Friday, October 30, 2020

Commoner Magic: Of Saints and Grimms

Last time, I was burned out on the D&D due to its magic and trying to figure out how to resolve my problems with it all. Maybe the solution to the madness is to just... embrace it all. And make the world saturated with magic. And yet to make the magic rarer. So let's try out an experiment and see where this goes!

Note: Don't take any of this as a thing written in stone. This is me speculating on a setting from the ground up, figuring out what would it take to make a sensible high magic world. Of course, your world can and probably is different from any of the following.

Note 2: Whenever I speak "commoner" in this article, I don't necessarily mean the CR 0 creature. It can be any humanoid who is not an adventurer or related to an adventure. A city guard, a local priest, a traveling merchant, etc.

Edit: One last important detail I forgot to mention, a lot of these options come from the Compendium of Forgotten Secrets: Awakening. Thanks once again to Genuine Believer for awesome work that keeps inspiring me!

On the Magical Frequency

It takes a lot of effort to become most of the classes. Adventurers have a drive for this, but commoners, for the most part, don't. Barbarians, monks, fighters, and rogues all require some sort of training that could take up a long time. As for the spellcasters:

  • Artificer and Wizard require some level of intelligence and large amounts of time to study and memorize everything necessary to perform your magic (or invent things, in the case of an artificer).
  • Bard learn their magical arts by trial and error in guesswork.
  • Cleric is someone chosen by a deity.
  • Druid and Rangers share a connection with nature itself and are thus bestowed with its magic.
  • Paladin requires martial training and eventually an oath they make, whether it's made with a deity in mind or not.
  • Sorcerer has a magical ancestry of some kind that can manifest randomly.
  • And a Warlock, ... well, they make a deal with some otherworldly patron.

In the end, I think it's fair to say that the easiest class to become is a warlock. All it takes is to give up something for power. You don't have to be born into some powerful family, chosen by a deity, go through rigorous training or study, or do anything else intensive. With that being said, it's fair to assume that a majority of ordinary people who want some magical advantage would seek a way of becoming a warlock.

Yes, even you can be a warlock for a low-low price of your soul!
Serf Token for Magic: the Gathering, by AaronMiller

Culture of Warlockhood

Warlocks are part of public knowledge, possibly even more widespread than being a wizard or a sorcerer. It can be socially acceptable or unacceptable, depending on the culture you're in, and your patron choice.

People of this world split the otherworldly patrons into two groups generally: Saints and Grimms. The difference between them is quite simply seeing which of them is perceived as benevolent, and which is malevolent. Bear in mind, this is not about their actual nature, but perception. This allows for the same patron to be seen as a Saint in one culture and a Grimm in another. The patrons themselves can still be morally ambiguous if the DM wishes so.

I should emphasize that not everyone will become a warlock. Some just don't like the idea of relying on magic in their everyday lives. Of course, that kind of limits them in what they can do and how fast/well they can do it. Besides, soul is a rather low price. To quote one of the Saints:

"Ownership of your soul is not important if you can't be expected to receive a resurrection. And that's an expensive thing to arrange too! You have to get an expensive material, someone powerful enough to resurrect you, possibly your body too. If you'll be willing to give me your soul, I'll make it worth your time."
Saint of Services 

Following are the saints I came up with so far, along with the professions they look after and some of their abilities. They're usually roughly 2-3 levels of warlock, but don't expect them to be perfect player characters: worldbuilding here takes priority for me over mechanics, so rarely I added an extra invocation, considered some spell to be a warlock spell, or broke the rules in another way. For now I decided to keep the original names for the clarity of the reader, but each of these could be flavored in a positive way. The Experienced section describes the abilities of those who have practiced their profession for very long and shared their experiences with others. Such individuals could usually be found in bigger cities where guilds are. Finally, I don't think listing Grimms is necessary, since those tend to work like regular warlock patrons one might expect.


Saint of Communication

Patron of: couriers, criers, heralds, messengers

  • At-will: blade ward, magic stonesilent image
  • Leveled (2 slots): comprehend languages, expeditious retreat, illusory script
  • Awakened Mind. You can communicate telepathically with any creature you can see within 30 feet of you. You don't need to share a language with the creature for it to understand your telepathic utterances, but the creature must be able to understand at least one language.
  • Devil's Sight. You can see normally in darkness, both magical and nonmagical, to a distance of 120 feet.
  • Experienced
    • Pact of the Tome: guidancelight, resistance
    • Aspect of the Moon. You no longer need to sleep and can't be forced to sleep by any means. To gain the benefits of a long rest, you can spend all 8 hours doing light activity, such as keeping watch.

Saint of Crafts

Patron of: alchemists, architects, artisans (leatherworkers, masons, potters, smiths, tailors, ...), miners, woodcutters

  • At-will: mending, prestidigitation; silent image
  • Leveled (2 slots): feather fall, unseen servant
  • Secrets of the Lost. Whenever you finish a long rest, you gain proficiency in two skills, languages, or tools of your choice. You remain proficient in these until you finish another long rest, at which point you can choose new ones to replace them.
  • Additionally, you gain a swimming speed equal to your walking speed.
  • Devil's Sight. You can see normally in darkness, both magical and nonmagical, to a distance of 120 feet.
  • Experienced
    • Pact of the Chain: wandering stranger**
    • Awestruck Awakening. Whenever you finish a long rest, your mind overflows with the terrible secrets of your patron. You can speak to one allied creature over the course of 10 minutes, filling its mind with what you’ve learned. That creature can add your proficiency bonus to one skill or tool of your choice that it is not already proficient in until its next long rest. 

Saint of Education

Patron of: calligraphers, cartographers, librarians, printers, scholars, scribes, tutors

  • At-will: mage hand, prestidigitation
  • Leveled (2 slots): comprehend languages, unseen servant
  • Recovered Memories (1/long rest). As an action while standing adjacent to a corpse, you can produce an iridescent acid that consumes the corpse over the course of 1 minute. Once the process has finished, you can reabsorb the acid to access the creature’s memories. You gain information about the creature’s last 48 hours alive and the most important memories from their final year of life.
  • Eyes of the Rune Keeper. You can read all writing.
  • Experienced
    • Pact of the Tome: mendingmessage, seek phrase*
    • Catalogue of Experiences. Whenever you use your Recovered Memories feature to absorb the knowledge of a creature, you can store the experience in your Book of Shadows, and make it come to life upon the pages of the book. You can copy and transfer any memories within your Book to another creature by touching them with the Book as an action.

Saint of Joy

Patron of: artists, jesters, minstrels, performers, street magicians

  • At-will: minor illusion, prestidigitation; disguise self, silent image
  • Leveled (2 slots): charm person, unseen servant
  • Seeker of the Sound. You gain proficiency in the Performance skill and with all musical instruments. You can use a musical instrument as a spellcasting focus for your warlock spells, and can play it in place of using a verbal spellcasting component. 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.
  • Experienced
    • Pact of the Tome: dancing lights, thaumaturgy, one of the following: control flames, gust, mold earth, shape water
    • Scroll of Imperial Authority. Whenever you can see a creature charmed by you, you can use your bonus action to cause it to speak any phrase you wish. The creature thinks that it chose to say those words of its own volition, though they may not believe them to be true.

Saint of Lawkeeping

Patron of: Baron; Count; Detective; Duke; Inquisitor; Judge; Knight; Lawyer; Marshal; Priest (Canon); Reeve; Sexton; Sheriff; Taxer; Theologian; Warden

  • At-will: blade ward, prestidigitation
  • Leveled (2 slots): hex, illusory scriptsanctuary
  • Bound to the Portrait. You create and magically bind yourself to your Gray Portrait. The Gray Portrait is a Small or Medium object that weighs at least 15 pounds, has AC 15, 10 hit points, resistance to all damage, and uses your statistics for saving throws. It can be repaired at a rate of 1 hit point per minute. You can choose to see through the Portrait’s eyes at any time and are always aware of its current state. If your portrait is destroyed, you tirelessly construct another during your next long rest, and you gain no benefit from that long rest.
  • If a spell has the sole effect of restoring you to life, such as revivify, the caster can cast the spell on the portrait as though it were your whole corpse without using material components, causing you to step forth from your portrait. However, if your portrait is destroyed and you are dead, you can’t be revived without the use of the wish spell.
  • You can use your action to cure yourself of any effect that is causing you to be poisoned, diseased, cursed, blinded, or deafened, sending the affliction to appear on your portrait. You can’t do this if it is destroyed.
  • Experienced
    • Pact of the Tome: dancing lights, guidance, message
    • Ledger of the Deceased. Whenever a creature that you can see within 120 feet of you dies or you touch a corpse, you can choose to have their name be magically inscribed in your Book of Shadows. That creature’s corpse is always considered to be present and whole within your Book. If your Book of Shadows is destroyed, all the names within are lost.
    • Preserved Document. You are instantly aware of any attempt by the other parties to break the terms of any contract or written agreement signed by you. If the contract is broken, you become aware of it.
    • Scripture of Natural Law. You can cast zone of truth once without expending a spell slot. This use recovers when you finish a short or long rest. You automatically succeed on saving throws against this spell.

Saint of Prosperity

Patron of: bakers, brewers, butchers, distillers, falconers, farmers, farriers, fishermen, fruit pickers, gamekeepers, gatherers, gardeners, grocers, grooms, houndsmen, millers, physicians, shamans, shepherds, smokers, soothsayers, surgeons

  • At-will: light, magic stone, prestidigitationsacred flame; speak with animals
  • Leveled (2 slots): cure wounds, unseen servant
  • Healing Light (3d6/long rest). As a bonus action, you can heal one creature you can see within 60 feet of you, spending up to 2 dice from the pool. Roll the dice you spend, add them together, and restore a number of hit points equal to the total.
  • Experienced
    • Pact of the Tome: control flames, druidcraftspare the dying
    • Leveled: lesser restoration
    • Book of Ancient Secrets (ritual only): augury, ceremony, gentle repose, skywrite
    • Grimoire of the Endless Rain. Whenever you finish a long rest, you can perform a percussive ritual over the course of 10 minutes to change the weather. When you finish, an unnatural storm with a 1-mile radius rolls in and follows you, gently raining and occasionally flashing with lightning.

Saint of Protection

Patron of: archers, executioners, guards, hunters, mercenaries

  • At-will: blade wardbooming blade; mage armor
  • Leveled (2 slots): expeditious retreathex
  • Hexblade's Curse (1/short rest). As a bonus action, choose one creature you can see within 30 feet of you. The target is cursed for 1 minute. The curse ends early if the target dies, you die, or you are incapacitated. Until the curse ends, you gain the following benefits:
    • You gain a bonus to damage rolls against the cursed target. The bonus equals your proficiency bonus.
    • Any attack roll you make against the cursed target is a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20 on the d20.
    • If the cursed target dies, you regain 5 hit points.
  • Hex Warrior. You gain proficiency with medium armor, shields, and martial weapons. The influence of your patron also allows you to mystically channel your will through a particular weapon. Whenever you finish a long rest, you can touch one weapon that you are proficient with and that lacks the two-handed property. When you attack with that weapon, you can use your Charisma modifier, instead of Strength or Dexterity, for the attack and damage rolls. This benefit lasts until you finish a long rest. If you later gain the Pact of the Blade feature, this benefit extends to every pact weapon you conjure with that feature, no matter the weapon's type.
  • Experienced
    • Pact of the Blade.
    • Aspect of the Moon. You no longer need to sleep and can't be forced to sleep by any means. To gain the benefits of a long rest, you can spend all 8 hours doing light activity, such as keeping watch.

Saint of Services

Patron of: bankers, chefs, cooks, innkeepers, merchants, servants

  • At-will: prestidigitation; detect magic
  • Leveled (2 slots): identify, illusory script, unseen servant
  • Weight of Gilt. You have a single coin known as a Gilded Coin. You can summon the coin to your hand or dismiss this coin as a bonus action regardless of its location. Other creatures see this coin as 1 gp or other appropriate currency of equivalent value. You are always aware of who is in possession of your Gilded Coin.
  • As an action, you can choose to convert all currency you have in your possession into an equivalent value in any other denomination or currency. For example, you can convert gold coins into an equivalent value of silver or copper pieces, or change them into other currencies you’ve seen before. Additionally, you can choose to conceal currency you possess in a pocket dimension, which you can access using a bonus action. If you die, the currency reappears on your corpse.
  • Beguiling Influence. You gain proficiency in the Deception and Persuasion skills.
  • Experienced
    • Pact of the Chain: sprite

* found in The Compendium of Forgotten Secrets: Awakening

** found in The Compendium of Soulforged Artifacts. If it's not available, feel free to use a CR<=1 humanoid statblock without spellcasting instead

Final Notes

I'm afraid that these all feel same-y, with stuff like prestidigitation and unseen servant repeated too many times, but then again the pool of options useful for ordinary villagers in the warlock class is rather small. If you're a DM who wishes to use these, you can adjust these as you want: add or remove spells or features, change specifics of how these features work, etc. So far I didn't make up any lore or names for the Saints, because I wanted to present this idea and gather feedback on it before investing more time into this. If I receive enough suggestions, requests, or inspiration, I could make a continuation and/or update. Thank you for reading, and have a nice day!

Monday, October 26, 2020

Elder Relics

I started to play Hades, and since then I found it hard to stop. Its visuals and music are great, the gameplay is awesome, I love the story, and it's clear that Supergiant Games have made yet another masterpiece. There's one part of the game in particular that I found fascinating, and decided I should incorporate in the D&D somehow. I figured that instead of publishing it once ever and not telling a word on my blog, I'll instead talk about it on my blog first and then publish it all at once, possibly after I get some feedback and expand on the concept. This is meant to solve problems such as oversaturation of magic items in the group, as well as power scaling and synergizing items in interesting ways. In one form or another, I know I've tried to make it many times before, but the truth is that there's no one perfect way to do it... or is there?

No, but this is a fair attempt.

Elder Relics

"This weapon is far from ordinary, for it has the power of its former wielders imprinted into it. You just have to search the world for these heroes to uncover your weapon's full potential."

Elder Relics are magical items that possess the power of keeping the power of its previous owners hidden within. Most often, they take form of a weapon, but other items such as armor sets, cloaks, gloves, and many others are not unheard of. Their origin is mysterious, but it's certain is that no mortal hands could have created any of these relics.

Will of Their Own. While the Elder Relics seemingly possess a will of their own, it's not known whether they are actually sentient or not. There is no known way to communicate with them, as any attempts in the past have failed, but they do seem to be able to choose their bearers in many subtle manners.

Aspects. The Elder Relics were involved in some of the most significant events in the history, wielded by a variety of heroes, yet not recognized as one and the same due to their different forms and differing locations. When the Elder Relic is held by a bearer it has chosen, its appearance will change, enveloped temporarily in wisps of light and darkness until its form reflects the character of the one holding it. Each of these Aspects holds a different power, which means that the weapon could potentially lose any resemblance to what its previous mythical bearers were used to.

According to some rumors, it is possible for the Elder Relic to exhibit multiple Aspects at once. Supposedly, this requires the bearer to persevere numerous hard situations and growth in character.

General Guidelines

When creating the Elder Relics, it's recommended to follow these guidelines:

  • Follow the guidelines for crafting regular magic items.
  • Every Elder Relic requires an attunement by a creature whose aspect the Relic currently bears. Elder Relic is a rarity of its own due to the complexity these items bear.
  • If the Elder Relic possesses properties that grant a +X bonus, none of the bonuses should be +3 or greater, and the sum of all such properties should be no greater than +3.
  • None of the Elder Relic properties should assume that the bearer has access to a specific racial trait, class feature, or a feat.
When you're putting an Elder Relic into your game, consider which of the players do you want to give this Relic to, and which of the listed properties fits their character the best. Then, consider some of the legendary heroes in the past that could have used this weapon for their own benefit, and which aspect fit each the most. Try to create a backstory, or a myth related to each of these heroes. Bear in mind that you do not have to come up with all of them at once—you are the one who determines which Aspects do the players unlock and when.

Tenacious Warhammer

Weapon (warhammer), Elder Relic (requires attunement)

The Tenacious Warhammer is a relic known for its abilities of granting people the willpower to stay active even in the direst situations.

As soon as a creature chosen by the Tenacious Warhammer grasps it, the weapon transforms into an aspect of the creature, determined by the DM. A creature can attune to the warhammer only if it currently bears the creature's aspect. Whenever the attuned wielder of this warhammer makes a Wisdom saving throw with advantage, they can reroll one of the dice once.

If the bearer has uncovered any other Aspects of the warhammer, they can choose which of the aspects the warhammer will bear after finishing a long rest. Starting at 5th level, they can choose 2 aspects at once. This number increases to 3 aspects at 11th level, and 4 aspects at 17th level.

  Aspect Property
1 When you hit a creature with the warhammer, you can choose to deal an extra damage equal to your current number of hit points. If the creature is reduced to 0 hit points, your lose one half of your hit points, otherwise you are reduced to 1 hit point.
2 The warhammer gains a thrown (20/60 ft.) property. You can use your bonus action to cause the warhammer to fly directly to your hand if possible, avoiding any obstacles on the way.
3 You can use an action to cast the earth tremor spell (save DC 11 + your proficiency bonus) from it by striking the ground with the warhammer.
4 On your turn, you can move along vertical surfaces without falling during the move. At the end of your turn, you can prevent yourself from falling by anchoring the warhammer into a surface within your reach. If you use the warhammer, it is no longer anchored.
5 The warhammer can be used as a tool. When it's used this way, you can craft at a rate of 30 gold pieces per hour.
6 The warhammer's damage die becomes a 1d12, and you can't be disarmed of it.
7 The warhammer deals an extra 1d10 cold damage to any target it hits, and such target's movement speed is reduced by 10 feet until the start of your next turn.
8 You can announce one creature's crimes or sins on your turn (no action required). If the warhammer deems these misdoings to be worthy of a punishment, whenever it deals damage to this creature, it deals extra 3d6 psychic damage.
9 You have a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with the warhammer.
10 You have a +2 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with the warhammer.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

My Problem with D&D's Magic

First of all, let me inform you that this article will be reposted both on my blog and on the reddit, plus the reddit will be linked on several discord servers I’m a member of. The reason why is because I need as many opinions as possible, and I want to get a discussion going. I would prefer the most if your responses were on the reddit post, due to the ability to directly reply to other replies while keeping things organized and easier to read. If you can’t reply here for some reason, you can reply on the blog, or ping me on the Discord on which you saw this with your reply. Thank you.

Core Problem

Admitting you have a problem is the first step in fixing the problem. I’ve been burned out for about three months, unable to DM my D&D campaigns. It’s for multiple reasons, some of which include the slow erosion of my group’s enthusiasm for the games, their need to overthink the problems at hand, and the worldwide situation these days. But none of those can compare to my biggest problem. I don’t have enough suspension of disbelief in my own worlds anymore. I can’t seem to run high hard magic worlds, and I don’t know how to move on, how to solve this problem, which is why I’m writing all of this. I need help.

In order to clear some things up, let’s start with some definitions.

Magic Alignment

Who here loves alignment charts? Love or hate them, there’s one for magic systems and I need to talk about it in order to properly address my issue. I’ll try to avoid getting too wordy with these, since this essay is already gonna be very long, so I apologize ahead of time if there will be any oversimplifications.

On one axis, there’s the hardness of magic. Hard magic has defined rules, soft magic barely has any. A neat way to think of the purposes of these is that hard magic is a solution, and soft magic is a problem, very generally speaking.

On the other axis, you have high and low magic. I have written in the past about various types of low magic, so I know this is not a good thing to turn into a one dimensional spectrum. For now, let’s just put forward some types of low magic, and assume there are opposite types of high magic:

  • low power: magic that’s not that powerful (throwing firebolts / throwing fireballs / casting meteors from the sky)
  • low frequency: magic that’s not so frequent (a single wizard in a tower / a wizard school / a city where anyone can cast magic to some extent)
  • low possibility: magic that can do very few things (one school of magic / some schools of magic / all schools of magic)
  • low reliability: magic that’s prone to not doing what you expect it to (think wild magic sorcerer compared to most other spellcasters)

Statement: D&D’s magic system is assumed to be mostly hard, and either medium or high on all of the types described above. Proof:

  • With relatively few exceptions, such as wild magic surges or the wish spell used for something that’s not a spell nor on its list, magic is very predictable, and assumed to be a tool to be used by the players to solve their problems. Therefore, it’s mostly hard and in the majority of the cases medium or high reliability magic.
  • Wish exists, therefore high power magic. Okay, jokes aside, the D&D’s magic is capable of so many powerful things, that it would be ridiculous to say it’s not high power, RAW. Casting meteors, cancelling magic in areas, becoming immune to all damage temporarily, imprisoning things potentially forever, and literally making your wishes come true… Keep in mind that the fact that the game has you start with cantrips and low level spells doesn’t mean that this magic doesn’t exist in the world. Therefore, it’s high power magic.
  • The only thing I can think of that D&D’s magic can’t do is time travel. And even that is something that some homebrews try to fix, as well as one monster in the Monster Manual. Oh wait, it can in theory be done with a wish, assuming the DM is benevolent enough to let it. Even then, there’s very little that magic can’t do. Therefore, it's a high possibility magic.
  • Now the frequency is the hardest one to prove, because it depends on the world your players are in. Dark Sun has less magic than Eberron (though it has psionics, but I’m not gonna bother with that). Best I can get regarding the intended frequency is Creating a Bard section, which suggests you could be an apprentice to someone else, or have attended a college (or something else). Let’s just agree it’s medium frequency for now and move on.

Reasons for My Issue

To keep this segment short, it’s a culmination of history, options, exploits, information spreading, and believably. Most of the worlds are hundreds if not thousands of years old, and have all the magic in the PHB, possibly XGE, allowed (possibly with few exceptions like a common ban on the wish I see here and there). Some people however like to be optimal and invent new ways of using spells, which could mean that they’d figure out all sorts of exploits, for the better or worse. This information could spread to other settlements, whether by merchants, adventurers, or other people who travel often for one reason or another. Which, in my opinion, means that the more common a spell is, the more likely someone is to know of it, and thus of some commonly known ways of countering it. After all, in real life we iterated over the course of hundreds of years on all aspects of real life, patching flaws up with new ways constantly in an ongoing arms race. It’s not something I see done often though. Let’s do three example scenarios to demonstrate what I mean.

  • Shop. You are a person who buys and sells goods. But how can you make sure that you’re not buying something cursed? How do you protect against mind-influencing magics of 2nd level that would force you to give people anything they want for free? What if they’ll just fireball your shop? Or turn the thing they want invisible, and bring it out?
  • Prison. Imagine you’re put in a completely average nonmagical prison. What’s the easiest way to get out using magic? Misty step. Alright, you improve the prison by removing windows or any openings one could see through. You cast a different spell. Okay, how about we put a gag in the caster’s mouth and tie their hands behind their back? Well, they can eventually untie them and ungag themselves with a free hand. Even if they couldn’t, they could still cast their spells if they were a sorcerer with Subtle spell metamagic option, assuming the spell doesn’t need a Material component. Dimension door would require you to build your prisons either 500ft underground or 500ft up in the air, and even then… someone else could just use a different teleportation spell to port in, grab the person, and port out. So you say screw it, cast the Mordenkainen’s private sanctum, and prevent all teleportation. Except what if they are a druid? They just turn into a tiny beast, escaping any constraints you put on them and getting out without really being seen (if they are a spider or a flea or a fly or whatever tiny). Even better if after loosening the gag, they cast invisibility on themselves, and then escape. I guess you could poke out their eyes and cut off their hands and tongue, but… is that an okay thing to do in a game of D&D? What if your table isn’t fine with it? Long story short, you either have to put them in an antimagic field (which is an 8th level spell, so the question is whether every prison can afford it), or put magic-suppressing manacles on them. Maybe you could also keep them at 0 hit points by regularly delivering punches and casts of spare the dying, but you’d need a lot of spellcasters for that if you had a lot of prisoners.
  • Audience with You. So you’re a king, huh? Good job, good job! Except… how close to you are you willing to let that group of adventurers? I mean, it’s kind of hard to tell what everything they are capable of, so they could be hiding their powers in order to surprise you. If they’re within your reach, they could cast bestow curse on you. From 30 feet away, you’re still vulnerable to suggestion or charm person. From 60 feet, you can still be dominated, disintegrated, turned to stone, or affected by the heat metal spell. I could still go on and on, increasing the distances furthermore, but let’s just say that an eldritch blast could have a reach of 600 feet by picking the right invocation and spell sniper, and then there are spells that don’t even really have a range, such as dream. You could be killed in your sleep without anyone knowing. You could be killed by a sorcerer who subtly utters the power word: kill without moving their lips. An adventurer can teleport into your room while you’re asleep, disintegrate you, and teleport out. Enjoy being a king.

And all of that is just three areas that would be everyday matters (kings meet new people every day, right?). Long story short, the words of how magic works would spread, and people would figure out over the hundreds of years of history (or life in some cases) commonplace solutions to some of these problems. Which in turn would be a headache to do. There’s 485 spells in the game already, and with Tasha’s Cauldron, I’m pretty sure we’ll get 15 more. And that’s just assuming people protecting themselves from magic, instead of involving the magic in worldbuilding itself to make the world a better place. I mean, how many of you guys reading this know how to make your own fridge and computer/phone? I assume most of you use these on a daily basis despite not knowing how to create them from the ground up, including all the components inside of them. People who are benevolent would share their magical creations with the public to make the world a better place and be remembered by history for something good they did. But that’s a secondary problem to me, since it relies heavily on the frequency at which magic exists.

With all that said,… what are some of the solution suggestions I’ve received?


  • Limit the Maximum Spell Level. Yes, I plan to do that one actually. I feel like character level 10 is good enough capstone to limit the power of players and anyone else in the world. However, that alone is not a full solution, because that would eliminate about 120 spells from our soon to be 500. Honestly, if it were up to me, I would limit the world’s magic all the way down to cantrips, eliminating nine classes, some subclasses, and some races. But I doubt players would enjoy that being each campaign they are in from now on. I also received a suggestion of “you should try a different system” as a reply to that so many times, that I’m including it in this list.
  • Limit the Availability. Okay, so how common is your world’s magic then? One in one thousand? That means there’s still ten magic users in your settlement of 10,000. And even if you did limit it, that doesn’t mean that since the magic is rarer, less people know about even the roughest things that it’s capable of. Information would still spread, and people would still seek ways of protecting themselves.
  • Eberron. Some people tell me that this is what Eberron is about, and while I like the world for what it is, I still don’t think it addresses the questions of dealing with magic. Just as an example, I went through all the mentions of “prison” in the Exploring Eberron book. While it does have a Grieving Tree eldritch machine that’s a prison and a couple of other things, it doesn’t address stuff like druid wildshaping to escape the grasp of the tree, teleportation, or what would much smaller cities and towns do in order to keep themselves safe. Then again, who knows, maybe it’s mentioned in the other Eberron books that I didn’t go through fully before writing any of this.
  • Different System. I’ve been looking for one, and I have yet to find it. However, I’m doing this because my players are clear about preferring 5e since they’re already familiar with this and we all are busy. I am also working on my own system, but that’s too much to elaborate on here and now.

I need help. I want to entertain myself and my players, but I am too frustrated with 5e’s magic being too… good at doing stuff. A world that’s too familiar with the magic would look very different and have all sorts of preventive measures that would take away from the players’ fun, while a world that’s too unfamiliar with the magic would be too easy to exploit by the players, making them and me as a DM ask “Why haven’t they thought of this yet?”

I hope this starts a discussion. Sorry if it’s too long, but I needed to collect all of my thoughts in one place on this topic. Thank you for reading, and have a nice day!

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

My 200 Word RPGs

Hey there! Long time no see. Well, kind of.

I've got to be honest about something. Despite all the iterations on the D&D worlds I've done in the past, I got burned out once again. I might write an article on that later, but tl;dr of it is "too much magic". So I've been lately browsing minimalistic RPGs, while also trying to make some.

For the last three years, I have participated in the 200wordRPG challenge. My games were far from popular or good, but it was a good exercise for me since my homebrews tend to have overly wordy features. A limitation of 200 words is surprisingly confining, yet something that doesn't feel like it takes a long time to write. Besides, it takes even less time to read. Unfortunately, this year the challenge has been canceled, meaning I would either have to wait until 2021 to post these, or I may as well just post them right now to share them with you all.

So the plan is simple then! I'll post each ruleset, and then give my design notes, as well as anything I couldn't manage to fit into the rules. These are my three 200 word RPGs that I made.

(Note: Only the Deviants one is a submission of mine. While I could share the other two, I doubt they're worth your time.)


Deviants is my last entry so far, and it's a Lasers and Feelings hack inspired by videogames like Prototype and inFamous. It's assumed to be a superhero game, where the player characters are superpowered individuals, each controlling their own element. The big catch here is that the more injuries you sustain, the harder it is to use your powers until you run out of those. It also uses a choice of a roll between 2d6 and 1d12, because I feel like if you're rolling a die in a system like this, some variety can be nice (although either of the options is optional). When it comes to my goal of making a very simple superhero game that's light on rules and even has some worldbuilding, I think I succeeded.

What do you mean "video isn't made up of particles"? Oh well...
Enjoy your power, by Supermare

On the flip side, this system would be super easy to break by choosing your Power to be 2, and choosing a superpower that is useless for most situations, like controlling magma since few cities are near to an active volcano. This way, you could be an average schmoe-Joe who's good at everything, which is certainly a flaw of this system.

Overall, it's meant for short superhero games with an extremely easy character creation process and some assumptions regarding the setting. I'm not surprised that it won nothing, especially seeing how much competition there was last year, but I'm kind of proud of it nonetheless. If I had to fix anything, I would probably remove the "sleeping for 8 hours" line, because it's too wordy and unnecessary for this game. I would probably use those words to ask the players to choose something that's commonly found in their environment if I figured out how to use few enough words for that.

Shifters and Robots

I know that Among Us is all the hype lately, but this game was really made way back around June. The premise of this game is that there are two shape-shifting aliens blending into a group of robots, trying to find each other. It's a hidden roles game akin to Mafia, One Night Werewolf, Bang!, Town of Salem, or indeed Among Us, but with a twist. All roles are hidden, so the shapeshifters will have to try not killing one another, and instead if possible figuring out who the other one is. If they manage to reveal their own role and challenge the other shifter, they get an instant victory, otherwise at least one must survive until everyone else runs out of bullets. Because unlike most hidden role games where players have to vote who gets eliminated, here that responsibility is in the hands of each player. Anyone can choose who gets eliminated, but only once. Do you save your bullet and run a risk of someone being randomly eliminated, or will you choose to do so right now?

Design-wise, I wanted to make a different-feeling hidden roles game, where the majority is more antagonistic towards the minority rather than how it usually is (for example, with the few mafiosos knowing each other and eliminating the majority of players). The whole formula has been boiled down to a bare minimum so that the variants could try out something experimental, so I'd say this is pretty nice.

This one was actually even playtested, and I must say it's a surprisingly fast-paced game. I could see this catching on if I played it more often with more groups of friends. There are even four variants that are not mutually exclusive included to bring the challenge up for the entire group. Now you have two bullets, and/or an unknown number of shifters to look for, or need to make fast decisions. And while "mandatory cardboard robot heads" sounds like a joke, it could make a hidden roles game that much more challenging to play by obscuring everyone's faces.

I would recommend the trial music from Danganronpa for the faster version, and once the game is over, listen to some Porter Robinson, but that's just silly ideas.

Twists and Tales

The last 200 word RPG, for now, is Twists and Tales. It's an experiment on my side because I found the idea of having diceless RPGs neat and wanted to try my hand at making a minimalistic one myself. The gist of it is very simple: when you try to do something, anyone can try to make you fail, and you need to thus expend points in order to succeed in the thing you were trying to do. It's super generic, the GM is optional, and anyone can make you spend points, possibly regaining points if it's an in-character hindrance. I feel like with some testing and maybe even changes, this one would be great for online environments, where die rollers are not always readily available, as well as for beginner groups or groups that just seek a simple storygame RPG.

My goals of having a minimalistic general use GM-optional diceless RPG have worked, but it comes at a cost. The ruleset is pretty bland, which makes it open for any scenario but at the same time, some people want it to work for something specific. The three stats I'm still not so sure about. And overall, this game promotes an adversarial gameplay loop where the player characters are encouraged to be douchebags to each other, getting even rewarded for it. It could be great for drama, but I'm afraid of this ruining friendships. Then again, I have very little experience with storygames and drama RPGs where players are encouraged to play against each other, so I can't tell for sure.

The one thing to tinker with is the numbers. Currently, the scene goes on until either everyone agrees, or you run out of all the scenes. You can regain points other than Twists, but not Twists, which means that you get at most 10 x number of players Twists that you can use on various complications. In a 4 player game, this would be 40 complications for a single scene, spread across 4 characters. At the same time, the minimum number of complications would be 20 - if everyone expended one point at the same time, plus the one left out person also expends their points on things. If I had to compare it to a system I'm familiar with, in D&D at 5th level as a martial class you make 2 attack rolls on each of your turns, let's say you get attacked twice, and the combat lasts 3 turns. This translates to a total of 12 "Twists" to resolve, just for one character. Which makes me feel like I'm on the right track here.

That's all I had to share with you all for today. I hope to get back to the Villainous Cookbook, got a couple of villain ideas on the back burner ready to boil sometime soon, as well as some other ideas for articles. Life just has a way of keeping me busy, which means it takes me a long time to type all this out. I just had these games ready and wanted to share them somewhere, so I figured I may as well share them here with anyone who reads this.

Thank you for reading, and have a nice day!

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!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Villainous Cookbook: The Superb Exemplar

I have to admit something. I'm afraid I've set the bar too high for myself with the first article. Memento Necromancer is a beautiful character that interweaves the mechanics with a theme. And that theme is to give the edgelords whose backstory says everyone they ever cared for is dead someone who they'd love to hate. I don't know if I can do that sort of thing again, especially since these days I have a hard time keeping up with homebrews people produce. With all that being said though, I have some ideas for at least two more villains, who I can publish here as soon as I figure out their themes. At the moment, I can only tell you that their dominant stats are Charisma and Intelligence, and they both revolve around staying hidden, in their own ways.


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 those 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 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.

Alright! Let's get to the villain - the Superb Exemplar!

The Superb Exemplar

"After what you've done to me, I decided to train. To become better. While you raided the dungeons and crypts, I prayed to the divinities for knowledge. While you fought the wolves and goblins that ambushed you on your way, I was taught the way of being one with nature. And while you saved the king from the assassination, I served the one true Queen who sees all. All of this done to become better, the best I could ever be. And unlike you, I've managed to succeed."

I've always pictured this guy as a Sherlock Holmes type, who'd be a noble of some sorts. Extremely competent, popular, and studied.
Sherlock Holmes, by RadoJavor

Ingredients list

Tier 1

We begin our journey by starting with two levels of rogue, one level of warlock, and one level of cleric. Including the skill proficiencies from a background, this means that the exemplar has 10 skill proficiencies (2 from background, 4 from rogue level 1, 2 from cleric, 2 from warlock), and expertise in 6 of them: Insight, Perception, 2 Intelligence skills other than Investigation, and any 2 skills you're proficient in by now. For Intelligence, I would make sure to pick Arcana - it's not an important part of our build, just a matter of personal preference.

With all of this, we have a halfling who has an average amount of hit points, ability to bonus action Dash, Disengage, and Hide, and some spellcasting. Make sure to pick up the guidance cantrip if you want to add that extra bit of oomph.

So far so good! At the moment our exemplar sounds fairly average, let's get a bit more crazy.

Tier 2

We start by getting 3 levels in barbarian, as well as 3 levels in rogue. Say, since we're already proficient in Dexterity saving throws, and we'll soon get to reduce damage from them by half, why not swap that out for something more useful? Survival Instinct is a feature that replaces the Danger Sense, and gives us two skills, as well as expertise in them, out of a small selection. My recommended picks would be Animal Handling and Survival. Oh yes, and we also get to rage, and get to resist all damage except for psychic while raging.

This stacks nicely with rogues, who by now get Uncanny Dodge, as well as some other boons. At 3rd level, you get to pick an archetype. And, ... I'll be honest with you, I don't know what archetype to tell you to pick here. While Scout could be cheesed for 2 extra skills and expertises in them, we could also go with something more interesting. Inquisitive, Arcane Trickster, and Mastermind are very interesting picks, and there's definitely plethora of cool roguish archetypes out there that you could pick too. For example, the Maxim Master made by yours truly revolves around casting spells at their most ground level, and develops theoretical knowledge which could be used for arcane programming.

Either way, we end up with a total of 12 skills now, and 2 new skills to have an expertise in. Time to move on into the next tier where we really see what makes this build special, other than soaking damage.

Tier 3

All six levels we gain in this tier go into rogue. We get two new expertises, two feats, and the most important part of our build - Reliable Talent. Now, whatever skills is our exemplar proficient in, they can't roll less than 10 on a die for. This basically means that, for example, if our exemplar has a +3 in Charisma and expertise in Persuasion, the least they can roll at level 16 is 23. Let's not omit the fact that they can reroll 1's due to their race. I suppose there's also other benefits, like sneak attack or evasion, but... we're not really building a warrior here. Sure they can hold up decently in a fight, but their power is focused on situations outside of a fight.

Tier 4

Our exemplar becomes a cultural icon at this point. They gain 3 levels in bard, and 1 level in warlock. With the bard levels, they get 4 extra skill proficiencies in any skills they want, and 2 extra expertises. With the extra warlock level, they get 2 new skills thanks to an eldritch invocation. We'll turn a blind eye to this and assume that it says we can pick different skills if we have Persuasion and/or Deception. Let's also pick up Devil's Sight while we're here. So we get a total of 6 new skills, on top of the 12 skills we had up until now. And... that means we have ourselves a proficiency in every single skill. Plus, expertise in 4 skills from rogue, 2 from bard, 2 from barbarian, 2 from warlock, and 2 from cleric. Total of 12 skills, in which we get to double our proficiency bonus. On top of Reliable Talent. And guidance.

Remember though, even if they have 6d6 Sneak Attack, Rage, and Uncanny Dodge, they're still not built for just face-to-face battle. Make them sneaky and tricky. Always out of reach of the players - since they have such a high Insight roll, they'll always stay out of players' sight. Planning, scheming, hiding.


This section will talk about what skills to pick an expertise in for each of the levels. I won't discuss the skills themselves, I feel like anyone could decide those on their own for themselves depending on the exemplar they wish to run.

  • Tier 1 gives us Arcana, History/Nature/Religion, Insight, Perception, Stealth\*, and Investigation*.
  • Tier 2 grants us Animal Handling and Survival.
  • For Tier 3, you can pick 2 out of Athletics*, Sleight of Hand*, Deception*, and Persuasion*.
  • Finally, at Tier 4 you can pick the last two picks from the selection above.
* These skills can be exchanged for anything.


This build gets one feat at Tier 2, and two feats at Tier 3. I highly recommend picking up Observant, since it gives their passive Perception an even better boost and makes it thus harder to sneak upon them. Other picks to consider are Lucky, Keen Mind, Alert, and Squat Nimbleness, though you can really pick anything here.

Story Background

The Superb Exemplar is a character fairly low on magic. 6 of its levels are invested into spellcasters, but that doesn't mean much since their highest level of a spell slot is 2. Seeing how many things they are competent at, I'd have them in an environment you would expect to meet a polymath: A noble court, an inventor's workshop, a gallery, a library, sky's the limit. Listed below are just some of the possible plot hooks to make the players' and exemplar's stories meet:

  • One of the player characters has humiliated the exemplar publicly. Ever since, the exemplar took on a new name, holding a grudge against this person.
  • The exemplar seeks the approval or acceptance from someone who's already party's enemy.
  • The exemplar lost someone close to them because of a player character, but they blame themselves. They seek perfection so that this could never again happen.

The exemplar's greatest motivation is perfection of self, but this could be their ultimate downfall. While they are amazing at anything they can do, they're still a mere mortal, barely capable of magic of 2nd level. Their saving throws and Armor Class do not get any better than those of a 1st level character, unless you were to improve their stats.

Thank you for reading, and have a nice day!

P.S.: If you want to use this as a player character in a party, please don't. Everyone at the table wants to feel useful, and being good at everything hogs all of the spotlight. I'm not doing this to give players ideas for cool builds, I'm doing this to give players cool villains to pursue.
However, you have my permission to try to play this in a solo game. All the spotlight is on you if you're the only player, and honestly I feel like this would be one of the best ways to play solo, other than playing a Charisma caster or a pure rogue. Which doesn't mean that any other classes are invalid, you do what you want!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Villainous Cookbook: The Memento Necromancer

Howdy, everyone! While talking on the Discord of Many Things, I got an idea from an acquaintance who mentioned starting a blog about min-maxed characters. I should start sharing my own villains on this blog. I hope you'll enjoy this!


The purpose of the Villainous Cookbook is to provide cool villain ideas for DMs. It usually utilizes homebrew player options sometimes mixed with the official ones, but it bends the rules a little to work better as a whole. This is not to prove to the players that they are weak and you are strong, that's something anyone can do. "Prismatic rocks fall, everyone dies." Since you're the DM, you can do that. But the fact that you can do that doesn't mean that you should. Sometimes, restrictions breed creativity. Other times, it's nice to push the boundary a little to make the villain more interesting.

There is one thing where I'll be loose on the rulings always, and that's the stats. I leave the stats completely up to you. I will tell you what feats I recommend you to pick though. Because let's face it - Ability Score Improvements are not important for the villains, so why bother.

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 final 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 individual who figured out something others don't know, or has 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.

Alright! Let's get to our first villain!

The Memento Necromancer

After splitting away from his colleagues to go through the dungeon again for more treasures, the adventurer finds himself alone on the way back to the village. His second delve was far from fruitful, those couple coins were not worth it, and now he has to walk through the misty forest on his own. The Sun has set midway through the forest when the adventurer hears a voice in the distance.
"X'harles? Is that you?"
The mighty warrior looks around until he notices a figure standing in the distance. Once his eyes adjust to the distance, he recognizes it. "M-mother?"
"X'harles, why did you abandon us?" Another voice speaks up, this one masculine, from another direction. "The orcs could have been defeated if you helped us."
"What? H-how are you- this can't be..." The warrior stutters as he keeps exchanging glances between both of these figures.
"You have abandoned us. And we will never forgive you that." Adventurer's mother says as he hears shuffles of feet from all around. Zombies emerge from the mist. Too many of them. Each bearing the face and body of either the adventurer's parents.
"No, you've died! I saw it, you died to the warchief's axe! Stay back!"

Soul summoner, by Nghi Vo

Ingredients List

Tier 1

Let's start with our base. Start with picking the faceless race, which is a secret tool we'll get to use later. One level of rogue doesn't get us much besides expertise and sneak attack, but neither warlock nor wizard gets us anything from the multiclassing so that's why we start with it. You can drop the expertises anywhere you want. I would put them into Stealth, and either Perception if you want them to notice players well, or Athletics/Acrobatics if you want them to be good at getting out of the troubles/getting into places. We follow that up with three levels of warlock, picking the Gelatinous Convocation patron, and Pact of the Tome. Now, it's time to bend two rules, both of which are actually presented in Compendium of Forgotten Secrets: Awakening as possibilities. One is using Intelligence as a spellcasting ability, while the other is ignoring the patron prerequisites on the Eldritch Invocations. Former helps us with multiclassing into wizard later, while the latter will help us in getting the signature tome of our necromancer to work.

We'll need two invocations. Catalogue of Experiences from the Gelatinous Convocation patron, and Ledger of the Deceased from the Forbidden Graveyard patron. The combination of all these means that if the necromancer touches a corpse with their tome, the corpse's name gets written into the tome. If a name is written that way in the tome, it counts as if its corpse was always wherever the tome is. Once per day, after one minute of focusing on a name within the tome, the memories from the last 48 hours of its life, as well as memories of the most important moments during the last year of its life, appear within the tome. While we could go for different invocations, such as Agonizing Blast, or Fractured Soul from CoFS:A, our current build has only 3 levels of warlock. If you want to, you could exchange some of the wizard levels for warlock levels to get more invocations, as well as some extra spells.

I would recommend avoiding showing off the necromancer to your players at this point. Have them act in the background, gathering information on the players' pasts and building up their catalog of terrible memories.

Tier 2

This is where our things get a little tricky. We get to earn at least 4 levels of wizard, and then 2 extra levels that can be distributed between wizard and rogue. We'll go with wizard 5 + rogue 1, because it's optimal, and it gives us our desired necromancy.

With one level of rogue, we get the cunning action. Consistent bonus action is always nice to have, especially for someone as squishy as this necromancer. Disengage, Dash, and Hide can be useful more than often.

The five levels of wizard get us the spell animate dead at last, a lot more spell slots, and an ASI. Our dear necromancer can now go on and produce numerous undead every single day. Since the name in the tome doesn't disappear when an undead is produced with our necromancer's pact tome, they could create infinite copies of the same undead's corpse.

So now we have an information gatherer who can conjure some undead, collect memories, and look like anyone. The next tier is where things get even more frightening.

Tier 3

Our dear necromancer will earn the final rogue level and pick the Hundred Faced archetype. Though, we'll change it in a minor way. Instead of its abilities relying on the Wisdom, we'll make them rely on the Intelligence (again, just to make the villain more interesting). This archetype has got an interesting interaction with the Faceless that I like to call "one-man crowd": if you make a copy of yourself, it looks exactly like you do, along with all of your equipment. So, since you're faceless, you can turn into anyone from the past of a corpse inside of your tome, and make a copy of yourself. This copy will from that point on look like the person whose appearance you copied. Its appearance can't really be changed, but that's fine, this is good enough.

From this point on, all of the levels are invested into the wizard. By the time this necromancer reaches level 16, they'll have 3 levels of warlock, 3 levels of rogue, and 10 levels of wizard. With this, they'll be able to cast spells of 5th level, create more powerful enemies, have resistance to necrotic damage and immunity to effects that would reduce their maximum HP. They'll know 2 warlock cantrips and 5 wizard cantrips, know 4 warlock spells and prepare at most 15 wizard spells, and have 2 spell slots of 2nd level that recharge on short rest, along with Arcane Recovery which recharges 10 levels of spells. By now they should be gathering up quite an army, possibly hiding somewhere and drawing more and more undead from their tome.

Tier 4

With the final tier, our necromancer learns spells of 6th and 7th level and learns how to command the undead. Of course, you could just assume the undead they try to control has failed their saving throw while off-screen, so you could go wild with this ability. Some recommendations for the spells to pick would be finger of death and create undead.


Our necromancer will get to pick 1 feat during Tier 2, 2 feats during Tier 3, and 1 feat during Tier 4. You might want to choose your feats based on the playstyle of your players, as well as personal preference. The list is of course not exhaustive.

  • For increased mobility, you could consider Mobile (PHB), Mark of the Storm Lord (CoFS:A), and Flying Figure (Faceless).
  • For stealth options, consider the Inanimate Shapes (Faceless), Beastly Forms (Faceless), and Skulker (PHB).
  • For improving the magic, you could pick Elemental Adept (PHB), Spell Sniper (PHB), or War Caster (PHB).
  • For improving their durability, you could go with Mage Slayer (PHB), Resilient with the choice being Constitution (PHB), or Tough (PHB).
  • If you want to drive up the paranoia in your players, consider picking up the Face Stealer (Faceless) or Truly Eldritch (Faceless) feat.
  • For universal utility, you could pick Lucky (PHB). Just don't call it "Lucky" in front of the players. Maybe you could flavor it as Legendary Resistance and just use it for saves.

Story Background

When it comes to the potential connections to the players and the reasons for fighting, there are of course lots of options. Here's just a couple of them:
  • One of the player characters holds a magical item that needs to be awakened and the necromancer really wants it.
  • One of the player characters has murdered someone who necromancer cared for deeply.
  • The necromancer's parents have been killed by parent(s) of one or more player characters.
  • The necromancer used to be in a friendly rivalry with one of the player characters back when they were children. However, the rivalry has grown into enmity as the necromancer started to study the dark magic.
While at it, consider also the personality of your necromancer. Not all necromancers have to be serious and monotone. Maybe your necromancer is eccentric, or actually a social person. 

So excited to bring back life into those old bones. First success, by Tony Sart.

Anyways, that's about it! Thank you for reading, and have a nice day!