Relic: Palindromic Agimat

November 25, 2016

One of the breaks from D&D tradition that Third Edition made – a break that has since become standard – was the loss of reversible spells.

Reversible spells were those spells that could be prepared “backwards,” allowing you to use a spell effect that was the opposite of what the normal spell would be. If you had haste in your spellbook, for instance, then you could choose to prepare it backwards, which meant that you were preparing slow instead. You could only make that choice when preparing the spell (spontaneous conversion wouldn’t be a thing until Third Edition, though I’m sure there were a few isolated instances of it out there before then), essentially meaning that there were certain spells that, when you acquired them, gave you a “buy one get one free” bonus.

It’s not that hard to see why Third Edition dumped reversible spells (though I admit I’m just speculating about the designers’ motives). They had no real bonus to offer clerics, druids, and other spellcasters who could already prepare their spells from their entire spell list. For wizards and other spellcasters who needed a spellbook, reversible spells saved a few gp on acquiring and inscribing the second spell, but that was so minor that few groups ever even bothered to track that.

Really, the only group that would get a lot of mileage out of reversible spells are sorcerers and other spontaneous spellcasters. Since they don’t prepare spells, the only way that they’d be able to use reversible spells is to let them decide whether they’re using the normal or reversed form whenever they cast a spell. Essentially, a spontaneous spellcaster that knows a reversible spell gets an extra “spell known” for no cost.

I honestly don’t think that’s such a big deal, but given how much the designers saw fit to limit sorcerers (e.g. making them wait an extra character level to reach new spell levels, having metamagic’d spells require a full-round action to cast, etc.), they clearly thought otherwise. In other words, reversible spells were almost certainly judged to be more hassle than they were worth, and so were discarded.

Personally, I think that’s a loss. Given how little flavor D&D spellcasting has (just try explaining what a “resistance bonus” is from an in-game standpoint, let alone how it applies to all “saving throws”), the idea of reversible spells struck me as very thematic. It alluded to an idea from classical occultism, which was that you could reverse a magical effect by reciting its incantation backwards. Having D&D make use of that, even if only slightly, gave magic a bit more flair.

To that end, here’s a relic (made using the rules from Eclipse: The Codex Persona) that lets you add reversible spells back into your game…with a little extra!

Palindromic Agimat (1 CP)

This small amulet is inscribed with runes that loop back on themselves, creating a formula that has no beginning or end, regardless of how it’s read.

  • Privilege/the wearer can cast certain spells backwards, creating an effect opposite of their normal results. Preparatory spellcasters must prepare reversed spells to make use of them in this way, whereas spontaneous spellcasters who know a reversible spell may choose which version to cast at the time of casting (3 CP).
    • Major upgrade/the wearer can choose to make use of reverse spell effects from spell completion, spell trigger, and command word-activated magic items (3 CP).

Using Privilege to allow for reversible spellcasting – a very cheap option, especially if you’re not worried about taking the upgrade so as to be able to reverse magic items – is because the GM is the arbiter of what spells are reversible and what aren’t. Below is a suggested list, based on AD&D Second Edition (note that “mass” or “communal” versions of spells are also reversible to their “mass” or “communal” counterparts, respectively, e.g. mass cure light wounds is reversible to mass inflict light wounds).

  • The reverse of comprehend languages is aphasia.
  • The reverse of bestow curse is remove curse.
  • The reverse of bless is bane.
  • The reverse of bless water is curse water.
  • The reverse of blindness/deafness is remove blindness/deafness.
  • The reverse of cause fear is remove fear.
  • The reverse of chaos hammer is order’s wrath.
  • The reverse of circle of death is undeath to death.
  • The reverse of cloak of chaos is shield of law.
  • The reverse of consecrate is desecrate.
  • The reverse of contagion is remove disease.
  • The reverse of each of the cure spells is the inflict spell of the same level.
  • The reverse of detect chaos is detect law.
  • The reverse of detect evil is detect good.
  • The reverse of discern lies is glibness.
  • The reverse of dispel chaos is dispel law.
  • The reverse of dispel evil is dispel good.
  • The reverse of dream is nightmare.
  • The reverse of enlarge person is reduce person.
  • The reverse of flesh to stone is stone to flesh.
  • The reverse of freedom is imprisonment.
  • The reverse of hallow is unhallow.
  • The reverse of haste is slow.
  • The reverse of heal is harm.
  • The reverse of holy aura is unholy aura.
  • The reverse of holy smite is unholy blight.
  • The reverse of holy word is blasphemy.
  • The reverse of knock is arcane lock.
  • The reverse of locate object is obscure object.
  • The reverse of  magic circle against chaos is magic circle against law.
  • The reverse of magic circle against evil is magic circle against good.
  • The reverse of neutralize poison is poison.
  • The reverse of protection from chaos is protection from law.
  • The reverse of protection from evil is protection from good.
  • The reverse of raise dead is slay living.
  • The reverse of resurrection is destruction.
  • The reverse of sympathy is antipathy.
  • The reverse of transmute rock to mud is transmute mud to rock.
  • The reverse of water breathing is air breathing.
  • The reverse of word of chaos is dictum.

It’s worth noting that neither spell is the “real” or “correct” version of its reverse. It’s entirely possible for players to find a neutralize poison scroll (which can be reversed into poison) and later on find a poison scroll (which can be reversed into neutralize poison). Both can be the “default” listing for the spell, though this classification is little more than semantic.

A spell can always counter and dispel its reversed form.

D&D Did You Know’s: Comeliness in AD&D 2E

November 20, 2016

Charisma measures a character’s personality, personal magnetism, ability to lead, and appearance.

With this sentence, printed in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, Paizo inherited one of the great debates in D&D: Should appearance be something that Charisma measures?

The issue of measuring something that’s highly subjective wasn’t necessarily the problem. After all, things like “willpower” and “intuition” are also incredibly difficult to measure, and yet no one has any problem assigning those to a character’s Wisdom score. Rather, the problem is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not the beholdee (insert obligatory jokes about eye tyrants here).

Having an objective statistic for something that would vary wildly based on the attitudes and beliefs of other characters tended to be more than a lot of role-players were willing to accept. While the attitude of “low Charisma means being ugly” – and its reverse with regards to high Charisma being beautiful – is still thoroughly enmeshed in the gaming community today, it’s largely treated as a vestigial attitude.

Instead, Charisma is more and more being treated solely as a measurement of force of will and personal magnetism. In fact, the Pathfinder stipulation that it was related to appearance was really the last gasp for the “Charisma is beauty” idea. D&D Fifth Edition struck all references to physical appearance from the entry for Charisma entirely.

Of course, this wasn’t the only attempt to resolve the disparity, however. For many people, the answer was to attempt to break beauty away from Charisma and instead make it its own ability score. This tended to be a bad idea, simply because there were few places to implement the impact of a seventh ability score; for the most part, the game engine already had the main six ability scores apply where they needed to, leaving any new one struggling to define itself.

That said, attempts were still made. E.N. Armoury – Chainmail Bikini added a “Beauty” score, while the infamous Book of Erotic Fantasy had a seventh ability score called “Appearance.” But these third-party products aren’t the attempt that most gamers remember. For that, we turn to the classic AD&D 1E product Unearthed Arcana, which was where most old school gamers came across Gary Gygax’s attempt to resolve this dilemma with a new ability score: Comeliness.

Comeliness was quite wacky, as far as ability scores went. Instead of the usual 1-25 range for AD&D 1E ability scores, it could go as high as 30, and plunge as low as -16 or even further! It also had odd effects, such as acting as an auto-charm on the people around you if high enough, to the point where many of them would start to follow you like love-sick puppies.

The Comeliness statistic didn’t originate in Unearthed Arcana, of course. Like so much of that book, it was compiled from Dragon Magazine, issue #67 in this case. Still, UA was where it reached its widest audience. But for all the attention it drew – a new rule from the co-creator of D&D! – it ultimately failed to find an audience, and by the time AD&D Second Edition came out, Comeliness had been forgotten and quietly slipped into the annals of gaming history.

Or did it?

In fact, Comeliness managed to survive into AD&D 2nd Edition, thanks to the RPGA. You can find intermittent instances of NPCs having Comeliness scores in various issues of Polyhedron Newszine well into the AD&D 2E years, such as in “The Living City: Misti’s Moonlight Pawnshop,” from Polyhedron #105 (March, 1995).

While it would be easy to write this off as a few holdovers from 1E that were being translated into 2E, that wasn’t the case. In fact, rules for the Comeliness score in 2E were tucked away in Polyhedron #89 (November, 1993) in an addendum to the adventure “The Ugly Stick.”

In fact, the 2E Comeliness rules are quite brief, consisting of only three paragraphs and a table:

Comeliness

Much of this scenario relies on the Comeliness rules from the Network’s Living City tournaments. The DM can institute this rule, or the DM can simply substitute Charisma wherever the scenario mentions Comeliness. Here are the Comeliness rules:

Comeliness reflects a character’s physical attractiveness. It can influence the initial reactions NPCs have to a character. Comeliness is not Charisma. The latter score represents a character’s force of personality.

Unlike the original edition of the AD&D game, a character’s Comeliness score is not adjusted based on Charisma, nor can characters with a high Comeliness score “fascinate” others. Comeliness in Living City play affects reaction bonuses that are tied to Charisma. Therefore, a character with a high Charisma and a high Comeliness has a significant reaction bonus.

Comeliness Reaction Adjustment
6 -2
7 -1
8-12 0
13 +1
14 +2
15 +3
16 +5
17 +6
18 +7

That’s all there was. While this doesn’t go below 6 or above 18, it’s fairly easy to calculate what the reaction adjustment would be for such extreme scores; the reaction adjustment listings are identical to those for a Charisma of the same score in the AD&D 2E Player’s Handbook.

While reducing Comeliness to a cut-rate bonus or penalty to one aspect of Charisma might be rather prosaic, it’s also a fairly easy thing to implement. Since reaction adjustment largely only applies to NPCs whose attitude the PCs cared about interacting with, that helped to self-limit the problems of applying beauty to creatures with truly alien standards; such creatures tended to be monsters to be killed, rather than people to be parleyed with.

Pantheons of the Multiverse: The Babylonian Pantheon

October 29, 2016

Writing this series has highlighted just how much D&D’s “generic” pantheons – those pantheons that, for the most part, are based on real-world religions and mythologies – have been downplayed in the game’s presentation.

This can largely be attributed, I think, to their lack of ties to any specific campaign world. Since so much of D&D is written with specific campaign worlds – worlds with defined pantheons – in mind, this has essentially locked these deities out of a large amount of D&D products. Obviously, this is more of a generality than an absolute; just look at Planescape, after all. But it’s still a point worth considering.

Perhaps the area where this is most notable is with regards to D&D novels. If you’re a D&D aficionado, stop and think to yourself about how many times you’ve heard an Earth-based deity get name-dropped in a novel. There were instances of this out there, but they were few and far between.

Instead, most D&D novels were written for the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance, which have pantheons of their own. As such, it’s unsurprising that the divinities from Deities & Demigods/Legends & Lore would be so notably absent.

Of course, some pantheons have weathered this better than others…

Original D&D

I was surprised to discover that the Babylonian pantheon first appeared in AD&D 1E’s Deities & Demigods, rather than OD&D’s Gods, Demi-Gods, and Heroes. In fact, they’re one of the few pantheons here not to have that particular pedigree. Instead, the Babylonian deities are presented as a conglomerate with the Sumerian and Canaan deities as part of the “Near Eastern Mythos” article in Dragon #16.

Separating out the names used for Babylonian deities, it consists of Anu, Marduk, Ea, Sin, Ninhursag, Shamash, Ishtar, Tammuz, Ereshkigal, Nergal, Namtar, Tiamat, Apsu, Kingsu, and Nebo. It also has the mortal heroes Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and Utnapishtim. It also lists a few monsters and artifacts, and even name-drops several other deities, albeit with no further exposition beyond what they’re the gods of.

As expansive as this article was, few of these deities would make the transition to the next incarnation of the game. I suspect that this has more to do with AD&D’s expanded stat blocks than anything else, but it’s interesting to see this as being a “winnowing” of the pantheon as it moved into the modern age (with the caveat that some of these gods, such as Tiamat, made a home for themselves elsewhere).

AD&D First Edition

First Edition gave us a much reduced Babylonian pantheon. The nature of the gods, at least insofar as what they demanded of their worshipers, was now much more austere.

The rules for how priests of the Babylonian gods must conduct themselves in 1E seem incredibly harsh, to the point of being almost crippling. While I’d expect “helping enemies of your sect” to be a major transgression, “communicating with intelligent creatures or demi-humans” seems like a good way to destroy party cohesion before the game even begins. And if you do happen to say hello to an elf, the penalties include not only excommunication from your religious order, but a complete loss of all spells until you complete a quest to give your order a boost.

…I suppose that’s not as harsh as the Aztecs, at least.

There’s also an interesting note that the high priest must be a cleric/magic-user, which is a distinction I wish was expounded upon further. It’s at least somewhat intuitive to say that the high-priest will often be the king, but why do they have to know clerical and arcane magic both?

The gods themselves are rather few in number, consisting of Anu, Anshar, Druaga, Girru, Ishtar, Marduk, Nergal, and Ramman. There’s also a listing for Gilgamesh and Dahak, the latter of whom is “just” a monster, which ran counter to my expectations. Beyond that perfunctory presentation, there’s very few instances of the Babylonian deities in First Edition.

I should mention that the Forgotten Realms’ Untheric pantheon – which was already described as extinct when the first boxed set came out – was composed of Babylonian and Sumerian deities. As with the Maztican gods, the Untheric pantheon is different enough from its ancestor that I’ll set it aside for its own article.

AD&D Second Edition

Having started with AD&D 2E (by way of Basic D&D), I didn’t realize that the Babylonian deities were even part of the game. After all, they weren’t in Legends & Lore; eventually I learned otherwise, and started to think of the Babylonian gods – along with the Sumerian and Finnish deities – as “lost pantheons,” since the updated edition of the game had seen fit to leave them behind.

…except that it sort of hadn’t.

The Babylonian gods were given a new lease on life in Planescape’s On Hallowed Ground (which saw fit to keep the same eight deities). Although Planescape had been matter-of-factly talking about the Babylonian deities where it made sense to do so, this was the first time it had put them (along with many, many other deities) front and center. The premise was quite clear: they were and always had been part of the default background assumption of AD&D’s greater multiverse. (In fact, this book postulated a new origin for the Babylonian gods: that they collectively sprang into being, fully-formed, as the cast-off “desire for civilization” from the Sumerian gods.)

This presumption somewhat annoyed me, mostly because it felt like it was putting the cart before the horse insofar as “lore before game stats” was concerned. It was nice to see the “lost pantheons” being brought back, but the lack of information on specialty priests for these deities made this information largely academic. That was particularly true since the setting kept putting forward that two of the Sumerian deities – Nergal and Anshar – had recently slain Enki, a Sumerian deity.

That sort of plot, which underpinned the simmering tension between the two pantheons, would have served as great fodder if a PC were a priest of a god from one of those pantheons, since that kind of rivalry carries over to all associated persons. While I suppose they could have used clerics (which were generic to all deities), I’m still baffled that nobody ever wrote up specialty priest information for these gods.

Beyond Planescape, there’s very few instances of the Babylonian pantheon in action. Return to the Keep on the Borderlands made the bad guys worshippers of Nergal and Ereshkigal. Likewise, DMGR5 Creative Campaigning had AD&D 2E stats for Gilgamesh, along with Enkidu and original character Ahlkish.

D&D Third Edition

It’s somewhat fitting that the Babylonian pantheon would make their last appearance in D&D the same way they did their first: as part of a conglomerate pantheon in Dragon magazine. Specifically, in the “Mesopotamian Mythos” article in Dragon #329.

Similar to their presentation in Dragon #16, the Babylonian gods are subsumed, along with the gods of Sumeria and other ancient near-eastern civilizations, into a single pantheon. While it lists several aliases for most of them, the basic list of gods is Adad, Anu, Belet-ili, Ea, Enlil, Ereshkigal, Ishtar, Marduk, Nergal, Ninurta, Shamash, and Sin. A basic overview of each deity is given, including their clerical domains, making them playable for interested PCs.

I enjoy thinking of this as something akin to the “Twilight of the Gods” for the Babylonian gods and their related pantheons. Here, with many of their members now gone, the remaining deities have been forced to work together to remain relevant and survive. To that end, they’ve subsumed the aspects of their fallen brethren or simply decided to merge (re-merge?) before they died, hence the myriad aliases.

It’s a strategy that’s worthy of the Babylonians, doggedly working to make a place for themselves in a harsh and uncompromising world.

A Magical Medieval Society: Equestria

October 16, 2016

I really don’t know how it is that I never purchased a copy of A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe, from Expeditious Retreat Press. It wasn’t like I was unaware of the book, given the accolades that it had accumulated upon its release, and its focus on verisimilitude in the game world was perfectly aligned with my interests. And yet somehow, I never picked it up.

This changed after I read a review of the book by Brandes Stoddard, over on Tribality, a few months previous. While it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, the author’s particular style of writing – a brilliant mixture of insightful and entertaining – was enough to convince me that it was time to rectify this particular gap in my library. And so I went to purchase a copy of the book, now well into it’s second edition.

However, I didn’t go through with the purchase, having found on the author’s blog that a third edition was in the pipeline. While it added only a new section on devising place-names (actually a separate product that was being incorporated into this one), I nevertheless waited for the new edition to be released, picking it up as soon as it was.

Having just concluded reading through the book, I have to admit that it lives up to the hype. Not only is it an excellent primer to medieval European life, but it does an incredible job taking that information and translating it into the magical society that’s presented by the d20 (specifically 3.5) game mechanics.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of these rules is their bottom-up – rather than top-down – nature. This allows them to function at smaller, very nearly individual, levels, rather than being a “big picture” sort of effort to simulate how a kingdom functions. Of course, this means that sometimes the minutia becomes teeth-gritting in how deep it goes, but that’s the price you pay for something this comprehensive.

As a gamer, I naturally wanted to put the book to use after I read it. Luckily, since MMS:WE’s focus is on the background elements of a campaign, this can be done as a world-building exercise. To that end, I naturally wanted to apply it to Equestria, the setting for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which I’ve written about here before.

However, that was something of an awkward fit. While MMS:WE isn’t set in any specific game world, it does presume that the sociopolitical and economic structures used in a campaign are inherently feudal in nature. That’s…iffy when it comes to Equestria. While certain aspects of the show do evoke a feudal system (such as having royalty and nobility), other parts suggest otherwise (such as the lack of taxation and the evidence of a free enterprise market).

Ultimately, Equestria’s nature as an idyllic realm seems to paint a picture of it being an enlightened absolute monarchy (or diarchy, or whatever a multi-princess system of government is called) with a laissez-faire market, which begs the question of how Princess Celestia and Princess Luna – to say nothing of all the other ponies whose cutie marks don’t seem to be career-oriented (such as the Cutie Mark Crusaders) – earn the money that they must surely need.

So giving the “magical medieval” treatment to Equestria proper was out, since the implicit assumptions of the show couldn’t be reconciled with those of MMS:WE. Luckily, there was a third option available. The update that I’d previously posted for my original pony character, Lex Legis, had him seizing a portion of Equestria and making it his own country. Since he’s an autocrat who’s obsessed with systems and processes, that makes his new nation perfect for being run through MMS:WE’s rules.

The Kingdom of Legesia

A full year after having founded his new nation, Lex has overcome multiple challenges both foreign and domestic. His policy of a strong and proactive government has, in the wake of his world’s assimilation into the wider multiverse, found many adherents among the population. Having made peace with an incursion of elementals, subdued a rampaging dragon, and dealt a severe blow to a belligerent Yakyakistan, Lex has amply demonstrated to the citizens of Legesia that their king is devoted to their safety and well-being.

To Equestria and its princesses, as well as the rest of the world, it’s rapidly becoming clear that – for the time being, at least – the Kingdom of Legesia is here to stay.

Country Name The Kingdom of Legesia; Ruler(s) Lex Legis/King Sombra II (king), Sonata Dusk (queen); Size 26,941 sq. mi.; Population 3,200,000; Population Density 118/sq. mi.; Rural Population 2,986,560 (93.33%); Urban Population 213,440 (6.67%); Acres Under Cultivation 1,493,280.

The Kingdom of Legesia is formed from what was formerly the western third of Equestria. Despite this, only a tenth of Equestria’s ponies lived there, owing to large concentrations of forests and mountains. Today, the vast majority live in the “little breadbasket” region in the northwest, with the rest occupying communities along the western coast, and a minority living in small woodland or mountain settlements.

The base assumptions regarding the size of Equestria and its population come from Thoth’s excellent article on the subject.

Metropolises 1 (Las Pegasus); Large Cities 2 (Tall Tale, Vanhoover); Small Cities 6 (Friesno, Seaddle, Tabiano Port and three others); Large Towns 16 (Bronco Downs, Hoofington, Pineville, Spurfield and twelve others); Small Towns 27 (Lipizzan Heights, Neighton, Pinto Creek and twenty-four others); Manors 6,637.

The designations used for each type of settlement are in accordance with the 3.5 DMG. That is, a “metropolis” has 25,001+ people, a “large city” has 12,001-25,000 people, etc. This breakdown is important since the number and category of urban settlements (along with manors) are one of the primary factors in calculating national revenue.

Station Number Manors Average Manors/Pony Allodial Holdings
King 1 133 133 50%
Great Landowners 8 996 124.5 37.50%
Nobility 64 1,327 20.73 12.50%
Gentry 1,600 4,181 2.61 0%

The table above serves to list how the country is broken down among its aristocracy. The “Number” column, for example, says how many individuals occupy each listing on the “Station” column (e.g. there are sixty-four members of the nobility in Legesia). “Manors” indicates the total number of manors, and associated villages, that are assigned to each social strata, while “Average Manors/Pony” breaks them down among individuals. Finally “Allodial Holdings” shows how much of the country’s land is owned by each class of the upper echelons.

Type Traditional monarchy; Strength of King Strong (with Sonata) or Average (without Sonata); Total Tax Revenue 19,512,000 gp; Total Scutage Revenue 9,756,000 gp; Total Mine Income Revenue 763,255 gp.

As indicated above, while Sonata does not technically occupy a rank on her own merits – her status as queen is dependent entirely on her marriage to Lex – her ability to connect with the populace at large, and to ameliorate her husband’s poor personality, is so significant that without her, Lex’s ability to govern would take a very large hit.

Station Base Manor Income Manor Income Tax Income Scutage Income Mine Income Town Income Total Income
King 8,250 gp 1,097,250 gp 8,390,160 gp 4,878,000 gp 381,627.5 gp 315,810 gp 15,070,247.5 gp
Great Landowners 6,500 gp 6,474,000 gp 7,219,440 gp 3,658,500 gp 286,220.63 gp 236,857.5 gp 17,875,018.13 gp
The Average Great Landowner 6,500 gp 809,250 gp 902,430 gp 457,312.5 gp 35,777.58 gp 29,607.19 gp 2,234,377.27 gp
Nobility 6,500 gp 8,625,500 gp 3,902,400 gp 1,219,500 gp 95,406.88 gp 78,952.5 gp 13,921,759.38 gp
The Average Noble 6,500 gp 134,773.44 gp 60,975 gp 19,054.69 gp 1,490.73 gp 1,233.63 gp 217,527.49 gp
Gentry 7,500 gp 31,357,500 gp 0 gp 0 gp 0 gp 0 gp 31,357,500 gp
The Average Gentry 7,500 gp 19,598.44 gp 0 gp 0 gp 0 gp 0 gp 19,598.44 gp

This table is the result of all of the other information posted above (though the pertinent calculations weren’t posted here). This chart lists how much money the government takes in, and where it goes. Note that, while the “King” row applies to that strata and the individuals within it simultaneously (since there’s only a single individual who is king), subsequent rows showcase either an entire social strata (e.g. “Nobility” is the sum of all the nobles in the country) or a particular individual within that strata (e.g. “The Average Noble” is for any particular member of the nobility).

While this amount of money – which represents the total income collected by the government per year – might look outrageous (over 78 million gp!), this money isn’t all personal revenue. On the contrary, Lex mandates that 90% of this must be spent on various government projects that he has outlined, with only 10% being allocated for personal income. To enforce this, he has created a branch of his Office of the Exchequer devoted to aggressively auditing income vs. expenditure among the aristocracy. Those who embezzle government funds are punished harshly.

Despite this, the money that remains is typically enough to afford very lavish living conditions. For example, even after giving back 90% of what they’ve taken in, the average member of the gentry can still afford to live a “wealthy”-class lifestyle, and have some money left over. This is even more true for the nobles and great landowners, who can afford to live extravagantly.

Lex naturally also adheres to this stricture, reducing his personal income to just over 1.5 million gp. Of course, he splits his income evenly with his wife, but even after this – and subtracting the 1,000 gp/month cost to live an extravagant lifestyle; done after all other calculations (see below) – he still has an enormous amount of gold coming in on an annual basis.

According to Appendix II of MMS:WE, a certain percentage of income comes in the form of magic items, rather than money. Lex maintains that this must be given back in the same proportion that it’s received in, which means that he – as king – receives only 10% of the above revenue in magic items. All of the rest is in coins, gemstones, valuable objets d’art, and other forms of non-magical wealth with high liquidity.

Given that he has only recently introduced divine spellcasting to his country, as well as created a college for arcane magic, most of the 75k worth of magic items that he’s received have been scrolls and potions, none of which are higher than 2nd-level, along with numerous charms and talismans created via Equestria’s native spellcasting. However, Lex is able to save all of these from year to year if he wants, since he’s voluntarily taking in less than the 25% level of magic item retention suggested in MMS:WE.

This, of course, leaves the question as to what Lex does with the 600,000+ gp in cash that he still has after all other considerations – such as magic items and lifestyle costs – are taken into account. While some is spent on stronger magic items that he goes on special off-world trips to acquire, most of the rest of his money is spent on various personal projects, some of which he keeps hidden from everypony…

A Brain-Trembling Villain

September 26, 2016

Although 2016 isn’t over yet, it seems safe to say that the recently-concluded Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- is going to be one of the best anime of the year. Having finished watching the show, I’m now quite eager to find the light novels that it’s based on, as there’s quite clearly more to the series than what the anime was able to portray.

As a note, this post will have considerable spoilers for the series. 

The protagonist of Re:Zero is a young man named Subaru Natsuki. Inexplicably brought to another world while returning home from buying dinner, he befriends a beautiful half-elf girl named Emilia, who turns out to be a candidate to become queen of the country he finds himself in. Naturally, this leads to all sorts of intrigues and adventures.

Like so many young men who get thrown into other worlds, Subaru is granted a special power…albeit one that carries a heavy burden: when killed, Subaru immediately reincarnates a short time in the past, with all of his memories intact. He eventually determines that this ability is given to him by an enigmatic – and widely-feared – entity known only as Satella the Jealous Witch, who moves up the date of his “save point” when he overcomes various obstacles. However, she doesn’t let him tell anyone he has this power, tormenting him with crippling anxiety whenever he tries.

What makes Re:Zero so enjoyable is that the show doesn’t treat the effect of Subaru’s “Return by Death” power (as he calls it) lightly. I suspect that a lot of other shows would have had their protagonist use such a power casually, committing suicide over and over so that they could gather information and try different strategies to overcome a seemingly-insurmountable problem. Re:Zero, however, makes it clear that dying tends to be very painful and intensely traumatic, meaning that Subaru still tries his hardest to survive.

Moreover, the series is smart enough not to wallow in pathos. While not afraid to highlight the effect that Subaru’s struggles have on him, it keeps the focus on the problems that he needs to overcome. In this way, the story makes the plot and the characterization complement each other, instead of getting in each other’s way.

…that, and its villain is quite the spectacle.

Betelgeuse Romanée-Conti, level 12 Archbishop of Sloth

First appearing more than halfway through the series, Betelgeuse Romanée-Conti is a leader in the universally-loathed cult that reveres the Jealous Witch. Thoroughly in love with Satella despite never having met her, Betelgeuse works tirelessly to complete the Ordeal, the ritual that will allow the Witch to reincarnate in a new body.

Betelgeuse

He’s basically a living meme.

To those who meet him, it’s immediately obvious that Betelgeuse is a madman. Gaunt and pale, his eyes bulge from their sockets and his lips are typically pulled back in a rictus grin. Even when calm, he speaks in a grandiloquent style and makes jerky, sweeping motions with his entire body. Easily agitated, he’ll descend into fits of mania that worsen all of these traits; he’ll become fixated on a single word in a sentence, either rapidly firing off synonyms or simply shrieking the word over and over while deliberately injuring himself by biting his fingers until they bleed or tearing handfuls of hair from his head.

His madness is not weakness, however. As a high-level Witch Cultist, Betelgeuse not only has the Witch’s aura around him, but has learned how to weaponize it, forming it into invisible tendrils that end in hands. This makes him a formidable opponent, as he can crush an enemy to pieces without seeming to do anything at all. And that’s just the beginning of his bag of tricks…

As per usual, this character is built using the point-buy rules in Eclipse: The Codex Persona.

Available Character Points: 312 (level 12 base) + 30 (levels 1, 3, 6, 9 and 12 feats) + 6 (human bonus feat) + 10 (disadvantages) + 36 (restrictions) = 394 CP.

Betelgeuse has taken three restrictions: to not use melee weapons, to not use ranged weapons, and to not wear armor. Normally these restrictions would be intensely severe, but his build is designed to work around them. His disadvantages are Broke (he effectively has no equipment), Insane (this should be self-evident), and Outcast (Witch Cultists are loathed by virtually everyone else in the world).

Ability Scores (28-point buy):

Ability Scores Base Level Bonus Total
Strength 15 +1 (8th) 16 (+3)
Dexterity 10 10 (+0)
Constitution 13 13 (+1)
Intelligence 12 12 (+1)
Wisdom 9 +1 (4th) 10 (+0)
Charisma 15 +1 (12th) 16 (+3)

As the point-buy used for the above stats show, Betelgeuse is built on the basic 3.5 assumptions. While the above stats might seem low, they’re fairly appropriate for a world where most magic is focused on external effects rather than self-enhancement, and where most magic items (“metia”) are minor conveniences, rather than weapons or armor.

Human Traits (9 CP/+0 ECL)

  • Fast Learner, specialized in skills for one-half cost (3 CP).
  • Bonus feat (6 CP).

Basic Abilities (147 CP)

  • 12d8 Hit Dice (48 CP).
  • +12 BAB, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only for unarmed strikes with extra limbs (24 CP).
  • Fort +8, Ref +4, Will +8 (60 CP).
  • Increase specialization of racial Fast Learner from one-half to double effect (done at level 0) (3 CP).
  • 12 skill points (12 CP).
  • No weapon or armor proficiencies (0 CP).

Although the world of Re:Zero doesn’t utilize any obvious analogues for d20 classes – besides your typical commoners and non-magical fighter/skill-user types that are found in virtually every world – Betelgeuse’s basic stats are built with a cleric in mind. The upgrade to Fast Learner lets us save a few CPs on his skill points.

Archbishop of Sloth (18 CP)

  • Improved Karma/bad karma, specialized for one-half cost/creates an aura that can be detected by others with negative karma as well as magical beasts, undead, fey, and outsiders, as well as divination spells and effects (6 CP).
  • Leadership with Born Leader and Emperor’s Star, corrupted for two-thirds cost/followers must have the Insane and Outcast disadvantages (12 CP).

The use of Karma here is meant to simulate the tainted aura that clings to those who use the Witch’s power (though even when karma points are expended, this shouldn’t decrease). Since bad karma also is used by the GM to penalize the character’s roles, this also helps to explain how Betelgeuse is eventually defeated (and why Subaru, who also has the Witch’s corruption thanks to her continually reincarnating him, has to go through so much hardship!).

Betelgeuse has 45 levels’ worth of followers, none of which can be above ECL 9; he usually has a couple dozen low-level followers. Emperor’s Star adds his same use of Improved Karma to all of Betelgeuse’s followers. It’s very important to him that he always have people who’ve felt the Witch’s touch nearby (see below).

Unseen Hand (87 CP)

  • Extra Limbs x6 (36 CP).
  • Immunity to limitations on reach (very common/major/epic), specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only with extra limbs, does not threaten non-adjacent areas (18 CP).
  • Immunity to limbs being severed or rendered nonfunctional (uncommon/major/great), corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (8 CP).
  • Immunity to being seen (very common/minor/great), specialized and corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs, can be seen by those with negative karma values of 10+ or “see invisibility” magic (8 CP).
  • Immunity to weight and leverage (uncommon/minor/major), corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (2 CP).
  • Immunity to not being able to conduct multiple grapples at once (common/major/major), corrupted for increased effect/only applies to extra limbs (9 CP).
  • Damage reduction 5, specialized for double effect/only applies to extra limbs, corrupted for two-thirds cost/overcome by magic weapons (6 CP).

Between using Extra Limbs – a power which is meant to be limited to racial and template builds – and several instances of natural law Immunities, this suite of powers would warrant a second, or even third, look from a discriminating GM. (His Immunity to reach should allow for his extra limbs to reach up to 30 feet away.)

Betelgeuse’s invisible hands are essentially astral limbs that he can manifest, and are very difficult to detect, let alone damage. Worse, damaging them is largely futile, as he can manifest new ones immediately (that’s what the Immunity to having them severed is meant to represent). Being invisible, these limbs receive a +2 bonus on attacks against foes that cannot detect them, and said foes are also flat-footed against such attacks.

Betelgeuse can grapple multiple opponents at once with his unseen hands, without taking grapple penalties himself. However, grapple checks made in this way take a -8 penalty to their rolls. He’ll need to buy this Immunity up considerably (all the way to epic resistance) in order to eliminate this penalty altogether.

Authority of Sloth (86 CP)

  • Improved Imbuement/unarmed strikes: +1 enhancement bonus and adamantine, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (8 CP).
  • Martial Arts/2d10 base damage, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (14 CP).
  • Evasive/grapple, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (2 CP).
  • Specialist/grapple, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (2 CP).
  • Trick, when an opponent is pinned for 3 rounds, may force them to make a Fortitude save (Str-based) or be killed, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (4 CP).
  • Enhanced Strike/crushing and whirlwind, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only applies to extra limbs (8 CP).
  • Improved Superior Rapid Strike, corrupted for two-thirds cost/only for extra limbs (24 CP).
  • Celerity with Improved x2 and Additional (flight); granting 50 ft. flight (perfect) (24 CP).

This suite of abilities is why Betelgeuse’s unseen hands are so incredibly deadly. In addition to dealing massive damage, and being able to overcome magic- and adamantine-based DR (and hardness), he’s able to make myriad attacks with them. When facing a single opponent, Betelgeuse will often use Enhanced Strike/crushing to devastate them. But he much prefers to grapple opponents and slowly crush their limbs or throat; when surrounded, he’ll use Enhanced Strike/whirlwind with a grapple attempt to grab multiple foes at once, slaying them all a few rounds later, without ever getting close to them.

His ability to fly is due to him being able to pick himself up with his unseen hands. As astral creations, they’re not subject to gravity, and don’t need to press against anything to move. As such, when he needs to move quickly, Betelgeuse can scoop himself up and fly off.

Undying Love (36 CP)

  • Returning/can possess the body of someone within a quarter-mile that has a negative karma value of at least 10 (6 CP).
  • Improved Stoic with Ferocity (15 CP).
  • Inherent Spell with Multiple x2, all specialized for one-half cost/only as prerequisites, and one more instance of Multiple (summon construct VI) (15 CP).

This suite is why Betelgeuse doesn’t place much emphasis on bumping up his Armor Class. So long as he always has enough minions nearby that have sufficient corruption from the Witch, he can always come back. Even if that avenue is closed to him, however, he can be surprisingly difficult to kill. In a worst-case scenario, he can wrap himself in his unseen hands, forming an impromptu suit of armor. In other words, use the summon construct spell from The Practical Enchanter, p. 85.

Betelgeuse’s psychic construct is spell level 7, but its abilities (The Practical Enchanter, pg. 230-232) are preset and unchangeable, lowering the spell level to 6. These abilities are as follows: Menu A) Armored, Buff, and Celerity. Menu B) Feat (Pounce), Heavy Deflection, and Trample. Menu C) Enveloping.

Miscellaneous Abilities (20 CP)

  • 3d6 (10) points of mana, corrupted for two-thirds cost/no form of natural magic (12 CP).
  • Ritual Magic (6 CP).
  • Defender/dodge bonus, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only when not wearing armor, requires one extra limb not to be used per +1 bonus gained (2 CP).

Betelgeuse usually uses his mana to power his Enhanced Strike abilities (see above), but will use it to fuel his earth-based rune magic when in a pinch. Likewise, his Defender ability is a lesser version of his construct-armor; by dedicating a few of his unseen hands to defense, he can increase his Armor Class, albeit only slightly.

Finally, his Ritual Magic is meant to represent his ability to invoke the Ordeal that will reincarnate the Jealous Witch.

Derived Stats

  • Hit points: 8 (d8 at 1st level) + 49 (11d8) + 12 (Con bonus) = 69 hp.
  • Speed: 30 ft., fly 50 ft. (perfect)
  • Init: +0 (Dex bonus).
  • Saving Throws:
    • Fort: +8 (base) +1 (Con bonus) = +9.
    • Ref: +4 (base) +0 (Dex bonus) = +4.
    • Will: +8 (base) +0 (Wis bonus) = +8.
  • Armor Class: 10 (base) + 0 (Dex bonus) = 10, touch 10, flat-footed 10.
  • Attacks:
    • Unseen Hand: +16/+14/+12/+10/+8/+6 (2d10+4).
    • Unseen Hand grapple: +20 (reduced to +12 when grappling multiple foes at once).
  • Total skill points: 30 (human bonus) + 15 (Int bonus) + 12 (12 CP) = 57 skill points.
Skills Ranks Ability Bonuses Totals
Climb 1 +3 Str +4
Concentration 2 +1 Con +3
Diplomacy 1 +3 Cha +4
Earth Casting 11 +3 Cha +14
Earth Mastery 13 +3 Cha +16
Intimidate 2 +3 Cha +5
Knowledge (arcana) 4 +1 Int +5
Knowledge (geography) 4 +1 Int +5
Knowledge (history) 4 +1 Int +5
Knowledge (local) 4 +1 Int +5
Knowledge (religion) – specific (Gospel of the Witch Cult) 1 (+15 bonus) +1 Int +16 (Gospel of the Witch Cult only)
Spellcraft 10 +1 Int +11

Betelgeuse’s class skills are the twelve skills listed above.

With his ranks in Earth Casting and Earth Mastery, Betelgeuse is able to cast earth-based spells of 4th-level or below, with a caster level of 7. Each spell level requires that 1 point of mana (see above) be spent. As noted, he does this only rarely, typically when his offensive abilities are blunted and he requires greater defense.

Further Development

Betelgeuse is a glass cannon, having very strong offensive capabilities but no real defense to speak of. His ability to raise his AC (via Defender) is incredibly minor, and typically not worth the effort it takes for him to do so (though this will change if he buys the specialization and corruption for increased effect rather than reduced cost). If characters can get the drop on him, he can be taken out with surprising ease. But if he’s the one who surprises them, things can quickly turn into a bloodbath.

Of course, all of this matches neatly with what we see in the show. In fact, the stats and abilities line up so perfectly that it can’t help but make my brain…tremble!

Pantheons of the Multiverse: The Aztec Pantheon

September 18, 2016

The presentation of the Aztec pantheon is one that’s been altered virtually every time it’s appeared in Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, even the name of the pantheon itself is different with each iteration, to say nothing of the component deities that make it up. Few are the pantheons that have this level of fluidity in their membership.

While it’s easy to look askance on this imprecision, I think that this has an upside to it as well. After all, the deities here have been repurposed not once, but twice within various AD&D game worlds. We see them in the gods of Maztica (though more as inspiration than a direct representation), as well as the Olman pantheon.

Despite the links between these pantheons, I’ll save my coverage of them for other articles.

Original Dungeons & Dragons

Receiving only two pages in the original Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes, this collection of gods is called the “Mexican and Central American Indian Mythology.” Noting that information on these gods is scarce, the books lists only six deities: Quetzacoatl, Tonatuh, Huitzilopoohtli, Goddess of the Jade Petticoat, Tezcat, and Mictantecuhtli.

As with all of the gods of Supplement IV, the information on each god is limited directly to the deity in question, outlining their powers and abilities. Information on how clerics and priests of these gods conducted themselves, or even what the gods wanted from their worshipers, would have to wait until the next iteration of the game.

AD&D First Edition

In Deities & Demigods, the pantheon that these gods belonged to was called the “Central American Mythos.” Not only did the deities in question grow, but so did the available information on their overall nature, as well as those who would worship them.

I forgot to mention in my article about the American Indian pantheon (though I went back and edited it in later), but while deities in AD&D 1E didn’t have priesthoods that were tailored to them, the pantheons presented in Deities & Demigods did have, in their opening sections, modifiers that applied to priests of any god of that pantheon. I find that interesting, because while it’s less distinctive than having priests of each deity have specific abilities, it creates a thematic presentation for each pantheon as a whole, giving them a shared presentation in the game world.

For priests of the Aztec pantheon, this was not only limited to their commune and gate spells being restricted to the alternate Material Plane where those gods dwelled, but was found in the extremely harsh conditions that Aztec priest characters labored under. Even minor transgressions result in losing some wealth or some XPs. A major failure will see that offender not only losing all wealth but also all experience points, busting them back down to 1st level!

There’s also a notation that Aztec priest characters must choose a cardinal direction, and gain a bonus to attacks and spells made when facing that direction, but even though that’s generous for AD&D 1E, I have serious doubts as to whether it’s enough to make up for the high costs of failure. At least when your character dies, you can have them resurrected or roll up a new one; being robbed of all of your character levels in one fell swoop, however, is a penalty of such magnitude that I can’t see many PCs coming back from it.

…of course, that also means that, if you’re facing an Aztec priest character as an antagonist, defeating them once will usually be enough to put them out of commission for a long, long time.

Moving on, there a several more deities to be found here (deities who were present before, but have had a name change – notwithstanding minor spelling differences – have their previous name listed in parenthesis): Quetzalcoatl, Camaxtli, Camazotz (Tezcat), Chalchiuhtlicue (Goddess of the Jade Petticoat), Huhueteotl, Huitzilopochtli, Itzamna, Mictlantecuhtli, Tezcatlipoca, Tlaloc, Tlazolteotl, and Xochipilli. There’s also a single entry for Hunapu and Xbalanque, twin heroes.

To summarize the changes from OD&D, only Tonatuh the sun god is no longer present in the roster. Given that the new sun god, Tezcatlipoca, is not only Chaotic Evil (which is also true for the Huhueteotl, the new god of fire) but schemes to overthrow Quetzalcoatl as head of the pantheon, a good in-game explanation would be that this god overthrew Tonatuh.

AD&D Second Edition

Now simply referred to as “Aztec Mythology” in the AD&D 2E Legends & Lore book, the pantheon has received another shake-up, though with thirteen deities it’s now slightly larger than its previous presentation. The gods listed are: Ometeotl, Huitzilopochtli, Quetzalcoatl, Mictlantecuhtli, Tezcatlipoca, Tlaloc, Chalchiuhtlicue, Tlazolteotl, Xochipilli, Xochiquetzal, Metzli, Centeotl, and Ixtlilton.

Here, we can see that several deities from the AD&D 1E group have been replaced by newcomers. Camaxtli is gone, as are Camazotz, Huhueteotl, and Itzamna. Interestingly, we actually got an explanation (albeit one considerably after the fact) for what happened to Camaxtli, as he was stated to be killed by Tenebrous in the Planescape adventure Dead Gods. Similarly, both Huhueteotl and Camazotz are found with the aforementioned Olman pantheon; perhaps they were banished from the Aztec pantheon proper? Finally, there’s been a change in leadership, as newcomer Ometeotl is now the head of the pantheon.

That’s not the only change. In addition to having sections on Aztec history, culture, and religion (including a note that these deities now live in space in AD&D 2E, rather than an alternate Material Plane; it even mentions Spelljammer in this context!), we also get a new spell locate spirit animal, and a new magic item, the murky mirror. While Hunapu and Xbalanque are overlooked, we do get stats for three new notable personages: Nezahualcoytl, Nezahualpilli, and Axayacatl.

Finally, note that the “Sage Advice” column in Dragon #198 gives unofficial suggestions for what Tome of Magic spheres specialty priests of the Aztec deities should receive.

D&D Third Edition

The Aztec pantheon never received a formal debut in D&D 3E, but the article “Do-It-Yourself Deities” in Dragon #283 lists several pantheons as examples to be drawn upon when building a pantheon from scratch, the Aztec among them.

The gods listed there are drawn verbatim from the twelve in AD&D 1E, and aren’t given any real presentation besides what each one is the god of, their alignment, their clerical domains, and their typical worshipers. Still, notwithstanding knowing the deity’s favored weapon, that’s just barely enough to play a cleric of one of these gods in 3E.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

It’s unfortunate to consider that the Aztec pantheon, like the American Indian pantheon, was so thoroughly forgotten within the wider AD&D multiverse. They weren’t totally ignored, but they were still thoroughly overlooked, to the point where the instances where they were included are exceptionally rare.

Two members of the pantheon, Tlazolteotl and Xochipilli are – once again, just like Raven from the American Indian pantheon – featured in an adventure in OP1 Tales of the Outer Planes. In fact, it’s the same adventure, “A Simple Deed, Well Rewarded,” except that they’re kept in the background, being proprietors of a pleasure palace on a jungle world. Of course, both gods remain “off camera” the entire time. That’s also the case for Camaxtli in his aforementioned reference in Dead Gods.

Beyond that, there’s virtually nothing. I do recall that Camazotz gets name-dropped at one or two points in the Savage Tide adventure path in Dungeon magazine, but that’s a very minor reference.

Personally, I really wish that Spelljammer had given some reference to the Aztec deities living in wildspace, or even better: a short adventure involving one or more of them. There was a lot of potential for genre-mashups with mixing those two together, and I think it’s a real shame that we never got to see what that would’ve been like.

The Werewinter Wolf Template

September 10, 2016

It always struck me as odd how most d20 worlds had lycanthropes that were limited to normal animals; that is, that “were” creatures were virtually always based on creatures found in the real world. Even the more exotic lycanthropes were content to stretch the boundaries only so far as using dinosaurs or insects as their base creatures.

Given how saturated with magic your average d20 world is, that seems strangely limited. While I’m sure that there’s some d20 product out there that does venture further afield, the fact that such things are so fantastically rare underscores the point. If your PCs can run into halfling wererats or human werewolves, why not have hobgoblin wereowlbears or ogre werebulettes?

To that end, I’ve written the following template that turns winter wolves into a lycanthrope. Given that werewolves are easily the most familiar form of lycanthrope, and winter wolves are some fairly standard d20 monster fare, this template should serve as an excellent way to introduce new forms of werecreatures into your campaign.

Of course, it goes without saying that this template is made with Eclipse: The Codex Persona.

Werewinter Wolf Template (96 CP/+3 ECL)

Protip: Never tell a creature with the cold subtype that they "look hot."

Protip: Never call a creature with the cold subtype “a hottie.”

This template allows the character it’s applied to to shapechange into winter wolf several times per day. It doesn’t make any other conceit where typical werecreatures are concerned. That is, this doesn’t allow for lycanthropy to be transmitted to creatures that the werewinter wolf bites. Likewise, this template is presumed to be inherited (or, perhaps, magically acquired), and so grants full control over the alternate form. There’s no risk of involuntary transformation due to the full moon nor any requirement to make a skill check (e.g. Control Shape) to maintain control.

I also need to give credit where it’s due: this template is heavily inspired by Pathfinder Adventure Path #68, “The Shackled Hut,” by Paizo Publishing. In the course of that adventure, the PCs journey to a human city that Baba Yaga has enchanted so as to allow winter wolves to take on a human form while within its environs. While that’s not exactly the same as this template, it was still a source of inspiration for it.

Basic Abilities (72 CP)

  • +6d8 Hit Dice (72 CP).

The single most expensive aspect of this template, this is required to make winter wolf a viable transformation via shapeshift for characters with less than 6 Hit Dice. It’s also the only part of this template that applies in both forms.

Form of the Winter Wolf (21 CP)

  • Shapeshift with +3 Bonus Uses, specialized for one-half cost/does not allow any animal forms to be taken (5 CP).
    • Beasts, corrupted for two-thirds cost/winter wolf form only (2 CP).
    • Growth, specialized for one-half cost/Large size only (1 CP).
    • Attribute modifiers (6 CP).
    • Enchanted, corrupted for two-thirds cost/breath weapon can only be used 5 times per day (4 CP).
  • Energy Infusion (cold), specialized for one-half cost/only while shapechanged (3 CP).

This is the main aspect of this template, granting the lion’s share of the abilities that comes from transforming into a winter wolf, which can be done 3 times per day, plus once per three character levels. Specifically, this suite of abilities grants: large size (with the attendant modifiers, albeit none for ability scores), darkvision 60 ft., low-light vision, scent, speed 50 ft., Str +8, Dex +2, Con +6, +5 natural armor, and a bite natural weapon for 1d8 damage (which, as the only natural weapon, gains +1.5 x Strength bonus). It also grants a free trip attempt, as a free action and without provoking an AoO, on each successful bite attack. Further, each successful bite deals an additional 1d6 points of cold damage. Finally, it grants the cold subtype as well.

There’s also a breath weapon, which deserves special mention. The basic winter wolf entry says that it can be used every 1d4 rounds. Eclipse’s design philosophy, however, is that (most) unlimited-use abilities are actually usable about five times per day; that’s typically all an NPC will get before the PCs make short work of them. By explicitly making that the case here, we can save on a few CPs, and bring things into line if a PC ever takes this template.

Since Eclipse treats breath weapons as Inherent Spell abilities, I’d recommend allowing the damage to scale with Hit Dice, to a maximum of 10d6. The DC is 10 + 1/2 Hit Dice + Con modifier, Reflex save for half. That’s not very strong, but an Eclipse character can modify that with any number of special abilities.

Prowess of the Winter Wolf (7 CP)

  • Track, specialized for one-half cost/only while shapechanged (1 CP).
  • Improved Initiative II, specialized for one-half cost/only while shapechanged (3 CP).
  • Skill Emphasis II (Listen and Spot), specialized for one-half cost/only while shapechanged (3 CP).

These abilities replicate the feats that a standard winter wolf has. While feats are typically represented as being learned, rather than inherent abilities, that can be a blurry line when it comes to adroitly using natural abilities. In this case, we’re saying that such prowess is more natural than not for winter wolves.

For Pathfinder characters, change Skill Emphasis II to work on Perception and Sense Motive.

Insights of the Winter Wolf (6 CP)

  • +1 bonus to Listen, Move Silently, and Spot, specialized for one-half cost/only while shapechanged (1 CP).
  • +3 bonus to Hide, specialized and corrupted for triple effect/only while shapechanged, only while in areas of snow and ice (3 CP).
  • +2 bonus to Survival, specialized for double effect/only while shapechanged (2 CP).

These replicate the racial skill bonuses that winter wolves get. We’ve made some slight tweaks, in that they no longer receive a blanket +2 bonus to Hide checks, but now gain +9 when hiding in areas of snow and ice (which I think makes more sense overall). Likewise, the +4 bonus to Survival is now universal when in winter wolf form, instead of being limited to tracking by scent.

For Pathfinder characters, these bonuses become +1 to Perception, Sense Motive, and Stealth, with a further +9 bonus to Stealth when in areas of snow and ice. The +4 Survival bonus remains as well.

Fate of a Werebeast (-10 CP)

  • Disadvantages: Outcast, Poor Reputation, and Valuable (-10 CP).

A werewinter wolf, like all shapeshifters, is not welcome in any community. Winter wolves are typically recognized as being vicious monsters by all other creatures, whereas winter wolves themselves think of anything that changes into a human (or other creature) as being weak and tainted. Moreover, as werebeasts, everyone expects them to spread lycanthropy and go on monstrous rampages, regardless of whether that’s true or not. Finally, wizards and other spellcasters value the pelts of winter wolves, were or not, as magical components.

Further Development

As a fully-developed template, there’s little more to build on at first glance. The most obvious direction is to purchase further modifiers, such as Hybrid, to expand on the versatility of shapeshifting (such purchases would, of course, be made via CPs from character levels). A character could also, as alluded to previously, make purchases to increase their breath weapon’s power. However, that’s likely to quickly yield diminishing returns.

Overall, the best bet is probably to buy abilities that integrate this template more closely into your character’s overall theme. Someone who wants to be a shapeshifter extraordinaire will want to buy off the specializations and corruptions that limit this to winter wolf form, for instance, whereas someone who wants to become “leader of the pack” can take Leadership and further cold-based powers (the better to show off why they’re the ruler).

D&D Did You Know’s: Using Turn Undead on Fiends (AD&D 2E)

September 4, 2016

Clerical turning – the ability for clerics to channel the power of their deity and force the undead to cower before it (or, for evil clerics, to be controlled by it) – is one of the defining powers for priestly characters in Dungeons & Dragons, druids notwithstanding. While the power manifests differently in different editions, in most it’s a built-in class feature for clerics (and classes with similar themes, such as paladins).

While clerical turning had already become standard by the time AD&D Second Edition had rolled around, the diversity found in the massive breadth of 2E products that were released over that edition’s lifespan meant that clerical turning would see some new options also…even if these were relatively few and far between.

Perhaps the best-known modification to clerical turning is the revised turning rules that came into use if you found yourself trapped within Ravenloft. In the Demiplane of Dread, clerical turning was far less efficacious…though it was arguably strange that for evil clerics, using their turning power to control the undead was similarly blunted.

Far less known is the ability to turn lycanthropes, a power commanded solely by priests of the Knorr barbarians (from Jakandor, Island of War) who take the shapeshifter kit. While this functions best against afflicted lycanthropes, it also gives the shapeshifter power over natural lycanthropes as well. (And if you’re a DM who read that and immediately thought “but I bet it doesn’t work against wolfweres” then kudos to you for your deviousness.)

But just as (if not more) obscure – and the real subject of this article – is the change that was made to clerical turning in the Guide to Hell, right at the end of AD&D Second Edition.

Released in December of 1999, when AD&D 2E had less than a year of life left, the Guide to Hell allowed classes with the the ability to turn undead to also use that ability on fiends (while the book was about devils specifically, it notes that this allows turning to be used on “devils, demons, yugoloths, and so forth”). This required no kit or other alteration to do; it was explicitly allowed to all clerics, paladins, and by extension any other class that could turn undead. It even provided its own table with which to chart the results. (And, of course, it noted that evil clerics and their ilk could also control fiends in this manner.)

Needless to say, this is a notable boost in power for clerics, since fiends tend to be one of the major categories of monsters for characters as they get into the higher levels. While this notes that fiends can’t be turned on their home plane, it’s still a not-inconsiderable buff to give priests the ability to turn them.

Except, as it turns out, that boost was there all along. Sort of.

You see, the Guide to Hell explicitly notes that the ability to turn fiends, along with the undead, is actually explicitly stated in the PHB…for paladins. In the class description, it notes:

A paladin gains the power to turn undead, devils, and demons when he reaches 3rd level. He affects these monsters the same as does a cleric two levels lower–e.g., at 3rd level he has the turning power of a 1st-level cleric. See the section on priests for more details on this ability.

And that was it. Insofar as I can tell, nowhere else in the PHB does it mention using clerical turning to affect creatures besides the undead (notwithstanding an ambiguous notation on the Turning Undead table which says that turning “special” creatures include “certain Greater and Lesser Powers” – “Powers” meaning “deities,” of all things!). It appears that the designers, along with everyone else in the wider gaming community, simply forgot that paladins were explicitly granted the ability to turn “devils and demons” as well, along with the implication that this power extended to clerics too.

So really, the Guide to Hell was simply giving clerics back an ability that had been there, forgotten, since Second Edition had debuted.

(Of course, what it doesn’t mention is the possibility of the inverse of turning fiends also holding true: namely, that evil clerics can turn celestials while good clerics can rebuke them. That would also make for an interesting dynamic, particularly if you were playing celestial PCs via Warriors of Heaven, which had just come out three months previous.)

D&D Did You Know’s: Dragonlance was the Original Ravenloft

August 28, 2016

“D&D Did You Know’s” is another open-ended series that I’ll be doing. In this case, it’s going to be short posts wherein I highlight tidbits of D&D lore that I think are interesting, quirky, or otherwise worth noting.

Ravenloft was always my most favorite of the AD&D campaign worlds. The gothic horror atmosphere of the setting was always very evocative to me, particularly with how it wasn’t afraid to rewrite the rules of the game to be less friendly towards the PCs. Fear and horror checks systematized how sometimes a character’s reactions aren’t under their control. Powers checks punished immoral behavior with physical corruption. And of course, magic was altered in ways that diminished the forces of good and heightened the powers of darkness.

But to me, one of the most iconic aspects of Ravenloft was that it could snatch you up at a moment’s notice…and once it did, getting out was almost impossible. Portals out of the Demiplane of Dread were exceptionally rare and always temporary (albeit typical fare at the end of the early Ravenloft adventures), meaning that characters that went to Ravenloft could usually count on being there for quite a long time.

…just like with Dragonlance.

It’s easy to miss, but if you look at the AD&D First Edition book Dragonlance Adventures – the first formal campaign setting for the world of Krynn, being published just after the original fourteen adventures that made up the War of the Lance – there’s a little note on page 12 (under the “Travelers from the Beyond” section) that reads as follows:

Those who come to Krynn from other worlds may find more than they bargained for. The gods of Krynn have secured their world against such incursions for fear of upsetting the balance of the world. There is a 1% per day cumulative chance that a character visiting Krynn from other worlds cannot return across the void to his home world. This percentage is checked any time an attempt is made. Those failing this check remain on Krynn. This percentage never gets any higher than 98%.

Now, that’s not quite the same as Ravenloft’s near-unbreakable ban on leaving, but it can be quite daunting to characters that spend weeks or months on Krynn before trying to leave. Especially when you consider that they have no way of knowing that this is a percentile roll rather than just a blanket ban; when the first five or six plane shift spells fail, is it really unreasonable to think that whatever’s going on is insurmountable, rather than just playing the odds?

Of course, all of this is only true in AD&D First Edition. No such provision shows up in the AD&D Second Edition or D&D Third Edition incarnations of the Dragonlance campaign. Heck, Second Edition even had an entire supplement about spelljamming there.

We can catch a faint glimpse of that old rule, however, in Chronomancer, an AD&D 2E supplement about time-travel. It has an appendix talking about how that works in specific campaign worlds, and notes that Krynn’s timeline has several points that branch off into alternate realities:

Should a chronomancer enter Temporal Prime at one of these “nodes,” he may be shunted into a reality other than his own (75% chance, or DM’s choice). When this happens, the trip becomes one-way, and the chronomancer cannot return to his original timeline, instead being confined to this new reality even if he returns repeatedly to the node.

Dragonlance is the sort of campaign world that, once you go there, you just can’t pull yourself away from it…literally.

Pantheons of the Multiverse: The Arthurian Mythos

August 20, 2016

The name really says it all here. While both editions of Legends & Lore refer to this as “Arthurian Heroes,” I’ve chosen to go with “mythos” since both books include characters of decidedly less heroic bent. Either way, this collection of characters can’t be referred to as a pantheon, as – alone of all the entries in this series (with the arguable exception of the “gods” of Eberron, if I ever get that far) – this entry lacks even a single deity.

AD&D First Edition

The opening text in the the 1E Deities & Demigods book spends a scant two paragraphs talking about the characters of Arthurian mythology, and the first is to overview the nature of chivalrous knights. It’s only with the second paragraph that it touches upon the difficulty of using these characters in one’s AD&D game, and even then it brushes this aside by suggesting that it might be fun to “take a trip” to Arthur’s Britain.

It’s surely just a coincidence that the text then mentions that more information can be found in TSR’s Knights of Camelot Fantasy Boardgame.

The characters that we are then given stats for are: The Average Knight of Renown, Knight of Quality (followed by a long list of names for which the previous two stat blocks can represent), King Arthur, Sir Bernlad De Hautdesert (aka the Green Knight), Sir Galahad, Sir Gareth of Orkney, Sir Garlon, Sir Gawaine, Sir Lamorak, Sir Lancelot Du Lake, Merlin, Morgan Le Fay, Sir Palomides the Saracen, King Pelinore, and Sir Tristam of Lyoness.

AD&D Second Edition

The 2E version of Legends & Lore expands on its predecessor by a notable amount where the Arthurian Mythos is concerned. For instance, all of the entries mentioned above are here as well – save only for King Pelinore, who has been deleted for some reason – but now also include Queen Guinevere, the Lady of the LakeMordredSir PercivaleSir KayBedevere, and Naciens. There are a few stylistic changes as well (e.g. changing “Sir Bernlad De Hausdesert” to simply “The Green Knight”), but for the most part everything in the 1E book is here and then some.

More notable is the supplementary information that’s given. For example, we now have monster stats for the White Heart and the Questing Beast. Both Excalibur and the Holy Grail have magic item stats. There are also three new spells: impersonation, revelation, and protection from death.

What I found to be more notable, however, was the large introductory section that came before this. Presenting an excellent overview of the story of Arthur, it also talked about how to role-play in an “Arthurian Setting,” what the duties of a Knight of the Round Table were, briefly overviewed the nature of omens, portents, and transgressions in such a setting, and introduced a new character class, the pious knight.

The pious knight class has access to some divine spellcasting, and so includes a list of clerical spheres to which they have access. While it’s easy to wonder if this should have been expanded with the introduction of several new sphere in the Tome of Magic book, the fact that the text – after outlining the spheres open to a pious knight – says that they “have no access at all to other spheres” makes it seem unlikely that they’d have received any others.

Interestingly, the section on how to use the material here with role-playing – now expanded to four paragraphs – sticks to the advice of its First Edition counterpart and recommends treating Arthurian Britain as its own setting, or at the very least as an adjunct to a setting that happens to have a similar backdrop. It then goes on to outline how the PCs could function in King Arthur’s court.

I found this dissatisfying, for two reasons. The first was that it essentially walls off all of these characters from the wider AD&D multiverse. Unless we’re to essentially place Camelot and the surrounding environs in a demi-plane or Alternate Material Plane, there’s really no way to use what’s here in your bog-standard AD&D game, even if it allows for all sorts of cross-campaign hijinks (a la Spelljammer and Planescape) to take place.

Secondly, I don’t think much of the advice to make the PCs squires and would-be knights working their way up through the ranks of the Knights of the Round Table. Even if we overlook the issue of so many character classes breaking the setting conventions of Arthurian Britain – just try to imagine playing a thief! – and that the players don’t chafe at the yoke that chivalry imposes on them, having the PCs be just another set of squires and wannabe-knights seems like an imposition. While not all of the PCs might feel this way, I suspect that most players want their characters to break from the mold, rather than conforming to it.

All of these complaints, however, underscore the real problem with these entries: that ultimately the story of King Arthur is its own tale, with its own beginning, middle, and end, as well as cast of major characters. Ultimately, this leaves very little room for the PCs, and so it’s hard to visualize them as doing anything except serving as a disruption. Ultimately, while AD&D can be made to fit into the mold of the tale of King Arthur, it does so awkwardly (especially compared to games that were explicitly designed to do so, such as Chaosium’s Pendragon RPG).

Miscellaneous Thoughts

When I sat down to write this article, I had thought that there were no elements of Arthurian mythology that appeared anywhere in Dungeons & Dragons outside of the two sources outlined above. However, much to my surprise, I did find two others.

The first was that there’s an entry for the Holy Grail in the D&D Master Set. The second was that there’s a new – and much more powerful – entry for Excalibur in Encyclopedia Magica Vol. 4 (right between the entry from Deities & Demigods (as part of Arthur’s writeup) and the entry from Legends & Lore). Beyond that (and Excalibur getting name-dropped in the entries for the Ravenloft domain lord Ebonbane) however, I’m unaware of any other instances of Arthurian material appearing in any D&D products. That’s not entirely surprising, given the issues with using such elements that I noted above, but is still perhaps somewhat disappointing.

Were it up to me, I’d have tried to sit down and somehow come up with a “post-Arthurian” method of approaching these characters. That would have had something to do with trying to make it so that everything from the Arthurian myths have already happened, and now brought those characters to a place where the future is uncertain, perfect for the PCs to appear on stage to set things in a new direction.

That would have required bringing back King Arthur, of course. But on the other hand, maybe not, in which case your characters could be arriving just as Camelot is in need of a new king…