Thursday, September 10, 2020

Villainous Cookbook: Memetic Lunatic

I don't know how many more Villainous Cookbooks I'll write up, so while I do still have some ideas, I may as well put them down on paper. Or blog, I suppose. Lately, I've been considering villains whose whole gimmick is just dealing damage in creative ways. It's extremely tempting to go down that route, but... at the end of the day, I decided to try to keep my standards up for as long as I can. This is not about optimization, it's about story themes. Here, I've decided to write up a villain who's gonna screw with the minds of the party just as much as the players who control them.


The purpose of the Villainous Cookbook is to offer cool villain ideas for DMs. It uses homebrew player options sometimes mixed with the official ones, but it bends the rules a little to work better. While sometimes restrictions breed creativity, other times it's nice to push the boundary a little to make the villain more interesting.

The stats are left completely up to the reader. You can make them anything you want, as long as it's within some boundaries, and you don't need to spend any ASIs or consider the stat bonuses provided by the feats unless you want to complicate things for yourself.

Each of the builds is split into 4 Tiers, to show how the villain grows in power over time. At any moment, the villain should be at least on the same tier as your players if not higher, since you want them to be challenging. Unless noteworthy, I won't mention the specific spells, ability scores, backgrounds, or skills. All that I leave up to you so that the villain is more customized.

One last word of caution — while these builds might seem overpowered, making the homebrews seem overpowered, bear in mind two things.

  1. We're adjusting the rules a little to make the character builds work better. If this demands an in-world explanation, say that this is an exceptional person who figured out something others don't know, or has a special bloodline/destiny.
  2. We're crossing the homebrew streams. And that can oftentimes go wrong. I'm doing my best to use homebrews that I consider balanced and that I would actually allow my players to use in the games.

With all that out of the way, our next villain is a secretive wizard type. Spying, watching, possibly everpresent.

Memetic Lunatic

"Paranoia is knowing all the facts."
— Woody Allen

"This Spy has already breached our defenses... You've seen what he's done to our colleagues! And worst of all, he could be any one of us... He could be in this very room! He could be you! He could be me! He could even be-"
— Blue spy, "Meet the Spy"

This build might not contain a character who traps others in the mirrors, but it should be something far scarier. I hope. Look, this was the best I could do for a representation of a shapeshifter, okay? Credits to Magic the Gathering's card "Identity Theft"

Ingredients list

Tier 1

Let's hit things off with a quick start. We'll get both of our dips of choice — warlock and sorcerer, as well as the wizard, for a good start. The combination we've got going on here is something that requires an explanation, so let's put all the relevant information down below.

When you cast spells that require a material component, you can ignore that component unless it has a value, such as the specially marked sticks, bones, or similar tokens worth at least 25 gp for the augury spell, in which case the components are required. [Sorcerer: Spellcasting]
When you cast a spell that has only a verbal and somatic component, you can choose to cast it as though it only had a verbal component. [Warlock: Seeker of the Sound]
When you cast a wizard spell, you don't need to provide verbal components for it as long as you can provide somatic components.

Now, this might seem like they don't make much sense, so I've made a small chart of what this means for all combinations of spell components. Bear in mind that they don't need to perform these somatic components, they only need to be capable of providing them.

V, S, M* → V, S → V → (nothing)
V, M → V → (nothing)
S, M → S
* assuming Material components without cost that are not consumed

With all this in the pocket, X can cast spells either using Somatic components (in case of S,M, or S spells), no components (V,S,M, or V,S, or V,M, or V), or with all components as written if Materials are consumed or cost stuff.

For our wizard subclass, we chose Shrouded Arts to also get a secretive spellbook that can be stored within the lunatic's mind. Much more interestingly though, the lunatic gets the ability of memory suppression — a number of times equal to your INT mod per long rest, you can force a creature to make a Wisdom save, making it forget something that happened within the last 10 minutes on a failure. You can, however, use this only once per creature, so be careful about what you use this for. Probably go read the feature itself before using it to make sure you're doing everything right there.

When it comes to our sorcerer, the subclass is a rather free choice by the DM's tastes. If I had to recommend any from the Tweaked Sorcerer document, it would be the Imperial bloodline, as well as the Aberrant. With Imperial, our lunatic shapeshifter will get one of my all-time favorite homebrew class features: an ability to cast command using three words instead of just one. The potential here is so much greater, more than tripled. With the Aberrant, you could pick some of the spells from the psionic spell list and cast them without some components. My personal choice here would be hex, and I'll explain that as well as other spell choices after explaining the tiers.

At this point, our villain is a fairly competent spellcaster who almost never requires components for the spells, and can pull off a variety of 1st level spells. Not too shabby if I do say so myself, although as always, you want to keep this one in the background during the Tier 1. Maybe this tier could be reserved for backstory purposes.

Tier 2

From this point on, it's rather straightforward — our multiclassing is finished, so we dump all of the levels into the wizard, transforming our shapeshifter into sorcerer 1, warlock 1, and wizard 8 multiclass. We pick up spells of up to 4th level, get two Ability Score Improvements which could also be exchanged for feats, and we get 6th level feature of the Shrouded Arts wizard — Out of Mind's Eye. Once per short rest, you can make yourself invisible to one creature for 1 minute using your bonus action, provided it fails its Wisdom saving throw, or until you affect it with a spell or an attack. Nothing too extra, but then again it doesn't require concentration, so it's fine.

Tier 3

Our wizard reaches the juiciest part of the build, with fifth level spells providing several of really cool tricks they could implement. They also gain the ability to cast disguise self at-will, making themselves seem 3 feet taller or shorter. The lunatic also learns how to use the Shroud of Oblivion once a day, a powerful one-hour lasting ability that erases you from memories of creatures that encounter you, as well as divination spell sensors. Let's move on to the Tier 4 to get to the juicy spells.

Tier 4

Finally, we gain the last four levels in the wizard, meaning we get to learn Spell Mastery! We also gain all the spell slots up to 9th level, missing only one 7th level spell slot when compared to a regular level 20 fullcaster. Not too shabby if I do say so myself!
Before we address the spells, there's one more bit to discuss.

Why Doppelganger? (And Story Background)

Originally, the build assumed that at Tier 4, the lunatic would turn themselves into the ultimate shapeshifter, but... at the second thought, and seeing how this would make them lose all class features, I opted for a much simpler explanation that explains also the backstory of this character. They've been chosen by the ultimate forces of chaos and fear to spread paranoia across the lands in the most terrible way. They have witnessed the ultimate life form, and they ask the shapeshifter to turn everyone into this ultimate life-form.
For our shapeshifter, we could assume that they're a changeling, but it'd be much easier to just say they're a doppelganger. All they need from the statblock are the shapeshifting and mind-reading traits.
The life-form they've witnessed was a CR 0 doppelganger. Start with the statblock of a regular doppelganger, reduce its hit point maximum to 4, its damage from attacks to 1, and its bonus to hit to +5. You could also remove Ambusher if you want the doppelganger to be able to wield a weapon without it affecting the CR much.
With this knowledge in mind, the memetic lunatic walks the world, transforming the poor common folk into doppelgangers while remaining unknown using...

Alright, I can't do this any longer. Let's talk spells.

It's a Kind of Magic

Sadly, despite hyping myself up to this part for the entire article, I don't think I'll just hand you the complete spell list. Instead, I will give you spell recommendations to consider for every spell level, with a brief description as to why.

Forget - a cantrip from CoFS:A, perfect for the moment when you get caught. Just forget everything about who you are, and act natural. No amount of insight checks or truth detection will help out here, since your lies are not deliberate. You genuinely don't remember.
Magic Stone - useful for reflavoring the spell into tossing any general tiny magic item at the players, as a signature weapon of sorts. Whether it's playing cards, spectral knives, needles, or actual rocks is up to your imagination.
Encode Thoughts - not on any of the spell lists listed in this build, but it's worth noting. I love the flavor of this spell, and I could imagine this working really nicely with the forget cantrip hand in hand. The lunatic literally pulls a memory out of his head as a thread to keep somewhere safe for the duration of the forget spell.
Minor Illusion - superior for distracting folks. A true hero will always pursue the call for help. But... will they remain a hero, if these calls will always lure them into traps? Will they turn paranoid about all these folks who need help?
Friends - I've argued several times with others about how asymmetrical Charisma checks are in D&D. A player can always attempt to make one against an NPC. But an NPC making one against a player is acceptable only when the NPC is lying or performing. An attempt at being intimidating can always be made fun of, and persuasion can be met with suspicions even if the inquisitive rogue of the party rolls a 19 on the expertised Insight. Imagine though how creepy would it feel to be told that "You feel some enchantment magic wearing off as you exit the shop. Someone has cast friends on you, and it did not feel good. You think they did not have the best of the intentions, and you should do something about it."
Prestidigitation - so awesome I don't even need to introduce it. Create small objects, make illusory markings, mask odors, tastes, heat up or cool down meals, light small fires like torches or campfires, do harmless illusions, ... This is a must-have for most wizard builds I play.

Charm Person - in case you're about to be caught by the party.
Command - players hate losing the agency over their characters, so this is a great choice of a spell to annoy them with if you can pick it.
Detect Magic - lost sight of the party? With this thing, you can quickly find them in any crowd. I mean, think of all those magic items that they constantly wield. Even items marked with Nystul's aura apparently show up as magical to this spell.
Disguise Self - self-explanatory, you'll look different. Combined with a shapeshifter, however, this makes for a nasty trick. Most people expect only one layer of disguise.
Find Familiar - screw the free advantage, this is your scouting tool.
Fog Cloud - a getaway in case things go really wrong.
Hex - also screw the extra damage here. Do you know what this is? It's a free disadvantage on one ability score of your choice. No save, no verbal components to be heard due to the way lunatic is built, this thing is just an absolutely nasty tool to use. Even better when you use a 5th level spell slot for 24 hours of disadvantage. Perfect for high Wisdom characters, since you're trying to stay hidden.
Illusory Script - cause the players to panic by showing them a letter on a bulletin board or someplace else that only they can read. Even better if a few of the party members can't read it, or the opposite - few of the party members actually can, the rest sees it as gibberish or a lot of scribbles.
Silent Image - distracting illusions. Unseen Servant is useful for the same purposes.

Arcane Lock - perfect for locking a route during a chase scene, just don't forget to have enough gold dust on your person for at least three casts.
Detect Thoughts - you're a doppelganger, you can do this one at-will! No need to bother with it then!
Invisibility - fairly obvious.
Magic Mouth - randomly enchant doorways and similar to emit whispers audible to the players while they are within 30 feet of it. Could also work with screams for literal jumpscares.
Mind Spike - great for keeping track of the players.
Misty Step - escape tool.
Nystul's Magic Aura - make magic items out of nothing, Hide cursed magic items. Or turn into a child, befriend the party's paladin, and get him to give you a high five, delivering the spell through touch and making their creature type Fiend after 30 days of recasting it. Do this with the entire party. Next time they encounter a wary paladin, have them freak out and call an inquisition on them because of their fiendish nature.
Phantasmal Force - go read the spell and you'll see why this one is here.
Rope Trick - escape tool.
Skywrite - write creepy messages in the sky for your players to see, as well as everyone.
Suggestion - a must-have on the Spell Mastery for this build. With this, you can change anyone's mind and make them do your bidding.

While I would love to make just as detailed analysis of higher spell levels, I'll just run through the spell lists to write out the names. It's up to you to figure out why I wrote these down.

3rd level
Bestow Curse (upcasted at 5+ level)
Feign Death
Glyph of Warding
Leomund's Tiny Hut

4th level
Dimension Door
Dominate Beast (especially if they have a pet)
Greater Invisibility
Locate Creature
Mordenkainen's Faithful Hound
Phantasmal Killer

5th level
Dominate Person
Modify Memory

6th level
Contingency (scariest thing in the world? a wizard who's prepared for an enemy they know far too well)
Flesh to Stone
Globe of Invulnerability
Guards and Wards
Magic Jar
Mass Suggestion
Mental Prison
Programmed Illusion
Soul Cage
True Seeing

7th level
Mirage Arcane
Project Image

8th level
Antimagic Field
Dominate Monster
Glibness (more on this in the future)
Illusory Dragon
Maddening Darkness
Mind Blank

9th level
Mass Polymorph
Power Word Kill
Time Stop
True Polymorph

More spells could apply, but I don't feel like rewriting even more spell names here.

One final mention to give is to give the lunatic an Amulet of Proof against Detection and Location. That way, they will be much more difficult to find. Other magic items are optional, at your own discretion.

Maybe this one would have been better to use instead of the first picture. Then again, both show off regular shapeshifter stuff — this shapeshifter tries its best to blend in.
Doppelganger - The Elder Scrolls: Legends

And this is how you make your players paranoid — by introducing a being that goes around the world, transforming more and more people into doppelgangers — beings who can turn into anyone and read minds at-will. And at the same time, a being who can look like anyone, render themselves forgotten and unseen, and blend in with the crowd, while remaining undetected. Making the party distrust any NPC they ever meet, possibly shooting them with a moonbeam or even murdering them, just for the fact that they could be a doppelganger. What? You came here for a villain, right?

Until next time, thank you for reading, and have a nice day!

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