Friday, July 20, 2012

Gelatinous Cube Mini

The gelatinous cube in its natural
environment: graph paper.
So, inspired by this guy, I decided to make a gelatinous cube mini of my own out of hot glue.

I did as he suggests, making a 2" square hole and flooding it with hot glue. It didn't work the way I expected. For one thing, I made the square out of cardboard, covered with wax paper. Fun fact: hot glue sticks to wax paper. Who'd have thought? For another thing, it didn't just run the way he describes; perhaps I was using an insufficiently hot glue gun. It turned out much stringier and lumpier than expected.

The gelatinous cube digests its prey.
So then I just ran with it, and went nuts applying stringly greebles and nurnies. It's hard to see in these images, but it doesn't look like a classic gelatinous cube is supposed to look. But it's a 2" ooze cube, it's slightly translucent, and it's more visually interesting than it's supposed to be, and that's what really matters. Gelatinous cubes in my world will just be greebly, that's all.

I've considered giving up on translucency, painting the interior of the cube green or blue or greenish-blue, and maybe putting it on an actual base (once I acquire some Large bases). But I don't know if I have enough hot glue left to make a second one if I mess this one up too badly.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Vampires, Holy Symbols, & Execution

So, as I was watching Interview with the Vampire on Netflix and marvelling at how almost every trope of modern vampire fiction was done first by Anne Rice, something occurred to me when Louis mentioned not being afraid of holy symbols.

Imagine an Earth-like setting (obviously not D&D) where vampires don't care about holy symbols. Star of David, Star and Crescent, Flying Spaghetti Monster, they don't care. Religion has no power over them.

Except the primary Christian holy symbol. Why? Obviously not because Christianity is right about anything. The ichthys has no effect on vampires. No, vampires are bothered by crucifixes because they represent an instrument of execution and torture. The cross reminds the vampire of the death he doles out to everyone else, but can no longer hope for himself. Or something. (It's mythology, it doesn't have to make sense. At least, it doesn't have to make any more sense than the shaky justifications for arithmomania, inability to cross running water, lack of reflection, or distaste for garlic.)

Vampires have exactly the same reaction to nooses, guillotines, electric chairs, and so on. It's not symbols of religion that they care about, it's symbols of execution.

But part of that idea might just be how much I enjoy pointing out how morbid the use of the crucifix as a symbol is. Introducing a religion whose holy symbol is a noose would probably work just as well. In related news, I just had a brilliant idea about a new religion...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Adventures In Rebasing 3: Doing It Right This Time

So, as I was getting into mini painting, I did splurge on ordering some actual black plastic circles and plastic-specific glue. So various minis that had broken off of their Lasertron tokens got much better bases. It was definitely worth the expense.

I wound up going with the Litko Game Accessories BaseMaker, buying 50 circular black acrylic 25mm diameter x 3mm tall circles. These are almost precisly the same, albeit less hollow and less bendy, as WotC mini bases. Perfect.

When I got them, they were all glossy and shiny and excellent and I oohed and aahed over them for a little while.

While I was at it, I got some Craftics #33 Acrylic Cement, which doesn't seem to glue the plastic together so much as melt it together. (I may mean that almost entirely metaphorically.)

You see the boxes of text on the front of that tube? That's all warnings. The entire back of the tube is taken up with warnings, too. Don't breathe the fumes, only use it outdoors or in a well-ventilated area, don't set it on fire, don't touch it, don't eat it, causes cancer, decomposes to poison when heated, et cetera. Sticks really well, so I recommend it, if you don't mind dying of it poisoning you in half a dozen ways at once.

I thought superglue was magic, but then minis started falling off their bases. With the plastic bases and the acrylic cement, they're not falling off anymore. Plus, they just feel much more like the correct weight now.

There was this one guy whose stance was way too wide to fit on a Medium base, and who was way too small to plausibly be Large (and anyway I still don't have any Large bases; that'll be my next Litko purchase.) He's pretty bendy, but also pretty elastic; his legs wouldn't stay together long enough to glue them. So I took an X-Acto Knife, sliced a little wedge out of each of his hips, glued his legs back on, glued him to a base, and now he's a good little mini. Should make a good warforged. (Also his eyes weren't painted, so I did them green, the same color as the little crystal of phlebotinum he's holding.)

All in all: I'd say doing it right is worth the expense.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Extra Spell

Extra Spell. The feat that launched a thousand arguments, once upon a time. To wit: does it allow access to spells that aren't on your class list? Or does it allow access only to spells that you would normally be able to access anyway?

The arguments were (mostly) settled when the official WotC FAQ chimed in:

Can the warmage (Complete Arcane) benefit from the Extra Spell feat?

No. Extra Spell lets you add one spell to your list of spells known, but the spell must be taken from your class spell list. Since the warmage already knows all the spells on his class spell list, this feat has no effect.

But not everybody treats the FAQ as gospel, and rightly so (often, they provide insane and self-contradictory interpretations of the rules).

Prima facie, the line in the feat about "Extra Spell is generally used to learn a specific spell that the character lacks access to and would be unable to research" seems reasonably clear-cut: it allows you to mine other class lists, because if a spell is on another class's list and not yours, you lack access to it. If so, then the FAQ is flatly contradicting the text of the feat, so the FAQ is wrong.

However, I can see how it could have been intended to mean "lacks physical access to a written version to copy into his spellbook". It's ambiguous, but I can see the possibility.


That said, though casters don't need nice things, I disagree with the "official" FAQ answer.

There are precedents in the Expanded Knowledge, Shape Soulmeld, and Martial Study/Stance feats, which allow you to access things you would otherwise be unable to access.

There are hardly any circumstances under which Extra Spell would be useful if you adhere to the FAQ's answer. If you're on a class with a desperately limited number of spells known, maybe. Or, as the text of the feat says, if you want a spell but can't find a scroll of it. Or if you're a Chameleon and use your free floating feat every day to temporarily learn a new spell long enough to copy it into your spellbook. So the official interpretation makes it a waste of a precious feat.

Worst of all, the official interpretation is boring.


So I'm inclined, in my games, to let Extra Spell take a spell off any list at all.

With the exception of known game-breaker spells (though most of those are level 9, and thus unlearnable with Extra Spell).

And with the caveat that you don't get to pick from the weird lists like Trapsmith or Adept to get a spell early; if it's available to a full caster player base class, you get it as a spell of that level, no lower.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Paint Your Minis

The first mini I did repainted. Original on the right.
I realized that I was resisting getting into mini painting out of fear of Doing It Wrong, because every "how to paint minis" website lists some gawdawful complex (and often mutually exclusive from site to site) set of steps and specific paints and brushes and glues and paint strippers and so on and if you don't use these exact products your minis will catch fire and explode and your family will catch the plague.
Original on the left. This one turned out... acceptable.
So, earlier this year, I just said "screw that", pulled out the paints I had inherited and bought for art class and the smallest brush I happened to own, and just went to town without regard for Doing It Right. (My family still has yet to catch the plague.)
The one in the middle is completely repainted. The one on
the left only has his quilted padding repainted. The one on
the right is the original.
The paint I happened to have -- mostly Galeria and Americana acrylics -- are apparently adequate to the purpose of mini-painting, and have served my needs just fine so far. When I run out of these, I may buy paints intended specifically for models.
Original grimlock on the right. Original goblin and
gravedigger on the left. Just repainted details, mostly.
Mostly, I've just been repainting the minis I happen to have doubles of. I repainted one of my dark-skinned minis with light skin, purely to make it easier to tell her apart from her dark-skinned doppelgänger, but I felt bad about it, because my mini collection has so few dark-skinned people (who aren't orcs) to begin with. But I repainted the next light-skinned double I got with dark skin, so hopefully it balanced out. I think I'm more concerned about this than is absolutely necessary.
Original on the left. The one on the right is black to make
up for repainting the earlier mini light-skinned.
I never noticed how many of my minis had eyes that are the same colour as their faces. Now they have actual eyes. The worst offender was my Tundra Scout, in part because each eye is as big as most minis' entire heads. Now my woolly mammoth has eyes instead of blank brown spots.
Original snake and beetle on the left. Original runespiral
demon on the right. Repainted the orangutan's rock, and his
Lasertron token to match.
So my advice to you: don't fuss about it, just get out your brushes and your paints and get painting. It's remarkably soothing. (Maybe if you don't happen to have brushes and paints, you can fuss a little bit about which ones to buy, but try not to fuss too much.)
I didn't repaint the Cap'n, but I did repaint his Lasertron
token to match the wave he's riding. I was pleased with
how closely I got it to match.
I also got a whole bunch of Ziploc bags and a Sharpie and organized my minis by Type and Subtype: "Misc Humanoids & Monstr Humanoids", "Animals, Plants, & Vermin" (because I only have a few of each), "Aberrations & Outsiders" (sometimes hard to tell apart, so they just get a shared one), "Oozes, Undead, & Constructs", "Humans & Elves" (again, sometimes hard to tell apart), "Dragons and [Reptilian]s", "Orcs & Goblinoids" (and also a cyclops), "Dwarves & Short Ppl" (including gnomes, halflings, and other human-like Small creatures), "Tokens" (leftover bases and Lasertron tokens), and "PCs" (so I don't have to go rooting through several different bags at the beginning of every session). So I recommend doing something like that, too.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Pi, Bursts, and Cones

About two Pi Days ago, I celebrated in the most appropriate way I could think of: I actually did some calculations involving pi.

See, at some point I had seen Paizo's Steel Sqwire templates. I judged them unnecessarily expensive, because I knew I could make some that were just as good myself.

So I went and I found some wire...

...and did some calculations.

I decided that all the fiddly little right angles and squarenesses in the RAW templates for cones and bursts were unnecessary, because I was making templates to represent actual cone and burst shapes. I decided my cones would be quarter-circles and my spheres would be circles! So that involved some math.

As everyone should know from elementary school, the circumference of a circle is 2πr. And, obviously, the perimeter of a quarter-circle is 2πr divided by 4, plus 2r, or r(π/2+2). And 1 inch for a mini equals 5 feet in-character, so we divide all our answers by 5.

radius (ft.) cone (in.) burst (in.)
10 7.1 12.6
15 10.7 18.8
20 14.3 25.1
30 21.4 37.7
40 28.6 50.3
50 35.7 62.8
60 42.8 75.4
70 50.0 88.0
(If you do this yourself, you might consider yourself well-advised to double-check my math before cutting.)

I elected to make a 20' burst and a 30' cone, because those are the biggest that would fit in my D&D stuff carrying folder, and anything smaller is easy enough to figure out on the fly.

So I cut my wire to length and affixed it to itself with a connector and...
This dragon's breath weapon is 10' too short for its size. Oops.
This changeling is casting darkness. Or fireball. Or obscuring mist. Or fog cloud. Or stinking cloud. Or cloudkill. Or solid fog. Or dispel magic. Or zone of truth. Or something. This is a useful size template to have, is what I'm saying.


Friday, July 6, 2012

All-Spellcaster Battle

I recently DMed a battle that went better than I could possibly have planned.

In the old-fashioned, relatively linear, non-OGT campaign (which I've been calling "the summer campaign", for reasons of I'm running it now and it is currently summer) I've been running recently, I still sometimes use random encounter tables. Specifically, because it's set in the same world as my OGT, I use the same random encounter tables as I use for my OGT. (Though the summer campaign is set so far in the Omorashi Empire, while OGT is in Gus, so it's more like a set of tables that are in the same Excel document as my OGT tables, but which had not yet been used.)

Anyway, for a small town that has become completely taken over by goblins, I put together some creatures. For variety, there's goblins, hobgoblins, bugbears, bakemonos (Oriental Adventures; I took the line that "bakemonos are the 'goblins' of the Shadowlands" a little more literally than OA intended, and declared them a form of goblin native to the Omorashi Empire (to whatever extent "native" can describe a country that's only existed for 20 years)), mites, pesties, and nilbogs (Tome of Horrors, which I recently discovered and love, full of all the monsters from earlier editions that were too horrible or ridiculous to ever get officially ported to 3e (except even ToH lacks the duckbunny)). They're all led by an ogre monk, and I whipped up some goblin spellcasters for support.

I think I may be embarking upon a half-deliberate attempt to screw every character over in combat, one at a time. This time, it's the ranger's turn: the spellcasters have obscuring mist and fog cloud, and the ogre has Deflect Arrows. Next up: solid fog, web, and undead/oozes/elementals, to annoy the scout! Non-Humanoids to annoy the beguiler! Intelligent, mind-control-resistant humanoids to annoy the Vow Of Peace cleric! Lawful Good yet hostile foes to annoy the paladin! Hostile dragons to annoy the dragon shaman! Or something along those various lines.

Anyhow, the relevant feature of this post: spellcasters! I slapped fiendish and 3 levels of shaman (an OA class that's like the cleric but more interesting) on goblin and called it a yaoguai. The relevant features are cure moderate wounds, hold person, fog cloud, obscuring mist, shield of faith, cure light wounds, burning hands, and some orisons. Also, each yaoguai starts with 1d4-1 random minor scrolls, for variety.

So, for one of the wandering monster fights, I roll... 8 yaoguais. Approximately a level 9 encounter. Needless to say, a very tough fight for an ECL1-2 party. (Most of the party wound up gettting enough XP to level.) And it went fantastically.

So the yaoguais cast some Obscuring Mist/Fog Cloud to annoy the ranger. Then the party took out a couple yaoguais. Then the yaoguais started using their Cures to bring their companions back up, their Hold Person to incapacitate the scout (they tried it on the ranger and discovered that he's not a humanoid), and Burning Hands to wreck the party's crap.

One of the yaoguais summons a huge fiendish centipede. The paladin charges and uses Smite Evil on it. The centipede uses Smite Good on the paladin, prompting entertaining incredulity. The centipede's time runs out and it vanishes.

Anyway, the yaoguais swiftly take down the entire party except for one or two. Every yaoguai that's gone down has gotten a heal and popped right back up again. And all looks lost for our heroes!

Except then the yaoguais all run out of all their decent spells, and have to resort to converting their orisons to inflict minor wounds or trying to punch for 1d2-2 damage. (Shaman at least gets Improved Unarmed Strike for free, so at least they weren't provoking with their attacks.) And the party manages to get enough healing potion down the dragon shaman that he can reactivate his vigor aura. And then it's all over and the yaoguais are suddenly easy to take down.

Why do I say this went fantastically? Because coming back against overwhelming odds from the brink of defeat is awesome. Turning a near party-wipe into a victory is awesome. (I don't really know how well the players actually liked it, because it took all night, they were exhausted by the end, and then they immediately barged into the library and discovered the ogre monk, for whom they were woefully unprepared. But I thought it was fantastic.)

And to what do I ascribe this fantasticness? All of the foes were pure spellcasters, with no melee support or capability at all. Going nova by blowing all their good spells in the first few rounds of combat allowed the yaoguais to almost, but not quite, win. Having done that, and no longer having any decent spells left, then allowed the PCs to win handily.

An encounter of nothing but pure spellcasters, with just enough power to almost wipe the party. Don't do it too often, lest it get old, but try it once or twice.

And, as a side note, this is also one of the reasons why wandering monster fights are good. You might wind up accidentally rolling an encounter it would normally never occur to you to throw at the party, and that encounter might turn out to be amazing and might give you completely new ideas to add to your DMing repertoire.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On Flux Storms

If you recall, one of my primary motivations for giving up on regular campaigns and running an Open Gaming Table was that people kept failing to show up.

It's enormously irritating to come up with some justification for why a character wasn't there one week, when he was there the previous week and the next week. I seem to recall Playing D&D With Porn Stars once came up with a great chart (which I cannot now find) to roll on to determine what your character was doing (and what happened to him) during the session you missed, but that still required sessions to end in town or someplace else where it's convenient for a character to slip out. And if that happens, you can just use the "personal business" handwave. But what happens when you end the session in the middle of a dungeon? Or when one session lasts several weeks of in-game time and the next lasts only a few hours?

So I came up with a new justification, and made it the centerpiece of my campaign. Enter the flux storm.

In the first session, the characters all met on a ship. They were all sailing from various places to the ports of Wang and Endeesy. Suddenly, they sighted what looked like a brilliantly iridescent thunderstorm! The rogue elected to steer the boat straight into the thunderstorm, where it was struck by a bolt of freaky sparkly lightning, which made everyone on board feel all tingly for a few seconds.

Then the half-elf NPC passenger Ned explained that he thought it was what's called a flux storm, and everyone on board was affected by the flux.

What is the flux, you ask? It's basically a time hop effect, except it happens at random, can last any length of time, and you are affected with no saves or checks.

If a player isn't there for a session? Their character vanishes, and reappears next session with no memory of the intervening time.

If a player steps out to use the bathroom or get a drink? Their character vanishes, and reappears when their player returns. (Unless they're in the middle of combat, in which case the character vanishes if vanishing would be harmful for them but fails to vanish if vanishing would be beneficial. If you're about to be hit by the ogre or bleed to death, you can't avoid it by your player ducking out of the room. If you're flanking with the rogue, you vanish if your player ducks out of the room. Leaving the table is sometimes necessary, but to be discouraged. (Do try to take a 5-10 minute break every hour or two, though; human beings can't concentrate on one thing for that long.))

If a player makes a terrible, painfully bad pun? Their character vanishes, and reappears a minute later. (A half-decent alternative to docking people 1 or 10 XP at a time for horrible puns, as long as it's all in good fun. If the response is "I deserved that", you're doing it right. If the response is irritation or outrage, you're doing it wrong.)

If a character dies? A previously-unnoticed character (played by the player whose character just died) who had been on the boat but had been vanished for all the intervening weeks appears.

The basic rule I use, which it took the players a couple sessions to figure out (well, I wound up just telling them), is that you don't just reappear where you vanished: you reappear with whomever you were with when you vanished. So if the party moves on to the next town while you're vanished, you're not left behind or anything.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Custom Reincarnate Tables 3: Central Repository

So, once upon a time, I came up with some custom tables for the reincarnate spell. Then I rebuilt my monster database and started redoing the tables. Here, then, is the central repository of links to the most recent versions of all the tables:


Choose the table appropriate to the Type of the creature to be reincarnated. Roll on that table.

If you get a result that indicates another type, reroll on the indicated table. If you get a result of "Other", roll on the list of types to determine what the creature's new type is, then roll on the table for that type.

1-6 Aberration
7-12 Animal
13-18 Construct
19-24 Dragon
25-30 Elemental
31-36 Fey
37-42 Giant
43-58 Humanoid
59-64 Magical Beast
65-70 Monstrous Humanoid
71-76 Ooze
77-82 Outsider
83-88 Plant
89-94 Undead
95-100 Vermin

Thursday, June 14, 2012

On Details and Dreams

I am of the opinion that a key -- possibly the key -- to good storytelling is knowing which details to include and which to omit.

One of the many recurring problems revealed by the analysis of Twilight by Reasoning With Vampires is that Stephenie Meyer doesn't know what details are relevant and what details are not. Many pages become slogs through a endless mundanities.

Similarly: why do you hate when people tell you about their dreams? Don't lie, everybody hates when people tell them about their dreams. I posit that you hate it because of the endless stream of irrelevant, time-wasting details.

Here's the thing about dreams: They don't (generally) have (coherent) plots. That makes it extremely difficult to judge what details are relevant and what details are not, so people just default to sharing every detail, which is obnoxious and nobody cares. "...and Lorne from Angel was there, except I kept calling him 'The Host' like it said in the credits, instead of 'Lorne' like he was always referred to, and also I think I briefly was Lorne, but then he got killed..."


Here's how to tell people about your dreams and have a remote chance of your victim not wanting to set you on fire: decide in advance what the point of your story is, then omit every detail that is not relevant to this point. If you can come up with no point, then limit your story to one or two sentences, at most. Actually, limit your story to one or two sentences even if it does have a point.

Example: I recently had a dream which combined several unrelated canons into one dream. My description of this dream was simply a list of the relevant participants and the canons from which they derived. End of story. Probably nobody cared anyway, but at least I didn't waste more than a couple sentences worth of anybody's time.

Another example: I had a dream which had the potential to provide the core of a brief joke, or thing that had the structure of a joke, in a "the secret to humor is surprise" sort of way. That joke structure was the point. (Though it wasn't necessarily actually a very good joke.) To wit:

"Dreamed that I dressed up in stormtrooper armor to inspire people to fight fascism. Everybody ran away when a cop started shooting rubber bullets into the crowd. The rubber bullets didn't hurt me, because a.) I was wearing stormtrooper armor and b.) they were actually marshmallows."

I left out (well, until people started saying "your dreams are weird", at which point the narrative shifted to "that's weird" and I provided additional details to support the "that's weird" conclusion) such details as: some friends of mine building Batman's computer, except we were calling it AIVAS; the fascism was apparently us not being permitted to fly a flag; and that I was hiding behind some innocent civilian until I realized the marshmallows weren't hurting me, at which point I went to punch the cop, which woke me up when I punched the wall.

Or, when I mention that my dreams are usually action-movie dreams: I once dreamed I was a cyborg fighting ninjas on a subway train. End of story.

Or, when the point is that I've been watching a lot of movies: occasionally my dreams will cut away from my POV altogether and show me things I'm not present for, like you might see in a movie. (Shining example: Once, while I was rescuing a princess, my dream cut away to show Darth Vader sending bounty hunters after me, then it cut back to me and bounty hunters were suddenly after me.)

These are not good dream stories, exactly, because there's no such thing as a good dream story. But, by virtue of each being short and omitting irrelevant details, I posit that they are as close to not bad as dream stories can get.


How is this relevant to D&D?

Well: When describing a scene as DM, try to omit details that are irrelevant. The lamp doesn't matter unless it's relevant to the mood (being e.g. too dim or too bright) or relevant to combat (e.g. leaving areas of darkness or shadowy illumination in portions of the room) or expensive (in which case the players will want to steal it). The inn's menu isn't relevant unless you want to emphasize the nature of the inn (maybe it's super-fancy, in which case mention foie gras and caviar (which are not necessarily historically luxury foods, but what usually matters is the reaction of the players, not historical accuracy), or maybe it's particularly rustic, in which case the menu consists entirely of the single word "grits").

That said: never ever hesitate to mention details that aren't sight. Mention how a thing smells or feels or tastes or sounds. Most DMs omit these things so often that just using them at all can serve to improve player immersion.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

On Qualifying

So I've been thinking about the Southern Magician and Precocious Apprentice feats.

Southern Magician is a regional feat from Races of Faerun. I allow people to ignore the region prerequisites of regional feats, though I might say that I wouldn't allow a character to take multiple regional feats with conflicting region prerequisites, on the assumption that many regional feats are probably balanced around a character being from only one region.

The relevant text of the feat is this: "Once per day per two spellcaster levels, you can cast a divine spell as an arcane spell, or vice versa."

"Psh," you might say, "That's a useless, crappy feat." And yes, yes it is.

Except for the mystic theurge's prerequisite: "Able to cast 2nd-level divine spells and 2nd-level arcane spells."

With Southern Magician, you can drastically reduce the level at which you qualify for Mystic Theurge. It still requires 6 ranks in two knowledge skills, so you'll never be able to reduce it below 4 (without Inspire Courage + Psychic Reformation shenanigans), but that's still better than the level 7 which would otherwise be the minimum.

Consider also Precocious Apprentice, from Complete Arcane. The relevant text: "Choose one 2nd-level spell from a school of magic you have access to. You gain an extra 2nd-level spell slot that must be used initially to cast only the chosen spell."

Precocious Apprentice allows you to cast a 2nd-level spell at 1st level. Southern Magician allows you to cast any divine spell as arcane and any arcane spell as divine. With these two feats, you meet the "Able to cast 2nd-level divine spells and 2nd-level arcane spells" requirement at level 1.

You'd obviously want to take a level in a second spellcasting class so you can actually derive some benefit from Mystic Theurge, and then you could Inspire Courage + Psychic Reformation your way into meeting the skill requirements, and take your first level of Mystic Theurge at 3, losing only 1 caster level in each of your casting classes.

This is all well-known trickery in optimizing circles.


Here's the important question: how much of this should a DM allow?

Mystic Theurge is one of those classes that a novice will look at and say "holy amazeballs, that's a ludicrously overpowered class!", and a more experienced player will look at and issue a resounding "meh". (Unless you involve Ur-Priest or Sublime Chord, in which case an experienced player will perk right up again.)

The problem is that, if you enter it as intended, even with wizard 3/archivist 3, the most efficient combination that even remotely resembles the intent of the designers, you're still 3 levels behind on both sides. You're breaking the First Rule of Practical Optimization: Thou Shalt Not Lose Caster Levels. Sure, you go to bed with more spells than a one-class caster starts the day with, but you'll be 1-2 spell levels behind for the rest of your career. Most optimizers agree the tradeoff is far from worth it, especially if your DM permits the 15-minute adventuring day (which he shouldn't).

If, on the other hand, you enter Mystic Theurge at level 3 (as a wizard/archivist), then you're only ever 1 caster level behind. Your spell level is on par with a sorcerer's, but you have more spells and the greater day-to-day flexibility of a prepared caster. That really is absurdly powerful.

Entry with Sorcerer 1/Favored Soul 1 is probably still tier 2, albeit extremely high tier 2; they get twice as many spells known and spells/day, but even that wouldn't bring their day-to-day flexibility up to the level of a prepared caster.


So, given that Sorcerer 1/Favored Soul 1/Mystic Theurge builds are probably at best on par with straight tier 1, it's a little incoherent to ban it without also banning all of tier 1.

But a Wizard 1/Archivist 1/Mystic Theurge build is approximately what you might call god tier, so not banning it would be insanity.

The obvious solution: make Southern Magician and Precocious Apprentice spontaneous-only. And, because casters really don't need nice things, let's make them mutually exclusive, just in case I'm wrong about the tier of Sorcerer 1/Favored Soul 1/Mystic Theurge, and thereby make it at least 4 of one, 1 of the other. Which is still 1 level earlier than prepared casters can enter; maybe this will make prepared casters not quite so much the obvious choice.


Precocious Apprentice
As in Complete Arcane, except:
Special: You can take this feat only as a 1st-level character.
You cannot take this feat if you have any ability to cast prepared spells. If you gain the ability to cast prepared spells, you lose the benefit of this feat.
You cannot take this feat if you have the Southern Magician feat.

Southern Magician
As in Races of Faerun, except:
Special: You cannot take this feat if you have any ability to cast prepared spells. If you gain the ability to cast prepared spells, you lose the benefit of this feat.
You cannot take this feat if you have the Precocious Apprentice feat.

Friday, June 8, 2012

On Grudges

Normally, my advice is geared more towards DMs than towards players. But today, I'm going to give players some advice, and DMs some corollary advice. I wish these things had occurred to me sooner, sitting on both sides of the table. The advice is this:

Players: Ask your DM, before the game starts, "Who should my character have a grudge against?"

--- Corollary:

DMs: Before the game starts, gently suggest to your players (but do not for a second consider forcing them) that they might consider including, in their backstory, some reason for a grudge against a certain group or organization.

Grudges are a truly excellent PC motivator.

I had a player whose PC had a grudge against Vecna, which was really handy when I had to include a cult for the PCs to massacre and determined that the cult would be a cult of Vecna.

I have a player whose PC has a grudge against slavers. So, suddenly, Nalf's Slave Market existed in Endeesy.

If your characters, before the game starts, have a grudge against whatever the primary foe of the campaign is, you don't need to put any effort at all into convincing them to do anything. They'll be the locomotive power in following your rails.

(Convincing the players to do things is a constant problem. Bribing them with cash gets old, and they never want to do heroics for the sake of heroics. One of many reasons why Chaotic Neutral is the most terrible alignment in the history of ever.)


On the other side of the table: I've noticed that, nine times out of ten, players will include a grudge against _somebody_ in their backstory. The aforementioned examples of Vecna and slavers. I've only done it a handful of times myself, but one of the anecdotes is telling by virtue of its abject failure.

Vand Alykko was the son of two adventurers. When he was young, a band of Githyanki massacred his family and grabbed a Githyanki Silver Sword that had been taken from them years previously. From that moment on, Vand had three overriding goals: exterminate all the Gith (-yanki and -zerai, because screw all of them by association); see to it that a Githyanki Silver Sword is standard gear assigned to every beginning adventuring party; kill the Lich-Queen and use her skull as a soup bowl.

Adequate motivation for an evil character, yes? At least more subtle than the usual "greed", yes?

Vand never encountered a single Githyanki. The DM threw some kind of telepathic demon dude at the party and whenever a PC showed the slightest sign of deviating from the rails, the PC took damage. The foes were mostly priests.

Setting aside all but one of the many problems with that campaign: it would have worked much better had the foes of the campaign lined up at all with the foes of the characters, if the DM had bent the plot to the characters' backgrounds, or if the players had been able to bend their backgrounds to the plot.

So, if you're a player, ask your DM who your character should have a grudge against.

If you're a DM, suggest to your players that they might consider giving their characters a grudge against whatever group turns out to be the main foe of the campaign. Or, if you want to introduce a touch of hilarity, suggest to them that they have a grudge against whoever turns out to be a major ally. Or against fellow PCs -- I was in a party once where half the characters were racist against at least one other party member.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Identifying Potions

Alright, so there's actually more ways to identify a potion than there are to identify other things. A simple DC25 spellcraft check will let you identify a potion, no problem.

But something that I think the DMG may even mention (or possibly DMG2, it seems like the kind of thing that would be in DMG2): it lends verisimilitude and consistency to the world if you always describe the same sort of potion the same way.

So, in the same sheet as my list of items, I've begun to create a master list of potions. Every time anybody finds a potion that isn't already on the list, I'll add it to the list, and henceforth describe all of the same kind of potion the same way. From now on, potions of cure light wounds will always be "shimmering puce".

This gives an additional way to quickly identify potions: if you've seen a potion of glibness before and it was a transparent white potion, and you encounter another transparent white potion, it's a safe bet that's another potion of glibness. There are only 900 possible combinations, so the slightly hilarious situation might arise where two potions appear identical (like what happened when Sky the drow cleric labeled several flasks of acid "healing potion"), but that's likely to be pretty rare.

To this end, I created a master random potion chart (cribbing in part from the possible potion descriptions available in Angband), which one can consult whenever a new potion needs to be described. You'll need to roll two d30s (or one d30 twice):

Dice Color Quality
1 azure bright
2 black bubbling
3 blue clotted
4 brown cloudy
5 chartreuse coagulated
6 clear dark
7 copper effervescing
8 crimson fizzing
9 cyan gloopy
10 gold glowing
11 gray hazy
12 green icky
13 indigo intense
14 infrared marbled
15 magenta metallic
16 maroon milky
17 navy blue misty
18 orange oily
19 pink pale
20 puce pastel
21 puke green pearlescent
22 puke yellow pungent
23 red sedimentated
24 silver shimmering
25 tangerine sickly
26 teal smoking
27 ultraviolet speckled
28 violet translucent
29 white transparent
30 yellow viscous

(Any potion described as "coagulated", "clotted", or "sedimentated" should be shaken well before use. Any potion described as "bubbling", "fizzing", or "effervescing" should never be shaken, lest it explode.)

If you want to really push the number of possible combinations up there, you can first roll 1d4: 1 = roll color once, quality once; 2 = roll color twice, quality once; 3 = roll color once, quality twice; 4 = roll color twice, quality twice. This allows for things like a cloudy, marbled, silver-and-maroon potion. Perhaps if there are two colors, that might mean they're separated like salad dressing and you should shake well before using. Or if there are two colors and it's bubbling, maybe the bubbles are the second color. There's a lot of room for improvisation.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The "Race" Problem

So there's a language problem. The other day, I described this problem as "one of the oldest conundra of the fantasy genre". Which is, of course, hyperbole; the fantasy genre is older than any of the words involved, let alone the science involved.

The problem is this: in fantasy, we need a word for various groupings of individuals, e.g., elves, humans, orcs, dwarves, halflings, etc. "Race" is the usual one, though "species" sometimes gets used. But both have meanings in English, and neither meaning lines up very well with their usage in works of fantasy.


Once upon a time, not really very long ago at all, "race" meant the same thing in fantasy as it does in modern English, but the meanings have diverged.

Nowadays in English, "race" means something like "ethnicity" or "skin color". We've got the "black race" and the "white race" and so on, and the various races are almost entirely indistinguishable, genetically. Even phenotypically, most human races are hard to tell apart, and individuals from one race are usually within the expected range of variation for every other race.

An orc and an elf are much more dissimilar than a dark-skinned human and a light-skinned human, so "race" has become an inappropriate term for this distinction.

Moreover, we might want to keep "race" in case we want to distinguish between fantasy ethnicities -- e.g., Men of Gondor, Men of Rohan, the various Men of the East and South under Sauron's dominion. Or, for that matter: Orcs of Mordor, Orcs of Isengard, and Orcs of Moria. Or Mirkwood Elves and Lothlorien Elves. And so on. Tolkien's actually pretty good about ethnicities/subraces/whatever.

Or take my setting's distinction between Shell humans, Omorashi humans, and Romus humans. (Side note: I was horrified the other day when I realized that I had neglected to include dark-skinned humans in my campaign setting. Then I realized that no, many or most Omorashi humans have dark skin -- the one way in which the Omorashi Empire deviates from a bog-standard wutai.)

Though, really, "ethnicity" does just fine for this usage, and I'd be completely okay with discarding the word "race" from the language -- both mundane and fantastical English -- altogether.


"Species" is sometimes used as a backup, but it has an even more specific meaning than "race" does. Two individuals are members of the same species if they can breed and produce fertile offspring. The "half-dragon" template alone means that all living, corporeal creatures are the same species as True Dragons. Dragons and gelatinous cubes are the same species! This is of course a.) preposterous and b.) not useful.

Actually, there's another, slightly more technical meaning of "species". Basically, reckon how much DNA two individuals need to have in common in order to produce viable offspring. A species is any group that has that much DNA in common. This almost could work, if you use the percentage from our world (it's a very high percentage), but you then stipulate that D&D genetics works very differently and can produce viable offspring with a much lower percentage of DNA in common. So dragons and gelatinous cubes are different species but can interbreed.

But this hurts my head by how badly it misunderstands basic biology. Not least because D&D biology pretty clearly, if not quite explicitly, doesn't run on DNA at all. (See: Living Spells, elementals, and most or all Outsiders (created, not biologically, but from the very stuff of their native planes).) There's no way for DNA to do half the things that happen with genetics in D&D. Better to leave it out and say a wizard did it. And if we're leaving out Earth biology, we should leave out the jargon of Earth biology.


So what's left? There are lots of options, many of which have been used. But I'm partial to one that dates back roughly to the time period D&D attempts to emulate but which hasn't since acquired a technical meaning -- or, really, any meaning at all (which comes up when creationists try to use the word without realizing how meaningless it really is). The word is "kind".

Elves and humans are different kinds. Omorashi humans and Romus humans are the same kind. Mordor orcs and Isengard orcs are the same kind.

If you want to get really technical, you could also throw in superkinds and subkinds. Orcs, goblins, and hobgoblins are different kinds, but the same superkind. Arctic orcs and aquatic orcs are the same kind but different subkinds. Humans, elves, halflings, dwarves, and gnomes are the same superkind but different kinds. And so on.


We can even set up a fairly complete D&D taxonomy!

Kingdom: distinction between creatures and objects. A creature is anything with a wisdom and charisma score (other ability scores optional). An object is anything without a wisdom and charisma score.

Subkingdom: You can further differentiate between living and non-living objects, allowing you to be old-fashioned and make the distinction Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral. Normal, mundane plants and trees, as well as slimes, molds, and fungi, are living objects. Rocks and things are non-living objects. (Fun fact: disintegrate has no effect on living objects, only creatures and non-living objects.) You can also distinguish nonliving creatures (constructs, undead, deathless) and living creatures (all other creatures).

Supertype: One wants to put things like "canines" and "felines" in, but there are e.g. feliform Animals (cats, lions), Humanoids (catfolk, gnolls), Magical Beasts (displacer beasts, sea cats), Outsiders (rakshasas, hellcats), etc. So this is an example of a supertype. Since "Humanoid" is taken for a type, perhaps we shall use "anthropoid" as a Supertype to describe anything with two arms, two legs, a head, and a torso.

Type: Aberration, Animal, Construct, Dragon, Elemental, Fey, Giant, Humanoid, Magical Beast, Monstrous Humanoid, Ooze, Outsider, Plant, Undead, or Vermin. (Only creatures have Types.)

Superkind: Among Humanoids: reptilians, goblinoids, near-humans, gith-s, etc. Among Outsiders: demons, devils, archons, guardinals, etc. Among Elementals: fire, water, air, earth, etc. Among Constructs: golems, living constructs, etc. Among aberrations: Illithidae, beholderkin, etc.

Subtype: Some subtypes actually indicate kind (e.g. [human], [elf]). Some indicate superkind (e.g. [reptilian], [goblinoid].) Some are merely descriptive and can be possessed by any or many Types (e.g. [aquatic], [extraplanar], often the alignment and elemental subtypes). Some indicate relationship to some other Type (e.g. [dragonblood], [augmented]). Subtype, while useful, pertains to too many levels of the taxonomy to really be included. BUT, I want to include Tanar'ri, Obyrith, Baatezu, etc, and there's not really anywhere else to put them. So let's put them, probably bafflingly, below superkind.

Kind: Among near-humans: humans, elves, dwarves, etc. Among animals: horses, dogs, etc. Among tanar'ri: succubus, balor, etc.

Subkind: Arctic elves, fire elves, aquatic elves, etc. Ponies, war ponies, horses, war horses, etc. Dogs, riding dogs, etc.

This is incredibly messy, not even very useful, and unlike biological taxonomies (where there is a single correct taxonomy that can be derived from sufficient information), it's mostly a matter of opinion. It was just an exercise.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Unidentified Items

So D&D gives an elaborate set of procedures for identifying items -- detect magic plus a Spellcraft check, examine it for helpful clues, an epic Appraise check plus a Spellcraft check, an epic spellcraft check, casting Identify, or (inevitably the most common course of action) bringing it to the Mage's Guild to ask divination specialist apprentice wizard Beth to cast identify for 110gp. (But even these methods are unlikely to identify any cursey properties of an item, which generally come out in the normal course of play.)

But it doesn't give a lot of advice for dealing with unidentified items. I hit upon a technique that has worked pretty well for me. It involves a separate sheet in my Excel Document of Doom.

Basically, whenever players acquire a magic or otherwise special item (or occasionally a completely mundane item, just to throw off metagamers), I describe it, and then I give it a number, and I tell the players that, whenever they use the item or mention it to me, also mention the number, so I know which one it is.

The Excel sheet has four columns: the number; a description and all the properties of the item; a list of all the properties the characters have identified so far; and whoever currently possesses the item.

"I hit him with the big sword I found in that pile of dung. Item #6."
"Do you now? Excellent. As you fly into an uncontrollable rage, you discover that it wasn't just a +2 greatsword after all."

It works pretty well.

Items aren't removed from the list unless they're lost or broken or sold to an NPC. (Given to an NPC means it goes into the NPC's treasure. Sold means it goes into the master list of things that might eventually get rotated back into the world.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Youth Draining Spells

This post will detail what my methodology is like when I create things, how I like to always have an existing framework, however rickety, to hang any homebrew on. It probably tells you more about me than about D&D.


So imagine that I want to return negative levels from this:

• There are no negative levels. In place of each negative level bestowed, the victim immediately ages 3d10 years. The victim may immediately roll a fortitude saving throw at the same difficulty as removing the negative level; if this saving throw succeeds, the aging is halved. If the victim receives a restoration spell within 24 hours, the aging is reversed; otherwise, it is permanent. being what they're supposed to be (which I kind of do, I've changed my mind about their badness), but I still want to include spells which prematurely age foes, so I don't have to rely on infinite ciruja plants and resurrection for all my aging effect needs.

My first instinct is to find spells that bestow negative levels, because I've already (sort of) balanced aging against negative levels. But I can find only one spell that permanently bestows negative levels: energy drain. There are several which do so temporarily, including enervation and Fell Drain anything (sonic snap, let's say). So let's briefly analyze:
  • Fell Drain Sonic Snap: 1 temporary negative level. SL2.
  • Enervation: 1d4 temporary negative levels. SL4.
  • Empowered Enervation: 1d4*1.5 temporary negative levels. SL6.
  • Maximized Enervation: 4 temporary negative levels. SL7.
  • Repeat/Twinned Enervation: 2d4 temporary negative levels. SL7/8.
  • Maximized, Empowered Enervation: 4+1d2 temporary negative levels. SL9.
  • Energy Drain: 2d4 real negative levels. SL9.

I was going to say that if we're casting with a caster level of 12 or more, we could extend the spell to raise its duration to 24+ hours (maximum 30), thereby making it potentially permanent. But these spells all have a duration of Instantaneous, and are thus not affected by Extend Spell. Nuts. Same with Persistent Spell. Nuts.

Permanent Emanation affects only emanations (i.e., cones and bursts), and anyway is [epic] and doesn't affect the spell level. Might be able to fiat that permanency can apply to enervation, but it's not metamagic, doesn't affect the spell level, and costs XP.

Oh well. Let's say this:

  • The difference between twinned enervation and energy drain is real vs temporary negative levels, and 1 spell level. So the difference between temporary and real is 1 spell level.
  • If Extend Spell worked on enervation, it would increase the spell level by 1 and make it permanent at a high enough caster level. So the difference between temporary and real is 1 spell level.
  • If Persistent Spell worked on enervation, it would increase the spell level by 6 and make it permanent under all circumstances. So the difference between  temporary and real is 6 spell levels.
Let's take the average, then, and say the difference between a temporary and a real negative level is 2 spell levels.

We're already several levels of abstraction in, and we'll get even more abstract before we're done, because there's simply very little to compare to. That's okay; I just want there to be some basis, however remote, for what I'm doing.

Okay, so, applying this psuedo-metamagic thing that makes temporary negative levels into real negative levels:
  • Realized Fell Drain Sonic Snap: 1 negative level. SL4.
  • Realized Enervation: 1d4 negative levels. SL6.
  • Realized Empowered Enervation: 1d4*1.5 (but let's pretend, as long as we're abstracting, that a roll whose possible results are 1,3,4,6 is a 1d6, so) = 1d6 negative levels. SL8.
  • Realized Maximized Enervation: 4 negative levels. SL9.
  • Realized Repeat Enervation: 2d4 negative levels. SL9.
  • Energy Drain: 2d4 negative levels. SL9.
Spells higher than level 9 don't matter and are ignored.


So now we have a kludgy, hacked-together, abstracted sense of how many negative levels it's appropriate for a spell of a given level to do:
  • SL4: 1 NL
  • SL6: 1d4 NLs
  • SL8: 1d6 NLs
  • SL9: 2d4 (or 4) NLs
Long ago, we made calculations and concluded that one negative level ≈ 14.6 years. So if we wanted to create a line of spells that drain youth, we could convert:

  • SL4: 14.6 years
  • SL6: 1d4 x 14.6 ≈ 36.5 years
  • SL8: 1d6 x 14.6 ≈ 51.1 years
  • SL9: 2d4 x 14.6 (or 4 x 14.6 ) ≈ 65.7 years
We could come up with a straightforward years/SL number, but spells are exponential in power, not linear: a level 8 spell isn't just the same as two level 4 spells, and a level 4 spell isn't just the same as two level 2 spells, and so on. We need a more complicated formula.

At this point, I vaguely remember from high school algebra how to tell my graphing calculator to do this, but I don't know how to tell Excel or Google or anything else to do it. To the fresh batteries cabinet to bring my graphing calculator back to life!

I asked it for a quadratic regression, because I couldn't remember what a quadratic regression is, and it gave me a terribly ill-fitting one. Then I asked it for an exponential regression, and it gave me one that fits very well: y=5.199*1.335^x, where y is years drained and x is the spell level.
  • SL0: 5.20 years
  • SL1: 6.94 years
  • SL2: 9.27 years
  • SL3: 12.4 years
  • SL4: 16.5 years
  • SL5: 22.0 years
  • SL6: 29.4 years
  • SL7: 39.3 years
  • SL8: 52.5 years
  • SL9: 70.0 years
Certainly not terrible. But hm: I kind of don't want there to be a cantrip that can age a person at all, and I kind of want the lowest level aging spell to take 1 year. So I'm going to finesse the numbers a bit and wind up with...
  • SL0: 0.50 years
  • SL1: 2.54 years
  • SL2: 5.32 years
  • SL3: 9.14 years
  • SL4: 14.4 years
  • SL5: 21.5 years
  • SL6: 31.4 years
  • SL7: 44.8 years
  • SL8: 63.3 years
  • SL9: 88.5 years
...good enough!


Now, some fiddling to match these numbers up with dice... Consider this chart:

The coloured numbers indicate how many of that size die would be needed to average out to approximately the desired number of years. They are colour-coded: red is most accurate, orange less accurate, yellow even less accurate, and blue least accurate of all. We could just use all the red ones, substituting for orange ones when there isn't a red one at that level, but that winds up with an ugly and inelegant progression of 1d10, 2d8, 4d6, 4d10, 7d8, 10d8, 6d20, 16d10.

Imagine we want to use all the same size dice. If so, you can clearly see that the d8 column is the most accurate.

But I don't want to use all the same size dice, because I'm biased against rolling large numbers of dice at once. We could, oh, say, start at d4, and bump up a die size every time we'd be rolling more than 6 dice at once. Then let's smooth them out a little when the die size would jump 2 at once, or would stay the same for 3 levels in a row.

Instead, we will consider that many spells vary in effective based on caster level. Oho! Everything suddenly got really complicated all up in this joint.

Let's pretend that the average caster has a minimum caster level of twice the spell level, minus 1. Then let's cap each spell's effectiveness at, oh, let's say, approximately twice that. Let's aim for the spell reaching its target effectiveness halfway between when it can first be cast and when it caps out.

To simplify slightly, the SL2 version can just be a flat 1d4. And let's just skip a couple spell levels where they make it particularly awkward.

So let's go with this:

SL1: 1 year
SL2: 1d4 years
SL3: 1d8 years per 4 caster levels, up to 3d8
SL5: 1d8 years per 3 caster levels, up to 6d8
SL7: 1d8 years per 2 caster levels, up to 12d8
SL9: 1d8 years per caster level, up to 24d8


Negative levels automatically take effect, but you can save against them becoming permanent 24 hours later. Moreover, the relevant spells and abilities always call for an attack roll. So let's have, oh, let's say the ability to defend against it with a Fortitude save. No need for any of that touch or ranged touch stuff.

But then the question arises: why would a character ever cast any of these spells? If your target is already old, or you use the very high level ones, it might kill them. Otherwise, you might advance them an age category or two. I suppose 1, 3, or 6 irreversible damage to three ability scores is nothing to sneeze at. Even so, the level 1 and 2 versions will never do enough aging with one application to actually advance the target an age category.

So I'm thinking one of two things: either you gain X temporary hit point for each Y years you drain, or your age is reduced by 1 for each Y years you drain.

I don't really want youthening to be so easy, so I'm inclined towards the temporary hit point thing. Usually, you get 5 temporary HP per point of thing you do, but this does a somewhat greater number of points of things, so I'm inclined to say one per one.

Let's next consider what spell lists this line is appropriate for. Let's go with... Cleric, Blackguard, Blighter, Dread Necromancer, Hexblade, Mortal Hunter, Sor/Wiz. The classes with only 4 levels of spells don't get the weakest or the strongest one.



Youth Drain, Least
Necromancy [Evil]
Level: Clr 1, Blighter 1, Dread Necromancer 1, Sor/Wiz 1
As youth drain, except the target ages only 1 year.Material Component: Any manmade object greater than 1 year old.

Youth Drain, Lesser
Necromancy [Evil]
Level: Clr 2, Blackguard 1, Blighter 2, Dread Necromancer 2, Hexblade 1, Mortal Hunter 1, Sor/Wiz 2
As youth drain, except the target ages only 1d4 years.
Material Component: Any manmade object greater than 5 years old.In addition, you gain 1 temporary hit point for each year the target loses. These temporary hit points last for 1 hour.

Youth Drain
Necromancy [Evil]
Level: Clr 3, Blackguard 2, Blighter 3, Dread Necromancer 3, Hexblade 2, Mortal Hunter 2, Sor/Wiz 3
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 1 standard action
Range: Short (25 ft. + 5 ft./2 levels)
Target: One living creature
Duration: Instantaneous
Saving Throw: Fortitude negates
Spell Resistance: Yes
You point at your target and years evaporate from their lifespan. They age 1d8 years per 4 caster levels (maximum 3d8 years). This is never beneficial to the target.
In addition, you gain 1 temporary hit point for each year the target loses. These temporary hit points last for 1 hour.
Material Component: Any manmade object greater than 10 years old.

Youth Drain, Greater
Necromancy [Evil]
Level: Clr 5, Blackguard 3, Blighter 5, Dread Necromancer 5, Hexblade 3, Mortal Hunter 3, Sor/Wiz 5
As youth drain, except the target ages 1d8 years per 3 caster levels (maximum 6d8 years).Material Component: Any manmade object greater than 25 years old.

Youth Drain, Grand
Necromancy [Evil]
Level: Clr 7, Blackguard 4, Blighter 7, Dread Necromancer 7, Hexblade 4, Mortal Hunter 4, Sor/Wiz 7
As youth drain, except the target ages 1d8 years per 2 caster levels (maximum 12d8 years)Material Component: Any manmade object greater than 75 years old.

Youth Drain, True
Necromancy [Evil]
Level: Clr 9, Blighter 9, Dread Necromancer 9, Sor/Wiz 9
As youth drain, except the target ages 1d8 years per caster level (maximum 24d8 years).Material Component: Any manmade object greater than 250 years old.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Multiclass Experience Penalties and Racial Favored Classes

So I've been convinced by the arguments that that multiclass penalties don't accomplish what they're intended to accomplish.

The idea behind multiclass penalties and racial favored classes is twofold: first, Frankenstein builds full of 1- and 2-level dips are inelegant and should be disincentivized; and second, there should be some mechanical indicator of a character's cultural predilections.

The second point is good and sound and a reason to preserve racial favored classes in some form, and I'll come back to it.

The first point falls apart in two ways: alpha, that the system currently penalizes a build full of nothing but your favored class and 1-level dips not at all, instead penalizing you if you have, say, lots of levels in two classes and a dip in one other; beta, that high-tier characters (usually spellcasters, whose prime directive is Thou Shalt Not Lose Caster Levels) are only hurt by dips, while low-tier characters (usually mundane combat) can stand to benefit greatly from dips. Multiclassing penalties are one more instance of Melee Can't Have Nice Things.

So we dump the multiclassing penalty system like a sack of soggy garbage.

But wait! That second reason! There needs to be some mechanical indicator of a character's racial predilections! Because almost everyone underestimate the power of culture to a ludicrous extent. Let alone built-in biological instinct! So that hardcore needs to be a thing.

But hey, when I first created the Versatile Alignment feat, I said to myself, "maybe this is something that characters should get as a bonus feat with respect to their racial favored class". Because that would make sense.

So let's do that. Indeed, let's go slightly further and pull in Monastic Training and Knight Training:


Characters take no experience penalties for multiclassing. Instead, they gain a bonus feat related to their racial favored class, even if they do not meet the feat's prerequisites.
Any character may choose the Versatile Alignment feat with respect to their racial favored class.
A character whose racial favored class is Monk may choose between Versatile Alignment(Monk) or Monastic Training from the Eberron Campaign Setting.
A character whose racial favored class is Paladin may choose between Versatile Alignment(Paladin) or Knight Training from the Eberron Campaign Setting.
A character whose racial favored class is "any" may choose between Versatile Alignment (with respect to any one class of their choice), Monastic Training, or Knight Training.


This leaves characters with favored classes that have no alignment requirement slightly disenfranchised. I don't want to give them anything with any actual power, only something that opens up more options. Maybe a choice between Knight Training (your favored class) and Monastic Training (your favored class)? Meh, maybe. I'll have to look through feats and find some of the ones that are mostly fluff, which no sane person would normally choose to take but might accept if handed for free.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Adjucating Aging Effects

So, as I said a few posts ago, I kind of like my solution to the problem of how annoying negative levels are to to be inflicted with.

But I'm pretty confident that my negative-levels-are-aging system isn't actually balanced against real negative levels, and inherently couldn't possibly be. And, though it makes the game easier and simpler for people who don't already know how negative levels work, it does make it more complicated for people who do. So I'm considering going back to the original negative levels system.

But I love aging effects, and want to them to matter in the game as much as possible. I've already got the rule that every time you're resurrected, you gain some age, but resurrection doesn't happen all that often.

There are only two monsters I know of (from sourcebooks I allow) that have age-increasing powers:
  • The phane, an epic-level (CR25) monster which has the ability, after putting characters into temporal stasis, to age them at a rate of 1d4 years/round, no save. It specifies that targets take the physical, but not mental, effects of aging.
  • The ciruja plant (CR3) from Dragon Compendium. After a fairly complex and reasonably easy-to-avoid process of paralyzing the victim then burrowing into their flesh, it starts draining youth at a rate of 1d10 years/round, no save. It, too, specifies that "this has no positive benefits for the victim", specifically calling out things that "might grow more powerful with age" (e.g., True Dragons).
Obviously, there's going to be an epidemic of ciruja plants growing everywhere in my campaign world very shortly.


But this brings up a good point: I really should have rules for adjudicating harmful aging effects in general. Obviously, you shouldn't ever gain any benefit from being prematurely aged.

I'm going to immediately discard the possibility of "you advance an age category without gaining the benefits, but you could gain the benefits next time you advance an age category".

Instead, I propose this solution: characters, once they've been subject to such an effect, track their physical age and their mental age separately.

If you advance an age category in physical age, you gain the physical penalties. If you advance an age category in mental age, you gain the mental benefits. You can't die of old mental age, but once you hit Venerable you stop benefiting. You can die of old physical age once you pass Venerable.

Harmful effects, like the phane, the ciruja, or being resurrected, only ever advance your physical age. Beneficial effects, like reincarnate or any potion-of-youth type effects we might choose to include (probably necessary if age is to be an important thing, though I could be really mean and make them apply to both physical and mental aging at once), also only ever reduce your physical age.

This has the side benefit of doing away with the "age to Venerable. get reincarnated. repeat." cycle of infinite mental score increases.

I suppose it also means True Dragon advancement is mental, but that's unlikely to ever matter in a session.

It's one extra number to keep track of somewhere on your sheet, but it's worth it.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Custom Reincarnate Tables 3: Monstrous Humanoids

If you are looking for (or wish to return to) the central list of my updated Reincarnate tables, click here.


Roll 1d200.

Dice Creature Src
1-5 Aarakocra MoFae-11
6-7 Alaghi MoFae-14
8 Annis MM-143
9-10 Arkamoi MM5-184
11-12 Blackspawn Raider MM4-130
13 Bluespawn Godslayer MM4-140
14-16 Boggle MM2-33
17 Braxat MM-37
18-20 Centaur MM-32
21-24 Chitine MoFae-26
25-27 Chosen One MoFae-27
28-30 Crazed Kuo-Toa MM5-94
31-34 Crow-Headed Tengu OA-194
35-38 Dekanter Goblin MoFae-53
39-41 Derro MM-49
42 Desmodu MM2-62
43-45 Doppelganger MM-67
46-48 Dragonkin Draco-150
49-50 Dusk Hag EbCS-284
51-53 Equiceph MHb-61
54 Ethereal Doppelganger MM2-94
55-58 Firenewt MoFae-48
59-61 Frost Folk FrostB-130
62-63 Gargoyle MM-113
64 Gloom ELHb-192
65-67 Goatfolk MM3-63
68 Greathorn Minotaur MM4-100
69 Green Hag MM-143
70-72 Greenspawn Sneak MM4-148
73 Greenspawn Zealot MM5-74
74-77 Grimlock MM-140
78-80 Groundling MoFae-57
81 Hadrimoi MM5-185
82-83 Hannya OA-166
84-85 Harpy MM-150
86 Hebi-No-Onna OA-167
87 Human-Headed Tengu OA-194
88 Jackal Lord FFolio-105
89-91 Kappa OA-169
92-94 Khaasta FFolio-115
95 Kopru MM2-134
96-98 Kuo-Toa MM-163
99 Kuo-Toa Exalted Whip MM5-95
100-103 Lashemoi MM5-186
104-106 Loxo MM2-144
107 Marzanna FrostB-144
108-109 Meazel MoFae-65
110 Medusa MM-180
111-112 Minotaur MM-188
113-114 Nagatha MM4-102
115-117 Nycter MM3-112
118-120 Ophidian FFolio-133
121 Ormyrr MM2-167
122-124 Quaggoth MoFae-75
125 Queen Abeil MM2-22
126 Redspawn Arcaniss MM4-152
127 Redspawn Berserker DMagic-118
128-129 Rhek BoED-181
130-132 Rokuro-Kubi OA-190
133-135 Sahuagin MM-217
136 Scaled Stalker MHb-68
137 Scorpionfolk MM2-221
138-139 Sea Hag MM-144
140 Skindancer MM3-158
141 Soldier Abeil MM2-22
142 Spell Weaver MM2-187
143 Spelleater Sarkrith FFolio-145
144-145 Stinger MoFae-80
146 Thane Sarkrith FFolio-146
147 Thoon Infiltrator MM5-109
148-151 Thri-Kreen MM2-195
152-154 Tigbanua Buso OA-148
155 Tsuno OA-197
156 Turlemoi MM5-187
157-159 Vassal Abeil MM2-22
160-162 Wemic MoFae-84
163-166 Whitespawn Hordeling MM4-156
167-168 Whitespawn Hunter MM4-158
169-170 Yak Folk MM2-200
171-173 Yeti FrostB-162
174-176 Yeti OA-199
177 Yuan-Ti Abomination MM-264
178 Yuan-Ti Halfblood MM-264
179 Yuan-Ti Ignan MM4-188
180-182 Yuan-Ti Pureblood MM-262
183-186 Yurian FFolio-198
187 Zern MM4-195
188-189 Zern Blade Thrall MM4-198
190-191 Aberration reroll
192-193 Fey reroll
194-195 Giant reroll
196-197 Humanoid reroll
198-200 Other reroll