Eclipse, Ardlings, and Backgrounds

The announcement of a revised Fifth Edition of Dungeons & Dragons – called “One D&D,” though I find myself doubting that will be its final name, similar to what happened to “D&D Next” when Fifth Edition formally debuted – has been impossible to miss.

But while most other gaming-related outlets, both personal and professional, are interested in examining One D&D unto itself, or rather the initial playtest packet that released following the announcement (and which may or may not resemble what the final product looks like), I’m going to take a narrower focus, at least here. Rather than examining the playtest holistically, I’m instead going to focus on the new race introduced there, called ardlings.

And, of course, I’m going to see what their stats look like translated back to the d20 System, specifically via Eclipse: The Codex Persona.

All About Ardlings

Ardlings, as presented, seem designed to fill two particular niches. The first is that they’re a celestial counterpart to tieflings, which is rather strange since D&D has traditionally had aasimars for that (maybe One D&D’s designers didn’t like their name?). The second is that ardlings are a theriocephalic race, having animal heads atop humanoid bodies, though the flavor text makes it clear that they can be more generally anthropomorphic in nature, such as having fur covering the rest of their skin.

More notable is that ardlings have three distinct subcategories, which play (admittedly minor) roles in both their appearance and powers:

Exalted ardlings can trace their celestial heritage back to one of the Chaotic Good outer planes (Arborea, Ysgard, or the Beastlands), and typically have cat, eagle, goat, or mule heads.

Heavenly ardlings have ties to one of the Lawful Good outer planes (Mt. Celestia, Arcadia, or Bytopia), and usually have elephant, owl, pig, or stork heads.

Idyllic ardlings have ancestry tracing back to one of the Neutral Good outer planes (Elysium, Bytopia, or the Beastlands), and mostly have bear, dog, raven, or toad heads.

Of course, the animal suggestions connected to each “celestial legacy” (as the playtest packet calls them) isn’t rigidly enforced; much like how the degree to which their animal features manifest is variable, the listings above are suggestions rather than hard-and-fast rules.

The rules that are hard and fast, however, are listed below, along with how they’d be recreated for a d20 System character using Eclipse.

  • Humanoid creature type

While this seems to fly in the face of the flavor text for ardlings, which describes them as being “either born on the Upper Planes or have one or more ancestors who originated there,” the rules are unambiguous as to their being Humanoids. Since this is the default assumption for characters under the d20 System game mechanics, it costs 0 Character Points.

  • Either Medium or Small size (player’s choice, made at character creation; cannot be changed thereafter)

Much like Paizo did with tieflings and aasimars in their respective racial supplements, this presumably refers to whether or not an ardlings mortal heritage belonged to a particular size category. While Medium size is also the presumed default for characters under the d20 System rules, and so costs 0 CP, the Small entry here is a bit more difficult to approximate.

D&D Fifth Edition, and apparently One D&D as well, assign far fewer mechanics to Small characters. There’s no inherent modification to ability scores based on size, for instance (at least, not for PCs), nor does it alter their attack rolls, Armor Class, grapple checks, Stealth skill rolls, etc.

The only mechanical differences that a Small character has from a Medium one under the 5E/1D&D rules are A) they use smaller weapons accordingly, B) are only able to grapple creatures of Medium size or smaller, rather than Large size or smaller, and C) can fit through slightly smaller spaces as per the squeezing rules.

While the third listing is slight benefit, it’s overshadowed in both intensity and frequency (how often do you use the squeezing rules in the course of play) by the first two: having to use smaller weapon damage dice, and having a modestly narrower range of creatures you can grapple are drawbacks with virtually nothing to offset them. While these aren’t a big deal for a spellcaster, they’re still penalties.

Given that, rather than using the normal Eclipse rules for a Small size character (i.e. the Shrinking modifier on page 62), we’ll call this a variation of the Incompetent disadvantage (call it something like “stunted” to represent the character’s reduced stature) and if taken it’s worth -3 CP to the overall racial cost.

  • 30-foot speed

Another standard entry for most characters, requiring no alterations to bring over to the d20 System. 0 CP here again.

  • A two hundred-year lifespan on average

This is roughly double how long a human character will live after rolling on the d20 System’s aging tables. As such, we can say that this is an Immunity to aging (uncommon/minor/trivial), costing only 1 CP. There aren’t any listings for when the middle/old/venerable aging modifiers kick in, but I’d recommend doubling the human values and tweaking things accordingly; it’s not like those come up in most campaigns anyway.

  • As a bonus action, manifest spectral wings long enough to let you fly a number of feet equal to your speed. These can be manifested a number of times equal to your proficiency bonus, and are renewed after a long rest.

Okay, so this is basically a fly spell with the movement rate capped at 30 feet and which is only usable on yourself. Activating the spectral wings is essentially a swift action, they can be used (at most) six times per day, and those uses refresh each day after resting.

Let’s call this an Inherent Spell (level 1 variant of fly that’s self-only and has a 30-foot movement rate), with +5 Bonus Uses. That’s 14 CP normally, but is specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/no other Inherent Spell granted (you usually get two level 1 spells), uses per day is limited to one-third character level (minimum twice, up to a maximum of six times per day). Rounding the fraction down brings that to 4 CP.

We’ll also add in Reflex Training/only to manifest these wings, specialized for one-half cost/this uses up your swift action for the round, bringing the total down to 3 CP.

  • Gains a single 0-level, 1st-level, and 2nd-level spell according to their celestial legacy (thaumaturgy, divine favor, and lesser restoration for exalted ardlings; light, cure light wounds, and zone of truth for heavenly ardlings; guidance, healing word, and animal messenger for idyllic ardlngs) each usable once per day. These are also added to an ardling’s spell list (if any)

Okay, that looks like Improved Occult Talent, specialized for increased effect/a single 2nd-level spell, but only one 1st-level and one 0-level spell (12 CP). These are also treated as being part of a Domain, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only for the three spells indicated in your celestial legacy (2 CP).

We’re overlooking the level restrictions built into these in the playtest document, where an ardling needs to be 3rd level to use the 1st-level spell, and 5th-level to use the 2nd-level spell. That’s due to two factors: the first is that this requirement, while technically greater than what those spells would normally require in order to cast, is so minor as to not be worth a price break. The second reason is that none of those spells are likely to break the game, given how modest their effects are.

Healing word functions as per cure light wounds, except as follows: it has a casting time of 1 swift action, its range is 60 feet, it restores (1d4 + casting stat modifier) hit points, and it can’t be used to damage the undead (or other creatures harmed by positive energy). If cast in a higher-level spell slot, the base die increases to match the spell level (e.g. if cast as a 3rd-level spell, it heals 3d4 + casting stat modifier hit points). Likewise, thaumaturgy is prestidigitation by another name.

  • Resistance to radiant damage

This…is a bit awkward. “Radiant” isn’t a damage type in the d20 System, and “resistance” cuts damage in half, which runs counter to how damage reduction and energy resistance use static rather than fractional values.

With regard to damage type, it simply has to be changed to something more conventional. I’d recommend dividing it up via celestial legacy as follows: exalted ardlings gain fire resistance, heavenly ardlings gain electricity resistance, and idyllic ardlings gain cold resistance. These broadly map to the major creature types of those planar regions (i.e. eladrins, archons, and guardinals).

As for the actual value of the resistance, we’ll call it an Immunity to that particular energy type (common/major/great), specialized for one-half cost/cannot reduce damage below one-half of its original value. That comes out to 9 CP, and protects against up to 60 points of damage (though only if you’re taking at least 120 points of damage to begin with).

Altogether, these racial features come out to 31 CP, or 28 CP if you decide to make them Small. That’s just within the limit for an ECL +0 race.

Background Information

One thing that’s notable in the ardling breakdown is what’s not there. Unlike standard d20 System races, ardlings have no ability score modifiers, no starting languages, no weapon proficiencies, etc. That’s because One D&D moves these to Backgrounds, which are a separate consideration when making a character, akin to race and class.

Essentially functioning as templates, Backgrounds describe a character’s pre-adventuring life. They come with a standard suite of abilities, and the playtest document allows for characters to use a pre-made Background, build their own, or modify an existing Background as they like.

Since ardling characters, as outlined above, are meant to be played in conjunction with a Background, we’ll take a look at how those work as well. An Eclipse conversion of the standard Background formula is as follows:

  • +3 total ability score modifiers

Since these are requires to be split up as +2 to one score and +1 to another, or alternatively as +1 to three separate scores, rather than assigning them all to a single ability score, this is three instances of Improved Self-Development, corrupted for two-thirds cost/must split these up across at least two ability scores, bringing the cost to 24 CP.

Since Backgrounds are essentially templates, we’ll go ahead and apply the half-cost rule here as well. Since the full template structure is relatively inflexible in how its Character Points are allocated, the break in cost applies here, even if PCs are sure to structure their ability score modifiers in the way that’s most beneficial to their build. Hence, the final cost is 12 CP.

  • Choose two skills to gain proficiency in

This is another awkward ability to translate, since bonuses to skills are very different in 5E/1D&D than they are under the d20 System. The best we can do here is to say that this makes two skills class skills, but Eclipse allows players to take as many class skills as fits their character concept. Hence, this doesn’t really do anything, and has no CP cost associated with it.

  • Gain proficiency with one tool

In 5E/1D&D, this allows a character to add their proficiency bonus to an ability check (of which skill checks are a subset) that involves using a particular tool. That’s hard to translate back to the d20 System, where particular tools are either necessary to perform a task in the first place (e.g. you need some sort of lockpick in order to use the Open Lock skill), or they simply add a modest bonus if they’re masterwork.

However, there’s a small clause in the One D&D rules that we can make use of instead. If a character is using their tool proficiency as part of a skill check in a skill with which they’re proficient, they have Advantage (i.e. roll 2d20 and take whichever result is higher) on the check. So for this, we’ll take Luck with +8 Bonus Uses, specialized and corrupted for one-third cost/only to re-roll a skill check made when using a particular tool, costing a grand total of 6 CP.

As outlined in the playtest pack, tools are considered to be things such as a specific musical instrument, thieves’ tools, crafting tools, a disguise kit, a healer’s kit, etc. Given that they’re essentially tied to a single skill already, it’s unlikely that a PC would use a tool which corresponds to a skill that they haven’t already put considerable skill points toward. Hence why we’re ignoring the proficiency bonus that would be added when using a tool in a way that doesn’t correspond to a skill the PC is proficient with.

  • One “rare” language

This is easy enough, since Eclipse keeps the standard d20 System cost of a language costing one skill point, which corresponds to one Character Point.

Strangely, the playtest rules also allow a player to pick a “standard” language that their character knows as well (in addition to Common, which all characters get for free), but doesn’t consider this part of the Background each PC has. Since that still has a cost associated with it under Eclipse, however, we’ll go ahead and fold that in here. Hence, PCs pick two additional languages for a total cost of 2 CP.

“Standard” languages are presumed to be Elvish, Dwarvish, and other demihuman/humanoid tongues. “Rare” languages are all others.

  • Gain one feat of your choice

This is another tricky one to price. Feats in 5E/1D&D are more powerful than their d20 System counterparts. Likewise, even in Eclipse all of the standard d20 System feats don’t necessarily have the same cost, something which is also true in 5E/1D&D. For instance, the Skilled feat simply makes three skills into class skills for you (which, as noted above, costs no Character Points), whereas the Tough feat grants you +2 hit points per character level (four instances of Self-Development/Constitution, only for calculating hit points, 24 CP).

Given that variability in cost, the best we can do is split the difference. As 5E/1D&D feats are more generally powerful than d20 System feats, we’ll make this a 12 CP allocation.

  • 50 gp worth of equipment/coinage

This isn’t an ability at all, as every character has always had some amount of starting gold to spend. Hence, this has no CP cost associated with it either.

This brings the total cost of a Background to 32 CP, neatly making it a +1 ECL template.

Conclusion

It’s interesting to consider that, while One D&D is doubtlessly going to try and continue the “bounded accuracy” of Fifth Edition, starting characters now seem more powerful than ever.

Looking back, standard Fifth Edition races were solidly in +1 ECL territory, brought down only by applying a corruption to the final cost by way of stereotypical racial attitudes (particularly in terms of what other races thought of them). The playtest for One D&D, by contrast, seems to be pursuing a different paradigm. Now that Backgrounds have essentially outsourced the “upbringing” part of a character’s heritage – moving them over to a template that’s worth a character level unto itself – their racial abilities have expanded accordingly to fill the vacated design space. The ardling stops just short of being worth another level, and I suspect that the other races in the playtest packet would have similar Character Point costs if converted over.

While playtest information for character classes hasn’t been released yet, it’ll be interesting to see if their design philosophy is similarly tweaked.

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3 Responses to “Eclipse, Ardlings, and Backgrounds”

  1. Upper_Krust Says:

    The Dog-headed Ardlings should have been Lawful Good.

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