Friday, August 21, 2015

the Purple Planet for [5e]

Saving Throws
Fortitude becomes Constitution (or Strength, if applicable)
Will becomes Wisdom (or Intelligence, if applicable)
Reflex becomes Dexterity
Anything that doesn't have an immediate correlation just use Charisma and if the players question it just wave your hands in the air, adopt a spooky Scooby-Doo villain voice, and say "it's weeeeird man!"
Increase all DCs for Purple Planet mushrooms, plants, and poisons by +5

Double their Hit Points, but leave the stats the same. Kith are worth 200 xp.

Death orm
They make four attacks per round with their paddles and no longer make a bite attack. Increase the paddle's damage to 1d8+3. Anyone struck by a Death Orm's paddle must make a Strength save vs DC 17 or be swallowed whole. Death Orm are worth 900 xp.

Non-native characters take one level of Exhaustion for every day of exertion under the dying sun. One level of Exhaustion can be healed by taking a Long Rest in a well-shaded and hydrated area. If a Short rest is not completed in the shade than the character receives another level of Exhaustion at the end of the rest. Dehydration rules should be followed strictly. Long and short rests follow my normal 5e house rules

Moon-milk of the Tiger Mushroom
Drinking one pint of moon-milk heals all Exhaustion levels lost to the werdling sun, and grants a temporary +2 to Strength and Dexterity (until the next Short Rest).
Partaking of multiple pints of moon-milk grants multiple bonuses, but risks toxicity. Each additional pint after the first grants an additional +2 to Strength and Dexterity but the PC must make a Constitution save vs DC 10 or take 1d12 damage and be rendered unconscious for 1d4+1 hours, for each additional pint the save DC increases by +5 and the damage increases by +1d12.

Greenstone shards
One greenstone shard can impart 1d10 charges to a lesser relic, or a wizard can use a greenstone to power his spellcasting (grants advantage to a spellcasting roll). Either use burns out the greenstone shard and reduces it to ash.
Casting mending on greenstone shards acts the same as described in Peril on the Purple Planet.

True Greenstone
Melon-sized crystals of dark green, a single greenstone can be broken into 5d20+50 shards. Using a greenstone to power a spell automatically turns a spellcasting check into a natural 20 roll, but it burns out the entire greenstone and the wizard must make a Wisdom save vs DC 30 or suffer 1d3 corruptions.

Because corruption doesn't normally exist in a 5e game, while on the purple planet any spellcaster is subject to possible corruption. If a spellcasting check is made and a natural roll of 1 occurs, or if a saving throw is rolled against the caster's spell and results in a natural 20, then the spellcaster suffers 1 corruption. Spending inspiration cannot prevent this. The roll is 1d10 minus the spell's slot level plus the caster's Charisma modifier. The level of the spell slot used determines the level of corruption: 1-3 = minor, 4-6 = major, 7+ = greater
Having an active familiar will still negate half of the corruption effect

maybe I'll add more later, but that's all I've got for now

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Support me by buying games

For the last year I've been a part of the affiliate program on DriveThruRPG (or RPGnow) which means that when I provide a link to a product on dtRPG the link includes my affiliate number in the web address, and if somebody purchases a product after following that link then I get a little bit of store credit to use at dtRPG. I've managed to gather about $55 in store credit which averages out to about $2.25 a month and that is really cool considering each click nets about 15 to 30 cents of store credit. I would have been surprised to even accrue $10 total. I don't have a large need for store credit but I do like reading new books. I have a pretty nice sum sitting there for buying a few pdfs right now but I've spent most of that store credit already.

My Pledge to YOU
I can promise you that I will NEVER start a Patreon for any of my projects and I will NEVER put a donation button or a gofundme link on this blog. Everything I publish here will always be free to use and abuse. I don't like handouts and I certainly don't like asking for handouts, but if you buy gaming books from DriveThruRPG or RPGnow then please consider using my affiliate links to go to the site since it costs you nothing extra.
The store credit I accumulate will always be posted publicly here and I will always blog about the items I purchase with the store credit you provided to me. You will always know what I'm doing with your assistance. This post will also always be linked in my upper banner and I will update this post every month to show how much store credit I have and what I've been spending it on. And with that out of the way, here is the hard data

Total sum generated $55.86
Current unused credit $24.60

Products purchased
1st edition Players Handbook ($10)
Greyhawk Ruins (2e) ($5)
Planarch Codex: Wintry Plane ($5)
Deep Carbon Observatory ($4)
Bootleggers ($5)
Guidebook to the City of Dolmvay ($2)

Thursday, August 13, 2015

return to the dungeon
[5e Dwimmermount]

Queen Ilona had spent some time with her horngoblins cleaning out parts of Dwimmermount while the rest of the party were absent. She took several horngoblins down to the cloning chamber and left one of them there as a guard, to insure the cloning chamber would not be used. Surveying the equipment she learned that the power was drained and it may take several days for the machinery to be powered up for another cloning experiment. As she returned to the elevator, her group encountered two minotaurs in the corridor and brief fight and chase ensued down the passageway. There were more minotaurs near their dead king's throne room, and soon only one was left standing. Ilona demanded for it to bend the knee and he did, on the condition that she allow him to clone himself and live on this level. The minotaur, Mangarak Vigileye, told a story of a room that had a stairwell down but it was being blocked by a pool of flesh and muscley sinew, he offered to show Ilona the room but cautioned that her view would have to be quick.

For the minotaur negotiation I googled, and was not entirely surprised to find, a minotaur name generator. It worked pretty good actually!
Because Ilona was by herself, I gave index cards to the other players with stats for the horngoblins. Everybody had fun using the horngoblins' racial abilities during the fight, but in straight one-on-one fights they were clearly outmatched against the minotaurs.

Ilona spent the rest of her time delineating work to the horngoblins. She sent a squad to scout the level the orcs were on and they quickly returned with reports that the passage was blocked, trapped, and set with an ambush. More horngoblins reported seeing dwarves running to the eastern stairwell, and a single kobold had been captured and locked into an unused storage room. Ilona questioned the kobold, Folly, and learned that the dead dwarf, Guran, was a custodian to Dwimmermount, and there are more dwarves living in the lower levels.

She made successful Persuasion checks to get the information out of him, otherwise he would have spat on her.

Days passed and her advisors finally returned. Ilona allowed Mangarak Vigileye to describe the fleshy object blocking the stairwell to Sulla and he immediately noted that the creature sounded like a Psychoplasm, though he wouldn't know what variety of disease had spawned it (atavistic, chaotic or retributive) unless he saw it for himself. They took the elevator down to the level with the cloning chamber and Sulla insisted they stop at the door where the woman Melissia had been trapped. Her voice could be heard inside and he opened the doors with his newly learned Knock spell.

Inside they saw a fairly spartan circular chamber with a beautiful redheaded woman sitting in the center of a summoning circle. She stood up and pleaded that they break the seal of the circle so that she could leave. When questioned about how she had gotten here and why she was trapped in the circle she decided to be honest with them and explain that she was a demon, summoned 200 years ago by a wizard who fled during the fighting of the Typhon Rebellion against Turms Termax, she wanted to find the descendants of this wizard and torture them to death before returning to her home in the Abyss. Horatius didn't have a problem with that and he cut a line in the circle, but this made Sulla and Levity immediately do everything in their power to prevent her from leaving. Melissia charmed Ilona in order to assist her escape but in the end she simply could not get away, and was cut down by Levity and Sulla's magic. As she died Ilona realized she had been charmed and congratulated them on killing her before she could escape.

They finally ventured to the object of their search and prepared themselves to enter the room holding the Psychoplasm.

That's where we ended. It seems like it was a short session, but only because most of it was filled with fighting.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

the Alchemist
[a Rogue Archetype for 5e]

Rogues who study alchemy are adventurous botanists and chemists, always searching for unusual or strange flora in exotic or distant environments. They obsess over the natural world as much as they do their laboratories. Many alchemists spend their time making potions to heal but are often the first people to turn to for an adequate poison. In the magical world, an alchemist is an ideal person to turn to for specialized knowledge. They have a tendency to be homebodies, with endless projects and experiments that can keep them busy for weeks or months. But there are occasional alchemists who take an active role in exploring the wild world around them, and these explorers are the true pioneers of alchemy.

Starting at 3rd level, if you don't already have them, you gain proficiency with Alchemist's supplies and Poisoner's kit.

When you choose this archetype at 3rd level, you gain the ability to mix alchemical formula using Alchemist's supplies at half the cost. The process by which alchemical formula is created is magical but the finished products are not always magical.
Additionally, an Alchemist can use their Alchemist's supplies to Identify (as per the ritual spell) any liquid or potion.

At 9th level, you can attempt to create a missing rare ingredient for a special formula (such as Wyvern venom for a poison) using Alchemist's supplies. Assume it takes at least eight hours and supplies worth 2d6 x 50 gold pieces to adequately create a substitute ingredient.

By 13th level, you have the ability to create your own potions using Alchemist's supplies and in half the time as described in the DMG. You can make any potion that you have ever used, Identified, or come into physical contact with, but cannot brew your own creations.

When you reach 17th level, you can produce Alkahest. It costs 10,000 gp and requires 200 days to craft a single vial using Alchemist's supplies. Alkahest is a powerful disintegration solvent and does not count as a poison or a magical potion. The spell purify food and drink will immediately neutralize the acid if the Alkahest is within range.
If thrown or poured onto a single object or creature, Alkahest immediately deals 4d8 points of damage, and another 4d8 points of damage each round thereafter until it is neutralized. Magical objects have damage resistance against the Alkahest, but assume they will be destroyed just like a regular object of their type once their hit points are reduced to zero (page 246, DMG). A creature which is reduced to 0 hit points by Alkahest is reduced to black residue, and cannot be raised or resurrected. Preventing damage can be done by either submerging the subject in water or wiping it off with clothing, rags, or something similar (both methods will reduce damage by 1 die each round of submersion/activity, but in the latter case the objects used to wipe it off take 1d8 damage each round they are used or until destroyed).
A creature which drinks Alkahest must make an immediate Constitution saving throw versus DC 30. If the saving throw fails, the creature dies immediately as its tongue, jaw, and esophagus melt away. If the saving throw succeeds, the creature takes 25d4 corrosive damage to their internal organs, any damage is interpreted as viscera melting out of the body. In either case, the result is not pretty.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Alchemical Formula

(anyone with proficiency in Alchemist's Supplies can craft these)

Chattercap. After drinking this mixture, the user can throw their voice to any location within 60 feet, which need not be seen but must be known to the user. The voice cannot be thrown through a barricading object, such as a door or wall. Their voice is as quiet as a whisper or as loud as a shout and seems to emanate from the location specified. This effect only lasts for 1 round. (25 gp, weight is negligible)

Fateful Elixir. The drinker of this elixir receives Advantage to the very next ability or proficiency check they make, provided it happens within the next minute. Traveling vendors and mysterious tinkers have been known to give this elixir away for free to veteran mercenaries down on their luck. (25 gp, weight is negligible)

Fire Bottle. Upon breaking the seal of this bottle, the liquid inside ignites but not explosively. The flame produced from the liquid's exposure to air is very dim, it will illuminate a 5-foot radius around the bottle (considered bright light) and extend dim light for another 5 feet. The flame is incredibly hot and can be used to ignite anything even remotely flammable. A few minutes after mixing this potion if the alchemist hasn't sealed the bottle right away then the mixture's effects take hold. (25 gp, weighs 1 lb.)

Golden Philtre. This golden beverage has a cloyingly salty flavor. Upon consumption, the user can add +1 to any attack rolls they make for the next minute. (25 gp, weight is negligible)

Healing Brew. This lightly flavored, dry, and alcoholic beverage warms the body and calms the nerves. It effectively heals 1d4 Hit Points after being imbibed, but also neutralizes any poisons that are affecting the consumer. Drink three and you'll be buzzed, drink six and you're drunk, drink any more and you'll likely vomit, losing all of the effects. (costs 5 gp, weight is negligible)

Kryn's Salve. This ointment is the consistency of watery oatmeal and dark green in color. When applied to a plant its effects are immediate, seed pods will sprout, flowers blossom, or buds bloom. The plant also will not need watering or sunlight for several days as it thrives from the nutrients of the potion. (30 gp, weighs 1 lb.)

Luminescent Water. To get the best use out of luminescent water it should be placed within a glass vial. When shaken vigorously, the water begins to glow brightly and sheds light as a torch would. It has the added benefit of lasting for four hours; after two hours the bright light becomes dim, and after another two hours the dim light fades entirely. (costs 1 gp, weighs 1 lb.)

Universal Glue. This thick mixture begins to flow slowly as soon as it is exposed to the air. If the mixture is touched to an object it leaves a quickly hardening patch of glue, and if a second object is fixed to this glue then the two objects become bonded together semipermanently. The bond sets within 1 round, but the thick fluid won't bond properly if the two objects are being moved (gluing a grappled creature to an object, or another creature, requires that you exceed their Strength check by 5). The only things that can separate two objects that have been bonded with universal glue are a solvent brewed by an alchemist (of equal worth in gp) or by damaging the bond either with heat or a metal instrument (30 hit points worth) which is likely to damage one or both of the objects. (50 gp, weighs 1 lb.)

Vigorous Respite. This foul concoction is a brackish, thick gruel and most find it difficult to swallow, but its effects are potent and last for several hours. For three hours after being ingested, if the imbiber ever falls to 0 hit points for any reason then they immediately stabilize without the need for rolling death saving throws. (25 gp, weight is negligible)

Sunday, August 9, 2015

threats [Kosranon]

the Corpsefiend
These creatures are demons who have possessed the resurrected remains of people who died through great violence. The demons are always knowledgeable and resourceful, and the bodies they possess become supernaturally stronger and more resilient. Every Corpsefiend is driven by an implacable lust to kill. Corpsefiends recognize each other instinctively and always work together when they encounter one another. If many Corpsefiends congregate in one place they will begin to use the resources at their disposal to create great engines and machinery of violence and destruction. It is commonly known that the only reason gunpowder exists is because the Corpsefiends were the first ones to make it.

the Tin Golem
The tin golem is a simple construct from some earlier era. Most have been ravaged by rust and mechanical failures, but those that are still active are observed as behaving in a simplistic manner. The tin golem is often found analyzing a structure, plant, or animal and it always speaks an ancient language. Anybody able to decipher the language hears the tin golem declaring a plethora of facts about the object it is examining. Whether these facts are being recorded somewhere inside the tin golem, or it expects others to listen to what it has to say, is not known. When it is done reciting the facts then it goes about dissecting or destroying the object of it's examination.

Flying Cities
There are flying cities from the old world. Nobody knows who built them or why they are still floating in the skies, following courses that must have been plotted by their extinct pilots, but their presence causes many people to seek out ways of catching up to and climbing aboard these ancient relics of a former age. Those who chase after the flying cities are known collectively as City Stalkers. Those who hunt the flying cities with dreams of catching up to them and climbing up to them are spurred on by tales who have succeeded. There is a flying city, Greenspire, which many City Stalkers have managed to climb aboard but few have managed to bring anything of value back from. Those who return from greenspire are often changed into reptilian scavengers. Because City Stalkers are so brutally competitive, successfully getting aboard Greenspire and making your way back down without becoming mutated in the process is often treated as a right of passage. You're not a true Stalker of the ancient metropolii until you've climbed Greenspire.

These City Stalkers once climbed Greenspire and returned alttered and different. They still crave the thrill of hunting down and catching the flying cities, but now they also seek to kill any who would compete with or challenge their claim to a flying city. There is always a danger when running into a Greenstalker that they won't believe you if you claim not to be interested in the flying cities, and there is always a danger that they just want to kill you and eat you anyway.

Cannibal Bugs
They're out there, they're smarter then you'd expect, and they're hungry. So hungry!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

three races for [5e Dwimmermount]

(modified Hobgoblins from Dwimmermount, a playable race for 5e)

One of the later experiments of the Thulian Empire, horngoblins were created from goblin stock and had their genetic markers mixed with rhinoceros, but also a multitude of other odd-toed ungulate mammals. Horngoblins were designed to act as guards for forts, blockades, and throne rooms. They were not kept as slaves, but like most of the beastial races that came before them they were never treated as equals by their Thulian rulers.

Horngoblins have immense bodies and large heads, short necks, and broad chests. The center of their head is dominated by a single horn that protrudes upward and protects the skull. All horngoblins have thick, protective skin, and tend to subsist off of vegetarian diets. Horngoblins had a strong affinity for the Great Church and many worshiped Typhon and Mavors openly, those that didn't still held a strong sense of duty to their birthplace, wherever that may be.

When the Termaxian Coup occurred many horngoblins were turned into slaves or forced to fight each other as entertainment. After two hundred years of servitude, many horngoblins were being held in stasis when the Typhon Rebellion destroyed Termaxian control over the Empire. There are still said to be horngoblins serving old remnants of the Empire far to the south, but those that lived near their birthplace have either died off or displaced to farther lands and warmer climates.

Male Names: Araus, Arorir, Char, Chud, Diedel, Dieth, Druf, Durge, Gerid, Gred, Poach, Peafyuch, Prefet, Pred, Prieth, Pulip, Rogaud, Rukru, Setho, Sodau, Suled, Thaud, Trauche
Female Names: Augib, Bab, Bafib, Bitha, Brelib, Brib, Brisor, Chauthis, Grilea, Libut, Lobel, Lolath, Pechief, Relib, Rigob, Rorib, Rupa, Sitheb, Sopib, Teaf, Tebu, Thaugib, Thiep

Ability Score Increase: Your Strength score increases by 2 and your Intelligence score increases by 1.
Age: Horngoblins grow to maturity by their early teens and usually die of old age before they're half a century old.
Size: Horngoblin are taller and more muscular than most humans but are still considered Medium sized.
Speed: Horngoblins have a walking speed of 30.
Bellowing Challenge: As a bonus action you can yell a battlecry at one humanoid creature that you can see and that can hear you. They must make a Wisdom saving throw (against 8 + your Proficiency bonus + Charisma modifier) to avoid confronting you directly. On a failed save, the creature is drawn to you and if it does not spend it's next action attacking you then it suffers disadvantage on it's next attack roll. If it succeeds on the save, it can readily ignore you without consequence.
Horn Slam: In combat, you can use a Dash action to slam into another creature with your horn. Make an attack roll (you are considered proficient with this ability) and if you hit you cause 1d10 + Strength modifier in damage and your target is knocked Prone to the ground until the beginning of your next turn. The creature must be within your Reach and your Dash ends when you make your attack roll. If you miss the attack roll, you will either fall Prone yourself (from misjudging the distance then slipping and falling) or the DM can call for you to be Stunned (if your target was standing in front of a stone wall or similar obstruction) until the beginning of your next turn.
Intestinal Fortitude: You gain advantage on any rolls to resist poison.
Thick Skin: When you are not wearing armor, you have a natural Armor Class of 12 before applying a Dexterity modifier. You can use a Shield on top of this and it doesn't decrease your natural AC.
Languages: You can speak both Common and Beastial.

Base Height: 6'
Height Modifier: +2d6
Base Weight: 140 lb.
Weight Modifier: x (5d6) lb.

(modified Bullywugs, a playable race for 5e)

Human and frog hybrids born out of the early Azoth experiments of the Thulian Empire. Possibly created in order to clean and maintain the vast plumbing architecture of Dwimmermount, the ranine now live as scavengers often fleeing from larger threats. They militantly worship the demon lord Tsoth-Dagon.

Male Names: Bez, Gax, Groak, Mona
Female Names: Bulk, Plup, Pop, Puck, Puh

Ability Score Increase: Your Constitution, and Wisdom scores both increase by 1.
Age: Ranine grow to maturity very quickly and live exceedingly short lives, a Ranine who lives for two decades is venerable
Size: Ranine are short, sometimes not exceeding five feet in height. You are considered Small sized.
Speed: Ranine have a walking speed of 25.
Malleable Bones: You can use your Move action to travel through a small space that would otherwise not accommodate your Size. You are considered Tiny when moving through this space, and you can continue this movement for as long as you are able. If you are still in the small space at the end of your Move then you lose any Action or Bonus Action you might take until you have freed yourself from the space (you can still use Reactions).
Amphibious: You can breathe both air and water.
Strong Leaping: You can long jump an additional 20 feet and high jump an additional 10 feet, with or without a running start.
Languages: You can speak Beastial.

Base Height: 3'2"
Height Modifier: +2d6
Base Weight: 100 lb.
Weight Modifier: x (2d4) lb.

(spider-people, a playable race for 5e)

The Thorgrim are a unique beastial race because they are the only magically created race that were not designed and developed by the Ancient Thulians on purpose. A infused mixture of Goblin and spider, the Thorgrim have developed their own rudimentary culture of thievery and scrounging far below the surface of the world. Because they have existed on their own in the bowels of the earth, they have come to worship the demon lord Arach-Nacha who adopted them as his chosen people.

Male Names: Feckle, Klayqus, Kook, Zzarch
Female Names: Aran, Carna, Szizi, Tlatla

Ability Score Increase: Your Dexterity and Wisdom scores both increase by 1.
Age: Thorgrim grow to maturity very quickly. Their bodies reach adult development within 5 years, though their brains are slow to mature and sometimes Thorgrim are not fully realized personalities until their tenth year. Thorgrim age in maturity considerably slowly in comparison and can live as long as 120 years.
Size: Thorgrim are short, averaging about 3 feet tall, and weigh very little, usually around 50 or 60 pounds. Your size is considered Small.
Speed: Thorgrim have a base walking speed of 25.
Iron stomach: You only eat half as much, and when you do eat it doesn't matter if food is spoiled or rotten because it will still sustain you. You also get advantage on disease saving throws and poison saving throws when they are ingested.
Spider climbing: You are proficient with Athletics and get advantage when making checks related to climbing.
Inscrutable: Your emotions and mannerisms are not easily understood by others. You always have advantage when using Deception against humans or other surface-dwelling races, but you also have disadvantage when using Persuasion with same.
Languages: You can speak Beastial.

Base Height: 2'7"
Height Modifier: +2d4
Base Weight: 45 lb.
Weight Modifier: x 1d4 lb.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

a city adventure
[5e Dwimmermount]

Skull.18 10:45pm, the party - consisting of Tsetsig the cleric of Typhon, Gaius Marius the dragon sorcerer, Brughat the dwarf, and Sulla the necromancer - makes the long trek back to Muntburg from Dwimmermount, in their company are the 25 surviving members of the ratkin clan

Skull.19, the party arrives in Muntburg, they negotiate safe passage for the ratkin without issues then wait for the general store and the gemcrafter's to open their shops

having exhausted everything that Muntburg can supply Sulla announces that he must head for Adamas, the rest of the party in Muntburg agrees to join him on the road, Tsetsig magically messages Horatius and tells him to leave Dwimmermount and accompany them to the city-state of Adamas, they begin preparing to leave Muntburg for the city

Tsetsig, Gaius Marius, Brughat, Sulla, Horatius and the ratkin all leave Muntburg, headed for Adamas

Skull.20, the party arrives in Smerdlap's Crossing, they take a short rest for 8 hours then travel by boat to Adamas, the ratkin stay in Smerdlap's Crossing

the party arrives in Adamas and begins shopping, they're mostly going to the same stores so they do not split up, Sulla has bought inks and spends the remainder of the day transcribing new spells into his spellbook

Tsetsig purchases a book for 20 gold entitled "History of Kinship of the Dead Plane" by Viscount Vidath Donafroth, afterward Tsetsig is confronted on the street by a former cellmate he was imprisoned with and stole from, Tsetsig pays him back the money he stole from him and apologizes the only way he knows how

Gaius Marius visits with the city's guard captain and successfully bribes him to erase Tsetsig and Brughat's wanted bounties

Tsetsig and Brughat visit Baron Jagor Futhabìn - the noble who had Tsetsig thrown into prison, Tsetsig tries to makes amends with the Baron but the noble simply wants him to leave and Tsetsig eventually leaves but promises he'll be back, Tsetsig also spends half of his time restraining Brughat from killing the Baron

Brughat returns with Horatius and Gaius, they see that some city guards have been called and Gaius successfully bribes one of them to leave the house, Brughat kills Baron Jagor Futhabìn (and his butler) then they loot the Baron's library and bring the books back to Tsetsig (a lot of titles concern demon-worshiping cults) after setting fire to the Baron's home

Skull.21, the party leaves Adamas early in the morning, they spend the remainder of the day in Smerdlap's Crossing

Skull.22, they arrive back at Dwimmermount at midnight

Sunday, August 2, 2015

I can't draw circles

I finally sat down and committed a level of my megadungeon to ink, scanned it into the computer, and now am sharing it with you. This is only one level. It's not the entrance, but it is meant to be encountered early. Each square is 5'

The big circular area is meant to be an auditorium, the giant quarter-circles are a sloping series of pews facing the center stage at the bottom, the ceiling above a spherical dome. I drew and redrew this, trying to make the circles perfect. I even scanned in a simple pencil copy missing the circle and tried to put a circle onto the map using GIMP and it just didn't line up correctly. I've been stressing out about this map for weeks now. It wasn't until I started drawing the pews for this final map that I realized I should have started with the circle and built the rest of the level around it. I understand why there are few circular areas in old modules now, they're a bitch to draw!

I'm not going to redraw it. At least, not until after I playtest it. For now, I'm going to finish drawing the entrance.

Friday, July 31, 2015

a return to the surface
[5e Dwimmermount]

We were missing the player who plays the party wizard, Sulla, last session. Rather than have him split from the party somehow I just ran Sulla alongside the group, paired his initiative with Tsetsig's, and always announced what I intended to do with him so other players could veto or give commentary on what they thought Sulla would do.

I've been treating the random encounter tables for Dwimmermount as a finite list of monsters.
For the Path of Mavors, level 1, the random encounters listed "gelatinous cube (1)" which I translated as "there is 1 gelatinous cube somewhere on this level" and likewise when the same entry appeared on the next level down I only ever had one gelatinous cube appear.
This means I look at the random monsters as the active components to the level, which are sometimes a part of the factions and groups that are also on the level. But as the forces are whittled down in the rooms, I look at the random encounter list and think "what do these guys do when their friends are no longer in the rooms? what do they do when they find their friends' dead bodies?" or I look at the more beastial monsters and think "when this creature isn't roaming, where does it nest?"

Last week, the session ended with Horatius exiting the cloning chamber and running smack into a pack of rust monsters. The party made short work of the four beasts, and only Ilona came away from the fight with a damaged weapon - everything else used was magical.

The noise drew the attention of some nasty fellows coming down the hall, and as Horatius looked around the corner he saw the troll that had killed Braak followed by his holy warrior friend and two other miscreants. All of the PCs each uttered the word "Micma" to prevent the teleport trap from affecting them, and one of the troll's friends noticed and loudly announced "That word, Micma, must be what turns off the teleport trap!"

Levity dropped a stinking cloud in their enemies' path and one of the troll's friends unleashed a fireball into the party. Several fireballs were thrown on both sides and Levity worked hard to keep his companions alive and fighting. The troll fell to Horatius'es blade and one of Sulla's firebolts, and the battle ended when Sulla placed a crown of madness upon the dumb fighter accompanying the troll who then attacked his wizard friend. They had one friend left, an elf, who ran.

This is the rival adventuring party I mentioned before. The party could have easily TPKed from these guys and some of the characters did almost die. The stats I gave them are:
Greenfellow, straight Troll stats out of the MM, but his double claw attacks were replaced by the flaming sword which did magical 2d10+4 damage while he was wielding it
Tarf the dumb wannabe palading, Gladiator on page 346 of MM
the elven rogue, Spy on page 349 of MM
Gimble the short wizard, the same stats and spells as Sulla - the party wizard

The second fireball that the party got hit by was incredibly weak though (
I rolled a 15 on 8d6!) and if Levity hadn't made his saves from the fireballs then the quick healing he performed might not have happened.

At the end of the fight, Horatius picked up the troll's sword and he heard a voice telling him to kill orcs. He dropped the sword immediately and Sulla began casting detect magic as a ritual while Tsetsig cast identify as a ritual on the troll's sword, but after 1 minute the teleport trap activated and the party was forcibly split up!

Every time somebody declared they were doing something I kept asking "Right here?" and nobody announced that they were moving away from the trap, so I figured it would activate on them. No sense in giving them the benefit of the doubt. I rolled for random monsters for each group that split up but nothing was encountered. The teleportation ended up being nothing more than a nuisance, this time.

They reunited and sat just outside of the teleport trap while Tsetsig took the troll's sword then cast animate dead on the holy warrior (who had been dubbed Paladumb by the players). They decided to work their way to the elevator and return to the Path of Mavors.
They found the elevator easily enough, it was right where they expected it to be (after aligning the maps) but it wasn't operational. Horatius found the secret door to the power room behind the elevator. Levity was the only one who could make out the instructions on the control panels and powered up the elevator. They returned to the first level and Ilona instantly sought out Rigob to inform her of Poach'es death.

Rigob spoke of more soldiers and people coming from the town below, all were brought by the priest of Typhon, Louys Herint, and Ilona decided to confront the priest. Horatius led the way. When they got to the chapel they found him writing letters while two personal guards lounged behind him. Horatius confronted Louys by burning the letter he was currently writing, one of the guards stood and a fight seemed imminent. Ilona interrogated them and determined that one of the guards had let the troll in. Tsetsig commanded him to kneel and Ilona cut off his head - though it took two swipes of her axe. Ilona then informed Louys that he was not to bring any more people to Dwimmermount without her authority, otherwise she would take his head next.

Then they divvied up their loot, Krishka and Puzz insisted on bringing the rest of their people up from the lower levels (which they did without complications), and then Tsetsig and Sulla returned to town.

It took about 2 hours to play out the scene with the priest and then determine who was going back to town and what was being bought. Mostly minutia, but everybody received about 300 gold and 375 gp worth of gems. In previous games I've always played with a silver standard so that seems like a lot to me, but something tells me 6th-level characters should be getting more from a dungeon crawl. I've decided to start using the treasure rewards as written from now on - though I will continue to add quirky magic items wherever I see fit.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

the Saturday night game

I rarely post about the game that I GM on Saturday nights. We don't play every week, and scheduling conflicts sometimes means we only play once a month. It's a 5th edition D&D game set in the Forgotten Realms and Planescape and it's played mostly by the book with very minimal house ruling. I wouldn't normally run a campaign like this by choice, but I inherited the game from the original GM who preferred to be a player and when I first started GMing I pitched a couple of ideas but they were both vetoed and the other players didn't want to reset the whole campaign either. As a result I've been very disorganized with it, sometimes not planning anything ahead of time. Other times having lots of plans prepared, but since the game is played outside of my home one thing I consistently do is forget to bring something with me and then I have to make everything up anyway. I'm incredibly self-conscious about running a game so carefree and loose, but the other players all seem to be enjoying themselves and I never feel pressured to bring a tighter story into play.

Until now.

One of the PCs is a master thief, the Ferret, who has been rivaling his former mentor, the Black Fox. The Black Fox, also known as Koban Tarvis, started using the name Black Ferret in a very deliberate way to tarnish the Ferret's reputation and when they last crossed paths the Ferret threatened to kill the Black Fox. The Black Fox threw Ferret some information that sent him scurrying after a stolen artifact but Black Fox also had no intentions of being cowed and didn't stop using the name Black Ferret.

Fast forward six months in the game and the PCs have just arrived back in Waterdeep to find that in their absence the southern wards flooded and during the flood a blizzard hit town and froze almost everything. The dock ward suffered the most damage, and many people are staying inside but the city hasn't stopped functioning. Couple this with several outbreaks of diseases that are all being credited to the Black Ferret, whom "everybody" has heard of.

Upon learning this last fact, the actual Ferret is pissed that Black Fox is still using his name and immediately wants to start hunting him down so he can kill him. The player detailed exactly how Ferret would go about finding the Black Fox and I had to say "Let's wait until next week to go over those details."

In the moment that I dropped that information about the flooding and the diseases and the Black Ferret, in my mind I was thinking "I really want to run Forgive Us with this group, I think this is the perfect opportunity." And it was! Eyebrows waggle, toothy grin.

In the downtime between sessions I worked out all of the details of the module so nothing would be contradictory. I've got two players who might recognize the Forgive Us module so I've changed a few things as well. The disease worshipping cultists were a hidden sect of Talona worshippers. In fact, Talona fits the adventure so perfectly that its almost like she was tailor-made for it. The name of the tavern is now the Widow's Cat and I'd already given them a map during the last session that nobody understands thanks to a mysterious patron named Lord Purple, the Lord of Secrets (also known as Lord Purpon, the Hoarder).

In his own way, Lord Purple is assisting and petitioning the halfling wizard in the party, Kirani Gemgather, to work for him. Lord Purple helped all of them escape a horde of demons in the Abyss.

I could probably have started this last session with "You've tracked down the Black Fox to his most recently known base of operations, a little tavern called the Widow's Cat" and the party would have gone in without a thought, except I didn't want to throw the adventure at them like I'm expecting them to go in crossbows ablazin'. Instead, the map they had mentioned the Widow's Cat and they went straight for the tavern crossbows ablazin' without any prodding from me!

Despite the creepy nature of the adventure, and the abandoned tavern, I don't think anybody was truly scared until they made their way into the vault. They found a dead body with a hideously long tongue in the cellar and the cleric, Brigga, cast speak with dead to great effect.

"Who are you?" - "I gave them a name but since it wasn't important now I don't remember it."
"Who killed you?" - "My friends."
"What is this place?" - "The secret vault beneath our hideout."
"What is in the vault?" - "My friends."
"Who has the keys to the door?" - "Kurt Anheim, Will Speck, and Koban Tarvis."

It took some doing to get there, but once they had the door open they entered into the rooms of the vault and I foreshadowed the diseased occupants by putting one of them in the corner of the second room, shivering and slowly turning to face them. When it fully turned around it ran toward them and was killed pretty quickly. The rest of the vault that lay in darkness was swarming with more of the diseased and they rushed the party. Kirani fireballed them as they got nearer and Eriel stood her ground cutting them down as they approached.

Because this was 5th edition D&D, I gave the things in the vault these stats:
AC 14, HP 22
+2 attack (additional +2 if within 5' of another Thing, additional +2 if target is already grappled per Thing grabbing them)
no damage, but hit = grappled + Constitution saving throw vs DC 20
each failed save marks one of the Death saving throw circles, if the third circle is filled in the PC becomes a Thing

I think I made them pretty fucking deadly considering 5th edition's power levels. The PCs got really lucky however. Only one PC managed to avoid getting hit and only one PC failed their saving throws against the Things. Brigga the cleric actually almost died but cast lesser restoration on herself just before she might have marked her 3rd death saving throw. Inspiration was spent all around the table, but in retrospect I probably should have forced a saving throw for making a melee attack against the Things too.

The PCs were able to loot the vault, they just swept everything off of the tables into sacks and then booked it back to their inn because they were too creeped out to stick around. I may hit them with more disease saving throws because I haven't determined what all of the loot is yet and I probably won't use the stuff from the module word-for-word. But most importantly, they didn't explore anything beyond the main tavern and the cellar.

They heard dogs barking but didn't investigate. Additionally, they know (via player knowledge) that there's another group exploring the place, but they were feeling icky from having fought weird tentacled-flesh sickness monsters. It's possible they'll end up going back there, but even if they do Waterdeep is super fucked now.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Daughter of Baba Yaga
[a Sorcerer Origin for 5e]

(inspired by Timothy Brannan's tradition for Basic)

Daughters of Baba Yaga
Your innate magic comes from your ancestry which can be traced back to a powerful witch or mystic. Only the women in your family have this sorcerous blood, but few study and foster the powers it can harness. Any witch that shares a lineage to Baba Yaga can recognize one another on sight regardless of how distant their familial connection might be.

Ritual Spellcasting
At 1st level, choose one spell from any class with the Ritual tag. The spell must be of level you can cast, as shown on the Sorcerer table. The chosen spell counts as a Sorcerer spell for you, but isn't included in the Spells Known column of the Sorcerer Table. You can also cast the spell as a Ritual. When you gain a level in the Sorcerer class, you can replace the chosen spell with another spell, following the same requirements

Occult Servant
Starting at 1st level, you always have a familiar at your command, as per the find familiar spell. If it is killed or destroyed, then after you've completed a long rest you can summon it again from its pocket dimension as a bonus action.

Unseen Witchery
Starting at 6th level, as long as you have at least 1 sorcery point to spend you can detect invisible or concealed creatures of the beast or humanoid type within 30 feet of yourself even if they are behind cover. You cannot sense the presence of undead or constructs, nor can you pinpoint exactly where a living creature you can sense is, but you are aware of when living creatures come near.
Additionally, you can now cast Bestow Curse as if it were part of your available spell list.

False Form
At 14th level, you gain access to the Shapechange spell and can cast it as if it were a 7th-level spell, but when you cast it at a lower level you may not apply Metamagic to the spell. Additionally, you can now cast either Animate Objects or Polymorph as a Quickened spell without spending Sorcery Points, but only if you have the Quicken ability and no other Metamagic may be applied to the casting.

Witching Hour
At 18th level, you stop aging. You are unaffected by any kind of magic that prematurely ages you, and you will never die of old age. After you spend one or more Sorcery Points roll 1d20 and on a roll of 19 or 20 you instantly recover one Sorcery Point.

Monday, July 20, 2015

My players meta-game too much
[5e Dwimmermount]

Table talk included banter about my last blog post, specifically the rival adventuring parties they might cross paths with and the fact that Melissia was, in fact, probably not a woman trapped behind a magical door. Last week they were really keen on freeing Melissia from the room she was trapped in, but this week they couldn't care less. So Melissia is now somebody else, and that somebody else is now Melissia. This means Melissia is going to starve to death if they don't get her out of that room, and fuck it, she's the daughter of a powerful noble and wizard, so there's probably good rep and rewards to be earned from rescuing her. And the somebody else will be far less helpful to them when they finally do encounter her. Or him.

My players who insist on using player knowledge for their character's actions will now simply have to ask themselves: Is Patrick lying on his blog?
Maybe. But there's only one way to be sure.

So, what happened this session?
Bik and his entourage of minotaurs in the throne room were taken down. The players won initiative and got judicious use out of Stinking Cloud and Fireball, and Bik was dead within 3 rounds despite his virtual immunity to poison (this was imparted from a magical item he was wearing, see below).

While the fight was going on, the minotaurs in the dining hall heard the battle, grabbed their axes, and proceeded to rush in, but by the time they started coming into the room the dust was settling and Tsetsig had started casting Animate Dead on Bik's corpse. The second combat took about the same amount of time (7 rounds), but the minotaurs all died tried to rush into the room.

The ratkin that were accompanying the party, Krishka and Puzz, were severely injured and much healing was spent making sure they survived while Horatius went around the room and made sure all of the minotaurs were dead. And then an accounting of Bik and his treasure was performed:

A chest of the mundane held everything, it was only after they dumped out the contents that they saw everything for what it truly was.
A scroll of Knock
A scroll of Speak With Plants.
A wand of magic missiles (per the DMG).
A bag of holding (per the DMG, except this bag has a 1% chance of summoning a spectre every time it's opened) currently holding the corpses of three ratkin - Tsetsig removed two of the corpses but held onto the third (for animating later).
Everice (an ice cube that never melts)
Spike of woodland suicide (the players got a huge kick out of this one)
Amulet of Hope (when worn, shines like a candle, the light will point into the direction of the closest non-portal exit)
1908 silver
1 gold devouring coin (will devour gold coins when placed with them - Ilona wants to spend this at a bank)
Bik's silver crown (worth some gold)
Bik's battle axe (does extra +2 damage, requires attunement)
Bik's bracelet (+2 AC, requires attunement)
Bik's leather belt of Kythirean annhilation (damage resistance to poison, inflict double damage against plants, protection from plants - plant attacks have disadvantage, requires attunement)
Weirdstone (gives advantage on wizard/sorcerer spellcasting rolls, if either dice roll a 1 the wizard/sorceror suffers a mutation, requires attunement)

I outsourced half of this hoard from Goblin Punch because Arnold's ideas appeal to my gaming sensibilities. I've been using his ideas for other parts of the dungeon already so it would be fair to say that if you've been reading his blog for the last year then you could possibly see where some of my inspiration for changing Dwimmermount has come from.

The characters retreated to the cloning chamber to rest. Ilona placed all of her coins into the Chest of the Mundane and some of the magic items were divvied amongst the characters.

Horatius got cloned.

Since I established that the ratkin had been using the cloning chamber to replicate food for themselves (there are four chicken and a single sheep in the cloning chamber) I gave Krishka a relatively good ability to operate the machine. Still, she only succeeded on one of three rolls.

Horatius'es clone came out opposite gender and with a very different personality than his own. He's impulsive and adventurous, and she's careful and cautious. For now, she's a follower, but Horatia is also only a 1st-level Fighter which means could be easily killed by many of the things living on these lower levels.

We ended the session with Horatius exiting the cloning chamber only to be confronted by four rust monsters trying to sniff their way in. (I kept forgetting to roll for random encounters so I decided to just have one and rolled up the rust monsters randomly.)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Megadungeons are pinball, and the party is the ball
[5e Dwimmermount]

While I was thinking about the party's progress through Dwimmermount, it occurred to me that their foray into the first two levels was careful and planned but now that they're encountering more of the factions in the lower levels they are bouncing around exploring and pillaging and destroying quite randomly. Like a game of pinball, the ball comes out at the top in a predictable and measured way but then gravity and the bumpers propel the ball into new directions and you have no idea if it will sink down the center of the table (TPK) or if it will fly along the sides of the bumpers to be smacked upward and propelled through the turnstiles and targets again.

Today I asked the player of Horatius to show up early so we could hash out what happened to him when he split from the party.

Turns out, Horatius almost got killed. Repeatedly.

Braak had mentioned he saw a mimic and he led Horatius and Poach back to a room closer to where they first entered this level. Braak pointed out the room, there was no door but inside the floor was lined with silvery-black mushrooms. Horatius stepped into the room to investigate and promptly fell asleep.

The mushrooms are a sleep trap, and after both Braak and Poach failed their saves as well I decided this was the perfect opportunity to say that Horatius had been asleep for an indeterminate period of time.

Horatius awoke to see Klayqus above him, pleading for him to wake up and help him and his friends. A human wearing the old, battered plate mail of an Adamas soldier was fighting some of the thorgrim alongside a gigantic 7 foot tall, green-skinned repugnant man with a flaming sword. The flaming sword skewered one of the thorgrim, and Horatius tried to plead "These guys aren't evil, they aren't going to hurt you." The green man saw Braak and shouted "Goblin! Kill the goblin!" That settled it for Horatius, these guys had to die.

These are Greenfellow and Tarf, from here. Scarleaf and Gimble will be with them the next time they appear.

The green man charged and Horatius tried to stop him, but failed to do much. Braak ran into the room of silver-black mushrooms and the green man followed while the plated human killed another thorgrim. Braak was stabbed through the chest and was almost certainly dead, and the green man was moving to Poach'es still sleeping body to do the same to him. Kalyqus turned to Horatius and said "We should run."

They fled north, down a corridor to the west, and into a circular room filled with pipes, seemingly a dead end.

Klayqus turned a wheel attached to one of the pipes and sliding wall revealed itself. Horatius was escorted through several secret doors until he arrived at the main thorgrim camp, Klayqus explaining who Horatius was as they encountered every new thorgrim. Horatius had begun to learn the Beastial tongue and was picking up some of what was said, but not all of it.

Klayqus pointed down a corridor and said "The ranine are this way, perhaps your friends are as well?" and Horatius continued onward. He found dead ranine, burned to a crisp, and a few more trying to hide from him. He threatened them with his sword and asked where the wizard that had fried their friends went, they said "Downstairs." Horatius returned to the room with the tapestry and the now-destroyed animated statue and ventured down to the next level.

Encountering another statue, he warily approached it and it spoke the name "Micma!" in an echoing voice. Horatius continued on, fighting a rust monster in the next chamber, finding a secret door concealing treasure, continuing west he was bespelled by confusion and then fell into a pit with a black pudding.

I wasn't trying to kill his character, I never even rolled for random encounters, but he was rolling really poorly whenever he fought anything or rolled a saving throw.

Nearly dead, and stumbling north, he found a minotaur slaughtering ranine with a heavy axe. The minotaur asked if he was friends with the wizard and Horatius impulsively replied "No." The minotaur was also nearly dead and asked for help getting back to his king, Bik. Horatius agreed and they were soon separated by the teleport trap.

Horatius saw light coming from the door where his friends were and his arrival was soon followed by the minotaur, who recognized Sulla and attacked. After a brief fight the party took steps to secure their resting place.

We went slightly backward in time. The last session ended with this rest ending, but now at least Horatius had returned to the group.

Shortly after Horatius reunited with the party, the minotaur found his way into the resting area and attacked Sulla. After a short battle, the ratkin were asked to keep guard while the party rested and healed, and while they rested they debated about what their next action should be. The ratkin insisted that Ilona meet with their leader, Krishka, and so they set off down one of the corridors to find her.

Using ratkin instead of wererats was a big departure, but it allowed me to expand on the connection with sapient rats. The ratkin are the only race within Dwimmermount that I set up to automatically be allies with anybody coming in since their primary agenda is to escape, this means the party did not receive any XP for making an alliance with them.

Upon finding Krishka she asked if the way out of Dwimmermount was clear and Sulla explained they would need to be escorted if they hoped to make it past the horngorblin patrols as well as the mercenaries following Louys Herint, the cleric of Typhon. When asked how they managed to survive for 200 years Krishka explained that there was a small farm where they could produce meat.

Another addition on my part, I put a few chickens and sheep into the cloning chamber and decided that Bik has the key because he killed the former ratkin leader for it. The ratkin have been cloning the chickens and sheep whenever they need more food, but now they're starting to starve because the minotaurs have the only key and won't share.

Ilona was keen on having a guide who knew the layout, even after Krishka drew a map of the level.

Ilona insisted on being shown where this chamber was, and Krishka explained that they wouldn't be able to get in. Along the way, Sulla and Horatius discovered that saying "Micma" would deactivate the teleportation trap, making the level more accessible. They found the cloning chamber doors and couldn't get in, as Krishka predicted, but Horatius found the alteration chamber and they began experimenting with the canopy. Horatius was healed slightly, but Ilona insisted they move onward and confront Bik.

They passed a set of double doors and Horatius tried to open them. A voice spoke from the other side "Hello? Is somebody out there?" and they determined that a woman was trapped behind the doors. Nobody could force the doors open so Sulla explained they did not have a way of getting her out of the room and they would be right back as soon as they found something.

This is Melissia (page 202) and I figure she's absolutely desperate to get out but isn't going to make any offers until she actually sees those doors open. Her powers are slightly different in 5th edition compared to, say, 2nd edition and I don't really like that, so I'll be scanning 2nd edition stats when the party returns to this room.

Incidentally, the past few sessions the Knock spell would have been extremely useful and I've put a single Knock scroll into Bik's treasure hoard. They could use the scroll on Melissia's door or Sulla could spend a week trying to learn the spell. Actually, I've put a ton of minor magic items into Bik's hoard because I assume the ratkin would have amassed a lot of items and the minotaurs are basically slaughtering the ratkin and taking their stuff. The evidence of ratkin deaths has been minimal so far, but a pile of bodies will likely be found in the next session.

Ilona was now determined to confront Bik and led the party down the halls she believed would end up where he and his minotaurs were camped. Indeed, they stumbled into his throne room. Bik almost immediately singled out Levity as somebody to negotiate with since Levity had small horns, and while Levity tried to mollify Bik and make peace with him (in Beastial) Sulla interrupted and soured the conversation by challenging Bik's self-proclaimed authority.

A fight was about to occur, but it was the end of the session...

Friday, July 17, 2015

quick clerical NPC stats [5e]

Acolyte: 1st-level
+3 attack ; 1d6+1 mace , 2 unarmed
AC robe 10 ; scale 14
HP weak 5 ; average 10 ; strong 18
Speed 30
Wisdom +2 ; Medicine +4, Religion +2 ; passive Perception 12
Languages Common, +1 relevant
Spellcasting Modifier +4 ; DC 12
Cantrips sacred flame, spare the dying, thaumaturgy
Spells bless, cure wounds, sanctuary
...of Knowledge: Arcana +5, History +5, +2 relevant Languages, plus spells command, identify
...of Life: +3 hp recovered w/ cure wounds or healing word, plus spells command, healing word
...of Light: cantriplight, warding flare (imposes disadvantage on attacking creature 2/day), plus spells burning hands, faerie fire
...of Nature: Animal Handling +4, cantrip druidcraft, proficient in heavy armor, plus spells animal friendship, speak with animals
...of Tempest: wears chain mail AC 16, 1d6+1 trident (thrown, versatile), thunderous rebuke (use reaction to attack with 2d8 lightning/thunder 2/day), plus spells fog cloud, thunderwave
...of Trickery: give ally advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) rolls, plus spells charm person, disguise self
...of War: wears chain mail AC 16, 1d8+1 longsword, when attacking can also Attack as a Bonus action 2/day plus spells divine favor, shield of faith

Cleric: 5th-level
+4 attack ; 1d6+1 mace , 2 unarmed
AC robe 10 ; scale 14
HP weak 15 ; average 25 ; strong 40
Speed 30
Wisdom +3 ; Medicine +6, Religion +3 ; passive Perception 14
Languages Common, +1 relevant
Spellcasting Modifier +6 ; DC 14
Cantrips guidance, sacred flame, spare the dying, thaumaturgy
Spells bless, command, cure wounds, guiding bolt, sanctuary ; blindness, hold person, prayer of healing, spiritual weapon ; bestow curse, dispel magic, spirit guardians
...of Knowledge: Arcana +6, History +6, +2 relevant Languages, plus spells command, identify ; augury, suggestion
Channel Divinity turn undead, knowledge of the ages (gain proficiency in one skill or tool for 10 minutes)

...of Life: +3 hp recovered w/ cure wounds or healing word, plus spells purify food & drink, healing word ; lesser restoration, spiritual weapon / gentle repose
Channel Divinity turn undead, preserve life (restore 25 hp to one or more creatures within 30 feet - points are divided amongst targets, no more than half hp total)

...of Light: cantriplight, warding flare (imposes disadvantage on attacking creature 3/day), plus spells burning hands, faerie fire ; flaming sphere, scorching ray
Channel Divinity turn undead, radiance of the dawn (dispels darkness and does damage to hostile creatures)

...of Nature: Animal Handling +4, cantrip druidcraft, proficient in heavy armor, plus spells animal friendship, speak with animals ; barkskin, spike growth
Channel Divinity turn undead, charm animals & plants (like turning but each beast and plant is charmed to be friendly to priest + allies)

...of Tempest: wears chain mail AC 16, 1d6+1 trident (thrown, versatile), thunderous rebuke (use reaction to attack with 2d8 lightning/thunder 2/day), plus spells fog cloud, thunderwave ; gust of wind, shatter
Channel Divinity turn undead, inflict maximum damage with thunder/lightning damage spell

...of Trickery: give ally advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) rolls, plus spells charm person, disguise self ; mirror image, pass without trace
Channel Divinity turn undead, invoke duplicity (creates illusionary duplicate, spells can originate from and gives attack rolls advantage when within 5 feet)

...of War: wears chain mail AC 16, 1d8+1 longsword, when attacking can also Attack as a Bonus action 3/day plus spells divine favor, shield of faith ; enhance ability, magic weapon
Channel Divinity turn undead, gain +10 to Attack roll

High priest: 9th-level

Archpriest: 13th-level

Pope: 17th-level

Acolyte of Light : 1st-level
+3 attack ; 1d6+1 mace , 2 unarmed
AC robe 10 ; scale 14
HP weak 5 ; average 10 ; strong 18
Speed 30
Wisdom +2 ; Medicine +4, Religion +2 ; passive Perception 12
Languages Common, +1 relevant
Spellcasting Modifier +4 ; DC 12
Cantrips light, sacred flame, spare the dying, thaumaturgy
Spells bless, cure wounds, sanctuary, burning hands, faerie fire
Reaction: warding flare (imposes disadvantage on attacking creature 2/day)

Cleric of Light : 5th-level
+4 attack ; 1d6+1 mace , 2 unarmed
AC robe 10 ; scale 14
HP weak 15 ; average 25 ; strong 40
Speed 30
Wisdom +3 ; Medicine +6, Religion +3 ; passive Perception 14
Languages Common, +1 relevant
Spellcasting Modifier +6 ; DC 14
Cantrips light, guidance, sacred flame, spare the dying, thaumaturgy
Spells bless, command, cure wounds, guiding bolt, sanctuary, burning hands, faerie fire ; blindness, hold person, prayer of healing, spiritual weapon, flaming sphere, scorching ray ; bestow curse, dispel magic, spirit guardians
Reaction: warding flare (imposes disadvantage on attacking creature 3/day)
Channel Divinity turn undead, radiance of the dawn (dispels darkness and does damage to hostile creatures)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I think level drain is stupid.

I love Dwarf Fortress! It's brutal, unforgiving, and it doesn't care about helping you learn how to play. The lesson of Dwarf Fortress is that eventually, no matter what, you will lose. You will learn from losing, you will grow into a better player, and you will become better and stronger and smarter. But I do not want to play that as a tabletop RPG. That is the closest comparison I can make of what level drain embodies for me, an inescapable death spiral for the character and a "reset button" for the player.

The way level drain was first described to me, and the way I've always envisioned it ever since, was that when your character gets drained they don't lose xp. Instead your level drops but your xp is still used to calculate when you level up. If you don't see a cleric and get a Restoration spell cast then you're simply stuck at that level as you level up. So if you're a 7th level fighter (125k xp for level 8) and you get drained down to level 1, if you manage to acquire 125,000 xp afterwards then you go up to level 2 - until you see a cleric, if ever.

But it turns out that was a houserule.

It would be fair to say that I have never played with a GM who used level drain as described by the rules. Either the GMs I played with didn't understand exactly how it was supposed to work, or they understood it but modified it to fit their personal style. The only time I have encountered level draining monsters were as a cheap way of stripping a PC of their levels. When I started GMing I never used monsters that had level drain abilities, and the one time I had a vampire NPC I just houseruled it as a Constitution drain that would heal the vampire of hit points.

1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
What the rules say: Referred to as energy drain, it causes the character to lose a level without a saving throw. Hit points and abilities from the experience level are lost, and xp is dropped to the mid-point of the next lower level. Characters reduced to zero level can never gain xp again, and zero level characters die when they are drained of a level.
Monster descriptions: Brief summaries of the effect, but descriptions assume you have access to the PHB and DMG.
Recovery options: 7th-level cleric spell recovers a single level by restoring lost experience points to the minimum needed to recover the lost level. There is a time limit of effectiveness based on the cleric's level.

The first time I had a character get level drained, the GM basically isolated my character and forced me into a one-on-one encounter with a spectre, and he only realized as I was about to die that I didn't have a single weapon that could have hurt the thing. I have only ever seen level drain used in this manner, as a personal "challenge" or as a punishment by a pisspoor DM (with one exception, the original Ravenloft module and the third time I ever played D&D). But even if that weren't my experience, the concept is pretty flawed simply because it's not very elegant.

Let's assume an 8th level fighter is going up against a vampire, an 8 HD creature. Seems like a pretty even match, right? But the vampire wins initiative. Suddenly the fighter is 6th level and it's no longer an even match, and if the circumstances of that situation mean the fighter is trapped or was forced into this fight then you're basically playing a game of "Who wins initiative?" followed by a game of "How long can we keep this character alive through sheer luck of dice rolls?" and all because you lost the first round of initiative.

I can't imagine where this might be an acceptable game mechanic because it ranks right up there with "let's have your 14th-level character make this saving throw or else they die" in terms of how fun it is.

Zak Smith has told me that I just need to play smarter, but this statement assumes the GM is smart too (and also assumes the GM isn't some sadistic dickhead who GMs with something to prove). The GM is responsible for setting the stage and delivering information to the players about their environment, and if the information is paltry or even nonexistent, or the GM deliberately ambushes the player, then you're never given the opportunity to play smarter. I've played games where I've never even been given the opportunity to run away, or running away was simply not an option from how the GM described the scenario.

Let's say my character has been asked to hunt down a vampire that's tormenting the little town of Barovia and I ask the GM how he uses level drain, the GM says "vampires have traditional level drain." I would likely try to do everything in my power to avoid confronting the vampire directly. I'd turn his servants against him rather than face him head on. From my personal experience, no GM would ever allow such tactics to work, they would always force a direct confrontation with the main villain or simply allow all of your schemes to spoil in some way.

The same Zak Smith uses level drain for his vampires in Red & Pleasant Land and in that adventure it seems completely appropriate, there are no ambushes or Gotcha! moments written into R&PL. A good GM with smart players could have a grand olde tyme evading the dark machinations of the vampire lords in Voivodja, but if it were me I still wouldn't use level drain as its written.

Let's examine my reasons why.

Exhibit A: Absurdity
A character's xp and level are meant to be an abstract way of determining how skilled and learned a character is, just as hit points is an abstract way of determining overall health and fatigue. Levels are not just a way of giving your character hit points but they also represent stuff your character knows. Fighters know better moves, wizards learn better spells, thieves learn how to sneak and pickpocket better, and so on. When those things disappear because a wight touched your skin it just doesn't make sense because it's not called memory drain.
There's a counterargument that levels don't represent memory but overall skill. When your level is drained you are becoming sluggish and less skilled, hence the loss of skills. Then why doesn't level drain actually do that by draining skills and abilities? Why the abstract overall level? My answer to that is: see Exhibit D.

Exhibit B: Houserules + Paperwork
I have never seen a GM, nor heard of a GM, who uses level drain by the book. Why keep using level drain if nobody actually uses it the way it's written?
The DMG suggests that to be truly accurate when PCs level up you should instruct players to write how many HP they earned as a string of numbers on their character sheet. This was back in 1st edition when you didn't have proficiencies and skill checks and you also had level-based saving throws that weren't tied to ability scores. In both 1st and modern editions, unless you're doing that with every aspect of levelling up then the paperwork involved slows down play, and I would want the mechanic to be elegant and simple. I suspect the reason most people houserule level drain is because of this complexity, the tedium of rewriting a character stops the action at the table.

Exhibit C: Recovery is a bitch!
Unconsciousness and petrify have magical solutions which can end them in one casting. Death is a variable because some GMs don't allow Raise Dead or Resurrection in their games, but according to the rules a single spell can still solve that problem. In comparison Level Drain is not simple, recalculating HP, losing abilities and erasing xp and on top of that Level Drain requires multiple castings of Restoration to correct, and even then you've lost the xp forever so you can't recover completely.
The Restoration spell will only bring the character back up one level per casting, and even then your xp is only restored to the bare minimum of what was necessary to get to that level. That's lame all by itself. The mechanic is simply a way to divest a PC of experience points. The xp lost is completely and utterly unrecoverable. I don't even mind the rule that it might require multiple castings of Restoration to return to the level at which you once were, but the permanent loss of xp is just unacceptable to me. That is primarily why I find the effect so tiresome and nobody seems to want to argue a case for justifying or overlooking this part of the rules.
If a single Restoration could bring you back to what you were at pre-draining (without any loss of xp) then I would likely have less of an issue with it. But then I'm just houseruling it, aren't I?

Exhibit D: Cheap
How do you know it's cheap? There's no save. It just happens. This is the biggest factor about why I think it's dumb. Level drain isn't even in the same category as a save-vs-death or vs-unconsciousness or vs-petrify. Those things suck, but at least they're still simple effects and you get to roll dice.
It's not scary to lose xp and levels permanently, it's eye-rollingly boring. Especially if you're less than 1000 xp away from your next level and some GM springs a level drain on you then you're basically fucked. It's a cheap shot, and Gygax was the king of cheap shots!

In summation
I'm already playing RPGs to have fun and cut loose and I don't like the idea of tracking each individual HP roll every time I level up, or tracking my skills either. Just playing as a wizard and tracking my maximum ability scores in DCC was pretty time-consuming (but not to the point of making that game completely unfun). Furthermore, if I'm playing a high level fighter and I'm only 1000 xp shy of level 9, get drained to 7, then still manage to defeat my enemy and get a Restoration spell, I would still have permanently lost hundreds of thousands of experience points. That's stupid. I would rather play a houserule where I can still recover that lost xp, or in a different game altogether.

More comparisons & addendum

2nd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
What the rules say: Virtually identical to 1st edition rules except the effect is clarified for all classes with extra paragraphs.
Monster descriptions: Simple descriptions that assume you have a DMG.
Recovery options: Identical to 1st edition, however Wish is made note of as a spell that can cure all lost levels with a single casting.

3rd edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
What the rules say: Energy drain is simplified into a cumulative negative effect applied to ability/skill checks, attack rolls, saving throws, hit points, and character level. Saving throws now apply to avoid the energy drain and experience points are unaffected. The rules are completely absent from the PHB and the entirety of the effect's description is in the DMG.
Monster descriptions: Simple summaries which refer to the effect and explain what the saving throw is to avoid.
Recovery options: The cleric spell, Restoration, has been brought down to 4th level but otherwise is identical to the 1st and 2nd edition versions of the 7th-level spell Restoration. A new 7th-level spell, Greater Restoration, recovers all lost levels from an energy drain with a time limit measured in weeks rather than days.

I was expecting there to be a bit more variation between 1st and 2nd editions, but this just shows that 1st and 2nd edition rules changed only in miniscule ways while 3rd edition introduced the first radical departures from the original ruleset.

4th edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
What the rules say: Never mentions level draining in either the PHB or the DMG.
Monster descriptions: Previously level-draining monsters have direct damage attacks with names that are called "life drain" or "soul siphon" but the words level drain and energy drain are never mentioned anywhere. Just reading the Vampire entry without the context of an undead lord it reads like a blood sorceror with tons of attacks that can only damage a single target. Lame.
Recovery options: Rest for an hour and you'll probably be fine (I fucking hate 4th edition).

5th edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
What the rules say: Nothing. It doesn't exist anymore.
Monster descriptions: Monsters that used to have energy drain have been replaced with abilities that lower hit points permanently. This is, to me, scarier than the traditional level drain, however the effect is nerfed right out of the gate since every ability describes that the permanently lost hit points can be recovered after a Long Rest, 5th edition's mechanic for "sleeping it off." The vampire in the 5e Monster Manual just seems like a crude version of Lugosi's Dracula.
Recovery options: Restoration no longer exists. Lesser and Greater Restoration still exist as 2nd- and 4th-level spells, but they now apply healing to different damaging effects.

Losing level drain from the rules completely doesn't seem right. Powerful undead, especially vampires, should have some kind of special attack that you can frighten PCs with. The whole concept behind level draining is that a character drained below zero level becomes an undead version of themselves. You can leave a similar attack in place of level drain and still have an ability to frighten PCs into picking their battles and running away if they need to.

Let's take a look at how some of the OSR systems handle level drain starting with the ones most similar to, or mimicking, the original AD&D rules...

Labyrinth Lord
What the rules say: Alternately refers to effect as energy drain, drain energy, or level drain. Rules are explicit that there is no saving throw and the character loses HD and abilities associated with levels lost, but doesn't mention xp loss.
Monster descriptions: Repeat incomplete summaries of level drain rules, and some descriptions are explicit about losing xp to the minimum of the new level.
Recovery options: Restoration spell recovers one level but with a time limit based upon caster level, also recovers xp to minimum of restored level.

Adventurer Conqueror King
What the rules say: Rules are explicit, calling the effect energy drain. There is no saving throw and the character loses abilities associated with the levels lost, including reducing xp to minimum of new level. Rules also explicitly call out that only ritual magic can reverse the effect.
Monster descriptions: Do not summarize rules but simply refer to the effect as energy drain.
Recovery options: There is no Restoration spell. Wish is called out as an appropriate ritual spell for recovering levels but there is no mention of recovering xp.

Castles & Crusades
What the rules say: Calls the effect energy drain and allows a Constitution-based saving throw to avoid. Explicitly calls out loss of abilities and HD associated with levels lost, and xp is reduced to halfway point toward next level. Characters can be drained to zero level, but drained below zero level causes death.
Monster descriptions: Each monster description gives a brief but comprehensive summary of how the energy drain works.
Recovery options: Restoration spell recovers one lost level, and Greater Restoration spell recovers all lost levels and abilities. Both have time limits based on the level of the spell caster, and neither mentions recovering xp.

What the rules say: Rules are explicit, calling the effect level drain. The character loses abilities associated with the levels lost, including reducing xp to minimum of new level.
Monster descriptions: Alternates between calling it level drain and energy drain, but otherwise simply lists the effect and doesn't repeat a summary of the rules.
Recovery options: Restoration spell recovers one level, has a time limit based upon caster level, and brings the character back to minimum xp for level restored.

Adventures Dark and Deep
What the rules say: I don't own the Game Master's Toolkit
Monster descriptions: I don't own the Bestiary
Recovery options: Restoration spell recovers one lost level, has a time limit based on the level of the caster, and doesn't mention recovering xp.

Adventures in the East Mark
What the rules say: No explicit description within the rules.
Monster descriptions: Referred to as energy loss, it causes a loss of HD and abilities but there is no mention of losing xp.
Recovery options: Restoration recovers all lost levels but must be performed within 24 hours of losing them.

The following OSR systems deviate in significant ways from the original AD&D rules...

Swords & Wizardry
What the rules say: No rules given and no mention of xp loss.
Monster descriptions: Describes effect as level drain, and adds whether the characters dies or becomes the monster in question if reduced to zero level. Effect is described as if level is just another separate set of hit points.
Recovery options: Restoration spell recovers all lost levels.

Dungeon Crawl Classics
What the rules say: No section explicitly describes it.
Monster descriptions: Some monsters have a "drain xp" or "vampire bite" ability that drains xp if a Will save is failed, and nothing describes what happens if xp drops below the current level - probably nothing because in DCC losing 1 point of experience can be potentially devastating. Ironically, there is no vampire in the monster section of the rules.
Recovery options: The Restore Vitality spell only recovers lost ability scores and there is no apparent way of recovering lost xp.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess
What the rules say: Describes the traditional effect of level drain but offers a fairly powerful and brutal Constitution drain rule as an alternative time saving rule.
Monster descriptions: There are no monsters in the rulebooks.
Recovery options: There is no spell for recovering lost levels or lost attribute points.

I really like the way LotFP handles level drain because losing Con is a simple way of tracking the loss of energy and your maximum HP will degrade as you lose Con, plus in the LotFP rules the draining is actually more brutal for a high level character and could be used with a low-level character and still be an equal challenge because it only takes a few drains to die from it but it's always based on the character's Constitution, which rarely goes up and down from level to level.
Unexpectedly, I also really like the DCC method where the character loses 1 xp per drain, even though that's a devastating effect and it's still permanent the character won't lose levels from the effect and will only be pushed back from earning new levels - and ironically, the opposite of how the rule was first explained to me.

How I would bring back Level Drain while running 5th edition D&D

I would let my players decided between two options:

1) use LotFP's alternative system for Con draining. This still gives most characters a lot of breathing room since it only drains 2 Constitution at a time, but give the Vampire double the effectiveness and you've restored a monster to a semblance of brutality that modern players will gasp at. The 4th-level spell Greater Restoration is required to recover this lost Constitution, a Long Rest simply won't cover it.

2) modify the monster entries in the 5th edition Monster Manual so that instead of permanently draining hit points or ability scores convert the damage dice to an XP loss multiplier. 1d4 Strength damage? No, 1d4 x 100 experience points. 4d8 hit points? No, 4d8 x 100 experience points. These effects all have saving throws built in so if you fail the save then the experience points are lost permanently, just like in DCC. This way spells don't need to be modified to accommodate the new rule and a Long Rest still just won't cut it!

Yup, a house rule!
Why not? Everybody else does it.