Monday, April 25, 2016

Races Revisited: Dwarves

I've been itching to redesign the core races for a while now.  Part of the reason is 5th edition with its really appealing broad-strokes approach to game design, and part of the reason is that Pathfinder is almost 10 years old, based on a system over 15 years old, and it is starting to collapse under its own weight.  In terms of character creation, playable races are the bread on which you build your open-faced sandwich of a character.  The toppings are the class and feats and other customization choices, and you can be as simple or as complex as you want with those, but underneath it all you need that bread to be characterful and easy to understand.  Sorry, that metaphor broke down quickly.  

What I'm trying to say is that I want the playable races to be as simple and evocative as possible.  They need to get across the core idea of the race without getting in the way with too many extraneous skill bonuses or abilities that function in instances so specific that you forget about them when the time comes to use them.  I'll start things off today with an easy one: the dwarf.

Montalore Bearbriar, by Kent Hamilton
Dwarves are easy because they are the most iconic of the fantasy races.  Authors, game designers, and world builders have played around with elves a lot, probably because Tolkien's holier-than-thou elves can get really tiresome outside of Middle Earth, but everyone seems to agree that dwarves are pretty good as is.  They live underground, love mining and treasure and alcohol, fight with axes, and have great big beards.  The idea of dwarves is so solidified in fantasy that even in worlds where the authors have deliberately tried to shake things up, dwarves often remain fairly unchanged.  Pathfinder's dwarves are pretty good, and the changes I've made to them are relatively few, but I believe I have streamlined and refined the dwarven race into a simpler and more fundamentally dwarven form here.

The following material given in gold text and its accompanying table is available as Open Game Content under the OGL.  Open Game Content is ©2016 Jonah Bomgaars.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Gods and Religions, Part 2: Death, Undeath, and the Afterlife

Death - it comes for us all, eventually.  Sorry, that's not how I usually start my articles.  Welcome to part II of Gods and Religions!  Usually, an adventurer's main interaction with death is in the dealing thereof, but sometimes - hopefully not too often - the characters get to meet death face-to-face.  If they are lucky enough and rich enough (or know a druid and aren't afraid to come back as a different species) they might even get to come back from the dead.  This can make death seem like just another game mechanic, but it is so much more important than that.

A religion's attitude towards death can have a profound effect on the beliefs and attitudes of the individual and on society as a whole.  And that's just in our world!  Imagine how much more important religious ideas about death become when the afterlife is not just a matter of belief but of verifiable fact (heck, you can just plane shift there!), when there are a number of spells that can bring the dead back to life, and when dead bodies returning as undead monstrosities is a very real danger.

With that in mind, there are some questions you need to ask yourself about death when you are creating the gods and religions of your world.  Questions like:

Can dying in a certain way have consequences for a soul?
Einherjar - brave souls who died in battle - are fêted by Valkyries in Valhalla. Walhall by Emil Doepler, via Wikimedia
Most belief systems have the concept of a 'good death' vs a 'bad death'.  Suicide, for instance, is often considered a bad death, but dying for your faith is a good death (see for example the many hundreds of early Christians who were martyred by pagans and became saints as a result).  For the ancient Greeks, drowning in the sea was a particularly bad death because your body often could not be recovered.  In most cases a good death means a fast track to the nice afterlife, but a bad death means a longer waiting period, or even being condemned to the shitty afterlife that no one wants to go to, even for a quick visit.  In pagan Norse belief, for instance, a brave death in battle might see you whisked by Valkyries up to the halls of Valhalla for an afterlife of feasting and drinking, or to the field of Fólkvangr where Freyja's hall of Sessrúmnir stands (and where women who die a noble death also go), but dying of disease or old age gets you sent to the dark halls of Hel.

Consider having the idea of a 'bad death' manifest mechanically in-game with tougher resurrection costs.  Maybe a character who dies in a way that their god considers 'bad' cannot be raised by the raise dead spell and require the more expensive resurrection or even true resurrection.  

At the very least, having a concept of a 'good death' vs a 'bad death' can affect the risks a believer might be willing to take.  With the promise of divine reward, maybe a character will be more willing to fight to the death in battle.  With the threat of a tougher afterlife, maybe that same character will be a little more cautious fighting at sea, where the risk of drowning and having their soul sucked into a black abyss is very real.  Or maybe a character dying of disease will throw themselves recklessly into battle in hopes of reaching a better afterlife.

Speaking of the afterlife...

Sunday, April 10, 2016

GotWK Campaign Part 8: Shut Your Drow Hole

This is an account of part 8 of my ongoing campaign set in my homebrewed wild west setting, Guns of the Western Kings.  Get caught up with the previous parts here.

When last we left our heroes, they had rescued Heather (the party healer)'s young daughter Annabelle from the fey realm.  There were some complications, of course.  For one thing, due to the fey realm's interesting relationship with time, Annabelle was now 17 years old instead of 8, which came as a surprise to Heather.  As did the revelation that Heather was a half-fey changeling (a homebrewed race currently in the playtesting stage), which went a long way toward explaining her ability to cast suggestion once per day as a spell-like ability.  During the process of rescuing Annabelle, the party managed to blow up an ancient tower by igniting a room full of a magical ammunition called firecorn, thereby thwarting the goblin king Hizendis' plot to conquer the fey realms, or whatever that little dude was trying to do.  But all of that has little bearing on this chapter of our adventure.  What you do need to know is that Theodore procured a snazzy new mithril great falchion from Annabelle's ogre guard, Heather's dryad mom gave everyone a magical oak leaf that will transform into a tree when they speak her name, and the party rogue Gudguníis is blind now, which makes him fairly unreliable as a sniper.  Also, when the party left the fey realm, they discovered they were an undisclosed amount of time in the future.

And now:

As the party emerges from the mighty oak tree, heads still spinning from the interplanar journey, they notice that, though they had left the woods at the height of summer, the trees are now bare and the ground marked by drifts of snow.  They have little time to absorb the change in surroundings before a hideous yowl smites the cold air.  A hungry mountain lion lopes out from the trees, picking up speed as it charges at the startled party.  Gudguníis takes a blind potshot at the big cat but manages only to scrape some bark off a nearby tree.  Heather opens fire with her own rifle and, thanks to her working eyes, fares much better than the blind rogue. Rusty hurls one of his alchemical bombs and scorches the cougar, and Theodore leaps into the fray with his mighty trident and finishes it off.  Our heroes are back in their home plane and ready to kick some ass.  And Fate, as usual, will soon present them with some ass to kick!

Friday, April 1, 2016

APRIL FOOLS - Dhampurr: Half-Catfolk, Half-Half-Vampire, All Badass

Yes, this was an April Fool's joke.  Please do not use this race in your games.  Check out d20 Despot's past April Fools Day posts, like this one about GMing for your significant other, or this one that featured the incredible Bismuth Behemoth and a sneak peak into the Expanded Elemental Bestiary!  Actually, those two are the only others so far.  Happy 3rd anniversary to me!

Dhampir, the enigmatic race of half-vampires (or vampyres, if you prefer) that make for great brooding anti-heroes.  Catfolk, the agile, spunky race of free-spirited rogues and tricksters.  Both are great race options for players that love to stand out from the pack at every turn.  But what happens when a dhampir and a catgirl fall in love?  Well, in celebration of d20 Despot's 3rd anniversary, I'm bringing you the dhampurr, half-catfolk, half-dhampir.  The dhampurr is a rare and special race that is bound to be a fixture of every adventuring party from now on.  Whether you are a player looking to make that perfect special character or a GM creating an awesome GMPC to carry your party through an epic adventure, the dhampurr is sure to keep everything revolving around you, just as it should be.

Phoenix Rain Nightshade, Priestess of the Dark Garden (Dhampurr Cleric/Druid)
One of the great things about the dhampurr race is that half of their ancestry is catfolk and half is half-vampire, but what's the other half-half? (That's a quarter for you math nerds.)  It adds a sense of mystery to an already great race, and leaves open a great opportunity for spicing up your character's backstory.  Are they one-quarter drow?  Tiefling?  Kender?  Could they even have the blood of a god running through their veins?  When you play a dhampurr, your destiny is what you make it!