Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dungeons & Dragonauts? [Wastelands Dragons]

Dragons don't exist in my Wastelands of Kreth setting.


OK, they actually do. But in the Wastelands our favorite D&D monsters are known as dragonauts—vile, machine-like horrors who wield magnetism and magic as weapons, in addition to their razor-sharp extremities and devastating breath. And they lust after treasure, of course. Otherwise, well ... who the frig cares about dragons in any form but for their gleaming, bountiful treasure hoards.

You can thank the dwarves for that.

You see, Wastelands dwarves believe that the multiverse was created by a tightly-ratcheted group of deities. Both the gods and the multiverse are known as the Mechanoid Construct, and they are one and the same—indivisible, unbreakable and perfectly ordered to function for eternity. So long as no one throws a wrench in the gearworks.

Prime deity of the Mechanoid Construct is Synculon the Articulator, who first created and gave precise timing, expression and substance to the multiverse. Allied with him are Justicron, warrior and protector of the multiverse; Oculus, visionary, magician and revealer of the multiverse’s secrets; Regulus, loremaster and organizer of the multiverse and establisher of systems and laws; and Technus, the forger of elements and stars and worlds, and inspiration for the construction and crafting of all things, including the dwarves. 

Now the wrench. Opposing Synculon's instrumental cabal is Chaositron, the dark god, destroyer and saboteur of the multiverse. Chaositron’s driving purpose is to undo the perfect machinations of the Mechanoid Construct. To aid this goal, Chaositron created the perfect tool—dragonauts. And dragonauts love nothing more than tormenting, eating and slaying dwarves. And taking their treasure, of course.

So, it's all the dwarves' fault.

How do we make a dragonaut to punish ... er, entertain your players at your next game session?

Simply re-skin one of the existing dragons. Using the red dragon as a baseline, I made numerous adjustments to the stats. Dragonauts in my game have poison breath, for example, and they are vulnerable to lightning damage. Dragonauts tend to be a bit less cunning than standard dragons, so I've lowered their Int and Wis scores. However, they're still smarter than white dragons. I've also divided the dragonauts into "ages" of a sort, but renamed them mechaling, mecha, mega and ultra.

Here are my stats for the Dragonaut mechaling (or "wyrmling") to illustrate.

Medium dragonaut, chaotic evil
AC 19 (natural armor)
Hit Points 68 (9d8+27)
Speed 30 ft., climb 30 ft., fly 60 ft.
18 (+4)
10 (+0)
16 (+3)
10 (+0)
8 (-1)
11 (+0)
Saving Throws Dex +2, Con +5, Wis +1, Cha +2 
Skills Perception +1, Stealth +2 
Damage Vulnerabilities lightning 
Damage Immunities poison; bludgeoning, piercing and slashing from nonmagical weapons 
Condition Immunities poisoned 
Senses blindsight 10 ft., darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 11 
Languages Mechanoid 
Challenge 4 (1,100 XP) 
Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit; reach 5 ft.; one target. Hit: 9 (1d10+4) piercing damage plus 3 (1d6) poison damage. 
Poison Breath (Recharge 5-6). Dragonaut breathes poison in a 15-foot cone. Targets in area make DC 14 Dex save or take 21 (6d6) poison damage; half-damage on a successful save.

Lastly, we'll have to consider the lair actions and regional effects of the mega and ultra dragonauts (the "adults" and "ancients.") The following are some options I've come up with to cover these.

  • Cacophony. The dragonaut shakes and writhes its articulated metal body creating a painful cacophony in a 60-foot radius around it. Each creature in the area (other than the dragonaut) must make a DC 15 Con save or take 21 (6d6) thunder damage; half-damage on a successful save.
  • Magnetic Field. A field of magnetic energy engulfs a 20-foot radius centered on any point the dragonaut can see within 120 feet. The field lasts until initiative count 20 on the next round. Each creature wearing metallic armor that starts its turn in the field must succeed at a DC 13 Con save or be paralyzed until the end of its turn.
  • Metallic ruins dot the landscape within several miles of the dragonaut’s lair. These might be the crumbled shards of skyscrapers from an ancient city, the rusted hulls of abandoned ocean vessels beached in a long-desiccated silt sea, or the half-buried debris fields from a crashed starship. Regardless, rust monsters are naturally attracted to the region (but stay well clear of the dragonaut’s actual lair from deadly experience) and the chances of encountering them are increased manifold.
  • Metallic objects occasionally thrum and lightly attract each other due to strange magnetic forces within 1 mile of the dragonaut’s lair.
  • Magnetically-charged aetherstorms frequently disrupt magic use within 1 mile of the dragonaut’s lair. When a storm gathers, treat this region as a wild magic zone. Roll on the Wild Magic Surge table (p.104 of the PHB) whenever a spell is cast, or improvise a strange magical effect that occurs because of the spell.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Artificer of Xixis [5e Background]

Since my forthcoming Wastelands of Kreth campaign will be played using the 5e rules, I've been working on some customization options for the players. The campaign setting is a slightly gonzo swords and sorcery mash-up, so I need some backgrounds to reflect that. I'm tweaking some of the backgrounds in the basic rules and PHB, as well as creating new ones.

Today we have the Artificer of Xixis, a student of technomancy and member of a secretive order. Please excuse the bloated mess that is the suggested characteristics section, I'll trim that down eventually. :-)

You spent years studying technomancy as a member of the esoteric order known as the Artificers of Xixis. You intuitively grasp how magic and technology function symbiotically. Your inventive mind allows you to see connections where others do not, particularly when examining devices and artifacts of unknown origins.
Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, Investigation
Tool Proficiencies: Tinker’s tools
Languages: One language of your choice.
Equipment: Tinker’s tools, a schematic of a bizarre device you haven’t yet identified, a set of common clothes and a belt pouch containing 10 gp.

Feature: The Archive
As a member of the Artificers of Xixis, you have access to The Archive—a secret citadel and athenaeum. If you have a means of communicating with or traveling to The Archive, you may consult it (or an artificer there) to help you answer a challenging question, research a subject, or otherwise glean valuable information you do not currently know. In exchange, you are sworn to keep The Archive’s location secret, as well as improve its accuracy and scope by contributing unique magical knowledge and technological devices you acquire in your travels.

Suggested Characteristics
The Artificers of Xixis are a cloistered, eccentric order. Their mandate is to manage and expand The Archive, so they spend most of their time recording information and experimenting with technomantic devices. They're a smart lot but don’t get out much. However, there are visionaries amongst them—daring explorers, adventurers and iconoclasts—and these trailblazers often scour the Wastelands discovering the truly wondrous. The Xixis Divan, the council in charge of The Archive, is made up of such enterprising artificers.

Some artificers aspire to power and prestige outside the order. They might create technomantic devices for profit or work under the aegis of a warlord or city-state. Others are devoted to religious cults or political causes, striving to further the group’s agenda as well as their own.

There are also troubled artificers—narcissistic, greedy or even paranoid. Everyone is beneath them or out to steal their glory, get rich off their discoveries, and so forth. These are the dangerous ones, the artificers who might be tempted, coerced and corrupted by dark powers.

If artificers have one thing in common, it’s that they respect The Archive, or at least fear exposing it. The Xixis Divan is utterly devoted to protecting it. The divan has one penalty: those who would betray The Archive suffer terribly. In a great feat of security, the divan actually discovered a pocket dimension to hide The Archive in—the demiplane of Xixis. The demiplane and The Archive are physically accessible only via a planar gate created by a device known as a Xixis Node. Only members of the divan possess the knowledge and skill to build and operate a node.

d8    Personality Trait
1    People confuse me. I am more comfortable with things I can take apart and understand.
2    Magic is like blood for it’s the only thing that gives life to inanimate objects.
3    The mysteries of technomancy are an infinite puzzle. I know the pieces fit…
4    Those who cannot fathom the power of magic and technology are no better than ignorant savages.
5    It is by magic alone I set my mind in motion. It is by technology that thoughts acquire speed…
6    No, that’s incorrect. I know. I’ve studied it. In fact, let me tell you all about that particular subject…
7    Be patient! If we think this through I’m sure we can figure a way out of the situation.
8    My teachers always held me back. Now I will show them what I’m capable of!

d6    Ideal
1    Enlightenment. Understanding technomancy will bring me closer to The Cosmic Truth. (Any)
2    Technocrat. Only those who possess knowledge and skill should rule. (Lawful)
3    Altruism. The more I learn about magic and technology the more I can help people. (Good)
4    Creation. Harnessing my powers to create is the ultimate goal. (Any)
5    Knowledge. All things are knowable. All things are temporary. All things must be recorded. (Neutral)
6    Power. I will use arcane technology as I see fit to bolster my personal power. (Chaotic or Evil)

d6    Bond
1    The Artificers saved me from a ruinous life. I owe it to them to succeed.
2    A vision of a secret device came to me in The Archive, but I don’t know where it is. I will find it if it’s the last thing I do.
3    Only The Archive matters. Whatever the cost, it must be protected.
4    All my arcane experiments are ultimately for the benefit of humankind (dwarfkind, elfkind, etc.)
5    I was routinely humiliated by fellow students at The Archive. Now I use my powers to protect those who can’t protect themselves.
6    I stole something important I needed from The Archive. I hope to redeem myself and return it one day.

d6    Flaw
1    I can’t keep myself from prying into dark secrets I know I should not.
2    You fool! It is not yours save by unhappy chance. It might have been mine. It should be mine. Give it to me!
3    I know I should rule. With my talents I would establish order and create a perfect society.
4    Well, okay. Maybe just one more round. But then I really have to get back to … what was I doing before I got here?
5    Your lab or mine, gorgeous? I love to experiment too!
6    What do you want me to do? The book was lying right there in the open. I didn’t see his name on it.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Magic & Technology in the Wastelands of Kreth

I haven't yet talked about how I will handle magic and technology in the Wastelands of Kreth. I've been pondering this topic for quite a while and it's time for a mental-purge post, an attempt to write my thoughts down cogently (ha!) and hopefully guide me forward in creating the setting.

My apologies if this post rambles a bit. :-)

Traditional Swords & Sorcery?
I would like to remain somewhat true to much of the traditional swords and sorcery source material and have magic in the Wastelands be an elusive, dangerous, even outright evil, force. A power wielded by dark warlocks, corrupt necromancers and decadent sorcerers against gritty "heroic" player characters. Magic should be rare and terrifying, not something trifled with. Those PCs who wield magic do so at great risk of corruption or even self-obliteration. This is a familiar trope for me and one I have employed in campaigns of years past.

However, there is much more important consideration I have in mind for the Wastelands than my comfort. And that is engaging the players' wishes for a new campaign setting.

Engaging the Players
I have been listening closely to the players while on hiatus as referee and actually playing (yay!) in a Castles & Crusades campaign being run by one of them. And the players are clamoring for something a bit more weird-magic-rich for my next campaign, something a little more gonzo. Not necessarily like Eberron low-magic-rich or Carcosa weird-science-fantasy (my example choices, not the players, as they know neither of these settings), but definitely blending some similar concepts along with Cthulhu Mythos-inspired sanity-bending horrors and a healthy dose of Indiana Jones and John Carter-style heroic pulp derring-do. I know this is what they want. Different but familiar. Heroic but strange. In essence, I think we all want to recapture some of the wonder of games of years past before many things "fantasy" got a bit stale for us. :-)

The Magic Goes to 11?
Since the Wastelands were intended right from conception to be an "anything goes post-apocalyptic gonzo swords and sorcery setting," powering up the magic quotient seems to be a natural, and easy, choice. And it will align with the players wishes ... if I do it right.

How to do this right? Keep in mind by right I don't mean: you must play this way or you're doing it wrong. I mean: this is how I think it will work well for me and my players.

Well, firstly, I would like some limitations on magic while still engaging the players' desire for more magic stuff. Specifically, I mean limitations on magic items. I don't want every NPC shopkeeper wearing a ring of mind shielding, guard captain sporting a flametongue sword, or street thug muscled-up with gauntlets of ogre power. Neither do I want player characters resembling bedazzled Warcraft-Munchkin-Douches sparkling with arcane potency. At least not early on at low levels. Actually, not at high levels either. Magic items may be purchased--low-level stuff like continual light rods and healing potions--but only rarely will anything more potent be available for sale without some stringent situation-specific conditions. I will have to come up with such limitations as circumstances warrant.

It just seems to me that dumping magic items into the setting is a lazy and rather boring way to "turn magic up to 11" in the Wastelands. However, I do want to inject lots of flavorful, weird and intriguing magical stuff into the background of the setting so that the players may interact with magic, use it in strange or perhaps unexpected ways and, most importantly, have fun with it.

Five Thematic Tropes
To that end, I have plotted down five primary thematic tropes concerning magic and technology that will shape the Wastelands as a magic-rich post-apocalyptic gonzo swords and sorcery setting. These are:

Magic is everywhere.
It is in the air, earth, water, plants, people, creatures—magic pervades everything and everyone. There are magic storms, magic places, magical constructs, magical afflictions and more. When the Gods punished the peoples of Araman during the Dark Years, they did so by super-charging the continent with raw, chaotic magical power. This completely changed the Realms from a place powered by technology to one powered by magic.

Magic is dangerous.
To most common people, magic is bewildering and scary. They know it exists, but they have no idea why (other than it's the Gods' fault) any of this magic stuff is there or how it works or how they can use it. Even wizards study for decades, if not entire lifetimes, to understand magic. Most die trying. Others are corrupted by dark forces promising magical power in return for servitude. Few magic users become powerful figures in the Wastelands, but these are the ones that warlords and rulers want by their sides.

“Real-world” technologies don't work.
Technically, they just haven't been re-invented yet. Gunpowder, combustion engines, airplanes, medicine and vaccines, microwave ovens, lasers, computers, magnetic trains—these technologies do not presently exist, but they did in the ancient past before the Dark Years. If such technologies are discovered by adventurers, the devices simply don’t function. A few of these technological devices may find use in the campaign, but they will be altered and powered by magic, which leads to the fourth trope...

“Fantasy” technology does work.
And a lot of it exists ... if you're rich enough to afford it, or lucky enough to find it. Even though relatively mundane (to us) real-world technology doesn't exist (or doesn't function) in the Wastelands, fantasy technology does because of one thing—magic. Every fantastical device, while meticulously designed and crafted by artisans, functions as is does only once empowered by magic. And since magic is dangerous and hard to use, and few people know how to properly employ it, this means fantasy technology is expensive. Very expensive. Basically, only the ultra rich, and higher level PCs, can afford the stuff.

Anything goes tech-level
There is no default tech-level or real-world historically-equivalent period for the Wastelands. The PCs may have to elude spear-chucking primitive tribesmen protecting their cherished golden idol in one session. And in the next they may be hurtling through the skies aboard an airship battling forcepistol-wielding pirates to rescue a captured princess. In the Wastelands, there are no continent-spanning empires or kingdoms to tame the savage wilderness with civilization. Most common people live god-fearing, miserable lives in small villages and towns where simply surviving is a great feat. A few city-states do exist, and these are the places where the decadent rich live and utilize fantasy technology to make their lives more comfortable. Similarly, there are isolated citadels ruled by powerful warlords who hoard magic and technology to aid their various schemes and ambitions. Basically, in very general terms, the "tech-level" of any given society will vary quite a bit depending on where the PCs are adventuring and who they encounter during their adventures.

Referee fiat
Of course, I may completely ignore all of the above at any point during the campaign creation process and game play. I may simply say that fantasy magic and technology work the way they do because they do ... and that’s just the way it is! :-)

If you've stayed with me this long ... I thank you!

I'm very interested in how you good readers have handled magic-rich settings in your own games. Are there particular campaign settings you think do this well? Were you able to inject a lot of magic stuff into your own campaigns without it getting "out of control", so to speak? How did you do this? Were there any mistakes you made and learned from? What were some of the cool magical ideas, places and items you introduced that brought a sense of wonder to the game? Any and all thoughts and comments are appreciated!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

Santa especially deserves some time off and fun before the year wraps up ... what with all the travel and list-checking and paparazzi and whatnot.

So I hope you all enjoy the season too, in whatever ways make you happy!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Just got back from a matinee screening of The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.

A few random thoughts on the movie, in no particular order ... I've had a couple eggnogs since seeing the movie, so don't expect anything too intelligent! And please note this is not an actual review! OK, maybe it is a review ... of sorts.

SPOILER ALERT - I think we all know how it ends, but nonetheless, you have been warned. :-)


Smaug gets killed before the subtitle "Battle of the Five Armies" appears. Wow. No preamble. They pick up right where film two left off. Smaug obviously burns Lake Town to cinders but gets heroic black spear-killed by Bard with a makeshift bow in the town bell tower, with the help of his son. I liked this early kill off, and it set a good pace for the film.

Can someone shut Tauriel up please. Whiny elf. She goes through some kind of emotional journey or something apparently during the three films. Maybe Evangeline (spelling?) Lily is just a bad actress but I couldn't buy into it at all. The whole Kili-Tauriel relationship is so forced. I hated the Tauriel character from the start and she doesn't get any better during this film. Near the end I could hardly keep from rolling my eyes when she cries to Thranduil about why it hurts so much after Kili gets ... well, killed. Because its real, Thrnaduil replies. Pul-lease! *barf*

The White Council rescues Gandalf and confronts the Ringwraiths and Sauron at Dol Guldur. Very cool scene, loved it! Saruman and Elrond kick some wraith ethereal ass for the most part and then Galadriel goes all Hot Dark Elf Chick (makes sense when you see it, remember Fellowship? But better!) with turned up to 11 magic powers on Sauron and blasts him (presumably) off to Mordor. Someone should do a Tolkien Mirror Universe movie so we can see Nasty Gladdy more. :-)

Sandworms of Dune! Oh wait ... I mean Giant Toothy Rockworms of the Misty Mountains! These big critters eat tunnels through the mountains to get Azog's army to the Lonely Mountain on the sly, sneaky-like, except when they shake the earth and bust a rock chew move and everyone goes gaga ... and then they promptly saunter back down the tunnels. Pretty spectacular visuals, but I don't recall those things from the Hobbit book. lol If I was Azog, I'd be like WTF! Hey, wormies, get the heck on the battlefield and eat the damn way into the Lonely Mountain for frig's sake! Big enough plot hole to drive a tunnel eating mountain worm through. But anyway ... It's all good and it's a pretty freaking cool moment at the start of the battle.

Dain Ironfoot leads his dwarf army into the battle riding a pig-boar beast. I loved this character. He's exactly how I (and many others) like to play dwarves in D&D. Loud, insulting and funny. He headbutts orcs in battle and kicks ass. Totally over the top, it's great!

Thorin death scene with Bilbo. Gotta admit, I got choked up a bit. Freeman and Armitage's acting is well done, with Thorin coming to grips with his regret over trying to have Bilbo killed (earlier in the film) and his impending demise, and Bilbo holding in his grief and being supportive to a dying friend but just enough grief spurts out that you really empathize with him. At least I did anyway. Good stuff.

At any rate, gotta head out for dinner with wifey, so will end here.

Overall, I like this (upon first viewing) film a lot better than the first two. It seems to hold together better overall and has a good mix of tension building, action and character moments. The Bard character plays a bigger role than Bilbo, it seemed to me, which I found a bit odd considering it's called The Hobbit, but your mileage may vary on that part. It's not so much that Bilbo is put in the background as Bard is brought to the foreground for much of the film.

If you managed to make it this far without wanting to hit me ... I give The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies 3.5 gp out of 5. It would be a 4.5 gp regular fantasy film, but considering it's Tolkien and Jackson and the writers have so needlessly butchered and re-arranged much of the good professor's works for "makes for better film and we need other characters bullspit", that I can't give any higher rating than that! :-)

But go see it, it's a rocking good film!