Thursday, December 18, 2014

Beastmaster as Feat

As I've said before, the 5e Beastmaster ranger looks mehsville, baby. So instead of being an archetype for the ranger, what if it was offered as a feat anybody could take if they wanted an animal buddy?

It might look something like this:

Prerequisite: Proficiency with the Animal Handling skill.
You gain an animal companion that accompanies you on your adventures and is trained to fight alongside you:
  • Choose a beast that is no larger than Medium and that has a challenge rating of 1/2 or lower. Add your proficiency bonus to the beast’s AC, attack rolls, and damage rolls, as well as to any saving throws and skills it is proficient in. It is proficient in any saving throws you are proficient in. Its hit point maximum equals its normal maximum or four times your level, whichever is higher.
  • The beast obeys your commands as best as it can. It takes its turn on your initiative, though it doesn’t take an action unless you command it to. On your turn, you can verbally command the beast where to move (no action required by you). You can use a bonus action to attempt to verbally command it to take the Attack, Dash, Disengage, Dodge, or Help action. This attempt is a Wisdom (Animal Handling) check made against a DC of 15.
  • When you cast a spell targeting yourself, you can also affect your beast companion with the spell if the beast is within 30 feet o f you.
  • If the beast dies, you can return it to life by spending 3 hours conducting a special resurrection ritual. Alternately, you can obtain another one by spending 8 hours magically bonding with another beast that isn’t hostile to you, either the same type of beast as before or a different one.
Okay, so that's one way to do it. But honestly? If someone really wanted an animal companion I'd probably just use the rules (well, guidelines really) for allies in the DMG and just have the beast level up when the PCs do.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

I May Have Underestimated the 5e Ranger

Oh snap, this post is all math-y. PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

Ranger, 5th level
16 Dex, Two-Weapon Fighting style, Colossus Slayer, Extra Attacks, Hunter's Mark spell, Dual Wielder feat, armed with rapier and short sword

Turn one: does decent damage, but more importantly sets you up for an explosive Turn two
Taking the Attack action gets you two attacks, if both hit you do 1d8 (rapier) + 3 (Dex mod) + 1d8 (rapier) + 3 (Dex mod) + 1d8 (Colossus Slayer). You use a bonus action to cast Hunter's Mark. Average damage if it all hits: 19.5.

Turn two: This could really hurt
Taking the Attack action gets you two attacks, if both hit you do 1d8 (rapier) + 3 (Dex mod) + 1d6 (Hunter's Mark) + 1d8 (rapier) + 3 (Dex mod) + 1d6 (Hunter's Mark) +1d8 (Colossus Slayer).  You use a bonus action to get an attack with your off-hand, which does 1d6 (short sword) + 3 (Dex mod) + 1d6 (Hunter's Mark). 

The average damage if that all hits is 36.5. In comparison, the average damage of a 5th level wizard's fireball is 28 on a failed save, and 14 on a successful one. Of course, the fireball damage is spread over an area of effect, which can be awesome in the right situation. Also, the ranger is in danger of losing Hunter's Mark if they take damage. (War Caster seems like a great feat to take if you're a ranger.)

Of course, if you know you're headed into enemy territory and are expecting to fight you can cast Hunter's Mark ahead of time and keep concentration on it for an hour with a level 1 spell slot.

What about archer rangers?

Ranger, 5th level
16 Dex, Archery style, Colossus Slayer, Extra Attacks, Hunter's Mark spell, Sharpshooter feat, armed with longbow.

Turn one: just sittin' back, ignoring most of your cover
Taking the Attack action gets you two attacks, if both hit you do 1d8 (longbow) + 3 (Dex mod.) + 1d8 (longbow) + 3 (Dex mod) +1d8 (Colossus Slayer). You use a bonus action to cast Hunter's Mark.

Average damage if all that hits: 19.5. Also, you're more likely to hit because of the +2 bonus from Archery. And you're at range, and thus less likely to get hit in return. If you think you can swing it, you can take a -5 penalty to your attack rolls in return for +10 damage due to the Sharpshooter feat. If you manage to hit with both attacks your average damage is now 39.5.

Turn two: letting rip
Taking the Attack action gets you two attacks, if both hit you do 1d8 (longbow) + 3 (Dex mod.) + 1d6 (Hunter's Mark) + 1d8 (longbow) + 3 (Dex mod) + 1d6 (Hunter's Mark) +1d8 (Colossus Slayer). 

Average damage if that all hits: 26.5. And you're still more likely to hit from Archery, still at range, and way less likely to lose Hunter's Mark because you're less likely to face retaliation. Sharpshooter potentially bumps your average damage to 46.5.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Basilisk

"When the pale night has fallen, then the basilisk comes slinking by. It is he who in a most curious fashion was fathered by the cold Moon, eternal spirit of infertility, and mothered by the arid sand herself, no less infertile than the Moon. He is the secret of the desert. Some say he is an animal, but that is not true. He is a thought and he grew up suddenly where there was neither earth nor seed. He is a thought sprung out of envious eternal infertility, and he must therefore take on a chaotic form, unknown to orderly life. And that is why no one can describe this creature, for he is as indescribable as nothingness itself." 
- Hanns Heinz Ewers, Alraune

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Ravenjammer House Rules (5e)

I'm running with the setting ideas here. Here are some house rules I have in mind for modding 5e slightly to fit the premise:

Ethersea Proficiencies
Feel free to replace as many of your existing skill or tool proficiencies as you want with proficiency in the following tools: Vehicles (ether), Advanced technology, or Gunsmith's kit. Proficiency in Vehicles (ether) will allow you to add your proficiency bonus on attempts to guide an Ethersea craft through difficult conditions. Proficiency in Advanced technology will allow you to add your proficiency bonus when attempting to operate technological devices such as heliographs, galvanic automatons, mimirtech, and alchemical engines. Proficiency in the Gunsmith's kit allow you to create your own bullets and black powder if you have the necessary raw materials, at a cost of 1 gp for 10 pieces of ammunition; a gunsmith kit costs 30 gp.

Everyone is proficient with firearms. Firearms are the great equalizer.

New Feats
Firearm Expert
Thanks to extensive practice with firearms, you gain the following benefits:
You ignore the loading and reloading qualities of firearms with which you are proficient.
Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls.
When you use the Attack action and attack with a one-handed weapon, you can use a bonus action to attack with a loaded pistol you are holding.

Etherhulk Delver
Alert to the hidden traps and secret doors found in many etherhulks, you gain the following benefits:
You have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) and Intelligence (Investigation) checks made to detect secret doors.
You have advantage on saving throws made to avoid or resist traps.
You have resistance to the damage dealt by traps.
You can have advantage on Dexterity (Stealth) checks made inside etherhulks or derelict ethercraft.

Once per turn when you roll damage for a ranged weapon attack, you can reroll the weapon’s damage dice and use either total.

You are trained in defending yourself with a walking stick or cane. You gain the following benefits:
You are proficient with unarmed strikes and canes.
Your unarmed strike uses a d4 for damage. In your hands a cane does 1d6 bludgeoning damage and has the light and finesse properties.
You have advantage on attack rolls against a creature you are grappling.
You have advantage on rolls to break free from a grapple.

New Language

Heliographic – ethercraft use flashes of light to communicate with each other and with planets or orbital stations.

Want a pdf of this stuff? Here it is.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Ravenjammer: Ravenloft in Spaaaaaaaaaaaaaace

A colonial ethercraft
Paul S. correctly surmised that the vibe I was going for here was essentially "Ravenloft plus Spelljammer." Which get me thinking, "What would it look like if it were explicitly a divergent take on Ravenloft?

Buckle up, this is going to be a long one.

It might look like this:

“Over me, about me, closing in on me, embracing me ever nearer, was the Eternal, that which was before the beginning and that which triumphs over the end; that enormous void in which all light and life and being is but the thin and vanishing splendour of a falling star, the cold, the stillness, the silence, - the infinite and final Night of space.”
– H. G. Wells, The First Men in the Moon

Escape from Ravenloft was but an idle daydream for most, until a githyanki slaver-fleet crashed down upon the Core, scattering unheralded bits of advanced technology among an unwitting populace. Although much of the githyanki's technology remains mysterious, some bright coves from the various domains began to get the hang of how some of it worked and even managed to put the debris together in new and inventive ways. Several domains (and even some secret societies) were able to reverse-engineer craft that were capable of traversing the Ethersea—what we might refer to as “outer space”—via phlogiston-powered engines. The largest of these craft were dubbed arkworlds, for they were big enough to house a population of travelers, explorers, and expatriates willing to take them into the furthest reaches of the unknown Ethersea in search of new worlds that could be colonized.

Currently, the arkworlds have converged at the Scapeworlds—a solar system in the Ethersea containing at least five inhabitable coreworlds. Each arkworld is attempting to claim the planets of the Scape for their own, but competition between the arkworlds' ethernauts and resistance from the planetary natives troubles the very notion of the imperial adventure! The Great Game is afoot!

An Ethersea-traveling Vistani. Is she friend or foe?


Each Arkworld has the size and population of a small city. Although Arkworlds are capable of traversing the Ethersea, they largely serve as colonial outposts from which smaller craft are launched to and from the colonies of the Scapeworlds.

Cathedra Belenus
The Tepestani arkworld is a place of fanatical religious devotion. The priesthood of the Tepestani pantheon controls the craft and operates it as a theocracy; religious officials govern nearly all facets of its citizens' existence. Cathedra Belenus's colonial endeavor is to spread the worship of Belenus and his divine cohort to the heathens and unbelievers in the Scape. Whether their religion is spread by good deeds or the sword is of little consequence—most firmly believe that the ends justify the means.

Nihilus Cthul
Those who turned to the dark worship of the Great Old Ones built their own small arkworld in secret. The secret society of Ildi'Thaan has now taken to the Ethersea aboard the Nihilus Cthul in order to find the last of the 13 Tales of Thaan; the 13 Tales of Thaan are a set of grimoires detailing the forbidden rites of the Great Old Ones, and the occult explorers of Nihil believe that the last volume is to be found somewhere in the ethereal expanse.

The Dargaardsphere
The residents of the Dargaardsphere are jaded elves from Sithicus who have left their homeland in search of new pleasures to excite their ennui-tortured souls. As the ethercraft was being built, the elves were approached directly by Lord Soth. Soth insisted upon being part of the ship's expedition and that he be given his own private section of the craft as his “keep.” While most figure that Lord Soth simply wished to escape from the unpleasant reminders of his former life that torment him in Sithicus, few realize that he hears the voice of the long-lost Kitiara calling to him from a place beyond the stars. The Dargaardsphere was named in Soth's honor after his fortress, Nedargaard Keep.

The Nightgaunt
The Falkovian arkworld was constructed by fusing technology scavenged from the crash of the githyanki slaver-fleet with the carcass of an enormous black dragon. The colonial mission of the Nightgaunt's Falkovian explorers is to impose their brutal culture of violence, oppression, and fatalism on their subaltern subjects—whom they tend to regard as savages. Rumors of the Nightgaunt's expeditionary force dining among the impaled corpses of those who resist colonization aren't entirely unfounded.

Bolshnik Union
According to their propaganda, this steam-powered arkworld funded by the Bolshnik family of Nova Vaasa is a socialist paradise where all are equal and all are given what they need. Behind the smiling facade of a worker's utopia lies a darker truth: the plenty of the Bolshnik Union is maintained through the enslavement of colonized natives who are forced to work as agrarian workers. The colonial endeavor of the Bolshnik Union is to spread this curious brand of “freedom” to other races by adding their worlds to its hoped-for galactic empire.

Mechanikus Prime
Mechanikus Prime was crafted by golems of the secret cabal the Children of Adam at the behest of Ahmi Vanjuko. Before Vanjuko's soul was bound to his current iron body, he was a ranger and explorer; now that he has been cursed with an inhuman body, he plans on exploring places too hazardous for earthly races to investigate and document. Vanjuko and his golem cohort hope to find a world that they can inhabit in peace, far from the claims of their mortal creators.

Starship Ravenloft
Tired of his wearisome existence in Barovia, Strahd von Zarovich was quick to use all the resources at his disposal to create an arkworld that would allow him (plus a few vampiric thralls of his choosing, his Vistani allies, and enough Barovians to serve and feed them on the journey) to venture into the Ethersea with a fleet of fearsome bloodwing fighter craft at his back. Strahd's goal is a simple one: he has a thirst to sample the new types of blood he will encounter among the strange peoples that inhabit the Ether.

Mechpriest of the Solar Abbey

Fellow Travelers

Aside from the massive Arkworlds, other smaller ships and fleets have also made their way to the Scapeworlds in the name of exploration, intrigue, and profit.

Starfleet Solanaceae
Starfleet Solanaceae is a mercantile flotilla launched from Borca. Though the fleet counts ships built by many of Borca's wealthy families among its contingent, its expedition to the Scapeworlds was mostly funded by the Boritsi family. The ethercraft of Starfleet Solanaceae are protected by soldiers armed with advanced technological weapons and armor who are loyal to the Dilisnya clan.

Aurum is a craft-fortress jointly built by the dwarves of Tempe Falls and the gnomes of Mayvin in the former lands of Darkon. Aurum is ostensibly an ether-faring mining expedition, but some believe that the secretive residents of the craft search for something older than the galaxy itself among the stars.

Blackfleet Alpha
It was a dread day for the travelers of the Ethersea when the pirates of the Sea of Sorrows managed to build their own fleet of ethercraft. These buccaneers now prey upon the ships cruising the Scapeworlds; their bloodthirstiness is legendary. One craft of Blackfleet Alpha is said to be crewed entirely by beast-men from Markovia.

The Solar Abbey
The Solar Abbey is a ether-going shrine to the Morninglord. The priests who direct the craft believe that they have been given a holy mission by their god to bring the light of the Morninglord even unto the darkest depths of the Ethersea.

The Jotund Armada
Against all odds, the savage, viking-like Kosti reavers managed to construct their own craft from the remains of the githyanki ships that crashed upon their cold and inhospitable lands. The Kosti have taken their notorious trade to the Ethersea; their Jotund Armada exists purely to find battle and plunder. Where the craft of the Jotund Armada arrive, death is sure to follow.

The inventors and engineers working with technology retrieved from githyanki crash sites around the perimeter of the Shadow Rift met with strange fates: they all disappeared in the night, and their technological marvels vanished along with them. In truth, they were abducted by the dark fey of the Shadow Rift. Pulled down into that strange and wild place, they were forced to craft an ethership so that the fey might travel to the Scapeworlds for unknown purposes. The Misericorde, as the fey ship is called, is captained by drow but also counts a bevy of powerful fey creatures among its expeditionary force. Thus far, the Misericorde has sent drow emissaries to Elsinore (they are particularly interested in the ettercaps there), as well as sending envoys to Oberon and Hecate.


Elsinore is a planet mostly inhabited by ettercaps and thri-kreen. Although they live in a state of primitive barbarism, the ettercaps are heirs to a vast empire of technological wonders—which, in their current state of degeneracy, they have largely forgotten how to use. Buildings and permanent structures on Elsinore tend to be made from layers of hardened webbing.

Oberon is a water-starved goblin homeworld. Once beautiful and wise creatures, a horrific virus has since twisted the goblin folk into diminutive and devious caricatures of their formal selves. Due to the goblins' now-cowardly natures, they accept colonial governance without much resistance. However, imperial settlers should be wary of secretive goblin uprisings.

This gas-planet is home to genies and other elemental beings. The planet is “ruled” in the loosest sense by the terrors known as the Elemental Princes of Evil. Iago has proved to be very resistant to colonial expeditions sent by the various arkworlds.

Hecate is a diverse world of fey creatures governed by hag queens. No colony has survived for long on Hecate due to the magical might wielded by the hags. Indeed, since few exploration voyages have returned from Hecate very little is known about its even its basic geography. There are rumors that Cathedra Belenus plans a large-scale extermination crusade on Hecate.

Sycorax is a jungle-planet on which tribes of lizardfolk, bullwugs, yuan-ti, and troglodytes make continual war against each other. The planet is also home to massive dinosaurs, some of which are used as beasts of burden by the lizardfolk. The lush vegetation of Sycorax has made it an ideal place to establish imperial outposts, but the danger posed by marauding natives demands constant vigilance.

Elena Morikov, aka "The Tigress"

Who's Doomed

Sybil Lemarchenko
A poet from Dementlieu, Sybil Lemarchenko has taken to the Ethersea to write verse inspired by the colonial struggle. Her writings are highly popular among the intelligentsia. However, it is worth noting that many of her ancestors were burned at the stake as witches—the legacy of those dark days still hangs heavy over the legacy of the Lemarchenko family.

Adem T'Laan
This powerful moneylender operates “The House of T'Laan,” a banking firm backed by Hazlani gold, from within a ship of Starfleet Solanaceae. Since ready currency is in short-supply in the Ethersea, promissory notes issued by T'Laan are one of the few ways of safely conducting large-scale transactions.

The Hegemony of Harmony
The Hegemony of Harmony is a cult of aasimars who believe that they have been called to the Scapeworlds to serve a being they call “the Inmost Light.” This cosmic, celestial being whispers to them in their sleep, entreating them to collect a strange form of life-energy called “Vril” on its behalf in preparation for an event they refer to only as “the Arrival.”

The Questioner
Always veiled, the Questioner only appears when a person faces dire straits. He will ask the imperiled person a question—if they answer truthfully, he records their reply and will save their lives. If they refuse to answer or lie, he leaves them to their fate.

Witchfinder Lelan Ryman
Lelan Ryman, a Tepestani of great faith, leads an inquisition against the fey of the Scapeworlds, as well as against those from the Core who may have brought heretical beliefs and practices into the Ethersea. Ryman believes that once his purge is complete the Scapeworlds will emerge as an edenic paradise. He is, however, tormented by cruel desires for the very beings he wishes to exterminate.

Elena Morikov, the “Tigress”
Originally a hunter from Valachan, Elena Morikov grew bored with the game available in the Core. Sensing the the Scapeworlds would offer her new and exotic beasts to hunt and slay, she joined her fellow explorers in space in search of big game. Her nickname, “the Tigress,” refers to both her deadliness and her marked lack of human compassion.

Lysius, sometimes referred to as “the Mad Monk of the Ether,” is a traveling penitent who hears the confessions of anyone who wishes to seek his absolution. What few realize is that each confession he hears gives him power over the confessor.

Lady Oleander Rathchilde
Lady Rathchilde has a mania for perfecting her human form—she believes that by incorporating advanced technology into her body, she will become “more human than human.” She pursues this goal to free herself from the constraints of mortality.

Want this all as a pdf? Here you go.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Malaryn Family of Witches

The Malaryn clan is a family of witches who has recently taken residence in an abandoned farmhouse on the outskirts of Lychwyck-supra-Mare. Whatever they're plotting bodes ill for the people of the county.

Mother Malaryn
Mother Malaryn's evil is such that she is no longer truly human in form. Bent and twisted, she scuttles about the earth as a spider or crab. Her mind is consumed with a lust for blood, which she must sup upon to maintain her magical power. She cannot be reasoned with, but her hunger makes her vulnerable to trickery.
Stats as: As Gibbering Mouther (pg. 157 of the 5e Monster Manual)

Horne is Mother Malaryn's son by a fae from the Unseelie Court. He is brutish, ignorant, and follows his mother's dictates without question. He delights in violence.
Stats as: Berserker (pg. 344 of the 5e Monster Manual)

Sister Wry
Sister Wry is Mother Malaryn's first daughter by a handsome warlock. Though she appears young otherwise, she has the gray hair of a crone. Sister Wry is loyal to her mother, but will flee if things go badly for the family. She figures that if worst comes to worst she can always return under cover to night and find a way to resurrect her mother. Sister Wry hates her younger sister, Red Myra, because she senses that the young witch will one day come into great power; she takes any opportunity to be cruel to Myra.
Stats as: Cult Fanatic (pg. 345 of the 5e Monster Manual)

Red Myra
Red Myra despises her family, but feels trapped by their legacy of evil. She reluctantly carries out her mother's commands. Red Myra is not irredeemable; if a persuasive argument is made, she will help defeat her family--but only if promised a life elsewhere, away from the reach of the Malaryn clan.
Stats as: Dryad (pg. 121 of the 5e Monster Manual)

Encountered on their own, the first three should be a reasonable challenge for 3 3rd level characters. (If I'm doing the maths right.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Last Apprentice

Book series recommendation time: you might want to check out Joseph Delaney's The Last Apprentice series. (It's also called the Wardstone Chronicles in the United Kingdom.)

The novels in this series are about a young man named Tom Ward, who just happens to be the seventh son of a seventh son. Being the seventh son of a seventh son opens up a strange job opportunity for Tom; he's apprenticed to John Gregory, the "Spook" of their County. Although something of a lonely outcast, a spook is entrusted with dealing with the witches, boggarts, and ghosts that make mischief (and worse) in the area they're sworn to protect. Armed with folkloric knowledge, bladed staves, a bit of the second sight, and a silver chain, a spook is the common man's protector against the forces of the Dark.

One way to envision the 5e ranger is to think of them like the "spooks" in Joseph Delaney's The Last Apprentice series. Spooks are specialists in dealing with ghosts, witches, and boggarts (favored enemies!). They travel around their assigned county protecting the people from evil supernatural forces; indeed, the first part of a spook's training involves them learning the lay of the land so that they might use it to their advantage against their foes (favored terrain!). To combat the forces of the Dark, they use martial skill (combat styles!) and folk magic (ranger spells!). (The Spook even sets his apprentice to learn all the witch-lore he can from the young witch Alice.)

If you want a cool model of how the relationship between a warlock and their patron might go down, check out Alice and the Bane in Curse of the Bane. Damn. If you want a cool model of how a pact can go horribly wrong, check out what happens when Morgan tries to obtain power from the "winter god" Golgoth.

The books have great chapter illustrations done by Patrick Arrasmith. I mean, just look at this:

The way that British folklore has been woven into the books is subtle, but also sometimes unnerving. Some of the elder witches are quite monstrous. You wouldn't want to find this in the your attic:

Though the books are intended for an audience of young readers, the writing is brisk enough for an adult to enjoy as they breeze through the volumes. The characters are compelling enough to hold interest, without being overly cloying or naive. If you're looking for a darker point of inspiration for Beyond the Wall than the usual suggestions (Earthsea, Prydain), the Last Apprentice novels would be the perfect starting place for young adventurers being trained-up to the task of protecting their village from evil. It would even be a good fit for 5e D&D characters at the early levels, say 1-3 with 3rd level being their "graduation" into junior Geisters.

As an example, I could see running a Last Apprentice-inspired campaign in my Ulverland setting or perhaps in Ravenloft's Mordentshire. The characters would all be apprentices or agents of Mad Meg, the local Geister, an aging woman who was once an adventurer in service to the county of Lychwyck-supra-Mare, but who now finds that the years weigh too heavily upon her--age makes it impossible for her to fulfill her duties. The characters would receive guidance from the Geister, but would also be expected to investigate and solve problems involving the supernatural in her stead. In their downtime, they would make their home at the Geisterhaus, and have access to its amazing library of occult lore.

There's also a movie version of the Last Apprentice series coming, but I'm not sure it really captures the feel of the books; this looks way too much like a LotR inspired action-adventure thing. Still, it could be fun in its own right: