Monday, 28 February 2011

witch alternatives: elementalist

Part of the OneBookShelf bundle for New Zealand is Advanced Feats: The Witches' Brew.  I remember that I'd mentioned an elementalist witch would be a good build and seeing this reminded me that perhaps I'd better show what I meant rather than just shoot the breeze.  The New Zealand bundle contains some excellent stuff and helps Red Cross work in Christchurch after the earthquake.

The Elementalist
This witch combines strong offensive magic with versatile hexes.  The character can heal, blast, craft potions, tattoos and wondrous items as well as summon increasingly powerful elementals and enchanting enemies.  Defensively they aren't much to write home about but this build leaves combat to those willing to get hurt.  At higher levels, the elementalist has hexes that compensate for a wizard's ability at higher levels.  While lacking in spell versatility, the elementalist does what they do well.

Race: Any.  Gnomes in particular enjoy the versatility to cajole elementals as well as crafting magical items.  Humans and half-humans (elves and orcs) enjoy the raw power that the elementalist wields and their ability to heal and wield offensive spells make witches considerabl.
Skills: Craft (Int), Intimidate (Cha), Fly (Dex), Knowledge (arcana) (Int), Knowledge (planes) (Int), Spellcraft (Int), Use Magic Device (Cha)
Favored Class: +1 hit point
Patron Spells: Elements
Leveling Guide:
1. Magical Aptitude feat, Slumber hex
2. Flight hex
3. Improved Initiative feat
4. Cauldron hex, Cha +1
5. Master Alchemist feat
6. Healing hex
7. Discriminating Spell1 feat
8. Tongues hex, Int +1
9. Craft Magic Tattoo feat
10. Weather Control major hex
11. Create Wondrous Item feat
12. Waxen Image major hex, Cha +1
13. Linked Resistance feat
14. Major Healing major hex
15. Empower Spell feat
16. Vision major hex, Int +1
17. Heighten Spell feat
18. Natural Disaster grand hex
19. Delay Spell feat
20. Eternal Slumber grand hex, Int +1

1st - beguiling gift, burning hands, mage armour, obscuring mist
2nd - burning gaze, glide, levitate, summon monster II
3rd - dispel magic, lightning bolt, pain strike, water walk
4th - charm monster, ice storm, solid fog, summon monster IV
5th - hold monster, mass pain strike, suffocation, summon monster V
6th - cone of cold, eyebite, flesh to stone, summon monster VI
7th - chain lightning, control weather, plane shift, summon monster VII
8th - horrid wilting, mass charm monster, stormbolts, summon monster VIII
9th - dominate monster, elemental swarm, mass hold monster, mass suffocation

Thursday, 24 February 2011

doing it differently and growing pie

We like pie.
I read with interest Mike Mearls' article on the past and the future of Dungeons & Dragons.  There have been a variety of responses appearing in the blogosphere.  Wizards have a chequered history of fan interaction and organised play including mixed messages about fan sites, tiered organised play bias toward larger FLGS and forcing customers to register with their site to make a simple e-mail query.  They have made significant progress with online community and D&D Encounters.  Other industry players offer alternative views, involving active engagement with players and adapting existing assets to new formats.  Yet Wizards have got  a few tricks up their sleeve yet, as we shall see.

Next to Games Workshop's offices in sunny Lenton is Warhammer World.  Statues of Space Marines flank the car park and appear at various points.  The experience is one part theme park, one part game convention and happens every day barring Christmas Day, Easter and New Year's Day.  An indoor courtyard in faux medieval has gaming tables set up.  There is a sizable game store stocked with goods and dioramas of exquisitely painted miniatures. Admission is free.  This as well as store-based promotions, conventions and events in GW stores worldwide.  Compare with the typical convention.

Then of course, there's e-publishing of gaming materials.  Bits & Mortar offer an innovative approach to PDF and print bundles which has seen takeup by industry and FLGS alike. While D&D novels are being e-published, the books used to play aren't.  This is despite the success of publishers like Paizo or Open Design. Online vendors like Lulu offer this service to companies like Green Ronin.  I suspect with the introduction of DDI, there's a shift from paper to electronic format mirroring Adamant's experience of app pricing.  It may explain FLGS concerns over digital initiatives such as Virtual Table Top.  Where are they in this vision of the future?

To address this, Wizards are talking of growing pie for D&D (shades of Alice!) using electronic tools citing experiences with online and console versions of Magic: The Gathering.  Yet those instances were complete games rather than 'optional' add-ins.  A better analogy would be seeing what impact sales experienced after  D&D Tiny Adventures or D&D Online.  Atari announced a Neverwinter MMO project last August yet many at DDXP were surprised, and a recent Eurogamer interview refers to a console-based dungeon crawl called Daggerdale.  These may draw some new blood into the hobby from curious MMO players.

The introduction of theme-related modular board games (e.g. Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon) is redolent of Talisman but using iconic D&D elements.  While entertaining games in their own right, they don't build on the D&D experience any more than Dungeon! did back in the '70s.  It wil give the FLGS something to sell while running running Essentials-driven D&D Encounters, introducing new settings and card-based systems.  While I'm not excited by Fortune Cards or The Despair Deck, it's encouraging that the Wizards Play Network is extending more support to D&D,

Wizards have a lot of data to analyse via the Character Builder and express caution over relentlessly publishing core game books announced at DDXP having learned an endless stream of hardbacks with errata alienates players who use a fraction of what's published.  Mearls' call for unity seems confusing until you realise this data is exclusive to DDI subscribers, a shrinking demographic amid tabletop RPG sales.  By inviting outsiders to the table, this introduces new blood into the community.  It's ironic the new blood includes some of the oldest fans of the game.  It remains to be seen whether the strategy will be successful.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011


These yellow-furred, gaunt baboons have chalk-white muzzles and their lambent eyes show a disturbed intellect.  Capable of using tools (including simple weapons) and tactics, they understand language but speak in barks, grunts and screams interspersed with ancient phrases and nonsensical babbling.

Number: 2d4 (3d6+2)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement:120' (30')
Armour Class:8
Hit Dice: 1+1
Attack: 1 bite and 1 weapon
Damage:1d4 and by weapon
Save: C1
Morale: 9
Hoard Class: VI

The gulbavian is slightly taller than a normal baboon, though wasted and gaunt.  Their muzzles and rears are chalk-white and not used for signaling.  They can eat anything but show a preference for rotten or sour foods, including carrion.  They may bite with sharpened fangs or use simple weapons like axes, clubs and maces. A band of gulbavians are led by a randomly selected leader, who if morale breaks is as likely to be turned on as nursed back to health.  It is whispered they originated from a chaotic priesthood cursed by their patron.  Their increasing numbers and fecundity suggests a malevolent purpose.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

inns & taverns: aulog's garden

An underworld grotto filled with giant toadstools hides Aulog's Garden.  Underworlders come to drink and deal on neutral ground.  A cairn marks where the river can be safely forded but ghost pike attacks are known.  Traders bear news of Aulog's Garden far and wide.  This unexpected oasis is protected by it's distance from aggressive slavers, mystical tyrants and hungry undead.  Yet those using the Garden take care.  Treasures left unguarded are always taken.

Woven between the boles of the toadstools are ropes and canvas to form a canopy.  This shelters guests from bat guano, spiders and toadstool spores.  Stone benches showing dwarven craft and the skill of a dozen other races provide seating for twenty guests.  A pair of verdigrised braziers with perforated covers cast diffuse light and shadows.  Drinks are served from a makeshift bar of wooden planks balanced on empty casks.  If the bar is moved, the braziers scuttle to follow them.  Lighting is kept minimal, many patrons have sensitive eyes.

Many patrons drink a thick, bitter-edged gruit called skard.  Lizard-hide sacks dusted with toadstool spores ferment a mix of water, yeast, fungus and bat. Those refusing skard have alternatives.  Those of delicate palate favour deepwine, a cloudy white wine made from lichen and insects.  Those seeking potency are often pleased by a black clay jug.  This appears to be a clear, earthy fungal spirit.  For food, baked shelf fungus and stuffed bats are the usual fare.  The house speciality is a fish stew using the giant ghost pike but catching these makes these a rare occurence.

Drinks are served by a cowled woman called Old Meg.  Appearing neither old or hag-like, mystical auras of transformation cling like a ghost.  Assisted by three pallid ogre-sized sexless humanoids who fetch and carry, she welcomes paying customers.  Her tolerance for evil ends if the Garden's peace is threatened, she can call on eerie magics and the humanoids whose flailing fists rival a golem's strength.  It's whispered she offers trade for mysterious travellers and sells fungal-based poisons to the discreet.  Old Meg is greatly amused by these whispers.  

There is no accommodation available.  Old Meg becomes territorial if prospective guests attempt to ask about beds or even baths.  She does know of nearby caves suitable as basecamps.  She also knows those caves are used by other groups.  If she likes a group, she'll warn them.  Attempts to inveigle Old Meg into staying with her will result in a shifting appearance to something more hag-like.  Those who have seen this transformation rarely survive the experience.  Those who do often decide not to stay in the grotto.

It's whispered that Old Meg has a cache where her coins are hidden.  The pale humanoids that serve her are said to come from the toadstools of Aulog's Garden. As news of the Garden spreads, the threat of raiders will increase.  A share of the profits is used to lay false trails.  However, gold can only buy so much.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

why roll your own?

This month's RPG Blog Carnival is courtesy of Evil Machinations and deals with worldbuilding's whys and wherefores. The work involved in creating a world appears daunting, especially to inexperienced game masters or someone unfamiliar with a new system.  So why go and create a world of your own?
  1. You can start differently.  You don't have to explore the Old Corbitt Place, meet Bargle the Infamous or play Skull-Skull.  Metagaming is something game masters work around if they use the quickstart every player downloaded or the module that came with their boxed set. 
  2. You are the final authority.  One of the tenets of most tabletop RPGs. To create your own world is the ultimate expression of that. Encouraging input from other players is admirable, yet for some this is a part of the game they love for it's own sake.  
  3. You can ask interesting questons.  By creating your own setting you can go beyond obvious tropes.  Some of the most inspiring gaming has come from settings that challenge tropes, remix or extrapolate on them to unexpected conclusions.
  4. You learn more about your game.  Not just the system elements but also the playstyle, some games may suit sandbox play better, others favour a more structured approach.  Also learning about the system aids you in asking interesting questions.
  5. No metaplot baggage. You don't need to incorporate shifting metaplots.  The Time of Troubles need not be and Gehenna can wait.  With a ready, steady diet of splatbook, re-imagined classics or updated setting, incorporating the new shiny even if it just hurdled Megalodon is tempting.
  6. Here Be... Dragons?  The wonder of exploring terra incognito is at it's greatest when dealing with a new world.  New settings aren't commonplace so if the paths to the Caves of Chaos look like ruts, there's always the option to go... offroad.

Monday, 14 February 2011

cannibal crabs

Number: 5d10 (2d10)
Alignment: Neutral
Movement: 60'(20')
        Swim: 30' (10')
Armour Class: 8
Hit Dice: 1 hit point
Attack: 1 (claw per 10 individuals)
Damage: 1d6, bleeding, swarm. 
Save: 0th lvl human
Morale: 7
Hoard Class:XX

These brightly-coloured red and purple crabs are a foot across.  When alone, they will flee from larger creatures unless cornered.  In a swarm, they turn vicious, willing to attack anything living of Medium-size or smaller.  Swarms attack with multitudes of ripping pincers that get one attack per 10 individuals to do 1d6 damage.  Each round that the crabs attack, there is a 5% chance that their pincers open a vein, causing 1d3 damage each round to living creatures until injuries are treated or curative magic is used. If a character is swarmed by a whole pack, they must successed in a saving throw vs. death or be  knocked prone and unable to attack under the scuttling mass.  They may stand up next round if successful but must make a new saving throw each round they stand in the swarm.
If a swarm is reduced to nine or fewer crabs, they will seek to flee.  The cannibal crabs are known to feed on those creatures they kill.  Though they prefer to feed on land, they will do so in water though their tendency to bleed victims will attract sharks.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

the eyes have it: review - advanced feats: visions of the oracle

Metric: Cards. Eyes were used in Court of the Shadow Fey.  Plus there's a fine tradition of using cards in an oracular context.
DISCLAIMER: Review is based on a PDF copy provided by Open Design.
Overall: 5 cards.  The introduction gives you a good high-level introduction.  The feats give options to oracles, spellcasters and other characters.  The builds are examples of the versatility of the class from visionary healer through fiery phoenix to bloody-handed savage seer.  My only caveat is there isn't much oracle-friendly advice for the GM outside of combat and post-combat activities.  Given such advice probably deserves another book in itself, it may be for the best.

Layout: 5 cards.  The cover fits beautifully as Christophe Swal shows a figure sat in mid-air with blood dripping from his hand.  Inside is clean layout with calligraphy resembling a blend of Farsi and Sanskrit iconography.  Page numbers in the eyes at the bottom of the page was a nice touch. PDF bookmarks and links all work fine.

Overview: 5 cards. The comparison of oracle and sorceror has merit.  The overview is careful to note that an oracle should take advantage of their armour and weapon selection.  Give the oracle a boar spear and they can serve behind a shieldwall, if they have the right mystery they can mix it up more directly   The choice of curse and mystery makes an oracle very distinct (like a sorceror's bloodline).   While more could be made of this, this is an overview after all.

Feats: 5 cards.  A plethora of feats for spell users yet only three that are oracle-specific (conditional curse, strange revelation and the DM-optional prophetic dreamer)  Non-spellcasters get some action with charmed, divine resistance,  magic sense and the fierce savage critical.  The wand feats are entertaining and well-done, giving mileage to an underappreciated range of magic items and providing a use for that wand of wonder you picked up three levels ago.

Builds: 4 cards.  Each of these has plenty of attitude and characterisation.  The visionary healer is a potent defensive ally that rivals a cleric in battle utility, the haunted past makes an apposite touch for the troubled healer with a heart of gold.  The phoenix is a destructive force of nature laden with attitude that shows the offensive capacity of this class in spades, even their curse ties into the character's harsh nature.  Finally the savage seer shows barbarian ethics at work, providing a potent battlefield ally capable of fearsome melee action given a twist by speaking in tongues on the battlefield. All of these builds are eminently playable yet seem to focus on combat rather than providing answers or lore to characters.  Though this may be for the best, not everyone would want to play Mother Shipton or Margary Kemp but a gypsy-based build would have been nice to see.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

servitor apes

No. Enc.: 1 (1d4)
Alignment: Lawful
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class: 6
Hit Dice: 1/2 (1d4 hit points)
Attacks: 1 (dagger or improvised weapon)
Damage: 1d4
Save: H1
Morale: 7
Hoard Class: XX

The size of a full-grown halfling, a servitor ape resembles a monkey with a proportionate human head fixed in an expression of serenity with a black pearl embedded in the centre of their forehead.  Often dressed in servant's livery, their faces are masks of inscrutability.  These strange creatures were magically created to serve as valets and bodyservants to decadent wizards.  The method of creating servitor apes are known to certain wizards who will procure them for exhorbitant rates. While the apes cannot talk, they can be taught sign language and speak Common as well as the tongue apes use.  It is unknown how they gain their skills in valeting, sewing and tailoring.  A servitor ape will wash and repair clothes, cook and serve food as well as organise their master's goods in aesthetically pleasing and helpful ways.

A servitor ape is able to perform sleight-of-hand and pick pockets with 25% ability, hide in shadows and move silenty with 50% ability and can climb walls with 90% ability.  These talents are usually used to move quickly and quietly, retrieve things from high shelves and slip objects away for repair but more than one servitor ape has been employed as a pick pocket by a desperate master.

Servitor apes are fiercely loyal to their owner but if treated cruelly for longer than a lunar cycle become psychotic as their magical conditioning drives them insane.  Their morale drops to 5 and the ape's placid face contorts into a mask of malevolent rage.  They will stalk the abuser, vandalising clothes and property before ambushing them with intent to wound with a small weapon.  If the abuser attempts contrition, they will point at the abuser and then die as the pearl glows cherry red with heat and incinerates, killing them instantly (no save).  Attempting to remove the pearl results in the same consequence and can only be done by powerful magic at the Labyrinth Lord's discretion.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

inns & taverns: the cup of skulls

A busy backstreet tavern in a bustling docks, the Cup of Skulls is muttered about by local fishwives. The port watch keep a discreet watch on it. The macabre painted sign of a four-sided cup atop a pyramid of skulls serves as a beacon. Decent folk will turn back. Less decent folk walk right in and the Cup's clientele range from wealthy to poor looking for shelter from their lives, a little vice to spice things up and the opportunity to kick back.

The Cup is a solidly-built two storey wood and stone building amid rickety wooden tenements, the door guarded by a burly, tattooed half-orc with angry scars on his arms and a scuffed, studded leather vest. Vekk serves as a bouncer saying little beyond 'No'. Those who hear that don't get in. Oddly Vekk doesn't enter the Cup unless invited by the landlord. Vekk sometimes has company in the form of drunken sailors and labourers, beggars are chased off with force used as needed.

Inside is gloomy, tallow candles gutter amid the smell of sea, sweat and old ale. Clay spitoons are strategically positioned and sand is strewn on the flagstones of the floor. The crescent-shaped bar is often crowded at night. The pale plaster walls are hung with tattered flags amid icons of various seafaring gods and doggerel graffiti. Tables are strategically positioned next to long galley benches along the walls. Finding nooks to conduct business is difficult but possible. Regular games of arm-wrestling, dice and shovepenny attract side bets as well as arm-wrestling. The building has a sheltered courtyard bordered by primitive privys where at least one aging prostitute works when the ships come into port.

A salty ale is served, this smooth, murky brown brew is strangely attractive with food but turns empty stomachs. A thick broth and warm biscuits can be bought for a handful of silver and this combines with the ale admirably. An almond-flavoured genever is also sold in four-sided tumblers. Limes are served with any drink for an extra copper.

The landlord, Denrys is a pale-skinned, foppish half-elf whose dark hair and cocksure charisma combine with immaculate grooming and exaggerated courtesy to women. His ear for gossip and scuttlebutt is exceptional and wit is such that he disarms most women. The staff are a mixture of local beauties beguiled by Denrys or former sailors working off gambling debts. While Denrys doesn't have any accommodation his recommendation is good to a number of local tenant landlords for a room. These landlords are used to dealing with people at all hours and from all walks of life though their tenements are uniformly grim.
Whispers that Denrys was a pirate periodically make the rounds but are quickly silenced by a cutting retort from Denrys or a visit from Vekk. Denrys is known to various pirate captains as a fence and they would be interested in renewing that acquaintance.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

something for the weekend?

A few items for your consideration.  Some of these are time-sensitive so you'd better hurry up and take a look.
  1. Kobold Quarterly 11 is free from until 9th February.  Just go here, type in the code KQ11Gift at checkout and it's goodness is yours.  If you're not convinced, there's a review here.
  2. Today is the launch of 6d6 Mince Pies and Murder RPG.  Using a pay-what-you-want model, it offers 1920s-style murder, mystery and savory-sweet snacks in a different approach to RPGs.  In addition there's the Ultra-lite RPG and upcoming web-based tools.
  3. A free PDF book on Gamemastering.  Plenty of good advice, remiscent of Extreme Dungeon Mastering (XDM) but nowhere near as goofy.
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