Monday, July 27, 2015

Snake Attack! Snake Venoms Revisited

Raiders of the Lost Ark - Paramount Pictures
"Snakes.  Why'd it have to be snakes?"
"Asps.  Very dangerous... You go first!"

I was researching snake venom recently (as part of my ongoing effort to make my search history as incriminating as possible) and decided snake venom in Pathfinder needed to be revised.  Venomous snake bites in Pathfinder all have the same effect - Constitution damage.  In reality, venomous snakes bear neurotoxins that slowly paralyze their prey, hemotoxins that cause tissue decay and uncontrollable bleeding, and mixes of the two, with dendrotoxins and cytotoxins and other heinous crap thrown in for good measure.

Dexterity damage seems like a good choice to simulate neurotoxic paralysis, and Strength damage and Bleed work well for Hemotoxins.  A few choice status effects like 'sickened' and 'nauseated' serve to simulate the wide range of other symptoms snake bites can induce, including rashes, dizziness, tunnel vision, soreness, and, of course, nausea.

Snake venom is slower-acting and longer-lasting than what the viper stat block would have you believe.  I made the frequency for most snake venoms "1/minute" instead of "1/round", but where many snake venoms may last "for six rounds", my venoms are endless.  You gotta make those saves or you will die ...eventually.  That means a fight against snakes at the dungeon entrance might still be affecting you deeper in the dungeon.

There are two main types of venomous snake: vipers, which include rattlesnakes, adders, and pit vipers; and elapids, which include cobras, coral snakes, mambas, kraits, and sea snakes.  Elapids tend to have neurotoxins, with the more dangerous ones (black mambas, for example) having a sprinkling of other toxins.  Water snakes are neurotoxic, but because you are most likely to encounter them while swimming (a Strength-based skill), I made their venom deal Strength damage to heighten the danger.  Vipers, on the other hand, usually have hemotoxins.  Hemotoxins are slower-acting than neurotoxins (I gave them a frequency of 1/hour instead of 1/minute), so vipers tend to strike and fall back, tracking down their victim later, after they have succumbed to the poison.  Fun fact: vipers can track their prey by the smell of the chemicals in their bites.  Scarier vipers, like the mojave rattlesnake, also have neurotoxins in their bite.

I've also added a new mechanic to add variable degrees of failure to saves against venom.  Now, if you fail your save, you take the venom's effects, but if you fail your save by 5 or more, you take a worse set of effects.  For instance, a coral snake's venom deals 1d2 Dex damage, but a failure by 5 or more leaves you paralyzed until your next save.

Enough discussion.  Like cardiotoxin, let's get right to the heart of the matter.

The following rules and poisons in gold are available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars and d20 Despot.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Not so Black and White: In Defense of the Alignment System

"Always consider alignment as a tool, not a straitjacket that restricts the character.  Although alignment defines general attitudes, it certainly doesn't prevent a character from changing his beliefs, acting irrationally, or behaving out of character.
- 2nd Edition AD&D Player's Handbook

"Each alignment represents a broad range of personality types or personal philosophies,
so two lawful good characters can still be quite different from each other.
- D&D 3.5 Player's Handbook

What is your GM's alignment?
There is a current of thought in the RPG-playing community that D&D's classic nine-part, Good-Evil/Law-Chaos alignment system is outdated, overly simplistic, restrictive of roleplaying, or just plain bad.  This is not a new complaint - it has been around since the first time a GM who had just learned about moral relativism in his Philosophy 101 class looked at his group's paladin and said, "Well in this country it's illegal to not kill babies.  What are you going to do?"  To this day, there are GMs out there who pull out all the stops to make every paladin fall just because they think Lawful Good is an unattainable alignment.

When you are told, "Here are the nine things you can think.  Have fun roleplaying!", then yes, that seems overly restrictive.  But that view of the alignment system is overly simplistic (Ironic that accusations of being overly simplistic themselves come from an overly simplistic view.  And doubly ironic that I am presenting such a view in an overly simplistic manner.  But let's continue, before I am buried under a pile of my own straw-men).  Alignment is really a two-axis spectrum broken down into nine parts for ease of use.  Different viewpoints are possible within any given alignment, not just between two adjacent alignments.  And it is possible for a Lawful Good character and a Chaotic Good character to see eye-to-eye on a situation, just as it is possible for two Lawful Neutral characters to have completely different takes on the same situation.

It is important to think of the alignment system as descriptive, not proscriptive.  That is, the thoughts and actions of your character define your alignment, your alignment doesn't define the thoughts and actions of your character.  The alignment written on your character sheet is a measure of your character's actions to this point, or perhaps represents the goal that your character strives for.  Furthermore, a character's position on the alignment spectrum is fluid, not fixed.  It is constantly shifting about as he or she makes new decisions, is confronted with new choices, and has moments of introspection.  A Lawful Evil character may slip up with a few Chaotic (or even Good) acts before steering back to LE.  Some of the best roleplaying moments can come from a character's journey through a change in alignment.  After all, what is drama without character development?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Late Post This Week

Greetings loyal readers and first-time viewers!  This week I am writing a column about the alignment system.  Unfortunately, it has been so hot out recently that neither my brain nor my computer have been functioning properly (and I have to prep for tonight's Guns of the Western Kings session), so the blogpost won't be going up until... let's say Tuesday.

See you then!

Hey, did you know that it's been one year since d20 Despot joined Patreon?  If you like what I do and want to reward me for doing it, please consider becoming my patron.  You can give as little or as much as you want, and there are settings that let you limit how much you give per month so you don't go over your budget.

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-your heat-sick d20 despot

Monday, July 13, 2015

Critical Hit Tables - Scaling Crits for Weapons and Spells

Critical Hit!  Those two words can make or break a tough battle, depending on what side of the GM's screen they come from.  Recent editions of D&D have tried to simplify crits, making them deal max damage every time.  If you are like me, that's no fun.  Getting a critical hit is all about rolling on tables to see what crazy thing happens.  Will someone's armor get broken?  Will someone lose an eye?  Dare I mention the fabled instant death critical?

My main impetus for making these tables was my growing frustration with the GameMastery Critical Hit Deck.  Too often would a player draw a result that was less than spectacular, or didn't make sense in the situation, and it was easy to forget to step-up the damage result if the weapon had a x3 or x4 crit value.  Plus, should 'Severed Spine' and 'Lip Cut' really have the same 1-in-52 chance of turning up?  When it comes down to it, it's a lot more satisfying to roll dice on a table than to draw a card.

This set of critical hit tables is built with the assumption that you will be using weapons with x2, x3, and x4 crits, with higher crit values providing better chances of getting better crits.  If you are lucky, you'll get to roll for an additional effect on one of three separate tables (one for each damage type: bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing), with effects ranging from 'Bad Bruise' and 'Disarm' to 'Punctured Lung' and 'Temporary Amnesia'.  Plus, there's a Magic Crit table, with results broken up by spell level (0-2, 3-5, and 6-9), because what kind of GM would I be if I didn't give you a chance of summoning a gelatinous cube every time you cast scorching ray?

Enough preamble; let's take a look at these tables!  Below, you'll also find guidelines for their use, and optional rules to make things even better.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Monster Monday: Draugr - Hulking Undead Viking

Today's Monster Monday is a draugr, the powerful undead of norse folklore that can enlarge itself and crush a horse to death.

photo by Geoff Dallimore, via Wikimedia
A burial mound - probably chock full of draugar
I recently returned from honeymoon in Iceland, where I spent a lot of time reading about Icelandic mythology and folklore (because that's what you do on honeymoon).  It reminded me of my pledge in a previous article to "stat up a real draugr for a Monster Monday sometime."  Draugr, you may have noticed, have already been statted up for Pathfinder twice (once in Bestiary 2 by Paizo, once in the awesome Tome of Horrors by Frog God Games).  The problem with these is that they have almost nothing to do with draugr legends.  The draugar of Bestiary 2 are just waterlogged zombies that nauseate with their attacks.  At least they pay lip-service to their viking origins by giving them greataxes, which, while not strictly Viking weapons, are at least more Vikingy than the cutlasses the Tome of Horrors draugar are armed with.  "Yarr, matey, I be a draugr!  Bring me Cap'n Jack Sparrow!"

I suggest calling those draugar 'drowned dead' to distinguish them from the scarier, more well-researched draugar I'm about to present to you.  The draugar you find in Icelandic sagas and folklore are more than just waterlogged zombies - in fact, all the draugar I know of stalked the land, not the high seas.  Draugar can change their size to become massive, are strong enough to break every bone in a horse's body, and are devilishly hard to get rid of.  They are solitary undead, but they can make their presence known across whole communities with their deadly hauntings.  Only the bravest heroes dare pit their strength against a mighty draugar and live to tell the tale.

The following text in gold is available as Open Game Content under the OGL. Open Game Content is ©2015 Jonah Bomgaars.