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

Friday, May 20, 2022

Review: Traveller20 (2002-2007)

Traveller20 (2002, 2007)
We are now in another new decade. In fact a new century and a new millennium in fact. And of course another new edition of Traveller.  Interestingly enough we are now 25 years out from the Little Black Books. But we are now nearing the end height of the d20 boom.

Traveler, for the first time in its history, is now using the same system as Dungeons & Dragons.

Traveller for d20, also called Traveller 20 or even T20 used the d20 system under the OGL and d20 STL.

Since this is the 20th day of SciFi month, let's do Traveller for d20!

There are two versions of this game, one out in 2002, which I remember was a single hardcover book.  The other, available from DriveThruRPG is the 2007 edition and made up of three books (and a handbook).  I had the 2002 version briefly but ended selling it off in an auction. Why? I can't recall. I had a baby and another one on the way, I bet I needed money.

Both versions have similar cover art.

For the purposes of this review, I am going to consider the 2006-7 version from DriveThruRPG and from Far Future Enterprises where I got my copy from. 

Traveller20 Core Rules Set (2006-7)

PDF. Four files. Color cover art, black & white interior art.

Traveller20 (2006-7)

Ok. I want to start with this. I like d20. I do. My favorite version of the Star Wards RPG is Wizard's Revised d20 version. I know that sounds like blasphemy to so many, but I don't care.  Star Wars and D&D are so wrapped up into my childhood that bringing them together under one system was a no-brainer for me.  Now if I can add some Traveller bits?  Well I don't know if I can just yet, but the idea is so tempting, so tantalizing I just can't help it.  Seriously what could be more Summer of 1977 than Star Wars + D&D + Traveller?   What does that mean for you?  Well.  I am likely to cut this edition a lot of slack. Maybe even to the point of excusing some things I shouldn't.  Forewarned is forearmed.

The Traveller's Guidebook
The Traveller's Guidebook

PDF. 234 Pages, Color cover, black & white interior art with blue accents.

This is the "Book 0" OR the Book 4 of the 2006-7 Traveller d20 line.  This book covers all the basics for the Traveller Player. 

We get out Introduction which tells us what we are in for here.  It is written for the point of view of anyone new to RPGs or new to Traveller (any version). 

We get brief overviews of the d20 mechanic. How to set your Difficulty Levels (DCs) and even a little on success levels.

Character Creation is next.  What follows is pretty standard for all d20 games.  Roll abilities, choose races, select classes, set skills, add feats, roll up hitpoints.  This is Traveller so there is a bit more added on.

D&D/d20 has six Character Abilities. Traveller has six.  T20 has nine. These are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Education, Wisdom, Charisma, Social Standing, and Psionic Strength.  Ok a mix of both systems.  Not exactly what I would have done, but hey.  Ability scores are d20 standard, modifiers are as well.   

Hitpoints are split between Stamina and Lifeblood. Or what other games might call wound points and health points.  One slows you down the other represents how much you have till you die. Loosing either is not good.

Races are discussed and the standard humans are given with variations. You can also choose Vargr, Aslan, Ursa, and Virushi. 

Since this is Traveller you have your homeworld to consider.  There are plenty of random tables to help you figure this all out.  Tech Levels from previous editions remain here. It's a nice touch of course.  Also you have your prior history, or what you did before you decided to live the glamorous life of a Traveller.  Turns of service enter here with various paths and what that all means in terms of your character (background, credit earned, and skills).   I am not sure but it seems like there are a lot of careers here. More than other editions.

Once that is figured out you can choose a class. XP values are the same as D&D 3.x so that is easy enough. There are 12 core classes: Academic, Athlete, Barbarian, Belter, Entertainer, Martial Artist, Mercenary, Merchant, Noble, Professional, Rogue, and Traveller.  Nine "Service" Classes: Army, Convict, Corsair, Flyer, Law Enforcement, Marine, Navy, Sailor, and Scout. And eight Prestige Classes: Diplomat, Engineer, Medic, Ace Pilot, Ancients Hunter, Big Game Hunter, Psionicist, and TAS Field Reporter.

Skills are covered and as expected there are a lot of them. A lot. Nearly 30 pages worth.  Same goes for Feats (this is d20 after all).  Now I prefer a smaller list of skills myself, but I see why the authors did what they did.

Equipment and Starting Funds cover the next 40 pages or so.  Imperial Credits are still good here!

Combat is the d20 system with a few twists, but nothing the average D&D 3.x+ player couldn't figure out.  The covers personal, vehicle and ship combat.

Adventuring covers quite a lot from what the characters do, living expenses, environments and their dangers, weather dangers, movement, vision, and on to Psionics (which really should be it's own chapter).

We now get into what could be reasonably called the Traveller Black Books of d20.

Book 1: Characters and Combat
Book 1: Characters and Combat

PDF. 209 Pages, Color cover, black & white, and color interior art.

I will admit I am confused. This book looks older than the "Book 0" above.  No problem.  Ok. So I get the idea these textbooks are actually separate from the first one. Not sure what the logic here is, but works for me.  I'll take these three books as a group, like the Little Black Books of old.

We start out with some game fiction. Move right on to an introduction from Marc W. Miller, but I think that is all he did for this particular version.  This moves on to the Introduction to RPGs section and about Traveller in particular.  So while it is similar to the book above it also goes into far more detail.

Characters cover character creation.

There is an overview with page references to where they are detailed later in this book.  Most interestingly there are now eight (8) Abilities.  The standard d20 ones plus Education (EDU) and Social Standing (SOC).  

You generate your abilities first, examples are given of how EDU and SOC work in the game.  Determine your race/species included here are humans (with sub-types), Vargr, Aslan, Luriani, Sydites, Ursa, and Virushi.  Mentioned ar the Droyne, Hivers, and K'Kree.

As always your homeworld stats are determined and character adjusted as needed.  This also helps with skills and what classes are available to you. 

Classes are next and there are a lot of them. This time they are better explained.  We have the core classes: Academic, Barbarian, Belter, Mercenary, Merchant, Noble, Professional, Rogue, and Traveller.  The  Service Classes: Army, Marine, Navy, and Scout. And Prestige Classes: Ace Pilot, Big Game Hunter, and TAS Field Reporter.  Classes work like the d20 standard. 

I do admit I have a desire to run a game with TAS field reporters.  If nothing else this is giving me a load of ideas for my Star Trek: Mercy campaign. 

Skills are up and we also get a note that this section is Open Game Content. Nice touch.  There are quite a lot of skills here, more than the d20 standard of the time.  A lot of these are also limited to particular classes or backgrounds.  Unlike standard d20 and more like some other games, some skills can be used with more than one ability. Pilot for example can be INT or DEX.  I think my favorite addition though is the "Dealing with Bureaucrats" DC table.   As expected this section is rather large.

Feats (this is d20 after all) is also a long section.  There are also some Final Details to figure out like age, height, and weight. 

Oddly, but maybe it makes sense, Prior History is after all of this.  Reading through is does actually since it modifies what the character is like. In truth it is like a rather robust "Backgrounds" from D&D 5th Edition, just 10+ years before that.

Combat is up. The book says that combat is pretty much the same as d20 standard except in a few   cases.  Mostly Traveller universe specific examples.  Where things are different it is noted.

After combat, the Prestige Classes are covered.  And at the end as always (more or less) is Psionics.

The Appendices follow.  Their page numbers start as if all three books are combined.  Nice really. So Appendix I starts on page 426.  The last page is the OGL and Product Identity information.

Book 2: Equipment and Design
Book 2: Equipment and Design

PDF. 164 Pages, Color cover, black & white interior art.

I just want to say right now that I am loving this Classic Traveller presentation of the Traveller 20 rules.  I wish I had a POD of this. 

This book continues, page numbers and all, from Book 1. 

This book covers all the Technology and Equipment (about two dozen pages), the design of vehicles and starships, and some standard designs.  All of it is largely what you would expect it to be.

Technology and Equipment.  This discusses various TLs (Technology Levels) and the character "shopping list" so lots of weapons.  We do have sections of drugs, medical care, food and living expenses, as well as cybertechnology (somewhat that started in Traveller just a decade ago) and cloning.  Interestingly enough I did not see a lot on robots save that they can be built like vehicles.  I do appreciate the conservation of rule space here, but more might have been nice.

Computers are more advanced, but you are all sick of me harping on that.

The Appendices repeat here as well as the OGL information.

Book 3: Worlds and Adventures
Book 3: Worlds and Adventures

PDF. 107 Pages, Color cover, black & white interior art.

Ok, I have to admit I am enjoying this system. 

This is the smallest of the three. 

This book covers Travelling (Chapter 14), Starship Encounters (Chapter 15), Universe and World development (Chapter 16), Campaigns (17), and Traveller Adventures (Chapter 18).

The design here is one of characters living in a giant Galactic Imperium that is full of adventure and lite on the details of the Imperium itself.  Oh there is information here on it anyone with any knowledge of Traveller can easily fill in the blanks.  The focus of this game though is more like Classic Traveller, on the characters and what they do.  There is more here than Classic Traveller, but not as much as say MegaTraveller.

I can gather from reading that this takes place sometime prior to the timeline of the LBBs, before 1000. But not much more.

--

Ok so this bundle has two separate versions of the T20 game. For my money, I would rather the Three Books and add in details from The Traveller's Guidebook where needed. 

The Three Books cover the same material as The Traveller's Guidebook save for where the TGB goes into additions (more classes, more abilities).   I am not 100% convinced that the additions to TGB are better. 

I am not going to lie. I like the 3.x d20 system, warts and all.  I like the idea of a huge Galactic Empire.  So if I am going to play a non-Trek game then some flavor of d20 is likely going to be my choice.

Call me crazy, but I like this one. 

Part of me wants to find a copy of the Traveller d20 dead tree book online to buy another part of me wants to print out what I have to put into a binder with other d20-based SciFi games.  I know there is d20 Starfleet Battles / Prime Directive and more. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Character Creation Challenge: Pathfinder 2nd Edition

Pathfinder 2nd Edition
Of all the RPGs I have looked at so far it is this one I know the least.  Part of the issue is that Pathfinder 2nd Edition is so new, only published in 2019, and I have not had the chance to play it really at all.  Indeed I wasn't even going to pick up but my oldest expressed an interest in playing it so we got it.   He would later return to his true love, D&D 5, but I found I rather liked the books myself.

The problem I am running into here, for today, is I do have so little knowledge about it.  So little in fact that my plan for today was to update a character I had played in PF1 but I only now discovered that the class I wanted, Cavalier, has not been updated to PF2 yet! Though other options are open to me.

The Game: Pathfinder 2nd Edition

As I mentioned Pathfinder 2nd Edition was released back in 2019.  I recall the Paizo "booth" (more like "block") staked full of shiny new Pathfinder books.  I am sure they expected them all to sell out, but I get the feeling that the sales were not as high as they wanted.  Not a huge surprise really.  Pathfinder 1st Edition's success was built on their success with the D&D 3.5 products they had made and no small amount due to the failures of D&D 4th Edition.  Today, or at least in 2019, D&D 5 is a huge success and some gamers have gone from Pathfinder back to D&D.   

Also as I said I was not originally going to pick this game up, but I changed my mind after going over the playtest materials and my son wanting to get it.  There are a lot of really cool ideas here and some I think would work well in D&D 5. For example, Ancestry would be better in D&D 5 over the very outmoded "race" or even the awkward "species."

Much like a software development fork, Pathfinder represents one development off of the D&D 3.x line where D&D 5e is a different fork.  To be fair, Pathfinder is closer to its OGC roots than D&D 5 is, but looking at the games in 2021 you see similar parentage and DNA.  This means that someone could in theory bring the best of both worlds back together into one game.  An interesting thought experiment to say the least.  

One thing I will say for Pathfinder 2nd Edition.  It is designed from the ground up to show new players how to play and give them enough to keep them for a long time.  I think it would be fun to play a character in this from 1st to 20th level in a well-crafted adventure path.  I can see how that would be great.

The Character: Oisín

Character creation in Pathfinder 2 is a more modern process than the games in its, well, ancestry.  While you could easily roll up a character here just like you did in AD&D or D&D 3.x, it behooves me to follow the process here.

Oisín was a character I played in Pathfinder 1st Edition. In the game he was the youngest son of this powerful lord and a witch.  In reality, I decided he was the son of a Paladin/Warrior named Fionn and my witch Labhraín.  In the game, he was searching for who killed his mother and who his true father was. 

In Pathfinder 2nd Ed. we have a variety of character customization options that recreating that character is no longer as interesting as rebuilding him from the ground up.

For this character, I am going to use the Pathfinder 2nd Edition Core Rules and the Advanced Player's Guide which features the witch class.  Also for this character, I am going to start him at 1st level, but advance him to 2nd.  Also, just because, I am going to limit my 1st level choices to the Core Rules, and then 2nd level choices to the Advanced Player's Guide. I have my reasons.

Oisín

Niamh and Oisín

Lawful Neutral half-elf*
Bard 1

Ability Scores
Strength +0 (10)
Dexterity +1 (12)
Constitution +0 (10)
Intelligence +3 (16)
Wisdom +1 (12)
Charisma +4 (18)

Reserves
Hit Points 16/16
Hero Points 1/3
Focus Points 1/1

Defenses
AC 15 (Leather)
Fort +3
Ref +4
Will +6

Senses
Perception (Wis) +6 (E)
Low-light Vision

Tactical
Speed 25ft
Size Medium
Space 5 ft.
Reach 5 ft.

Other
Wealth 2 gp; 80 sp
Bulk 4/10

Attacks (1st/2nd/3rd Strike)

Dagger
Melee +4 / +0 / -4 1d4 Pier
Ranged +4 / +0 / -4 1d4 Pier

Fist
Melee +4 / +0 / -4 1d4 Blud

Longsword
Melee +3 / -2 / -7 1d8 Slsh

Hand crossbow
Ranged +4 / -1 / -6 1d6 Pier

Sling
Ranged +4 / -1 / -6 1d6 Blud

Skills
+6 Academia Lore T
+1 Acrobatics U
+6 Arcana T
+0 Athletics U
+6 Bardic Lore T
+6 Crafting T
+7 Deception T
+7 Diplomacy T
+4 Intimidation U
+4 Medicine T
+4 Nature T
+6 Occultism T
+7 Performance T
+4 Religion T
+6 Society T
+1 Stealth U
+4 Survival T
+1 Thievery U

Feats
Half-elf (Heritage)
Otherworldly magic (Elf, Ancestry)
Assurance - Arcana (Background)
Bardic Lore - Egnima (Bardic Feature)
Composition Spell (Bardic Feature)

Spells

Bard Cantrips
Chill Touch (DC 17) Unlimited +7
Daze (DC 17) Unlimited +7
Light Unlimited +7
Mage Hand Unlimited +7
Shield Unlimited +7

Bard 1st-level Spells
Magic Missile 2/2 +7
Magic Weapon 2/2 +7
True Strike 2/2 +7

I will be honest, this one took me a lot longer to do than expected.

I choose "Half-elf" as both a nod to the original myths of Oisín and to reflect there is something otherworldly about him.  He would not really be a traditional "AD&D Half-elf" more of a human with fey or sidhe blood in him from his father.

At 2nd Level instead of a Bard class feat I am going to take a multi-classed witch feat, Witch Dedication.    Multiclassing in Pathfinder 2nd Ed is a little bit like multiclassing in D&D 4 where you take a feat to gain some of the abilities of that class. This feat gives Oisín access to witch spells and feats as well as a Patron (including skills), and a familiar. 

Since Oisín has Engima as part of his Bard training I am going to choose a Fate Patron. Though there is some overlap here. He would get training in Occultism skill and the True Strike spell, both of which he already has.  I am going to leave this since the Egnima he is following is Fate; they are the same.

This is of course not optimized, but it fits better with my concept of the character, so I'll take the hit. In building this I realized I had unintentionally built the Pathfinder version of the Ghosts of Albion Occult Poet.  I am not unhappy with that.

Again, this is a good character idea, I might try to replicate it in D&D5 with a Bard/Warlock mix, I think it might actually work out a little better there.

Maybe I can even work out his Niamh one day.

Pathfinder 2nd Edition

Character Creation Challenge

Tardis Captain is the originator of this idea and he is keeping a list of places participating.  When posting to Social Media don't forget the #CharacterCreationChallenge hashtag. 

RPG Blog Carnival

This month's RPG Blog Carnival is being hosted by Plastic Polyhedra. They are doing Characters, Stories, and Worlds, so that fits right in with everything we are posting this month.

Check out all the posts going on this month at both of these sources.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Character Creation Challenge: Pathfinder 1st Edition

Pathfinder Core Rulebook
Paizo's Pathfinder was a bit of a revolution in the RPG market.  Paizo had been a solid d20/3e publisher in the heyday of the d20/OGL boom, with the zenith of this time actually publishing Dragon and Dungeon Magazines for a time. When WotC opted to move on to 4e, Paizo began their work on an update to the 3.5 OGC ruleset for their own game.  In 2009 the Pathfinder RPG was released and soon there became two "Big names" in the RPG biz; Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. 

The Game: Pathfinder, 1st Edition

Pathfinder quickly took on players that played D&D 3.x but who did not want to go on to D&D 4. Pathfinder was informally called "D&D 3.75" and moving between Pathfinder and D&D 3.x was fairly trivial compared to D&D 3.x and 4e.  Additionally, Paizo gave Pathfinder robust support both in terms of online presence and their Pathfinder Organized Play.  Releasing the rules as an open playtest was deemed so successful that many other companies, including WotC for D&D5, adopted it.

Paizo also released a number of high-quality sourcebooks, many of which are backward compatible with D&D 3.x. I am particularly fond of the Advanced Player's Guide, Book of the Damned, Bestiary 4 (for the mythos monsters), Occult Adventures, and Horror Adventures. I consider these part of my "core" for Pathfinder.  The witch-centric "Regin of Winter" Adventure Path is a must-have for me.

I have posted a lot about Pathfinder here. I enjoy the game but I don't play it all that much anymore. Still, I enjoy reading over the material.

My "Core" Pathfinder books

The Character: Labhraín

I played in a Pathfinder game that I treated as an alt-Universe version of my 3e/4e game universe. I held the idea that the two universes I was playing (4e vs. Pathfinder) had a similar start (3e) and then diverted.  The Pathfinder universe had devils as their "big bad" while 4e (running the Orcus-themed HPE series) had demons. Some characters were the same in each world.  Labhraín was the Pathfinder version of Larina. 

Here, because of the influence of various devil cults from the former Chelaxian Empire, Labhraín hid her status as a witch.  I took a page from "Prime World" Larina, who faked being a wizard to hide as a witch, to Labhraín faking being a priestess to hide being a witch.  I did not do much with the character but use her as a backstory to my cavalier character that I was playing at the time.  The belief was that Labhraín was dead.  I detail my other character tomorrow.

ePic Character Generator portrait of a witch
ePic Character Generator
Labhraín

Human (Ulfen) witch 1 (Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player's Guide 65)
LN Medium humanoid (human)
Init +0; Senses Perception +1

Defense

AC 10, touch 10, flat-footed 10
hp 7 (1d6+1)
Fort +0, Ref +0, Will +3; +1 trait bonus vs. divine spells

Offense

Speed 30 ft.
Special Attacks hex (charmAPG)
Witch Spells Prepared (CL 1st; concentration +4)
   1st—charm person (DC 14), cure light wounds
   0 (at will)—daze (DC 13), light, read magic
   Patron Fate

Statistics

Str 9, Dex 11, Con 11, Int 16, Wis 12, Cha 16
Base Atk +0; CMB -1; CMD 9
Feats ScholarISWG, Silent Spell
Traits classically schooled, history of heresy
Skills Bluff +4, Diplomacy +4, Disguise +4, Knowledge (arcana) +9, Knowledge (religion) +6, Spellcraft +8
Languages Common, Elven, Infernal, Jistka, Skald
SQ witch's familiar (cat named Scamall)

Special Abilities

Charm +1 (3 rounds, DC 13) (Su) Improve attitude of humanoid or animal in 30 ft. by 1 step(s).
Empathic Link with Familiar (Su) You have an empathic link with your Arcane Familiar.
Familiar Bonus: +3 to Stealth checks You gain the Alertness feat while your familiar is within arm's reach.
Scholar (Knowledge [arcana], Knowledge [religion]) +2 bonus on two Knowledge skills.
Share Spells with Familiar Can cast spells with a target of "You" on the familiar with a range of touch.
Silent Spell Cast a spell with no verbal components. +1 Level.
Witch's Familiar (Ex) Gain the services of a special familiar that stores spells.

Hero Lab and the Hero Lab logo are Registered Trademarks of LWD Technology, Inc. Free download at https://www.wolflair.com Pathfinder® and associated marks and logos are trademarks of Paizo Inc.®, and are used under license.

I like the way she turned out to be honest.  It's a shame that I think she might be dead! 

Character Creation Challenge

Tardis Captain is the originator of this idea and he is keeping a list of places participating.  When posting to Social Media don't forget the #CharacterCreationChallenge hashtag. 

RPG Blog Carnival

This month's RPG Blog Carnival is being hosted by Plastic Polyhedra. They are doing Characters, Stories, and Worlds, so that fits right in with everything we are posting this month.

Check out all the posts going on this month at both of these sources.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Character Creation Challenge: Dungeons & Dragons, 3rd Edition

D&D Player's Handbook 3rd Edition
The year is 2000. We don't have flying cars or stations on the moon, but we do get a new edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game.  Wizards of the Coast, known for Pokemon and Magic the Gathering, buy the cash strapped and deeply in debt TSR.  Soon TSR is folded into WotC and when D&D 3rd edition is announced, TSR is merely a memory.  Though WotC would go on to produce a hot new game that will still be played 20 years later AND set off a revolution in small press and fan publishing.

The Game: Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition

D&D 3rd Edition was by all accounts a revolutionary game.  It produced two (or three) direct descendants; D&D 3.5, Pathfinder, and Pathfinder 2nd Edition. It was the foundation for d20 Modern and the Star Wars RPGs from Wizards of the Coast. There was a Call of Cthulhu edition, a World of Darkness edition and not to mention thousands of games that used the d20 license and the Open Gaming License, and SRD.  The OGL and the SRD made so many other games possible including 90% of all the OSR releases on the market today.  D&D 3.x is also still widely played some 20 years later.

D&D retook the "Dungeons & Dragons" name, dropping the Advanced, to give D&D a single variant moving forward.  Basic and Advanced were no more. 

Of course, we also got the crowd of "never WotC D&D" forgetting that WotC gave out the SRD and OGL for free. Filled their website with free downloads and also created a very robust fan creation guideline that became the heart of the DMsGuild today, while TSR spent a lot of its early days on the Internet harassing BBSes, website owners, and AOL file areas as well sending C&D letters for anyone hosting Netbooks or fan-made D&D materials. 

The Character: Rowan McGowan

For this witch for D&D 3.5, I am going to use the sample custom witch class from the Dungeon Master's Guide.

The DMG witch class is a bit anemic really, it is just a reskinned Sorcerer with a new spell list.  But the goal for it was not to develop a full-blown witch class as I have done, but rather show how the classes can be altered for your own needs.   

Rowan continues my Celtic-themed named witches.  In 2000 I would have likely gone with Rowena, but I have a witch here already with that name.  She is "McGowan" instead of "nic Goibniu" because I want to represent her as being a little more "modern" than the previous witches.  Modern in the sense of rules updates.

Witches of the Coast
Liliana Vess by Dopaprime, CC License

Rowan McGowan

Female Human Witch, Level 1 (DMG Witch)
Lawful Neutral

Abilities
Strength: 10 (0)
Dexterity: 11 (0) 
Constitution: 12 (+1)
Intelligence: 11 (0)
Wisdom: 12 (+1)
Charisma: 16 (+3)

Saving Throws
Fortitude: +1
Reflex: +0
Will: +3

AC: 13
HP: 8
BAB: +0
Initiative: +0
Speed: 30

Skills
Bluff +3, Climb 0, Concentration +5, Diplomacy +4, Disguise +3, Gather Information +3, Heal +1, Intimidate +3, Jump 0, Listen +1, Move silently +0, Ride +0, Search +1, Sense Motive +1, Spellcraft +5, Spot +1, Survival +1, Swim +0, Use rope +0

Feats
Scribe Scroll, Toughness

Special Abilities - Familiar
Familiar - Cat (level 1, 11 HP, 15 AC Attack +5)
Deliver Touch spells through familiar
Empathic Link (Su)
Share spells

Spells
Spell DC 13 + Spell level
Cantrips: Arcane Mark, Daze, Detect Magic, Mending
1st level: Burning Hands, Disguise Self

Not too bad, if a little light on options. 

Character Creation Challenge

Tardis Captain is the originator of this idea and he is keeping a list of places participating.  When posting to Social Media don't forget the #CharacterCreationChallenge hashtag. 

RPG Blog Carnival

This month's RPG Blog Carnival is being hosted by Plastic Polyhedra. They are doing Characters, Stories, and Worlds, so that fits right in with everything we are posting this month.

Check out all the posts going on this month at both of these sources.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Skylla: D&D 3.5 Edition

I am going over my options for the big New Year, New Character Challenge coming up next month.  Seeing where I have some gaps and what other characters I need to do.  

Surprisingly the one I don't have a lot of is D&D 3rd Edition. So I thought I might dust off my 3.5 books and see if I can still do this.  Plus it is conspicuous by it's absence in my write-ups of Skylla.

A recap.  Skylla is an NPC "magic-user" introduced to us in the LJN Advanced Dungeons & Dragons toy line and given more background in module XL1 Quest for the Heartstone and AC1 The Shady Dragon Inn.   I have adapted her as a witch for various D&D-like game settings and systems.  

She has become something of a reoccurring villainess in my games. I admit to borrowing heavily from Master's of the Universe Evil-Lyn for her characterization.  I figure I can do worse than that.

For this version of Skylla for D&D 3.5 I am going to use the sample custom witch class from the Dungeon Master's Guide.

The DMG witch class is a bit anemic really, it is just a reskinned Sorcerer.  But the goal for it was not to develop a full-blown witch class as I have done, but rather show how the classes can be altered for your own needs.   Given how 3.x did the Sorcerer class this one should be fairly close to the BECMI roots of the character.

Skylla
Skylla by ePic Character Generator
Skylla
Female Human Witch, Level 7 (DMG Witch)
Chaotic Evil

Abilities
Strength: 9 (-1)
Dexterity: 11 (0) 
Constitution: 10 (0)
Intelligence: 11 (0)
Wisdom: 12 (+1)
Charisma: 15 (+2)

Saving Throws
Fortitude: +2
Reflex: +2
Will: +6

AC: 7
HP: 22
BAB: +3
Initiative: +0
Speed: 30

Skills
Bluff +2, Climb -1, Concentration +10, Diplomacy +2, Disguise +3, Gather Information +4, Heal +1, Intimidate +2, Jump -1, Listen +1, Search +!, Sense Motive +1, Speak Language +1 (Draconic), Spellcraft +10, Spot +1, Survival +1, Swim -1

Feats
Brew Potion, Chaotic Mind, Craft Wondrous Item, Simple Weapon Proficiency, Toughness

Special Abilities - Familiar
Familiar - Raven (level 1, 11 HP, 18 AC Attack +5)
+3 to Appraise Checks while Familiar is within 1 mile
Deliver Touch spells through familiar
Empathic Link (Su)
Speak with Animals (Ex)
Speak with Familiar (Ex)

Spells
Spell DC 12 + Spell level
Cantrips: Arcane Mark, Daze, Detect Magic, Light, Mage Hand, Mending, Read Magic
1st level: Charm Person, Floating Disk, Hold Portal, Identify, Magic Missle
2nd level: Alter Self, Detect Thoughts, Invisibility
3rd level: Hold Person, Magic Circle Against Good


Not a bad build really.  She compares well to her base stats and to the Pathfinder 1st Edition version.  I will have to try a Pathfinder 2nd Edition version sometime. 

I also pleased with how her ePic Character came out. 

RPG Blog Carnival

This is my entry in this month's RPG Blog Carnival, When the Bad Guys Win, hosted by Phoenix Games.  Skylla is certainly one of my favorite "Bad Girls" and I do like her to win.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Shadow Week: The Plane of Shadow and Shadar-kai

I have been talking a bit about the denizens of the Shadowfell and various Shadowy realms, but what I have not don't yet is go deeper into what the Shadowfell is or how it relates to the Demi-Plane, or Plane, of Shadow.

They are the same thing.  Ok next week...

Wait, you wanted a little more?  I suppose that a bit more is needed really. Especially since this all extends over many editions of the D&D game.

Manuals of the Planes

The idea of Planes goes all the way to the beginning of D&D really. Last week I talked about Elric and the works of Moorcock, planes are central, even essential to those stories. The same is true for D&D even if your characters never set foot off the Prime Material Plane. 

AD&D 1st Edition Manual of the Planes

The first ed MoP was a game-changer for my groups back then. Yes, a lot of the material here was cribbed from several sources; Q1, Dragon magazine, and other adventures.  But having it all one place was great and there were plenty of ideas to be had here. Though, like the Astra Dreadnought on the cover, there is not a lot here on the Demi-Plane of Shadow.  This would not be detailed until Dragon Magazine #213 for the AD&D 2nd Edition game.  Even Tales of the Outer Planes does not have anything on the Demi-Plane of Shadow.

Back then we did all sorts of mental gymnastics to square the Plane of Shadow with Ravenloft and/or the Demi-Plane of Nightmares (Mystara, in its 1st Edition version) and the Plane of Imprisonment.

There was no Manual of the Planes for AD&D 2nd ed.  That role was filled by the Planescape line.  

To get to the Plane of Shadow as it is described these days we need to move up to 3rd Edition.

D&D 3rd Edition Manual of the Planes

Like the 1st Ed version, this one was also a "game-changer." It was disliked by some for the very reason I liked it; it dared to remake the Planes.  In fact this book pointed it out that belief was largely what shaped how you viewed the planes.  I know this was touched on quite a bit in Planescape, but I didn't play a lot of Planescape so I don't know to what degree.  This should have really been a non-issue. Of course, belief changes the reality of the planes, they are all about belief. We saw that in Deities & Demigods and Legends and Lore previously. 

The planes are still largely the same so I am not going to get into the details here save for one.  The Plane of Shadow is introduced to us here. It is here we get the idea that the Plane of Shadow is a dark reflection of the Prime, or just like the narration from Tales from the Darkside told us. 

Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality.
But...there is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit...a dark side.


The dark side is always there, waiting for us to enter — waiting to enter us. Until next time, try to enjoy the daylight.

The Plane of Shadow gets 5½ to 6 pages in the MoP3.  Not bad.  The adjacent Feywild is not mentioned yet, nor is the Shadowfell. But there is enough detail here to keep you busy for a while.

For monsters of the Plane of Shadow we get Ephemera, Shadow-template creatures (not undead, but magical creatures, much like the Shadows of B/X and BECMI), and the Astral Dreadnought. 

D&D 4th Edition Manual of the Planes

Here we get some more changes to the Planes and even some I did not care for, but nothing that I could not adjust easy enough.

4e though does try to incorporate everything that has gone on before. The Feywild is introduced in it's full glory for example.  The Shadowfell is now a fully-realized Plane. Over 14 pages are spent on the Shadowfell and all of it is crunch-free.  The Shadar-Kai, introduced in 3rd edition and brought into fuller focus in the 4e Monster Manual (see below) are discussed and they are not the only inhabitants of the Shadowfell.

Again, monsters of shadow are detailed and there is even Paragon Path for characters. 

As you read through the various editions there is an evolution. A guided one? Not likely, more like one building on the others with other ideas added in. But there is a solid progression from one to the other.



Shadar-kai

Shadar-kai are older than most players are likely to know.  Much like Tieflings (2e introduced) and Dragonborn (3rd ed introduced, 1st ed inspired), the Shadar-kai were introduced as a "monster" race and then quickly given rules for player characters.  In this case, they were introduced in 3e.  But much like the Plane of Shadow/Shadowfell they call home they have changed over the years.

What has been constant is that Shadar-kai are a race of humanoids that have lived in the Plane of Shadow/Shadowfell for a aeons. They are pale skinned and have a fairly flat affect.  They lack the zeal of life and need to keep themselves excited or entertained or they begin to fade away.  What that means differs from edition to edition.

Fiend Folio, D&D 3rd Edition

The Shadar-kai are introduced here as a race of elves that have been living in the plane of Shadow. Their type is "fey" in the 3rd Editon and are also called the "Shadow Fey." Here they are mostly Neutral Evil and are considered to be a race of "bitter, determined people."  They have strange weapons and are prone to hiding and deceit. Rules are given for Shadar-kail characters but they have an ECL of 4 due to hit dice and powers. 

Monster Manual, D&D 4th Edition

Here Shadar-kai takes the stage as a playable race.  They are now humans (???) but much of their background is the same. They are dedicated to the Raven Queen so they fit in well with the entire D&D4/Shadowfell connections.  There is now ECL in 4e so they can start off as 1st level characters.

They were so popular for a while there we took to calling them the "new Drow."

Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, 5th Edition

I might be biased, but these are the best version of the Shadar-kai yet.  This one deftly combines the features of the 3rd and 4th editions versions and makes them Elves/Fey again. Though there is a lot more here with there creation and the creation of the other elven races (Eladrin, Elves, and Drow).


DumpStat does a pretty good deep dive into the Shadar-Kai and if you want more details than I have here it is a good read.

The Power Score also has done their typical quality work in their A Guide to the Shadar-Kai deep dive too. 

It would take a bit of work to square these with the Shadow Elves of Mystara/BECMI and the Shadow Fey from Kobold Press.  It might not matter for my uses anyway since Shadar-kai are not Open Gaming Content, neither are the Shadow Elves as presented in BECMI.  Shadow Fey are, via Kobold Press.  
But honestly I would want to do my own thing anyway.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Shadow Week: Courts (and Realms) of the Shadow Fey

What is your favorite edition of D&D? Doesn't matter. This is the adventure you need to try.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Let's start at the end, go back to the beginning and work our way back to now.

Shadow Fey

Kobold Press has been around now for a bit and has put out some really quality products for various version of the D&D/Pathfinder game via the various open licenses available to them.  

The Shadow Fey are a race of elves known as the scáthsidhe, or shadow fey. Great name. I wish I had come up with it.  These fey are an elitist, snooty bunch, the worse qualities of Elf to be honest and that is what makes them so great.  They are not really related at all to the Shadow Elves of Mystara nor the Shadar-Kai of the Shadowfell and not even the Drow of many worlds.   But it is easy to see they all live in the same sort of world.  If we are to use D&D 4 & 5 terminologies they live in the area where the Shadowfell intersects the Feywild.  Or the darkest areas of the Land of Faerie.

The shadow fey are present in a number of books from Kobold Press, most notably their two large monster tomes for 5e, The Tome of Beasts for 5th Edition and the Creature Codex for 5th Edition.  Even without knowing much of their background, they are a very interesting race.  They look a bit like a cross between an elf and tiefling. So members are elven, but many also have horns.  I suppose that a satyr is a better comparison.  But it is a reminder, visually, that these are not your Grognards' elves. They can be medium or small creatures. 

Kobold Press has gone all-in on the Shadow Fey. Here are a few products that they have published to support these beings and their courts.

Pathfinder

Dark Fey

This is a 22-page bestiary and guide to the creatures found in the realms of the Shadow Fey.  Based on the Courts of the Shadow Fey this really is a must-have if you plan to play any part of the Shadow Fey adventure or even just want some less-that light fey to encounter.

Advanced Races 11: Shadow Fey (Pathfinder RPG)

This 19 page PDF gives us the Shadow Fey as a playable race. There is some history of the Shado Fey here and even a few more creatures. Additionally, there are some new class archetypes, racial powers, and some new feats.  While it says Pathfinder on the cover there is enough here to use in any game. 

This book in particular makes them more than "drow with horns" or "bad tempered elves."


Dungeons & Dragons 5e

Shadows of the Dusk Queen for 5th Edition

This is a short-ish adventure for 8th level characters in a fairy tale romp. Not a "Disney" fairy tale, but a Brother's Grimm one. A shadowy evil, but sad Queen, needs to reconstitute her broken magic mirror that contains her life force. Doing so will make her powerful again. The PCs have found the five magical shards.

A great little adventure full of dark fairy tale tropes. Easy to run in a session or two and makes for a nice side quest after running the Courts of the Shadow Fey. The Dusk Queen herself is an interesting character that might work well in my War of the Witch Queens Campaign.  In that of course she would need to win at the end of this adventure.

Deep Magic: Shadow Magic for 5th Edition

This 12 page PDF is part of Kobold Press' Deep Magic series. It presents a new Sorcerous Bloodline (Shadow Bloodline), a new Warlock Patron (The Light Eater), and a new Rouge Archetype (The Whisper).  There are also, as expected, new Shadow themed spells. Not explicitly tied in with their Courts of the Shadow Fey, but certainly 100% compatible and thematically appropriate.


These books are all fantastic additions, but the place where they got their start was an adventure for the 4th edition of D&D, Courts of the Shadow Fey.

Courts of the Shadow Fey

This adventure began as a 4th edition adventure for Paragon Tier characters designed to take them from 12th to 15th level.  So remember what I was saying yesterday about an entire 4th edition campaign taking place in the Plane of Shadow?  Well, this can be a significant part of that.

The adventure was then converted over to Pathfinder (with some little oddities here and there) for characters of 7th level to 10th.

Sometime later the adventure was rewritten for 5th edition D&D, with new art and layout. Still for characters level 7th to 10th.

All three were written by Wolfgang Baur.  Ben McFarland aided in the Pathfinder conversion, Dan Dillon helped with the D&D5 rewrite.  The first two versions featured fantastic art by Stephanie Law (which makes me want to convert it to Blue Rose!) and the 5e version features art from Marcel Marcado, who captures our two shadow fey sovereigns. 

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition version, 101 pages. 
Pathfinder version, 130 pages
Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition version, 150 pages

This is part adventure and part sandbox, which is really fantastic because there is so much potential here. Much in the same way the D series introduced us to the drow via an adventure, this introduces us to the Shadow Fey.  We meet their sovereigns, the Queen of Night and Magic of the Summer Court and the Moonlit King of the Winter Court.  These are NOT the Seelie and Unseelie of Earth's Faerie Realm, although there are comparisons.  We begin the adventure with the town of Zobek against a backdrop of the King and Queen in their exchange of power.  The adventure kicks in when a Priest of the Sun God is nearly assassinated.  This has my attention already.  Zobek is occupied by Shadow Fey and to find the culprit(s) (who soon make an assassination attempt at the PCs!) the party will need to not only navigate the treachery of the Shadow Lands (Shadow Plane, Shaowfell...) they must also navigate the treachery on the Fey Courts!

One of the key features of this adventure/product is the number of NPCs.  This is not a list of names with professions, these are fully stated out NPCs and each version of the adventure takes advantage of the rules being used.


Ok. Pause. At this point, there are several good reasons to get this. There is a mystery. There is the Shadow Plane deal. There are Fey Courts. Plus there are plenty of mechanics involved to aid the GM and Players in navigating the labyrinth that can be high court intrigue.  In some ways, it makes me happy to have all three versions since I can get different points of view on how to handle different things.  Granted the 4e and Pathfinder versions are similar enough to make the differences be system-specific, but the 5e rewrite really gives me a newer point of view.  Yes, in each case I am seeing a lot of repeated text. That is what I am supposed to see. What idiot is going to buy all three versions except for me?

So we have all that, and we have not gotten into duels of honor (there is a dueling system!), various factions jockeying for control, and how the PCs fit into all that. New creatures. New demons! New magic. Survive a duel? Dude...you are not going to survive diner! 

The Pathfinder/4e versions are a little basic to look at since the was the start of Open Design/Kobold Press.  But Stephanie Law's art is so great to look at that I don't care.  The 5e version is several orders of magnitude better in terms of design. The art is still wonderful but I miss Stephanie Law's vision.


This is one of those adventures where I always find something new with each reading.  I have been pouring over this for the last three weeks and each time I am blown away by the shear potential that lays before me. I feel like I need to reread my history of the Tudors to get my courtly machinations down correctly, but this book certainly helps.  

The party's climax comes with gaining an audience with the Moonlit King himself! What happens? There are many potential outcomes and possibilities. 

If I ever run a Shadow themed campaign then this is at the top of my list. 
If I ever run a pure 4e game, then this is at the top of my list.

I plan to steal ideas from this for other adventures even if I run it as is. 

I purchased all three of the PDFs just have them. It is that much fun.  Also whenever I feel the need to run it I am likely to grab the Print version of the 5e rules. Though I might instead print out the PDFs and collate them so that the material I need/want is where I want it.  Use colored sticky tabs for various plot points.

For example, if I were to merge these with other fey related products then maybe I would consider Autumn and Spring courts here instead of Winter and Summer.  Why?  The shadow fey are creatures of well, shadow. Half-light and half-darkness. I am reviewing this on the Autumn Equinox, half-light, half dark. I did this on purpose.  If I use the Summer and Winter courts for the Seelie and the Unseelie then these could be the Spring (Queen of Magic) and Autumn (Moonlit King) courts and little it lost.  In fact, much is gained. Most of my players, thanks to years of Ghosts of Albion, have come to expect certain things out of the Fey courts as I run them. Dangerous to assume really, but still, they do.  By renaming these into Spring and Autumn I can change those expectations. And it gives me four equal and competing courts.

Regardless of which edition you choose, there is a great adventure/sandbox/resource to be had here.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

#RPGaDAY 2020: Day 4 Vision

"I was raised by witches boy, I see with more than eyes and you know that."
- Frigga to Thor in 2013, Avengers Endgame

Call me biased, but I have always liked the idea that witches see things that other character types don't.  Not just in terms of "infravision" or "dark vision" but in just "other vision."

A couple of house rules that I always use are witches can see ghosts, spirits, and other sorts of magical creatures that are typically invisible to others.  They can see magical auras which they can tell something about the person they are looking at.  Most importantly they can recognize other witches on sight.

Mechanically it really doesn't add much to D&D.  I argue the kinds of ghosts and things the witch can see are harmless to everyone.  But if you can see them, then they can see you.  So they are not always harmless to the witch herself.

In Ghosts of Albion, this type of vision is known as "Lesser Sensing" and it is something all magical creatures, including magicians and witches, have.   

Witches and Warlocks in NIGHT SHIFT do this as part of their class.

I have extended it to my fantasy games where it is just called "The Sight."

In D&D3-5 or Pathfinder1-2, it could easily be a Feat.  For my Basic-era witches an Occult Power.

The Sight
Using the Sight requires a moment of concentration but then the witch can See.  She can see magical auras that will give her some basic information on what she is looking at.
She can See:
- magical effects such as active spells, charms, curses or compulsions on a person
- magical lines of force (ley lines)
- whether or not a person is a spell-caster* (she can always detect another witch)
- undead

With more concentration (1 round) she can See:
- Invisible creatures
- alignment 
- polymorphed, shape-changed or lycanthropes

The subject of the witch's Sight knows they are being Seen. They get an uncomfortable feeling and know it is coming from the witch, even if they do not know what it means.

That's the rough version, it would need to be tweaked for the respective games.  For example it would work with D&D 5's perception skill. 

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.