Tag Archives: 4e

V-Borgs

V-Borg

Well, as a late sign of the apocalypse, or an early sign of the next one, here’s an Earth Delta update! As always, this is a “fresh off the grill” version, not particularly edited or tweaked.


 

V-Borg

V-Borgs, or “Vehicle Cyborgs”, are hideous, blightspawned abominations that fuse partially-living beings with the remnants of vehicles. It’s often theorized that they were the pilots or crew of the craft when they were destroyed, and the combination of blight energies and the vehicle’s self-repair nanobot swarms fused them together. There are countless varieties, many which barely resemble their original forms; over the centuries since the Cataclysm, they have slowly changed and adapted. While not mindless, their motivations are alien and seemingly mad; as far as most who encounter them are concerned, they strike out blindly. Some of them have found their way to the Annihilation Army, while others have been recruited to factions of Turing’s Children.

The transition to V-Borg was hideously painful, and most V-Borgs remain in a state of anguish. This can wax and wane over time; a V-Borg might be rational for a few hours, days, or weeks, then suddenly be consumed by torment and turn violent.

V-Borg Monowheel Gunner

V-Borg Monowheel Gunner

Level 18 Artillery

Medium natural animate (blightspawn, cyborg)

XP 2,000

HP 136; Bloodied 68

AC 29; Fortitude 30; Reflex 32; Will 29

Speed 8

Immune blight, poison, disease; Vulnerability 10 radiant, 10 lightning

Initiative +18

Perception +17

Darkvision, Tremorsense 10

Traits
Monowheel
The Monowheel Gunner gets to save twice when an effect would knock it prone, or once if no such save is normally allowed. However, once knocked prone, it must use all of its actions in a turn to stand. This does not apply to external effects of powers which allow it to stand. In addition, the Monowheel Gunner’s maximum climb speed is 1, due to its lack of legs.
Standard Actions
r Machinegun (weapon) • At-Will
Attack: 20; +25 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8 + 13.
C Spray Fire (weapon) • At-Will
Attack: Close Blast 5 (All creatures in blast); +25 vs. AC
Hit: 3d6 + 9.
C Wild Spray (weapon) • Recharge 4 5 6
Attack: Close Burst 3 (All creatures in blast); +23 vs. AC
Hit: 2d10 + 6.
R Line In The Sand (weapon) • Encounter
Effect: Line 8 within 15. The nearest square must be at least two squares from the Monowheel Gunner. (Any creature which crosses the line); Whenever an enemy enters a square that is part of the line, the Monowheel Gunner may make a machinegun attack on the triggering creature as an immediate reaction.
Sustain Minor: The line is sustained. While sustained, the Monowheel Gunner must remain within 15 squares of any square in the line. If it moves (voluntarily or otherwise) more than this distance from any square in the line, this power ends immediately.
Move Actions
Overrun • At-Will
Effect: The Monowheel Gunner can move through any square occupied by an enemy of Medium size or less. This movement provokes opportunity attacks as normal. A critical hit on such an attack will end movement.
Skills Acrobatics +23, Stealth +23
Str 19 (+13) Dex 28 (+18) Wis 16 (+12)
Con 22 (+15) Int 10 (+9) Cha 13 (+10)
Alignment chaotic evil     Languages Binary, Ancient

The monowheel gunner resembles a decaying humanoid torso, interlaced with corroded (yet still functioning) mechanical parts, balanced atop a gyroscopic wheel. Rapid-fire fully-automatic weapons are mounted on both arms; ammunition appears to be endless, possibly synthesized from scavenged materials and stored internally, sufficient to last through any single battle.

Monowheels often roam in packs, speeding across open areas and attacking any living creature they see. It appears they view this as a sport, with complex rules, and the packs often wear identifying tokens, such as scraps of cloth of a particular color, or the skull of a specific animal. Other monowheels will appear with mixed groups of V-Borgs, other Blightspawn, or more rarely wholly unrelated allies.

Their internal balance systems are very effective, allowing them to move over broken and irregular terrain with no more difficulty than a biped.


Design Notes: The idea of the Monowheels as “sports teams” is one of those things that wandered into my brain while I was writing. I was trying to find an interesting hook or concept beyond, “They like to shoot things”, and suddenly the notion of them moving in patterns, wheeling and spinning and criss-crossing as they hunted down some humanoids, competing to kill them or drive them to some goal, according to some set of rules and limits only they perceived, jumped into my mind.

Even Yet More 5e Replies

And It’s Still Yet Another Set Of Replies To A 5e article!

Here’s the 5e article.

Here’s the reply:

On one hand, I want a steady stream of releases. OTOH, I think releasing something you know you’re going to change is counterproductive. I don’t have a good answer, sorry.

I like what you’re describing as rogue abilities, but I’m a little confused by the description. Are these things anyone can try (taunting, tricking an enemy into attack), but rogues can spend their expertise dice on, so they’re better at it? Or are these things only rogues can attempt?

I dislike that a simple proficiency is all you need to cast spells in full armor; I’d prefer an additional cost, and consideration of the type of armor — the heavier the armor, the harder to cast in it. At the least, make that an optional module.

I like the idea of having at-will versions of spells. How about going one further: You can cast a prepared spell as a weaker, at-will version, so long as you haven’t cast it at full strength. Once you cast it at full strength, you lose it and the at-will version. This adds a dimension of resource management and allows casters to “run out” of even at-will spells. It also encourages them not to alpha strike in the first encounter, as they don’t want to lost their at-wills if they don’t have to.

Non-rogues should be able to be good at out of combat skills, too. You should split off in-combat and OOC performance into two resource pools. A fighter may be a mercenary commander (diplomacy, intimidate, tactical knowledge), a landed noble (diplomacy, sense motive, Noble Lore), etc. The “rogue as skill monkey” is a 3e-ism which, while not bad, and often true to the archetype (Grey Mouser, Locke Lamora) shouldn’t be a straitjacket in design. (4e promised that combat and non-combat skills would not be in competition, then released feats that included combat feats and non-combat/skill feats, forcing players to choose after all. You have a chance w/5e to create separate resource pools for C/NC abilities. Take that chance!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gelatinous Cube, Glacial

Gelatinous Cube, Glacial

In honor of the Winter Is Coming Blog Carnival, I’ve decided to try to a)post more often (hah!), and, b)post winter/cold/ice related stuff, as my fancy is struck. No promises on either frequency or content; been there, done that. For all you guys know, this could be my last post ever. We’ll see. (Note: I wrote that first paragraph on 11/04/2012. What day was this posted?)

So, for starters, let’s take one of the classic monsters, the gelatinous cube, and try some frozen variants. This is going to be a bit of an exercise in extemporanea, wherein I will “think out loud” on the page, as I try to work out what to do with this concept. This allows you to peer into the mind of the artist. Gaze not into the abyss, yadda yadda.

So. Cold gelatinous cube. “Ice Cube”, but that’s too obvious, even for me. Hm. Here’s problem one: The thing about cold, the thing is, about cold, is that it’s cold. Frozen. Stiff. Pretty much the antithesis of “gelatinous”. Sure, you can postulate the freezing point of Cube is much lower than that of water, and we might go with that, but as I ponder it… can a non-gelatinous gelatinous cube be interesting? Hmm…

Cold. Solid cube. Ice cube. Can’t absorb things, except very slowly. Like licking a street sign. Except it’s a street sign that wants to eat you. It can absorb on contact, slowly. Warmth of bodies thaws its outer surface. You get stuck, then drawn in as your own body heat softens the cube so it can feed. Hm. What else does ice do? Shatter. Hitting it causes smaller fragments or shards to fly off. Form their own monster. Hmmm. Clear. Gelatinous cubes are already clear, but arctic thoughts. Sun. Light. Refractions. Snowblindness. Cube shimmer in the sun, blinding aura, dazzling, hard to look at.

OK, that’s enough traits to work with.

Let’s see. Let’s do an “across the ages” thing here. I’ve done it for spells. Why not for monsters?

 

AD&D First Edition

GELATINOUS CUBE, GLACIAL
FREQUENCY: Rare
NO. APPEARING: I
ARMOR CLASS: 5
MOVE: 4“
HIT DICE: 6
% IN LAIR: Nil
TREASURE TYPE: See below
NO. OF ATTACKS: 1
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 2-8+1-4 Cold
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Paralyzation, refraction, surprise on a 1-4
SPECIAL DEFENSES: See below
MAGIC RESISTANCE: See below
INTELLIGENCE: Non-
ALIGNMENT: Neutral
SIZE: L (10’ cube)
PSlONlC ABILITY: Nil

Attack/Defense Modes: Nil

Glacial Gelatinous Cubes are found only in the frozen regions of the planet, or in dungeons which are kept magically super-cold. They are much more solid than their oozier brethren. Due to this, when they hit an adventurer and paralyze him, damage begins on the first turn following the attack, as it takes time for the stricken victim to be drawn inwards.

Glacial cubes are even harder to spot than others of their kind, as they blend perfectly with the semi-transparent ice of their home regions. If encountered in daylight, the cube may instinctively make a refractive attack instead of its normal attack, causing all within 20 feet to make a saving throw against breath weapon or be blinded for 1d4 turns. It may do this only once per day.

Glacial cubes have the same treasure types as other gelatinous cubes.

Glacial gelatinous cubes can be hit by all forms of weapons, but bladed weapons do only half damage. Blunt weapons do normal damage, but on each hit, there is a 25% chance that a shard of the cube will be knocked free. This shard makes an immediate attack as a 3HD monster on a random character within 10 feet of the cube. If the attack hits, the target takes 1d6 damage and must make a saving throw vs. paralysis or be paralyzed for 1d4 turns, during which time the embedded shard will do a further 1d6 damage per turn unless it is somehow removed. Anyone killed in this fashion will become a glacial cube within 2d6 rounds after death, having but 1/4 the hit points of a standard glacial cube, but otherwise identical.

Glacial gelatinous cubes take normal damage from fire, and cold attacks heal them for half the damage they would otherwise do. Electricity, fear, holds, paralyzation,  polymorph, and sleep based attacks have no effect on glacial gelatinous cubes.

It is rumored that white dragons of the smarter sort will sometimes (10% chance) keep glacial cubes as guardians, scattering them around their lairs to ward off intruders.

Pathfinder

(For those who care, which is to say, no one, I am using PF instead of D&D 3.x because my monster spreadsheet has been rewritten for PF.)

Glacial Cube
Large Ooze (Cold)
Hit Dice: 6d10+48 (96 Hit Points)
Initiative: -5 Dex
Speed: 15 feet (3 squares)
Armor Class: 14(-1 Size -5 Dex+10 Natural) touch 4; flat-footed 14
Base Attack/Grapple: +4/+10
Attack: Slam +6 (1d6+1d6 cold)
Space/Reach: 10 ft./10 ft.
Special Attacks: Engulf, Paralysis, Refraction, Shards
Special Qualities: Transparent
Immunities: Electricity, Cold, Ooze Traits
Saves: Fort +10,Ref -3,Will -3
Abilities: Str 14, Dex 1, Con 26, Int 0, Wis 1 ,Cha 1
Environment: Any Cold
Organization: Solitary
Challenge Rating: 4
Treasure: Incidental
Alignment: Neutral

The glacial cube is a cousin of the more common underground gelatinous cube, one which has adapted itself to life under conditions of extreme cold. It is much more solid than the normal gelatinous cube, which provides it with some measure of increased defense, reflected in both its Armor Class and its Hit Points. It also has several other distinctive traits which can catch unwary adventurers by surprise. Unless noted, it is otherwise identical to the gelatinous cube.

Acid (Ex): The glacial cube’s acid does not harm metal, stone, or ice.

Engulf(Ex): The glacial cube has a solid surface, and cannot easily engulf moving prey. However, the body heat of paralyzed victims melts its outer surface, at which point, it can ingest them. As a full round action, it can engulf a single Medium or small creature which is adjacent to it and paralyzed. There is no save. Engulfed creatures are subject to the cube’s paralysis and acid, gain the pinned condition, are in danger of suffocating, and are trapped within its body until they are no longer pinned. This ability does not affect creatures with the cold subtype.

Paralysis (Ex): A glacial gelatinous cube secretes an anesthetizing slime. A target hit by a cube’s melee or engulf attack must succeed on a DC 21 Fortitude save or be paralyzed for 3d6 rounds. The cube can automatically engulf a paralyzed opponent. The save DC is Constitution-based.

Refraction (Ex): As a standard action, a glacial cube exposed to sunlight or bright light can instinctively form its internal substance into crystalline patterns that emit a blinding light. All those within a 30′ radius burst centered on the cube must make a Reflex save (DC 21) or be dazzled for 2d6 rounds. This save is Constitution based.

Shards (Ex): When the glacial cube is struck by a weapon which does crushing damage, it sends for small shards of its frozen substance. If it is critically hit by such a weapon, it produces 1d4+1 shard. Each shard makes an attack on a random creature within 10′ of the cube, at a +6 attack bonus. If it hits, it does 1d8 piercing damage, and it will do 1d6 cold and acid damage for the next 1d4+1 rounds (A DC 15 Heal check will remove the shard). Any creature killed while the shard is in place will reform in 2d6 rounds as a small glacial cube (apply the “young” template to the glacial cube)

Transparent (Ex): The glacial cube is even harder to spot than its dungeon-dwelling kin. A DC 20 Perception check is needed to notice one when in its natural habitat among ice cliffs and snowdrifts. Anyone more than 15 feet away has a 50% miss chance for aimed spells or attacks. Faerie fire, glitterdust, and similar spells render this effect moot, but invisibility purgeor the like do not, for the same reason they don’t make glass windows opaque.

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition

Ah, 4e. The easiest version to design monsters for, hitting a good balance between the “finger in the wind” 1e/2e rules and the “IRS Tax Auditors Give Up” 3.x/PF rules. Well, it would be nice if there were more formal support for non-combat abilities or integration with the rules for PCs, but, you can’t have everything.

Because 4e makes it so easy to run simple monsters on the fly, the shard effect for the 4e version produces minions, which makes it tactically more interesting, in my opinion.

Glacial Cube

Level 7 Elite Brute

Large natural beast (ooze, cold)

XP 600

HP 194; Bloodied 97

AC 21; Fortitude 20; Reflex 17; Will 18

Speed 3

Immune gaze, cold; Resist 10 acid

Saving Throws +2; Action Points 1

Initiative +5

Perception +5

Tremorsense 5

Traits
Translucent
A glacial cube is invisible until seen (Perception DC 25) or until it attacks. Creatures that fail to notice the glacial cube might walk into it. if this occurs, the cube attacks (+13 vs. Fortitude; Hit: Target is immobilized, save ends.)
Standard Actions
m Slam • At-Will
Attack: +12 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 2d6 + 3 damage, and the target is immobilized (save ends).
M Engulf (acid, cold) • At-Will
Effect: The gelatinous cube engulfs one or two Medium or smaller targets who are immobilized and adjacent to it.; The target is grabbed and pulled into the cube’s space; the target is dazed and takes ongoing 10 acid and cold damage until it escapes the grab. A creature that escapes the grab shifts to a square of its choosing adjacent to the cube. The cube can move normally while creatures are engulfed within it.
C Refractive Burst (radiant) • Encounter
Requirements: Must be in sunlight or in bright light.
Attack: Close Burst 5 (All sighted creatures in burst.); +8 vs. Reflex
Hit: 1d10 + 7 radiant damage, and target is blinded (save ends).
Triggered Actions
Shardspawn • Recharge 4 5 6
Trigger: The cube is struck by a blunt weapon, such as a mace, club, or hammer.
Effect (Immediate Reaction): The cube creates a cubeshard within any adjacent square. This does not grant extra XP. No more than two cubeshards can exist at any one time.
Skills Stealth +10
Str 15 (+5) Dex 15 (+5) Wis 14 (+5)
Con 17 (+6) Int 2 (–1) Cha 2 (–1)
Alignment unaligned     Languages
Glacial Shard

Level 6 Minion

Small natural beast (ooze, cold)

XP 63

HP 1; a missed attack never damages a minion

AC 20; Fortitude 18; Reflex 19; Will 17

Speed 6

Initiative +6

Perception +3

Traits
Translucent
Glacial shards are small and easy to miss against ice and snow. If in such an environment, they have +2 to all defenses against ranged attacks originating more than 2 squares away, unless the attacker is not relying on normal vision.
Standard Actions
m Shard Slash (acid, cold) • At-Will
Attack: +11 vs. AC
Hit: 5 cold and acid damage.
M Embedding Shard (acid, cold) • Encounter
Attack: +11 vs. AC
Hit: 5 cold and acid damage, and the glacial shard is destroyed. The target takes 5 ongoing cold and acid damage (save ends). If this kills the target, it dissolves and becomes a glacial shard, which will attempt to flee the area.
Skills Stealth +11
Str 4 (+0) Dex 16 (+6) Wis 10 (+3)
Con 12 (+4) Int 1 (–2) Cha 10 (+3)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

I could add some more author’s notes here, but the fact is, I had this whole thing done EXCEPT for the shard minion, and that took me over two weeks to get around to doing (and only about an hour to do it, including fighting with Adventure Tools because it corrupted my saved monster file), and I don’t want to procrastinate any more.

A Spell For All Time: Acidic Mouth

A Spell For All Time: Acidic Mouth

Dungeons And Dragons Original  Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons  First Edition Dungeons And Dragons Third  Edition Dungeons & Dragons Fourth  Edition

Prior Articles In This Series

Inspired by some guy who was ranting on RPG.net about something. Look, I can’t be expected to remember trivial details like “who said it” and “what was the context”. Anyway…

This is the third in a series of articles showing how the same spell concept can iterate across generations. The first two were created by randomly rolling terms from a sourcebook. This one was, as noted above, inspired by RPG.net. I suppose I could do a whole bunch of those… “Induce Nerdrage”, “Unbias Moderator (Enchantment, Mind Affecting, Yeah Good Luck With That)”, “Greater Topic Drift”, “Celestial Banhammer”… uhm… wait, where was I again?

(Yes, it’s another iteration of Lizard going off an unrelated rant that has nothing to do with the subject at hand, and then pretending he’s talking out loud, not sitting at a keyboard using an editor, which means, he could just edit out stuff he knows is stupid and irrelevant, but he doesn’t, because he thinks it’s funny to pretend he is just writing this into a live feed and so can’t go back and correct things, which he self-evidently can, because he just fixed three typos. This is Overused Internet “Humor” Cliche #781.)

So. Acidic Magic Mouth.Don’t look for some kind of meta-reference in the name; the poster was talking about the limitations of the D&D magic system (basically, he wants Mage: The Ascension, and there’s nothing wrong with M:TA that 10,000 screaming White Wolf fanboys haven’t already written about at great length, but it’s not D&D), and he said something like “What if I want a magic mouth that spits acid?”, which struck me as pretty darn cool. So, here it is, dude whose name I’ve forgotten. In four versions.

Dungeons and Dragons, Original  Edition

Original D&D (“Brown/White Box” + Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry)

(As published in The Dragon’s Review Of Dungeon Strategy, Issue 21, “The Magical Mouths Of Mourdlane The Magical”)

Third Level

Mourdlane’s Acidic Mouth: This spell functions exactly as does magic mouth (Greyhawk, p. 22), and the magic-user must have that spell inscribed in their book to be able to learn this one. In addition to the normal functions of the mouth, this one can spit a gout of acid doing 4-24 points of damage to all creatures within 10′ of the mouth. It can do this either on a specific condition (“When a man in armor approaches”), or if a word is not spoken within 1 round of it delivering its message (often, this is a riddle or “What’s the password?”). It can be made permanent by using permanent spell, otherwise, it acts as a normal magic mouth.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons,  First Edition

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition

(As published in “Unearthed Arcana II”)

Acidic Mouth (Alteration/Conjuration)
Level: 4

Components: V, S, M

Range: Special

Casting Time: 2 segments

Duration: Special

Saving Throw: 1/2

Area of Effect: One object

In most ways, this spell is identical to magic mouth (Player’s Handbook), in regards to the limitations placed on the number of words spoken, how far the mouth can detect beings, what sort of information it can glean about those beings, and so forth. Indeed, this spell is presented in most magic-user’s books as supplemental to the aforementioned dweomer, and so that spell is required to be scribed in the same book as this in order for the caster to properly memorize it.

Acidic Mouth differs in that a second condition, pursuant to all the same limitations as the first, may be placed upon it, and if this second condition is met, the mouth disgorges a spew of caustic acid, striking all in a 20′ cone in front of it and doing 4d6 points of damage (save vs. magic for 1/2 damage). The second condition may be dependent upon a response or reaction to what the mouth says, or it may be triggered without the mouth speaking. Any conditional response must occur within one round of the speech.

The material component for this spell is a bit of honeycomb and a fresh lemon.

Note To Dungeon Masters: Be strict about the time limits of response. A stopwatch or egg timer can be a useful adjunct to this spell. The acid will burst within one round, so those asked a riddle must respond quickly, without undue chatter and consultation among the group. This can be a useful lesson for those sorts of players who dawdle and dilly-dally over the smallest thing. Also note that their screams of anguish as the caustic fluids eat into their skin may attract wandering monsters.

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Second Edition

There was no version of this spell in AD&D 2e, as Lorraine Williams felt it lent itself to vomit jokes, which might offend someone, somewhere, somehow.

Dungeons & Dragons Third  Edition

Dungeons & Dragons, Third Edition, Revised

(As published in “Arcanum Obscurum”, 2007)

Magic Mouth, Mourdlane’s Acidic

School:  Illusion (Glamer)/Conjuration

Level: Assassin 3, Bard 3, Wizard/Sorcerer 3

Casting Time: One standard action

Components: V, S, M (a comb of honey and a fresh lemon)

Range: Close (25 ft.+5 ft./2 levels)

Target: One creature or object

Duration: Permanent until discharged.

Saving Throw: Will negates (object), also Reflex half (see below)

Spell Resistance: Yes (object), No (acid, see below)

This spell is a variant that builds upon magic mouth (q.v.), and if this spell is prepared (or known to a spontaneous caster), they can choose to cast it as a simple magic mouth, as well. All of the normal rules for determining what may trigger the mouth, as described in the base spell, apply. However, there is a secondary trigger that can be added which, if tripped, will cause the mouth to shoot forth a burst of acid doing 6d6 damage, in a 30 foot cone, originating from the mouth’s square. This trigger may be “Fails to hear a specific word after delivering its message”, which is usually a riddle of some sort. However, it is often the case that the need to speak a word or take an action, such as making a particular sign with one’s hands, is not specified by the mouth; those who are “supposed” to be in the area will simply know what to do. The maximum delay between finishing the message and making a response is three rounds; at this point, the mouth will make the attack. Note that the trigger does not have to relate to the message at all; an acidic mouth can be set to speak its message if “any dwarf approaches within 20 feet” and to shoot acid if “any orc or goblin approaches within 10 feet”, for example.

A spellcraft check (DC 18) can determine if a given magic mouth is of the standard or acidic variety. A use magic device check (DC 25) can cause the mouth to perceive the trigger for spitting acid is either passed or failed, depending on the skill user’s choice.

This spell may be made permanent with a permanency spell.

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth  Edition

Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition

As published in Arcane Heroes, 2014

Acidic Mouth

The mouth set into the stone chuckles as the wrong password is given, then spews forth a great wave of acid at the unfortunate adventurers!

Level: 3

Component Cost: 50 gp

Category: Warding

Market Price: 125 gp

Time: 5 minutes, see below.

Key Skill: Arcana

Duration: Until discharged

This ritual must be performed within one hour of performing a Magic Mouth ritual, and on the same object or surface. When completed, the caster can choose a second condition which will, if met, cause the mouth to make an attack (see below for the exact parameters). The second condition may be set to trigger after the mouth has spoken, up to a maximum of three rounds later — this is often done to cause the mouth to ask a riddle, and it will spit acid “if the riddle is not answered correctly”. However, any otherwise legal condition is permissible, including spitting acid without speaking the message, if the two conditions do not overlap.

Arcana Roll Attack
<=8 None. The ritual fails. All components are lost. Really, this should never happen. What kind of schmuck doesn’t have at least a +9 Arcana if they’re casting a ritual in the first place, huh? I mean, you get 5 for training, plus your Intelligence bonus, + 1/2 level, right?
9-12 Close Blast 2, +5 vs. Reflex, 2d6 Acid, Ongoing 2 acid (save ends)
13-20 Close Blast 3, +6 vs. Reflex, 3d6 Acid, Ongoing 3 acid (save ends)
21+ Close Blast 3, +7 vs. Reflex, 3d8 Acid, Ongoing 5 acid (save ends)

 

 

 

On a miss, the acid does half damage and no ongoing. The DM should note the attack roll and damage of any such mouth placed as a trap.

The Magic Of Magic

The Magic Of Magic

Once again, this a is reply to, and expansion of, some of the WOTC articles on 5e. Here’s the original article, and here’s my (two) original replies, and after this, we’ll get even more ways to say the same thing using slightly different words.

First off, let’s put a stake through the heart of the myth that magic items used to be “rare” or “mysterious”. Everyone had all the rulebooks and memorized them, as far back as the game existed. To the extent there was every any mystery, it was always for new players who hadn’t yet memorized the rules, and trying to reclaim that feeling is like trying to get back your virginity. Ain’t gonna happen. As for rare… two words: Monty Haul.

If you decide that you won’t build in the assumption that players will gain magic items, then, you basically break the game’s math, because they WILL gain them, in great profusion. If you scale monsters and difficulty levels on the assumption most players won’t have magic items, that’s like designing a video game on the assumption most players won’t go to hint sites or read guidebooks. It’s just not how things work, or how things EVER worked, and I’m really worried that people caught up in this nostalgia kick are apparently doing no research as to how games ACTUALLY PLAYED back in the 1970s and 1980s, and how most of the design decisions being rejected were the direct consequence of fixing actual old school play, not rose-colored fantasies of a playstyle that never was.

That said, having backstory and myth and cool minor powers attached to magic items is something any competent DM does all the time; it’s nice if this is mentioned in the rules and guidelines provided, but it’s hardly the sort of thing we’ve all been waiting on the rules to “let” us do. It’s baseline DMing, it’s what we do by instinct. Also, and this is important, it’s done for our own pleasure, as players either a)ignore such fluff, or, b)obsess insanely over it, warping the entire campaign over some off-hand bit of color, because somehow it’s got stuck in their minds that this is the key to EVERYTHING and the DM wouldn’t have put it there if they weren’t meant to pursue it at all costs.

Second reply:

Just to elaborate, here’s the reality of actual play:
DM:”You see an odd suit of armor. It is formed of battered dark iron, inset with many pieces of stone, all in tones of greys and blacks, such as smoky dark quartz and obsidian mosaics that form primitive, but intricate, patterns. There are signs that the suit has seen much battle,  as it is dented and scraped, although clearly still sturdy and wearable. The helmet for the suit is hammered into the shape of a bull’s head, and…”

Player: “Right, gorgon armor. +2, immune to petrification, yadda yadda. Page 125 in the DMG. Does anyone wear plate? Oh, and if he’s handing this out, it means we’re going to be facing medusae or basilisks or something, everyone make sure you’ve got Scrolls Of Protection From Petrification at the ready. Oh, I guess, technically, I should roll to know that… roll…. 24 on my arcane knowledge check, there, that’s done, what’s the next item we looted? It better be a +2 sword, I’ve been carrying this +1 piece of crap for three levels now. Cheapass DM!”

THAT’S the reality of play, from 1974 to 2012, and beyond, and nothing in the rules can change it.

Now, let me go on a bit…

Consider the following:

“The blade, known in lore as Restgiver, is a greatsword in form, the general style and artistry reflective of the Theatian culture which forged. The hilt is of bone, reputed to be of a lich, and carved with patterns of skulls deformed in seeming terror. The blade itself is of metal so pale as to seem almost white. Histories tell that it was forged from the fragments of blades taken from such beings as liches, death knights, and skeleton warriors, and it was tempered in both holy water and in the ectoplasm of ghosts bound to the forge where it was made. Its innate magics make it lighter, sharper, and faster than even the finest mundane blade, making it a fit prize for any warrior, but it shows its purpose when it confronts the undead, as it is designed to give them rest. When wielded against any once-living being still animated by foul magics, it is even deadlier than a normal blade of its ilk would be, and it cuts and bites into the faintest wisp of a ghost or a phantom as if they were made of solid flesh. While it has no true soul or spirit animating it, those who wield it report that they feel some sense of warmth or joy when the prospect of returning the dead to their grave is mentioned in its presence.”

And

“Greatsword +2 bane (undead), ghost touch”.

They’re both the same thing.

The rules exist to give you the tools to make the latter. Adding the former is up to you; the rules can’t give you that.

(Oh, and I just posted most of that back on WOTC’s boards anyway; so it goes. It’s not like anyone’s paying for this site.)

A History Of Facile Video Game Comparisons

In Convenient Chart Format

Year Edition Video Game
2000 Third
2008 Fourth
2012 Fifth

Discuss.

Acid Sands

Acid Sands

Yes, it’s actual content! A hazard for Earth Delta. (I told you it’s not dead, just pining for the fjords.)


Acid Sands

There are many places in Earth Delta where caustic chemical wastes and industrial metamaterials have combined to form pits of ultra-fine particles that in a corrosive suspension. These hazards often merge imperceptibly with the surrounding landscape, and are avoided by the local natives and wildlife (well, those who don’t avoid them tend to suffer the consequences…)

Acid Sands may be as small as a single square or cover an area 20 or more squares on a side. Large patches are rarely perfectly regular, and often have “solid” areas within them and/or wider and narrower regions.

A DC 22 Nature check or DC 30 Perception check is needed to identify a region of acid sands before someone has actually entered it; once tipped off to the existence of the hazard, the DCs to identify which squares within 5 squares of the observer are acidic drop to Nature 15, Perception 22.

Any non-flying creature entering acid sands is slowed and takes 2d6+5 acid damage. (See below for exceptions.)

Any creature starting their turn in acid sands takes 2d6+5 acid damage, and must make a DC 15 Athletics check as a free action or become immobilized. On the second turn of being immobilized, they become restrained. On the third turn, they are submerged in the acid, and begin to drown, but unless they have acid resistance, it’s likely the acid will kill them first. They can continue to make Athletics checks; once they succeed, they can move normally (albeit slowed) until they fail the check again (at which point, the cycle begins anew) or they leave the pit.

Anyone who can reach a trapped character (with a rope, branch, arm, etc) can try to pull them out as a standard action. The is a DC 15 Athletics check, or DC 22 if the trapped character is carrying more than a normal load. (This assumes the trapped creature is willing to grab the proffered branch, has a free limb to do so with, etc.) A creature who has sunk below the surface cannot be easily rescued in this manner. (They are considered to have total concealment, and vice-versa; DMs should consider the various mechanics and options which can negate such concealment and take them into account if players devise cunning plans, as they are wont to do.)

Characters who do not make ground contact (robots with hovering capacity, some types of mutants, etc.) can move freely across acid sands. Creatures who can walk on liquid, but who still make contact with it, take half damage but do not sink. Flying creatures suffer no particular penalties, unless they cannot hover, or are knocked into the sands while not flying, etc. If immobilized in the sands, they cannot fly out; if not immobilized, though, they are also not slowed, though they do take damage from the acid. (At the DMs discretion, creatures whose flight cannot be physically restrained, such as those who fly via telekinesis or anti-gravity, may be able to avoid being immobilized, or they may get a bonus on the Athletics check to break free.)

Any creature who takes more than 20 points of acid damage from the pits in an encounter has the bonus from their armor reduced by 2 (but not to less than 0) until an extended rest. Any creature taking more than 40 points of acid damage in an encounter has the bonus from their armor reduced by 2 until an Easy Technology check at the level of the armor is made during an extended rest.

The acid sands described above are a level 15 hazard. DMs can adjust the DCs and damage upwards or downwards as needed.


Design Notes: It occurs to me that a true Bastard DM could increase the damage by 1d6 after the character is restrained, and again after they’ve sunk into the pit, to reflect the greater exposure.

An interesting scenario using this hazard could be to place an artillery type monster (possibly an industrial robot which is immune to acid, or which is somehow supported above it, or on a rocky outcropping, or whatever) in the center of it, making it harder for the party’s melee types to close with it. This hazard also lends itself to any place with dangerous catwalks, or to mutant creatures or sapient beings with good forced-movement powers.

On a more meta-rules noted, this is a good example of what I consider to be the right balance of explicit rules and player creativity. (Well, obviously, if I considered it to be wrong, I’d just keep editing it…) To my mind, simply saying, “It’s acid quicksand.” and leaving the DM to decide what the effects might be puts too much burden on the DM to come up with rules on the fly and have them be consistent from week to week — nothing is worse[1] than having the laws of the universe change because the DM has a bad case of CRS. (“Can’t remember shit.”). On the other hand, it’s not possible to list every conceivable combination of abilities and situational modifiers. What I’ve tried to do is address the basic “physics” of the hazard (You get in it, you corrode and sink) and the most common and obvious questions and countermeasures (you can hover over it, you can fly over it, flying creatures who are forced into it will be gummed up, you can pull someone out, etc.). Now, it’s pretty likely any DM worthy of the screen could reach most of these conclusions on their own, but why make him do extra work when it’s the designer’s job to solve these problems for him? Even simple things like “OK, you want to pull him out… uhm… how hard should that be?” are things the DM should not need to waste time solving at the table. Given the data points provided, though, as well as gently nudging the DM towards what factors he should consider when making judgment calls (such as encumbrance level and whether you’re above/below the surface and visible to others), the amount of at-the-table work the DM needs to do ought to be minimized.

[1]Well, OK, being eaten alive from the inside by rabid weasels is probably worse. But it’s a close call.

Pyreflies

Pyreflies

More Earth Delta Critters

Slowly, painfully, Earth Delta inches towards the revised goal of being complete for levels 1-20, as I fill out the last of the level 16 monsters and plod on towards level 17! I will be honest — I’m not entirely happy with the Blightburn. It went through a whole lot of revisions and changes while sitting in the Monster Builder, and it still isn’t what I want it to be, even for a first pass. I’ve got a really clear mental image, but it’s hard to come up with the right mix of powers that are fun, playable, and fit the creature’s role. I mean, it doesn’t completely suck, or I wouldn’t be posting it at all, but I know it can be better.

One Of The Main Inspirations for Earth Delta

Part of it is the issue of role, one of the 4e hobgoblins of my little mind, in that I tend to think more in terms of “This is this, you know, thing, right, and it lives in this world, right, and so, it does this and this and the other, because, you know, that’s what this thing does.” The “role” it fills, if any, flows from its nature. 4e, however, inverts that: Nature flows from role. (It’s worth noting that the developers… including those who cheerleaded (cheerled?) “Role first!” in the run-up to 4e, have now done a perfect 180 for 5e, which I heartily applaud, but it would be nice if they explained how they came to recognize their sins and did a little Maoist self-criticism. Not going to happen, I know. Wait, where was I?) So I started with soldier, but the problem is that soldiers are best in groups, and while there are solo soldiers, most of what makes a soldier “soldier-y” is his ability to draw attacks and act as a defender, pointless in a solo. (“You’re marked, you get a -2 to attack anyone but him.” “You see anyone else on the battlefield?”) I then went with controller, but the power mix isn’t “gelling” properly. The easy out is brute — brutes are trivial to design as solos — but I have enough brutes and I wanted to get more variety. So, the Pyrefly Blightburn is still, pardon the pun, half-baked. The basic Pyrefly, I think, works well. I keep getting ideas to do a “Vampyrefly”, and the way in which Blight thematically damages healing surges certainly makes that plausible. The blightburn is halfway there, as it is, and maybe I need to shove it all the way there… or do the blightburn as an elite soldier, and the Vampyrefly as the solo controller, beginning fresh… hmmm…

Yes, I actually do just think and type what I’m thinking, word for word, literally.

In other news, I’ve also been working on my favorite on/off project, Stellar Warriors, which is back to being Pathfinder based. A little work on classes (mostly just changing flavor text) and weapons (two, two kinds of high-tech whips! Ah ha ha!), and, uhm, something else, don’t recall what. Bugger.

Anyway, the critters!


Pyreflies

Possibly related distantly to the thermite, pyreflies are man-size or larger insects commonly found in areas with high background radiation. They strongly resemble giant wasps, but their abdomen is grossly distended and glows with a brilliant, slightly sickening, energy. They can channel this energy into narrow beams, or trigger eruptions of brilliant light. When badly wounded, they respond by igniting the region around them, hoping to incinerate their attackers.

Pyrefly

Pyrefly

Level 17 Artillery

Medium natural mutant beast (insect)

XP 1,600

HP 126; Bloodied 63AC 29; Fortitude 28; Reflex 30; Will 29

Speed 4, fly 10

Resist 10 fire; Vulnerability 10 cold

Initiative +15

Perception +12

Traits
O Glow • Aura 5
The pyrefly’s aura is a region of bright light. It produces dim light in a further 5 squares, for a total illuminated area of 10 squares (5 bright, 5 dim).
O Brilliant Radiance • Aura 1
Any non-blind creature within the pyrefly’s aura is considered to be blind unless they have appropriate countermeasures, such as Resist (Radiant), sunglasses, and so on.
Standard Actions
R Tailbolt (radiant, fire) • At-Will
Attack: 20; +23 vs. AC
Hit: 2d10 + 14 fire and radiant damage.
A Flare (fire, radiant) • Recharge 4 5 6
Attack: Area 3 (All creatures in blast); +21 vs. AC
Hit: 3d6 + 9 fire and radiant damage, and targets are blinded (save ends).
m Tail Smash (fire) • At-Will
Attack: +22 vs. AC
Hit: 2d8 + 12 fire damage.
C Immolation Burst (fire, radiant) • Encounter must be bloodied
Attack: Close Burst 3 (All creatures in burst); +21 vs. Reflex
Hit: 4d6 + 9 fire and radiant damage, and target is blinded (save ends) and takes ongoing 10 fire (save ends). In addition, the entire area of the attack becomes a zone which does 10 fire damage to any creature entering the zone or starting their turn there. This zone lasts until the end of the encounter.
Str 15 (+10) Dex 24 (+15) Wis 18 (+12)
Con 18 (+12) Int 2 (+4) Cha 21 (+13)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

This is a typical adult pyrefly. It will normally be encountered with others of its kind, or share a feeding area with creatures also comfortable in the radioactive zones. Pyreflies are primarily nectar-eaters, and have evolved to eat the highly radioactive nectar and saps of the plants that live in the same ruins they do; it is this mix of highly irradiated organic chemicals which give them their abilities. Creatures which are generally resistant to the pyrefly’s abilities often hunt or feed in the same areas, using the pyreflies as de facto bodyguards.

Common Mutations

Some pyreflies have wings which channel the same eerily glowing radioactive luminescence that fills their abdomen. When viewed through the crystalline exoskeleton that forms the wings themselves, the light takes on shimmering, rainbow hues which have a sort of psychic resonance with most organic life. Pyreflies will often use this ability when closely surrounded or threatened, giving them ample opportunity to retreat and blast their enemies, or just fly away unharmed.

 

C Hypnotic Wings (radiant, charm) • Encounter
Attack: Close Burst 5 (All non-blind enemies in area); +18 vs. Will
Hit: Creatures are Immobilized and Dazed (save ends both).

Pyrefly Blightburn

Pyrefly Blightburn

Level 16 Solo Controller

Huge natural mutant beast (blightspawn, insect)

XP 7,000

HP 628; Bloodied 314AC 30; Fortitude 29; Reflex 27; Will 28

Speed 6

Immune blight; Resist 10 fire; Vulnerability 10 cold

Saving Throws +5; Action Points 2

Initiative +10

Perception +12

Tremorsense 10

Traits
O Sickening Aura • Aura 3
Any non-blightspawn in the aura only regain half the normal hit points from any healing powers. In addition, this aura provides dim light.
Bleeding Blight
When the Pyrefly Blighburn is bloodied, it gains the Bleeding Blight power. See below.
Standard Actions
m Bite (blight, fire) • At-Will
Attack: Reach 2; +21 vs. AC
Hit: 3d8 + 11 blight and fire damage, and ongoing 10 blight and fire damage (save ends).
m Tail Slap (blight, fire) • At-Will
Attack: +21 vs. AC
Hit: 4d6 + 5 blight and fire damage, and the target is knocked prone.
M Pyrelash • At-Will
Effect: The pyrefly blightburn may make up to 3 melee basic attacks against any targets in range, dividing the attacks among legal targets as desired. If all 3 attacks miss, Blighted Burst immediately recharges.
C Blighted Burst (blight, fire) • Recharge
Attack: Close Burst 5 (All creatures in burst); +19 vs. Fortitude
Hit: 3d6 + 8 blight and fire damage, and ongoing 10 blight damage and weakened (save ends both).
Miss: Half damage, and creatures hits are weakened (save ends).
Minor Actions
Stunted Flight • At-Will
Effect: The Pyrefly Blightburn gains a Fly speed of 10 until the end of its next turn.
A Burning Blightspit (blight, fire, zone) • Recharge 4 5 6
Effect: Area Burst 1; This creates a zone of blighted, burning, terrain. Any creature entering the area, or starting their turn there, takes 10 blight and fire damage. Any creature which ends their turn there loses a healing surge. The zone lasts until the end of the encounter or until the pyrefly blightburn creates a different zone.
Blightfeeding (healing) • At-Will
Effect: (Any creature within 2 squares of the Pyrefly Blightburn that is taking ongoing blight damage.); The target creature stops taking damage, and the Pyrefly Blightburn heals 10 hit points.
Triggered Actions
Bleeding Blight (blight, fire) • At-Will
Trigger: The Pyrefly Blightburn takes damage from a melee attack.
Attack (Immediate Reaction): +19 vs. Reflex
Hit: 3d6 + 4 blight and fire damage. .
Str 24 (+15) Dex 15 (+10) Wis 18 (+12)
Con 21 (+13) Int 2 (+4) Cha 21 (+13)
Alignment unaligned     Languages

Pyrefly Blightburns are bloated, hideous creatures, resembling their smaller kin in general outline only. Normally landbound, with shriveled wings, they have a charred black-and-grey exoskeleton and sunken, hollow, pits for eyes. Their abdomen continues to throb with a strange, swirling, miasmic glow, and beneath their ashen flesh, there are occasional sparks of actinic energy. They exist without much purpose, wandering the blight-infused ruins, leaving radioactive fire and crumbling, dead, ground in their wake. When they sense life that is untainted by the blight, they attack with a mindless fury.

Making Magic Magical

A common complaint I see on RPG boards is that “magic should be more magical”. The lack of “magicalness” is often cited as a reason to dislike some new version of a game, or otherwise waved around as a generic failure that explains why nothing is fun anymore and everything sucks and it’s just not like it was in the old days.

Virtually identical tones, if different in actual details, can be found on every MMORPG board, and it all basically boils down to “You can’t lose your virginity twice”, a metaphor which is, admittedly, a bit problematical when dealing with some MMO players. But I digress. (Yeah, I’ve made that joke before. Hey, you go with what works, you know?)

Anyway, to focus on the topic on hand… no system of rules will make magic magical. The reason why is in that very sentence. It’s a system of rules. No matter how the game is dressed up in folderol like “arranging motes of quintessence in order to transform will into power”, it boils down to “Roll 4d10 and add your Majik1 Enlightenment to blast the zombie into dust.”

A common response to this is, “Well, sure, there are rules, but the game and the world can make magic mysterious, and magical!” Partially true… but not nearly so much as some people think or want, and here’s why. When discussing D&D, or dungeon crawly/medieval fantasy in general,  magic is usually quite common in actual play, even if the rules say it isn’t. Face it, if you’ve got a book of spells, and a book of items, and a book of monsters, you want to use most of them. You don’t want your heroes spending all their time fighting normal humans with normal weapons… unless your name is “George R. R. Martin”, who can literally describe characters eating breakfast and make it compelling reading.

Rules For Breakfast Not Included

(Yes, I know what “literally” means. I do not mean ‘figuratively’ or ‘as an exaggerated example’. I mean, when George R. R. Martin writes about what his characters eat, just the normal mundane foods they consume, he does it in a way that is interesting enough that it serves to draw you into the world, not make you yawn and wonder when he’s going to get on with the plot. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say few, if any, of the people reading this are that skilled at DMing.) You want your characters fighting vampiric half-dragon wolves with flaming vorpal swords! (You can read this as “the characters are using the swords” or “the wolves are using the swords” — either works.) So the world is going to be steeped in magic and monsters, and that’s that.

This is a “best case” scenario, where only the PCs, and their key antagonists, have access to magic, akin to older high fantasy like Lord Of The Rings.

Rules For Second Breakfast Not Included

The NPCs may oooh and ahhh and swoon over the magic, but there’s still no getting around the fact that the players know exactly how many plusses Gorthandiril, The Lost Sword Of The True Kings Of The Far Lands, has, and how much better it is than a mundane sword, and that they’ll toss it down a well if a sword with more plusses shows up. Even in this case, if the campaign is long, the amount of magic in it will invariably creep up, if only to keep the enemies and the players on an equal footing. Further, it’s quite impossible to pull many of the tricks that authors pull when you’re dealing with players. They’ll loot every item they can find, and “mumble mumble doesn’t work for you mumble mumble” grows thin. Even more, no matter what wondrous, enthralling, truly mystical marvel you create, as an item or as a feature of the world, some player is going to find a way to exploit the living crap out of it by treating it as a fact of the world and then reasoning forward from that fact… and that leads us to the more common scenario.

That scenario is, “the world is overloaded with magic”. This is the default scenario for any D&D world, whether you want to admit it or not; you can’t go into any random dungeon and come out with a pile of wands, scrolls, potions, and so on, without realizing “someone made all this stuff, and it was sufficiently replaceable that it was left to molder in some goblin-infested pit until a bunch of sociopathic murderers decided to commit genocide and then loot the corpses”.  If there exist NPCs capable of massacring goblins by sneezing on them (and there usually are), and none of them considered finding, say, a +1 sword in a goblin lair to be sufficient inducement to take an hour or two to clean out said lair, this instantly tells you that a +1 sword is considered to be a pretty darn common thing, even if the fluff text in the rules goes on and on about how rare magic is. If the fluff text says “Magic is rare and precious!”, and then the “sample adventure” has a goblin lair with magic items in it, a bare hop, skip, and jump from a town with NPCs of sufficiently high level that the PCs can’t just skip the goblins and, instead, loot the town… the fluff text is lying.

“Well, what if no one knew there was a magic sword there?”

Do they let the PCs keep the magic sword? Yes? Then the magic sword is virtually worthless.

Let’s put it this way. If a modern day soldier, returning from a battle, has grabbed an enemy utility knife, or even pistol, as a souvenir, he might be breaking some regulation or two, but in reality, no one will care. If he comes back with, oh, an atomic bomb, he will not be allowed to keep it “as a souvenir”. Period. Given how even high-level NPCs in most D&D type worlds react to PCs with magic items (that is, they don’t), barring artifacts and similar world-wreckers, there’s no way to get around it — magic items are common.

Likewise, so are spellcasters. Again, no matter how much the fluff text insists magic is rare and amazing and people stare with wonder at it, if a typical part of a wizard, a cleric, and this year’s variant of gish (fighter/magic-user) can walk through town and go about their business easily enough… magic isn’t rare. (Consider how much fuss was caused in Israel, about 2000 years ago, when one person tossed off a few trivial spells like Cure Blindness, Walk On Water, and Create Food and Drink. Even the highest level spell cast was Raise Dead, which is only fifth level.)

“So? Just because magic is common doesn’t mean it can’t be…. magical, whatever that means!”, says my peanut gallery of straw men, a truly strange mental image.

Except that it does. If it’s common… people know how it works and what it does. Oh, most people might not know everything and there will be a lot of false information. The “why” and “how” might be very mysterious… but so what? I don’t need to know exactly how gunpowder combusts to know, roughly, what a gun can do, how fast it can fire, how many shots it holds. I may not be able to perform the equations that explain how rifling works, but I know what it does and the effect it has on a bullet. A wand of fireballs is no more mysterious, to a typical D&D inhabitant, than a fully-automatic rifle. He may never own one. He may never see one personally, at least, he probably hopes not. He may not be able to describe how it works, or determine, at a glance, how many charges it has left… but he’s heard of them, he knows enough about them that while he may be terrified of seeing one in action, he’s not astounded by it. The reality of its existence is part of his world. We all live surrounded by machines whose exact workings we can barely fathom, and we know of the existence of all sorts of machines we have never personally seen or interacted with.

Attempts to hammer a “sensawunda” into the rules are usually futile. You can make magic much more random and less reliable, but this still doesn’t make magic “magical” — it just makes it more of a case for detailed cost-benefit analysis.

So what’s the solution?

Well, first, players need to realize that what they’re asking for is to have their minds reset to the time when they first discovered RPGs, when they didn’t know how the rules worked or what spells were available or anything, and so of course magic was “magical”. While you could guess what a sword could do fairly easily, you had no idea what a wizard could do, so you actually experienced that sense of wonder, because it was new to you, the player, and that cannot be recaptured by any rules.

Second, the DM and the players have to take up some of the heavy lifting themselves.

Effects need to be described, not just in terms of their game effects, but in their sight, sound, smell, and the way they impact the world. When a character “detects magic”, what are they doing? Hearing odd noises? Seeing colors? Having images flicker into their brain, like forgotten dreams? This responsibility falls on both sides of the screen. If a DM tells you, “You’re detecting strong conjuration magic”, you may tell the rest of the party this, in character, as “There are vibrations here of the sort one usually sees with spells of conjuration… fairly potent ones, too… let me wait a moment more, and see if I can perceive the sub-harmonies that could indicate the type”. Now, of course, this kind of flavor text might strike other people as utterly wrong, exactly the kind of clinical pseudo-scientific “magic” they want to avoid… and that’s fine. The exact way in which the mechanics of the rules are perceived by the people in the game world is something that tends to arise from consensus between the players and the DM.

The game mechanics of 3.x/PF, and to a lesser extent 4e, virtually mandate a golf bag of magic items and a constant swapping of weaker items for better ones. (I’ve found that, in 4e, once someone likes a sword/armor/shield, it’s often best to simply increment the bonus instead of giving them a “new” item. If a flaming sword is iconic to their character, then, instead of replacing the +1 flaming sword with a +2 frost sword, or a different +2 flaming sword, just say, “After the battle, you realize that the ambient magic has been partially drawn into your blade, increasing the potency of the enchantments upon it.” Most players, in my experience, are happy to keep the sword that has become identified with their character, so long as they remain in the right place on the power curve.)

Even if you do have many potions/wands/scrolls, though, it’s possible and desirable to describe them uniquely. A wand of fireballs may be made of charred wood and always smell slightly sulfurous, for example. Potions have varying tastes and textures. Even more, each item may have odd side effects or unusual traits, reflecting the idea that magic is as much art as science. Given two wands of magic missile, for instance, one might emit bolts that fly towards their target with a keening whine, while another bucks and quivers as it discharges.

In conclusion… if you think that the reason things aren’t “magical” enough is that the rules are too well-defined, and that going back to a “simpler” rules set will “bring back the magic”… you’re probably wrong, and you’re going to spend a lot of time being very disappointed. If you want to recapture the feeling of freshness and wonder, bring in some new players — in any edition of the rules — and enjoy seeing the game through their eyes. If you want to make the world more evocative and involving — don’t expect the game to provide you with all the description and imagery that makes it so; do it yourself. As a player, describe what happens when you cast a spell, or the look and feel of your magic items, and ask your fellow players to do the same. As a DM, think about every +1 sword and potion of cure light wounds you hand out, and give them something interesting, even if it’s just a decoration on the hilt or the fact that when you drink the potion, you hear a feminine voice singing “Soft Kitty”.

If You Didn’t Get That Last Joke, Order This

 

1: The more you misspell “magic”, the more magical… I mean, majyckyl… it is.

And STAY Dead!

And STAY Dead!

Assassination In A World Of Magic

The RPGBloggers carnival this month is about assassins, everyone’s favorite black-cloaked n’er-do-wells. My contribution is this collection of items and rituals designed to aid in killing people (and, ideally, not getting caught), when “We can’t question him here… kill him, cut off his head, stuff it in the bag of holding, and carry it with so we can talk to him later” is a perfectly viable strategy, or when the nearly lethal wound you inflicted is instantly healed by some inconvenient cleric a second later. (Or, worse, by some warlord who just shouts at someone until their throat un-slits.)

The items, etc, here, are not so much intended for the assassin class per se, as for anyone, regardless of their class, who engages in the art of removing obstacles from other people’s paths. Assassination, in this context, differs from straight-up combat in many ways: It is usually done solo; the assassin spends time, often days or weeks, studying their victim; and  it is best if no one knows who did it.

While the game mechanics here are for Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition, the ideas should be readily portable to any fantasy game where magic is, if not necessarily cheap or common, both common enough and reliable enough that the rich and powerful will have access to it for protection, and those who would slay them have access to counter-measures. (In most cases, there aren’t counter-counter-measures, because that game tends to have no end.)

Oil Of Eternal Silence

There are few things worse than having your dead victim rat you out. Even when returning the dead to life is out of the question, they can still speak from beyond the grave. Many assassins carry a vial or two of this substance to use if they suspect they were seen or that their target would have a good guess who got them.

Oil Of Eternal Silence Level 5+ Rare

This oil is thin, black, and yet glistens even in darkness. When ignited, the flames make no noise.

Lvl 5: 50 gp

Lvl 15: 1,000 gp

Lvl 25: 25,000 gp

Consumable

Utility Power * Consumable (Minor Action)

Effect:When this oil is poured on a corpse, and ignited, any attempt use speak with dead on the charred remains are stymied, with a penalty to the Religion check equal to the  oil’s level, plus 5 (-10 for the fifth level potion, -20 for the 15th level potion, -30 for the 25th level potion).

Spider Queen’s Caress

This item is named for the drow, fabled masters of poison, but it is uncertain if it truly originated with them or if this is mere folklore, as the mystique of such things is ruined if it turns out it was invented by some cunning kobold shaman.

The Spider Queen’s Caress Level 8+ Rare

It’s clear, tasteless, odorless, and perfectly safe for you to drink right along with your target… assuming no one is also targeting you…

Lvl 8 125 gp Lvl 23 17,000 gp
Lvl 13 650 gp Lvl 28 85,000 gp
Lvl 18 3,400 gp

Consumable

Utility Power * Consumable (Minor Action)

Effect:This poison must be ingested, and can be slipped easily into a target’s drink or food with a typical sleight of hand check, if anyone’s watching. It is virtually impossible to detect, requiring a Hard Perception check at the poison’s level +5 to notice. (Magic that detects poison with no roll or chance of failure will still have a 10% chance of missing this one.)

Once ingested, spider queen’s caress gives the target vulnerability 5 (poison) and a -2 to all saves against ongoing damage or other effects from a poison of its level or lower, until the end of the second extended rest from when they consumed it. This increases to vulnerability 10 (poison) at 18th level and to vulnerability 15 (poison) at 23rd level. In addition, at 13th level, the first save made against any poison attack automatically fails (this is the first save rolled, whether the normal end of turn save or one granted by magic or healing). At 23rd level, the first two saves fail.

Since the spider queen’s caress is not directly damaging, some daring assassins will risk consuming it, if doing so lulls the suspicions of their target.

Blessingbane Weapon

Often, merely hearing that someone has been marked for death is enough to make his friends desert him, but some people have annoyingly loyal companions. This weapon quite literally cuts a victim off from support. While it was originally crafted to prevent someone who was “mostly dead” being restored if a healer happened on him at the last minute, it has also become a useful tool for those whose plans of a quiet slit throat in the night have gone awry, and they must kill their victim in the presence of witnesses.

Blessingbane Weapon Level 4+ Rare

One slice of this dagger, and the target finds that no one can aid him, not even himself.

Lvl 4 +1
840 gp Lvl 19 +4
105,000 gp
Lvl 9 +2
4,200 gp Lvl 24 +5
525,000 gp
Lvl 14 +3
21,000 gp Lvl 29 +6  2,625,000

Weapon: Light blade

Enhancement Bonus: Attack rolls and damage rolls.

Critical: +1d8 necrotic damage per plus, or +1d12 necrotic damage when making a coup de grace

Property: Any attacks you make with this weapon ignore temporary hit points, and directly reduce the target’s true hit point total.

Power (Encounter): Free action.  Use this power after you have damaged a creature with this weapon. Until the end of the encounter, any powers you use that deal ongoing damage to the creature which a save can end impose a -2 penalty to the save.

Power (Encounter): Free action. Use this power after you have damaged a creature with this weapon. Any attempt to make healing checks on the creature suffer a penalty equal to twice the weapon’s enhancement bonus. This lasts until the end of the encounter.

Power (Daily): Free action. Use this power after you have damaged a creature with this weapon. The creature cannot be the target of any beneficial power or effect with the healing keyword. He is not considered an “ally” of anyone, for any purpose, until this effect ends, meaning he will be targeted by area spells which normally do not affect allies, he is not included in any power that allows “all allies” to make an attack, and so on. Likewise, no power he has which targets “allies” will function. This effect lasts until the end of the encounter, or until the wielder of this weapon ends a turn without making an attack against the target.

Rite Of The Deceptive Tongue

While assassins often make a big show of swearing to carry their secrets to the grave, the fact is, many who have sent others to their deaths have no desire to follow after. Torture, magic, or simply a jingling bag of coins can tempt many to spill their guts.

Rite of the Deceptive Tongue

The hooded master of the guild of friendly helpers finished scribing the sign and then waved his subordinate on his way. He knew this was a risky mission, but he knew the killer would die before he revealed any secrets, whether he wanted to or not.

Level: 8

Category: Deception

Time: 10 minutes

Duration: 24 hours

Component Cost: 135 gp

Market Price: 680 gp

Key Skill: Arcana; must also be trained in Bluff to use this ritual.

When this ritual is performed, the target of the ritual, who must be willing, is given a topic or closely related set of topics that he cannot discuss honestly. He will be given a cover story or the like, and he will believe this with absolute sincerity, so that any Insight check will reveal he seems to be telling the truth. The Bluff check of the caster of this ritual, +5, is the DC for any Insight or Arcana check to determine that the target is under magical compulsion. Even if confronted with hard evidence that he’s lying, or threatened with death or torture, the subject of the ritual will either stick to his story, or will “crack” and tell a second, different, lie, but at a -5 penalty to his bluff as it will be forced and obvious.

Acquisition

It is not always easy to find these items; they are fundamentally illegal in most nations, as their purpose is self-evidently the antithesis of weal.  While the default is often to let the players have them if the DM thinks they should, and otherwise not, a less railroady method is possible.

A streetwise check at a hard DC of the item’s level can be made to locate a likely seller. This check is generally impossible in any village of under 500 people, unless the DM has explicitly placed someone there or the village is exceptionally corrupt and criminal — a drow town in the underdark, for example. It is at a -2 to -5 in any town or city of less than 5000, the exact penalty being based on the size of the settlement and the general tone of the place; chaotic cities in evil empires tend to have a thriving black market.

It is reasonable to assume that professional, full-time, NPC assassins who are working in their home cities, or who traveled with a target in mind from the start, will have resources appropriate to their level. If the NPC is forced, by circumstance, to hunt for such items himself (for example, he has joined the PCs as a hireling and was not able to gather all his items before they teleported half across the world), you can just assume he finds what he needs “offstage”, but it can be more fun to roll for it, as above, and then decide what the NPC does if he’s denied access to some of his favorite toys.  This also helps convey a sense of fairness and avoids the problem often seen in 4e, where there’s a giant wall between how the world works for PCs and how it works for everyone else.