Archive for July 2013

Wandering Monsters: Binding Elementals

I am already not a very big fan of elementals in Next, because last I heard for some reason the air elemental has eyes—two at that—and a mouth, and earth and fire elementals have humanoid shapes. Now I guess they change their names and shape when they are bound into service, as if there is some kind of bondage protection program.

Why? Why does summoning an air elemental keep it as an air elemental, but when you tell it to do something it becomes an invisible stalker? Why are not all air elementals normally invisible, except when moving and attacking? That actually sounds like a really cool. Characters would want to ready actions to attack it when it moves or attacks, and while they
could use dust and debris to make it easier to spot, it could use it to
make ranged and area-effect attacks.

Give us a base elemental template, with elemental traits and some general shapes that we can use. Basically let us build our own elementals based on our needs. This would also make it easier to add new elemental traits and shapes later on, so that we do not end up with a bunch of stat blocks for the basic elementals in one monster manual, then a bunch more in another one: all you need to do is just add a block of traits and let us figure it out. Also, make it possible to just summon and bind whatever elementals we want. Bonus points if it is more interesting and engaging than a suite of specific summoning spells.

Equally confusing is the elemental myrmidon. So, someone summons an elemental spirit and...binds it into plate armor? Okay. Again, why? Why does it have to be plate armor? Why does it have to be armor at all? I thought golems were fueled by elemental spirits. This just sounds like they wanted to make sure that we still had use for our archon minis. Admirable, except that it is not particularly compelling, nor does it make sense.

I envision archons as the primordial's first attempt at creating life. They are rough, vaguely human-like. They would not necessarily be wearing armor or wield weapons. In this case genasi would be the improved version. I could see them as cursed genasi, or even incredibly old genasi. Maybe elementals got trapped on the material world for centuries and are simply trying to emulate life. If you want them to be soldiers, why not just make them similar to Eberron's warforged, just with an elemental theme?
July 29, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Building a Better Subclass & Game Math

One of the earliest goals I can recall for Next is to have modular complexity. So whether you like "simple" fighters or 4th Edition's martial exploits, both should be doable, ideally at the same time. Granted we have not seen how this will work, or how everything compares in actual play, but since the designers are still sticking to this mission statement I guess they have something worked out.

Yes, I am skeptical about that goal, and adding the option to build your own subclass to the list does not help as D&D has never had a good history of balancing features. I am not just talking about making them equal with other options at the level that they can be gained (both in and outside of the class that provides them), but
making them viable later on, playing well with each other (which can
create broken or over-powered combinations), or even doing what
they are supposed to be doing.

Still the ability to pick and choose your features, instead of being stuck with an inflexible progression is something that I have been wanting from D&D for awhile now. I have said plenty of times that my main dislike for most of the non-wizard classes is because everyone who picks a class will get stuck with the exact same thing. Sure you sometimes get to pick a few things on the side, but that minor tinkering does little to properly evoke any kind of interesting concept. I feel 4th Edition came the closest in giving me what I want, but I would much prefer something more along the lines of Dungeon World, FATE, or Shadowrun.

Another interesting bit is how they are approaching the game math: attack bonuses, saving throw and skill DCs, stuff like that. The math in D&D has for the most part been pretty wonky, especially in the last two editions:

  • In 3rd Edition monsters were essentially micro-classes. Each type had its own Hit Die and base attack bonus, saving throw, and skill point progression associated with it, which made monster building a nightmare for a variety of reasons. It might have too many hit points, an insanely high saving throw, an ability might have an insanely high attack bonus or save DC, and/or you might just have to lump on bonus feats to shore up its numbers "because".
  • 4th Edition made things simpler, and in my opinion more elegant, by simply having its math based on the monsters role and level. This made it much more likely that a monster would do what you wanted it to, and challenge the players as much as you wanted with minimal "swing" factor and fuss. The only problem I had was that monsters tended to have very similar attack bonuses and defenses across the board, and pretty much level up with you, making your half-level bonus just a pointless number-based arms race.

It has been mentioned several times that hit points, instead of attacks and save bonuses, would be the key method to reflect your character growing in power. The idea is that by reining in all the numbers, your character can still be hurt by a lowly goblin at any level. I like this in theory because it bugged me how in 3rd Edition you would need to pile a bunch of class levels and/or extra Hit Dice on a monster to make it work, or how in 4th Edition that goblins started as level 1 monsters, and if you wanted to throw them at the party at higher levels you wold just level them up to wherever the characters were.

Since that mace can deal anywhere from 1d6 + 2
to 3d8 + 6, with an ongoing 10 (save ends), you've
got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?
That does not mean that the numbers will not grow. They will, just usually not by much. Attacks, checks, and saves will have an expected range of +1 to +6, but "strong archetypes" like a dwarf's Constitution saves and a clerics Sense Motive checks can hit up to +12. That is actually a pretty big range, which concerns me because in past editions the bonus could make tasks that you would expect to be challenging trivial, if you even need to make a d20 roll at all. I am also wondering that if attacks cap at +6 while skills can get twice as high, how that will affect characters trying to do "stunty" things in combat, like swinging from a chandelier, flipping a table, etc.

It is nice to see them acknowledging that things like save-or-screw effects can drastically change the course of a battle. I remember playing in an Eberron campaign where a party of seven fought a pair of cockatrices, but due to a string of unlucky attack rolls and saving throws everyone but the half-orc barbarian got petrified. The problem is that they are still keeping save-or-screws in the game. Reduce the saving throw DC all you want, but having a character's life hinge on the results of a single die roll is still going to result in random, anticlimactic deaths.

Whatever happened to the whole hit point threshold thing? It is not as elegant as 4th Edition's multiple saves, but it still sounded better than what we got in 3rd Edition and before.

Frankly I do not understand why monsters arbitrarily adhere to their mythological origins. If you looked at a medusa you got turned to stone, period, so why did previous editions grant you a saving throw at all? Why does it either petrify you completely, or do absolutely nothing? 4th Edition had a great model, where you had to fail multiple saving throws in order to die. It added tension, and made it easier to use them without a total party kill (you had a chance to run if things started to go south).

Even Shadowrun's basilisks have to sustain their gaze, gradually turning you to stone depending on how many more hits they got on their opposed attribute test, and when it stopped you would gradually return to normal. This meant that you could use them more often, without having to stash a stone to flesh spell nearby in case someone rolls poorly (hopefully not the spellcaster). It also makes them more interesting, because they do something other than just tear out chunks of hit points.

I am also really bothered that spell DCs are going to factor in the spell's level, like how they worked in 3rd Edition. This was precisely one of the many problems with spells in 3rd Edition (not that I have ever liked D&D magic), and why it was incredibly important that you either kept taking wizard levels, or prestige classes that gave you full spellcasting: you needed those higher level spells, with their higher DCs, to improve the odds of your spells sticking against higher CR monsters because of their increased saving throws. At this point all I can hope is that we will get a magic module that makes it interesting and/or sensible.

Finally for skills I think that the skill die is great for avoiding the issue of past editions, where eventually the bonus could eclipse the DC. I also think that each skill should have its own skill die, instead of just using one die for everything, and that there should be more opportunities for increasing skills. You could have skill increases across character level in general, and include categories of skill pickups and increases into the classes. So fighters could use a level up to add or increase a physical skill, while wizards can do lores.

Epiro: Episode 109

Sometimes you can judge a book by its
cover. Its terrible, scarred, vicious cover.
  • Corvus (human ranger 4)
  • Iola (wood elf monk 4)
  • Perseus (human paladin 4)
  • Yllian (high elf wizard 4)
  • Josh's Human Wizard (human wizard 4)
After an almost two-month long hiatusmostly due to conflicting scheduleswe finally managed to get back to Epiro, our D&D Next playtest campaign that admittedly does not always play by the playtest rules.

No one ever said being an adventurer was easy. Or simple.

They had finally hit the last stretch of the journey when they saw a plume of smoke in the distance. After dealing with wights and manticores they would probably have preferred to ignore it, but it was near the road anyway so what could it hurt? From a distance they could tell that it was a caravan not unlike their own, except for the part where it had been torched. This was bad enough, but when they got closer they could see that the charred elven remains had been partially eaten. Ominous enough, but no one could be sure if they had been cooked before or after whoever was responsible decided to chow down.

As Corvus busied himself peeling some valuables from the remains, he noticed tracks leading away from the wreckage. Gnoll tracks, to be specific, which explained the chew marks. There were quite a few of them, so he would have little trouble finding them...assuming they wanted to. Normally they would not, because gnolls are pretty horrible creatures that like to eat you, but figured that there might be survivors. The rest of the caravan did not want to stop, because on one hand they had already been delayed a couple of times, and on the other hand gnolls, so told them to be careful and catch up later.
"Unless you get eaten. Then please stay dead, or at least 
do not come back as a super-powered zombie that 
somehow gets powers based on being partially eaten."
Their destination was a tower in a field a couple miles away. Pretty idyllic, really, except for the numerous corpses mounted on crosses scattered about. From a distance they could see shapes moving about the rooftop, and figured that sneaking would net them better chances. Thanks to the tall grass and my allowing Corvus to make a group Stealth check they were able to sneak up to the keep undetected. At the tower's base Corvus could hear muffled screams coming from within; hopefully when they found whoever was being tortured there would be enough left to make this rescue worthwhile.

Crovus took point trying to scale the wall, using his climbing kit to make it easier on everyone else, but dislodged some stones about halfway up. A gnoll peeked over, getting an eye-full of arrow, and was dead without the 2d10 + 1d6 damage the combination fall and spikes would have dealt. As Corvus tried to orient himself another leaned over the ledge and took a shot at him. Given that he was dangling from a rope he was a pretty easy target, but at least it missed his eye (and failed to drop him 20 feet onto a cluster of spikes). Iola flew up the side of the tower, and with a well-placed spinning kick pitched him over the edge as well.

By the time more gnolls arrived the party had made it to the top. One of them grazed Yllian with an arrow, and he responded with a salvo of magic missiles. It did not kill them, but came pretty close, and allowed the rest of the party to polish them off with minimal effort. While Corvus stopped to pick up his ball bearingsbecause Kamon not only purchased but remembered to use them at some pointand the rest of the party fished about for loot, Yllian did not miss a beat, casting light on his sword and charging down the stairs.

The first room he found was a bedroom judging by the piles of furs and the wet-dog stench. The smell was bad enough on its own, but there were also a pair of surprised-yet-armed gnolls waiting for him. As before one landed a hit with a spear, but before he could respond with some more magic missiling Corvus rolled a bunch of bearings down after him. Fortunately they were more effective this time, but unfortunately this increase to efficacy swung both ways, sending everyone toppling to the floor. Yllian got back to his feet first, and with a souped up pair of missiles took them out in a method that Xykon would have approved of (more so because they did not teleport away).

This routine of gnoll-icide continued for a couple more rooms: Yllian would find a room, kick open the door, get hit, and magic missile whatever was inside. The last room was a, uh, room where live captives were "prepared" and stored for later, and Yllian barged in just as a gnoll had finished giving a human the good old Kalima. He took a cleaver to the chest (in retrospect I really should roll for disease), and to add insult to injury (literally) everyone else in the party bum-rushed them before he could decide with spell slot he wanted to use next.

The only survivor was the as-yet-unnamed freshly generated wizard. Elves were pretty rare despite the party composition, but he also recognized Yllian's family signet and mentioned that he was traveling back to Delos with them as part of a failed diplomatic mission. With no one else to relay the news, Yllian realized that he needed to find his people and explain to them that they would not be getting any help from Epiro against the hobgoblins. With that he said his goodbyes, gathered some supplies, and started making his way back to Sidon so he could catch a caravan to Delos. The new wizard was more than happy to tag along, what with the recent wizard vacancy and all.

As they gave the place a once over before leaving the new wizard on the roster noticed an axe on the ground. It looked like it was made from bone, blackened metal, and a pale, leathery material. Probably human skin, because that is how fiends roll. He cast detect magic on it, revealing a dark, sinister aura, and then picked it up so that he could better examine it, which is generally not a smart move when it comes to things bearing sinister auras. Nothing really seemed out of place to himeven the stuff that should haveand he decided to keep it, because who knows when a hellish axe might come in handy?

Behind The Scenes 
Josh wanted to switch up his wizard from illusions to evocations, which meant that we had to find a way to get his new character in the game. Given that I had planned almost nothing for today's session this worked out fine, because it gave me something to work towards. Initially I figured that I would kill him in some spectacular/anti-climactic fashion, like falling off of the tower onto the spikes below, but since everyone was expecting something like that I decided to buck the trend and have him survive to maybe come back another day.

This session went really fast and loose, with nary a mini or grid in sight. Iola got to fly, which was nice, but otherwise really just punched things, which was boring. I let Corvus make a group Stealth check so that they would at least have a chance to sneak up on the tower. It took a lot longer, was a bit harder, and probably not too "balanced", but I had long since gotten tired of the heavy armor guy ruining everyone's fun the second or third time running my homebrewed version of Keep on the Shadowfell.

As with the last session I let Josh use a combination of detect magic and Recall Lore (magical lore) to try and figure out what a magic item did. I like that Recall Lore gets a shout out in the Magic Items pdf, but think that there should be more reliable methods besides a specific spell. It would be pretty simple to build items so that some properties can be intuited using skill checks, especially if a character spends time examining them during a short or long rest. Specific spells could be useful for an immediate bypass or if the check fails, maybe for certain cases.

Here is an example of what I mean, using the cursed axe from the session (which I just made up on the spot):

The Pincer of Namtar 
This axe was given to a gnoll chieftain by a glabrezu named Namtar, but it was taken when he was betrayed by an up-and-coming member of his pack. It is powered by the blood of sentient creatures, become inert if it goes for more than a day without any. Namtar can communicate through the axe, offering anyone who wields it power, usually in a time of desperate need. He might want your soul, but could just as easily require that you kill someone or destroy something, because as a demon he is not so much about deception or long-term planning. At night the wielder dreams of using the axe to achieve greatness.

Divine Sense: The axe can be detected by divine sense as a fiendish presence.
Detect Magic: The axe is gripped by a dark, sinister aura. It seems to resonate with murderous intent. A Recall Lore (forbidden lore) check reveals that this aura is demonic in origin.
Examination (forbidden lore): Due to the construction of the axe—a combination of bone, flesh, and blackened metalit is likely that this axe was forged on an infernal plane.
Short Rest (forbidden lore: This axe is definitely otherworldly, specifically wherever demons come from. Blood empowers the axe, especially that of angels and the devout. If it goes more than a day without quenching its thirst it grows dormant.
Extended Rest (forbidden lore): A glabrezu created this axe, which serves as a focus for it in the material world. Anyone who bears the axe can speak with Namtar...and vice versa.

(Particularly high checks might reveal more, such as the demon's name.)

Curse: With the exception of uneasy memories and nightmares, viewing the axe is harmless. Once you touch it however, you will not willingly remove it, instead making any excuse possible to hang on to it. If you examine the axe with magic and determine that it is demonic or evil, you will not divulge this information, simply stating that it seems strange.

Property: The axe thirsts for blood. When the axe has been fed at least one drop of blood from a living creature, it gains a +1 bonus to the attack and damage rolls for the rest of the day. This bonus can increase depending on the bargains made and how well you serve Namtar.
Property: When you kill a living humanoid creature with this axe, it deals +1d6 damage for the rest of the encounter. If the creature was a good celestial, or otherwise the divine servant of a good deity (or otherwise notably devout), this bonus increases to +1d8. This bonus increases along with the enhancement bonus (so at +2 it deals +1d6 damage, +3 deals +3d6, and so on).
Property (Attuned): You can cast chaos hammer once per day per attuned property you have with the axe (including this one).
Property (Attuned): You can use the axe to carve through magical effects. This functions like a detect magic spell, except you must strike the object with the magical effect in question (so it may not be good to use in all situations). This ability works once per day per attuned property you have with the axe (including this one).
Property (Attuned): Once per day the axe can shout a word in Abyssal, which functions as a power word: stun, except that it does not work on fiends.
Property (Attuned): Once per day Namtar summons demons to assist you. You are representing Namtar in this instance, so if you embarrass him or treat them poorly then you will have to answer to him.
July 28, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

D&D 4E: Seekers of the Sand

In an effort to try and get paid for my efforts I finally put something up on Drivethrurpg today (technically yesterday, but it was not approved until today): Seekers of the Sand.

It is a collection of "desert"-themed evocations for the seeker--because I know everyone is chomping at the bits for more seeker stuff--that fill up your Heroic tier selections, along with a paragon path if you go past that point, and some magic items to round everything out.

It runs five bucks, because when it was about half as long someone I showed it to said that they would pay that much if I added more stuff, so I did. It did not reflect the cost of me Photoshopping my own cover. That luxury is free.

A Sundered World: Shaman Playbook Draft

We have shown you quite a few locations within A Sundered World, so this time I figured we would change gears and give you a preview draft of the shaman playbook (note that there are level 6-10 moves, but I want to get the initial stuff hammered out first).

Before the Sundering spirits inhabited all manner of objects, from rocks to trees to rivers to mountains. When the Sundering hit many of these spirits many went insane when they were not outright destroyed. A number survived, though most were wounded by the event. Shamans discover these weakened spirits and give them a new home: their bodies. In exchange the shaman is empowered by the spirit, able to do things that she could never do otherwise.

July 23, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Other Elementals

The first look at elementals pertained to generic elementals and genies. I said way back then that I disliked how some of the elementals had a combination of two eyes, a mouth, and/or a humanoid shape. Genies were equally confusing, if for different reasons: apparently they can all fly, create objects, and are "cunning merchants".

Who knew?

Anyway this week we take a look at just a pair of elemental-ish critters, the salamander and xorn (the Sea of Ash gets an honorable mention).

Naming Conventions & Background

The Perks of Being A Myth Junkie

In the Forgotten Realms, there is the kingdom of Cormyr, which is essentially Camelot with war wizards. This works well for FR. You can use names like King Azoun IV and Cormyr instead of Arthur Pendragon and Camelot, because ultimately the archetype of a kingdom built on the ideals chivalry and justice is a familiar one to fantasy readers.

The Forgotten Realms is a new coat of paint on a familiar canvas, and that's one of the things that makes it a great, classic fantasy setting. The intention of a Sundered World however, is to take these familiar archetypes, chuck them into the blender and spatter them on the wall.

July 22, 2013
Posted by Joshua Sorenson

Legends & Lore: Roleplaying

Though Dungeons & Dragons is the iconic role-playing game, there is not much in the game that really rewards or enforces a consistent personality, motivations, goals, etc.

I do not remember if XP penalties were really a thing in older editions, and 3rd Edition had a vague system of awarding 10-50 XP per character level depending on how well the Dungeon Master felt you did. Given how much XP you needed to level up it could be quite awhile before you saw any payoff, which basically amounted to "you might level up one session before the rest of the party".

Luansidhe - The Faerie Moon

Before the great Sundering, the realm of Faerie was a lush, verdant mirror to the Prime Materia, brilliantly teeming with life and ruled by capricious spirits. The ancient tales of the Fey say that the faerie lands had grown out in all directions from Duan, the great World Tree and that the rest of the myriad worlds of the multiverse were but fruit on the end of her branches.

Perhaps it was the splitting of Duan's trunk by the ax of the celestial Chernobog that allowed the Sundering to happen in the first place, but when the veil between worlds was violently torn, the other planes bled into the faerie causing mass devastation. Mortal beings from the Prime ransacked faerie enclaves, while entropic energies from the Netherworld wilted and withered the flora of the perpetual fey springlands.

Panicked...the Fey sought refuge in the last strong of vestige of energies that had permeated their former home, on the great moon Luan. Many of the surviving fey became refuges on the land they renamed to the Luansidhe (Faerie Moon), planting a godtree sapling at each pole, and using their magicks to reshape her face into a more hospitable land for them to settle upon. The fey Summer Court, planted their tree on the light side of the moon, while the Winter Court planted theirs on the dark side of the moon, with the unaligned fey settling the lands between, and the monstrous Fomorians living within the moon's subterranean core.

Summer Court

The fey of the Seelie Court settled in the lands surrounding the Dayspring Tree on the moon's northernmost point. The Dayspring Tree absorbs darkness and toxicity through it's vast system of roots, while radiating a warm, healing aura from it's foliage that gifts the fey people with vitality and longevity. The impurities that are consumed by the great trees roots are distilled into it's fruit, the juices of which are a deadly poison that is highly prized by assassins across the multiverse.

Because of their proximity to the Dayspring Tree's bright, reinvigorating light the fey of the Seelie Court eventually became known as the Summer Court. The fey of the Summer Court are primarily comprised of high elves, satyrs, centaurs and wood nymphs. They revere inspiration, passion, valor and all things that ignite the flames of the heart. Summer fey are widely regarded as producing the most beautiful songs and poetry in the multiverse, but they are also the most openly warlike and imperialistic. They revel in acts of love and pleasure, particularly with members of other species, and celebrate acts of daring and bravery.

Summer Court fey are also renowned for their skill at magically shaping their darkwood trees into weapons and armor. Even their ships are constructed entirely of magically shaped wood (think Jurian tech from Tenchi Muyo). Each Summer Court “Dryark” has a Dryad navigator who establishes a connection with a sapling planted by a fey pilgrim along a path known as the Hamadryad Way”, which then draws the ship toward it in an inexorable fashion.

The court is ruled by the Summer King, known as Oberon “The Black-Handed” and his consort Titania. The Black-Handed is named for his withered and burnt sword hand, an injury he had sustained in a great, ancient battle by plunging a sword wrought entirely of cold iron into the heart of the Fomorian King Arawn – an act that freed the fey people from the cruelty and subjugation of the Fomorians and made Oberon a hero and king.

Winter Court

The Winter Court was once known as the Unseelie Court in the time before the Great Sundering. Long ago when there was a single unified fey court, The Winter Queen Mab was the consort of Oberon. Though the fey don't prize monogamy as mortals do, the Black-Handed's indiscreet dalliance with the mortal songstress Titania was an insult that the prideful queen could not bare. In a rage, Mab fled the court for the lands of the Goblin King Conchobar, taking fully 1/3 of the court with her, and for centuries thereafter dedicated herself to thwarting and undermining Oberon's court.

After the Great Sundering, the Unseelie Court settled the lands surrounding the Eventide Tree, which devours life and light through it's leaves and branches, while bleeding a gloaming coldness into the very ground that in turn protects it's denizens from enemy incursions, which is what keeps the forces of the often indignant Summer King at bay. The fruit of the dusk tree can be distilled to make healing potions and other curatives. It's said that this fruit is an important reagent in rituals that grant eternal youth to mortals, such as the one that granted the Summer Queen Titania her immortality.

Winter Court Fey are guileful and full of pride. They view deftly executed games of intrigue as the highest form of art, and revere cunning, ruthlessness and subterfuge above all. Though they are prone to cruelty and they have no love of mortals, the fey of Winter are not abjectly evil as much as they are insulated and self-interested. This survival mechanism is a necessity in a society where deception, manipulation and casual betrayal are a part of daily life.

The Winter Court Fey, comprised of high elves, changelings and goblinkin, tend to be skilled spies, negotiators and mercenaries. The watershapers of the court can form beautiful sculptures of water richly dyed which are then magically frozen into solid, dry and unmelting ice crystal. In fact, even the weapons and armor of Winter Court warriors are also made from magically shaped and hardened Ice Crystal.

The Winter Court do not have their own means of transdomain conveyance like the Summer Courts' Dryarks. Instead, they have a reflecting pool which acts as a magic portal between their capital city of Frostspire, and it's twin pool in the city of Silverspire at the edge the Bhalen'lad Cluster, where they hire transport to other domains as needed. As a result of this open pathway, they maintain primacy in trade relations with the mortal races.


Ironheart is the name for the cold iron core of the Luansidhe, as well as the home of the imprisoned Fomorian scourge and their king, Arawn the Heartless.

However, the first inhabitants of the moon's core were the cyclops. In the most ancient of times, cyclops were a race of beings created by the clockwork Primordial Antikythron to act as custodians of it's giant mechanical body of spontaneously forming pistons and gears. Slowly, the cyclops attained sentience and will of their own, after which Antikythron banished them along with it's other organic components, becoming a self sustaining monstrosity of independently functioning mechanisms.

The liberated cyclops took refuge on the faerie moon in the time before the sundering, where they lived and worked and crafted, often making forays planetside to trade with the denizens of faerie. When the fey rebelled against their cruel Fomorian overlords, the cyclops formed a treaty with Oberon, fighting alongside the various faerie tribes and helping construct a prison that would hold their mutual enemies for eternity.

The prison of Ironheart is designed as a sphere of pure cold iron, which feeds upon the innate magical energies of the Fomorians, keeping them in a dormant state. Though still physically imposing beings, the powerful magicks that helped them rule over the other fey and threaten the cyclops and races beyond the realm of Faerie are dampened.

After many centuries, the fey forgot about the treaty they held with the cyclops, and after the Sundering they quickly moved to colonize the moon which resulted in a great war between the former allies. To make matters worse, the Dayspring and Eventide trees that were planted to terraform the moon fed on the energies leeched from the Fomorians by their prison, which weakened their magical bonds and allowed them to escape. The Fomorians made a pact with their former gaolers and joined forces with the cyclops, but were ultimately defeated once more by the combined might of the Summer and Winter Courts as well as the Wyld.

Ironheart no longer keeps the Fomorians imprisoned and dormant, but it does serve as their home, having become a great subterranean city in the years since the Sundering where they dwell along with their cyclops allies. The city is ruled by Arawn the Heartless, whose cold iron pierced heart was replaced by another godtree sapling, which fused with the ancient Fomorian king keeping him alive, and giving him great powers and an empathic link to the godtrees of both fey courts. He and his subjects are always scheming ways to reassert dominance over the faerie and peoples beyond the moon.

The Wyld

The lands between the warm embrace of the Summer Court and the Grasping, icy talons of the Winter Court are known as the Wyld. It is a vast expanse of lush, overgrown forestland that is inhabited by wood elves and other fey, as well as firbolgs and awakened animals who live together in independent tribal communities.

The denizens of the Wyld revere freedom and independence above all things, and recognize no king or queen. Though they have no unified ruling body beyond the leadership of their individual tribes, the free fey of the Wyld are unified in support of the Horned King, a sort of folk hero who defies and thwarts the expansion of both Summer and Winter, as well as incursions by Arawn and his Fomorian scourge. This is done through the Wyld Hunt, a practice of meticulously planned and executed guerilla strikes upon the forces and infrastructures of their enemies.

Whereas the Summer Court fey are masters of light and wood magic, and the Winter Court fey are masters of ice and water shaping, the Wyld Fey are masters of magical animal husbandry. Among their number are many awakened animals, such as intelligent, talking beavers and scholarly bison. Wyld Fey are able to form powerful bonds and partnerships with wild animals, who help them cultivate crops, build villages and even fight in battle. Imagine a stampeding army of firbolgs with stone tipped spears charging forth on angry dire bear mounts.

Some Wyld Fey shamans are even able to summon Astral Narwhals for passage tot he outlying territories and planetoids if the ancient beasts deem the fey's cause worthy enough.

No one knows for sure the true identity of the Horned King. He appears as a cloaked and hooded figure in hunter's leathers with stags horns growing from his cowl, and wielding a mighty lightning spear or ornate bow. Some say it is the once mortal bard Taliesin, former husband of Titania who was cuckolded by Oberon. Some say it is Duan, spirit of the original god tree, some say that the Honed King is just a symbol and a diversion, and that it matters not who is beneath the hood.

The Illusory Moon

The Dream Moon, otherwise known as the Monstrous Moon, or the Illusory Moon is the shadow of Luan, the body of an ancient primordial and sister to the world tree Duan. Before the sundering, both Luan and her shadow were visible to the people of the Prime, Fearie and the Netherworld, but after the sundering it can only be seen from the Faerie Moon.

The Illusory moon slowly and inexorably orbits the Luansidhe in phases, much like the moon did before the sundering. Each phase lasts close to a century, and the fey people have come to fear the Dream Moon's waxing and rejoice in it's waning. Despite it's name, and it's incoporeal body, the Illusory Moon is no mere illusion. Though their nature is uncertain, things most certainly live on that moon. The ancient tales call the Illusory Moon the mother of nightmares, and that Luan had sacrificed her life to keep the Monstrous Moon imprisoned within a pocket dimension. It is said that the nightmarish nature of the Dream Moon is what caused the fey to learn the practice of trancing in order to escape the danger of sleep.

Adventure Hooks

  • Pirates and sellswords paid with leprecaun gold have been taking over Ark Branches along the Hamadryad Way, meanwhile Cyclops have annexed the reflecting pool in Silverspire. Why are the Fomorians trying to cut the Faerie Moon off from the rest of the multiverse? Are they finally declaring all out war, or up to something more insidious?
  • A prince of the Summer Court has absconded with a princess of the Winter Court into the Wyld. But is this a simple case of star-crossed lovers, or is this a plot of the Horned King and the wyldlings to undermine the power of the Courts?
  • The Dayspring Tree has been poisoned! It is held within a sleeping state during the waxing fullness of the Illusory Moon, it's boughs and branches quivering in the throes of constant night terrors, tainting the land around it. Who could have done this and why? Surrounded by foes on all sides, the heroes will have their work cut out for them solving this mystery.

July 20, 2013
Posted by Joshua Sorenson

D&DN Q&A: Feats, Feats, And More Feats

I mentioned earlier this week that I am getting to the point where I think that feats should just be dropped from the game, and this week's Questions & Answers column does nothing to dissuade me from this stance. Part of it is that classes will get a variable number of opportunities to boost their already easily "cappable" ability scores, but most of it is the feat philosophy of "you need to only take one feat to be good at a certain thing".

This is similar to an issue I had in 3rd Edition regarding multiclassing, where you could pick up a level in wizard and spontaneously learn every cantrip and a bunch of 1st-level spells, or nab a level in fighter and know how to wear every
form of armor and wield most weapons. What makes it even more bizarre is that
you do not need to know anything about either of these things beforehand.

I get that the pair of example feats have not been "developed or edited", but why does Great Weapon Master require no prior knowledge of how to use any weapons at all? Why does Heavy Armor Master only require that you know how to wear medium armor. According to the article you will need to wait until 4th-level to pick a feat, but does it make any sense at all that a wizard of all classes can become a "master" of big weapons, or a dwarven wizard can be a "master" of heavy armor?

If a player wants to become a master with two-handed weapons and/or armor, then should that not require access to a class that is iconically good with weapons and/or armor? Like, if a wizard wants to get better at weapons she should pick up some fighter levels, which would ideally allow her to pick from a suite of weapon features to more gradually emphasize her training. Same goes for the reverse, where a rogue could dabble in illusions and the like by snagging a few wizard levels.

Of course this approach would require an overhaul of the classes, giving them more options at more levels (or some, as is the case with most of them so far). It would also require spellcasting that remains viable even if you take only a few levels, unlike how it worked in 3rd Edition where in almost every case you had to have full spellcasting. These would both be welcome changes, as I think it would allow for more organic, interesting concepts that editions before 4th made it difficult if not impossible to realize.
July 18, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Plants

I am not sure whether or not I should be surprised that while past Wandering Monsters articles have talked about fey and underdark denizens, there has apparently been no mention of plant-based critters.

I think that I might have used a myconid in 4th Edition, but only as part of a published adventure. I am however certain that I never have in previous editions, published adventure or no, so I had to dig around for a bit to see what they were all about before. What I found kind of painted a pretty interesting creature despite them just looking like
humanoid mushrooms.

For starters you have their spores. They can use one or more types depending on their Hit Dice, which allows them to do things like set out a distress call, allow them to communicate with other creatures, pacify creatures, cause them to hallucinate, and more. Their communities are made up of a number of social groups referred to as circles, which are overseen by a king that is not part of any circles so that he can remain objective in his judgement (which is described as being a pretty crappy job). Their days are evenly divided between periods of rest, work, and recreational "melding" sessions. They abhor violence, so kings use special spores to animate dead creatures to serve as guardians.

I like this because it makes them seem very alien. They cannot communicate with you unless they infect you with spores. If you die, they might cart your corpse back to their king so that he can animate you as a fungus zombie. Their only form of entertainment is telepathic hallucinations, which they "consider to be the reason for their existence". They are peaceful, but because they have a lot of trouble communicating, might be using your friends or family to protect their community, and look so weird that they get a bad rap, which causes them to view other races as psychotic.

Really the only thing I dislike about them is that they look very humanoid: two arms, two legs, two eyes.

Probably. Maybe.
While 3rd Edition did not change them much, 4th Edition made them a bit more "proactive" in the bigger picture, by having them driven a bit crazy by fomorians and constantly expanding their territory. Personally I think that the fomorian-madness was unnecessary, as I could just as easily see them expanding without regard for other creatures because they regard them like we would mushrooms or grass, though it could tie them with other creatures.

I will say that I felt 4th Edition made them so much more interesting mechanically, though if you wanted to play up the sunlight-vulnerability I would have had them all take more damage from radiant attacks. Aside from that unless there is a good reason for them to look humanoid (mutated dwarves, some kind of fungus god copying mankind, experiment gone awry) I would change up their shape quite a bit.

I am pretty sure I threw a shambling mound into an adventure at some point, probably in one of my first campaigns when the characters were wandering around a forest where storm-channeling druids built a pyramid. It made sense given the origins of the monster (animated by lightning!), even if the origin seems kind of strange (animated by lightning?).

I find the resistances out of place. It gains damage resistance because its organs are protected by layers of plant matter? What if you are shoved inside, does that circumvent its resistance? What about a golem, which as no organs at all? What about armor in general? You are protecting yourself with a layer of metal, after all. It has fire resistance because of its slimy composition? Will everything with a slimy composition gain fire resistance?

I am not opposed to these resistances, I am just opposed as to how they seem arbitrarily implemented. If a feature or trait is sufficient to warrant something, then it should apply globally to every creature with said feature and/or trait. If you wanted to go with them as animated plants, then why not make a more basic version of a shambling mound that is a carnivorous plant prior to being zapped.

I would remove lightning from the default shambler, maybe make a variant geared around lightning (stormrage shambler), give it a better origin (guardian spirit, reincarnated druid, biodegradable construct made by druids, etc), and reduce its intelligence to around 2-5 (unless it is a spirit or druid).

Now I have used treants on a variety of occasions, from guardians to guides, and they have not changed much over the editions, including for some reason being really good at demolishing buildings. Do not get me wrong, I would think that most Huge creatures with a sufficiently high Strength would be good at breaking things, it is just that nothing about giant tree-men really screams "inherently superior at smashing buildings".

Actually now that I think of it the same goes for their ability to animate other trees. I think that treants should come in a variety of sizes (potentially with access to nature magic), with massive "legendary" treants being able to animate trees, perhaps even grow new treants. I would also limit their damage resistance to bludgeoning and piercing weapons. Makes a lot more sense than just global resistance.

Legends & Lore: Meaty Feats

I have talked about feats a couple of times already, so to sum up my prior experience I will say that I felt 3rd Edition feats to be a pretty even mix of trap and boring choices, while 4th Edition did it one better with some very nice-yet-boring choices/feat taxes, very interesting and thematic ones, and a smaller-but-still-noticeable percentage of traps.

It was mentioned awhile back that as part of the design goal to make the game appealing to players with varying complexity needs, feats would be optional; if you waive them you instead would get to add +2 to an ability score. This approach would also have the added benefit of replacing the simple math boosters/feat taxes like Weapon Focus and Great Fortitude.

This caused a couple of concerns.

One was how they would balance classes that get more ability score boosts than the rest. Another was that thanks to racial and class bonuses it is very easy to hit the ability score cap early and often, meaning that you could feasibly waste half the bonus if you had a 19 in the stat. Finally, and this is a very big issue, if you can mix-and-match ability score boosts and feat-feats, would not most players just load up on some stat-boosts until they capped out and/or got high enough level to pick a really interesting feat, especially if the higher level feats provide better offerings?

This week's Legends & Lore at least addresses the second point (you can choose either +2 or a +1 split), as well as showcases a pair of feats that, while maybe not being actual feats, still give us an idea of what we might expect to see:

  • Great Weapon Master gives you proficiency in heavy weapons, lets you make an attack at -5 to deal double damage, and if you score a crit or drop an enemy you can make a free attack, while 
  • Heavy Armor Master gives you proficiency with heavy armor, as well as a bonus to AC and damage reduction in anything but name.

Both are certainly meatier when compared to past editions, though they have their share of issues:

  • Why are either suffixed with "Master"? Except for Heavy Armor Master it looks like anyone of any level can take them (including, say, a wizard), and that one just requires that you know how to put on any suit of Medium armor.
  • Is anyone going to take a -5 to hit except under extremely favorable conditions? I am talking a combination of a low target AC, attack advantage, and/or magical bonuses to offset this. If you can reliably get this stuff, then it is awesome because it is just a flat double-damage. Otherwise...meh?
  • Why is the damage resistance from Heavy Armor Master based on Constitution? It is insanely easy to top out at a +5 bonus (even at the start of the game), and at the rate monster damage scales I cannot see it being useful for very long. This is a very good combo for a dwarf, especially the mountain dwarf, which starts out proficient in medium armor regardless of class.

The last bullet is to me very problematic, as I do not think the designers intended to make a feat that at a glance seems appropriate for tanks, yet incredibly appealing to casters. This is another reason why I am starting to think that feats should mostly be scrapped in favor of just giving characters decision points based on a combination of class and level. If this was a fighter "talent" that required a couple levels to take, then your wizard would have to work at it to pick it up, making it a meaningful choice. As it stands it is a no brainer.

You could also restrict ability score boosts based on class, or even award automatic boosts if you get enough levels in a class. So every 4-5 fighter levels you get to increase your Strength or Constitution by 1. For wizards, pick from Intelligence or Wisdom, and so on. I think that by taking a 4th Edition approach and sticking all of your choices within your class that it would speed up leveling, as well as prevent decision paralysis as you try to pore through hundreds, eventually thousands of feats (which is still difficult with Character Builder).

I guess feats were an interesting idea back in 3rd Edition when they were fresh and new (for Dungeons & Dragons, anyway), and while 4th Edition made them better I think that there is plenty of room for better innovation, preferably one with better organization and balance, and less page-flipping.
July 15, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

D&DN Q&A: Cosmology & Monsters

I have mentioned several times now that the best approach for handling the default cosmology is to not give as a default one; give us a toolbox that can effectively construct the cosmologies from official campaign settings, but make it very easy for us to build our own. I guess the other solution is to somehow design a cosmology that can be used in any setting without any changes.

I am not sure how this would work given how different the Great Wheel is from the World Axis, which are both very different from Eberron's orbiting planes, all of which have more variety than Dark Sun's 3-4 planes. I have heard a couple people mention simply having to remove existing options, which sounds
like you are still making changes, but also does not account for orbiting planes.

The second and third questions I am pretty much fine with. Having a canned description is handy for both the first encounter and potential inspiration for describing how it does things. Bonus points if the description matches the art. As for stat blocks, yeah, I get that humanoids tend to have more varied roles, but there have been some variant monsters with some interesting twists. The umber hulk had three entries in Monster Vault: the basic model with two claws and a confusing gaze, one that focused more on its gaze attacks, and one that could grab you and tunnel away.

Of course this could be solved by giving Dungeon Masters alternate powers, and ideas for how to do other things in line with the various pillars. For example I could see an umber hulk snatching an ally and trying to escape as part of a botched skill check during the Exploration phase, or even have one bust out of a wall and try to kidnap someone as part of an added trouble during combat (which sounds a bit Dungeon World-y).
July 12, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Blackscale Swamp Map

A map that Victor whipped up for a Dungeons & Dragons/Dungeon World/probably FATE (which I picked up last week) adventure I am working on in between writing A Sundered Dungeon World (which is almost at 100 pages). The hard part is getting the plot squared away; once it comes to monsters/encounter building it is a simple matter of just switching up the mechanics.

Wandering Monsters: Monster Mashups

To me the best kinds of monsters have both interesting flavor content and combat applications. They spark the imagination, making you want to write an adventure specifically to use them in (if not specifically about them). They are fun to read about and interact with at the table, whether that means talking to them, fighting them, or even simply experiencing them.

One of the ways that the team behind Next is trying to do this is by tying some monster together. Yesterday's Legends & Lore gave a flavor snapshot of the ettercap that presented a potentially objectionable way that they could "interact" with pixies, namely by bartering their dust with
hags and feeding off of them to gain magical powers.

Today's Wandering Monsters takes a somewhat closer look at the ettercap, as well as giving us a similar preview for the lamia.

I guess I do not mind them being tied to the Feywild, but then I wonder why they have no desire to live in harmony with nature. An "uncontrolled garden choked with spiders, webs, and sinister predators" makes for a compelling backdrop, but what are the odds that pixies would blunder into that sort of place, or any animal for that matter? On a similar note, why do they hate good fey? Are they the creations of a powerful fey entity that was cast out of the courts? Maybe a corrupted spider spirit? It would be nice to get some sort of reason than just "because".

A bigger question is what sort of things do they get from hags? Ettercaps do not strike me as having a particularly advanced culture. In 2nd Edition they were pretty much solitary creatures that lived in nests, largely ignoring treasure even as a means of enticing additional prey into their traps. So...why? What do they have to gain? What would they buy with their hag-monies, and from who?

I guess a spider-choked forest is probably
not the worst place Neko has set up shop.
Do not get me wrong, the idea of using their dust as a kind of fey currency has merit (though I could just as easily see it as a drug that mortals abuse), I just do not think that they are fit to be the leading traffickers of it.

I said before I kind of like the idea of an ettercap turning into an aranea after eating enough fey creatures, but it presents two problems. The first is if araneas are intended to be a separate creature. If so, then why do ettercaps happen to turn into the exact same thing?  Also, why is it that they gain lightning and force magic from the blood of creatures that are normally associated with charms and illusions. Spiders already have a penchant for being able to mislead prey, so why not run with that?

My problem with the lamia pretty much starts at its high concept: it is a half human, half lion that has a list of charm and illusion spells that it can draw from. Oh, and it can drain your Wisdom by touch because why not. Not only are there already plenty of centaur-like monsters out there, but I do not see any resonating theme here, and associating them with Graz'zt is just adding to the confusion.

Why do they have the lower bodies of lions? Why do they all have the exact same spell-like abilities? Why do they drain Wisdom with a touch?  If you want to add Graz'zt to the mix, then would it not make more sense for them to be something created by him, kind of like an exarch or high priest? This would make them somewhat rare, but could also make a good legendary candidate. You could give them lair traits that shroud the ruined city in illusions and befuddle people who get to close.

It in no way explains the lion-parts (which I would just scrap), but at least presents a reason for all the illusions and Wisdom-draining.
July 10, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: Monsters and the World

Last week Mearls talked about their approach to planes, specifically mentioning that the relationship between Ravenloft and the Shadowfell is still up in the air. Personally I am still advocating a cosmological toolbox, that way everyone gets what they want without there needing to be any assumptions or "correct" layout. Just saying, why stop at giving Dungeons Masters the tools they need to build just one world?

Though it sounds like a topic more appropriate for a Wandering Monsters article, this week we get to see their current approach to 
monsters, which follows four goals:
July 09, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Wandering Monsters: Unlikely Heroes

This week's Wandering Monsters is about letting players run with the normally wrong crowd. As someone who has played an earth elemental paladin, half-blink dog/half-blue dragon, and gynosphinx diviner this is something I can get behind. If done properly, that is.

I never owned Complete Book of Humanoids, having severely throttled gaming funds during the Age of 2nd Edition, so my exposure to monstrous races began with Player's Option: Skills & Powers. I tended to roll with gnoll, though minotaur was another popular choice, that despite whats it's Monstrous Manual entry stated thankfully did not start with a Strength of 18.

July 03, 2013
Posted by David Guyll

Legends & Lore: The Many Worlds of D&D

One thing I (usually) like about Dungeons & Dragons is that there is no default world (though I guess 3rd Edition kind of implied Greyhawk). Sure, races have their assumed traits, and you can pick up a prefabbed campaign setting, but there are rules and guidelines to help you create your own world, going into as much detail as you need or want.

That being the case, why is it that there needs to be a default cosmology? Planescape featured the Great Wheel, which 3rd Edition kept (though Forgotten Realms had some kind of tree thing going on), Eberron had the outer planes orbiting the prime materialDark Sun had
at least a handful of other planes, and 4th Edition gave us the World Axis.


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