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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Rule of Dice

Here's a quick little post to talk about my personal rule for all of the dice-using RPGs I've GMed so far, that I have developed over years through trial and error:

Rule of Dice: If it's impossible or guaranteed in the available time, you shouldn't have to roll for it.

Let's break down what this means:

  • If what a character is trying to do is impossible, they shouldn't even get to roll.
  • If a character would definitely succeed in something, they don't even have to roll.
  • If it's only a question of rolling high enough and there's nothing stopping the character from rolling over and over again, they get to succeed automatically.
  • "[...], you shouldn't have to roll for it." This is the most important bit to me. It means that the DM shouldn't just have the player roll their die pointlessly if they can't succeed, or can't fail. Because if they roll a 20, and they fail anyway, that sucks. I personally as a DM communicate this to my players when it's relevant, for example "You don't need to roll the die to try to kick the troll to the moon, you automatically fail because I know your bonus to the roll is too low" (of course, not this verbose every time it occurs). If a player really insists on rolling, well then they can go ahead, but they already know my answer without even involving a die.

What does this rule do:

  • Removes unneeded die rolls, saving time.
  • Removes some cases of unfulfilled expectations.
  • Keeps the game a little more grounded.

D&D Role play crit fail 20, by Blanca Vidal

At the end of the day though, you should play the game how you want. If your table likes moments like when a dwarf rolling down a hill rolls a natural 20 multiple times in a row and begins to fly against all known laws of aviation, or you all enjoy the sound of math rocks going click-clack (I know I like the sound), then I say go for it! I'm just here to formulate this into a proper rule to help anyone who was searching for it.

Whether you agree or disagree, I hope you'll have a good day! :)

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Runehack: World Primer

I'm afraid I'm burned out on tabletop RPGs in general at the moment. I've tried multiple things, but nothing really satisfies me at the moment. That's why I think I'll change the pace a little bit for the near future: I'll try to keep up the Villainous Cookbooks and maybe work on one other RPG idea I had, but at the same time, I've decided I'll write up further details on my setting of Runehack. If it sounds familiar, that's because more than a year ago, I've made the first concept of it public by writing an article about it. It's time for me to start combing through my ideas and making a more unified image of that world.


Font name: Black and White

Premise

I should begin with a starting premise of this setting for a clear vision of what I go for.

Runehack is a fantasy cyberpunk/post-cyberpunk world filled with technology, city-states, and massive monsters. What was originally a classical fantasy world has been one day invaded by the Apex Predators — massive monstrosities with an unknown origin. Due to the mortal threats outside, the civilizations were forced to create walled-off city-states, and to invent solutions for their problems using the power of runes. Centuries later, they came up with intricate rune-powered mechanisms that allow them to communicate, travel, and do many other things. The two richest corporations have bought small companies, big companies, and eventually even the whole city-states. Only a few independent kingdoms remain, and it's only the kingdoms that have a resource that lets them generate enough income to be able to refuse being bought. But a new problem is brewing out of the public eye: great evils are making their way into the world, bestowing people with magic that works mysteriously without runes.

 

Possible and Unknown

Due to the runes powering the world, it's worth listing things they're capable of. I'll add to this list the one made-up ore present in this world.

  • Detection: detecting inputs perceivable by humanoid senses* (and detecting the state of other detection runes),
  • Illusions: producing illusory sensations perceivable by humanoid senses*, either on an individual basis or everyone and everything equally,
  • Telekinesis: moving matter,
  • Encryption: concealing information from anyone who hasn't read, heard, or spoken the password,
  • and volerite, an ore that's not powered or related in any way to runes, and it's known for its property of falling upwards.

* The humanoid senses are the following: sight, hearing, smell and taste, temperature, touch, and time. Smell and taste, due to how interconnected they are, are treated as one and the same within this system. Time is at the moment known only for the purposes of detection.

What's been made using the above principles:

  • Runebooks and runecards, which are basically computers and smartphones respectively, except the interfaces are illusory and no extra hardware is necessary. Runecards have smaller memory and slightly worse components. One doesn't even need to interact with it by opening or holding it, since the illusion of an interface is not restricted in any way to the surface of the device, which is why it usually surrounds the person. They can be controlled to an extent with gestures and voice commands too.
  • Volerite vehicles. Friction is a mess that slows things down, so the engineers have figured out a way to make vehicles that are not restricted to moving on the ground. In combination with the telekinesis runes, the vehicle can keep a constant altitude up to a certain carrying capacity, and within those boundaries, it can also move up and down, as well as be driven like a regular vehicle. However, riding too high up without a proper license is considered a crime in most cities.
  • Mistweb and wireless communication. Pretty much the internet of the world thanks to the fact that an illusion from one rune could be detected by another, and there's virtually no maximum distance to them. The domain names are stored within the Tower present in each city.
  • Runebots. A fully mechanical humanoid that's one of the races present in the world. Some of them barely register as sentient, others are fully self-aware. The exact process in which they have been created as they are is unknown to most.
  • Nexus. Pretty much the default virtual reality within the world. 

What's not widely known but possible:

  • Electric machinery. The people of this world are aware of the bolts of lightning, and roughly how they work, but they never saw the need to develop the technology based on them.
  • Mind-reading. Runes that detect touch can detect electricity, and since the brain sends electrical signals around, someone who develops algorithms for learning how to understand humanoid thoughts could in fact read minds when calibrated.
  • Time illusions. The biggest issue with the time illusions is that they share little similarity to the time detection runes and that they only change how you perceive time. Unless you employ the use of telekinetic runes, you would also move slower, think slower, etc. There is a way to speed up your body to apparently not change in relation to the illusion of slower time you're experiencing, but it will put a huge strain on your muscles and mind, likely causing harm.
  • Eldritch magic. One example of the power provided by the great evils from beyond this world is shapeshifting. One would suspect it's an illusion, but it's actual reality. Even after the shapeshifter dies, the new form persists, and it holds up to any physical inspections in any regard other than the brain. Any other kinds of magic are for now not fully defined, so I'll keep them to myself.
  • Runetech implants. Due to the electricity and mind-reading being largely unknown, any implants at the moment would have to be controlled with voice commands, gestures, or different means, being thus rather impractical. Once the mind-reading technology would get good enough though, the biotechnological revolution could begin.

The races of humanoids present in this world are dwarf, elf, fairy, goblin, human, orc, and previously mentioned inorganic runebot. I'll be honest, at the moment I don't know how many differences will there be between these races when it comes to their biology, with the exception of fairy (minuscule winged humanoid) and runebot for obvious reasons.



So, what do I need to do next? Before I start rewriting my novel, I should figure out some more details of the world itself. At the moment, I don't have a world map. I only have a couple of city-state names, the megacorporations, some smaller factions present in one way or another in the city-states, I've got some inventions and a bigger threat that comes from outside the world. I think it would be best to write out stuff I make up here on my blog as I keep on going, and once I think I've dealt with all of the shortcomings of Runehack, I can rewrite the draft, and possibly start my search for a publisher.

I hope you've enjoyed reading all of this, and that you find Runehack interesting. Thank you, and I wish you a very nice day!


Friday, January 8, 2021

Villainous Cookbook: The Dreamfiend Master

Howdy! Cults are a big part of D&D's lore, which is why I've tried my hand at making an ideal cult leader in the fantasy context for today's article. It's actually one of the earlier concepts for villains, conceived roughly around the same time as the Superb Exemplar. One big thing that I wanted to wait with this one for, though, was Tasha's Cauldron of Everything, an exciting new sourcebook you've surely heard of. I don't really use it too much in this build in particular, but one never knows how much stuff can be found in it. I can tell already that TCE has created at least two of my next builds, and changed up some stuff too. Let's see where this build goes!
Also, while at it, I decided to shorten the Preface section to raise the chances of people reading it.

Preface

  • My goal is to make an interesting villain using the player options found in the official rules of D&D 5th edition, oftentimes also using homebrew options.
  • The goal is not to make a villain who deals the highest amount of damage. This is not the right place for that discussion.
  • I will leave some details out to let the DMs adjust the villain to their preferences. Ability scores are one of them.
  • To emulate character development, I will only make character builds at levels 4, 10, 16, and 20. Players should be at best equal to the villain's tier, optimally at a lower tier.
  • Limitations breed creativity. But I will bend the rules if it makes the villain more interesting.
  • If it seems overpowered, it could be because of rulebending (see the point above), or because I'm mixing homebrews that were not balanced with each other in mind.

Great, let's get into it!

The Dreamfiend Master

“There are many who don't wish to sleep for fear of nightmares. Sadly, there are many who don't wish to wake for the same fear.”
― Richelle Goodrich, Dandelions: The Disappearance of Annabelle Fancher

Fun fact: You can't kill a nightmare.
Nightmare, by nakanoart

Ingredients List

  • Scourge Aasimar race (Volo's Guide to Monsters)
  • Bard 18: College of Glamour (Xanathar's Guide to Everything)
  • Cleric 2: Secrets Domain (Yorviing's Homebrew)

Tier 1

The beginning of this one is rather simple since at the moment they can't do things we really want them to do. The aasimar should be flavored as a good one, at least until the transformation happens, which should only happen when they get desperate, or overly confident they can't be found out. One of our levels goes into the cleric, choosing the Secrets domain. With this domain, we get two extra skills to start with, as well as an ability to detect hidden creatures, concealed objects, and secret codes or messages, at least as long as the master is not blinded or deafened. Extra nice is the fact that they get disguise self and illusory script as automatically prepared. Another very useful thing for us is Wisdom and Charisma saving throw proficiencies. Of course, assume that the spellcasting ability for the cleric is Charisma instead of Wisdom within this build to get the maximum usage out of your stats.

The other three levels will go into bard, giving us one extra skill proficiency, ability to boost other people's stats, roll well with all skills the master is not proficient in, and of course spells, as well as the first features of the Glamorous bard. Enthralling Performance could be reflavored as giving an inspiring speech regarding putting a stop to the Dreamfiend, at least once it actually comes into the existence. Mantle of Inspiration is ideal for motivating your followers into action.

Sidenote: While we're on the topic of cleric and Secrets, let's allow them to cast all of their spells, both cleric and bardic ones, with the divine symbol. If you choose to play them as a follower of some deity, the deity should be something neutral that's both about secrets, but also about protecting others, justice, or healing in general. You could also have them worship no deity, and instead flavor them as someone wholeheartedly dedicated to stopping the Dreamfiend. At least, once it shows up. But the point is: casting with a divine symbol instead of a musical instrument will make them look more serious, and also more legitimate to the players. They won't guess that this person is a villain to be made.

As always, assume the Master will stay in the background, for now, gathering information and potential targets to take down, as well as their possible body parts, hairs, and other things that could assist in the spellcasting.


Tier 2

Time to bring in the main subject of this build, but not before another sweet treat. With six levels of bard, the master Mantle of Majesty. With this ability, the master can cast command as a bonus action for 10 turns in a row, once per long rest. This is awesome, especially if they had some roguish follower that they could charm in order to command them to Attack every turn while threatened to effectively double their Sneak Attack.

Now then, time for the Dreamfiend! Some of you might have figured this out already, but I'll begin with a small description just to cue the rest in. Dreamfiend is a monster that visits the poor innocent people, and occasionally even powerful not-so-innocent people, in their nightmares. It terrorizes them for a lengthy time, and can't really be tracked or fought off. Strangely, it will not visit elves, or other creatures that don't dream, such as the kalashtar.

In order to work properly, the Dreamfiend Master needs to choose the spell dream. Every night, while somewhere private (rope trick magical secret maybe?), the master will cast this spell to terrorize their target of choice. Due to the way the Dreamfiend works, they won't gain the benefits of a long rest from this sleep. And if a creature goes too long without gaining these benefits, they'll gain one level of exhaustion. If this doesn't stop, the Dreamfiend will invade their dreams over and over, forcing them to slowly wither until dead, unless... it joins the Dreamfiend Master's cult.

I leave it up to you how this organization presents itself to others. Personally, however, I would try to make it into a positive society. Not one of fear and hopelessness despite the fact Dreamfiend literally can't be killed. Instead, it's a society that seeks justice in its defeat, helps those who need help (possibly with the master using their healing hands too), and learning as much as they can about the Dreamfiend.

This might also be a good time to consider picking up nondetection. The longer you'll do this, the more likely you are to draw attention, so you better be ready to hide.


Tier 3

Alright! Time to get our last level of cleric, and five more levels of bard. Doing this lets us pick up the Unbreakable Majesty, a powerful defensive ability that forces creatures who want to attack you to make a Charisma saving throw. On a failure, it must attack someone else, on a success, it gets to make an attack, but also has disadvantage on the next saving throw against a spell the master casts. It lasts only for one minute though and can be used once per short rest, so understandably it's only for times of emergency.

With the one level of cleric, we get our Channel Divinity. With a failed Charisma saving throw, it lets you learn about one thing that angers or frightens the creature, one thing it wants, or one secret of its that's relevant to you in some way. It doesn't work on creatures immune to being charmed, but luckily the creature won't be aware of it regardless of whether it fails or succeeds on the save.


Tier 4

Four more levels of bard let us pick up further spells and magical secrets, and increases the size of the master's bardic inspiration to its maximum size. Just to quickly list some spells that could be interesting, Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion could provide a hiding place, as well as food for up to one hundred people, letting you have a massive cult (even better considering the fact that since this is multiclass of fullcasters, the master can cast this spell even twice per day), project image keeps a distance between the master and any pesky adventurers, and resurrection means the party might hesitate about suspecting the Dreamfiend Master, even better if they're willing to provide them for a small fee, as long as they also provide the necessary material component. Glibness is an essential spell for anyone who wants to make a cult in the world of D&D, and it's also brutally useful within combat since it lets the master basically automatically succeed on ability checks as part of the counterspell. Mind blank makes them seem less suspicious, demiplane makes an actual secret hideout, and most of the 9th level spells speak for themselves.

Feats

The master gets to pick two feats during Tier 2, one feat during Tier 3, and one feat during Tier 4. One of the key things to consider is how fast can they react in combat. Plenty of their options require the master to start early, so I'd recommend picking up Alert feat. Eldritch and Metamagic Adept are both very nice choices that you might want to consider picking up since they provide plenty of options I don't even feel like describing here. Magic Initiate is free spells, Fey Touched means free escape button, and Inspiring Leader is cool for anyone with followers. Lucky is self-explanatory, and finally, Telekinetic and Telepathic are both neat, but not necessary.

The Power of the Cult

The Dreamfiend Master, unlike any of the previous villains, is explicitly stated to be a type that gathers the following. Managing those is simple enough really, just make them cultists, but I wanted to give one more suggestion. What if those who reach a high enough rank of power could be bestowed a supernatural ability by the Master without even knowing? While this isn't anything a player by default could achieve, I'm including it as a homebrew extra that would add extra juice and danger to the master.

Dreamfiend Proxy (Recharges after a Long Rest). Whenever this creature begins a long rest, it casts the dream spell. When cast this way, the spell targets one creature that doesn't belong to the cult that this creature dislikes the most, the messenger can only appear monstrous, and it can't converse with the target. The spell uses the Dreamfiend Master's spell attack bonus and save DC, and the spell treats the creature who released it as the caster for all other purposes.

Powerful? Absolutely. But bear in mind this is not something to be handed just to anyone who asks for it, this is the kind of power reserved only for the most loyal. Neither is this something that the follower knows about.

The more the following of this organization grows, the more influence it can hold over the world. This boon just makes it easier.


"Every face you can see in your dreams is the face of someone you've seen before. Anyone who shows their face to others puts them to risk. Please, join us if you wish to stop the Dreamfiend and save lives."
Endless Legend provides a couple artworks for a more unsettling depiction of the cultists that I just had to show here. Also, I swear this being a metaphor for the virus is unintentional. This image and an alternative depiction was just an afterthought.
Cultists Quest step1 1, by A-u-R-e-L

Thank you for reading my article about another villain, as well as their cult. I hope you've enjoyed it, that this was inspiring, and I wish you a nice day!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Roamer, v1.0

 Howdy! Yesterday I posted my first homebrew of 2021, and I almost forgot to repost it here, so... time to fix that!

Roamer is my attempt at a biker artificer that's part of my updated version of Manual of the Ancient Internet. The idea for this subclass started as a joke, where I figured that since artificers can use artisan tools for spellcasting, maybe they could also use vehicles. While the logic of it is silly, more and more I saw people demanding it, so I tried to patch over any remaining flaws, and posted it to Reddit. Not 24 hours have passed, and the post has become my highest rated homebrew posted to Reddit. I did not expect this kind of response at all, so I'm thankful to everyone who liked the first iteration. That being said, the iteration was far from perfect.


So the big question is, how to improve this? Sadly, I'm afraid I'll have to overhaul most of it.

  • I'll have to swap out phantom steed, sleet storm, and Rary's telepathic bond for different spells. Hopefully, I'll find something more fitting for a biker theme.
  • It seems that it might be for the best to convert the drifter from an object into a creature. It would work much better with mounted combat, it would probably also be easier to target with spells and effects, and hey maybe I could even fit an ability to talk in there so that any potential dreams of a Knight Rider could be realized easier.
  • One possibility would be to merge Roadkill into Drifter with toned down damage, and then come up with something new for Roadkill. I do have some ideas, but I'll see.
  • The drifter needs to be faster than an average human that takes the Dash action.


I'll see when I get to fix it. It's playable at the moment, just not really compatible with the mounted combat and not as exciting as other artificer subclasses due to a rather underwhelming 3rd level. Before I really get to fixing it, I'll need to finish my work on the other content to be included in the Manual of the Ancient Internet:

  • Artificer Specialization: Roamer
  • Bardic College: ???
  • Martial Archetype: Virtual Guardian
  • Iconic Archetype: ???
  • Monastic Tradition: Way of the Hand and Eye
  • Sacred Oath: ???
  • Ranger Archetype: ???
  • Otherworldly Patron: ???
  • and finally, updated rules for creation and piloting of your own mecha.

Some of these names I'll keep to myself for now, since they're not certain just yet, and a bit of a surprise for now. I have also considered writing up a section on custom spells, as well as feats and maybe extra lore, possibly some monsters, but I don't think I have enough content to write up with those in mind just yet so don't expect them to show up in the next version.

Until then, I should get back to working on the Villainous Cookbook. Thank you for reading, and have a nice day!

Friday, January 1, 2021

Review of my 2020

Howdy! I was inspired by a similar post of a fellow blogger of mine to look back at how I did last year, so today it's time to do a more laid back relaxed post rather than something directly related to RPGs.


How was 2020

First up, some boring statistics. Last year, I've had 8,38K views on this blog, which is a surprise even to me. I remember how back in the days when I started writing here, I was happy that my total number of views was four thousand, so to see this number makes me pretty happy. The average number of views per post is 183,85, which I consider a whole lot, even if some of the posts skew this number. I think the number of views has increased thanks to three main reasons.

  1. I have shared my blog more often on discord.
  2. I have linked my blog with every recent homebrew I've done.
  3. One of my posts has been pinned on Pinterest, since the source of that particular photoshopped image is on my blog.

One of the cooler things that I've done this year was the beginning of my Villainous Cookbook series on this blog. It feels like I've found something I could really dig into and write about more than once. There seem to be people out there who have been inspired by these, so I think I'll try to come up with a few more.

When it comes to sharing homebrews here, I... still don't do on this blog as well as I hoped I would, and I feel like I should apologize for that. I've made 16 homebrew posts on the /r/UnearthedArcana, and out of those only one has shown up on the blog at roughly the same time as I've published it there. Then again, my blog features multiple homebrew ideas that are not featured on the subreddit just yet, some of which might never really appear there.

I have entered the year with a D&D campaign that was ongoing. Unfortunately, over the Christmas year ago, we've got all burned out on it, so we figured we should start anew. The new campaign has started shortly before the quarantines, and once those have started, ... the campaign has slowly begun to die out. None of us was really used to playing D&D online, it just didn't feel right. What's more, I have come to learn that it's a lot harder for the DM to prepare it. Over time, doubts in my own capabilities combined with prep crunch and some very underwhelming games caused me to announce to my players a hiatus. A hiatus that will probably never really end. I've been on this hiatus for a couple months now, I've already lost count of how many.

Due to that same burnout, I've also grown more curious about other RPGs. I've looked a bit into Fate, Amber Diceless RPG, a micro hack of Blades in the Dark, and most importantly since I have actually played a game in it as opposed to the other two, Tavern Tales RPG. There are more systems out there, and while I still feel that I'd enjoy more making my own than reading a new one, I've learned some new things by reading already existing systems others have made. I've tried to make some RPG systems of my own this year too, but I can tell at least one of them will get a complete overhaul in the near future written up.

To finish this part on an upside, I participated in the NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. The goal for anyone participating in this challenge is to write a novel with more than 50K words over the month of November. Besides writing a couple of short stories and posts on this blog, as well as homebrews, I don't actually have experience writing long stories like that, but I figured after years of preparation, it's my time to attempt it. I can say with confidence, that I have succeeded, finishing the last of the words on November 23rd, one week ahead of the deadline. It was an exciting experience that I originally wanted to talk about more in-depth, but came to realize over time that there isn't all that much to talk about. Instead, I'd surely like to develop the world this novel takes place in, and maybe write more articles about it here.


Goals and Hopes for 2021

I want to improve, so let's see what New Year Resolutions I can make!

Homebrew. While I wouldn't consider it reasonable to put numerical goals on my own homebrews that are completely new, seeing how it's difficult to get new ideas on command, I would like to at least update either more than 3 subclasses or at least 1 compendium of mine. I'm kind of bad at returning to my old homebrews in a timely manner in order to update them, so we'll see how this goes. At the same time, the brews I make I would like to brand with my logo and repost on the blog if I remember to.

Blog. I want to make at least one post every month without counting the posts describing homebrews I publish. Hopefully, the total number of posts (including homebrew ones) is going to be higher than ever before.

Villainous Cookbook. I've got at least 4 ideas for the next entries in this series, so ideally I'd love to publish each of them, and then find some way of compiling all of these in a big compendium so that they're easier to read through and refer to in the future.

Novel. I would like to go through the first draft of my NaNoWriMo novel and fix up some of the errors, plus finish one of the chapters so that I could pass it to the proofreaders.

Runehack. I want to write some articles here about the setting my novel takes place in, as I've said before, in order to develop it further. Any potential spoilers will either be hidden or completely omitted. Another potential article I've considered is a preview of the novel itself, but I can't make any promises of that being ready this year.

Feedback. I know my blog has no comments, so I figured I should lead by example. When I read a blog post, I'll try my best to leave a comment on it. Unless I just have to make a completely new account to do so. I don't expect this to change anything about my blog, but it's a change that could hopefully make me personally better in giving feedback to others.

Game. I want to get back into playing a campaign. I could perhaps start writing a couple of articles on the D&D setting I've worked out, to describe the steps I've taken, and maybe even my sources of inspiration. One big thing I'll have to make up my mind on is whether I want to keep on playing with my current party or find a new one. Another is, what kind of system do I play this game in? My current party has told me they prefer D&D, at least over a system like Tavern Tales. But maybe a new party could be more open to something new.


I think that could do it, at least for my goals related to tabletop RPGs, homebrews, and this blog. I'm happy about how much work I've got done last year, and I feel like I could do at least some of these this year. I have several homebrews in my workshop almost ready for publishing, several villains to write up recipes for as I mentioned before, and a world that's almost ready for a campaign, with a very very basic concept of a game to take place in it (that could definitely use more details).

As a final note, I hope you'll accept my small gift to you all. Someone asked me the other week about why I'm bothering with writing a blog, and one of the reasons I gave was that I like to revisit my old ideas at times. One such article, the one that talked about the souls, has reminded me of a very old idea I had. Hearts, sources of magic for each plane of existence, as an alternative to the Weave. Since I wanted these to be extremely powerful, I figured I should make them so. Two days ago, I have posted one as a way of wishing the community Happy New Year, so it's time to present it to you all too. Please welcome the Heart of the Material, the source of the Material Plane's magic that grows more powerful the older it gets!



I hope you all had good Christmas as well as holidays in general, and I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year 2021!

Friday, December 25, 2020

Slasher Oneshot System

 Merry Christmas and happy holidays, everyone!

The topic of this article is something I've wanted to do for almost a year, ever since I've run my Halloween oneshot last year. But only recently did I get inspired to try to make it into a system of its own. Originally, it was a D&D 5e hack, created to trim 5e of any unnecessary fat. I figured I could do better, and so I've turned it into its own system! Some hints of 5e are left in there, but I don't think it makes the system any less valuable.

Why right now and not on Halloween? Because I was busy, and I didn't have inspiration for that beforehand. If you want a funny reason, it's because I'm a programmer, and programmers tend to mistake DEC25 for OCT31.

Hopefully next year I'll get something more thematic for Christmas, and maybe even other holidays. Thank you all for reading, and enjoy your time spent with those you care about the most, regardless of what time of year it is. Have a nice day, and see you next year!

(Now let's see if my embedded file is going to work...)

Friday, December 11, 2020

Villainous Dessert: Imperceptible Monument

Howdy! This article is part of Villainous Cookbook, but as you can notice, it doesn't follow the regular structure of these articles. The reason for that is, that this is something short, sweet, and not exactly interesting or fulfilling. I brought it up in a discussion on discord, and it actually started a heated debate, so it's fair to say that this build will be spicy. Maybe even the most controversial build of the series. Due to the backlash, I'm starting this article with a disclaimer.

I am a DM who is okay with dirty tricks. In fact, one of the GMs who I look up to but won't name is infamous for playing dirty. As long as these dirty tricks are there to make the story better, and to make the players' experience more enjoyable, I'm fine with using them. I'm not sure if either of those would be achieved with this build because this is less of a thing to defeat, and more of a puzzle to solve. When discussing it, I sparked frustration in people because this couldn't be defeated by the conventional means. I don't expect this to be enjoyed by everyone, but someone somewhere might find a use for this, so I'll post it anyway. But please, if you end up using this, use it to make your game better and to challenge your players, not to bully the player characters.

Regardless of how successful the article itself will be, I know I've enjoyed every part of putting this creation together. I've tried to break the sequester and imprisonment spells for a long time, so I am very happy to say that I managed to achieve both, and at the same time. Even if it does use homebrew.


It would probably have more parts to its legs. And arms. And fingers. And maybe a split up torso. But this is a cool gif nonetheless that I wanted to present it with.
Crystal Golem, by Marie Angoulvant


Imperceptible Monument

Ingredients: A pilot who can wear a spare piloting armor, a rich person, a powerful spellcaster with plenty of time (two of these could be the same person), and a couple of critters.

I'll go through the steps of building the Monument here because it doesn't need levels. We begin by gathering several crystals to simulate body. First 8 should be long enough to serve as arms and legs, without elbows and knees. We don't need joints here. It'd be nice to also have crystalline hands, which need two palms and a total of 28 digits. Try to find long gemstones for this so that they would resemble the body in those regards. Feet are unnecessary, they'd only add extra cost to the whole process. Finally, torso made up of two gems, and a gemstone head. Then again, you could definitely make the number of gems here smaller if you wanted to.

Next up, all but one of these gems should be populated by critters using the minimus containment version of the imprisonment spell. These could be animals, undead, anything as long as it's weak. A vile villain could use orphans or something, but we don't need to go that far. Leave one of the gems empty for now.

Now then, it's time for the only homebrew part of this build. We need a level 9 Maxim Master who will use a lot of jade dust to entangle the individual crystals with pieces of piloting armor. The way this works is using Maxims of Consequence that detect movements of the piloting armor, and are hooked up to the Maxims of Movement that copy those movements on the individual crystals.

I've been met with some remarks about how this fact invalidates the whole build. First, I should mention that the entire series of Villainous Cookbooks uses homebrew materials. My goal was to make interesting villains, even if they used some homebrew and some rulebending. But the more important part of the defense is, that the Maxim Master is based on conditional spells that are already in the game. These include magic mouth, programmed illusion, immovable object, and arcane lock. They are spells that, based on some condition, perform illusions or restrict/allow movement. I've been told many times that the spells available to the players are only part of what's possible, so I would say that conditional telekinesis is plausible.

Getting back on the tracks, we need our pilot to be able to see the outside world. So, centered on the inside of the empty gem, we project an illusory replica of the surroundings of that crystallic structure using Maxims of Information and Illusion, shown from the point of view of the head-gem.

Our pilot, wearing the armor, is afterwards imprisoned within the final empty gem, and each gem is targeted by the sequester spell. Thanks to the limitation of imprisonment being that only light can pass through, the user can make gestures and strike bodily poses and get the magic outside activated. Let's assume the condition for the imprisonment is that the structure has been nonfunctional for 3 days. Whether it's because it's been dismantled or because the wearer stopped wearing the armor (or just didn't do anything for 3 days is up to the DM).

Optional step, we can detect the pilot's mouth movements and produce sounds based on those to allow the monument to talk. Heck, if you wanted to, you could do a visual illusion (whether through Maxims or programmed illusion with a healthy dose of DM fiat) that could be triggered by the pilot donning or doffing a hat, which would let other creatures see it, but that's an afterthought.


Outcome

So, what have we achieved? Our Imperceptible Monument is permanently invisible and can't be targeted by divination magic (sequester), and is made up of objects that can't be destroyed by conventional means (imprisonment: minimus containment). Since this is a group of objects that are not connected and copy movements of an unreachable villain, each would have to be disposed of individually. Also, this thing is made up of objects, meaning it's inherently immune to a huge amount of spells. Fun fact: out of all cantrips, only fire bolt and magic stone can target and damage objects.

The biggest limitation of this build is its sight. Due to the way Maxim of Information is written, the pilot within will be at best capable of perceiving the world up to 30 feet away. If the players get out of that range, they're gonna be likely fine. Other limitations include the fact that the pilot can't cast any spells, and that this thing can't repair itself on its own. It's actually... kind of dull? Which is why I've distinguished it from the rest of Villainous Cookbook in both title and article structure.


How to Defeat It

The biggest point of criticism I've received for this was that "there is no interesting way to defeat it". And that much is true. Over the course of discussion, we came up with some ways of fighting it off:

  • Dispel magic cast on each crystal (fortunately it can target even unseen objects). Which needs a lot of spell slots (4 limbs with 2 segments, 2 segments of a torso, head, plus however much is hands and digits of fingers). Whenever they dispel a gemstone, it falls off from the structure (leaving the rest of the structure in tact), and the caster might have to make separate checks to dispel 7th level sequester, as well as 9th level imprisonment on the gem.
  • Anti-magic field trip. I regularly put into my worlds a null-magic zone that works as a permanent one, so it could provide a nice "aha!" moment to the players if they came up with this.
  • Portal to the Astral Plane using bag of holding and portable hole, or different extradimensional magic items.
  • Burying it alive inside of a hole through some clever planning. And let's be real here - being buried with a perception range of 30 feet only in a sequestered gemstone that keeps you alive whether you like it or not doesn't sound like a pleasant fate.
  • Immobilizing parts of its body using the immovable object spell. Which, admittedly, is part of Dunamancy, which is something not even all wizards get access to. Alternatively, I've received a suggestion that uses one or more immovable rods.
  • The wish. Because you know, wishes can solve anything

Sure these are unsatisfying, since not everyone could do them. What can a fighter do in a situation like this?

Perhaps it's me being naive, but I think that it's good to try thinking creatively in situations like this. How could one dispose of an imperceptible immortal structure pursuing the players? It needs some outside of the box thinking because no amount of attacks and damage rolls will resolve this problem. Some people out there think that's too much to expect from players. I have met groups that just didn't want to try thinking about a problem creatively.

If you wish to use the imperceptible monument in your own games, consider foreshadowing it first. Have the locals talk about the invisible being, about how no weapons, not even magical ones, seem to do anything to stop it. Have the players encounter it more than once, with plenty of time between meetings. This way, the players could have a chance to brainstorm solutions for this problem between the games, and cook up something neither I nor anyone I talked about was able to put together within the 24 hours during which the build has existed so far. Above all else, be open towards creative solutions. The ones I listed above are definitely not the only solutions out there. If the players try to net each of the objects, or find some spells that do indeed affect objects, the least you can do is be open towards them. Maybe they won't kill the pilot (who, let's face it, the pilot could be literally anyone—from the most competent warrior in the kingdom to a commoner, including even... other villains from my cookbook?), but they'll find a way to trap it. And that's fine!

Then again, you could also come up with your own weaknesses for it. RAW it doesn't have any extra weaknesses, but maybe you can figure something out. Maybe the imprisonment used is flawed somehow because the gemstones used were a little too cheap. Maybe the sequester can be overcome. Maybe the players could outsmart the villain inside because of his limited range, and limited number of senses. Your and your players' imagination is the limit here.

If they figure out dispel magic works, though, and if they manage to dispel its body piece by piece, the reward awaiting them is massive. Assuming each critter has one hit die, we're talking about 41 gemstones, 40 of which have a cost of at least 500 gp, and the one that holds the pilot has a smallest cost of 500 gp per every hit die the pilot has. This amounts to 20.000 gp worth of gemstones, plus the pilot's gemstone.

… did I just accidentally make a puzzle with an actual monetary reward instead of a combat encounter?

Edit: After I finished the article, I started to look up art. It seems that Adventure Zone had something aesthetically similar enough, so I'll just use their art for this. Despite the fact that the Monument should be invisible.

Behold, my creation! I know you can't see it, that's part of the point.
Lucas and a Crystal Golem, by /u/tough_stough


Thank you for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful day!