Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Race of Chirak in D&D 5E: The Animates

This is part of my ongoing revision to the Realms of Chirak core campaign book which I would like to release in 2015 as a 5E setting if WotC will ever bother to finalize details of either an OGL or some sort of licensing for 3PP. I'd actually love some feedback on this racial option. It's built to fit the style and options of the animates as presented in 3rd and 4th edition iterations, and the balance of the animates depends on a racial feat to control the pace of acquiring animate add-ons. Whether it's really suitable for PCs or not is a different question. 

  Animates are the magically animated forms of golems brought to life through an imbuement with elemental energies. With very few exceptions, most animates are relics from the pre-apocalyptic age or derived from the remains of such,  and it is believed that they were used as servants by the Old Mythrics, Inadasir, and other lost cultures both during peace and war.
   Animates most people hear tell of in legends are the great monstrosities that guard the Black Dome of the north near the White Desert, killing and smashing all that approaches. The lesser known forms are sometimes referred to simply as collectors, humanoid entities of clay, metal and other odd patchwork parts sent out into the world to gather knowledge. They are sometimes self described as researchers and scholars, while at other times they seek out specific objects or items, and will often trade and barter for such items if they are held in high regard. Doppelgangers who have been utterly refused have been known to leave, only to come back later with deadly reinforcements.
   Animates are unusually difficult characters to play, but can be an interesting challenge for someone who would like to try out a living construct. Animates usually serve some unusual ultimate purpose, which could be a long term campaign goal. On occasion animates achieve a sense of independence, perhaps having been inactivated due to damage, or on rare occasion shutting down due to some inhibition of their elemental power source. These animates may have a sense of free will and curiosity on their own, and an urge to explore.

Playing an Animate Character
   Animates build their humanoid collector models to emulate living creatures, and so the nature of the magical artificing imbues them with life-like qualities, although they are clearly made of artificial materials. An animate collector appears to look like a human or elf made of stylized and decorative pieces of metal, ceramics, cloth and a strange fiber.
Average Height: Variable, usually in precise measurements of 5, 6, or 7 feet in height
Average Weight: 300-500 lbs.
Ability Scores: +1 Int, +1 Con
Size: Medium
Speed:  30 feet
Vision:  Normal, but an animate may choose better vision (see below)
Languages: Old Mythric, Espanean (or one other) and Tradespeak
Keen Observers:  Animates are racially proficient in Perception.
Living Construct: Similar to standard constructs, living constructs are imbued with an elemental anima, or animating force that gives them life-like properties and separates them from golems and other unliving animated entities. As such, animates have the following differences and similarities from standard constructs:
Animates do not need to eat, breathe or sleep, but they still require eight hours of immobile activity to replenish their elemental power cores (and magical abilities or spells)
Animates are subject to any fortitude save that would ordinarily affect an object, but they are immune to poison and disease effects that do not target elementals as well
Elemental Attunement: Animates must choose an elemental trait that reflects their animating force: they gain resistance against attacks with that elemental property. Choose from: cold, fire, force, lightning, necrotic, psychic, radiant or thunder. Additionally animates can choose from two additional elemental types: earth, which grants the animate an unarmored AC of 16 plus Dex modifiers instead of any special resistance, or air, which grants the animate the ability to levitate as the spell at will (costs 1 action to activate).
Unnatural Physiology: although magical healing replenishes the elemental lifeforce of animates, the medicine skill is utterly useless when dealing with these creatures. Animates that have been damaged utilize the magic of their animating force to repair injury (allowing them to spend hit dice to heal wounds), an effect which is not unlike the mending spell. Actually using a mending spell on an animate will restore 2D4 hit points of damage, but the animate can only benefit from the mending spell once per short rest (the spell has upper limits for what it can do to heal living constructs).
Death and Living Constructs: Animates that reach zero hit points are inactivated; animates that reach the negative of their HP score are completely destroyed, and their elemental anima dispersed. Animates are believed to have no souls and so cannot be resurrected or raised (except by animate clerics, it seems). Animates who are raised by their own kind usually suffer memory loss of up to 1D6 months of events prior to their deaths. The animate clerics of the machine gods explain that their loci is only “backed up” periodically, and do little else to explain to outsiders what that means.
Construct Slots: Animates modularize themselves, adding or removing features best suited to the job at hand. Animates at level 1 have two “slots” they can install features in to. At later levels animates can take a feat which lets them add additional slots. Once an animate has filled a slot with one or more of the installed features, they can later free those slots up by installing other features. This requires an extended rest to properly perform (or 8 hours). Installing the new equipment isn’t just a matter of bolting it on, the anima of the construct has to attune to the device as well. This attunement in unique to the animate and does not count against normal attunement to magic items.

Animate Racial Feat: Advanced Construct Slots
   This feat can be taken by animates only, and expands them to allow for two additional construct slots. The animate may then choose the additional traits to install when the feat is chosen, though the DM may require an expenditure of time or coin to “activate” the chosen traits, typically 100 GP per slot and 8 hours of install time. Animates may take this feat multiple times, but each time the feat is taken the animate’s form grows proportionately larger and more “accessorized.” Animates with 8 or more slots are considered large creatures.

Animate Racial Traits:
   The following traits may be used to fill the construct slots. At level 1 animates start with one or two traits (enough to fill both slots; most traits take one slot). Many animate traits emulate spells. The animate uses constitution as the spell ability for determining attacks, damage bonuses and save DCs unless specified otherwise.

Night Vision (one slot)
   An animate with this ability can see at night as if it were daylight, although sudden bright lights can be momentarily blinding. Complete darkness is equivalent to dim light. Only darkness spells will remove the animate’s ability to see.
Rules: This effect is a bonus action to activate, and remains on until deactivated. If the animate is surprised by sudden bright light equivalent to sunlight within 10 feet of his location, he has disadvantage against ranged attacks and perception checks until the beginning of his next turn.

Elemental Spray (one slot)
   Small holes in the ends of the animate’s fingers release a stream of burning liquid in an arc spray.
Rules: The animate gains a ranged attack that functions like burning hands, with two specific exceptions: the animate may choose a different elemental type for the damage that matches its own elemental attunement, and it gains 3 “charges” to use the effect, each equivalent to a level 1 spell slot. These special charges require a long rest to recover. If the animate is elementally of earth type the effect is fire. If the elemental type is air it will be thunder or lightning (animate’s choice).

Elemental Reservoir (one slot)
Prerequisite: elemental spray must be installed.
   The majority of the animate’s arm and additional storage on the back of the construct are used to provide extra fuel and punch to the animate’s elemental spray.
Rules: the elemental reservoir enhances the elemental spray, granting the animate an additional 3 slots to use for powering the elemental spray. Burning hands may be empowered with higher level spell slots; with the elemental cannon installed the animate can now “spend” the charges to attain a higher level of effect by adding them to get the desired level (i.e. with 6 charges the animate could use the spell as equivalent to a level 1 slot six times, or burn them all as a level 6 spell slot, or fire twice at level 3 each). As with the regular elemental spray all of the charges are restored after an extended rest.

Change Self (one slot)
   With a thought, the animate’s exterior appearance changes like plastic to emulate another humanoid form.
Rules: This ability emulates the wizard spell disguise self and works in the same manner. The animate gains 3 charges equivalent to 1st level spell slots which can be used to power the effect. The charges replenish after a long rest.

Hardened Skin (one slot)
   This animate can tense up, as armored plates lock together in to a solid, impenetrable mass of hardened ceramic, metal and wood.
Rules: the animate may activate this effect as a bonus action and gains a natural AC of 18 (equivalent to plate armor, does not stack with other armor or dexterity). The effect lasts for ten minutes. Once used hardened skin cannot be restored until a short rest is taken.

Machine Logic (one slot)
   Some animates are particularly mechanical in their way of thinking, and perceive reality through calculated, analytical eyes.
Prerequisite: Wisdom or Intelligence of 13 or better.
Rules: The animate gains advantage against all illusory and mind-affecting attacks as well as attacks.

Advanced Fire Spray (one slot)
Prerequisite: animate with elemental (fire) spray installed.
Benefit: Animates that use the elemental spray may choose this option. The animate can spray a lingering elemental fluid from its fingertips in addition to the normal elemental spray attacl. The spray does an additional 1D6 ongoing damage of the chosen elemental type to all targets hit by the spray each round. The targets must save vs. Constitution (DC equal to 10 plus animate’s CON) to extinguish the elemental “burning” at the end of their turn. The effect will dissipate after one minute if not extinguished via save.

Advanced Machine Logic (one slot)
   The animate has honed its machine logic to a razor’s edge.
Prerequisite: Animate with machine logic installed; Wisdom and Intelligence of 15 or better
Rules: The animate gains total immunity to charm effects and resistance against psychic damage. In addition, when rolling advantage on saves against mind-influencing and illusory effects the animate may ignore any 1’s or 2’s and reroll.

Photographic Recall (one slot)
Prerequisites: Intelligence 15 or better.
Rules: Animates can be constructed and magically programmed to record what they see and hear with stunning precision. As time goes by, this ability is nurtured and becomes truly vivid. Animates with this ability gain a sense of amazing recall about events they have witnessed.
   The animate gains three “recall charges” to use with this trait. Each time the animate expends a charge as a bonus action it may choose one of the following features. The charges, once spent, may be recovered with a long rest.
Skill Advantage: recall useful information regarding a skill or attribute check, gaining advantage for that roll
Attack Advantage: gain advantage on your next attack
Lore Recall: recover one useful bit of data from memory about current or historical lore or information relevant to the adventure (subject to DM interpretation)
Proficiency: gain proficiency on your next action based on recollection of useful information
Lost Memories: an animate can try to remember ancient experiences from its own life or the lives of other animates it can access. Make a intelligence (history) check to determine how old the memory is. The result may at the DM’s discretion grant proficiency on one relevant skill or attribute check that relates to the recovered memory.
Roll                  Length of Time
1-5                   1 week
6-10                 1 month
11-13               1 year
14-16               10 years
17-20               100 years
21-25               1,000 years
26-34               2,000 years
35+                  +1,000 years
   Note that an animate might be fairly young, but its internal memory might contain archived data going back thousands of years. Any animate with an intelligence of less than 15 does not contain an archived data bank and can not be upgraded with one until its intelligence is improved to 15 or better.
   Once the recall is complete, the animate may photographically reconstruct an image recalled in a physical media (such as potter or painter); the animate gains a bonus (based on the above chart) to the relevant skill (usually perform) for such attempts. It will be almost lifelike, depending on the quality of painting materials. An animate with the Mimicry trait (see below) may precisely duplicate voices from any period of time (like a recording, but not as voice mimicry). Minutiae down to the signature on a clay pot or the runes on a banded ring may be recalled with this ability.

Mimicry (one slot)
Prerequisites: Charisma 14+
   Animates with this trait installed are able to study and precisely imitate the motions and voice of those they encounter. Some perfect it to an art.
   The animate can study one target for a period of time that it can see and attempt to mimic that target with a Charisma (deception) skill check. The base DC for this task is 15, modified as follows:

DC 15 if the target is studied for 1-10 minutes
DC 13 if the target is studied for more than 10 minutes
DC 20 if the target is studied for 1 minute or less
DC 25 if the target is attempting to disguise its own movement or behavior (or make a contested roll vs. the target’s deception skill)
Roll with advantage if studied for one hour or more
Roll with disadvantage if the subject is being mimicked through second-hand (but accurate) information

   The animate, if successful, will precisely imitate the mannerisms and voice of a target (or both, with two separate checks). The mimicry will be so precise that the animate could be instantly assumed to be its mimicked target. Note that the animate that does this is actually doing a form of pantomime, and is not creating movements that are able to duplicate combat or skill-based actions of the target. Nonetheless, the result is uncanny compared to conventional thespians, a mechanically precise duplication of life.
   Photographic recall used with this feat may allow for additional applications of this trait.

Resistant Skin (two slots)
   The animate enhances his hardened skin for a total carapace which resists specific damage types.
Prerequisite: Animate with hardened skin installed, Level 8+

Rules: This animate has added a layer of additional protection on his exterior carapace. In addition to his normal bonuses when activating hardened skin, he adds resistance as well. The resistance will be against either 2 elemental damage types of choice, or against piercing, slashing and crushing damage. The effect lasts for as long as regular hardened skin does. The choice of resistance types may be changed after a long rest.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

D&D 5E: The Justicar - a level 5 skeletal Paladin of Vengeance

The DMG offers lots of cool options, one of which includes NPC stat details for making class-based monsters that are under 1 CR in base value. This list includes some surprising options, including skeletons....of which I have offered one such example here for perusal or use as a future NPC. Naturally a open-minded DM could even let players use these monster stats to make some interesting PCs (although the book sort of dodges the subject between this chapter and the one on actually creating PC variants).

I now offer you....the Justicar!

The Justicar (formerly Asrudon Dann Faenor)
Race:     skeleton (undead humanoid)     
Class:    Paladin of Vengeance,  Level 5
Alignment: Lawful Neutral  
Background: Justicar of Kavishkar slain at the Battle of Three Hills
STR 16 (+3)
DEX 11 (0)
CON 10 (0)
INT 8 (-1)
WIS 10 (0)
CHA 12 (+1)
HD 5D10
HPs 36
Saves: WIS +3, CHA +4
Proficiency Base: +3
AC 20

Languages: common (Middle Tongue),  Orcish (note: unable to speak languages)
Skills: Athletics +6, Intimidation +4, Perception +3, Deception +4
Paladin Traits: divine sense (1/day), lay on hands (25 pts), fighting style (protection), spellcasting (prepare 3 per day), divine smite (2D8+sp.), divine health, sacred oath (vengeance), extra attack
Oath of Vengeance: Spells (bane, hunter’s mark), abjure enemy, vow of enmity (note vows are “mouthed” but no noise made when uttering the oath)
Monster Traits: vulnerable to bludgeoning, immune to poison and exhaustion, can’t be poisoned, darkvision 60 feet, can’t speak but does understand languages known in life

Spell Slots:  Level 1: 4, Level 2: 2
Spell Save DC: 12
Spell Attack Modifier: +4
Typical Prepared Spells: Wrathful Smite, Find Steed (always manifests as a skeletal steed)

Armor:  platemail (AC 18, disadvantage on stealth) and shield (+2 AC)    
Melee Weapons: battleaxe (1D8+3 slashing; 2 attacks: +6 to hit; versatile D10 weapon)
Ranged Weapon: heavy crossbow (1D8 damage; 2 attacks: +3 to hit; ammo, heavy, loading, 2-H)

Equipment: tattered clothes and tabard of his justicar’s station in life, body entwined in the barbed chains that dragged him beneath the earth during the battle, a thick, dark tattered cloak which he uses to conceal his form, heavy gloves and gauntlets, a full visored helm.
Trinket: barbed abyssal chains which enfold his body and armor like a shroud of doom.

Personality Trait: singular mind for vengeance, The Justicar was raised from the dead in a cruel twist after he was slain one year prior while trying to kill the balor Rusivag at the Battle of Three Hills. He seeks only vengeance against all beings of chaos and undeath now.
Ideal: the murder of the unjust and the spawn of chaos; the ultimate murder of Rusivag.
Bond: The Justicar still remembers snippets of his living existence, and feels a strong compulsion to protect those around him who are innocent.
Flaw: He has lost so much in his transition from living to undead, his soul is a fragmented remnant of what he once was; he is driven only be the potent memories of his last act of vengeance, to slay the balor and all who stand against the righteous might of Hyrkania.


Asrudan Dann Faenor was a knight of the Order of the Justicars out of Krythia, dedicated to the religious teaching of the death pantheon, and specifically Kavishkar, the lord of judgement. It was Asrudan’s fondest desire to execute the foes of the empire of Hyrkania in the name of his holy god and the emperor.

During the Battle of the Three Hills near Loroden, the clerics of the Divinate summoned a balor named Rusivag and a small army of demons. Asrudan was one of many who fell trying to reach the balor to destroy the beast. He was dragged beneath the earth by a mass of abyssal chains, which cut deep into his body, flaying flesh from bone before he had even died. The chaos magic of the chains lingered even as he perished in his sudden earthen grave.

A year later, he awoke. Asrudan barely remembered his name, and knew only that he was the Justicar, the one who had somehow been given a second chance. His memory of justice….of vengeance….so strong in mind that it consumed what little was left of his soul, trapped by the chains of chaos which now wrapped around his bones and armor like a proud mantle of what he had survived.

Justicar moves by night whenever possible; he is cogent enough to realize that his nature is unsettling amongst some and terrifying to the rest. He has developed the art of disguising himself whenever possible to avoid his bony guise from being revealed, and he avoids other members of his order, whom would slay him as an undead abomination. He feels he was given a second chance by Kavishkar to fight his way into the realm of the Einheriar, to slay the spawn of chaos, the undead, and the wicked….and ultimately to grow strong enough to murder Rusivag in the Abyss.

When Justicar speaks his oaths they sound like harsh whispers to the ears. He is otherwise unable to speak with any who do not use a Speak with Dead to converse with him. Justicar is literate, and has on occasion used quill and parchment to convey messages, though he must remove his gauntlets, exposing his bony hands to do so.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Details on Pathfinder Unchained

Apparently a lot of information went least in the form of development talk....about the forthcoming Pathfinder Unchained. ENWorld was kind enough to gather the details all here, but the gist of it is that this book will focus on revisiting old sacred cows of the 3rd edition mechanics with a fresh eye on design. Things which caught my eye included revisions to make the barbarian a better play experience, lots of skill revisions into adventure/non-adventure tiers, "messing with the action economy," and rogues getting danger sense instead of trap sense.

They can spit it all they like as a "not Pathfinder 2nd edition" tome, but it sounds an awful lot to me like a way to print a bunch of revised rules as an optional book and see what sticks an what doesn't for a 2016 Pathfinder 2E release.

After reading through the discussion, I have to admit this book may (if it delivers what is promised) drag me back to try Pathfinder again. Maybe.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

System Bounce

Just noticed this tonight, but now that my Saturday group is rotating between 13th Age one week and D&D 5th edition the next, we're experiencing a bit of system bounce again. What is system bounce, you ask? Well, it's that funny thing that happens when you try to move back and forth between two game systems that are very, very similar that most of the core mechanics and fundamentals have some analog between both systems....enough so that remembering which game does what actually trips everyone up at the table.

"How does coup-de-gras work here? Which system handles Sleep spells in what way? Wait is this the edition where I pop free or get an opportunity attack for passing through?" Etc. etc.

This happened a bit tonight with 13th Age. It also was tough going an entire evening without granting advantage or disadvantage to someone. The elegance of that mechanic feels like it should naturally trascend D&D belongs in all D&D-likes now. The mechanic is so simple yet effective that the idea of moving back to something which doesn't do it....including 13th Age which has lots of innovative concepts....seems backwards and silly. So yeah, I may have to houserule it in for the future, if I feel like tinkering with the implications of the mechanic in 13th Age.

This happened some years ago when we rotated with Pathfinder and 4E, but the comparison was worse, for some reason, probably due to the laboriously rules-intensive natures of both systems. Thankfully it feels less onerous in the 13A vs. 5E comparison due to the much lighter rules mechanics.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

An Open Letter to One Book Shelf: Really, censorship? REALLY?

Sent to One Book Shelf in response to pulling Postmortem Press's Gamergate Card Game, and posted here so we can emphasize how very uncool it is to engage in censorship like this:

I just wished to comment that I think this was a mistake, and that while the card game may be distasteful, censorship is much more so. Yes, you have the right to restrict what you allow through your sites, but so far this has been a sterling reputation for openness that has benefited the gaming community. Unfortunately the message here....whether intended or that Evil Hat can control what you publish on your site. Gamergate the card game may be an easy target (and from all accounts it sounds like a vicious and unpleasant satire) but I am very unhappy to know that they would consider restricting my rights to purchase it through your store; and that worse yet the end result of this controversial topic is censorship. If the gamergaters are allegedly all about an unbiased press in video game journalism, I hate to think that the opposition (the SJWs, I guess?) are somehow about censorship. This was a bad move, I think you need to reinstate the product and remain neutral. Failing that, recogonize that there are books on rpgnow that are both more insulting and troublesome, and this is the start of the slippery slope. Please don't go down it.

Also, I will not be threatening you with pulling my books from One book Shelf. Aside from the fact that my books sell pennies to every Evil Hat Dollar (ooh big market impact for Zodiac Gods Publishing!) I would like to remain ethically clean on this issue, and represent the importance of fighting censorship like this.

OneBookShelf sent out a letter to participating publishers which Tenkar was nice enough to post here.

Read about Evil Hat's part in this here and here, and Postmortem's discussion here.

It's a shame this is happening; Evil Hat does good stuff (if you like FATE), and Postmortem did the "100 Adventure Seeds" books which I purchased, liked, and have used in the past (also they have some cool clip art).

It would be one thing if One Book Shelf had a policy in place which restricted certain forms of content, but they don't. Making a decision like this in tandem with (even if allegedly by coincidence) a publisher like Evil Hat sending out yet another round of tweets (notice how all crap on the internet these days begins with a tweet?) makes them look like cronies caving in to censorship pressure. Do this once, you may find it hard....but every time thereafter gets easier to pull a product that offends someone, somewhere. OBS needs to either man up and enforce some standards (which a number of other products will suffer from) or they should stick to what has worked very, very well: crap not worth buying sinks to the bottom in obscurity. Now, thanks to OBS and Evil Hat, a game I would otherwise never have heard of or cared about is now quite well known and available for sale here (for now; maybe Evil Hat can try poking around there next?)

As an aside, I generally remain quiet on my blog about topical issues like Gamergate....and will remain so. I've got my opinions, but by and large prefer to keep my blog "lite" and focused on actual gaming....except when it comes to publishing. To hell with censorship!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Age of Strife: Gods of Lingusia

I've published write-ups of most of the deities of Lingusia on the blog in the past; the core conceit of each deity remains the same in the Age of Strife. What follows is a religious history and overview getting the particulars of the Age of Strife in order....

Gods of Lingusia in the Age of Strife

The eponymous “Keepers of Lingusia” are the gods of the world, caretakers of creation and also perhaps its destroyers. The Middle Kingdoms is dominated by a strong pantheon that is ancient and merged with the northern, southern and eastern faiths of the land such that it is all regarded as connected. In the world of Lingusia few men doubt the beliefs of others; they’ve all seen plenty of evidence to suggest that no one god is the “true” god and all gods have influence on the world of men. So for most men of the land, they leave the theology of it all to the priests and clerics.

The priests of the Middle Kingdoms see the divine hierarchy as divided among the three great forces: Order, Chaos and Oblivion (more commonly defined as Death in this context). The gods of order strive to keep peace and law within the world, while the gods of chaos seek to sew discord and destroy. The gods of oblivion are the gatekeepers to a realm of judgment and passing, and reflect the ultimate fate of all beings in the Afterworld.

There is sometimes a hinted fourth pantheon of gods called the Shadow Pantheon, but these beings are not discussed in polite society and appear to be at odds with the other three pantheons. They are seen as celestial beings, sometimes gods, who have broken away from the ancient trinity of power and seek their own way. It is because of the gods that strange and unnatural things occur, such as might be found in the planes of shadow, among the undead, and in the uneasy disorder that the world experiences which has nothing to do with the gods of chaos.

The legacy of these pantheons is buried in a series of tomes, 29 strong, called the Idean Codices. A codex is an ancient form of book which opens, accordion-like, to reveal folded pages. Each Idean Codex is filled with hundreds of such pages filled with tiny, ancient script in a language now abandoned by all save priests and wizards called the Old Tongue. The Idean Codices are spread out throughout the Middle Kingdoms and kept in many regions of the world, but a complete set of all 29 known tomes are held in the Grand Temple of Niras at Hyrkan’ien, and a second set of copies is in the hands of the Grand Librarium.

The history of the gods and man are detailed in these sacred tomes, which extends back 100,000 years and further. The oldest stories speak of a time before humans, and of an ancient, cosmic war between the gods and an older race of chaos lords called the Skaeddrath. The oldest Idean Codex is found only in fragments but hints that this war was won at great cost.

The gods created a first race, sentient beings called the Prehunates in the ancient translations (Old Tongue for “those who came before”). Much of the early tomes speak of the vast power these ancients acquired, and how they rose to challenge the very gods themselves. The gods destroyed the Prehunates, wiping out their civilization in a cataclysm that left the earth ruptured and explains the anomalous regions of the world, such as the sunken basin the Amech Jungles and the shattered isles of Karaktu. This cataclysm was the way that paved the path to the modern world, and according to the Idean Codices the event happened roughly 12,000 years ago. In this era mankind, elves and other races were but simple beings who had been in thrall to the Prehunates; afterwards, they were the lords of a shattered but plentiful realm.

With the rise of the human and demihuman races came an era of tribalism, agrarian development and sedentism. Most of the lore of this age is lost to time, but some bits and pieces of the Idean Codices detail snippets of rulers, events and ceremonies of these lost ages. It is within these pages that the earliest rise of the first dynasty of the old Hyrkanian kings is found, for example.

The Idean Codices become increasingly detailed and comprehensive as they close in on the era of more modern human empires, and a single great tome is dedicated to transcribing in exacting detail the events of the year in which the “War of the Gods” wracked the Middle Kingdoms and shattered the physical presence of the divine beings upon the mortal plane. An entire second book was written just to record the locations, ceremonies and events surrounding the burial of hundreds of seraphs, demons and gods in the Mountains of the Gods, which would later be redubbed the Mountains of Madness by later generations as the creeping influence of chaos seeped into the valleys and peaks of the immense mountain range, driving out all but the hardiest or most monstrous from habitation in the region.

The “War of the Gods” is a curious event in the theological timeline of man’s study of the gods, for up to that point gods of all pantheons were described as walking the earth, granting divine power to their mortals directly, and often influencing the affairs of man directly. Behind the scenes, according to the Sacred Codex of Lineage, the Idean Codex which takes great pains to outline the familial relationships of the gods, it was apparent that these immortals were stricken with a great power play spiraling out of a large number of interpersonal conflicts that had been building up over centuries or even eons, and the war was the culmination of this buildup. In the end, it was the possession and use of the three cosmic Orbs which fueled the fire that led to the conflict, and over these orbs a terrible battle was brought down upon the mortal plane.

Ostensibly the war was what created a fragmented trinity of pantheons…..the gods were indelibly separated into three distinct groups when it was all over, each one aligned with one of the sacred Orbs of Divine Power which fueled the universe. These Orbs were very real objects, and posed a problem for the mortals left standing in the wake of the year-long battle between the gods, the seraph and the demons of their celestial and abyssal armies.

As it happened, not all gods were slain in their physical forms; the deity Aurumurvox remained in the ruined city of the gods called Corti’Zahn and declared he would remain the keeper of the Orb of Oblivion, and it was through him that the mortals of the world were informed that the gods had survived, in spirit, for this battle was not about the murder of the divine but instead about the removal of the divine from the mortal plane.

The other two Orbs, however, were a problem to contend with: the Orb of Life and Order and the Orb of Chaos both rested unguarded in the ruins of Corti’Zahn, and it was decided by the priests of the era that these orbs would be taken away by chosen agents, and placed in remote regions of the world where they would never again pose a threat to the world or call down upon the wrath of the gods in a cosmic war.

To do this, two were chosen: a young man who had studied magic and mysticism named Warenis, and a soldier of the south named Xauraun who had fought with the troops who served in the name of the god Dalroth. Each was tasked with taking the orbs away, that they never be a threat to mankind or the Empire again.

The stories of where these orbs went are varied, but some details and speculation are known even today. Among these tales is the fact that both men who spirited the orbs away were possessed of their power and made immortal reincarnates; they were forever barred from death, and some say with each reincarnation would remain empowered by the orbs, no matter where the cosmic artifacts rested.

Warenis is believed to have carried his orb far to the north, and to have forged a link with it in a sacred emblem of gold in the form of Naril’s Ankh, which he later bestowed as a gift upon the Grand Temple of the sun god in Hyrkan’ien. With the gift of the orb he also made his wizard’s staff a powerful artifact, one which was imbued with his memories and knowledge to aid him in future reincarnations.

Xauraun, meanwhile, is said to have journeyed to the westernmost coast of the world and still didn’t feel it was far enough to conceal the Orb of Chaos, so he took a ship across the Endless Ocean where he discovered a lost land, and bequeathed upon this realm the Orb of Chaos for safe-keeping. Like Warenis he linked the essence of the Orb into a codex, the Malleus Malificarum, which he returned to the Middle Kingdoms with and kept close at his side. In time he learned a great deal about magic from the tome, and is believed to have used his wizardrly to imbue his armor and blade with great magic.

While the two immortal champions would not be worshipped as gods, their influence on how the gods were worshipped was felt over many generations when they would reincarnate into the world. Such was it that the notion of a pantheon of order, a pantheon of chaos, and a discreet third pantheon of oblivion came to be cemented in modern theological thought.

Over the last two thousand years the development of the cults of the Middle Kingdoms has been one of strife, warfare, persecution and occasional moments of tolerance. The question of which gods exist has never been in dispute; rather, the strength of a god is known by his or her worshippers, and the spirit of that god is believed to be strengthened and magnified to affect the world around those followers through sheer faith, creating miracles. Single personalities of great devotion are rewarded with divine magic….it is ultimately unquestionable that the gods exist, and through belief gain power.

Rather, the question of the gods has been one of dominance. In 2,090 there are several deities of greater prominence and power than any others, with the lion’s share of worshippers. These include:

Naril, the sun god and patron deity of the empire
Selene, the goddess of the elves and moon
Death the Nameless One, who stalks the gray road to the Afterworld, and is one of the Gods of Death
Zingar, god of the hunt and lord of the land
Nistur, the lord of secrets and knowledge
Mitra, goddess of the lands of Octzel
Set, the god of deceit and malice, who is revered by all serpentkin and lizardmen
Ashturak, the forger god and creator of dwarves
Phonatas, the goddess of fertility and love
Elisin, the goddess of music and culture

On the other side of the fence there is an impressive cult following known sometimes as the Divinate and at other times as the nameless rabble that seek out the Chaos Gods to attain raw and unfettered power. The Chaos gods do indeed seem to be very generous with rewarding their followers, and include:

Dalroth, the lord of the courts of chaos and embodiment of cruel power
Slithotep, rewawakened lord of madness and destruction
Hargameth, the god of war, and the only lord of chaos to be revered among soldiers of the empire
Baragnagor, the beast god and creator of orcs
Orcus, the demon god of the undead

There are many gods of lesser power who nonetheless are important figure in modern religious thought, culture and politics. These gods of more obscure but still important nature include:

Haro, lord of assassins and patron of the Fire Knives
Etah, the golden traveler

Huuarl, the lord of time

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

D&D 5E: Quick and Dirty Monsters from the DMG: Nuckelavee

The new Dungeon Master's Guide includes two ways to design monsters: the long, hard route which ends up with a fully featured stat block, and the quick and dirty route. I wanted to see what sort of goodness the quick and dirty method generated, so here goes:

My current group is averaging level 5 now (on both Wednesday and Saturday nights) so I'll look at a challenge rating 5 monster first, which is described as a fair challenge for a group of characters. Actually, my group tends to lean to 7 or more players at times so we'll make it CR 6 just for good measure.

A CR 6 creatures has a default set of stats like this:

+3 proficiency, AC 15, around 146-160 hit points (!), +6 to attack, deals 39-44 damage per round and has a save DC of 15 against effects.

The quick build method has you figure out CR first, then determine the average stats based on that. Afterwards you modify the stats to reflect what you want or need, and then adjust the CR accordingly.

So....what do we want this quick-build monster to be? I'm going to go for a kind of lesser Nuckelavee, because its a thing that lurks in the region not far from dark and dreary swamps like the ones both adventuring parties are currently stuck in. The nuckelavee is a mythic beast, a skinless horse-being with a humanoid rider's upper body grafted to the horse's body where a normal rider might sit. The beast's black blood pulses through yellow veins, and it's humanoid head has a single baleful eye. The creature's mouths (humanoid and horse) can gape wide and emit noxious, plague-bringing gasses and it can affect the weather.

With that in mind, I figure the Nuckelavee has no real armor, but probably has supernatural protections, so AC 15 is fine. 160 hit points sounds fine to me. The suggested damage of this CR means (averaging 4.5 per D8 rolled) around 9-10 dice of damage....per round. Yowza. But that can be split into a few attacks, and a lot of it can lean on the breath attack. With that in mind, I'll work out the stats like this:

Multi-attack....can attack with two claws or claw and hoof.

Hoof/Stomp attack is +6 attack, dealing 2D8+8 damage. Each claw deals 3D6+5 damage. That means average damage output per round will be 17 for the hook strike and 15 per claw. So between 30 and 32 damage per round for these.

I'll grant him a secondary feature....long reach (10 foot reach with his distended, long arms) and if both claws strike he deals another 2D8 (average 9) damage per round.

Then the breath weapon: it recharges on a 5,6 we'll say, and following the suggested monster traits it will presumably strike an average of at least 2 people. We'll say its a poison cloud, dealing 3D8 (13) poison damage plus the poisoned effect (save ending) to everyone in a 30 foot radius around the Nuckelavee who fails a DC 15 Constitution save vs. poison. He can use it as a bonus attack, and it's limiting factor is its recharge.

So per round the Nuckelavee can get at least 30-32 damage in per round, an additional 9 with two claws, and once every third round roughly he can deal 13 poison damage to everyone. So his low end output will be 15, his typical output will be either 32 or 41, and every three rounds it spikes to as much as 54.

Since I'm adding traits I decide to include two others: he's immune necrotic, poison and drowning/breath effects (doesn't breathe), and resistant to cold. While the temptation to make him resistant to regular attacks is there, I'll give him magic resistance instead; let this be one the fighters fare better against!

You know what...scratch the bonus action for the breath. I'll add it to the multi-attack.

Alignment....clearly a chaotic evil or possibly neutral evil being. I'm going to suggest the nuckalavee is some sort of hideous undead fey, so there you go.

Lastly I'll add a fear effect from the traits: horrifying visage, as a banshee. Seems only appropriate!

I'll arbitrarily apply some stats for reference: Str 18, Dex 14, Con 19, Int 13, Wis 12, Cha 4. He's got a Passive Perception of 14 (adding Proficiency) and for good measure I think he should have a proficiency bonus on Wisdom and Constitution saves.

While reviewing all this it seems like I added enough "stuff" that after looking at adjusting the CR I think I need to bump it up a notch...possibly 2 (we'll see after I get a chance to throw it at a hapless party).

So I think I have my quick and dirty Nuckelavee ready:

Nuckelaveee (undead fey creature, CE)
AC 15, HP 160; Str 18 (+4), Dex 14 (+2), Con 19 (+4), Int 13 (+1), Wis 12 (+1), Cha 4 (-3)
Immunities: necrotic, poison
Resistance: cold
Special: does not breathe (no effect from drowning/inhaling effects)
Languages: abyssal, common, elvish, sylvan
Saves: Con +7, Wis +4
Movement: 40' (like horse) or 40' swim
CR 7 (2,900 XP)

Multiattack: make 1 hoof and 1 claw attack or 2 claw attacks each round. He may breathe poison (below) as a subsitute for one of these attacks as well.
Hoof Stomp (+6 attack, 2D8+8 (17) damage and target knocked prone)
Claws (Reach 10 feet; +6 attack, each claw deals 3D6+5 (15) damage; if both claws hit the same target, deal an extra 2D8 (9) rending damage.)
Horrifying Visage (this effect happens as a free action when a target first views the nuckalavee.  Affects each non-undead creature in a 60 foot radius; save DC 15 or become frightened for one minute; make a save each round with disadvantage if the nuckalavee is visible to frightened target; successful save means target is immune for 24 hours).
Poison Breathe Cloud (Recharge 5, 6; 30 foot radius; DC 15 Con save vs, poison or take 3D8 (13) poison damage and become poisoned (Save DC 15 each round; one successful save ends).

Not bad.....faster than the long-form stat block process, anyway. And dramatically quicker to work up a functional statblock than the old Pathfinder days. I admit I don't grokk the hit points of a CR 6 creature like this....doesn't this mean the nuckelavee effectively has around 19D8+72 hit points? That's.....a lot....of hit points. But the CR breakdown they provide assumes a single creature of CR level as given is going to provide a tough fight for a full party of I guess I can see it.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Hyrkania: a Threat Report

Hyrkania Today: A Threat Report

The state of affairs in Hyrkania as of 2,090 AW is messy. Here are some key bullet-points to consider:

·         King makhorven, now deposed and cast into his own deep dungeons beneath Hyrendan is still valued by the enemies of the empire, and has gained access to the network of the Red Robes and the Fire Knives from his cell. He plots the destruction of Emperor Patraeus, to sew seeds of destruction….

·         House Strallikus has been condemned and cast down, many of its members killed during the War, but rumor is Bellasko escaped alive, and his two daughters, Sareva and Turimeese dwell safely in the remote port of Eastonia, where they have been granted safe harbor by the city regent.

·         Anton Patraeus made serious enemies in Malas when he punished the city harshly upon its surrender for backing the opposition.  This has made serious enemies within the city, who now feel that the insurgents may be justified in their actions. As they seek means of retribution for the sanctions against the city, an unlikely ally has appeared in the form of the young ruler of Blackholm that has been appointed regent of the city by General  Aserius: Nialle, the daughter of the former ruler of Blackholm, Chavros who stood against Makhorven at the start of the War of Strife and was slain for his resistance by his own guards.

·         Indeed, in Blackholm Lady Serisene Nialle has graciously accepted the position of regent offered by General Aserius on behalf of Emperor Patraeus, and there are even rumors that Patraeus fancies her as a potential queen.  The street-level rumors that Nialle is secretly a potent necromancer, a young understudy of the Umbral Sovereign do not reach the emperor’s ears. The Umbral Sovereign is a name given to the lord of the Black Circle, an order of demonologists and necromancers which was founded by the ashtarth of Dahik over two thousand years ago….or so they claim. The Black Circle’s reach has moved well beyond the interests of the dark elves, however, and it is known by some to be the real secret power beneath the streets of Blackholm, and even manipulates the Order of the Red Robes into carrying out their dark deeds for them.

·         Even without the threat of the Black Circle, the Order of the Red Robes, House Strallikus, the Fire Knives or the plotting of King Makhorven who should have been put to death, there are many otherwise normal clans which threaten the empire’s stability. House Holivarnen, rulers of Kymir under Tyriandras, has no confidence in the emperor, and the leader of the house has developed an unhealthy fascination for the returned avatar of chaos, Xauraun and seeks to aid him in a plot to overthrow the empire.

·         Elsewhere House Targareth, once one of Patraeus’s greatest supporters, now lobbies quietly to gain a majority favor among the regents in “anticipation” of Patraeus’s eventual replacement, seeking to present Lord Darismar gonn Targareth as the likely candidate. So long as Patraeus has no direct successor, it is expected that the right of election to the regents will return once more.

·         There are still other threats to the empire: the forces of Hettanar rally to cast out the imperial garrisons of their northern empire. The client state of Covarte, young to the empire, already faces amassing forces of darkness as the orcs take up arms in the name of a mysterious sorcerer named Unarak.

·         Elsewhere, in the south, rumors of a new ruler, a king of kings in Persedonia are circulating. King Sionotus expresses an era of love and peace but he has already squashed dissent among the desert tribes with great force, and visitors speak of a long shadow which the Persedonians cast on their northern neighbors, especially Eastonia, Sylvias and Hyrkania.