Showing posts with label 3.x. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 3.x. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Class Struggles: The BECMI Prestige Classes

A slightly different sort of Class Struggles today.
Yesterday I reviewed the Companion Set Rules.  Within those rules some new "sub-classes" or "traveling classes" were introduced.  Let me summarize here.

Druids are Neutral clerics of 9th level or greater dedicated to the cause of Nature. They are non-land owning and not devoted to another lord or cause.
Knight a Neutral (or any alignment) traveling fighter, that is a non-land owning fighter. Must swear fealty to a royal ruler.
Paladin a Lawful traveling fighter who swears fealty to a Lawful church.
Avenger a Chaotic traveling fighter who swears allegiance to a Chaotic church.

There are others, such as Guildmasters and Magists, but those four are the focus of my attention this week.


Looking over the rules I can't help but think of how much these resemble what would be known as a Prestige Class in 3.x D&D.  In fact let's make a direct comparison between the Avenger and the Blackguard, an evil fighter prestige class.

According to the d20 SRD for 3.0 a Blackguard must meet the following requirements.  I am putting D&D BECMI equivalent translations in brackets [].
Alignment: Any evil.  [chaotic]
Base Attack Bonus: +6. [at least 6th level]
Skills: Hide 5 ranks, Knowledge (religion) 2 ranks. [again at least 6th level with some knowledge of religion so high wisdom is good]
Feats: Cleave, Improved Sunder, Power Attack. [knows some combat maneuvers]
Special: The character must have made peaceful contact with an evil outsider who was summoned by him or someone else.  [makes allegiances to an evil religion.]

Given the systems, the Blackguard is pretty much the same as an Avenger.
Back in the 3.x days, there was even a Paladin Prestige Class that you had to be a fighter or a cleric to qualify for.  It made a lot of sense to me.


So a Knight, Paladin, and the Avenger can all be seen rather easily seen as BECMI Prestige Classes.
In 3e, Prestige Classes were designed to be open to any class, but some were easier to get into if you started in the right class. Some were limited to class, but not "on paper" so a Prestige Class limited only to clerics could say "must be able to cast divine spells" or "ability to turn undead."  Yeah, it was sneaky, but a fighter could take a level of cleric and be able to get in.

So I am thinking that in BECMI prestige classes would have to be "Base Class" specific.
What do I mean by "Base Class?" Well, these are your Cleric, Fighter, Magi-User, and Theif classes.
In D&D 3.x a difference is made between a Base Class and a Prestige Class.   Why would I even care?  Well, looking at classes in this light gives me a ton of new options.  For starters it allows me to be able to add classes to my BECMI games and not add the bloat of an extra set of class rules.  It also allows me to explore all sorts of other options for a class.
It also allows me to have these new classes, often treated like a multi-class or dual-class without the need for a bunch of messing with double noting of XP rewards.

There are other examples.
The book GAZ3: Principalities of Glantri covers the Seven Secret Crafts of Magic in Glantri.  Each one of these could be seen as Magic-user specific prestige classes.  The Master's set introduced the Shaman and Wokani classes.  Not to mention all the various "witch-like" classes I have covered from other BECMI books.  I am sure there are more to be honest with you, I just have not had the chance to dig them all up yet.

BECMI Prestige Classes

How then can you use the 3.x Prestige Classes, or for that matter 2nd ed. Kits, 4e Paragon Paths or 5e sub-classes, in BECMI?  Simple find classes that work for you first.

So I am going to start up a BECMI campaign and I know that one of my sons is going to want to play an assassin and the other will want to play a ranger.

Both classes are in AD&D and in most versions of the game.   How can I bring them in?

Well, the simple solution is to import the class wholesale, but I guess at that point why not just play AD&D?  I want something that is more Basic-feeling.  I would need to add some more details, but here are some ideas.

Acrobat
A thief that steals not for profit or personal gain but instead for the thrills and even the challenge could become an Acrobat.  These thieves can be Neutral and even some Lawful.  I would follow the guidelines in the Unearthed Arcana.

Assassin
This class was removed from AD&D 2nd Ed and absent in D&D 3e as a base class.  It does exist as a 3e Prestige Class and a 5e Sub-class. In the case of 3e the fastest way in is to start out as a Rogue.  In 5e you have to be a Rogue first.  The 5e SRD only lists one sub-class or archetype, the Thief.
The BECMI Assassin starts out as a Thief but at some point becomes an assassin.  I am going to say 8th or 9th level, and they would need to be Chaotic. They can use poison, but a limited number of weapons, armor, and no shields.

Illusionist
These are Magic-users that focus completely on Illusion Magic. They have their own spell lists like the druid does.  They do not build their own towers but are often entertainer magicians for courts and other notables of power.

Ranger
These are fighters that are dedicated to nature, much like the druid, and focus on a particular enemy.
They cannot become Lords or Ladies, but instead, have a small stronghold.  Fighters of 9th level or higher may become rangers.

These ideas can be easily extended.

Necromancers
Have their own spell list. Do not build towers but may take over any ruins. Command undead.  The existence of Illusionists and Necromancers could also imply other schools of magic like AD&D 2nd Speciality wizards.  I suppose I could just import those. Other options are like the School of Magic in Glantri.

Bards
Oh man, these guys in AD&D are a mess.  But I would steal a page from 2nd Ed and make them Thief-like and have them improve their fighting skills a little and give them some druid magic.  OR go the Celtic route and make them part of the Cleric class.  Still thinking on this one.

Looking at 3.x a few jump out right away.  In addition to the Blackguard and the Assassin, I can easily see adapting the Arcane Archer for elves and the Dwarven Delver for Dwarves.



There can be many, many more.  With five other editions of *D&D to choose from there is no end to what could be done. 

Now I am sure some people might complain about "class bloat" and that is a fair argument.  I think keeping to the base four (or base five if you count my witch) then adding the other Prestige Classes on an as-needed basis. 

Or, even closer to the spirit of the rules, add these as "role-playing guides" only.  I mean really what is to stop a player from saying "my elf is an arcane archer!" and make the choice to only use a bow?  Maybe the DM and the group can decide that this elf can add +1 to hits with their bow due to their dedication.  Simple fix and no new rules added!

Make some use out of that multitude of books I own.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Class Struggles: The Alchemist

The Love Potion by Evelyn De Morgan
Thought a Class Struggles might in order today.  I have been thinking a lot about the Alchemist lately and thinking that of all the potential classes, this the one Old-School AD&D/D&D talks around the most, but never actually executes. My history with the alchemist goes back to when I was creating a bunch of new classes.  There was the witch (obviously), followed by the necromancer, the "sun priest" and finally the healer.  The alchemist was one that I mentioned in conjunction with all these other classes, but never had much more than an outline of it.

So let's have a look at how the Alchemist has presented to us over the years and what the class has become today.

The Dragon Magazine Alchemist(s)
I want to start here since these are the first alchemists. The ones that even predate the information in the DMG.
To claim there is one alchemist from Dragon Magazine is a bit of a stretch.  While a claim can be made for the Dragon Mag witch class, the alchemist has seen less cohesion.
The first alchemist we see, and one that predates AD&D, is the  "New D&D Character Class: The Alchemist" by Jon Pickens in Issue #2, page 28. This is a solidlyOD&D class.  Here we get 20 levels of the alchemist class which functions as a slightly weaker version of the magic-user.  It can create potions up to 6th level, like spells.  This alchemist though has some special powers to go with it. It can detect and then later neutralize poisons and paralysis. It can identify potions and can prepare various poisons.  The class is playable, but feels limited to a support role in some cases.  The Prime Requisite is Wisdom, though I think Intelligence is a better choice.

A few more years in and we get a combo of classes for Roger and Georgia Moore in Dragon #45, "NPCs For Hire: One who predicts... ...And One Who Seeks the Perfect Mix." This gives us two NPC classes, the Astrologer and the Alchemist. While the Astrologer looks like a lot fun, I want to focus on the alchemist now.  This is a pure NPC; no class levels or XP, no hp, just what they do and how they do it.  There is a bit on hiring an alchemist as well.  The assumption here must be that these are all older professionals likely past their adventuring years.  Fo me I can see both versions working at the same time in the same class.  Pickens' class for adventuring years and the Moores' for after that.

Separate, these classes feel a bit lacking by my standards but are likely fine by others.  Together though they combine rather nicely into a complete whole for me.

In "Recipe For the Alchemist" (Dragon Mag Issue #49), Len Lakofka presents, in very typical Len fashion, a very complete alchemist class.  Like many of his classes, this one is an NPC only and should be considered something of a more useful henchman.  In addition to the powers of detecting and making potions and poisons there are skills on glass blowing and pottery making.  Two useful skills for an alchemist to be sure.
There are XP per levels given, but they add up to be a little bit more than the magic-user if you consider the first couple levels are "apprentice" levels with little more than pottery making and glass blowing skills.   While the class is very complete it is a bit prohibitive as a PC class. I am certain that is by design.

There is a bit of a stretch before we get to another one, but it is worth the wait. "Better Living Through Alchemy" from Tom Armstrong in Dragon #130 has become in my mind the defacto article on alchemy in D&D.  Armstrong gives us not only an alchemist class but also a primer on Alchemy and how it could work in the game.  This is also the only alchemist I have played and playing the class though was hard. It had higher XP per level than the wizard and there was little they could do without their lab. The article is dense. That is in the sense that there is a lot here to read and unpack.
The article reads like a cleaned-up version of all the alchemists we have seen so far and this one also has the benefit of a few more years of play on it. 

The Alchemist in the DMG and D&D Expert
In between all of those we get some notes on the alchemist from the Dungeon Master himself in the DMG.  Though if anything this only makes me want to have an Alchemist NPC class, or better yet PC class, even more.


While the alchemist is not needed for higher-level magic-users, someone is going to need them.  Plus someone out there is creating all those potions.   If Jonathan Becker's recent deep-dive into the Illusionist class is any indication we could have used a magic-user sub-class of an alchemist more than the illusionist!

The D&D Expert set also has guidelines for an alchemist and maybe the most iconic alchemist art there is in D&D.


For 1000 gp a month you can have an alchemist on hire. Likely less for that sketchy guy above.

So how do we get there?  Well, let's see what the 3rd party publishers have to say.

Bard Games



I have gone on the record many, many times about my love of the books from Bard Games.  Their Compleat Spellcaster is still a favorite and particularly germane to today's discussion is their Compleat Alchemist.


While the Compleat Spellcaster is my favorite for obvious reasons, the Compleat Alchemist seems to be the most popular.  There are two prints from Bard Games, the Arcanum (which combines all three) and then another one from Wizards of the Coast long before their D&D years.

This was one of the most complete (it says so in the title) alchemist classes for some time to come. At 48 pages the book was huge for a single class.  By necessity, the class was written for "any FRPG" so a lot of the language is coded since they did not want to run afoul of TSR. But there is enough information here for you to read between the lines to figure out what to do. 

Some time is given to the art and science of alchemy. This includes the use of special symbols and language to communicate with other alchemists. Prices and rarities of ingredients and equipment.  And even a component sheet to keep track of the alchemist stores.
Potions and Elixers are granted by level as one would expect, only, in this case, it details what the alchemist can do at their class level. Not by let's say potion level (like a spell).

This alchemist really was the gold standard by which all other alchemists were to be judged for years.  Enough so that it appeared in several different books by a few different publishers over the years.  So much so that it still appears in the Arcanum 30th Anniversary Edition from ZiLa Games.

The OGC / OSR Alchemists
Not to be left out modern authors have looked back to the Alchemist and created their own versions using the OGL.

Pathfinder
The evolution of the D&D game to Pathfinder has also given us an evolved alchemist class.  This is presented as a fully playable PC class. It is also so popular that while it was originally a "Base Class" in Pathfinder 1st Editon, it became a Core Class in Pathfinder 2nd Edition and the favored class of Pathfinder goblins.
I rather enjoy this version of the class since it more playable than previous versions of the class.  Good rationale is given as to why an alchemist would want to leave the lab and get out into the field of adventuring.   The class though does tend to be a little too "blasty" for my tastes and it seems that the 2nd Edition version has gone even more in that direction, but it is still a very fun class to play.

There is so much alchemist stuff  (over 300 according to DriveThruRPG) that there is even a product to collect all the OGC extracts into one place, Echelon Reference Series: Alchemist Extracts Compiled.

Pathfinder is not the only place though to find a "new" alchemist.  There are plenty of OSR/Old-school choices out there.  Here are a few I have grabbed over the years. In no particular order.

The Alchemist
Tubby Tabby Press
This is certainly one of the more complete alchemist classes I have seen. At 81 pages it is full of information on all of the class details, equipment, ingredients and everything the alchemist can create by level.  Designed for AD&D it can be ported over to any game. It is based on the Bard Games version.  There is only a small amount of art in this one and no OGL statements.  Despite that this is a very full book and plenty to keep players and GMs busy.

Basic Alchemist
Den Meister Games
This is a smaller product, but it is totally in line with the Basic-era games.  What makes this particular product useful is its flexibility.  Produced for Labyrinth Lord it is a solid B/X feeling class. The cover art even invokes the Erol Otus alchemist art from the D&D Expert book.  The alchemist can build potions, elixirs, and compounds and use them as magic-user spells.  Some examples are given and it has a great old-school feel. In particular, I love the alchemical failure table! 
At six pages it is not big, but it makes each page count. I do wish there more examples of spells though.

Supplement #1: The Alchemist
Vigilance Press
This is another smaller product. Five pages (1 cover, 1.5 OGL, 3.5 content) at $0.99.  It reminds me a bit of the Dragon magazine alchemists; Smaller XP per level needed, but only a few "powers" per level and some levels none at all. Slightly better hp and attacks set this off from other "magic-user" based alchemists.   I do wish this one had more to it than this, but it is a playable class.  If I were to use this one I might try it as a multi-classed Magic-User/Alchemist.  Get the advantages of the magic-user spells and the better hp/attacks of the alchemist.  Designed for OSRIC.

Old School Magic
Vigilance Press
This is an update to The Alchemist also by Vigilance Press. For another buck, you get more classes, another 23 pages and a better-looking layout. A good deal if you ask me.  The alchemist is very much like the one from the previous product.  Like the alchemist supplement, I might do a multi-class with this alchemist. Either as an alchemist-artificer or an alchemist-sage. 
The other classes include the artificer, conjurer, elementalist, hermit, holy man, naturalist, sage and seer.  Plus there are some new spells that I rather like.

The OSR Chymist
Jeremy Reaban
A slightly different version of the alchemist. Jeremy Reaban does some great classes and this one is no exception.  This chymist is closer in nature to the Pathfinder Alchemist but somehow this one feels more like an old-school class and manages to work well.   He includes some new formulae for alchemists/chymists and some sample NPCs.  Also there are tables for whatever old-school games you are playing. Sure conversion is easy, but this makes it all easier. 
It is PWYW, but my advice is to send him a buck or more. It is 16 pages so that is not bad for a dollar.

There are more, including many alchemists that are parts of larger books like Fantastic WizardryThe Crimson Pandect, and the previously mentioned Arcanum.


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Kytarra Bane, the Witch Queen and Mixing Books

I am often asked if one witch book can be used with another or with a game I didn't overtly design it for.  Say for example using The Warlock with Basic-era D&D, or The Amazon Witch Tradition with AD&D or S&W.   Well, the short answer is YES!


My goals for every book are simple. Make it a fun class. Make it compatible with every other book. Make it so the someone can pick one up and play it.   Any book I have can be and will be, someone's first book in the series.  So I want maximum playability.

So what can you do to mix them?  Well like I said I spend a lot of time trying to make it easy and avoid any potential issues.  In all things your GM has the say (and you or they can also always ask me) but here is an example.

Today I want to rebuild a character from Necromancer's Fane of the Witch King.
The character is Kytarra Bane, the "Witch Queen" of the adventure.  In the D&D3/d20 is a half-fiend/half-nymph 4th level druid.  Here nymph and druid levels "stack" in d20 so she ends up something like an 11th level druid.  But I don't want a druid. I want a witch.  So how could I build her using my books?

Well, given that she is half-fiend I am going to opt to make her part of the Mara Tradition.   To handle her handful of druid spells I will also grab some material from the S&W Green Witch book.  Finally, to deal with her half-nymph side I am going to use the multiclassing and use any race rules from the Classical Tradition book.  That book also has a large variety of nymphs to choose from.   Her bonus spells due to high Charisma (from The Mara book) and her Occult powers will help cover her nymph and fiend abilities.

Since I have all the books I can choose from a wider variety of spells for her.  There is some overlap in spells, that can't be helped. All witched get a Curse spell of some sort, but it makes for a nicer variety all the same.  I will also grab some cantrips from my original The Witch for Basic-Era Games book.

Kytarra Bane, The Witch Queen
From Fane of the Witch King
11th Level Witch, Mara Tradition
Half-nymph/Half-demon

Strength: 19
Intelligence: 20
Wisdom: 20
Dexterity: 17
Constitution: 17
Charisma: 20

Saves (unadjusted)
Death Ray or Poison:  9
Magic wand or devices: 10
Paralysis, Polymorph or Turn to Stone: 9
Dragon Breath: 12
Rods, Staffs, and Spells: 11

Hit Points: 52
Alignment: Chaotic (Evil)
AC: -1 (-2 dex, -1 natural, -3 bracers, Death Armor +1)

Occult Powers
Familiar:  Fiendish Dire Tiger
Herb use
Lesser:  Blinding Beauty (as per Blindness spell, once per day)

Spells
Cantrips (6): Black Flame, Chill, Flare, Mend Minor Wounds (x2), Object Reading
First (4+3): Bewitch I, Endure Elements, Fey Step, Häxen Talons, Mend Light Wounds, Obedient Beast, Obscuring Cloud
Second (3+3): Burning Gaze, Burning Hands, Defiling Touch, Fury of the Sun, Produce Flame, Stunning Allure
Third (3+2): Bewitch III, Brave the Flames, Contagion, Continual Fire, Witch Fire
Fourth (2+2): Dispel Magic, Dryad's Door, Elemental Armor, Rain of Spite
Fifth (2): Death Curse, Flame Strike
Sixth (1): Fire Seeds

Magic Items: Bracers (+3), Death Armor

I am pretty pleased with this build. I grabbed unique spells from all my sources listed about and it made for a nice witch. The mixing worked well and I ended up with a character very close to that of the original d20 product.  Since she is not part of an organized coven, or any coven really, I opted NOT to give her any witch Rituals.  That is not a hard and fast rule in the books, but one I use in my own games.

The are more ways to combine the books.  I should have a few more NPC witches coming up.

Monday, March 20, 2017

New Releases: Hedge Witches and Prestige Witches

Today is the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere, also known as Ostara.
To celebrate this time I have not just one, but two new releases today.

First up:

The Witch: Hedgewitch for the Hero's Journey RPG


Presenting the Hedgewitch for The Hero's Journey Fantasy Roleplaying game. Can be used with HJ or Swords & Wizardry Whitebox or Complete.

Included in these 66 pages are:

  • New Race: The Gnome
  • New Professions
  • The Witch class and Hedge Witch tradition
  • 80 spells new to The Hero's Journey
  • 15 new monsters

Fully compatible with The Witch, Eldritch WitcheryThe Witch for Swords & Wizardry Light and The Witch: Aiséiligh Tradition for Swords & Wizardry.  In fact, all are designed to work together as a complete whole.  Getting these various witches to work together in your is another matter entirely.

A softcover print version is in the process of heading to the printer.  I am just waiting on OneBookShelf on this, they are taking longer than expected.

Also released is the next book in the Strange Brew series for Pathfinder.

Strange Brew: Mystical Paths & Prestige Classes


From the book:

Witches and warlocks come in all shapes, sizes, genders, philosophies, alignments, and focuses. Many of these concepts are expressed through archetypes, but some concepts require a bit ... more ... to fully be expressed.

Here are 23 Prestige Classes for your witch or warlock, allowing them to focus on specific aspects of being a witch or warlock, or a specific type of witch or warlock with more control than an archetype gives you. With them, your witch isn’t "just" a witch, she’s a Tempestarii Storm Raiser, or he isn’t "merely" a witch, but an Occult Scholar.

Help find the true destiny of your witch or warlock!

Also included are some of my favorites, the Imbolc Mage and the Queen of Witches.

Regardless of what game you prefer, I have a class for you.  Time to make some magic!

Friday, February 17, 2017

Kickstart Your Weekend: The Book of Passion

It's the week of Valentine's Day.  My wife and I have a LONG overdue date night and Misfit Studios has released their latest Kickstarter for OGL 3.75 (D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder I take it).

The Book of Passion, by authors Will Wells and Margherita Tramontano, adds role-playing rules for love and sex to your OGL 3.75 campaign. Long-time game designer/editor/developer, Christina Stiles, will publish the book via Misfit Studios.


To find out more about this project I went to the authors to ask some questions.

Interview with Will Wells and Margherita Tramontano

(Full Disclosure: I work with Misfit Studio on the Strange Brew line of Witch and Warlock books.  Margherita has contributed to my book. This book and Strange Brew share editors Christina Stiles and Robert Hudson in common as well as artists Jacob Blackmon and Peter Bradley.)

Tim: So with tell me who you are and what your other publications of note have been.

Will: Well, I'm an English teacher from Cleveland who has been gaming since 1999 (see next question) and has been creating fan-made rule systems and modifications to the same for basically just as long.  I love to translate what I see in film, books, and video games into tabletop rules (likely from my start with the Fusion system, which did that for Bubblegum Crisis - again, see below).

Most of the time, this sort of thing has just been for my own personal use.  In fact, that's how the Passion Mystery started.  Sometimes I post my system modifications on the Paizo forums for others to use as well (again, as seen with the Passion Mystery).

As for official paid publications, my only current publications are outside the gaming realm - although that is about to change in a big way - Margherita and I have been doing a lot of work for Christina Stiles the past few months.

Also - fun fact - I've been trying to write a bio for the front-matter of some of the aforementioned work, and haven't been able to hit the right tone.  I think I just did here, so if you don't mind, I'm going to steal basically everything I just said for my official bio.

Margherita: Well, I am an Italian Literature teacher and a mum of two boys. I always wanted to be a writer since I was a little child. I published two volumes of poetry and some chapters of my fantasy novel… then I began sending articles to Wayfinder. The Paizo forums put me in contact with so many great persons that also were authors and publishers, so I tried to send something to them too. And here I am, working with people I look up to.
In recent years, I published articles in several issues of Wayfinder, on the Kobold Press blog with a series of options for their shaman class, and in the new version of Green Ronin Publishing’s Advanced Bestiary (Teratocephalos template). I also co–authored four Letters from the Flaming Crab for Flaming Crab Games and created the Esotericist oracle archetype for The Knotty–Works; for Everyman Games, I am the author of Childhood Feats and Mysteries of Passion; and I contributed to The Colossal Creatures Bestiary for Zenith Games with the kaiju Dypthera. For Christina, Will and I co-authored and developed the Talented Adventurers of SpirosBlaak line. This year more projects in which I am involved should see the light!

Tim: I suppose I should ask how you all got into gaming. So. How did you get into gaming?

Will: Back in 1999, I picked up a copy of the Bubblegum Crisis RPG because I was a huge fan of Bubblegum Crisis.  Having bought the book, it only seemed right to try it out.
From there, I jumped into 2nd Ed D&D just before the release of 3rd Ed - and 3rd Ed just made so much more sense to me than THAC0.

Margherita: It was a little tragic. I was involved in a game run by a friend, and since I always was curious about RPG, I accepted (it was a 2E campaign). It did finish well for my character, but much less well for me. I thought it would be an heroic Arthurian fantasy manga campaign, while the master and the other players were all into gothic dark Arthurian fantasy manga gaming. Like so many newbies, I couldn’t keep myself and my character separated, and the game’s flavor caused me a long period of deep depression and anger.
Fortunately, this stimulated me to learn more about the game, to understand whether I was wrong or my master was. I read manuals, tried to translate rules, created my own characters, campaign, game world and novels, and- well, ultimately I fell in love. I began to write my own rules at first just for myself. I found many beautiful netbooks of rules written by gamers (one was the Netbook of Witches and Warlocks, another the Complete Guide to Unlawful Carnal Knowledge!).
I never loved 3E or 3.5E much, however. But one day I found Pathfinder. The rest is history.


Tim: Great.  Now tell me about the Book of Passion.  Who’s idea was this and what are you hoping gamers can get from it?

Margherita: It was in part a coincidence. Will had started a thread on the Paizo forums with his first draft of the Mystery of Passion. I was searching for a way to convert one of my 2E characters to Pathfinder (the same that became my iconic romance oracle in the Book of Passion), and his idea was the nearest thing to her I could found then. So I answered to the thread with some ideas to make the mystery better. Before we knew, we were working together, exchanging ideas for the mystery, then for oracle archetypes tied to the mystery, then for other classes… I don’t remember which one of us had first the idea of making a book, but we liked it more and more. I had already proposed some pieces to Owen K. C. Stephens and Christina, so I thought to try sending some examples to them. And now, after some years of work, the book is nearly ready to become a reality.

Will: For me, it started with the release of Paizo's Advanced Player's Guide.  I loved the Oracle class during the playtest, and was eagerly awaiting the final book to see what interesting options would be released for clerics of Calistria.  I preordered the book and, when it finally arrived, I practically tore it open to get to the Oracle section and - nothing.  No mystery was listed for Calistria.  I was really disappointed - and after a brief snit, I decided that the best way to fix this was to make my own.

Except, of course, that Oracle mysteries are intentionally broad, so I couldn't make one specifically for her - I had to pick an aspect that she represented.  Plus, since I was also a huge fan of the works of Jacqueline Carey (particularly Kushiel's Legacy), I kept Naamah in mind as well.  Sacred prostitution is a shared theme between both goddesses, so that's where I started.

Tim: I am looking forward to that, I have used Naamah myself in other games.  What is one of your favorite features about this book?

Margherita: Among the parts I wrote, I like the Merciful Oracle archetype -the one that my iconic uses- but also the Chasmalim angel, which is the good counterpart of a succubus, and of course my pregnancy and hybridization rules, and the stats of my character. Among the parts Will wrote, maybe the richest of hints, flavor and fantasy are his descriptions of sex-oriented societies. But the Mystery of Passion is the book’s nucleus, the one from which everything else has grown, and we wrote that together!

Tim: What sort of games/stories do you expect that people will use this for?

Will: Any story that features romance, love, or sex.  Many (if not most) published Pathfinder adventures (by any publisher) feature these things, but they were usually on the "plot" side of things with no mechanical elements.  For example, in one adventure I can recall off the top of my head, it is a minor background note that two of the major NPCs are in a lesbian relationship with one another.  Aside from some motivations, however, this has no impact on the character builds.

With the Book of Passion, that could change.  Now, if there are two characters (PC or NPC), they could choose to take "Marriage Feats" - a special kind of teamwork feat that only works between individuals in a romantic relationship (they don't actually have to be married, but if you are choosing feats together, that's pretty significant commitment).

It can be as simple as that - or as complicated as the GM and players like.  During the playtesting for this book, I ran a game that resembled a fantasy romance novel.  There was a lot of political machinations, covert intelligence gathering, and - yes - a lot of seductions and romances.  Characters fell in love, entered into complex relationships (including a particularly complex polyamorous relationship between a married couple, their lover, her other lover, and his fiancee), suffered heartbreak, and in one case got murdered by a botched assassination aimed as the person sitting next to them.  The game was high melodrama and a lot of fun, with the archetypes, feats, and spells from the Book of Passion being a great way to flavor a character.  In fact, two of the three iconic character we present in the Book of Passion are from that game.

On the far end of the spectrum, we also playtested in a grim low-fantasy setting more reminiscent of Game of Thrones with a bit of Berserk (the manga) thrown in than anything like the usual Pathfinder setting.  And there, too, the Book of Passion was highly useful.  While there was far less magic in this game, several of the archetypes proved useful, as did a number of the more sinister monsters from the Book of Passion's Bestiary.

That's the thing - sex and romance are part of most of the stories we tell.  Whether they are the main focus, like in the romance novel game, or they are part of the tragic background, like in the low fantasy game, they're almost always there, somewhere.  Being able to make romance more core to a character, either through an archetype, feat, or spell, allows that oh-so important part of our characters' lives to be represented in their builds.

Margherita: I hope it will not be used to traumatize players or GMs! (Laughs) The book can be used not only to decide if a character gets pregnant or not, it also offers great tips for roleplaying many different situations and relationships in which sex must not necessarily be involved. If someone is just in search of “new positions”, then this is not the book they want.


Tim: It has to be asked, but is this just “Sex in D&D”? (nod to any old-school gamer that remembers that one).

Will: Yes - and no.  We do an update to some of the more common rules for sex presented in several different 3rd and 3.5 books, but that is literally the first half of the first chapter.  Sex has been part of D&D for a while now, and Pathfinder in particular has embraced that to a much greater degree than previous versions of the game.  However, while sex is a present and important aspect of the game, there is little a player can do to use sex meaningfully as part of their character.

That's where a lot of our work in this book comes in.  By far the largest chapter is a series of archetypes and class features for every class from Core, APG, Ultimate Magic, Ultimate Combat, and Advanced Class - all of which have to do with sex or romance in some way.  These features aren't just about flavor - they're about making sex and romance useful.  If you are a cleric or oracle who is granted spells by a god or goddess of fertility or sexuality, you should gain powers from that deity that relate to those aspects of the deity.  If you want to play a high class prostitute who uses sex to draw out information from his patrons, you can do that.  Or, if you want to play a knight with a pledge of courtly love to a noblewoman, you can do that too.  Archetypes for all of these concepts - and many, many more - are supported in such a way that even games that stick to a "fade to black" style PG rating can still use them.  A lot of game tables don't like to get into specifics but still use sexual themes, and we wanted to make sure they were covered as well.

Margherita: Nooooo. Love has many facets, and sex is just one of them. Will appreciates quality erotism, while I have a more romantic and platonic approach. We integrated both these points of view into our work. There is the temple prostitute inside, but there also is the virginal healer, the platonic lover, the courtly love-voted cavalier and bard. Passion is a nearly limitless subject.

Tim: So a related question.  What about the supposed “adult” content in this book. What do say to potential critics?

Will: First of all, I would ask where they were during 3.5 when at least five books on this topic (working sexuality into D&D) were released.  The concept of this book is nothing new - it's the execution, and the fact that it hasn't been done for Pathfinder yet, that make our book special.

Secondly, if you're talking about nudity, then I would remind any potential critics that the 3.5 "Book of Erotic Fantasy" used actual photographs of real models for its nudes, often photo-shopped in a very "uncanny valley" way to attempt to create magical effects.  We're using drawings - beautiful, well crafted drawings.  Again, anyone in a snit about this is nearly a decade late to the barbecue.

Does the book talk about sex?  Yes, quite a bit.  In fact, I make a point in chapter 1 to define sex as "oral sex, anal sex, vaginal sex, tribadism (aka scissoring), manual sex (aka hand-job or fingering), brachiovaginal insertion (fisting), or any other direct stimulation of one or both partners' genitals."  We don't just talk about sex - we talk inclusively about sex, making sure to cover various types of sexual relationships.

We also talk about the concept of "sex-positive" both as it applies to the book at large and to societies in various game settings.  Unlike some previous books on the topic, we don't make any assumptions about what a given race's sexual mores are and instead provide guidelines how sex-positive social mores might interact with various alignments.

Of course, we also talk about love and romance.  As I mentioned before, our archetypes are as likely to be focused on the emotion of love as they are to be on the physical act of sex.

Margherita: We always used a respectful language and a respectful approach to the many ways in which people see love. Some of the monsters and characters included in the book enjoy rape or non-consensual domination: these are evil. Many more enforce reciprocal trust, fealty and sincerity in a relationship, and defend even love that some would find “wrong”. These are the good ones and the model roles we hope to show to our readers.


Tim: Last question, something I always ask.  Who is your favorite witch, wizard or magic-user and why?

Margherita: Tiffany Aching. Because she will be the greatest witch in the Discworld and has surpassed even her teacher. She has all her teacher’s virtues and none of her teacher’s quirks. Though if I were a witch, I’m afraid I would be more a Magrat than a Tiffany.
Oh, and the witch I created for Christina, Marena Lenoire, is cool too. (Laughs)


Will: Favorite Witch?  Wow, how specific.  Okay - for me, that would be Anthy Himemiya from Revolutionary Girl Utena.  While she isn't a "traditional" witch, that is how she's described in the show, and she does have the power of illusions.  As to why - Anthy's story is that of a victim breaking free of her own guilt and finally walking away from her abuser.  She makes mistakes along the way and betrays her best friend, but it is that very betrayal - and her friend forgiving her for it - that finally makes her see that she can't keep being that person anymore and needs to change.  And change she does.  Her character arc is both tragic and uplifting, horrible and beautiful, and I love her to death.

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Personally I think it looks like a lot of fun.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Class Struggles: Cthonic Warlocks and The Return of Tharizdûn

Working through my "end game" for my Come Endless Darkness campaign.  Like the Gygax book of the same name my main Big Bad is Tharizdûn.  Also like the books I am sure that the universe is going to look very different when I am done.

Through the various adventures, the big plot emerging is that Orcus, Lolth, Yeegnohu and others are taking advantage of the death of all the Sun Gods, but no one has yet confirmed or not if they have any actual involvement in it. They suspect Orcus.

In truth it is all going to be Tharizidûn.  This is something I have built up over the last couple of campaigns.  The "Dragonslayers" (the generation before the "Order of the Platinum Dragon") uncovered the Forgotten Temple of Tharizdûn.  His big plan, of course, is to get free.

Currently, I have him in a cage deep in the lowest part of the Nine Hells. Asmodeus is still his jailer and in many ways is the very first Warlock of Tharizdûn.  He has been siphoning off Tharizdûn's power for centuries, it is how he took control of Hell in fact.  But Tharizdûn knows this and while Asmodeus has been doing this, Tharizdûn has been pulling him deeper and deeper into his thrall.

In my games Tharizdûn also has another title, "The Whispering God".  This comes from his warlocks who say their god whispers in their ears and tells them secrets. And convinces them to do terrible things.  He is also known as the Elder Elemental Eye and worshiped by elemental-demon cults. He is also worshiped by the Drow that do not follow Lolth.

Recently Strange Brew: Warlocks was released.  It includes a version of the Whispering God that I used in my games. I am particularly proud of it to be honest.
WARLOCK PATRON: THE WHISPERING GOD
Deep in forgotten tombs, hidden in forsaken forests, and haunting long-abandoned churches of long-dead gods, you can hear it. It is soft, but it is there. Once you hear it, then it is always with you—day and night, sleeping and waking. It is the voice of the Whispering God. No one is for sure who or what the Whispering God is.
There are no churches or priests dedicated to him. No stories of creation. No heroes. No tales of battles. Just the constant whispering. Those warlocks who follow this entity are blessed and cursed: blessed with great power and cursed with the voice of their patron in their ears forever. No one knows what the Whispering God wants or even why he/it needs warlocks and not clerics.
The speculation is that he is a god trapped in prison so dark and so perfect only his voice can escape, but just barely. He needs these warlocks to spread the word so he can escape. Others claim that the god is nothing more than the madness that will consume all “his” warlocks.
For Pathfinder this is a "Cthonic" Patron.  For D&D 5 this would be an "Old One".
For my players, it means trouble.

Here is a Cthonic Tradition for the Basic Era Witch.

New Tradition: Cthonic

Witches of the Cthonic Tradition honor and some say are slaves of, very, very ancient powers. Some are inhuman powers from beyond our reality and understanding. Some are ancient Primordial Beigns from before the times of gods or mortals. A few are Dead Gods whose worship continues and whose power remains.

More so than any other witches, these are most often called Warlocks.

Role: These witches and warlocks represent a tie to the ancient past or to other unworldly powers.  They represent classical villains or the scholar that has delved too deep into things that mortals were never meant to know.

Joining this Tradition: To join one must either discover the Cthonic Patron of be discovered by one.  For example, the Cult of the Whispering God hears their Patron's whispers when they uncover hidden knowledge about the God or venture deep into areas that were formerly His centers of worship.

These witches tend to be Solitaries or be involved in small cults.
They are for the most part are chaotic, with some gravitating towards neutral. Rare is the lawful Cthonic witch, but it is not unheard of.

Leaving this Tradition: Often there is no way to leave this tradition; not even in death.

Occult Powers
Minor - 1st Level: Grimoire. The warlock does not gain a familiar like other witches, but rather a semi-aware tome known as a Grimoire.  These tomes replace the Book of Shadows for these witches. These Grimoires are often sought after by occultist, magic-users.

Lesser - 7th Level: Immune to Fear. Exposed to so many horrors or alien minds warps the mind of the warlock to a point where normal fear has no effect on them.  Magical fear is also given a -4 bonus on saves.

Medial - 13th Level:  Alien Mind. The Cthonic witch has become so accustomed to dealing with alien and ancient minds that she becomes immune to charm and hold spells. Her mind can't be probed or read via telepathy, ESP or similar powers.

Greater - 19th Level: Curse. The warlock can place a powerful Curse on a single creature. She can only do this once per day (for a single creature). The curse can be of any sort, but usually the curse will bestow a -4 to all to-hit rolls and -2 to any saving throws. Other curses may be allowed, such as the Bestow Curse spell. Witch curses are quite powerful and require the use of two (2) remove curse spells to be fully removed.

Major - 25th Level: Shape Change. Once per day, the witch may change her shape to any type of aberrant monster, like the spell Shape Change. For 1 turn per level, the witch may move freely back and forth between her aberration and human forms. Once the form is chosen, that is the only form she can use for the day. So, a witch may choose to change between the forms of human and a roper but cannot go between roper, human and bird. Once the duration has expired, the witch reverts back to human form.  The witch does not have the special abilities of the aberant form save for those that she can manage with the form.  So the roper's tentacles would be replicated, but not the basts of a Sphere of Many Eyes.

Superior - 31st Level: Apotheosis.  The witch becomes something else. This new form and powers are dependent on the Patron she serves.  For witches of the Whispering God her voice barley rises above a whisper, but her voice can be used as a Command spell once per day, a Charm spell 3 times per day, and a suggestion seven times per day.


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I am up for an ENnie this year for Best Blog!
Please click on the link and vote "1" under "The Other Side".

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Edition Changes as a Role-Playing Device

It is no secret that I am a fan of most editions of D&D (and many games in general).  Since I began back in 1979 I have played every edition of *D&D there is and have found something to enjoy in all of them.

Since I have been playing for so long, I have also had campaigns that have lasted years.  Sometimes these campaigns span multiple editions.  For example, my kids started with characters in 3rd edition, then those characters have kids that were started in 1st Edition and then we all moved to 5th edition.  With the occasional side step into Basic or OSR games for fun.   I have used different editions of the game for flashbacks, dream-sequences and general out-of-body experiences.



But looking at the larger picture of a longer narrative have you considered the actual rule changes to part and parcel of what is going on in the world?  Obviously, if you only play one edition this will not mean much to you or if your games have no continuity between editions.   But I have characters that started in Holmes Basic and they have descendants in my current 5e game.   Usually, it is one generation per edition, but how can I explain it when a cleric only has a mace a weapon and no spells till 2nd level when his grandson, who is also a cleric of the same god can wield a sword in some cases and his son can cast minor spells at will?

Some things I did work into a large narrative.
When I went from Basic to First Ed I explained the Class/Race Split by saying that elves in my original lands preferred to become fighter/magic-users due to tradition, but elves elsewhere in the world would choose other classes.

Going from First to Second had the biggest hurdle regarding demons.  First ed had them, second ed originally did not.  So since I had just done a huge war to finish off my "high school" games before college I just said that the war had blocked all demons from coming back into the world.

Second to third was a longer time span of inactivity for me, but the big issue was the birth of Sorcerers; people with spontaneous magic in their blood. Is this a remnant of the re-opening of the demon gates?  Maybe.   Hmm....I think I see and adventure idea!

Fourth has a slew of problems.  Mostly though the change in the nature of magic.  I have regarded this as an odd conjunction of the planes; something that altered the Cosmology.  Again, sounds like a cool thing to play out one day.

Fifth then is the return to the way things were before...with some things changed permanently.

I know there are some "in-story" and "in-universe" explanations for these changes in a lot of the Forgotten Realms material.  I will have to check these out someday and see if they track with my own ideas.

What have you done?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Starfinder

Paizo has announced "Starfinder", a new Sci-Fi game that is compatible with their Pathfinder game.



http://paizo.com/paizo/blog/v5748dyo5litw?Announcing-the-Starfinder-Roleplaying-Game

http://paizo.com/starfinder/

I am cautiously optimistic.  This could be a lot of fun and I have a ton of d20 compatible Sci-Fi games to play with.  But of course, I have to ask what will this give me that White Star doesn't already do?

Well it looks like I'll have to wait till 2017 to find out.



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A to Z of Adventure! Q is for Queen of the Demonweb Pits

Q is for Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

What else could it be?  Well...funny you should say that. There is also a few Vampire Queen adventures out there and there is the adventure path I am playing around with, War of the Witch Queens.  But I guess really there is only one queen and only one Q module.

Queen of the Demonweb Pits is the ultimate finale that began with the characters looking into some giant raids. Behind it all was the Drow and Lolth!...er wait. Wasn't supposed to be the Elder Elemental Eye? Tharizdun? I mean that is what is going on in T1 Village of Hommlet.

Well as it turns out Q1 was supposed to be different. It wasn't the vision that Gary wanted. Now the official story is that Gary was too busy to work on Q1 because he was working on T2 The Temple of Elemental Evil.  We can see bits of his thinking in T1, S4 and WG5.  So David Sutherland came in to finish it off.  At least that is story we have been told.  According to Shannon Appelcline this was the start of Gary's eventual ouster at TSR.

Regardless of how, what and why, Q1 is fondly remembered to this day 36 years later.  As part of the GDQ series it is considered to be one of the greatest adventures of all time.

I remember playing this back in the day and that confusing as hell map.  I remember talking to friends in the days WAY before the Internet and how we would speculate on Q2 and Q3.

Like T1 and the mythical stand-alone T2, a DIY Q2 would be great.

SO TO MY REGULAR READERS:  What would be in YOUR Q2?

Would you have the characters look into the Elder Elemental Eye connection?  Maybe there would be a civil war among the drow; those that support the EEE and those that support Lolth.

I suppose I could take a few pages from Expedition to the Demonweb Pits for 3.5 edition of D&D to.  I do know I need to work out this Lolth-Tharizdûn issue before my players get there!

3 Different Editions, 1 Basic idea


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Review: Ravenloft 3.0

The 3.0 era was on us.  I had just come back to D&D from a long hiatus and to my surprise we were getting a new Ravenloft setting and it was going to be penned by Swords & Sorcery Studios/Arthaus/White Wolf.  Say what you like about WW, they do know vampires.

Ravenloft 3.0 was one of those books I bought in the new 3.x era and I loved how it looked.  I splurged and grabbed the limited edition version from my favorite local game store.


I thought the art was fantastic and loved how well it adapted itself to the 3.0 rules.  But I had already had some experiences with 3.0 and even had pictured up some Swords & Sorcery Studios books and enjoyed those as well. The races were a nice treat to be honest. For the first time I really felt like I could run a Ravenloft game with the likes of gnomes, halflings and especially half-orcs, now rebranded as Calibans and the new Giogoto.



I think though I was expecting more at the time.  SSS was part of White Wolf like I mentioned and I was hoping for some of what made Vampire: The Masquerade so good to be here.  In re-reading it now, so many years later, I find I had unrealistic expectations.  In truth this book is a much better organized and updated version of the 2e Domains of Dread book. The nice thing about Ravenloft (and many of the D&D worlds) is that the plot kept moving along despite edition changes.  Though there is also a nice timeline included so DMs can do what they want.

This book has a black and white interior when most others were going full color.  To me this is a feature, not a bug.  Ravenloft is world of shades of grey and the art here is helps convey this.   The book is a basic campaign guide including the people, the lands and most important for Ravenloft, the horrors of the lands.  There are some new feats and skills. No new spells, but suggestions on how magic will be altered by the Mists.  There is even a section on the Gods of  Ravenloft.

Since most of this book covers the lands, their inhabitants and the Cultural Level of each, there is not a lot of crunch.  Translation: You can use this with any other version of D&D you like.  Even the feats look like they would work well with 5e still.  Even the section on "Fear, Horror and Madness" would work well.

It lacks large foldout maps of the 2e days, but it is a surprisingly good resource to me these days.
Well worth picking up.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Class Struggles: The Warlock

There have been a number of warlock classes, but unlike the wizard, fighter, cleric or even thief, everyone has had their own take on what a warlock should be.
I have talked about the warlock as a class, distinct from the witch, in the past.
I do like keeping my warlocks separate from my witches in terms of class.  In my mind they are just too different. Similar yes, but still very different.  I would allow any warlock to use the same spell list as a witch unless there was a good reason not to do it.

I think the first ever warlock class I ever saw was the "Warlocks: A New Magic-User Sub Class" by Anthony Barnstone in The Dungeoneer #16.  It had some great spells, "Pentacle of Fire", "Aura of the Occult", "Curse of the Bloody Revenge" to name a few.  This was certainly meant to be an evil character class to play, not just as an NPC.  Interestingly enough this the same issue that featured the mystic class.  I have to admit it was one of the things that made me like the Dungeoneer magazine.  It didn't treat it's audience like little kids.

To my knowledge, there has never been a warlock class in the pages of Dragon magazine.  I know there was not one in the pages of White Dwarf.

The Arcanum and Bard Games had a witch/warlock class, making them the same thing.  I am not a fan of that really.

In my mind the witch and the warlock began as the same class, but the warlocks broke off from the witches  sometime in the ancient past.  Either warlocks wanted to become more like wizards and mages OR they were responsible for the first wizards.

Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea has a great Warlock class. It is a sub-class of the fighter but calls upon dark powers to give them some magical power and spells.  Mor to the point I like how the warlock and the witch are very different sorts of classes.

The AS&SH warlock is something more akin to a swordmage.  We see something similar in D&D4 Essentials Hexblade.  In general I liked the D&D4 Warlock.  They were a class that wanted quick access to power and none of the work that Wizards had to do.  That was a fine role-playing excuse, but not something that played out in the rules.  Warlocks gained powers just like the Wizards did and had no more or no less requirements.

There is a Warlock I created in Eldritch Witchery. It is a type of Wizard really. I liken it to "Wizard Grad School" to be honest.  They use the same spells as the witch and gain a few extra powers.

The Warlocks in Fantastic Heroes & Witchery are another sort.  It is a chaos aligned wizard and has a lot of the same features really.  It uses the same xp per level tables, same HD and same spell progressions.  The FHW Warlock does gain some power, similar in many ways to my own witch, but at a cost.  On the surface this doesn't make it much different than a wizard, with a different selection of spells.  What makes this class, and really this book, different are the selection of spells (the book has 666) and the additional rules for acquiring magic and casting spells.  Adding this material makes the Warlock a much more interesting character.

The Pact-Bound in Magical Theorems & Dark Pacts is another warlock-like class.  Again the idea here is a class that takes a quick path to power for a price, usually to an other-worldly power.

There is a similar one in the pages of the ACKS Player's Companion.  Again the nice thing with this book is that the witch and warlock are separated.

In the 3e era we have a couple of "warlocks".  There is a warlock in the Complete Arcane and the witch in Pathfinder, which always felt more like a warlock to me.  Just staying focused on 3e we have a warlock class from WotC and a witch class for Pathfinder.  For 4e there were also very different witch and warlock classes.  5e only has a warlock.

In the case of the official D&D warlock, he is less of a spell caster and more a raw magical power wielder.  His pacts give him this power.

The question becomes one of whether the warlock should have spells or just weid raw magical power and thus have "blasts".  I am torn myself.  I like the warlock to have access to spells to be honest, the idea is these guys have sold their souls for power, but the "blasty" warlock really isn't all that powerful compared to a "spelly" warlock or wizard.

A good example of what I call a "blasty warlock" is Jeremy Reaban's The OSR Warlock.  Like his Witch Hunter book this book has a number of nice features in addition to the class. The class does not cast spells, it does have lot of special powers. This is by design and owning to the stated OGC and pulp sources.  The warlock here does get some spell like abilities in place of powers.  It actually works rather nicely   What I think makes this book special is the level advancement tables for "First Edition", "Original Edition", "Basic/Expert" and "Cyclopedic Edition".   Plus the author has a section of notes on the class.

I have to admit one of my favorite "warlock" books and one that  captures the Pulp Era warlock well is Green Ronin's "Warriors & Warlocks" book.  Yes it is for their superhero game Mutants and Masterminds (2.0 version) but it was my goto guide for a proper pulp warlock will AS&SH came out, and it is still a lot of fun.

I am certain I have missed some here.  Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Class Struggles: The Necromancer

Very, very few classes or class concepts have been gone over more than the Necromancer.  For a class that was never part of the original game, and never actually a proper class in it's own right, a lot of ink and pixels have been spent on this class.  So much that I am sure to miss things and might even need a part 2.  Where do we start?

Well to begin with what exactly is a necromancer and what is it that appears in so many games?
Taken from the Greek a necromancer is someone that communes with the dead. So spells like Speak to Dead are a good example.  Historical necromancers, like for example John Dee, spoke to the dead to get advice. or foretell the future.   In modern parlance and certainly in games (maybe one caused the other) necromancy has come to mean a wizard that controls or manipulates the forces of death and unlife.

The easiest Necromancer is simple.  Play a Wizard/Magic-User and then only choose necromancy spells.  Wear a lot of black and hang out with undead.  This is also a very satisfying necromancer since all the trappings have to be role-played.  Alternately one could play a cleric of a god of death, take only reversed necromancy spells and command instead of turn undead.
I think though as time wore on people wanted something that wa little bit of both.

The first, or at least one of the first was from White Dwarf Magazine #22 from December 1980/January 1981.  Lew Pulsipher gives us an article about evil priests, the "Black Priests".  While these are more cultist, there is a lot of necromancy being thrown around.  This is followed by a true necromancer class also by Pulsipher in issue #35 from November 1982.  Either of these classes is fine and represent the design philosophy of the times.  Namely take and rearrange already familiar elements.  The Black Priest and this Necromancer have the same shortcomings though; a reliance of human sacrifice.

The Necromancer is turned up to 11 with the publication of Dragon #76 in August 1983 and Len Lakofka's death master class.  Designed to be an "NPC Class only" I remember seeing it first in the pages of Best of Dragon Magazine Vol. 3.  I admit, I rolled up a death master right away.  He became a major antagonist in my games for many years to come.

In AD&D1 the example of the Illusionist gave birth to the speciality wizards of 2nd Ed.  One of those speciality wizards was the Necromancer.  This continues in practice to the most current version.  Though unlike the Illusionist, the Transmuter or even the Evoker, the Necromancer got it's own book.  The Complete Book of Necromancers was one of those books that everyone seemed to want.  I remember picking it up back when it was first published. I paid $15 for it.  Later the cover price jumped to $18 and soon it became very rare. No idea why.  The aftermarket price jumped considerably and I ended up selling mine on eBay back in 2000 for $81. Not a bad deal really.   I recently picked up a copy at Half-Price Books for $9.  The PDF just about the same price.  Though the book is crammed full of necromancer goodies. Spells, magic items, undead familiars.

Moving out into the world of Fantasy Heartbreakers there is the near-compatible Quest of the Ancients.  This necromancer reads like the Death Master, but has some interesting spells and some powers.  The Arcanum/Bard Games also has a necromancer class.

3.x had, at the last time I looked, at least 3 different kinds of official Necromancer classes.  The two best are from Libris Mortis: The Book of Undead and Heroes of Horror.  Heroes of Horror featured the rather popular Dread Necromancer class.  There is also the Death Master class from Dragon updated to 3.0e.  The Crypt Lord from the aptly named Necromancer Games. Not to mention dozens of others from other third party publishers.  Most take the same elements and reorganize them, but every so often something new is produced.

4e had necromancers as well. It was a type of wizard (much like the witch was) and was introduced in the Player's Option: Heroes of Shadow book.  It had some rather neat features to it as well.

For the OSR things are really no different, dozens of different types and sorts of necromancers. I am only going to talk about a few.

One of the simplest also belongs to one of the simplest OSR games.  Basic Fantasy has a necromancer class on their downloads page for free.  It has a lot of spells and weighs in at an appropriate 13 pages.

I would have to say one of my favorites, at least in terms of style, is the one from Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.  The necromancer here is cut from the "evil cultist" mold like their warlock and has a lot of great spells and powers.

Magical Theorems & Dark Pacts also has a great necromancer and the big feature of this class (and this book) is the number of spells.  While this book as more spells, the AS&SH class is slightly better in terms of what I want. Right along with that is the necromancer from the great Theorems & Thaumaturgy. A basic class, but some really nice spells.

Another really cool one in terms of how the necromancer is presented is the one from Adventures Dark & Deep.  Darker Paths 1: The Necromancer is certainly in the vein of the "this is an evil class" but +Joseph Bloch makes no bones about the fact that players will be playing these as evil characters.  It's sort of the point of his "Darker Paths" series. In that respect this is a good one to pick up just to get some ideas on how to play an evil character.  Plus it has some unique spells.


Back at home I have most of these printed out and put into a folder.  I also have a number of character sheets of all the different types of necromancers.  Basically I have six characters with two sheets each; a 3.x sheet and an OSR compatible one (the five above and an old fashioned MU with necromancy spells).  This gives me 12 different sorts of necromancers for 6 characters.  I call them the Order of Six based on a group I introduced in my Buffy games.  I am planning on using them as my bad guys in my games, but right now I am only playing 5e! So I can't really judge how well they all work.  Similar to what I did with the Witch's Nest.  Sounds like a plan to me.

By the way. My son has a 5e game he is in charge of.  He has a 15th level necromancer in that game and it is wicked.

I feel like there is alot more to say but I have only scratched the surface.

What is your favorite necromancer class?

Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: Fantastic Heroes & Witchery

This week I want to spend some time with Fantastic Heroes & Witchery.

Full Disclosure: I have worked with the author, Dominique Crouzet, in the past on a couple of projects. I think Dom is a great guy and I love the work we had done together.  I am going to review FH&W on it's own merits.

For this review I am looking at the PDF copy found at DriveThruRPG and the print copy hardcover from Lulu.

Fantastic Heroes & Witchery Reto-RPG (FH&W hereafter) is a newer "retro-clone" of the classic D&D rules.

The book itself is a massive 430 pages.  This includes the table of contents (4 pages), index (4 pages), spell index (4 pages) and OGL statement (2 pages).  The PDF also has a "quick click" index to get to sections in the book faster.

A while back I referred to this as the "Rosetta Stone" of OSR games.  It still works like that, but this really more of an meta-analysis of OSR RPG elements put into a cohesive whole.  The game feels like Basic era, BEMCI, D&D, but it also has the options of both 1st and some of 2nd Ed AD&D.  Other games like Swords & Wizardry have also contributed to the DNA of this game.  A quick look at the OGL statement in back makes it clear that this game is very much a product of many, many games.  This is not a slight, there is an absolute ton of new and original material here.  It takes the best and develops more to make it all work well.  In fact this book is a good point of translation between the various clones and 3rd Edition.  Not that translation is difficult, this helps smooth out the "local idioms" to some closer to normal.

A note about the art. Dom is not just the author of this game he is also one of the primary artists and graphic designer.  The art is reminiscent of both B/X D&D and AD&D, on purpose.  In fact there are a few tongue in cheek references to old AD&D books.  To further this feeling there is also art by Jim Holloway.

Chapter 1 deals with character creation.  Here we are given the details about Ability Scores (OSR standards here) and then we get into races.  The usual suspects are here, but some of the newer folk as well like tieflings, and some new ones.  The new races include tainted humans, primates, reptilians, revenants (undead), winged folk, and witchlings.   I love the idea behind the primates, intelligent apes and wonder why we have not seen more of those in other fantasy games.   A personal aside, the Witchlings are very much something I would expect out of Dom.  I am very intrigued by the race and plan on exploring in more.
The next section of the chapter is Character Backgrounds.  These are more role-playing options with suggestions of mechanical advantages (Foresters are better at climbing trees for example, but no pluses are given).  This is a nice section that does better than it's inspired materials but doesn't quite go as far as the newest edition of the D&D game.  That is likely a perfect sweet spot for the types of games that are going to be played here.  We end with a discussion on alignment.

Chapter 2 discusses character classes.  We have the expected list and then some more.  Again since this is a merging of Basic and Advanced ideas there are some "racial" classes here.  I like the idea myself and will discuss those in a bit.  There is also a section on "Weird Tales" pulp-era classes.
Classes are divided up into groups much like 2nd Ed or Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.   We have Warriors which include Fighters, Beserkers, Knights and Ranger.  Rogues which include Thieves, Acrobats, Assassins, and Bards. Divines which consist of Friars, Mystics and Templars and the racial classes. Dwarves include Clans-dwarf and Gothi. Elves are split into High and Sylvan they include Eldritch-archer and Fae-mage (High) and Forestal and Warden (Sylvan).  Gnomes get Illusionist and Trickster. Halflings get Folk-champion and Scout.  Finally there are the Weird Tales classes; Necronimus, Occultist, Psychic, Rifleman, Savant, Sky-lord, and Wild-brute.

Like editions 3.x and beyond, all classes use the same Experience Level chart.  So 2,000 xp is 2nd level for everyone.  This has a number of nice benefits including easier multi-classing.
Like newer editions each character class has a base to hit modifier.  So for fighters this goes up +1 per level.  Each class has HD, Base to Hit, Saves and abilities per level.  Saves are standard Sword & Wizardry style, but there is an Appendix for conversions later in the book.

An note about levels.  Like B/X, AS&SH or Adventurer, Conqueror, King, FH&W assumes that 13 is the max level.  There are XP values given for 14 and above, but the abilities stop there.

I will discuss the Wizard classes later when I talk about the spells, but for now I want to say that racial classes are really some of the nicest new classes of the book.  It is easy to create a bunch of human centric classes, but these different cultures would naturally produce some professions or heroes of their own.

The Weird Tales classes are an interesting bunch.  Some would fit right in with the Ranger or Knight, others, less so.  The Necronimus is basically a spiritualist or speaker of the dead. The occultist learns spells as the find them from old tomes, the psychic is what is says on the tin.  Others like the Rifleman or the Savant (aka Weird Scientist) could work with some good role-playing and a lot of help from the GM.  The Sky-Lord...is a great class, but it is very Sci-Fi or at least Sci-Fant.   The wild-brute would work anywhere to be honest.

Hit-dice and hp are discussed in the next section as well as saving throws.  The model of saving throws in the Swords & Wizardry one but also it could be said the D&D 5 one or the Castles & Crusades one.   Conversions and notes are given for how to translate a Fortitude save or a Breath Weapon save over to this system.  Honestly this is a gem and worth printing out these pages for any game you play.   Next are skill checks and how to handle them.

Some of the games that are compatible with Fantastic Heroes & Witchery

Chapter 3 covers Equipment.   This is what you expect but there is a lot to choose from here.  In fact t might be one of more comprehensive collections.  Worth the price of the PDF to be honest to have all of this in one place.  The section on Sci-Fantasy equipment is an added bonus.

Chapter 4 details Combat.  There is your garden variety melee and missile combat, but also vehicle based combat and psionic combat (for the psychic class). Stuffed in the last paragraph is the very interesting Duels of Rhetoric.  Basically, combat of words.  There is a lot of potential here and something I want to use in my next D&D5 game.  Yes it works with any version of D&D or OSR game.

Chapter 5 is Moving and Exploring.  A lot of what becomes a goo dungeon crawl is more than combat.  This also details carrying capacity.  What you expect is here, but there is also a nice section on "Chase rules" to go with your vehicle based combat.  Suddenly I want to do a Stephen J. Cannell-style chase with chariots or even dragons!

These two chapters have a logical conclusion found in Chapter 6, Hazards and Injuries.  This includes a Wound and Vitality system for use in any D&D-like game. Other topics include massive damage (like AD&D 2), subdual (a feature of my Basic D&D games) and healing.  There is a section of Threats and Hazards.  This details a lot of conditions PCs can find themselves in; Blind, Fearful, Drunk, Poisoned and so on.  Congrats, we just worked in the best parts of D&D4!  Beyond that the Conditions/Afflictions also extend to the Supernatural.  So Energy drain, Lycanthropy and so on.

Chapter 7 covers Monsters and NPCs.  There are no monsters in FH&W.  Not that there can't be, but the book does not list them.  It does talk about how to use monsters and how NPCs can also work as monsters.  By default FH&W assumes an OSRIC style stat block for monsters.

Chapter 8 is an interesting one. It covers Priests and Religions.  Different types of world views are discussed. Also the priest classes are mentioned with different "templates" one can use to make the priest feel different.  Some concepts of gods are later detailed.  One could add names to these from any myth rather easily.  Names are not provided though.  Each God archetype also has a suggestions for their clergy.  After this we get into a discussion of Law vs. Chaos.  This includes another class, The Agent of Law/Chaos.  If you are thinking Elric or other Eternal Champions (but also I will add, He-Man from the Masters of the Universe media is a great example of an Agent of Law). In fact so engrossing is this concept I might create three agents using this as my outline for Law, Chaos and Neutrality.  If you pick this up, really consider this chapter and what it could mean for your game.
There is even a treatise on the immortal soul and some details on the outer planes.

Chapter 9 covers magic and spellcasting.  There is a lot here. One of the better sections is acquiring arcane spells.  There are equally as good sections on getting spell-like powers.  Also covered is an optional rule on Incantations, which are spells that anyone can use.  As expected the schools of magic are covered, with the different specialists such as Illusionists, Necromancers and so on.  Also presented is a War-Mage class.
The next section deals with the craft of magic.  This includes a lot of information on magic circles, scrolls, and even creating magical talismans!  My favorite is part on ley lines and power nexuses.
We get into the bulk of the chapter with spell lists by class.  Spells are divided into Psychic, Gray, Black and White magic, Nature and Delusion spells.

Chapter 10 is the Alphabetical listing of all the spells.  164 pages worth of spells, 666 spells in all.  Thats 2/5s of the entire book.  I know some are new, but I would have to read each in detail to know which ones.  There are a lot here in any case.  Personally I LOVE that the Mordenkainen's spells have been changed to Morgane's.  While many of the spell casting classes stop at level 6, these spells do go to 7th, 8th and 9th levels.

Chapter 11 covers the Appendices.  These are:
Appendix 1: More About Ability Scores. - Ability scores above 18 to 25.
Appendix 2: Physical Appearance.  - height and weight by race.
Appendix 3: Personality.
Appendix 4: Allegiances.
Appendix 5: Cultural Background.
Appendix 6: Social Background.
Appendix 7: Rolling Hit-Points.
Appendix 8: Sanity / Insanity.  - I am not a fan of sanity in a FRPG.  but this is a simple solution option.
Appendix 9: Skills in More Detail.
Appendix 10: Talents (Custom Abilities).
Appendix 11: Fighting Schools and Maneuvers.
Appendix 12: Adding More Character Classes.
Appendix 13: Epic Levels (14th to 20th / 25th level). takes the characters into epic levels, in this case 14th to 25th.
Appendix 14: More About Saving Throws.  - more Saving translations.
Appendix 15: Domain Spells.  - divine spells by theme
Appendix 16: Critical Hits (Complete Table of Secondary Effects).

A bit more about Appendix 12.   This is a GREAT section about adding other classes including 3e prestige classes. This includes note on how to add my own Witch to this game.  There are also more classes here including: The Adventurer,  the Animist, the Scary Monk (the monk from AD&D), the Sea-Dog, the Sea-Witch and the Thick Brute.

We end with the OGL notice and a character sheet.

What can I say at this point really?

This is an awesome resource. It is a great game in it's own right, but it shines when added to other games.  Use this to play an OSRIC game while importing some 3.x style classes and as Swords & Wizardry monster book.  Or whatever you like. There is so much here that there is no end of what you can do with it.
A serious high mark for all OSR products in terms of utility.
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