Tuesday, November 29, 2016

5e Content: Trade Aspect of Mael

For my 5e game, I nabbed a bunch of additional Domains from +Samwise Seven RPG.


Personally, I feel like Gods having a single Domain is a bit too simplistic, and doesn't really reflect how gods were worshipped historically.  In the Greek/Roman religions, gods tended to have a lot of regional variation and different aspects, which were venerated depending on the location, season and activity that you were engaged in.

So in my campaign, most Gods have 1-3 different Aspects, and a player can choose which Domain they want to follow for that God.  The more powerful/popular a god is, the more aspects he/she/it has.

One of the players in our game is a priest of Mael.  Mael has 2 (and sometimes 3) aspects.  His primary aspects are Trade and the Sea.  Yes, I stole Mael from Steven Erikson.  Shameless theft is an Improvisational Building Block too.  Also Mael is one of the best characters in the books.

Some not-so-nice folks also worship Mael (or seek to placate him) in his aspect of the Storm.

My player worships Mael in his aspect of Trade.  Temples of Mael are all over the Colony, and Mael is one of the greater gods of the Empire, since it is a ship-based neo-colonial power.

I did encounter a couple of issues with the Trade Domain as presented by +Samwise Seven RPG, so here is my modified version:

Trade Domain

Priests of Mael in his aspect of Trade are one of the most important priesthoods of the Ruywick Empire.  Most cities of any size have a temple of Trade, where the priest provide legal advice, accounting and bookkeeping services, scribes and magical contracts.  They advise rulers and masters of business, and act as adjudicators with legal authority to resolve trade and contractual issues.

As you would expect, the Church of Mael is incredibly rich and powerful, with influence in all parts of the Colony and the Empire.

Priest of Mael in his less-fancy robes.
Cleric Level1st Domain Spell2nd Domain Spell
1stCharm PersonExpeditious Retreat
3rdEnhance AbilitySuggestion
5thCalm EmotionsProtection from Energy
Dimension Door
Guardian of Faith
9thDominate PersonTeleportation Circle

1st Level – Bonus Cantrip. You gain the Prestidigitation cantrip.

1st Level – Skills of the Trade. You can choose two of the following skills: Intimidation, Perception, Persuasion.

2nd Level – Channel Divinity: Barter. You gain advantage on all skill rolls associated with making a deal or trading.

This one was a little bit hard to adjudicate initially because the initial version contained "or getting yourself out of a “jam.”".  That meant quite a bit more leeway on what exactly you could use this skill on, but really, it adds too much flexibility.  Cutting it down to just deals and bartering makes it more manageable.

6th Level – Channel Divinity: Binding Contract. You can create a magical contract. Any intelligent creature that understands and willingly agrees to the terms laid out in the contract is effected by a Geas spell enforcing the terms of the contract until the conditions laid out in the contract are completed. The psychic damage dealt by this contract is non-fatal, but intensely painful, and can trigger up to 1/day.

The contract can be destroyed by the priest who created it, and if the contract is broken by any party (including the priest), then all parties are immediately aware that the contract has been broken, and by who.

This one is a complete replacement for the initial power, which was "create counterfeit coins" that disappear in a few hours.  How fucking up the economy and making people not trust currency is a God of Trade thing completely escapes me, so I yanked it and we replaced it with this, which is much more interesting and has a bunch of in-game ramifications.

8th Level – Words Are Greater Than the Sword. Once per Long Rest you can convince a creature not to attack you. You can do this twice at 14th level.

I'm probably going to have to replace this one too, but level advancement is slow in this game, so we'll get to that in a year or two.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

DM Lessons: Mea Culpa

I play a fairly house-ruled version of D&D 5e with lots of more old-school elements to it. One of the most noticeable elements is my Modified XP and Levelling Rules. Different classes have different ways of turning treasure into XP, and carousing is a pretty common one for all the martial-style classes. When you carouse, you spend money, it turns directly in XP, you lose time and you roll on the d100 carousing table which I grabbed from... Reddit.

As somebody who is very interested in keeping RPG gaming a safe space for everybody involved, let this be a cautionary tale.  I screwed up, and hopefully, this will help somebody not screw up.

First off, my group is a bunch of white males. I'm a white male, and these are primarily my friends from university or high school. Most of us have been playing rpg's together for a looong time. We have broadly the same sense of humor and (I think) similar expectations for our games.

We did have a new player in the group last night, though, and that's where the my mistakes started. Actually, my mistakes started earlier when I didn't REALLY read the carousing table I grabbed. I mean, I read it, but I didn't pay a ton of attention to it. That table contains some pretty rape-y elements. It's all implied - nothing like "you were sexually assaulted", but a lot of "you wake up in bed with" and "you wake up naked with" entries.

It's at this point that I keep wanting to say things like "taken the right way, it's mostly funny", but that's a cop-out. It's trying to avoid responsibility for paying attention to the elements and material that I'm bringing into my game. Material that, frankly, doesn't really make my game a safe place or a fun place.

So that was my first mistake - I didn't review and think about my material. My second mistake was that I didn't make the context of the material clear and I didn't talk about it with the new player. We've used the carousing table before, had a fun time with the results and treated it mostly like the throw-away stuff it's intended to be. But I didn't make that clear or understood. I also didn't clarify that the results of the carousing table are in no way binding.

If a player wants to run with them, that's fine. If they want to use them as an opportunity to role-play or start a character arc, that's fine. If they want to treat them like a Simpson's throw-away gag, that's fine too. Although truth be told, that table has more Family Guy style material than Simpsons.

But I didn't make that clear. I just told him to roll on the carousing table. He ended up rolling a 67 on that table, which is "You wake up in a nobleman’s barn. You are wearing a saddle and there are whip marks on your buttocks. You are 1d10 sp richer."  Which could be a funny situation to be in, but could also be a very traumatic and horrible situation to be in.

The player interpreted this as me telling him that his (female) character had been drugged and sexually assaulted.  Which is not a thing I'm interested in having happen in my games.  Plus, the rest of us, who had used that table before as a light-hearted interlude, were laughing.  So at that point, my game is not a safe place AT ALL.

This is also the point where I keep wanting to say something like "it was made worse by the fact that he was playing a female character" but that's also a cop-out.  It wouldn't have been better for that to happen to a male character.  It's poor taste material that I presented badly either way.

It took some work to sort the situation out.  Work I should have done beforehand, but didn't because I made assumptions about everybody being on the same page with the material and the tone of the game.  I fucked up.  It's the kind of session that could easily cause somebody to quit a campaign, and the kind of miscommunication and assumption that would definitely make a table at a Con or game shop an unsafe place for players.

This is also the kind of mistake of communication and tone that I see lots of gamers pooh-pooh as "overreacting" if somebody points out that gaming isn't a safe place.  It isn't overreacting, it's the kind of feedback and critical thought that we as a community of gamers have got to listen to, to think about, and to do better on.  I hope to do better in the future.

DM Lessons: Random Tables

I use several random tables in our weekly D&D campaign. Often, the tables give me something interesting/funny to build on, but last night I had decidedly mixed results from the tables, so I thought it would be interesting to talk about that.

In general, random tables are great Improvisational Building Blocks. They provide a basic framework that you can build upon with other pieces from your toolkit, and as always, the complexity of what you build should be directly related to the level of interest that the players show for the event.

For the first example, I set up a series of regional daily encounters to go with my Moving Groups in the Wilderness rules. I roll each day, and there are a number of positive, negative or encounter events that can happen. One of the events on the table is "Eerie singing draws somebody into the woods. They are not seen again. -1 group member."

I actually rolled this result during the first trip the party made through the forest. One of the freed prisoners they were escorting was a skinny little local named Harlock, who we had already established had lost his family. When the party woke one morning, Harlock was gone, but the party Druid and Paladin were able to track him, and heard the faint singing.

If they hadn't cared and just moved on, I wouldn't have had to do anything. Just another mysterious event in a haunted forest. But they did care, and investigated, so it was time to expand the event.

One of the main Improvisational Building Blocks that you should have as a DM are Factions. I have several factions of Fey in my campaign, so I decided (since I didn't want this to be an automatic combat encounter) to use the Summer Court. They are self-interested and somewhat alien, but not hostile by default.

So the lost fellow had been lured through a portal to the Feywild. I got a chance to describe the Feywild, and expected that the paladin and druid would retreat. Interestingly, they didn't. The paladin entered the Feywild, bargained with the Dryads and checked to make sure the Harkon was ok and wanted to stay there. Harkon did, so the paladin left him to it. The fey were impressed at his chutzpah, though, and he got a sweet magical glaive out of the deal.

So now, with all that behind us, on the SECOND trip through the forest with a group of people, I rolled the exact same event! What are the odds of that? (About 1 in 4, really, since I rolled 3 times on 12-entry table). Of course, this time they had different people with them, including 3 prisoners that they were unsure what to do with.

In a fit of player-character inspiration, the paladin escorted the 3 prisoners through the forest to the portal and walked them through. They were entranced by the music, and the fey welcomed them as they had before. A potential problem was resolved (the prisoners) and a deeper connection with the Summer Court fey was formed. To the point where the paladin is now an Oath of the Ancients paladin... who worships the Raven Queen. This should be interesting.

The second instance of random tables results was not nearly so positive.

Edit: http://kootenaygamer.blogspot.ca/2016/11/dm-lessons-mea-culpa.html

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Lost Library of Calacorius 1: How it Happened.

Mages.  They're always messing around with things.  Stuff that you aren't supposed to mess with.

Like gravity, or dimensions.  Fuckssakes, people, things are put in different dimensions for a REASON.

This is, of course, the reason that Mages tend to have a fairly short life expectancy, at least compared to most things that can alter fundamental laws.  The ones that don't blow themselves up or get eaten by something from 6 dimensions over, though, they often accomplish some really amazing things.

The other factor to consider is that the sort of person who is willing to tinker with forces that might best be described as "indescribable" is probably somewhat... eccentric.  Also driven, and focussed...

Fine. Nuts.  Mages are usually nuts.  And the ones that aren't nuts to start are generally nuts by the time they come in contact with a few non-euclidian beings or non-pythagorean angles.  Human brains just don't process that shit well.

Along the way, though, these driven, focussed folks often create pretty amazing things.  And one such person was the Archmage Calacorius.

Like most obsessed people, Calacorius had a single diamond-hard thought.  He wanted a Library.  Not just a petty collection of scrolls and recopied books, not him.  He wanted a Capital L Library filled with all the books ever written in all of history.  Yes, I know that's impossible.  Nuts, remember?

Calacorius started his library by building an extra-dimensional space.  That allowed him to expand as
much as necessary.  Soon, the work of expansion bored him - he was more interested in acquiring books than building bookshelves, so he created a series of librarian enchantments and golem servitors and empowered them to file and expand the Library.

Like most hoarders, he didn't give a ton of thought to organization.  His magics allowed him to find nearly anything within the space, so he just gave them the keys (so to speak) and had them get on with it.

In the early days, he had a grand old time of it.  He scryed, travelled, acquired.  He deposited dozens, hundreds, thousands of books in his Library.  Sometimes he even read them.  Usually when he was studying ways to get more books.  Nuts, after all.

As time went on, he ran up against some limitations.  Time being a big one.  Also entropy, which is pretty much the same thing.  Also the fact that lots of books simply didn't exist anymore, or were too well protected from his scrying, or hadn't been written yet.  That one was a real stumper, but nothing a really, er, driven Archmage couldn't sort out.

Sure he couldn't get his hands on books that didn't exist, but in all those lovely dimensions, there was probably a similar book that DID exist.  Monkeys and typewriters.  All that.

So Calacorius started adding to the enchantments of the Library.  He set up the ability for it to create portals.  He built complex enchantments that identified and located really rare books.  Unique ones, lost ones, hidden ones.  The spells found all sorts of amazing stuff in adjacent dimensions, similar timelines and hidden sub-basements of reality.  Enthralled, he began to follow the portals to retrieve these treasures.

He didn't come back.  Which is a thing that happens when you dick around with dimensions.  Duh.

By that point, though, it wasn't that big a deal, at least not from the perspective of The Library.  The Library had things to do.  Vast aetherical engines powered it, magical constructs maintained it, it expanded itself, and it had a goal.  That diamond-hard idea was baked into every spell that made it.

Must. Get. Books.

So it did. It searched across the planes and dimensions.  Finding, retrieving, archiving.  It began to grow.  And it began to change, as things do, when left unattended.  Many of the books it contained were magical, and as anybody with half a brain knows, magical things don't tend to just sit around doing nothing.  Especially if you put them next to thousands of other magical things.  Stuff happened.

Coming Next:  Using the Library in your game.