Archive for September, 2016

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.)