Saturday, December 26, 2015

What's Next? Or, 2015 in Review

This year I restarted my blog after nuking my old one due to how long it had lain fallow and how outdated most of its ideas were; in hindsight, probably should have kept it around for posterity. But alas, what's done is done, and this new blog has given me the opportunity to start fresh and tackle the latest tabletop games.

Since starting anew, I've made attempts to bring a couple of settings up to date and tried to tackle the reimagining of a class that was struggling to find its identity. The first two I'm pretty happy with, though I'm still unsure of how the variant ranger I proposed would pan out in actual play. Purely mathematical comparisons don't always accurately portray how fun something is, and when your happy fun times roleplaying game activity with friends becomes a flexing contest then it kind of loses its meaning.

I'm really fortunate in that regard; my gaming groups are pretty boss. This year saw a great number of roleplaying adventures in which I was lucky to be a player for at least a couple of them (yeah, I'm the guy usually DMing stuff).

First up was a Pathfinder game that made use of the Ultimate Campaign features so our party of miscreants could help the founding of a small nation that was created purely to skirt the tenets of a treaty between the lords of Brevoy. As a player, I got to mess around with Pathfinder's cavalier class and act as the political figurehead of the nascent nation.

Unfortunately, as fun as the game was, it highlighted my general dislike of how crunchy that system has gotten. There are just piles of ancillary, optional rules that you always find excuses to include, and the system still carries so much baggage from its progenitor 3rd Edition D&D. While I don't begrudge those who love Pathfinder (and I'd still probably play Core if I was asked), I may be turning the page in my gaming days where I just want to sit down and play and not have to worry about keeping spreadsheets.

Concurrently, I was in the throes of my first 5th Edition campaign with my group of online gaming buddies. I mentioned how great Roll20 was, right? In this game, my players managed to thwart the machinations of a dream-projecting green dragon under the throes of an enchanted sleep, settle rising tensions between the colony of one nation on the fringes of another's territory, and reveal a traitor in a faerie court before he could scour the isles of all its human population.

On the downside, this game showed me how cumbersome trying to work within the boundaries of established settings could be. The location of the campaign was the Moonshae Isles of the Forgotten Realms, and boy is it difficult to find sources on that area that don't contradict one another, fail to describe helpful details, or fail to elaborate on the personages alive during a particular time period. I managed once I finally gave up all pretense of running a game in the "canon" Faerun; I renamed some rulers, created heirs and political figures that don't technically exist as of Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide (oops), and said, "Screw it!" to the wikis, books, and old boxed sets.

The lesson learned is to not try too hard to conform to what you think people had in mind for the setting. I knew this lesson already, but I do always at least attempt to run games in the "familiar" version of the world. Also, the 1450 DR and beyond continuity really needs to be unsnarled, because I can't seem to make heads or tails of it.

After a brief break, that same group of players, running different characters, continued adventures in the world of Faerun. This time, the setting was good old Baldur's Gate, where I ran into the same continuity issues. The events of the first game drove things going on in the second one, so I had more justification to change names, rulers, and organizations to suit my needs.

In this campaign, my erstwhile adventurers arrived in the city in response to a job posting for extra sword arms to keep the peace in the city. The two feuding powers from the previous game were in town on invitation of the Grand Duke to help hash out a reparations agreement in neutral territory. The players, unfortunately, ran face-first into a Zhentarim plot to influence the outcome of the proceedings.

The Zhents, in the meanwhile, hoisted themselves by their own petard and made a deal with a local black dragon to help supplement their agents. While she willingly supplied her own offspring to act as guard beasts and shock troops, the dragon replaced the Zhent's chief wizard and started turning the whole affair into an attempt to drive the city into chaos so she could plunder it for her hoard. One routed Zhentarim cell and one dead black dragon later, and the heroes were triumphant; a fitting end for an eight month campaign.

Here I learned to stop making my plots too complicated. Knowledge retention between weekly sessions, especially for busy working adults, isn't always the best. That two paragraph summary only scratches the surface of the stuff I had them doing (raiding illegal menageries, traipsing through Banite temples, threatening arms dealers, and dealing with belligerent watch commanders). It was probably too much, and my next game for that same group will be less convoluted so the goal is always clear (e.g., "in this game, we do X").

Homebrew settings weren't left out of the adventures, of course. A coworker is about to finish out a quest where we are trying to seal away the curse of an ancient mountain stronghold that is barfing out corrupting shadow fog. In this game, I play a mountain dwarf rogue, and I am very pleased with how the dwarf's innate toughness helps complement the rogue's combat kit. Being able to wear a mithril breastplate isn't hurting either.

This has been a good year for tabletop gaming. I'm fortunate to have the time to juggle it among the other stuff I do, and it gives me great inspiration for what I write here. Speaking of which, 2016 should be just as productive in that regard, but the question remains as to what I should be working on! I love converting settings, and I feel like I do a better job at that than I do coming up with classes or archetypes.

Presently, I am deliberating the usefulness of converting Dark Sun mechanics to 5th Edition, something I poked at earlier this year but abandoned when I realized that Wizards of the Coast is still feeling out what they want to do for this edition's psionics rules. Planescape probably runs just fine without any mechanics work, though it might do for an entry or two to convert some races over and do some faction backgrounds.

I want to stay as far away from the minefield that is Dragonlance licensing as possible, because I don't know what will get me a pat on the head and what will get me slapped with a C&D. Best to just leave it there. Way over there.

That leaves uh. Um. Hmm. Spelljammer?

Just kidding! Maybe.

Here's to a new year of gaming for all! Have a great holiday, and I'll see you in 2016.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Council of Wyrms, Version 1.0

At last, the compiled document for Council of Wyrms 5th Edition, which includes everything you would need to play a dragon of any breed and class you desire; though you'll find yourself limited on psionics until Wizards of the Coast puts out more official rules on them. And no dragon monks. It makes my head hurt to think about dragon monks.

I'll make updates and posts as I fix entries. There are already a couple weird bits I found after I stamped the PDF, such as a fighting style and feat sharing the same name (Deep Breath). Too many nights chewing glass on Onyxia back in my vanilla Warcraft days, I guess.

Anyway, here you go, courtesy of Google Drive. Have fun with it!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Council of Wyrms: More Errata and Natures

It'sa me, Mario Marsupialmancer! As the year tapers off, free time is a premium at least for people with active family and social lives. Lucky for you, I'm not one of those people!

I've been working more on the Council of Wyrms stuff and have one final article for presentation before I wrap it up into PDF package. Well, that's a lie; I already made one and distributed it to a small audience for feedback, and as such I have some erratas to talk about first.

One of my old MMO buddies whose systems knowledge is sublime determined that the ability score bonus for each age category might not be enough; a dragon would need to pump four, maybe all five ability score increases throughout their career if they ever wanted to hit that 30 ability score cap at ancient age, and that felt excessive. To that point, the ability score increase at each age category is raised to two, rather than one (that is, all ability scores increase by two).

This is already a pretty high-powered conversion, so I feel like that's okay.

Secondly, the breath weapons were all out of whack. In my effort to try to cleave too closely to the power caps in the Monster Manual, some breath weapons just sucked (i.e. never getting particularly good or being nerfed by never reaching its MM value). So, endeavoring to close the gaps a bit and let some of the dragons reach their previous glory, I reworked each breed's breath weapon damages.

It'd take up a lot of space to talk about each breed, but here's good ol' red dragon for you.

Fire Breath. You can exhale a 15 foot cone of fire as your breath weapon. This attack deals 4d6 fire damage and increases by 1d6 per level. At young age, the range increases to 30 feet. At adult age, it increases to 60 feet. At ancient age, your fire breath has a 90 foot range.

So now it starts out a bit more powerful and hits a 23d6 cap at level 20. It's still not quite the 26d6 that they have in the Monster Manual, but I've got an answer for that too in the form of the Deep Breath fighting style.

Deep Breath
Your breath weapon is more fearsome. You deal additional dice of damage with your damaging breath weapon equal to your Constitution modifier, based on its die type. If your breath weapon uses a d4 or d6 as its damage die, you add two dice per point of Constitution modifier. If it uses a d8 or d10, you add one die per point of Constitution modifier.
For example, a 15th level black dragon (16d8 acid damage) with a Constitution of 21 (+5 modifier) has a 21d8 acid damage breath weapon.

If you go out of your way to focus on your breath weapon, you get something pretty gnarly. Still, it might be too much, and I can always do a bit more work on it.

I talked a bit about making lair building rules, but I wasn't happy with any implementation I tried. They ended up feeling cumbersome and bolted-on, bogging down gameplay in undesirable ways. To wit, I am (wisely, I think), backing down from that idea for now unless something better occurs to me.

Finally, I wanted to introduce Natures. I spent a lot of time thinking about Backgrounds and how they really don't work for dragons as much as I would like. Dragons differ in that you generally start playing them not long after they hatch, so there's really not much time to develop a background for them what with connections, features, et cetera that are usually provided via backgrounds.

To that end, I've created a bunch of draconic natures that are innate for dragons. They provide similar roleplaying fodder, a general implied path of action for them as they grow, two supplementary proficiencies, and a tangible benefit that is in some cases slightly stronger than the features that some backgrounds provided (to help account for the fact that they won't get tool proficiencies and the like).

Here are some examples:

Ambitious


Dragons with this nature are primed for ascension into the ranks of clan politics when they come of age. They understand that to attain power, one must be willing to seize opportunities and hold them with an iron claw. While not all ambitious dragons are deceitful or belligerent, they know when to apply those two qualities to get what they want.

Bonus Proficiencies: Deception, Intimidation

Objectives and Features: Power and Influence

When interacting with individuals of station, you instinctively sense their pecking order and can deftly navigate the troubled waters of their power relationships. You can determine whether a particular creature is worth negotiating with or whether your time would be best served finding their superior. Your Dungeon Master should advise you to make appropriate skill or ability checks accordingly in order to make this determination, if the situation calls for it.

Furthermore, you can acquit yourself in such a way that clan dominates or Council representatives recognize your savvy and treat you as befits your ambition, though this rarely manifests in such a way that you gain anything more than a token audience with such individuals.

Whenever you acquire titles or accolades that bestow titles upon you, specifically those recognized by another body of influence such as a vassal tribal government or appointment as a clan dominate, you have advantage on Charisma checks made to influence individuals to which those titles apply.

For example, Scorchfang the red dragon adult is appointed as a clan dominate, after years of maneuvering and assassinating his superiors. Such devious activity earns him the grudging respect of his lord, and the unending spite of his subordinates and those who failed to climb to the same position. Nevertheless, they know not to cross him. Scorchfang has advantage on Charisma checks when dealing with his clan, up to and including his lord -- though the lord will be watching Scorchfang carefully for signs that the ambitious dragon seeks to replace him one day.

Avaricious


Though all dragons hoard treasure and can be said to have an avaricious nature, these dragons are particularly greedy. While their own moral compass may discourage them from theft or manipulating their fellow dragons, they usually feel no compunction about doing so to vassal races or humanoid tribes.

Avaricious dragons are instinctively able to sense the approximate worth of valuable objects and can determine when an object is a forgery or otherwise replicated from an original piece that they know about. These makes them shrewd customers when dealing with merchants, be they dragon or otherwise, and oft sought after for identifying the qualities of rare items.

Bonus Proficiencies: Deception, Sleight of Hand

Objectives and Features: It’s Mine!

The accrual of material wealth is tied with whatever your other goals may be, and you will rarely agree to perform a task without some form of compensation. The growth of your hoard goes beyond mere necessity -- it is the only thing that brings you true peace.

You can determine the approximate value (in gold pieces) of any object you spend an action to study. Additionally, whenever your accumulating hoard is greater than the value of your bonded hoard, you may use the identify spell up to three times before requiring a long rest.

For example, the obsessive amethyst dragon, Malvistryl, is an avaricious worm that counts his hoard daily. As the rest of his comrades acquire treasure, they bring magical items to Malvistryl in order to determine their approximate value and their mystical properties. Of course, Malvistryl then tries to negotiate a trade that will benefit him.

When Malvistryl achieves a new level, his bonded hoard subsumes a value from his accumulating hoard in order to keep him from deteriorating, and so he immediately rallies his fellow dragons to embark on another adventure, this time to sack an orcish kingdom said to be particularly fat on the riches of their plunder. That they are also decimating nearby vassal villages is simply the impetus to convince them to go.

Competitive


Even dragons can have a competitive streak, and those with this nature are particularly prone to undertake challenges for which they might not be ready. While this nature does not supply the dragon with a death wish, it is likely the wyrm will seek to confront dangers rather than circumvent them -- unless, of course, the challenge is to do just that.

Bonus Proficiencies: Athletics, Intimidation

Objectives and Features: Challenge Accepted

Whenever you are presented with a task that might be deemed difficult, you are usually eager to chance it, especially if someone uses the age-old phrase, “That’s impossible!” When you do triumph, it only goads you on to try more risky endeavors. Succeeding on skill or ability checks with a DC of 20 or higher, or being part of a group that defeats an encounter with a CR equivalent to a Hard encounter or greater grants you the ability to use the guidance cantrip until you take a long rest.

Inquisitive


Particularly among crystal dragons, inquisitive wyrms have a habit of unearthing tidbits of information in such a way as to draw the ire of those who would rather see secrets buried. Driven by more than simple curiosity, dragons with this nature are almost obsessive with their need to poke their snouts where they don’t belong.

Bonus Proficiencies: Investigation, Perception

Objectives and Features: What’s This?

Whenever you are told that a place is forbidden, you simply have to know why. Your elders won’t ever fully understand or support your need to dig into abandoned ruins, seek out dragon graveyards, or unearth peculiar mysteries. As such, you should always try to spur discovery or encourage a venture to a place left yet unexplored. The Io’s Blood Isles are huge, and even its masters do not know every corner of the land.

Discovering new places or secrets is of great interest to you, and your natural inclinations give you a sense of where secrets might hide. You may use one of the following spells once: detect evil and good, detect magic, or detect poison and disease. You regain the use of this ability after completing a short rest.

If you are directly involved in any effort that uncovers a lost location or unearths some great secret, you operate under the effects of the bless spell until you complete a short or long rest.

Guardian


Dragons don’t exclusively hoard and dominate, but few are driven to actually seek out a group or place to actively protect. Those with the guardian nature are among those few, who are compelled to shepherd a small flock or watch over a particular place. The nature of that which the dragon guards may manifest as a small tribe of vassals, a natural landmark, or a precious bauble of some unknown purpose.

Players who choose the guardian nature should work with the Dungeon Master to determine the nature of that which they protect. People will not generally accompany you on endeavors, and they should never be used as cannon fodder. A bauble is typically non-magical, though throughout your adventures secret qualities may be revealed. All is up to the Dungeon Master.

Bonus Proficiencies: Perception, Survival

Objectives and Features: Protectorate

Your protectorate is deeply important to you, and anything that puts it at risk incurs your wrath. While in active defense of object, location, or people of your protectorate, you are at advantage on skill checks, saving throws, and attack rolls against aggressors. You do not gain this bonus if you are willingly putting your protectorate at risk, such as using a village as bait for a raid or placing your prized heirloom in the midst of a battlefield to draw attention.

The bond between you and your protectorate energizes you and regenerates your wounds. While resting in the presence of your protectorate, you double the amount of hit points regained by expending hit dice for a short rest and regain all of your hit dice expended after a long rest.

Should your protectorate ever be stolen, you operate under the effects of the bestow curse spell unless you are in direct pursuit of retrieving it. If your protectorate is destroyed (such as your village of vassals being completely slaughtered), you suffer the same effect until you replace it with a new protectorate after a period of mourning no less than one month.

Mediator


Dragons are creatures that quickly master any pursuit they put their mind to, and as such are notoriously adept at disagreeing with one another. The various dragon wars throughout the millennia are proof enough of this, and it takes a strong leader skilled at mediation to keep the clans from killing one another.

A wyrm with the mediator nature is one such dragon. While they may not necessarily be leaders as such, they have a knack and a desire to keep the peace between entities and prevent conflict from erupting.

Bonus Proficiencies: Insight, Persuasion

Objectives and Features: Adept Negotiator

Dragons with this nature are frequently sought out to adjudicate disputes or act as advocates on a party’s behalf. Mediators may find themselves representing a vassal village’s petition to secede from their own clan, or act as the judge in a Challenge of Claw and Wing. Regardless of their breed, a mediator dragon will be seen as an impartial party until their actions prove otherwise.

You will always be treated at least neutrally by dragons belonging to any Council-affiliated clan (that is to say, every clan that is not on the outs with the Council for some reason or another) and may be asked to intervene in some matter or other. Even when dealing with breeds at odds with your own, they will give you the respect due -- at least, until your back is turned.

If you successfully mediate a dispute that would have resulted in conflict had you not intervened, you gain advantage on saving throws and skill checks until you complete a short or long rest.

Predator


Particularly among the brutal chromatic breeds, hunting and dispatching prey is one of the greatest joys a dragon can experience. Whether it is a white dragon dragging a slain whale to shore to gorge upon it, or a copper dragon pouncing upon and outfoxing a giant scorpion, all wyrms feel this instinct.

For some, however, it goes beyond just instinct, and is woven into their very nature. These dragons are truly apex predators, and their ability to strike first is uncanny.

Bonus Proficiencies: Stealth, Survival

Objectives and Features: First Strike

The cohorts of a dragon with this nature may find their ally wandering off to chase small prey or toying with helpless creatures, even if they never deal a killing stroke. In some this can manifest as tormenting the poor victim, but in others it is simply harmless play that belies a pinnacle predator instinct. These wyrms are cat-like in their actions, which may seem precocious when they are young, but is terrifying when they are massive and can shred steel as easily as paper.

Predator dragons are adept at getting the drop on enemies. They have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) checks made to avoid surprise, and they may roll twice when determining initiative and choose either result.

Furthermore, when a dragon with the predator nature successfully attacks a target that is surprised or does not otherwise detect their presence (such as when hidden or invisible), that target suffers disadvantage when attacking the dragon until the end of the dragon’s next turn.

Sophont


While the vassal races establish academies of learning and institutions of magic, dragons rarely bother with such organizations. Most are naturally intelligent and have superb memories that are as sharp and long as their claws, but sophont dragons harken more to the sages and scholars of the vassal races than they do the rest of their aloof kind.

Eagerly devouring (at least, in the figurative sense) books, art, poetry, and music, sophonts spring at the opportunity to learn new things and experience new sensations. To them, the greatest wisdom is not in being the master, but being the student.

Bonus Proficiencies: Insight, Perception

Objectives and Features: Broad Knowledge

Sophont dragons eagerly seek out new experiences and are diligent learners. They rarely turn down the opportunity to try something they have not tried before, and practically never call something they do not understand “stupid” or “pointless” regardless of its absurdity. Sophonts prefer to determine that for themselves after they try.

The innate willingness to learn makes a sophont dragon pick up secrets from its handlers while still in the shell, more than that imparted by simple care and racial memory. You may pick one spellcasting class that uses cantrips, and select three cantrips from its spell list. You may use these cantrips innately, without the use of spellbooks, prayer, or material components.

Conclusion?


Am I done? I think so. I hope so! I keep waffling more than a particular American diner chain and finding more things I want to work on! It's probably best if I gather one last round of feedback, make final changes, and then tie this off for the year. Thank you all for following along so far!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Aerial Combat!

Continuing with my Council of Wyrms conversion, I felt that a couple ancillary systems might be of benefit. This entry should be considered optional for groups that desire that level of combat simulation. I've tried to keep it fairly abstract, since there's but a small subset of gamers that care to determine mass, acceleration, lift, or wind resistance coefficients. If that's your thing, more power to you.

I took a bit of inspiration from the way some other systems do their aerial combat, so if any of it sounds familiar, that's why.

As a species with natural flight, dragons are not restricted to scrapping on the ground like common humanoids. In any situation where they have the capability to spread their wings, dragons use them to their advantage. Both players and Dungeon Masters should be aware that this adds more than the usual degree of third dimension to combat.

Of course, in the world of the Council of Wyrms, most enemies that the dragons face are more than cognizant of this advantage and plan accordingly. Every hoard or egg raiding party equips itself with ranged weapons and nets to drag the wyrms back to the ground where they can be ganged up on by pikemen and axes.

Even vassal troops are drilled in combat formations that help mitigate the aerial advantage many dragons have, such as using turtle-shell formations with tower shields to provide cover against dragon breath. Just because the Council exists does not mean there are not periodic raids and blood feuds among clans, who use their vassal troops accordingly.

A flying dragon does have risks to consider, most of which involve gravity and weather.

Action Variants


There are some actions that can be performed only while in flight. They typically follow precedents set by other actions, but have special considerations in the three dimensional battlefield that is aerial combat.

Dive

A variant of the Dash action, Dive enables a flying creature to move up to five times its flight speed, but only if the dragon loses altitude in accordance with the direction it moves. Furthermore, any class abilities that enable Dash to be used as a bonus action also apply to Dive.

For example, a young crystal dragon rogue with a fly speed of 80 enters a Dive in order to surprise a dragonslayer riding a griffon. The dragon moves up to 300 feet toward the target, but loses a similar amount of altitude.

I left the language of this open in case I decide to add more action variants for aerial combatants. 

Conditions and Flight


All dragons must be able to spread their wings and beat them unhindered to remain aloft. While players and Dungeon Masters should not concern themselves with the minutia and math behind mass, lift, and minimum speed to avoid stalling, a few guidelines help simulate these conditions.

Firstly, a dragon must have a sufficient quantity of air beneath it to take off and remain flying. If a spell or other effect (such as a bizarre trip to an extraplanar realm) removes the air from a given space, a dragon cannot fly.

Furthermore, a dragon must have enough space to keep its wings moving. Should the space around a dragon ever become insufficient, such as needing to squeeze through a place that is narrower than its base, it cannot remain aloft and will begin to fall if they end their turn in the space and are not holding onto a surface or protrusion of some kind. For example, if a Large copper dragon (10’ by 10’ space) is forced to fly through a very narrow bend in a canyon (a 5’ space), it will not be able to fly if it ends its turn within the narrow area without grabbing onto something. If the dragon cannot grab hold of something, it falls immediately.

In a circumstance that causes the dragon to lose control of its wings, it will begin to fall. Conditions that create this situation include the paralyzed, petrified, prone, and restrained conditions. If the condition ends before the dragon hits the ground (assuming they’re particularly high in the air), the dragon can catch itself and prevent a devastating crash on its turn so long as it can use its fly speed.

In the event that a dragon (or any other creature, for that matter) enters a free fall, they will plummet 600 feet per round on its turn while the condition is in effect. For example, a blue dragon is soaring 400 feet above the desert when it is attacked by a brass dragon wizard (deviously under the effects of an invisibility spell). The brass dragon banks close and casts the hold monster spell on the blue dragon, which fails its saving throw. On the blue dragon’s turn, all it can do is fall, and it hits the ground at full speed suffering maximum falling damage (20d6, for falling 200 or more feet). Ouch.

In the same example, if the blue dragon is instead at 1000 feet, it falls only 600 feet on its turn, and at the end of the same turn succeeds on its saving throw to break the hold monster effect. The dragon is no longer falling, and does not suffer falling damage when its turn comes around again (though it is only 400 feet above the ground now, at risk of being affected a second time).

This is, of course, an abstraction that only roughly considers acceleration by gravity in an Earth-like environment, but is consistent with similar abstractions from previous editions as well as prevents players from needing to determine mass, acceleration, and terminal velocity based on how big their dragon character is according to their sheet.

It is worth noting a special case scenario for the grappled condition, where both the grappler and their victim are in a clinch and fall together. In such situations, falling is done on the victim’s turn, and not on the grapple initiator’s turn.

High Winds


Flying creatures have a harder time negotiating the skies when subject to inclement weather, but the larger the beast, the less difficulty it suffers when battling against such conditions.

A Small or smaller flyer treats all flight-based movement as difficult terrain in conditions where the wind is in excess of 30 miles per hour (or 48 kph). Medium and Large flyers have a threshold of 50 mph (80 kph), with Huge and Gargantuan being unaffected up to 75 mph (120 kph). Certain creatures, such as djinn and air elementals, are not subject to the effects of high winds due to their nature as extraplanar creatures from the Plane of Air.

No flyer can engage in movement of any kind in conditions in excess of twice its threshold, becoming subject to the violent gales and possibly entering a free fall.

Minimum Flight Speed


An optional rule that some Dungeon Masters may want to use involves maintaining a minimum speed to avoid losing altitude. Dragons are huge, heavy creatures and despite their wingspan, they must maintain a forward momentum to avoid stalling.

If your DM uses this rule, you must move at least half of your flight speed each turn to maintain your altitude. On any turn which you fall to move this speed, you must succeed on a Strength (Athletics) check or begin to fall. The DC for this check is contingent on your age; 10 for wyrmling, 15 for young, 20 for adult, and 25 for ancient. The older a dragon is, the harder it becomes to remain aloft without forward momentum due to its mass.

But Wait, There's More!


I'm working on more stuff on my lair building rules, but they're seeing more an excuse to add simulationism for its own sake. I'm not terribly happy with them yet, so I'll probably break off to do another topic for an entry or two before coming back to it. When it's all done, I'll wrap it up into a handy PDF for download.

Till then!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Phat Loots

I figured I'd have a brief interlude while I'm working on Council of Wyrms ancillary systems and present a few magic items from an online campaign I've been running with friends for the last couple years. Have I mentioned how great Roll20 is? It's pretty great.

Like many Dungeon Masters who've been doing this forever and ever, I prefer to give my magic items a bit more character. Using the stuff presented in the Dungeon Master's Guide is nice as a basis, but I like giving the items backstories and history as well as some custom powers. Since the online group in question is adventuring in the Forgotten Realms, my items are themed accordingly.

Most of these were acquired over the course of the campaign and go into a generic player swag pile between chapter arcs. As characters come and go (the group isn't necessarily tied to the same characters throughout as they decide to try something new), I let them pull from the heap. They haven't seen a couple of these yet, either because they never got found in previous treasure piles or are up-and-coming loot. Spoiler alert if any of them read this blog. :P

Feel free to pinch any of these or reskin for your own games, of course, or critique as desired.

Black Sentinel


Though its blackened steel blade and ominous silhouette may lead one to believe this sword to be evil in nature, the true story behind the weapon is very different. Crafted and wielded by a fallen paladin that once served Helm, the weapon -- and its wielder -- found redemption and were purified in the light of the god's grace.

Black Sentinel is a +1 longsword that possesses powerful defensive magic. It whispers to its wielder (in an admittedly chilling telepathic voice) whenever battle is imminent, granting a +2 bonus to initiative rolls. Further, whenever the wielder is affected by a critical hit, they may turn it into a normal hit, but only once until the wielder takes a short rest. The blade shows no other signs of being intelligent.

The weapon also warns the wielder whenever an ally is about to be attacked, allowing the use of a reaction to move up to the wielder's speed towards that ally. A short or long rest must be completed before this ability can be used again.

Cloak of Dust


The Cloak of Dust is a stitched leather mantle lined with rabbit fur. If slapped or shaken, the cloak will shed a small amount of dust, as though it were hanging in a wardrobe for some years without being worn. Despite its condition, the cloak does bear a minor enchantment and is said to have been used by Cardinal, a thief of some minor renown in the city of Luskan, before he was summarily caught and hanged after a botched heist.

One will find that the cloak acts as a cloak of protection with the special quality of giving advantage on Stealth checks made while in urban environments. The enchantment seems to cause the eyes of onlookers to slide away from the wearer when they are attempting to remain hidden, or otherwise regard their presence as unremarkable.

Excelsior


The shaft of the magic arrow Excelsior is said to be crafted from a wing bone of a phoenix, and its fletching from the wing feathers of an arrowhawk. When fired, the arrow will never shatter and can always be recovered. The arrow strikes as a magical weapon, though it has no discreet magical bonuses to attack or damage.

Any target struck by Excelsior is subject to its true power, which is to burst into flame. As a bonus action, the owner of Excelsior may shout the arrow's name and cause it to erupt in fire. The victim immediately suffers an additional 8d6 points of fire damage with no saving throw allowed. The arrow is utterly consumed after this effect is used.

Excelsior will return from destruction with the light of the coming dawn, to which its ashes must be exposed. If the arrow is not reborn in the light of the sun within ten days' time, Excelsior is permanently destroyed.

The Flask of Green Glass


This bottle of unusual make is said to hail from distant Rashemen, and contains a translucent, unidentifiable liquid that fills the container about halfway. The volume of liquid approximates to about six ounces. The bottom of the bottle has a handful of etchings that appear to be command words to operate the enchantment upon the vessel.

The Flask of Green Glass can be commanded to change its contents to a substance based on the command worn chosen. To operate the flask, one speaks the command word, opens the bottle, and pours out the chosen liquid. The bottle automatically refills halfway (to its six ounce "capacity") if kept out of sight during a long rest, at which point any liquid previously poured that has not been imbibed or otherwise used will vanish immediately. This peculiarity of the enchantment leads to many questions about the bottle's origin.

The command words for the flask are as follows:

  • "Zoka" will turn the contents of the flask into a sweet-smelling sleeping draught. If completely imbibed, the draught will cause the drinker to enjoy a restful, dreamless sleep. An unwitting victim of the draught is not allowed a saving throw if they drink the entire volume, but if only a partial dose is taken, they are allowed a DC 14 Wisdom save to resist the enchantment.
  • "Malota" will transform the contents of the flask into a scalding acid that burns flesh and leather. Flinging the contents of the flask onto a target within 10 feet forces them to make a Dexterity saving throw (DC 14) or suffer 2d6 points of acid damage. The acid can also be used to dissolve organic material in a more controlled manner based on the situation.
  • "Rulani" will turn the flask's contents into a potent purification solution, turning any other liquid into which its full volume is poured into a completely pure version of that liquid. Poisoned or stagnant water or wine returns to its natural state, free of sediment or lingering effect.

There is space on the bottom of the bottle for more words to be inscribed.

The Killing Joke


This magic wand is a glass rod festooned with colorful gems. Once the property of infamous gnome trickster and illusionist, Barnabis Mossgrove, it changed owners after a particularly displeased dragon devoured him after being victim to one of Barnabis's obnoxious pranks.

The wand possesses three charges, and regains 1d3 charges daily at dawn. A single charge may be expended to cast the Tasha's hideous laughter spell, the silent image spell, or Nystul's magic aura spell. All three charges can be expended to use the phantasmal killer spell. The saving throw DC for any effect from this wand is 15.


Wondrous Wizards' Belt


In addition to being a fashionable accompaniment to the modern adventurer's attire, the wondrous wizards' belt bears enchantment to assist those trained in the arcane. The main pouch, which rests on the right hip just above the thigh, is a specialized holding apparatus that can carry up to ten individual written items with negligible weight, regardless of its size (a "written item" includes a single grimoire, a single scroll, or any loose collection of pages and notes bound together in a binding). Any object that does not conform to this standard, including blank paper, cannot fit into the pouch. However, it can hold unusual written mediums, such as stone tablets, provided the wearer can lift the object and bring it to waist level.

Only the attuned wearer can withdraw objects from the pouch; all others see only an empty container should they open or upturn the contents.

Additionally, the wearer of the belt will float in water unless dragged under regardless of their weight or carrying capacity, and can use the feather fall spell once. The flotation power is always active, but feather fall must recharge after a long rest before it can be used again.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Council of Wyrms: Aging, Treasure Hoards, and Feats

In this entry, I'll cover a miscellany of conversion material for dragon player characters. Firstly, a few bits of errata based on feedback from comments and messages across social media.

I have rethought my stance on the draconic bloodline dragon sorcerer. While I initially thought it redundant, some great points were raised about how it could be a fun roleplaying hook. As such, the sorcerer entry is revised as follows:

Dragons may select any sorcerer archetype they desire. However, special roleplaying considerations may need to be made for dragons who choose the Draconic bloodline option. Are they the scion of a particularly legendary wyrm? Are they somehow imbued with the power of another breed? Great concern and comment may shadow the dragon sorcerer if the latter is true.

Yes, a chromatic dragon with a metallic ancestor could cause more than a little bit of a stink in their clan circles, but what's a roleplaying game without non-combat conflict?

As it relates to warlocks, I neglected to put in a caveat to Pact of the Blade. I think you *might* be able to make it work with some modifications, but by and large a path that gives you a discreet weapon with attacks that utilize it doesn't really work with dragon physiology. The AD&D Council of Wyrms had wing spurs and tail maces as "weapons", but they were of questionable usefulness and required special proficiencies to take.

So while I would probably disallow a Pact of the Blade warlock in my own games, you could easily make it function by having a dragon warlock who selects Pact of the Blade use some other form of the pact weapon and adjudicate accordingly.

I've also moved the acquired immunity to energy types away from the fighting styles and into a racial feat, which I'll describe below. That way, any dragon can pick it up if they want to spend the feat. That was my bad.

Finally, I had some confused terms in my earlier entries as it relates to "kindred" and the proper term of "vassal". Kindred are specific references to bonded allies, whereas vassals are what dragons refer to lesser beings as in regular conversation. The term kindred has a particular connotation that was in error, so the final copy of my conversion will reflect this change.

Okay, that's it for errata. Next, I'd like to dive into what aging does for dragons.

Dragons tend to be stronger, tougher, and smarter than most mortal races starting out. Their racial ability score bonuses are wildly beyond the scope of standard player characters and their ceilings are much higher as well.

A standard Player’s Handbook character has a natural upper limit of 20 for an ability score. For dragons, this limit increases as the dragon’s age category improves. A starting dragon character is considered a wyrmling, and their ability score maximum is the standard 20. When a dragon achieves the young age category, their limit increases to 22. Adult dragons increase this yet further to 25. Finally, the mighty ancient wyrms have an ability score limit of 30.

Wyrmling


Newborn dragons are still powerful creatures. Wyrmlings emerge from their shells with impressive physical prowess and knowledge imparted to them both through their innate magical nature and through the murmurings of their egg caretakers. A wyrmling dragon can be anywhere from the size of an average dog (such as in the case of crystal dragons, the smallest breed) to that of a full grown half-orc (red dragons are born the largest of all wyrms, even outpacing golds for a time).

All wyrmling dragons are Medium sized creatures, except for crystal dragons, who begin play as Small creatures. Their exact dimensions are up to the player to determine within this boundary, though dragon tails are rarely longer than their body length and wingspan is usually as broad as the dragon’s whole length (body and tail).

Wyrmlings have practically no influence in dragon society. They are rarely accorded the status due to them save by vassal races, and parentage is almost never taken into account. The duty of a wyrmling is to watch and learn from its betters, performing small tasks as clan or Council mandates, and prepare for advancement through society as the years pass.

The dragon’s physiology and limitations prevent it from advancing beyond 5th level throughout its wyrmling stage. Experience may continue to accrue as it is earned (at the Dungeon Master’s indulgence), but no wyrmling may advance to 6th level or beyond.

A wyrmling remains such until its thirtieth year of life, at which time it enters a dragon sleep within its lair. During this dragon sleep, the dragon bonds with its hoard and its territory, drawing supernatural strength from the land and the ambient magic of its treasures. At the end of this dragon sleep, which lasts no less than six months, the wyrmling emerges as a young dragon.

Young


At this point, the young dragon grows to Large size (or Medium, for crystal dragons) and its physical attacks become more formidable. All ability scores increase by one point, up to their new maximums. The dragon gains 30 maximum hit points as well as one additional point of AC. Young dragons are accorded only slightly more respect than wyrmlings, but have begun to learn and perform at a level where they can be of better assistance to clan and Council.

When dragons muster to war, most of those who fight are young dragons, under the command of adults. They are strong enough to do battle with the dragons’ usual enemies, but are never spent frivolously (save in the chromatic clans, who know that the weak are expendable). Young dragons are most easily compared to an “adventurer” caste among vassal races, and frequently interact with them as they go about their duties.

All dragons of this age are expected to leave the nests and aeries of their birth and found a lair of their own, usually within their clan’s territory -- though stewards and aides of the Council are often given a lair within the Council Aerie itself while they conduct their duties.

A young dragon cannot advance beyond 10th level in their chosen class. Experience may continue to accrue as above with wyrmlings (and pending Dungeon Master approval), but no young dragon may advance to 11th level or beyond.

Young dragons that reach their two hundredth year once again sink into dragon sleep, bonding with hoard and land to grow stronger. At the end of one year’s sleep, the dragon emerges as an adult.

Adult


Dragons of adult status truly come into their own, gaining status and power as befits the mightiest creatures in the world. Adult dragons grow to Huge size (Large for crystal dragons) and their ability scores increase yet again by one point, up to their new maximums. The dragon gains an additional 30 maximum hit points as well as one additional point of AC.

The Council employs adult dragons to conduct special missions, act as envoys for important diplomatic endeavors, and battle dangerous threats to dragon society -- even going so far as to pit them against the feared dragonslayers. Vassals begin to settle around the territory of an adult dragon, should their presence be tolerated, and consider that dragon their lord -- subordinate to the clan leadership, of course.

Adult dragons often control large swaths of territory and negotiate treaties (or subjugate, in the case of the chromatics) with local tribes of vassal or monster races. In this way, the dragon’s influence grows.

An adult dragon cannot advance beyond 15th level in their chosen class. Experience may continue to accrue as above (and pending Dungeon Master approval), but no adult dragon may advance to 16th level or beyond.

Adult dragons remain so a very long time and are not called to dragon sleep again until their seven hundredth year. The dragon will once again enter dragon sleep and emerge one year later as an ancient dragon.

Ancient


Unfathomably powerful compared to most creatures, the ancient wyrms are the greatest of dragonkind, for whom the passing centuries brings only greater might. Ancient dragons -- and only ancient dragons -- qualify for seats on the Council of Wyrms itself, helping shape policy and peace for the generations ahead.

Ancient dragons increase in size to Gargantuan (or Huge, for crystal dragons) and gain one final point in all ability scores, up to their new maximums. Finally, they gain an additional 50 maximum hit points as well as two additional points of AC.

When ancient dragons are dispatched by the Council, it is for a truly monumental purpose, such as the summoning of clan heads for a moot or to vanquish a truly terrible opponent, such as a giant king and his army. Even ancient dragons have been taught caution when facing a force of human dragonslayers, however. History remembers all too well how the dragons’ arrogance was their downfall.

Ancient dragons may advance up to maximum level in their chosen class. There is no category beyond ancient.

Why the Level Caps?


Some might ask about the level limitations of age categories and why they should wait literal centuries before being able to advance to the height of their power. Unlike vassal races. dragons really do have all the time in the world. They may be strong, intelligent, or charming, but there's a limit to what they can do when they are immature representatives of their species.

Dragons experience time differently than most races. For them, a short holiday might be a year or two on a dwarf's calendar, while a long quest to achieve a goal could take decades. Draconic memories are sharp and they won't easily forget people they dealt with years ago, though as the dragon matures they might be less surprised when they find their contacts old and gray the next time they see them.

As such, most campaigns for the Council of Wyrms game take place on a larger, more stretched-out time scale. That is not to say that dragons ignore imminent threats and can have circles run around them by those who live day to day, but when considering a danger, dragons take the long view. Immediate action may not be prudent or even necessary. This certain degree of aloofness (or the sense that a dragon is ignoring a situation entirely) might chafe vassal races and especially irritates humans and goblinoids who deal with dragons.

Treasure Hoards and Dragons


Dragons hoard treasure not simply because it pleases them to look at it, to collect it, and to feel it trickle between their claws and scales as they rest atop its glimmering beauty. To a dragon, a hoard is an integral part of its supernatural physiology, if such a term can be called accurate, and a dragon that fails to accrue sufficient treasure for its hoard (or has its treasures stolen by thieves) finds itself stunted and weak compared to its peers.

In game terms, a dragon must have at least as many gold pieces worth of treasure in its hoard as it requires for experience points to reach its current level. This value is known as its bonded hoard. A hoard can only be counted if it is treasure kept within the dragon’s current lair, wherever that lair lies from the dragon’s current location -- a dragon cannot keep its bonded hoard distributed throughout multiple lairs. Any additional treasure is referred to as the dragon’s accumulating hoard.

Treasure can be converted from accumulated to bonded when the dragon completes a long rest within the confines of its lair while the respective values of treasure are present. For that reason, most dragons will return to their lairs after gaining a level or large sum of treasure in order to rest and bond with their hoard once more. The bonded hoard can never be larger than the minimum value required for the dragon to be its level.

If a dragon loses any amount from its bonded hoard, it begins to weaken and may eventually die if the hoard is not replaced or recovered. Dragons are ferociously protective of their hoards not only because it is a theft of their property, but because it can kill them if left unanswered.

For as long as the dragon’s bonded hoard is depleted, it gains ever increasing exhaustion that cannot be removed by a long rest or any magical effect. The magnitude and rate of this exhaustion is contingent on how much of the hoard is missing.



% Bonded Hoard Missing
Time Period Per Exhaustion Level
<25%
One Year
25% to 50%
One Month
50% to 75%
One Week
75% or more
One Day


For example, Agkaras the silver dragon paladin is level three. Her bonded hoard must always contain 900 gold pieces worth of treasure, or she begins to suffer exhaustion. One day, a pack of ogres slaughters her vassal guards and makes off with 500 gold pieces worth of treasure before they are chased out. Each week, Agkaras suffers one level of exhaustion until she can replenish the lost value. After six weeks, if Agkaras has not staved off the loss somehow, she will die.

Feats


Finally, I've created a small selection of feats that require being a dragon to take. This is not to preclude dragons from taking feats from the Player's Handbook, but many are of suspect or no use at all (such as all the weapon and armor feats).

Assume Vassal Form


Prerequisite: You must be a gold, silver, or bronze dragon of adult or ancient age.

As an action, you may transform into a dwarf, elf, or gnome and remain in that form for up to one hour. You may return to dragon form as a bonus action on your turn. While transformed, you do not benefit from your natural armor class and cannot use your natural attacks or your breath weapon, but you may cast any spells you have prepared or use class powers, within their usual restrictions. You retain your ability scores in this form and may wield weapons or wear armor, but are not proficient in either.

The exact features of your vassal form are yours to determine and remain the same between uses of this ability, but many have a shock of hair color, skin tone, or iris hue that betrays their true nature. With Dungeon Master permission, you may be able to adopt other forms so long as they are humanoid and of Small or Medium size.

You may not use this ability again until you complete a short rest.

Special: Traditionally, only gold, silver, and bronze dragons are known for adopting these forms and are the typical parentage for half-dragons. With Dungeon Master permission, any dragon may take this feat.

Deep Breath


The dragon may use their breath weapon an additional time before requiring a short rest.

Draconic Senses


You have learned to harness your keen dragon senses at their full potential. You gain blindslight out to 20 feet.

Improved Resilience


Your Constitution score increases by 1 and you become immune to the effects to which your breed is resistant. For example, red dragons become immune to fire, while sapphire dragons become immune to fear and the paralyzed or restrained conditions.

Iron Scales


Your dragon scales racial trait improves, granting you an AC of 15. You cannot benefit from more than two points of Dexterity modifier to your AC.

Kindredbond


The dragon adopts a kindredbond, which is a member of one of the three vassal races (dwarf, elf, and gnome). This character is created as one would create a standard member of the respective race and class the player desires. The alignment of the kindredbond is always the same as its dragon, and the level of the kindredbond is always three less than the level of the dragon to which it is bonded.

A kindredbond is tied to their dragon, usually acclimated to the dragon’s presence around the time of its hatching until it is ready for be accepted by the dragon when it takes this feat. The dragon and the kindredbond participate in a special ceremony overseen by a representative of the Council of Wyrms or its clan, and at the end of the ceremony the two are bonded.

This bond is metaphysical and carries no connotations other than servitude of the kindredbond to its dragon master. The dragon knows where its kindredbond is at all times, and can detect thoughts as per the spell on their kindredbond whenever it desires and from any distance. The two share a telepathic communication link while within 120 feet of one another.

The kindredbond cannot knowingly commit an action that endangers its master, though the dragon feels no such compunction in turn. While the kindredbond can debate and communicate with the dragon, it will generally acquiesce to any command that does not subject it to grievous bodily harm.

In certain situations, the Dungeon Master may allow the player to take direct command of their kindredbond in order to go into locations where the dragon might not fit. The kindredbond will follow the dragon into combat if so ordered, but the death of a kindredbond carries some risk for the dragon. Should a kindredbond die, even if it is later raised from death, the dragon suffers an immediate level of exhaustion that lasts for a period of one month and cannot be removed by any means.

Allowing a kindredbond to be slain will often result in a loss of status among other dragons, even chromatic ones. After all, if a dragon cannot protect their possessions, do they deserve to have them?

Should your kindredbond die due to old age or because you forsake or release them from this bond, you do not suffer this penalty. Instead, you may petition a dragon of authority (be it a Council of Wyrms representative or a figurehead from your clan) to grant you leave to adopt another kindredbond. This kindred may be a relative of your previous one (there are dynastic families of kindredbond raised for just that purpose) or any other suitable kindred you select.

Only dwarves, elves, and gnomes may typically be selected for kindredbond. With special Dungeon Master dispensation, you may consider other races as your kindred, but it must be a humanoid creature of Small or Medium size. Attempting to adopt a human as your kindredbond will invite scorn from the Council and your clan, due to the enmity between humans and dragons.

Steel Scales


Your dragon scales racial trait improves, granting you an AC of 17. You cannot benefit from a Dexterity modifier to your AC.

Conclusion

And there we have it with the converted material! Everything else is specific setting flavor that I don't want to accidentally plagiarize, or is part of a completely new system that I'm working on. Next time I'll go into one of those two systems, which are Aerial Combat and Lair Building. Till then!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Council of Wyrms: Class Considerations for Magic Flying Reptiles

In this entry, I'll be talking about my ideas for how the classes in the Player's Handbook interface with dragon player characters. I don't feel that completely new, specialized classes were necessary. Most work pretty nicely as-is, though there are some caveats.

The biggest challenges I faced were making the call to outright restrict things (monks) while allowing others (rogues). I believe a restriction was the right call where I did make it though. Whether by a complete physiological conundrum or a complete overshadowing of an archetype's shtick, some things just didn't make sense to allow.

The claws of dragons, while fairly dexterous, cannot hold weapons or tools in any useful manner. Likewise, their natural defenses render armor moot. As such, any class’s weapon, armor, and tool proficiencies are ignored for dragons. They do gain the class’s saving throw and skill proficiencies, however.

The dragon’s natural attacks (be they bite, claw, tail, or wing) count for any situation in which a class ability references a melee weapon attack. For example, a barbarian’s Reckless Attack ability can be performed with a dragon’s bite attack.

Dragons do not benefit from extra attacks in the same way that standard player characters do. On any level at which the dragon would receive this ability, they instead select one dragon fighting style of their choice.

Any class that affords a dragon fighting styles does not allow them access to the standard array of styles (Great Weapon Fighting, etc.). Instead, the dragon uses styles to gain additional natural attacks and augments to its already-formidable combat prowess. A list of dragon fighting styles is provided below.

Aerial Superiority 
If you have moved any portion of your fly speed on your turn, you gain a +2 bonus to attacks made against opponents who are smaller than you, and your AC is increased by 2 against opponents larger than you until the end of your next turn. 
Battering Wing 
Requirement: You must be of adult or ancient age to take this style. 
Whenever you are struck by a melee attack, you may use your reaction to perform a special wing buffet attack. Make a melee attack against all enemies within 10 feet of you. If this attack hits, they suffer damage equal to your claw attack and must make a saving throw with a DC equal to 8 + your Strength modifier + your proficiency bonus. If they fail, they are knocked prone. You may immediately fly up to half of your fly speed. 
Brutal Impact 
If you end your turn adjacent to an enemy after moving at least half of your fly speed, you can crash into them as a reaction. You may make a single melee attack that deals bludgeoning damage equal to your bite attack. Regardless of whether or not you hit, melee attacks made against you have advantage until the end of your next turn. 
Elemental Jaws 
Whenever you make a bite attack, you deal additional damage of a type that is the same as your damaging breath weapon, of a value based on your age.
  • Wyrmling: 1d6
  • Young and Adult: 1d10
  • Ancient: 2d10
Fang and Claw 
You gain the ability to make two claw attacks as a bonus action whenever you make a bite attack. These claws deal slashing damage and have reach according to your age. You add your Strength modifier to the damage of these attacks.
  • Wyrmling: 1d4, 5 foot reach
  • Young: 1d6, 5 foot reach
  • Adult: 1d8, 10 foot reach
  • Ancient: 1d10, 10 foot reach
Frightful Presence
Requirement: You must be of adult or ancient age to take this style.
Whenever you make a melee attack, you cause all creatures within 120 feet to make a Wisdom saving throw or become frightened for one minute. The victim can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns. If it succeeds on any saving throw, it is immune to your frightful presence for 24 hours. The DC for the saving throw is 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Charisma modifier.
Other dragons are immune to your frightful presence ability. 
Ironscale Defense
Your AC increases by 2 under all circumstances, such as barbarian armored defense or the mage armor spell. You become immune to the energy type or effect associated with your breed’s resistances.
Lashing Tail 
You gain a tail attack that can be made as a bonus action on your turn. This attack gains your Strength modifier to damage. The base damage and reach are determined by your age. This attack deals bludgeoning damage.
  • Wyrmling: 1d6, 10 foot reach
  • Young: 1d8, 10 foot reach
  • Adult: 2d8, 15 foot reach
  • Ancient: 2d8, 20 foot reach
Lunging Tooth 
Your bite attack always has at least 10 foot reach regardless of your age. When biting opponents that are not within 5 feet of you, you deal an additional 1d8 piercing damage.
Sly Talon 
Your bite, claw, tail, and wing attacks gain the finesse quality, allowing you to use your Dexterity modifier for attack and damage bonuses instead of Strength.

These were designed to give players access to some of the tricks that dragons from the Monster Manual had up their sleeves, and give them a more complete combat package. Since dragons don't benefit from Extra Attack, these contribute toward equalizing their damage output versus spellcaster dragons of equivalent level (though I haven't run simulations to compare the two in play yet; I'll do that toward the tail end of this series and present the results).

Class-wise, it was fairly easy to come up with my list of restrictions and guidelines for playing dragon versions of a given role.

There are no restrictions or further considerations for dragon barbarians save those listed above. The class most appeals to the brutal chromatics, whites and reds most of all. A raging dragon can destroy entire villages with ease.

While they are incapable of playing instruments, dragons can and often do sing well if they apply themselves to it. They may be bards without restriction, though most dragon bards are crystal and copper dragons.

The dragons have a small pantheon of gods to which they give homage, with Great Io chief among them. The major gods have domains in accordance with their spheres of influence. Any dragon may be a cleric.

The dragon pantheon is actually downright tiny as originally presented. There are two demigods I left off this short list, because demigods don't generally grant spells to followers.
  • Io: Knowledge, Nature
  • Chronepsis: Life, Knowledge
  • Aasterinian: Trickery
  • Bahamut: Light, War
  • Tiamat: Tempest, War
  • Faluzure: Death

Dragons rarely belong to any official druidic societies; their natural impulses and commanding presences complicate such structures. Nevertheless, dragons can be druids, though they rarely bother to assume wild shape unless the shape grants them a mode of movement or other adaptation they would not otherwise possess.

Although dragons lack prowess with wielded weapons, they excel at the fighter class and can be champions, battle masters, and eldritch knights without concern. Silver, blue, and sapphire dragons are most commonly fighters. They learn a number of draconic combat styles throughout their lives and are formidable opponents even among dragons.

Dragons cannot be monks. While they may possess the mental and physical fortitude to accomplish the same goals, they utterly lack the ability to focus ki energy like kindred races might.

Psionic powers are extremely rare among any dragons except gem dragons, and even for their family, they are sometimes an afterthought. Amethyst dragons are most commonly mystics. For a “proper” old-fashioned game, the mystic class (and all psionic classes that may splinter from it) should be restricted to gem dragons only. If the Dungeon Master is less strict about such things, then other psionic dragons are possible, albeit very rare.

Yeah, yeah. They haven't officially put out a sourcebook for psionics yet. I'm pre-empting the inevitability and basing this off what Wizards did in their UA: Psionics.

While not exclusively limited to the family, most paladins are metallic dragons. The Oaths are flavored for the Council of Wyrms setting; Devotion is to the Council and its mandates (which appeals to gem dragons), Vengeance to vanquish its enemies (popular among chromatics), and Ancients to general goodness and light (where metallics gravitate). Gold dragons are often paladins.

Dragon rangers can belong only to the Hunter archetype. Their natural combat capabilities render the assistance of an animal companion moot, nor would they find it fitting to bond with such base beasts (kindred races are a different matter, at least to most dragons). Hunter dragons cannot choose the Volley ability at 11th level, for obvious reasons. Bronze and green dragons make good rangers.

I'm using the PHB ranger for this example, as opposed to my variant ranger.

The idea of a dragon rogue may be hilarious to most as they imagine an enormous wyrm picking the pocket of an unsuspecting elf in a shadowed alley. While this situation is unlikely, dragons can make good rogues, and often command criminal enterprises within kindred settlements. They are particularly adroit and cunning wyrms, inflicting savage bite attacks against the unwary and dismantling mechanisms with a flick of their talons. Crystal, brass, and black dragons make good rogues.

Rogue dragons cannot be proficient in thieves tools, as their claws do not allow for such fine manipulation even at wyrmling age. However, they may employ kindred servants to do this for them, or simply elect to trigger the trap without harm to themselves by using the Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) skill.

Naturally, logic and reason dictate if a dragon can remain hidden by using Dexterity (Stealth). A Dungeon Master should never allow a Gargantuan dragon rogue to hide in a basket in an open field to avoid detection.

I waffled on this for a while but decided to encourage dragon rogues for amusement's sake. I feel like you could create a devious guildmaster dragon that uses Harbinger's Mastermind rogue archetype, or the one of the same name presented by Wizards themselves. Thief ones are less likely. Dragon assassins are... okay, maybe a *little* weird.

Dragon sorcerers may not select the Draconic Bloodline origin for redundancy reasons. They may be Wild Mages without restriction.

I mean, maybe you could do a dragon that is descended somehow from another dragon. There'd be questions. The Council would want to see your birth certificate. I don't know.

While rare, dragon warlocks can and do exist. Chromatic dragon warlocks are especially fearsome, with black and green dragon warlocks most common of all. Emerald and topaz dragons might also be drawn to the power and insight that otherworldly entities can provide.

Dragon warlocks may not select Pact of the Blade, as they cannot make use of a summoned weapon of any sort.
This possibility makes me giggle with delight. I love the idea of dragon warlocks. Horrible, insidious chromatic dragon warlocks that make deals with fiendish powers or alien gods to manipulate Council society. Invoking monstrous curses to wrack and ruin their foes. Muahahahaha-- ahem.

Magic comes as easily to dragons as swimming does to fish, and so many dragons become wizards. Their grimoires tend to be much larger and more sturdy than a human or elf wizard’s spellbook, and are often inscribed on lacquered wood plates, stone tablets, or pages enchanted to avoid tearing as they peruse the volume with their talons.

A bunch of low level spells may be mediocre compared to the dragon's natural attacks, but they do provide dragon wizards with safe ranged attacks that they otherwise completely lack, as well as a toolkit of elemental energy types that they would not otherwise possess. Wyrmling dragons aren't that tough compared to monsters of equivalent strength, after all. A couple smacks by an ogre and down you go, like anyone else.

So that's my thinking on the dragon classes. Extra Attacks being taken out is the most controversial idea on the table (if not the most absurd; that goes to dragon rogues). The fighting styles need some obvious balancing, as a few seem like outright taxes for any given dragon with fighting styles to take (why wouldn't you take Fang and Claw if you get a fighting style?).

As always, feedback welcome, et cetera. Next time I'll go over some feats and some ideas for completely new ancillary systems, such as lair building and such to give players access to lair actions if they're caught on their own turf.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Council of Wyrms: Dragon Breeds

Last time, I talked about my intents for the design of this conversion as well as the qualities that all breeds of dragons share. Herein I will present some examples from my larger design document as it relates to specific breeds, but I created all of them just to be sure and can post specific ones on request.

I've selected one each from chromatic, gem, and metallic for presentation. As stated previously, the metallics are still shaking out to be a smidgen more powerful just because of the extra breath weapon in their toolbox -- even if said breath weapons can only be used a total of once before requiring a short rest to recharge it. For example, the silver dragon presented below would only be able to use cold breath or paralyzing breath once before needing the short rest, not both.

Red Dragon


Self-proclaimed kings and queens of the chromatic dragons, reds are ambitious, arrogant, and aggressive. They strike first and hardest to obliterate opposition.

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 4. Your Constitution and Charisma scores both increase by 2.
Fearsome Mein. You are proficient in Intimidation.
Fire Breath. You can exhale a 15 foot cone of fire as your breath weapon. This attack deals 1d6 fire damage per level, to a maximum of 20d6 at 20th level. At young age, the range increases to 30 feet. At adult age, it increases to 60 feet. At ancient age, your fire breath has a 90 foot range.
Fire Resistant. You are resistant to fire damage.

Crystal Dragon


Capricious creatures, crystal dragons are seen as flighty and untrustworthy. There’s some truth to this, but crystal dragons live in the moment more than any other dragon breed and prefer talking to fighting.

Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 4. Your Intelligence and Charisma scores both increase by 2.
Size. Your size is Small. Your natural bite attack only deals 1d8 damage instead of 1d10. This damage increases to 2d8 at young age and older.
Charming Wyrm. You may use the dancing lights and friends cantrips.
Crystal Breath. You can exhale a 15 foot cone of glowing crystal shards as your breath weapon. This attack deals 1d4 damage per level, to a maximum of 20d4 at 20th level. Half of this damage is slashing, and the other half is radiant. At young age, the range increases to 30 feet. At adult age, it increases to 60 feet. At ancient age, your crystal breath has a 90 foot range.
Radiant Resistant. You are resistant to radiant damage.

Silver Dragon


Where gold dragons inspire awe, silver dragons inspire hope. They are the most beloved by their subjects and the most easily riled to defending the weak or the Council’s wishes.

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 4. Your Wisdom and Charisma scores both increase by 2.
Cold Breath. You can exhale a 15 foot cone of ice and cold as your breath weapon. This attack deals 1d8 cold damage per level, to a maximum of 15d8 at 15th level. At young age, the range increases to 30 feet. At adult age, it increases to 60 feet. At ancient age, your fire breath has a 90 foot range.
Paralyzing Breath. You can exhale a 15 foot cone of paralyzing gas as your breath weapon. Those caught in the area of effect must succeed on a Constitution saving throw with a DC equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Constitution modifier or be paralyzed for 1 minute. At the end of each turn, the victim may make another saving throw to end this effect. At young age, the range increases to 30 feet. At adult age, it increases to 60 feet. At ancient age, your weakening gas has a 90 foot range.
Cold Resistant. You are resistant to cold damage.

There are some bits I'm not sold on though, such as the cap on the breath weapon dice for some breeds to keep relative parity with their monster versions; a black dragon's breath is just not as strong as a red's at the top end. Should I forego that limitation and just let it rank up all the way to 20 dice for every breed?

Possibly. I feel like there's a case for some slight power disparity, but I also don't want five dice to be the reason someone doesn't pick a particular race. It's a roleplaying game after all, the min-maxing is only part of it (or not a part at all for some groups). So yeah, undecided as of yet, and can be convinced in either direction.

Dragon whelps (handle it) are undeniably stronger than comparable PHB races and I think that's perfectly fine for the kind of game you'd be playing. A red dragon baby is still the size of a fridge and can probably out-muscle almost any half-orc. They do still operate under the 20 stat limit of beginning characters, though I do have some special rules that I'll present later on regarding the raising of this limit as the dragon gets older (ancient dragons cap out at 30).

Another contentious point might be their resistances at character creation. "What do you mean the red dragon isn't immune to fire right out of the gate? You effing casual!" or something to that effect went through my head as something people might say. Full immunity at all times isn't very fun for DMs to contend with or players to wrangle, so I've gated the immunity behind a feat that I'll go into for a later entry.

I'll leave this off for now because otherwise this would explode out into a gajillion pages of class and feat discussion, but here's the gist of my thought train.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Disinterred Eldricity: Council of Wyrms

Player: "Can I play a dragon?"
DM: "You know what? Fine. Here."
Back when I was a wee lad of too-long-ago, there was always someone who asked the above question. When this box came out, I could finally say yes, because then everyone could.

The Council of Wyrms setting is one that lacks in excruciating details about its lore, but provides a wealth of rules material for running the preeminent winged murder lizards that grace the second half of the game's name. It was wildly imbalanced, it didn't care, and it was completely bananas. It was awesome as hell.

So I figured, you know what? I should update another old setting no one will ever get around to playing, that seems like a great use of my time.

And it really was. This was hellacious fun to convert.

I'll be breaking this out into multiple articles for digestibility. But first, a little something about the setting itself. Bare with the abridged nature of my synopsis.

The Council of Wyrms box assumes a campaign world in which dragons are the first, the mightiest, and the most fit to lead. It has no compunctions about reminding the players just how important they are -- they are the ruling species of the world and the typical player races are beneath them in all respects, to the point where they serve the dragon clans.

Dragons have a society that was built under a divine mandate (and on at least one occasion, devious manipulation and the creation of their greatest enemy) to prevent endless dragon war. The three families of dragons, chromatic, gem, and metallic, live in this clannish society in a place called the Io's Blood Isles. It's not all hugs and butterflies though, with clans still feuding here and there while working together -- reluctantly -- against mutual foes such as marauding giants and rampaging monsters.

Worst of all is the specter of the humans from across the sea, who once slaughtered the wyrms in great numbers with their dragonslayers. Hilariously enough, created by the dragons' chief deity in order to give them an opponent to unify against or risk complete destruction. Great Io is a dick.

Anyway, you have a setting where you play dragons, accrue treasure like regular player characters might, and engage in clan politic chicanery between adventure sessions while acting as agents of the titular Council of Wyrms.

Here is a short list of why this setting is a tub full of maple syrup levels of awesome:

  • Friggin' dragons as player characters. Satiate that power fantasy all you want.
  • Clan politics between creatures that can crush a village by rolling over on it.
  • Breathe fire, ice, or lightning on some fools.
  • A world given just a light level of detail to allow you to fill in the specifics of the map with your own stuff.
  • Want to run it as a bunch of kaiju battles? Roll for initiative!
  • Want to run it as a generational game across dozens of mortal lifetimes? Sign me up.
  • Friggin' dragons as player characters.

It definitely takes the right group to stick with it though. Running at such a high level of power with a dramatically slowed progression might chafe some players and DMs, but I feel like it could be so very rewarding beyond just the power fantasy of playing a huge fire-breathing (or cold or lightning or bomb spitting) magical murder lizard.

I joke about it in my bullet point list, but the brawling with huge monsters isn't the only draw. The idea of exploring a society that measures things in the decades and centuries rather than months and years is really appealing. What does a government that doesn't rely on the same things we do look like, and how does it get things done from day to day? If you think our own governments do things slow, imagine waiting for a policy change in your clan overlords to take place over two lifetimes.

Of course, the old setting and rules had its problems. Lots of them, in hindsight. It does some things that are design sins nowadays, like telling you what alignment your character must be, and making you roll for what you play. I mean, that's okay too, if you want to still do that. I'm not your mother. But imagine a player saying to you, "Wow, this is super cool! I want to play that!" and then you gaze down on them with the eyes of a cruel, dispassionate evil overlord and crush their spark of creativity under the boot of your rules compendium.

I don't know where I was going with that. But yes, old rules, old design conceits, new ideas, et cetera. This doc I have is like 25 pages already, so I might as well get started. Hold onto your butts.


Notes Regarding the Adaptation


I’ve taken care to preserve as much of the flavor of the original Council of Wyrms as possible, but many of their rules and design conceits do not have good corollaries to the latest edition. To that end, some sacred cows were slaughtered, and some were mutated into pigs or sheep.

Some things that you’ll find to be different if you’re familiar with the old rules include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • You won't be playing a direct import from the Monster Manual. Player character dragons start out slightly weaker than that, and grow into their power. As with "monster" versions of the standard player races, monsters are monsters and players are players. You won't be immune to energy starting out of the gate, nor have the full gamut of dragon powers as you level.
  • No more strict adherence to age category as your level. Dragons in this adaptation gain levels as would normal player characters, using the classes presented in the Player’s Handbook, though they may find themselves limited in power by their age.
  • Age categories have been slimmed down from the original twelve from AD&D to four from the current edition. The categories have much more dramatic effects on the player character’s power, and overall power steadily increases as the dragon gains class levels.
  • There is a much less drastic striation of power between dragon breeds, which is generally supported by the update to dragons in the current edition -- though a red dragon from the Monster Manual will be stronger than a white of similar age. There should not be a massive inherent disadvantage to playing the breed one wants to play, but slight power differences may be apparent. A Dungeon Master should take care lest they be surrounded by six player character gold dragons.
  • Metallic dragons are slightly stronger as-written due to breath weapon varieties. To that end, chromatic and gem dragons were given some extra tricks that echo some of their old abilities as well as bonus proficiencies to compensate.
  • Not every dragon gets innate spells or psionic powers. A dragon that chooses a class that ignores these skills does not receive them.
  • Dragons are not limited to the alignment of their breed, though dragons that deviate from this norm will be considered odd (should the difference be minor) or revolting (should the difference be great) by their own breed.
  • Current edition rules mean a much broader variety of classes and combinations that were previously not possible or might be considered bizarre. Dragons can be fighters, wizards, clerics, warlocks, paladins, and more.
  • Dragons benefit fully from all ability score bonuses, rather than not benefiting at all. This means a dragon with a high Dexterity score has an excellent AC, represented by preternatural awareness and reflexes. A dragon with immense Strength (which most have, eventually) will deal great amounts of damage with their physical attacks.
  • All dragon family tongues were merged together into Draconic.
  • Finally, this adaptation includes, for better or worse, rules for playing chromatic dragons. Many Dungeon Masters may want to ban their use as player characters, but for those who can play evil responsibly and not tear apart their gaming groups with backstabbing and vindictiveness may find great joy in playing a terrifying chromatic wyrm.


So You Want to Be a Dragon


Playing a dragon is in many ways like playing a typical character of a standard Player’s Handbook race. You decide on your ability scores (whether rolling, point buying, or using the standard array as your Dungeon Master sees fit), apply racial bonus to the scores, choose a class, and begin play.

There are, of course, some notable differences. A dragon player character is much stronger than an equivalent level human, elf, or dwarf, and only gets more powerful from there. However, dragons cannot benefit from many class proficiencies, such as weapons and armor, since none are designed with dragons in mind (with a few exceptions). Further, dragons don’t use most equipment, so one would ignore the starting gear provided by class and background if it cannot benefit the dragon. The player may instead roll for their starting gold, which is a small pittance they’ve collected and carried with them. This sum may be used to contribute to their bonded hoard (which is covered later in this document).

Additionally, some skills and tools are irrelevant for dragons. They either have better means of accomplishing the task with their natural strength and size (or servants), or lack the manual dexterity to use the skill or tools in question at all. Most notably, dragons have special rules for Dexterity (Sleight of Hand) checks and other roguish skills, outlined later in this document.

Dragon Breeds, Families, and Racial Traits


When Great Io created the dragons, he did so by dividing the dragons into three families that, together, created a balance of power and ideologies. The chromatic dragons tended toward cruelty and domination, using their strength to gain status and quell subordinate dragons within their clan. Metallic dragons were on the opposite end of the spectrum from the chromatics, comprised of dragon breeds that were noble and generally just. Between them, the gem dragons were introspective and wise, tending toward neither wickedness or benevolence.

All player character dragons belong to one of these families and their respective breeds. Other dragon breeds, or hybrids of any two dragon breeds, are almost completely unknown in the Council of Wyrms setting.

Regardless of family or breed, all dragons have the following qualities in common:

Speed. Your base movement speed is 30 feet. You also possess a flight speed of 60 feet. At young age and older, your movement speed increases to 40 feet and your flight speed to 80 feet.
Breath Weapon. Your draconic heritage gives you a breath weapon that inflicts damage of an energy type in accordance with your breed, and in volume and range, as listed in its respective entry. This breath weapon becomes stronger as you gain in levels. As an action, you can exhale this breath upon your enemies, forcing them to make a Dexterity saving throw. If they succeed, a victim suffers only half damage from the attack. The saving throw DC is equal to 8 + your proficiency bonus + your Constitution modifier unless otherwise stated. You cannot use this ability again until you complete a short rest. If your breed allows you to use more than one type of breath attack, you can only use one or the other before requiring a short rest.
Fangs. Almost all dragons (unless otherwise noted) possess a natural bite attack that inflicts 1d10 points of piercing damage, plus your Strength modifier. At young age and older, this damage increases to 2d10.
Darkvision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light. You cannot discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Resistance. You possess resistance to an energy type in accordance with your breed, as listed in its respective entry.
Scales. Dragon hide is tough, and your AC can never be worse than 13 plus your Dexterity modifier.
Toughness. You possess additional maximum hit points equal to your class’s starting hit point value. For example, if your dragon is a fighter, you begin play with 10 extra hit points.
Languages. You can speak, read, and write the Draconic language. Dragons rarely employ ink and quills to write in the Draconic language (especially as they grow larger), but carve letters into stone or wood with their claws.

Next time, I'll go into the individual breeds and their racial bonuses and abilities. It's a whole bunch of pages and I may even just take samples of it for presenting.