The gods amongst us

Steven Lumpkin writes over on the 1d100 blog about ideas that he rolls on, randomly. I’ve rolled ‘Gods’ on his current table. Lets do that in twenty five minutes.

Physical embodiments of power

Gods didn’t create the world. They aren’t the source of your magic. Without them, the world won’t cease to function any differently from what it already does – except maybe there’s on less tyrant or helping hand. These people – for that’s all they are – are highways of immense magic. Where you may pluck at the arcane strings between our world and the ethereal, they are a conduit for it. The power of this radiates awfully from them, hurting to peer at them for too long.

People of this much power come baring gifts to those who wish to follow them. They punish those they are jealous of and take all they think they deserve with no regard for your livelihood. Kneel, or die. There is no way you can stop them.

Well… There was that one time. A hidden boy from the shadows with a dagger – some bards sing of the dagger’s dark mutterings but others of its mundane rust – with a quick jab and the god bled. Bled like a swine, draining over a butcher’s grate.

Missing clarity

Gods can only brag of their power. Those that brag of their knowledge are arrogant and blind. Like you they hear with their ears, taste with their tongue, and feel with their touch. Divination may be their skill set, but time enough to witness everything is likely not.

They are still prone to lust and grief, hunger and pining. So they can be prayed upon by the wise. Manipulation can be a risky game but the rewards that come along with it far exceed that. The gods know this well. One thing that unites them all is this paranoia.

Messengers and missionaries

It is not rare for a god to take on a group of their closest followers – the ones they distrust their least – and have them scout the world for them, and bring back stories and information on would-be betrayals. These people compile information, carry messages between each other, and do all they can to stay in the close circle of few, near their beloved.

This clerical work comes with rewards. Items and badges of honour which show their position alongside a god – their protection assured by just showing this badge. Enemies of their Lord often flee at its sight, fearing retribution for wrongdoing against them.

A cleric’s travels does not take them along well trodden trading roads. They paths they have to take are far more unkept, as they seek where others rarely go, looking for threats against god. As time cures all ills, so does practice. Understanding how to mend wounds and purge poisons comes with the job, after time.

Roll your character

I saw someone make some dice on Facebook once – I think they were 3d printed – with class and race icons on them. I thought it was cool but the I’m saving to buy a house right now so I didn’t even click through to see how much they were selling them for.

In a fun collaboration with my partner, we made some paper d12s, which have the standard classes on. Well, they have icons which you can guess are for the standards classes. It’s hard to differentiate between sorcerers and wizards, fighters and barbarians, so think of these more as Story Cubes. If you can’t tell, make up a story around the icon and go for what you really wanna play!

A stack of paper d12s

Lost Civilisations

Following my notes on merchants, my next article is discussing lost civilisations, ranging from the extinction of entire species, the affect of a single family disappearing, or even just one unique creature going missing. In any case, this chapter will dive into what’s left for your adventurers to find when someone vanishes from the face of the earth.

Ruins and reminders of who came before help fill your world with history that makes it feel more real. Maybe your adventurer’s quest didn’t just start last Tuesday, but they’re following the events of something that happened three centuries ago that’s only now causing problems.

Here’s what you get in this one:

  • The history of three ideas for long gone people that you’re free to steal or use for inspiration
  • Five tables to roll on (along with a healthy dose of imagination) to build your own long lost group
  • A whole one-shot adventure, with the potential to totally end the world unless your characters can act against a ritual to summon a kraken
  • Six ridiculously powerful rings
  • Stats for a bright imp, a cool celestial controlled imp
  • Sprinklings of DM advice all through

Like before, you can grab this for free here, or you can pay-what-you-want over on the DMs Guild.

More on Merchants

A while ago I wrote a tiny article giving some stat blocks for merchants and tradesman around your 5e world, and then I popped it on the DMs Guild and people actually bought it. With real money.

Alongside my excitement at having made money from my writing for the first time ever, I felt bad that it was really just two pages that people had paid for. So I supersized it!

Now, the merchants article includes:

  • Stat blocks for common and master merchants
  • A system for figuring out the value of goods (appraising), which you can use for your merchants or for players who want to make such a check
  • Three different NPCs, premade for you with wants, desires, and a place in the world
  • Each of them have a quest prompt for you to expand on that you can fit into your world, or kick off your campaign with
  • 24 items that the NPCs sell, each ready for you to put some history into
  • Four bits of DM advice!

You can grab it for free here, or pay-what-you-want over on the DM’s Guild.

I received some feedback

The best part about writing those two spells was that a couple of my friends gave me some notes which made me think about aspects of design that I hadn’t considered.

One friend, we’ll call him Will as that’s his name, pointed out that in my attempt to add fun to Sleep, I missed out a crucial point: niche spells aren’t necessarily a terrible thing. Specifically, the spell is one of the only AOE low level abilities. This is why it’s a good spell. Mark, another accurately named friend, said nearly the exact same thing about my reimagining of Gentle Repose. It’s a spell that’s good for two very specific and very important tasks; extending the time that Revivify can be cast, and stopping an ally becoming a manipulated undead. Any more than that and the spell becomes overpowered – hard to wrangle.

It’s weird that I was given this advice multiple times, by two different people. All the evidence points to this being practised wisdom. Will and Mark have played longer than me (and dare I say it, pour over the core books much better than I do). Not to mention the fact that Wizards likely know what they’re doing – so many of the spells must behave like this for some reason. It must be that a singularly purposed spell is just Good Writing.

Despite that, I still want to scream “WHY!?”

Aren’t sleepy crickets and animated, not-quite-dead allies fun? What’s so bad about “hijinks” (as scrap princess calls it) or “versatility” (as Mark called it)?

Does versatility make writing campaigns hard? Is a sandboxed rules environment too difficult to balance? This can only be true if a DM writing a campaign sits down and writes around these spells that open (or allow rescue from) very specific avenues of folly. In which case, the spells really are terrible. They shouldn’t take up the space they do in the PHB. I don’t think this is how people write adventures.

In a world where Wizards have given us very specific Allen keys that work only in very specific bolts, I feel like we could do with some more multitools.

Wouldn’t that be more fun?

Boring Spells

scrap princess made an interesting post criticising how some 5e spells are pretty bland. I’ve got two mechanic-based spells that come right to mind that I’d like to make more story-based, without altering the level too much (though, really not caring too much about that). My aim is to take these spells from a crunchy exploit of the rules, to something actually usable in more than one situation.

Sleep

I dislike Sleep and write it off as nearly useless. I’ve seen it used many times and can remember the times it actually worked. You’re going to get 22 HP of creatures to fall to sleep (including allies, making the spell even more useless as you can’t use it in a dire straights moment). Even at level 1, if you’re in a fight where you feel the need to use more than cantrips, the bad guy you’re up against is going to have more than 22 HP. That 22, lets remember, is the average; you’re just as likely to roll under it.

The spell’s job is to temporarily knock an enemy out of combat, rarely more than one but sometimes. That’s its only real purpose. The single minute it lasts for means outside of combat it’s not great. Let’s change it.

Sleep. 1st level Enchantment.

1 action. Range: 90 feet. Components: Whispered voice, a dried cricket which is used up by the spell. Duration: 1 hour. Concentration. Wisdom save.

The cricket is brought back to life by your whispered spell. Once given a description of the target, it will do its best to seek them out within the range of where the spell was cast. The cricket can move up to 60 feet on the caster’s turn, including its first turn.

When it comes into contact with any conscious creature (other than the caster), that creature must make a Wisdom saving through or else be put into a magical sleep for the duration, or until they take damage. This happens regardless of if the creature is wearing armour or other gear.

Upon contact, upon being killed, or at the end of the duration of the spell, the cricket crumbles into sand.

Using a higher level spell slot increases the potency of the sleep. 3rd level or higher: Duration increases to 24 hours. 5th level or higher: Spell has no duration and is only bound by Concentration.

Now the spell lasts a whole hour. One minute was clearly marking the spell as a combat one – “1 minute” being mechanical lingo for “oh, just an entire fight, I guess”. Now it has a bunch more utility. You can use it to sleep the security guard, carry out your entire heist, and be gone again before he notices anything.

Allowing this to be extended to a day or longer, is mostly to allow the spell to be used as a quest hook; our train driver has stopped responding from beyond his impenetrable compartment, and the train is quickly coming to the end of a line with no sign of slowing down. Our only hope is to find the evil wizard who’s put the driver under their spell and break their Concentration!

The cricket can hang around for a while too, by the way. Just waiting for someone that looks like the described target. The caster could be long gone by then, leaving the cricket to jump into the arms of whoever follows after them.

This is much cooler. It’s more useful. More likely to work (especially as it gets better as you get better at controlling your magic). And it’s just more fun. Meanwhile, it’s still only temporary, requiring just a shove (to the sleeper, or the caster to break their Concentration). It only affects one creature now. It can’t actually do any damage. And, if the DM was mean enough, the cricket can just be avoided by the target. A wizard would know exactly what that insect dashing right towards them was up to – they’d be trained to spot it.

It’s for sure still within the realms of a level 1 spell.

Gentle Repose

Which sane cleric is going to give up a prepared spell slot for this? At best it’s a “just in case a party member dies” spell, which rarely happens. During the 10 days of the spell, the “dead” PC has no idea if they should roll another character or not – sitting and watching like an audience member, rather than playing a game. It’s not a good spell to take. Even if your cleric was committed to their keeping-you-idiots-alive role, the game is less fun for them because they can’t take Zone of Truth or Spiritual Weapon or Silence.

Gentle Repose (Ritual) 2nd level Necromancy.

1 action. Range: Touch. Components: A cry for help, a gathering gesture over the body, a donation which the spell will consume. Duration: See description.

A wordless shadow wrenches itself from the wounds, mouth, ears, and nose of the corpse or other remains that you are touching. It holds out a hand.

An offer is expected and taken by the shadow. This needn’t be just gold. The DM decides on the worthiness of the offer.

Pitiful: 1d4 + 2. Decent: 1d10 + 2. Respectful: 1d20 + 2.

The DM rolls this to determine how long the shadow is willing to reanimate the corpse for. They become undead and are not considered dead. For the duration or until returned to life, the corpse loses all proficiencies. It remembers little of its previous life and struggles to talk. This is not a comfortable life.

So now it’s a useful spell! Suddenly you’ve got FOUR HOURS to find someone who can revive your friend. Just four hours to find that 600 gold pieces the clerics want as a “donation” – if you can even find a cleric willing to deal with this (now undead) situation.

The body may be a lumbering, dazed buffoon, but your player still gets to play themselves. Impose disadvantage on everything they do (as if poisoned) to really reinforce that they’re only glued to their body and not fully in control. A resurrection is the only way to fix this. Even after you’re back, you have to ask yourself, what was that shadow inside you? Your soul? A demon? Do we all have that inside us..?

Alternatively, do the ritual on a dead horse and flee from the inevitable TPK.

The spell shouldn’t replace Speak with Dead, which is why the ability to do finessed skills like talking is limited. Even so, is this spell a whole bunch more powerful than its original? Sure. It’s also more fun, more useful, and adds in some story. It’s now a spell worth taking, and leans into the necromancy territory properly, which Wizards seem terrified of doing.

I showed this to a few friends before publishing it, and let me tell you they were outraged with how I’ve treated these poor spells. They were quite right to be in some instances, and yet I refute them all! I’ll be posting a follow up explaining how wrong they are.

D&D and LaTeX

I quite like writing in Word. It feels fully featured and does everything I need it to. Mike Mearls in his Happy Fun Hour writes in Word, and if it’s good enough for him it should be for all of us. However, it’s quite wonderful having your content look like a Player’s Handbook cutout.

There’s a website called the Homebrewery which lets you do that really well.

However, there’s an even nerdier way of doing it.

Today I updated my Merchants supplement to be written with LaTeX using a template from Evan Bergeron (and the other contributors) on GitHub. On a slightly less nerdy point, I’ve no idea how to write LaTeX. So, I had to turn to Overleaf which provides a simple UI for it.

Overleaf with a D&D document

It’s a good place to properly store your progress (with a perfect revision history), keep all your images and other files together, and collaborate on the files Google Drive style with other people. Nothing is locked in either – I push all my projects to GitHub just via the UI.