Thursday, May 28, 2015

Disinterred Eldricity: Bloodlines and Derivations

This is where we start doing New and Exciting things. Let's dig in, there's a lot to cover and this will span multiple articles. First, we're going to cover what the Bloodline score is and how you choose derivation.

To Be or Not to Be (Blooded)

This is a choice players will make at first level. It is a simply yes or no answer, with no obligation to actually be the ruler of a domain if one does say yes. Birthright generally assumes players will want to do this, but most individuals in the setting completely lack any of the ancient bloodlines. Nor does a lack of bloodline preclude one from actually holding a title or position within a court; most NPC nobles and courtiers won't have a bloodline.

There is no boost that a player gets for decided to be unblooded. In and of itself, the lack of bloodline takes some pressure and sometimes-unwelcome attention off of the character, for those who possess a bloodline tend to have greatness thrust upon them or enemies that spring up to steal their birthright. At worst, this comes at the tip of a tighmaevril sword.

In AD&D, unblooded characters had a special 10% bonus to experience earned; nowadays, that's just asking for tracking and player level-disparity annoyances, so I am opting not to use it.

Lore-wise, the bloodlines are the actual divine right to rule. A character with a bloodline possesses a sort of magical fallout from a historical event that slew the gods. The bloodline passes from parent to child, but it is not purely inheritance that can drive the sharing of bloodlines. Certain powerful rituals, fell magic, or terrible weapons can imbue others with bloodlines, even if they never possessed an ancestor that had one. In good cases, this is known as investiture. In bad ones, this is called usurpation or "bloodtheft".

It is also important to determine whether the character wishes to rule a domain. We'll touch on that in another article as well (there's going to be a lot of cross-references going on, since this is a huge system to convert).

The Bloodline Ability Score

Players who elect to have a bloodline possess a seventh ability score, aptly named Bloodline. This ability score, like the others, ranges from 1 to 20 for player characters, with higher numbers representing a stronger and more pure lineage. It is listed along with the other ability scores and possesses a modifier and saving throw, as though it were any other score. It may also be raised with ability score increases gained by earning levels.

New characters using the standard array gain an 11 to place where they wish (making your standard array consist of 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 8). Point-buy gains an extra 3 points to distribute. Those who opt to roll simply roll for an additional ability score assignment. All of this is in line with the suggested addition of a new ability score as presented in the Dungeon Master's Guide.

Bloodline has a second axis of measurement in its bloodline strength. This is measured as follows:

1-8: Tainted
9-14: Minor
15-19: Major
20-24: Great
25+: True

Like other ability scores, players cannot acquire higher than a 20 through natural means. As a rule, player characters are never intended to attain True bloodline strength, as these are relegated to awnsheghlien and other creatures of extreme power or who were at the Battle of Deismaar (that is, the event that created the divine lineages in the first place).

The Bloodline score does not naturally drive any skills or proficiencies, nor is any class or race naturally proficient in Bloodline saving throws or skill checks. It will sometimes be used as an additional modifier on certain checks or when determining events and acquisitions during the domain turn, which I'll get into much later on. Bloodline saving throws are used to resist severe damage from certain powerful magic spells, terrible events happening in a domain that you own, or attacks from tighmaevril weapons, which can steal bloodline power directly from victims (though are thankfully extremely rare).

A higher Bloodline may also change the form and power of any blood abilities that a player might possess. More on these later as well. Generally, if you want to play a blooded character that is exceedingly good at managing and ruling their domain, or who wants very strong bloodline abilities, you want your Bloodline score to be high.

Why did I do it this way instead of a brute import? Well, the bloodline strength scale carries forward nicely into the ability score scale. It uses a familiar mechanic that integrates neatly into the system of skill checks, conflict resolution, and general measurement purposes of D&D, rather than being a bolt-on that doesn't always fit.

I loved old AD&D Birthright, but there are very good reasons to update it and make it jive with the rest of the new edition, not the least of which is balance and cleanup. All of this would function fine if you simply riveted everything from page 20 of the rulebook onto 5th edition, if that's your fancy. Also, if you like building Frankenstein's monsters.

Bloodline Derivations

The next step is to determine your bloodline derivation. This determines which ancient, now-dead deity from whence your power springs, and blood abilities you may receive. There are seven derivations to select from:
  1. Anduiras (nobility and war)
  2. Azrai  (the face of evil and shadow)
  3. Basaia (the Queen of the Sun)
  4. Brenna (commerce and fortune)
  5. Masela (the Lady of the Seas)
  6. Reynir (the woods and the streams)
  7. Vorynn (the moon and magic)
There is no rule regarding which dead deity your power springs from, and even heroic characters can be cursed with the blood of Azrai. It is worth noting that Azrai's blood is seen as a terrible omen, and those with it often become awnsheghlien. Still, it can be an excellent roleplaying hook to fight the cursed blood that runs in your veins to do great deeds -- or conversely, use the prestige of Anduiras to your own cruel and tyrannical ends.

The available powers of these derivations are themed accordingly; I will be greatly trimming down the old list, merging and tearing out completely in order to achieve serenity and banish the gods of cruel randomness. It may be argued by some that this was flavor, but dollars to donuts that flavor would be abhorrent if those individuals rolled bloodmark while the other guy got fear.

Blood Ability Selection

After selection one's derivation, the player may choose a single blood ability from those available to that derivation. Some abilities cannot be selected unless the player's bloodline strength is a particular category; these are inherently stronger abilities, and even if a player does not qualify right away, they may further down the road.

How, you might ask? Well, here's how -- a feat! 

Power of the Blood
Prerequisites: You possess a Bloodline score.
Effect: Your Bloodline score increases by 1. You may select one blood ability for which you qualify at the time you take this feat. If the Bloodline increase granted by this feat improves the strength of your bloodline to a new category, you may select the new ability as though you were that bloodline strength.

Since you can potentially be playing a variant human with a free feat, nothing stops you from taking this and grabbing two blood abilities at first level, if you so desire. Taking it later on may ensure you qualify for a better ability from your derivation's list.

But what are the abilities? I have tons of work to do on that front still, so we'll touch on that next time. I welcome feedback and questions (and have made the comment system a bit more open; it was said that people's comments were vanishing because I made it too strict, but I prefer to avoid spam and random hostility from drive-bys).

Disinterred Eldricity: Class Act

As a setting steeped wholly in the tropes and trappings of its home edition, Cerilia has a few conflicts we need to resolve in order to determine the way we do classes. As previously hinted at, there are some race/class combinations that simply do not exist in the history of the setting, and in most cases it is historically imperative that this remain true.

One of the primary reasons elves continued to lose ground against the relentless humans as they trudged across Cerilia in the early days of recorded history is the fact that the elves completely lacked divine magic. Elves are far more in tune with the magic of the land (mebhaigl, as the setting calls it, pronounced "MEE-vahl" because who cares about consonants), and make natural wizards, but they never had clerics as the humans did.

This is an important setting distinction, one that's pretty hard to handwave unless you modify the history a bit (or simply imply that the elves lost just because humans are fecund and relentless). Introducing old edition class restrictions seems like an unwelcome throwback, given how later editions of D&D are all about player choice and open selection of classes.

"Dwarf mages from 3rd edition onward? Preposterous!" 
- Some guy, probably 

My take is going to keep the idea of restricted class access based on race. It both keeps the important historical elements and also provides crucial flavor for the setting, but I introduce a possible solution below if someone just really, really wants to play a historically-improbable character.


Elves are restricted from belonging to the cleric, druid, and paladin classes. They have access to some minor magical healing via bards if they so choose, but divine magic is simply not the purview of the elves -- even the druid, which in other settings is iconic for elves. Druids are the priests of the nature god Erik, worshiped by humans.


Dwarves are restricted from belonging to the bard, eldritch knight fighter path, arcane trickster rogue path, sorcerer, wizard, and warlock classes. Cerilian dwarves are not magically endowed, but have access to divine magic as normal. Though nothing explicitly forbids them, you'll almost never see a dwarven Erik priest (also known as a druid).


Halflings are restricted from belonging to the eldritch knight fighter path, sorcerer, and wizard classes. I feel as though a strong enough case can be made for the iconic halfling bard, as well as the arcane trickster. Halfling warlocks seem unusual, but Great Old One path warlocks, reflavored for Shadow World entities, are very appropriate in my opinion (see below for more about warlocks). They wouldn't be Lovecraftian monstrosities, but eldritch creatures that still dwell in the Shadow World, or dead gods, might be suitable sources of power.

While my approach is heavy-handed, nothing stops you from allowing a very determined player to belong to one of these forbidden combinations. I can see a strong case being made for elf Oath of the Ancients paladins, for example. It should be very clear that the player is an abnormality -- perhaps the dwarf sorcerer's power is a strange manifestation of their bloodline abilities, or the elf druid believes more in living in harmony with humans and nature than remaining isolated and bitter towards everyone else.
It should remain clear that they are unique, however, and no NPCs of those race/class combination exist in significant numbers.  

Modifications or Special Rules for Classes

There are a few classes that have a hard time fitting into Cerilia. For a purist interpretation of the setting, some changes need to be made.

The monk's theme and powers have a hard time translating into any of the cultures in the setting, and they're really iffy to reflavor into something like a battle friar or pugilist. You could potentially have a dead-set player who wants to be a monk come from a different part of the world (of which extremely little is known or catalogued). They would be a fish out of water, and having them also be blooded would border on ridiculously unlikely.

Sorcerer also has some problems, but mostly because of the setting's take on arcane magic and how it is made available. It's less egregious than the monk, however, and a case could be made for the draconic sorcerer who spent too much time (wittingly or unwittingly) near Cerilia's staggeringly powerful and ancient dragons. Like the possibility for the elf cleric or the dwarf wizard, you would be playing an exception to the rule and likely be alone in the world.

Some players and DMs are cool with that though! Far be it from me to say that it should Never Be Done.

Even more brow-furrowing than outright forbiddance is the restriction on wizards. Standard Birthright wholly prohibits unblooded/non-elven or half-elven individuals from accessing higher magic in the setting; mechanically, spells belonging to schools other than illusion and divination above second level. Given the restriction, it is extremely unlikely that players would choose to play a non-elven or half-elven wizard (known as a magician) unless they are also blooded, though sometimes you get those wacky players that love the self-imposed challenge. Magicians should otherwise be relegated to NPC only.

I think, and I'm drawing this from the PDF I keep linking, that it is reasonable to extend this to third level if someone really wants to be a magician. Of course, third level spells contain the Combat Trifecta -- that is, fireball, lightning bolt, and haste. The latest edition has good mechanics for making two of these stronger by using higher level spell slots, so even an unblooded magician has the potential for suitable destructiveness (though nasty stuff like cloudkill and meteor swarm remains forever out of their reach unless they somehow become blooded later on).

Of course, this restriction complicates the hybrid class paths for fighter and rogue (eldritch knight and arcane trickster, respectively), but they don't even get fourth level magic until levels 19 and 20 (and even then, only one spell). I feel they can break this restriction so as not to create a tracking problem for two measly levels that most campaigns never even reach.

The bard is kind of a gray area. They're arcane, but they also have a smattering of traditionally "cleric" spells. Do they have the same restriction? I'm leaning toward no -- an elven bard does slip in the possibility of magical healing that may fly in the face of their setting-traditional lack of healing magic, but in no sane universe is a 5th edition bard going to be the party's main combat healer in difficult combats (and if they are, that DM needs to amp up the challenge a little, in my humble opinion!).

The warlock remains untouched, and my justification for that is that the power of a warlock does not come from Cerilia's unique magic-of-the-land, but an external source such as a powerful fiend (demons and devils are extremely rare to see summoned, it seems), archfey (who would be acting as a conduit from the land themselves, or powerful unknowable entity from the Shadow World -- or even a particularly strong awnsheghlien (for the uninitiated, someone or something that has a mighty bloodline but is highly evil and corrupted).

Barring any revisions I may want to do based on comments and feedback I receive, I think this will be the only part I do on classes. Next we start into stuff that is completely rebuilt and not just converted, that being the addition of the Bloodline ability score as well as how players go about creating a blooded scion.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Disinterred Eldricity: Cerilian Races 2.0


The more I looked at it and mulled it over, the less I am excited about my proposed variants for Cerilian races. Ultimately it feels unnecessary to change the foundation of a thing that works, and the Cerilian demihumans most of all seem like they would function perfectly well without such drastic modification. And let's face it, no one likes giving up their favorite toy in exchange for one they may not like.

My new proposal is less drastic, but still supported by rules put in place by the Powers That Be (that is, D&D developers). My new proposal for these races revolves around Racial Feats, even for humans. This way, we're not reinventing the wheel, but still giving players something to make them more like the "ideal" Cerilian representations of their given race.

As such, Cerilian dwarves are identical to the mountain dwarf from the Player's Handbook in all respects. However, I introduce a new racial feat to represent their preternaturally dense bodies.

Tough as Stone  
Prerequisites: You must be a dwarf to take this feat. 
Effect: Your Constitution score increases by 1. Your incredibly dense body is as tough to break as the mountain stone. You gain resistance to bludgeoning damage.

Simple, right? That's all there is to it. Since dwarf PCs do not gain their first feat until (potentially, if they forego the attribute point increases) fourth level, this suitably delays the effectiveness of the power and gives it a trade-off. It also doesn't force the player to pick "crappier mountain dwarf" just to get two points of bludgeoning damage resistance that they may not even want.

Cerilian elves were already almost identical to wood elves, but my proposal gave them a point of Intelligence instead of Wisdom. Here's another angle using a racial feat.

Ancient Blood 
Prerequisites: You must be an elf or half-elf to take this feat. 
Effect: Your Intelligence score increases by 1. Whenever you are in a province with a Source rating, you add one third of of its Source rating (rounded down, minimum 1) to the outcome of ability checks (skills and saving throws included).

Crazy strong-looking, right? Elves are most powerful in their ancient, primeval domains, where Source ratings are highest. In most provinces, the rating is anywhere from 1 to 4, depending on how developed it is. They are treacherous on their home turf, which is super in-theme for elves in this setting.

(If Source ratings went over your head, don't worry; I'll get to that in a later chapter. It's basically how strong the magic is in a given piece of land.)

Cerilian halflings are (seeing my pattern?) pretty much just stout halflings from the Player's Handbook. They get their Lucky feature back, and their racial feat becomes the following:

From Shadow 
Prerequisites: You must be a halfling to take this feat.
Effect: Your Wisdom score increases by 1. You gain the following abilities:
  • As an action, you may open your awareness to know the location of any fey, fiend, or undead with 60 feet of you that is not behind total cover. You know the type of being whose presence you sense, but not its unique identity. Within the same radius, you can detect the presence of magic from the necromantic school. You must complete a short or long rest before you can use this ability again.
  • The halfling may also use the misty step spell while standing in any condition of dim or darker lighting (such as a crowded tavern, a wilderness cave, or conditions or moon or starlight). You must complete a short or long rest before you can use this ability again.
  • Upon reaching 7th level, the halfling may also use the dimension door spell under the same conditions. You must complete a long rest before you can use this ability again.

To that end, I think the humans can get racial feats as well, rather than introducing a whole bunch of new subrace variants to the existing base human and variant human.

Culturally Anuirean
Prerequisites: You must be a human descended from Anuirean blood and not possess any other cultural human feats.
Effect: Your Charisma score increases by 1. You are considered to have proficiency and advantage on any History checks made to identify heraldry, quote Anuirean laws, or recall historical events taking place in Anuire or as they relate to Anuirean historical figures.

Culturally Brecht
Prerequisites: You must be a human descended from Brecht blood and not possess any other cultural human feats.
Effect: Your Dexterity score increases by 1. You have advantage on rolls made to determine the value of an object, identify its origin, or haggle over the price of goods. This also grants you advantage on saving throws to see through illusions.  

Culturally Khinasi
Prerequisites: You must be a human descended from Khinasi blood and not possess any other cultural human feats.
Effect: Your Intelligence score increases by 1.  You may choose to know one from among the following cantrips: dancing lights, friends, mending, or prestidigitation. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability.

Culturally Rjurik

Prerequisites: You must be a human descended from Rjuven blood and not possess any other cultural human feats.
Effect: Your Wisdom score increases by 1. You are unimpeded by difficult terrain caused by undergrowth or the entangle spell. Further, you will always have a neutral reaction with fey creatures unless you or your companions demonstrate hostile intentions.

Culturally Vos
Prerequisites: You must be a human descended from Vos blood and not possess any other cultural human feats. 
Effect: Your Strength score increases by 1. At the end of any turn in which you did not use the Attack, Cast a Spell, or Dodge actions, you may take a bonus action to make a single melee attack against any opponent in range.

I like this loads better than the last incarnation, that's for sure. Players can pick the variant human from the Player's Handbook to grab these feats up right away (for great statistical benefit), or choose the standard human and pick it up at 4th level in lieu of an ability score increase. No abrupt changes or taking away toys from players, while also allowing them to avoid being bland tofu if they so desire.

This does, of course, require the player to keep track of where they are descended from. A Dungeon Master should make sure no one claims to be a mutt of all five (or six, see below) cultural groups so they can pick any of the feats at their whim upon hitting 4th level. Though it certainly stands to reason they could be of mixed Anuirean/Brecht, Anuirean/Rjuven, Anuirean/Khinasi, or Brecht/Rjuven descent. I'd probably contend that mixed-blood Vos are rare since Vos parents would consider the offspring weak and abandon it, and any other parents would consider it a great shame.

New Stuff!

To that end, the new stuff I wanted to propose is fairly straightforward.

Half-elves are unchanged from the Player's Handbook. They have good ability score bonuses and racial powers, and Birthright half-elves were never particularly outstanding in any field, so if anything this is an upgrade. If you were really brave, you might even allow half-elves to take the cultural feats that are allowed to humans...

Khinasi lands are home to a second tribal group that crossed over to Cerilia and were subjugated by the Basarji (the precursors to the Khinasi people). The Masetians have all but sublimated into Khinasi society, but there are undoubtedly small pockets of its cultural traditions hidden throughout the vast territories of the Khinasi.

There's precious little documented about this culture (even within the Cities of the Sun splatbox), but they are implied to be a spiritual and willful people. Let's use that as a springboard.

Culturally Masetian
Prerequisites: You must be a human descended from Masetian blood and not possess any other cultural human feats.
Effect: Your Wisdom score increases by 1. You have advantage on saving throws against charms and enchantments.

I feel that this isn't too overboard. Masetians are little more than a footnote in most Birthright books, and we know next to nothing about what the designers intended for them.

So that should cover it for the races of Cerilia (until I do a bonus entry for crazy stuff like goblin and orog characters!), and I can move on to a new chapter. Next time I'll do an entry on classes, which may have some controversial resurgence of Old Design (gasp!) for the sake of keeping the theme of the original Birthright. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 25, 2015

Disinterred Eldricity: Humans of Cerilia

Harbinger remarked to me that "humans are tofu" in pretty much any incarnation of D&D. They are, as designed, made to be the most flexible of the player races and easily adapted to any class that they select. In 5th edition D&D, this is a streak yet unbroken.

I don't generally share Harbinger's dislike of the tofu race as it stands, but it does lead to humans being kind of bland in comparison to the ancient elves, the stalwart dwarves, and the myriad other races. I feel like, in Cerilia, the standard and variant humans are perfectly serviceable, but given the intense focus on the cultural differences of the humans of the setting, it is completely reasonable to present a handful of variants based on those cultures.

Each of the Cerilian human races has its own real-world cultural base, and it's tricky to do this in a manner that is sensitive to some of those cultures. While they are indeed fantasy cultures, the ones they are based on are certainly real, and you kind of don't want to be a jerk by stereotyping them in a statistical manner. Nevertheless, there are aspects unique to those cultures that can make for a compelling and enjoyable "Cerilian variant human" for player characters.

Human, Anuirean

The humans of Anuire are "semifeudal and based on a class of free farmers and craftsmen", as defined by the Birthright rulebook. They have strong traditions and respect nobility and civilization, and the amount of politicking that goes on between the various classes of citizens means that most Anuireans know how to talk the talk.

As such, my proposal is this:

Ability Score Increase: Your Charisma score increases by 2, and one other ability score of your choice increases by 1.
Skills: You gain proficiency in either the History skill or the Persuasion skill, at your discretion.
Military Service: Most domains have a tradition of raising peasant levies to defend their borders, or training noble sons and daughters to protect themselves. You are proficient in simple weapons and light armor.
Revered Traditions: You are considered to have proficiency and advantage on any History checks made to identify heraldry, quote Anuirean laws, or recall historical events taking place in Anuire or as they relate to Anuirean historical figures.
Languages: You speak Anuirean and one other language of your choice.

This variant human loses the free feat, has a choice of two skills, some free weapon and armor proficiencies, and is an excellent scholar of history. They have a somewhat stronger ability score selection compared to other humans, and make excellent paladins and courtiers. The free ability score point also lets them add it to Bloodline if they so choose (of course, if you wanted to use the standard and PHB variant humans, they could add it to that too; this makes standard non-variant human slightly more powerful).

Human, Brecht

The Brechts are clearly based on the Mediterranean trading cultures of the early Renaissance, taking cues from Greek, Italian, and even some mild Turkish influence. They are the preeminent trading culture of Cerilia, and they are ruled less by nobles and more by the powerful trading guilds and merchant houses of the area.

Ability Score Increase: Your Wisdom and Charisma score each increase by 1, and one other ability score of your choice increases by 1.
Skills: You have proficiency in Persuasion.
Keen Eye for Value: You have advantage on rolls made to determine the value of an object, identify its origin, or haggle over the price of goods. This also grants you advantage on saving throws to see through illusions.
Languages: You speak Low Brecht and one other language of your choice.

Brechts have good ability flexibility and break the mold by having three different ability score increases (albeit minor). Keen Eye for Value has good roleplaying use, but also a powerful mechanic to combat illusions; it's hard to fool a savvy Brecht.

Human, Khinasi

The Khinasi are somewhat unusual in Cerilian human cultures in that they do not generally fear magic -- it is indeed considered a noble calling, and Khinasi magic-users are welcomed in courts across Cerilia (save those of Vosgaard, of course). They have more "modern" cultural mores than the rest of the Cerilian nationalities, respecting gender and class of birth equally and with laws that treat all of their people fairly. In practice, of course, this may vary, but the Khinasi are an enlightened culture as a whole.

As a side note, if you can get your hands on the Cities of the Sun splatbooks (splatbox?) they are worth it for the cultural information alone. Beautiful stuff, kudos to Rich Baker.

Ability Score Increase: Your Intelligence score increases by 2, and one other ability score of your choice increases by 1.
Skills: You are proficient in one skill of your choice.
Magical Traditions: The Khinasi respect for magic encourages everyone to try to learn at least the basics. You may choose to know one from among the following cantrips: dancing lights, friends, mending, or prestidigitation. Intelligence is your spellcasting ability.
Languages: You speak Basarji and one other language of your choice.

Khinasi make awesome magicians, and even non-magical Khinasi know a trick or two (it's kind of like a pseudo-gnome, but Cerilia has no gnomes). Their Intelligence bonus may be a bit out of line, and I encourage discussion on that point. I can't say I'm sold on it just yet, but they are the most educated Cerilian culture.

Also, for a bonus in the next article, I'll take a crack at a variant for the other Khinasi subculture, the Masetians.

Human, Rjurik

No bones about it, the Rjurik are very Scandinavian in theme. They are also the culture with the most druids, and their lands are rough and hardscrabble, steeped in ancient magic and populated by spirits both benign and hostile. Their worship of the Cerilian pantheon's nature deity, Erik, gives them a great respect for the forests and their inhabitants. I dare say they are the most likely to get along with Cerilia's elves, who are generally pretty hostile to humans (for good reason).

Ability Score Increase: Your Wisdom score increases by 2, and one other ability score of your choice increases by 1.
Skills: You are proficient in the Survival skill.
Respect of Nature: You are unimpeded by difficult terrain caused by undergrowth or the entangle spell. Further, you will always have a neutral reaction with fey creatures unless you or your companions demonstrate hostile intentions.
Languages: You speak Rjuven and one other language of your choice.

Rjurik humans make excellent druids and rangers, naturally. Their Respect of Nature ability can be powerful when fighting enemies in wooded territory, or when needing to negotiate with wild spirits. They might be a bit too specialized, so I'm not 100% on the Rjurik yet. I may "errata" them later on (as I may with any other presented material).

Human, Vos

The Vos are as brutal and unforgiving as their homeland. The weak perish, the strong rule, and those in between suffer at the mercy of their tsarevos. Despite their barbaric traditions, the Vos have a strong code of honor, albeit one that calls for bloodshed at even the slightest offense.

Ability Score Increase: Your Strength and Constitution scores increase by 1, and one other ability score of your choice increases by 1.
Skills: You are proficient in Athletics. No Vos survives without rigorous physical training.
Savage: At the end of any turn in which you did not use the Attack or Dodge action, you may take a bonus action to make a single melee attack against any opponent in range.
Languages: You speed Vos and one other language of your choice.

Breaking the "rule" again by giving the Vos three minor ability score increases, and making them very heavily bent toward fighter-type classes. The Savage ability may be too much, and its wording may need to be clarified. Originally, I didn't have the Dodge action listed. You lose the ability to make extra attacks, if your class allows for it, but up until you get them, there's no reason NOT to Dodge every turn you're in melee combat.

It may be too edge-case without it, so I may take it out entirely on a future iteration.

So that's what I came up with for now. Next time, I'll hit half-elves, Masetians, do some errata on previous entries, and do some brooding on whether or not to scrap this entirely and go for racial feats as hinted in the Elemental Evil Players Companion (PDF link!).

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Lovely Artwork Donation!

A brief intermission in the series to thank a friend of mine for her donation of artwork for my blog avatar. Swing by her deviantart and check out her work!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Disinterred Eldricity: Birthright Races: Standard Dwarf, Elf, Halfling 1.0

 Herein, I will be covering the standard (read: not blooded scion) versions of the Cerilian dwarf, elf, and halfling.

The Dwarf

The Cerilian dwarf, as presented in the AD&D Birthright rulebook, has a few notable differences from the standard 5th edition dwarf template. Most unbalancing, however, is its resistance to bludgeoning damage. This is kind of a big deal, and can't really be compared to the dwarf's natural poison resistance (which it would also have). Resistance (defined both in the Cerilian dwarf's context and the use of the term in 5th edition) cuts damage from said source in half.

It was said to me by a friend whose game design instincts I trust that Cerilian demihumans were created to be rare and kind of scary, and that doesn't really play into 5th edition's "play anything!" mentality. Giving the Cerilian dwarf double resistances feels greatly unbalanced, but I also want to avoid completely throwing away the Cerilian dwarf's flavor. Nevertheless, they are essentially the Player's Handbook mountain dwarf in most other respects.

The Birthright rulebook calls Cerilian dwarves out as being incredibly heavy and dense creatures, upwards of 300 (!) pounds standing between 4 and 4 1/2 feet. That's crazy dense, but they are meant to be "true children of the mountains" and it's an interesting quirk that I think we can work with when determining what to do with the bludgeoning resistance.

Here's my pitch for the Cerilian dwarf that keeps its advantage against bludgeoning weapons:

Cerilian Dwarf

Ability Score Increase: Your Strength score increases by 1 and your Constitution score increases by 2.
Speed: Your base speed is 25 feet. Your speed is not reduced by wearing heavy armor.
Size: Your size is Medium.
Darkvision: Out to 60 feet, as standard dwarves.
Dwarven Resilience: Resistance to poison and advantage on saving throws against poison, as standard dwarf. In addition, you suffer two fewer points from any source that inflicts bludgeoning damage. If you possess another feature or feat that also reduces damage (such as Heavy Armor Master), this reduction stacks.
Dwarven Combat Training: As standard dwarves.
Tool Proficiency: As standard dwarves.
Stonecunning: As standard dwarves.
Languages: Cerilian dwarves speak Karamhul and one other language of their choice.

So we have a few changes, but the Cerilian dwarf is looking a lot like the mountain dwarf in a lot of respects. However, they trade the free armor proficiency and a point of Strength increase for two points of damage reduction against bludgeoning attacks (damage reduction is still a precedent in 5th edition).

I'd have to see how this plays out in progress, but it keeps some of the flavor without being ridiculously powerful against certain foes. "Situationally overpowered" is never a good thing, but a Cerilian dwarf with Heavy Armor Master is still reducing 5 points of damage from any bludgeoning source; nothing to scoff at.

The other option is, of course, to just say that Cerilian dwarves are mountain dwarves. They fit just fine and the loss of the damage reduction probably wouldn't be completely awful.

The Elf

The Cerilian elf feels like the easiest of the races to bring forward. They are, with almost no contest, exactly like the Wood Elf in the Player's Handbook. The only thing that makes them sort of weird is that subrace's bonus Wisdom point. To explain, Cerilian elves quite pointedly lost their conflicts with humans because of the latter's possession and use of divine magic, which was outside the elves' ken. They are mighty magic users, and can be true wizards without possession of a bloodline.

To that end, I feel it is reasonable to have the Cerilian elf (Sidhelien) gain a +1 bonus to Intelligence rather than Wisdom, but I see no other changes particularly necessary. I'm happy to entertain suggestions to the contrary!

The Halfling

This one's a bit trickier. Cerilian halflings are very unique; they aren't even from the "normal" world originally, and their powers reflect this unusual heritage. In the Birthright rulebook, Cerilian halflings possessed a sort of "shadow sense" that allowed them to detect evil, undead, or necromantic magic. This is quite similar to the 5th edition paladin class's Divine Sense ability (the PDF I keep linking to had the same idea, and I think it's a good one!).

More troublesome is the ability to use powerful transportation magic when near places and times that the Shadow World (the now-scary place from whence the halflings originally hail) is close to the real world. Dimension door and shadow walk were quite powerful abilities, and even though they were heavily restricted to but thrice a week, that's still a bit more mobility than many Dungeon Masters would like for a first level character. It was also kind of a pain to adjudicate; you had to be able to tell the player what the weather was like, what time it was, what kind of "creepy factor" the surroundings had, is it raining, et cetera in order to determine their percentage success chance.

Great for your improv skills, not so great for just getting on with it.

I think it's still possible to keep, but we have the precedent of the drow elf subrace for delayed ability acquisition.

Further, the Cerilian halfling isn't very much like other halflings. They're not described as particularly lucky or flighty, and are probably some of the most tragic and sorrowful races around. So I think we can strip out Lucky from the base halfling (I know, sacrilege! But not all halflings are kender, and that's its own rant) to help balance the scales a bit.

Cerilian Halfling

Ability Score Increase: Your Dexterity score increases by 2 and your Wisdom score increases by 1.
Speed: Your speed is 25 feet.
Size: Your size is Small.
Brave: As standard halfling.
Halfling Nimbleness: As standard halfling. Man, this ability is highly underrated.
From Shadow: This ability grows more powerful as the halfling reaches higher levels of experience.
  • At first level, as an action, you may open your awareness to know the location of any fey, fiend, or undead with 60 feet of you that is not behind total cover. You know the type of being whose presence you sense, but not its unique identity. Within the same radius, you can detect the presence of magic from the necromantic school. You must complete a short or long rest before you can use this ability again.
  • Upon reaching 3rd level, the halfling may use the misty step spell while standing in any condition of dim or darker lighting (such as a crowded tavern, a wilderness cave, or conditions or moon or starlight). You must complete a short or long rest before you can use this ability again.
  • Upon reaching 7th level, the halfling may also use the dimension door spell under the same conditions. You must complete a long rest before you can use this ability again.

I think this is a good compromise and doesn't completely throw away what the Cerilian halfling was once capable of doing. It also stops first level people from using fourth level spells.

If you wanted to scrap this entirely, I'd recommend simply using the Player's Handbook stout halfling. No harm there.

So that brings this first pass to a close. I welcome comments and feedback, of course. Can't very well work in a vacuum, can I? Unless I designed games in space. Hmm...

Who wants to fund a Kickstarter to send me to space so I can design games up there?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Eldritch Musings: Honor, Bloodline Score, and Races

Sometimes I will sidebar, and sometimes a sidebar is worth an entire blog entry!

I've been thinking a lot about the ways I'd like to handle the various mechanical changes I'll need to make in order to bring Birthright forward, and I've gotten several avenues of feedback about my intended methods. I'm not so stubborn as to not let discussion change my mind, as that is a death sentence in game design.

So the following are points of contention that I am flopping around about, and will decide for 100% certain when I get to the respective articles.

Races and Blooded Scions

Caiomhe probably hit on something good with the decisions made for the races. Harbinger bludgeoned me with facts convinced me after a brief discussion that, well, the reason you play Birthright for the setting conceit; that is, blooded scions and domain management. Willingly recusing yourself from those aspects is a conscious choice to play a slightly different game than the other players. Further, relegating the bloodlines to a feat is not inherently bad, but making it so non-humans are outright excluded from getting past the bouncer until 4th level is kinda poopy.

So I'm going to mea culpa there and concede that the choice to be a blooded scion is one made at first level, through selection of variant racial packages. I don't think I will do quite the same arrangement as aforementioned PDF conversion, but the general idea will be similar. Also, the stat bonuses might be troublesome, because...

Nix Honor, Add Bloodline

Hero With a Thousand Hit Points had a great suggestion in using Bloodline as a new, Cerilia-specific ability score for players who are blooded scions. And in thinking about it for much of the day, I'm liking the idea more and more. Hear me out.

As the DMG suggests, adding a new ability score (from their examples of Honor and Sanity) gives you another score to roll for, more points to add in point-buy, or another 11 to place with the standard attribute array (full disclosure: I prefer the standard array for a lot of reasons that would take a whole blog entry to cover). If an ability score is used, you can increase it via level-gains any time you would otherwise increase an ability score, it creates a notable (and likely difficult) decision on character creation on where to place your best scores, and gives humans (who are typically possess the most potent bloodlines in the setting, short of awnsheghlien) a slight advantage in where to place their bonus ability points.

This also helps give the player more control and less blind randomness in how strong their initial bloodline ends up, and neatly delineates the different bloodline dilutions. To wit:
1-8: Tainted
9-14: Minor
15-19: Major
20: Great
21+: True
Harbinger expressed that this didn't feel right, and I feel like I am getting the same itchy sensation about it, but it helps tie a great many future features together. Regency Point gain based on ability modifier and proficiency bonus. Blood abilities that scale based on how strong you make your ability score. Heck, domain action resolution can use a Bloodline ability check to resolve actions that don't already reference another skill proficiency.

So this is what I'll likely be shifting toward as we continue on this blundering design journey of mine. No promises I won't be convinced otherwise later on, though!

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Disinterred Eldricity: Modern Games in the Birthright Setting

Disclaimer: This, and subsequent articles regarding Birthright and other referenced intellectual properties, are made in the spirit of open creativity. No profit is intended to be derived from these fan works, and any artwork or copyrighted terminologies are the property of their respective owners, to be removed at their request if necessary.

(I don't believe this is strictly necessary, but I figure it's nice to put in print so people can't point and laugh at me later. You know, more than usual.)

Credit Where Credit is Due

So not an hour after I put up my previous entry, my fellow tabletop enthusiast/former colleague/alcoholic beverage provider/good friend, Harbinger of Doom, linked me a previous work done to forward-convert Birthright into 5th Edition (note: PDF link). I like a lot of what was done here, and though it's not all quite in the direction I would have taken, there's good ground work made in this document and major kudos for its creation. I'll take care not to retread any of the same territory, or if I do take inspiration, I'll credit accordingly.

There's a lot of missing systems that weren't forward converted (understandably; moving Regency Points, domain management, and all that stuff into 5th edition is quite a mammoth undertaking and oh god why did I agree to do this), and we've had much more stuff come out since then as official sources to use for the purposes of conversion. I feel like those are important aspects to update now that we have a full set of sourcebooks and more insight into the design process that the brains behind 5th Edition use to make ancillary systems.

The Bridge Between Homage and Refinement

Old Birthright has a lot of game design methods that would be considered, well, unfair to the modern tabletop gamer. There are a great many subtle (and not so subtle) aspects that create a deep divide between blooded scions and just plain folks, which isn't all bad. After all, scions are rulers by divine right, and it makes sense that they can have something of an edge on normal people.

We will have problems as it pertains to certain class and race restrictions that may feel overly restrictive to the otherwise wide-open playing field of the last few editions of D&D. The magician/wizard divide alone may seem unfair; the blooded scion feat becomes an outright tax if you want to cast all spells available, though I quite like what the above linked conversion suggests so as to not make magicians just plain awful, as well as making sorcerers unbound to the blooded restriction. But we'll get into that in due time, once I've had more time to think about how I would do it.


I'll probably have lots of these, pointing out places I ran into design quandaries or want to provide alternate options, especially in places I reference my use of the Honor attribute. These might be rambling or indecisive-sounding, and that's fully intended; I invite comments, suggestions, and (respectful) dispute of my work where applicable.


There's quite a bit to go through, but the general methodology I'll be using is one of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and if it's broke, rebuild it". That is to say, the races need little in the way of refinement, but I think the domain actions and bloodline powers are going to need wholesale overhaul to be more balanced, less irksome to resolve, and provide better and more compelling choices for players.

As an example, you have scions that can take the Bloodmark power, which improves reaction rolls from NPCs on a sliding scale wholly at the whim of the Dungeon Master. Does this remotely compare to, say, the raw mechanical benefit of another minor power, Heightened Ability? Not especially. This is a prime candidate for being rolled into another power (maybe even the same one) and reflavored appropriately.

Of course, some are less awful to rebalance, and are direct imports into the updated rules (Protection from Evil is pretty straightforward, ne?). Many can survive the culling, but will likely need to be spread out over level bands like Dragonmark powers are set up in the Unearthed Arcana for Eberron. I won't claim AD&D was particularly balanced, and there's very little fun in being the 1d4 HP wizard with no spells while the blooded scion fighter got lucky and rolled Divine Wrath.

So What Do You Mean, "Modern"?

Excellent question, other-me! I feel like I probably shouldn't have chosen the word "modern", but I'm sticking to my guns. By "modern" I really mean, "with rules that don't inhibit or put extra onus on an exhausted Dungeon Master to ensure everyone has a fun and balanced play experience". No one likes to be one of the players who sit there while one party member gets the spotlight, and that's exactly what will happen if one player is a regent while the others are not.

Yes, there are different campaign types recommended to help alleviate the issue, but I feel like there's room for growth. And if trial and error proves otherwise? I refer to the above rule of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". No shame in me poking at things to look for holes and finding none, right?

I got lots of work to do. I'll try not to let the imminent release of The Witcher: Wild Hunt distract me too much, but no promises.

Disinterred Eldricity: Birthright

My first series is going to be an update of the AD&D setting, Birthright, to the 5th Edition of the game. While this has undoubtedly already been tackled by a handful of other sources on the vastness of the Internet, I like the creative exercise this presents and the continued release of Unearthed Arcana articles lays some systemic groundwork for what I would propose.

Of course, this also means that as soon as I start significant work on this, Wizards of the Coast will put out a new UA or announce a sourcebook that renders my efforts moot. I accept this risk!

I anticipate this series will be divided into the following major components:
  1. Modern Games in the Birthright Setting
  2. Races of Cerilia
  3. Class Rules and Modifications
  4. Bloodline Rules (derivations and powers)
  5. Gods and Powers of Cerilia
  6. Managing a Domain
  7. Armies and Warfare (taking heavy inspiration from Mike Mearls's recent Battlesystem UA entry)
  8. Monster Miscellany
Here, however, I will simply gush about the setting and lay some groundwork.

Birthright is perhaps my favorite of the various boxed settings for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. It's always been difficult for me to articulate just why, but I have a soft spot for chivalric tales and adventures. The post-imperial setting has an allure and romance to it that I don't get from many other sources. Bickering domains squabble over politics and the acquisition of influence and territory with a backdrop of fading glory that will never be recaptured. Powerful malevolent forces lurk on the fringes of civilization, periodically swooping in to carve out portions of unprepared domains to add to their own.

It's equal parts Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, Arthurian legend, and heroic fantasy roleplaying. And I'm a huge nerd, so this is basically my ambrosia.

My articles will operate under a few rules conceits as introduced in the 5th Edition Dungeon Master's Guide, all of which can be considered optional and easily excised from my write-ups if they don't particularly suit your fancy.



I'm likely going to use the Honor attribute as introduced in the DM's toolbox section of the book. I feel like it has a good place here, and can easily be used to gauge how regents (and monsters!) would react to you. Anywhere I use it, I will take care to allow Charisma to be used as a suitable substitute.

Why use Honor at all, though? Well, a few reasons drive my decision.

One, I don't want to shackle all potential regents to having a high Charisma score in order to do well. Since Honor increases and decreases based on actions, it feels more suitable to the setting. You have some jerkface regents in the established material that I can't really justify as having a good Charisma score, but have amassed a good enough reputation with the other lords of the land that their word carries a great deal of weight in court (Baron Gavin Tael of Ghoere just seems like one of those guys, you know?).

Bloodlines are a Feat


We have a precedent set forth from UA: Eberron for Dragonmarks being acquired via a feat, even if they are "late bloomers". I believe this works just fine for Birthright bloodlines, and while it's not perfect, it does help discourage the following scenarios:
  • Everyone must have one to be competitive in moment-to-moment gameplay.
  • The reverse won't be true, that people who spend the feat-tax on the bloodline won't be left in the dust.
  • The overall power level of the game won't suffer by making everyone get a bonus feat at first level in case they want to take a bloodline.
    • Note that variant humans, which is what I'll be working with, can get a first level feat and thus get a bloodline at first level. As they make up the vast bulk of blooded scions in the world, this seems tenable anyway.
  • Players who aren't sure at character creation if this is something they want to have aren't shackled to that decision forever.
This is probably the toughest thing to optionally excise for your own use, but if you're running a game where everyone is just going to be a regent, then bullet-point three is probably the way you want to go!

Modern Gamers, Modern Rules


Not everything from the past has to be preserved in stone, because let's face it, game development and gamer sensibilities have changed in the last 20 years. There will be some healthy rebalancing, excision, and baby-splitting where necessary. I'll try to keep this to a minimum, but if the choice comes up that forces a player to pick between "massively overpowered in one situation but otherwise useless" and "pretty good all around and doesn't cause buyer's remorse", then I'm going to go with the latter. Grognards be forewarned!

So that should do it for this entry. I hope to have the first article in the series up within the week.

Edit: This medium's formatting messes with my kerning sensibilities. Fie on thee, editor!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

An Introduction

Greetings! Thanks for finding my little inconspicuous corner of the webbernets.

My moniker here shall be the Marsupialmancer. I have an adoration for wombats and other marsupial creatures, in addition to loving fantasy, science-fiction, games of all sorts, and genre humor. By day, I am a professional game designer working the corporate beat, and by late afternoon/night I can't seem to get enough of that and either play or work on games in my free time.

The purpose of this blog is mostly to flex creative muscles that I don't always get to exercise in the day job, get ideas out of my head, and generally try to hone what I do into something other than a knotted cudgel. I have a soft spot for tabletop games, which will be the primary focus of my entries. Chances are high I will delve into, reference, or laud other creative media here and there, so I hope you'll forgive digression and topic-hopping between mainline entries.

I hope my entries will be some small inspiration to those who love games, systems, and general geekery as much as I do.

So yeah! Welcome, and enjoy your stay.