Friday, August 31, 2012

Proficiency of the Week: Sword, No-dachi to Scimitar

Again, with the caveat that people will always complain that their sword isn't where they want it, here are swords, again, requiring one slot each:
  • Sword, No-dachi
  • Sword, Ninja-to
  • Sword, Rapier
  • Sword, Sabre
  • Sword, Scimitar 
 If you compare this list to previous ones, you will find that here you find another category of swords being entered into the game. In this campaign world there exists a formalized fencing training system, and graduates of this system can be assumed to know their way around other swords taught within the system. It is perfectly reasonable, in other settings, to allow other such 'groupings' of swords. Note that this doesn't actually give any bonus to the user, as he'd get the same  'related weapon' penalty without the grouping, but establishing these weapons as fencing blades is very important if the character also takes the non-weapon proficiency 'fencing.' (This could be highly important if challenged to a formal match in some places.)


Proficiency:      #Slots:  Can Specialize?            Description:

Sword, No-dachi   1              Yes                          Proficient in no-dachi, reduced penalty for 2-handed

Sword, Ninja-to     1              Yes                          Proficient in Ninja-to, reduced penalty for other one-
                                                                                handed swords.

Sword, Rapier       1              Yes                          Proficient in Rapier, reduced penalty for other one-
                                                                                handed swords, reduced penalty for ‘fencing’ swords.

Sword, Sabre        1              Yes                          Proficient in Sabre, reduced penalty for other one-
                                                                                handed swords, reduced penalty for ‘fencing’ swords.

Sword, Scimitar    1              Yes                          Proficient in Scimitar, reduced penalty for other two-
                                                                                handed swords.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Pantheon Mondays:Aenagir


Greater Elemental God                              
Chaotic Neutral
Portfolio: The Seas, Hurricanes
Major Spheres: Animal (sea-life only,) Divination, Elemental (Water or Earth,) Travelers, Weather.
Minor Spheres: Chaos, Charm, Combat, Plant, Protection
Requirements for Specialty Priests: DEX:15  WIS:17, Neutral or Chaotic alignment
Specialty Priest Weapons: Belaying Pin, Bill, Harpoon, Javelin, Net, Spear, Trident
Armor Allowed: None, Any shields
Races Allowed: Elves, Half-Elves, Human
Proficiencies: (Required) None (Bonus)Swimming, Navigation, Boating
Granted Powers:
·         Turn Undead
·         Cast `Water Breathing` once/day. 
·         At 8th Level: Said spell lasts 24 hours and (s)he can cast an extra water breathing spell as per the book description.  All water breathing spells cast by the Specialty Priest cannot be dispelled except by Wish, and will renew themselves if they wear out underwater.
·         At 3rd Level, the character determine depth underwater 1d6 1-4
·         At 3rd Level, the character has infravision when underwater
·         5th and 8th Level: Choose one underwater language, free
·         At 12th Level, 18th level and 21st level, the character can pick up one underwater form to shapeshift into three times a day.
Signature Spells: Cetacean Form, Converse with Sea Creatures, Uncontrolled Weather (all cast as if priest casting level is 5 levels higher .)
Specialty Priests of Aenagir call themselves Girians, they wear muted colors, it is a very unstructured religion. The holy symbol of Aenagir is a silver teardrop and is usually worn on an earcuff, Aenagirians never wear gold. Robes are usually silver or gray. Aenagir also has a small population of druids. They tend to focus on sea life and the ecology of salt water marshes and the sea.
Relationships with Other Priesthoods: The Girians generally do not pay attention to other priesthoods and are rare enough to be beneath the interest of other priesthoods.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Swashbuckler's Luck Mod and How I used it for an NPC paladin.

When players create a character in our house rules, they roll percentiles three times and choose the best number of the three for a stat called 'Luck.' This luck roll is to be used when the player has completely failed in a spectacular way, as a last resort to prevent character death. (For example, a recent luck roll allowed a mage in the party to be resurrected after a stupid death because the party's wealthy archmage patron happened to be observing their exploits in a scrying mirror and decided helping the hapless wizard would be a profitable scenario and allow the job he sent them to do to get finished. [Before being dropped back into the party, the character was warned 'you belong to me now,' ominously...and in less polite terms.])

The wording in the house rules is very clear-not to pick the highest number of the three for luck, but the best for your character, and when new players ask why anyone would want an intentionally low luck, the older players always say just one word: Swashbucklers.

[If you're familiar with the swashbuckler luck mod, stop reading here, and pick up at the next purple text.] 

Swashbucklers are a mod in which a player (usually, but not always a rogue) voluntarily gets a bonus to every action roll (skill, to-hit, etc.) in one set of situations in exchange for taking a penalty to every roll in the inverse of the situation. The exact nature of the mod is dependent on how the character is created, but usually follow one of two scenarios, the heroic swashbuckler or the environment-based swashbuckler.

The heroic swashbuckler gets the bonus when doing things that are selfless (or at least don't mostly benefit himself), and the penalty for doing things that are selfish (or mostly benefit himself.) The environment-based swashbuckler gets the bonus when doing things in his 'comfort zone,' and is a complete screw-up when he leaves it. The most frequent form of this environmental mod is on land and on water, so a swashbuckler might be suave and dexterous when climbing the rigging of his ship, then fall flat on his face and stammer in a courtly (or other on-land) situation.

What's important to remember is that no one is required to take this modification. It is a voluntary thing for people playing characters with the narrative of being very much fortune's fool. I allow players who've chosen the modification to drop it at will (however, they can only get it back by voluntarily dropping one level of experience or a permanent point from any stat, which I've had happen) and I've allowed a party to use a cleric of the god of fortune to cancel out a character's luck mod when it began to make the party crazy.

Before I explain the benefits of the swashbuckling luck modifier, let me add that most of the times I've used it, it's been for NPCs. It can get exhausting as a DM to try to take it into account, and if you have 2 characters with the mod in the same party, it gets insane. So let me explain how it works.

Never a dull moment...

When the character is doing the thing that he gets the bonus for, percentiles are rolled in addition to every normal roll that represents something he does. The DM knows these percentile rolls, but the player does not. When he rolls his luck score or under, the numbers on that die should be considered in the best possible light for the character. So, for example, the heroic swashbuckler trying to romance the jailor's wife to get the keys to free his party (a selfless act, in this case) who rolls his charisma to sway her into his arms doesn't merely succeed, but instead has her throw her arms up in the air in despair, finally talking to the one man in the world who understands, only to have the keys fly from her hand into the water bucket being brought to his party, which the swashbuckler notices as he sweeps her off her feet, but the servants carrying the water do not. In short, any success should occur in a dramatic fashion when the percentiles are on his side, and should occur in a normal fashion when the percentiles are not. Any failure should occur in a normal fashion.

When the character is doing the thing he gets the penalty for, percentiles are also rolled in addition to his check, with the same luck score, only now it is essentially an 'unluck' score. So, having freed the party by romancing the jailor's wife, the heroic swashbuckler decides that, since he's getting lucky, he might as well take advantage of the jailor's wife, and he proceeds to make mad, passionate love to her, rolling to see if he gets taken care of before the jailor comes home and slays him. If he rolls his luck score or lower (just as in the first example) while doing this 'selfish' thing, he should be assumed to get the worst possible result if he fails. So if he manages sneak out of the window of the jailor's wife when hubbie comes home unexpectedly, he might find he left his lute with his name on it in the room, or end up hanging by his fingertips from the window naked just as the girl he's been trying to convince to marry him is walking by. Successes are treated normally, but failures are dramatically awful when the percentiles are against him. A player can make the unluck situation a rare scenario by taking a voluntary low luck score at creation. Remember, luck can't make you fail or pass the stat check, it can only make the failure more spectacular or the success even better.

In this case, a high luck means a high chance of stunning successes and of devastating failures (and a slightly improved chance of surviving a rare automatic death scenario.) A low luck means a low chance of stunning successes (but still the normal chances of success) and a low chance of devastating failures (and a fairly normal chance of surviving a rare automatic death scenario.) Lastly, a luck as close to 50% as possible means you've got about the same score whether you're trying to succeed or fail. When you bear in mind that a swashbuckler can determine his bonus times and penalty times at character creation (always with the DMs permission) the player can game the system fairly easily ("Oh, the captain? He never leaves the ship, not for a second! He thinks things never go his way when he's on land!") to make the character he wants.

Swashbucklers can become tortured souls, afraid to step outside of their comfort zone because it always goes wrong when they do, which can be a very fun experience for a DM, especially with an NPC. What's important is to remember that for a swashbuckler there is never a dull moment, they are a study in contrasts, and writ large, and this can be used to drive a party to the brink of insanity if played well, which is why it's a mod that exists in the fine print, even if it is hardly ever used.

[Continue here if you don't care about the description of the swashbuckler luck mod.]

When my players first met Sir Four as an NPC, it was an enormous series of dramatic rolls that created the narrative that he was a sort of swashbuckler. He pretty much rolled 1s and 20s constantly for his entire time with the party, rolling at least one critical hit or fumble in every battle, and usually rolling both in every protracted battle. (For example, he waded through a group of trolls, cleaving heads and body parts, only to have his holy sword fly from his hand and embed in the wall right before facing the bloodthirsty evil cultist who commanded the trolls.) In one battle, he landed an enormous hit on a giant just before the giant sent him flying across the room, which led to the recurring theme of giant-sized enemies throwing Sir Four around the room. (Sir Four is my favorite NPC right now. He yells...all the time....even when not appropriate or happy.)
When Sir Four returned to the party, I added the swashbuckler luck to his bag of tricks, ruling he gets the bonus when doing things that are super paladiny, like holding a chaotic evil beastie at bay, and that he gets the penalty when fighting things that are only mostly evil or when doing 'normal guy' stuff, this essentially allows me to use the piety stat rubric without having to actually keep track of piety. (Piety is essentially a measure of how well a deeply religious character is living up to his deity's expectation of him, which can be very important for some clerical orders. It is one of a handful of behind the scenes concepts/numbers I keep on characters in a campaign.)


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Pantheon Mondays: The Gods of Aret and Ara-Introduction

Starting on Monday there will be a new weekly feature, I intend to go through all of the gods of Aret and Ara and post the information used to create 'specialty priests' of those deities. Long time players might notice that some deities that were previously used only for cultist baddies and the like, and are here given the full treatment. Some of this is new, some is not. My players can always ask me for the whole download.

Also, some of the deities share names (or have similar names) to deities of Realspace. Remember, always, that Aretspace is a multi-game area (although I've only posted stuff for uAD&D on this blog) and that area includes being a reflection of the one true world, as does realspace, and that's the general justification for such stuff. ALSO, some of the deities have the same name as some of the Epic-level player characters. Well, duh. Same shiat, different world.

The only thing really missing from this material is the descriptions of poisons of cultists of Momus. I'm trying to take that hand-written material on 20 year old paper and put it in the comprehensive poison guide, which should be posted next year. 

So, something to look forward to!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Administrative yatta

Some posts may become temporarily unavailable over the next few days as I am trying to better organize the labels and fix broken links and the rest as I begin to upload just a huge amount of material onto this blog. I hope this makes navigation easier, not harder, but there are no promises in this.

Please, please, please, use the comments (or email me, or even phone calls/twitter) if you find stuff that is broken, mangled beyond use, etc. Just make sure to tell me what you're trying to view the material on, because if I can't replicate your display problem I might not be able to fix it.


Proficiency of the Week: Assimilation

One of the paramount assassin skills, assimilation is the ability to study a culture, then pull off being a member of that culture.

Here is the description:

Assimilation: The character with this proficiency is able to study a different culture well enough to pretend to be a member of it. Assimilation allows the character to pick up cultural mannerisms (common rituals, expressions of speech, taboos, etc.). It is distinct from Acting but helpful to that proficiency. A character who has both Acting and Assimilation proficiency receives a +1 bonus to checks with either proficiency when portraying a member of another culture. (This is not cumulative with the Acting/Disguise bonus; if a character has all three proficiencies, she does not receive a +2 bonus.)

Assimilation uses an INT check without modifier, and takes 2 slots for non-rogues, or one slot for rogues.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Worldbuilders' Guide, Part Three

Historian’s Guide to Aret and Ara

According to one source, the world of Aret was originally settled by neoluddite space travelers from Earth, including a number of people who we’d call gamers. These people found themselves on a world where magic was ‘easy,’ and it quickly replaced technology (which they used only grudgingly.) The elves, dwarves, halflings and other ‘native’ races are the result of intentional genetic manipulation of human stock to better survive the erratic climate of Aret before The Equilibrium, where the Font (the place where all magic intersects with the Prime Material Plane) spawned storms of wild magic, dead magic, and even anti-magic. This technology-based starting point is said to explain both why the occasional high-tech ruin is found, and why the language has words which should be meaningless to people not from Earth. (Spartan, for example, is a word which would require a Sparta in the history to be meaningful.)
Likewise, many of the deities of Aret are similar to Earth deities in name or appearance (some, such as Fortuna, have the same name, but are much more important in the Aretor Pantheon) and the explanation that the planet was settled by earthlings is a good explanation for this. Other explanations involve the idea that both Earth and Aret were settled by the same beings, or that both are reflections of the one true world.
The elves and dragons, who have been here since the beginning, tell a different story, that the humans, dwarves, gnomes and other older races, as well as technology that seems out of place, slipped into the world because of the world’s loose connection to the Border Ethereal, which regularly takes various peoples from other places (especially ships at sea and flying vessels) who’ve become lost on the Ethereal Plane, and dumps them onto the planet. This theory is made credible by the fact that those lost at sea or in airships on Aret regularly find themselves slipping into the Ethereal Plane, and many large ships have crews which include clerics or mages skilled in steering away from such rips in the fabric of space-time. The sea between Misty Cross and Northern Conteria is especially notorious for these such rips, and about one in four ships will encounter them if they attempt to go the ‘short’ way across the sea.
Ships, particularly airships, which find their way into Aretspace are often stuck because the laws of physics work ever so slightly differently here. The powders, oils and compressed gasses which fuel them are often non-explosive or even inert once they’ve transcended space and landed here. Even those substances which still burn often burn less effectively, and some ‘inert’ substances that should not burn explosively explode with impunity. With magic so effective and predictable, many of the technologies that rely on gunpowder or petroleum products in the mundane world are simply passed up or replaced with magic in Aretspace. Alchemists from other worlds coming into Aret find that this combustion suppression has something to do with the magic or the atmosphere, because in tightly controlled labs or small amounts the mixtures might work, but when scaled up, they often fail. Alchemists from other places have a -50% to their alchemy scores when trying to use them on Aret.


The most frequently used non-academic calendar on Aret is the civic calendar of Misty Cross, which dates the first year as the first year of peace after the Racial wars that tore the city apart. It is dated from the completion of the castle in the city center, and is frequently called PW, or Post War, with year before then going backwards (as with our BCE) and ending at year one PW. Before then, the city used the founding of the city (CF) itself as a start date,  having been founded (according to both the city mythology and Grey Elven historians) in the year 2056 PM (pre-Modern.) The castle, then, was completed in 2057 CF, or 1PW.
As if this wasn’t confusing enough, there exists a Grey Elven Calendar, a Shom-Rainian Calendar, a calendar that dates from the creation of the Equilibrium and several dozen others, each with a different set of abbreviations, but most commonly found without any such thing. Each of these gives the year in a different number, and only the Grey Elven and Misty Cross Calendars share a starting date.
In general, conversion between calendars works thuswise (pretending they all start on same day.) As if this wasn’t confusing enough, some of the more obscure calendars don’t even agree on what date it is now. :
                              Converting from
Converting to
Grey Elven Calendar (GE)
Creation of the Equilibrium (Eq)
Founding of Misty Cross (CF)
Shom-Ra/Haran (SH)
After Mage War (MW)
Misty Cross Calendar (PW)

The Equilibrium

1352 years before the city of Misty Cross was founded, the Equilibrium was created. The Equilibrium is an incredibly important aspect of magical culture (and, indeed, all culture) in Aretspace. Before it was created, frequent wild magic storms blew forth from the intersection of the two poles of magic (near what is now the Crystal Desert on the Continent of Tia.) Magic would sometimes surge in power, wiping out large areas of land, mages would find themselves overflowing with power one day (sometimes destroying themselves in the process) and completely without magic the next.
It was a hardscrabble and chaotic existence. Magical surges would generate monsters and areas of dead magic, flying castles would fall out of the sky, cities would sink into the ground, people would teleport into blocks of stone…not an easy way to live. Sometimes magic would disappear altogether, and using it would draw the innate magic out of the land around it, turning it to dust, other times, magic would surge so powerfully that it would leave a coating of a somewhat explosive residue on everything. This residue could be used to make something rather like a drug that boosts magic power and is incredibly illegal in Aretspace. This substance, Rhizen, absolutely does not exist, according to all official sources, and if you ever encounter it, you should tell someone in The Inquest.
Aaron Blackheart[1] (or so the legends say), who would come to be known as “the mad mage,” traveled across space and time learning about how magic worked in other places and eventually ended up on the elemental plane of magic. How he survived there is anyone’s guess, but one legend is that he was a descendant of some sort of metahuman family. Certainly the Blackhearts and their descendants have had a habit of living two, even three hundred years, but whether this is magic or something else is up for debate. However he survived, when the Mad Mage came back to Aret, he would sculpt the magic of the land into The Divine Balance, a rigid balance whereby magic pours into the world in the form of a font of power, tended to by a Mage-King, initially Trinian the first. Within one hundred years of the creation of The Divine Balance, a group of mages known as “the Hand of Divinity” managed to wrest the entirety of  the font over to the power of what they considered Good, and for forty years the magic of the world, and indeed, the world itself, was ruled over by the Sorcerer-King Belian the Bold (known as Bel).
Bel managed to set himself up as a minor deity, enforcing his ideas of justice and good upon the world. While this worked out well for the friends of Bel, it drove massive wedges between the humans and other races of the planet, resulting in a massive decrease in numbers among elves in particular, and setting up a number of race-based wars, with humans and approximately half of the planet’s Dwarves (and nearly all that would survive) fighting for The Sorcerer-King.
Bel’s magical abilities allowed him to see inside the hearts of men, and he ‘destroyed’ evil by simply wiping out evil beings where he found them, without trial, without jury, without even law. He would go into a household, find an infant who would grow to be evil, and dash that child’s head upon the rocks. Progressively he grew madder and madder, and because of his powers, the world went mad around him. This time period, called “The Black Forty” or even “the age of darkness,” reduced the population of the planet to around 5% of its population beforehand.
One area, in what is now Kelara and the Unclaimed Lands, enraged Bel so much that he caused the entire land to be cast under a cloud of darkness that would not end for nearly 2500 years. He threatened to extend this darkness (called The Mists, or sometimes The Murk) over all the lands that did not comply with his demands. This cloud killed everything that breathed it, and shore off buildings at their foundations. It was elves in particular that were Bel’s target, although sources disagree as to why the elves provoked his wrath (one source claims there was an advanced and thoroughly evil elven subrace, similar to drow but more prone to work together, at the heart of Kelara.) Certainly there are many ruins of temples to evil powers within Kelara which support this belief, but there are also many ruins of temples to deities of good found there, and the remains of large human cities, and places where the races clearly lived together in peace.
As Bel went madder and madder with power, he became focused inward, and this allowed a small group of very powerful figures, including Uvala and Astra, then two fairly limited deities, to attack him, with the help of Aaron Blackheart and the Elven King Vanithil Tyllnion, and at least one elemental of pure magic. At least ten others were involved, but their names are lost to history, or hidden. Bel ended up divided into two separate beings and removed from the Prime Material Plane (he would later end up as the deity Bel the Two Sided) and the font itself was divided into three sections, two parts representing the directional magics, and a third part which would empower the cautious balance between all three, which would come to be known as The Equilibrium. (The planet Ara would be pulled into its current position during this, but that is another story.)
In order to keep the balance, Blackheart selected the two most powerful and least alike mages he could find and bound them to the respective fonts, before binding himself to the third. All three mages would slowly be consumed by the fonts, but not before bestowing their students with the maximum amount of power possible without causing their destruction. The fonts, to this day, retain a great deal of the personalities of those three mages, and these personalities (and alignments, to a degree) greatly flavor the Mage-Protectorates. This is why, although it is technically not accurate, the Mage-Protectorates are said to control the demesnes of good, evil and neutrality. (Some of the most potent mages in history have actually been ‘cross wired,’ having a good alignment, for example, but the “sinister” handedness.) Throughout history the names of the demesnes have gone from ‘good, evil, and neutral’ to ‘white, black and gray,’ and even ‘dexter, sinister and balanced.’   Depending on the historian, and the fashions of the day, you may hear all three.
A Mage Protectorate is largely like a transformer on an electric grid. Power flows from the Elemental Plane of Magic, through the font, to the Mage Protectorate, and is distributed through him (or her) to all the mages in the world who use that flavor of magic (match the Mage Protectorate’s handedness). S/he is bestowed with enough knowledge and prescience to be able to control the flow, stopping The Equilibrium from failing.
The Equilibrium has failed three times, and wavered a few hundred times in its existence. In all three failures, a Mage-Protectorate found a way to tap into the energy of one of the other fonts. Each time The Equilibrium has failed, at least two Mage-Protectorates had to sacrifice themselves to get it back ‘up and running.’ When the Equilibrium is down, there is no magic in the world, save that stored in items or people. Items cannot be charged, spells cannot be memorized, and very bad things begin to happen. Every mage on the plane, including other creatures which use magic, feels when the Equilibrium wavers or fails. And they know that it is bad.
After the last failure, the Mage Protectorate of Neutrality developed “The office for the protection and defense of the Equilibrium, and for the destruction and prevention of any and all threats to the Equili-brium, by means of Scrying and Inquest,” generally known as The Inquest. Although politics have driven them out of the public eye on more than one occasion, they do exist, and no one wants to be on their bad side…All they do is protect The Equilibrium.

[1] It’s well established that the name derives from the black hart on the family’s coat of arms, and was changed some generations before. A common claim is that they are descended from the Lockeharts, notorious pirates with similarly long lifespans.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Proficiency of the week: Sword:Estoc to Long

The following proficiencies take one weapon proficiency slot each:
  • Sword, Estoc
  • Sword, Falchion
  • Sword, Katana
  • Sword, Khopesh
  • Sword, Long

While people are always free to argue over the 'proper placement' of their sword of choice, in game terms, swords are either one handed, two handed, hand-and-a-half or so weird that wielding them grants no bonuses to other weapons. One such 'weird' weapon is the Khopesh. If, however, you were playing in Essos, I imagine a Khopesh proficiency would allow you to use a Dothraki Arakh with the related weapons penalty. You would probably have bigger problems on your hands, however.

Proficiency:      #Slots:  Can Specialize?            Description:
 Sword, Estoc         1              Yes                          Proficient in Estoc, reduced penalty for other one
                                                                                handed swords.

Sword, Falchion    1              Yes                          Proficient in Falchion, reduced penalty for other one
                                                                                handed swords.

Sword, Katana       1              Yes                          Proficient in Katana, reduced penalty for other hand-
                                                                                and-a-half swords. Can use one or two handed.

Sword, Khopesh   1              Yes                          Proficient in Khopesh. No bonuses.

Sword, Long          1              Yes                          Proficient in Long Sword, reduced penalty for other one-
                                                                                handed swords