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:
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.
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:
- Anduiras (nobility and war)
- Azrai (the face of evil and shadow)
- Basaia (the Queen of the Sun)
- Brenna (commerce and fortune)
- Masela (the Lady of the Seas)
- Reynir (the woods and the streams)
- Vorynn (the moon and magic)
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).