Friday, June 29, 2018

Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera is the Deal of the Day

Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera is the Deal of the Day over at DrivethruRPG and RPGNow, starting at 10am Central on 5/29/18 and ending at 10am Central on 5/30/18. If you've been meaning to pick it up, the price won't get any better than this: $5.97 for the pdf. Check it out.

And if you know somebody who might be interested, feel free to let 'em know.

Here's the pitch:

The blood moon rises above the haunted lands of Krevborna! Once a country of picturesque villages, deep forests, and sublime mountain ranges, Krevborna is now a land of Gothic ruins preyed upon by fiends, ravening beasts, and the unquiet dead. Shadows triumphantly lengthen across Krevborna; the great powers of darkness work to usher in the dread dominion of an everlasting empire of night.

Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera is a system-neutral campaign setting for Gothic Fantasy adventures inspired by BloodborneCastlevania, and Penny Dreadful. The book includes:

  • Art by Becky Munich and Michael Gibbons. Setting map by Michael Gibbons.
  • Details on nine locations in the setting: the corrupt city of Chancel, the Lovecraftian town of Creedhall, the witch-town of Hemlock, vampire haunted Lamashtu, the seaside horrors of Piskaro, the underworld of the Grail Tombs, the foreboding Nachtmahr Mountains, the eerie Silent Forest, and the forbidden town of Veil.
  • Information on the people of Krevborna and their folklore.
  • Ideas for genre-appropriate characters and the dark secrets that damn them.
  • Thirty-four otherworldly entities to use as patrons for the faithful and the pact-bound.
  • Eight factions and twelve NPCs to involve your players in intrigue.
  • Advice and tools for running a fantasy RPG influenced by Gothic literature.
  • Tools for use in game, such as copious adventure seeds, a bestiary of foes, random tables, and a comprehensive adventure generator that gives you the basis of a scenario with little prep.
  • A full index and a separate index of the book's random tables.
  • A design that prioritizes ease of use and speed of play. All "lore" entries are easy to scan, and make use of bullet points to draw your attention to the important bits so you can get on with your game.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Let's Read Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (The Blood War and Devils!)

Where we've been so far: dwarveselvesdrow and eladrinshadar-kai and the Raven Queenhalflings and gnomes, gith. Where we're going: the Blood War and devils.

Somehow, the Blood War is the canonical D&D conflict that I am most familiar with--probably because of the 2e AD&D Monstrous Manual. The basic shape of the conflict is pretty simple: even though demons and devils are both principles of evil in the multiverse, they battle each other because they are aligned differently along the axis of chaos and law. There's a classic trope in there: evil fails because it can't help turning on itself.

The Blood War between the devils and demons is an eternal stalemate that is mostly confined to the Nine Hells and the Abyss. However, the Blood War does involve mortals. In fact, it goes a long way toward explaining why devils make pacts with mortals--granting them power in return for their souls. Hell needs soldiers, so forfeit souls generally become lemures or some other rank-and-file devil. Demons, on the other hand, have no use for errant souls, but they do encourage demonic cultists because even mortal fanatics can be used to disrupt diabolic plans.

Also, since both sides are locked in a war that neither can win--or even gain an upper hand--they scour the cosmos looking for artifacts, creatures, or...adventurers...who might be able to tip the balance and cause a decisive victory. Since most of the Blood War is fought in Avernus, the devils who die in battle are truly dead--unlike what happens when a devil dies on the Material Place. The demons who "die" are merely sent back to the Abyss, where they wander around like dummies, which effectively takes them out of the war.

The devils fight in the Blood War as a way of proving their superiority to the cosmos. They also see themselves as the heroes of the Blood War because they are keeping demons from overrunning the other planes. They're probably not wrong about that, actually.

The demons also fight in the Blood War as a way of proving their superiority to the cosmos. They also fight because they're really, really bored.

Another cosmic force--the agents of the Balance--step in to make sure that the devils never get the whip-hand over the demons and vice versa. Apparently Mordenkainen is one of those agents. They do things like stopping a crusade against deviltry because that would weaken the devils and possibly allow the demons to win the Blood War. It turns out that crying "both sides," as the agents of the Balance do, means that everyone else (rightfully) thinks they're douchebags.

Interestingly, there is no mention of Asmodeus, leader of the devils, being both a devil and a god--as he was in 4e. But we do get a story about how he was brought up on charges by a group of angels and asked that his case by judged by Primus, the Mucho Modron. Asmodeus argued that everything he did was by the book, and the angels kept heaping charge upon charge on him. Primus ruled that the angels were whiners, and that Asmodeus would have to carry the Ruby Rod--which forces him to be lawful. No, not this Ruby Rhod, unfortunately.

Zariel was one of the angels who brought Asmodeus up on charges. She was a bit of a Blood War fangirl, assigned to document the progress of the conflict. But she got drawn into the war, and took a contingent of mortals into battle against the devils. Asmodeus is a pretty decent CEO of Hell because he recognized initiative when he saw it and promoted her to archdevil status with a layer of the Nine Hells to personally manage.

Dispater is the arms dealer of the diabolic legions. He sends messages by carving them on the backs of imps, putting a little leather jacket on the imp to cover it up, and sending them on their way. Awww. But the leather jacket is linked to the imp's heart, so if anybody who isn't the intended recipient tries to take it off the imp dies and its body disintegrates before the message can be read. That's some diabolic Mission Impossible nonsense right there.

Mammon is a pretty generic greed-devil, but his minions have access to a book that gives the precise value of any soul. Nobody knows if Fierna and Belial are lovers, siblings, parent and child, or what--but it's clear that Fierna is the beauty and Belial is the brains of the operation. Their layer of Hell is home to the Diabolical Court, which is like People's Court but for devils. 

Levistus rules over the cold part of the Hells, and he's trapped in ice kinda-sorta like the Satan at the end of Dante's Inferno. His job is to offer escape to ne'er-do-wells in need--such as a thief about to be hung from the gallows--in return for their souls. Since he's trapped in ice, he has a lot of time to really focus on his work. Glasya, Asmodeus's daughter, rules the prisoner layer of the Hells where those found guilty at the Diabolic Court are imprisoned and tortured. Glasya is quite the ingenue; she runs hell's crime syndicate.

Baalzebul once tried to usurp Asmodeus; as punishment he was cursed--if he lies to another devil he turns into a giant slug for a year. He finds this so embarrassing that he doesn't lie anymore. Oh shit, Mephistopheles also rules a cold layer of the Hells. (There's two of them??) Anyway, his layer is the magical laboratory of the Hells, and he hates distractions so much that he disintegrates his minions if they interrupt his thoughts. I get, Meph, I really do.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Cult Leader and the Bartender

Two supporting cast characters in Umberwell: The Cult leader and the bartender

Melora Rime
Melora Rime acquired her hatred of the world as a detainee confined to a prison camp in cold, mountainous land. After her escape, she learned to harness the power of the wild, eventually using that power to take control of the apocalyptic Children of Fimbul cult.
Occupation. Cult leader.
Appearance. Windsoul, ice blue skin, short white hair, dresses in furs, whip scars on back.
Abilities. Druidic magic, wilderness survival.
Traits. Willful, will never be taken alive.
Ideal. To become a monstrous being of ice and wind.
Bond. Feels kinship with the oppressed.
Flaw. She controls her emotions to an extent that works against her aims.

Wick is a bartender at the Bullroarer, a tavern and sauna frequented by picaros and crypt-kickers. As someone whose job entails being a sympathetic ear as much as it does pouring drinks, Wick knows a little something about the personal lives of the Bullroarer’s clientele.
Occupation. Bartender.
Appearance. Succubus, heavily tattooed, flame-red hair kept in dreadlocks, dresses in very little, athletic build.
Abilities. Mixology, good listener, empathy, fortune telling.
Traits. Energetic, sarcastic.
Ideal. Buy the Bullroarer from its mysterious owner.
Bond. She makes sure that adventurers who are down on their luck get a warm meal and a stiff drink.
Flaw. Falls for a pretty face, every time.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Let's Read Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (Gith!)

Where we've been so far: dwarveselvesdrow and eladrinshadar-kai and the Raven Queen, halflings and gnomes. Where we're going: the gith.

One of the central tensions in D&D's official worldbuilding efforts is the way that the desire to create the most Approachable Vanilla Fantasy collides with the desire to create Unique Recognizable Branding. If you look at where we've been so far, so you can see this in action. D&D is the inheritor of Tolkien's fantasy races, but over the years the various stewards of the D&D brand have attempted to stamp those races with marketable product identity to sets them apart from what other fantasy rpgs are presenting. We have the usual trifecta of dwarves, elves, and halflings--but with the additional, particular flavorings of Corellon, Moradin, duergar, shadar-kai, drow, tinker gnomes, Garl Glittergold and Yondala and all the rest.

The gith sidestep D&D's connections to generic fantasy and insert an element that is particular and Very D&D. The gith, like many other beings in the multiverse, are former slaves of the mind flayers. The gith rose up against their squid-faced masters, threw off their shackles, and...promptly split into two factions who hate each other: the githyanki and the githzerai. The githyanki and githzerai are the D&D version of the Romulan/Vulcan split.

You can tell that the githyanki are the bad guys because they're down with slavery. The githzerai are secluded monks seeking enlightenment. As usual, the bad guys are the more interesting of the pair: the githyanki rove out from a city built atop a dead god (!!!), serve a lich-queen who sits upon a throne made of mind flayer skulls (!!!), and ride dragons (!!!). The githyanki live at the intersection of heavy metal album cover and sci-fantasy paperback book cover and are all the more awesome because of it.

Vlaakith, the githyanki's lich-queen, is shady as fuck. Back when the gith were rebelling against the mind flayers, she encouraged Gith--the leader of the rebellion who granted a name to the gith people--to venture down into the Nine Hells to strike a deal with Tiamat for a little red dragon back-up. Gith never returned from the Hells, but the gith did get some dragon allies. Once the mind flayers were defeated, Vlaakith declared that the githyanki would pick up where the mind flayers had left off: taking slaves and plundering the Material Plane as they saw fit.

Vlaakith is also running a scam on her own people. She has spread the idea that her best and most loyal warriors will be rewarded by admission into a Special Paradise. As part of the preparation for this righteous ascension, there is a private which Vlaakith sucks out their souls and gains their powers, Highlander style. This is not the 100 Virgins they were promised.

Oh, and Gith's fate? Nobody knows. Arcane pellcasters who try to look into it trigger a curse that turns them into allips--insane, undead shadow-ghost things. Anyone who tries to look into it with divine magic just experiences a fucked up cosmic void: "Those who try experience a strange sensation, as if their minds were teetering on the edge of a great abyss, one that spans time, space, and memory."

Githyanki are hatched from eggs! And they are raised in a militaristic society where they are forced to fight each other until only the strong survive--so there is a touch of Evil Sparta to their culture. Vlaakith doesn't understand the importance of cannon fodder, apparently. When they aren't fighting and raiding, the githyanki are languid and decadent--a bit Melnibonean, actually. Vlaakith has to invent shit for them to do just to keep them occupied--she literally sends them on scavenger hunts because left to their own devices the githyanki are people who can't manage to finish anything they start.

Githyanki have spelljammer ships, but I don't think they're ever actually called spelljammers in the text even though they reference the helms and the need for spellcasting pilots. Why didn't they use the word spelljammer?

There are no bars in Tu'narath, the githyanki city. Bummer.

The githzerai live in a terrible neighborhood. They are deeply lawful beings who live in Limbo--a plane so chaotic that they have to constantly use their mental powers just to keep the environment at bay. The githzerai were led into this property blunder by Menyar-Ag, who is now a bit like the Emperor in Warhammer 40k: a decrepit but powerful leader who can't do anything physically but is still alive mentally. Also, similar to the 40k psykers who keep the navigational beacons going, there are githzerai anarchs who harness the psychic powers of their people to keep Limbo from consuming their communities. The githzerai also have a space marine analog in the zerth--githzerai "chosen ones" who await the return of the Emperor Zerthimon, the githzerai messiah.

Life in Limbo, for the githzerai, takes place in monastery fortresses drifting through the plane. When the githzerai venture to other planes, they take adamantine citadels with them. They have missionaries who like to recruit psions to the philosophy of Zerthimon: "Have you heard the good news?" And there is a gith reunification movement. Good luck with that one.

The emergent theme of Mordenkainen's Tome is that conflict divides people and short-circuits their ability to get shit done. If the githyanki and githzerai joined forces, they could really stick it to the mind flayers, but they're too busy fighting each other to exterminate the illithids. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

A City of Artifice

Magic is commonplace in Umberwell; it is used in conjunction with technology to achieve marvels such as ethergram communication, industrial factories, airships, automatons, worm trains, and mechanized replacement limbs.

You may wish to ride one of the city's purple worm trains—each a massive invertebrate annelid shaped by powerful transmutations and animated by necromantic magic—if you've a need to travel across the city, especially if you want to travel from one of the city-state’s islands to another via the city’s undersea tunnels. Umberwell's worm trains are owned and operated by Wyrmwyck Industries, a corporation of questionable motives that is tolerated because they keep their fares cheap enough for the common citizen to afford.

The Lexicos Spire, a tower in Shrewsbury erected by the magical rites of the Lost Matriarchs, is an enchanted edifice that transmits knowledge of the Common tongue to all within Umberwell so that the citizenry might communicate easily. Gyragrol, an ancient dragon, has designs on destroying the Lexicos Spire to break the fellowship of Umberwell's citizens.

The magic-imbued blood extracted from the great krakens of the sea enables Umberwell’s magical industry. The lamps which light the city's streets are fueled by galvanically rich kraken blood, many factories are powered by the fuel, and the hunting and processing of krakens on the high seas is itself a venture of massive economic importance. The Vortuga Trading Company is chief among Umberwell's blood-hunting fleets.


  • Transportation. Turbine-driven ships and submarines fashioned from giant nautiluses patrol the seas. Elementally powered airships, gas-filled dirigibles, and giant dragonflies transmuted into ornithopters make aerial travel expedient.
  • Recording and transmission. Solograph cameras capture sepia-toned images on paper coated with silver and gelatin. Auriphones play music recorded on wax cylinders. Voxcast radio transmissions bring news and entertainment into the homes of Umberwell.
  • Artifice modernity. Replacement limbs and organs made of magic-grown flesh and clockwork mechanisms can replace lost or wounded body parts. Transmuted giant cockroaches hybridized with machines scurry up and down the sides of buildings, acting as elevators disgorging their passengers at the selected floor.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Affair of the Poisons

Episode 22: The Affair of the Poisons
Anne Somerset's The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV tells the all documented, all true story of a years-long scandal that rocked the court of the Sun King, leading to prominent members of the French court being accused of poisoning and black magic. Join Kate and Jack as they approach the true crime genre in their own trademark style (to whit: "Old Timey"). Get ready for a too-wild-for-fiction tale of intrigue, fancy dress, nonexistent plumbing, and questionable police practices!
Why is Louis the XIV one of the most obnoxious figures in history? How bad was the toilet situation at Versailles? When is a "convent" more like a "spa?" How many mad priests get mixed up in this junk? All these questions and more are answered in this month's episode of Bad Books for Bad People.
BBfBP theme song by True Creature 
Find us at, on Twitter @badbooksbadppl, Instagram @badbooksbadpeople and on Facebook. You can discover where to get all the books featured on Bad Books for Bad People on our About Page.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Let's Read Mordenkainen's Tomb of Foes (Halflings and Gnomes!)

Where we've been so far: dwarves, elves, drow and eladrin, shadar-kai and the Raven Queen. Where we're going: halflings and gnomes.

If Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes is about the conflicts of the D&D multiverse, halflings and gnomes are the outliers in that they don't have any epic betrayals, civil wars, or unending feuds in their histories. Interestingly, it is posited that their innocence is the explanation for the halfling's supernatural luck: good luck is their cosmic reward for not being shitlords like everybody else in existence.

We're also told that halflings judge people by the content of people's characters--they don't mind a kindly butterface at all. They've also internalized a pile of self-help books, as they're all about "living in the moment."

Halflings love stories, and love objects for the stories they're connected to. They're also animistic, believing that objects have their own spirits. 

Halfling villages are hard to find; they're obscured from view by the primary goddess of the halfling pantheon--which is a far more useful thing than most of the crap D&D gods tend to lay on their followers. Overall, halfling religion is nicely differentiated from the elves and dwarves: they don't see their gods as divine creators, but rather as folk heroes who have ascended to godhood. Halfling gods are basically successful Gloranthan cultists. As such, their gods aren't really worshiped so much as emulated.

Did you know that the rare halflings that break oaths and sever communal ties eventually become twisted caricatures beset with paranoia and misery? The allusion is pretty heavy-handed, right?

On to gnomes then. Gnomes have always had trouble differentiating themselves from halflings and dwarves in D&D. One has the small friendly folk covered, and the other has the stout makers-of-things shtick covered. Whence gnomes?

They have a love of discovery based on a psychology of endless curiosity. From nature to mechanism, from magic to gem-cutting, they want to know how things work. Gnomes are the Mythbusters of the D&D multiverse.

Gnomes also don't mind drudgery, are never bored, and don't feel bad when a research tangent leads to a dead-end. This means that gnomes would be the ideal grad students.

We get a sidebar about the master gnome artificers of Bytopia who make "celestial toys," which are basically as good as magic items. We also get a sidebar about the tinkerer gnomes of the Dragonlance setting. As with an earlier sidebar about kender, the book is really trying not to paint Krynn's races as insufferable.

Gnome religion feels a bit more "realistic" than much of what we get from the other religions, as gnomes don't tend to agree about the "facts" of their gods. Some gnomes see their gods as all male, others see them as all female. Some gnomes see the gods in the guise of animals, others believe they are constructs created by Garl Glittergold. (Sidenote: Garl Glittergold is the worst name in D&D; beats out Iggwilv for the title.)

A sidebar tells us that the kobolds hate gnomes because the Gnome God pulled a prank on the Kobold God. Again, Mordenkainen's inadvertently puts me on the side of the bad guys because pranks are the fuckin' worst so yeah, fuck Garl.

Some gnome communities send the youngins out to explore the world before they're allowed back to Gnomeville. GNOME RUMSPRINGA! Gnomes also sometimes feel a pull to explore the cosmos or the planes--were gnomes a big part of Spelljammer? Seems like a hint is implied there.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Role of Adventurers in Umberwell

My favorite campaign structure for games set in Umberwell is an open table of adventurers for hire—each player creates a down-on-their-luck character looking for work and out to achieve wealth and infamy in the city. Whoever shows up to a session plays their part. To further their reputations as adventurers and bolster their coffers, player characters in Umberwell routinely engage in unlawful enterprises, protect their neighborhoods, fend off predatory gangs and less scrupulous adventurers, and keep clear of entanglements with authority. 

The mindset of a resident of Umberwell can be stark or bleak. Adventurers profit from misery because misery reeks of opportunity to make coin when things have gone horribly sideways. The city’s citizens are vulnerable prey in a metropolis filthy with predators; they suffer when they feed their addictions and when they’re offered false salvation. Credible threats of violence are a functional insurance policy that keeps the city’s machine in motion. When your moral compass points only to the downward spiral, damnation feels like a foregone conclusion.

However, the adventurers created by the players might be a strategic intervention into the black beating heart of the city. Adventurers represent a line of flight away from authority and the depredations of misery. A literally violent break occurs here: an adventurer’s purpose is to disrupt, to tip the balance, to right wrongs—even if only by accident or because there was money in the chase. Adventurers are a fraught crack in the city’s ecosystem because a continual, nomadic becoming-picaresque is a process that veers dangerously toward re-assemblage within the metropolis's appropriated war machine.

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Maelstrom: Demonic Cultists

A faction in Umberwell:

The Maelstrom is a confederacy of demonic cults that believes that fostering chaos in Umberwell is a needed public service. The cults who belong to the Maelstrom sometimes manage to set aside their madness to coordinate acts of public mayhem. Members of the Maelstrom feel that regimented, orderly life is an addicting, stultifying existence—the faction aims to “help” the people of Umberwell by disrupting their lives through harmless pranks and violent pandemonium alike. Of course, due to the tumultuous, individualistic characters of the cultists involved, the Maelstrom’s epic plans for destruction and upheaval are often foiled by their inability to work together to achieve a common end.

Laugh while the city burns.

  • Life should be interesting above all else.
  • Cause chaos wherever possible.
  • There is no bigger crime than to follow the rules.

  • Recruit potential cultists from among the terminally bored and ennui-ridden.
  • Shake  the citizenry out of their self-imposed stupor.

  • Steal a rare manuscript of deadly practical jokes.
  • Switch a wizard’s grimoire with a text that will unleash an uncontrollable tide of magic.
  • Set up an important personage in the city to look like a fool during a prestigious event.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Mary Shelley, Suspiria, Mortal Engines, The Little Stranger

Sometimes you find yourself looking forward to movies that might not actually be good because hope springs eternal. Below are four I'm interested in. I have the highest hopes for The Little Stranger; I absolutely love that book--I think it's one of the best modern haunted house stories--so hopefully it follows through on the source material. Mary Shelley looks a little Dawson's Creek. I'm not sure I trust Peter Jackson with Mortal Engines after all those Hobbit movies. And I'm not sure what the point of a Suspiria remake is, but I'm willing to give it a try.

Mary Shelley


Mortal Engines

The Little Stranger

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Let's Read Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (Shadar-Kai!)

We've seen dwarves, elves, and some more elves, but where the goths at?

Remember back in 4e when the shadar-kai were emo humans? Well, they're back to being fey-derived as they were in 3e--but now they serve the Raven Queen. Speaking of which, I like this new take on her that makes her creepy as fuck; she's described variously as "a terrible shadow that clawed at their innermost thoughts, pale and regal elf who exploded into an untold number of ravens, a shambling tangle of slick roots and sticks that overwhelmed them with dreador an unknown presence that pulled them screaming blindly into the gloom." 

That's hott.

I think the Raven Queen's origins have also been revised: she was an elf queen who sought to become a deity during Corellon and Lolth's spat so she could make them shut up and come to an accord. The shadar-kai were the elves who were feeding her some of their soul-stuff so that she could undergo apotheosis; unfortunately, they were all betrayed by some evil wizards, the Raven Queen used more of the shadar-kai's souls to rain hell down on them, the ritual went wrong, and they all got sucked into the Shadowfell--where the elf queen became the Raven Queen and the elves who followed her became the gothy shadar-kai.

Oh, by the way, the evil wizards survived but were also changed; they became the nagpa, which are basically the skeksis from The Dark Crystal.

The Raven Queen now inhabits the Fortress of Memories, where she collects the memories of dead gods (!!!) and mortals alike. Best. Wunderkammer. Ever.

The Raven Queen might be crazy or she might be a cosmic sin-eater who purges the traumatized of their pain. She's your goth therapist.

Vecna is her stalker. You know he likes all of her pictures on Instagram. Also, maybe my 'ship is coming in: "Some sages posit that she iusing people as pawns in an inscrutablgame, the rules of which are known only to her and thLady of Pain." RQ + LoP = OTP.

When they are outside of the Shadowfell, the Shadar-Kai look all gothy and hot, but in the Shadowfell they look tired and busted. Anyone who has been in a goth club at the end of the night when the lights come on will be familiar with this phenomenon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Gang Leader and the Assassin

Two supporting cast characters in Umberwell: the gang leader and the assassin.

Jesephus “Boss” Hobb
Boss Hobb runs the Hobb Street Mafia, a gang of goblinoids, through threats and abuse. Behind his cruelty is a desire to see his people thrive in Umberwell through any means necessary. He would see goblinoids become a dominant force in the city.
Occupation. Gang leader.
Appearance. Hobgoblin, bulge-bellied, scruffy red hair, orange skin, dresses in a top hat and ill-fitted jackets decorated with unearned military medals.
Abilities. Bullying, making one-sided deals.
Traits. Loud-mouth, performs the role of a gentleman.
Ideal. Make Umberwell respect goblinoids.
Bond. Loves—and fears—his wife Kolga.
Flaw. Writes taunting letters to the broadsheet press.

Mei Dowd
Mei Dowd is one of the most feared assassins in Umberwell. Her ability to emerge from the shadows, strike true, and then disappear back into the darkness is legendary. It is rumored that she is responsible for the death of many members of the moneyed elite.
Occupation. Assassin for hire.
Appearance. Human, long black hair in a braid held with sharpened pins, union tattoos.
Abilities. Poison brewing, disguise, stealth, sniping.
Traits. Practical, improviser.
Ideal. Perfect the art of murder.
Bond. Protects her clients’ identities.
Flaw. She fears that her cover as a worm train worker will be blown.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Let's Read Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes (Eladrin and Drow!)

We're back, after covering the Regular Elves and dwarves, so now we're moving on to the Other Elves. First up are the eladrin, which are basically the Most Elvish Elves. Instead of hanging out in the various Prime Material planes of the D&D multiverse, the eldarin put down roots in the Feywild--which apparently is like being on a perpetual ecstasy high in the most-breathtaking natural vista.

The best thing about the eladrin is that they don't give a fuck about Corellon. Rather than holding out hope that Elf God will forgive them someday, they believe that they will go through the cycle of reincarnation until the end up on the Seelie Court, Unseelie Court, or as immortal archfey. That sounds like a much better deal than the Regular Elves get.

Next up, the Bad Elves, the drow. Like the eladrin, the drow found a new home--the Underdark--and it changed them. One thing I like about the drow: their Ride Or Die attitude. Check it: "Drow view
the elves of the surface world as cowardly children who defy their parents when they're not around but cower in the corner when their parents return, terrified of having their bad behavior found out."

Unlike Corellon, who has put the Regular Elves into perpetual Time Out, Lolth is a more hands-on parent when it comes to the drow: "She sometimes tests her most faithful by drawing their spirits to her in the Demonweb to undergo her judgment. Followers never know when or if they are to be tested."

Woah, drow cities are made within giant stalactites or stalagmites? That's pretty dope. The drow practice slavery, which is one of the ways we know that they're villains, but it's interesting that the book points out that slavery is an economic necessity for them because they just don't have the numbers to survive on their own down in the Underdark. But drow are still elves, of course, so they also use slaves as status symbols.

Drow also get a better deal than Regular Elves: when they go into a trance, they remember nothing. No past lives, just the void. That sounds super relaxing, actually. This also means that drow might not reincarnate; instead, Lolth just makes more drow souls as needed. If true, this means that the drow could potentially out-breed regular elves (since there is a finite number of them) and swamp them en mass eventually.

Blah blah #notalldrow blah blah.

Monday, June 11, 2018

House Rules for Cinderheim

Cinderheim is a brutal fantasy setting based on the idea of a desert wasteland that has been twisted by the demonic presences of seven demons who each supply an oasis encampment with water and prosperity. I wanted to make some changes to 5e's rules to reflect the danger of the setting, and to tie in the notion of demonic interference throughout the deserts of Cinderheim.

These are the guidelines I use for character creation:
  • I prefer that people use the default array of ability scores or use the point-buy method simply for reasons of parity within the adventuring party.
  • Generally, my stance is that I'll allow any class, race, or background from the official rules and their supplements.
  • I allow both multiclassing and feats in my games.
DESIGN NOTES: These are just my standard preferences for my 5e D&D games.

Traveling across the desert badlands means exposure to extreme heat—and the usual checks for exhaustion that entails. The demon sun that shines above Cinderheim is especially cruel and merciless:
  • Characters must make Constitution saving throws against exhaustion even if they have access to drinkable water as they travel.
  • If they do not have access to drinkable water, their saves are made with disadvantage.
  • Creatures wearing medium or heavy armor, or who are clad in heavy clothing, automatically fail these saving throws. Remind the players that their characters probably want to avoid armor heavier than light at character creation.
  • Resistance to fire damage or adaptation to hot climates does not grant automatic success on these saving throws.
DESIGN NOTES: I use the rules for extreme heat from the DMG as a base, but they're a little too forgiving as presented. Since Cinderheim is a land of absolutely demonic levels of heat, I've made travel more taxing, heavier armors less viable, and closed the fire resistance loophole.

Cinderheim is infused by the magical corruption of demonic forces; every character native to the region is affected, and gains the following benefits:
  • You can increase one ability score of your choice by 4. As normal, you can't increase an ability score above 20.
  • You learn two cantrips of your choice from any class's spell list. Choose Charisma, Intelligence, or Wisdom as your spellcasting ability for the spells granted by the demonic powers of Cinderheim.
  • In addition, choose one 1st-level spell from any class’s spell list. You can cast it at its lowest level. Once you cast it, you must finish a long rest before you can cast it again.
  • When you reach 3rd level, choose one 2nd-level spell from any class’s spell list. You can cast this spell at its lowest level. Once you cast it, you must finish a long rest before you can cast it again.
  • When you reach 5th level, choose one 3rd-level spell from any class’s spell list. You can cast this spell at its lowest level. Once you cast it, you must finish a long rest before you can cast it again.
DESIGN NOTES: And this is the compensation for the extreme heat rules, as well as a way to mechanical reinforce the idea that the demonic energies of Cinderheim affect the characters. With lower ACs due to armor restrictions, fighting types may want to but that +4 to an ability score into Constitution.

I use the optional rules for Renaissance firearms to model the guns found in Cinderheim, with the following rulings:
  • Anyone proficient with martial weapons is also proficient with firearms.
  • Anyone proficient with hand crossbows is also proficient with pistols.
  • A new feat, called Firearm Expert, replicates the effects of the Crossbow Expert feat but for firearms instead of crossbows.
DESIGN NOTES: These rules are adapted from the firearm rules that my friend used in his Umberwell campaign. Thanks, Dan.