Monday, December 15, 2014

Three Sentient Magic Items: a rough draft.

I have noted before that I have an aversion to simple magic items, particularly ubiquitous +1 weapons and the like. I dislike how they provide an escalating pile of bonuses, how dull they are, and how they become part of the implied power economy of the game. 

That said, magic items are fun to write up. I have been thinking of bringing in some magic items to the campaign, and I have started writing up some basic descriptions. These are rough drafts for the items thus far. They are all three intelligent items, sort of mini-artifacts for my campaign.

Nimal Yaad, Trident of the Sea Lords

Weapon (trident), rare (requires attunement)
This was an ancient weapon of the Sea Lords of Kania, a symbol of their rule. The Trident marks its carrier as a ruler, the captain of his vessel, and a merchant lord among his people. The Trident came to Estarion with early traders when the city was a minor trading outpost, and was used as a weapon in battle against the Three Sisters by Abdeshmun Zinn, who fought alongside the Avatar of Astarte when the Three Sisters first sought to conquer the land. Nimal Yaad was lost decades later when Behdoun raiders destroyed the temple of Yam and took the trident as spoils of war. It was later recovered by priests of Poseidon, where it became a holy relic of Poseidon until the trident disappeared in a war with the Parsian invader Xanaton the Younger.

·      You gain a +1 to attack and damage rolls with this magic weapon.
·      You gain advantage on Charisma checks while holding Nimal Yaad.
·      You gain proficiency on Intelligence checks to appraise goods.
·      While bearing Nimal Yaad, you can use an action to cause your voice to carry up to 300 feet until your next turn.

Sentience: Nimal Yaad is a lawful neutral weapon with an Intelligence of 8, a Wisdom of 10, and a Charisma of 14. The trident has hearing and normal vision out to 60 feet and communicates by transmitting emotions to the creature carrying or wielding it.

Personality: Nimal Yaad was built for glory. It will drive its user to feats of combat and glory if possible. Made to serve merchant-kings, the weapon is less a powerful combat weapon than a useful symbol of leadership.

The Harvester

Weapon (greataxe), rare (requires attunement)
Forged, it is said, by Dagon, god of grain and field, as a weapon to defend his worshipers from raiding tribes, this axe is blessed by the virgin goddess of war and violence, Anat. The Harvester is a double-bitted long axe covered with runes and symbols. It came to the region in the hands of the Kanian Paladin Niqmad, who drove out a nest of goblins to help found Selindra. The harvester was passed to Niqmad’s sons, and only disappeared as the Aquilans came to rule the region.

·      You gain a +1 to attack and damage rolls with this magic weapon.
·      The Harvester is a vicious weapon.
·      The Harvester is made with cold iron, silver, and magic.
·      The Harvester whispers warnings to its users of danger, giving him or her a +2 bonus to initiative.
·      The Harvester acts as a ring of protection +1 (+1 saves and armor class) while it is wielded.
·      The Harvester is unbreakable.

Sentience: The Harvester is a chaotic neutral weapon with an Intelligence of 10, a Wisdom of 12, and a Charisma of 10. The trident has hearing and normal vision out to 120 feet and communicates by transmitting emotions to the creature carrying or wielding it.

Personality: The Harvester is has a love of battle and danger. It is always ready to guide its owner into conflicts, and to seek out the most powerful foe it can. It is easily bored and generally pretty impatient. It tends to be suspicious of strangers.

The Robe of Shadows

The Robe, it is said, was woven by Hecate, and given as a gift to the merchant Estarius. The black robe is woven of spider silk and enchanted to be indestructible, always clean, able to adjust to whomever wears it. The robe disappeared years ago, and it has always been assumed it was stolen long ago.

·      The robe acts as a Cloak of Invisibility.
·      The robe acts as a Cloak of Protection.
·      Gleaming: the robe never gets dirty.
·      Unbreakable: the robe can’t be broken. Special means must be used to destroy it.\

Sentience: The Robe of Shadows is a chaotic neutral robe with an Intelligence of 12, a Wisdom of 12, and a Charisma of 8. The trident has hearing and darkvision out to 120 feet and communicates by speaking, reading, and understanding High Aquilan.

Personality: The robe is haughty and demanding. It sees itself as a tool of great wizards, and has a disdain for non-wizards. It tends to push its master to preserve him or herself at any cost, sees non-wizards as expendable, and wants to see it and its master properly adorned and presented. It is ambitious for its master and, by extension, for itself.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Languages in Estarion

One of my players wanted to know about the kinds of languages spoken in Estarion. I decided that in addition to the usual racial languages, there are several different human tongues:

High Aquilan
Automatic with Noble background.
Low Aquilan
This is “Common.” Those who speak Low Aquilan understand but do not speak High Aquilan.
Spoken by the indigenous Tarquai people of the region.
Spoken by the nomadic Behdoon tribesmen from the northwest.
Spoken by the seafaring merchants of the near east.
Spoken by the eastern Empire of Ferisia, an expansionist nation ruled by a sorcerer-king and boasting decadence, great scholarship, and highly organized government, the greatest rival to Aquila.
The language of the far-eastern empire of Cathay, known as merchants and bureaucrats.
The language of Western Kemric barbarians, known for their mystical connections to faeries, nature spirits, and natural lore.
The language of Western Goetic barbarians, known as strong, brutal warriors, mercenaries, and traders.

Estarion, Game 9

The heroes are called to the docks to fight an incursion of sahuagin and giant crabs (and sharks, but they are in the water). After a brutal fight, the sahuagin leave, but the whole thing stinks of a diversion, as attacks happened on the river and on the docks, but only minor damage is done. Also, Regga is caught watching them, with a realistic-looking eye necklace around her neck.

The heroes then learn that the temple of Astarte is on fire. They fight a group of magmin, see a night hag disappear from the basement, and find that a hidden tomb in the secret but now exposed sub-basement is empty. The night hag seems to have struck at the temple and stolen the contents of the tomb somehow before stepping sideways out of reality.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Estarion, Game 8

Another game without combat and heavy on the roleplay. That actually wasn't what I had planned, but these players constantly go left when I plan to go right.

Regrouping at the temple, Arturius brings back some friends, Timonitus the Invoker and Anakis the Tiefling Bard. The group began investigating further into the activities of the Cult of Orcus, but moving cautiously. They begin three investigations: one into the asylum of Marcellus Novus, one into the brothel of Tatiana Scaevola, and one into the city orphanage, running simultaneously.

At the Asylum, Timonitus and Jarret try to investigate, and Jarret manages to get a job there, playing off that he is an apprentice wizard with skills in medicine and an interest in studying physiology and life and death. After an interview and a day at work, Jarret has a sense of the layout of the asylum and is doing a bit of a dance with Marcellus to feel out the place. He does learn that the inmates seem to be well-preserved zombies, the guards are not necessarily human, either.

At the orphanage, Arturius and Carver learn that the orphans who died at the orphanage really did seem to die from the Penanggalan, and coordinate efforts of priests of Apollo and Hades to try to protect the place from undead attack. Meanwhile, Meadow learns that Herminia Cassius’ maid has bruises and seems to be hiding problems at the Cassius’ home. Herminia may be getting hangry.

Meanwhile, Anakis investigated the brothel. Identifying a mark who was a client at the brothel, Claudius Blandus, Minister of Ratcatchers. She tried to get a lead on employment to get inside the brothel, but Blandus was deeply nervous about her requests for employment if they began to stray near the brothel. An attempt by Meadow to join in pushes too hard and he leaves. But afterward, Anakis goes through a gift box Blandus leaves her and finds sweets, a bottle of perfume, and a creepy book of misogynistic sadistic “erotic” poetry. Skeeved out, she still meets him again, again with backup, and Blandus, seeming distant, says he can get her an appointment with an employer and takes her to Scaevola’s brothel. Anakis talks her way out of being assassinated, and ends up instead being hired to spy on Arturius and his ragtag group. Anakis also finds more reasons to be suspicious of the brothel.

Meanwhile, the party jumps Blandus and tries to convince him to talk, but he’s too scared of Scaevola to do so. Eventually, they off him and make it look as if the last remaining wererats from the Rat Cult got to him, and fence some of his goods in a disguise to help confound their role in his murder.

Next game, the city will be in trouble, and there will be a combat-heavy game.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

D&D's Magic Item Problem

In the days from OD&D through AD&D 2nd edition, magic items were an essential part of the game. Not only did magic items differentiate characters, but they filled in important abilities such as extending spellcasting for magic-users and clerics, overcoming the immunity of magical creatures to normal weapons, or granting special abilities to characters.

However, starting with specialization, non-weapon proficiencies and kits in AD&D 2nd edition and skills and weapon mastery in Rules Cyclopedia D&D, versions of D&D began to provide more flexibility, power and differentiation than in the past. By the time 3rd edition rolled around, characters were more able to customize, easier to multi-class, and could toss around more spells. Plus magic items became easier to make, particularly wands, scrolls and potions. The reasons for using magic items diminished, but the availability of magic items increased, making them basically assumed in the balance of power. This continued through 4th edition, and overall this made the fantasy games in D&D feel less and less like the genre fiction.

One of the things I like about 5th edition is the reduction of the reliance on magical weapons. While people online may complain about the new magic item creation rules, my thoughts are: 1) in my day, Uncle Gary gave us almost no rules on magic items— you were expected to go out and earn your magic items; and 2) the prevalence of magic items in D&D has always been annoying and totally out of character with the genre. If it takes forever to make scrolls, potions and wands, that's a good thing. Your spell-caster has at-will abilities and, from my perspective, good number of more powerful spells per day. But honestly, having a character laden with magical weapons, wands, and the like seems out of step with the fantasy fiction model we are supposedly emulating, where magic swords or cloaks or whatnot are typically rare and powerful if they exist. Certainly Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser or Conan didn't whip out their magical swords and potions all the time.

Currently, there are no magical items in my campaign. I'm more likely to introduce magical items with a twist than a basic sword +1 such as an intelligent weapon or an artifact; or magic items with limited uses or specific applicability. That seems more like the genre fiction I grew up on.