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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!

Preface

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.

Feats

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. Maybe 

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!

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Departed Man's Inn

Inspired by the OST of Witcher 3's expansion, a blogpost from GoblinPunch, and possibly other stuff that I forgot about.

The blog's purpose did change over the years, I figured every once in a while I could make another location you could plop anywhere in your world. Mainly when I have an idea that feels like it's worth exploring.

Note: Any similarities to real people or places is coincidental, other than Elza Beth. All of these are fictional people.

The Departed Man's Inn

Somewhere, be it just on a road between big cities, or on the crossroads where several such roads meet, stands The Departed Man's Inn. Far away from any big noteworthy city, this tavern seems to be nothing important at a glance. It's actually surprising they have any regular patrons at all. But those who look beyond the facade presented to the public will find a terrifying truth. The inn has lots of traps hidden all over the place, and it even hides a secret basement underneath the cellar. Some of the beds have mechanical spikes that spring at midnight, impaling whoever is unfortunate enough to lie on them. The subtle drainage system built in those few selected rooms lead all of the blood down beneath the inn, right into a bathtub. What's more, this place is full of highwaymen. A group of outlaws, who just so happen to be... immortal?
The Departed Man's Inn, including its regular patrons, is composed of a group of immortal people in hiding, robbing traveling merchants in their free time, because what else will they do. Each of them is immortal in their own way.


D.A.

D.A. is the goblin with a silver tongue. He managed to convince the Vile Darkness — the lord of hell itself (or another appropriate Lower Plane of your choice) — to grant him immortality. It was supposed to be a devil deal that would backfire, but D.A.'s talent of writing contracts is what has given him this immortality. It's also the explanation for his nickname — Devil's Advocate, D.A. He is the third youngest member of the group, and ultimately his goal is to overthrow the leader and manage the group as the boss.



Dorien

Because of a badly worded wish upon encountering a genie, this male dwarf has been turned into a vampire. He is a patient man, rather slow but also artistically talented, and elegant. With the time he has been given, he is capable of painting the same painting for months, sometimes even years. His life goal is to paint a masterpiece to be remembered by forever.


Elza Beth

Taking inspiration from an actual legend, this young-looking female aasimar lures into the Departed Man's Inn young virgin women to slay them and bathe in their blood. This is what keeps her youth, both in appearance and in age. Her only wish is to keep her beauty and admiration from others. She's actually rather reserved when not on the "hunt", keeping to herself


Jack Hopkins

Legends say, that those who have been denied from every single afterlife are fated to travel across the lands, cursed with eternal life. Jack is a ghost banned from any life beyond death, bound to a simple amulet. He can possess people seen by him, which he usually uses to bring in victims for Elza and Dorien to keep their eternal lives. Whenever he possesses someone, the person visibly wears Jack's amulet. Jack is an eccentric prankster, who just wants to enjoy the life for what it's worth, since he's got unlimited supply of it. Drinking, drugs, and other pleasures that would normally damage the body are of no worry to someone, who can exchange bodies with others.


Jade Hart

It is rather unusual to meet a goliath wizard. Second in leadership only to Thomas, she's the brains behind this whole tavern. Jade has several clones prepared in the secret basement beneath the inn's cellar. She's supportive, willing to listen to anyone who has a problem — patron or fellow highwayman. Reading makes her happy, and scrolls containing any spells that she doesn't have yet in the nearly complete spellbook make her even happier. Rumors between the Inn's employees say that her heart is literally a heart of stone, but nobody can tell for sure whether that's true or not.


Lapis Goldielocks Gyroscope

Thanks to her alchemical prowess, Lapis has managed to successfully create a recipe for potion of immortality, which allows her body to regenerate very fast. She's a gnome with an ambitious goal of creating her very own universe in a box. She's naturally curious about all the travelers, and a good listener since she usually pretends to be the barmaid.


Maximillion Dyson Gyroscope, or M.A.X.

Through complicated research, Maximillion has managed to develop his very own spells, akin to magic mouth or arcane lock, but with telekinesis activated by seen inputs. Afterwards, this gnome has built himself an iron golem body, cast imprisonment on himself, and through his visual commands managed to insert the gem used for the imprisonment spell into the chest of the golem. His wish is to outlast even the gods with his ingenuity, and when he's not pretending to be a bodyguard of this tavern, he's constantly working on new gizmos, under a nickname of "Mechanical Autonomous eXterminator", or M.A.X.


Queen of Aces

Bearing the nickname of a Queen is something only someone very proud of their skills would dare to do. Queen is excellent at all sorts of games, and a very fast learner. It is said that the more she plays against the same opponent, the higher her chances of beating them. This lordly gambler has challenged the death itself to a game, and coincidentally won. Ever since, she's been on a winning streak, with a goal of amassing as much wealth as possible for her own amusement.


Immortal Jim and Lilac "Steel Doll" Hemsi

These two siblings are fairly old, and blessed by the gods with skin that's as hard as steel. Both of them are immortal, but for different reasons. Jim will only take damage that's 3 or less at once, while Lilac takes damage only if it's dealt to the pinkie toe on her left foot, which she usually hides with steel-tipped boots. The two siblings care for each other, and technically aren't even immortal. Thomas took them in for their potential when it comes to being in the fight. While Jim is a bit of an airhead who gets angry quickly at even the smallest things, Lilac fills in for his weaknesses by being exceptionally good at reading people and noticing things.
They don't really get a picture, because this is a blank I'd want you to fill out on your own. Do they look like barbarians from north? Like desert travelers? Do they look like stereotypical adventurers? You tell me!

Thomas Booker O'Ville, also known as The Vile Darkness

The lord of hell (or another appropriate Lower Plane) that D.A. managed to trick. He is the oldest member of this group, the leader, and also the founder. He is a trickster, elegant on the outside but playing mind games at all times with folks. Who knows if D.A. tricked him, or if Thomas got him where he wanted to have D.A. all along. Due to being the lord of hell, he always comes back to life by emerging from the hell after his death. To the public, he presents himself as the owner of The Departed Man's Inn.
Some rumors say that he is the Book of Vile Darkness, manifested into a physical form. Which is why there's only one known way of destroying him permanently — wiping out all of the multiverse's evil.


And I suppose that's it for The Departed Man's Inn! Sure I could go into more details, like the environment, or the tavern's layout, or more detailed roles for the rest of the characters, but I would rather keep the details like that vague so that it fits into majority of the worlds. Imagine having your players start in this inn before they venture into the adventures of the world, having little to no clue as to who manages this inn until way later in the game. You can of course alter the crew of this inn by adding or removing members, editing the existing ones, or doing any other modifications you can think of.

Thank you for reading, and have a nice day!

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Weave Magic and Unbound Magic

Magic is one of the biggest parts of the D&D system. Taking up over 80 pages out of the Player's Handbook's 300+ pages, it's fair to say it is important to most players. With the recent release of the new Psionic Options Unearthed Arcana, we've got some extra lore on the psionics. And while previously I found presence of psionics to be fairly pointless since it's basically fancy magic, upon reading this lore it made me realize that this is an untapped space of potential out there for everyone to explore. Quoting the Unearthed Arcana:

Is Psi a Form of Magic?

Psi is a supernatural power that emanates from the mind. Like other forms of supernatural power in D&D, it can be used to create magical phenomena, yet it can create other sorts of phenomena as well. In the game’s rules, only certain supernatural effects are classified as magical: magic items, spells, spell attacks, powers fueled by spell slots, and any other effect that the rules explicitly call magical. This distinction is rarely relevant in play, typically coming up only when something like an antimagic field shows up.
From a storytelling standpoint, some supernatural effects in D&D weave their power into a formalized form—a spell, for instance—that other effects can disrupt. In contrast, there are other supernatural effects that are so wild, formless, or subtle that it is difficult or impossible to disrupt them. In this article, some of the psionic powers create what the rules consider to be magic and some don’t.

Artwork from the TavernTales RPG


With that out of the way, I would like to propose that there are two types of magic in D&D. It's not just inborn vs. gained, or arcane vs. divine this time around. This time, we're looking at a much bigger pictureWeave magic, and Unbound magic. And while the original definition of the eight caster classes in the game stay for the most part the same, some rewording to the usual explanations is necessary.
(Note: After rereading and researching online, I found out that Unbound Magic is a term used in Guild Wars 2. But I don't think renaming it is a good idea for now, since this is the best term I could come up with for magic that doesn't rely on Weave. If anyone has suggestions for a better name, feel free to tell me in the comments!)

Weave Magic

For the sake of clarity, I'll begin with the classes that are already in the game. Notice that each of these is important in how they manipulate the Weave.
  • Bard is characteristic for using their power of heart and/or soul through performing their art of choice to manipulate the Weave.
  • Cleric harnesses the divine magic that comes from the deity it worships and uses that to manipulate the Weave.
  • Druids live in harmony with the nature, which is why they can manipulate the Weave.
  • Paladin magic comes from the power of their devotion. This is what lets them manipulate the Weave.
  • Rangers have learned how to survive in the wilderness, and in doing so they learned how to access and manipulate the Weave.
  • Sorcerers can manipulate the Weave because it's a talent they were born with. They just need to develop it.
  • Warlocks have been given power to manipulate the Weave by an otherworldly patron.
  • Wizards have studied how to manipulate the Weave by memorization and experimentation.
Sorry for so much repetition of "manipulate the Weave" line above, but it is important to today's article for one simple reason: antimagic field. This spell, or a magical effect (non-magical rather maybe?) is what is used for defining which magic comes from the Weave, and which is Unbound. Simple test of "does it work in antimagic field?" can answer our questions, because antimagic field literally prevents access to the Weave. To answer a possible question of "how can a spell do this?", I suggest a simple answer of the spell "pushing" the Weave away from the point of origin. There are of course dead magic zones and such too, but I'll just label it all antimagic field to be consistent.

Now we are finally ready to delve into the other type of the magic.

Unbound Magic

Since antimagic field cancels only spells, magic items, spell attacks, powers fueled by spell slots, and other effects that are explicitly called by rules "magical", that leaves some stuff that's not magic RAW, yet it is supernatural.

Our first example will be something already defined by the official rules: Monk. That's right, monk's abilities are our first case of the Unbound magic. Just as a proof, here's a short list of some of the supernatural effects level 20 monks can manifest even while fully inside of the antimagic field:
  • running up the walls to a height of 60-ish feet in 6 seconds (120 if they Dash, 180 if they also use bonus action Step of the Wind to Dash),
  • talking in all languages at once and understanding all languages,
  • turning invisible for 1 minute.
Last time I've checked, someone running up a 50 meter wall in 6 seconds without falling and turning invisible were supernatural. The lore says it's magic. Yet, these abilities are not described RAW as magic. Previous editions have stated that monks basically use psionics. Some folks said that what psionics are to mind, monks are to body. I kinda like the latter explanation more, monks on their own don't seem psionic to me personally. The only things a monk can't do in antimagic field (ignoring subclass-specific stuff) are not being able to cast astral projection, and depending on the DM not being able to use Ki-Empowered Strikes.

Our next example, which doesn't really need much introduction or detail since it's still in a playtest form, is the various forms of psionics. They can be used to cast spells, they can also be used to do other supernatural effects without them really being stopped by antimagic field.

My final example that I'll talk about in a bit more detail is a full class made by Genuine Believer, which I decided I'll test out by including it in my current campaign's world. Icon is described as a martial class that wields magical masks that grant them various powers. Another interesting explanation for their power is this coming from a minor form of divinity. However, curiously enough, there aren't that many class features, which are described as "magical". The only spell present in the entire class write-up is the capstone feature of the Dragon mask, which allows the wearer to cast the shapechange spell, turning into a dragon. Some of the masks allow to deal magical types of bludgeoning/piercing/slashing damage, so those could also arguably be rendered nonmagical while in the antimagic field. But other than that, this class can work just as well in the field. Here are some supernatural effects that Icon is capable of even while in the antimagic field:
  • wearing a mask that can't be removed without its permission,
  • healing through sheer willpower,
  • cause creatures around you to identify some traits of your choice just by a glance,
  • not aging, not needing to eat, drink, or breathe,
  • and gaining immunity to four types of damage.
Some other examples of Unbound magic classes that I found for now but don't feel like describing in detail are the following:

Conclussion

Weave magic is only one side of the coin when it comes to the worldbuilding using D&D 5e. A far scarier side of the coin is Unbound magic. Magic that can't really be detected with detect magic, prevented with dispel magic or antimagic field, something beyond the regular rules. Whether it's psionic, iconic, monastic, or of some other nature, Unbound magic holds, just as the name suggests, unbound potential for exploration in homebrew D&D design.
One last note - if you liked this article, you might also like my four different takes on psionics!

Thank you for reading, and have a nice day!

Sunday, March 22, 2020

1d12 Fantastical Fruits!

How about I try something for once? Here are 12 unusual fruits that I made up for my world(s). Apologies ahead of time for all the puns, and I hope you'll enjoy reading this!

  1. Catapple. An apple with two growths on top that resemble cat ears. These ears are one of the reasons why the catapples make for really good projectiles. If you're a bad performer, expect some rotten catapples being thrown at you besides rotten tomatoes. Being thrown catapples at is referred as "being catappled", from which the word catapult comes.
  2. Goblin bean. Green beans with a strong bad smell. Only the most avantgarde gourmets would ever use them in meals, some of them managing to make them taste good. However, no gourmet can save you from the smell that comes after the beans, which is way worse than the smell of raw goblin beans.
  3. Dragonberry. This strange berry resembles raspberry, with three to five big berries, usually in colors of chromatic dragons., each one different. They all have spikes on them, so make sure to break those off before eating the berries.
  4. Fairberry. They look like regular blueberries, but taste much sweeter. However, those who eat these berries are reduced to Tiny size for 1 minute, which explains their name.
  5. Githberry. These yellow raspberries grant the one who eats them temporary psychic powers. After eating them, they can cast one cantrip of DM's choice once. However, after finishing a long rest this use is wasted, and one can't have more than one cantrip ready like this.
  6. Grandmelon. The watermelons grown by the giants themselves. These huge melons are bigger than a pig, and curiously enough - sweeter on the edges, as opposed to regular watermelons that are sweet in the middle. From this comes a saying about activities that get less fun the longer they go, which are "like eating a grandmelon". Due to their size and the taste distribution, they are eaten from the outside in.
  7. Kenkunut. A black coconut that produces a raven shriek when cracked in a right way. Tastes like a regular coconut, but it's got a licorice aftertaste to it.
  8. Honeyfruit. This fruit resembles an orange that's a little more yellow than its namesake, and is filled with juice that tastes and feels just like honey.
  9. Pineana. Deadly pineapple that needs to be killed before being eaten. Pineanas are the most dangerous fruit around that will try to devour you first. It tastes like a mixture between pineapple and banana.
  10. Melon-lemon. A melon-sized sour lemon. What else is there to say.
  11. Blood pear. A pear that's bloody red on the inside. Interesting fact is that it has the taste and nutrients of regular blood, making it perfect for vegan vampires.
  12. Starberry. This metal-looking strawberry with dots organized in a regular grid taste like ozone and have a metallic smell. After it fully grows, it never rots.
Sorry for being inactive for such a long time, my real life kept me busy. I'll try to write here more often. Thank you for reading, and have a great day!