Tuesday, September 16, 2014

In which the last horse crosses the finish line, or "Hey Rachel, why come so many dungeons?"

You may not know this, but I spend a lot of time around Reddit. One of my favorite subreddits is /r/AskScienceFiction, where people ask questions about sci-fi, fantasy, and occasionally other fictional universes, and the answers are provided from an in-universe perspective. Some of the time the answers come from an obscure bit of canon, but a lot of the time it's just a platform for who can come up with the most interesting speculative answer.

Recently, someone asked what defensive fortifications look like in a high-magic fantasy world. After all, he reasoned, real castles evolved to combat the siege tactics that were being used historically, but a world with magic-users, dragons, and other fantasy elements would present different challenges to a lord looking to protect his holdings.

One common answer we use is that these things are so rare that it seldom presents an issue. But that doesn't quite jive with the assumptions most versions of D&D (really, any versions that I can think of) present about the world by default. But there's another answer that does. To put it simply, the keep as we know it is obsolete as a form of defense in D&D. It is replaced, interestingly enough, by the humble dungeon. A thick layer of earth provides a barrier to many forms of divination, and hinders many magical forms of ingress (teleportation becomes a risky proposition if you can't see where you're going, even with otherwise relatively safe short-range methods like Dimension Door), The narrow, twisting passages of a dungeon reduce visibility, create defensible chokepoints to halt invaders from, and discourage the use of area-of-effect spells by an attacking force, and can be constructed to be a difficult or impossible fit for larger enemies.

More traditional fortifications do retain some use-- after all, moats, palisades and curtain walls will still serve as obstacles for an approaching army, and towers offer a vantage point for spotting any approach, as well as high ground for archers and mages to rain death from above on. But the construction of these will differ. I would expect to see, rather than the more conventional open roofs with parapets, a wide room or machicolation with a sturdy roof and many arrow slits, the better to protect the defenders from being snatched up or dive-bombed by flying monsters.

Most people, and most domesticated animals, will still prefer to live aboveground, so there will likely be buildings inside the bailey. Generally these will be made from cheaply-replaceable wood, as the auxiliary buildings of many real-world castles are, but even the main hall stands a good chance of being made of wood. Any strategically-important business must be conducted underground where prying magical eyes and ears will have a harder time spying on it.

In short, the reason your campaign setting is peppered with underground complexes is because the dungeon is the natural evolution of a castle to defend against the kind of threats unique to a fantasy world. Much as abandoned or ruined castles are scattered across the countrysides of Europe today, so will the remains of an old or conquered fortress be a common sight for travelers and explorers. The advantages of underground fortifications against magical or monstrous assault will have been realized early, probably even before the advent of masonry, so the dungeon will remain even when the wooden structures and fortifications of more ancient castles are gone.

As always, questions, critiques, or further insights are welcome.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

In which a 5e Background is introduced: The Fey-Touched

FEY-TOUCHED



When you were very young, you were kidnapped and taken to the Feywild to be raised in the court of a fairy noble, and a changeling left in your place. Were you raised as a princeling? A pet? A slave? You were set free, escaped, or simply allowed to leave the nest when you grew up and have come to the material plane to seek your fortune.

Skill Proficiencies: Arcana, Persuasion

Tool Proficiencies: One gaming set or musical instrument

Languages: Sylvan.

Equipment: A set of fine clothes, a token to remember your birth family by or a small favor from your patron, and a purse containing 15GP

Feature: Fairy Courtier
You grew up among the fey, and are used to their bizarre customs, strange manners, and frequent shifts in logic. When interacting with fey, you can keep up with them as easily as you can with material plane societies.

Personality: 
1. I am only really familiar with the customs and habits of the Feywild, so I seem strange and unusual.
2. People mistake me for being highly superstitious because I take every opportunity to appease any of the Fair Folk that might live nearby.
3. I grew up around such strange beauty that I find myself somewhat blase about the world.
4. I was treated harshly as a slave of the Lords and Ladies, and am somewhat fearful and submissive.
5. I was a favored child of the fey and have a spoiled and entitled attitude.
6. I am bizarrely joyful and prone to jokes, songs, or dance.

IDEAL:
1. Stringency: I hold myself and everyone I make deals with to the exact letter of their word, as the fairies do. (Lawful)
2. Cruelty: My masters treated me as a plaything, and I will do the same if I can to others. (Evil)
3. Freedom: I escaped the Feywild, and I encourage others to escape what is holding them. (Chaotic)
4. Unpredictability: Things in my home were often strange, and I always expect the unexpected. (Chaotic)
5. Wonder: Things in the Feywild are so amazing, I wish to share that beauty with the world! (Good)
6. Curiosity: The Material Plane is so different from the Feywild, it's exciting to see what it has to offer. (Neutral)

BOND:
1. I am on the run from my wicked faerie captors.
2. My patron owes me a favor that one day I'd like to collect if I see them again.
3. I was betrothed to one of the fey before I left.
4. I won my freedom in a game-- and the loser isn't happy.
5. I bargained away something irreplaceable, like my memories of my birth family or the color of my hair.
6. My birth family weren't fooled by the changeling left in my place, and have never given up searching for me.

FLAW:
1. I am the adopted scion of a lord or lady of the Feywild. Mere mortals are beneath me.
2. I never quite seem to fit in, no matter where I go.
3. I was... altered, somehow, and not in a nondescript way. People stare.
4. Once, I had to bargain away one or more of my emotions. I no longer feel that way at all.
5. Years of toil in the hostile social environment of the Feywild has embittered me.
6. I've learned all too well to fear what magic, used in anger, can do.

Alternate Feature: Fey Patron (Credit to /u/JRutterbush at reddit)
You have the ability to contact one of the fey who raised you, from whom you may ask favors. They may be unable or unwilling to help, or require repayment in kind.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Another 5e Basic vs B/X comparison: Monster lists

So yesterday the 5e basic rules updated to include several monsters, some DM guidelines for encounter building, and a small selection of basic magic items. Overall I thought it was a bit of a curious list, so, submitted for your consideration: A comparison of the monster selection provided in 5e Basic and in B/X follows. Overall... it's not a terrible list, though I think it's a touch short on fey, aberrations, and undead, and a bit heavy on animals. And only two dragons is a bit of a bummer as well. Special prize for the most WTF inclusion goes to the Spectator, which is there despite the fact that the Beholder is not, and to the Quipper, which I had to look up-- it's a sort of coldwater piranha made up for the 1e Fiend Folio, apparently (I'm surprised they didn't just call it a piranha, mostly.) Also, they swapped out Stegosaurus for Ankylosaurus, which strikes me as pretty weird-- but I think 3.5 and 4e had Ankylosaurs early in the running too. Maybe someone at WOTC just really likes Ankylosaurus?

Another interesting decision is that none of the demihuman races are featured as monsters in their own right, rather you apply their racial traits to a set of default NPC stats. Which is kinda neat, actually.

A-C

B/X
5e Basic
Acolyte
Acolyte
Antelope
Allosaurus
Ape, White
Animated Armor
Bandit
Ankylosaurus
Basilisk
Ape
Bat
Ape, Giant
Bat, Giant
Awakened Shrub
Bear, Black
Awakened Tree
Bear, Grizzly
Axe Beak
Bear, Polar
Baboon
Bear, Cave
Badger
Beetle, Fire, Giant
Badger, Giant
Beetle, Oil, Giant
Bandit
Beetle, Tiger, Giant
Banshee
Berserker
Basilisk
Black Pudding
Bat
Blink Dog
Bat, Giant
Boar
Bear, Black
Bugbear
Bear, Brown
Caecilia
Bear, Polar
Camel
Berserker
Carrion Crawler
Blink Dog
Cat, Great, Mountain Lion
Boar
Cat, Great, Panther
Boar, Giant
Cat, Great, Lion
Bugbear
Cat, Great, Tiger
Camel
Cat, Great, Saber-toothed Tiger
Cat
Cave Locust, Giant
Centaur
Centaur
Centipede, Giant
Centipede, Giant
Chimera
Chimera
Cockatrice
Cockatrice
Commoner
Crab, Giant
Crab
Crocodile
Crab, Giant
Crocodile, Large
Crocodile
Crocodile, Giant
Crocodile, Giant
Cyclops
Cultist

Cyclops

D-G
B/X
5e Basic
Devil Swine
Death Dog
Displacer Beast
Deer
Djinni
Doppelganger
Doppelganger
Dragon, Green, Young
Dragon, White
Dragon, Red, Adult
Dragon, Black
Eagle
Dragon, Green
Eagle, Giant
Dragon, Blue
Elemental, Air
Dragon, Red
Elemental, Earth
Dragon, Gold
Elemental, Fire
Dragon Turtle
Elemental, Water
Driver Ant
Elephant
Dryad
Elk
Dwarf*
Elk, Giant
Efreet
Flameskull
Elemental, Air
Flying Sword
Elemental, Earth
Frog
Elemental, Fire
Frog, Giant
Elemental, Water
Gargoyle
Elephant
Ghost
Elf*
Ghoul
Ferret, Giant
Giant, Hill
Fish, Giant, Piranha
Giant, Fire
Fish, Giant, Rockfish
Giant, Frost
Fish, Giant, Catfish
Gnoll
Fish, Giant, Sturgeon
Goat
Gargoyle
Goat, Giant
Gelatinous Cube
Goblin
Ghoul
Golem, Flesh
Giant, Hill
Golem, Stone
Giant, Stone
Grick
Giant, Fire
Griffon
Giant, Frost
Guard
Giant, Cloud

Giant, Storm

Gnoll

Gnome

Goblin

Golem, Wood

Golem, Bone

Golem, Amber

Golem, Bronze

Gorgon

Grey Ooze

Green Slime

Griffon


H-M

B/X
5e Basic
Halfling*
Harpy
Harpy
Hawk
Hawk, Normal
Hawk, Blood
Hawk, Giant
Hellhound
Hellhound
Hippogriff
Hippogriff
Hobgoblin
Hobgoblin
Horse, Riding
Horse, Riding
Horse, Draft
Horse, Draft
Horse, War
Horse, War
Hydra
Hydra
Hyena
Invisible Stalker
Hyena, Giant
Killer Bee
Jackal
Kobold
Knight
Leech, Giant
Kobold
Living Statue, Crystal
Lizard
Living Statue, Stone
Lizard, Giant
Living Statue, Iron
Lizardfolk
Lizard, Giant, Gecko
Lycanthrope, Werewolf
Lizard, Giant, Draco
Mage
Lizard, Giant, Horned Chameleon
Mammoth
Lizard, Giant, Tuatara
Manticore
Lizard Man
Mastiff
Lycanthrope, Wererat
Medusa
Lycanthrope, Werewolf
Merfolk
Lycanthrope, Wereboar
Minotaur
Lycanthrope, Weretiger
Mule
Lycanthrope, Werebear
Mummy
Manticore

Mastodon

Medium

Medusa

Men, Brigand

Men, Buccaneer

Men, Dervish

Men, Merchant

Men, Nomad

Mermen

Minotaur

Mule

Mummy












N-R
B/X
5e Basic
Neanderthal
Nothic
Nixie
Ochre Jelly
Noble
Octopus
Normal Human
Octopus, Giant
NPC Party*
Ogre
Ochre Jelly
Orc
Octopus, Giant
Owl
Ogre
Owl, Giant
Orc
Owlbear
Owlbear
Pegasus
Pegasus
Phase Spider
Pixie
Plesiosaurus
Pterodactyl
Pony
Pteranodon
Priest
Purple Worm
Pteranodon
Rat
Quipper
Rat, Giant
Rat
Rhinoceros, Normal
Rat, Giant
Rhinoceros, Wooly
Raven
Rhagodessa
Rhinoceros
Robber Fly

Roc, Small

Roc, Large

Roc, Giant

Rock Baboon

Rust Monster

S-V
B/X
5e Basic
Salamander, Flame
Satyr
Salamander, Frost
Scorpion
Scorpion, Giant
Scorpion, Giant
Sea Dragon
Seahorse
Sea Serpent
Seahorse, Giant
Shadow
Skeleton
Shark, Bull
Snake, Poisonous
Shark, Mako
Snake, Constrictor
Shark, Great White
Snake, Flying
Shrew, Giant
Snake, Giant, Poisonous
Shrieker
Snake, Giant, Constrictor
Skeleton
Spectator
Snake, Spitting Cobra
Spider
Snake, Pit Viper
Spider, Giant
Snake, Sea Snake
Spider, Giant, Wolf
Snake, Giant Rattler
Stirge
Snake, Rock Python
Swarm, Bats
Spectre
Swarm, Insects
Spider, Giant, Crab
Swarm, Poisonous Snakes
Spider, Giant, Black Widow
Swarm, Quippers
Spider, Giant, Tarantella
Swarm, Rats
Sprite
Swarm, Ravens
Squid, Giant
Toad, Giant
Stegosaurus
Thug
Stirge
Triceratops
Swarm, Insect
Troll
Termite, Water, Swamp
Twig Blight
Termite, Water, Fresh
Tyrannosaurus Rex
Termite, Water, Salt
Vulture
Thoul
Vulture, Giant
Titanothere

Trader

Toad, Giant

Treant

Triceratops

Troglodyte

Troll

Tyrannosaurus Rex W-Z

Unicorn

Vampire

Veteran

W-Z

B/X
5e Basic
Weasel, Giant
Wasp, Giant
Whale, Killer
Weasel
Whale, Narwhal
Weasel, Giant
Whale, Sperm
Whale, Killer
Wight
Wight
Wraith
Wolf
Wolf
Wolf, Dire
Wolf, Dire
Wolf, Winter
Wyvern
Worg
Yellow Mold
Wyvern
Zombie
Yeti

Zombie