Monthly Archives: May 2011

Comment from Sean K Reynolds

Yeah, it’s been bloody forever since I updated. Sorry about that; I’m sure both my readers are disappointed. My DM has switched to Pathfinder, which means I am likely to start posting both PF and 4e stuff. Anything for PF will be OGL’ed, of course.

Anyway, since I am now checking out the Paizo site semi-regularly, I came upon this quote from Sean K Reynolds, one of the designers of D&D Third Edition. For those of you too lazy to click a goddamn link, here it is:

ProfessorCirno wrote:
Given how much you lose from this, mechanically speaking, why should someone take the Vow of Poverty ability?
(Response by SKR)

Not every game option has to be the best option. Not every game rule option has to be a good option. In fact, some game choices are guaranteed to be BAD in terms of rules consequences, and people do them anyway because they want to play interesting characters. You can play a wizard with a 12 Int (I’ve done it, in the very first 3E playtest campaign, in fact). You can play a fighter who maximizes Con instead of Str. You can put ranks in Profession. You can take Skill Focus (Appraise). You can play a child, or a blind character, or a pacifist.

There are huge numbers of players who make and play characters that they think would be a fun or interesting concept. Players who don’t worry about “optimal builds” to maximize AC or damage, because the game is designed for PCs to win and they can play characters that aren’t minmaxed and not have them die all the time (I’ll point out that the default encounter is CR = APL, which is an easy encounter that only uses 20% of the party’s disposable resources… that’s stacking the deck in the favor of the PCs).

The game expects you to have X gp worth of gear at every level. Deliberately choosing to play a character that ignores that and has essentially nothing at high levels is a very suboptimal design choice. You’re allowed to do that. I think it’s admirable for the people who want to play that sort of character. But it is unrealistic to say “because you’ve given up all these goodies, you gain other goodies that exactly make up for that choice which deliberately makes you a fragile character.” And if you did build such a thing into the rules, it’s basically saying, “you, the character that’s made a sacrifice? It’s not really a sacrifice at all, you’re just as good as someone who didn’t make that sacrifice. In other words, your sacrifice is meaningless because you’re not really giving up anything.”

If you want a game where all builds are equally viable, you should play a different game. Pathfinder lets you make suboptimal choices, or even poor choices, and it doesn’t reward you for making those poor choices. Because rewarding poor choices is dumb. I don’t see anyone clamoring that there should be a feat or vow or ritual for Int 8 wizards to get access to different powers to make up for his lack of spells, whether or not you call it the “Vow of Rincewind.” I don’t see anyone clamoring that the low-Dex fighter should get something that makes him awesome at dodging out of trouble and accidentally killing his enemies in comedic ways, whether or not you call it the “Vow of Jar-Jar.”

I like the concept of the vow of poverty. It’s a noble thing. And I understand that it sucks to be the impoverished character in a game where you’re supposed to have 20,000 gp worth of goodies. So the VOP in UM gives you a bone in the form of extra ki. And another bone in the form of “you can have one item of value,” which lets you put all your gp cheese in one item instead of ten. But I’m not going to let the rules make your impoverished monk as good as a regular monk. If you want to play a character that’s making a sacrifice, make a sacrifice–don’t pretend it’s a sacrifice and expect a handout for pretending.


Ah, disease. One of the hallmarks of the medieval world, and, in a fantasy world, you can have all sorts of nasty plagues and poxes. This article contains an assortment of (I hope) imaginative and interesting infections with which to make your PCs regret ever saying “Ritual Caster? Feh! Why would we waste a feat on that? We want more dakka!”

Some of these diseases are listed with fixed levels, though it ought to be extremely trivial to raise or lower the level as needed. Some suggestions for making them nastier at higher levels are included.

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Reskinning vs. Renaming

Sort of an amplification of my earlier post, here’s an example of how I typically “reskin” a monster. This is an extremely simplistic reskin, and could actually use a bit more tweaking, but I wanted to use a “real world” example, not something I made up explicitly for this purpose. The original monster is on the right; the reskinned monster on the left. Even something as mildly changed as this cannot be done with the online “monster builder” tool. (Hell, I can’t even bring the damage in line with MM3 standards!)

How To Turn A Kuo Toa Into A Hobgoblin

This Is Reskinning

As you can see — I added in a trait to make the “It’s a hobgoblin in a diving suit!” idea mechanically relevant, not just fluff; I added in the hobgoblin racial ability; I changed the damage and attacks to be in-line with the new standards; I changed the language and added a skill; and I edited the name throughout. Changes of this nature are the bare minimum of what I’d expect from a tool which allows you to “reskin” monsters.

The New 4e “Monster Builder”: WTF?

I mean, the new “Monster Builder”. Which doesn’t build monsters. Which doesn’t do ANYTHING, really. You can change the name of the monster and the name of the powers, and that’s IT? When you change the monster name, it doesn’t even propagate to the rest of the text? So what’s the point?

This is about on par with sending the subscribers a $0.99 ball point pen, and telling them they can print out a stat block and then scribble changes on it.

“Insult” or “Direct Slap In The Face” doesn’t begin to cover it.

I’d heard it was bad, I’d been in some threads on it on, so I can’t feign total ignorance of what to expect, but I figured (OK, hoped) people were using it wrong or I was misinterpreting what they were saying or something, and I didn’t want to post a rant on the “official” forums until I’d had a chance to play with it myself. I really can’t imagine that WOTC would have the utter gall — or lack of sense of shame — to publish something this utterly and completely useless and display it for paying customers. The first BETA of the old Monster Builder was a hundred times more useful than this.

WTF, Wizards? I mean, seriously, WTF? You know, companies like Blizzard (you may have heard of them… they make some kind of fantasy computer game that is, I hear, pretty popular) have a “We ship when it’s ready” policy, and while there’s a good bit of whining and wailing whenever a delay is announced, there’s a lot less of it once the product hits the streets, and most people have come to rightfully expect that they’ll get a quality game right out of the box, even if it’s late, and that works a whole lot better than “Ship and Patch” (Vanguard, oh, Vanguard, you could have been amazing..). If you don’t have a monster builder worth shipping, then, don’t ship it. Just say, “Look. We respect you as customers and we won’t insult you by presenting this to you as anything other than an interface mockup we threw together in about a day.” (Because, really, that’s what it is — I started writing a “Monster Builder” in C#, and in one day, it had the ability to edit a name and to apply the core formulas to AC, Hit Points, etc, based on changing level. Well, I lie, because I could also change the monster’s role and see the changes propagate through the hit points, etc. Oh, and I could change size, type, and origin. And edit keywords, so if I wanted a new origin, say, “Abyssal”, I could add it, and it would show up in the “Origin” dropdown. ONE DAY, Wizards. That took one programmer ONE DAY.)

(Hell, even sliding the level seems broken… the Aboleth lasher has “2d8+8 damage (4d+8 against a dazed target)”, and while the first value changes, the second does not. So the one function it has, that of changing level, still requires you to manually edit some values.)

Two New Mutations

Like I said, Earth Delta is resting, not dead. But it stirs in its sleep to bring you two new mutations for the Hands slot. Drag in your foes with Grappling Tendrils, or burrow like a mole with Digging Claws!
Download here: Hand Mutations

Necromican, Level 5

The Necromican

Level 5



And so, at long last — and thanks to someone actually asking for it — we get to Level 5 of my walk through the dire and dread pages of the Necromican (note: Not Necronomicon), a classic late 1970s supplement for Dungeons & Dragons published by Fantasy Art Enterprises, and featuring some great gonzo art by Erol Otus, and great gonzo ideas by, I assume, both Erol Otus and Paul Reiche III. (BTW, if anyone is in contact with either of those fine gentlemen, please, point them this way, as I’d love any feedback (even “Dude, why are you wasting your time on this stuff we wrote thirty years ago?”) they might wish to offer. (You can see the first part here and the second part here.)

First, though, I need to fulfill a promise. Here is the illustration for the path of the Daemon’s Disk spell, discussed back in the prior article.

The Path of Daemon's Disk

Sucks to be "b"

Fifth Level Spells

Just in case anyone was wondering, a)No, these aren’t all the spells — just some highlights I found amusing/interesting/useful fodder for jokes, and b)They are noted in the order they appeared in the text, “alphabetizing” being the sort of thing done only in later years. You kids with your “indexes” and “layout”! You have it easy!

Opportunity Dispell(sic)

This spell, which lasts apparently indefinitely until needed (Duration: Variable), negates the next spell cast at the mage “as per his ability”, ¬†whatever that means — presumably, it acts like a Dispel (or Dispell) Magic as if cast by the mage. There was a spell like this in Ultima Online; people habitually used extremely weak spells to wreck the wizard’s protection and then used their highest level spells once the one-shot defense was gone.

Disanimate Dead

Otherwise known as “Who needs a cleric?” Well, it only affects skeletons and zombies, and, by 9th level, which is when you’d get this spell, such lowly creatures tended to be inconsequential anyway.

Trap Neutralizer

Otherwise known as “Who needs a thief?” Except, again, you’re wasting a fifth level slot (which could hold cloudkill, fer cryin’ out loud!) , and this was in the days before cheap wands and scrolls, and it only disables the trap for a single round, making it a nice way for the wizard to race ahead with the loot and then let the trap take care of his buddies. It’s how we rolled back then.

Mental Transferrance (sic)

Swap minds with the target, apparently with no saving throw, permanently until dispelled. I wrote something like this up for D&D Third Edition, but it was ninth level and had a few hundred words of detailed rules and limits. This is fifth level and takes up about three lines of large-font courier.

Withering Kiss

This spell allows the mage to kiss someone, aging them 10 years per level. So, assuming a ninth level mage, about ninety years, enough to kill a human or make an elf get a little gray. There’s plenty of interesting fodder here, such as if the mage has to kiss the ogre right on the lips, perhaps with a little tongue, or if a quick peck on the cheek will do. I’m half surprised this spell isn’t limited to female casters, as it seems to draw from the “Girls are scary” meme that permeates an awful lot of the stuff from this era.

Deception Detection

When cast, the mage knows if the answer given to a true or false question he’s asked is true or false… er, that is, if he’s being lied to. It doesn’t tell him the correct answer, and it lends itself to all sort of verbal warfare as the DM and player duel over whether or not a question asked was “true or false”, so the players spends most of his time rephrasing the question to limit the answer to a simple binary, until the spell finally wears out. (For example, “What’s behind that door?” is not a yes/no question, so you might try “Is there a monster behind that door?”, which could then lead to whether something qualifies as a “monster”. Likewise, you could end up with “Yes, there’s a monster behind that door”, but that could mean anything from a 1 HD kobold to a 40 HD dragon. The spell doesn’t provide any knowledge, it’s supposed to be used when you’re questioning someone, and that, of course, leads to whether or not it works when the person being questioned¬†believes they’re telling the truth but they’re wrong.)

Coming soon….ish: Sixth level spells, featuring one of Erol Otus’ best. Illustrations. EVAR.






025 The Caustic Glaciers


The Caustic Glaciers

What’s better than a sea of acid? A sea of acid filled with giant floating acid icebergs! And what’s better than that? There’s stuff inside the icebergs! And walrus demons! Does any other site give you walrus demons? No! Continue reading