Saturday 13 December 2014

D&D 5: Beginner PC Spellbooks

[I've made and updated version of these spellbooks, now with names!]

As mentioned in my last post, I found D&D 5 character creation to be a bit of a grind, especially with inexperienced players. Another point, which I didn't explicitly mention in the other post, was that spell selection for wizards adds a whole extra level of choices to make. Depending on the edition, this is also true of older versions of the game, so it's not a complaint specifically directed at D&D 5.

Spell selection (three cantrips and six 1st level spells, in D&D 5) is akin to the traditional method of equipping a new character: browsing big lists and trying to come up with a cohesive selection. D&D 5 has elegantly removed the list-shopping aspect of equipment selection, so I thought it could do with something similar for spell selection.

How about this: a set of pre-defined spell books with specific themes (conveniently tied to the schools of magic which the player will choose between at 2nd level).

Cantrips: Blade Ward, Light, Shocking Grasp
1st Level: Alarm, Grease, Mage Armor, Protection from Evil and Good, Shield, Sleep

Cantrips: Acid Splash, Mage Hand, Poison Spray
1st Level: Burning Hands, Find Familiar, Fog Cloud, Grease, Tenser's Floating Disk, Unseen Servant

Cantrips: Light, Prestidigitation, True Strike
1st Level: Charm Person, Comprehend Languages, Detect Magic, Identify, Magic Missile, Unseen Servant

Cantrips: Dancing Lights, Friends, Prestidigitation
1st Level: Charm Person, Chromatic Orb, Expeditious Retreat, Feather Fall, Sleep, Tasha's Hideous Laughter

Cantrips: Fire Bolt, Light, Shocking Grasp
1st Level: Burning Hands, Chromatic Orb, Mage Armor, Magic Missile, Thunderwave, Witch Bolt

Cantrips: Dancing Lights, Minor Illusion, Prestidigitation
1st Level: Charm Person, Color Spray, Disguise Self, Illusory Script, Silent Image, Thunderwave

Cantrips: Chill Touch, Mage Hand, Ray of Frost
1st Level: False Life, Fog Cloud, Protection from Evil and Good, Ray of Sickness, Sleep, Unseen Servant

Cantrips: Mending, Message, Prestidigitation
1st Level: Burning Hands, Disguise Self, Expeditious Retreat, Feather Fall, Jump, Longstrider

Other themed spell books could easily be created, along lines such as: frost, dimensions, energy, life, etc. Finally, here's the "standard" (quick build) mage spell book:

Cantrips: Mage Hand, Light, Ray of Frost
1st Level: Burning Hands, Charm Person, Feather Fall, Mage Armor, Magic Missile, Sleep

Friday 12 December 2014

D&D 5: Simpler Character Creation For Beginners

Last night, I had a character creation session for D&D 5 with a bunch of six largely inexperienced players. We had two players who'd "played AD&D 2nd edition a couple of times in the 90s", one who'd "played Das Schwarze Auge and Shadowrun", and three who'd never played any kind of traditional RPG.

How did D&D 5 stand up to this challenge?

In summary: mediocre / mixed.

The Good
The players responded really well to the choices of race / class / background. A lot of interesting, creative ideas emerged from this triple choice combo (plus the alternative racial backgrounds I'd prepared for the game setting).

The Bad
It's complicated. Way too complicated for beginners, in my opinion. This is coming from the perspective of someone who usually introduces new players to B/X (Labyrinth Lord). B/X character creation is super minimal, so even though the mechanical parts are a bit on the random / incohesive side, there are so few choices to make that even beginners are done with it fairly quickly. Choosing equipment is the only bit that tends to be very time consuming. Not so D&D 5. The choice of race / class / background is simple enough -- players can just go with what they think sounds cool -- but each choice brings with it a ream of traits to read and note, proficiencies and saving throws to mark, equipment to record. Admittedly, the equipment choice is simpler as it's done for you (no more shopping from lists), but overall it was a long and arduous process, compounded, unfortunately, by the fact that we only had a single PHB and no "cheat sheets" (not sure if such a thing exists for D&D 5?).

An Idea
The players were fine with making the basic choice of race, class, and background but balked at the amount of information each choice entailed they read and record. How about cutting out that second part of the equation? Something like this:
  1. Character creation session: choose race, class, and background. Do not read the sections on your selected race or background, just go from the DM's verbal description of them / your imagination. Do not record any mechanical information related to them. Just focus on understanding your class for now. Note down the equipment (and only the equipment) provided by your background.
  2. First session: play your first adventure.
  3. Second session: before the next session, read the section on your race and record any additional mechanical bits on your character sheet. Play the second session.
  4. Third session: before the next session, read the section on your background and record any additional mechanical bits on your character sheet. Congratulations, you now have a fully fledged character! Go forth and play your third session and onwards.
  5. Fourth session onwards: note to DMs: you should not allow characters to progress beyond 1st level until at least the fourth session -- with level advancement comes further choices (for some classes) and rules.
Sure, this means that, during the first couple of sessions, characters would not be at their optimal in terms of mechanics. They'd be missing things like racial stats bonuses, proficiencies from backgrounds, and so on. I don't think this would be a problem though, especially if the DM is running them through a relatively easy / forgiving introductory scenario.

ps. this is my 400th post on this blog!

Sunday 23 November 2014

D&D 5: The Good Bits

A while ago I wrote this about the latest version of D&D:
I'm sure I'll run some games of D&D 5 to get a feeling for it. There's a lot of good stuff in it which I, on first reading, prefer to my traditional go-to, Labyrinth Lord. I'm open to the idea of this becoming my standard base of rules to build from, and it feels like a very solid foundation, at that.

In the comments, the esteemed Carter Soles posed the question of what exactly these preferred elements of the game are. This post is in answer to that question.

So, some things I prefer about D&D 5 when compared to Labyrinth Lord.

Unified Proficiency System
Among all the cool new ideas in D&D 5, this isn't one I've seen discussed a lot (that merit must go to the "advantage / disadvantage" system), but is without a doubt my favourite mechanical innovation. In older games there's always been the concept of proficiency with armour and weaponry, whether it was embedded in class descriptions ("magic-users can only use daggers and cannot wear armour") or made explicit through a system of weapon proficiency (a la AD&D 2nd edition). There was also some more muddy territory around who can use what tools -- for instance, can any character use lock picks or are they the sole domain of the thief class?

The D&D 5 approach to proficiency wraps all this up, along with a greatly simplified version of the later-edition skills system, into a single proficiency bonus which advances with level. A character is either proficient with something -- in which case he or she gets to add the bonus -- or not. There's no skill points to fumble around with and the rules are deliciously broad: proficiency with a tool, for example, allows the player to add his character's proficiency bonus to "any ability check you make using that tool".

I can also imagine stripping things down further at times and simply saying that a proficient character can do X while a non-proficient character cannot. No roll or bonus required.

Now these have bee touted as a universally great thing and I'm not one to disagree on that point. Reminiscent of the AD&D 2e "kits" system, but completely class-neutral (your cleric can have the "criminal" background equally to a rogue), backgrounds are great packages of flavour for new characters.

To my mind (though obviously not to the designers of D&D 5), the backgrounds system completely eradicates the need for more than the four core classes. Want a barbarian? An outlander fighter. A bard? How about a rogue with the entertainer background. A paladin? That's clearly a fighter with the adept background. And so on.

Again, simple, flexible, and packed with flavour.

Admittedly, choosing a background adds an extra step to character creation, which means extra time. This stuff inevitably comes up at some point, though, anyway, in roleplaying situations or when the referee needs to know which characters could conceivably know or do a certain thing. Giving each character a single word background ("sage", "sailor", "urchin" etc) adds heaps of flavour. The flaws, bonds, etc could even be ignored initially at char gen, to speed things up.

I love the equipment section. Simple guidelines on selling treasure, trade-offs for light vs heavy armour types, weapons distinguished by various properties (this is very much lacking in LL), pre-selected packs of adventuring gear, broad guidelines for lifestyle expenses and hazards / benefits, detailed equipment lists, and even a random table of trinkets! Good, very usable stuff.

 Schools of Magic, Divine Domains
Obviously, I like magic in D&D to have a bit more depth to it than the simple B/X approach. The Advanced Edition Companion for LL goes some way to providing the kind of elaboration I like, with the addition of another type of priest and another type of magic-user, but I'm always eager for more of this kind of thing. My feeling is: why stop at one alternative?

D&D 5 provides a really nice system here: casters must choose a specialisation. Clerics choose at 1st level and magic-users at 2nd (I think... or was it 3rd?). Each class has a choice of 8 or so specialisations, each granting some unique abilities (and, in the case of the clerical domains, a different spell selection).

Obviously, for someone of my proclivities, this still doesn't go far enough, but it at least provides a nice foundation for further work. Suffice to say, this is by far my favourite implementation of such things in any edition of D&D so far.

Tying in with the guidelines for lifestyle expenses, in the equipment section, the short section on downtime activities on p. 187 is delightful in its simplicity and usability. It even includes rules for learning new languages (though I note it doesn't extend to skills) -- something which I've never seen done to my satisfaction in D&D before!

Sunday 2 November 2014

D&D 5: Classes to Class Options

I mentioned yesterday that I'd been considering how one could roll all of the "advanced" (i.e. non-core-4) class options into the core-4. Having had a more detailed look into this, it seems trivially feasible and adds a lot of really nice options to the classes without greatly increasing complexity. Here we go:

  • The ranger Hunter archetype can be applied directly to a fighter character, with no modifications.
  • The ranger Beast Master archetype can be applied directly to a fighter character, with no modifications. Note that the "share spells" feature (at 15th level) would only apply to spells cast upon the fighter or beast by another, as the fighter class has no spell-casting capabilities of its own.
  • The barbarian Berserker path could be applied to a fighter, with the addition of the "rage" feature (using the barbarian chart for uses per day).
  • The barbarian Totem Warrior path could be applied to a fighter, with the addition of the "rage" feature (using the barbarian chart for uses per day).
  • The paladin Oath of Devotion can be taken by a fighter character. The character gains the "channel divinity" feature (under "sacred oath"). Each oath spell may be cast once per day.
  • The paladin Oath of the Ancients can be taken by a fighter character. The character gains the "channel divinity" feature (under "sacred oath"). Each oath spell may be cast once per day.
  • The paladin Oath of Vengeance can be taken by a fighter character. The character gains the "channel divinity" feature (under "sacred oath"). Each oath spell may be cast once per day.
I must say, I really like the idea of a normal fighting man being able to take a religious oath under this framework. I'd consider using this instead of the cleric class altogether, in a suitable campaign.

  • The bard College of Lore can be applied to a rogue by adding the concept of inspiration dice (but not the full "bardic inspiration" feature), using the arcane trickster spell advancement table and the bard spell list. The bard's "magical secrets" feature could be added too.
  • The bard College of Valor can be applied to a rogue by adding the concept of inspiration dice (but not the full "bardic inspiration" feature), using the arcane trickster spell advancement table and the bard spell list. The bard's "song of rest" feature could be added too.
  • One could also consider allowing rogues to take the ranger's Hunter archetype, though I feel it fits much better as a fighter option.
  • The warlock's Archfey Patron can be applied to a wizard, with no modifications. The character also gains the "pact boon" feature at 3rd level.
  • The warlock's Fiend Patron can be applied to a wizard, with no modifications. The character also gains the "pact boon" feature at 3rd level.
  • The warlock's Great Old One Patron can be applied to a wizard, with no modifications. The character also gains the "pact boon" feature at 3rd level.
  • The sorcerer's Draconic Bloodline option can be applied to a wizard. The "elemental affinity" and "draconic presence" features both recharge after a long rest (no sorcery points). (Presumably, the character is a specialist in the field of draconic magic.)
  • The sorcerer's Wild Magic option can be applied to a wizard, with no modifications. (Presumably, the character is a specialist in the field of wild magic.)
I feel that the following options are a bit more campaign-specific, but might also work:
  • The warlock's Archfey Patron can be applied to a cleric, with no modifications. The character also gains the "pact boon" feature at 3rd level.
  • The warlock's Fiend Patron can be applied to a cleric, with no modifications. The character also gains the "pact boon" feature at 3rd level.
  • The warlock's Great Old One Patron can be applied to a cleric, with no modifications. The character also gains the "pact boon" feature at 3rd level.
  • The druid's Circle of the Land option can be applied to a cleric, with the addition of the "channel divinity: charm plants and animals" feature from the nature domain.
  • The druid's Circle of the Moon option can be applied to a cleric, with the addition of the "channel divinity: charm plants and animals" feature from the nature domain.
Note that I've not looked at the monk class yet, so can't comment on that.

Saturday 1 November 2014

D&D 5: Class Prejudice

Following on from my recent thoughts on how I might use the full menagerie of D&D 5 races in a campaign, I've been giving some thought to the full complex of classes presented in the new PHB. As much as I might try to reconcile them all, my feeling remains grognardy on this one.

Barbarian: this is a culture, not a class. Especially with D&D 5's great system for character backgrounds, I find the choice of including such a class pretty questionable.
Bard: I'm not a knee-jerk bard-hater -- I used to like them in AD&D 2e -- but I just don't like the mechanics of the new one. The inspiration dice are just too abstract / disconnected for my taste. I also feel that a bard type character could easily be created as a rogue or wizard with the entertainer background.
Cleric: a nice 2e-ish implementation of the class. The way the divine domains are implemented is very well done. I don't use clerics in many campaigns, but I'd be happy to use this one.
Druid: also a decent version of this class. There's a lot of overlap starting to show here, however. How is a cleric of nature different to a druid? What's the difference between a ranger, a totem warrior barbarian, and a green knight paladin? There are too many nature-oriented, magical classes, with no clear distinction or connection between them. The description of the cleric's nature domain (p. 61) is an admittance of this. It just doesn't make any coherent sense to me. Purely on the topic of the druid class, though, I'd happily use it, in the right campaign setting.
Fighter: nice. Lots of simple options to give fighter characters different flavours.
Monk: the monk... yeah... super culturally specific, doesn't mesh at all with the rest of the classes, why was this class ever included in core rules? I guess it's just historical really (somehow Greyhawk or Arduin related, perhaps?). Anyway, I must confess that I've not even read this class yet in the new PHB. I can't imagine ever using it, except if I were to run some Asian inspired campaign. (Also, for me, like the barbarian "class", it's just way too culture-specific... can anyone seriously imagine a world with dragonborn, halfling, and gnome monks or barbarians? I'm afraid I can't. Well, not a world I'd like to run a campaign in, anyway.)
Paladin: I've never seen the point of the paladin class. The cleric is a holy warrior, right? No question. So what's a paladin? This version doesn't change my feeling. More vague overlap without clear differentiation or explanation.
Ranger: I like the flavour of a wilderness-oriented warrior a lot, but feel that this archetype can be modelled very nicely with a background (outlander, for example). I don't get the need for magic either, to be honest.
Rogue: again, thankfully, a nice implementation of this classic core-4 class. I'm very happy with the options and features presented.
Sorcerer: yeah... I just never understood the need to separate an intuitive wizard from a bookish wizard, mechanically. The mechanical differences themselves are so small that I would have just made this an option under the umbrella of the wizard class. And if you really want to go for the "bloodlines" thing, why not make some racial options? Sorcerer, no thanks.
Warlock: very nice flavour, but again I'd just make this an option for wizards. Doesn't seem like it needs to be a separate class, and the mechanical differences seem (to me) just kind of forced.
Wizard: a very nice version of this class! As someone who (obviously) loves wizards, I'm glad to say that I really like the 5e class. The approach to school specialists is great.

So, apart from the core-4 classes, the only ones which come anywhere near to desirable, in my mind are the druid and warlock. Luckily I like the core-4 classes a lot in 5e, so I'd be perfectly happy to run a campaign with just those.

I've also had some thoughts on taking the options from the non-core-4 classes and rolling them into the core-4. It seems like this would be perfectly possible... but that's a topic for another post.

Edit: I noticed that I'd totally forgotten to mention the monk class. Shows how far off my radar it is! Added above.

Thursday 30 October 2014

D&D 5: Accepting All Races

Thinking about trying out D&D 5 as-is (i.e. without succumbing to the urge to massively house rule it before I've even played it once!), but I can't stomach the generic modern fantasy vibe. Here are some explanations which I find more palatable for all those races.

Dwarves: men from the Iron Planet who descend to Earth to trade metals.
Dragonborn: slaves spawned in the vats of wizards. All are male.
Tieflings: victims of the shadow plague, their appearance becomes more inhuman as the disease progresses. Eventually disappear into shadow and smoke.
Halflings: gibbering semi-sentients which stalk the wastes in search of living prey to sacrifice to their idols. Among nobles of the City, it is the height of fashion to rear a captive halfling as a pet, teaching it to mimic civilised, human behaviours.
Gnomes: space pirates from the asteroid belt. Sometimes fall to Earth in meteor storms.
Elves: the construction of homunculi was once the prime mode of magical endeavour in the City. Elves are homunculi gone rogue, evolved into beings of human stature over centuries spent lurking in the shadows.
Half-elves: elves can only reproduce with descendents of their creator. Who would mate with such a being?
Half-orcs: men whose souls have been consumed by the ravenous spirits of the wastelands (known as orcs). Their bodies warped and bestial, their minds torn between humanity and depravity.

Saturday 25 October 2014

Vivimantic Sale at RPGNow!

"Why let necromancers have all the fun?" -- indeed, especially at Halloween. Tis the season to get the vats brewing, splice up some genes, and warp some innocent flesh.

Thus: a sale on The Complete Vivimancer at RPGNow!

Sale prices
PDF: $3.99
Print: $6.99
Print + PDF: $9.99

Get it while it lasts!

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Wizardzine #1: Unleashed

Sorcerers, warlocks, witches, savants, and seers of all persuasions -- rejoice!

The tome known as Wizardzine #1 is upon us!


The theme of this inaugural issue is the magic of the vast, landless oceans and the abyssal depths of the seas.
Perfect spice for anyone interested in running campaigns featuring subaquatic adventures, seafaring, island hopping, piracy, smuggling, or other forms of nautical derring-do.
  • 30 new spells
  • 12 magical tomes
  • 5 new magic items
  • 3 new monsters
  • Detailed information on Ephenedrine the Sirene, oceanic sorceress
  • Appendices with tables for aquatic summoning and a complete sea wizard spell list.
Note: a print-on-demand version will be coming shortly, in a convenient A5 format.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Project Updates: Wizards, Vats, Elementalists, Dolmenwood

A quick progress update on the major projects which I have in the works.

I've just finalised the text for the first issue of Wizardzine. In the end, I made the decision to cut back the amount of content somewhat, in order to get this thing out of the door. I think I made the mistake, early on, of getting too carried away with reams of ideas and thinking that I should elaborate them all in a single issue. This isn't necessary -- there will be future issues and I already have about 40 pages of content, which is, I think, more than enough for an issue of a zine!

As for From the Vats, it's been lingering for quite some months but I'm pleased to say that I've started with the layout now. Shouldn't be too much longer! Thanks again, everyone, for your submissions.

With both of those things looking like they'll be leaving home soon to make their own way in the world, my list of ongoing projects is getting back down to more manageable levels. The Complete Elementalist remains bubbling away on the back burner -- I'm just adding ideas to it as and when they come, taking things slowly. I must say, though, I'm really pleased with what I have so far. My intention was always to create an elementalist class with its own special vibe (which I fail to find words to describe really, but which has always been clear in my imagination), avoiding the kind of "fifty different ways to kill people with fire" cliche. (See here for some of the new spells I have lined up for the book so far.)

Finally, the Dolmenwood project with Greg Gorgonmilk continues apace. As Greg mentioned recently, we're currently working on an initial publication which will contain player-oriented content for use with the setting (or, for that matter, in any other campaign where root vegetables are a viable sentient race and druid types have a penchant for human sacrifice). You can expect in the region of 6 to 10 classes, reams of background tables, plus loads of weird spells.

So, I think that's all of the main writing / publishing projects I have underway... Apart, naturally, from the dozens of seeds of things which may someday blossom.

Fight on!

Saturday 4 October 2014

Ix: Metamorphs (D&D 5)

Here were scant details on the metamorphs of the city of Hul Nostra on the borderlands first revealed.

Now, apropos nothing in particular, here are some game-stat elucidations on these beings for use with the 5th edition of D&D.

The Metamorphs of Hul Nostra
A human character of Hul Nostran origin may choose the following trait packages in place of the standard human Ability Score Increase:

Ability Score Increase
You may increase four of your ability scores by 1.

Sexual Morphism
Your sex changes on a periodic cycle, usually over the course of a year. The cycle progresses as follows (you may start play at a point of your choosing): male to hermaphrodite to female to sexless to male (cycle restarts). If you become pregnant during your hermaphrodite or female phases, the sexual cycle pauses until the child is born.

Ability Score Increase
You may increase four of your ability scores by 1.

Form Adaptation
Your body -- including height, weight, hair, eye, and skin colour -- adapts to match that of those around you. After spending a week in someone's company, you begin to take on their characteristics. If living in mixed company, you attain a kind of in-between or average state of the features of those around you. When solely in the company of a single individual, you come to exactly mimic their form, over a period of three weeks.

Ability Score Increase
You may increase two of your ability scores by 1.

Dual Form
You have two distinct forms -- both of the same sex -- and are able to voluntarily shift between them whenever you take a long rest. Powerful drugs (with dangerous side-effects) exist which can accelerate the transformation to occur within the space of a short rest.

Ability Score Increase
Your Constitution score increases by 2.

Form Consumption
By genetic absorption, you take on the appearance and characteristics of the beings that you consume. Phagomorphs typically die young, as they develop non-human physiology which is unable to support their bodies. You were, however, carefully nourished on an almost exclusively carnivorous diet by knowledgeable parents or caretakers and have developed a stable biology.

When eating a normal diet consisting of multiple different types of beast, you take on some characteristics of the creatures you consume, such as a pig-like nose and tusks or a covering of fine fur or feathers. In order to attain a purely human appearance, you would have to primarily eat human flesh.

You are also able to undertake a special process of genetic absorption by consuming the body of a creature in its entirety, whereby your physiology changes as the genetic makeup of your prey is integrated with your own. This process takes four days. Once the genetic absorption is complete, your appearance is half-human, half-beast. In this state, you may use the attack forms of the consumed creature, replacing the specified attack and damage bonuses with your own. This half-beast state lasts for two weeks, at which point you must either perform the process again or lose the benefits.

At 1st level you may absorb the form of creatures of up to Challenge Rating 1/2. From 5th level you may absorb the form of creatures of up to Challenge Rating 1.

True Metamorph
Ability Score Increase
Your Constitution score increases by 1.

You are able to change your physical form at will, over the course of a short rest:
  • At 1st level you may alter your skin colour, eye colour, and facial features.
  • At 3rd level you may alter the length and colouration of your hair, as well as your height, weight, and apparent age (to within the range of human norms).
  • At 5th level you may change your sex or take on unusual traits of other races.
A genetic side-effect of your rare biology is that you are unable to reproduce.

Friday 3 October 2014

Ix: Caravans Part 1

Some thoughts on equipment and beasts for overland travel (expanding some of what I wrote here before about domesticated animals).

For reference, here are the coins used on Ix:
100 ceramic pieces (cp) = 10 obsidian pieces (op) = 1 bronze piece (bp) = 10 silver pieces (sp) = 100 gold pieces (gp)

Water Consumption
  • In the scorching heat of Ix, humans need to consume one gallon (8 pints) of water per day.
  • Brutes and halflings require 12 pints and 6 pints of water, respectively, due to their size.
  • The water consumption of mounts and beasts of burden is listed in their description.
  • Characters wearing ring mail or plate mail must consume double their normal requirement of water.
  • Travelling at night reduces water consumption by 50%.

Cost of Water

All prices are listed for city or oasis / town / village.

Per pint: 1cp / 2cp / 4cp
Per day (human or mool): 8cp / 16cp / 32cp
Per day (halfling): 6cp / 12cp / 24cp
Per day (brute): 12cp / 24cp / 48cp

Travelling Gear

Animal feed per day: 1op (note that some mounts require multiple "portions" of feed each day)

Barding for moiks or orks:
Bone, ceramic, or chitin: 150bp, AC 6
Bronze: 800bp, AC 5
Steel: 4,000bp, AC 3


Vehicles are listed with the number of beasts required to pull it. Larger beasts are able to pull greater loads, as listed in their descriptions.

Carriage (bears 2 people): Cost 75bp, Load 2.
Cart (bears 4 people): Cost 100bp, Load 4.
Wagon (bears 8 people): Cost 200bp, Load 8.
Small caravan (bears 15 people): Cost 400bp, Load 15.
Small caravan, fortified (bears 12 people): Cost 600bp, Load 15.
Large caravan (bears 40 people):  Cost 1,000bp, Load 40.
Large caravan, fortified (bears 30 people):  Cost 1,500bp, Load 40.
Great caravan (bears 150 people): Cost 5,000bp, Load 150.
Great caravan, fortified (bears 120 people): Cost 7,000bp, Load 150.


These 9' tall lizards are bred for their running speed and endurance. They stand on two legs, with small clawed fore-limbs. Their necks are long and flexible, with a sleek head.

HD 2, AC 8,  Mv 24, Int 3, Att 1 (bite or rake), Dmg 1d6, Sv F2, Ml 7
Cost: 75bp
Feed: 2 per day
Water: 12 pints per day (12cp / 24cp / 48cp)
Load: 1

Battle-trained moiks cost 150bp and have a morale of 9 and 2+1 Hit Dice.


Domesticated from a species of predatory flightless desert bird, these creatures are used as mounts. They are renowned for their running speed and their resilience to dehydration. Orks have a heavy, horny beak which can inflict vicious wounds. They are aggressive by nature, and have to be well trained in order to be safely used by humans.

HD 2+1, AC 8,  Mv 24, Int 3, Att 1 (bite), Dmg 2d4, Sv F2, Ml 8
Special: +2 bonus to saves vs dehydration
Cost: 150bp
Feed: 2 per day
Water: 10 pints per day (10cp / 20cp / 40cp)

Load: 1

Battle-trained orks cost 200bp and have a morale of 9 and 2+2 Hit Dice.

Beasts of Burden

Teams of Moiks and Orks are commonly used, in cities, to pull small carts and carriages. Merchant caravans typically employ the following, specialised beasts of burden.

Gargantuan 25' long tortoise-like reptiles bred for their might and stubbornness. Ixilots are commonly found at the head of large caravans, as they can pull tremendous loads. Their shells are ringed with barbed tusks, and they bear two curved horns on their foreheads -- Ixilots are a formidable force in battle, despite their slowness.

Ixilots are a purely domesticated animal, without any extant wild relatives. The downside of the use of Ixilots as beasts of burden is their appetite for huge quantities of plant matter and water -- caravans using them have to be well stocked.

Like other animals of the tortoise family, Ixilots have the unusual capacity to enter a deep hibernation sleep. If placed in cool and complete darkness they enter this dormant state after several days, and can thence remain asleep for a span of some years without food or water.

HD 14, AC 2 / 6 (belly), Mv 18, Int 2, Att 2 (horns / shell-tusks), Dmg 2d12 / 2d6, Sv F14, Ml9
Special: Any medium (or smaller) creatures in melee with an ixilot must save versus paralysis per round or suffer 1d10 damage from trampling.
Cost: 2,000bp
Feed: 15 per day
Water: 80 pints per day (8op / 16op / 32op)
Load: 40

Giant burrowing beetles 20' long with iridescent black shells, these insects are sometimes used for pulling caravans. They are almost as strong as ixilots, and require less food and water, but are more difficult to train, being especially unintelligent and single-minded. The only way to control scarabs is by the use of certain special scents.

The raising of scarabs is a specialised and complicated art, as their maggot form is so large and voracious, and requires darkness and large quantities of dung and ash to gestate in.

HD 12, AC 4, Mv 18, Int 1, Att 1 (bite), Dmg 3d8, Sv F12, Ml 7
Special: Any medium (or smaller) creatures in melee with a scarab must save versus paralysis per round or suffer 1d8 damage from trampling.
Cost: 1,800bpFeed: 10 per day
Water: 60 pints per day (6op / 12op / 24op)Load: 30

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Dolmenwood: Seeking An Artist Collaborator

Draw ye beasts and boogies with glee? Then see ye here.

Thee respective Lords of Vivimancers and Gorgonmilking seek drawings to illustrate the monster haunted forest known as Dolmenwood.

Friday 26 September 2014

Dolmenwood: Moss Dwarf Generator (Rough)

The next in the slow-burning series of Dolmenwood thing-generators (see Greg's fabulous goatman generator), I present the draft version of the moss dwarf generator. Lord Gorgonmilk is working on a properly laid-out version in the same style as the goatman one, so for now just the raw information...

If there are any moss artists out there who feel inspired to create an illustration for the generator, please get in touch! (Google+ or email over there in the sidebar.)

Moss Dwarf
Intelligent Humanoid
15% Liar
Reaction (1d6)
1. Fearful
2. Evasive
3. Indifferent
4. Willing to barter
5. Curious
6. Jolly

No. Appearing 1d6
Hit Dice: 1
Diet: Fungus, Cheese, Sausages
Moss dwarfs are an obscure, stunted race of demi-humans with an affinity for the dank plants and moulds of the deep woods. Although they are called “dwarfs” it is, amongst sages who specialise in the classification of sentient races, a matter of debate as to whether there is indeed any relation between moss dwarfs and true dwarfs. Some speculate that they are in fact more closely related to gnomes or are the stunted offspring of stump-dryads.

Living exclusively in dark, dank forests, moss dwarfs usually only gather in small numbers. They typically live together in small family units, with four to ten families forming an isolated community. Despite their lack of contact with other races, they are curious and jovial, in a slow, earthy way, and welcome occasional visitors. Moss dwarfs are, above all, burrowers, delving their homes into the damp earth of their forest abodes or inhabiting natural caves where they are found. They are, in any case, no masters of stonework or construction. Their homes are furnished with brightly varnished, homemade wooden objects in a charming, higgledy-piggledy style.

Their symbiotic relationship with fungus and moulds makes moss dwarfs master brewers and fermenters of hog cheese. They are also immune to dangerous fungal spores or poisons. An individual moss dwarf lives for several centuries, becoming wiser and more plant-like over this lifespan. Moss dwarfs compost their dead, keeping communal heaps in prominent locations among their communities. Their bodies are such that even the bones rot away to mould.

Moss dwarf colonies of note are located in hexes 1405 and 1605.

1. None (9 [12])*
2. None (9 [12])*
3. None (9 [12])*
4. None (9 [12])*
5. Birch bark (8 [13])
6. Cork (8 [13])
7. Hog leather (8 [13])
8. Oak bark (7 [14])
9. Pinecone (7 [14])
10. Ring mail (6 [15]) (really made of rings)

(* roll on the “style” table, below)

1. Fists (1d3)
2. Knife (1d4)
3. Sickle (1d4)
4. Sling (1d6)
5. Axe (1d6)
6. Pitchfork (1d6)
7. Cudgel (1d6)
8. Staff (1d6)
9. Spear (1d6)
10. Short sword (1d6)

Facial Feature
1. Orb-like eyes which weep yellow pus
2. Eyes furred over with orange fungus
3. Miniature tree growing from one ear
4. Ears grown larger than the hands
5. Long, floppy nose
6. Long, pointy nose
7. Mouth foaming with yeast
8. Darting, black tongue
9. Nostrils ooze purple slime
10. Eyes like pools of deep space

1. Frothing with yeast
2. Ivy down to toes
3. Luxuriant moss
4. Cascading ferns
5. Pussy willow
6. Tasty watercress
7. Beansprouts
8. Wispy catkins
9. Twigs
10. Fungal mycelia

(* always a touchy topic, the presence of beards on female moss dwarfs is left to the referee’s preference.)

Mould Level
1. Fresh like spring dew
2. The odd patch of lichen
3. Edible mushrooms growing in hair
4. Cultivated yeast infections
5. Slick, mossy skin
6. Toadstools growing from joints
7. Covered in slimy green jelly
8. Puffball growths
9. Riddled with mycelia
10. More mushroom now than dwarf

1. Simpleton (5)
2. Bumpkin (6)
3. Slow-witted (7)
4. Dull (8)
5. Average (9)
6. Average (10)
7. Average (11)
8. Cunning (12)
9. Learned (13)
10. Sagacious (14)

1. Mumbling
2. Squelchy
3. Squeaking
4. Grumbling
5. Annoying
6. Meandering
7. Phlegmy
8. Filthy
9. Obtuse
10. Baritone

1. Know the number of items in someone’s pockets
2. Smell cheese from a mile off
3. Tell the age of wood by touching it
4. Command small stones to jump and skip
5. Speak with root vegetables
6. Songs coax simple locks to open
7. Cause sweet liquids to ferment by touch
8. Breath causes leaves to freshen
9. Charm woodland birds
10. Whistle to tie or untie strings

(* The knacks of moss dwarfs are usually classified by wizards as simple cantrips. Elder dwarfs may, however, develop their knacks to greater potency.)

1. Cheese
2. Mushrooms
3. Mould
4. Mud
5. Dung
6. Rain
7. Cut wood
8. Yeast
9. Beer
10. Resin

1. Naturist
2. Loin cloth
3. Grubby rags
4. Scratchy wool
5. Pelts
6. Woodsy
7. Pig suede
8. Cosy knitwear
9. Brushed felt
10. Dapper tweed

1. Swine-cheese
2. Nice mushrooms
3. Nasty mushrooms
4. Psychedelic mushrooms
5. Sack of yeast
6. Fermented pig-semen
7. Stringy boar sausage
8. Frothy ale
9. Nuts & berries
10. Strange brew

1. Mice in hair/beard
2. Pocket full of centipedes
3. Curious squirrel
4. Pilfering racoon
5. Slugs in pants
6. Worms up sleeve
7. Wise snail on head
8. Sentient mushroom
9. Piglet on a leash
10. Burping toad

1. 1d6 cp
2. 3d6 cp
3. 1 sp
4. 1d3 sp
5. 1d6 sp
6. 1d6 +2 sp
7. 1d6 + 4 sp
8. 2d6 sp
9. 2d6 +1 sp
10. 3d6 sp

1. Whisky bottle under hat
2. Wonky spectacles
3. Shrunken hand
4. Shovel and sack of coal
5. Birthday cake
6. Locket with quaint portrait
7. Pouch of wings
8. Jar of forest ants
9. Subterranean map
10. Gourd flute

Saturday 20 September 2014

D&D 5: Spells by School

As I previously mentioned, I've been mulling over some ideas for tweaking the wizard class in D&D 5. Not that it really needs tweaking -- I like it well enough as it is -- but, well, it's inspired me to think about some alternative ideas which might be fun too.

The main idea I have in mind is to make school specialization stricter, so that specialists can only cast spells from their chosen school. The big boon being, however, that they can also cast spells from the spell lists of other classes (including clerical spells, for instance). A wizard who chooses to remain non-specialized (which I also have in mind as an option) would be limited to spells from the standard wizard list.

So, what would these super-focused spell lists look like? Here you go -- all spells in the D&D 5 PHB, by school, irrespective of class:

[Update: I've formatted these lists, also including the spells from the Elemental Evil Companion, as a 2-page PDF which you can download here.]

Blade Ward (0)
Resistance (0)
Alarm (1)
Armor of Agathys (1)
Mage Armor (1)
Protection from Evil and Good (1)
Sanctuary (1)
Shield (1)
Shield of Faith (1)
Aid (2)
Arcane Lock (2)
Lesser Restoration (2)
Pass without Trace (2)
Protection from Poison (2)
Warding Bond (2)
Beacon of Hope (3)
Counterspell (3)
Dispel Magic (3)
Glyph of Warding (3)
Magic Circle (3)
Nondetection (3)
Protection from Energy (3)
Remove Curse (3)
Aura of Life (4)
Aura of Purity (4)
Banishment (4)
Death Ward (4)
Freedom of Movement (4)
Mordenkainen's Private Sanctum (4)
Antilife Shell (5)
Banishing Smite (5)
Circle of Power (5)
Dispel Evil and Good (5)
Greater Restoration (5)
Planar Binding (5)
Forbiddance (6)
Globe of Invulnerability (6)
Guards and Wards (6)
Symbol (7)
Antimagic Field (8)
Holy Aura (8)
Mind Blank (8)
Imprisonment (9)
Prismatic Wall (9)

Acid Splash (0)
Mage Hand (0)
Poison Spray (0)
Produce Flame (0)
Arms of Hadar (1)
Create or Destroy Water (1)
Ensnaring Strike (1)
Entangle (1)
Find Familiar (1)
Fog Cloud (1)
Grease (1)
Hail of Thorns (1)
Tenser's Floating Disk (1)
Unseen Servant (1)
Cloud of Daggers (2)
Find Steed (2)
Flaming Sphere (2)
Misty Step (2)
Web (2)
Call Lightning (3)
Conjure Animals (3)
Conjure Barrage (3)
Create Food and Water (3)
Hunger of Hadar (3)
Revivify (3)
Sleet Storm (3)
Spirit Guardians (3)
Stinking Cloud (3)
Conjure Minor Elementals (4)
Conjure Woodland Beings (4)
Dimension Door (4)
Evard's Black Tentacles (4)
Grasping Vine (4)
Guardian of Faith (4)
Leomund's Secret Chest (4)
Mordenkainen's Faithful Hound (4)
Cloudkill (5)
Conjure Elemental (5)
Conjure Volley (5)
Insect Plague (5)
Mass Cure Wounds (5)
Teleportation Circle (5)
Tree Stride (5)
Arcane Gate (6)
Conjure Fey (6)
Drawmij's Instant Summons (6)
Heroes' Feast (6)
Planar Ally (6)
Transport via Plants (6)
Wall of Thorns (6)
Word of Recall (6)
Conjure Celestial (7)
Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion (7)
Plane Shift (7)
Teleport (7)
Demiplane (8)
Incendiary Cloud (8)
Maze (8)
Tsunami (8)
Gate (9)
Mass Heal (9)
Storm of Vengeance (9)
Wish (9)

Guidance (0)
True Strike (0)
Comprehend Languages (1)
Detect Evil and Good (1)
Detect Magic (1)
Detect Poison and Disease (1)
Hunter's Mark (1)
Identify (1)
Speak with Animals (1)
Augury (2)
Beast Sense (2)
Detect Thoughts (2)
Find Traps (2)
Locate Animals or Plants (2)
Locate Object (2)
See Invisibility (2)
Clairvoyance (3)
Tongues (3)
Arcane Eye (4)
Divination (4)
Locate Creature (4)
Commune (5)
Commune with Nature (5)
Contact Other Plane (5)
Legend Lore (5)
Rary's Telepathic Bond (5)
Scrying (5)
Find the Path (6)
True Seeing (6)
Foresight (9)

Friends (0)
Vicious Mockery (0)
Animal Friendship (1)
Bane (1)
Bless (1)
Charm Person (1)
Command (1)
Compelled Duel (1)
Heroism (1)
Hex (1)
Sleep (1)
Tasha's Hideous Laughter (1)
Animal Messenger (2)
Calm Emotions (2)
Crown of Madness (2)
Enthrall (2)
Hold Person (2)
Suggestion (2)
Zone of Truth (2)
Compulsion (4)
Confusion (4)
Dominate Beast (4)
Dominate Person (5)
Geas (5)
Hold Monster (5)
Modify Memory (5)
Mass Suggestion (6)
Otto's Irresistible Dance (6)
Antipathy/Sympathy (8)
Dominate Monster (8)
Feeblemind (8)
Power Word Stun (8)
Power Word Kill (9)

Dancing Lights (0)
Eldritch Blast (0)
Fire Bolt (0)
Light (0)
Ray of Frost (0)
Sacred Flame (0)
Shocking Grasp (0)
Burning Hands (1)
Chromatic Orb (1)
Cure Wounds (1)
Dissonant Whispers (1)
Divine Favor (1)
Faerie Fire (1)
Guiding Bolt (1)
Healing Word (1)
Hellish Rebuke (1)
Magic Missile (1)
Searing Smite (1)
Thunderous Smite (1)
Thunderwave (1)
Witch Bolt (1)
Wrathful Smite (1)
Branding Smite (2)
Continual Flame (2)
Darkness (2)
Flame Blade (2)
Gust of Wind (2)
Melf's Acid Arrow (2)
Moonbeam (2)
Prayer of Healing (2)
Scorching Ray (2)
Shatter (2)
Spiritual Weapon (2)
Aura of Vitality (3)
Blinding Smite (3)
Crusader's Mantle (3)
Daylight (3)
Fireball (3)
Leomund's Tiny Hut (3)
Lightning Bolt (3)
Mass Healing Word (3)
Sending (3)
Wind Wall (3)
Fire Shield (4)
Ice Storm (4)
Otiluke's Resilient Sphere (4)
Staggering Smite (4)
Wall of Fire (4)
Bigby's Hand (5)
Cone of Cold (5)
Destructive Smite/Wave? (5)
Destructive Wave (5)
Flame Strike (5)
Hallow (5)
Wall of Force (5)
Wall of Stone (5)
Blade Barrier (6)
Chain Lightning (6)
Contingency (6)
Heal (6)
Otiluke's Freezing Sphere (6)
Sunbeam (6)
Wall of Ice (6)
Delayed Blast Fireball (7)
Divine Word (7)
Fire Storm (7)
Forcecage (7)
Mordenkainen's Sword (7)
Prismatic Spray (7)
Earthquake (8)
Sunburst (8)
Telepathy (8)
Meteor Swarm (9)
Power Word Heal (9)

Minor Illusion (0)
Color Spray (1)
Disguise Self (1)
Illusory Script (1)
Silent Image (1)
Blur (2)
Invisibility (2)
Magic Mouth (2)
Mirror Image (2)
Nystul's Magic Aura (2)
Phantasmal Force (2)
Silence (2)
Fear (3)
Hypnotic Pattern (3)
Major Image (3)
Phantom Steed (3)
Greater Invisibility (4)
Hallucinatory Terrain (4)
Phantasmal Killer (4)
Creation (5)
Dream (5)
Mislead (5)
Seeming (5)
Programmed Illusion (6)
Mirage Arcane (7)
Mirrage Arcane (7)
Project Image (7)
Simulacrum (7)
Weird (9)

Chill Touch (0)
Spare the Dying (0)
False Life (1)
Inflict Wounds (1)
Ray of Sickness (1)
Blindness/Deafness (2)
Gentle Repose (2)
Ray of Enfeeblement (2)
Animate Dead (3)
Bestow Curse (3)
Feign Death (3)
Speak with Dead (3)
Vampiric Touch (3)
Blight (4)
Contagion (5)
Raise Dead (5)
Circle of Death (6)
Create Undead (6)
Eyebite (6)
Harm (6)
Magic Jar (6)
Finger of Death (7)
Resurrection (7)
Clone (8)
Astral Projection (9)
True Resurrection (9)

Druidcraft (0)
Mending (0)
Message (0)
Prestidigitation (0)
Shillelagh (0)
Thaumaturgy (0)
Thorn Whip (0)
Expeditious Retreat (1)
Feather Fall (1)
Goodberry (1)
Jump (1)
Longstrider (1)
Purify Food and Drink (1)
Alter Self (2)
Barkskin (2)
Cordon of Arrows (2)
Darkvision (2)
Enhance Ability (2)
Enlarge/Reduce (2)
Heat Metal (2)
Knock (2)
Levitate (2)
Magic Weapon (2)
Rope Trick (2)
Spider Climb (2)
Spike Growth (2)
Blink (3)
Elemental Weapon (3)
Fly (3)
Gaseous Form (3)
Haste (3)
Lightning Arrow (3)
Meld into Stone (3)
Plant Growth (3)
Slow (3)
Speak with Plants (3)
Water Breathing (3)
Water Walk (3)
Control Water (4)
Fabricate (4)
Giant Insect (4)
Polymorph (4)
Stone Shape (4)
Stoneskin (4)
Animate Objects (5)
Awaken (5)
Passwall (5)
Reincarnate (5)
Swift Quiver (5)
Telekinesis (5)
Disintegrate (6)
Flesh to Stone (6)
Move Earth (6)
Wind Walk (6)
Etheralness (7)
Etherealness (7)
Regenerate (7)
Reverse Gravity (7)
Sequester (7)
Animal Shapes (8)
Control Weather (8)
Glibness (8)
Shapechange (9)
Time Stop (9)
True Polymorph (9)

Just looking at the number of spells in each list, we see that divination looks a bit sub-par (which was expected), abjuration looks surprisingly ok, and illusion and necromancy look surprisingly sparse. Necromancy, on the other hand, has access to raise dead et al, which is a very powerful boon.

Friday 5 September 2014

Ix: 3d6 Foods

I did a little experiment today on my way to work: trying to write some game content on my phone during the 15 minutes which I spend on public transport. Here are the results:

Some Typical Foods of the Markets, Bazaars, and Tavernas of the Desert Cities

Poor Foods
  1. Crispy fried cobra skin
  2. Wheat grits with ground roach
  3. Flatbread with garlic
  4. Steaming fly-maggot broth
  5. Broiled lizard feet
  6. Fried Gajji sac with salt

Common Foods
  1. Chickpeas with goat bones
  2. Axolotl brain gruel
  3. Gajji steaks in olive oil
  4. Cinnamon fried asp
  5. Stag beetle stuffed with aubergine
  6. Fried rice with snake egg

Luxury Foods
  1. Live newt-spawn with mustard greens
  2. Roast leg of goat
  3. Mantis-meat kebab
  4. Vat-eel fillet
  5. Whole axolotl in apricot and mint marinade
  6. Steamed ixilot egg (fertilised)

Wednesday 3 September 2014

D&D 5: Less Random Ability Checks

Following my post the other week about adapting D&D 5 to use a roll-under ability check system, I've been having some further thoughts on the subject.

To recap, my basic gripe with the d20 ability check / skill system built into D&D 5 is as follows:
It introduces a very large random factor into things which, to me, don't seem that random. I'm totally cool with there being a large random element in combat (d20 + modifier vs AC) and with saving throws (d20 + modifier vs DC), but for skills it seems that the random element (d20) is way too significant. For example, the difference between the strongest person in the world (STR 20, +5 modifier) and an average person (STR 11, 0 modifier) is equivalent to only 25% of the random factor.
Having considered this some more, I'm now not 100% convinced with the roll-under solution I proposed previously. I like roll-under checks a lot, especially due to the target number being written directly on the character sheet, but there are some corner cases which got me concerned about the robustness of such a system. It seems, for example, to fall apart a bit for creatures with > 20 in an ability score.

Looking at the range of numbers involved, it seems that ability check modifiers for PCs go roughly from -4 to +10 (including proficiency bonus). This means that a world-level master (+10)  is 50% (of the d20 range) better than someone completely average (+0). So, how about changing the d20 into something with less of a random range? d6, say. Now a world-level master is 166% better than the average person. That sounds a little bit more reasonable to me.

How would this work with the normal DCs? Assuming about a +10 bonus at the high end of the scale, this means that adding a d6 on top of that gives us a potential very high roll of 16. The standard DCs go up to 30 (described as "nearly impossible"), so some adjusting will need to be made. A simple halving seems appropriate, resulting in the following DCs (rounding fractions down):
  • Very easy: 2
  • Easy: 5
  • Medium: 7
  • Hard: 10
  • Very hard: 12
  • Nearly impossible: 15
This seems about right to me.

Another aspect to consider is the range of checks which very accomplished characters can now automatically succeed at. With a d20 and the standard DCs, a character with a +10 bonus could automatically perform any "easy" task, but would have to roll for others. Using a d6 instead, this very accomplished character can automatically perform any "hard" task. This also seems about right to me, considering the rarity of a +10 bonus.

Addendum: I just realised that some characters (rogues, in particular) have features which allow them to double their proficiency bonus. This would probably have to be replaced with a +1 bonus, in a d6 ability check system.

D&D 5: How I Would Use It

After reading through much of the first section, some very quick initial thoughts on this newfangled D&D game:

  • The basic cleric, fighter, thief, and wizard classes are nice. I could even imagine allowing the arcane trickster and eldritch knight, for players who wanted a multi-class type option. The 4e-style battle master is right out, though.
  • The cleric domains and wizard school specializations are cool. I like the thematic non-spell benefits each grants.
  • Backgrounds are awesome.
  • I love the equipment chapter and the section on downtime activities -- streamlined, flavourful, and inspiring.
  • I'm very happy that weird races, multi-classing, and feats are explicitly called out as optional.
  • The simplicity and flexibility of the ability check / skill / proficiency system.
Actually there really isn't much of a definitive "no" for me in the new PHB. There are things I won't personally use (see below) but those are mostly modular and easy to drop, without getting into a mess of house rules.
  • The non-core-4 classes. They all introduce add more complicated mechanics and, especially with the addition of backgrounds, I just don't find any of them necessary. Ranger? = Outlander Fighter. Paladin? = Acolyte Fighter or just a Cleric. Bard = Entertainer Rogue (Arcane Trickster). Druid? = Cleric with the Nature domain. And so on. Feels like a lot of duplication to me. They also all bring world assumptions which I don't necessarily want in my game. (I could, however, imagine running a campaign with just a small, hand-picked list of these classes: Ranger, Druid, Warlock, Monk, for example, might be interesting.)
  • The silly 4e races. Well... I'm totally bored of the standard fantasy races too, although I do like the sub-races and the way they're described. My favourite is the gnome actually.
  • I was open to liking the new feats but still find them too much of a door into fiddly mechanical character optimisation.
  • As I discussed previously, I'm not keen on some aspects of the skill system. This is an area which seems not so simple to house rule in a way which doesn't risk messing with loads of other stuff. We'll see.
What I Would Do With It
I'm sure I'll run some games of D&D 5 to get a feeling for it. There's a lot of good stuff in it which I, on first reading, prefer to my traditional go-to, Labyrinth Lord. I'm open to the idea of this becoming my standard base of rules to build from, and it feels like a very solid foundation, at that.

I could imagine two approaches. Firstly, a silly, Mos Eisley, free-for-all. Dragonborn monks meet dwarf necromancers and half-elf warlocks for a party. Not my usual style but I could see it working for a throw-away game. (There's no way I'm going to try to come up with a consistent world setting which encompasses all the race/class combo possibilities in the new PHB!)

For a game more to my usual tastes, I would most likely cut out or reskin all the fantasy races and strip down the classes to the core 4 (or, more likely, core 3 -- no cleric).

I've been having a few ideas for tweaking the wizard class:
  • Bring back strict spell memorization. I'm not totally sure how I feel about the new flexi-spellcasting. Luckily, the spells per day chart is presented in a way that makes it trivial to interpret it as "spells memorized". (I guess this was intentional and will be mentioned as an option in the DMG.)
  • Make school specialization stricter. I've always loved the idea of pure specialists, e.g. a necromancer who can only cast necromantic spells. I'm not sure if the current 5e spell list is meaty enough to make this feasible, but I'm going to check that out. The additional bonuses granted by the specializations somewhat make up for a lack of spells. I'd also consider limiting specialists to one major school and a couple of minor schools, something like that.
  • Make school specialization optional. I've thought about the idea of bringing back the "mage" wizard -- a non-specialist. Given my ideas for stricter specialization, the mage would lose the special abilities granted by a school but would have a broader range of spells to choose from.
  • If I ran a game without clerics (as I usually do), I'd look into rolling all of the spells into one über-list. Perhaps non-wizard spells would only be available to school specialists, giving them an extra boon. (I was, by the way, interested to notice that the healing spells are almost all evocations.)
  • I'm mulling over the possibility of allowing wizards to make pacts as per the warlock class. There'd have to be some downside to doing so but the basic mechanics seem like they'd work out.
I'll post further ideas and house rules as they come.

(ps. I'm on holiday for the next 2 weeks, so likely won't have much time for writing. Really hoping I'll have some more free time at the end of September. I've been so busy lately that all of my writing projects have really fallen behind!)

Thursday 21 August 2014

D&D 5: Roll-Under Skill Checks

So, D&D 5. I have a strange fascination with it. The idea of playing the latest thing which everyone's talking about does actually seem quite appealing. And there are a lot of things I really like about the new edition (backgrounds being one of the main ones). There are, of course, also a few things I'm either suspicious of (will need to be tested out in play) or distinctly not keen on. As ever, though, house rules can come to the rescue. This post is about one aspect of the new D&D that is distasteful to me and some ideas for making it more palatable.


I don't have anything much against them in principle, especially in a system (like D&D 5) where all characters can attempt to use all skills. That's cool. I also really like the simplicity of the proficiency bonus and the lack of "skill points" or whatever. What gets me, though, is the d20 system. I've ranted about this before on various occasions here and on google+.

My basic problem with it is that it introduces a very large random factor into things which, to me, don't seem that random. I'm totally cool with there being a large random element in combat (d20 + modifier vs AC) and with saving throws (d20 + modifier vs DC), but for skills it seems that the random element (d20) is way too significant. For example, the difference between the strongest person in the world (STR 20, +5 modifier) and an average person (STR 11, 0 modifier) is equivalent to only 25% of the random factor. I've always (since D&D 3) thought this seems weird, and WotC seem to disagree. Looks like it's time for a house rule then.

When I think about ability checks, what I really like is the semi-canonical, trad, "roll under your ability score on d20" system. Nice and simple. Rolling against a number on the character sheet. (Yeah, rolling low is better, how inconsistent... but whatever.) A couple of options:

Super Simple Roll-Under Skills
To make an ability check, simply roll d20 and compare it to the relevant ability score (as determined by the DM). Equal or under = success. A natural 1 always succeeds and a natural 20 always fails.

When making a check for a skill you're proficient with, add your proficiency bonus to your ability score.

Slightly More Complicated Roll-Under Skills
Sometimes you might want to give some kind of difficulty rating to an ability or skill check. You know... some chasms are wider than others, some walls slipperier than others, some locks more tricksy than others, etc. D&D 5 play material will no doubt be full of talk of "a DC 25 INT (History) check" and what-not. So it'd be nice to be able to use those difficulty ratings with a roll-under system. Here goes, DC to modifier:
  • Very easy (DC 5): +2
  • Easy (DC 10): +0
  • Medium (DC 15): -1
  • Hard (DC 20): -2
  • Very hard (DC 25): -4
  • Nearly impossible (DC 30): -8
That seems about in line with the kind of modifiers I'm used to in old-school D&D.

I know that this completely changes the probabilities of success and failure. My argument is this: who cares? (Well, I gather that some people do indeed care about such mathematical aspects of the game, but I and no one I play with fall into that category.)

Roll-Under Saving Throws?
This approach could, of course, be applied directly to saving throws too, for the full old-school "roll against the number on your sheet" approach. Personally, I'm happy with luck (i.e. the d20 roll) being more of a deciding factor than raw ability when it comes to saving throws, so I probably wouldn't go down this route. Something to consider though.

Opposed Checks
They don't come up that often, in my experience, but I suppose I should also come up with a less random solution for opposed checks. That's easy: ability score + d6 (+ proficiency bonus, of applicable). Highest score wins.


Any thoughts?

Wednesday 20 August 2014

From the Vats: Monster Design Contest Winner!

The oracles have been consulted!

The winner of the vivimantic monster design contest is thus decreed:

The Sage Anders Lager

guilty of constructing the genetic Horror known as

the Body Stealer

Thanks to everyone who submitted something for the contest. We have a nice compilation of nasties which will be compiled into the From the Vats PDF.

(Apologies that it took me so long to announce the winner! Real-life busyness has abounded of late.)

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Underworld Lore #4

Get it here:

Featuring three obscure deities undergoing near-death experiences, written by myself.

Sunday 10 August 2014

Wizardzine #1: Table of Contents

The contents of Wizardzine #1 are now coalescing a bit. I still have writing to do in some sections, but the overall structure is pretty much fixed now.

Everything in this issue focuses around the topic of aquatic and oceanic magic.

Wizards of Renown
Each discussed with details of their research, marks of magic, domains, and servants.
  • Ephenedrine the Sirene
  • Naxamh, Master of Spirits
  • Master Harlwn of the Luminous Docks
Tomes of Magic
  • 12 tomes containing a set of spells, with details of the construction, author, and history
Magic Items
  • 20 new magic items
  • 10 new monsters
  • 30 new spells
  • Aquatic Monster Summoning Tables
  • Sea Wizard Spell List
  • Aquatic Familiars
  • Tables for Random Selection

(ps. regarding From the Vats, I plan to compile and read the entries to the monster contest today. An announcement of the winner should be coming soon!)

Saturday 2 August 2014

Wizardzine #1: Tomes

Further to the list of spells contained in the first issue of my forthcoming zine, just for fun, here are the names of the tomes which are described in its pages:
  1. A Treatise on the Aspects, Phases, States, and Conjuncts of the Fluid Element
  2. Communions and Conjurations
  3. Gbahal
  4. Leviathan
  5. Phalaine’s Tome of the Seas
  6. Rituals of the Vasandian Shipwrights
  7. Songs of Sea, Wind, and Wave
  8. Summons to the Sea-Drowned
  9. The Archipelagist’s Notes
  10. The Wrath of the Sea Gods
  11. Transmutations
  12. Untitled (being the notes of the adventuress Martha Wainlord)
These volumes of lore, in addition to containing spells of worth, are accompanied by physical descriptions, tidbits of history, and potential adventure hooks. They'll make nice treasure items for referees to plant!

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Monster Deisgn Contest: Last Week

If anyone has any freaky biologically warped monstrous creations, send 'em my way for publication!

You may win stuff! See here for the details.

Deadline this Sunday (August 3rd).

Advanced Spell Research

I love the idea of spell research in D&D. It happens, in my experience, with unfortunate rarity, but I still love it. In my opinion, research is what wizards should be all about. Those pesky adventure things may provide some interesting opportunities to uncover secrets about lost magicks, enchanted items, mystical creatures, planar anomalies, and so on, but a wizard's true work is in his lair.

For some time now, I've been contemplating  ways in which one could make the spell research process more appealing to players and more interesting. This post is about the latter.

The traditional spell research rules are pretty vague and boring: Spend some amount of money (possibly involving the procurement of rare tomes or ingredients -- which is cool). Spend some time. Maybe make some kind of die roll, depending on the system. It either works or it doesn't. If it fails maybe you try again. Logan recently posted some interesting stuff developing some variance on the success side of the equation. (The DCC mercurial magic system is another similar approach.)

I'm also interested in the failure side of things, as well as what happens during the process. I don't imagine spell research as a long process of noodling followed by a eureka! resulting in a fully functional spell. I like the idea that the magic-user works his or her way through a whole sequence of baby spells, developing an idea which eventually, all going well, bears fruit in the perfection of the envisioned spell. Maybe all does not go well, though, or maybe the research is interrupted or abandoned, leaving a semi-functional spell. A reckless wizard might choose to still cast this imperfect dweomer... Perhaps it's still useful in some way, despite it not living up to what its creator intended.

I've done this kind of thing informally a couple of times in play, when a PC wizard has attempted and failed a process of spell research (I had the player simply make an INT check to see if the research worked first time off). We had a transparency spell (see The Complete Vivimancer) which only affected the skin of the target and a cannibalize spell (see Theorems & Thaumaturgy) which permanently added 1 pound of warped flesh to the caster's body with each casting. In both cases, I gave the player the option of continuing the research (entailing more time and money) in order to try and perfect the incantation, or to stay with what he had. (He chose to keep the cannibalize variant but put in the extra time to perfect transparency.)

I'd like to come up with something a little bit more systematized for this kind of thing. A couple of things I have in mind:
  • A slightly more detailed spell research system with various stages, leading up to the fruition of the final spell.
  • Tables of minor and major complications which mutate a spell's functioning. These would be applied to partially developed spells, either during the research procedure or after a failed research procedure.
  • Tables of drawbacks: detrimental side-effects which accompany the casting of an imperfect spell.
I'll develop these things and any other ideas on the topic which come along in future posts. Feel free to feed me with any ideas you have on the subject!

Sunday 27 July 2014

DCC: Alchemical Tonic

Having bought the Dungeon Crawl Classics book recently, I've been thinking about running some games. Naturally (naturally!) I would expunge the cleric class from existence. I am renowned for my grudge against clerics of all creeds and am not about to tarnish this reputation now.

Clerics in DCC seem pretty healy. The death toll of the game seems pretty high. Put those two facts together and, without clerical healing, you get a blood bath, I would imagine. So, with maximum mercy, I propose the following substance:

Alchemical Tonic
A class of rejuvenating fluid produced by many alchemists, each having his or her own secret formula. A vial costs 40gp. Imbibing it has the effect of restoring one Hit Die. Other damage effects (like critical hit gruesomeness, diseases, paralysis, whatever) are not affected.

Adventurers with a few lucrative jaunts under their belts will, of course, be able to purchase great stocks of this miracle juice. Ingesting alchemical substances of this kind is, however, not without side-effects -- especially when the compounds of multiple doses mix in a character's intestines. Upon imbibing the first tonic of the day, a player must roll 1d6 and consult the following table. For each subsequent dose consumed, the die type increases by one, up to the mighty d30 of almost-certain alchemical doom. Rolls on the table are inversely modified by Luck (bonuses subtract, penalties add).

0 or less: No side-effect.
1: Tingling. A pleasant sensation in the extremities.
2: Chills. Rising up and down the spine.
3: Flush. Cheeks flush hot red.
4: Rush. A sensation of courage and renewed vigour pervades the character's consciousness for 1 hour. Can lead to foolhardy decision making.
5: Tipsy. Has an effect similar to alcohol.
6: Mind-numbing. 1d3 Intelligence damage.
7: Over-stimulation. Character cannot sleep for 48 hours.
8: Rejection. The tonic is vomited back up. Healing factor reduced by 50%.
9: Hyper-sensitivity. A frothing sensation in the belly. The die type used on this table for subsequent doses is increased by two steps.
10: Faint. Wakes up naturally after 1d6 turns. Slapping has no effect but application of another dose of tonic does the job in 1d6 rounds.
11: Fire breath. A chemical reaction causes a gout of flame to burst from the character's lips. A random character or object within 5' takes 1d8 damage and must make a DC 10 Reflex save to avoid catching on fire (p.96).
12: Addictive. The compound has a habit-forming effect. The character must make a DC 15 Will save or do whatever he can to consume a second dose within the next hour, whether he needs the additional hit points or not.
13: Fearless. The compound inspires courage to the point of recklessness, for 1d6 hours. The character is immune to fear effects during this time but cannot take any course of action out of caution.
14: Where am I? Partial amnesia for 1 hour. The character knows who he is and recognizes companions, but has no memory of how he got into the current situation or what he is doing there.
15: Glow. A strange chemical reaction causes the character's skin to glow some psychedelic hue for 1d6 hours. This makes stealth very difficult.
16: Alchemical taint. The character's lips are permanently stained with a garish colour and his breath takes on an acrid odour.
17: Sensory black out. Blinded or deafened for 1d10 minutes.
18: Vision. An odd collusion of chemical elements triggers a psychedelic episode. The character has an out-of-body visionary flash lasting 1d6 rounds (although the vision may, subjectively, appear to last much longer), followed by a 1d6 hour period of sensory distortion and hallucination.
19: Pain insensitivity. Bodily sensations numbed for 24 hours. Judge tracks character's hit point total and gives no clues as to its status.
20: Intolerance. On subsequent days, the character's first dose of tonic starts with a d8 on the side-effects table.
21: Who am I? Complete amnesia for 24 hours.
22: Tonic-head. Highly addictive elements of the tonic get a grip on the character. Henceforth, he must consume a dose every day or lose a point of Strength.
23: Frazzled. The character's nervous system is damaged by continued abuse. Hit point maximum reduced by one, permanently.
24: Knockout gas. Noxious fumes erupt from the character's digestive system. All within 20' (including the one who drank the tonic) must make a DC 13 Fortitude save or fall unconscious for 1d6 turns.
25: Digestive polymorph. Character's digestive system is permanently altered, such that he can only subsist on an unusual, unnatural diet (gold, rocks, shadows, elf-flesh, etc).
26: Allergic reaction. Roll again. Character's system has become extra sensitive to the effects of tonic. Henceforth, every dose incurs two rolls on this table.
27: Brain damage. Mixed compounds take to the character's brain, causing unconsciousness for 1d6 hours and a permanent 1d12 points of Intelligence damage.
28: Rainbow vomit. Colours, chemical formulations, geometric crystals, and chunks of decimated organs spew from the character's mouth. Dies within 1d6 turns unless some miracle intervenes.
29: Stomach disintegration. Like drinking acid. Instadeath.
30 or more: Alchemical explosion. An unfortunate mixture of esoteric compounds triggers a powerful explosion in the character's gut. Instadeath. All within 10' must make a DC 12 Reflex save or suffer 1d6 damage from the blast.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Wizardzine!: Issue #1 Spell List

Now that the OSR Superstar contest is behind me (well, the contest isn't over yet, but I've submitted my entry for the final round), I've moved back to focusing on the writing for issue 1 of Wizardzine. So far I've been concentrating mainly on the new spells which will grace its pages, and this morning I got up to a round 30, which was my goal.

To whet your taste buds, here's the list of spells which will be in this issue:
  1. Aquatic Adaptation (reversible)
  2. Boiling Sphere
  3. Call to the Deeps
  4. Castaway
  5. Conjure Land
  6. Control Buoyancy
  7. Dive
  8. Enslavement of the Drowned
  9. Erosion (reversible)
  10. Ghost Ship
  11. Hallucinatory Island
  12. Ice Sphere
  13. In the Belly of the Whale
  14. Island Hop
  15. Locate Land
  16. Luminescent Swarm
  17. Ocean’s Embrace
  18. Raise Wreck
  19. Ride the Waves
  20. Sea Lust
  21. Seasickness (reversible)
  22. Shockwave
  23. Sink Island
  24. Sirens' Call
  25. Sound the Deeps
  26. Swarm Transformation, Aquatic
  27. Tidings
  28. Transmute Liquid to Crystal (reversible)
  29. Water Walk
  30. Whale Speech

Now onto the monsters, magic items, and a description of the sorceress Ephenedrine and her domain!

Monday 21 July 2014

The Complete Vivimancer: 25% Off Sale!

The Complete Vivimancer is on sale for "Christmas in July" at RPGNow / DriveThru RPG!

25% off starting now for a week.

The PDF is now $5.24.
The PDF + print bundle is down to $12.99.

Some reviews:
Ben L. of Mazirian's Garden.
Timothy Brannan of The Other Side.
Brendan S of Necropraxis.

Click here to get it (if you've not already)!

Friday 11 July 2014

D&D 5e: The Workings of Magic

Like many other people in the RPG world, I've been reading through the new D&D Basic PDF. I might write some more detailed thoughts on it at some point, but broadly I'm discovering that there's really a lot to like about this new edition of everyone's favourite game. (Obscure as it may sound, I am totally in love with the "downtime activities" section, for example.) The only major gripe I've come across so far is, unfortunately, the wizard spellcasting system. Now, I've not played a game using these rules, so my concerns may be purely theoretical, but I find the rules of wizardly magic confusing and mishmashy -- an unholy mix of at-will, Vancian fire & forget, and spell points. Not immediately to my liking.

Chatting with some people on G+ about this, I realised that a major gripe-element for me is that I don't have a good in-game rationale for the new spellcasting system, unlike the trad Vancian approach, upon which one can read volumes, both in the D&D canon and in the _Dying Earth_ books. In comparison, the new system seems somehow groundless.

Until this morning, when the following slight twist on the Vancian approach came to me. I think this explains all of the intricacies of the 5e system:

Wizards are able to contact and control a particular type of vorpal known as dweomers (or, in common parlance, spells). These disembodied entities, which natively inhabit dimensions orthogonal to our own, exist in many forms, the most significant distinction between the types being their rank (or level). The lowliest dweomers are known as cantrips, while others are ranked from the first to the ninth level.

One peculiarity of dweomers, when compared against other vorpals, is their symbiotic relationship with the minds of mortals. A dweomer can take on a quasi physical form, manifesting as a byzantine complex of modulations in the neural structure of its host. This symbiosis comes about in one of two ways.

Firstly, a dweomer may take up permanent, cooperative residence in a magician's mind. Typically only dweomers of the lowest rank (cantrips) are open to this deep symbiosis, but very experienced magic users possess the force of mind to join with more powerful vorpals also. Once bound in this way, dweomer and magician are inseparable.

Secondly, and more commonly, a dweomer may be temporarily and forcibly bound, by the speaking of its true name. It thus remains in the magician's mind until he or she sees fit to release it. (The true names of myriad types of dweomer can be found recorded as intricate sequences of arcane characters which magicians store in their spell books.)

In both cases, the magician may arouse a resident dweomer by the performance of a series of gestures and vocalisations to which it is sympathetic. The arousal of a dweomer in this way causes the manifestation of a supernatural effect -- magic.

Two further facts bear mentioning.

The nature of the neural modulations caused by the presence of dweomers in a mortal mind is such that only a limited number of the entities may be resident at a time. The mind simply cannot handle more without permanent rupture. (Though note that, as a magician increases in power, his or her mind becomes accustomed to the presence of vorpals and is thus able to accommodate more of them.)

Dweomers which are bound by force exert a constant strain on the magician, as he or she battles to keep the vorpal in place. Every time such a dweomer is aroused, the magician's tether on it and all others which are confined lessens. If a magician were to lose complete control of a dweomer during the process of arousal, the consequences would be dire -- complete neural disintegration being the most typical fate. Thus each magician learns the delicate balance of the frequency with which he or she may arouse entrapped dweomers, using periods of rest to regain control over the volatile other-dimensional entities.

Take that, 5e magic system.

Saturday 5 July 2014

Wizardzine! #1: Ephenedrine the Sirene

Wizardzine! #1 is coming along very nicely! As I mentioned previously, the theme is oceanic and sub-aquatic magic.

I want each issue to be not just a collection of spells and magic items, though, but also to describe the magician who has created these wonders. For the first issue, the figure of "Ephenedrine the Sirene", oceanic sorceress, has crystallised. I'll be giving some more thought as to her character, history, and motives as writing for the issue continues.

As a teaser, I also wanted to share one of her spells, which I just wrote:

Sea Lust
Level: 2nd
Duration: Special
Range: 60’
Schools: Charms, Elemental water, Oceanic

The homes of men are founded on earth but their hearts are with the seas. Many a wanderer, upon his first glimpse of the ocean, is smitten with a lifelong yearning for the waves and the mysteries of the deeps.

This spell plays upon these deep-rooted instincts, awakening a lust for the ocean deeps in a person of the magic-user’s choice. Typically humans are the only race which may be affected with a sea lust but the referee may rule that other races in his campaign are susceptible to this charm. Two effects are possible, as follows.

Consort with Deep Ones: When cast at the sea’s shore at night, in the presence of denizens of the deep (merfolk, locathah, sahuagin, or other races of “deep ones”), the spell’s target enters into a state of delirious infatuation in which he or she will consort with the creatures, engaging in whatever rituals or rites of communion they may desire. This state lasts for a single night. Only vague memories of the events which transpired under the enchantment remain to the victim. Women who are victim of this magic sometimes give birth to children who bear odd marks hinting at their sea-blood heritage.

Lost Love: Alternatively, the magic-user may use this spell to abuse the heart of a lovestruck victim, inflicting them with a glamour of great potency. This usage of the spell requires the heart of the object of the victim’s love, removed from the body, whether living or dead. The heart must be thrown into the waves of the sea as the spell is cast. The victim is inflicted with the delusion that their love has gone across the seas and will do whatever is in their power to follow. The charm will thus drive the victim to a life of futile wandering and searching, forever yearning after their lost love.

In both cases, a successful saving throw versus spells negates the enchantment.

Sunday 29 June 2014

From the Vats: Design a Monster Contest

The time has come. The vat-grown must be unleashed. Only YOU can decide the fate which awaits an unsuspecting world. With two dice, a pencil, and an eraser... no, wait, wrong blurb.

What I'm after:

  • The weirdest freaks of nature you can dream up in your vivimantic laboratory.
  • Statted up for Labyrinth Lord.
  • Ready and willing to meet the world in the form of an Open Game Content free publication to be entitled "From the Vats".
For your inspiration and reference:
I said this was a contest, what are the prizes?
  • A print copy of Theorems & Thaumaturgy. (Or negotiably something else if you already have that.)
  • A print copy of the first issue of my forthcoming zine, "Wizardzine!".
  • A special tome of spells, created by me on a topic of your choosing. (This could be fun!) It might be all funky and hand illustrated or something like that.
The winner to be decided by a means of my own choosing. Most likely purely aesthetic preference.

Get em in by Sunday the 3rd of August and I shall compile and judge. (Contact details in the right-hand sidebar of the blog.)

Saturday 28 June 2014

Wizardzine! #1: Progress

As recently announced, I've started work on the inaugural issue of my zine about magic and magicians in D&D.

The theme I've chosen for this issue is sub-aquatic and oceanic magic. So far I've been working on writing new spells but I also have a lot of ideas for magic items and monsters, so there should be a pretty nice mix of different stuff in this first issue!

Currently I have full write-ups of the following spells:
  1. Boiling sphere
  2. Call to the deeps
  3. Castaway
  4. Conjure land
  5. Control buoyancy
  6. Dive
  7. Ghost ship
  8. Ice sphere
  9. Locate land
  10. Raise island
  11. Raise wreck
  12. Shockwave
  13. Swarm transformation, aquatic
  14. Tidings
  15. Whale speech
I must have seeds for at least that number of spells again, so I guess we should be looking at over 30 new spells in this issue.

If you've ever thought of running a campaign based around sea travel or underwater adventuring, this will be the zine for you!

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Tentatively Announcing: Wizardzine!

I mentioned very briefly on google+ the other day the fact that I had created a document entitled Wizardzine. The name was a joke / placeholder, but I've not thought of anything better and I kind of like the goofiness of it, so I get the feeling it's going to stick.

Anyway, my document has just exploded into a load of seeds of ideas, so I think it's time for a very tentative announcement of intention.

(perhaps the exclamation mark is officially part of the title?)

A periodically produced conglomeration of my musings on the subject of wizards and magic in D&D. Featuring stuff like:
  • New spells (naturally). Loads of them.
  • New magic items.
  • Wizardly companions, constructs, minions, and beings from beyond. (Monsters, to you and me.)
  • Magicians and their lairs. (That is, adventure locales.)
  • Esoteric tomes, procedures, formulae.
  • Miscellaneous articles on subjects arcane.
  • House rules for magic-users and spell-casting.
Heavily themed. Each issue will revolve around a very specific topic.

Illustrated? Somehow. I don't know yet. Maybe, maybe I'll bust out my felt tips and give it a go myself, in true zine style.

Who knows when this will come to fruition. I could foresee a first issue in the not too distant future, however, given the explosion of ideas that just happened in my little document. It might be a one-off if I run out of steam, it might be a multi-volume wonder in several years time. We'll have to wait and see.

I'll keep you posted.

ps. I also have news on the community-sourced vivimancer supplement From the Vats. An announcement about that will be coming soon...

Thursday 19 June 2014

New Class: The Specialist Wizard

Of the wizards who walk the world there are many kinds, with as many titles, ranks, offices, and stations as there are lands. For the sake of simplicity, many of these workers of the arcane are lumped together under the term "magic-user". These are the boldest and least bookish of their kind -- those whose fascination lies in the mysteries of the wider world and the direct application of magickal workings in the diverse situations which it presents. (There are, in fact, those who would argue that the very title commonly afforded to adventuring wizards -- "magic-users" -- is indicative of their somewhat workmanlike and utilitarian attitude to magic, favouring that which may expediate the accumulation of coin in their pouch as opposed to that which may deepen their understanding of the arcane.)

Wizards of more narrow focus also gather into schools and colleges: necromancers, illusionists, vivimancers, elementalists, conjurers, and so forth. These wizards specialize in just one of the many "schools" or domains of magic, thus developing a deeper and broader repertoire within that domain.

There also exist those spell-casters of devoted and obsessive bent who focus their study on uncovering the arcane secrets of a single particular and very specific aspect of reality. Such spell-casters are so isolated in their research that they seldom have any direct peers. As their domains of interest are so idiosyncratic, it is most convenient to refer to such wizards collectively as "specialist wizards". (Of course, in reality, their specializations bear no relation to each other.)

The following game rules may be used for such characters. (Note that the player of a specialist wizard character will almost certainly be required to engage in the creation of new spells. This is a fun, creative, but rather involved process, and this class is thus only recommended for players who enjoy this activity.)

The Specialist Wizard

Requirements: INT 9
Prime Requisite: INT
Maximum Level: None

Focusing on the secrets of one specific and very limited area of magic, specialist wizards are the obsessives, iconoclasts, and trail-blazers of the arcane world. Their devotion to a single field of study makes them very narrowly focused, thus greatly reducing the breadth of available spells. On the other hand, such dedication allows them to delve more deeply and more quickly into the mysteries of magic, unlocking potent secrets which can be used to create unique new spells, magic items, and more.

When creating a specialist wizard character, the player must select his area of specialization. Once selected, this may never be changed. Some example areas of specialization: birds, fire, geometry, blades, rope, rainbows, bone, dreams, mirth.

Combat: Like other magic-users, specialist wizards may only use small weapons such as daggers and may not wear armour of any kind. Their hit points, saving throws, and chance to hit in combat advance at the same rate as other magic-users.

Experience: Similarly, a specialist wizard advances using the standard experience and spell memorization tables common to other magic-users. A specialist wizard memorizes and casts spells as if he were one level higher than his actual experience level.

Demi-humans: Most specialist wizards are humans. Elves may advance to 11th level in the class, and half-elves to 13th level. The referee may allow characters of other races (even those races which are not normally allowed to be magic-users) to become specialist wizards, so long as a suitable area of specialization is chosen. For example, a dwarf might choose to specialize in the magic of the forge.

Initial spells: At 1st level, a specialist wizard has three spells in his spell book: read magic and two other spells relating to his area of specialization. The latter may be drawn from any available reference materials or may be created by the player in collaboration with the referee.

Spell acquisition: Specialist wizards may transcribe any spells which they discover over the course of their adventures into their spell book, as usual. However, with their extremely narrow focus, the likelihood of locating suitable spells by pure happenstance is low. Of course, a specialist wizard may purposefully embark on adventures to seek out magic of interest, but their own personal research also bears fruit from time to time. Every time a specialist wizard advances in level, he has the option to research a brand new spell of his own devising. This process takes one month (during which time the character may not go adventuring) but entails no further costs. Otherwise, the usual rules for spell research apply.

Marks of magic: The specialist wizard, in the course of his studies, immerses himself continuously in the magical energies related to his area of specialization. At every even-numbered level (2nd, 4th, 6th, etc) this contact has a permanent effect on the wizard. The broad type of effect is determined by rolling 1d4 (see below). The specifics should be worked out by the referee and should always be connected to the wizard's area of specialization. Marks of magic are typically neither detrimental nor beneficial to the wizard -- they merely distinguish him as being touched by strange forces.

1. Personality quirk. These quirks often bring the wizard towards the verge of what normal folk would regard as insanity.
2. Alteration of physical form. This could include changes to posture, gait, skin, hair, eyes, bone structure, and so on.
3. Magical aura. The wizard is continually surrounded by a very minor but noticeable manifestation of magic.
4. An item of clothing or a possession which is often on the wizard's person takes on an unusual quality or appearance.

Establish dominion: Upon reaching 5th level, a specialist wizard may construct a tower or base. The lands around the base become the wizard's dominion. (Exactly what area is considered as the wizard's dominion must be determined by the referee, bearing in mind the political and geographical features of the area.)

Spell research: From 5th level, using the laboratories and libraries of their towers, specialist wizards may research new spells using the normal rules; entailing the expenditure of time and money. All spells researched must, it is clear, be related to the wizard's area of specialization.

Apprentices: When a specialist wizard reaches 6th level, 1d4 1st level wizards will arrive in his dominion seeking an apprenticeship. These will be standard magic-users, but if the wizard accepts them as his apprentices, they will become specialist wizards with the same area of specialization as their master.

Magic item creation: From 8th level, specialist wizards may put the facilities of their towers to work in processes of magic item creation, using the standard rules. Specialist wizards can only create items related to their area of specialization.

Dominion enchantments: At 11th level or greater, a specialist wizard is able to research large-scale dweomers which enchant his tower and the surrounding lands with aspects of his specialist area of magic. The process for magic item research should be used.