly and tidily solved, what other potential balance issues do we need to think about?

Well, the obvious: intra-party power balance. Consider a party consisting of a wizard played by a skilled player, a druid played by an unskilled player, a fighter played by a skilled player, and a monk played by an unskilled player. It is well accepted that wizards and druids are tier 1 while fighters and monks are tier 5. Which is to say, a well-designed, well-played wizard or druid will always be orders of magnitude more useful in a party than a well-designed, well-played fighter or monk.

Well, it has been my experience that low-optimization parties are better balanced than high-optimization parties. A poorly-designed, poorly-played wizard is probably worse than a poorly-designed, poorly-played fighter. Wizards have so many options that if you make poor spell choices, you can't contribute anything, while fighters can always hit things with sticks. The difference between a good fighter and a bad fighter is smaller than the difference between a fighter with a d20 that tends to roll well and a fighter with a d20 that tends to roll poorly. So that's one option: play only with newbies.

A high-optimization party, similarly, will usually have players who avoid tiers lower than 2 on principle, and will auto-balance. They will also break any encounter you throw at them and ask for more, so you want to avoid this situation unless you're running the aptly-named Tomb of Horrors.

So, returning to the good wizard / bad cleric / good fighter / bad monk example. Here, the cleric, fighter, and monk will all be roughly on par with one another, with the wizard the odd one out. The other three will always feel useless. The wizard may, depending on his player's personality, become tired of constantly being in the spotlight, or constantly needing to carry a disproportionate amount of weight. How do we fix this?


The tier system provides four suggestions:

#1: Alter point buy. The wizard has fewer ability points to spend than the monk. This helps to balance them a little, because the tier 1 classes tend to be strongly Single Ability Dependent and the tier 5 classes tend to be strongly Multiple Ability Dependent. But what if the monk multiclasses into druid for his second and subsequent levels? A one-level dip into monk is probably worth 16 extra points. You can solve this, but the solution will always be messy.

#2: Gestalt. Tier 1 and 2 can't gestalt, tier 3 and 4 may gestalt with tier 6, tier 5 and 6 may gestalt with other tier 5 and 6. This also gets weird when multiclassing comes into the picture. You get bizarre and undescribable things like (fighter 1 || knight 1) / cleric. It's possible, but messy.

#3: Ban the top few tiers. If you ban tier 1 and 2, great, you just banned 90% of the dedicated spellcasters. Hope you're in a low-magic setting!

The above suggestions also penalize the bad cleric just as much as they penalize the good wizard. We don't want a situation where that happens, the crappy cleric needs as much help as he can get. On the other hand, we also don't want to have a situation where we say "You're an optimizer, so you get penalized; You're incompetent, so you get rewarded", if for no other reason than because that's so subjective.

#4: Go through, find the reasons why the tiers 1 are so good, and nerf them. Find the reasons why the tier 5s are so bad, and improve them. Ban Polymorph. Ban Natural Spell. Give monks full BaB. Give fighters a feat every level. This? This is a butt-ton of work.


The above methods are all clunky yet potentially workable. But I like two alternate methods, one also clunky, one more subtle:

#A: You need to take a certain number of levels of low-tier classes before you can take a high-tier class. For example: you can start only with a tier 3, 4, or 5 class. You can't multiclass into tier 2 unless you're already at least third level, and you can't multiclass into tier 1 unless you're already at least sixth level.

You can, of course, apply this with more steps. For example: At first level, you must take a tier 5 or 6 character (so no dedicated spellcasters other than Healer). At level 2, you may take a tier 4, 5, or 6 class. At level 3, you may take a tier 3-6 class. At level 4, you may take a class of any tier except 1. At level 5, you may take any class.

Similarly, you could simply give high tiers a level adjustment. For example, assign Tier 1 LA+2 and Tier 2 LA+1. It might occur to one to give Tier 6 classes a negative level adjustment, though that's tantamount to saying, "taking a level in this class is exactly as good as not taking a level in anything at all" - even Warrior has full BaB and a good Fort save, so everybody can have +1 BaB and +2 Fort for free. This option does not, however, work with multiclassing (a Commoner 19/Wizard 1 would have to have much the same LA as a Wizard 19/Commoner 1, barring liberal application of weird math).

This works because, generally, the best way to improve a spellcasting character is to give him more levels in his spellcasting class. Conversely, the best way to nerf a spellcasting build is to include non-spellcaster levels. Effectively, this puts a spellcaster a certain number of levels behind where he might normally be at any given level. Getting Polymorph at level 7 is a complete game-breaker. Getting Polymorph at, say, level 13 (but still casting with a CL of 7, unless you take the Practiced Spellcaster feat) is much more in line with the sorts of things other characters can do at level 13. A certain kind of gish character might be inclined to take those non-spellcasting levels anyway, and is thereby not penalized any more than they're already penalizing themselves with their choice of build, which is probably fine.

#B: Drastically limit the kinds of items players can buy in stores, and distribute magic items with care. Be generous with things like magical weapons and armor, Belts of Ogre Strength, Monk's Belts, Potions of Bull's Strength, and other things the tier 5s can use better than the tier 1s. Be sparing with scrolls for the wizard or artificer to copy, metamagic rods, Headbands of Intellect, and other things the tier 1s can use better than the tier 5s. This depends on which particular classes you have in the party. If you've got a monk but no cleric or druid, go ahead and give them a Periapt of Wisdom. If you've got a swashbuckler or rogue and no wizard or archivist, go ahead with the Headbands of Intellect.

Similarly, tailor encounters to the strengths of your tier 5s. Golems are good for this, though don't go too overboard with them (the goal is to make the tier 5s as useful as the tier 1s, not to make the tier 1s completely useless forever). If there's a cleric, don't use too many undead, especially if there's also a rogue or a fighter with a +1 Keen Rapier.


There is a more general point here, though: when you make any alterations to or interpretations of any rules, try to make sure you're not making tier 1-2 classes more powerful and you're not making tier 4-5 classes weaker.

I myself have broken this rule of thumb on occasion (engineers make great wizards; the list of scrolls wizards can scribe is longer if you allow them to copy non-Sorcerer/Wizard scrolls; mongrelfolk wizards/sorcerers/druids can get water elementals as familiars/animal companions with two feats). But at least I haven't nerfed monks.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Complete Deck Of Many Things

So randomness is fun, and powerful artifacts are fun. One might naturally be tempted to combine these fun things with a Deck Of Many Things. But the Deck of Many Things has something of a reputation as a campaign-killer. Plus, check it out: that "Deck" of Many Things only has 22 cards! What a ripoff!

So perhaps there's some way to simultaneously solve both problems. Consider: expand the deck to a full 54 cards.

We make sure the deck is roughly evenly balanced between bad things and good things, and between major effects and minor effects. We can leave in the terribly bad or terribly good things from the original deck, because they're each less than half as likely as they used to be, and we'll balance them out with piddling minor effects like alterations to hair colour.

All effects are permanent, reversible only by divine intervention or the Fates card. Rules are otherwise the same as for the standard Deck Of Many Things.

Drawn Card - In-Game Name - Effect
Ace of Spades - Fates - Stop some bad thing from happening to you, even retroactively.
2 of Spades - Donjon - Lose all gear and magic effects, immediately imprisoned
3 of Spades - Balance - Change alignment or lose a level
4 of Spades - Patient Zero - Afflicted with random contagion, save DC35
5 of Spades - Metamorphosis - Change to a random new Type without otherwise changing race
6 of Spades - Frog - Polymorphed to a random race of the same type
7 of Spades - Dwarf - Decrease one size category
8 of Spades - Crone - Age 1d20 years
9 of Spades - Tongue - Your languages known is reduced to a single language, randomly chosen (not necessarily a language you knew).
10 of Spades - Coin - -4 penalty to the skill in which you have the most ranks
Jack of Spades - Rogue - An NPC friend or ally is forever hostile
Queen of Spades - Euryale - -1 to all saving throws
King of Spades - Ruin - All nonmagical possessions are permanently lost
Ace of Clubs - Talons - All magical possessions are permanently lost
2 of Clubs - Idiot - 1d4+1 permanent Int drain
3 of Clubs - Burdened Man - 1d4+1 permanent Str drain
4 of Clubs - Bleeding Man - 1d4+1 permanent Con drain
5 of Clubs - Cripple - 1d4+1 permanent Dex drain
6 of Clubs - Nymph - 1d4+1 permanent Wis drain
7 of Clubs - Leper - 1d4+1 permanent Cha drain
8 of Clubs - Acid - -1 natural armor
9 of Clubs - Blind Man - -1 to all attack rolls
10 of Clubs - Hermaphrodite - Gender inverted
Jack of Clubs - Skull - An unturnable dread wraith attacks, must be defeated alone
Queen of Clubs - Flames - Earn the enmity of a random outsider
King of Clubs - Void - Body functions, but soul is trapped elsewhere
Black Joker - Fool - Lose 10,000xp and draw again
Ace of Hearts - God-King - Random race considers you their leader
2 of Hearts - Wizard - 1d4+1 permanent Int gain
3 of Hearts - Titan - 1d4+1 permanent Str gain
4 of Hearts - Chicken Soup - 1d4+1 permanent Con gain
5 of Hearts - Ballerina - 1d4+1 permanent Dex gain
6 of Hearts - Sage - 1d4+1 permanent Wis gain
7 of Hearts - Demagogue - 1d4+1 permanent Cha gain
8 of Hearts - Armor - +1 natural armor
9 of Hearts - Guide - +1 to all attack rolls
10 of Hearts - Heart - Fall in love with the next person you see
Jack of Hearts - Knight - Gain the services of a 4th-level fighter
Queen of Hearts - Moon - Granted 1d4 wishes
King of Hearts - Throne - Gain a title, a small keep, and +6 to all diplomacy checks
Ace of Diamonds - Vizier - Know the answer to your next dilemma
2 of Diamonds - Gem - Gain 25 jewelries worth 2000gp each or 50 gems worth 1000gp each
3 of Diamonds - Envy - Eyes randomly change color
4 of Diamonds - Sea - Hair randomly changes color
5 of Diamonds - Shoes - Gain a bonus feat
6 of Diamonds - Nose - Gain breath attack with rod of wonder effect, usable 1/day
7 of Diamonds - Giant - Increase one size category
8 of Diamonds - Maiden - Youthen 1d20 years
9 of Diamonds - Gift - Gain random major magic item
10 of Diamonds - Comet - If you defeat the next enemy you meet alone, you gain a level
Jack of Diamonds - Star - +4 to skill in which you have the most ranks
Queen of Diamonds - Key - Gain a minor magic weapon
King of Diamonds - Sun - Gain a medium wondrous item and 50,000xp
Red Joker - Jester - Gain 10,000xp or 2 more draws

Thursday, May 26, 2011

High Seas System Reference Document

I have copied most of the pamphlet I provide to my players and released it here as the High Seas System Reference Document. This is partially for the curious, and partially so I can point my players to it for reference when they're not proximate to me or when I don't have the pamphlet.

You may notice that it's a little light on certain kinds of information. This is because if I'm using something WotC created, it's not legal to distribute it unless it's covered under the d20 SRD. This is perhaps particularly noticeable in the Religion section, where I provide a list of the deities I'm using, how they relate to the world, and what book to consult to find them, because no deities are in the d20 SRD.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Reworking Mongrelfolk 2

In a previous post, I updated the mongrelfolk and gave them a bunch of new feats. Players don't generally like to play mongrelfolk, which is fine; I can still use these things for NPCs, because mongrelfolk are such very common NPCs.

Today, I would like to give them more feats. Effectively, I've gone through the list of types and subtypes, and given the mongrelfolk the ability to take feats to acquire any of the types or subtypes it would make sense for them to acquire.

Some of them are not powerful, or even effectively do nothing, and you would only take them to meet prerequisites. Some of them (mostly the specific races of Outsider: Angel, Baatezu, Tanar'ri, etc.) would be overpowered if they were just one feat, so I provide a number of extra feat chains to collect all the abilities of these subtypes.

The immunities are particularly powerful, but note that you need four feats before you can even get one immunity. Let's take acid immunity, for example:
1 - Outsider Mongrel, Celestial Heritage, Monstrous Mongrel, or something along those lines, to add an angel to your general heritage, to qualify for Angel Mongrel
2 - Angel Mongrel, to qualify for Mongrel Acid Resistance
3 - Mongrel Acid Resistance, to qualify for Mongrel Acid Immunity
4 - Mongrel Acid Immunity
Probably not worth it; I'm sure there are much easier ways to get these things. But I'd rather introduce weak options that nobody takes than introduce strong options that completely break the game.


Aberrant Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, level 1 only
Benefit: Pick any any aberration. You are descended from that race for the purposes of your Emulate Race and Diffuse Blood racial traits.
In addition, you gain the Aberration type and the [Augmented Humanoid] subtype. You gain darkvision 60.

Air Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Air] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Air] subtype. You gain a fly speed of 10 feet, with Clumsy maneuverability.

Angel Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Angel] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Angel] subtype. You gain darkvision 60. You do not gain any other traits.

Archon Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Archon] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Archon] subtype. You gain darkvision 60. You do not gain any other traits.

Baatezu Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Baatezu] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Baatezu] subtype. You can see perfectly in darkness of any kind, even that created by a deeper darkness spell. You do not gain any other traits.

Chaotic Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Chaotic] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Chaotic] subtype. Any effect that depends on alignment affects you as though you have a chaotic alignment, no matter what your alignment actually is. You also suffer effects according to your actual alignment. You overcome damage reduction as if your natural weapons and any weapons you wield are chaotic-aligned.

Cold Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Cold] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Cold] subtype. You gain immunity to cold and vulnerability to fire.

Dragonblood Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race
Benefit: Pick any any dragon. You are descended from that race for the purposes of your Emulate Race and Diffuse Blood racial traits.
In addition, you gain the [Dragonblood] subtype.

Earth Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Earth] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Earth] subtype. You gain a burrow speed of 5 feet. You can burrow only through substances with the consistency of loose dirt.

Eladrin Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Eladrin] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Eladrin] subtype. You gain darkvision 60. You do not gain any other traits.

Evil Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Evil] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Evil] subtype. Any effect that depends on alignment affects you as though you have an evil alignment, no matter what your alignment actually is. You also suffer effects according to your actual alignment. You overcome damage reduction as if your natural weapons and any weapons you wield are evil-aligned.

Fey Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race
Benefit: Pick any any Fey. You are descended from that race for the purposes of your Emulate Race and Diffuse Blood racial traits.
In addition, your type changes to Fey, and you gain the [Augmented Humanoid] subtype.

Fire Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Fire] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Fire] subtype. You gain immunity to fire and vulnerability to cold.

Fully Aquatic Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Seafolk Heritage
Benefit: Your racial bonus to Swim checks is +8 (this replaces your bonus from Seafolk Heritage). You gain the [aquatic] subtype and a swim speed of 10 feet. You can breathe both air and water.

Goblinoid Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race
Benefit: Pick any any creature with the [goblinoid] subtype. You are descended from that race for the purposes of your Emulate Race and Diffuse Blood racial traits.
In addition, you gain the [Goblinoid] subtype.

Good Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Good] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Good] subtype. Any effect that depends on alignment affects you as though you have a good alignment, no matter what your alignment actually is. You also suffer effects according to your actual alignment. You overcome damage reduction as if your natural weapons and any weapons you wield are good-aligned.

Guardinal Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Guardinal] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Guardinal] subtype. You gain darkvision 60. You do not gain any other traits.

Lawful Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Lawful] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Lawful] subtype. Any effect that depends on alignment affects you as though you have a lawful alignment, no matter what your alignment actually is. You also suffer effects according to your actual alignment. You overcome damage reduction as if your natural weapons and any weapons you wield are lawful-aligned.

Mongrel Acid Resistance [Racial]
Prerequisite: Angel Mongrel or Baatezu Mongrel or Tanar'ri Mongrel
Benefit: You gain Resist 10 against acid.

Mongrel Acid Immunity [Racial]
Prerequisite: Angel Mongrel and Mongrel Acid Resistance
Benefit: You gain immunity to acid.

Mongrel Cold Resistance [Racial]
Prerequisite: Angel Mongrel or Baatezu Mongrel or Eladrin Mongrel or Guardinal Mongrel or Tanar'ri Mongrel
Benefit: You gain resist 10 against cold.

Mongrel Cold Immunity [Racial]
Prerequisite: Angel Mongrel and Mongrel Cold Resistance
Benefit: You gain immunity to cold.

Mongrel Electricity Resistance [Racial]
Prerequisite: Archon Mongrel or Eladrin Mongrel or Guardinal Mongrel or Tanar'ri Mongrel or Angel Mongrel
Benefit: You gain resist 10 against electricity.

Mongrel Electricity Immunity [Racial]
Prerequisite: Archon Mongrel or Eladrin Mongrel or Guardinal Mongrel or Tanar'ri Mongrel, and Mongrel Electricity Resistance
Benefit: You gain immunity to electricity.

Mongrel Fiendsummons [Racial]
Prerequisite: Baatezu Mongrel or Tanar'ri Mongrel
Benefit: 1/day, as a standard action, you may attempt to summon a Baatezu (if you have the [Baatezu] subtype) or a Tanar'ri (if you have the [Tanar'ri] subtype).
Each time you summon a creature, they will give you the opportunity to strike a deal with them. Devils are scrupulous about honouring their deals; demons are not. If the offered deal is not to the summoned creature's liking, they may counteroffer, leave, or attack you, so it is wise to be cautious about summoning creatures much stronger than you.
Each time you attempt to summon a creature, there is a limited probability that they will even appear.

Baatezu : chance of success
Lemure : 100%
Advespa : 33%
Bearded Devil (Barbazu) : 20%
Amnizu : 14%
Erinyes : 13%
Bone Devil (Osyluth) : 11%
Malebranche : 11%
Barbed Devil (Hamatula) : 9%
Ice Devil (Gelugon) : 8%
Horned Devil (Cornugon) : 6%
Xerfilstyx : 6%
Pit Fiend : 5%
Paeliryon : 5%

Tanar'ri : chance of success
Dretch : 50%
Jovoc : 20%
Babau : 17%
Arrow Demon : 14%
Succubus : 14%
Palrethee : 13%
Vrock : 11%
Hezrou : 9%
Kastighur : 9%
Glabrezu : 8%
Jarilith : 8%
Alkilith : 7%
Nalfeshnee : 7%
Marilith : 6%
Sorrowsworn Demon : 6%
Kelvezu : 6%
Balor : 5%
Myrmyxicus : 5%
Klurichir : 4%

Mongrel Fire Resistance [Racial]
Prerequisite: Baatezu Mongrel or Angel Mongrel or Eladrin Mongrel or Tanar'ri Mongrel
Benefit: You gain resist 10 against fire.

Mongrel Fire Immunity [Racial]
Prerequisite: Baatezu Mongrel and Mongrel Fire Resistance
Benefit: You gain immunity to fire.

Mongrel Lay On Hands [Racial]
Prerequisite: Guardinal Mongrel, Cha 12
Benefit: You gain the Lay On Hands ability as if you were a paladin whose level equal your HD.

Mongrel Magic Circle Against Evil [Racial]
Prerequisite: Angel Mongrel or Archon Mongrel, character level 5
Benefit: A magic circle against evil effect always surrounds you (caster level equal to your Hit Dice).

Mongrel Petrification Resistance [Racial]
Prerequisite: Angel Mongrel or Archon Mongrel or Eladrin Mongrel or Guardinal Mongrel
Benefit: You gain +4 on all saves against petrification effects.

Mongrel Petrification Immunity [Racial]
Prerequisite: Angel Mongrel or Archon Mongrel or Eladrin Mongrel or Guardinal Mongrel, and Mongrel Petrification Resistance
Benefit: You gain immunity to petrification effects.

Mongrel Poison Resistance [Racial]
Prerequisite: Tanar'ri Mongrel or Angel Mongrel or Archon Mongrel or Guardinal Mongrel
Benefit: You gain +4 on all saves against poison.

Mongrel Poison Immunity [Racial]
Prerequisite: Tanar'ri Mongrel and Mongrel Poison Resistance
Benefit: You gain immunity to poison.

Mongrel Sonic Resistance [Racial]
Prerequisite: Guardinal Mongrel
Benefit: You gain resist 10 against sonic.

Mongrel Speak With Animals [Racial]
Prerequisite: Guardinal Mongrel
Benefit: You may cast speak with animals at will.

Mongrel Teleportation [Racial]
Prerequisite: Archon Mongrel, character level 13
Benefit: You can use greater teleport at will, as the spell (caster level equal to your Hit Dice), except that you can transport only yourself and up to 50 pounds of objects.

Mongrel Tongues [Racial]
Prerequisite: Angel Mongrel or Archon Mongrel or Eladrin Mongrel, character level 5
Benefit: You can speak with any creature that has a language, as though using a tongues spell (caster level equal to your Hit Dice). This ability is always active.

Monstrous Mongrel [Racial]
Your blood contains traces of something weird. There is no need to speculate on the exact mechanics of how it got there.
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, level 1 only
Benefit: Pick any any aberration, animal, elemental, magical beast, monstrous humanoid, ooze, outsider, plant, undead, or vermin. You are descended from that race for the purposes of your Emulate Race and Diffuse Blood racial traits.
In addition, your type changes to Monstrous Humanoid, and you gain the [Augmented Humanoid] subtype. You gain no new traits or features.

Outsider Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, level 1 only
Benefit: Pick any any Outsider. You are descended from that race for the purposes of your Emulate Race and Diffuse Blood racial traits.
In addition, your type changes to Outsider, and you gain the [Augmented Humanoid] and [Native] subtypes. You gain Darkvision 60. You can be raised, reincarnated, or resurrected as other living creatures can be. You still need to breathe, eat and sleep.

Reptilian Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race
Benefit: Pick any any reptile or creature with the [reptilian] subtype. You are descended from that race for the purposes of your Emulate Race and Diffuse Blood racial traits.
In addition, you gain the [Reptilian] subtype.

Tanar'ri Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Tanar'ri] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Tanar'ri] subtype. You do not gain any traits.

Water Mongrel [Racial]
Prerequisite: Mongrelfolk race, descended from a creature with the [Water] subtype
Benefit: You gain the [Water] subtype. You can breathe both air and water. You gain a swim speed of 10 feet.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chicken Infested

If you surf D&D boards long enough, you're likely to come upon a reference to the Chicken Infested feat from a long-ago April Fool's issue (specifically, #330) of Dragon magazine. It was one of several joke feats for the NPC-only Commoner class, but it was the only one that was actually funny. (Okay, maybe "Corpse" was a little funny, too.)

Chicken Infested
You’ve got chickens.
Effect: Whenever you draw a weapon or pull an item out of a container, you have a 50% chance of drawing a live chicken instead. No, we don't know where the chickens come from; it's your character.

This is an excellent and hilarious flaw (I picture the person with this flaw is simply followed around by a bunch of chickens at all times, and they sometimes get into his equipment; maybe it's a curse that we can build into a campaign hook), but it's commonly mentioned as being, supposedly, blatantly abusable. How could we render it un-abusable?


Most abuses hinge on the supposed ability to produce an infinite number of chickens as a free action, which hinge on two of three things:

1.) It's a free action to drop a held object;
2.) If you have Quick Draw, it's a free action to draw a weapon. If you have n weapons on you, you can, as a free action, draw approximately n chickens (draw weapons until you run out of weapons, and there's a 50% chance each weapon will be a chicken);
3.) It's a free action to draw a spell component from a spell component pouch, and spell component pouches contain an indefinite amount of spell components (this is also the trick behind the "infinite bat poop as a free action" trick).

It seems to miss most people that a chicken is neither a weapon nor a spell component, so drawing one will never be a free action, and you still use up one of your move actions every time you draw one, so you can still only draw at most two chickens per round. Though a case could be made that a chicken could be a weapon, particularly if you took Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Chicken), so let's just add a clause to the flaw that "Drawing a chicken is always a move action" to clear up any confusion.


It's still possible to produce n chickens, it just takes at least n/2 rounds (you can produce 20 chickens a minute). However, unless you kill or otherwise keep track of them, it should be noted, most of these chickens should just be cycling in from the crowd of chickens around you. You draw a chicken, drop it, and the next round it finds its way back into your pack, as chickens do. So at any given time, you should only really have a few chickens, rather than an indefinite number. But if you kill each chicken as you draw it, where do the new chickens come from? A good question, with no good answer, on the same lines as "where do all my socks go when they vanish from the dryer?"


At this point, let's take a slight digression and determine the exact stats of the chickens.

Well, the monster entry for the raven says "The statistics presented here can describe most nonpredatory birds of similar size." The chicken is indeed a nonpredatory bird of similar size to the raven, although chickens cannot fly.

That's easy enough to fix: let's treat chickens as ravens, but replace Fly 40 with Glide 20 (so a chicken never takes falling damage, and it can travel 20 feet sideways for every 10 feet it falls).


Other possible abuses:

Infinite food. This is not a problem if you've got a 5th level cleric, which, to be fair, you probably shouldn't. It's not really a problem in any other game, either, unless you're really paying attention to resource management.

Infinite cash, if you sell the chickens. But the law of supply and demand means you'll swiftly get diminishing returns on your chickens, and eventually will be unable to find anyone to take your chickens.

Things which deal damage to creatures in a radius and which give you a corresponding buff for each one. This is, yes, a little problematic, though in combat you'll only be able to get the benefit from 2 chickens per round, which is hardly an effective use of your action economy at the level you get that ability.

Things which animate all corpses in a radius. Particularly combined with the former. In combat, you'll still only be able to produce 2 chicken skeletons a round, which, again, hardly an effective use of your actions. Out of combat, given some time to prepare, you can freely produce chicken skeletons up to your maximum number of HD of undead controlled. You can then turn them all into bombs. At this point, you're getting into so much effort that I'm willing to just allow it. (Especially as I'm disinclined to allow the sort of Divine Metamagic abuse that makes it feasible.)

These can all be solved with a blanket clause: If you pull too many chickens in an attempt to abuse your curse, some of them may be more powerful, hostile chickens. I'm thinking some combination of Titanic, Monster of Legend, and Fiendish.


And the one which I don't think I've ever seen mentioned, but which is still of concern: you could simply kill the chickens for experience. They're not summoned or conjured or created or any of the other standard terms, they're just there, so none of the limits on XP for summoned creatures apply. The whole party could automatically level up to level 8 (especially with the above tricks like automatic damage in a radius), at which point you abruptly stop getting experience from the CR1/6 chickens.

This is easily solved: add a clause specifying that these chickens are worth no experience points.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Bloodlines, Monster Classes, and Level Adjustment

As mentioned in earlier posts, I sometimes use the bloodline levels from Unearthed Arcana. I also disapprove of too much unnecessary cruft dragging characters down. Particularly in the case of the nearly-useless minor bloodlines - the only good reason to take them is RP.

So I use them slightly differently. In my game, each bloodline level isn't a level so much as it is a level adjustment. At certain intervals, instead of taking a bloodline level, you increase your level adjustment by one. It doesn't count as a class level for any purpose. However, because this is level adjustment, it can be reduced like any level adjustment.

Say you have a minor bloodline. When you ding 12th level, you need to increase your level adjustment instead of gaining a class level. But, since minor bloodlines count as a +1 LA, you may then spend 3,000, 6,000, or 11,000 experience (depending which LA reduction system you're using) to pay it off.

If you have an intermediate bloodline, then when you ding 6th and 12th levels, you need to take a level adjustment. At any time, you may reduce these level adjustments as if you were an LA+2 creature. Same goes for major bloodlines, except you gain LA at 3rd, 6th, and 12th level, and you may reduce them as if you were an LA+3 creature.

You may not, however, ever reduce your LA below +0.


I also allow monster classes, as from Savage Species, Libris Mortis, and some of the Races of books.

Monster classes for creatures that have level adjustment include empty levels, where your effective character level increases and you gain some powers, but you gain no hit dice or skill points. HeroForge even represents these empty levels straightforwardly as level adjustment.

I allow these, too, to be reduced as level adjustment. The experience cost is determined by the total number of empty levels of the monster class, which is to say, the total LA of the final creature.

For example, take the myconid monster class I posted some time ago. The full progression includes 6 HD and 6 empty levels. Put another way, a full-power myconid sovereign has 6 HD and +6 LA. At any point, a myconid character may pay off its empty levels, reducing its ECL but losing no abilities, as if it were already a +6 LA creature.

Again, you may never reduce your LA below +0.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Epic Feats as Regular Feats

It was brought to my attention that most of the so-called "[Epic]" feats are not actually particularly epic at all. When I examined the list, I found several which later supplements had introduced as non-[Epic] feats, and several which are simply bad when compared to available non-[Epic] feats.

So I went through and picked out all the epic feats that a.) didn't have epic prerequisites outside of being [Epic] (eg, if it requires more than 23 ranks in a skill, it does no good to allow it as a non-epic feat) and b.) weren't too overpowered for lower-level play.

Some of them call for class features you won't be getting until the very high teens, but at least there's no more arbitrary "must be level 21+" restrictions.

You still need extraordinarily high ability scores for many of them, but that's possible, especially if you're a monster with LA or take a few of the "Great [Ability Score]" feats, which may be the most controversial [Epic] feats to allow.

So here are my new houserules for [Epic] feats:


You may take the following [Epic] feats as normal feats even if you are not an epic-level character, provided you meet all the other prerequisites:

Additional Magic Item Space
Blinding Speed
Bonus Domain
Bulwark of Defense
Chaotic Rage
Colossal Wild Shape
Combat Archery
Damage Reduction
Devastating Critical
Dexterous Fortitude
Dexterous Will
Diminutive Wild Shape
Dire Charge
Distant Shot
Energy Resistance
Enhance Spell
Epic Endurance
Epic Skill Focus
Epic Speed
Epic Spell Focus
Epic Spell Penetration
Exceptional Deflection
Extended Life Span
Familiar Spell
Fast Healing
Fine Wild Shape
Gargantuan Wild Shape
Great Charisma
Great Constitution
Great Dexterity
Great Intelligence
Great Smiting
Great Strength
Great Wisdom
Holy Strike
Improved Alignment-Based Casting
Improved Arrow of Death
Improved Aura of Courage
Improved Aura of Despair
Improved Combat Casting
Improved Combat Reflexes
Improved Darkvision
Improved Death Attack
Improved Elemental Wild Shape
Improved Favored Enemy
Improved Heighten Spell
Improved Ki Strike
Improved Low-Light Vision
Improved Manifestation
Improved Sneak Attack
Improved Spell Capacity
Improved Spell Resistance
Improved Stunning Fist
Improved Whirlwind Attack
Incite Rage
Infinite Deflection
Instant Reload
Keen Strike
Legendary Wrestler
Lingering Damage
Master Staff
Master Wand
Mighty Rage
Mobile Defense
Multiweapon Rend
Negative Energy Burst
Overwhelming Critical
Perfect Health
Perfect Multiweapon Fighting
Perfect Two-Weapon Fighting
Planar Turning
Positive Energy Aura
Reflect Arrows
Righteous Strike
Ruinous Rage
Shattering Strike
Sneak Attack of Opportunity
Spectral Strike
Spell Knowledge
Spellcasting Harrier
Storm of Throws
Superior Initiative
Swarm of Arrows
Tenacious Magic
Thundering Rage
Two-Weapon Rend
Uncanny Accuracy
Undead Mastery
Unholy Strike
Vorpal Strike
Widen Aura of Courage
Widen Aura of Despair
Zone of Animation

Additionally, you may take the following [Epic] feats, provided you meet the new prerequisites given here:

Feat - Prerequisite
Armor Skin - Improved Toughness, Con 21
Epic Fortitude - Great Fortitude
Epic Prowess - Greater Weapon Focus with any weapon, proficient with any Exotic weapon
Epic Reflexes - Lightning Reflexes
Epic Reputation - Negotiator, Persuasive, Cha 21
Epic Toughness - Improved Toughness
Epic Will - Iron Will

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rethinking Initiative

I recently read "Initiative: the Silent Killer" on Ars Ludi (no, I didn't get the idea for a D&D blog with a Latin name containing the word for "game" from Ars Ludi - I don't recall even hearing about it until after starting this blog).

The idea is that if you have the players all acting one at a time, they'll lapse into just waiting for their turn to come up, which means they'll stop paying attention to the game. Which, yes, does tend to happen.

So for the third episode of my Open Game Table, I instituted the suggested new rule: all the PCs go at once, and all the monsters go at once.

Whenever combat came up, I called for each character to roll initiative, confer amongst themselves, then tell me the highest roll. Meanwhile, behind the screen, I rolled initiative once for each of the monsters, and took their highest roll. Whichever group gets the highest initiative roll goes first.

Under normal rules, I would just roll once for each group of monsters, but if the PCs get to roll 6 times and take the best, and the monsters only get to roll once, the PCs will nearly always wind up going first.

Of course, this reduces the impact of things like the Unreactive flaw and the Improved Initiative feat. All you really need is one or two players with Improved Initiative, and everybody else can take Unreactive, and the PC party will still usually wind up going first. So an alternate method would be to have all the PCs roll, and announce the highest and lowest roll they made, which are then averaged together and compared to the highest and lowest roll of the monsters.

But if you're going to get that complicated, you could just average together all the rolls from each group and compare the averages. It all winds up unnecessary, and defeating part of what turns out to be the real reason to do it in the first place.

To wit: in practice, this method had negligible impact on how much the players were paying attention. (I think the players actually were paying attention slightly more than usual, but I think that was a combination of fewer people wandering in being distracting than usual and that I mentioned at the beginning of the session, as the justification for this experiment, wanting people to pay more attention, so they were simply more aware than usual that it bothers the DM when his players get distracted.)

Moreover, the "taking turns" mindset is so ingrained into players at this point that they still wound up effectively taking turns. Several of the most self-motivated players would take their actions, then I would figure out who hadn't yet gone and prompt them to go. This is not, however, bad - I was afraid it would be much more chaotic, but with this mindset still in place, it winds up being quite orderly.

The real benefit I noticed at the time is how much faster this method is at resolving initiative. Under normal circumstances, the DM needs to roll each group of NPCs, then take a number from each player, then sort all the numbers in order, then combat may commence. Unless the DM is really fast (I am not), he is the bottleneck on this procedure. I've played in games where one of the players is delegated to gathering all the initiative numbers and resolving an initiative order from them, which is slightly better, but still involves a bottleneck.

Under this system, the DM can roll all his NPCs and come up with one number while the players are all rolling and consulting amongst themselves, and once they come up with another number, they're compared against each other and instantly you know which team goes first.

I think in the event of a surprise round, I may forgo calling for initiative at all. I may even forgo the surprise round (where the ambushers get a half turn before real initiative begins) and say that the benefit of having a surprise round is simply that your group automatically wins initiative.

But perhaps the best part is that, under this system, none of the players has the opportunity to be a bottleneck on combat. Under a normal initiative scheme, there's always at least one player where you get to his turn and only then does he start thinking about what he's going to do, slowing down the pace of combat and making everybody else wait interminably. Under a normal initiative scheme, one must either tolerate this or resort to bringing in an egg timer and saying "you have thirty seconds to declare your actions or you forfeit your turn". Under this group initiative system, if you don't know what you're doing, that's okay, the rest of the party can go before you.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


I mentioned Seaforged some weeks ago, the warforged created by the engineers for mining at the bottom of the sea. They are just the same as regular warforged, but for these fairly straightforward differences:

Despite its (Living Construct) subtype, a seaforged does have darkvision 60 feet. They are used to mine deep under water where no light can penetrate.

Most seaforged do not contain wood, so they are not susceptible to spells such as repel wood. They do of ten contain materials such as coral (which counts as stone) and whalebone (which counts as bone), so they are susceptible to spells that affect living rock or bone such as boneblast.

Seaforged are designed for use in tunnels at the bottom of the sea, so they are too heavy to float effectively, and take a -4 penalty to all Swim checks.

+4 bonus to Craft, Appraise, and Profession checks related to mining. Seaforged are designed for this purpose.

Automatic Languages: Common, Dinlun. Bonus languages: Dwarven, Gnomish, Aquan.


But wait, there's more! Seaforged qualify for any warforged feats, as well as the following seaforged feats (warforged also qualify for these seaforged feats):

Pressure Shell [Racial]
You have been equipped with extra plating designed to better resist the pressures of the ocean’s depths and increase survival rates when mining there.
Prerequisite: Seaforged race, 1st level only or must be retrofitted by an engineer smith.
Benefit: You gain damage reduction 1/piercing or magic. If you already have damage reduction from some other source, that damage reduction increases by 1.
Moreover, you do not suffer any ill effects from the pressure of the deep sea. This feat may be taken in addition to any other warforged/seaforged armor feats.

Rustproof Coating [Racial]
You have been equipped with a special coating that makes your armor more resistant to rust.
Prerequisite: Seaforged race, 1st level only or must be retrofitted by an engineer smith
Benefit: You gain +2 to saving throws vs all spells with the water descriptor and all spells or effects which rust metal, such as rusting grasp or the touch of a rust monster.
Moreover, you suffer no rust-related ill effects from prolonged exposure to water or moisture.
This feat may be taken in addition to any other warforged/seaforged armor feats.

Swim Bladder [Racial]
You have been equipped with an air-filled sac which can be expanded or contracted at will.
Prerequisite: Seaforged race, 1st level only or must be retrofitted by an engineer smith.
Benefit: You don’t take the Seaforged -4 racial penalty to Swim checks. In addition, you can take a move action to completely expand or contract your float bladder in any environment. If your swim bladder is contracted, you sink to the bottom of normal water as if you had failed a swim check. If your swim bladder is expanded, you rise to the surface of normal water as if under the effect of a float spell.

Propeller [Racial]
You have been equipped with a propeller or set of propellers, which, combined with your swim bladder, allow you to move underwater as if you were naturally aquatic.
Prerequisite: Swim Bladder, Seaforged race, 1st level only or must be retrofitted by an engineer smith.
Benefit: You gain a swim speed equal to your move speed. In addition, you gain +4 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.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Open Gaming Table In Actual Practice

So I ran the first actual sessions of my Open Gaming Table some weeks ago. How did it go?

Well, most of the players didn't have dice, which was fine because I had my Pound Of Dice on me. Most of the players didn't have characters, which was fine because I had pre-gens on me.

I and one veteran of my last campaign explained a bit of the setting for the new characters. They picked characters. They complained that I hadn't provided a healer. The veteran brought a duskblade of his own. The other players picked Jen the fighter, "Happy" the bard, and Katyra the psion.

Then I slapped the maps and the bounties on the table. There was much WTF-ing at the mysterious substitution cipher bounty and the childish scrawl of Sir Bigglesworth asking adventurers to return mermaids for his pet elephant to eat.

They decided to head for the ruins in search of the tomb of Gus Dreadworm. On the way up the mountain, they encountered some friendly dogs. Exploring the ruins, they encountered some friendly little drakes.

The bard rolled Bardic Knowledge and recalled that there are two sections of the Disreputable City that might contain relevant information: the Temple District, at the center of the city, and the Tyrant's Ward, abutting the Temple District.

They decided to go to the Tyrant's Ward and search for the ancestral home of the Counts Rogan, descended from the Third Count Rogan, who adventured with Gus Dreadworm. I didn't have the palace/mansion designed, but I drew on my extensive recollection of building dozens or scores of castles, palaces, and mansions of all sorts in Blades of Avernum to design it on the fly. An exterior wall, a courtyard, an inner keep. Inside the door, two arrow slits leading to adjacent rooms. At the other end of the main hall, the throne room and two side doors. Inside the throne room, fancy chairs and a side door leading to what was once a bedroom.

Now, each area has a random creature table, set up by me in advance, with great care. Each encounter has a chance to be a monster wandering in from some adjacent (or, more rarely, not-so-adjacent) area. Justin Alexander plays this up as a major font of creativity - if you roll goblins in the kobold-controlled area, that Means Something. The goblins are obviously scouting kobold territory for invasion, or maybe they're a merchant party. What matters is that you take that seemingly peculiar thing and turn it into a perfectly sensible, coherent datum about the world.

So when I rolled a huge centipede from the cold iron mine in the bedroom of the ancestral palace of the Rogans (notably, past a door somewhat too small for it to easily fit through), that was an excuse to come up with a super-awesome, coherent explanation. And I completely flubbed it. I gibbered some pointless nonsense about a centipede getting in when it was young and then growing big on rats and exploring adventurers. That was an epic failure.

Anyway, huge centipedes have reach, so when the duskblade tried to get close enough to hit it, it bit him into unconsciousness. Then when the bard tried to get close enough to the duskblade to stabilize him, it bit him into unconsciousness, too. Then the fighter and the psion managed to kill the centipede. The duskblade managed to stabilize on his own, one round from death. The bard had no such luck, and died.

Then the players of the bard and the psion had to go, but a new player wandered in and picked up Laurence the druid.

So they went back to town, rested up a bit, and headed back to the ruins again. They poked around in the palace again, and discovered that there was, in fact, a gelatinous cube behind one of the arrow slits. They managed to kill it with hit and run tactics, though it paralyzed half the party. (I made sure to give Gregorius Domus the Resurgence spell, which allows a second chance at a saving throw against that sort of effect, in case that came up again.) Then they gathered up the buttload of copper coins the gelatinous cube dropped. Then they left.


The second session went both better and worse.

The duskblade was back, but all the other players were different. They picked Ko-Joou the monk, Katyra the psion again, and Gregorius Domus the healingest healer ever to heal a healed thing.

The healer's player saw the substitution cipher and decided it needed to be solved. He rolled well enough on his Decipher Script to figure out which way the paper should be oriented.

They asked around with Gather Information, and learned that a (relatively) high-level adventuring party entered the Caves of Burning and only one of them came out, badly burned. Then they overheard a couple of adventurers (estimated at level 3 or so) scoffing at the lack of challenge in the Cold Iron Mines. They asked the more experienced adventurers if they knew of any creatures in the mines other than centipedes, and were told that one of them had spotted some scorch marks on a wall, but that was about it.

So they headed to the mines. The psion tormented the poor commoner who let them into the mine. I have discovered that if you hand a player an evil character, they will play it as pettily evil as possible. That's not a complaint so much as it is an observation, though it makes me want even more to play a subtle, big-picture evil character in a campaign, just to demonstrate that it can be done.

They explored the mines for awhile and the "is there an encounter in this room?" die kept coming up "no", which was weird. Then I rolled a pair of domovois from the Cave of Burning. To set up the random table for the Cave of Burning, I had picked out pretty much all the fire creatures and demons of a certain level range. But domovois are apparently chaotic good, helpful creatures, dwarf-looking house elves who help with forges and mines. This one I didn't flub: these domovois weren't from the Cave of Burning at all, they'd been working with the miners. They got caught inside the mine when it got infested with centipedes, and hadn't been able to get out since.

The party "convinced" the domovois to help take down some centipedes, and took the lift down to the second level, where they finally encountered some Small centipedes.

The monk's character had to leave, so the monk ran off, then the others came upon another Huge centipede, and managed to kill it. Then they went home, because two of them had taken dexterity damage and it was late.


Some Things I've Learned So Far:

The mine is far too complex in terms of fiddly bits and 45-degree tunnels, it's a massive pain in the ass to copy it accurately from my computer screen to the battlemat. I did expect the mine to be the worst in this regard, and it should also be the first section the players actually "solve", so hopefully I won't need to deal with it forever. If I have to do it too much more, there'll start being cave-ins. Shoddy workmanship. Centipedes nibbling the bracing. You know how it is. Either way, I think I'm going to start just describing the connections between rooms, and draw only the rooms which turn out to contain combat encounters. A practice which I'll reuse for the irregular Stank Cave, and which is probably a good policy in general (if the players see you've drawn something on the map, they don't feel as much compulsion to listen if you describe it).

I need more landmarks. As things keep happening, landmarks will naturally start accumulating (a Huge centipede carapace in one area, the remains of a campfire in another, the body of an engineer in the palace, etc), but there need to be more to start with, at least to break up the monotony when there's a long string of no monsters.

I need to just ignore the "Is there an encounter in this room?" die if it says the same thing more than two or three times in a row.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Merfolk and Tritons

You may have noticed, in my post on mongrelfolk, that the Triton's Ally feat had the prerequisite "Seafolk Heritage (Triton) or Triton-Descended Mer". Conspicuously, Triton-Descended Mer was absent from that list, because it is not a mongrelfolk feat.

Here's the story: tritons and merfolk live in close proximity to one another, and frequently interbreed. But there is no template or race for half-merfolk triton or half-triton merfolk. Instead, they are, mysteriously, so similar that the offspring of a triton and a merfolk is either a triton or a merfolk. These offspring then have the option to take the Mer-Descended Triton or Triton-Descended Mer feats, as appropriate.

Mer-Descended Triton [Racial]
There is more Merfolk blood in your lineage than that of most Tritons.
Prerequisites: Triton race, first level only
Effect: Your type becomes Humanoid and you lose the Native subtype. Your Outsider hit dice become Humanoid hit dice.
You lose your Darkvision but retain Low-Light Vision. Your Base Attack Bonus from racial HD drops from +3 to +2. Your base Reflex save from racial HD remains +3, but your base Fortitude and Will saves drop to +1. Your skill points from racial HD drops from 8+int per level to 2+int per level.
Additionally, your Level Adjustment drops from +2 to +1.

Triton-Descended Mer [Racial]
There is more Triton blood in your lineage than that of most Merfolk.
Prerequisite: Merfolk race
Benefit: Your type becomes Outsider and you gain the Native subtype.
You gain Darkvision 60 feet.

The sea races have also occasionally interbred with various surface races races, to various effects, including the following feats:

Part of That World [Racial]
Increased interactions and interbreeding with other races (particularly yuan-ti and the rare selkies) have given some merfolk the innate ability to, with practice, work minor transformations on themselves.
Prerequisite: Merfolk race
Benefit: An innate talent for magic grants you the following spell-like ability at a caster level equal to your hit dice: 1/day - alter self.
Special: You may select this feat multiple times. Each time you do, you may use the spell-like ability one additional time per day.

Land Legs [Racial]
Some seafolk, after spending a great deal of time on land, develop the strength and ability to stand and move better, allowing them to move faster on land.
Prerequisite: Dex 17, Dash, Aquatic or Water subtype.
Benefit: If you are wearing light armor or no armor and are carrying a light load, your land speed is an additional 5 feet faster (for a total of +10 with Dash). Land Legs has no effect on swim, fly, or burrow speed.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Pre-Generated Characters, Part 2

Let's consider the basic process of making a new pre-gen from scratch.

I noticed in the last party that nobody had much charisma at all. I would like to now tally up the stats of all the pre-gens I've provided to determine whether I'm favouring some stats over others. If I am, I should add a new character with stats arranged deliberately to shift the averages slightly.

It turns out that the original roster of pre-gens averaged out to:
STR: 11.7
DEX: 13
CON: 12.7
INT: 13
WIS: 11.5
CHA: 10.9

The current roster:
STR: 11.8
DEX: 12.9
CON: 12.8
INT: 13.1
WIS: 11.2
CHA: 11

I seem to have a bias in favour of intelligence, dexterity, and constitution and against charisma, wisdom, and strength. What uses charisma, wisdom, and strength but not intelligence, dexterity, or constitution? Because there's already a paladin, it would seem to be cleric time.

What LA+0 races have a positive charisma, wisdom, and strength and a non-positive intelligence, dexterity, and constitution? Nothing in particular, let's just go with human.

So let's arrange the stats in reverse order of how much I seem to like them: int < dex < con < str < wis < cha. Since this is 30 point buy, let's arrange them in an 8/10/12/14/15/16 pattern. So what kind of cleric do we want? Well, what's the array of alignments in the current lineup?
LG: 2
NG: 1
CG: 1
LN: 2
N: 1
CN: 2
LE: 3
NE: 1
CE: 0
There are never to be any chaotic evil characters in the party, that's the worst alignment. The last party wound up picking most of the evil characters, so I think I'd like to shift away from adding any more evil options, so NE is out. One of the PCs one player made was neutral, so we should pick between NG and CG.

What NG and CG deities do we have to choose from? Kord, Pelor, Valkur, Corellon Larethian, Deep Sashelas, or Garl Glittergold. Half of those are elf or engineer gods, so let's pick between Kord, Pelor, and Valkur. The cleric in my last campaign was a cleric of Kord, the standard cleric that you think of when you think of a cleric is a cleric of Pelor, and clerics of Valkur were and are semi-prominent NPCs in this world, so the "Have I done this before?" metric is a wash. Let's go with Pelor, but aim for concentrating on radiance and sunniness rather than healing (after all, we've already got the healingest healer ever to heal a healed thing). So let's go with the Sun and Glory domains.

Consult the list of Traits! What jumps out at me? Passionate, certainly. Nothing else particularly fits this sun/glory cleric, so let's select Passionate. What flaws do we want? I'm overusing Shaky and Noncombatant, so let's leave those out. Slow, Frail, and Vulnerable are too overwhelming handicaps. This character seems reasonably willpowerful and fortitudinous, so let's do Poor Reflexes and Pathetic. But what stat shall he be pathetic at? Int, Dex, or Con? Well, 8 Int is all well and good, but 6 would probably be just too dumb; it might seem like I'm parodying ultra-religious types (Who certainly deserve to be parodied, but I'm kind of trying to steer away from that kind of controversy in my games). 8 Dex or 10 Con? Let's bump the Con down to make for a less unbalanced array.

I'm trying to give these pre-gens a wide array of Knowledge skills, because those get rolled a lot in my campaigns. So one rank each in the four Knowledge skills that are cleric class skills (arcana, history, religion, and the planes). And then one each in Heal, Diplomacy, Concentration, and Spellcraft. This character has too few skill points to specialize.

Clerics are proficient in heavy armor. The heaviest armors are too expensive (not that I took that into account for Jen Varakas), so let's go for Masterwork Half-plate. This character doesn't have a dexterity modifier anyway. Let's give him Pelor's favoured weapon: the mace. I'm tempted to make it a Large mace (wielded two-handed), but I've been overusing Monkey Grip with these characters, so let's just make it a normal mace and give him a shield.

Let's glance through Book of Exalted Deeds, that may have some un-terrible radiance-related feats. Eh, not really, not unless we want to do some Vows, but we already have Bob Har-Johnson with his Vow of Chastity. Aha, Complete Divine has stuff. Since this is the only cleric, and thus the only domain caster, let's concentrate on his domains. And since this is the Sun/Glory cleric, let's also concentrate on his turning.

Oo, Disciple of the Sun allows you to spend two turn attempts to destroy instead of turn. (A little redundant with the Sun domain, which allows you to do that 1/day for free.) And this character is definitely a disciple of the sun! So that's one. Let's also add Extra Turning, so he can more easily afford to spend attempts doing that.

I'm also tempted to go with Domain Spontaneity, allowing you to spend turn/rebuke attempts to convert a prepared spell into a domain spell. But that's not really as useful, especially because the Sun domain isn't that useful and the Glory domain pretty much consists of spells that do the same thing turn undead does (ie, take down undead). So let's not bother.

What else might have sun-related spells? Oh hey, Sandstorm, the desert book. Huh, access to the Fire or Sun domain allows Light of Aurifar, which deals 2d6 damage to any undead you turn. Overlaps with Disciple of the Sun, perhaps. May add an element of decision: "Are these undead weak enough that I could kill it with 2d6 damage, or should I spend an extra turn attempt to kill it outright?" Yes, let's go for it, regardless of the reference in the feat's name to a god that isn't Pelor.

So this character is pretty much awesome at killing undead and not necessarily particularly awesome at anything else. That's fine. To play this up to the max, let's go with Bane Magic (Undead), which adds an automatic 2d6 extra damage to spells when used against undead creatures.

Before we open up spellforge and pick spells, this character needs a name. Let's look at the wiktionary page for "radiant". Unfortunately, the only translation provided is Finnish, so let's look for other words. Sun, that's got lots of translations to pick from. Aurinko, Eguzki, Mo'sojko, Seqineq, Saule, Xyp, Kham, Jua. Let's call this character, then, Saul Aurinko.

Now, spells! Let's pick out all the sunniest and undead-killingest spells, with the caveat that they should actually be a little useful. So, Light, Virtue, Purify Food and Drink, Detect Undead, and Ray of Hope, with Disrupt Undead for the domain spell. (Yes, 1d6 damage to one undead is crap compared to the massive horrors Saul can inflict with his turning, but what if he uses up all his 10 daily turn attempts? It's more useful than Endure Elements. Unless they choose to go to the Cave of Burning, in which case the player can switch it in advance.)

And... we're done! With the side benefit that now the players can potentially a.) deal effectively with undead (a massive gap in their capabilities) and b.) heal without having to resort to the healingest healer ever to heal a healed thing.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Alignment: Restriction Or Guideline?

Many people pooh-pooh the D&D alignment system as too restrictive, but I think that partially results from a misreading.

It's not that a monk must be Lawful, it's that a non-Lawful character wouldn't become a monk. It's not that a paladin must be Lawful Good, it's that only a Lawful Good character would become a paladin. It's not that a cleric must be within one step of their deity, it's that a person wouldn't devote their life to serving a deity with whom they substantially disagree. It only entails restrictions if you're looking at it from a game perspective rather than a character perspective.

That said, the "alignment is too restrictive" argument can be sound in rare cases. Especially if you read alignment as motivation-based rather than action-based, as Immanuel Kant and I do. A Lawful Neutral contractarian will wind up behaving in exactly the same way as a Chaotic Good utilitarian 9 times out of 10; the difference is in why they act the way they do: contractarianism is born of self-interest, while utilitarianism is supposedly born of legit altruism.

If I say "I'm a good person because I want everyone else to be good to me", that's selfish and clearly not Good. If I say "I'm a good person for the sake of being a good person", that's Good. The behaviour is the same, it's the mindset that's different.

On the other hand, in traditional D&D cosmology, the best reason to behave in accordance with a given alignment is that you want to go to your favourite afterlife. I wouldn't necessarily want to wind up in Mechanus, as it may be somewhat too rigidly structured for me. I'd probably be okay with most of the Good planes. So I would pick whichever afterlife I thought best (probably taking into account its neighbors; for example, Ysgard isn't terrible, but it borders on Limbo, which is, so I wouldn't aim for Ysgard, because if I miss Chaotic-Chaotic-Good and hit Chaotic, I wind up in Limbo, which is bad).

But that gets into the John Constantine problem: if you do good to get into a good afterlife, and alignment is motivation-based rather than action-based, you go to a bad afterlife because you're selfishly motivated, no matter how well-behaved you are. So that's an argument in favour of treating alignment as action-based rather than motivation-based.

All of that said, if you consider alignment too restrictive, or you treat it as motivation-based rather than behaviour-based, I made a feat for you. Along the lines of Monastic Training and Knight Training, which allow you to multiclass with Monk and Paladin without penalty, here is Versatile Alignment:

Versatile Alignment [General]
You’ve picked up enough habits outside your alignment that you are able and willing to behave in ways that conflict with your true alignment, and can take levels in classes you otherwise wouldn’t due to your alignment.
Prerequisite: +5 Base Attack Bonus
Benefit: Choose one class or prestige class. You may take levels in that class even if your alignment is one step different on one axis than the requirement.
For example: You may take levels in the barbarian, bard, or druid class with this feat if you have any alignment.
You may take levels in the monk class with this feat as long as you are not chaotic.
You may take levels in the cleric class if you are one additional step from your god. For example, a cleric of a lawful good god may now be chaotic good, neutral, or lawful evil, in addition to lawful, good, or lawful good. When doing a god’s work, you must still adhere in practice to that god’s alignment or risk losing your cleric powers.
You may take levels in the paladin class if you are good or lawful, but you must still adhere in practice to the paladin's code of conduct or lose your paladin powers.
If you take this feat after losing your class powers due to a change in your alignment, you must still undergo atonement before you can regain your powers.
Special: You may take this feat more than once. Each time you do, it applies to a different class.


An additional, even more optional option. For those campaigns which ignore experience penalties for multiclassing (or which, like mine, allow one extra free class before experience penalties start accruing), the Racial Favored Class winds up doing absolutely nothing. Every race has one, but it doesn't do anything. So consider this:

Every character gains the benefit of this feat applied to their racial favored class. For races whose favored class is "any", choose which class to apply this feat to at character creation. After that, it may never be changed.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pre-Generated Characters, Part 1

I must confess, I've never actually played in a one-shot adventure. The idea of not playing a continuing campaign just doesn't appeal to me. So I have no idea how other people construct their pre-gen characters, and I had to work entirely from my own brain.

(Ironically, I've also never played in an ongoing campaign that actually concluded in anything like a satisfactory manner - all but one have just fallen apart and stopped happening after 1d6 sessions. The one brought Ludgeblatt Curdlegut from level 3 to level 8 before fizzling out unsatisfactorily.)

I decided on a few ground rules: each pre-gen character would, of course, obey all the same rules as any other PC. Each one would have a trait and two flaws. Each one would be conceptually weird. They should be playable, but not optimized, ideally choosing races with a -2 (or at most a +0) to their class's primary stat.


Let's meet the cast of characters:

Ruddo "Happy" Nackle of Garzak, the male CG engineer bard. Feats to make him extra-bardish: Dash, Extra Music, Obscure Lore, Easygoing, Inattentive, Noncombatant. Spells known: Ghost Sound, Mage Hand, Message, Prestidigitation. This character unfortunately died in the first session.

Ko-Joou, the LG female human monk. Super-monkish: Combat Reflexes, Dodge, Mobility, Improved Initiative, Polite. Shaky, because ranged weapons are too unlike punching. Weak Will, perhaps to make this monk a little more easily duped than one's common perception of a monk.

"Kib" Kibstellischa, the LE female mind flayer, using the Savage Species monster class progression. This was one of two pre-gens for whom I actually wrote any background: "Kib was a perfectly normal mind flayer youth, until one day her Elder Brain instructed her to travel to te nation of Gus and become an adventurer there, for reasons entirely beyond her comprehension. Once there, she was given a special dispensation by the High Priest of Quasxthe, and carries papers signed by King Terek II instructing his people to leave her be." I didn't really have a definite concept for this character, so she kind of has a little of everything - Dash, Master of Knowledge, Mind over Body, Nightsighted, Inattentive, Poor Reflexes, a longspear.

Katyra the Mind, the female LE half-elf telepath psion. Powers: Psionic Charm, Mind Thrust, and Missive. I gave her the Psionic Talent feat three times, so she's got a vast pool of power points.

Laurence Tepp-Stewart, the male N mongrelfolk druid. Mongrelfolk, as you'll recall, can now take any heritage feats they otherwise qualify for, without regard to class. This one is descended from a green dragon, and has Draconic Heritage, Skin, and Wings. He also has a crocodile Animal Companion named Reskfarb. The player didn't like my spell selection, and completely switched them out, which is entirely fine.

Bob Har-Johnson, the male LG mongrelfolk paladin. I mentioned this, one of the players asked "I didn't think mongrelfolk could be paladins." It was pointed out that anything can be anything. The only really interesting thing about this character is the Vow of Chastity. I'm trying to go for some feats and flaws that, while not exactly bad, nobody in their right mind would actually take.

Gobbo, the male NE mongrelfolk favored soul of Maglubiyet, god of goblins. This is a kind of barbarian cleric, with Inflict spells and Blade of Blood and the Illiterate trait.

Zyess the Ultra-Violent, the male CN elf barbarian. Power attack, Cleave, Monkey Grip, Large greataxe, Reckless, Shaky, Weak Will.

Jen Varakas, the NG female human fighter. This was the other character I wrote a bit of background for: "Niece of Bob Varakas, mayor of Shell." Yes, you may recall a Bob Varakas from the first session of my first campaign. One of my players certainly did. Jen is a tank, with Heavy Plate Armor, a Heavy Steel Shield, Improved Shield Bash, and Shield Specialization. She's also got Exotic Weapon Proficiency (Bastard Sword), Weapon Focus (Bastard Sword), and Monkey Grip, so she's got a Large Bastard Sword that does a hefty 2d8+3 per hit. Of course, she also has 8 wisdom, Passionate (+1 Fort, -1 Will), and Weak Will (-3 Will), so her Will save was -5 to start with. One of the first creatures they faced was an allip, from which the party failed to run. Her Wisdom is currently permanently drained to a total of 2 until somebody with the capacity to cast Restoration can be found.

Boltnuts the CN warforged rogue. Two-weapon Fighting (he uses a rapier and a short sword), Mithral Body, Dishonest, Weak Will, Meager Fortitude.

Marcus Crudus, LN male human warmage.

Thoradd "Blue" Calladagan of Garzak, LE engineer Blue Dragon Shaman. This character was created to replace "Happy", who died in the first session.

Wervan "Chickens" Yurgar of the Surface Holdings, CG male engineer sorcerer. This was mostly an experiment in the Chicken Infested flaw, which I have decided to allow. Chicken Infested was originally a joke feat from an April Fool's edition of Dragon Magazine, where every time you try to draw a weapon or pull an item out of a container, you have a 50% chance of drawing a live chicken instead. This is popularly held to lead to ridiculous abuse, but that's a misreading of the rules: it's a free action to draw a spell component, and it's a free action (with Quick Draw) to draw a weapon. A chicken is neither a spell component nor a weapon, so it's always a move action to draw one. Anyway, "Chickens" is, of course, Chicken Infested. And his familiar is Rembrandt von Cluckington, a chicken (use a raven, but change its fly speed to Glide 20). He is constantly surrounded with chickens. He mostly fights by chucking Alchemist's Fire, which may well make him legitimately unplayable - he has a 50% chance of being unable to deal damage. If I ever need to play a DMPC in this game, this will probably be who I'll go with. I wouldn't inflict him on anyone else.

Dr. Gregorius Domus, the LN human archivist. My players complained that I had neglected (entirely innocently, really) to include a healer in the pregens, so I inflicted upon them the healingest healer ever to heal a healed thing. He has a quarterstaff, all the spells in his prayer book are healing spells of some description. Recall that archivists cast with intelligence, so that's his highest stat; charisma and dexterity are his lowest. He is 49, and thus gets the middle age bonuses and penalties. He is 6'2", with blue eyes and brown hair. He has Iron Will, Skill Focus (Heal), Augment Healing, Master of Knowledge, Abrasive, Poor Reflexes, Slow, and a great many scrolls and potions of healing. If you haven't gotten the reference yet, consult this handy link.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Engineer Race

When the Inundation began to flood the caverns of the Underdark and all the races of stone were doomed, the dwarves and gnomes hatched a desperate plan. Combining the metalworking skill of the dwarves with the gnomes’ talents with complex machinery, the two races collaborated to build a fleet of metal submarines before the waters engulfed the world.

Ever since then, the two races have lived in these claustrophobic submarine vessels, as well as a handful of dank cavern cities inside undersea mountains, building and breeding until the two races merged into one. Occasionally there are throwbacks to one race or the other, but for the most part the race has settled into a stable form.

When the Subsidence came, the engineers found some of their claimed territory was now above the waves. Unlike the purely aquatic races, the engineers immediately claimed this land, calling it the Surface Holdings.

Personality: Engineers love to tinker and build above all else. This is important, because only their machines separate them from drowning or starvation.

Physical Description: Because bulk is a detriment in the narrow corridors and claustrophobic spaces of their submarines, engineers look more like gnomes than like dwarves, standing about 3 to 3-1/2 feet tall and weighing 40 to 45 pounds. Centuries of the murky depths of the ocean have paled the skin of the engineers, so their darkest skin tone is about the same as an average human. Their hair can be any shade from fair to black, and their eyes tend towards dark blue. They reach adulthood at the age of 40, and live to an average lifespan of 350, although some can live as long as 500 years. Males are slightly larger than females, and tend to prefer carefully-trimmed yet elaborately styled beards. Female engineers do not have facial hair.

Relations: Engineers tend to keep to themselves. They occasionally trade with humans and elves on the surface and with merfolk, tritons, and locathah in the sea, but they tend to avoid sahuagin and kuo-toa, who in turn are generally content to let the heavily-armored engineer submarines go unmolested.
The engineers have been officially in a state of war against Gus ever since an incident in the Chaotic Plane of Air 20 years ago.
The engineers tend to look on seaforged as property, which has occasionally caused resentment and rebellion among the less well-programmed seaforged, but society is usually stable between the two groups.

Alignment: Engineers tend towards lawful neutral. The small spaces of the submarines require strict adherence to law and social mores, and the dangerous waters of the murky deep leave little room for moral considerations.

Religion: Engineers ostensibly worship both Moradin and Garl Glittergold, as well as the lesser dwarf and gnome deities, but as both of these deities dwell in the distant elemental plane of Earth, their powers are feeble in the mortal realm. As such, most engineers are largely non-religious. Those few Engineer clerics who exist worship the concept of machines as often as they worship any god, and often take the Mechanus domain.

Language: The engineer language is a creole language combining dwarven, gnomish, and common. The word in this language that refers to both the engineers as a race and to the language itself is “dinlun”.

Names: Engineers have the gnomish predilection for multiple names, but these names are often traditional, passed down and reused through the generations. Often, two or more names will be combined, honoring two or more relatives, and of course combining gnomish and dwarven syllables in the manner of the dinlun language. An engineer’s clan name is usually either a traditional dwarf or gnome clan name. Nicknames are unique to each individual, and often prosaically descriptive. Each engineer will also identify himself with the submarine or city he is currently or was most recently affiliated with, which can change – there is extensive swapping and breeding between submarine crews, to stave off inbreeding.

Example Male Names: Boddyndd, Barenock, Broble, Dimttor, Ekin, Einble, Fonsark, Gimkil, Glim, Gerkar, Jeberik, Ruddo, Osbo, Narnlinn, Roondek, Seebon, Takfoodle, Tordar, Traubo, Ulfberk, Veit, Zook.

Example Female Names: Arnottin, Audmip, Blimpgga, Caral, Dagmil, Diewick, Duvarasa, Ellyde, Ellyin, Gunnjobell, Hlmottin, Ilnab, Liftwyn, Looploda, Mardsa, Roynal, Sannmil, Shahild, Tor, Waytin.

Example Clan Names: Balderk, Beren, Dankil, Daergel, Folkor, Garrick, Gorunn, Holderhek, Lodert, Lutgehr, Murnig, Nackle, Ningel, Raulnor, Rumnaheim, Scheppen, Strakeln, Torunn, Turen, Ungart.

Example Nicknames: Alespiller, Chickens, Deftfinger, Doc, Greataxe, Happy, Limper, Patchbeard, Purplethumb, Sleepy, Turtle, Yeller.

Example Ship Names: Alseg, Anpin, Arlydd, Baloaen, Baridin, Delgaer, Dolgal, Duerlond, Dwolun, Fallias, Glanydd, Gloriarum, Kilfaer, Marwed, Moribar, Nalarn, Norawynn, Ovuran, Thoraim, Thrawann, Werabere, Whureaus.
Politics: Engineer society runs like a well-oiled machine. Each engineer submarine and settlement answers to the rulership in Garzak, a council of learned elders.

Garzak: In the deep of the ocean’s floor, there is rumoured to be an engineer city built inside a submerged mountain, known as the First Anvil. A sophisticated ventilation system, possibly involving an actual portal to the Plane of Air, keeps all the inhabitants breathing. There are great dry docks where submarines are built and refit, and massive forges where the ore gathered by the submarines is refined and processed. Few other than engineers have ever visited.
Surface Holdings: The engineers have largely exploited their surface empire by setting up massive, polluting factories that are unfeasible in the tight confines of their submarines and undersea cities, where clean air is a precious resource. The continent is managed in Garzak’s name by Ulfdek “Silver” Valmikk.


To come up with racial traits for the engineers, I chopped most of the numbers for each race in half, then added them together.

Ability score adjustments can't be anything other than multiples of 2. Gnomes and Dwarves both have +2 Con, so that's a gimme. Dwarves have -2 Charisma, gnomes have -2 Strength. Rather than choosing between the two, let's give engineers both, and make up for it with a +2 Int to represent the cleverness that engineer society values.

Dwarves, though Medium, are on the Small end of Medium, so crossing them with a Small race will result in a Small race:

Gnomes and dwarves are both humanoid, so that's easy. The rules on what subtypes a half-creature inherits are ill-defined. It seems half-elves have the (Elf) subtype and half-orcs have the (Orc) subtype, but the only subtype the mongrelfolk have is (Human), when by rights they should have all of them. Because the existing rules make no sense or are nonexistent, let's sweep them aside and say that engineers have the (Gnome) and (Dwarf) subtypes.

Gnomes and dwarves both have a land speed of 20. Easy.

Dwarves have darkvision 60, gnomes have low-light vision. Low-light vision is better than darkvision 0 (which would be no darkvision at all). It's probably not technically as good as darkvision 10, but let's use that for lack of better alternatives. (60+10)/2=35. That should at least be a multiple of 10; a multiple of 20 would be better. In D&D, you Always Round Down, but 30 is half of 60, which would be what you get when you breed a darkvision 60 race with a darkvision 0 race, and we already determined the gnomes have better than darkvision 0. So let's round up to 40.

Engineers can have all the weapon familiarities either of their parent races have, because those proficiencies are cultural rather than genetic, and we can assume the two races kept up the use of their racial weapons even as they merged.

Dwarves get stability +4, gnomes get nothing of the sort. Because this is not a very powerful ability, there are a couple +1 bonuses that just drop out of the combined race entirely, and engineers spend their lives on rolling submarines, I judged that engineers should get stability +3.

Dwarves get +2 on saves against poison, spells, and spell-like effects. Gnomes get +2 on saves against illusions. But anything pertaining to illusions is largely cultural, and I don't figure the engineers stuck with that particular cultural trait. So chop the dwarf saves in half and give them to the engineers.

Dwarves and gnomes get various bonuses against kobolds, goblinoids, orcs, and giants. But these are cultural techniques, which the engineers would have no reason to continue teaching, because kobolds, goblinoids, orcs, and giants are all virtually extinct.

Gnomes get a +2 bonus to listen checks, which I dropped because I didn't want to clutter up the engineer with too many +1s.

Gnomes get a bonus to alchemy due to their sensitive noses. Dwarves get a culture-related bonus to appraise and craft dealing with metal or stone. Engineers rarely deal with stone; their schtick is complex machinery. So let's call this a flat +2 to craft and appraise dealing with complex machinery, fine metalwork, and alchemy.

Gnomes can speak with burrowing mammals. Even if they retain this ability genetically, how would they know? Most of them are never going to meet a burrowing mammal in their life. So let's drop that out.

Engineers can, of course, speak their native tongue, Dinlun, a creole of dwarvish and gnomish. They can also speak Common, because everybody can speak Common. They might also learn dwarvish and gnomish, though they don't by default. Aquan is a bonus language for everybody now, it is to the sea races what Common is to the surface races and Undercommon is to the Underdark races. The engineers are unlikely to learn dead languages like orcish and giant, so in addition to Aquan, let's give the engineers as bonus languages everything their parent races have that isn't a dead language.

The engineer's schtick is steampunkery, and the most steampunky class is the Artificer, so that's their Favored Class.

And, of course, level adjustment remains the same.

So, the final product:

Engineer Racial Traits
+2 Constitution, +2 Intelligence, -2 Strength, -2 Charisma: Engineers have the small size and attendant weakness of gnomes and the gruffness of dwarves, but they are tough like both races, and tend to be cleverer than either.

Small: As a Small creature, an engineer gains a +1 size bonus to Armor Class, a +1 size bonus on attack rolls, and a +4 size bonus on Hide checks, but he uses smaller weapons than humans use, and his lifting and carrying limits are three-quarters those of a Medium character.

Type: Humanoid. Engineers have the Dwarf and Gnome subtypes, and as such qualify for any feats, classes, and other options that dwarves or gnomes qualify for.

Engineer base land speed is 20 feet.

Darkvision: Engineers can see in the dark up to 40 feet. Darkvision is black and white only, but it is otherwise like normal sight and engineers can function just fine with no light at all.

Weapon Familiarity: Engineers may treat dwarven waraxes, dwarven urgroshes, and gnome hooked hammers as martial weapons, rather than exotic weapons.

Stability: Engineers are exceptionally stable on their feet. An engineer gains a +3 bonus on ability checks made to resist being bull rushed or tripped when standing on the ground (but not when climbing, flying, riding, or otherwise not standing firmly on the ground).

+1 racial bonus on saving throws against spells, spell-like effects, and poison. Engineers are hardy and resistant to toxins, and have an innate resistance to magic spells.

+2 racial bonus on Use Magic Device checks. Engineers are familiar with magical items of all kinds.

+2 racial bonus to Craft and Appraise checks pertaining to complex machinery, fine metalwork, or alchemy. Engineers are especially capable in these areas.

Automatic Languages: Common and Dinlun. Bonus languages: dwarven, gnome, aquan, terran, undercommon, draconic, elven. Engineers learn the languages of their ancestors and their allies and enemies under the sea and on the surface.

Favored Class: Artificer (from the Eberron Campaign Setting). A multiclass engineer’s artificer class does not count when determining whether he takes an experience point penalty for multiclassing.

Level Adjustment +0.


In addition to dwarf-only and gnome-only feats, engineers also qualify for two engineer-only feats:

Enginesoul [Racial]
You have spent so much time in the engine rooms of submarines that repairing them is second nature to you.
Prerequisite: Engineer race
Benefit: An innate talent for magic grants you the following spell-like abilities as a 1st-level caster: 1/day – mending, repair minor damage, repair light damage.
Special: You may select this feat multiple times. Each time you do, you may use each spell-like ability one additional time per day.

Grounded [Racial]
Due to their dwarf heritage, engineers have a natural resistance to spells and spell-like abilities, as indicated by their racial bonus to saves. Occasionally, some fluke of engineer genetics causes this magic resistance to be more powerful than usual.
Prerequisite: Engineer race, base Fortitude save +5
Benefit: You gain spell resistance equal to 5 + your total hit dice.
If you already have spell resistance from some other source, your existing spell resistance increases by +2.


I'm sure some of you are saying right now, "But Ludus Carcerum, don't all the objections you made to the standard mongrelfolk also apply to the engineers? Not particularly powerful, not particularly interesting?" Well... yes, I suppose so. They do get the nice (and rare at LA+0) +2 to Intelligence, and they do qualify for anything a gnome or dwarf qualifies for, and they do have steampunk built into their race in a way that gnomes and dwarves do not (with the possible exception of tinker gnomes). They also make good wizards, for the obvious +2 Int reasons, as well as the +2 Con and +1 AC that will make them marginally less squishy than your standard wizard (even better than gray elves, who pair a +2 Int and +2 Dex with a -2 Con), but "they make good wizards" shouldn't be considered a positive trait - wizards don't need any more power.

But the steampunk bit is probably best. If you want to play a steampunk character, you should play an engineer, hands down. Maybe we should consider also allowing them to qualify for the Graft Flesh (Maug) feat or something like it, just to play that up even more.