Monte Cook and the Monstrous Legacy

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So, I’m taking a short break from my usual series to talk a bit about the latest Legends & Lore article from Monte Cook (www.montecook.com@MonteJCook). If you haven’t had a chance to read it, go here now, otherwise you won’t get as much out of this post. Just to summarize (so I can better organize my thoughts), the gist of it is preserving the legacy of monsters from previous editions of D&D. It’s an interesting topic, and it set the hamster in my brain spinning on his wheel. This topic is something I’ve been encountering a bit with my Planescape conversion, so I think I’m in a good position to talk about it.

First, let me mention what I agree with I can really get behind updating monsters from previous editions. As I read through some of the older editions, I see monsters and think how neat or interesting some of them are. I agree that there is something to be said for not always re-inventing the wheel. It’s nice to let some of the second-stringers get some playing time.

Where I diverge is the thought that this updating of existing monsters is in opposition to looking at the present and future. I think the two can (and should) go hand-in-hand. A good working knowledge of history is helpful when assessing the present. However, I also think that modern game design should factor in more heavily. We should not toss out the lessons learned from several decades of game design of various types and genres. It is good to have an injection of new blood from people who don’t carry the baggage of all that history. A fresh perspective is sometimes needed to move on and make things better.

In short, the history of the game should inform us, but we should make decisions based on modern design principles. If this is what Mr. Cook is proposing, I’m all for it. If not, we might have to talk. I can say that the poll seems to support the latter instead of the former, which concerns me.
What did you think of the article?

Chaos Incarnate: The Plane of Limbo

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Lady of Pain CrestBased on  the response I got to this poll, I’m going to attempt to tackle Limbo today. As part of the planar ecology, I’m going to need planar traits, horizon effects, and possibly secondary effects. I’d like to add some info similar to what I did here, as that seemed to really stoke people’s imaginations. Hopefully, this will also make this information more useful to DMs looking to use this material for their campaigns.

Chaos into Order

So Limbo is chaos, literally (and I do mean literally). The plane is a soup of chaos matter. In order to have a chance of surviving here, our heroes are going to need a way to shape that matter into something meaningful. Impose order on chaos, as it were. Thankfully, the 4e Manual of the Planes already has this mechanic (you might have missed it, I certainly did on first reading). I think this will be the planar effect, although it is different from the planar effects to date. That’s okay, the planes are (and should be) strange, berk! Maybe something like the following:

Anarchist Mind

Pre-req: Wis 15+
Benefit: You gain the ability to affect mutable planes with your Wisdom modifier rather than your Intelligence modifier.

Anarchist Training

You have learned techniques for more effectively shaping the planes to your will.
Pre-reg: Int 15+
Benefit: You gain a +2 bonus on checks made to affect a mutable plane.

Order into Chaos

Another thing to consider for Limbo is the effect it has on magic. This is an area where we have to be careful. How do we make interesting effects without handicapping or overpowering the arcane and divine power sources? For now, I think we’re okay with what I’m going to propose. Let’s just use the sorcerer’s Wild Magic class feature. For any arcane or divine power, roll a d10 to determine what damage type it is. I know this will probably result in some “swingy” results, but hey, it’s Limbo!

How Can You Possibly Live Here?

What about the denizens of Limbo? What creatures occur here naturally? The first ones that comes to mind are the slaadi (think intelligent, evil frog of chaos for those not familiar). Luckily, we’ve got several slaadi already thanks to some compendium browsing (seriously, just search for slaad). There’s also the githzerai, but there’s only a few of these. I might try and give them a treatment sometime soon, as there are no epic-level ones, and they don’t seem to have a defining racial trait.

Conclusion

Next time, we’ll talk a little bit about secondary effects, adventure seeds, and maybe some adventuring locales.

Also, be sure to check out the Planescape 4E page for links to all the pages.

The DM and Literary Theme

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I’ve branched out a bit lately with my blog reading, and I discovered Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) over at his blog, Terrible Minds. He’s pretty saucy, so if strong language is not your cup of tea you might want to switch to coffee before reading. In particular, I want to talk about this post here.

I see two main approaches that DMs use when planning a campaign for D&D. One is that they have a story to tell. The other is that they want the story to evolve from collaboration at the table. What I don’t see a lot of is the use of a literary theme. The DM wouldn’t bother with the exact flow of the story, but only the type of story he wants to tell. I can think of a few easy examples to illustrate this point.
  • “With great power comes great responsibility.”
  • “No one will save you but yourself.”
  • “The gods love us and protect us.”
Maybe I’m missing the boat here, but I don’t hear a lot of DMs talking in this way about their campaigns. Correct me if you think I’m wrong, but this seems like it might be a better way. Instead of worrying about the exact details, I can focus on what it is I’m trying to say.

That’s great, I already have a campaign running. What I am supposed to do with this? Easy. Think about what it is you’re been saying with the plot. If the campaign hasn’t been running long, what plot did you have in mind? Can’t figure it out? That’s okay. Start at the next tier. Or wait until your next campaign starts.

For you world-building DMs out there, you’re probably already messing around with theme, whether you realize it or not. You’ve created a world in which certain things are true or believed to be true. There’s probably theme in there somewhere. Take Dark Sun. The world is bleak, and most people are just trying to survive. Guess what, that’s a theme.

Some will read this and think, why does this matter? Why should I think about this? You’re missing a wonderful opportunity to say something meaningful through a medium you (hopefully) enjoy. What could be better than that?

Wrapping Up in the Gray Waste

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Lady of Pain CrestSo today is part 4 of the planar ecology for the Gray Waste. This will be the last post for the Gray Waste, and then I’ll move on to other things. I got inspired from my post for the Plane of Ice, so I wanted to post a few things here to help you in play. Today I’ve got some monsters (some already published, two new types), and a list of powers (that would be gods or deities in your language, Clueless!) with realms in the Gray Waste.

Gray Denizens

The Gray Waste has three (Rule of Three!) major denizen types of note. This doesn’t mean there aren’t others, but adventurers should definitely run into these three here. It’s not a trip to the Gray Waste without encountering them.

  • Night Hags
  • Hordlings
  • Larvae

Night hags are in the compendium, but they’re listed as fey. That’s fine, you can just change their type (I haven’t been rigorous with creature types, but that’s probably a post for another time).

LarvaeHordlings and larvae are not listed, so I definitely need to add them. I’ve crafted two hordling variants that we’ll get to in a second. I went back and forth on how to represent the larvae, but for now, I’ve settled on them being a swarm creature. I think there could definitely be a hazard version of them, and other creatures (like say, oh, a night hag) could have an area power whose “fluff” is that they’re attacking with a swarm of larvae. The point to drive home with these is that they’re pretty much everywhere in the Gray Waste. I wouldn’t necessarily have the party fighting only them, but a night hag coupled with a few of these swarms (her “herd”) would make for an interesting encounter I think.

Now, hordlings are to the Gray Waste what demons and devils are to their respective planes. These creatures are the foot soldiers, the rank and file, of the Gray Waste. The other thing to keep in mind is that they’re extremely varied in morphology (kind of like demons and devils, but not listed separately). To that end, I’ve created two different variants for use. Hopefully it gives you enough ideas to create some of your own. The original source material had some nice tables to mix things up, and I’d love to bring that forward. I’d have to think of a good way to do it. Let’s put that on my might-get-done list.Larvae Swarm Monster

Hordling RakerHordling Dive Bomber

Powers of the Gray

Several powers have realms within the Gray Waste, or so the sages say. Here’s a listing of powers broken down by prime material world. I’ve included the Eberron powers (although how in the planes I’d resolve that cosmology I have no idea. I’m willing to take suggestions) for completeness.

General guidelines are that all gods of death go in the Gray Waste. If a power’s spheres include apathy, loss, etc., they should have a realm here. Some of them, like Abbathor, are included because the source material called them out as having a realm in the Gray Waste. Without further do, here’s the listing.

Abeir-Toril

  • Abbathor
  • Jergal
  • Kelemvor

Eberron

  • The Keeper

Points of Light

  • Nerull (before he died)
  • The Raven Queen

Have I given you enough incentive to use the Gray Waste in 4E? Need more motivation. Leave a comment below.

Planescape Series

Where Should We Go Next?

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Ok, so I have a few more ideas, but I thought I’d open the floor to the readers. What plane should I tackle next in my #PS4E planar ecology series? I’m open to doing whatever you’d like (as long as I can come up with something for it).

I’ll use the feedback at the end of this week (7 Oct 2011) to make a decision. I might leave the poll open, or I might not. I’ll see what kind of response I get.

[WiC] The Plane of Ice

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Part of the Winter Is Coming RPG Blog Festival.

“Hello, mortals. The name’s Sanctimarin, Master of the Frozen Breeze. I’m gonna give you some of the dark about my home, the plane of ice. You’ve probably read all kinds of fancy books by your so-called scholars, but I’m here to give you the real chant. You might call me an ice mephit, and I might freeze the blood in your veins. Got that, bub? Let’s just move on, shall we?”

The Paraelemental plane of Ice sits between the planes of Water and Air and borders the planes of Steam, Lightning, Salt, and Vacuum. Adventuring here is a deadly affair, as the coldest parts of the plane are capable of freezing flesh, blood, and even thoughts.

Planar Effects

The safest parts of the plane of ice aren’t friendly and welcoming, as each hour of travel requires an Endurance check with a DC of 20 or take 10 points of cold damage.

Powers with the Cold descriptor deal 5 more damage. Powers with the Fire descriptor are slightly less effective, dealing 5 less damage.

Resistances and vulnerabilities are unchanged by the plane.

Ice, Ice, Baby!

So the picture below represents the plane of ice. Click for an enlarged version. It’s my recreation of a diagram originally found in THE INNER PLANES (TSR, 1998). Note that the areas of the plane are not discrete sections like this. Think of it more as a general guideline of what to expect. As you get closer to the plane of steam, the environment begins to look and feel like the fog of unyielding frost.

Plane of Ice

Notable Locations

For the DM looking for some interesting locales, consider the following list.

The Mountain of Ultimate Winter
This is the coldest place in the plane of ice, supposedly the coldest place in all of the multiverse. Even thoughts and concepts can freeze here, leaving behind crystals worth up to 7,500 gold pieces (treat them like a gemstone or art object and have fun with what’s frozen).

Tiera Minnut
Arguably the safest place on the plane, Tiera Minnut is a floating city encased in a protective arcane shell. It even negates the planar effects listed above. This would be an interesting locale for a couple of adventures.

Chiseled Estate
The icy palace of Cryonax, prince of evil cold elementals, could serve as the site of a final battle.

The Bloodmire
The Bloodmire is the site of an ancient battle between the frost giants and the frost trolls, both of which are found natively on the plane of ice. This could be the supposed resting site of some power magical artifact.

Arcolantha
The Arcolantha is a deep crevice in the ice, perfectly spherical with an orb of pure white light at its center. Frozen just beneath the surface is a menagerie of animals, supposedly every animal in the multiverse. Is it some wizard’s strange collection? A site created by some forgotten race? Who knows?

Denizens

The plane of ice – while being inhospitable to most – still has quite a bit of life (some indigenous, some just visitors). Any of the following may be encountered (straight from the compendium).

  • Ice troll
  • Frost giants
  • Yeti (you’ll have to advance these to paragon-tier)
  • Blizzard Dragon
  • Ice Gargoyle
  • Ice Archon
  • Rime Hound
  • Winter Wolf
  • Remorhaz
  • Cobalt Dragon
  • White Dragon
  • Frost Salamander (change default salamander from fire to cold)
  • Winterclaw Owlbear
  • Rimefire Griffon

This is just a cursory glance through the compendium. This doesn’t even leverage one of the best things about 4E, re-skinning by changing keywords.

Great, but How Do the Heroes Get There?

The burning question is how to get to the plane of ice. Here’s a couple of suggestions.

  • The party is some where cold (the far north). They make camp one night and discover in the morning that they’ve been transported to the plane of ice. The dangerous chill in the air is their first indication that something is wrong.
  • An unexpected blizzard catches the party. As they trudge through the driving snow, they notice subtle changes in the landscape until they find themselves in the Precipice, the surface of the plane of ice.
  • While exploring a dungeon, the party happens upon a large picture that shows a frozen tundra. There appears to be bitter cold emanating from it. When one of the party touches the surface, an awakened spell transports the hapless victim to the plane of ice.
  • A powerful wizard conjures a portal and escapes the party during combat. The party follows and find themselves in Tierra Minnut.

Hopefully, this has sparked some ideas and started that hamster in your brain running on his wheel.

Languor to Larvae

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Lady of Pain CrestThis is part 3 of a planar ecology for the Gray Waste. Last time I talked about the horizon effect to add menace to the Gray Waste. Today’s topic is a secondary effect for the plane. In particular, I’ll present the Gary Wasting, which is a disease track that the horizon creates. Feel free to use it independently of the other mechanics, although I think the planar effect, the Gray Languor, and the Languor to Larva make a nice package.

I’m designing the Gray Waste for a paragon-level area, as I think this is appropriate. Select areas of the plane may be lower or higher, but the disease effect I’m going for here will be paragon-tier appropriate.

I Don’t Feel So Good…

LarvaeSo as the Gray Languor reaches it climax, the party members must all make a DC 20 skill check to prevent contracting the disease. This check must continue for each day the horizon stays at its final stage. I know this is different from what I said last time, but I’ve had more time to think about it, and I think this increases the lethality of the effect. Once a character is affected, he need not make the skill check unless he has been cured. In addition, if the disease has been cured, that character can not be re-infected for a full day (until an extended rest).

What happens when a character becomes a larva is up to the DM, but I’ll present a couple of ideas in a couple of days.

Languor to Larva

Level 15 Disease

“The infected creature’s demeanor becomes more and more apathetic, until they disappear in a cloud of gray smoke. In its stead is a small, 5′ long larva with a face grotesquely familiar.”

      • Stage 0: The target recovers from the disease and does not need to roll a skill check for infection until they take an extended rest.
      • Stage 1: The target may not charge or move faster than their base speed (including the penalty from the Gray Languor).
      • Stage 2: The target takes a -2 penalty to checks made to recover from the disease.
      • Stage 3: The target dies and becomes a larva.
      • Check: At the end of each extended rest, the target makes an Endurance check if it is at stage 1 or 2.
        • 15 or lower: The stage of the disease increases by one.
        • 16-22: No Change
        • 23 or higher: The stage of the disease decreases by one.

Finality

So there’s a nice secondary effect for the Gray Waste, which can also be used for a standalone disease effect. I can see this disease being used on several lower planes, as larva are found on most of them. I have a few ideas for what to do with the larvae (monster and hazard spring immediately to mind), but those will have to wait for another time.

Planescape Series

The Gray Languor

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Lady of Pain CrestSo today is part 2 of our planar ecology for the Gray Waste. Last time I talked about the overall planar effect of the Gray Waste. Today I’m going to talk about the horizon that will give tension to adventuring here. The horizon – if you’ve done your reading – drives the adventurers forward, increasing the tension and raising the stakes.

My Legs Feel So Heavy

Just walking within the Gray Waste is tiresome. The drab environment is merely a reflection of the attitude of this plane, that of weariness, apathy, or despair. The longer an entity stays, the less their chance of being capable of leaving is. This is something I would recommend the adventurers know going in (Rule Zero applies here as always, though). The actual effects I would keep in my pocket until the horizon advances a bit.

Horizon: The Gray Languor

Advancement

The following actions cause Languor to rise:

  • Taking an extended rest (raise by 2)
  • Failing a death saving throw (up to a max of 2).
  • Rolling a 6 or below on any d20 roll (up to a max of 2).

The following actions lower languor:

  • “Winning” an encounter or skill challenge.

The Gray Languor

  • Lack of Vitality (2 advances): The characters begin to move more slowly as the plane begins to drain some vitality. Each character loses a healing surge and their speed is reduced by one.
  • Ennui Sets In (5 advances): As the grayness of the plane wears on the players, the party must make Endurance checks (DC 20) for every day of travel. Failing an endurance check advances the Languor.
  • All Hope is Lost (13 advances) – One of the characters (determined randomly) must make a DC 20 skill check or become a larva.*

*The DM is encouraged to be open with what skills to allow, if the player can come up with a plausible / reasonable use for the skill. And yes, you read that correctly – a larva. I’ll discuss that next time.

Closing Thoughts

Notice that this horizon is almost certain to progress with little that the characters can do to stop it. To that, all I can say is that adventuring on the planes is dangerous, berk. If you don’t want to end up in the deadbook, don’t go. Many thanks to Quinn Murphy for his help on this one.

Planescape Series

A Shadow Has Fallen

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Seriously, work has been packed full of nothing but meetings and action items this week. I haven’t even had time to drop a post here to let you all know what’s happening. I promise I’ve got something in the hopper, but it’s not ready for prime-time yet. I’ll try to get it out later tonight.

Don’t Waste the Gray Waste

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Lady of Pain CrestSo last time I talked about a framework for the planes. Today, we’re going to put some meat on those bones with regards to one of the planes, the Gray Waste. Why it? Honestly, because it doesn’t have much treatment in 4E, and my mind started working immediately on some interesting mechanics for it.

Today, I’ll introduce the plane and give its 4E counterpart (such as it is). Then I’ll get to the heart of the first item in our list of planar mechanics, the overall planar effect.

Gray’s My Favorite Color

The Gray Waste is only mentioned in two books (to my knowledge). The first is the Manual of the Planes, and the other is a paragraph in Secrets of the Astral Sea. It is called Pluton, and it was the realm of Nerull, the now-deceased god of the dead.

The Gray Waste of the original Planescape material was a much different place. It had three layers (called “glooms” due to their nature), of which Pluton was the third gloom (the others being Oinos and Niflheim). Oinos was ruled by a yugoloth (think Neutral Evil equivalent of a demon) lord. Niflheim was ruled by Hel, the Norse goddess of death, and Pluton was the realm of Hades, the Greek god of the dead. The plane’s alignment was Neutral Evil, and everything there was gray: the sky, the ground, plants, even the residents and creatures. Visitors to the plane would even find the color slowly draining from them and their possessions!

A Touch of Gray

“Why ya wanna go to the Gray Waste? Many a blood went into the gray and never returned. Chant is that you can survive the place, but it ain’t easy. You’d have to be barmy or addle-coved to stay there long.” – Planar to a Clueless Prime

In the Planes of Conflict boxed set, travel in the Gray Waste is laid out. Specifically, let’s focus on the following quotation (which falls under fair use):

To travel anywhere on the Gray Waste outside a power’s realm, a body has to learn the trick of not concentrating on his destination. Only the lack of desire or care to reach a place allows a body to make much progress. He moves about ten times faster than if he’s intent on reaching a certain point.

I’m going to leverage this mechanic by bringing the essence of it forward into 4E to create our planar effect. Simply, everything takes longer in the Gray Waste. Extended rests require more than the normal eight hours. Overland travel causes a journey of days to take weeks instead.

Next time, I’ll discuss the horizon (timer) for the Gray Waste.

Planescape Series

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