Picture Thursday 13: Worm That Walks by Wayne Reynolds

Worm that Walks by Wayne Reynolds for the D&D 3.0 Epic Level Handbook

The best monster artwork is an inspiration to GMs. When we look through the monster manuals and bestiaries, we instantly know which monstrosities we want to feast on our player’s corpses. And for me, the Worm that Walks from the Epic Level Handbook has always been inspiring. It’s a fresh take on the physical corruption of magical pursuits. One distinct from the lich. If the monster has origins outside of D&D, I don’t know them. All I know is that they haunt my dreams, and I want them to haunt the dreams of my players as well.

I’ve actually repeatedly found the D&D 3.0 Epic Level Handbook to be one of the best supplements ever produced for 3.X. It is one of the very few supplements which focuses less on player options, and more on helping GMs to run their games better. The generator of 100 quest hooks, for example, is very good! The monsters presented are top notch, even if many of them are more powerful iterations of lower level monsters.

I’m kinda surprised I made it 13 weeks without posting anything from Wayne Reynolds before. That dude is prolific, and influential. Pathfinder goblins are his bath sponge.

No, really, they are.

Pathfinder Class Analysis 3: Cleric

Paizo's Iconic Cleric
Paizo’s Iconic Cleric

Core Concept: It would be difficult to argue that the cleric doesn’t have a place in a game descended from D&D. Even if you go all the way back to the beginning, to the three little brown books which started it all, the cleric was there. When the thief class was naught but a gleam in Gygax’ eye, the cleric was one of only three classes available, along with the fighting man and the magic user. It’s hard to have a better gaming pedigree than ‘has existed as long as the game.’

That’s not to say that the cleric is necessary. Of the three original classes, the cleric is easily the least memorable. In a game about fantasy adventures, you need the person who swings the sword, so you can’t get rid of fighting men (or women. But we can cut Gygax some slack on that, as he was raised in olden times).  And when I think of characters in fantasy who wield magic, my first thought is of wizards, not religious types. Even thieves, introduced in a supplement though they were, are more distinct and memorable than clerics are.

I’m not advocating we be rid of clerics. I like them just fine. But of the 4 most fundamental classes (cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard), cleric is the one which needs the most work. I’m not sure what that work would entail, and figuring out what needs to be done is beyond the scope of this post. But were I to make an iteration of D&D, I think that game would feature much more distinct clerics.

Aura: This hardly counts as a class feature, really. Clerics of a god have a strong aura of that god’s alignment, which is, ostensibly, the cleric’s alignment as well. Though not necessarily, I suppose. This doesn’t seem very important to mention, but since it’s here I suppose I’ll give it my approval.

Spells: Pathfinder uses a single spellcasting system which remains consistent for each class, with only minor modifications. This has some important benefits, such as making the game as a whole easier to understand. It provides continuity between different classes, and prevents players from needing to spend excessive time learning new mechanics.

That said, I would rather see the game incorporate multiple types of spellcasting. Let the wizards keep vancian magic. It’s better suited to them anyway. Clerics, I think, should have an entirely different kind of magic.

Perhaps instead of a lengthy spell list which clerics prepare from each day, they could have a much more limited spell list. Only 1-3 new spells per level. And most of the spells have a much longer cast time, enough so that they can’t be used in combat. “Cure Light Wounds” is a 10 minute ritual spell which requires a lot of praying (and perhaps a random encounter check while the rest of the party stands guard over their injured companion).

In combat, clerics would have a number of spells which focus primarily on bestowing small blessings or curses. Each of these would have a short enough duration to keep the cleric on their toes. On the first round of combat they give the fighter a +1 to her attack rolls. On the next round, they run over to shield the magic user from incoming arrows–which leaves the fighter without their attack bonus.

In exchange for the reduced effectiveness of their spell list, clerics would be able to cast any of their spells at any time. No memorization, no limits. An instrument of the gods will does not tire! (I suppose some limitation might be called for to prevent over use of healing. Perhaps magical healing causes grogginess, causing a cumulative penalty on some of the player’s rolls for a few hours? I’m just tossing ideas out here.)

Channeled Energy: I’ve always thought turn undead was kind of a dumb ability. Why should clerics, alone among all the classes, have a primary ability which only works against a certain type of enemy? In most campaigns it’s alright, because undead are a relatively common type of foe. But what if the GM doesn’t want them to be? When playing most versions of D&D, I can’t simply decide to run a campaign with no undead in it, because that would severely gimp the clerical class.

Replacing turn undead with channeled energy is one of Pathfinder’s best innovations. It’s simple to understand (Cha + 3 times per day I can pump out xd6 of either positive or negative energy into a 30ft radius. Simple!), and is fits within the flavor of the clerical class. I also like how feats can be used to focus the channeled energy in different ways–such as into an optional ‘turn undead’ ability.

Domains: I never liked domains in 3.5, and I like them only slightly more in Pathfinder. They’re just too fiddly, with too little reward. Who really needs +1 spell slot each level which can only be filled with a domain spell? It just seems like a needless complication to me. I will say that domain powers are pretty cool, though. I like the idea that clerics will have different powers, based on the god they worship. But perhaps instead of domains, these different powers could simply be granted to the cleric directly from the god the cleric worships? This would have a twofold benefit: it would reduce the number of decisions a player needs to make (which god, then which of those god’s domains to pick from). It would also make the cleric’s actual religion much more important to gameplay, which is good. Too many players would just as soon be “generic cleric of vaguely [blank] alignment,” which doesn’t work for me at all.

Orsions: I see what they were trying to do here. The thinking is that magic using classes need to use magic, ergo it is bad if those magic using classes are in a situation where they have no magic to use. But they’re wrong, because running out of magic is part of the fun of being a magic using class. Managing your resources so that you don’t run out of spells at an inopportune time, as well as figuring out what to do when poor planning means you run out anyway, is part of the challenge of playing a magic user.

Of course, level 0 spells are pretty minimal in power, so clerics will still want to manage their spellcasting resource. All the same, I’d prefer to play a game where being out of magic for the day actually meant you were completely out of magic for the day.

Spontaneous Casting: Channeled Energy makes this ability redundant. As such, it only serves to confuse the game by introducing meaningless options. It ought to be removed.

Crafting Weapons & Armor in Pathfinder

Another Lego Blacksmith
Another photograph of a Lego Blacksmith

Building on what I determined last week, I’d like to move on to actually producing a working craft skill for Pathfinder. I have a lot of ideas for how to proceed, but for this particular system, I’m working within two important design constraints.

  1. The the resulting craft skill must use the Pathfinder skill system, without circumventing or subverting it. Regardless of how far this system strays from the game’s original design, it must involve rolling a d20, modifying the roll with the character’s skill level, and comparing the results against a DC to determine success or failure.
  2. Feats should not be necessary to craft an item. If a character invests skill points in a crafting skill, they should receive the benefits of that skill without needing a feat to turn it into a useful ability.

Unfortunately, due to the titanic level disparity between moderately invested, and focused characters, I’ve needed to abandon the third of my original criteria; that the difficulty of crafting an item would be determined by the DC, cost, and crafting time alone. Unfortunately that’s simply not feasible when a focused character at level 10 has the same crafting ability as a moderately invested character at level 20.

Were I to insist that the number rolled represent the absolute quality of the item being crafted, then either:

  1. The 26-45 range allows characters to craft the highest level weapons, in which case everyone should focus on crafting, because it allows you to make a +5 Vorpal Sword at level 10.
  2. The 26-45 range allows characters to craft weapons appropriate for level 10, in which case no one should ever bother with crafting, because it requires a lot of investment, and stops being useful at mid level.
  3. A middle ground is attempted, which would only mitigate the problem slightly; not fix it.

None of these alternatives are acceptable to me. Which is why I think the system should also take the character’s level into account. By limiting the power of crafted magic items based on level, I keep the focused character from leaping too far ahead of the game, without simultaneously forcing the moderately invested character to fall miles behind. Both heavily focused characters and moderately invested character will always be able to make the same items as one another (assuming they are the same level). But while a focused character will almost always succeed in making a magic item on their first try, a moderately invested character will likely fail a few times first, perhaps creating cursed items.

In Pathfinder, weapons and armor can have two different kinds of magical properties. There is the common numerical bonus, which ranges from +1 to +5; and the special ability, which can take many forms. Perhaps it’s a “Flaming Burst” weapon, or “Shadowskin” armor. These special bonuses each have a numerical equivalent listed in the book, to help determine the item’s pricing and the maximum power of the weapon. For example, “Arrow Catching” armor is equivalent to +1, while “Spell Resistance 19” is equivalent to +5. Each item can have a maximum of +10 effective bonus (only five of which may take the form of a numerical bonus). This is all standard Pathfinder stuff, which can be found in chapter 15 of the core rulebook.

Using this method of determining weapon and armor ability values, a craftsperson can create an item with an effective item bonus equal to 1/2 their character level. But only 1/4 of their character level may be numerical bonuses.

So at level. 1, a character can craft masterwork armor. At level 2, one half of their level is 1, allowing them to create Arrow Catching armor. However, since 1/4 of 2 is still less than 1, the character could not create +1 armor. They can’t do that until they reach level 4, at which point they can create armor with an effective bonus of +2, so they could create +1 Arrow Catching armor if they so chose.

(Note: For those familiar with Pathfinder’s item creation rules, you will notice that I’ve removed the requirement that all magic items must be at least magically +1. I don’t think that’s necessary)

The base DC for crafting a masterwork item is 20. The DC for the crafting check increases by 2 for each effective item bonus added to the item. So a set of +1 Arrow Catching armor (an effective item bonus of 2) thus has a DC of 24.

Here’s a chart of how this would break down over the course of the game. Under bonuses, the numerical bonus is listed on the left, while the special ability bonus is listed on the right. Though, of course, there’s nothing to stop characters from ignoring the numerical bonus entirely, and simply using all of their available effective item bonuses to add special abilities to the weapon.

Crafting Skill Table

I think a week of crafting time for most items should be sufficient, though I’d rather leave that up to GM discretion. Gold pieces required to craft the item should be equal to 1/2 the items value. And any special materials would need to be acquired separately from that. If a spell is called for, a scroll will be sufficient, though if the character wishes to avoid that route, then they can seek out a special reagent at the GM’s discretion. (“Want to skip the scroll of Darkseeing? Then you better bring me a Drow’s eye!”)

If a roll is failed, then the character has a 10% chance to create a cursed item. Otherwise, they’ll simply create the best item their roll would have allowed for. So if they’re trying to create a +3/+4 sword, but they roll a 31, then the GM should roll first to determine if the sword will become a cursed item. If not, then the player has successfully created a +2/+3 sword.

I’m not convinced that this is the best way to handle crafting, but it’s the best way that I can come up with which still uses the Pathfinder skills system.

Video: ‘The Reward’ from Animation Workshop

Screenshot from the Video

Bill Amend just tweeted this. I guess it’s a student film from Denmark or something. It’s also a perfect encapsulation, in my mind, of what a D&D campaign ought to be. Seeking gold and glory, and having a grand adventure along the way. Excelsior!

The Reward from The Animation Workshop on Vimeo.

I have no idea why I can’t center video by the way. Sorry about that. Also, is anyone else reminded of Torin’s Passage while watching this?

Deadly Dungeons 5: Sepulchre of Order of The Gavel

Sepulchre of the Order of the Gavel Side ViewA long forgotten order of paladins used this circular room to inter their dead. For whatever reason it has remained largely undisturbed by monsters. Perhaps it can only be accessed through a secret door, or maybe the sanctity of the site has held monsters at bay.

The walls and ceiling of the room are simple, unadorned stone. The ceiling is 7ft high at the edges of the room, and rises in a shallow cone to a height of 9ft at the room’s center. The obvious focus of the room is a large terraced pit which dominates most of the floor. The pit has four levels, including the bottom. Each level is about three and a half feet lower than the one above it, and there are no stairs, forcing anyone who wishes to descend to climb awkwardly down the steep steps. Each of the three upper levels is roughly 7ft wide, with urns evenly spaced around them. The bottom level is bare, save for a 3ft diameter circular hatch of iron, with four bold red lines painted across its surface.

The urns are simple grey ceramic, and stand two feet tall. Each one is banded by 1-3 horizontal red stripes, similar to those on the hatch at the bottom. While there is no immediate way for the players to determine the function of the stripes, the GM should be aware that urns with 3 stripes contain the ashes of a great hero of the Order of the Gavel, urns with 2 stripes contain the ashes of those who led the order, and urns with a single stripe contain the ashes of a great evil doer whom the order brought to justice. Each of the urns contains 2 copper pieces, used in the burial rituals of the order.

Behind each urn, on the wall of the steppes, is an engraving memorializing the individual whose ashes are contained within. A hasty inspection will reveal that the urns on the lowest tier are the oldest, and the urns on the upper tier are the most recent. The dates cover a range of 150 years, ending about 300 years ago. I’ve included dates on the list below, though obviously, these will need to be modified to suit your campaign setting.  For players who inspect these inscriptions more carefully, they read:

Sepulchre of the Order of the Gavel Top View

  1. [Three Bands] Senjar Okin / Fell in the year 702 / “None stood at The Citadel’s Gates more proudly than he. Fell to Orcs during the Seige of Lawund”
  2. [Three Bands] Yendew Nidaa / Fell between the years 688 and 690 / “We know not why she chose to venture so far afield, nor what it is that she fought. But the monstrous remains found near her body say all that must be said of her boundless courage.”
  3. [Three Bands] Custis Garret / Fell in the year 682 / “He stood before the sea and demanded it obey the laws of righteousness.”
  4. [Two Bands] Mahraha of the Mithril Fist / Fell in the year 672 / “Taken from us even as she led us to victory over the prowlers of the southern lands. By her request, she is interred with the dagger of her assassin, that she may return it to him in the next life.” [Burried in the ashes is a +2 Keen Dagger, or other dagger appropriate to your campaign.]
  5. [One Band] Revet Taroggaram / Slain in the year 660 / “There can be no quarter given to the unjust. No thief, no murderer, no inhuman beast can be allowed to profit from their evil.”
  6. [Two Bands] Murraha Slevali / Fell in the year 654 / “Unjustly taken from us while held as a captive of the Okarum. Justice will be done in her name.”
  7. [Two Bands] Torvil Brinebeard / Went to Rest in the year 653 / “The last to stand beside He Who Was First. The first to stand amongst the compassionate, the charitable, and the just.”
  8. [Three Bands] Hukatee Bularus / Went to Rest in the year 644 / “Those who speak the words of peace must be recognized. They are heroes as much as any who wield a blade.”
  9. [One Band] [Faint runes surround the edges of the urn’s lid] Erosm Muck / Slain in the year 643 / “Not all evil can be ended with fire and steel.” [If the runes current positioning is disturbed, Erosm Muck, a vampire, will become reconstituted.]
  10. [One Band] [Top of this urn is sealed with flaking wax.] Donnorel Thinn, Wizard of the Black Gaze / Slain in the year 636 / “It is unjust that one who took the life from so many, only has one life to give in payment for his crimes.” [If opened, an ash monster, ghost, or other appropriate creature is released. It is hostile towards the party.]
  11. [Two Bands] Shenwa Evacord / Went to Rest in the Year 628 / “When those who brought us peace were toppled, she steadied their triumphs. Interred with her is the Opal of Unariac, a gift from those who died in the wars she prevented.” [Burried in the ashes is a large opal mounted in a golden disk, surrounded with emeralds. Worth 3,000gp]
  12. [Three Bands] Edinea Kodas / Fell in the year 619 / “Charge forth always, in battle, and in parley.”
  13. [One Band] Uma Thistledown / Slain in the year 616 / “Let the east wall of the citadel remain forever cracked, as a reminder of the price required by faltering vigilance.”
  14. [Three Bands] Vinn Drekos / Fell in the year 611 / “Even as the gnoll’s javellins pierced her body, she did not falter in her defense of those innocents she had sworn to protect. Interred with her are the ashes of, Gerek Haverock, whom she loved.”
  15. [Three Bands] Hedsig Agham / Fell in the Year 591 / “Through the lens of Justice, truth can be found, and the good of all served.” [Urn contains a finely crafted monocle. Looking through it allows the wearer to see Good, Evil, and Untruth, as though they had cast Detect Good, Detect Evil, and Detect Lies.]
  16. [One Band] “Let none speak the name of the one who was slain in the year 591; for it is they who to he who was first from us.”
  17. [Two Bands] Karkis, Lady of the Hunt / Fell in the year 580 / “Justice is done by her grace alone.”
  18. [Three Bands] Mmij Hippamus / Fell in the year 568 / “The Titan Slayer.”
  19. [Two Bands] Amee The Bold / Fell in the year 555 / “Without her guiding wisdom and swift action, the order would never passed through those turbulent years after the fall of He Who Was First.”
  20. [Three Bands] Horace the Watchman / Fell in the year 549 / “By the side of He who was First did he fight, and by His side did he fall. May we all know the courage of the Watchman.”

If the players inspect the hatch at the bottom, they will see an inscription in the iron which reads simply: “He who was first.” There is a heavy clamp holding the hatch closed, but it is not locked and can be removed with a bit of effort. When it is opened, the hatch reveals a mumified corpse standing upright. These are the remains of the founder of the Order of The Gavel; a human man named Hassid Gurtoch, The Clear Speaker. The body is still wrapped quite tightly, and seems well preserved. It can be fished out with minimal difficulty. Nothing else is apparent within this small tomb.

If removed from his tomb, Hassid will be temporarily reanimated by positive energy. If there are any non-good being present, Hassid will tear his wrappings off, revealing that he was burried with a sanctified longsword which glows a brilliant yellow. He attacks as though he were a mummy (though he is not of evil alignment, and lacks the Mummy Rot special attack). If only good characters are present, Hassid will question them thoroughly about why they have chosen to loot the tomb of his order. If the players cite sufficient need, Hassid will tell them of the false bottom to his tomb. If they cannot convince him that their need for treasure is mandated by a goodly quest, then he will ask them to leave. If they refuse, or if the characters are caught lying, Hassid will attack them as vigorously as he would attack non-good characters.

The bottom of Hassid’s tomb is false, and can be lifted to reveal an assortment of coins, gems, and at least 2 good-aligned magic items.

Reading “The Steading Of The Hill Giant Chief” as a Modern Gamer

Original 1978 module cover for G1 - Steading of the Hill Giant Chief
Original 1978 module cover.

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently took advantage of Wizards of the Coast making a lot of old TSR content available for purchase as PDFs. I bought all seven of the GDQ series modules, which I’ve been wanting to read for years now. The set have the distinction of being voted “the single greatest adventure of all time” by Dungeon magazine back in 2004, and the arguably more awesome distinction of being listed among Stephen Colbert’s favorite memories.

I’m generally a pretty slow reader, but I’ve been using every spare moment for the last day racing through these glorious tomes. I don’t have a ton of experience with oldschool modules, but I’ve certainly found them a lot more engaging than many modern modules I’ve read. And I’m really, immensely disappointed that I don’t have any players who are anywhere near ready to run through them. My D&D&LB players are just starting to reach level 2 (lowest recommended level for these is 8). My ToKiMo  players–while closer to the appropriate level–have not been playing with the level of high-mortality that these modules demand.

Surprisingly though, my player’s level of experience is my only real concern with running these modules for a Pathfinder group. The work of modifying the adventures for a modern game is really no work at all. I had once thought, based on my experience with modules for rules heavy systems like D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder, that converting a module to a new system would be difficult. But in these adventures there are so few rules or stat blocks that there’s hardly anything to change.

Take, for example, the first of the seven modules: Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, which I purchased as part of the compilation “Against the Giants.” Along with two maps (one of the interior of the Hill Giant Stead, and one of the dungeon below it), there are 7 pages of adventure information and room descriptions, broken up by art. Based on my experience running oldschool style dungeon-crawls in Pathfinder, the content in these 7 measly pages could last for at least 2 game sessions, if not 3 or 4.

Only occasionally are game rules even mentioned, and in those instances it would be the work of mere moments to update them appropriately. For example, in room 17A of the dungeon level, part of the description includes this passage:

Behind this altar is a flight of low, uneven steps which lead to an alcove with a concave back wall of purplish-black, glassy appearing substance. If any creature stands before this wall and gazes upon it for one round, a writhing amorphous form of sickly mauves and violets will be seen stretching its formless members towards the viewer. The sight causes the creature seeing it to have a 50% chance of becoming insane.”

Now, if you want, you could just play that as written. The mechanics are explained in their entirety right there on the page: a 50% chance. If you’d rather make the module consistent with Pathfinder, though, it only takes a second. 50% chance is pretty damned high, so I’d say Will Save, DC: 18.

There are no NPC stat blocks in this module, so no real work to do there. Although there are two captive NPCs in the dungeon (an elf and a dwarf) who may join the party if rescued. But since no character sheets for those characters are included anyway, it seems that even the DMs of 1978 were expected to make their own character sheets for these characters. Surely we can take a moment to do the same, right?

All of the monsters in the module are standard. At the time players were meant to look them up in the AD&D Monster Manual, and as luck would have it, all of the monsters are still around in the Pathfinder Bestiary. Watch, I’ll even do all the work for you, in order of introduction:

  • Orc, Page 222
  • Hill Giant, Page 150
  • Ogre, Page 220
  • Cloud Giant, Page 147
  • Stone Giant, Page 151
  • Cave Bear, Page 31
  • Dire Wolf, Page 278
  • Bugbear, Page 38
  • Trogdolyte, Page 267
  • Giant Lizard, Page 194
  • Carrion Crawler…okay this one isn’t in there. Most likely copyrighted by Wizards. But if you play Pathfinder, you’ve probably got a 3.5 Monster Manual handy. It’s on Page 30 of that book.
  • Manticore, Page 199

Bam. I just updated the module for you.

Of course, there are a lot of AD&D anachronisms which you’ll need to deal with. Instead of “2d6 damage,” you’ll see things like “2-12 damage.” But that’s not difficult to figure out. There are also a few instances when one monster fights “as another monster,” but that’s not difficult either. When the module says that Hill Giants fight “as ogres,” it just means that you should use the Ogre stat block for these Hill Giants, because they’re not big badasses yet. Easy peasy.

I highly recommend these modules to Pathfinder players who enjoy dungeon crawling. They’re cheap, solidly designed, and will be a very different experience from the Pathfinder modules you may be used to.

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