Friday, 31 March 2017

One For All: The World and its People

The first in a series of articles highlighting Spilled Ale Studios' own setting which is currently in development, this post looks at the world in which One For All is set and those races that can be found there.

The World

The world as a whole is named Tierra, and is not dissimilar to our own. It is 71% ocean and 29% land. While it has two moons, one slightly smaller than our own and a second much smaller moonlet that orbits the first, it has a single sun and the distances to the sun and the two moons are equivalent, as are the orbits. Thus the Tierran calendar year has three hundred and sixty five days, each of them comprising twenty-four hours of sixty minutes.

One For All is set in and around the nation of Gallian, which is located in the Eastern half of the continent Uraopia. Gallian is a predominantly human nation which nevertheless has citizens of other races. While foreigners tend to be distrusted due to the prevalence of wars between the various nations, a wave of goodwill currently improves racial relations in the country somewhat thanks to the marriage of King R├ęgis XIII to Natania, an elf of the Royal House of Espera who carries an unusual reputation for kindliness toward the little folk.
A Map of Gallian.

Religions of the World

Uraopia and many lands beyond are largely dominated by a single religion known simply as The Faith. The Faith is a monotheistic religion built around the worship of an entity practitioners simply call the Divinity. There is a dark side to the Faith in modern day Tierra. While the beliefs the Faith is built on are intended to keep men and women from straying from the right path, the organisation itself has become corrupted.  With one hand the Church of the Faith preaches love, peace, and tolerance, while punishing non-conformity with its other. The church of the Faith actively seeks to convert all to its flock, and since it has become the dominant religion almost universally throughout the continent, the Faith has a lot of power to advance its own cause. Tolerance for other religions varies by nation and whether the Faith is the only allowed religion by law (as in Espera). In Gallian it is still legal to practice other Faiths, but increased marginalisation and hostility causes most to convert or at least hide their practices.

Other religions include:
  • The Word, a religion that evolved among the hobben that bears marked similarities to the Faith and may share a common root. Because the Esperan hobben cannot legally practice their faith, many do so secretly at great risk, living in fear of the Inquisition. The religion of the Word is so named because its members follow the Word of Shujaat, who they believe to be the true prophet of Iilhi, a Hobben word meaning “Divine”. The Word finds room to embrace the gods worshiped by others into the religion, although they are believed merely to be powerful jinn. 
  • The Dwarven Pantheon, touched on in the description Dwarves below. Technically, they are also considered Old Gods.
  • The Old Gods, a broad and dismissive catch-all term used by practitioners of the Faith to refer all other gods that came before and have been (or should be) abandoned. Nature deities and powerful genius loci, elemental powers, and other stranger gods have been worshipped across Uraopia and elsewhere in Tierra, and many still carry on their ancient practices in private or the secrecy of small communities. 

Races

Other races that can be found in and around the nation of Gallian include:
  • The Drakken: a reptilian race thought to be related to Tierra’s drakes and the dragons of legend. Like the drakes for which they are named, drakken are born with an inherent affinity for one of four classical elements: earth, water, air, and fire. Their culture is divided into four Descendancies split along these elemental lines.
  • The Dremund: a race of humanoid rodents known for their adaptability, their mercantile culture, their fecundity as a species, and their loyalty to kith, kin, and comrades. Dremund follow a set of laws that their race holds in an esteem bordering on sacred known as the Conventions of Comportment, and each family line has their own additions to the code known as their Decorum. 
  • The Dwarves: the dwarves are a pragmatic yet spiritual race. Their old religion is one of the most unique in all of Tierra, telling the creation myth of the stone god Dwarth who shaped them from the stone where they already existed in potential. Many dwarves also hold to the philosophy of Geodogmatacy, which holds that knowledge and wisdom is held within the earth and rock all around, waiting to be untapped. Sadly the old ways are being abandoned, as the Dwarven Kings of Detzhald have long been affiliated with the Holy Empire of the Divinity and are even known as the Holy Emperors. 
  • The Elves: descendants of outsiders from the realms of the Fey, the elves once belonged to the Summer Court. The tale they tell is that they were manipulated into betraying their current master by the Queen of Winter, after which she refused to take them into her own court on the grounds that she couldn't trust known traitors. With nowhere else to turn they settled on Tierra, where they became mortal. While exceptions do exist most of the elves of Tierra are arrogant, proud, and often cruel. The so-called "high" elves who rule Espera distanced themselves from their fey roots long ago. 
  • The Hobben: a highly advanced race in both academia, spiritualism, and war, the hobben have their own empire elsewhere in Tierra. In the past they conquered large portions of the nations now known as Espera and Artuga, bringing the elven society there low. When the Caliphate of Pontola was finally driven back, many hobben settlers were left behind. They have integrated into the elven-ruled society, becoming the backbone of Esperan labour and military might. As the "face" of Espera's army, and due to the tensions between Espera and Gallian, hobben in Gallian find themselves subject to more hostility than the elves themselves (who, since they are typically nobles, are often too dangerous to provoke).
  • The Hoeflin: the hoeflin are a race that in some other worlds might be referred to as halflings, but you should never let one hear you use that derogatory word! Despite their small stature, the hoeflin race are fierce, proud, and brave. They are a warrior race, known for fighting with their signature sword—the hoeflin claymore. Along with humanity, the hoeflin are one of the two ruling races of Alben, to the south. 
  • Dual-Blooded: Other than Half-Elves and Half-Hobben, who find themselves on the margins of both parent races and inheriting the prejudices against both, there are also the rare and tragic Half-Orakk. The latter are born after raids by the vile orakk, who are more like a plague than a species. When the orakk rise from their dark lairs the civilised world unites to crush them, but they return and spread like a malignant cancer. Sad as it is, most half-orakk parents don't bring their child to term, ending the life of their child or their own instead. Other half-orakks are killed immediately after birth. And perhaps this is a kindness in the end, for half-orakks must endure universal hate, fear, and scorn. Worse still, they must endure the dark urges that sometimes rise up as though a calling from their very blood, or else fall to them and become the very monster others see them as.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

5e: Avatars of the Gods — The Red Knight, Goddess of Strategy

My tabletop group sets most of our games in an evolving world based on the Forgotten Realms. Each member of the group who takes on the mantle of the DM builds on the setting's lore, and the events of their games have ramifications felt beyond that campaign. Needless to say, by now our Realms is very different to the Realms of canon. One repercussion is that our version of the Realms is only now going through its Time of Troubles, the gods being cast down into mortal bodies as a direct consequence of the campaign prior to mine.

Despite the fact that I chose to set my campaign on the heretofore unexplored continent of Osse, I wanted that major plot point to remain relevant to the story of my game. As such, at least a few religions are practiced by many members of the expeditionary forces to Osse. As the expeditionary forces are made up of allied Tethyrian and Lantanna soldiers and settlers, any religion known to be practiced in Tethyr may also be practiced by some of the expedition, as well as the worship of Gond.

Although not necessarily the most widely spread Tethyrian religion, the one that has had most screen time in the campaign is the religion of the Red Knight. This goddess of battle and strategy has a history closely linked with Tethyr and as a result she is held in high esteem there, particularly by military officers. Most of the officers on the expedition appear to be members of the Order of the Lanceboard, a society dedicated to the Red Knight's ideals and the greater good of Tethyr (a sentiment some might find treasonous, as the greater good of Tethyr may not always mean loyalty to the crown).

My players currently suspect Major Marcia Ramez, the ranking Tethyrian officer in charge of the expedition to Osse and also a prominent member of the Order of the Lanceboard, of secretly being the Red Knight. I should note however that they have at one point or another also suspected her of being a princess, a dragon, a princess dragon, or a dragon princess! Although in fairness, they were getting pretty silly by the time those last two ideas were tabled.

Whether or not their present suspicions are true (for which my players should not take this post as either confirmation or denial), I was curious how I might stat out the Red Knight's living avatar.

A few assumptions were made before creating this statblock:
  • As far as I'm concerned, expected CR for a god's avatar is 28-30+.
  • It's possible to create a creature of beyond CR 30 by increasing the hit point range by increments of 45 and damage/round range by increments of 18 respectively. I'll be happy to discuss my reasoning for this in a later blog entry if there's interest!
  • Despite the normal size requirements, a living god has fair grounds to use a d20 hit die. Apart from anything else, this reduces the amount of hit dice necessary to achieve appropriate hit points from ridiculous to... less ridiculous. There's still going to be a lot. 

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.

On paper, the Red Knight and other powerful entities I plan to create statblocks for in this series can appear overwhelming. In particular, Godly Magic suggests a level of familiarity with the game's spells that you probably don't possess (I know I don't!). There's nothing to fear here, though. An avatar of a god is not a fight that should just happen out of the blue. You'll know it's coming, and thus you can prepare for it. 

While Godly Magic allows the Red Knight to cast any spell, you can prepare  a shortlist of spells you think she is most likely to use. Come at this list from a few different directions: 
  • Firstly, consider which spells are most thematic for the Red Knight? Spells that pertain to foresight and pre-planning, eg. divination, will often fit the bill. Spells that empower her in combat are also on the money (look at evocation, conjuration, transmutation, and some abjuration and illusion spells). Focus on the spells you actually see her using during the encounter rather than non-combat utility spells. Let's look at examples you might choose to use for her precious 9th-level spell slot: foresight is perfectly themed for the Red Knight if she has the time to cast it in preparation. You might be tempted to discount it because she already gains advantage on a lot of things foresight helps with, but the disadvantage all other creatures receive when attacking the caster is quite potent all on its own when combined with the Red Knight's other features. Meanwhile, power word kill is a cruel spell to use on your party, but ruthless efficiency is all part of the Red Knight's shtick. Just look at checkmate! This is an epic fight, so don't be afraid to be brutal. If your PCs try to take on this powerful an enemy without adequate preparation and efforts to discover weaknesses or diminish their power, then it's fair to show them exactly what the enemy can do!   
  • Secondly, which spells are off-theme but might be called upon by the deity in desperate straits? Gods have particular portfolios, yes, but they are powerful creatures of innate magic. If desperate times call for a surprising spell, then a surprising spell they may very well cast. Besides, you can often get away with reskinning a spell to make it more appropriate. For example, the go to 9th-level spell for sheer damage output is meteor swarm.  If you don't mind going a little anime with it, perhaps the Red Knight summons four giant swords that plummet from the heavens? They could deal 20d6 magical slashing and 20d6 regular slashing damage. Or you could keep the fire damage and just switch the bludgeoning to slashing, ruling that the swords are super-heated thanks to their descent through the sky. When you reskin, be consistent across multiple uses of the spell. When the Red Knight casts her version of meteor swarm, it always creates giant blades. 
  • Thirdly, consider the capabilities of your party. By now you have a good idea of the Red Knight's optimal choices if she gets to fight the battle the way she'd like to. But since she can recreate spell effects freely, that means she can react to what your PCs do. Remember as well that the Red Knight is a deity (a goddess of strategy no less), and by no means stupid. If she has had cause to hear of the party in the past, which seems likely given their apparent power and the fact that their fight with the Red Knight probably doesn't occur without some context, then she may already know a lot about what they can do and be prepared to try and counter it. By the time your party are looking at taking on a CR 30+ enemy you probably have a very good idea what they can do, so take that knowledge and pick out a few spells that are likely to come up as the Red Knight responds to PC strategies. To take one example, my party has a lot of access to flight and levitation. I would likely want to add fly to my spell list for the Red Knight so she can engage them in that arena, and dispel magic so she can bring them crashing back down to the earth.

Red Knight (Avatar)
Medium divinity (avatar), lawful neutral

Armor Class

21 (+3 plate armor)

Hit Points

837 (54d20 + 270)

Speed

60 ft.
STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
20 20 20 20 20 20

Saving Throws

All +14

Skills

All +14

Damage Resistances

bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks

Damage Immunities

poison, psychic

Condition Immunities

charmed, exhaustion, frightened, incapacitated, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, stunned

Senses

true sight within line of sight, tremorsense 120 ft.

Languages

All, telepathy within line of sight.

Challenge

31 (180,000 XP)

Freedom of Movement.

The Red Knight ignores difficult terrain, and magical effects can't reduce her speed or cause her to be restrained. She can spend 5 feet of movement to escape from nonmagical restraints or being grappled.

Godly Magic.

The Red Knight's spellcasting ability is Charisma (Save DC 22). She can reproduce the effects of any spell, requiring no material components, but is limited by the number of spells she can cast per long rest:
At will: Any 5th-level or lower spell.
4/long rest: Any 6th-level spell.
3/long rest: Any 7th-level spell.
2/long rest: Any 8th-level spell.
1/long rest: Any 9th-level spell.

Godly Mastery.

The Red Knight adds her proficiency bonus to all ability checks.

Godly Resilience.

The Red Knight adds her proficiency bonus to all saving throws. She does not need to eat, drink, breathe, or sleep, but can do any of these if she wishes. Magic cannot put her to sleep, and she cannot be polymorphed or scried unless she wishes it. Her maximum hit points cannot be reduced (such as by a wraith's Life Drain ability).

Inhuman Speed.

The Red Knight may spend a bonus action to dash or disengage.

Legendary Resistance (3/long rest).

If the Red Knight fails a saving throw, she can choose to succeed instead.

Queen of the Lanceboard.

The Red Knight does not treat any creature's space as difficult terrain. If she wishes, she may switch places with an adjacent creature at any point during her movement, spending 10 feet of movement each time she does so.

See Outcomes.

The Red Knight has advantage on all attack rolls, all saving throws, and any ability checks she makes pertaining to leadership or strategy.
Actions

Multiattack.

The Red Knight makes five attacks with her longsword.

Checkmate (longsword).

Melee Weapon Attack: +14 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 13 slashing damage. Checkmate ignores resistance to slashing damage and can behead the target on a roll of 20 like a vorpal sword (DMG pg. 209). It also has all the properties of a sword of sharpness (DMG pg. 206). On a roll of 20, resolve the attack as a vorpal sword unless the creature is immune, in which case resolve the attack as a sword of sharpness. In addition, a hit with Checkmate after a successful Parry and Riposte is always considered a critical.
Reactions

Parry and Riposte.

Once per round, when hit by a melee attack, the Red Knight may use her reaction to parry the attack. She makes a Dexterity saving throw (DC equals the attack roll). On a success the attack is negated and the Red Knight may make a single melee attack of her own against the creature she parried.
Legendary Actions

Attack.

The Red Knight makes an attack with checkmate or another melee weapon.

Detect.

The Red Knight makes a Wisdom (Perception) check.

Move.

The Red Knight moves up to half her speed.

Godly Resistance (costs 3 legendary actions).

At the end of her third legendary action, the Red Knight regains one use of Legendary Resistance.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

5e: Chain Weapons

Chain weapons are a family of armaments associated with eastern martial arts. They are therefore a better fit in some games than others. In a game set in an eastern-inspired world, such as Kara-Tur or Rokugan, chain weapons are considered to be martial weapons. In worlds where they are far more exotic, proficiency with chain weapons can only be gained by taking the Weapon Master feat or the Chain Mastery feat, the latter of which is presented below.

Chain Weapons

Melee Weapons Cost Damage Range Weight Properties
Chain sickle 40 gp 1d8 slashing
10 lb. finesse, reach, special, two-handed
Meteor hammer 40 gp 1d8 bludgeoning
10 lb. finesse, reach, special, two-handed
Spiked chain 40 gp 1d8 piercing
10 lb. finesse, reach, special, two-handed

Special Weapon Properties


Chain Sickle: A chain sickle is a metal chain with a sickle on one end and a weight on the opposite end. It is considered a monk weapon, but proficiency is not automatically conferred by joining the monk class. It can be wielded as two light weapons, one that deals 1d6 slashing damage and one that deals 1d4 bludgeoning damage, but doesn't have reach when wielded this way. You can also make a special attack with the weighted end against any Large or smaller creature, dealing no damage but forcing the target to make a Strength or Dexterity saving throw (DC 8 + your Proficiency bonus + your Dexterity modifier). On a failed saving throw, the target is grappled. A grappled target can repeat the saving throw as an action on its turn. While a target is grappled you can continue to use the sickle end of the weapon, but it loses the reach property and deals 1d6 slashing damage. Finally, you can use a chain sickle as the equivalent of a grappling hook and fifteen feet of rope.

Meteor Hammer: A meteor hammer is a length of chain with a heavy weight on each end. It is considered a monk weapon, but proficiency is not automatically conferred by joining the monk class. It can be wielded as two light weapons that each deal 1d6 bludgeoning damage, but doesn't have reach when wielded this way. You can also make a special attack with either end against any Large or smaller creature, dealing no damage but forcing the target to make a Strength or Dexterity saving throw (DC 8 + your Proficiency bonus + your Dexterity modifier). On a failed saving throw, the target is knocked prone or grappled (your choice). While a target is grappled you can continue to use the other end of the weapon, but it loses the reach property and deals 1d6 bludgeoning damage.

Spiked Chain: A spiked chain is a length of chain links interspersed with wicked spikes. It is considered a monk weapon, but proficiency is not automatically conferred by joining the monk class. It can be wielded as two light weapons that each deal 1d6 piercing damage, but doesn't have reach when wielded this way. You can also make a special attack with the either end against any Large or smaller creature, dealing no damage but forcing the target to make a Strength or Dexterity saving throw (DC 8 + your Proficiency bonus + your Dexterity modifier). On a failed saving throw, the target is grappled. While a target is grappled you can continue to use both ends of the weapon as though it were two light weapons, but you can only direct attacks made with the "off-hand" end at the creature you've grappled.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

5e: Two New Conditions for 5th Edition

I think 5e's designers did a good job with the conditions that can be applied to characters. But there's still a little design space left for new types of conditions. Here are two ideas:

Dazed

Stunned is a very nasty condition, which is fine, but I feel that something that denies characters their turns should be used sparingly. The only other mental conditions are charmed and frightened. I wanted the flexibility to give my player's characters weakness via a mental condition without completely crippling their ability to act, and there wasn't really something in the rules for that.

My idea for a dazed condition required that it sit somewhere between being healthy and being stunned. It needed to allow characters to take actions, but to represent an addled state where they aren't able to perform at their best. What does that sound like? Disadvantage.

I found my model for dazed in the poisoned condition.  
Poisoned: A poisoned creature has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks.
Actually, that sounds perfect, doesn't it? 

Dazed, then, is functionally the same as being poisoned. But it's something that psychic creatures might cause, rather than poisonous creatures.
Dazed: A dazed creature has disadvantage on attack rolls and ability checks.
It's fairly easy to add dazed to your game. As a rule of thumb, treat any creature or character that is immune to psychic damage as also being immune the dazed condition. Whenever you use a monster that can deal psychic damage or cause psionic effects, you might consider customising them to give them an attack or special ability that can cause the dazed condition. Consider the following examples. 
Addling Aura (recharge 6). The monster releases a shockwave of mental energy  that cascades through the minds of surrounding creatures. Each creature within 30 feet must make a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw. On a failed saving throw, they are dazed. They may repeat the saving throw against this effect at the end of each subsequent turn. Once a creature successfully saves or the effect ends for it, it is immune to Addling Aura for the next 24 hours. 
Psychic Blast. Ranged Spell Attack: +6 to hit, range 120 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (1d8 + 4) psychic damage, and the target must make a DC 14 Wisdom saving throw. On a failed saving throw, they are dazed. They may repeat the saving throw against this effect at the end of each subsequent turn. 

Winded

I love 5e's exhaustion track, but I find that it just doesn't come up that much in my game. The main effect it has on my campaign is as a limiter on my barbarian, who only frenzies once or twice before the party tries to take a long rest. There are rarely any other reasons the party need to worry about it, because there are several features built into the game that make exhaustion a less serious worry. An outlander's ability to find their party food and water if there is any there to find can even apply to fairly hostile environments like a desert (so long as there are cacti, edible flowers, lizards, rodents, insects, etc.). Starvation and thirst are therefore uncommon features of the game, and it's also usually hard to make your party go without rest for too long. Not only would they gain massively debilitating exhaustion levels, they'd not be able to regain any of their hit points and powers. Keep that up for too long and you'll have a TPK on your hands. 

I want exhaustion to be a feature, so I'm always looking for options to include it. Recently, I've been working on a project to publish on DMsGuild that introduces new power options for player characters. For several of these new powers, I've developed a new way for characters to interact with the exhaustion track: the winded condition. Here's how it works: 
Sometimes a character can gain a level of winded. A level of winded is equal in every way to a level of exhaustion. The target moves along the exhaustion track, but a note should be made about how many of their exhaustion levels come from being winded. A target that reaches 6 exhaustion levels due to being winded does not die, but instead falls unconscious.   
As long as they are conscious to do so, the target can remove a level of winded by spending a full round doing nothing other than regaining their wind. Any effect that removes exhaustion levels can also remove levels of winded, but reduces a character's exhaustion levels first.  
You can add a monster  that causes winded conditions any time you'd like exhaustion to be a feature of a single encounter but not to gum up the rest of the game. Winded makes exhaustion meaningful in the moment, but not significantly dangerous in the long term. 

Here are a couple of ways you could add winded to monsters in your game: 

Inhale Oxygen (recharge 6). The monster sucks in the available oxygen from a 30 ft. cone originating from their space. All creatures within the area must make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw. On a failed saving throw, they gain a level of winded. Creatures that do not need to breathe, such as constructs or undead, are immune to this effect.
Breath-Stealing Blow. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (1d8 + 4) bludgeoning damage, and the target must make a DC 14 Constitution saving throw. On a failed saving throw, they gain a level of winded. 

One For All: A Game of Swashbuckling Adventure, Deadly Intrigues, and True Camraderie.

One For All is both a setting and a heavily modified d20 system in development here at Spilled Ale Studios. The two are entangled. One wouldn't exist without the other, and they're going to be packaged together in the same book. When it's ready, it'll be released as an Open Gaming License product.

As you might guess simply from its title, One For All takes inspiration from The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, but builds around that concept a unique fantasy world. It focuses on a specific part of that world, the Kingdom of Gallian and its closest neighbours. While the most obvious way to play in the setting is as members of the King's Musketeers, there's quite a lot going on in Gallian and numerous factions to fight against or on behalf of.

A Map of Gallian.

One For All makes numerous mechanical changes and is fundamentally quite a different game than D&D 5e, despite its core rules being based on the System Reference Document. I'll mention one of the biggest changes here. One For All strives for genre emulation, so one of the bigger changes made to the system is the replacement of hit points with an alternative means of measuring damage. Characters possess a number of close calls, which explicitly measure near misses, minor scrapes and abrasions, and other effects that aren't dangerous in and of themselves but increase the character's overall combat fatigue while at the same time decreasing their morale. Some weapons deal additional close calls, and critical close calls are especially nasty. When criticals occur, characters in One For All are at great risk. Combat is therefore a hectic back and forth of dodging, weaving, parrying, and ripostes—right up until it isn't, and in that moment death or maiming are brutally likely possibilities.

Beyond mechanical changes, a lot of thought has been put into building a unique setting worth playing in. The theme of musketeers is naturally attractive in its own right, but there are plenty of other intriguing elements to the world. In addition, one of the core design goals for the world of One For All is to subvert fantasy tropes or, where they're left intact, try to build upon them in new and interesting ways. There are no wise and kindly Elves here; the elves of Espera are known to be vain, cruel, and warlike. The rodent-like dremund* aren't known for being thieves and scoundrels, they're known for being ferocious negotiators and exceptional merchants to whom fairness and family are the most important concepts of all. The hoeflin (halflings) are a proud warrior race who don't take insults lying down.

I'll talk more about One For All and dig into more specifics over the coming weeks. Since One For All isn't available yet, I'll also be providing you with suggestions and new options for using the setting with your D&D 5e game.

*If you'd like to learn more about the dremund and perhaps use them in your own game, they're available on DriveThruRPG.

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