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Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter 6: Organizations

This is a very big, and very important chapter, for it details the prominent power players of the City by the Spire, and more importantly how they impact the people of Ptolus and interact with each other. In a city of 75,000 souls built above ancient chambers of evil, you have all sorts of interesting characters trying to enforce their will on the world. They run the gamut from noble houses, vile cults, organized crime syndicates, knightly orders, and mystical orders.

Noble Houses

Traditionally there are ten families in Ptolus who are granted special rights and privileges by the city's Commissar. Although traditionally the Empire of Tarsis subsumed local rulers with their own Commissars, Ptolus is far enough removed that the nobility of Palastan still holds clout in the region. In addition to the Commissar's influence, an ancient king of Palastan manifests as a ghost in secret meetings between all the houses, maintaining stability between them by threatening dire curses on those who break the Ancient Rites of Custom, which forbid nobles from murdering one another.

It should be noted that in Ptolus, "nobility" does not automatically mean "levels in Aristocrat." More than a few of them have levels in PC classes, and the heads of two houses, Dallimothan, Khatru, and Sadar, have a full 20 levels in PC classes or Challenge Rating 20 (including full stat blocks)! Naturally these are only the most powerful noble houses, and quite a few of the lesser nobles are low-level.

House Abanar is the wealthiest noble family, comprised of merchants who have a poor reputation among the houses. One can literally buy one's way into the family with 10,000 gold pieces for an official title, and hire out mercenaries and bounty hunters against those who threaten their holdings.

House Dallimothan has a storied relationship with dragonkind, specifically the metallics. It is not uncommon to see such creatures basking in the sun in courtyard, and even roaming around the estate's open outdoor areas. Many theorize that the nobles have draconic blood, a rumor they angrily deny. Truth be told, more than a few of them are indeed ancient dragons who've taken human form. Lord Kirstol Dallimothan, the patriarch, is one such example. They forged the Sword of the Dragonkings millennia ago to help mortal heroes slay chromatic dragons, and helped destroy a few of the Orbs of Dragonkind (which they view as vile tools of enslavement).

House Erthuo is a family of scholars and gentlefolk who extensively married among elvenkind. Today most of their members are half-elves, and possess some of the finest collections of rare books and antiquities in the Empire. The head of the House, Peliope Erthuo, is currently engaged in an affair with Renn Sadar, the head of House Sadar and a married man. They share nothing in common, and places great danger upon the Erthuo family because it would force them into an alliance with Sadar and destroy their neutrality among the nobility.

House Kath are the dilettantes and celebrities of the nobility. They concern themselves majorly with the arts in all their forms, and administer the most prestigious theaters and musicians in the city. They scout out for talented children and train them to be the next generation of writers, musicians, and artists. They have an alliance with the Knights of the Chord forged in ancient times, and the family can call upon them in times of need.

House Khatru is renowned for its military history and great warriors. They maintain their own private army of a hundred well-trained soldiers, who they lend out to help Ptolus in times of crisis. The House is notorious for its disdain of spellcasters in general and those who pursue stealthy and larcenous endeavors; they regretted the Church of Lothian's overturning of the Edict of Deviltry, and they still buy into the whole "arcanists and most clerics are devil-worshipers" lies. Lord Dorant Khatru is the head of the house, a man of eighty who looks forty because an elf girlfriend cast a spell on him to gain the lifespan of her people. He doesn't realize this, thinking that good breeding and physical training make him look so youthful. He's also the head of the Order of Iron Might and one of the Commissar's 12 Commanders (advisors and lieutenants in times of emergency).

House Nagel has fallen on hard times recently, its head imprisoned for murder. Truth be told, House Sadar bribed several city officials to toss him into the darkest corners of the city's Prison without a trial. In its glory days the house had a reputation for supporting charity and good works, and helped pass many laws to prevent abuse and exploitation of the common folk. Lady Fransin Nagel is dedicating most of her time now trying to find out exactly what happened with her husband, which gives PCs the perfect opportunity to get involved. Needless to say they are enemies of House Sadar.

House Rau are scoundrels and pirates who pose as merchant vessels and mercenary craft in the Whitewind Sea. Still, lots of people know what they're up to, coining the phrase "a deal with the Rau" to mean a swindle or cheat. They have a good relationship with the city's criminal factions, the Balacazars in particular, trading political favors in exchange for financial agreements and contracts. House Khatru hates them, and were it not for the Rites of Accord he'd have gone to war with them long ago.

House Sadar is sometimes called the House of Shadows for its members' penchance with magic of darkness. Almost eliminated in the Days of blood, the house's leader at the time came into possession of the shadowstaff which helped turn the tide around. They also received help from the Inverted Pyramid, a debt no member of the House forgets. The current lord, Renn Sadar, wields the shadowstaff today and is one of the most powerful arcane spellcasters in the city (20 levels of Sorcerer). He is a conniving evil figure with many plots and schemes in the city. He is expanding a lot of research and resources into seeking the Box of Shadows, an ancient artifact that Eslathagos Malkith planned on sealing away in the Banewarrens in his "good" years before he succumbed to evil.

All members of the House have expanded proficiency with shadow magic, gaining +2 Caster Level on such spells and a +30% "more real" bonus for the shadow conjuration, shadow evocation, and weird spells.

Lord Renn Sadar:

House Shever is known for its skill with machines, and in old times they wielded great political influence. Now that knowledge of advanced technology is eroding away over time, the house is finding itself in dire straits as its finances continue slipping away, and only one of the two titled sons shows aptitude in the technical pursuits. Thollos Shever, the house leader, fears that this is related to the Empire's decline and a gradual change in the fundamental nature of the world. They are allied with the Shuul technologists, and most other noble houses ignore them.

House Vladaam is the quintessential evil noble house. Thousands of years ago its founder Vladaam was one of the Vested of the Galchutt, a select few mortals and ascended deities "gifted" with some of their power. Today they are a family of tieflings who have their fingers in all manner of illicit activity, from theft, extortion, assassinations, drug and slave trades, creation of evil magic items, and supporting fiendish factions like the Chaos Cults from afar. They hope one day to find a way to Jabel Shammar, see the Galchutt rise again, and have been a thorn in the side of the world since day one. The house leader, Iristul Vladaam, is currently away from Ptolus seeking out the six hungerswords, vile weapons brimming with necromantic magic.

Navanna Vladaam runs thing in Iristul's place. She has a network of spies and agents all over the city, who are all werewolves. Aliastar Vladaam doesn't have much ambition, studying wizardry and avoiding risky pursuits. Gattara Vladaam is the eldest sibling, is insane and worships the Galchutt. Godfred Vladaam is the youngest and rather dim-witted. He is a skilled fighter, and wields one of the only hungerswords discovered yet. All of them have stats, with levels ranging from 11-15, because they of all the nobles are the likeliest to oppose the PCs at some point.

Vladaam is despised by all the other noble houses except for House Sadar, who they're allied with.

The Vladaam Family:

The Balacazar Crime Family

The Balacazars are the most powerful criminal faction in Ptolus. For two centuries they've sat as the top dogs, far from the Empire's reach and twisting its way into enterprises both legitimate and illegal. Menon Balacazar is the undisputed leader, a shriveled old man with an interest in black magic. Under his rule the family began dealing more and more in foul spells, ranging from evil magic items, talismans which can summon enslaved demons bound to cells in his mansion, mind-controlled slaves, and other things of a foul nature. They operate subtly, peforming crimes with deniable agents and behind fronts, knowing that the Commissar will tolerate their presence. Driving them out of Ptolus would be equivalent to bringing war in the city, and the family's not stupid enough to do anything as drastic as slaughter nobles and city watchmen in droves. Their only real opposition in the city comes from Kevris Killraven, a hag monster who arrived in Ptolus a mere year ago. Despite this, Menon still commands great influence, as the various shady factions of Ptolus, from the Forsaken to the Chaos Cults, come to him for commodities which can't be bought or traded for in legitimate markets.

Brides of Magic

A small organization composed entirely of women sorcerers, the Brides have given up their normal lives, of money and attachments to family, to pursue magic itself. They meet in secret once a month on the full moon, to discuss all matters supernatural and recent events of great import related to this. They view magic as inherently natural, a part of the world, and believe that at some point in the future will come a cataclysm which will destroy all magic and thus life in the world. They view attempts to use magic to promote ideologies as flawed, and tend to avoid aligned spells and items.

Brotherhood of Redemption

A controversial order which believes in the sanctity of all life, even those of the "evil" races and those corrupted by it. They seek to redeem evil, rather than slay and destroy it. Eighty years ago they worked with various spellcasters to come up with a ritual to turn such creatures good, using alchemical mixtures, bathing in magical light, and long-term exposure to supernatural music. Traditionally they hunted down and imprisoned evil people (especially monsters), but with the influx of delvers over the past years they found it most efficient to simply put a bounty on living evil creatures. They converted an underground dungeon complex to the Fortress of Redemption, where the creatures undergo the process. It is not open to the public, and they have a monastery in the Guildsman District as a visitor's center. Several monsters under their care have gone on to become full-fledged and trusted members of Ptolusite society, including an ogre mage cleric of Navashtrom in the Temple District.

The Brotherhood's role in the campaign is to give PCs an incentive to take prisoners of evil monsters who surrender instead of just slaughtering them and the whole "should we kill this creature just because it's evil?" Or it can be used to bring up ethical issues of free will, and if it's truly right to screw around with people's minds. Regardless, all its member register as "good" alignment.

Circle of Green

A long-extinct druidic organization which held great power in Palastan, who rarely interacted with the common people but whose word even the King had to obey. They were fair to those who did not transgress against them, but they were merciless to those who opposed them, which generated a lot of ill will. Ghul found it easy to sow discontent against the Circle, and they had no allies when his forces slaughtered the lot of them.

Dark Leaf

An all-elf syndicate of killers for hire and ruffians who help protect Ptolus' elven population from the depredations of other criminals. Truth be told, they do this by being very good fighters and valued by Killraven and the Balacazars for jobs. While they don't have a true leader, Celdore Silverwood commands great respect and acts as a third party negotiator when someone runs afoul of one of the city's criminal groups. He's well-respected among the elven community as well.

Delver's Guild

This guild of 3 years has quickly become one of the most powerful in the city when adventurers began returning with great treasure from Ptolus' underground catacombs 7 years ago. The Delver's Guild is basically a support network for adventurers, who provide information about job opportunities pertaining to underground exploration and an extensive collection of subterranean maps. Membership is a fee of only a few gold pieces a year for the lowest levels, and as such most delvers belong the Guild.

There are four ranks: Associate Guildsman, Guildsman, Master Delver, and Grand Master, with the last two open only to people who've served in the guild a set amount of time. Membership costs increases with rank, but comes with increased privileges. Even the lowest-level members gain access to a discount at Ebert's Outfitters (shop catering to delvers), and reports. Guildsmen gain this, plus access to guild libraries and passwords to waystations, secret chambers in underground regions stocked with food and simple supplies. Master Delver grants voting in guild actions and election of the Grandmaster Delver, plus retrieval insurance (if you're lost or killed while delving, the guild will send an adventuring team to rescue you or your body for resurrection). Grand Master level grants the right to claim staking, where a region of the dungeon can be cordoned off to all but themselves and allowed parties, and the Guild pays other guildsmen to guard the entrance.

Naturally this guild is very relevant to PCs interested in dungeon exploration. In my campaigns my party allows paid for Guildsman level and joined them. There's no good reason not to do so.

The Fallen

An alliance of demons and devils (the differences matter less in the campaign setting than others) who followed Raguel into Praemal, the Fallen are considered the "young demons" of the world (Galchutt being the "old demons"). Two hundred years ago they arrived, and relocated to the city of Ptolus, waiting for their leader's eventual decision of whether to free the Galchutt or fight them. Their headquarters is the Dark Reliquary in the Necropolis, where the local Forsaken welcomed them with open arms. Many of the Fallen regularly take humanoid shape (or alter themselves with external magic if they can't do so naturally), enjoying the increased agency this grants them to operate in Ptolus proper. Raguel commands them to not draw the city's attention, but they need to feed upon mortals every so often and kidnap them from villages outside the city (or the city's unwanted) to take back to the Reliquary to feast upon.

Raguel's lover, Lilith, is a demon princess who favors freeing the Galchutt and works with the chaos cults to bring about the Night of Dissolution. She has the support of many of the Fallen. Raguel has learned that the only way to contact the Elder Gods is to travel along the Seven Jewels of Parnaith. His agents has obtained Parnaith's Mirrored Sphere to undertake the journey, but he does not do so now for fear that Lilith will perform a coup against him in his absence. To this end he looks for mortals to act in his stead.

Raguel and Lilith are very powerful entities. Raguel is a deity in his own right, but uses stats for a Solar angel but is Neutral alignment. Lilith is a succubus with 19 levels in Sorcerer.

Raguel and Lilith:

Fate Weavers

The Fate Weavers began as a school for fortune-tellers and sooth-sayers who were friends of the legendary hero Abesh Runihan. Now operating out of the Rivergate district, the students and teachers practice a form which they believe can read the destinies of others that only a "special few" are born with. Regardless, most genuine spellcasters do not detect any magic from their readings, not to mention that magic which can accurately tell the future is difficult to master. Most folk in the city do not respect them except for the truly desperate and folklorists who can't afford the services of genuine spellcasters.

The Fate Weavers hope to use their talents to shape the future for the better, and as such secretly support the underground republican movement which hopes to overthrow the Commissar and bring rule by the people, for the people. They also have an adventurer living in the school who once spoke with a dying Elder Elf and wears his armor as a sort of honor. He knows more than anyone else in the city about the Urthon Aedar (last remaining elder elves), but will only tell of them to those who convince him that their intentions are good.

Cook leaves the Weavers' genuineness open to DM whim. If they're the real deal, Fate Weaving is not magic but a cross-class skill based off of Wisdom which can tell a character if they're on the right path with a successful roll, with difficulty based upon the topic's specificity.


The most reviled group of people in Ptolus, the Forsaken are living mortals with an unhealthy fascination with the dead and undead. They convene in the Necropolis and consort openly with dark gods and the Fallen. They share their home with the Fallen in the Dark Reliquary, helping their fiendish patrons with various tasks in exchange for protection. Many of them worship the Galchutt, and crossover with Chaos Cults is common. They frequently disturb the graves of city folk to use their corpses for necromantic magic or sexual pleasure, which enrages the citizenry and the Commissar has made grave-robbing a crime punishable by death as a result.

The Guilds

Aside from the more extraordinary guilds related to typical D&D stuff (Delver's Guild, the Inverted Pyramid mages' guild, and the Longfingers Thieves' Guild), Ptolus is home to plenty of mundane trade guilds. Most of them are of various trades, the Brewers' Guild, Cobblers' Guild, Textile Workers' Guild, and the like. Normally they won't be of much use in typical campaigns, but Monte suggests that they can become embroiled in adventures. Say, the Glassblowers' Guild is hired to fashion the framework for a magic item. The Sorn-Ulth Orcs in the Dungeon secretly commissioned it via intermediary to create a fell magic item, and murder the craftsman to cover their tracks, thus prompting the Guild to hire adventurers to track down the killer.

Inverted Pyramid

Although it came to public view after the passing of the Edict of Deviltry, the Inverted Pyramid existed since before recorded history gathered the most powerful sorcerers and wizards together to pursue their art separated from worldly concerns. They have been a foe of the Church of Lothian since the Empire's founding, and during the Days of Blood they tirelessly worked to rescue persecuted mages and relocate them to secret safehouses. Additionally they gathered plenty of arcane texts to keep out of reach of zealous clerics. When Commissar Norrid offered Ptolus as a sanctuary for mages in 615 IA, the Inverted Pyramid moved its headquarters to the city, where they remained ever since.


Although no longer openly antagonistic toward the Church of Lothian, the Inverted Pyramid fears that at any time the religion could fall into the grip of its more right-wing clergy and oppose arcane magic again. While such an event seems unlikely, this paranoia keeps the Inverted Pyramid watching the Church of Lothian closely and with great distrust.

With the conceits of a pro-democracy movement and other "modern" social constructs, I kind of wonder what the left-right spectrum of Tarsisian and Church politics looks like.

The Inverted Pyramid's headquarters is also its namesake, a floating, upside-down pyramidal structure above the streets of Oldtown. From the outside it is invisible, and most citizens have no idea where it actually is. Its most elite members, called Masters, are some of the most powerful beings in the world and average around 20th level.

Membership in the Inverted Pyramid is available to arcane spellcasters of 8th level or higher, and invitations are sent to those of 10th level and higher. Membership is a yearly due of 2,000 gold pieces. Initiates must honor reasonable requests of adepts and masters (higher-ranking members), and unreasonable use of this privilege can earn a fine. Members are also granted living space in the headquarters, and to maintain a laboratory or workshop. They also have the greatest collection of spells in the world, with all known spells recorded, and new ones are constantly made and shared with members. They also have a great library on history, the planes, religion, and other topics (+5 bonus on Knowledge checks when undertaking research). They also get a 20% discount on magic items bought from the Dreaming Apothecary. Membership is secret, but every member is given an invisible charm which floats aside them which can only be seen by others with said charm (so that members can identify one another). The Pyramid can deactivate charms should a member die or have the charm stolen.

Dreaming Apothecary

In reality this is an extension of the Inverted Pyramid, but most don't know that. Most people in Ptolus have heard of it, but regard it as a myth. Supposedly it's an organization which can only be contacted via dreams, and can provide someone with anything provided they can pay the price. In reality it's a group of spellcasters who make magic items to order, and they pretty much have a monopoly on Praemal's trade in higher-end and permanent magic item market (potions, scrolls, and wands are fine and not seen as a threat).

The Apothecary has no storefront or headquarters in the city. They have representatives who scout out the right people, and if they're interested are provided with a bronze coin to place under their pillow or bed at night. The Dreaming Apothecary contacts the person in their dreams, during which they make a transaction. The dream becomes subject to detect thoughts and discern lies spells, with no saving throw allowed due to the coin's magic. The seller ascertains if the prospective buyer has the funds. If they have the money to pay, then it's gone once they wake up and they receive their magic item in two weeks or double the crafting time (if made) or the next morning (if the Apothecary has one on hand). The buyer will find an exact portion of their funds missing, even if locked within the safest of vaults. It arrives in a package via a courier who does not know what's inside or who sent it.

People who try to get around these restrictions, via proofing themselves against divination or storing their money in a place unreachable by teleportation magic, will simply not get their item.

It is common knowledge among spellcasters that people who try to cut in on the Draming Apothecary's business end up meeting dire fates: mages are polymorphed into animals, rendered brain-dead, their shops burned to the ground or disintegrated. Those who sell used magic items, potions/scrolls/wands, and for their own personal use or that of their allies are exempt.

Keepers of the Veil

This is a knightly order dedicated to the destruction of undead, particularly sapient spirits. The Von Tibbitz family has a knack for seeing incorporeal entities, and although its not a hereditary position, they have functioned as leaders for over 700 years. In recent times they relocated their headquarters to Ptolus, along with much of their resources, to deal with the undead in the Necropolis. Due to this they are a constant thorn in the side of the Forsaken and the Fallen, and any other groups which deal in necromantic rituals. Their base of operations is the Siege Tower, a building built into the Necropolis' wall. They are pretty much on a war footing, and they don't have the manpower yet to take on the Necropolis' factions all at once.

Sire Beck Von Tibbitz and Phadian Gess.

Killraven Crime League

Killraven is the newest scene in Ptolus' criminal underworld, and is notable for bringing mostly outsiders to the city as opposed to subsuming existing factions into her organization. Killraven is an annis hag in disguise with big ambitions, hoping to eventually replace the Balacazars, the Inverted Pyramid, and the Vai in their respective fields. She has become a formidable threat to all of them due to her secret alliance with Emperor Segaci Fellisti, who provides her with funds. She also secretly funds the Shuul, the church of Teun, two of the largest technologist organizations, who do not know the true connection to this figure. Unlike the Balacazars her group is loosely organized throughout the city, and members don't even have an official name for their over-arching group (they simply refer to themselves as "us," "all of us," and the like). Killraven herself lives in a fortress in the Undercity guarded by a private army, and she has an efreeti noble bound to her service.

Knights of the Chord

This is a small knightly order dedicated to upholding ideals of freedom and protecting the innocent. They are officially recognized by the Empire but receive no funds from the Commissar (unlike the other knightly orders). Many of their members are bards with heavy training in martial skills, and have an alliance with House Kath bound by an ancient oath.

Knights of the Golden Cross

The iconic example of everything knightly, this ancient organizations dates before even the times of Eslathagos Malkith, and have long opposed evil in all its forms. They are a purely altruistic organization dedicated to the common welfare, and oppose the machinations of House Vladaam, the Fallen, and other evil factions. Although they don't always do so openly in the case of the former. They secretly revere the Elder Gods, and possess great records of the world's hidden knowledge. They are very small in comparison to the other knightly orders, having only 9 members, but each of them is powerful in their own right (averaging 10th level). They are led by Kaira Swanwing, an elven Rogue/Wizard who hopes to counter the increasing worry and pessimism the fight against evil is imposing on them. She believes that a great victory for the cause of Good will help turn this around. They work with the Keepers of the Veil from time to time.

Knights of the Pale

This knightly order specializes in combating supernatural threats such as demons and evil spellcasters. They are an exclusive and discriminating organization of 16 knights who revere Lothian and his saints, and receive good funding due to their Imperial Charter. Dierna Hillerchaun is the knighthood's leader and she serves as one of the Commissar's 12 commanders.

We also have stats for two prominent knights, Brig Stoneheart (a permanently enlarged dwarf) and prince Ironheart, a Paladin whose skin has a flexible layer of iron bonded to it.

Knights of Shadow

Not a proper knighthood per se, the Knights of Shadow are comprised of Ptolus' influential who hope to enact change in the Empire. They are merchants, physicians, constables, sea captains, and other members of the middle class. They are a secret organization of coded words, symbols, and handshakes who control trade via bribery of officials and pressuring for certain laws to be passed or not passed, banning the import of certain products, and other economic means. Currently the group is split in two: one faction sympathizes with the republican movement and wants to overthrow the Commissar and the government of Tarsis, the other wants to preserve it in the name of stability of the world's greatest civilization.

Longfingers Guild

This old thieves' guild once commanded great respect in Ptolus, but they are now a fading star as more people find it lucrative to work for the Balacazars or Killraven. Guildmaster Thief Haymann Knapp is the stereotypical "honorable thief," who misses the old days that banded together and helped Ptolus' poor children by teaching them to obtain things they could not otherwise come by. Nowadays the criminal factions work for depraved individuals and hurt, oppress, and kill society's disenfranchised (notably the Balacazars).

The Longfinger's Guild is mostly Neutrally-aligned, and are a potential organization for Rogue PCs to join. They have a sprawling underground headquarters with an ever-changing obstacle course to help train new members and keep experienced ones on their toes. "A relaxed thief is a dead thief" is a favorite saying of theirs.


The Malkuth are an order of angels who voluntarily came into Praemal to help fight the evils in the world, notably the Galchutt. They are based in the Pale Tower in the city of Ptolus, a 300 year old structure in Oldtown, usually keeping to themselves in meditating when not on some mission of grave import. They also have many aasimar and half-celestials among their number, the very children and descendents of said celestials. Their most well-known member is a half-celestial named Asoka, who is one of the Twelve Commanders. She is not their leader (who is a solar named Sephranos the Winged King), but often leads them in his absence.


Naltegro Suun

This secret order is comprised of 13 assassins, who are strangely non-evil. They are contract killers, true, but they demand proof that their intended victim deserves whatever fate to bring upon them; in fact, they are often hired not to kill, but sometimes to send a violent warning or destruction of property. Those who try to trick the Naltegro Suun find themselves visited upon an appropriately "just" punishment. They know of how easy it can be to fall into evil, and are careful to separate the emotions of vengeance and similar ones from their business.

Order of Iron Might

120 years ago two warriors made a bet by Arbon Sevolve. Sevolve contested that an organization for swordfighters and mercenaries in the same vein as the Inverted Pyramid would prove successful and popular. He won the bet, as gladiators from the city's arena and mercenary bands flocked to join it. The Order of Iron Might is a warrior's guild dedicated to finding an securing employment for its members. Their headquarters, the Citadel of Might, is located near the Arena in Oldtown, and serves as a hiring hall in addition to temporary living quarters and a grand courtyard to duels and physical training. They currently have more than 400 members, and have close ties with House Khatru.

Membership fees are 20 gold pieces to join plus 10 per year, but benefits include training, shared contacts, and reduced prices of weapon and armor repair.

Pactlords of the Quaan

Very few people have heard of the Pactlords, and this is how they prefer it. Comprised of nonhumanoids threatened by the rise of elves, humans, dwarves, and similar races, an assembly of influential monsters forged a magically-binding pact to work together against this common threat. The organization draws upon all manner of intelligent species, from aboleths, dragons, manticores, and aberrations. They only accept individuals, not groups, for entry, and frequently use dim-witted giants as minions (who are called Pactslaves). In Ptolus the Pactlords sponsor the largest slaving organization, the Ennin, who operate out of a warehouse in the Docks.

Their headquarters is an ethereal island known as the Quann, a swampy marshland where its leaders congregate to make decisions. In there is the Black Manor, their residence, and a gargoyle-covered fountain functions as the magical foundation for the Pact.

Pale Dogs

This street gang controls the Warrens, Ptolus' poorest neighborhood. They are led by a mysterious person known as Jirraith, and nobody within the group knows anything about him beyond his name (or if he's even male). In truth, Jirraith is a doppelganger who uses the gang as a sort of proving grounds for other more prominent criminal factions. Those experienced in subtle murder he passes off to the Vai; others go to the Balacazars. The rest are kept in the Pale Dogs, who live short lives and turnover rate of members is high. They shave their heads and taint their fingernails and sometimes teeth black as a kind of uniform.

The Shuul

This new group in Ptolus is dedicated to restoring the reign of science and reason in the Empire, and are staunch supporters of Law. They are more commonly known as masters and innovators of technology, and do all they can to reserving the declining trend by gathering the Empire's greatest technicians and machinists to the city. They have no opposition to magic, and many of its members are arcane spellcasters and clerics. They also have the largest storehouse of firearms, gunpowder, and steam-powered machines in Ptolus, and they sell firearms out of the Smoke Shop in Midtown. Regulation is heavy, as the Empire requires a license for anyone who wishes to own such a weapon. They are working hard to found a technologists' guild, building a Tower of Science in Oldtown, and work hand in hand with the church of Teun and monitor schools for bright-eyed young students skilled in mathematics and science to recruit when they grow up. They don't like the Church of Lothian for its suppression of "heretical" texts which contributed to great loss of knowledge.

They do have a dark secret. For one, their efforts require a lot of money, and the organizations' leadership turned to Killraven through Segaci Fellisti to gain much-needed funds. Additionally, some of their greatest scientists are secretly zaug in disguise, who are just as adept with real technology as chaositech. Normally their sinister reputation would make them pariahs, but they helped in so many scientific breakthroughs that they found acceptance even when discovered.

The Shuul create and sell unique equipment, from leather jacket armor, goggles which guard against bright lights, and "potion pills" which can be quickly swallowed.

Shuul Agent:

Sisterhood of Silence

This all-female vigilante task force is notable for its monks who've taken vows of silence. They are even more feared than the City Watch, for they are beyond reproach when it comes to resisting bribery, blackmail, and corruption. In 690 IA Ptolus was a very dangerous place to live, and the Commissar decided to work with them rather than against them once they proved their competence in preventing crime. They are careful not to break Imperial laws, and captured criminals are turned over to the City Watch. In addition to skill in unarmed combat, they have great skill in wielding with crossbows enchanted with Stunning Bolts (created by the Dreaming Apothecary exclusively for them, DC 21 Fort save or stunned for 1d4 rounds). They also wield greathammers in battle, which they are proficient with. They employ male eunuchs as Speakers, who make spoken declarations on behalf of the order.

The Sisters despite their vow do make use of nonverbal communication, and their membership comes from the ranks of young girls from the streets who have no home or family to return to (or on the run from abusive parents). Their headquarters is the Priory of Introspection, a training ground.


Their name coming from the Abyssal word for "breath," the Sorn are a new criminal group in Ptolus backed by Killraven and the Shuul. They are comprised entirely of arcane spellcasters who use their magic to act as spies, assassins, and enforcers who carry out their deeds while wearing masks or under disguise. They are grouped into independent cells who known little of the others' activities, and have very different duties. They are enemies of the Inverted Pyramid, and rumors on the street say that the two are preparing for a clandestine magical war.

Soul Riders

A dozen mortals are born with the rare gift to transfer their spirits into the bodies of other creatures, controlling their actions entirely like a puppet on strings. They have no form, not even an incorporeal one, in this state and can only be slain or imprisoned via a handful of magical spells (only a wish or miracle can fully destroy them). They can glean all the knowledge and memories of a victim, giving them a very expansive collection of information over the years. The Soul Riders are sociopaths, and they only work together for the eventual goal of world domination. To that end they manipulate events in Ptolus to secede from the Empire and become a city-state ruled by people they control. On that end they hate the Fallen and Chaos Cults, because their goals will destroy the very city they want to rule. They have yet to possess any of the city's most powerful people (Menon Balacazar, the Commissar, etc) who know of their existence and protect themselves with spells from mental domination.

Urthon Aedar

The Urthon Aedar is an Elder Elvish name meaning "Wandering Judges." They rarely appear except as armor-clad figures who appear just as suddenly as they vanish after completing some task. They never speak or leave behind clues as to why they do what they do. Their origin lies during the days of Ghul, of those few elves who managed to resist his torture and transformation into Harrow elves. Enraged, Ghul cursed them with visions of the future so that they will know of their demise and see a world ruled by him. What Ghul did not know was that he would fall, and this gave the elves hope throughout these horrible times. When Ghul's fortress fell they used the Entropy Sphere to travel to Dreta Phantas, the Dreaming City, and from there they trained in martial and magical skills to better control the events of the world which they'd see coming. Their ultimate goal is to restore this city to its rightful place, as well as safeguard the well-being of elvenkind.

Urthon Aedar armor is a unique magical suit of full plate armor with no armor check penalties, arcane spell failure chance, or maximum dexterity bonus. All Urthon Aedar are extraordinarily powerful elder elves, ranging around 18th-20th level and have levels in Eldritch Knight (a fighter-mage prestige class).

Urthon Aedar in full plate:

The Vai

The Vai are a death cult which has evolved into an assassin's guild in Ptolus once they realized that murder-for-hire was a lucrative market. They are little-known in Ptolus, of whispered rumors of an all-powerful organization with eyes and ears everywhere. In truth, their membership numbers a mere 35, of independent cells of 2-4 who have little knowledge of what the others are doing. They have ties to the Deathmantle Chaos Cults and the Balacazars, and as such oppose Killraven and the Sorn.

The Vai dress in all-black clothing and a face mask while doing their deeds, and are never caught without poisons of various kinds hidden on their persons. Their headquarters, the Chapel of Final Resolution, is located in a secret room beneath the streets of the Warrens. The leaders of the guild are the Twin Lords Keper, who rarely leave the chapel and only take the most extreme of assignments. The Vai are also bound to kill at least one living creature day, even as small as an insect. However, most do try to kill at least one intelligent creature a month.

The Viridian Lords

This organization of rangers, barbarians, and a few druids exists primarily in Palastan, and their word is law out on the open road. They have no significant presence in Ptolus except for the Palastani residents, who regard them highly. Viridian Lords have no hierarchy, and they're known to bond living plants to their flesh in a magical process.

The plant-bonding is a series of 3 feats, which grant a natural armor bonus (Viridian Flesh), cast pass without trace at will and speak with plants once per day (Viridian Essence), and detect plants at will and +4 on saves against plant-related spells and monster attacks (Viridian Nature). Overall the feats are kind of weak and won't come up often.

Monte Cook ends this chapter with a brief on how to use the organizations in games. Basically as allies to work with or join, foes to fight, and a list of some organizations the PCs might want to join (Order of Iron Might and Inverted Pyramid for fighters and arcanists, the knightly orders, the Longfingers Guild for rogues, and the Delver's Guild for dungeon-delvers to name a few). Overall nothing ground-breaking.

Thoughts so far: I really like this chapter. The organizations receive varying levels of detail, and some I feel receive too few support (Knights of the Chord are tailor-made for bards, for example), and I would have liked to see an entry on the Conciliators (the Inquisition of Lothianites), and the goodly knightly orders overlap a little too much (what's so different about the Keepers of the Veil and the Knights of the Pale?), but those are my only real criticisms. My favorite entries include the Inverted Pyramid and the Dreaming Apothecary (who provide a nice explanation on how expensive magical items are safely sold and an alternative to the omnipresent "magic item shop with awesome gear"), and the Shuul, who I always found to be really cool.

Next time, Chapter 7: City by the Spire, a starting guide to the city proper!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 06:55 on Jan 13, 2014


Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Dragonlance Key of Destiny Adventure Path Book Two, Chapter Two: Flotsam and Jetsam

Hey guys. I know it's been a long time since I last posted for this review, but December's been quite a month, to say the least. Last time we left off, the PCs discovered the significance of the Key of Destiny, the Dragon's Graveyard, and both Tears of Mishakal. After escaping the Dark Knight Fortress of Darkhaven, the party finds themselves north of the Desolation's mountain and a short ride to the port town of Flotsam. There, they must research the means to rid the corrupted Tear of Mishakal and start their journey northward.

Personalized Key of Destiny Soundtrack: Ramshackle Haven of Rogues

Flotsam is a haven for rogues and outcasts that managed to endure a history of strife. Invasion by the Dragonarmies, demonic invasion, the forces of Chaos, and even Malystryx's attacks has yet to completely destroy it. Even then, it is a city rebuilding from its ruins, and much of Flotsam's buildings are dilapidated and home to squatters. Gathering information about town will confirm that Lorde Toede, the leader of the town, has the largest library of books related to necromancy and magical healing in eastern Ansalon.

That name should be familiar to any Dragonlance fans. In the original Chronicles, Toede was a hobgoblin officer of minor importance yet possessed of a vast ego. In spite of his incompetence he managed to earn the rank of Dragon Highlord of the White Dragonarmies, but only after the tide has turned against the Empire, and he wasn't very competent in his duties. He was killed by an enraged green dragon while out on a hunting trip, and was resurrected by devils in the Abyss over a failed bet to see if such a pathetic soul could ever achieve a life of nobility. Now resurrected, Toede is effectively immortal as his spirit will reform in a new body if he dies, but his body continued to age and thus he seeks to find a means to restore his youth. Thus his vast library. In keeping with his delusions of grandeur and desire to "prove" himself to be noble, he's established himself as a surprisingly effective leader, even organizing the city Thieves' Guild into a covert network of spies and police force, providing safety and security against the Desolation's many horrors.

Lord Toede, as he imagines himself to be:

In fact, the network is well-informed of visitors to Flotsam, and any PCs spending long enough time in the ramshackle habitat will come to their attention. Any attempts to secure an audience with Lord Toede, or directly visit his manor, will be rebuffed. An incredibly efficient, yet highly complex, bureaucratic network of clerks, officials, and other public workers to handle the paperwork necessary of addressing peoples' needs. PCs wishing to legitimately gain access to Toede's manner must trudge through the maze of paperwork. It's a series of skill checks with subordinates, underclerks, clerks, and senior clerks. Each interaction is meant to be a role-playing encounter facilitated by a relevant skill check (Knowledge check to gain a better understanding of the process and speed it up, Bluff to fool them, Intimidate to "get the paperwork through," et cetera). Every check takes a varying amount of hours, and failed checks require the PCs to be bounced to other clerks of the same rank. They can theoretically perform an infinite number of checks, but the major factor is time. Illegal actions, such as a failed Intimidate or bribery, can cause the PCs to be fined or spend the night in jail if caught.

And yes, the PCs gain experience points for successfully bypassing a clerk based upon their Average Party Level.

Or they could forcefully break in, but that's for another time. Let's look at Flotsam in more detail:

Location 1 is city hall, where all the bureaucratic paperwork is processed. Location 2 is the Rock, scorched black by years of dragonfire and where most of the city's wealthy live (along with Lord Toede's manor). Location 3 is the Jetties, the cleanest inn of Flotsam. Location 4 is an open-air Marketplace, where three shops sell potions, arms and armor, and scrolls and minor magical goods. Location 5 is a ruined section of town. Location 6 is the Brown Pelican Inn, home to the Thieves' Guild. Location 7 is the Shrine of Shinare, the most popular temple in town. Location 8 is the docks, where PCs can secure passage by ship to travel northward if they don't want to make the journey on land.

There are also encounters in Flotsam. Not random encounters, mind you, that schematic for towns was done away with in Key of Destiny. Instead the Dungeon Master is expected to throw whatever scenarios seem the most interesting at the moment.

Accident: Basically the PCs are caught near a structurally unsound location, depending upon what section of town they're in. Any location they can encounter a collapsing building, whose support structures are a little too weak and collapses outwards onto the PCs. In any of the back alleys or on the Rock, they can encounter a spiked pit trap, which is a holdover from the town's old defenses against invading armies.

Little Boy: The PCs come across a sobbing child of 8 or 9 years. His name is Gib, and he doesn't know where his parents are, but if he can find Husker the teddy bear he left behind, perhaps he could find them. He's worried that "the wicked ones" are hurting the bear, and wants their help in rescuing him. The truth is that the boy's actually a ghost killed by Malystryx's dragonfire years ago, and his body is buried in rubble. He will only pass on to the spirit world if he's reunited with his teddy bear.

If they offer to help, Gib will be happy and lead them into the ruined section of town and to a cellar of a demolished building. He says that this is where Husker is, and can be found amid the other dolls. The other dolls are possessed by evil spirits and will spring to life, attacking the PCs when they approach the bear. The dolls are weak individually (CR 1 with 11 hit points), but there's 9 of them. In addition to helping Gib pass on, the PCs can find the spellbook of Gib's father, along with notes on how to create such dolls.

Press Gang: A crew of six minotaur toughs from the Bloodied Blade are looking for able-bodied men and women to work their ship, and will ambush the PCs at an opportune time. They're not very tough and have 5 levels in either Mariner (an underpowered sailor core class) or Warrior, so PCs shouldn't find them too tough.

And that's it for encounters. Honestly I'm a little underwhelmed by this selection, although the ghost boy and evil dolls are pretty cool.

Lord Toede's Manor

Whether the PCs are trying to sneak in or successfully gained an audience, this is where they'll be coming. In case of the latter, the guards will be aware of their arrival and the Chamberlain will show them in. In case of the former, the place is heavily guarded. Toede has some supernatural muscle in addition to Guild Thieves, including a pack of hell hounds, a stone golem, and an advanced shield guardian (golem which can absorb damage inflicted on its charge) to contend with. And Toede's slipped several trapped runes about the library in fake books to dissuade thieves. Toede himself is high-level (18th), but no real threat to the PCs (he's mostly got levels in noble-themed classes, is really old, and has no spellcasting ability; but he has a template, Tenacious Spirit, which prevents him from easily getting killed).


Surrounded by all the finery his money can buy, Lord Toede of Flotsam sits upon his throne. He looks like a drooling white raisin. Incredibly old—older than any hobgoblin has a right to be—the former Dragon Highlord speaks in barely audible murmurs. These are further muffled by his fur-lined robes or drowned out by the clink-clink of the ostentatious rings and bejeweled trinkets he wears. A lanky man in well-tailored livery stands beside the throne, wearing a ridiculous cloth cap and fastidiously adjusting Toede’s accoutrements every few minutes. This is the Chamberlain, Toede’s mouthpiece and majordomo. He clears his throat when you enter.

If they dealt with the bureacracy:


Toede’s shriveled lips move slightly and the Chamberlain nods in response, saying “Lord Toede gratefully acknowledges the presence of such an august and polite troupe of adventurers. He admires your willingness to act in accordance with his laws, as he is a scholar in legislation and very fond of it.”
Toede murmurs again.
“Lord Toede invites you to present your request to him, so that he might deliberate upon it and give you his answer.”

If they did not:


Toede’s tiny wrinkled fingers tap impatiently on the arms of his throne as the Chamberlain adjusts his master’s robes, trying to make Toede look suitably menacing. He mutters something, which the Chamberlain relates. “Lord Toede is most displeased at your careless disregard for order and administration, doubly so as it was he who created the process of requests, and circumventing it is a grievous insult to Lord Toede’s honor. “That said, he admires your tenacity, cunning and skill. Lord Toede is willing to suspend potentially fatal judgment in order to hear what it is you want of him.”

Due to his age, Lord Toede's voice is nearly imperceptible and thus he uses his Chamberlain as a pseudo-translator. Basically, Toede will be very fascinated with the Tears of Mishakal and want them for himself, but knows better than to earn the ire of such a powerful band of adventurers. On the contrary, he'd be glad to help them in their research, provided they help him first. Toede used to have an amphi (toad-like evil dragon) companion, Hopsloth, and has obtained a few eggs of such creatures from the Sea Elves at great personal cost, but some bandits stole them from his manor. Through contacts in the Thieves' Guild he learned that they're making camp in the ruins of Micah, off to the west of Flotsam. He wants the PCs to travel to Micah, deal with the bandit problem, and retrieve as many of the eggs as they can. If they do so, then they'll have unlimited access to his private library and a hospital stay in his manor.

The "bandits" are actually a tribe of Disir, foul creatures of Morgion, god of pestilence and decay, who live underground and plan on invading the surface world as part of a greater invasion force.


The Ruins of Micah

In ancient times Micah was a Silvanesti elven city, one of the major battlefields during the Second Dragon War. It was resettled by humans in the Age of Might, but destroyed during the Cataclysm. Home to goblins and then ghosts, in recent years a disir scouting party had its priests exorcise the spirits and turned the place into a base of operations. They used the underground Goblin Tunnels to make their way into the cellars and basements of Flotsam, and stole the eggs from Toede's manor.

KoD Soundtrack: Disir Invasion Force

I don't remember the specifics, but I know that the Disir gave my party a hard time. It was a rather refreshing challenge, as half the party was reasonably optimized and the previous encounters were cakewalks. Looking at the Disir stats now, I can see it. Most of their warriors are standard melee brutes, but some of them are half-dragons with acidic breath weapons, and some mid-level Clerics in addition to a Queen with levels in Noble.

The ruins are still relatively intact, as far as shelter and walls go, making it prime location for the Disir. The place's haunted reputation makes travelers give it a wide berth, too.

Location 1 is a ruined plaza:


At the base of a low hill near the coast, a wide curving wall of pure white stone marks the boundary of an ancient ruined town. The walls, like the ruins themselves, seem to disappear at the far end into the hill and beneath the ground, as if the land itself was in the process of consuming it. A road paved with bleached flagstones enters through a gate and winds through crumbled buildings. Pieces of once-mighty structures are scattered about like the toy blocks of a giant child. There is no sound.

The disir exude a natural mucus, which they can use to create thick webbing. Due to their own anatomy they can pass through these mucus "walls" relatively effortlessly.

The rest of the locations are located underground.

Location 2 is a garden home to Feolidas, a ghostly treant who watched over it in life. He will attack the PCs, viewing them as intruders. The disir avoid this area.

Location 3 is a ruined temple home to 4 disir guards and 2 tyin, an oversized and barely sentient caste of disir who serve as manual labor and are heavy hitters. They use this place to keep a lookout for intruders.

Location 4 is a giant crack in the earth created during the Second Dragon War, and from this area the disir came. They now use it to toss corpses and discarded bits of disir eggs and waste, which 3 ochre jellies feed off of at the bottom.

Location 5 is a ruined roadway of upturned flagstones and slopes at a gradual downward angle. From here the PCs can see the magnificent white spires of Micah. The road is heavily patrolled by disir, six at a time. Large, ruined stones which fell as pieces from ruined towers serve as cover for them to zigzag around the battlefield.

Location 6 is an otherwise nondescript series of road which teleports anyone who stands with both feet to the junction of pillars in Location 7, sans magic items which remain behind. In ancient times it served as a quick transportation system for the elves to the city center. Considering that the disir queen and her elite minions are in 7, this trap can be incredibly debilitating and might lead to a Total Party Kill if the PCs don't retreat. I didn't use this trap in my games, as the battle was challenging enough.

Location 7 is a series of sundered pillars which formed the core support base of the towers that fell during the war. The remnants of each pillar are white and shine brightly in a rainbow of colors if exposed to light. Clustered at the base of the pillars is the disir queen and her nest; from here she attends to the larvae and orders the rest of the disir to do her bidding. Four elite disir warriors serve as bodyguards for her.


The thick, heady smell of musk and the sharp tang of acid commingle in this nightmarish place. Surrounded by filmy curtains of webbing and hunched over a thick mass of writhing larval forms is a creature at least three times as large as a man, armor plated and glistening with ooze. Its head, enormous and wasp-like, swivels on a spindly neck, jaw opening and shutting. The voice that issues forth from it is eerily feminine, but filled with hate. “Kill them! Kill them! Bring their bodies that my children may feed on them!”

In addition to the disir, a series of webbing arcs between the pillars as a barrier for disir to retreat beyond their foe's reach. Additionally, any damaging area of effect spells or similar large-scale attacks have a chance of breaking off sections of the pillars to fall and damage anyone below. If the support pillars are all destroyed, then the entire complex will begin collapsing, burying locations 4-8 beneath tons of rock in 10 minutes.

Location 8 is where the 11 amphi dragon eggs are being held in a bowl-shaped depression covered in a layer of mucus. A disir shaman and 4 disir-amphi dragon hybrids, the result of the Queen's experimentation, guard them. A statue of Morgion's disir incarnation stands above them all, carved from rock to depict a fly-headed, many-legged horror with a long, whip-like tongue. If the caverns begin collapsing, then the shaman will try escaping the ruins with 3 eggs in tow.

Yes, the PCs can screw themselves over royally if they end up collapsing the cavern without the eggs.

The PCs will be granted an immediate audience with Toede once they return. If they have the eggs he will be overjoyed and grant library access for the remainder of their stay. If they took care of the disir but do not have the eggs, he will be heartbroken over the loss but glad that the monstrous invaders were taken care of and grants them access for one night. If the PCs accomplished neither, then he will be furious and send them off the premises. In such a case the adventure suggests having the Thieves' Guild help them with recovering the necessary information about the Tear, or if they did something incredibly foolish earlier such as attacking Lorde Toede. The adventure says that the PCs shouldn't ordinarily be given such a break, but it's obviously the only means forward through the plot. This is made even more blatant considering that the Thieves' Guild has no incentive to help them out (unless they're Steel Legionnaires, as half the Guild is secretly composed of them).


Scattered about you are piles of books, scrolls, tomes and sheaves of loose paper, with corners turned in and bookmarks hanging out. The collected notes, now finally assembled, reveal their secrets:

SO IT WAS that Dereg Raynhold, Knight of the Sword, struck north from the hinterlands where his gods-given blade had aided in the Defeat of Sylvyana, Ghoul-Queen of the Silvanesti; he left behind the druid Waylorn, and the righteous throng of Silvanost, and at their insistence sought out the fabled Fountain of Renewal.

THERE IN THE NORTH beyond Istar’s merchant cities, did Dereg take his blade. Great was his sorrow at the foulness which had afflicted him; Dark was the blood on his sword, and darker still the stain on his soul.

UNTO THE LAST did Dereg struggle to overcome the challenges of the Fountain’s guardians, bereft of the light of his blade and heavy-hearted. But triumph was his, and into the Fountain did he plunge his sword and arm. Bright was the power of the gods of Redemption. With their blessing, both knight and sword were one again, hale and sharp, keen as the wind of Solamnia.

As the last of these words are read, pieced together from Toede’s books, the air in the room grows chill, and hairs on the backs of necks rise.

Kayleigh manifests above the PCs, her insubstantial form looking as if caught in a wind. "NO!" she shrieks, claiming that the Tear's stain cannot be removed, for its been claimed by the Lord of Bones. Lothian sent her to give this warning in the hopes that this will spur the PCs onward.

Any divination spells cast regarding Kayleigh will only reveal that she came form the north, around Nordmaar. Additionally, a DC 25 Knowledge Arcana or Religion or Bardic Lore check will reveal that the Fountain of Renewal's location is rumored to be in this land.

Now armed with this information, the PCs must head north, by boat or by land.

Thoughts So Far: The bureaucratic maze was not memorable, but the combat with the disir made up for it and previous encounters with good challenges. I enjoyed Lord Toede's character as well, and the sole player in my group who read the novels was most struck by his appearance in the adventure.

Next time, Chapter 3: The Blood Sea!

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Fossilized Rappy posted:

Fun fact: In the real world, the folkloric landscape of Hawaii is a syncretic fusion of traditional Polynesian Hawaiian and immigrant Japanese, to the point where there are Hawaiian urban legends about things like kappas and shapeshifting youkai alongside marching undead Hawaiian warriors and lustful pig-man demigods. I'm guessing that would be too culturally diverse for oWoD's "a place for everybody and everybody in their place" method, though.

Meanwhile, I've been ill and busy with other writing projects, so the next Cerulean Seas post isn't up yet. I do know that, unless I change it at the last minute, I'm going to be done with the Cerulean Seas Campaign Guide within two posts. I figured that, as a result, I'd at least give a shout out for opinions on what Cerulean Seas book should be covered next as a bit of noise in my down time.

There are technically four Cerulean Seas sourcebooks after the Campaign Guide, but the most recent one, Beasts of the Boundless Blue, reprints a fair bit of material from the other three. As a result, I'm going to be saving that one for last and just cover the new material it adds. That leaves three sourcebook choices for the next in line after the Campaign Guide:
  • Waves of Thought: Using the popular third party Pathfinder psionics system from Dreamscarred Press, Waves of Thought introduces aquatic psychic stuff to the Cerulean Seas setting. The ins and outs of this book include six new races that range from kender-esque clownfish merfolk to snail-people that act like grumpy old men, a psionic base class that calls upon evolutionary ancestors for various powers, prestige classes for both finesse-loving telekinetics and up-and-close psychic warriors, and monsters with lots of tentacles.
  • Azure Abyss: The deep sea beckons with its various dark and doomful dangers. In those depths are new features such as six new races like terrifying urchin-anemone abominations and the most anime feykith ever, the rough and tumble Angler base class, three new prestige classes that includes one entirely based around emulating hagfish, and monsters that look like they came from the Pacific Rim drawing board.
  • Indigo Ice: A guide to Isinblare, the kingdoms of the frozen north and south. Sights include six new races (seeing a trend?) that include swole as gently caress penguin warriors and elves made out of ice, a base class that mimes traditional Inuit shamanism, prestige classes for ice-wielding martial, spellcasting, and psionic characters, and monsters such as orca-dragons because why not.

I own all three of the books you listed (I have yet to buy Beasts of the Boundless Blue), and I nominate Indigo Ice. It's got lots of neat stuff, for example:

the Squawks, warmongering penguins with scythe-like weapons they can use to skate on ice;

the aglooliks, fey with a knack for super-science, along with some advanced technology of theirs (including primitive firearms);

the Congulair Prestige class of freedom fighters who have a symbiotic organism bestowed on them which allows them to exude ice-like gel to form into weapons and a layer of armor;

and the Winter Hulk, a construct of solid ice which is operated by a tiny sentient fish from the inside.

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter 7: City by the Spire

This chapter is a general layout of the city, covering information and topics not confined to any one district. Chapters 7 through 18 cover the city proper, not including the dungeon environments below (those are chapters 19 through 23) or the Spire itself (chapters 24 and 25).

Cook starts off by describing the city’s mood. Well, it is first and foremost a concentration of all the interesting stuff in the world. Nowhere else will you find a fortress of angels and aasimar, nor an expansive underground dungeon complex and adventurers seeking its wealth and glory. Despite having a reputation as an Imperial backwater, the Commissar and the Empire at large tolerates this arrangements. Adventurers in general are known for their mighty magic, violent lifestyle, disregard for the law, and containing various unsavory sorts such as tomb-robbing rogues, mercenaries, and arcanists. By coming to Ptolus, other nations don’t have to put up with them, plus their skills are useful in bringing wealth to the city and handling the threats underground.

Ptolus is also one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. Whereas most nations are overwhelmingly human (90%+), Ptolus’ population is only 70% human with a smattering of other races. It has served as a haven for worshipers of non-Lothian religions and arcane spellcasters. Due to the Brotherhood of Redemption’s efforts, more than a few monsters are official city residents (and thus citizens of the Empire).

Ptolus’ population is around 75,000 people, counting only official residents (no ratmen, skulks, or dungeon-dwelling entities). Were one to count the underground communities, it would add about another 5,000 (not counting the dark elf cities), and another 1,000 if one were to count the undead and fiends in the Necropolis. The most racially diverse district is Midtown, with elf, centaur, litorian, and halfling neighborhoods. Orcs and lizardfolk don’t receive warm welcomes and tend to live in the Warrens (alongside other undersirables). Dwarves tend to congregate in the Guildsman district, while houses of worship of deities popular to various races have at least some representation in the Temple District.

In regards to character classes, the vast majority of the city has levels in Commoner, with Expert and Warrior being the next 2 common ones, and more than its fair share of Aristocrats. In regards to PC classes, there’s 5 times as many of them than normal, because so many people with these classes come to Ptolus which is a more welcoming environment. Barbarians, Druids, and Rangers are still quite rare.

City Map, with icons representing districts. Western districts are Noble’s Quarter, Oldtown, Rivergate, and South Market. Midtown, Temple District, and North Market are in the relative center. The Necropolis, Warrens, and Docks are in the northeast, while the Guildsman District dominates the southeast:


Ptolus is part of the Empire, and thus ruled by a Commissar, or regional governor who administrates a city or region in the Empire’s stead. The current Commissar is Igor Urnst, and elderly general and war veteran who’s held his position for 18 years. He’s quite popular around the city, in part due to his military victories in the Gnoll War, and is willing to accommodate the needs and desires of Ptolus by delegating more power to the City Council (which is comprised of nobles, guildmasters, and other influential individuals). He also has a group of advisors, the Twelve Commanders, to coordinate efforts in times of crisis. This gives the impression of a man willing to listen to alternative views and experience in matters outside his expertise, as opposing to a supreme ruler making all of the decisions. In reality, Urnst has trouble admitting to mistakes and this has caused him to butt heads with the Holy Emperor more than a few times, especially in matters regarding religious liberty for minority faiths. This most recent move has made Urnst all the more popular among Ptolusites, so there’s a political aspect to it, too.

Commissar Urnst:

The current Council has 25 members, along with a representative from each noble house. Cynical residents refer to it as the Council of Coin for focusing mostly on economic issues and being comprised of the upper class, although the Council prides itself of not being governed by the rabble.

As for the Church of Lothian, priests are technically members of the Imperial government. The Church has a strong presence in Ptolus ever since Holy Emperor Cheroboth Ylestios built the Holy Palace in the Noble’s Quarter in 657 IA, where the Prince would live until he ascended to the title of Holy Emperor himself. This was done to quell the religious upheaval in Ptolus due to the influx of minor faiths, and it has been quite successful. Now it is also home to both the Prince, Kirian Ylestios, and the current Holy Emperor, Rehoboth Ylestios. Church officials can command the City Watch to a limited extent, and have special privileges under the law, affording them a great deal of influence.

As for law enforcement, the City Watch are the primary peacekeepers of Ptolus. They are less akin to a modern-day police force and have more in common with the soldiers maintaining order in an occupied city. Their primary goal is to “keep the peace,” and as such have the power to arrest anyone for any reason (although they take care not to arrest the “wrong sorts of people”). They are authorized to use deadly force if need be, although they spend more time deterring crimes as a preventative force and breaking up fights than actually investigating wrongdoings in-depth (that’s the jurisdiction of the courts and various intelligence agencies), with the exception of criminals with a history of repeat behavior. They are very competent at their jobs, knowing the ins and outs of organized crime groups, and regularly scout areas where trouble can brew (such as abandoned warehouses and alleyways). They are typically equipped with chainmail armor (with trademark blue tunics), along with masterwork weapon and some normal ones (typically battleaxes and spears and light crossbows). A few guards per watch house are trained in the use of firearms and have dragon pistols instead of crossbows. A captain of the guard wears full plate armor with a special insignia and yellow sash.

Watch houses are divided into precincts based upon city district, with the exception of the Warrens and Necropolis. They serve as central headquarters, barracks, and jailhouses. Various bells on posts are placed throughout the city to be rung, which indicates trouble and summons watchmen within hearing distance. Care has been taken to reasonably distribute them.

Typical guards are 2nd level warriors, while constables are 5th level fighters. The average captain’s a 10th level fighter. There are some special guards with spellcaster levels here and there as well for handling certain types of crimes.

Soldiers around the fortress of Dalenguard are a specialized fighting force known as the Commissar’s Men, and thus the typical member has 3 levels in Fighter.

A spellcasting branch of the Watch is known as the Goldshield, arcane spellcasters who patrol high-traffic areas such as the North and South Markets. They use divination spells to catch spellcasting and invisible thieves and criminals, and their headquarters is based in Oldtown.

The Imperial Eyes are an organization of spies weeding out threats to the government. In Ptolus they serve under the Commissar, and managed to infiltrate numerous organizations, notably the Balacazars, the Church of Lothian, and various noble houses.

The Economy

Traditionally Ptolus was a coastal trade city with some mineral desposits in the mines, but over the last seven years it has experienced a boomtown effect of adventurers uncovering great riches in the Dungeons beneath town. It’s assumed that any item priced 100,000 gold pieces or less is available (if not sold openly). Magic items, however, are highly restricted and go through the Dreaming Apothecary or Myareth’s Oddities in the case of permanent ones beyond the wand/potion/scroll combo. PCs can easily sell up to 150,000 gold pieces worth of goods at any one time, and an equivalent amount of a certain item is up for sale at any one time as well. Certain goods are illegal (such as some drugs) or heavily restricted (a license to buy firearms or cast certain spells within city limits).

The city still uses the copper/silver/gold/platinum standard. Silver’s used the most and is the standard rate of exchange, gold is used among the more affluent, while platinum coins are rare and some common shops refuse to accept them. The Empire has been developing letters of credit, basically paper money worth a certain amount. It is mostly used among merchant companies and has yet to catch on with most people, but the city’s wealthy use them because it’s inconvenient and dangerous to carry around thousands of gold pieces at a time. The Inverted Pyramid, in defiance of Imperial law, is also minting its own triangular “mage coins” which can be teleported into the hands of the last person who touched them (making them perfect for storing in secure vaults).

City Layout

Even without its most recognizable feature, the City by the Spire is a very vertical place. The westernmost section of Ptolus is also its highest, the Noble’s Quarter, from which one can look out to the rest of the city. As one heads east the elevation decreases, right up to the docks right by the edge of the Whitewind Sea in a grand waterfall. The King’s River flows through the center of town before emptying out into the bay. Ptolus stretches about two miles east to west, and one can easily tell the time by the position of the Spire’s shadow cast over the city.

The wall surrounding Ptolus was originally built in 587-590 IA. It restricts access from the north and south, and since the city has never been attacked many residents do not take it seriously. Guards patrol the walls along with towers, but they use the positions to look into the city and not outward.

Five gates provide access into Ptolus, three on the south wall and two on the north wall. The gates leading into the north and south markets are the major thoroughfares, with the other ones on the south newer additions for the sake of convenience. The minor gate in the north wall is the Old City Gate. Guards stop people at each gate, and people can only enter the city by displaying Imperial Identification Papers and a 2 copper piece toll per person (more for livestock and cartloads of trade goods). It’s a daily toll paid only once, although people don’t need to pay a toll to leave the city. Merchants must pay a 5% levy of the worth of their goods when transporting goods. Trying to get around this can result in fine and seizure of goods (they’re treated as smuggled items and contraband).

We also get a list of some major thoroughfares Ptolusites use to get around town, with the Emperor’s Road being the one which connects Ptolus with Tarsis and winds through Oldtown all the way to the South Market.

As for the Spire itself, well most Ptolusites don’t know much about it, and everyone realizes that it’s too impossibly tall to be an act of nature. It reaches 3,000 feet into the air and is composed mostly of dark grey rock, which grows blacker the farther one ascends. It has a sinister reputation among residents, who attribute all sorts of nefarious origins (demonic sculptors, the corpse of a mad god, etc), along with equally tall tales about the fortress at its top (which most people can’t see and some even doubt there’s one at the top). People do know about Goth Gulgamel, but only that it was Ghul’s fortress, and even then most only know him as an evil conqueror and nothing more. Additionally, no explorers or mages who ventured up the Spire past a certain point have ever returned or been seen again. It’s common knowledge in Ptolus that bad stuff happens up the Spire, and most capable of flight give the Spire a wide berth.

Here’s a section of the chapter I like, as it gives a feel of an average morning day in Ptolus better expressed through a quote:


It’s the smell of the city that gets to you first. No matter where you stand, you probably smell the rain, because it likely either just finished raining, is just about to rain, or is raining now. The odors of damp clothes and people, moldy wood, wet straw, rain-slicked stone, and burning wood and coal mix together to create a unique aroma. But if it’s not raining, this smell mingles with the odors of cooking food, domestic animals, garbage, and sewage. The latter two aren’t as bad as they could be; the sewers in Ptolus, as in most large Imperial cities, are quite efficient, and the constant rain keeps their contents moving. After the smell, it’s the noise you notice. People aren’t shy about shouting to their neighbors out their windows, or calling down the street from their doors. Tolling bells and sounding horns signal various religious rituals from the Temple District, and entertainers sing, play instruments, and tell jokes in the street. Street orators attempt to inform and persuade those who will stop to listen, while bellringers shout out the news of the day for those too busy or too ignorant to read one of the many local broadsheets. Behind all those sounds, in many areas of town you can hear the rushing waters of the King’s River through the ravine that cleaves the city in two, or the crashing of waves on the Cliffs of Lost Wishes at the city’s edge. No matter where you are in the city, you can look up and see the Spire, unless it’s raining so hard that the sky is just a swath of grey. As you look west, the city rises. To the east, it falls until it reaches the cliffs.

The skies of Ptolus are unlike anywhere else in the Empire. In addition to the Spire, one could see hot air balloons owned by noble families, mages under the effect of flying spells, adventurers and druids riding upon winged beasts, and dragons and demons might be spotted across the horizon on some errand. For normal transportation most people walk, but there are carriages for hire easily reachable by the average citizen, and the wealthy own their own private carriages. As for communication, couriers are very common, along with Shadow Sendings (magical missives which take the forms of black birds which carry a pre-recorded visual and/or verbal message to a specific indivudal). Town criers are part of the Bellringer’s Guild and paid to inform people of news, usually vital bits of information by the Commissar.

On the more magical front, Shadow Sendings are managed by House Sadar, and despite its sinister connotation it’s merely an efficient and popular use of sending messages to people not at a fixed location. The Inverted Pyramid also uses thoughtstones, which are kind of like mobile phones in that they allow people to chat with one another over a central network. They are not for sale, given only to Inverted Pyramid members and influential people in the city.

Ptolus is also home to several printing presses, and the second most common way to spread information is via newspapers (more commonly known as broadsheets). Ptolus has dozens of publications, and there is no code of journalistic ethics to verify the truth. On the other hand, there is no freedom of the press, either, and the Commissar has (and will) shut down papers deemed a threat to public safety.

The Courier is the most prominent newspaper and focuses on important events around the Empire. It has a pro-Empire bias it tries to hide under a “fair and balanced” front.

The Guilder focuses on news and gossip pertaining to the city’s guilds. Ownership changes frequently whenever a new guild takes it over, so biases can change suddenly.

The Market Voice is largely print advertising for various businesses in the North and South Markets, and focuses on economic news and information.

The Midtown Partisan is a trashy gossip rag which focuses on scandalous dealings of the nobility, and is not shy of making things up to increase sales. It’s secretly funded by House Rau to make the other houses look bad, and their staff and location are secre. They’re the National Inquirer, basically.

The Noble Record is more high-brow, in that it reports on entertainment-related news and its fictional retellings of people are more ‘fanciful’ than slanderous.

The Ptolus Herald is secretly funded by the Republican Movement, which is shamelessly anti-Empire and known for its scathing editorials against the city government. They City Watch has raided it numerous times, but it always starts up again.

The Undergrounder is a broadsheet which focuses on dealings in the criminal underworld, and as such is not widely spread. It recently begun reporting news related to the delver community and the Dungeon.

Our last section is a legend for the future chapters on how to read the entries, explaining what certain symbols mean, what type of information is found in this entry, and so on. It’s quite a useful guide. You have entries for things like district rumors, the average citizens you might see on the street, as well as a map legend for locale types. Establishments also have a 1 to 4 rating for stars (quality) and coins (the most expensive amount of goods they have on sale).

On a miscellaneous note, we have a description of the Republican Movement in a sidebar. It came earlier in the chapter, but I couldn’t find an appropriate place to put it. Basically they are a subversive political groups which wants to see Ptolus become independent of the Empire and establish a governing council of elected officials by a majority of the city’s public. It does not have much support yet, in part because it’s still very secret. The Commissar and the Empire declared the very movement treasonous, and oppose it on ideological grounds for they believe that “rule by the rabble” is insane. The Republicans, on the other hand, call it Government by the People. Their leader is Helmut Itlestin, a high priest of the Watcher of the Skies (look upon the heavens for inspiration) in the Temple District.

And we get a final illustration of a group of adventurers battling a fire giant in Ptolus’ streets. Based off of an incident years ago when the giant made its way out of the Dungeon, through the Undercity, and into Ptolus proper.

Thoughts so far: This is a very informative and useful chapter which helps set the mood for Ptolus. It is quite wordy in places, detailing things down to common street names and the typical materials of common buildings (which I skipped), but overall I liked it. My favorite parts were its means of information access, combining typical old-world style stuff (broadsheet newspapers, couriers) with more fantastical aspects (magical birds and thoughtstones).

Next time, Chapter 8: the Docks!

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!
It Came From Drive-Thru RPG: Better Than Any Man


Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a retroclone, a rule-set based off of an older Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Specifically, Basic D&D around the Basic/Expert era. It’s most famous for its artwork and its nightmarish chthonic horror vibe. Blasty spells are mostly absent, with existing spells redesigned and altered to reflect a more “things man was not meant to know or toy with” feel. The Fighter is the only class whose attack bonus increases in level. Alignment is divided into Law, Neutrality, and Chaos, and does not reflect morality so much as what incomprehensible cosmic forces are watching over you. The implied setting is very Dark Ages; almost no spellcasters exist, the majority of the world are 0 level humans (equivalent to 1st-level Commoners in 3.X parlance), and what monsters exist are out in the barren wilderness, hardly seen except by desperate adventurers and insane cultists.

Lamentations of the Flame Princess is free, in case you feel like checking it out yourself.

And Better Than Any Man is free too, on a Pay What You Want basis.

Author’s Notes


Welcome to LotFP’s Free RPG Day adventure! It isn’t what it is supposed to be.
We were told “Include quickstarter rules!” We were advised to create a short introductory/teaser adventure. We were warned to make it suitable for all audiences.
We didn’t do that. You know why?


That is the amount of fucks we give about what we’re supposed to do.

What we did do is create an expansive, epic adventure bigger than any we’ve made up to this point. We made it layered and complicated and figured that as a tabletop role-player, you’re an intelligent, creative adult who is capable of working things out. We didn’t avoid “controversial” content because bowdlerizing our content would be dishonest, lame as hell, not to mention it would misrepresent the rest of the LotFP product line. Basically, we wanted to make this the best and most awesome thing we can possible make with no boundaries. This is role-playing. You can do anything! And so can we.

Because that’s what we give a gently caress about. And for us, Free RPG Day is all about finding the sorts of people who love the same things we do. So here’s a free adventure. If you appreciate it, welcome aboard. If you don’t, well, sucks to be you. The rules will probably look familiar to you in an old school kind of way, but if you look at the details, you’ll find it produces more chaotic, more horror-oriented play than the standard epic
fantasy fare these sorts of games usually produce. We didn’t try to do “like this other game but better,” we did “like this other game but different.”

If you have questions about this adventure or about LotFP in general, we have a message board at as well as Facebook and Google Plus pages where current LotFP fans can help you out. You can also email LotFP HQ directly at lotfp@

So enjoy and remember to read Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol comics, the Oglaf web comic, and the Perry Bible Fellowship comic strip; listen to Candlemass, Reverend Bizarre, and early 90s Swedish and Tampa Bay death metal; watch Hammer Horror, 70s and 80s Dario Argento, Dan O’Bannon, and 70s and 80s John Carpenter movies; read stories by Clark Ashton Smith, Clive Barker, Thomas Ligotti, Carlton Mellick III, Ryan Harding, and RE Howard (Solomon Kane and Bran Mak Morn; leave the famous barbarian alone for now…), and yeah, Loveydoveycraft.

[right]James Edward Raggi IV
March 5, 2013
Helsinki, Finland[/right]

As you can tell from his notes, Raggi’s publications tend to go for an “edgy” vibe, and that’s exactly what he wants in an RPG. I don’t really think he’s sticking it to anybody or taking many risks by writing a free 96 page adventure, considering that his work is known for pushing the envelope and that’s part of why his fanbase loves him. If anything, it made his product more noticeable amid the competing introductory fantasy adventures. But it does tell us exactly where his inspirations lie and gives us a feel for the kind of work he does.

The Adventure Itself

Better Than Any Man is James Raggi’s magnum opus of adventures. For the upcoming Free RPG Day, he wrote up a 96 page adventure for parties levels 1-4 to be printed and sent it to stores (and to eventually be uploaded for free to Drive-Thru RPG). It serves as an introduction of sorts to the LotFP franchise, and can be used with other old-school games (there’s a sort of overlap in rules of some popular old-school retroclones).

It’s set in real-world 1600s Holy Roman Empire (Germany, to be exact) during the Thirty Years War. Basically the Swedish army is invading the Empire, intent on slaughtering everyone they come across. Tens of thousands of people are fleeing south, giving rise to refugee colonies and predatory bandits. A group of witches (the genuine kind) has taken control of the town of Karlstadt, and the Prince-Bishop of Würzburg (the biggest city in the region) is shoring up his army instead of trying to repel the invaders directly. The adventure takes place in this northern German region, and the chaos and desperation makes it seem like the world is falling apart. And amidst it all, darker inhuman forces move unseen…

Raggi deliberately chose to base this adventure in real-world Europe because he views the dynamics of real-world religions and history to be more relatable to the players, and that they’ll take the game more seriously if it involves Lutherans and Catholics and Germans and Swedes as opposed to fictional D&D deities and elves and dwarves.


If you or your players are uncomfortable with this, that is the entire point. This game does not deliver “fun” by encouraging players to feel heroic and successful, it encourages “fun” by allowing the player characters to exercise power of the world through their choices, and having those choices be meaningful due to the consequences that will be suffered by those tagged with familiar, and perhaps relatable, labels. If it all goes horrible and everyone dies painfully and the players wreck the world, then so what? It’s a game. Nobody got hurt. Try to do better next time.

Thing is, many players might not be attached to the 30 Years War and its cultural aftermath. I don’t know how strong of a subject it is in Europe, but I don’t think that it would resonate with my own group or many US gamers. So while I can see where Raggi was going, I don’t think it’s a guaranteed success. As for the religious angle, the war is more of a backdrop, with the focus on the Seven witches of Karlstadt the stuff their followers are up to in the region.

Personal choice is a big part of the adventure. PCs are by no means required to stick around, or even benefit from acting “good-aligned.” They’re pretty much free to act as how things would benefit them.

Also, world-wrecking options are a rather popular staple in LotFP adventures, and it’s no different here.


This adventure also delivers “fun” in the same manner as a horror movie that drat near makes you piss yourself in fear right there in the theater. Or at least makes you nervously chuckle since you feel guilty about enjoying horrible things on the screen. Instead of a more-or-less religious war setting, this sort of fun could just as easily have been delivered in the form of an adventure set in the New World with slavery and subjugated natives all over the place, so quiet down, or that’s what you get for Free RPG Day next year.

Player comfort is rather important, and while some potentially problematic subjects can be used for good entertainment, it’s often hard to see where the line crossed unless you talk with the group beforehand. Especially so for tabletop RPGs, which provide a very immersive and intimate setting with a group of friends, and even more so with "mature" subject matter.

Adventure Background, or why things are going down

The adventure takes place in lower Franconia, a region in northern Germany, centered around the town of Karlstadt. It’s October 1631, 13 years into the Thirty Years War. The battle began as a civil war within the Holy Roman Empire between Protestants and Catholics, but mushroomed into an international fracas of just about every major European power engaging in some way or other. Protestants and Catholics are killing each other in the tens of thousands, destroying entire cities. The Swedish Army (which is Lutheran), commanded by King Adolphus, has invaded the northern Empire and is pretty much an unstoppable juggernaut. Some Protestants in the Empire view him as a savior, others a butcher for the army’s complete lack of mercy. The Army is on the march to Würzburg (the major city in the region), with Karlstadt right in the middle of the warpath.

Complicating matters is that ten days ago Karlstadt was taken over by a group of witches known as the Seven. Each of them for their own reasons are disgusted with the status quo and religious conflict, and laid down a new law: “no more war.” They closed down all the churches and disarmed the populace in an attempt to bring peace. Additionally they formed the Citizen’s Peace Patrol, or Bürgerfriedensmiliz. Trained in the use of ropes and nets, they’re patrolling the countryside and disarming any small groups bearing arms and armor. Although most of their order believe in the Seven’s ability to quell the conflict, there’s a secret inner circle among them dedicated to the worship of the Insect God. This fell entity seeks to bring down humanity and have his spawn reclaim Earth as the dominant species.

News of the witches’ takeover reached King Adolphus, and Karlstadt has become their primary target; they view diabolic sorcery as far worse than Christian heresy, and the rulers of Würzburg do not seek to intervene as this will delay the Swedish Army. Unfortunately for the Empire, Adolphus believes that their government is complicit in the witches’ existence, and holds them equally guilty. Many refugees believe that the witches’ magic might be enough to protect them from the foreign invaders, and so quite a lot of them are willing to take their chances by trying to get into Karlstadt.

Over the course of eight days from the start of the adventure, the 30,000 Swedish Army will sweep through the region. They’ll first appear on the fifth day and then direct their warpath to Würzburg. Unless the PCs take action to change things, the army will way waste to everyone in the towns in their path (Karlstadt included) by day 8, and then spend the next 3 days laying siege to the dungeons in the region in a failed attempt to eradicate sorcery. One of them, the Infinite Tower, is blown apart with gunpowder and spills the blood of its millions of inhabitants into the river. Their brutality will make King Adolphus go down in the history books as a bloodthirsty maniac, turning even many Protestants against him. The role of sorcery in the war will only exacerbate existing witch hunts throughout northern Europe, eventually targeting scholars and scribes for “suspected witchcraft.”

Society is falling apart. Entire villages and farms are abandoned, the two large towns are overcrowded with refugees, witch-burnings are at an all-time high, and it seems like nothing can stop the Swedes. The PCs, allegedly here to plunder and benefit from the chaos, are just wandering through the region as all this happens. They can’t save everyone, and the adventure does not give any hard and fast goals or happy endings, but it does provide suggestions. For one, the Swedish Army cannot be thwarted in conventional combat (there’s just too many of them), and the existing forces cannot repel them. Assassinating King Adolphus will not stop the Army’s onslaught.

Saving the people of Würzburg will involve convincing the army that the Holy Roman Empire does not approve of the Seven’s rule (which is true, but the Swedes won’t believe it unless they see the Empire’s army assaulting the city, or are given the Seven’s severed heads by Würzburg’s Prince-Bishop); saving Karlstadt will require convincing the Swedes that the witches rule against the will of the people, which is not possible given that so many refugees want to enter the city.


The adventure assumes that the player characters are outsiders, passing through the area for their own reasons. The Referee should know his players and their characters better than any adventure writer ever could. We present the situation and the environment; it is up to you to provide the enticement for the characters to get involved. (Although if they require more than “Hey, there’s some interesting adventure stuff here!” then your players are lame.)

The Referee can start the adventure by rolling 1d8 and, assuming due north is 1 and going clockwise, use that number to determine the side of the map where the player characters begin in the morning of Day 1 (October 8th, 1631).

The Referee needs to make sure that these two ideas are strongly communicated by the first people that the player characters talk to: “Karlstadt was been taken over by sorcerers about ten days ago!” and “The Swedish army is coming! They’re invincible! They’re about a week’s march away!” If they do not want to talk to anyone, well, they must be happy to aimlessly wander around the countryside. Which can still result in fun adventures if you bring random encounters to life.

This adventure does not make presumption upon the PCs being heroes or having a linear goal. It’s a rather open sandbox environment, where the PCs are faced with a few primary conflicts, but are not given a clear means of what to do or where to go. The lack of linearity and “here’s what you’re doing” plot hooks provide much in the way of freedom, but requires additional work on the part of both players and Dungeon Master for the PCs to get involved (and choose to stay, if things start getting hopeless and it looks like not bothering at all is the best way to go).

I can already think of some adventure hooks:

1.) The PCs are witch-hunters and dispatched to investigate the Seven.

2.) The government of Wurzburg has put a bounty of 1,000 silver pieces per head of the Seven (10,000 for all seven; this is present within the adventure itself). The PCs plan on killing them.

3.) The PCs heard rumors of the dungeons in the area, and are ready to go treasure-hunting.

4.) The PCs are spies for either the Empire or the Swedes, tasked with gathering intelligence about the situation in Karlstadt/the invading army/the Prince-Bishop of Wurzburg.

5.) The PCs have sentimental ties to the region, and seek to find an end to the carnage.

Thoughts so far: Sorry it took so long to just set things up, but given the sandbox nature of Better Than Any Man I had to throw up these major plot points so you have a sense of the overall situation. Overall I like this set-up; it’s unconventional for being set in Renaissance Europe, but it’s definitely an interesting and engaging plot.

Next time, we learn what’s going on with the Seven!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 06:11 on Mar 20, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Better Than Any Man: The Seven

Basically the Seven are a group of female spellcasters who previously never knew each other, but were caught up in the witch-hunting frenzy sweeping the Empire. They had all lost their families to the War, and thus had nobody to stand for them. Gabriele Baur, a witch whose husband was a government official, obtained a list of the accused. Once she determined that the seven accused were the real deal, she convinced them to take part in a magical ritual which would allow them to take control of Karlstadt and make things right. At the end of the spell's casting Baur died, and the townsfolk recognized the seven witches as the true and rightful rulers of Karlstadt.

Unfortunately the spell came with complications. None of the witches knew each other or have good leadership skills, and they couldn't delegate power as the magic prevented the people from seeing anybody else as legitimate. Additionally, the Seven were viewed as equally valid, meaning that only unanimous consensus would be taken as law.

The few things the Seven agreed upon were: that they were tired of war, and so banned all use of weapons and tools intended for violent purposes (farming equipment and tools which could conceivably be used as weapons don't count); they hated how religious zealotry fueled the witch hunts and sectarian violence, so they made religion a private affair and all faiths would be treated equally before the law; conditions of birth, such as noble titles, nationalities, and gender, did not afford any special privilege and all are thus equal under the law (they're all women, most are not nobles, and some have foreign ancestry); and the Seven were exempt from all laws (the Watcher is devoutly religious, while the Defiler is too paranoid to disarm herself).

Naturally, the citizens are frightened and confused at this new state of affairs and what it would spell for society. Existing lawmakers and enforcers lost their jobs, and houses of worship were converted into other functions. Only the Joy and the Provider have any interest in settling disputes and governing, but they frequently disagree on affairs. The only thing keeping hope alive is that the witches' blasphemous magic might be enough to protect them from the Swedish Army.

Too bad all but one of the Seven are 1st level magic-users with Read Magic and a single other unique spell. They're all very aware that, even combined, their magic won't be enough to fend them off; they guard this information to prevent panic.

Each of them also has a unique otherworldly entity under their control. None of them know the creatures' origins, they were not deliberately summoned, and they possess no means of communication. Their true origins are left a mystery for the Dungeon Master to fill in (Raggis chastises you in the text if you tie their origin to the Insect God: "you're being lazy"). They're really powerful, game stat-wise. Two of them have 10 hit dice, one 9, two 6, one 3 (the Defiler's), and only the Defender's has no game stats. Three have an Armor Class of 16 or better, one cannot be hit (the Joy's), and the lowest is 12 (the Defiler's). Their attacks are not strong in terms of hit point damage, but some of their special attacks are quite debilitating. 1st-level PCs won't be able to handle most of the monsters (except for maybe the Defiler's), and trying to attack the Seven will bring their wrath. Assassinating or otherwise harming the Seven will be really hard to do in this adventure.

The Defender: She's the woman with a fancy full-length gown and curls in her hair. Her name is Griselda Uhrlitz. She's spoiled, always wanted to be someone famous, and took up the practice of magic upon her husband's death. She puts up a tough exterior ("We're invincible! Nobody will cross us!") but in reality this bravado only comes from the backing of the other six and her loyal creature protecting her.

Her unique spell is "Be Impressive," which cleans the caster and makes their clothes look awesome. It grants a +1 bonus per caster level to the next Loyalty and reaction roll (old school equivalent to Charisma-based skills).

The Defender's creature is the tentacle snake thing with a brain at the end. It takes an aspect of a single character (Ability Score, Armor Class, Hit Points, Movement Rate) within 100 feet of the Defender who has the highest value, and grants it to her. The character has an effective 0 in that score (or reduced to 1d6 hit points), and there is no defense of Saving Throw to resist it. And it steals prepared magic-user spells and special abilities, too! The lost abilities are returned once they exit the radius. It otherwise has no listed game stats.

It's not said in the text, but given that Karlstadt is overcrowded with refugees, people will be dropping incapacitated around the Defender wherever she walks. It might not be immediately noticeable (there's a lot of sick and dying people), but it's definitely creepy and really illustrates that the Seven aren't gaining their powers from a benign source.

The Defiler: Her picture is the most bad-rear end of the bunch, so I'm putting a higher-resolution version right here:

I will give it to Raggi; while his art might be overly sensationalist in the gore department, all of his female adventurers are dressed for the part and look like they can kick your rear end. Nary a boob-plate or pin-up pose in sight!

Emma Gäbges' children and husband died, and she believes that their ghosts haunt them. She tried to pray to God, tried to have priests exorcise her residence, even tried folk magic from village wise women, but their voices would not go away. When she learned magic on her own, she became an undead hunter; only problem is, she's overly paranoid and spends most of the day digging up graves thoroughly ravaging corpses so they won't rise up.

Her unique spell is Detect Undead, and can point out their presence if they're within 30 feet. Unfortunately she is delusional, so 1 out of 10 times she'll detect a living creature as the walking dead.

Her servitor creature is the two-mouthed fish thing. It can swallow opponents into an extradimensional space (like Gluttony from Fullmetal Alchemist), where an identical creature lurks. This creature also has an extradimensional stomach, which also has an identical creature, which also has an extradimensional stomach... and so on and so forth. Each creature has infinite stomachs and spaces, meaning that characters swallowed by the same creature are in different spaces (and thus "branch out").

The Joy: Ludmilla Röder intended to convert a house in Karlstadt into a refuge for those fleeing from religious persecution, but it turned into a den of vice. Thanks to societal breakdown, the openly supernatural rule of the Seven, and the abolishment of organized religion, many townsfolk feel like the end of the world is coming and so indulge in sinful pleasures. And the Joy is more than happy to participate. The only hard and fast rules are no bestiality (so she turned over her servitor creature to the Watcher) and no pedophilia, although the text says that 17th century society "has different standards as to what 'too young' is." Uh, this last part might be better off not mentioned: the age of consent laws historically were really loving low. Sorry, but I prefer adults-only sex parties in my fictional elf games.

Her unique spell is Enhance Sensation, which doubles hit point loss and negative effects (loss of sleep, pain, etc), and can case positive sensations to become addictive (or an effective charm spell in the case of sex).

The Joy's position makes her an expert information broker. She can tell the PCs about the Seven, the Citizen's Peace Patrol, outlying towns and the region's dungeons (Goblin Hill, the Infinite Tower, the Mound, the Abandoned Farmhouse). But she's not interested in money.


Ludmilla knows a great deal and will tell what she knows, but there are conditions. The list here shows the information that she knows about the key players in the region and their locations, and the conditions that have to be met for her to talk. “If you want me to give you something, you have to give me something. And I’ve already got a lot. I hope you can handle it…” This will serve as warning to characters and players alike that things are about to get messy, and to back off if that makes them… uncomfortable. If a condition is set out and the deal then declined, The Joy will give no more information on any subject until the established condition is fulfilled.

Several of the conditions involve a random person chosen by Ludmilla. The Referee should randomly determine this person’s gender and physical qualities—it would be hardly fair to just declare the person in question to be the most unattractive or inappropriate match for the character in question. Fun, but not fair.

There is also mention of the, ah, quality of certain acts to be performed. The Referee will have to come up with his own way of determining if a character’s performance is good enough. LotFP purposefully lacks the mechanics for that. It is not FATAL, you pervert.

She knows the real names, home addresses, and the powers of all The Seven’s servitor creatures and will divulge that information in addition to that listed for the sorceress in question if the conditions are met… Though she will only do so if is asked about those details specifically.

Yup, if you want answers, you've got to indulge Ludmilla's perversions. Most of them involve doing the nasty with some nameless NPC(s) in the bar with some condition, but even a few of the non-sexual ones sound like she's getting off to it (“Whew the bar’s a mess over there. Clean it up. With your tongue.”). There's a separate task for each of the most common subjects for questions (of which there are 17), and a few answers aren't really useful (The Infinite Tower: It's bigger on the inside"). However, several answers are very useful and can give the PCs an edge in future endeavors (like secret passages in the town and Goblin Hill).

Not really a fan; it's hard to have this in an adventure without it either devolving into absurdity, having the PCs refuse (and thus cut out from information), or players saying that their characters are great in bed to satisfy the Joy's standards. Some of the non-sexual tasks (liking shaving the head of one of the Seven) could serve as a good basis for less "adult" alternatives if your group won't like it as-is.

The Mother: Ulrike Lamprecht is the mastermind behind the group. She is a 3rd-level Magic User who taught Bauer the spell which would make the Seven leaders of Karlstadt, knows of the tomb of the Insect God under the region, and created the Citizen's Peace Patrol to act as a front for a cult dedicated to the entity. She has 6 spells in addition to Read Magic and her unique spell, which is Speak With Insects (which does exactly that).

Her servitor creature is that deformed humanoid on the right-hand side with arms and legs as hands. When it attacks opponents it can removed their limbs and add it to its own, or add one of its own to a target. In the latter case, the limb is useless for several weeks and interferes with tasks as it randomly thrashes about.

I don't have strong preferences one way or the other for this one. Her backstory, spell, and creature are not exceptional in any way, beyond being the highest-level of the Seven.

The Provider: Jutte Beckman is a charitable and goodly woman who converted the town square into a food distribution network, and acts as a mediator for the town's problems. She also writes letters to distant towns and relies upon merchants to bring food and water into the city.

Her unique spell can create food, a days' worth of meals for 10 people per casting. If she learns of any new spellcasters in town, she'll ask for their aid and teach them the spell. Her servitor creature is a ten foot tall squid-like creature, which can cast any Magic-User spell used on it once a day. Said spell is not used up by the Magic-User in the attempt, meaning that Jutte has been using this trick ten times a day.

Unfortunately, unbeknownst to her or others, the food created has no nutritional value, and it dispels the pangs of hunter. People are still starving, though, including the Provider.

The Provider is a good addition. Having a well-adjusted and normal woman among the Seven makes for some interesting role-play opportunities and adds some dimension to an overall nefarious group.

The Reminder: Hedwig Meinecke always tried to be perfect, especially when it came to being a wife and mother. She punished herself for "failing" when she became infertile and her children died, and she obsessively studied magic in an attempt to improve her shortcomings. She discovered a spell written by her mother, Generation Gap, which allows the caster to imprint his own memories and spellcasting potential in his or her biological children. It can also be cast on a pregnant women, who must Save versus Magic or have that child be genetically identical to the caster. It's possible for said child to have the caster's memory, effectively making them "born again."

The Reminder is writing spellbooks with Read Magic to teach to as many people as possible, in the hopes that she can finally have a family with her spell. A small team of mages-to-be helps her with scribe duties.

Her servitor creature is that figure in the upper-right corner with insect wings on its head and wrapped in bandages. It's multiple natural attacks can randomize a character's ability score, experience total, swap a score with somebody else nearby, etc.

I really like the Reminder; she's my second-favorite behind the Defiler. Her goals have potential to go beyond this adventure, such as a villain intent on starting a new family, or a recurring foe who awakes years later for vengeance.

The Watcher: Ingeborg Stoltz is deeply religious, but believes that magic is not inherently evil. She's appointed herself as the town guardian and oversees passage through the town's sole remaining unblocked gate. Her unique spell is Detect Weapons, which informs her of hidden weapons and where they're located within line of sight. She's against any sort of negotiation or compromise with Würzburg or the Swedes.

Her servitor creature is the eye within the cube. It can read the memories of structures and inanimate objects and fly, making it well-suited to investigative work. Its body radiates electricity and can immobilize with its tendrils.

She also controls the Joy's servitor creature, which is the bat-winged thing in the upper left corner. It is incorporeal and has a 100 foot ranged attack which can grow cancerous tumors on a living subject. The tumors have eyes, which the creature can see through, and it deals deals hit point damage via poison over the period of weeks. If the cumulative damage over time exceeds total hit points, the tumor takes control of their body permanently (effective PC death).

The Maker: Gabriele Bauer is now dead. Her unique spell is called A Spell to Grant One's Heart's Desire. The caster must willingly commit suicide at the end of the spell's casting, and everyone within 30 feet has their wish granted provided that they can all immediately agree upon it. There must be at least 4 people present, and must be a simple clear idea (no using out-of-character game mechanics or conditions and clauses), or the spell does not work.

This spell is 1st level like all the others, and it has potential to be stupidly overpowered. Keep that in mind if your PCs find her spellbook (which is in the Bürgerfriedensmiliz headquarters in the Mother's room).

Thoughts so far: The Seven are all interesting characters who can provide plenty of adventure fodder. I like the offbeat and creative abilities of the monsters and the witches' signature spells.

Next time, countryside encounters!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 01:51 on Mar 20, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Rangpur posted:

It is, but I've read this adventure and I am at a loss as to how you accomplish anything meaningful. Not even heroic, mind; meaningful, either to the players or their characters. The way it's written seems designed to frustrate any attempt to make a profit or any control over the course of events. Raggi reminds me of the kind of GM who claims he's against hand-holding or railroading his players then throws up tedious and arbitrary roadblocks whenever they try to accomplish something outside his narrow definition of what's 'realistic for the setting.'

Credit where it's due, I do like the Seven's monsters/pets. They're weird, dangerous and otherworldly without turning them into big stompy city wreckers the way D&D threat levels seem to trend. But man that smarmy little parting shot about inventing your own reason for their existence is just a perfect goddamn snapshot of his attitude.

There are several things I take issue with in this adventure which I address later, including the extreme randomness of encounter size and lethality and the preponderance of NPCs and monsters way too strong for 1st-4th level PCs.

Better Than Any Man: Countryside Encounters

There are 30 possible random encounters the PCs can come upon during their travels in Franconia. It is a 1 in 6 chance, rolled twice a day. Raggi recommends generating an automatic encounter the first time the party arrives at a new settlement. In keeping with the RPG, almost all of the encounters involve humans and mundane animals, with the few supernatural entities unique monsters. Most of the encounters are thematic and lend themselves to growing sense of desperation. Starving orphan children wandering the countryside; looters combing through abandoned homes and villages; a family of Jews traveling to Karlstadt for its liberating laws (in this era, Jews have almost no rights); an innocent woman on the run from witch-hunters; stuff like that. Instead of being truly random, the encounters add to the adventure in some way and frame an overall picture of desperation and societal decay.

Just like many old school adventures, the number of combatants (and the Hit Die of some monsters) is randomly rolled. A high roll can really screw over the party by putting them against overwhelming odds or super-powerful monsters; this is intentional, as LotFP puts emphasis on a dangerous world where the PCs should err on the side of caution before entering into battles.

I'll list a few of the more interesting ones:

A Dark Cult: A small group of people heard about the Seven, and seek to learn magic on their own to get some power. They're performing a ritual, which might be either harmless, or a prayer to a dark entity which will be answered and may or may not involved animal or human sacrifice.


A patrol of 1d6+6 men, women, and children patrol the area, armed with lassos and mancatchers. They go around saving innocents to take back to Karlstadt (innocents are unarmed and unarmored people) and convincing armed people to give up their warlike ways, including throwing down their arms and armor. Those who refuse are asked again, and if they persist the milizionäre try to bind and subdue them. Captured characters are taken to the "re-education facility" in Goblin Hill.

Most milizionäre are genuinely well-intentioned people, and know nothing of the cult of the Insect God.

Hostile milizionäres are a separate encounter; they're part of the inner cult of the Insect God and looking for people to kidnap to take to their base. They're armed, but won't attack in the presence of other witnesses. There are as many as 3d6.

Glass Tiger: This monster is the creation of the necromancer Schwartz. An animal construct, it hunts the region for people to kill and take back to its master. It has 5 hit dice, double the normal movement speed of a human, surprises parties on a 4 in 6 chance, and has an Armor (basically Armor Class) of 15 against blunt weapons, but 20 against edged and missile weapons. Its high Armor, Hit Die, and surprise attack and speed can easily result in a TPK against low-level adventurers.

Improvisational Inquisition: Caught up in the hysteria of witch-hunting nationalist fervor, a patrol of Catholic villagers (3d6 of them) are lead by a violent priest intent on cleansing the area of Lutherans, foreigners, witches, and (if they're aware) monsters. PCs who can't or won't prove their allegiance to the Empire and the Pope will be attacked.

The Insane Farmer: Magnus Persson, a Swedish deserter, is hiding out in a farmstead. He killed the family and scattered pieces of their corpses into the fields (he believes the plants will grow with blood). The murders took place in the house, so it smells of death. He won't try attacking the PCs unless they're 2 or less, or they find out his secret.

Invisible Insects: The Insect God's children are coming out into the surface world. Quite a few of them are entirely invisible, and they've afflicted a poor man who's clawing at himself. The man runs up to the PCs to grab their bladed weapons, and if not stopped he'll claw at and cut himself until he dies. Any PC touched is infested with the invisible insects, who crawl and bite all over for days on end (or after several hours of bathing and getting rid of infected equipment), impeding sleep, concentration, movement, and to-hit rolls.

The accompanying image is a naked man, his pants in tatters, scratching himself as he bleeds all over, including from his penis. Classic LotFP artwork.

The Mastermind: Archibald Kohler is the Empire's most successful crime lord. His contacts in the region informed him of something valuable (such as one of the unique treasures and magic items in the dungeons), and he has a well-armed group of henchman in tow. He's a 7th-level Specialist (Rogue equivalent) with a cursed arm of gold (worth 10,000 silver pieces). Accompanying him are a woman posing as the Countess Bathory (0 level human), the Brute (a 4th-level Fighter and cannibal), 3 "head men" (henchmen dressed as highway robbers) all of 3rd level in Fighter or Specialist, 3 handlers (mercenaries hired by the fake Bathory), 10 dogs, 2d6 relatively harmless servants. Obviously they're more than a match for the PCs; their primary goal is to gather information, and won't attack unless provoked or the PCs have the object they're looking for.

Possession: one of the Insect God's children, the size of a fly, will fly up to one of the PCs and attempt to burrow into his/her flesh to lay eggs. If undetected and successful, the eggs will eventually hatch over a period of hours, and an insect will grow out of the body and violently attack its host as it emerges.

Rogue Mercenaries: a main camp of 10d20 soldiers plus a sergeant (Fighter level 1d4) an Officer (Fighter level 1d6) is in Franconia, hired by one of the European powers. They got cut off from their patron, and are keeping their traditional military structure. Half chance they're just normal people trying to get home amid a war zone, the other half they're sadistic soldiers-turned-bandits victimizing everyone they come across. Encounters with them usually involve a scout party of 3d6 soldiers, with a 10% chance of encountering the main camp. This encounter has a good chance of being overwhelming for the PCs.

Termite Mounds: These mounds are inhabited by millions of six-legged abominations bearing a strange resemblance to termites. They scour the land of all living matter, and a radius of barren ground stretches out for 2d10x10 feet around a mound. Disturbing the mound causes the monsters to swarm out in an effective area attack of 20 feet, forcing a Save vs. Paralysis or suffer 1d6 damage per round spent in the area.

The Skinned Man: A normal human who killed a few bandits and was skinned alive by their leader, he was saved from death by a wandering Cleric's healing magic (the class kind). Unfortunately it did not regenerate his skin, and he went insane and killed the Cleric for 'turning him into a monster.' He attacks the PCs on sight.

Vengeful Ghost: The PCs stumble across an area with a significant otherworldly scar. The place bestows an effect upon the PCs depending upon how their last encounter went. No violence, the PCs have good luck and can alter one future die roll of theirs to a desired outcome. Violence without any deaths on either side doubles the hit points of the next enemy they face. Violence with deaths doubles the attack bonus and damage of the next enemies. A 'neutral" or avoided fight makes the next encounter the PCs have with anyone a fight to the death.

Thoughts so far: A very cool and useful section. I wish more random encounters in adventures could be like this; too many just throw monsters of a terrain into them instead of reinforcing the mood and theme of the adventure. I do take issue with some of the encounters, as the randomness of monster hit dice and NPC numbers can turn an easy match into an unstoppable force if played straight.

That said, the idea of a villainous mastermind with a cursed metal arm competing against the PCs to find a Magical MacGuffin is rad as hell.

Next time, settlements and places!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 05:56 on Mar 20, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

There are 17 settlements in lower Franconia, including Karlstadt (which is significant enough to get its own separate section). Since the focus of the adventure is on the Big 2, most of the others don't have much in the way of detail beyond a few sentences each. The GM is encouraged to develop unique flavor for the areas the PCs find interesting instead of trying to railroad them to the major areas.

Given that typical adventuring gear is needed for the war effort, the prices of most goods is multiplied by anywhere from 2-7 times normal.

Frammersbach is a major supplier for the Empire's army in the region, and as such nothing is for sail as the military already ordered everything of use to be shipped in wagons (which are currently being loaded up by the time the PCs arrive).

Gemünden am Main is a largely abandoned town, 100 people left, as it will be one of the first in the Swedes' war path.

Gössenheim is a ghost town with only 24 people left who are all siblings married to each other. They're going around the farms and slaughtering the livestock left behind to prevent the Swedes from using them.

Hammelburg is a wealthy valley town known for its quality wine. Figuring that the Swedes will go out of their way to seize their alcohol, most of them fled to Würzburg.

Lohr is as large as Karlstadt. It's suffered the worst of the region's witch-hunts, and almost everyone in town is a devout Catholic. A garrison of several hundred soldiers is camped to defend the town, but everyone fears that this will not be enough (it won't).

Neuendorf's only citizens are those old folks too stubborn to flee. They're incensed about the situation in Karlstadt, enough to ally themselves with the Swedes if they promise to eradicate the Seven.

Neustadt am Main is home to a large monastery of Benedictine monks, who will give refuge to PCs in need of aid (but will try to steal and dispose of obviously magical and "ungodly" items). They're disapproving of the Prince-Bishop's recent policies, but they view Karlstadt's new rulers as blasphemy. They know information about 2 dungeons in the region (the Infinite Tower and the Mound), but will warn PCs away because they're "places of fell pagan power."

Partenstein is home to a gothic church, and the citizens are not under the territorial domain of the Prince-Bishop. They figure the Swedes will ignore them.

Rothenfels has an inn and a heavy influx of refugees in town. Late in the day, a long shadow shaped like a tower casts itself over the village. No such tower exists.

Steinfeld is now mostly swampland, only a few buildings above water level. The inhabitants have long departed, and giant malformed insects attack anyone who stays around for too long.

Theidenfeld is unremarkable, except that a traveling circus is in town! Nobody's attending, and the sideshow attractions have an empty feel to them. They're so desperate for visitors that the entrance fee is waived for the PCs.

Thüngen is under the thrall of bandits. They extort any valuables from travelers passing through, and the townsfolk cooperate because all the children are locked in a barn (which will be set ablaze if anyone tries to stop them). The bandit's leader is a gambling addict and makes all major decisions with the roll of a pair of dice. Very Two-Face like.

Urspringen appears abandoned except for a single clinic. Those too sick to leave are cared for by a doctor, who cannot help them anymore. He is secretly slitting the throats of the townsfolk, justifying it that a quick and clean death is far better than torture at the hands of the Swedish Army. He believes he'll go to Hell for this, but accepts this.

Werneck is well out of the way of the Swedes, but the locals are frightened of another pressing problem. Someone, or something, is silently going around at night, ripping the throats of villagers. The locals believe there's a vampire in town, and are dragging people out into the sun and conducting house-by-house searches nightly, but to no avail.

Zellingen is largely abandoned, and the few remaining people sell supplies at exorbitant rates (3d6 times normal price).

Würzburg is the regional capital, a city of over 10,000 people. Thanks to a high walls and the majority of its trade routes going south to Nuremberg, life continues on as usual for the time being. Prince-Bishop Franz von Hatzfeld, has some diplomatic contact with the Swedish King Adolphus. The King's messenger told the Prince-Bishop of Karlstadt's situation, but the Prince-Bishop views this as a trick. Trying to take back Karlstadt would weaken Würzburg's forces enough that they'd be completely unable to resist the Swedish army.

However, the Prince-Bishop has placed a bounty on the Seven's heads, which must be delivered to him. If successful, he'll present the heads as pikes at the entrance as a show of good faith and to use it as a way to unite Catholics and Protestants against Satan. This is the only way in the adventure that will save Würzburg from being burned to the ground by the Swedish army.

The city is in the throes of a witch-hunting hysteria. People are afraid that what happened to Karlstadt will happen here, and accusations against women and girls are being tossed left and right. At least 15-20 women a day are arrested, to the point where there's entire pens and cages being used as impromptu prisons. The authorities figure that even if a lot of them are innocent, being hung or drowned as a witch will be far more merciful compared to what the Swedish soldiers will do to them. Just like real-world witch trials, innocence involves getting killed via drowning or crushed by a rock ("if she floats or survives, she's a witch!"). Guilty ones are hung from trees, stripped of all clothes and valuables, and after the trial the children beat the corpses with sticks as part of a game. We even get a full-page picture of this on one of the pages, with a crowd gathered around the hanging and bleeding naked corpse.


The image isn't as graphic as you'd think, as the perspective is far away and the crowd itself dominates the picture instead of the dead woman. But still...

A few males have been accused of witchcraft, but their trials are much more fair and won't result in inevitable death on an innocent verdict.

PCs can try to free the women, but they'll be branded as witches and attacked by guards in the process. They can free them, but it will be rather hard to do so.

Continues below, with details on Karlstadt proper.


Karlstadt is sort of the 'center' of the module. It is where the major players are located and provides additional adventure fodder in the case of rumors, information from the Joy, and a few interesting locations.

Karlstadt originally had a population of 1,500 people. Over the period of several days this number has doubled within the walls, with several thousand more outside. This refugee colony is full of people still hoping to get inside, and the Seven do not extend their authority out to the camp proper. Most live in makeshift homes, ranging from upturned carts for shelter and some tents. Ruthless and violent figures are the unofficial leaders of the place, committing crimes out of view of the milizionäre and taking what they want.

The town is walled and surrounded by a moat, with a single bridge acting as an entryway. The milizionäre patrol around the walls, and a dozen guard the bridge. Those passing through must submit to a thorough search, and people who try fighting through will sound the alarm and have to fight one of the Seven's monsters. All further entry into the town will be closed if this happens, and due to this refugees will aid the milizionäre in stopping the intruders. People found to be carrying weapons will be arrested, otherwise those who qualify for entry must hand over all of their valuables except the clothes on their backs "for the greater good." The milizionäre genuinely use these valuables to the people living inside as determined by what groups need it most.

Considering that sneaking into town with equipment intact means getting past the guards and blending in with the crowd, I can't see PCs using Karlstadt proper as a base of operations. Even leaving equipment behind almost certainly results in its theft due to the refugee colony's rampant crime. The most useful means of travel to and fro is an old smuggling tunnel, which is located in an otherwise nondescript house. The Joy knows about it, and can give it up as an answer to a question.

The situation within the walls is desperate. Karlstadt is stretched to its absolute breaking point in terms of living standards. The population is so high that housing is full and many people are sleeping in the streets; regular supplies of food via merchant caravan is not enough to keep anyone full; and common social services are nonexistent.

There are 21 briefly-described locations within town, including the Seven's individual residences (although the Mother and the Joy abandoned theirs).

1.) A black market of forbidden goods operates out of a large multi-story residence; the Seven know about this, but since no weapons are traded they send in their servitor creatures to scare people away and keep up appearances.

2.) The smuggler's tunnel is half a mile long. It connects to a farmhouse and the cellar of a house in Karlstadt.

3.) A group of Catholic supporters of the Prince-Bishop hid a stash of several dozen weapons (including swords, axes, and firearms) in their meeting house. They plan on violently overthrowing the Seven once they feel confident enough and learn the weaknesses and abilities of the witches and their servitor creatures.

4.) The town inn is used to hold the town's injured, crippled, and sick. Nobody in town has medical experience, so the best the milizionäre can do is bring them food.

5.) A small town square serves as a social outlet and escape from the hardships of life. Townsfolk hold regular musical sessions for entertainment, although none of them are professional musicians.

6.) A growing number of Catholics are holding religious services in a private church, but they're using smuggled bread and wine to perform communions. They're increasingly outspoken about their beliefs, and 1d6+1 days form the adventure's beginning someone will burn down the house with everyone inside.

Other locations are less notable, but contribute to the sense of despair, or reveal more of the individual Seven's personality in terms of living residence. The Defender has a posh manor nobody's allowed inside; the Defiler's residence is an apartment full of broken furniture used to board up the place; the Reminder has converted her house into a printing press and classroom (for creation of spellbooks and teaching others magic); the Watcher's home is filled with religious paraphernalia; and the Maker's house has been torn down and destroyed (although nobody knows why).

Thoughts so far: The small settlements are nothing special, and don't really have much in the way of adventure fodder. Karlstadt is a much more interesting location, and I like the multiple sources of conflict and power struggles going on (the Catholics, the conspirators, the black market).

Next time, the dungeons!

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Lichtenstein posted:

I sort of like the mood of this adventure so far and anxiously await the moment when it turns all grognards.txt.

There isn't really a big downhill spiral into creepville in BTAM. If anything the stuff is lightly sprinkled throughout the adventure rather than focused into one place.

On with the review!

Better Than Any Man Dungeon 1: Abandoned Farmhouse

So there's a total of 4 dungeons in the region which the PCs can hear about through rumors and NPC interaction. They are the Abandoned Farmhouse, once owned by a family of cultists and now inhabited by bandits; the Mound, an ancient place built by a long-forgotten race and now inhabited by a necromancer; the Infinite Tower, a magical building which has an endless layer of floors and inhabitants; and Goblin Hill, a sort of megadungeon comprised of caverns, the Insect Shrine, the Bürgerfriedensmiliz Headquarters, and the Lair of the Insect God. We'll cover them one per post (with Goblin Hill itself made up of 4 posts).

The Abandoned Farmhouse is in the northwest area of the map. Decades ago the Braasch family was successful and prosperous. In secret they worshiped the Insect God in an underground cellar, and taught and practiced magic. Eventually the community suspected the latter, and killed all the men as the women and children fled.

A group of bandits led by Gunther Mohl has fallen on hard times. Their horses are dead and they nearly escaped death at the hands of the authorities, so they're using the old Braasch farmhouse as a temporary base. The place has a reputation for ghosts and black magic, so the Mohl and his men figure that nobody would bother them as long as they stayed.

Unbeknownst to them, one of the Braasch patriarchs still lives on as a ghoul, hidden in a cellar room accessible only via secret doors (room 10). A shrine to the Insect God in the room grants him supernatural resilience, and he cannot be Turned by Clerics unless they'e between the ghoul and the alter. Braasch's rather slow and frail (3/4ths normal human movement, 2 Hit Dice), but offensively he packs quite a punch (bite and claw for 1d8 damage each) and he's got good Armor (15).

Gunther's a 1st level Fighter with Armor 14 (leather), and a sword and dagger and pistol as weapons which deal 1d8 damage each. This is probably a typo, as daggers do 1d4 damage in LotFP.

He has a map he took off of a patrolling milizionäre, which is actually details a backdoor into the Bürgerfriedensmiliz Headquarters. Gunther knows this from scouting the area. He has keys which unlock most of the doors and chests in the farmhouse.

Six bandits are part of Gunther's gang, and they're all 0 level humans with no worn armor, a sword, and two daggers each.

The group sticks to the cellars below the farmhouse, and they're particularly afraid of being spotted by passing patrols (and that glass tiger monster). Two of minions keep watch in the barn's hayloft (room 4) and are poorly disguised as zombies (covered in flour and dirt) to scare away intruders. There's a hidden trapdoor which leads down to the secret hideout (room 7).

A couple men keep watch on the farmhouse's (room 5) upper level for intruders. Between them and the pair in the hayloft, the bandits have an overhead view of the front gate (room 1) and trees (room 2). The second underground entryway is located in the cellar (room 6). The bandits can use these connecting passages to move to and from the two buildings without crossing out into the open.

The various cellar rooms (7-9) contain living accommodations and supplies for the bandits, as well as a trapped chest containing their ill-gotten loot. The treasure chest contains 1d6x100 silver pieces worth of copper and silver coins. A good haul overall.

Adventure Hook

The place comes off as a tutorial dungeon of sorts. It's not big and expansive, the bandits are not confined to set rooms and will retreat into tactically sound areas, and the lion's share of treasure is in one room. It's really a stand-alone encounter which doesn't deeply tie in to the greater plot, although the Insect God altar will be recognizable later on once the PCs get into the Insect Shrine. The bandits do occasionally come to Karlstadt for supplies in groups of one or two and spend time at the Joy's bar, so she can tell the PCs about their plans and lair.

Raggi offers an adventure hook to motivate the PCs. A few of the bandits will kidnap a child from Karlstadt's refugee colony for a 1,000 silver piece ransom. If the parents want the child back, they must deliver a pony/mule with saddlebags full of the money to the barn, and then the child will be hosted onto to it blindfolded and gagged to go back outside.

Problem is, the parents don't have that kind of money, and the bandits did not consult with Gunther of this plan (who's furious because it compromises their secrecy). They offer to pay the PCs 50 silver (of which they lost everything and had to do a lot of degrading things to scrape up) if they can return their child alive.

The child is being held in the cellar near one of room 10's secret doors, where the bandits will retreat. If Gunther dies or falls unconscious, the child will scream as the undead Braasch springs out to kill and eat him/her. They have 2d6 rounds to save the child's life (the ghoul takes his time to gloat over his catch). The bandit's first priority will be to save the child, even cooperating with the PCs to kill the ghoul.

It should be easy to save the child, provided there are enough PCs and bandits left alive to take action. 2 rounds is plenty of time for even 3 people to threaten Braasch, whose priority will shift towards his new enemies. And if 5 people with a +1 to-hit roll wail on him, each has a 65% chance of hitting him. Braasch himself has a +3 to hit, meaning that he'll connect with the bandits easily enough but won't get past the defenses of a heavily-armored Fighter most of the time.

Thoughts so far: the Abandoned Farmhouse is challenging, but manageable for a group of 1st-level PCs. The bandits are all weak and don't have any magic (only the leader has a one-use ranged weapon). If the fight is located close quarters in the cellars and the bandits still maintain superior numbers, they can overcome the party.

Next time, the Mound!

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Saguaro PI posted:

Congratulations, Raggi, you did what you thought would be impossible and what your previous work indicated was, created an adventure better than Keep on the Borderlands. This thing isn't without problems, but I'm kind of awed the guy who brought us Death Frost Doom and wrote an essay on how originality sucks could create something that's actually kinda interesting.

To be fair, Death Frost Doom was written in 2007, and he's had a lot of time to improve in that department. With some exceptions, many writers and tabletop game designers' work tends to get more refined with time; practice makes perfect.

Anyway, the next section:

Better Than Any Man Dungeon 2: The Mound

The Mound is a millennia-old shrine to the Insect God once inhabited by a forgotten race of creatures. Today it's the home of Willibald Schwartz, a depraved necromancer who conducts arcane experiments in its halls. The Glass Tiger (from Countryside Encounters) is one of his creations, usually stalking the region for people to kill and bring back to its master.

The Joy can tell the PCs about Schwartz, mainly that he's insane and should not be crossed and that he's looking for some hired help. The Monks of Neustadt am Main also know its location, but not its current occupant.

The dungeon itself is rather straightforward, as evidenced by the map, but very, very, lethal. Room 3 is trapped, the floor covered in explosive flammable oil which deals 3d10 damage on a failed Save vs. Breath Weapon if anyone crosses with a torch. Rooms 9 and 10 are inhabited by 16 skeletons each in sarcophagi, who will animate if anybody removes even a single piece of treasure from the tombs.

Rooms 4-7 are pedestals with inscriptions in a long-dead language detailing the exploits of various goblin folk heroes (Alderman Toony Rabbitmangler, Battlemaster Talon Berrycrusher, etc.) and their campaigns against the “Tall Ones.” The original statues themselves are long gone, replaced by the petrified remains of Schwartz’s child victims in various macabre states (one pulling his own skin off like a shirt, another with faces of other children sown into him, etc).

I personally feel that this detracts from the “weird fantasy” vibe. Goblins are so cliché and iconic in tabletop games that it removes much of the horror when they’re identified as much. The silly names make me think of Pathfinder’s goblins, which are pretty much comic relief. However, Raggi had something going with the replacement statues: it gives the impression that the Mound’s original inhabitants were really hosed up and had nothing in common with the present culture. And even if they find out otherwise, the horror is not diminished but instead shifts towards Schwartz.

As for Schwartz himself, he’s a 17th-level Magic-User with 36 spells prepared (ranging from 1st to 9th level); in addition to his Glass Tiger minion, he has a rather powerful unique spell which could allow him to cast multiple spells per round, and a marionette which can summon 2d6 spectral ghosts a round (but only 12 maximum at any given time). He doesn’t have a typical spellbook per se; rather, room 11 is his entire spellbook. His research notes and scrolls are carved into the walls of the laboratory, which used to be the main altar room of the Insect God. And he also has a spell which allows him to see in dark as long as he has a human head touching his body, so he can see the PCs down the hallway if he’s in room 8 (the corridor’s end).

So how are the PCs supposed to go through this dungeon without dying horribly? Well, Schwartz is not interested in fighting, unless the PCs are locals, try to steal from the Mound, or otherwise indicate that they’ll compromise his location to outside parties. The necromancer knows of the Mound’s origins, and the inner circle of Bürgerfriedensmiliz who wish to revive the Insect God. If they successfully awaken the deity, it will be none too pleased to find out that Schwartz desecrated one of its holy shrines, so he has an incentive to prevent this from happening.

So Schwartz will tell the PCs that the cult needs the Gem of the Insect, an old statue, to complete the awakening ritual. He knows the time period when it was lost and its general location (the Insect Shrine in Goblin Hill), and has prepared a scroll which can travel back the caster and a small group back in time. Once the duration ends and they come back to the present, they must use that knowledge to find its current location. If the Gem is broken, the God will slumber forevermore.

Schwartz will not directly help the PCs, or offer them a reward. If pressed or asked why they should trust him, he’ll mention that the Insect God will kill millions at the very least, and potentially all human life. He only kills about a dozen people a year.

Around days 8-11 from the campaign start, the Swedish Army will send a legion of troops to the Mound in their sorcery eradication attempts. They will kill Schwartz and destroy all of the “pagan” creations in the process, meaning that the PCs will have no way to stop the Insect God unless they’re able to figure things out on their own.

I find this scenario hard to believe. Even though the Swedish Army at the time was one of the most advanced in the world, LotFP spellcasters still have a bunch of tricks up their sleeves at high levels. All but 7 of Schwartz’s spells (which are the unique ones) are for the DM to determine, and while he might not be all to kill thousands of troops in a short amount of time, he can out thwart them. He can hold up in the Mound and will easily notice a large group coming inside, enough to formulate tactics and plans.

An LotFP Magic-User can:

Cast Protection From Normal Missiles as a 3rd-level spell, which provides complete immunity to small non-magical projectiles (including bows, bolts, and bullets) for 1 round/level (round equals 6 seconds).

Protection From Normal Weapons as a 4th-level spell, which does the same as the above but for all non-magical weapons and people of 4th-level and higher can affect the caster normally.

Cast various Invisibility spells from 2nd-7th level which last 1 turn/level (1 turn equals 10 minutes), ranging from 10’ radius to being allowed to attack and so forth.

Gaseous Form and Dimension Door as 3rd and 4th level spells for escape.

Stone Shape, Wall of Force/Iron/Stone as 5th level spells, along with Stinking Cloud and Web as 2nd level spells for battlefield control.

Okay, you get my point.

Magic Item and Spells

Next section discusses Schwartz’s unique magic item, The Dead Marionette. It’s a bar with strings made from human hair, and it has 3 powers which can be used once per round as long as an intact human skeleton dangles from it.

One power allows the user to summon 2d6 1 hit die spectral duplicates of the caster, to a maximum of 12 at any time. They ignore worn armor and deal 1 hit point of damage, but can be affected by normal attacks.

The other power can take physical control of a target on a failed Save vs. Paralyzation, except they have full control of their mouth (and thus can’t cast spells against their will).

The third power can break a target’s bones on a failed Save vs. Magical Device. Deals no hit point damage, but imposes penalties based upon the area effected (ribs halve carrying capacity, legs reduce movement, etc). Takes 1d4+1 weeks to heal naturally, healed instantly with a cure spell provided said spell isn’t used to restore hit points.

Even though it’s unlikely the PCs will get access to this item in the adventure, it can be a really powerful item for them. Aside from looking creepy as gently caress and hard to conceal and carry if using a skeleton, it has no negative effects on the user. It can be used an unlimited number of times unless the target succeeds on a save (in which case the skeleton crumbles). Finding replacement skeletons is easy, given that the PCs are traveling adventurers.

Also detailed are 7 new spells. All but 2 of them are 1st level, with Animate Hands being 2nd level and Perfect Dark Vision being 3rd level.


Animate Hands
Magic-User Level 2
Duration: 1 round/level
Range: 10’/level

This spell animates any severed human or human-like hands (or hands attached to severed limbs) within range, allowing the caster to control them as natural extensions of his own body.

Pairs of hands can be used by the caster to cast spells independent of other actions taken. Spells are of course counted against the caster’s prepared totals. By itself, a hand cannot carry items or attack for damage, but a hand can enter mêlée and distract its opponent by climbing on them; a saving throw versus Paralyzation is required or the harassed combatant suffers -1 to hit and a 1-point Armor penalty. These effects are cumulative, and a victim must save against each hand’s effects each Round.

Hands: Armor 12, 0 Hit Dice (1d4 Hit Points), Movement 60’ (30’ if attached to a limb), Morale 12.

This works as a nice debuffer against single opponents, but its ability to grant additional cast spells per round is the bomb. Granted, LotFP spellcasters don’t get bonus spells per day from ability scores or at-will cantrips like in 3.X games, but it’s a worthy trade-off assuming that the Magic-User’s would otherwise cast multiple spells over the combat encounter.


Magic-User Level 1
Duration: Instantaneous
Range: Touch
This spell causes a willing subject to instantly become 1dX years younger, with X being the level of the caster.

If the maximum effect occurs, it adversely affects the subject, resulting in the loss of an experience level as well (with experience points being set at the minimum for the new level). A Level 0 character will instead become lobotomized, effectively no longer possessing an intellect at all. In either case, the character must then save versus Magic or de-age a further 1d30 years.

A character that falls to zero years of age becomes a fetus. A character that falls below zero years of age ceases to exist, as does all carried equipment and other peoples’ memories of that character, and all actions that character has ever performed are undone.

If the Referee’s game includes Elves, this spell does not affect them.

Except on a few levels, this spell requires either an online dice roller or one of those fractional things where multiple numbers on a die represent a single result. For a 1st-level spell, this can be quite powerful. Not only do you have the chance of permanently screwing over the target, you can even remove him out of existence entirely!


Deflect Damage
Magic-User Level 1
Duration: 1 round/level
Range: Self
This spell attempts to assign damage suffered by the caster to another nearby creature instead. When the caster suffers damage while under the effects of the spell, another creature within 30’ of the caster is randomly selected by the spell.

If this victim fails a saving throw versus Magic, it takes the damage instead of the caster. The damage transferred is never greater than the level of the caster each Round and if the transferred damage is enough to kill the victim, any excess is transferred to another random target. Damage self-inflicted by the caster will not be transferred and the damage is never transferred back to the person dealing the damage in the first place.

A good way for the party Wizard to up his survival rate, but the randomness of it decreases its usefulness unless allies give the caster a wide berth.


Journey to the Past
Magic-User Level 1
Duration: 1 turn/level
Range: Self
Upon casting this spell, the caster and all persons touching him (and their personal gear) are transported to a pre- determined point in time in the past. The transported characters are able to interact with and influence events at that time; they are there! When the duration expires, the subjects return immediately to their own time at the same point in time they left from. Onlookers will merely see them blink out of existence for a fraction of a second.

The point in time is fixed with the spell; each different point in time must be researched and learned as a completely new spell. The time associated with the spell will be constant. “Four o’clock in the afternoon on February 4th, 1602” is an allowable example (and will be tied to “four o’clock” where the spell was first transcribed, not the local four o’clock if different!), “Thirty minutes before casting” is not.

The spell does not transport its subjects across space*; travel occurs at the exact location of the casting only. Unwilling subjects can save versus Magic to remain unaffected. No people or objects from the past will be transported back to the present when the spell ends. The spell cannot be ended prematurely, but the caster can specify a shorter duration (in 10-minute Turn increments) at the time of casting.

* The Referee who declares that subjects of this spell are transported into space because they did not take into account the movement of the planet or the sun through outer space is an idiot and deserves to lose all of his players.

Schwartz’s spell sends the subject(s) back to July 14th, dawn, 10,000 BC. Since he’s 17th level, PCs would have nearly 3 hours to go through the Insect Shrine to find the Gem.

This spell is also potentially powerful as well, even considering its fixed point in time. Research a new spell variant tailored to a certain day of historical significance, travel back and alter things and change the course of history.

It doesn’t specify if objects from the present can be abandoned. I assume from the reading that things from the past can’t be taken forward in time.


Perfect Dark Vision
Magic-User Level 3
Duration: Special
Range: Touch
This spell imbues a severed head of the same species as the caster with the ability to grant its possessor the ability to see without light. The head must be in direct flesh-to-flesh contact with the subject to function.

The spell ends when flesh-to-flesh contact ends, or when the flesh completely rots off the severed head (3d4 days after death in normal conditions, half as long in warm conditions, twice as long in cold conditions, a matter of Turns in insect- infested areas of the Insect Shrine, etc.).

If the head is artificially preserved by any means, including the Plastination spell, it cannot be used to power the spell.

Long-term duration darkvision. Unless you cut a hole in your clothing and let a severed head touch you there, you’re going to look like a creepy gently caress walking around with it in the open.


Magic-User Level 1
Duration: Permanent
Range: Touch
This spell coats dead organic matter in a clear shell which perfectly preserves the subject matter. The casing material is in no way indestructible; any blow intending to destroy or penetrate it will do so.

Due to the nature of the casing material, that which it preserves is no longer organic material. Therefore food cannot be preserved in this manner and neither can sacrifice victims, without either becoming unfit for purpose.

Pretty much Gentle Repose.


Read Brains
Magic-User Level 1
Duration: Special
Range: Self
This spell allows the caster to use the content of a character’s brains in lieu of a library for magical activities. The brains must be extracted from the head and preserved to be used. A Magic-User’s brain counts as 1000sp per level of the Magic-User; Elves’ brains count as 2000sp per level of the Elf; Clerics’ brains subtract 1000sp from the effective library level per level of the Cleric; all other leveled characters’ brains count as 500sp per level; and 0-level characters’ brains count as 100sp each. However, the maximum benefit that the caster can gain from this spell per project is 1000sp for every level of the caster.

Once the magical project is completed, whether successfully or not, the brain(s) used are smoothed out, dried up, and useless.

Now your Magic-User can learn new spells and scribe scrolls while on the road! Provided you have enough brains to do so.

Thoughts so far: This section of the adventure is rather railroady. The PCs need Schwartz’s help if they’re planning on putting a stop to the Insect God’s cult, and they can’t really fight him and take his stuff without a guaranteed Total Party Kill. It also leaves open the question of why Schwartz hasn’t tracked down the Gem himself.

Aesthetically speaking, the dungeon and the new material (marionette, spells) are highly appropriate and very thematic of a depraved necromancer.

Next time, the Infinite Tower!

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!
Yeah, the uber-powerful necromancer and the goblins are kind of a low point which doesn't gel well with the rest of the module. But the next dungeon's pretty interesting and a lot less railroady.

Speaking of old-school "you're hosed, no saving throw" shenanigans, there's an insidious little bit in the next dungeon which can effectively make the PCs bypass the whole adventure accidentally, and in a bad way. Hint: it involves an impossibly long hallway.

Better Than Any Man Dungeon 3: The Infinite Tower

Located on the far western side of the map, the Infinite Tower is built into a cliffside at the edge of a pond. The tower's origin is unknown, having been there since before humanity evolved into homo sapiens. It has no connection to the Seven, Schwartz, the Insect God, or the German/Swedish power players. It's a side-trek; Raggi feels that more adventures should have people, locations, and events untied to the main plot because it gives a sense that the world is bigger than just the PC's concerns.

The tower's interior occupies an extra-dimensional space. Every level looks like the one on the map. If someone enters from the outside from up top, they'll enter through the door on Section E on Level 1; if someone enters through the steps on bottom, they'll enter through the door on Section A of Level 1; if the PCs manage to go through the underwater entrance through the cracks, they'll enter through the rightmost room on X4 of Level 1.

Travel between levels is done via ladders on A and E, and if someone exits through the A/E/X4 routes on any floor they'll find themselves outside the Tower. They enter back at Floor 1, and must climb/descend the Tower again (meaning that occupants on floors other than 1 never leave). Floors below 1 are marked in negatives (like Basement 1, Basement 2 in video game dungeons), as there is no Floor 0.

The tower's interior seems to go on forever, and nobody has found a dead end yet. There are millions of people and monsters living amid the Tower floors currently, and each level has 3d20 inhabitants of a specific type. The inhabitants' primary goals are to defend their levels from the others, while at the same time plotting to conquer the next higher level. They get their food and water supply from X4, which has fish, and have an assortment of treasure equal to 1d4 x Tower level (negatives count as positives) x 100 silver pieces, with the lion's share on the level's leader or his/her quarters.

Sections A and E act as guardrooms against the adjacent levels. Section B is the private quarters and strategy room of the elite occupants (no suggested changes to game stats). Section C is a common area with a storage room and secret door leading out to the cliffside and the sarcophagus room. Section D is a sleeping area, while Section X has 4 rooms.

Most of X's rooms are mundane (X2 is storage room, X3 are family living quarters, X4 is fishing area), but X1 has a really nasty trap:


The passage is a time trap. The corridor itself is endless. Anyone walking down this hall is lost for 1d6x10 years before the passage leads back here (it will not seem to turn). There is a 50% chance that the person lost in time will come back this many years before he left, and a 50% chance that he will come back this many years after he left. Whenever he makes his return, the person lost in time will always return to the same level of the Tower. Each level’s inhabitants are aware of the effect here and post guards to watch the corridor.

No, there's no save against this. A single PC goes down, and they're pretty much out of the campaign. The entire party goes down the passage, and they whole adventure passes them by (the Thirty Years War is over by 1648, and the Seven, the Citizen Peace Patrol cult, and Schwartz are all long dead). Actually, on days 8-11 the Swedish Army uses a lot of gunpowder to collapse the Infinite Tower, killing everyone inside and spilling their blood and guts out into the water supply. The river will run red for weeks. Which begs the question of whether or not PCs in the passage trap count as being inside, and if not, what they return to at its end.

Generally, occupants level 1 and up are humans with class levels, while the first five basement levels are empty. Basement levels 6 and down are inhabited by monsters. The occupants become stronger the farther one goes up or down, with examples for the first ten levels either way. It's up to the Dungeon Master to make up inhabitants beyond these 20 levels, but they're supposed to get stronger and stronger.

The first six levels up are 0 and 1st level guys, the first 2 being 0 level peasants and militia members, with 3-6 containing 1st level Specialists/Fighters/Clerics/Magic-Users, representing thieves’ guilds and religious orders and the like. Levels 7-10 have Magic-User orders of increasing probable power, starting with The Mystic Gathering of Atlantis of 2nd-level at 7, the Hidden 1d4 level , the Knowers of levels 1d4+2, and finally ending with the Installed at levels 2d6! It guess it really limits the PCs’ ability to explore the Tower when the first few levels can turn into an unstoppable force (the 3d20 number is widely variable alone), but I can see how the routine can eventually get tedious the first few times.

The monsters increase in power and difficulty at a far greater rate than the humans. The snake men on basement level 6 have Armor 14 and 3 hit dice and a poison attack which deals additional hit point damage. Basement 7 has Sulpher Men, with Armor 16, 4 hit dice, and a 30’ cone breath weapon of 1d6 fire damage. Basement 8 has men of Living Crystal, with 18 (!) Armor and reflect all magical attacks back at the caster; these guys are nearly untouchable for non-Fighters! The Lizards of Basement 9 don’t have any special abilities aside from Armor 18 and 8 hit dice. Basement 10’s monsters are Soul Suckers, with Armor 20 and 6 hit dice and a soul sucking attack which drains 1,000 experience points per hit!

These Armor scores might sound rather high for low-level adventurers, but it’s even more egregious in this RPG. I'll explain in this quote below:

Armor and to-hit posted:

For an overview, LotFP uses the ascending defense system of later D&D Editions, where a higher Armor (Class) means better protection. The average unarmored human has an Armor of 12; Leather Armor grants a base 14, chain 16, and plate mail 18. Magical spells and high dexterity can adjust the base further. Characters’ attack bonuses are a base +1 and modified by Strength or Dexterity (depending on whether it’s a melee or missile weapon). The Fighter is the only class whose attack bonus increases with level: it starts at a +2 base at 1st level and increases by 1 every level thereafter. This is meant to make combat less certain for all but the specialized Fighters (a Fighter with plate mail is king of the battlefield). Monsters' attack bonuses advance as Fighters (with an equivalent level equal to their Hit Die).

In the main rulebook, Raggi advises to keep the Armor of monsters low, with an 18 or more representing very dangerous and exceptional beings. But this rule is discarded at times in Better Than Any Man, and more than a few creatures cut it close, from Tower occupants to random encounters in Goblin Hill.

There are very few weapons which grant a bonus on to-hit rolls, and even they have conditions. The polearm grants a +1 to hit opponents with a base Armor of 16 or better; the light crossbow can ignore 2 points of Armor (even if the target is unarmored), the heavy crossbow 4 points, but both have longer reloading times; firearms (both pistols and rifles) can ignore 5 points of Armor but can only be shot once per combat encounter (they take forever to reload). A few weapons, such as the rapier, apply a penalty of -2 against very high (15-16 or better) base Armor scores.

So a 4th-level Fighter with a polearm and 16 (+2) Strength will get a +8 bonus under the right conditions, but that requires a high die roll at character creation and even then will miss 45% of the time against these Tower monsters.

This system might be workable in a base LotFP game, where combat is to be avoided unless the PCs are sure of themselves and most monsters have 12-15 Armor scores. But when you’ve got small groups of Armor 17 monsters showing up in dungeon encounters, your non-Fighter PCs are soon going to start carrying around heavy crossbows as their main weapons.

Finally, every floor has a secret sarcophagus level, unknown to the inhabitants. A Crypt Occupant guards the treasure, with some rather weak base stats (Armor 12, 1d4 hit die, 1d6 rend), but has a special ability determined by an accompanying random table (stuff like breath weapon, Constitution drain, skill points in Climbing/Sneak Attack/Stealth, etc). The room’s treasure is 1d6 x Tower level (negatives are treated as positive) x 500 silver pieces. And a 1% chance of a single spell scroll of level 1d6+3!

Thoughts so far: The Infinite Tower is a cool idea, but when it comes to execution I have mixed feelings. At first it appears to have a steady difficulty curve, but the 3d20 number throws any form of gradual progression out of whack. The monsters get too powerful too quickly. Saving the Tower for several sessions later is not possible, given that the Swedes will destroy it around week’s end, limiting its appeal.

Next time, Goblin Hill Part 1: Caverns!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 18:31 on Mar 21, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!
Better Than Any Man Dungeon 4: Goblin Hill-Caverns

Goblin Hill itself is an unremarkable hill roughly ten miles northeast of Hammelburg. Nobody remembers the origins of the name, and it's not known for any weird stuff by Franconia's inhabitants.

Within the hill is a complex underground system of natural caverns and artificially constructed tunnels and complexes. The Mother and the Bürgerfriedensmiliz use the place as a base of operations. Goblin Hill is so big that it's split up into 4 dungeons:

The Caverns, a cave system full of insects and lightly patrolled by milizionäre.

The Insect Shrine, a prehistoric temple to the Insect God.

The Bürgerfriedensmiliz Headquarters, known to every member of the Seven and the milizionäre, but none except the Mother and the hidden order of cultists have ever been inside.

The Realm of the Insect God, a forsaken and unholy place where the God itself lairs, along with millions of its monstrous servitors.

We'll be detailing the Caverns first.

The Cavern entrance is hidden from view by foliage and camouflage; not even the Mother knows about it. Gunther (bandit leader from the Abandoned Farmhouse) has a map to the place and scouted it out, and the Joy can tell PCs the entrance's general location and what passage to take to get into the Headquarters. A sign saying "Welcome!" in German, set up by the Mother, 40 feet away on the trail outside. This seems rather blatant to me; there are many alternatives for wilderness markings people historically used to indicate location (paint on trees, affixed markers, cairn trail markers).

The Cavern complex and the environs outside are infested with bugs, even in winter. Every hour the PCs linger without moving they'll take 1 hit point of damage as the insects get everywhere and under clothes and bite and sting. They quickly spoil rations and make resting inside impossible. Animals tethered in any way will try to break free and get out of the area.

Random Encounters

Generated by a d6 roll, all but 1 one of them involve giant monstrous insects. The other's a patrol of 2d6 milizionäre. It adds some flavor by mentioning that the patrols fashion shields out of giant ant heads; the minions of the Insect God are just as hostile to the cult as it is to everyone else, and as such the headquarters' inhabitants tread cautiously in the caverns. The DM rolls for an encounter once a Turn (10 minutes) the PCs spend in the cavern.

Overall the encounters are quite tough, but in different ways. The giant wasp monster is unimpressive, but is has a Save vs. Poison or die bee sting attack. The giant beetle is half as fast as a human and an average natural attack, but its Armor is 19. The encounter with 1d6 Giant Cockroaches are 2 Hit Dice creatures (but roll hit points as though they had 8 hit dice!). The Giant Horsefly is a fast flyer and has a blood-sucking attack, but it's cowardly and has a low Armor (14). The last encounter, 1d6 Giant Ants, are tough but manageable for higher-level parties (2 hit dice, Armor 17, 1d6 attack, high morale).

The cavern has 13 rooms. Most of them are interesting places with unique encounters.

Room 1's the cave entrance. Room 2 is the intersection area with a giant beetle and dead adventurer with loot.

Room 3 was used as an execution chamber for disobedient and criminal milizionäre, and their shadows remain within the cavern. They will attack anybody who remains for 1d6 minutes; they form out of shadows naturally generated by light, and deal damage with touch attacks. They cannot be harmed except through an Exorcism spell or removing all shadows entirely (by getting rid of all light sources). The skeletons of 6 dead adventurers have loot here, along with a locked chest (which should provide enough time for the shadows to show up if the PCs dilly-dally with it).

Room 4 is home to a basilisk and its petrified victims (the monster's petrified, too, through the use of a mirror).

Room 5 is home to 2 rogue and milizionäre exiled for heinous crimes (why weren't they executed as normal?). They've fashioned a Rube Goldberg network of bones all over the place, so any combat within the room (as well as collateral missile weapons, missed attacks by PCs, and area of effect spells) not performed by the pair will trigger a trap and cause sharpened bones to fall from the ceiling. They're 0 level humans with a pet attack dog, and their familiarity with the area gives them all an insane Armor (19 for the three). I can forgive this, though, for the totally awesome idea for a cinematic combat!

Room 6 is very wet with acid which looks like cave water. Getting sufficiently wet deals 1d8 damage, and anybody who falls asleep here will die as the acid will dissolve bodies over time.

Room 7 is a colony of ooze blobs with precious stones (eggs) in their bodies. Trying to retrieve the stones will trigger an acidic spray. Otherwise they're harmless.

Room 8 contains a black liquid orb suspended in the air. The environment within is breathable and home to an entity known only as the Master of the Sphere.

This creature and the sphere have no relation to the rest of the adventure, and is completely optional.

The Master gains its power by remaining within the sphere, and challenges anyone who enters to single combat and tell the others to leave the sphere. It's a rather tough customer: 4 Hit Dice, Armor Class 18 (24 against non-thrusting weapons), an electrical discharge area attack, and a psychic head whip attack which ignores armor. On the upside, it can't heal from any damage.

If a PC does manage to slay it, he or she can choose one of three choices, all of which have insane consequences:


Stay as master of the sphere and be immortal.

The character is restored to full Hit Points, and will live forever as long as he stays within the sphere. Any others within the sphere will instantly die, their maximum Hit Points being added to the newcomer’s total. If the new master leaves the sphere, he dies. The master may of course be replaced by an interloper defeating him in combat.

Absorb the power of the sphere and be powerful in the world.

The sphere disappears within the character, who falls harmlessly to the floor. The character gains 1000 extra Hit Points, which cannot be healed if the character suffers damage, but are used to absorb damage instead of the character’s regular Hit Points. Whenever the character fails a saving throw, 50 Hit Points are subtracted from this pool and the save is considered successful. This effect is automatic and cannot be switched off. Any other character within the sphere is instantly absorbed into the character as well, dying instantly, but also transferring their experience points to the absorbing character. This newly powerful character becomes instantly Chaotic (losing any Cleric abilities) and constantly exudes a black, oily form of sweat until the extra Hit Points are expended.

Disperse the Sphere

The sphere loses its form and collapses into the cavern, filling it far beyond the original sphere’s volume. The cave will fill to a 15’ depth, and any character whose encumbrance is greater than Unencumbered must shed equipment or drown. The character who defeated the Master of the Sphere will be able to remain buoyant with his own equipment, but not any equipment picked up after the sphere’s collapse. Any other characters within the sphere when it collapses must save versus Paralyzation or be stunned for 2d4 Rounds, and sink straight to the bottom of the newly formed lake if they are at all encumbered.

Options 1 and 3 screw over the characters, so does Option 2 if the PC's a Cleric or any of his buddies remain within the sphere. An effective 1,000 extra hit points is rather nice, though. Especially for this adventure.

Rooms 9 through 11 are where the spiders live, and it's insane. In addition to hordes of tiny poisonous spiders (which are treated as part of the environment rather than individual monsters), there are 60 giant spiders. 47 normal and 13 elite Spider Champions (who have 8 limb attacks each). They won't be hostile, though, unless the PCs try to steal the treasure in room 11.

See, 11 is a sacrificial offering place of sorts. Amid the webs are scattered coins and valuable objects; spiders will allow PCs to take the treasure provided that two objects are left in their place. As insects, they can't discern value. One object which they'll never part with is the diamond spider statue in the middle worth 30,000 silver pieces. If the PCs break any of these rules, EVERY SINGLE SPIDER IN THE CAVERNS WILL ATTACK THEM!

8 x 13 = 104 attacks for the Champions, +47 normal ones=151 potential attacks a round. As of this review, there are no rules for "mobs" in LotFP.

Room 12 is thick with flies and maggots, as a vertical cavern in the area is part of the latrine of the Bürgerfriedensmiliz Headquarters. The PCs can climb up and use it as a secret entrance if they can succeed on the Climb rolls. A giant horsefly and some giant maggots in the area will attack the PCs. They're one of the few relatively fair fights in the dungeon.

Room 13 is the entrance to the Insect Shrine. Many statues of man-insect hybrids decorate the entryway, with the light of fireflies in their eyeholes.


The combination of the light from the statue eyeholes, the swarms of insects that flit around in the light, and the water that trickles down from the ceiling and over the insectoid statues creates the optical illusion that the statues are writhing and struggling in place. A wandering monsters check—using the Insect Shrine chart (page 121)—should be made immediately after the player characters view the entryway.

Any hirelings or henchmen accompanying the party must make a loyalty check or they will refuse to enter the shrine.

This is the entrance to the next dungeon, and I love the atmosphere the text generates in its description. It tells the PCs that they're going into an even more forlorn and dangerous place.

Thoughts so far: A sparsely populated dungeon with some very tough opponents, it's ill-suited to 1st and 2nd level PCs. Even 4th level PCs can get screwed over by the Sphere and the Spider horde, but there are ways to avoid this.

Next time, the Insect Shrine!

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!
Better Than Any Man Dungeon 5: Goblin Hill-Insect Shrine

Eons ago this place was the central seat of power for the Insect God's worshipers. Now it's in ruins, inhabited only by monsters. It's lightly patrolled by Milizionäre, but none of them make residence in the area.

The random encounters here are less frequent (1 in 6 chance every 3 turns), and mostly consist of the insects from the caverns only in larger numbers. The Giant Wasps, thankfully, do not have a Save or Die poison (it just deals additional damage), and a few of the opponents are quite weak (Giant Moths and Giant Bees).

Aside from this, the Insect Shrine is even more perilous than the caverns. Right off the bat in Room 1 we have a Giant Stoneskin Cockroach, which only awakens if touched or searched. It can be avoided otherwise, but it's a 15 hit dice monstrosity with a 25 Armor. Effectively indestructible, although fortunately it has half the speed of a human (so the PCs can run away).

Where the Caverns had oodles of insects, a sphere-demon, and crazy bone-warriors, the Insect Shrine is more quiet, foreboding, subtle, and trap-heavy. The dungeons' insect inhabitants are usually dormant and attack only if disturbed, or are part of the dungeons' traps for greedy adventurers. I do like this shift, as it makes the dungeon feel less bustling with activity, yet dangerous enough to tell the PCs that the place is still watched over by foul forces.

The rooms, for the most part, are relatively mundane. Rooms 2 & 3 are storage spaces, a worship hall with giant wasp nests (4) at the tops of some gem-studded columns, two ritual cleansing rooms (5 & 6) inhabited by butterflies which fly into the characters' mouths to lay eggs (which will hatch into caterpillars weeks later and burst forth from their flesh), a sacrifice pen (room 7) with still-living giant earwigs and maggots in cages who will attack anybody who falls in (Raggi developed a rather complex system of determining balance for PCs in a sidebar), and three priest quarters (8, 9, & 10). The latter two have a jade caterpillar carving and golden scarab amulet, both of which are trapped. The caterpillar will eat the other items and money in a stored container before eventually climbing out to return to the room; the golden scarab will telepathically communicate with insects in Goblin Hill, tripling random encounter chances and will burrow into the flesh of a sleeping PC to eat its brain and give birth to mini-scarabs.

Sort of seeing a theme here; I get the whole Body Horror feel of insects inside your body, but this is like the third time at least I've seen it used in this adventure. The jade caterpillar, by contrast, is a very neat idea and still makes thematic sense will being original.

See that southern part of the map? That's one giant ant farm. Of giant ants. Now that the humanoid inhabitants are long-dead, the colony grew out of control and burrowed into the surrounding rock for room. There are 168 giant ants in total, but none will be hostile unless their Queen is attacked. The colony still has use for humans, and those who fall prey to them in the dungeon or surrounding countryside are taken here to be used as livestock:


This cavern is where the ants harvest the food that feeds both themselves and most of the insects, great and small, in the greater cave complex. Scattered across the floor of the main cavern are hundreds of human corpses, all covered in the fungus the insects use for food. Each corpse is more fertile when fresh—even more so when still alive! —but this fungus can grow on bones for centuries. When giant ants kill prey, or when soldiers paralyze their enemies, they are brought here, their arms and legs are amputated, and then the torso is intentionally infected with the fungus. Living cows will be fed to keep them alive as long as possible, as excrement is useful for food as well and when the body dies there will be a great feast as the fungus spreads throughout the organs and the fungal bloom which results really is something to behold.

There will be 1d6-4 such living cows among the herd here.

Dozens of giant ants and half a dozen soldiers (see #11) will be here working or guarding at any one time, but they consider this a neutral zone and will let intruders pass undisturbed to avoid threatening the herd. If intruders move, damage, or otherwise molest the herd, the ants will swarm to eliminate the intruders.

I honestly never would've thought to use insects this way. It's unconventional and creepy enough to throw the players for a loop, but plausible-sounding enough that suspension of disbelief is maintained.

The Queen lairs in room 13. Killing her will permanently Confuse (as the spell) the ant colony, but she's guarded by a legion of ants. The queen herself is immobile and can't attack, but has 13 hit dice and so will take a long time to kill.

Room 14's a puzzle door which must be unlocked to gain access to 15 and 16. It's a series of 4 handlesembedded inside insect statue mouths and a foot pad at the base. The handles all must be turned clockwise and the footpad pressed for the door to open. Skill checks are pretty much useless:


An Architecture roll will reveal that there are many levers and gears working within the door. A Tinkering roll will disable them… making the door impossible to open.

Given that Tinkering's the major Open Lock/Disable Device skill in LotFP, it's highly likely that many PCs will end up screwing themselves over. The Gem of the Insect is in Room 16 beyond, and the door's the only way through.

Room 15 is a mausoleum, inhabited by a Giant Zombie Praying Mantis who will attack anyone who opens the central tomb (they all have nothing of value). Like the Giant Stone Cockroach, the Mantis can make quick work of low-level PCs. Armor 19, 11 hit dice, 1 bite attack dealing 3d4 damage (the most of any monster so far) and 2 arms dealing 2d6 damage. It's slow as hell, though (1/4th human movement).

I get the feeling that PCs in this adventure are going to do a lot of running away from some very powerful monsters a lot of the time. Sort of in tune with LotFP, but the number's kind of pushing it.

Room 16 contains the only hope for our PCs to put a stop to the Insect God. The Gem of the Insect, a 4' tall magnificent ruby red statue of an ant, is at the bottom of the sand pit. An ant lion lives here. In ancient times cultists fed it living sacrifices, but it hibernated for much of the intervening thousands of years. If the PCs want the statue, they must kill the Ant Lion.

The Ant Lion is definitely a tough customer. It has 20 Armor, 8 hit die, and any attack it makes in the sand pit automatically pulls the target under, dealing 1d6 additional damage every round. To add insult to injury, the target must also Save vs. Paralysis or be paralyzed.

The statue is 75,000 silver pieces total, but it's easily broken into 3 segments worth 15,000 silver each.

That's it. If the PCs break the statue, the cult's plans have failed, the Insect God will sleep for eternity, and if the PCs played their cards right, they can entirely bypass much of the Caverns, the Bürgerfriedensmiliz Headquarters, and the Realm of the Insect God. The Mother hasn't found the statue yet, but it would be only a matter of time before her cult reclaimed the shrine.

Of course, if the PCs have Schwartz's time-traveling scroll, they can use it to transport themselves to the Shrine in its heyday. Raggi did not extensively detail the prehistoric world or the dungeon's past, but he does offer a few choice notes:


•The complex currently inhabited by the Bürgerfriedensmiliz would not yet have been built.
• The Mound would be an active facility.
• None of the towns and cities would be present on the map. The area would be much colder.
• The caves would be heavily trafficked by insects and cultists, but none of the odd encounters would be there.
• The cultists would all be three to three-and-a-half feet tall humanoids enjoying a higher level of technology and civilization than the Stone Age humans around them. They are evil halflings (what else did you expect, midgets?)
• The Insect Shrine would be fully inhabited and operational, but in the timeframe the spell would be in effect, most of the cultists are in location #16 performing a lengthy ritual.
• Location #7 would be full of victims; one hand and one foot removed, but the Referee should keep some guards around so the player characters can have duels atop the cages.
• A mass of cultists will be in location #16, with the great ruby ant statue on the altar. When the futuristic invaders are detected, priests will tip the ant into the sand pit where the ant lion will drag it below. There should be enough cultists in the way to prevent the player characters from stopping this.
• The cultists should be pushovers. 0 level, carry-only-daggers style pushovers. After all the rest of the crap to deal with in this adventure, it will do the players good to have ineffective, truly evil enemies to mow down. Keep the giant insects to a minimum.

To the bolded: the adventure earlier mentioned the prehistoric worshipers as Goblins. Now they're Haflings? And I honestly would've preferred them to be short humans; stock fantasy races don't feel right at all in Weird Renaissance Europe.

Thoughts so far: One of the better parts of the adventure. The atmosphere is perfect, and the giant monstrosities are slow enough for unencumbered PCs to flee from. This dungeon is overall more forgiving if the PCs are cautious.

Next time, the Bürgerfriedensmiliz Headquarters!

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!
On that note, now would be a good time to tell Syrg Sapphire that I can't continue my Ptolus and Key of Destiny reviews. Better Than Any Man is pre-written, and stuff has occurred which will prevent me from continuing any reviews in process.

Anyone else is free to continue where I left off.

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!
Better Than Any Man Dungeon 6: Goblin Hill-Bürgerfriedensmiliz Headquarters

This armed compound serves multiple functions as a military fortress, "re-education center," and worship center for the Insect God. As mentioned in the Caverns, there is a secret entrance via the latrine. Otherwise the only direct route is through the front gates on the other side of Goblin Hill (room 1).

Several hundred milizionäre live here at this time. Excepting the few named NPCs, they're all 0 level humans with short swords and no armor. However, the barracks and armory have equipment suitable for soldiers. Unlike their counterparts in Karlstadt, most are trained in lethal combat and willing to kill to protect their fortress.

Going in the normal way is difficult. The front door (room 1) is continuously guarded by sentries, there are several murder holes (rooms 2) to shoot enemy intruders, and the hallways nearby are narrow choke-points and wire-framed alcoves (rooms 3) which can be blocked from passage via the raising of metal bars.

There's 29 rooms in total. I'm not going to cover all of them (quite a bit are mundane living quarters and storerooms), just the ones of particular interest and note.

Rooms 7 and 8 are the bedroom and workshop of the Engineer. Adeltraud Teschendorff is a mechanical genius and Insect God worshiper recruited by the Mother. The workshop is full of various clockwork devices, and given enough time she can don a clockwork suit of armor which is treated as an individual monster and has a Death Ray attack. Also aiding her are 3 automatons in combat.


The Automatons: Armor 22, 2 Hit Dice, Movement 30’, 1 bash attack doing 1d6 damage, Morale 12. Every hit against an automaton damages its functionality, giving it a -1 penalty to hit.

The Exo-Suit: Armor 20, 3 Hit Dice, Movement 30’, 1 bash attack doing 1d6 damage or 1 death ray attack (range 120’) doing 1d10 damage (can fire once every 10 rounds), Morale 12.

The Engineer: Armor 12, Level 0, Movement 120’, 1 dagger attack doing 1d4 damage, Morale 7.

Grossly high armor class for 4 opponents, but their hit dice is pretty low. Still feels pretty overkill to me.

The Engineer's inventions in progress are very advanced: land mines, a steam engine, and a sound recording machine (basically a record player). They have working notes and material, but will take time to make fully functional. None of them work correctly or as intended: the land mines are meant to be a timed explosion but explode immediately when primed, the steam engine just makes steam and will blow up if left on for too long, and the sound recording machine actually absorbs sound transmitted through the horn to be played back later. If the sound is played in reverse, it will Summon a random extraplanar monster.

The treasury, room 9, has only two guards, and has a shitload of treasure:


The followers of the Insect God are preparing to rule, and rulership requires funds. This room contains 25 chests, each
containing 1d100x10sp.
Two milizionäre with whistles guard
the door, which is kept locked.

Now that's a lot of potential treasure. Keep in mind that in LotFP, thereare no Bags of Holding or extradimensional safe spaces, and no market for magic items. However, LotFP uses the "treasure as experience" rule, on a 1 silver piece for 1 experience point basis once the PCs get back to civilization and spend/save their loot (it's expected that players will gain most of their experience this way). To get to 4th level, a total of 6,000-9,000 experience (depending upon class) is required. On average the combined lot should net 6,750 silver divided by the PCs present.

I just realized that there are several opportunities for PCs to level up quickly. The ruby ant statue alone should be enough to push PCs past Level 4.

Rooms 13-15 are the barracks. Most milizionäre here are unarmed noncombatants, such as children and their caretakers. The rooms, even those for the elite, are spartan and designed completely for functionality, in line with the Insect God’s aims:


The ultimate goal that the Insect God has for humanity is to wipe out the vast majority of them, leaving a scant few to perform various tasks that insects are unable to, and to be breeding stock for food. Towards that end humanity must be domesticated and conditioned to suppress individuality and ambition. The living conditions of the average Insect God worshipper reflects this goal, even if most of the time the average worshipper does not seem any different than the average person.

These barracks are spartanly furnished and absolutely packed tight. Each room contains sleeping areas for 100 people (men, women, and children are not separated) in beds stacked three high.

Note that even though masses of men and women live together, and there are children, sexual desire is being suppressed through various means of conditioning and this has been so successful that The Voice leads breeding exercises twice a month (in the dining hall) to promote reproduction, and no one looks forward to them. For now, only those old enough to be considered of a socially acceptable breeding age in the outside world is made to attend, but the eventual goal is to start breeding at puberty once pretense and secret co-existence with the outside world has been abandoned.

Kind of makes me wonder how many of the cultists are aware of their future fate. On a related note, I haven’t found any in-character incentive for the Mother and her cult on what they gain out of servitude. Guess it’s just meant to be a flat villain in the “evil cthulhoid cult” vein. I can get behind that ordinarily, but it feels odd considering that the motivations and backstories for the other power players (the Seven, the Prince-Bishop) are more understandable and nuanced.

Rooms 17-19 are the domain of the Voice. Not one of the Seven, Ottilie Trautvetter is an alchemist from Hamburg and drifter who tried to rob the Mother while in Karlstadt. In an attempt to intimidate her, the Mother let slip that she was a devotee to the Insect God, and Ottilie convinced her that she was one of the faithful. Now she performs various experiments for the cult, from alchemy to crossbreeding monstrous insects with animals. She is a 0 level human with a giant bee stinger as a weapon.

Room 18's the Birthing Chamber, and the Voice is in the middle of breeding Giant Horseflies with horses to make the perfect mounts for the cult. She has an alchemical mixture which can induce cross-species fertility, and has been successful. A horse gave birth to 5 hybrids, which have eaten their mother. They'll attack the PCs and try to escape; if successful, they'll breed outside and spread their numbers over the years.

Room 19 is her private chamber. In addition to roasted human flesh (she's a cannibal, too!) and a small Insect God altar, there are 5 trapped chests with loot. One of the more interesting treasures is a set of books:


Chest #1: The trap is an electric current that surges through the inner frame of the chest. Any metal object stuck in the keyhole or smashing the chest will trigger the trap. The person holding the item will take 2d6 points of damage, half if he saves versus Breath Weapon. Inside the chest is a metal jar full of fireflies (supplying the charge!), and a sack full of books. The books are scholarly works written in Arabic about the strengthening effects of eating human flesh. The books will take 5d4 days of uninterrupted reading to finish, and the end result is that the reader will believe they have the information to gain ability score bonuses after consuming a diet of flesh for at least ten straight days. If anybody actually follows this course of action, bad news, it will not actually do anything. Just because it is written in Arabic does not mean that the author is not crazy.


Chest #3: The trap is a rust-causing gas contained in an empty compartment in the top of the chest. The ruddy brown gas will fill up the room and every metal item will corrode and become useless (not the insides of the chests as they are airtight), and human flesh will turn a bright cherry red for 24 hours. Inside this chest is a small totem of the Insect God made of wicker, tin, and dried offal. It is worthless to anyone other than disciples of the Insect God…

I guess we can add "trolling the PCs" to Save or Dies and uber-powerful monsters for avenues of player aggravation.

There's also rules for mixing chemical ingredients in the Voice's workshop (room 17), in case the PCs want to mess around with her research. The Voice has been using stone shards from a meteor in her alchemy, which bestows an additional effect on the right-hand table.

As you can tell, the negatives outweigh the positives, but Raggi notes that if anyone complains, tell them that messing around in a cultist's laboratory isn't something they should do in the future. Sometimes I wonder if he's one of those Killer DMs...

Room 23 is the kitchen:


There will always be half a dozen chefs here going about their work, and often several others, including children,) looking for scraps and treats.

The kitchen’s primary output is human meat, and the staff do their best when supplied with fresh livestock, both “pre-processed” in the torture chamber and raw specimens—each is used for different dishes, although they do realize the importance of fruits and vegetables and grains. As a result, this place does not so much resemble a kitchen as it does a slaughterhouse and barbeque pit. Thus the kitchen is the one place where the Insect God’s followers’ threat to human life and stability is on clear display.

The illustration on the next spread is just an example of what goes on here. The Referee should push hard to create a gross, cruel-spirited description of the place. There’s no “sanity mechanic” in LotFP; it is up to the Referee to blur the lines for the players at the table between “I’m your friend presenting this fictional situation” and “I’m getting a little too into this description, is everyone’s skin crawling yet? No? We’ll let me tell them about what’s going on with eyeballs…”

Rafael Chandler (of Scorn: The First Book of Pandemonium and Teratic Tome fame) suggests: “Suffering is most intense (to the audience) when the victim is singular and humanized and trying to avoid the pain. So the Referee might start to describe such scenes by noting the actions/words/plight of a single victim before zooming out (so to speak) to address the tableau in its entirety.”

It is here where the Insect God’s worshippers stop being generic fantasy threats and start being the truly despicable villains needing to be wiped out that they are.

The accompanying image is a full-page illustration of the kitchen; dead naked human bodies, including one baby corpse, are hanging from the ceiling. Two people pull entrails out of the adult bodies as children hold their hands out under them to catch the blood as though to eat it. A dead woman is rotated on a burning spit roast while cultists haul dismembered limbs to a giant stew pot.

This is one of those times I feel that Raggis is trying too hard. I get the whole cannibalism thing, but it's just thrown in there with no prior explanation. The whole thing is obvious shock value.

The last four chambers (26-29) are the Mother's quarters. 26 is the throne room, where she will make a last stand if the complex is invaded; 27 is the guard chamber, where her servitor creature usually is; 28 holds the Telling Mirror, a magic item which will answer any question posed to it so long as it's specific and begun with "mirror, mirror, on the wall." 29 is her personal bedchambers, containing her personal funds and the Maker's spellbook along with her head on a silver platter.

The Mother's room is actually located over an open space in the caverns, which lead down into the Realm of the Insect God. The spirits of those who perished below haunt her dreams, encouraging her to expand her power. The spirits want someone to set them free by digging into the earth, but she's crazy and misinterprets their messages to "invade outward" instead of inward. Nobody in the Insect God cult knows of this cave or its connection to their deity's realm.

If there is no combat, the spirits will speak to a single PC, begging them to set them free and to dig below the earth. It will take several hours of digging for several humans to make their way to the underground passage, which is Room 1 of the Realm of the Insect God.

Thoughts so far: A heavily-defended complex, this is the cult's center of power. The PCs could take out the Mother, and the Swedish Army will kill everyone within the headquarters on days 9-11, but unless the ruby ant statue is found and broken, the Insect God will still be around and can contact others.

Next time, the Grand Finale, the Realm of the Insect God!

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Alien Rope Burn posted:

I have to wonder what's in it for adventurers to be adventurers in Raggi's... adventures. Idiocy? Masochism? Suicide pacts?

It's implied that in the world of LotFP that nobody really wants to be an adventurer. Clerics are instructed by their church/entity/etc to go out and destroy aberrations, Magic-Users are villified and driven to the fringes of civilization, Fighters are the only true warriors who can slay fell beasts and did a bunch of terrible stuff in the war which makes people feel uneasy around them. Specialists (or 'thieves' in other OSR games) adventure for a living, and the other classes regard them as crazy.

The worlds of LotFP are prettty crappy, tiny pockets of civilization in a sea of monstrous wilderness and eldritch places. And even the places of civilization are tyrannical and insulated places, and PCs are pretty much social outcasts who for one reason or another can't get along with contemporary society.

Alien Rope Burn posted:

In any case, I'm not terribly convinced that the cultists of the Insect God "stop being generic fantasy threats". Worshippers of a god trying to take control of his world with its demonic insect minions? Yeah, really breaking that mold. :mad:

It's disappointing because the "villains" start out feeling rather nuanced and then it seems to really focus laser-like on this apocalypse cult, which doesn't have much to do with the plot save to offer up dungeons, as far as I can tell. Smart PCs would just wait for the army to march through and then clean that poo poo up afterwards... but I guess you don't earn as much XP that way.

Ah, but the Swedes will either collapse the dungeons so that nobody can find it, or they loot much of the treasure. Meaning that the adventure ends once the Swedes finish their massacre.

And the dungeons are a large part of the adventure, in terms of page count and loot/XP. The rest of the plot is just a background. Except for the Seven, who are tangentially connected to the Cult of the Insect God anyway. I think that this is some missing potential. Only 1 of the Seven, the Mother, knows of the cult's true workings, and the adventure does not explore what the witches would do if they too discover its existence. Some of them could make for unlikely allies, such as the Defiler and the Watcher.

Anyway, the final part of the review!

Better Than Any Man Dungeon 7: Goblin Hill-Realm of the Insect God

While still on the mortal plane, this cavern is the domain of a deity. It's been cut off from the outside world for millennia.


If camping or resting to regain spells within this cavern system, Clerics will be directly contacted by their deity, telling them to “Leave this damned place at once!” No spells will be granted, as this is the domain of another Power. Any time a divination or any informative spell (Detects, etc.) is cast by anyone, instead of the normal effect the spell summons 3d6 spirits of humans being devoured by ghostly insects. The spirits will appear for 2d10 rounds, screaming all the while. Every so often, one of the spirits will see through the veil of death and warn the adventurers to run while they still have their souls…

The warnings are more than just a "here is a dangerous dungeon for PCs to explore!" It really is that lethal. There is no priceless treasures or loot to be obtained here and entering this complex is entirely optional as far as solving Franconia's troubles. If anything fully exploring this complex is actually detrimental to the PCs' goals, for reasons discussed later.

Mundane insects are all over the place, so much that stepping anywhere will kill dozens of them and even opening one's mouth uncovered causes it to be filled to the brim with flying bugs. The only random encounters are 1d6 bugs with 1d6 hit dice, with 12+1d6 Armor and an attack dealing 1d6 damage per 2 hit dice.

Room 1's a cavern with a canoe and four skeletons. The corpses date from the Bronze Age, and the carvings on the walls are scripts from this era. A river (the blue line on the map) travels through much of the cavern, and can be traversed with the boat provided.

Room 2's another cavern inhabited by a tribe of 50 cockroach men. They will attack anyone not traveling on the water. They're very tough for PCs to fight (8 hit dice but attack as 2 hit dice creatures, 18 Armor, bite attack which inflicts random disease).

Room 3's illuminated by a film of material which looks like the Northern Lights (aurora borealis). The light covers every surface, and a giant insect on the cavern's top appears trapped, yearning to break free. If the PCs are foolish enough to break the film, it will form into a giant insect filling up the whole cavern. It's so huge it's attacks count as area attacks and can attack 4 times a round. It is immune to non-magical weapons (none of which the PCs would've found in the adventure), has 21 Armor, 20 hit dice, and can kill itself in a suicide flash attack which blinds people for 2d4 days on a failed save.

Very TPK-worthy, but the PCs have nobody but themselves to blame if they mess around here. Plus the insect can't exit the cavern.

Room 4 is a 500 foot waterfall in the underground stream, which can be climbed down on its sides easily enough if Unencumbered. Traveling via boat moves too fast for the PCs to react. Falling damage is the same as in 3rd Edition (1d6 per 10 feet, maximum 20d6). Another potential TPK.

Room 5 is an unstable section of the dungeon, held up by a giant obsidian ant statue with legs spread out across the cavern. Pieces of the ceiling fall at irregular intervals every so often. If the statue is touched in any way, it will break and bury the PCs under tons of rock.

TPK Count in this dungeon alone: 3.

Room 6 is covered in a brown sticky liquid which falls from the ceiling like rain. It's actually the reformed hemolymph of every insect killed in the world, and drains through the countless cracks in the cavern floor to exit elsewhere and be reborn as new insects. The spirits of trillions of insects live in this cave, and the room has a trap for spellcasters:


Nevertheless, if any divination or information spells are cast, or if a Cleric attempts to regain his spells after resting here, the intended spell effect does not take place (and/or no spells are granted), and the offender will be overcome by the spirits of ordinary insects invading his psyche. The character must make a saving throw versus Magic, and if successful, he will merely have the mind of some random insect for 2d12 hours. If the save is failed, his mind will have been completely wiped out and replaced (not changed) by that of a mundane insect.

Not a TPK, but a very situational Save or Die. The former scenario is far more likely, as I can't imagine any halfway intelligent party resting in a cavern entirely filled with bug blood.

Room 7's the domain of a 100 foot tall giant, buried up to its neck in earth. Most of its body and brain is infested with insects, and as such its mind has deteriorated into barely sentient insanity.


The giant has been here for millennia, a captive of the Insect God who thinks it is the god and master of humanity in the same way that the Insect God is the god and master of insects. The giant is the largest and most powerful example of its order, and thus must be the spiritual, mental, and physical leader of its kind. The Insect God therefore believes in its its absolute supremacy over the God of Man, and in each of its children as better than any man.

That's where the adventure gets its name! Unfortunately the giant can't communicate, so there's no real way for the PCs to find this out.

Room 8 is the Lair of the Insect God.

The carcass of a humongous caterpillar edges out from the pond, its visible body over a hundred feet long (and far larger below the water). Insect colonies and intelligent slimes and oozes have hollowed out most of the creature and live within and around it.

Even though the Insect God is missing most of its body and brain, it is still supremely powerful and intelligent, and will immediately establish contact with the PCs.


The hum will coalesce in the intruders’ minds as a very low-pitched, calm voice. “I have been… waiting…for… you. You
will die… and serve me.” At this point, materializing out of the ambient light, will be the phosphorescent ghosts of monstrous giant insects, with wings and clawed limbs and stinging tails and horrible mandibles.

There are thousands of them, and they will attack everyone present except the most powerful warrior – this one they will ignore. As each party member falls, whether from damage or strength drain, they will transform into a horrid, insectoid abomination like the rest. These things cannot be Turned—they are in the very presence of their god!—and will pursue their prey anywhere within this cavern system.

Once everyone else is transformed, the strongest warrior will then be grappled by the lot of them. This will not drain his strength. He will then be brought before the giant rotting mass.

A dozen insectoids will then sting their captive, laying hundreds of eggs which momentarily hatch. As these creatures deliver incredible agony as they skitter throughout the interior of the warrior’s body (this allows the Insect God to know everything the victim knows, from any distance, even across planes), another insect creature delivers a strange blade made of chitin.

The telepathic voice speaks again. “You will be my servant on the surface world. You will slay all two-legged defilers of planet Earth and claim their souls in my name. You will teach the world to fear me, to worship me, once again. And thus I shall be made whole as at the dawn of time. Go now, my eternal slave.”

With this, the character will be released with the new weapon in his hand, the ghostly insects will fade back into the light, which will itself presently fade, and the dead gargantuan god will once again be silent. The character is now alone, in the dark, but free to go.

Potential TPKs for this dungeon: 5.

The insect ghosts are relatively weak, but they're practically infinite and can't be harmed by physical attacks. The Insect God, on the other hand, is unkillable.


Insect God: Armor 29, 75 Hit Dice, Movement 0, only takes damage from attacks if the damage roll is 9 or greater, no physical attacks, immune to any mind-affecting spells and poison. Can telepathically communicate with any creature within five miles and read their minds. Can mentally communicate with and control any 6-limbed creature within 220,000 miles. Fails saving throws only on a 1.

The chitin sword given to the last surviving PC grants a +5 bonus on to-hit rolls, sends the souls of defeated opponents to be consumed by the Insect God, and cannot be rid of without a Remove Curse spell. The PC will become murderous, attacking any non-insect or arachnid on a failed save who refuses to convert to the Insect God's worship on the spot. Over the period of ten weeks it will transform the wielder into an upright insect, granting a +1 natural bonus to Armor per week.

There is nothing good to be gained for the PCs to explore this place. If they want to stop the Insect God's awakening, they'd do better destroying the ruby ant statue in the Insect Shrine. And if they want to save Würzburg from the Swedish, they'd kill the Mother in the Headquarters and the rest of the Seven in Karlstadt.

Final Thoughts: I'll start with the good. This adventure is definitely engaging, full of interesting plots and characters, the locales, monsters, and additional items and magic are very creative and unlike many other products out there. James Raggi put a lot of time and effort into making this adventure, and it shows.

And now for the bad. The adventure is way too lethal in way too many places, the randomness of several encounters makes it hard for the DM to plan risk assessment, and a lot of background stuff will be passed over and unknown to the PCs. I also feel that Raggi tries too hard to push the envelope in some areas.

Overall, this adventure is worth it for mining ideas. If you like it, then you'll like Lamentations of the Flame Princess and its extended line of products.

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 22:17 on Mar 22, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Rand Brittain posted:

I have to say, I will never stop being in love with the story of the villainous Hutt who subcontracts his superweapon to the lowest bidder and creates the crappiest doomsday device in galactic history.

Permission to quote this in my sig on other message boards? I'll give you credit.

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

PresidentBeard posted:

Besides Death Frost Doom, and Carcossa sort of, have any of the other LotFP supplements been reviewed? I was gifted a large number of them and wanted to do something with them before burning the physical ones and deleting the digital ones.

PresidentBeard posted:

Is it that good or that bad?

I reviewed Vornheim and Better Than Any Man in the last thread. The former was much better and more useful than the latter. Vornheim has an entertaining setting which doesn't go straight for the gross-out shock value stuff you see in other LotFP books, and it's articles and rules for city-based campaigns can be used for multiple Editions and retro-clones.

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 05:41 on May 9, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Alien Rope Burn posted:

I have to wonder how Monte's magnum opus hasn't gotten clamped onto the very nipples of this thread.

I plan on reviewing the Book of Vile Darkness sometime down the line. But first, I need to make good on my promise to review The Genius Guide to Horrifically Overpowered Mythic Feats (yes, there's a 3rd one). After that, I'm really gearing up for showing off Spears of the Dawn.

50 Foot Ant posted:

Ignoring ECL could work. Hell, there was tons of workaround posted that made monsters viable PC's.

poo poo, having a party of monsters taking the war to the pinkskins/smoothskins were great.

Oslecamo's Improved Monster Classes is a homebrew project on Min-Max Boards intentionally designed so that monster PCs don't suck, and can multi-class and be relevant in parties.

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 20:11 on May 23, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!
Hey Syrg, you can include this as its own entry on the Wiki, or put it in with the other Horrifically Overpowered books. I don't mind either way.

Over a year ago, I reviewed this the first two products of this series. I had a lot of fun doing it, and despite being only 50% overpowered and only the spellcaster ones were really game-breaking, the books had their uses in legitimate games.

One of the products in the Pathfinder RPG line is Mythic Heroes, Paizo's answer to 3rd Edition's Epic Level Handbook. Instead to cranking up the levels beyond 20, the book introduction a new Mythic system where PCs and NPCs gain amazing powers and abilities if they undergo legendary events in the campaign. This is determined mostly by DM fiat, where a PC might discover they're a descendant of the Old Gods, drink the blood of a Dragon-King, and other cool stuff like that. In short, there are 6 Mythic Paths (pseudo-classes with their own distinct abilities) divided into 10 tiers (pseudo-levels which increase when the PC succeeds at trials, or important adventures in line with their Path).

In addition to unique abilities, Mythic characters can increase their ability scores, gain bonus feats, expend per-day uses of Mythic Power to do cool stuff, and...

wait for it...

Mythic versions of existing feats!

Mythic feats are only available to Mythic characters, and are superior versions of existing feats. For example, Blind-Fight (Mythic) allows you to ignore all forms of cover and concealment with a use of Mythic Power.

Unwilling to be shown up by Paizo, Owen Stephens realized that his own Horrifically Overpowered Feats needed an upgrade.


When the first book of Horrifically Overpowered feats was released on April 1st, 2012, we expected to hear a lot of cries of, “What were you thinking?!” Instead we mostly heard, “When will you release more?!” So, we released the book of More Horrifically Overpowered feats, and the main comment we received was “These really aren’t THAT overpowered.”

Challenge accepted!

With the addition of the mythic rules from Mythic Adventures, some campaigns have found Horrifically Overpowered feats normalizing somewhere close to “reasonable.” Obviously, we can’t allow mythic-level power creep to make our Horrifically Overpowered line become anything like mainstream. So, there was only one thing to do: Make Horrifically Overpowered Mythic feats, and Mythic Horrifically Overpowered feats, and release them on April 1st, 2014.

But first, a warning. Horrifically Overpowered Feats, as the name might suggest, are not balanced. They are, in fact, imbalanced in three ways. First, each one represents an uptick in power larger than a typical feat (and in most cases—dare we say all cases?—larger than even the most powerful “vanilla” feats). Second, each one has the potential for being combined with class features, spells, tactics, and other feats to create an even stronger effect than normal, causing them to skew how big a boost in power they represent depending on the circumstances. Third, conceptually, many of them bend the logic of the core rules, allowing warriors to cast spells, spellcasters to become weaponmasters, and well-designed characters to be much, much more effective than characters that have not been optimized.

Given the long list of problems with Horrifically Overpowered Feats, it may sound as if these rules are unusable. That’s not true, at least not strictly speaking. Each feat is designed to give all the rules needed to use it in a campaign, and to be consistent and logical within the frame of reference of being Horrifically Overpowered. It’s just that the feats themselves are intentionally too much to reasonably be added to a typical game. In short, don’t use these for any reason.

These feats come in two categories. The first are Horrifically Overpowered Mythic (HOM) feats. These are follow-up feats to mythic feats from Mythic Adventures, specifically designed to take the mythic rules to an illogical conclusion beyond their intended scope. Second (and listed in their own alphabetical order after all the HOM feats) are the Mythic Horrifically Overpowered (MHO) feats. These take already-extant Horrifically Overpowered feats and tack on the power boost of having Mythic versions available. All these feats follow all the rules and restrictions of mythic feats, they are just horrifically overpowered when compared to “normal” mythic feats. Adding any of these to a campaign is likely to break it.

Seriously, don’t use these.

Part One: Horrifically Overpowered Mythic Feats

Stephens mentions that these feats are horrifically overpowered, even by the standards of existing Mythic feats. Therefore, we will be judging the book's feats on these merits. Stephens also mentions that their magnitude might not be as noticeable in Tier 10 Mythic games due to the sheer power available at the PC's fingertips.

Without further ado, let's begin!


Acrobatic (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Your lithe maneuvers are so amazing that they can leave observers slack-jawed in shock.
Prerequisites: Acrobatic, Acrobatic (mythic).
Benefit: You can only be required to actually roll an Acrobatics or Fly skill check once per game session (per skill), as determined by the GM. For all other Acrobatics and Fly skill checks, you get a result as if you had opted to take 20, except the skill does not require any additional time to perform.

When you do roll an Acrobatics or Fly skill check, if your die roll is a 15 or greater (the die shows a 15 or higher), non-mythic creatures with fewer HD than you who witness you make the check must succeed on a Will saving throw (DC 10 + 1/2 your HD + mythic tier) or be stunned for 1 round.
Variations: A GM can use this pattern for every feat/mythic feat that grants a bonus to 2 skills.

Verdict: Overpowered. It can be easy to game under the right circumstances, and auto-succeeding on certain skills (Diplomacy, Perception, etc) is a major boon. Additionally, impressive use of the skill grants a line-of-sight stun attack to multiple opponents.


Augment Summoning (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Your summoning spells bring forth legendary monsters.
Prerequisites: Augment Summoning, Augment Summoning (mythic).
Benefit: Each day when you prepare your spells or regain your spell slots, you may select a number of points of evolutions (from the eidolon evolution list) equal to half your caster level. When you summon creatures with summon spells, they gain the evolutions you selected.

Verdict: Variable. A bonus 1 or 2 Evolution Points isn't going to be game-breaking at low levels. It is still a virtual requirement for summoner builds, though. It can even be used on your Eidolon with the Summon Eidolon spell.


Bleeding Critical (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Your deadliest blows unleash comically overexaggerated floods of blood.
Prerequisites: Bleeding Critical, Bleeding Critical (Mythic), Critical Focus (mythic).
Benefit: When you use your Bleeding Critical, the target sprays so much blood that it cannot be invisible, it is considered to be on ice as a result of the risk of slipping in its own blood, and each round it must make a Reflex save (DC 10 +1/2 your HD +mythic tier) or be blinded for 1 round as its own blood spray gets in its eyes.

Verdict: Not overpowered. Don't get me wrong, it's a great 3-in-1 debuff, and can be combined with the Mythic version of the feat for some Constitution damage. However, it requires a critical hit to activate, and certain spell effects can replicate similar effects (Solid Fog for reduced visibility and mobility).


Blind-Fight (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You don’t really need your sense of vision.
Prerequisites: Blind-Fight, Blind-Fight (Mythic).
Benefit: You ignore any and all penalties from being unable to see. Always act as though you can see, regardless of light conditions, fog or other concealment, or actually being blinded.

Verdict: Not overpowered. It has no effect when you'd ordinarily be able to see (which is most of the time), although it can be a great visual extender in night-time and underground settings, where darkvision only goes up to 60-120 feet. You're already paying 3 feat slots to get this, you might as well get something nice like this.


Cleave (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Twelve with one blow.
Prerequisites: Cleave, cleave (Mythic).
Benefit: Each time you make a normal melee attack, you may also make an abnormal melee attack at the same attack bonus against every foe within reach. If you select this option, it replaces all other functions of Cleave or any other feat that has Cleave as a prerequisite and grants you additional melee attacks.
Special: The only abnormal thing about the abnormal melee attacks gained is that they do not grant additional melee attacks.

Verdict: Not overpowered. Turns your normal melee attacks into area-of-effect attacks. Melee builds need all the help they can get in Pathfinder.


Combat Expertise (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
No one can touch you.
Prerequisites: Combat Expertise, Combat Expertise (mythic)
Benefit: If your AC is less than 25 + your level, you gain a dodge bonus large enough to make your AC equal to 25 + your level. You lose this bonus anytime you are denied your Dexterity bonus to AC.
If you actually take the penalty to attacks for Combat Expertise and you make a melee attack, until your next turn, if you are hit by an attack you can expend one use of mythic power to cause the attack to miss you.

Verdict: Overpowered. It is a malleable bonus which effectively negates any penalties to your non-flat-footed AC. It is great for unarmored and arcane spellcasters in that it eliminates a major weak point in their defenses.


Combat Reflexes (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Boot to the head.
Prerequisites: Combat Reflexes, Combat Reflexes (mythic)
Benefit: Creatures within your threatened area provoke attacks of opportunity from you. This is provoked when they first enter an area you threaten, and again at the beginning of their turn if they are in an area you threaten.

Verdict: Overpowered. Combined with Mythic Combat Reflexes, the wording of both feats' texts allows you to make a potentially infinite number of AoOs per round, against the same opponent even. Move? Provokes infinite AoOs. Are still in your threatened square at the beginning of the next round? Infinite swords.


Command Undead (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Undead. You rule them.
Prerequisites: Command Undead, Command Undead (Mythic)
Benefit: You can command undead, as the spell, as a supernatural ability with no saving throw. You can affect each undead with this ability only once per day.

Verdict: Overpowered if used in undead-themed adventures. Can one-shot undead bosses regardless of Hit Dice.


Deflect Arrows (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
No one can shoot you.
Prerequisites: Deflect Arrows, Deflect Arrows (Mythic)
Benefit: You are immune to all attacks that would qualify to be deflected with Deflect Arrows. Once per round, you can deflect any ranged attack targeting you (including ranged touch attacks, spells that require attack rolls, siege weapons, and a meteor falling from space if the GM decides to target you with one).

You cannot use this feat when you are denied your Dexterity bonus to AC.

Verdict: Not overpowered. This is like a ranged version of Crane Wing and Wind Wall spell combined. As it can't be used if targeted flat-footed, and it's of limited use when fighting multiple spellcasters, there's lots of ways around this defense. It will make archers cry, though.


Disruptive (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
The most difficult magic is simply impossible when you are harassing a spellcaster.
Prerequisites: Disruptive, Disruptive (Mythic)
Benefit: A spellcaster you threaten cannot use his highest-level available prepared spell, spell slot, or spell-like ability. If multiple spells or spell-like abilities are tied for the highest-level available, none of them can be used.

Verdict: Not overpowered. Any spellcaster worth their salt's going to have a bunch of useful lower-level spells, and the ability can only be maintained as long as you remain within melee range.


Eldritch Heritage (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You are, essentially, a sorcerer.
Prerequisites: Eldritch Heritage, Eldritch Heritage (Mythic)
Benefit: You gain spells known and spells per day as a sorcerer of a level equal to your mythic tier. Your caster level is equal to your mythic tier or 1/2 your HD, whichever is higher. You cast these spells as a sorcerer, subject to all the same limitations.

Verdict: Overpowered. If you're a Sorcerer, you gain a boatload of new spells. If you're not, well then you gain the ability to cast a few nifty spells which can help any build. Rogue with Invisibility, Fighter with True Strike, etc.


Eschew Materials (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Material components? You don’t need no stinking material components.
Prerequisites: Eschew Materials, Eschew Materials (Mythic)
Benefit: You can cast any spell without its material component or focus. However, the effect of any instantaneous or permanent spell you cast ends in 24 hours. Thus you can use raise dead on someone, but they become dead again a day later. This includes instantaneous or permanent effects from spells with variable durations (such as wish granting inherent bonuses to ability scores).

Verdict: Overpowered, due to the sheer variety of spells out there. Even a few "permanent" spells can be useful. Using this feat with True Resurrection on a fellow party member should give you enough time to clear out a dungeon.


Far Shot (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
The moon is in range.
Prerequisites: Far Shot, Far Shot (Mythic)
Benefit: Everything in your line of sight is considered to be in the first range increment of any ranged weapon attack you make.

Additionally, you treat anything within 120 feet as being in point-blank range (30 feet) for all purposes that require a ranged target to be within 30 feet.

Verdict: Overpowered. Can give ranged touch spells an effectively infinite range. Can make archer builds devastating by taking out unaware opponents before they even come close.

So far, we have 6 Overpowered feats, 5 Not Overpowered feats, and 2 which are variable. And of the Overpowered Feats, only 2 are caster-centric! This is quite the interesting start!


Great Fortitude (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Your stamina is without equal.
Prerequisites: Great Fortitude, Great Fortitude (mythic).
Benefit: You can only be required to actually roll a Fortitude save once per game session, as determined by the GM. For all other Fortitude saves, your saving throw total is calculated as your total save bonus +20.
Variations: A GM can use this pattern for Iron Will and Lightning Reflexes.

Verdict: Overpowered. Can effectively negate many forms of attack, supernatural and otherwise. And when you are forced to roll, the +20 bonus pushes you well over the RNG. Combined with the Mythic version of this feat, you roll twice and take the better result.


Improved Bull Rush (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You are both unstoppable force and immoveable object.
Prerequisites: Improved Bull Rush, Improved Bull Rush (mythic).
Benefit: Add +20 to your CMB and CMD regarding bull rushes. There is no size limit to what creatures you can bull rush.
Variations: A GM can use this pattern for all the Improved combat maneuver feats.

Verdict: Not overpowered. Bull rushes force you to spend a standard action or use it as part of a charge. And if successful, most builds will have you push the enemy around 20-30 feat (Mythic Imp Bull Rush grants an additional bonus based on your Mythic tier). A cool use, but nothing game-breaking.


Improved Initiative (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You are a blur of sudden action.
Prerequisites: Improved Initiative, Improved Initiative (mythic).
Benefit: Add +10 to your initiative checks. Anytime your initiative is 40 or higher, you get to take a partial action before the first round of combat (during which time only other characters with this feat and an initiative of 40 or higher can act). Additionally, divide your initiative by 20. This is the number of extra partial actions you can take during this combat. Each extra partial action occurs between rounds of combat, and you cannot take one more often than every 2 rounds.

Verdict: Overpowered. Initiative is very important in Pathfinder and useful to most builds. Combined with the Mythic version, you can expend a point of Mythic Power to treat your roll as a Natural 20, and you gain a flat bonus equal to your Mythic Tier.

Plus, you can get to break the action economy while you're at it! That it, if I can find what a partial action is, as it's not listed in the online Pathfinder SRD.


Improved Unarmed Strikes (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Your hands are among the most deadly of weapons.
Prerequisites: Improved Unarmed Strikes, Improved Unarmed Strikes (mythic).
Benefit: Your unarmed strikes have a threat range of 19-20, and a x3 critical multiplier. They are also treated as having the blocking, brace, deadly, disarm, distracting, grapple, performance, sunder, and trip special weapon features. They deal bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage. When calculating bonus damage from Power Attack or your Strength bonus (or similar sources), treat your unarmed attacks as 2-handed weapons.

Verdict: Not overpowered. You're spending 3 feat slots on one style of combat, it drat well should be superior to most manufactured weapons!


Lunge (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
No one is beyond your grasp.
Prerequisites: Lunge, Lunge (mythic).
Benefit: Your melee reach is extended by 5 feet for all weapons, natural weapons, and unarmed attacks.
You gain a +2 bonus to all attacks of opportunity. These benefits replace Lunge and Lunge (mythic).

Additionally, you can expend a point of mythic power to extend your reach by another 5 feet for 1 minute.

Verdict: Not overpowered. Most larger monsters have a superior reach to human(oid) PCs, so this is a nice counterbalancing effect.


Manyshot (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
At least your enemies will fight in the shade.
Prerequisites: Manyshot, Manyshot (mythic).
Benefit: Anytime you make a normal ranged attack with a weapon, you may also make one abnormal ranged attack with the same weapon, using the same attack bonus. If you make 5 or more normal ranged weapon attacks in the same round, and an abnormal ranged attack for each normal ranged attack, you may reduce the light level one step in a line from you to one of the targets of your ranged attacks until the beginning of your next round.

Special: The only abnormal thing about the abnormal ranged attacks gained is that they do not grant additional ranged attacks with this feat. However, Rapid Shot (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic) does stack with this feat, granting you a total of three attacks each time you make a normal ranged attack.

Verdict: Overpowered. It doubles the number of ranged attacks you can make in a round, in addition to the two bonus arrows for each attack with the Mythic version of Manyshot. The light reduction is a mere minor effect in comparison to this.


Mobility (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You float through combat like a butterfly.
Prerequisites: Mobility, Mobility (mythic).
Benefit: Your movement does not provoke attacks of opportunity. You get one additional 5-foot step each round and may use it even if you take other movement, including a 5-foot step, or may combine your two 5-foot steps into a 10-foot step, allowing you to take a 5-foot step in difficult terrain. If you expend a point of mythic power, you gain two additional 5-foot steps each round for one minute.

Verdict: Not overpowered. This is still a very nifty feat. You can now move 20 feet and make a full attack instead of just 5 feet! Also, no more AoOs just for moving through threatened squares!


Mounted Archery (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You are the saddle-sitting master of mounted archery.
Prerequisites: Mounted Archery, Mounted Archery (mythic).
Benefit: You take no penalties for making ranged attacks while mounted, regardless of what speed your mount moves. When your mount moves at least 10 feet in a round, you may add its total movement divided by 10 as bonus damage to all ranged attacks you make in the same round.

Verdict: Not overpowered on its own. However, when combined with HOM Manyshot and a fast charging mount, you can rack up insane amounts of damage.


Mounted Combat (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
No one hurts your steed while you are around.
Prerequisites: Mounted Combat, Mounted Combat (mythic).
Benefit: As long as you are conscious and mounted, your steed takes no damage from any source. That sounds really impressive, but your steed can still be affected by non-damaging effects, and if you are playing in a game where the GM is allowing Horrifically Overpowered Mythic feats (despite all my warnings not to), you can bet the GM has some awesome options to take out your mount without resorting to anything as dull as hit points. Taking this feat is like looking your GM in the eye and saying “I dare you to make me regret this.” You’ll end up with a steed that has been petrified, or polymorphed into a hunchbacked bunny. And then how cool would you look? Not very. Seriously, go look at Cleave (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic). It’s much cooler than this.

Verdict: Not overpowered. Owen Stephens actually makes a good case for why his feat would not be overpowered. Something tells me he's not a fan of mounted PC builds...


Natural Spell (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Even as a dire bear, you have thumbs and can wear pants.
Prerequisites: Natural Spell, Natural Spell (mythic).
Benefit: When using wild shape, you get to keep all your gear and can do everything you can do in your natural form, even though you still look like an animal.

Verdict: Overpowered. The normal version of this spell's overpowered, so's this one. Due to a lack of omission, Natural Spell is not in the list on the original link of Mythic Feats.


Power Attack (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
If you hit it, it dies.
Prerequisites: Power Attack, Power Attack (mythic).
Benefit: When you are using Power Attack, any foe you hit with a melee weapon must make a Fortitude save (DC 15 + your mythic tier) or die (if alive) or be destroyed (if inanimate or undead).

Verdict: Variable. In the lower levels and against certain enemies it can be great, and it dramatically increases the relevance of the melee fighter at higher levels by making hit points a lesser issue. However, the Save DC will be 25 at the very most, and cannot be modified by ability scores. As higher levels, most monsters have impressive Fortitude saves and will laugh at the pitiful DC.


Quick Draw (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You always have just what you need.
Prerequisites: Quick Draw, Quick Draw (mythic).
Benefit: You can ready and put away any handheld equipment as free actions. Basically for each action you take, you may decide what gear you are using. If you expend a point of mythic power, you can even swap clothes and armor as a free action.

Verdict: Not overpowered. Very useful for swapping out equipment and quickly putting on armor, but not game-breaking either.


Rapid Reload (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You never seem to run out of ammo.
Prerequisites: Rapid Reload, Rapid Reload (mythic).
Benefit: You can reload any weapon in your possession without taking any action to do so, including siege weapons. You never run out of mundane ammunition. If you expend a point of mythic power, you can reload every weapon you wish to within 30 feet as a swift action.

Verdict: Not overpowered. How many groups manually track ammunition, anyway? As your attacks per round are still limited by your Base Attack Bonus and feat selection, this isn't going to do much other than allow you to fire crossbows a lot more often.


Rapid Shot (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You can lay down a field of fire so thick, people can walk across it.
Prerequisites: Rapid Shot, Rapid Shot (mythic).
Benefit: Anytime you make a typical ranged attack with a weapon, you may also make one atypical ranged attack with the same weapon, using the same attack bonus. If you make 5 or more normal ranged weapon attacks in the same round, and an atypical ranged attack for each normal ranged attack, you may designate a line from you to any one of your targets that until the beginning of your next round is so thick with flying arrows (or whatever) that a DC 20 Acrobatics check allows it to be crossed like a bridge.

Special: The only atypical thing about the atypical ranged attacks gained is that they do not grant additional ranged attacks with this feat. However, Manyshot (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic) does stack with this feat, granting you a total of three attacks each time you make a normal ranged attack.

Verdict: Not overpowered. You can use a rope and grappling hook to traverse the same distance, and the ability's too situational to be of use, and is obsolete at higher levels when spellcasters can fly and transport the party.


Spell Focus (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
In your chosen mystic field of study, you have no equal.
Prerequisites: Spell Focus, Spell Focus (mythic).
Benefit: Select a school of magic you have already selected for Spell Focus and Spell Focus (mythic). If you are not a wizard, you gain all the benefits a wizard of your character level specialized in that school of magic gains.

If you are a wizard, you may swap any prepared spell for a spell you know of the selected school of the same level or less.

Verdict: Overpowered. Making Wizards more Quadratic since 2012.


Spell Mastery (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Spell books? You don’t need no stinking spellbooks!
Prerequisites: Spell Mastery, Spell Mastery (mythic).
Benefit: You are considered to have taken Spell Mastery for all spells you know.

Verdict: Overpowered. Any spellcaster worth their salt's going to have a tightly locked spellbook, but the horrifically overpowered part comes in with the Mythic version of this feat. With an expenditure of Mythic Power, you can prepare all of your spells you've taken Mythic Mastery for as a full-round action. And with the HOM version, that's all of your spells.


Spell Penetration (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Only gods are immune to your magic… and not all of them.
Prerequisites: Spell Penetration, Spell Penetration (mythic).
Benefit: Whenever you make a caster level check to overcome a target’s SR, roll twice and take the best result.

If you expend a point of mythic power, you can ignore a target’s spell immunity, condition immunity, SR, and elemental resistance or immunity for one spell cast (though it still gets a normal saving throw, if one is allowed).

Verdict: Not overpowered. I'm still floored by the previous feat that this one just doesn't seem that overpowered to me.


Spellbreaker (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You don’t just break foe’s spells, you claim them as your own.
Prerequisites: Spellbreaker, Spellbreaker (mythic).
Benefit: If you successfully disrupt a foe’s spellcasting with a readied attack or an attack of opportunity, you gain the spell your foe was attempting to cast, as if you had used a rod of absorption, but with no level limit. Any spell absorbed fades after 24 hours.

Verdict: Overpowered. You can shut down enemy spellcaster's action for that round, and gain additional uses of spells.


Stunning Fist (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Your fists are like iron.
Prerequisites: Stunning Fist, Stunning Fist (mythic).
Benefit: You may turn one unarmed attack per round into a stunning fist without counting it toward your daily limit. You may select which attack after seeing its attack roll. If you expend a point of mythic power, targets normally immune to stun effects are not immune to your stunning fist for 1 round.

Verdict: Not overpowered. On the one hand, it's an infinite-use stun. On the other hand, it's unarmed melee only, one attack per round, and not too many creatures are immune to stun effects in the first place.


Two-Weapon Defense (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You can try to block every attack.
Prerequisites: Two-Weapon Defense, Two-Weapon Defense (Mythic).
Benefit: As long as you have two melee weapons equipped and are not denied your Dexterity bonus to AC, you have cover.

Verdict: Not overpowered. If you're wielding melee weapons and need cover, chances are a ranged opponent's shooting at you.


Two-Weapon Fighting (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
If the left don’t get them, the right one will.
Prerequisites: Two-Weapon Fighting, Two-Weapon Fighting (Mythic).
Benefit: Each time you make a melee attack with your primary weapon, you may also make a melee attack with your secondary weapon at the same attack bonus -2.

Verdict: Not overpowered. You can get additional attacks with the normal versions of Manyshot and Rapid Shot, so melee should get some love too.


Uber-Mythic (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You are more mythic than mere mythic.
Prerequisites: Extra Mythic Power.
Benefit: For purposes of your own mythic abilities, feats, powers, spells, and magic items, you do not treat mythic creatures of a lower mythic tier than you as mythic sources.

Verdict: Not overpowered. You're not going to be fighting mythic creatures except as special boss battles, and even then this isn't an instant win button.


Undead Master (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Your undead armies and vast and readily available.
Prerequisites: Undead Master, Undead Master (Mythic).
Benefit: Undead with hit dice equal to your tier or less do not count against your total HD of undead for the animate dead spell or the Command Undead feat. If you expend a point of mythic power, you may teleport to you a number of HD worth of undead you control through one of these two methods equal to your caster level plus your mythic tier. You may do this even if they are on another plane, as long as they could reach you if they used greater teleportation or plane shift.

Verdict: Overpowered. You can totally get a legion of millions of zombies and skeletons at your beck and call, provided that you have enough material components.


Vital Strike (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Even seeing you use Vital Strike is disturbing.
Prerequisites: Vital Strike, Vital Strike (Mythic).
Benefit: Whenever you use Vital Strike, Improved Vital Strike, or Greater Vital Strike, the target you hit (and any non-mythic creature that witnesses the attack) must make a Will save (DC 10 +1/2 your level +your mythic tier) or be shaken for a number of minutes equal to the number of dice you gained from the Vital Strike feat used.

Verdict: Not overpowered. Most combat does not last for more than a minute (tops), and the shaken condition's a minor debuff.


Weapon Finesse (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Your attacks are swift, powerful, and well-placed.
Prerequisites: Weapon Finesse, Weapon Finesse
Benefit: You may add your bonuses from Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence to your melee attack and damage rolls.

Verdict: Overpowered. This feat's very MAD for you to gain the full benefits, but it's great for rogue and gish builds. Gaining bonuses from two ability scores can rocket up your attack bonus, and it's not so hard to do this with the right build.


Weapon Focus (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You are the unquestioned master of attacks with your preferred weapons.
Prerequisites: Weapon Focus, Weapon Focus (Mythic).
Benefit: When you make an attack roll with a weapon for which you have taken Weapon Focus, roll your attack twice and take the best result. If you have Greater Weapon Focus with the weapon, roll three times and take the best result.

Verdict: Not overpowered. Damage doesn't really change for this, it only allows you to hit a lot more often. A good feat, but not overpowered.


Weapon Specialization (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You may finally get to roll as many dice as the wizard.
Prerequisites: Weapon Specialization, Weapon Specialization (Mythic).
Benefit: When you make a damage roll with a weapon for which you have taken Weapon Specialization, roll your damage twice and take the best result. If you have Greater Weapon Specialization with the weapon, roll three times and take the best result.

Verdict: Not overpowered. The descriptive text is misleading.

This post's feats were 9 Overpowered, 16 Not Overpowered, and 2 variable.

Combined with the last post, we have 15 Overpowered, 21 Not Overpowered, and 4 variable.

I'll give Owen Stephens credit here. Of the 15 genuinely Overpowered feats, about 9 of them were not caster-centric. A definite improvement than the last books.

But that's not all!

We have Part 2 to cover: Mythic Horrifically Overpowered feats! Instead of being versions of "normal" Mythic feats, they're Mythic versions of Horrifically Overpowered feats from the last 2 books!

See you soon!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 22:28 on May 25, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!
The Genius Guide to Horrifically Overpowered Mythic Feats Part Two: Mythic Horrifically Overpowered Feats

In this part are 20 Mythic versions of existing Horrifically Overpowered Feats from the first product in the line. They require the base feat as a prerequisite, and generally improve upon their effects in some way as a rule.


Denied (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
If you don’t like it, it didn’t happen.
Prerequisites: Denied (Horrifically overpowered).
Benefit: You can use your Denied feat by expending a point of mythic power, regardless of the number of uses/day you would ordinarily be entitled to.

Verdict: Overpowered. It allows you to gain more uses of an already overpowered feat.


Empowered Attack (Horrifically Overpowered, Meta-attack, Mythic)
Your attacks can deal horrendous damage.
Prerequisites: Empowered Attack (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: Your Empowered attacks deal +100% damage, rather than +50%. You may expend a point of mythic power to make an attack empowered, if you are out of meta-attack uses for the day.

Verdict: Not overpowered. You can definitely use this on a build to rack up some nice damage values, although it's no different than turning most attacks into an automatic critical hit.


Enlarged Attack (Horrifically Overpowered, Meta-attack, Mythic)
No one is beyond your reach.
Prerequisites: Enlarged Attack (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: There is no limit to how many Enlarged attacks you may make per day.

Verdict: Not overpowered. It basically permanently doubles the range increments of non-magical weapons and turns all melee weapons into throwing weapons.


Eschew Foci (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You have no need for idols and mirrors… and you can see to it your friends don’t either.
Prerequisite: Eschew Foci (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: You may expend a point of mythic power to grant the benefit of your Eschew Foci feat to all allies within 30 feet for one minute.
Variations: The GM can use this to create similar feats for mythic version of Eschew Gestures and Eschew Incantations.

Verdict: Not overpowered. It can be useful if you have minion mages and followers and you don't want to spend gold on foci, but most of them aren't that expensive to purchase.


Extra Lives (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You are nearly impossible to kill.
Prerequisite: Extra Lives (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: As long as you have at least one use of the Extra Lives feat available, you can expend three uses of mythic power to use your Extra Lives feat without it counting against the maximum number of times you can use the feat.

If you expend two points of mythic power, you may grant another dead character one of your uses of the Extra Lives feat. You can’t do both of these at once.

Verdict: Overpowered. The original feat was very limited, but as mythic power is a replenishing resource, it avoids much of the drawbacks of PC death (including costly resurrections). The ability to grant it to fellow PCs is icing on the cake.


Favored (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
The universe likes you, a lot. Really, it’s kind of unfair.
Prerequisite: Favored (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: Select one class. You gain a favored class benefit for that class every time you gain a level, in addition to the normal benefit for favored.

If you expend a point of mythic power, you can bestow the benefits of favored class bonuses you have for any one class to all allies within 30 feet, for one minute.

Verdict: Variable. Favored class bonuses can grant you additional hit points, skill points, and even additional spells known/learned. Especially in the last case, you can use it to grant short-term knowledge of new spells to fellow PC spellcasters with an expenditure of mythic power.


Full Casting Action (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You can cast multiple spells as a full-round action, without losing anything for doing so.
Prerequisite: Full Casting Action (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: When you use your Full Casting Action feat, your spells cast after the first do not suffer a penalty to their caster level or saving throw DC.

Verdict: Overpowered. Eliminates the penalty on the original feat. A literal reading of the text does not allow it to be used with its Greater and Ultimate versions.


Gestalt (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You have prestige, in addition to class and horrifically overpowered mythic abilities.
Prerequisite: Gestalt (Horrifically Overpowered)
Benefit: When calculating what class features you gain from your gestalt class, add your mythic tier to half your character level (to a maximum of your hit dice). If you expend a point of mythic power, you may also gain the class features from the first level of any one prestige class you meet the prerequisites for, for one minute.

Verdict: Overpowered. It can grant you a bunch more nifty class features, given the plethora of PrCs out there, this feat can grant you a lot of great stuff without wasting a level.


Go First (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Even among people who always go first… you go first.
Prerequisites: Go First (Horrifically Overpowered), Improved Initiative.
Benefit: You go first in any initiative order. Full stop. Additionally, if someone readies an action in response to an act you take, their readied action does NOT pre-empt your triggering action, and you are allowed to complete your turn before any readied actions go off. If that means their readied action cannot be completed (such as if they ready to stab the first creature that comes within their threatened range, and you run into and then out of their range as your action), their readied action is triggered and wasted as they try really hard and utterly fail to do whatever it was they were ready to do.

Special: Only one creature per campaign world can have this mythic horrifically overpowered feat. First come, first served. After that, you have to wait for the previous holder to die to take it. If you used to have it, die, and someone else has it when you wake up, you don’t get to use the feat until you go kill whoever took it while you were dead. Just don’t die, it’s easier that way.

Verdict: Overpowered. It dramatically decreases the usefulness of readied actions against you. I do like its nifty special requirement.


Healing Factor (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You can heal from nearly anything.
Prerequisite: Healing Factor (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: Add your mythic tier to your fast healing. You may expend a point of mythic power to also heal one point of ability damage per round for one minute.

Verdict: Not overpowered. Fast healing's most useful outside of combat anyway, and expending mythic power to heal ability damage is the kind of thing it should do.


Heroic Grace (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Myths shall be told of you… so you can’t die yet.
Prerequisite: Heroic Grace (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: Add your mythic tier to all saving throws. You may expend a point of mythic energy to double this bonus for one minute.

Verdict: Overpowered. At higher tiers you can really rack up some sweet bonuses.


Hex Maven (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You rule hexes.
Prerequisites: Hex Maven (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: There is no limit to how many times per day you may affect a target with your hexes, even those that normally have such a limit.

Verdict: Not overpowered. I couldn't find enough hexes to make the original feat that great, and I don't think that this will change it.


Magic-User (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You can casually cast spells as well as someone who works really hard at it. They probably hate you.
Prerequisites: Magic-User (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: Select one set of spells you gained through the use of the Magic-User (Horrifically Overpowered) feat. You cast spells as a member of that class of a level equal to your total hit dice.

Verdict: Not overpowered. It applies only to one spell, while the base version of the feat grants you a smorgasbord of cool spells.


Mental Paragon (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You exceed the peak of mental perfection for your race.
Prerequisites: Mental Paragon (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: Add your mythic tier to your Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores.

Verdict: Overpowered. Untyped bonus to already high ability scores.


Offensive Combat Training (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You exceed the mortal peak of combat skill.
Prerequisites: Offensive Combat Training (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: Add your mythic tier to your base attack bonus. This can exceed your hit dice. You can spend a point of mythic power to add your mythic surge to your base attack bonus for 1 minute.

Verdict: Variable. It has the potential to be overpowered as part of a greater build by helping you meet prerequisites for prestige classes and feats far earlier, but otherwise it's no more than a respectable bonus on attack rolls.


Physical Paragon (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You exceed the peak of physical perfection for your race.
Prerequisites: Physical Paragon (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: Add your mythic tier to your Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores.

Verdict: Overpowered. A very good feat for any physical build to take.


Perfect Blow (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You can make better-than-perfect attacks.
Prerequisites: Perfect Blow (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: When you use your Perfect Blow feat you may expend a point of mythic power, causing the attack to automatically hit, deal a critical hit (even if the target is normally immune to or can negate critical hits), and cause the damage dealt to only be able to be healed by a mythic source.

Verdict: Not overpowered. It is incredibly useful to really make sure that you land a solid blow, but is still limited by per-day uses.


Skill God (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You can succeed at the impossible.
Prerequisites: Skill God (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: You gain an additional +20 bonus to the total of all skill checks with skills you have selected with the Skill God feat.

Verdict: Variable. Depends upon the original skills selected with normal Skill God.


Supernatural Spell Monster (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
You break the rules of magic.
Prerequisites: Supernatural Spell Monster (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: You can expend one point of mythic power to cause all your spells, spell-like abilities, and supernatural abilities to act as extraordinary abilities for one minute. They work in antimagic fields, do not detect as magic, and cannot be dispelled.

Verdict: Varies. I remember a feat from Forgotten Realms called the Initiate of Mystra feat, which did a similar thing. As Dispel Magic is far more common than Anti-Magic Fields and Dead Magic Zones, I'd rule this as more powerful. However, these things are very situational, so it really depends upon the spells used.


Unflappable (Horrifically Overpowered, Mythic)
Nothing puts you at less than your best. Nothing.
Prerequisite: Alertness, Unflappable (Horrifically Overpowered).
Benefit: You are never surprised or flat-footed, you never lose your Dexterity bonus to AC (even if tied up and unconscious), and are never considered helpless. You may expend a point of mythic power to also be immune to being confused, dazed, dazzled, nauseated, staggered, or stunned for one minute.

Overpowered. Shuts down sneak attack and a lot of abilities dependent upon being flat-footed.

From this section, we have 9 Overpowered, 7 Not Overpowered, and 4 Variable feats. Combined with Part 1, we have a total of 24 Overpowered, 28 Not Overpowered, and 8 Variable. The amount of genuinely overpowered feats are around the same as the original book (around half), but far better than the second book (around 25%).

As for myself, I've never had an incentive to use the Mythic rules, so I can't see myself incorporating these feats. But there are more than a few of them which can be cool for certain character concepts (Blind-Fight, Lunge, Mobility, and Two-Weapon Defense to name a few) which I can see myself incorporating into normal Pathfinder games. So all in all, this book is quite useful to me.

If you enjoyed the feats listed, or can see yourself using them in your games, I'd recommend tossing a few books Owen's way as a show of good sportsmanship.

I hope you enjoyed reading this review. In fact, I plan on writing one up for another product now that I'm back in the groove. Expect to see a write-up of Spears of the Dawn coming soon, an old school D&D retroclone which incorporates the myths and folkore of medieval Africa and its greatest empires.

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Once upon a time, there was a guy named Kevin Crawford. He designed role-playing games of the old-school variety, namely Dungeons & Dragons retroclones and supplements. He was hanging out on an RPG message board when the topic of racial diversity in games came up, and he heard the familiar mantra "That doesn't sell!" repeated. "Gamers aren't interested in fantasy Africa, they just want European and Asian (namely Japanese) stuff!" This irked Crawford, a lot, and so he decided to hedge a $3,000 bet. He bet that not only could he design a cool Fantasy Counterpart Africa RPG drawing inspiration from authentic myths, folklore, and history, but that it would be popular. To that end he buried himself in several months worth of game design and research on the continent in medieval times, hired a bunch of talented artists (whose work he released into the public domain with their consent to provide inspiration to others), organized a Kickstarter for funding, all to make a superb RPG.

And he succeeded. Not only did Spears of the Dawn get a lot of rave reviews and managed to avoid the more racist and stereotypical "unga bunga land" portrayals earlier work engaged in, it became one of the hottest-selling D&D retroclones on Drive-Thru RPG last year. The whole "fantastic adventure in an untamed land" phrase is sort of unfortunate to me, as it conjures up specific imagery which is largely inaccurate of the setting inside. There are definitely lots of ruins to explore and tiny isolated villages, but there are also great nations inspired by the real-world empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai which built grand palaces and possess the knowledge of metallurgy, an order of Paladin-esque Sunriders who defend the common folk from evil humans and monsters, and mighty sorcerers and clerics who have the king's ear and can decide the fate of entire communities. The setting's about as "advanced" as most D&D settings are.

System Overview

Spears of the Dawn derives its ruleset from Stars Without Number, another retroclone designed by Kevin Crawford, which in turn derives inspiration from the Frank Mentzer-written version of Basic Dungeons & Dragons. It adopts plenty of classic tropes, from the 6 ability scores to saving throws, although its classes, magic, weapons, monsters, and more take on the trappings of African folklore and legends. There are many varieties of sapient supernatural species, although only humans are a playable option (who in turn gain different starting skills based on their background).

As for the classes, there is the Griot (pronounced "GREE-oh"), bards and historians whose songs and orations are so good they might as well be magic; the Marabout (pronounced "MAHR-ah-boo"), priests who have a special connection with spirits and gods and can work their magic in this world by gaining their favor; the Nganga (pronounced "GAHN-gah"), people born with the ability to manipulate ashe, the fundamental potency of existence, which gives heat to fire, hardness to stone, and cunningness to the wise among other things; and the Warrior, those who do not rely upon magic or the griot's songs to perform feats of heroism. In addition to being the hardiest and most-skilled of the classes, warriors gain access to idahuns, or "replies," special abilities which the warrior has mastered to use against foes. Yes, fighters have class features nobody else gets or can easily replicate in Spears of the Dawn (and I'm not talking about piddly stuff like Weapon Specialization)!

The game also incorporates a skill system, unlike much of its fellow old-school brethren. It lies somewhere in between the complexity of 3rd Edition's fiddlyness and the "say what you want to do, DM sets the DC" minimalism of most OSR games.

Setting Introduction

In times long past the kingdom of Deshur warred against the Nyalan Empire. Out of sheer desperation, the Deshurite King turned to evil magic to turn the tide of war, and in turn doomed his own people to unending unlife. The Eternal, as they became known, were little more than undead monsters who cut an orgy of destruction across the Three Lands. Were it not for an alliance of the five major nations, they might have even been victorious, but mighty heroes with the help of the nation's armies organized resistance against them.

It has been forty years since the Eternal were driven back into the inhospitable black sands of the east, but remnants of their soldiers and sorcerers still lie in fortified underground strongholds and tombs, biding their time and striking out against those too foolish or unknowing that tread too closely. The past is forgotten as the five kingdoms remember old disputes and sever alliances, as border quarrels deniable incidents sprout up along their borders. Whether it's tyrannical nobles, bandits and monsters lurking in the wilderness, the troubles of the Three Lands seem beyond the reach of even its kings and queens.

It is a time of trouble, but there is still hope. In addition to wandering adventurers who slay monsters plaguing villages, spiritual leaders who call upon spirits to aid the sick, and sorcerers who break the curses of their evil brethren, there are the Spears of the Dawn. An organization formed by the last Nyalan emperor to fight the Eternal, these men and women come from all nations and walks of life to travel wherever they're most needed and wipe out the undead remnants. Today they are on hard times, no longer officially supported by any kingdom and often little more than wandering adventures. It is expected that the Player Characters number among the members of this heroic order.

Adventurers getting ready to explore an Eternal tomb.

It might be odd to end my first post on the introduction, but the first chapter of character creation covers a lot of ground which I believe is served better in its own section. Hopefully I've whet your appetite regarding this RPG to look forward to more updates!

Next time, Chapter One, Part One: Ability Scores, Homeland and Backgrounds, and Classes!

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter One: Creating a Character

The chapter starts off with some pretty basic information you see in plenty of RPG corebooks. "Try to design characters so that they work well together and have a common goal," "choose a motivation," "explain how/why your PC came to be a Spear (of the Dawn)," but it also says that the game is intended to be a sandbox game. Basically, one where the players decide on what to do and where to go in the world, and the DM reacts to this, and that there's no narrative plot armor built into the rules to save you from poor choices. The specifics of sandbox gaming are dealt with in a later chapter, and you can find many discussions of this playstyle on old school D&D blogs and message boards.


First off, we have the classic 6 ability scores, which are known as attributes in this game: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, and Charisma. Rolling 3d6 six times is the classic way of generating them, although one can remove points from attributes above 13 to add to ones below 8, but not to the point where the former dips below 13 or the latter increases beyond 8. The reason for this is that 8-13 is the baseline average, with a 0 modifier. A range of 4-7 grants a -1 modifier, 3 a -2, 14-17 a +1, and the vaunted 18 a +2. This way you can shore up pathetic ability scores from high attributes you don't really need. Each class also has 2 Prime Attributes, which are vitally important to that class and thus allow you to bump up an attribute to 14 in one of them if it's lower.

If you want, you can dispense with rolling and put a value of 7, 11, or 14 in your attributes, provided you don't have more 14s than 7s. You don't get your "free 14" prime attribute if you go this route, though.


Not that you've got your attributes and character concept, you move on to the next step, your Origin. This is a combination of your character's homeland (usually one of the five Kingdoms), and their background (the occupation/way of life he grew up with in said country). Your background does not restrict what class you can choose, but it instead provides 6 skills which your character starts with in basic competency (Level 0). If your chosen class gains one or more of these skills as bonus skills, then you move up to the next level of competency (Level 1), which indicates a long professional expertise. Therefore, it can be advantageous to choose a background which fits with your class. If your DM's okay with it and it sounds plausible enough, you can design your own custom background by picking 6 skills.

The Kirsi ("KEER-see"), formerly an eastern province of the Nyalan Empire, are a hilly nation of warriors famed for their armored lancers and iron-clad cavalry who cut through Eternal legions in the days of the Long War. Even the most impoverished peasant among them is taught in at least one kind of weapon, and their rulers wouldn't dare think of disarming the populace. For the last 40 years the nation's feuding noble houses engaged in successions of land takeovers and skirmishes, displacing many Kirsi and sending once-mighty family dynasties into exile. Even the kingdom's ruler, the Dia, can only enforce the territory his men walk over. Their cities are made of adobe and scrub-oak, their palaces and manors of quarried stone.

Many of their backgrounds tend towards some martial inclination (bandit, noble, scout, soldier), although the most interesting one's the Sunrider: your PC grew up training under paladins of the Sun Faith, who fight for justice and defend the common folk from noble depredations.

The people of Lokossa ("low-KOH-sah") live in a the southern rainforest kingdom of the Green Land, standing stalwart against the monstrous Night Men who lurk across the Akpara River. Their society is a tyrannical magocracy, where the nobles are mighty Ngangas ruled by the Ahonsu (sorcerer-king). Their magical protections and rituals kept their nation autonomous and repelled foreign threats for centuries, although the mages rule the commoners with an iron fist and work them to the bone. Whenever the Night Men grow strong, the noble clans selected human sacrifices among the commoners and slaves to fuel their magical power, which is grimly accepted as a necessary evil (hundreds will die so that thousands may live"). The people wear little in the humid jungle aside form chiffon-light wraps of woven leaf fibers dyed in bright, beautiful colors.

Backgrounds tend to vary, from the lowly peasant and city-dwellers and runaway slaves, to commoners with magical talent plucked from their families to serve a noble house. The Lokossan Reapers are an all-female military unit of warriors who fight with signature two-handed "great razors," and have an honored place in Lokossan society.

The Meru ("MAY-roo") are a nomadic people wander the golden savannahs and grasslands of the southern Yellow Land, dwelling in semi-permanent homes of thatches and thornbushes and taking their cattle to wherever the land is most plentiful. They are descended from the Sun Faith worshipers of the ruined kingdom of Deshur, when the rulers turned to the loathsome Gods Below for aid. The Sun Faith worshipers fled to the savannahs and learned how to survive from the indigenous groups living there. After generations of intermarriage they became the Meru people of today.

In the intervening years Eternal forces journeyed into the land to slaughter them, forcing them to ever be on the move. Eventually they turned the tide, fashioning war staves and throwing clubs to crush Eternal bones as their Marabouts seared their flesh with the power of the Sun. They are proud of the role they played in the Long War, and how their traveling life helped keep them one step ahead of their undead enemies. The Nyalan Empire in the days of old tried to claim the lands inhabited by the Meru, but were unable to effectively rule or tax them due to their legion's inability to even find the nomads in the great grass sea.

Meru are a religiously devout hunter-gatherer society, and their backgrounds reflect this (herder, scout, trader, etc). They don't have warriors or standing armies because everyone's expected to be able to defend their herds (although Meru Sunstaves are a background of gifted individuals who wield large staves as signature weapons). Olabans are loremasters who pass down the lore of their Sixth King ancestors to help counter supernatural threats, while their priests are Sun Teachers who have no temples or shrines but great knowledge in the holy scripture.

A once-proud civilization which ruled over much of the Three Lands, the Nyala Empire ("nn-YAH-lah") is but an empire in name only today. It is a northwestern land of rolling hills, meadows rich with water and rain, and beautiful broad-leafed forests. Their human ancestors learned many secrets from the giants of the Mountains of the Sun, which they used to work metal and erect grand buildings. As Nyala's land grew, so did its ambition, and it was this drive to conquer which drove the Deshirites into the eastern sands. When the Eternal marshaled their forces, the Nyalans were unprepared and spent most time holding onto existing provinces than to drive them back, which resulted in the loss of many regions and cities as well as the declarations of independence of Kirsi and Sokone. It wasn't until the days of the last Emperor Kaday that the country formed an alliance with its neighbors, formed the Spears of the Dawn, and drove back the Eternal. He died in battle, and now the Nyalans look to their recent past, reminded of all that they had lost.

Nyalans have a tendency to be proud and haughty; peasants and nobles alike have a near-encyclopedic knowledge of centuries-long family trees, and can make tenuous claims to great heroes and historical landmarks. Their nation might be in decline, with peasants burdened by heavier and heavier taxes, and dynasties see their fortunes decline and inability to protect their own land, and yet some of the most zealous venture beyond to find something, anything to make their country great again.

The backgrounds reflect this, ranging from Nyalan nobles or "hollow princes" who could no longer hold onto his land and legacy, artisans who blend elegance into even the coarsest of work, courtiers and hangers-on to the upper class and scheming plotters, historians forced onto a life on the road after being let go by a noble house, and even the mere peasant and soldier.

Our fifth and final nation, Sokone ("so-KOH-nay") is located in the relative center of the Three Lands, the mighty Iteru River cutting through the breadth of its fertile land. Sokone is the richest of the nations, home to cosmopolitan trade hubs importing and exporting all manner of goods, from rare rainforest herbs to fine Kirsi steeds. Almost anything can be for sale, provided one knows where to look and has the right connections.

Sokone was one of the first provinces to break away from Nyala in the time of the Long War. Although the Eternal armies were repelled by large bodies of water, the war was still devastating to the country. Their capital city of Chakiri was overrun and still serves as a stronghold for the undead to this day (now known as the Silent City). Farmlands and houses along the coastlines were burned so that even those who fled onto the safety of the river barges had nothing left to return to at their homes. Were it not for their geographical position among trade networks, and the merchant family’s wealth, it would’ve taken Sokone far longer to recover.

Sokone is the most racially and religiously diverse of the five kingdoms. From the jewel-colored eyes of Nyalan nobles to the stern features of the Kirsi, the traits of the major ethnicities can be found in all combinations among Sokone. Temples of the Sun Faith and shrines to all manner of spirits are common features along active city streets. Clans and families have little reluctance towards marrying foreigners, and alliances form more around trade and business opportunities than matters of nobility or lineage. On the other hand, the people of Sokone are very individualistic, and families are expected to stand on their own two feet with minimal outside help.

Sokone backgrounds tend towards mercantile varieties, such as the arbiter who is trained to settle disputes (both legal and otherwise), artisans, traders, and entertainers earning a living, riders employed by rich merchants to monitor the affairs of distant lands and return to them with news, peasants and riverfolk who perform labor in the rice fields and live day and night on traveling barges, and syncretic priests who call upon all manner of known and unknown higher powers.

In short, the backgrounds serve their purpose, and none of them are what I'd call unbalanced. Granted, a few are more interesting than the others, but you should be able to design the character you want unless you're dead-set on some really weird backstory.

Choosing a Class

Player Characters in Spears of the Dawn are a cut above the cloth. While anybody can learn how to swing a sword, placate the spirits, or sing well, the powers and abilities of character classes are special in both their training and sheer potential for greatness, even at their lesser levels.

There are four classes to choose from: Griot, Marabout, Nganga, and Warrior. Once selected, you are locked into that role, and cannot trade in levels or multi-class as you might be able to in other RPGs. There is some variation in specific abilities, but overall each class tends to be good or specialized in some general area.

Each class has universal core traits: hit dice used to roll hit points, saving throws to resist negative effects, an attack bonus to determine their overall fighting capacity, prime attributes, and a list of class skills. Additionally, each class gains a list of bonus skills to receive basic competency in (or grow to Level 1 if they overlap with existing background skills), plus one in a class skill of the player's choice and one bonus skill which could be anything they want. Classes advance at the same rate of experience, and the maximum level in the game is 10.

I will be detailing the magic spells and effects, including Griot songs, in their own Chapter: Magic.

The Griot maintains the history and traditions of a culture's people. They are responsible for judging the worthy and the wicked, share their memories and lore with others, and channel the truthfulness of things through their praise-songs and verbal castigations. In short, they are the "bard class." They're rather squishy (1d6 hit dice), have an average attack bonus, and their saves are geared more towards evasion and avoiding mental effects, but they have a versatile list of class skills to reflect their role as scholarly entertainers.

Their major class features are their Songs, near-magical effects which increase in power as the griot gains levels. Whether it takes the form of a song, oration, chant, or other verbal sound, listeners realize that the griot is no ordinary entertainer and that these words carry a substantial, visible weight. Basically, a griot begins play knowing two songs and can learn an additional one every time they gain a level (or learning it from a fellow griot or tome they penned), and use a point-based system where songs cost a number of Inspiration to use. Using a song takes great effort, and too many in quick succession can tax the griot as they become unable to use the right words and melodies in the right order and fashion. At 1st level they can learn only minor songs, but at 4th and 7th they can learn Great and Ancient Songs. Their 10th level capstone ability allows them to pick 2 minor songs and use them at no Inspiration cost. Songs generally involve placing targets in a certain estate, bolstering the abilities of allies, or relying upon epics and lore to discover and remember old knowledge.

Overall, a class which is good at what it does and fits in well with the setting.

Every village has its people versed in their culture's religion and the service of the spirits. Religious festivals and celebrations are communal activities, as the favor of those worshiped is seen as the duty of everyone and not a specialized order of clergy. Even then, there are times when the specialized skills of one close to the spirits is needed, and the Marabout serves that role.

Marabout are not just priests and priestesses. They are people who fashioned close relations with a spirit or spirits, and in exchange they gain magical powers in line with the spirits portfolio. Some have to spend years earning their good will, while some are born able to use miracles by instinct, having been watched by an otherworldly patron since they were in the womb. Most marabout in the Three Lands follow either the Spirit Way (catch-all term for people who honor all variety of spirits) or the Sun Faith (monolatrist faith which views the Sun as the greatest spirit of all and pay homage to him and him alone).

Marabouts have a 1d6 hit dice and average attack bonus, and their saves are more geared towards resisting magic and saving them in times of pure luck. Their skill list is fewer than the griot's, generally a few social skills and knowledges. Their primary class feature is their access to Spheres, which are much like Cleric domains from Dungeons & Dragons geared towards a certain theme, and and one of them chosen by the PC grants an always-active Gift or benefit for the Marabout. A marabout PC chooses two spheres at 1st level, representing their friendship with spirits in that portfolio. Alliances can change and evolve, however, and the marabout can gain an additional sphere at 3rd, 6th, and 9th level, and can trade out any number of spheres whenever they gain a level. Marabouts of the Sun Faith, however, must always keep the Sun sphere as one of their active spheres. In exchange, they can cast one more spell per day per spell level.

Marabouts use the all too familiar Vancian spell system, where they spend slots of certain spell levels to cast their spells. Whereas standard D&D clerics and wizards can choose their spells ahead of time, marabouts can only cast spells from their spheres. At 10th level they may choose a 1st level spell of a sphere without a permanent effect to be able to cast at will. This makes the class rather specialized at low levels, although they become more versatile in ability as they gain levels.

The eight available spheres are Curing (healing magic and immunity to disease Gift), Death (weakening enemies, speaking with the dead and raising the dead, can halt bleeding others as a Gift), Herding (good with animals and +1 to your Constitution modifier Gift), Passion (manipulate emotions, +1 to Charisma modifier Gift), Spirits (banish and summon spirits, can speak with spirits and see them as your Gift), Sun (light and fire magic, see in perfect darkness and radiate light at will as Gift, available to both Spirit Way and Sun Faith), War (buff spells for combat, +1 to hit rolls with specific weapon group as Gift), and Water (water and weather magic, can breath and swim in water like a fish as Gift).

The Marabout's role in the party highly depends upon the spheres you select. They can be classic battle-priests of D&D with Curing and War, they can be pseudo-druids with Herding and Water, and classic undead-slayers with Spirit and Sun. The choices are up to you!

The Nganga are those few people gifted (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) at manipulating the universal force known as ashe. This art is inborn and cannot be taught, although most of these folk are destined to live unaware of it, their unconscious desires wreaking magic around them. However, with proper training and knowledge of the required rituals and material components, a nganga can achieve feats both wondrous and terrible. From laying curses upon foes to taking the forms of beasts, the magic wielded by a nganga makes them feared and respected across the Three Lands. As long as they restrict their magic to cursing enemies and warding their own communities against evil magic, these sorcerers are tolerated as a necessary evil (or are part of the ruling class in the case of Lokossa).

The Nganga is very frail, with a d4 hit dice and the only one which does not have Combat skills as class skills, and a poor base attack bonus. Their saves are geared against resisting magic and mental effects, and are bad at resisting physical effects and evading danger.

While a Griot's songs are not technically magical, and the Marabout relies upon spirits from another world, the Nganga's magic is entirely internal and of this world. They need to channel their powers into proper receptacles, forcing them to carry specific charms, masks, pieces of clothing, and similar restrictions to cast their spells. Unlike marabouts, they cannot cast spells while wearing armor. Nganga Sorcery is divided into two kinds: ritual spells, which has no limit to the number of times they can be cast but often have long casting times (30 minutes is the fastest one of all) and sometimes expensive material costs. And nkisi spells, which use the per-day Vancian system and must be imbued into nkisi, or small handheld objects. Both have spell levels, and thus can only be learned by a nganga who meets the proper character level to cast them. They can learn new spells by gaining levels or from a fellow tutor (none of which freely part with their knowledge, and prefer favors and quests to vulgar trade goods). A nganga always has the option of preparing more slots than their level allows via additional nkisi, but failing an Occult skill check causes all of the spells to go off at once with the nganga as the target.

Nganga are a potentially powerful class. They are more versatile than the marabout, and many of them tend to be direct damage, debilitating curses, or defensive wards or rituals to build minor magic items. They do suffer the common problem of low-level old school wizards, where they can fire off only a single spell at 1st level and become squishy targets with almost no offensive capabilities.

The Warrior has a rather misleading name. Although they are mechanically combat-based, the available options allow you to make a skilled thief character. Warriors are pretty much anyone who relies upon their own skill and wits without the aid of magic or songs. Fighters not only have the best hit dice (d8) and attack bonus, their saves are good all across the board, and they gain athletics and all combat skills as bonus skills. And their class skills are not too shabby either, including the aforementioned groups as well as more thiefy stuff.

Warriors gain access to idahuns, or "replies," techniques they mastered through training. Almost all of them are always-active, only a few are limited use. The warrior gains an idahun of their choice at 1st level and gains an additional one at 3rd level and every odd-numbered level thereafter. There are 12 total, enough for me to cover them all. They tend to vary in effectiveness, with some useful for any character and a few dedicated more towards specific builds. What I like is that some of them are open-ended as to whether they might be supernatural, or just superior training or luck. For example, the "Two Lives" idahun might be the warrior simply possessing extraordinary luck, or the spirits are watching over him.

The four great ones, which any build can improve upon, are:

Blessed and Graced is great because your PC gains an effective 7 points of armor bonus (equivalent to heavy armor), as they learned to fight unarmored. They can still use a shield, and there's no downside to this as it's superior all available armor options with none of the drawbacks. You won't be able to use this while wearing magical armor, but you won't find that stuff often until higher levels.

Charmed Steel, where your attacks wound all foes normally, even if they'd otherwise be immune to or suffer reduced damage based on weapon type. Additionally, all weapons and armor you wield are treated as magical, and gain a +1 bonus at 4th level and increase by 1 every 3 levels.

Two Lives, where you simply fall unconscious for 5 minutes if you'd otherwise die or bleed out from your wounds. You can die normally if struck while in this state, and must spend a week in celebration to honor the spirits who saved you or being joyful over your good luck before you can use it again.

Washer of Spears, which grants +2 initiative and you can never be caught surprised.

And for the rest:

Born with a Blade is lackluster, granting you a +1 to hit and +2 damage with a weapon group of your choice.

Deep-Rooted Soul grants you a +2 on magic saves (putting you equivalent with the Nganga, the best magic save in the game), and you can't suffer negative levels from energy drain. Useful for most builds, especially magic-using enemies and undead.

Honed Skill and Sagacious Warrior are meant for the skill-user builds. The former lets you pick one skill you're really good at, and you treat a roll as a 12 on the die (2d6 skill system) once per day. Sagacious Warrior grants you basic proficiency in 3 skills of your choice or raises existing ones to Level 1, or any combination thereof. This last idahun, along with all others, can only be taken once.

Dreadful Shadow and Honored Steps are reputation-based, and only one of which can be taken. The former grants you bonuses on intimidation-based rolls, and you're immune to all fear effects. Honored Steps increases your Charisma modifier by 1 and automatically assumed fit for leadership positions. Both are rather situational.

Tireless increases your Constitution modifier by one (augmenting your hit points), and you can perform physical exertions all day long, and you sleep light for the first four hours. An all-around good idahun.

And finally, Roof of Spears. Once per combat, you can instantly move to interpose yourself with an ally within 30 feet, taking the damage or effect meant for them, even after dice are rolled. You can only defend against physical attacks. Good to have if one of your PCs is wounded or a squishy nganga.

Overall, I really like the Warrior class. It is very versatile both in and out of combat, and I like the touch of unique class features with good effects. It makes the warrior feel unique belong "have the best hit points and saves and all the proficiencies" of other old-school fighter classes.


The other major aspect of character creation, Spears of the Dawn uses a skill system. Skills range in 6 variables: lack of a skill, where you don't have even basic training and suffer a -2 penalty (and can't even roll for harder DCs at all); Level 0, basic proficiency; Level 1, years of training; and all the way up to Level 4, which indicates legendary ability.

When performing an activity with a reasonable chance or consequences of failure, a character rolls 2d6 and adds their skill level and the attribute modifier most relevant to the situation, with DCs ranging from 6 (simple tasks for trained people) to 15 (barely possible in a theoretical sense). There are 20 skills, a few of which have specializations. It costs points to upgrade skills, and characters have only a set amount per level to spend. The cost increases exponentially between skill levels, and more so if it's not a class skill, so even griots and warriors aren't going to be getting good at all of them anytime soon.

Some skills are specialized and require specific knowledge, such as Artistry (art and entertainment stuff), Culture (your own or others), and Trade (common medieval occupation), but most are broad and all-encompassing. Some skills especially useful to typical Spears or adventurers, such as Athletics (helps you wear heavy armor in hot climates in addition to movement stuff), Occult (supernatural stuff), Perception, Navigation (where am I?), and Survival (living off the land). You even have Persuade, a social skill to change people's disposition towards you, while Leadership and Tactics can help keep obedience of subjects and manage affairs in risky situations.

What's interesting is that Combat is a specialized skill. Instead of using the 2d6 system, you buy up skill levels in a certain type of weapon (axes, blades, clubs, spears, or missile weapons), and you add the skill level to your attack bonus along with the relevant ability modifier. This is in lieu of a proficiency system, and I sort of have mixed feelings on it. On the one hand, it complicates things when transferring from other games ("can I use this weapon or not?"), but it allows for some customization in what you're good at unlike some more restrictive retroclones.

Final Touches

The last bits of character creation include choosing of starting languages, rolling for starting wealth (with silver trade ingots the universal basis of currency) along with a table to gear to buy, and roll for starting hit points.

Unlike other retroclones, you roll your entire hit die value every time you level up. And if the total is equal to or greater than your current hit points, then you gain that new value instead. This results in the potential for sudden large increases, and can mitigate the effects of a bad roll the previous level. Rolled a 3 for your 1st level Warrior? Not to fear, upon hitting 2nd level you always have the potential to get as high as 16! Only problem is, there's the slight chance that you might not get any hit points at all upon leveling up.

Thoughts so far: I like what Crawford did with the classes. They're quite versatile for an old school retroclone, and the fluff text fits really well with the setting while letting you know this is not your standard Fantasy Europe. 3rd Edition fans like me might appreciate the skill system to better create your character, and the background system helps ground your character in the world.

Next time, Chapter Two: Systems and Rules!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 06:25 on May 27, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter Two: Systems and Rules

This chapter is a collection of all those common rules you see in RPG rulebooks covering plausible situations adventures might come across in play. Carrying capacity, overland travel, natural healing, that kind of stuff. It's an oddity that these rules are near the front of the book, but that actually makes sense. In other retroclones and D&D Editions, such a chapter's usually farther into the book, after magic and equipment and other stuff like that. But this is actually a good idea, as these rules apply to everyone, and they're only 10 pages long (in keeping with the rules-lite ascetic of many old school games).

Our first section are skill checks, covering the skill system of Spears of the Dawn. In short, you roll 2d6 and add your Skill level, the relevant ability modifier, and other miscellaneous modifiers as determined by the DM. There's no check for things where you can accomplish the task eventually where time is not an issue or something you do regularly for your background. Otherwise, the target number (or difficulty) are in intervals ranging from 6 (simple tasks for trained people) to 15 (almost impossible). Very open-ended.

Opposed rolls (like sneaking up on a sleeping monster) are done by the participants rolling opposed skill checks, with the higher result winning (ties are rerolled if they don't make sense in context).

Extended skill checks are rather simple, where the result of a success or failure determines if you finish in time when it's convenient, or is rolled once for each interval of time.

Also, good advice to discourage those rear end in a top hat DMs who make players roll for everything:


As a good rule of thumb to determine whether or not a PC should get a concept success, think about whether failure would make the PC look incompetent at their role. If not-infrequent failure at a type of skill check would have gotten them drummed out of their profession, then they can be assumed to automatically succeed at similar tasks.

Don’t feel obliged to let a character’s concept creep too far. One who bills himself as a “jack of all trades” might well have a wide range of skills, but letting him get a concept success more than once a session is probably more than he needs. The goal is to let PCs be good at what they are about, not to let someone bypass half their challenges with a well-worded character concept.

We then get brief overviews of the five saving throws. Physical Effect involves stuff like resisting diseases, poisons, exhaustion, and other tests of health and endurance, Mental Effect covers griot songs and supernatural effects that directly affect your mind, Evasion covers situations where you must dodge out of the way of something, Magic covers any magical effect which does not follow under any of the following categories, and Luck for when your wellbeing hinges upon dumb luck and not skill.

Also, suffocation and falling damage. Long story short, you die if you go for 5 minutes without air (and bad stuff happens in the intervening minutes), and suffer 1d6 damage per 10 feet fallen (to a maximum of 20d6) with a luck save halving the damage.

Overland travel is rather straightforward, where the average human adult travels 3 miles an hour and can be modified by encumbrance, terrain, and any mounts they have.

Combat is where we really get to the details! Surprisingly this section's only 2 pages long. Mainly it covers initiative (roll 1d8 and add dexterity modifier to see combat order), actions and movement (free actions which require nothing and normal actions which can be done in one round), spell disruption (ngangas and marabouts lose whatever spell they were in the process of casting if hit with an attack), movement (60 feet per round and one action, or 120 feet doing nothing but moving), and attack rolls.

Attack rolls are different in this game, in that the target number is always 20. An attacker rolls a d20 and adds their base attack bonus, their weapons skill level if applicable, relevant ability and miscellaneous modifiers, and the opponent's armor class (a lower value is better, naturally). There are no critical hits in this game.

Other than this, that's it for combat! Quite simple, really!

Encumbrance and armor determine carrying capacity. A character can ready a number of items equal to half their Strength score, ones a person can easily ready on their person and can be drawn as part of an action in a round. Armor counts as a readied action. You can have a number of stowed items equal to their Strength score. You can ready or store 2 or 4 additional items in exchange for becoming lightly or heavily encumbered, respectively.

Rather than listing out weight for all equipment, Spears of the Dawn list an Encumbrance number, determining general weight and unwieldiness. Most items are encumbrance one, and most small objects have no encumbrance. Items with an encumbrance score higher than 1 are tougher to carry, and thus count as additional ready or stored items.

Also, the hot climate of the Three Lands makes wearing heavy armor impractical in most situations, and thus are not in high supply or demand. You suffer hit point damage equal to twice its encumbrance if you wear it long-term. As such, most warriors don heavy armor immediately before battle or when they're going to fight mounted (riding reduces the penalty) or in the shade. Having ranks in the Athletics skill reduces the penalty.

Injury and healing are semi-detailed, where people reduced to 0 hit points are at risk of dying if not attended to with a successful Medicine roll of 8 or a healing spell, and must make Physical Effect rolls if left without treatment to avoid certain death. Bed rest can restore hit points equal to your level per day, twice that if you spend all day doing nothing but rest plus more if attended by someone with the Medicine skill.

Diseases and poisons have a Toxicity rating, which is the target number needed to resist it on a saving throw (physical effect or luck, player's choice) or a medicine roll to cure it.

Character advancement explains the process of gaining levels. Basically, Spears of the Dawn uses a goal-focused method of accruing experience points. Monsters and treasure don't have set amounts, instead the DM has a provided table of experience points the party should gain every gaming session based on their current level. PCs should not be granted experience for accomplishing trivial tasks with no real risk. Upon gaining the requisite experience, they gain the level immediately along with all of their effects.

Also, we get into skill points. In addition to the bonus skills granted by background and class, PCs gain 4 skill points at 2nd level and each additional level thereafter. They can be saved in between levels for the purchase of future skills. As for skills themselves, costs for new skill levels is dependent upon both the level to be attained (levels must be purchased in order, no jumping from 0 to 3) and whether or not they're class skills. Additionally, PCs can't gain Skill Levels of 2, 3, and 4 until they're 3rd, 6th, and 9th character levels respectively (meaning skill masters are also very high level).

Buying a cross-class skill from 0 to 4 can cost as 20 skill points, while raising a class skill you had at Level 1 at character creation costs 12 points. So long-term planning and taking your background and class into account is encouraged from a game mechanics perspective.

There's also some brief rules on levels beyond 10. Basically you reroll your 10 hit dice every level until you get a better result, along with skill points, but nothing else. You and the DM decided on a single special ability for your PC for each "bonus" level in line with your accomplishments:


Instead, the PC receives a single new ability appropriate to his nature and heroic deeds, chosen by agreement between GM and player. For persistent, always-available abilities, they should be roughly as strong as a warrior’s idahun. For abilities that can only be used once per day, they might be as strong as a fifth level spell or ancient song. Such legendary heroes should advance in unique gifts rather than simple brute accumulation of bigger statistics.

We get a one page explanation for converting to other old school rulesets. Due to the relative interchangeability of game mechanics in OSR games, the biggest hurdle is the skill system (remove it or alter it) and armor class (subtract or add 20 based upon whether its descending or ascending).

Ending our chapter's a 1 page quick reference cheat sheet of the most important and relevant rules for quick reference. I haven't played a game yet, but this (along with the chapter's relative shortness) is sure to greatly speed up gameplay.

Thoughts so far: The rules are very short, yet cover most of the stuff relevant to fantasy adventuring. It's close to the book's front, easy to navigate, basically everything done right.

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter Three: Magic

This chapter lays out the major features of 3 of the 4 classes of Spears of the Dawn: Griot songs and spells.

Before getting into each class, we have a general overview of how magic interacts with reality and how it's treated by the people.

Basically, magic comes in two varieties: the natural miracles of the griot and the marabout, and the manipulation of ashe of the nganga.

Miracles are fundamentally the product of natural law. The marabout appeals to spirits who have authority over certain aspects of reality, and in turn they change things to the marabout's favor. As for griots, their songs draw upon the social laws and cultural mores of their people, which are not just hollow concepts. Since marabouts and griots are drawing upon existing rules, they are easier to call up. Whereas a nganga must prepare their spells in rituals ahead of time, marabouts can call upon any spell they have access to in their spheres and a griot any song they know, the only limits being spell slots and inspiration points.

Ashe is different. It has nothing to do with the gods, spirits, or societies. It is more essential and fundamental to the make-up of this world, and typical used to alter and create such things. Curses, one of the nganga's most well-known spells, are effectively altering a person's supply of ashe to harm them in some way. Even skilled marabouts cannot permanently lift curses, due to the relative gap of difference between ashe and spirits. And those who are born with the potential to manipulate ashe are unable to control their powers effectively without tutoring under a more experienced user. It is for these reasons that it's distrusted among many religious people, who believe that it can sever the connection between mortal and spirit. It is also why many of these same people tolerate ngangas in their villages, to better counter the magic of evildoers of their kind and help train latent "witches" so that they don't accidentally curse their own friends and family.

Between the griot songs and marabout and nganga spells, there are 110 powers to choose from, and we'd be here all day if I outlined them all. Instead I'm going to do a general overview of the classes and spells, pointing out particularly interesting ones.

Griot Songs

Griots are experienced in the art of songs, near-magical chants and orations which can inspire and enlighten others with newfound truths, and fell wrongdoers with judgment. As judges of the deeds of mortals, griots' powers are not constrained by any overarching code, and thus can use their songs as they see fit (although certain conditions must be met for some songs).

Despite being in the magic chapter and earlier lumped in with marabout spells, griot songs aren't technically magical, and thus aren't affected by magic wards or dispelling effects. In fact, many of the griot songs can be seen as entirely mundane, and can just as easily stem from them pure skill. I actually like this variation. It leaves the griot in a sort of nebulous state as to how much they're calling upon a greater power, and how much of it is them being just that good.

Also, unlike spells, griot songs can only be interrupted by an attack which would render the griot unconscious or dead.

There are 22 griot songs to choose from, 8 minor, 8 great, and 6 ancient. They are generally divided into praise-songs, which buff up the griot's allies with bonuses of various kinds; Remembrances, which are sort of like bardic knowledge in that the griot gains insight into a certain situation; songs which don't fit into either category.

Overall, griot songs are pretty sharply focused in comparison to spells. They generally enliven allies, reveal knowledge, and bestow mental and emotional effects upon enemies. Still, they're pretty useful to have in a party.

Griots can also scribe their songs into large books, which can take many months to complete. The most powerful griot songs can encompass multiple volumes, and all whose workings only grant true knowledge of the craft to fellow griots.

The minor songs are small, minor effects which won't do much by themselves and are most effective in conjunction with other actions. The praise-songs grant minor bonuses to skill checks (Praising the Artisan's Hands), attack rolls, armor class, and the remembrances invoke various songs, poems, and legends to remember simple words in a foreign language (Remembering the Correct Words), common customs, and historical facts (Remembering the Old Kings). The sole offensive song, Condemning the Wicked Man, is a verbal castigation which deals damage in the form of sapping their fighting spirit (it can't strike someone dead for this reason).

Great songs are overall more powerful. They include inspiring words to get allies to shake off mind-control spells (Encouraging the Darkened Mind), convincing both sides of a conflict to temporarily disarm for a minute (Compelling the Stillness of Spears), make the subject of a song viewed more favorably by listeners (Praising the Wise Leader, favored by heads of state for this reason), and verbal accusations of horrific crimes which remove protection of the law temporarily (Condemning the Miserable Outlaw)! This last one's quite powerful, as crimes committed against that person during the song's duration will not be reported or begrudged, as it seemed perfectly justified to witnesses at that time. This makes griots the perfect assassins.

One song I like, Remembering the Spears of Heroes, allows the griot to determine the properties of a unique or magical items by consulting multiple heroic legends with fabled artifacts to narrow down which one it might be.

Ancient songs are few (6 instead of 8), but all very powerful. Absolving the Unjustly Accused forces a group of judges to not find it in their hearts to condemn or punish someone on a failed Mental Effect save. Praising the Unconquered Hero is a once per day song which grants temporary hit points and allows the target to reroll all attack rolls and skill checks, taking the better result, and lasts until the end of the current or next battle. Singing the Path to Glory is the griot being so knowledgeable of the land and its people that they can divine the fastest route to a particular important individual (whose identity is not being kept secret).

Condemning One Worthy of Death is not the most powerful supernatural attack effect-wise, but it's a very cool ability. The griot issues such a scorching condemnation to a person that their very skin peels away at revulsion of their crimes and their bones jut out, seeking to tear themselves free from such a terrible person.

Marabout Spells

The marabout is one of the two Vancian caster classes in Spears of the Dawn. Whereas a nganga must prepare their exact spells ahead of time, a marabout can cast any spell they know within their Spheres, provided that they have remaining spell slots to use. The marabout has a greater list of effects to choose from than the griot, 40 spells total instead of 22 songs. However, there are only 5 spells per sphere, one for each level. This means that at 1st level a marabout can really only cast 2 spells, while at 9th level they can cast from a selection of 25 spells.

As mentioned before, a marabout's Spheres represent their alliances with certain spirits, with the favored sphere representing the strongest connection and bestowing them a unique Gift in addition to the spells. Marabout do not have to pray or meditate for their spells, or directly communicate with the spirits. Their favor manifests in subtle signs of approval and disapproval. Oddly enough, a marabout still retains access to spheres even if they go against the taboos and holy codes of their faith. Many scholars and theologians debate why this is: some theorize that the marabout's connection to them is too strong to break, others theorize that immoral marabout draw their power (knowingly or unknowingly) from the Gods Below.

A marabout usually must take at least one round's worth of action to cast a spell, and be able to speak to summon their spirits' aid. An enemy higher in the initiative order may hold their action to strike on the round of casting, which disrupts a marabout's spell. This action can work on ngangas as well.

So we have eight Spheres, all of them with very different effects. The kind of character your marabout can be, and their role in the party, is strongly shaped by the selection.

The sphere of Curing is straightforward, granting hit point restoration spells at 1st, 4th, and 5th level spells (the latter regenerates hit points per minute until they hit their maximum value), and curing disease and poison at 2nd and 3rd levels. As a favored sphere, it bestows immunity to all diseases. This is pretty much a good deal for any adventuring party to take, as the Medicine skill is not as immediate in its effects, and healing potions can get quite expensive over multiple purchases.

The sphere of Death grants power over the transition between life and death, the soul's passage from the mortal world of the land of spirits. Its spells involve granting the next damage roll its maximum value, speaking with the dead, taking on undead immunities and qualities, raising the dead (must be willing), and the ability to either create undead servants or damage the walking dead (both the same spell, Servants of Clay). The Gift allows the marabout to automatically stabilize when bleeding to death, and do the same to others suffering the same fate. Overall, a few of the spells are situational, but the maximum damage and resurrection are both very useful. This sphere might be good to take as an additional option later on down the line.

The sphere of Herding makes you good with animals. The spells granted allow you to speak with animals, enchant a staff with the power to scare off wild beasts, grow long savannah grass which is edible and can feed ten people per class level, transform into a beast and gain their qualities (lose spellcasting ability for duration), and the ability to summon horned warrior spirits to fight by your side. Its Gift increases the marabout's Strength or Constitution modifier by 1 point. Overall a situational and underwhelming sphere, although I can see some min-maxers incorporating the gift for some battle-priest build.

The sphere of Passion is all about manipulating the emotional state of others and getting them to do what you want. Its spells include a minor bonus on social interaction checks, have a target treat you as a trusted friend for one day per level, fill a crowd of listeners with a certain strong emotion, fill a target with grief and make them unable to perform actions, and cut a target's emotional bond with the most important thing in their life indefinitely (or until the curse is dispelled), filling them with apathy towards the subject. The Gift increases the Marabout's Charisma modifier by 1. The spells have quite long durations (even the shortest-lasting grief-based one lasts 1 round per level), which can make them very useful in games which aren't just straight dungeon-crawling. And even then they can be used to turn certain monsters into brief allies.

The sphere of Spirits makes the marabout skilled in dealing with the denizens of the spirit world. The spells include the creation of a spirit ward which hedges out spirits and potential possessions, a magical light which reveals the auras of magical effects and invisible creatures, a short-term suppression of curses (1 round per level), the ability to summon a spirit ally to help with tasks for 1 hour per level, and the ability to deal damage to spirits by rebuking their presence. The Gift grants the ability to speak with all spirits regardless of language barriers, +2 on social rolls with them, and the ability to see even normally invisible spirits. This is a very useful sphere all around, from levels early to late.

The sphere of Sun grants you the favor of that celestial ball of light, to channel a little bit of its great power to work your will on the world. Its spells allow you to make a ranged fire-based attack, granting you and your allies tolerance of very cold and very hot temperatures for several hours, imbuing light into a weapon to make it magical and glow and deal fire damage, a burst of light which reveals all hidden people and objects (people with Stealth skill level 3 can still hide), and the ability to conjure pillars of burning light to strike down your foes. Its Gift allows you to see perfectly regardless of lighting conditions and radiate light in a 60 foot radius at will. A very offensive-based sphere. If you're a Sun Faith marabout, you must have this as your Favored Sphere, but you gain an additional spell level per day for your devotion, so playing a Sun Faith spellcaster can be a very good choice (especially early on, when you don't have too many spells).

War governs violence and wrought iron. It is one of the best spheres for several reasons. One, its spells are relevant to a very important aspect of D&D retroclones: combat. Two: its spells are overall long-duration (3 out of 5 have 1 minute/level) and affect multiple allies (3 out of 5 affect allies within 30 foot range of the marabout). Its spells, predictably enough, grant bonuses on to-hit rolls, fill enemy opponents with fear (penalty on to-hit rolls and might flee), bonuses to armor class and reroll the damage rolls of mortal blows directed at them, the ability to restore hit points via successful attacks, and the ability to make allies share the best attack bonus of the person within their ranks. Its Gift grants a +1 on to-hit rolls with a single chosen weapon.

I haven't compared them side-by-side yet, but a War sphere marabout might just be able to fill in for a Warrior. Unlike 3rd Edition they are not so powerful as to make them feel useless, but the spells alone can buff up the marabout and their buddies to fight well in combat. The Warrior has more skills, better saving throws and hit points, but the marabout can easily get a near-equal attack bonus with buff, plus spells to boot!

The final sphere, Water, governs the streams, lakes, and oceans of the world. Spells include the ability to conjure a stream gushing out gallons of water, the ability to grant the marabout and their allies the ability to swim and breathe underwater, conjure a thick cloud of rain which hinders enemy visibility and movement, creating a snaking arc of water in mid-air which can block enemy movement and missiles (can be shaped by marabout, making it great for battlefield control), and the ability to instantly teleport themselves or a small barge across connected bodies of water. Its Gift grants the ability to swim in water as fast as they walk, and the ability to breathe in it. The early spells are very situational and not that great, but the later ones are very useful.

We also get another sphere, the sphere of Blasphemy. It available only to worshipers of the Gods Below, beings universally feared among the Three Lands for their wicked ways and fell powers. They are so named because its believed that they live deep in the bowels of the earth. Umthali (snake-people), Eternal cultists, and marabout desperate for power pledge themselves to them.

Basically, the Blasphemy sphere cannot be normally selected. Those who pledge allegiance to the Gods Below gain it as a bonus sphere, even if they're not a marabout (in this case they cast as a marabout of equal level). They must regularly perform hideous rights to please the Gods, and will be rewarded well in their afterlife. Those who seek to back out of the deal receive nightmarish visions of ghastly torment by said Gods, supposedly what awaits them in the spirit world once they die. The spells included grant the ability to summon worms to eat at the victims, force witnesses to be unable to communicate in any way about a certain action or event, manipulation and excavation of stone and earth, stunning targets by using foul curses, and summoning swarms of soul-eating worms. It doesn't have a gift, but those with this sphere gain bonuses against divinatory magic which might reveal their true nature.

As it's a free sphere, there's no downsides mechanically to taking it. However, the Gods Below are very much definitely evil people, and worshiped by those who'd be enemies of the Spears of the Dawn and most people of the Three Lands.

Nganga Sorcery

Nganga's arts and training are quite demanding. In addition to years of training under a tutor to harness their magic properly, they often must gather materials and resources to properly cast their spells, be they ritual magic components or handheld objects for nkisi spells. Most nganga are lone people of a few souls in villages, rarely attaining heights of greatness. They make their living as charm-makers and curse-breakers, mostly concerned with staying in people's good graces. The most powerful nganga live out in the wilderness, far from prying eyes to better discover the lost lore of forgotten ages. And there is the land of Lokossa, where the mightiest ngangas serve as the heads of noble families, with the mighty Ahonsu (sorcerer-king) ruling them all absolutely.

There are two kinds of spells nganga can cast: ritual spells, which face no per-day limits but have lengthy casting times and sometimes expensive material costs. And nkisi spells, more immediate magic stored in minor handheld objects upon the nganga's person.

Nganga can forage the wilderness for 10 silver ingots worth of materials per day for specific ritual spells (they can't just be gathered and stockpiled over time), while some magic requires a physical connection to a target in order to work (well-worn clothes, a lock of hair, blood, etc).

A nganga's spells per day are represented by their nkisi. They can prepare additional slots with a successful DC 6 Occult/Int roll, +2 for each additional spell. A failed roll means that all the prepared spells go off with the nganga as the target upon the completion of spell preparation. It is for this reason that most nganga do not exceed their limits except in times of greatest need.

A nganga has 48 spells, both ritual and nkisi, 5 per spell level each up to 4th level, and 4 each for 5th level spells.

Ritual spells are quite varied in effects. Their casting times can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a whole day, and some require material costs ranging anywhere from 30 to 5,000 silver ingots. Rituals tend to be more powerful and varied than their equivalent nkisi spells, for obvious reasons, with some exceptions. Rituals can involve the lifting of curses (which have their own unique game mechanics), creating minor magic items which grant bonuses on various rolls (they usually fall apart after several uses), the ability to call forth a spirit minion or assassin for service, communicate with other people via dreams, place curses on other people which bestow penalties to certain rolls until they're lifted (or a long enough time passes), distant scrying, fast travel to distant locations by being picked up by the wind, and more!

Nkisis are much more limited, but have the benefit of quick casting. Nganga nkisi tend to be more offensive-oriented in comparison to marabout spells, and some of them are quite powerful. Nkisi of the Deadened Mind, for example, is a 1st-level spell, but can turn a target into a brain-dead slave for one day per level! Granted, it's the most powerful of its level, but still. Some of the more interesting spells include Nkisi of the Broken Shadow, where a target is attacked by their own shadow; Nkisi of the Crimson Nail, which painfully pins a target to the area they're currently in; Nkisi of the Invincible Wall, which fills an ally with a short-lasting surge of overwhelming mystical force which grants a +4 bonus on their next roll; Nkisi of the Sundered Spell, which can act as a counter-dispel against enemy magic; and Nkisi of the Walker at Night, which allows the nganga to teleport between areas they're familiar with by stepping into the shadows and exiting into the place of their choice.

Ngangas are easily the most versatile in their powers, but are limited by potential costs and lengthy casting times, the necessity to prepare spells ahead as opposed to selecting which ones they want to cast at the moment, and class limitations (physical frailness combined with the inability to wear armor). The fear and apprehension they inspire in others is more of a role-playing limitation.

Thoughts So Far: I really like how the magic system interweaves with the setting as opposed to just feeling tacked on, like in the settings of other retroclones. Not only are the differences between each class explained, knowledgeable people in the game world recognize this and act accordingly. Leaders seek to stay on the good side of griots, villages turn to ngangas to lift curses, marabout can enter into new alliances with spirits over time and expand their power. Crawford put a lot of thought into this, as he did with the rest of the book's chapters.

Next time, Chapter Four: The Three Lands! Finally we get to the setting!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 00:12 on Jun 2, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter Four, Part One: The Three Lands

Apologies for the delay, but stuff was occupying my time. This chapter's a big one, too big for me to cover everything, so I'm going to handle it in two segments.

A Brief History

In ages past, the Old Kings ruled great nations between the western sea and the Weeping Mountains of the East. Two centuries ago the Nyala Empire waged war against the eastern kingdom of Deshur, forcing its populace to retreat eastward, into mountain temples built long before the ages of men. It was there the Deshurite King discovered the forbidden arts of the Gods Below to ensure that his people would survive and take revenge on their enemies. It was here the first Eternal were created. They were called this by the living because they never really died. They could live deep in the deserts without food or water, their flesh still and unaging with no breath of life. They lived strange pantomimes of life, only a few among their dread lords containing the skills and memories of their former lives, ruled by a dread Eternal King.

They ventured west, bringing the Three Lands into a conflict called the Long War, so named because it lasted 150 years. Only the internal quarrels among the Eternal and the need to hold onto existing territory did they not conquer the Five Kingdoms. Even some among the living began to worship the Eternal as new gods, forming cults and secret societies motivated by the promises of power and immortality.

Forty years before the current era did Emperor Kaday of Nyala realize that the Five Kingdoms must be united if they were to drive back the Eternal. He formed a binding alliance with independent and former Nyalan provinces of Sokone and Kirsi by promising them autonomy, earning their soldiers yet angering the Nyalan nobles who lost their traditional holdings. But it worked, for they led a unified army into the east which even the Eternal could not hold out against. Emperor Kaday strode alongside the Sorcerer-King of Lokossa at his left, and the greatest Marabout sages of the Meru on his right. Before him rode the iron lancers or Kirsi, and at their flanks marched the sea-wide legions of Sokone with the best equipment and training their gold could buy. They stormed the walls of Desheret, the capital, and the Emperor died in battle against the Eternal King, who was wounded and taken to recover deep into the Weeping Mountains.

The Long War was finally over, the soldiers returned to their homes. But the Eternal still lingered, in hidden wilderness tomb-houses and supported by loyal cultists. The Spears of the Dawn were formed among the best soldiers of all the nations to hunt down these remnants, promised freedom, gold, and other privileges as long as they performed their duty. Nowadays the Spears have little official support, eventually becoming but a tradition upheld by individual teachers.

The Eternal and the Spears

We get short blurbs further detailing the Eternal and the Spears of the Dawn. Basically Eternal are mortal spirits trapped in their own dead bodies, losing most of their reasoning and mental faculties save for a few powerful individuals. They are hierarchal, being ruled by former nobles and spellcasters among them. Despite the benefits of undeath, all Eternal cannot heal naturally, and must regularly consume living human flesh to avoid further desiccation. Secondly, they're all driven a hatred of all living things which can only be held in check with sufficient willpower. Thirdly, and most horribly, they can never know the peace of true death. Even if hacked apart and stomped into a bloody paste, their minds will still continue on in a red haze of never-ending confusion and agony. Their spirits will always remain in this world, never moving on.

The Spears of the Dawn were formed by Emperor Kaday and an alliance of the Five Kingdom's best soldiers. In exchange for venturing out and destroying the Eternal remnants in the time of tenuous peace, they'd be promised riches and land once their mission was finally done. In the meantime, lesser nobles would show deference and respect to Spears and do their work without interference. The Emperor died before he could fulfill his promise, and the governments never bothered to give them land, but the Spears remained true to their cause. Cleaning out Eternal tombhouses was dangerous, but they could earn a comfortable living selling their plunder, and it was preferable than stealing from peasants or fighting one's fellow man. Over time they expanded their efforts beyond the Eternal, defending the common folk from all manner of beasts, bandits, and other dangers of recent years.

Spears of the Dawn are exempt from the lesser laws of the Five Kingdoms. They can get away with more troublemaking and minor violence than any commoner, and are not expected to conform to the traditions of their gender or social class. Said tolerance has its limits, as theft, murder, treason, and major crimes will be punished, but a Spear who can demonstrate and justify his or her actions can stay the wrath of a noble.

Life in the Three Lands

Although each kingdom has its own culture, traditions, and history, there are some general trends which can be applied broadly. The setting is divided into five kingdoms discussed in the first chapter, along with three general geographic regions known as the Three Lands: the Green Land, the Yellow Land, and the Black Land.

All of the Lands are hot in climate. The Green Land is in the west, comprising the meadows and forests of Nyala, the marshes and fields of Western Sokone, and the rainforest of Lokossa. The Yellow Land is much drier, comprised of the golden grass savannas of the Meru and the hills and badlands of Kirsi. The Black Land of the east is nearly impossible for humans to live in, so named for its ebony sands. Only among the banks of the Iteru River can living settlements survive. Eventually the sands give way to dark, craggy hill and the Weeping Mountains.

Basically, life in the Three Lands is feudal to one degree or another. Society is hierarchal, where those in power (be they nobles, ngangas, merchant families, or tribal elders) are in charge of overseeing the affairs of the majority, protecting them in exchange for service. Society is structured in that every person is expected to perform their role for the betterment of the community, and that trying to defy or escape this fate is selfish and puts everyone else in jeopardy. Even the Spears, who are regarded as remarkable people, are burdened with the tasks of defending the rest from the Eternal and other horrors. And while minor nobles might live lives of privilege, they must at least tend to their duties if they expect to hold onto their land and titles from rival groups and heads of state which in turn rule over them. In short, everyone must do their part.

The Three Lands place a high importance on politeness, even between different social classes. A Lokossan noble might "ask" the serfs when the harvesting of rice will be complete rather than ordering them into the fields, while the courts of Nyala are an elaborate web of "gifts" and "favors" where people ask and demand things in roundabout ways which might be imperceptible to outsiders. People who can't get along with their neighbors might eventually find themselves exempt from the laws and social contract of their town and village, and be forced to leave or fend for themselves. Overt rudeness is tolerated between close friends and family, because only kinsmen would speak so coarsely about each other. Rudeness between strangers and enemies, however, puts people at alarm, for it's usually a precursor to violence and when words can no longer settle disputes.

The author says that the DM should cut the plays some slack in the portrayal of their characters. Don't punish them for using modern protocals, and take their in-character words in the spirit that they're given rather than how they're conveyed. Fostering immersion in the setting is better accomplished by focusing on the NPCs and how to present them in the proper light. This is good advice!

In regards to family and marriage, relationships are expressed in terms of nations, clans, and families. Nations began as tribes which conquered or assimilated with their neighbors, until they reached a large-enough population and area that society transforms into the concept of the nation-state. There are some ethnic minorities and cultural holdovers which first and foremost refer to their tribe or clan, but most people identify primarily as being part of one of the Five Kingdoms.

Clans are more important at the local level, generally being shared descent from a famous figure, spirit, or important historical event. Clanmates are expected to provide food and shelter to each within reason, knowing that they would do the same for them. As a survival mechanism it encourages the richer members and farmers with good harvests to help their neighbors survive in hard times.

Gender and Sexual Orientation

Society is overall patriarchal. Men inhabit most positions of power, from governance to military to other important and prestigious decisions, and the eldest males of the families are in charge of being the "priest" for appeasing local and ancestral spirits (or the Sun in the case of the Sun Faith). Marriage is determined by a man paying a bride price to the woman's family, and polygamy is common among society's elite of both the Sun Faith and Spirit Way religions. Divorce is permitted, and although it's officially initiated by the man, poor treatment and abuse of a wife can be grounds for it. The offending husband in this case is often jeered by villagers for wasting his wealth and being a jerk. Adultery is a fair reason for dissolving marriages, with custody of the children usually going to the wronged party.

In regards to sexual orientation, it is regarded as something people do and not a part of a person's identity. Even people who exclusively prefer partners of the same sex are expected to marry the other gender and raise a family, with discreet same-sex relations being overlooked as long as they can provide for their spouse and children. Homosexual and bisexual people are not seen as monstrous or evil, rather they're viewed as excessively lustful. Same-sex activity is not illegal, but on the other hand they are not recognized as valid marriages.

Despite having sexist and homophobic elements, there is a degree of social change going on in the Five Kingdoms. The Long War drained many males into military service, forcing woman members of the community to step in to fill now-empty occupations. Spears might be exempt from societal expectations and regarded as strange people, but heroic and virtuous men and women can serve as an example to others and cause people to reconsider their old traditions and preconceptions. Even Lokossa has some concessions in regards to sexual orientation and gender; men and women who perform roles traditionally regarded for the other gender can be socially and legally considered that gender from then on out.

This isn't unique in Crawford's work. He often has sexist and homophobic elements in his campaign books, enough to provide conflict for groups who want it but not so restrictive that being anything other than a straight male is a constant obstacle. Instead of having things be hopelessly regressive, PCs can help change things for the better, and being Spears can exempt them from the traditional restrictions of society.

I think that this is an overall good way of doing it, although I still think that such things should be wholly decided by the group. Players who deal regularly enough with sexism and homophobia in their real lives might not want it intruding into their escapist fantasy.

Crime and Punishment

We get some blurbs on crime and punishment. Basically, most lands once and currently governed by the Nyala Empire have their legal codes descended from the old laws, with some degree of change between local ordinances. Petty crimes such as theft, insulting a noble, and drunk and disorderly are punished with small fines and a few blows of the rod, with greater crimes such as destruction of property might result in financial reparation or private beatings (public beatings are deemed harsher due to the humiliating aspect). Capital punishment is reserved for the most heinous of crimes, such as murder, rape, and the destruction of holy places (an intentional and violent insult to the community's spirits).

Slavery is considered barbaric and illegal everywhere except Lokossa, where it's reserved for criminals and social malcontents. It used to be a widespread practice in the days of the Old Kings, but the Long War forced all hands to fight for survival until it led to a near-total diminishment of the practice. The depletion of people at the end of the Long War has put an increased demand on labor, and disreputable people powerful enough to operate beyond the reach of the law have dragooned people into workshops, timber camps, and vast farms. Slavers are technically kidnappers and criminals, and the slaves are chosen among people who have few people to care for their fate (the exiled, criminals, foreigners, etc). However, they are hated by the authorities even if they can't do much to stop them, and heroes and Spears who put a violent stop to their operations are almost never legally prosecuted for this.

Food and Drink

*note the Mancala board game in the lower right.

The most popular food and drink in the Three Lands are wheat, maize, rice, water, and alcohol. The three grains are prevalent in the lands of Kiris, Sokone, and Nyala, with wheat and corn most prevalent in the north. Taxes are usually paid in grain. The Meru's entire diet revolves around their herd of cattle: meat, milk, blood, and entrails are usually eaten raw in honor of their ancestors who were too busy fleeing the Eternal to set up cookfires. Cooked food is tolerated, to an extent, more for women than men as it's seen as "unmanly." Lokossa's staple food is the cassava, the woody root of a shrub grown in clearings which must be carefully prepared, for eating it raw can cause permanent nerve damage due to being laced with cyanide in its natural state.

Water, wine, and fruit drinks are the most popular drinks of choice. Palm wine is favored in the Green Land, while beer is more popular among the well-to-do. Fruit drinks are distilled from bananas, mangoes, melons, plantains, coconuts, dates, and whatever else can be found (grapes are unknown). The Meru have no known alcoholic beverages.

Thoughts so far: I like the overall setting, and how Crawford gives just enough for DMs and players to get a good view without bogging them down in minutiae and lore. We get a good grasp of how daily life is conducted on the local level, which is a plus. The second part of this chapter's review will discuss Religion in the Three Lands, along with individual write-ups of each of the Five Kingdoms.

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 00:14 on Jun 15, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter Four, Part Two: The Three Lands

Religion in the Three Lands

The Three Lands are very religious, and honor the spirits and the Sun with great devotion. People are faithful because they hope it will provide them with protection and an ease of hardship, both in this world and the next. And given the obvious presence of supernatural entities and practitioners who do reward and punish people, this is not just a "take it on my word" deal and one rooted in actual observances.

The cosmology of the setting is ordered into two spheres, the mundane, material world and the spirit world where gods and ancestors live. The spirit world is just like its physical counterpart, only more extreme in both the good and the bad. Spirits in general are vaguely aware of actions in the material realm, and expect their rightful due from mortals in the form of offerings and worship. Wrathful spirits can blight crops, cause misfortune, and place curses on people. However, spirits who are pleased with mortals can grant them boons and watch over their communities as protectors. It is the responsibility of the eldest male of a household to act as a "priest," or one knowledgeable in the proper rituals and ways of appeasing the spirits, although in the last two generations more and more women have adopted this role.

For followers of the Sun Faith, they believe that beyond the spirit world lies the Burning Heavens, a happy realm of light and truth the true faithful go to as their just reward. A few of the sternest believers do not even offer sacrifices to the spirits, viewing the Sun as the only one worthy of this. Many Sun Faith practitioners in Kirsi still perform private rites to the spirits out of tradition and fear.

There are two kinds of worship among both faiths. Household worship of personal shrines for the Spirit Way and sermons of the Sun Faith, and communal worship where the entire town engages in dance, song, and prayer as an elaborate ceremony. These communal rituals are an elaborate and expensive affair, and often reserved for holidays.

Temples and shrines are very common among Spirit Way devotees, with even the crudest village having a special area set aside for veneration. Temples in general are meant to serve to honor spirits in general, and often have their own images and decorations to be swapped when it's time to honor a different spirit or set of spirits. It's a rare or prosperous community which can afford its own shrine for a single popular spirit. The centers of worship in Nyala are particularly grand, although in the wake of the Long War many such places fell to ruin or were converted into Eternal strongholds or claimed by bandits and monsters.

When the kingdom of Deshur still stood, its people worshiped a pantheon of beast-headed spirits, and it is also where the Sun Faith originated (and whose people were driven out west). Now the traditional Deshurite religion is not practiced anymore, the Eternal possessed of intelligence owing allegiance to the Gods Below.

The Sun Faith does not really have temples as such or make sacrifices, believing that material objects and livestock are an unimportant and ultimately needless way of showing one's faith. Instead, they have prayer-houses. Sun Teachers are religious scholars tasked with memorizing the Four Corners of the Mountain, the original lessons penned by the Sun Prophet. The Kirsi have prayer-houses ranging from huge, beautiful shrines to serviceable buildings, while the Meru merely hold their lessons orally in the open air.

Generally speaking, the Spirit Way is most predominant in Nyala and Lokossa, while the Sun Faith is the norm among the Kirsi and Meru. Sokone is home to both practitioners, although the priests there are more syncretic and tend to have a "the gods and spirits only care if you honor them properly, whoever they may be" attitude.

Popular Gods and Spirits

The true number of spirits worshiped is uncountable. Every province has its own gods, although there are a few sufficiently popular and powerful spirits whose influence reaches far. Even then they have their own regional faiths under different names and qualities.

The Ancestors are the backbone of the Spirit Way, made up of the souls of former mortals and respected in household shrines. Aganyu is a god of fire, famous for his anger but also a protector of children and the powerless. The Gods Below are wicked entities whose very names are poisonous to the soul, and were the ones who taught the Deshurite King the secrets of the Eternal. Gu is the god of iron and war, who soldiers and blacksmiths turn to for success. Olokun is a goddess of water and wisdom who favors female priests and marabout. Oya, the Tearer of the Veil, is the patron of storms, wind, and travelers, her aid often asked for to guide the newly-dead on their journey to the afterlife. Sagbata is the punisher of the wicked, afflicting smallpox and madness to evil folk, although his high standards often hurt innocent people as well. His priests strive to calm him down so that he punishes only the truly deserving. The Sun is a great spirit which hangs in the sky and the favored patron of the Sun Faith. Sun Teachers claim that all other spirits are but servants to his glory. Oko is the father of crops and the earth, a calm and reasonable god favored for his judgments and placated by farmers. Oshun is the goddess of beauty, passion, and eloquence. She is adept at settling disputes and inspiring lovers and artists. Merchants favor her to gain blessings in future business deals.


The concept of priests exists, but is largely locally-centered and without a chain of command: there is no "Spirit Pope" or Sun church branches or anything resembling a huge national organization setting down official doctrines and laws. Instead, priests are the technicians of the spirit world, trained in the proper rituals, expectations, and words of the gods; the vast majority aren't spellcasters, their training coming from the Priestcraft skill. Most communities expect priests to be just, moral folk, although their prime duties aren't to serve as moral exemplars. Priests who behave wrongly can be stripped of their position if they break one of the Sun or the spirits' taboos. Larger temples tend to court marabouts of the appropriate faith to provide blessings, leaving the day-to-day temple duties to those without magic. This can create quite a bit of jealously between the magically barren priests and the gifted marabouts, who wish that they had such favor with the spirits themselves.

Funeral Customs

The afterlife is the passing of a mortal soul into the spirit realm, where they join their fellow ancestors and sometimes non-human spirits who they were loyal to in life. This journey is no small feat, for proper funerary protocol is necessary to ensure that the spirit has proper help and guidance and does not return to the material world as a suffering ghost. To die alone and unburied is a horrifying fate to pretty much everyone. The minimum effort requires the washing of the body, laying it in a dignified position, and appropriate prayers and well wishes. A proper funeral involves the entire community, sacrifices to the gods for favor, and a great meal and rituals tended over by trained priests. The Sun Faithful replace material sacrifices with more prayer. The stronger and more elaborate the rites, the more aid the spirit gets on their journey.

Peasants and commoners are usually too poor for such a funeral, and instead rely on a secret society of funerary adepts who practice powerful magic to make up for the lack of resources. Such societies are relatively common knowledge, but the actual list of members and their rites are guarded jealously. Unfortunately the nature of such societies proves a prime method of dark cults and criminals to conduct their operations while still maintaining good publicity.

The Spirit World

As to the spirit world itself, the spirits live the same way as much they did in life, conducting the same business and dwelling in the same place. They do not grow and change as people do, with no ambition to move beyond their roles, and the strife of living societies is pretty much unknown among them. Kings and queens sit in their palaces issuing no commands, merchants trade goods but don't care about becoming rich; every soul tries to replicate their "proper role," and can become upset and worried when they're thrust outside of it. Ancestors who receive no sacrifices, prayers, or even remembrance grow upset, feeling alone and ignored and disrespected. Sacrifices done well can bring succor and happiness to a spirit, and the best rituals can even elevate their station and power. Some spirits have found their way into the material world, whether as typical incorporeal ghosts and flesh-and-blood entities, and most of them tend to be evil entities. Spirits who seek to do good can do so from their own world, or when summoned by a marabout or nganga. By the same token, mortals are not welcome in the spirit world, and only the mightiest of them can hope to travel safely in these realms.

Spirits who are "slain" in the material world are shunted back to the spirit world, inflicting pain and confusion which can last for years. Every 'death' strips away more of their memories and sense of self until they are little more than beasts of mindless rage. It is said that the mightiest gods know of ways to erase a spirit from existence entirely, but this power is rarely if ever used. Even the wickedest spirits are mostly confined to the darkest and most isolated pockets beneath the spirit world's earth.

Concepts of virtue and sin are generally tied to cultural customs and the decrees of the gods. There is no "universal" set of rules, for each culture has its own ways, each set of spirits their own taboos. Even worshipers of wicked entities such as the Gods Below will be rewarded by their patrons for their loyalty, even if mortal society hunts them down and exiles them from their communities. As a general rule both the spirits and the Sun encourage honesty in word and deed, being loyal to one's family and clan, obedience to tradition, and kindness to the weak.

The Five Kingdoms

The Five Kingdoms used to be mighty centers of civilization, with the mighty Nyala Empire and the sorcerer-kings of Lokossa ruling vast stretches of territory. The Long War saw poltical split-offs and divisions, along with entire provinces being put to the sword and torch by Eternal wrath. Areas once home to bustling towns are now silent and claimed by the ravages of the wilderness. It has been seven generations since the nation's armies were strong enough to extract their dues, and the more remote regions saw the rise of petty nobles and warlords taking advantage of their newfound freedoms. In general, each kingdom is ruled by a monarch of some sort, who has a court of advisers beneath him. Outlying towns are ruled by obas, or "lesser kings," who are either appointed by the monarch or the patriarch of the city's foremost noble family. Smaller villages do not usually have obas, instead being ruled by a chief.

Settlements listed on the map above are the largest settlements, the capital cities at least 50,000 people and the lesser cities of around 10-30,000. The Sokone seat of government, Agbadana, is home to a many 100,000 souls. The cities of the Three Lands are old centers of civilization, built upon the mounds of previous settlements which form a sort of "under-city" home to the secrets of ages past and disreputable folk and monsters to avoid the gazes of those above.

The villages of fewer souls are innumerable and often passed over by the larger governments save when its time to pay taxes. Such places are more prone to raiders and monsters and being taken over by petty tyrants. As the ill-equipped village militias do not have the resources to continually push back such threats, they seek the assistance of traveling Spears of the Dawn.


The nation of Kirsi is a land of warm hills and badlands. Its people number among the finest horsemen of the Three Lands, and they have a long history of war: first it was with the Deshurite neighbors of the east back when they were a province of the Nyalan Empire. Then it was with the Eternal and Nyala during the years of the Long War. When they weren't united against a greater threat their noble houses fought among each other for all variety of reasons.

Even before Nyala's legions reached the land, the Kirsi were a mighty neighbor who would not be conquered easily. A well-armed populace and the superior mobility of their cavalry meant that the Nyalans used diplomacy and trade instead. This worked, and the Kirsi houses swore fealty to the Empire. In exchange for the might of her soldiers, the Kirsi were paid with many riches and respect, and the old palaces still standing are relics of this era.

When the Long War came, the Kirsi paid a dear price to shield their land and Nyala from the undead, and Nyala's legions was repulsed from the Black Land. The Empire promised to come back and defend them when they were ready. They were never ready, and in anger the Kirsi declared independence, and Nyala turned its own soldiers on the "rebel provinces" as much as they did the Eternal.

Today, Kirsi is its own nation. The clans of the country are free to govern themselves as they see fit. The Dia of Koro is said to rule Kirsi in its entirety, but the reach of his law is as only as far as his lancers can ride. He must threaten, bribe, and negotiate with the clans to get them to work together, and only then in times of dire need. Otherwise, the feuding clan-lords keep up a regular flow of deniable incidents of raiding and skirmishing with their enemies and annexing each other's territory. What makes them different than bandits is that they don't steal from their kindred or those who haven't wronged them, in theory. In practice, many less scrupulous noble houses can extort more than their fair share of taxes from small villages under their "protection."

Kirsi culture is very clan-focused, much more so than the other four nations. Every family knows their relations of ancestry or lack thereof to their neighbors, and every adult male can trace a line of command in relation to their kin. Glory and good deeds are also of great importance, attained through success in their roles and their ability to inspire others to follow them in example. Even a poor course of action by a warrior can be forgiven if performed with sufficient dedication and zeal. To not give it your all, or to fail a task because of laziness or neglect is shameful. The Sun Faith made serious inroads among the Kirsi, replacing the centuries-old practice of ancestor and spirit worship. The first Meru missionaries earned their respect for their persistence against the Eternal and the miracles of their marabout.

The Sun Faith's emphasis on protecting the weak has tempered the Kirsi lust for glory. Many men and women who tired to the feuding nobles and clan strife strove to serve a higher purpose and protect the innocent, and formed the first Sunriders. This order of pious warriors owes no allegiance to the Dia or any Kirsi clan, instead honoring each other and the Sun Faith. They are popular among the common folk, although the more corrupt magnates and many of the clan-lords hate them but don't move against them openly...yet.

Kirsi who number among the Spears of the Dawn tend to be warriors, from veterans of border raids, homeless peasant soldiers displaced by fighting, noble horse riders, to idealistic Sunriders. Griots are the next most common class, inspired by the examples of their ancestors, and marabout of the Sun Faith. Ngangas are rare, as there are few mentors in the country to teach them.

The Kirsi are very dark-skinned, their features stern and hawkish from the arid winds. Men and women alike tend to be slender, their hair long and black. Men tend to braid their hair, while women wear it long and decorate it with accessories if they can afford it. Outer clothing for both sexes tends to gear towards light-colored turbans and robes split for riding. Brightly-colored tunics are favored for more casual wear. Kirsi warriors are also known to wear armor, with heavy Kirsi mail favored by mounted lancers, with footmen quilted layers of cotton or leather armor.


Lokossa is the southernmost nation of the Three Lands, claiming much of the rainforest. The only realm to never be claimed by the Nyala Empire in an official capacity, a long-running dynasty of ngangas gives the place a sinister reputation among its neighbors. Lokossa is a harsh realm, its jungles home to many dangerous creatures and perils, and the teeming hordes of monstrous Night Men to the south of the Akpara River have been raiding the nation ever before the oldest legends and records of its griots.

Lokossa's noble families all bear that quality necessary for one to learn the manipulation of ashe, and point to this as physical evidence of their right to rule. They wed only among each other and sufficiently adept sorcerers to avoid diluting their bloodline. The Ahonsu, or Sorcerer-King, is the most powerful of these nganga, and is always succeeded by another, even one of another family. His word is law when he lives, but can be overturned by future rulers once he dies and his corpse joins the others in the tomb-palace. It is by their great magic and rituals that they can hold back the tide of Night Men, who would certainly overwhelm Lokossa and possibly other northern nations were it not for their constant vigilance and sacrifice. Powered by the blood of executed slaves and criminals, the Ahonsu and the nobles can wield magic unseen among the other kingdoms. This, and how they spend their people's lives like water in this war, causes others to fear the Lokossans, but the people of the nation view this as a necessary sacrifice, not just for them, but for all the Three Lands. Were it not for them, they say, the ruins of the southernmost jungles would extend all the way to Nyala.

Lokossan society can pretty much be summed up as "tyrannical magocracy." Society is harshly regimented, most villages comprised of nuclear families cut from the all-encompassing jungle ruled over by a noble family. The gulf between the haves and have-nots is a world apart: commoners are servants of the nobles, sometimes even slaves, and their rule is absolute. There is no appealing to a higher authority for abuses of power, and even freeman can only hope to flee and live in another village. Sometimes nobles who go too far inspire village rebellions, although they are loath to admit to the existence of these, both to avoid being seen as weak, and to avoid giving thoughts of discontent to other villages.

Commoners who display magical talent are adopted into a noble family, with even marabouts inducted into noble priestly societies who honor the spirits of past Ahonsu.

Nobles still must pay their dues. In addition to collecting taxes and tribute for the Ahonsu, they are expected to serve the government for life. Noble men who have no talent for sorcery must train as warriors, women as administrators and scribes. Noble spellcasters serve as priestly support and magical aides, and all of them are officers at the front of armies whenever the Night Man invade again, or conduct costly and elaborate rituals for war.

Lokossans tend to be rather short in comparison to the people of other kingdoms, and have very dark skin. Both men and women cut their curled hair close to the skull, with only noble women growing long, decorated braids. Clothing varies by social class and circumstance: laborers wear little more than woven skirts and loincloths, the women breast-bands. At home both genders have waist wraps, the men a brightly-colored sash, the women counter-patterned scarves draped over their shoulders. Noble warriors wear warding amulets and aggressively practical clothes, often no more than a waist wrap.

Lokossa is a patriarchal society, and their idea of who is a man or a woman is often as much based upon behavior and occupation as biology. The continual press of the Night Men has forced the military to train women warriors, and those who serve in the army for a living often gain legal recognition as men. Lagredi, men who adopt "womanly" professions, are often taken as wives by noblemen and some possess knowledge of herbal remedies and rituals to assume the social and physical roles or women. Polygamy is common among noblemen to ensure the survival of their bloodline.

Lokossans who number among the Spears of the Dawn tend to be people who have left their homeland. Criminals, commoners who earned a noble family's anger, and escaped slaves are the most common.


When the Eternal King killed the Sun Prophet and made worshp of the Gods Below mandatory, not all were willing to listen. Some numbered among the faithful of the Sun, others people too disgusted to accept the "gifts" of the Eternal. They were chased beyond Deshur and into the western savannas, where they joined and intermarried among the indigenous tribes of the plains to stay ahead of the undead armies. For as long as the Sixth Kingdom existed the Meru had no peace, forced to continually move as nomads. They spent several generations leading their herds ahead of the vicious Eternal thirsting for blood and vengeance. They proved invaluable to the other kingdoms when they united against old Deshur: the wisdom of their olabons (ngangas) knew of the many safe spots of the desert, their warriors born and raised to kill the Eternal and know no fear against them. Ever since the Long War ended, the Meru have kept to their ways that they knew for so long.

The Meru are technologically primitive in comparison to the other people of the Three Lands. They do not have written records nor do they rely upon coins as currency, instead using cattle and livestock for barter. Their settlements are mobile, comprised of leather tents and those few settled ones living in thatched mud huts behind walls of kraal. Society is ordered around the extended family, traced paternally. Each family belongs to a specific "city," a legacy of Deshur for when refugees from the same cities banded together. The five remaining city-clans are Jenu, Waret, Akor, Medjed, and Jayet. There is a sixth "Written City" which all olabons are considered to belong to regardless of their original clan. They all maintain their own general boundaries to roam over in the plains, and the others are expected to respect these borders.

Leaders among the Meru are chosen by the male heirs of noble lineages who are chosen by the clan. Patriarchs can determine pasturage and other important negotiations, and those who don't follow their duties can find their positions replaced. The Meru do not practice capital punishment, instead exiling criminals of such heinous crimes out into the wilderness to fend for themselves.

In recent decades the Meru's numbers have grown with the retreat of the Eternal, taxing the resources of the savanna. The need for pasturage and water sources creates no small amount of grief and tension between clans. Increased incidents of cattle rustling and quick drives into claimed pastures to be used for a time are increasing in frequency. At its worst, some families have begun fighting in earnest. The griots and marabouts try to keep such pressures to a minimum, but things are growing worse. The Jenu and Akor have even been making claims on Sokone and Lokossa lands, which is sure to bring violent reprisals.

The Meru are the lightest-skinned people of the Three Lands, tending towards a deep coppery complexion. Older men and olabons shave their head as part of a custom, but adult men generally wear their hair in long braids. Those containing stronger lineages of indigenous blood have much darker skin tones. Meru are very tall, and dress in the leather wraps of slain cattle, and don't wear shoes, viewing them as signs of a bad runner.

Meru are very patriarchal, women expected to be docile wives and homemakers. In light of the growing population pressure, women who chafe at these restrictions are encourage to seek their fortunes elsewhere. "Remarkable women" who display exceptional martial or spiritual talent, or who bring great wealth and fame to the family name, are afforded the same rights as men and have their pick of husbands eager to seek such an exceptional woman as a wife.

Meru are a natural fit for candidates as Spears of the Dawn, due to being raised on a legacy of resistance towards the Eternal. Warriors are skilled with the traditional siare throwing clubs and runku war staves, and shun bladed weapons as signs of ill omen, for they are suited to killing one's fellow men rather than Eternal. Griots serve as negotiators on behalf of a city-clan, and the best-trusted are ones who traveled farthest beyond their traditional lands. Almost all marabout are faithful teachers of the Sun Faith, and priestesses are often exempt from the traditional restrictions placed upon their gender. Many have an almost-missionary zeal to spread their faith to outsiders. Nganga among the Meru are known as olabons, taught the secrets of ancient Deshur by their mentors. Membership among the olabon is decided by signs and portents demonstrating proficiency with ashe.

Thoughts so far: This part's getting a little long, so I'll cover the final two countries in the next part. I really like how much detail has been put into the setting, and the details on religion are a big plus. I do like the versatility between the various nations, who all have their own flair and flavor.

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter Four, Part Three: The Three Lands


The Empire's too glorious to be contained in an image, making it the only country in the book to not have one.

Nyala is an ancient country now on the decline after the Long War. Its earliest records five hundred years ago described it as a rustic pastoral nation regularly troubled by giants who lived in the Mountains of the Sun to the north. Despite them being twice as tall as the humans, Nyala's warrior fiercely fought to protect their homes, impressing the giants who offered a non-aggression pact. Over time relationships between the two peoples became peaceful, and the Nyalans learned of many advanced technologies from their taller neighbors to strengthen their nation. Silk, sculptures, metalworking, and advanced stonemasonry made the cities beautiful, its soldiers finely equipped. Flush with success the Nyalans expanded southwards, and thus began their golden age.

Four hundred years ago the giants retreated back into their palaces deep in the mountains for unknown reasons, breaking their pact and refusing to answer calls and summons. Despite their departure many Nyalans, especially the nobles, bore giantish blood, its most common manifestations brightly-colored tattoos and red, white, and yellow hair.

Nyala drove east and south, claiming the lands of Kirsi and Sokone and ruling over the people. They even claimed Meru, although the nomads moved so fast and so often the Nyalan legions could not really tax or subject them to their laws. The only kingdoms unconquered were Lokossa, whose sorcerer nobles and rainforest terrain made the country a human meatgrinder for Nyalan soldiers, and the kingdom of Deshur, whose people were forced eastward by war. Emperor Shangmay would not be content until he ruled the whole of the Three Lands, and pushed the Deshurites east across the deserts and to the point of grim desperation. The pharaoh of Deshur found secrets in the forbidden temples of the Weeping Mountains, and used it to create the first Eternal and begin the Long War.

And thus began modern history and the slow death of Nyala as an empire. Provinces were lost, Kirsi and Sokone declared autonomy, Emperor Kaday fell in battle in battle against the Eternal King (although some theorize that it was Nyalan steel that betrayed him for forsaking territory in exchange for international cooperation). Now the remnants of Nyala's nobles are either "Hollow Princes" left without territory or squabbling over the scraps of land remaining, and Kaday's son Issay abandoned the title of Emperor in exchange for King, little more than a figurehead now controlled by feuding lords and ladies who'd rather have him on the throne than an enemy clan.

Nyalans as a people are aware of rank and status. The nobility is fluid, where a family is considered such under the laws of the Mai's court, but clans unable to defend their territory or wear the trappings of wealth and luxury will result in the rejection of their peers who bar them from the court. In the old days only the Emperor could strip a family of nobility, but now this has fallen in favor of social agreement among the clans.

Nyalan commoners are largely laborers who seek to make the best lot in life amidst burdening taxes. A commoner can seek social increase by wedding a noble (if a woman), or being skilled in swordplay or artistry. Nyalans in particular have a fondness for beauty in all its forms, and talent in one of these areas can earn patronage from influential clans.

Nyalans are tall and slim, with skin the color of dark mahogany. Those with giant blood could end up with jewel-colored eyes, patterned tattoos, and bright hair colors, mostly among the nobility. Clothing for commoners consists of trousers and tunics, dyed with colorful patterns. Nobles prefer flowing robes of brocaded cloth with many gauze-light layers. Nyala is the only country with native silk, and it is improper for the affluent to wear clothes of any other material.

Most Nyalan adventurers are such out of necessity or ambition, depending on their station. "Excess" scions are expected to find their fortune in far-off lands, and griots are known to search for relics of their nation to bring back and glorify. Marabouts tend to leave the Spirit Way temples uneasy and encouraged to go elsewhere if they can't cooperate with the high priests. Ngangas are rare but mentors can be found deep in the wilderness or scholars in the great cities. Warriors are common due to Nyala's legions, although any "remarkable common folk" can display the talent of an idahun.


The Sokone live among the valleys and bogs of the mighty Iteru River, a cosmopolitan land of traders and wealth unseen since the kingdom of Deshur or the old days of Nyala. Descendants of tribes pushed south by Nyala and refugees from Lokossa, shared hardship brought the two peoples together in mutual aid. Its merchant background is due in part to the swampy terrain: tribes lucky enough to attain some prime rice fields had to constantly guard it from hungrier neighbors, forcing the lesser clans to resort to trade in natural resources from the marsh's bounty and ingots mined bog-iron. As they needed all the armed men they could against two hostile neighbors, internal disputes between the Sokone became based on trade and negotiations.

Even then there was war within their lands. The city-state of Umthalu to the east was ruled by serpent folk wielding powerful dark magic who felt threatened by Sokone's expanding influence. They were no match for their monstrous magic, and so the merchant-princes struck a deal with Nyala to protect them from the snake-men. Between the two nations they drove the Umthalu out of their cities and slaughtered nearly to the last person. The Umthalu city of Chakari became Sokone's new capital, the strange magic glyphs covered over by new walls.

Sokone society today is a plutocracy. Every family has its enterprise or trade, whether it's growing rice, smelting, or the merchant-princes who manage half their city's financial affairs and businesses. Those who hoard their wealth and do not use it are regarded as worse than beggars, for they refuse to take advantage of the gifts provided to them and their family. As such many families are driven to destitution when they spend too much on frivolous novelties. Gift-giving carries an additional layer of complexity, for it implies a sign of obedience and acquiescence to the taker.

Where nationality and ethnicity are strongly tied together elsewhere in the Three Lands, the Sokone are a cosmopolitan people drawing upon ancestry of all the others. The physical features and traits of Nyalan nobles, Meru outcasts, escaped Lokossan slaves, and several hundred smaller tribes now long-vanished can be found. Their clothing is just as varied, a mixing of styles from robes to loincloths to tunics and wraps.

Sokone adventurers tend to be those with no interest in their clan's business or life as a merchant, instead seeking quick riches through dangerous work. Marabouts are found both among the Spirit Way and Sun Faith, its ngangas are just as likely to be cosmpolitan as rustic folk, and their griots are particularly daring when it comes to exploring dangerous places. The country does not have the famous martial traditions of Kirsi or Lokossa, but its wealth means that their warriors are well-equipped.

Thoughts so far: And thus ends Chapter Four. I don't really have much to add, other than this one as a whole is one of my favorites in the book. It's a detailed overview of the lands and their people without detailing every small settlement or lists of notable NPCs.

Next time, Chapter Five: Running a Campaign.

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 08:46 on Jul 6, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter Five: Running a Campaign

Spears of the Dawn, along with other Sine Nomine products, favors the sandbox model of gaming. Basically, this style of play places the PCs into a fictional world, the GM describes things and offers some plot hooks and suggestions, and the PCs are pretty much free to go where they want and do what they do. To use a video game example, it's a lot like The Elder Scrolls Oblivision or Skyrim in presenting a dynamic open world to explore and pursue the adventures which interest you. It is PC centric, focused on the things which are important to them. In a sandbox game there are no plot-essential NPCs, no adherence to a particular story arc or events which must happen or items which must be claimed.

Although such sessions break a lot of common assumptions and can be hard for the Game Master to plan, but the author's got you covered with some good advice and a bunch of charts and tables to generate everything, from adventure plots to locations to monsters to NPCs! Only the adventure chart's present in this chapter, the others found later in their own section.

Crawford suggests that the players have certain responsibilities in a sandbox game. Chiefly, their PCs need goals, for the entire game is predicated on the assumption that they want to achieve something substantial and not just live uneventful lives in a village. Backstories and goals have no guarantee of plot armor or resolving the way the players want; in a sandbox game, anyone can die, and the GM is under no obligation to design certain dungeons and regions in line with the average party level. Crawford insists that having certain areas be more dangerous than the others, along with the lack of "plot armor," forces the PCs to think critically instead of assuming that the GM will save their skin.

The GM has responsibilities, too. PCs need opportunities to pursue their goals, doubly so in a campaign setting which will be unfamiliar at first most players. Giving the group something to work with at the start can make the open-world Fantasy Africa seem less daunting. Secondly, the PCs' actions should be logical and consistent with the world. If the PCs choose not to deal with an evil sorcerer attacking a village known for its bountiful rice supply, then the bad guy will take control of the place and increase the prices of food in nearby provinces. If the PCs avert an assassination attempt on a Kirsi clan-lord, then they will gain the gratitude and favors of that clan.

Additionally, the GM must be ready to anticipate PC actions. If the group decides that trekking south to Lokossa for aid against an Eternal army is a better course of action than beseeching Sokone merchant-princes, then a sketch of some rainforest terrain and potential inhabitants and locations should be in order. That way you can have the necessary material for the next game session.


The golden rule of sandbox content creation is simple- if you don’t need it for the next session, or you’re not having fun creating it, then don’t bother with it. You don’t need to do it. A game that leaves you drained and exhausted is a game that’s certain to fail. Running a sandbox is meant to be fun for the GM too, and you shouldn’t force yourself to do preparation work that isn’t satisfying or entertaining for you.

Setting Up the Campaign

Before a sandbox game must start, Crawford says that you must decide on how to introduce things to the PCs. First, decide whether or not to use the Domain Rules found later in this chapter. Basically they're a mini-game simulation of major troubles in the Five Kingdoms and their reactions with each other. Secondly, find a starting point. Crawford recommends a small market town on the frontier of civilization, which are more likely to contain bandit strongholds, Eternal tombhouses, hidden cults and traditional fantasy adventuring stuff. Thirdly, a starting adventure with an obvious and compelling hook; this adventure needs something to unite the PCs together as a group and get familiar with the setting.

After that, the GM should present adventure hooks and see what elements of the setting fascinate them most. Instead of consulting the book for minor details, the GM should make something up, write it down, and make sure it stays consistent throughout the sessions. This cuts down on making sure that things are canonical and saves time on flipping through the book. Keep quick reference sheets on hand, and at the end of every game session write down a short summary of events and ask the players what they want/plan to attempt the next session. That way you not only have a good way to memorize what happened last session one or two weeks ago, you also have a platform from which to work on for future sessions.

Crawford heavily advises against detailing everything about a campaign world, in that it can lead quickly to GM burnout and most of the material won't be immediately useful in actual gameplay.


There are common issues Crawford talks about in Spears of the Dawn, and how to handle them.

The first is combat. This RPG, along with many other OSR games, is quite lethal at low levels. A 1st-level PC can very easily fall to a well-placed blow. Players of games where combat is less lethal or they have a metagame resource to save their bacon might have trouble adopting to this. Crawford has a few suggestions. One is to have players make "back-up" PCs to enter the story shortly after a PC's death as soon as possible. Another is to grant 10 bonus hit points. That, and making sure that the group is on the same page regarding mortality.

Otherwise Crawford suggests the GM to remember the reaction and morale rules. Not all monsters or miscreants will want to fight to the death, or enter into battle unless they have a very good reason for it. Do not make combat inescapable at low levels, allow the PCs to be able to retreat from a fight.

Second is investigation and environment interaction. Whereas many OSR GMs operate on a "player skill is character skill" for non-combat stuff, Crawford takes a different approach. On the one hand, he says that players who describe PCs interacting with the environment should find hidden objects there in lieu of a perception roll. However, he mentions that PCs possess knowledge of skills and abilities the players don't have in real life, and that demonstrations of such skills should be abstracted. Just as a player doesn't need to describe how he sutures shut the wound of a companion, so does it mean that a smooth-tongued griot PC shouldn't take a penalty on social rolls because his player has a stuttering problem in real life. On the other hand, the PC's choice of approach before committing a skill roll should alter the difficulty a little in one direction or the other.

Finally, there should always be a way forward in investigation-focused encounters. Players confronted with a dead end will resort to desperate and foolish measures.

Loot and Wealth

Spears of the Dawn does not operate on a standard magic item shop economy. While spellcasters can sell minor trinkets, more powerful magic items are inhabited by great and powerful spirits (in this setting, most magic items are home to a spirit). Said spirits will take offence if they feel that their owner is devaluing their true potential, such as selling a sword wielded by the first Nyalan Emperor for 1,000 silver ingots worth of rice. Even the inviting of selling it will bring a parade of messengers to the PCs, many of them untrustworthy and eager to cheat the party out of it, where more power-hungry folk will try to force the party to part with their fabled treasure.

Powerful magic items should be the result of adventuring, rewarded as gifts for virtuous deeds, and the like. Magic item spirits have no problem being given "freely" to an owner who proved their worth.

Instead, rich PCs can spend their money on land, recruit followers, acquire goods and favors, and invest it into the community. A manor is both more useful and harder to steal than tens of thousands of trade ingots sitting in the party's wagons, and the gratitude of a community or ruler can grant a wide assortment of benefits and favors to PCs.

Setting Unfamiliarity

Most table-top gamers in the English-speaking world are most immediately familiar with European myths and folklore. We generally have a good idea of what a knight is what they usually do in stories, just like how when we hear the description of a bearded old man with a magic staff we think "wizard!" The fiction of Africa is just as rich and rife with awesome role-playing potential for games, but most of us don't even have a basic knowledge of what life in medieval Africa was like, much less their centuries' worth of cultural traditions and folklore. To deal with this unfamiliarity, Crawford offers three bits of advice: cliche, translation, and agreement.

First, cliches are ways of making sense of complex situations. Instead of getting players to understand the subtleties of the Long War or the founding of the Spears of the Dawn. All they need to know is that they belong to an elite order of wandering troubleshooters with a knack for delving into undead and monster-filled ruins and tombs and saving the common folk from bad guys. Not only is this a familiar concept to most pseudo-Europe D&D games, it's a simple way of illustrating to the players about core elements of the setting. Likewise the PCs don't need to know about how Lokossa's social system was formed as a result of constant warfare against the Night Men; all they need to know is that this nation is a tyrannical magocracy.

At this point I notice that Crawford begins repeating himself, as I see some bits of advice from earlier chapters.

Second is translation, or responding to the intent of the PCs' social interactions rather than implementation. If a PC tries to accomplish something which may seem inappropriate, adjust the outcome in line with the lifetime's worth of cultural knowledge said PC possesses. Even then, Spears are nearly expected to have a disdain for traditional customs and the niceties of society. As long as the PC isn't intentionally trying to piss off an NPC in-character, let their intent trump tactless approaches ("How's it hanging, Sorcerer-King?").

Thirdly, agreement is a task to make the players more familiar with a very foreign culture more amenable. Basically, agree with the assumptions that the players might make about the settings. Unless it's important to contradict them or will cause significant problems down the road, allow their guesses to be more or less accurate. Every time the GM pauses to say "no, that's not what the book says," or elaborates on some bit of backstory, this pushes the players farther from their comfort zones with the world, discouraging them from acting fluently within the setting. Naturally, players will players will start making comparisons of setting tropes to familiar material, or "fantasy feudal pseudo-Europe" onto the Three Lands, and that if you don't want this to happen to sketch out relationships as part of the game session before it becomes an issue.

Finally, the Three Lands are a different setting with different values than most tabletop fantasy games. Women have less rights than men, warfare is considered glorious (actually, I don't see this as that different myself than most D&D games), same-sex relations are neither totally accepted no demonized, and society's rulers are generally considered to be of more inherent worth than commoners (once again, not much different than fantasy pseudo-Europe). Players who don't like these values can change them; even in a land where one's station in life is considered the "way of things," people still want for the good things: they want peace, they want safety, they want protection from the monsters beyond the fire, and Spears who can grant them this gain the trust of a community who will be more willing to listen to their advice. Instead of the GM portraying the setting as gritty grimdark or hopelessly regressive, he should make it clear that the PCs do have the power to do something about it. It might not be easy, and it will take a lot of work, but the possibility is always there.

Overal I like the advice. I particularly enjoy his suggestions on easing the players into an unfamiliar cultural counterpart, and his compromise between "player skill" of OSR games and abstracting the results of skill rolls, where most OSR designers and products go entirely for the former.

Running the Five Kingdoms

This section's a toolbox for GMs to build a more solid foundation for campaigns which progress beyond the local level. It's part conflict resolution engine, part adventure seed generator, and part political maneuvering tracker. The tools fashion diplomatic goals and relationships between the kingdoms to create a dynamic world and adventure plots to tempt your players.

Basically, there are 3 stats to track kingdoms: Might, Troubles, and Treasure.

Might is a 1-5 scale (1 for a village, 3 for a province, 4 for a nation and 5 for vast empires) of a place to determine its ability to attack hostile outside forces, keep law and order, and its general power and resources. A Might contest is a 1d6+Might roll with the higher result winning, and a tie going to the one with the higher Might.

Trouble is a score which reflects disasters and strife afflicting a community. Each individual trouble has its own score, with higher values of greater magnitude. For example, "Popular uprising in the west" may be a 4, witchcraft activity 2 in a village might be 2, while the "Eternal of the Silent City uniting against our nation" can be a whopping 15! Each kingdom by default starts with 1d6+6 points of trouble, and PCs might be able to resolve or minimize these troubles as the result of adventuring. Each settlement can only handle a maximum Trouble value before collapsing into death or anarchy, determined by their Might. A mere Might 1 village collapses at 6 Trouble, where a Might 4 kingdoms collapses at 20 Trouble.

Treasure represents not only trade ingots but its ability to mobilize peasants, stock of natural resources, and economic power. Treasure points can be spent to add to a Might or Trouble check to represent the government investing resources in dealing with a problem. A state cannot spend more Treasure than their Might rating, however. Some actions require Treasure to undertake at all, and don't add their bonus to the roll. Generally speaking Treasure scores cannot be measure in ingot value, but PCs who donate wealth to a cause or tax their lands might need a good estimation. Generally speaking, 1 Treasure Point represents 100 silver for a Might 1 village, 1,000 for Might 2 town, 10,000 for a Might 3 province and so on.

At the start of a campaign each kingdom has a Role which determines starting values and proper actions. An Ascendant kingdom is undergoing an era of prosperity and starts with more Treasure and less trouble. A Declining kingdom starts with no Treasure and 1d6+12 Trouble. A Hostile kingdom has a bitter enmity to one of its neighbors, and will prioritize actions towards harming said neighbor even at the cost of their own well-being. A Fractured kingdom represents a full-blown civil war or rebellion on a nation-wide scale, and must roll Trouble checks before acting or else it must spend its turn dealing with their own internal conflict (which is a Trouble all its own). An Exhausted kingdom is tired of the outside world and turned in on itself, not seeking entanglements with other nation except in self-defense.

One of the Five Kingdoms is a Traitor, its leaders secretly made a deal with the Eternal in hopes of immortality and power. Their treachery is well-concealed, for it would cause the other four kingdoms to turn on them. Said kingdom has an interest in plundering Deshurite strongholds and Eternal tomb-houses to obtain the forbidden lore. If the Traitor gains 25 Treasure earned from Purify actions, then they assemble the requisite lore and can control the Eternal, which is a Might 3 ally all its own and can take its own actions every turn (although they're solely offensive) against the other kingdoms.

Every kingdom can take an action of its own during its turn. Generally they cover the likeliest actions, and if the GM needs something not covered on the list they're encouraged to use a Trouble check for internal matters and Might for external conflicts. Generally they're performed for things the PCs aren't involved in. If the PCs help restore a trade route by clearing the area of monsters, which would ordinarily be a "Trouble 3" event, then the action is automatically resolved with no Might check necessary.

I won't cover all the actions here, but they're obvious things like Attack (wage war), Expand (add new Might over a reasonable period on success, Trouble if failed), Purify (clean out Eternal strongholds, gain Treasure if successful, trouble if failed), Trade (both states roll Trouble checks to gain 2 points of Treasure each), and the like.

I feel that this mini-game would be too complicated to introduce to a first campaign, and it tends to involve things which do not directly involve the PCs. I also feel that certain kingdoms are inappropriate for Roles. I can't see the Meru turning Traitor, whereas Ascendant for Nyala would contradict the in-setting description of an Empire in decline.

We end this chapter with a table of Action and Trouble examples, which can be generated by rolling a D12, twice in the case of Troubles. They're rather open-ended and serve as good adventure fodder. For example, a result on the Purification table has dangerous books of Deshurite magic being sought out by good and evil folk, while a sample Trouble has unearthed ruins sending out awakened monsters.

Thoughts so far: Although a short chapter, this has a lot of interesting advice not ordinarily seen in most RPG books.

Next time, Chapter 6: Creating Adventures

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 04:35 on Jul 10, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

occamsnailfile posted:

Anyway, the chapter of advice sounds pretty useful for trying to lure people into an unfamiliar theme. Obviously it's fairly applicable to a lot of unfamiliar settings, but getting nerds out of the Tolkien Comfort Zone of fantasy seems to be particularly difficult. Doubly so perhaps for African-derived settings.

It's pretty interesting in how once you delve past your fear of being unable to understand a foreign element, you realize how familiar things can be, or not that different. When I was reading the book I couldn't help but make comparisons to existing D&D settings. Lokossa was a lot like Thay from Forgotten Realms (a magocracy run by dicks), Sunriders are a lot like Paladins, Sokone's a cosmopolitan merchant hub, et cetera.


The kingdom traits/conflict section is also an interesting way to handle some of the inter-realm conflicts without, I dunno, breaking out the spreadsheets or playing Civ IV multi or something. It's a shame that it conflicts with some of the in-setting fluff. Of course, playing warring nations is not usually what I (or most) gamers come to an RPG for directly, but as PCs get up into the realm of movers and shakers, it might be nice to have some degree of abstracted resolution for the movements of larger forces.

Well, it's also meant to work for smaller communities, but I don't see why one would do that when you've got Adventurer Conqueror King to serve all of your needs. It doesn't conflict unless you roll randomly or assign kingdom roles to things which don't make sense. For example, Nyala would be Declining, Kirsi would be Fractured, and Lokossa is just begging to be the Traitor. Sorcerers of great power who are pretty much set up as the bad guy nation? Come on!

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!
Hey everybody, guess who's back?

That's right, everybody's favorite fantasy Africa retroclone!

Chapter Six: Creating Adventures

The following chapter is half generic advice for adventures in a sandbox environment, half randomly-generated locations and characters to create quick adventure hooks for the campaign.

The first bit of advice tells the GM to talk with his players on what kind of adventures excite them. If dungeon-delving into tomb-houses is the big draw to the game, then feature that. If they want to rebel against a tyrannical oba and be heroes of the common folk, then provide adventure hooks in line with this model. As a sandbox mode of adventure means that the players can easily go wherever and the story moves with them, the GM should also ask at the end of each session "okay, what are you planning on doing next?" As this is different than the traditional GM-led method of plot, players unused to this freedom can be eased into it by providing them with a list of adventure options at first.

The next session discusses three aspects of an adventure: the set, or location. The actors, or NPCs. And the props, or objects important to the adventure, including but not limited to treasure and magical items.

For the set, the author advises to make a rough map of the area (where hand-drawn or taking a sample from the back of the book), keying areas deemed important, and not sweat the details on empty or uninteresting areas. He suggests that no more than 25% of a dungeon be full of such rooms; everything else should have some neat feature, detail, actor, or prop. We also get a full-page spread of tables containing Features of Interest. Take for example the trap table:

1d12 The trap is...
1 Pit trap, 1d3 x 10 feet deep
2 Poisoned needles dart from a piece of furniture
3 Arrows shoot from behind an awning
4 A stone block falls from the ceiling
5 Blade drops from above or swings out from wall
6 Walls that compress the luckless intruder
7 Alarm that summons nearby foes
8 Door closes and locks 1d6 minutes after entering
9 Footsteps press down on a bellows of poison gas
10 Valuable object is the pin that sets off the trap
11 Crude tripwire that releases spiked branch
12 Magical effect triggered by simple touch

Actors are NPCs who have a motivation in the adventure more complicated than "guard treasure, kill intruders."


Actors are different. They have a motivation or goal that is likely to intersect with the players, and they aren’t simply reactive denizens that respond only after being provoked. The witch-lord of Lost Badiye doesn’t just sit on his royal stool and wait for heroes to come stab him, he’s trying to whip the unruly denizens of the ruined jungle city into a military force capable of breaking the Lokossan border guards and opening the way for his Night Man allies. He’s going to be taking actions appropriate to that goal, and if the PCs start slaughtering his potential cannon fodder, he’s going to be inclined to do something about it.

In the terms of exploration-based adventures, such actors might approach or interact with the PCs in regards to their ultimate goals. In regards to antagonists inhabiting dungeons, it's inevitable that they will not be content to wait about in Room 5 for a band of adventurers to bust in. Intrigue-based adventures are the most complication of all, and need a major source of conflict between the actors which can change and react to the PCs' interference.

Props, simply put, are objects which are important or attractive to the PCs. Traditionally they can be money and treasure earned through completing quests, but can also be a MacGuffin or sought-after relic which can only be activated after some great task. In regards to loot, the author advises that not all treasure in the dungeon be accessed through combat; if every treasure must be pried from the cold dead hands or claws of an enemy, then this will teach the PCs that the only worthwhile way to get rich is to kill people. Options to bypass combat via stealth or mobility, or finding a hidden room full of relics by solving a puzzle, add variety. On the other hand, treasure which can be useful in combat is likely to be within easy reach of the owner.

Finally, Crawford asks three questions for the adventure's final touches. Is this adventure easily accessible to the PCs? Is it a railroad? Does it take into account the PCs' prior actions? In regards to these questions, he recommends that the adventure's plot should be something the PCs would plausibly follow, that the adventure factored in the possibility of the PCs just quitting (via a backup plan like an unrelated dungeon to explore outside the adventure's location), and that adventures should have at least a callback to past acts of heroism and infamy by the PCs to make them feel that their actions have an impact on the world around them.

Awarding Experience

A picture of the Silent City, according to the TIF image's filename in the Art Pack.

Spears of the Dawn uses the traditional experience point system of old-school D&D retroclones, but it departs from it in some major ways.

All PCs use the same experience progression chart, and they gain experience at the end of every game session. Crawford has a table of suggested experience for session based upon level, which works out by RAW by 1 level every 2 game sessions from 1st to 9th level, then 4 game sessions 9th to 10th level. Killing monsters and acquiring treasure is not baked into the system; instead, PCs gain experience points for at least trying to do something risky and meaningful. Legendary heroes slaughtering petty bandits with no greater ambition will not advance.

Crawford suggests adjusting experience rewards to speed up or slow down leveling, as well as the option for quest-based experience rewards as an incentive for the PCs. He also brings up the old-school D&D model of spent money granting experience, but this will require less randomness and more micro-managing of treasure unless he's ready for the possibility of unpredictable character growth.

The second half of the chapter has 11 One-Page Templates. The Templates are a collection of related tables to generate content on short notice. They range from locations such as ruined dwellings and urban palaces (with the tables being room features, common guardians and inhabitants, types of treasure, conflicts and troubles in the area, etc) to organizations such as crime syndicates and wicked cults. The tables work really well, and a simple tossing of a few d12s can tell you a lot about the area.

Let's say the GM needs quick details of a Forgotten Shrine. He rolls 4d12, and gets a 3, a 10, a 4, and a 9.

For Shrine Guardians and Perils, we learn that a loose spirit-beast which was worshiped by the inhabitants is now prowling the ruin (3).

For Valuables, there is golden finery of the high priest's wives (10).

For Interesting Shrine Inhabitants, we have the sole survivor of a former adventuring party (4).

For Traits of the Shrine's Faith, it's the last-standing monument to a once-popular and prominent religion (9).

For organizations and people, the tables are more background and relationship-based.

Thoughts so far: The advice is rather generic, but the idea of awarding experience independent of killing monsters and talking with the group on what kind of adventures they're interested in a novel departure from many D&D tropes. It helps keep Spears of the Dawn fresh in the OSR scene, and the tables are quite useful as well.

Next time Chapter 8: A Bestiary of the Three Lands

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter Seven: A Bestiary of the Three Lands

This is the section of the book detailing not just sample monsters, but rules to create your own adversaries and creatures for campaigns. Like many OSR games, monsters and NPCs abide by different rules than PCs. While they share common traits such as hit points and hit dice, Armor Class, and attack and damage modifiers, they have a more simplified way of doing things. All NPCs and monsters roll d8 for hit dice (the lack of bonus hit points for Consitution is balanced out by the d8); they have a singular Save category which applies to all saving throw-related effects instead of 5 different ones. They have a skill single modifier (ranging from +1 to +4) which applies to things the creature would be skilled at. Finally, we have a Morale ranging from 5-12. A 2d6 is rolled whenever the monster suffers fear effects, the tide of battle turns against them, or similar things; a lower result than the score causes the monster to flee or rout. Naturally, some monsters have Morale 12 (fearless fanatics, mindless creatues, etc) and fight to the death.

And finally, monsters and NPCs might have unique abilities, or limited or even full spellcasting potential.

For example, here's a stat block for the Eloko:


1 Eloko: AC 6, Move 20’, HD 3, Atk +5/1d6x2 claws, Save 14+,
Morale 8, Skill +2, bells chime as a Nkisi of the Deadened Mind

Short, sweet, simple.

The following page has three sample tables for creating new creatures. The first table divides game stats into rows based upon the monster's role: a Fast Chaser might have a 60' movement (twice as fast as a normal human)and 4 Hit Dice, while a Brutish Meat Slab might have only 20' but 7 Hit Dice. The second and third tables determine typical behavior in combat (loves false retreats, panicked by fire or magic, etc) and special abilities (Leadership grants +2 to attack and morale to allies, etc), both determined by a d20 roll. Of course, you can choose an appropriate feature instead (and the book tells you this).

I really like this monster creation method; the math values for hit dice, saves, etc is in line with the rest of the manual, so it should be consistent.

Creatures of the Three Lands

There are 26 separate entries for monsters and human NPCs in this section, not including variants under the same general entry (such as vipers and pythons which have their own stat blocks under "Snake"). In addition to mundane animals, the bestiary borrows heavily from African folklore instead of rehashing common D&D creatures.

As there are so many creatures, I'm going to give one or sentences for descriptions instead of repeating all their stuff.

Buffalo are strong herd animals of the Yellow Lands. They are incredibly aggressive and will work together to rescue injured and captured herdmates.

Crocodiles hunt among the rivers of the Three Lands. Although known to gather in groups, they rarely work together to bring down prey.

Eloko are 3-feet tall cannibal dwarves with a burning hatred for humanity and love to feast on the flesh of women. They wear bells around their necks which can mesmerize victims with their ringing. Grass grows from their bodies instead of hair, and their nails are long and sharp.

Eternal are the undead survivors of the Sixth Kingdom of Deshur, although they turned many others to an undead state with the spread of their atrocities. The majority of Eternals are but Dreamers barely aware of the world around them, commanded by Nobles and Lords who retain all the skills and intelligence they had in life. It's easy enough to create a Dreamer, but turning a corpse into a Noble or Lord requires very expensive rituals of occult knowledge and relics (10,000 for a Noble, 25,000-50,000 for a Lord and ranks in Occult).

Fanged Apes appear much like their peaceful gorilla counterparts, except with an oversized set of sharp teeth and an eagerness to use clubs and thrown stones as weapons. They love to hunt humans and their favored targets are children, and are most common in the jungles of Lokossa; a few hill-based variants lair in the crags of Kirsi.

Ghosts are incorporeal spirits and undead who are tethered to a limited area in the material world. They are usually the result of a poorly-planned burial or an extreme unwillingness to accept death.

Giants are the tall inhabitants of the Mountains of the Sun. They were fashioned at the dawn of the world before the spirits created humanity; each of them is a unique creation, and their uniqueness combined with their age makes them both arrogant and skilled in many arts, from craftsmanship to war and even the art of ashe. However, they are bitter towards the gods and spirits and can never be marabout. Giants tend to either slumber deep beneath the ground or rule over mountain fortresses, with a retinue of weaker humans and monsters as servants.

Horses are a common feature in the northern Three Lands. Nyala's army makes use of horse-zebra hybrids, scouts for Sokone merchant caravans ride them, and the Kirsi's cavalry are the best in the land. Although horses largely share the same stats, different breeds have unique features: the sturdy hill barbs ignore movement penalty on hill terrain and roll twice per hit die, taking the best result; pit ponies are bred for mine work and never panic underground and nimble enough to go wherever a human can go; Imperial zebras are the pride of the Nyalan Empire and gain +2 hit points per hit die and attack rolls.

Humans of the Three Lands come in all walks of life and occupations, and thus don't have a typical stat block. Instead there are six common types the PCs are likely to meet or fight; commoners, bandits, soldiers, elite soldiers, nobles, and merchants. None of them are impressive stat-wise, with only the noble going above 2 hit dice, and their effectiveness in combat is largely determined by available weapons and armor.

Hyenas are pack scavengers fond of stealing prize kills from larger predators. Humans see this as being against the natural order and view sightings of such animals as an ill omen. In Spears of the Dawn, all Dire animals are spirit versions of their normal counterparts. In the case of Dire hyenas, they're possessed of a wicked intelligence and fond of feasting on human leaders and nobles.

Ilomba, the Witch-Snakes are serpentine servants of the Gods Below. They seek out suitably talented cultist leaders and occult scholars, offering them power in exchange for a symbiotic bond. When a bond is formed, the serpent can take the form of the human and grant them immunity to non-magic weapons and minor spellcasting ability. However, if either the human or Ilomba dies, then both die.

Kishi, also known as the Two-Faced Ones, are evil spirits who take the forms of handsome and beautiful humans with thick braids of hair. They seduce people to accompany them to an isolated location alone, whereupon their head turns around to reveal their second hyena-like maw to eat their new victims! They operate in both rural regions and urban centers, carefully planning their attacks to avoid detection and choosing prey who are unlikely to be found or missed.

Leopards are cunning predators found and feared throughout the Three Lands. They are wary of humans in groups, although they've been known to hunt and eat them in desperate times. They are swift runners and fast climbers, easily able to evade the reach of common hunters and soldiers. Leopard-skin cloaks are viewed as status symbols, and the pelt of the mighty Dire leopard can fetch a high price on the marketplace.

Leopard Cultists are humans who pledge allegiance to malevolent and bestial spirits in exchange for gaining the powers of a leopard. They form secret societies, kidnapping folk to sacrifice to their patrons in exchange for gaining these special abilities. Most cultists are normal humans, but a few adepts blessed by the spirits can transform into leopards or a hybrid form.

Lions are noble felines of the savanna. They hunt wildebeests and zebras, and are even known to take prey claimed by leopards, cheetahs, and hyenas. Statwise they're a lot like leopards except slower, stronger, and tougher. Dire lions are arrogant creatures which seek to become rulers of the land that they survey, and any human settlements falling under their gaze are forced to worship them with human sacrifice or be slaughtered.

Moatia, known as the Dwarf Sorcerers, are short limping folk with a foul disposition. They are famous for their mastery of herbal lore and the magical arts; people seek out their huts deep in the forest to heal some incurable disease or end a plague. Moatia are easily offended and hateful to all living creatures (especially their own kind), and are fond of casting curses at those who don't show them the proper respect.

The Night Men are humanoids who live south of the Akpara River at Lakossa's border. They are hairless and bear all manner of ugly scars and deformities, and crippled Lokossans take to growing their hair extra-long to not be mistaken for a Night Man scout. Night Men live in the ruined cities of the southern jungles, subsisting on strange crops and pend most of their lives fighting each other. Every so often a particularly skilled warchief or priest unites the Night Men to lead a large horde against the Lokossans, embroiling the entire country in prolonged jungle warfare. Nobody knows why they do this or their origins.

Ningiri are reptilian beasts with the body of a crocodile and a long sinuous neck. They often hide their 30 foot long bodies behind cover while their head quickly snatches any surprised prey. They are of animal intelligence, but very cunning and dangerous.

Obia are hulking, jackal-like spirit-beasts who are hired by witches to serve as household guards and to kidnap women for wives (no respectable father will allow his children to marry a witch). Their grip is so sure that a successful attack grapples and immobilizes a target.

Rhinos are tough-as-nails beasts of the savannas and grassland, fond of charging anything they consider a threat (which includes a great many things). A sick or injured bull rhino can be devastating to a village, viciously fighting to the bitter end heedless of its survival.

Humans often call the rodent-like Rompo "singing jackals," even though it bears little resemblance to such a creature. They haunt graveyards and tombs, surviving off of the rotting flesh of humans as it sings sweetly and softly. They're intelligent as a human, and often hide bodies of murdered folk to feast upon later. In groups they might even adopt the use of tools and weapons and wear clothing obtained from corpses, and their united melodies can mesmerize those who listen to them.

Sasabonsam are winged people who lair in jungles and high mountain peaks. They nimbly snatch traveling humans off the ground to carry back to their lairs to sacrifice to their bat-like gods. Those few survivors tell that their cavernous aeries are home to evil nganga working with them, and a few are certain that the Moatia are their leaders. Sasabonsam can wield objects and weapons in their talonlike feet, and can be motivated to work with evil humans with sufficient promise of reward.

The Three Lands contain countless breeds of snakes, but the ones detailed in the Bestiary are regarded the most dangerous to humans. Giant vipers can grow as big as a man and their poison can bring down an adult buffalo. The black python, which can grow up to 20 feet in length, crushes its prey with mighty constrictions. The assassin snake possesses an alien intellect, and accepts blood sacrifices from worshipers of the Gods Below to sneak into a hated foes' houses to poison and kill them.

The Umthali are a race of humanoid serpent folk descended from Gods Below-worshiping mortals whose blood mingled with that of snakes. They constructed many grand and terrible cities while humanity was freshly created, and in the days of recorded history only one city remained. This city went to war with Sokone's ancestors and lost, and now the remaining Umthali live in scattered cells. A few Umthali are accomplished nganga or marabout, and those who can pass for human often worm their way into human centers of power.

Walking Corpses are possessed by angered souls unable to escape, lashing out at their inability to depart to the spirit world. Like ghosts, they're often created as the result of improper burials and linger around the places of their death. Fun fact: the concept of the zombie originated in African folklore.

Witches are humans who possess the potential for working ashe, but are either unaware of it or did not receive the proper training to become a nganga. They are both male and female and can be found wherever humans gather. Witches are capable of casting minor spells and rituals, but are oftentimes uncontrolled and manifest from unconscious desires. Due to this, villages and towns make an effort to recruit ngangas to properly train witches so that they don't inadvertently harm their neighbors and family.

Witches are capable of being self-taught, the most infamous rivaling the powers of learned nganga. The temptation to use one's powers is great, for it takes only a moment's thought to inflict a harmful spell with a wrathful thought, and most witches hide their powers out of fear and shame. It's possible for a nganga to "cure" a witch of their powers with a curse-removal spell, although said witch must genuinely want to be rid of the burden.

Libertad's Thoughts: The bestiary is both well-sized and diverse, and should provide GMs with plenty of adversarial fodder and a useful system to create their own creatures and NPCs.

Next time Chapter 8: Treasures and their uses!

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter 7 Continuation: Spirits and Spirit-Beasts

I forgot one last table in the bestiary: generating stat blocks for spirits! It's a lot like the chapter's initial table of making new monsters, although the roles and abilities are slightly different. You've got sample stat blocks of Restless Ancestors who fight with a manufactured weapon, Raging Spirit-Beasts who have natural attacks, a Spirit of Dark Lore who can cast marabout spells, and the might False God with 12 Hit Dice and can attack twice in a round!

Humanoid and Spirit-Beast traits are divided into 2 separate tables and include things like being invisible save in reflections, possessing bronze talons or obsidian claws and the like, covered in a cloud of miasma or flames, etc. Qualities include things like being able to teleport between plants, can raise the dead as Walking Corpses, can discern someone's worst crimes by scent, breath weapons, and other cool stuff. It's a great way to show off the sheer variety of spirits.

Chapter 8: Treasures and Their Uses

This chapter mainly describes magic items, but it also discusses other things such as buying land and building houses, hiring minions, and types of treasure troves. As Spears of the Dawn does not abide by a wealth-by-level or "treasure by CR" format, types of treasure to be found in dungeons, monster hordes, and the personal possessions of NPCs is determined by a general guideline chart.

A peasant family's saving might include a mere 1d6 x 10 silver ingots plus some spare clothes and cheap jewelry as a wedding dowry, while a powerful bandit leader would have 1d6 x 1,000 silver ingots, some expensive gems and percentage chances for magic items. The trove types are very all-encompassing, covering everything from a village tax treasury to a Giant's ruined palace. We then have some tables for generating plunder, or the value and qualities of clothing, gems, furniture and the like. And of course a table for determining what magic items adventuring Spears might find!

Magical Item Descriptions

Now this is what I'm talking about! Like many other things, Spears of the Dawn's magic item system is a feature apart from the other retro-clones on the market. Basically, magic items are split into two categories: greater and lesser.

Lesser items are minor trinkets crafted by nganga, potions brewed by herbalists, and other objects of minor power. Even then such items are quite expensive for the average commoner, but even an occult scholar or village shaman might possess the means to fashion an amulet of warding against curses or a healing potion. In game terms, they're limited-use items.

Greater items are objects of legend. They are fashioned by mighty sorcerers and marabouts, infused with power after some mighty deed, and other powerful objects of lasting utility. The bound spirits of the items are semi-aware and take great offense when people try to trade them for mere gold or other banal favors, refusing to function for those who disrespected them. Greater items still have a cost, but this is only for the purposes of crafting. In game mechanics, they include weapons, armor, and other permanent items.

There are rules for crafting magic items. Basically the creator needs to pay the cost and labor for 1 day per 500 gold pieces. I think that this might be an error, as silver ingots are the universal standard elsewhere in the book. Generally speaking the crafter must be of a minimum listed level and a nganga, but it is possible for other people to craft items if they possess knowledge of an appropriate spell or possess certain skill levels (experience levels are still universal). For example, anybody of at least 2nd level and 1 rank in Occult and Healing can craft a healing potion, whereas someone of at least 4th level and a Blacksmithing level of 3 can craft a +1 weapon or armor. Overall I like this: it's a great thematic way for things like legendary artisans crafting fabled blades, or a skilled hunter concocting a potent brew with rainforest plants.

Potions are single-use lesser magic items which are typically stored in a calabash gourd stopped with clay or a glass vial. Brewers in cities must buy ingredients, but those in rural regions and the wilderness can once per year gather 1,000 silver ingots worth of material product; this is because many small villages rely upon local flora which blooms at the right time to craft their goods. There are 12 potions listed, which include classic staples such as healing injuries and sickness, shapechanging into an animal for limited periods, breathe underwater, make someone fall in love with you, and even ones which can allow you to fly (as spirits carry you) or turn invisible!

Spirit Tokens lesser magic items, usually taking the form of small amulets of inked leather or bundles of ingredients. They can be crafted by only nganga and marabout, and either represent a special appeal to patron spirits or concentrated ashe. They contain one use of a stored spell which can be released on command by a proper trigger command determined by the crafter (which can be determined by those who don't know with a successful Occult roll). Nganga and marabout can only imbue spells they have access to in spirit tokens.

Scrolls, basically.

Fetish Sticks are lesser items which are rods as long as an adult's forearm. They are usually decorated with carvings, feathers, woven cords or bones in rural regions, and wrought bronze, gems, and precious metals in urban areas. Fetish sticks each have a singular power, but can use it as many as 50 times before it crumbles away to dust. The more charges which are expended, the more battered and decayed the fetish stick becomes. The powers of a fetish stick can be activated by a command word chosen by the creator (who can only be ngangas). There are eight fetish sticks and none of them are keyed off of existing spells: they include powers such as the ability to mentally command a flock of birds, forcing a target to experience the pain of driven nails into their flesh like the ones adorning the stick, forcing a shapeshifter to return to their normal form, and even shooting out a beam of fire!

And that's it for lesser items.

It's getting late now, so I'm going to cover the rest of Chapter Eight tomorrow.

Next time, Greater Magic Items, the Converting and Spending of Treasure, and more!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 22:44 on Sep 16, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter 8 Continuation

Now we're getting to the meat of Greater Items.

Normal masks are components of many rituals, imbuing wearers with the depicted qualities and the strength of the spirits and ancestors. Masks of Power are greater items a league above, carrying such power that even folk ignorant of the subtler rituals can use them. Nganga expecially prize such treasures, making it easier for them to wield ashe. Anybody may make use of a mask, although some of their powers are useless to some classes. Masks of power are limited in that a wearer must either consecutively wear it for several hours to make use of its powers, or can only be worn a few hours per day due to the stress of the wearer's body supporting two spirits at once. Only nganga can craft masks of power, and they must be at least seventh level to do so. Sample masks include the ability to perceive magical items, effects, and curses; the ability to tell if a statement is deliberately false; the ability to prepare additional spells per day; the ability to harm, speak, and see spirits; and the ability to impersonate a single human.

Magical Arms and Armor are greater items imbued with powerful spirits. They are honored objects who take offense to disrespect and can cease to function until appeased by a nganga's arts. Using them as workman's tools, trading it for gold or land, or even complaining of its inferiority to another weapon or armor can earn the spirit's wrath. All magic weapons and armor have a bonus ranging from +1 to +3; weapons' enhancement bonus adds to attack and damage rolls (thrown weapons automatically return to the wielder's hand), while armor subtracts from the wearer's armor class (lower is good); there are no magic shields in existence.

Some weapons and armor have special properties in addition to enhancement bonuses, which is dependent upon the connection to a certain greater spirit dedicated to a particularly mighty god. In short, there are 6 qualities for every major spirit-deity, 3 intended for armor and 3 intended for weapons. For example, arms and armor of Aganyu (spirit-deity of fire and wrath) include properties such as fire immunity, inflicting fire damage on enemies, extinguishing fires, and the like. A lot of these qualities have some interesting out-of-combat applications as well; for instance, the Raining property of Olakun (spirit-deity of water, rivers, and wisdom) can pour out 20 gallons of fresh water per day, while the Slowfalling property of Oya (spirit-deity of storms, winds, and travelers) grants immunity to falling damage.

Finally we end this section with Miscellaneous Magic Items, all the items which do not fit into any earlier categories. As usual, permanent or continuous use items are greater, single-use are lesser. They include such things as the Golden Fruit which releases flesh-eating swarms of insects onto enemies; the Igbako of Plenty, a food scoop which can create enough food for 12 people daily, but food created must be provided freely or its powers cease to function; a Plot-Revealing Whistle which can create copies of verbal schemes uttered against the wielder by others when blown; a Serpent-Warding Ring which grants immunity to the venom of reptiles; a Talisman of Virtue etched with text and pictures of a particular good deed/taboo (chastity, pacifism, etc) which grants a bonus to one's Charisma modifer if they adhere to said virtue; and other interesting items.

The section ends with advice on designing new magic items, specifically common guidelines to ensure that such things are not unbalanced. Basically, armor class bonuses should be unlimited to prevent PCs from becoming unhittable in combat; damage bonuses should range no more than 1d6 or 1d10 (the latter which can affect only a very limited set of enemies); skill bonuses should be capped at +1, +2 for the mightiest artifacts; and those which replicate the effects of spells should be no more than a 1/day power. Additionally, the GM must consider if the item's power can trivialize too many common encounters or challenges, or can break the premise of the game.

At times the PCs might want to create a magic item which can add to the splendor of the world or help people, but is generally not useful for adventuring. They might want to fashion a magic well to sustain a desert village, a bridle which allows a horse to travel from one point of a nation to another in a day's time. The author says to go along with it, in that it can be a good way to encourage PCs to act selflessly, find good ways to spend their treasure and money, and it's balanced by forcing them to spend one of their five lifetime uses of greater item creation.

I like this compromise regarding magic items and the economy: instead of low-magic campaigns where healing potions are the stuff of legends, there are minor charms and trinkets for sale but quite out of range of most people. And the five-per-person cap of greater magic items and their spirits' unwillingness to be treated like common trade goods (rewards for great quests and acts of heroism are okay) provide in-setting reasons for why spellcasters haven't revolutionized the world.

Converting and Spending Treasure

This section talks about what happens once the PCs haul their plundered treasure back to civilization. As is to be expected, it's a lot more common than heading to the nearest marketplace and simply selling everything. Generally speaking, small villages can buy up to 500 silver ingots' worth of goods before they run out of liquidity. Market towns and major cities can buy up to 10,000 and 100,000 silver ingots worth of stuff respectively before the laws of supply and demand kick in and render the rest of the PCs' valuables cheap. The settlements of Sokone can handle double these values, while the nomadic Meru have little need to coins and gems which are 90% less. There are no banks in the Three Lands, and goldsmiths and moneylenders can be persuaded to hold onto the PCs' treasure for a time with a 1% of the loot per week (although they might not have the facilities to keep them truly safe and might be tempted to skim off the top).

Adventurers find it wise to make friendships and ties to the local communities, who will be more trustworthy to guard their valuables in exchange for their good deeds. Or invest it in building strongholds and buying land, which are harder for thieves to steal. As the book says, "golden ingots can be stolen and gems can
be squandered, but land and stout walls are harder to lose. Wealth put into the bellies of hungry peasants can buy the kind of service that market-hired minions would never give."

The Hiring of Magical Aid

There comes a time in an adventurer's life where they might need the services of a spellcaster; perhaps they lack the knowledge required to exorcise a vengeful spirit from a house, or maybe the dropped ceremonial knife at the murder scene can be divined to gain insight to the killer's whereabouts. Generally speaking, minor practitioners can be found in villages and towns, although simply walking up to them and forking over some coin is rarely so convenient. Truly powerful marabouts and ngangas are rarely, if ever, present in cities amid the teeming masses; they usually live deep in the wilderness, presiding among ancient temples of great spiritual significance or plumbing the ruins for occult lore. In the case of Lokossa, the greatest spellcasters are too busy running the government with tight-fisted cruelty to bother with the immediate concerns of adventurers.

Spellcasters who are part of a community and exchange their magical talent for goods are generally 1st to 5th level, and can be approached by adventurers amid a long waiting queue of commoners beseeching them for their individual needs and woes. Such spellcasters expect to be rewarded with "gifts" and "tokens of respect," usually amounting to 50 silver ingots for a 1st level spell, 250 for a 2nd-level spell, or 1,000 for a 3rd-level spell. Others will be eager to utilize the services of a skilled band of adventurers and ask them to perform minor quests and favors in addition to or in lieu or hard coin and trade goods.

Spellcasters of 6th and 7th level in civilization are renowned for their power, and can afford only to listen to chiefs, obas, and other leaders, their eyes on the big picture for tasks best solved by adventurers. 4th level spells can cost as much as 4,000 silver ingots and leaving behind occult connections with the caster to help ensure that they don't go back on their pledges.

Hirelings and Servants

Adventurers can hire people, whether to accompany them on adventures or to help perform some task. They include such common roles as artisans, guardsmen (who have Commoner stats but have leather armor and hand weapons), guides, porters, priests (no spellcasting), sages, and other occupations. Their cost is calculated based on a per-day basis or "permanent hire" with is a single flat cost to represent hiring them indefinitely. Hirelings are assume to have Level 1 in related skill of their profession, while Level 2 costs ten times as much. Those with Level 3 in a skill are the best in the kingdom, and their services are rarely bought with mere silver.

Guards and soldiers can be expected to tolerate ordinary dangers, but will blanch at going into Eternal tombhouses or fighting particularly vicious and powerful monsters. In that case, a PC with a good Leadership and Charisma might be necessary to ensure the loyalty of minions.

Henchmen and Retainers

There are times when mere hirelings and servants are not enough. The PCs need assistance beyond their immediate numbers and find some talented help to fight a mighty beast or thwart an evil mastermind. In this case, there are Henchmen and Retainers.

The PCs must spend several days searching the local community of the best candidates, and even a single village might house 1d6 such souls after the rest are winnowed out. Henchmen are NPCs who have levels in classes; the majority of them are 1st level Warriors, but a certain result on a 2d6 roll might produce a griot (4), a marabout (11), or nganga (12). Henchmen require a specific employer, and might expected to be paid in advance with surety money to go to their family in case they never return (some of which might be given back to the PCs upon their safe return). Players can be in direct control of one henchman and control their actions much like their own PC, but they don't have the steel-hard resolve and courage Spears have, and if they face a near-death experience the PC must succeed on a Leadership roll to convince them to keep adventuring with the PCs. One too many close shaves will eventually result in automatic failure, as they'll come to the conclusion that the adventuring life isn't for them.

Retainers, on the other hand, are different. They are NPCs whose respect and loyalty has been earned for past favors and shared dangers. They include villagers whose people have been saved from monsters, whose family was saved from a sorcerer's curse, and other such things. It is up to the GM when an NPC becomes potential retainer material, but can generally be expected to perform more dangerous and responsible tasks than even henchmen. They are not necessarily servants for life, and gifts of 100 to 1,000 silver ingots would not be inappropriate for particularly important favors for an old friend. For those whose services are called on only occasionally, a lot will be willing to perform work out of gratitude for such great heroes.

Buildings and Real Estate

The most successful adventures soon find that a life on the road is no longer practical. They are too exposed and too well-known to the enemies they have made. Acquiring land for permanent dwellings and fortresses is how the ancestors of great heroes and nobles established themselves, after all.

Acquiring property in villages is more complicated than just buying it. Villages are a tight-knit collection of mutual aid; people must be able to trust their neighbors and rely upon them to set aside personal quarrels in the face of external danger. Those wishing to settle down on a long-term basis must prove that their addition to society will be a positive one. Newcomers are expected to participate in village rituals, share tribute and service dues, and respect local customs. The financial aspects are trivial enough that they're not worth recording for PCs.

Town life is simpler in that there are enough landowners and mercantile clans to sell space within the walls at a premium price, and new owners are expected to do nothing but pay taxes and avoid the oba's displeasure. Although they can be finer than a humble village dwelling, they are less secure in some ways. A band of foreign assassins can pass through a metropolis amid the throng of travelers, but in a remote rural setting they'll stick out like a sore thumb.

Building costs are abstracted in that the PC draws a rough outline of the kind of structure they want, and pays a price related to the size of the structure and the materials (per 10' cube). A simple ten foot hut of unadorned wood and thatch would cost 50 silver ingots, while a 100 foot square stone build with three floors would cost an expensive 30,000. Building material which is scarce in the region (such as wood in the savannah or stone in the rainforest) can double or even triple the base price. Buildings with ornate designs, statues, and the trappings of wealth cost twice as much as plainer, more practical structures. The interior of the building can be arranged as the PC wants.

Additionally there are some sample buildings listed along with price, so that the GM can abstract for similar structures. A village compound is 500 silver and 30 square feet, usually a main house and home to the richer and more important family clans. Town compounds are 7,000 silver, 50 square feet with a surrounding stone wall. Country estates and border forts are 30,000 silver, while an urban palace (built and renovated over generations and home to great obas and merchant-princes) are 75,000.

The way the building costs are set up is that the PCs might not expect to have huge, sprawling buildings, but an expensive source to spend money on and typically only feasible at higher levels. Interestingly, the sample house prices are in line, and cheaper than, the costs of crafting some of the most powerful greater magic items. I like this touch. Finally we have a table with rules for breaking down walls and doors; basically such structures have a hit point value, and the attacking weapon must be suitable for dealing damage or else nothing's accomplished (spears won't break a stone wall, no matter no many times you hit them). Magical weapons take great offense at being used this way (unless they have the Shattering property), and attacking structures is very noisy when performed in enclosed spaces and dungeons.

And so ends the chapter.

Libertad's Notes: This is another strong chapter. I like how Crawford handles the magic item economy by making such things rare and mysterious, but still allowing PCs of a certain skill level able to craft them. I do like how in comparison to traditional D&D the PCs aren't expected to save up money for essential magic items while living like vagabonds. The use of reaction and loyalty checks regarding minions and hired help makes Charisma a particularly useful stat.

Next time, Chapter 9: Gamemaster Resources (also the final chapter)!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 22:43 on Sep 16, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Gamemaster Resources

This chapter is mostly filled with miscellaneous stuff intended to help GMs plan for and set up games. Although quite a bit of them are charts and tables, there's maps, sample NPC statistics, and more!

Quick Adventure Elements is a D20 table where you roll 5 times and put the results together. We have a MacGuffin, a Location, a Patron, an Antagonist, and Fighting Over column. It's not enough to make a detailed plot, but it combines some primary elements to turn into something greater. The following page has a table of Conflict Elements, which works similar but you roll for the type (Social/Military/Economic/Religious), what one side of the conflict wants/does, and things important to the conflict.

Quick Names is a series of five tables for common personal names and surnames for each culture (with the Deshurite and Meru people sharing the same one). It's a particularly great resource for new players who will be unfamiliar with African names. Crawford has some useful advice for ensuring that names are easily remembered:


The people of the Three Lands often add additional names in acknowledgement of important events or notable deeds. As Afia grows, she might distinguish herself as Afia Goodluck Mafi after surviving a dangerous childbed fever, or Afia Breaks Them All after she manages to kill a trio of night-time robbers with her father’s hammer. A person may adopt a new name at any time, but it is its use by the community that confers legitimacy on it.

When creating NPCs for a new campaign, a GM is well-advised to use names with epithets. Many of the names of the Three Lands are novel to players, and they can have a hard time pronouncing them or making them “stick” in memory without some familiar anchor as a mnemonic. “General Mantled-In-Glory” and “Lord Abazu the Unsmiling” are both much easier for them to remember than “General Mitri Menkare” or “Lord Abazu Ezekuna”. In the same fashion, new players might be hesitant or confused about giving names to their PCs that they have a hard time pronouncing. You can refer to the pronunciation guide in the foreword of the book, or just let them pick suitable epithets.

Quick Culture Generation is intended to be used for minor states and remote tribes, with tables to generate cultural qualities (culture might love to build great edifices or admire truthfulness in all things), sources of wealth, potential societal ills and curses (like a wrathful spirit plaguing the land or a large segment of society is banned from learning), and jobs they might have for adventurers.

Quick NPC Stats provides sample statistics for NPCs with class levels, separated into odd-numbered levels. The Level 1s serve well as hand-outs for new players. Quick NPC Generation is intended for personality and miscellaneous traits, such as the role they have in their family to their greatest ambitions and problems.

Quick Nganga Magic is a 1-page list of all the spells and rituals for the nganga class, as well as spells per day by level. It is useful due to the sheer size of spells available to this versatile class (the marabout and griot are more limited and thus easier to manage).

Quick Cult Flavor provides hooks and traits of secret organizations dedicated to evil entities. It includes cool stuff like a table for their secret lair (crumbled estate, slum compound, grove in the wilderness, etc), their strongest asset (strong warriors, a powerful magic item, popular support), why they are awful (enslaved by evil spirits, plotting schemes of tyrannical theocracy, desire genocide, etc).

Quick Bestiary Reference compiles the stat blocks of all the bestiary entries into one page! I can't overstate how useful and convenient this is. By looking at it I notice some peculiar things: 1, only 4 monsters total are immune to non-magic weapons. 2, there's not too much overlap in special abilities (only snakes are poisonous, only the Sasabonsam can fly, only Eternal and Walking Corpses take minimum damage from piercing weapons, etc). 3, a lot of Armor Class values range from 4 to 7. Only 3 monsters have an AC of 3, the lowest one there is (dire lion and rhinocerous and the ghost). This is interesting in that a heavily-armored PC or one with the Blessed and Graced Warrior Idahun can match them, and that magic weapons while cool are not a necessity at higher levels.

The final entry includes several pages of Quick Location Maps with a fast resource for floorplans and maps. They are sparse in detail so that GMs can scrawl in their own details. I'll show off a few of them:

Then we have a two-page printable character sheet to end things off.

Libertad's Thoughts: Although many charts and tables can often become extraneous, the resources provided here are all very useful and relevant. My favorite is the one-page bestiary reprint of stat blocks. I don't think that you can say that for any other retroclones on the market!

Adventure: The Lost Mastaba of Khamose

The adventure provided is a short dungeon crawl for 1st level adventurers. The backstory is that a hundred years ago a troubled village was ruled by the tyrannical Lord Khamose, whose forces paid tribute to the Eternal King. He forced the people to build a tomb-house befitting his stature as an Eternal noble. In time the advancing armies of the Five Nations slew his legions and forced him into his buried mastaba. For forty years the villagers stayed away from this dungeon, but in recent days their shepherds and cattle have suffered mysterious disappearances in the western hills, and they suspect the mastaba. Adventuring Spears will be rewarded by the village if they investigate and take care of any horrors within.

In truth, a group of bandits have been using the mastaba as a headquarters for cattle-rustling. Unfortunately they dug too deep and released the Eternal into the rest of the complex, killing all but a few of them and their leader Gwoza. The survivors are trapped in a barricaded room.

The dungeon has 13 rooms, the entrance containing bloodstains of the eaten bandits. The atrium has been redesigned to resemble and outdoor garden, with clay sculpture plants and a fountain that recycles a fine silvery sand, and a silver circular ceiling painting resembling the moon. Five eternal Dreamers are feasting on bandit corpses in the dining hall, and four bandits are hiding under their beds in the sleeping chamber waiting for the next opportunity to escape (they'll attack the PCs in a mad frenzy for one round and then try to flee).

In the library is Gwoza the leader, and an Eternal who looks like a living human's posing as a nonexistant wife (Senti) who befriended the bandits before they dug down. Gwoza knows that going back to civilization means the death penalty, so he'll attack the PCs believing them to have come for him, while Senti will pretend to be a damsel in distress while waiting for the perfect opportunity to establish an Eternal cult in the next town or city.

The bandit storehouses and the storeroom contain the majority of treasure (silver Deshirite jewelry, trade ingots, and semiprecious jewels), and the nearby bathing chamber's full of fetid mold which can leave the PCs dizzy. Khamose's Chamber is way in the back, and his chamberlain Ushab is now an Eternal noble who's taken over the quarters. He's quite powerful but has reduced hit points than others of his kind and stature (due to wounds suffered slaughtering the bandits). In a chest is more treasure of trade ingots, and he wields serpent-headed staff as a +1 runku (war-staff).

Libertad's Thoughts: The dungeon can be quite lethal if the PCs go through it too fast. There's 11 Eternal Dreamers, one Walking Corpse, four bandits and their two guard dogs, and the aforementioned named NPCs. Given that Eternal take minimum possible damage from edged weapons (this is common knowledge to Spears), a party with warriors decked out in swords and bows will have a very bad time. If you're introducing newcomers to the game or players of less lethal RPGs, I'd recommend toning down the number of opponents if that might turn them off the game.


Aside from the Index, this is the last entry before we end our read of Spears in the Dawn. During the creation process Kevin Crawford spent two months brushing up on African history, folklore, and mythology. Even though this RPG is a pastiche of Africa rather than being historical, these materials (which are include fictional material) provided great inspiration to him. He hopes that the rest of us might find it useful, both for searching for things to add to home games as well as entertaining reads in and of themselves.



“Sword & Soul” is a touchstone for Spears of the Dawn, taking many of the familiar tropes of sword and sorcery fiction and placing them within the setting of historical or fantastical Africa. The present dean of the genre is Charles Saunders, whose Imaro practically defined the type. The following list is simply a starting point into the genre, one chosen for the breadth of authors rather than a deep focus on any particular series. Several of the books below are parts of a longer series, most of them well worth following.

Changa’s Safari, by Milton J. Davis
Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology, edited by Milton J. Davis and
Charles R. Saunders
Wind Follower, by Carole MacDonnell
Timbuktu Chronicles: Aida and the Chosen Soldier, by Anthony
Nana Kwamu
Chaka: An Historical Romance, by Thomas Mofolo
Once Upon A Time in Afrika, by Balogun Ojetade
Imaro, by Charles R. Saunders

History and Culture

A quick dip into these books can provide a vast trove of NPCs, places, and conflicts to translate into your own game. Particularly with older texts, the observations should sometimes be taken cum grano salis, but even wild fancies can provoke your imagination.

The Royal Kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay: Life in Medieval
Africa, by Patricia and Frederick McKissack.
While very much a popular book in writing style, it contains maps and a clear, crisp overview of medieval Africa. Particularly useful for its description of the sometimes-ambiguous sources and pointers to other books.

The history and description of Africa and of the notable things therein contained, by Leo Africanus. Born in 1494 as al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Wazzan al-Fasi, Leo Africanus provides a firsthand description of northern Africa in the sixteenth century. Not all of his observations were his own, but his visit to Timbuktu helps to detail the vibrant life of a fabulously prosperous African trade city.

‘The History of Ashanti Kings and the Whole Country Itself ’ and Other Writings, by Agyeman Prempeh. Begun in 1907 by the Asantehene Prempeh I, the essays in the front of this book are of less interest than the history itself, which is told from the perspective of the exiled king who prepared it.

Dynasty and Divinity: Ife Art in Ancient Nigeria, by Henry John Drewal and Enid Schildkrout. This book is useful in providing examples of sophisticated, beautiful artwork in metal, terra-cotta, and other materials. You can use the descriptions to flesh out palaces and come up with characteristic art treasures for your PCs to plunder, as well as get a hint of the subtle religious and aesthetic values that underlay the creation of such works.

Mythology and Legends

A GM can take their pick of myths and legends. Gruesome beasts and quarrelsome spirits make good monsters for your PCs to
face, and the marvelous artifacts and tokens of the myth make for handy magic item templates that your players are unlikely to have found a dozen times before.

A Dictionary of African Mythology: The Mythmaker as Storyteller, by Harold Scheub. Fairly popular in character, this book is full of short myth and legend synopses that often feature religious or mythological figures. If you can’t get the other books on this list, this one provides a great deal of grist and a useful bibliography.

African Folklore: An Encyclopedia, edited by Philip M. Peek and Kwesi Yankah. A magisterial volume, you can flip this one open and find something interesting on almost every page. The brief treatments are ample for most game uses.


The warning made earlier about not taking a part for the whole applies particularly to matters of religion. Different regions and cultures can hold drastically different cosmologies and religious practices. Disputes over the “real meaning” of rites or customs are common, and you can expect to find as much disagreement over subtleties and particulars as you would find in any other living religious tradition. Finding good books in this field is difficult- many of them on the market are popular works intended to provide religious guidance to believers rather than the raw grist most useful to a GM. Those books that take a more scholarly perspective can be hard to find without recourse to a university library.

Encyclopedia of African Religion, edited by Molefi Kete Asante and Ama Mazama. Check for this in a good academic library if you have access to one, as the price tends to be prohibitive to casual users. If you can get access to it, however, you’ll have the use of a volume that is remarkably exhaustive on the details and specifics of African traditional religion.

Religions in West Africa and Ancient Egypt, by Jonathan Olumide Lucas. A very hard book to acquire, but the author’s eagerness to show derivation between ancient Egyptian and precolonial traditional religion is useful to a GM, as he provides many examples of rites and customs by which to bolster his argument. Whether or not you find it persuasive, you can use the ritual material.

West African Religion: A study of the beliefs and practices of Akan, Ewe, Yoruba, Ibo, and Kindred Peoples, by Edward Geoffrey Parrinder. While first published in 1949, with all the baggage that implies, Parrinder provides the kind of direct observation that is sometimes harder to find in more modern texts. Details on specific practices are particularly useful for GMs who want flavor and detail for religious rituals and marabout customs.

West African Traditional Religion, by J. Omosade Awolalu. Not an easy book to get, but it provides a useful and necessary perspective from a scholar with intimate cultural familiarity with the region.

Visual Resources

One particularly useful resource is the International Mission Photography Archive curated by the University of Southern California. This is an enormous collection of missionary photography largely from the late eighteenth and early twentieth century, and a good deal of it is pertinent to Africa. While many of the photographs and postcards depict the rapid cultural and technological change that was in effect at the time, others show details of dress, traditional buildings, important local officials, and other visual details that are hard to find elsewhere. Browsing through the collection can give a GM a great many ideas about NPCs and places of interest for their campaign. It can presently be found at http://digitallibrary.

And this concludes our reading of Spears in the Dawn! What a wonderful book! It's clear throughout that this is a work of love, fashioned by one dedicated not only to making an engaging respectful treatment of fantasy Africa, but a good concise game unafraid to toss out staple rules and tropes prevalent in other D&D games to make a better experience. I hope that my review has brought new-found attention and interest to what is easily my favorite OSR game by far. My final verdict on this product is a Must Buy. Even if you're not a fan of OSR games, it contains enough working parts and cool things that players of "New School" games can appreciate!

I plan on giving an in-depth review of Dreamscarred Press' Path of War next, a chapter-by-chapter analysis like I did this book. I'm eager to see you all again soon!

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Back in the halcyon days of 2006, when the 3rd Edition line-up was coming to an end, the game designers were coming up with new subsystems to interact with the base D20 game. One of them was a new martial system which operated off of a per-encounter format, where characters could execute attacks and actions known as "maneuvers" a limited number of times much like Vancian casting. A lot of these ideas would later be adopted into 4th Edition, but the core system was first brought to the public as the Tome of Battle: Book of Nine Swords.

This sourcebook was divisive, to say the least. People who cared about game balance and loved martial archetypes saw it as the best thing to happen to noncasting fighters in what was probably the most unbalanced Edition so far. People who hated it viewed it either as an unwelcome intrusion of "Asian tropes" into D&D (which had the Monk class since the late 70s) or horribly overpowered drek. The truth of the matter is that the classes and maneuver system made for competent, versatile, and fun to play martial characters who did more than charge or full attack. Aside from a few problematic maneuvers such as White Raven Tactics or the infamous Ironheart Surge, Tome of Battle succeeded where so many other 3rd Edition Fighter fixes failed. It didn't bridge the gap between casters and noncasters completely, but it did make noticeable progress.

Among the GiantITP and Min-Max community, Tome of Battle homebrew was a common sight, and Chris Bennett (known by the username of ErrantX) devoted a lot of time and effort to making cool material online for others to use in their games. Eventually he was contacted by Dreamscarred Press, a 3rd Party Publisher famous for updating the Psionics Handbook to the Pathfinder Role-Playing Game. They wanted him to help them make their very own Tome of Battle for Pathfinder. As the original Wizards of the Coast book had no Open Game Content, they needed to start from scratch, but over the course of a year and a subscription service they persevered and brought the Path of War into the world.

You can see their design decisions and descriptions in the Introduction, which I'll repost here:


A Note From the Author

First off, I want to say: Wow! Second, I want to say: Thank you! Third, I want another resounding: Wow! This past year has been exciting. When Andreas reached out to me last year I thought it was a joke, like, this couldn’t possibly be real. My head was spinning! I started this on a dare from a friend over four years ago, and the Libram of Battle was born. This was a dream of mine since I was a young boy reading the original run of AD&D books my friend’s older brother had stashed in his closet. Since then, gaming has been a part of my life in a major way. I’ve always been writing new and different content, altering rules to better suit my style or the style of my group. Writing and designing game content has always been a thing in my life, and getting someone I respected for writing what I felt was the definitive rewrite of the psionics rules (they even made me like Wilder, something I never cared for!) to notice me? Too much!

But here we are. Through all the drama and ups and downs the last year has given me, the Path of War has marched on. I couldn’t do it alone. First and foremost, my wife Sabrina and family/friends were supportive beyond words. Then the amazing support of the folks on the Paizo forums, the GitP forums, and of course the Dreamscarred Press forums. My good friend Jade Ripley, and last but certainly not least Andreas and Jeremy themselves. I’ve made a lot of friends this last year, and I couldn’t have gotten here without the support of my people, online or here in person. You all mean the world to me, and I’m glad we’ve been able to get the Path of War out there. There’s more on the horizon, and the Path of War marches ever onward! Hope to see you all there!

Chris “ErrantX” Bennett

Lead Designer for the Path of War
Dreamscarred Press



If you’ve played one of the martial classes, you might wonder why spellcasters get all the cool new toys. Sure, playing a fighter or rogue or monk can be fun, but they pretty much always have the same options - melee attack, ranged attack, full attack. There are occasionally things to make those interesting, such as cleave or grapple, but those options aren’t always the best option.

So why should spellcasters and manifesters get all the fun abilities? Path of War is here to give fun, but balanced, options to the martial classes so that roleplaying interactions aren’t the only time you get to do cool things with your character!

What is the Path of War?

To put it simply, the Path of War is a new way to look at martial combat in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. At its basic roots, the Path of War allows for martially-inclined characters to harness new abilities to aid them in combat. These new abilities are known as maneuvers, a specific technique that allows a martial disciple to enact a powerful attack, erect a defense against an attack, or improve his overall fighting ability or the abilities of others. By initiating these in combat, the martial disciple has a powerful edge that can even rival the powers of the spellcasters of the world.

Maneuvers are grouped into disciplines, with each discipline having a group of associated weapons that fit the use of that discipline. In addition, disciplines have an associated skill that is often used with many of the maneuvers themselves.

Once used, a maneuver is considered expended, not unlike a prepared spell for spellcasters. But where the difference between a spell and a martial maneuver lies is the martial disciple’s ability to recover that expended maneuver for use again and again over the course of the day.

All characters have the potential to learn these maneuvers, either by being a martial disciple or by being someone who has taken up martial training in addition to their class’ normal training. Martial disciples are those who have taken the stalker, warder, or warlord classes, and all others must learn martial maneuvers through training (such as by taking feats) or through specific training in their class (by taking up an archetype). Once learned, a character is forever a martial initiator, a warrior with skills beyond the abilities of most others of his kind, and the potential to master these arts lies before him along the Path of War.

A New Method Of Battle

So, there is a question that begs to be asked: Why make a new book of martial maneuvers? Well, from the days of 3.5, there was a certain book that did drive a wedge into many gaming tables as it challenged the philosophies of many who sat around it. “Was it okay to give fighters spells?” they’d say. Some would say yes, some would say no. Almost everyone had an opinion on the matter. Since the inception of the maneuver system in 2006, many people still use the parent book that inspired this work in the every day games and with good reason to; it was a great new set of options. Some didn’t like it, and as those who would agree with the utility of this book would say it’s because “they don’t want fighter to have nice things.” The Path of War is designed to give nice things to everyone and to bring a ton of new options to every class that relies on their strength of arms to survive an adventure.

The Path of War offers a number of new things that could fit into any campaign setting, from classes and archetypes, feats, items and monsters, to organizations that are fundamentally connected to cultures of martial disciples that have learned, developed, and spread disciplines of maneuvers to their members for mutual benefit. By adding the Path of War to your campaign, you’re adding an exciting wealth of new opportunities and options to the Pathfinder game system, breathing new life in to combat as well as into classic monsters that will suddenly have new tricks that veteran players will enjoy as much as new players. Martial disciples are here at last for the Pathfinder game system, and they’re determined to change the face of combat forever.

These folks are speaking my language.

Now, the Path of War does draw a lot of influence from Tome of Battle, but unlike the Psionics' Handbook it's not just a simple reprint. The classes, feats, and maneuvers are entirely new. And best of all, the game mechanics are entirely Open Game Content, meaning that they can be imported wholesale into other 3rd Party Products (and even Paizo, if they so desired). There's a list of all of them on the Pathfinder SRD already. If you like what you see and make extensive use of it in your games, be a nice person and toss Dreamscarred Press some money once you're financially able to do so; they're one of the few 3PP publishers out there who care about game balance and the quality of their work.

Maneuver Basics

If I just jump right into the classes, readers unfamiliar with the original Tome of Battle might be confused about certain things referenced. To that end, I'll be briefly going over Path of War's new martial mechanics. Basically it's like a "martial spellcasting" system: maneuvers are actions and attacks that can be used in combat a limited number of times before being replenished either via spending an action in combat (specifics depend upon class or feats) or until the encounter ends (in which case all of them are regained). A character's maneuver load-out can be changed through 10 minutes of activity like prayers, meditation, weapon drills or the like.

Stances, meanwhile, are always-active effects which grant benefits to the user, but only one can be maintained at a time. Maneuvers are further divided by what they do in combat (strikes are direct attacks, boosts are buff effects, and counters are triggered by an enemy action). Every maneuver and stance belongs to a martial discipline, a fighting school style whose abilities are thematically linked based upon common effects, philosophies, weapon groups and the like.

Those trained as martial disciples can pick and choose which ones to learn upon leveling up or gaining the right feats. A character can only "ready" a limited number of maneuvers they know to use in battles, and cannot use unreadied maneuvers in combat except under special circumstances granted by certain feats or class abilities. Each class in this book uses a specific mental ability score known as an initiation modifier, which help enhance the power of many maneuvers and stances.* Finally, Initiator Level represents general knowledge and experience of the art of war and determines the most powerful maneuvers and stances they can learn. A person's initiator level equals their character's level in a Path of War class + 1/2 levels or Hit Dice in any other class.

*I like this touch; it encourages the cerebral warrior as a valid and mechanically useful character concept.


There are three new 20-level base classes, all of which make use of the maneuver system outlined in this book. In addition to being skilled combatants, they all make use mental ability scores and have diverse skill lists to make them able to contribute to out of combat encounters as well (although not to the same extent as a dedicated caster). One thing to keep in mind here is that judging by this chapter alone the classes might not sound so stellar. Much like how the Druid and Sorcerer cannot be wholly analyzed by their class features alone, so too is the same for the Path of War classes. We'll be covering the maneuvers in their own chapter.

The Stalker is a mobile warrior who fights with a mixture of finesse, stealth, and mystic arts to bring low their foes. Ranging from slum-born rogues to members of esoteric orders of assassins, the stalker's art is a versatile one seen among all walks of life.

Stalkers are the weakest class in terms of hit dice and base attack (d8 and 3/4 level), but they have a versatile assortment of rogue-like skills and can learn and ready the largest amount of maneuvers of all the classes. They can learn maneuvers from the Broken Blade (unarmed combat), Solar Wind (missile and throwing combat), Steel Serpent (poison and pain-based anatomical attacks), Thrashing Dragon (daredevil acrobatic fighting), and Veiled Moon (mystical otherworldly trance state) disciplines. Their initiator modifier is Wisdom, and when they recover maneuvers in combat they gain a +4 armor class bonus as their ki defends their form as they re-center themselves.

A stalker's class features include a Ki Pool, a limited resource value which spent allow the stalker to gain insight into their opponent. At first grants bonus on Perception and Sense Motive, but can eventually allow the Stalker to apply a bonus to saving throws as an immediate action, apply their Deadly Strike damage on all strikes made against a single opponent, and even the ability to trade readied maneuvers around!

The Stalker also gains Deadly Strike, which is a lot like Sneak Attack except that it activates for a number of rounds equal to their Wisdom modifier after they score a critical hit against a target. I sort of have mixed feelings on this: on the one hand, it pretty much requires any Stalker build to become a crit-focused combatant with certain weapons. On the other hand, the Stalker doesn't need to be hiding in order to use it and it can work by spending Ki.

Other class features include Combat Insight, which over a period of levels allows the Stalker to add their Wisdom to armor class and rolls to confirm critical hits, as well as blindsight and uncanny dodge among other things; a Dodge bonus to armor class; Blending which grants a bonus to stealthy skill as the stalker hones their ki; Dual Strike at 10th level which allows them to use two strikes at once as a full-round action; and Retributive Ki as the capstone 20th level class feature, which allows him to initiate a martial strike whenever they're targeted by an enemy's spell, attack, or harmful ability. What's coolest about this last one is that it has the same range as the enemy ability, meaning that an echo version of the Stalker rushes forth to deliver the attack if they're well out of reach!

But the real meat of the class features are Stalker Arts. Stalker Arts are cool things a Stalker can learn at 1st, 3rd, and every 4 class levels thereafter which represent learned talents, fighting arts, and near-supernatural abilities. There's 19 in all and I won't list them all, but a few of the cooler ones include Concealed Recovery (the stalker's form becomes shimmering and gains concealment while recovering maneuvers), Deadly Ambush (may now apply Deadly Strike against flat-footed opponents), Ki Vampirism (gain 1 ki point when you knock an opponent to 0 hit points), Murderous Insight (spend a ki point as a swift action to roll twice and take the better roll for a single attack), Phantom Reach (spend 1 ki point to turn a melee attack into a ranged attack by manifesting it as a phantom echo). Some pretty cool stuff here!

Libertad's Thoughts: The Stalker class can just as easily serve as a replacement for the monk or rogue in terms of both game mechanics and flavor. In spite of their lightly-armored mobile nature, the multiple ways of gaining armor class and concealment in combat does a fine job of turning away attacks.

Part tank, part genius tactician, the Warder uses their mental acumen to defend others and foil enemy maneuvers. They're d12 hit dice and heavy armor and shield proficiency makes them tough as nails, and their skill list includes several social and knowledge-based skills to better cement the concept of "leader of men" and "master strategist." They range from chivalrous knights to holy warriors, and make for natural champions of nations and causes.

Their initiation modifier is Intelligence, and when she recovers her maneuvers in combat as a full-round action she sets up a defensive perimeter around herself which make it hard for enemies to get past them. This class feature is known as Defensive Focus and does a number of things, such as granting them a greater reach for provoking attacks of opportunity (5 foot increase per 5 levels!), turns threatened squares into difficult terrain, and adds her Intelligence bonus to her Combat Maneuver Defense. This is really great because it creates a semi-large radius around the warder which allows them to attack passing opponents. Give a warder a polearm and a size enlargement spell, and you'll be hitting foes as far away as 20, even 35 feet!

Warders gain access to the Broken Blade, Golden Lion (leadership teamwork tactics), Iron Tortoise (shield and phalanx fighting), and Primal Fury (animalistic, hunter-like natural attacks) disciplines. In addition to Defensive Focus, their class features include Combat Reflexes as a bonus feat which uses Intelligence instead of Dexterity; Aegis, which grants bonuses on Armor Class and Will saves to nearby allies (inspiring presence);

Armiger's Mark brings to mind the 4th Edition Fighter, where the enemy must direct hostilities to the Warder or else bad things happen to them. The Armiger's Mark is a limited use-per-day well-placed attack or taunt which forces the enemy to directly engage her or suffer a massive penalty to attack rolls (-4 to -8 based upon Warder's level) and Arcane Spell Failure. At higher levels she can affect multiple opponents at once with an Armiger's Mark as an area attack.

Tactical Acumen, which represents scholarly knowledge of historic battles and quick wits which add her Intelligence modifier to Reflex saves and initiative (replacing Dexterity in the latter case); Extended Defense which allows the Warder to initiate a counter maneuver as a free action.

Adaptive Tactics, which allows the Warder to spend one use of Armiger's Mark to switch out up to her Intelligence modifier in readied maneuvers during combat.

A lot of the later class features are defensive abilities such as Stalwart (which allow her to reduce the effects of a harmful effect which targets Fortitude or Will to no effect at all) and Steel Defense (which redirects a killing blow to target a held shield or armor instead). The 20th level captsone ability is Deathless Defense, which is activated by expending 2 uses of Armiger's Mark. Once activated, the Warder enters a resolute juggernaut-like state of iron will: they can maintain Defense Focus as a move action, gain the benefit of her own aegis, is unable to die due to hit point damage, and is immune to mind-affecting effects (their devotion's so strong). Deathless Defense's duration is one round plus one per additional use of Armiger's Mark, and once ended the Warder's exhausted and must rest for 8 hours before being able to use it again.

Libertad's Thoughts: The concept of a brainy armor-clad tank is a novel one I honestly can't remember seeing elsewhere in D20 products. I like the battlefield control and debuff aspects of the class. The teamwork tactics of the Golden Lion can let her allies do cool stuff, and the charge-based maneuvers of Primal Fury can give them some much-needed mobility. I don't understand how the Primal Fury fits thematically, but I ain't complainin'.

The Warlord is a fight-loving daredevil who lives for the thrill of danger. Their recklessness makes them a sort of lovable scoundrel, and their presence on the battlefield can provide inspiration to others by lifting their spirits. With a d10 hit dice and proficiency in martial weapons and medium armor, they're fighters through and through. Their skill set is lackluster in comparison to his two class counterparts, but is still leagues above the Pathfinder Fighter by including things such as Acrobatics, some Knowledges, Perception, and Sense Motive among other things. If you read Order of the Stick or the Three Musketeers, then they're pretty much the Dashing Swordsman writ large.

A warlord's initiation modifier is Charisma, and their methods of recovering maneuvers is more restrictive: spend a standard action to regain a single readier maneuver, or perform a Gambit and recover a number of maneuvers equal to his Charisma modifier if said Gambit is successful. Warlords gain access to maneuvers from the Golden Lion, Primal Fury, Scarlet Throne (noble duelist), Solar Wind, and Thrashing Dragon (wild and reckless two-weapon fighting) disciplines.

The warlord's major class feature is the Warlord's Gambit. Warlords are at their best when they're daring, so they gain actual benefits when performing riskier-than-usual actions in combat. There are several Gambits a warlord can learn, learning more over the progression of levels. Each Gambit is activated as a swift action and requires a certain action in combat such as a trip, a charge, a ranged attack on a moving mount, etc, which is known as a Risk. If the warlord is successful, they gain benefits known as a Reward in addition to regained maneuvers. On a failure they suffer the penalties known as a Rake, which are universal as a -2 penalty on all d20 rolls for one round. However, a warlord regains one maneuver even on a Rake, so it's not all bad.

There are 15 gambits, and a lot of them grant some kind of bonus equal to the warlord's Charisma modifier, and quite a few benefit the warlord's allies in some way. A few of the more interesting gambits include Deadeye Gambit, activated by a successful called shot which grants temporary hit points to nearby allies as the attack fills them with renewed spirit; the Gatecrasher Gambit, activated by a successful bull rush which imposes a penalty on all 20 rolls equal to warlord's Charisma mod as they're so rattled by the attack; and Sweeping Gambit, activated by a successful trip attack which grants an immediate attack of opportunity against said foe with a Charisma bonus added to the damage roll.

I really like the Gambit system; it gives good in-game incentives in the form of bonuses for the party and debuffs on the enemy. Furthermore, it encourages the Warlord to perform unorthodox tactics in combat which are rarely if ever used by Pathfinder players (let's face it, nobody really uses overrun).

Tactical Presence is the warlord oozing raw Charisma, aiding himself and his allies on the battlefield in an effect which is a throwback to the Marshal Auras from 3.5's Miniatures Handbook. By activating a certain Presence, the warlord and allies within 30 feet may add his Charisma modifier to certain saves and even temporary hit points.

Warleader is a limited-use-per-day ability which allows the warlord to share the benefits of a Teamwork feat with all allies within 30 feet, even if they don't meet the prerequisites.

Force of Personality adds the warlord's Charisma modifier in addition to Wisdom on Will saving throws (doesn't stack with Paladin's Divine Grace). Tactical Flanker is another Charisma-based benefit, in that it allows the warlord and an ally to substitute his Charisma modifier for the +2 bonus on attack rolls for flanking an opponent. Tactical Assistance does the same thing, but for Aid Another actions instead and is gained at 12th level.

If Stalkers could activate two Strikes, and the Warder's the master of Counters, then the Warlord's game is Boost, where they can activate two of them at once with the Dual Boost class feature gained at 6th level.

The warlord's later class feature mainly involve enhancing existing class features. Dual Tactical Presence allows him to maintain two Presences at once; Warlord's Presence activates three at a time; Master Warleader allows him to activate Warleader as a swift action; and the capstone ability at 20th level is Dual Stance, which allows the Warlord to gain the benefits of two different stances simultaneously.

Libertad's Thoughts: Like the Stalker and Warder, the Warlord's mechanics are nifty and fun, and the overall flavor text of an arrogant yet personable warrior is great role-playing opportunity.

Thoughts So Far: Path of War is shaping up to a promising start. I like how Dreamscarred made each class reliant upon mental as well as physical acumen; their class features, combined with maneuvers and stances, provide no shortage of cool tricks for players to choose from in combat.

Next time, Chapter 2: Skills and Feats!

Edit: Important note I forgot to add: A Warlord may use a maneuver as part of a Gambit if doing so would help accomplish the action, but he can't recover the maneuver he just expended. This is important, because it potentially allows the warlord to do a damaging attack in addition to bull rush/trip/etc. It also prevents a "use maneuver, gain maneuver" loop by forcing the warlord to effectively cycle between different maneuvers.

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 07:50 on Sep 20, 2014

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Chapter Two: Skills & Feats

Or more accurately, Skill & Feats. This chapter's rather short yet brimming with feats all over the place.

The only new skill is Knowledge (Martial), which can help you identify maneuvers, determine disciplines known by a martial disciple, and all-purpose lore about famous battles and mighty warriors and fighting styles and all that jazz. As is to be expected, it's a class skill for the Stalker, Warder, and Warlord, although it doesn't specify if existing classes gain access to it. I'd assume that folks who get Knowledge (all skills) gain it as well.

Now we get to our feats, 35 in total. I won't cover them all, instead highlighting a few of the more interesting ones:

Advanced Study grants you two new known maneuvers of disciplines known to your martial class. Extra Readied Maneuver is similar in that it, quite simply, allows you to ready one additional maneuver than normal for your class level.

Extended Mark doubles the duration of the Warder's Armiger's Mark, effectively double her Intelligence modifier. A very useful feat.

Naturally we have feats like Extra Gambit, Extra Ki, Extra Marks, and Extra Stalker Art which expanded uses of the new class' resources and can all be taken multiple times. Extra Stalker Art in particular's pretty good.

Deadly Agility is our "substitute Dexterity modifier to damage rolls" feat. This is quite interesting as Paizo's Advanced Class Guide attempted it's own "Dex to damage feat. Let's contrast and compare:

The Path of War one:


Deadly Agility [Combat]
You have learned how to use your agility to greater purpose in battle.
Prerequisites: Weapon Finesse, base attack bonus +1
Benefit: You may add your Dexterity modifier in place of your Strength modifier when wielding a light weapon or a weapon that gains the benefits of the Weapon Finesse feat (such as the rapier) when determining additional damage inflicted upon a successful attack. This modifier to damage is not increased for two-handed weapons, but is not reduced for off-hand weapons.

And the Paizo one:


Slashing Grace
You can stab your enemies with your sword or another slashing weapon.

Prerequisite(s): Dex 13, Weapon Finesse, Weapon Focus with chosen weapon.

Benefit: Choose one kind of one-handed slashing weapon (such as the longsword). When wielding your chosen weapon one-handed, you can treat it as a one-handed piercing melee weapon for all feats and class abilities that require such a weapon (such as a swashbuckler's or a duelist's precise strike) and you can add your Dexterity modifier instead of your Strength modifier to that weapon's damage. The weapon must be one appropriate for your size.

Clearly, Deadly Agility's the superior choice. Applies to more than one kind of weapon, easier prerequisites, off-hand weapons deal full Dex modifier damage.

On a similar note, Double Weapon Finesse treats double weapons as light weapons for Weapon Finesse and Two-Weapon Fighting, so your Dex-focused warrior can whip around Darth Maul-style with a two-bladed sword.

Deadly Pairing requires access to the Deadly Strike class feature and a Steel Serpent stance, but it allows you and a flanking ally to increase the critical threat range of each other's weapons by 1 (not multiplied by feats or spells, instead added after the multiplication).

Defense Expertise allows you to add your shield bonus to your touch armor class and its enhancement bonus to Reflex saves, a nice feature for heavily-armored warriors.

Greater Unarmed Strike increases the base damage dice of your unarmed strike determined by your Base Attack Bonus. It's pretty lackluster in comparison to the Monk, ranging from 1d4 at +3 to +6 BAB to 1d10 at +15 or higher. As Improved Natural Attack no longer applies to unarmed strikes in Pathfinder, I can see how this is a workaround, but it wouldn't be so game-breaking to up the damage dice a little; greatsword-wielding fighters already deal more damage without any feat investment, for example.

Guard's Glare is a cool Warder feat which makes any demoralized/frightened/panicked/etc creature under the effect of an armiger's mark unable to move in a direction away from you unless they succeed on a Will save (new save once per round). This is great for the purposes of battlefield control. In fact, it appears that the Warder gets the most love comparatively feat-wise: Powerful Mark increases the penalty by 2 for Armiger's Mark and the Save DC for the area of effect application, and Take the Blow allows a Warder to expend an armiger's mark use as an immediate action to force an enemy's attack to target them instead of an ally within the Warder's threatened area.

Martial Charge allows one to initiate a strike instead of a normal attack at the end of a charge. Tactical Rush is another mobility-based feat which allows you to move up to your base speed as a swift action once per encounter.

The Martial Training feat tree is numbered I through VI, and it allows members of the non-Path of War classes to learn maneuvers and stances of a single discipline. The discipline's associated skill is now a class skill, and the skill's ability score (Dexterity for Acrobatics, for example) is considered their initiation modifier for maneuvers learned from this feat. Their expertise is inferior to true practitioners such as the Warlord, and their initiation level is equal to half their character level + their initiation modifier.

Serene Stride requires access to a Ki Pool and allows you to ignore the Acrobatics and movement penalties on difficult terrain and walk on water Jesus-style.

Weapon Group Adaption is a good, versatile feat where you choose one weapon group barring siege weapons (bows, flails, heavy blades, etc) to be considered associated with a chosen discipline. So if your assassin character concept involves a nifty combination of polearms and the cloak-and-dagger arts of the Steel Serpent, your dream can come true!

Libertad's Thoughts: Although we covered only 2/3rds of the feats, I looked at them all and I can safely say that each of them is useful on its own for a wide variety of character concepts. There are no nigh-useless, underpowered, or highly situational feats here, which is something I can't say for most 1st and 3rd Party Pathfinder products.

Next time, Chapter 3: Systems & Use, the meat and bones of the game mechanics underlying Path of War's maneuver system!

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!
All this Spycraft and espionage talk has awakened my interest in checking out Spycraft.

Aside from the main book, does anybody know if the supplements are any good?

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

*Note: I was wrong in the Warlord's detail: they can recover expended maneuvers equal to their Charisma modifier on a successful Gambit (minimum 2), 1 on a failed one.

Chapter Three: Systems and Use

This section is the basic rundown of how Path of War's martial system works, and what all the terminology means. Some of it is what we covered earlier, some things are new to this chapter.

Martial Abilities goes over the differences between maneuvers and stances, as well as the 3 different kinds of maneuvers: boosts, counters, and strikes. The in-game reasoning for why maneuvers are limited-use is because the character expended a portion of their energy, they're out of position and can't resume the necessary posture, or their mental focus must be regained.

Readying Maneuvers is basically equivalent to a wizard preparing spells: characters must spend 10 minutes preparing a certain number of maneuvers they know to use in future encounters, and cannot leave maneuver slots open like clerics and wizards can do. A character has access to all of their stances in an encounter and can adapt between any of them.

Initiating Stances and Maneuvers refers to the action necessary to use the maneuver or stance in combat. Basically a swift/move/etc action, and unlike spells characters don't need to speak in order to use it (unless the maneuver specifically says otherwise). Stances are always initiated as a swift action.

In general, stances and maneuvers do not require Concentration to use or maintain and do not provoke an attack of opportunity unless it says otherwise in the description. However, enemy interference (such as readying an action, disarming a necessary weapon for a discipline, etc) can foil a maneuver which is still considered "used." In most cases, a character must be able to move freely in order to initiate maneuvers and stances, meaning a grapple can shut you down.

Libertad's Notes: I have mixed feelings regarding grappling being a maneuver-foil. There are so many huge beasts in Pathfinder who can overshadow PCs own modifiers that this can end up a really common hindrance, doubly so that so many maneuvers are melee-based.

Initiator Level is simply like a Caster Level. It determines your overall martial skill, and what level maneuvers and stances you can access. Much like wizard spells, maneuvers are grouped into levels 1 through 9; in order to use 1st level maneuvers, you must have an initiator level of 1, for 2nd level maneuvers your initiator level must be 3, 3rd level maneuvers for 5, and so on and so forth.

Much like Tome of Battle, Path of War's very dip-friendly: your Initiator Level is equal to your level in a martial class (Stalker/Warder/Warlord) + 1/2 your levels in all other classes. However, multi-classing between the three martial classes results in variant initiator levels for them: a 9th level Stalker/5th level Warlord treats his Initiator Level as 11 for Stalker maneuvers and 9th for Warlord maneuvers. Maneuvers of differing classes are readier and performed separately.

Resolving a Stance or Maneuver discusses the effects of finishing said maneuvers' effects. It's a basic description of attack rolls (offensive maneuvers which target an opponent, even with a save, are considered attacks), bonus types (untyped bonuses always stack), and actions during a maneuver (a description providing the type of action necessary during the maneuver.

Now we discuss the Recovery of Expended Maneuvers. Maneuvers are recovered either via a special action such as a class feature, or at the end of an encounter. Instead of being based on a per-day limit, maneuvers get recovered at the end of combat.

In the original Tome of Battle, an "encounter" was vaguely worded so that the recovery of maneuvers was up to DM Fiat. In Path of War, an "Encounter" is defined as a period of time when initiative begins (starting with the surprise round, if any) to the last initiative ended and after a total time of one minute has elapsed without combat resuming. Basically, if a party kills 5 goblins and 1 minute elapses, maneuvers are recovered. Same if the party flees the encounter and the goblins don't give chase, and they don't encounter any other opponents within 1 minute.

Martial Abilities and Magic discuss the potential interaction with spells. The vast majority of maneuvers and stances are extraordinary abilities, which means that they are completely non-magical in nature (Pathfinder's RAW mentions that extraordinary abilities can break the laws of physics as well understand them, so it's not just this book). A few of them are supernatural abilities and obey all the rules as such, but maneuvers and stances are never spells or spell-like abilities. The use of a martial maneuver are generally instantaneous and not long-lasting, and thus obvious to observers. However, people can identify certain ones via Knowledge (Martial). Bonuses and penalties of spells and stances/maneuvers can stack with each other, provided that the bonuses don't overlap (ex. an Insight bonus from a Stance won't stack with an Insight bonus from a spell).

Path of War also presents two new damage types, Profane and Sacred. Profane damage are energies powered with sheer Evil and deal 1.5 times as much damage on good-aligned characters and outsider with the [Good] subtype. Sacred damage is the same mechanics-wise, but it's holy and affects evil-aligned characters and [Evil] outsiders.

Stance and Maneuver Description

This section provides us with a standard format for stance and maneuver entries. We also get a more in-depth, in-game description of the various martial disciplines here for the first time!

You might notice that two disciplines, Black Seraph and Silver Crane, are not granted by any of the three classes. This is intentional; the disciplines are learned by joining a respective Martial Tradition (organization) detailed in Chapter Seven.

Black Seraph is a cruel art passed down from fiendish tutors as a way of enticing mortals into serving them. This disicpline focuses on powerful two-handed strikes, infliction of pain, and dirty fighting. Its associated skill's Intimidate, and the associated weapons are axes, flails, and pole arms.

Broken Blade's origins lie in a swordsman whose signature weapon was sundered on the field of battle. He had a flash of insight, realizing that his training regimens made his own body a deadly weapon. Ever since it's been taught in monasteries and passed down from tutor to pupil. Its associated skill is Acrobatics, and the associated weapons are close, monk, and natural. Yes, you can use bite and claw attacks in addition to unarmed strikes with Broken Blade!

The discipline of the Golden Lion is a practice passed between war leaders, generals, chieftains, and militia leaders over generations to bring their fighting units into a cohesive whole. It's mostly beneficial to warriors with allies, and the maneuvers and disciplines are geared towards indirect aid. Its associated skill is Diplomacy, and the associated weapons are heavy blades, hammers, and pole arms.

Iron Tortoise arose from the need to protect oneself and one's allies during wartime. Phalanx fighters knew that their shields were just as great a boon to themselves as to the soldiers standing next to them, and the discipline relies upon a shield to foil enemy actions. Its associated skill is Bluff, and the associated weapons are axes, heavy blades, and close weapons.

Believed to be the oldest of all disciplines, Primal Fury combines cold rage with calculated intellect for remorseless warfare. Its earliest practitioners were hunters who emulated the actions of great predators and spread their teachings everywhere. Its associated skill is Survival, and the associated weapons are axes, heavy blades, and hammers.

Scarlet Thrones owes its invention to duelist aristocrats who realized that the realities of war made one-on-one matches impractical. This brief description's pretty great:


Regal and unflinching, a practitioner of Scarlet Throne owns any field of battle he walks upon, for it is his court and there he rules, painting his chambers red with the blood of his enemies.

Its associated skill is Sense Motive, and the associated weapons are heavy blades, light blades, and spears.

Silver Crane is the celestial counterpart to Black Seraph. It can only be learned and used by those of good alignment inspired by angels and other heavenly outsiders. Its stances and maneuvers focus on insight and combat-predictions to counter-act the forces of evil. Its associated skill is Perception, and the associated weapons are bows, hammers, and spears.

Solar Wind originated among the archers of the windy plains, who used the terrain to deliver deadly force across vast distances. Its maneuvers and stances include ricochet shots, precision strikes, ammo which can be conjured from phantom force or hit multiple opponents, and counters which shoot enemy projectiles out of the sky. Its associated skill is Perception, and its associated weapons include bows, crossbows, firearms, and thrown. All maneuvers of the discipline require the use of a weapon from these groups, and thrown weapons which can be used for melee must be used for their intended ranged capacity.

Steel Serpent dates back to ancient times, hailing from those who practiced in the dark of night, belonging to hidden organizations who valued the art of a swift, clean kill. Stealth, trickery, poison, and the knowledge of anatomy are important features of this discipline. Its associated skill is Heal, and the associated weapons are light blades, close weapons, and monk weapons.

Thrashing Dragon is popular among both strict aesthetics and daredevils for its grace and quickness. Its practitioners are mostly two-weapon fighters with extensive acrobatic and athletic training. Its associated skill is Acrobatics, and the associated weapons include close weapons, light blades, and double weapons.

Veiled Moon is a strange and esoteric discipline, practitioners appear to be "half-in, half-out," living in two worlds at once. This is not far from the truth, as Veiled Moon makes use of connection to the Astral and Ethereal planes for greater harmony between the spirit and natural worlds. Its maneuvers are the most supernatural of the bunch, including teleportation effects, assuming incorporeal form, and even being able to affect said forms. Its associated skill is Stealth and the associated weapons include light blades, double weapons, and spears.

The rest of the section talks about basic stuff, like the range of the attack, descriptors for types (fire, teleportation, evil, etc), the maneuver/stance's level, and the action necessary to activate it. What's interesting is that some maneuvers and stances have prerequisites, usually a minimum number of known maneuvers of that same discipline before it can be learned.

We also get a run-down on boosts, counters, strikes, and stances. Interestingly, boosts and stances always require a swift action to activate, while counters are immediate actions (meaning that they're activated on an offending enemy's turn when they perform a necessary action). Boosts which apply to attacks only apply to attacks made within the round it was initiated. Counters can be used against critical hits unless the threatening roll was a natural 20.

Strikes are almost always standard or full-round actions which is resolved with an attack roll, damage modifiers, and base weapon damage. Damage from strikes can be added onto a critical hit, but are not multiplied. As strikes require a specific form of attack, users cannot benefit from spells and effects that grant extra attacks (such as haste) while making a strike. Additionally, actions such as disarm and trip cannot be combined with strikes unless it says otherwise in the description.

Also, Vital Strike and its subsequent feat chain cannot be used in conjunction with strikes. However, boosts and counters can be used in conjunction with it. The rationale is that Vital Strike requires the use of a standard action to activate it, making it very much like a martial maneuver.

Stances can be switched from one to another in the same round as a swift action, allowing for some creative combinations in a combat round. They also count as maneuvers for the purposes of meeting prerequisites for higher-level maneuvers, feats, and prestige classes. Stances end if the user is rendered helpless (immobile).

Our chapter ends with discussion Learning New Stances and Maneuvers. It explains that the per-level learning is assumed to be the result of practice and training between adventures and while resting, as well as knowledge gained from honing their abilities in dangerous situations.

It's possible for martial disciples to learn new stances and maneuvers independent of leveling up, but that's up to the DM. Should this be permitted, the training regimen takes a minimum number of days equal to 3 x the maneuver/stance's level, as well as a fair cost to represent the resources used for the training (500 gold pieces per level is the default). At the end of the training, they make a Knowledge (Martial) check with a DC equal to 20 + (2 x the maneuver's level). If the check succeeds, the maneuver is learned automatically and in addition to any others the next level up, while a failure means that they must repeat the process anew (although they do not need to pay money again). The only restriction is that the martial disciple cannot learn a maneuver too high for their current Initiator Level.

Libertad's Thoughts: This chapter contains a lot of information you'll already be familiar with, but it's a necessary read in that it takes about some minor details not included in the rest of the book.

Next time we're covering The Art of the Blade, which details all the maneuvers and stances. It's a doozy of a chapter, covering 89 of the book's 165 pages. For that reason I'm going to cover it in parts.

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 00:20 on Oct 1, 2014


Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Covok posted:

Libertad!, how does Path of War compare with Tome of Battle so far?

Hard to say at this point, but I'm kind of leaning towards Path of War being an improved version of Tome of Battle.

In comparison, the maneuver refreshing mechanics for Path of War are overall better than Tome of Battle's. Crusader's was random and pretty much required you to have a deck of cards; the Warblade could recover all expended maneuvers with but a swift action, while the Swordsage needed Adaptive Style to do the same thing (effectively making it a feat tax). The game mechanics are overall clearer and the feats are comparatively more useful and versatile, which I like. I do like the inclusion of a ranged combat discipline, too.

I do kind of miss the Crusader-equivalent class feature of being able to outright ignore a certain amount of damage until the next round.

I feel that the Prestige Classes of Tome of Battle were more creative than Path of War's. Half of PoFs are gishes (psychic gish, divine gish, arcane gish), while ToB has a bunch of creative character concepts: Eternal Blade is an elven practitioner with a link to a spiritual companion, Shadow Sun Ninja uses the conflicting powers of light and darkness, Ruby Knight Vindicator was a devotee of the Goddess of Death, etc.

And finally, all of PoF's game mechanics are Open Content.

Of course, there are some broken and cheesy abilities in PoF, but you could say the same thing about full casters, and Tome of Battle wasn't averse to this either (hello Iron Heart Surge!). But I feel that denouncing this or ToB as a power-gamer's wet dream is a knee-jerk response.

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 19:05 on Oct 1, 2014

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