Sunday, May 17, 2015

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!

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