Friday, December 4, 2015

REVIEW: They're Here Already II, by Judas Babbage

Bone pioneer and lysergic athlete Judas Babbage was fired from Adder Entertainment with extreme prejudice and served 2 years for the assaults which followed. He entered the pen with a half dozen adventures complete and ready to publish, including the inciting incendiary book behind his termination, Go Fuck A Baby. Failed by the mental health industry Babbage felt he had no one to turn to when his medication not only stopped being effective but completely turned on him. Before his death in the early 90s he expressed a lot of regret over how things went down, and specifically for GFAB.

"What I set out to do was make a game no one else would do. I didn't believe [in] such a thing as things you shouldn't do, creatively. I guess I still don't. So when everyone kept insisting what I was doing was terrible, my response was fuck you, get more babies...

"Someone calls themselves an artist, you call yourself an art lover, you don't want them to give you what you ask for. You want something only you can do...I think I was the only one who would do that one, but looking back I think anybody could do it. It's pretty tacky. I mean I don't know that I shouldn't have done it but I wish I hadn't...I was a hurting young man trying to find someone to listen to me, only I just incensed people. I didn't interest them."
- A Tunnel Special (1995)

Babbage's wife Copernica published several of the titles Judas had completed in order to defray legal expenses and help support herself. GFAB was never published but cam-paks such as Hey Iron Devil and Killing Age Heroes did see the light of day, fully compatible with Æ's contemporary releases. They were not allowed to promote themselves as such but they did still contain some signature language and reference to other Æ titles. All credits apart from Judas and Copernica's names were stripped and this led to a continuing controversy over the provenance of certain artworks. These problems, very real and very shady, should not detract from the fact that Judas Babbage was our dirty grampa and we are all his deformed children. Judas Babbage was the Batman that games needed.

When Æ reconvened in 1999 people were ready to feel good about giving strangers money to play games again. In the spirit of that enthusiasm Babbage was posthumously welcomed back into the fold. Before she died in 2000, Copernica signed a deal granting Babbage's finest work, They're Here Already, to be republished and re-edited for the initial wave of NovÆ reprints. They're Here Already II is an improvement where changes are made but the original material is largely, and shockingly, untouched.

Near the city of Knife Hole there is a great pit, around which there are seven churches. The pit is a Throat straight to hell, a dungeon massive in description if not in size. If there's one complaint which rules all others and in the darkness binds them it's that Babbage's kamikaze antipsychotics were on a bleeding roll and you get descriptions all over the place here. Thoughts completely abandoned and picked up in another room. Inconsistencies like what color the blood is. For the most part this is an issue for the person shepherding the game with those playing likely not to even see much in the way of nits and tears, but that itself begs the question of the necessity for such elaborate assessments. Babbage was never one to trust an artist, it seems, and reading They're Here Already II I can believe that. Box text is often at best a barnacle but Babbage seemed to think that 10,000 words was worth a picture. If there's a strange bit of praise to offer here, however, it's that this is one of the few adventure modules which would work better as an audiobook.

Each of the churches has been given a prophecy, one which will be fulfilled in 7 days. Thwarting any of these requires delving down the Throat. Seven champions are selected, and one or all of the party will represent these champions. You've all got two things you have to do in order to stop your prophecy but those things will be at fixed points in your descent so you can't control how fast you do them. You can't stay in the Throat safely so you keep having to go up and down and back to town.

Problem: every night one of the prophecies comes true. The town you return to is much changed from the one you left, usually, and represents its own dangers. It's entirely possible, after a couple of days of play, to get trapped in town dealing with its complications and never make it down the Throat at all.

The complications themselves usually involve the transposition of an asset, resource, or ally with some kind of non-union EC Comics equivalent, and by the end of the week not only has the town become a Tim Burton wet dream but the throat inverts, becoming a moving column of hell scorching its way across the world.

The actual meat of the cam-pak though is the time you spend in the Throat. The Throat-Threats within are all suitably deadly and the best way to survive anything you meet is running, as they seem to all have been designed after crocs and hippos: deadly, shockingly fast in the short term, but slow lethargic to the point of stillness in the long run. Of particular pleasure was the Answermander, a monster which screams advice on defeating the dangers as it chases you, but will absolutely slice you to ribbons if it catches you. Nothing really hurts it apart from a secret he only reveals when he kills someone. I used to use @nswerm@nder as my handle in the old IRC #AE room on the goatz network. This concludes the sad little peek into my life.

The chief innovation here is the Rules Table. The demonians of the Throat love rules, and love to talk. Any rule stated by a denizen becomes fundamental physical and magical law while in the Throat, but these rules are assigned randomly whenever a demonian interaction occurs. It makes one confident that no two people who played They're Here Already II have ever played nearly the same game, something always said about only the best games.

The revisions are largely on the lines of a proper table of contents and index, proper art credits, some new art, and some thorough proofreading. One large change, however, is that the connecting thread one followed from the bottom of the Throat to the Babbage release Siege of Blood Ants has been removed. In its place is a circle of counter-churches, one each devoted to the prophecies the churches above are trying to prevent. They do not have their own champions, but players can choose to switch their letter over to these new counter-churches. It's an improvement which Æ credits still to Judas and Copernica Babbage, but which has been surreptitiously confirmed to be the work of Killer Ivanova.

While much of Babbage's other catalog saw print in the Sibbilants anthology a few items will likely never be reprinted due to art right disputes the Babbages laid the ground work for. Go Fuck A Baby remains unpublished, of course, but several small companies have made reference to its infamous title, such as the Cyclopean Romanse novel Go Hug a Babylon (insufferably) and the controversial Cobra Party Free RPG Day release G-Fabulous! (interminable for different, 'hilarious' reasons)

Perhaps the best legacy Babbage could have is a gamer support group for people suffering from mental illness, They're Here Already, dedicated to speaking out about mental illness among gamers to destigmatize it and remind people they aren't alone. This organization drew fire from their choice of name but there is no such thing as a perfect ally. No unblemished legacy. And as forefather and object study Babbage means more to our little community than his game books ever did, really.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Where Do You Roam: The Long Road to Paladins



Paladin.

HD: 2d8 at 1st level, 1d8 levels 2-9
Saves:Cleric
Attacks: Cleric
Advances: Cleric
Requirements: Wisdom 15+
  • Paladins may use any weapon but they are +1 to hit with one-handed swords.
  • Paladins may use any armor and shields. They gain +1 to Saves when using a shield.
  • Paladins may know 2 Languages.
  • Paladins have the ability to Judge Others. They may do this by spending some of their hit points, reducing their Max HP for the day. In a given round a Paladin can
    • spend points to give an ally an equivalent bonus to a Save or skill check.
    • spend points to heal an ally within 30' an equivalent amount of HP.
    • spend points to penalize an enemy's Save.
    • spend points to improve damage against an enemy on a successful hit.
    • spend any amount of points in order to Turn Undead.
    • Your HP maximum always resets after a night of restful meditation on your values, even when your HP does not fully replenish. A Paladin who has aided an ally's Save during the opponent's turn cannot Damn Others in the same round of initiative, and a whole bunch of other common sense stuff: 1 use of these abilities, whatever it may be used on, per round.
  • Paladins have a pool of Providence equal to 1+Charisma bonus. They may spend these points in order to
    • make an additional attack this round.
    • automatically save against a non-Spells effect.
    • heal themselves 1d8.
    • cast detect evil/good, detect magic, protection from evil/good, or any sensible 1st level "detect this or that" type spell. Identify or Locate Object could also work at the DM's discretion.
    • Only one of these abilities may be used in a given round, but they can be used in a same round where they Judge. All Providence refreshes to maximum after 1 night of restful meditation on your principles.
  • At 9th level Paladins become sacred Judges. One of their weapons gains the power to cast light at will. Their armor or shield gains the power to spare the Paladin from partial damage on a Save. The may communicate with their steed as if it understood Common. One ally may be designated as sacred as well, and when fighting alongside the Paladin this ally is +1 to hit/damage/saves. If any of these are lost or slain the Paladin may replace them by spending all their Providence for a given day.
  • Paladins may advance to level 16.

((This is where this article originally began. I wanted it to be easier to find the Paladin build I settled on near the end. I guess this turns this article into even more of a class design DVD extra))




Paladins are at once incredibly specific and yet people can't quite agree what they are. I've been playing one recently for the first time so I've been thinking about them.

Mechanically the point of reference seems to be pure Lancelot/Joan of Arc territory. Clerics are very magic, mostly healy, and a little bonky. Paladins then are Crusaders and Templars: a little healy, kind of magic, mostly fighty stabby. It reflects an evolving approach to the infantry coming out of the hobby's wargame roots. You don't really need different classes to represent Lancelot and Robin Hood and Goemon and Conan and Lash LaRue really because those guys are all Fighters, at least in terms of ground forces, artillery, support. Their weapons are all instruments of war and they have powerful kung fu and so are the bread and butter of your forces en masse. The Roman Legions. The Mongol Horde.

If however you are putting together not a table full of fireball cannons and medic tents but like 3-6 guys to go exploring and beat up tigers then your attitudes might shift. You can run the game fine with just the Fighter, sure, but the needs of playing out a story as Few in a world where literally everything wants to kill you are different than the needs of Many where your opponents have to play by the same rules you do. The surest method of survival is not sending a bunch of guys at the problem and anyway you don't HAVE a bunch of guys. Instead the surest survival is avoiding the thing Fighters are best at mosssst of the time and relying on cleverness to avoid certain doom. You've got a key ring. Magic-Users unlock opportunities normally unavailable to you because of magic. Thieves unlock opportunities for reconnaissance, improved ambushes, and literally unlock things, granting you ingress to most places. Clerics unlock a level of relative safety netting with protection from some of the game's trickiest low level enemies and powerful healing at higher levels. Fighters unlock chest cavities. Everyone keeps their role from the battleground but it's not a simultaneous maneuvering formation any more: everyone takes turns, and is useful in turn.

This is a fine approach but it more or less gets fucked up immediately with demihuman classes who are all sort of a Fighter Plus. They require some not-difficult-to-get stat values or have truncated advancement paths but since the point of the game in the minds of the designers at this time was low-level play I don't consider level caps a core diminishing function. Then apparently you have elves switching between fighter and magic-user every game in OD&D, multiclassing shows up really quick so everybody gets to play with everything, we get the race/class split you you can have hammer-wielding wizards with berserker helmets...So many elves. So many.

The epidemic spread. You had Thieves but you also had Thief Acrobats and Assassins and Bards. You had Magic-Users but this quickly starts getting sorted into Necromancers, Illusionists, and over time into Sorcerers and Shugenja and such. Fighters are now sharing space with Rangers, Barbarians, and Monks, and Ninja. Clerics finally get Druid split off into something of a default assumption and uh Paladins show up....and for the most part the Cleric gets crowded out the least, mostly owing to the fact that they instead got weighted down with 1000 different god options and the special crap that comes with them. We're not even getting into all the splits that come in the 2e-Onward era here. And once people decided to start moving their ability scores around in any old order or outright ignore ability score requirements for these Plus Classes? Oof.

So we start to get this concept somewhat belatedly of hardcore niche protection, which usually means all of these variant classes are Better at things the four core classes already did, but the core four can do More things. But that meant these other classes needed a few more things tacked onto them after a while, and in one way or another this has been the true balancing act the developers have been involved with ever since, but I honestly wonder if we didn't miss a big cull along the way.

If you've got the Four Core you don't need all the endless variants, strictly speaking. But if you're going to throw them all over the place and getting increasingly specific you don't really need the large umbrella of the Four Core any more. A world where any cleric you can imagine is also another class' main concept, too, is down to a choice between Extra Bullshit Mechanics, a choice between numbers first and "I want to play" second, and I don't cotton to that philosophy.

This is the DNA of a lot of classes and this is the DNA of the Paladin. So what does the Paladin do?

Again we get a rolling snowball. Like many classes different interpretations over the years and multiple settings have left us with a lot of options that, depending on what/when you play, people consider core to the class. The VDND Ranger is currently straining from this, being pulled in a dozen different directions as people exasperatedly take to the space where the WOTC forums used to be to cry "Why can't these idiots simply give us a dual-wielding magic-using thief-skilled Tarzan-capable dungeon-adept damage-volcano range-combat-expert with a floating archenemy who precludes precise navigation or tracking or rationing and comes with a powerful best friend tiger that we actually want to play, HOW HARD IS THAT?" The Paladins get off comparatively easily in terms of EX-BS-MECH but the question of what makes a Paladin is where the division comes in.

Paladins should be above all champions for their god.
Paladins should be above all champions for good.
Paladins should be above all champions for the law.
Paladins should be above all champions for honor.
Paladins should be above all champions for a code of conduct.
Paladins should be above all champions for their liege.
Paladins should be above all champions for their kingdom.
Paladins should be above all champions for their kind and kin.
Paladins should be above all champions for justice.

That's a lot of things wrapped up in the core idea of the Paladin. Then we get branches from the Paladin as well, antipaladins, cavaliers, with their own baggage like horse owning and improved smiting. The kind of thinking where one posits first "If only there was an evil version of a paladin" and later "If only there was a good version of an antipaladin" explains a lot of headaches in the hobby over the years - at both a fan and developer level - and also explains Pathfinder entirely.

So what are Paladins? Well, they're a bunch of awesome guys who may or may not have hung out with Charlemagne who got a bunch of historical fan fiction written about them where they were great fighters who loved Jesus. That's it. If you're a paladin it means you're The Best, like the Justice League, but we can't make a class out of the Justice League.

.....Fuck it, Paladins are the Justice League. I always wince a little when someone puts an Adventurer's Guild in a setting because from a story perspective it's like someone in Cimmeria opening a Conan Guild. The fact that we're out here busting our asses to save the world is supposed to be kind of a big deal, and the stakes are lowered knowing that not only will someone definitely come along behind us to fix things should we fail but we are also almost certainly not the right people for the job, as we're likely never the highest level characters around. Double wince for someone making an Adventurer class or a Legendary Hero or a Chosen One. But damn it that's what Paladins are (if we decide that they're the ones doing the choosing). They existed in the public mind to go on rad adventures. Like the Justice League, collectively and individually. So we'll lean into that a little with our bottom floor design concept: Paladins should be above all champions.

So: we're going to have us a Paladin-Down, producing a few alternate versions. Then we'll try to synthesize a perfect Paladin from these. First up is an approach that for reference's sake we'll call the Paladin Defenders.

HD: d8
Save: Cleric
Attack: Fighter
Advance: Cleric
Requirements: 10+ in all ability scores, or 18 in Strength, Intelligence, or Charisma.
  • Paladins may use all weapons.
  • Paladins may use armor and shields.
  • Paladins may speak two Languages.
  • Paladins add their Hit Die to Saves against effects of the undead.
  • Paladins may intentionally fail a Save to allow an ally to automatically Save.
  • Paladins receive a bonus to hit equal to the number of allies attacked since the Paladin last struck.
  • Paladins receive a bonus to AC equal to the number of allies damaged since the Paladin was last injured.
  • Paladins receive an additional Hit Point each level.
  • At 1st level, Paladins may have up to 4 designated allies for the purpose of their Paladin abilities.
  • At 4th level Paladins may have up to 6 allies.
  • At 5th level Paladins become adept at punishing those who abuse her trust.  Against designated allies who betray her, the Paladin always does double damage.
  • At 8th level Paladins may have up to 8 allies.
  • At 9th level Paladins form an Order, attracting up to 9 levels worth of Paladins (so 3 3rd level Paladins, for example), none above level 8. These dedicate themselves to the Paladin's code above all others. The Paladin's allies may not adhere to the rules of this order but if they do they are considered to have a +4 reaction adjustment in civilized places, a boon the Paladin herself enjoys. Additionally, Paladins become ruthless in dealing with oath breakers. Against members of the Paladin's order who break their oaths, any strike by the Paladin is considered fatal.
  • At 12th level Paladins may have up to 8 allies.
  • At 13th level Paladins gain the spell abilities of a 7th level Cleric.
  • At 16th level Paladins may have up to 12 allies.
  • Paladins may advance to level 16.
Obvious pros here: You've got a good skeleton for a Fighter-Plus type Paladin who mostly gets that way by taking the things Paladins are known for in their capacity as Cleric Plus but we've removed a lot of the other magical access that lets them creep onto the Cleric's territory. We put back in requirements for ability scores because hey remember all these variant classes started out as something close to the first prestige classes, you really had a one in a thousand shot of making a good Paladin roll. We keep him from being too powerful by putting the engine for these abilities almost entirely on the Paladin's allies. Paladins are literally defined by their allies, as in that's where we get the word is a bunch of warrior holy bros. So this makes sense. We don't load the Paladin down with late level features apart from these, either, meaning that a solitary Paladin or an antisocial Paladin or a Paladin with only a couple guys with him that day are really just Fighters with a few more HP and good saves against mummies and shit. They fight better in a small army, which also makes sense for a Paladin. Finally, near the end of their leveling cycle, they have proven themselves in the eyes of their god and the fact that they are even alive is a kind of minor miracle, so we'll throw in a reduced spellcasting. I mean this is like...a Mandy Morbid level legendary warrior at this point so yeah, go be magic.

Obvious cons here: Pages, lantern bearers, porters, and other dungeon hirelings the Paladin may designate as allies are usually short-lived, so the Paladin's bonuses are usually going to top out at 3-5 for most tables, no matter how high level she gets. This approach also involves a lot of tracking for the player of extra crap. While this version makes a good companion and partner it does mean their role is basically Supporting Offense. That's fine since this was already their role but since we push back spell access until late levels it means they're a less versatile Supporting Offense than a Cleric would be, and no healing to speak of. When they're on they're on and when they're not they're just a Fighter. The ability requirements may also be too low.

Next, for reference's sake, we'll tackle a setup we'll call um Paladin Paragon.

HD: d10
Saves: Cleric
Attacks: Cleric
Advances: Cleric
Requirements: Strength 13, Wisdom 13, Charisma 13.
  • Paladins may use all weapons.
  • Paladins may use all shields and armor.
  • Paladins may speak two Languages.
  • Paladins who do not attack in a given round may heal an ally 1 HP. A Paladin may not heal herself.
  • At 2nd level a Paladin may Turn Undead as a Cleric of half level, rounded down.
  • At 4th level a Paladin may cast Light a number of times per day equal to her level.
  • At 8th level a Paladin's weapons and armor are always to be considered magical and silvered, though no numerical bonus is conferred by this.
  • At 9th level a Paladin may be understood as if speaking all languages, and may establish that an item sacred to their faith is but three days' ride away. The DM should do their best to honor that request.
  • At 16th level a Paladin gains the ability to cast Quest, Resurrection, and Wish once each. These are three miracles, and once they have all been performed the Paladin is assumed into the heaven of heroes, bodily, their final miracle.
  • Paladins may advance to level 16.
Pros here: We've got a hardier Paladin with the increased HP. We've changed the requirements so it's ok to have a couple of bad rolls. We've made them a powerful low level support and the ability to keep her allies on their feet without cramping a Cleric's style. They're more consistently magic while only sacrificing a small tohit advantage. High level abilities mostly make it so that the more mundane challenges of dungeon crawling are things the Paladin may dispense with.

Cons here: Maybe too magic? That 1HP/round means that as long as you have them around any healing potions or magic are basically around to keep the party healotron alive. They lost a little attack accuracy and never gained anything martial back in return. They get very few high level abilities and those are all limited. That ability score spread might be pretty rare, and while I like you-play-what-you-roll in theory in my experience it's easier to just say what classes there are and have new players (I mean brand new players) just pick something.

We're identifying a problem here. The default assumptions of a D&D Paladin imply basically sword Clerics. That's easy, charge an extra 10% to level up for Clerics, boom. There's your Paladin. Right back to the you-only-need-the-Four-Core approach there. But that brings us back to our starting point for design: Paladins should be above all champions. There's nothing especially championy about the sword cleric and we needn't concern ourselves with the poles of previous D&D Paladins nor their default assumptions. Champions go on quests, right? So let's try building a Paladin Questing taking a few things I learned the hard way into account and trying to make the antipaladin less stupid in the account.

HD: d8
Saves: Fighter
Attacks: Fighter
Advances: Fighter
Requirements: Paladins must make a Vow. Their Vow must include
  1. something they would never hurt (innocents, followers of Moon Slave, women), 
  2. something they must always do to help others (say funeral rites, donate 100g or more if they have at least that much, give a day of their time in labor for those too infirm to work)
  3. something they will deny themselves (money, sex, alcohol, meat)
  4. an enemy they will always fight (usually demons, or like a snake cult)
  5. a goal they seek so grand it would change the world, toward which they must always strive (ending hunger, slaying Tiamat, finding the Holy Grail)
A Paladin who breaks or forsakes any part of their Vow loses all their special abilities until they Atone, acting as if under the auspices of a Quest spell. A Paladin who breaks or forsakes all aspects of their Vow in a single session becomes an Antipaladin. The particulars of a Vow are determined by the DM.
  • Paladins may use any weapon they find or are rewarded with in the course of their Missions.
  • Paladins may use any armor or shield they find or are rewarded with in the course of their Missions.
  • Paladins may speak 2 Languages.
  • Paladins may take on a number of Missions equal to their level plus their Wisdom bonus. Missions must be finite and goal-oriented and they must help a person or group in their cause. Deliver an item through  dangerous territory, defeat a fearsome troll, rescue a lost child, that sort of thing. Saving lives. Avoiding disaster. It should be obvious what is and is not a Mission but if not the DM will let you know when an opportunity arises to take on a Mission.
  • At 1st level Paladins have 2+Charisma Bonus Glory. They gain 1 Glory each time they level.
  • At the completion of a Mission a Paladin experiences a Moment of Glory. This allows them to invest the power of providence in themselves and their tools, and acts as an extra reward for living a life within the strictures of their vows. This means the Paladin spends 1 Glory to receive a permanent boon. Boons marked with * are unalterable expenditures of Glory, and you may not trade these points back to qualify for an Epic Boon. Any spells chosen for any boon must only be spells capable of being cast in reverse, though the Paladin may never cast reversed spells.
    • +1 to hit/damage
    • +1 attack each round (may only be chosen once)
    • +1 HD of HP
    • +1 to all saves
    • +1 to critical range
    • A level of Thief skills
    • A level of Cleric spellcasting
    • The ability to Turn Undead
    • A single Magic-User spell of your choice which you may cast 1/day
    • Investment of an object of your possession (including weapons and armor) with 1 Cleric spell (of either 1st level or any higher level you are able to cast) and a number of charges for that spell equal to your Constitution score.*
    • Completely recharge an item above which is out of charges, or completely recharge a typical magic item.
    • Investment of an object with another permanent magical effect as determined by the DM. *
    • d6 unarmed damage.
    • Immunity to poison.
    • Immunity to disease.
    • The ability to summon weapons and armor (including boon weapons and armor but not normal magic items) to you and dismiss them with a word.*
    • A beneficial mutation from some table.
  •  At 9th level a Paladin may sacrifice all previous eligible boons to recover an amount of Glory. This Glory may be spent or saved, banked toward Epic Boons.
    • For 3 Glory they increase their damage multiplier on a critical hit.
    • For 5 Glory their unarmored AC improves by 6 points and their armored AC improves by 3.
    • For 10 Glory they may deliver a massive Smite a number of times a day equal to their Strength bonus. Smites do the Paladin's current Hit Points in damage.
    • For 15 Glory they gain the Spell Slots of a Magic-User of their current level. These slots do not increase as the Paladin levels and they may only be filled with Cleric spells.
    • For 18 Glory they may assume any form the describe, with all the natural abilities of that form. This change is permanent, and the Paladin ceases to age.
  • Paladins may advance to 16th level.
  • Paladins who become Antipaladins retain the spells and spell-like abilities they have gained through boons but always casts and prepares those spells REVERSED.
Pros: This makes Paladins incredibly goal oriented without making them inflexible for conventional D&D play. It rewards them directly for their choices by allowing them to make more choices. It therefore lets them be as fighty and healy and magic and role-playish as they wanna be. It develops them over time uniquely but along a common theme. Also I've been watching a lot of Steven Universe lately and this feels like that kind of Paladin which I think works with all our parameters, conceptually. Also, the antipaladin thing.

Cons: Holy shit is this complicated. Very story gamey. Involves or demands a lot of working with the DM or outright DM control in order to work.  Basically just a trumped up version of the Rey Paladin I'm already playing. Goddamn now I owe Pathfinder a fucking apology.

So what are our priorities now?

Paladins should be above all else champions. A god doesn't make a Paladin, Clerics have gods. A code doesn't make a Paladin, Thieves have codes. Law and order don't make a Paladin, because if the law is just and the world is in order then everyone's fine and there's no need for Paladins and if it's not then it's not worth Paladinning for, not as a holy blessed hero.

Paladins need to be more than just sword clerics.
Paladins need to be more than just heal fighters.
Paladins need versatility.
Paladins need simplicity.
Paladins should at leeeeast be a little recognizable in terms of some D&D expectations I guess.
They should be magic but not oh shit we broke something magic.

Paladin.

HD: 2d8 at 1st level, 1d8 levels 2-9
Saves:Cleric
Attacks: Cleric
Advances: Cleric
Requirements: Wisdom 15+
  • Paladins may use any weapon but they are +1 to hit with one-handed swords.
  • Paladins may use any armor and shields. They gain +1 to Saves when using a shield.
  • Paladins may know 2 Languages.
  • Paladins have the ability to Judge Others. They may do this by spending some of their hit points, reducing their Max HP for the day. In a given round a Paladin can
    • spend points to give an ally an equivalent bonus to a Save or skill check.
    • spend points to heal an ally within 30' an equivalent amount of HP.
    • spend points to penalize an enemy's Save.
    • spend points to improve damage against an enemy on a successful hit.
    • spend any amount of points in order to Turn Undead.
    • Your HP maximum always resets after a night of restful meditation on your values, even when your HP does not fully replenish. A Paladin who has aided an ally's Save during the opponent's turn cannot Damn Others in the same round of initiative, and a whole bunch of other common sense stuff: 1 use of these abilities, whatever it may be used on, per round.
  • Paladins have a pool of Providence equal to 1+Charisma bonus. They may spend these points in order to
    • make an additional attack this round.
    • automatically save against a non-Spells effect.
    • heal themselves 1d8.
    • cast detect evil/good, detect magic, protection from evil/good, or any sensible 1st level "detect this or that" type spell. Identify or Locate Object could also work at the DM's discretion.
    • Only one of these abilities may be used in a given round, but they can be used in a same round where they Judge. All Providence refreshes to maximum after 1 night of restful meditation on your principles.
  • At 9th level Paladins become sacred. One of their weapons gains the power to cast light at will. Their armor or shield gains the power to spare the Paladin from partial damage on a Save. The may communicate with their steed as if it understood Common. One ally may be designated as sacred as well, and when fighting alongside the Paladin this ally is +1 to hit/damage/saves. If any of these are lost or slain the Paladin may replace them by spending all their Providence for a given day.
  • Paladins may advance to level 16.
I think we got it. I gave them a couple of ways to benefit THEMSELVES by Looking Like A Paladin which is an often overlooked facet of class design. The ability score requirement is high enough without being almost impossible, and while I don't put a Constitution or Charisma requirement in place the class still definitively depends on good scores in those areas. They still work best in a group but their role is an ebb and flow so they can dominate neither Fighter or Cleric capacities, especially with the reduced attack/save strength at level 1. We don't have to worry about adding features late in levels because getting late in levels is the point of these features. Their Name Level feature emphasizes their role in a group again while making them seem extra awesome and holy terror.  Judging is an ability that take the place of a whole range of ability tracking, all for just tracking changes to a number whose changes you're already tracking. It also introduces More Cussin' into the class, another oft overlooked facet of game design. Finally whatever benefits they might incur from other under-represented class features we instead put under the umbrella of Providence.

The best thing about this is that it should be easy to learn at a glance. How many Damn Others points do I have at first level? Your HP, one of the first concepts you learned. Providence caps out at 4 for old school D&D and counting to 4 is literally one of the first concepts a human learns. OK you're done. You've mastered playing a Paladin. All you're doing now is "damaging"  your HP, and subtracting 1 from Providence.

And while it's not included in the block above, I would personally allow a rule at my table where taking/completing Missions as outlined in the Paladin Champion gave you an extra ability you can use with Providence.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Foxcrow

There's a picture you've seen. You look at it and it's a duck. Wait, no, you look again and it's a rabbit. Here's another picture. It's an old lady. It's a young lady. These pictures are both.

From a distance it looks like an enormous fox. From a distance it looks like an enormous crow. Close up it is obviously neither. It is a thing trying to be a couple things. Its skin is fluid and ink. When it moves it sort of...shapes itself in that direction. Stretching and blurring. It draws itself up like a man in a great cloak with the head of two beasts  and walks overgrown trails. It is lightning quick and ascends like a black raindrop. He alights on a thin branch too frail to support a normal bird. He flies faster than an arrow, and sometimes vanishes altogether. He always comes back.

He is guilesome and condescending but he is aggressively sociable. He hunts companionship and feeds quite literally on confusion.

An extradimensional entity from the extradimensional playbook, "the foxcrow" is a classic manipulator. Honey-voiced and always waiting to pop up when the players seem like they're getting a handle on something, or at their most exasperated. In game terms he does NOT have powerful AC and he begins play with only 1HD worth of HP, minimum 4. He can teleport once per day and can, at will, alter self, charm person, fly 120', and cast phantasmal force. He can also cause any person around him to appear to be the foxcrow. However, every time his deception causes pain - every time someone takes illusory damage from phantasmal force or every time someone under his influence hurts themselves or another creature, he gains 4HP/1HD of hit points. He has one final ability, a floating 2nd level spell slot, which he may fill with any spell levels 1-2.

So long as a creature is aware of his existence, he can exist. Unless he is killed with a manmade (read: handmade) weapon he will always return to life within 1 hour. So long as a creature is aware he can come back, he can ALWAYS come back.

The fact that this guy didn't kill my players (YET) shows the value of a few well-placed bad rolls on my part and a ton of caution and nervousness on their part. That's partly engendered in presentation. You make it clear early that this is a threat, this is beyond you, this knows more than you, this is faster than you, and older, and everyone around considers him dangerous, and it doesn't play by the rules of a conventional monster.

That takes a few plates spinning to accomplish but it broods both a dread and a hate for the villain that a high AC, pile of HP, or beaucoup high level spells don't do on their own. It gives his demise a sense of accomplishment, the kind where my players are pretty sure he was the cause of all the problems on this godforsaken island, rather than A problem, and a symptom of a wider problem.

Low level magic, ambush tactics, and being a dick can be effective at higher levels, but when your party is only barely level 3 then we're a few initiative rolls away from a couple players going down and somebody dying for real. Keep your balors and stuff your Orcus, I can get by just fine with foxcrow.