Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Phoenix (New Class)

This class originally came about because I was working on some class ideas inspired by the classic elementals – not in terms of “guy who uses fire”, but rather “class inspired by fire’s representation in folklore and mythology".

Speaking of fire, this is what I came up with:


Some humanoids are born with an especially powerful spark of life. These are warrior souls, caught up in the great circle of life. Phoenixes have souls that never stop. When a phoenix dies, he or she immediately reincarnates as a new creature with the same memories and its personality mostly intact. The phoenix can do this many times, though each time stresses their constitution to the max, and each time a phoenix dies may be their last. Of course, it isn’t really the end of the phoenix’s soul – it merely transmigrates elsewhere in the cosmos (i.e. time for the player to roll up a new character) and fights on!

ARMOR – Any armor, including shields

WEAPONS – Any weapon


The key ability of a phoenix is his ability to reincarnate upon death, per the druid spell of the same name. When a phoenix is reduced to 0 hit points, its body immediately bursts into a 10-ft. radius of fire which deals 1d6 points of damage per four levels of the phoenix. The phoenix has a chance to direct this flame at a single target; if they can pass a Will saving throw they can direct the fire up to a range of 10 feet per four levels at a single target, who suffers all the damage (Reflex save to halve damage).

Once the fireworks are over, the phoenix emerges from the fire and smoke in a new body rolled randomly on the table below.

01. Aasimar
02. Azer
03. Blink Dog
04-07. Bugbear
08. Centaur
09. Crabman
10. Doppelganger
11-13. Dromite
14-19. Dwarf (10% chance of duergar)
20-25. Elf (10% chance of drow)
26-29. Gnoll
30-35. Gnome (10% chance of svirfneblin)
36-39. Goblin (10% chance of blue)
40. Grimlock
41-46. Half-elf
47-52. Half-orc
53. Harpy
54. Hengeyokai
55-58. Hobgoblin
59-64. Human
65. Janni
66-67. Juggernaut
68-71. Kobold
72-76. Lizard man
77. Minotaur
78-82. Neanderthal
83-85. Notac-Ichat (see NOD Companion)
86. Ogre
87-90. Orc
91. Satyr
92-93. Tiefling
94. Troglodyte
95. Unbodied
96-97. Utu (see NOD Companion)
98-00. Xeph

Roll randomly for the gender of the new body.

The phoenix gains all the abilities inherent to his new body (though not equipment, like a satyr’s pipes), but retains his normal hit points (adjusted for losing a level – see below), saving throws, attack bonus, ability scores and ability to speak. The phoenix personality remains largely the same, but is nudged a bit in the direction of its new form. If the phoenix has half or less of the hit dice of his new form, his new form is reduced in size by one size category.

The transformation is not without cost. The phoenix loses one level, and his experience points are reduced to the minimum level for his new level. A first level phoenix can reincarnate. His level remains at first, and his XP are reduced to 0. The phoenix must also pass a Fortitude saving throw or lose 1d3 points of constitution, permanently.

Once the transformation is complete, the phoenix must adjust to their new body. Each round, the phoenix must attempt a Will save. Once they succeed, they gain control over their faculties and can act normally. Until then, they are stunned.

A third level phoenix gains a limited form of regeneration. His natural healing is doubled (i.e. 2 hit points per level per night of rest), and he enjoys a +2 bonus to save vs. poison and disease.

A sixth level phoenix gains access to his soul’s memories. By meditating for one hour, the phoenix gains the use of one feat per three levels (i.e. two feats at sixth level, three a ninth, etc.). The phoenix can only access memories in this way once per day.

A ninth level phoenix can build a fortress-temple dedicated to the Phoenix. The phoenix attracts a body of 1d12+9 men-at-arms, heavy infantry, to serve as his personal bodyguard. In addition, a young 1st level phoenix seeks him out as a master (likely a sidekick from a former life).

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Saving Some Gold Pieces (and a Spell)

Boys and girls, if you've been waiting to buy some of my print products, you may be in luck. Lulu is running a sale through November 27th ..

And on November 27th, I'm going to throw in some markdowns of my own for the holiday season. You'll find the link to my storefront on the side over there.

Don't forget, if you buy a hard cover book, I'll send you a free PDF of that book.
And now, to keep this post from being nothing but a commercial, I will make up a magic spell ...

Wind Tunnel
Level: Cleric 5, Druid 4, Magic-User 5
Range: Centered on caster
Duration: 1 minute

This spell creates a tunnel of powerful winds extending 10 feet per level ahead and behind the spellcaster. The tunnel is large enough for the spellcaster to walk through normally, though it obviously cannot be larger than the chamber or passage which the spellcaster currently occupies. Missile weapons, gases and breath weapons are deflected by the wind tunnel. Creatures outside the tunnel trying to force their way through the tunnel suffer the effects of entering a huge air elemental's whirlwind. The caster can decide if creatures grabbed by the wind tunnel are carried forward or backward and then deposited on the ground, prone, where the tunnel ends.If the tunnel is not created on solid ground, the spellcaster's comrades (though not the spellcaster, on whom the spell is centered) might fall into the winds themselves (in other words, it cannot be used to create a bridge across a chasm unless the spellcaster's comrades want to ride the winds across).

(Essentially, this is a variation on, and enhancement of the wind wall spell).

Monday, November 24, 2014

Undead, Yes ... But What Else Can We Turn?

Now imagine the cross is a pole, and she's a chasm. Image found HERE.
The title is making me think of the "Will It Blend?" videos.

At its heart, an RPG (or really any game) is just a collection of mechanics hiding underneath a layer of fluff. In an old school world, simplicity and, to some degree, minimalism is important - that means getting as much mileage as possible from the rules you have, so that you can avoid creating new rules. One rule mechanic that doesn’t get used enough, I think, is the Turn Undead table.Well ... let me rephrase that. It gets used all the time when people are turning undead, but the rule concept itself could probably be used to do more than just turn undead.

What follows are a few ideas for how you can tweak the Turn Undead table.

1. Alternate Targets

I've used the basic concept of "turning" in my games and unhinged it from the undead. The beastmaster class I wrote, for example, can turn animals. I meant it as a means of representing Tarzan's ability to cow animals and send them packing without having to necessarily fight them. In Grit & Vigor, I played with the idea of letting the dreadnought (a sort of big, scary guy archetype ... think Mr. T) use a table like that to frighten low-level NPCs, or at least stun them into inaction. I'm picturing Mr. T walking into a room and glaring at the thugs while he and the A-Team walk through unscathed, nobody daring to mess with them.

What else can you turn?

Different alignments - perhaps a wretched villainous NPC can force good creatures away through a sort of self-righteous repulsion. Maybe a chaotic troublemaker has the ability to turn authorities, though in this case it would represent the troublemaker avoiding their notice rather than frightening them away.

Different creatures - if the beastmaster can turn animals, maybe a dragon slayer can attempt to turn dragons (probably only succeeding on the little ones). What about turning reptiles, or turning elementals, or turning specific creature types as a lesser special ability?

2. Alternate Effects

I already hit on this above, in the chaotic troublemaker using "turn undead" to avoid the notice of lawful creatures. You could also replace turn/destroy (and rebuke/command) with ...

Annoy/enrage (a jester class might use this)

Charm/control (or dominate, great for a succubus class)

Stun/confuse (a riddlemaster? Kirk dealing with computers?)


Maybe a swashbuckler can "turn blades" as a way to represent a lone swordsman confronted with a multitude of minor combatants. One swipe of his blade, and a random number of lesser swordsmen are "parried/disarmed".

I'm sure there are many other possible variations. Just think in terms of partial success/complete success, pick a class of targets, and you're done.

3. Alternate Function

The Elementalist class I wrote used a variation on the turn undead chart to cast spells. For the elementalist, the idea was that the magician was controlling elemental spirits and forcing them to create the magic effects on his behalf, so a turn undead table made sense.

You could further twist the Turn Undead table concept to entertain crowds, convert heathens or solve conundrums. How about turning spells, using the Turn Undead mechanic as a counterspell mechanic.

In fact, the Turn Undead table could probably serve as a general task resolution mechanic - rate the difficulty of a task from 1 to 10 (or skeleton to vampire - "Gee Bob, that chasm's a real vampire - are you sure you want to try to jump it?) and roll the dice.

Just a few ideas for getting the most out of your chosen ruleset.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Unhinging Clerics from Alignment

A Chaotic cardinal for a Lawful church? Read on ...
Since the beginning of the game, clerics (and anti-clerics and druids) have largely been defined by their alignment. In the context of the early game, this made sense. Clerics were based on a combination of Van Helsing the vampire hunter and the religious knights of the crusades. That clerics must be Lawful was logical when you considered that they were based on adherents of a moral religion.

Note - I'm not going to get in a discussion here about the morality of the medieval Christian church. What I mean to convey is the idea that while Jews, Christians and Muslims believe that God created the universe and has some measure of control over nature (i.e. he can control the weather and such), they put their focus on his code of rules (thou shall not kill, etc.). Clerics of God, therefore, should be defined by their alignment.

Almost as soon as the game was written, though, it started to change. Clerics stopped being tied to an implicit Medieval Christianity and instead were tied to polytheistic deities, most of them just anthropomorphized forces of nature. Rather than the pseudo-Templars and Hospitalers that seem to have been intended under the original rules, we got clerics of Thor and Loki. Since Thor was Chaotic Good (if my memory of the Deities & Demigods/Legends & Lore book), his clerics needed to be Chaotic Good as well, which meant they needed to be "crusaders" for enlightened freedom. The Thor of mythology, however, did not seem particularly concerned with moral concepts. He was a personification of thunder and lightning, and, if anything, a ready and eager foe of the giants (i.e. natural calamities). It should have made more sense to use druids as the priests of all the nature deities, but they became saddled with the concept of True Neutrality. Ultimately, several unrelated systems were mashed together to make something that was mostly fun, but also didn't make much sense.

How about a different concept for clerics? One that keep the basic rules in place (and hopefully the fun), but changes with the whys and wherefores and takes the focus for clerics away from alignment, and puts it back on casting spells in armor and pounding heads with maces.

Clerics, like magic-users, are spellcasters. The universe they inhabit has physical laws that can be broken with magic spells. In other words, the supernatural in thus universe is natural - it's just a nature with processes that are beyond most mortals. The universe also has gods, goddesses and other divine beings. Maybe they created the universe, maybe they just have a secret knowledge of how it works. Either way, clerics join their cults and learn how to perform rituals that can alter the fabric of reality in ways the gods and goddesses are willing to allow.

Think of the universe as the internet, and clerics as people who have been given passwords to systems by the owners/creators of those systems, as a bank gives a customer a password that allows the customer to access her account information and perform other allowed functions. Because clerics are given this access in exchange for performing the necessary rituals and living by the rules of their temple or order or brotherhood, they have more time to spend on learning to fight than magic-users.

Magic-users are the hackers of the universe. They alter the fabric of reality without anyone's permission, and it's not easy. They have to learn the code of the gods and hijack it. This forces them to spend all their time figuring out how to get things done, and gives them little time left over for learning to fight. It also allows them a much wider array of powers than the clerics (though they still haven't figured out how to hack into the healing spells).

Clerics in this scheme are not champions of an alignment, but champions of their cult/church/temple/brotherhood/etc. They represent their little faction in the very dangerous fantasy worlds in which they live, just as fighters serve kings and thieves serve their guilds. The name of the game is survival and power. In this scheme we do not need to tie the god of thunder to a particular alignment. He has a cult of followers whose existence allows him to play games in the cosmos (think of the scene in Jason and the Argonauts with the gods moving mortals around like chess pieces) or who just brag about how awesome he is. In return for their service he lets them alter reality on his terms. Within this cult, there can be clerics of any alignment, so long as they advance his agenda. In fact, the god of thunder might not even pay much attention to the cult. Maybe he gave his "passwords" to somebody long ago, and they passed the knowledge down to those who would serve them loyally.

Alignments in this sort of universe are not warring cosmic factions (a rather heady concept when you consider that the game is mostly made up of swashbuckling adventures and puzzle solving in a quest for money and experience/power), but rather the personal codes if men and women that determine how they interact with the world.

Clerics of Thor can be lawful, neutral or chaotic. The lawful clerics like to stick up for the little guy, the neutrals serve their order loyally to stay in good with their masters, and the chaotics try to get away with as much as possible without being expelled. This would endow these invented religious organizations a bit more color and intrigue. The lawfuls and chaotics within the cult don't quite trust each other, and each works to control the cult because they fear the other faction, but they aren't necessarily at each others throats all the time. The lawful heads of the cult might even understand that the chaotic clerics have their value in the organization, doing things they might shy away from, but which are necessary to advance the cult's goals in the world.

A deity that does represent or espouse a moral or immoral concept might, of course, restrict his or her clerics to a particular alignment. A deity of charity would want his clerics to be charitable - this would make chaotic clerics a bit tricky. Likewise, a god of trickery would want his clerics to be tricky - this might not work well for lawful sorts. Then again, consider Cardinal Richelieu - a member in good-standing of an ostensibly lawful church, and a terrible villain if most accounts are to be believed.

I guess this is a conception of alignment and clerics that would only fit in well in a Robert E Howard-style fantasy world, where the name of the game is power. It certainly wouldn't be to every player's taste, but it should please some players or at least prove entertaining for a while to veteran players. At a minimum, it could free clerics in the game from being forced into the role of do-gooder or do-badder, and instead make them more enjoyable to play.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Campaign Idea - After the Fall of Troy

It's the end of the late Bronze Age world, and I feel fine

If D&D represents a fantasy post-apocalyptic world, it makes sense to look for ancient fallen civilizations to use as inspirations for campaigns. What better than Troy?


A silver piece from Troy
Helen was a drop dead gorgeous (and a demigoddess, the daughter of Zeus), apparently, and Paris, prince of Troy, was smitten. So smitten, in fact, that he convinced her to run away with him to Troy where they would live happily ever after.

Well, not so fast. Apparently, Helen's husband, Menelaus, the King Sparta (those happy-go-lucky fellows) was none too happy about this situation. More importantly, he had managed to extract an oath from all her old suitors (also kings and lords) when he married her. They swore that they would lend him military aid if anyone tried to steal her away as a way to ensure that none of the other great Greeks would try kidnapping her. Menelaus rallies the Greeks and off they go to lay siege to Troy for a really long time. The gods get involved here and there, and ultimately Troy falls due to the trickery of Odysseus more than the rage of Achilles. The Greeks go too far, of course, and sack the temples and are visited with many troubles.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the Age of Heroes, the days when the great heroes of Greek mythology trod the earth and the gods and goddesses took a very active interest in the world, moving people around like pawns in a great game only they understood.


Eventually, the actual existence of Troy was proven, by Frank Calvert in 1865 to be precise. It's mythic history was then woven into the historic period called the Late Bronze Age Collapse. The Greeks would have called it the Golden Age Collapse, but why quibble - a collapse is a collapse.

The walls of Troy, as they were
The collapse involved the transition from the late bronze age to the early iron age, and the disruptions that resulted from this technological shift. Power structures are built on the now, and the new often causes things to tumble. According to Wikipedia, "The palace economy of the Aegean Region and Anatolia which characterised the Late Bronze Age was replaced, after a hiatus, by the isolated village cultures of the Greek Dark Ages." During this period, from 1206 to 1150 BC, we have the fall of the Mycenaean Kingdoms, the Hittite Empire, the New Kingdom of Egypt.  Not only was Troy destroyed (twice, apparently), but also the Hittite capital of Hattusas, and the city of Karao─član.

That sounds like D&D - small villages and brand new ruins to loot and plunder.


So what is different about a Post-Troy fantasy campaign than the standard D&D campaign?

Bronze Weapons: The fighting-men of this era are fighting with bronze weapons, rather than iron or steel. Iron was not unknown in this period, but iron weapons were probably still relatively rare - they were the high-technology of the time. With this in mind, it probably makes sense to allow bronze weapons to have the standard weapon statistics in your game (short sword 1d6 damage, etc.), and make iron weapons something akin to magic weapons in your campaign. A +1 bonus to hit probably makes sense, especially since they're being employed against bronze armor. It might also make sense to treat them something like silver weapons when fighting supernatural creatures, since the manufacture of iron, and thus blacksmiths in general, was considered magical by many people (any technology advanced enough, etc. etc.)

Come on Zeusy - my boy needs a cleric spell.
Divine Champions: In the Iliad and the Odyssey, we are introduced to the concept of certain characters being favored by the Greek gods and goddesses. This brings up the idea of casting clerics not as simple priests, but rather as extraordinary men and women favored by the gods, and perhaps descended from the gods. Odysseus, for example, had the blood of Hermes flowing through his veins, and Achilles was the son of the nymph Thetis, who could intervene on his behalf with Zeus. The idea here would be that these champions could pray to the gods and get solid, concrete results because they were part of the extended divine family. One might also use the demigod class I came up with in a campaign like this. At a minimum, feel free to make the gods and goddesses active participants in the campaign.


First and foremost, the Fall of Troy campaign provides a great megadungeon in the ruins of Troy. Sacked by the Greeks, a battleground (indirectly) of the gods, the famous horse, the sacked temples, the great palace, etc. Obviously, we'll need to bring in a subterranean aspect to the city - catacombs, caverns, etc. Making Troy a total ruin allows one to populate it with monsters - goblins and the like - bubbling up from the Hades' realm.

Any spot in Greek mythology is fair game, of course. The island of the gorgons, entrances to the underworld, the amazons' queendom (or its remnants), the oracle at Delphi (imagine the dungeon that exists below the oracle, from whence come the strange fumes that drive her prophecies), etc. 

Maybe the perfect campaign in this setting is one patterned on the journeys of Odysseus. This would be an island-hopping campaign, with the adventurers and their henchmen traveling from place to place, maybe trying to get home, maybe searching for a new home (i.e. Aeneas) and maybe just looking for treasure and adventure.

For another wrinkle, the Late Bronze Age Collapse might have also been the time period in which a prince of Egypt, by the name of Moses, led his people across the wilderness to a land promised to them by a mysterious deity who was really going to shake things up on the deific scene. Adventurers might have a chance to meet the guy who pretty much invented the Sticks to Snakes spell (or at least, the guy who cast it first).

Partial spell list: Sticks to snakes, part water, insect plague ...

A Fall of Troy campaign offers up an addition opportunity - brand new places to see. One of the famous stories that comes from the Fall of Troy is the founding of Rome by the exiled Trojan prince Aeneas. In a traditional D&D campaign, high level characters work hard to found strongholds, essentially medieval fiefs. In a Fall of Troy campaign, high level characters can work to lead their followers to a new land to found new city-states. The follow-up, of course, is a campaign of ancient war, the forging of new empires and ultimately the redrawing of the map of the ancient Mediterranean.
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