Friday, September 30, 2011

Little Encounters - Spear and Shield (Archon, Shield)

Here’s a new entry based on the Pathfinder Bestiary 2. This isn’t yet the weird encounter that I promised (I’m still cooking that up), just a random idea that I got a few days ago. Strictly speaking this isn’t an encounter, but a chain of events (and rewards) that can be placed on most adventures. If the players run this little quest right they got not only new magic items but also the help of a powerful celestial creature. The “Recommended Level” is based on the Shield Archon’s CR 10.

Spear and Shield (Recommended Levels 8-14)

The items: This encounter is based on two (apparently) normal magic items – a shortspear and a tower shield.

Both items appear to be made of bronze, but are as resistant as steel and shed a small dark gold glow when touched by creatures of Good alignments. Detect magic reveal a weak transmutation aura.

The shortspear is beautifully carved with the images of Greek-like myrmidons marching in perfect order – pure sunlight play tricks over these marks, giving the impression of movement. Whenever a Good character wielding the spear scores a critical hit against an Evil foe, a faint cry is heard (like a phalanx of warriors in a charge). Upon the spear’s pommel is written “The Faithful Fist” in Celestial. It works as a +3 shortspear.

The tower shield is broad and massive, giving the impression that it’s merely decorative and can’t be used in battle. In fact, if the wielder is Evil the tower shield is cumbersome and inflicts an additional –2 penalty to all his actions, besides reducing his movement by half. The shield is shaped like a castle tower and works like a +1 magic tower shield.

The hook: After any encounter, have the party find one of the above items in the local loot. As soon as a Good player character pick the item he feels a strong pull in a certain direction and catches mind flashes of a tall giant with bronze-like skin. The wielder begins to dream with this figure, first seeing him standing at the border of a titanic cliff, watching an abyss below made of stars, suns and galaxies. The wielder always wakes with a pierce cry on his mind.

Let the group try to puzzle this information. The one relevant skill check here is Knowledge (Planes). Results:
Natural 1 – The figure in the character’s dream is the campaign’s deity of war/law/justice etc. (Use the best candidate.)
Less than 10 – The figure in the character’s dream is some kind of lost giant race or fallen celestial;
10 – The figure is a celestial warrior, an archon;
15 – The same as above, plus – the cliff and the abyss in the dream represent, respectively, the celestial planes and the material plane;
20 – The same as above, plus – the giant is a shield archon;
25 – The same as above, plus – this particular shield archon is known as Pyrgos and was killed in a famous battle after destroying a demon lord’s prized weapon.

The party may desire to consult priests, sages or wizards for further information. If they’re very insistent let them known the archon’s name or where he fought, or even which demon or deity’s weapon he destroyed. You can also let a sage or alchemist prepare a special potion that allows the wielder to see what happens at the dream’s end: the piercing cry comes from the archon Pyrgos shattering his own arms. The arms falls in the abyss, becoming shooting starts before hitting the player character’s homeworld (another option is that a consulted priest cast a special ritual that shows this scene to the wielder).

What’s happening: The idea here is that the party will be pulled to the second magic item derived from Pyrgos’ strange act. This is an excellent excuse to have the group going to a dangerous (or otherwise desolate) region that you had planned to use – the hook can be used, for example, to lead the group to a Darklands campaign. Or the second item can be part of the next villain’s treasure.

Once they find the second item a projection of Pyrgos manifests. The archon tells the party that he has fought for so many eons that he forgot why he fought. He didn’t desired to betray his celestial masters and the ideals that they hold, be he had lost faith. To stop himself from falling, Pyrgos shattered his arms and transformed them in magical weapons – items that waited for the right heroes to pick them.

Now that the Spear and the Shield are reunited, Pyrgos has restored his faith by witnessing the group’s action. He says that the party can call him, once, to aid them to faith Evil or Chaos. This requires simply calling aloud his name (and a standard action). After helping them once, the shield archon goes back to the Outer Sphere, taking his “arms” with him – but not before enchanting two items chosen by the groups (one item can have a total of +3 enhancement bonus; the other +1; chosen by the players).

An alternative ending: Ok, what happens if the player character are a bunch of heartless mercenaries our raiders? In that case they should though better before walking around using celestial weaponry. Once they gather both items, Pyrgos manifests, fuse with the items and – disgusted to watch the evil perpetrated by the PCs – promptly attack the party. If defeated, let the magic items be retrieved from the celestial’s body… but as curses items.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Chronicles of the Seventh Moon - Session 8

Beginning with this session, we started our "sandbox part" of the campaign. Instead of a series of events, I mapped three tiers of the region around the Eye of the West lighthouse and gave them to the group to explore. It’s (together with the Soulless Valley sandbox) my favorite part of the entire campaign (that’s still going strong, approximately on its 50th game session, albeit our last game was some months ago).

Day 3, Solar Month, 757 years since the Fall of the Gods, early summer

With the troops safe and ready inside the Eye of the West, the Warbard Mellius started to give orders. While the dwarves mercenaries manned the walls and the amazons were sent to watch the road back to Baer’s Tower, the adventurers groups were tasked with scouting and cleaning the small tracks that crossed the Mountains of Eternal Fire – looking for underground passages and secret routes. All groups should leave the lighthouse the next day.

With spare time, Hilguen and Nogard spent their day training and discussing esoterica. Drícia used the day to analyze the Armor of the Valkiries, a relic that the party found during their adventures. She did a lot of talk with the amazon’s leader and learned that a sacred warrioress, wearing the Armor, would be granted the power of flight. Heian traded spells with the amazon’s wizard, Ordo – the only man among the female mercenary outfit. The elf discovered that in Cimeris (the Amazon Kingdom) men were forbidden from fighting, but the arcane arts were considered a taboo to women (female sorcerers were hunted and burned as demon spawn).

Garet spent the day with Corbie, trying to persuade Farduf, the swordsman from the Knights of the Mug (freed from the metallic pyramid by the party) to join the Hammers. He found Farduf at a “holy game” (a poker table) among the adventurer companies, promoted by the yaksha Devash Goldhands, priest of Sardur, the dead god of fortune and wealth. The yaksha was also a member of the Knights of the Mug.

Day 4, Solar Month, 757 years since the Fall of the Gods, early summer

The Hammers of the Dawn left the lighthouse early, determined to explore the Middle Scales – the mountain tracks at the same height of the Eye of the West. Properly equipped with rations and climbing tools, the party brought magic to guard them against the volcanic heat. Because of the constant dark clouds and the crimson glow of the Blaze, the Hammers had few hours of light from the Twin Suns.

The region around the fortified lighthouse was hard to travel and dangerous, without the protection afforded by the magic wards of the Road of the Mountain. With the Eye still on sight the party was attacked by giant scorpions. Although half of the group was weakened by poison, they decided to push on, only to be ambushed again, this time by goblinoids. This event was seen as a good sign, as it meant that a track or goblinoid base should be near. The party even managed to capture and charm an unlucky bugbear. Using Garet as an interpreter (only the halfling spoke Goblinoid) the group learned that indeed the current trails were used by the horde and that their masters were a cadre of goblin warlocks – the strongest called Hell-tongue, the warlock that faced with Heian at the battle before the Lower Gate. However, the bugbear didn’t know who the master of the warlocks was – the idea never occurred to him. Because of a promise made by the party (and sanctioned by Hilguen), after this information the charmed bugbears was released.

Drícia, as a priest of the dead god of the suns, could feel the movement of the celestial bodies. She told the Hammers that – outside the eternal Blaze – night has fallen and the party should seek a safe spot to rest. They camped below a giant rock wall, from which they safely glimpsed the sporadic ash rains generated by the volcanoes.

Day 5, Solar Month, 757 years since the Fall of the Gods, early summer

Our heroes returned to the goblinoid trail. During their climb, they found a strange tree whose leaves were made of fire. The party knew that is was dangerous, because there were goblin bones among its roots. But Heian, being an elf, couldn’t resist the “invitation”. Throwing a stone at the tree, the insufferable fey noted that the “fire leaves” were actually small firebats that swiftly attacked the party. Still unsatisfied, Heian approached the tree, only to be grappled and strangled by its animated roots. While the party discussed the merits of saving the irksome fey, Heian escaped by assuming crowshape.

The trail taken by the group leaded to the other side of the lighthouse’s mountain. Using Valquir as flying scout, the party learned that the mountain range ahead was still more hostile, affected by the harsh volcanic weather and honeycombed with disturbing giant caves – their entrances filled with the bones of bigger monsters. Wisely they decided to retreat.

Following a minor trail and climbing to the Upper Scales, Heian managed to locate more tracks to a set of small caves. Once inside the party kept going, until an upper exit, guarded by another “fire tree”. There were clear signs that goblinoids used this passage, so there must be a way to “deactivate” the arboreal guardian. Searching around the cave the party learned that smoke let the tree temporarily numb and so managed to cross it. Ahead there was another set of caves and a cacophony of sounds that seemed to indicate that an entire goblin tribe was making a festival. The sounds, however, were generated by a strange and intelligent red spider. Hilguen used his Divine Spark to grapple and pin the giant arachnid, while the rest of team invested against it. After the encounter, Heian and Garet found the creature’s lair and the loot taken from its previous victims – probably soldiers and scouts from the War of the Dark Banners. Among the magic items there was a small icon of Mitra’le (dead god of the Yellow Sun); a magic goblin skull; a blackened goblinoid sword and a snakeblade (a drasendór weapon).

Finding another path through the caves the Hammers crossed the mountain, only to reach a dead-end over a cliff. Dispirited, the group went back. Returning was even harder. While climbing down the mountain slope the party was hit in the open by an ash rain and had to fight through fire elementals. To make things worse, Garet’s backpack caught fire, detonating the technomagic grenades within. While recovering from the explosion, an avalanche started – caused not by the grenades but by a weird beast, half-crab, half-spider, with rock skin and a sole eye. The creature could control loose rocks around it and change rock to mud. The group survived thanks to celestial fire birds summoned from the Twin Suns by Drícia; Hilguen later managed to enter the brawl with his Divine Spark, evening the odds.

Night has already fallen, but the Hammers – battered and without resources – decided to push on to the safe walls of the lighthouse.

Day 6, Solar Month, 757 years since the Fall of the Gods, early summer

The Hammers were greeted at the Lower Gate by the priestess-monk Ylira, from the Avengers of the Gôteintor. She told them that the Road Marshal, Garamus the Hawk, had recovered from his wounds. She also informed them that the Knights of the Mug were now the only adventurer party outside the keep. After climbing to the upper levels, the Hammers meet the leader of the Avengers – Amaris D’Eris. The cavalier has returned from the upper Road of the Mountain with strange tales – there was a giant wall of magic ice covering the road some miles above. At this moment the lighthouse’s bells alerted the defenders that the horde has returned. Going to the walls, the Hammers saw thousand of torches appearing from nowhere in the peaks above the Eye. The goblinoid army was still far, maybe behind the mysterious ice wall mentioned by Aramis, but its numbers were staggering – probably four or five times bigger than the army that left Baer’s Tower.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Augury - Old Dragon (Old School brazilian RPG)

Before I being this review I’d like to talk a little about D&D (and RPGs in general) here in Brazil.

The first D&D ever translated in these shores was the 15th revision of the Basic Rule Set (the black box with the huge red dragon facing the faux-viking warrior). That was in the mid ‘90s. A few years later it was the time for AD&D 2nd (the revised “2.5” Edition core books). These were the portuguese versions; by then, we had already brazilian “grognards”, usually College players that had access to the original games at the ‘80s – something very hard to get here. If I’m not mistaken they played mostly AD&D 2nd, Call of Cthulhu and GURPS.

Today we have 3rd, 3.5 and the 4th Edition all translated to portuguese (but unfortunately no Pathfinder).

The D&D Black Box was, probably, the most famous entry-level RPG here in Brazil before local games (like Arcanum and 3D&T) got famous. Most of the Black Box’s adherents quickly jumped to AD&D 2nd, when it was translated.

As a site note, AD&D 2nd was launched in the second half of the ‘90s – the brazilian “Golden Age” of RPG – when most of the big national publishers thought the RPGs were the next “big hit” among teens. However, it all ended quickly when the books didn’t become instant best-sellers. Ironically mimicking the USA ‘80s witch hunt against D&D, a few years later RPGs were used by defense lawyers (and the media, and local churches… all the usual suspects) as the leading reason for a teen homicide committed in a graveyard (with hints of “satanic sacrifice”) in the city of Ouro Preto – at the time the most famous RPGs around here was Vampire the Masquerade and other White Wolf games. Because of the bad connection, RPGs were quickly shut out of the market. At the time I was living at Vila Velha, where the local assemblyman (desiring to easily gather votes with the ignorant and poor religious portion of the city population) even made a (terribly written and judicially hilarious) law forbidding the selling of RPGs. [Oh, and if you’re interested, the crime at Ouro Preto that generated all this irrational vitriol ended being a murder motivated by drugs; RPGs got in just because one of the suspects played Vampire and the responsible commissioner was a religious fanatic asshole desiring media attention.]

Ok, that was a little more than I intended… let’s get back to the review.

 So, with that background in mind, it was recently released the first brazilian retro-clone – Old Dragon, by the new Redbox Company. Actually, calling it a retro-clone is a bit misleading in my opinion. While Old Dragon does try to emulate the “feel” of the first editions of D&D, it’s mechanically influenced by the late editions and it lacks many elements of the first games – like races as classes, multiclass rules and treasure as XP. In this aspect it’s easy to see how Old Dragon was influenced by AD&D 2nd and D&D 3rd.

Let’s take a closer look.

Old Dragon is sold as a beautiful B&W booklet of 150 pages, with a simple yet charming red cover, showing a group of adventurers with an Old School visual.

OD’s introduction is dedicated to explaining what an “Old School” game is all about and, in this regard, this little book is pure golden – it neatly introduces the ideas promoted by the OSR, a movement that is sorely missing from the brazilian RPG community.

Old Dragon’s Ability Score rules go from 1 to 29 and looks like a simplified take on AD&D 2nd (although Charisma influences the potency of Turn Undead – a 3rd Edition influence). Ability checks are done with a d20 and you must roll under your Ability Score to succeed; however, conflicts between characters are done differently – both roll a d20 and add their Ability Scores with success going to the highest result.

Old Dragon has rules for humans, dwarves, elves and halflings. We see (again) a little of 3rd Edition here, with racial modifiers giving +2/-2 bonus. For example, humans assign a +2 and a -2 to two Scores of their choice; and dwarves gain +2 to Constitution and -2 to Charisma, besides slower movement, darkvision and the ability to detect stone traps (1-2 on a d6).

Elves in OD have a very odd racial trait (no pun intended): their maximum class Hit Dice can’t be higher than a d8 (with hinders Elf fighters). Remember: Elves here a just a race and can’t multiclass.

Halflings are psychologically based on their 3rd Edition version but (thanks Eru!) have the traditional Middle-Earth visual.

Ok, now classes.

Old Dragon uses a unified Saving Throw, like Swords & Wizardry; besides an ascending AC and Attack Bonus. We have rules for Clerics, Fighters, Wizards and Rogues. Fighters get a second iterative attack at 7th and Clerics have an optional rule that allows them to convert prepared spells to healing. The most famous addition here is Specializations.

Specializations are subclasses that every character can take at 5th level and they’re my second favorite aspect of Old Dragon (I’ll get to the first later).

Clerics can become Druids (Neutral) or Cultists (Chaotic); Fighters can become Paladins (Lawful), Warriors (Neutral) or Barbarians (Chaotic); Wizards can become Illusionists (Neutral) or Necromancers (Chaotic); and Rogues can become Rangers (Lawful), Explorers (Lawful), Bards (Neutral) or Assassins (Chaotic).

The Specializations cleverly use Alignments to better characterize them and limit a player’s choice. I must also stress that they’re totally optional – each Specialization has advantages and drawbacks. They’re just a terrific idea that gives a lot of flavor to Old Dragon. They also present new ways of playing old concepts – the Rogue Specializations are the most interesting (like the Ranger and the Bard).

Old Dragon combat and exploration rules don’t deviate from your typical retro-clones; their complexity is a lot closer to D&D than AD&D. However, there’re optional rules here and there – like a Critical Hit and a Fumble Table. The notorious differences are that OD uses rounds of 6 seconds and an Initiative rule which takes in account a weapon’s reach and bulk. The rules are always repeated and resumed through nice boxes or diagrams, with makes reading easier and enjoyable.

Old Dragon monsters have their Ability Scores listed, something that I admit don’t liking in retro-clones – albeit in this case they’re, thankfully, the most complex aspect of each creature. The book’s bestiary also has some pleasant surprises like Starspawns, Shoggoths, Deeper Ones and Cthulhu himself (and I must point out that we got our first portuguese RPG about Cthulhu only recently with Kenneth Hite’s amazing Trails of Cthulhu published by Retropunk).

Now its time for my second favorite rule of Old Dragon: magic items. Most magic items in OD are divided by alignments and this little detail gives to them an entire new flavor. For example: Lawful weapons give a fixed bonus, while Chaotic weapons have more power but also a drawback; and all magic Rings influence the behavior of their bearers either to Law or Chaos. All items have the same alignment of their creator.

Old Dragon is a great surprise in the brazilian RPG scene. Only know we’re beginning to see here the small, creator-owned games, which are famous around both the Forge and OSR movements. Old Dragon has an excellent product value for its art, rules and content and I hope that the authors decide to launch an english version for PDF. While it isn’t perfect (I surely miss multiclass rules, at least for Elves), it’s a nice game that can contribute to other retro-clones and Old School campaigns. Redbox so far has released a lot of free supplements with optional rules and systems and they’re launching also the first adventure, inspired by The Keep on the Borderlands. At least now I’ve some hope of finally finding players for my Old School game.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Worldbuilding - Devout wizards, bribable clerics and psionic gods

One aspect that I dearly miss from many D&D settings (and Golarion) is the absence of cosmological origins (or limitations) for the many “Power Sources” of the game (allow me to borrow a term from D&D 4th).

We have some wonderful exceptions, like Birthright, Dark Sun, Dragonlance and Scarred Lands. In Birthright, true arcane magic is the domain of those with either divine or elven blood – and there’re damn few! In Dragonlance, being a wizard requires a harrowing test that always costs something of the caster. In Scarred Lands, magic generates heat (a really bizarre effect to justify a S&S look to casters) and sorcerers derive their power from the splintered fragments of the titan Mesos. Finally, at Dark Sun magic itself is a corrupt force that feeds on the world’s life force. These implications lend an amazing flavor to all these classical settings. It strengths their themes and makes them unique. Greg Stolze’s REIGN has probably one of the all-time best chapters on Magic worldbuilding. The author reminds us that one of the most boring things in RPGs (or literature) is “vanilla” magic – supernatural powers that can be used practically as technology to do anything and come from “nowhere”. Who’s the killer? Cast a spell. How to reach point X? Cast a spell. Etc. That’s basically the reason why I like to come up with either complicated origins or dangerous bargain costs for spellcasters (like the fact that in my proposed Science Fantasy-take on Golarion all magic comes from the Great Old Ones).

I came up with the following ideas due (mostly) to the Malazan Book of the Fallen (a bag full of clichés and angst, but also a masterpiece of worldbuilding). In the same vein of my first article on the subject, these cosmological assumptions change many things about the way that Pathfinder’s classes work and interact with the setting. If too weird to be useful, I hope it can provide ideas or, at least, a good alternate Material Plane for your player character to visit.

It came from the Outer Plaaaaaane!

I’ll be using three Power Sources here: Arcane, Divine and Mystic. The oldest form of magic is Arcane. Wizards summon their powers from the other realms of existence by align themselves with them (almost like Erikson’s Warrens). Wizardry is basically the invocation and channeling of extraplanar magic. Player characters races (humans, demihumans and such) are capable of aligning themselves with just one Outer Plane. Each Arcane School is then aligned with a particular plane from the Outer Sphere.

Wizardry doesn’t come for free; by channeling a Plane’s power the caster is likewise touched by that Realm’s forces. Influence goes both ways. It’s the old Law of Contagion. So, if an Enchanter pulls too much power from Hell, he’ll get more aligned with that Plane (maybe attracting devils, getting tiefling traits or just becoming extremely Lawful).

As the original Pathfinder cosmology was not created around this idea, the following connections will surely sound odd and are just a suggestion to illustrate this article’s idea. Here is my first sketch:

Abjuration -> Heaven (Antagonist Planes: Hell and Abaddon)
Divination -> Nirvana (Antagonist Planes: Hell and the Maelstrom)
Enchantment -> Hell (Antagonist Planes: Heaven and Nirvana)
Evocation -> The Maelstrom (Antagonist Planes: Nirvana and Elysium)
Illusion -> Elysium (Antagonist Planes: Nirvana and First World)
Necromancy -> The Boneyard (Antagonist Planes: Hell and First World)
Shadow -> Abaddon (Antagonist Planes: Nirvana and First World)
Transmutation -> First World (Antagonist Planes: Boneyard and Shadow)

I made some alterations, as you can see. I removed the Conjuration and Universalist arcane schools. I upgraded Shadow and made it into a full school, to accommodate Abaddon’s soul-drinking daemons. I also made the First World a true Outer Plane to hold the Transmutation school.

Creating the above connections establish some strange but potentially interesting consequences: Enchanters are now Hell-wizards. They aren’t evil, but their charming and dominating spells easily led them to the Dark Paths of Hell. Evocators tend to be chaotic and dangerous (which actually make sense). Illusionists are arrogant tricksters (like the Azata) and Diviners are dedicated to the "Ultimate Truth" (almost like Angels).

The normal rules for school specialization apply, although I prefer simply to forbid Wizards from casting spells of their Antagonist Planes (as you can see I already fixed these planes above). The fact that the Conjuration school is now “open” to all casters lessens the impact for reducing a caster spell list.

I’m also establishing that all Wizards are limited in conjuring outsiders only from their chosen Plane (which can become tricky).

How about the Planar influence over a Wizard? I really don’t know how to do it (besides flavor). I was thinking about a Planar Threshold. Each time a Wizard cast a spell he accumulates a number of Taint Points equal to the Spell Level. If this value is higher than the Wizard’s Planar Threshold he becomes to suffer outsider influence – alignment chances, physical mutations, madness… Maybe Taint Points reduce a fixed rate per day, or after some ritual. I’m not sure yet.

Well, so now we know that Wizards were the first type of spellcasters. That be aligning with one of the Outer Planes they accumulate power to cast spells. Each Outer Plane desires control over the Material Plane and will influence their respective arcane casters. Maybe close proximity to Antagonist Planar magic causes a Wizard to suffer some penalty or strange side effects. Wizards will then distrust casters from other Planes.

You’ll note that I didn’t let any school aligned with the Abyss. That’s because I want the Abyss to be this cosmology’s wild card. The true is that any Wizard can align with the Abyss and that the Abyss is probable the Plane (or Planar Rift) that is most “alive” (and hungry). Again, comparing this with the Malazan Book of the Fallen, the Abyss is my take on the Chaos Warrens. It gives your extra powers, servants or remove your limitations (maybe granting access to Antagonist Planar magic), but it will corrupt your physical form and open rifts on the Material Plane until it devours your world.

Domains: The High Form of Magic.

So we got our rival and potentially mad planar Wizards walking around. In this scenario came the Clerics. They wielded Domain-based magery, which they said to be “purer” and “safer” than the outsider-tainted powers of the crude Wizards.

The first Clerics originated from Wizards that pledged their abilities to a Deity. Deities are all powerful outsiders that reside within the Outer Planes and can affect the Material Plane (and Inner Planes) through their followers and summoned lesser outsiders.

Clerics could have their powers revoked by their Patron Deity, but they didn’t suffer any influence from the alien planar magic. Better yet, they could use their spells to summon outsider servants of their god (this would be a new ability: clerics can convert prepared spells to summon monsters aligned with their deity).

However, it didn’t took long for the greedy mortals to discover that the Deities themselves channeled their epic powers through Domains, strange nexus or planar conducts associated with primordial concepts located within the Astral Plane.

After this discovery, Clerics became independent from their Deities. Instead of following a god’s commands, a Cleric could bind himself to the spiritual purity demands of a particular set of Domains (usually two). This would be represented by selecting two Taboos (with one additional Taboo every three levels). A 1st-level Cleric with the War and Strength Domains could pick, for example, the following Taboos: 1) Never retreat from battle; and 2) Never takes order from a weaker individual. Domain-bound Cleric can’t spontaneously convert their prepared spells to summon divine servants (and also can’t cast planar ally or gate spells).

So now, Clerics can not only choose to serve a different god, but also Deities can’t remove a Cleric’s powers, only certain abilities. This means that the Gods must play a more subtle game of favors (and threats) with their followers and that Clerics can indeed be “bought” (or cajoled) by other Deities to “change sides” (or that an inept Deity can become a servant of its clergy). All that matters to these divine casters are the eternal Domains, not theirs “Masks” (the Deities).

Mystics: The Psionic Heresy.

And now we finally get to the final piece of this proto-cosmology: Psionics (or Mystics as I prefer to call them here). Mystics are seem by most civilized races and cultures as Abyss-spawn and heretics – masters of dangerous and dissolute doctrines, imbued with strange powers by the Things From Beyond the Outer Sphere (like the Abyss’ demons, qlippoths and worse things from the Dark Tapestry).

All this is a lie.

Mystics are truly deeply feared and hated… but by the Deities. That’s because all Deities were (in bygone ages and ancient worlds) Mystics themselves. While Wizards summon raw Planar power and Clerics channel the Domain’s aspects, Mystic focus inward. They are the ones that find the True Source of power within them. If properly fueled, this Inner Fire will – centuries in the future – give rise to a new God. And that’s why the current Deities desire to extinguish this knowledge. Outer Sphere’s divine politics are already too messed up.

That’s all folks!

This article is only a (potentially useless) example of how you can customize Pathfinder classes and setting to create a unique experience and a totally new way of seeing classic elements like Wizards and Clerics. You’ll note that I didn’t include other classes like Sorcerers and Druids. I just couldn’t find any good idea for them and a Pathfinder game doesn’t has to have all classes to work (I fact many seem to forget these days since Eberron’s design philosophy became mainstream).

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Weird Arcana - Insane (New Oracle's Curse)

Here's my last new curse (so far) for the Oracle class.
Insane: You were touched by the gods and now are completely mad. You could constantly babble while alone or maybe write in a script that no one else (including you) can understand. You take a –4 penalty on all Wisdom-based skill checks. You’re immune to confusion effects. At 5th level, you can once per day, as a full-round action, treat your next Knowledge check as a natural 20, even if untrained. At 10th level, you add commune to your list of spells known and can, once per day, ignore its material component. At 15th level, once per day, when targeted by a confusion effect, you can choose to automatically suffer its effect and, as an immediate action, inflict the same upon a number of targets equal to your class level (maximum 20 targets). The target saves against the confusion effect using either the original DC or 10 + ½ your class level + your Cha modifier (whichever is greater).

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Weird Arcana - Doomed (New Oracle's Curse)

Like Graveborn, this curse deals with an element that I believe to be common to many myths (but usually hard to use on RPGs, unless as a metagame rule). I toyed with a different approach to these rules, basically the 10th and 15th level abilities.

Doomed: Through fevered dreams it was revealed to you the moment of your death. You don’t remember the precise circumstances, only symbols and images associated with your doom. You’re filled with hopeless, nihilism or ennui. You take a –4 penalty on all Charisma-based skill checks. You’re immune to morale bonus or penalties (including fear effects). At 5th level, you gain a +4 competence bonus against compulsion effects and any Sense Motive check against you has its DC increased by +8. At 10th level, you can once per day treat a natural 1 as a natural 20 on any d20 check. However, after using this ability the GM can declare any natural 20 rolled by you as a natural 1, until the end of the day. At 15th level, you can once per day ignore one damage-dealing attack against you as an immediate action. However, the GM can declared any damage-dealing attack against as a critical threat, until the end the day.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Building Old School classes for fun and (no) profit…

This is the result of my leisure hours and an unfulfilled desire of running OD&D. I don’t know if these classes are balanced or if they’re a result of “mental copy and paste” as I have read a lot of OSR blogs lately.

I remember only that the Yogi’s name was stolen from the excellent blog The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms and the idea of the class came after reading Telecanter’s great compilation of house rules, where he briefly commented about wanting a psionic class that didn’t use a “magic points” system.

The mastermind was originally for Pathfinder, but it became so much easier (and fun) to create a savant-like character (and potential mountebank) for OD&D that I gave up on the original idea and made the class below.

Here it goes…
(All references are to the Little Brown Books)

The Yogi

Use the HD, combat matrix, saving throws and XP table of the Cleric.

Psionic System: Your powers are called Disciplines. You must roll 1-4 on a 1d6 to activate a Discipline. Your chances diminish by 1 after each power successfully activated. If you meditate for 1 hour, uninterruptedly, increase your chances back by 1 (maximum 1-4). If you roll a 6 you can't use that particular Discipline again for 1 day or until you rest and meditate for 8 hours. Two concomitant "6" block all your Disciplines for the next 24 hours. Unless otherwise noted a successful activation means that a particular power works for 1 turn (or 1 day for powers like “ignore hunger”; as always, this is adjudicated by the Referee).

Disciplines: Pick 3 different Disciplines at level 1. At every odd level, pick a new Discipline or improve your Rank by 1 on a Discipline you already possess.

1st rank: Pacify an animal or know its intents.
2nd rank: Control one animal whose HD is equal or lower to half your level.
3rd rank: Control a number of animals whose total HD are equal or lower than your level.

1st rank: As the spell, range 30 ft.
2nd rank: Sense all living things, range 30ft.
3rd rank: Range goes to 300 ft.

1st rank: Move things (maximum 50 pounds/level).
2nd rank: Telekinetic Punch for 1d6 (no save) or break things (use your Intelligence score instead of Strength)
3rd rank: Increase to 100 pounds/level. Telekinetic Punch delivers 2d6 of damage.

1st rank:  Verbal telepathy within line of sight.
2nd rank: Telepathy range is now limited by acquaintance (the Referee can require a check or saving throw for difficult targets or decree that the power doesn’t work because of a barrier (like stone, lead, underground etc).
3rd rank:  You can now send sounds, images, tastes and impressions.

1st rank: As body equilibrium.
2nd rank: As the spell levitation.
3nd rank: As the spell fly.
4th rank: Levitate one target.

Sannyasa (Somatic Disciplines)
1st rank: Feign death, hold your breath, or ignore hunger and thirst.
2nd rank: Ignore sleep, don't breath.
3rd rank: Ignore poison, disease, heal 1d6 hit points.

Master Disciplines

Astral Projection (require Telepathy Rank 3 and Sannyasa Rank 2)
As the spell astral projection.

Mind Shield (require Telepathy Rank 1 and ESP Rank 1)
After failing a saving throw against a mind-effect (Referee’s decision) can try to activate this power.

Mind Blast (requires Telepathy Rank 1 and ESP Rank 1)
Follow the table below:

Intelligence   Saving Throw at Range    Effect of
of Opponent       1-2"  3-4"  5-6"      Mind Blast

    3-4            19    19    17       Death
    5-7            17    16    15       Coma, 3 days
    8-10           15    14    13       Sleep, 1 hour
    11-12          13    12    11       Stun, 3 turns
    13-14          11    10     9       Confuse, 5 turns
    15-16           9     8     7       Enrage, 7 turns
    17              7     6     5       Feeblemind
    18              5     4     3       Insanity, permanent

Magic users add +1 to their saving throws, and clerics add +2. A Helm of Telepathy adds a +4 to saving throws, and when such saves are made the attacking Mind Flayer is stunned for 3 turns.

The Mastermind

Use the HD and combat matrix of Magic-user, but saving throws and XP table of the Cleric.

Masterminds are surprised only surprised with a 1 on 6.

Masterminds detect secret doors like an elf and stone traps and pits like a dwarf.

Masterminds can use scrolls, wands/staves, rings and misc. magic items.

Planning Ahead: All PCs and NPCs that go after a Mastermind must declare their intentions to him. Some Referee use variant initiative systems that aren’t compatible with this ability. In this case, just ignore it.

Propitious Advice: A Mastermind can give his action to a close ally as long as the target follows his commands.

Reaction Rolls for hiring attempts and Loyalty checks are always upgraded by one step when made by a Mastermind.

Scrawny Sage: If the Mastermind doesn’t carry a visible weapon or act in a threatening way, he shouldn’t be the target of any monster on the first round of combat (unless there a lot of creatures facing the party, as usual the Referee should adjudicate this).

Mountebank: The first time the Mastermind meets an intelligent creature he can try to quickly trick or lie to him (the Referee can establish that the target can make a saving throw).

The Right Tool for The Job: if he has enough gold with him, a Mastermind can (once per game session) declare that he spent that money to buy an item usable for the situation at hand. The Referee can require that the Mastermind had visited a shop/town recently where the item could have been bought; the Mastermind must explain how the item is with him if he was searched before by enemies.

At 9th level a Mastermind gets a spy network and any Reaction Roll that comes with a natural “12” means that the lesser NPC/monster meet actually works for him!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sword & Sorcery Golarion - "Reskinning" Core Races (Part IV)

Time for the dwarves. I’m going to be honest here: I don’t have a clue about what to do with these guys. The best suggestion I have seen is from Swords & Wizardry: turn dwarves into troglodytes. It’s easy and it seems to fit perfectly. However, I believe it’s a little too much for my take on Sword & Sorcery Golarion. Troglodytes make perfect antagonists for this type of setting, but I don’t think they make a good player character race.

Looking at the dwarf stats (that is what matters mostly here) we see a tough and wise race, good builders that can live finely underground (or without daylight). Something about these stats suggests a static and placid race, probably ancient. Let me see what I can do about it…

(reskinned Dwarves)

Few have seen the reclusive and aloof Anakites.  Called Mountain Lords or – more pejoratively – Half-giants, Anakites are an amazing old race. Their Sky Citadels are probably the most ancient structures built over Avistan, with the exception of the Serpentmen hidden cities. Many believe that Anakite sacred-engineers helped the Azlant built their cities and harbors.

Anakites are tall humanoids, easily reaching 7-ft., with dusk skin, curly dark hair and trimmed squared beards. Their eyes are dark and deep. Anakites rarely blink and many legends claim that they don’t sleep. They’re sky worshippers and keep their religious rites hidden from other races. Anakites are great architects and chroniclers, masters of many crafts and lost arts; many kings spend rivers of gold (or their daughters in sacrifice) to have a reclusive Watcher (one of the race’s nicknames) at its court. Anakites are the only known human race able to forge adamantine or mitral.

Anakites are distrusted by other Golarion human cultures for strange and unclear reasons. Many religions blame them for some primordial or forgotten sin or crime. Texts whispers of hordes of bloodlust half-giants descending from their mountain holds to burn, rape and desecrate old kingdoms of man, until the end of the Age of Darkness. During those dark times, some event profoundly changed Anakite civilization. Sages believe that a good part of that race died then, which may be truth as the oldest Sky Citadel (built closer to Mount Voormithadreth) was taken by the Voormis and its inhabitants savagely killed. More sinister texts hint about "Things from Above" that came and slaughtered (or abducted) the majority of the half-giants.

Common knowledge holds that Anakites worship dark things that came down from the skies, which is why they live only in the tallest mountains of Avistan. In fact, their rulers are a noble caste called the Emim (“Feared Ones” or “Pure Ones”). Emim are gaunt and taller than even Anakites and are always shrouded in silk and surrounded by a palpable aura of dread. It’s said that Anakites would be weaker “half-human breed”, servants of the “Shinning Ones”, whose Holy Spawn rule the Sky Citadels. Anakites shun daylight, their dark cities coming alive only during the night, when sinister and distant starts blaze stronger in the sky.

Commentaries: Giant or half-giant races are a classical theme of many settings and histories associated with Sword & Sorcery. They’re also sufficiently “human” to be good player characters. I added a little Biblical flavor to our lawful-militaristic Pathfinder dwarves to create an old and static society full of disturbing and dark Lovecraftian secrets.

Mechanically speaking Anakites are as long-lived as elves. Replace Small Size and Defensive Training with Powerful Build (for weapon-handling effects, CMB and CMD, Anakites are treated as Large-sized humanoids). Remove Slow and Steady. Their Hatred bonus is used now only against Voormis and troglodytes (an underground race and ancestral enemy).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Weird Arcana - Graveborn (New Oracle's Curse)

I said it before, but it doesn't hurt to repeat: Oracles are awesome.

It’s a perfect blend of mechanics and flavor. I can’t point exactly what is so cool about the class – maybe the way the curses work – but there’s something incredibly primordial about Oracles that I just love it (another reason could be that I deeply loathed D&D's Favored Soul as one of the most ‘flavorless’ class ever created – I know, an exaggerated impression).

New Oracle’s Curse

Graveborn: You are touched by Death. This could mean that you’re born dead (without breathing) or that you’re born from a dead woman. This could also mean that you literally died once and was raised from the dead. It doesn’t matter; when you came back you brought something with you (or you left something behind). You skin is cold and you have a deathly parlor. You don’t heal naturally, only through magic or long-term care. You also suffer a –4 penalty on Handle Animal and Ride checks with living animals and magical creatures. You gain a +4 competence bonus on saves against death effect. At 5th level, you only suffer half damage from negative energy attacks and reduce all energy drain by 1 (minimum 0). At 10th level, you’re immune to negative energy effects. At 15th level, you’re immune to negative drain.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ideas for spellcasters from the days of yore…

While I was thinking on my next “reskinned” core race for Sword & Sorcery Golarion, I unavoidably started pondering about which spellcasters class I would allow on such game. As usual, I’m not a great fan of divine spellcasters on these campaigns. However, as I already had written about a campaign without divine casters, I wanted something new; a different approach. I also figured out that a second reason: I could use this new campaign frame to run a game centuries before the current timeline of Golarion.

Well, I knew that I didn’t wanted alchemists, bards, clerics, inquisitors or paladins. Druids were in. Shamans were a necessity (maybe I should build a better class). Rangers were in only in their spell-less version (maybe Bards too). Summoners were out (too “anime” or “high fantasy” for me) – but could appears as NPC villains. Witches were too “medieval” and needed a proper “reskinnning” (or just an alternate version).

Oddly, I found myself putting Wizards as a NPC class (for races like Serpentmen). Finally, I thought of only two spellcasters that I knew I really wanted in my game as player-classes: the Oracle and the Sorcerer. Both classes had the right “feel” for a Bygone Age/S&S game. The fact that they were spontaneous casters with a limited number of spells known would make each player character more unique – which I find fitting with a number of pulp fantasy or Classical Age casters.  

But I wanted something more…

I was musing about dividing PC magic in three basic groups:
(what follow is just some mental ramblings, I had these ideas just a few hours ago)

Spells would your usual spells known for each character;
Charms would represent a new type of magic item. They would work as a scrolls (probably cheaper), but the caster wouldn’t be limited to his spells known. In fact, he would have a “charm grimoire” (it doesn’t have to be a book, it could be a staff, runes, tattoos, familiar etc). Charms would be one-use-only expandable dweomers that only its creator could use. Things like bizarre potions, powders, symbols, living snakes etc. Charms would be the result of Sorcerers and Oracles trying to surpass their innate limitations of knowing just a few spells. They also would allow these casters to have a good excuse for searching old ruins and temples for “forbidden knowledge”;
Rituals would be your classic Cthulhu stuff. Powerful dweomers that required time, expensive/exotic/weird components and locations. I would probably steal stuff from the Incantations and d20 Cthulhu.

Another idea that crossed my mind is that both Sorcerer and Oracles would have the option of crafting a talisman. Talismans are special casting focus. They allow the caster to ignore, when casting, either a verbal or a somatic component. However, it’s expensive to create a talisman and if it’s stolen, the caster becomes vulnerable to their enemy magic (or something crazy like a geas-like effect).

That’s it for now. If I ever get to organize it better I’ll post my thoughts on a future post.